Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bryant Has Issues #4

I debated not putting a comics column out this week, because there was nothing Stephen King-related that got released.  However, what the hey, it's Sunday afternoon and I've got nothing better to do at the moment.  Plus, there were some good books this week, and I feel like pecking out a few words about them.

You might recall that in Bryant Has Issues #2, I raved a bit about how great I thought Saga Chapter One was.  Well, this week, the second issue hit shelves, and it's just as great as the first one was.

What to say about this book...?  Part of my goal in writing these columns is to introduce new people to comic books they might not otherwise hear about, or might not consider buying even if they have heard about them.  My natural inclination is to not give away any plot details that would reasonably be considered spoilers, but at the same time, if I'm trying to get new people to jump onboard, does it make sense to ignore that inclination to some degree and spoil certain things for the greater good?

I believe in compromise, and in that spirit I'm going to do my best to end up halfway between those two urges.  With that in mind, let's have a look at a new character introduced in this issue:

The Stalk

This is The Stalk, another Freelancer -- i.e., a bounty hunter -- who has been hired to track down and subdue Alana and Marko and their newborn child, Hazel.  I could tell you more about The Stalk, but if I did, you might hate me for it.  So instead, I'll tell you this: when I first laid eyes on The Stalk, the side of my brain that sounds a lot like Butt-head said to itself, "Uhhh, huhuhuhuhuhuh, pale blond chicks who aren't wearing a shirt are cool." And then the side of my brain that sounds a lot like Beavis said, "Um ... why doesn't this chick have any arms?  And I looked at her face for a second and something seems weird about it, too."

Like I said, I could give you more details about The Stalk.  But I'm not going to, partly because I don't want to think about them any more than is absolutely necessary.  In lieu of that, I'll simply say curse you, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples: you are obviously terrible, terrible people.

And I love you for it, damn you.

So what else is going on in this issue?  The slacker-looking bounty hunter The Will continues to be addressed as The Will (i.e., someone will answer a directive from him by saying "Certainly, The Will."), which I find grammatically charming; a sentient sea horse appears; Alana tells Marko a secret she's never told anyone else before; the robot (?) with a television for a head has an odd reaction when books are mentioned; and, in the final page, we finally meet the "Horrors" who have been referred to several times by this point.  They are, indeed, Horrible.

This is a great new book, and now comes the point in time when I begin fearing the arrival of each new issue, because surely it can't stay this good, right?  Right?!?

If Vaughan's reputation is to be believed, then it seems that it probably CAN stay this good, and if that's the case with Saga, then you are advised to hop on board this train RIGHT NOW.

Another #2 this month is anything but a Number Two, and I'm referring to Saucer Country #2, and that was my not-overly-witty way of saying that this new issue is not a piece of shit.  Not that I was worried, because the premiere issue was excellent.  But you just never know when a new series -- be it in comics or on television -- is going to go down the tubes not long after it begins.

It certainly did not happen with Saucer Country this month.  Instead, things quickly become even more interesting: you find out something about Arcadia's ex-husband which indicates Michael might be way more important to the story than it first appeared he would be.  Meanwhile, Chloe and Harry struggle with what the Governor told them at the end of the first issue, and do so in a way that is both believable and promises to provide compelling drama in future issues.  The professor who is apparently communing with aliens -- who appear to him as the human figures whose images were sent into the great black beyond as part of the Voyager spacecraft -- also becomes a more important part of the story, and there are hypnotisms, Twilight Zone references, and at least one anal sex discussion.

The writer here is Paul Cornell, and the second issue makes it clear that he has a good grasp on the story he wants to tell here.  The second issue doesn't advance the story all that much, but it advances the characters' standing within that story quite a bit: we know a lot more about how each of them will stand in relation to it now than we did beforehand.  In my mind, this promises something that could end up being very, very good indeed.  It's been quite a while since anything scratched that X-Files itch for me; this one might be able to get the job done.

The art by Ryan Kelly continues to be excellent as well.  It is serious in tone and realistic and depiction, but with a light enough touch that it never feels overbearing, and also light enough that occasional comedic moments can shine through without seeming out of place.

As with Saga, I'm very much looking forward to #3.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 #8: Apart (of Me) Part One

Compared with the hot newness of Saga and Saucer Country, the latest issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 can only feel like a letdown, but that's an unfair reaction, and I mention it only so I can point out a bit of the quandary that comes with writing about comics.  It can be quite easy to take old, familiar titles for granted.  It feels a bit odd to me to be using the phrase "old, familiar" in reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but facts is facts, and it is a fact: Buffy Summer is twenty years old this summer.  She's part of the establishment.

So, yeah, I tend to take her for granted, and it's way easier for me to get enthusiastic about brand-spankin'-new titles than about this one, but don't let that fool you: this is still a very good comic book, and while its appeal is almost certainly limited to people who were fans of the television series, that is totally fine by me.

In this issue, Spike and Buffy pay an amusing visit to Andrew, who apparently sleeps in an original-series Star Trek shirt (the blue science-officer one, same as Spock would wear).  Andrew answers some questions that Buffy needs answered quite badly, and those answers prompt her to take Andrew onboard Spike's magnificent airship -- which, for those of you who came in late, is crewed by man-size bugs -- where the dorky former villain immediately harangues them all about various ways in which the ship is kinda like Star Trek.  When the series goes to geeky places like this, it doesn't always work, but it works here.

Meanwhile, something weird is going on with Xander, and something weirder is going on with Miranda, the cop who met a bad end a few issues back.

I don't entirely understand the cover art.  Who's the chick with the mohawk?  She looks like Buffy, but is not -- as far as I can tell -- Buffy, or any other character in this issue.

I enjoyed this issue a lot, though, and am still firmly onboard for the series as a whole.


This isn't out yet, but it's on the way.  That's right, there's a Star Trek: The Next Generation crossover with Doctor Who landing this summer, and the third issue will apparently also feature the original series Trek characters.

This issue's cover immediately became one of my favorite things ever.


That's it for floppies this week, but let's move along to talk briefly about the trades I've read recently.

I say "briefly" because I'm going to force myself into brevity.  The tendency is to be considerably more than brief, because what I've got on tap this time is something so good that brevity simply isn't good enough.

And yet, brief I must be, because this is not the place to be expansive.

But does Alan Moore's run on The Saga of the Swamp Thing deserve expansiveness?

Fuckin'-A it does.

I became an Alan Moore fan sometime a bit before the end of the previous millennium, and it happened the way a lot of things in life happened: coincidentally.  Prompted by the first X-Men movie, I made the conscious decision to start reading comic books again, which was something I had not done since childhood.  So I went to my local comics shop, stood there looking confused, and when asked told the clerk that I had no idea what to buy.

"Ever read The Dark Knight Returns?" he asked.  I had not, but once I had read it, I knew that I was once again hooked on comics, at least as a concept.  So I went back and asked, "What else have you got that's approximately as good as The Dark Knight Returns?'

He had Watchmen, and that particular book has since become one of my absolute favorite stories in any medium.  After reading The Dark Knight Returns, which I loved, I felt no particular urge to read Frank Miller obsessively, but after Watchmen, I definitely felt the need to read more Moore.

As you'd expect, this led to  V For Vendetta, which led to From Hell, which led to picking up new issues of Top Ten and Tomorrow Stories and Promethea and Tom Strong and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as they were happening.

It also led to The Saga of the Swamp Thing, but for reasons that pass understanding, I never actually read any of the collections of that comic; I bought them, but never read them.  Why?  Beats me.

When Scott Snyder -- whom I'd become a fan of thanks to American Vampire -- began his run on the relaunched version of Swamp Thing last year, I realized that reading Moore's run writing the character was WAY past overdue.  And yet, I still didn't begin reading them until about a month ago, which goes to show that whereas you can certainly teach a procrastinating old dog the error of his ways, you can't make him correct himself immediately.

Having now read all the way through the forty-five issues* that comprise Moore's Swamp Thing, I can say without a doubt that while it might not be quite the equal of Moore's best work, it is close enough that drawing a distinction really is irrelevant.  Straddling the line between horror comic and superhero comic with a deftness that really ought to be impossible, Moore and the various artists -- including Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben, amongst others -- who worked on the title during those years full pull off amazing feat after amazing feat after amazing feat.  This is grimy, nasty, icky stuff; it is perverse and twisted and beautiful and disturbing and uplifting and funny and sad, and any number of other adjectives would be just as appropriate as those are.

(* -- That number is actually forty-six, as he also scripted an issue of DC Comics Presents that was a Superman/Swamp Thing crossover.  However, you can change the number back to forty-five if you want, because #62 was written by Moore.  And if you are a real stickler, you can take it back to forty-four, as #59 was scripted by someone else ... although Moore was apparently involved in the plotting.  Don't worry too much about any of this, though: both issues are fantastic, even if someone else did the writing.)

Part of what amazes about the series is the knowledge that Moore's Watchmen was produced during the same time, and in fact, you can feel it happening as you read Swamp Thing.  Both series reached their ends at roughly the same time: the final issue of Swamp Thing (the final one with Moore, at least -- it did continue with Rick Veitch as writer) was the September 1987 issue, and Watchmen ended a month later.  Watchmen, of course, deals with existential and metaphysical issues, and while that element was present in Moore's Swamp Thing almost from his first issue onboard, he steadily ramped those elements up over time.  You can also feel Moore's conflicted feelings about the idea of "superheroes" at work in Swamp Thing from time to time, and by the end of Moore's work with the character, Swamp Thing feels like a spiritual brother to Watchmen's Doctor Manhattan.

The urge to write about Moore's work is steadily becoming stronger, and recently I created a new blog -- one devoted to works of fantasy in prose, film, comics, music, and even "real" life -- that eventually will serve as an outlet for me to do so.  That time has not yet arrived, but when it does, I'll keep you in the loop.

For now, let it suffice to say that Alan Moore's The Saga of the Swamp Thing is -- unsurprisingly -- one of the best things I've ever read in comics.  And to date, it is the ONLY comic that succeeded in bringing tears to my eyes.other words, it comes with the highest recommendation I can possibly give.

Final note about Swamp Thing: within these issues, the character of John Constantine -- who would later get his own series, Hellblazer (which is still running today) -- makes his first appearance.  That's right: Alan Moore created John Constantine.

We'll wrap things up with a gallery of a few of my favorite bits of art from the series.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #27 pages 3 and 4 [art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #29 pages 22 and 23 [art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #30 page 16 [art by Stephen Bissette and Alfredo Alcala]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #31 (not actually #31, but Annual #2) page 32 [art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #34 cover [art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #34 pages 6 and 7 [art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #38 page 19 [art by Stan Woch and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #39 page 11 [art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #48 page 7 [art by John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #50 [art by Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #52 page 20 [art by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #53 page 15 [art by John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #53 page 24 [art by John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #55 page 17 [art by Rick Veitch, Alfredo Alcala, and John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #56 page 7 [art by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #60 pages 7 and 8 [art by John Totleben]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #61 page 6 and 7 [art by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #61 page 9 [art by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #63 pages 2 and 3 [art by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala]

The Saga of the Swamp Thing #64 cover


  1. Hey, Stephen King buddy! I gave you a blog award.