Above we see one of several fictive interactions from Nemo: Heart of Ice, last week’s newest installment for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. Oddly, besides the usual outpouring of Jess Nevins annotations — and I’m convinced that notes as to when a work is referring to something else will be the primary form of superhero comics criticism before the decade is through — I haven’t yet seen a lot of writing on this new work, certainly nothing like the chatter surrounding Moore’s clumsy parody of Harry Potter in the series’ prior installment. That’s too bad, because Nemo sees Moore on much firmer ground, both compositionally and satirically.
Last week, I wrote a little about idealism as it existed (and continues in exist) in relation to American superhero fandom; I might well have drawn a line from superheroes to ‘golden age’ science fiction, insofar as Jerry Siegel was an early fanzine publisher before his co-creation of Superman with Joe Shuster. Moore wrote a bit of Superman himself, but more recently penned an excoriation of the American influence on early 20th century science fiction in issue #4 of his now-defunct Dodgem Logic magazine. Specifically, Moore identifies book packager Edward Stratemeyer’s 1910 creation of science hero Tom Swift — a character actually written by a league of uncredited, interchangable work-for-hire hands, tee hee — as the moment when the disposition of influential SF switched from the anxiety of progress betrayed by European writers like Mary Shelly and Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, to a cheerier, hooray-for-the-future American attitude, an idealism Moore sees as self-mythologizing: an extension of the foundational colonialist attitude that the mission was chosen by God, and necessary rhetorical coverage for a short, unhappy national history, “largely one of genocide and slavery, things that most usually require a veil drawn over them rather than celebration.”
Thus, Moore creates a wonderfully awful, parodic “Swyfte” (above, center) as the story’s primary antagonist, a perfectly wicked avatar of Positivity! that radiates period-appropriate racism, misogyny and anti-intellectualism with an unfailingly red-cheeked, aw shucks apple pie kind of boyish enthusiasm. He is by far the most striking creation of the book, effectively transforming every page on which he appears into a Franco-Belgian Atomium artist’s take on Tintin in the Congo. He is further paired with the older men flanking him: Jack Wright and Frank Reade Jr., authentic American dime novel knockoffs of Victorian Euro-pleasures, cast by Moore at the precipice of obsolescence and made to, respectively, resent and envy the hot young Swyfte and his boorish idealism, an obvious sop to the ugly status quo in the loose-fitting guise of pessimism’s rejoinder.
That the sole remaining legacy of Tom Swift is the name given to your local police department’s handy taser is just catnip to an old anarchist like Moore, now largely set (in this project) on eulogizing the passage of the Victorian age, through largely Victorian processes that disallow his female Nemo from accomplishing much of anything without last-minute saves by her male assistants – the superhero idealism of today will not be impressed. And they will wonder too what Moore makes of the slightly more politicized early Superman of fans Siegel & Shuster. Probably, he would note the immediate drowning of such elements into the commercialization of the character, and its eventual separation from its creators – even longstanding bête noire Grant Morrison couldn’t keep that aspect of the character going for long, even with the specific, stated intent of emphasizing just that.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is itself a work of revivals, of course, but to Moore such things are best kept restricted to the specific realm of literary allusion and metaphor, where even a new, female Nemo stands exposed as a knockoff, an obsolescence, and perhaps, then, a hint of self-criticism from a writer who knows his efforts can’t change the course of grander auto-mythic interests.
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.
Fanny and Romeo: Ah, Québec – it’s limiting, of course, to suggest a regional aesthetic at work in the catalog of Pascal Girard, though his doughy cartoon forms do strike ignorant me as representative of a certain crafty everyday poetics I associate with French-language Canadian work… granted, he’s also reminiscent a bit of international talents like the Belgian Max de Radigués, or even the U.S.’s Chuck Forsman (I’m thinking those Schulzian expressions), so maybe I’m just blowing wind. I also tend to associate Giraud with Drawn and Quarterly, but this is a new 136-page Conundrum release, a full-color comedy about a girl and her new cat and her shady boyfriend, and the conflict that arises between the latter two, created with debutant comics writer Yves Pelletier. Preview; $20.00.
In the Sounds and Seas Vol. 1 (of 3): You know the spotlight’s shining onto uncharted waters when I’m ripping the cover illustration from the author’s etsy store, but isn’t it better I highlight something I don’t really know about? Marnie Galloway was part of the very last class of Xeric Grant recipients last year, which has resulted in this 60-page Monkey-Rope Press collection of her wordless minicomics of the same title, set to evoke “ancient poems of myth and monsters” per the solicitation. I get a certain metronomic pulse from her panel layouts, pages crammed full of heavy textures – take a look, if you see it. Many samples; $12.95.
Muse: Once upon a time, Les Humanoïdes Associés — perhaps in anticipation of an alliance its North American counterpart would eventually (temporarily) form with DC Comics — embarked upon a vigorous pursuit of English-speaking talent like Guy Davis and Geoff Johns and John Cassaday to work on new projects for the French market. Sometimes those series finished promptly, but sometimes, maybe due to the rigors of continued work in domestic serialization, things took a while. So it went for this 104-page color project from superhero cheesecake specialist Terry Dodson, which consumed the better part of a decade to publish in full on the continent, but now arrives translated in a 9.5″ x 12.5″ hardcover edition from the aforementioned Humanoids. Written by Denis-Pierre Filippi, regarding “the sexy, dreamy adventures of Coraline, a beautiful young lady who serves as governess to a wealthy, inventive and very mysterious homeowner.” Samples; $34.95.
Army of God: Joseph Kony’s War in Central Africa: Sober reflection is no doubt in store for this 144-page PublicAffairs print edition of a webcomic by occasional reportage comics writer David Axe (War Fix, War is Boring) and Tim Hamilton, originating artist of the old Malibu/Comico series The Trouble with Girls. You might recall a bizarre incident a few months back where Hamilton’s print edition advance was seized by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on suspicion that the creators were laundering funds for the benefit of international terrorism – I know the Malibu/Comico situation was convoluted, United States, but that’s a little over the top; $14.99.
Ditko Monsters Vol. 1: Gorgo: Yeah, Gorgo – the British Godzilla! They’ll show you how to do worrisome science fiction, Japan! Better yet, the ’61 release of the picture inspired a Charlton comic book series, many issues of which Steve Ditko created (with writer Joe Gill) at around the same time he was working on Amazing Adult Fantasy and early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man over at Marvel. This is a 224-page IDW compilation of those Ditko issues, to be followed later this year by Ditko’s similar work on Charlton’s Konga; $34.99.
King Aroo Vol. 2: 1952-1954: Also from IDW comes a second, 340-page collection of newspaper goods from Jack Kent, along with the usual history-minded supplements; $39.99.
The Luminous Incal: Another 12″ x 16″ solo album edition of the famed Moebius/Alejandro Jodorowsky collaboration (#2 of 6), for those who demand the modular experience. In other Moebius news, Humanoids has also opened an online storefront for the purpose of directly selling items that either aren’t (apparently) going out through Diamond, such as a limited edition of Moebius’ & Jodorowsky’s erotic illustration/text collection Angel Claws, or French-language books that won’t be seen in English any time soon, like good ol’ Le Garage Hermétique. Plus, other deluxe items; $79.95.
Last Day in Vietnam: A Memory: Strange that this is the only Will Eisner comic arriving for Will Eisner Week, but whatever – a 2000 Dark Horse album is now reissued in 6.5″ x 9.25″ hardcover format, with sepia ink and a new introduction by Matt Fraction. Preview; $17.99.
Everybody Loves Tank Girl: Or, at least, publishers are willing to bank on these new exploits from writer/co-creator Alan Martin, who was rumored to be reuniting with fellow co-creator Jamie Hewlett on the property, but instead will apparently be creating something entirely new with the Gorillaz progenitor. In the meantime, Titan now has a 6.5″ x 10″ hardcover collection of a Martin collaboration with Jim Mahfood, 96 pages in color. Interview/samples; $19.95.
Sex #1: I mean, if I was Image, I’d be willing to publish this solely for the rhetorical pleasure of knowing that readers will line up prior to opening for the Death of Robin while leaving Sex on the racks, and oh how above the rabble I would feel. The real impetus, though, is that we’re looking at the newest superhero concept from writer Joe Casey (Gødland, Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker), studying the molten hot cords of repression that erupt when a retired costume hero no longer has the release of violence in his life. Art by Piotr Kowalski (not the dead sculptor, but a French industry veteran making a stateside appearance); $2.99.
Human Bomb #4 (of 4): Just for reference, this is the current (now-finished) DC project for veteran superhero artist Jerry Ordway, a collaboration with writers Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Grey. The solicitation for issue #1 read: “Ex-Marine and war veteran Michael Taylor discovers a conspiracy to use human bombs to destroy the United States! But how can he possibly stop them when he could be their ultimate bomb?” Ordway drew one of my favorite Grant Morrison superhero comics, back in 2004 (DC Comics Presents: Mystery in Space), which makes me think he *probably* could have forestalled the visual inconsistencies that peppered Morrison’s recent Action Comics run, if given the opportunity, but there’s no sense in dwelling on what’s already happened; $2.99.
Dial H #10: Better to focus on series that can use the attention, like this ongoing China Miéville-written weird superhero bonanza, still alive and still a standout of DC’s New 52. Preview; $2.99.
Blood-C Vol. 1: Oh man, this thing. I mean, not *this* thing, which is the English debut of a still-ongoing Ranmaru Kotone tie-in manga to a 2011 television anime… projects like that are always a dicey proposition, quality-wise. Maybe it’ll be good, I don’t know. But the anime itself is absolutely notorious, a vampire hunting franchise revival by comics superstars CLAMP that set itself up as a cheery, nerd-friendly monster-of-the-week show, only to explode into sadistic, surreal violence for the purposes of assailing the heroine’s psyche in its final episodes. Reminds me of that special kind of ’70s Yoshiyuki Tomino project where they’d just kill off the whole cast at the end of the show, except a little more Lucio Fulci. Hopefully CLAMP’s supervisory position on this comic will ensure a similar denouement, to inspire the children of tomorrow. Preview; $12.99.
The Cats of TangleWood Forest: Your not-a-comic of the week, being a 304-page YA fable thing from prose author Charles de Lint, notable here for color illustrations by longtime comics fantasist Charles Vess. Published by Little, Brown; $17.99.
Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary: And finally, your book-on-comics for 3/6/13, a 320-page biography of the infamous Li’l Abner creator by Michael Schumacher & Denis Kitchen, the latter (of course) a longtime comics publisher and artist. Li’l Abner is always fascinating to me, simply for being a massively popular, potential-definition-of-‘good-comics’ icon of its heyday that seems to have virtually nothing in the way of critical purchase anymore, a character that seems to parallel the rise and fall of its outspoken public figure creator. Cradle to grave here, on “a complicated and often unpleasant person.” Published by Bloomsbury; $30.00.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: I wouldn’t say the Golden Age of Reprints had quite begun in 2004 when B. Krigstein Comics – truthfully, the book never registered with me as a standalone item so much as an expansion of the illustrations provided with editor Greg Sadowski’s B. Krigstein, the 2003 debut installment of a (still unfinished) two-part biography of the titular pop comics progressive. Since then, however, Sadowski has become a most reliable figure in the curation of pre-Code and mid-century comics packages, so it’s good to see the new Messages in a Bottle: Comic Book Stories by B. Krigstein a 272-page, 8″ x 10.5″ softcover reorientation of B. Krigstein Comics, adding a few new stories, tweaking the reproduction quality and (here’s the exciting bit!!) mixing and matching ‘direct’ restorations from vintage publications with the prior edition’s re-coloring efforts by Marie Severin, perhaps illustrating old and new values in relation to the presentation of aged materials; $35.00.