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“I Was Gone For Only THREE YEARS.” COMICS! Sometimes A Bit More Thought Wouldn’t Go Amiss!

John Kane

Okay, here are some words about some (near)recent comics. I guess they are capsules, relatively speaking that is. Although, after this one some of my relatives won’t be speaking to me, particularly the Morrison branch.

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Anyway, this…
AXIS: REVOLUTIONS #4
Art by Gullermo Mogorron & Felix Ruiz, Howard Victor Chaykin
Written by John Barber, Howard Victor Chaykin
Coloured by Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Travis Lanham
Marvel,$3.99 (2015)
Ice Man created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee
Doctor Doom created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee

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You could be forgiven for thinking that this comic has little reason to exist, being as it is one of those inessential spin-off things  barely connected to the latest Godawful Event comic to clog up the rapidly thickening arteries of the Direct Market. And yet, there are many reasons for this comic to exist (beyond Marvel’s contractually stipulated page quota with the printing company). Firstly, it allows John Barber to introduce himself to me with a comical study of overweening youthful angst most familiar to those who inhabited the 1980s, as represented by Ice Man (who is a lot pointier than I recall), versus the more incurious, practical and contented youth of the noughties, represented by a young lady who probably has an App to handle all that emotional crap. Secondly, I get to see the art of Guillermo Mogorron & Felix Ruiz; art which reminds me of the work of Phil Hester ovelaid with the signature urgent scribbliness of Bill Sienkiewicz; it doesn’t work as such, but it’s still fun to look at.

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Third, I get to imagine Howard Victor Chaykin’s little face as he listened to the premise of the Axis “concept” and also get to wonder where exactly his pragmatism kicked in and he said “sure.”, because it never hurts to keep a door open to Marvel, and even Living Comic Book Legends have bills to pay. Fourth, Howard Victor Chaykin gets to demonstrate that no matter what nonsensical shit he’s handed he can sculpt it into a passingly convincing simulacrum of a decent story. Despite at no point ever suggesting he was in any danger of spending more than a morning on it, his part of the book is a surprisingly taut and suspenseful look at conflicting loyalties centred around the world’s most dangerous (and ghastliest patterned) waistcoat. It’s all particularly effective since it is set in Latveria, a country which resembles a never ending beer festival held inside a cuckoo clock.  Necessary or no, this was OKAY!

THE MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN #1
Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin, Jonathan Glapion
Written by Grant Morrison
Coloured by Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox
Lettered by Rob Leigh
DC Comics, $4.99 (2015)
Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

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I recall in 1991 (I know!) being tickled by the televisual sight of the poet Tom Paulin splutteringly declaring Martin Amis’ Times Arrow to be “boneheaded!”. Time’s Arrow, you need not be reminded, is the one where Amis fils runs the Holocaust backwards like that one Dresden bombing chapter in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. “Boneheaded!” or not Time’s Arrow does at least have the decency to include an attempt at suggesting the indecency of the Holocaust in its backwards pelt through Nazi Germany. Which is more than Grant Morrison can be bothered to do here.

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I started high on the cultural scale there because, for some reason, in comics Grant Morrison is held up as beacon of intellectual dynamism. Having characters in panels directly address the reader is apparently world shakingly profound in its inventiveness, despite being a device used approximatively five minutes into the Golden Age and ever since. Wait! What’s this! You can hear my voice in your head! Yet I am not in the room! Is it some form of Shamanic magic! Or is it just how writing has worked ever since its invention millennia ago, and to pretend to be surprised that words on paper become thoughts in your head is the behaviour of a poltroon! Perhaps! Your world is dying! Now read on! Also, a belief in the possibility of fictional super hero universes achieving independent and pulsatingly active existence is a great idea, but only if you are 8 years old. These are all the things I am repeatedly told are fascinating about Grant Morrison’s work but none of them are as fascinating to me as the fact that his work’s total retreat from the real world has resulted in his apparent inability to write comics about anything other than other comics. Obviously, this is not without entertainment value and to pretend otherwise would be unfair in the extreme. However, to produce a (skeletally illustrated by Jim Lee) comic about a world in which Nazi Germany won in which the Nazis are portrayed as just another bunch of bad guys and the Holocaust is treated like a larger scale version of The Joker poisoning a reservoir is…(words fail me). I wonder what Tom Paulin would make of a comic where The Holocaust was given the same weight as Mr. Mxyzptlk turning all the cars in Metropolis to ice cream. I don’t think boneheaded! would be enough, I think he’d go straight for CRAP!

THE MULTIVERSITY GUIDEBOOK #1
Art by Marcus To, Paolo Siqueira, Brett Booth, Norm Rapamund, Gary Frank, Nicola Scott, Trevor Scott, David Finch, Juan Jose Ryp, Cameron Stewart, Marcus To, Joe Prado, Bryan Hitch, Dan Jurgens, Mike Hawthorne, Emanuela Lupacchino, Jake Wyatt, Jae Lee, Prado, Ben Oliver, Kalman Andrasofszky, Andrew Robinson, Giusepe Camuncoli, Richard Friend, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Darwyn Cooke, Yildiray Cinar, Gene Ha, Chris Burnham, Declan Shalvey, Todd Nauck, Jeff Johnson, Evan Shaner, Jed Dougherty, Jon Bogdanove, Kelley Jones, Duncan Rouleau, Andy McDonald, Scott Hepburn, Paolo Siqueira, Rian Hughes
Written by Grant Morrison
Coloured by Dave McCaig, Hi-Fi, Nathan Fairbarn, Pete Pantazis, Sonia Oback, Tomeu Morey, Marcelo Maiolo, Alex Sinclair, June Chung, Jake Wyatt, Gabe Eltaeb, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Todd Klein
DC Comics, $7.99 (2015)
Superman crated by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

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The pages of this book which are actually comics are pretty good. There’s a section involving the brutal murder of child-like versions of DC heroes, and one involving 1970 Jack Kirby’s DC creations. There are no prizes awarded today for guessing which section I liked most. And I did like the comic booky bits even though, as ever, Grant Morrison soars above the base need to actually provide a proper comic. And so this is just te usual Late (how late it is, eh?) Morrison-ian explosive entrances, gnomic asides, exclamatory burst of bombastic exposition and grand hints at great developments which will not disappoint on their arrival (honest, guv!), and all this in a fashion so disjointed and cursory it must be really, really clever. I don’t know if it’s all that clever but it isn’t unentertaining. Unfortunately most of the (SEVEN! DOLLARS! AND! NINETY! NINE! CENTS!) book is padded out with one paragraph summations of alternate Earths accompanied by a little picture of the main capes domiciled thereupon. Even as someone who actually spent some of his youth reading RPG manuals for fun I found this a bit lacking. If that’s all it takes to float your boat here’s one for free: On Earth-74 Batman wees from his ears, Superman poos from his nose and Wonder Woman is made of burlap sacks. Get Frank Quitely to waste his time illustrating that and we’re off! EH!

Speaking of off, so am I. But there’s still – COMICS!!!

2 Responses to “ “I Was Gone For Only THREE YEARS.” COMICS! Sometimes A Bit More Thought Wouldn’t Go Amiss! ”

  1. Out of curiosity – if you dislike Morrison’s work so much, why did you buy the two Multiversity issues?

    Not trolling, I agree that Morrison’s recent output has only been, as you put it “comics about comics” – but since you knew that going in, why did you buy it?

  2. @Monster: That’s a fair question. The answer’s kinda dull though; I expected better. All the previous issues were Good to Very Good but this pair just took the biscuit. I mean the Superman vs The Holocaust issue was so poorly plotted and morally nutless it reminded me of his work on Judge Dredd with (ugh) Mark Millar. Just an ugly thoughtless mess.

    And the Guidebook was just a bunch of ideas. I have ideas. What I want, ideally, when I pay money is ideas fashioned into some kind of structure resembling a narrative that might conceivably speak to me of things beyond my usual intellectual reach (which is hardly a big ask with my tiny thinker). Or just, y’know, entertain me. Not too much to ask, I think. I don’t take kindly to a bunch of Elseworlds précis and a honking fat price tag.

    Honestly, I’m okay with comics about comics (“entertaining”) but I don’t share the veneration of that approach over comics that actually manage to address things outside of comics. To me it seems like such a low bar already that to then fail on the level of these two books quite gets my dander up. Morrison is a good writer, but here, on both occasions he wasn’t.

    Basically: I expected better.

    Thanks for asking and the best to you. John.

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