August 23rd, 2010
Of course, neither myself nor anyone writing inside the walls of this blog are going to have a problem with nonsense, be it outright nonsense, stupid nonsense, or nonsense for nonsense’s sake. It’s a Marvel comic, nonsense is what it does best, and it is the best there is at what it does. But what about nonsense mad enough to think it’s Important? Or nonsense sane and brittle enough to knows it’s nonsense but try to pass itself off as Important? Are both of those things not high art crimes?
Shield #3 by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver (Marvel)
This book has its fans, who will love this because it renders unto these Fans a vivid and energetic Service. A ‘Fan Service’, if you will (if those fans are fans not only of the the mighty Marvel manner but also of cheap readings of Renaissance and Enlightenment history). These mysterious Fans of the Dan Brown/superhero genre-hopping funnybook (because no-one demanded it!) are in extreme danger of Missing The Point, especially in regard to the Da Idiot Code stuff – the reason these alter-history bestsellers work is because they offer unusual insights into the function of the historical consensus. Destabilising the grown-up world’s memory of itself, exposing its partiality and reminding the powerless that history is a nightmare that can be woken from, is fun because of the way its stories change the backdrop of our everyday reality.
Changing the backdrop of the Marvel Universe isn’t fun in the same way, not because there aren’t people out there who don’t interact with it as seriously as they do with the real world out here – there are probably some who love Pete Parker’s crazy old aunt even more than their own – but even they would hopefully recognise that the history of the Marvel U is already totally mutable, prone to constant revision and insertion. Changes in the way we view history take even longer to change than history itself. Changes in the way we view Marvel’s history have never taken any longer than the width of a single panel of comic page.
Therefore, to place these universes side by side for easy comparison, that Newton was an alchemist is intriguing because it provides a new perspective on the evolution of science, and how two apparently differing worldviews can exist side by side. That Newton was a supervillain isn’t very intriguing, because that Newton exists in a place where everyone is either a supervillain or a superhero, and the fact that the former was chosen probably says more than it should about the way certain debates surrounding science and theology are currently being framed in the USA than anything about how a real live historical man who single-handedly overhauled our species’ knowledge of the universe should have his name thrown around by a modern fighting comic.
With these issues solidly unresolved and leaving a great big dialectical gap in its conceptual undercarriage we just get a printpresspunk superhero comic whose scenes never quite connect with each other, with the real world, with its own fictional context, with anything at all really. Further hindered by overly fussy art that emphasises the book’s unappealing habit of making portentous and pious melodrama out of silly spectacle, Shield needs to smoke a cigar and connect with its inner Fury pretty damn quick.
Age of Heroes #4 by Elliott Kalan and Brendan McCarthy (Marvel)
(There are actually two strips in this comic – one of which is a nice, coffee-shoppy two-pager by Joe Casey and Nathan Fox which makes a pleasing and timely call for the repositioning of the concept of the supervillain, something which has been somewhat overlooked in the past ten years of ever-greater inspection and valorisation of their more heroic counterparts.)
The other one, well, I don’t know about this one, so I’m going to have to ask… Is it a bit racist? I don’t know enough about how Native American peoples are currently faring in the USA’s social discourse. I presume there’s plenty of talk if you look for it about the way NA cultures interact with whitey’s, and hopefully this story makes its contribution, feeding into those debates without pissing on anyone’s moccasins too cruelly.
I’m just trying to frame this story’s last panel in a way that makes a bit more sense to me personally. I haven’t got much material to go on, but imagine that Aucaneck is an old Kerryman, who has substituted his household shrine’s picture of the Madonna with one of Billy Orange (hence the pic of the plank above, an easy one for Paul Cornell’s much-anticipated 100 British supervillains, by the way), or Olly Cromwell (‘forget the famines and military attacks on the civilian populace, he was a great parliamentarian and that’s good enough for me’), or Captain Britain even… Yeah, it would be kind of offensive, wouldn’t it?
Captain America isn’t Uncle Sam, after all. He doesn’t represent America as such, he represents American militarism, a very specific (and enormously unappealing) subset of the nation-state’s overall character. Maybe the reading needs to be taken a bit further though – look at Auckaneck’s asshole Christian son. Maybe he’s supposed to be Auck’s punishment for severing his family’s presumably ancient connection to their traditional icons in favour of an Aryan marine in an icecube, like a bored British housewife in 1943, happy to drop and swap her old knickers for a new pair of nylons and some gum.
Despite the apparently cosy and affirmative ending, maybe this strip is deceptively pert: Can Auck’s adoption of the supersoldier-as-deity be seen as a comment on today’s disproportionately high rates of military service among young Native Americans? (Which is predicated, I guess, please note again the massive levels of ignorance I am bringing to this issue, on high poverty rates among NA communities, and the employment and education benefits currently offered to those willing to risk being shot at or blown up to protect the Afghan poppy crop.)
I have no idea where to come down on this strip. I’m enjoying thinking about it though, which suggests that maybe, after my recent plea, in Neil Kalan, the Mac is finally being teamed with a worthy writer. Good.
(Nice art too, unsurprisingly. Tempers this recent Marvel style of his with some nods towards a naive, ‘tribal’ kind of look, plus a restrained, muted palette that tones the emotional surface of the story just right.)
Hellblazer #270 by Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini (Vertigo)
Ah right, yes I get it, it was very obvious actually: With Shade in the comic, Hellblazer becomes like a Shade comic. Overt fealty to the book’s horror roots is given just the most cursory nod in this latest, splendid little issue, before we prance into a tightly paced, soapy depiction and discussion of some (not-too) complex relationship/personal identity issues. I can’t imagine anyone picking this comic up and not enjoying it for that. I give this comic five of those dot-in-circle madness bubbles. I’ll be glad to get back to the shocks and scares next issue, because Milligan is great at them, even though he’s clearly not all that comfortable in the genre, and even more happy when Shade returns with the lovely Epiphany in a few issues time. If DC–proper is going to somewhat ungraciously demand the return of all the properties it handed over to Vertigo back when we were children, then this little crossover and its soon-to-be sequel is an excellent way of letting Shade, on the one hand, be a Mature madman one last time and, on the other, repositioning him as a thoroughly modern mainstream Phantom Stranger for the twenty-first century.
The Bulletproof Coffin # 3 by David Hine & Shaky Kane (Image)
This comic is – not like drugs because that’s such a perfectly, pathetically blah thing to say about something, nothing, or anything even – but certainly somehow psychoactivating. Something in those oceanic colours and thick blank lines pokes you right in the brain like a much-loved sibling in the mood to annoy. All the very best comics do this (and let’s get this straight: Bulletproof Coffin is the very best comic), leaking inky rainbows straight into your eyes where for its 32 page duration you and she (the very best comics are always girls) merge in some – less than beautiful and often borderline abusive but still crazy hot for all that – symbiosis of page & person. Like plugging your brain into a computer that won’t be made for a hundred years, this sexy synergy creates a brand new nervous system for this imaginificent Third Beast, heightening cognitive acuity, speeding autonomic response intervals and enabling you to hear the hidden language of lizards, as well as giving you abs of steel ripped enough to scar your lover’s paperthin body. Careful not to tear the corner there.
Once successful bonding has been completed, the new org/an/ism enters a new and unexplod state of existence, a scorched desert of the unreal, strewn with the infinite treasures of a million irradiated plastic nick-nacks and priceless free giveaways, a strange environment traversable only in impossible machines from the dreams of a heavy metal Heath Robinson. Its hostile physics can only be endured by the native tank girls and paradaxical swifty boys through protective suits of primary colour and animal insignia.
All in all in all just a dream, Bulletproof Coffin offers a laser-focussed commentary on the relationship between the Comic and its loyal, helpless, debased Fanman, betraying a depth of psychological insight that betrays the impeccable outward gaudiness, that makes you wince in sympathy for Hine’s psychiatrist, priest or local barman as they learn: All children are war-crazed zombies, and All wives look better in leopard print, just as All comics are better with a bit of that early-90s newsagenty madcap flavour.
Bulletproof Coffin is an upstart restart switch for the human soul. When you read it, you will never be the same again, so read it, because there’s a better brighter you inside this book, and they’re begging for a right good seeing to.