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Nexus Graphica
by Rick Klaw

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Captain Marvel, Jr.
Mark Millar
Leinil Yu
Superior #1
Multiple Sclerosis
Guerillas Volume 1
The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor Volume One
Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Zombies
Recent Books of Interest
Guerillas Volume 1 by Braham Revel (Oni)
Guerillas Volume 1 In his introduction to the first volume of Guerillas, Braham Revel's absurdest Vietnam War story Jackson Publick (The Venture Brothers co-creator) encapsulates my view on the title: "You don't need the likes of me to tell you to buy a comic book about apes with machine guns. They're APES, for God's sake. With MACHINE GUNS!" For those few who didn't immediately rush out to acquire the book, I'll go on. Reminiscent of Alex Toth, Revel's minimalistic stylings perfectly relate the strange story of Private John Francis Clayton's first tour in 'Nam. After the massacre of his platoon, a group of gun-toting, cigar chomping, military trained chimps befriend the dazed and lost private. But Revel does far more than draw a bunch of apes, he adeptly explores war from the viewpoint of a soldier with all of the accompanying powerlessness and chaos. Complete with an evil scientist, a blood thirsty baboon, covert military squads, and a massive conspiracy... oh hell, does it really matter? It's comic book about APES with MACHINE GUNS!

The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor Volume One Written by Donald Glut Art by Jesse Santos and Dan Spiegle (Dark Horse)
The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor Volume One Originally conceived as a story host à la The Crypt Keeper for Gold Key's Mystery Comics Digest and Golden Comics Digest, Doctor Spektor proved popular enough to warrant his own series. Co-creator Donald Glut decided to pursue a different tack with the eponymous title. Rather than regulating him to the role of storyteller, The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor followed the titular character and his secretary Lakota Rainflower, a Sioux Indian, on their amazing encounters with vampires, mummies, ghosts, lycanthropes, and a variety of other supernatural nasties. Joined by the extraordinary artist Jesse Santos, Glut penned 24 issues of the largely forgotten title. Thankfully, Dark Horse decided to collect these imaginative stories in a handsome archive edition. Volume One reprints issues #1-7, Spektor's first appearance in Mystery Comics Digest #5 (drawn by Dan Spiegle), a rare 1974 giveaway mini comic that re-cuts and retells The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor #1, and an informative introduction by Glut.

Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs Zombies Written by Ian Edginton Art by Davide Fabbri with Tom Mandrake (Wildstorm)
Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs Zombies Tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, Edginton and Fabbri effectively combine the popular genres of steampunk, zombies, and Sherlock Holmes in a clever tale of Victorian terror. In March 1854, an alien ship lights up the skies above London. Some thirty years later, Scotland Yard calls on Holmes and Watson to investigate the odd occurrence of the dead who refuse to stay dead. Edginton wisely populates his tale with classic Holmesian elements: Mrs. Watson, Mycroft, Lestrade, and most importantly Holmes himself deducing the opaque and improbable. Eschewing the trend to portray Watson as a buffoon, in Victorian Undead the war veteran and respected physician functions as an valued ally and aide-de-camp. Additionally, unlike Tony Moore's cover, artist Fabbri illustrates Holmes in the far more accurate bowler and suit than the popular deerstalker cap and Inverness cape coat, an ensemble never worn in the city. As Holmes digs further, he discovers a massive government cover up and a long-dead foe's horrific machinations. A visual delight, the well written Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs Zombies emerges as a welcome addition to the Holmes mythos.

"...I think I'm in deep shit."

Captain Marvel Jr.
Superior

Captain Marvel Jr., introduced in 1941 as one of the earliest crippled characters in comics, revolutionized the burgeoning comics industry as the first youthful counterpart to a main hero, thus spawning the "superhero family" concept. During an aerial battle between Captains Marvel and Nazi, the Aryan villain crashes into a lake, crippling the young Freddy Freeman who happened to be fishing on a small boat. Captain Marvel petitions the powerful Shazam, who originally granted Billy Batson the powers of Captain Marvel, to help the near-death teen. In response, the impish wizard bestowed similar abilities upon Freeman, who transforms into (and back from) Captain Marvel Jr., by saying "Captain Marvel," coincidentally making him the only hero unable to speak his own name.

Writer Mark Millar, the brainchild behind Wanted and Kick-Ass, and artist Leinil Yu revisit the concept in a 21st century, postmodern manner with the new series Superior. Instead of an accident, multiple sclerosis (MS) cripples teenager Simon Pooni, named after a real person who won an eBay auction for the naming rights. (The proceeds went toward a bus for a special-needs school). In the comic, high school basketball star Pooni initially experienced clumsiness, then he couldn't wiggle his toes, and within a year required walking canes (or at times a wheelchair) to get around. In the first issue, an alien grants him the ability to morph into a real-life version of Superior, the fictional hero of several extremely popular action films. The first chapter ends with Pooni as Superior sitting outside his best friend's window stating the obvious, "...I think I'm in deep shit."

Nearly 18 years ago, I woke up with both feet numb. Within a few days, the numbness reached my chest and both hands. Scared and confused, I saw several doctors as my mysterious condition continued to worsen. After numerous tests, including two MRIs and a spinal tap, I learned I had multiple sclerosis. I felt the same as Pooni outside his friend's window, sans superhero identity, of course.

While I enjoyed various elements of Superior #1, the overall portrayal of MS still disturbs me. The vast majority of people diagnosed with MS never experience such severe disability, though many require some kind of mobility aide like a cane. But let's assume Pooni is among the less-than-one-third of people with MS who requires a wheelchair. Of the some 400,000 people currently afflicted in the US, only eight to ten thousand of them were diagnosed while in their teens. (I was 25, the median age.) Additionally, some 80 percent of people with MS are women.

Millar produces fantastic fiction, so I willingly accepted the improbable odds until he finally presented something that removed me completely from the tale. During a montage of events recounting Pooni's struggles, the narrator recounts:

  They hoped at first it might less aggressive, but within a month, his entire body ached, and a short while later he was blind in one eye.

By the end of the year, he couldn't walk without the sticks and he was smart enough to know where all of this was heading.

 

Typically, when first stricken with MS, a patient receives massive doses of steroids to suppress the symptoms. Then he begins any one of several powerful medications to suppress the progression of the disease. Not once in the first issue is the subject of treatment broached. It's as if Pooni has trouble with his hands and suddenly without any fight, he's in a wheelchair. Sorry, Millar, it doesn't work that way.

Millar approaches MS in this story as though it could be any 70s movie-of-the-week disease: cancer, lupus, measles, alien microbes, take your pick. Like lupus and measles, most people have heard of multiple sclerosis, but don't really know what it is and this overly, dramatic worst case portrayal does little to help.

Multiple Sclerosis causes your white blood cells to attack the protective covering that coats nerves, called myelin. As the myelin heals from the attacks, it forms scars, which impede nerve signals, causing a whole host of symptoms. These vary from the mild and invisible, such as numbness in the limbs to the obvious and/or severe, like paralysis or vision loss. No one knows what causes the disease, and there is no cure, just treatments with varying success rates. There are different types of MS, each varying in severity. In the beginning, I had the most common: relapsing-remitting. My symptoms would appear suddenly, hang around for a few weeks, and then go away completely. But roughly five years ago, several of my symptoms appeared and persisted, causing a diagnosis upgrade to "secondary-progressive," also called "progressive-relapsing." Basically, it means that some things will never go away. Fatigue, double-vision, and numbness now plague me every day.

In his lone text page among those at the end of comic advertising his other titles, Millar blathers on about how Superior is unlike his previous superhero titles: "family-friendly" with less violence, naughty words, and etc. He concludes his essay congratulating Simon Pooni (the eBay winner, not the character) and the store that won a free full-page ad in the issue and explains how your store could win one too. But nowhere does he describe multiple sclerosis or explain why he chose to write about this misunderstood disease in this story.

Even with my criticisms, I rather enjoyed Superior. Millar developed some intriguing plot points. Yu's pencils, assisted by inker Gerry Alanguilan and colorist Dave McCaig, dynamically display the troubled Pooni's reality. While I plan on reading the next issue and perhaps even the third, Millar needs to address my concerns about his handling of multiple sclerosis or he will lose me as a reader.

(Special thanks to the folks at Austin Books & Comics for their help with this column.)


Copyright © 2010 Rick Klaw

Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews, and other things Klaw, Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century. He can often be found pontificating on Twitter and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.


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