What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – May 2018

The previous year, I doubt I would have heard all this with such a jaundiced ear; but, sipping my whiskey, watching the breakers burst against the reef, I told myself that, for every city he founded, Alexander must have razed ten others, and for every animal placed in a zoo, thousands more were sacrificed to his gods. (Nicholas Christopher, from The Bestiary)

Neon Visions: The Comics of Howard Chaykin by Brannon Costello. 351 pgs, Louisiana State University Press, 2017.

Costello is an English professor at LSU, and he delves into Chaykin’s work very thoroughly, although I had to laugh at some of the things he averred in the book. He begins with American Flagg!, not completely ignoring Chaykin’s earlier work but admitting that, as most of it was work-for-hire, it didn’t have the same “Chaykin vibe” that his later work does. He also does look at some of his corporate work post-Flagg!, such as Challengers of the Unknown and Dominic Fortune, but he’s mostly concerned with Chaykin’s creator-owned work.

The most prevalent themes of the book are Chaykin’s ideas about the dichotomy between reality and artifice and Chaykin’s scorn/usage of pop culture. In many of his comics, Chaykin delves into the idea of what is real and what is artificial, and Costello does a nice job examining this. Chaykin’s use of robots as main characters, his ideas on pop culture distorting reality, and his subtle and not-so-subtle use of metacommentary are all parts of this tension he creates between the real and fake. Costello looks to Reuben Flagg’s past as a television star, the robots of Time2, the blending of film and the real world in Black Kiss and its sequel, among others, to examine Chaykin’s interest in this subject. As far as the meta aspects of this theme, his updating of the Shadow and Blackhawk for DC in the late Eighties are good examples of engaging negatively with readers, who wanted their childhood icons to stay static while Chaykin wanted to push them forward, thereby creating a real-world tension between symbols and reality. The Shadow and Blackhawk are, after all, fictional, but the controversy over what Chaykin did with them played out in the real world. In those comics themselves, of course, we get the fiction of who the Shadow really is and the fascist iconography that the Blackhawks employ in the service of the good guys, so the comics themselves are full of stuff to write about. Hand-in-hand with this is the idea of pop culture and how it shapes people – again, Flagg’s past as an actor, Beverly Grove’s life as a movie star in Black Kiss, and many other examples come up in Chaykin’s comics. Pop culture, of course, is fake, but people are invested in it to what Chaykin believes is a disturbing degree, and it warps how we interact with the world and with each other. Costello argues that Chaykin himself has a complicated view of pop culture, working within it (obviously) but not completely trusting it. It’s in Costello’s pronouncements about Chaykin and his motives where the book is both fascinating and laughable. Costello’s analysis of Chaykin’s work is bolstered by many, many studies of various art forms and of Chaykin’s work itself (including, briefly, one by a schmuck named Burgas), but his analysis of Chaykin himself, while similarly well-sourced, is a bit more unusual.

Costello argues a few things about Chaykin. One thing is that Chaykin doesn’t get studied as much as the comics greats because he doesn’t quite fit into the way comics scholarship has evolved. He doesn’t really have one big, solid masterwork that college courses can use, and much of his work is out of print. He also, Costello argues, isn’t interested in writing “serious” works like Maus or Fun Home, so that’s out. Chaykin likes writing “adventure” comics that, nevertheless, deal with interesting and serious subjects. Now, whenever someone wonders why someone doesn’t get studied like others, my knee-jerk response is “Maybe that person just isn’t that good,” but that doesn’t help anyone, so Costello’s reasons for Chaykin falling through the cracks make some sense. Chaykin is hard to pin down, and he doesn’t have a nice, Watchmen-sized epic that is easily studied in a classroom. So I’m willing to concede that college courses on comics should include Chaykin, and Costello certainly makes a compelling case for it. But then he gets into the argument about art and commerce, which is where he begins to crack me up. Several times, he notes Chaykin’s contentious relationship with Gary Groth, stemming partly from the fact that Chaykin didn’t do deadly serious comics about the Holocaust or coming out of the closet or any other “serious” topic comics liked to get into during the 1980s. Chaykin was interested in action comics, while at the same time disdaining the audience that reads those sorts of comics. Costello argues that Chaykin had scorn for the reading audience when his comics didn’t sell, because they were too dense to “get” what he was saying, and whenever a creator goes down that road, I begin to laugh. Is the reading audience often lured by the lowest common denominator? Of course it is. But is Chaykin’s work too “smart” for them? Well, it is possible that people rejected Chaykin’s work in the 1980s because it wasn’t any good. That’s certainly a possibility, isn’t it? No one ever considers that when they write about failed stuff. Chaykin eventually rejected comics because he thought the audience sucked, but when he went to Hollywood, he kind of failed there, too, and had lousy experiences, so he came crawling back to comics, where publishers pretty much let him do what he wants because, even if the audience sucks, it’s still small enough that failures don’t cost too much money. So the idea of Chaykin dismissing a comics-reading audience is hilarious, because in comics is the only place he’s ever been any kind of success. Groth also gets into the idea of “art” as something noble, and Chaykin, it seems, tends to agree with him even as he’s writing comics full of sex and violence. Groth is full of shit, as art has never been noble, and all artists need to eat. Sure, it’s great if you can do what you want, but all art is ultimately commercial, or artists wouldn’t sell their work, they’d just give it away to a grateful public. Chaykin seems to get this, but he still gets mad when his work doesn’t sell. Again, maybe it just sucks, dude. Costello seems to subscribe to the idea of lofty art, too – the book is slanted toward a Marxist/Annales school theory of history, so Costello feels suspicious of capitalism in general and in comics commerce specifically. But I could be wrong, of course.

Anyway, I’m beginning to rant, so I’ll just finish here. Neon Visions is a good, dense, academic tome that is never dry even though Costello does get into a lot of different kinds of theories. He uses a lot of Chaykin’s art, both in color plates in the center of the book and in black-and-white reproductions on the pages, and he does a very good job connecting the various comics and themes that Chaykin likes. He doesn’t quite explain away Chaykin’s odd attitude toward women, but he does a halfway decent job of rehabilitating that aspect of Chaykin’s work. If you enjoy comics theory (and why wouldn’t you?), this is definitely a book to pick up.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

The Gravediggers Union volume 1 by Wes Craig (writer), Toby Cypress (artist), Niko Guardia (colorist), and Jared K. Fletcher (letterer). $16.99, 134 pgs, FC, Image.

So I’m a bit weird when it comes to what I like in fiction, because I just don’t care about plots too much. That’s why I know exactly who dies in the Avengers movie but I don’t care, because I’m still going to see it (eventually) and probably enjoy it. Plots are a dime-a-dozen, and we’ve all seen every plot we’ll probably ever see, so who cares? In terms of this comic, Craig gives us a group of dudes who are trying to prevent the Apocalypse. I mean, it’s fine, but so what, really. The idea of a group that battles supernatural creatures is fine, too, but nothing special. Even the fact that the main dude in the Gravediggers Union is trying to find his daughter, who turns out to be the one trying to bring about the Apocalypse, isn’t terribly new or interesting. I mean, the comic is entertaining, but the main plot is largely forgettable. But there’s one scene that piqued my interest, and it’s why I’m weird. Cole, the head of the group, and his two buddies go to see Leroy, who’s the guy in charge of the local chapter of the union, and they try to get him to approve of their idea of visiting a witch to see what’s going on. Leroy is a douchebag, but he makes reference to their charter, which forbids interactions with witches. He also insults Cole for being stuck digging when he, Leroy, has moved up the ladder, and Cole insults him right back by saying he’s glad Leroy moved up the ladder because he, Leroy, gets people killed in the field. Those few pages fascinate me. For one, the idea of a union of guys fighting the supernatural is terrific, and I’d love to read more about the mechanics of how it works. I’d love to find out why the union isn’t allowed to interact with the witches. I’d love to see a bit more of Leroy and the bureaucracy of the union, and how he got promoted if he’s so terrible in the field. I’d love to see if Cole was never promoted because he loves working in the field so much, if it’s all politics which he won’t play, or if he’s just as incompetent in an office as Leroy is in the field. Now, I doubt if Craig is adroit enough a writer to make that story work – he seems to be fine simply moving the plot along, but the characters in the book are largely plot contrivances – but that’s a book I’d like to read. I’m also weird because I love Cypress’s disjointed, asymmetrical artwork, which makes this entire world a weird and scary place. He gives us fat, nerdy vampires; petulant millennial ghosts; imperious, bird-like angels; and weird, many-eyed dark gods. Cypress always has a texture to his art, as if you can feel the roughness of the fur or taste the tanginess of the smoke, and he even makes his sound effects hefty, as if the letters appear in the panel with the things making them (I know we can see them, but theoretically, the characters can’t, but Cypress’s are so tangible I wouldn’t be surprised if a character noticed them). Guardia does something interesting, too, throwing sheets of color across panels in many places, highlighting the off-kilter nature of the world and the narrative. It’s an unusual but bold choice.

I’m not surprised Craig takes the well-worn path and focuses on the Apocalypse instead of the comic that, to me, sounds more interesting. And it’s fine that he does – there’s nothing wrong with it, and it gives Cypress a chance to draw much cooler things. But I’m weird. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Nightwing: The New Order by Kyle Higgins (writer), Trevor McCarthy (artist), Dean White (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), and Scott NyBakken (collection editor). $16.99, 132 pgs, FC, DC.

Higgins is a pretty good idea man, so the idea of having Dick Grayson run an agency in the future that regulates super-powered people a decade after he himself took away the powers of almost every DC character isn’t a bad one – readers think of Dick as being a decent dude, so what happened to make him take away everyone’s powers and then lead a quasi-fascist bureaucracy is a pretty interesting take on the character. Higgins doesn’t quite do enough with the actual story, though, because he, like Craig above, takes the well-worn path. Dick is gung-ho about the program until his son exhibits superpowers, and then he has to decide what to do about it. I get that making the story personal and real is a component of getting the reader to care about it, but Grayson’s son isn’t much of a character, so his plight doesn’t feel that real, and Higgins quickly ignores a lot of his set-up to give us a happy ending that seems not exactly tacked on but extremely hopeful to the point of being naïve. Too many questions about this book remain unanswered, and they’re the ones that are always unanswered when we get a speculative future. How does Dick’s device work in the first place? (Get your minds out of the gutter, people!) He “borrowed” it from Darkseid, apparently, but one just doesn’t do that, and how does it take away such disparate superpowers as those of Superman and those of, say, Wonder Woman’s? Why does it only work on 90% of the superpowered population (the answer is easy: so there can still be some familiar faces in the present, but that’s not a good in-story reason)? Why is Kate Kane such a bitch? Why does Superman trust Lex Luthor? I mean, that last one is just stupid. Yes, Luthor is in this book late, as an ostensible “good guy,” and I just kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I wasn’t disappointed. (This is one of the problems I have with the television show Supergirl, actually – just one of the problems, as the dialogue is often painful and obvious and no one knows what to do with Jimmy “Call Me James” Olson, but the chemistry between the cast members is good, and we like to watch it with the daughter – they keep teasing that Lena Luthor is going to turn evil, to the point where it simply will not be news if she does. I hope they don’t make her evil, but more than that, I wish they would just stop teasing it, because it’s stupid and detrimental to the show. People with bad family members can be perfectly fine, you know!) Why does that government agent kill that beloved character except to quickly establish that by fighting against his own agency, Dick is “right” because they’re obviously evil – that dude killed that beloved character, so of course they’re evil! It’s a bit lazy, and while I don’t expect too much depth in a superhero comic, if Higgins is going to line them up, he should knock some of them down.

He does a decent job explaining why Dick might want to rid the world of superpowers, but then he introduces the son with superpowers and never examines the two most chilling parts of the book – the inhibitor medication for the superpowered, and, if that doesn’t work, the “stasis” into which they are put until scientists can figure out how to shut down their powers. Dick is apparently cool with these things until his son gets powers (and one douchebag character calls him on it, saying that he willingly put his father into stasis, so what’s Dick’s fucking problem), and while it takes him a long time to decide that he wants to change the system, from the moment his son shows that he has powers, we know where this is heading. What do the meds do to people? What does stasis do to them? Even Minority Report offered a bit of a glimpse into what stasis is like, but this book doesn’t. And nobody really calls Dick to the carpet for spearheading this sort of thing. Yes, the remaining superheroes don’t like him, but he’s never shown taking the blame for it. He’s like Jason Statham in Fate of the Furious – the dude killed Han and blew up Dom’s house, yet they invite him to their cook-out like it ain’t no thing. What the fuck, Fast and Furious Family? THE DUDE KILLED HAN!!!!! The same goes for Dick – the dude was basically the head of a vast Tuskegee syphilis experiment/concentration camp, and no one seems to care by the end. I mean, his shapely butt can only placate so many people!

McCarthy does his usual fine job on the art, with White providing an interesting contrast to whoever usually colors McCarthy’s stuff (unless it’s White, and he just evolved). Usually the colorist keeps McCarthy’s crisp lines, but White, while not over-rendering things, does more “smearing” of the colors to make the art a bit messier, and it works quite well. The world of the comic is bright, which is fine with me, but it still feels “dystopian” because everything looks just a bit sloppy, as if Dick’s agency is barely holding on, and just the slightest tip will knock it over. Plus, the vibrant neon that White uses a lot to color the powers and even some of the “power accoutrements” such as Starfire’s blaster gauntlets works nicely, too. McCarthy draws in a “realistic” style, so everyone looks like regular folk, but White’s colors make it clear we’re dealing with a superpowered universe.

Higgins always seems to introduce complex ideas into his books, but he rarely examines them fully. I like the first part of that, and wish he would get better at the second part. This is a perfectly adequate superhero story, but it feels like it could be more. Not unlike The Gravediggers Union!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Young Terrorists volume 1: Pierce the Veil by Matteo Pizzolo (writer), Amancay Nahuelpan (artist), Jean-Paul Csuka (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer), and David Hopkins (letterer). $13.99, 162 pgs, FC, Black Mask Studios.

Young Terrorists is a bit like “what if X-Force existed in the real world,” as Matteo Pizzolo gives us a group of people who, it’s revealed far into the book, have some strange abilities, and they use them to wreak bloody vengeance on those they think deserve it. He writes it in a fascinating way – we’re first introduced to Sera, whose very rich father is killed by a bomber on the first few pages of the book and who is dragged from her interview for Yale and dumped in a black site because the feds think she had something to do with the bombing. She transforms into a hard-as-fuck killer, and it’s interesting because Pizzolo doesn’t really make a statement about inmates becoming institutionalized, as he has a bigger point in mind, but the subtext is still there. Then we get a long section on Cesar, an American of Guatemalan descent (he’s a citizen; his parents are not) who is committed to ending animal torture. He’s broke, though, and he runs afoul of the cops and is rescued by one of Sera’s people. Sera, you see, has become the leader of a bunch of pissed-off folk who live in an enclave in Detroit and commit acts of violence against the establishment. Sera explains to Cesar that he can leave if he wants, or he can join them. And so he does, with their promise that they will help him destroy an animal slaughterhouse/processing plant. There’s a lot else going on, but that’s the basic plot.

Pizzolo does a good job flipping the script a little bit, as Sera and her team are true anti-heroes – they’re fighting against the corrupt capitalistic system they believe is destroying the world, but they’re, frankly, quite horrible themselves. Sera tells Cesar that they’re at war, so she makes sacrifices when she has to, and that’s fine, but usually when characters say that they don’t really mean it. Pizzolo turns Sera and her crew into little better than the system they’re fighting against, so while most people would probably sympathize with their positions (well, most people who read comics), the way they go about things is meant to introduce doubt into our minds and wonder if this war is one Sera can’t win because fighting against the system is still validating it. There are many examples in history of revolutionaries taking over and becoming as bad or worse than whatever they replace (it’s far easier to list the instances where it doesn’t happen), so Pizzolo isn’t doing anything unusual in real-world terms, but he is doing something unusual in comics terms. Even when writers show corruption setting in among revolutionaries after they win, rarely do we see that when they’re still fighting and can afford to be noble. Sera already understands that in order to do what she believes is right, she has to get down in the mud with everyone else. Cesar acts as the reader’s conscience, as he’s the one who believes in nobility. The book spends much of its time showing him what a fool he is. It ends, unfortunately, before we know if he “learned” the lesson.

Nahuelpan is a terrific artist, and he does very good work here. He has a thin, strong line that can be flexible and allows him to draw good action scenes, but his designs are grounded enough that we can believe this is taking place in the “real” world. The locations are recognizably gritty and detailed enough that they’re distinguished from each other, and his characters are unique. He has a casualness and even a slight sense of humor to his artwork, which allows him to draw the middle section, in which Sera and Cesar spend page after page absolutely naked, without a trace of self-consciousness and even some wryness to it. He does a good job with the violence, which is gory and brutal, and even his sex scenes look desperate – the text is that Sera has freed her acolytes from their morality, but Nahuelpan undercuts that a bit with the way he draws them, as if sex is something to be tolerated, not something to be enjoyed. I have no idea if that’s what Pizzolo was going for, but it’s an interesting thread running through the book. The coloring on the book is superb, too – it’s muted throughout, but never murky, and the contrast between the hot colors of the desert and the cool colors of Detroit, for instance, is nicely done. I don’t know how what Nahuelpan is doing right now, but he’s definitely an artist to look out for.

I hope that Pizzolo has more planned for this comic, because while it doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, it still ends unresolved. It’s a cool comic, and it could go in a lot of different directions, so it would be nice to read more!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Angelic volume 1: Heirs and Graces by Simon Spurrier (writer), Caspar Wijngaard (artist), and Jim Campbell (letterer). $12.99, 144 pgs, FC, Image.

This is smaller-sized than most trades, as it’s probably “digest-sized,” although it does look a bit bigger than your standard digest, but I’m not sure why. Is it because it’s supposed to be more “kid-friendly” than most comics? I mean, it is, I guess, but it’s not like it’s a pure “kid’s comic” – it doesn’t have cursing, nudity, or really graphic violence, but it certainly deals in heavy themes that, while they might not screw kids up, will probably go over their heads. Anyway, it’s a bit smaller than regular trades, and I’m not sure why.

Spurrier is a pretty good writer, and Wijngaard is a fantastic artist, so I had some high hopes for this, as the elevator pitch is pretty keen: a group of genetically modified animals live on a human-less Earth after an Apocalypse, and they’ve created their own society and what happens when one of them upsets that balance? On the surface, it’s a standard “rebel against an oppressive society” story, with strange animals instead of James Dean, and while those stories are as old as the hills, they’re often quite compelling. Spurrier is good enough to put some clever twists on the narrative, but I shan’t spoil those. He gives us Qora, a flying monkey who’s a “nonbedient” – Spurrier creates a lot of portmanteau words and twists on familiar ones – because she dares to ask “why” the monkeys do things – they have a complex religiously-oriented society – and doesn’t want to mate with the head monkey, as it will mean her wings get cut off (which is very cruel, yes, but there is a reason for it – a stupid reason, to be sure, but within the religion of the monkeys it makes some sense). The monkeys tell her horrible stories of the “mans,” who run things, and it’s a nice twist, as we naturally think they’re talking about people when it turns out their talking about hyper-intelligent manatees. Qora rebels against her society, and the manatees decide that she can perform a mission for her, and off she goes with a manatee accompanying her. He’s also a bit of an outcast, but he’s desperate to get back into his society, which means he’s willing to lie to Qora about his intentions. Of course, eventually he sees the error of his ways, and he begins to help Qora. They discover the secrets of the society and what happened to the humans, and it’s not the most unique story in the world but Spurrier does a nice job telling it. He makes sure that both Qora and “Complainer” – the manatee – are interesting characters, and their plight feels devastating as they work toward the answers and encounter more and more resistance. Plus, Spurrier doesn’t simply give us heroes and villains – Qora and the manatee don’t get along early on, naturally, and they both make good points about the other’s society. Even the monkeys and the manatees who are manipulating events aren’t completely evil – well, the dude who wants to mate with Qora is kind of evil, but his actions, however awful, are comprehensible within the context of his society, so he’s not just an evil caricature. And the solution Spurrier comes up with works pretty well, too, and it’s not completely cut and dried, which is always a good way to end a story.

Wijngaard, meanwhile, continues his climb up the ranks of artists, and his work on the book is dazzling. Qora is wonderful, as her facial expressions and body language show someone who is both timid in the face of authority but unwilling to back down, even if it means she is ostracized. She doesn’t stand up strongly, but she does stand up, and the fact that it seems to take every ounce of her strength is brilliantly shown by Wijngaard. He draws beautiful wreckage, too, as we get a good sense of the destruction wrought by the humans and how the animals have tried to build something on top of that. His “fazecat” – a cat that exists in different dimensions – is terrific, too, sleek and beautiful and terrifying, but still wonderfully feline. The quasi-steampunk aspect of the book is understated but done well – the animals’ use of machinery is haphazard, so they seem to weld pieces that don’t belong together into a bizarre and rickety gestalt, and it adds to the feeling of decay in the world, even if they’re trying to build something. Wijngaard also blends the organic with the mechanical well, so the weirdness of the flying squid with tubes sticking out of it is creepy but also works. He also has a crisp, fluid style that lends itself well to action scenes, so they aren’t clunky at all. It’s nice to see an artist growing, and Wijngaard, who was good a few years ago, continues to get better.

I’m not entirely sure why this is labeled as “volume 1” – there could be more stories, I suppose, but this ends pretty definitively, so you can get it without worrying that it will end on a cliffhanger. It’s a fine comic, so check it out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Moon Knight: Legacy volume 1: Crazy Runs in the Family by Max Bemis (writer), Jacen Burrows (artist), Guillermo Ortego (inker), Mat Lopes (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $17.99, 125 pgs, FC, Marvel.

There’s quite a bit wrong with Bemis’s story of Moon Knight’s opposite number, the sun god Ra, who “possesses” a man and starts a cult. The basic idea isn’t bad – writers are constantly trying to come up with the hero’s “opposite,” and some writers in Moon Knight’s past – Doug Moench in particular – have gone darker, while Bemis goes much lighter, but still deadly. The fact that the man who “becomes” Ra has superpowers is fine, too, even though Moon Knight doesn’t work as well in the world of superpowers as he does in a more grounded world, but the occasional superpower is fine. The first issue, which doesn’t even feature our hero (except in a brief dream sequence), is terrific, as the doctor who was treating Marc Spector in Jeff Lemire’s run shows up with a new patient, and she tries to cure him by introducing him to Egyptian mythology, a scheme which is sketchy at best and becomes deadly when the man becomes the avatar of Ra. It’s a scary, tense issue, ending on a horrific note, and then Bemis gets to our hero, who can apparently now switch identities at will, bringing out, for instance, Jake Lockley when he wants to really hurt people, because that’s what Jake is good at. It’s not a bad strategy. Moon Knight ends up on a desert island, where he has to fight against “Ra” and his acolytes, and it’s a good confrontation that ends with our hero perhaps in a precarious position that he won’t quite know how to get out of. Overall, it’s a pretty good tale.

However, there’s quite a bit wrong with it. We’ll start with the scheme of the doctor, as she thinks that introducing the Egyptian myths to her patient is a good idea, even though it never really worked for Marc Spector (she doesn’t know that, but it’s odd that she considers Marc a “success,” although one panel shows that she’s not really thinking clearly about him, either). Bushman shows up, because of course he does, and while Bemis’s take on him is that he’s genuinely scared of Moon Knight because of all the defeats he’s been handed by our hero over the years is unique, that kind of metacommentary kind of wrecks the character, and I’d rather they simply not use Bushman if they’re just going to turn him into this. Hinting at a legacy of Moon Knights over the centuries is dumb, too – off the top of my head, we’ve had Iron Fists and Ghost Riders throughout history, and we don’t need another one of those kinds of heroes. Then there’s the big twist in the book, which is that Moon Knight has a daughter. It’s Jake Lockley’s kid, because Marlene – the mother, naturally – was addicted to Marc Spector, and Jake was the closest thing, even though she figured out quickly that he wasn’t Marc and he couldn’t be the same. That’s fine – the idea of someone with multiple personalities having a daughter that not all the personalities know about is the stuff of good pulp fiction – but it skews the Moon Knight timeline quite a bit. Diatrice (yes, that’s the kid’s name) is five years old (very precocious for a five-year-old, but writers rarely know how to write a kid of the appropriate age), and Marlene implies that Jake, even back then, was so separate that the other personalities wouldn’t know what he’s doing. But that’s kind of weird, because it’s too far in the past, as the splintering of Marc’s personalities wasn’t something that occurred for several years – early on, the separate personalities were just parts Marc played, not an actual mental illness. So it’s a bit strange. Plus, Jake was never the monster that he is in this book – he was rougher around the edges, sure, but he was the one who cared about Gena and her kids (whose own aging in the comic seems to make Marc well over 40, which means he’s too freaking old to be running around in pajamas) and took care of Crowley. So that’s a bit weird. Finally, the way Marc defeats “Ra” is a bit insulting. Again, I don’t want to go into it too much, but after a pretty tense battle, Bemis comes up with something that is just … off. It feels wrong. I can’t really explain it any other way, but it feels wrong. I don’t know what else to say about it.

This is Burrows’s first mainstream work after years of drawing for Avatar, and he’s a really good artist, so I’m glad he finally got a chance (or took the chance, as years ago, he told me that he liked working for Avatar because he always got to draw stories by Alan Moore or Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis, so why would he leave?) to show a wider audience his stuff. He’s not a spectacular artist, but he has a nice, crisp style that works well on superhero books, and he makes sure that you can see every drop of blood and every flicker of flame. He does some nice design work – there’s a neat double-page spread of Moon Knight fighting his way across a ship – but he generally keeps things simple and easy to follow. Burrows is a fine storyteller, and he does nice work with faces, showing the wide range of emotions that the characters experience in the book. He drew a lot of emotionally devastating books for Avatar, and he honed his craft well, and the way characters react to things in this book is a big part of why it works so well.

This is better than I thought it was going to be, even though there are several problems. Bemis almost makes it a horror story, which Moon Knight works very well in, but while he doesn’t quite get there, the horror parts of the story work really well. I’m not sure if I’m going to get the next trade (probably, but I’m not sure), but this is an interesting story, if nothing else. I mean, I like Moon Knight a lot, so I’m partial to his stories, but even with the issues I had with it, it’s pretty good!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

ExMortis by Pete Williams (writer), Paul Williams (writer), Andi Ewington (adapter), Raymund Bermudez (artist), Ty Dazo (artist), David Forrest (inking assistant), and Eugene Perez, Jr. (letterer). $24.99, 216 pgs, BW, 451 Media.

ExMortis is basically the Creature Commandos, as the British task a werewolf, the original Frankenstein’s monster, a merman, and a dude who creates flame to fight Nazis who have Victor Frankenstein’s notes and are trying to build an army of undead monsters. You know, like you do. Dracula shows up, too, because why not? It’s almost completely predictable (I didn’t see where Dracula would show up, as an example of it being unpredictable), but it’s also very entertaining. I have no idea what the credits mean with the “adaptation” by Andi Ewington, but I know 451 Media likes to pretend they’re in the movie business, so perhaps this was a screenplay that got turned into a comic script? That seems reasonable. But this works far better as a comic than it ever could as a movie, because of the violence. It’s wildly gory, and too much on the screen would be CGI, and that’s not a problem in comics, where the art makes everything look similar to everything else. Guts and bones would look goofy in a movie, but not in comics. There’s plenty of black humor, too – the creatures’ drill sergeant meets a hilarious and probably fitting fate, but it’s still unexpected – and the banter is perfectly fine. Like I noted, nothing too unique, but it’s still an entertaining comic. Bermudez is a particularly good artist – his work is kind of a cross between Phil Hester and Sean Murphy – and Dazo is good, too – his work is a bit more cartoony and the lines are heavier, but it’s still nice to look at. Neither artist, unfortunately, is all that good at storytelling – there are some confusing transitions between panels, and occasionally the characters look a little too much like each other, so it’s hard to figure out who’s who. For the most part, though, the story is easy to follow, because it’s just not that complex. And there’s a fun twist at the end that could mean a sequel but doesn’t have to, which is the best way to try to set up a sequel.

So yeah. This is a fun comic, but nothing amazing. I mean, it’s still fun to see monsters carving up Nazis, so there you have it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Sacred Creatures volume 1: A Mixture of Madness by Pablo Raimondi (writer/artist), Klaus Janson (writer/artist), Chris Chukcry (colorist), Brian Reber (colorist), Hi-Fi (colorist), Dean White (colorist), Tom Orzechowski (letterer), and Clem Robins (letterer). $22.99, 313 pgs, FC, Image.

First of all, check out that price for the amount of comics you get. This is 23 dollars for over 300 pages of story, which ain’t bad at all. I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, this is billed as Raimondi and Janson’s first creator-owned series, which is surprising for Janson, as he’s been in the business for over 40 years. It’s a story about the Seven Deadly Sins and how they use a human to kill the angel who keeps them in line on Earth, so they can now run roughshod over humanity. The Sins, the Virtues, and a few other characters we meet along the way are Nephilim, the children of angels who mate with humans, and they’ve been messing with humans for thousands of years. Josh Miller, a grad student with a pregnant girlfriend, is the human they choose, and there’s a reason for this, although we don’t quite know what it is yet. Meanwhile, we get some flashbacks to Biblical times when Naviel, the angel guardian, is doing angel things, like destroying Sodom and Gomorrah and taking up with Nimrod the hunter, which is a serious no-no. Most of the story takes place in the present, as the Sins set Josh on his way, and after he kills Naviel, they try to get rid of him, but he’s being protected by Adrian, one of the “good” Nephilim.

It’s a grand plot, but the length of the book means that Raimondi and Janson can let it breathe a bit. It’s a really good comic, actually, as the plot is terrific and it’s very tense, as we get this great sense of foreboding as Josh is moved toward his destiny, and then it becomes more of an action comic as Josh tries to escape from the Sins. Of course, there’s the paranoia that Josh feels because he has no idea what’s happening to him and he trusts no one, and there’s the element of madness because, of course, no one believes him (until they’re confronted with things that they can’t deny). It’s even partially a horror comic, as the Sins make people do terrible things (they’re Sins, after all), including a brutal scene where someone I could have sworn was safe is killed. Finally, there’s the mystery of why Josh is important, which is hinted about but not answered (that’s a story for another day!). I really can’t stress how much I enjoyed reading this comic.

The art is good, too. Janson’s Biblical stuff is rougher, naturally, and he’s one of the artists that Dean White’s slick coloring can’t overwhelm, so the vibrant colors of the Biblical scenes work well with the rough pencil work. Raimondi is slicker, but his art is quite nice, and he fairly seamlessly blends in photographic background to create a good sense of New York. Photoshopped backgrounds don’t always look good, but Raimondi is good at it, so they fit in nicely. Raimondi does the whole “base characters on actors” thing, which can get very distracting – one of the characters is clearly based on Mark Valley, another is a character actor whose name I don’t know but you’ll recognize immediately if you’ve watched any television over the past 20 years, and another is based on Marianne Jean-Baptiste. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and unlike certain artist (coughGregLandcough), Raimondi is good enough to use the likenesses well, as they seem to be part of the scene rather than just copied from a source, but it’s still jarring. Not the worst thing in the world, but still.

Anyway, Sacred Creatures is really, really good. Surprisingly so, a little, considering that Raimondi and Janson are not known for writing. It’s a great value, it’s gripping, and it sets up a major epic. I hope the creators can continue with it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

**********

It’s already the second of June, so I don’t want to write any more because that would just make me even later with this post. I skipped a bunch of stuff, too, which is too bad. Such is life, though. I don’t have time to tinker with this because I’m going on vacation tomorrow, the 3rd, and I still need to pack (packing doesn’t take that long, but it still takes some time). I’m off to London and, for a day, Paris, so I should have a grand old time. I was hoping to hang out with Sonia Harris tomorrow in Los Angeles – our flights to LAX and to London are separated by 7 hours – but she lives an hour away from the airport and can’t make it closer, and we’re worried about international security checks and whatnot, so we’ll probably just head down to Manhattan Beach for a while. On Monday I hope to have some beers with Kieron Gillen, so that will be fun (Gillen is a very nice dude). We’re planning on killing ourselves with tourist-y stuff, because who the hell knows when we’ll ever get to London again, and we’ve already made a ton of reservations. We’re going to Bath one day, we’re seeing an old friend in Hastings another, I’m going to York for a day, we’re visiting the sets of the Harry Potter movies on one day, and we’re seeing all the requisite sites around London – the Tower, St. Paul’s, Windsor, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum. I imagine we’ll have a lot of fun, but we’re going to be tired. So I’ll be incommunicado for a while – I’m not even taking my phone, because I don’t own a smartphone and my old piece of crap won’t have any coverage there, so why should I? I’ve already written what I can about Previews, and it’s up to Travis to bring it home (although I’ve joked with him that I’ll be back on the 14th and I wonder if it will have been posted by then – we shall see!). I might have another post up in a few days, if I can type it up quickly – it’s for a Kickstarter that doesn’t launch for a few days, so I don’t want to post it now. Anyway, I’ll be out of the loop for a little while.

Have a nice day and week, everyone!

(Remember, if you use the link below to shop for anything, we get a small piece of it. Enjoy!)

15 Comments

  1. Wow, narc me out already, huh?

    I may have more to say about the Chaykin book later. I dunno.

    I was surprised when I got to Angelic in my pile at the comic shop. It’s bigger than digest size, I’d say, but yeah, it’s weird that it’s smaller like that. I haven’t looked through the pages yet, but it’s an interesting choice.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    On the Chaykin book, I find the author’s decision to begin with American Flagg questionable. So that means he completely ignores a bunch of Chaykin’s earlier stuff like Ironwolf, Cody Starbuck and (my personal favorite) Monark Starstalker, plus the Scorpion (his Dominic Fortune prototype). Doesn’t seem right to neglect such interesting creations, which – in my opinion – hold up really well as stories. Even early graphic novels in which he ‘only’ did the art, like Empire (with Samuel Delany) or Swords of Heaven, Flowers of Hell (with Michael Moorcock) showcase the development of his sense of design if nothing else.
    So maybe this is a bit prejudicial, but I’m not really in a hurry to read this book – although maybe I’ll want to once I finally get around to reading American Flagg and the Time2 books…
    Otherwise, though, Chaykin’s frequent expressions of disdain for comics fandom are something I’ve come across in a few interviews, including, most recently, in the the Virtual Memories podcast, which I find a bit puzzling for the reason you mentioned (i.e., comics being the only place where he’s been a success) and also because he was not at all like that when I met him some time ago in Zagreb – of course, maybe that’s because comics fandom is a bit different in Europe. (And I agree with everything you said about Groth.)

    …and so, you’re taking a day-trip to Paris, but not Zagreb? Isn’t that special… (Seriously, though, hope you have a good trip!)

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Yeah, I was a little put off by where he started, but he at least does make a good case for it. He writes a little about Chaykin’s 1970s work, and I think it would have been nice to get a bit more, even if he still wanted to focus on his creator-owned stuff.

      Zagreb is a bit farther away from London than Paris … 🙂

  3. “his updating of the Shadow and Blackhawk for DC in the late Eighties are good examples of engaging negatively with readers, who wanted their childhood icons to stay static ”
    I’d be fine with updating either (I really enjoyed Steve Skeates attempt to update the Blackhawks in the Bronze Age). But Chaykin’s Shadow was just crappy.
    Sacred Creatures looks interesting. Are those figures on the cover the sins? Because that isn’t the usual style where everyone is repellent but Lust, who’s of course hot. A style that as a friend of mine pointed out makes no sense — the nature of the Seven is that they’re insanely attractive. Gluttony should be a sexy stud/babe convincing you to join him in a gallon or two of homemade icecream.

        1. M-Wolverine

          It’s funny, you could say the Shadow practically started that genre. But then everybody killed everybody back then, so it wasn’t like he was unique.

          Far beyond my capabilities but someone could do anywhere from a big article to a book on the evolution of heroes who don’t kill becoming a thing. In comics or elsewhere. (I still find it ridiculous that “Agents of SHIELD” make a point about not killing.)

  4. M-Wolverine

    So Costello is selling his book, for like, money, and stuff, right? To, I assume, comic readers. Just checking and all.

    They can get away with disdain for comic fans and commerce, because no matter now mainstream the world is now, they’re still mentally that self-loathing industry. A failure in Hollywood is still a big deal in the comic world. It’s like a coach being awful in the pros, but he got his shot there, so hiring him is supposedly a big deal at the college level. And it hasn’t been helped by the amount of people writing comics whose first dream wasn’t writing comics anymore. I mean every comic writer from Stan Lee on was a “failed” great novelist, but guys like Roy Thomas wanted to write good comic books. Too many people now you can just see that either they’re a novelist’s side job, or they’re just waiting for the chance to go to Hollywood. (And really, there’s only one Stan Lee, but at this point creating Deadpool gets you more acknowledgment than 99% of novelists, for better or worse).

    As an aside, it seems like the whole Lena Luthor thing is a big deal in the fandom. People like the idea of two women who can actually be friends. They may have saddled her with the name Luthor. Because then you have then have the comic side fans really expecting (wanting?) her to show her Luthor colors. I think the way around this is, like they (again, for better or for worse) had Superman guest, they need to get permission to use Lex. Then you have your bad Luthor (mom is not that menacing, sorry) and maybe Lena can be instrumental in putting him back away, proving herself once and for all.

    1. The majority of creative people who make a living at it usually do stuff they aren’t passionate about. As you say, the question is whether they do it well or write like they’re slumming. And also the question of whether they can write comics, because not every writer of other stuff can.
      I’m hoping they don’t turn Lena evil–she’s more interesting if she doesn’t.

      1. M-Wolverine

        I don’t know that they feel any worse, but maybe feel more like sell outs? Because the majority of people do work they don’t feel passionate about. Few work in their dream field, even fewer work in their dream job.

        I completely agree with you that writing talents can, but not necessarily do, translate to other mediums. Many a good novelist has been a crappy comic writer. Or screenplay writer for that matter, even if the screenplay is based on their book. And not to pick on book writers, because the same is for someone who writes screenplays writing a book or comic, or as the case here, writing a comic book and then trying to write a screenplay. There are those who can jump back and forth fairly well, but it’s not a given.

        And my initial take was that Lena was going to be set up to be her arch nemesis. But TV shows evolve and their chemistry is so good that it would be a shame to do that now. I think she’s more interesting as that friend that’s more in the gray than the black and white. Not bad, but maybe crosses lines Supergirl wouldn’t? Her Batman to Superman? I’m a couple episodes behind, but it’d be a slap in the face now to make her bad after they’ve basically put her in a bunch of situations where she was right and Kara was wrong. The whole “nobody gets to have kryptonite” thing “but I can spy on you” seemed to have most fans siding with Lena. To give her the villain turn at this point would almost seem spiteful.

  5. Louis Bright-Raven

    Is there a reason why you two have to mention the size of the ANGELIC trade? LOTS of comics get collected in a smaller sized format (and some get collected in larger formats, too). It’s just not that big of a deal, guys.

  6. M-Wolverine

    Size matters? 😉

    Actually I think a review should mention the size format, in case it matters to the reader. It maybe shouldn’t be a value judgment, because while seeing things smaller than the actual comic page (like on a smaller tablet) seems to bother me, the old pocket books which were a lot smaller never did. (Did they increase lettering size in those, or were my child eyes just that much better?) And bigger might look better, but it might be a storage issue concern, since if you’re picking up the trade that might be a factor. Likewise small you can fit more on a shelf.

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