So here I was with life stuff ganging up on me, and no time to read comics and graphic novels,
deadline approaching, thinking of swapping columns around, wondering why I'm writing
everything but the books I should be working on, etc.
Especially when I have a couple of rough weeks where my old dog winds down, and I have
to put her to "sleep," as we euphemistically say about euthanasia for animals (rest
easy, ol' Queenie, you goofy, late-arriving rescue dog, you!), and my Ex is undergoing
some another meltdown that involves a noticeable uptick in insults and outbursts, along
with her dragging me into court, since she's convinced that writerly, broke me must be
sitting on secret pots of money in the middle of our current Depression.
How else to explain the falling-apart house I rent, and share with housemates?
So who has time to read comics in the midst of all this (are comics really a young man's
game, as opposed to something for harried middle-aged dads?) or even see Thor (which I
hear is not bad) or contemplate DC's latest "universal reboot" with summer's
upcoming Flashpoint/Justice League twofer, which gives the new/same
heroes new origins (presumably), retooled identities, etc? In fact, since DC is
also announcing same-day "digital distribution" of new issues for the new/old
heroes at that point, have Rick and I read our last "actual" issues from DC, from
a review copy standpoint, in favor of more panning and scanning panels on the
tablet or laptop screen?
These questions swirled around my head (as I was filling out the copious paperwork
for the looming court date) when it occurred to me that even in a time of (seemingly)
no reading, I had actually read some comics after all.
I'd mentioned that my eldest son is on a kick to read the "classics" (i.e, 80s
and 90s stuff written before the latest retoolings), as he works his way back from
Blackest Night (which I read when he was finished, and which still makes little
sense to me without the "in-between" issues from the other titles filling in the
gaps: How do the dead superheroes get their hearts back at the end? Who the
hell "powers" the Black Lantern Corps really? Are the Black Lanterns really only
motivated by the nihilistic pull of entropic, pan-universal "heat death?" Etc.)
to Frank Miller's original Dark Knight (which I then re-read -- was Miller
more Ayn Randian than I realized back then, when his mid-80s critiques of Reagan-era
mindless nationalism in the face of implosion and decay were rare and fresh in a
numbed-down media landscape), with Kingdom Come due next.
I will let you know how the discussion unfolds.
He's also reading Maus (for school) and we've been discussing the layering of
the "masks," when the humans in the wrap-around tale are wearing animal masks, instead
of actually being them, in the interior, overwhelming tale of the Shoah.
So there's a lot of comic talk going on in the car to and from school -- but it
occurred to me that despite the distractions of pets leaving mortal coils and former
loves becoming riven by seeming vendettas, I'd managed to read a couple of comics after all.
Only, I wasn't discussing them in the car, and I never really had a couple of days
and "sitting down and reading" this month, so it didn't feel like it, though by
reading a few pages here and there, I finished up a couple things.
First among these was Zombies vs. Robots Aventure -- an irresistible title/conceit
(even if the missing "d" in "adventure" calls up puzzling European
connotations) -- written by Chris Ryall, here collected, unsurprisingly, by IDW,
where he works as editor-in-chief. Working with a handful of different artists, this
tale is pretty much what you'd expect from the title -- zombies have come roaring
forth, and the only allies that the dwindling human population has are those
that have already been built -- robots!
Since we don't follow particular characters here, à la Walking Dead
(or, I gather, as in the regular non "aventure" run of Z v. R) we don't
really have a soap operatic survival tale of a fraying human community. Here instead
is a collection of different tales, but because we never get to know anyone -- and
the settings are always shifting (to different parts of our new, zombie-fied
world) -- our emotional stakes aren't as high as they might be.
Still, a tale about a lab assistant discovering an Iron Man-like
suit with which to fight zombies (he thinks), and further, a story of Voodoo-derived
zombies fighting your more basic horrific plague-spawned zombies in Haiti, are
kind of fun in a bloody way.
If you need a zombie fix, check it out.
The other book perhaps fits the mood of my past month -- though it's almost more
a "picture book" for grown ups than a graphic novel. I refer to The Night Bookmobile,
written -- and illustrated! -- by Audrey Niffenegger, best known as the author
of The Time Traveler's Wife, and published by Abrams, who is to be admired
for their chance-taking in a lot of their "graphical" offerings.
As I said, the dimensions of the book -- along with its hard covers -- make it seem
much more like a picture book, especially given that most pages have splash illustrations
with minimal text (though some are laid out like comic panels). But the story is
pure Twilight Zone.
A woman in a fraying relationship takes a long walk at night, and discovers a
Winnebago parked nearby -- a "bookmobile," seemingly open, just for her. In fact, it
contains every book she ever read -- including phone books and diaries she's kept.
But she's not allowed to check them out. Nor will the Bookmobile's overseer, a Mr. Openshaw,
tell her much about becoming an employee of the Night Bookmobile, either, even though the
quietude represents a shelter, a refuge, from the rest of her life.
As does getting lost in books, which our heroine does over the next few years -- even
becoming a librarian in the process -- each of her "new reads" added to the Bookmobile's
shelves when she should happen upon, every few years or so.
And finally, her waking life played out, the method of employment by the Night Bookmobile
becomes clear. As I said, this won't surprise anyone who's seen even a few old
Zone episodes, but at the end of this particular journey, I was left
wondering, well, why I was taken on this particular journey.
If solace -- even the solace of reading -- is as evanescent as the appearances of the
Night Bookmobile itself, what sort of a world are we left with, after all?
Or are we each just left to devise our own means of escape? Well, our universes don't
always get rebooted (at least not in a time scale that matters to us living in the current
one), and we don't yet have the existential clarity of fighting off the zombie hordes.
So we're left with night ruminations and fleeting comforts of a good read. Which, if it's
good enough, may not be so fleeting, and could send us off on another trajectory entirely.