Posts Tagged ‘alan moore’

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.

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I have no idea how many words have been spent — digitally or in print — praising and/or occasionally lambasting, to say nothing of parsing the rich minutiae of,  Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, but it’s surely gotta run into the billions by now, and I confess to being one who has contributed to the ever-growing landfill of opinion on this most seminal of works, but please give me some credit — I at least never stooped so low as to regurgitate the depressingly common line that it represents “the last word on superheroes.”

Oh, sure, at one point during its gestation its creators may have harbored illusions that it could be viewed as such — and for a long time it stood as both of their final words on the genre/phenomenon — but eventually both of them (Moore in particular) decided that they each had more to say on the subject, much of it a direct response not so much to Watchmen itself, but to the industry-wide excesses that sprang up in its wake. By now it’s painfully obvious to all of us that DC editorial never really knew what to do next after it was done and, lacking the vision to understand that its runaway success meant that audiences were ready for more good comics, instead they chose the easier path of just giving us more dark comics. Those, after all, can be cranked out without much effort, or even thought.  And so here we all are, three decades later, still wondering why a work that its creators sincerely hoped would be eclipsed in terms of quality in fairly short order never has been.  And here we are still talking about it.

Not that it isn’t worth talking about, of course — Watchmen is such a dense, multi-faceted, complex, and sophisticated narrative that it can literally take dozens of re-reads to unpack all it has to offer. It’s just more than a bit depressing that neither of the “Big Two” have produced a work of even greater quality in all the years since, and that the superhero genre has never had the guts to look at itself in the mirror this honestly again, despite being under a larger and more all-pervasive microscope than ever.

So, yeah — the final word on superheroes? It’ll probably never be written. But what of the final word on Watchmen?

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In all honesty, that’s probably decades — perhaps even centuries — away from happening, as well, but it’s certainly high time for somebody to at least have something new to say about it. Enter cartoonists Dave Baker, Nicole Goux, Rachel Dukes, Malachi Ward, Nick Diaz, Emilie Vo, Sam Ancona, Chuck Kerr, Colby Bluth, Robert Negrete and Sabrina Deigert, and their “mondo” self-published collaborative “jam” effort, Shitty Watchmen.  Baker, who’s selling the book via his website at http://www.heydavebaker.com , has stepped forward as the nearest thing to an unofficial spokesperson for the project in recent weeks, and while his standard line is that the book was designed to highlight Dave Gibbons’ often-overlooked contributions to the original work by proving  it’s so damn visually powerful that it even flows and makes sense when re-drawn in the “shittiest” manner possible, in truth he’s selling he and his compatriots’ perhaps-accidental (and perhaps not) achievements here almost criminally short — this, you see, is actually a nuts-and-bolts deconstruction of a comic that is, after all, a brilliant piece of deconstruction itself, and when you sit down and really think about that, it’s kind of like Russian dolls, isn’t it? You open one, and there’s another hiding inside it. At the risk of making Alan Moore cringe by even invoking the name, maybe Grant Morrison was exactly right when he said those things were a model of the universe.

Double-negatives being the equivalent of a positive, then, it would stand to reason that deconstructing a deconstruction would ultimately add up to being a reconstruction, and damn if that’s not the case here. In fact, I’m downright stoked to read Watchmen (yet) again now that I’ve seen its beauty besmirched so thoroughly. I’ve always loved it, of course, and always will, but as familiar as I am with every page, every panel, every sentence of it, I admit — it’s been awhile since I felt in awe of it. That deficiency in my viewpoint has already been corrected.

To get the obvious out of the way, then, yes — the art in Shitty Watchmen (formatted in such a way that each artist tackles a single chapter, except for Baker, who takes on two of ’em) is absolutely atrocious. That’s rather the point. Odds are better than good that each of the contributors involved can actually draw pretty well, but damn, they sure don’t do it here. To which I can only say — so what? The likes of Gary Panter and Art Spiegelman, among others, certainly don’t or can’t “draw well” on a purely technical level, but does that in any way detract from the power or immediacy of their work? Heck, in Panter’s case his decided lack of anything like “finesse” only adds to its visual impact, and the same can be said of much that’s on display here. Yeah, it’s uniformly crude. It’s ugly. It’s barely above kindergarten scribbling. It’s as “shitty” as it bills itself as being. And it also proves, without question, its over-arching thesis — that Watchmen as a whole, and Gibbons’ art in particular, is, if anything, under-rated.

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That’s probably a decidedly “uncool” thing to say in this day and age, where trashing Watchmen has become something of a fast-track to gaining instant “street cred” with the self-appointed “hip” and reflexively contrarian members of the comic book critics’ “community,” but I’ll let you in on a secret — a lot of that, perhaps even all of it, is a fucking pose. Divorce Watchmen from its context — whether asked for (“the first major deconstruction of the superhero genre”) or unasked for (“the book that started the ‘dark age’ in comics”) — and guess what? You’ve still got a soaring, ambitious, expertly-executed, revolutionary work. And if it takes reducing it to to a beyond-bare-bones shadow of itself in order to to either prove or remind people of that, so be it. Shitty Watchmen isn’t just throwing the genius of its “source material” into sharp relief, but people’s reactions to it, as well. A veritable “cottage industry” of opinion has sprung up around this comic over the years, much of it illuminating and some of it infuriating, but for my money I can’t think of any other interpretation of it that’s been this unflinchingly honest and utterly free of pretense. “We love Watchmen — let us prove it to you by wrecking it” may seem a contradictory assertion on its face, but often the most essential truths are hidden in some surprising places.

But it’s not just Gibbons’ art that is atomized on these pages — Moore’s script is presented verbatim only in chapter nine, while others either decimate it with as much gusto as they do to the illustrations or leave it out altogether (which is also the case with John Higgins’ color, this book being a strictly black and white affair). That’s a move certain to offend purists, and perhaps even a fair number of more casual fans, but are members of either camp all that likely to be interested in a project such as this in the first place?  Exactly.

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Admittedly, then, Shitty Watchmen is a book with a decidedly narrow focus that will appeal to a perhaps-even-more-narrow readership. For what it’s trying to do, though — and for those interested in what it’s doing — it’s a borderline revelatory experience. If you’ve ever wondered “could Watchmen still be good — even if it wasn’t?,” then here’s your answer, and it’s a resounding yes. Turning the most celebrated work in the history of the graphic story medium into a sorry, sloppy mess may be a “shitty” thing to do, but it’s also a brilliant one.

 

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Before we get rolling on our look back at 2016 in the world of comics, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of two masters, shall we? Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon were  very different artists with very different visions and very different styles, no doubt about that, but both were among the very best at what they did, both entered this undeserving world in 1962, and both exited it, leaving it a decidedly poorer place for their passing, in 2016. Both gentleman turned the medium upside – down with their brilliance and created bodies of work that are more than guaranteed to stand the test of time, so I feel it’s only appropriate, prior to diving into our annual retrospective (which, you’ve officially been warned, will take a minute, so buckle in) to say “thank you” and “we miss you” one more time to this pair of undeniable greats. And now, onto the business at hand —

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Wow, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? In a year when both of the “Big Two” decided to hit the “reset” button again, it’s probably fair to say that DC Universe : Rebirth #1 — and the entire Rebirth initiative in general — will go down as the major “event” of 2016, given that it essentially catapulted the publisher from a distant-second-place competitor to Marvel to “Top Dog” in the industry in the space of one month. That doesn’t mean that the comic itself was any good, of course — my feelings on it are well-known and I believe that Geoff Johns and his artistic collaborators Gary FrankEthan Van SciverIvan Reis and Phil Jimenez essentially churned out a stinkbomb here that will ultimately do both the DCU “proper” as well as the so-called “Watchmen Universe” no favors by setting them on a collision course with each other — but at this point, what’s done is done, and in the short run that means we’ve got a two-horse race for the top spot in the Diamond sales charts every month as DC’s decidedly mediocre twice-monthly efforts compete with yet fucking another round of “Marvel Now!” relaunched books that by and large are, in their own way, every bit as uninspired and predictable as their rivals’ four-color “floppies.” Honestly, this has been the most convoluted path back to the status quo that I’ve ever seen, and just goes to show that a bunch of hype is all that’s needed to sell readers on the same old crap. Of the two reboots, Marvel’s is the most promising, given that they’ve made an effort to carve out some space for genuinely interesting and off-beat titles, but you know most of ’em aren’t going to last, as the so-called “House Of Ideas” is putting far more promotional muscle behind crap like this —

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than they are behind intriguing and potentially subversive fare like this :

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So, yeah, on the whole, count me as being more or less completely uninspired by both major initiatives by both major publishers. Marvel’s in the awkward position (although it’s one they’re well used to after last year’s Secret Wars) of rolling out a raft of new books hot on the tail of a major crossover that hasn’t even ended yet, given that Civil War II was beset by the usual delays we’ve come to expect from these things, but I do give ’em credit for having about a half-dozen or so pretty good books stemming from “Marvel Now!” 2016 — and that’s roughly four more than post-Rebirth DC is giving us. For all that, though, once you move outside the Rebirth realm, DC is actually putting out a fair number of quite good books, which brings us to our main order of business here —

Ryan C.’s Top 10 Comics Series Of 2016

Same rules as always apply : these can be either “limited” or “ongoing” series — as long as they came out within the past 12 months in single-issue format (our preferred consumption method around these parts), we don’t discriminate. But it’s not a “real” Top 10 list without at least a couple of “honorable mentions,” though, is it? So let’s look at those first —

Honorable Mention #1 : American Monster (Aftershock)

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Brian Azzarello — whose name will be coming up again later for decidedly less complimentary reasons — is proving he’s “still got it” and then some with this decidedly sleazy, amoral small-town crime series that features a cast of pedophiles, gun-runners, neo-Nazis, corrupt preachers, and other fine, upstanding citizens. And Juan Doe‘s animation-cel inspired art is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, this book has seen so many publication delays that we only got three issues all year. If it was coming out on anything like an even remotely consistent basis, this would not only be “Top 10” material all the way, it might be “Top 2 Or 3.” I love this comic. Now feed me more of it.

Honorable Mention #2 : Power Man And Iron Fist (Marvel)

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David F. Walker is The Man. You could ask for no more perfect writer to chronicle the exploits of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And Sanford Greene and frequent fill-in Flaviano Armentaro are doing a nice job on the art. Unfortunately, this title got sidetracked for no less than four months into the creative black hole that is Civil War II, and while these issues weren’t bad for tie-in nonsense, they were still — well, tie-in nonsense. Now that we’ve got the real story rolling again, all is right with the world, and you can blame this one narrowly missing out on the Top 10 squarely and solely on Marvel editorial, who steered the ship into “event” territory before it even had a chance to properly get its feet off the ground. It was a real momentum-killing decision, and I sincerely hope it won’t prove to be a fatal one, as well — but it may turn out to be just that given that sales on this series have been tanking in recent months. So much for the notion that cross-over “events” boost interest in a book.

Honorable Mention #3 : Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics)

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I’m not too proud to admit it — seeing the first issue of this new series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez on the shelves of my LCS, and back in its original magazine format at that, was enough to make me tear up just a little bit for a second. It was hardly an issue for the ages or anything, but everything about this just feels right. I love it when life comes full-circle, I love Los Bros., I love their characters, and I love this world. It’s a shoe-in for the Top 10 next year, but one issue is simply too small a sample size for me too include it in good conscience this time out. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

Honorable Mention #4 : The Fix (Image)

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Nobody does fuck-up criminal low-lifes like Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, and in the pages of this book they up the ante by making their fuck-up criminal low-lifes cops, to boot. This comic is all kinds of perverse and depraved fun, and I’d dearly love to have found a spot for it in the Top 10, but there simply wasn’t room for more than — well, shit, ten titles. Nevertheless, it’s a series you absolutely should be pulling.

And now onto the main event —

10. Doom Patrol (DC’s Young Animal)

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The flagship title of Gerard Way‘s new “art comics” imprint, this book is proving a mere three issues in that it’s gonna push these characters in directions even Grant Morrison never dreamed of. Way and artist Nick Derington are doing the genuinely unthinkable here — producing a well and truly experimental comic with the full blessing of one of the “Big Two” publishers. All may not be lost, after all.

9. Deadly Class (Image)

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Rick Remender and Wes Craig gave us the “Holy Shit!” moment of the year in comics when they actually fucking killed their protagonist (doubly shocking when you consider he was an obvious stand-in for a youthful Remender himself) twenty-some issues in, but the new crop of students at King’s Dominion Atelier For The Deadly Arts is decidedly less interesting than was the last, hence the drop for this series from its loftier perch last year.

8. Southern Bastards (Image)

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Jasons Aaron and Latour just don’t let up. This deep-friend southern noir is loaded with so much gallows humor, spot-on characterization, and low-rent evil that not even a spotty publication schedule and a lackluster fill-in issue could keep it outta the Top 10. A legend in the making, even if it ends up taking a decade for it all to get made.

7. Jacked (Vertigo)

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As near as I can determine, nobody other than myself actually read Eric Kripke and John Higgins’ superb six-part tale of pharmaceutically-charged super-hero revisionism, and that’s a damn shame as it’s one of the single finest and most honest portrayals of mid-life crisis that this beleaguered medium has ever produced, and the art is simply sensational. Do yourself a favor and grab it in trade — you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t hate yourself for that beer gut and receding hairline anymore, either.

6. The Vision (Marvel)

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Enough ink — both physical and digital — has been spilled in praise of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta‘s admittedly Philip K. Dick-inspired techno-Shakespearean tragedy that adding to it just feels like piling on against the rest of the industry at this point. Suffice to say all the superlatives you’ve heard are true and then some and yeah, this one has “destined to be talked about for years to come” written all over it.

5. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)

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Ed Piskor put the wraps on the 12-part single-issue reprintings of his cultural history milestone earlier this year, and while I’ll certainly continue to collect and enjoy his oversized hardcover volumes, there was just something about having these previously-told stories presented on cheap, pre-yellowed newsprint that was beyond awesome. And the last issue even came packaged with an old-school floppy record — that was actually a code for a free digital download, but whatever. This book was more satisfying than a 40 of Olde English on a hot summer day.

4. Glitterbomb (Image)

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Jim Zub and deliriously-talented newcomer Djibril Morissette-Pham came out of nowhere with this series about Lovecraftian horror intersecting with the seedier side of post-fame Tinseltown (with bloody results) and just blew me the fuck away. The surprise hit of the year for this armchair critic and a book I can’t stop thinking or talking about. The first trade should be out soon enough and collects the self-contained story presented in issues 1-4,  and they’re coming back in late 2017 with a new arc that — man, I just don’t even know where they go from here. But I’m dying to find out.

3. The Flintstones (DC)

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Believe it. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh are putting out the most socially- and politically-relevant comic on the stands, and the satire in this book is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. A truly “mature” take on characters we thought we already knew everything there was to know about, and consistently one of the smartest books you’ll have the pleasure of reading. I don’t know that I have words to adequately describe how unexpectedly awesome this series is — when I said that DC was actually putting out some damn good stuff outside its main Rebirth line, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you’d have told me a year ago that one of the books I was going to be most eagerly looking forward to month-in and month-out was going to be The Flintstones, I would have thought you’d lost it. In fact, I probably would have said that Donald effing Trump had a better chance of being elected president. And yet, here we are — ain’t life crazy? And shitty? But at least we have this comic, and as antidotes to a new age of right-wing anti-intellectual barbarism go, you won’t find much better.

2. The Sheriff Of Babylon (Vertigo)

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The Vision may have gotten all the attention, but Tom King‘s best series of 2016 — by a wide margin, in my view — was this Iraq-set murder mystery drawn heavily from his own experiences as a CIA case officer during that bloody boondoggle of a war. Every aspect of this comic is almost painfully authentic, and Mitch Gerads rounds the package out with artwork so gritty you can feel the sand underneath your fingertips. This. Shit. Was. Amazing. Or maybe that should be “is” amazing, since — well, more on that in a minute.

1. Providence (Avatar)

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I’m out of superlatives, honestly. I review each issue of this series as it comes out, and my mind is blown more completely every time. I said last year that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows were potentially creating the comic of the young century with this volume of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” and with one installment left to go in this 12-parter, I think it’s safe to say we can take the “potentially” qualifier out of that statement :  Providence is, in fact, the best comic of the century so far.

Wait, though! We’re far from done —

On the graphic novel front, it’s gotta be said that 2016 was a banner year, as well, in many respects — but I’m always a bit perplexed on how best to assemble a “best-of” list when it comes to the GN format because it only seems fair to subdivide it down into wholly original works, trade collections, old-school vintage reprints, etc. Throw in the fact that may “original” graphic novels got their start as serialized installments on the web, and things get even dicier. What really constitutes “new” work anymore? Still, there is definitely plenty outside the realm of the single-issue “floppy” that deserves a mention, and so —

Original Graphic Novel Of The Year : Patience By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)

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Five years in the making, and it shows in every panel on every page. Clowes outdoes himself with each new project, it seems, and this is jewel in his creative crown — until the next one, at any rate. Love, obsession, longing, time travel, regret, loneliness, desolation — even optimism? This work encompasses all of it and then some; a monumental achievement of staggering proportions.

Best Collected Edition Of Recent Work : American Blood By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)

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Anyone who’s read Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. knows that Ben Marra exists on a planet of his own, and this collection of the self-published works issued under his awesomely-named Traditional Comics imprint runs the stylistic gamut from insanely exaggerated pseudo-“realism” to Gary Panter-esque primitive id-channeling. WaPo columnist Maureen Dowd as a sexy super-spy? Bloodthirsty barbarians from distant worlds? Gang-bangers who do nothing but fuck and kill? Freed slaves who can tear white men apart with their bare hands? It’s all here, in suitably gaudy purple-and-white.

Best Collected Edition Of Vintage WorkMarvel Masterworks : The Black Panther, Volume 2 By Jack Kirby (Marvel)

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In recent years, the awesome body of work produced by The King Of Comics during his second, late-’70s stint at Marvel has finally been given its due as the visionary output it so clearly was, but while books like Machine ManThe EternalsDevil Dinosaur and “Madbomb!”-era Captain America have now taken their rightful place among the rich pantheon of Kirby masterworks, Jack’s Black Panther run from that same period still doesn’t get anything like the love it deserves. Hopefully this handsome hardbound collection will finally start to clue readers in to what a magical and imaginative Wakanda Kirby created in this high-flying techno-fantasy epic.

It wasn’t all good news, though, and since we’re on the subject of T’Challa, we might as well segue into some of 2016’s lowlights —

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #1 : Black Panther (Marvel)

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There’s no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a literary and journalistic genius, and his voice in this ugly new Trump-ian era is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, he can’t write a comic to save his life, and his dour, humorless, self-absorbed, navel-gazing take on The Panther reads like a relic of the worst sort of over-wrought 1990s excesses. This is a genuinely lousy title, and it doesn’t help that neither of its usually-reliable artists, Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, are delivering anything like their best work.

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #2 : Batman (DC)

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Tom King giveth, and Tom King taketh away. We’ve already covered the great stuff he’s given readers in 2016, but he’s also taken one of the most consistently-good super-hero books and turned it into a massive fucking train wreck. Lots of people were jazzed when he was announced as Scott Snyder‘s replacement on the “main” Bat-book, but King has struggled to find a “voice” for Bruce Wayne either in or out of the cape and cowl, his two major storylines to date have featured ridiculous plots, and 13 issues in all we can really say is that he writes a pretty good Alfred. The illustration by David Finch on the first five-issue story arc was atrocious, and the only thing that saved this title from being dropped from my pull for the first time ever was when the magnificent Mikel Janin took over art chores with the second arc and delivered work of absolutely breathtaking scope and grandeur. Still, at this point, I have to say — when he goes, I go. And I think he’s gone after next issue. And yet, horseshit as this book has been, it’s nothing compared with our —

Worst Comic Of The Year : Dark Knight III : The Master Race (DC)

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Unmitigated garbage that plumbs new depths of hopelessness with every issue, Brian AzzarelloAndy Kubert and Klaus Janson (with nominal involvement from Frank Miller) are doing something here no one thought possible : making fans yearn for the days of The Dark Knight Strikes Again!  (which, admittedly, I’ve always liked, but no one else does). Also, they seem to be doing their level best to match that title’s glacial publication schedule. At this rate, we’re gonna wait three years to complete a story that’s been a total waste of time from the outset. This series is honestly starting to rival Before Watchmen  in the “artistically-bankrupt blatant cash-grab” category. I expected nothing from it, true — and yet somehow we’re getting even less than that.

I’m going to close on something of a high note for DC, though, if you can believe it, because they also get the award for —

Best Development Of 2016 DC’s Young Animal

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I’m still not sure what the hell a “pop-up imprint” is, but Gerard Way has one he can call his very own, and so far all four series released under this label’s auspices — Doom Patrol (as previously discussed), Shade, The Changing GirlCave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic — have been not just good, but great. While at first DCYA sounded like little more than a stylistic heir to vintage-era Veritgo to my mind, in fact its aims seem to be much different, while admittedly utilizing a number of characters and concepts from that fan-favorite period. This is an imprint where anything both goes and can happen, and we’ve sorely needed that for waaaaayyy too long. In short, this is the most exciting thing either of the “Big Two” have done in — shit, as long as I can remember. Long may it continue.

So — What About The Year To Come?

By the sound of it there’s plenty to be excited about, from Warren Ellis spearheading the re-launch of WildStorm to the debuts of much-publicized new series from Image such as God Country and The Few, but my most-anticipated events of 2017 (at least as far we know now) would have to be —

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March 31st (seriously, guys?) is slated as the provisional release date for Providence #12, and to say that I can’t wait to find out how it all ends would be an understatement of criminal proportions. It would also be an equally-proportionate understatement to say that I’ll simply “miss” this series when it’s over. So, ya know, maybe take your time with that last issue, after all.

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The so-called second “season” of The Sheriff Of Babylon is due to hit sometime in the latter part of the year and, simple as the “teaser” image shown above was, it was still enough to get me excited. And finally —

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January sees the release of the first installment of Kamandi Challenge, a “round-robin” 12-part series from DC starring The Last Boy On Earth that features a different creative team on each issue trying to solve the cliffhangers left by the folks the month before, as well setting up new messes for the next bunch to get themselves out of. This is the first of what I hope to be many releases commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby that we can look forward to over the next 12 months — in fact, DC has just also announced an omnibus hardcover reprinting of Kirby’s entire original Kamandi run, so let’s hope that 2017 really will be a vintage year for fans of The King.

Whew! Okay! We’re done for the year! Enjoy your holidays — or what remains of them — and we’ll see you back here in January, when we get to start the whole thing all over again!

 

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Upon first pass-through, you could almost be forgiven, a few pages into Providence #11, for thinking that you must have missed an issue somewhere along the way. Not just because of the massive delay between the previous installment and this current one (though that certainly didn’t help matters), but because the tone, tenor, and most crucially the tempo of everything have so clearly changed, and so quickly. Gone is the comic that spent most of its time showing our protagonist either taking long walks or having deep, philosophical conversations while all the genuine horror taking place both around and, crucially, to him escaped his notice, and in its place stands a story about a man who is fully awake, fully aware, and understandably scared to death — and when the dam of blissful denial breaks, all bets are off as surely as the brakes are on this frenetically-paced, deliberately- whiplash-inducing issue. The apocalypse is on, both personal and global, and it’s all set to the tune of You Made Me Love You, as sung by Al Jolson!

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Most of the bizarre personages (and not-quite-personages) that Robert Black has met over the course of his travels through haunted New England circa 1919 are back in the opening splash page for this issue (titled, incidentally, “The Unnamable”), but before you even have a chance to ponder too much over who Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows have both included and excluded in this massive “jam panel” (as well as why they were either left in or out), the wheels on our hapless hero’s metaphorical mental train begin to come off, and a couple of “chance” encounters with old “friends” only serve to grease the tracks that eventually lead Black to — well, you can see for yourself on the main cover, as pictured at the outset of this review. And there was a record playing the last time we visited this particular establishment, as well, way back in issue number one.

Still, while Black’s physical life may be coming to an understandable end here, a great deal of the proceedings this time out are focused on how his influence, by means of his “Commonplace Book,” (which we shan’t be getting any further excerpts from) continues in perpetuity, and a heady mix of rapid-fire vignettes show us both how a number of the “fictional” stories to which we’ve been introduced cocnclude, and how various events in the (forgive me for using the term, but) “Providence universe” mirror those of our own, “real” world. Be on the lookout, for instance, for William S. Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and, of course, H.P. Lovecraft himself (among others) in this extended epilogue that calls to mind Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “Dance Of The Gull-Catchers” appendage to From Hell, and keep http://factsprovidence.wordpress.com handy while you’re at it, as my friends there, who always do an incredible job with their annotations, have surely out-done themselves with their on-the-spot scholarship this time around. Seriously, guys, you’ve crossed the threshold from “interesting” to “invaluable” with your efforts here, and while I always do a first read cover- to- cover before consulting said site, never was I more tempted to break that rule than with this issue.

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The little details all matter more than ever here in number 11, as well, as there are no “little details.” The panels with the record playing are all straight-ruled, for instance, while most others are unevenly hand-ruled. Brown Jenkins’ car turns up again at a precisely-timed-yet-unexpected moment. The Kirlian-type effect first introduced with the arrival of Johnny Carosa re-enters the picture. And a panel displaying any number of consumer products related to the Cthulhu Mythos arrives as commentary on the commercialization of this once-dark and foreboding universe just as Moore’s script plunges us into the blackest heart of its essential truths in a more fundamental and inescapable fashion than anyone since — well, who are we kidding? Since Lovecraft himself. There are no accidents here. And that might be the scariest thing about it.

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To say that Providence #11 has it all is probably doing the concept of “all” a disservice by selling it short. This issue is heartbreaking, harrowing, insightful, crazed, meticulous, mysterious, engrossing, thought-provoking, imaginative, beautiful, desolate, darkly humorous — all in the extreme. How we get from the end of Robert Black’s life (though not his story, which is one of this series’ main themes, of course) to the modern, post-Neonomicon world is one of the most invigorating and intoxicating comics reading experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of partaking in, and while  I have some minor quibbles with it on the artistic front in terms of a small handful of choices that Burrows — who for the most part does masterful work here — makes in terms of angle and perspective in certain panels (why is Dr. West/North’s disembodied, speaking head so darn far away?), and I’m definitely less than thrilled (though, sadly, hardly surprised) by Avatar’s decision to continue charging $4.99 for this title despite the fact that the absence of the “Commonplace Book” backmatter reduces the page count from 40 to a standard 32 this time out, you know what? Griping about those details when confronted with an artistic achievement of this magnitude, scope, and dare I say it grandeur almost seems petty — and pointless. After all, who are we kidding? All is Yuggoth. All is lost.

Ain’t it just grand?

 

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It’s no secret :  apocalypse has always loomed large in the works of Alan Moore — from Adrian Veidt’s duplicitous, engineered “brave new world” of Watchmen to the celebratory “wrap party” of all as we know it to be in Promethea, one way or another, as Rorschach himself would almost certainly put it, the end is always nigh. In Dez Vylenz’ documentary feature The Mindscape Of Alan Moore, the author himself opines that, in his considered view, apocalypse is essentially synonymous with revelation, and that it needn’t be feared in the least — but apparently he didn’t pass that memo along to one of his own characters, the ever-hapless (not to mention clueless) Robert Black, who experiences perhaps the most personal Moore-scripted apocalypse to date, yet also the one with the most profound and far-reaching (not to mention harrowing) consequences, as he comes to find out that he is an unwitting agent for, essentially, the re-writing of reality itself — to the way it’s always been?

Operating under the theory that ignorance is bliss, Black has been busily rationalizing all his less-than-commonplace (readers of this series’ backmatter will groan at that one) experiences throughout haunted New England circa 1919 either as a defense mechanism for purposes of retaining his own sanity, a knee-jerk reaction based on his cosmopolitan rationalism, or both, but let’s not us kid ourselves in the same fashion — he’s been due a come-uppance of the sort he can’t just explain away for some time, and in the pages of Providence #10 it finally hits, first through his conversations with H.P. Lovecraft, wherein the still-amateur horror scribe unwittingly gives away something of the “hidden hand in all things” (leave it to Moore to reveal  that a character who’s been there all along but who we’ve never actually met — and probably never will — is arguably the most pivotal figure in the whole story)  and then in a momentous — in the strictest sense of that term — encounter with The Courtyard and Neonomicon central personage Johnny Carcosa, who, in memorably horrific fashion, drives home what all the talk of “The Redeemer” and “The Messenger” lurking in this title’s periphery has been about. I’d say “nothing is ever going to be the same,” but let’s be honest — nothing in Providence ever was, anyway.

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Literary references fly fast and furious in this issue, as we’ve come to expect (with Lovecraft’s The Haunter Of The Dark coming as close as anything to assuming the mantle of “anchor story” this time out), but it’s Moore’s ruminations on the nature of literature — and, indeed, of all fiction — that are of utmost import here, with Carcosa “flickering” between two-dimensional “existence” and solid, physical “reality” as he drops tantalizing hints about the nature of the “invented” world and the phenomena of post-selection that will blow the minds of even the most veteran travelers of the psychedelic realms. Simply put, if you can wrap your head around the idea that Lovecraft’s “Old Gods” dreamed this world into being in order to create the conditions by which humans, in turn, would eventually imagine them into being you might be coming close to what’s being intimated at here — but with two issues left to go, I have no doubt that most of the bigger picture still remains tantalizingly beyond the grasp of us mere mortals at this point, and that Black’s revelations will prove to be both concurrent with, as well as pale in comparison to, our own.

For those more inclined to focus on the prosaic, “surface-level” concerns Moore and Burrows (who ups his own ante considerably on the art for this installment, pulling out all the stops when it comes time to delineate what can barely even be adequately described, much less drawn) have been toying with since the outset of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” rest assured that those aren’t ignored in these pages, either — for instance, if you’ve been wondering why Carcotha talkth the way he doeth, that mythtery ith finally tholved (it ain’t pretty), and the obvious ties that bind Black’s journals to Lovecraft’s forthcoming literary works are finally stitched together, as well. No doubt, for a comic that consists almost entirely of two characters conversing with each other (either Black and Lovecraft or Black and Carcosa), there’s a whole lot going on here.

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Perhaps that’s a largely-unacknowledged part of the real genius that’s quietly been underpinning this entire enterprise from the start — there hasn’t been so much as a single punch thrown in ten issues here, and indeed little to no “action” of the traditional sort has been on offer at all, yet has there been a more intellectually, philosophically, or artistically “exciting” book on the stands in the last who-knows-how-many years, never mind one that shakes its readers’ very conception of reality, the universe, and anything and everything associated with both/either to the degree this one does? If you’ve been reading this comic — and, honestly, shame on you if you haven’t — you already know the answer to that.

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I dunno — I feel like I’m literally a different person now than I was when Providence started, even if I was always meant to be this way. Or already was and just didn’t know it. Or never will be. Or, heck, maybe I’m still, eternally, in the process of becoming it  — whatever “it” is. Whatever I am. Whatever anything is. I’ve long felt that contemplating the apparently-unfathomable is not only life’s highest calling, but in the end is the only one that really matters. Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows are facilitating that exploration in ways I could never have begun to imagine and, crucially, providing me with the tools to continue on from this point once they’ve (regretfully) concluded their business here. I have no doubt that when I look back on this whole thing we call “life” from wherever it is I am five or ten years down the road, that Providence #10 — one of the single-finest comics I’ve ever read and one of the best works of “fiction” (a term we can now safely say that we need to use very  loosely) I’ve ever experienced in any form — will stand out as a watershed moment where everything that I was thinking about, well, everything took a quantum leap forward.

 

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“Go ahead and cripple the bitch.”

Those were the words of then-DC executive editor Dick Giordano to editor Len Wein, who in turn relayed them to Alan Moore, writer of the seminal Batman/Joker tale Batman : The Killing Joke, and the subject of the order was Barbra Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl. Moore had originally planned for he and Brian Bolland’s one-off story to be something of an “Elseworlds”-style tale (before there was such a thing), set apart from standard DC continuity and positing both a potential origin of The Joker (draped over a skeletal framework that dated all the way back to the Clown Prince of Crime’s first appearance ) and a potential conclusion to comics’ most famous feud — one that would ultimately be left to the reader to discern for themselves, but that strongly hinted that Batman flat-out snaps at the end and kills his most troublesome and famous adversary. What could possibly drive Batman to this extreme? Well, The Joker was going to murder Batgirl.

But as the script pages starting arriving at the DC offices, editorial got the strong feeling — correctly, as it turned out — that they had not just a hit on their hands, but a bona fide comic book blockbuster. A story that would be hotly debated for years, if not decades, to come, and sell in the millions of copies.  Moore’s idea may have been to do his ultimate take on the Batman/Joker relationship, but his bosses wanted to morph it into the ultimate take on the Batman/Joker relationship — and so they decided to play it coy when it came to the question of whether or not this would be an “official” DC Universe story. They figured that they wanted The Killing Joke to be able to be woven into regular Bat-continuity if fan reaction proved to be as strong as they suspected it could be. And you can’t kill Batgirl in a comic that they might decide to shoehorn into the established Batman mythos. Or can you?

Apparently there was some heated deliberation on this question, and in the end, a calculated compromise was reached — they wouldn’t kill her, but they would cripple her. That way, their asses were covered no matter what happened — if fans howled in outrage after reading the book they’d simply say it was a “non-continuity story” after all, but if fans loved it, then Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair would be the new status quo.

We all know what happened next — the book sold out multiple printings, was re-issued in any number of new formats (each more expensive than the last), and the story went down in history as, in the minds of most, the single-greatest Batman/Joker tale ever told, while Barbra Gordon, for her part, was eventually afforded the opportunity to have a long and prosperous “second act” as Oracle, a super-hacker who provided key “mission intel” to various and sundry DC super-heroes from her hidden computerized command center, also becoming something of an icon for disability rights advocates along the way (so much so, in fact, that many readers were downright outraged when she regained her ability to walk thanks to an experimental spinal cord surgery and re-assumed the mantle of Batgirl as part of DC’s “New 52” relaunch).

It’s worth remembering, though, that this fan-favorite character — this strong representation of disabled empowerment and even feminist empowerment — was once viewed so cavalierly by her corporate owners that they told the most talented and celebrated writer to ever work for them that they wanted him to “go ahead and cripple the bitch.” The Killing Joke would prove to be Moore’s last original work for DC. Gee, I wonder why?

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I bring all this up in relation to the new animated version of Batman : The Killing Joke from WB Animation (a project that, looking back, I’m surprised didn’t happen well before 2016) because, hey, we like to think that we’ve moved on from the dreary misogynist mindset of the late 1980s, right? Dick Girodano has passed away. Len Wein is a mostly-retired occasional freelancer. A whole new gang is in charge at DC. And yet, if anything, Barbara Gordon is treated even worse in this film (which I purchased digitally, but is also available on Blu-ray and DVD — and may even be playing a theater in your area, depending on where you live) than she was in the comic.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they had to pad out the runtime of this one — for all the years DC has spent insisting that The Killing Joke is a “graphic novel,” 46 pages of story and art is anything but. Shit, the old Annuals of days gone by gave you more bang for your buck at 80 pages or so. But the way in which they “extended” the story here — well, leave it to Brian Azzarello to fuck that up royally.

Remember when this guy was good? Well, the writer who gave us 100 Bullets seems very far removed indeed from the writer who’s currently doing Dark Knight III : The Master Race, the screenplay for this monstrosity, and a tie-in comic for a beer company currently being published by Image, but once upon a time he was really on top of his game. His run on Hellblazer, in fact, was so superb that none other than Alan Moore broke with his long-standing policy of not endorsing any DC product in order to provide a glowing “pull-quote” for a trade paperback collection of the Azzarello-penned Constantine stories.

And good old Brian has been “thanking” him by pissing in his face ever since, first with his participation in the debacle that was Before Watchmen, and now with this. How do you do Barbra Gordon even worse than she’s already been done? You tack on a pointless extended “prelude” where she and Batman, more or less out of the clear blue and despite their obvious age difference,  have sex on a rooftop and he doesn’t call her back — then you cripple her.

Yes, friends, not content with merely putting a bullet through Barbara’s spine, she’s now a jilted lover, as well. And Batman is a massive douche.

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All of which undercuts what is otherwise a very strong production. Animation living legend Bruce Timm is back onboard as executive producer for this one (although the actual nuts-and-bolts work is still being farmed out to a Korean animation studio that pays its workers something like 90 cents an hour), and as such the film has the depth, quality, and texture we’ve come to expect from projects bearing his imprimatur. Veteran WB director Sam Liu guides the proceedings with his usual steady hand. The voice cast is every Batman fan’s dream with Kevin Conroy back under the cowl in the lead, Mark Hamill reprising his role as The Joker, Tara Strong as Batgirl, and the great Ray Wise (“one chance out between two worlds — fire, walk with me!!!!!!!!”) breathing more life than ever into a tested-to-his-limits-and-then-some Commissioner Jim Gordon. On a purely technical level, then, this flick is a marvel to behold.

And, ya know, once all that offensive-beyond-words new material is out of the way, this is a very faithful adaptation of Moore and Bolland’s work. In fact, it’s a note-for-note cribbing. The problem is that, given the greater context of what has now come before, scenes that packed an emotional wallop in the original printed work like Batman’s visit to Barbara in the hospital after she’s been shot by The Joker now have so much troubling subtext surrounding them that one scarcely knows where to begin when pondering the question of “Dear God, what were they thinking?”

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It’s all such a shame,really. DC had the chance to do something very rare indeed here : actually unite all of fandom behind a quality adaptation of a beloved story while addressing its inherent problems head-on. Instead, they’ve magnified them tenfold. And  a lot of people who did a lot of great work did it in service of a product that is, at its core, indefensible.

Barbra Gordon deserved better, absolutely. But so did Alan Moore. And Brian Bolland. And Sam Liu. And Bruce Timm. And Kevin Conroy. And Mark Hamill. And Tara Strong. And Ray Wise. And so many others who voiced, drew, animated, produced, or otherwise poured their hearts into this film.

And so, dear reader, do you. Ugly warts and all, Batman : The Killing Joke in its original printed interation is still very much worth your time to read if you haven’t — and to read again if you have. The film, unfortunately, is best ignored — and if it’s too late for you to do that, maybe just look at it like I’ve chosen to : as an “Elseworlds”-type story that never “really” happened at all. How fucking ironic is that?

 

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As Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence #9 opens up, the big moment has finally arrived — Robert Black has arrived in the series’ titular city, and surely that means it can only be a matter of time until all hell breaks loose and reality (shoot, any number of realities) comes crashing down around the ears (and eyes, and mind, and everything else) of our largely-hapless protagonist. Events have been building, both quietly and not-so-quietly, toward a crashing symphony of potentially-apocalyptic proportions for some time now in the pages of this book, it’s true, and it would be natural to assume that, with only three issues left to go after this one, the time to start “unleashing the beast” would be now.

Here’s the thing about Alan Moore, though — love him or hate him, the simple truth is that he’s just plain smarter than the rest of us (well, most of the rest of us, at any rate), and he wisely takes this occasion to “dial back” on some of the more overt manifestations of the horrific that have punctuated recent chapters of this still-unfolding masterwork in order to lay the groundwork, both geographically and metaphysically, for his final act. As such, most of this issue feels like something of a “break” for poor Black as he’s guided on a couple of walking tours through Providence — first by a young man whose company he , shall we say, very much enjoys, and then by H.P. Lovecraft himself, whose company enjoys even more, albeit for entirely different reasons.

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Now, fair enough, the old “walking and talking” routine has accounted for something like 50% Providence‘s page count so far, but here’s the damn thing — it never seems to get dull, does it? Not when the conversations are dripping with as much import as Moore consistently imbues them with. Issue nine is no exception to this rule, but some of those “double meanings” and “triple meanings” and even “quadruple meanings” are right out there in the open (so to speak) this time around, thanks to the special glasses worn by Henry Annesley, a stand-in character for From Beyond‘s Crawford Tillinghast (From Beyond arguably being the closest thing we have to an “anchor story” from the Lovecraft canon in this issue, although The Shunned HouseThe Case Of Charles Dexter WardThe Haunter Of The Dark, and The Colour Out Of Space, among others, all make their presence felt, as well), designed to see “light from the far violet frequencies.” Jacen Burrows does an absolutely superb job of delineating the various grotesqueries adrift in these other, “higher” dimensions, and it must be said that they’re not always employed merely for the purposes of the horrific — for instance, the comings-and-goings of one of these bizarre creatures in rhythm with the obviously-building sexual attraction between Black and one Howard Charles (Moore’s analogue for Charles Dexter Ward) leads to one of this series’ most “laugh-out-loud funny” moments.

On the whole, though, Annesley’s character functions as something of a flesh-and-blood “pressure release valve” — at least for the time being — offering as he does a mostly-rational and thoroughly (enough, at any rate) scientific explanation for most of the “high weirdness” he and his fellow members of the Stella Sapiente order are engaged in, a viewpoint that’s tremendously reassuring to Black given that it allows him to  maintain his “blissfully ignorant” mindset without undercutting the premise for his still-supposedly-in-development novel completely.

Oh, sure, certain statements made by both Annesley and, later, Charles (who Black is “passed over” to once Annesley’s other-dimensional “friends” clue him in to what’s going on) are laden, knowingly or otherwise, with portents of impending doom of the sort that we’ve grown accustomed to in these always-remarkable pages, but by and large it has to be said that if two words could be used to describe our protagonist’s mindset in this chapter (titled, non-coincidentally as ever, “Outsiders”), they would be genuinely relaxed.

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It’s when Black finally visits Lovecraft himself, though, that things kick into another gear altogether in this issue. Moore, as is his custom, appears to have left no stone unturned in his ransacking of the author’s available biographical data, and the end result is quite likely the most fully-realized representation he’s ever been given in a fictionalized narrative. Lovecraft historians will no doubt be pleased as punch with every word he utters, every gesture he makes, and every one of his mannerisms and habits brought to life by The Beaded One’s script and Burrows’ meticulous renderings, and will also be left with plenty or material for debate and discussion thanks to Moore peppering both the pages of the comic book proper and the “Commonplace Book” backmatter with plenty of intriguing theories about their favorite writer’s life, particularly in relation to his — what did they call them again at the time? — “nervous ailments.”

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Speaking of which, the conversation Lovecraft has with his mother outside the doors of the hospital where she’s institutionalized strongly implies that she needs no special glasses to see the ultraviolet spectrum (among others), and is peppered with any number of “callbacks” to the first Moore/Burrows story in this entire cycle — yes, there was one before Neonomicon, and you would do very well to go look it up, since it appears that it will will have not-inconsiderable bearing on the remainder of this series. So grab yourself a copy of Avatar’s Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures And Other Growths trade paperback collection; I have a feeling it’ll come in handy.

Lest we as readers find ourselves getting too comfortable along with the central character we’re following, though, Moore concludes his script for this issue with a line of dialogue from Lovecraft about his relationship with his mother that can be read in any number of ways, many of them quite disturbing indeed, and Burrows accentuates this unpleasantness with a final splash-page image that showcases a memorably ghoulish gallery of extra-dimensional entities swarming well beyond both the reach and, crucially, the awareness of our ostensible “heroes” as they make their way back to their respective lodgings. They’re keeping their distance — for now. But you just know the good times ain’t gonna last forever, and it’s that constant sense of inescapable doom — even during the series’  purportedly “quiet” moments — that elevates Providence into the lofty (and at this point entirely deserved) ranks of modern horror masterworks.