My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Do the books themselves even matter anymore — or is the announcement of their forthcoming arrival enough?

I ask that question in all seriousness because it gets to the heart of one the major problems (among many worthy contenders) in Nick SpencerDaniel Acuna, and Rod Reis’ Secret Empire #0, the first chapter (or maybe that should be pre– first chapter) of Marvel Comics‘ latest sure-to-disappoint-most “crossover event” series. Within these pages you’ll find, for instance, a team calling itself “The Defenders” that hasn’t made its “official” debut yet, and  you’ll see Tony Stark back as Iron Man even though, according to “present” continuity, he’s still in a coma. But Marvel knows that you’re already aware of these “future” events because, hey, they’ve all been announced.

Likewise, they know damn well that pretty much everyone reading this book — even those who haven’t been keeping…

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Maybe I’m just a crusty old-timer who yearns for days gone by, but goddamnit — I miss having comics on the store shelves that were sick and wrong.

Oh, sure, plenty of series have moments here and there designed to shock — Saga is certainly famous for it, although such instances been fewer and farther between lately — but books with a genuinely twisted and perverted core premise are in painfully short supply, and have been for some time. Thank goodness (or, more likely, its polar opposite) then for a couple of upstanding gentlemen I admit to never having heard of before named Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard.

Granted, the first issue of their new Image Comics five-parter, Plastic (which comes our way under the auspices of the suddenly-surging 12-Gauge Comics studio/imprint) isn’t going to make you suddenly forget all about the work of gleeful reprobates like S. Clay Wilson or Mike Diana, but it’s more than enough to make the morally and ethically average reader feel more than just bit queasy, and that’s something to be grateful for. Consider, if you will, this scenario and let me know if it ticks enough boxes off your “dude, that ain’t right” checklist : former “black ops” agent turned serial killer Edwyn Stoffgruppen has finally met his perfect partner, Virginia. She calms his homicidal urges with her non-stop sex drive, and the two of them seem to be having the time of their lives travelling the backroads of America in his old Ford LTD. Heck, they’re getting along so swimmingly that they’re even planning a trip to Rome together. But when a run-in with some local hooligans leads, by a fairly straight-forward series of interpersonal connections, to Virginia being kidnapped by a Louisiana multi-millionaire, our guy Ed’s put in a sticky situation : either kill some of the rich asshole’s enemies for him, or his old lady gets a bullet in the head.

Okay, put that way things sound more than a little bog-standard, but there’s one tiny detail I forgot to mention : Virginia is a plastic sex doll.

If you take a look at the preview pages included with this review, they suddenly take on a whole new meaning with that in mind, don’t they? And what appears to be rather banal dialogue? Well, it’s really anything but. Wagner’s script rather masterfully portrays Edwyn as precisely what he is, namely a hopelessly sick fuck, but you also sort of want the best for him and his “lady” friend, not so much because “either” of “them” are sympathetic figures in any way, but simply because the alternative to him living happily ever after with a rubber fuck-toy is probably so much worse. One way or another, then, “good” outcome or “bad,” things are probably gonna get even weirder and bloodier before this whole thing is over.

Hillyard’s art is almost disconcertingly innocent in its appearance, with a definite and pronounced animation influence, which is what makes it so perfect for this kind of depraved material. When one of Virginia’s kidnappers starts licking “her” arm, for instance — damn, you wanna feel physically ill. And given that veteran colorist Laura Martin primarily hews to a bright and vibrant palette (again underscoring the animation cel look), the downright garish contrast between what’s depicted and the way it’s depicted borders on the dizzying. I can see a strong argument being made for the idea this book’s art really doesn’t “match up well” with its story, sure, but I think a conservative viewpoint like that rather misses the point entirely, in my own hopefully-humble opinion. And while Andrew Robinson’s memorable cover should be more than enough to clue the average store browser in to exactly what they’re getting with this one, anyone who bails on this series after this opening shot across the bow isn’t someone I can necessarily begrudge for their sensibilities — this is, after all, a book that probably will (hell, probably should) only appeal to the tiniest and most (ahem!) specialized of audiences.

The fact that I’m part of said audience may be a cause of concern to my therapist, I suppose (that is, if I had one), but come on — you and I both know I could give a flying fuck about that. Recently a rather pompous-seeming individual opined that he detests me (not my reviews, mind you, but me, personally) “with the fiery heat of a thousand suns” due to what he perceives to be my apparently-obvious intellectual shortcomings as evidenced by my comic reviews in particular, and I would imagine that my whole-hearted endorsement of a series as amoral (at best) as this one will sink my already-low stature in the eyes of these self-appointed “honor brigade”-types even more, but there are plenty of self-serious, sanctimonious titles out there explicitly designed to appeal to the sort of folks who think that stories featuring super-heroes with PTSD or asking themselves “do I have the right to kill villains X,Y, and Z” passes for “deep.” Well, they can keep all that shit — truth be told Marvel, in particular, hasn’t been able to do angst properly since Steve Ditko walked away from Peter Parker/Spider-Man. My own interest in moral heavy-handedness is at an all-time low, and if you’re as sick of it as I am, then chances are you’ll agree that Plastic is the perfect antidote to all this wretched, over-wrought earnestness.

Will you feel appropriately guilty about enjoying this comic? Oh, I should think so — hell, I dearly hope so. But who are we kidding? That’s half the fun, too, isn’t it?

 

My latest review for Graphic Policy website —

Graphic Policy

Unlike many (but very much like many others, I suppose), I have to date been decidedly underwhelmed by Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ take on the Black Panther. I found “A Nation Under Our Feet” to be a dour, navel-gazing, self-important, and frankly confused attempt to “modernize” both T’Challa and his kingdom of Wakanda that pretty much failed miserably at everything it set out to do, reached its apex with a bog-standard fight, and followed that up with an issue-length epilogue that essentially changed nothing about the status quo for its characters and their world apart from stating that they were, in essence, all gonna try to listen to both listen, and be nicer, to each other more. Not exactly the groundbreaking work we’d been hoping for from one of the leading intellectuals of our times.

Still, ya gotta figure, the man is smarter than you and me put together, and eventually…

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Even among connoisseurs of “this sort of thing,” director Donald M. (not to be confused with Donald S. of The Forest and Schoolgirls In Chains fame) Jones’ low-rent straight-to-video slasher Muderlust has something of a checkered reputation for being nastier than the norm. Shot in California in 1985 for next to nothing, it was released straight to VHS in 1987 and quickly managed to raise a few eyebrows — among the few who were paying attention — for its downright gleeful misogyny, which reminded one youthful viewer (okay, me) of, say, what you’d end up with if Maniac didn’t take itself very seriously. But does that make this film less disturbing than others of its ilk — or more?

I gotta admit, having recently watched it for the first time since I was a teenager thanks to its recent addition to Amazon Prime’s streaming line-up (although Severin Films’ “cult” Intervision label has also recently released it on DVD paired with another Jones quickie, the almost-unfathomably bizarre Project Nightmare), I still don’t know the answer to that question. On the one hand, “star” Eli Rich is so clearly hamming it up as uber-woman-hating killer Steve Belmont that you can’t take much of anything on offer here too seriously, but on the other, if you have a conscience, then shit — shouldn’t this stuff bug you at least a little bit?

The character of Steve is clearly based on notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, a smooth-talking creep who pulled off a fairly successful pose as an upstanding member of society for many years until his nocturnal proclivities finally landed him in hot water. Steve’s not provided with anything by way of motivation of anything here — no troubled past, no fucked-up home life, nothing of the sort — so don’t bother looking for “reasons why” : he just hates women and kills ’em whenever he can. He’s not averse to fucking ’em, too, of course, but he doesn’t necessarily seem to need to in order to get his rocks off — it’s their dispatching and disposal that really turns his crank, and he’s gotten so prolific about it that his Mojave Desert dumping ground gets discovered by the authorities in fairly short order here. Not that he has any intention of stopping, mind you. He’s gotten a taste for it, and he seems to enjoy taunting both the cops and the community at large with his brazen what-by-all-rights-should-be recklessness.

The damn thing is, though, Steve’s such a fuck-up that he really oughtta get caught. He doesn’t seem to care about holding onto his shit security guard gig (and doesn’t for long once he starts threatening to kill a female customer right under the nose of his boss), he lives in a dump, he’s constantly borrowing money off his effete cousin, Neil (played by Dennis Gannon), he’s in heavy debt to his landlord (curiously referred to in producer/screenwriter James Lane’s script as his “realtor”), and he drinks like a fish. How this guy manages to get through the day without getting killed himself, much less being the one doing the killing, is downright dumbfounding. With extra emphasis on the “dumb.”

Still, they love him down at the church. Despite having no background in any relevant field, being a half-assed Sunday school teacher, and even being accused of molesting one of his students (a charge that Steve is, believe it or not, innocent of), he’s chosen by the church fathers to run their new so-called “Youth Crisis Center,” thanks in no small part to some very glowing recommendations from his quasi-love interest, Cheryl (Rochelle Taylor), and her mother, who are both completely fooled by his painfully transparent charm. Yessir, things are definitely looking up for ol’ Steve — until, in a rather delicious moment of irony, his extracurricular habits end up scuttling his plans to use the center as a means to find, sorry to use the term, fresh meat. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no direct connection made between Steve and the ever-growing pile of dead female bodies (yet), but the moneyed interests bankrolling the new outreach venture decide that it might be better to start helping young people out after they’re all done getting killed, and that’s when our “hero” well and truly loses his shit — okay, fair enough, that’s when he loses it even more.

It’s probably a heck of a reach to say that losing out on his dream job causes Steve to get sloppy, ‘cuz let’s face it,  he’s been damn sloppy from the outset, but he certainly cans all that “nice guy” pretext and starts letting it all hang out, and once he does that, it’s only a matter of time. Again, if you can see the “humor” in watching a madman murder women just because, well, they’re women, then you’re gonna be in much better shape here as events careen toward their one and only inevitable conclusion, but even then you might be forgiven for feeling that Murderlust‘s admittedly fleeting “je ne sais quoi” has already fled. Rich naturally radiates a kind of dime-store lothario sleaze for the first 3/4 or so of this flick, but he’s markedly less convincing in “out of control psycho” mode, and there’s a very distinct sense in the film’s final act that everybody’s running out the clock as surely as the clock is running out for our protagonist. As a result, Jones’ little opus essentially flips the switch from “guilty pleasure” to “just plain guilty” without even bothering to pass “go” and collect its $200.

Which may not be too far off the mark from the actual budget of this production, come to think of it. Shot in just a few locations, with a clearly amateur cast, and displaying nothing like an actual sense of style, this is straight-up, no-frills, point-and-shoot stuff that has no other choice than to feel hopelessly dated at this point because, hey, a moldy relic is all it could ever afford to become. And yet the modern world had probably already left this one pretty far behind even as it was being made — I doubt, for instance, that you could still beat a child molestation rap by simply telling the girl’s father that his daughter is a filthy little liar, as Steve does here (albeit politely, of course) in 1985. Probably not even in 1958. So if this really is the “throwback to another time” that many view it as, trust me when I say it’s a throwback to a time that (hopefully, at any rate) never even existed.

And maybe that’s the one nearest thing to a “redeeming quality” that Murderlust has to offer. There’s certainly no blood or guts here to make the gorehounds happy. There’s very little nudity apart from the quick bit provided by the always-game-to-get-naked-for-a-paycheck Ashley St. Jon. And there’s no particular indication from Jones that he has any concerns as a filmmaker apart from getting this thing in the can on time and under its obviously ultra- low budget. As a result, then — and an entirely accidental result, at that — what we have here is a flick that is completely divorced from actual, demonstrable reality, yet just as completely devoid of both the resources and the talent it would take to sell you on a false one. It can’t be bothered to attempt to suspend your disbelief, and so takes the easy (and only available) road, settling instead for admitting it’s total bullshit from the start. That’s not what you’d call a recipe for cinematic success by any stretch, but it’s been more than enough to ensure that this film has remained a morbid curiosity for three decades now, and will probably continue to be seen as such for many more to come. After all, not only do they not make ’em like this anymore — truth be told, they never really did.

Apocalypse, big and small, has always been a central theme in Alan Moore’s work, going nearly all the way back : V For Vendetta was set in a post-apocalyptic world from the outset, but concluded with the un-making of the fascist society that had held sway since the bombs fell; Watchmen posited the still-hotly-debated question about whether or not Adrian Veidt was right to “save” the world by ending the world as we knew it; Miracleman blew up the world on a conceptual level by ushering in a morally and ethically ambiguous (at best) age of gods — it’s a constant through-line, even if you sometimes have to strain to see it.

Here’s the thing, though — in Moore’s eyes, apocalypse itself isn’t always such a bad thing. Promethea concluded with what might be called a “joyous apocalypse,” as the old ways of our thinking, co-existing with each other, and even being were gloriously swept aside in favor of something that can in a pinch be thought of as a sort of genuine, all-encompassing enlightenment, and in various interviews over the years Moore has spoken about the end of the world, or at least the world as we’ve constructed it, in almost hopeful terms — and this was well before notions as still-patently-ridiculous as that of “President Trump” had come to pass, so one is probably safe to assume that apocalypse would be a prospect he’d be positively giddy about now. Sadly, we appear far more likely to get armageddon instead, and however you slice it, chances are that’s really gonna suck. But I digress —

Given the author’s general “pro-apcalyptic” (as opposed to nihilist, there’s a world of difference) bent, it’s perhaps a bit surprising to see, then, that the end of the world as we know it as detailed in the pages of the twelfth and final issue of his and Jacen Burrows’ Providence is not something that’s going to leave us all , with apologies to R.E.M., “feeling fine.” Events, rapid-fire as they were, in the previous issue left left no doubt about where our story was ultimately headed, but to see it play out as predictably as it all does is perhaps the biggest surprise on offer here for long-terms Moore readers, who are accustomed to The Bearded One always having one more trick up his sleeve. This time out he doesn’t, but I would contend that actually fits right in with this series’ underlying sense of doom and inevitability in a way that a concluding segment that pulled out a couple of “shockeroo” moments never could. H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional (?) alternate reality of Yuggoth is upon us now, over-writing reality as we have come to understand it, but as is made abundantly clear by the no-less-momentous-for-their-predictability events of this chapter, it’s been here the whole time. As straight-ruled panels that used to denote dreams or other altered states of consciousness take over for the “hand-cut” panels that used to symbolize “reality,” we know that things have “flipped,” but we also know that what’s taking place has less to do with violent upheaval and much more to do with a pre-ordained transition. I can perhaps say no more without saying too much, but I will clue you in to this little tidbit : we’re a part of it, too. You and I as readers have our cleverly-engineered place in everything that’s going on here, and this “meta”-narrative has been sucking us in from the outset, inexorably, with our final destination of Leng waiting for us patiently the whole time.

Speaking of which — if there’s one fly in Providence #12’s ointment, it’s probably the fact that any folks reading this who haven’t read Moore and Burrows’ earlier Neonomicon are likely going to be left hopelessly behind by everything going on here. The story of Robert Black (whose destiny was, let’s not forget, foretold from jump) ended last time out, and the main order of business this time around is simply (and elegantly, and terrifyingly) making explicit what was implicit at the end of Neonomicon #4 lo, those many (or eight, by my count) years ago. FBI agent Merril Brears (whose subjugation, oppression, and violation provides the strongest possible hint that this reality will probably be no better than the old)  is at the center at  of all that’s happening in this issue, with sidekicks Barstow, Fuller, and director Carl Perlman in tow, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of a few characters introduced in the pages of this series, either. Increase Orne, for instance, is along for the ride, as is Shadrach Annesley (whose presence provides for the issue’s only — admittedly pitch-black — moments of levity), and as the world is un-made/re-made/re-set, there are some new attendants (many of historical renown) there to bear witness and/or act as commentators on the proceedings, as well,  but make no mistake : this is more a capstone on the entire Moore/Burrows Lovecraft oeuvre than it is on the most recent (and longest) leg of it. Which is perhaps curious given that apparently the two are working on a short follow-up series to follow at some point  here, but hey — if you’re of a frame of mind to tug at the harness of inevitability, you’re probably not going to find this issue to your liking, anyway. It is what it is and all that.

Despite the air of finality, though, questions most certainly do remain, so that promised follow-up maybe does make more sense than it would seem to at first. Johnny Carcosa, for his part, remains as enigmatic a figure as ever, and ties between the Catholic Church and the Stella Sapiente order are hinted at before being left intriguingly beyond the grasp of our understanding, so there’s fertile ground yet to be idea-farmed around these parts. I could insert a cheap quip referencing the “nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends” line at this point, I suppose, but you know what? Given the way DC has chosen to pick up on that one in the creatively-moribund Rebirth era, I think I’ll just leave it alone.

I’d be committing gross malpractice, though, if I didn’t take a moment to single out Jacen Burrows’ work on this issue for some richly-deserved praise. His art has largely been exemplary throughout this series, barring the occasional depth-perspective choices I’ve quibbled with in previous reviews, but he leaves it all on the page here and delivers a bravura performance of finely-detailed, expressive illustration that brings out both the emotion in his human characters and the dread inherent in their increasingly inhuman surroundings with a real sense of macabre wonder. While others have occasionally queried as to why Moore didn’t attempt to pair with a “superstar” artist on this project, this issue effectively puts such idle speculations to rest — I can’t think of anyone better suited to draw the sort of material that’s on offer here, and I sincerely hope that editors at higher-paying publishing houses have taken note of his growth and progression, because he’s firmly cemented his status as a “A-lister” with this all-stops-pulled-out effort.

Now, of course, comes many years of debate and discussion as to where Providence falls in the larger pantheon of Moore works. I’ll need to embark on a comprehensive first-issue-to-last re-read before I can firmly decide that for myself, but I think it’s safe to say that we can probably all agree that it is by no means yet another piece of “Minor Moore” as we’d been accustomed to with his Avarat-published projects, most of which had previously been faithful adaptations of sidebar items initially done for other media. This is big, bold, expansive, challenging (thematically and practically) stuff, the product of robust and bold imagining that rivals his most celebrated works in terms of its scope and magnitude. It hasn’t supplanted From Hell and Promethea at the top of my own personal “Favorite Alan Moore Books” list, but in time I could see it working its way into that conversation. As the “trade-waiters” jump on with the inevitable (there’s that word again) hardcover, deluxe hardcover, leatherbound, paperback (the list is sure to be endless) collections, we’ll see how they feel about it, but at the very least, I feel confident in predicting that most will be more than pleasantly surprised to find an ambitious Phoenix such as this rising from the ashes of Neonomicon, which generally (if, in my own humble view, inaccurately) remains its author’s most comprehensively-reviled work.

All of which, I suppose, is my way of saying that if these reviews of mine haven’t convinced you to give this thing a look, hopefully the collected edition(s) will. Providence is a dense, complex, multi-faceted, perspective-shaking undertaking whose stature is likely only to grow, Fungi of Yuggoth-like, over time. My respect and admiration for its creators is already well-established, to be sure, but beyond that, and for whatever it’s worth, they also have my profound and heartfelt thanks.

Okay, I’m showing my age here, but for members of the so-called “Slacker Generation” and/or “Generation X” (take your pick), I would submit that there was an entirely unofficial (as was our wont) “Holy Trinity” of films that came out in our early twenties that spoke directly and immediately to us in a way that pandering, condescending trash that Hollywood marketers were aiming in our direction (I’m looking at you, Reality Bites) could only hope to — three flicks that captured the (not to be too grandiose) zeitgeist of the times; the flavor, immediacy, and ethos of the “now” that went on, as all things do, to become just another “then.”

The goofy thing about this “Big Three” is that only one of them actually featured characters who were our age at the time, but whatever, we’ll get to that in short order. For now, the rundown : Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction came first and was (and remains) the biggest of the bunch.  I don’t think anyone — even the film’s detractors — would debate that. It was a genuine large-scale cultural phenomenon, it solidified its auteur as one of the spokespeople of his (our) generation, all that. It was huge. It was groundbreaking. It was bigger than its own hype, and its hype was considerable. It was The Real Deal.

Next up came perhaps the most unlikely of the bunch : Joel and Ethan Coen were bona fide heroes for “20-something” cinephiles in the 1990s, but Fargo catapulted them to the top of Hollywood’s “A-list” by finding a way to be “mass-audience-friendly” without compromising its creators’ idiosyncratic vision. Again, it was a fairly massive cross-cultural sensation, but its sensibilities were very much of a piece with the “slacker” set’s view of life, or at least life as we perceived it to be at that time. Which may or may not have been an accurate perception, but that’s entirely — or at least almost — beside the point. It was really cool, and being cool was what it was all about — even if it was  uncool to admit that.

The third and final member of the triumvirate, as you’ve no doubt already guessed, was Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the bad-attitude, gleefully nihilistic runt of this particular celluloid litter. More punk than grunge, more gut-punching than gut-spilling, this flick swapped out the sudden and shocking gross-out violence of its two just-barely-forebears in favor of shocking gross-out bodily -function gags, it knew — hell, wallowed in — its place in the gutter, and it came out of nowhere (okay, Scotland) to hit its audience like a jolt of the”white lightning” its junkie protagonists would no doubt be familiar with provided they were actually, ya know, real people.

Here’s the thing about all three of these films, though — sure, they’ve aged, but I would contend that each of them has aged pretty darn well, and what’s more, they all stand on their own just fine. Okay, yeah, Fargo has spawned a spin-off TV show that seemed like a clever enough idea for one season then quickly out-stayed its welcome with two, but come on : no one was clamoring for a sequel to any of them. But when Irvine Welsh, upon whose novel Trainspotting was based, went back to the well for both sequels and prequels on the printed page, you knew it was probably only a matter of time before Boyle followed suit on the silver screen.

And so he did. 2017 has seen T2 Trainspotting hit British cinemas first, and then make its way over to this side of the pond so that we can all see what became — or is now becoming — of Mark “Rent-Boy” Renton (played, of course, by Ewan McGregor), former “Sick Boy” Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), “still just” Spud (Ewen Bremner), and the one and only Begbie (Robert Caryle), who is generally answering to the name of Franco now, but is probably, if you care to believe it, even more psychotic than ever. So, yeah, the band’s back together — but do they still sound any good?

That’s the question those of us who love the original have been nervously asking ourselves, but as it turns out we needn’t have worried — too much. Oh, sure, there are some stylistic “call-backs” to the first film that have clearly been inserted purely for nostalgia’s sake, but Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge address that right in the script fairly early on, and besides, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is one of the major themes underlying this entire enterprise. The circumstances of all our principal characters may have changed, but whether or not any of them have really moved on is open for debate : Mark’s been living in Amsterdam, but his illusion of middle-class normalcy is in the midst of falling apart around him when he makes his return home; Simon is trying to make it as a low-rent blackmailer with his Bulgarian girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedlaykova) as bait since the pub he inherited isn’t exactly doing bang-up business; Spud’s still a smack-shooting mess who’s barely surviving (and very nearly doesn’t right out of the gate here in the only scene that can rival its progenitor for sheer “eeewwww” factor); and Begbie — well, shit, he’s in prison. Where else would he be?

Okay, yeah, everyone wants payback — in cash and blood — from Mark for ripping them all off last time around, but once that particular hurdle is overcome (alright, one person can’t let go of his grudge no matter what; bet you can guess who) everyone falls back into their traditional roles with disturbing ease : Mark and Simon, ever the scammers and schemers, are undertaking to pull off their most audacious hustle yet but can’t trust either each other or, crucially, themselves, while Spud does all the dirty work without complaint, not exactly happy to be along for the ride, but along for it all the same. All the leads get back under the skin of their characters effortlessly, but there are a few intriguing wrinkles added into the mix that prevent the film from devolving into either pure navel-gazing self-examination or a “retro-for-its-own sake” thematic and narrative cul-de-sac. Spud, for instance, has a hitherto-untapped creative side that may just hold the key to his salvation, and Mark and Simon may both be getting played by a third party who’s even better at the con game than either of them. So fear not, we’re not just running in place here, even if old habits (including, at least for one scene, heroin) do die hard.

Admittedly, “big questions” abound here (all of us 40-somethings wonder just how we got here, but how much more unanswerable does that become when you probably never expected to make it this long in the first place?), but that doesn’t mean we can’t have ourselves a good time just the same — Begbie’s prison break (oops! Spoilers!) and Mark and Simon’s fleecing of a pub packed to the gills with drunken loyalists are all kinds of way-off-color fun, so sure, there’s enough bat-shit lunacy to remind us of just what sort of people we’re (still) dealing with here — there’s just less of it. These guys are middle-aged, after all, and maybe that’s the message Boyle and company are really aiming to address at the end of the day : whether you figured you’d be around to see it or not, whether you can make peace with it or not, whether any of it makes any more sense than it used to or not, age comes to us all. It’s gonna deal with you regardless of whether or not you can deal with it. So, ya know, worry about it all you want, I suppose — just not all the time.

Or do. It’s your call. Your choice. But I would say choose to look back on the past — even immerse yourself in it every now and then — without wallowing in it. Choose to accept your fate without being resigned to it. Choose to make of things what you can, while you can. Choose to go for one more big score even if you fall short, one more crazy night even if it might be your last, and one more stupid risk just because it’s there to be taken. Choose to reject happy endings, sad endings, or endings of any sort for as long as you can; to remind yourself of why your old friends bring out the best and worst in you at the same time; to resist going quietly while you can still make a little bit of noise. Choose to buck against inevitability even if it’s inevitable that you’ll buckle, to keep on dreaming no matter how small your dreams become, and to give a well-deserved middle finger to anyone who stands in your way. Choose T2 Trainspotting for the most unexpectedly — maybe even accidentally — life-affirming film you’ll probably see all year, and choose to love it, every minute of it, just as much for what it is as for what it reminds you of.

 

Don’t look now, but it appears as though toiling away with too little recognition for far too long is finally paying off for superb cartoonist Anya Davidson, who is having something of a “moment” in the (admittedly rather insular) world of “alternative” and/or “underground” comics. Her strip “Hypatia’s Last Hours” was one of the standout entries in Kramers Ergot #9, the handsome hardback collection of her Band For Life web comics from Fantagraphics was one of the best-reviewed titles of last year, and she’s now followed up those successes with the release of her new long (-ish) form original hard-boiled crime/period piece Lovers In The Garden, yet another distinctive release to see the light of day under the auspices of the Retrofit Comics/ Big Planet Comics co-publishing venture. Set  smack dab in the middle of New York’s 1970s heroin epidemic, this comic definitely wears its Serpico-style “police thriller” and blaxploitation influences proudly on its sleeve, but rather than wallowing in storytelling standards of days gone by instead filters them through a decidedly singular artistic lens to come up with a truly unique and instantly memorable reading experience.

Edgy (a term I generally despise), gritty (ditto for that), and at all times authentic, this story of most-likely-doomed souls plays itself out via a means of Tarantino-esque intersecting vignettes focusing in brief on the lives of Vietnam vets-turned-hitmen Shephard and Flashback, art dealer/crime lord Dog, ambitious undercover cop Coral Gables (love that name), mob enforcer Mystic Blue (the hits just keep on coming), and lush reporter Elyse Saint-Michel, as well as various hangers-on rotating in and out of their respective orbits, with each short-form segment inexorably moving its pieces chessboard-style toward a final and climactic confrontation/denouement/heaping helping of karma that will irrevocably shatter lives at best, end them at worst. Its heady stuff delivered in deceptively low-key, “slice of life” fashion, but you can never escape the feeling that things really aren’t gonna work out too well for anybody.

And, hell, maybe they shouldn’t — Davidson’s view toward her characters is never less than sympathetic, but it would be a reach to say there are any genuine “good guys” on offer here, apart from perhaps Coral, who is still guilty of hiding some pretty big secrets of her own and seems to enjoy play-acting the part of smack-seller a little too much for her own good. Everyone is given a surprising amount of depth for the rather short amount of “screen time” each is offered, though, so by the time the shit finally hits the fan, there’s a definite air of Greek Tragedy about the whole enterprise. None of these folks are anyone you’d want moving into your neighborhood, but at the same time you can’t help but feel sorry for each and every one of them for any number of reasons. The gut-punches each of their downward spirals serve up are mitigated somewhat, though, by Davidson’s thick-lined and almost relentlessly “upbeat” art style, awash in vibrant-bordering-on-garish colors, but as much as a strict formalist might feel it all looks a bit “cartoony” for its heavy subject matter, for my part I found the illustrations served as yet another humanizing factor that prevented any of the cast from crossing the line into pure caricature. These are drawings of people, not tropes, and while it would be a lie to call the art in this book “fluid,” it’s nevertheless highly expressive and wonderfully effective.

Stop me now, then, before I run out of superlatives. Intricate without feeling forced, complex without belaboring its own cleverness, Lovers In The Garden is essential reading that will richly reward careful second, third, fourth (and more) perusals. I’d tell you to go out and get it right now, but even “right now” may not be soon enough.