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.
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.
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.