Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bryant Has Issues #29

This week on Bryant Has Issues, the column continues to have very little to do with Stephen King.  Apologies to all who might theoretically be put off by this.  We are, at the very least, checking in on a few people who have worked in the King-comics-verse: American Vampire writer Scott Snyder, The Man In Black artist Alex Maleev, and The Dark Tower artist Jae Lee.  We're also going to look at the most recent issue of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, who wrote the teleplay for the upcoming Under the Dome premiere.

So not totally free of Stephen King-related content ... just damn, damn close.
  
We'll start with Scott Snyder and Batman #18:



 
On some other level of the Tower, I am independently wealthy.  That version of me, the sonuvabitch, has plenty of time and money and is therefore able to read every halfway-decent comic book that comes out.  He is far and away his comic shop's favorite customer.

He probably gives a shit that Damian Wayne died in Batman Incorporated #8.


Me?  Not so much.  I know virtually nothing about the character, except that he is Batman's son (with Talia al Ghul) and that he was the most recent occupier of the mantle of Robin, the Boy Wonder.  I read an issue of Batman and Robin, which seemed to mostly be his book; I have no idea how it will be impacted by Damian's death.  Part of me hopes the comic will be retitled Batman and Robin.

That other version of me probably has a lot of theories and concerns, but me?  All I really care about is how it will impact Scott Snyder's Batman, and if this latest issue is any indication, it kind of isn't going to impact it much at all.  The cover implies that the issue will focus heavily on Robin's death, but unless I am misremembering things, the names "Damian" and "Robin" are never spoken in the issue at all.

Instead, what we get is a return appearance by Harper Row, the punk-ish young woman from Batman #12 whom many think is going to end up being the next Robin.  That would make a certain amount of sense, even though Scott Snyder has denied it in interviews.  Is he just being cagey?  We'll find out, I guess.

Here, we find out that Harper has -- despite Batman's warnings -- continued to follow the Caped Crusader.  She's worried by what she's seeing: a Batman who is taking risks, who seemingly never rests, and who is putting out the vibe of a man trying to get himself killed.  If you know about Damian, you have enough info to fill in the blanks.

But what if this isn't the case?  What if you are only reading Snyder's comic, and don't follow DC-universe happenings at all and therefore have no idea that Robin has died?

It seems as if that would present a problem, but it actually doesn't.  If you just pick this up after reading Batman #17 (the resolution of the Joker arc), it'll simply read as if Batman in #18 is upset by the events that happened toward the end of #17.  Obviously, Damian/Robin appeared in that issue, and in a few others throughout Snyder's Batman so far, so eventually his absence is going to need to be dealt with in some way.  For now, though, Snyder seems to be trying to keep the presence of Damian (or the presence of the memory of Damian) to a minimum.  I suspect that this means he was not a fan of Damian -- the idea of Bruce having a son is a controversial one within Bat-fan circles -- and is trying to write around the character as much as possible.  That's just speculation on my part.

Either way, this is a pretty good issue.  I like Harper Row as a character, and I hope she will continue to appear.  I'm not sure I want her to be Robin, though; that seems iffy.

The art this issue is supplied not by regular collaborator Greg Capullo, but by Andy Kubert.  He does a good job; I'm not overly fond of the way he depicts Harper in a few panels, but I'm probably just missing Becky Cloonan's art from #12 (still).  Kubert is great at drawing the Bat, though:




That's such a great splash page that it's almost like a parody of a great Batman splash page; so awesome that it nearly collapses into lameness.  It doesn't, though; it's basically just awesome.

For some reason, though, the final eight pages are drawn by Alex Maleev.  Now...I'm aware that comics sometimes feature what is referred to as a "backup story," and here, that appears to be what these final eight pages represent: not only is there a different artist, but the writing is credited not to Snyder, but to Snyder and James Tynion IV (which probably means that Snyder wrote an outline for the story and Tynion wrote the script).  Within the actual comic, though, it just rolls from one page to the next, with no explanation, no transition, no nothing.  It is extremely jarring, and it doesn't work.  It's like if you were watching a movie, and all of a sudden there is an edit, and the same characters are being played by different actors.  Unless the change is itself a part of the story in some way, that's just a bad idea.

It's no better an idea in comics.  It'd be more palatable, though, if I liked Maleev's art.  I don't.  You might recall that I went on and on about how much I disliked his work on the five issues of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Man in Black.  I hated his stuff there, and while it is better here, I still don't like it very much.  I kinda feel bad for slagging on the guy, but hey, what can I say?  Not a fan.

I am very much a fan of Saga, however, and we've got a new issue of that fine, fine title.  Yay!




There are massive events in this issue, some of which resolve a certain character's fate that was left hanging on a metaphorical cliff at the end of #10.  Is it a satisfying resolution?  Is said character alive, or is said character in fact dead as a cat turd?

I'll never tell.  You'll have to read it to find out.

There is also some shockingly foul language in this issue.  Naughty, lewd, sexy foul language, involving one character urging another character to shoot something in a specific place.  It damn near made me blush.

Questions you might theoretically have:

Q:  Does the series preserve its habit of opening with a jaw-dropping splash page?

A:  Yes, it does.

Q:  Is there a line of dialogue that reads "The giant evil space fetus just shot black goo from its eyes!"

A:  Yes, there is.

Q:  Is Fiona Staples' character work perhaps the best in the eleven issues to date?

A:  If not, it's damn close.

Q:  Did you, Bryant Burnette, do an unironic fist-pump of glee at one point, observed only by one of your cats?

A:  Uh... well...

Q:  Is there a pony-sized pet cricket?

A:  Affirmative.

Q:  Does one Saga reader propose to another one in the letters column?

A:  Buy it and find out!






Before Watchmen: Ozymandias reached its conclusion this week.  [Last week, actually, since this post took me an amazing FIVE DAYS to finish writing!]  Spread out over six issues, it re-told us everything about Ozymandias that we already knew, and was therefore a complete waste of time.  There were a few decent scenes here and there, and overall, it wasn't bad; it was just utterly irrelevant.

It has also accomplished the feat of making me actively dislike Jae Lee's art.  I was at one point a fan of his, thanks to his work on The Dark Tower, but Before Watchmen hammered home the things I already didn't like about his style, and now, those things are all I can see in his work.

Thanks, DC!

For the record, I'm referring to Lee's seeming inability to draw more than about one facial expression (dispassionate blankness), and his tendency to want to have seven or eight panels per issue in which a character is glimpsed from a child's-eye viewpoint, towering imperiously over the scene with head jutted forward, eyes narrowed, and mouth pursed.

It was striking the first time I encountered it.  It now seems like a crutch, and a not particularly interesting one, at that.  If Lee can't find a way to vary his style a bit, I am officially uninterested in his work from this point forward.  He'll be heartbroken, I'm sure.

Next up, a couple of Buffyverse titles:






The final issue of Willow finds the titular witch fighting Rack, the evil warlock who appeared at some point during the television series and helped turn her all evil and stuff; I don't remember the details.  It's a decent issue, and a approximately satisfactory wrapup to what was mostly an uninteresting miniseries.  Perhaps it'll read better taken as a whole?  Maybe I'll find out someday; no time soon, though.

Meanwhile, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9, Illyria has lost her powers, Xander is mad at Buffy because Dawn is mortally ill, and Billy the Vampire Slayer finds out more about Buffy's Slayer-powered roommate.

It's not bad.  One of the better issues in recent memory, actually, but I find myself just not caring about it all that much.

*****

We'll close the column out with a look at From Hell #3, which appeared on comics shelves circa December of 1993.  Those of you who have not read From Hell, or who are not interested in reading about it, are excused from class early; see you next time!

Everyone else, saddle up; we're in for a long ride.




We begin with a troika of epigraphs, all of which are fairly baffling.  Let's tackle them one at a time:




What

the

fuck...

?

Pardon me while I consult Google...

Brian Catling's book Thr Stumbling Block, Its Index was (I have discovered) a limited-edition book of twenty prose poems designed to create a sort of word sculpture of different definitions of the idea of "the stumbling block."  I must confess that I do not have the slightest notion of what this has to do with From Hell, Alan Moore, Jack the Ripper, or anything else.

The phrase "stumbling block" is a relatively common one, of course; in terms of how it is used in modern conversation, a stumbling block would be considered to be a metaphorical impediment to progress or success.  Wikipedia's entry on the phrase indicates that it has ancient origins, going back at least as far the Hebrew Bible, where the was apparently a prohibition that specifically forbade placing a block in front of blind people.  I do not immediately know what to make of this.  Let's see if Google can assist...

Hey!  Whattaya know!  Hershey H. Friedman, PhD, wrote an entire article about it: check it out.  The explanation seems to be that this was not so much a specific injunction, but more of a metaphorical one: "don't put a stumbling block in the path of a blind person" meaning that literally, yes, but also meaning, in a more generalized sense, "do not make things more difficult for people who are already disadvantaged."  Doing so was considered to be a sin.

Does this idea have resonance within the context of From Hell?  I'm not sure; I'll try to keep the concept in mind, and make a note of it when and if it pops up in the comic.




Google offered up this Wikipedia page, this article about the unlucky mummy, and not much else.  However, I have the sense that it ties into the notion of Masonry, as well as the general sense fostered so far during From Hell that the world we live in is merely a new shell resting on top of a very old foundation.




What's being pictured there is a phantom, with the word CRIME on its forehead, roaming the streets of London.  Here's a better look at the poem as it appeared in Punch:





The implication of this poem might be lost upon modern audiences, who probably see the word "nemesis" and fill in "enemy."  The original meaning has to do with Nemesis, the Greek goddess of retributive vengeance.  So what the poet seems to be suggesting is that crime is a violent force that is, in this instance, acting on behalf of the social neglect inherent in the slums of London.

The illustrator, John Tenniel, was evidently Punch's chief cartoonist for five decades; he is perhaps best-remembered as the illustrator for Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Given the date of the appearance of "The Nemesis of Neglect," I think it's safe to assume that its publication was at least partially inspired by the Whitechapel murders.

So, with those three epigraphs in mind, let's move on to consider the rest of issue #3.




Didn't take long for that to pay off, did it?  Obviously, if an entire chapter is going to be named "The nemesis of neglect," it means the concept is going to be an important one, so let's continue to bear it in mind.

The opening of the chapter, however, finds us (briefly) in Austria, witnessing...

Well, let's have a look at the rest of the first two pages panel-by-panel (risking copyright violation in the process):


A snowy window pane; what could be going on behind those windows?

Oh... I see...

Moore and Campbell are providing a zoom-in approach here, of the sort you would find in a movie.  There is, in fact, a similar zoom-in during the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.  In both instances, the effect is to make the audience voyeurs; if this all feels mildly sordid, to be peeking in on people in this fashion, it's probably a good thing that you feel that way.

Notice that we are still "looking" through a sheer curtain of some sort?

The curtain has vanished; we are now fully inside the room, seemingly floating in mid-air above the bed of this Austrian couple.

We move closer...

...and still closer, and then...

AGHHH!  Jesus Christ!  (The sudden appearance of this incredibly, monstrously phallic building is disturbing no matter what the situation, but if we remember the extensive lecture Gull gave Netley last issue, then it's obviously even more disturbing.  And what's going on here?  This building, wherever it is, seemingly exists on some sort of bizarre dreamlike plane of existence.)

Evidently, there are Hasidic Jews outside of it.  Okay-yyyy...  The fact that the conjugal grunting is still happening over the top of this scene calls out for interpretation.  We were tightening our focus on the woman's face before the phallic building appeared; does that mean that this scene with the Jews represents her thoughts in some way?

Whatever the case, based on the grunts, things seem to be intensifying; perhaps reaching a conclusion, of some sort...?

We have reached the door of the building, and whoever is doing all that grunting seems to be reaching...

...a release of some sort.  This, obviously, is a highly vaginal bit of imagery: doors, straining toward their opening, with what appears to be blood threatening to issue forth.  Is this birth imagery?



If so, then it is all mixed up with a different type of sexually-related release; based on the dialogue balloon, someone -- and given the context of when this is happening, I think it's reasonable to assume that it's the man, not the woman -- has just reached a climax.

So...

Is this what the woman is thinking/imagining while the man is, uh, finishing?  Or is she perhaps finishing herself?  Either way, the next page begins with us being jerked out of the reverie:




The remaining six panels are a conversation -- and not in English -- between Klara and Alois about whatever has just happened in her mind.  I'm not going to give you those panels, but instead, I'm going to hop onto Google and see if I can find an English translation of what is being said.

"My God.  My God," Klara says, her face in her hands.  "Klara, my dear," Alois says, "what's wrong?  Did I hurt you?"

"No," Klara replies, wiping a tear away.  "No, it wasn't your fault.  I had a vision...a terrible dream."  (What Klara says is that she had an Erscheinung, a shrecklichen Traum.  The Internet informs me that "erscheinung" can mean vision, apparition, phenomenon, visitation, aspect, and epiphany, among other shadings of meaning.  I assume that she means "traum," i.e., "dream," in the sense of having a waking dream.)  She explains: "It was a church, a böse church.  It was in a place full of Jews."  The word böse can have various meanings, ranging from "awful" to "evil" to "nasty" to "malefic."  Which of these does Moore intend?  I am not sure.

Klara continues, "And...the doors, they burst, and it gushed out everywhere.  All the noise, all the Jews...all simply washed away.  It was blood, Alois, they were drowned in blood..."

Alois comforts her, saying, "Take it easy, my dear, don't cry.  It was pure imagination.  Everything is okay.  Everything is okay."

The repetition of "everything is okay" comes over a panel showing Alois's hand on Klara's belly, her lady parts also prominently in the picture.

Did I mention that this is Alois and Klara Hitler we're visiting with?  And that we have, evidently, just witnessed the conception of their son, Adolf?  It's also worth pointing out that the church Klara "sees" is Christchurch in Spitalfields, the very same church Gull and Netley visit in issue #2, which causes Gull to remark on "the throng of Jews by which the area's to this day over-run."  (At least, I think this is meat to be Hawksmoor's Christ Church in Spitalfields.  I cannot swear to it, though, so if anyone knows better, I encourage you to correct me.)

What's the argument here?  I don't think Alan Moore wants us to believe that the conception of Hitler and the murders in Whitechapel had any relation, except in the cosmic sense of being located in roughly the same point in space-time.  And, possibly, to link the vaguely anti-Semitic comments of Gull in #2 with the (possibly anti-Semitic) ones made by Klara here, perhaps as a means of demonstrating that the casualness with which those sentiments were spoken in the 1880s might have something to do with the relative lack of difficulty the Third Reich had in setting up its policies designed to eliminate the race of Jews.  Genocide does not merely begin happening; it is the result of processes that are themselves the results of attitudes, attitudes perhaps not dissimilar to the ones these characters are off-handedly espousing.

I can't speak to Alan Moore's intent in including this brief scene, but I can definitively tell you what I get out of its presence.  Up to this point in the story, we have been reading what has essentially amounted to the origin story of Jack the Ripper.  Or, at least, a possible origin story for Jack the Ripper.  Moore has gradually been building dread over what is coming; something terrible is going to occur in and around the places we have visited thus far.

As far as bloodlettings so, the Whitechapel murders are certainly among the most infamous to occur within modern memory.  And yet, on the same continent, at roughly the same time, an event took place which would have far, far bloodier and more murderous consequences: Adolf Hitler, one of the most genocidal individuals to ever walk the Earth, was squirted out of Alois Hitler's penis and into Klara Hitler's womb, where he grew until it was time for him to emerge.  It is a chilling thought.

The way Moore and Campbell present this -- by reprising the monument-as-phallus motif -- is even  more chilling, in some ways.  If we accept that spires like that one are, indeed, monuments to male potency, and then use the Alois/Klara scene to remind ourselves that every ejaculation carries with it the potential for an Adolf Hitler to be born, how can we ever look at a cityscape in the same way again?

Looking at the world that way is certainly not normal, but what From Hell suggests to me is that the world (meaning human nature) is indifferent to whether we look at it in that way; it simply is what it is, and it is our reaction to it that changes, not the world itself.  Within that context of understanding, a Jack the Ripper -- or, indeed, an Adolf Hitler -- is inevitable; sooner or later, they will emerge, whether we want them to or not.  We may not know who they are; we may not know that it is them being born; but be born they will.

And, standing monument to the urges that produce them, the buildings, created, in some cases, by men who knew full well what they truly represented...

Fun thoughts, no?

We leave Klara in Austria and return to London, where we next get six dialogue-free pages in which we see two very different types of people waking up:




That's Gull arising from his slumber in the center panel, and Polly Nicholls being expelled from hers in the top and bottom panels.  I have to confess, I had no idea what was going on in the non-Gull panels until I read Moore's explanation in his notes.  Apparently, for the cost of a penny, those too destitute to afford any better could pay to sleep sitting upright, with a piece of rope drawn taut across their bodies so as to keep them from slumping over in their sleep.  Come morning, the fine businessman who'd rented them the space would come and let the ropes loose, which, one imagines, did indeed spill all the fine tenants into the floor.

It seems likely that anyone reading these words will find it difficult to put themselves in that position, mentally; paying a penny for the privilege of being bound into place so as not to fall over while asleep.  I can't do it.  I can try, but I suspect I can only get a hundredth of the way there.  
 
Let's give it a shot, though.

First of all, imagine sleeping sitting upright.  Odds are, you've had occasion to do it at some point (in a hospital, perhaps); odds are, you find it incredibly uncomfortable.  Perhaps you nap, but you probably don't sleep, and if you do sleep, you probably do not sleep untroubled.  What would it take for you to subject yourself to that on a nightly basis?  What would it take for you to pay for the privilege of doing so?  Imagine the weariness that would accompany such a life.  You would be perpetually exhausted, perpetually filthy; the stench of such a boarding-house would be colossal.

Why would you not merely sleep on the street somewhere?  Christ, at least you'd get to lay down.

The idea, I imagine, would be that if you are in an establishment where they rope you to the back of a pew so as to keep you from falling over, there is at least a modicum of protection from both the elements and from the types of people who roam the streets at night.  And while there may be only the tiniest amount of dignity in such a situation, a tiny amount is perhaps better than no dignity at all, which is what homelessness must be.  If a penny will buy you a tiny amount of dignity, then I suppose buying that dignity is worth even literally your last penny.

I hope I never find out.

Capmbell's art is interesting during these six pages.  You can tell from the sample page above that there is a difference in the technique depending on which set of circumstances is being shown.  The panels featuring Polly Nichols are in the same technique as the rest of the book has been thus far.  These are, I think, pencils, but I can't say for sure.

The panels depicting Gull, however, appear to be a different technique altogether.  If I had to guess, I'd guess that those panels are painted.  Again, I am not sure; my artistic knowledge is not strong enough to allow me to feel sure one way or the other.  But I am sure the difference exists, and while I cannot specify the terms of the difference, I know that it has the effect of making Polly and Gull look, to the eye, as though they are literally living in different worlds.  Let's have a look at two more pages from this sequence, just to make sure the point about the difference in the art is clear:





I dunno; are those maybe charcoals used for the Gull panels...?  Whatever the medium, those panels appear more refined, less brutal; they look (to be blunt) richer.  The panels featuring Polly look sickly and ill in comparison; they feel like an affront to the panels featuring Gull.

I'm probably straining a bit for effect there, but you get my point, I think.  And it's worth pointing out that it is the panels with Gull that are done in a new, different style; technically speaking, they are intruding on the other panels, which represent the status quo of the book up to this point.

I'm probably making too much out of this, but I think it's worth considering.  If nothing else, it plays up the notion that these are two essentially different worlds that are about to collide.

Also worth considering: the severe change in pace that these six pages represent.  Not only is the nine-panel page layout jettisoned in favor of a three-panel layout, but there is not a word of dialogue for six pages!  Bear in mind that for most readers, who will be experiencing this tale in collected form, these pages will come not long after the incredibly densely-packed dialogue of the geographical/philosophical lecture Gull gives to Netley.  I don't think it's going out on too thin a limb to suggest that most readers will appreciate the breathing room provided by this six-page section.  Nice move, Mr. Moore.

Once those pages end, though, we're back in the cab with Gull and Netley.  Uh oh...




This page and the three that follow it use the same layout approach: six panels per page, split into two columns; the left-hand column features Gull, the right-hand one features Polly.  The columns that follow Gull are twice as large as the ones that show us how Polly's day is going; the result is that poor Polly seems to be getting crushed by the small amount of space she is being afforded.

As Netley and Gull continue their conversation, the doctor gives the cabbie a sovereign and tells him to go and buy some sort of a token -- a hat, perhaps, or a scarf -- which can be easily recognized later.  Then, Netley should fie one of the four women, and "mark one out" by presenting her with the token he has purchased for that purpose.  Then, after midnight, Netley is to come to Gull's home and pick him up, under the pretense of a medical emergency; then, the work can commence in earnest.  While this conversation is taking place, Polly is on the other side of the page, being tupped against a wall.  Her customer gives her a few coins; like Netley, she has been paid.

Gull has been dropped off by Netley at the London Hospital, where he pays a second visit to Joseph Merrick, the "Elephant Man."  He reminds Merrick of his former comparison of the man to the Hindu god Ganesa, then tells him that he has read of another such man, in India; the Hindus there study the man's movements during his sleep, and believe that those movements serve as omens for the entire nation.  "Be sure that you do nothing sudden in YOUR slumber, Mr. Merrick," says Gull, "lest our British Empire come to dust."  Merrick is understandably tickled by this conversation.  We might have occasion to recall that Hindu custom is such that few important ventures are begun without first issuing a "salutation to Ganesa."  Is Gull, by visiting this poor man whom he has dubbed an embodiment of Ganesa, doing so here?  I think he might be.  Meanwhile, Polly is on the other side of the page, visiting a pub; she is already spending the few coins she earned during her transaction a few panels ago.

Gull next visits Scotland Yard, where he pays a call to Sir Charles Warren and (off-page) informs him of what will be happening in Whitechapel.  Warren tells him that what he is proposing is out of the question.

Let's track that conversation, shall we?


I love how Gull's words here tower over the scene, filling the air; it is almost as if they are a biological extension of him, and make him ten feet tall.  Or perhaps I am just looking at this panel too intently.  Either way, I like it.

One of the creepiest things about From Hell is this suggestion: that before he even commences with the murders, Gull has them planned out.  We, of course, do not know the extent of those plans; neither does Warren.

I know virtually nothing about Masonry, so I have no idea whether it is actually as close-knit a society as From Hell implies.  If it is, remind me to never get on its bad side...

This is a massively on-the-nose comment; it's chilling, but in an obvious sort of way that Moore is mostly avoiding throughout the book.



I am at a loss to explain why, but the pull-back from a close-up on Gull to a medium-shot of Gull works wonders here.  (I'm speaking in cinematographical terms, but I think it works.)  The change in perspective somehow conveys that this is a ritualistic act from Gull.  It echoes an earlier scene from Chapter 2, in which a brother Mason asks Gull to attend the Prince; he overcomes Gull's protestations of unworthiness by asking the same question about the widow's son.  This, apparently, is a sort of verbal trump-card that Masons can play.  (The phrase seemingly refers to Hiram Abiff, a central figure in Masonic lore who was himself the son of a widow.)  When a brother is in need of assistance, a Mason is honor-bound to supply that assistance when this question is asked (in combination, it seems, with outspread palms).  Hence Warren's reaction:

What a sad, pathetic look that is!  Warren is trapped; he may not want to do as Gull as suggesting, but the bonds of his Masonic oath lead him to no other choice.


"For his sake most of all."  If the notion of the Whitechapel murders being committed partially as a religious invocation doesn't skeeve you out, I don't know what will.  And hey...!  The mummy referenced in this chapter's epigraphs comes into play!  Cool...


This conversation has taken place across two different pages, and the layout of those two pages is worth noting.  Each page is composed of seven panels: two rows of three panels each and one row that is its own panel.  On the first of the two pages, the single panel is at the top of the page; on the second page, it is at the bottom.  The single panels, then, serve almost as bookends for the scene.


The same layout is used on the next two pages, as well, and the two after that, and the two after that.  Indeed, for the remainder of the chapter, Moore and Campbell will play around with the layouts; they are forever changing, but not so much that we are unable to see that patterns are emerging.  Patterns emerge, then change; we sense that there is a guiding hand at work.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though.  After Gull's talk with Warren, the next two pages involve Netley meeting with Polly Nichols inside The Britannia (the pub where we left her a few pages back).  Here is the top panel from the first page:


 

It's basically an establishing shot, just so we know where we are.

Once inside, we see Polly, holding her glass up to the window so as to look at the sun through it; "it looks lovely," she says, but she doesn't seem to be in a particularly good mood.  Annie Chapman and Long Liz are talking to her, asking if she knows where Marie Kelly is; another prostitute, Martha Tabram, has apparently been stabbed to death by the Old Nichol Mob, the one that they need money to pay off.  Polly isn't telling her friends much of anything; they ask what's wrong, and Polly answers them:


Look at the amount of emotion Campbell is able to put on her face!  Earlier, when I remarked on how Gull's words seemed to grow out of him and make him taller, the dialogue balloon was in roughly the same position of the frame as it is here.  However, because of Polly's slumped posture, she seems oppressed by her words, not enhanced by them, as Gull did.

It's occasionally tough to cut through, but I kinda love seeing Cockney slang written out phonetically.  "Garn!," for those who do not know, is a form of "Go on!" (which is an all-purpose dismissal, sort of like saying "Whatever!")


The "appearance" of the fire here is utterly startling, and it possibly clarifies (pardon the pun) a question from earlier.  Recall Klara's disturbing vision/dream/reverie of the church expelling a tidal wave of blood that drowned the nearby Jews; Polly is seemingly, here, recalling the fire from her dream.  Does that perhaps mean that, in the earlier scene, Klara had been asleep and dreaming, and Alois woke her up by, um, instigating sexual activity?  In that case, what we were being shown was Klara's memory of that dream; she is trying to repress it, but Alois's orgasm opens the floodgates, as it were.  Again, I might be reading too much into things, but I don't think so; the fact that both "visions" (Klara's and Polly's) have dialogue or sounds from other people appearing over the top of the imagined scene forms a bond between the two scenes, so it's reasonable to assume that that bond means that roughly the same thing is happening in both.
  

We do not initially see who has posed this question to Polly.  During the next three panels, we focus on Polly's face as she first answers "Sit where ye like.  I'm sure I'm not fussed," and then fields another question; her new tablemate requests her opinion on a certain matter:


  

This single panel closes out the two-page scene of Polly in the pub.  This, of course, is Netley "marking out" Polly for later identification.  This is a monstrous act, one that makes Netley a murderer, of sorts.  Murder need not happen all at once; in some cases -- probably in most cases -- it is as much a result of a number of small acts of malice just as surely as it is the result of a large act of violence.

One of my favorite directors is Alfred Hitchcock, and one of Hitchcock's great talents lay in manipulating the audience by giving them information that the characters within the scene did not necessarily have.  At other times, one character (and the audience) might know something that another character did not.  The result is that when the knowledgeable character says or does something that the unknowledgeable character does not understand, but that which we did understand as the audience, it puts us in a curious position in terms of our sympathies.  We cannot help but empathize with whoever within the scene shares the knowledge that we possess.  An example of this is in Vertigo, when James Stewart is having Kim Novak try on a bunch of clothes, in search of a particular look for her.  We've been empathetic toward Stewart the entire time, but during this scene, we know something that he does not; it's something that Kim Novak knows, though, so our empathy in this scene subtly shifts away from him and toward her, and will, arguably, stay there for the rest of the film; or, at the very least, will partially stay with her.

There is a similar effect in this moment involving Netley and Polly.  Unlike her, we know what the gift of that bonnet means.  We are in Netley's shoes; we are, thanks to the bond created by our shared knowledge, offering Polly that bonnet -- and its end result: murder -- as surely as Netley is.  We are complicit.  Do not take offense, sir!  No offense is intended!  And yet...did you not open the pages of this book knowing that it was a book about Jack the Ripper?  Can you honestly say that some part of you is not yearning to see those murders?

But we are also empathetic toward Polly, and the arrangement of the panel reinforces that empathy.  We are, essentially, sitting behind and to the side of Polly; we are seeing Netley from basically the same vantage point that Polly is seeing him from.  For all the difference it makes, Netley might as well be showing us that bonnet!

So, empathetically, we are both Polly and Netley during this scene; we are the spider and the fly, at the same time.

I don't know about you, but that gives me the willies.

The next two pages are entirely focused on Gull, and are entirely drawn in the different style  that Campbell used for Gull's panels a few pages back.  Gull visits the mummy at Sotheby's; returns home and has dinner with his wife; shaves; prepares a case full of ominous-looking instruments; kisses his wife, and departs.  Here are a few of those panels:


This particular panel creeps me out completely, for reasons I can't put in words.  Something to do with the face, which does not even quite look human.
I hate shaving.  Never once in my entire life have I shaved with (or been shaved by) a straight razor.  It's never going to happen, either, unless I am kidnapped and am being tortured.  That's what it's gonna take.  I don't know if I have a phobia of blades in the clinical-diagnosis sense; it seems likely.  I refuse to use anything except an electric razor.  Clearly, William Gull has no such hangups.
A doctor's surgical kit is obviously a beneficial set of tools.  Where would society be without such implements?  However, the idea of a surgeon turned murderer is a uniquely terrifying thought.  Any old maniac can hack someone into bits, given a sharpened instrument.  But a surgeon has the skill to do so with precision.  From Hell is, obviously, a piece of fiction; neither Moore nor Campbell seem to believe that Gull actually was the killer, if Campbell can be believed.  Within the confines of these pages, though, it is a compelling idea.
Here's some algebra for you: (laudanum + grapes) x (surgical kit + insane Mason doctor) = bad news for fruit lovers

I submit for your approval a hypothesis: the panels during which Gull appears in this different style of art represent a...different frame of mind for the doctor.  I am tempted to say heightened frame of mind, but that might be reading too much into things.  Let's settle on saying simply that it is a different frame of mind.  It will pop up once more, for several panels at the end of this chapter; and after that, it is used no more during From Hell.  So draw your own conclusions, craft your own meanings; but clearly, the style used by Campbell in these panels means something.

Fun to ponder, isn't it?

On the next two pages, Polly leaves another pub -- called The Frying Pan -- and marches to a lodging house, seeking her "doss" for the night.  She's only got tuppence, though, and doss costs four pence, so it's back on to the street she goes, to earn the balance.  "Oh well," she says, "never mind.  I'll soon 'ave me doss money: see what a jolly bonnet I've got now."

Gull and Netley seemingly meet with little success initially:


Gull's phrasing -- which implies that he and Netley are engaged in something tantamount of a pheasant hunt -- is disturbing.
There aren't a lot of laughs to be had in From Hell, and that's as it should be.  This scene has a certain awkward wryness to it, though; I wouldn't go so far as to say it's funny, exactly, but...the idea of Jack the Ripper being annoyed with hjis assistant for buying a bonnet that could barely be seen at night is amusing, in a way.
The fact that this panel is almost entirely black reinforces Gull's point, of course.
 

On the next page, Polly runs into a woman named Emily, who tells her she's been watching a fire, which is apparently raging at the docks.  Polly seems rattled by this, perhaps remembering her dream.  Moore and Campbell certainly remember it, and this is how they end the page:




What does this image say to you?  If we interpret it the same as we did earlier, we have to assume that Polly is thinking about the fire; the thought is consuming her at that very moment.  But how does she view it?  What does it mean to her?  There are numerous ways to read it, but my take is that she is afraid of the fire, and imagines herself being surrounded by it; just as she is afraid of the darkness -- the literal darkness of the nighttime, and perhaps also the emotional darkness of the difficulty and uncertainty of her lifestyle -- that surrounds her.  The light of the fire, then, serves as an ironic counterpoint to the blackness and lack of light that she is actually walking through; on the next page, the first six panels find her all but swallowed by that darkness, and while she is singing a song while she goes, you get the feeling that she's doing so to try to create a cheery mood, not as a reflection of an already-cheery one.
  
This darkness will prove to be just as dangerous to her as any fire could ever be, of course.  The seventh and final panel of the page makes this abundantly clear:




Thanks to Campbell's minimalist style, and the precision with which he wields it, this is an effective and creepy image in and of itself.  Armed as we are, though, with the knowledge of who those two men are, and what their intentions are, and what tools they bring with them so as to act upon those intentions, this is an incredibly potent image.

Gull offers Polly a ride; she accepts.  It is not clear whether she believes this to be a potential customer.  I think the implication is that she merely feels she is being done a kind deed by a man from a better class of people.  Either way, it doesn't much matter; the two of them climb inside the cab, introduce themselves, and away they go:



The next fifteen panels involve Polly eating grapes and, at Gull's behest, telling her life story.  We hear of her birth, and of her being married off by her father at age thirteen, and of her husband leaving her for her second child's midwife, and of going to a workhouse in Lambeth.  "What a life you have endured," says Gull, "awaiting nothing but deliverance."

Polly says she feels queer; "Does everything look sparkly to you?" she asks Gull.  Gull answers that she is merely seeing the stars, which shine on this night just for the two of them; for they, he says, have been brought together by fate.  Polly jokes weakly that it sounds as if they are to be married, and Gull says that there will indeed be a ceremony.  And with that:




Has the phrase "we're here" ever been more ominous?

Let's have a look at what happens over the course of the next few panels, shall we?


"Out of The Frying Pan, into..."  Well played, Alan Moore; well played.
This depiction of Joseph Merrick is creepier by far than any of the ones where we actually see his face.  Can you imagine how unsettling it would have been for someone who had never seen him before to be suddenly presented with the image of him standing there, with that bag over his head?  Why, underneath that bag, there could be anything...
Polly, of course, doesn't seem too troubled by the sight.  But she is too far away to see him well, plus she's all drugged up.  The fact that Gull coaxes her into saying these words is somehow, to me, the most monstrous thing he does in the entire chapter.  I mean, sure, he murders her and all in the next few pages, and that's awful; but by having her speak these words, he is, in a sense, making her complicit in the act.  And not merely in her own murder, but in the other murders that Gull will commit.  Horrible...


We cut away, and the next panel lingers outside the cab.  The implication is that Gull strangles Polly, who is sedated almost to the point of unconsciousness and is not able to put up a fight.

Gull carries Polly's body, and Netley carries the doctor's bag, and the two of them walk several streets away, where there will presumably be less chance of interference:




Gull produces from his bag a "Liston knife," which was apparently used in amputations.  Here's what such a knife looks like:


Image stolen from http://www.medicalantiques.com/civilwar/Articles/Antique_Surgical_Instrument_Identification.htm


Ain't nothin' good gonna happen when one of those knives gets pulled out.  Ah, well; at least poor Polly is already dead.  Netley is confused; he does not understand why such an implement is needed, since, as we've established, their quarry is already deceased.  Gull reminds the cabbie that her death is only part of their task; they also have Masonic ritual to satisfy.  The men who betrayed Hiram Abiff has their throats cut, left to right; so must Polly's be.  Gull gives the knife to Netley, "left to right," he reminds the younger man.




This brief moment seems to be Moore's attempt to explain the presence of an inexpert collar-bone wound on the body of a woman who, otherwise, had been mutilated with extreme precision.  Storywise, it certainly works.

These panels also represent one of the few moments in the book thus far that I would say don't work artistically.  If you take the third panel away, or take Gull's dialogue away in that third panel, then I don't think you would have any idea that Netley has even made an attempt.  It is, of course, difficult to depict motion in a graphical format, but it seems to me that Campbell, here, scarcely even made an effort.  Don't make more of that complaint than I mean by it, though; I mention it mainly just so I can say that I said something negative about the art, at some point.  The opportunities to do so have been few and far between.

By the way, I should warn you... things are about to get unpleasant.

So as to keep those of you with delicate constitutions from upchucking into your keyboards, here are some photos of puppies and kitties and other cute animals, so as to keep you from seeing anything awful.  If you feel the need to bail out, I do not blame you!


awwwwwww.....
awwwwwww.....  I want a hedgehog!
awwwwwwww......
awwwwww...... X 5 = AWWWWWWWW.....
AHHHHHHJESUSFUCKINGCHRISTKILLITWITHFIRE!!!!!!!


You have no idea how much it creeped me out looking for a "good" spider photo to toss in.  It's a satisfying joke I just played there, but trust me, I suffered for it...

Anyways, back to something else horrifying:




Gull very nearly decapitates Polly, so strong is his stroke here.  And evidently, that's consistent with the coroner's report of the crime.  Don't look at that final panel too long; it'll make you feel weird.

By the way, call me crazy -- or just flat-out correct me -- but does it not look, based on the art, as if Gull slashes right-to-left, instead of left-to-right?  Am I just stupid, or am I missing something?  I'm going to say I'm just missing something; the inclination of the head makes it plain that the cut did, indeed, get made left-to-right.  So if anyone can clue me in as to why it looks like, in the progression from the first panel to the second, it appears that Gull is slashing in the opposite direction, by all means, clue my ass in.

We proceed:




This won't bother some people at all.  Hardcases, psychopaths, and doctors will probably look at it and just kinda shrug.  Me?  Bothered.  The lack of emotion is part of it; the comment about the skirts in the first panel is another part, because ... well, because ...

See, this comic is doing this thing where it kinda mixes sex and murder and misogyny all together.  It's not at all difficult for me to imagine one of Polly's customers having a similar complaint about her skirts; he, too, would be trying to find one of her soft, wet organs, though clearly not the same one as Gull, and clearly not with the same intent.  But if we place even the smallest amount of belief in Gull's assertion that the sun and the moon -- men and women -- are in the midst of an eons-long war one against the other, then, in a way, the two actions become somewhat similar, don't they?  Both are acts of domination.

Ugh.

The mutilation proceeds; Gull removes...something.  (I don't know if it's a bit of bowel, or what it is; something fleshy and dripping.  I'm officially getting close to grossing myself out now...)  He urges Netley to look at it.  "Can you SEE it, Netley?" he asks. "Light, Netley.  Did you see?"




And on that odd note, the deed is done.

The next three pages consist almost entirely of repetitions of the vantage point seen in those last two panels above.  The scene does not shift, but a man walks into the panel, and calls to the someone else off beyond the edge of the panel.  That person reluctantly walks into the panel; the two of them examine the woman lying on the ground, and come to the conclusion that she's probably dead.  (Remember, it's quite dark, and they'd be mostly unable to see anything in much detail, including each other.)

They go looking for a "copper," and before long one into the scene, carrying a lamp; he looks at the body, utters a single word ("Christ"), then calls out to another person further up the street.  He sends the man to find a doctor; then sends another for an ambulance.  A second policeman shows up; a crowd is slowly gathering.

It is a simple page, and it puts me in mind of a scene earlier in the book, when young William Gull is in the room with his father's corpse.  That, too, was a series of panels in which a dead body did not (for obvious reasons) move at all, except to the extent to which it was moved by outside forces.  Here, Polly's stillness is utter.  But here, too, there are other elements that do not move: the street, the buildings, the night sky.  Polly has been made a part of the city, unmoving, still, silent.  But around them, men bustle and move and make plans.

On the next page, an ambulance finally arrives, and the scene shifts; the body is packed away and whisked off to a morgue.  The attendants there are met by an Inspector, who is to observe and take notes.  Here's what happens:




We will find out at the top of the next page what has happened:




I don't know about you, but I certainly read the previous panels with the assumption that the attendant had been so taken aback by the mutilation of Polly's abdomen that he jerked back and fell onto the ground.  But, no, he's just having a seizure.  And there he lies, seizing up a storm, while the Inspector and the Doctor discover what's actually happened to Polly Nicholls.  The Doctor has a question:




Let's have a look at how the chapter concludes:


We shift back into the "painted" (?) style of art.  If anyone reads this who can shed some light on what sort of medium Campbell is working in here, hit up the comments and let me know, please.
Does Gull linger outside his home before entering, or is this merely a side-effect of the fact of comics consisting of still images?  I think I side with the idea that Gull lingers outside for a moment, in some sort of contemplation we cannot understand.  Notice that both of his feet are on the ground; he does not appear to be in mid-step.
Creepily, Gull lingers over his wife's inert, sleeping form.  The appearance of the mummy says to me that Gull, for whatever reason, flashes back to his visit to Sotheby's.  Why?  I do not for one second believe that it means that he wishes his wife were dead, or even that he briefly imagines her to be "sleeping" in the same way the mummy is.  There is nothing to indicate that he has anything but tender feelings toward Mrs. Gull.  But, clearly, this means something...
I have not been able to figure out why, exactly, but...that middle panel creeps me the fuck out.
Notice the shift in art style back to pencils for the panel depicting Merrick.  And I think the panel in which Gull kisses his wife is pencils, as well.  What does it mean that those two panels are in a different style than the others here?
The first of these panels is a reptition of the home where Alois and Klara Hitler live.  (Okay, so maybe Alan Moore is drawing more of a connection -- even if just an ethereal one -- between the Hitlers and the Whitechapel murders than I'd initially assumed...)  The second shows Gull; either sleeping calmly, or calmly attempting sleep.  The third brings us back to the morgue, where the Doctor continues to wonder what the mutilation means.
Meanwhile, near another of Hawksmoor's churches, the fire at the docks continues to rage.


That's half of issue #3 dealt with!  Half!

I now find it necessary to alter the way in which we proceed in terms of our examination of From HellTackling more than one chapter at a time is simply going to be too difficult and time-consuming, if I'm going to look at the material this closely.  So, instead, we'll begin considering it a single chapter at a time, and see how that works.

  
So, we'll save Chapter Six for the next column.  See y'all then!

6 comments:

  1. Well, that was...something.

    A whole host of thoughts swum through my head as I read this (among them, Uh, Mr. Merrick? You maybe want to turn to your right a little, maybe offer some HALLLLPPP!).

    One of the things I'm kicking myself for not posting earlier is an official movie website for a film called Pi, that raises a lot of the ideas worth thought.

    The comic just sort of put me in mind of it, and I thought I'd post it for what it's worth

    Here it is:

    http://www.pithemovie.com/

    ChrisC

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also, this site for the tie-in comic might help explain the set up better:

      http://www.growlingrooster.com/pi_comic/PitheComic.html

      ChrisC

      Delete
    2. I saw "Pi" years ago, but don't remember it very well. I liked it, though; Aronofsky has yet to make a movie I haven't liked.

      I had no idea there was a tie-in comic, though. Thanks!

      Delete
  2. I've got to read this again and comment further, but good call on reproducing that Liston Knife here. That lent a horror to all further pics, especially the decapitation panels.

    This review is full of light! What's going ON here?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I absolutely agree re: the different styles of art representing altered-frames-of-mind for Gull. I know it's in one of the endnotes section, but Moore devotes significant referential-time to the stages of consciousness/madness in serial killers, and I think we see the first alterations/ elevations, here.

      Reading this and considering the pace and scope of this story, and of course the exceptional quality of the writing and art, really shows how piss-poor something like The Following is. Not to pick on it, just the whole psychology-of-the-serial-killer and real-life-horror of it all vs. the way it's handled there. The difference is very telling and very profound.

      Again, great job here. From Hell is such a rich piece of work, and you're really demonstrating the whys and hows of that.

      Oh, and "I'm referring to Lee's seeming inability to draw more than about one facial expression (dispassionate blankness), and his tendency to want to have seven or eight panels per issue in which a character is glimpsed from a child's-eye viewpoint, towering imperiously over the scene with head jutted forward, eyes narrowed, and mouth pursed."

      Agreed, times a thousand.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I have to admit, I've turned on Jae Lee like a cup of milk left in the microwave. When he's on, he's on; for example, I love the stuff he did for "The Wind Through the Keyhole." But his "Before Watchmen" stuff is ... well, let's say it's not for me, and leave it there.

      Thanks for the kinda words. I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface of "From Hell," but I'm having fun with it, and that's all that matters, probably.

      Delete