Saturday, November 19, 2011

What I've Been Reading...

 Yeah, that's the place I go buy my books in Bensalem, PA...go give them business cause I said so.

Anyway,  after writing a handful of blogs pontificating on whatever randomness crossed my mind I figured I'd write something of a different tone; not quite a review, just a little look at the various books I have read in the last few months.  It has been an assorted lot of things so let's just delve right into it, and I'll do my best not to spoil too much on the way:

So "Zenith" was a UK-based title written by Grant Morrison (I know what a shock) that originally was published in the 2000AD serial over the course of 1987-1992.  When collected it ends up in a 5 volume series that is insanely difficult to track down at a reasonable price.  Seriously, go check out Ebay right now and IF they are even listed (which some are as I write this on 11/18), they are going for $63.00 at starting bid.  I somehow lucked out and managed to pick Book Two off the UK Ebay store for a relatively cheap price...somewhere in the $20 USD price range.

I believe this would be the oldest Morrison story I have ever read, essentially a tale of a highly reluctant superhero/rock star (Zenith) who is the child of other government-created heroes.  Zenith is a rather obnoxious character, little redeeming value, truly only interested in how he can use his powers to further push his musical career to superstar status.  There isn't much likeable about Zenith in Book Two, and knowing what I do about the future progression of this series that doesn't seem to be anything that changes, but what makes it interesting for me as a fan of Grant's is to read a story that is akin to a mission statement.  There are certain themes that permeate his work, certain character types that appear in nearly every work Grant has penned, and this (since it is the oldest of his works I've read) is a birthplace for those.

Zenith seems like an archetype for King Mob ("The Invisibles") or what Ned Slade ("The Filth", more on that next) may have been before the Greg Feely persona was adopted. Hell, he seems like what Grant Morrison may have wished he was at this point given that he has always dabbled in music to varying degrees. In addition to that character, the villains of this tale (The Lloigor or "Many Angled Ones") could just as well be The Outer Church (again "The Invisibles").

Given that I only have the one small part of this story as a reference point, although I have read a detailed write-up of the series in Timothy Callahan's "Grant Morrison The Early Years", I can only assume that the whole of the series serves as template for some of Grant's later work.  I hope I can track down the other four books soon, at a price point that isn't completely insane, or that they finally get collected into one edition and solicited in the United States.  If you're interested in reading more about "Zenith", check out the wiki page here.

Another of the books I recently read was another Grant Morrison creation in "The Filth".  Originally released in 2002, I read 11 of the 13 issues as they were released but somehow managed to miss a few in the middle.  I'd been sitting on the trade since my Wizard World Philly Morrison TPB binge-buy, but finally had the time to read this story as a whole a few weeks ago.  It was certainly worth the wait...

This story feels a culmination of sorts, as if this is the world that could have resulted if The Invisibles had failed, if The Outer Church had accomplished their goals of neutering everyone and taking away individuality.  This is a world of ultimate control and maintaining the status quo. After all the primary goal of The Hand, of which lead character Greg Feely/Ned Slade is an agent, is to keep "Status Q".  This mini, through a series of "adventures" that could very well  have been written by Garth Ennis given their hyper-violent & hyper-sexualized content, throws a barrage of questions at the reader about identity, sexuality, that damnable fourth wall, control, societal norms, and black devil sperm.  It is a mind-fuck in all the right ways and it certainly had me doing some internal investigation as I read.

Want one example of the deconstructive nature of this piece? The Hand is in fact a giant hand, holding a pencil, and there are instances that involve people breaching the fourth wall of a comic (within the comic) and becoming real people in "Filth" world.  If you're a fan of Morrison who has yet to read this, or if you are a fun of any comic book that is, in some ways, a commentary on the medium itself, then "The Filth" is definitely a book for you. Plus Chris Weston's art is awesome, and the design work on the trade covers may be my favorite ever.

If you want to read more about "The Filth" check out the wiki here, and if you've got interesting purchasing it, then go here.  I don't see a dime from Amazon for the reference so don't think this is just an attempt to make money with that link =)

I am unabashedly a fan of Scott Snyder's since the first issue of "Detective Comics" that he penned. I thought he brought a wonderful feel of detective noir, mystery, and horror elements to Dick Grayson's Batman and explored aspects of the then-former Nightwing that were not being explored in the other Bat-Family books.  He gave Dick a personality very distinct from that of Bruce Wayne, rather than the interchangeable one heaped upon him by Tony Daniel in the pages of "Batman" or Paul Dini in "Streets of Gotham" (Side note: Daniel has done a great job on Bruce since the start of the New 52).

Ever since I started reading Snyder's take on Batman, I have wanted to read something more from the first creator I have totally taken to, probably since discovering Grant Morrison, and was intrigued when I was told that not only did he write "American Vampire", but that it was also a great comic.  So when I received the first HC as a birthday gift this year needless to say I was excited.  

A bit of back story on the premise, "American Vampire" is the story of Skinner Sweet, a murderous criminal who just happens to represent the first of an entirely new breed of vampire, born out of the Old West in the late 1800's, hence the title of American Vampire. I won't spoil too much of what that entails, suffice it to say that Sweet stands as proof of evolution existing even amongst the undead as he, and his progeny that we meet...a silent film actress in the 1920's named Pearl Jones...display some decidedly different abilities than those that have come before.  

Snyder and his co-author, the legendary Stephen King, do a masterful job of wrapping two stories around each other as Snyder's tale explores the life of Pearl Jones in the 20's while King takes us back to the Old West to see how Skinner Sweet first became the creature we meet in Pearl's arc.  Despite Sweet's god awful disposition, it is fascinating to go through the exploration process with him & King as he begins to discover the differences between he & his creator, and given the maker's terrible nature, you can't help but root for Sweet a little as he seeks his vengeance.  

Pearl serves as the antithesis of Sweet in so many ways, the character that you want to scream at during a horror movie "Don't go in that room!" because you can see the road ahead that her naivete, as well as her ignorance of such horrible matters, doesn't allow her to see.  You feel for her when her heart is ripped out both literally and metaphorically, and want to cheer along as she becomes much like Sweet in her search for vengeance.  

So enthralled was I by the story presented in Volume 1 that I read it twice during my flight from MI back to PA and each time picked up on just a few more smaller details that opened up the story that much more.  Volume 2 will be a purchase very soon, and would have been already had I not already slotted a giant task in my reading schedule, the task that I am currently engrossed in every evening and will write about later.  But I will be making that Vol. 2 purchase very shortly, as will I also be looking into the other volumes of "American Vampire" and anxiously awaiting the first collection of "Severed", another of Snyder's books that I have yet to pick up.  

If you are interested in reading more on "American Vampire" then the wiki article is here, and if you want to pick up Volume One,  hit up Amazon here.  And if you're a fan of Snyder's work, I would also suggest picking up his contributions to the New DC 52, "Batman" and "Swamp Thing" because both are excellent reads. You would think I planned this Dr. Holland segue....

Work of art...seminal....must-read....those are just a couple buzz phrases that I had seen attached to Alan Moore's run on "Swamp Thing", a run that I have been intrigued to read for quite some time, and was finally able to partake in, at least the first two books, in the last couple months.  This one is something I wish I would have read a long time ago...and it dumbfounds me to think that this type of book was being written in 1984.  

It just so genre-shattering, despite that fact that I have likely read a thousand comics written post-SW that have tried to ape what Moore did here, this is material that still reads as fresh and innovative creeping on 30 years later.  I don't know what Swampy was like prior to Moore, and I don't know much of what followed Moore prior to my reading of "Brightest Day" (although I do recall some Doug Moench/Kelly Jones "Batman" comics with Swamp Thing), but I feel like I am in the midst of reading the definitive take on the character.  This is a book way ahead of its time in every sense of the word, the style in which Moore wrote and the risks he takes with it, the risks taken in the art and the boundaries Stephen Bisette pushed with 80's comic books, this is Vertigo before Vertigo was an official imprint. This is what made it possible for books like Neil Gaiman's "Sandman", Jamie Delano's "Constantine", or Morrison's "Doom Patrol" & "Animal Man" to ever get published in the first place.  There are only a handful of books I feel are must-read's for every comic book fan and most know what those are: "Watchmen", "Dark Knight Returns", & "Crisis on Infinite Earths" are the universal truths, and I would certainly add in "Infinity Gauntlet" for the Marvel Universe, and now...well now I think Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" would also join that list.

If you want more info on Swamp Thing, and specifically the Alan Moore run, then check out the wiki here, and if you want to pick it up, go to the Amazon store here.

I've have 4 volumes left of Moore's "Swamp Thing" opus to read, 3 of which are currently available with the 6th, and final, HC coming out soon (it may have actually been this week).  Unfortunately I am waiting on a certain hook me up with his copies to read the rest but it's okay because I have another 6 volume mega-opus to read in the form of...

...James Robinson's "Starman", as I am reading it, is 6 Volumes worth of Omnibuses (I think Omnibi sounds better but spell check doesn't think it's a word) that encompass the entirety of Robinson's Jack Knight epic.  The core series, annuals, Showcase issues, each volume contains the complete story of Jack Knight, Ted Knight, The Shade, and all the assorted characters that make up Robinson's Opal City.  

To further abuse the phrase, to say I was apprehensive about starting this journey would be an understatement. Yes Robinson wrote a Batman story in "Face The Face" that enjoyed and this was an 80+ issue run by a single writer that I had heard nothing but rave reviews about over the years, but this was also the same author who wrote "Cry for Justice" which was one of the worst stories I read in 2010, as well as a JLA run that I gave up on due to boredom and disinterest. 

Still, I had to make myself not look at it through that lens based on what I suppose I could call the "Jeph Loeb Test".  Loeb wrote one of the most god-awful pieces of comic book trash I have ever read in "Ultimates 3" but he's the same guy who wrote "Long Halloween", "Daredevil: Yellow", "Hush", and "Captain America: White"....

....just seeing if your paying attention, that last one never got off the ground after the #0 issue.

Anywho, "Starman" spins out of DC's crisis that wasn't a Crisis, "Zero Hour", after Ted Knight was aged by Extant to roughly his natural age, along with a chunk of other JSA members.  His son David took up the mantle following the event, but this comic is not his story, it's the story of the other Knight son, Jack.  Ain't much of a spoiler at this point to say that David dies pretty much at jump street, forcing Jack to pick up the Cosmic Rod and defend Opal City against the evils that assail it.

Today I started the 3rd Omnibus and I can safely say that I am grateful that this was lent to me.  Thanks Pat!  Robinson is painting a masterpiece with his words, creating an epic all his own out of blank tableau that is Jack Knight.  I don't know the background of the Starman character whatsoever, nor what sort of life had been given to Opal City in the past, but Robinson puts this town on par with Gotham City & Metropolis, the two most distinct fictional cities, in terms of the identity he breathes into the concrete & steel.  Every corner has a story, every alley & shop a history, and the reader is slowly let into these secrets by Jack Knight who seems to know every nook & cranny of Opal City.  When Jack stumbles across something new to him, something unfamiliar, the reader feels almost as unnerved as he does.  How can Jack not know this city?

That life that is put into Opal City with the verbiage is enhanced that much more by Tony Harris' art which is...wonderful, just beautiful but not by standard definition I think.  It's raw and real, light and dark, gritty and pretty all at the same time.  And when Robinson also has the likes of Gene Ha, JH Williams III, Steve Yeowell, and Bret Blevins bringing his words to life, it makes for a throughly engrossing experience.

The blue Starman Mikaal, Solomon Grundy, the original Sandman, obviously the original Starman, have all made appearances so far (this take on Grundy has been awesome I must say), and from the looks of future covers, Batman, Captain Marvel, & the Legion of Super Heroes all appear along the line as well.  Chuck Kim wrote in the foreward to Vol. 3 that Jack Knight could not exist in any world but the one crafted by Robinson, that the outside characters James brings in actually become a part of Jack's world rather than forcing theirs into Opal City, and from what I have seen thus far that is true.  This is a labor of love, the creation of a universe all its own, and anything that enters it truly must confrom to the rules of the Robinson-verse.

One thing I have loved about this book so far, and this is only due to the fact that I'm reading it as an Omnibus, is that every usage of these characters from "Starman" to "Shade" to the old DC "Showcase" books has been penned by Robinson AND I am getting to read them all in the order intended by Robinson.  It's organized in a format where you getting a present day story for an arc, then maybe a flashback "Times Past" that brings to light the history that formed the city of Opal, or a "Talking With David" story that elaborates on the relationship of the brothers Knight while allowing Jack some soul-searching moments & some teases at what's to come.  I cannot wait to see what Vols 3 - 6 bring to the Knight family...

This is another highly recommended run for anyone who hasn't read it yet, and if you have sour thoughts on James Robinson as I did prior to those, trust me when I say to put those aside and give "Starman" a shot, it's damn worth it.  If you want some more info on "Starman" check it out on the wiki here, and you can pick it up on Amazon here.

Oh, and if you're a fan of "Sons of Anarchy", look at these two pictures and tell me you don't see it...

No comments:

Post a Comment