July 27th, 2010
M is the British comic creator’s surname initial par excellence.
Neonomicon 1 by Moore and Burrows
If you’re like me, god bless you, you’ve probably got this one categorised as a bit of a tangent, an afterthought, an offshoot: something fallen or transplanted from the great bearded tree. It’s in-story atmosphere and the means of its conception, production and release are all very much off the beaten track of Mooriana – it doesn’t fit with the current counter-cultural ringmaster thing, or seek to explain the magical world of magic worlds through transcendental psychedelic (in)formalism. It’s not Promethea, it’s not AWP, it’s not the League – it just doesn’t fit the pre-‘retirement’ roadmap at all. This, you’ll then quickly realise, is exactly the point. Neonomicon’s existence performs at least two functions in this regard: firstly, it is about going back to the roots. Can you strip all of the overt Moorian signifiers out of the writing, and turn in an effective, unfussy genre piece – can you still deliver the goods when it’s not All About You? And secondly, it looks at all the baroque burlesque excess, and says: Show us why we need that. Show us what the world, show us what your mind, stripped of all that colourful nourishment, would feel like.
Allowing for that, the apparent faults – being several and glaring, and hardly worth noting one-by-one – can be assimilated comfortably by the strip in so far as they are a) stock generic devices and/or b) well established authorial tics, here flattened by over-familiarity and in-story context. The success of the issue hinges on none of this, but on the presence or otherwise of that slight pit of nausea, the uneasy tremble in the hand as you place the book back in the coffee table. The last few pages of this issue of Neonomicon are a cedrtain success in that regard, a stiff shot of clear, cold horror – Someone here clearly knows what they are doing…
Maybe two someones in fact: Burrows’ stiff, skeletal figures and flat, precise tiers, stacked grey upon grey, are like a silted rivermouth – wading through their treacherous depths saps time and energy, dragging the narrative painfully onward. Initially this deadweight lassitude is simply off-putting, but becomes in the final pages both a dramatic counterpoint to the frantic confusion of the protagonists and a poetic figuration of the threat itself. This inertia, this entropy, this crushing relentless gravity, is the subjective sense impression of the first stage of Contact. The waves of deadening, affectless pressure are the psychic and oceanic turbulence as He stirs before awakening.
Oh, and what about those guys with the armour in the interview room? Why were they so keen to cover their faces? Bbbrrr. I give this comic four shivers and a shake.
House of Mystery 27 by McCarthy
It looks fucking glorious by the way – he’s doing spectacular splash pages between this and Fever, best in the business, of course, all this goes without saying, but…:
This comic (or six certain pages of it anyway, which are kind of a standalone thing but are also apparently part of the wider issue as well, though not having read the rest of the issue I couldn’t be sure) is a PSYCHEDELIC comic. It isn’t set in 19th Century London (nitrous oxide); fin-de-siecle Paris (wormwood and anhalonium); 1980s Manchester (e’s and wizz) (cringe); the mushroom-munching European festivals of the mid-Noughties (erm, mushrooms) or time-immemorial Amazon Basin (a pharmacopeia more vast than even your comic collection blud). No, it’s set in late ‘60s Vietnam, and has an American soldier tripping in the bush, where he meets a stereotype and YAWWWWWNNNNNN oh my god so boring please someone find Brendan McCarthy a decent writer soon, one for whom ‘psychedelic’ doesn’t mean ’60s Americana’ (BMac having been guilty of feeding this impression himself in Fever, with its reliance on Ditko and the milieu he hated so much while shaping so much. You can argue, as P-Orridge and others have before, that to look back to a time that looked forward is not in itself a reactionary measure, but can provide useful progressive perspectives. I would say, while reserving the right to change my mind, that back is back, and that internet, genetics, neuroscience and global finance have changed the world so utterly since the 68ers had their moment that we are just going to have to create a new future for our children without using Nehru jackets and paisley shirts as a template. Which is a shame because fashion sometimes gets things so right that they are just too precious to be snagged on the spokes of the style-wheel as it cycles round again… those things just aren’t coming back in).
Look, here’s the thing, McCarthy is a ‘psychedelic’ artist, not because his work looks like Strawberry Alarm Clock posters, though it sometimes does, nor that the lines and colours really come alive when the reader’s Mash is definitely Off, though they do, nor even that it looks like the artist is partial to his medicine himself, though who knows or cares? It’s because, inside his work, within those panels themselves, there appears to the reader, no matter their state of chemical imbalance, to be little distinction made between what is Real and what is Imagined. Very, very simply put: inside his drawings, Dreams and Real Life look like the Same Thing. That is it. It is not about drugs or youth insurrection or the cultural landmarks and social priorities of the immediate postwar generation. It is about something far more timeless and universal, more personal and precious – it is about the space between your ears – how you live it and love in it and share it with the host of myriad strangenesses in there, and how differently identical it is to the solid world out here.
But we need to get McCarthy on a proper book soon, otherwise this little 2010 return is just going to be a blip for the biographers to explain away. What we really need, is a company he’s worked for recently, with a writer, maybe one he’s worked with before on some of the best comics in the world, on a book that is plastic enough to encompass a variety of tone and theme contiguous with the artist’s ongoing preoccupations…
Hellblazer 269 by Milligan and Camuncoli
You had this with the India arc – you get it with any Milligan story that goes beyond three issues really – but there’s a point where you can almost feel the midway sigh as the energy goes out of it, and the summoning of the extra effort that it will take to get the bloody thing written and over and done with. So it is with this issue – Shade is here now, and the build up was so exciting that it now feels as if he hasn’t got anything to do – Constantine ends up using him as a glorified Chas, cheap public transport in a natty coat. It’s not great for propelling the story along, but we haven’t seen Shade in such a long time it’s only the most churlish of readers who’s going to get cross about him just standing still and soaking up the ink for a bit, doing his crazy (no)thing.
While we were up to our nuts in blood and guts and existential terror just a couple of issues ago, Shade’s arrival has heralded a more picaresque tone, with our heroes knocking about in the pub, having little superhero battles, swapping banter and trying not to go insane, business as usual with just a pint or two, and maybe a chaser, of the lifeblood of the book having drained away. It’s fine though, an issue that’s hard to dislike, much as it is hard-to-remember all of, beyond ‘It’s got Shade in it! Woop! Nice coat! – Epiphany’s subplot gets moved along, Lenny gets some killer lines in, a couple of coppers are dealt with in hugely satisfying fashion, and, well, tell you what – go an buy this comic and look at the art, and let a strange thought creep across your mind: Maybe this book needs Brendan McCarthy less than he needs it y’know – Giuseppe Camuncoli is doing OK all by himself…
Batman 701 by Morrison and Daniel
We talk about these things sometimes, and while I am only too pleased to open the bat-room door to the rainbow beasts and space medicine and clonesons and Batmites and BatUFOs and Batdogs and all the Bat-rest of it, my contention remains that those poppy/Silver Age/ Weird/insert your preferred term here elements of the Bat-mythos are not where the true insanity lies. What strikes me as far stranger is the story of the man who ho-ho dresses up like a flying rodent and wages a war on crime using latex masks and a magnifying glass, and brassknuckles and tasers and ropes, and carries a Bataclava in his belt for emergencies, who has perfected the art of sneaking off silently because it makes his closest ally look silly, who spends entire nights unmoving atop stone gargoyles because it fits his mood, who lies for days in dumpsters earwigging the Gotham corner boys’ chatter, who spends hours hanging on to stalalgmites while being read the financial pages because if you don’t keep the finger strength up with hard practise every day then that kind of urban free-climbing just isn’t possible.
For me, the closer Batman gets to being normal, the closer the reader gets to realising just how mental the whole thing is.
Because the first thing Batman does after undergoing an ordeal Batman: RIP like is take the piss out of his beaten-up butler is neck a bowl of soup* and say ‘Hand me my submarine’. No sobbing or crying or thumb-sucking, just ‘Hand me my submarine’. Who spends three days in bed coming down from the weaponised drugs his enemies have been firing at him. And in minutes is on the videophone to Superman who’s pretending not to notice the gunshot damage on his friend’s clothes, and is all ‘Um, we need someone who can think things through…?’
This issue does have a kind of throwaway, filler, mood-piece feel to it, until six months from now when we inevitably realise that a vital clue to Dr. Hurt’s identity is hidden in plain view in this issue (by the way, my current theory is that Dr Hurt is daddy Thomas Wayne from another universe, who got knitted into ours during the Final Crisis. All that flashback on the first three pages of B&R #13 really, really happened, just not in our world – that Knight chess piece keeps cropping up, and in Moz chess = different universes overlapping) but because of all that, for all the reality-checking moments (Ellie, the annoying walk home, Alfred’s uncanny ‘he’s home’ sixth sense, their banter, breakfast, the sub, the hangover, the brood, the quick realisation and acceptance of the fact that the world might be coming to an end, again, and that maybe only he can fix it, with his own death…) this is another cool Bat-issue, no doubt about it. Batfans dig this day.
And let’s give the Daniel his due, because it wouldn’t be fair to talk about this issue and not – he’s a very different artist to what he was just one issue ago, which was itself a long way on from how he was a year or two back – the chunky, rugged, ruffled, over-muscled look he has for this issue is really nice – Jim Lee, Doug Mahnke and several other influences I’m too dumb to know all coming together at once. It fits the earthy, downtime mood of the issue while also picking up and enhancing the precarious, doom-laden undertones of the overarching story – we’ve seen what happens next, and this seems to free Daniel up a bit – he onlyneeds to communicate the feelings, not the intricate track of the plot and the essential incidental.
Sometimes, heed ye, spoiler worriers, knowing how a story ends just gives the middle bits a chance to breathe.
(*The batboys like their food spicy, because they are boys, and because spice makes you tough. Next time they go to the UK, I would like to see them have dinner at Cyril & Beryl’s because I hear the raffish Earl of Wordenshire does a mean, superhot curry – oh yes, I would dearly love to read Knight Fahl…
…sorry. Honestly though, the ‘Rogan Gosh’ pun I was going to try and crowbar in would have been even worse.)