Opus 60: Tittles and Jots: A Quick Look at What’s Still on the Stands (May 23, 2001). Bazooka Jules No. 1 comes to us all the way from London. Neil Googe’s art partakes somewhat of the present manga fad but also evokes the nouveau art techniques of Winsor McCay with its delicate delineations outlined in bold strokes. As the story unfolds, Googe alternates pages and panels to show us parallel events involving his heroine, a normally proportioned sixteen-year-old school girl, and Eddy Daytona, a super-powered cat burglar (who is the more intriguing of his creations, forsooth). By the end of the book, Jules’ school has been invaded by a squad of extraterrestrials whose ray gun bombardment gives her a basketball chest. Jules is now equipped to deal with the bad guys in true bad girl fashion, which, presumably, she’ll do in the next issue, entitled "Puberty." I’m a little weary of the toothy grins and grimaces of this style of drawing, not to mention the blocky anatomy, but for the sake of what Eddy Daytona might do, I’ll opt for No. 2 when it surfaces.
One of Codename Knockout No. 0's chief virtues is the cover by Joe Chiodo, but Louis Small (pencils) and George Freeman (inks) aren’t slouches at female anatomy either. Angela St. Grace is the distaff version of James Bond, who, like Modesty Blaise and her "nailer," uses her spectacular figure to foil her foes: lowering the bodice of her jump suit, she immobilizes her male opponents, who stand gaping in appreciation just long enough for her either to escape or to kick them unconscious. Her comrade in all this is a horny gay named Go-Go Fiasco (great name), who is the more interesting of the duo. When we meet him, he’s bound to a chair in a chamber which the villains are slowly filling with water in the expectation that to save himself he will divulge the location of the microfilm they want that he’s filched. (He’s hidden it in a bodily orifice which he’s pretty sure they won’t search, he says, "given my reputation." Well, I said he was horny.) Angela rescues him but he’s not altogether satisfied: "Aren’t secret agents supposed to get laid?" he asks, as he follows her up the ladder to the hovering helicopter. Robert Rodi, who writes this scintillating stuff, explains his delight in his creation: "The more I mired our creation in the era that hung like a hammock between The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Charlie’s Angels, the more truly I felt like I was working on a revival than on a debut. Everything fell into place with uncanny ease. The ridiculous division of the world into moral opposites (good old western authority versus wicked old Bolshie anarchy), the millions of pounds of impracticable ordnance you could summon with a toot on a whistle, the silly names of the conflicting forces, the pitched battles in stiletto heels—these all now occupy a fortress-like place on our cultural map. We’ve set up shop there, and we’re building like crazy." To witness prose gyrations of this ilk, I’ll be back when No. 1 comes out. And I’ll be looking for more of the "I.Q. with T. & A." promised on this issue’s cover. Promised and delivered—at least, in a quirky comedic manner.
Okay, in Green Arrow No. 3, we find out that Oliver Queen has lost his memory. Now what? Still brilliantly drawn by Phil Hester and Ande Parks in their best drenched-in-shadow manner.
The first four issues of Paul Grist’s Kane are again available in a single volume for $11.95. I bought this compilation (entitled Greetings from New Eden) without realizing I had purchased its first incarnation a few years ago. So I read it again. In this tale of modern-day police work, Kane, returned to duty after some suspected malfeasance or another, gets a new partner, Kate Felix, and they’re off and running to solve crime. But it’s not so much the story as the storytelling that is remarkable here. Grist makes unique use of the comic book page as a unit—both as a designed layout and as a narrative phrase. He deploys this device effectively to flash back and forth between now and then, here and there. And his stunning minimalist rendering style is, as always, dramatic and engaging in stark white and solid black.
In Desperadoes No. 1, John Severin returns to the Western. The language of the narrator strikes me as a little too literate (even for his presumed Eastern dude status), but the artwork reeks authenticity. In the first of a five-issue series, we meet the four desperadoes, lolling in a cantina on the Mexican border—Gideon Brood, Jerome Alexander, Abby DeGrazia, and Race Kennedy, the chronicler. Gideon the gunslinger is called out by the usual reputation-seeking kid, whom he kills in self-defense. The kid’s father and brother get set to come looking for revenge, but before that happens (next issue perhaps), Gideon and the corpse disappear. There are at least two love stories salted in for good measure—Jerome (an African-American) and a Mexican bar girl, and Abby and Race and Gideon (Race lusts after Abby and she after Gideon, an irreconcilable triangle, to be sure). But the real treat is to see Severin in action once again.
In the second issue of David Hahn’s Private Beach, the men in black approach Trudy Honeyvan, the heroine, and offer her a job (I think) at a night club called Heaven’s Rift. Sounds spooky to me. Hahn’s work here is oddly compelling. His black-and-white drawings are stiff, but not bad stiff; no, somewhat in the style of Judge Parker as rendered, these days, by Harold Le Doux, but a little less wooden perhaps. Hahn’s storytelling style is more visual than verbal: it’s a slice-of-life genre with much of the action taking place without accompanying verbiage. This mannerism gives the enterprise a mysterious aura (because we suspect these sequences have significance, but they don’t, really, except as depictions of the events of the heroine’s day, so to speak). The mysteriousness endures. And Hahn adds genuine mystery to the aura. Who are the men in black? What threat do they hold for Trudy? Where is this all going anyhow? Good question. Answers are in subsequent issues. (Although Hahn, judging from the desultory pace of events so far, won’t be in any big hurry to issue explanations.)
The first issue of Randy O’Donnell Is the Man is also the first issue of Mr. Right, both by Tom DeFalco in his new guise (assisted by penciller Ron Lim on the first, Ron Frenz on the second). In Randy, a teenage geek becomes the savior of another planet, whose chief wizard teleports him from Earth. Randy immediately undertakes to behave as his comic book and tv game heroes do and is marginally successful, although he doesn’t impress the toothsome Tesca that much. Robert Jones’ inking reminds me somewhat of John Byrne’s linework—a fluid, flexing line with a certain fussiness of modeling detail. Thoroughly contemporary, in other words. But most of the visualizations—faces, figures, costumes—are of the cookie-cutter kind: they can be found in virtually any other Image title. Mr. Right, on the other hand, comes directly out of the Marvel bullpen (and is even inked by Sal Buscema). He’s somehow the incarnation of a tv game activated by "Player One," a teenager named Jeffrey Lopez, whose mother is a cop. He gets only five pages in this debut issue, so we don’t learn much, but it’s nicely drawn in the best traditional superhero manner—which is a pleasant relief to watch.
Both these creations put me in mind of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, another four-color superhero conjured up by a teenager, Bill Batson. And so it was with a certain relish that I picked up and read the next funnybook on this week’s heap, Tom Strong No. 13, in which Alan Moore does his homage to the Otto Binder-C.C. Beck creation of the 1940s. It’s a four-chapter story (exactly the sort of thing Fawcett did so often in Captain Marvel and The Marvel Family), with a different member of the Strong family in the spotlight in each chapter. It’s also a time travel saga, and one of the Strong family is Tom as a youth. Another is Moore’s version of Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, aptly named Warren (a warren is where rabbits congregate to propagate). Splash page layouts and caption style ape the Fawcett manner, too, and Chris Sprouse, the regular artist, is joined for this issue by Kyle Baker (who handles the Warren chapter), Russ Heath, and Peter Poplaski (who mimics the Beck manner expertly). Alas, Captain Tootsie makes no appearance here, cameo or otherwise, but the time trek is gnarled with the sort of sf twists we’ve come to look for in Moore’s work. Great fun, cover to cover.
Mike Mignola is back with the first chapter of the next Hellboy adventure, Conqueror Worm. And Mignola’s exquisite command of solid blacks continues to enthrall: it’s fascinating to contemplate what he leaves out and what he obscures with shadow.
Harley Quinn No. 8 finds the penciling and inking team of Terry and Rachel Dodson on vacation with Pete Woods and Mark Lipka guesting the chores respectively. The guests do very well, too, although the Dodson’s anatomy and page layouts are more acrobatic, and Rachel’s line bolder and more flexible than Lipka’s. Karl Kesel’s story, as always, sparkles with verbal wit and twisted plot.
And here’s Esteban Maroto’s Urania, a collection of his drawings of the curvaceous gender in a variety of scanty attire (Norma Editorial, S.A., Barcelona, Spain; 64 9x12" pages for $11.95, available through Bud Plant). The distinctive aspect of Maroto’s work is not just the pleasing rendition of the nearly nude feminine form but the endless embellishment he contributes to each of these full-page pictures with decorative jewelry and other costume detail in tiny precision. Delicious.
CARTOONIST REPORTAGE. A couple of years ago, Art Spiegelman told me that he thought the future of comics lies in reportage, or "comics journalism." Cartoonists as reporters. Since then, we’ve had a healthy dose or two of what he means. Perhaps the most conspicuous manifestation was in the March 12 issue of Time in which Joe Sacco produced a four-page comic strip about life in Hebron, a town on the West Bank in Israel the population of which is divided between Israelis and Palestinians.
Sacco’s effort is a good piece of reporting. He presents both sides of the contentious Middle East population sympathetically. He gives each side a human face by presenting the arguments through the testimony of persons who, we assume, are actual residents of the town. Sadly—tragically—the predicament in which these people find themselves seems wholly incapable of resolution.
Powerful and informative as the piece is, it is not very good cartooning. Oh, it’s drawn well enough in Sacco’s usual, meticulously labored fashion (albeit because he leaves his art open for the addition of color, there’s none of the relentless crosshatching that distinguishes his black-and-white work). But the pages are text-heavy, freighted with long captions or long speeches. And the pictures contribute little other than to identify the speakers and, sometimes, to show us the things that the speakers talk about (sandbags in the windows of a Jewish settler’s home, bullet-riddled storefronts). The medium is capable of much more powerful, dramatic, statements than these.
I don’t mean to belittle Sacco’s achievement here. He’s done a better job of reporting on the Mideast dilemma than many reporters. And he does it effectively in fewer words. That, perhaps, is the signal virtue of a visual medium in reportage. But television could do the same.
Sacco’s longer works (two-volume Palestine, for instance) seem more successful. Sacco’s best pages in these books, the ones most intrinsic to cartooning, are those that present detailed pictures of the environs—the muddy streets, the marketplaces, the milling throngs. These passages, although just pictures like those we might see on tv, last longer than the flickering images on the tube. We can study the grinding misery they depict; we can take these pictures to heart because we have time to memorize them—to let them burn into our minds.
Moreover, in these book-length works, Sacco has the space to dramatize events in ways that are likely to produce an emotional response in his readers. He lets pictures emphasize the meaningless of one prisoner’s incarceration by letting the man, when released, wander off into the crowds and get lost from sight—just vanishing into the mob scene as Sacco’s camera pulls back and back and back. In the same long sequence, the man’s imprisonment and torture is made more vivid by the pictures that show us what is happening to him and how he fares. All of the sequence is based upon what Sacco was told by the man himself, but Sacco pictures his ordeal, panel-by-panel, page-by-page, and the cumulative effect is emotionally wrenching. Not something tv could do: no tv documentary is likely to be filmed in an Israeli prison.
For the shorter enterprises in magazines like Time, I think he’d make better use of the medium by concentrating on a single, revealing event—something that illustrates the legitimacy of both sides’ contentions—rather than attempt a somewhat encyclopedic effort. Admittedly, I suppose Sacco thought he was encapsulating the whole Mideast crisis by concentrating on the single town of Hebron. But even that wasn’t small enough a compass to permit him to build an emotion-fraught situation to a revealing climax in just four pages. But he made an admirable try. And as a cartoonist reporter, he’s blazing a new trail as he shows both how and how not to do it.
Sacco’s Palestine books ($16.95 each) are available from Fantagraphics, www.fantagraphics.com, or phone tollfree 800-657-1100.
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