I dunno why I don’t do this more often with these Weekly Reading Round-Ups — well, actually, now that I think about it, I do: there have just been way too goddamn many first issues to talk about lately — but I figured this week I’d check in on the relative creative health of a handful of series that I’ve talked up previously and see if I feel as generously pre-disposed toward them today as I did when they came charging out of the gate —
Ales Kot and Danijel Zezelj just released the third issue of their 12-part Image series Days Of Hate, and while I desperately want to still like where this thing is going given its timeliness, topicality, and superb art, I find the book hitting the same stumbling block that too many Kot-scripted titles tend to, namely : his story is becoming subsumed under the crushing weight of the points he wants to make with it. Nobody is more dismayed at the rise of “alt-right” nationalism and xenophobia than I am — fuck Trump, fuck everything he stands for, and fuck everyone who voted for him just for good measure — but here in #3, our dystopian premise already firmly established, all we get is a lot of talking heads droning on at length. And truthfully they’re not even talking heads, they’re eulogizing heads, as our dual protagonists blather on about each other — and the problems of the world at large — to either captive, or capturing, audiences, and regardless of whether their monologues veer toward matters personal or political, they essentially have the same lecturing, heavy-handed tone, and read exactly like the clumsy info-dumps they are. Zezelj and colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire do their level best to maintain reader interest with their visuals — no easy task given that this chapter mainly takes place in an interrogation room and a car, and the only “variety” to be found is in subtle facial expression and body language “tics” — but it’s ultimately work done in vain, as Kot’s dreary sermons literally suck the life out of every page. I have all the time in the world for political comics, particularly those of a leftist bent, but I’m giving this book to the halfway point to get something resembling actual narrative momentum going, otherwise I’m out.
Also from Image this week we’ve got The Beef #2, and Ales Kot should take note : if you’re gonna go the “un-subtle diatribe” route, this is the way to do it. Writers Richard Starkings and Tyler Shainline have plenty of points to make, none of them positive, about carnivores, xenophobes, spoiled rich kids, captains of industry, and cops, but they balance their politics with a welcome dose of absurdity, creepiness, and humor. This book’s not for everyone — how many comics featuring a splash page of the title character shitting his guts out on the toilet are? — but to hell with everyone : this is a comic for you, the discerning reader who can find a diamond amidst the degradation, the sublime within the sick. Shaky Kane is brilliant, of course — he always was, is, and shall be — but it’s the overall off-kilter tone of the series that’s really working for me at this point. This is dark, twisted, surreal shit that keeps you deliriously off-balance throughout. Yeah, they’re taking themselves seriously, no matter how whacked-out events get, but they leave it up to you whether you want to feel sympathy or contempt for their characters, whether you want to laugh or cringe at their actions, whether you want to burn your retinas out after reading the comic or go back to page one and start all over again. This is that rarest of books, the kind seldom seen since the heyday of the undergrounds — one that respects the intelligence of its readers while giving them a richly-deserved middle finger at the same time.
Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela’s Abbott just straight-up rocks, and #3 ranks as the best issue of this Boom! Studios five-parter so far. Our intrepid reporter Elana might just be in over her head with this supernatural stuff, which is saying something because cool customers don’t come much cooler than her, but the revelation of exactly what the force she’s up against can do kicks things into another gear altogether — even if it’s essentially an occult-ish take on one of the weirder powers of the old DC character B’Wana Beast. That doesn’t matter because me, though, because near as I can tell, sheer originality was never what this book was going for anyway. I’m still absolutely digging the socio-political authenticity of the early-’70s Detroit setting, the street-level grittiness of Kivela’s art, and the expertly-crafted, downright meticulous mystery-novel pacing of Ahmed’s script — but who are we kidding? It’s the Pam Grier bad-assness of the protagonist herself that sets this one apart and above almost anything else on the racks right now. I dearly hope this thing is selling, because even though this is barely over half over, I already need a sequel.
And speaking of potential sequels, or lack thereof, I really do wonder whether or not we’re going to be getting more of Peter Milligan and Tess Fowler’s Kid Lobotomy. The ending to #6 definitely sets the stage for further exploration of this surreal world — in fact, it propels things into potentially-quite-exciting new territory — but with the guy who brought Shelly Bond into IDW in the first place, Chris Ryall, now out the door, I get the feeling that the entire Black Crown imprint might be hanging by a thread. I know they’ve got a couple of new mini-series already announced, and good for them, but this is a damn fickle comics marketplace these days, and anything can happen. I’m fairly certain that I’d like to see more of this comic — the story’s been up-and-down, sure, but when it’s worked, it’s come as close to achieving that ephemeral “vintage Milligan” vibe as anything we’ve seen in at least a decade, and Fowler’s art has been consistently up to the task of delineating the unreliable-by-design proceedings at every turn. It feels like there’s plenty more as-yet-untapped “high weirdness” ready to burst forth from these creators, and frankly this reads much better as a stage-setting “story arc” than it does a self-contained narrative. A number of characters were given pretty effing detailed back-stories here, and if this is the end of the road it’s going to feel like a lot of set-up for very little payoff. It’s all down to sales, of course, so hopefully the volume one trade does well enough that whatever fence-sitting may be happening on a corporate level is overcome. No,this wasn’t the smoothest six-issue run by any stretch, but it was fascinating and curious and idiosyncratic enough to make me hope that this issue is just the end of the beginning, rather than “the end” proper.
Aaaaaannnndddd that’s a wrap. Next week we’ve got — new Frank Miller? That could be such a disaster. Unless, of course, it turns out not to be — but the odds really aren’t in its favor, are they?