Thursday, December 18, 2008

Speak of the Devil

Speak of the Devil
by Gilbert Hernandez
Dark Horse Comics, 2008

Hillary Brown: Merry Christmas, everyone. What could be better and more heartwarming to read at this time of year than Gilbert Hernandez's Speak of the Devil, a jolly romp featuring a whole lot of knifed eyeballs? So, um, this was my first book by Gilbert. I've read a good bit of Jaime's stuff (Locas and some of the smaller compilations), and I'm a big fan, but I still didn't know exactly what to expect. Nor do I yet. Have you read any of Gilbert's books? Is the darkness typical? I'm not saying I minded it--in fact, this book ended up being a really nice pairing with Kill Your Boyfriend--but even though the back warns you that it's going to get dark, it's still hard to anticipate just how dark. It's often said that Jaime is the better artist and Gilbert is the better writer, but I don't know if you can tell the latter from this example. Maybe? Why don't I shut up about Los Bros. Hernandez until you fill me in on your preexisting knowledge and expectations.

Garrett Martin: Very little knowledge of either preexists. This is the first comic I've read by either. Yep! And maybe it wasn't the best one to start with? It does get really dark, but in such a shocking and ridiculous way that I honestly have no idea what Hernandez is trying to say. I mean, I laughed some, but mostly out of discomfort, I think, and not knowing how to react. It gets so over-the-top so quickly that I have to assume we're supposed to find it ridiculous, right?

HB: I don't think we are, and it's possible you have to be familiar with their stuff to realize that. It definitely is over the top, but it has a kind of melancholy (especially female melancholy) that's very familiar to me from Jaime's work. Of course, Jaime's characters aren't so much with the crazy murdering sprees--they exist in a more down-to-earth, realistic world, at least after he gets past the initial rocketship stuff--but Maggie, who's one of his most important and well-rounded characters, suffers from some pretty severe depression sometimes, and she's not the only one. There is something here that rings weirdly truer to me than Kill Your Boyfriend did. It may be that the black-and-white art really suits the strangeness and sneakiness of the story. Or that I have all this background. I mean, I don't already know any of these characters, but I'm steeped in the kind of neo-noir that Jaime does really well, so seeing Gilbert go that route isn't entirely surprising. Except when it is. Basically, there's a kind of outrageousness that manages to pack an emotional punch that they're both very, very good at, but it's possible you have to read a bunch of it to get to that point.

GM: It's definitely outrageous. Does Speak of the Devil pack that emotional punch for you? It doesn't for me, and I don't even see how Hernandez could be angling for that. There's a visceral reaction to the violence, sure, but I didn't feel anything for any of these characters. He does a good job of building things up over the first few issues, establishing a relatively mundane but believable cast of characters, and then suddenly veers off on that absurd twist. Nothing in those first few issues lead us to expect these characters to do some of the things they later do so cavalierly. It's almost like Hernandez is mocking readers for potentially caring about the earlier part of the story. But yeah, maybe it'd make more sense if I was familiar with his work.

HB: I don't know. I'm still working out how I feel about the book, but, yeah, I definitely liked it, and I do think it's deeper than it seemed, although I'm not sure there's a logical way to explain that. There's a deep sadness to the characters that I see, but, again, I don't know if that results from reading similar work (minus eye stabbing) by Jaime. It could result from the minimalism of both story and art. There's a very flat affect to everything that happens, which makes the sudden swerve into extraordinary violence more shocking and more interesting, but, yes, possibly less believable. I definitely don't think Gilbert's either mocking the reader for caring or trying not to make the reader care abut the characters. I mean, character development is probably the major thing these guys have contributed to comics, and one of the ways it happens is through absence rather than presence. That is: the characters are often frustrating in their seeming lack of motivation for their actions, and the author/artist deliberately keeps the reader in the dark, refusing to represent crucial events but only alluding to them sidelong, but none of this makes the characters less realistic or round. I can see Speak of the Devil as being in this tradition, but it's also a much shorter work than the series the Hernandezes have been spinning out for years, so it may not be as effective.

GM: I need to read some Love & Rockets.Never done so, and I'm not holding my relatively disappointment in Speak of the Devil against either that or Hernandez. I really do like his art, and even if I think this plot is a bit disjointed he has a good sense for pacing. Your point about absence is really intriguing, and that's a great tactic to use in a medium that's both visual and literary, one where the creators can show and not just tell, and yet where the audience still has control over the rate and flow of information. That's sound comics theory, sure. Maybe it's deployed a bit too liberally in Speak of the Devil, though? There's really no motivation given for why these three people do what they do. Okay, little motivation. The guy has an unhappy homelife, the girl is mad about her dad's job and second marriage, the step-mother is an exhibitionist, etc. But there's no clear through line from any of that to the actions these characters eventually carry out, especially pertaining to certain family members. I just simply can't take any of this seriously, and would like somebody smarter than me (read: you) to explain why I should.

HB: Have you ever seen They Call Her One-Eye? There's something about Speak of the Devil that reminds me of that movie, which is a "rape and revenge" picture that is both extreme to the point of ridiculousness (it's not only violent but also includes hard-core pornography) and kind of bleak and touching and affecting at the same time. I wouldn't be surprised if it's kind of an influence on this book. I might also point out that the motivations are somewhat similar to those in Kill Your Boyfriend, in that the characters live in a stifling environment that causes them to rebel. The results are just represented in a darker way, stripped of joy to show them in a different, perhaps more realistic light. It's a more traditional take, I guess, and while it is depressing, there's just something about it that gets under my skin in a good way.

GM: Yeah, it's definitely not joyful, and if Hernandez's goal is to point out the ridiculousness of that whole teen-killers-on-the-run subgenre by not glamorizing or sugarcoating anything (okay I think we've officially blasted apart our tacit no-spoilers rule, sorry folks) then he did a great job. I really don't know how I feel about this book, overall, which is a sign that, if anything, at least Hernandez has made a really striking, distinctive piece of work. And perhaps if I knew about the book's eventual direction I would be more accepting of it. I still feel that it's too random, too unexpected, and not nearly foreshadowed or developed enough.

HB: Fair enough. Maybe you should check back in after spending Christmas with your family and see how you feel about seemingly unmotivated murders then?

GM: Oh, c'mon. Family is what the booze is for. Maybe these kids should've just gotten drunk instead.

HB: Happy holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kill Your Boyfriend

Kill Your Boyfriend
by Grant Morrison, Phillip Bond, and D'Israeli
DC Comics, 1995

Garrett Martin: See, Grant Morrison doesn't just write superheroes. I missed Kill Your Boyfriend when it came out in '95 (by then my comic money was redirected towards the daunting task of tracking down all of the Fall's albums), and that's for the best, as I probably would've hated it. Despite what Matt Fraction says in this review, it's good I first read this as a 30-year-old, as my actual 17-year-old self would've been offended, even if only as a kneejerk reaction.

I didn't enjoy being hectored about being a highly uptight suburbanite back then, and probably wouldn't have been able to look past the drugs and sex and violence to realize how fun the comic actually is. I would've associated more with the dead boyfriend than the guy that killed him, even though I never read fantasy or sci-fi and was obsessed with generally pro-drug rock 'n' roll. I mean, I lived in East Cobb, of course I was Republican. I voted for Newt Gingrich, dammit. I was a scared, uptight idiot, and still am about many things. Despite already strongly loving Morrison in '95, I would not have allowed myself to enjoy a comic that seemed to glorify drug-use, teen sex, and murder. Yeah, I was dumb. And now I am old, or older, and regularly feel highly nostalgic for youthful experiences that I personally avoided when I was young. Kill Your Boyfriend reminds us how awesome youth is, even if you don't take anywhere near full advantage of that youth. And no, I don't think murdering sprees and general mayhem constitute that full advantage, but that's also not what Morrison is saying. Would you have liked this when you were a girl? Do you like it now? Did meeting Mr. Brown turn you into a modern-day Bacchante?

Hillary Brown: Well, gosh, getting married and going to college at age 18 isn't really all that decadent. I think I'm pretty much a square too, despite my love of violent, profane art, so I don't know if that means I am or ain't the target market for this book. I do wish I'd read it when it came out, but not for the reasons Fraction mentions as much as because of what followed, something Morrison acknowledges in the afterword (sidebar: Is Badlands called Heartland in the UK? Or is that just some sort of massive error?). Once, there was Badlands and not much else in terms of gleeful murdering couples on the lam, and then all of a sudden they were everywhere, shortly after Morrison completed his comic, which tends in retrospect to mute the impact of his entry in the genre. That's not his fault, of course, but it's still a factor. You see that sort of set up and you kind of automatically sigh and think, "Oh, mid-to-late 1990s, what the heck what were you on about?"

I think I wavered, in the reading, between real enjoyment and annoyance, and my guess is that that's fair. There is a kind of joy in the lack of a moral, such as when our heroine loses her virginity and complains that that moment is always disappointing in books and movies but to her it's brilliant, but there's also a hiccupy kind of pacing that comes off as immature. Maybe that's intentional, but it doesn't read that way. It reads as though Morrison didn't feel like writing the in-between material, the "how we got here from there" stuff, and wanted to keep the pace frenetic the whole time. I appreciate hyperactive art, but this is maybe a little ADHD at times. On the other hand, as you point out, at least it's different from the superhero stuff. Do I like it? Yeah, I guess I like it, but I still feel bad for the dead boyfriend too...

GM: The lack of dot-connecting is a common complaint about Morrison. I don't even really notice that with his superhero comics, but Kill Your Boyfriend does feel a little rushed. Considering the subject matter, though, that rush works to the book's advantage. Should the comic deliberate over ridiculously impulsive acts? Were you bothered by the jump cuts in Breathless? I think if the book was less breezy it would lose much of its impact, while also letting the horribleness of their actions seap in more. It'd make the book less fun, and, along with its unsmug and surprisingly charming cynicism, that fun is its greatest strength.

HB: Well, that's true, and you may be right, but you can be quick and breezy and light without making the reader feel s/he's missed something, can't you? For example, when you get around to Joann Sfar's The Professor's Daughter, you'll see that that has almost perfect pacing, with a maximum of speed and a minimum of jump cut. And, yes, the jump cuts do bug me a little in Breathless, even as I recognize that they're an important innovation. They can make me feel jittery and as though I'm in the control of a person lacking both marbles and direction, which is a useful artistic experience but not one I want to have all that often. It's not necessarily that the book needs to be more deliberative. I think it's just that it doesn't really make me identify all that much with the characters because it feels as though the book espouses their philosophy of carefree violence, and there's something that really bugs me about that--more so in this case than in a lot of others. It may be going too far--it is, in fact--to say that Kill Your Boyfriend reminds me of Garth Ennis's less successful efforts, but it's very hard to do this kind of thing super well. Malick did, but maybe he set up better the bleakness against which rebellion is necessary.

GM: See, I'm normally very bothered by violence like this, but it doesn't bug me in Kill Your Boyfriend. The book is so light and joyful that it's hard to take the violence seriously. This is just about the frothiest piece of spree-murdering teen fiction around, and I disagree that it espouses a philosophy of violence. The violence is just a metaphor for that exciting moment on the edge of adulthood when you realize you're capable of living your life however you choose. They're not saying it's fun or cool to kill people, but that you don't need to be constricted by all the preconceptions that family and society have prepared for you. It's like all seven volumes of The Invisibles rolled into one slim graphic novel. Kill Your Boyfriend makes that point in a giddier and less cynical manner than something like Natural Born Killers. It's closer in spirit to Bonnie & Clyde, which does a great job of making you almost forgive them for their horrible crimes. Also, though, comics are a less visceral and immediate artform than film, so maybe that's why I can easier distance myself from the violence of KYB than similar movies.

I enjoy Kill Your Boyfriend less for the message and more for the execution. I like how the plot jumps from scene to scene, how Morrison doesn't waste time meticulously setting up every moment. And I've always loved Phillip Bond's art, which is wonderfully cartoonish without becoming too abstract or unrealistic. He doesn't have the often startling detail of Frank Quitely, but Bond might be my favorite frequent Morrison collaborator.

HB: Or, you know, it could just be that you love Grant Morrison. I think you've definitely got some good points, and, again, I can agree with an anarchic philosophy to some extent, but challenging authority doesn't have to go quite so far, does it? Ugh. I'm draining all the fun out of the book. I completely agree that it far surpasses Natural Born Killers in just about every way possible--it's
like The Buzzcocks to Natural Born Killers's Insane Clown Posse--and you're right about the art being a kind of candy-coated pleasure to look at. Sometimes I just Morrison weren't so explicitly concerned with bucking the status quo, and I do think it's something he's grown out of. You can continue to be revolutionary without always defining yourself against something. But this is grouchy and dumb. People should read the book.

GM: I'd say other high-profile writers are more guilty of pointless status quo bucking and hipster contrarianism. That's what I think about a lot of Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis comics. Whereas those two often coast about in hypercynical mode, Morrison's comics are usually pretty positive and hopeful. And maybe the end of Kill Your Boyfriend is supposed to be a downer, with the girl living the sort of life she had hoped to avoid, but I see it more as both acknowledgement that that "normal" life isn't quite so bad but also reinforcement of the idea that you need to embrace your youth while you can.

How do you feel about people calling this a "pop" comic?

HB: I totally agree that those guys are more guilty, but neither are they as canonized. I forgot about the end of the book though! I don't think it ends up a downer, although I'm not quite sure how to interpret it, other than thinking it's funny. Maybe it's an insight into your parents' lives? A hint that they, too, were once like you, and that a quiet suburban life doesn't preclude excitement in your earlier days?

What do people mean when they call it a pop comic? That it's not grim?

GM: Maybe not Ellis, but Ennis and Preacher get more love in non-superhero circles than Morrison or any of his comics.

The pop comic thing, which Fraction mentions in that review above, refers to how it's fast, short, and, y'know, teenagery, like it's the comics equivalent of that fucking Supergrass song about being young and having fun. Maybe Brit-pop comic would be a better tag?

HB: Because it implies cheekiness? Yeah, I think that's an accurate tag and not a dismissive one in my opinion. But I like things that are fast, short, and teenagery.

GM: Yeah, it's not supposed to dismissive at all. It's sad anybody feels the need to specifically point out a "pop" comic, though, since superhero comics pretty much always should be inherently short, fast, and youthful, but whatever.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

more stuff here soon and elsewhere now

HELLO. We'll have posts soon about Kill Your Boyfriend, Speak of the Devil, and more. In the meantime, go read this review I wrote of Guy Delisle's Burma Chronicles for the Weekly Dig.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Walking Dead, Book One

The Walking Dead, Book One (issues #1-12)
by Robert Kirkman/Tony Moore/Charlie Adlard
Image Comics, 2006

Hillary Brown: So I'm not one of these people who's crazy about everything zombie. I mean, I end up watching most of the zombie movies anyway, for some reason (I like seeing brains eaten?), but they tend to be dour and repetitive. All of which may mean I'm not the ideal audience for The Walking Dead, which Robert Kirkman has admitted, nay boasted of, creating because he wanted a zombie movie that would never end. Still, I kind of liked it anyway, even though I was conscious of its flaws in the reading. Maybe zombie media just provokes a state of mild-mannered acceptance in me. I guess we're going to discuss issues 1 through 6, which are collected in Days Gone Bye, even though I've actually read through issue 12, collected in a fancy hardback. I didn't really think about there being a nice line dividing the two parts, but there is, and Kirkman does seem to have planned his story arcs well for pacing. Issues end at good points. The art is pretty good, although fairly conventional. A few very smart and surprising things happen, although they're concentrated in 7 through 12 rather than 1 through 6. There are some decent characters who don't behave like idiots or jerks all the time. And I suppose it's a relatively realistic picture of the way this kind of thing would go down. But dude. It does not snow in Atlanta. Not more than once a year. And when it does, it rarely sticks. If you're going to pick a distinctive place to set your story--and, believe me, I appreciate the choice, as a native Atlantan--you should perhaps do your research. And maybe you shouldn't have one of your first important characters wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, right?

Garrett Martin: First off, yeah, zombies, fuck 'em. I'm sick of the zombie thing. Maybe because I've been playing a ton of Left 4 Dead lately (um, really good!), or maybe because I eventually grew horribly bored with Walking Dead, or maybe just because crazy nutty zombie obsessions are no more interesting, unique, or humorous today than they were ten or fifteen years ago. Either way, it's hard to get me interested in almost anything zombie-related.

Okay. Now let's talk specifics. We can easily discuss up to issue 12, if you like; I've read the first six trades, which takes me up to issue 36 or so. Walking Dead is another comic I expected to dislike, but wound up getting kind of addicted to for a while. Kirkman's zombie apocalypse isn't all that unique, but like you said he does a good job of making events follow a somewhat natural and realistic sequence. His characters often act like real people and not just horror movie cliches. I wouldn't say I cared for them, but I did become interested in their fate. I rooted for them, sure. And for a while Kirkman did a good job of gradually expanding the environment, introducing new characters and situations that felt like common-sensical extensions of the story. Still, the addiction had more to do with the comparatively cheap cost and the quickness with which each trade reads (I could polish one off in a single forty-minute trainride to work) than actual quality, I think. It's definitely a solid book, for the first couple of years at least, but it's mostly unexceptional, and so unlike what I normally look for that I really think I read it just because it was easy to do so. And, y'know, Kirkman's good with a cliffhanger and some cheap scares.

And I agree about the Atlanta weirdness. Kirkman and Tony Moore need to bone up on their climatology.

HB: I think this is a really good way of looking at it. It's very very readable, and if I had the first six trades or all of it or whatever, I'd definitely read it. In fact, I read it on the kitchen counter while waiting for pasta to finish cooking. I read it as much as I could read it. And yet I felt a little empty for doing so. I like how you point out that not hating the characters is not the same thing as caring for them. I mean, they could all die, and I wouldn't really care. I'd just be like, "Hmm. Interesting. What happens next?" It's the mechanics that keep you reading: Where will they get their next meal? What's with the barn full of zombies? Who's plotting what? And dang that military base does look like a good option for a more permanent home. Still, it's a little talky, isn't it? I mean, action gets boring after a while too, but a lot of these characters just unfurl their thoughts like a big-ass banner, for panel after panel, while the other person involved in the conversation nods and says thoughtful things, and eventually they all start to sound the same, which means I'd prefer that their brains get eaten. It's when Kirkman's ruthless (or more so) that the book improves. The two things I appreciated most in the first 12 issues were 1. Carl getting shot (it's unexpected and mean, which I like), and 2. The idea that maybe you shouldn't just start killing zombies without thinking about the fact that they might get better because it could just be a disease or something (even if it's eventually discounted). And both of these things are not aspects of every zombie movie ever made, which is what makes them better story elements.

GM: True about both points there, and Walking Dead is nothing if not consistently unpredictable. Characters generally don't last long, and it's usually not pretty when they go. And I agree that the dialogue and interaction doesn't always feel right, but maybe people become more thoughtful and better listeners in the midst of unrelenting zombie hell. If you don't become a zombie, you become Charlie Rose.

Those mechanics you point out never go away. It's a constant series of fighting off a zombie invasion, finding a new safehouse, settling in for a few issues, realizing the survivors can be as dangerous for each other as the zombies, fighting off a zombie invasion, repeat. It's also weird how Kirkman can make the characters memorable (I can still see and name all the main survivors, despite not having read an issue in over a year), without really making me care about any of them. Maybe he hedges against this lack of reader investment by making the deaths increasingly more graphic and disgusting? The last time I flipped through an issue on the stands there was a two-page blow-by-blow decapitation that was just unnecessarily gruesome. There's pretty much a lack of subtlety all around. But then can you have a subtle zombie story without being boring or misguided?

HB: Subtlety isn't really what zombie stuff is about, and examples of it are few. When you're pretty much obliged to show intestine ripping/eating, it's hard to shoot for the sophisticated and oblique. I do think Walking Dead could use a bit more comedy. It's not as serious as the most serious entries in the genre, but my favorites all tend to look at this horrible situation with a lighter heart. I guess it's hard to do both realism and comedy when the dead are walking the earth and eating the living.

GM: I don't know, Shaun of the Dead balanced that perfectly. Well, it skewed closer to comedy, but if it hadn't I wouldn't have liked it that much. Shaun of the Dead, Walking Dead, and Left 4 Dead are the only examples of recent zombie media I've experienced. Before them I hadn't cared for anything zombie-related since Night of the Comet. Like I said, I don't care about the undead.

Anyway. Is there any comedy in Walking Dead? Kirkman can be funny (go read the Irredeemable Ant-Man digests for proof), but I don't remember laughing at anything here.

HB: There's not really anything that could technically qualify as comedy, but it's not relentlessly depressing the way some Romero is, for example. So maybe I should have said it could use "some" rather than "more." And maybe some of our readers who are really into zombie media will pipe up and say "this is a great example" or "this is a terrible example." My guess is that people like it or it wouldn't have run to as many issues as it has. On the other hand, Two and a Half Men sure has been on the air a long time...

GM: Whether or not it's a good example of the genre, it's definitely a good example of how to make a compulsively readable serialized story. We both attest to that. That readability seems to be the only thing that really stands out about Walking Dead, going by this discussion. Is there something about it we're not realizing? Or is it simply that it's well-paced and inoffensive entertainment?

HB: Shrug.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Umbrella Academy Vol. 1: Apocalypse Suite; The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 (of 6)

The Umbrella Academy Volume One: Apocalypse Suite
Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 (of 6)
by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
Dark Horse Comics, 2007-2008

Garrett Martin: I don't think I could've been any more skeptical about The Umbrella Academy. Not just because it's written by a celebrity, but because that celebrity is the singer and primary songwriter for a band I don't like. My Chemical Romance's theatricality makes me dislike them even more than their overwrought music. I didn't even think the blinding awesomeness of Gabriel Ba (as integral to the success of the fantastic first album of Casanova as Matt Fraction) could make up for the guaranteed awfulness of Gerard Way's story. I never would've given this series a shot if it hadn't debuted on Free Comic Book Day. I'm glad I did, though, because it's so damned good it easily overcame my total lack of faith. I'm still shocked at how much I like these comics. The obvious Grant Morrison influence no doubt helps, but for the most part Way eschews both the grandiose and lachrymose tendencies of My Chemical Romance, making for a comic that's initially far less "emo" than I expected. Is it silly to think a musician would write comics like his songs? And what were your expectations?

Hillary Brown: I think you may not be giving the arch creation that is My Chemical Romance quite enough credit. I'm not necessarily the biggest fan (they get a little shouty for me), but I've enjoyed a song here and there, and I can recognize the way their fans interpret their songs as differing from the way they might be meant. That is: there are people who think the Smiths don't have a sense of humor or that Bauhaus is similarly dour. I wouldn't say MCR is in their league, but they're not entirely serious about their emotions. Aaaanyway. This is not to say I was less skeptical than you, despite hearing good things all around. I was quite skeptical and, therefore, quite happy with the results, which are fresh, funny, interesting, and well-paced. I also thought the art would be too angular for me, but I ended up really liking Ba's stuff and fairly quickly too. The tone throughout is pleasingly dry and rather British without skimping on action, and while there's a bit of initial frustration at one's own failure to grasp who's who immediately, it fades after an issue or two. This is not to say it doesn't have flaws. Much like Morrison, whom I hadn't thought of an an influence but clearly see as one now, Way could work a little harder on his exposition. It's a fine balance to strike, though, and you want to leave just enough mystery to keep things intriguing. On the other hand, if you start to look at the plot too closely, it begins to collapse, to demonstrate that, while its way fun as you speed along, you really shouldn't get out your magnifying glass unless you want to be disappointed.

GM: I like the headlong hurtle through the plot in the earlier issues, the piling on of ideas that aren't always thoroughly explained. But then I love Morrison, Kirby, and Silver Age non-sense, so it's expected I'd dig that. Apocalypse Suite, the first six issue mini-series and collection, is at its best in the early goings, when Way and Ba are setting things up, establishing this world, and spooling out all these great little ideas. They're not all particularly original (if the dude who created the first comic book talking monkey got royalties, he could buy and sell Dubai a thousand times over), but they're presented with such obvious excitement and love for the form that I can't help but get swept up in the rush. In fact, my interested started to dim slightly when the pace slowed down and the story became more focused. That also coincides with a tilt towards the sort of overemotional melodrama I expected, though, and so I can't tell which is more responsible for the book eventually running out of steam. Or maybe it was the graphic death of a character that never, ever should've died, ever.

HB: Ah, but the smartness of the series is its flexibility in time, meaning a) there are a lot of untold potential stories, b) the time spanned is wide, from childhood to adulthood, and c) this means, especially when you incorporate a time-traveling character, that no one ever really dies, which means you can get the impact of a great character's death without having all the drawbacks. There's still so much that remains to be unpacked, like what exactly happened to number five, and this is what makes me want to keep reading, the faith that they'll get to that stuff and do so in an interesting way. You really think it's melodramatic?

GM: Maybe not melodramatic, but when the plot kicks in it sways perilously close to the sort of morose and angsty self-pity you find in bad emo music. Granted the character that most embodies these traits winds up being the bad guy, more or less, and is defeated, so Way's not necessarily endorsing that non-sense. The primary source of the book's drama is built on that whole teenagery "I'm so different, nobody understands me" schtick, and it's a testament to Way's gift for pacing, dialogue, and inspired concepts that I still like Apocalypse Suite as much as I do. And that's a good point about the flexible narrative. The character whose death bummed me out so much makes an appearance in the first issue of the second series, Dallas.

Normally I ask if you're interested in reading future installments; well, we already have, thanks to a preview copy of the first issue of the next series. What did you think of that?

HB: I thought it was a little obscure but promising, which is probably the same way I would have felt upon reading only the first issue of this first story arc. It's definitely a series I could see myself following, if not month to month then at least in trades. I just kind of still think you're overstating the emo quality of Apocalypse Suite. I mean, is it more so than Young Avengers was? Okay. Maybe it is a little. Especially since the whole "music can help me express myself but also destroy the world" theme is in there. But it didn't annoy me, perhaps because of that recent Smiths/Cure dance party Mr. Brown and I played the part of the Smiths at. Mopey adolescent music must be in my blood or something. Would you keep reading, despite being more irritated?

GM: Don't get me wrong: I really like Apocalypse Suite. I'm just noting that it initially won me over in part because it lacked a quality I expected, but that gradually creapt in to an extent. It didn't creep in enough to derail my enthusiasm for the book, but it did temper it very slightly. It's still a really fun comic with a number of good ideas, an interesting team and family dynamic, and fantastic artwork.

I was worried that Way could be the type of writer who exhausts all his good ideas in one swoop, but the first issue of Dallas allayed some of those fears. It's not as immediately striking as the first issue of Apocalypse Suite, and the villains introduced at the end are maybe too much like something you'd find in Morrison's Doom Patrol, but it definitely left me looking forward to the next issue. The final note didn't particularly resonate with me; number 5's final line, and the situation that surrounds it, are just a little too common and generic, I think.

HB: Fair enough. I wasn't giddy with excitement over the cliffhanger ending of the new storyline's first issue, but it's still so much better than most stuff like this, and I may like it as much as I like the first trade of Doom Patrol, which is all I've gotten around to so far.

GM: Yeah, the cliffhanger isn't particularly compelling, if only because the whole "bad-ass character puts over the unseen but upcoming threat that we know absolutely nothing about by totally freaking out about it " thing has been done many times in the past (and damn, hopefully a better writer somewhere can come up with a far less clunky term for that).

What other stuff would you say is like this? Just wondering. And you should read more Doom Patrol. The first trade is great, but it gets even better. Morrison's last eight issues might be my favorite comics ever.

HB: Well, it has stuff in common with what little I know of The Prisoner and Harry Potter and Heroes and, I guess, most teams of younger superheroes. There's a lot of time devoted to digging into their particular talents and backgrounds. It's like you get to tell a bunch of origin stories, and who doesn't like origin stories? The question is whether they can maintain momentum after exhausting that stuff, and I'm not sure that they can, but I also don't necessarily feel like they can't. (Also: okay. I will read more Doom Patrol. Arm twisting not necessary.)

GM: True about origin stories. Notice my interest in Apocalypse Suite slightly abated once they hit the meat of the plot. Dallas will be the test of whether Way can make us care about these characters outside their initial concept and archetypes.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets

I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets
by Fletcher Hanks, ed. by Paul Karasik
Fantagraphics 2007

Hillary Brown: Usually, when people go on and on about how weird something is, it's not really that weird--it's just unfamiliar to them. I've certainly done this myself with large chunks of Japanese culture. But calling Fletcher Hanks weird doesn't quite do justice to the comics artist/writer's, um, unique vision. I've been wanting to pick up I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets for at least a year, so pairing it with Herbie was a good excuse. The thing is, Herbie is a thoroughly competent creation--it's just kind of goofy. ISDATCP, on the other hand, would be a real testament to the artistry of the strange outsider, a kind of portrait of Fletcher Hanks as Henry Darger, if it weren't so incredibly lazy. That's the thing: is obsessive repetition the hallmark of an interesting brain or is it really more of a sign flashing "don't get into a conversation with this guy"? I'm still not even sure what I think of this compilation or of Hanks. Every issue of his creations represented here (Stardust the Super Wizard, Fantomah, and Big Red McLane) follows exactly the same path: trouble is detected by superman/woman; hero/heroine takes surprisingly long to arrive, despite having known what was going to happen for some time, during which thousands of people die; "poetic justice" is enacted, often involving levitation of the bad guys. It's utterly itself, but is that self good?

Garrett Martin: Fuck yeah that self is good. Not good like Peanuts or Acme Novelty Library, and not "so good it's bad", but inherently fascinating and entertaining it its own way. Sure, a way that's often disturbing and depressing, but still, completely valid. These strips are striking not just because of the repetition and the flights of ridiculousness (the latter of which I shall admit is the main appeal), but because they're so blunt and savage, and completely unconcerned with (or unaware of) the fact that their target audience is ostensibly a bunch of kids. Yeah, Batman killed some dudes his first year or so, and folks died all the time in Dick Tracy, but Hanks' stuff is particularly violent and vengeance-crazed for the time period.

A lot of folks call what Hanks did "outsider" comics, which is kinda dumb on a few levels. I'm only comfortable with that tag when it's applied to somebody that means well but isn't quite competent, like the Shaggs, or BJ Snowden. Hanks wasn't an outsider, he was just a lazy alcoholic, like you said, and as the editor, Paul Karasik, points out in his comic strip post-script. Yeah, Stardust and Fantomah strips are a bit incompetent, but that's not from a lack of talent so much as Hanks' total disregard of comics as a medium.

HB: You mean Hanks isn't an outsider because he actually did publish these stories? Did they appear in reputable (or as reputable as comics got) publications? Or was it the kind of nonsense most city magazines publish today in order to have something to sell ads alongside? It's hard for me to contextualize them. Basically, I'm trying to figure out in what way he's "competent"? They're lettered in comprehensible English? I mean, each comic tells a story, but it's the same story every time, with minor details changed. The art may differ even less. Is that competent or in-?

GM: Stardust appeared in comics from the Fox company, who published Blue Beetle and early work from well-known, long-time pros like Lou Fine, George Tuska, and a certain li'l fella named Kirby (thanks, Wikipedia!) It was definitely low-rent stuff, but not quite the same as a dude calling himself a video game critic 'cuz he writes 150-word reviews for an unpopular free newspaper. And I'm basing the competency claim on Karasik's strip; it's been a while since I've read it, but doesn't he find a more serious Hanks drawing that doesn't look hastily tossed-off? That kind of impresses Karasick? Okay, maybe it's incompetent, but it's a thoroughly distinct and unique style, both artistically and philosophically. But since we're hung up on that word, let me ask you, do you think Darger or Finster are "competent"?

HB: Well... That's a good question. I guess I do, but then they're not trying for a narrative, or at least Finster's not and Darger's story is mostly in his crazy-ass novel and not so much in the pictures. I'd like for there to be a more direct point of comparison between them. You can probably argue that Hanks's art is competent, if weird and repetitive, but I don't know if you can say the same for his storytelling. This is terrible, though. I'm coming off as though I don't like or appreciate Hanks's stuff, which isn't true. I might be confused by it when I try to think about it deeply, but I did enjoy the unique voice at work. Maybe I should stop trying to analyze potential reactions to it so much.

GM: "Outsider" is such an open-ended term, anyway, it might as well be meaningless. So let's screw that discussion and talk about something better; namely, why this book is so damn awesome. 'Cuz, hell, it is awesome, right? I don't need to know Hanks' backstory to know he must've been one seriously angry dude, all I gotta do is read this book and get beat over the head by the totally cavalier attitude both he and his omnipotent characters hold towards both society and humanity in general. Sure, maybe Hanks held comics and their readers in contempt, or at least didn't care about the quality of his own work, but you can't deny the guy had an amazingly vivid and sordid imagination.

HB: Yeah, it's pretty awesome, even if it's a little Leni Riefenstahl at times, which is fairly awkward, considering that these books were produced between 1939 and 1941. I mean, maybe there's a reason they fell by the wayside, with their blond heroes and heroine stomping on the ugly of the world. Hanks's desire to see death and destruction, too, would soon become reality, with both fire- and atom bombing of civilian populations. Maybe that time felt as weirdly apocalyptic as our own, or maybe he was just a pissed off, violent drunk.

GM: Well, the economy was still pretty god-damned depressed when Hanks was making comics, so there's one sorta parallel to our current situation. And yeah, this stuff is fairly fascist. I generally tune out when somebody attacks superhero comics for being fascist, but it might be irrefutable in the case of Stardust. But, really, there are no politics in this book. Sure, many stories revolve around intrigue and sabotage from the Fifth Column, but, like almost every facet of Hanks' work, there's so little similarity to anything even remotely possible in the real world that it's completely incorrect to call it political. Hanks' conspiracies are "political" in the same way as Major League Baseball using satellites to spy on the American people in that Simpsons episode. His comics are like the Golden Age equivalent of Ed Anger.

HB: It's more political in the way that the letters of raving loonies to
the newspaper are political... Is that what you're saying?

GM: In terms of content, sure, although I have no idea if Hanks shared the paranoia evident in his comics.

HB: True. We don't have any evidence for that. He's still a mystery, and while it's possible that makes his comics better (through not providing more reasons to hate him as a man, which could extend to disliking his artistic creations), they really do have a strange power. The advantage of experiencing a work of art by someone who is probably crazy is that it's continually surprising, which these comics, despite their repetitiveness, are.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Herbie Archive, vol. 1

Herbie Archive, vol. 1
by Shane O'Shea and Ogden Whitney
Dark Horse 2008

Garrett Martin: There is a serious dearth of abject ridiculousness in today's comics. Yeah, there's plenty of winking Silver Age homages and (increasingly sterile) blog-friendly shenanigans of the "nazi gorilla zombie" type (or, y'know, comics made specifically for Chris Sims), but little of the genuinely inspired lunacy that litters the medium's past. Herbie Archives Volume 1, the first of three planned hardcovers collecting a particularly surreal midcentury classic, is a perfect example of the spirit that's far too lacking today. Unlike inexplicably weird comics from guys like Fletcher Hanks or Robert Kanigher, where the oddness stems primarily from alcohol (in Hanks' case), a backbreaking schedule (for Kanigher), and a fundamental lack of respect for the intelligence of the audience (um, both of them?), Herbie mostly realizes its own ridiculousness. It's not really a straight-up satire of anything, but in its Mad-style irreverence Herbie does take some clear shots at both comic book conventions (uh, not the hotel ballrooms full of dudes in Beast Master costumes, but, y'know, customs or rules, or whatever) and contemporary society in general. The obvious stabs at humor sometimes fall flat, being too broad or corny, but the storytelling is truly surprising and hallucinatory in a highly satisfying way. In that way it particularly reminded me of Fletcher Hanks, and last year's excellent I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets collection, but with far less obvious rage and violence. Did you like this book? Was it too goofy for you?

Hillary Brown: Oh heck no. I don't really know if there is much that's too goofy for me. I'd never heard of Herbie before, and I enjoyed the heck out of it, especially the cameos by famous figures in history and pop culture, which kind of seem to meld, from Fidel Castro to Kennedy (and Jackie), LBJ (and Ladybird), and the Beatles. It's interestingly international in outlook, and the art is pretty great (all colorful and amusing), but mostly it's a wonderful kind of empowerment tale for fat loser kids. I mean, Herbie's dad is really damn mean to him, isn't he? Almost to the point of emotional abuse? And yet, the little fat nothing lets it all bounce off him. Sure, he has magical powers, powers that don't seem to be limited in any way other than through the imagination of the creator, but isn't the real joy of the comic in this hero who's really more of an a-hero than an antihero?

GM: Yeah, Mr. Popnecker is so shockingly, over-the-top mean to Herbie that it just becomes another part of the book's amazing ridiculousness, along with all the historical personages and, um, Frankensteins (yeah, multiple Frankensteins, here, or at least one Frankenstein making many appearances). And that international outlook (U Thant plays a big role in one issue) feels decidedly '60's, reflecting an era when politics and foreign policy were, if not sexy (or endlessly pants-shittingly frightening), then at least more of an active concern for average citizens than we've seen the last decade or so. Maybe now that socioeconomic events have directly impacted Americans' eagerness to buy HD-TVs and $5-a-box breakfast cereals, leading to the results of this historic election, we'll start seeing Evo Morales randomly pop up in Incredible Hercules. But, yes, fraternizing with these celebrities and world leaders is another aspect of Herbie's empowerment, elevating the hopelessly marginal and impressionless to a state of ultimate, if quiet, authority. And that's also, y'know, pretty damn ridiculous.

This doesn't really feel like a comic for kids, does it? But who else would've read this in 1961? Did typical comics-reading kids know who U Thant was back then?

HB: I doubt it, but it's kind of like the two-or-more-level jokes on The Simpsons, which I know kids watch. Some people just think the bopping with a lollipop is hilarious, and others are all like oh ha ha U Thant. It's also potentially educational that way. I mean, if I didn't get a reference on Gilmore Girls, I'd go look it up. And not that these kids would have had the internet, but it's possible they'd ask their parents who some of these people were. Plus, you know, it's fairly clearly marketed to nerds, who might actually know some of this information. I'm sure you, like me, had your store of political knowledge while yet a young lad. So I guess I'm saying that it doesn't seem all that crazy to me when I think about it in more depth.

Frankenstein having magical powers, though? That's nuts.

GM: True. Even if I didn't understand Mad's political jokes when I was a kid, I certainly acted like I did.

As great as Herbie is, the concept is a bit limited, right? Will you be looking for the next two archives, or has this thoroughly scratched whatever itch might exist?

HB: Well, you're right that there's not a lot of development. I suppose I'd at least thumb through another archive volume or two, but I don't know if I'd go hugely out of my way. On the other hand, I react that way to a lot of stuff that doesn't have a compelling continuous narrative. It's a problem with anything before, like, the 1980s, though, and Herbie is certainly more interesting than most other things I'd let fall by the wayside. Noncommital? Yeah, but that's a step up from negative.

GM: I agree a lack of a serialized narrative generally inhibits my interest in something. Many of the big DC Showcase books are a total slog due to the intense repetition and lack of an overarcing storyline. But, like Metamorpho and Silver Age Superman, Herbie is so brilliantly ridiculous that I can't wait to read more.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Season 2 #2

Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Season 2 #2
by Terry Moore and Craig Rousseau
Marvel Comics 2008

Hillary Brown: Oh boy, Terry Moore... Well, the first issue of season 2 of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane was uneven, and it had a new tone, but the memories of Sean McKeever's wonderfulness with the story let hope bloom a little, in spite of itself. Well, the bloom is off the damn rose with issue #2. It's not as though the story has ever been interested in Spider-Man or action, but things did happen, whereas the summary of issue #2 is: Mary Jane wakes up late; she goes to acting class; she chats with some people in the hall and with Liz Allen at cheerleading practice, but all kind of aimlessly; Harry Osborn's been saying something about her, but we don't find out what it is; she goes to her new job at the hair salon and screws up but doesn't get fired; then she walks home with Spider- Man. Honestly, it's hard to find a regular-length comic like this that could put you to sleep any faster. The dialogue sags. The art is boring. Nothing frigging happens. And Spider-Man is pretty much the only dude who makes an appearance. I'm not opposed to female-centric comics. Colleen Coover did a great job in the Spider-Man Annual. But I am opposed to Moore turning SMLMJ into Strangers in Paradise minus the sex.

Garrett Martin: You're not quite negative enough; this thing is hellaciously bad. Absolutely nothing happens. And I don't mean "nobody got chest-punched, ergo nothing happened"; I mean despite the perfunctory appearance of various recognizable characters and a distinct sequence of events, absolutely nothing of note occurs at any point. What impact does any of this have on any of these characters? Basically Mary-Jane stumbles about all confused and emotionally disoriented barely reacting to events of no consequence. This wouldn't be so frustrating if the dialogue wasn't some of the worst stuff I've seen in any comic of late. Yes, worse than anything in DCU Decisions! What the hell. Nothing is more annoying than when a writer presents a supposedly humorous situation that would never conceivably be found funny by any person anywhere at any point in the history of the world, and then call-back and reference it repeatedly. That's exactly what Moore does with the pathetic non-joke that is the limo rumor. What the hell, again. This comic is a totally inert, stillborn embarrassment.

HB: Yeah, I guess I was trying to be generous and not live in an entirely plot-driven world, but, um, as you point out, there's not even any emotional development here. It makes me nervous as heck for the future of Runaways, which I may avoid entirely even after catching up on the Joss Whedon-penned issues. Also: why does every lady have a lesbian haircut? Discuss.

GM: I'm just shocked at how far worse this issue is than Moore's first. I didn't think that was great, but it was more in keeping with McKeever's great book than I expected. #2 is about the worst case scenario, though. The only thing that isn't distressing about this issue is Craig Rousseau's art. It's solid stuff, better than David Hahn, the guy that finished up the last series, but it still won't make anybody forget Takeshi Miyazawa. Miyazawa's manga style definitely fits the series better than Rousseau's more Western cartoonish-ness.

But man, I've got no plans on picking up Moore's Runaways. Well, maybe to talk about it here, but I don't want it to feel like we're piling on the dude.

HB: Yeah, I guess I can say that the cover is good, but it's the only thing that's even cute in the whole issue. I mean, if nothing's going to happen, you could at least have some cute girls, whereas Moore and Rousseau can't even put poor Mary Jane in a decent outfit. This book is worse than Spider-Man 3.

GM: Were MJ and her friends generally well-dressed in the earlier series? If so, I wonder how much of that credit goes to Miyazawa and Hahn, and how much goes to the former colorist, Christina Strain. Do you think a woman's perspective is necessary or especially helpful when it comes to successful women's fashion in comics? I never even think about that, since women's fashion in superhero comics basically consists of whatever unrealistically tight and revealing piece of nothing the artist barely draws over his light-boxed SI Swimsuit Edition tracings.

HB: Well, they had more interesting and colorful things on than the boring jacket MJ wears throughout this issue. Think Betty and Veronica. Actually, just think Veronica. What she's wearing now is probably more realistic, but it's a little old and a little blah. I'm not sure that it's a female perspective that's important so much as a more youthful one, and that may not even be fair. I don't know how old Craig Rousseau is, but Miyazawa's only 29.

GM: See, when I think of Veronica, I think of the most stereotypical '80's (or '50's, depending on if I'm thinking of a regular issue or one of them grocery store digests) clothes possible. But maybe that's 'cuz I read roughly a billion Archie stories a day when I was 9, and hardly any since.

Should we work on a post about fashion in comics?

HB: I guess I just mean bright colors and occasionally interesting cuts--a youthful look, basically. It's not the MJ doesn't wear jeans, but she layers and she accessorizes.

Unfortunately, other than superhero costumes, there's not a whole lot of fashion in comics, but I have been looking for excuse to read Beauty Pop...

GM: I don't know, then we'd probably also have to read Glamourpuss, and I don't know if I'm up for that.

HB: Wait! I might be!

other stuff in other places

If you're so inclined, you can take a look at two comics-related pieces I have in this week's Weekly Dig. The first is a joint Q&A with Bernie Wrightson and Peter Laird, the two guests of honor at this Sunday's Boston Comic Con. The other is a review of The Great Outdoor Fight, a hardcover collection of Achewood strips published by Dark Horse.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crogan's Vengeance

Crogan's Vengeance
by Chris Schweitzer
Oni Press, 2008

Hillary Brown: I'm not familiar at all with Chris Schweizer's work, except for his series on "Smokers of the Marvel Universe," but when I went to Heroescon his new book, Crogan's Vengeance, was getting some serious hype. Like the rest of Oni Press's stuff, it's fairly small format and black and white, but rather than the trials and travails of skinny indie rockers (<-- unfair stereotype), it's a swashbuckling tale of derring-do and piratical adventure, with more planned in the series. Yes, Schweizer has ambition, with plans to tell other stories from the Crogan line and build some sort of a multi-generational epic, full of man's man stories and epic sweep. The question is: Does it work? Big goals can fail big. I'd say, on the whole, that Schweizer doesn't fail big, but he might fail a little. It's hard to combine a story as straightforward and narrative-based as this with artwork that is often goofy. It's not that I don't like either aspect on its own, but they're a little strange combined, or perhaps it's that they're rather Disney's Peter Pan, which is the formative experience most of us have with pirates (unless our family is, like, really into Veggie Tales). The goonieness of the drawings detracts from the menace, and it's really hard to tell if that's the goal or not. Mostly, what it does is seemingly drop the target age range down, which may be exactly what Schweizer is going for. Perhaps he's inspired just as much by Landmark Books, a series of adventure/historical tales aimed at the pre- and adolescent boy market in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. My dad grew up on these, which meant there was a big stash of them at my grandparents' house, and when I stayed there in the summers for two weeks, I'd attempt to get through all of them. The best ones, of course, were the ones about pirates: The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans, The Barbary Pirates, Famous Pirates of the New World, and more, I believe. Crogan's Vengeance reminds me of these more than anything else, meaning it's a little bit educational and not entirely satisfying, but, you know, pirates! Is it just that I'm a girl and it's pushing boy buttons?

Garrett Martin: I don't know; if so, then perhaps my buttons aren't quite gender-appropriate. Now, there's a lot that's good about Crogan's Vengeance, but I too had a problem with the weird disconnect between art and subject matter. I like Schweizer's classic cartoonish art, but like you point out it doesn't quite gel with the serious, straight-forward story he's telling. It's not dour or self-important, but there's not a lot of humor in Crogan's Vengeance, which you would expect from a book whose lead looks kinda like a human Goofy. That odd combination of art and subject matter does make me think that preadolescent boys might be the target audience. It also reminds me of Osamu Tezuka's Buddha, but far tamer, without the sexuality and graphic violence perpetrated on adorable Disney-looking animals. Schweizer also could've been a bit clearer with the pacing; doesn't it feel like everything takes place over two, maybe three days? Pivotal events transition directly into one another, with no attention paid to passage of time. Does Crogan really go from unknown sailor to captain of his own licensed privateer ship in one weekend? It's just slightly confusing.

Those are my only problems, really. I really like his art, divorced from this story, which is a story that I also really like. It's pretty bare-bones, sure, but Schweizer seems to have done his homework with the history and speech patterns and everything, and doesn't offer up any glaring anachronisms. Those often kinda piss me off, y'know. I had no idea about Schweizer's grand plans until you mentioned them; that actually sounds really intriguing, and I can't wait to read more, provided he treats future subject matter with the relative degree of respect on display in Crogan's Vengeance.

HB: Yeah, a whole series of awesome graphic adventure novels for boys sounds like a brilliant idea, not least because it might stop them from reading terrible superhero comics at an impressionable age. You're right, too, about the pacing. That's usually something that's nice and clear in comics, due to the possibility of sticking it in a box at the top of a panel (e.g., "some days later") rather than working into exposition in limited text, but I honestly have no idea how long the voyage, takeover, and revenge take. Or, heck, why Crogan's on the ship. I suppose it's one of those formative experiences, rather like Prince Harry's joining the UK military, that toffs are required to go through to prove their noblesse oblige-ness. Perhaps we should talk a bit about the title and the relatively sophisticated philosophy of justice and mercy that Schweizer sets up?

GM: Whoa, hold on, what this world needs is more boys reading terrible superhero comics at an impressionable age! Well, not "terrible" (I'm not talking like X-Force, or anything), but the only people who should be reading mediocre and/or bog-standard superhero comics are boys. Yes, that should be supplemented with higher quality fare like Crogan's Vengeance or Rocketo, but you shouldn't discount the importance 22 pages of hackneyed Batman crap can have upon a young man's mind. Of course the uninspired superhero junk of today is mostly inappropriate for kids, so maybe it's all a moot point, anyway.

The book's pretty idealistic, isn't it? Crogan tries hard to remain honorable throughout, and at the end is awarded in a way that lets him keep the fundamentally dishonorable profession forced upon him but in a fully legal and respectable way. His vengeance is doing the right thing and living well as a result, unlike the more hardened and villainous pirates he reluctantly consorted with. I appreciate the optimism, and feel bad that I assume it's just another sign of the book targetting a younger audience.

HB: Yeah, it's idealistic, and I think that's nice, but it doesn't read as falsely so. That is, it's not quite the same situation when Superman steps in to protect the rights of someone who's a jerk but being harmed as when this little bitty guy from the elite does so. So it's sort of inspiring. But I think the title is more in reference to the ship by that name, which becomes his, than to the actions of Crogan. His "vengeance" isn't really vengeance. It's just the right thing to do in the situation. So I don't think we can say the book is in favor of vengeance. That, in itself, is kind of nice.

GM: It's definitely a pun, though, right? The obvious reference is to the ship, but also the character's indirect / unintentional revenge upon the bad people and situations that had plagued him, by, y'know, living well.

HB: I do think it has a dual meaning, or, rather, it seems like it'll have a dual meaning, but in the end, not so much.

GM: Yeah, maybe I'm too hung up on platitudes and George Herbert quotes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sub-Mariner Depths #1

Sub-Mariner Depths #1
by Peter Milligan and Esad Ribic
Marvel Comics 2008

Garrett Martin: You're probably wondering why we're writing about a month-old issue of some random Sub-Mariner mini-series, a #1 that's already been followed by a #2, and, I assume any day now, a #3. It's true that a little bit of business and a whole lot of laziness has brought us here, but it's also true that I'm making a point to review this issue because of its surprising and fundamental goodness. Sub-Mariner Depths #1 is a far better comic than I expected. And it pains me to say that, 'cuz I used to expect a lot from Peter Milligan. I assume this book was only commissioned because of Milligan's good reputation, a rep that's been severely tarnished of late by a long run of sub-par superhero works. Yeah, The Programme was utterly unembarrassing, but otherwise Milligan hasn't put out a good comic since some point during the second year of X-Statix. Infinity Inc and Kid Amazo were (to varying degrees) wayward messes with a few nice ideas sprinkled here and there, and his recent-ish Batman and X-Men work has been mind-achingly uninspired. Even in the world of mainstream superhero comics, rarely has work for hire so obviously been work. So, yes, I had no expectations for this book whatsoever, and almost didn't buy it, which would've made it the first Milligan series I didn't try since I first read Shade the Changing Man back in 1992. It was a light week, though, so I dropped those four bucks, and was pleasantly surprised by what I read. It's not quite a return to form for Milligan, but, like The Programme, it shows that he's at least still capable of writing interesting and distinctive comics. Also like The Programme (and other, far better Milligan works like Shade and Enigma), it probably helps that Sub-Mariner Depths is only nominally about a superhero. But before we jump into the book itself, I want to hear some preliminary thoughts from Hillary. What did you think? And had you read anything by Milligan before?

Hillary Brown: Well, I guess compared to the last waterlogged comic we read and wrote about Sub-Mariner Depths is an improvement, but I wouldn't say I was nuts about it. I haven't read anything by Milligan, despite the fact that he seems to have written for about a hundred different books, so I don't know anything about his style. For one thing, maybe I'm just being pissy about fonts, but I think the handwriting stuff is hard to read, in a way that leads to irritation. And the art is a little... watery. I know I like Alex Ross and all that, and I'm not opposed to watercolor work in comics in the slightest, but doesn't this stuff look kind of washed out to you? And excessively photo-referenced? Okay. None of that is Milligan's fault, and the writing is pretty good, not to mention that it's an interesting take on the character. The Sub-Mariner's always been kind of a jerk, and the idea of treating him as even more vengeful and also kind of legendy is good; otherwise, he's just a cranky fucker in a bathing suit. I like where the story is going, in other words, and once they're underwater, the paleness of the surface scenes is replaced by an inky prettiness that's nice and creepy. I'm genuinely curious, as well, to see what happens, although I don't know if I prefer stories about skepticism that's proved to be correct or stories about skepticism that's challenged and found wanting. Theoretically, I like the first, but in practice the second often ends up as a better story.

GM: It's basically impossible to do the former in a modern superhero book. That's one reason nobody could think of a way to use Dr. Thirteen for decades; how do you have an extreme skeptic not look like an idiot in a shared universe full of magical aliens and dudes who can run backwards through time? I don't even know if it was a consideration, but by setting this story in the solidly pre-superheroic '30's Milligan eliminated that as a concern.

As you know I often have a problem with painted and obviously photo-referenced art in superhero comics. Esad Ribic's work here doesn't bug me, though, if only because the story doesn't really call for much action. I don't like when the art is flat and static when it should be dynamic and action-packed, but, again, that's not a concern with this first issue. Ribic's stiff, formal style also complements the time period, although it would fit even better if this took place in the 1890's. So in this context, I think Ribic's art is fine.

What makes this a good book, though, is Milligan's choice to focus not on Sub-Mariner as a character but as this frightening, mostly off-panel force that the sailors are afraid to even acknowledge, and that the professional skeptic takes as seriously as the Loch Ness Monster and compassionate conservatism. It's impressive how Milligan takes a 70-year-old character that's basically a one-note caricature, wraps it up in a narrative device that's not entirely novel (hey, let's look at this superhero as a supernatural deity and/or force-of-nature, and see how he impacts the lives of them normal folk!), and winds up with one of the better debut issues of late. Chalk it up to a sound concept and a sufficiently creepy and isolated atmosphere. I can't point to any single aspect of Depths that's great, but it's a good start to what could be a memorable series.

HB: If only they'd had submarines in the 1890s. Actually, wait! They did. I suppose the exact time at which it's set could be an artistic decision, but the story really would kind of fit better with that first great surge toward technology and the rule of science in the late nineteenth century.

Another thing that's probably been done before but is nonetheless clever is the idea of submariners and the Sub-Mariner. Different pronunciation, obvs, but it really points up his alien nature, in that he's free not to be encased in a metal cigar. That choice and the emphasis in general on human characters gives the book a kind of depth or at least hints at a more multi-layered story that might address dehumanization and the upcoming World War.

GM: Right, bad pun aside, this comic does have a bit more depth than what you come to expect from a superhero book, even in the age of weak political allegory like Civil War. Milligan's primary strength has always been characterization, and I like how he subtly alludes to Namor's typical self-righeous indignation solely through the impressions of sailors who've never even encountered him. This is the most assured work Milligan's done in years, since before he turned almost exclusively to mainstream superheros and felt the need to project every character's motives and desires on the side of a warehouse.

I do hope the series retains that sense of history and otherworldliness you point out. I need to pick up the second issue already and find out. Any interest in reading further?

HB: I do and I think I will. It's very "Jules Verne if I already knew the truth behind the mystery presented."

Monday, October 6, 2008

Abe Sapien: The Drowning

Abe Sapien: The Drowning
by Mike Mignola and Jason Shawn Alexander
Dark Horse Comics 2008

Hillary Brown: I'm still not quite sure what the huge deal is about Mike Mignola as a writer, but I haven't read all that much (just B.P.R.D. 1946). I have, of course, seen the movies, which have good bits and bad bits. I like the central premise of them quite a bit--any time there's paranormal research going on, I'm pretty much there--but, you know, it's hardly all that innovative. Abe Sapien features that character, who is less smashy than Hellboy and smarter, getting his own book, and this one is backdated to early in his career with the B.P.R.D., quite an advantage to have. Mignola gets to draw on at least 60 years of history, and he's not likely to turn down the opportunity to fill in all those gaps eventually. It's a bit like Buffy and Angel as TV series--when you have vampires who are 200 years old, and you're having trouble filling an episode, throw in a flashback. Not that this book features a lot to identify it as taking place in the 1980s. Just the date at the top of a panel or two. I guess the central questions are: Can Sapien carry a book on his own? And is this particular story worth telling? I'm going to let you weigh in before I answer them.

Garrett Martin: I think I gotta say "no" to both your questions. Okay, it's not a hard and fast no in regard to whether the character can carry a solo story or not; any character can do that, if the writing is good enough. Still, as written in this comic (the only thing I've ever read in the Hellboy line), Sapien is far too passive and reactive to make for an exciting lead. Obviously that's part of the point, but that awareness doesn't make the story any more entertaining. I mean, it really wasn't all that good, right? The nature of the villain and his weird homunculi is fairly interesting, but overall this is one plodding, uneventful comic. It could easily be a two-parter. The art's the best thing about it.

As I said, I'm utterly unfamiliar with Hellboy, outside of the first movie. I don't know if Mignola is held in especially high regard as a writer; his art is fantastic, though, and the supernatural conspiracy aspect to Hellboy, the novelty of which has been exhausted by the likes of Dan Brown, had to be fresh and fascinating back when it debuted.

HB: See, I'm not sure I'd say an outright no, but it's definitely not a resounding yes. I really like the character, even his passivity. He's sort of like a young Wesley Wyndham-Price: highly intelligent but not yet wise to the ways of the world and, thus, apt to get others hurt. He's soft and unformed and still learning how to make difficult decisions. I think all that is interesting stuff to examine, plus the story obviously is geared to his particular undersea abilities, BUT how well done is it really? I did end up liking the art a good bit (by Jason Shawn Alexander), even though it's both dark and blocky, two problems I had with the art in B.P.R.D. and that I believe are characteristic of the artists Mignola works with in general. Maybe it's that all the water kind of softens things. I did feel absolutely soaked by the end of the reading experience, as though I'd been dunked in the ocean over and over, then forced to wander through sewers in a cold, foggy environment. On the other hand, that's not exactly pleasant. There's definitely something compelling and creepy about the story, but I'm not sure it's told well enough. The art obscures more than it communicates, there's tons of mysterious voice-over delivered by at-first-unknown sources, the timeline is a little messed up, and everything's just kind of murky and unclear. I'm sure that's the point, to go along with Sapien's learning that situations are often more complicated than they seem and that, while being a paranormal G-man seems awesome, it in fact means you end up getting your friends killed and making the wrong choices, but there are times you want to shake Mignola and Alexander by the shoulders and yell "What the heck is happening?" Is this laziness on the part of the reader, or is it bad storytelling? I do love me some supernatural conspiracies though.

GM: I wouldn't call it laziness, at least not on Alexander's part. Maybe Mignola is overstretched, what with the incessant stream of Hellboy spin-offs and miniseries, and then all the non-comics stuff that he must be at least a consultant on. It could also just be bad storytelling. It's not pervasive throughout the book, but there are moments that aren't especially easy to understand. And it's not the story that's obtuse, but the way it's constructed; the art and words occasionally fail to mesh together in a coherent way. Y'know, like you mentioned above.

I like how you talk about feeling soaked by the end. I too felt weighed down by the sluggish pacing and bleak tone. It's a total slog. I gotta assume that isn't standard with most Hellboy comics, unless the thrillpower of the first movie came more from del Toro than Mignola.

HB: I think there's definitely a good chance it did, and from what I understand Del Toro pretty much wrote the second one himself, so maybe Mignola just isn't all that great. Perhaps some of our absent commenters (understandable, given our own laxness lately, for which we apologize) can fill us in on why we should read more of his stuff.

GM: I'll reserve judgement on both Mignola and Hellboy until I read more of both. I have to assume this series is something of an anomaly, 'cuz far too many respectable folks have praised Hellboy over the years.

Man, this book's boringness has infected my comments, I'm afraid.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Creepy Archives vol. 1

Creepy Archives, vol. 1
Dark Horse Comics 2008

Garrett Martin: Remember when we talked about David Hajdu's book The Ten-Cent Plague (um, not you, Hillary, but our "readers")? How it was about EC and their horror comics from the '50's and how the comics industry basically drove 'em out of business with the Comics Code? No? Then go read that post again, buddy, and head back here when you're done.

Alright. So in the '60's a company called Warren Publishing decided to fill the hole left in the market by the death of EC's crime and horror comics. The Code prevented them from putting out anything in standard comic form, so they turned to oversized black-and-white magazines, like EC did with Mad. Warren round up a gaggle of former EC artists, handed the writing and editorial reins off to a young Archie Goodwin, and named the final product Creepy. Dark Horse recently collected the first five issues of Creepy in one highly impressive hardcover, allowing relative young'uns like us to see just how well the magazine stacked up to its hallowed inspiration. I'm tempted to say "not very", but, honestly, what little EC I've read isn't that especially great, either. Like EC's somewhat overrated line, Creepy's strength lies in the art, more than the writing, and that's a bit of a problem when you're trying to scare anybody over the age of 10. How many stories about vampires, werewolves, and Frankensteins can one magazine run, anyway?

Hillary Brown: So many! I guess I definitely have a fondness for this stuff, but you're right that it rarely transcends its silly origins. Even Tales from the Crypt in its TV form rarely did, although it certainly incorporated a lot more blood and guts. Creepy strikes me as a strange project, built on a kind of overpowering nostalgia for EC's horror books. You'd think, for example, that the form would have evolved some in the approximately ten years that passed between the dissolution of EC and the formation of Warren Publishing, especially considering the speed at which pop culture directed at teenagers tends to cannibalize itself in interesting ways, but the only big difference I can see between EC's stuff and Creepy is that Creepy seems to have fewer social messages built in (although still some). It is big on the twist endings, to the extent that nearly every story has one and to the point that even the twist is sometimes visible in the first panel of a six-page story. Okay, so it's goofy-ass shit, but the art really is a pleasure to look at. I wish Jack Davis had a bit more to do in these first five issues (the cover of #1 and, I believe, Uncle Creepy a fair amount), and it would be nice if Frank Frazetta had done more than one story (he also does four covers), but, even with the occasional sloppy panel, this is the kind of stuff that makes me really happy, and the devotion to black and white on the interior, while doubtfully an artistic decision, does indeed heighten the things one can do with shading and hatching. It's a pretty nicely produced anthology, too, with some of the original ads appearing throughout (Boris Karloff records, collections of monster books, hilarious iron-ons, plastic giant flies, etc.--just picture anything vaguely horror-related that you ever saw advertised in a comic and wanted) and the letters page from each issue, but the decision to incorporate some of this stuff makes one really want all of it. Would it just have been filler? Or did you, too, notice that each issue was a hair under 50 pages?

GM: Yeah, I do wish they ran more of the ads and other assorted material. That stuff provided a surprisingly significant portion of my enjoyment of the book. It doesn't make or break the collection, but miscellaneous bits of business like that definitely give a book extra value. So yeah, more of that, plus greater variety of what they did run, would've been good. Plus, did you notice Bernie Wrightson's name in one of the letter columns? I don't know why, but I love seeing future professionals' names in old lettercols.

I don't want to sound too down on Creepy; the art is pretty uniformly great, and the stories are almost never less than competent. Y'know, it's Perfectly Acceptable Comic-bookery, which is fine but kind of disappointing. Still, they're quick, easy to read, and always a pleasure to look at. It's slightly frustrating that they hardly deviate from the EC playbook, though, and maybe even more so that they dumb that formula down a bit; sure, EC's jokes were corny and the twist endings often telegraphed or nonsensical, but they were usually wittier, more subversive, and even more playful despite being more savage and nihilistic. A lot of it's got to do with Creepy's fixation on supernatural monsters over the more human sort and their crimes.

HB: It's true. Creepy really has no interest in horrible humanity, only in the aforementioned vampires, werewolves, etc., which is pretty funny, but ultimately limiting. They could at least delve into some weirder monsters (wendigos, banshees, the Loch Ness Monster; the cat people story was one of my favorites, partially for its sheer weirdness and partially because it was something a little different), and perhaps they did later, or maybe it's just that making it obvious that none of this stuff was real was a way around the vigilant anti-horror comics folks. After all, wasn't it the supposed realism of the crime stories that started to attract attention in the first place?

GM: Right, I didn't consider that. And shit, there's nothing inherently wrong with just doing monsters; it's good to have a clear-cut purpose. It just makes the magazine really damn goofy. Not as goofy as Herbie's frequent use of Dracula and Frankenstein (I am seriously gonna mail that to you, btw), but still pretty damn silly. That silliness does keep Creepy away from EC's more gruesome and realistic extremes.

Do kids today still give a shit about Frankenstein?

HB: That's a good question. My friend Lauren would probably say yes, as she was telling me about a children's book she read called Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (which really is about what its title suggests). So I guess Frankenstein is still pretty cool. I don't know about werewolves though. There certainly seems to be plenty of silly-ass supernatural shit in our culture, but it's less directed at the age group Creepy was marketed to. The last thing I remember being for that demographic was Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon, which was probably twelve or so years ago. The Twilight series seems more serious. Harry Potter is operating in a different realm entirely. But the great desire pre-teens and early teens feel to be scared (and I'm sure there are great theories out there about why that age group seems especially attracted to Christopher Pike books--something to do with approaching adulthood, perhaps) is probably fairly continual, from at least I Was a Teenage Werewolf onward. Do you think Creepy has any pretense at being actually scary? Or is it just a goof?

GM: Oh yeah, and Goosebumps. Does that still exist?

There is a lot of youth interest in the supernatural, true. Most of it seems to be about how cool it is to have supernatural powers, though. And I guess that's always been a large part of the appeal; yeah, Dracula was scary when I was a kid, but I still thought it would be awesome to turn into a bat and live in a castle and keep a harem of sexy undead chicks.

I think the creators of Creepy had a pretty low opinion of their audience's intelligence and maturity level if they actually thought any of these stories would scare anybody.

HB: So I figured. It's more "vampires are awesome" than "vampires are really scary." Maybe the required presence of a "twist" precludes scariness, although you'd think that surprise and fear are pretty connected. Anyway, I should stop trying to create a nice theory that wraps it all up. Creepy: flawed but still kinda fun?

GM: Yeah, it's fun stuff, despite how many times it made me sigh and wearily mutter "oh, Archie." I might flip through the next volume to see if things progressed any.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Great Outdoor Fight

The Great Outdoor Fight
by Chris Onstad
Dark Horse Comics, 2008

Hillary Brown: So, while it's a smart move to publish some of Chris Onstad's webcomic Achewood in physical, printed format as far as broadening audiences and providing an archive for future generations and so on (not to mention that it's more likely to get results if you just hand your buddy a book and say "read this" than if you send him or her a link, even in this day and age), finding the right thing with which to do that is difficult. Achewood isn't like The Perry Bible Fellowship, which is a series of unconnected, one-page strips, sometimes only a single panel long. But it isn't exactly a serial either, like Dick Tracy (weird example). If I had to compare it to anything, it's like a briefer and yet larger Love and Rockets, in that Onstad creates an entire world, and sometimes there's a long, long story, that goes on for days, and sometimes (this being less Hernandez-y) there's a one-off, like a silly flowchart. The thing is, even the one-offs rely on an elaborate structure of jokes, many built over years, and while there's plenty to amuse without getting it all, it mostly works like The Simpsons, in that the equation is: the more you know, the funnier it gets. Did I mention that many of the characters also have blogs? They do. Anyway, Dark Horse or Onstad or someone figured out a particular storyline that would work well published on its lonesome, with no introduction about what the strip is. Instead, The Great Outdoor Fight begins with a few pages about the history of the fight itself, and it's a beautiful illustration (as is the back matter, with recipes, history of contestants, glossary, etc.) of one of Onstad's strengths as a writer, which is a faux-historical, faux-serious tone. This then contrasts nicely with the extremely dude-slangy way in which his characters talk, and he's absolutely excellent at mixing the two, sometimes within a single strip. And make no mistake, the dude is a writer. The art is fine, but never more than that. It's simple and it serves its purpose and it's a step up from David Rees, but this thing is about the writing. Okay, enough introduction. How often do you read the online strip, and for how long? How does this compare? Did you read any of this when it appeared online? And what, in the end, do you think?

Garrett Martin: I hardly ever read Achewood on-line. Which sucks, 'cuz it's great. I just don't ever think about it. Also I try to avoid the internet when I'm not at work, and it's hard to hide that you're reading comics at work. If I want to read Tucker Stone or Iroquois Pliskin at work I can just paste the text into a new email and nobody'll know the difference; that thing can not be done with a comic strip. And man, much managerial buzzing of late. It's hard to fit my daily internet routine into the standard eight hours these days. So this book is very handy; I read it straight through on a bus ride the other day, and were it not for this collection I'd probably never actually read the entire storyline.

I might've read a random GOF-related strip on-line at some point; I first read Achewood in the summer of '06, and isn't that when this story ran? I don't remember, though. I remember thinking it wasn't very funny, until I went back and read a lot of the earlier strips. That's a common observation with Achewood because it is so true; as you say, the humor relies in large part on knowledge of the characters and familiarity with Onstad's style. I know a guy who is not possessed of much free time, a schoolteacher with a two-year-old who spends most weekends out of town playing rock music, who still spent seven or so hours reading the entirety of Achewood on the Sunday he first learned of it. It is addictive, it rewards regular long-term reading, and thanks to all the ancillary business there's enough new material going on-line to justify repeated daily visits. Onstad's good at stoking the obsession.

Anyway, yes, Achewood is fantastic. I love how thoroughly yet affectionately Onstad mocks lunkheaded concepts of masculinity and "dude culture", or whatever. The Great Outdoor Fight, itself, is such a perfect idea, ridiculous enough to act as parody of bad-ass / tough guy convention, but still completely plausible and believable (up to a point.) And yes, it's something I'd totally be into were it real. Of course it feels so possible due to the detailed history Onstad provides for the fight, its cultural impact, and the lives of former champions. As you point out, this highlights one of his greatest strengths, his writing ability, and especially his talent for writing in a variety of styles and voices. It's just kinda weird, and a big indictment of the traditional newspaper side of the medium, that a frequently vulgar on-line comic starring a cat in a thong is one of the more layered and nuanced comic strips of the last several decades.

HB: Yet another reason books are pretty superior technology... I've been having my own internet difficulties of late, what with me having to mooch off some neighbor's weak, unsecured wireless network because AT&T hasn't delivered my DSL modem yet, but the Google Reader is really ideal for something like Achewood, which doesn't quite post every day and is better read in chunks, where the jokes become clearer and the narrative hangs together. (And parenthetically here, what's our house style on online comics? Italics? No italics? This is an issue the Chicago Manual of Style has yet to address.)

I think you're right in zeroing in on the "dude culture" aspect of the strip. Really, I'm not sure who's writing better about the contemporary definition of being a man than Onstad. Sure, Esquire tries, and Details sort of tries, and occasionally ESPN: The Magazine ventures into similar territory, but they're all very concerned with making you buy things, and not that consumerism isn't part of contemporary masculinity, but Onstad isn't trying to sell you anything other than his strip. I don't think The Great Outdoor Fight is perfect (the ending is too abrupt, for one thing), but it's a very smart meditation on violence, adulthood, family, relationships, strategy, friendship, and what rules one has to or can't break. I hadn't really thought, prior to this discussion, about the strange layer of seriousness that's behind almost everything Onstad writes, but it's certainly there, and yet without toning down the funny.

GM: I don't know how the ending couldn't be abrupt, though, being an on-going strip. Maybe if Onstad drew up a new page or two, I guess. Apparently there are some scenes in the book that never appeared on-line, but I have no idea what those would be.

Maybe Onstad's not trying to sell us anything other than Achewood merch, but the strip couldn't exist without those magazines you mention. They try to define modern manhood in strictly consumerist terms, and Onstad mocks that in ridiculous fashion. Still, though, he doesn't mock camaraderie or friendship, and though the strip can be amazingly cynical and bitter at times, the mood never becomes too oppresive or arrogant. Maybe Onstad picks out the agreeable underpinning to the mountains of bullshit that make up manliness? Yeah, Ray and Roast Beef are absurd caricatures, but Onstad writes them as fundamentally decent people, and utterly likeable despite some pretty unsavory qualities. And of course is completely hilarious about it in the process.

Anyway, my biggest complaint is that the fight itself is way too short. Roast Beef's fists don't crush enough dudes.

HB: It does seem awfully brief after the lengthy set-up, what with the introduction and all that, but the fighting itself is the least interesting part of the piece. And the turkey dinner is the saddest.

GM: Yeah, I don't need to see more fisticuffs, but I wish we were introduced to more fighters. That's always the best part of the illicit fight tournament genre (see Enter the Dragon, The Quick and the Dead, The Immortal Iron Fist, Mortal Kombat 2, etc.)

"The Man With Blood on His Hands" is such a great nickname for a violence-prone American folk hero, isn't it? Better than "the Nature Boy".

HB: The only other thing that I can point out as a potential pitfall with Onstad's stuff is that it can occasionally be hard to differentiate his characters, which may be why he doesn't have more. During the whole wedding story that's consumed the last few months, for example, I was lost on a regular basis (as much my fault as his). So maybe we get fewer introductions and fewer fighters in motion because they are hard to draw? Am I being too down on his visual element? I don't mean to be. I think his art is better than serviceable. It's just, again, not the reason to read.

GM: You are being more charitable than I would when discussing the art. I've pointedly avoid mentioning it because I don't want to say anything bad about such an outstanding piece of work.

Okay, the art's not that bad, and there's one particular scene (can't remember if it's in this book or a strip on-line) where Roast Beef (I think?) is comically excited over something that has one of the greatest facial expressions of any comic I've ever seen. For the most part, though, Achewood looks like clip-art.

And shit, I just realized I meant to say "Ray's fists" above, and not Roast Beef's; I can't even tell 'em apart.

HB: And you don't have face blindness. Point made. Still, people should read this. Props to Dark Horse, although I would have preferred an uncoated to a coated sheet, being a paper snob.

GM: Well, I can only tell them apart based on accessories. One wears googles, the other glasses and a thong.

Oh, we didn't even mention the alt-text. That's often the punchline for the on-line strips. They're not reproduced in The Great Outdoor Fight, so I have to assume we missed a number of good lines, if not anything crucial to the plot or character development. Although shit, I think the alt-text is even vital for that sometimes, too.

HB: Right, it should definitely be mentioned. You really should read Achewood online _unless_ you have people hovering around your desk at work.