Tag Archives: Science fiction comic books strips etc

Xombi

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 Doctor Is Out

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Strange: The Doctor Is Out [Amazon, Hoopla, Local Library] by Mark Waid, Emma Rios, & al.

Waid Rios Doctor Strange The Doctor is Out

Although I came to it without high expectations, Mark Waid has provided the best Doctor Strange story I’ve read in many, many years. He has opened up room to reinterpret the character by centering the story on Casey, his new apprentice. Things have not been going well for Strange since he is no longer Sorcerer Supreme, and his broody attitude seems more justified than it has been in the past. He doesn’t have the use of much of his accustomed magical ability; the damage to his hands has returned as a kind of stigma.

While a previous Strange title (based on the unrealized movie script) reconstructed Doctor Strange’s origin story along the lines of The Matrix, the narrative device of the new apprentice’s perspective makes this one feel quite a bit like an occult version of Doctor Who.

The art by Emma Rios is really excellent. Although I was not seized by it at first — mostly because of the overpowering floral colors (never have I seen so much fuschia in an occult comic!) — a few pages of reading showed me that she could really tell a visual story. Her Doctor Strange is more worn and expressive facially, and he largely keeps to street clothes rather than the ceremonial/superhero getup. Rios noticeably incorporates some of the stylistic traits of Ditko and Colan’s classic Strange art, and she acknowledges their influence in a brief interview appended to the comics. In fact, the off-putting element for me (other than the palette) may have been a sort of extreme “looseness” of composition that I also associate with Colan’s work.

Most importantly, Rios draws the magic well! While keeping some continuity with the Ditko and Colan representations of sorcery, she develops her own graphic idiom for the purpose to good effect — entirely distinct from, but comparable to P. Craig Russell’s past turns on Doctor Strange. This book is also full of nonhuman spirits (yeah, demons), and Rios offers persuasively outre and varied forms for these.

This volume, despite collecting four individual comlcs, reads like an integral graphic novel because they were a “limited series.” It does provide a very conspicuous opening for a sequel, and I would certainly be interested if the creators of this one were to fulfill that.

Spin Angels

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Spin Angels [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] by Jean-Luc Sala and Pierre-Mony Chan. (See also the Spin Angels series.)

Sala Chan Spin Angels

Billed in the jacket copy as “a head-on collision between John Woo and John Paul II,” Spin Angels (originally Crossfire) is also like what you’d get if Dan Brown were assigned to write a serial plot arc for Charlie’s Angels — although to be fair to author Sala, the details of religious conspiracy and ancient heresy are actually presented more credibly in this comic than what you’ll find in the Da Vinci Code. Certainly, the characters are more vivid and entertaining. Artist Chan mixes manga visual conventions with a detailed, painterly style and highly dynamic panel compositions. 

This volume collects the first four issues of the Marvel Comics English translation of the original Soleil bandes dessinées for this title, which do not in any way conclude the story. The fifth (and most recent as of this review) was published in French in 2010. Recommended to those who enjoy the application of adrenaline and testosterone to esoteric religion.

Engines of Desire

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Doktor Sleepless: Engines of Desire [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez.

Ellis Rodriguez Doktor Sleepless Engines of Desire

This volume contains the first eight issues of Doktor Sleepless, plus some endmatter consisting of painted cover art from individual issues, and print snapshots of the wiki at Doktorsleepless.com. Having started in this vein, I plan to follow this title in trade paperback format, though goodness knows there’s enough meat to each issue to make it worth reading in individual comics. 

Although there is no resolution to the steadily-intensifying plot in this collection, there is a climactic epiphany in the eighth issue. Doktor Sleepless invites comparison with Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, although the target is clearly today’s USA, rather than the Thatcherite UK of Moore’s dystopian fantasy. As in V, the central character is a self-caricaturing enigma who is engineering the collapse of the existing social order. He’s got a girl sidekick, and seems as much villain as hero. There’s even business with mass-distribution of masks — Ellis doubles down on that trope, in fact. 

Creepy, violent, and believable, this comic picks up and continues the outrage over injustice that Ellis exhibited in Transmetropolitan, while stripping the (always somewhat ornamental) science-fictional elements down to a bare minimum. A kindred cyberpunk comic would be Testament, but where Rushkoff uses the Bible to frame his tale of techno-sociological crisis, Ellis substitutes the Necronomicon (or something worse). 

Anyhow, it certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ll be impatient for the next collection.

Scourge of the Gods: The Fall

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Scourge of the Gods: The Fall [Amazon, Abebooks, Publisher, Local Library] by Valérie Mangin, Aleksa Gajić.

Mangin Gajic Scourge of the Gods The Fall

This collection brings the story begun in Scourge of the Gods to a satisfying conclusion. On reflection, the whole thing is pretty cinematic, and could make a rather epic screen feature. The art is still as beautiful as that of the previous volume, but I must admit that the bleaching that accompanies Flavia/Kerka’s further apotheosis made her a degree less sexy to me.

Scourge of the Gods – The Fall is a fun read, but it would not be worth the bother in the absence of the previous volume, which establishes the setting and the relationships among the central characters.

Klaws of the Panther

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Klaws of the Panther [Amazon, Publisher, Local Library] by Jonathan Maberry, Mike Del Mundo, and Gianluca Gugliotta.

Maberry Del Mundo Gugliotta Klaws of the Panther

This graphic novel anthologizes Age of Heroes #4 with the Klaws of the Panther four-issue comic series. I’ve been out of touch with the Black Panther comic since the first twenty or so issues of the Huldin-written series with T’Challa as the Panther. I knew that his half-sister Wakandan Princess Suri had succeeded to the office of Black Panther, but these are the first comics I’ve read in which she is actually in the role. Consequently, I found the little hero dossier written by Ken Lashley and printed here as an appendix quite useful, although the inset with its quantifying “Power Grid” was somewhat off-putting. I’m here to read a story, not to do tabletop roleplaying, okay?

Mayberry continues the story in the geopolitical vein that has been the metier of the Panther since Huldin breathed new life into the series, but it pretty much entirely takes place among the superpowered elite, with little relation to ordinary people other than the prospect of the enslavement of all humanity by good old Panther bete noire Ulysses Klaw. As far as that goes–and admitting myself to be generically nonplussed by “crossover” action–the supplementary heroes Shanna, Wolverine, Spiderman, and Black Widow all come off quite well. And they have to, because Shuri herself is still a maladjusted novice superhero. The closing chapter of Klaws of the Panther promises an end to that phase, happily. A little too much of this volume consisted of ethical reflections–usually simultaneous with superheroic ass-kicking–for me to find it entirely credible or palatable.

Gugliotta’s art is very distinctive, and I give it points for being dynamic. Still, I never fully warmed to it on the level of sheer aesthetic pleasure. I actually preferred the Moll/Wong art in the Age of Heroes preamble, even while noting its relative lack of artistic virtuosity. Del Mundo’s cover art is first-rate, although it shows a composite scene that doesn’t reflect any single moment in the book’s narrative.

The Filth

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Filth [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Grant Morrison, with Gary Erskine, Chris Weston.

Morrison Weston Erskine The Filth

I read The Filth as a complete bound collection, rather than the thirteen individual comics issues. In that format, it amounts to probably my favorite graphic novel. It includes science fiction, satire, superheroism, sex, drugs, and violence. It’s something like The Matrix reconstituted on the basis of a scatological rant from Antonin Artaud. It has a completely freestanding mythos, not dependent on any prior superhero or comics franchise, highly coherent when it’s not completely mind-blowing. Despite its evident balls-out insanity, The Filth tackles serious issues and ultimately offers a sense of profound redemption.

I’m not an unequivocal fan of Grant Morrison’s work: sometimes I find him indulgent and meandering. But when he hits his mark, he’s awesome; and I’ve never read anything where he has hit it as hard as The Filth. Weston and Erskine’s art is both surreal and gritty while strangely conventional, just the mix of H R Giger, William Blake, and Joe Kubert that the story requires.

Edited to add: Morrison is on the record as having written The Filth as a companion piece to his earlier and longer series The Invisibles, even though there is no narrative continuity between them. There is certainly a lot of conceptual and thematic overlap. They can be seen as perfectly complementary, though, if viewed through the cops-and-criminals dichotomy that each eventually collapses. The Filth works initially from the cop’s end of the spectrum, while The Invisibles does from the criminal’s.