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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Earth 2 Comics
Carla Speed McNeil
Alex Robinson
Blackest Night

The Late Green Column

Green Lantern
So here's how it happens that we're a few days past Fools' Day, posting this at SF Site. (Those of you who read this at your leisure, rather than on the "newsstand" date when the main page changes over, needn't be concerned).

Rick is taking a rare and deserved vacation, with his lovely missus, heading in my direction, which is to say West. But he didn't alight here in L.A., rather about 400 miles north, in my native Bay Area, from which I remain expatriated while here in the Pueblo of Angels, trying to write and raise boys.

There was some talk of my driving north to meet Rick and take in a baseball game, but instead, he's taking in a day of Wonder Con -- the northern edition of San Diego's Comic Con (which was not, actually, the point of the trip) while he's there. Perhaps one of us upcoming columns will take in the experience.

Meanwhile, I was charged with writing two columns in a row, which happens when one of us is traveling (that may happen again when I head out of town to teach a writing class this summer -- stay tuned).

And I had every intention of writing that column in a timely fashion to get it here by the 1st, but then a bit of Life happened, involving my eldest son, his mom, and perhaps the energies loosed by Mars transiting into Aries, depending where you stand on the unknowable yet intriguing connections between cosmic matrices.

My Attention was required in "dad mode," some things fell behind, but here I am now.

Though really it all connects. While staying with me a few days, said son perused the extended Green Lantern footage that the Brothers Warner (or at least the corporate entity bearing their name) loosed upon the world at Wonder Con (and which subsequently made its way to the web) And suddenly, grew intrigued by the film he was ready to, if not dismiss, at least "de-prioritize" in terms of his summer viewing.

This loosed a sudden interest in Geoff Johns' Blackest Night opus for DC, which re-launches GL as a marquee player in original Hal Jordan form. But neither of us had read it and so we lit out for a comic book shop.

Voice
Voice
I hadn't set foot in a comic shop in awhile, actually -- somewhat ironic, given this monthly perch -- and am always amazed at the crossing-over and tying-in that goes on with normative superhero comics, when I see them all laid out like that -- in this case, while gazing at the racks in the redoubtable Earth 2 in Sherman Oaks. Son and I had popped in just before closing time, so I didn't have that long to browse.

The collected Blackest Night is currently on order, though I'm given to understand that there's some question about whether DC bundled the installments in the most efficacious way for new readers, since it hopped and scotched between the company's other superhero titles while the saga unfolded.

But when you're owned by a gigantic entertainment combine, and can time your graphic novel releases to the run-up and release of a (hoped-for) tentpole summer film, get that footage in a big comic con, and have it spill over to the net, maybe overall narrative coherence simply defers to overall marketing stratagems.

As for my reading, I made two out of my usually hoped-for three this time (given, you know, the shorter time between columns and the brief flare-up of domestic crisis), and can thus ruminate on the narrative coherence of writer/artist Carla Speed McNeil's Voice, lately out from Dark Horse.

Many of you are already familiar with McNeil's gender-fuzzing sf opus, Finder, as installments have appeared for years on the web, and in indie comics form, and Voice is set in that same world, the domed city of Anvard, where genders seemed to shift and blend faster than in The Left Hand of Darkness, among a greater array of clans duking it out for control than you see in Dune. And there's even a "Fremen" equivalent -- the liberating, disregarded natives getting you in touch with your inner self -- in the form of the Ascians, who live in the lower levels of the domed metropolis.

They're tattooed, which is itself a statement in a world where the "duking out" comes in a series of beauty pageants used by the clans to determine -- well, clan admittance and rank. In Finder, we follow lithe blonde Rachel Grosvenor, herself a "half-breed" caught between two houses, as she tries to secure her future, and that of her family, by winning one of the bitch-festy pageants.

Tricked
Tricked
It's kind of a saucy romp -- though I could have gone even "saucier" -- as McNeil's black-and-white lines call up both the work of Mad Magazine's Bob Clarke, in settings redolent of Blade Runner. The story here was an insert in the larger Finder continuity, so I had to make copious use of McNeil's page notes (a very Moore-like touch) in the back, and even then, I couldn't always keep up.

But there are a lot of sly commentaries about gender and perception along the way -- and even urban planning (and decay) -- so if you're in the right mood, you oughtta pick it up. Or start reading up on Anvard online, and elsewhere, and then come to it.

The other big book I finished was Alex Robinson's Tricked, from Top Shelf. It's a reissue of the renowned graphic novel which came out around 2005 (I'd missed it then), and is packaged with handsome High Fidelity-like cassette-tape cover art.

For you young folks, analogue tape was how we used to "mix" songs for our own use, in the pre-disc era, which of course is itself obsolete in the current "sound file" and "cloud storage" era(s).

Tricked tells the story of once-successful rock idol Ray Beam, struggling, in the midst of settled material comfort, to come back and matter again, as an artist, and to himself. The story takes several threads -- that of Beam, a bipolar fan, a con man, a gay couple running a cafe, a proverbial "farm girl" looking for dad, etc., and weaves them toward an inexorable "shattering night" that changes everything, brings surprise redemption, etc.

You'll figure out most of where things are headed, but to Robinson's credit, there are indeed some surprises along the way. Though "plot twists" wouldn't be the reason to read this, anyway. Instead, Robinson has used comic storytelling tropes to tell a convincingly inhabited story -- the characters become engaging right away -- about a man who makes sounds.

I also like the way he draws bodies -- especially women. Precisely because they don't look like pin-ups (one of the main threads involves a chunky-yet-sexy waitress names Caprice). It's part of the lived-in feel of the book: These aren't documentary or photo-realistic renderings, of course -- there's clearly cartooning at work -- yet the characters have a "real" feel to them.

And hey -- since this is a re-release, we already know it's won the Harvey and Ignatz awards for best graphic novel, and this is one of those works that does as much justice to the "novel" side as to the "graphic."

Meanwhile, son and Ex are tentatively mending fences. Mr. Green Lantern is en route (no more B&W panels there!), and we'll have more after the missing Mr. Klaw checks in next.

Copyright © 2011 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. Rumors still abound about its eBook return. He also gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.


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