Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #1

This is the first-ever entry in a new column, wherein I will wax poetical about the comic books I've been reading lately.  It'll probably be a monthly column, but bi-weekly is also a possibility.

Let's start with a justification/accusation.  I'll imagine an outraged reader.  Let's call him "Vinnie Vomitt."  Vinnie says, "Hey, dude, ain't this a blog about Stephen King?!?  I wanna read about Stephen mother-scratchin' King, then!  Don't talk ta me 'bout no funny-books!"  He goes on to say other things which make him sound remarkably like a '40s-era hood, but they're not as quotable.

My retort: Vinnie, you don't exist, so be quiet.  Also, there is no way to tell the tale of my history as a reader without getting comic books involved in the telling.  I was taught to read by my mother, who -- partially, at least (she read me all kinds of books, mostly Little Golden Books and other kid's tales, but with a few comics thrown into the mix) -- used Spider-Man comics to get the job done.  I grew up loving ole Webhead, and Superman, and Batman, and Plastic-Man, and Star Wars comics, and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo-Crew, and so forth.  We never had enough money to buy many comics, but I would read as many of them as possible in grocery stores, or gas stations, or K-Mart, or wherever I and comics happened to be co-existing for a long enough amount of time to permit it.

It was this instinctual love for comic books that, one day in 1982, led me to unwittingly read parts of something called Creepshow while my mom and I were in a drug store.  It was a weird-looking comic book, bigger than normal and kinda scary-looking.  Frankly, I have no idea what could possibly have made me want to pick it up and start reading; but, whatever the reason, I did it.  When I got to the part where the dead guy had made a "birthday cake" out of a severed head, I stopped reading ... and, that night, started having nightmares.

As far as I can recall, that was the first substantial exposure I ever had to Stephen King.  (I think I saw some photos from The Shining in an issue of Starlog once, but I can't swear that that was earlier, and anyways, they were only photos of Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall, whereas this was "Father's Day"!)  I didn't become a fan of his then, nor the next year; that didn't happen until 1990.  But some seeds were sown that day.

So, you see, these things are related for me.

Plus, sometimes comics based on Stephen King's books and stories come out, so this'll be a good opportunity to write about those.

My intention is that this be a relatively brief monthly column, mainly just an excuse to post a few photos, maybe get a few people interested in some cool comics they've never heard of.  It'll focus mostly on new issues -- "floppies," they're called, if you're really cool -- but will also take stock of whatever collected volumes I've read lately that I feel like holding court on for a paragraph or two.

We'll start with the floppies, and move to the collected volumes afterward.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you've likely heard me mention Joe Hill before.  Statistical fact: I mention Joe Hill in five out of every four of my posts.  That might be slightly exaggerated.  Slightly.

Anyways, Clockworks is the penultimate story arc in the Locke & Key series, and #5 is the penultimate issue in the Clockworks arc.  So you probably don't want to start reading the series with this issue.  You might be roughly 100% lost.

So as to not spoil anything for potential future readers, I'll simply restrict myself to saying this: this is a really good issue, and I can't wait for the next one.

And this: if you've not read Locke & Key yet, I recommend that the collected version of Vol. 1 (Welcome to Lovecraft) be placed WAY up on your list of top reading priorities.

The Jason Ciaramella-written sequel to Joe Hill's short story comes to a conclusion in issue #4.

I have loved this series.  The original short story is one of the best stories in an awesome collection (20th Century Ghosts), and in his comics continuation, Ciaramella took the bleak emotional landscape of that story and ran with it.

Until he fell down and skinned his knee in issue #4 and stopped running.

Issue #4 isn't what I'd call bad, exactly, but it was a big letdown.  Part of the appeal of the short story was how utterly uncompromising it was.   The same was true of the first three issues.  Issue #4, to me, felt like a complete cop-out of a resolution.  And, ultimately, because of that, I reluctantly have to advise anyone who is a big fan of the original short story to stay away from these comics.  They were great for three-fourths of the time, but the landing was decidedly NOT stuck, and as a result I don't think the comics do anything but harm to the original story.

A shame, that.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #7

One of the comics that is most responsible my for my current interest in comics is Marvel's The Dark Tower, for obvious reasons.  The second is probably Dark Horse's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which began as Season Eight, a direct continuation of the television series written by Joss Whedon himself.  No way I could pass that up when it was announced, and while I had occasional issues with it, it was a solid enough continuation of one of my favorite television shows that I enjoyed the hell out of it.

So when Season Nine started, I was on board immediately.  Whedon -- who's been busy making a little movie called The Avengers -- is no longer writing the series personally, but his go-to guy, Andrew Chambliss, has been doing a terrific job scripting the stories (which I'm assuming came from Whedon).

As the cover artwork suggests, this issue focuses -- thought not in the precise manner the art suggests -- on the relationship between Buffy and Spike, which has changed quite a bit since the end of the seventh season, and seems primed to change even further.  Shippers will be pleased by this, and so was I.  Against all odds, this series continues to be quite good month after month.

I love comics, and would -- given time and money enough -- read five times as many of them as I read now.  However, due to budgetary considerations, I don't typically just dive into a new series unless there is a compelling reason for me to do so.  That usually means that I'm following a writer I like (Stephen King or Alan Moore, or Joe Hill or Scott Snyder, or Joss Whedon), but sometimes it's just because I like the concept.  A good example of that latter one would be the current run on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man featuring the new Spidey, Miles Morales.

Another good example is Saucer Country, which just started.  I bought it for two reasons: I read a preview of it in a free comic and liked what I read, and I still have an affection for anything with flying saucers and aliens in it.

Arcadia Alvarado, the Governor of New Mexico, is abducted by aliens.  That's no spoiler, because it -- apparently -- takes place before the issue even begins.  This happens a couple of days before she makes the decision as to whether or not she is going to run for President.  Complicating matters: a troubled relationship with her ex-husband, who was abducted alongside her.  The both of them seem to be quite disturbed by their experience, possibly in ways they are not even aware of.  Meanwhile, a saucer expert -- who is not involved with either of the other two characters in any way, but almost certainly will be at some point soon -- is suspended from his University teaching job due to a book he's written about U.F.O.s.  Oh, and he seems to be receiving information from the aliens via hallucinations of two naked humans, whom only he can see or hear.

I enjoyed the hell out of this issue.  It's written by Paul Cornell, who has previously written for Doctor Who (including numerous novels, and several top-notch episodes of the new series).  He also wrote a non-fiction book called X-treme Possibilities: A Paranoid Rummage Through the X-Files, so THAT'S something I'm going to need to track down.

I also liked the art by Ryan Kelly quite a bit.  I don't know his work; he may be a newcomer.  Either way, he seems to know what he's doing.

As I've seen it referred to, the vibe put off by this first issue is of a series that has the potential to be The West Wing meets The X-Files, and that, to me, is a promising thing indeed.

This is one to keep an eye on, folks.

Speaking of Scott Snyder, he's 75% of the reason why I started buying the New 52 version of Swamp Thing (Alan Moore's the other 25%, since the Swamp Thing comics he wrote in the '80s are amongst his finest works and got me interested in the character initially).  Have I regretted following Snyder to this new book?

I have not.

Since Snyder took over the series on issue #1 of the New 52 reboot by DC, he's done an amazing thing: he's created a Swamp Thing series in which Swamp Thing could be almost totally absent from issues 1-7, and yet it not hurt the series at all.  It's been focused on Alec Holland instead, and while you just know that eventually, he's going to turn into the Swamp Thing again, Snyder has made that journey so interesting that it hasn't been tedious in the least.

Providing a major assist in that regard has been artist Yanick Paquette, who has been knocking 'em out of the park one after another after another.  Issue #7 is no exception in that regard.

I don't want to say anything about how this ends, except this: when the last two pages rolled around, they were so awesome that I literally -- and I mean "literally" literally -- did a fist-pump to indicate how awesome it was.  There may have even been a "woo-hoo!" in there somewhere.

If you've got any love for this character at all, and haven't been reading this new series, you're doing yourself a disservice.

And speaking of Swamp Thing, the reason I started buying Animal Man is because the two series share plot elements and are going to be doing a big crossover event this summer.

See how reading comics is like doing drugs, kids?  Turns out, one typically isn't enough, and will quickly lead you to another one, and another one, and another one.  You start reading American Vampire because Stephen King is writing five issues, and you end up... Oh, let's not think about it.

Gets worse, though, because Animal Man is awesome, and is written by Jeff Lemire, who is talented enough that I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to check out some of his other work pretty soon.

I should confess that I'd never even heard of Buddy "Animal Man" Baker prior to this New 52 relaunch.  Apparently, Grant Morrison did a notable run with the character in the '90s; it was lost on me.

What's going on in this series right now is that Animal Man and his family -- he is married and has two kids, one of whom has his powers (this is a recent discovery) and is potentially WAY more powerful than Buddy himself -- are on the run from zombie-like horrors that serve a powerful force called The Rot.  This is the same menace that Alec Holland has been facing over in Swamp Thing.

In this issue, the Bakers continue to flee.  They are accompanied by Buddy's mother-in-law, and also a talking cat who is a powerful guide sent from the Red (a force not unlike the Green from Swamp Thing).

This all sounds very intricate, and it is, but only because I'm not explaining it well.  So, do yourself a favor and just buy the first volume when it comes out in trade format this summer.  You'll enjoy it, and if you've been reading Swamp Thing -- or plan to -- then this series serves as a terrific complement.

Following up on two comments I made above (recall that I partially learned to read on Spider-Man comics, and that this new version is a series I dove into simply because I like the concept), I can tell you this: I'm really enjoying Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, and have no problems accepting Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

In this issue, Miles' uncle shows up and starts making a nuisance of himself.  So does a big tattooed thug who calls himself the Scorpion.

I don't have much to say about any of this, except that it's really good.  I've always felt guilty for not reading Bendis's earlier Ultimate Spider-Man work, and I'm glad I'm making up for it now.

"Daddy Issues" Part Two
So, yeah, I'm a Buffy fan, and -- you guessed it -- that means I'm also an Angel fan.  Just as he did with Buffy, Whedon wrote a really good continuation of Angel called After the Fall.

Angel & Faith continues that story, and just as Andrew Chambliss is doing a really good job writing Season 9 of Buffy, Christos Gage is doing really solid work on Angel & Faith (which is, for all intents and purposes, Season 7 of Angel).

This issue focuses a good bit on the relationship between Angel and Drusilla, and I liked it a lot.  Most months, I've enjoyed Angel & Faith even more than I've enjoyed Season 9 of Buffy, and this one was no exception.  That's no poor reflection on Buffy, either; Angel & Faith has just been a really solid comic month after month.

"Operation:Annihilate!" Part 2

I'm a life-long Star Trek fan, but I don't typically read Star Trek comicsI read some in the '80s, and enjoyed them, but they never seemed essential to me.

However, I was very intrigued by the idea of this new series, which is a continuation of the 2009 reboot movie.  It's even better than that, though: the concept is that the comics are retellings of episodes from the original series, but set in this new continuity/universe.

Pretty cool, right?

Well, sadly, the comics have been a bit of a disappointment thus far.  They haven't been bad, but they haven't exactly made me excited to read them, either.

Part of the problem early on was the art, which tried real hard to capture the faces of the 2009 movie's cast, and frequently failed BIG-time.  The series has gotten a new artist since then, and improvements have been made, so maybe things are looking up.

Another part of the problem has been that while the writers have taken the opportunity to use the new-universe setting to deviate from the plots of the episodes, they haven't been all that adept at doing anything interesting with the idea.  In the two-issue rewoking of "Operation: Anihilate!," the big change is that Captain Kirk's brother survives, whereas in the original episode, he dies.  Okay, fine; but nothing is done with that concept that is particularly compelling, or interesting.  It's an interesting concept, but a concept on its own is not enough.

I'm going to stick with the series, but I can't honestly say I'm getting much out of it.


Alright, that's it for floppies.  Let's move on to recent graphic novels I've read.  I say "graphic novels," but the plurality is non-factual.

Stephen King readers may well be interested in this book, not only because it is awesome -- and it is definitely awesome -- but also because, as the title may have indicated to you, it is a bit of an homage to H.P. Lovecraft.

Actually, it's more than an homage: it's a straight-up journey into Lovecraft's mythos.  I say "straight-up," but that, too, is non-factual: this is actually a snaking, devious, twisted tale, as you might expect from Moore.  It's not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the easily offended, but if those labels don't apply, and if you enjoy a good horror story, I highly advise that you check this one out.

The graphic novel collects issues 1-4 of the miniseries, which itself was a sequel to the two-part miniseries The Courtyard.   Time now for a wee history lesson.  It's not essential, but it'll make me feel better to dispense it, so here goes:

The Courtyard was a prose story Alan Moore wrote in 1994.  It appeared in an H.P. Lovecraft tribute collection called The Starry Wisdom.  A decade later, in 2003, Avatar Press got Moore to agree to allow a comics adaptation of the story; it was adapted by Antony Johnston, who scripted it (following Moore's story VERY closely and using Moore's prose in many places), and by Jacen Burrows, who did a phenomenal job with the artwork.

Cut to 2010, when Moore himself wrote the comics sequel, Neonomicon, and used Burrows as the artist again.

So, this collected edition consists of The Courtyard #1-2, and Neonomicon #1-4.

Here's what it's about: two FBI agents are investigating the same case another FBI agent was investigating at the time he went crazy and ended up in an asylum.  He's now prone to speaking nothing but gibberish and committing various atrocities, and they are trying to figure out how and why that happened.

Here's the thing: you already know that this is a Lovecraft pastiche, so you also already know that some bad stuff is going to happen.

And some really bad stuff happens in this book.  If my mother had caught me reading this when I was twelve, she might have had me committed.  Hell, if she caught me reading it now, she might still try.  There is one sequence in particular in the second chapter of Neonomicon that is easily the most frightening and repellent thing I have ever read in a comic.  The same scenario extends into Chapter Three (that's issue #3, for those of you who, like myself, enjoy the original numbering), and somehow becomes both comic and bizarrely touching.  This, to me, is an accomplishment that is nothing short of magical; which, given that Alan Moore wrote it, is not particularly surprising.

Eventually, I'm going to have more to say about this book.  I can't not do it; it's just too good.  I haven't decided yet whether I'll do that from this blog -- which can, and does, and will continue to, step outside of the King canon from time to time -- or whether I'll just start a Moore-centric blog.

Either way, it's going to happen.



Well, that's all for the first issue of Bryant Has Issues.  Hope you enjoyed it, and I hope it has sparked your interest in one or two or three of the titles I've been reading.

See you next time, True Believers!

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