What washes up on the walls Wednesdays...
Given the massive amount of comics with a "#1" on the cover everywhere you turn these days, I thought I'd conduct a little experiment this week. Three comics published by three different companies covering three (more or less) different genres were selected from the wealth of material shipped by Diamond distribution this Wednesday to compete against one another for the honor of being my New Favorite Series. People are always asking me what monthly books I'm buying and they invariably come away like "what a jerk" because the answer is always "none". So in the spirit of getting down with the proles, here's how this works: my favorite comic of the three will get another purchase when issue #2 comes out, hell or high water. The middle pick will not. What happens to this week's "Junkyard Dog" issue? Bad things. Read on.
But first! Let's meet the contestants!
The Punisher volume something #1, by Marco Checchetto and Greg Rucka. Marvel.
Greg Rucka: not the right man for this job. I say that based off what he brings to the table as a writer, leaving the actual content of the comic aside for a second. This is the guy who writes comics about British women (British women), books about a guy named Atticus Kodiak (Atticus Kodiak), and tells audiences at signings that he's a lesbian trapped in a man's body (a lesbian). Do these things, dear reader, add up to a portrait of the writer you want bringing you the blood-soaked adventures of the purely American endpoint of action comics named Frank Castle every month? The answer rhymes with the artist of this book's last name. Despite clipping his dialogue to admirably unrealistic degrees ("Wedding. Groom, most of the rest, shot dead. The bride's still hanging on, what I hear") and setting some of his action in Gravesend Brooklyn, where I hung out just the other day, this is kind of a bitchy Punisher comic, with a climax featuring the titular skull-shirted leatherman choosing not to blow somebody's head off. I ask you.
The art? Oh yeah, this is some comics art that exists, right here. As in, that's the best you can really say for it. Thinly disguised photomasking backgrounds, vain attempts at JH Williams style "intelligent layouts", weird pseudo-manga character designs that look like early 2000s video game box art, this one's got it all. But irritating mannerisms aside, I have to wonder about the process Marvel puts their new artistic talent through to get them up to standard these days. Is there one? Those dudes used to have to go hang out with John Romita, John Romita senior no less, until they got their continuity and blocking in working order. These days an issue one of a character who's had two movies and a lot of incredibly solid comics to his name in the past decade can come out without ever once establishing a sense of place for its action. Like, literally, you're never given a picture in this comic that indicates where things are taking place relative to one another. Is that guy across the room? No, he moved to the corner! Or wait, he was never there in the first place! It's baffling. In addition, somebody needs to tell Marco Checchetto that there is a grand total of zero prostitutes in the entire world with gauges and dyed-purple undercuts, because nobody will pay to have sex with anyone who has either of those things.
Oh yeah, and what with the gunplay there in Daredevil #1 two weeks ago and this comic this week, the Cloisters Museum and Gardens are getting torn the fuck up lately. This place might look nice, but you're more likely to catch a bullet hanging out there than Slauson and Crenshaw, these days.
The Infinite #1, by Rob Liefeld and Robert Kirkman but who cares about him, ROB LIEFELD. Image.
Bliss. Pure, wonderful Rob Liefeld art is printed all over every last page of this comic, and I am as soft and quivery as a butter-basted marshmallow for this stuff. Here's what people who criticize the lack of realist anatomy or backgrounds or um, drawings of feet in Liefeld's comics are missing: those things aren't what you should be coming to action comics for to begin with. You think you're going to get a really good figure drawing out of a picture of a dude with guns in both hands blasting multiple people's heads off at the same time? Or a really good environmental drawing? Or some fetish art-level detailed rendering of the human pedal region? Whatever. I want my comics about people who kill people to be brash and noisy and damn well ugly enough to sustain the premise they're based on, and Liefeld is the best in the business at those things. (Greg Irons rest in peace.) Liefeld doesn't draw "correct" comics or "elegant" comics because that's not what he's trying to do. These are exciting comics, and I am truly uninterested in whether or not the guy drawing them can also pull off a decent architectural drawing. All I want is two-dimensional guns being driven through faceplates in order to produce gouting blood explosions by the first page turn. And this comic? It delivers.
Credit where it's due: Robert Kirkman, despite being perhaps the most boring comics writer to have reached the level of success he has, does a more than impressive job of providing Liefeld with the kind of things he's good at drawing. When it isn't speed line-addled hyperviolence (which it mostly is, thank god) it's page-tall hardbodied blondes simultaneously running and tiptoeing right toward the reader or full-page portraits of the book's characters, as sure of their idiosyncrasies and stylistic deviations as any Picasso. Beyond these things there literally isn't much: the Liefeld landscape is a spare, monotonous one, all flat surfaces and drab colors pervaded by a bland, unrelenting sunlight. It's certainly a harsh, depressing place for this comic's vague intrigues and endless fights to play themselves out across, but it's also one of the more affectingly, devastatingly accurate takes on the beautifully banal Southern California landscape, where even the filled space just looks like more space to be filled. Liefeld's an Anaheim boy, and though we aren't given an actual real-world location in this book, there's no question that its artist is drawing what surrounds him:
It's almost an aggressive blandness at play here, one that provides a perfect background for the amplified hysterics of the action scenes, but comes close to haunting when it's left alone. Beautiful stuff, and certainly like nothing else out there. If you've ever been curious to pick up a Liefeld comic, now is the time.
Rachel Rising #1, by Terry Moore, just another stranger in paradise. Abstract Studios.
You know what I find Terry Moore's comics? Inscrutable. The guy can draw all right... and it's never even close to the Geoff Johns DC Comics level of awfulness... but I've never read an Abstract Studios production that didn't leave me wondering why. Such is the cult comic, I suppose. This one's about usual for Moore, vague plot about a woman in some kind of trouble that involves us far too deeply with characters we, you know, haven't met yet... but whatever. My main beef with this comic, which involves a pretty young chick coming back from the dead after being garotted and thrown in what appears to be a swamp, is that is doesn't go nearly far enough in that "cult" direction. Call it what it is -- exploitation comics don't come with better set-ups than that! Like, how would this shower scene not be made better if it came with a heaping helping of gratuitous nudity? Don't talk to me about "good taste" when she's got those gory scars cut right into her neck! Come on, Terry.
Ultimately, Moore's problem is one of milieu. I'd look at environmental drawings like the ones in that first scan if they weren't part of a comic that encourages me to keep reading ahead in order to get to something that never happens. If this thing were a CF style contemplative art-comic it might have a chance, but then it would also have erections and girls discharging, so it would be what it needs to be anyway. As it is? Confused, and confusing, like the moment of awakening after you've fallen asleep in an unfamiliar place. Similar to that experience, you don't spend this one in a particularly unpleasant state. Just waiting to get somewhere better.
This was a lot more clear-cut than I thought it would be. I'll be grabbing The Infinite #2, skipping the next Rachel Rising (thank god, cause can you imagine asking for that comic by name at the shop?), and as for my copy of The Punisher #1, well, consider this my protest against Marvel's murder-by-inaction of Gene Colan and its breathtakingly callous fucking-over of Jack Kirby's children:
Ash on my breath, bitches.
I've never smoked a comic before, so figuring out the logistics of it was a bit of a challenge. Luckily I got plenty of experience making unconventional smoking implements in my middle school years, so rigging an exaggerated bowl-and-chamber out of a Sunny D bottle and a trail mix container only took a few minutes of thought and a few more of execution. It took a long time to light the comic since I had to crumple it up so tight to fit it in there, and I ended up burning my fingers with the lighter. Eventually I just dropped a few matches in, which seemed to work a lot better. Green and pink flames started shooting out at alarmingly high heights, prompting my erstwhile photographer to question how good an idea the project was. After a few assurances she started snapping, though, and we were in business. The smoke from the comic was incredibly harsh, with a really strange taste -- oily and sweet at the same time. Typing this an hour or so later I can still feel it coating my throat. It made me cough violently every time I hit it, and all I could do was try not to let any of the fumes into my lungs. The water didn't help at all. My vision started to blur, and I got so dizzy I had to sit down for a few minutes before continuing. Tears were streaming out of my eyes and eventually I admitted defeat after having ashed about half of the comic. (It was an oversized issue, so I don't feel too bad.)
Ultimately, I had a lot more fun smoking this comic than I did reading it. I highly recommend that those of you who bought Punisher #1 consider putting it to the same use!