So every once in a while, I let comics pile up. This happens to every serious monthly funnybook addict sometimes. You don’t get around to a new issue the week it comes out, and for one reason or another it sits in the “to read” pile, getting shifted behind the newer stuff, until the next one is released. Then there’s two to read, and they keep getting shifted, and the next thing you know, there’s three or four of the things sitting there.
It happens to everybody if they stay in this game long enough, and there’s as many different reasons for it as there are readers. Some are procrastinators. Some don’t have as much reading time as they’d like. And I know some people who wait until they’ve got a complete storyline to read before they crack open the first issue. Which makes sense, I suppose, but at that point I think I’d rather just trade-wait. We addicts do like our floppies, though, so who am I to judge?
But I’m talking about less well-planned delays. Like, maybe you’re just not in the mood for it one month, so it gets set aside for a while. Then, before you know it, the next issue’s out. So now there’s two of them, and you don’t want to commit to sitting down with two back-to-back issues because your memory of not wanting to read it overcomes your memory of the previous issues you liked just fine. I did that with Stray Bullets once.
Shocking, but true. It’s one of my all-time favorite comics. But there was a point when I was feeling kinda low, romantic life gone off the rails and nothin’ much else goin’ for me, either. The storyline at that time was hitting a little too close to home, so… It sat. And sat and sat and sat. Eventually, another arc began, and I started reading again. But those issues I wasn’t in the mood for stayed in the read pile, and remained there for a good long time.
Or maybe you’re in denial. You haven’t really enjoyed reading it for a while, but fond memories of earlier issues keep you buying it regardless. Or maybe you’ve been reading the series for years, and (god help you) you don’t want a break in your collection. I mean, it’s bound to get good again soon… right?
I sometimes refer to this as the “abused wife” mentality. You loved that comic once, and even though it’s become some awful thing that you no longer recognize as the funnybook you married, you know you could love it again, if it would just stop hitting you. This is a cycle of abuse I broke for myself a long, long time ago, and I thank Chris Claremont to this day for sucking so hard for so long on X-Men that I finally just gave up in disgust.
It happens to everyone, and I’m sure everyone has a different tolerance for it. My cut-off is usually three or four issues. I figure, if my desire to read something has waned to the point that I’m willing to let it sit for three or four months, it’s time to consider not spending my money on it anymore. So then, it’s decision time. Sometimes, depending on how much I disliked the earlier issues, I’ll just put them in the dump pile without even reading them. Those books will eventually be sold off, usually for pennies on the dollar. And good riddance.
More often, though, I’ll finally sit down and read the things. Give them a fair trail, as it were. And that, after maybe the longest intro I’ve ever written, brings us to the topic of this week’s column: clearing out that funnybook backlog. I’ve got three series I did that with just this past weekend, binge-reading the piled-up issues and deciding whether or not to purge them out of my collection. So I thought it might be interesting to look at why they sat so long, and what I’ve decided to do about it. First up…
Dept H 7-10
by Matt and Sharlene Kindt
I spent the first six issues of this book hoping for it to be as good as Kindt’s previous series (Mind MGMT), and being dissatisfied with it because it was so very different. That’s an unfair position to put anything in, and I eventually recognized that. But it was too late. I decided that, though this was far from a terrible comic, it was considerably less weird and a lot more straightforward than the previous Kindt work that I’d loved so much, and therefore not really to my taste so much. But I kept forgetting to take it off my pull list down at my local funnybook store, so I kept buying it.
Finally, last week, a new issue came out and I realized that I had four of the damn things sitting here. I almost dumped them and made a special trip down to the store to remove it. But something (probably that “abused wife” instinct that lovers of serialized fiction can never quite shake, no matter how bad Claremont sucks) made me decide, instead, to sit down and read them.
And, holy crap, am I glad I did. Because in these four issue, Dept H finally clicked for me. I’m not sure why. Maybe my expectations were finally low enough that I could accept it as its own thing. Or maybe having four issues back-to-back gave me a sense of story flow that I’d missed before. Or maybe it just got better.
Certainly, these four issues do detail a crisis that gets the plot moving in an interesting direction, while also filling in important background that lets me understand the cast better. One of the problems I had with the early issues is that all the characters obviously had a huge shared history I knew nothing about. But instead of being intrigued by the mystery of that, I instead just felt like there was something missing. I mean, I’m hardly a “WANT ALL STORY NOW” kind of reader. But with Dept H, I just felt alienated, and didn’t care enough to wait for the answers.
Which may be why having all four of these issues together made it work for me so well. Suddenly, I was getting the background I needed to understand the complex web of interpersonal relationships in the book, and once I had that, I was able to start being intrigued by larger issues. So now I’m able to appreciate that this book isn’t just a murder mystery about Jacques Cousteau.
I mean, it IS a mystery story about the murder of a Cousteau/Zissou-like science explorer. But it’s also near-future science fiction about a world ravaged by germ warfare, and the quest for a cure. It’s about love, obsession, and devotion. It’s about suffocating fear, and the need to escape. Plus, there’s Ghost Divers and Psychic Jellyfish!
So what’s not to like? I’m on-board with this book now, and can’t wait for the next issue. So sometimes, I suppose the funnybook backlog can be a good thing. But not always…
by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso
So I’m the one guy who didn’t like 100 Bullets. I mean, I’m sure there’s other people who didn’t care for it. But in the reading sub-set of funnybook fans who love modern-day crime fiction with a sharp high-concept premise and sprawling epic mystery… I’m the one guy who didn’t like 100 Bullets.
I mean, I wanted to like it. And sometimes I did. It was seldom less than beautifully drawn by the wonderful Eduardo Risso. And Brian Azzarello is hardly a bad writer. He’s just… I dunno… Maybe not great? I’m not his biggest fan, anyway. He’s sort of like the Mark Waid of mature readers books for me: I often like his ideas a great deal, but something in the execution leaves me cold.
But, man, do I ever love Eduardo Risso. And sometimes I don’t hate Azzarello. So I’m always tempted by their projects together, and that’s how I’ve felt about Moonshine. It’s a stylish-looking Prohibition-era crime story about a New York mobster who gets mixed up with some moonshining hillbillies who also happen to be werewolves.
See?! That’s a GREAT idea! And, again… RISSO! Still, I held off. I’ve just never cared for Azzarello that much, and writing is still a bigger draw to me than art, so, much like Nancy Reagan, I just said no. But finally, not long before the third issue came out, I had a short week. And you know what that’s like if you’re a funnybook addict. There’s not much in your stack, and you always (ALWAYS!) want more, so you cast your eyes around, and… My eyes fell on Moonshine. So I bought the first two, took them home, and promptly stuck them in the read pile. Then issue three came out, and I hadn’t read the first two yet, but I had them, and they were awful pretty, and issue three had a fantastic cover…
…so I bought it, too. And put it in the read pile with the others. Where it sat while I read other stuff I was more excited about. Then issue four hit, and I figured in for a penny, in for a pound, so I bought it, as well, and determined that I was going to have to sit down and read the lot before the next issue came out. Which I did. And which I almost immediately regretted.
It’s not that it’s bad, exactly. The premise, as I said, is pretty great. And it’s dealing with some interesting issues of race and class. There’s even a nice storytelling element where Our Hero, mobster Lou Pirlo, gets black-out drunk every issue, leaving some rather worrisome holes in his understanding of the plot.
But something’s just… off. The dialogue, which I think is supposed to be clever, doesn’t scan quite right. It’s a bit flat in places, and sometimes the various dialects are a little tin-eared. It’s often disjointed, too, with plays on words that don’t quite translate across the two lines of dialogue they straddle.
The plot is similarly broken, lurching around kind of aimlessly as the story moves forward seemingly of its own volition. Some of that is down to Pirlo’s incipient alcoholism, and I appreciate the gaps caused by his blackouts. But the rest of it just seems kind of haphazard. I will admit, I started hating the dialogue so much that I skimmed a lot of it. So it’s possible that I missed something. Maybe it’s all intentional, designed to mimic Lou’s general lack of direction, and I’m not reading carefully enough to catch that nuance. But I’m not sure I’m willing to give Azzarello that much credit, and I’m not enjoying the ride enough to stick around and find out if I’m selling him short.
So, yeah. It’s straight to the dump pile for Moonshine. Ah, well. They can’t all be winners. Our third and final backlogged book, though, is very much a winner. And that’s its biggest problem…
by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
One thing I didn’t discuss earlier was that situation (rare though it may be) where you’re holding off on a book because it’s not an easy read. It’s something that takes time and attention to fully appreciate, so you hold off reading until you can carve out some good quiet time for it. Then, before you know it, there’s another one. So you need twice as much time, which is even harder to find. And then there’s another, so you need three times as long. Then another, and another, and another, and suddenly you’re looking at setting aside a whole weekend for the damn thing. That’s the point I’m at right now with Matt Fraction and Christian Ward’s Ody-C.
Psychedelic stuff, this book, made moreso by the art of Christian Ward. Click to embiggen that cover above (and especially the one coming up below) to fully appreciate his work here. It’s often stunning, as is Matt Fraction’s story, which is a gender-bent sci-fi retelling of The Odyssey, written in an English-language approximation of the original Greek poetic meter. But because certain aspects of that meter get lost in translation, Fraction’s having to invent new rhythms to make it work. It’s great stuff, but I find that, to really get the most out of it, I’ve got to be in a state of mind (not an altered state, but a state nonetheless) where I can sink into the flow of Fraction’s prose. But poetry reading does not come naturally to me (in spite of my lit degree). It takes time and effort and quiet, even moreso than something that’s more thematically complex, but linguistically straightforward.
So I’ve got… my god… Five issues of Ody-C piled up, awaiting my attention. And my delay in reading them becomes even more jaw-dropping when you look at the fine print on issue 8, and realize that it came out in October of 2015. That’s a long time to let a funnybook lie. Clearly, with this book, things have gone beyond merely wanting to find a good time to read, and into blatant procrastination. I’m not sure why I haven’t sat down with it before now, either. I quite liked the first seven issues, and have little but fond memories of them. So what happened here?
Honestly, I think I let myself get intimidated. Fraction’s story is sprawling, and frequently forces me to draw upon long-atrophied knowledge of mythology in addition to challenging my poetry-reading skills. I’ll hit each issue’s editorial backmatter, and realize how much I missed because I’ve forgotten details of the original stories, or never even grasped those details at all because I read them when I was kid, and didn’t understand the more adult themes at work. That feeling only increased when Fraction took a detour into the Arabian Nights.
I’ve only ever read a children’s version of that, so I not only didn’t understand his very good reasons for making that detour, but was also incredibly unprepared for the adult content. The backmatter explained it all, but still…
You have no idea how humbling it is to have your shortcomings as a reader pointed out to you by a funnybook letter column.
So, yeah. I think maybe I got a bit intimidated. Decided, over and over again, for a year and a half, to fall back on easier reading. Like, you know, a complicated literary dissection of HP Lovecraft and his influence on modern society.
I joke, but Providence is, seriously, a much easier read for me. I know Lovecraft chapter and verse, and Alan Moore’s language, while almost always packed with at least two meanings, is far more natural. I don’t have to fall into its rhythms to enjoy it. I don’t feel like his phrasing is escaping me until it suddenly isn’t anymore, and I feel like a clod for not getting it sooner. It just scans. This isn’t a complaint about Ody-C, you understand. Far from it. Difficulty, for me, is a feature, not a fault. But I’ve let this particular book’s difficulty keep me from reading it, and that’s just chickenshit.
So if anybody reading this knows Fraction, congratulate him for me. He’s finally written something that’s more difficult than Alan Moore. Kudos, sir! I expect to hear word of your wizard cave soon.
Anyway. I’ve started in on my Ody-C backlog, and it’s the same great, confusing, frustrating experience it was when I was reading the first half. Except moreso, because now it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten some of the finer points of the earlier issues, and fear that I may need to go back and re-read the whole damn series to really get it all down.
Which, holy god. I’m gonna need to take a vacation…