So it’s a new week, and hey! We finally got us some new funnybooks! I got no theme or clever thing to say about them, either. I’m just so happy to get new comics that I’m actually tongue-tied! So let’s dive right in…
The Boys: Dear Becky 01
by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun
I missed the announcements for this book, so when it popped up on the new comics list last week, I was a bit gobsmacked. The original run of The Boys is one of my all-time favorite comics, one of those occasions where Garth Ennis hits that perfect balance of gross-out comedy, bitter cynicism, and life-affirming character writing. It also had, as far as I was concerned, a perfect ending. So I was a little trepidatious about returning to it, and potentially having that ending ruined by a new story. But then it came out. And I bought it. And I read it. And…
God, it’s good to have this book back.
That’s Our Man Hughie, ten years gone from the end of the original series, back in Scotland and having a few with his old friend Bobbi down the pub. Which is a great place to start. You get one of those friendship scenes Ennis is so bloody good at, you get an opening “shock” image in Bobbi (a trans woman who makes the most unlikely female anyone’s ever set eyes on), and in conjunction with all that, you get a discussion of being “woke.” Which, holy crap, is a discussion you need to have if you’re Garth Ennis and you’re writing a continuation of The Boys in 2020.
Ennis has, in the past, based an awful lot of humor on characters like Bobbi, and that tendency might not be looked upon too kindly these days. But here’s the thing: though Bobbi’s appearance was funny, her choice of gender was not. That was treated with respect, and the fact that Hughie had a hard time coming to accept that choice was treated as a character flaw. Ultimately, it was a charming little subplot that preached a message of tolerance. But because Bobbi’s appearance is so very ridiculous, some people today would say that makes the positive message suspect.
In some cases, I’d agree with them. But not in this case. There’s a difference between having a laugh and being mean, and Ennis almost always walks that line carefully. There have been times and places where he didn’t, certainly, and he himself has chalked some of that up to growing and becoming more enlightened over time. But more often than not, he nails it. And it looks like he has no intention of stopping now. Complicated as that balancing act may be.
But that’s just the intro! What the book’s really about is a package that Hughie receives. A package containing the diary of Becky Butcher, wife of Billy Butcher, leader of the Boys and (in the end) an all-around madman. It looks like Becky’s pages have been ripped out, so Hughie starts reading with something Butcher himself wrote after she was dead. It brings Butcher back to him, conjured up almost like a ghost, and promises to confront him with some truths that make the past less cut and dried than he’d like.
So, yeah. I think this book’s gonna complicate the ending of The Boys.
And I can’t wait to see how.
November, vol 2: The Gun in the Puddle
by Matt Fraction and Elsa Charretier
This is the second of four OGNs interweaving the story of three unrelated women who get caught up in a crime ring run by some dirty cops, originating in an evidence room and spreading out across the city. We still don’t know everything about what they’re up to, but we do know that it’s big enough for them to kill over it.
This volume is built around the story of Emma Rose, whose childhood dreams of freedom may serve her well now that she’s locked in the trunk of a police car with a dead body. We open with flashbacks to a childhood kite-flying incident to set the tone, and that serves as a good reminder that we’re seeing events out of order in this series. For instance, we see the dead man in the trunk before we see how he got there. But it’s all good. We saw the titular gun in the puddle in volume one, after all, and we don’t find out how it got there til this time. As I think I mentioned in my review of volume one, it’s a slightly disorienting narrative trick, but one that I like very much.
I also quite like Elsa Charretier’s artwork on this book. She’s using a simple line that puts me in mind of the late great Darwyn Cooke. She’s a bit messier than Cooke, but in a way that makes her work more expressionistic. And that’s never a bad thing in a cartoonist.
Colorist Matt Hollingsworth is doing some interesting stuff on the book, as well, shifting his color palette for each individual chapter so that a single color dominates. Some chapters are draped in reds or blues, for instance, giving each section of the book its own distinct feel. But it’s most striking in the orange he uses for the chapter devoted to the “middle woman,” police dispatcher Kowalski, who suspects that something’s up.
So! November is a beautiful comic that tells an intriguing story in a compelling manner. And it’s an 80-page hardcover for 17 bucks. Which ain’t a bad deal.
by Declan Shalvey and Gavin Fullerton
Another crime comic! Also, another story set in Scotland! Which I suppose makes this some kind of amalgam of the other two books we’ve looked at already. But this one isn’t concerned with woke-ness, or with challenging narrative structure. It’s more a straightforward crime story, albeit one with a twist.
It’s the story of two… couriers, let’s call them, who dispose of bodies for a Scottish mobster by dumping them out on the moors. But because of a recent job gone bad, one of these two men has been marked for death himself. So he goes on the run out in the wilds of Scotland, where he meets little else but trouble. What kind of trouble? Well, I don’t want to SPOIL anything, so I won’t say exactly. But it’s worth noting that this book has been categorized by the publisher as “Crime & Mystery / Horror.”
The Bog Bodies of the title refer both to the various people Our (Erstwhile) Heroes have dumped in the bog over the years, and to the more traditional bog bodies: ancient corpses preserved and mummified by the peat bogs in which they met their fate. The moors have long been a killing ground, after all, and writer Declan Shalvey makes use of the connection to good effect.
But this is a good effort all around from Shalvey, who I had previously only known as an artist (for his work with Warren Ellis on Moon Knight and Injection). Though I’ve certainly seen stories and characters a bit like this before, he brings his cast to life rather well, and tells an unsentimental tale that avoids the pat explanations and obvious morals these kinds of thing usually deal in. It would have worked rather well as a British independent film from the 1990s, I think. Which is not to say that it wouldn’t work as a film today. It very much would.
But it also works well as a comic, which is all we’re concerned with right now. Galvin Fullerton’s art for it is all thick lines and heavy blacks. It’s kind of ugly, to be honest, but in a way that works for the subject matter. This is a gritty, ugly sort of story, and Fullerton delivers on that feel in spades.
Like November, Bog Bodies is also an OGN, this one a paperback going for 13 bucks. That makes November a slightly better deal, I suppose, but if you like low-level crime comics, Bog Bodies is well worth a read.
Silver Surfer Black: Treasury Edition
by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore
I bought this book in singles as it was coming out monthly, but Tradd Moore’s art for it is so eye-gogglingly pretty…
…that I finally broke down after weeks of hemming and hawing and bought the Treasury Edition. And I’m really glad I did. The larger size serves this work well, and it goes onto my bookshelf proudly. The only thing I’ve got that really competes with it visually is Jack Kirby’s Treasury-size adaptation of 2001 A Space Odyssey. And that, as long-time readers already know, is about as high a bit of praise as I can give any comic.
If only I cared about the story as much.
Ah, well. It’s still a great comic that I’m happy to own. Just remember, this grade I’m about to give it is for the art, rather than the story…