Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reviews off the Starboard Bow!

Okay these reviews have absolutely nothing to do with sailing or the navy, or even pirates for that matter. Still, strap in as I briefly talk about Charles Burns’ Black Hole, The Man With the Screaming Brain and Hellblazer: Papa Midnite.

Black Hole
Reading Black Hole is a bit like reading someone’s life story or life’s work. In a lot of ways, I suppose that’s what it is having taken Charles Burns about a decade to complete the work or so I’ve read on the internet. While I generally don’t trust internet content that doesn’t make me laugh I’m fairly certain this is true because I trust the sources. Once this decade long fact is known it’s I found it difficult to approach this book without that fact lingering in the back of my mind. I found myself going out of my way to look for improvements to the artwork and refinement or contradictions in the story and characters. I have to say I didn’t notice anything remarkably different from beginning to end in terms of character presentation.

The story and the presentation are both simple and effective while not being simplistic or derivative. The plot of a sexually transmitted disease that manifests itself in horrible mutations on the infected could easily be the plot of any schlock horror movie and while there are elements of that in the story there is also a real heart to the story as well. The characters presented act and read like real teenagers stuck in a confusing time of their lives made all the more confusing by the possibility of horrible mutation by giving in to the desires of the flesh. This is a time when they are coming to terms with themselves, their place in the world and their own bodies which in and of itself is a confusing process. Add to the mix a horrible disease and you have yourselves a great story there folks.

These characters are charming because they feel genuine. Yes there is some melodrama but what high-school aged life didn’t have some melodrama in it? The melodrama in itself feels genuine for the age group and situation. The characters screw up and suffer their way through the curveballs life throws at them, just as they should be doing at that age. They want more and fumble in their attempts to get more out of what life has given them. They essentially, as the Queen song explicitly states, want to break free, and they do it through sex, drugs, booze and attempts at art. Only with the bug around they aren’t given much leeway to actually screw up without major consequences. This explores the same sort of themes and ideas as X-men claims to, only without the tights and the crime fighting. It takes an identifiable group that is already socially awkward and uses their “affliction” to explore ideas generally relegated to feminist, gender, queer or race politics and writing. Is it better to pass as “normal,” insulate your group or try to find an option outside of the obvious dichotomy. Sort of Archie with tentacles really.

As for the actual art of the book I love it. Then again I like most artwork that looks a bit like woodcuts. The panel layout of flashbacks and dream sequences are both obvious and subtle enough to indicate exactly what they are to you as the reader. I was a bit confused in trying to identify some of the characters in the beginning but that’s a general problem I have and could be me simply not paying enough attention as I read. Eventually one of the male leads gets a haircut and identification gets easier from there.

Not being a fan of stream of consciousness storytelling I was glad it was kept to a minimum in this book. It was a few moments of thematic and symbolic fancy that didn’t distract too much from the rest of the plot for me. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

So, all in all, the accolades you’ve read are well founded. This is a great book exploring how people try to fit into the world. But with sideshow freaks.

The Man with the Screaming Brain
This is the comic book version of a Bruce Campbell B-movie and it delivers exactly that. The tough guys are extra tough, every woman is a sexy bombshell, plus robots and evil scientists transplanting brains with a riff on the possessed hand from Evil Dead 2. Definitely worth a quick read.

Hellblazer: Papa Midnite
I enjoyed this as a back story to a character I haven’t read a lot about. I know he’s part of the Constantine mythos and all that but I’ve only really read a lot of the more recent stuff in trade available at the library. Which I find rather awesome that my tax dollars are buying comics about black magic and demons. This felt this comic was a bit like a pilot episode for a TV spinoff. It’s rare that they work out but if they find their own feet they can work and grow into something unique. I do like the nature of the curse on Papa Midnite but I fear if this became a series there would be too many gangstas for me to stick with it for very long.

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