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)


REVIEW [Comics]: The Broccoli Agenda

24 08 2009
"An illustrated story about guns, mobsters, legends, heroes, villains...and produce."

"An illustrated story about guns, mobsters, legends, heroes, villains...and produce."

I picked up The Broccoli Agenda as part of a local comic book store’s liquidation sale, and I knew nothing of its creator David Yurkovich, except that he possessed an eccentricity that placed him among the avant-garde of the comics industry during the late half of the 1990s. (Yurkovich’s most famous work remains Less Then Heroes; it was recently republished by Top Shelf Comics.)

Undaunted, I purchased a copy, promised with the prospect of an “absurdist view of comics.” The title certainly delivers.

The Broccoli Agenda is narrated by former superhero Dr. Broccoli (Doc Broc) over cigarettes with an F.B.I. agent (Swete, the protagonist of Yurkovich’s first work, Death By Chocolate), a man made entirely of “organic chocolate.” Doc Broc relates a childhood spent obsessing over the titular vegetable, and an adulthood wasted trying to force society’s acceptance of its benefits.

Following the tragic death of his parents, the boy is placed into the adoptive care of the DeCarlo family, local broccoli farmers (‘natch). Hard times fall on the family, and Mr. DeCarlo is forced to accept assitance from Jimmy “Glass Jaw” Marconi, small-time mob boss (who later aspires to public office). When Mr. DeCarlo can’t make his scheduled payment, Marconi kills him, leaving the boy again orphaned, and again adopted.

The Broccoli Agenda.panels

Selected interior art from The Broccoli Agenda.

Yurkovich’s plot builds in an unwieldy way, branching off into tangents unexpected (albeit interesting) but without closure. A digression into the story of an ancient culture had me thinking that The Broccoli Agenda was Yurkovich’s attempt at interlocking narration (perhaps, even, resembling a Russian nesting doll), but it turned out instead to be merely a method of delivering Doc Broc’s mutation into “a plant/human hybrid.”

Now imbued with powers beyond those of mortal men(?), Doc Broc is invited to join the New York Super-Hero Syndicate (and given his codename). Soon, “along with Milk Maid, Multi-Grain, and the Abbatoir, [he] became a member of The Basic Four … and educational unit that would travel the country and demonstrate the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits.” Another branch, another digression.

I consistently found myself questioning the purpose of such plotting: why use frame narrative if what passes in-between claims little connection to it? That said, Yurkovich does succintly end his tale (in a “tidy-little-package” sort of way). My instincts tell me that Yurkovich did not intend to stifle himself with the particulars of plot, but rather meant to investigate (and possibly expand) the conventions of super-hero comics.

Yurkovich wrote an essay (now lost in the ether of the vast interweb) titled “Why Don’t Heroes Age?” An interesting topic, to be sure, if only I could have read it. The Broccoli Agenda doesn’t exactly provide answers, but it did cause me to rethink skipping on eating my veggies.

REVIEW [Comics]: Flinch

20 07 2009

"A collection of stories to inspire wonder...and question the darkness within us all."

"A collection of stories to inspire wonder...and question the darkness within us all."

Sometimes I’ll purchase a graphic novel for its cover (stark, expressive, surprising), and other times I’ll purchase one for its price. In this case I did neither.

Instead, I picked Flinch from the shelf because a publisher with whom I am unfamiliar produced it: Gestalt Comics, based near Perth, Australia. Indeed, I’m wholly ignorant of the Australian comics scene, such as it is.

After following a trail of links from their website, I discovered an online newspaper (The Australian, natch) that featured Gestalt in “The Arts.” Apparently, Australia has been relatively slow to realize the comic book as art form:

“Unlike Europe, the US and Japan, which have an adult market for graphic novels going back to World War II, Australian book sellers and most of the reading public, until recently, have seen comics as ephemeral and disposable, juvenilia that you’re supposed to grow out of. Yet for generations who grew up with a visual education learned through TV, films and animated computer games, the graphic novel makes perfect sense.”

Most of the creators featured within Flinch (an anthology, I forgot to mention) are Australian, but don’t hold that against them. The work is beautiful, if not beautifully arranged, because there seems little thematic confluence; instead, each piece is placed to satisfy editorial juxtaposition.

But I’m wrong in this assumption. A second reading revealed thematic tissues that connected the works; tissues such as regret, salvation, desire, frailty. Perhaps this was the intention of Flinch, to force a (re)consideration of our reflexive literary interpretations, as such, and take a protracted, patient look at what we read (and do).

Of course, each story within Flinch is simply a playful interpretation of that word, which, by the way, means:

–verb (used without object) 1. to draw back or shrink, as from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant; 2. to shrink under pain, wince

The stand-out story among them, easily, is the lead, “Withheld.” It accounts for nearly forty pages of narrative (whereas most others run between eight and twelve). Written and illustrated by Bobby.N, it concerns the final day of a thirty years-long incarceration for Jim, an elderly man without regrets, he says, except for “leaving [his] friends behind [in prison].”

Jim’s personal narration is revealed to be a letter that he leaves behind (to be found by a guard); a letter that, when paired with the events of the conclusion, feels (almost) bittersweet.

“Daemon Street Ghost-Trap,” by Terry Dowling (acclaimed Australian fantasist) and Skye Ogden, is another story worth mentioning. The piece borders on the (overly) talkative (imagine Ghostbusters as filtered through Nova), but its final plot “twist” makes up for this.

Jack Obern (a university student “in [his] honours year”) and Jarvis Henry (Jack’s mentor professor) explore the rumors of a haunting at the Crane family mansion on Daemon (get it?) Street. Soon (but not quickly enough for my taste), they realize that all is not at it seems (or should seem), as the last remaining occupant of the mansion reveals. A charming ghost story: one sufficient to satisfy the interpretation of “flinch.”

“The Ride Home,” by Anton McKay was a great commentary on our current voyeuristic culture.

“96,000m” featured artwork by Tom Bonin that reminded me of J. M. DeMatteis’ effort on Justice League International from the early 1990s.

“Twain” was the most frightening of the bunch, as it plunged the depths of fraternal love during the first millenium.

Flinch, although uneven in its narrative product, succeeded in introducing me to the world of Australian comics (and their creators), a world I’ll be sure to revisit.

Flinch is available from Gestalt Publishing ($11.95).

REVIEW [Comics]: Power Up

15 07 2009
What if life came with power ups?

What if life came with power ups?

From the creator of Earthworm Jim comes this [autobio]graphic[al?] novel about the life of lowly retail employee Hugh [Randolph] and his dream of creating “the world’s greatest video-game!”

Hugh is frustrated with complacency, but reluctant to take chances and possibly improve his situation. His best friend and co-worker, Doyle, on the other hand, is content to trot along the path of least resistance, or, as Doyle’s boss puts it, “Doyle … will never advance.”

Moreover, Doyle’s deranged: as the duo drive to work, he pretends to consume pedestrians with his “Pac-Man hand” (“wocka-wocka-wocka”).

So what draws together this unevenly matched pair? Their love of playing and designing video-games, of course! And, in only a minor contrivance, Hugh stumbles across an antiquated game system at a yard sale. Soon, he discovers that the game is capable of bestowing powers upon him: “invisible shields,” a “continue flag,” and “boots of speed” (among others that any gamer/reader will surely recognize and appreciate).

As Hugh begins to activate such powers and improve his life (and, he hopes, the lives of his wife and son), he discovers that he should have been careful about his reach exceeding his grasp.

The story’s strongest elements belong to Hugh, who experiences his powers as would any other developing superhero: by trial-and-error, often with humorous results (Hugh’s thwarting of an attempted armed robbery is particularly funny).

Unfortunately, a sub-plot concerning Hugh’s strained relationship with his son is never really resolved and the plot’s conclusion is a literary “cheat” in the mode of many stories concerning wish fulfillment (but I’ve probably said too much already).

From a technical standpoint, TenNapel’s work is solid: each page possesses a simple layout, which serves the artist’s bold line-art and precise comic timing. Barker’s lettering is a great complement to the work as it functions in both a dynamic and loose way (the sound effects are particularly evocative).

Power Up is available from Image Comics, Inc. ($12.99)