Funny Business

Book of the Week: Benji Nate’s Girl Juice, one of the funniest comics I’ve read in a minute.

Hello! I’m trying something new with this post. I read a lot of comics and folks have said they like reading my little capsule reviews of them, so I’m going to be posting more of those, once a week, for the foreseeable future. Consider it a mini-newsletter. I’ll try to keep it professional, post it every Saturday, and produce it nicely, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I’m going to charge for it—$7 a month, or $75 a year. I will announce it more formally once I have a few posts under my belt, but this is a niche that’s important to me, and so I’m going to find a way to make it work. I’ve tried to do newsletters a few times before; I’m going to give myself four issues before I make it a paid thing, so I know I can keep up the pace I’ve set for myself. This edition is free until the paywall goes up, hopefully in May. It’s also probably on the long side, but we’ll see next week whether the pace of my reading flags. I suspect it won’t diminish by much.

Men I Trust—Tommi Parrish (Fantagraphics, 208 pages)

This book felt like a little less than the sum of its parts, though I love Parrish’s painted art and think their gift for character writing is really notable. The Lie and How We Told It is kind of a masterpiece and thus hard to follow. “Men I Trust,” contra the title, is about female friendship, but what stuck with me the most was the protagonist’s relationship to her little boy. Everything in this book feels really truthful and directly observed. It’s rare for that. It doesn’t quite hold together but its individual parts are remarkable.

The Ruling Clawss—Syd Hoff (New York Review Comics, 184 pages)

I enjoyed these often very funny, scabrous gag cartoons from Hoff’s time at the Daily Worker. It’s a bit like a Far Side collection approved by the central committee, both extremely funny in its own right and also an amazing historical curio by the author of Danny and the Dinosaur, who later denounced these cartoons under pressure. The postscript, in which, emboldened by pseudonymity, Hoff says lots of nice things about Stalin, has to be read to be believed.

The Gull Yettin—Joe Kessler (New York Review Comics, 216 pages)

An absolutely gorgeous wordless book about a little boy and his magic friend. Extraordinarily disturbing in places but the efficiency of the cartooning is just breathtaking. It’s sort of a picaresque, in plot terms, but the plot—which is good—is the least interesting thing about it. It’s almost a David Copperfield-style story about troubled childhood, with our little hero shunted from place to place and seeking protection, with his friend, the gull, keeping him safe but also hurting the people he loves.

Girl Juice—Benji Nate (Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages)

This one is very funny from the jump but as an achievement—which I think it definitely is—it’s a slow burn. The individual pages are mostly extractable as gag comics but there are some wonderful running bits, notably one roommate, who is attracted to clowns, slowly beginning to dress in full clown regalia. Even funnier, this is the character who looks the most like the author’s self-portrait. The main character, Bunny, becoming a devout Christian in addition to being a shameless bimbo is really, really funny. The cohesive story that backs up the main volume is just fucking hilarious. I’ve gone back to this one already.

Ultrasound—Conor Stechschulte (Fantagraphics, 376 pages)

I was not expecting this one. It looks very experimental and nonlinear but it’s actually a really slick thriller that starts off as a dirty joke and ends up somewhere between between Ezra Claytan Daniels’ Upgrade Soul and Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT. I’m always leery of reducing things to plot but it’s interesting how formally daring you can get with a story that could be very easily transposed to film or TV (there’s an apparently pretty good movie of this book; I have to say I loved the comic so much I don’t particularly want to see it). The cartooning is often fairly standard but the formal trickery is incredible—the author is clearly part of the Risograph generation.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency—Eddie Campbell (First Second, 144 pages)

Eddie Campbell is a master, obviously. This is a very good graphic novel about a train heist that goes wrong and kills a bunch of people and the guy who gets framed for the deaths and has to find the real perpetrators. It has Campbell’s surrealist influences worked into it really beautifully; the whole thing turns on the idea of a blank page. Like Stechschulte’s book, it has lots of crazy plot twists but the formal weirdness is I would say quite a bit more intrinsic to the story being told. Campbell did a few self-contained graphic novels at this trim size for First Second before it became a YA publisher—The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard and The Fate of the Artist, the latter of which I’ll write about in the next edition—and I think this might be my favorite of them.

We’re All Just Fine—Ana Penyas (Fantagraphics, 112 pages)

This one is in translation from the Spanish in a new edition from Fantagraphics. It’s a very rich text—the cartooning is just gorgeous and there’s enough subtext for several rereadings. It’s both a very careful, lapidary study of aging and womanhood and also a book about what kind of person survived the Spanish Civil War. There’s so much cultural context necessary to understanding it and I’m not Spanish so I don’t have that invisible knowledge one gets from growing up alongside survivors of the Franco regime, and not, as it were, from Orwell. But a lot of that context shows up on reread; it’s a remarkably discrete and dense book despite being fairly short and having all kinds of interesting threads related to Spanish daily life. Not an easy read but a good one, I think.

The Man in the McIntosh Suit—Rina Ayuyang (D&Q, 215 pages)

This one didn’t totally work for me—I liked the colors a lot and I liked how ambitious it was, but it reminded me too much of The Good Asian, another noirish story set in interwar San Francisco’s Filipino community. There’s a lot of very perfunctory-feeling queer representation near the end of the book, and not a lot of interrogation of what that means given the time and place in which it’s set, and the plot frequently feels soapy and contrived. It’s a little indie book and I don’t want to dump on it too hard—I should add that I’ll certainly read the next one in what is apparently a series, and again, the art is very pretty and often extremely clever thematically. Hopefully the plotting comes together a bit and the characters get a little more room to grow.

W the Whore—Katrin de Vries and Anke Feuchtenberger (New York Review Comics, 256 pages)

An odd, affecting, Kafkaesque book about what it’s like to be a woman, told in pages of two panels each—a few have splash pages but rarely for emphasis, mostly at the beginning of a story—and extremely simple, koan-like sentences. I think I admired it more than I liked it; it’s a very harsh book, but it has a lot to say. The lettering has been redone really beautifully, something New York Review Comics always does (their edition of Nicole Claveloux’s The Green Hand is close to perfection). The art is remarkable.


3/10—Crepax, etc

A little gallery out in Chelsea invited me to see their exhibition of Guido Crepax pages last night, something I would have tried to sneak into had I not been invited. It was great. There’s a very well-behaved Irish setter who’s always at these shows (maybe that’s Philippe LaBaune?), which was nice, because I didn’t know anyone there. One guy, who introduced himself only as Paul (French pronunciation, American accent), was very friendly, and we talked about the drawings a bit. (Thanks, Paul!).
Crepax is one of those European sex-comics artists who never really gets his due in the US because enough of his stuff is really explicit that it just gets categorized as porn by people who don’t know much about comics and as underground by people who don’t know much about non-American comics. It’s neither, really; Crepax and Milo Manara and Paulo Eleuteri Serpieri are pretty mainstream names in Italy, France, and Spain, and they collaborate with other artists (Manara’s collaborations with Hugo Pratt, especially Indian Summer, are straight-up incredible) whose work isn’t preoccupied with sex. Anyway I took a couple of clandestine pictures (I don’t know why; everyone was very nice and I’m sure no one cared) because the pages look very different in person than they do in reproduction, and having down-light on them makes little details jump out. I noticed, for example, that the very thin white lines Crepax draws to show light on hair are actually cut into the boards with a knife or some other tool, probably a pretty blunt one; that’s how you get that little stutter you can see if you look closely at Valentina’s head or Corto Maltese’s cheek in the first image below. I’d never have known that without this exhibition.

I have a list of comics I’d like to cover in some capacity this year; I doubt I’ll be able to sell pieces about all of them but if you’d like to buy one, please do get in touch! In the meantime, as their pub dates whiz by I’m going to add little reviews of them here.

Matt Bors, a hell of a nice guy and a great cartoonist whom I’ve written about before, just published the first book of Justice Warriors, his stab at an ongoing satirical SF comic a la Judge Dredd. It’s extremely funny, and the art by Ben Clarkson is terrific, and I hope they keep it going. A problem I’ve always had with stuff like Dredd and Top 10 and Ennis’s The Punisher and other police-centric comics, even satirical ones, is that whether or not they try to address systemic rot in institutional policing, they tend to do so from the perspective that the police are fulfilling a necessary role handed down to them by society—Michael Molcher discussed this with Spencer and me in a recent Forever Wars edition, and Michael names the phenomenon “policing by consent,” which is the emphasis the cops place on civilian oversight in the UK. Michael is very smart about how even that is mostly bullshit—a fig leaf for authoritarian cops to do essentially say, “Well, we’re here because you want us here,” but in the US we emphatically do not have that and I think that gets lost in the Dredd parodies and their descendants. Dredd is, after all, set in the US, and the cops here are descended from disparate bodies, as befitting our large, weird country. The LAPD is the great-grandchild of the Los Angeles Rangers, a militia that fought Native American tribes and policed property crimes. Across the Southeast, police departments were formed out of slave patrols, which put down slave uprisings before the Civil War; their brethren to the north in the NYPD made money selling freed Black people back into slavery in the South. These were replaced by militias cobbled together from the remnants of the Confederate army after that war; these in turn enforced Jim Crow laws and were eventually codified and uniformed as police forces. Consent is antithetical to policing in the US; everything is done at the business end of a gun. That’s why I liked Matt and Ben’s book so much—it has the same visual invention that I love in the 2000AD books (one character is a perky, unsinkable poop emoji), but unlike those books, there’s no concession to the idea that the law stands between normal people and chaos; chaos, as Ben illustrates so well in his pictures of the “Uninhabited Zone,” one of the book’s best jokes, is normal people. The system is not merely corrupt or spoiled, it’s irredeemable and an exclusive tool of the propertied class. That’s the way much of American policing is today.

Ugh, I got Ben Clarkson’s name confused with Ben Caldwell. Their work is EXTREMELY different! Sorry, Bens!

2022 in Review

Best novel I read—A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Best short story I read—What We Can Know About Thunderman by Alan Moore

Best book-length comic I read—tie between Ducks by Kate Beaton and One Beautiful Spring Day by Jim Woodring. Both were so beautiful.

Best manga I read—Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki

Best work of nonfiction I read—Pulp Empire by Paul S. Hirsch

Best ongoing series I followed—Love and Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez

Best single issue I read—Miracleman: The Silver Age no. 3 by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham

Best movie I saw—Confess, Fletch!

Best TV show I watched—Andor

Best album I listened to—Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell

Best video game I played—Elden Ring

Best book I read to my kid—The BFG by Roald Dahl

2022 was awful. I’m glad I had my wife and son to sustain me through it, I’m grateful my work is going well, I’m glad I had the various medical procedures I needed, and I’m glad my family members who need support are getting it, though I wish they were getting more. I’m glad to be starting a new year.

Blogging my way toward a book 12/7

I find that writing down my thoughts as I have them is always the best way to actually retain them, so I’m going to start adding some scattered observations on comics history to this blog as I try to pull together the proposal for what I hope will be my first book. Without further ado:

—The EC bust was a really astounding sea change, entirely inflicted from without by prudes and weirdos and well-meaning people who completely misunderstood. The books were progressive, lurid, and gorgeously rendered (there’s an amazing story about a guy who gets bullied by the KKK into burning down a Jewish neighbor’s house and the cornball Twilight Zone-style twist is that his mother has hidden his own Jewish identity from him). After they vanished, the subsequent pabulum from DC and Timely/Marvel had its charms but it was just *so* much less ambitious.

—My god it’s just impossible that George Perez is dying. One of the greatest artists of the last century. The 1990s get a bad rap because of the excesses of the artists who would go on to Image but his Avengers and Avengers-JLA stuff with Kurt Busiek is filled with such a wonderful energy. He inked Curt Swan. He did The Brave and the Bold with Mark Waid. What a loss.

—I’m trying to figure out how best to describe the influence of French (or Franco-Belgian) comics on US artists and am a little stumped. It obviously starts with Metal Hurlant, but I’m not sure how we get from there to Geof Darrow, who produced work with Moebius and who gets namechecked in Moebius’s big goofy Pirandellan memoir. I know people read Tintin but I don’t see the direct influence as clearly. Trying to nail this down.

—When did specialty shops become a thing? What was the first?

What I’ve Been Reading

I’VE JUST BEEN MAINLINING COMICS for the last few weeks and I figured I’d drop some reviews here, both to mark time for myself, and in aid of any reader who’s seeking interesting stuff.

Monsters is copyright 2021 Barry Windsor-Smith.

I’VE JUST BEEN MAINLINING COMICS for the last few weeks and I figured I’d drop some reviews here, both to mark time for myself, and in aid of any reader who’s seeking interesting stuff. This is a free post, so if you can spare a donation, I’d be grateful.

MONSTERS by Barry Windsor-Smith
Barry Windsor-Smith is one of the capital-G great superhero comics artists, an incredibly technically proficient draftsman whose work is always rendered to the hilt, with gorgeous, full backgrounds and an incredibly keen sense of depth and movement in his action sequences. He’s been effectively AWOL from the comics world since repackaging and updating the stories from his Storyteller anthology series from the 1990’s into big hardcover graphic novels, which are a lot of good fun; since then, apparently, he’s been at work on a gigantic 365-page graphic novel, written, drawn, inked, and lettered entirely by the man himself. It is one of those works of profound monomania you sometimes get in comics, up there with Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing Is Monsters and Dave Sim’s Cerebus; I’ve seen people refer to it as “long-awaited” but that wrongly implies that people were waiting for this specific book, when it’s closer to the truth that Windsor-Smith, a hugely popular X-Men artist who could probably have sustained a comfortable living drawing variant covers and selling head sketches at cons for $1000 apiece, basically evaporated amid rumors of a graphic novel project — one of several; there’s a Superman story he’s supposedly still working on and he still hasn’t finished Paradoxman— and then showed up seventeen years later, tome in tow.

Monsters began life as a 23-page one-off about Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Marvel hero The Hulk, which is sort of where it starts in its current form; the story follows Bobby Bailey, a dead ringer for a pre-Hulk Bruce Banner, who wanders into a shady MKULTRA-style government program that ends up making him into a big Frankensteiny critter in possession of, we are noisily informed, a great big dong. Then, for the duration of the book, Bobby flashes back to his childhood, where pages from his mother’s diary provide narration for his sad tales of Bobby’s encounters with his WWII vet father, who has seen such horrors during the war that he maims Bobby during one of many beatings and hits his wife on the regular, eventually getting drunk and killing everybody over Thanksgiving dinner before the cop who has a crush on Bobby’s mom bursts in, shoots him, and saves Bobby’s miserable life so that it can be further ruined and ultimately ended by the government after an aimless childhood.

Knowing that this was originally a proposed issue of The Incredible Hulk leavens all this bullshit quite a bit; that was always the deal with superhero comics. Yes, melodramatic tragedies befall these characters but also they go on to have amazing adventures in space or whatever. Here, the domestic abuses and period drama are just sort of baffling. Must we really wallow in this poor kid’s degradation for page after page? I guess so. Windsor-Smith spent so many years on the incredibly beautiful art that it feels impolite to say so, but the book is too long and would have benefited greatly from an editor. He wants to craft a great mid-century American tragedy, but we’re not in the mid-century anymore, and Windsor-Smith isn’t American. His narration for—and, frankly, conception of—Bobby’s angelic mother, Janet, is pure England, despite the effort to extract all the idiomatic Britishisms from it.

That would be forgivable if Windsor-Smith were less intent on marrying John O’Hara-style domestic realism to sci-fi pulp Nazi psychic dumbassery; I love both of those things and can imagine a good story that uses both, but here they go together like peanut butter and aioli. To pull off a good story of The Unexplained, you have to take the idea of psychic phenomena seriously enough to suspend your reader’s disbelief, and to pull off a good story of prosperity constricting the human animal, you have to delineate the real world so thoroughly that the protagonist’s spiritual escape is impossible. In Monsters, spiritual escape from ectoplasmic hooey is impossible, and the emotional crescendi Windsor-Smith tries to play often land with a plunk and I couldn’t shake the feeling that on some level the author was not wholly kidding about all the precognition and Jungian collective unconscious stuff.

With all that unfortunately said, I’ll happily admit that I liked the psychic crap much more than the aspirational serious-ism. Windsor-Smith writes dialogue too much like his Uncanny X-Men collaborator Chris Claremont to give his characters’ exclamation points any emotional heft, but he has a wonderful gift for the oblique and the just-out-of-sight in his works of sci-fi, and his unparalleled draftsmanship grounds it all very firmly in a world that seems just next to our own. There’s a great piece of grimdark 80’s-style WWII-inflected sci-fi in here somewhere, and while it’s partially buried under the punishingly detailed scenes of domestic abuse, it doesn’t lie so deep that the book isn’t worth reading. I love Windsor-Smith’s art, and I’ll keep reading his comics, whether or not I find them perfect.

VELVET1 by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting
Brubaker and Epting are probably best-known for their run on Captain America, which is good, but not nearly as good as Brubaker’s work at Image with Sean Phillips, and this, I guess, is something similar to an effort to bring Epting into that fold, which I would say succeeds in high style. There’s that great frisson a reader gets from reading to the end of a Marvel comic and going “Oh shit, it’s Doctor Doom” when he shows up at the cliffhanger on the last page, and that’s not a thing indie creators can do without investing a huge amount of narrative energy into establishing characters and then letting them lie fallow for long enough to surprise you by popping up again; you have to write at incredible length to pull it off—George R. R. Martin does it a lot, which is one reason people love his books—and having a superhero universe world with all that convenient backstory, which most of your readers have absorbed through high-octane retellings in TV or movies the way people used to absorb the Bible, makes the work of getting a pleasant emotional response out of your reader a lot simpler.

But one thing an over-reliance on that crutch can obscure is how fun it is to start from ground zero with all the confidence of one of those corporate comics, and Velvet is a book that does just that. It has a shocking cameo from a major historical figure who might as well be Doctor Doom, but in my humble opinion that’s the least interesting part of the book; I was much more taken with Epting’s incredible renderings, which make even the silliest trappings of this high-tech Steranko-style spy story seem realistic and gritty. Comics are great for a lot of reasons, but a favorite of mine (and one that is often cited, so pardon me for using a near-cliche) is that the budget is infinite. You can set the story on a spaceship or in a bar or under the sea with a cast of dozens or hundreds or thousands of people or aliens or Peterbald cats. This is a sexy super-spy adventure on a tier with one the Mission: Impossible movies, starring Velvet Templeton, a thin-lipped and dry-witted middle-aged woman—a thing I don’t think I have ever seen on the screen, because it’s just not the sort of thing producers greenlight. But that’s fine, because all this needs to get greenlit is Brubaker and Epting and what look like hundreds of man-hours of inking and scripting.

Epting is working digitally here, I believe—a lot of the really talented adventure-story guys and gals are doing digital finishes over pencil or ink roughs because it’s so much faster—but it’s hard to tell because whatever he has mimics brushwork so beautifully. There was a period when “computer art” meant something that look like the weirder parts of The Lawnmower Man (please check out Batman: Digital Justice, it’s hilarious) but now there’s a whole range of textures and effects available and the results here are remarkable.

It’s a light, clever piece, smooth reading a way that suggests a ton of effort on the part of the authors, and I loved it.

1. The series originally shipped as comics, then as trade paperbacks, and finally as the “deluxe edition” linked above, which is both the most attractive and biggest version, and also the cheapest. But you can buy a comic or two or the first paperback to see if you like it, if you prefer.

RECKLESS and FRIEND OF THE DEVIL by Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Brubaker again—I got interested in him after reading one of his newsletters the other day and picked up his new project with Phillips, an artist I always have time for. I have to say, Brubaker gets better and better. The thing he’s doing here is so simple I’m shocked it hasn’t been done successfully before: It’s a series of stand-alone detective graphic novels a la Sue Grafton or James Patterson. The stories don’t build on each other but the characters who survive recur: Ethan Reckless, our hero, Anna, the gal Friday who works with Ethan out of a dilapidated movie theater, and Frank, the pal from Ethan’s FBI days who gets him police reports. The setting is the early 1980’s, but the two mysteries are both pure Raymond Chandler; gun appropriately to my head, I’d say I liked the writing in the first book a touch better and the art in the second. Both are terrific but Friend of the Devil felt a bit close to an arc in the pair’s Fatale, which I really enjoyed.

The art here is fascinating: Phillips repeats layouts throughout, opening each chapter with a long panel at the top of the page that goes all the way to the edge of the paper. When Ethan takes a missing-persons case or reads a personnel file, Phillips draws a borderless splash with images from the new character’s life layered over one another. It’s beautiful work, instantly legible but always novel and unusual, and the daring colors by Jacob Phillips (Sean’s son) give the work an exact sense of desaturated SoCal sunlight.

DRACULA, MOTHERF**KER! by Alex de Campi and Erica Henderson
This is one of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever read, with a fantastic story that’s basically a Giallo movie set in 1974 L.A. There’s a lot that I read and have broad thoughts on; how it interacts with the form and who it’s for. This is not one of those books. The story is about a sleazy photographer who sells pictures of dead bodies to the tabloids and finds himself ensnared by Dracula’s various friends and enemies, but I can’t really do it justice with description; it’s written visually and you have to see it. Henderson’s colors just vibrate off the page; her layouts and pacing work beautifully throughout and every spread is a new surprise. She says in the book’s back matter that she laid out all the pages as two-page spreads, and it paid off beautifully. It’s a comic book, for consumption as a codex. Her monster design is just unreal; Dracula is not sexy or alluring, he’s horrifying and scary in a way that looks like he ought to be a boss in a From Software RPG. Henderson is one of my favorite artists alive; I have two commissions by her, a Betty & Veronica and a Ma Hunkel, that I’m inordinately proud of. But even knowing her art well, I had no idea she was capable of this. It’s a terrific double bill with Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle. Highest possible recommendation.

Ito is one of those horror masters whose work will probably inspire bad dreams long after his death. I had read Spiral, his awesome, shockingly weird book about the deaths in a small Japanese town, and I’d read The Enigma of Amigara Fault, one of the scariest short stories ever written, which is collected here. I wasn’t sure I wanted to start another novel-length work by him (Amigara Fault is also collected as supplemental material in Gyo, which is two volumes long), but I love horror shorts, so I picked this one up, and I’m glad I did. The stories are all solid but the first one, about an agoraphobic guy with a crush on a pretty girl in a town where lonely people are being horribly murdered, might be my favorite; there are also two adaptations of short stories by Edogawa Ranpo, the pen name of Taro Hirai, a mid-century Japanese mystery and horror writer who revolutionized weird fiction and localized a lot of his Western inspiration by incorporating pathbreaking English-language authors into the very Japanese anxieties in his own work. (Say his name out loud.) The one about the woman who’s afraid somebody lives in her armchair is perfect Ito fodder. You can see Ranpo’s influence on Ito in the original, ridiculous, but screamingly disturbing hook for the story, and the adaptation makes everything scarier. Good book.

BLACK HAMMER2, vols. 1 & 2 by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston
I’d picked up the first volume of Black Hammer a bit ago and put it down; it felt a little conventional or something to me, and it looked like Ormston’s health was going to keep him from drawing the rest of the book. But then it turned out he’d completed a second book-length arc and I figured reading the first one would probably be fun. It was! Lemire is a good slow-burn writer, and the world he’s created is very interesting. Briefly, a superhero team gets trapped in some kind of pocket dimension or alternate universe (I’m sure it will turn out to be more interesting than that) and has to live as normal people; the whole team are roughly analogous to a bunch of second-tier DC Comics characters from the 1960’s, which is a period I have a lot of affection for; they also have contemporary twists or reversals I generally found really compelling. There’s a mysterious space traveler who’s kind of insane, a lonely gay alien, a middle-aged woman trapped in the age of a super-powered kid, a hard-luck boxer type a la Wildcat or the original Atom, and a Black Superman analogue whose death is part of the secret event that trapped everybody.

This kind of Silver Age-style derivative stuff was throw-a-rock-and-you’ll-hit-one common a few years ago. It had largely fallen by the wayside in part because it’s been done to death, often by people who are literal geniuses by like Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and then various passengers on their coattails. But the other factor is that comics readers are simply younger than that, now; nobody remembers the old Silver Age superhero comics because nobody bought them on the newsstands as children. Today’s kids and young adults think of superheroes as massive transmedia properties and comics as one of but a few vessels for them. So Lemire’s instinct to go weird is a great one.

I really love Ormston’s art. He uses very thin lines and great big shadows, and the combination of them makes his renderings of monsters and otherworldly horrors that much more uncanny and interesting to look at. So much of this book is domestic drama that Ormston’s gifts aren’t always used to their fullest, but Lemire wisely salts the whole thing with flashback sequences and hints as to the nature of the mystery that give Ormston a chance to really flex. So far, the payoff has been interesting; I’m curious what the next two volumes, which I believe complete the first big sequence, will reveal, and when I learn, I’ll post it here.

2. Same deal as Velvet, except that the Dark Horse deluxe library editions are more expensive than the Image ones, but they’re also much larger and include extra material.

THE TWELVE by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston
Another book I sought out for the art: Weston is a British artist whose best work to date is his big maxi-series The Filth with Grant Morrison; it’s a fantastic book and pretty much everything you may fondly remember about The Invisibles without the dreadful hamfisted racial and sexual anarcho-progressive politics we all worked so hard to forget.

The Twelve is a straight superhero book; a solid, self-contained mystery story set in the Marvel Universe among down-at-heel fourth-tier superheroes, none of whom I had heard of before reading the book. It’s a very self-conscious riff on Watchmen (also a murder mystery initially set among obscure DCU heroes, until DC balked at some of the harder-core stuff Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons wanted to do with them and made them revamp everybody so they were legally distinct from Captain Atom and The Question), which is frankly a little shitty of Straczynski, who wrote some of DC’s horrible Before Watchmen prequel comics and was notoriously callous about the company’s poor treatment of Moore and Gibbons.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that The Twelve is not as good as Watchmen, but it is pretty good; the resolution of the central mystery is a genuine surprise and the characters are nicely delineated. It’s eye-rollingly sexist in places and the delicate politics of Jewishness in the forties is, ironically, handled much better and more subtly by Moore, who is not Jewish. The art is really top-notch; it’s a little ironic, though, that Straczynski got to do what Moore never could, namely write his opus using company characters, and the resulting work didn’t even leave a dent on their obscurity. The story came and went, and now it’s a pleasant diversion, where Watchmen is and always will be a watershed.

This is a funny book; I have a few gigantic “artifact” or “artist’s” editions of comics, which I love for their super-HD reprinting of enormous pages of comic art on which you can see brushtrokes and correction fluid and editors notes and occasionally dedications to fans who bought them at conventions. Usually, those reprint selected portions of a comic; this reprints the entirety of David Mazzuchelli’s art for his Born Again story arc on Daredevil. It even includes text bubbles and captions so you can read the whole story that way, and as someone who owns a couple pages from this period, let me assure you that the little pieces of paper on which those bubbles are drawn have long since come loose and left big orange stains on the art.

This is the first comic art book I’ve picked up that also reprints some of the overlays used in production; it’s a fantastic choice and I loved flipping the translucent paper over to see which parts were drawn on the paper and which textures and ink block were applied to a sheet of plastic and then xeroxed. I believe Fantagraphics’ enormous Original Art by Daniel Clowes also does this, but I can’t justify dropping the $200 on that and this is a surprisingly cheap paperback. Highly recommended.

I reviewed Jupiter’s Legacy for NBC, which is based on a comic book I really like, and it occurred to me that I also usually like Mark Millar’s comics, despite his having a lot of unpleasant conservative political opinions, and that he seems like he goes out of his way to treat his collaborators well, so I thought I’d pick up a few of his recent efforts and see what I thought. Nothing below takes more than thirty minutes to read but I have to say the batting average is appallingly high. Even the old edgelordy shit is pretty fun. Because they’re so pithy, I’m going to try to do these reviews as small capsules.
The book I wanted to like the most but ended up liking the least, though it is reasonably fun. It’s very much Dog the Bounty Hunter in Space though I enjoyed the way it fit in with the other MW titles. Bianchi’s art is always gorgeous but most of the other collaborators are doing the work of their careers, and this is just not up to his usual standard, though it’s still better than 95% of everything. This book also has the ignominious distinction of using a cutout of a Frank Quitely variant cover as back cover art rather than reprinting the full drawing inside the book, something I cannot forgive.
MPH with Duncan Fegredo
I really loved this one, about an inner-city kid who discovers a cache of drugs that give you super-speed. Fegredo really goes for broke and Millar’s script is quite po-faced; you’re never sure whether he’s making fun of the extremely earnest protagonist or on his side, or both. Probably both. The payoff is really clever.
THE MAGIC ORDER with Olivier Coipel
Probably the best script in the bunch, and the one that felt the most like it was set up to be an ongoing series of some variety. Millar is usually a sci-fi guy, but his facility with urban fantasy worldbuilding is a nice surprise. Coipel is the most traditional of the artists Millar uses, and it’s great to see him on something that’s not superheroes.
KICK-ASS: THE NEW GIRL with John Romita, Jr.
I picked this up with a bit of a groan; the original Kick-Ass, about a shitty high schooler who becomes an obnoxious superhero, is not my cup of tea. This spinoff, about a veteran mom who comes home from the war and decides to rob drug dealers, was a really pleasant surprise; it was also fantastic work from Romita, who does the occasional phone-in job, as on his and Frank Miller’s big Superman: Year One not long ago. This is better in every way, both than recent Romita work and than Millar’s original idea for the series. There are subsequent volumes but they’re not written by Millar or drawn by Romita, so I haven’t read them yet.
HIT-GIRL IN COLOMBIA with Ricardo Lopez Ortiz
This is as close to the old Millar as anything I read; it’s part of his most successful franchise, the Kick-Ass story, and it’s very much about blowing things up and looking badass and tittering at the misbehavior of our protagonist, an adorable little girl. The script Is okay. But Ortiz is a delight; I’ll be picking up whatever he does next.
SPACE BANDITS with Mateo Scalera
A close second to Huck, Space Bandits is easy to love. Scalera’s work is messy and weird throughout, and Millar’s story about a pair of con artist women screwed over by their ex-partners is the kind of hook that feels engineered in a lab to keep you reading. Ties in with Sharkey the Bounty Hunter, interestingly, and hopefully there will be more of both series.
EMPRESS with Stuart Immonen
Another good title with another great artist, also set in the Millar space universe, this time revolving around a tyrannical space monarch and his wayward wife, our heroine. Immonen’s range is immense and I think I like his painterly stuff on, say, Superman: Secret Identity a bit better, but it’s still very much worth reading.
The oldest of the titles I read, with the weakest script, but also with unimpeachable art by Dave Gibbons. I was surprised at how fun I found the story of a British kid plucked from the lower classes to become a posh secret agent, despite being occasionally annoyed by it.
HUCK with Rafael Albuquerque
This was my favorite of the lot. Basically a Superman story, and Millar’s Superman stories are some of his best work. Albuquerque’s almost-caricature style works perfectly for a story set among regular folks in Middle America, and the hero is just lovable.

NEXT TIME: Rain Like Hammers, Billionaires, the rest of November, It’s Life as I See It, Adventureman, The Neil Gaiman Library, more!

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Comics Notes 1/30

Hello and welcome to what will, I suspect, be a daily feature on this site, namely a quick roundup of comics news and some notes on whatever it is I’m reading.

• The big French comics festival Angoulême has awarded its Grand Prix to Emmanuel Guibert, author of The Photographer among others. I’m excited to read his stuff.

• Somewhat annoyingly, the Keanu Reeves comic on Kickstarter has sold out immediately. I’m all for comics but cmon guys. It’s Keanu Reeves. He’s not a cartoonist.

• The collection of Alan Moore/Kevin O’Neill short stories from Avatar’s very weird and good black-and-white anthology Cinema Purgatorio was supposed to come out this month and did not. If you look on Amazon it says it’s postponed until 2022 but on the Comics Cavalcade site (and CC owns Avatar), you can pre-order it for March. Probably the last new Alan Moore comics we’ll see for a while, maybe ever.

• Warren Ellis has announced he’s restarting his newsletter. I’m not excited about this, I’ll tell you that for free.

• Matt Fraction’s November and Elsa Charretier’s November is one of the better books I’ve read in a bit; Fraction is such a wonderful writer and the book feels perfectly planned in a way that really makes me relax and let myself fall into it without worrying I’m going to be disappointed by it. Fraction is one of the writers in contemporary comics who can really stick the landing. Charretier is one of those Image artists who seems to have sprung from Zeus’s forehead fully formed—I’m shocked I didn’t know about her before. She’s so good.

• Casting for The Sandman on Netflix continues to ramp up; the choices veer between wild reimaginings (Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer) and JK Simmons-as-Jonah-Jameson stepped-off-the-page perfection (Charles Dance as Roderick Burgess). Tom Sturridge is a great choice; he feels like he falls solidly into the latter category.

• One of my least acceptable joys is old Euro sex comics from the 80’s and 90’s; Humanoids recently rereleased a bunch of Milo Manara’s work from the era in really nice editions and I picked up his adaptation of second-century writer Apulieus’s The Golden Ass, a surprisingly complex story—novel, really, though it predates what we think of as the form by more than a millennium. Manara removes all the inset stories and just focuses on the main narrative; it’s still quite complicated, made moreso by the fact that Manara’s work often provokes the reader with explicit images, sometimes away from interrogating the narrative’s intentions, sometimes toward it. Anyway, good book.

• Thus far I’ve really enjoyed Jason Aaron and rm guera’s The Goddamned, a book about life on earth before the flood of Genesis, so I figured I’d see if the pair’s previous series, Scalped, was worth reading. It’s a bit of a disappointment so far—very violent and sneery and drenched in testosterone, redolent of a lot of stuff Vertigo has published over the years, which is to say that it’s kind of a shaggy dog story with a lot of lurid stuff thrown in to give the author some leeway to learn his craft. This worked really well for stuff like The Invisibles, cringey as a lot of it is now, and Transmetropolitan, which is cringey for other reasons, but there are negative examples, too (I hated Y: The Last Man) and . I can see some seeds of strong character work in Scapled, which is good, and guera’s art is amazing.

• There’s also going to be an Usagi Yojimbo series on Netflix, which is terrific—I love Stan Sakai and I love Usagi Yojimbo, one of the comics my little boy also adores.

• Speaking of kids, I am reading Dog Man to Lev in the evenings, which he enjoys. I like it, too; it’s a very odd book because of course we’ve also read Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books and the former are drawn in a style he attributes to George and Harold, the heroes of the latter (they also show up in the bookends to the Dog Man books). It’s very scratchy and wiggly and misspelled and written with childlike “bad” grammar; I have no idea how he did it. It’s perfectly childish but it’s also a cohesive narrative that goes on for hundreds of pages. Really remarkable books; we’ve read three so far and I’m sure I’ll be expected to read more.

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Comics notes 1/21

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest bookplate by Kevin O’Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen—Century: 2009 bookplate by Kevin O’Neill

Just wanted to write some comics news, because I love comics and I don’t read as much of it as I wish I did these days now that Tom Spurgeon is dead. I miss Tom, whom I only knew online but who often said nice things about my writing.

• Just found this from back in September: Mark Buckingham told Spanish YouTube show Dialogos de Comic that Miracleman: The Silver Age will begin shipping this year. So I’m very much looking forward to that—I love Buckingham’s art, and I love Neil Gaiman’s work, and the pair’s previous story is some of my favorite superhero comics writing ever. I am in need of things to look forward to, I don’t know about any of you. I couldn’t get the interview to embed with the time marker intact so I’ve linked it here; it’s quite good, if a bit meandering. Mega-thanks to David Macho for his great show, definitely subscribe to his YouTube channel. Relevant excerpt, cleaned up a bit from the transcript:

I've got beyond the the tricky bit, which was me trying to go back to what we'd been doing when it all kind of came crashing to a halt originally with Eclipse. We'd started [The Silver Age], and we had a couple of issues out and a third one that was sort of in a drawer waiting to happen, but never quite completed. Eclipse was starting to get into trouble, and the book was only coming out occasionally—I mean we were lucky if we got more than one out a year, and that was also partly because we tended to sort of wait to get paid before we started the next one. Which is a terrible thing to have to confess, but back then every penny counted, and I was doing other work in between issues of Miracleman. And my style would change. I'd be working with different people, I'd pick up different influences, or I'd try working in a different way. So the problem is, those three issues of The Silver Age all looked quite different from each other, and that was never the intention. The Golden Age was all about short stories in different styles. The Silver Age was supposed to be one continuous narrative that needed to be really solid and on point. So I'd ask politely if I could kind of go over those early issues again and and try and sort of find a way to make it more consistent, which basically ended up involving me trying to redraw them all from scratch. And because we had a few occasions where everything ground to a halt, every time I came back to it, I didn't like it! So the reality is that I have multiple versions of of issues one, two, and three in different styles and different formats, and it took a long time for me to sort of finally settle and feel like, "Okay, this is how it's going to be, and this is how everybody's going to look, and this is it now." So that's done, and so those early issues have all been redrawn and we're now into the thick of new new plots, new scripts, and new art. It's all it's all chugging along and it will be coming out I'm sure in the new year, but I just couldn't tell you when and obviously, the way things are at the moment, everything that happened with the pandemic has not done any of us any favors and schedules on most books are not quite where they were meant to be. We'll see what happens, but I am working on it. I'm really happy and very proud of what Neil and I are doing on the new stuff, so I think it's going to be great and it will come soon.

Dialogos de Comic 98: MARK BUCKINGHAM, streamed Sept. 30, 2020, archived here.

• Gary Panter’s monograph (I guess) Crashpad comes out in February. I love it so much, guys. I got an early copy of it and it is just the most gorgeous thing. It also has a little pocket inside the front cover for a facsimile of the book at normal comic saddle-stitched comic trim size, the same size as the Jimbo comics. It’s just gorgeous, and very different narratively from anything he’s ever done. New York Review Comics is reissuing the first Jimbo book, Jimbo’s Adventures in Paradise, and the reissue is great. Lots of new stuff in the back as is usual for the NYRC editions, great paper quality, slightly stuffy book design.

• Fantagraphics is publishing The Grand Odalisque, a new graphic novel by Bastien Vivès, Florent Ruppert, and Jerome Mulot. I did not especially want to like it; it’s a book about sexy art thieves by three French dudes. But it’s really good—the Tarantino-y thing they’re doing really works and the draftsmanship is off-the-charts great. If it had shipped in a few saddle-stitched volumes I think it would read like a hit from Image rather than a haute bande desinée.

• NYRC is publishing a big coffee-table-book collection of Shary Flenniken’s Trots and Bonnie comic from the classic era of National Lampoon, due out in April. It’s not a book I would have picked up without a free copy and nothing better to do but I’m so glad that I did. Flenniken has a very weird sense of humor (which is usually good although sometimes I find it too grim for even my awful taste) but she’s working in a mode that wouldn’t really get rediscovered until Chris Ware came along in the 1990’s and started trying to do Frank King-style Sunday pages in the oversized issues of Acme Novelty Library. It’s really remarkable; there’s so much invisible work that goes into the layouts, backgrounds, and character designs. Two weeks ago I had barely heard of this strip and now the collection has pride of place on my shelf.

• A couple other offerings from NYRC that I’m a little late to: Mitchum, by Blutch, which was so unbelievably fucking good I immediately bought his graphic novel, Peplum (also NYRC), and The Green Hand and Other Stories by Nicole Claveloux, a book of dream-logic short pieces that remind me a lot of the good stuff from Heavy Metal. I believe they were mostly published in Metal Hurlant but I don’t think any of them crossed the pond. It’s really worth noting what amazing work NYRC has done relettering some of these books; Claveloux published in French so of course her big Will Eisner-style titles have to either be left alone or redrawn exactly to her style but in a different language; Dustin Harbin has done the latter and he’s done it so, so well.

• Rick Veitch is doing this incredible thing where he just… does what he wants and puts it on Amazon and tells Diamond, the monopoly distributor to comic-book stores, that he’s not interested in their bullshit. Some stores actually order the print-on-demand copies and sell them, which is among the noblest actions every undertaken by mankind. Anyway I got a couple of these, they are a really solid reminder of what a reliably brilliant cartoonist Veitch is. Like it’s kind of appalling. He has the absolutely perfect little gem of a novella, completely wordless, called The Spotted Stone, that won a richly deserved Eisner a couple of years ago, and several new comics published since. They’re very reminiscent of his work in sadly defunct dirty-SF magazines like Epic Illustrated, Eclipse, and so on. I love those mags, so seeing new stories that could easily be published in them in whatever form is a real treat.

• I finally got around to finishing Locke & Key, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s blockbuster horror-fantasy comic about magic keys from the demon dimensions. I really like Hill personally and I think his first couple novels are very good; Locke & Key is… fine. It’s very inventive and then it has to literalize everything for the finale and I found the underlying worldbuilding to be pretty flimsy, though I did like the characters. I adored the art. Hill curated a pop-up imprint at DC called Hill House and it produced a very good Creepy-style book called Daphne Byrne drawn by Kelley Jones from excellent scripts by Laura Marks.

• For some reason it’s Sandman-apalooza these days. DC is finally issuing editions that are neither 12 lbs. each nor misprinted and missing several key stories. The new books are in their Deluxe Edition format, which has been my favorite way to read comics for a long time now. Dave McKean didn’t do the covers, surprisingly—the first one has a gorgeous wrap-around cover by Mike Kaluta, horribly defaced by an ad for the Audible adaptation of the series. Somebody commissioned Kaluta to do Sandman pieces a few years ago and Neil Gaiman tweeted them out and then very quickly deleted the tweets, which was a shame because the pieces were some of Kaluta’s best work, so I’m glad to see these pieces, even though he didn’t actually draw any of the series itself. The Audible show is very good; it’s narrated by Gaiman who sounds like he’s probably reading some of his own panel descriptions occasionally, but he’s quite adroitly reordered the events so that they make sense as a radio play. I’m only an episode-ish in but it’s a very comforting story to me, having read it so many times. I’m also looking forward to the Netflix series, about which Gaiman has been teasing casting announcements on Twitter. There’s a crossover with Locke & Key that Hill is writing coming up; I suspect it will be good. I believe it’s the first time there’s been an inter-company crossover with the character.

• A few series, like The Sandman, are bound up in my personal development in a way that is probably familiar to hobbyists of all stripes. Miracleman is another and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a third; I’ve been trying to acquire the little prints and bookplates that Kevin O’Neill did to promote the series when it left DC a few years ago and they’re lovely. I haven’t seen them posted anywhere and they’re long sold-out so I hope nobody minds that I’ve scanned mine and put them at the top of the page.

May make this a daily thing; we’ll see how people like it. Any donations would be much appreciated.

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A Q&A With David Cronenberg From 2007

Hi, folks, I just discovered this in some old notes. I thought I’d published it but, obviously, I had not! I met the director David Cronenberg on the red carpet when I was reporting for Variety in the aughts; he was the nicest person I ever talked to on one of those assignments, which in hindsight were kind of thankless, despite it being very fun and weird to be the only person attending a movie premiere for the free eats. I had no health insurance and was paid by the hour through a rotten temp agency and I got a flat bonus of $75 to go to these after hours and write a glorified photo caption for the party pages, so long as I showed up on time the next morning. I have always loved Cronenberg’s movies and I buttonholed him for about ten minutes at the party for Eastern Promises, which I loved, and he was nice enough that he agreed to do an interview for a little mini-profile that, in hindsight, is kinda fluffy and embarrassing. But the interview itself was pretty good, and I am leaving it here unexpurgated.

So, I was watching the featurette on History of Violence about you guys excising that one scene that looks like something from Videodrome or Dead Ringers, and it seems to me that these last two films have really been a departure for you. Why is that?

Well, I don’t really think it’s a departure, creatively. I can see analytically that people might think that, but when you think, for example of Dead Ringers, that’s a story based on real people. M. Butterfly was also a story based on real people — historical occurrence — so the level of reality in those movies is actually, bizarrely, higher than this movie, in which all the characters are totally invented. So for me, creatively, it’s not that different. I mean even The Dead Zone, which did have some slightly supernatural elements, was a sort of a small town in America. You had a sheriff, just like History of Violence, you had a family story, so I don’t really think that this is all that different. I think it has more to do with the way I’m perceived in general than it has to do with any creative evolution.

I guess everybody kind of remembers Naked Lunch and Videodrome.

Yeah, yeah, and Scanners, and of course those were sort of sci-fi, bizarre movies, but I have done these other movies that intersperse with those, so I’m just jumping around. It’s really a lot like business as usual, not to make it too bland, because of course it’s not. Even though people for example see these movies as a kind of matched pair – and of course I understand why that might be thought — but creatively, Eastern Promises is completely different from History of Violence: It’s not an American story, there are no American characters and so on, it does take place in a big city instead of a small town. So for Viggo and I, it’s very, very different.

It’s that guy from Lord of the Rings who throws everyone off.

And there’s that, too – people say that they’re Viggo fans, but they’re really Aragorn fans! That’s quite different.

I sort of wonder what will happen if you ever get him to play a villain for you.

Well, he sort of does in this one.

But a redeemable character.

Well, we hope so.

So what attracts you to him as an actor? Why work with him again?

Well, I like to say that with Viggo, you don’t just get a solo violin, you get an entire orchestra. He brings a lot to a film that is quite extraordinary, with the depth of the research that he does. He’s a photographer and a poet and a musician and a composer and a publisher as well, and he brings all of that to a project but in a very gentle, collaborative way, you know. It’s just so subtle. But he does feed you things, a lot more things than maybe an ordinary actor would, and I point out particularly this movie. In the original script, tattoos were alluded to, but they weren’t a big deal, they weren’t a metaphor – the central metaphor that they became. And it was Viggo who discovered this book called Russian Criminal Tattoo and a documentary made by a friend of his named Alex Lambert that was called The Mark of Cain. [inaudible] been developed in this tattooing subculture in Russian prisons going back to Tsarist days, you know, long predating the Soviet Union, that has evolved, and the symbology that has evolved, and that was so fascinating it just exploded everything. Viggo basically said, “Okay, if I’m going to get tattoos, I wonder what they should be? Why do I have them?” And that research that he was doing on his own completely changed the direction of script.

You have to be pretty flexible as a director to accomodate that kind of thing.

Well, yes. I mean, yeah, I haven’t been on too many other directors’ sets, but it’s obvious that directors can be very territorial and can feel encroached upon by actors and other members of their crew, and this is not my approach. I am very collaborative, and I’m actually very lazy, so if someone else will do a lot of the work, I’m very happy for that. But the nice thing about that is that actors do respond to that. […] Are you still there? Ha – the plug just came out of the phone. No, I’ll keep talking: I really wouldn’t want my actors to feel that they had to improvise the dialogue; that’s not the kind of collaboration I mean. I like to stick to the script on that level. But there are so many other things that an actor can do for you. That’s why I don’t do storyboards and have never been tempted to: because I’m not interested in sort of manipulating them, even through space. I want to see what how they’re going to move through space: would you sit down in this scene? Would you stand at the window? Would you lie on the floor? I don’t want to do that with storyboards before we’ve even cast the movie; I want my actor to tell me what he feels like doing and work from there. And that all works rather well, actually.

Vincent Cassel actually spoke highly of you on that topic; he said that you were really willing to let things evolve naturally in such a way that it enabled him to give more to a scene.

Sure, sure — I’ve never understood why you would hire brilliant actors and then tell them exactly what to do. That doesn’t make sense.

There’s an approach to violence that’s really pioneered in your early work; a sort of implacable sense that you’re making the audience watch something that’s happening on screen, which you talked about in moral terms at the Eastern Promises premiere. I was wondering if you’d seen any of the films that draw on that, but in an amoral or even perhaps immoral way.

Yeah, I actually haven’t seen — you mean the Hostel and Saw movies, the sort of torture films, right?


I haven’t actually seen any of them, but I don’t think they relate directly to what I was doing, I mean the scenes of torture in Videodrome are fleeting and sort of played for a certain reason, rather than being the subject of the movie, so I actually think that, whether these movies have been influenced by me or not, I don’t think I’ve ever done that, nor have I ever done a slasher movie, basically.

Do you have an opinion of the trend?

Well, forgive me if I repeat myself and you’ve heard this, but this is a very strange time. I remember when Al Goldstein offered $50,000 to anyone who could show him a real snuff film — everybody talked about them, but nobody ever produced one. Now they’re available on the internet every hour of the day or night. You can see beheadings, throat-cuttings, women being stoned to death, mostly courtesy of Muslim extremists. And that’s never existed before.

Do you think it exists as entertainment?

I think that it exists to be seen, and the closeness of that — I’ve often been asked, in fact, I’ve been asked for 40 straight years, ‘Do you think people are now desensitized to violence?’ and so on. And I think in fact that people are more sensitized to violence than they ever were, certainly in North America, while Americans are being beheaded in countries people haven’t heard of by people whose motives are not understood by most Americans, I would suggest. And you can watch that on your computer. That’s never existed before. So let me say — this is very theoretical, with the caveat that we haven’t even seen these movies — maybe these movies are a response to that. People often go to horror films to confront things that they are afraid of, and maybe that is the fear, now, and maybe that is a fear that needs to be exorcised by confronting it in a controlled situation. That would be a possibility, you know.

Does Eastern Promises confront those fears with its images of a culture that’s very foreign and strange to most of us?

Well, I think people go to movies to live other lives. You want to get out of your own life and kind of become somebody else for a while, even if you wouldn’t want to stay in that life. There’s a kind of vicariousness that’s a part of all art, I think. You read a good novel, you get inside somebody else’s head – that’s part of what attracts you to them. So, if you’re going to be Nikolai, who lives a life that is fraught with danger, then I want you to experience his life as it really is. To me, that’s part of my deal with the audience. In every movie you establish a certain level of reality. So if you’re doing a Bourne movie, it’s sort of a fantasy reality. You don’t really believe that those car chases could really happen that way.

Or that you could kill a guy with a pencil.

Of course, you technically could kill a guy with a pencil. … And that’s completely legitimate within the reality that the film is creating. With Eastern Promises, we’re establishing a level of physical, street reality. We’re saying “these guys kill each other, and when they do, sometimes it’s not easy, and it’s physical,” and I take it very seriously. We’re really talking about the destruction of human bodies.

That always struck me about you as an adapter of Stephen King, because his work really speaks a lot about the difficulty of killing somebody.

Well, it’s easy to evade that reality. When we talk about violence, though, it’s easy to think about statistics coming from Iraq, and statistics coming from the tsunami and so on, but we’re talking about the destruction of a body and a unique one, at that — one that will not exist again. If you’re an atheist like I am, you don’t have the exit of “Okay, well, I killed this guy, but he’s in heaven now, so it’s not really so bad.”

Or burning in Hell.

Yeah, and I’m saying, “No, it is bad, because you’ve committed an act of absolute destruction. This creature will never exist again,” and I’m kind of insisting on the physical reality of that in this movie. Literally, we’re talking in the whole movie about five minutes of violence of a hundred-minute film.

But it’s so overwhelming.

My reaction to that is, “And so it should be.”


If I were doing a Bourne movie or something else, then it would be quite different because your agreement with the audience is different.

Tell me a little bit about The Fly: The Opera, just to completely change the subject.

Well, you know, talking about scaring yourself, that’s how I do it — because I’ve never done it before. There are a lot of film directors from Woody Allen to Friedkin to Terry Gilliam who’ve been doing this, and I think part of it is that the world of opera is kind of thinking that for that art form to survive, it has to revitalize itself, and, you know, how many times can you do La bohème?

Quite a few.

Yeah, it’s already done about 800,000 times and is there a limit, well, I don’t know. Looking for novelty and different approaches and so on – it’s obvious that there are a lot of film directors who are intrigued by that, and almost every one of them will say, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And we’re right. We don’t. It’s so different from film. But my fallback position is that opera is not a director’s medium, it is a composer’s medium, and Howard Shore is the creative core of this opera, and he’s composed the score, and David Henry Hwang has done the libretto. And I’m only the director, so if I screw it up, the music will still be good, and the libretto will still be good.

Do you have an approach in mind?

Oh yeah, of course, but I don’t want to reveal it. I don’t want to spoil it. But I am working with Dante Ferretti. He’s done some of Tim Burton’s films, he’s done Gangs of New York, but he’s also done a number of operas, so he’s the guy with the most experience in terms of opera, working on this project. I have a particular approach, and in about a week, I’ll be working with singers for the first time in my life, and we’ll have the telepods there that we’ve designed, and we’ll see how it all starts to work.

Will you have Placido Domingo there to help you out?

No, because he’ll primarily be conducting the orchestra, and you don’t get the orchestra – I’ve recently learned – until about two weeks before the opening of the opera. So I won’t have a real orchestra to play with until then. You don’t get the real singers until then either, so we’ll be doing it with accompaniment pianists and understudy singers. It’s all so expensive to have a 77-piece orchestra playing, so you only have your moments when you can do that. […] It’s completely different, yeah, I’ve been talking to my friend Atom Egoyan who’s done it a few times. But I have to go now, so thank you!

Thank you. Can I ask you one more quick one?


To close, just basically because I enjoy your literary adaptations, can I ask if you’ve you read anything good lately?

I read a lot of stuff for Eastern Promises — no novels, but one of the books I read was called “Black Earth,” which follows the development of Russia after the fall of the communism, by Patrick Meier, and it was just really, really excellent. I highly recommend it.

That’s great. Hey, thank you so much.

Thank you.

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Why I Will Vote Against Donald Trump

It’s hard to be angry all the time and I’m sure it just makes me sound crazy to people who are not as angry as I am, so I thought I would try to lay out as dispassionately as I can why I think Donald Trump is an unacceptable choice for reelection in November. Make of it what you will.

  1. He maliciously lied to the public about the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, far more than any other developed country, misrepresenting its magnitude because he thought public knowledge of the disease’s true scope would hurt his re-election campaign, and in an effort to avoid making difficult decisions. He said he knew early on that the disease was catastrophic. “I always wanted to play it down,” he told Bob Woodward. He also knew that the disease was airborne, but refused to encourage mask use. He has refused to extend federal financial benefits to Americans out of work as a result of the pandemic and has instead proposed cuts to federal aid to “Democrat cities” where protests of police brutality—largely peaceful, except for the constant beatings by the police themselves—are ongoing. Because of this neglect, the country faces economic ruin and mass death on a scale not seen since the Second World War.
  2. Within a week of taking office, he ordered ICE and the Customs and Border Patrol to detain people who had committed no crime by the tens of thousands daily, expanding the deportation regime to such a radical extent that the US has built camps for detainees all over the country, including “tender age” prisons for babies and toddlers, many forcibly separated from their parents, all maintained at huge public expense in deplorable conditions where guards “systematically” sexually assault detainees, including children, and COVID-19 has spread unchecked. He separated thousands of immigrant children, including babies, from their parents at the border at the encouragement of his advisor, white nationalist Stephen Miller, and refused asylum seekers who were then murdered by the people they had fled their homes to escape. The children in many cases did not recognize their parents when they were returned to them and have experienced permanent and extensive psychological trauma. Some were not returned to their parents at all. Children as young as three were asked to represent themselves in court. A good summary can be found here.
  3. He has successfully solicited violence, both directly and indirectly, against his enemies since the beginning of his campaign. He told his supporters to “knock the crap out of” protesters and that he would foot legal bills; he specifically told supporters to beat a black woman at one of his rallies, which one of them did. When George Floyd was killed, Trump told followers to shoot looters using the protests, and a young man who attended one of his rallies drove across state lines with his AR-15 to join the right-wing counterprotesters, and murdered two people. In general, counterprotesters themselves have been horrifically violent, undoubtedly due at least in part to Trump’s encouragement of police violence. He told NYPD officers at an address on Long Island near the beginning of his presidency, that he enjoyed seeing arrestees mistreated and encouraged them not to be “too nice” and has since defended police misconduct in every conceivable scenario. Under his leadership, the GOP has held armed rallies to shut down Democrat-controlled statehouses trying to pass life-saving legislation. Trump is not discovering racism now that he is an elected official; he was well-known for discriminating against black tenants, a practice he learned from his father. He took out a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the execution of the five black teenagers wrongfully accused of raping a woman in Central Park in 1989 and refused to apologize after they were exonerated. When neo-nazis rallied in support of him in Charlottesville and killed a woman, he called them “very fine people.” I have personally witnessed neo-Nazis with swastika and SS tattoos holding a Trump rally on the streets of Boston, and I have seen the police he emboldens beat the locals who came out to peacefully protest their presence.
  4. He actively encourages US servicemen to commit atrocities. He pardoned Eddie Gallagher, a Marine sniper who was, according to his squadmates, a serial killer, undoing the sacrifice of the men who turned him in and placing those men in danger. He also pardoned Matt Golsteyn, who hunted down and killed an Afghani man, and Clint Lorance, who ordered his platoon to open fire on three unarmed men. Trump overrode the decisions of experienced soldiers and their commanding officers in every one of these cases, preferring the counsel of his favorite TV show.
  5. He appears to be a serial rapist and has used his powers of office and your money and mine to shield himself legally from the consequences of rape, to say nothing of suits and accusations from dozens of women who have accused him of lesser, but still criminal, sexual molestations.
  6. He has helped Saudi Arabia prosecute a genocidal war in Yemen, declaring a state of emergency in order to grant himself the necessary powers to give the Saudis $8 billion in arms they then used to conduct more than a hundred airstrikes during a ceasefire and bomb hospitals being used to treat the tens of thousands of children under 5 who have cholera as a result of the war. When the State Department’s Inspector General opened an investigation into the declaration, Trump just fired him. Mohammad bin Salman, the ruler of Saudi Arabia, had a Washington Post columnist critical of the war in Yemen killed by dismemberment in Istanbul; in response, Trump issued a statement “standing with Saudi Arabia.”
  7. His campaign has directly employed violent neo-fascists including Enrique Tarrio, the head of the Proud Boys, a far-right street gang that has carried out multiple stabbings and beatings in the president’s name. Tarrio can be seen here in a place of honor behind Trump at one of his rallies.
  8. His cabinet appointees are corrupt and unsuited to their work. Betsy Devos, a right-wing heiress whose primary business is pseudoscientific quackery, is the Secretary of Education. Wilbur Ross, accused of stealing millions, is the Secretary of Commerce. Trump tried to make Andy Puzder, the chairman of Hardee’s, a company famous for wage theft, his labor secretary until Puzder withdrew after his history of spousal abuse was uncovered. Steven Mnuchin, his secretary of the treasury, was the “foreclosure king of California” during the 2008 financial crisis. His Attorney General, William Barr, was previously most famous for negotiating the pardons of war criminals implicated in the atrocities of the Iran-Contra scandal.
  9. He deployed what appears to be his own private security force, under the command of the Attorney General, in unmarked uniforms in the nation’s capitol during the George Floyd protests, where he violently dispersed protesters so he could attend a photo shoot in front of a church holding a Bible.
  10. He used chemical weapons on American citizens.
  11. He tried to deploy 10,000 active duty US troops on American soil and was only stopped by pushback from the Pentagon.
  12. His election was itself illegitimate. Trump solicited and then received help from a foreign adversary’s intelligence service after his campaign clandestinely met with its representatives while they were in New York. That outreach was part of a broad campaign by the Russian Federation to suborn Republicans in an effort to weaken the transatlantic alliance and NATO so that Russia could continue to prosecute its proxy wars in Africa and the Middle East and wars of expansion along its borders unimpeded. Apparently in return, Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort altered the Republican party platform to make it softer on Russian military aggression, and the Trump administration has weakened previously existing sanctions. I did a lot of this reporting personally.
  13. He is uniquely unfit for public office in the history of presidency. Trump is a career swindler and white-collar criminal, with decades-long ties to New York’s organized crime families and recent connections, again, documented by me, to the Russian mob that extend into his first presidential campaign. Given that Trump refused to put his personal holdings into a blind trust, he probably still has those ties, and the best we can hope for is that they are dormant, though they probably aren’t. Beyond this, he has no experience in government or public service, in fact his life in the private sector is one of criminal greed, the effects of which have been felt long into his presidency, including a fine in the tens of millions of dollars for defrauding students at his “Trump University” that he bragged about because it was lower than he knew it should have been.

Anyway I hate him. I hate the motherfucker. If you still want to vote for him I assume it’s because you think all of the above is hilarious and you’ve had your brains turned inside out by right-wing media, which, fair play to you, is not an uncommon condition in this country. Maybe you’re really angry about trans people or abortion or something. I don’t care any more. I wish you every happiness. Except this one. Stay home on November 3. Marathon your favorite Dinesh D’Souza movies or reread The Turner Diaries. Just don’t vote for him. He does not care if you die. He will think it’s funny, if he thinks about you at all. I will call you up and personally beg you and cry liberal tears if you want. I will be so owned. It’ll be so funny. It’ll be such a great joke on me, guys, if you just don’t vote for this monster.

Comics, Comics, Comics

Three panels from “The City in the Sea,” an adaptation by Richard Corben of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, from Corben’s collection Spirits of the Dead, Dark Horse Comics, 2019.

Hello, patient readers! I thought about writing about… well, any number of things in the political atmosphere at the moment, but they all fill me with despair! The viciousness and hypocrisy of various political factions whose fortunes have been reversed and find themselves on the top or the bottom of a pecking order that usually treats them differently; the acquittal of Donald Trump and his responsive exercise of power; further madness and cruelty at the border; the growing understanding that we’re all required to carry around little surveillance devices that sell our most private secrets to the highest bidder—this is all very depressing!

So I’m writing about comics this week. I hope you enjoy it.

I rarely write about all the comics I read, in part because I don’t have that kind of time and in part because, well, I don’t want to sound like a freak. I read a lot of comics. It’s a thing I do to relax but it also helps me feel like a normal human being, which is hard to square with the habit itself, since it is of course kind of eccentric. Over the course of a few years of therapy and meds to remedy some fairly urgent depression (I’m fine!), I’ve come to terms with the truism that life is stressful and filled with pressure and responsibilities, and a lot of work needs to be done to arrange those stresses and pressures so that they’re not causing harm to you or causing you to harm someone you love. Creative outlets are good, but they, of course, are also work, and so passive outlets are necessary, and while I like television and movies and video games as much as the next guy, I either find them not engaging enough or too engaging. When my brain is turning into mucilage at the end of my day I don’t really like looking at another video screen; I’ve spent too long doing that already.

So I read comics, and I buy comics that I might want to read later, using a horrifying percentage of my disposable income, and I collect and trade them and borrow them from the library and and hunt them down on eBay and steal them off the internet. This isn’t good; I’m kind of ashamed of a lot of it; but it’s better for a person like me than unwinding with drugs or booze or pornography, which are all as readily available and require about as much brain juice to engage with.

There are, of course, gradations of comics. There are some really intellectual ones, like Alan Moore’s Providence or Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges. And there are those that have layers upon layers—Dan Clowes’s stuff, Dame Darcy, Los Bros Hernandez, etc. But a fascinating thing about comics is that they’re neither “hot” media (like TV) nor “cool” media (like novels), exactly. To some extent, you can read them with your lizard brain the way you’d watch a sitcom or play a video game; they’re hugely immersive, once you understand how to read them.

But well-done comics also operate on several different very sophisticated levels, even the cotton-candy ones. There’s a difference between a good comic where the Hulk beats up Wolverine and a bad comic where the Hulk beats up Wolverine; it’s a matter of intention and technical skill on the part of the guy drawing it—whether he knows how to direct your eye from panel to panel and how to emphasize the important beats in the story or not. So I read these things all the time, and I reread them. And I love them. 

This year for whatever reason I thought I’d spend at least a few weeks documenting literally everything I read in comics terms, and telling you about it. This is a partial accounting of what I’ve read since the beginning of the year—probably not even that long ago, honestly—and will get more thorough as it goes on. Let me know if you like it.

Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston: Like, I suspect, absolutely no one else who glommed onto this book, I have no strong opinions about Jeff Lemire, but was all in from the jump as soon as I heard Dean Ormston was doing the art. I adore Ormston; I think he’s one of the most talented people working in superhero comics and I wish he’d draw absolutely everything. I was horrified to see he’d suffered a cerebral hemorrhage before the first issue of this book shipped but gratified to subsequently learn that, unlike quite a few of his contemporaries, Lemire wasn’t going to abandon his partner and move on with someone who could work to his pace; the series has a lot of great work by Ormston, and I look forward to picking up more. It’s an extremely fun Outer Limits-style sci-fi-mystery book, with a slowly unwinding plot and solid characterizations. It looks so unlike any superhero book you’ve read that when it takes a conventional twist or turn, the counterpoint of the art is so strong that it feels fresh and interesting. Anyway, I’ve only read the first volume but I’m sure I’ll pick up more.

Rat God, Richard Corben: A terrific horror story. Just top-tier stuff. It iterates the Lovecraft story, Shadows Over Innsmouth, in which the protagonist visits a town where everybody seems to be slowly turning into a frog, except with rats, and a protagonist who is very clearly drawn to resemble Lovecraft himself.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Shadows on the Grave, Corben: More great work from Corben and occasionally Rich Margopoulos, who lends him a hand with scripting duties. Some of these stories are only a few pages and some are twenty and thirty pages long but they’re all amazingly beautiful and some of them are quite clever; the best is his Masque of the Red Death.

Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe, Corben and Rich Margopoulos: An earlier Poe collection by Corben, this one in black and white. A spottier collection, with the page count bulked up with reprints of the original text of the Poe stories and poems. Some of these are good and at least one, a resetting of Poe’s poem Israfel in majority-black gangland, that is incredibly cringey. In both collections Conqueror Worm is a real standout. There’s a second Haunt of Horror mini in the same format, all Lovecraft stories, that I’m anxious to track down.

Vic and Blood by Corben and Harlan Ellison: As with the Marvel Poe and Lovecraft collections, this adaptation of what is arguably Ellison’s best-known original work reprints the text of the original stories, in this case with gorgeous black-and-white spot illos by Corben. They’re worth the price of admission; the supposedly main attraction, I have to say, is not. It’s less that the adaptations of the Ellison stories aren’t good—they are, very, in fact—and more that they’re not produced from film but from scans of the old comics pages, and there’s no color correction and in most cases you can see a faint outline of the page border where it’s been printed on the paper. The darks are all way too dark and Corben’s art is shadowy anyway, so it’s just kind of an orangey-brown mush. This is put out by Byron Preiss’s iBooks, a tiny little publisher that did a bunch of Harlan stuff, presumably to his ridiculous standards. If you like Ellison, Borderlands did a complete edition of his stories for these characters—all prose—with a nice Corben cover out shortly after Ellison died.

Invisible Woman by Mark Waid and Mattia de Iulis: A fun spy romp by Waid, very predictable but nicely paced and with pleasant computery art by de Iulis. I really like Waid; I’m surprised this book didn’t get a higher billing when it was solicited and shipped. The Adam Hughes covers are lovely. Waid’s recent Ant-Man and the Wasp mini is a similar experiment, far more successful by every measure. Waid does sci-fi really well; here he has a spy story with extremely silly sci-fi trappings and it feels a little vague.

Hellblazer: Hard Time by Corben and Brian Azzarello: A really nicely done one-off arc announcing Azzarello’s run on Hellblazer, which is well-thought-of. The story mechanics are clever and the plot is interesting, and Corben is a genius. Azzarello’s dialogue tics are kept to a minimum here, but the elephant in the room is the absolutely appalling racism and homophobia throughout the book. The villain is a big-dicked black prisoner who rapes a femmey white boy all day and his motivation is that he wants to rape Constantine. There are jokes about dropping the soap and all kinds of incredibly dumb, dumb, dumb 90’s edgelord comedy. As a Corben completist I guess I liked the cartooning—the way Constantine works magic in the story really is clever and it has some scary moments but it’s such an obvious relic of the period, in the same ways as Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s odious Preacher, that I can’t recommend it unless you can still stomach the worst excesses of that book.

Ultimate Comics: X by Jeph Loeb and Arthur Adams: Jeph Loeb is a solid comic book scripter. It took me years to see this; he does things that really piss me off, like quote punchlines from movies in his dialogue, and there’s a generic quality to many of his plots, with a couple of exceptions. But he knows exactly what artists like to draw, how to tell a complete story legibly and compellingly, and how to use captions without overloading a page. His stuff is never talky and it’s almost *always* beautiful, and for a few years at Marvel, the company just let him have whoever he wanted to work with and they did amazing work. This little X-Book about B-listers forming a new team after the death of the rest of the X-Men is fantastic—cleverly structured, speedily paced, and just eight tons of fun to read, in no small part because Adams is just one of the most accomplished cartoonists alive. I can’t tell you how much I like looking at his work; I wish to goodness his older stuff like his Monkeyman and O’Brien miniseries was back in print. Anyway this is one of those comics that’s going to be easy to find used; I recommend it.

The Ultimates: Thor Reborn by Loeb and Frank Cho: Let’s be honest, The Ultimates, even the “good” years under Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, was an extremely silly book that blatantly ripped off Warren Ellis’s run on The Authority but with more swearing and cleavage. Loeb’s work on the title varies pretty wildly but this book, a cheesecakey romp with artist Frank Cho, is honestly my favorite of his stuff in the Ultiverse. It’s so stupid but its raciness isn’t especially sexist and its nihilism is honestly kind of bracing. I also really enjoy that he makes Cap a hidebound old dork.

The Ultimates 3: Who Killed Scarlet Witch? by Loeb and Joe Madureira: A really nasty little book with a ton of big crowd-pleasing fight sequences, and one (along with Ultimatum, which I read a few days ago; see further down) that Loeb apparently hates so much he won’t even talk about it. Loeb’s son Sam died of cancer at 17 a few years before and you can watch the quality of his work just plummet over time after that happens, I believe in 2004, a few years before this. He seems to have pulled himself out of the doldrums by the time he writes Ultimate Comics: X but this one is really embarrassing. I’m hot and cold on Madureira’s art; on the one hand it’s fucking absurd and the women all have ridiculous-looking spheroid boobs and the men have muscles on their muscles, but it’s so extreme it’s kind of fun, almost a parody of itself. Anyway, aggressively sleazy, a little bit fun in spite of itself for how unapologetic it is about crapping on superhero fans, and kind of unpleasantly sad given how clearly Loeb is working out his personal issues. 

The Ultimates: Omniversal by Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort: A reboot-ish of the Ultimates in the “real” Marvel Universe without any of the old team’s sleazeball antics, instead written with an enormous sense of scale. The book does really fun things with Galactus, a character I’ve always loved, and Rocafort’s art is just eye-popping. Absolutely beautiful layouts and rendering, it’s just lush. It suffers a bit from getting too meta without a larger point to make, but the cosmic stuff is so fun it’s hard to resent. In the second volume, Rocafort gets an assist from a much less accomplished artist, which is very annoying—I wish Marvel would just give these guys an extra two weeks to catch up rather than interrupt the story with six pages by a penciler with a totally different style—but it’s mostly A1, especially Christian Ward’s fill-in issues, which are every bit the equal of Rocafort’s art on the main story. A reason I have a soft spot for the old, occasionally nasty years of MAX and Ultimate Universe stuff is that it’s so aggressively off-model; with the Disney acquisition, all those shenanigans are over and everything is squeaky clean and PG-13 at most. In a lot of ways, that’s a bad and kind of sad thing, but in others, it pushes writers and artists to find better ways to tell stories, and this is one of the latter. The Rat is a terrible, malign influence on our culture, but that doesn’t mean everything that comes out of its maw is worthless.

Planet Hulk by Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan: A genuinely terrific story I’d never made the time to read until very recently, despite its sitting on my shelf for at least months, possibly years. I have generalized good feelings toward Greg Pak, the writer, but am not a completist the way I am for Warren Ellis or Alan Moore, and I never quite dug Carlo Pagulayan’s art, which is kind of workmanlike. But having buckled down and read the whole thing I can honestly say it’s a wonderful book, self-contained to a laudable degree for a Marvel comic, with great characters and a moving arc and a swords-and-sandals style plot with all the trappings of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. And, of course, because it’s the Hulk, it’s tragic, which is probably why he’s my favorite Marvel superhero. And it has a couple of chapters by Gary Frank, an artist I really love.

The Court of Owls Saga by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo: A profoundly annoying thing about DC’s New 52 line of comics, which in hindsight had a lot going for it, was how stubborn the company was about cross-promotion and crossover stories. The crown jewel of the ill-fated relaunch attempt was the Batman book, but the first story arc was at least two volumes long and one of those volumes was filled with bullshit that no one in the world wanted to read. DC has finally rectified this with a new paperback issued through its Black Label imprint, which reprints the first 11 issues of the New 52 Batman with exactly none of the annoying sideline adventures that clogged up the story. Capullo’s art is just unbelievable. His run on the title is such a gift. I’m going to sit down and read the whole thing soon; it’s so good I’m considering dropping too much money on the enormous omnibus.

Cromwell Stone by Andreas: When I was a little kid with no friends in fourth or fifth grade in Western North Carolina, I basically lived in junk shops, sorry, “antique stores” in Black Mountain and the unincorporated community outside its borders, Swannanoa. My crap emporium for a few years is now a store for skinny happy people who like to go hiking, but once it had a great little corner filled with mildewed sci-fi paperbacks and a couple of short boxes of comics. Among these comics was the first Cromwell Stone story, issued in English as a one-shot from Dark Horse, and it scared the hell out of me. I read it over and over again. I did not know what “Lovecraftian” meant or who Lovecraft was, despite his being quoted on the title page, but it was a kind of horror I’d never read before and I absolutely adored it. The sequels, reprinted in a new edition from Titan Books, are just as good as the original, and legible at the new edition’s absolutely mammoth trim size. Each is done in a slightly different medium: The first is largely pen and ink on paper, the second appears to have a long section on scratchboard, and the third has big passages in charcoal. It’s gorgeous, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Familiar Face by Michael DeForge: I have never liked Michael DeForge; my opinion has always been that you can be a glib miserablist or a lazy minimalist but both at once is a bit too much to take. I’m pleased to report that this book is both very inventive narratively and really beautiful; it’s also a very astute criticism of The Way We Live Now. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. It’s also really, really funny. Now I have to go make sure I haven’t been misreading the author’s other work.

Ultimatum by Loeb and Michael Finch: Hahahahaha this book is DISGUSTING. It caused quite a stir when it came out but basically, the plot is that Magneto brings about a 9/11-ish terrorist disaster because he’s mad at humanity over the death of his son and daughter, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Then the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants go on a rampage and kill a bunch of superheroes, and the body count eventually includes Thor and The Wasp and Wolverine and so on. It’s just way, way, way over the top in terms of violence, so extreme that it’s very hard to take seriously. That didn’t stop people from taking it seriously, of course—lots of folks got super mad about, for example, The Blob eating The Wasp’s intestines and saying that she “tastes like chicken” (on a splash page, no less). Anyway, the exaggerated, theatrical violence is ridiculous and stupid—Dormammu squeezes Doctor Strange until his eyes bug out and his head pops—but the way the women characters are handled is indescribable without using the word “misogyny” and they get tortured and ripped up and almost-raped so much that it’s really hard to take and the book just ends up seeming loathsome on balance even if you don’t take the desecration of corporate superheroes terriby seriously. This was a big crossover event—highly publicized with an artist assigned to it who does a lot of fancy rendering, and with so many tie-ins there’s two big deluxe editions compiling them all. It’s kind of still worth reading just because Finch is a surprisingly good cartoonist on top of being a crowd-pleasing Image Comics-style over-enthusiastic hatch-shader (also just a crazily nice dude. Stacked bald guy with sleeve tattoos; I’ve seen him sign and sketch for literally hours as the line to meet him stretches down Artist’s Alley for table after table. He did a Dark Phoenix for me like ten years ago that I really love). Loeb has written very few comics since this; there’s an Avengers/X-Men miniseries a few years later and he finished up a Captain America story with Tim Sale to go with the rest of his absolutely lovely “Colors” books, neither of which I have read. I hope he found peace; this is the work of a guy in a lot of pain.

World War Hulk by Pak and John Romita, Jr.: The sequel to Planet Hulk, which I wasn’t sure I wanted to read since I’d enjoyed the previous volume so much and this one looked like it would not be much more than a book-long fight, with art by a guy I’ve loved since childhood who has been phoning it in a bit recently. Anyway all that was true, although I would put this just barely on the right side of the JRjr-is-tired divide (his Superman book with Frank MIller is firmly on the wrong side, FWIW. The best thing he’s done in his late career is his Eternals miniseries with Neil Gaiman), but the writing is terrific, mega-fight or no mega-fight, and a plot point I’d thought was a little clumsy at the end of Planet Hulk turned out to be a plot thread, and pays off really beautifully in this book. To some extent it reminds me a lot of Scott McCloud’s tabloid-sized Jack Kirby parody Destroy!, one of my favorite comics, about the ridiculous extent of the property damage inflicted by superhero battles, but I gotta be honest, I loved it.

Starr The Slayer MAX by Corben and Daniel Way: This one I’ll cop to special-ordering through eBay. Way is a very gifted writer; I don’t know if they just inserted dick jokes and sexism by editorial fiat when they greenlit the MAX books but this one veers between the same kind of juvenile dipshittery that plagues so much of the MAX line and a couple of legitimately funny jokes and a very clever storyline with, of course, brilliant cartooning. It’s so performative about its stupidity that it’s hard to recommend but it’s great work from Corben.

And my pull list:

The Green Lantern


Far Sector

Daphne Byrne 


X-Men/Fantastic Four

New Mutants (Hickman scripts)

Hellboy and the BRPD (Mignola scripts)

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen

Wonder Twins

Red Sonja


Sex Criminals

Doctor Strange, Surgeon Supreme

Punisher: Soviet

Star Wars: Darth Vader


The Batman’s Grave

Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child