So we’ve let other chores distract us this week on the nerd farm. Deadline looms, but we’ve still got time for a quick look at a few things: Green Lantern on the vampire planet, a return to form for Black Hammer, and the thrilling return of The Goon! But first, let’s take a look at the ugliness Garth Ennis is currently dragging us through…
A Walk Through Hell 8
by Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka
This issue, we get the story of our villain, who’s been touched by… Evil, I guess? …since childhood. That cover image above is him as a child, holding a carving knife to the throat of his praying father at the dinner table. Seconds later, he draws it back across. Blood sprays everywhere, and his life is changed forever. Why did he do it? Insanity, I suppose. He believed that something was coming, that he would be its vessel, and that he had to prepare himself with atrocity. Which is a thought that I would definitely call crazy… If the previous seven issues of this book hadn’t maybe proven him right.
Alongside his story, we get further meditation on the rising wave of hate in America, and the attitudes that have allowed it to blossom. Driscoll compares it to her childhood in Northern Ireland during the height of the violence there.
Which is worrisome enough. But then Our Villain’s story continues, and we discover that his turn from boy murderer to untouchable child killer was brought about by people of wealth and power “who wanted to see the world go a certain way.” And suddenly all the time Ennis has spent talking politics in this book makes a dreadful, cold sort of sense.
At the very least, he’s suggesting a conspiracy of fear. People who facilitated atrocities to keep the populace afraid so they could retain their grip on power. Whether those people were aware of this “entity” that’s behind the supernatural events here is unclear. Maybe they’re cultists. Fellow devotees of evil, dedicated to furthering their master’s cause. Or maybe they just wanted to keep getting paid. The latter is more chilling, I think, and it’s also more in line with the point Ennis seems to be making here.
And what is that point? Well, I don’t think it’s that the 1% finance child molesters to keep the rest of us in line. I mean, that’s what we’ve been told is happening in the story, but I don’t think Ennis is saying that’s happening in real life. It’s more symbolic, or emblematic maybe, of a greater truth: evil is banal and cruel, and rooted in simple self-interest. It starts small and grows, until suddenly you wake up one morning and realize that you don’t recognize the world. Or maybe even yourself.
All of which makes this book even scarier than I thought.
The Goon 1
by Eric Powell
The Goon is one of my favorite comics of the 21st Century. It’s goofy black humor that sometimes veers off in unexpectedly dark directions. But mostly, it’s about a big ugly guy punching monsters. And lord knows we don’t get enough of that. This new series is a return to the book’s comedy roots, and it does have the feel of classic Goon, filled with dark gags and monster-punching galore, all rendered in Powell’s beautiful meaty art style.
I hear that he won’t be drawing every issue, though, which is sad and worrisome to me. His art is half the appeal here, after all, and his stories always work best when he’s drawing them himself. So we’ll see how the series goes once other people get involved.
Still, though. This first issue represents a nice return to form. It ain’t high art, but I enjoyed it.
The Green Lantern 5
by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp
Another super-fun issue of a super-fun Green Lantern run. This one’s called “Darkstar at Zenith,” but really it could just as easily be titled “NONE MORE GOTH.” Because this time, Hal Jordan goes to the Planet of the Vampires to undergo a trial before being accepted into the Blackstars. And when I say “Planet of the Vampires,” I don’t mean space vampires, like in that Mario Bava movie.
No, I mean that there’s a collection of easily recognizable Earth vampires standing around this place, with no explanation whatsoever.
There’s Morbius, Louis and Lestat, the cast of What We Do In The Shadows, and a bunch of other blood suckers I only kind of half recognize. Like, is that Bela Lugosi’s taller, thinner cousin in the back on the right? Seriously, if anybody out there can identify any of the others, please feel free to do so in the comments. A couple of those guys really feel like characters I should know. I do like those two toward the back on the left, though, making the little crosses with their fingers. They crack me up.
Which is the whole point of that panel, of course. It’s just a throw-away gag. They’re background figures Liam Sharp drew in, like when Steve Bissette drew Sting into the background on Swamp Thing. But still… That whole page is freaking ridiculous, and I laughed my ass off at it. I mean… NECRO SUN?! And look at that gate they’re walking through over to the right of the vampire parade. It’s like Edward Gorey on steroids! Too funny.
The rest of the issue involves Hal undergoing a sort of dark gnosis, an initiation ritual into the Blackstar brotherhood. It’s all very black metal, dark revelation stuff that most books would play deadly serious. But Hal responds to it all like the jock that he is. He doesn’t take any of it very seriously, and so I don’t take any of it very seriously, either. Not that I think I’m supposed to. Some of the lessons they’re trying to teach him sound like real black magic philosophy to my untrained ear, but I think they’re supposed to speak more to the Blackstar mentality than anything else. These guys are, essentially, a death cult, and Morrison could have chosen to make them terrifying. But I don’t think we’re supposed to take anything in this run that seriously. So instead, he went completely over the top with it, and made the whole thing absurd.
Which is okay by me.
Head Lopper Quarterly Adventure Comic 11: The Knights of Venora, Part 3
by Andrew Maclean
Speaking of comics that are fun, we have this! Four times a year, Andrew Maclean turns out another fantasy adventure story filled with drama, jokes, intrigue, and action, drawn in a loose, deceptively simple cartoony style. In recent issues, honestly, his stuff’s gotten a bit looser than I’d like. But he’s still growing and experimenting, trying out new techniques and getting better all the time at storytelling and cartooning basics like conveying character through facial expression. So I really can’t complain too much. This book is always a joy to read, and that’s really all that matters.
Black Hammer: Age of Doom 8
by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston
I’ve been less than enthused about the direction this book’s taken of late, but Jeff Lemire finds his footing again with this issue. Our Heroes were initially trapped on the Farm, a mysterious small town environment where they were discontented but safe. Now they’ve escaped, and returned to Spiral City. But it’s a Spiral City where they were never heroes, and they’re trapped in lives of quiet desperation.
Now, THAT’S the Black Hammer comic I remember falling in love with!
It’s good to have Dean Ormston back on art, as well. The book just doesn’t feel right without him.
Black Hammer ’45 1
by Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Matt Kindt
I was a bit wary of this Black Hammer spin-off before it debuted. The last couple of these side projects weren’t very good, and in this case, Black Hammer creator Jeff Lemire was only co-plotting the book. But I’ve enjoyed some of Ray Fawkes’ indie work (his graphic novel One Soul is a particular favorite of mine), and I love to see Matt Kindt drawing anything. Plus, it’s the Hammerverse version of the Blackhawks, cast here as a black fighter pilot squadron in World War II. So I couldn’t resist.
And I’m glad I didn’t, because this book is a lot of fun. Like all the best Black Hammer books, it serves as both tribute and elegy, celebrating funnybook insanity while also dealing unflinchingly with sadness and regret. Here, we follow the two surviving members of the Black Hammer Squadron as old men reflecting on their glory days, and remembering everything those days cost them. That aspect of the book is touching, but it’s the insanity surrounding their losses that keeps it from turning maudlin. Because World War II in the Hammerverse was completely insane.
We’ve seen a bit of the super hero side of things in that era, but this book adds amazing weird war stuff to the mix. There’s the Horseless Rider (a giant phantom cowboy), the Nachtwulf Patrol (a bunch of Nazi werewolves), the Ghost Hunter (a remorseless Nazi flying ace in an all-white Stukka), and of course the Red Tide.
SO freaking cool.
I mean, I dunno. Maybe that’s just my childhood love of World War II comics talking. But, DUDE! I kind of regret that this is the story of the Black Hammer Squadron’s last mission, because I could seriously go for an on-going series in this setting.
Or… hell. I say that now. But an on-going would probably take some of the shine off it. And that’s not what Black Hammer’s really about, anyway. So I’ll take what I’m getting while I can, and be happy I had the experience.
And I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for this week. A bit perfunctory in comparison to our usual long-winded fare, but ah well. Time is not always our friend.