Tagged: fantasy

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Ascender, Vol. 1: The Haunted Galaxy by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

So I was, to put it mildly, not happy with the way Descender ended . I knew that there was a sequel to that series — this is it, Ascender — but I figured I would not be coming back after writer Jeff Lemire set up a Backswing Fantasy larger than any seen previously. (Larger both in the backswinginess and the fantasy: this is full-bore dragon-starship goofiness here.)

But the local library had a copy of Ascender, Vol. 1: The Haunted Galaxy , and that last Descender volume was literally the only time I’d read a Jeff Lemire comic and not really enjoyed it, so I thought I should give it a chance.

I tend to suspect the Descender/Ascender transition was the plan all along, since Ascender is not so much a thematic riff on Descender, or another story set in the “same” (vastly changed) universe, but a flat-out pure sequel. The main character of Ascender is Mila, the roughly nine-year-old daughter of Andy and Effie from Descender, and the main action of this volume is Andy and Mila running away from danger to get to another character we recognize from the previous volumes.

That is to say: you could start here, but starting here is not the point, and not the expectation. This is for people who read Descender. (And that makes me think, with my old fantasy-editor hat on, that this will want to be a trilogy eventually — what would that make the merged science/fantasy galaxy’s story? Leveler?)

You may have also noticed that Bandit, the robot dog, is on the cover along with Mila, so mentioning it shouldn’t be a spoiler. His arrival sets in motion the plot, which so far is running on the same kind of rails as Descender, with two cases of “that person has got to be dead” already showed prominently, one immediately subverted and the other obviously going in a very specific direction. It’s all a bit lazy and obvious, I’m sorry to say.

In related news, the Big Bad is a vampire queen named Mother – I guess it’s positive that she’s of the old and morbidly fat style of evil vampires, not the slim and seductive type? – who is the latest in a centuries-long series of vampire queens who apparently immigrated in from some other universe between the end of Descender and this book. (Seriously, there’s nowhere in the universe shown in Descender they could have been. I’ll buy “the universe flipped to magic, and now we have vampires!” but not “oh, and they’re centuries old, because they were actually .”) She is casually cruel to her underlings and rules the galaxy with a bloated fist, because of course she does, and she somehow did all this in less than a decade.

There are Rebels, because any Star Wars-inspired story worth its salt has to have them, and they are obviously the good guys. Mila will join them, eventually, but probably not until book three – my guess is that she meets them in passing in book two, maybe with her keepers at the time getting into a violent disagreement with the Rebels, and then that has to be papered over later. The Rebels have a secret Sorcerer leader, whom the evil vampire queen is of course insane to find and kill, but said sorcerer does not seem to be actually good enough at the sorcery thing to make the Rebels any kind of match for the Forces of Evil.

(Oh, and the sorcerer is almost certainly a robot. My money is on Tim-21, but it’s definitely not going to be a new character. I expect his big reveal will be at the end of one of the volumes: maybe two, more likely three.)

Ascender looks wonderful, moves quickly, and is full of action, adventure, and vigor. It’s also hugely derivative and barely exists as a thing of its own, being a Descender remix by DJ Star Wars using beats from several hundred years of generic horror. I may read more of it, if I can keep getting it from the library, but I’ll be damned if I’ll spend money on this.

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

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Elektra by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection (with various artists)

I’m going to try to be quick with this one: it’s very much not my thing in multiple ways, and I read it to sample both what my old college buddy Rucka has been doing and what mainstream Marvel comics are like. The answer, in both cases, is: still things I’m not all that interested in, and which I do not enjoy, which is totally fine.

Elektra by Greg Rucka Ultimate Collection  collects more than a year of the title comic about the ninja super-assassin, issues 7-22 from just over a decade ago. The art is by a whole lot of different people, most of which was in styles I found actively off-putting. (Worst: Greg Horn, whose glossy photorealism seemingly only comes at the expense of composition and energy and movement and human body proportions. Best: Carlos Meglia, with two great cartoony issues full of zip and vigor. Everyone else was variously muddy and dull and generically gritty, to my eye.)

This is the kind of comic that aggressively insists that it’s nothing like superheroes as it features an unstoppable overpowered killing machine wearing a silly unfeasible costume and fighting against magic ninjas. I have never found any part of that argument compelling. And the fact that the overall plotline here is, more or less, “maybe, Elektra, spending your life murdering people for money in job lots is not the greatest thing you could possibly be doing” adds to that great-power-great-responsibility hoo-ha.

Anyway, Elektra is the world’s greatest assassin, who kills people in that stripper costume she’s wearing on the cover (and often other clothes; she’s an equal-opportunity murderess) in various inventive ways and, at this point, was completely separate from the regular Marvel Universe so she could be grimmer and grittier. Although the trained-by-good-and-then-evil-ninjas thing, and the whole she-was-dead-for-a-while-but-got-better deal, are still baked into her backstory on a molecular level.

These are crime stories about a globetrotting international assassin, and they are never as fun and thrilling as that phrase makes them sound. As usual, Rucka focuses on the mental trauma his characters face, and Elektra has been brainwashed so many times it’s a wonder she can cross the street without a Boy Scout. They are largely “about” the kind of serious “issues” that superhero comics get into when they’re feeling expansive: life’s purpose and meaning, how glorious and intoxicating it is to murder a whole lot of people, the difficulty of maintaining a steady clientele in the international-assassin business, and so on.

I’m already running on too long, and getting too snarky: the stories here are solid of their kind, but they’re very tough-guy stories, in the old paperback thriller mode. It is nice to see that Marvel can publish stories in which people in funny costumes kill each other, instead of just punch each other through buildings and then take each other to super-jail, I guess.

This sequence of stories seems to have largely been Rucka trying to reset from “Elektra kills people for money and is a total badass about it” to “Elektra feels bad about having killed lots of people and might possibly be looking to do Good Things to redress her karmic balance,” but the moment of reset, if I’m right, is at the very end of this book. So I don’t know if it stuck, and frankly I don’t care enough to investigate.

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

Trese, Vol. 1: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan & KaJo Baldisimo

Thirteen years ago, I saw this book for the first time (in an earlier edition). I was fairly late: it was published in comics form several years before that, but I did have the slight disadvantage of being on the other side of the world.

I was impressed then; I’m equally impressed now. The Trese stories are great urban fantasy in comics form: taking a lot of the standard furniture of the genre (attractive young female protagonist with a mysterious past, powerful protectors, and a complicated relationship with the local supernatural powers, plus a lot of the mystery-plot aspects) and using them well, while also centering on very specific supernatural elements that we non-Filipinos are unfamiliar with. (See also my post on the third volume ; that’s as far as I’ve seen so far.)

It didn’t have to be Philippine mythology: there are probably dozens of places in the world that could support a similarly new and energetic series, from Vietnam to Nigeria to Chile to Nunavut. (Not the Lake District or Transylvania or Bavaria.) But these creators were Filipino, so that was the world they knew, and they have been making great use of it.

The good news is that you can find Trese now, which you mostly couldn’t for the last decade. (After I lost my copies in the flood of 2011, I didn’t have them, either.) The American comics company Ablaze published an edition of this first collection, Murder on Balete Drive , late last year, and the second one is scheduled for June. There’s an animated series on Netflix, though some googling hasn’t gotten me to any solid information on the date it will be (or was?) released. With any luck, the rest of the eight books published in the Philippines will come here (and the rest of the world) as well, and creators Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo can spend more time making these stories and less time being high-powered global advertising guys.

Balete Drive collects what were the original first four issues, all standalone stories. Baldisimo has redrawn the art, so it’s even stronger than it originally was: stunningly inky and atmospheric, in a style immediately accessible to Americans but still inherently Filipino. (Remembering how many Filipinos have done great work in American comics for the past six or seven decades, this should not be a surprise.) Tan has added short sections after each story to give a little more background on the supernatural entities in each section – these aren’t necessary, but they’re useful for us non-Filipinos. So this is the best possible edition of these stories: possibly annoying to Filipinos who have been supporting it for a decade, but gratifying to those of us elsewhere in the world who finally get to see it for ourselves.

All of the stories are about Alexandra Trese. She’s young, she’s called in when the Manila police have a weird case that they don’t know what to do with, she has skills and knowledge and contacts that can solve those problems – usually in ways that at least do not add more violence. But the supernatural is a dark and dangerous place, for anyone caught up in it and and possibly even for Trese. Her father, Anton, was respected and powerful but does not seem to be around now – and she’s very clear she is not her father. So there are story hooks for later, set carefully and with skill.

These are the first four cases of hers we know about. They clearly were not the first cases of her life: Tan and Baldisimo may some day go back and tell those stories. (They may already have.) They are dark and dangerous cases, with various monsters causing trouble and relationships that need to be carefully talked back into place. Luckily, Manila has Alexandra Trese to do that for them.

And, luckily, you have the stories of Alexandra Trese to look forward to.

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

Royal City, Vol. 3: We All Float On by Jeff Lemire

Somehow I’m over two years late on this Jeff Lemire comic, despite reading the first two (see my posts on volumes one and two ) right when they came out and liking the series a lot. What can I say? There are too many good books in the world, and keeping up with them all can sometimes be challenging. But I made it to the end eventually.

Royal City is a family story, and Vol. 3: We All Float On  is where it all comes together. The first volume brought brother Patrick back to town, to join his siblings Richie and Tara and parents Patti and Peter — and, most importantly, brother Tommy, who died in 1993 but has been haunting the entire family, in very different ways, ever since. The second volume went back to ’93 to show the week of Tommy’s death, and now the conclusion brings in a new, unexpected family member and brings everything to the final crisis.

(No, not the usual comics kind of Final Crisis. The real people living in a real world — well, mostly real, since they’re all seeing Dead Tommy all the time — kind of crisis, where all of the problems peak at once.)

This is an ending, so I don’t want to talk much about the plot — but I will say that it does all end, and it does end well. Lemire is, as always, good at stories about people, especially damaged people, and the Pike family are all damaged in different ways. It does all center on Tommy, as it must, even though he has been dead for over twenty years.

I see that Royal City is now available as a single spiffy hardcover, and that’s probably the best way to read this going forward — it is a single story that happened to be published as individual comics issues and then three trade paperbacks for market reasons, but it would work best as a single book, since it tells a single story.

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

Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 2 by Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone & others

First, about that “others” in the post title: Marguerite Sauvage drew one of the six issues collected here, Ande Parks inked the pages set on Meta, Kelly Fitzpatrick colored all of it, and several other artists contributed to the back-up stories. Including all of them would make it look like a law firm.

But Cecil Castellucci wrote all of it and Marley Zarcone drew all but the first issue in Shade the Changing Girl, Vol. 2: Little Runaway , so it’s reasonably fair to attribute it to the two of them. And it is, as you might guess, the immediate sequel to Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy , by the same team, and concludes the initial arc of this comic. (It dove into a Young Animal crossover that had something to do with milk immediately afterward, and then reappeared, briefly, as Shade the Changing Woman.)

I thought this Shade was going to be focused on the alien-in-high-school thing, but I was wrong: the first issue here blows that up to send Loma Shade (current possessor of the M-vest, traverser of the strange interdimensional Madness between her planet Meta and Earth, minor criminal, college dropout, refugee and all-around flighty person) off on her own journey across America, in the mode of the Milligan/Bachalo Changing Man series of the ’90s.

Loma intends her journeys will go farther than that — she has a bucket list covering the whole Earth, including several things either mythological or eons-gone (like meeting dinosaurs) — but her journey turns into a quick stop in Gotham City (here entirely a stand-in for NYC, with no notable Gotham characters even appearing) and another in Los Alamos (somewhat muted; I seem to remember Milligan/Bachalo did something more pointed in their run, but I may be misremembering) on the way to Hollywood. Loma is an obsessive, and all of her love for Earth has been filtered through the ’50s TV show Life With Honey, which was a minor fad on Meta when its TV signals arrived, fifty years after it was broadcast on earth and about ten years before this story takes place.

(As a sidebar, Castellucci slyly makes it clear that Life with Honey was never a big deal for anyone but Loma. The marketing copy for the Shade books tends to take Loma’s point of view — this is the biggest hit in the galaxy! — but that very much seems not to be actually true. Loma is not a reliable narrator of anything.)

So the arc of Changing Girl turns out to be entirely about Loma chasing down the heroine of an old TV show, for her own obsessive reasons, and ending with a character reset — not unlike the multiple times that happened in the Milligan/Bachalo run, but maybe a bit more quickly. (Milligan/Bachalo ran seventy issues, with about three resets during that time.) I’m not complaining: I like seeing supposedly superhero comics focusing on obsessive, damaged people who never do anything remotely heroic or even punch anyone. I’d have liked to see Loma’s journeys have more time and space, but everything in comics these days needs to wrap up in a couple of arcs for the TPs and to make room for the next crossover, so this is probably all we ever were going to get.

Oh, and the “villains” on the Meta end do chase Loma, in a way that seems like it will be the usual mad-scientist thing, trying to Conquer The World! or something like that. It goes an entirely different way, which is amusing and welcome, but that all ends slightly rushed and uneventfully.

The art is still excellent: Sauvage’s issue in particular is a delight, in a much more comics-realistic style than Zarcone and making me think she would be awesome for a new Millie the Model or some other high-fashion book, centering on attractive women wearing attractive clothes and doing something interesting. Zarcone still works in what looks to me like a modern version of Bachalo’s Shade look from the ’90s, a nice bit of visual continuity. And Fitzpatrick’s colors are still vibrant and eye-catching, essential in a book all about “the Madness” and what it does to people.

This didn’t go as far as I hoped it would, but it has a great tone and style, and a central concern unusual in Big Two comics: about people and their connections, and (without being obvious about it) something of that what-is-the-right-thing-to-do idea that’s always so central to superhero comics.

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

By Night, Vols. 2 & 3 by John Allison, Christine Larsen, and Sarah Stern

This is the remaining two-thirds of John Allison’s attempt to see if he could reconfigure the essential Britishness of his writing and port Tackleford wholesale to its American equivalent: Spectrum, South Dakota.

(No, I don’t quite see it, either. I’m thinking some old mill town in western Massachusetts would be better, or somewhere in coastal Maine, but I am an East Coaster to begin with.)

In case that’s confusing: John Allison writes sprightly, fun stories with various levels of fantasy elements, set mostly in the English Midlands, often centering around the quirky town of Tackleford, first as a series of webcomics (Bobbins , Scarygoround , Bad Machinery , and see these posts of mine) and increasingly as floppy comics that people actually pay money for (most famously Giant Days ). A couple of years ago, he launched a series called By Night, with many Tacklefordian flourishes, set in, as I said, the distant town of Spectrum. The comic was drawn by Christine Larsen and colored by Sarah Stern, who also provided variant covers.

I covered the first collection here back in May, and now I have the rest of the story: Vol. 2  and Vol. 3  collect the rest of this twelve-issue series. So far, it doesn’t seem to have spawned a sequel.

And I still find it basically the same kind of thing as the first volume: fun, but subtly off and not quite as enjoyable as Allison’s stories set in a greener and more pleasant land. The dialogue often falls somewhere between Allisonly snappy and actually colloquial American, as if he were trying to stretch to speak in a foreign tongue and not consistently succeeding. Nothing is actually wrong here: it’s a fine adventure comic, with snappy dialogue, quirky characters, and a plot that bounces around and makes things happen. It just feels like someone trying to “do John Allison in the USA” and subtly missing the point.

So: former friends Jane and Heather have discovered a portal into a fantasy world, and of course intend to monetize that…by making a documentary film about it. (Allison is always quirky, even when he’s trying to be American about it.) This is slightly hampered, first, by their being driven out of the fantasy world by the authorities there, and, secondarily, by the increasingly heavy-handed tactics from authorities here related to the corporation that built the portal and then went bankrupt, pauperizing the town.

These two volumes feature a lot of running about, and an array of colorful characters, from drug dealers to a small green troll-like fantasy-world person, from aged (and possibly insane) scientists to salt-of-the-earth vermin-extermination working men. There are nefarious plots from both ends of the portal, surprising revelations, applied mad science, semi-random murder, and pulse-pounding board meetings.

All of the ingredients are fine, and By Night could seem really awesome to someone not familiar with Allison’s other work. (Or to someone violently allergic to anything non-American, I suppose: goodness know we do have those.) It’s not one of his best works, but that is a very minor quibble on my part — this is a better run of comics than nearly anything cover-featuring a person wearing a mask and published in the last eighty years.

I still think most readers would be better served as an introduction to Allison by diving into Bad Machinery or Giant Days (depending on their preferences), but what do I know?

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

Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

This book makes we want to get Hegelian, but I have to immediately insist that it’s not the book’s fault — I’ll overanalyze anything given half a chance, and this just happened to wander into my sights.

So, with that caveatAre You Listening?  feels like a synthesis. Tillie Walden started her comics career with shorter books and stories — which I still haven’t seen, and which may, for those who know them well, utterly shatter this idea I have — and then moved on into big books with first Spinning , then On a Sunbeam , and then Listening.

Spinning is the thesis: a memoir about Walden’s own life, growing up mostly in Texas, a girl realizing she’s queer, beginning to think about what she wants and doesn’t want in her life, focused through the lens of her decade-plus as a competitive skater.

On a Sunbeam is the antithesis: a SFnal story, set in an entirely imagined universe (one with no male gender at all, as far as the story showed, though there was, oddly, one “non-binary” person), with strange and quirky rules, and a story of first love thwarted by the universe and (more prosaically) by the fact that first loves tend to end anyway.

Last year Walden came back with Are You Listening?, a graphic novel set in real-world Texas but featuring fictional characters, about two young queer women who are not going to have any quote-unquote “relationship” with each other, a road trip on a smaller scale than Sunbeam but featuring eruptions of fantasy unlike Spinning. So: synthesis.

Walden is already an interesting and subtle graphic novelist, even this early in her career, so I don’t want to try to pigeonhole her, but I think this could be a signpost. What I hope to see from her over the next years or decades is more books like Listening: based in a realistic world but with fantasy elements, about young women (probably getting older as Walden does herself) navigating things other than just first love and coming out, who are more and more at home in their own lives as time goes on.

(We’ll see if that’s the case: Walden is clearly smart and talented enough to go an entirely different way, somewhere along the line.)

So Listening is the story of these two women and this one trip. Bea is in her late teens, and is clearly running away from her small-town home, for reasons we won’t learn for a while but are clearly powerful. Lou is almost a decade older, a small-town mechanic making a trip to visit family — but it also quickly becomes clear that she’s also running away, in the quieter way of a more settled, slightly older person who has gotten deeply unhappy with some of the major things in her life.

Along the way, they find a cat, and try to take it back to its home. Lou teaches Bea how to drive. They open up to each other, at least somewhat. And they are pursued by the mysterious, unexplained Office of Road Inquiry as they drive further and further into West Texas.

As far as I can see, that Office has nothing to do with Bea’s secrets or Lou’s restlessness. They do have an interest in the cat, though: maybe it’s the cat that ties everything together. Listening is not a story in which everything is tied up in a bow at the end — it’s the story of a few days in Bea’s and Lou’s lives. Important days, transformational days. Days where they change each other and move on in their own directions with more purpose, but just a few days.

Like Walden’s previous books, Listening is about people and their relationships. There are other things going on in her books, but the people are central and their emotions are the drivers of her books. Listening feels like it has a tighter focus than Spinning, which covered whole years and all of young Walden’s concerns, or Sunbeam, with its larger, complex cast and richly imagined universe. Walden here is bouncing two characters off each other — both of them feel like getting out, of different things for different reasons, and then throwing other complications at them to see how they react and what kind of people they are when they come out the other end.

It’s a surprisingly quiet book for a road-trip story about two women pursued by potentially-supernatural and definitely threatening entities, but surprising is par for the course for Walden so far. And surprising is a wonderful and amazing thing for any creator — even more so for someone who can put out lovely, deep books like these this often.

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

The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon by Aaron Renier

My first reaction to this book is idiosyncratic and petty; it may also come off as a minor spoiler. So flee now if you need to.

If you call your organization the “Knights” of something, it implies certain things: people chosen for specific qualities, organizational structure, a martial bent. Calling the family that survived a cataclysm “the Knights of the Waxing Moon” does not check any of those boxes, or any of the other boxes that people think of when they think of knightly orders. The family can be the equivalent of a secret society, they can keep ancient mysteries and protect the treasures of the ancients — but they are in no way knights.

But here we are, in Aaron Renier’s graphic novel The Unsinkable Walker Bean and the Knights of the Waxing Moon . It continues the story of the original Unsinkable , picking up almost immediately after the events of that book and continuing to add more complications and dangers for young Walker and his friends.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I think I liked the first one: maybe I was in the wrong mood, maybe I didn’t remember the details well enough ten years later. This time out, I kept thinking too much of Knights was vague and unfocused: the shipwrecked pirates are divided into factions, sort of, but don’t have clear leaders and also don’t seem to be jockeying to create leaders. Their goals are equally vague or unclear: getting off the island they’re shipwrecked on feels like it should be a bigger deal than it is, or there should be a “we want to settle here” faction. The aforementioned Knights are mostly just living where they live and occasionally repelling people who wander in, without any larger plans. There’s a creepy family that clearly has some goals — riches and power, most clearly — but also already has a lot of unexplained power and abilities, no clear leaders, and underpants-gnomes-levels of fiendish plots. (Send more family members to the place where our family always dies…something something…we get the secret metal that controls the world!)

All in all, Knights felt like a book with a lot of people running around in circles for a couple of hundred pages. Sure, they found some Neat Stuff, and battled over that, but why they were doing any of it was always muddy. It looks great, and the characters are interesting and specific — but the ways they interacted didn’t quite click for me. To be brutally honest, it’s like a combination of me not paying enough attention this time and forgetting what I read in the first book. This is likely what we call a Me Problem, so check out the first book if you haven’t already (and which I loved at the time), and then maybe move on to this one if you like Walker’s first adventure.

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

By Night, Vol. 1 by Allison, Larsen, and Stern

I am unabashedly a John Allison fan; I’ll say that up front. I may not have been quite as much of a long-term Allison fan as some — I discovered him around the time Scarygoround begat Bad Machinery, if I remember correctly — but I’ve been reading his stuff for a decade or two and writing about it here for nearly as long.

So if I say that his new-ish series By Night , whose first volume I just read, is slightly disappointing, I want to be clear that I mean that I am not gushing about it in the manner I usually do for Allison projects. It’s fun and zippy and quirky and interesting; it’s a good comic. It’s just not as Allisonian (at least to me) as I hoped.

So, now that I’ve just deflated the whole thing before I even started, what is this By Night comic, anyway?

Well, it’s written by Allison, as I implied. Art is by Christine Larsen (probably best known for a stint on the Adventure Time comic; possessor of an awesome website with lots of excellent art) with colors by Sarah Stern (whose website is only very slightly less awesome). It began in mid-2018 and seems to have ended with issue #12.

It’s about two young women, former friends from school who meet again in their dead-end town in their mid-twenties and go on a quirky supernatural adventure together, eventually pulling in a larger cast of oddballs from that town. So far, it sounds very Allisonian.

But the town in question in By Night is Spectrum, South Dakota, and Allison is exceptionally British. (One might even say quintessentially so.) There are other parts of By Night that made my editor’s red-pen hand twitch, but the core of my uneasiness is that Allison’s dialogue and phrasing here is often not quite American, while also not quite being as sprightly and clever as his usual. He is definitely aiming to write Americans, and it was a grand experiment…I just think that it doesn’t play to his strengths.

Anyway, Jane Langstaff is the studious, serious one and Heather Meadows is the free-wheeling wild child (as we have seen often before in Allison’s work). They meet up again in this dying town, and Heather convinces Jane to go along on her mad scheme to investigate the newly-unprotected Charleswood Estate, which was once the commercial heart of the town, back before its founder and driving force disappeared mysteriously. They go there, and discover a portal to an alternate world populated with fantasy creatures and various dangers, wandering in and out a couple of times, guided by a goofball local, and…well, that’s about it in these four issues.

I assume there’s a larger story about that mysterious founder, and probably Deep Secrets about the fantasy world, and these issues have plenty of plot, but it doesn’t end up going in ways that makes much of a story. Things happen, then other things happen, and a few more people learn about the portal — but what, if anything, any of that means isn’t clear at this point.We also don’t see much of the fantasy world; the story tends to cut away from it to go back to our world — either because Allison is more interested in the real-world end, because he’s setting up for a bigger reveal later, or just because, I can’t say.

There’s one more collection available, of the next four issues, and I expect a third will be forthcoming to finish it up. (Well, maybe I hope it will be forthcoming; from the publication schedule, I would have expected it last fall.) I plan to see where this goes; it’s not a long story, and the creators are all doing good work. So I reserve the right to later say that I’ve changed my mind, and this is just as awesome as other Allison works. That would be a nice outcome, actually: I want to love things.

If you’re less of an Allison fan than I am, I wouldn’t pick this as your entry point. Giant Days or his webcomics (which have the advantage of being free) are much better for that. But if you want to see how he handles Americans: here you go.

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

Mage: The Hero Denied Vol. 2 and/or 6 by Matt Wagner

So this is the end, huh? After thirty-some years and around twelve hundred pages of comics, Matt Wagner’s comics fantasy autobiography is done.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the earlier pieces are the two volumes of Mage: The Hero Discovered  from the mid-80s, the two volumes of Mage: The Hero Defined  from the late ’90s, and the prior collection of this 2017 series.)

Almost anything I could say here would be spoilers of one sort or another, so I will try to be vague without being totally pointless. Mage: The Hero Denied, Vol. 6  has a confusing volume number — it’s the second half of Hero Denied, and only number six of the overall series — and should encompass the lowest point of hero Kevin Matchstick and then his triumphant conclusion.

It does that, reasonably well, and gives space for the rest of Kevin’s fictional family to shine: wife Magda, son Hugo and daughter Miranda. They’re not allowed to be heroic in the same way Kevin is, perhaps because they are not comics-makers in the real world, and so can’t actually fight nasties in the metaphor the way he can. But they’re active, and useful, and not just people who Kevin needs to save — which is nice. He’s the one who has to do the important stuff, since he’s the one who looks like Wagner.

The metaphor is still very vague: I don’t think each series is meant to be about a specific comics project or time in Wagner’s life; just a transmutation of “sitting at a table writing words and drawing lines” into “wacking evil with a baseball bat just like the characters he draws.” And the Big Evil of all three series is the same: the middle book was slightly different, in a generational way, but Denied goes back to the original Big Bad. And the Big Bad doesn’t relate to the real-world end of the metaphor at all: there’s no force or entity conspiring to stop comics creators, unless it’s something universal like Death or Entropy or Watching Cat Videos Instead.

Also, at the end of this story Kevin Matchstick is explicitly done with heroing. I want to leave it vague exactly as to why, but that’s another way the metaphor diverges strongly from Wagner’s own life — his own kids are old enough to collaborate with him on comics (his son Brennan colors this book), and he’s clearly still working.

In the end, Mage is much more superhero comic than it is transmuted autobiography. It’s the story of a guy who looks like Matt Wagner but does comic-book stuff instead of creating comic-book stuff. And Wagner is not the kind of creator, it appears, that cares about digging into the wellsprings of creation to tell stories about that act: his shtick, like most of modern commercial comics, is making pretty pictures of people hitting each other until the world is saved.

So, after three stories and more than a thousand pages, Mage ends up as just decent superhero comics with a vague mythological shell and a this-is-me conceit that doesn’t go much deeper than the surface. It might still be too weird for a lot of superhero-comics fans, because they are stunted and blinkered individuals, but sucks to their assmar.

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