Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review -- Derek Van Gieson's EEL MANSIONS #3

Remember I told you about The Oldness? and you told me how ugly it was – the oldness, the oldness. I can hear the tumbrel wheels creek. So fucking ugly and coming so close to me.
– Gary Gilmore, noted executed murderer and cornea donator, in a letter to his girlfriend.

I know the name on the tip of your tongue
And I know that accusing look
Everybody knows I've been so wrong
That's the problem and here's the hook
– Elvis Costello

This ring don't plug no holes.
The mother of my girlfriend to me when I was 16, drunk
Daniel Elkin: Where the fuck were we? Oh yes, one house, many mansions...
Okay, Silva – we're well into this whole Eel Mansions thing, aren't we? We've worked through our thoughts about issues one and two dropping pop culture references along the way like drunk girls throwing beads at Mardi Gras, hoping for, I don't know, what? Understanding? Attention? Because that's just what we do given the situation and the expectations and the booze? We've built a critical castle high on the hill, laying brick after brick of cognitive innuendo and charm, brashness and largess. And we've examined Eel Mansions as a fortress of artifice, encompassing the ''anxiety of influences'' of our ''cultural touchstones'' – but by doing so, thinking so much with our heads, I think we've missed its heart.
Reading issue three of this six-part series brought to my ears the rhythm of the crux of the core, the tempo of its center, the beating of its heart.
What if I were to tell you that underneath all its trappings, Eel Mansions is a love story?
Just look at all the interactions in this story. Janet and Frank, Fuller and his family, Wilma and that guy, hell, even Chee Chee and Bert -- there is a passion to their connections, an underlying obligation that motivates them to do what they do, and they do it out of love. In issue three, the record store guys interaction with Chet even points to it. Chet's buying “180 gram repressing of Anal Cunt, Discharge, Penetration and... Juice Newton.

Eel Mansions #3

Juice Newton? Queen of Hearts? Isn't that all about what people do when wrapped up in love and obsession and anxiety of possession? Something about ''laying out another lie'' and ''Thinking 'bout a life of crime''? Why? Because ''that's what I'll have to do to keep me away from you.'' There's an inherent fear associated with the giving of oneself fully to the wiles of another's heart -- and that fear mixes with the sturm und drang of dopamine and serotonin and whatever native chemicals our brain produces when we go ga-ga -- sometimes we create demons and Zapfs, sometimes we create Doomin, sometimes our minds tell us Tales of Abstraction House, sometimes Milk City, sometimes Eel Mansions.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review -- Amy Jean Porter's SPIDER, MAN

Spider, Man
(Amy Jean Porter)
3 stars
My friends, there is a comic out there that advertises itself as “the story of a man and a spider, eating sandwiches, on the anti-social web.” That comic is the aptly named Spider, Man and its publication marks something significant in the comics world. What that significance is, though, eludes me for the moment.
In this book, Porter strains to say something, but her voice is so quiet it's hard to hear exactly what it is.
It's a story told in aphorisms juxtaposed with full page tight pencil drawings suffused in gray ink washes. Within each standalone art piece Porter has embedded “Txt Msg Messages” adding a further truncated layer of narrative to its sparseness. This is a story about time and loneliness, technology and, of course, sandwiches. How it all puts together, though, is a head-scratcher.
It's as if Porter really, really, really wanted to give us some insight about these larger themes, but she wasn't sure what they were, and figured that if she kept it sparse, it still would speak volumes. This book could be the height of pretentiousness if it weren't so quiet in its desperation, so delicate in its execution. It's observational, without seeing behind anything, couched in language that caresses instead of reveals.
I'm still having trouble figuring out if I like it or not. I'm reminded of James Kochalka's Sunburn, but with an “artisanal” sensibility and all the bile that word evokes in the back of my throat. Then again, perhaps I'm over-thinking things. This is about sandwiches after all. Everybody loves sandwiches.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Review -- ETERNAL WARRIOR #6

Eternal Warrior #6

(Greg Pak / Robert Gill / Victor Olazaba / Dave Sharpe / Guy Major; Valiant Comics)
4.5 stars
If Eternal Warrior #6 was a sandwich, it would have as its main condiment some sort of fig spread to provide an unexpected sweetness, but it would also have a thin layer of jalapeno relish to give it a bit of a bite. It's got both, spicy and sweet, and it makes for one delicious mouthful.
In this issue, Greg Pak keeps the flash-forward introduced last issue going. The action takes place in the year 4001, and Gilad Anni-Padda, our titular Eternal Warrior, is still trying to find a quiet life for himself and his granddaughter. It's just that everybody else keeps doing things to make him stay involved in all this stuff he'd rather avoid – like freeing slaves, destroying robots, deposing brutal leaders, and dealing with the general idiocy of science unharnessed from knowledge. His reluctance to get involved is charming in that sort of Clint Eastwood “Stranger with No Name” way. Pak writes weariness of character perfectly. Without having to say it, we know the Eternal Warrior has been through all of this before, knows how it will end, and would rather not be part of it.
But then there are the eyes of his granddaughter Caroline. Her clear black and white morality serves as the perfect foil for Gilad's cynicism. They will learn from each other as this series progresses, but I foresee heartbreak at the end of this. I'm already dreading it, the Eternal Warrior creative team has made me care, damn them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review -- Tim Gibson's THE RESERVOIR

Moth City: The Reservoir

(Tim Gibson)
3.5 stars
Tim Gibson has been doing some amazing and inventive things with his Moth City series. He's been at the forefront of the digital possibilities of comics, as well as putting a unique twist on some rather standard comic genres like war and horror and action. Now he's taking a step back to provide context and characterization to his larger series.
With his new one-shot, Moth City: The Reservoir, Gibson adds “The Western” to his stable of genre explorations, and, through this choice, takes the standard black and white morality inherent in it and adds hues of gray. Gibson's Moth City has always been about the difficult choices we are forced to make in the intersection between circumstances and our own moral compass. How Gibson's characters respond defines who they are, as much as how others perceive them. They live in a morally relativistic world where what is clearly right for one is horrific to others, and where disease can quickly undermine all sense of human endeavor and control.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review -- ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG #0

Archer and Armstrong #0

(Fred Van Lente / Pere Perez / David Baron / Tom B. Long; Valiant)
4 stars
I'm assuming that there is a mandate at Valiant Publishing that no reader is ever allowed to feel lost while reading a Valiant title. I've been jumping in and out of various of their books – sampling with a smile, as it were – and I've always found each one easy to get cozy in. There are very few series one can say that about, let alone an entire publisher's line. So bravo, Valiant, you know how to throw a party and make everyone feel at home.
Archer & Armstrong #0
Then you go ahead and do something like let Fred Van Lente wrap up an arc on Archer and Armstrong and let him release a Zero Issue to explain some minor point about the background of one of its main characters. No overall plot is advanced in this issue. Hell, the entire thing is basically a flashback and what happens in the past is not really all that compelling in the current sequential narrative.
But it is. It is compelling – or at least Van Lente makes it so.  Obadiah Archer's origin story in this issue only steps back slightly further from ground already covered earlier in this series, but by doing so the larger storyline edges forward and ties this series into the grander conflicts occurring in the vaster Valiant Universe. It's the beginning of a cross-over event that actually has a story telling rather than a financial motivation, or at least MORE narrative than financial. These are hard times, after all, and I don't begrudge anyone trying to make an extra buck. I respect Valiant, though, for handling this thing with class.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Collaborative Review -- SIX-GUN GORILLA: LONG DAYS OF VENGENCE #1-2

SIX-GUN GORILLA: LONG DAYS OF VENGENCE #1-2
(Brian Christgau, Adrian Sibar)

Justin: 4 stars
High Noon.
Vulture Soaring.
Lens Flare.
Six-Gun Gorilla fires with lightning-fast precision and re-holsters his weapon before his foe's dead body even hits the ground.
Six-Gun Gorilla
If Si Spurrier and Jeff Stokely's beloved take on this 1939 public domain character leans more toward Terry Gilliam-style sci-fi infused world-weaving, then Brian Christgau and Adrian Sibar's alternate rendition leans harder on Sergio Leone-style genre fiction, and you can practically hear the Ennio Morricone score whistling in the wind.
Jason Sacks, Daniel Elkin, and I will be conversatin' about this here pile o' Spaghetti Western graphic litter'cher like the comic book critic versions of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review -- Derek Van Gieson's EEL MANSIONS #2

EEL MANSIONS #2
(Derek Van Gieson, Uncivilized Books)
Rating: Elkin: 5 stars!!! Silva: eh, 5½


''In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.''
-- Jesus, having recently returned from the dead

''[shouting] Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!''
     -- Dennis Hopper, the rich man's Anthony Hopkins

''You're a jittery little thing, aren't you?''
-- Princess Leia, in conversation with an Ewok
Silva: Where the fuck were we? Oh yes, our ''chameleon ways.''
I often hear or read the comic book anythingerati use the phrase: 'this comic isn't for everyone.' Now, these (dark) knights of the keyboard and four color corporate comic catamites never say whom the comic in question is for, buteveryone need not apply. Eel Mansions #2 a/k/a Eel Mansions Number Two or EM2, if you're into the whole brevity thing, falls into this vague category of vagueness. I would argue every comic -- from Larfleeze to Deadpool Eats Shawarma -- isn't for everyone. I digress.
Hell, I've read Eel Mansions #1. We've scaled those vertiginous heights together, Elkin, returned and written, in depth, about our adventures. Yet, damn if I wasn't a mule with a spinning wheel when I wandered back into Derek Van Gieson's asylum for dipsomaniac cartoonists, retired Satanists, abstract demons, comic book reading government agents who answer to Chee-Chee, record store clerks, those two guys who are silhouettes and the most intimidating jar of mayonnaise … ever. In other words, Elkin, it's good to be back.

Eel Mansions #2
My advice for Jedis and young Padawans alike is to fork over the folding stuff, block out a responsibility-free half-hour and settle in with Eel Mansions #1 before moving onto the harder stuff in this second installment. Van Gieson's brand of referential and conversational sense of humor takes time to kick in. His goofy sense of reality should be a given. Idiosyncrasy, after all, ain't no coffee table.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review -- POOP OFFICE #4

Poop Office #4

(Ben Pooped -- Naked Grape Comics)
4.5 stars
If you fancy yourself a social critic of any sort, a new digital release of Poop Office on Comixology is always worth noting for anyone who has ever participated in any form of bureaucratic construct has worked in a Poop Office. Interpersonal power politics and the inanity inherent in closed systems fester in our lives like turds in the bowl.  Ben Pooped knows this and he knows that you know this. His comic, Poop Office, is the mirror that reflects the true human condition.
If you have been following this Digital Ash column on Comics Bulletin for any length of time, you know that I've written extensively on the thematic profundity of Poop Office. There's no need to rehash any of what I've said before, other than to say that with this series, Ben Pooped is working out some heavy shit.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review -- FURIOUS #1

Furious #1

(Bryan J. L. Glass / Victor Santos; Dark Horse)
3.5 stars

I'm not sure how much Bryan J.L. Glass knows about Fame from the inside, but from the outside he's sure squinting at the toll it takes on those it cages – “You either feed the beast or it consumes you.
Furious #1
Furious #1 is a comic book about super-heroes stepping out of comic books into the real world and the chaos that step brings about. It's also about the price of fame, both for those who court it and for those who have it court them. It's also about the media, about expectations, and about violence. It seems to want to take on just about everything at once and, because of this, teeters on taking on too much. There is a freneticism to the pacing of this first issue that made me sprint as I read. When I get shoved along like this, I tend to miss a lot of what is going on. I also get tired.
And I've been in this race before. I couldn't help comparing Furious to the Luna Brothers' Ultra, as well as to Bendis'Powers, both of which did a great job with the whole price of fame for the super-hero thing. I'm not sure if Glass is going to add anything new to this trope, other than taking on this issue a bit more directly than these other series. And this is a good thing because...?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review -- ETERNAL WARRIOR #5

Eternal Warrior #5

(Greg Pak / Robert Gill / Guy Major / Dave Sharpe; Valiant Comics)
4.5 stars
The last time I reviewed Greg Pak's Eternal Warrior for Comics Bulletin, I ended the review saying, “I get the sense that Greg Pak is sitting back somewhere in his writing space, cracking his knuckles, smiling a knowing smile, and preparing to let loose a serious awesome bomb.”
With issue five, he detonates it. Seriously.
Eternal Warrior #5
Once again, Valiant is touting an “All-New Arc” as an “All-New Jumping-On Point!” and they couldn't have been more right in this case. You don't need to know nothing about who or what the Eternal Warrior is to fall face first into this story.
See, I have a hard time even remembering what I had for breakfast this morning (and it's only 10:38 AM, mind you). Pak sets this story TWO THOUSAND YEARS into the future, so anything that has gone on before seems pretty moot. In this distant Earth, thanks to the trifecta of science, technology, and war, the Eternal Warrior now finds himself Emperor of a small agrarian society and bemoaning the loss of electricity, coffee, and Advil. When a mechanical behemoth comes out of the horizon and starts stomping people dead, he also realizes that he misses the destructive ease of guns.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review -- The Sheehan Brothers' THE INHABITANTS

The Inhabitants

(The Sheehan Brothers)
5 stars
The Inhabitants
When I reviewed the latest anthology from New Zealand, Faction #2, a few weeks back, I mentioned how intrigued I was by the six-page short, “A Day At The Races” from the Sheehan Brothers. Through the magic of the internet I was able to get my hands on the precursor work, a graphic novel told in four parts called The Inhabitants.  The other day I sat down in a comfortable chair to read these slim black and white volumes and was, in an instant, blown away.
The Sheehan Brothers are tapping into something softly churning in all of our subconscious – the archetype of comfortable discomfort. In The Inhabitants they are blending the best aspects of the Monomyth, the wonk of Morrison's The Invisibles, the dusty dread of Nosferatu,  and all those liminal night-dreams we sweat through after a day filled with too much anxiety or a dinner consisting of a half pound of cheese. And while the Sheehans layer these familiar motifs into their book, they have created something so wholly original that, by the end of it, I quickly started at the beginning once more, feverish with the joy of discovery, enlivened by the possibility of happening upon a true artistic achievement.
Every writer knows how often semantics fail us, how words are but a display shelf for true expression, especially when it comes to trying to communicate depth of feeling. I had a profound reaction to reading The Inhabitants. It is completely immersive, but in a manner that keeps you as a reader off-kilter, aware of the fiction of it, as if the hand that beckons you through the doorway has seven fingers.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review -- Spencer Hicks' INSPIRATION POINT

Inspiration Point

(Spencer Hicks)
4 stars
The conversations that we have with ourselves in our heads are fascinating. We're engaged in this never-ending dialogue about our insecurities, judgments, bewilderment, justifications, and reassurances. This constant interior tête-à-tête is rhythmic and heated, roaring and hushed, the soundtrack to our day-to-day. Its function is the preservation of self, or at least the ego, and Spencer Hicks' comic Inspiration Point gets this better than most of the comics I've read in the last few years. In its pages, while we shake our head at the delusions and denials of the protagonist's consciousness, we are forced to confront these same aspects in ourselves.
Inspiration Point by Spencer Hicks
It's easy to dismiss Inspiration Point as another navel-gazing autobiographical black and white comic, Artists Alleys in small town comics conventions are filled with them, but if you spend the time with this book, you can see that Hicks is doing quite a bit more. I think it's his storytelling that first clued me in. There's a surface level obviousness to Hicks' panels, but there is also this subtlety therein which is where the thick emotional power of the comic vibrates. The small moments tell a larger story. It's the kind of storytelling that is only possible in comics too, in that intersection between words and pictures that everyone is always going on about.
You have to be an active reader when reading Inspiration Point, as the subtext of the story is the key to its heart. A close up of a clenched fist when featured in a panel with the words, “If anyone should apologize it's HER” gains enormous emotional power through the pairing; a close up of a face raised to the heavens underneath a text box reading “Not like anybody gives a shit” vibrates with existential and religious heft. This is the kind of thing that pops up all over Inspiration Point, these muted moments demonstrate Hicks' understanding of his medium as much as he understands each one of us.