Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bryant Has Issues #36

I've taken the past couple of weeks off as far as these comics roundups go, so we's got us some catchin' up to do.

We begin with the final issue of Marvel's Dark Tower series.  It's called "So Fell Lord Perth," and it looks like this:




Here's the thing: my dark side is crying out for me to rip this issue to shreds.  I did not like it much, so what I want to do, reflexively, is to just spill my guts on the many reasons why that is the case.

And that's exactly what I'm going to do, so read on.
  

The issue begins as Roland and the near-to-death Aileen are approaching Gilead, where she wishes to be buried.  "I feel...sorry for you, though," Aileen rasps at Roland.  "Only you survive.  How can you fight alone...?"  
  
Roland answers, "While one remains to fight, there is always hope.  Just like in the story of Arthur Eld defeating Lord Perth..."

Lord Perth is mentioned in The Waste Lands, and the implication is that he was more or less Golaith, and that the young boy who slew him was more or less David.  Nowhere is it mentioned that Arthur Eld was that young boy; that seems to be a new wrinkle foisted onto the proceedings by series plotter Robin Furth.  It's a misstep.  I understand the impulse to want to get Arthur Eld involved if you're going to be telling the story of Lord Perth, but the end result is that it makes the universe of Mid World seem smaller.  What fun is it if all the legends of Mid World were living in the same time period?  It's like how on the one hand it's kinda cool for someone from Star Trek: The Next Generation to show up on Star Trek: Voyager, but also weirdly unhelpful, because it makes it seem like the people on Voyager aren't important enough to just live their own stories.

Maybe that's a distinction that matters to nobody but me.  Either way, the story as Roland tells it ends up being fairly lame.  But we'll get to that.  First, scripter Peter David sets the scene for us: "And so Roland tells it," [the story of Lord Perth and Arthur Eld] "because, ye know, why not?  They've naught else to do except sit around and wait for Aileen to breathe her last."

This reminds me of some jackass saying, "So then I tossed the Coke can out the window, because, you know, why not?"  Or, "So then I farted in the elevator, because, you know, why not?"  This is undignified, small-minded writing.  Peter David has been associated with the series from the beginning, and I've felt on more than one occasion that he has been an active detriment to it.  This, in case you couldn't tell, is one of those times.  David is presenting things to us as though Roland is merely telling some old irrelevant tale, just to have something to say so neither he nor Aileen has to focus much on the fact that she is dying.

And that would be fine, in theory, if not for the fact that two panels earlier, Aileen had more or less asked Roland to explain how he would find the strength to continue his journey.  That journey, in case you were wondering, is a little thing we like to think of as The Dark Tower.  It's the equivalent of Aileen asking Roland how he's going to make it through those 7/8 novels, and Roland saying, "Hey, it's funny you should ask!  I've got a story about Arthur Eld that can explain it all!"

And THAT would be fine in theory, except that Peter David immediately dumps a bucket of water on it by explaining that Roland goes ahead and tells the story "because, ye know, why not."  You can practically picture some douchebag with a shit-eating grin on his face, shrugging with a wawh-wawh-wawh bleat of muted trumpet in the background, and some canned audience laughter accompanying the scene.

It is inept writing.  In fact, it is possibly one of the worst moments in a series that has tended toward mediocrity as often as not.  (It's made even worse by virtue of the fact that the story itself turns out to actually be lame and irrelevant, which is exactly what David's aside indicates.  But more on that in a few moments.)

Roland's story commences thus:

Once upon a bye, Midworld was still a dangerous and lawless place.  Much worse than now.  Harriers and wild mutants ran free, and there were no descendants and no tales of Arthur Eld to keep them in check...because he had only just been born, in a place with the odd name of "Topeka."

Okay, I have to ask: in a world where there are towns with names like Gilead, Cressia, and Hambry, is "Topeka" something that Roland would find odd?  A town named "Hergenflergensburg" is odd; a town named "Crotch Swallow" is odd; a town named "Sylvester Stallone" is odd.  "Topeka" seems fairly fucking normal to me.
  
The only reason "Topeka" is "odd" is because there is a Topeka in Kansas, in the world of the people reading the comic.  That's us.  Roland does not know about us, or about our Topeka, and would therefore have no reason at all to find it odd.  This is especially true if, as seems likely, Roland has been hearing tales of Arthur Eld -- a native Topekan -- for his entire life.  So, the only reason Robin Furth and Peter David want to make us think that Topeka is an odd name for a town is as a way of reminding us, the readers, that Topeka is a real place in our own world, and what's ostensibly odd about that is that a town with that name exists in both universes.  
  
Which, unless we are morons, is something we would notice on our own.  We might raise an eyebrow and say, "Hmm...!  Topeka, you say?!?"  And then we might remember that our ka-tet passed through Topeka -- a Topeka, at least -- in Wizard and Glass, and we might wonder why Roland wouldn't have remarked how very ODD a name for a town that was.

This is bad writing.  That's all there is to it.

I could continue in this vein, but frankly, it's dispiriting, and it makes me sound like an asshole.  So let's cut this review short by saying that when we finally meet Lord Perth, he's a pretty big dude -- I'm going to guess ten feet (although artist Richard Isanove, usually reliable, fails to provide us with any clear perspective on the subject) -- but not the Goliath that the cover of the comic has made him out to be.  Arthur Eld uses a slingshot to hit him in the knee, and he falls over awkwardly, breaking his neck.

That's the soul-stirring story of heroic Arthur Eld, the one that has been (poorly) set up as illustrative of why Roland is able to persist on his worlds-spanning quest for the Dark Tower.

Have I mentioned that I'm glad this series of comics has ended?  The completist in me was determined to buy every issue, and not only am I happy to see that occasional $3.99 no longer have to be spent, but I'm also happy for there to be no further butchering ofThe Dark Tower by this creative team.

Pardon me while I get this nasty taste out of my mouth.




Part two of the three-part adaptation of Joe Hill's short story "Thumbprint" is also out now.  In this issue, we find out more about Mallory's past in the war, and whoever is fucking with her by leaving her thumbprints continues to fuck with her by leaving her thumbprints.

It's pretty good.  Worth checking out if you haven't read the short story, although I'd suggest you go straight to the source.  If you've read it already, the art by Vic Malhotra is the draw here.  It's solid stuff.  Here's a sample page:





I'd also suggest that if you do read the comic, read all three parts at once; it doesn't really work as a once-per-month thing.




Speaking of Joe Hill, there's also a Treasury Edition out that collects a three-issue sampling of the Crown of Shadows arc.  It's issues 3-5, to be specific.

It might seem a little odd to take three issues from the middle of an arc that is itself the middle on the overall series, and put those three issues in isolation.  And sure enough, the newcomer to Locke & Key would probably be more than a little confused by what's going on here.

What this really is, though, is a showcase for the art of Gabriel Rodriguez.  Treasury-sized comics are a blast, because the increase in size makes the artwork not merely pop, but flat-out explode.  Let's have a look at some sample pages from the issues represented here:












It looks great at any viewable size, but it looks terrific Treasury-sized.

It'll set you back a mere $10, which is actually bit less than what the three normal-sized issues would have cost.  So for anyone who loved Locke & Key, this is probably a no-brainer.




Next up: the third issue of Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy's The Wake.

Shit busts loose in this issue.

Let's not talk about it in much detail.  Instead, I'm going to just tease you with the first two pages, which I'm sure ARE related to the rest of the issue in some way we haven't seen yet; but you wouldn't know it from merely reading #3.  Either way, they're pretty badass:





Aw, hell; let's go ahead and look at the next three pages, too.  Presumably Vertigo won't sue me.






This is strong stuff.  It probably doesn't make a huge amount of sense out of context; in context, though, it's pretty great, and my only complaint about this series is that I can't immediately read the remaining seven issues, or however many there are left.

That's a passive way of suggesting that you might want to wait until the whole thing is concluded to pick this up.  Then again, maybe not; I haven't regretted it, and work this good deserves to be supported on a monthly basis.




Scott Snyder's name is also on the cover for Batman Annual #2, although he did not write the script for this issue; he co-wrote the story with Marguerite Bennett, who scripted.  It's a fairly good issue; Batman is inside Arkham Asylum helping them test a new containment wing by trying to escape from it.  Meanwhile, a new orderly encounters the Anchoress, who evidently was Arkham's first inmate.  She's not a supervillain in the traditional sense of things, but she's got some freaky quantum powers, and she's got a grudge against Batman, and she's just been waiting on him to show up; you do that math on that, and see if you can figure where it ends up going.



Out now from Panel Syndicate is a special behind-the-scenes look at how Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin and company have gone about creating their new webcomic The Private Eye.  Regular readers of this column will know that I am a big fan of that comic, so did I pony up a couple of bucks for this eighty-page (!) making-of special?  You bet your ass I did.

What it is, basically, is a peek into the communications between writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin as they created the first issue of the series.  You've got emails from one to the other, you've got Vaughan's initial pitch (with redacted info, presumably so as not to spoil us on developments we haven't seen through issue #3!), you've got Vaughan's script for the first issue.  You've got character sketches, you've got Martin's layouts for the entire first issue.

This is a look at how the sausage gets made, and if you have any interest in that sort of thing, you will eat this thing up.





One of the areas of Alan Moore's work that I'm the most unfamiliar with is Tom Strong.  Created by Moore and artist Chris Sprouse for America's Best Comics in the late nineties, Tom Strong is...well, let's turn to Wikipedia for a summary/setup of who and what Tom Strong is:

Tom Strong, the title character, is a "science hero."  He was raised in a high-gravity chamber and given an intensive education by his somewhat eccentric scientist parents, on the fictional West Indian island of Attabar Teru. His upbringing, plus ingesting a root used by the natives of the island for health and long life, have made him nearly physically and mentally perfect. Though born at the dawn of the 20th century, by the year 2000 he looks as if he is only in his forties.

Tom Strong has a wife, Dhalua, and a daughter, Tesla, both with enhanced physical and mental abilities and longevity. He resides in a building called the Stronghold in Millennium City. He is also assisted by Pneuman, a steam powered robot, and King Solomon, a gorilla with human characteristics. His greatest foe is tuxedo-clad "science villain" Paul Saveen.

The series explores many different timelines and universes, which are a nod to different comic genres. Tom Strong frequently has adventures alongside his younger self. There is also a parallel cartoon universe where a talking bunny is a version of Tom Strong, as well as a Western universe and even "Tom Teen," where characters are similar to Archie comics.


Good God, if that doesn't make you want to read Tom Strong, I don't know what would.  I'm working my way forward through Moore's work to that point, and I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Now, you may have noticed that the cover of Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril #1 says not word one about Alan Moore.  It's true; he had no involvement with this new limited series.  But, lest you think this is another legacy-pillaging like the one DC conducted on the (admittedly satisfactory at times) series Before Watchmen, let me assure you that it isn't.  Tom Strong has been written by other writers before; the original series ran for 36 issues, and Moore turned it over to other writers for issues 23-35.  There were additional miniseries after that, none of which were written by Moore, and none of which seem to have been written against his objections.

In other words, this is a property that was intended to continue.

With co-creator Chris Sprouse on the project, that certainly gives it whatever additional jolt of legitimacy you might need to reassure yourself that Moore will not cast a hex on you for reading it.  Either way, it's a very good comic.  I was a little confused, but only a little.  Mostly, I was delighted.  The story involves Tom's daughter, Tesla, being pregnant with the child of a science hero who, like Johnny Storm, can turn into flames when agitated.  Babies get agitated sometimes, don't they...?  So there's a need for Tom to find a means of keeping his daughter safe during the pregnancy.

Here's a few sample pages to whet your appetites:





 

I was on the fence about buying this, mainly because I wasn't sure how I felt about my introduction to Tom Strong coming from someone other than Alan Moore; but when I saw it on the shelf, I couldn't pass it up.  And as it turns out, that was a good decision; if the next five issues are as good, I'll consider it to have been a great one.




Another month, another very satisfactory issue of Angel & Faith.  In this issue (the penultimate one of the series, evidently, or at least of its "Season 9" iteration): some messed-up human mutations courtesy of a magical bomb-thingy; Angel and Whistler whooping each others' asses; someone you thought was dead isn't actually dead; someone you thought was alive doesn't stay that way; and other fun things of consequence.





I'm still not 100% sold on this one, but I guess I'm sold enough to have bought four issues of it so far.  Damn it, I still can't make up my mind about the Ben Templesmith art.  Check it out, and you tell me:







It's cartoony, but also stark; it's detailed, but also vague.  I dunno.  It's weird stuff.  I think I think it's really good; but I'm not sure I think it was the best possible choice for this particular series.

I think I'll have to keep reading it for a while, though, just to see if I can get a handle on how I feel about it.

*****

Now, let's look back briefly at some older titles I've been reading recently.  As is typically the case, that's going to be restricted to the work of Alan Moore, because -- as I mentioned earlier -- I've been slowly working my way through his entire canon chronologically.




I had to abandon my extensive looks at From Hell due to the simple fact that they were taking me forEVer to complete, but don't let that make you think I stopped (re)reading the issues.  I didn't.  They are just as gory, horrifying, and awesome as I'd remembered.

Especially Chapter Seven, which is the issue wherein Gull finally catches up with Mary Kelly and has his way with her.  Uninterrupted, in slow, loving, excruciating detail.

You've never been so happy for a comic to be in black and white.

Alan Moore is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the great artists of his era, and From Hell is unquestionably one of his greatest works.  So YOU put two and two together on that one.





Ever heard of Lost Girls?

Well, to sum up: it is a comic-book porno about the sexual exploits of grown-up versions of the heroines of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz.  It was written by Alan Moore and illustrated -- in lavish, intricate, no-holds-barred detail -- by Melinda Gebbie.

It's sort of like Terms of Endearment, in that you are encouraged to experience it with some Kleenex close to hand.

Ahem...

Well, look, there's just no getting around it.  This is either the sort of thing you'll be into, or the sort of thing you really, really won't be into.

That said, I felt curiously unmoved by the whole thing, so I guess I fall somewhere in between.

What I read was the first two issues, which were the only two issues published before everyone involved decided to finish the work and put it out as a graphic novel.  I haven't read that iteration, so I don't know if the content of the first two issues (which is actually the first six chapters -- confused yet?) was revised for that later version.

I never found myself feeling particularly aroused by any of this, but there were moments in which I would find myself terribly interested in what Moore was saying.  At others, I didn't much care.  The art is...interesting.  I say it that way not to passively indicate that Lost Girls made me uncomfortable -- it didn't -- but instead as a means of indicating that Gebbie's style is something I'm not entirely sure I like.  It's good art; I don't think there's much doubt about that.  I'm just not sure I like it.  It's not entirely dissimilar to the way I feel about Ben Templesmith's Ten Grand art.  I need more time to process it.

Same here.

Maybe we'll return to Lost Girls when the completed edition rolls around.






I didn't read comics for the majority of the nineties; I only picked the habit up again in 2000, in fact, so I missed the entire decade.  As such, I missed out on -- or, depending on your stance, dodged the bullet of -- the Todd MacFarlane and Image days.  Including Spawn.

Now, I knew that there was such a thing as Spawn; I saw that dreadful movie that came out.  And the only part of that movie that I thought was even vaguely bearable was the clown played by John Leguizamo.

That, apparently, was Violator.

Alan Moore worked for Image for several years as a hired hand, and many Moore fans look on those years as a sort of Dark Ages, lost time from their treasured writer.  Well...my take on that is that this was the era that produced From Hell, so hey, that alone makes Moore's hired-gun status okay in my book.  It's a shame Big Numbers couldn't be completed in the bargain, too, but that water is long under the bridge.

As for this Violator miniseries, it didn't do much for me.  The art is sort of repulsive, not in a "eww-that's-gross" way (although it IS that), but in a "Jesus-that-is-hard-to-look-at-because-everyone's-proportions-are-screwed-up" way.

There are occasional moments that are fun, but this one wasn't really my cup of tea.  And frankly, if I had no idea it had been written by Alan Moore and you told me, I probably would call you a liar.







Moore returned to the Violator character later in a second miniseries, this one a crossover in which a superhero named Badrock -- who, like Ben Grimm, is made of rock (get it?) -- captures the demon Violator on behalf of Youngblood, which seems to be some sort of government agency.  Some of the details didn't quite come through for me, thanks to my unfamiliarity with Image's universe of heroes and villains.

In any case, the Youngblood institute ends up being transported to Hell, and it's up to Badrock to get 'em all back alive.

I didn't get much out of Violator, but this one...?  This one I liked.  Don't get me wrong; it's no Watchmen, or even Top Ten, but it was good, and I actually found myself getting interested in Image comics of the era, in a theoretical sense.  (I've got no time to go back and actually give them a thorough investigation; but given more time to do so, I'd like to do it, just to say I had.)

What Moore wrote here, essentially, is superhero comedy.  I'm going to stop just short of saying "parody."  But in things like the aforementioned Top Ten (and probably Tom Strong) and, to some degree, even Watchmen, Moore did make parodies of superhero comics.  With that in mind, Violator vs. Badrock fits in quite nicely alongside some of his other work, in tone if not necessarily in overall quality.

And that's fine!  Jeez, not everything has to be awesome.  I mean, yeah, sure, it's be cool for every Bruce Springsteen song to be as good as "Backstreets," but does that mean that "We Take Care of Our Own" sucks?  Of course not.

Same deal here.








Here, obviously, Moore is writing about the big guy himself, Spawn.  My relative lack of familiarity with the character didn't prove to be too big a hindrance and, indeed, I found myself saying, "Hey, maybe you should check out some vintage Spawn one of these days!"

I didn't enjoy this one as much as Violator vs. Badrock, but it was still pretty good.  It's got fewer opportunities for humor, but that need not be a hindrance; Swamp Thing was never exactly a laff-riot, and that didn't hurt Moore's run on that series at all.  This has something similar to that feel.  It isn't as deep, or as resonant, but the two could be cousins, if not siblings.

The setup is that there are slayings happening in town, and Spawn gets blamed for it by a monster-hunter who has conveniently come to town.  That nasty bit of business coincides with Spawn trying -- and succeeding -- to get rid of his costume.  These are still early days for Spawn, and he doesn't know all that much about what has happened to him.

Not by any means a classic, but I still enjoyed it.

*****

And with that, this longer-than-normal edition of Bryant Has Issues has reached its conclusion.  See you next time, True Believers!

6 comments:

  1. I like Blood Feud, too. A few years back I became interested in checking out the issues of Spawn written by Moore (and Gaiman, Sim, and some others) and tracked them all down. (Note to anyone who wants to do the same: invest the time in leafing through dollar-a-comic bins; virtually every Image ever published can be found there. Comics priced absurdly at shops and on eBay especially.)

    You posted some fine examples of my number one obstacle to appreciating this era of Image, then and now: Rob Liefeld. You’ve covered my favorite of Moore’s Image work (1963,) tho I really enjoy what he did with Supreme. I wish they’d straighten out whatever tangle of rights-litigation or negotiation is holding up a reissue of those tpbs. (Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to find Moore’s Supreme issues in dollar-a-comic bins!)

    Tom Strong and all that ABC stuff seems so complex and fascinating. I’m amazed at the depth and volume of ideas that emerge from this guy’s brain. One of these days. I have some of it (Promethea, some one-offs) but not all. Ditto for Lost Girls. The Complete Alan Moore Collection In Single Issues is a laudable goal for any aspiring comics aficionado.

    Man, that art by Murphy and Rodriguez up there is just gorgeous.

    I first came across Ben Templesmith's art in that series he did with Warren Ellis a few years back, Fell. I like his style.

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    1. Yeah, Liefeld...I've heard his name discussed in the negative sense many, many times. Apart from that, I'm not terribly familiar with his stuff. Seems like maybe that's to my credit.

      Templesmith is growing on me. It's a style I'm not used to, so I'm having to recalibrate the old mental gears to permit for what he does.

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    2. When Liefeld asked Moore if he'd been interested in taking over Supreme, Moore said sure, but only if he could disregard everything Liefeld (the character's creator, mind you!) had established/ previously done because, he told him, "it's not very good." That always cracked me up. Liefeld (to his credit, it must be said) said sure.

      You've likely seen this in your travels but on the off chance you haven't:

      http://www.progressiveboink.com/2012/4/21/2960508/worst-rob-liefeld-drawings

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    3. Nope, I'd never seen that. Hoo-boy! That crap is awful, especially the woman with the seemingly broken back. I loved the thing about the Conan sword, which did indeed tell me a lot.

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  2. Let's be honest. The Dark Tower Graphic Novel series should've ended long ago. I am not even going to pick up these continuation novels. Locke and Key will always be amazing. I am curious (I don't see a place to look?) have you read The Arrival by Shaun Tan. It's not like other graphic novels we are both used to I suppose (I am currently reading Green Lantern new 52 #1). It was really just amazing art. You should check it out if you ever run across it!

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    1. Regretfully, I have to agree with you -- the Dark Tower comics stopped working after about the third arc. There were individual issues that I liked in the intervening years, but way more that I disliked.

      I had not even heard of "The Arrival," but I just Googled it, and holy moly, yeah, that looks terrific. Officially added to my reading agenda!

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