Archive for the ‘Vertigo’ Category

Random review time

August 18, 2010

Children of the Sea Vol. 1. Daisuke Igarashi. Viz, 2009. $14.99, 320 pages.

HP Lovecraft hated fish. No, scratch that — he hated all sea creatures; he was nothing if not an equal-opportunity hater. To Lovecraft, our finny friends were monstrous, alien things; or, as he might have put it himself, they represented an unspeakable horror, a nameless revulsion and were all round just plain icky.  You can find this in various of Lovecraft’s works, but most notably in The Shadow Over Innsmouth  and Dagon.

This sentiment was echoed in manga by Junji Ito’s Gyo (not, incidentally, the only time Ito has echoed Lovecraft — witness the Cyclopean freak-out at the end of Uzumaki). In Gyo, sea creatures are horrors of the id, swelling up from the depths and irrupting into the natural order of things. They’re also, again, just kind of icky.

Children of the Sea represents the complete opposite of this sentiment. This is a manga about the wonders of the sea, and how its mysterious life-forms have their own otherworldly and sublime beauty, a beauty at risk but well worth saving. Igarashi’s art is serviceable at best when it comes to figure work and above the waterline, but below the surface, in the underwater scenes, displays an unpretentious and unobtrusive sense of wonder.

It’s also the most thoroughly YA manga I’ve ever read and, indeed, the most YA comic I’ve read since Chynna Clugston-Major’s Queen Bee. I’m so not the target audience for this; in the end I had a hard time appreciating it because of this. The low-key atmospherics and gentle plot development didn’t grab me enough to make me come back for a second volume, but it’s easy to imagine younger readers glomming onto it.

Recommended? If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably too old to appreciate this manga.

DMZ Vol. 8: Hearts and Minds. Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, Ryan Kelly, Jeremy Cox and Jared K. Fletcher. Vertigo, 2010. $16.99, 192 pages.

There was a bit of debate in the blogosphere, a few months back, about whether the eponymous protagonist of Dan Clowes’ Wilson was unsympathetic; and, as a corollary, whether narrative art requires sympathetic protagonists. I’m in favour of saying no to that latter question — Cerebus, for instance, spent long periods of his comic being pretty unlikeable but the series never suffered for it. (Insert obligatory disclaimer about Dave Sim’s political views).

With DMZ, many readers think we have another example of an unsympathetic protagonist. That is, a lot of people think the series protagonist, Matty Roth, is an unsympathetic, simple-minded douchebag in over his head. They’re wrong: Roth is a sympathetic, simple-minded douchebag well out of his depth.

At least, I thought so until I got to this volume. And now there’s a major plot twist which has me questioning not only whether Roth is still sympathetic but whether I actually want to keep reading a series where the protagonist has done what Roth has done. To keep reading after this, feels like an act of complicity in the darker side of US foreign policy.

Which is an odd sort of conjuring-trick on Wood’s part, since his politics seem to be even further to the left than mine. He’d surely be the first to condemn said darker side. And certainly Wood isn’t condoning Roth’s actions here…even so, I’m not sure I can keep reading a comic book where the lead character has become

[SPOILER]

a war criminal.

[/END SPOILER]

Maybe that’s just my hang-up, man, but if so, then so be it.

Recommended? No.

The Poor Bastard. Joe Matt. Drawn and Quarterly, 2001. $16.95, 176 pages.

Oh hey, speaking of unsympathetic protagonists…well, you can say this much about autobiographer Joe Matt: he’s not afraid to paint himself in the worst possible light. In this collection of stories from Matt’s Peepshow, he depicts himself as a tightwad, a creep, a jerk, a schmuck, a lowlife, a loser, a bum, a deadbeat etc. etc. etc.

And, brother, do I mean “et cetera”.

Seriously, has there been an autobiographical cartoonist since Crumb who has been so devoted to telling us all what a despicable character he really is? This is less “warts and all” than “all warts”.

Recommended? I enjoyed it, but, boy, your mileage sure may vary.

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Not so wonderful, you ask me

August 19, 2009

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman. DC, 2007. Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. $16.99, 528 pages.

Along with Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Jack Cole’s Plastic Man, the Charles Moulton/Harry Peters Wonder Woman is one of a handful of “golden age” superhero comics actually worth reprinting. They’re weird, fun, kinky and nothing if not the product of a singular vision.

Not so the adventures reprinted here, from the start of superhero comics’ “silver age”. Other Showcase volumes from the same era (late fifties/early sixties) have ample charms. Flash, Hawkman, The Atom, Adam Strange, Green Lantern: these all feature art by the likes of Murphy Anderson, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane and Carmine Infantino. The Superman volumes (Superman itself, Supergirl and Superman Family), meanwhile, have the deadpan surrealism that was the hallmark of Mort Weisinger’s tenure as editor.

There are no such charms to be found here. There’s no sign of any passion here, just a couple of cartoonists churning out material to pay the bills. Kanigher’s scripts are simply hackwork, Andru’s and Esposito’s art competent but dull.

Things are even worse if we compare this with the Moulton and Peters run on Wonder Woman. Gone is the giddy delight they brought to the material; gone, too, are their themes. So, no spanking, cosplay, horseplay, bondage, subtextual sapphism, or explorations of male-female relationships. Even Wonder Woman’s golden lasso is now just a lasso, not the lasso of truth of old, which could compel submission.

Still, at least one thing is constant between this and the earlier, better Moulton/Peters Wonder Woman: Steve Trevor is still a total douchebag.

Recommended? Not at all.

Silverfish. DC, 2008. David Lapham, Dom Ramos and Jared K. Fletcher. $17.99, 160 pages.

A low-key crime thriller, Silverfish achieves its presumably modest goals. It’s entertaining, gripping enough in the way that a thriller is supposed to be gripping. Lapham’s art is mostly unobtrusive, except in brief flashes of expressionism here and there, which culminate in a bravura sequence towards the end of the book where the antagonist’s delusions break forth into the waking world.

Recommended? If you’re in the mood for an unpretentious, solid crime comic.

Don’t buy this book: Adventures in the Rifle Brigade

March 2, 2007

Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland, Glenn Fabry, Patricia Mulvihill, Kevin Somers and Clem Robins. Vertigo/DC, 2004. $14.95, 144 pages.

Writer Garth Ennis was in the comics news recently, when DC head honcho Pulpin’ Paul Levitz cancelled Ennis’ new ongoing series The Boys over concerns about content. The book’s fans were pleased to learn, however, that it would continue at a different company.

I was not, to put it mildly, one of those fans. To me, The Boys seemed to have been written by some sophisticated computer program that cut and pasted the worst of Ennis’ excesses and writerly tics: among other things, various forms of stereotype and cliché, mean-spirited slapstick, toilet humour and a fundamental discomfort with sex.

Come to think of it, it needn’t have been a computer program. A monkey with a typewriter would have sufficed.

I stopped reading The Boys after two issues, supposing that it represented the lowest point of Ennis’ recent decline into self-parody. After reading Adventures of the Rifle Brigade, however, I am happy to report that I was wrong. The Boys could have been so much worse.

Rifle Brigade reprints two three-issue series published between 2001 and 2003. It is intended as a parody of the boys’ ripping war yarns that Ennis evidently grew up on. Ennis’ dedication in the frontispiece is to British war comics such as Battle Picture Weekly and Commando, but it might as well have been to the gutter-dwelling, scatological humour comic, Viz.*

The Rifle Brigade themselves are a rag-tag team of fightin’ misfits, including: the straight man captain; a mad Scotsman; an American; a lower-class yob; a fat guy; and–get this, it’s the funniest thing ever–a fag. It would be too kind to call these characters one-note. They can barely muster a note between the lot of them.

This goes especially for the fat guy, the yob and the American. The big–all right, the only–joke about them is their catchphrases, the only dialogue they ever speak. It’s funny once, maybe twice, but Ennis uses the catchphrases to fill any lacunae in the otherwise non-stop flow of unfunny business. And never just one catchphrase from one character; we must always get all three in unison. It’s like a Greek chorus, if the chorus was that annoying guy at the office who won’t stop parroting catchphrases from the latest sitcom.

Just as the characters broadly parody stock types from British war comics, so does the plot parody their plots. This stuff might have played a little better in Ennis’ neck of the woods, but even the non-British reader can make do with a general knowledge of common war-story motifs. And by “make do”, I mean “realise how completely unfunny it all is”.

There’s nothing wrong per se with dumb humour or scatological gags. Hell, I read Johhny Ryan’s strips every week. But there’s one cardinal rule of humour. Pay attention, because you’re about to learn something. Humour has to be funny. You can occasionally appreciate a horror movie that isn’t scary, or a romance movie that isn’t romantic, because they can still have other virtues. But a humour comic, a comic whose only intention is to be humorous, such a comic without humour is nothing.

Which is exactly what Ennis has given us. Apart from a few bits that might elicit a brief chuckle, this book is worthless. Carlos Ezquerra’s pencils and inks are decent but, tied as they are to a putrid and unfunny script, hardly to be praised. That would be like praising the sound design on a snuff movie.

It’s particularly frustrating to see an artist of Ennis’ talent producing this putrid tripe, as though Orson Welles had lived to direct one of the Porky’s sequels. In books like Preacher, Punisher, Hitman and War Stories, Ennis has proved himself a master of gross-out comedy and gallows humour while revealing a surprisingly sentimental humanity underneath.

If the black comedy is the baby and Ennis’ humanity is the bathwater, Adventures of the Rifle Brigade throws out the baby with the bathwater.

And then the bathtub and the rest of the plumbing, too.

*NB: nothing to do with the manga publishers.

Recommended? Only if you think a German officer named Venkschaft is the funniest thing ever, or (what is probably redundant) you’re a developmentally arrested eleven year-old boy.

IYL: Preacher or Hitman, but wish that they had any depth or humour removed.

PC Alert: The whole book is pretty offensive. Which would be fine if it weren’t also aesthetically offensive.