Archive for April, 2017

Once upon a time, the “single-creator anthology” was an actual going concern in comics, and let me tell you, those were some very good days indeed. Cartoonists like Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Peter Bagge, Chris Ware, and others had books they could call their own, where anything and everything went : long-form stories that ran for several issues ran alongside shorter “one-off” strips of varying lengths, the subject matter was eclectic and well and truly ran the gamut — these folks were just going wherever their individual muses took them, and their publishers had faith in them to come up with good stuff, which they invariably did.

In these beleaguered times, however, you don’t see publications of that sort on your LCS shelves too often. So thank goodness for Eric Kostiuk Williams.

I admit, his is not a name with which I was previously familiar (although apparently he self-published a small collection of autobio comics called Hungry Bottom in 2015 that I absolutely need to track down), but I love what the two-headed monster of Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics are doing with their monthly co-publishing venture, and whatever they release, I’m game to give it a shot. Better-known cartoonists such as Anya Davidson and James Kochalka have been showcased under the auspices of this ongoing “series,” but it’s the chance for largely “unknown” creators to have their work seen by a wider audience that really excites me most about the whole thing. Some of these emerging/developing talents are still a bit rough around the edges, to be sure (not to say that can’t be exciting stuff to read, as well), but once in awhile somebody you haven’t heard of gets a spot in the rotation and delivers a work that just plain blows you away. This, my friends, is precisely such an occasion.

Babybel Wax Bodysuit showcases the breathtaking scope of Williams’ talents in that “single-creator anthology” format I was just pathetically reminiscing about, and over the space of 20 pages he announces himself as a major talent to watch —which I hope “big-time” publishers like Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly are doing, because this guy needs to be inked to a deal immediately. From a surrealistic introductory three-pager to a moving autobiographical strip about his early days on comic-book message boards and forums to a short but amazingly effective historical piece on New York’s East Village gay community to a tripped-out splash page to an even-more-tripped-out piece on a Britney Spears clone in the year 2116, this book has it all, and it’s all delivered with the kind of psychedelic aplomb and rich, cartoony detail that make every panel one worth spending the time it takes to well and truly savor.

To be sure, certain themes reoccur throughout — fetish (as the title would imply), longing for interpersonal connection, the hard road of self-discovery, the absurdity of everyday life — but it’s all delivered without a hint of angst or self-importance, and frankly never even takes itself too terribly seriously even when tackling somewhat weighty subjects. The end result is a comic that’s an absolute joy to both read as well as look at, and one that you’ll no doubt re-visit again and again over the years.

The bright, vibrant colors that Williams’ pages are awash with very nearly divert your attention away from the wonderfully intricate quality of his illustrations, but his staggeringly inventive and free-flowing panel layouts guide your eyes from one image to the next so seamlessly that you can’t help but absorb the depth and richness of everything you’re seeing and intuit the artist’s very specific intent as you go. There are bits and pieces of influences ranging from (most obviously) Kim Deitch to Mark Beyer to Tom of Finland to effing Picasso himself for careful readers/viewers to pick up on interspersed all over the place, but don’t kid yourself — this is far from “derivative” stuff. Williams takes a blank page and makes it his own in a way that many people who have been cartooning for years could only hope to, and when you consider that his career — whatever that may turn out to be — is only in its formative stages, the prospects for the future seem very exciting indeed.

Okay, yeah, less open-minded readers may simply categorize this as a “gay comic,” and call it a day (I guess they can move on to “not-gay” stuff like Batman and The Punisher — errrrm, wait a second—), but even someone as removed from the realities of what gay “20-something” life is like as I am (being a straight “40-something”) can recognize the many universal elements of the human experience communicated by means of this decidedly fantastic (a word I use in its strictest sense) series of masterfully-constructed vignettes. To anyone who claims the short strip is dead as a medium for honest artistic expression, all I can say is : open this book to any given page, follow along for five or ten minutes, and then get back to me.

So, yeah. Babybel Wax Bodysuit is a comic you most definitely need in your life, and right away. It’ll run you all of six bucks (money well spent as it’s printed in a nice over-sized format on high-quality paper with heavy cardstock covers), and those will be six of the very best bucks you spend all year. I’d close by saying something trite-but-true like “highest possible recommendation,” but honestly, I don’t know if that’s high enough. Just get the damn thing and enjoy the living hell out of it.

As far as horror movie locales go, they don’t come much more haunted than New Orleans, so the fact that the city (or, at the very least, its surrounding environs) hasn’t featured more prominently in zero-budget, direct-to-streaming indie horror efforts is somewhat surprising, when you think about it. Fear not, though, for here in the (still somewhat) early days of 2017, a cash-strapped would-be auteur named Armand Petri is out to fill that void with his recently-added-to-Amazon-Prime-and-Vimeo number, Bayou Ghost Story, which latches onto the suddenly-surging “real”movie/hand-held “mockumentary” mix format in order to tell a — well, shit, the title gives it away, doesn’t it?

A quick word of warning before we go any further : if self-appointed “paranormal investigators” reflexively work your nerves, this is a flick best avoided because it’s positively crawling with them. We’ve got grad student (at Miskatonic University, no less!)/documentarian Hassan (played by Petri himself) as our de facto emcee; nominal protagonist Byron Cane (portrayed by nominal “star” Andrew Panzarella); internet “sleuth”/dude goading Cane on long-distance, Thomas (Jared Fleming) — these amateur ghost-hunters are positively ubiquitous to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking that no one in the “Petri-verse” does anything else for a living (although a couple of real estate agents and a handyman feature at least somewhat prominently, as well).

And speaking of ubiquitous, Petri never passes up a chance to have one of his male actors appear shirtless. Seriously, even dudes who have just a couple minutes’ worth of screen time in this 70-minute production spend most of that time sans upper-body coverings. So, hey, at least our guy Armand probably enjoyed his time on set, and let’s hope that his actors did, too — although the inconsistency of their performances (some, particularly one Chris Fontenot Jr., who plays a character named Sam, approach what we might vaguely describe as “competence,” while others come nowhere close) really don’t offer much by way of evidence one way or another, especially when one considers that most were recruited from local NOLA-area community theater-type groups. Sure, a few of these individuals may as well stick out their little hobby for awhile and see where it takes them, just ‘cuz, hey, what the hell, but most — well, Popeye’s and Hardee’s are usually hiring, last I checked.

Anyway, the plot, such as it is, proceeds thusly : basically Petri, in his capacities as both screenwriter and director, seems intent on pulling off the sort of “switcheroo” we’ve seen who-knows-how-many time already in that he spends the first half(-ish) of the flick trying to convince us that what we’ve got here is a haunted house story, then he takes a bizarre (but mercifully short) side-step into the little-used (for good reason) haunted tree super-subgenre, and then mercifully reveals that to be a red herring (or maybe that should be a red oak?) as well, since what we’ve really got going — indeed, what we’ve had going all along — is a story about an old family curse.

It sounds confusing put that way, I’m sure, but it’s actually just confused, because in truth it all plays out in fairly straight-forward fashion — it’s just that there’s not a surprise, much less a scare, to be had as we watch Petri go from A to Z by means of an unnecessarily convoluted, but at least easy to follow, series of largely mundane events. There are a fair number of well-executed, even semi-breathtaking, shots of Lake Ponchartrain-area natural scenery to recapture your interest at points where it threatens to wane, but watching a guy who should be pursuing a career in nature documentaries try to make a horror film, well — let’s just call it a unique experience, while keeping in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also a good one.

For some reason, though, I feel like I’m being unnecessarily hard on Bayou Ghost Story. It would be a definite reach to say that I liked this film, but watching it was nothing like the excruciating experience some of these no-budgeters can be. It was entirely predictable and entirely uninspired (as well as uninspiring), but it has its moments, such as they are, and the admittedly marginal talent, both in front of the camera and behind it, seems to be giving it their best effort, even if their “best” isn’t especially good. Tell you what, I’ll put it this way : I don’t regret the small investment of time that watching, and subsequently writing about, this flick “cost” me, but I really can’t in good conscience recommend that others do the same.

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…

View original post 933 more words

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…

View original post 1,007 more words

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.