Weekly Reading Round-Up : 10/13/2019 – 10/19/2019

We have three first issues and one last issue to go over this week and so, in the spirit of taking last things first —

A mercy killing that arrives three issues too late, Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.’s Superman : Year One #3 exits the world the same way it came in — with no clear idea of its reason for being and no coherent plan to at least fool us into thinking it has one. Miller’s script changes narrators frequently but tone never, Romita’s art is up and down and seriously down when it’s down (a splash near the end of this one features arguably the worst Wonder Woman illustration I’ve ever seen in my life), and precisely why this non-canonical revisionist take on Superman’s origin even exists is, at this point, anyone’s guess. It doesn’t count for anything, it only plays around with surface-level details of the story as already known, and just before it ends it shoehorns in a Cliffs Notes version of Zack Snyder’s Batman V. Superman and some creepy narration about Lex Luthor wanting to tame and break Wonder Woman, and Wonder Woman wanting Superman to tame and break her. It also doesn’t “end” so much as simply stop, with Supes headed off to take on Brainiac — which means we’re probably, and depressingly, looking at the strong possibility of a sequel to this mess somewhere down the line. Remember when DC was marketing this new Black Label line as some sort of “prestige” imprint? News flash : that was a lie. And so is the title of this comic, because it covers roughly the first 20+ years of Superman’s life. Who at DC editorial thought that any of this sounded like a good idea?

Maybe it was Dan DiDio, because revisionism for no reason seems to be his stock in trade, as evidenced by Metal Men #1, the first of a 12-part series that would probably, and justifiably, have been laughed out the room when it was “pitched” if the “pitcher” weren’t, ya know, the boss. Yeah, okay, I’ll grant you that Shane Davis’ art is the most lifeless and generic New 52-era holdover stuff imaginable, but the script is the real villain when it comes to offending your sensibilities here : Will Magnus is a fraud, his Metal Men have all been killed dozens of times and he’s got a bunch of spares handy, they’re not actually sentient and are rather derived from templates based on his own personality — and we get a double-cringe out of that already-cringeworthy premise because, hey, Magnus is romantically involved with Platinum, the “female” member of the group. Go fuck yourself, indeed.

Shifting gears over to Marvel, this week saw the release of the highly-anticipated X-Men #1, following on from the revolutionary (no exaggeration) events of House Of X and Powers Of X, the highly-regarded interconnected miniseries that propelled Charles Xavier’s team back to the top of the sales charts for the first time in a couple of decades. My big question coming out of those comics was : with all mutants now on the same side and living in a paradise of their own making, who were the villains gonna be? But fear not, mastermind author Johnathan Hickman begins to answer that question here while continuing to flesh out the society of Krakoa, which he’s obviously thought through right down the smallest detail. There’s a lot of talk about “world-building” in comics these days, and Hickman’s putting on a veritable fucking clinic on how to do it here, while Leinil Francis Yu provides more distinctive and eye-catching art than we got in either of the lead-in titles to this. About the only thing that could kill the X-momentum at this point would be for Marvel to overplay their hand — and so, in customary fashion, that’s exactly what they’re doing, cranking out something like six or seven interconnected books every month, each most likely bearing a $4.99 cover price for their first issues. I’m really digging what Hickman and co. are doing, but can I even afford to stick around to follow it all?

Last but not least (because we started with the last and the least right outta the gate), we’ve got Charles Forsman’s Revenger Halloween Special #1 from Floating World Comics. This comic is in no way necessary in the larger scheme of all things Revenger-related, but it is a fun, brutal little one-shot that sees our heroine start off by rescuing a kid and end up by killing off a vampire, so if what you thought this de facto franchise had been missing up until now was a dose of the supernatural, this book should make you really happy. For my own part, I had a good time with it even if it’s obviously disposable stuff, but I think I enjoyed Matt Harrison’s snappy little backup strip even more. Forsman gets a lot more credit for being an innovator than he deserves, but when he’s just cutting loose and having fun following established genre tropes, the results can be pretty damn entertaining, as they are here.

And that’ll do it, apart from reminding you all that this column is “brought to you” every week by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Do a jobbing freelancer a solid and check it out at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

“Hobo Mom” : Restless Heart, Listless Read

And so the first (arguably) “major” release of 2019 in the “alternative” comics world is upon us — never mind that Charles Forsman and Max de Radigues’ Hobo Mom is actually about five years old and is just now being released in an English-language version, publisher Fantagraphics Books is understandably, given the pedigree of its creators (Forsman’s notable critical and commercial successes including The End Of The Fucking World and I Am Not Okay With This, while de Radigues, who hails from Belgium, is probably best known on this side of the pond for Bastard), giving it the “For Your Consideration” full-court press, but hold on just a second : its physical dimensions alone clearly mark this as something of an “also-ran” project, seeing as it clocks in at a mere 62 pages, and a significant chunk of those are wordless.

How much storytelling is really going on here, then? The short answer to that is “not enough to warrant the book’s $14.99 cover price,” but the more considered response is probably something along the lines of “more than you’d probably think given its page count and laconic pacing.” Both, as it happens, are true.

Certainly Forsman and de Radigues take their time and focus on “the little things” pretty thoroughly here, and for all intents and purposes this book plays out in much the same manner as something three, even four times its length would, which is an interesting tack to take in a short-form narrative, but it also betrays a distinctly understated sort of arrogance — if you’ve only got so much space and take your sweet time getting where you’re going, it stands to reason that once you arrive at your destination, you’re going to have to make up for lost time in a hurry. That is, assuming you have something to say with your comic in the first place.

Truth be told, though, I’m not entirely sold on the idea that Forsman and de Radigues do. There’s no harm in a couple of friends wanting to collaborate, of course, and these two cartoonists are certainly simpatico in terms of employing similar “clean-line” drawing styles and deliberately stripped-down narrative techniques, so determining who, precisely, did what here is a pretty daunting, and ultimately pointless, task, so seamless is the end result of their efforts — but a vanity project is still a vanity project, and this bears far too many of the hallmarks of precisely one of those.

Which doesn’t preclude it having some things going in its favor, of course : all three principal characters — titular “Hobo Mom” Natasha, estranged daughter Sissy, and vaguely resentful ex Tom — are drawn in broad but mostly appealing strokes, if not appreciably fleshed out in any significant way; the calculated absence of specific details affords the opportunity to immerse readers in the flavor and character of their lives; the numerous splash pages offset with smaller, single inset panels are an effective, immersive, and reasonably innovative way to key in on the emotions of individual players within the framework of larger, more expansive scenes, or vice-versa.

Trouble is, the story itself is a middling affair that flirts with being completely insubstantial or, even worse, pointless.

Years back, Natasha bailed on her family for reasons never expounded upon, and now she rides the rails, rather unconvincingly disguised as a man in order to cut off sexual assaults from her fellow hobos at the pass. When one wises up to her charade and does, in fact, try to rape her, a violent altercation ensues that sees her come out the victor, but opt to take a break from the nomadic life and see how the child he abandoned (who’s now probably 6 or 7 years old) is doing. It’s quickly established that she’s fine, her locksmith father is doing a perfectly good job of raising her on his own, but gosh, he’s such a swell guy that he allows Natasha to stick around anyway, and after a little while (truncated time frames are a huge problem here) his bitterness fades and he decides that maybe they could all give the whole “family thing” another go.

Cue the predictable, and suddenly rushed, third act : Natasha begins to feel hemmed in, heavy-handed “every object in the house feels like a small part of an insidiously comfortable trap” imagery clobbering the point home, Tom feels her growing distant, and one day after school he takes Sissy out for a hamburger to allow his once-again-former lover/wife enough time to do what he knows she’s itching to — head for the exit. Only this time he understands. It’s just who she is. It doesn’t mean she loves him, or their daughter, any less.

I’m sorry, but I call bullshit on that. Real love means sacrifice — willing sacrifice. You give up parts of yourself — most notably, yeah, some of your freedom — because you know someone needs you, and you want to provide for their needs. The idea that there isn’t something seriously lacking in the conscience of someone who would run out on their own kid not once, but twice (or, alternately, at least some sort of deep-seated pain or fear that they would do well to address), is as laughably absurd as the notion that it’s going to be a woman who does this when, statistically, it’s almost always guys who are guilty of ditching out without so much as a note.

So, yeah, the reasons for this whole exercise? I’m seriously failing to see them. I mentioned earlier that there’s nothing wrong with two friends wanting to get together and “jam” on a comic book, but when the duo in question has no particular ambitions beyond that? Well, that’s a problem — maybe not a fatal one, as if this were packaged in a cheaply-priced, standard “floppy” format it might make for an interesting if deeply-flawed experiment that’s nevertheless worth, say, four or five bucks — but nothing on offer here warrants the hardcover treatment and commensurate hefty price tag. On a purely technical level, then, Hobo Mom has some things to recommend in its favor, but on the whole? You’d do well to hit the road and abandon it.

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 06/10/2018 – 06/16/2018

If it seems like Image Comics is rolling out a new series (be it limited or ongoing) every week — well, that’s because they are. But even by their standards, four in one week is a lot —

Bloodstrike : Brutalists #0 is the one everyone’s been talking about (although that fact was apparently lost on my LCS owner, who ordered precisely one fucking copy — and it was the godawful Rob Liefeld variant, as opposed to the awesomeness shown above), as it brings the punk ‘zine/”alt” comics sensibilities of the great Michel Fiffe (most notably of Copra fame, although my favorite of his works is unquestionably Zegas) crashing headlong into the mercifully-shuttered world of the aforementioned Mr. Liefeld’s Extreme Studios line-up circa about — I dunno, 1996 or some shit. From the book’s numbering to its purposely-stilted dialogue to its admittedly lame core premise (undead heroes who bear more than a passing resemblance to a bunch of Marvel characters fight equally generic villains for reasons never apparently thought through all that completely) there are any number of deliberate “call-backs” to a late and decidedly un-lamented era of comics history on offer here, but Fiffe isn’t content with some basic-ass exercise in nostalgia, instead allowing his inventive page layouts and inherent sense of visual “flow” to propel the narrative along in a manner that Liefeld (goddamn, there’s that name again!), with his clunky, static, over-rendered-yet-still-hopelessly-sloppy “Hollywood blockbuster on bathtub PCP” imagery never could. This story is apparently a continuation of one left abandoned in the wake of Extreme going belly-up, but it doesn’t matter : no one who was working on the book “back in the day” had any idea what was going with it, either.

Fortunately, Fiffe does, and despite the rather annoying fact that you really do need to read the backmatter here (which comes complete with some hijinks courtesy of Paul Maybury, Benjamin Marra, Charles Forsman, and Ed Piskor, so you won’t regret spending time on it in the least) in order to fully grasp the scope and intentions of the project as a whole, to say nothing of this issue’s narrative specifically, it seems that the characters are given far more meat on their bones in a handful of pages here than they ever were in the sum total of however many issues this series ran for in the past. In short, this is fun stuff with a reasonable amount of thought put into it, especially aesthetically, and since it’s gonna be a brief run (three issues, I thought I heard?), there’s almost no way you won’t get your four bucks’ worth every time. You certainly do here.

Proxima Centauri #1 kicks off a new six-parter appropriate for all ages from the always-interesting Farel Dalrymple, and it’s as utterly charming as it is visually striking. I defy anyone not to take an immediate liking to teen inter-dimensional adventurer Sherwood Breadcoat, and while the “quest across the universe to find our hero’s brother” story is pretty standard as far as plots go, the people, places, and things he encounters along the way are anything but. Rendered with a pleasingly loose line that makes the pages breeze by in something very near to stream-of-consciousness fashion, this is intricately-woven stuff cleverly designed to look and read like it’s literally being made up as Dalrymple goes along. Once in awhile a book hits the stands that is so obviously inventive it literally hurts — this is one, and you don’t want to miss it under any circumstances. Another one well worth forking over $3.99 a pop for.

And while you’ve got four singles out (wait, sorry, that’s eight so far), grab another four and fork ’em on over for The Weather Man #1. Jody LeHeup flexed his comedy “chops” writing Shirtless Bear-Fighter!, and while he’s not toned down the absurdist humor in the least for this one, artist extraordinaire Nathan Fox does his part to ensure that the belly-laughs are matched with an admirably ambitious futurist tour-de-force of, dare I say it, mind-blowing proportions, all colored with uncharacteristically garish aplomb by likely-best-in-the-biz Dave Stewart. Earth has been destroyed in some sort of mass catastrophe, what survivors there are have colonized Mars, and the beleaguered masses are kept entertained by an asshole TV weather guy who seems to have more in common with a morning radio “shock jock” than he does with an actual meteorologist. Except, ya know, there’s a lot more to him that we ever suspected if the implications of the absolutely jaw-dropping cliffhanger are to be believed. I figured I was gonna like this book, probably even like it a lot — turns out I actually freaking loved it.

One that I didn’t expect to care for, though, was The Magic Order #1. Yeah, okay, Olivier Coipel’s art is always lush, evocative, and magnificent, as it is (and then some — I mean it, this is absolutely gorgeous work) here, and Dave Stewart (hi again, Dave!) absolutely kills it with his understated, cinematic (is this guy versatile or what?) color scheme, but let’s be brutally, painfully honest : when was the last time Mark Millar actually wrote a comic that was any fucking good whatsoever?

Well, I’m pleased to report that drought (however long you think it may have lasted) is over. This first Millarworld title to be published since Netflix bought the imprint lock, stock, and barrel is the surprise hit not just of the week, but maybe of the month : a simple premise (family imbued with magic powers going back generations battles otherworldly monsters to keep us mere mortals safe — and we never even know about it!) admittedly ready-made for Hollywood exploitation (hey, Millar is still Millar, right?) needn’t necessarily be a bad thing, and here it’s not : the protagonists are all immediately likable to one degree or another, the story moves along at a solid clip, the “ground rules” are laid out succinctly, and the “fight scenes” are equal parts trippy and fun. Mostly, though, the whole thing is just breathtaking to look at and I’d happily shell out $3.99 for Coipel’s art even if the story sucked — which, in this case, it actually doesn’t. In fact, it’s really damn good — and no, I still can’t believe I’m saying that, either.

So there you go — four great reasons to hit the comic shop in one week. I had a huge smile on my face after reading every single one of these books. Will next week prove as bountiful, dear readers? Only one way to know, of course — join me back here in seven days!

Charles Forsman’s “Slasher” Cuts Deep — But Misses The Artery

Quick preamble : a good editor can make a big difference. I was commissioned to write this review for Daniel Elkin’s “Your Chicken Enemy” small-press site, and what follows is the text as originally conceived by yours truly. Daniel suggested — as opposed to demanding — a few small but crucial changes, and I think the piece reads much better in its “final” form, given that his observations were uniformly spot-on. I decided to run this “warts-and-all” version simply because, hey, it was saved “as is” in my WordPress folder, and I thought it might be of interest (to somebody? Somewhere?) to compare and contrasts the two versions.

Or, hey, maybe not. In any case, the “finished product” can be viewed here : http://www.danielelkin.com/2018/01/cutting-deep-but-missing-artery-ryan-c.html

 

 

 

I’ll say this much for Chuck Forsman’s just-released Slasher trade paperback collection (Floating World Comics, originally serialized over five issues) — it leaves you with plenty to think about.

That’s a good thing. As is Forsman’s crisp, stark, cinematic illustration and moody, inventive use of color. The book’s visuals make the unnerving, the disturbing, both deeply and immediately human, offering no “safe distance” between reader and subject, utilizing its grindhouse aesthetic sense to deliver the goods by turning the world upside-down on page one (which explicitly portrays human beings as meat), then drawing back to something vaguely resembling “normalcy,” and then absolutely going for the throat — yes, literally. The ingredients for a memorable, even a classic, read? They’re all here.

And yet —

There’s an inescapable sense that we’ve seen this all before. That Slasher is staking out something of a “middle ground” between Forsman’s trademark “all is lost” portraits of alienated youth (The End Of The Fucking WorldI Am Not Okay With This) and his genre-themed work (the two Revenger series). Certainly he captures the flat and affect-less character of suburban American life that his protagonist, a data-entry clerk in her mid-20s named Christine, both internalizes and mirrors, with keen accuracy and clinical dispassion, but that’s taken as a given with Forsman at this point. We know he does this sort of thing and does it well,and ditto for the specific details, which are likewise right up his alley — Christine is sleepwalking through life, her sexual bloodlust providing the only points of exclamation in an otherwise wholly unremarkable existence; the internet, as you’d expect, has to date been the only “release valve” for her admittedly deviant fetish, and that’s where she vicariously “meets” Joshua, a 14-year-old handicapped kid from BF Nowhere, suffering through an openly vicious co-dependent relationship with his domineering, religious fanatic mother. Yeah, he’s jailbait, but he “gets” her. Even prods her forward. Goads/coaxes her into taking things to the next level, into making her fantasies an actuality. In due course, she outfits herself with a “gimp”-esque leather mask/bodysuit combo and buys the knife of her dreams. Oh yeah — shit’s gonna get real.

Her first “taste” — an anonymous bar pick-up that her gay “frenemy” warns her to avoid — isn’t enough. Things go a little bit wrong. She lets the poor schmuck live. Sorry, but that just ain’t gonna (insert groan here) cut it. But there’s hope for upping the ante right around the corner. Her sleazy, sexually-harassing pig of a boss invites her over to his place for a bit of “fun” while his old lady’s out of town. You already know only one person’s coming out of that house alive.

And so Christine’s “career” as a serial killer begins, partly done for her own gratification, partly done to impress her ostensible “boyfriend.” Shocking enough on paper, but again, par for the Forsman course. Two hopelessly broken souls come together and bring out the worst in each other. Why not? It’s a premise that got him all the way to Netflix last time around.

But wait! There is, as it turns out, a twist. And it’s actually a damn good one — so good that I won’t “spoil” it, except to say that when Christine finally works up the nerve to track Joshua down in person, she learns that when it comes to the world of online perverts, well — there’s always a bigger fish. And herein lies  Slasher‘s biggest opportunity — unfortunately, as events play out, it turns out to be a missed one.

For a good chunk of the “run time” here, Forsman really does throw a spanner into the works. Things could go in any number of directions. We’re thrust, at the 2/3 mark of the story, into the unknown. What will happen next is anyone’s guess. Christine’s bitten — or cut — off more than she can chew. All bets are off,and while I’ll grant you that the inherently conservative and moralistic undercurrent here — “following your own desires is just gonna get you in trouble” — is problematic, maybe even borderline-offensive, at least Forsman doesn’t take the easy route of info-dumping some clumsy backstory onto his protagonist, of “explaining away” her fetish/need by means of some childhood abuse or trauma . Okay, yes, her relationship with her mother is far from healthy (another point of mutual understanding she shares with Joshua), but Christine is who and what she is, and now that we know that, can her emotional survival be negotiated in a world specifically aligned against that very possibility? That strikes me as a very worthy and challenging question.  On the other hand, though, “no, it can’t, so don’t even try or you’re doomed?” That’s a gutless and far too easily-arrived-at answer.

And “gutless” is the operative word for Slasher‘s final act. The inexorable tug begins almost as soon as the plot twist I was just praising runs its course — the magnetic pull toward what we’ve come, in fairly short order, to recognize as a typical Forsman ending. And he just can’t resist. Maybe it’s not even realistic to expect him to yet — after all, in the scheme of things, his career’s just a handful of years old. But the simple fact that he shows, just pages earlier, that he’s willing to at least entertain the possibility of breaking his self-cast mold demonstrates that he recognizes it exists, and that some sort of way out of it must exist, as well. Then he seems to shrug his shoulders and admit that whatever that way may be, he just simply hasn’t found it yet. For the time being, at least, he’s a cartoonist who no doubt excels at taking readers out of their comfort zones — but clearly isn’t ready step out of his own. I know I talked a big game about keeping things “spoiler-free” just a few minutes ago, but at this point is it even a shock to find out that Christine’s story ends just as The End Of The Fucking World does? Just as I Am Not Okay With This does? Nah — I didn’t think so.

As stated at the outset, Slasher at least leaves the reader with many questions to think about — unfortunately, the biggest and most pressing of them is “When is Charles Forsman going to take the leap forward that he’s been on the cusp of for some time now”? It very nearly happens here — but he pulls his knife back at the very same moment Christine thrusts hers in for the final time.

 

 

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 12/10/2017 – 12/16/2017

This was a pretty solid week of reading, with short graphic novels being something of a running theme —

I Am Not Okay With This is the latest release from Charles Forsman, and a much-hyped one at that, being something of a conceptual and thematic follow-up to The End Of The Fucking World, in that both works focus on the interior thought processes, and external actions, of alienated youth. Our protagonist this time out, an Olive Oyl doppleganger named Sydney, ups the ante in that she possesses obliquely-defined mental powers, but it’s her home and social lives (her father recently passed away from an apparent suicide, she has unrequited romantic feelings for her slightly older best friend, her sexuality seems either fluid or unresolved) that are of far more interest, and her “superhuman” abilities actually function as something of an unnecessary crutch in the scheme of things.

Which isn’t to say that they don’t play a crucial role in a few scenes, of course — especially at the end — but every time they’re trotted out you honestly have to wonder whether or not Forsman’s decision to include them in the proceedings actually lessens the impact of his story a bit, since using a gun or somesuch would have provided a far more powerful, and relatable, punch (okay, shot) to the gut. I’m not saying this represents a “deal-breaker” or anything of the sort, never fear, but read it with this in mind and see if you don’t agree with me — and for the record, I think reading it is something you absolutely should do, as Forsman’s handle on young people adrift both in the world and in relation to themselves is still second to none, and his cartooning skills are only sharpening and refining themselves with each successive project. Even with one semi-major strike against it, then, this is still fifteen bucks (from Fantagraphics or your LCS, less if you find it elsewhere) well spent.

Fifteen bucks is also the price of admission for Retrofit/Big Planet’s new English-language reissue of Yuichi Yokoyama’s 2015 book Iceland, and to call this a fascinating study in contrasts is surely an understatement, as this “neo-manga” tale juxtaposes languid pacing and sparse, economical dialogue with breakneck, surreal imagery. Most of the central characters in this search-and-rescue yarn set in frozen northern climes were apparently introduced in an earlier Yokoyama comic, but it doesn’t really matter as you’re plunged in at the deep end trying to find a way to get your head above water regardless of whether or not you “know” who these people are.

Now, that’s no small task in a world this kinetic and stylized, but it definitely makes for a heady, if disorienting, reading experience, and Yokoyama’s mastery of the relationship between space, sound and imagery — and the sense of time and its passage these three elements create on the page — is consistently breathtaking. And trust me when I say that’s not a term I use lightly. It may take a few pass-throughs before you fully absorb everything that’s happening in this book, but Yokoyama richly rewards the time you invest engaging with his singular, visionary material.

While we’re on the subject of reissued works — and reissued 2015 works at that — Uncivilized Books has just rolled a new, squarebound edition of Kevin Czap’s Futchi Perf off the presses, and this “sub-Utopian” tale of a highly diverse, forward-thinking future iteration of Cleveland is definitely worth getting lost in. These loosely-connected vignettes are exploding with precisely the sort of energy that one would expect from a cultural revolution that begins in a queer-friendly basement punk show and spills out, memetically, into all aspects of daily life, and Czap’s idiosyncratic, vibrant cartooning style is probably the only way to effectively communicate the youthful, free-wheeling ethos of his worldview. Optimistic without being naive, starry-eyed without being blinding, this is a book like none ever imagined before, and will leave you feeling a heck of a lot better about youth culture than you probably thought possible — even (hell, maybe especially) if you’re part of it. Fork over your $15.95 and prepare to be impressed. Available at http://www.uncivilizedbooks.com/comics/futchi_perf.html

On the opposite end of the optimism spectrum we’ve got Sean Knickerboker’s debut graphic novel, Killbuck. This coming-of-age tale involving a trio of friends living in an impoverished rural community is a smart and heartfelt examination of the different roads people take when presented with similar life situations, and is remarkably free of both judgment and sentiment, even though neither would feel out of place. Knickerbocker’s dialogue is concise and authentic, his illustrations raw and expressive, and his palette of blacks, whites, blues, and grays well-considered and emotive. This is one cartoonist very much worth keeping an eye on, as he displays tremendous confidence and visual storytelling skill for a a guy only now coming into his own. Get yourself a copy by sending ten bucks to http://onepercentpress.bigcartel.com/product/sean-knickerbocker-killbuck-graphic-novel

And that should about do it for now. More interesting stuff is one the way to yours truly as we speak, so let’s meet up again in seven days to hash it all over. See you then!