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Crushing Existential Despair, and Other Marvelous Nonsense: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

So it’s been a good month for funnybooks. Good, but harrowing…

Mister Miracle 9
by Tom King and Mitch Gerads 

Is this still the best comic that I don’t actually enjoy reading?

Well… Probably not. That’s probably Optic Nerve.

But Optic Nerve hardly ever comes out, so…

Is this the best regularly-released genre comic that I don’t actually enjoy reading?

Yes.

Yes, I very much think it is.

And make no mistake, it IS good. It’s VERY good. Tom King is working in pain and frustration and malaise, writing a parable for our own aimlessly war-torn times. He’s playing with Jack Kirby’s toys, riffing on his themes and applying them to today in the way that Kirby applied them to the Vietnam era. Much as I might have some issues with some of his staging and dialogue choices, this is a brilliant piece of writing.

I just don’t enjoy reading it.

I admire the hell out of it.

I’ll be reading it all the way to the bitter end.

But I don’t enjoy it.

Not really.

Except in that sort of distant, abstract way that you enjoy well-crafted things.

Because on that front… especially this issue, which is among the best comics I’ve read this decade…

I enjoy it a LOT.

A Walk Through Hell 2
by Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka

Much like Tom King’s Mister Miracle, this book trades in the existential dread of our present. But while King’s work is steeped in the endless horror of the war on terror, what Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka are tapping into here is how that horror has seeped into our everyday. It’s about the horror of realizing that nothing makes sense. This is the horror of Putin and Trump, of misinformation and Fake News. It’s the horror of lies that masquerade as truth, but that contain just enough truth to make you doubt. Taken far enough, and mixed with enough desperation and fear, it’s enough to turn bad into good. Or to keep a gun firing long after it’s run out of bullets.

I’ll let you take that particular metaphor wherever you think it needs to go. Me personally, I’m going to have to see more of this series, and see where Ennis takes it, to really unpack everything. Right now, though, I’m diggin’ it. I’m diggin’ its coldness, and its nightmarish refusal to make sense. I’m starting to think it’s the natural, 100-years-later heir to HP Lovecraft. But I’m not sure of that yet. Something about it feels a bit slight at this point, so… like I said… I’m going to have to see more. But I will most definitely be sticking around to make that determination.

Doctor Star and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows 4
by Jeff Lemire and Max Fiumara

This is the saddest comic I’ve read in forever.

But it’s a good kind of sad, you know? Healing-sad, rather than crushing-existential-despair sad.

It’s a story of regret and family and super heroics, a story of small moments languishing in the shadows of big ones. There’s an earnestness and an honesty to it… a soul-deep ache… that I respond to in the same way I respond to the very best country music songs. It’s the sort of thing that Jeff Lemire often writes when he’s not in work-for-hire corporate spandex mode, and it’s some of my favorite stuff on the stands today.

Eternity Girl 4
by Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew

The thing I think I like most about this comic, other than its convincing exploration of suicidal nihilism, is its deep interest in experimentation. This issue, as we’re shown reality from several different perspectives at once, mash-up DJ style, we get sequences homaging Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl, four-color super hero comics, Gillen and McKelvie’s Wicked + Divine, and Charles Schultz’s Peanuts.

That Peanuts sequence is probably the best. Charlie Brown knew a thing or two about nihilism, so the metaphor seems particularly well-placed. But those pages also do the best job of capturing Eternity Girl‘s mix of fun, despair, and playful re-mixing of the comics medium. That’s what makes it such an entertaining read for me, and this issue does maybe the best job of it yet.

Isola 3
by Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl

This beautiful book is slowly but surely becoming one of my favorites. Its Miyazaki-inspired adventure story is at turns magical and brutal, funny and sad. And, best of all, deeply weird in the way that folklore and myth tends to be. That last aspect comes to the forefront this issue, as we meet the Moro, half-human forest spirits with an agenda separate from the politics and warfare Our Heroes are running from, but intimately connected, it seems, to whatever happened to turn the queen into a tiger.

Which makes no sense at all, I suddenly realize, if you haven’t been reading the book. So let me correct that: Isola is the story of a devoted soldier escorting her queen through the wilderness to a place of safety. Some undisclosed scandal and strife lie behind them, and enemies lurk everywhere. Also, like I said, the queen has been mysteriously transformed into a tiger, and they don’t know how or why. Or if they do, they’re not telling.

You never know, though. They are, understandably, keeping things close to their chests. But as their journey unfolds, we learn more about what they really know, and what’s going on. There’s some really nice world-building going on here, too. Fletcher and Kerschl have created a fully-realized fantasy world, and are revealing it to us one detail at a time. There’s a real sense of puzzle pieces falling into place as the adventure story unfolds, and that makes it a thrilling read beyond all the running and fighting.

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s so damn pretty to look at.

click to embiggen the gorgeousity

So, yeah. Isola is good funnybooks, and it’s getting better with each passing issue. Definitely worth checking out.

Hawkman 1
by Robert Venditti and Bryan Hitch

I bought this book for three reasons: One, I like Hawkman. Two, Bryan Hitch draws nice-looking super hero punch-ups. And three… This happens:

That’s right! It’s Hawkman vs a giant Gorilla-God Golem!

HEE.

That’s neat. And this is a neat take on Hawkman, in general. They’re going with a “Carter Hall, Adventuring Archaeologist” approach, which I like quite a bit. He’s like a super hero version of Indiana Jones here, which is an idea I can’t believe hasn’t been done before. And I mean, I dunno… Maybe it has. I’m far from a Hawkman expert. But it’s new to me, and I like it.

And if that’s all there was to it, I might be sticking around to read more. That would be lightweight super hero fun, with the potential for cool adventures in exotic locales, with the whole of DC Comics history to draw on for inspiration. But, no. They have to tack on Carter Hall’s quest for understanding of all the many past lives he’s lead, across the universe and into the future, where some horrible dystopian thing waits for him, and…

Ugh.

If there’s one thing I never want to read about again, it’s the confusing continuity clusterfuck that is Hawkman. Just let the poor bastard have some adventures, dammit! Write them well enough to make people want to read them, and leave the meta-plotting in the past where it belongs! That shit was cool when Alan Moore wrote Miracleman, but that was 30 years ago! And it was Alan freaking Moore! Who’s good enough to make it sing!

This comic did not sing. It hummed a nice little ditty for a while. But then it lost the tune. Ah, well. It was a nice idea, anyway…

And speaking of books that are wandering off into fanboy-pandering suck…

Man of Steel 2 & 3
by Brian Michael Bendis, Doc Shaner, Steve Rude, Ryan Sook, and Jason Fabok

We’re now halfway through Brian Bendis’ Superman debut, and at this point I’ve pretty much got my reaction to it figured out: Bendis is doing a great job writing the character and his environment. But I really don’t like the story he’s telling.

It’s the little things he’s getting right. His Superman feels like a real character in a way he often doesn’t, and the world of Metropolis (especially the Daily Planet) is filled with equally living, breathing people. And I like that.

But I don’t like new bad guy Rogol Zaar, and I especially don’t like the cheap heat Bendis is trying to build by making him the guy who blew up Krypton. I already said in my review of issue one that I don’t like the idea of Krypton not having been destroyed by Kryptonian hubris, but even beyond that… How many times in the last 30 years have we seen a writer try to prop up a lame-ass new villain by ret-conning him into the hero’s past? It’s been done to death, and I’m kind of disappointed to see it happening again here, in a book that I otherwise like quite a bit.

Now, this isn’t a final judgment. Bendis has three more issues to make Rogol Zaar interesting enough to take the curse off that whole ret-conning angle, and he may yet do it. Issue one hinted at some pretty interesting motivations, and if Bendis explores those, I might wind up liking this asshole in spite of myself, bullshit ret-con and bad character design be damned.

What happens in issue three isn’t doing him any favors, though.

SPOILERS lie ahead, so you may want to skip ahead a bit if you don’t wanna know. I’ll post a big “END OF SPOILERS” alert so you know when it’s safe to continue.

But if you don’t care about that… In issue three, Rogol Zaar breaks into the Fortress of Solitude and destroys the Bottle City of Kandor, with the implication that everyone inside is dead.

Ugh. Again.

This is another one of those modern comics writing tricks that bugs the hell out of me. It’s that thing where they try to pop sales by destroying some small-but-beloved part of the hero’s life, just to prove that the stakes are REALLY SERIOUS THIS TIME, YOU GUYS! It’s the sort of thing that can be quite effective, if it’s handled correctly, with the proper dramatic weight at exactly the right point in the story. But it’s been done so poorly, so many times, that it’s hard to pull it off without it seeming like cheap sensationalism. And Bendis didn’t earn this one. Since that scene in issue one when we saw Rogol Zaar’s epic despair at being told he couldn’t kill all the Kryptonians legally…

…his story’s been kinda flat. He hates Krypton, for reasons that we kind of vaguely halfway understand. But there’s nothing else. His discovery of the Fortress is unexplained, and nearly wordless. Issue three artist Ryan Sook does a decent enough job of conveying Zaar’s shock and dismay upon finding this monument to this thing he hates…

…but we don’t know enough about him yet to really feel anything along with him. So he finds Kandor, he (somehow) knows exactly what it is, and we know what he’s going to do to it. But we (or I, at least) don’t really care. I mean, obviously I care a little, or else I wouldn’t be going on so long about why I think it was a bad idea to have him destroy it. But the dramatics of the moment don’t function. It doesn’t get under my skin that I know what’s about to happen. I don’t despair for Superman finding it, even though I know it’s going to hurt when he does. The whole thing’s just too rote, too matter of fact. Too “I’ve read this story before.” So I don’t respond to it the way I should.

**END OF SPOILERS!**

You know what I do respond to, though? That bitchy Daily Planet gossip columnist pressing Clark Kent for the scoop on what happened to Lois Lane!

That’s touchy stuff! That, I feel! I also feel Perry White’s despair at the state of the newspaper business.

click to embiggen

Guh! Heart-breaking!

(And that GORgeous unannounced Steve Rude fill-in art doesn’t hurt, either. Rude drew half of issue two, on what I can only assume was an insanely tight deadline, and it’s easily the best art in the series to date.)

But I’m fascinated by the arson sub-plot, too, and by Superman’s ruminations on what it’s like to BE SUPERMAN, and the joyous chaos of the newsroom, and… and… ALL THAT STUFF!

I guess what I’m saying is, the human side of this book is far too good to be dragged down by such soulless, cynical, bog-standard Event Comics bullshit. So I’m frustrated. At this point, I just want Man of Steel to be done, so I can see how Bendis is going to handle things once he’s over this initial hurdle. And I probably care enough to spend another 12 bucks to get there. But I fear that parts of it (BIG parts) are going to suuuuuuuccckk.

But, hey! As long as we’re talking about writers I loved ten years ago who frustrate me now with their hackiness, I also bought a new Mark Millar thing…

The Magic Order 1
by Mark Millar and Olivier Coipel

I liked this comic a lot more than I really should have, I suspect. When I went back to it just now, to figure out what to say, it seemed… Kinda empty. The characters and situations at the base of it felt well-worn and familiar. The charming, unreliable rogue. The good son. The prodigal who just wants out of the family business. The mysterious bad guy doing mysterious bad guy stuff. The cocky asshole villains. I’ve seen it all before, and I suspect there’s not much more to any of it than there appears to be on the surface.

But, OOOHHH, what a surface!

This book pushes all my supernatural fiction buttons, and it pushes them well. It’s stylish and weird, and chock-full of esoteric traditions to puzzle over. There’s a secret order of magicians sworn to protect humanity from weirdness, and a gaggle of black magic ne’er-do-wells to oppose them. The magic is deliciously other-worldly, complete with eerie possessions, bloody murders, and impossible alterations of reality. The bad guys are shockingly nasty, and the good guys are of the tarnished, world-weary variety that I like better than anything.

It’s pure pulp candy for me, and if it’s a bit shallow at its core… I’m not sure I care all that much. Sometimes, candy is good. Your mileage, of course, may vary. But for me, it rates…

And I see we’re running out of time here, so let’s just go round-robin on the rest of these books I’ve got here in my stack…

The last regular monthly(ish) issue of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus (that’s issue 28) sees the inexorable crushing horror of the post-Democratic world destroy the happy life Jonah Carlyle built for himself. And I don’t think anybody’s going to be very happy with what he does next. The penultimate issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Kill or be Killed features another entertaining bloodbath to feel bad about enjoying, and also some uncharacteristically stiff and uneven artwork from Phillips. Still a good read, though. I’ll miss this book when it’s gone. Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Denied #9 rolls on in the book’s meandering narrative style, and I find that I’m still having trouble caring very much about it. It’s not a bad comic, by any means, and I’ve followed the Mage saga so far at this point that there’s no way I’ll be stopping before it’s done. But something about this one’s just not doing it for me. It lacks dramatic urgency, and that’s not a good thing. David Lapham’s Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses gets a bit too silly for its own good in issue 35, as Vic’s drug- (and, now that I think of it, chemical-imbalance-)induced hallucinations take on the veneer of UFO culture, right down to the damn tinfoil hat. I mean, it’s funny, but… Maybe a little too on-the-nose. The 11th issue of Jeff Lemire’s Royal City brings us back to the present, as the cast starts putting things together about their own family history, but Richie (ever the screw-up) may ruin the chances of Tommy’s spirit getting to rest anytime soon. Like Kill or be Killed, this is another series that’s ending sooner than expected, and I think I’ll miss it even more.

Aaaaaannnnddd… There’s a few more in there, but I think I’m done. See you next time.

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About Mark Brett (486 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

3 Comments on Crushing Existential Despair, and Other Marvelous Nonsense: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!!

  1. Dale Bagwell // June 20, 2018 at 7:52 am // Reply

    Well you won’t have to suffer through Mr. Miracle anymore after September, when it ends at 12. Curious to see what your thoughts are about the series when it wraps up. Seems good, at least art-wise if nothing else.

    Could just be me, but it seems after Harry Potter came out, everybody and their dog wants to do a magic series. This latest one by Millar at least looks like it’ll be good art-wise due to Copiel. But yeah he’s pretty much enjoying his stay in Hack’s ville, especially now that he’s getting Netflix money.

    That Doctor Star series looks so hauntingly beautiful that I might need to buy the trade when it comes out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mister Miracle is brilliant, and I wouldn’t miss an issue. I just think it’s a bad idea that robs the New Gods of their mythic power. Unless I’m right about what’s really going on in it: I don’t think any of it is actually happening. It’s all Scott trying to escape Darkseid’s Omega Sanction — aka “The Life Trap.” Three more issues, and I suppose we’ll find out.

      Liked by 1 person

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