Tag Archives: comic

The Life and Death of Conan

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Conan the Barbarian, Book One: The Life and Death of Conan [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Mahmud Asrar, Jason Aaron, & al., book 1 of the Conan the Barbarian (2019-) series.

Asrar Aaron Conan the Barbarian The Life and Death of Conan

This trade paperback collects the first six issues of the new iteration of the Conan the Barbarian title at Marvel Comics. Writer Jason Aaron and principal artist Mahmud Asrar appear to be accomplished creators within the contemporary Marvel operation, and they both do competent work here. I’m not really blown away the way that I was in the early numbers of the Dark Horse run back in 2003-4, but I did find these new comics to be quick and satisfying reading. It does seem like there’s an attempt to strike a balance between the tone of the original Marvel run and the Dark Horse title.

Aaron hits a few clinkers with his language, but on the whole his Conan seems more faithful to Howard’s original hero than most of the pastiche novel Conans have been (to say nothing of the movies). Each issue starts with the same Nemedian Chronicles quote (“… when the oceans drank Atlantis yada yada …”) and a full-continent Hyborian Age map highlighted to show the location of that number’s principal adventure.

This collection has stories set throughout Conan’s life, using as a framing device young Conan’s encounter with a malevolent witch who returns to kill him in sacrifice to her arch-demon benefactor many years later when Conan is king of Aquilonia. Whether she succeeds (as implied in the “Life and Death of” title of the book) is left unresolved at the end of the sixth issue.

Appended to the reprinted contents is a vast gallery of alternate cover art. For the first issue alone, there were at least a dozen covers. I really have to wonder if this now venerable publishing gimmick is really serving any purpose. Are readers foolish enough to buy multiple copies for the different covers? Well, I guess I represent the opposite extreme, since I waited for the trade collection and then borrowed it from the public library.

The Problem of Susan and Other Stories

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Problem of Susan and Other Stories [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Neil Gaiman, P Craig Russell, & al.

Gaiman Russell The Problem of Susan and Other Stories

The Problem of Susan collects four graphic adaptations of Neil Gaiman fantasy stories. The first two are illustrated by P. Craig Russell, who also did the scripting and layouts for the third. The title story–a sequel/critique for the Narnia stories of C.S. Lewis–is the longest of the four, and it’s one I had read some years back. Russell’s adaptation is magnificent, with repeated visual motives and a really glorious concluding panel.

The second story “Locks” is a very short one built around Goldilocks and the Three Bears and again bringing adult reflection to bear on children’s literature. In the third tale “October in the Chair,” personified months of the year have assembled around a fire in the woods for what seems to be a recurring convocation in which they exchange stories. October’s contribution is the centerpiece, and it’s suitably autumnal and spooky. The final piece in the book is hardly a story at all, more of a short poem really, called “The Day the Saucers Came.” Paul Chadwick’s art for this one is entirely in full-page illustrations, just seven of them.

Ghost Circles

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: Ghost Circles [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher] by Jeff Smith, book 7 of the Bone series.

Smith Bone: Ghost Circles

I suppose it is a sign of Jeff Smith’s skill at developing his fictional world and its characters that I have read each volume of Bone in fewer sittings than the last, even though their length and complexity remains consistent. 

The end of the previous volume Old Man’s Cave made it seem as if the heroes had had a major victory, but Ghost Circles begins with almost overwhelming setbacks, and of all the Bone collections so far this one is easily the darkest in mood. Even a few scenes with the usually comical Ted the Bug are quite grave.

Alan Moore’s Another Suburban Romance

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Alan Moore’s Another Suburban Romance by Alan Moore, illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp.

Moore Alan Moore's Another Suburban Romance

This book contains more black-and-white comics adaptations from Alan Moore’s non-comics oeuvre, in the vein of his Magic Words. This time, the three components are all parts of a single (though rather discontinuous) performance piece, and all of the art is by Juan Jose Ryp. 

The first segment “Judy Switched Off the TV” is a little ho-hum. I think I would have enjoyed either the text or the illustrations better if they had not been together, simply because the pictures were such a literal translation of the words. Either one would be surreal, but in combination they seemed mechanical.

The second and longest portion “Old Gangsters Never Die” has more substance, but the sense of the pictures being completely at the service of the words is still there. This failing is of course ironic, since talented comics writer Moore’s writing for comics generally avoids this particular fault.

Moore himself is depicted as the central character of the final episode “Another Suburban Romance.” In this case, the text is sufficiently sparse, and the creative inclusion of Moore’s portraits is helpfully destabilizing, so that the art feels much more rewarding. All of the illustrations in this section are full-page panels or two-page spreads, which allow Ryp’s maniacal level of detail to be shown to full advantage.

Alan Moore’s Magic Words

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Alan Moore’s Magic Words by Alan Moore, illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, with introduction (in the deluxe edition) by Warren Ellis.

Moore Alan Moore's Magic Words

Magic Words is a short anthology of Alan Moore’s song lyrics and brief poetry, adapted for comics by an able assortment of artists. Unlike Moore’s arm’s-length relationship to the cinematic transformations of his work, he is credited here as a “consulting editor.” 

This project bears comparison to the adaptation of Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance, which I have read previously. The production values are lower here (only black and white for the interior art), but despite the variable quality of the individual pieces in Magic Words, the best of them certainly surpass Light of Thy Countenance in exploiting the comics medium. 

In particular, the illustrations for “14.2.99” add a further layer of meaning to the text that is still sympathetic with it. On the downside, the art on the title page of that piece (which appears similarly on the inside back cover) was evidently drawn as a 2-page landscape spread, but has been rotated 90° to fit onto a single page, losing the orientation and confusing the rich detail of Juan Jose Ryp’s fine portrait of teledildonic rapture.

The artists here are all clearly sympathetic to Moore’s larger themes and ambitions–and they were probably thrilled to have the opportunity to work with his texts. Illustrators Vicente Cifuentes and Alfredo Torres bring into play the Moon & Serpent motif that is central to Moore’s magical cultus, even while adapting texts that don’t specify it. The lead item, Jacen Burrow’s rendition of “The Hair of the Snake that Bit Me,” features it by necessity.

The book concludes with what amounts to a set of liner notes and an audio discography. Besides documenting Moore’s musical and performing history, this article provides some broad outlines of his claimed magical attainment: Neophyte to Magus in a six-year period concluding on April 11, 2002.

The aggregate result may be trivial for a casual reader, but it is very engaging for someone familiar with the esoteric elements of Moore’s work.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Marvel’s Doctor Strange Prelude by Will Corona Pilgrim, &al.

Pilgrim Fornes Aburtov Marvel's Doctor Strange Prelude

The first half of this book consists of three Doctor Strange comics in which Strange does not appear. They supply a story to establish the Kaecilius villain and Kamar-Taj setting of the related movie. I found them underwhelming at best. The rest of the book is a mix of reprints from earlier comics: the first issue of The Oath, a bit of the 2015 Doctor Strange series, Strange’s endlessly-reprinted debut from Strange Tales, and best of all the Englehart and Brunner Marvel Premiere story that preceded the 1970s run of the comic. This last one seems to have been included to justify the time-manipulation feature of the movie plot, as well as the use of the name Cagliostro, although the latter appeared nowhere except the cover, where it evidently referred to a character addressed as Sise-Neg throughout the comic.

I guess this book would be just the answer for someone who thought the Doctor Strange film was the cat’s meow, but had never read any of the comics. So it’s good that my local public library has it. Although I was intrigued by the effort in the “prelude” element, I found that content disappointing, and I would not recommend it to fellow longstanding fans of the superheroic Sorcerer Supreme. It was first published in advance of the movie, and I doubt it persuaded anyone not otherwise inclined to buy a ticket. [via]


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Superman: Action Comics, Vol 2: Bulletproof by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, &al.

Morrison Morales Bulletproof

Although this second collection of the new Superman Action Comics still sports a cover byline for Grant Morrision and Rags Morales, the contents are the work of a larger mix of creators. Ben Oliver supplied art for some Morrison stories, and the writer-artist team of Scholly Fisch and Cully Hammer contributed pieces both in the main narrative plot-line and on Earth 23, where a black Superman has the “secret identity” of US President Calvin Ellis. Hammer’s art reminds me pleasantly of that of Howard Chaykin.

There is less of a linear, serial plot in this collection, although the stories are all clearly tied together in a larger continuity. One of the most significant developments is the death of Clark Kent, as Superman sheds that persona in favor of the firefighter Johnny Clark. Although it becomes clear that this change is temporary, the status quo ante is not restored in this volume.

I might have it in me to read a third one of these volumes before my current interest in Superman wanes. [via]

From the Dead

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Moon Knight, Vol 1: From the Dead by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, &al.

I hadn’t read any Warren Ellis comics for a while when I heard about the collections of his work on the Marvel superhero title Moon Knight. From the Dead reprints the first six issues of the new series, which is a continuation rather than a reboot of earlier treatments of the character. I haven’t read much of those erstwhile books, and not for a long while, so I didn’t make comparisons while reading, and didn’t benefit from any coy allusions to earlier storylines.

“Mr. Knight” is declared to have been insane, and it’s an open question as to how much sanity he has recovered. His operation in these stories is very “Batman”: nocturnal urban vigilante with high-tech accessories. The thing that’s most un-Batman is his attire. Where Batman favors dark togs, Moon Knight wears all white in any of his several costumes (old-fashioned cape and cowl, three-piece-suit and full-head mask, or avian pseudo-mummy). This attire is suitably surprising, and when his foes ask, “Who the hell are you?” he answers, “The one you see coming.”

As usual, Ellis’s pacing and efficient use of dialogue are exquisite. Declan Shalvey’s drawings are a good match for the content, in both gritty scenes of violence and episodes of eerie communion with the moon-god Khonsu. The book favors wide, short panels extending across the page and marching down it, giving a recurrent feeling of sinking or falling.

My favorite of the issues collected here is the fourth, “Sleep.” It puts Moon Knight in his role of “watcher of overnight travelers” to investigate mishaps at a sleep clinic. The psychedelic fugue of the inquiry is shown in day-glo page compositions that contrast shockingly with the rest of the book, and reminded me of some of the most far-out sequences in The Invisibles or 1970s Doctor Strange.

It was worth my while to borrow this one from the public library. [via]

Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams by Josh O’Neill, Andrew Carl, Chris Stevens, and forewords by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly.

O'Neill Carl Stevens Spiegelman Mouly Little Nemo's Big New Dreams

Little Nemo’s Big New Dreams is one of a number of books published in recent decades in homage to Windsor McKay’s seminal newspaper comic Little Nemo. McKay’s work, now well over a century old, is notable for its inspirational effect on recent comics creators from Vittorio Giardino and Brian Bolland to Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, and Neil Gaiman. Over thirty other artists and writers are represented here, each contributing a single full-page work on the pattern of the original McKay compositions.

Contrary to both promises of the title (“Big” and “New”), this book is actually a reduced-scale abridgment of the earlier oversized art book Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. The present format has taken the 16″ x 21″ broadsheet-sized pages of the original, and turned them ninety degrees to spread across two modern comic-book sized pages as a 10″ x 13.5″ image. This level of reduction keeps the pages quite legible; the most significant loss is the horizontal interruption from the binding between the pages, which does not always coincide with a gutter between the comics panels. The object of this version was to create a book that ordinary consumers could own, with a list price below $20.

There is a wonderful amount of variety represented here, along a full spectrum from conservative pastiches carrying forward the themes of McKay’s story to radical reinventions evidently founded in the actual sleeping dreams of the creators. Perhaps my favorite pieces representing each extreme are Cole Closser’s “Little Flip in Slumberland” (34-5) for the former and the contribution of Bishakh Kumar Som (48-9) for the latter. Splitting the difference are pieces like the deliciously gothic “Last Night I Dreamed I Went to Slumberland Again” by Jamie Tanner (40-1).

I had unusual and vivid dreams after reading this book! [via]

Superman and the Men of Steel

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Superman: Action Comics, Vol 1: Superman and the Men of Steel by Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, &al.

After his stunning turn at a multi-issue Superman keystone story in All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison returned to a full-on 21st-century reboot of Superman in a revival of the original Action Comics title. Rags Morales provides solid art, and does a good job of collaborating with Morrison’s aim to restore elements of the 1940s Superman in this version of the hero, although the visual content here falls a little short of Frank Quitely’s turn in All-Star Superman.

The “Men of Steel” in the title of this eight-issue collection are an assortment: John Corben as the Steel Soldier cyborg of the Metal-Zero experimental military program, the robotic Terminauts unleashed by the Collector of Worlds, and the backup superhero Steel who is the Metal-Zero metamorphosis of inventor Dr. John Henry Irons.

There are many changes to the accustomed details of the Superman story. Most notably, it takes the hero a while to acquire his traditional suit (rationalized here as Kryptonian formalwear), until which he wears the trademark cape with an insignia-blazoned t-shirt, blue jeans, and work boots. Clark Kent isn’t working for The Daily Planet, but rather for its muckraking rival the Star, which makes him and Lois Lane full professional competitors. In these first eight issues, Morrison hasn’t even started to ramp up the amorous tension between Lois and Clark/Superman, although she’s certainly excited by the hero.

This story arc starts from the beginning of Superman’s crime-fighting career, making him a righteous vigilante on the wrong side of the corrupt establishment. And it sketches in the full origin story with the retrospective issue “Rocket Song” and the back-up features “Baby Steps” and “Last Day.” The first six issues are the real “Men of Steel” arc, while the last two are the aforementioned “Rocket Song” and an episode involving emissaries of a future Legion of Superheroes, “When Superman Learned to Fly.”

Ongoing villains include a Lex Luthor who, like Superman, is a bit less puissant than the Silver Age version of the character. The Collector of Worlds turns out to be a reinvention of a classic Superman nemesis. There is a “little man” working persistently behind the scenes for Superman’s downfall, and he is not much explained, but he is able somehow to muster the “Kryptonite Men” who are prosecuting a vendetta against Superman, seemingly from the future.

The thing about the Superman franchise is that it’s heavy. I mean, it has accumulated so much weight, so many precedents and expectations, and the hero himself is so presumptively stolid that it’s not easy to get readers engaged. But like Newtonian physics demands, a creative team that can get that ponderous weight in motion can deliver a compelling force. Having read this volume on loan from my local public library, I expect to go on to further ones. [via]