So I think maybe it’s time to dig into this giant stack of funnybooks on my desk…
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest 2
by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
I forget sometimes how… exhausting this book can be. You’ve got Alan Moore doing his thing, writing straightforward adventure stories with more going on than is obvious at first glance. Then he and O’Neill set in with the cameos and tributes and easter eggs. Things that seem familiar, but aren’t. Characters who are obviously supposed to be somebody, but you’re not sure who. Characters you do know, and are delighted by, but whose presence sends your brain scrabbling back at all that stuff you didn’t… quite… get…
It can be a bit of a workout.
Or not, if you don’t choose for it to be. The story makes sense without all that. But you know me. Always digging. Always looking for more. I can’t resist. There are far more knowledgeable people than I out there doing annotations of all the League books, of course, but I haven’t sought those out just yet. I’ll do a second read-through with those in-hand later. But for now, I’m happy with the confusion. Mostly. This new series is dealing a lot with British comic books, which is even more maddening to me than most of the cultural riffing Moore and O’Neill get up to. Because comics is a field I know an awful lot about. Homages to comic book characters and creators are things I normally understand innately. But my knowledge of British comics is pretty limited. More limited than I realize, until I go traipsing off into an issue of this new League series and suddenly find myself lost in the middle of the swamp, surrounded by things that should be familiar, but aren’t.
This issue, for instance, features a tribute to Frank Bellamy, a brilliant artist whose work I was only vaguely aware of because he only worked in England. Bellamy made his name in the pages of Eagle, doing strips like Heros the Spartan and Dan Dare, and the comics adaptation of Thunderbirds…
…in the series TV Century 21 (to which this issue’s cover is a tribute). And holy crap, was he good. I’ve just spent the last hour drooling over his work on-line, and much as I’m tempted to turn this review into a history of the man, I’ll resist the urge and instead direct you to his Wikipedia page and this simple image search, so you can crawl down that Bellamy rabbit hole the same way I did.
This issue opens with a profile of Bellamy, and the story features several big two-page spreads done in tribute to his most famous work. Now, Kevin O’Neill isn’t nearly the draftsman Bellamy was. His work is more expressionistic than realistic (which, don’t get me wrong, has charms all its own). But he does a nice job playing with layout, and even does a tribute to the cut-away technical diagrams Bellamy was famous for.
So it’s a fun issue, even though Moore is clearly not playing around this time around. This is reportedly the final League series, and he’s destroying some of the series’ core concepts as he goes. I’m honestly not sure how it’s all going to end. He may well be bitter enough toward the corporate creative industry at this point that he’ll blow it all to smithereens, just to make a point about how shabbily they’re handling our cultural heritage of awe and wonder. Or Our Heroes may rally, and send the forces of dreary fascist greed packing. The latter would be more satisfying, of course, but Moore’s certainly not afraid of a bleakly cautionary ending. So we’ll see where it goes.
But speaking of corporate fascist entertainment…
by Tom King, Lee Weeks, and Matt Wagner
I’ve really enjoyed these post-wedding issues of Tom King’s Batman. Part of that is the guest-artists, of course. Both Lee Weeks and Matt Wagner are a step up from the series’ regular artists, with Weeks in particular turning in beautiful work.
But it’s really the stories that have pleased me the most here. The first is a three-parter about Bruce Wayne serving jury duty on a case solved by the Batman… and arguing that he made a mistake! This is staged as a crisis of faith, Batman doubting himself and his mission in the wake of having his heart broken. But I don’t much care about the on-going meta-arc of this run. I picked this up because it sounded like a break from all that crap. I like it as an old-fashioned kind of Batman story.
Because how Silver Age does this sound? Batman makes a mistake, and because of some contrived bullshit reason (in this case, heartache and self-doubt) he can’t just go to Commissioner Gordon and admit it. So instead, he fixes the problem as BRUCE WAYNE, RESPONSIBLE CITIZEN! I love that shit! I mean, yes. King does a good job making the personal angst work dramatically. I never felt like this was over-wrought or out of character. But at the heart of it, this is a great old hokey sort of Batman premise, and I love it for that.
The Matt Wagner issue comes after that, and I like it for similar reasons. Mainly, I like it because it shows that Bruce Wayne did a rather good job of raising Dick Grayson. He helped him get over the pain of his parents’ deaths, leaving Dick a healthier and happier person than Bruce himself was ever able to be. That’s… nice. It’s the sort of thing parents always want to do for their children, and that’s a far more positive look at the relationship than we’ve gotten from most Batman writers in the modern era. It’s a take on them that hearkens back to the tone of their interactions in the classic Batman and Robin stories, and I dig that.
I especially like the way that Dick falls back into his familiar Robin behavior patterns while working with Batman: he plays the devil-may-care smart-ass to Bruce’s dour hard-ass. In part, he’s doing that on purpose, to remind Bruce of happier days. And he’s definitely trying to make the Dark Knight do something we don’t often see him do anymore: laugh.
But that’s also the sort of thing that happens when you’re around people you haven’t interacted with in a while: you all may have changed, but getting the team back together tends to make you fall back into your old patterns. That’s some smart writing, in service to a story that, at its core, is a heartwarming tale about the things we do for family.
I’m sure the book will, soon enough, go back to the less-than-stellar artwork and larger story that I don’t care about, and I’ll wander off again. But I’ll even give that stuff an issue or two before I drop it again. King earned it with these two stories, and I’d very much like to enjoy his run. But that’s the future. And in the meantime, these four issues rate…
Head Lopper Quarterly Adventure Comic #9:
The Knights of Venora, Part 1of 4
by Andrew Maclean and Jordie Bellaire
The new season of Head Lopper starts here, and so far it’s a doozy, with all the stylized fantasy adventure action (and, of course, head lopping) that we’ve come to expect from this book, coupled with court intrigue and religious intolerance in the walled city of Venoriah. We even get a flashback to the night that Norgal the Head Lopper took Agatha Blue Witch’s head! What more could you want?!
X-Men: Grand Design: Second Genesis 2
by Ed Piskor
With this issue, Ed Piskor’s epic re-telling of X-Men history as if it all made some kind of sense gets into the era when I was a hardcore X-Men fan. I read the Byrne run only sporadically. Much as I enjoyed it when I did pick it up, I only bought two or three issues a year, staying away unless a story looked too juicy to skip. Something in it just disturbed my youthful self, and so I gave it a miss, thinking that it might be just a little too grown-up for me. In retrospect, that was most likely my innocent mind sensing, without understanding, that a lot of what went on in that book was Chris Claremont writing out his own fetish wank fantasies. So it’s probably for the best. But after Dark Phoenix, I could resist no longer. Weird as it made me feel (and it made me feel less and less weird the older I got), that book was just too good to pass up. So I dove in with both feet, and didn’t look back.
I had wondered how I was going to react when Piskor got to this stuff. I knew these stories pretty well, so I thought I might get bored. Or, worse, that I might react negatively when he changed something to make it fit better into his overall plot. And there was a bit of that. Rogue’s evil glee in her first appearance…
…just isn’t there. Instead, she’s presented from the outset as a confused, withdrawn innocent, under the influence of Mystique, who loves and protects her, but who is also maybe not the best maternal role model. Which is certainly more in line with how she’s been written ever since Avengers Annual #10, but still. Rogue’s evil smile is burned into my mind, and it’s a hard image to give up.
Much to my surprise, though, that was about the only thing I remembered with such clarity. I had completely forgotten whole chunks of story here, and pretty soon it was impossible for me to tell what I remembered wrong, and what Piskor had changed for dramatic effect. And once I accepted that, I enjoyed the hell out of this comic. It allowed me to revisit comics that, quite frankly, I will never read again, and it did it in a way that let me appreciate the things I loved about them in high school while still maintaining enough distance that I didn’t start to hate them for their shortcomings.
I mean, the whole thing is completely ridiculous, don’t get me wrong. But that’s part of the fun. And if I can enjoy that fun with a minimum of bad dialogue and over-wrought melodrama… All the better!
The Wicked + The Divine 38-39
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Explaining what it is I’m enjoying about this comic at this point is increasingly difficult, and increasingly spoilery. These two issues represent the end of the next-to-last arc, and trying to tell you why I was blown away by what Persephone did here…
…is only going to make sense if you’ve been reading it all along.
So I’ll just say this: Gillen and McKelvie are turning in a truly fascinating exploration of fame, gods, and myth cycles. If you’re interested in any of that stuff, and you haven’t been reading it… There’s still time. It’s all available in trades, and if you dive in now, you can join the rest of us in having your mind blown by the finale.
Which is starting this winter.
Which is very exciting.
And which also makes me kind of sad.
I wasn’t always sure I was going to feel that way about this book.
But here we are, nearly at the end, and I already know that I’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Alright. That’s all we’ve got time for this week, but at least we’re ending on a high note. And we’ll be back with more next time. ‘Cause that funnybook stack’s still pretty tall…