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My Life is Choked with Things Other Than Comics Too: Jog begins the 9/19 reviews

Joe McCulloch

Gah! It looks like the column’s gonna have to wait until Wednesday. I can only hope the fever for expansive Marvel Graphic Novel sci-fi featuring outer space girl scouts hasn’t cooled by then. For now, I’ll begin a chain of reviews.

Gutsville #2 (of 6): I liked the first issue of this Image miniseries from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Frazer Irving, even though the plot seemed kinda rote and the characters stock. I liked this issue a lot more, and not because much depth has been added – rather, the creative team focuses on drawing so much joy out of their puritan-society-in-the-belly-of-a-giant-monster concept that the old tropes almost glow.

I cannot emphasize enough how vital Irving’s visuals are to the feeling. This is the best work I’ve seen from him, wrapping some wonderful bits of character expression into increasingly hallucinogenic vistas of cavernous flesh and membrane. The sleek costumes and hints of magical transformation may be reminiscent of Klarion the Witch Boy, but there’s a stronger sense of humor at play here, from clomping piston stormtroopers trampling an unlucky child (straight face maintained), to a long line of murderous revolutionaries standing in shadows, knives out, behind their faux-noble leader, gaily smoking a pipe in the light. And don’t get me started on the drug bits!

Plotwise, things proceed as expected. Some parties try to escape the intestines of their monster home. Others jostle for power. Secret loyalties are revealed, bigger mysteries are suggested, and people are simply shocked by what they see off-page, although we’ll have to wait longer. I think the deliberate nature of all this throws Spurrier’s little touches into sharper relief, like how social classes are differentiated by how people handle profanity. And the writer has developed one really delightful character in Percival Launcet, “Friend to His Lordship, employer of common men, and passholder of the First d__mned Class!” who’s also a secret proletariat revolutionary, taken to living his life as an ongoing parody of an arch-capitalist.

VERY GOOD fun all around, well worth checking out.

Streets of Glory #1 (of 6): This is writer Garth Ennis’ new Avatar project, and yeah, that was enough to get me to check it out. It’s a Western, supposedly Ennis’ first without supernatural or fantasy elements.

It’s pretty AWFUL on the whole, unfortunately, though there’s some ok parts. I liked how the story is narrated aloud by an old man in a diner, with absolutely nobody bothering to listen to him. I’m usually ok with the ‘old gunfighting vs. progress’ theme, which is big enough to support a variety of stories.

But most of this issue comes off as alternately stilted and shopworn, with characters stumbling through tangled dialogue on their way down just the road you’d figure they’d be on. I understand that Ennis is trying to emphasize characters’ backgrounds by contrasting their ways of speaking, but that doesn’t make a “has it not” and “can we not” loaded conversation between two brothers any less clumpy and awkward… must be rationing contractions back East! Naturally, the older brother is killed and the younger man goes with a killer (yet soulful!) old gunman, to a dusty town, with black-hatted dastards approaching.

Compounding the problem is artist Mike Wolfer, a decent craftsman who’s not at his best here. Most visibly, there’s a nasty splash page where I’m pretty sure Wolfer is trying to toy with perspective to make the great gunman look like a giant bestride the landscape, but it’s pushed too far and ends up looking really clumsy. Wolfer does deliver the gore, with faces literally falling to pieces under fire, but his storytelling sometimes coughs – there’s one page with a villain reloading his shotgun that I read three times before I grasped who was moving where and doing what. Believe me, a first chapter this problematic doesn’t need extra reading hurdles.

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