Above we see the sparkling abstraction that begins Act of Faith, a recent 19-minute short film “by Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins,” or so the prudently publicity-minded credits put it – Moore, a name not unknown to the wider public, is specifically the screenwriter, while Jenkins, a frequent collaborator and fellow traveler of Northampton, England, is the sole director of record. It is, however, the first produced screenplay by Moore, whose relationship with film-making could heretofore best be described as contentious, and so it would probably be irresistible, credits aside, to focus on him anyway for the duration of a project now expected to encompass several short pictures by essentially the same creative team. And anyway, aren’t all of “Moore’s” most famous comics collaborations as well?
It is tempting, on one hand, to look at the slow opening abstraction of Act of Faith — actually a gradual zoom into focus — and immediately declare the whole thing more visually adventurous than 90% of the superhero-driven comic book movies out recently, but then it is just as easy to slag the work as an extension of one of its screenwriter’s more criticized tendencies in the comic book arena: it is, after all, a voyeuristic glimpse of a woman’s sexual suffering. The point of view that initially comes into focus is not hers, but that of the lucky observer, who initially beholds the small accomplishments of one Faith Harrington, muckraking newspaper crusader against the unsavory religiosity of political figures, and then follows her around through handsomely lit rooms of saturating color as she plays some music, strips down to her underwear, shimmies into a scant dress, applies some remarkably bloody color to her lips, and eventually, perhaps, kills herself in a recreational misadventure involving a red noose and a wad of cellophane in her mouth, a lover tragically delayed en route to ‘saving’ her as climax to their sex game.
Slowly then, we zoom out into blurriness as we zoomed in, our own perspective suddenly hers.
It is, you’ll be interested to know, a very Alan Moore screenplay, full of connective grit and dubious puns: everything revolves around an act of “Faith,” opponent of religious faith whose doom is sealed by her misplaced ‘faith’ in a cosplaying paramedic lover, foreshadowed by the presence of a Faith No More album (not on the soundtrack), which doubles as a nerdy nod toward Mike Patton, who performed on Unearthing, an album/photography/upcoming book project also involving Moore, Jenkins, production entity Lex and musicians Crook&Flail (Andy Broder & Adam Drucker, who handle the somewhat overbearing score). Still, I can’t say it’s not an unaffecting piece, so single-minded in its creepy gaze — somewhat self-evidently a male gaze, I think — and not a bit subtle in conjoining the viewer’s psychology with that of its hapless, suffering heroine, so that you might eventually join her on her voyage to whatever lies beyond the closing credits, after which we hear a laborious slow breathing on the soundtrack while the screen remains black.
This leads right into the second Moore/Jenkins/Lex/Crook&Flail film (and the most recently distributed of the series): the 32.5-minute Jimmy’s End, a considerably more elaborate and, unfortunately, altogether less satisfying piece, catching boozy, confused pub-crawler James Mitchum at the St. James’ End Working Men’s Club, a suggestively-named way station of sorts for lost souls and inveterate Twin Peaks fans. Much like how Act of Faith seems almost deliberately positioned to needle those who find its screenwriter cruel to women, Jimmy’s End all but raises fingers at those who’d dub Alan Moore little more than a lucky purveyor of overdetermined fan-fiction, as it is ‘Lynchian’ in the most obvious and slavish sense of the term, not content merely to gank the soul-stopping nature of the Black Lodge but to have its BOB-like antagonist — Nicky Matchbright! — pull out a wad of cellophane and huff from it a la Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. Of course, it is the same material that helped smother poor Faith Harrington, now reincarnated as a girl of the pub, all ruined old-school glamour. At one point, we even spot a woman, yes, literally being wrapped in plastic.
All of this is decorated by the occasional magical symbol, and a probably magical-informed color scheme; my favorite bits were anytime a character slowly walks down a mysterious hall, eternally pierced by an eerie ringing telephone. Still, it’s in the service of a fairly sophomoric ‘passage between life and death’ metaphor, punctuated by little in the way of engaging vignette, although special note should be made of a periphery character, an angry bald Scotsman painted like a clown whose propensity for amusing statements left him incapable of communicating in any meaningful way. “Recently, these days, I just masturbate. And cry. Usually at the same time.” He is later spotted playing cards with Lost Girls artist Melinda Gebbie, after which no less a deity than Alan Moore himself takes the stage as Frank Metterton, the great I AM (as in “I Am that I Am,” or, perhaps ‘I, A.M.’), a screamingly high-camp metal-painted deity in golden boots who holds all the cast rapt for a poetry recitation that whisks Jimmy away into a concluding fade to white – modesty, one can imagine, might not listed in the Alan Moore filmography, although it’s hardly the first Moore work to put its writer front and center(-stage).
Personally, I was a bit more taken with director Jenkins, who seems to have devised some of the characters — Mr. Bald Clown for example — in a similarly neo-burlesque-themed photo-shoot for issue #2 of Moore’s late, semi-lamented Northampton-based culture magazine Dodgem Logic. Moreover, some elements of his visual style seem related to a more fruitful avenue of influence than David-Lynch-at-his-most-popularly-accepted – the classic 1981 satire Lola, by the great Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Consciously or not, Jenkins replicates some of Fassbinder’s unmistakable red & green color schemes from that most artificial of desirous tales, along with a nice ’50s Hollywood-style blurry fade in one important scene transition; lead actor Darrell D’Silva even resembles German actor Mario Adorf, whose gregarious, drink-soaked capitalist in the Fassbinder picture can be postulated as ending up like old Jimmy.
Thematically, the two films have little in common — Fassbinder marshaled his own color schemes as a heightening of melodramatic gloss so as to emphasize the artificiality of emotional transactions in the German economic miracle of the 1950s — but one can still detect a certain theoretical commonality. Fassbinder initially specialized in ‘anti-theater,’ and highly minimal, no-budget films in which a steady community of local actors would perform in defiance of cinematic convention; always, the director’s sympathies sat with the rejected, the disgraced, the colored, immigrated, female, queer elements of society. Moore’s & Jenkins’ collaborations likewise draw from mainly local, Northampton-based talents — Jimmy’s End, at least, was shot entirely on location there — and in the more ambitious contours of something like Dodgem Logic one can detect the idea of local engagement as a resistance to notions of class and money as arbiters of worthwhile culture.
I hope, selfishly, that Moore & Jenkins continue to explore these anti-mainstream notions in future installments of their series, as similar aesthetics do seem to be under consideration already. For now, though, we are left with minor, warmly-rendered panic horror and a Lynchian stage show — a repertoire production, let’s say — that casts the weird outsiders of polite living as verily extra-human figures: souls and ghosts and demigods, a superhuman costuming still not too far from the comic books that Alan Moore, here in Purgatory, will continually be interrogated on no matter how many films a canny small producer can put his name in front of.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Hellboy In Hell #1: Almost imperceptibly, two ends of the Mike Mignola corner of Dark Horse have begun tugging in opposite directions. First, B.P.R.D. began ramping up production to the point where — on Halloween no less! — it formally declared itself a proper ongoing monthly superhero(-ish) comic, complete with all the rapid shifts in writing and drawing personnel that once would have been brushed away by the ‘miniseries’ conceit, but which everybody essentially accepts as the cost of doing business in monthly now anyway. Vol. 18 of the collected softcovers is out this week, featuring the excellent The Long Death storyline, drawn by James Harren.
Yet on the other end, we now have Hellboy In Hell, the (ahem) reincarnation of creator Mike Mignola’s original signature project as an irregular, unlimited series of self-contained adventures — seeing the now-dead title character navigating the perils of his afterlife — that will only be written and drawn by Mignola himself, sturdy colorist Dave Stewart by his side. Monthly installments, however, have been solicited through issue #3, so expect a sturdy hit of balletic mid-air combat and hard zones of color thickening up from black panels. Preview; $2.99.
House of Fun: Also in Act of Faith – a brief mention of a mysterious and sinister “House of Fun,” which totally got my hopes up for an Evan Dorkin détournement that never arrived. Nonetheless, Dark Horse (again) has you covered with this 32-page color collection of Dorkin’s humorous strips ‘n shorts from the pages of Dark Horse Presents, including several familiar characters. Preview; $3.50.
The Ten Seconders: The American Dream: Might as well make a British comics suggestion this week, and Rebellion has me covered with a 144-page collection of a 2006-08 2000 AD feature, about which I know absolutely nothing, although writer Rob Williams and one-artist-of-several Dom Reardon did create Ichabod Azrael, a recent serial I liked a good deal. Humankind fights back against the super-powered beings that intend to rule them, don’t ya know; $19.99.
Avengers #1: SPEAKING OF WHICH. Being yet another Marvel semi-relaunch, notable for fans of slick, detailed, Euro-flavored superhero art as the Potential Flagship debut of Jerome Opeña, who’s picked up many admirers in the last few years through two short runs on Uncanny X-Force, a genuine unexpected word-of-mouth hit. This is doubtlessly a surer thing, written by Marvel/Image regular Jonathan Hickman, and starring All Your Favorites. Preview; $3.99.
Fury MAX #7: Meanwhile, Garth Ennis & Goran Parlov continue to chip away in their little corner of the publisher’s affairs, a holdout for historically-detailed military/covert ops funnies with just the right caffination. I think there’s gonna be thirteen of these? Just letting you all know it’s out there; $3.99.
Dial H #7: Speaking of chipping away, if you want a terrific example of how to adroitly criticize Alan Moore in public, you couldn’t do better than issue #6 of this China Miéville-written DC superhero joint, a self-contained rumination on offensive images in comic book representation that carries a particularly blistering reference to Moore’s & Kevin O’Neill’s ill-advised attempts to ‘reclaim’ the racist imagery of the Golliwog over in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I like this series a bunch, and now I worry for it; apparently, it was supposed to be a Vertigo series, but found itself repositioned (perhaps for financial reasons?) in the DC Universe, albeit with Karen Berger remaining in place as editor because Miéville requested it. Now Berger is preparing to leave Vertigo, and while the status of this unlikely DCU project is unknown, I really wonder if she’s planning to stick around… and if Miéville might not just follow if she departs. Still, issues are solicited through #9 so far; $2.99.
Fashion Beast #4 (of 10): Hey, Alan Moore has a comic out too! I mean, not really – it’s an Antony Johnston/Facundo Percio adaptation of Moore’s very first screenplay, an unproduced work composed in the 1980s with the involvement of Malcolm McLaren, but these Avatar things tend to hew pretty closely to Moore’s text, here to occasionally wordless ‘cinematic’ effect. Preview; $3.99.
Storm Dogs #2 (of 6): Lots of Image stuff due this week — if you’ve been waiting on Joe Casey’s & Mike Huddleston’s Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, a complete hardcover is now available — but I think I’ll keep it UK with this second issue of a police-investigation-in-space type of series from writer David Hine and artist Doug Braithwaite, seeing interstellar investigators deal with human workers and indigenous species on a faraway world pocked with suspicious deaths. Issue #1 was efficient and entertaining pop comics, and I trust this chapter will be the same; Preview; $3.50.
Slam Dunk Vol. 25 (of 31): I am nothing if not an obnoxious nerd and an incorrigible nitpicker — I mean, that shit’s on my resume, Dan & Tim took one look and handed me this column — but surely someone else found it weird that CNN’s much-linked profile of Takehiko Inoue only displayed representative samples from Slam Dunk in its accompanying video, even though Inoue was obviously working on a different, non-sports comic (Vagabond) in a largely different style? Maybe the piece was initially sold with ‘basketball’ as its hook, and the video sort of got edited into all that cool brushwork footage? I dunno, I just found it weird. (I also wasn’t aware that manga is known for its “popping color palettes,” although I do tend to like the 8 or 10 color pages in the odd magazine.) Anyway, Slam Dunk is a fun, influential series, and here’s another 192 pages of it from Viz; $9.99.
Wake the F#ck Up #1: Your abject curiosity for 12/5/12, teaming a pair of French BD artists — Jean-Jacques Dzialowski and colorist Cyril Saint Blancat, mainly of the series Groom Lake — with millennial Marvel frontman Bill Jemas for a comics takeoff of Adam Mansbach’s & Ricardo Cortés’ children’s-book-for-adults megahit Go the F**k to Sleep. Apparently, it’s about the generational divide in these United States today, immediately suggesting the satiric legacy of Marville – ooh, did I freeze your blood, readers of my age? From Zenescope Entertainment, they of the comics with the ladies on the cover; $2.99.
Haunted Horror #2: I have no idea what’s in this 52-page second issue for IDW’s Craig Yoe-driven pre-Code horror reprint anthology, but I think Basil Wolverton is on the cover, and that’s always a nice thing. Diamond won’t confirm it, but Fantagraphics’ oversized compilation of Wolverton’s Spacehawk might also be arriving this week, and oh boy – that’s a pretty book. Believe me, you’ll spot it if it’s there; $3.99.
Finally, in lieu of additional substantive content, here is your Milo Manara image of the week: