Each week, Paste reviews the most intriguing comic books, graphic novels, graphic memoirs and other illustrated books.
Drawn + Quarterly, 2012
Newly reissued in a lovely compact 10th-ish anniversary edition, Kevin Huizenga’s Gloriana is the kind of comic that makes full use of the medium and its flexible approach to time. It also rewards whatever amount of time you spend with it in kind. If you want to read it quickly, you can do that, and you’ll enjoy it. If you want to focus on its elaborate centerfold, flipping back and forth in the book, parsing out each tiny, beautiful drawing, you can do that, too. You might not ever be able to shake out every hidden detail, but that’s its own kind of joy, the kind that means you can keep coming back to a work of art. Even Huizenga’s approach to the idea of alternate fictional universes, a concept that can easily paralyze a writer into never writing at all, afraid to put down anything lest a better option exist, takes on a stuttering, rhythmic beauty. You’ll eventually stop trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not and adopt a kind of cheerful agnosticism. A decade on, this book still feels utterly fresh and original. (HB)
I think we can all agree that spacemen skeletons with exposed brains are inherently cool. Mars Attacks fulfills the majority of its potential by including such 50’s sci-fi overkill; giant insects, peroxide dames, mutated cows, Patton-ish roughnecks and crumbling metropolises also get bonus points. After all, when you launch a comic based on a thrift store commodity like Mars Attacks, half your job is to jump back to the fifties and show a world cowering before the Cold War. The radiation-enhanced critters and silver saucers were gaudy exaggerations of the communist super powers threatening to plunge America into nuclear hell. The horror that occurred in Hiroshima fifteen years earlier certainly didn’t help matters. Since the Cold War lived down to its inert namesake, we can all look back at the goofy ray guns with a self-assured smile. The paranoia and jingoism is downright cute in hindsight. Ironically, Mars Attacks isn’t all about this. Writer John Layman (of the excellent Chew) actually sympathizes with the invading Martians, showing how one of their generals is humiliated by a group of carnival rednecks. And these rednecks are as banal and amoral as fictional rednecks can get. This leaves the reader in an awkward place, because the Martians don’t present enough personality (beyond the occasional zapping) to warrant much empathy, either. Mars Attacks is one of the few properties that benefits from a lack of complexity, letting the evil, amorphous aliens be evil, amorphous aliens. Hopefully a more concrete dynamic will develop, leaving room for the absurd, intergalactic destruction the title promises. The art also fails to launch, with John McCrea’s stylized pencils diluted by thick inking. Washing out some of the murky black would help clarify the sharp layouts that made books like Hitman so visually memorable. (SE)
Clarion Books, 2012
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about Teen Boat, a limited but adorable parody of the teen genre, is that if you try to Google it without your safe search on, the comic book comes in second to a popular porn site. Whoops. So click carefully. Roman and Green collaborated some years back on Jax Epoch and the Quicken Forbidden, a sci-fi story that had the same kind of fun potential and clever concept as this new tale. If you have a weakness for terrible puns and easter eggs or a secret love-hate relationship with Dawson’s Creek or Boy Meets World, this book of comics about a boy who can transform into a small yacht is right up your alley. The computer coloring is a little smooth and Green’s art can be a touch too cleaned up, but for what’s theoretically a one-joke premise, they manage to stretch it surprisingly far, with amusing nods to the cliches of the genre and some good set-ups for the future. These dudes do silly well. (HB)
DC Comics, 2012
My initial impression of Comedian was wrong in the same way that I was probably wrong about Red Lanterns #1. Both books are absolutely hilarious, so utterly so that I initially assumed that was the intent. Clearly Azzarello fully embraced every fear and complaint about this entire project, writing an absurd script full of groan-worthy and potentially distasteful alternate history that feels like fan-fiction. Of course the Comedian was close family friends with the Kennedys, and of course he murdered Marilyn Monroe on Jackie’s orders. That’s the entire first half of this comic, and it’s such a ridiculous start to the series that I just assumed it was an intentionally worst-case-scenario commentary on the largely negative reaction to the very existence of the Before Watchmen comics. The second half made me rethink that thesis, as it devolves into yet another look at fictional characters crying over the assassination of JFK. That overplayed bit of bathos is even more risible when those characters involve a supervillain and a character as amoral as the Comedian. Watchmen purists will probably grouse at how this comic apparently contradicts the original in terms of what the Comedian was doing the day Kennedy was killed. JG Jones collectors will want this for the art, but otherwise Comedian fails because it doesn’t fully commit to its own inherent absurdity and inessentiality. (GM)