Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lost in the Library #6 : Infernal retirbution and pointless noir

Hellblazer: Pandemonium
Jamie Delano and Jock

Delano’s writing voice has gained in strength since he was a regular writer of John Constantine’s adventures back in the late eighties, and he now has a much defter touch. Those early Hellblazers look clumsy and over-earnest, but since leaving the monthly title, Delano has turned in the odd piece of Constantine magic, and it gets better every time.

The Horrorist, with David Lloyd, was a satisfyingly sickly experience and the happy shininess of Philip Bond made the 2020-set Bad Blood a tasty little treat. Now, with Pandemonium, Delano has teamed up with Jock and produced the best Constantine story in years.

It really shouldn’t work – set against the backdrop of the Iraq War, the comic certainly has the potential to hit you over the head with the Worthy Stick, but it’s a smart and angry tale full of ancient power, modern idiocy and divine retribution.

And it is surprisingly shocking – one plot turn is so traumatic it takes a few pages to sink in. Constantine doesn’t even get time for tricks or anything, but the lucky bastard still talks his way out of a terrible through the usual infernal poker games.

In Delano’s hands, there is the great contradiction and hypocrisy in Constantine that many fine writers have failed to pick up on. He shows righteous fury at those with power fucking over the little guy and gives some soulless government types a dose of crippling humanity, but he also uses souls as an ante into the poker game in hell. He’s no better – the brilliant thing is that he is totally aware of this.

Jock provides some suitably grubby artwork for the storyline and still manages to catch that wicked glint in John’s eye - he could do some brilliant work on the title if he was given the monthly comic, which has been stuck in a mire of perfectly acceptable and thoroughly unexceptional artwork for a long time.

But Pandemonium is still a meaty and satisfying comic - Constantine is certainly getting old, but in the right hands, he is as sharp as ever.

* * *

Buffy The Vampire Slayer v5 and 6
By Joss and his mates

It’s a little odd how every comic based on Joss Whedon concepts don’t really work. The dialogue his characters spout on screen can be charming, funny and moving, the exact same words on the comic page just sit there and look kinda funny.

The season eight series is still a whole lot better than some of the awful, awful Buffy comics that preceded it, but it’s hard to care when the spark Whedon coaxed out of his idiosyncratic actors isn’t there. Stylised dialogue is a lot harder to pull off than it looks when there is no personality or voice behind it.

The new tales are readable enough and this collection does benefit from the relative brevity of the stories, but this whole season eight thing is dragging out a bit too far, and Buffy’s whole Slayer Army thing seems a little half-arsed. It’s as if nobody has really sat down and thought through the full implications of where it’s going, happy enough with a paper over the cracks with idiosyncratic dialogue.

Capturing the exact likeliness of a particular actor is never easy and does put horrible constraints on the poor artist who has to avoid making every profile look like the publicity shot they’re cribbing from. The pressure on the various artists working on the current incarnation of the comic have an especially hard time when vital plot beats are based on somebody from Buffy’s past showing up unexpectedly and can fall flat because that looks nothing like Seth Green.

The current Buffy series is unnecessarily clumsy – but as previous comics based on the concept have shown before, they could always be a lot worse.

* * *

Daredevil: Noir
By Alexander Irvine and Tomm Coker

An excited blurb on the back cover of this gives Marvel some major kudos for “knowing what we want and delivering it”, which is a bit weird considering this is just the same old Daredevil, with muddy art, obtuse characters and a vague 1930s setting.

This comic doesn’t really do anything that the regular series hasn’t done, apart from a slightly different Bullseye – “This time, HE’S A SHE!” – giving the whole book a sense of futile pointlessness.

One of the major irritants about the whole Noir line of comics that Marvel has been putting out is that they seem to stick to a fairly rigid definition of what noir actually is. There are loads of morally dubious characters, a vague period setting and lots of moody artwork that make it extremely hard to figure out what’s going on, especially when the creators are trying to set up a whole new continuity.

But the films and books that kicked off the whole idea of noir decades away were a surprisingly versatile bunch. There were all sorts of stories and styles that shared a certain blackness, but there weren’t these obtuse rules over what noir should be.

It’s like 70s punk – at first there wasn’t a particular style of music, it was just the pure DIY aesthetic that saw Talking Heads on the same bill as the Ramones. But as time went on, punk just came to mean a particular kind of buzzsaw guitar and sneering vocals and that diversity was lost. The Marvel noir comics feel a lot like this: so stuck in a pattern that really have nothing new to say, in any decade.

No comments: