“In Time For The Holidays, Unless We Bail”
by Ryk McIntyre
If all goes well, you’ll have this essential column in time to use all that store-credit, once you’ve returned the Christmas gifts that suck (some people just haven’t gotten hip to the fact that it’s the gift that counts). And once The Gap and L.L. Bean have choked on all that beige, drag your butt over to a comic book store. Support your local store, you know the drill. For the too-rare female comic reader, I suggest Promethea #4 (ABC Comics/Alan Moore-writer; J. H. Williams and Charles Vess-artists), a mix of Wonder Woman and the Classic Muses, resulting in a warrior woman who’s power is drawn from inspiration and imagination. The story still revolves around the passing-of-the-torch from an old Promethea to a new, and we get the tragic story of a previous Promethea (eight delicious pages of Charles Vess art!). It’s starting to be revealed that this ranks high in on-the-job mortality rates. The new Promethea is trying to absorb it all, and the Promethea emeritus still hangs on to life on the material plane. Check this one out.
Dark Horse continues to sling the widest range of… stuff. I mean, how can one publishing house give us Peter David’s SpyBoy #1 (Pop Mhan does the neo-anime thang), Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey, and Gary Gianni’s MonsterMen? First-off, we have the James Bond-meets-painful adolescence story of a kid, exceptionally trained, with lost memories and secret agendas converging right on top of him. And Homeroom… The art draws from anime, but to be fair, the kid is clear, concise, and expressive. He’ll only get better. Mr. Millionaire’s book is an innocent, surreal joy. Warped landscapes haven’t been this much fun since Porky Pig visited WackyLand. Don’t ask what it’s “about,” just pay yer $2.95 and enjoy the ride. Originally a back-up feature in Mike Mignola’s HellBoy, The Monster Men delights with its ’30s adventure flavor, Mike Kaluta-esque artwork, and its use of legendary themes. Besides the rush you get, you also learn the connection between two legends. A nice touch is the HellBoy back-up story.
In the wake of his announced departure/hiatus, Jeff Smith has decided to trust the Bone mythos to writer Tom (Swords of Sharpei, Night Tribes, Punisher) Sniegoski. Does Jeff know what he’s doing? I know this man… he has a dangerous imagination. Oh sure, he looks like he works in a college financial aid office, but don’t let that fool you! Fortunately, he’s funny as hell, and tells a great story of previous times in the world of Bone, in the person of Big Johnson Bone (oh Tom…): storyteller, great explorer, and winner of monkeys. And that monkey gets some of the best lines, too. Obviously, Jeff Smith knows how to farm-out the franchise.
Over at DC, there’s a lot of simple fun to be had in SuperMan Adventures, the tie-in to the TV cartoon. Much like the BatMan Adventures, its simplicity of story is more connected to the original flavor of the older books. Here it’s honed by the wit of writer Mark Millar who produces interesting, mostly single-issue stories unfettered by the demands of continuity and crossovers. In issue #38, Mr. Mxyzptlk loses his power to the Parasite and must team-up with his enemy (the boy in blue with the “S” on his chest) to save reality. Twenty-two pages later, it’s done. Over at The Wildstorm subsidiary, check out DeathBlow By Blow, a sci-fi deconstruction of the DeathBlow character (as puddle-deep as the original ran…) by Alan (that guy again) Moore, with art by Jim Baikie, a team-up that’s always delivered in the past (check out Skizz by Titan Press). So while I can’t tell you what the hell’s going on in this book, it’s connected to the character, and it’s neat but weird. Drive carefully. In Kurt Busiek’s Astro City #2O (art by Brent Anderson and Will Blyberg), the long, sad story of SteelJacket is told: his hopes to do the right thing and reform, not letting a lot of minor bad guys get killed in a set-up by a disgraced ex-hero… Oh sure, it sounds easy enough, but you shoulda been there when we had to wait six months between issues… I still say Steel (as he’s now called) is a dead-ringer for Robert Mitchum, and that’s part of the character’s charm.
Just in time for the holidays and the attendant mental-health issues, Vertigo’s Holiday Special, titled Winter’s Edge, comes bearing gifts. The first of which, in many ways, is another of Neil Gaiman’s “How They Met Themselves” tales. Set in 1862, an artist, his sick wife and a poet are joined in their train carriage by Desire. Later, they meet themselves. Dave Gibbons gives us “Another Bloody Christmas” which concerns John Constantine, the Hellblazer, walking through a storm with leaky shoes to get a pack of cigarettes and a micro-wave curry, the idea of Santa, and a nasty plague-spirit. Also, three new series have their debuts: The Great Satan by Jamie Delano, DeadEnders by Ed Brubaker, and the new half-human Swamp Thing – the girl, Tefe, by Brian K. Vaughan. All three are worth checking out. Jeff Loeb brings a great story to wed Chris (Shade, Gen X) Bachallo’s gifted art for an “inspired-by, but not based on” series called The Witching Hour. Fans of cheesecake will mourn the loss of the hip, blonde, pre-Elvira, plenty o’ cleavage young witch, cuz she ain’t here. Get over it. None the less, an interesting cast plays agents of karma to different people in different circumstances, or that’s how it seems at first.
To the faithful, it’s like an Act of God that we have a new Sandman graphic novel, The Dream Hunters, hardcover no less, and exactly like God, it’s understandable only on its own terms. Neil has given us an old legend from ancient Japan concerning a monk, a fox, and the sacrifices that are made for love. It’s well-written, but of course it’s well-written. Neil Gaiman should be further applauded for taking us, once again, some place new. The sharp-eyed will catch Cain and Abel’s manifestations, the bone gates at the entrance to the Dreaming, even the guardians of the castle at the center of the Dreaming. And, of course, a different yet familiar Raven plays a part in this marvelous retelling of an ancient legend. Now… let’s talk about the art. Remember this name: Yoshitaka Amano. These illustrations are simply the most awe-inspiring ink and water-color art you’ve ever seen. This guy paints with the whole right side of his soul, never mind the creative well of the brain. The exquisite ink and brush end-plates, the scene where the fox meets the Dream Lord in fox-form, and the four-panel foldout depicting the monk’s meeting with the Dream Lord as he sees it, are just my three favorites, but that could change the next time I read it. It’s a steep $29.95, but I tell you, it’s only money if you trade it for this book.
Last of all, a big nod goes to Jimmy R. Smith for his very brave fable about Hate and Racism (and where they come from) titled The Truth (Dark Horse/art: Nolan Woodward, ghost-writing credit: Jesus). Set in the future, Mr. Smith sees an America divided along several racial splits: white, black, brown, and yellow. Everyone’s dirty laundry is exposed and how easy it is to hate is confronted, outside and in. And when it’s all on the line, the People come together for what is Right and Good. It could be said that Mr. Smith’s reach may exceed his grasp, but that’s where all great poets start. He’s taken a very brave look into every race’s heart and hypocrisy, and this book deserves everyone’s attention. It may be that not everyone is deserving of this book’s optimism of the human spirit, but let’s hope the party can get started. And a slammin’ soundtrack, featuring Poetri, the Latin Bomb Squad and others, would only help get the whole thing goin’ on! Decide for yourself what Jesus does in this story, but I ask that every Christmas.