REVIEW [Comics]: A God Somewhere

10 07 2010

So. I’m not keen on hard sells. The concept of foisting product(s) on someone is tremendously bothersome to me; I’m reluctant, even, to accept suggestions from my friends. With all of that said, I picked up A God Somewhere because someone recommended it [shout out to Rich at Earth-2]. Call me hypocrite if you must, but I’d politely declined previous suggestions, and I couldn’t keep doing that.

"What makes a human being human?"

In four chapters, writer John Arcudi [The Mask, B.P.R.D. (Dark Horse); Major Bummer (DC Comics)] and artist Peter Snejbjerg [The Light Brigade; The Mighty (DC Comics)] present the story of Eric Forster, his friend Sam, and Eric’s brother Hugh. These three maintain a close friendship until a strange explosion empowers Eric with supernatural abilities. Initially, Eric uses these powers for good; he assists in the rescue of several of his neighbors, achieving “in minutes what would have taken the fire department hours” (39). Hugh’s wife Alma declares Eric’s survival a “miracle” (30), and Eric justifies his later acts of heroism upon this presumption: “God didn’t give me these gifts to be afraid” (57). Despite Sam’s attempt at pragmatism, Eric concludes a call to righteous example. Of his new powers, he says, “Nothing but the hand of God makes sense” (58). It’s this seemingly unquestioned determination that anchors the conflict of the book.

A God Somewhere opens with its trio discussing the purchase of a boat as an attempt to recreate weekends they spent with their father as children (7). After Eric’s transformation, however, this plan is quickly forgotten. Eric attempts to parlay his newfound celebrity into helping Hugh and Alma move into a “nice neighborhood,” but Hugh rejects the offer (69). By this point, I’d accepted the narrative at its face value; it seemed to concern the fluctuations of fraternal relationships. Instead, the story takes a decisive turn when Hugh, in a moment of frustration, punches Eric, the blow merely glancing off his older brother’s chin (84).

Hugh, surprisingly, exhibits no jealously toward his brother; indeed, he wants no part in the “circus” of Eric’s celebrity, and he notices a growing distance in their relationship. Eric recognizes Hugh’s rejection of his help as a rejection of Eric himself, and Eric expresses misplaced anger upon the President (and staff) in a scene meant also to demonstrate the lengths to which Sam enjoys the reflective glory of his association with Eric.

If this story seems disjointed by way of summary, it’s because it read that way. Sam is the thread that runs throughout this story, and yet he doesn’t assume narrative prominence until a third of the way into the book. Eric’s brutal act at the close of chapter two draws Sam into the role of passive observer, if only because Sam is literally powerless to stop Eric. When he asks Eric to explain his behavior (“How could you do something so wrong?”), Eric flippantly responds, “Wrong is just a word people made up. It has nothing to do with the real world” (101).

Much of the last half of the book concerns the escalating means by which the world attempts to stop Eric, and Sam records it all as a journalist. He retains some measure of dignity, though; he “can’t stomach the idea of turning a profit writing” a book about the phenomenon (176). By then, the damage is done: Eric’s divine example inspires a grotesque cult of personality.

I’m of a mind that Story can work in many ways. It can challenge its readers to accept a worldview previously unknown or inspire them to create fresh perspective. This is story that deserves to be read more than once. It possesses nuances of character that might go missed with a casual reading. My first reaction was to dismiss A God Somewhere. Why would a character act this way? I asked myself. The answer, it seems, must be based in a personal, rather than a literary reading. As a story, the book struggles to sustain its premise, but as a graphic novel it succeeds in elevating the form.

A God Somewhere is available from WildStorm Comics. ($24.99)

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REVIEW [Books]: Plague From Space

29 07 2009

Why is it always influenza?

Why is it always influenza?

Genre fiction doesn’t age well (unless it’s The Scarlet Letter). As our civilization progresses (improves?), so too do our expressions (and concepts) of popular culture. Take, for instance, Lady Gaga, “the most insistent in a wave of pop artists actively questioning the value of an old and often-debated artistic standard: authenticity” (Los Angeles Times, 12 July 2009). Only a few years ago, Gaga’s antics would have been quickly dismissed as fringe art, existing as they do at the crossroads of music, fashion, and celebrity. Synergy is apparently no longer a dirty word; indeed, it’s the lifeblood of emerging stars. “Selling out” has become an accepted, ubiquitous piece of the pop culture phenomenon.

What does this rant have to do with Plague From Space, a “high-tension science-fiction thriller” first published over forty years ago? Absolutely nothing. But I wanted to demonstrate that tastes change, sometimes dramatically.

So too do the narrative styles and methods by which authors convey tension. Like many of his literary contemporaries, Harry Harrison maintained a consistency with the vanguard of scientific development. Despite an excited interpretation of contemporary science, much of Harrison’s story rings true, believable, and accurate.

Deadly cargo!

Deadly cargo!

Plague From Space (alternatively titled Jupiter Plague) is the story of Dr. Sam Bertolli, an intern at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, among the first to discover the titular plague. It arrives, logically, carried aboard an interstellar vessel that crash lands after a mission to Jupiter. Its first victim, Commander Rand, scratches a cryptic message before succumbing: “sick … in … ship.”

What follows is an unevenly tense narrative, one that sometimes gets trapped explaining its character’s actions and feelings through lengthy monologue. Consider, for instance, Dr. Bertolli’s exchange with Nita Mendel (a forced love interest who disappears for nearly one hundred pages soon after this scene):

BERTOLLI — “If you only knew how I loathe starry-eyed and out of focus TV love scenes of young things wallowing in the treacly embrace of love at first sight. I think they have demeaned something uncountably precious by using it for common coinage. I want to be able to say that I love you, Nita, and have you understand it is something vitally different and important.”

NITA — “But I love you too, so I know exactly how you feel. I suppose it is terrible to say, but I’m almost grateful for Rand’s disease and what has happened. Women are selfish, darling. I have the feeling that without the pressure you would just have gone on being one of those silent, busy men, who use their lives up on important things and never have a moment to consider the frivolous unimportance of women.”

TRANSLATION — Rather than adhere to social conventions regarding relationships, Bertolli has acted upon his feelings (thus disregarding masculine impulses as well) and fallen in love; and, for her part, Nita understands the inherent difficulty in his doing so. Romantic, eh?

Plague From Space is littered with such passages meant to (re)establish patriarchy and, because the story is set in the future, misgivings about global governance. Written as it was during the 1960s, one cannot help but read into the narrative and conjure up Cold War America. When it seems a cure is untenable, the U. N. Emergency Council proposes atomizing the spaceship and its surrounding area (roughly 100 miles).

One of Bertolli’s contemporaries voices his (and possibly Harrison’s) frustration:

“I hadn’t realized that the old philosophy of a bomb-waving solution for international problems was still lurking in dark, spider-filled corners of the political mind. Cretins! … They’re operating out of fear–if you can’t run away from the unknown, why just blow it up!”

Harrison’s pacing is, as stated above, uneven. Much of the story is comprised of extended descriptive monologues in which Important People discuss Important Things. When Bertolli, along with a mixed militia of scientists and servicemen, boards Pericles searching for a cure, they make contact with an alien entity, and, despite previously stated misgivings with the efficacy of coerced cooperation, Bertolli strongarms the Jovian into producing a cure.

Author Harry Harrison (1925- )

Author Harry Harrison (1925- )

Harrison uses flashback to reveal the first contact between Earthling and Jovian. If written today, Plague From Space would have interspersed this relationship within the narrative, developing tension along parallel plots. Because Harrison does not employ this technique (and why would he, writing — as he did — over forty years ago), the story lumbers along, and I found myself desperately wishing to be finished with the book (a dreadful admission for an admitted bibliophile).

In the end, Plague From Space is resolved with mysterious circumstances and forces a reader’s continued consideration (think The Twilight Zone). I could have done without constant explanation (my willing suspension of disbelief has previously permitted my acceptance of The Force), and uneven pacing, but (as a fragment of a previous generation’s chosen method of entertainment) the book possesses value.