So here we are with a stack of funnybooks to review. Looks like there’s new Immortal Hulk, Jonathan Hickman’s New Mutants relaunch, the first issue of that Blackstars mini Grant Morrison’s using to bridge the first two seasons of The Green Lantern… and what was easily the best comic I read last week:
November, Volume 1: The Girl on the Roof
by Matt Fraction and Elsa Charretier
We’ve been big Matt Fraction fans here on the nerd farm for a long time, dating back to the first issue of Casanova back in 2006. In a lot of ways, he’s the ideal funnybook writer for the Dork Forty aesthetic: simultaneously cool, nerdy, funny, heartbreaking, and fond of clever narrative tricks that enhance the reading experience, elevating it beyond straightforward genre fiction.
Which brings us to his latest: November. Specifically, November: The Girl on the Roof, the first of three OGNs coming out over the course of the next year. This first one starts things off well, with an intriguing premise: a woman is hired to decipher a hidden puzzle from the newspaper every morning, and broadcast the solution over an illegal rooftop radio station.
From there, Fraction develops his premise into a compelling mystery: the woman knows nothing about who’s creating the puzzles, who installed the radio station, who’s listening for the solutions, or even what the solutions mean. Then he expands things, ensnaring two other people into whatever’s going on: a police dispatcher who stumbles across something insidious, and a woman who finds a gun abandoned in a puddle on her way home from the grocery store. Before this first volume’s over, mass violence is breaking out all over the city, and Dee (the titular Girl on the Roof) has fled in a panic. And we still don’t know why.
But to say much more about the story would spoil things. So let’s take a turn at the art, instead. Elsa Charretier’s previous work is unknown to me, but I like what she’s doing here very much.
It’s solid cartooning that puts me in mind simultaneously of Gilbert Hernandez, Darwyn Cooke, and that skuzzy, dark, Italian-influenced style Keith Giffen was experimenting with in the late 80s. You’d often expect a more grounded style for a story like this, but Charretier’s expressionistic approach allows her to convey more emotion, something that’s pretty key to Fraction’s storytelling style. So while these aren’t perfect pages, they ARE perfect for this book.
And that’s November. It’s big, sprawling modern noir that tells its story in bits and pieces as events spiral out of control. It’s clever, stylish, and mysterious, and that makes it very much my favorite kind of book. It’s not crazy Alan Moore levels of good, mind you. But it’s still the kind of book that keeps me reading comics. Plus, it shares a a title with one of my favorite Tom Waits songs…
…and that’s enough to put it over the top.
Blackstars 1 (of 3)
by Grant Morrison and Xermanico
When last we saw Hal Jordan, he was on the horns of a dilemma. He could either let the universe die, or he could use the last vestiges of power in his ring to save the universe in the name of Controller Mu, leader of the Blackstars and machiavellian space villain who wants nothing less than absolute control of everything.
Guess we know what choice Hal made.
So, yeah. This book’s a fun romp in the style of Morrison’s Green Lantern, full of crazy big ideas in service to a story that makes more sense than it looks like on the surface. My favorite of those has to be the first one we encounter: a group of demons so ridiculously decadent that they join Controller Mu’s cause because the one horrible thing they’ve never experienced is their own degradation.
Heh. Those guys are awesome.
Immortal Hulk 26
by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett
I don’t know where I expected this book to go after last issue’s mind-blowing “Hulk Kills the Universe” flash-forward revelation, but this wasn’t it. Because this issue picks up from issue 24’s conclusion, with Hulk in control of Shadow Base, and Bruce Banner taking the equipment (and the black budget) suddenly at his command to… become an anti-corporate terrorist?
Uhm… Wow. Not to get too political here, but… I honestly can’t argue too much with Banner’s stated motivations. There are powerful people destroying the world for profit, and (and he says in another speech elsewhere in this issue) they face no consequences for their actions. They’re creating a corrupt and unsustainable world, and in his eyes that world… or at least the system they’ve devised to run it… deserves to be smashed.
If that sounds like an abrupt turn in the Immortal Hulk story, that’s because it is. There’s been little or no political or ecological subtext in the book prior to this. It’s largely been about The Hulk as Body Horror, and Bruce Banner’s personal damage. But Ewing may have taken that as far as he can. He’s established his baseline, and now he’s moving on, giving Banner access to money and power, and seeing what he does with it. Which, fittingly, is to turn his attention to the world’s bullies.
And that, I think, is his real motivation. Banner’s been bullied all his life. His father was a bully, his father-in-law was a bully, certain versions of the Hulk have even been bullies. So I can see him, in this situation, looking around at the world and deciding to use this opportunity to point the Hulk at the biggest bullies he can find, and pulling the trigger. In other words, I don’t think Banner’s suddenly developed a social conscience.
I think he’s really in it for the smashing.
Aaaannnddd… We suddenly find ourselves in a bit of a time crunch. So from this point on, we’ll be switching over to CAPSULE REVIEWS!!!
Ether: The Disappearance of Violet Bell 2
by Matt Kindt and David Rubin
I continue to love this book’s mix of fairy tale whimsy and bitter reality. In this issue, for instance, Our Hero Boone Diaz crosses the River of Nonsense, where the water comes alive to form possibly-hallucinatory apparitions that can kill you if you stare into their depths. He also passes through the Blood Gulf, a body of water that’s actually a living organism, a mass of hemoglobin that also comes alive and sucks the life out of you if you disturb it too much.
Boone dispatches that terror by feeding it ginger root (a natural blood thinner), in another spectacular example of both his greatest strength and most annoying weakness: over-weening self-confidence that borders on a terminal case of mansplanation.
Beautiful, funny, and sad, Ether is always a pleasure to read.
Silver Surfer Black 5 (of 5)
by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore
As I believe I’ve said in every review of this book I’ve written to date, I was really buying it for the amazing art of Tradd Moore. And that’s good, because here at the end of the series… I still don’t give a rat’s ass about the story. But holy crap was it ever pretty to look at.
New Mutants 1
by Jonathan Hickman, Ed Brisson, and Rod Reis
Picked this one up because it’s an X-Book being co-written by Jonathan Hickman, the architect of the current X-Status-Quo. So I figured it might be worth reading, just in case he slips in some important stuff along the way. And he might. There’s an interesting tidbit, for instance, about how Krakoa interacts with the biospheres its flowers are taken into: essentially, it tries to take over. Which is a trifle ominous, for those of us waiting for the other mutant shoe to drop.
Otherwise, though, it was just kinda… okay. It’s a story about the New Mutants hitching a ride into space with the Starjammers so they can go visit / collect their old teammate Cannonball. And Rod Reis is working in a style that’s a neat tribute to the work Bill Sienkiewicz did on the most fondly-remembered incarnation of this title, but that’s also disappointing in the way that it captures the surface gloss of Sienkiewicz’s work without really living up to the exciting weird creativity of it.
Which, you know… I suppose that’s New Mutants in a nutshell. It’s kinda fun, and I didn’t hate it. But I also didn’t like it enough to make it worth the five bucks I paid for it. I might read the Hickman issues of it going forward. Or I might just read somebody else’ copies…
And there’s a bit more in the pile (new Grendel, Copra, and Pretty Deadly, for instance), but I’ve run out of time to discuss them. So that’ll have to do it for now. So long, nerd farmers! Here’s hoping I’ll see you again next week.