Category: Reviews

Black Hammer: Streets of Spiral by Jeff Lemire and a cast of thousands

Black Hammer: Streets of Spiral by Jeff Lemire and a cast of thousands

This post may be shorter than my previous diatribes about the wonderful world of Black Hammer, for multiple reasons. One, I’ve said most of the things I could say. Two, this is an odds and sods collection to begin with, so it’s small and random and miscellaneous and will not stand the weight of serious criticism. There may be other reasons as well, but I think those two will do.

In any case, I have written a bunch about the previous Black Hammer books – the most recent was the flashback Black Hammer ’45 , and that one links further back in turn. And, frankly, how much background do you need? This is a pastiche superhero universe, with mixed DC and Marvel influences (Legion of Super-Heroes here, New Gods there), and anyone who knows superhero comics from the second half of the 20th century will find all of it deeply recognizable.

So this is Black Hammer: Streets of Spiral . It was the ninth collection of the series, and the one that gathered all of the loose bits of string to that point: one “Giant-Sized Annual,” in case you thought it wasn’t on-the-nose enough about its obsession with ’70s comics; a one-shot called Cthu-Louise; The World of Black Hammer Encyclopedia, a very “Who’s Who”-style compendium of superhero details; and a short story from the Dark Horse Free Comic Book Day issue for 2019. The Encyclopedia was written by Tate Brombal with series-creator Jeff Lemire; Lemire and Ray Fawkes wrote the short story; Lemire wrote the rest solo. Art is by a large number of people:

  • Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Dustin Nguyen, Fawkes, Emi Lenox, and Michael Allred for the Annual
  • Lenox with Dave Stewart (who provided colors for nearly all of these pieces) for Cthu-Louise
  • Fourteen different people for the Encyclopedia, including many of the above
  • David Rubin did full-color art for the short story
And what are these individual stories?

The Annual is one of those standard multiple-artists, multiple-heroes “special” stories, which could be assembled piecemeal, showing the whole team dealing with Problem X individually. As was the case with its models, it doesn’t add up to a whole lot in the end. There is a sub-Starro the Conqueror eyeball/squid thing, which appears repeatedly out of the Random Mystical Zone and which has to be punched back out of the normal world. It is, repeatedly – this is a superhero story, after all.

What what does it all mean, ask our heroes in the end?

Well, probably nothing. In a regular superhero universe, it’s either space-filler or a set-up for a crossover. In Black Hammer, it’s just yet another kind of indulgence.

Cthu-Louise is very familiar; the character (and her father, the former supervillain Cthu-Lou) have appeared at least once before, and the plot beats here are very similar. Louise is a teenager with a alien-god squid head, which makes her unpopular, and she wants to fit in. Eventually, she does.

The Encyclopedia is a collection of pages on all of the major characters that have appeared in the various Black Hammer comics to this point, with first appearances and power levels and known family and all that bumf. It is much odder when it’s about a world created by one guy, in one series of stories, over only three or four years.

And the short story is the most forgettable, functioning mostly as a teaser – well, it was in a FCBD comic, and that’s the whole point of the thing – for both past and (I assume) future Black Hammer stories.

If you like Black Hammer, this is a bunch of minor Black Hammer. If you like vaguely ’70s-esque, vaguely Big Two-ish comics, you will like Black Hammer. And god knows there are more of you out there than I want to believe.

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Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

REVIEW: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

I admit I didn’t really notice Nicolas Cage (then billed as Nicola Coppola) in his debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but I quickly became a fan after seeing him in 1984’s underrated Racing with the Moon. Since then, he has made dozens of movies, across the genres, going from romantic lead to tortured lead to action lead and back again.

Despite making all of these films, earning numerous nominations and earning an Academy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and numerous local critics’ awards, Cage has never quite gotten the respect his work deserves. Some of that is because of questionable career choices as well as an outsized public life that has garnered embarrassing headlines and unwanted notoriety.

Along the way, he has become a beloved cult performer, with many enjoying his low budget efforts and others rooting for him to regain his peak performance. With age and experience has come a certain acceptance for his life and he’s come to lean in to the absurdity of his reputation. Which certainly explains his willingness to star in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

, out on disc now from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Written and directed by Tom Gormican, shooting only his second feature, the movie lampoons Cage’s personality as “Nick Cage”, an actor struggling with a stalled career. He has good credits, the requisite ex-wife and daughter, and is haunted by visions of his younger self. It is at this moment when retirement looks inviting but his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) convinces him to take $1 million payday to attend a fan’s birthday party.

This is not just any rich fan; Javi (Pedro Pascal) is a rich fan, whose infectious enthusiasm for Cage’s oeuvre, entices Cage to agree to help shoot a film from Javi’s loose script. To complicate matters, the CIA meets with Cage, informing him that Javi may be a film nerd, but is also an international criminal who likely kidnapped a Catalan politician’s daughter (Katrin Vankova) and they need his help. Agents Vivian Etten (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin Etten (Ike Barnholtz) work to get Cage ready for a new career: spy.

Yes, things are exaggerated and ridiculous but there’s a lot of self-knowing humor and homages to Cage’s career that make this an eminently watchable, fun film. By being a little all over the place, its broadness also diminishes its chance for being a sly sendup of the Cage persona.

The film is now available in a variety of media including the trustworthy 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray, Digital HD code combo pack (always my preference). The 2160p transfer in 2.39:1 perfectly captures the bright sun-kissed shores of Majorca and the rugged Croatian terrain. As good as the 1080p Blu-ray is, you can see improvements in 4K. The Dolby Atmos keeps apace fairly well, making for solid home entertainment.

Given the subject and subject matter, I had hope for more amusing or inventive Special Features. We get Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Gormican and Co-Writer Kevin Etten; Deleted Scenes (4:53), with feature optional Audio Commentary; The Mind (6:38); Glimmers of a Bygone Cage (4:48); Everybody Needs a Javi (4:21); Nick, Nicky, and Sergio (4:33); Second Act Action (6:41); Cages 5 and Up (2:08); and the most engaging, SXSW Film Festival Q & A (15:48).

REVIEW: The Northman

REVIEW: The Northman

There’s much that is fascinating about the Viking culture, largely because of its organized barbarism while feeling incredibly familiar given how much of their legacy has seeped into world culture. Television has certainly explored these people through several series, but it’s been a long time since we had a good, sweeping Viking saga on the silver screen.

Robert Eggers had long been interested in the Viking culture and when he and actor Alexander Skarsgård began discussing working together

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, it became clear that the Vikings were the appropriate subject matter. Like the director, whose work I was unfamiliar with before now, Skarsgård was deeply interested in these people.

Working with historian/writer/poet Sjón, Eggers crafted a story drawn from the actual legends, a tale of revenge similar to the Viking tale that inspired Hamlet. Set in the waning years of the ninth century, The Northman opens with young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) in a ceremony to prepare him to succeed his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke). The next day, the king is murdered by his bastard brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang) and Amleth flees.

Grown to manhood, Amleth (Skarsgård) is a force to be reckoned with. After an encounter with the He-witch Olga (Ana Taylor-Joy), he learns his mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) has married Fjölnir and given birth to his half-brother Gunnar (Elliott Rose). It’s time to go home and set things to right, but it’s an action-packed, violent homecoming.

Toss in Willem Dafoe as the jester and Bjork as a sorceress, you have a strong cast, all of whom rise to the strength of the material, filled as it is with prophecies, magic, enchanted swords, and complex family relations.

The film got terrific reviews but performed poorly at the box office, having more to do with Covid-19 and the economy than its merits. Available now on disc from Universal Home Entertainment, this is a highly recommended viewing experience. You can find it in the usual assortments including the 4K, Blu-ray, Digital HD code combo pack.

The 4K Ultra HD transfer is pristine, perfectly maintaining the color palette with rich blacks. It helps that the film was shot in 4K digital, so everything from skin tones to subtle magical effects are well captured. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is also near-perfect, with a terrific sub-woofer beat, underscoring the film. The audio track captures the loud violent clashes and the hushed sounds of the wilderness.

The Special Features are a nice assortment with a recommended Audio Commentary from Eggers, with some nice insights into the production process. Additionally, there are Deleted And Extended Scenes (12:28); An Ageless Epic (11:17); The Faces Of Vikings (10:27); Amleth’s Journey To Manhood (3:56); Shooting The Raid (4:10), with director of photography Jarin Blaschke discussing this complex set-piece; Knattleikr Game (2:42), the violent “ball game” is explained; and, A Norse Landscape (4:43).

Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver

Saint Cole by Noah Van Sciver

There is no Saint Cole. No one was ever canonized under that name – there is a Saint Colette, but given the subject of Noah Van Sciver’s graphic novel, there’s no chance that’s the reference meant. It is not the name of a town. It is not metaphorical; there is no one named Cole in the book.

“Saint Cole” is a random squawk, emitted by a minor character whose whole point is that he’s mentally damaged. It is meaningless. I have no idea why it’s the title of this book. There is something vaguely ironic that the story of a man named Joe who is deeply unsaintly is named Saint Cole , but 99% of life is that ironic to begin with. It’s not much to hang a story on.

Saint Cole is the story of an alcoholic, a loser who thinks he isn’t a loser, a bad man who thinks he’s pretty good. I find that I have less and less sympathy for characters like that every year, so I may not be giving Joe his due here.

But, to be honest, Joe isn’t due much. Sure, he works long hours, but he’s a jerk who drinks too much, has no aims or plans, and is unpleasant to everyone around him pretty much continually. Just working hard doesn’t buy you anything.

Joe is a waiter at the restaurant New Yorkies, in some minor city somewhere: it’s roughly walkable, so it’s not deep suburbia, and Joe lives in an apartment with a parking lot. He’s in his late twenties, living with his girlfriend Nicola and their baby son. They’re just barely making it: Joe takes every last shift he can, working every single day, and Nicole stays home with the baby, which Joe resents. Over the course of four days, starting on a Saturday, Joe…well, I shouldn’t give it away. But Joe is a loser and a fuck-up, so he fucks up and he loses things. Take that as read.

Angela, Joe’s mother-in-law, moves in with them on the first day, which adds to the friction. He doesn’t like her, for reasons that don’t seem sufficient. But then, Joe hates just about everyone and everything: he doesn’t seem to need reasons. He’s just that kind of young man, fueled by anger and self-loathing and loathing for everything else in equal measure. Oh, and by alcohol. He’s fueled by a lot of alcohol.

Saint Cole is the story of Joe drinking and then fucking things up, to to give a quick log-line. I called him an alcoholic before, but he really comes across as a drunk: a guy who isn’t compelled to drink; he just drinks because he wants to, and he always wants to drink more. That kind of guy can easily turn into an alcoholic, but I don’t think Joe is there yet.

Yet.

Van Sciver draws this in a mostly indy style, more conventional than I remember his The Hypo  being. It’s all thin lines, lots of details of dingy rooms and sad lives: indy in the matter and the style equally.

I’m not a good reader for a book like this, and I can’t really recommend it. If you like stories of self-destructive losers more than I do, you might take a look. It’s smartly written, it looks good, and Van Sciver tells the story well. But it’s an unpleasant story about an unpleasant man, and all I felt at the end was happy that I didn’t have to spend any more time with Joe. 

Hearts at Sea by Pedrosa

Hearts at Sea by Pedrosa

Jean-Paul is living in some minor city in France, probably near the German border. He works in his family’s business – something to do with handcrafted wooden toys – and is old enough to have struck out on his own or aimed at his own goals in life. But that has not happened: he’s quiet, and solidly under the (comfortable, friendly, but still smothering) guidance of his mother. His friends seem to be all connected to the business, his life is quiet and circumscribed, there’s no sign he’s ever had a girlfriend or lover despite endless fantasizing about a woman he meets while jogging every day.

One day he snaps, for no obvious reason. He’s supposed to do yet one more thing for his mother and the business, but, instead, goes off on a cruise. It’s not clear where the boat is going – my guess is out in the Atlantic, maybe to the Canaries or Azores? but it could also be the Mediterranean. It’s sunny and warm, and he’s part of a group of mingling singles, which he does not fit into at all.

Hearts at Sea  was (Cyril) Pedrosa’s first solo bande dessinee, published in 2006 after a few collaborative works and a few years in the animation mines. It’s remarkably quiet and assured, entirely focused on Jean-Paul though viewing him entirely from the outside in a naturalistic way. We can assume Pedrosa sympathizes with Jean-Paul – that’s why he’s telling this story, right? –  but we never get into Jean-Paul’s head or entirely understand him.

But then, do we ever understand anyone? I don’t know if I could honest say I understand myself.

This is Jean-Paul’s story, in one album-length book. It takes him from that point where he’s clearly unhappy in his life, and unsure what to do, through an eventful cruise – though not eventful in any of the ways he probably fantasized or hoped for; he’s not good at interacting with other people and not entirely clear on what he wants or how to get it – and to the point where he makes a major life decision at the end.

So it’s a low-key story, entirely on an interpersonal level. There is some action; single cruise ships do lend themselves to some activities, particularly those fueled by intoxicants. But it’s, in the end, a story about people, and mostly this one person.

Pedrosa did bigger stories after this, and became even more assured – Three Shadows, which I still think is a masterpiece, came immediately afterward – but this shows well his strengths. There’s the rumpled people, the precise colors, the creased and individual faces, the occasional visionary sequences, and the deep understanding of people. It was a fine start

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, and it’s still a fine book.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Billie Holiday by Munoz and Sampayo

Billie Holiday by Munoz and Sampayo

I should tell you their first names, though the book doesn’t: Jose Munoz and Carlos Sampayo. Munoz is the artist; Sampayo is the writer. They’re both Argentine, though they mostly worked in Europe, over the past forty-plus years. Both still alive, as far as I know, now in their upper seventies.

Billie Holiday  was written in Spanish, originally published in 1991. It’s had editions in English since then – I have no idea if it’s always been the same translation. This one is from NBM, and came out in 2017. It includes a long discursive introduction about Holiday by Francis Marmande, who I gather is a prominent French writer on jazz. The introduction tells us her story in an in-your-face, demanding style – not unlike the book itself, though in a different way – probably in part because the comics pages themselves will only lightly touch on that story.

This is a biographical graphic novel, or bande dessinee – Holiday was a real person, and this book tells stories from her real life, as true as any other book about historical people. But it’s not her whole life, or a carefully-organized life: it’s scenes from her life, mostly out of context, as understood or experienced much later.

Holiday was a jazz singer, and writer of her own songs – among the best of all time in the former, and not too shabby at the latter. She was Black and a woman in a time when either of those things was a burden and both were an iron cage. She was an addict and a stormy personality, I think – the book and the introduction are more poetic about it – which didn’t help, but who ever min-maxes their own life to be the most successful version of themselves? She achieved a lot. She fought hard. She died young.

This book is about her only at a distance, for all she’s on a majority of the pages. A reporter is working late at night, thirty years after her death (so in 1989 – farther back from our today than Holiday’s death was from his), suddenly having to write a feature article about her for the anniversary, for some unnamed publication that clearly is really bad at planning out their editorial calendar. The book we read is…his thoughts as he writes that article? What he learns about Holiday that long night? Somehow that article as transmuted into comics pages? I’m not sure the frame story actually makes any sense, or is necessary: we don’t need to have Holiday’s story mediated by some white guy thirty years later.

But it’s the way Munoz and Sampayo told this story: it’s the way we get it.

Think of it as a jazz improvisation, I suppose: talented creators stepping up into the spotlight, picking up their instrument, and playing the melody, but doing it their way, however feels right, that night and on that stage.

We only see Holiday as an adult, only after she’s already famous. The scenes are not dated, but seem to be basically in chronological order. Call it mostly the 1950s; the last decade of her life. It’s mostly set at night, mostly at times when things aren’t going well for Holiday. Almost as much about her great collaborator and friend Lester “Prez” Young, as about her alone – maybe what I mean is that it’s largely about his influence on her, though Holiday comes across as someone who would not let herself be influenced, who did what she felt she had to do (songs or men or drugs or whatever) at the time, no matter what the consequences.

Sampayo provides that quirky structure, the story that flows around and through her life, the frame-story of someone presumably not all that different from Sampayo himself, considering this story so many years later. Munoz provides the atmosphere: he’s one of the most distinctive artists in the world, tormented sweaty faces emerging from his blocky, utterly compelling slabs of ink.

This is probably a book largely for people who already know at least the outline of Holiday’s life; you won’t learn things very clearly here. Or, more obviously, for fans of other works by Munoz and Sampayo.

The best way to discover Holiday is through her songs: I’d recommend “Strange Fruit ” or “Crazy He Calls Me ” or “Easy Living ” as places to start.

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Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Tin Man

REVIEW: Tin Man

Tin Man
By Justin Madson
Amulet Books, 224 pages, $17.99/$29.99

As coming of age graphic novel go, Tin Man is above average, a fine story of some other version of Earth with a young teen struggling to find his place in the world after the death of his grandmother. His older sister, Solar, has less time for him now that she has an, ugh, boyfriend, who happens to be a jerk. So, Fenn is left to tinker in the garage, hoping to complete a rocket ship and visit space.

While scavenging for spare parts at a junkyard, he meets up with Campbell, a tin woodsman who thinks there is more to life than merely chopping down trees in the forest. They become friends and the adventure takes off.

The book description calls it “equal parts The Iron GiantThe Wizard of OzEdward Scissorhands, and Freaks and Geeks” but it is heavily layered with Oz elements, making it very much an alternate reality from L. Frank Baum’s world. And it doesn’t need to be. In fact, all the reimagining of Oz, the wizard, the witches, etc., are actually distracting. Madson seems almost afraid to create his own story, relying on the Oz tropes to get him through, get him noticed. 

The story of friendship, wanderlust, and growing up is perfectly fine although we’ve seen all these elements before. Madson’s strength is in making us feel for Fenn, Solar, and Campbell. The sibling relationship is one of the freshest aspects of the book as is the family’s easy acceptance of a mechanical being

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, accepting the other.

Madson’s artwork and color is effective and his dialogue smooth. The book is fine YA addition to the GN library and might get some to go back and sample Baum’s original work.  

Enigma: The Definitive Edition by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo

Enigma: The Definitive Edition by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo

There will probably be spoilers. If you worry about such things on a thirty-year-old obscure Vertigo comic, well, I wonder how you manage to live in the modern world, but go off and read something else on the Internet instead.

I don’t think I read this the first time out. I think I’d remember it. But it also is very much the kind of thing I was reading in 1993: I followed nearly all of Vertigo, and was a fan of Peter Milligan’s writing. So I both don’t know how I missed it and can’t figure out how I could have read it and utterly forgotten it.

I’m talking about Enimga: The Definitive Edition , a spiffy new-ish edition of an eight-issue comics series from those heady early Vertigo days, when it was “superhero comics with adult themes” and not “HBO-style shows in comics form.” Ah, were we ever so young! It was written by Peter Milligan, in the middle of his Shade the Changing Man run, and drawn by Duncan Fegredo with colors by Sherilyn Van Falkenburgh.

And, to be reductive, it’s the story of an sociopath. A mass-murdering sociopath, who either has never been socialized at all or is the usual pulp-fiction mutant who is better than humanity and so entitled to treat us as we treat ants. (Or, perhaps, both.) We think he’s a superhero, throughout most of the story, because he wears a funny costume, because someone very much the same was in an old comic book, and because he seems to be killing villains. But we learn – and, if we’re any good readers at all, we suspected this much earlier – that he made every one of those villains, and so is both directly a murderer and someone who has deliberately created mass-murderers. I don’t think there’s even a word for that. 

We are supposed to be on his side, because He Is Sad, and because he has a sexual relationship with the narrator. I say “has a sexual relationship,” clinically, because I doubt he feels anything like “love” – I’m pretty sure he feels no human emotions of any kind – and the guy he has sex with is in love with him for those same manipulating-humans powers that he used to create mass-murderers.

Yes, I’m talking about Enigma: our title character. This is the story of a young man with fabulous powers and a bizarrely impossible upbringing, whose interactions with the outside world are about 95% murder, but, on the other hand, he’s a tall attractive man with cool clothes. And apparently that is enough to make a mass-murderer into a hero.

I don’t even want to get into whether this was a positive or negative depiction of a gay man. (Wait. Am I kidding? A mass-murderer who literally turns another man gay to love him? I would struggle to find anything positive there, other than “it was 1993, and a gay man existed in comics. Yay!”)

OK. It is stylishly written, and even more stylishly drawn. Fegredo starts out scratchy, maybe even shaky, but he settles down, and the style suits the story very well. It is full of mysteries, and the reader does not realize how horrible Engima is until said reader is near the end of the book.

And our viewpoint character is, thankfully, not a mass-murderer. Michael Smith is instead one of life’s small losers: not very important, not very interesting, not very memorable. But he’s at the scene of a murder by a bizarre villain, and remembers that villain from his old childhood Enigma comics, and that sets off the whole plot, as he starts to think he’s central to all of the craziness. He’s not wrong

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, but he’s not exactly correct, either.

As I said above, he does find Enigma – the live person now using that name, as well as the crusty old writer who made the comics stories twenty-five years earlier – and fucks the former. He learns that Engima has massive, bizarre powers, but none of us learn why. Perhaps just because it was 1993 and this was a DC comic book; there had to be someone with superpowers in it.

This is a well-crafted, smart, intricate story that seems, at this distance, to be an apology for an appallingly horrible person. Enigma would be a villain in any other comics story, and rightfully so. A pitiable villain, and one that could potentially be redeemed, but, still, the mass-murder thing is hard to overlook.

I’m not sorry I read this, but all of the praise as a “lost classic” seems vastly overwrought to me. It was an attempt to have gay men in comics, yes, and it was not entirely a failure. I do have to say that, of the three gay men here, one is a middle-aged alcoholic failure, one is a mass-murdering sociopath, and the third was turned gay against his will by the sociopath – and that strikes me as not entirely a positive and loving and realistic depiction.

Such is Enigma. Consider yourself entirely spoiled.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Rain Like Hammers by Brandon Graham

Rain Like Hammers by Brandon Graham

Genre fiction in comics tends to be straightforward: it explains the world and the stakes up front, then sends a generally pretty obvious Protagonist off to Do the Thing, which far too often is Saving the World.

Brandon Graham, in his afterword to Rain Like Hammers , describes that as being like a Japanese game show where the goal is to get someone to eat a hot dog as soon as possible after waking up. And he’s not into speed-eating hot dogs.

Graham’s stories tend to start in a more leisurely fashion. His camera-eye is focused, but not insistent. Hey, look over here, it says. Something is going on; I wonder what it is?

Rain Like Hammers collects a five-issue comics story – the issues were published in the first five months of 2021, and this collection came out in August. They’re long issues, too – the book is unpaged, but I think they’re 48 pages each. So my first question is: how serialized was this? Clearly, Graham created it in five chapters, but I really doubt he did that during those five months. But those afterwords – there’s one for each issue

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, two pages each of sketchbook-style comics – do show the process of making the book; he seems to have made it in order, finishing each page in turn and not going back to rework based on better ideas later.

At one point he mentions his initial plan was to have five loosely-connected single issue stories – maybe, I think, ones that all came together in the final issue? – and that’s clear in the transition between the first two issues, which are entirely different, about entirely different people in entirely different places. But, in the end, this is mostly one story, seen from a couple of angles, with a second story as a way in and a bit of parallax later.

We start out in a mobile city, on some alien planet in some future. Eugene is new in Elephant City: he finished his schooling recently, and came here on purpose, to do some keeping-the-city-running job that Graham doesn’t explain in detail. Eugene is a bit lonely, finding his footing in a new place and new to adulthood. But he seems like a sensible, devoted person: we think will be OK, we want to trust him, he hope he will do well. His story for the first issue is mostly low-key, but something from outside this world is causing trouble for many of the animal-named crawling cities, and we see a little of that here.

The second issue begins what then seems to be the main story, and we may wonder what happened to Eugene, for many pages. (We will find out.) A supercriminal, Brik Blok, is heading to Sky Cradle, a space habitat of some kind that is the seat for the rulers of this part of human space: a group of self-selecting immortal families. We think he is dangerous, we think he is exciting, and we are not entirely sure if we are on his side.

What Brik Blok is coming to do on Sky Cradle is something we learn quickly, but we learn more and more details over time: we learn it iterated, first the headlines and then the depths, eventually getting to things Brik Blok didn’t know himself. Brik Blok’s initial plans, whatever they were, fail before he even reaches Sky Cradle: he’s in a different body, in an society he doesn’t know well, with a new uncertain ally or friend.

Brik Blok is coming to save El. Or maybe retrieve her, or maybe support her. She is young and smart and, we believe, on the side of right. She’s part of a program of “candidates” for immortality: they are tested and twisted and transformed to become more of the ruling class. We start to think we don’t like this ruling class, and start to feel more positively towards those who resist. We quickly learn she did not choose to join this program…though we learn more details later.

Rain Like Hammers is mostly the story of Brik Blok and El. Two people fighting against the power structure, or trying to – both with incomplete information at this point in their lives. (This is the kind of SF where people can live a very long time – maybe even if they’re not officially one of the “immortals” – and who they once were and what they once did could be forgotten or lost or mislaid.)

They do not foment a revolution. They are not even trying to topple the immortals: their aims are smaller, more specific than that. As I said at the beginning, this is not that kind of comic: they are not going to Do the Thing, not going to Save the World.

But they, and Eugene, may be able to save themselves, and get away.

Graham tells this story from the inside, with pages full of quiet moments and strange details of this far-future world. His SF is always deeply distinctive, with things he never explains, a big lived-in universe full of odd creatures and people, all living their own lives and wandering across his pages. He tones down the wordplay these days, especially in more serious, grounded stories like this one, but there’s still some of that joy in the complications of language.

SF that requires the reader to think about it and make up his own mind about it is rare in comics – it’s not all that common in prose, frankly. That’s what Graham does; that’s what this is. Any reader who likes that kind of SF should check it out

, or anyone who likes stories with a bit of gnarl to them.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Steeple, Vol. 2: The Silvery Moon by John Allison

Steeple, Vol. 2: The Silvery Moon by John Allison

As I type this, my post on the first volume of Steeple was written close to a month ago but has not yet gone live. So I am trying to space things out on this blog, but I may not be spacing them quite far enough for my own systems to work well. (Let’s hope I remember

, once that post does go live, to drop in a link here somewhere.)

In any case, this is a sequel to the first Steeple , which was written and drawn by John Allison with colors from Sarah Stern and letters from Jim Campbell. The first collection also appeared first as a five-issue series of floppy comics.

Steeple, Vol. 2: The Silvery Moon , by comparison, appeared originally on-line at Allison’s site , and is an all-Allison joint. (There is a cover by Max Sarin, presumably in an attempt to draw in the Giant Days audience.) This one collects two somewhat discrete stories, and I can even link you to those stories online, on the cheekily-titled steeple.church site: The Silvery Moon and Secret Sentai . I just noticed they were (still) there; I haven’t been as good at keeping up with Allison’s new comics there over the past couple of years as I vaguely searched for a copy of the first Steeple book to read first.

Anyway: this is set in a different corner of the Scarygoround -cum-Giant Days-iverse

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, down in the Cornish town of Tredregyn, where Rev. David Penrose upholds the glory of the Church of England by battling invading mermen every night (and doing essentially nothing vicaresque besides that) and the Magus Tom Pendennis does what he wilt at the Church of Satan down the lane, and what he wilt is generally sneaky and not always nice, but it tends not to be what one would actually call evil.

It’s more like a football rivalry than a battle for the soul of the town, honestly: the locals line up with their rooting preferences, and it seems like Satan is well in the lead, maybe because he always has the best tunes and dancing.

Our main characters are Billie Baker and Maggie Warren; the trainees in the two churches. Billie came to town for the CoE, but, through some odd events at the end of the first book, the two have switched roles, with the lusty, motorcycle-riding Maggie now assisting Rev. David and energetic and immensely good-hearted Billie now organizing community outreach for Satan.

Allison, as usual, has a decent-sized central cast, who are interestingly quirky. I don’t think these folks have gotten quite as defined as the Giant Days crew or his best Bad Machinery characters (Lottie Grote, for example), but they’ve had fewer pages to do so to date.

In any case: this is two more adventures of Billie and Maggie, one with a werewolf and one with a Japanese guy in a funny costume. They are both Allisonianly quirky and fun, and he’s filling out the details of this corner of his world nicely as he has more pages and time to do so.

I’ve said it many times: Allison is one of the most entertaining, and most distinctive, comics-makers of his generation, and his stories are always fun and always different from what anyone else is doing. How can you not want to read that? 

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.