Tag Archives: Comic books strips etc.

FreakAngels, Vol 3

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews FreakAngels, Vol. 3 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis, Paul Duffield, & al., part of the FreakAngels series.

Ellis Duffield FreakAngels Vol 3

The tension continues to increase in the third volume of FreakAngels. It turns out I was wrong about all of the FreakAngels having K in their names, Connor, at least, doesn’t, even though he’s got the sound of it. I’m really enjoying these trade paperback collections, but I’m not in the least tempted to read the original webcomic. The pacing, while wonderful in a printed book of this kind, seems like it would be insufferably slow, if taken one page at a time. 

This one ends with a multiple cliffhanger, literal and figurative.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Invisibles 2: Apocalipstick [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Grant Morrison with Chris Weston, Dennis Cramer, Jill Thompson, John Ridgway, Kim Demulder, Paul Johnson, Sean Phillips, Steve Parkhouse, & al., part of The Invisibles series.

Morrison Apocalipstick

This second volume of The Invisibles does create some sympathy for its protagonists that I found lacking in the first. In particular, much of it is constructed around the origin myth of Lord Fanny, and the new character Jim Crow (an Invisibles avatar of Papa Guedhe) is quite engaging. While reading, it struck me that Grant Morrison’s comic was not quite so innovative as it has been made out to be. Steve Englehart’s Coyote actually covered a lot of this ground at the end of the Cold War, before the seeming monopolarity of the milennium threw popular esotericism into the insurgent mode (later called jihad by Hakim Bey). Still, I have to hand it to Morrison for his ability to introject dead baby jokes and the occasional shocking profundity, such as the placenta as ur-Christ (46)! As a symptom of its occult charge, The Invisibles: Apocalypstick manifested several synchronicities with my life experience in the context of reading it.

Mutants and Mystics

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jeffrey J Kripal.

Kripal Mutants and Mystics

This latest book from religion scholar Jeffrey Kripal treats the mutual generation of science fiction and paranormal mysticism, primarily under the figure of the costumed superhero of comic books. He explores the roots of late 20th-century popular culture in elite culture extending back into the 19th century, and caps it off with the case studies of comics artist Barry Windsor-Smith, science fiction author Phillip K. Dick, and “contactee” metaphysical speculator Whitley Streiber as instances of “supermodern gnosis” (255).

The body of the book is organized around a sequence of seven “mythemes” that constitute a “super-story” (Divinization/Demonization, Orientation, Alienation, Radiation, Realization, and Authorization) common to the culture of the paranormal that Kripal is presenting here. He manages to address these in a roughly chronological sequence reflecting their rising to prominence in literature and culture. Left unstated is the possibility that they represent an initiatic sequence which might transpire on the individual level in the same complex, feedback-ridden way that he shows it on the larger social scale. 

Mutants and Mystics is physically gorgeous. It nicely bound on stunningly heavy stock, with a tough, non-gloss dust jacket. There are numerous full-page color illustrations throughout, mostly reproduced from the author’s private collection of comics and science fiction. The page designs include multicolor text and very appropriate fonts that are nevertheless unusual in academic publishing.

Throughout the book there is a sense of humor, and Kripal makes great efforts to suspend judgment about the “reality” of the paranormal narratives with which he deals, although he admits frankly the points at which those efforts weaken. He is a skeptical scholar, but he is also a sympathetic mystic who has had his own confessed paranormal experiences, and who can be swayed by apparent signs and portents. He admits to confusion about the nature of this or that manifestation, but insists on the validity of a shared phenomenological core. Sounding like a character in the pages of a comic himself, he insists “The damned thing is radioactive” (8)! 

The book is fun, thought-provoking, and at 350 pages, over all too soon.

Crown of Shadows

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows [Amazon, Bookshop, Local Library] by Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, & al., introduction by Brian K Vaughan book 3 of the Locke & Key series.

Hill Rodriguez Locke and Key The Crown of Shadows

As I read through the Locke & Key volumes in sequence, this is the best one yet. My only complaint is that it was so seamless and efficient that it read too fast! (In particular, the solid eleven pages of full-page panels in chapter five is likely to have reduced the time needed to read the book, but wow!) Still, it’s so well-done that I’m sure I’ll read it again. This series will obviously need an integral re-read once I’ve reached its end.

The characters who see the most fresh development in this arc are Jamal and Scot. There are a variety of imaginative magicks introduced: the Shadow Key doesn’t dominate this part the way that the Head Key did the previous one. Brian Vaughan’s foreword chides readers like me for only getting to these comics once they’ve been collected in “trade” format, but I don’t regret the approach; these IDW books are gorgeous.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Xombi [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by John Rozum, Fraser Irving, & al.

Rozum Irving Xombi

For a book that collects a comic starting with issue #1, this really gets going in media res. It’s full of exotic supporting characters who get defined on the fly. While the Xombi’s powers are the result of hyper-technological “nanites,” his friends and foes seem to be mostly supernaturally religious/occult in their origins and orientations. They seem to have some larger background, because they shared in an earlier series, but they are all sort of quirky and enigmatic anyway: the tone is closer to Bob Burden than Jack Kirby. Superpowered nuns and rabbis are funny, right? Although the original Xombi from the 1990s became involved with the larger DC superhero milieu, this reboot sequence (by the original writer) is more contained. The origin story is not rehashed, but rather dribbled out through incidental allusion.

I was motivated to pick this up to read because the art looked good: Frazer Irving provides expressive painted panels throughout, and there are a generous number of full-page tableaux. The six issues of the new series conclude a distinct plot arc “The Ninth Stronghold,” and the 2009 re-debut of Xombi in The Brave and the Bold 26 is appended to these. Scott Hampton’s art in the latter is looser and more expressionistic.

The Magic Order

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Magic Order, Book One [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Hoopla, Local Library] by Mark Millar, Olivier Coipel, & al., volume 1 of The Magic Order series.

Millar Coipel The Magic Order Book One

I borrowed this comics collection from the public library, having heard nothing of it previously. Apparently, the second volume has appeared in individual floppies, and the once-cancelled (during pandemic gyrations) Netflix series is back in active development. It’s ultra-violent and and not especially clever about supernatural magic or stage magic, both of which are central to the story. Thaumaturgy is hereditary, and the “Order” is a family concern.

I liked Olivier Coipel’s art very much. His compositions are dynamic, and the characters are expressive. The art benefits from the masterful colors by Dave Stewart, of course.

The book was just barely good enough that I’ll read Volume Two if I can borrow it from the library, and I’ll give the tv series a shot if it ever manifests.

The Dreaming City

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dreaming City [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Julien Blondel, Jean-Luc Cano, and Julien Telo, foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet, vol 4 of the Elric series.

Blondel Cano Telo The Dreaming City Elric

This newly-released (in English) fourth volume completes the “first cycle” of Julien Blondel’s bandes dessinées adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories. Blondel takes a lot of liberties with the original texts–something on the level of a typical cinematic adaptation of a novel–but his choices are generally very good and have reportedly met with Moorcock’s own approval. One of the biggest changes was introduced at the end of the third volume and is central to this one. . . . . . . . [hover over to reveal spoilers] . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I like the gloomy, shadow-heavy art by Telo in this book, but some of the compositions are hard to “read” in narrative terms, especially during the climactic confrontation among Elric, Cymoril, and Yrkoon. In some panels for example, I didn’t know which of the rune-swords is being shown: is that Stormbringer or Mournblade? These stumbles “work” impressionistically, reflecting Elric’s own confusion, but they are still a little frustrating for the reader.

The foreword by Jean-Pierre Dionnet (co-founder of Métal hurlant, who asks that you read his essay after The Dreaming City to which it is prefaced) is the least of these in the series, but like the others it contains some piquant autobiographical reflections and musings on international culture and the role of fantasy. It does include one amusing double-translation through French: the Moorcock novel “Here’s the Man” (i.e. Behold the Man, which is the biblical ecce homo).

The claim to have finished a cycle of the larger saga is a fair one here. Most of the story threads have been tied off, if not ruthlessly cut and burned, by this point. The issuance of these volumes has been at a pretty leisurely pace, and I hope that they continue without an even longer intermission than the ones before.

Say You Want a Revolution

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Say You Want a Revolution [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Grant Morrison with Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, Dennis Cramer, book 1 of The Invisibles series.

Morrison The Invisibles Say You Want A Revolution

I can neither laud nor condemn Morrison’s Invisibles comic on the basis of this first trade volume. I appreciate the content, and it’s easy to see how it was ahead of the curve later occupied by The Matrix and its derivatives. Even by the end of this book, the plot was still sprawling to the point of incoherence, though. I never learned to care much for the protagonists, although the villains are plenty distasteful. The four-color art is adequate to the story, but rarely impressive in its own right. 

The physical production of this reprint book is dismal. The paper is cheap and flimsy, and the glue-bound cover fell off entirely after a single reading. And the list price is $19.95? Good grief. For that price, I’d rather borrow the subsequent volumes from the public library. But they aren’t there, nor are they likely to be, given the extreme graphic violence in sections of this book.

Scourge of the Gods

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Scourge of the Gods, Volume 1 [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Valérie Mangin, Aleksa Gajić.

Mangin Gajic Sourge of the Gods

Set in a galactic neo-antiquity of Romans and Huns, the plot of this space opera is thick with intrigue. The painted artwork by Serbian artist Aleksa Gajic is gorgeous in its depictions of planetary vistas, and engaging in its character-level events. There is no third-person verbal narration, which suits my tastes, even if it makes the action a little harder to follow at points.

My copy of the book is a glossy, full-color hardcover, reproducing the first three issues of the original French comic in English translation from the Marvel Comics Soleil imprint. I only wish the page size were a little larger to be able to better appreciate the details of the art. The story reaches a point of crucial revelation at the end of this volume, but it certainly calls out for its sequel in order to reach a full resolution.

Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Do Anything: Thoughts on Comics and Things, Volume One: Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis.

Ellis Do Anything Jack Kirby ripped my flesh

Warren Ellis initially refers the title Do Anything to a quote from Harvey Pekar: “You can do anything with words and pictures.” (5) But he returns to the phrase in other quotes like a recurring motif in the fugue of his stream-of-consciousness history of comics art, writing, and publishing. He cops to aspiring to play the Lester Bangs of comics here, and he overshoots his mark with the sort of mystical cyberpunk surrealism that one might expect from such an accomplished 21st-century comics writer.

By framing this set of blogrants (subsequently edited for print publication) as a reported dialogue with a stolen Hanson Robotics ‘droid head retrofitted from the persona of PKD to Jack Kirby, Ellis places himself in the magical line of Roger Bacon, Jacques de Molay, Aleister Crowley, and Michael Valentine Smith. He also–if the catena just described didn’t make it sufficiently clear–makes himself an Extremely Unreliable Narrator. I wish most everything in this book were true, but I’m better at knowing for sure which things are consensually false than being certain which didn’t spring from Ellis’s finely twisted imagination.

Although the back cover claims that the “Do Anything” column continues at Bleeding Cool, I failed to find it there as of September 4, 2011.