THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (4/7/10 – Dangerous Duos & Conflicts of Interest)
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
For reasons far too exciting to reveal on the internet, I spent part of my Easter Sunday reading the new Titan Books edition of Tank Girl: The Odyssey, initially published by Vertigo in 1995. That was also the year of the infamous movie adaptation – indeed, writer Peter Milligan also scripted the Official Comic of the Movie around the same time, with artist Andy Pritchett. But The Odyssey boasted a little something extra: franchise co-creator Jamie Hewlett drawing 96 pages of story, which I believe still ranks as the longest sustained comics narrative he’s ever done.
Appropriately, it’s in many ways a comic about resurrection – most immediately by the fuzzy quality of the “remastered” art, which looks different enough from the bonus strips in the back that I wonder if there was some problem with the source materials. The story is also troubled, but in a more appealing way; Milligan notes in a new introduction that his script acted to invoke Ulysses — specifically its recurrences of mythic archetypes on the din of the everyday — as a means of imposing some personal sense and structure on Hewlett’s & Alan Martin’s also-loud and rather closed-off Tank Girl aesthetic.
But an established, popular comic strip comes with specific expectations, and Milligan’s initial crack at the first issue was heavy enough with Homeric and Joycean allusions that an editor urged him to scale things back on rewrite. This is symbolized in-story by Tank Girl getting annoyed with the “filthy rotten modernist omniscient voice” in the captions and shooting it to death; the character thereafter narrates in her own words. I guess it isn’t too surprising, then, that the book as a whole comes off as not all that different from a collection of Martin/Hewlett shorts – it’s a work of vignettes, some of them pretty funny and excellent, and roped tighter to each other than usual for Tank Girl, but still never accumulating into something greater plot-wise, all (fairly shallow) literary nods aside.
However, it does make for a striking piece of metafiction: eternally recurring mythic-literary structures as an apologia for comic book work-for-hire, from a writer often known to calm his voice for franchise assignments. “I’ve probably got loads more stories to have told about me, by all sorts of different peoples,” remarks Tank Girl in the midst of an explicative caption denouement on locating the epic in our everyday lives; clearly, it’s also about accessing bits of relevant culture — including the more freshly-relevant stuff of movie-ready comics — to inform the present.
Yet Milligan is neurotic – he inserts himself into the narrative as a character called O’Madagain, red shirt-clad to ensure his archetypal status as eventual cannon fodder, and increasingly assertive on the story, destroying a cyclops with eyes blessed by God and deflecting hails of bullets with his bare hands. He has sex with Tank Girl, in the tank, in the midst of a project unusually laddish in attention paid to female characters’ nude bodies. It’s all a put on, literally – eventually O’Madagain’s wig falls off and his corset pops and then he craps his pants and admits that all this fictionsuiting is a rather pathetic attempt to distract himself from the suspicion that he’s a pitiful sad sack and, impliedly, that he’s accessing culture for masturbatory, prestigious ends. And he’s not even the originating creator – Hewlett also appears in the story as O’Hell, a tag-along who’s secretly Tank Girl’s father. These circumstances lead to perhaps the only instance of a confronting-their-creator story in the history of collaborative English-language comics where the artist functions as the confronted author. It’s not exactly Animal Man – Hewlett grovels before a naked Tank Girl, shouting that she’s the only decent thing he’ll probably ever create, begging to ride her coat tails just a little more. She shoots him in the heart, and as far as I know that’s the last of her comics he ever drew.
“You might not like what I’ve become. I might not like what I’ve become. But that’s life.” At its broadest, where it works best, it’s all about culture resurrected and enduring, not so much in the ‘superheroes are our modern myths’ sense but in that it’ll always be a few steps ahead toward divinity than us mucky, dumb animals. Sure, Milligan & Hewlett are playing a little — the enclosed head shot assures us that Peter Milligan isn’t really withered and toothless, while the in-story Hewlett’s tiny eyes and blue hair can’t help but evoke 2D of Gorillaz — but in suggesting humankind as lustful, confused things that aren’t evolving to jack shit, staggering among continuing figments of narrative, they predict that even the most owned among it will inevitably break free from control, and tread away.
And now, upcoming purchasable items with prices affixed to the end.
Spider-Man: Fever #1 (of 3): Oddly enough, many of the interesting comics this week seem to come in pairs. Like, for example, here’s ‘all-new comic by a beloved former Sounds cartoonist’ no. 1 – the much-anticipated new project by Brendan McCarthy, well known to readers of this site (and a collaborator of/influence upon Peter Milligan and Jamie Hewlett, just to impose my own structure on this thing). It’s a Spider-Man/Dr. Strange team-up from Marvel, which, judging from the preceding links, will perturb admirers hungry for all-new, unrestrained creations – “I think I should try something different, but keep it within mainstream sensibilities,” McCarthy has mentioned, noting also that the work is a homage to the great Steve Ditko. I’m reminded a little of Paradax #2, where the Strange Days serial is remixed with the really sick colors, albeit not in the same shiny way as McCarthy has created here with Steve Cook. Sneak peek; $3.99.
Dodgem Logic #2: ‘All-new comic by a beloved former Sounds cartoonist’ no. 2 – specifically, Astounding Weird Penises, an eight-page color minicomic included in the polybag with this magazine (ooh, just like Wizard!), written, drawn, lettered and colored entirely by one Alan Moore. It’s basically an opportunity for Moore to indulge in his affection for underground comics, mixing light verbal humor and cheery, self-aware sexism – it’s pretty much a Tomorrow Stories short with explicit fucking, more Penthouse Comix than Tales From the Leather Nun. Moore has revived the Mad Love brand to co-publish Dodgem Logic with Knockabout Comics, also contributing an editorial, an essay on anarchy, and various other things. Also: Melinda Gebbie on burlesque, drawings by Kevin O’Neill and Savage Pencil, and more; $4.25.
Market Day: ‘High-profile historical fiction’ no 1 – a new work by James Sturm, tracking a very trying day in the life of an early 20th century rug maker who finds the texture of the market altered by the proliferation of mass-produced goods and the disinterest in qualitative nuance and personality they engender. From Drawn and Quarterly, a 96-page color hardcover. Preview; $21.95.
Booth: And no. 2 – a more particularly fact-y fiction about the life of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth, from historian C.C. Colbert and artist Tanitoc, bringing the sort of curling flat-colored cartoon look I’ve come to associate with a number of publisher First Second’s releases. Preview; $19.99.
The Complete Li’l Abner Vol. 1: GOLDEN AGE OF REPRINTS ONE. Being the latest from IDW’s Library of American Comics, a new hardcover presentation of Al Capp’s massively popular satirical strip compiling 288 pages of dailies and Sundays from 1934-36 (and earlier Big Leviticus pieces from Capp’s run ghosting Joe Palooka), with an introduction by Denis Kitchen and the obligatory historical essay by Bruce Canwell; $49.99.
Walt & Skeezix Vol. 4: 1927-1928: REPRINTS REPRINTS TWO. Many will be interested in this 400-page resumption of the Drawn and Quarterly-presented Gasoline Alley; it’s maybe the quintessential work of its type, having both preserved Frank King’s work and portrayed it in a manner that’s fixed it an identity, a hushed, vulnerable image that now seems to define it in lieu of the residual cultural impact that follows Peanuts (or maybe Li’l Abner? still?). As usual, Chris Ware designs, Jeet Heer (who is a contributor to this site) provides an essay, and many photographs (samples) are included; $39.99.
The Times of Botchan Vol. 4 (of 10): Another avalanche of stuff this week, huh? This one’s also been waited on for a while; vol. 3 was released in mid-2007. Collaborators Natsuo Sekikawa & Jiro Taniguchi are probably best known jointly for a magnificently swollen pair of 1985 assassin-for-hire dramas collected by Viz as Hotel Harbour View, but this 1987-97 series is their magnum opus, a dense, demanding ‘literary manga’ — not something you see much of in English — offering a panoramic view of Japan’s Meiji period, encompassing the lives of authors, poets and fictions alike. This 160-page installment concludes a storyline concerning poet Ogai Mori’s unfortunate liaison with a German woman, informing the composition of his 1890 story The Dancing Girl – but even as Sekikawa piles on the allusions and notations, Taniguchi’s precise cartooning expertly portrays wood-solid places. Preview; $19.99.
Slam Dunk Vol. 9 (of 31): And then (manga selection no. 2) there’s the virtue of pure screaming impact, which is the stock in trade of this 1990-96 Takehiko Inoue megahit, one of the biggest boys’ comics and sports manga of the era. Its appeal remains strong today, particularly in the way it sells this fantasy idea of high school as absolutely non-stop fighting and hormones and reckless energy, eventually channeled into minutely detailed basketball games, sometimes decompressed over several volumes. Probably not aimed at you, but I doubt there’s more sheer vigor in any other comic this week; $9.99.
King City #7 (of 12): Reconfiguration I – in which Brandon Graham’s urban sci-fi fusion-of-everywhere series enters into never before printed territory, intended for its concluding second digest release from Tokyopop. Now it’s an oversized comic book from Image; $2.99
Starstruck #8 (of 13): Reconfiguration II – in which Elaine Lee’s & Michael Wm. Kaluta’s feminine space opera scatter-of-everything project is delivered by IDW in further neatly segmented bits; $3.99.
Hate Annual #8: The… um, ‘cartoonists I like to see making comic books’ no. 1… you know, fuck this. Peter Bagge returns with a genuine 32-page Fantagraphics comic book, matching the requisite Buddy Bradley feature with assorted stray strips from Discover magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Turner Classic Movies’ website, vending machine toys and elsewhere; $4.95.
Ultimate Comics X #2: Of course, the same sentiment extends to some patently influential superhero artists – hence, this new character showcase series for Marvel’s Ultimate line, which doubles as an artist’s showcase for Arthur Adams. Fans of tracking developments in the contemporary division of funnybook labor should note that Adams’ pencils are augmented by two digital artists, a discreet ‘inker’ (Mark Roslan) as well as a colorist (Peter Steigerwald). Jeph Loeb writes. Preview; $3.99.
S.H.I.E.L.D. #1: ‘Fun with Marvel process’ selection no. 2 (I changed my mind) – the debut issue of a copiously promoted Jonathan Hickman/Dustin Weaver series about the secret history of that famed organization of special danger agents — Leonardo Da Vinci: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Issac Newton: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., etc., struggling against the more temporally unspecific Marvel-owned villains — available in separate color and b&w editions; $3.99.
The Boys #41: Garth Ennis’ superheroic misdirection. Preview; $2.99.
Greek Street #10: Peter Milligan’s disturbance of mythic arche… hey!! $2.99.
Batman Confidential #43: The conclusion of a four-part Sam Kieth storyline. This has been an especially ponderous thing, even by the standards of Kieth’s corporate superhero works – Batman and a blind social worker holding forth at length on guilt and fear. But I wonder if it wasn’t a means of coping with possibly improvisatory visual flourishes; Kieth released a nice sketchbook collection with IDW a month or so back, and in it he discusses dismantling his style, “undrawing,” working with his left hand and rediscovering some old delight in making marks. Even back in The Maxx, Kieth’s style oscillated between simpler cartooning and intense detailing, not so much like manga characters becoming superdeformed when there’s a joke but like the artist squinting his eyes and peering in further, then pulling back, like he doesn’t even want to get so close. These Batman comics have many instances of that — and a few apparent visual callbacks to that old Image series — but the loose cartooning had gotten more doodly, giving the ‘close-ups’ an almost violative charge, the world’s very continuity detaching from the battle in Sam Kieth’s aesthetic. Batman doesn’t have a lot of writer/artists to deal with, so it’s a unique threat, but he can take it, he’s a big boy; $2.99.
Batman and Robin #11: Meanwhile, Grant Morrison continues to write and Andy Clarke & Scott Hanna continue to draw; $2.99.
Gødland Vol. 5: Far Beyond the Bang: This Joe Casey/Tom Scioli series just saw a new issue (#31) last week, but folks waiting on the collections can now see #25-30 all at once (note that Casey also scripts Marvel’s latest extended origin project this week, Avengers: The Origin #1 of 5, with art by Phil Noto); $14.99.
Tank Girl: Dirty Helmets: See? Eternal recurrence. Co-creator Alan Martin and now-established series artist Rufus Dayglo have been releasing new Tank Girl projects all over the place lately, this one being the newest in a ‘classic’-style run of self-contained (Image) comics with multiple short b&w stories, which is not to be confused with the currently running four-issue Tank Girl: The Royal Escape from IDW (which handles longer series) or the recently concluded four-issue Tank Girl: Skidmarks from Titan Books (colorized & reprinted from the Judge Dredd Megazine), all by the same creative team; $3.99.
The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is a Way of Thinking: Your book about comics for the week, a University Press of Mississippi collection of essays on Ware works old and new, edited by David M. Ball & Martha B. Kuhlman. There’s 15 writers involved, including Jeet Heer (who is still a contributor to this site, unless something has happened over the last dozen or so paragraphs) and Marc Singer (who’s right now posting a nice series on teaching a comics course, broken down by book), so someone better go to bat for Floyd Farland, Citizen of the Future. Contents and info here; $28.00.
Art in Time: Unknown Comics Adventures, 1940-1980: Finally, here’s a new 8″ x 11″ hardcover from Abrams ComicArts, a 304-page stack of stories by 14 artists — John Stanley, Bill Everett, H.G. Peter, Jesse Marsh, Harry Lucey, Mort Meskin, Sam J. Glanzman, Pat Boyette, Matt Fox, Pete Morisi, Willy Mendes, Michael McMillan, Sharon Rudahl and John Thompson – compiled and profiled by Dan Nadel (who is an editor of this site); $40.00.