By John Velousis
Part 1 – All names are changed to protect the fallen.
I used to live above a very trendy bar in Chicago, which we’ll call Fabletown. The bar owner / landlord was a legendary party rocker named Basil Chalke, formerly of the Chicago punk legends the Unusual Seizures, then the party-punk band the Grab-Asses. Anyhow, the evening I moved into the third-floor apartment, one of my new roommates – my friend Dave “the cyclone” Smith – took me out for a night of drinking and carousing. Said evening eventually got a LOT more interesting when Dave and I ended picking up two chicks and a guy at Brainiac’s Bar. The three were in town as a love triangle to appear on Jerry Springer’s show, exaggerating their problems with their 3-way romance in exchange for the free plane tickets to Chicago, plus hotel arrangements. The evening ended up getting… sexy. But that’s a story for another time.
The reason I’m bringing it up here, in a column about comic books, is because people are mostly free to do what they want to do, but they usually don’t. Yes, I COULD just stick to the ostensible point of this piece, whatever that may end up being. But if I did that, then YOU would never hear the beginning of my story about the time me and Dave picked up a Jerry Springer love triangle, took them back to our place, and so on. Where’s the fun in that?
Part 2 – LAST week in review? Why? Am I some kinda idiot or something?
By way of discussing Jeff Parker (Hulk, Thunderbolts), I started out writing, for real, precisely why superhero comics are like Lars von Trier. After WAY too much material about that, I started over just summarizing Parker’s career to date as an artist (illustrator, writer, etc.) The summary got me up to 2008, took 1009 words, and slew my ass at 3:15 AM.
So, if this column seems even more half-assed than usual, it makes a lot of sense to blame Jeff Parker for having an odd career path.
Casanova: Avaritia II
W: Matt Fraction
A: Gabriel Ba
Col: Cris Peter
Let: Dustin K Harbin
Integer representing overall artistic value: 9 / 10
It’s hard to review Casanova for a lot of reasons, some personal having to do with obscure artistic sins that I perceive in Matt Fraction’s past, but most having to do with the subject matter itself. On the surface, the comic (in its present incarnation) seems to be a sci-fi spy hodge-podge about closing alternate realities. But Casanova is very much more than that and always has been. It’s about reading and listening to music and watching movies. It’s about sharing experiences with friends, and about the things we all know together (“the collective unconsciousness” is the term from Repo Man that comes to mind.) MUCH of it is about the creative process itself.
When a character needles another with the phrase “Billy Pilgrim’s precious little life,” that single line radiates into every direction in my skull: Billy Pilgrim is the un-stuck-in-time protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (possibly also the most autobiographical of Vonnegut’s early novels); “Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life” is the first volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s wonderful 6-volume magnum opus about life, love, and 8-bit video games. The referentialism is NOT just intended to say, “Look here, look at what I’ve read, big me!” Quite to the contrary, rather than a personal celebration of the creator, its an embrace of brotherhood. It’s Joe Strummer saying something like, “Don’t forget you’re alive. We’re all alive at the same time in history in the same moment, you know?” Joe was trying to look as hard as he could at the things that make us all the same, instead of putting our differences under the microscope. I can’t help but think that this is what Fraction is doing here too with Casanova.
The eponymous character, unfortunately, has been trapped into an abnegation of that very sentiment. Casanova Quinn is sent over and over to murder a man -Luther Desmond Diamond – who is supposed to become the world’s (or the multiverse’s?) greatest villain, but he is a man who Cass knows could and should be his brother. The series has always had a heaping helping of Nic Roeg & Donald Cammel’s Performance in it (a film which also heavily informs the recent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969) among its smorgasbord of references, with its willingness to blur the lines between protagonist and antagonist. In quick order, the new issue piles onto that by having various dead Luther Diamonds resemble Klaus Nomi, Elton John, Iggy Pop, and on. The LDD who is hung, one hopes, is not meant to evoke Michael Hutchence.
Eventually, Luther Desmond Diamond manifests as a comic book creator who MUCH resembles Matt Fraction himself, in a vignette that brutally dissects an artist’s feelings of self-doubt. THEN, he doubles down on self-hatred with a sequence laying bare a writer’s desperation upon finding his self stuck in a rut. Look:
But thanks to Gabriel Ba, it’s beautiful, is it not? Had Jeff Parker not already used “A life of the mind” (a quote from Barton Fink, a FILM about writer’s block) as a story title, it may very well have been the title of this chapter.
HOWEVER, having personally written dozens (maybe hundreds, hard to say) of songs, I have to opine that the description in this issue of how the song-writer character writes a song seems… well, idiotic. But don’t despair, Mr. Fraction, the world can forgive.
Throughout this issue, and this series, the ideas flow; Fraction lays his heart bare and exposed; and the art team kills it. If you’re NOT reading this, you’re being left behind.
W: Paul Cornell
A: Miguel Sepulveda & Al Barrionuevo
C: Alex Sinclair
L: Rob Leigh
Grade: 6 / 10 ? Maybe TBD would be better?
Paul Cornell was half of the team (along with Jimmy Broxton) responsible for 2010′s sweet-as-honey miniseries, Knight and Squire. If you loved Marvel’s The Age of the Sentry from 2008, you’d surely love K&S, and vice-versa. Cornell also wrote the much-missed Captain Britain and MI-13, peaking in storytelling skill JUST as Marvel canceled it. As such, he has a LOT of credit in my Trust-This-Artist bank. Which is good, because now he’s spending it. In this title, we’ve now had two issues of stroking, but not so much as a dribble of pre-cum. Part of the confusion comes from the cast. In the new DC universe, we have no idea as of yet who anybody TRULY is. So, while having a large cast of characters mixed together from the Wildstorm universe (the Engineer, Jenny Quantum, Apollo, Midnighter, Jack Hawksmoor), the regular DCU (the Martian Manhunter), and from god-knows-where (Adam One, the Swordsman, Projectionist) may be confusing under normal circumstances, here it’s a maelstrom of confusion. On TOP of this, Cornell has made in-team political jockeying for leadership the B-story of the piece. Absent the other elements I mentioned, that might make for a fascinating wrinkle on the genre, but as an introductory storyline, so far it just seems ill-timed. Cornell has done awesome things before, though, and recently at that, so he’s earned at least one full arc out of me.
W: Robert Kirkman
A: Ryan Ottley (with a Cliff Rathburn assist)
C: John Rauch (not the tall MLB relief pitcher, who lacks an ‘h’)
L: Rus Wooton
Grade: 9 / 10
For a color comic book about superheroes that features but a single on-page death, the news of which isn’t even KNOWN to most of our characters (and they’re unlikely to care anyhow,) it’s amazing how much this issue is covered with a patina of grief. The hero of the title, Invincible, is haunted by recent events. Specifically, a supervillain with an ULTRA radical environmentalist agenda set off a bomb that killed everybody in downtown Las Vegas. Although a few issues have gone by since that event, Mark “Invincible” Grayson still carries that event on his shoulders, allowing the tragedy to inform his every action.
His friends, Robot and Monster Girl, have returned from their trip to another dimension. While eight months passed in Invinci-world, for those two, twelve YEARS passed, and THEIR torment and regret about what happened there is palpable, though we don’t know exactly what happened yet.
Finally, the on-page death that we DO see, that of one super-villain killed by another, sends the killed baddie’s best friend / possible lover into a sort of “Dark Phoenix” version of HIS powers (which I haven’t the slightest idea how to describe.) When he reasserts his will, hours have passed and HE, too, is then given over to grief. All of this is from the masterful pen of Robert Kirkman, and it is certainly no accident that this curtain of sorrow happens to follow a recent revelation of a months-past action by Invincible’s lover, Eve, that seems horribly tragic with the benefit of hindsight.
With Invincible, Kirkman has taken the soap opera stylings brought to comics with Chris Claremont’s first X-Men run, and he’s perfected the form. I am, by nature, an extremely critical person, so it’s odd for me to be passing out so many complimentary statements about so many creators. But, it just happens that we live in a time when giants walk the Earth. With this book, Kirkman proves himself a Titan among them. (Titans are bigger.)
House of Mystery #42 (of 42)
W: Matt Sturges, with Bill Willingham and Steven T Seagle
A, C, L: Luca Rossi, Jose Marzan, Jr., Lee Loughridge, Todd Klein, Esao Andrews, Tony Akins, and Teddy Kristiansen.
Score: 7.5 / 10
This series was a gem. I wish I had more time to explore its mysteries, its delights and charms. An anthology with a through-line from the guys responsible for Jack of Fables – Matt Sturges and Bill Willingham – with an astonishing cast of contributors over its run (see below), HoM was a bon-bon month in and month out, with delicious cherry cordials vastly outnumbering the occasional Spring Surprise.
Contributors included Darwyn Cooke, Jill Thompson, Kyle Baker, Bernie Wrightson, Neal Adams, Gilbert Hernandez, Eric Powell, Peter Milligan, Matt Wagner, Mike Allred, Mark Buckingham, Richard Corben, Sergio Aragonés, Farel Dalrymple, Sam Kieth, John Bolton, and many, many more. It’s a shame that Sturges ran out of passion for the series, but it is the right of any artist to choose NOT to force inspiration. The series will be missed.
W & A: Keith Giffen and Dan DiDio
Inks: Scott Koblish
L: Travis Lanham
Designation: 8.5 / 10
A Jack Kirby homage, not far removed from Image Comics’ Jersey Gods – but with the advantage of being allowed to play with actual Kirby creations, this particular issue treats us to a great big King-of-comics-style slugfest for most of the issue. I would place the lion’s share of credit for the excellence herein squarely on the shoulders of the great Keith Giffen. Had he retired forever after the creation of Ambush Bug, Giffen would deserve a place in the pantheon of comics immortals for that alone. But he did not, and now we have this to show for it. I’ll leave it for Mr. Giffen to give the final words of this section. Let’s pretend this is his answer to the question, “What actually happened to Ambush Bug Year None #6?”
Part 3 – Weekly honors!
Boring cover of the week
It was actually a pretty damned good week for comic book covers, but Tony Daniel worked his magic and created the most boring image possible of Batman flying the Batplane. Kudos, Mr. Daniel – or should I say, POO-dos?
Comic of the week
Tie: Casanova #2 and / or Invincible #83 (both reviewed on this very page!)
And now, ’til we meet again, adios, au revoir, and auf wiedersehen.