Best Comic of the Week:
Among some of the other recent signs that indicate that the world may indeed be ending on December 21st, we have to include the sudden appearance of a new issue of Age of Bronze, the overwhelmingly ambitious and excellent comic by Eric Shanower that tells the story of the Trojan War. The last issue of this series came out almost exactly two years ago – I had no idea that it had been that long, and was rather surprised by how easily and quickly I was able to get back into the story.
Shanower has slowly and methodically worked his way to the point where the Achaeans, under King Agamemnon, have laid siege to the city of Troy, and have been camped a little ways outside its walls for quite a while now. In this arc, Betrayal, Shanower has shifted much of the focus of the story to the lovers Cressida and Troilus. In this issue, as part of a prisoner exchange and temporary truce, Cressida is returned to the custody of her father, Kalchas, among the Achaeans, causing her to leave her lover, Troilus, son of King Priam, in Troy.
Cressida is devastated by this, and finds things even worse when the Achaean kings begin pawing at her. Scheming Kalchas, meanwhile, tries to find ways to use his daughter to improve his own lowly station, while poor Troilus wallows in his misery.
Not a lot of import happens in this issue; it’s a classic ‘midway through an arc’ kind of book, but it does remind me why I’ve always loved this title so much. Shanower’s art is fantastic, as he continues to make it easy to differentiate between characters in a cast of almost a hundred.
Another thing that surprised me about this issue is how well-trained I’ve been by decades of reading serialized stories, to be able to pick up the threads of a plot-line after a gap of two years. I was shocked to find out it’s been so long since the last issue; if asked, I would have guessed only a year.
I can understand why Age of Bronze would be a tough sell, due to its extreme slowness of publication, but I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Other Notable Comics:
Art by Carlos Ezquerra
I really admire Garth Ennis’s ability to tell a war story that hits all of the major war comics tropes, but still feels essential, if not particularly original.
Sergeant Stiles, star of all the ‘tankie’ stories in Ennis’s Battlefields comics, has found himself lost in Korea with the newest recruit to join his crew. They’ve fallen in with the Glosters, a British unit that is almost completely cut off by a large force of Chinese soldiers. Stiles and his young charge help defend the Glosters from the siege for a number of days, and that’s basically all that happens in this comic. And its terrific.
Ennis excels at providing just enough historical context for the situations he depicts to make perfect sense (I’ve read very little about the Korean War), and he has a solid understanding of how to make war comics like this work. We do get the standards – the brave young soldier who dies before his nineteenth birthday, the easy camaraderie between soldiers of different social standings, and the dignity with which the enlisted men face certain death. Sure, the writing is formulaic, but it’s a formula that works very well.
Art by Morgan Jeske
I’d skipped Ales Kot’s debut, Wild Children, because I’d read some pretty negative reviews. Change, his new mini-series, however, received some positive buzz, and I was attracted to Morgan Jeske’s art, so I thought I’d pick this up and give it a try.
I’m not all that sure I understand what’s going on in it, but I’m definitely interested. We are introduced to three characters with this issue – W-2 is a very rich, very popular rapper, who dreams of making it big as a movie mogul. He has an idea for a film about him and his ex-girlfriend’s Cthulu-baby, but he’s having a very hard time making the screenplay for it work. He’s hired Sonia, a wannabe screenwriter, but by the third page of the comic, he’s fired her, and she’s stolen his car. Both of these characters end up getting attacked by what looks like cultists before the issue ends.
We also are sort-of introduced to an astronaut who is returning to Earth after having travelled to one of Jupiter’s moons. Something seems strange about him, but we don’t know what just yet.
This book has a bit of a Ted McKeever vibe to it, story-wise, which means that I’m not all that surprised that I don’t understand the narrative flow completely. A second, and perhaps third reading is called for. I do like the way Kot writes this though, and I’m interested enough in the story to come back for the second issue.
A lot of the credit for that goes to Morgan Jeske, whose art reminds me of Gabriel Bá, Fábio Moon, and Rafael Grampá, which is high praise indeed.
There are a number of mysteries to be solved in this comic, and I do hope that the second issue works to clarify the story a little better, but I still see this as a very successful start to a new series by some new talent.
Art by Declan Shalvey
It’s a rare thing, after reading comics for thirty years, to know that you are reading a definitive run on an long-established character. I know that for many fans, Conan means Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith, but for me, it’s going to mean Brian Wood. And what that further means, is that my definitive Conan is going to be young and unsure of himself, trapped between the heart’s demands and the need to be free and on the move.The crew of the Tigress has come down with a vicious sickness, and only Conan remains healthy. He’s set off in search of help in a rough port town, although Bêlit, his queen and lover, has demanded that he leave her to die. When the local healer suggests that he do what Bêlit ordered, he’s left in a difficult position.This is a simple and straight-forward issue, but it reveals a depth to the character that I hadn’t expected to be there before beginning to read his adventures. Short of a brief bar fight, there is no action to be found in this issue, yet it is a gripping read.
Art by Jonathan Case
There aren’t a lot of comics like The Creep being published today – comics that are quiet and explore inner depths, books that are anti-hipsterish, but also avoid the most basic tropes of the genres they are set within.
The Creep has been about a PI named Oxel, who suffers from some genetic disorder that has made him grow to an unnatural size, and suffer from a number of side effects. His old college girlfriend got in touch with him to investigate why her son committed suicide; she has been unable to let go of her child, and wants to understand what happened to him. Oxel’s investigation rips the bandage off for many people though, including the mother of the boy’s best friend (who killed himself months before), and for the woman’s father, who used to take both boys hunting.
For much of the series, it looked like Arcudi was setting this up along the familiar, Andrew Vachss-style lines of there being some sort of molestation, but I’m pleased to see, in this issue, that this was all a red herring, or something that existed only in Oxel’s mind. The truth, as shown here in a flashback, is much stranger (and likely to stick with me) than anything I could have expected.
Arcudi is a very good character writer, and Jonathan Case is more than up for the job of portraying the subtlety he works into his scripts. This story will read great in a trade; if you haven’t been following it, give it a try.
Art by Garry Brown
What I like most about The Massive, Brian Wood’s near-future, post-environmental collapse series is the opportunity it provides for interesting settings, and the way that it frames its character development as a consequence of events.
This issue marks the beginning of ‘Subcontinental’, a new three-part story arc set on Moksha station, a sovereign nation built of stolen oil rigs and pacifist ideals. The crew of the Kapital come aboard Moksha, where Ninth Wave’s leader, Callum Israel, is seen as a hero of the environmental movement. His conversation with Sumon, the director of the station, suggests that other things are happening on the station however, that may not be as positive as things seem at first glance.
The may be a surprise to Israel, but not to Mag, his right-hand man, who is chafing under Israel’s ideals. There is a growing rift among the prominent members of Ninth Wave, and it’s clear that this series will be exploring that problem as much as it will the ruined future Wood has constructed.
This issue marks a few firsts for the series. I believe this is the first time that Israel’s time at Blackbell, the private military contractors, is not referenced, and this issue lacks the excellent backmatter that is usually included in each new comic. I’m hoping that returns, as I’ve enjoyed the extra context to the character’s lives. As well, there is no mention of The Massive, The Kapital’s sister ship, which our heroes are searching for.
Art by Ryan Kelly
This issue of Saucer Country has a couple of terrific moments in it that make it clear to me that this is a book that is designed to last for a while, and really explore more than just the alien-abduction aspect of its story.
Governor Arcadia Alvarado is in Las Vegas for a Democratic primary debate. She’s just been shot at, and now, after a separate shooting incident, two of her security staff are dead. Michael, her ex-husband and fellow alien abductee, believes that he may be the person responsible for this, as does the reader.
The debate, which happens this issue, promises a couple of surprises, and we also learn what happened to the woman that Professor Kidd has been looking for. The word ‘conspiracy’ gets tossed around this issue a fair amount, and it’s beginning to look more and more like multiple forces are working behind the scenes to control or influence Alvarado’s campaign.
Cornell has a complex plot working here, but what makes this book work is the strength of the characters. From Michael’s self-doubt to her female advisor’s skill at planning the campaign, this book is pretty memorable, and with Ryan Kelly drawing the hell out of it, absolutely gorgeous.
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead never stop getting a rise out of me, it seems. Really, the best way to get me worked up while reading an issue is to put Carl in danger. Over the years, as we’ve watched him grow into the cold, hard kid that he’s become, my sympathy and love for the character has only grown.
Last issue, Carl snuck into one of the trucks belonging to the Saviours, the group that work for Negan, the psychopath who has killed a major character, and has effectively taken over the Community where Rick and his group live. Carl jumped out of the back of the truck with a rifle, and killed a few of Negan’s men before being captured.
This entire issue is given over to Negan showing Carl around the compound where the Saviours live, and it’s pretty disturbing on a few levels. It feels like, when creating Negan, Kirkman felt the need to outdo the work he did on The Governor, the man who chased the group out of the prison a long time ago, and who is currently being used as the villain on the TV show. Negan is a much more controlling and dangerous psychopath than the Governor was, as we learn when he shows Carl through his harem of ‘wives’, and we see him dispensing punishment on one of his men for an indiscretion (and also learn why the guy who attacked the Community has such a messed-up face).
Most disturbing of all though is the scene wherein he forced Carl to take off his bandages. Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard have spared us this sight up until now, but the full-page illustration of Carl’s full head, after the injuries he sustained when the Community was overrun, is going to be in my mind when I go to sleep tonight.
And therein lies the strength of this series. Sure, the villains have been pretty over-the-top, but most of the characters in this book are everyday people who are shown having to survive a terrible situation. When faced with Negan’s evil, Carl reacts like many twelve-year-old kids would, and it’s a touching and terrifying scene. Adlard and Rathburn portray the complexity of Carl’s emotions perfectly.
I love this book.
The Activity #10 – This issue really could have used a scene or two showing the team’s briefing, as most of the operators complete a rather confusing mission in the Philippines, while Weatherman conducts an assassination in Belarus. The issue is designed to raise questions about the local ramifications of the objectives and methods of the team, but none of the characters are given enough space for that to really sink in.
Amazing Spider-Man #699.1 – I’m a little curious about the upcoming Morbius series, mostly because writer Joe Keatinge has impressed me with his work on Glory at Image. This .1 issue of Amazing Spider-Man is more like Morbius #0.1, or something, but seeing as how Marvel’s been getting a lot of press for ASM these days, I can’t blame them for launching this in this way; I’m sure it got the book a lot more sales than if it had come out under the Morbius title. Anyway, this is basically a recap of Morbius’s origin; I don’t know the character well enough to know if it was retconned in any way. It’s a good enough comic, and it has made me want to pick up and check out the first issue, most likely.
Archer & Armstrong #5 – Because of events of the last issue, Gilad, the Eternal Warrior (and Armstrong’s brother) is coming after Archer and Armstrong, and he’s looking to kill them. There is a large fight in India which brings to mind some of the better issues of Fred Van Lente’s co-writing on Incredible Hercules, which this book feels like a successor to, and we learn a little more about the Geomancers in the relaunched Valiant Universe. It’s a good issue, although I prefer Clayton Henry’s art to Emanuela Lupacchino’s.
Avengers Arena #1 – I think I’m going to have to disagree with my colleagues about this series. Avengers Arena is basically the Hunger Games, with superheroes. Dennis Hopeless has Arcade, he of the platform shoes and bell-bottoms, imbued with godlike powers where all he wants to do with them is watch teenagers with powers kill each other. He starts with sixteen of them – a few from Avengers Academy, a few from Runaways, Darkhawk (who is not so much a teenager anymore, I thought), and some that I believe are new to the series (Kid Briton, Apex, Anachronism, Red Raven, Ryker, and Bloodstone are all new to me, at least), and tells them they have to kill each other, and then he kills a character that I came to like over the course of Christos Gage’s Academy run. My problems with this book are many, although none of them have to do with the writing or the art, which is all very good. I more have issues with the premise. First, I don’t know why we need a book that so blatantly rips off a series of YA novels (something that Arcade even makes reference to), where the whole purpose of that book is to kill off characters. We always hear from creators and editors about how hard it is to establish new characters in the Marvel Universe, but books like this run counter to that. The relationship between Hazmat and Mettle is handled wonderfully in most of this issue, but then that is ended by the events of the last few pages. It seems gratuitous, even when there’s a good chance that these characters will be brought back one day, safe and sound. I just wonder what the prognosis is for the long-term viability of such a title; Avengers Academy made it almost forty issues, but I can’t see this concept lasting twenty, unless new characters are constantly being led to the slaughter. Finally, if Arcade is as powerful as he seems, how are the characters supposed to be able to stop him? Are we given any hope that they will band together and form a team? Most of them don’t even speak in this issue. I would be completely done with this book right now, but Chris Bachalo’s Lord of the Flies tribute cover on the next issue makes me want to own it. I will reassess it all then. (The fact that I read this comic between reading news updates of the shooting in Connecticut did not really influence my feelings about a book that is designed to feature the killings of teenagers, but the timing was worth noting).
Batman #15 – I can tell that Scott Snyder really wants to make this the definitive Joker story of the New 52 era, but perhaps by trying too hard, he’s shooting himself in the foot story-wise. There is a retconned suggestion that the Joker once penetrated the Bat-Cave, and it sets all of Bruce’s Robins and other close friends (ie. Batgirl) into a tizzy, which ultimately goes nowhere. Things really pick up for the last few pages of the main story, but mostly because Greg Capullo decides to ape Dave McKean’s brilliant Arkham Asylum work, just as Snyder dusts off Grant Morrison’s lasting contribution to the Joker – that of his possible homosexuality. Capullo remains the biggest problem this book has, especially when he has to draw Bruce and friends without masks; all of the Robins and Bruce are almost identical. The back-up story, featuring the Riddler, disappoints me by abandoning the private investigator angle that Paul Dini added so effectively to the character, and by reminding me how much better an artist Jock is than Capullo.
Batman and Robin #15 – A big part of the Death of the Family cross-over is the question of whether or not the Joker knows Batman’s secret identity, to the extent that kind of thing makes the readers nervous for our hero. Now, with this tie-in, the Joker gets ahold of Damian, and spends the last few pages talking about Batman as a ‘father-figure’ to Robin, suggesting that he has no clue that they are indeed father and son. I probably thought of other things while reading this issue, but the truth is I got kind of bored, and stopped paying much attention. This storyline is being dragged out way too much, and as much as I usually like Peter Tomasi and Patrick Glearson’s take on the Batman and Robin aspect of Batman, I’m getting a little tired of this title. Were Tomasi just doing his thing on his own, it would be a lot better, but the demands of Bat-Continuity are wrecking this title.
Cable and X-Force #1 – This is a pretty decent debut, as Dennis Hopeless introduces us to Cable’s whole team in a prologue, and we learn that they will be facing off against the Uncanny Avengers at some point soon, before backing up a little, and showing us how some of the team comes together. I like the way Hopeless writes Dr. Nemesis (although I hate the new look he has on the cover), and the inclusion of Forge, Domino, and Colossus on the team are all positives. On the downside, I’ve never been a big fan of Cable, and I don’t like how prominent a role it looks like Hope is going to have to play in this series; I just generally find the character annoying (I’d have no problem with her being dumped into Avengers Arena and killed off). Still, there is more than enough here to like, and I’m tempted to pick up the next issue (although, it is coming out next week alongside a literal flood of Marvel books, and could easily get left behind at the store).
Clone #2 – David Schulner’s science thriller continues quite well this month, introducing a sub-plot concerning the debate that centres around stem-cell research in the White House, while Luke, who has just discovered that he may be a clone, meets a ton of his brothers, and works to retrieve his pregnant wife from the people who want to kill him. This has all the necessary elements for a good thriller movie, and has great art by Juan Jose Ryp. I do hate the the double-page splash got printed on opposite sides of the same page though…
Demon Knights #15 – I think this is Paul Cornell’s last issue on this title, and in finishing his story, he finally makes clear the connection between the Demon Knights and Stormwatch. I found this issue very enjoyable, and it reinvigorated my interest in the title, which had been waning. And then I find out that the next issue is set thirty years later, and I wonder if there is any sort of plan for this book at DC. I know that Robert Venditti is set to take over the title, and since I’ve liked his work on The Surrogates, and more recently X-O Manowar, I will probably check out his first issue. I just can’t promise much past there. Bernard Chang’s art on this issue is lovely.
Fantastic Four #2 – I have no real interest in reading this series, but I discovered by flipping through it on the stands this week that it features the new FF team pretty prominently, and that is a book I do want to read. I imagine, now the Richards family have left on their trip, the two titles will diverge, and I can read the one I want to without having to worry about what goes on in this title. If not, then I don’t think I loved FF enough to keep reading this… My problems with this book are many – I don’t get the huge emphasis Reed and family are placing on their need to keep a secondary team on stand-by when they go on a trip for four minutes. How many other times have the FF gone away, for much longer than that (sometimes even a half-hour?) without naming successors? Furthermore, Matt Fraction seems to be playing the characters at their most reductive and least sophisticated. Ben Grimm goes back to Yancey Street (that needs to be banned in general) and lifts weights with She-Hulk, while Johnny is being portrayed as an absolute bimbo, like the good work that Jonathan Hickman did with both of these characters never even happened. I’d talk about Sue too, but she barely appears in this book. Another issue I have is that so much space was given over last issue to Franklin’s foreshadowing trouble if the team returns to space, yet here they are happily flying away, without a single bad thought crossing his little mind. Originally, I’d wanted to skip this book because I don’t like Mark Bagley’s art, but I’m having a hard time believing that this is the same Matt Fraction who is writing the awesome Hawkeye…
Iron Man #4 – I have nothing new to say about this title that I didn’t say last month. It’s still poorly constructed and horribly drawn. The book opens with a scene of Tony Stark’s latest bimbo taking off in a car, and Pepper pointing out that Tony had his bimbos confused. “Do they all look the same to you?” she asks Tony. Well, Ms. Potts, when Greg Land is drawing them, yes, they do. They all look like Emma Frost in recent Land-traced issues of Uncanny X-Men to be exact. This little interaction, clearly done by Kieron Gillen to wink at the legions of Internet haters who write about Land’s art, almost makes up for the fact that the rest of the comic is creaky and nonsensical. I wonder if the reason why Marvel has so aggressively double-shipped this book (second issue in two weeks) for these first four issues is because they realized that once a couple of issues have come out, everyone’s going to be dropping this puppy off their pull-files. I know I have. I just can’t decide which Marvel NOW! relaunch is worse – this or Thunderbolts.
Point of Impact #3 – I’m continuing to enjoy this noir-ish murder mystery, despite the fact that it’s moved into strange territory, as a reputable company’s ‘special projects’ division becomes implicated in the death of the woman which kicked off the series. We learn that the woman had learned a secret, but we aren’t told just what that secret is, and that makes the story creek a little under its own weight. Still, Jay Faerber has crafted a pretty intriguing book, and I look forward to seeing how it all ends next month.
Ultimate Comics X-Men #20 – I keep buying this, and then I keep wondering why I am. I love Brian Wood’s writing on The Massive, on Conan, and on just about everything else he’s done, but I find this story lacks credibility on all sorts of levels, the biggest being that a thirteen year old kid can become such a voice of dissent in a group consisting of a number of adults, who are being led by a sixteen year old. I do like the way in which Wood is making this series his own, and is using it to explore the same types of themes that he did in DMZ and Northlanders, and is right now in The Massive; namely that of human survival in a harsh, inhospitable climate. Kitty’s band of 20 mutants (all that are left, after the rest have taken ‘the cure’) have been dumped in a contaminated stretch of desert to fend for themselves, and are already mutating seed stock to do it. There is a slight criticism of the policies of GMO companies like Monsanto, but then Tony Stark shows up, debuting his Iron Patriot armor before it gets unveiled in Ultimates, and the story starts to lose focus. My on-going issue with this series, though, is that the cartoonish art by Carlo Barberi does not match the weight of the story.
Winter Soldier #13 – As much as I’m going to miss Ed Brubaker writing this comic (and for Marvel in general), I think I’m going to miss Butch Guice’s art more. He continues to do an impressive job with this book, and in this issue, he does a cool thing where he draws Captain America like the icon he is, with a Sal Buscema kind of look to him, while everyone else looks more contemporary and realistic. It’s a cool effect, because it’s not over-played. The story here is starting to wander a little too much (partly because this book is hella late for a Marvel comic these days), as Brubaker works Daredevil in to the story, perhaps as his way of saying goodbye to another character he had a respected run with.
Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:
Avengers Assemble #10
Caligula Heart of Rome #1
Ultimate Comics Iron Man #3
Astonishing X-Men Annual #1 – I find it weird how much Marvel feels the need to publish stories about Northstar’s wedding to Kyle. This annual, written by Christos Gage, features Jean-Paul and Kyle on their honeymoon, which of course gets interrupted by the X-Men, who need Jean-Paul’s help to stop the Friends of Humanity from killing the family of any X-Men in the Eastern Hemisphere, because only he’s fast enough. While he’s off running around, the rest of the team try to make Kyle feel bad for marrying the guy, or something. It’s an alright story, but not too impressive. What really hurts though, is the reprinting of Alpha Flight #106, the story where Northstar originally came out of the closet. If you’d like to see a perfect example of why the 90s were horrible, this is a great book. There is no other way in which this book is good. Scott Lobdell’s always struck me as an over-writer, but by god this is bad. Mark Panicca “drew” it, and it has all of the excesses of that decade without any of the charm – the bad uniforms, the perplexing anatomy (we get it that Northstar’s gay, but isn’t drawing him bowlegged a form of homophobia), and the questionable character motives. It’s such a trainwreck that it’s almost worth reading just for that reason. During a fight with Mr. Hyde, Jean-Paul finds a newborn baby in a trashcan; weeks later, doctors puzzle as to the source of her fever. It can’t be because she was left in a trashcan, no, it’s because she has AIDS! And then, by the end of the book, she dies of AIDS. A newborn. And it makes a retconned Canadian war hero angry that people feel bad for the baby, because his son died of AIDS and no one cared. So he’s going to kill the baby! Which is already dying anyway! From AIDS fever! And there are people who feel nostalgic for this crud…
Avenging Spider-Man #12&13 – These two issues feature a Deadpool and Hypno-Hustler story (yes, seriously) written by Kevin Shinick. It’s a fun story, if a bit predictable. The best part about it is Aaron Kuder’s art, which has a bit of a Frank Quitely vibe to it. I enjoyed the comics, but they remind me of why I don’t really like Deadpool – he’s always a little too juvenile when being played for laughs. Rick Remender’s the only writer I’ve been able to handle writing him.
Avenging Spider-Man Annual #1 – Basically, this is a Blue Beetle/Booster Gold Justice League International style story, starring Spidey and the Thing. It’s cute, but the bad guys, such as they are, are annoyingly straight out of a sitcom. I do like Brad Walker’s art, and I wonder why neither he nor writer Rob Williams got any kind of cover credits.
New Avengers #32-34 – These are the final three issues of Brian Michael Bendis’s run with Luke Cage and his Avengers, and as came to be the case with much of Bendis’s work with the Avengers over the last ten years, they are wildly inconsistent. The story is about the brother of Brother Voodoo coming to exact revenge on Dr. Strange for Drumm’s death a while back, and to do this, he’s going to basically act like DC’s Deadman, and possess all of the Avengers one at a time and attack Strange. Almost one whole issue is spent watching Maria Hill tell people to ‘stand down’ before the action begins. The biggest issue with these comics is the art, which is is handled by a group of artists that should never work together. First, there’s an issue by Carlos Pacheco, handing in the most rushed-looking art of his career. From there, we jump to Michael Avon Oeming, a very cartoonish artist, before jumping over to the realism of Mike Deodato. It took me out of the story each time I opened a new issue (although I did like the fact that #34 had various guest pages showing Dr. Strange fighting his friends, mostly for the Becky Cloonan page). I imagine Bendis wanted to go out on more of a bang than this…
Venom #15-19 – I dropped Venom, despite enjoying the book a fair deal, back when Marvel made it weekly for a month, and had multiple fourteenth issues (14.1, 14.2, etc.), all featuring different guest stars. I am consciously trying to avoid Marvel’s more shameless cash-grabs these days, but I did kind of miss the character. Checking back in with the book, I see that it remained very good, with nice writing from Rick Remender (later joined by Cullen Bunn), and generally very good art from Lan Medina or Kev Walker. It’s a little crazy that every issue features Crimemaster, Jack O’Lantern, and the Human Fly, but on the up side, Remender stopped referring to the ‘famous Thompson Hail Mary play’ in each and every issue, which is definite progress. Is this book still good?
Wolverine #315 – Cullen Bunn’s second arc with everyone’s favourite mutant is pretty middle of the road. There’s some secret group that Logan used to run with in the past, there’s some unfinished business, rinse, repeat. We’ve been here before. Maybe fans of Elsa Bloodstone would get excited by this; I’m not. At the same time, it’s not bad.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
Craig Thompson’s Habibi, which came out in 2011, is easily one of the best graphic novels I’ve read this year, right up there with Chris Ware’s Building Stories for its literary value and emotional weight.
It tells the story of two orphans, Dodola and Zam, as they escape slavery together, and then re-enter it separately, always looking for the other. The story is set in Wanatolia, a fictional Sultanate, and the time period in which it takes place is fluid, as the beginning of the book feels like it is set in the late 19th century, but by the end of the book, we are firmly in the modern world.
Dodola was a child bride who was pressed into slavery when her husband was killed by the Sultan’s men. There she found a three-year old boy, who she took with him when she escaped and re-named Zam. They lived together for many years in an abandoned boat, marooned in the middle of a desert, where she sold herself to passing caravans in return for food. To entertain the child, Dodola told him stories, many of which are the foundations of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
As the two grow, they become very close, although Zam’s first sexual stirrings create a rift between them. When he learns what Dodola does to protect him, he starts travelling to the city to sell the water he finds, so as to emancipate her like she did him. This doesn’t work though, and they become separated from one another.
Dodola ends up in the Sultan’s harem, where she is his favourite, and eventually gives birth to his son. Zam, meanwhile, ends up in much worse circumstances, living with a group of transgendered eunuchs. Eventually, they find each other again.
This book is about a whole lot more than just the relationship between these two tragic figures. It is also about the power of stories themselves, and the words and letters that form them. Thompson takes us through the similarities between Islam and Christianity, and the visual poetry of the Arabic alphabet. He also condenses into his tale a great deal of social commentary about Islam, gender politics, and the changing role of the sexes.
This is a very sensual book, with Arabic letters and nude human bodies lounging around in the harems and village bathtubs. I’m sure when it was released there were charges of Orientalism levied against it, as Thompson portrays a culture and tradition that is not his own, but nothing here feels artificial or forced. Instead, this is an absolutely gorgeous book, which I find myself thinking about again and again in the days since I’ve finished reading it.
Album of the Week:
Nico Muhly – Drones – This album is a haunting, and beautiful meditation on the amount of background noise in our lives. Muhly has composed these pieces to be the contemporary classical equivalent of singing along to the vacuum cleaner or to the shower, and it’s lovely, without any of the abrasiveness or dissonance of ‘experimental’ classical music.