Beast Wagon #1, by Owen Michael Johnson, John Pearson, Colin Bell, and Gavin James-Weir (Changeling Studios, 2015)

I have no idea what this comic is. I cannot it read it. It renders reading impossible. What is that smell? No, that’s too kind a word for it. Stench is too florid, too learned. This comic doesn’t smell, it hums. Is it glue? My mind tells me that it must be, glue or something like it, some aspect of the binding.

It’s not the staples though, staples could never smell like this. It’s the glue. That’s what my brain tells me, but there’s another reaction, a deeper one. Probably just a different function of the brain. Definitely that. And yet it also feels like it’s a function of the body. I know, I know, all parts of the same system, but it’s like hearing a lion scream at you in the zoo: you know there are physical and social constraints preventing the brute from eviscerating you but part of you is still howling to run!

It’s only a comic, just a mess of words and pictures on the page, just paper and ink. Ink doesn’t smell like this, does it?  Probably not even if you use it wrong. No, I can’t read it, I want to get rid of it, I need to get it out of my house, need to wash the smell of it off me.

I think this comic is planning to kill me.

 

Fight Club 2 #1, by Cameron Stewart and Chuck Palahniuk (Dark Horse, 2015)

Dear Mister Attack,

You will be unsurprised to hear that WOLF EMOTIONS was giving the new Fight Club comic the hard sell in the shop the other day. Apparently Cameron Stewart is coming in for a signing, in theory he’s only going to sign copies of Fight Club 2 but I’m sure we could get him to stretch to some Batman underpants if we ask nicely.

Probably best to take them off and wash them before we make the request, mind.

Anyway, the comic itself is pretty much as you’d expect given who’s involved. If the book worked like a generational confession that was just novelistic enough to cast doubt on its own world view, and if the movie existed in a more open sort of conflict with itself due to the fact that it couldn’t help but try to sell you Brad Pitts by the box-load, then this represents the final triumph of Fight Club as product.

It’s a sequel so that might seem like a statement of the obvious, but just like Buzzfeed and Vice are made more evil by the fact that they publish some genuinely worthwhile stuff, the fact that this is an actual comic – worse, that it threatens to turn into a genuine collaboration – just makes it worse and more obvious. I could feel Eddie Campbell getting eggy over my shoulder while I read it, the pair of us getting increasingly fucked off with the surface level tricks, the scattered pills and petals that obscure faces and dialogue throughout.

You could even argue that the comic acknowledges its readership, gives them a twisted identification figure in the form of Marla, so horny for the destructive thrills of the source material – because this does not feel so much like a continuation as it does part of an extended universe, like Kieron Gillen writing what Darth Vader did on his holidays – that she doesn’t give a shit what feeding that monster brings,  GamerGate: The Musical, Before Fight Club, the immolation of her own flesh and blood, whatever.

It’s still all very cleverly done, of course, but even that calls back to one of the movie’s more resonant exchanges:

How’s that working out for you… being clever?

Right:

So, this is a serious item. Material is, what’s it coming out fortnightly? I could look, sometimes it’s fun to have a conversation like you’re not a robot, too. It doesn’t look like something that belongs in comic shops, it just doesn’t.

It’s frill-less, raw, politically engaged, arch, brash, ripped from the headlines, you know?

Multiversity Guidebook #1, by Grant Morrison, Marcus To, Paulo Siqueira and a cast of thousands

This is where I part ways with most of my fellow Mindless: they felt the old thrill while reading the Multiversity Guidebook, with its comic book creation myth and its parade of endless (if by “endless” you mean fifty two) alternative worlds, whereas I mostly just felt exhausted.

It’s a clever mix of marketing material, series bible and actual story, and obvious as it might have been the “dark secret” at the heart of the universe with the Chibi superheroes still reinforced the series’ running theme of how shit it is to be confronted with your own fundamental nature. You could even read the list of junked pitches, elseworlds, prestige comics and parallel worlds that form the centrepiece as a critique, if you were so inclined.  As Marc Singer noted in his clipped and clear-headed review of the comic, some of these entries are quietly scathing, and someone with the right (as in “correct”? -Ed) biases could certainly read this endless parade of Batmen and Wonder Women as a critique of capitalism’s frantic grasping (“Empty is thy hand”) and ability to reduce complexity to a series of easily recognisable products.

Is that really enough though? Not for me. The “Guidebook” section of this comic reminded me most of all of Gary R. R. Lactus’ Time of Crowns (with its endless list of medieval clans, “with their tits out”) and the end credits of 22 Jump Street, but it’s neither as succinct as the former nor as merciless as the latter – in the end, it’s just business as usual.

Click here for more on the Guidebook plus Multiversity: Mastermen and James Robinson’s Earth 2!

It’s been something of a strange couple of weeks, which has ranged from various incidents, both little and large.  From a suddenly positive change in job security, to a negative change in job security, to discovering a co-worker dropped dead at the weekend, to the dropping of The Zero Theorem into cinemas.

Mister Attack caught a sneaky glimpse up the skirt of the abyss, and it made him feel…

Über #0-10, by Kieron Gillen, Caanan White, Joseph Silver, Kurt Hathaway and Digicore Studios

Kieron Gillen let the mask slip a little at the start, when he positioned this comic as the anti-ASS, as a refutation of Superman’s central place in 20th Century history, in a spiel designed to mark Über out as being a comic free of the sort of self-commentary that defines so many modern superhero comics.  “It’s probably the least ironic book I’ve ever written,” he said:

It has nothing to say about superhero comics. In fact, its utter negation of that genre-criticism may be the closest it comes to commentary. I’ve read many books which seem to labour under the delusion that the conception of Superman was the most important moment in the 1930s. This isn’t one of them.  My only interest is in how I can use this genre’s conceit to create metaphors to explores aspects of WW2…

This comment, buried as it was in the mix of metatextual soul searching and historical gamesmanship of Über #0′s backmatter, provides the key to understanding the uncanny dynamics of this comic.  In attempting to ward off irony and meta-commentary, Gillen negated any possibility of this comic escaping the superhero meta-conversation. Which, it turns out, is actually quite fitting in the end.  Carefully researched as Über might be, with everything from troop movements to weather conditions having been taken into account, this WW2 with superheroes fantasy is still a superhero fantasy, and as such it manages the odd trick of destroying both history and genre conventions and reinforcing them at the same time.

In contrast to the carefully composed alternate reality of All Star Superman – with its suggestion of a world where greed, imperialism and mortal panic exist but are never the only options – Gillen and White present an alt-modernity in which the foundational horrors of the mid 20th Century era are all there but louder.

A little less Stalingrad, a lot more Wahammer 40K.

The funny thing about a Mercedes 770 is

Wow, all that German dialogue was annoying, wasn’t it? As an experiment in formalist pass-agging, it’s classic Moore of course, but my German reading is max schrecklich so I had to scurry off to the internet for a translation and- OH!

…Yeah fair play, you got me there you bearded, crabby old bastard. There I go, running off to lean on the old god’s hippocampus again, without even an editorial assistant to do it for me! Genius. I think a lot of people don’t pick up on the humour in Alan Moore’s work, actually?

Handled the French and most of the English bits OK though, so, y’know, integrity there. Feel like the word ‘hypocrite’ should make an appearance now, though we don’t really need it… hold on to the first four letters of it though, because we’ll be using them for real in a minute.

This arrived in the comic shop with much less fanfare than your average doodlebug, but as soon as Gary sent up the siren I goosestepped down the hill to fetch it quicksmart. Got it home and more or less enjoyed it – it was straightforward, no-nonsense/lots of nonsense, pretty much alright.

Except for the Xmen stuff, the so-and-so superhero is married to so-and-so superhero’s cousin’s brother-in-law stuff, I could do without all that. These Victorian superheroes with big cars – like, their big car is the superpower – they’d died out quite naturally by the middle of the last century, which was OK. Bringing them back, trying to give them a dignity and relevance beyond their sell by -  just can’t really see why this is any less wank than any other variety of steampunk: Dave McKean and Jeremy Clarkson polishing the cogs on their beaver hats, compulsively checking their gold atomic pocket watches.

There’s the copyright issues (old and new) of course, but the James Bond, shit the Harry Potter workarounds for that were more elegant and welcome: Forcing an alternative contemporaneity into the template, deliberately not using characters from the pop lit of the day embuggers the entire LOEG scheme. The world isn’t a reflection of the popular imagination of the era under examination, it’s just another partial and arbitrary superhero playground where everything is up for fudging.

Fudge, fudge like:

Fudge! Wouldn’t it have been more dramatic for Broad Arrow Jack to have run out of ammo at that point, instead of throwing his guns away? His death becomes entirely his own fault, borne of an internal flaw (sadism – specifically sadism against women in this, the only instance we have to go on, but let’s not because ooh contentious) that comes out of nowhere without illuminating theme, plot or character at all, merely shows itself as invasive and undisguised storytelling, ruddy great fudgey ringed fingerprints all over it.

Fudge! She just happens to blow up that nearby area of town at just that exact moment?

Fudge! Kevin O’Neill already always does German expressionism – it’s redundant and underwhelming when he does it here.

Fudge! The sleepers shot the robot because she just happened to shoot Caligari at exactly the right point of his very convenient sentence? That’s not good, that’s just fudge, man – please stop getting all this fudge on the rather few pages of my comic, what I paid ten pounds for.

This review will end shortly. Before it does, if you could imagine Alan Moore’s face crudely photoshopped over Peter Lorre’s and mine over all the faces of the jurors in the old distillery? It’d save a few minutes, thanks.

And finally, you’ll be glad to hear, the last bit- Always have a bit of a callback in your Alan Moore reviews, it’s clever. HYPO, remember? The last comic read before this one (Saturday afternoon, Rudgate Ruby Mild, lovely stuff) was The Hypo by Noah van Sciver. It does very interesting things with history and fiction indeed, and features a frighteningly potent depiction of mental illness, and you’d be better off spending the money you’d otherwise spend on Roses of Berlin on this.

Moore and Morrison

Happier times: Moore and an already thinning Morrison, pictured together in 1982

They’re already here. In fact, they’ve been here since you were a child. What, you don’t remember?  Go have a look at your old photograph album — see those unfamiliar figures in the background?  Have they always been there, teaching you, getting you ready for a new world, a world with a different religion?

I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t some dull UKIP propaganda piece, with the fear of Empire blowback writ painfully small and self-regarding  – there’s something stranger, more familiar, more plausible going on here.

Anyway, this isn’t some grand sci-fi conspiracy theory or allegory: it feels more like the sort of weird dream that might just be worth sharing, a rapidly decaying memory with little bits of understanding peaking in through the slim cracks in the darkness. Everything looks static, undisturbed, but something’s broken, something’s wrong at home, something’s wrong with her. Time keeps on slipping, and similar looking scenes can hold terrible differences if you catch them in the right light.

When are you going to come home?

When are you really going to come home?

A thought occurs to me as I drag my sickly drunk head back to Glasgow from the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds: aren’t DECADENCE comics all a bit super-boyish in the end?

My throat too hoarse to speak with due to Saturday night shouting and Sunday con hustle, my brain so detached from its immediate environment that at one point I have to croak at Mister Attack to ask if we are in fact going backwards, the only thing I am able to do properly is comics.  And so, I read through Lando’s Olympic Games, taking in page after page of landscapes that look as bare and arid as my larynx feels, squinting at the characters in survival suits, loving every second of it but questioning myself all the same.

“He’s just ridiculously on, isn’t he?” Mister Attack says.

I wince my agreement and keep on flicking.

It’s the survival suits that give me pause.  As I shift out of Olympic Games and into a couple of comics by Stathis Tsemberlidis, Neptune’s Fungi and Epicurean Paradox, my drunken brain starts to worry that the spacesuits are emblematic of an attempt to build a stylish fictional identity, a barrier between person and world.  My earlier thoughts about this aesthetic being “super-boyish” already seems glib and reductive to me, even if I can see where this thought came from.  Something about the collision of cool influences, the sense that you’re reading the works of people who read only right comics from France and Japan, combined with a knee-jerk panic that aesthetics this good must in some way be suspect.

Where did I get the idea that comics could be cool?  That they could communicate with the world while seeming at ease in it?  From Brandon Graham, maybe, or perhaps just from The Internet.

Why would an encounter with these values provoke scrutiny? Perhaps because these comics do not reflect the values associated with my own formative experiences of the medium, bound up as they are with alt-comics and (sub-)superhero stories that mirror my own awkward, convoluted brand of self-reflection a little bit too clearly.

Comics scholars more erudite than me can argue about which specific artists have influenced Lando, Stathis and co, and armchair psychiatrists can deal with my issues at some later date – in this moment, my bleary brain is only capable of tracking where the lines on my face are going, rather than where they come from.

Thankfully, the view of the future they provide is expansive.