A while back I stopped playing online games on the iPad so that the time I spent doing that (in bed before I go to sleep) could instead be spent reading, working my way through this giant pile of comics I’ve amassed. I’m happy to say that this has (mostly) worked. Here’s a list of stuff I’ve read within the past couple months, with some brief commentary, since there’s skeletons that need killing.
The Mighty Skullboy Army vol 2 (Jacob Chabot) – Fun stories about a pint-sized supervillain.
Shaky Kane’s Monster Truck (Shaky Kane) – I really enjoyed ‘The Bulletproof Coffin’ by Kane and David Hines, but it was my only exposure to Kane (except for a few strips he did for British music magazines I used to get). This apocalyptic stream-of-consciousness narrative is basically just him giving himself cool things to draw and it’s a feast.
Baltimore: The Plague Ships (Mignola, Golden, Stenbeck) and Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever (Mignola, Arcudi, Severin) – I love Hellboy and BPRD, but the spinoff stuff has only worked a little bit for me. I think it’s because the main characters don’t do a lot for me. It also could be a matter of saturation: there’s so much Hellboy and BPRD already and these don’t really add a lot to the mix. Still, it’s not like I won’t get them, so there’s some time for the characters to grow on me.
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (Sarah Glidden) and Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City (Guy Delisle) — I didn’t mean to suddenly read a lot about Israel (I have Harvey Pekar’s ‘Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me’ on order) but these were two different yet compelling takes on this, oh let’s say “problematic”, region. In Glidden’s book an American on a Birthright trip tackles the situation head on, trying to synthesize the mass of conflicting information she gets. Delisle’s is more subtle, as he lets events unfold over a year spent living there and gets more of a ground-view perspective. In both cases, though, you have a comfortable outsider dropping in for a relatively short period of time to try and reach a conclusion about a centuries-old conflict. Good luck with that!
Nelson (various) – An interesting project. A character is created and 54 different British comics creators take turns illustrating an isolated day in that character’s life between birth and the present. The character is a girl named Nel, and though she naturally experiences events during that time, it’s mostly not done in a ham-fisted Forrest Gump way (though her experience of 9/11 comes close). It’s especially interesting to me since she’s born in 1968, making her life somewhat parallel to my own. And of course, technically, watching a bunch of different creators juggle this exquisite corpse of a tale is also a lot of fun.
Athos in America (Jason) – I’m a huge fan of Jason and a new book by him always gets bought and always gets enjoyed. This one is a collection of six stories with the usual mix of comedy, crime, pathos, romance, and absurdity, all told with a cast of dog and bird people. They’re all good but the really fun one is “A Cat From Heaven” in which Jason himself is portrayed as a womanizing, alcoholic asshole for our laffs.
Tamara Drewe (Posy Simmonds) – I talked about this here.
Goliath (Tom Gauld) – I love Gauld’s work and this was a bittersweet little book about the days leading up to this character’s moment from The Bible. He’s a guy who happens to be huge and is not particularly violent, but he’s set up by his commander and resigns himself to his “mission”. We all know how the story ends up. A beautiful book.
Rocketeer Adventures vol 1 (various) – Like any sane person, I adore Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer comics and wish we’d gotten more of them before his untimely death. I don’t normally go for other people playing in someone else’s sandbox, but the price on this collection was right and, let’s face it, it’s the only way we’re getting more Rocketeer. The stories here are a lot of fun and show genuine admiration not only for Stevens’ work but for the comics and material his work was a tribute to. Also some killer artwork!
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service vol 12 (Otsuka, Yamazaki) – Finally a new volume of this, though it’s starting to wear a little thin to me. We don’t get mutilated young women in this one, though we do get mutilated RealDolls so it’s kind of a wash. The story about Second Life doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. It’s been a pretty fun ride, but I might be done with it now.
Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery (Morrison, Quitely) – When this first came out in 1996 I wasn’t sure what to make of it, expecting something more along the lines of the more (comparatively) straightforward Doom Patrol. I hadn’t really touched it until this reprint and now I can safely report back on how amazing it is. An analysis of, critique on, and paean to comics, I don’t know how anyone can read this and think that Grant Morrison hates superheroes. Hell, I hate superheroes but love this view of them. It’s like the anti-Dark Knight Returns, casting aside all that idiotic macho sturm und drang to find the sheer joy and wonder at its heart. Grant Morrison has given us a phenomenal library of work, but it’s all right here. This is the one.
Usagi Yojimbo vol 24: Return of the Black Soul and Usagi Yojimbo vol 25: Fox Hunt (Stan Sakai) – Man, I effin love Usagi Yojimbo. It’s just such a masterfully done series. I had fallen behind with the trades and when I started up on volume 24, I was worried about not being able to remember what had come just before that, but in no time Stan Sakai had me completely mentally caught up. It’s just breathtaking how much story, characterization, and fantastic artwork is packed into each volume. I’ve said before that Usagi Yojimbo is the best monthly comic book and I continue to stand by that statement. I’ve seen nothing that even comes close.
BPRD: Being Human (various), Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury (Mignola, Fegredo), and BPRD: Hell on Earth: Gods and Monsters (Mignola, Arcudi, Davis, Crook) – This is quite a collection here, so bear with me. ‘Being Human’ is pretty much just one-shot stories (including a few origin re-tellings) for various BPRD members. Some good stuff, but not completely essential. ‘Gods and Monsters’ continues the story of the BPRD’s fight against the new, large-scale threat. I have to say, as much as I know how important it is for creators to raise the stakes, the bigger this story has gotten, the less interesting it’s been to me. It seems that it’s begun to overwhelm the characters, who are getting lost in all the sound and fury. Comparing the intimate stories in ‘Being Human’ to the blockbuster-sized ‘Hell on Earth’ it’s not hard to miss the fact that the former are actually more interesting and powerful.
Similarly, the last few trades of Hellboy, again building to a summer-movie climax, have taken a familiar trope in the series — a disinterested Hellboy at the center of Earth-shattering events he’d rather not be a part of — and lost the core of the character that made those stories so captivating before. (The introduction of the Arthurian legends also doesn’t help keep my interest, especially the way they were brought in.) There’s something missing in Hellboy, though he himself also seems to notice it, which keeps the story well afloat to the bitter and surprising end.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m giving up on the Mignolaverse — there’s absolutely no chance of that happening. But there does seem to be a loss of focus there that I hope can get brought back. Perhaps that’s the angle that will draw me in to Baltimore and Witchfinder (see above).
That’s a lot of stuff and yet still the to-read stack requires a stepladder to access and requires flying buttresses to keep it standing. The Showcase Presents titles alone require a blinking red light at the top so as to avoid airplane collisions. But I’m making progress.