Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Sammy Harkham’s intermittently released comics anthology may have found its perfect home at PictureBox, which makes a habit of focusing on art that pokes new parts of your brain. The book is a beautiful object, a love note to good printing and care for materials, with soft cloth you want to rub against your cheek and a three-color foil stamp in black, neon orange, and gold. It’s the kind of book printers send out as a sample to show what they can do. Its contents, on the other hand, and I believe the contrast is intentional, seem designed to make you so uncomfortable that the resulting feeling is about half an inch away from nausea. That doesn’t mean the subjects addressed by artists including C.F., Ben Jones, Johnny Ryan, Dash Shaw and Frank Santoro, Gabrielle Bell, and Chris Cilla are always discomfiting (although many of them are, with images combining sex and violence in new and impressively taboo ways). Instead, it’s produced most by a creeping sense of horror, a feeling that the rules are out the window in the 21st century, and a sense of being utterly adrift, stuck in an animal body that will rebel against any attempts to civilize it and simultaneously stuck in a plasticized, artificial civilization. This book has plenty of good reads, but it will also make you very uncomfortable. That impact, however, is a rare one from any artform, and it feels like something new and important. (HB)
Dark Horse Comics, 2012
That recent Conan movie with the Dothraki Horselord might’ve bombed, but the Cimmerian’s comic revival continues to flourish. King Conan is a new miniseries that adapts Robert E. Howard’s “The Phoenix on the Sword” story, which marked Conna’s first appearance anywhere. King Conan is an old man with the head of Gandalf but the body of John Cena. He dismisses his own reign as petty politics and court relations, but then tells the story of an attempted coup early in his kingship. Truman’s script moves fast, quickly introducing us to a number of similarly-named characters and stuffing balloons so full of words they threaten to take up entire panels. Still, it’s full of that classic antiquated oration and man of action bluster expected from any Conan production, and Giorello’s shady, craggy art fits the material perfectly. I’ve never been partial to Conan comics (when I was very young I read a few of the old Marvel issues that my brothers owned) but between the palace intrigue, the promise of Conan-on-viking violence and the schemes of fallen noble villain Thoth-Amon King Conan #1 has me interested in the franchise. (GM)
David Hine and Shaky Kane opened up an old curiosity shop of grindhouse gold in their 2010 miniseries, The Bulletproof Coffin. With its relentless mix of horror, sci-fi and noir, I was sad to see the coffin close after six issues. Thankfully, Coffin Fly, The Unforgiving Eye and The Shield of Justice arise from their cob-webbed long boxes in Distinterred, a new miniseries that promises more ultraviolent vigilantism from fake Golden Age antiheroes. While the first story arc focused on house excavator (excavation works on multiple levels here) Steve Newman’s transition into Coffin Fly, this new tale follows hardened homicide detective Johnny P. Sartre. Much like the French existentialist he was probably named after, this troubled character grinds against reality’s stark nature, albeit by uncovering a pattern of grisly beheadings inspired by the signs of the zodiac. Or he’s just going completely insane.
And that’s the fun of the Bulletproof universe; are the tortured protagonists morphing into old-school brawlers or just succumbing to schizophrenia? If we’re lucky, we’ll get another cameo of Hine and Kane as the grizzled creators of these characters ready for more fourth wall demolition. This intro has its forbearer’s spark, but its execution lacks the metaphysical fun that will probably seep in later. The majority of the narrative feels like an updated version of the hard-boiled crime tales it parodies without much defining commentary. And though this was a review copy, the fun cut outs and bogus advertisements from the previous series are nowhere to be found. Hine and Kane look like they’re on the track to continuing their cult favorite, but it might take them a few more issues to regain their previous momentum. (SE)
Oni Press, 2011
After ending the previous installment with an unbearable cliffhanger, Matt Loux’s series aimed at pre-adolescents is back to wrap up the story neatly, as usual. As previously, I’ll recommend that you not jump in with this book but read its four predecessors first. There’s little in the way of a nod to those who haven’t, and the tale picks up right where the last one left off with not a bit of recap. Still, why wouldn’t you want to read these effortlessly entertaining romps, which continue to flesh out their cast of recurring characters. Loux’s drawings remain distinctive and a joy to look at, full of characteristic swoops that convey action even in the most stationary of scenes, and his ear for dialogue is true and funny. Of course a modern kid learning to scrimshaw would carve a helicopter shooting a dinosaur. If anything is disappointing here, it’s that we don’t get enough of many of the previous characters introduced. When you’re sailing the high seas, Dan the Wolf won’t make an appearance, and Jack and Benny’s reliably amusing parents are MIA, too. But that’s a small complaint. The big story is resolved nicely and with plenty of goings-on. The protagonists stay true to their essential natures. I can’t wait for part 6. (HB)