Monday, January 13, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #42

At long last, Bryant Has Issues #42 is upon us.  The primary focus of this column will be the final issue of Joe Hill's Locke & Key, and since months often passed between issues of that comic, perhaps it is fitting that it has been nearly eight weeks since the last comics column 'round these parts.  What can I say?  Time ain't what it used to be.

In any case, the final issue of Locke & Key (Alpha #2) finally arrived on December 18, and to show how much they love their customers, IDW did what they had also done with Alpha #1: set the price at $7.99.  Which, guys, seriously, is too much for a single comic.  Even an ostensibly double-sized issue like this one.  And to hammer the point home, they produced approximately 1,473 variant covers.  The seven primary covers were collected inside a custom slipcase and the set sold for $49.99 each.

So of course, that was the one I bought.  Plus an eight copy, the Retail Incentive A cover.  Because hey, why not.

Let's have a look at that slipcase:



Nothing special, but that's typically what you get with slipcases.  I didn't buy this sucker for the slipcases, anyways; I bought it for the cover.  So let's have a look at all seven:

Cover A, art by Gabriel Rodriguez -- got to have the Rodriguez cover!

Cover B, art by Simon Bisley -- pretty cool; is that a Crimson King eye?!?

Cover C, art by Glenn Fabry, colors by Ryan Brown -- not sure who's being depicted there, but it's creepy and I dig it

Cover D, art by Michael Kaluta -- lookit all them keys...

Cover E, art by Bill Sinkiewicz -- he of Big Numbers infamy

Cover F, art by Dave Sim, colors by Jay Fotos -- random Spider-Man tribute, check; reference to my favorite Hill short story, check; HAD to have this one

Cover G, art by Bernie Wrightson, colors by Jay Fotos -- BERNIE WRIGHTSON!

And, for the sake of completion, here's the other one I bought:

Retail Incentive cover A, art by Shane Leonard

If I were a good blogger, I'd run down images of the many other variant covers and post 'em here just for the sake of showcasing them all.  But I'm too lazy, and the others I've seen are mostly boring.  So you're on your own with those.

Doing the math reveals that I have spent roughly $60 on the final issue of Locke & Key, and for that expenditure, one would hope that the result would be one of the best series finales in the history of comics.  Is Alpha #2 that?  It's hard to say.  I don't think it's a flat-out triumph, like, say, the final issue of Watchmen is.  But it's solid.  I'd compare it to the final issue of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, and I'd compare it favorably.

Initially, I was a bit confused by a particular plot point involving the fate of a certain character.  I even hinted at that in a comment on one of my other posts recently.  And actually, when I say I was "a bit" confused, I am underselling it; I had no fucking clue how this plot development happened.

It's going to be impossible to talk about this without being at least a bit specific.  So if you want to remain unspoiled, this is your chance to run away.  I'm going to insert the spoilers between a couple of photos of a monkey riding a dog rodeo-style.  So scroll down with your eyes unfocused, and when you see that image a second time, it's safe again.

Spoilers in...






Alright, so . . . Bode comes back to life.  I was happy for this to happen.  I mean, I didn't want Bode to have to remain a disembodied spirit for the rest of eternity, so his returning to life was one of the things I had on my checklist of Things I Wanted From The Final Issue.

What confused me is the means by which it happened.  Hill doesn't explain it as explicitly as might have been a good idea.  Once it's pointed out, it makes sense; but I could have used an extra page or two spelling it all out.

So, here's the prevailing theory on how it worked: in his spirit form, Bode talks the bird -- the one that visits Tyler and summons him -- into giving up its life so that Bode can enter its body.  Rodriguez cues us that this is what has happened because as soon as the bird returns to life, it has eyes similar to the ones Bode had when he temporarily took on the body of a bird (through use of the Animal Key) way back in Keys to the Kingdom #1!  That was the issue that featured Calvin and Hobbes-inspired artwork from Rodriguez.

So what happens is that Tyler recognizes that the bird is in fact Bode, and uses the Animal Key to, essentially, give him a new Bode-body.

It makes complete sense.  But it probably only does so if you've read the entire series several times, or (at the very least) quite recently.  Or have a much better memory than the one I have.  I get the desire to not overexplain things, and generally I applaud the effort to keep things subtle.  In this instance, though, I think maybe a bit more was called for.

That said, now that the answer has been presented to me, it changes my perspective on the entire issue.  Initially, I was so confused by this that it colored my perceptions and bit and caused me to be disappointed; but with the answer in place, skimming back through the issue causes me to feel much more positive about it.  It's a solid finale.  Not, I would have to insist, a home run; not for me, at least.  But it has enough genuine emotion, enough great art, and enough closure that it works.

I suspect that Locke & Key will also benefit greatly from being read cover to cover, as one would read a novel.  At some point down the line, I plan to do just that, and to write a fuller exploration of the series for this blog.  It definitely deserves it, and I suspect the finale will read a bit better when taken in proper context like that.  A break of weeks and months between issues is not always conducive to seeing a comic in the proper light.  My guess is that this has been a good example of that.

Let's move on, but stick within the Joe Hill canon for a bit.

Here we have Wraith #2, which is subtitled Welcome to Christmasland -- Chapter 1: The Get-Away.

You are pardoned if you look at that cover and assume it is Charlie Manx.  That is not Charlie Manx, however; it is a prisoner named Sykes, who is one of a trio of inmates being transported somewheres by the California Department of Corrections.

The entirety of this issue is devoted to that trip, and to the complications that arise during it.  Charlie Manx makes exactly one appearance, and if you guessed that said appearance is in the final panel of the comic, you would be 100% correct.

I was a little thrown by the seeming lack of connection between this issue and the first, which was all about the Manx family's long road to Christmasland.  However, I assumed that things would eventually connect; if not in this issue, then in subsequent ones.  And I still assume that will be the case.

Either way, I was immediately interested in Sykes, his two fellow inmates, and the two guards in charge of their transport.  C.P. Wilson III brings them to life with his art, which I am more impressed by this issue.

Let's have a look!

Pretty nasty stuff, fellas.  And it only gets nastier.

My favorite thing in the issue comes in this panel:

Booth Dolan, as you might recall, is a notable character from the Owen King novel Double Feature.  Which makes this a pretty sweet shout-out.  And technically-speaking, it links Double Feature to the works of Stephen King himself.  Here's that daisy chain: Double Feature connects to Wraith, which connects to NOS4A2, which connects to Doctor Sleep.  Taken farther, Doctor Sleep connects to It, which connects to The Dark Tower.  So Double Feature now counts as a Dark Tower novel.  Very, very loosely.

It'd be silly to put much thought into that, but either way, I'm all about spreading the cult of Booth Dolan.  And I hereby nominate Joe Hill to write a Gooch and McMasters comic series.  It needs to happen, Joe; it needs to happen.

I'm looking forward to seeing where the rest of Wraith takes me.  It'll be to unpleasant places, I'm sure, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

And with that, I bring the curtains down on this installment of Bryant Has Issues.  I've still got more catching up to do, with new issues of Saga and The Wake and whatnot, but those are going to have to wait for the next one.

See you then!


  1. Concerning NOS4A2: I haven't read that one myself, however I heard you could also say it's directly related to the Tower series (even without that indirect connection). According to wikipedia > The novel by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King) contains numerous references to The Dark Tower and other King works. The main antagonist, Charlie Manx, mentions knowing about "the doors to Mid-World". The town of Derry, ME is mentioned, as is Shawshank Prison. <
    However, I also once read an interview with Joe Hill where he stated he's not intending to join his universe with his father's, but he was just messing around a bit in that book using references. Not just to his father's books, but also to many more.


    1. Right you are. I'd forgotten that Manx specifically calls out the doors to Mid-World.

      I read that same interview with Hill. Or one wherein he said much the same thing, at least. He definitely said the connections amounted to nothing more than him just goofing around. Which is all fine and dandy, but hey, once it's in the book, it's in the book. And Joe Hill is a smart, canny guy; he's not ignorant to what he's doing. I think the bottom line is that he probably IS just goofing around, but he's also doing so in a manner that indicates thought has been put into it. He's unlikely to do something silly like having Carrie White show up with a pet cat named Churchill; he's seemingly only putting in connections that could, theoretically, actually work.

      So, yeah, goofing around. But the effect is nevertheless that the connections HAVE been made.

      I think it's fun, personally.

    2. I hadn't heard that interview where Hill played down any connections, however, I do remember one interview where he said, basically, he decided to tackle not just his dad's style, but also his subject matter.

      So, in a way, I guess in the interview I read, that's a more or less tacit acknowledgement, that, yeah, he sort of is chipping in his own two cents on defining the King-verse. That said, it's sort of odd to think that the same fictional setting that contains a town overrun by vampires also contains a fan base that pretends to be centaurs (good grief).

      Here's a question, are there any Mid-world references in the N0S402 comic that you noticed?


    3. Yep, I think I read that one, too. As I recall, he said something to the effect of having spent so many years doing his best to avoid being linked with his father's work that it had become a habit. But with NOS4A2, he decided to work in that mold and have some fun with it. I'd say he succeeded 100%.

      I do not recall seeing any Mid-World references in Wraith so far. If there are any, they were lost on me.

  2. Hmmmm, I knew I'd have to go back and read some over again to get what happened. The animal key eh? As far as the covers I stood with the normal one and the Wrightson one in my hand, then I was like $16for 15 minutes of reading? Nope.
    The delays really dampened the story for me. I'm sure that will go away like my hatred of the wait between DT3 and 4. But this comic really made me like Joe Hill as a writer and some short stories he wrote that I couldn't finish I went back to them because this story was so good. His "voice" was easier to read after reading Locke and Key.

    My buddy started read the Wraith and I suggested he not b/c the whole build up of Nos4R2 is getting to Christmasland and the comic kind of gets to that really early. He planned on reading Nos4R2 anyway.
    Cool Easter Egg with the Booth thing! I was bummed Gauntlet Press Double Feature will only have the extra book stuff in the expensive edition.


    1. I didn't get too worked up about the wait between DT3 and DT4, personally; when a story ends on a big cliffhanger like that one, it works on me similar to the way a pause button works. Part of me stays right there on that train, living between sentences, waiting to see what happens next.

      With the delay between issues of a comic, it isn't the same. Or at least, it wasn't the same in the case of THESE comics. By the time #2 came out, I couldn't even remember precisely where #1 had left off. Why? Well, partially because I have a lousy memory; but also partially because #1 didn't have a strong cliffhanger. And that's fine. It wasn't a requirement. But because of that, I think that rereading them back-to-back probably will make the overall tale more enjoyable.

      Very interesting that reading "Locke & Key" sort of primed the pump to enable you to read Hill's prose. I bet he'd be fascinated -- and probably gratified! -- to know that. But I agree, his voice/style does shine through in the comics.

      On "Double Feature," it is my understanding that the numbered edition will have most of the bonus stuff, such as the Scott Snyder afterword and the deleted scenes; but the lettered edition WILL also have some sort of material that is exclusive to those copies. Which is, I agree, I a bit of a bummer. I couldn't afford the lettered edition, but I've got one of the 500 numbereds on order.

  3. What I'm seeing of the wraith story here does look interesting. The dialogue in the samples just reminds me for some reason of a Tarantino film for some reason, I don't know, that's just what pops into my mind as I read.

    Also, does anyone else think it's funny that one of the guards is named Kevin, and he look exactly like Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma)? Also, who else thinks it would be hilarious and cool as hell for the real Smith to perform this scene with some other actors?


    1. Good call on that Kevin Smith shoutout, Chris. I'd intended to mention that, but forgot all about it in the writing!

      The dialogue is indeed a wee bit Tarantino-esque. I also flashed on Carpenter's "Assault on Precinct 13" for some reason, although nobody in this is as likeable as Napoleon Wilson.

  4. I recently finished Locke and Key myself and loved it. I also love all the variant covers. Anytime I recommend a graphic novel to someone new to it I recommend those!! I am so sad that this series is over. I guess you could say that I read this cover to cover. The only one I had to wait for was Volume 6. My review:

    1. I didn't begin reading it until just before Vol. 5 began. So I read the first four volumes in rapid succession, then had to begin waiting months between issues. The wait was interminable, and I honestly think it caused my enjoyment of the series to suffer a wee bit. But that will be solved by a good old-fashioned marathon reread, I imagine.