It’s always nice to read a comic that exceeds any expectations, and is clever, witty or fun enough to stand out in the medium’s ocean of mediocrity. It’s always a real pleasure to come across something unexpectedly satisfying.
It’s also always fun to rip into something that is Everything That Is Wrong With Modern Comics. It might be hard to read these kinds of comics, but you can’t go wrong with a good moan to make you feel better about it.
James Sturm’s Market Day is a beautifully understated story, telling the simple fable of Kendleman – a craftsman in the dying days of Old Europe, struggling to find a buyer willing to pay a suitable price for the painstaking amount of work he put into his carpets, and finding modern industrialisation tipping his world upside down.
It’s a way of life that is barely a century old, but already anciently quaint, and the story works so well because Sturm doesn’t overcook his point. The tale takes place over one day, but it’s such a pivotal day in Kendleman’s life that there isn’t anything more to be said.
Sturm’s art is clear and open and deceptively simple, saturated in old colours and full of fittingly old-school craft.
Market Day is a lovely little comic, because it mixes charming simplicity with a seething undercurrent of human emotion. That shouldn’t be much to ask for in comics, and it’s rarer than it should be.
A little craft can go a long way.
So I recently read the last five issues of The Invisibles while drinking gin on the beach, which I haven’t done in fucking years, and it was like catching up with an old friend. It’s an old friend that has gone slightly to seed and has become a little annoying, but there was a surprising amount of warmth in seeing it again.
The Invisibles is getting more disturbing every year, and there are bits in these issues that once seemed sweet and now just feel weirdly wrong. 2012 is next year, and there is still no rocket car or game-in-a-can, but the world is still a lot more different than it was a decade ago, and some kind of metaphysical singularity is still a possibility. (It’s a fucking small one, but it’s there.)
But who cares about the queasiness? It was still bloody nice to catch up with an old mate, and while we’ve both grown in different directions, there is all sorts of catching up to do, and a fondness that has only strengthened with the weight of the years between us. And it’s good to see those characters again.
All the King Mob people I met in real life since the Invisibles ended turned out to be narcissistic twats, but I’ve seen a few little Buddhas like Dane, and always enjoy meeting a new Boy or Lord Fanny.
The Invisibles are everywhere now - mass communication has got all the freaks together. When they were once separated by the tyranny of geography, now they can all tweet their favourite people, and there is a good chance they will reply back.
It’s one of the big points hidden in the messy artwork and ontological breakdowns of those final issues, and one of the reasons I love reading the Invisibles over and over again, because I see something different every time. This most recent time, the dark manuverings of the bad guys feels more empty and purposeless than ever before. There was a lot of drama between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, but it never really meant anything in the end. It was only a game.
The last decade got sidetracked by pointless wars that are routinely ignored by most of the world, even though terrible misery is still occurring on a daily basis. But the end of The Invisibles always tells the truth, no matter how many times I read it: there is no difference between them and us. There never was.
The next morning after the gin and the beach and The Invisibles, I woke up with the WORST hangover. I totally deserved it.
“Well done, that man.”
Garth Ennis is great at these tiny bits of action that sum everything you need to know about a character, and he whips one out for the first five pages of Butcher, Baker, Candlestickmaker, the final (and potentially most pivotal) mini-series to spin out of The Boys.
After a suitable James Ellroy quote, the comics starts with a young Billy Butcher in action in the Falkland Islands in May, 1982. He’s manning a machine gun as the Argies come calling, holding his ground and death swoops in from the skies and taking the bastard out.
There are six issues in this series, but all you need to know about the character is there in those opening five pages. He’s a fighter and a warrior who will not back down, even when faced with overwhelming odds. And if you come at him, he will stand his ground and take you down.
The Boys is now well inside the most interesting phase of the story, moving past the usual superhero decadence and into far more complex territory, but it’s going to be Billy Butcher leading us there, and his refusal to budge is an admirable trait, but guaranteed to lead to some kind of heartbreak.
Countdown to Final Crisis couldn’t be as bad as everybody said it was, could it?
Yeah, it could. The 52-issue weekly DC series was critically hammered when it came out in 2007, and the vibe was so toxic I never got around to reading it, even though I have a pathological urge to know what is vaguely going on in the DC Universe. (I can’t shake it. I’ve tried.)
But then I saw all four volumes in a local library, and I was all over those comics before I even knew what I was doing. I burned through them in a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and by the end of them I wished I had done something much more constructive with that dead time, like sort out my sock drawer.
There is such a thing as So Bad It’s Good, but there is also lots of So Bad It’s Bad, and Countdown is full of the latter. It’s ideologically dubious, brain-numbingly stupid and full of terrible storytelling.
I can’t even tell what really happened. Lots of superheroes yelled at each other. There is a miserable fate for poor fucking Triplicate Girl – DC’s #1 tragic victim since 1957! Then a whole bunch of people beat up another whole bunch of people, but I couldn’t tell who was supposed to be important, or which one was the Donna Troy I’ve had a crush on since I was five.
It’s astounding to think the head writer of this was also behind some of the finest superhero cartoons of the past two decades, but either Paul Dini has seriously lost his mojo, or there was so much editorial intereference it reduced the story to incoherence.
The bland hemogeny of the writing is matched by some truly average art. The individual styles of artists like Jim Starlin, Pete Woods and ron Lim is scrubbed into the DC House style, a dull, fiftieth-generation copy of ideas Jim Lee tossed off on a lazy morning in 1994.
Countdown is also one of those comics that makes its superheroes so goddamn unlikable that it’s hard to care about what happens to them. In this story, they are often directly responsible for the deaths of entire worlds, and move on with a shrug. Billions and billions of lives lost, but Ray Palmer is okay, so that’s all that matters.
Everybody was right. This is bad comics.
But Absalom is the business.
Gordon Rennie had clearly lost interest in writing for 2000ad when he was wrapping up Caballistics Inc, talking up the money in the video game industry and weary of fanboy expectations, the Best New Dredd Writer Of The Current Lot faded away.
Unfortunately, the story he was telling in Caballistics Inc wasn’t quite over, even though he’d written many scenes where the good guys shot the big bad guys in the face. Fortunately, there is now Harry Absolom, a new series in 2000ad by Rennie and Tiernen Trevallion.
Even better is the fact that Rennie has returned from his slight exile with renewed passion for writing a bloody good story. The Caballistics characters were often a bit too cool for school, but Absalom is a right rotten old bastard, an old school copper with a flask of booze in one hand and a knuckleduster in the other, while secretly upholding an ancient accord between the English throne and the powers of Hell, which makes him a fascinating lead character.
It’s set in the same monochrome Caballistics world, and there have been a couple of walk-on cameos from stars of the previous strip, but Absalom is refreshingly old-school, and it’s worth following his story for a while.
The 2000ad issues now appearing on local shelves are from May, and it’s a particularly fruitful time, with the Red Seas reaching some kind of long-awaited climax, Grant/Ezquerra doing a Judge Anderson story and the usual casual brilliance of Dredd and Dante. But Absalom is yet another unexpected gem in the British weekly, and can be added to a long, long list of brilliance.