Saturday, August 6, 2011

Futuristic nostalgias and the post-holiday slump

For the first time ever, I didn’t buy a single comic book on an overseas trip when we went to Fiji late last month, because this holiday was all about snorkeling, sitting around in the sun and reading books instead of hunting for comic shops, which is what I usually do.

But all holidays have to end, and we came back to a grim New Zealand winter, so I went straight out and bought some comics in a bid to feel better.

It totally worked.


Yesterday’s Tomorrows – a terrific collection of Rian Hughes’ art - was the first comic I got, less than nine hours after we got back in the country. I’ve always had a total comics chubby for Hughes’ work, and had been planning on picking up this book for a while, so post-holiday blues were the perfect excuse.

It probably took me so long to get it because I already have half the stuff in the book, with Really and Truly and Dare both sitting somewhere in that disturbingly tall pile of 2000ad paraphernalia in the corner of the room. But it is nice to have them all in one book, along with a bunch of stories that have been a lot harder to find. (It’s just a shame there aren’t any of the Tales From Beyond Science comics, which with creepy stories from John Smith and Mark Millar, managed to be a rare bright spot in early 1990s 2000ad and some of my personal favourite Hughes comics – he even managed to make Alan McKenzie scripts look interesting.) And when the art is this good, it’s impossible to resist for too long, no matter how much redundancy there is.

Hughes is rightly applauded for his design skills – his eye for graphic design is one of the best in the business, always surprisingly fresh while being unmistakably Hughes. It’s a fantastic cocktail of charming retro, stupefyingly modern and queasily futuristic art.

But reading a bunch of his comics all in one go shows that he is more than blocky attractions – his art can be a lot more detailed than it first appears, but there isn’t one superfluous line in his work, every crease and furrow is in service to the story. He can pull off an epic moment like the Mekon’s appearance in the Dare story, or the grim shadows in a Raymond Chandler yarn, or the wide open spaces of The Science Service, or the groovy actioneering of Really and Truly with equal accomplishment.

Hughes’ comics are beautiful to read and impeccably designed, and when a visit to the local comic shop reveals massive shelves full of comics that look like they’re been put together by an intellectually disabled monkey, the work of somebody who actually puts some goddamn thought into the design is always going to stand out. And when it’s a talent like Hughes, it’s beautifully unavoidable.


The other notable comic that I got on an impulse on the day I returned from a land of sun, sand and surf was the latest Daredevil #1 by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin, and it’s damn near as pretty as the Hughes book.

Marcos and Rivera both have a pleasingly open style, with colourful art that is given the space to breathe on the page. Both artists offer up attractive and pleasing art, bringing bright primary colours to a comic that is usually saturated in shadows. Martin can turn a walk across the street into a beautiful little mini epic of sound, scent and movement, which isn’t easy in a static medium, while Rivera switches between the impossible flipping around of a super-hero blazing with confidence and some courtroom shenanigans with ease.

Just as pleasing than this open and colourful art is the book’s apparent direction. Frank Miller’s influence is often impossible to escape, but those brief efforts to do a Daredevil who isn’t moping around in his own misery like a teenager who has been grounded for swearing at his Mum are always welcome.

Miller did do some extraordinary things with his Daredevil stories, but attempts to recapture his spark have never really succeeded and the most memorable runs on the comic since then have not followed his path so religiously. Ann Nocenti and John Eomita Jr cranked up the weirdness, while Karl Kesel and Cray Nord put a grin on the devil’s face, and even though these comics were routinely ignored when they were published, they have held up a lot better than many other Daredevil runs.

So with the new comic, it will be a relief if it manages to avoid tedious ninja politics and adolescent angsting. Matt Murdock’s secret identity is in tatters, but he deals with it in a surprisingly mature way for a super hero comic, shrugging and moving on, and leaving everybody else to worry about it.

There is every chance that the comic will soon return to more gritted-teeth nonsense, but a wry smile is always more welcoming.


I also bought a couple of issues of Paul Cornell’s recent Action Comics stuff, but there really isn’t much to say about them, although I am baffled that anybody could feel nostalgia for the Reign of The Supermen, (I rabidly collected the Supermen comics at the time, and I feel nothing to see the Cyborg Superman, Superboy, Steel and the Eradicator alongside the main man himself.)

But I wasn’t done with post-holiday retail therapy. After burning through A Game of Thrones in two days in Fiji, I couldn’t stop myself from getting the rest of the book series in one lovely boxed set. I also got some Justice League cartoons and some Comics Journal from ten years ago, both of which can be surprisingly hard to find in this corner of the world, and I enjoyed the hell out of the Captain America movie.

I really am a shallow son of a bitch, because returning to winter and work really is made a little easier by scratching these pop-culture itches. When the comics and books and magazines and movies and cartoons are this satisfying and rewarding, who can blame me?

No comments: