So… I was going to say something here about the subject matter of the comics we’re looking at this week. But for once, I think I summed that up in the title pretty well. So all I’ll add now is that we’ve got new Hellblazer and Hulk, the latest chapter of Donny Cates’ Redneck, a new Texas crime comic, and the book we’ll be starting off with today…
Sex Criminals 29
by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
We’re two issues from the end on this book, and I will miss it when it’s gone. But I’m afraid that, if you haven’t been reading it all along, this review isn’t going to make a lot of sense to you. My apologies, in advance…
Last issue, Suze confronted Badal about whatever the hell Badal’s been up to all this time – which turned out to involve a giant sex machine that collected all his sex energy, because of course it did – and it ended with that machine totally blowing the hell up. So this time, we’re dealing with the aftermath. It looks like Suze and Badal are both dead, and Jon handles that belief about as well as you might think.
Most of this issue is devoted to Jon destroying Badal’s now-abandoned mansion, and everything in it. Everything. Every wall. Every piece of furniture. Every article of clothing. Every fork. Every nipple painting. It’s a long, drawn-out process that says an awful lot about Jon and his mental state. Which is not healthy on the best of days. And with Suze believed dead… These are not his best days.
I wonder, sometimes, how much Jon is based on Matt Fraction himself. I mean, it’s obvious that Fraction has better control over himself. And I hope he’s not as angry inside. But some of Jon’s damage seems like something that’s being written from the inside of the problem. If not… and I hope not… that’s some amazing character work.
Now, I keep saying that Suze is BELIEVED dead. And that’s because she’s not. Entirely. I don’t think. She’s the narrator, for one thing, so there’s that. But she also appears a couple of times as a sort of… ghost?
That pink light she’s made of looks an awful lot like the light of The Quiet to me (The Quiet being Suze’s name for the time-stopped state she and Jon go into when they come). And considering how much of that sex energy was in Badal’s sex machine when it blew up, it’s like… I dunno…
It’s like Suze has become a being of pure sex.
Which sounds both awesome and ridiculous when you just say it out loud like that. But that’s what seems to have happened. Which is… you know… kind of perfect. For this book. This fuckin’ book…
(Also… Look at that ghost picture again. Maybe embiggen it. What in the actual hell is Jon doing there? Is he… Stuffing Badal’s grandfather clock full of raw hamburger? I… I think he is.)
Like I said… This fuckin’ book…
by Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell
Spurrier and Campbell continue returning this book to its gritty, political roots this issue, with a story about monkfish, mermaids, and misplaced resentment. It’s the story of a young fisherman named Freddie, trying to make his way in a dying trade and not having much luck at it. It’s about how that bastard Old Constantine (always lurking around the corners of this book) sells him on conjuring himself up a mermaid to help with his trade. And his love life.
You can’t trust the narration there, by the way. That’s from the mermaid herself, and she’s under Freddie’s spell.
Which, yes, means that this is a story about magic roofies.
But it’s more than that. She does his bidding in other ways, too, driving fish into his nets and, eventually, killing rival fishermen for him. That’s where the politics comes in. The British fishermen are convinced that their meager catches are due to the French fishermen who are out fishing the same waters. And a conservative MP plays to their fears, blaming the French and, behind them, the EU, for making British fishing a dying way of life.
Freddie knows better. He’s a reader, that Freddie. And he’s read that the quotas limiting the catches of the British AND French fishermen are actually set in London. And the reason the fish are becoming so scarce isn’t competition. It’s because of over-fishing. But he gets shouted down by the older men, and comes to believe the same line of crap they do. Or at least, that’s what he tells the mermaid.
I won’t SPOIL any more of the story than that. But something changes between Freddie and his mermaid, and it’s even more horrific than the magic roofies. That’s where Constantine (Our Hero Constantine, not to be confused with his aged counterpart) gets involved. And things aren’t looking good for Freddie after that.
So, yes. This is a classic Hellblazer morality tale, set in the grimiest parts of London and involving characters as sad as they are evil. Victims who become victimizers, and inflict greater horrors than they themselves ever faced.
Good stuff. If you’re into that sort of thing…
Immortal Hulk 34
by Al Ewing, Butch Guice, and Tom Palmer
This issue, Al Ewing catches us up on the Leader, who we’ve only gotten glimpses of in this run before. I do love that he’s using this guy. As a kid, I always considered the Leader to be the Hulk’s arch-enemy. A gamma-irradiated villain who’s as smart as the Hulk is strong. It seemed like a natural conflict to me then, and it still kinda does now.
I think the reality of the Leader, though, is that he’s never been as good a character as I (and, obviously, many of his writers) wanted him to be. In part, that may be because genius is hard to write. For him to have the limitless intellect required to match the Hulk’s limitless strength, his mind would have to be so far removed from real human thinking that his plans and motivations might not even be understandable. And that’s hard to pull off in a way that makes for good drama.
Al Ewing gives it a good try here, though. The issue is largely a recap of the Leader’s history, with the Immortal Hulk elements of death, rebirth, and The One Below All woven into the pattern. It’s narrated by the Leader himself, in the form of journal entries, and we follow him from normal human to super-genius and back again, over and over, his occasional deaths interwoven with scenes from Hulk Hell. And along the way, we trace the Leader’s intellect over time, seeing his genius grow in an understandable way. It’s the best kind of retcon, one that embraces the character’s entire history while inserting new patterns and elements that the character himself is only making sense of now.
That’s how Ewing’s been handling everything in Immortal Hulk, though. So maybe he’s the guy to finally make the Leader into the villain I’ve always wanted him to be. Fingers crossed.
One other thing of note for this issue: it’s drawn by the classic art team of Butch Guice and Tom Palmer. I wondered who it was as I was going through the issue. The art looked good, but a little loose in places, with some panels putting me in mind of late-career Gene Colan.
I had somehow missed the cover art credit, and spent the issue wondering who it was til the last-page credits. And suddenly, it clicked. It’s by far not the best work I’ve seen from either man, but it’s still nice to see them work. Palmer, especially. He’s been one of my favorite inkers for pretty much my whole life, dating back to his work over Colan on Tomb of Dracula. He must be getting up there by now, but it’s nice to see that he can still sling that ink.
by Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren
Donny Cates’ vampire opus has been taking an increasingly epic turn here lately, as the youngest member of the Bowman clan meets some real vampire elders who clue him in on vampire history, and his family’s place therein. We already learned that Grandpa was actually Dracula (in one of the more balls-out ridiculous turns the book’s taken yet), and that vampires are descended from someone who drank the actual blood of the actual Christ, via the intervention of the devil himself.
This issue, we meet the devil, and learn that he’s the answer to the mystery of the Lost Colony. Which (being from North Carolina) gave me a good chuckle. I don’t recall vampires or Satan being part of the outdoor drama about this same group of lost, unlucky people. But the authors of that play were just speculating, I suppose. The vampire elders are giving us the straight deal.
At any rate…
This was a fun issue, but the… grandness? …of it all strikes a weird counterpoint to the grittier, more down to earth vampire antics of the first two years of this series. And I’m not sure I entirely like the turn. But we’ll see where it goes.
That Texas Blood 1
by Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips
This is a good little comic in a low-key kind of way. It puts me in mind of No Country for Old Men, a book that seems to have been an inspiration for it in some ways. Or maybe it’s just the setting (small-town Texas) and the hero: an aging sheriff, celebrating his 70th birthday with some regret.
Mostly, it’s an introduction. To him, to the county he serves, and to themes of quiet desperation. There may be a horror element to it, as well. Or maybe that’s just the dream sequence, a memory of past violence rising up to haunt Our Hero’s latter days.
I don’t know yet.
It’s too early to tell.
And this book seems in no hurry to rush its story along.
I like that slow pace. It’s aided and abetted by the very cinematic visuals of Jacob Phillips (son of Nerd Farm favorite Sean Phillips), who takes his time to let the characters and locations breathe. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a triumph of storytelling. There are some rough panel transitions here and there that interfere with the reading flow. But the pictures are pretty, in an ugly kind of way, and they go a long way toward establishing setting and mood. That is sometimes an undervalued quality in comics art, so I wanted to be sure to mention it.
So, yeah. I like this book. I like the sheriff, and the story unfolding around him. It’s not a pretty story. But the title probably clued you in on that from the start.