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by Mark London Williams

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East of West
The Fifth Beatle
Badlands
The Hours and Times
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November

Well, despite the ratcheted up temperatures here Southern Cal, things are still feeling a touch November-y, perhaps because of the leaves on the ground, or the way autumn brings up the fragility, and mortality of things.

In my case, of course, I've mentioned the late-summer passing of my father. Since that time, and that column, my mother was rushed into emergency surgery (some two weeks after my dad's memorial), and has emerged with her life saved, and her body permanently altered. She -- and we, her family -- are on a new and unanticipated journey.

And in her rehab facility, she has not only occasional visits from the family dog, but her trusty Kindle, allowing her to keep up with her reading, though of course, that means all prose, and no comics, in her case.

For my part, shuttling a lot between L.A. and the Bay Area now, I've been reading on a tablet of my own, and to my surprise, in all this hurlyburly, have caught up with a couple of longer-ish books.

East of West, Vol 1: The Promise The first of these is the Image Comics compendium of East of West, Vol 1: The Promise, a somewhat Dark Tower-esque apocalyptic Western reuniting the Fantastic Four pairing of writer Jonathan Hickman, and artist Nick Dragotta.

The U.S. has been destroyed, mostly, and divided up into separate fiefdoms and countries, and suddenly, a regenerated Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse appear, there on a mission, it seems to fulfill a particular prophecy. Well, okay ¾ of the Horsemen, mostly without horses, except for their missing colleague, Death, who is the main "cowboy" of this tale (and boy, what a mechanical, death-dealing "horse" he has!), riding along in terse, deadly fashion, on a mission of his own. One that involves the rescue of a wife, the destruction of an expanded city/state from China, resting on America's western shores, some more prophecy, and a path that will put him at absolute cross-purposes with the other horsemen.

It's not exactly clear where it's all headed, actually, even five issues in, but this collection ends with quite a rousing battle, and a nice twist on said prophecy, so the journey -- as in one of those Franco Nero spaghetti westerns, say -- seems to be of more value than the actual plotting, at least so far.

And it's certainly a well-rendered journey, so swig some whiskey and light up a cheroot and have fun with it. Especially if you need some midnight reading on an express bus!

The other "big book" this month was The Fifth Beatle, purporting to be the untold story of the Beatles' legendary discoverer/manager, Brian Epstein, written by producer-turned-scribe Vivek J. Tiwary, ably pencilled by Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker, and published by Dark Horse.

I'm just not sure who it's been "untold" to, though, at least among diehard Beatle fans, since we find out here things already known: that Epstein was gay, at a time that was against the law in England, and had severe addiction and drug problems (leading to his seemingly accidental death, at 32, from an overdose).

Badlands The book necessarily takes a speculative approach to conversations and moments in Epstein's -- and the Fabs' -- lives, and must also interestingly work around its inability (due to licensing and legal entanglements, one presumes), to use Beatle lyrics along the way. Some titles and snatches of lyrics are punningly worked in as conversation, and serve as kind of Easter Eggs.

For those whom the revelation that Epstein and John Lennon took a vacation together in Spain, early in Beatle-dom, is news, then this book will be full of surprises, though if so, I also commend the under-sung indie film The Hours and Times to your attention, which deals with that same European jaunt.

And while the book is mostly about Epstein, it's also a Beatle book, and when Lennon -- in the pages dealing with the blowback when he'd said, offhandedly, that the Beatles were more popular at the time than Jesus -- speculates that America might not be safe, that one could even get shot there for things one says, well, one can't help but feeling very, very sad. One of the many "might have beens" the book alludes to, including the biggest one at the end: What if Epstein had treated himself more kindly, and had lived?

But we're left with that cold November-ish sense of loss. Which also brings up this month being the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. While prose writers from James Ellroy to Don DeLillo to Stephen King have tackled that awful, still unresolved day in Dallas, comics have been less prone to do so.

One exception was an early 90s release, also from Dark Horse, called Badlands, by writer Steven Grant, and artist Vince Giarrano. What it shares with The Hours and Times is that it is also undersung, in black-and-white, and too few people have seen it. I think Mr. Grant has reprinted copies of his own available now, but it's generally findable online, and worth a gander.

We might want to look away from our losses, on days like Nov. 22, or Dec. 8, or any other day you might name, but we can't. We must, somehow, keep going.

No wonder we also need Thanksgiving at such November-y times, to see us through.

Enjoy yours, and Rick and I will see you at year's end -- yes, already! -- "Ten Best" time.

Copyright © 2013 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series, and a contributor to the fiction anthology Magical Mayhem Info on his work can be found at marklondonwilliams.com. His horror novella for adults, Ghostdance: Showdown at Carthay Circle was recently released on eBook platforms. Mark gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.


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