Archive for May 27, 2017

Well, whaddya know — sometimes those three-and four-page previews they run in the back of comics actually work.

Case in point : the new Aftershock Comics series The Normals is probably not something I would have picked up from my LCS shelves armed with little to no foreknowledge about it. Its writer and creator, Adam Glass, is not somebody I’m terribly familiar with beyond some vague awareness of the fact that he’s a “Hollywood guy” (specifically he’s currently employed as an executive producer on one of the numerous Criminal Minds shows) and that he’s the brains behind the Rough Riders series (and its recently-published sequel) which, rightly or wrongly, strikes me as being more or less a League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen rip-off featuring historical, rather than literary, personages; artist Dennis Calero is a name I vaguely recall seeing credited elsewhere from time to time but I couldn’t tell you specifically where; and colorist Adriano Augusto? Gotta confess, I’ve never even heard of him before. But hey, one of those aforementioned previews was included in some other Aftershock titles a couple of months back, I read it, and I thought to myself “hey, this seems pretty good, I think I’ll give at least the first issue a go.”

That being said, somewhere along the way I think I forgot all about it again, but when I saw the striking cover by Juan Doe (who’s getting a lot of work at Aftershock these days, which is reason enough to follow this publisher’s output) staring back at me from the new release racks last Wednesday, I was like “oh yeah —,” and took the plunge. Turns out that was a pretty good move.

Glass relates the story of the hopelessly, well, normal Jack and Mary Normal via means of wildly effective and at times even disarmingly charming first-person narration, and does so in broad- and appealing- enough strokes to rope you in more or less immediately with a minimum of fuss or muss. In fairly short order, a standard-issue (no surprise there) household accident reveals something quite disturbing about their son, and soon the three of them, plus their typically (of course) quasi-rebellious teenage daughter are packing into the family sedan (what else?) and heading for their former hometown looking for answers about just what the heck is going on — but “what’s happening to us?” is a pretty basic and easy question compared to “who are we, anyway?,” and by the time this first chapter ends, that’s exactly what our protagonists are wondering.

really like Dennis Calero’s art on this book — it’s as pedestrian as it needs to be, but just sketchy and ill-defined enough in places to drive home a sense of false complacency and equally false reality. Everything looks like it should, sure, but it’s incomplete. It’s sketchy. It’s not all there — and Adriano Augusto, for his part, amplifies this low-key sense of unease with bold and gutsy coloring choices that completely “blank out” faces with rich, dark shadow at just the right points and juxtapose these mysterious images with plenty of brightly-lit, everyday suburban sunshine when the script and line art call for that, as well. I said earlier I’d never heard of this guy —well, now his is a name that I’ll be following for sure.

One knock I feel obligated to draw attention to, though, is the cliffhanger — once you get a reasonably solid handle on what’s going on you’ll see that there are only a couple of places the story can really go, and it definitely goes in one of them, but even though he leaves things on an obviously surprising (there’s any oxymoron for you, I know) note, I don’t think Glass has shown us all his cards yet by any stretch. Besides — even if The Normals turns out to have a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe to its “mind-fuck” premise, it’s well-enough executed on every level to keep readers intrigued. If it turns out that we’ve seen this all before, fair enough — but we don’t usually see it done this well, and as long as future installments maintain the same standard of quality on display in this one, I’ll be sticking around for more.

 

 

 

I’ve never been there, so I had no idea, but apparently Istanbul is a city of cats. I mean lots and lots of cats.

Which means two things : my wife would probably love it there, and there’s a heck of a documentary just waiting to be made about this whole situation.

Okay, fair enough, I probably wouldn’t have guessed the latter to be the case, either, but Turkish director Ceyda Torun knows better than I, and late in 2016 he proved it by releasing his new film Kedi, which has gotten some pretty strong (and frankly well-deserved) notices from around the world, and recently made its way to the eclectic discount house (that would be the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis) just up the street from our house, so any excuses I may have once had for giving it a pass are, obviously, long gone.

I freely admit to being a cat-lover (and owner) myself, but the set-up in Istanbul might be a bit much even for me : I mean, there are barely-domesticated felines everywhere. None of ’em are fixed, none of ’em are strictly anyone’s “property,” none of ’em are chased down and taken to the pound — they just do their thing, while people do theirs. And it all seems to work out pretty well.

Kedi follows the to’ing and fro’ing of maybe a half-dozen cats in particular, my favorite being a cuddly little fellow named Bengu, but more generally it’s about the relationship between humans and animals in an urban setting, and how the daily ritual of providing for so many of these furry friends shapes the character of a city. I mean, seriously — a pair of sisters profiled in the film cook up 20 pounds of chicken a day in order to feed some 60 neighborhood cats. And the idea of complaining about it, much less missing a day, has apparently never occurred to them.

It’s not like the cats don’t give something back, of course — we meet one who chases off mice from a restaurant, another is favorite draw at a deli where he paws at the window until he’s fed, yet another “guards” a fish market (and helps himself to a fresh meal when no one’s looking) — heck, one gentleman even talks about how taking care of so many of them helped him to rebuild his life after a nervous breakdown. It’s a remarkable state of affairs that’s taken hold, and makes for a story that’s equal parts inherently charming and weirdly fascinating.

It’s also a way of life that’s under very direct threat : Turkey’s current socio-economic and political woes are well-known, and as foreign investment pours into the country (and lines the thuggish Erdogan’s pockets), the malignant forces of gentrification are seeing entire neighborhoods leveled in order to make room for ostentatious (and most empty) high-rises with little to no concern for the people being displaced, much less the cats. Torun doesn’t beat you over the head with this sad new reality, but once the topic is broached, its hangs over the proceedings like a silent and sharp scabbard, informing all that we subsequently see with a kind of gentle-but-persistent eulogy for a social order that is slowly but surely on the way out.

For all that, though, Kedi is still a joyous celebration of the love that exists between creatures that amble about on two legs and those who get around on four. As one shop-keeper in the film says, “Cats are a bridge between man and God. Dogs think people are gods, but cats know better, and so by understanding cats, we can better know God.” If you get what he’s talking about and agree, then this is a flick you absolutely must see, the sooner the better.