17 November 2009

Daily Breakdowns 037 - TCJ, Moore and Vertigoing

The Comics Journal just put up their landmark 300th issue in online form, before apparently realizing lots of people wouldn't buy the print version and pulling it. Ah, well, I was going to get it anyway, but I couldn't resist reading some of the columns, and the hilarious Noah Van Sciver cartoon interview with Gary Groth, who apparently speaks as he writes, not seeking the perfect word but rather the perfect trio of negative adjectives.

Unfortunately, I have only a fading, anger-etched memory of Tom Crippen's wrongheaded piece on the age of geekism or somesuch, with Alan Moore as ubergeek and his major works, Watchmen, From Hell, Promethea and Lost Girls found wanting due to Moore not doing enough thinking. In fact, for Crippen, Moore's heavy thinking/best writing petered out around 1989. For Crippen, thinking = explaining, because it really bugged him that a) Sally Jupiter in Watchmen cries over the death of her rapist, The Comedian, and Moore doesn't tell the reader why, and b) in From Hell, he doesn't tell us why William Gull became a killer. I guess for the latter I would say: see (or rather don't see): Hannibal, the prequel explaining in excruciatingly literal and gratuitous detail how young Hannibal Lector became the riveting middle-aged serial killer he is in The Silence of the Lambs. You could also cite the Star Wars prequels for the hazards of trying to trace fascinating adult characters back to their origins.

Leaving aside that inventing psychological motivation for the murders based on past incidents would seem to be beyond Moore's aims for the book, it just seems like one of the least interesting concerns. The mystery is more powerful. Likewise, Sally's crying is often cited as one of the more intriguing scenes in Watchmen. In just the one panel, the mysteries and complexities of human relationships are captured. Leaving the reason(s) for her tears to the reader's interpretation gives the scene more resonance. I always think it's a combination of affection and pity for The Comedian, a sadness that he felt he had to take from her what he could have had willingly if he didn't hate himself. It works that way; it no doubt works differently for other readers. It's hard to see what would be gained by explaining it. And it's not like Moore had a problem with writing the origins of evil -- The Killing Joke works fine for that. It's a shame, as Kreiner is a better writer than this but, ironically given how he criticizes Moore for dressing up thin stories with artifice and allusions, in this case he tried to dress up a pretty brittle skeleton of a column idea in unformed ideas of geekism and geekish visual aids from Watchmen film production stills.

As a -- what's less than a lark? A larklet? -- I felt like checking in with recent issues of some Vertigo series I'd never read, to see if they were any good and if they're easy enough to get into even if they've been running for a year or more.

Scalped #31
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by R. M. Guera
Published by Vertigo. $2.99 USD

Quite a striking cover. I like the logo and sun-scorched top half very much, the bottom half not that well integrated with the top, but still okay. Doesn't seem to have anything to do with this issue's story. This is the third part of a five part arc, "The Gnawing," and it's not bad. An old guy buys a rifle and one bullet at a gun shop in such a way that any gun shop proprietor would know he's going to be shooting a person with it. Two criminals escape police custody and one of them knocks the other on the head. Nursing his injury, he tries to hole up with his old lady, but she wants nothing to do with him because he's apparently an FBI agent. A beefy, mean-looking Native American, I think a casino owner named Red Crow, wants the guy found. The woman is his daughter. She's pregnant or really sick.

Writer Aaron provides a breezy read but it seems like a lot of crime movie cliches with the only difference being the reservation setting. So much profanity it made me wonder if Aaron ever got tired of writing it. Literally no one here says anything with just a hint of wit or that hints at depth of character. Guera's working his heart out on this thin material, with the gun shop opening being mind-blowing in combining verisimilitude with freaky pastel coloring from Giulia Brusco. Artwise, it's more airy and scratchy than an Eduardo Risso, but his influence seems to still be there with the fat lines, and occasional playing with light and shadow. Entertaining like an average TV crime show, except you have to pay for it in what amounts to ten minute installments.

Northlanders #21
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Leandro Fernandez
Published by Vertigo. $2.99 USD

This issue is a little luckier in that it begins a new story arc, "The Plague Widow," so by design it should be a little easier to jump on. About all I knew of this book before picking it up is that it was set in Viking times--I guess technically from the story these are Volga Boatmen along the Russian River. The plague has come to the village and there is an argument over what's to be done. Most of the villagers--religious folk, led by the brutish warlord Gunborg--want to just pray and hope for the best, while Boris is aware of the developing research on germs and votes to expel the infected from camp. He's a good character for Wood to write, as Wood always likes the bold loner against society. There's some heartfelt stuff here as well, as a mother is torn by her faith vs. science, but once her husband dies she has to make a tough choice in the interest of her daughter Karin. Although, again, this is a slim, quick read, it's involving, and the period is different enough from the usual to help sell it. Fernandez is even more indebted to Risso's style, but the clean line and starkness work very well for the setting, especially with the earth tones and candle light sources from Dave McCaig. It lacks subtlety, to be sure, but it's affecting nonetheless. I can do with more sentimental comics about mothers and daughters toughing out harsh conditions, grotesque men and the plague. OK, well, just this one is fine. Looking forward to catching up on the series.

Air #14
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by M. K. Perker
Published by Vertigo. $2.99 USD

I like the art the least of the three, although at least it's the most different, with its kind of P. Craig Russell rendering. This is part three of "Pureland," set in a fictional, largely fundamentalist (I assume Muslim Third World country. An attractive blonde has some sort of power to control air or combustion or chemical reactions or something, and she's searching for an Arab Interpol agent named Zayn, with whom she feels a bond. Weak from overmedication, she's helped by Zayn's brother, and unfortunately we get an awful lot of the backstory of him and his two brothers, who have all found jobs in which suit their individual needs for violence and idealism like the three bears found suitable bedding. It could be the most original premise of the three comics surveyed here, it's hard to tell from since I don't know what the premise is, exactly. And of course, it's had over a year to set it all up and get readers on-board with it. I can just say that this particular, random issue didn't grab me all that much. Still, passing-to-good grades for all.

I'll be catching up on some Marvel stuff soon as well.

Christopher Allen

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