Here we go again with Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.
Gotta hand it to Mike Mignola; his creation Hellboy has that Batman-like ability to work well no matter who the heck you team him up with; I have no doubt that you could team the big red guy up with Little Dot and it would work (which is actually, now that I think of it, not the case for Batman). There for a while, Dark Horse was maximizing his potential by having HB team up, Wolverine-like, with an assortment of then-current Dark Horse properties such as Ghost and Madman, and eventually branched out by loaning him to DC to fight giant Lovecraftian snails and of course Nazis with Batman (hey!) and the Jack Knight Starman. It’s been a while since Mignola has deigned to pair up his creation with other characters; and fortunately for us he’s chosen to spotlight a very deserving title which hasn’t had half the profile of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s dog and cat Scooby gang, the Beasts of Burden, fresh from last year’s 4-issue limited series. Dorkin’s scenario has H.B. fighting a vampire in Pennsylvania Amish country; after dispatching the monster, he notices a dog trying to get his attention. He follows him into the woods, where he helps the Beasts get to the bottom of a supernatural menace in the woods (a callback to a previous BoB story which I think I missed). Evan does a great job with the back-and-forth between the principals and their individual personalities, especially the relationship between H.B. and the BoB’s resident wiseguy Pug, with a dialogue assist by Mignola himself; how ironic that once upon a time, Mignola employed none other than John Byrne, of all people, to write his Hellboy dialogue for him. Anyway, this is a nicely constructed story, equal parts exciting and engrossing and once again proving that Evan, one of the best humor writers in the industry today, also knows how to tug the old heartstrings a fair amount as well. As good as Dorkin and Mignola are, though, the star of this show (as she tends to be wherever she turns up) is Thompson’s gorgeous watercolors- she’s capable of going from evocative pastoral to moody subterranean with aplomb, and doesn’t let her figure work suffer either; her Hellboy is right up there with anyone’s, and the Beasts are wonderfully expressive. Well, there was one panel in which Hellboy’s facial expression didn’t quite fit the action being depicted, but that’s about as negative as I can get this time around. She can do playful when necessary, and grim other times; I’d say that Dorkin’s dramatics wouldn’t be quite as effective without her sympathetic touch. I suppose the rationale is to provide a spotlight for the relatively new Beasts franchise, because Dark Horse has no heavier hitter on its roster. I hope this very well-done one-shot will whet people’s appetite for the next Beasts project; as one of the already-converted, I hope it comes along soon.
X’ED OUT Vol.1
Script/Art: Charles Burns
Pantheon Books; $19.95
Burns’ first full-length serialized graphic novel since his classic Black Hole finds him once again trafficking in his trademark surrealistic existential dread; no one is as effective at generating mood than Mr. Burns and his unsettling imagination and thick, sinuous black ink line. This one also deals in fantasy vs. reality as we are introduced to one Doug, who, after an extended surreal dream sequence in which he (looking for all the world like Tintin, appropriate because the boy detective was always ducking through wall holes and trap doors) gets out of bed and follows his dead cat (named “Inky” as in Tintin’s dog “Snowy” get it get it?) through a whole in the brick wall nearby, and winds up in a world full of mugwumps who have a vaguely Eastern-structured society and seem to have a bustling trade in huge eggs with red splotches. In his waking life, he’s a frustrated performance artist, on what seems to be some serious medication, living in his basement room at his unhappy parents’ house. He breaks off with a girlfriend who just didn’t get him and his inner torment in order to take up with another, this one a photographer who does seem to understand…but something that we aren’t shown yet has happened to spoil that relationship. Burns skips back and forth between Doug’s Tintin Egg-land, where he’s shown the ropes by a little fella (Lynch again!) and pisses off the lizard guys who run the egg factory and are quite possessive of what seems to be their queen, who looks like, yep, you guessed it, Photographer Girlfriend, who conveniently parades through the middle of town. Yeah, I know this little synopsis sounds crazy, but what can ya do. Burns communicates most effectively through his evocation of mood- unease, confusion, anxious curiosity- from the bright and sunny dream world to the mostly dark and gloomy waking life world. Since, as I said, this is only the first of what I assume will be many chapters a la Black Hole, we’re only getting scene setting this time out and I’m sure much will be revealed. As a surrealist and pop-art psychologist, Burns is in a class all his own. While it will seem awfully random and nonsensical (not to mention more than a little derivative of a whole bunch of things at the same time), I have a feeling it will pay off in due time and here’s your chance to get in at the beginning of what promises to be a wild ride.
In the interest of full disclosure, I can’t remember the last time I bought and read an issue of a Superman-related title. Mid-Nineties, perhaps. While I’ve liked and appreciated the character in the Justice League and in other odd places, even as a child, during the heyday of Mort Weisinger, E. Nelson Bridwell, Wayne Boring, and Curt Swan, I never really took a shine to the character- not as much as some of the other DC superpeople, iconic status or no. Still, here I am, reading and reviewing an issue of the place where it all began for the big guy, Action Comics– but make no mistake, the main attraction isn’t the Man of Steel. In fact, at this time he’s not even appearing in what is nominally his own book! No, the main point of interest here is the first “official” crossing-over of an exclusively Vertigo-imprint character- Neil Gaiman’s gamine-like representation of Death from his Sandman series to be exact (though I could swear she’s popped up somewhere before, just not named as such), since the late 80s when the likes of John Constantine and the Doom Patrol could rub shoulders and share Crises with the proper DCU. For those of us who never really understood why the segregation was necessary, this has been a long time coming. I think as introductions go, the run of the mill Action reader, especially one that wouldn’t touch a Vertigo-imprint book with a ten foot longbox, will wonder what all the fuss is about. Still, for longtime Sandman fans and fans of good characterization, there’s a lot to sustain interest. Sure, it doesn’t have that peculiarly twee dialogue vibe that Gaiman brings to her, but Paul Cornell has a little experience with supernatural characters himself, and acquits himself well. For those (like me) who haven’t been paying attention, Superman is not the main character in this title at present; in fact, I don’t recall him appearing, except in flashback (and I’m not even sure about that- I’m too lazy to check). Right now, Action is Lex Luthor’s book- no longer the gruff, malignant superscientist of old, he’s more like the arrogant, oily Lex of the animated series, which is a good choice as far as I’m concerned. Apparently he has come down with a severe case of the fatals, hence his rendezvous with Miss D. Most of this issue is taken up by an extended conversation between the two, with Luthor doing his best to find a loophole in his condition, and Death patiently indulging him as he does so. For those invested in the proceedings, I’d imagine it resonates more than it does for a Philistine like me, but as someone who likes this sort of portrayal of both characters, it was at least readable and occasionally engaging. As history in the making, well, I guess we’ll see in a few years what, if any, impact the reuniting of Vertigo and the DCU will make. Good ol’ Pete Woods, late of the sadly cancelled Catwoman, provides some heavily Photoshopped art; he’s as solid as always, despite the occasional awkward pose. Rounding out the package is a Jimmy Olsen back feature; I haven’t got a clue what’s going on, though I note with a little sadness that they still want to keep him mixed up with the same concepts (Cadmus, specifically) that Kirby introduced almost 40 years ago. The art looked nice; don’t know a thing about either Silva or the mysteriously monikered “DYM”, but they give us a nicely expressive job and while Silva’s pencils still show room for growth, I think he’s someone to watch. Now, bring on John Constantine and Batman!
The All-Purpose Review Writing Music List: Iris DeMent- My Life; Elvis Costello- National Ransom; Janet Jackson- Design of a Decade: 1986-1996; Doris Troy- Doris Troy.
As always, thanks for reading. Coming eventually, some opinioning on the Immonens’ Moving Pictures, DC’s reprint of several issues of the criminally overlooked 90’s series Chase, Aaron Renier’s Unsinkable Walker Bean, and more. Review inquiries, clever one-liners, elementary penguins singing hare Krishna: johnnybacardi AT gmail.