It’s the summer solstice today.
I’m just gonna go crawl in a dark, deep hole somewhere until this whole sunshine thing is done. I mean, seriously, how can you people actually be EXCITED about the fact that a giant, emotionless, burning ball of fire is beating down on your dumb, stupid faces all day. If that’s not the very definition of masochism, I don’t know what is.
Writer: Andre Sirangelo
Artist: Gabriel Iumazark
Publisher: Archaia/BOOM! Studios
Price: $4 (digital)
Archaia Entertainment is, as an entity, a bit puzzling. They’re an imprint of BOOM!, having been bought by them back in 2008, though it would appear they didn’t do much besides maintain its status as a niche publisher. I first encountered them thanks to their publishing of SM Vidaurri’s “Iron: Or, The War After” graphic novel, which was lovingly hardbound and was just a pleasure to own, which is more than I can say for most publishers. But I simply wasn’t aware of their presence in single-issue miniseries like THE LAST BROADCAST, so it came as a surprise that this one landed on shelves not under the BOOM! name but rather with the Archaia brand attached, raising my expectations a notch.
I can, to a certain degree, see why it’s not a BOOM! title. The latest issue entangles the enigmatic tale in further mystery, some of which seem to be designed to puzzle the audience rather than provoke speculation. A dream sequence layered over a flashback kicks things off big time and is so saturated with visual information that it’s impossible to process immediately, especially since it’s implied it might not be just a dream sequence, in which case the world of THE LAST BROADCAST is not at all the one we assumed. The story returns to the present to remind us of the predicament the protagonist finds himself in, only to flashback again a few pages later, this time to the main storyline. Ivan, the main character, doing some detective work, meets an eccentric book store owner (are they ever NOT eccentric?) whose erratic behavior deepens the conspiratorial tone, while dumping more questions into Ivan’s (and our) lap.
A mysterious figure in a skull hoodie leads Ivan further down the rabbit hole where the two storylines that were isolated physically from each other in the previous issue finally dovetail, with the UrbEx pair recruiting Ivan to help them track down their missing friend, but not before dealing with another eccentric old man. There’s touches of light comedy here and there to lighten the load of a really obfuscating narrative where you know there’s so much going on behind the scenes but never quite enough hints to fill in the blanks. The last few pages wisely open at least one curtain, unveiling sinister skies in both the past and present. While Sirangelo does the best he can to thread such an improbable set of coincidence through the pages, it starts to fray in places, particularly during the bookstore scene, where you KNOW there’s more in play (and are even basically told so in the penultimate page) but can barely guess at the what. It’s especially frustrating when someone uses the word “nonchalant” not to describe an attitude but a person’s former role/occupation in what appears to be a conspiracy and you have not clue one what it might mean. Just a little more loosening of the reins here might have kept me from feeling mildly frustrated during parts of the story but it’s a testament to the intrigue of the tale that I just want in on the grand secret.
Iumazark’s illustrations get a little weirder with this issue, testing his range of ability, particularly early on when he’s side-by-side showing the possible death of an early 1900’s magician and the contents of Ivan’s bizarre dream, complete with the looming presence of a malevolent shade and a fancy, old-fashioned revolver. The present day scenes have an increasing grimness to them that wasn’t quite overt in the first issue, with heavier, grungier backgrounds adding to the menace. In contrast, the core of the chronicle has more energy and variety, trailing Ivan from one urban local to the next, each one elaborately detailed. Yet THE LAST BROADCAST is a noir of sorts and Iumazark doesn’t hesitate to drape curtains of gauzy complexity over the action, the smatterings of brightness receding from a shore of dirty black shapes. The chase Ivan goes on is a jumble of disassociated images, exaggerated forms and washed out textures, evoking both classic film noir and the bold, angular manga work Iumazark draws so much influence from.
If I wasn’t satisfied with how dense and inaccessible this issue’s tale was, it might be my own fault, in a way. Each issue of THE LAST BROADCAST (evoking strongly the recent MIND MGMT series) is itself encrypted with clues to a bigger puzzle that probably fills in some details. While I enjoy the series quite a bit, I do find myself regretting not being able to simply immerse myself in them and get invested in the meta-mystery. So take that as a warning; if you do plan on reading THE LAST BROADCAST, make sure you’re ready to do a bit of homework, as that’s part of the charm of the series. It’s a pricy pursuit at $4 an issue but you get a spectacular 26 pages of quality work in both words and pictures. And having picked up the book itself from the shelf at Newcastle Comics and Games, I can assure you that it’s of a much nicer build than the typical comic.
Writer: Chris Miskiewicz
Artist: Palle Schmidt
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Price: $4 (Digital)
It’s interesting to me that, right about the same time a “Constantine” TV show is gaining hype, several similar comics are debuting from smaller publishers (see my review for “Doctor Spektor”). THOMAS ALSOP is one of those imitators and also seems to be part of a huge surge of eclectic BOOM! titles aiming to claim a portion of Image’s indie acclaim, though Image actually doesn’t have an exact “Constantine” analogue, not that I can think of immediately, though the ongoing “Drumhellar” is a notable twist on the theme (psychedelic urban fantasy)? So of course I approached THOMAS ALSOP with a healthy dose of skepticism, despite a variant cover by a favorite artist, Dean Haspiel.
THOMAS ALSOP starts off bearing a remarkable resemblance to “Doctor Spektor,” complete with a “handler” of a minority (in “Doctor Spektor” she was a woman, in this, he’s black). The attempts at humor are pretty poor; a Charlie Sheen reference is wincingly dated and formatting the exposition as though it were a blog entry doesn’t do anything to make Thomas Alsop himself seem anything other than obnoxious. A brief flashback serves to enhance Alsop’s douchiness while also explaining why he’s famous. Back in the present, we’re treated to a romantic moment between Alsop and his girlfriend (who apparently likes dangerous weirdos) before a dream sequence forecasts an impending misfortune and cleverly segues into a flashback about Alsop’s ancestor. The contrast between Thomas and his ancestor Richard is massive and I immediately took much more liking to Richard’s faintly melancholic but regal manner. Confronting a malevolent sorcerer allows for a dash of exposition exposing the origins of the Alsops’ supernatural heritage which is delightfully followed with the results of the aforementioned confrontation. The tale of Richard continues with a finely crafted bit of critique aimed at close-minded, paranoid behavior driven by religious belief, played out between Richard and his naive son. The penultimate scene has a payoff of the foreshadowing earlier and is questionably insensitive in matters of historical atrocities, it still packs quite the wallop before unfortunately returning to present day and the matter of the how this all relates to the modern day Alsop.
It’s unfortunate that one half of the story of THOMAS ALSOP relies on the unfortunate trope of an asshole protagonist. This can be done and when it succeeds, it’s unbeatable (“Hellboy,” “Constantine,” “Preacher”) but writer Chris Miskiewicz only succeeds in deepening my desire for Thomas to suffer mightily and stop being a manchild. But the Richard character is more enjoyably rooted in his era, his family providing a valuable context for understanding who he is while still being a product of his time. I’m hoping that Thomas evolves quickly from what he is now into something I can actually care about and root for but I also don’t want it to happen at the drop of a hat.
Palle Schmidt is not the artist for this series. Schmidt’s watercolor paintings are certainly textural delights and would work wonders for a more atmospheric, emotional comic. But for such a procedural, epic story like THOMAS ALSOP, Schmidt’s failings are so much more obvious. Sloppy lines, crude expressions, vague backgrounds, muted colors, lack of depth, etc. To an extent I’m reminded of Jeff Lemire’s own work, in the sense that it emphasises expressiveness over accuracy or detail. But Lemire’s a better writer than Miskiewicz and does far more interesting things with his art than Schmidt’s uninspired panels. But for all this, when the pages are telling Richard’s story, the art shines, giving the early colonial setting a haunting, ethereal quality that makes me genuinely wish the whole book focused on this era.
Overall, the biggest problem with THOMAS ALSOP is that it bothers to tell the story of THOMAS ALSOP at all. Both the writing and the art would’ve been better served by eschewing the modern narrative entirely, abandoning the heavy-handed, off-key presentation of a character I feel no motivation to observe further. At 26 pages, the majority of the run time of this book feels like it is reserved for Richard, thankfully, but it’s also a premium offering, at $4 for the whole kit. I’m on the verge of dismissing this series outright but I’m going to give it one more issue. Hopefully Thomas will evolve into something not actively alienating to the audience and we’ll get to delve further into Richard’s memorable chronicle.
Writer: Owen Michael Johnson
Artist: Owen Michael Johnson
Publisher: Do Gooder Comics
Price: $2 (Digital – Available 7/7)
Given that DESTROY THE BRAIN is a movie website first, it’s a bit of a headscratcher why I don’t review more comic books related to movies, though in my defense it’s also a horror genre website which I’ve tried to focus on with this column. But I do keep my eyes peeled for cinematically themed titles and, thanks to the magic of Twitter, I have REEL LOVE to talk about.
Put simply, REEL LOVE is a coming-of-age story that takes place in Britain in the nineties, told from the perspective of the subject of a young boy’s first true love: movies. The first few pages do a wonderful job of delicately revealing the unusual nature of its narrator, addressing the boy, Thomas, from an omniscient perspective. There’s not much dialogue at the start and that helps give a powerful impression of nostalgia by letting the introduction speak for itself. It’s effectively poignant, something I say with more care than most.
But this doesn’t last long, as the child Thomas becomes preteen Thomas and encounters that holy grail of cinematic geekdom: “Star Wars.” It’s amusing to see the obsession take hold and infiltrate a young boy’s imagination, manifesting in the kind of way that fit with that age. Things evolve, friends are left behind and new ones are made as their film-fueled worlds of imagination blossom, although it gets a bit exaggerated and plays a bit too hard on nostalgia. The bit about “unfashionable tears” was dead on though. The ensuing drama that always comes about when you’re growing up is handled well, without too much contrived conflict. The tale is mostly one of nostalgia and while a bit heavy handed at times, it has enough grace to bring forth emotion.
Owen Michael Johnson’s art is well suited to a pseudobiographical story. Rendered in black and white, Owen takes full advantage of his control over both the visuals and the words, rarely packing more than six panels into a page and often opting for just one or two, aiming for the same big-screen grandeur that Thomas is so obsessed with. The linework is sloppy but also expressive, lending weight to the nostalgic moments. That said, Owen’s attempts to immerse his readers in the imaginary worlds that Thomas summons don’t quite land as well, often coming off as cartoonish mockeries of their intended counterparts, and it happens just a few times too often, particularly the “Lord of the Rings” bit. It’s hard to fault Owen for his ambition and a good 80% of the pages are on par.
According to Owen, REEL LOVE is going to available digitally via the Do Gooder Comics website at around $2. At 40 pages of comic, that’s a lot of bang for your buck. I’d recommend it if you enjoy indie comics but steer clear if that’s not your thing. This appears to be the first volume of a series and I liked this one enough, so hopefully the next one will be equally as affordable.