Tagged: Science Fiction

Hedra by Jesse Lonergan

Hedra by Jesse Lonergan

My skills as a reviewer don’t line up well with this book’s strengths, so this may be a mess. I apologize up front.

Hedra  is an Eisner Award-winning short wordless graphic novel by Jesse Lonergan from 2020, and I’m mostly a words person. It uses grids in a really interesting way, breaking up pages – especially at the beginning – into escalating arrays of little boxes, and masterfully leading the eye through complex layouts throughout its length. I usually write about what comics mean, but I don’t think I can do that here – I’ll have to instead just say what I see.

We open with a limited nuclear apocalypse – I say “limited” because we immediately see things rebuilding afterward. Some government builds a starship, and picks an astronaut to fly it. That is our main character: I assume her name is Hedra. (The title could mean something else, I suppose: maybe the name of the ship, of the other major character who shows up later, of the planet they investigate, or something even less likely. But let’s assume it’s our main character.)

She explores various worlds, presumably sending data back home. She’s clearly diligent and good at her work. And then she sees a giant robot (this is my assumption – it’s huge and humanoid and made of metal) flying through space, and follows it or coincidentally lands on the same planet next.

We see her exploring this world in more detail, and the giant robot doing the same, somewhere not too far away. We also see the planet’s inhabitants, who are hostile to the giant robot. (I guess we’re supposed to think of them as evil or enemies, but if a giant robot landed and started stomping around my planet, I don’t think my response would be all that happy.) Hedra finds the robot, and helps him escape the locals. Both flee this planet.

Now, here’s something I might have gotten wrong, or misunderstood. I thought the giant robot was roughly the same size as Hedra’s ship – i.e., substantially larger than she is. But when they flee, they’re the same size. Did one or the other of them change size through some skiffy mechanism? Or did I just misunderstand their initial encounter? (Is it just the locals who were tiny?)

Anyway, they fly off together, without Hedra’s ship, off to the robot’s home planet, where Hedra has a minor transformation of her own, and a substantial change in her mission going forward. We end with a very science-fictional iris-out.

Hedra is interesting and eye-catching and full of things to think about, told brilliantly through pure comics. I haven’t seen Lonergan’s comics since the very different (but also very good) All-Star  a decade ago, but I’m glad to see he’s still out there working, making great (and, I should mention, very Moebius-inspired) works like this one.

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

Black Hammer: Visions, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire’s friends

Black Hammer: Visions, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire’s friends

My standard complaint about the Black Hammer comics is that they’re mostly static, locked into an initial premise that wasn’t all that exciting to begin with. I suppose that’s in distinction to “real” superhero comics, which rely on the façade of change – someone is always dying, someone’s costume is always changing, someone is always making a heel-face turn, and worlds are inevitably always living and dying so that nothing will ever be the same – but it’s not self-reflective enough to count as irony.

But some kinds of stories aren’t supposed to change anything – the whole point is that they don’t, and can’t, change the things we already know. Jam comics by entirely different creators tend to fall into that bucket: they’re sometimes “real” and sometimes not, but even if they’re canonical, they don’t push the canon in any direction.

Black Hammer: Visions, Vol. 1  is a book like that – it collects four of the eight issues of the title series, each one of which was a separate adventure, by an entirely different team, set in the Black Hammer-verse. It’s all sidebar, all “I want to do this story” by people who will do only one Black Hammer story and this is it. So it’s self-indulgent in a somewhat different, more inclusive way than the main series.

Since the four issues here are entirely separate – and half of them have no credits within the stories themselves, making me wonder what comics editors do with their time if they can’t handle the most basic parts of their jobs – I’ll treat them each in turn.

Issue 1 has a story, “Transfer Student,” written by comedian Patton Oswalt and drawn by Dean Kotz, which is supposedly about Golden Gail but really is a light retelling of Dan Clowes’s Ghost World – I’m 99% sure Oswalt knew it was a comic first, and not just a movie – in the context of the pocket universe. This is pleasant and well-told and has decent emotional depth, but… We the readers know that the Enid character can never get out of this town: there’s nowhere else to go. She can’t go to college, find new friends, and have a different world to fit into. She is stuck in small-town hell, in the background of someone else’s depressive superhero story.

Oddly, the narrative doesn’t seem to know this. And that knowledge makes the reading of this story a substantially different experience than I think Oswalt wanted: this is a dark, depressing story with bone-deep irony, saying one thing and meaning the exact opposite.

The second issue sees Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins bring us “The Cabin of Horrors!”, a Madame Dragonfly-hosted horror tale. It features what could have been the sensational character find of 1996, Kid Dragonfly, and a nasty serial killer getting his comeuppance. This one feels the most like an actual random issue that could have been part of a larger comics line at the time – well, more like a Secret Origins retelling, cleaning things up maybe a decade later, but still in the same vein.

It’s a perfectly acceptable horror/superhero comics story, entirely professional and hitting all of its marks.

In the third installment, Chip Zdarsky writes and Johnnie Christmas draws “Uncle Slam,” the obligatory “I’m too old for this shit” story. The person too old for the shit is of course Abraham Slam; that’s been his main character note for the entire series. Here, he’s sixtyish, retired, running a gym and dating a woman who I think is meant to be a little younger than him but looks childlike (much smaller, very thin, drawn with a young face). But of course a new, more violent hero “takes his name” and he Has To Stand Up for Punching Evil the Right Way (Without So Much Death), which goes about as well as it ever does. He does not die, since he’s a superhero-comics protagonist, but other people do, and he loses a lot. The ending tried to move away from And It Is Sad, and would have been OK if this were a standalone story, but we know Abe gets back into the costume like five more times after this point, so it’s mostly pointless.

And in the last of these stories, Mariko Tamaki (of all people!) tells a story with Diego Olortegui art that I don’t think has a title. It’s a fun bit of metafiction, with our core heroes seen in multiple universes, as the viewers of and characters in and actors behind a popular TV show, with different relationships and interactions on each level. It is amusing, a fun exercise in moving the chess pieces around in unexpected but pleasant ways, but it doesn’t really turn into a specific story – it’s just a sequence of riffs on these characters and their interactions.

On the other hand, that’s the most successful and interesting thing in the book, so I can overlook the not-going-anywhere aspects.

So: all in all, it’s amusing and is pretty much what you would expect – random quirky takes on these characters and situations by other people, who each get to have one good idea for this setting and then go back to their real careers.

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

Reset by Peter Bagge

Reset by Peter Bagge

I’m running close to a decade behind reading Peter Bagge’s books – but, the weird thing is, I seem to still be reading all of his books, just with that big time-delay. I have no explanation, and may catch up one of these days: cartooning is time-intensive work, and even someone as prolific as Bagge doesn’t pile up books the way a prose writer like Stephen King or Nora Roberts does.

That’s as close to a reason why I read his 2012 miniseries/2013 graphic novel Reset  here at the end of 2023. As usual, I find bits of the worldbuilding to be weird, especially in retrospect: maybe because of the things Bagge needed to create this story, maybe because I fundamentally don’t agree with his assumptions about life and society in general.

Bagge’s worlds are full of mildly updated ’50s gender-essentialism: men are hot-headed and often physically violent, because They Are Men and the World Is Frustrating. Sometimes they are divided into the smart ones (effete, tentative, too weak for this world, typically wearing glasses) and the strong ones (stupid as a post, addicted to incredibly counterproductive ideas, full of zeal and energy for all the wrong things, typically wearing mullets). Women are sneaky, vindictive shrews who you (the reader, who is of course a man) can never trust and who drive you (ditto) crazy all the time, and usually won’t even let you fuck them! (Not that you want to: damn harpies! But a man has needs!)

This time out, the man is Guy Krause, right in the middle of that Bagge male stereotype: we meet him in a mandated traffic-safety class, where he was forced after a road-rage incident. Krause is a minor celebrity, a former stand-up comedian turned movie actor, maybe B or C-list at best but recently hitting a stretch of bad luck and bad breaks.

The woman is Dr. Angie Minor, who meets him in that class – with ulterior motives, we soon learn – and recruits him for a research project.

That project is not what it seems to be, of course. And Bagge seems to be interested in yet a third aspect of the project, which makes the book a bit lumpy and thematically jumbled. But let me start with what it seems to be.

Angie is working for an unnamed company, developing a fancy new VR headset and associated software program. They claim not to know what they’ll use it for yet, but they can create a Choose-Your-Adventure version of a subject’s life, after some serious, presumably expensive research, to build the world-model. (Anyone who understands capitalism will have warning bells ringing in their heads at this point: there’s no plausible product here aside from maybe masturbatory fantasies for billionaires.)

So Guy will be put in a chair with this headset and some fancy electrodes and relive important moments of his life, while Angie and her tech, Ted, monitor him to find out…something they’re unclear about. The title comes from the fact that Guy has one control, a button that pops him out of the simulation and resets it back to the base state: the beginning of this particular scenario.

It is also the big honking metaphor at the center of the book, of course: what would you do if you could live the important moments in your life over? If you could Reset, what would you do? Bagge runs away from this idea almost immediately; it doesn’t fit his plot and his tech is too crude to really be believable to the user.

Ray is both a bad subject – headstrong and unwilling to be led and obnoxious (did I say he’s a Bagge main character yet? I may be repeating myself) – and the only possible subject for this custom bespoke simulation based entirely on his life, which seems really weird and becomes the obvious Chekhov Gun looming over the whole book. And, yes, the real explanation of Angie’s research comes into it – though Bagge never gives any adequate explanation of why Guy was chosen, aside from the very weak initial “you’re famous enough that it was easy to research you” one, which is only plausible if they sign up the subject before doing the research.

The plot is more about what’s really going on and less about Ray’s re-living his life, though I think Bagge wants the core of this story to be what Ray learns. (He does re-connect with a girl he had a crush on in high school, for example.)

Again, in a Bagge world, everyone is selfish and horrible and unpleasant – occasionally not all that bad to specific other people that they like, at that moment, but you can never count on that. So people yell at each other, act out, ramp up the experiments, maliciously comply with instructions, and much more. We do find out the secret reason for the project in the end, and it’s dumb and vague and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that that would lead to this.

So it’s a Bagge book: full of talky, angry people with rubber-hose limbs gesticulating at each other, spitting fire, yelling, and so on. I don’t have an overly sunny view of humanity, I think, but even I think he can be a bit much. This one is amusing and doesn’t have any unpleasant background assumptions (unlike Apocalypse Nerd , for example); it’s somewhat lumpy but generally moves well and is full of amusing Bagge stuff. Maybe not top-tier Bagge, but pretty close: good, almost current work from a creator who is like no one else. If Bagge seems interesting, this is a decent one to dive into, though Hate is still the core.

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.

Look by Jon Nielsen

Look by Jon Nielsen

Artie is a cute little robot in an apocalyptic, post-human landscape, roaming through a desert on Earth with a single job, that, frankly, seems a bit pointless. He has one friend, another robot, who pushes him to learn and discover more about his world, to break out of his programming, and to save something important.

I had to check the dates on Jon Nielsen’s graphic novel Look , because the parallels with the Pixar movie Wall-E were so obvious that I wanted to believe this was from the late ’90s and it was all parallel development. But no: this is a 2017 joint, so, unless I assume Nielsen (a fairly prominent web cartoonist) was living in a media-free cave during the Aughts, those parallels must be built-in, part of some plan.

Look is not officially a book for young readers, but it’s tone is very middle-grade and it’s entirely kid-friendly; I expect it has already found its way into a lot of school GN collections. And that means being similar to a twenty-year old movie might not be a problem. Ten-year-olds don’t know automatically which robot story came first, or have a deep knowledge of robot stories to begin with (oh, some ten-year-olds will have a deep and abiding passion for robot moves, or any other random thing, definitely) – or care.

Back to Artie. He’s the guy on the cover. His job is to circle a desert, endlessly, looking for something. Accompanying him, with a history we don’t know at first, is the vulture Owen – who, quirkily, seems to have a problem remembering things, like a different Pixar character.

The story here starts when Owen goads Artie into breaking his routine, going to The Village to talk to “Mr. Hew” (who turns out to be a wise old turtle – oh, and this may be a minor SPOILER, but every last character in this book is actually a robot, even if they look biological). Artie has realized that he doesn’t know what he’s looking for in the desert, just that he’s looking for something, and would like some more direction.

Mr. Hew doesn’t know what Artie is looking for either, and sends him to The Factory. Artie turns out to be defective – that should probably be in quotes; but you know what I mean; you’ve seen stories like this a thousand times – and the large scary robots at The Factory try to reprogram him to forget everything he’s learned and destroy his emergent personality.

Artie gets away, with Owen’s help. They head out of the desert to see what else is in the world. And then the rest of the plot happens; I won’t go into all of the details. It follows the path I mostly expected, though with some quirky surprises (ecological messages, sure, but a functional city portrayed positively?) and the requisite happy ending.

This is pleasant and zippy; Nielsen draws with thin crisp lines and gets a lot of life into the body language of his robots. It is a story pitched at that Pixar or kid-GN level, so don’t expect deeper insights or more complexity than that. But it’s just fine on that level, if possibly just a bit second-hand and familiar to an adult.

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

The Unbelievable Unteens by Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook

The Unbelievable Unteens by Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook

I’ve never created superhero characters. [1] So I could be talking out of my ass here. But I don’t think there’s anything inherent in the form that requires new work to slavishly follow the models of previously created universes, so that even the slowest reader can point to the models and get it.

I could be wrong, as I said. It certainly looks like that is absolutely required, because it happens every damn time.

The Black Hammer universe , as created by writer Jeff Lemire and his various collaborators, has been incredibly derivative from the jump, and I have to believe this is very, very deliberate. Lemire could write about people in fanciful wedgie-inducing costumes that are not immediately reminiscent of the comics he read in the ’70s and ’80s, so he must be doing it – over and over again, relentlessly – on purpose.

The Unbelievable Unteens  is the X-Men rip-off. OK, maybe there’s a bit of Teen Titans in the DNA, too, but not much. This 2022 collection gathers the four-issue series of the same name, plus the Free Comic Book Day story from 2019 “Black Hammer Presents…Horrors to Come” (co-written by Lemire with Ray Fawkes, with art by David Rubin). I think that FCBD story has already appeared in another collection, since it was very familiar.

The other big touchpoint of Black Hammer is nostalgia, as required in any derivative superhero story. So these are not stories about original heroes in a modern world, but instead stories about Not-That-Guy (for purely copyright reasons) in Almost-That-Story, from Back When You Were Young And Life Was Wonderful. Some of the stories specifically look back, and some are set in the past as a look back. But the creative eye never ever looks forward, or even to anything demonstrably modern.

So Unteens is a story set in the late ’90s, where the Unteens are a fictional superhero group, written and drawn by Jane Ito. But! They were actually real, an actual ’80s superteam, and Ito was one of them! A shocking revelation from her past will bring her face-to-face with her old teammates, and they must revisit Their Darkest Hour to save One Of Their Own from the horrible fate she’s been in for roughly a decade. (I suppose I should give Lemire half-credit for a story that obviously references The Dark Phoenix Saga but actually has a different plot.)

This story is shorter and more direct than most of the Black Hammer-verse pieces, which made the end feel rushed and perfunctory. Previously, the sidebar stories have been more complex and interesting – they were actually stories instead of exercises in keeping the core cast in pretty much exactly the same situation while giving the illusion of Massive Events Unfolding. (Wait: didn’t I already say this was a derivative superhero series? I hate repeating myself.)

As always, Black Hammer stories are professional, populated with realistic people who talk like human beings and have human concerns that sometimes even are important to the plot. The giant wodges of standard superhero furniture are dull and obvious, but they’re the point of the exercise, so I have to assume they are not dull and obvious to the target audience. Given that this one was shorter, and possibly rushed to a conclusion, I wonder if even that target audience is beginning to tire of the endless exercise.

I suppose I can live in hope, as always.

[1] Well, not seriously. My friend group in college made up jokey superhero versions of ourselves, and I was 5-Man, with the incredible power to control anything in a group of five, inspired by a random shirt I had with a giant athletic-jersey-style 5 on the chest. I think we made up other characters not based on ourselves, too, and maybe some villains. My other main contribution to superherodom was the previously mentioned String Boy . We were all very fond of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, at least as a model for character creation, which may explain some of it.

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.

Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice! by Jeff Lemire, Michael Walsh & Nate Piekos

Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice! by Jeff Lemire, Michael Walsh & Nate Piekos

In the life of every licensed superhero comic, there will come an especially blessed day: Baby’s First Crossover.

This, my dear hearts and gentle people, is that blessed event for the unnamed super-team of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer comics. [1] (See here for the previous volume and here for the first volume, if you’re unfamiliar.) Oh, you may quibble that they have already met quite a lot of other superheroes and villains, fighting and teaming up and generating a lot of Licensable Content. But all of those previous encounters were from Lemire’s universe as well; those calls were all coming from inside the house.

For the first time here, someone else deigned to have a play-date with Black Hammer, to let their toys play with the Black Hammer toys, to touch the dolls’ faces together to make them kiss. Those heroes are the current Justice League, the someone is DC Comics, and it is a bit like Barbie and GI Joe in the hands of an hyperactive eight-year-old.

The story is Black Hammer/Justice League: Hammer of Justice!, possibly the laziest possible title for this story. (The exclamation point might have taken a moment of thought; thus the “possibly.”) It’s written by Lemire with art by Michael Walsh and colors by Nate Piekos; I imagine someone on the DC side kibitzed editorially to keep the JL on-brand as well.

Amusingly to me, the Black Hammer gang are still their core ’80s incarnations while the JL is the current (I think) modern incarnations. Sure, separate universes don’t need to line up their timelines exactly, but wouldn’t it be more fun if Lemire had used the contemporaneous bwa-ha-ha era League? Or, possibly even better, the Detroit League? Ah, well.

In any case, the plot is the usual: a Mysterious Someone appears to both teams in their normal milieu (the BH gang grumping on the farm; the JL punching Starro) and swaps their places for making-mischief reasons. In a twist that is never explained, the JL immediately believe they’ve been on the farm for ten years, and mope about that, but the BH gang are aware of actual reality and spend most of their time squabbling with other Justice Leaguers.

The plot from there is…well, there’s that squabbling and moping, which takes up a lot of pages, then the inevitable Reveal of the Mysterious Someone, which is played up big but is one of the few obvious candidates and doesn’t really lead to anything, then, finally, as the play-date is ending, all of the dolls need to go back into their respective boxes separately, so they can stay in mint condition for the collector’s market. Lemire does throw out what may be a hook for another story, but it would need to be another DC Crossover, so let’s hope he gets good grades in school and does all his chores, so maybe there will be another play-date.

At the end of the book, we get what seems to be thirty pages of variant covers for the five issues of this miniseries, and I have nothing coherent to say about that.

I cannot take a single thing about Black Hammer seriously for a second, even while reading it. It is so deeply pastiche that there’s nothing substantial about it. If you are less cynical about superhero comics than I am, you may enjoy this on a more normal level. But it’s well-done – the characters talk like human beings and are drawn in a solid modern style – so it amusing on whatever level you can connect to it on. Black Hammer is not bad; it’s never been bad. It’s just deeply pointless and creepily incestuous.

[1] Black Hammer was a guy; he’s dead now. His daughter later becomes the new Black Hammer, and another woman who looks very much like her becomes another version a hundred years later. And I think there was one before the main guy, but Lemire hasn’t told any stories with the old dead one yet. This is superhero comics; names are just trademarks, and trademarks have to be used or they will be lost.

The team, on the other hand, has no trademark, no identity, since they’re drafting on the Black Hammer name and it’s far too late to create something new now, ten books in.

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

Bionic by Koren Shadmi

Bionic by Koren Shadmi

Victor is a geeky teenager, mildly bullied by the jockish types at his high school – but also smart and skilled enough to be rebuilding old game consoles to make a serious side income. He’s obsessed with Patricia (Patty), who is gorgeous and rich and blonde, in the way of a million boys before him, and has about as much chance as they do.

Maybe less of a chance, since I’d estimate nearly 5% of the panels of Koren Shadmi’s graphic novel Bionic  are of Victor looking at something, usually Patty, and if he’s not gaping open-mouthed and frozen every time, well, he’s close to it. This is very much a book from the point of view of a tentative young man who doesn’t know what to do, what to say, or even what he actually wants. It’s full of moments of Victor’s confusion and indecision and longing and desire: those moments are the core of the book.

There’s more to Bionic than that, of course, as the title and cover imply. Victor and Patty have an almost-relationship: they sit together for at least one class (this isn’t clear) and he adopts a pet from the shop where she works. That’s probably where it would have stayed, with Victor whining to his friend Gus about his crush and Patty getting deeper into her relationship with probably-not-as-much-of-an-asshole-as-he-seems Brian.

But then something happens.

Patty’s father is CEO of a tech company, and…you see that cover? That’s Patty, after the something that happens. Hence the title. She’s suddenly not as popular as she was: Brian isn’t interested in a half-robot girl, and her former BFF is now a queen bee angling for him and being casually cruel to Patty. But, then: these are all teenagers. They are casually cruel in any case, all of them, almost all of the time. Maybe they will outgrow it eventually, some of them.

There are other layers, but that’s the core: cruel teenagers, body transformation, sexual desire, with a bit of technological and capitalist paranoia lurking around the edges. Victor and Patty are both difficult people to like: Victor is horribly passive and whiny; Patty is oblivious before her change and horribly moody afterward. This could have been the story of how two imperfect people helped each other, but that’s not the story Shadmi wants to tell here: it’s much more conventional than that, with Patty as the figure of lust (in spite of her bionics? or, for Victor, even more so because of her bionics?) and Victor as the perpetually yearning horny teen boy.

There are a lot of conventional elements here, I have to admit. I haven’t even mentioned Patty’s relationship with her father, which checks off a couple of clichés by itself. The SF elements are equally as shopworn as the teen-crush plot, though both are handled subtly and well. But if you think you’ve seen this story before, you probably have – it’s that kind of story.

Shadmi has a soft art style, mostly mid-range colors (maybe with colored pencils?) over mostly thin, not overly dark lines. His people are a bit cartoony: the boys, especially the geeky boys, more so than the girls. Or maybe I mean the attractive people are less cartoony.

I don’t think Bionic is as new or different or interesting as perhaps it wanted to be, or thought it is. But it’s a solid story, set in the intersection of teen-drama and SF, that uses its familiar elements solidly and has a lot to admire.

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