Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Review of "The Stand, Vol. 2: American Nightmares"

For those of you joining us late, here is a link to the review of Vol. 1 of the comics.  But I mean, like, you don't have to go read that one first.  Look, I'm just glad you're here, so if you don't want to read that post, it's cool.  *kicks rocks and looks at the ground*

hardcover edition, cover art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

the premiere hardback was released on January 5, 2010

First, a confession: I am sick and fucking tired of titles which begin with the word "American."  As far as I'm concerned, American Graffiti gets a pass because it was awesome, but everything else is suspect at best and annoying at worst: you've got your American Psycho, American Idol, American Gladiators, American Horror Story, American History X, American Pie, American Beauty, American Gangster, American Me, and coming soon, American Sniper and American Hustle.  Flippin' 'eck, you Yanks; sod off with that barmy rubbish.  If I had the ability to do so, I'd write a movie called American Americans, and put the whole business to bed.  (Sidebar: I'd also like to launch a low-rent exploitation studio to produce knockoffs of these titles.  They'd be called, like, Mexican Horror Story and Samoan Psycho and Norwegian Pie and whatnot.  Damn...I'd actually really like to see Samoan Psycho now...)

My point is, we've reached the point where titling something "American _____" is really trite, unless there's an exceptional reason for doing so.  American Nightmares is, I would argue, not it.  I'd have gone with Dreamland.

And this has been Bryant Complains About A Title, starring Bryant. That's me!

The Stand: American Nightmares #1

published March 11, 2009 (cover date May 2009)

regular cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

sketch variant cover, art by Mike Perkins

variant cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

Lincoln Tunnel variant cover, art by David Finch

Let's talk covers.

Boy, do I hate that regular cover by Perkins and Martin.  What the hell are Larry, Stu, and Frannie doing with their hands?  The idea, I assume is that this a piece of art depicting the trio stumbling upon a pile of corpses; their hands, then, are in a surprised sort of warding-off position. It looks to me like the sort of thing you would see in a really cheap animated version.

So, of course, this is the cover for which I have a poster.  Yep, the guys at the comic shop where I bought this series for years received a promotional poster -- which, inexplicably, used this substandard image -- and figured I'd want it, so they gave it to me.  And I'm happy to have it.  It's hanging up, too; behind a door which spends the vast majority of time open.

The Lee Bermejo cover is alright; not one of his better covers, though.

The one I like the most is that Lincoln Tunnel variant by David Finch (not to be confused with David Fincher).  Does the Lincoln Tunnel scene take place in this issue?  It does not.  Still, pretty cool cover.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand..." (omitted from the collected editions).
  • Pages 2-3: scenes of Arnette, Texas, now seemingly devoid of human life.
  • Pages 4-7: in Shoyo, Nick releases his one still-living prisoner.
  • Pages 8-11: in New York, Larry meets Rita Blakemoor.
  • Pages 12-15: Harold Lauder (making his first appearance) pays Frannie a visit.
  • Pages 16-17: Frannie buries her father, then has a nightmare about Flagg, who has a coathanger and knows just how to use it.
  • Pages 18-23: Stu makes his escape, first from his cell and then from the CDC building.
  • Pages 24-32: a collection of pencil art pieces from Mike Perkins, including a brief essay by Perkins about his inking process.  The essay, as well as some of the sketches, are included in the collected edition; some are omitted, although those are all included in the omnibus edition.
  • NOTE: there were no ads in this issue, and I believe that remains the case for the remainder of the series.

The Stand: American Nightmares #2

published April 15, 2009 (cover date June 2009)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

Couldn't find a decent-size image of the sketch variant cover; it's just a black-and-white version of Bermejo's Trashcan Man cover, which, frankly, I'm not too fond of.  And yes, I just ended a sentence in a preposition.  Why?  Because I like to.

In this case, I prefer the Mike Perkins cover, which is creepy and gross, and kinda looks like the crow is peeing on the dead man's face.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand..." (omitted from the collected editions)
  • Pages 2-3: in "Mountain City" (Texas, I assume), Flagg visits Kit Bradenton and picks up a car.
  • Pages 4-5: with food in stir becoming rare, Lloyd kills a rat and stores it know, just in case...
  • Pages 6-9: in Shoyo, Nick is visited by Ray Booth, who first puts out his eye and then receives a bullet for his troubles.
  • Pages 10-18: in the longest sustained sequence of the comic thus far, we are introduced to Donald Merwin Elbert, a.k.a. the Trashcan Man.
  • Pages 19-22: Frannie pays a visit to Harold, and the two of them decide to leave Maine and head for Stovington, Vermont.
  • Page 23: in New York, Larry and Rita decide to get out of the city.
  • Pages 24-27: script-to-final comparisons for pages 1-2 and 15-16.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Page 28: the black-and-white art for the Mike Perkins variant cover.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Page 29: the "Trashcan Man" page from The Stand Sketchbook; omitted from the collected editions, although it can be found in the collected editions of Captain Trips.
  • Page 30-32: black-and-white art previews from issue #3.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.

The Stand: American Nightmares #3

published May 20, 2009 (cover date July 2009)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

Yes, we have now reached the Lincoln Tunnel issue.  Bermejo's cover is great, foreboding and ominous and other words that mean the same thing as those words.  The Perkins cover is pretty good, too; Larry never has to crawl out of a pile of bodies, except in the metaphorical sense, but comic-book covers often work better on a metaphorical level than on a literal one.

Again, I was unable to find a decent image of the sketch variant cover; it's Bermejo's cover, stripped of color, and somehow even more ominous, foreboding, etc.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand..." (omitted from the collected editions)
  • Pages 2-9: Larry and Rita makes their way toward the Lincoln Tunnel, and quarrel; Rota abandons Larry.
  • Pages 10-17: the trek through the Lincoln Tunnel.
  • Pages 18-21: Larry and Rita emerge into the daylight.
  • Pages 22-23: in New Hampshire, Stu meets Glen Bateman.  And Kojak the dog, too!
  • Pages 24-27: "Escape From New York," a brief essay by Mike Perkins about his process on drawing the scenes leading up to the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel, including several photos of the city he took for reference and used in his art.  Included in the collected edition; good call, Marvel!
  • Pages 28-29: script-to-final comparisons for pages 17-18.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Pages 30-31: "Tunnel Visions," an interview with Mike Perkins about the Lincoln Tunnel sequence.  Omitted from the collected editions (bad call, Marvel); included in the omnibus edition.
  • Page 32: Perkins' black-and-white art for his variant cover.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition. 

The Stand: American Nightmares #4

published July 8, 2009 (cover date September 2009)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

sketch variant cover, art by Lee Bermejo

variant cover, art by Mike Perkins and Laura Martin

Say...!  Here's something I've made it this far without wondering about: how come the cover date on comics (and other periodicals) is never in sync with the date the damned thing is actually published?  I've never understood that.  And by the way, this is merely a rhetorical question, not an invitation to actually give me the answer: I'm fine with not knowing, because I deeply suspect that the answer will only annoy me further.

Looking at that Bermejo cover makes me want to retch.  I can practically taste mold and semi-rotted flesh in my mouth.  Gross.  Very strong work, though.

I like the Perkins cover a lot, also.  A very simple idea, but beautifully executed.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand..." (omitted from the collected editions)
  • Pages 2-3: awesome montage sequence showing how a second plague -- of death-by-misadventure and accident -- claimed some 16% of the flu survivors.
  • Pages 4-6: Lloyd pulls the guy in the cell next door over, so his leg will be know, just in case...
  • Pages 7-13: Stu and Glen discuss recent nightmares they've been having.
  • Pages 14-15: Stu has another nightmare, in which Flagg holds the whole of the Earth in his hands.
  • Pages 16-17: Frannie and Harold paint directions on a barn and prepare to leave Maine.
  • Pages 18-23: Flagg pays Lloyd a visit in jail, and gives him the key.
  • Pages 24-28: an interview with Laura Martin.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Page 29: the black-and-white art for Perkins' variant cover.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Pages 30-32: black-and-white previews of issue #4, also omitted from the collected editions but included in the omnibus edition.  

The Stand: American Nightmares #5

published August 19, 2009 (cover date October 2009)

regular cover, art by Lee Bermejo and Laura Martin

I don't like that cover all that much.  I get the idea, but it doesn't really work.

There was a variant cover featuring Mike Perkins art; that art was used for the hardcover's front dustjacket, so I'm not replicating it here.  There was apparently no sketch variant cover, which possibly indicates that sales had begun to fall.  Or, equally possibly, doesn't.

The contents:
  • Page 1: "Previously in The Stand..." (omitted from the collected editions)
  • Pages 2-6: Nick has two dreams, one of Flagg and the other of Mother Abagail (her first appearance in the comics).
  • Pages 7-13: Larry finds Rita dead, and later has a wreck on his motorcycle.
  • Pages 13-20: Stu meets Frannie and Harold.
  • Pages 21-22: Larry wakes up, convinced he hears the sound of boots clopping down the road.
  • Page 23: Nick watches the stars.
  • Pages 24-25: Lee Bermejo talks about his process for drawing the cover to issue #5.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Pages 26-28: an interview with Mike Perkins.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Pages 29-30: script-to-final comparisons for pages 1-2.  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.
  • Pages 31-32: two black-and-white pieces, one for Mike Perkins' variant cover for this issue and the other for his variant cover for the next issue, Soul Survivors #1 (a cover which I will assuredly have more to say about in the post about that volume).  Omitted from the collected editions; included in the omnibus edition.

Alright, so, let's do our thang and discuss American Nightmares in a bit more depth.

The whole thing begins with a two-page, eight-panel visit to Arnette, Texas, where not a creature is stirring if by "creature" you mean human being.  There are assorted squirrels and crows and whatnot stirring, plus these animals:

American Nightmares #1, page 2, panels 3-4

Seeing the dog makes me think of how gross it would be to eat snot-covered superflu-ravaged corpses.  But a dog gotta be a dog, I guess.

The thing with the cats -- which comes from the novel -- is cool.  I'm a cat person; one of mine is meowing at me pretty vigorously tonight, too.  Leave me 'lone, kitty, I'm bloggin' 'bout Stephen King comics!

The thoughts of cats being immune to the plague sets my mind to wandering, imagining what sorts of shenanigans could occur in an America where cats suddenly outnumber humans by a significant margin.  For starters, I suspect every single human -- except maybe for the ones allergic -- would suddenly find themselves with seven or eight pet cats.  In Boulder, you'd be tripping over the little cocksuckers every few steps, I suspect.  And the bird population would probably take a massive hit as a result, since there's not exactly much of a chance that the cat-food factories are going to start up again anytime soon.  Eventually, a great many cats are born feral, and maybe there's some sort of a war between the wild cats and the domesticated ones.


American Nightmares #1, page 6, panel 1

I don't know if it was Aguirre-Sacasa or Perkins, but somebody calling shots on this series has a serious hardon for showing people counting things on their fingers while talking.  It doesn't work in this medium, though.  It looks like Mike is angrily telling Nick about something he did on prom night.  Maybe it's advice for when Nick meets Julie Lawry...

American Nightmares #1, page 8, panel 2

This monkey -- which I think is a baboon and not so much a monkey -- creeps me out.  I mean, like, seriously creeps me out.

American Nightmares #1, page 8, panel 3

This monster-shouter looks nothing like an old man, and also bears a distinct lack of resemblance to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  He also looks like he's near the upward stop in his touch-the-toes exercise routine.

American Nightmares #1, page 8, panel 4

I really like the plot point that Larry talks to other survivors before he meets Rita.  It makes their encounter seem less random, and it also makes perfect sense that even with a 99.4% mortality rate, there'd still be a significant population in New York City.  Wouldn't you love to somehow see a spinoff that dealt with the Big Apple post-Flagg?  I've got two words for you: Snake Plissken.

American Nightmares #1, page 13, panels 2-3

Here are two more words: Harold Lauder.

Harold is unquestionably one of the novel's most important characters, and boy, was Mike Perkins up against a wall in figuring out how to depict him.  He's described in the novel as being just kind of pathetic and gross, and so Perkins has done things like make him seemingly unable to properly tuck in his shirt, and has riddled his face with acne.  I get that.  But man, what is up with the tongue in the above panel?  That's awful.

American Nightmares #1, page 17, panels 1-2

Well, ladies, there's some nightmare fuel for you.

I've mentioned not liking Flagg in these comics all that much; this panel works for me 100%, though.  Very creepy.  Not as creepy as that snot-faced baboon a while back, though.  Sheesh!  That thing...!

American Nightmares #1, page 19, panels 4-6

Not sure why, but that panel on the bottom left thrills me.  Perkins seems to be really good at drawing impact.

This scene is one of my least favorite in the miniseries, partially because of the cheap and illogical attempt at a jump scare when the guy turns out to not quite be dead yet.  Here's how the comic handles the same scene:

American Nightmares #1, page 20

This, to me, seems a vastly preferable approach.  Granted, film is a very different medium than sequential art, and the jump-scare is something a comic isn't capable of providing.  But in that scene, the miniseries wasn't capable of providing it, either, was it?

I also like, here, how things have taken a turn toward surrealism.  The panels from page 19 show some of that, too, with the irregularly-shaped panels.  And on page 20, Stu is somehow appearing in three panels without seeming to actually belong in any of them.  This is the comics equivalent of heightened tension, and it works here marvelously.

Chapter Two opens with Flagg paying a visit to Kit Bradenton, who owes him a car.  I have to ask: what does Randall Flagg need with a car?  This is similar to the question "what does God need with a starship?", except that in that instance I know the answer, whereas here, as pertains to Flagg, I do not.  What does the Walkin' Dude need with a car?  As I type the question a second time, a potential answer presents itself: he needs it so as to give Nadine a ride out of the desert after their wedding night.  Works well enough, but one of the problems I have with The Stand -- comic, miniseries, and novel alike -- is that there is too slippery an idea of what Flagg can and can't do.

Moving along, we soon encounter Lloyd in prison, having a bit of a hunger problem:

American Nightmares #2, page 5, panel 3

I love that panel.

Things quickly take a turn for what is arguably the worse, as a few pages later Trashcan Man shows up.  I can tolerate Trashy in the novel, because King writes him well.  But he's a bit of an annoyance in the comics; not to the extent he is in the miniseries -- the Trashcan Man of the miniseries is annoying in the way I imagine it would be to have poison ivy on your scrotum -- but annoying nevertheless.

American Nightmares #2, page 10, panel 3

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that a comic has no choice but to try to make the internal into something external.  In a novel, we deal with Trashy's inner monologue on its own terms; in a comic, it has to actually exist on the page, outside of the character.  The problem is even worse in a movie; heck, at least in a comic you can get a panel like the one above, where Aguirre-Sacasa just comes right out and point-blank says that there are voices in Trash's head.

My inability to get onboard with Trashcan Man in the comics may also be unrelated to concerns of that nature.  It may be nothing more complicated than that I don't care for the design Perkins uses:

American Nightmares #2, page 28 (also appeared in The Stand Sketchbook)

Drawing Trashy must be a near-impossible task.  How do you convey insanity, but at the same time keep him at least vaguely sympathetic and compelling?  How do you make him kind of gross -- which he would almost certainly be -- without making comic readers kind of not want to look at him?

I don't have answers to these questions.  I'm not sure Mike Perkins did, either.

Either way, there's a pretty good bit of Trashcan Man in this issue.  Hell, he even gets the first double-splash in the series, as he watches the storage tanks burn.  Just to be spiteful, I'm not going to put it in here; ad anyways, it's nothing hugely special.  There IS a cool insert panel of Flagg's face appearing in the fire, though:

American Nightmares #2, pages 16-17, panel 4

That's pretty badass.

This is less so:

American Nightmares #2, page 19, panel 3

The scene in which Frannie sees Harold in his underwear, mowing the grass at a run while crying like a baby, obviously comes straight from the novel.  In the novel, it works, mainly because we are not asked to actually observe it ourselves; not in a literal sense, at least.  Instead, we "see" it as Frannie sees it; her disgust and disdain are there, but her sympathy -- and empathy -- are there, too.  Put it in a comic, and all of a sudden we have to see it through our own point of view, and in order to make that happen, someone has to draw it.  And I submit to you that successfully drawing that in the sort of realistic style Mike Perkins uses would have been a near-impossible task for any artist.

Sidebar: this little Harold scene -- in the novel as well as the comic -- always makes me think of the titular character in the short story "The Lawnmower Man."  The reasons for that are obvious: someone mowing the lawn in a state of nakedness (or near-nakedness), being observed by someone who would really just as soon not be seeing what they are seeing.  In the short story, the mower turns out to be the god Pan, and it might not be too much of a stretch to suggest that Flagg is a bit of a Pan figure.  Actually, it might be.  But let's go with it.  And anyways, Pan is occasionally mentioned in relation to Bacchus/Dionysus, and Flagg eventually ensnares Harold by using decidedly Dionysian tricks like sex and wine.  So maybe there's a little something to it.  Either way, that's what this scene makes me think of.

American Nightmares #2, page 23, panels 2-4

I hate the look on Larry's face in that final panel.  Why does he look so nonchalant?  This is a man whose mother died recently, whose every friend in the entire world died recently, whose world essentially died recently.  He should maybe look a bit less smug and self-satisfied.  I could live with it if his smugness and self-satisfaction were part of the story, but I don't think I'd say that they are.

I'd also add that this is an awful place to end an issue of a comic series.  It sort of works if you know the novel, and therefore knows what it means for Larry's near future; but otherwise, that's a very weak issue-ender indeed.

It leads into Chapter Three, which covers the Lincoln Tunnel sequence.  That sequence is, in fact, the majority of the chapter/issue.  It's a fairly take-no-prisoners chapter, and one of the first images we see is this one:

American Nightmares #3, page 4, panel 1

This is the sort of thing Larry and Rita are escaping New York -- heh -- to try to avoid.  But, of course, behavior of this sort will not be limited to New York; and eventually, it becomes state-sanctioned, in a way, in Las Vegas.

This brings up an interesting thought.  (It interests me, at least; you might disagree.)  In the miniseries, we see that two of Flagg's eventual henchmen, Rat-Man and Ace High, are in New York.  In fact, Larry has a brief encounter with them in an arcade before the flu decimates everything.  One of my complaints about the novel is that we don't spend enough time with the people on Flagg's side of things.  Wouldn't it be kind of horrifying and cool to know what Rat-Man and Ace High were up to during the plague's early days?  I get the feelings that whoever would have strung up that "looter" and removed his hands is someone who would probably fit in well with Flagg and his people.  I'm not saying that Rat-Man and Ace High did it -- that'd be kind of convenient, wouldn't it? -- but somebody did it, and I bet you just about anything that they headed for Vegas when the dreams began.  There's a story there.

Speaking of story...would it be fair to say that the Lincoln Tunnel scene is one of King's finest bits of writing?  I think so.  The phrase "tour de force" comes to mind, and I think that when people think of The Stand, it is one of the first scenes to come to most people's minds.  Deservedly so.  The miniseries did a decent job with it, but boy, is it just not particularly possible to put a scene set in the dark on film.  Director Mick Garris didn't quite pull it off, but the fact that he got as close as he did is to his credit.

The task is easier for a comic book, thanks to the possibility of using narration panels, but the problem essentially remains the same: how do you dramatize something that takes place in the darkness?

The answer Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins came up with was to keep the scene in darkness and use a lot of narration and dialogue against a darkened backdrop, combined with panels in which Larry sees something using his lighter.  And then, they took things a step further: they actually show some of Larry's semi-panicked imaginings of zombies, assassins, and whatnot.  Showing that in a movie would be almost impossible to do without tipping over into cheesiness; but a comic -- which consists of a series of moments frozen in time, and therefore works on a different set of principles than film -- can do it without batting an eye, and the approach here works beautifully.  Let's have a look at a few sample pages:

American Nightmares #3, page 13

American Nightmares #3, page 14

American Nightmares #3, page 15

Great stuff here.  I think this sequence is one of the moments everyone associated with the comic adaptation ought to feel the most proud about.

Larry and Rita make it out of the Tunnel, of course, and resume their journey.  The chapter ends with Stu meeting Glen and Kojak.  Right before that meeting takes place, we get these panels of Stu, the bottom of which is fairly awful:

American Nightmares #3, page 22, panels 3-4

Stu looks like Gomer Pyle or something there.  Not sure what Perkins was going for there.  He immediately redeems himself with two splendid Kojak panels, however:

American Nightmares #3, page 22, panel 5

American Nightmares #3, page 23, panel 1

I don't like to think of all those dogs getting wiped out by Captain Trips.  King made a wise decision to not focus on that actually happening.  I can deal with people getting killed by the score; don't show me no dying dogs, though.  That shit ain't cool.

Chapter four opens by adapting one of me favorite chapters from the book: the one in which we find out about a bunch of people who survived the flu, but succumbed to accidental death of one type of another not long after the ravages of Captain Trips had abated.  Let's have a look at those two pages:

American Nightmares #4, page 2

American Nightmares #4, page 3

Boy, do I love those pages.  I just love everything about them.  For starters, I love the layout: the images being set off from the narration makes the thing feel like a series of postcards, or perhaps a series of slides from somebody's genuinely horrible vacation.  These are moments frozen in time, and once again we see an area where the comic-book format is better-suited to adapting the novel than film could ever be.  How would you ever do this sequence on film?  
It -- like the sequence in which we see the virus spreading across the country -- would have to be changed substantially in order to fit the medium of film.  In a movie, or even a series of movies, it would exceedingly difficult; I'm tempted to say impossible, but that seems too limiting.  In a television series, it could be done; you'd need the idea to be introduced in some way, such as Glen and Stu finding a corpse that showed no signs of flu.  This would lead to Stu wondering aloud what happened, and Glen could posit a theory, and go on to speculate that there would be a second, smaller plague.  Then, the remainder of the episode could be filled by actually showing these scenes as they occur.

Even that presents major obstacles, however.  For example, let's consider what we know about Irma Fayette: she is a twenty-six year-old virgin who has been morbidly afraid of rape her whole life.  That's easy for Stephen King to tell us in a single sentence, and it is a remarkably communicative sentence.  But how do you suggest it on film?  Do you have Irma scream at the hippie, accusing him of rapey desires?  Do you do some sort of a flashback?  If you do a flashback, are you violating the structure of the episode?  These are difficult questions to answer.

Interestingly, 2013 has a solution for this that 1993 did not have.  Even 2003 wasn't really up to this particular challenge.  Ever heard the word "webisodes"?  In case you answered that in the negative, a webisode is a downloadable/streamable short film that features characters and/or concepts from an existing television series, the purpose of which is to supplement the series itself.  For a hypothetical series of webisodes based on The Stand, nine distinct short films -- plus two more (an intro and a conclusion featuring Stu and Glen) to properly set up the concept -- could be filmed, each of which showed these accidental-death scenes in as much detail as the creative team felt it needed.  And as much as the budget would allow, of course.  This could be done for a movie, or for a television series, or whatever else.  The point is, it would permit for the scenes to be filmed -- and for the novel to therefore be more fully adapted -- but would not have to be crowbarred into the episodic continuity.

Neat, right?

Right.  But look at all the work that had to go into making that even a theoretical possibility for a filmed adaptation!

The sequential-art adaptation, however, is ideal.  As we've said before, comic panels are already more or less just captured moments in time, so it's no real challenge to sell a collection of vignettes like this.  And look how much character Perkins is able to get into some of those panels!  I particularly love Irma and the hippie, but they're all pretty great.  And several of them are rather horrifying, too.

Speaking of horrifying, we next get a look at what Lloyd has been up to in jail:

American Nightmares #4, page 4, panel 5

Jaysus Croist!  That is nasty!  For God's sake, there's roach goo running off his upper lip!

I give Perkins grief every once in a while, but boy, when he gets it right, he gets it real right.

American Nightmares #4, page 11, panel 1

I'm not sure he got it entirely right with this Flagg image, though.  Yeah, yeah; I know: I've been harping on how much I don't like Perkins' Flagg.  This particular panel, though, is not too bad.  I think it gets closer to working for me than some other panels because I can sort of contextualize a reason for why Flagg is doing his come-hither-style beckoning thing.  This is a depiction of Glen's dream, and as he says, he has a feeling that Flagg is looking for him.  Fair enough.  I mean, it doesn't change the fact that he looks like Hobgoblin from Spider-Man, but still, it gets pretty close to working for me, which means that it probably works really well for most other people.  The colors by Laura Martin certainly don't hurt, either.


(Sidebar: Black Cat is the hottest superheroine ever drawn.  See, now, you might think it's She-Hulk or Vampirella, but you'd be wrong; it's Black Cat.)

Here's a gorgeous panel that consists of nothing but Stu, Glen, and Kojak walking home at the sun -- mercifully unaffected by the superflu -- disappears into its cradle:

American Nightmares #4, page 13, panel 1

There aren't a huge number of points in the story where things are allowed to be this quiet and contemplative.  Perkins and Martin make this one count, though.

Back at Glen's house, Stu falls asleep and dreams of Flagg:

American Nightmares #4, page 15, panels 1-3

Oh-ho!  What have we here?!?  It's an explanation for Flagg's odd choice in hand placement!

If this had been up front somewhere, it might have worked for me.  But four issues into the second arc is a bit too late, and as much as I might intellectually feel that these panels redeem some of Perkins' choices re.: Flagg, my heart is telling me to stay a bit pouty about it all.

Can do, heart!

We next join up with Frannie and Harold, who have painted a barn -- with directions to Stovington, for the benefit of other survivors wandering by -- and are preparing to leave Maine.

American Nightmares #4, page 17, panel 4

I wonder what they're listening to?

Let's briefly compare this panel to the corresponding scene in the miniseries.  In that version, screenwriter King and director Mick Garris dropped the ball (in my opinion) by making Frannie be borderline flirty with Harold.  Now, you could make the argument that doing so actually helps Harold's character arc; it gives him a bit more of a reason for doing what he ultimately does, which makes him a more tragic figure.  However, if it does so, it does so only at the expense of Frannie's character arc.

In the miniseries, she is wearing a sun dress, her legs extremely visible and her cleavage popping out -- BA-DAM! -- fairly significantly.  For someone who allegedly has distaste for Harold, dressing in that manner is an insane course of action.  She worsens it by actually resting her head on his knee.  That version of Frannie is kind of a cocktease, to be honest.  She is an awful person, and she deserved to die in the place of Nick when Harold's bomb went off.  Too harsh?  I don't care!  The hell with her!

Here, Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins do a great job of hewing closely to the book, where Frannie's alliance with Harold is a reluctant one at best.  She does come close to stepping over the line into the realm of Leading Harold On, but when those moments happen, King tells us what's going on inside her head, and we understand why she's doing what she's doing.  Harold doesn't, and that will have consequences; but because we see things from Frannie's point of view, we remain in sympathy with her.

The comics do a good job of retaining that, and this panel of a more conservatively-dressed Frannie sitting with a table between herself and Harold does a great job of establishing that dynamic.

Chapter four ends with Flagg releasing Lloyd from prison, and I'm not going to dwell on it.  I do have one thing I want to show you, though:

American Nightmares #4, page 19, panels 5-6

I love it when comic-book characters scream "AAAIIIIEEEEE!!!!!!"  In my mind, it always sounds like a Wilhelm.


Chapter five opens with Nick in Arkansas; he, too, is dreaming of Flagg:

American Nightmares #5, page 3, panel 1

One of my complaints about the novel is that I don't feel like King gave us quite enough of a sense of why people would have signed up to follow Flagg.  We understand why in the case of Lloyd and Trashcan Man, and that's about it.  But doesn't it seem like he ought to be offering something to more or less everyone who dreams of him?  Instead, he mostly comes off as a pure bogeyman.  Here, we get a little indication of why someone like Nick might at least be vaguely tempted by the idea of joining with the Dark Man.

A couple of panels later, we get a terrific sequence in which -- again -- the medium is put to use doing something it is well-suited to do:

American Nightmares #5, page 4, panels 1-6

Computer-generated special effects would make this scene doable, but I think it would be difficult to do without looking cheesy.  Here, though, I think it works wonderfully.

Nick is, of course, landing in Nebraska, and is about to meet Mother Abagail for the first time.  It is her first appearance in the comics.  Let's have a look:

American Nightmares #5, page 5

From there, we get a scene with Larry.  It's the one from the novel in which he wakes up, goes out naked to piss, sings the national anthem, and then decides to go get himself a piece of morning nooky.  He finds Rita dead of an overdose, having choked on her own vomit, which turns out to be a real boner-slayer.  I want to show you two pieces of art from this sequence:

American Nightmares #5, page 8, panel 1

I've been praising Mike Perkins a lot lately, but what in the hell is up with Larry's stance here?  This is awful.

And now, for a different sort of awful:

American Nightmares #5, page 9, panel 2

Hurk!  Bleeeachhh!  Gooolp!

That is some nasty shit, y'all.  Perkins did a great job, and Martin's colors are gross.  They're just plain gross.  Kudos to them both.

Check this out:

American Nightmares #5, page 13, panels 1-2

This is one of the very few instances in the comics in which two plotlines appear on the same page.  In fact, this might be the only time; I'd have to check to be sure, there might be one or two others.  Either way, it is a rarity.  I have no criticism about that, either positive or negative; I just thought it was kind of interesting.

Next up, Stu meets Harold and Frannie.  We get several panels of Harold that are just kind of awful; this sequence is not Perkins' finest hour.  The only example I'm going to show you is this three-panel sequence, in which a lovely drawing of Frannie is, um, sandwiched between two panels of an awkward and/or creepy-looking Stu:

American Nightmares #5, page 20, panels 2-4

Laura Martin's colors are strong here; they, and the beauty of Frannie in the middle panel, do a LOT for this particular page.  One complaint: Aguirre-Sacasa's narration has, inexplicably, become overly personalized.  What's with him addressing us as "friends"?  That is not from the novel, and I'm not sure there was a good reason to start going down that road in the comics.

In any case, it doesn't happen very often, so it's a minor problem at worst.

That's where we are going to leave things for this review.  Overall, I think it's a solid volume; there are several standout sequences.  There are a few that don't work all that well, too, but mostly, I think it continues to be a strong adaptation of the source material.

I'll be back as soon as I can be with the remainder of the series.  I'd hoped to have it out a lot faster, but various delays of the professional and personal variety alike have conspired to make that a no-go.  I should be able to get the review of Volume 3 up relatively fast, though, at which point in time the series is going to have to take a brief hiatus.

Why, you ask?

Because in less than a week, Doctor Sleep hits shelves!  Rest assured, I will be reading that one the moment I get my hands on a copy Tuesday morning.  If things go like they usually go when a new King novel comes out, I'll read it in a couple of days or so, which means that a spoiler-free review ought to be up around Thursday.  After that, I'll probably dive back into The Stand and finish that series out, and then give Doctor Sleep a deeper treatment.

After that, it'll be on to a retrospective of Four Past Midnight, which I'm very much looking forward to revisiting.

So there's some great stuff on the way.  Hope to see y'all then.


  1. And now, a brief amusing digression:

    "Wouldn't you love to somehow see a spinoff that dealt with the Big Apple post-Flagg? I've got two words for you: Snake Plissken."

    Me (scrolling down screen) I got four more words, The City of Lud- Aaaaaaaaaarrrrgggghhhh!

    Apologies, before I could even finish my thought I scrolled down to reveal (shudders) Harold (yes, that really was sort of my inward reaction).

    As to the character of Trashcan Man, I'll admit, it's not who I see in my head either (granted, the character in my mind is little more than the guy on the cover of the Aqualung album, so no help there), however what surprised me about the way I described him in that snippet of dialogue I wrote about him, what's funny there is how much younger I saw him in my head, almost a kid (granted, after I thought about it I realized that version looked unfortunately like....Malachi!(insert wailing and gnashing of teeth here.

    Incidentally, as to what kind of song would I use for Trashcan, I picture this song from Billy Idol as somehow fitting for him:

    I just liked the idea of it starting on the soundtrack the instant he sets the final bomb and it plays over his desperate race to outrun all his explosives as he makes his escape from Shoyo.

    It just fitted him in some way (while he's a tragic character, I'd be lying if I didn't say I also saw a bit of wild and crazy guy in my head).


    1. I do love "Dancing with Myself" -- that might work pretty well the way you envision it.

      Personally, though, I'm tempted to stick with Blue Oyster Cult:

      Incredibly on-the-nose, obviously, but the lyrics work rather well. Matter of fact, I think I may have just stumbled into a genius suggestion.

      I totally agree that Trashy here seems a bit too old. I don't remember how old he's supposed to be in the novel, though; it might be that the adaptation is getting it right and my memory is getting it wrong. Certainly wouldn't be the first time THAT happened.

      I actually found myself thinking about your Lud theory a few times while rereading the comics. It's an intriguing idea, no doubt about it.

  2. I’d see American Americans, Mexican Horror Story, Samoan Psycho, and Norwegian Pie and whatever else your fictional production company can crank out. What a fantastic idea for a studio.

    I thought Marvel and DC straightened out their cover date discrepancies in the 80s. But a quick check of my closet (not to mention right up there in the blog) shows me I’m wrong. I could’ve sworn I read about how each company closed the distance and ended that practice.

    The Stand: The War Between the Cats would be the greatest collection of webisodes for an expanded Stand-verse I can imagine.

    You could be right about the Lincoln Tunnel sequence. That’s a great stretch of writing right there and definitely evokes real dread and anxiety. For awhile everytime I drove through the Ted Williams Tunnel in Boston that sequence would come to mind, particularly if traffic ever slowed to a crawl.

    “Boy, do I love those pages.” Yeah, man – that’s some good stuff right there. Good point about the comic book’s suitability for vignette-storytelling like the ravage of the superflu. Speaking of art, man, that finding-Rita-dead vomit-tastic panel is gross as hell. I’m not the biggest fan of most of the art here (Stu and Larry look too different to me from panel to panel, issue to issue, and that’s a good thing to point out re: the counting fingers approach. I don’t quite get that) but that is amazing. (Ditto for that one Flagg panel you single out up there.)

    “She is an awful person, and she deserved to die in the place of Nick when Harold's bomb went off. Too harsh? I don't care! The hell with her!” You know, even in the book, there was something about Frannie that never clicked for me. She’s not one of my favorite King creations.

    1. I hear you regarding Frannie. She works relatively well for me, at least in the novel; but I've got major misgivings about the way she is treated during the third act, where she essentially gets turned into someone who has to stay at home on account of pregnancy. I don't think King meant anything misogynistic in doing that; it's just where the story went. Still, it's a shame that once the final act kicked in, Frannie had literally nothing to do except do nothing.

    2. Well, I don't think having a pregnant woman not set off on foot for Vegas from Boulder is exactly a cop-out. But, I hear you. Like you say, I don't think King had any misogynist motivation in doing it that way.

      It depresses me that there is probably a sizable readership who considers it a "failure of female agency" to opt for Frannie to stay behind to deliver a child. But I'm sure there is. Undoubtedly this makes me a chauvinist retro pig intent on controlling women's vaginas, or something, and probably a gun-waving racist maniac. Naturally.

      God, this country... yaaaaarg. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right... don't mind me. Angry day of stupid headlines and Chicago nonsense. Go vaginas. Ye've nothing to fear from Bryan McMillan.

    3. Oh, no, it's definitely not a cop-out. I don't think it's a failure of female agency, either (although I agree with you that some would undoubtedly see it that way). What I'd say about that is this: even if I thought King HAD written it from a misogynist viewpoint, I'd say that he has the defense of saying, "Well, hey, I'm a man, so I can't really help it if I write from a masculine point of view." But in a world where female authors are still writing dreck like "Twilight" and "50 Shades of Grey," I think 1978 Stephen King gets a pass.

      My issue with the novel isn't that Frannie didn't get to take part in The Stand itself. My issue is simply that I don't know what she did in Boulder while Stu was gone. She's still on the Free Zone council; presumably she is still playing a major role in shaping that community. I'd just like to have seen some of that happen. Yes, I AM in fact saying that I wish the novel had been 3000 pages long.

      I get why King stayed away from Boulder during that final act, though. Doing that serves to enhance Stu's isolation, which serves the whole "wandering the wilderness" aspect well. It would be a shame to violate that, in a way. But it could have been done; stick with Stu and the others up until Stu and Tom and Kojak are nearly to Boulder, then flash back to Frannie and Boulder to see what they did while the others were gone.

      I get why King didn't do any of that; but it had the side-effect of weakening Frannie's character arc considerably, which is a shame.

      Now, Bryan, if you would, please put down your assault rifles, burnable crosses, and season box-sets of "Entourage."

    4. Entourage - nice touch!

      Good points, all.