Super Spy, by Matt Kindt
I’m not entirely certain what Matt Kindt’s deal is. The guy seems preoccupied with spies, to the point where he can’t help but put them in almost everything he writes. It’s not a huge complaint, or even a complaint at all–I’ve never seen it not work. 3 Story, for example, didn’t really need the espionage elements, but they don’t detract from the broader narrative. And when Kindt jumps in feet-first, as with Super Spy, it’s pretty damn sweet. Kindt’s jumbled, interlocking character studies show off a rather different take on the genre than most are used to seeing–far from predatory Fleming-esque jingoism, Super Spy concerns itself with the human cost of being someone who lies, cheats, steals, betrays, and sometimes murders for a living. All the genre’s stock characters (the ruthless assassin, the femme fatale, the suave agent provocateur, the gadget geek, etc.) are present, and all of them have had their nationalistic fervor long since beaten out of them by the realities of invisible war. Not even taking place during World War II, where there’s at least a well-defined mission, elevates these folks above walking-wounded status, with one notable exception–”the only winning move is not to play,” indeed. At times, this book almost seems to be making fun of spy novels; the titular character, for example, learns two things the hard way, first that each fancy gadget is something else that can go wrong, and second that wearing a belt made of bombs is a really, really bad idea. While other works (24 especially) may revel in the more unseemly aspects of the profession, Super Spy treats them as ugly as they truly are.
Haunted Horror #1, various writers/artists, edited by Craig Yoe and Steve Banes
The first of a bimonthly slice of everything I love about pre-Code horror. This isn’t something I’d originally planned to pick up, but a bit of Jack Cole and Simon/Kirby (who I had no idea even did horror) sweetened the deal. While all the work on display here is excellent (apart from Sekowsky and Walton’s “Black Magic In A Slinky Gown”, which is just dumb), those stories in particular truly shine. I realize Golden Age horror comics tend to be wildly misogynistic as a matter of course, but between “The Vengeful Curse” and Betsy & Me I’m starting to get the impression Cole really, really hated his wife. “Slaughter-House!” is, simply put, the single most nihilistic thing I’ve ever seen Kirby’s name attached to. Granted it’s pretty much just a metaphor for the Holocaust, but that wasn’t even nine years gone when the story saw print, and so would still have had impact aplenty at the time (along with the art–Kirby can be disturbing as hell when he wants to be, it turns out). Also of note are the surprising homoerotic undercurrents of Baily’s “The Constant Eye” and the horribly disturbing final image of Disbrow’s “Ultimate Destiny”. Yoe deserves kudos, also, for the minimal restoration work–I genuinely believe cheaper is better when it comes to this sort of thing, none of this digital recoloring nonsense for me.
Barefoot Gen vol. 10: Never Give Up, by Keiji Nakazawa
The concluding volume of a remarkable, albeit frustrating series. Barefoot Gen is melodramatic, full of one-dimensional characters, preachy as nine hells, has questionable production values (the lettering is Comic Sans), and it’s not even that well drawn…and yet it’s still absolutely worth reading. This is because it presents a viewpoint of the Hiroshima bombing you still don’t see that often–that of the completely hacked-off survivor. Gen Nakaoka is pissed at us Americans for dropping the nuke, and seeing how it proceeded to kill virtually everyone he ever cared about–whether through the blast itself or its aftereffects–and the subsequent (far more brutal and repressive than most Americans realize) occupation, it’s not hard to blame him. However, Gen’s just as pissed at the Japanese government, both for starting the war (which it couldn’t possibly win with the resources at hand, creating near-famine conditions among the civilian population) and getting its people into this mess in the first place and its lackadaisical (read: f***ing nonexistent) attitude toward disaster relief. And he’s especially pissed at the American and Japanese people in general, who often seem willing, even eager to do it all over again in Korea and beyond. We hear a lot of discussion about the necessity of the bombings and the subsequent disarmament-vs.-one-upsmanship debates, as well as plenty of survivor accounts, but not a lot about the true human cost, both to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to the species as a whole.
No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics, edited by Justin Hall
Speaking of outside perspectives…this collection covers works by LGBT creators from the underground-comix scene all the way to the present. With content ranging from humor to autobio to erotica (fair warning: this book isn’t work, kid, or redneck-safe), the book is a fascinating look at gay lifestyle and identity throughout the years. Even for heteros like myself, this is an intriguing, useful compilation–it never hurts to get outside one’s perspective/comfort zone, especially with such bold and talented creators (some I’m familiar with, most I’m not) lighting the way. Most interesting to me was finding out the gay community isn’t so monolithic as the mainstream media often depicts it to be–it has its outsiders, nonconformists, and rebels. You know, just like any other social group. Just more proof for homophobes that the problem is with you, not them (like we needed any).
Sgt. Rock Archives, vol. 1, written by Robert Kanigher, art by Joe Kubert and others
But, you know what? I leave you this week forced to admit No Straight Lines isn’t the most educational book I read this week. That honor instead goes to this tome, which brings to light a little-known historical tidbit. Did you know that American soldiers in WWII disappeared upon being killed? Yeah, me neither. But apparently, they’d just go *POIT* and their helmets would drop to the ground. No idea where their uniforms went–apparently the supernatural department responsible were a tad more considerate than the ones doing the Rapturing. Beats me what was being buried at Arlington–coffins full of jellybeans, maybe?
Believe it or not, I do have a point here, that point being “the Comics Code was bullshit”. A shocking revelation, I’ll admit. What we have here is antiseptic war, one with all of the gunplay and excitement, but lovingly boiled of all the gory aftermath. Which, of course, makes it all the more understandable why the kids who grew up reading stuff like this would keep starting/fighting in the things. The occasional blown-off limb may seem grotesque, but it’s better for you in the long run. Think of it as a vaccination, if that helps. The CCA’s bowdlerization smacks of a coverup in comparison.
Crap, I was supposed to be talking about the comic, wasn’t I…if you read Enemy Ace, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Kanigher’s still formulaic and repetitive as all hell, and Kubert is still awesome–his work’s more claustrophobic here, but it’s to be expected. Kubert’s way better at getting information across than his writer, his work (in particular his faces) showing off far more emotion and privation than any word balloon. It’s one of those books where you eventually just stop reading the text, occasionally deigning to glance at it when you’re not 100% clear what’s going on. I’m wondering if we can get DC to do the equivalent of a Garfield Minus Garfield project, where they collect a bunch of Kubert/Kanigher collaborations with all the text taken out. I’d buy that, which is more than I can say of this book as it stands now.