Occasionally, on weeks where I pick up a ton of random comics through a variety of sources -- retailer sales, internet purchases, etc. -- I can't quite decide what to spotlight here in the top, backward-looking segment of THIS [Prior] WEEK IN COMICS! Not this time. One look at all the high-profile comics due from big publishers and movie studio-related entities told me I needed to find something responsive, something lurking beneath both propriety and even the tweaked 'mainstream' impulse of North American comic books. The answer could only come from that revered porn imprint from a high-end comics publisher, Eros Comix.
Above is an image from issue #6 of Elizabeth Bathory , a 2002-04 miniseries by artist Raulo Cáceres, who had originally serialized the work in the Spanish Wetcomix magazine starting in 1999. Having not paid an enormous amount of attention to the self-identified XXX zone of comics publishing, I was surprised to learn that Eros was still releasing comic book-format issues that late in the game, particularly a complete miniseries that was never collected into a bookshelf edition. Moreover, I was a little startled by how sprightly and goofy, Cáceres' story was, at least in these late chapters (I only have issues #6 and #7, the last ones). Ostensibly a blood and semen-drenched fantasy history of the infamous Hungarian countess, the series nonetheless digresses into oddball action comic world building; from the image above you can spot a vampire in the central coffin surrounded by Satanist types, werewolves gathered on the perimeter and cheesy manga-like supernatural specialists in leather coats milling around with a frizzy-haired '90s 'bad girl' superheroine and her distinctly phallic fightin' staff. It's a veritable Brian Pulido jamboree, albeit published by Kim Thompson & Gary Groth.
This creates a rather odd tone for a series chock-full of double penetration and demonic assault and orgies writhing under shower heads of slit virgin necks: it's weirdly light and perky. I love the "Hi!" in the image above; there's a sort of presiding no-big-deal libertine spirit that acknowledges how silly such 'extreme' content can get once pitched over a certain level. In a way, it brings to mind Fantagraphics' early '90s Monster Comics experiment in genre publishing, and reminds me that while pornography can also bring the possibility of shattering, transgressive art, it can also allow a certain gross and irrepressible poppiness slip in on a serious-minded publisher; certainly Eros remains the place where most of Fantagraphics' manga has been published, among it some early, dirty work by Ito Ōgure (or: "Oh! great"), whose hugely popular fight series Tenjho Tenge is currently undergoing its second North American publication courtesy of Viz, following a misadventure in editing-for-content at the hands of DC Comics' now-shuttered manga imprint CMX.
As for Cáceres, Eros subsequently published a magazine-format collection of his short comics in late 2004 under the title Morbid Tales, and planned to release a Marquis de Sade graphic novel adaptation for 2005, Justine & Juliette, though I'm not 100% sure it was actually published. Meanwhile -- and I'm not trying to imply causation here or anything -- Cáceres had caught the eye of Avatar Press, which paired him with writer Warren Ellis on the well-received historical warfare essay comic Crécy in 2007, marking I believe the first major Fantagraphics-to-Avatar move since Paul Hornschemeier's ill-fated run on Lady Death vs. Pandora. Save for a 2008 outing in Heavy Metal (May '08, Vol. 32 No. 3), Cáceres has remained with Avatar ever since, and I guess the irony of it all is that his current work with writer David Lapham on the publisher's signature extreme horror series Crossed is virtually indistinguishable from Elizabeth Bathory, save for the addition of color and a lack of reproductive syrup on-panel, and the somewhat more serious outlook preferred by Lapham, in keeping with a horror comic you can actually find and buy instead of looking at your mailbox and hoping this stuff doesn't wind up at the wrong apartment door, because not everybody appreciates history, you know?
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.
Habibi: Ah, the blessed juxtapositions brought by big-ass hardcover funnies! This, of course, is Craig Thompson's first longform work since 2004's Carnet De Voyage, though its 672-page length will no doubt position it as the follow-up to Blankets, which some consider to be among the defining comics works of the '00s. This one's a work of pure fiction, the story of a girl and a boy in a harsh Arabic setting, which publisher Pantheon describes as "a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling." Some early reactions, arguments, criticisms and worthwhile links can be found at this Sean T. Collins post; $35.00.
Holy Terror: Being action comics specialist Frank Miller's return to longform solo work, following the massively divisive Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which was long enough ago that I still fondly remember tipsily buying its final serialized issue (and Robert Crumb's Mystic Funnies #3) on the afternoon of my 21st birthday. And Miller has apparently spent much of the ensuing time tinkering with this project, a post-9/11 'propaganda' comic -- originally intended as a Batman graphic novel, until it was decided the actions portrayed no longer much reflected the corporate character -- which, if early reactions by critic David Brothers are any indication, boils down to a no apologies ode to caving in the face of Islam with righteous American fists. I am, however, piqued by the insinuation that a comic like this has brought out Miller's Steve Ditko admiration more than ever before. Published by Legendary Comics in 12" x 9.2" landscape format, 120 pages in b&w with partial color. Samples; $29.99.
Daybreak: A Drawn and Quarterly collected edition of Brian Ralph's first-person perspective post-cataclysm horror comic, originally released by Bodega from 2006 to 2008 in three books. Good stuff here. Preview; $21.95.
Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth Vol. 1: But if it's a more old-fashioned apocalypse you crave, there's little wrong to go with Jack Kirby in DC's omnibus format, this time 448 pages (i.e. issues #1-20) from his well-remembered series, 1972-74; $49.99.
Pure Pajamas: And also from D&Q comes a perfectly delightful 96-page color collection of comic strips by Marc Bell, gathered from assorted weekly efforts for The Halifax Coast and The Montreal Mirror, with additional pieces for Vice and other magazines, augmented with some new content to better establish a sense of inhabited place, as if a dozen or so funny stories are crossing lines and ambling around at pretty much the same instant (and even the same instant as the 2003 Highwater Books classic Shrimpy and Paul and Friends, with which this book shares a story). Samples; $22.95.
Berserk Vol. 35: So, did Johnny Ryan get you interested in this long-running, still-going Kentaro Miura swordsman action series, swinging away since 1990? ("...a huge influence on me. I was totally amazed by this crazy alternate medieval era, all this superviolent insanity. I loved it.") Dark Horse can catch you up with this new volume, arriving at virtually the same time vol. 36 drops in Japan; $14.99.
House of Five Leaves Vol. 4 (of 8): Way on the other end of the content spectrum is Natsume Ono, with her old-timey Japan series that continues to run in English at Viz's SigIkki website; $12.99.
Sailor Moon Vol. 1: Of course, it's also worth acknowledging the definite high-profile manga release of tomorrow, Kodansha's new edition of Naoko Takeuchi's hugely popular shojo money machine; if anyone happens to have access to a copy of Frederik L. Schodt's Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, I'd highly recommend checking out his profile of the long-lived girls' magazine Nakayoshi (the series' original serializing forum), which lays out the franchise-minded details of the property's editorially-driver creation in terms akin to the development of a more efficient refrigerator; $10.99.
The Finder Library Vol. 2 (of 2): Also from Dark Horse, here's a 640-page collection of Carla Speed McNeil works, which I believe should bring readers up to the publisher's Finder: Voice graphic novel from earlier this year and McNeil's linked shorts in Dark Horse Presents; $24.99.
Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah: Vol. 32,474 in the "I don't pay attention to things" series - the recent horror movie Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was directed by comics artist Troy Nixey, his feature debut. Accordingly, Boom! is re-releasing his most recent comics project, a rare non-Hellboy, non-Dark Horse Mike Mignola scenario (over there you've got Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest #1 this week with John Arcudi and artist James Harren) co-written by Nixey himself, produced between 1999 and 2005 and packed with Victorian steampunk stylings and body horror, though note that Farel Dalrymple eventually takes over the art duties. Many samples; $14.99.
Tom Strong's Terrific Tales Vol. 2 (of 2): I'm pretty sure a hardcover edition of this came out in '05, but apparently DC didn't get around to a softcover until just now. Tom Strong's Terrific Tales was the second anthology series in Alan Moore's ABC line of comics, following Tomorrow Stories, with each issue generally consisting of Moore messing around in format with a guest artist while stealth primary writer Steve Moore would maintain a Young Tom Strong series with penciller Alan Lee Weiss and the cheesecake-filled Jonni Future with Art Adams (and later Chris Weston). This is issues #7-12, with guests Peter Bagge, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Peter Kuper, Bruce Timm, Shawn McManus and Jason Trent Pearson; $17.99.
Justice League Dark #1: But there's new DC comics due out too, and my choice -- barring a particular fondness for artist Moritat that might lead you to All Star Western #1, written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti -- would be Peter Milligan's station at the head of working Vertigo-associated (though not originated) characters like John Constantine and Shade, the Changing Man back into the superhero world, accompanied by other magical DCU beings. Art by Mikel Janin. Preview; $2.99.
New Avengers #16.1: One of those set-aside catch-the-new-readers-up issues Marvel is doing, noteworthy for pencils by Neal Adams, with Tom Palmer's inks and Paul Mounts' colors. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Preview; $2.99.
Deadpool MAX #12: The final issue for this first movement of David Lapham/Kyle Baker superhero satire; the creators will return with a second series sometime in 2012, following a holiday special. Preview; $3.99.
Kent Williams: Eklektikos: Finally, your book-on... someone-who's-worked-in-comics-of-the-week, a study of the painter/illustrator (recently of the comics adaptation of The Fountain) by Peter Frank & Alex Ross. From Allen Spiegel Fine Arts; $49.50.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: I can't help but think of Jaime's segments of Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 as something of a piece with Jim Woodring's (wonderful) Congress of the Animals this year -- both proffer potential book-format endings for long-lived alternative comics by suggesting the possibility of major, substantive change in their protagonists' lives, which naturally might as well mark a fresh beginning as well -- although Gilbert's uninhibited vampire fiction is perhaps more in keeping with the thrust of this week's column; $14.99. Elsewhere, PictureBox brings 1-800-MICE, a 176-page hardcover collection/completion of Matthew Thurber's five-issue fractured societal tour, with an unseen sixth issue topping it all off; $22.95.