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Nexus Graphica
by Mark London Williams

Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
The Night Bookmobile
Zombies vs. Robots Aventure
Time on DC reboot/relaunch

Columns in the Time of No Reading

DC's latest universal reboot 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.

Zombies vs. Robots Aventure 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!

Zombies vs. Robots Aventure 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.

The Night Bookmobile 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.

Copyright © 2011 Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series. Strong rumors abound about its simultaneously protracted-yet-imminent eBook return, with maybe even a new installment thrown in the mix. He sometimes wants to run away and go live in a Yurt. Meanwhile, he gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.

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