A few notes on what I’ve found recently.
Startling Stories: Banner #4 (of 4) (Marvel) by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben
Hell, Corben – I’ll buy that! And I did.
It’s not bad (Corben!). There’s a neat one-two punch sequence which stands out: one page a five panel sequence of Banner being dropped from the sky courtesy of a stealth bomber, the next of him awakening in a daze to encounter the city he landed in now a smoky ruin, and a final splash page – the Hulk glorious amid the fruits of his destruction – summing up the narrative ellipsis in between. Mighty fine comic-bookin’ there.
Sadly, that’s the only glimpse we get to see of Corben’s Hulk in this issue, a flashback at that, which suggests this final issue is the hangover after three issues of monster-filled collateral damage comics. Well, if you’re gonna show a character prone to collateral damage-filled destruction, you gotta have some self-pity, a necessary rejoinder to show that all the carnage that came before is in no way endorsed by this aesthetic object borne aloft by a corporate logo. And considering the creative leeway likely allotted this team in an out-of-continuity story, you get an entire issue of the stuff. Mind you, the inevitable “…OR IS HE?” ending is a lovely little grace note, with the bulk of the credit going to Corben’s always-welcome chunky sfx-lettering.
It’s more than likely a matter of odd timing than anything that the series wasn’t released under the probably-a-bit-more-appropriate MAX imprint (Banner was released in 2001, just as that line launched), which was later to bear the far-from-shabby Cage by the same creative team. The Startling Stories line, from what I can gather by glancing at the other titles bearing this tag and the creative teams involved (Peter Bagge, Evan Dorkin), was Marvel letting creators more typically associated with independent work loose upon their own esteemed properties, not unlike the current iteration of Strange Tales, albeit not bound to the annual anthology format. (Notably, Bagge’s The Incorrigible Hulk, originally to be released under the SS label but shelved due to its light-as-air comedic take bearing too strong a contrast with the then soon-to-be-released Ang Lee opus, eventually reached reader’s eyes in the latter.) From the vantage point of a decade later, Azzarello and Corben seem a strange fit in that context, both of them not especially far afield from Big Two comics, although it might seem understandable given that this was Corben’s premiere work at Marvel and his name was then-synonymous with a decades-long down ‘n dirty pedigree of Heavy Metal and sundry related work, as opposed to now, when his finger is in more than a few front-of-Previews pies, most significantly as the guy who does Hellboy better than Mignola.
So yeah. Corben!
Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby (PictureBox) by Takashi Nemoto
One of the great things is that there’s no build-up to the awfulness – chances are if the first panel in a Nemoto story doesn’t take a whack at your sensibilities, the second one most certainly will give it a jolly go. Johnny Ryan’s respect may be hard to earn but never let it be said that all-out transgression (“Rape, murder, dismemberment, cannibalism, necrophilia, corporophagia…, castration, radiation, every kind of penetration…” as per Kevin Quigley’s proud litany in the book’s afterword) doesn’t come with a measure of predictability.
But there’s gotta be a frame for all the stuff that’ll send you to hell, right? Nemoto’s central theme, here at least, is arrested development, with every central character an metaphorical iteration of such, often literal man-children – the penis that takes over the body, the artist who disavows language and society in favor of worshipping his phallus, the child of rampant sexual id who matures into a fully grown man by the age of six, culminating in the epic saga of an actual sperm risen to sentience beyond initial ejaculation via that all-purpose story element of “radiation” and eventually growing large enough to claim its own place in bubble-era Japan, thus taking the notion of arrested development to an obvious and fantastical extreme. Untitillating obscenities tend to ensue in every case.
Nemoto’s got a likably ugly art style, genuinely unpleasant, as is the heta-uma way! When your average ballpoint gets a few High Gravs in it, it runs to a toilet and vomits out something very much like a Nemoto panel. Gary Panter is a pretty facile cross-cultural point of reference, though it’s worth nothing (among many another difference) that Nemoto’s work is absent any filter of formalism, just good old one-to-one relation between image and content all throughout. Y’know – like Blackest Night.
(It’s fun to think that even the most terse and perfunctory summarization of “The Sex Rouge” will get this site flagged on more than a few federal databases, so I’ll just say that it begins with the notion that if life begins a little bit after conception, then lust follows soon thereafter and the comic hi-jinks just snowball from there.)
Officer Downe #1 (Image) by Joe Casey and Chris Burnham
This is alright, falling a few notches onto the positive side of the Joe Casey spectrum. Not quite the ne plus ultra of The Intimates (at least the first two-thirds of that glorious and abortive piece of work, which embodied a rare ideal of “plotless urgency”) in Casey’s oeuvre, but far away from the property-polishing fan service that has largely been his role in the realm of big-two mainstream comics.
But more properly, it’s a showcase for Burnham, who’s currently hit the ascendant with work in pay-attention-to-that-stray-detail-in-the-mid-background-it’ll-come-up-seven-issues-from-now Grant Morrison books. Looking at that cover, your first thought would be “Quitely”; your second thought might be that the work within would be filled with similar double splash panoramas of violence in medias res, Geof Darrow-style, ludicrous displays of elaborate mayhem, with arbitrary objects strewn about overly-detailed carnage and a grid-like focus on the surrounding environment. Not quite; while you do get flashes of such (i.e. the fine panel below), the emphasis here is more on basic action comic kinetics, with most every physical body in an image quick to reveal its red red interior with the most meager blow and the odd emphasis on damage done to eyes. (If you’re partial to overly exaggerated violence, it’s always fun to make a tally of what specific kind of damage or dismemberment continually pops up within a given work – frequently it’ll be the large intestine probably because it’ll always register as damn weird that you’ve got this pink snake-like thing inside you and it’s huge, man! Here, like good ol’ EC Comics and Lucio Fulci and, what the hell, Un Chien Andalou, it’s ocular damage.)
It’s a blunt little work, setting loose the gleefully fascist and easily resurrected eponymous supercop loose on all the problems you don’t want to know about, people. And that’s pretty much it, with Miranda Rights read well after viscera has been exposed, ‘cause who can resist that joke? An exercise in the release of pent-up energy, giving a not-too-threadbare four-color character type a workout. Fine for a sugar rush.
Harum Scarum (Fantagraphics) by Lewis Trondheim
This one just moves and moves and moves. Three semi-pals – a flighty cat reporter, a meek dog police detective and the rabbit med student/straight man in between (yes, it is exactly like WE3) – find themselves ensconced in a plot of international intrigue centered around mutations and the fun vague shaggy dog element of time travel. It is a hectic romp of a comedy wherein stuff happens and keeps happening amid unending banter and then stops less out of anybody’s actions than of its own volition, all drawn in the funny animal style that is Trondheim’s m.o. whenever he attempts something akin to naturalism.
Yeah, it’s great. This was Trondheim’s first work to see publication stateside (1996) (I think – feel free to point out any previous anthology appearances and reveal me as the fool I am), before Misters O and I, Dungeon, Little Nothings, and a few et ceteras, all gave him a more significant foothold in the never-very-prominent Euro-scene over here. And his first prominent bande dessinee as well (assuming that may be used as a singular noun and not in reference to French-language funnybooks as a whole), if the Wikipedia page is to be believed, originally released under the more modest title of Walter. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – SCOUR ON EBAY OR SOMETHING.