Lumpy Misshapen Capsules: Comic Books Described with Words, Apathy: I Hope You Enjoy the Word *Like* as Much as I Do: I Hope You Enjoy Whiskers on Kittens: When the Pawn Breaks and Hits the Bar the Body Hits the Floor Because Your Hand is a Shim-Sham Something Something You Know You’re Right Ellipses.
Posted by: Abhay Khosla on September 4, 2013
Hello. Here is a description of a bunch of comics books which I purchased in the last few months, and things they made me think about and/or feel.
I guess I have to say at the outset– I have not been in the mood much to read comics lately. There are a few I’ve dug– Copra or Hellboy in Hell, say. Cyborg 009– that’s actually pretty good stuff, that Cyborg 009. But beyond those few things, whatever it is that gets people super-excited by comics, or at least mentally “engaged” by them? I haven’t really felt it lately. When I’ve sat down to read comics, most of them have just been white noise, good ones and bad ones alike. (One manifestation of that is when I read issue #3 of something, I will usually have forgotten most if not all of issues #1 and #2. Another manifestation are sores I have all along the insides of my lips. I’m pretty sure those sores were caused by that comic LAZARUS, or as I prefer to call it, “uggggcchh, Lazarus“).
I’m writing from Burnout City. Honesty compels me to warn you of that at the outset– that seems like an especially unhelpful place to be writing from. But I’ve just missed sitting down and writing about comics, more than I’ve missed the comics themselves. Maybe that’s weird. Let’s get to it, anyways.
BPRD Vampire #5 (of 5) by Mike Mignola, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Dave Stewart, and Clem Robins: This was a miniseries sequel to an earlier BPRD period-piece by Mignola and co., which I think was itself a sequel to a Mignola / Paul Azaceta joint…? Four earlier issues featured some blonde guy as the main character. The reader was following that character’s journey; the blonde guy was irritated by vampires or evil pixies or something, and he was going to do someting about it, by gum.
But then, this issue, the fifth issue, it’s all about some brunette guy and his journey to go to talk to the blonde guy…? So, the point-of-view of the four earlier issues is just discarded in this final issue of the miniseries, in order to start up an entirely different story at the very last minute, Tale of the Brunette Guy. As you likely have guessed, that story doesn’t end in this issue. Nothing is resolved.
One of the last pages are evil pixies saying “I guess we should be worried about that blonde guy, huh?” When is the story going to pick back up again? Nobody knows– here’s text from the letter page: “What comes next for Simon Anders?” (I think that’s the blonde guy’s name; I think.) “It may be a while– he won’t be back until we’re ready to do another one as good as this.” Oh. Okay. Well, nevermind then.
There’s a pleasant stretch where Mignola, Ba, Moon, etc. do what I think is THE signature Mignola move: cutting away from the present action to some sinister drawing meant to invoke the horror of the moment. One panel I especially liked: a thin verticle rectangle of a silhouetted lizard-y head, pointing downwards, blood dripping from its fangs, with the word “more” coming from a solid-blue word balloon situated in the darkest parts of the skull-silhouette instead of out of its mouth. This terrible thing seems to be slicing into our reality, trying to show us something too horrible for us to even be allowed to see all of its details, that our brains have to keep in silhouette for our own sanity, and the words it’s saying to us aren’t coming from its mouth. Mignola and the other BPRD creators have done shit like that before, but it’s a neat trick anyways; hasn’t gotten old for me, at least.
If the point of comics for you is admiring the craft of them, then this is as lovely a comic as any to do that with, I suppose. But once craft is set aside, this leaves a number of questions unanswered. What in the hell was the point of any of this? Why was the main character corrupted over the course of the story? What was his fatal character flaw? Was there some hubris, some fatal mistake that damned him? Or is it better for you without that, the horror finding someone who’d done nothing wrong rather than some “the teenagers fucked on top of the wrong pentagram in that cabin” gimmick? Still: why would I suddenly care about this brunette guy in issue 5 of 5, after four issues with the blonde guy? And okay, say a later miniseries came along and wrapped up this story– would that somehow retroactively make this miniseries “better,” by virtue of it then becoming part of some larger mosaic?
The admirable thing with Mignola is how he has a very specific vision of what is a “good comic” that he’s stuck to and pursued somewhat relentlessly– Monsters! A degree of opacity! Fight scenes! Horrors from the past unavoidably tainting the present! What have you. Regardless of the sometimes dodgy results (at least rumor has it that the BPRD quality’s taken a dip, of late), there’s something almost heroic about the FOCUS of his enterprise if we step back and survey it all at once, his life’s work. A Mignola comic, of whatever stripe, seems interesting to me as a ticket to his values more than to his “stories” or “characters,” say.
But perhaps when he’s collaborating with Moon & Ba, cartoonists whose definition of a good comic seems remarkably different, at least considering the work they’ve done when left to their own devices (as compared to, say, Guy Davis whose work as a writer on The Marquis, suggested values not so dissimilar to the work Davis would do with Arcudi-Mignola), maybe with Moon/Ba the “oh wait, shit, my definition of a good comic is different than the Mignola definition, too” of it all gets harder not to notice.
THE WAKE #1-3 by Scott Snyder, Sean Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth, Jared K. Fletcher, Sara Miller and Mark Doyle: This is another boring monster comic, but this one is set in the Michael Crichton “hey look at me use Google you guys” universe. None of the characters are interesting, unless you count the first time you saw them, in the hit motion picture Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg; here they are again– weee!
It tries to spice up the affair by including flashbacks and flash-forwards to events zillions of years before/after the boring monster story in the present, but anytime that’s not happening, you’re watching a mid-90′s monster movie like the Relic or Deep Rising, only not as fun, no Treat Williams. Ten issues of this?? I have to figure it gets weirder, to fill that kind of space, but we haven’t gotten to weird yet.
One nice thing: Alien spits hallucinogens at Ripley instead of acid, so Sean Murphy gets to draw some pleasant fantasy sequences in the middle of the tedium, creating at least a variety to the visuals throughout (not just cornering Murphy’s talents to the flashback/flash-forward scenes where he is allowed to play with scale). Also, shit, Matt Hollingsworth is probably the best colorist there ever was, so this boring-ass comic looks pretty sweet, at least.
THE FLASH #20, 22 and 23 by Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato, Ian Herring, Carlos M. Mangual, Harvey Richards, Wil Moss, and Brian Cunningham: Oh, I guess I missed #21. Anyways, the Flash fights Reverse Flash. I don’t know– I can’t say the Reverse Flash is my favorite villain. Spiderman’s greatest villain isn’t Opposite Spiderman– it’s an octopus guy or a goblin guy or some other bullshit. Batman’s greatest villain isn’t Mr. Not-Batman; it’s King Tut or Egghead. In the movie Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg didn’t have to face off against the diabolical Dr. Micropenis. “PT Anderson is saving that for the sequel,” you say. Untrue– that’s just a vicious rumor. While I don’t know that THE FLASH is quite as fun as when it first started, it’s still a likable, straightforward comic. Manapul et al build all their stories around the Flash Solving Mysteries, rather than just being some asshole, which grounds the storylines; that move at least seems to avoid the “now there are 5 million DC superheros on each page, one of them is probably your favorite so now you will buy this comic” hero-cram that every other DC comic on the shelves seem to invariably feature. I just don’t know about this Reverse Flash asshole. Reverse Flash isn’t my dude.
POWERS #6 by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Avon Oeming, Nick Filardi, Chris Eliopoulos, and Jennifer Grunwald (with some dots over the U): As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty ride or die with Powers– I plan to stick this comic out until the bitter end. And it’s actually coming out now, which is new and a surprising change from the whole “not coming out” thing they’d been doing for the last few years.
The only thing being– and I think I’ve mentioned this before… I have NO IDEA what’s happening in this comic anymore. I’ve been reading it since issue 1, but it’s just been so many years and …
At one point, the federal government was evil or, at least I remember there being a famous Black superteam who was muttering “The government has secrets!” before getting killed. Then, the Pope died. Then, superheros became illegal or something? Or… Or was there a flood? Or wait, now they’re all federal agents, including Deena Pilgrim who was an evil junkie at one point, but that’s because there was– I think there was a virus…? And wait, Walker is an immortal sex-monkey who is/was Green Lantern, except then he was dating a stand-up comedian who…?
Remember when that TV show LOST would have Special Recap Shows where they’d show clips of previous episodes while Serious Man would say things on top of the arbitrary nonsense, and pretend as though that show’s arbitrary nonsense made some kind of sense? “On THE ISLAND, some learned to dream, but others explored their mysteriously hairless genitals.” (ABC did one for that TV show Nashville, too– for people who couldn’t follow a show about Nashville, city of mystery). I need a Serious Man recap for POWERS (a) because I am completely lost as to what happened before, and (b) I suspect it’d be fucking hilarious.
To Youtube, nerds! To Youtube!
STATION TO STATION ONE SHOT, by Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Kat Larson, Shantel Larocque, Scott Allie, and Daniel Chabon: I picked this one up because it looked like a one-shot, and I always wished there were more of those. In the Ideal Comics that Only Lives in My Head (well, lived), there would have been a lot of one-shots– it just always seemed as though that could be really cool. Some people tried to make “graphic novella” a thing, but you know, who wants to smell that fart? Anyways, this turned out to just be a collection of comics that already ran in Dark Horse Presents.
Basically, there’s a guy and he– I don’t even know, something about science gone wrong. And so there’s these Lovecraft blobs floating around…? The guy has no discernable characteristics, none at all, none whatsoever, and the Lovecraft blobs don’t really do all that much– just hang out and be blobs. There are some dinosaurs because I guess those are fun to draw. Anyways, then it ends. Text in the back matter mentions this is all a “preview of things to come in the Station to Station universe.” I don’t know what the fuck a “universe” is, though; I just want to read a story.
Here, there’s no character– the main character is “A Drawing of a Guy”, so I don’t really recognize anything that happens as being a “story.” I’d just call this a situation. It doesn’t even really rise to the level of anecdote because it’s all fakey-fake monster stuff. Which, even there– this all probably would have been too thin even for a 1930′s pulp story; there’s been 80 years of science fiction since then. The New Wave happened; the cyberpunks happened; ALF– hey man, he liked to eat cats; that’s one memorable character detail, which is one more than this story tried.
Is this the part where I’m supposed to say “writing schmiting”, drop my pants and just start jerking off to the art? That’s come up a few times this year, that we’re all supposed to say “writing schmiting”, drop our pants, and then hand-crank our carnival-areas while waxing fucking eloquent about fucking comic book art. That’s how a “critic should be” or some shit, lately. “Comic reviewers don’t get it, man– you can’t treat art and writing in comics separately; that’s the job of comic editors, not comic reviewers,” tweets someone grotesquely overestimating the influence of “comic reviewers” (I’m a big jerk so my kneejerk reaction is always “People are angry they only get 3-and-1/2 stars at CBR instead of 4 stars”).
I don’t know. I wouldn’t say those people are “wrong,” is the thing. At least, I agree with the basic idea that there’s something greater than the sum of the parts with comics, with a Bernie Krigstein comic, say, or heck, with whoever. The problem I hit into though is … Gabriel Hardman draws swell; just swell. (I don’t know about some of his lettering choices, but…). He draws in a lush style that I’ve enjoyed for many years now, going back to some comics he’d made with Jeff Parker back when; I’ve only heard good things about his and Bechko’s Planet of the Apes work. But the fact I enjoy looking at Hardman’s art didn’t make this a “visually successful comic.” I think for some people, there would seem to be something inherently contradictory about that statement, something off, which means I’m smacking into the problem of… like… of coherently atomizing comic book storytelling. Or something.
There’s a gorgeous Paul Pope quote, about manga– you’ve heard this one before but let me see if I can find it, anyways. Here we go: “When I was working for Kodansha, the joke was always, ‘A bad comic is where you have a panel where Superman jumps through a window, and the caption says ”Superman jumps through a window,” and he’s saying, ”I’m jumping through the window,” and there’s a sound effect that says, JUMP. [LAUGH] Or you can imagine three panels: 1.) he’s jumping through the window, 2.) he’s landing on the ground, 3.) he says, ‘I’ve done it’–or something like that. I really have a sense from what I learned from manga, is that, rather than try to tell and directly tell the story where Superman is jumping through the window, that the best manga will try to give you the experience of jumping through the window–the tactile sensations, the speed of it, the rush of it–catch all the different moments in-between the three panels that an American comic might use to tell the story.”
So, if I really want to address this, I have to sit here and talk about… about how Gabriel Hardman draws well but nothing in this comic is tactile enough to make this non-character into a character, to make this undramatic premise somehow seem dramatic. But what the hell does TACTILE mean, let alone Tactile ENOUGH? What would have made this thing “more” tactile let alone “sufficiently” tactile? Is “insufficient tactility” a valid complaint about a story told in 8 page installments in some boring-ass Dark Horse Presents comic? Dude: what the fuck are we even talking about??? The simple phrasing is when stuff happens to Guy with Glasses In Comic– there’s nothing about the storytelling that puts the reader there with him, that makes his concern theirs. But how do you say that not in vague generalities and poetic meaningless blather, but in actual identifiable specifics?
And here’s the thing– say I manage to answer any of those questions; would you then have learned anything about whether this was a “fun comic” that you wouldn’t have already known when I was just all like, “character sucked; this thing blew“? At which point, haven’t I just wasted your time with incoherent nonsense…? I don’t know. I’m not sure. I just feel bad for the kid writing that 3-and-a-1/2 star review at CBR being held to account for something that’s actually not very straightforward much at all, basically for not sounding like some kind of dork-lunatic. (Especially living in Burnout City, where the City Motto is that most comics deserve fewer reviews, less attention, our utter disregard and callous apathy).
YOUNG AVENGERS #009 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie with Mike Norton, Matthew Wilson, VC’s Clayton Cowles, and Jon … I think that’s Moisan but it could be Mioisan; I don’t know– some wacky font: Impulse buy, this issue. I kept hearing that “Tumblr likes this comic“– Tumblr used to be three or four dozen people in Silverlake and Brooklyn and I still think of it in those terms even though it’s not been that for a long time. I’m waiting for an endorsement from any of the Mollys, basically.
Anywho, I guess “Tumblr likes it” turned out to be code language for all the characters being pretty gay or something…? Is that the secret knock code-language nudge nudge wink wink going on?
It’s nice that there’s a Marvel comic that’s this gay, for people for whom that’s important. I guess I liked that being the case– on an Everyone Deserves Equal Time level, it’s nice that’s true. I don’t know that I liked the “now this comic is about boys kissing” parts of this comic for the execution particularly, which was the usual comic book “let’s explicitly state our motivations at great length!” song & dance. But I suppose I find it nice that this exists, in the abstract. I mean, maybe it’d be nice if any of the gay characters were at all cool, too…? Is that not a thing anyone cares about? One is a gay Hulk, but he seems like Peter David-era talk-a-lot Hulk instead of “out in the desert destroying tanks” Hulk. There’s Mon El with an earring– I’m going to go naaaaw to that. And then there’s a bisexual Urkel wearing swim-goggles who gives off a Cypher in the New Mutants vibe…? I guess. These are sorta the Twink Avengers. But maybe that’s just what Tumblr is into…? Ask your privilege! Is your privilege in your couch cushions? Check! Check your couch cushions for your privilege.
But still– it’s a step in the right direction, I suppose. The “what else is there to it” question went unanswered on this one, though. I don’t know anything about any of these characters, or what the hell is going on in this comic– there’s a recap page but the recap page is pretty much incomprehensible, in the Mighty Marvel tradition. The parts of the comic that aren’t about kissing– it’s a bunch of characters running around in front of an all-white background after talking and talking; they’re running away from a scene of something happening towards a scene of more talking.The villain is a woman wearing Ann Taylor or some shit, i.e. the very worst thing in the Marvel universe continues to be some variety of assertive lady, which… o-kay; very progressive comic, I guess…? (Something clever I’m missing there that mitigates how gross that is, I’m guessing, Tumblr…?). Uhm. I hope all the running and talking was a satisfactory ending to the Story of Whatever the Hell Was Going On…? I can’t guess.
One of the major scenes ends with a character doing a sad pose in front of a sign that says “Happy Noodle”– I thought that was kinda funny, I guess; hopefully, that was on purpose.
“Let’s keep the endless talking, but have them talk about a different set of things” is a curious solve on the whole “Marvel comics are crazy fucking boring” thing. Probably I impulse-bought the exact wrong issue, though.
Anyways, there’s a couple more comic on this pile, but that feels like a nice stopping point for now. Sorry to go on and on, or if this was really boring– feel out of shape!