(I’ve been writing. A lot. And lots of different things, including a novel manuscript tentatively titled Think Vainly of the Guilty Land. But ye old blog has been a bit disrupted. I have pieces I want to post, but I can’t quite pull the trigger. Anyway, here’s a roundup of the latest comics I read, most of which I read last night.)
Grant Morrison is the comic book world’s Woody Allen or Frederico Fellini. He returns, over and over, to three or four big themes. Here he revisits, in horror form, the question of what happens when we interact with a higher intelligence. What would a higher dimension look like? He’s asked this over and over, often using comics as a real, one-dimensional universe, with our universe serving as a higher level of reality. (Read The Filth, or Flex Mentallo.) Morrison sees existence as a series of cascading realities and points of view, with real, conscious beings above us—probably reading us, just as we read the characters in the comics. So what would a higher dimension look like? Here it’s hell. He takes the (pretty miserable movie, really) Event Horizon as a starting point—or as one character in the comic says, “It’s like The Exorcist meets Apollo 13!”— with an asteroid approaching earth, and the astronauts who are tasked with stopping it. Only, the asteroid is transmitting messages, in a language that seems to be driving people insane. Morrison remains one of the strongest comic book authors, but his major obstacle as a writer is his own restless intelligence. Here he utilizes his vast and lifelong readings in the alchemical/gnostic/conspiratorial literature to provide a very fine, if profoundly disquieting, horror comic.
Hellboy started as an occult detective, rooting around in various folktales and myths around the world, with a back-story he didn’t understand. The comic was quirky and beautifully drawn, if a bit one-note and thin. It was clear that the sidekicks—Abe Sapien, Liz, and Johann, among others—were more interesting. So the spinoff. And what a glorious series it’s become. At this point, the earth is overrun with magnificent creatures, larger than small islands. They emit steam that turns humans into mindless, omnivorous creatures. Other sinister forces appear. B.P.R.D. remains a dynamite comic, with great artwork and dialogue, if a bit disheartening, as the monsters never seem to die. The disintegrating world, and the dwindling place for humans in it.
The most interesting of the Hellboy characters, a Victorian-era alchemist transformed into a potentially world-destroying mer-man, Abe Sapien in his own title wanders around a ravaged American southwest, meeting up with the remnants of destroyed towns, villages and cities. Weird cults. Murderous gangs. And plenty of monsters. A very fine, if a touch repetitive, comic in its own right, Abe Sapien just recently has been delving into his past, which is great.
Hellboy in Hell.
Hellboy dies. His heart is pulled from his body. And he awakens in Hell. Only, Satan has been slain, and the entire underworld is in disarray. Hellboy, it seems, is prophesied to take over. But he won’t. His stubborn, weary psyche ends up wandering from one nightmarish aspect of the realm to another. Hellboy’s surreal journey through Hell is an excellent, and despairing, comic narrative. Think Beckett and Sartre, with fistfights. And superior artwork.
Neil Gaiman returns to his most famous—and most enigmatic—work, with a prequel of how Morpheus came to be trapped at the series beginning. I didn’t think he had it in him, but Gaiman not only matches the tone and quality of the original series, he also adds depth and meaning to what was already a high-water mark for comics. He even introduces new characters! The art by Williams is absolutely stunning. A lot of the Sandman spinoffs have been of uneven quality—some of The Dreaming storylines were good, many were just a hair above mediocre—but here we have a very strong piece of the larger drama. For fans, perhaps, but none will be disappointed. Gaiman still has the goods.
Alan Moore continues his journey into the psychic underpinnings of H.P. Lovecraft with this oddball story of a journalist investigating occult happenings near Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1920s. The story is filled with eccentric panels, strange points of view, and an unclear, at least so far, message or even storyline. But it is Alan Moore, one of the great horror comic writers, and the comic remains fascinating and unnerving. I think it’s a kind of prequel to The Neonomicon—a deranged, unhinging, fabulous little comic that haunted me for days—but I’m not quite sure. It’s hard to describe, as some of the issues seem to ramble, only they seem to be rambling on purpose.
Jonathan Hickman is a special kind of comic writer. He’s patient, careful, attentive, and able to think in a vast, cosmic scope. But he also manages to maintain the integrity of the characters, while making them feel fresh, something that is very, very hard to do. His restructuring of the Marvel Universe has been stunning. After all the existing realities collided, Doctor Doom saved what he could from a dozen different realities. He also installed himself as the supreme deity. A handful of heroes—and horrifying villains—survived, too, and come crashing into the new reality, intent on destroying it. Wonderful.