The Mix : What are people talking about today?

Colonel Weird: Cosmagog by Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook
0

Colonel Weird: Cosmagog by Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook

I have to admit: I continue to be amazed at just how much bread Jeff Lemire can spread with so little butter (in Bilbo’s phrase) over the course of his Black Hammer books. There’s a resolute insistence to never ever move beyond the initial setup of the story, even in this twelfth (!) collection.

Colonel Weird: Cosmagog , is, I guess, a single-character side story – looking at the previous book, Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy , I laid out a three-part structure for the books to date, but this one manages to create its own fourth category – but, more importantly, it’s a book in which absolutely nothing at all happens. [1]

Now, plenty of books can have nothing happening. Some can even have nothing happening for over a hundred pages. But doing that in a superhero story is something impressive. Cosmagog is entirely a story of Weird moping about in time and space until he remembers something we the reader always knew – but Lemire hopes we overlooked while reading this book – and then, because of that, he stops moping. 

Oh, we get moments that are new, since even Lemire can’t do without that. So we see Weird at various ages – kid Randy, crew-cut ’50s science hero, hippie ’70s counterculture hero, crazy burnout ’80s hero fighting Antigod, crazy burnout ??? hero as the “current-day” version – doing things, and he bounces among those versions of himself, semi-randomly, until there are enough pages to make this book (and, before that, the four individual issues that comprise it).

But nearly all of the things we see him do are either things we already know, like fighting Antigod or discovering the the Para-Zone. The new moments are either banal – kid Randy buys a soda! he gets bullied! – or implied by what we’ve already seen – hippie ’70s Weird floats in place and dispenses peace and love platitudes to his adoring hippie fans!

We could have seen what the hippie version did – surely he had some goofy villains, right? We could have seen how he burned out to be the wild-haired old man of the Event. We could have even gotten moments of the strong-thewed Weird reveling in his new Para-Powers to fight ’50s aliens. Weird has a lot of holes in his life-story; there’s room for a lot of stories.

But Lemire, in the Black Hammer books, seems to have an allergic reaction to stories: he avoids them whenever possible to instead pivot to showing the same few moments once again.

I’m still vague if Weird has come unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim or knows everything simultaneously like Dr. Manhattan: sometimes it feels like one, sometimes the other. Maybe it’s a Manhattan-esque cause with a Pilgrim-esque outcome; Weird is much more like the latter than the former, for one thing, no matter what he knows or how he knows it. Either way, he’s a deeply passive character from the get-go: he does very little in the best of times, and is hugely confused by all of it all of the time.

Again, making what is basically a senile old man the hero of a superhero comic is a bold strategy, and I have to appreciate that, even as I have to admit it’s not actually a good idea.

Tyler Crook draws all of that cleanly, all of those familiar remixed moments with all of those varying versions of Weird, in a bright style that makes each Weird distinct – I could swear I can even tell the difference between crazy-fighting-Antigod Weird and crazy-post-Farm Weird, which is a trick. His style is subtly different for each one: science-hero Weird often has Tintin-esque dot eyes, for example. From the credit, he seems to be responsible for the entire visual presentation: art and color and letters; it’s all him. He gets all the kudos for that; his visual storytelling is excellent here.

I don’t know why anyone would want to make this story, other than “Dark Horse is willing to pay me for another four-issue Black Hammer series; maybe I can redo the same thing one more time.” It is utterly unnecessary, and the end is faintly insulting to the reader. (Either you saw it coming, and the book is pointless, or you didn’t, and you feel attacked by such a simple trick.)

But it exists, and even further Black Hammer books exist, and my guess is that they continue to spiral ever tighter and tighter into the same few moments. And, as long as I can keep getting them from libraries, I will keep poking at them, because I find this bizarrely fascinating.

[1] Admittedly, plot has been thinner on the ground in the main Black Hammer series than one would expect, since the very beginning. If you’re interested, the first book was (of course) Secret Origins .

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

Merry Christmas, everyone!
0

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The multi-talented Ty Templeton wrote a Christmas song this year, and since it’s Christmas Eve, you get to hear it. Put this into your musical rotation tonight, enjoy, and have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Ex Libris by Matt Madden
0

Ex Libris by Matt Madden

You are reading a blog post. It is about a book. You immediately worry that this is going to be some kind of pomo bullshit, probably designed to mimic the book itself, and that the blogger thinks he’s being clever.

Reader, you are so very right.

Ex Libris  is a visually inventive but thematically vague graphic novel about comics and reading and creation and all of those things, unfortunately mostly on a very superficial level, by the cartoonist, editor, and translator Matt Madden. If it were about something more culturally impressive, I would say it smells heavily of the lamp. As it is, it smells of…what? India ink? Whatever a fresh piece of illustration board smalls like? It smells like ambition and comics and trying too hard, frankly.

We open with a person entering a room – we are the person entering the room, like a first-person shooter. Madden very deliberately avoids any identifying details – even as he provides the protagonist with a sad romantic backstory with “M.” – to maintain the sense that this person is “me,” the reader. (Madden gets more specific just before the end: I’m not sure if that’s meant to be a big reveal or just an admission that no one can commit to the bit that fully and still have the thing work.)

The person closes the door and sleeps on a futon. When “we” wake, “we” notice there is a bookcase: the only other piece of furniture in the room. Leaving the room is never mentioned; it’s not forbidden so much as merely outside the scope of possibility.

The bookcase is full of books, of course. All graphical in nature: comics and manga and bande dessinee and collections of strips and graphic novels and improving non-fiction and literary short stories and metafiction. Because comics can be any kind of story or book you can think of, of course!

Ahem. Yes. So can poetry. So can prose. So can film and TV and songs, opera and site-specific art installations. I hope we’re beyond the “Bang! Pow! Special Pleading for my favorite artform!” ’80s-style apologetic for comics, but maybe we will never get over Macho Grande.

Madden goes on from there, with a whole bunch of examples of the comics “you” are reading in this room, all of which are intrinsically connected to “your” mental state and “your” internal monologue. Unless you are thinking, “this is artistically impressive, but awfully empty,” because Madden doesn’t have an answer to that.

It is artistically impressive. Madden draws in a couple of dozen styles here, for a panel or multiple pages, and constructs inventive pages with multiple styles and quirky eye-catching devices and panels-within-panels and more complicated things I don’t have a good vocabulary for. Ex Libris would be a great book for a course about how to tell stories in comics, since it includes nearly all of the potential ways to do that.

But the story it tells is a massive, dull cliché: “you” are a frustrated comics-maker, and “you” just need to pick up the pen and tell your story!

Well, no. Not for the vast majority of people who will read Ex Libris. Not at all. Most of us like to read books, and we like the books we read to tell us something – about themselves, about the outside world, about a fictional world. We don’t much like them to harangue us to stop reading and do something else.

If you are looking for a book to inspire you to make comics, Ex Libris is your baby. If you like quirky metafiction and comics told in different styles, you’ll find a lot to like here. If you just want a story, stay far away.

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

REVIEW: Westworld: The Complete Fourth Season
0

REVIEW: Westworld: The Complete Fourth Season

I still remember being blown away by the 1973 Westworld with Yul Brenner’s android gunslinger. And when I heard Peron of Interest’s Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were adapting the concept for HBO, I was keenly interested. With expanded budgets, improved technology, and being episodic, the concepts could be more deeply explored.

The first season, released in 2016, was not at all disappointing, with its rich cast, superb acting, and fine scripts. We got invested in the humans and androids, dubbed Hosts, alike, curious to see if these machines would truly gain sentience and then what…?

Now we’re at the end of the road, which proved far more meandering and disappointing. What it means to be human, as seen through the awakening eyes of the Hosts meant we were rooting for Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve Millay (Thandiwe Newton), among others. The second season saw Delores leading a revolt, but it soon became a massacre, all the while, she sought her “daughter” Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson).

The less coherent third season brought in Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel), developer of the AI programming called Rehoboam, for Incite, Inc. It became a battle for freedom and self-destiny with sacrifices and bloodshed everywhere you looked.

Earlier this year, we received the final season, now available on disc from HBO in the usual assortments, including the 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD code combo pack.

If Dolores was the vengeful force, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) was the opposite, the Host who thought he was a man, who sought ways to coexist with man, not subjugate him. Over the course of the series their interactions were always good ones and this season didn’t disappoint.

We open seven years later, with mankind having lost the war, with Charlotte now in charge, with Serac gone. She uses a bioengineered virus to put humanity in her thrall. We then jump two decades to see what she has wrought. In a reversal of season one, Christina (NAME) begins to question her reality, learning she was created by Charlotte to write programs to maintain control over mankind. A new civil war threatens until things are revealed and a new status quo is established.

Despite some of convoluted plotting and overwrought scripting, the show continued to impress with great performances, notably Wood, Newton, Wright, and Ed Harris’ Man in Black. The supporting players led by Thompson were always up to the challenge including fine work from James Marsden and Ariana DeBose.

The 4K Ultra HD transfer is noticeably improved over the excellent Blu-ray in terms of sharpness and clarity, making this a desirable version for serious fans of the series. Similarly, the 1080p’s the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is one-upped by the Dolby Atmos audio on the 4K discs.

The Special Features identically appear on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs. These include the branded Creating Westworld’s Reality spots (all in 1080p): The Auguries (HD; 5:45), Well Enough Alone (HD; 5:27), Annees Folles (HD; 6:16), Generation Loss (HD; 4:56), Zhuangi (HD; 5:11), Fidelity (HD; 4:44), Metanoia (HD; 4:22), and Que Sera, Sera (HD; 5:03). Other features are Westworld On the Road (HD; 16:47), Westworld: An Exploration of Humanity (HD; 14:42), and Westworld‘s Temperance: A Set Tour (HD; 5:39) is a fun look at this season’s “playground”.

The series had terrif goals and lofty ideals but the delay between seasons didn’t help maintain interest and the writing never lived up to the promise. Still, this is a fitting finale and an excellent home video collection for your library.

Everything Is OK by Debbie Tung
0

Everything Is OK by Debbie Tung

I think this book was created as a single work; I think it’s something that should be called a graphic novel rather than a collection of comics. That’s not a big deal – it’s purely taxonomy – but I’ll start there.

Debbie Tung is a British cartoonist and illustrator, working professionally for maybe a decade now. From what I’ve seen, her work is often personal in that it’s about her as a person, deeply informed by who she is and where she is in life, but she’s not an inherently autobiographical cartoonist. Or maybe that’s a false dichotomy, but she seems to come from a different place than the alt-comics confessional style – all her work is specific, but most of it is outward-facing, as if she’s sharing aspects of her self that she thinks a lot of the audience shares.

She’s had short work published in a lot of places, for a number of years, and I’ve seen two of her three previous books – Happily Ever After & Everything In Between , about her newlywed life, and Book Love , which is pretty self-explanatory. (The third one is Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, which was first – I gather it’s mostly about introversion and I think it might now read like a predecessor to this book.)

Her new book this year was Everything Is OK , about depression. I think it’s telling a story from a few years back, that Tung now has some distance and can make comics about the lowest point of her life. I do think it’s true, in everything important. (No book is true in everything, no matter how hard anyone tries. The world is never that clear, that knowable.)

It’s a positive book; it even starts with positivity, as it’s about to show us Tung sad and having trouble coping with everything in her life. It’s here to say that all of these things are transitory, that life is long and worth living, and that help is always available, that everyone is worthy of happiness. And it circles that message, again and again, as Tung tells how she fell into depression, came to be diagnosed, and then got the help she needed to get out the other side. Everything Is OK never dwells on the depression; it is entirely about the title message.

It does make me wonder what OK means. Is OK better than bad but not as good as good? Does it means that it’s acceptable? Is it the bare minimum, or something more substantial?

I don’t think Tung is saying “this is fine ” here – she’s much more positive than that. But it also intersects with a song lyric that’s been stuck in my head like a koan for the past year – “I’m fine but I’m not OK.” I’m glad Tung is OK. I want to believe with her that everything is. And maybe I’m being disingenuous – she means a less expansive “everything” than I’m backing into, here. Tung’s everything is your whole life, but not your whole world. Everything you can control and or influence, but not the things you can’t.

But I’m running off into philosophy and analogy. Tung is much more grounded than I am. Her story is about a person, going through a bad time. It’s her, in this case, but it could be anyone. That’s her point: we’ll all have lows, we’ll all have bad times. And we all need to know that Everything will be OK, even at those worst moments. This is a book that does that, with clarity and honestly and an underlying sweetness. If you tend to overthink things, or get depressed, or feel overwhelmed, it just might be the message you need.

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

Tono Monogatari by Shigeru Mizuki
0

Tono Monogatari by Shigeru Mizuki

We all have expectations for certain kinds of stories – a romance will have two characters fall in love and get together by the end, a mystery will have at least one murder to be solved, an epic fantasy will have un’usual apo’strophes in the middle of words.

The first expectation is that they will be stories, formed into a narrative with beginning and end, and preferably a middle as well. But that is not always true.

Tono Monogatari  is a collection of folktales, in the first instance. An amateur folklorist collected them, a hundred-plus years ago, mostly from one tale-teller in one Japanese region, gathering all the bits of lore that one guy could tell him about the yokai and kami of the area.

And a lot of of them are not stories. There’s some “oh, yeah, one time this guy saw something!” or “and he was walking, and it was creepy!”, plus the more story-like “this thing came into town and here’s what happened.” But a lot of them are basically “yokai, man, they’re bad news – didja hear about the one that killed a guy over in that village?”

The noted manga-ka Shigeru Mizuki turned that collection of folklore into a manga – call it a graphic novel or comic, if you want to use English-language terms – late in his life, about a decade ago. It was published in an English translation by Zack Davisson (who also provides an introduction and a number of short text pieces explaining various Japanese cultural and folkloric ideas) last year.

And the Mizkui Monogatari is a fairly faithful visual version of the original book, as far as I can tell, taking the 119 tales in the original, mostly in order, and turning them into comics pages mostly directly, only adding himself as a commentary character, most often with a panel of reaction at the end of each tale. So he’ll be saying things like, “Oh, yeah, that happens all the time!”

So, the first thing to note is that Monogatari is episodic. More than that, it’s fragmented. It retells little bits of lore, some of which are in story-like shapes, about the semi-mythical creatures that people in the Tono region in the decade of the 1900s sort-of still believed in, we think, more or less. And those stories had already been retold once to put them into more elevated literary language and make them more consistent. Monogatari was edited rather than compiled; it was the product of a viewpoint and a purpose, to capture these stories before they disappeared and transmute them into the true literature of the nation. And, as I understand it, that was mostly successful: the underlying book is seen as a masterwork of Japanese literature.

Then the second thing to note is that “folklore” isn’t the same as “supernatural.” I was surprised to realize that the first batch of stories were all about yama otoko and yama onna, who are slightly larger, wild people who live (supposedly) up in the mountains and often are in conflict with “normal” people. And it goes on from there – I may be reading these tales the wrong way, but a vast number of them come across to me as “these other people, who we do not count as human, are evil and should be killed.” And putting this in historical context – towards the end of Japan’s forced modernization, in a time of resurgent militarism towards its near neighbors – gives me an uneasy feeling, as if one of the hidden purposes of Monogatari was to insist on the superiority of the rural Japanese people, the true lords of the world.

Back to the point about supernatural creatures: sure, there are some kappa near the end, and other things that are obviously powered by the supernatural. But there’s also a lot of “so I saw a woman in the woods I didn’t recognize, and killed her, so she’s totally a yama onna!”

I may be biased, but that strikes me as just pure “don’t talk to strangers” and garden-variety Othering, presented in a very stark and (frankly) bland way. I tend to like a lot more freakiness and magic in my folklore, and less “kill those people on sight.”

So I may have been a bit bored with Tono Mongatari. Mizuki tells all of this in a fun, semi-goofy way – he draws people with funny faces and in embarrassing situations a lot of the time (even when “people” means “him,” which I greatly appreciate), so he keeps it light and entertaining and amusing the whole time. He’s definitely a master, and does great work with this material. But the material feels dark and twisted at its core, in ways I’m both not comfortable with and don’t have enough background knowledge to really engage deeply with.

So keep that in mind, if this is an area that interests you. It’s not just “funny stories those rural peasants used to believe.” But, then again, folklore was never that simple, in any time or place, which may be my real point.

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

Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World by Jean-Yves Ferri and Manu Larcenet
0

Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World by Jean-Yves Ferri and Manu Larcenet

I like to think I’m flexible and adaptable – that I can figure out new things, incorporate them into my thinking, and move forward without a hitch. I’m probably wrong, though. We’re never the people we want to be or think we are.

Over the past few months, I’ve been reading more French comics by writer/artist teams – previously I’d mostly either read massive assemblages like Donjon  (which list in detail what each person does, since there are a lot of them) or single-creator works. And it’s taken me a surprisingly long time to internalize that the standard French (maybe Euro in general) credit sequence is artist-writer, the opposite of the US standard. (Colorists, on both continents, are named lower and lesser. Letterers and other folks, where they’re separate jobs, are even more variable.)

Which is to say, when the second volume of the Back to Basics series had a series of jokes based on the opposite of the actual credits of the book, I shrugged – either going along with the joke or mixed-up enough to think it was plausible – and presented it straight. (Or maybe I’m mixed up now. But I don’t think so.)

Anyway, this is a light-hearted bande dessinee series, written by Manu Larcenet – should I mention that all comics creators in the book have slightly altered, “funny” versions of their names? – and drawn by Jean-Yves Ferri, all about Larcenet’s move from Paris to the rural enclave of Ravenelles and his subsequent life there with his partner Mariette and the various colorful rural folk already living there. See my posts on the first and second books.

That brings us up to Back to Basics, Vol. 3: The Great World , in which the first Back to Basics book is finalized and published, in which Larcenet (or should I say “Larssinet;” see above) goes to a major comics show and wins “the Golden Eraser,” and in which Mariette is pregnant with their first child. (The baby is born right at the end, of course – Larcenet knows how to structure a book.)

As before, it’s all told in half-page comics, mostly six-panel grids, which tend to cluster to tell sequences. As I’ve said in the previous posts, it’s a lot like a daily comic in its rhythms and style of humor; as far as I know they weren’t serialized anywhere but they easily could have been.

This is amusing and fun, even if I seem to mostly write about which one of them does what job on the book. (That’s a silly side issue, but when you write about light humor, you grab onto anything specific and quirky to make it your shtick. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad summation of how Back to Basics works in the first place.)

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

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Vol. 1 is coming to Blu-ray and DVD January 3
0

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Vol. 1 is coming to Blu-ray and DVD January 3

LOS ANGELES – Get ready to travel among the stars for some galactic adventures with an all-new crew in Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 Blu-ray™ and DVD! Join the cool kids as they come together as a team to navigate a cosmic collision, explore new planets, and find themselves along the way in ten adventurous episodes. Go beyond each episode with never-before-seen bonus content and exclusive cards featuring key art from the series!

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 will be available on Blu-ray™ and DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment and Nickelodeon Home Entertainment on January 3, 2023, for the suggested retail price of $17.99.

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 episodes:
• Lost and Found, Part I
• Lost and Found, Part II
• Starstruck
• Dreamcatcher
• Terror Firma
• Kobayashi
• First Con-tact
• Time Amok
• A Moral Star, Part 1
• A Moral Star, Part 2

Synopsis:
Star Trek: Prodigy follows a motley crew of young aliens who must figure out how to work together while navigating a greater galaxy, in search of a better future. These six young outcasts know nothing about the ship they have commandeered a first in the history of the Star Trek franchise but over the course of their adventures together, they will each be introduced to Starfleet and the ideals it represents.

Star Trek: Prodigy: Season 1 Volume 1 fast facts:
Street Date: January 3, 2023
Audio: Dolby Digital English 5.1, French Stereo, Spanish Stereo
US Rating: Not Rated
US M.S.R.P.: $17.99

REVIEW: Peacemaker: The Complete First Season
0

REVIEW: Peacemaker: The Complete First Season

When director James Gunn took on a soft reboot of The Suicide Squad, he brought in some familiar members, some less familiar characters, and one who was, at best, tangential to the team in the comics. Yet, with a keen eye for casting, the director knew exactly who would make Peacemaker work despite his odd Pat Boyette-designed costume and weird rationale provided by co-creator Joe Gill. Christopher Smith loved peace so much he would violently assure it.

In the form of former pro wrestler turned actor John Cena, the character played it so straight that he was hysterical in an already gonzo film. Apparently, Gunn was so enchanted with the performance that he idly began writing a backstory miniseries and when he mentioned it to producing partner Peter Safran, he was encouraged to sell it. HBO Max snapped it up and it is now available on Blu-ray from HOB Home Entertainment.

The title credits alone make this having as it has become iconic and imitated.

Sifting through the DCEU and 80 years of DC Comics, Gunn cherrypicked the essential elements to tell us how Smith became the vigilante, spending much of the series exploring the strained (to put it mildly) relationship between Smith and his father (Robert Patrick), the bigoted White Dragon. Ironically, Auggie Smith designed many of Peacemaker’s helmets, each with its own attribute.

After recovering from his life-threatening injuries from the motion picture, we pick up with Smith attempting to resume his simple life. ARGUS had other ideas and forced him to accompany them on Project Butterfly, which proved to be the season-long threat with an alien lifeform that fled its dying planet and has been surreptitiously taking over seemingly thousands of Americans.

The odd team was comprised led by Clemson Mutt (Chukwudi Iwuji), Johnny Economos (Steve Agee), Emilia Harcourt (Jennifer Holland), and newcomer Leota Adebayo (Danielle Brooks), who we learn was coerced into working with ARGUS at the behest of her mother, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Everyone not only gets something to do, but each gets their moment to shine, and their interactions are delicious with sharp character writing.

The x-factor comes in the form of Peacemaker’s neighborhood friend and wacko, Adrian Chase (Freddie Stroma), who dons the Vigilante outfit but never fully grasps how serious the stakes are.

The season is a personal delight for me seeing characters I once edited on the screen in fully realized form. There are also cameos from Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller along with silhouettes of the other Justice Leaguers.

The 1080p high definition transfer captures all the color tones nicely and has no obvious flaws. The DTS lossless audio track is also just fine.

The discs come with a boatload of Special Features, mostly taken from HBO Max: Teaser Trailer (3:00), Trailer (3:00), Peacemaker and Vigilante: BFFs (2:00), The Story so Far (4:00), How to Properly Give a F*ck (1:00), Dramatic Comic Book Readings with Chukwudi Iwuji (2:00), Gag Reel (9:00), Unlocking the Quantum Unfolding Storage Area (2:00), So What do you Really Thing of Peacemaker? (2:00), Danielle Brooks Explains the DC Universe (1:40), Keep the Tweets (2:00), Dance for Peace (2:00), On the set with Steve Agee (2:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Eagly (2:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Murn (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Vigilante (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: John Economos (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Harcourt (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Adebayo (1:00), Project Butterfly Team Member: Vigilante (1:00),  Under the Helmet (3:00), Big Daddy Issues: Peacemaker’s Search for Inner Peace (5:00), and Making the World Safe for Violence: Peacemaker’s Team (12:00).

Ghost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane
0

Ghost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane

Brandt made a promise to his grandfather, when he was just a kid: come back to visit, ten years after “Oiji-Chan” dies, under a particular tree.

When you’re a kid, you agree to a lot of things like that. Adults say that something is really important, and you say “OK.” Maybe it is important, maybe you actually remember it decades later – maybe a lot of maybes.

Brandt did remember. Probably because it was a good excuse to run away; his marriage with Alice is crumbling, now that he’s in his early thirties, and the anniversary of his grandfather’s death is as good a reason as any to head back to the rural Japanese landscape where he grew up.

Ghost Tree  is about what he finds there. As the title implies, it’s not just a tree – this is a book in which there are real ghosts, and some people can talk to them and interact with them. Brandt’s grandfather is one, but there are a lot more – that tree is a place where they gather, and ghosts, as we all know, are unquiet spirits who have something left unfinished.

Brandt isn’t fazed by the supernatural; maybe he’d suspected, or maybe this is just the kind of thing he always was hoping would erupt into his life. He’s happy to talk to his grandfather, happy to talk to various ghosts and try to help them work out their problems.

But his grandfather isn’t sure, now, if this was a good idea. He now thinks he wasted his own life with ghosts – neglected his wife, Brandt’s grandmother, who is still there in their old house, now quietly taking Brandt to task for the same flaws her late husband had – and he’s worried that Brandt will do exactly the same thing, will give up the world of the living for the simpler world of the dead.

Brandt has other things drawing him to that world: not just his breaking marriage behind him, but the ghost of Arami, his teenage girlfriend, the one who got away, who died not long after he left her and Japan so many years ago. The past is always tempting, especially when it hasn’t changed. Even when it’s a ghost you can’t touch.

There are other elements of this collection of ghosts, other issues and problems and creatures. But that’s the core of it: the question of how much energy and time to give to the past and the dead, and how much to give to the living and the future.

Brandt has to make that decision, in the end. Arami has to make a different kind of decision, because this is a cosmology where ghosts aren’t trapped, aren’t lesser or echoes – just people, later on, in a different way.

Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane (words and art, respectively – colors are by Ian Herring with Becka Kinzie and letters by Chris Mowry) tell this story well, in a mostly quiet mode. Gane gives the world a lushness and depth, and Herrings’s mostly subtle colors add to that depth. Curnow’s dialogue is real and his people realistic, and he doesn’t turn any of his endings facile or obvious. There are a number of excellent moments near the end, in particular: a panel that pays off the “usually one a generation” talk earlier, and a stronger ending to the Brandt-Alice story than I expected.

This is a fine graphic novel: as it says, about “love, loss, and how the past never truly stays dead.”

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