Special Note: Our distinguished competition, ComicsAlliance, quite suddenly and unexpectedly kicked the bucket this weekend. The timing really is amazing–parent company AOL seem to have pulled the plug even as I was talking about how they should totally win that Eisner they were nominated for. Odd–it’s almost like this faceless, tottering corporation didn’t care this little site had just been nominated for the medium’s most prestigious award. I have no idea how and why this decision came about, but I imagine it was something along the lines of “holy crap, we’re AOL in 2013! We are so broke!” Still, it’s sad to see. I meant everything I said about them in my Eisner rundown, and I wish their writing/editing staff the best of luck in their future endeavors.
Even more sadly, Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman passed away this week. I’ll admit I’ve grown away from metal in recent days, but I’ve always thought Slayer were cool, even after they got fat and old–something few other bands can claim. The band has had its down periods to be sure, but they’ve never gotten as embarrassing as, say, Metallica. This week’s installment is dedicated to Hanneman’s memory. Apparently his death may have had something to do with complications from a spider bite, further proving my assertion that spiders are evil and must be destroyed.
Stormwatch (New 52) vol. 2: Enemies of Earth, written by Peter Milligan, art by Miguel Sepulveda
This volume sees the all-new, all-different Stormwatch getting at least a tiny bit more recognizable. This is, of course, a far shot from calling it worthwhile. New writer Milligan seems almost to be converting this series into a mishmash of all the Wildstorm books people liked, primarily Ellis’ Stormwatch and Ellis’ The Authority, with dashes of Global Frequency and Planetary for savor. So, pretty much all of Warren Ellis’ Wildstorm work really. This doesn’t really work, partly because Miligan is no Ellis (though he’s at least not in phone-it-in mode here) and partly due to the customary New 52 killjoy shit-patina layered over everything. Stormwatch still takes on secret threats to mankind, if by “secret” you mean “should have brought every superhero on the continent screaming down on its head in the first five seconds”. It’s Jenny Quantum’s turn to have her powers over-literalized this volume, which pretty much just makes her Firestorm. While not quite offensive, none of this is terribly interesting or fun to read, though Milligan does deserve genuine praise for coming up with a legitimately good explanation for Midnighter’s goddamn stupid chin-spike. Oh, and Martian Manhunter quits, somehow becoming even more creepy and unlikable as he goes. So there’s that. At least the art seems to be improving–if nothing else, Engineer is no longer wearing bell-bottoms. Also, at one point Milligan uses the word “incarceration” when he means “incarnation”. Someday, when your kids ask you what editors do, you can flip to that page and say “they prevent stupid shit like this”. So it turns out this book does have some value after all.
Far Arden, by Kevin Cannon
Probably the best comic I read all week. This book is a fun, silly caper, with some pointed commentary on redemption and coping with the past–which in no way detracts from the “fun and silly” part. The protagonist’s quest for the titular paradise is both literal and metaphorical, representing the search for a better life in the psychological sense as well as the temporal. In some ways, this book is a deconstruction of the “swashbuckling hero” trope, presenting a charismatic, hyper-competent hero who you can root for, even as it forces you to acknowledge the trail of bodies and destroyed lives he leaves in his wake. Far Arden strengthens my hypothesis (introduced by my first exposure to Seth’s work) that Canada–in this case the Nunavut area–is the single best setting for an indie comic, the relatively desolate setting providing the perfect psychic landscape. Even if you don’t notice/care about any of that, this is still an engaging, funny adventure story, with just enough darkness to prepare you for the unbelievably sad ending. Seriously. Not to spoil anything, but it’s the last thing the hero expected to find…and it still makes perfect sense. It’s the closest I’ve been to tears reading a graphic novel in some time. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. Your sadness gives me strength.
Al Capp: A Life To The Contrary, written by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen
I really need to stop reading biographies, at least of people I admire. I knew Al Capp took a turn for the worse in his later years, but I never realized just how bad it got. I’m not talking so much about Capp’s turn to reactionary conservatism in the 1960s; that was just mean-spirited, unfunny, and mysteriously lacking in Capp’s flair for incisive social commentary. I refer instead to his extramarital exploits (not quite simultaneous–apparently he’d been doing this shit for decades), consisting as they did of various levels of sexual harassment/assault, culminating in an incident in Wisconsin I can only describe as rape. That Capp got away with a fine for “attempted adultery” (still a criminal charge in Wisconsin!) can best be attributed to his connections to the Nixon administration. Sadly, Capp didn’t learn anything from this experience, as some time later he earned himself a beating from Harlan Ellison for attempting to rape one of his friends. I’ll admit, I’m not entirely certain how a guy with one leg is supposed to overpower anybody. Decades of practice, I suppose.
All this unpleasantness aside, Capp was a pretty interesting guy, one who refused to let a horrific childhood injury get in the way of becoming one of the leading cultural figures of 20th-century America. Cartooning has never been the most visible of professions, but Capp’s charisma and relentless self-promotion put him in the public eye and kept him there, for better and for worse, for the rest of his career. As I said before, Capp was never the most likeable fellow–the sexual assault aside, his feud with Ham Fisher, ironically, came to resemble nothing so much as kicking a cripple. Still, I have no use for hagiography–nobody’s perfect (not even me), and sainthood has never been a prerequisite for genius. Li’l Abner was an absolute masterpiece at its best (and atrocious crap at its worst, though Capp at least had the balls to admit it), and this book is an amazing, albeit slightly embarrassing look at its creator.
The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts, by Paul Pope
This collection of Pope’s early work may not be quite what you’re expecting; that is, it doesn’t really showcase a development of his signature style. Pope seems instead to have sprung from the ground full-formed, his early stuff being just as amazing as more recent offerings. Of course, I am not so silly as to criticize an artist for being too good too early. Pope does have his flaws as a creator, namely story structure–the titular story is a bit of a disjointed mess plot-wise–but his art simply isn’t one of them. Pope’s art seems almost a thing alive, using ink more like paint. Despite my usual preference for cleaner lines, I find plenty to admire here. I actually found the autobiographical work the more interesting stuff in this book–a diary comic by an honest-to-god world traveller can’t not be fascinating.
Black Paths, by David B.
Last but not least is the latest book from one of my favorite Eurocomic creators. If surrealism had existed back in the Middle Ages, I imagine it would’ve looked something like B.’s stuff. His work lends an atmosphere of creepy phantasmagoria to even the most straightforward subject matter, without it ever seeming forced. Not that the subject at hand can be called straightforward, concerning itself as it does with issues of survivor’s guilt and post-World War I feelings of moral and cultural uncertainty. And what better setting for such a story than the city of Fiume under the rule of Gabrielle d’Annunzio, possibly the single most fascinating figure of the early 20th century? B. gives us a world where reality itself seems ready to crack and fall apart, where dream-logic is the only variety available. It’s not exactly fun or beautiful, but it is impressive and more than a little intriguing.
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