Tagged: fantasy

Monica by Daniel Clowes
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Monica by Daniel Clowes

Some cultural artifacts are so rigorously assembled that one hesitates to criticize them, expecting that the answer from the trufans will be something like “well, but you see, the figure at the top left of the back cover is obviously there to explain your complaint, and you are a churl for missing that, and therefore all of your complaints are invalid.” But here I go anyway.

The figure at the top left of the back cover, by the way, is a satyr. There isn’t one in the book itself. This is clearly A Clue. But this is the kind of book that makes you tired of Clues long before you reach the back cover.

Monica  was Daniel Clowes’ new graphic novel for 2023; he reportedly had been working on it for five years, roughly since Patience . It’s told in nine chapters, all of which have Clowes’s standard mature art style but which diverge greatly in voice and tone. They also, I think, don’t all take place on the same level of story: I originally thought it was alternating the “real” story with in-story fictions, but it’s not quite that clear or obvious. My guess, as much as I care (which is frankly not much) is that three or four of the chapters are stories told by the title character, though it’s not clear when she told these stories, to whom, or why she wrote them within the confines of the overall story.

Bluntly, those chapters are horribly overwritten in a clanking style. I think this is deliberate on Clowes’ part – but it also calls the reader’s attention to the fact that even the “well-written” bits are overwritten, over-narrated, and overcooked. Clowes has always been a creator who loves extremes and trashy genre elements, but I don’t think it was a smart thing to call attention to his overwriting in a book as overwrought as this one.

Monica is the main character, and our wordy narrator. The book covers her whole life, in leaps and bounds, plus those digressions that I’m going to take as her (mentioned once, never important) adolescent attempts at fiction.

Before I go further: I will run through each section of the book. There will inevitably be spoilers. I do not recommend this book for anyone other than those who enjoy watching train-wrecks in slow motion. Take all that into account if you read on.

We start with “Foxhole,” in which Johnny and Butch, two footsoldiers in what we realize later is Vietnam, talk in a massively self-consciously doom-laden way for three pages about their lives, philosophies, the specter of imminent death, and how everything must be going to hell back Stateside. This has the tone of the later “fictional” pieces in Monica – overwrought, clunky dialogue and all – but I suspect it’s meant to be part of the “real” narrative. 

Smash-cut to “Pretty Penny,” where we open with Johnny’s fiancé having just fucked some other guy – he’s Jewish, which I suppose is supposed to make it worse? They also talk in a patently ridiculous way: even dull readers should realize by this point that this isn’t to be taken seriously, that it’s dialogue reconstructed much later from someone’s slanted perspective.

That fiancé is Penny, who, in the much later words of Elvis Costello, doesn’t know what she wants, but wants it now. We soon learn we’re hearing her story told by Monica, who is born almost three years later (assuming we start in the late ’60s, that puts her birth somewhere around 1969-1972) – and that may be why it’s sketchy and random and why Penny comes across as an unknowable ball of anger, reaction, and spite. This section is about twenty pages long, getting Monica to about the age of three, when Penny – after a pinball round of boyfriends and apartments and random caregivers and emotional explosions – dumps Monica with her own parents and disappears forever.

Next we get the seemingly unrelated “The Glow Infernal,” a vaguely Lovecraftian tale about a young bowl-cutted man in an ugly purple suit who returns to his childhood town to find it controlled by blue-skinned people of vague origin. He quickly joins the resistance and is instrumental in their downfall, but is transformed in the process – very literally.

Monica returns to tell “Demonica,” the story of how she fell apart during college when her grandmother died suddenly. She holed up in a lake cottage, talked to no one, and claims to have communed with the spirit of her dead grandfather through an old radio. At the end of this period, she has a car accident that puts her in a coma.

By this point, the reader may wonder if Monica is a reliable narrator. I don’t think that’s the direction Clowes wants the reader to go, but if one assumes she’s prone to psychotic breaks (perhaps like her mother?) that’s one way to interpret the story.

“The Incident” is another story written by Monica, I think, in which a version of her father is some kind of detective or fixer, bringing a young man back from bad companions to his family, only to find (yes, again) something unexplained and maybe inexplicable has happened to the town, so he has to flee with his charge.

Monica wakes up from her coma for “Success,” told from a viewpoint twenty-two years later. (Note: that is not now, and not the frame story for any other section. Every section vaguely hints at being a document from a particular time-period, without ever making that clear or doing it believably.) She started a candle business after a few years of recuperation from the coma and then the usual youthful dissipation, but has just sold that business for a small fortune. She’s now getting obsessed with finding Penny, and learning the truth about her mother – but gets sidetracked by a pamphlet from her childhood from a nutty cult.

“The Opening The Way” continues that story, with Monica learning about the cult (which schismed into a blandish New Age convention business and a hard core of the really loony ones) and then, inevitably, joining it and getting caught up in its horrible philosophy, unpleasant people, and grungy surroundings. She gets out in the end, still not having found Penny.

And then we get “Krugg,” which is probably another story written by Monica – this late in her life? who knows – in which a painter monologues tediously as a blatant stand-in for the father Monica never knew (and who she sought in the crazy cult just before).

Last is “Doomsday,” in which an aged Monica, in what seems to be the present day or near future, explains how she did find Penny – who was old, and more than a little unhinged, and didn’t give Monica any real insight before she died – worked through her problems with a therapist over a number of years, met a nice man that she might be able to have a relationship with, and finally found her father, who was a bland old man who also couldn’t give her any real insights into herself.

Oh, yeah, and then she unleashes Armageddon in the last panel, because why not?

Um, OK.

I have to assume Clowes means that literally, and thinks that he has constructed his story to lead to that point. I didn’t believe it at all, and didn’t see even the kooky cult teachings as really leading to this particular apocalypse. (There’s a demon-figure in the cult’s mythos – if he appeared to Monica, that would be one thing. This is something entirely separate.)

My working assumption is that this is another sour Clowes story, about how all of humanity is sordid and corrupted and horrible. But I took it as a story about one woman with serious mental problems, who tells us the entire story but, in the end, can’t be relied upon at all.

I can’t recommend this at all. It’s longer than it looks, it’s full of bad writing – most of it on purpose, I hope – and doesn’t say anything new or interesting for Clowes. It’s just a confusing, kaleidoscopic wallow in his typical misanthropy, without anything new or special to redeem it.

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

The Problem of Susan and Other Stories by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, et. al.
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The Problem of Susan and Other Stories by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, et. al.

I don’t know if Dark Horse is actually trying to adapt every last bit of short Neil Gaiman into comics form. He’s written a lot of stuff, and much of it wouldn’t adapt well. But it does feel like they’re trying, at least, with a long sequence of individual graphic novels and a few omnibuses stretching back more than a decade.

The grandly titled “Neil Gaiman Library” has mostly been stories that can turn into reasonable-length books. I’ve seen a bunch of them: A Study in Emerald Only the End of the World Again Chivalry ; Snow, Glass, Apples ; and Troll Bridge . But not all Gaiman stories can be fit into that length, no matter how hard Procrustes works.

So in 2019 we got The Problem of Susan and Other Stories , which includes adaptations of the title story, another short story, and two poems. Presumably, with this as a model, the rest of his oeuvre on ISFDB is now under development, and we can look forward to Nicholas Was… and Other Festive Poems Real Soon Now.

My joking aside, it’s actually good to see that someone realized that not every short story is suitable to be turned into a sixty- to eighty-page graphic novel. If you’re going to adapt things to other formats, it’s important to keep what works and is distinctive about the original.

All four pieces in Susan were adapted, scripted, and laid out by P. Craig Russell – as usual, Gaiman’s participation seems to consist entirely of signing contracts and allowing his name to be used – two of them for other artists and two of them drawn by Russell. 

Now, I say “laid out,” but the last piece here is “The Day the Saucers Came,” a quick bit of doggerel that is presented on seven splash pages, one for each stanza, so I don’t know how much credit Russell should get for that one. It was a fun little poem, and it’s a fun little story here, with art by Paul Chadwick.

The other poem is “Locks,” which has Russell art. It’s a shorter piece (four pages) but broken into regular comics panels – and not as obviously verse, actually, reading like “normal” comics. It’s also slight: most of the Gaiman poems I’ve seen have been interesting ideas turned into solid verse rather than poetry, in the lets-explicate-the-deep-meaning-here sense. (My headcanon is that Gaiman intermittently writes poems to solidify ideas, and sometimes it turns into a fuller story and sometimes the poem is it.)

The other story is “October in the Chair,” in which the personified months of the year meet and tell stories. (A very very Gaimanesque idea, clearly.) Most of it is taken up by the story October, the host this time, tells – which is a somewhat creepy one, about a “runt” of a boy who runs away from home and what he decides to do then. The art here is from Scott Hampton, I think in full paintings as he often does, and it’s moody and deep to match the story. 

And leading off is the title story, a riff on C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, in which an old academic – who we suspect, by the end, is Susan, or maybe the real-world version of her – talks to a young reporter about her life and work studying folklore and fantasy. Susan was the Pevensie who didn’t die in a train crash in The Last Battle, who didn’t get to return to Narnia at death, because she had already grown up too much and was no longer innocent. That is the problem, as both the old academic and the young journalist agree. Gaiman also has a somewhat darker view of the Lion and the Witch here, which will be unsurprising to those who have read his fairy-tale retellings like “Snow, Glass, Apples.”

So all four of the stories are interesting and done well, and they vary substantially in tone – the poems are much lighter than the stories, and “Susan” is perhaps even darker than “October,” if you accept its cosmology. There isn’t really a thread that ties all four pieces together, other than being by Gaiman – but that, I suppose, is the deal of the whole series.

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

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness of All Kings by Ryall, Akins, Kyriazis, & Livesay
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Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness of All Kings by Ryall, Akins, Kyriazis, & Livesay

I suppose the Hitchhikers‘ ground has been thoroughly salted at this point – I’ve seen the movie; you don’t need to tell me – which is why we’ve gotten two Dirk Gently TV series and these comics over the past decade. But even leaving aside how much Douglas Adams was a writer of voice to begin with, the Dirk books were fun because of the way they were told rather than the vague shaggy-dog stories they told. So doing the same sort of thing in a different medium feels like the wrong next step: the Adams estate would have been better off commissioning someone to write more Dirk novels, I think: assuming anyone could convincingly do that, which is the rub.

Anyway, there is a comics series continuing the Dirk Gently books. This first miniseries, from 2016 – probably not coincidentally the same year as the second, more successful TV show – promises there will be more, but a quick Google here in 2023 did not actually discover more. So I think this slots in just like the original novels: fun, faintly disappointing, not quite going anywhere despite apparent velocity and direction.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: The Interconnectedness of All Kings  was written by Chris Ryall, long-time comics scripter and (probably much more importantly) then the head of IDW, publisher of this series. Art is by Tony Akins (pencils on the first two of five issues), Ilias Kyriazis (rest of the pencils), and John Livesay (inks). Colors are by Leonard O’Grady. There is also an introduction by Arvind Ethan David, who produced the second TV series and says here he will be writing the second – so far nonexistent – comics series.

As the book opens, Dirk is moving – carrying basically nothing – from his native UK to San Diego, for no obvious reason. (This isn’t a problem: “for no obvious reason” is the way Dirk does everything.) Your Cynical Reviewer assumed San Diego was chosen because Ryall and IDW are headquartered there, but I’m willing to entertain alternate explanations. None are provided, let me be clear. But I’d entertain them if they were.

He soon gets caught up in multiple quirky plots: he grabs a random suitcase, which belongs to a yuppie couple who are engaging in serial-killer touristry: I mean, both being serial killers and doing it in ways that are inspired by classics of the field. There’s also a couple of ancient Egyptian men, King Ahktenhamen-adjacent, who are now in the modern world after half-explained magical shenanigans and have the traditional life-stealing curse. Someone is also giving nifty gold cellphones to the homeless of San Diego, but this is much less important to begin with. And Dirk is also casting about for a new base of operations, which of course he does by walking into a random business and claiming it.

There’s a lot of complication and goofiness, and the tone strikes me as authentic to the Dirk novels – but I have to admit it’s been decades since I read them, so my memory could be off. It’s less jokey than Hitchhiker, as I recall – light adventure rather than near-parody.

The whole thing was pleasant but didn’t feel Adams-esque, if you know what I mean. Douglas Adams had a tone and a way of constructing sentences, so I’m not sure (as I said up top) that any other medium  or writer could replicate that to begin with. And Dirk is a quirkier, more fragile thing than Hitchhiker to begin with. So this is a nice light adventure comic about a guy called “Dirk Gently” that was pleasant to read but left me a bit flat. Given no sequel has appeared in nearly a decade, I have to assume that reaction was common.

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

The Last Days of Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Stefano Simeone

The Last Days of Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire and Stefano Simeone

A cynical reader, such as me, could look at that title and think “oh, good, they’re finally ending this repetitive superhero waffling that never actually goes anywhere.” But that reader would be wrong.

This is not “last” in the sense of anything actually ending. This is a superhero “last,” meaning it’s about something in the past, and retelling a story already at least half-told multiple times before – but now telling it in greater detail. Even more so, what we have here pretends to be the actual issues of the 1986-era comic in which the original Black Hammer snuffed it, with covers that have fake high numbers and everything.

So The Last Days of Black Hammer  is actually a prequel to nearly all of the Black Hammer stories we’ve already seen. (Black Hammer ’45  takes place almost entirely before this, as does Barbalien: Red Planet , but I think those are the only ones – OK, maybe Doctor Andromeda , too.)

The whole premise of the entire vast Black Hammer-i-verse was that there was a big superhero fight (cough Crisis! cough) against the “Anti-God,” who looks nothing like Darkseid, in the sky over Spiral City, which apparently also turned the skies of the rest of the world red, because that’s the thing comics geeks still latch onto from Crisis even thirty years later, and that the Greatest Hero of All Time, Black Hammer, whacked said Anti-God with his big, um, Black Hammer, and that made the Anti-God go all “ouchie!” and run away forever and forever but also alas! killed Black Hammer in the same way that every superhero dies at least once.

For the dull ones in back: Black Hammer is the Silver Age Flash. He died so worlds can live. Got it? (Character-wise, he’s actually more like the Black Racer crossed with Thor, but that’s a different kind of derivative-ness.)

This pretends to be the 1986-era issues 234-237 issues of the Black Hammer comic book, including both a “hero no more!” and an “all-new! all-different!” cover, plus the double-sized epic conclusion. There’s also a coda or epilogue at the end, outside that “old comics” schema, to show how Sad it all was, how Important was The Sacrifice of Black Hammer To Save Us All, and that His Daughter had to Grow Up Without a Father, Alas! 

Otherwise, though, this is exactly what we already know and what we expect. Black Hammer is conflicted, and wants to give up hitting things with a big hammer to Spend More Time With His Family Before It Is Too Late. But, alas! He Is Needed, because The Bad Guys Will Destroy The World And Only Black Hammer Can Stop Them. The superhero group that still doesn’t have a name – the Spiral City Sluggers? the Saviors? the Bad Guy Whompers? the Fabulous Dudes? – more or less breaks up after the events of the first “issue” here, having stopped what was believed to be Their Greatest Threat, and several of them need to be brought back out of retirement – quickly, perfunctorily – for the big ending.

Reader, there is nothing here you will not predict, nothing that gives a true moment of surprise or wonder, nothing that isn’t entirely derivative and utterly pre-determined. This is a piece of product, an engineered jigsaw puzzle piece that slots in exactly in the middle of all of the other pieces to make a bland picture of people punching each other.

I usually praise creator Jeff Lemire’s writing when I talk about these books, though I know it feels like faint praise. (He can, and does, do a lot better than this. But the Black Hammer books are professional, and the characters are as dimensional as anything in generic superhero-dom can be.) This time, the art is from Stefano Simone, who has a looser, sketchier line that might not quite say “1986 Big Event Comics” to me, but it’s energetic and fun and doesn’t look like fifty years of superhero comics, so I count that as a plus.

But, as always, I question the whole point of the exercise. We know everything here already. Last Days adds nothing.

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

The Agency by Katie Skelly

The Agency by Katie Skelly

Katie Skelly is a fun, interesting cartoonist whose work hasn’t quite connected with me. I knew that from her My Pretty Vampire , but the “fun, interesting” thing got me to come back for another run.

The Agency  is a 2018 book, collecting a loose series of webcomics that came out over the three previous years. It doesn’t tell a single story, but there is a through-line, and – as I’m coming to think is standard for Skelly – there’s a core viewpoint and style that unifies the whole thing.

(I wonder where these stories appeared, since they’re quite sexy – and my sense is that the webcomics world has usually been divided into the “no nudity! we’re family-friendly” world and the “all sex! all the time!” world. This isn’t all sex, but it’s mostly sex: there’s a lot of nudity, casual and specifically sexy, and basically all of the stories have have some sexual activity, though not as central and overwhelming as it usually is in a sex webcomic. I may here be circling the fact that this is by a woman, and so it’s about things that this woman found sexy and wanted to put into a comic – therefore it’s not as male-gaze-y and relentlessly focused on sticking penises into things as the typical sexcomics by a man.)

Skelly doesn’t tell us what “the agency” is. But her main characters are all women, all introduced as “Agent ” starting with 8 and running up, sometimes jumping numbers. They have sexy adventures in which they explore things, are glamorous, and have vaguely portentous dialogues. They are in vaguely genre-fiction settings that don’t entirely cohere together: a Barbarella-ish spacewoman, a model, a spy – maybe several model/spies. As I’m thinking is usual for Skelly, there’s a ’60s movie vibe, in the situations and the costumes and hair and the bright vibrant overlays of color.

These are sex stories, but generally positive ones. These women are getting sex they want, with themselves or other people or odder things (vibrating alien flora? octopuses!). The agents tend to disappear suddenly, as Skelly’s attention shifts for the next story – they’re signposts rather than people, characters who can be in the next situation for the next sexy idea. But they’re mostly happy, and all self-motivated – they’re doing what they want, getting mostly what they want, and enjoying themselves.

Again, there’s no overall story. Each piece is basically separate, like we’re watching some sexy short-film festival from 1968, far more woman-focused and sex-positive than would have been likely at the time. Their stories are vibrant and visually interesting – Skelly has a flat style, with quick lines and big eyes and ruled panel borders under those big slabs of glorious color – at times psychedelic, always distinctive.

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

Pop Gun War, Vol. 2: Chain Letter by Farel Dalrymple

Pop Gun War, Vol. 2: Chain Letter by Farel Dalrymple

What’s important here, I think, is that it’s a delayed sequel. One that came a decade later, after other stories. Everything else flows out from there: this is not the next thing, but a later thing.

Pop Gun War, Vol. 2: Chain Letter  was collected in 2017, from material that mostly appeared in ISLAND magazine the previous three years. I was confused by the notation in the app where I read it (Hoopla) that it collected issues 4, 5, 10, 14, and 15, as if those were the issues of Pop Gun War – those are the places this appeared in ISLAND.

It’s more Farel Dalrymple, vague drifting stories that take SFF adventure story tropes – often deliberately as if conceptualized by children – and mix them with a vaguely existential strew of ennui, angst, and confusion. There are plots, sort of, of a kind, but they start aimlessly, run for a while, and then get abandoned. There are characters, and we hear their interior concerns and worries, but they’re not all that rounded: each one is a fragment or facet or avatar. There are places, striking and strange and weird, but we don’t learn how they connect to each other, or any serious background details – they are creepy or shiny or bland places where things happen, nothing more.

I could link back to my post on the first Pop Gun War collection , but this is only loosely related. This is, maybe, what happened to Sinclair’s sister Emily at some point during the events of the first book. Or maybe not: Dalrymple is rarely all that definitive.

Anyway, Emily – who here seems to be smaller and younger than I thought she was in the first book, a prepubescent girl barely older than Sinclair and not the teenager I thought she was – is on tour with her band, which is otherwise all young men, of the typical kind that form bands. Their van has broken down in some random town. She goes out for a walk, sees mysterious figures sneaking into a sewer, follows them.

There’s a confrontation, eventually, with those creepy men and their boss, but more important is that Emily finds a room, in those comic-booky high-tech underground corridors, where screens show her visions of the past, present, and future. Most of this book are those visions: other characters doing other things other places, which Emily witnesses and is the frame story for.

She sees Sinclair and Addison, from the first book, briefly, but they don’t do much. She sees private detective Ben Able, who tries to free a group of kids – maybe kidnapped, maybe just playing, maybe something else? – from a creepy haunted house. She sees a cyborg astronaut battling, gladiator-pit-style, in what seems to be Proxima Centauri (maybe connected to that Dalrymple book ), managed by a girl of her age, Gwen Noiritch, who has a cyborg/magic eye. Oh, and there’s a fat kid in a super-suit, Hollis, who bounces into their plot and get the three of them chased around for a while.

None of those framed stories really end, but none of them started cleanly, either – Emily tunes into them at a particular moment, watches for a while, and then something else gets her attention.

Dalrymple’s material often seems like the ideas of a hyperactive kid, someone who’s read masses of SFF and is mix-and-matching all the stuff he loves best with silly names and crazy ideas and not all that much worry about consistency and plot. But the style is more contemplative and adult, looking back at those silly names and superpowers with a wry, forgiving but distanced eye, as if wondering if he ever were that young. I think it’s meant to drive specific emotions, to evoke complex feelings of nostalgia and regret and discomfort. I still couldn’t tell you the why of any of that. But it’s what I think he’s trying to do, and he’s pretty successful at that quirky, counterintuitive thing.

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

Groo: Friends and Foes, Vol. 3 by Sergio Aragones with Mark Evanier

Groo: Friends and Foes, Vol. 3 by Sergio Aragones with Mark Evanier

The modern era of comics is built for short attention spans, all miniseries and limited runs and hot new creators, emphasizing new “jump-on issues” and trying to ignore that vastly more people are jumping off, every chance they get.

Some of that is effect, some of it is cause; it’s been a spiral since the ’90s crash fatally injured the viability of the long-running series. Frankly, long series always tended to dip and (if they were lucky) rise over time – it’s just the “rise,” unpredictable as it used it be, got eliminated from those calculations forever sometime in the early Aughts. [1]

So a comic that’s published anything like regularly doesn’t look regular. There’s this twelve-issue series and that thrilling relaunch and the other one-shot tying into something else. And each one of those “new” things has to be new enough for the fabled “new reader” to start there, which means we get a lot of repotted origin stories and returns of fan-favorite characters and “here’s my favorite Batman story from childhood, done totally awesome!”

This is tedious for anyone who isn’t an utter neophile, but it’s the world we live in. In the case of Groo, it’s why the big series for 2015-16 was Groo: Friends and Foes, a twelve-issue extravaganza in which each issue saw one of the idiot adventurer’s most popular secondary characters returned to do the same things that character (and Groo) does every single time.

Now, Groo was always formulaic: it’s a comedy, and comedies are all about the bit. Groo‘s bit is that the title character is deeply stupid, though well-meaning, and that everything he touches goes wrong and gets broken. It’s usually heavily narrated by The Minstrel – that guy with the jester cap on the right of this cover – in verse that is usually almost as funny as it aims to be. And it’s been running for about forty years now, so there are a lot of recurring characters and running jokes (cheese dip, mendicant, and so on).

That all sounds unfriendly to new readers, but it’s still a light comedy: running jokes are still jokes, and you don’t realize they’re running until it runs into you for the second time. Groo was always built so anyone could drop in anywhere and get basically the same experience; it still is.

So there’s only a thin through-line for this miniseries: it’s basically ten mostly standalone issues, with a recurring character in common, and then a two-part finale. Volume 3 , the book I just got to, has the finale. (See my posts on the first two books for equally random musings about Groo, comics, and comedy.)

This time out, the special guests are: Pal & Drumm, a swordsman nearly as dumb as Groo (though beefier) and his handler/friend; Taranto, the scheming leader of a bandit band; The Minstrel, who I’ve already mentioned; and the recurring new character for this series, whose story gets wrapped up and whose name I won’t mention here to give some very slight suspense for anyone who might read these books. As I said, the first two issues are just like the eight that preceded them, but the last two see the subplot turn into main plot, all of the guest stars for the whole series return for several grand melees and finales.

Like all Groo stories, it’s more good-natured and sentimental than you would expect from a series of stories about a deeply stupid murder-hobo. I’m not a huge Groo fan, so I may seem lukewarm here – and, frankly, I am lukewarm – but this is just fine for what it is, and as dependably Groo-esque as it could possibly be. So those of you who like Groo will be very happy.

[1] Apropos of nothing: in a recent piece I wrote for work and was adapting for UK use, I learned the standard term on that side of the pond (at least according to my organization) for the first decade of this century is “noughties.” I had to believe this out of organizational pride; I can’t require that you do the same.

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

Pop Gun War, Vol. 1: Gift by Farel Dalrymple

Pop Gun War, Vol. 1: Gift by Farel Dalrymple

Maybe I thought going back to the beginning would give me some clarity: I’ve read Farel Dalrymple’s work before [1], enjoying and engaging with it without actually getting it, so I dropped back to the beginning of his career.

I still enjoyed and engaged with Pop Gun War, Vol. 1: Gift , which collects the first five issues of his first solo comic – the edition I read is from 2016, but basically the same material was collected in 2003. And I have to say I still don’t get it, though this is closer to stories I recognize.

Pop Gun War is urban fantasy, mostly: set in an unnamed City – there’s a map before the story pages – where strange and mysterious things happen to a large cast with loose and tenuous connections. It’s all street-level; they’re ordinary people – well, ordinary enough, for this city, but I’ll get to that – rather than mayors and tycoons or even store owners and mid-career professionals.

I should also say there are no pop guns, and no obvious war: the title is a metaphor. As usual for Dalrymple, I can’t quite explain that metaphor.

The central character is Sterling: that’s him on the cover. He witnesses an unnamed angel fall from the sky and then pay a workman to cut off his wings. Sterling grabs those wings out of the trash and runs away with them, later attaching them to his own back. This is urban fantasy: the wings work. (Or perhaps, as we learn later, those wings aren’t what really works.)

The rest of the events circle him; he’s a viewpoint and a center. But there’s no linear plot, and the events don’t necessarily align with each other, either. What we have, instead, is a cluster of characters doing things, some of them opposed to each other:

  • Addison, a bearded guy – maybe a bum? – who maybe finds meaning in his life by engaging with others, especially Sinclair
  • Emily, Sinclair’s musician older sister, who might be supposed to take care of him but is often absent for extended periods, touring with her band The Emilies
  • Koole, a creepy smiling villain (?)
  • The Rich Kid, who is clearly not one of the good people, either, and sometimes seem to be in league with Koole
  • Percy, a giant, flying goldfish in glasses who nevertheless does not talk
  • Sunshine, a small man in a large top hat who grows over the course of the book – no, literally, he’s as tall as a five-story building when he marches off into the sea with his good friend Percy. He’s also probably “magic” in some deep way the story doesn’t want to explain. It’s unclear if he’s a source or a symptom.
  • Mr. Grimshaw, a government (?) functionary who may be scheming to kidnap children and/or steal some vital essence from them and/or something vaguely in that story-space

There are also a group of unnamed, random neighborhood kids, who are both antagonists – trying to destroy Sinclair’s wings, part of Koole and The Rich Kid’s attempts to create chaos – and plot tokens, as they are dragged away from the normal city streets in Mr. Grimshaw’s diabolical plans.

Again: all of these things do not connect with each other. My sense is that each of the five issues here is a story of its own, with the same essential cast, but it’s more like a commedia dell’arte ensemble than a mini-series: everyone has their roles and functions, but they’re doing a different iteration each time.

I still don’t really get it, on the level that I’d like to. I love Dalrymple’s inky drawings, and the way the story pops out into full-page color – mostly soft and muted, maybe watercolor? – here and there. His dialogue is quirky but believable, and this is an interesting, distinctive urban fantasy world even if I couldn’t tell you how it works or what’s important. That’s how Dalrymple works, or at least how his stuff always strikes me: if you’re interested in books that are interesting but stay tantalizingly out of focus to your conscious mind, try his stuff.

[1] See my post on It Will All Hurt , where I laid out my “I don’t get Dalrymple” theory, and also Proxima Centauri  and The Wrenchies .

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

Only the End of the World Again by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell & Troy Nixey

Only the End of the World Again by Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell & Troy Nixey

First must come the consumer warning. I read this digitally, which means flipping through the pages would have been more cumbersome than with a physical book, and I took the “152 pages” as an indication of the length of the story.

Reader, I was misled.

Only the End of the World Again  is a 48-page story, bulked out by an sketchbook section exactly twice its size that shows the thumbnail layouts and un-lettered final inks for each page side-by-side, presumably for fans of art to take a magnifying glass to them and make various low appreciative noises in the back of their throats for the next several hours. I did not do so; that’s not how I read books.

If you do want to spend several hours with those earlier versions of the same story, though, this may well be a positive for you. It takes all kinds to make a world, after all.

“Only the End of the World Again” was originally a short story by Neil Gaiman. It first appeared in the 1994 Shadows Over Innsmouth anthology edited by Stephen Jones, and a few years later was collected in Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors. This graphic novel, part of a big series mostly adapting his best-known stories from the ’90s, was scripted and laid out by P. Craig Russell, drawn by Troy Nixey, colored by Matthew Hollingsworth, and lettered by Sean Konot.

As is usual with this series – see also my posts on Chivalry , Snow, Glass, Apples , Troll Bridge , and How to Talk to Girls at Parties  – this is a very faithful adaptation. Russell makes Only a very heavily narrated comic, and gets what seems to be 85+% of Gaiman’s original words onto these pages. (To my mind, that defeats the purpose of adaptation, but fans want things to be exactly like the original, only in a new form they can pay money for, so I see why.)

The story was deliberately a pastiche, not quite an in-joke but including a nudge or two to the ribs of fandom, in which an adjustor named Lawrence Talbot found himself in the mist-shrouded Massachusetts town of Innsmouth and, more by fate than by plan, foiled the end of the world. As the title implies, the story hints pretty heavily that this is Talbot’s life: he wanders into a random town each month, supernatural stuff happens, and an apocalypse is averted.

(It may also have been somewhat inspired by Roger Zelazny’s 1993 novel A Night in the Lonesome October , which has a related premise. The timeline is plausible – Night was published in August of ’93, with galleys circulating a few months before that, and Shadows came out in October of ’94.)

This version has a lot of Gaiman’s atmospheric prose, as I said – in prose, this was a story of voice, and the comics version does its best to keep that voice and layer in more atmosphere with Nixey’s Lovecraftianly lumpy people. (Nixey is a great artist for stories about Innsmouth, and maybe Lovecraftian topics in general; he can make people fleshy in unpleasant ways that hint at inhuman shapes.)

As usual with this series, I’m somewhat uneasy about seeing so much effort and care going into making sure as much of Gaiman’s prose is still present in the comic version as possible – it seems a sin against the idea of adaptation, somehow. As if the adaptors aren’t allowed to actually transform the story, to actually fit it into its new form in any way that would make it deviate from the original.

But I am clearly a minority opinion in that.

This is a fun Lovecraftian story, with sneaky Gaiman prose well manipulated by Russell and illustrated with relish (some kind of cold, blue-greenish relish, smelling a bit more of the sea than anyone you know actually enjoys) by Nixey. But don’t be surprised to pick up this book and find the story is done a third of the way through.

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

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

Chivalry by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

Stories about old people who are happy and content being old, who stoutly resist fantastic temptations otherwise, are I think always the products of much younger people. Actual old people are much less sanguine about looming death, I find, less likely to smile indulgently at mantlepiece pictures of themselves in their younger days, sigh contentedly, and turn their faces away from mysterious elixirs and fabulous potions.

Neil Gaiman was barely thirty when he wrote the short story “Chivalry” in the early 1990s. It’s a light, mostly humorous story. But it’s very much the humor of someone quite young looking at someone else who is quite old, at a light, humorous distance.

Chivalry was turned into a graphic novel recently – just about a year ago – by Colleen Doran, who apparently scripted this version as well as doing all of the art in a variety of styles. (Lettering is by Todd Klein. There’s no sign Gaiman did anything for this edition other than say the word “Yes” and sign some manner of document.)

Lots of Gaiman stories have been turned into individual GNs over the past decade or so – I count a dozen on the “other books” page here, plus multi-volume adaptations of American Gods and Norse Mythology – but he’s probably written close to fifty stories in prose [1], so the well will not go dry any time soon.

This is one of the lighter – I’m pointedly not saying “lesser,” but we’re all thinking it – stories, though Doran brings a formidable, and frightening, level of art firepower to this piece, depicting some pages as medieval illuminated manuscripts and explaining in an afterword the extents she went through to find photos of the actual rooms of the real house Gaiman was thinking about for his protagonist back thirty years ago. (One might think that’s all rather more effort than Chivalry required, but it’s not for us to say, is it? The final product is indeed lovely throughout.)

So: pensioner Mrs. Whitaker finds the Holy Grail in her weekly trip to the Oxfam shop in the high street. She knows exactly what it is, and that it will look nice on her mantlepiece. Soon afterward, the parfait gentil knight [2] Galaad arrives, asking politely if he may have it, since he’s on a quest from King Arthur, with a fancy scroll to say so.

Gaiman, as usual, is not doing the collision of high and low speech thing, as other writers might. Galaad is high-toned, and Mrs. Whitaker is sensible and middle-class, not some comic-opera Cockney. They have polite, friendly conversations, with no hint of drama or conflict. Mrs. Whitaker simply wants to keep the Grail; it looks nice where it is.

Galaad returns several times, with more-impressive gifts to entice Mrs. Whitaker. What he does not do is listen to her, ascertain what she wants, and try to deliver that – that would be a more serious story, and not the one Gaiman apparently wanted to write in 1992. Galaad just wants to find the thing that will get her to agree to a swap, and he does, in the end, since this is a light fantasy story.

The prose “Chivalry” was a pleasant quiet thing, all about what wonderful characters the plucky elderly British ladies of the war generation were, basically a love letter to Gaiman’s grandmother’s cohort. The graphic version keeps the tone and style, and adds a lot of very pretty art, some of which is incredibly fancy and detailed. It is still a very light, fluffy thing, which only very slightly connects to actual life, but this is a very good visual version of the thing this story always was.

[1] It’s difficult to count, since his collections differ by country and mix in a lot of poetry, and he’s also done a lot of chapbook and small-press publications over the years. When you’re the subject of a rabid fandom, you can publish in all sorts of complicated expensive ways and people still buy as much as they can.

[2] OK, Gaiman doesn’t actually phrase it that way. But it is still true.

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