Above you see a suitably mysterious image from Glyn Dillon's The Nao of Brown, a recent SelfMadeHero graphic novel publication, and something of a standard-bearer for the recent eruption in fascinating work out of the British comics scene. I quite enjoyed the book, having discussed it in audio form last week and followed its impressive trail of reviews; indeed, I appear to have enjoyed it a bit more than some, insofar as a few common complaints have risen surrounding a certain climactic event (see here). Discussion of this aspect will require spoilers, so if you're not interested in that please skip down to the lovely art of Charles Burns - I'd hate to reveal anything my readership is unprepared for, like how Building Stories was all a dream.
But anyway, what happens near the end of The Nao of Brown is that Nao, the protagonist -- a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive symptoms that compel her toward envisioning acts of violence against luckless denizens of her daily life -- flees the hospital bed of her love interest (who has just suffered a stroke), and, alas, is vaulted into the air by an oncoming vehicle. Several observations are made in-flight, and afterward, in the book's denouement, Nao reflects on how being hit by a car "was the best thing that ever happened to me," as it reoriented her perspective on life. The obvious joke would be to say she got the OCD knocked out of her, although she does still suffer symptoms; it's the way she processes things that appears to have changed.
A melodramatic scenario, perhaps, though the older I get, the less I mind melodrama; if it was good enough for Fassbinder, etc. Moreover, setting aside the purely dramatic concerns at hand, I feel compelled to speak for the verisimilitude of this plot twist, which some readers understandably process as a motion toward sheer artifice.
However, there was a time in my life when I was convinced, in the face of all science and medical assurance, that I was perpetually teetering on the brink of a heart attack. This followed several other highly exciting and sexy episodes where I'd spend, say, three or four months conjuring a perpetual state of nausea, or the niggling belief that I was going blind. I'm not doing a 1:1 comparison of medical afflictions, mind you - it's just an anecdote.
Eventually there came a day where I went to a music festival with a friend; I'd been drinking for most of the morning, and it was hot - maybe 95 degrees and humid. We'd really wanted to catch a bus to the festival grounds in time for national recording artists Better Than Ezra (DO NOT JUDGE ME), but it unfortunately came to pass that my friend wound up on the bus and I didn't, despite my holding the tickets to the show. I then ran the two miles to the show grounds, through the suffocating heat. I made it in time, staggering around and checking my pulse (as was my nervous habit) until suddenly, during the band's rendition of the #43 Billboard charting single Desperately Wanting, that I lost all feeling in my arms and chest, as if a fist had grasped me between my shoulders and squeezed my nerves to numbness.
It was, in retrospect, a highly ridiculous situation, aggravated by my shouting for a "medic" in the manner of the 1950s war comics that unexpectedly decided to dominate my head for what I'd expected were my final moments of life, and that's the thing: I really, truly did believe I was going to die, even though it was later explained to me, very patiently, that dehydration and anxiety are not a happy cocktail, although to this day I remain inclined to believe that Better Than Ezra are warlocks and their theft of my soul led inexorably down to path to writing tip sheets for upcoming comic books.
Still, believing honestly that I was about to die, even though I wasn't, proved to re-wire my head in a way that afforded a whisper of primal experience to my preoccupations. I'm not saying that this makes the considerably more dramatic events of The Nao of Brown any more 'realistic' from a medical standpoint, or even necessarily less artificial in the sense of narrative structure - only that the basic notion of a critically, viscerally physical stimulus can serve as a perspective shift away from mental-based troubles. Analogously, then, the sequence rang very true for this reader, though Dillon is prudent enough a writer to note that everything isn't actually resolved by the close of his narrative - it is just a shift into a less certain future, which could well mean an anticipation of the next bad thing.
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.
The Hive: Ha, feels like this should've been out last week. Being part two of three in Charles Burns' all-color evocation of bandes dessinées, following 2010's X'ed Out - just about perfect a simulation of the Franco-Belgian publishing schedule as well. I imagine we will continue to explore relationship and familial angst across two worlds, one of them more blow-to-the-head oriented than the other, though some of the advance word pegs it as your quintessentially disorienting middle volume with nary a care for the latecoming curious. Published by Pantheon, hardcover again, 9" x 12", 56 pages; $21.95.
The Shadow: Blood and Judgment: Everybody reading this column is probably aware of writer Andy Helfer's 1987-89 run on The Shadow, one of the most endearingly offbeat and energetic superhero publications of the decade, all the more precious to its fans for having never been collected in bookshelf form. But just before that, for a hot second in 1986, it was writer/artist Howard Chaykin's four-issue take on the character that had every tongue wagging, particularly those of longtime devotees of the pulp character who didn't cotton to a debut chapter that consisted primarily of supporting cast members being shot in the head. Yes, this is blood & thunder '80s superheroes as you like it -- the series ran concurrently at DC with The Dark Knight Returns for a while -- with Chaykin cackling his way through a characterization of the titular baffling gunman as the ultimate in gleeful fascism. Back in print from Dynamite, which is also presently maintaining Chaykin's Black Kiss in collected form. Preview; $19.99.
Gray Morrow's Orion: Of course, Howard Chaykin wasn't the only comics artist of the time interested in older pulp adventure sources. BEHOLD - Hermes Press' entrée into the Heavy Metal reprint game, a 9" x 12", 144-page softcover compilation of a serial the well-traveled comics veteran assembled throughout 1978, to be shot, it appears, from the artist's hand-colored originals. If I'm reading the solicitation correctly, Morrow's 1983-84 Pacific Comics series Edge of Chaos will also be included to double your derring-do. I'd flip through this for sure; $39.99.
The Zaucer of Zilk #1 (of 2): Far be it from me to question the marketing prowess of a successful publisher like IDW, but hoo boy does my taste in 2000 AD reprints not coincide with two-issue comic book miniseries of the sort unseen since Fleetway/Quality around the turn of the '90s. At least I *think* (EDIT: incorrectly) these things are oversized so as to preserve magazine proportions flattering to Brendan McCarthy, working with writer Al Ewing on a 2012 revisitation of the dimension-hopping superhero pop star concept. I confess I wasn't nearly as over the moon for The Zaucer of Zilk as quite a lot of critics; invoking Paradax and Rogan Gosh through a supercilious kids' show narration, there's a strong whiff of (vaguely troubled) self-reference and (slightly melancholic) fan homage from different corners of the thing, bringing to mind one Dan Nadel's old Comics Comics assertion that McCarthy had segued from an evolving comics practitioner to a purveyor of same-y (if terrific) riffs. The project does represent the smoothest and most attractive iteration of McCarthy's glowy digital aesthetic yet seen, mind you, but it's also the odd valedictory that's maybe best experienced by readers a bit further away from the younger, nervier works with which it begs comparison. Preview; $3.99.
Judge Dredd Digest Vol. 3: Dark Judges: Meanwhile, on the other side of the rainbow -- where 2000 AD remains black & white and reprint efforts lean more towards manga proportions -- Rebellion presents another low-cost edition of vintage future law enforcement via science and hitting. And psychics and mysticism, since this is a 128-page compilation of rounds vs. the supernatural threats initially drawn by Brian Bolland, whose 1980-81 originals are augmented by a 1985 storyline drawn by Brett Ewins, Cliff Robinson and Robin Smith; $11.00.
Mudman Vol. 1: Pretty nice to see the low introductory Image softcover price point extended to a gentler type of British action guy, a vintage Marvel-type teen superhero series from Paul Grist, working in color. This is the first five issues. So many sample images; $9.99.
The Infernal Man-Thing: Other old/new superhero stuff, in case you missed its comic book serialization a few months back - a 112-page realization of a script by the late Steve Gerber, intended for artist Kevin Nowlan and only recently completed by him. It's a follow-up to a 1974 story that's also included in this package, Song-Cry... of the Living Dead Man! (art by John Buscema & Klaus Janson) - perfect for anyone who just read that Sean Howe books and want to know what the '70s Marvel series were really like. It appears that Man-Thing story from the yet-earlier Savage Tales #1 will also be included, enhancing your Gray Morrow intake for the week. Looks like this; $14.99.
Cyber Force #1: But hell, it's a pretty light week - why not expend a little space on the current state of superhero distribution? This is an Image/Top Cow revival of the foundational Marc Silvestri not-really-the-X-Men-or-anything-like-that concept, navigating the troubled waters of our modern comics industry by availing itself of the latest in navigational tools, i.e. Kickstarter. By which I mean Top Cow ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign to finance the free distribution of an entire five-part, 100-or-so-page opening storyline in digital and print form, I assume working under the impression that readers hooked onto five months of a serial are more likely to re-up for cash come March, to say nothing of the prospective rhetorical value of a series every superhero website in the English-speaking world could have immediate access to in feeding the daily beast. Silvestri himself is co-writer and "art director" of this thing, although he does not look to be adopting the rather manga studio-like head-of-many-hands approach recently employed on The Incredible Hulk. Anyway, just a heads-up as to what might be dropped into your bag tomorrow unbeknownst to you; $0.00.
Marvel NOW! Point One: Oh, but let those silly indies keep their boots laced - this is the big show, right? I'm noting this grab-bag of short stories relating to Marvel's event-style reconfiguration of its creative teams for the presence of Mike & Laura Allred on the Matt Fraction-written FF (a 'wacky' variant on the Fantastic Four concept, set aside from the main series) and Phonogram creators Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie on Young Avengers (a well-liked variant on the Avengers concept with youthful drama and such); $5.99.
B.P.R.D. 1948 #1 (of 5): I've really enjoyed these '40s-set B.P.R.D. stories, which seem to have become default venues for experimentation; 1947, for instance, actually ended its story in part 3 of 5, reserving its final two issues for portrayals of lingering efforts to remove the phantom presence of the story's villains from subsequent events. Unfortunately, the unique co-writer of those series, Josh Dysart, does not appear to be present for this final segment of the saga, with regular B.P.R.D. co-writer John Arcudi taking his place at creator Mike Mignola's side. Art by the interesting Max Fiumara, though, and mainline B.P.R.D. tends to be okay at worst. Preview; $3.50.
Limit Vol. 1 (of 6): Your manga pick of the week, representing the reemergence of another artist whose translations were cut short by the functional end of one-time scene leader Tokyopop - or, specifically in the case of edgy shojo manga specialist Keiko Suenobu, her Japanese publisher, Kodansha, concluded its relationship with Tokyopop before her long series Life could even pass its halfway point in English form. This is a newer (2009-11) project, a metaphorical take on school bullying in which a calamitous vehicular accident in the remote countryside sparks a highly emotive bloodbath among resentful students (as portrayed just appropriately enough for a target audience of 12-year old girls). The publisher is now Vertical; $10.95.
Totally MAD: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity: The latest among many, many MAD compilations, a 256-page 'best-of' from Time Home Entertainment presumably culled from the whole history of the comics institution. If history is our guide, I would expect every big box bookstore remaining in the continental U.S. to squirrel away a copy for flipping. Note that Running Press may or may not have a 272-page Mort Drucker compendium out to comics stores this week as well; Samples; $34.95.
The Art of Betty and Veronica: Finally, your book-on-comics for this very straightforwardly franchise entertainment-oriented Autumn week -- Fantagraphics has some William Burroughs/Lewis Trondheim/Carol Tyler stuff that might be showing up, but probably not from Diamond -- a 160-page Craig Yoe-fronted Archie home production examining the many iterations of the title due from Dan DeCarlo to everyone else, with essays and etc.; $29.99.