Election Night Reviews Special – Hellblazer #266, Joe the Barbarian #4, Nemesis #1, Who Won’t Wield Captain America’s Shield
May 6th, 2010
No brains out of 5.
Hellblazer #266 by Peter Milligan and Simon Bisley
The Conservatives are coming!
Those words, the most truly terrifying any Briton with aspirations to humanity can possibly hear, are the impeccably timed coda to this, Migs’n’Biz’s latest 2-part shockah. It’s really quite brilliant, as near to the platonic ideal for a Hellblazer comic as you’re going to get, ever. Constantine as an aging occult chameleon, dusting off the punk character armour for one last (we pray) acid gob in the face of the oldest enemy. As a route to permanent rejuvenation of the character it’s quite promising, get him out of that nasty old mac (because they’re becoming in a left-bank kind of way quite fashionable again) and into dandy of the underworld drag rags, psychic hazmat suits for dangerous experiments in deep topography, strangling resurgent NFluent monsters back into death with a feather boa around the throat. A shame then that the issue ends with a disavowal of all that, rejecting that studenty activist ponce-sense, in favour of brass tacks Mirror-reading cynicism, the whirl of the 21st century now reasserting itself over the recurrent malignancies of the recent past, next month’s mortgage, that bloody big TV and the right to a sane, secure self the only political imperatives. Ultimately Constantine, old and broken many times over, bottles it like the Reading crowd watching Fiddy Cent. We can forgive him though, his return to self-contemplation, chipping ash into his navel, because next month:
Joe the Barbarian #4 by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy
How to Doom Patrol for kids: There’s a moment where the crazy-talking horse-skull doctor takes her head off, oh no it’s just a helmet after all, these are real things, with romance and heartache and everything. Grounding this kind of fantasy, creating that instant sustainable ecology of verisimilitude, or the failure thereof, is why I rarely like this kind of thing. Yes yes, but what do the flying monkeys do when they’re not chasing Dorothy? Who cleans out the poo? Who fetches the bananas and irons the red jackets? I shouldn’t care, but I do. Morrison does a trick here as smart and seemingly effortless, and oddly isomorphic to Murphy’s drawings – something suspended in the middle, and coming in from the left – creating a sympathetic reality for these unsugary hallucinations with a few simple lines of dialogue. It works as well as the close figuring of the house with Joe’s interior landscape, the physical structure of the house above the ground beneath your feet becoming, and this is probably the point, more and more an echo of the mind, instead of the widely assumed reverse. Joe’s physicality is stretching towards death (though not towards non-being – those emphasised Malkuth crosses and the implied grey meat below them in issue 1 are becoming more meaningful the further we get from them), and the psyche is swelling to fill the absences left behind by the retreating sensory world, asserting itself as the quasi-totality we too often ignore.
Suggest coming back to Joe the Barbarian in a year or so and looking at it very, very closely. It’s the new The Filth, and you heard that here first.
Nemesis #1 by Mark Millar and Steve Austin, or someone.
Mark Millar, apologies to those of you who’ve heard me say this elsewhere recently, does ideas that are so obvious no-one else would be ballsy enough to do them. And does them. And becomes, rich, famous, stunningly handsome. So he rips off Fantomasmex, quite possibly inspired by the neat, old-skool supercop v. supervillain dynamic plot-core of the Death Note global pan-media sensation (subtracting the emoic supernaturality of it along the way), and adds his usual Bruckheimer-plus gloss. This, let the naysayers say nay elsewhere, I have no time for them right now, is a damn fine idea, and done with Millar’s usual assurance could be the action spectacle of this fighty new decade. Usual assurance? Have you drunk a dirty pint, one with that nast pipe-cleaning agent taste in it, this week? Why yes I have actually, and you are right. The usual assurance is actually wild tonal inconsistency, where we go from ultraslick, neatly timed and sharply executed super-action staging to an unfortunate (yes inevitable, the sanity in me says) tip towards the bathetic in the last handful of pages.
The thing is, a world where the President gets captured and executed on TV is a world I want to read about, but that world instantly becomes more interesting than the Diabolik rehash, and requires a different finesse, a whole different genre even, to explore. I would happily read the neo-cape dastard story, and I would happily read about the world where the superpower’s power is eclipsed by a strange and special loner. But I just know, because I have been thrilling myself off over Mr Millar’s comics for an embarrassingly long time, that he will not be able to pull off both books at once. This neat idea becomes a crap, overpriced prize, like the ones you win, several squid later, on the pier. They’re not kite-marked for safety you know, keep away from the children.
Steve McNiven, not Austin that’s it. Steve Austin’s that wrestler, that’s right.
Or (Hey!) was I more right before (Eh Readers?)
Who Won’t Wield Captain America’s Shield? By Matt Fraction and Brendan McCarthy
(I mean, and some other guys too – good luck to you if you were able to read the Forbush Man and Deadpool stories. Write a review of them or something, let me know how they went.)
Did you know: References to The Professionals or Jamie and his Magic Torch or Crystal Tips and Alister or Dempsey and Makepeace or kebab shops or Bernard Matthews or The Milky Bar Kid or Rothmans Royals or the Daily Star or Spangles or Razzle or all the rest of it, you know what I mean, old telly of the analogue variety and/or what we might call ‘newsagent culture’?
None. Pas une sniff. This, with heavy heart, is the most surprising thing about this comic. A nation mourns, for all sorts of reasons.
The problem is analogous, I suppose, to the challenges faced by wannabe comedians in the very early 1990s, faced with the looming spectres of Eddie izzard’s raised by wolves and monkey is in the tree sketches, and a nation chortling uncontrollably to the mere words ‘What’s on the end of the stick, Vic?’ The astute aspirant would perhaps – no blame to him for this, by the way, totally understandable – internalise the surface tics and quirks, the ‘random’ and ‘surreal’ elements, and try to reproduce them for the audience now begging for more of the same. But the funny, that sort of funny anyway, just wasn’t in their bones. They could fake it, and secrete mucal quids of fame and money from it, but it wasn’t really there. I remember there were plenty of them, in real life, stand-ups whose stories just trailed into forgettable incoherence who were all…
and then tried to redeem themselves by going ‘Remember The Banana Splits? Weren’t they weird?’ I do something similar myself now, and all over this review post.
Did you see what I did there? I’m not sure if I really did do it actually, it was a last-minute idea, just…
Intertextual. Self referential. Meta. Irony. Lolkittenz. The full pomo arsenal brought to bear. The result?
‘The art looked nice!’ he smiled, weakly. ‘They call this style “Vote-Fi!”’
To the streets, Kumrades! Remember Athens! Remember Alderaan!
(written by Bobsy, shame, posted by someone else, thanks)