Monday, November 18, 2013

Bryant Has Issues #41

It's been several weeks -- nearly a month, in fact -- since I last wrote about comics.  The reason for the delay is simply that there hadn't been much of anything come out during that time that was worthy of serving as the lead-off batter.  There are no Stephen King comics being published right now, and I do like for this column to have at least some King-centricity.

This past Wednesday brought us a new Joe Hill comic, however, so finally, something to jump-start a Bryant Has Issues has arrived.

regular cover

"retailer incentive" cover

"subscription cover," although how you subscribe is a mystery to me

"Phantom variant" cover

the "Hastings cover" (and, for my money, far and away the best)

The Joe Hill comic in question is the first issue of Wraith (or Wraith: Welcome to Christmasland, which it is also being called in some places, although I'm going to stick to the shorter name, since that's what the cover says).  It is a companion piece to Hill's novel NOS4A2 that tells us more about that book's villain, Charlie Manx (and his villainous abode, Christmasland).

Some of Wraith seems to have its origins in "Wraith," a Charlie Manx novella that was recently published in the Subterranean Press limited edition of NOS4A2.  The novella is, so the story goes, a repurposed -- and lengthy -- section of the novel that Hill opted to cut out prior to the book's publication, for the stated reason that he felt it gave readers a little too much information about Manx (who, Hill reasoned, is scarier the less that you know about him).

Faithful readers of my blog might recall me pitching a tantrum complaining about not being able to afford to buy a copy of the limited edition before it sold out.  Depending on how you look at things, you can either blame this on (A) a car going kaput and having to be replaced around Christmas of last year, (B) a life spent practicing a considerable amount of financial stupidity, (C) a too-low print run for the limited edition, (D) the entire industry of limited editions, or (E) the fact that nobody ever gets everything they want.  The truth is that it's all of those things, and a few more besides.

My interest in the limited edition was less in owning it than in merely being able to read "Wraith," and in that regard, I got some assistance.  One of my readers wrote and said, in effect, "Hey, I bought a copy; I'll take some photos of the story and send 'em to you once I've gotten it."  And so he did, proving that collectors are frequently more than happy to help one another out.  Damn near brought a tear to my eye, that; and lest you think I exaggerate for effect, I assure you that I do not.

That said, I have not yet made time to actually read "Wraith" (the novella, that is), partially because I'm working on finishing a reread of Four Past Midnight but mostly because I'm wrestling with the decision of whether or not I want to review it for this blog once I've read it.  I suppose I could use some input on that decision, folks.  On the one hand, I certainly want to review it; on the other, "Wraith" seems destined to be one of those things that is limited to a rather small number of readers, and it occurs to me that reviewing it would, on the surface, almost seem like I was rubbing it in the faces of people who have not been able to obtain a copy.  I'm not sure that would be the right thing to do.

So, those of you who have an opinion: what say you?

In any case, for now the matter has been tabled, so let's move from "Wraith" to Wraith and talk a bit about the comic book.  Hill has said that much of what is in the novella will end up in the comics, and frankly, this first issue is so jam-packed that if you told me it was adapting the entire novella, it wouldn't much surprise me.

Without giving too much away, here are the contents of the issue: Charlie Manx is ferrying an unnamed little girl away to Christmasland in his Rolls Royce Wraith, and as the journey progresses he tells her a story, in which we learn about his sad childhood, his bloody escape from said childhood, his eventual marriage, his family's eventual financial ruin, his investment in an ownership share of Christmasland, and his family's first trip to that wondrous theme park.

Let's have a look at the first page:

You will notice that there is quite a lot of dialogue on that page.  Well, practically every page of the book has at least as many words on it as this one; some have considerably more.  Hence my use of the phrase "jam-packed" earlier.  This is a comic book that will take you longer to read than is average for the medium, and in that sense it is very obviously the work of a novelist adapting his own prose.

That is by no means a bad thing, though.  This is very good stuff, and will almost certainly please anyone who read and enjoyed NOS4A2.  Anyone who thought Manx was a lousy villain is apt to be bored, I guess, but even those folks might find themselves becoming more engaged with him as a result of Wraith.

My take on NOS4A2 was that it was a fairly terrific novel.  If I had a serious problem with it, it was that I did not entirely understand what was up with Christmasland.  It was a cool idea, and it provided some memorable chills; but the idea also seemed a bit random and forced, in some way I could not put my finger on (and consequently did not mention in my initial review).  Based on this first issue, however, it seems likely that Wraith is going to answer the concerns and questions I had.  If so, then it is a welcome miniseries indeed.

I have not mentioned the art by Charles Paul Wilson III yet.  That's because I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it.  I thought some of it was a bit on the weak side, but some of it is also pretty damn terrific (especially the more horror-centric panels).  I think I'll need another issue or two to process it; I'm not familiar with Wilson's work, and for whatever reason, it often takes me a while to accommodate myself to a new artist's style.

Final note about Wraith: it does not require a knowledge of NOS4A2 in the slightest, so if you haven't read the novel, don't let that put you off from reading the comic.

Arriving a couple of months or so late: Superman Unchained #4.  Artist Jim Lee is apparently infamous in the industry for being a tardy artist, so his books frequently ship later than expected.  Which is fine by me, really; I'd rather a creative team take the time to do something right than just shove an inferior product onto shelves.

So as far as that goes, I'm inclined to be patient.

Thing is . . . I don't like this series.  I really don't much like it at all.  I've been a vocal Scott Snyder fan for a while now, and while it pains me to say it, I guess I have to say it: it's his writing that is causing me to not give much of a shit when new issues of this series arrive in my box.  I'm just not interested in the things that are happening here.  This is not my idea of what Superman is, and I suspect that I'm going to be dropping the title pretty soon.

Snyder's take on Batman continues to be pretty solid, on the other hand.  This isn't necessarily one of the better issues recently, though; there has been an inexplicable jump in time since the cliffhanger from the last issue, and anyone who read that and expected that the next issue would be promptly taking up the Riddler-centric plotline #24 seemed to promise is in for bewilderment.

And what's with that cover? 

And a double-what's-with the $4.99 pricetag?!?  Ostensibly, this is a double issue, but it's only a few pages longer than normal; certainly not enough longer to justify the extra dollar.  DC has pulled shenanigans of this nature several times this year, and I'm fed up with it.  If I didn't enjoy Snyder's Batman, I'd just drop the book in protest.

So I think this'll be the determining factor in my decision as to whether I should drop Superman Unchained or not.  Consider that one dropped.  DC, if you're gonna charge me a buck I really don't want to spend, I'm going to make up for it by saving a few via canceling one of your other titles.

As for Batman #25, there's some cool Batmobile/Tumbler stuff, and there are a few creepy scenes involving exploded skeletons (this does not mean what you think), and some good Jim Gordon scenes.  But overall, the whole thing feels disjointed; the Zero Year storyline is really not paying off at all, and I'm beginning to be afraid that Snyder and Capullo have shit the bed a bit and aren't going to be able to get the sheets changed.

I'm still with it, though, and will be for a while to come unless DC continues to do this $4.99 bullshit.  A few more of those, and I'll just wash my hands of the whole thing.

"Believers," the first arc of Season 10, comes to a close in issue #5.  As it ends, I'm still not entirely sure I'm enjoying this series.  The art has continued to improve, but the story is . . . just kind of rolling off me without making an impression of any sort.  It's been a few weeks since I read the issue, and when I sat down to write this mini-review, I could remember literally nothing about it.

Typically, that's not a great sign.  I don't impart too much importance to it, mostly because my memory is kind of shitty, and also because I tend to read comics fairly quickly (i.e., without paying as much attention as I ought).  Still, I typically have at least some memories; here, it's like I may as well have not read it at all.

I'm tempted to pick it up and look at it, so as I can say at least something.  But I don't think I will.  The review seems more honest that way.

Brother . . . y'all are getting a seriously lazy blogger tonight...

The fourth issue of Trillium is quite good; maybe not AS good as the first three issues, but good nevertheless.  Thing is, I just don't think I have anything to say about it, except to note that it ends on what seems to be a rather massive cliffhanger.  Anything else I would theoretically say would probably give too much away for people who aren't reading the series.

All of which is another way of saying that I'm feeling lazy, and would kind of like to wrap this post up so I can get back to reading "The Sun Dog" from Four Past Midnight.

Sorry 'bout that.

I was thoroughly impressed by the first two issues of Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril, but the third and (now) fourth have soured me a bit.  What initially seemed like an impressive amount of sheer imagination is now beginning to seem like a kitchen-sink approach; or, if you prefer, the flinging of a great many balls into the air with little regard for how they land.  I hope that the final two issues will restore my faith a bit, but for now, that's how I'm feeling.

In this issue, there is a fight between truckers and superheroes, and a guy who looks an awful lot like Jeff Bridges ends up being a vital component.  None of it is bad, but none of it seems to advance the plot much, either; this feels like two issues that have been expanded to six (a silly judgment to make four issues in . . . but there you have it).

Oh, thank goodness; a comic worth talking about!

This issue contains: an appearance by Countess Robot X; a bit of backstory for Alana; a sniper, and response to same; laundry; the so-called "greatest board game in the universe"; some native food that causes serious problems for a few characters; arm wrestling; oral sex; and a massive cliffhanger.

It's all terrific, with customarily awesome art from Fiona Staples, and the issue is capped off with a letter column that is almost as entertaining as the comic itself.

And it's $2.99.

You listening, DC?

Finally, we have issue #3 of The Star Wars, and it's an improvement over the second issue, I'd say.  Here, we get a good bit of material that loosely corresponds to stuff that actually ended up in the final movie, including the arrival of the droids on the desert planet.

It's fun, but I'm starting to wish that I knew a bit more about the original draft written by Lucas.  What I mean by that is: I wish I could read that draft, so that I knew how much of these comics are coming from it, and how much is being added by scripter J.W. Rinzler.  Normally, I'd say it didn't matter; what's important is the final result.  And that's true, normally.  Here, however, much of the perceived worth of the comics lies in the window onto a Star Wars that might have been but never was; and if any of this is being added and/or significantly polished by Rinzler (or artist Mike Mayhew) so as to make it feel more Star Wars-y, then I'd call that a cheat.

I suspect that only a bit of that is happening.  But I wish I had the script as a companion piece, so I'd know for sure.

All of which is a long-handed way of saying that at some point after the first issue, my opinion on this series disappeared up my own ass, and I have gone in trying to chase it down.  It's a sad state of affairs -- there's no air conditioning in here! -- but for a miniseries of this nature, it doesn't feel entirely inappropriate.


And that brings the column to a close, I suppose.  Sorry for having so little of value to say, but some days you get the bear, and some days, the bear never shows up.

See you in a few weeks for the grand finale of Locke & Key!


  1. I haven't read Wraith (or NOS4A2, alas) but I say: blog it up!

    But that's probably my answer to any such question.

    I really have to sit down with Saga and read it beginning to end. I'm always intrigued by the bits you write about here but have yet to see an issue. Glad the letter column was entertaining - hell, glad it HAS a letters column. I'm very retro in my comic book tastes - I want x-ray specs ads, letter columns, and Bullpen Bulletins. Maybe I just want 80s comics, ha - ah well. Probably true.

    1. I believe you would probably dig "Saga" immensely. I keep expecting it to utterly fall apart, but so far, it hasn't.

  2. I think I'd defend blogging about the Wraith novella for the sake of completion, that way at least those who never get a chance to read it will know either what it's about or what they would have been dealing with, and whether it was ultimately good or bad.

    As for the concept of Christmasland itself.

    After giving it some thought, I sort of wonder if maybe Hill should have made it a two book story, like Guillermo del Toro's Strain series. Part one could have been called Wraith and part two could have been something like Christmasland (or if that's too cheesy, Inscape).

    Am I suggesting N0S402 is a bad novel? I'm afraid I can't do that, there's too much talent and genuine energy and suspense on display to just dismiss it. Do I think it could of used a bit more tightening here and there?

    Well, I remembered this one plot element of a children's book the protagonist was working on, and how it's somehow implied it's tapped into Christmasland. My thinking just sprang from that element and I wondered if the book would have been more intriguing if the whole showdown were instead a kind of battle of wills (imaginations?) to see who ultimately controls the Inscape, and in my mind it was sort of easy to imagine the world of Christmasland morphing into the world from the Heroine's children's book, and her motorcycle turning into the sentient-like bike from her books (when that idea occurred to me I remember thinking, cool, a benign version of Christine! Though still not something to mess with).

    I don't know whether any of the above just made sense of not.


    1. Sure it did!

      What I'd say is that the novel did, in some ways, feel like it was simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped . . . but not to a crippling extent. I still loved it, overall.

      As for the idea of splitting it into two books, I think the argument could be made that with these comics, that's what Hill has done.

      Funny you should mention "Christine." There is a mention in "Wraith" #1 of the Rolls Royce having been tainted by a family's death in much the same way that Le Bay experienced in the backstory for "Christine." I assume this is a direct reference back to his dad's work on Hill's part; there are, of course, numerous such references in the novel, so it makes sense for there to be some in the comics, too.

  3. I haven't read the Wraith yet so I skipped your review of the comic. That hastings cover rules though!
    There's no pic but this might be it

    I Loved Nos4R2, one of the best books I read in years.
    I think you are nuts to read Saga issue by issue, I love it but I couldn't read 12-15 pages of that story at a time. I read the collections too fast as it is!

    I read the first 2 of the SW comic, it's really boring to me I'm not sure if I'll buy the rest.
    I'm digging the Baltimore comic. I like how it's one story per issue but ties into a longer story later on.
    Sorry there's no AC for your butt dude.

    1. "Saga" actually works pretty well as a month-by-month comic; Vaughan writes it with that format in mind. That's the way it seems to me, at least; he might do no such thing. (Speaking of my butt, I should probably stop talking out of it...)

      Thanks for the link! I bet that IS the Hastings cover. I'm not sure I want to pay $6 for one, but I might; I might...

  4. Okay, totally off topic...and not giving a care in the world. THIS HAS GOT TO BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED.

    Here's an article from the Huffington Post that explains it all:

    And here is a dailymotion clip that displays exactly what the article talks about:

    All I can say is, it's great Cranston agreed to do this, even as a throwaway.


    1. No surprise there . . . he's a class act, and that's the sort of thing humorous class acts do.


  5. He hasn't been to work in a Friday in over 10 years.