Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/06/2018 – 05/12/2018

This past Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, but given that my main goal with these weekly columns is to inform you, the budget-conscious comics consumer, what’s worth spending your money on (or not), it seems counter-productive to waste much time discussing shit that you don’t have to pay for, so we’ll just stick with books that came out that had an actual price tag attached to them, with one (sort of) exception —

Lawrence “RawDog” Hubbard is back,  along with latter-day sidekick/collaborator William Clausen, for Real Deal #8, this time published under Fantagraphics’ auspices, and while the late, great H.P. “R.D. Bone” McElwee will always be missed, this balls-out extravaganza of urban ultra-violence is still pretty much my favorite comic book in the entire goddamn universe. This time out, psychotic hood antihero G.C. meets a Pacino-style version of the devil in Hubbard’s main feature, “Psyops,” while Clausen’s long-running backup strip “Planet Dregs” comes to a suitably nonsensical conclusion at the rear of the book. Yeah, eight bucks is a lot to pay for what you get here — but what you get here can’t be found anywhere else, so there’s that. Still, I notice the old “More Slaughter For Your Dollar” tag-line is missing from this one, probably due to the hefty amount of cash it now costs. The distinctly “low-fi” vibe this book has always had is still here, though, and that’s what counts — this is the sort of thing that looks and reads like the product of truly fevered minds who are only semi-literate and never took an art class, but are still bound and determined to expunge their demons out onto paper nevertheless. As raw, immediate — and, yes, real — as anything you’re gonna find on your LCS shelves this year. Or any other.

Moving on to stuff that’s actually professionally produced, Image released Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s Barrier #1 in two formats this week — as an FCBD offering (yup, this is that “exception” I was talking about), and as a five-dollar book with  heavy cardstock covers, glossy paper, and a few sketchbook “process pages” at the back. Both are designed to be flipped over and read horizontally, as they were originally formatted to fit computer and tablet screens when this series ran on the Panel Syndicate website, and much like this duo’s prior collaboration, The Private Eye, I find it survives the “transition” to an actual, physical format quite well, and that colorist supreme Muntsa Vicente’s work looks a hell of a lot better in the real world than it does the digital one. But enough about the production particulars, how’s the comic?

Vaughan’s script is more timely and topical than ever (this was released online “way back” in 2015), focused as it is on the clash-of-cultures that ensues when a Texas ranch owner and an undocumented Honduran immigrant are forced to trust each other after being abducted by an alien spacecraft, and while a good half the book is presented in Spanish without cop-out translations, Martin’s art is clear and clean and polished enough that you won’t have much doubt as to what’s going on. For a five-part series (that the creators have stated will never be collected in trade, so grab it now if you want it) the pacing is remarkably languid, but that’s by no means a bad thing, as it lends a cinematic sensibility to the proceedings with lots of close-up “establishing shots,” and allows for some supremely solid character development while utilizing very little actual dialogue. No “info-dumps” here, then, but you get a really solid feel for these people and the worlds they come from before they find themselves whisked away toward another one. I liked this book a lot — so much so, in fact, that I sprung for the $4.99 “deluxe” version.

You know what, though? Image wasn’t done with this series this week, and neither are we —

That’s because Wednesday last also saw the release of Barrier #2, this time priced at $3.99 (it’s got the same high-quality covers and paper, but fewer pages), and we’re gonna keep getting an issue a week for the next three weeks, until the whole thing’s wrapped up. This installment was every bit as good as the first (and every bit as bilingual, so get your translator app of choice ready if you must — although, again, I didn’t feel it necessary in the least despite the fact that I know just about no Spanish) and ups the “high-stakes game of survival” vibe considerably. Vaughan’s efficient, economic scripting suits the overall ethos of the series quite well, but who are we kidding? It’s Martin who does all the real heavy storytelling lifting here (with more-than-able assists from Vicente), and that’s reflected in the fact that, with this issue, his name actually appears first on the cover credits, as well it should. And you should — buy it, that is.

Last and least, we come to Sean Murphy’s Batman : White Knight #8, which sees this series — that I was rough on at the outset in my review on this very site — finally, mercifully, come to a conclusion. Most Bat-fans seemed to like this one, but I’m most assuredly not a Bat-fan, so I’m gonna lay out the cold, hard truth for you, which is that this comic sucked from start to finish. Yet another revisionist take on the Dark Knight Detective is probably the last thing the world needs, but this was dull, hackneyed, predictable garbage even by “been there, done that” standards. Yeah, Murphy’s art was nice — as is always the case — and Matt Hollingsworth’s color choices were spot-on if less than adventurous, but the role-reversal that started things off (“psycho” Batman, “good” Joker) is completely undone by the end (as you knew it would be), and what we’re left with is little more than an “alternate universe” version of Gotham City that now has been returned to a status quo very much like the one that prevails in the main “DCU,” barring a few largely cosmetic differences at the margins. So, yeah — all that for nothing, and DC adds insult to injury by having the nerve to charge $4.99 for this final issue simply because it includes a few extra pages at the end entirely devoted to setting the stage for a sequel that no one in their right mind would touch with a ten-foot Batpole. I still like Punk Rock Jesus more than I probably should given that on second reading you can really see everything that Murphy has hidden up his sleeves in order to pull off his various storytelling tricks, but this series was so effing bad that I think it’s going to be a good long while before I trust him in the singular role of writer-artist again.

And with that, we’re done for another week. The last few days have seen pretty full mailboxes at the Carey/Young household, as a number of cartoonists have been sending me their wares for review, so expect a focused column looking at some of the best of what I’ve received next time out. Hope to see you then!