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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

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Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
The Complete R. Crumb Record Collection
Darkwing Duck: Crisis on Infinite Darkwings
Demon Knights
Aquaman
Animal Man
Swamp Thing
MetaMaus book trailer
Colleague Tom McClean's Bags and Boards blog, with a lot of good overview reviews of the New 52
Recent Books of Interest
The Complete Record Cover Collection by R. Crumb (Norton)
The Complete Record Cover Collection Longtime readers of this column know what a Crumb fan I am, and he's become quite the cottage industry for Norton. Yet the various spin-offs, family notebooks, etc., the house prints under the "Crumb" imprimatur don't always make it into the column due to other constraints, a need for variety, or even, perhaps a certain lack of critical mass (though nothing's gonna beat that Book of Genesis he did). However his forthcoming collection of record covers and music-related art is a lot of fun. And even occasionally edifying. The sort-of chronological arrangement of album covers, concert posters, playing cards, book covers and more will remind you of musicians you'd hadn't thought of in awhile (Artie Shaw! And where's my James Brown Live at the Apollo LP?) or didn't know about in the first place (Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers! Lydia Mendoza!) It's a lively document of roots music in its own right, and if people still had shelves of records, this nearly LP-dimensioned tome (revised from the original European edition) should reside near them, as a means to spark many conversations, or newly discovered tracks on your turntable. Or, perhaps, in your Youtube queue.

Darkwing Duck: Crisis on Infinite Darkwings by Ian Brill (words) and James Silvani (pics) (Kaboom!)
Darkwing Duck: Crisis on Infinite Darkwings Since we're working on father/son themes in this column, I'll start by saying I had no particular plans to review this until teen son got it for his recent birthday, then promptly shoved it into my hands insisting I needed to read it. The collected tales should be fun for young readers, who will simply enjoy all the duck doin's, and won't mind the somewhat tortured plotting (though this would hardly be the first comic affected by that) and also, happily, older readers who will dig the use of the "multiverse" here, as alternate Darkwings pop out from parallel dimensions (thus ruining "our" Darkwing's superhero reputation) -- all part of a nefarious scheme, of course. But we're treated to knock-offs/send-ups of the trans-dimensional train from The Matrix, The Lion King, Green Arrow, The Silver Surfer, and even, it appears, some of Alan Moore's work on The Green Lantern Corps, with the arrival of a "bowling ball Darkwing." Perhaps the most enjoyable thing is to comb through the panels to see what's being sent up. I may even have to comb through them again.

The New 52, the Old 52!

Animal Man
Demon Knights
Swamp Thing
Aquaman
I've written about my life here as a middle-aged single dad. Your tolerance for the use of that "material" in my comics column is appreciated, by the way, but increasingly, I've become aware of how this affects my life as a comics-reader -- and an ostensible reviewer. With a sudden job furlough, an empty bank account, no clear way to get this month's rent together -- economy, is that you? -- it becomes "interesting" of course. In the manner of the ancient Chinese admonition.

Do I still have time to read comics, when I should be proofing the eBooks for reissue, revising a new book for ostensible sale, or looking for tutoring/teaching gigs on the side? For example, there are only two sidebar reviews here, as opposed to our usual 3 or 4.

But it turns out, that's because reading comics or thinking about them "separately" for this column doesn't happen as much anymore because "comics talk" has moved fully into the Williams household, in terms of ongoing conversation -- with my eldest son.

The "sons theme" may be keep reasserting itself: as a "middle-aged" son, part of the delay in this month's column was occasioned by my travelling to see my 80-year-old dad, who is chronically ailing in a resolute/cheerful way, with occasional grumpiness thrown in. Sometime before I'd left, I asked my own son if he wanted to "guest write" this particular column, since he's taken to reviewing comics online too, under one of his avatar-like noms de guerre, but he became a little irascible -- somewhat like his grandfather! -- at that suggestion. Perhaps the looming college admissions essays are enough.

Eldest son is now more or less the age I was when I stopped reading or actively collecting comics, the first time round. I was heading into early adulthood, and while I still liked the ideas of superheroes -- Batman's darkness, the Thing's cigar-chomping sometimes bathetic self-reflection, et al. -- none of that stuff was being looked at in an engaging enough way in the medium as sex and politics increasingly informed my ideas of what stories should take in.

Then, of course, some years later 1986 happened. On which note, copies of Art Spiegelman's MetaMaus have arrived at both the L.A. and Austin headquarters of Nexus Graphica. Nearly too late for my deadline, but I believe Rick will have one of our more "traditional" reviews of this incredibly handsome volume in our next column. It marks the 25th anniversary of Maus' arrival on the comics scene (just as, of course, Watchmen, The Dark Knight, and oh-so-many-more were arriving), and when my son was required to read the now-canonical Maus for a high school class, he took my somewhat rickety 80s era paperback from the shelf, and brought it in. Everyone was impressed with how old his edition was, and increasingly, son himself is surprised by what I actually bought, way back when. (Yup, sweetie, I really do have all of Brat Pack, MaxiMortal, Alan Moore's 1963, and even, somewhere, a complete run of Miracle Man. None of it catalogued very well.) Yes, those early comics there are all from the Silver Age. Yup, those are the first Batmans I bought. Yes, I know I haven't bagged them all yet. For some strange reason.

Son hears about various "oldies" on his comics podcasts (!), then proceeds to ask if I might own an issue or two of said oldie. Often, I do. So while I'm fretting about bills, imminent economic and environmental collapse, and getting gas to run his little brother to his football game, the deadline for these columns recurringly draw near, and if nothing much has shown up in my PO Box from the publishers, I think "I haven't read anything yet!"

Anything, it occurred to me this month, aside from the four issues of DC's New 52 relaunch (and the two sidebar reviews, and the parts of MetaMaus that were so compelling) which I hadn't planned on reading/writing about for awhile yet, since the comics press is otherwise abuzz with ink and pixels on 'em. Plus, I seem to have lost contact -- or my touch -- with DC's promo folks, and little shows up from them anymore.

But digitally, that doesn't matter so much. Eldest keeps downloading single issues over at Comixology, then texting me about things I "have" to read, so he can get my opinion on them (which, astonishingly, he still somewhat values). The advantages of growing up in second (and third!) wave "fan" households, I guess. The conversations about back story can become elaborate.

But of course DC is working on new back stories now,and so it was I've read the new Animal Man, the Demon relaunch, the new Swamp Thing (eldest became a huge fan after reading my collected Alan Moore editions) and the surprising Aquaman.

I had the original Demon from Jack Kirby, back when he was doing his 70s titles for DC, like New Gods, the Forever People (where are they now?) Mister Miracle, et al. I guess Darkseid, as a prime DC villain, is the real legacy of those titles, but hell-born Etrigan persevered as a recurring "guest star," including a notable one in those Moore-era Swamp Things, where his penchant for conversing in rhyming couplets was put to good use.

The relaunch, Demon Knights, starts out like, well, like the opening to the Dragon Sword installment of my own Danger Boy series, if I may be permitted -- with Excalibur being returned to the Lady of the Lake, in the waning light of Camelot. But the similarities end immediately, even though a kind of time travel is involved, considering that writer Paul Cornell introduces other characters from the DC Universe in the new title, like Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage, and more, and the action jumps ahead -- these are immortals, after all -- several hundred years. There's a dark king and queen afoot now, but the nicest touch is that Xanadau -- nicely rendered by artist Diogenes Neves -- appears to love each of the Demon's alternate halves -- Etrigan, and former knight Jason Blood, to whom he's bound -- more than the other. She seems to be cheating on one with the other, in other words, and it should make for some good subtext. But then, doesn't it always?

I liked the other three too, though in the nature of "first issues," I was left wondering about the set-ups. Moore's run on Swamp Thing is still definitive for me -- the plant who thinks he's a man! -- but the relaunch already assumes you know the pre-#1 backstory, as Dr. Alec Holland has been revived, evidently struggling with memories of having been Swamp Thing, though a "Thing" separate from the Doc now lurks in brackish brine, so the set up may start to run along more classic "alter ego" lines in this go-round. Hard to say, but Yanick Paquette's art is pretty terrific (this new crop of DC artists seem to sport great monikers, too), and writer Scott Snyder (whom we last encountered here with Vertigo's American Vampire, and who is handling the Detective Comics reboot, too) has certainly given himself lots of interesting ingredients to work with. Even Supes makes an appearance.

Animal Man and Aquaman share a kind of aesthetic, though I doubt writers Jeff Lemire (of the former) and Geoff Johns (of the latter) deliberately intended it that way (since I'm not sure, in spite of the affinity for members of the animal/aquatic kingdoms, any crossovers are planned): Both initially deal with the quotidian, day-to-day aspects of a superhero's life. For San Diego-based animal dude Buddy Baker, it's about being a middle-class suburban-y dad, still trying to "hang ten," do good, and raise a family (and stop a few crimes) while for Arthur Curry's Aquaman, well -- it's about not being taken seriously enough as Aquaman.

The "meta" narrative aspects of the seaborne title are the best -- Aquaman's own mid-tier perch in the DC Universe becomes an existential plight when he's held in lighter regard by thieves than say Batman is. On the other hand, while eating in a seafood restaurant(!), he can still make waitresses' swoon.

Travel Foreman's art (see what I meant about DC artist names?) on Animal Man lends itself well to the fantasy elements which kick in toward the end -- interesting ephemeral tones that are at once Sandman and Swamp Thing-like, when the titular hero's daughter seems to be in trouble with "the red" -- seemingly like a "viscera version" of DC's floral universe, "the green," -- according to her dreams. The Ivan Reis and Joe Prado art for Aquaman works well enough, but, as in Blackest Night, they like that heavily-lined, angular Image Comics/Jim Lee style of "modern" comic art, which is always a bit distancing for me.

But that might just be me.

In any case, in order to keep up with the conversation in my own house (the one I may or may not come up with the rent for), the "New 52" showed up ahead of schedule. And as someone who is "52," all I can say is, thank God our kids are there to keep us on our toes. And scrambling toward our virtual newsstands, to keep up.

MetaMaus

Copyright © 2011 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. Info on what he, or the books, are up to can be found at marklondonwilliams.com. Meanwhile, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.


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