“It is curious – but you cannot make a revolution without honest men. The instinct of the populace is infallible.” He paused, and then repeated, as though the phrase pleased him: “Every revolution has had its honest men. They are soon disposed of afterwards.” (Agatha Christie, from The Secret Adversary)
I bought a few CDs in about September of last year, and I have only gotten around to reviewing one of them, so I’m going to try to change that. Of course, by the time I bought those, Sol Invictus had already been out for a year, but for some reason I hadn’t picked it up. I became a big fan of Faith No More around the time “Falling to Pieces” was a single (I liked “Epic” but didn’t love it), even though a friend of mine had played me “We Care a Lot” a few years before that (at that time, I didn’t really pay too much attention to it, but now it’s one of my favorite FNM songs). I even bought Album of the Year, their last album before this one, in 1997 (and it’s pretty good, although woefully misnamed). Eighteen years later, they decided to release a new album, and it’s pretty darned good, too. In many ways, it’s a fairly typical FNM album – they’ve always had some pop sensibilities to go along with a heavier-than-hair-metal edge, so they’re a weird band, and on this album, we get that as well. My favorite song on the album is “Motherfucker,” because it’s nice and grungy, with a cool snare drum in the background, and Mike Patton growling the lyrics: “Force fed more than we eat in the wild / Grazed on a mash that can suffocate a child / Bloated, promoted in an ode to pomp and style / Moistened in the feed while we choke upon the bile” before hitting the weird chorus of “Get the motherfucker on the phone, on the phone” while over it, we get a soaring, almost operatic quasi-aria. It’s a prototypical FNM song, which means it’s amazing.
The rest of the album doesn’t have quite the greatness of that song or of their best album (I’d say that’s Angel Dust, but your mileage may vary), but there’s nothing embarrassing about it. The title track begins the album, and it sets a nice, dank tone – it sounds like it’s being sung from the bottom of a well at the start, and the band slowly rises out of it (death and resurrection is kind of a theme on the album, not surprisingly for a band that took 18 years to record an album). “Separation Anxiety” barrels along, with guitars throbbing, while “Cone of Shame” is also very much “classic” FNM, with Patton ranting “I’d like to peel your skin off / So I can see what you really think / Or if there is anything / Under that cone of shame,” but while he’s singing the verses, he has an almost 1950s crooner vibe going on, something he’s really good at and which makes the band’s song just that much creepier. It seems someone in the band has been listening to Eagles of Death Metal, because that’s the only way to explain “Black Friday,” which is a fine tune but really does sound like a different band. The only song I really don’t like is “Matador,” which is supposed to be epic (it’s the longest song on the album) and has its moments, but tends to drag a bit. Faith No More doesn’t do epics all that well (despite having a song named that!), or if they do, they kind of sneak up on you. A planned epic isn’t really in their wheelhouse.
Anyway, it’s a good album. I’m certainly glad Faith No More decided to reunite and release an album, because they were always a nice antidote to the oh-so-seriousness of the grunge band of the 1990s (don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of grunge, but those dudes took themselves really seriously). I know Patton is out with some other band right now, but we’ll see if they manage to get together and release another one. I’d buy it!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland’s Glory by Lisa Jardine. 406 pgs, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.
Jardine makes an interesting point early in this book. In the preface, she notes that while she was working on the book, someone asked her if she was serious when she writes about the Dutch invasion of England in 1688, because this person believed that Holland was too small and insignificant to successfully invade seventeenth-century England, and anyway, he “knew” that the last successful invasion of England was in 1066. In the first chapter of Going Dutch, Jardine demolishes that argument, going over very carefully William of Orange’s build-up of military might and the planning that went into the invasion. The second chapter, she asks why the invasion has been edited out of history into an internal revolution, and she makes the point that William had a highly sophisticated propaganda machine working before the invasion, which swung into action and produced a Declaration, a masterful work of public relations in which “William” uses a conversational tone to sway the English people to his cause (which the majority did not support before the invasion, despite what historians tell us). He claimed that James’s religion (he was Catholic, the last English king to be so) meant that William had to intervene so very reluctantly to save English Protestantism. His wife, Mary, was James’s daughter, so not only did William have a duty to save English religion, he had a familial duty as well (William conveniently ignored the fact that James had a son in June 1688, “The Old Pretender,” who of course trumped Mary’s claim, and while invasion plans were going on when James “III” was born so it didn’t spur William to it, his birth certainly helped speed things up). He puts out that he will only strive to restore the “true religion” of the English, never mind the fact that he basically seized the throne after only a few weeks in the country. But the Declaration is good spin, and historians have bought it.
Jardine’s book isn’t a political history, however, and after the second chapter, she largely ignores the politics of the seventeenth century to delve into a more cultural and societal history. One reason why William’s invasion was so easy, she argues (James II basically declined to participate in the war), was because the Dutch and English had become so closely entwined during the 1600s. Jardine focuses on Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), the Renaissance Man of the seventeenth century and father of the famous scientist Christiaan Huygens. Huygens was the private secretary of William III and his father, so he moved in the highest circles of European society, was apparently very charming with the ladies (he was utterly devoted to his wife, apparently, but she died in 1637 and he never remarried, choosing instead to flirt with every woman he could find), and was a polymath when that term could still mean something (I read somewhere once that Isaac Newton was the last person in human history who knew everything there was to know up to that point, and now it’s impossible, but who knows – it’s a neat story, and the point is that in the 1600s, you could be a polymath without skipping certain subjects). Jardine spends most of the book tangentially linking things to Huygens, either using him as a jumping-off point to discuss the designs of European gardens (which was apparently a HUGE deal in the 1600s) or to show how his son got involved in some of the same branches of science that he was interested in. Jardine makes the point that Europe was bound closely together by familial bonds (not only among royals, but among the middle- and upper-class as well), but by the relative ease of transportation to be found, which made crossing the English Channel in both directions a short jaunt, bringing the two cultures closer together. She even gets into the exchange of paintings as gifts, the way artists like Rubens became popular in England, and the transfer of musical instruments from one country to another.
Jardine was a serious historian, so this isn’t a terribly “popular” kind of history, although it’s written in a slightly less ponderous tone than you get in most “serious” histories. There are a ton of plates in the book, showing everything from paintings by the famous artists of the age (including Rubens’s “Medusa”, which I had never seen before but absolutely love) to drawings of the famous gardens of the time (seriously, the Dutch loved gardens). We get a good sense of what it was like to live in the seventeenth century, which is always nice. Most political histories, by necessity, don’t delve into the day-to-day lives of their subjects, and “social” histories can be dreadfully dull, as Marxist historians have made them about statistics and the general mass of people rather than individuals. Jardine keeps the focus on Huygens, but she goes into the lives of many others, as well, so we get a fairly broad-ranging portrait of the way the Dutch lived in the 1600s. It’s pretty keen.
Ultimately, the English stole Holland’s glory mainly because they had a larger population and were better equipped to dominate the world (especially after basically swindling Manhattan away from the Dutch like the Dutch swindled it away from the Indians, as the Dutch were convinced the English were prepping a huge invasion and abandoned the island, while the English really wouldn’t have had much success in a fight as their forces were very small and spread out), plus the fact that a Dutch non-royal (William was the Stadtholder of the United Provinces, meaning basically the chief magistrate, so he was important in Holland, but of course the Dutch didn’t have a king at the time) conquered it and brought his culture across the Channel. After his brief reign (William died in 1702 and was replaced by Anne, the daughter of James II and the last Stuart monarch, and then she was replaced by the German Hanovers), the Dutch influence remained even as Dutch political fortunes took a downturn. Politics always influences culture, so as the English became stronger politically under the Hanovers, of course their culture would become ascendant.
It’s a good book, fairly easy to read yet still very thorough. Jardine wrote a lot of books in her life (she died in 2015), and I might have to track some down based on this one. I know many of you are really, really interested in seventeenth-century Dutch culture, so go out and pick this up!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
James has been one of my favorite bands for 25 years or so, ever since I picked up Gold Mother for some reason circa 1991 (I don’t know if I read a good review of it or if I just grabbed it in a store because it looked neat – I used to grab albums of bands I had never heard of just because they looked nifty). I own all their studio albums, so I can say with some confidence that Girl at the End of the World is their worst since their first two immature and hesitating albums. It’s not exactly a terrible album, but it lacks the amazing songs that elevate any James album, which often have a clunker or two on them (as do most albums – it’s not a phenomenon unique to James). Generally, James albums begin with anywhere from 3-5 amazing songs, about 3 dull ones in the middle, and then either a few more dull ones or a rally at the end. One reason Hey Ma is James’s best album is because there are only 2 dull songs, right in the middle, while the beginning and the end of the album are among the band’s greatest songs. GatEotW begins with the album’s best song, “Bitch” (which is not about a person, but about the narrator’s inability to stop complaining about his life), which begins with over 2 minutes of throbbing, spacey music before Tim Booth starts singing. It’s got a good beat, and Booth’s typical self-deprecating lyrics (“My life is rich and full / so why’d I bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch”), but it’s still not a great James song, just a good one. That’s true about all the songs on here. They all stay within the C-, C, C+ range, which makes this a James album for fans but one that probably won’t make anyone who doesn’t know the band find more by them (or maybe it will – what the hell do I know?). “To My Surprise,” the second song, is also fine, and it introduces the theme of being “born an asshole” to the album, a lyric Booth toys with throughout. “Dear John” has a nice, haunting melody with one of Booth’s best themes – breaking up (he’s really good at nasty break-up songs, although this isn’t too bad). It also has a great video, which is neat. He also returns to his theme of self-loathing on “Catapult”, which has a good driving beat with a nice chorus lyric – “You’ve seen the best of me and you’ve seen the worst of me / So don’t expect me not to be thinking out loud / You’ve seen the best of me and you’ve seen the beast in me / So don’t expect me not to be thinking out loud.” The album ends with the title track, which isn’t bad, but it’s indicative of the album as a whole – it keeps approaching epicness, which James does quite well, but then Booth and the band pull back, as if they don’t want the subject matter (death and appreciating what you have in life) to be lessened because the music swells. I don’t know, but it feels like it’s building to something that will blow us away, and then it just … ends. It’s weird. But that’s kind of the way most of the songs on the album feel – as if James is just about ready to cut loose, but they rein it in at the last second. Why, James, why?
Booth is 57 years old, and the rest of the band is around his age, so maybe they want to be more introspective in the music (Booth has always been introspective lyrically), which is fine. But they’ve never been that kind of band, not really, so when they seem to be about to bust out into something more joyous yet don’t, the tension in the song doesn’t serve it well. The songs feel incomplete, and therefore mediocre. It’s too bad – James returned from a hiatus in 2008 and have made some of their best music since, but Girl at the End of the World is not an example of that. We’ll see if we get another great album out of the gentlemen before they hang it up!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure by Tim Jeal. 510 pgs, Yale University Press, 2011.
As you might recall, when it comes to history, I’m fairly catholic, even though I have certain areas that I really love. I’m fascinated by British history during the nineteenth century, and I’m fascinated by colonialism and imperialism, so the so-called “scramble for Africa” in the 40 years leading up to World War I has always been a area I like to read about. Jeal’s book is about the events that helped lead to that scramble, as he examines the search for the source of the Nile that went on in 1850s through 1870s, when five major British explorers – David Livingstone, John Speke, Richard Burton, Samuel Baker, and Henry Stanley – trekked all over central Africa looking for the beginnings of the great river. The most famous are probably Livingstone (the subject of an ABBA song, so of course he’s going to be famous), Stanley (a self-made newspaper man who was mocked for his famous greeting of Livingstone when they met on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in 1871), and Burton (who was a shameless self-promoter, to the point that most people, if they know anything about Burton, think he was the first Westerner to get inside Mecca even though a Swiss explorer had done it 40 years earlier), but Jeal makes the point that Speke was perhaps the greatest of them all, at least where the Nile is concerned (Stanley, perhaps, ended up as the greatest European explorer in Africa, but his legacy is also tainted because he helped Leopold II take possession of the Congo, even though he had no idea what Leopold was planning to do there).
Jeal doesn’t shy away from the horrors of African exploration, but he’s also careful to make clear that African kings enslaved other tribes as easily as whites, and had been doing so for centuries, at least since the Portuguese began showing up on the shores of western Africa. The slave trade is a very difficult topic to write about, and Jeal doesn’t get into too much, but he does make the point the Livingstone, at least, was virulently anti-slavery, and his efforts led to the English suppressing it. Jeal also writes about the effects of colonialism up to the present day – not too much, but enough to put the search for the Nile’s source into a greater context than “we wanted to find it.” He notes the British chopped up “Equatoria,” which was a quasi-province in the 1870s and 1880s that encompassed southern Sudan and northern Uganda. When the British added the southern part of Sudan to the country, they mixed northern Arabs with southern Nilotic people, despite the Arabs having a long tradition of enslaving black Africans. This, of course, led to a 50-year civil war and South Sudanese independence after brutal years of repression. In Uganda, the British decided to combine traditional enemies Buganda and Bunyoro, as well as completely different ethnic groups farther north, who were of course more closely related to the people in southern Sudan. These volatile situations were perhaps worse than the map-drawing of the Middle East after World War I, because there the British and French were carving up dominions under a foreign power (the Ottomans), while in central Africa the British had been in charge for decades before they drew the borders. Jeal doesn’t devote too much time to this, but he definitely makes the point that without the British explorers in the area, history might have been very different.
Jeal’s book is very well-researched, and he covers a lot of ground. His focus on the search for the Nile source means that we don’t get a full picture of Livingstone or Burton or even Stanley’s moral quandary in the Congo, but that’s the focus of other books. You don’t really need too much knowledge coming into this book, because Jeal alludes to quite a bit and points you in directions to learn more if you choose. It’s a gripping book, which is surprising considering it’s about searching along the longest river in the world (it’s not like nobody knew about it!), but Jeal does a nice job getting into the travails of these men (and one surprising woman) who went into the interior and braved quite a bit of hardships. I certainly wouldn’t want to trek up into the central African highlands with no certainty I’d make it back alive!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Back in 2012/2013 (I’m not sure when I got it), I bought the first Lumineers album. It was charming, but I didn’t feel any need to get more. Last April (of 2016), when I was in Seattle for ECCC, I stayed with my cousin and she had the new album, which was playing in her car. I didn’t know the band had a new album out, but I recognized the voice of lead singer Wesley Schultz and said, “This sounds like the Lumineers,” to which she replied that indeed it was. I listened, and it was really good, so I eventually bought the album (time moves slowly in my universe, so it took me a few months to buy it and, of course, even longer for me to write about it!). And it is really good – the band’s sound has evolved a bit, so they’re not quite as twee as they were on the first album, but they didn’t lose their songwriting chops, either, so we get a more mature sound with some depth to it but fewer ukuleles. (N.B.: I don’t think there are ukuleles on their first album, but you’d believe it if I told you there were, wouldn’t you?)
I love how albums how structured, especially in this post-album world, where you can simply get your music à la carte (I tell people I still buy CDs and they look at me as if I’ve grown a small cucumber out of my forehead). Do bands (and managers) simply throw all their songs into a hopper and pick them at random? Do bands actually try to structure them so that they hold together either thematically or at least with fast songs and slow songs not bunched together? I don’t know, but this album is structured oddly. The first seven songs are probably the best songs the band has recorded (I know, it’s only their second album), with a pretty big drop-off on tracks 8-10 before a useless instrumental to end the album. I don’t love instrumentals, and it feels like a “finish-the-album” kind of song (it’s short, but it also has a kind of nostalgic, sad-though-jaunty, vaudevillian kind of feel to it that seems to indicate the end of something old), but I think it might be better placed in the middle. Similarly, track 8, “Long Way From Home,” is not bad, but tracks 9 and 10, “Sick in the Head” and “My Eyes,” are just decent songs that are so enervating they grind the album to a halt. They probably should have been “hidden” among some of the more upbeat songs, because coming after the first seven tracks, they just make you want to stop the CD.
But the first seven songs are terrific, and show the growth of the band. “Sleep on the Floor” is as close to a rocker as the band has, with a nice, clangy guitar part and nice lyrics about breaking free from your staid life and taking chances (even though you might want to punch all the people in that video). “Ophelia” could easily be from their first album, with the rollicking piano, but it’s still a nice little love song. “Cleopatra” is NOT about Theda Bara (hey, there she is on the cover of the album!), but about a older female taxi driver who was “late for this, late for that, late for the love of [her] life” but who sings “When I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time.” The song is also a bit faster, so it hides the poignancy of the lyrics a bit, but it’s still a sad and gripping tale. “The Gun Song” is a weird tune conflating owning a gun with being in love, I guess? It’s a minor tune, but still a good one. “Angela” is a nice companion piece to “Sleep on the Floor,” another song about leaving home and what happens to you if you do, but this is a bit more wistful (the fact that Angela drives a Volvo cracks me up, because it’s such a bold hipster move). After that, “In the Light” slows things down again, with the music falling into a comfortable rhythm with more nostalgia, but because it’s not an instrumental, it works nicely. My favorite song on the album is “Gale Song,” which has a dark, powerful guitar part and painful lyrics – for me, the album peaks when Schultz sings “I wasn’t there to take his place / I was ten thousand miles away” with such regret in his voice that it hits you hard. The song leads to a rumbling ending (nice drums there) in which Schultz moves on with his life. Then the album starts to slide a bit.
The first seven songs are enough to make the album a success, and even the next three don’t ruin it. I just wonder if the band could have put the coma-inducing songs (seriously, I haven’t been this close to falling asleep listening to two songs like “Sick in the Head” and “My Eyes” since those times I listened to Cowboy Junkies!) in different places instead of ending the album. Beats me. But nobody listens to full albums anymore, so who cares, right? If you thought the Lumineers were a bit too hipster for you because they were all wearing suspenders and porkpie hats on their first album … well, they’re still hipsters, that hasn’t changed. But this is a pretty darned good album!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
I love books about sports, especially great games or seasons that define an era, and I love books about the early years of a sport, such as, in this case, college football. This is a book about the Carlisle Indians, the football team from the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which was founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt, a Civil War veteran who served in the West and was horrified by the treatment of the Indians. Of course, Pratt’s solution was to destroy their culture and turn them “white,” but for the time period, he was remarkably enlightened. Carlisle was a football powerhouse in the early years of the twentieth century, when they were coached by Glenn Scobey Warner (called “Pop,” and yes, the kids’ football program is named after him) and featured Jim Thorpe, among many other greats. Jenkins’s book is about the founding of the school and the events leading up to a game with Army in 1912, when the students could finally face off against the spiritual descendants of those who took their land and killed their relatives.
The book cover gets one thing wrong, if you can see it clearly: it reads that “in 1903, a group of defeated warriors …” The book is not about the 1903 Carlisle team, although that was the year when they pulled the classic “hidden-ball” trick against Harvard (Warner was a crazy innovator in football, forcing several rule changes just because he did things that weren’t against the rules but were considered wildly unsportsmanlike), a game that Carlisle almost won (Harvard and to a lesser extent Yale were the gold standard in college football until about 1920). So the cover features a typo, which isn’t too bad, but it is weird.
Other than that, the book isn’t quite as compelling as it should be. For one thing, Jenkins picked a bad game to cover. She spends very little time on the game itself, even though in 1912 Army was a pretty good team (not as good as they would be in the 1940s, but still, pretty good). Carlisle demolished them, 27-6, so the game itself had very little drama, but Jenkins barely spends any time with Army, so the entire theme of the book – that the Indians were gaining revenge on the soldiers – isn’t brought to any meaningful conclusion. Now, that’s just a framework for Jenkins to discuss the history of Carlisle, what it meant to the Indians, what it meant to the United States, and what it meant for sports, but it still seems strange that she would focus on the game but not delve into it too much. Carlisle played more important games – the aforementioned 1903 game against Harvard, the game against Penn in 1907 when Carlisle unleashed their passing game, which revolutionized college football (and came years before Gus Dorais threw passes to Knute Rockne, but of course Notre Dame gets all the credit for “creating” a passing offense), or the game against Harvard in 1911, considered by many to be one of the best college football games ever. By focusing on the Army game, Jenkins ensures that her book ends kind of limply, which is too bad because the story of Carlisle, Pop Warner, and Jim Thorpe (among the others) is fascinating.
Jenkins does a nice job contrasting the lifestyle of the older Indians, who could remember a time before the whites came, with their sons and daughters, who had to navigate a new world. Pratt was able to convince some of the greatest Indian leaders of the time to send their children far to the East to be educated as whites, but it wasn’t easy – many of them had to be convinced, and of course many of the children had no interest in going. Pratt was a typical man of the time – he believed in strict discipline, he believed in the Christian rightness of his cause, and he believed he was a self-made man (Jenkins seem to take delight in showing how this was expressly not true, but people who think they’re self-made rarely let facts get in their way). He was also fiercely devoted to his students, and many of them saw him as a father figure, writing him praising letters long after they had left the school. Pratt not only had to convince Indians to send their kids to Carlisle, he had to convince white America that Indians were worth educating, and Jenkins does a nice job with that aspect of the book, too. Of course, she spends a lot of time on football, as Pratt, after initially condemning it (football was frightfully violent in the 1880s-1900s, even after Teddy Roosevelt convened a summit to make it safer in 1905), embraced it. Once he hired Warner away from Cornell in 1899, Carlisle became a powerhouse. Jenkins writes well about the rise of the team, Warner’s temperament and his genius, and his relationship with Thorpe and other athletes. Thorpe is typically mercurial, spending time on the team from 1907 through 1912 but also spending time away from the school (where he played semi-pro baseball, which led to him being stripped of his Olympic medals), and Jenkins does a good job briefly psychoanalyzing him. Despite the relative brevity of the book (300 pages of actual text), Jenkins gets into a lot of topics and gives us a nice portrait of a place that probably needed to exist during the time it did but quickly became an anachronism. Along the way, we get a lot about the weird, woolly, wild game of college football during its infancy. Man, things were bizarre back then.
This is an interesting book if you’re keen to know more about the USA’s relationship with the Indian tribes it conquered. Once the wars were over, the country had to figure out what to do with the Indians, and Pratt’s solution was just one of them, possibly the best one given the circumstances. The football parts of the book are fascinating, too, even if it leads to an anticlimactic game. Carlisle has inspired more than one author, and Jenkins’s book is a nice addition to that cottage industry. (Weirdly enough, in 2007 two books were published about this very game. Lars Andeson’s Carlisle vs. Army is the better one, as he spends more time with the Army team, including Eisenhower, so we get a better picture of both teams. So yeah – if you want to read about this game, you have two choices. Strange.)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Fuck Everyone and Run by Marillion. Racket Records, 2016.
As some of you know, Marillion is my favorite band EVAH, and I’m always happy when they release a new album. Their last great one came out in 2001, however, so the past decade-and-a-half have been tough as a fan (they’re still great in concert, though – I saw them in 2012). Their nadir came in 2007 with the release of their worst album, but since then, they put out a double album in 2008 that redeemed them a bit and one in 2012 that was even better, so I had high hopes for their new album (which they call F E A R to avoid using “Fuck” so much). And I haven’t been disappointed – this is clearly their best album since 2001, and it shows that even when the dudes get old (I’ll get to their age in a bit), they can still put together a great album.
F E A R has only six songs on it, with one being a very short coda, so technically there are only five songs, three longer than 16 minutes each and two coming in at 6.25 and 7.18. I mention this only because Marillion has always been in the vanguard of progressive rock, and those prog rockers like their long songs, and Marillion has indulged it quite a bit this time around (they always have long songs on their albums, but this takes that to the extreme). The nice thing is that none of the songs feel long – occasionally long songs can drag, but the band keeps things moving all over the place, and each long song is broken down into shorter bits that can almost stand on their own, so they never drag. The two “short” songs (tracks 2 and 4) act a bit like palette cleansers. “Living in F E A R” is an antidote to the depressing tone of the album, as Steve Hogarth sings about changing your ways to be more open: “Our wide eyes aren’t naïve; they’re a product of a conscious decision” are the first lines of the song, while in the chorus he sings “We’ve decided to risk melting our guns as a show of strength.” There’s a great piano part to begin the song, and then the rest of the band kicks in, and they show they can still jam when they want to. As usual with too many Hogarth songs, he leaves metaphor and states outright, and the song ends weirdly, with him denigrating famous walls through history (yes, really). It doesn’t wreck the song, but it adds a bizarre coda to it. “White Paper,” the other “short” song, also begins with a nice piano part, but it remains a bit calm, even as we get a nice slow jam groove going, with Ian Mosley’s drums keeping a jazzy beat and Steve Rothery’s guitar adding more plaintive notes to Hogarth’s lyrics, which are about losing love and facing mortality. Hogarth was 59/60 when he wrote this, so it’s not surprising that’s a theme.
The three long songs on the album (tracks 1, 3, and 5) are annoying broken up into sections, so I can’t find videos of the complete songs (this is a problem on iTunes, as well, as they’re broken up into shorter sections because iTunes hates long songs, apparently). “El Dorado,” which opens the album, and “The New Kings,” which closes it, are both about money. “El Dorado” is about our obsession with money, while “The New Kings” is about the rich elite, ruling the world from their glass towers. The main section of “El Dorado” is “The Gold,” in which Hogarth spells out the main theme: “The gold took more lives than uranium, than plutonium …” It’s a song about fear (Marillion loves the fact that they came up with an album title that can be acronym-ized to “F E A R,” and Hogarth uses it) – fear of immigrants taking our stuff, fear of war, fear of poverty – and what it does to us. The band does a nice job with a roiling, disturbing score, tapping into the paranoia that Hogarth is singing about. The song ends hopefully, as Hogarth sings that we can be angels if we choose to be, which is nice of him. “The New Kings,” meanwhile, is a bit darker (and hey, I found a complete version of it!), as Hogarth narrates a tale about the super-wealthy and their power – “We do as we please while you do as you’re told.” The music complements the lyrics nicely, almost crushing us underneath its power. The song isn’t as hopeful as “El Dorado,” as Hogarth turns the tables on the listeners by blaming them for the “new kings'” power (which is in many ways true). The middle track, “The Leavers,” features another favorite theme of Hogarth’s – the restlessness of some (perhaps, but not necessarily, focusing on himself) and what drives them away from the people who love them. The first section, “Wake Up in Music,” is as close to rocking as the guys get, but it’s nice to know they can still get a bit funky if they want to, as Mosley’s drums kick in nicely and Pete Trewavas’s bass rumbles along. Hogarth does a nice job with the lyrics, too – “Bottles that empty from Dover to Calais / From Paris to Hamburg, Strasbourg to Stockholm / On buses the rumble from Newport to New York / We nod off in London or Lisbon or Lima / We wake up in Munich / We wake up in music” – before the song slows down to examine those the “leavers” leave behind. The song builds to a bittersweet “One Tonight,” when the “leavers” and “remainers” come together, and the band gives it a good epic feel before Hogarth drops the final nail in the coffin – “You can write, but I won’t reply.” It’s a nice twist.
Two things bug me about the album, things that have bugged me about latter-era Marillion. Rothery’s guitar playing is great as usual, but he really likes what I think of as “organ” guitar sounds – it’s hard to describe, but it sounds like an organ to a degree, with too much echo and too many bell-like tones. I don’t think it’s Mark Kelly’s keyboards – I’m pretty sure it’s Rothery – but I wish whatever it is, they would knock it off a bit. It’s taken over too much of the music in recent years, and it’s fine in limited capacity, but occasionally, it becomes too much. Hogarth has never been the greatest lyricist, preferring the prosaic to the metaphorical a bit too much, but he’s not bad here. What he is doing on this album is staying a bit more within his vocal range – as he’s gotten older, his falsetto has become weaker, and this is the first album in a while where he’s not trying (and failing) to hit notes outside his range. There’s a strange echo to his voice, though, and I wonder if it’s been run through a filter of some sort. Hogarth still has a good voice – at least he did five years ago, when I saw the band in concert – and I’m not sure why or even what he did. Once again, it’s not bad for atmosphere on certain parts, but it’s a bit excessive.
Overall, this is a very good album, close to great, and it’s nice to see that the band can still put together an epic kind of album after so many years. Hogarth has become more politically aware of the years, and this is a fairly left-leaning album, even though his lyrics aren’t that controversial. I don’t know if this should be your first Marillion album, but it’s still a damned good one!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Green Valley #1-9 by Max Landis (writer), Giuseppe Camuncoli (penciller), Cliff Rathburn (inker), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (colorist), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Arielle Basich (assistant editor), and Sean Mackiewicz (editor). $27.91, 210 pgs, FC, Image/Skybound.
Hey, look, it’s a comic! I was on vacation the first week of June, so I managed to read a few books while on our cruise, which is why I have more than usual. It also took me a while to read through some of the comics I got, so who knows if I’m even going to review them all! But let’s get to Green Valley.
I don’t have much experience with Max Landis – I haven’t seen any of his movies, and I haven’t gotten around to reading his Superman comic from last year, so this is, I think, the first experience I’ve had with him. I guess he’s kind of a douchebag, from what I’ve read about him? But who knows – he could be the greatest guy in the world, but I tend not to read or not read things because a guy is or is not a douchebag (that way lies madness!). Green Valley sounded kind of cool, and I like Giuseppe Camuncoli, so I got it. That’s about the size of it.
You’ll notice I “redacted” some of the covers, and I hope that, if you look at the others, you won’t be able to figure out what’s going on in this book. The covers kind of give too much away, at least more than I want to, because this is a very plot-driven comic and knowing really anything about it beforehand ruins it. That means I’m not sure if I’m going to read it again, because Landis skimps on the character development and themes in order to hit all the plot points, but he does it quite well. I will tell the set-up: sometime in the Middle Ages (at one point we find out, but it can’t be because it’s too developed for that time), four knights face off against a barbarian horde and turn them back from attacking their village. These are the famed Knights of Kelodia, and they’re celebrated that evening both for saving the village and because their leader, Bertwald, has announced that he’s getting married (and presumably retiring, at least that’s the implication). Of course, this being a story, nothing good can come of this, and the barbarians sneak into the castle that night, burn it to the ground, and kill everyone except the four knights. Bertwald is bereft, of course, because his lover is dead, and he goes into a funk. A year later, the four knights are still living there, pissed off at everyone (including each other) and ready to tear each other apart. Then a boy shows up, tells them that he wants the Knights of Kelodia to save his town of Green Valley from a wizard who commands dragons. The knights eventually agree, and off they go. Then things get weird.
As I noted, Landis tells the story well, even though once we find out what’s going on it’s easy to see where the story is going. That’s why I redacted the covers – if you know what’s going on from the covers, it will spoil the surprise even more. That’s why it’s a frustrating book – it’s entertaining, and that’s fine, but Landis takes no chances whatsoever. It’s fun to read, even if we can figure everything out early on. But that can be fine – like I wrote, it’s fun to read, and Camuncoli, Rathburn, and Beaulieu take some of the burden by making the book absolutely stunning. I don’t know if this is Camuncoli’s best work – he’s done some amazing work in the past – but he notes that he’s been working for 20 years and he’s never done a fantasy book, which isn’t surprising given his somewhat angular style. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but it’s stunning. He does tremendous work with the action scenes, which in the past have been not his forte, but either he’s getting better, Rathburn’s inks help, or Beaulieu’s colors help (probably a combination of all three). His characters are wonderfully distinctive, his wizard is a terrific, douche-y bad guy, and he does a really nice job blending a lot of different elements. Beaulieu’s colors are amazing – he keeps things bright, uses a lot of complementary colors to keep everything popping, and uses blacks efficiently (although that could easily be Rathburn’s inks, too). Landis veers into tragedy occasionally, but he doesn’t overdo the prose, allowing the artists to convey things, which is smart. Landis might not be an experienced comic writer, but he knows when to let his artists tell the story, which isn’t a bad thing to know.
Green Valley just got solicited as a big hardcover for 30 dollars, which is slightly more than you’d pay for every issue. I’m not terribly sure it’s worth that, although you can find it cheaper in other places. It’s a fun comic, but it doesn’t quite resonate as much as I’d like it to. As you might recall, I’m digging art a lot more than writing these days, so I think it’s worth a lot for just the art, but I wish Landis hadn’t followed such a well-trodden path. The trappings of the comic are fun, but once they’re out of the way, this is a fairly conventional story. So it’s a good comic, but not a special one. That’s just the way it is!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
There’s a lot that’s wonky about Quantum Teens Are Go, which is too bad because there’s a lot that’s good about it, too. This is the second comic by Visaggio that I’ve read recently (she also wrote Kim & Kim, which was also decent with some issues), and she obviously has good ideas, even if she has some trouble working them out. This time around, we get Natalie and Sumesh, two unusual high school nerds in a slightly altered world from ours, where quantum mechanics is a commonplace and world-changing discipline and two high school nerds can build a time machine with no one really batting an eye. Yes, they build a time machine, and that’s where their problems begin. When they turn it on, strange people in weird outfits show up and seem to want to do them harm or possibly just freak them out. So they have to find out what’s going on without getting killed. You know, just a typical crazy weekend for most teenagers!
Visaggio does a nice job with Natalie and Sumesh – Natalie is transgender, so that causes her some issues, but Visaggio doesn’t make too big a deal about it, while Sumesh’s parents have died, and he’s a bit bitter about it (he’s kind of a dick to the family who took him in, which is a typical teenage thing to do, unfortunately). They are, however, devoted to each other, and their relationship makes the book better, because they work together very well and Visaggio writes them well, as they’re only really at ease with each other, usually doing something underhanded to further their research. It makes the not-great ending work better, because despite its poor plotting, we still believe that Sumesh and Natalie feel the way they do about each other. Donovan is a solid artist, as he gives us a kind of junky, lived-in world despite the technological differences from ours, which makes sense because the people building the tech are kind of outlaws and renegades, so of course nothing would be too streamlined. Donovan designs nice characters – Natalie and Sumesh are nerdy but in different ways, while the strange people who show up after they turn the time machine on are bizarre and creepy. Donovan doesn’t use too many special effects, but when he and Aguirre do, they stand out well against the somewhat drab coloring of the everyday world. So the book looks pretty nice.
Unfortunately, there are those issues. The book is too short, it feels, and while Black Mask seems committed to four-issue mini-series, perhaps they should rethink that or perhaps the writers should be better at doing four issues. Even though Natalie and Sumesh are well developed characters, the others feel like plot devices, and it weakens the narrative a bit. There’s not much of a plot – there’s a bad guy, of course, but the bad guy’s motivations are far better than Sumesh’s and Natalie’s, and Visaggio (perhaps deliberately) makes that clearer than you would think. But that doesn’t really change the fact that there’s not much of a plot, and while I’m not the most plot-conscious person in the world, if Visaggio is going to go that route, she has to make the characters more compelling. Finally, the ending rushes up at us and leaves everything open for a sequel. The final few pages wrap this book up far too quickly, but then Visaggio doesn’t end things, just give the characters a reason to carry on with what they were doing. I don’t know if there’s going to be a sequel, but I’m never happy with something advertised as a four-issue series that is obviously not. Either Visaggio needed more room to wrap everything up, or she planned to make this a longer story. Either way, it ends abruptly and weakly, and that’s too bad. Natalie and Sumesh are characters you want to spend more time with, but they’re not in the best story, unfortunately.
Visaggio has a good voice, and I’m curious to read more of her work, but I hope she figures out plotting a bit better. That’s certainly something for her to work on, but at least she’s able to create interesting characters for her fairly wonky plots. I don’t love Quantum Teens Are Go, and I like it more for the potential of the writer than for what happens in its pages, but that’s certainly something, I guess.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Phantom Islands of the Atlantic: The Legends of Seven Lands That Never Were by Donald S. Johnson. 220 pgs, Avon Books, 1994.
I’ve often pointed out that I read my books in alphabetical order by author because I like to buy books, and I would get excited about new books I bought and read those even though I had a surplus of older books that I hadn’t read yet. So finally I started reading them in alphabetical order, just to be fair. I have about 250 books I haven’t read yet, even though I’ve actually gone through the alphabet twice since I started doing this, and now I’m on the third trip. I know I haven’t had this book since 1994, because I would have read it before now, but I’ve had it a long time, and it’s the kind of book I would skip to read more “exciting” stuff – newer, shinier books, in other words. Which is too bad, because this is a nice little book – it certainly could be a bit longer, as the text checks in at only 181 pages, but it’s still quite interesting.
Johnson is writing about olde-tymey cartography, when mapmakers had to rely on eyewitness accounts and old stories of foreign lands, resulting in things showing up on maps that didn’t actually, you know, exist. Some of these “islands” were simply part of a larger land mass and the sailors didn’t get a chance to explore it thoroughly, and some were already-known lands that the mariner didn’t recognize. Johnson makes the point that while latitude was fairly easy to compute without instruments, it wasn’t foolproof, and longitude was impossible to reckon without a reliable clock, which is why it took centuries for someone to come up with a way to measure longitude (and why the English offered a fairly substantial reward to the person who could). So figuring out where exactly you were in the ocean was hard, and obviously people got it wrong. So a sailor could think he was in Canada when he hadn’t gotten past Iceland yet. It led to mistaken identities all over the map, but it often took centuries to disprove the existence of these lands.
Johnson doesn’t write about all the phantom islands, because there were so many of them. He picks some of the more famous ones and the ones that endured the longest. In the 1540s, Jacques Cartier and some other French explorers wrote about the Isle of Demons, which is probably Fichot Island off the northern tip of Newfoundland. In the 1380s, a Venetian traveler wrote letters to his brother about a journey he took to Frisland in the North Atlantic, which was ruled by a great lord. Frisland was between Iceland and Greenland, but historians have decided that the Venetian probably went to the Faroe Islands, and other islands in his account were the Shetlands, Iceland, and possibly even Labrador. Martin Frobisher, who was looking for the Northwest Passage through the Arctic in the 1570s, came across Buss Island, which stayed on maps far longer than most imaginary lands. Buss Island was probably the southern end of Greenland, which one of Frobisher’s ships saw but didn’t realize was actually Greenland due to high winds blowing them off course for some time. Antillia is an imaginary island that Columbus counted on existing, as he believed the Atlantic was scattered with “stepping stone” islands that would help him reach Asia. Obviously, the name has lasted, as the Antilles are another name for the islands of the Caribbean, from Cuba to Barbados. Another imaginary island Johnson writes about is Hy-Brazil, which I knew of because of … comic books! Well, I think I had heard of it before Peter David wrote about it Aquaman 20+ years ago, but he did! Hy-Brazil was either not far off the coast of Ireland or not to far west of the Azores, but it, like some of the other islands in the book, is tied up with Christian iconography, which means that its existence isn’t as important as its meaning. The same holds true for the islands of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgin companions, who sailed away in the fifth century so that Ursula wouldn’t have to marry a pagan. Damned pagans! If you’ve ever wondered how the Virgin Islands got their name, well, Columbus named them after St. Ursula’s companions. Good for them! Finally, Johnson takes a look at the voyage of St. Brendan in the sixth century, which is almost completely an allegory. Brendan did exist and he may have sailed out into the Atlantic, but the story of his journey is an allegory about the Book of Revelation. Mapmakers did try to peg the island to a specific location, but it seems fairly half-hearted – unlike the other islands in the book, it seems like most cartographers were aware that Brendan’s journey was not to be taken literally.
Johnson reproduces a lot of maps in the book (remember how much I love maps?!?!?), and while he doesn’t get into as much detail as I would have liked, he gives a nice overview of why people would believe these islands existed and how they went about “proving” where they were and, later, disproving them. It’s an easy book to read, and it’s pretty fun and informative. Which is nice.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Infinite 7 volume 1: Kill Replace Kill by Dave Dwonch (writer/letterer), Arturo Mesa (artist), Gerardo Filho (colorist), Megan Dobransky (editor), Scott Bradley (editor), and Shawn Gabborin (editor). $14.99, 98 pgs, FC, Action Lab Comics.
Dave Dwonch is a good guy, and he writes fun comics, so of course I was going to pick this up when I heard about it. Unlike many comic nerds, I’m not the hugest fan of using pop culture tropes from my childhood (which for many comics writers these days is the 1970s and 1980s, which is when I grew up as well) and turning them into comics. I will buy some of them, and enjoy some of them, but it’s not really my thing. What makes Infinite 7 so much fun is that Dwonch commits to throwing almost every pop culture trope he can think of into a blender, so it’s less a homage and more of an insane, gleeful smorgasbord. If you’re going to go to the 1980s pop culture well, you might as well drink deeply.
Dwonch gives us a secret world government (yes, another one) with its own team of assassins (of course) called the Infinite 7. In the first issue. the team tracks down their nemesis, only one of the members – Smash Brannagan (a great 1980s name) – goes into the house where they think she is and finds only Anthony Zane, a geeky teen computer hacker/gamer who’s planning for his first date that he inexplicably got with a cute girl in his class. Anthony tries to explain who he is, but Brannagan is having none of it, and Anthony ends up killing him accidentally. This does not really earn him the hatred of the rest of the team, because apparently, all it means is that he replaces Brannagan and is now called “Smash Brannagan,” which is just a code name. The rest of the book is Anthony proving his worth and going on a mission to find their nemesis, who turns out to be … well, I won’t say, but it’s pretty obvious from very early on in the book (and I doubt Dwonch really wanted to make it that big a mystery).
Dwonch does a pretty good job with a large cast of characters – everyone gets their brief moment to shine, although a certain character’s love story resonates more than anything else. Anthony proves himself quite adeptly, and Dwonch does a good job keeping things light even though there’s a lot of violence in the book (it’s kind of PG-13 violence, in that there’s a bit of blood, but nothing really that horrific). The characters are archetypes, naturally (some would say stereotypes), but Dwonch has a good handle on them, and the dialogue between them is quite fun. I’m not going to get into the references, but he throws a lot into the book. It’s never in the detriment to the story, though, so they’re just Easter eggs, which are fun to see but if you miss them, it’s not that important. Dwonch gets the tone of a 1980s action movie, though, updated a bit so that the women in the book (there are three main female characters, so while they’re still in the minority, there are multiple examples of women!) are fairly well developed, even Melanie, Anthony’s date, who appears on only five pages.
Mesa and Filho bring Dwonch’s story to life quite well, too. Mesa’s angular, wildly cartoonish style suits the tone, and it makes his fight scenes ridiculously exaggerated, which takes the place of the steroid muscles and never-empty guns of the best Eighties action movies. His characters aren’t all ridiculously muscular – only two are really buff, which helps show off the skills of the various assassins in their own ways. Mesa knows, I would imagine, how silly some of the people look, but he doesn’t focus on that, so Smash Brannagan’s metal shin guards, for instance, are goofy but fit with what we know about him and how he dresses. Mesa, for all his cartooning, doesn’t skimp on the facial expressions and body language, as his characters are never subtle, but we always know what they’re thinking even without Dwonch’s dialogue. There’s a really nice page when Melanie is talking to a friend on the phone about finding Anthony (who, of course, has disappeared into the assassins’ headquarters, breaking their date in the process), and Mesa draws her on her back kicking her legs in the air. It’s such a cliché of a girl talking on the phone, but it’s a cliché because it happens, and it humanizes Melanie a lot and allows Mesa to show the contrast between Anthony’s “normal” life and the strange world he’s entered. There are some nice effects, too, like a battle in the pouring rain, or the detail Mesa puts into Chimera during his battle with the assassins. Filho (I think) does some nice effects, as well, creating a charcoal look on some pages to highlight the darkness of the tone, and using nice digital glowing for some of the supernatural elements. Mesa also does a good job translating Dwonch’s pop culture references onto the page – I’m sure I missed some, but Mesa does nice work making sure they’re recognizable.
I’m not sure how long Dwonch plans to do Infinite 7 – there’s potential for a long series, but I’m not sure if that’s what he wants to do – and the only minor problem I have with the trade is that it’s mostly set-up for the next volume. But when the set-up is so much fun and has such potential, I’m not too bothered by it. Infinite 7 is a keen comic, and I’m looking forward to volume 2.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Nightwing volume 2: Back to Blüdhaven by Tim Seeley (writer), Marcus To (artist), Marcio Takara (artist), Minkyu Jung (artist), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Marcelo Maiolo (colorist), Carlos M. Mangual (letterer), and Jeb Woodard (collection editor). $16.99, 140 pgs, FC, DC.
I don’t care much about the plot of most of this trade. Seeley did a nice job with the first trade, and after that and Dick’s experience with the “Monster Men” in that crossover, he’s looking for a new start, and he gets it from Superman – the Original Recipe One, I guess, who tells him that the Nightwing he knew hung out for a while in Blüdhaven, and maybe this Dick should think about moving there. So Dick does, and gets involved in a caper. It’s fine, but nothing special, other than the fact that Marcus To draws it, and To has sneakily become one of the best superhero artists around (it’s tough to be a great superhero artist, as opposed to just drawing comics, and a lot of great artists can’t do it well). The important thing is that Dick meets Shawn Tsang during the storyline, and it turns out he busted her when he was Robin and she was a graffiti artist/sidekick called the Defacer. They thwart the bad guy, and find out they dig each other. So in the last issue in this collection, we get 20 pages devoted to their relationship.
And then, at the end of the issue, Seeley appears to kill Shawn off. Now, I’m fairly certain he’s not so stupid to kill her off (and please, don’t tell me if he does – I know I could find out if I want to and my life won’t be ruined if I do find out, but don’t be that guy). It’s very frustrating, because if he does kill her, it’s such an egregious example of fridging that I can’t believe Seeley, in 2016, would say, “Hey, I’m going to kill the love interest in the dumbest and most offensive way possible.” It comes at the end of a wonderful issue, one I have said for years I wish we saw more of in mainstream superhero comics – one with very little action, just Dick and Shawn telling others about their two-month relationship and how it has progressed. It’s really excellent, and then we get to the end, which almost negates it completely (unless Shawn survives, which, again, I’m almost positive she does, because Seeley can’t be that stupid, can he?). Seeley has Dick narrate the story with examples of great romances from literature, and then he fixates on Hercules, who was driven mad and killed his wife. He claims it’s because Hercules dared say he loved Megara, but it’s not really. Most Greek tragic plays are lessons about the fickleness of the gods, and Euripides’s play is no different – Hera resents Herakles because he’s Zeus’s son, and instead of, you know, cutting Zeus’s wandering penis off, she takes it out on the innocent children. So the example from literature is stupid, because what lesson is taught from Shawn getting killed? That Dan DiDio is really, really serious about his injunction against romance in superhero comics? Look, Nightwing can still go on adventures and fight bad guys and go home to his lovely paramour, you know. To think otherwise is to have a really sad outlook on life. So I’m crossing my fingers that Seeley really isn’t that much of a bastard to kill off Dick’s love interest six issues after she’s introduced. That would be a dick move (pun very much intended).
Anyway, this is a pretty good trade until that last page. I count at least two phrases that could be gay jokes, not in a mean way, but in a way that seems to be Seeley saying “Yes, I know everyone wants Dick to be gay, but DC will never allow it.” Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I thought they were funny. I will probably get the next trade, but I won’t be happy if Seeley actually has killed Shawn off. That would be stupid.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
The Mummy: Palimpsest by Peter Milligan (writer), Ronilson Freire (artist), Ming Sen (colorist), Dijjo Lima (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), and David Leach (editor). $19.99, 110 pgs, FC, Titan Comics.
I’m a fan of Peter Milligan, so I’m always curious about what he’s doing, even though he’s written some terrible comics in the past. He seems to have moved beyond that, though, and his recent work has been a return to form, so I was interested to see what he’s do with the Mummy. I haven’t seen the Tom Cruise movie, but apparently it’s awful, and I wonder if they would have had more luck adapting this. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really have a role for a heroic male lead, as the male lead, Duncan, is kind of wishy-washy (the female lead, the ostensible mummy, tells him that she usually prefers strong men, but his wimpiness isn’t completely unattractive), so perhaps movie execs still can’t wrap their heads around the fact the women can headline action movies. Oh well. This isn’t a great comic, but the story seems better than whatever we got in the latest movie.
Milligan decides that mummies are not necessarily necessary for mummy comics, so he foregoes them most of the time. The lead, Angelina (known as Angel, because of course she is), is a Ukrainian refugee who gets dragged into a war between warring factions of Britons, including the immortal Duke of Clarence, everyone’s favorite creepy duke – the grandson of Queen Victoria, who was supposedly gay and, if Alan Moore is to be believed, involved in Jack the Ripper and who died in 1892 … or did he? (Well, yes, of course he did, but he’s not a bad person for Milligan to use, because even if none of the stories about him were true, he’s still kind of weird.) The immortal dudes perform a ritual every 33 years (significant number, that) in which they use a young lady as a tabula rasa to “write over” (hence the subtitle of the book) her soul with that of an ancient Egyptian priestess they have trapped as a mummy, which then bleeds black blood that they drink and stave off death. It’s kind of unclear how the blood makes you immortal, as I guess Milligan doesn’t care too much about that. The other faction, of which Duncan is a member, wants to destroy the immortals, and that means rescuing Angel and denying them their blood cocktail. Chaos ensues, naturally.
It’s certainly not “peak Milligan,” but The Mummy is a fun comic. Milligan gives us a nice contrast between Angel, who doesn’t have time for this shit, and the bluebloods trying to control her (both sides are, even if Duncan’s guys are nominally the good guys). Angel is partly possessed by the ancient Egyptian, and a good deal of the book is her trying to resist the priestess’s influence while she’s trying to escape the immortals and the weird spirit god who is chasing her, trying to claim her soul (it’s after the immortals, too, which is why they’re so desperate to grab Angel – eternal life has a nasty price if you don’t drink some blood!). Meanwhile, the priest who loved the priestess 3000 years ago returns, and he’s a mummy, so I guess there’s just enough mummy action to make the title not completely silly. Ultimately, the story doesn’t make a ton of sense, but Milligan keeps it moving along nicely, so we don’t really have time to worry about the goofiness of it all. There’s good action, some gore (not too much, but a little), and a bunch of snotty old white dudes get their comeuppance. Nothing wrong with that!
Freire does a decent job with the art, too, which is nice. Occasionally some of the storytelling is a bit wonky, as it appears he’s trying to cram too much into a panel, but perhaps that’s Milligan’s fault (I don’t know how Milligan writes his scripts, but he’s been doing this for 30 years or so, so I imagine he knows what he’s doing). Freire has a rough, grungy style that fits both the seedier aspects of the story, from the dark places Angel is imprisoned in and the streets through which she runs, as well as the violence in the story, which needs to be messy. His Egyptian spirit is pretty cool, because it’s supposed to be dark and scary, so Freire uses thick blacks to make it look even scarier than it would be otherwise. His mummy priest is creepy, but he can’t bring himself to make Angel anything less than attractive (although he does randomly draw in and omit freckles on her cheeks), which is too bad, because the one moment that he does, the panel is quite nice. Milligan makes sure that there’s no chemistry between Duncan and Angel (at least I’m pretty sure it’s deliberate), and Freire’s drawings of them doing some slightly romantic things come off as creepy, which is probably the point (again, I hope it is). That’s a nice subversion of any number of tropes, and both Milligan and Freire do a nice job with it.
The Mummy isn’t the best thing Milligan has done, but it’s certainly not the worst, either. It’s “hired-gun Milligan,” which can be entertaining, and it’s definitely that. The current Milligan book you should be reading is Britannia, but this is a fun trade, if you’re in the mood for some inconsequential violence!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
So that’s all for this month. I got more comics than that, but as I noted, I was on vacation for the first week of June and got behind on the comics-reading and I never really caught up. I think I’ll be able to this weekend, but that’s too late for this post, right? Anyway, have a great weekend and a good Fourth of July if you celebrate the Fourth of July (perhaps by reading some old Outsiders comics where they battle the Force of July?). We’ll be back … I want to say “soon” with our Previews post, but that’s ultimately up to Travis! We shall see!