Tuesday, March 26, 2013

G-Man: Learning To Fly (2009)

The earliest comic books were collections of comic strips. When a combination of rising licensing costs and decreasing supply of proven strips got in the way of an expanding industry, publishers started generating their own material. Male fantasy melodrama took hold in the comics, but humor strips remained popular on their own and worked as ballast between genre material. Shrinking page counts and the mainstream audience moving to television killed off most of the "funny" in comic books, though the editorial departments at the comic publishers occasionally offer revivals, often super-hero themed. I like funny comics, but most comics traffic in the lowest, most derivative comedy, so I can't name any instances where I've actually enjoyed those publisher strips.

Such was the case with "Mini-Marvels," created by Chris Giarrusso in 1999, and running in many fashions throughout Marvel Comics for about a decade. It was essentially "Marvel Babies," a lighter, kid-friendly, gag-heavy version of the Marvel Universe. Nothing wrong with that, and it was vastly superior to most of Marvel's prior attempts at in-house strips, but I was never bowled over by it. Giarrusso also produced a lot of stuff under Erik Larsen's shingle at Image Comics, including his own super-hero creation, G-Man. The strips mostly ran in issues of The Savage Dragon, and when "Mini-Marvels" wrapped, G-Man became Giarrusso's primary interest. Giarrusso produced a 36 page original story for a one-shot in 2004, then collected it with some of the Savage Dragon strips for the first volume of a trade paperback series. "Learning To Fly" was solicited at a time when I had become very disenchanted with the big two publishers. I liked some of the preview material, and I'd found a gem of a series of similar heritage in Adam Warren's Empowered, but for whatever reason did not pull the trigger on pre-ordering the trade. Over three years later, just ahead of the release of a third trade, I finally hopped on board. It appears I'll be hopping right off.

It's impossible not to notice how cobbled together "Learning To Fly" feels. The lead origin story works well, introducing a comic book random world where a pair of brothers arbitrarily gain super-powers and engage in schoolyard tiffs. It is immediately followed by the first in an entirely unnecessary cycle of strips called "Mean Brother/Idiot Brother." The amateur strip-within-a-strip shows the conflicting perspectives on incidents from the points of view of G-Man, our sympathetic hero, and his older sibling Great Man, who is essentially Reese from Malcolm in the Middle. There are only four of these things total, but they grate mightily. A large portion of the book pulls together short 1-to-3 page strips called "Comic Bits" that sometimes carry a narrative from one to another, but are still set up like a Sunday section building to a last panel punchline. A consequence is their being very episodic and arrhythmic when taken as a whole. An extended parallel universe serial ends the book, but not well, as it just sort of stops with a metatextual bow.

Empowered benefited from starting as a collection of daringly risqué shorts poking fun at the woes of making a living off fetish commissions, which built into an overarching commentary on women in the genre, until the lead character graduated into an entirely new longform story. It was a natural progression for its creator, and felt organic as a result. Warren is also a natural born world builder brimming with gratuitously imaginative contributions to the medium. By contrast, Chris Giarrusso's trade doesn't work as an album, as it cherry picks material from a wide variety of sources produced at different times that mostly travel from bit to bit with no greater objective. It is almost cynical in the way Giarrusso moves his "Mini-Marvels" shtick into the creator-owned arena without having a grasp for how to present his new characters. Despite there being dozens of supporting players, most speak in the same voice as G-Man and serve as his proxy or springboards, rather than having a life of their own. Similarly, most of their designs are basic and derivative, less archetypal than iconic in the manner of stick figures on signs meant to convey a very simple message. Wet floor, deer crossing, handicap only, super-speedster. Without the development time, characterizations and general expectations that come with preexisting characters, Giarrusso lacks a direction to go with his own creations. Hopefully, Giarrusso corrects these problems with later editions, but for now I find myself more interested in seeking out Jacob Chabot's Mighty Skullboy Army collections, as his frequent team-ups with G-Man were the highlight of the strips.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ferals Collected Volume One (2012)

I've sampled David Lapham's writing on and off since buying the first issue of Stray Bullets when it came out, but I didn't pay serious attention to him until the first collection of Young Liars blew me away. That volume was amazing, but I somehow got sidetracked after starting the second, and haven't even cracked open the third. The comic industry seems to have the same problem with Lapham, because they kept putting him on books with potential and the best of intentions only to see them canceled left and right. I'm not interested in a Deadpool book no matter who writes it, and then there's that nonexistent trade paperback collecting the short-lived Sparta: USA I'm still waiting on. Moving to Avatar seems to have suited Lapham, as he's been one of their most consistent performers, and he even managed to out atrocity Garth Ennis on Crossed from what I hear. Still, no projects quite spoke to me, and Avatar's pricing structure was prohibitive when it came to sampling. Finally, Ferals was announced, and I have a lifelong love of good werewolf stories (despite "good" and "werewolf stories" rarely finding their way into the same sentence.) Twenty bucks seemed reasonable for six issues, plus my new comic distributor offered vastly more favorable discounts on Avatar product than my old one. I was sold.

Ferals is a good bad comic. This is a book that's all plot and circumstance, while characterization is nearly absent, and every single character is detestable. The good news is that the story has a very cinematic quality in the best sense, with a density of information that is demonstrated visually rather than stated literally. By comparison, most "cinematic" comics are more like music videos; brisk shallow reads with (hopefully) a few money moments. Each chapter is meaty in the action department, and I don't just mean the sex and gory violence, but also the distance traveled by the narrative with each step. There's a lot going on to keep up your interest, and when the volume ends abruptly with a plethora of unanswered questions, you're left yearning for more. On the other hand, there's a massive weight on Lapham to explain all this shit, because the scenery and cast changes so frequently, the unfolding developments are all that exists to hook readers. Not to be a spoiler, but most of the characters introduced in the story are dead by the end of this volume, and you're unlikely to care about any of them, because everyone exists purely to service the plot.

Avatar has something of a gonzo house style between Mike Wolfer, Jacen Burrows, and Juan Jose Ryp. Artist Gabriel Andrade is more reminiscent of high end Vertigo artists like Darick Robertson, with classic clear storytelling enhanced by stylish flourishes. It very much suits the tale, which requires a grounding in reality so that the grisly details and inhumanity of the wolf is affective in contrast. It's a great looking book, well served by glossy stock and sound coloring. The subject matter goes far enough over the top to be too much for more skittish readers, but not as graphically lurid as much of the more infamous Avatar fare. Lapham is building a werewolf mythology not quite like any seen before, and I'm willing to give this title the benefit of any doubt based on the quality introduction found in this initial collection.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ze Greatest Songs Of Mein Time #7: "Mutilated Lips" by Ween

Written By: Ween
Released: June 24, 1997
Album: The Mollusk
Single?: No

I was introduced to "Mutilated Lips" through limited airplay on some local college rock station. I'm probably underselling it as part of the nurghophonic jukebox, since it's one of my all-time favorite "incomprehensible weirdness because fuck you world" songs. I'll get in a certain mood and just recite the chorus to myself over and over throughout a day. As a matter of fact, screw it, I just turned it into the seventh (non-sequential, merely chronological by posting) song on my list of absolute favorites that I haven't updated on this blog in over two years. That's how much you need to set aside three minutes and forty-nine seconds to listen to this at least once. Strangely for a person that avoids natural bodies of water and haven't even been in a swimming pool since it proved useful in getting an ex into a bikini early in our relationship a decade ago, I really seem to gravitate toward fucked-up nautical ditties. I bet she'd have dug this tune as well, but it never came up.

P.S. Haile Selassie ruled Ethiopia from 1916 until his death in 1974, and was revered as a messiah among Rastafarians. I suspect this isn't especially relevant to anything, though.

I lick my brain in silence
Rather squeeze my head instead
Midget man provoking violence
Listen not to what I said

I said please calm it down
Everything is turning brown

Mutilated lips give a kiss on the wrist
Of the worm like tips of tentacles expanding
In my mind, I'm fine, accepting only fresh brine
You can get another drop of this, yeah you wish

Mutilated lips give a kiss on the wrist
Of the worm like tips of tentacles expanding
In my mind, I'm fine, accepting only fresh brine
You can get another drop of this, yeah you wish

Laughing lady living lover
Ooo you sassy frassy lassie
Find me the skull of Haile Sellase, I
Give me shoes so I can tapsy
Tap all over this big world
Take my hand you ugly girl

Mutilated lips give a kiss on the wrist
Of the worm like tips of tentacles expanding
In my mind, I'm fine, accepting only fresh brine
You can get another drop of this, yeah you wish


Blog Archive


Surrender The Pink?
All books, titles, characters, character names, slogans, logos, and related indicia are trademarks and/or copyright of their respective rights holders.