So the stack of unreviewed funnybooks on my desk is getting pretty big. I’ve been concentrating on long-form reviews of single books here lately, along with dork movies and TV shows that have sparked my interest. And with the debut of the revived Twin Peaks next week, I’ll soon have even more non-comics-related stuff to talk about. If I’m gonna whittle that stack down in any reasonable fashion, I’m gonna have to do it now. So here we go. In capsule format… With tons of hugely embiggenable artwork… Covering books that I maybe haven’t already reviewed a million times… Except this first one… Which was so good, I couldn’t not talk about it…
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses 21-23
by David Lapham
Things, as usual, get completely out of hand as these three issues wrap up the story of Stray Bullets star Beth’s reunion with her mother. People get killed, crippled, and otherwise left with scars that won’t heal. Orson gets drunk. Nina gets laid. Beth gets revenge. Rose gets Joey back. Annie’s life falls apart. And nobody really learns a damn thing.
But the final scene in issue 23 features one of the sharpest bits of character writing I’ve seen in quite a while. I won’t spoil it, but it’s beautiful. It seems like a shocking character turn on the surface, a sudden act of self-sacrifice from a character you’d never expect. Then the reality of the situation sinks in, and you realize that it’s actually just selfishness, manifesting in an unusual form.
Complicated and perfect. And yet another reminder, in a long string of reminders, that Stray Bullets remains the best crime comic on the stands today. Maybe the best one ever. Miss it at your own loss.
Black Monday Murders 5
by Hickman and Coker
After a short break, Black Monday Murders Book Two begins with relative quiet. We get some background on Our Murder Victim and his Shockingly Moral Security Chief, Our Intrepid Detective Hero begins his education in the Black Magic of High Finance, and there’s open hostility between the members of the Evil Big Business Ruling Council. It’s a good new starting point, in other words, one without pyrotechnics but more of the world-building that’s been the series’ stock in trade all along.
Alien: Dead Orbit 1
by James Stokoe
We don’t get many James Stokoe comics in a given year, but the ones we do get tend to be imaginative, well-conceived, pretty to look at, and just generally a hell of a lot of fun. This Alien comic is no exception. Stokoe delivers on the creepy…
…while also capturing the bickering blue-collar feel of the original film in a way most of its sequels and spin-offs have failed to do.
by Eric Powell
Eric Powell’s Appalachian Sword & Sorcery comic rolls on with the story of how Rondell the witch-hunter came to be friends with Lucille the giant talking saber-tooth grizzly bear. It’s the usual Hillbilly mix of melancholic whimsy and profane wonder…
…with a troll and a twelve-toed witch, and a rich old man who might be as bad as either one of them. Also as usual, it has the simple elegance of the folktales that serve as its inspiration. The story’s not complex or deep, but it satisfies. And the art is a beauty to behold.
The Visitor 1-3
by Mike Mignola and Paul Grist
I don’t read Hellboy comics all that often anymore. Something went out of the strip for me after the movies. What I loved about it for its first decade or so was that it delivered great horror-adventure atmosphere without second-rate drama or endless angst. It wasn’t terribly deep, but it was fun and it was stylish and it was pretty to look at, and that was enough. But the movies featured all the angst and bad drama I was so happy the book didn’t have, and afterwards Mike Mignola decided the comics needed a bunch of that, too. So he brought in co-writers who injected all that crap into the comics, and in the process lost me as an audience.
Why pick this book up, then? Because Paul Grist is drawing it, and I can’t get enough of that guy. And even though Mignola’s writing it with Chris Roberson, he’s one of the better Mignola collaborators, so I hoped some of the strip’s elegant simplicity might be on display, to match Grist’s visuals. Also, it’s a side story, only tangentially connected to the on-going Hellboy/BPRD saga, which I hoped would further distance it from the weird “supernatural X-Men” angst that drove me off the main books.
Has it satisfied those hopes? Most certainly. Grist’s art and layouts are up to his usual high standards, and the story is fun and satisfyingly weird. It takes place over the course of decades, set within and adjacent to other Hellboy stories, with that great Lovecraft-by-way-of-Ancient-Sumeria feel all my favorite Mignola books have. Also, it doesn’t get bogged down in formulaic attempts at character development, the time-span it covers necessitating a short-hand that lets the relationships speak for themselves. While it doesn’t have the boisterous feel of the early Hellboy (a strip where the hero might very well shout “BOOM!” when he punches a monster), it is cool and fun and pretty to look at.
And that’s enough.
Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea
by Mike Mignola and Gary Gianni
Much like The Visitor, I picked up this Hellboy one-shot for the art. The solo Mignola writing credit didn’t hurt, either, but really it was Gary Gianni’s gorgeous illustrations that swayed me to splurge on it in hardcover. It’s just plain beautiful…
…in that rough-hewn, Rime of the Ancient Mariner kinda way, and I’m a sucker for that sort of thing every time.
Story-wise, it’s pretty good, too. It works on a sort of supernatural dream logic, as a near-dead Hellboy floats adrift in a rowboat and encounters a ghost ship far out at sea. Events unfold in a rickety, disjointed sort of way, and it’s never quite clear exactly what’s going on. Has Hellboy been drawn back in time? Is he caught up in a ghostly reliving of the crew’s final days? Or did he dream the whole thing, lying delirious in the bottom of the boat?
I couldn’t tell you, and ultimately I don’t care. It’s a cool spooky story with gorgeous illustrations. And, as I’ve already established, that’s really all I ever wanted out of Hellboy in the first place.
by Fabian Rangel Jr. and Logan Faerber
I gave this book a try mainly because it’s coming out from Eric Powell’s Albatross Funnybooks imprint, and I figure that if it’s good enough for Powell, it’s good enough for me to try at least one issue. And I figured right. While Nam Wolf is hardly a book of world-shaking quality, it is a lot of fun. It’s a pastiche of Vietnam and werewolf tales, and as such there’s probably not much here that you haven’t seen before. The magic’s in the combination of the two. The appeal is kind of obvious, I think: animal savagery and supernatural strength unleashed in one of the ugliest wars in American history, the curse of the werewolf becoming a blessing on the battlefield.
That could be a recipe for disaster, of course. It’s the kind of idea that could easily slide over into self-parody in the wrong hands. Rangel and Faerber handle it well, though. The book has an understated sense of humor about it, never too jokey or self-referential, but never taking itself entirely seriously, either. It’s also blessed with cartoony artwork that takes the edge off while still conveying the horror.
Again, it’s not the best book of the year or anything. But it is good fun basic comics of a kind I wish the industry produced more often.
Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? 1
by Geoff Darrow and Dave Stewart
I’m always just slightly shocked when a new Shaolin Cowboy comic hits the stands, even though Geoff Darrow has been turning them out on a (for him) semi-regular basis for the last few years. I’m even more shocked that he’s been following a definite continuity for so long. The last three series have all flowed one right into the next, and this one also makes a callback to even earlier stories. It’s not in-depth storytelling at all (AT. ALL.), but considering that this book is primarily an excuse for Darrow to draw page after page of whatever he’s interested in at any given moment…
…this much attention to story detail is impressive.
Not as impressive as the artwork, of course, which is at least three-quarters of the reason to buy the book. Darrow’s visual fascinations this time around seem more varied than the last outing (which consisted of little else but two-page spreads of Our Hero fighting zombies with a chainsaw on a stick). In this first issue alone, we’ve got rednecks, trucks, crab monsters, and agents of Chinese Hell. Which gives it sort of a “Shaolin Cowboy’s Greatest Hits” feel, admittedly. But when all those things are rendered as well as they are here… That’s okay.
Alright. That takes care of most of the stack. I didn’t get around to Matt Kindt’s Grass Kings (which is pretty damn good), or perennial faves like Sex Criminals, Kill or Be Killed, or East of West. But you know what I’m going to say about those books probably before I do. So they’ll keep.
Next week, barring calamity… New Twin Peaks! Which ain’t funnybooks, but hey. I’ve waited a quarter-century for this shit. You’re just gonna have to indulge me a little…