So I only bought three funnybooks last week. But all of them were things I really wanted to read. This is my new funnybook normal: only buy things you really want. It seems like a simple rule, but I have, at times, found it damnably hard to follow. Because so many things look interesting. So I try them. And sometimes, it pays off. But too often, it doesn’t. And that’s how I wind up with a room full of comics, half of which I’ll never read again. So it’s digital-only for that stuff from now on. And in print… Only the stuff I really want.
We’ll see how that goes.
But this week… It went okay. I didn’t bat 1000, but I had every reason to think I was going to, so… No complaints. Live and learn. But now I’m not making any sense at all. So let’s get to the reviews…
by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston
I have no idea what’s going on in this book.
Well, I mean… I do. There’s these two warring space churches, one of them a teeming machine religion that worships the sentient singularity at the center of all things…
…and another (much smaller) church devoted to the rebirth of “The Originator,” who apparently created everything and will be reborn again.
Then there’s Mrs. Morley, the dreadfully polite hired killer who’s taken a young courier from a backwater planet under her wing.
So, yes. I DO know what’s going on in this book. I just don’t know… WHAT’S GOING ON in this book. I don’t know how the church conflict connects to Mrs. Morley, or even if it does. That stuff is quite literally adrift in time and space, while Mrs. Morley’s life seems much more grounded in a specific place and time. Except…
Master Morley (Mrs. Morley’s… husband? …I think?), who looks an awful lot like Prince Charles…
…has a dream. And his dream seems to hint that he might perhaps be somewhat adrift in time and space as well. Which is interesting. And utterly charming. Everything about their interactions is utterly charming, in fact. Those interactions make up the entirely of Chapter Five (“Master Morley and the Better Dreams of Better Men”), seven full pages (including a two-page text piece detailing the dream) of delightfully, dreadfully polite conversation, a not-inconsiderable portion of which is taken up with them (not) talking about how many people she killed today.
So that’s seven pages in which nothing much happens (well, they DO have some tea), and in which we learn nothing (or a lot, depending on how you look at it). And it’s my favorite seven pages in the book so far.
Charm goes a long way.
Hmm. What was I saying? Oh, yes!
I have no idea what’s going on in this book.
And I don’t give a damn.
As long as it remains this entertaining… and this pretty… I’m willing to let it carry me where it may
See? We’re off to a hell of a start here! It’s a good week for comics. Except, well… Maybe notsomuch for this next one…
by Matt Fraction and Terry & Rachel Dodson
This seemed like a no-brainer purchase for me. A new indie book from Matt Fraction? With art by Terry and Rachel Dodson? About some kind of Doc Savage style pulp hero? And a modern-day woman who has to deal with his legacy? Yeah, okay! Sign me up!
But in the actual reading, I found it… Kind of annoying.
Because Fraction, who’s always handled pulpy stuff really well, has entered something of a… jokey? …phase of his writing career. I hesitate to call it “glib,” because glibness implies not taking the subject matter seriously enough. And I don’t think that’s what’s going on here, exactly. I think Fraction’s just having a little too much fun, to the book’s detriment.
That’s from the first half of the issue, which tells the story of Adventureman’s final (?) adventure. It’s absolutely packed, filled to the brim with all manner of cool pulpy adventure characters and action. What sinks it is the dialogue, which is RIDICULOUSLY arch and quippy. It reads like parody, but the action itself is straight enough that it’s clearly not supposed to be parody. It’s CUTE, in other words. And, as longtime Nerd Farm visitors know…
I can’t abide cute.
The sequence is saved somewhat at the halfway point in the issue, when we find out that what we’ve been reading is actually the final Adventureman novel, which is being read by Our REAL Hero, Claire Connell, to her son.
“Oh,” I thought. “That was supposed to be a children’s book or something, and now we’ll find out that the reality wasn’t nearly so annoying.”
And we may. But the rest of this issue is, honestly, every bit as annoying, just in a slightly different way. Claire Connell is one of Fraction’s trademark self-doubting heroes, less bro-tastic than many of his male protagonists, but still in the same general flawed ballpark. And that’s fine. But as we’re introduced to her hang-ups, her family, and her life… Everything’s just a shade too arch. Not as over-the-top “bad super hero writing” as the Adventureman sequence, but still breezy and over-clever to the point that I wanted to slap the comic while I was reading it.
It’s still too cute for its own good, in other words. And I’ve already said how I feel about “cute.”
So, yeah. I suppose Fraction’s Jimmy Olsen writing maybe should have clued me in that he’s working in a style I’m not going to enjoy right now. But, man. MAN. I have enjoyed so very many Fraction books over the years… Especially his indie work… That I wanted to like this one a lot more than I did.
I may still give it another issue, just in case the tone shifts once he really gets the story going. I’m thinking that’s not gonna happen, mind you. But I might try one more issue, anyway. I feel like I owe him that much for Casanova alone. Granted, he never finished Casanova. And one detail from this issue kinda makes me think he ain’t gonna.
Which sucks. But at least I enjoyed the ride while it lasted. Which is more than I can say for this issue.
So, yeah… Not everything I bought last week was top notch. But because I didn’t want to end this column on a low note, I decided to finish up with something better…
Bitter Root 8
by David F Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene
So this book, a monster adventure comic about racial violence in the 1920s, seems amazingly relevant now in a way it didn’t, entirely, before comics went on hiatus. Not that it WASN’T relevant before. The events of recent weeks are showing us that it very much WAS. Most people just didn’t understand exactly how relevant it was. But its themes of rage and racism are so of the moment that looking at a scene like this one now…
…is a different experience than it would have been if this book had come out in April like it was supposed to.
But nobody needs a middle-aged white dude to tell them why black lives matter. I am far more qualified to tell you why this funnybook matters. And it matters because it’s good. It’s dandy pulp adventure fiction, filled with cool monsters and interesting characters, all living in a world that becomes more fascinating the more we learn about it. It’s also quite stylishly executed. I like artist Sanford Greene’s style in general, but there’s at least one sequence in every issue that does something impressive. This issue, for instance, features an excellent scene in which Enoch and Blink administer aid to those affected by a recent wave of violence and monsterism, with musical accompaniment.
Plus, you know… Bitter Root can also teach you a thing or two while it entertains. The story takes place just three years after the Tulsa Massacre, and that incident is a major motivating moment for one of the series’ central characters. Though I don’t think Bitter Root was the first place I ever read about that black mark on American history, I had only been passingly familiar with it before. But the depiction of it in an early issue lead me to dig deeper. To learn the facts and expand my understanding of the world.
So while this book ain’t exactly Shakespeare… It doesn’t have to be. It’s fun, and it can teach you things. And that makes it important reading.