The graphic novel reading continues apace. Thanks to the tail end of my Perth trip reading, and the arrival of a Book Depository order, I’ve worked my way through another five……… six……… shut up, you’re not my Mum.
Let’s have at ye, shall we?
Deadly Class Vol 1: Reagan Youth
Disaffected youth, check. Secret school (this time for assassins), check. A list of Rules That Must Never Be Broken On Pain of Death and Suffering, that are immediately broken without a moment’s thought, check. Edgy, sub-Grant Morrison, desperately-cool-and-alternative writing style complete with drug and street references, check. If this had been a Vertigo title around 1990, nobody would have batted an eyelid. As it is, it fits somewhere alongside Umbrella Academy and Superboy Prime in the Bad Teens for Beginners Playbook.
Monstress Vol 4: The Chosen
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it now, and I will undoubtedly say it again in the future: Liu and Takeda’s Monstress series is the most wondrous, beautiful, amazing comic book series being published today. The Chosen continues the excellence. The artwork is simply astonishing– by turns epic, intimate, cartoonish, realistic, delicate, and always, always, stunningly beautiful. The plot– involving a nearly recognisable world of humans, mutants, anthropomorphic humanimals, mages, Old Gods, space travellers, and New God wannabes– is a complex interweaving of personal stories against a backdrop of impending war, eldritch horrors, and political maneuverings that lead the reader down innumerable dead ends before springing surprises both shocking and perfectly logical, over and over again. This is a buy-on-sight title for me. It hasn’t disappointed yet.
Some time ago, Lord 15 availed himself of a Darth Vader graphic novel. Set in the period after the first Star Wars movie, it detailed an angry, vengeful Vader’s initial steps in returning himself from disgrace to the Emperor’s side. And it was very, very good. I’m not even remotely a Star Wars fan — quite the opposite — but the storytelling transcended its roots and delivered an epic story in its own right.
Darth Maul has always been Cherry Vader: he may come from the same company, and be designed to capture a younger, hipper audience, but he still tastes like chemical butt sweat and can’t compete with the classic model that’s still right there on the shelf next to him. A comic book character created by drudging hack Kevin J Anderson, translated badly to the screen, he’s now back to the comics in a close-to-origins story about the pre-movie Maul trying to make his button on a secret mission within a secret mission. It’s actually pretty good stuff, in a rote, paint-by-numbers way: engaging without being memorable, and fun without being unmissable. You could swap out Maul for late-issue Evil Anakin without too many difficulties, and it would have fit into a larger, more interesting, biography at least, but it’s good for what it is. This’ll occupy half an hour without too many complaints, as long as you’re not looking for anything remotely profound or memorable.
Doctor Strange: Damnation
I love Doctor Strange. Always have, since I was a kid and character like him, Iron Man, and Green Lantern — people who fed you the utter lie that you could escape your life as long as you were brave, strong, humble, and believed — captured my imagination in more deeply profound ways than billionaires, aliens, and people hit by lightning ever could.
Strange at his best when he is at least as creepy as the characters he’s battling: like the best of Hellblazer, he should be a glimpse into a world that we almost might have ourself, that entices and horrifies, and that we know, deep down, we lack the guts to pay the entry price to. What he should not be, is an arsehole. In Damnation, Strange raises the destroyed city of Las Vegas from Hell, unlocking a door through which Mephisto and a host of demons pour before engaging in the usual take-over-the-world shenanigans. Strange is not only an arrogant arsehole, he’s actively outright stupid.
Which might be forgiveable, if it didn’t lead to the creative team assembling one of the best ‘dark’ teams Marvel could assemble — Blade; (the criminally always-underused) Elsa Moonstone; Moon Knight’s insane alter-ego Mister Knight; Brother Voodoo; Iron Fist; Ghost Rider; Man-Thing; and the Scarlet Spider (I mean, really, doesn’t your comics-brain just drool?) and then utterly wasting them in the most boring and inconsequential way I’ve ever seen in a comic book. There’s nothing to recommend this turkey: it’s little more than a How-To manual for creating a crap Doctor Strange book, and a wasted opportunity of stupendous proportions.
Doctor Strange: The Flight of Bones
This is more like it: a series of crimes committed by people with no skin; cults; triple-bodied demons; ancient rituals; and Strange at the centre of it all, manipulating events to aid his own investigations like a glimpse of something inexplicable out the corner of the normal world’s eye. The titular story takes up half of the book, with the remainder made up of one-shots completed in black and white, which only serves to highlight the creepiness of the stories being told. This is Strange it his best– otherworldly, constantly in danger, but with a sense that being the only thing between the normal world and the horrors of the unknown is slowly leaching away his own core humanity: as an audience, we’re watching a man slowly becoming the thing he fights.
Doctor Strange: The Last Days of Magic
Yes, three Doctor Strange books in a row. Because that is how my Book Depository orders work, okay? Anyway, this is the 2nd part of a two-part GN series. The interdimensional science warrior sect the Empirikul have devoted themselves to wiping out magic in every dimension, through the simple, ethical, and utterly logical means of genocide. As all good scientists do. At the end of the last book, they were on the verge of winning. And here they quickly do, leaving Strange and a rag-tag band of survivors to do what rag-tag bands of survivors do in every form of media where the phrase ‘rag-tag band’ can be applied.
As my friend and reviewer Grant Watson pointed out some time ago, this storyline bears far too much similarity to, arguably, the best Thor narrative of the last thirty years, which just happened to run sliiiiightly before it: if you haven’t checked out the God Butcher stories, do so now. This Strange run does not stand up to the comparison. It’s not helped by running over ten issues (two GNs-worth) and yet still feeling like it’s wrapped up far too quickly and easily to merit the epic scale it sets up. There are brilliant moments, and if it had been allowed time to breathe properly it really could have been an era-defining story. Good, enjoyable, worth dipping into, but just not quite the top-shelf Strange story I was hoping for.