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The Old and the Late: Jog is standing here with the comics of yesterday, 11/29

Joe McCulloch

The concerns of several nations are churning in the funnies tonight, oh yes. Lock and load for relevance, gang. Wait, does that mean we shoot it? Let me think this through…

Dan Dare #1 (of 7): The start of what may be a handsome Virgin Comics outing for the venerable British space hero, and a most refined example of today’s large-scale corporate ‘name’ hero adventure, with a stately pace that still conveys its straightforward plot effectively, an appreciation for spectacle that doesn’t cross the line into filmic thrall, and a somewhat nuanced take on what icons of older values can mean when set down in a current world perhaps looking after different ideals. Nothing quite daring, but it knows what it’s doing.

Yet writer Garth Ennis isn’t just adept at hitting the beats of big hero comics; he grasps the nature of Dan Dare as a war hero, albeit one of space, and accordingly deploys some the grizzled-yet-elegiac tone of his military tales. It’s more War Stories than The Boys, or even The Punisher MAX, with a fiery battle amongst spaceships poised like cannon exchanges on the high seas, and familiar supporting characters chafing against civilian roles like fictional combat lifers tend to do. Artist Gary Erskine is at his most appropriately starched, with Dare’s famous zig-zag eyebrow as stiff as his upper lip; it makes for occasionally awkward battle, but conveys much taciturn pride.

Central to it all is Ennis’ Dare, called back by a craven politician to once again face the wicked Mekon. Of course, he’s prepared to embody the old national values most others have forgotten. Again, that’s not a fresh take on its own — it’s a stock Captain America approach, for instance — but Ennis cannily plays up the eerie nature of a devout man of a different era, one fit to construct a simulacra of an idealized past and just stare at it. Ennis’ soldiers inevitably face their killing hearts, but his Dare’s appeal is his frightening backbone. Highly GOOD.

Doc Frankenstein #6: This, meanwhile, reads like the leftovers of a different Ennis – it’s a comic so eager to shock the religiously sensitive that its cover loudly announces the blasphemy inside. Moms across the land may disapprove!

At this point, it’s pretty clear the story is aiming to be a pop parable of the US struggle between faith and reason, with ‘balance’ maintained by suggesting that heroic, misfit-lovin’ man-monster rationalist Doc, who might be Jesus’ brother, or at least an allegorical stand-in, needs to accept the magical/spiritual things, lest he become as damaging as those awful, murdering, hypocritical moron fuckhead Catholics and fundamentalists, which kind of get combined into an omnishit Christianity of BAD.

For this issue, writers Larry & Andy Wachowski mostly have a sexy magic pixie tell the truth about God while a tortured Deacon — he prays with his eyes closed, gang! — sputters about his beliefs with all the conviction of an agnostic toward the end of a Jack T. Chick tract. This means many pages of Yahweh tromping around as a violent lout, saying dirty words and drawing out the nasty implications of the Good Book, as I’m sure you’ve seen somewhere before. Meanwhile, the quirky little kid character is quirky, and other characters kindly explain Doc’s motivation.

It’s boring, but I did crack a smile at: (1) warlike Yahweh dressed as He-Man; (2) the Ark of the Covenant used as a missile launcher; and (3) Our Lord doing a Tex Avery horny wolf homage as he spots the Virgin Mary. The writers may have suggested those jokes, but it’s the high spirits of artist Steve Skroce, stretching his bright superhero realist style just far enough into cartoon elasticity, that adds all the zip. He’s enough to drag this from the pits, but it’s AWFUL nonetheless.

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