American Horror Story, Apache Chief, China Mieville, Colder, comics, Crispin Glover, Darick Robertson, Dark Horse, David Lapham, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Dial H, Glenn Fabry, Grant Morrison, H.P. Lovecraft, Happy, Image, Juan Ferreyra, Lewis Carroll, Lot 13, Modern Family, Paul Tobin, River's Edge, Steve Niles, Vertigo
Derek Mainhart: Greetings from America’s northeast, where we’re learning to believe in Mayan predictions! How bad has it gotten? We’ve gone two weeks without comics! So let’s play catch-up and dive, a la Scrooge McDuck, into this huge pile of books. Given the apocalyptic weather, I thought we’d start with:
Colder #1 – I was originally going to give this one a pass. I was unfamiliar with the creators and the cover was a real stomach-turner (though a well-done and highly effective one – see for yourself):
So thanks, Scott, for nudging me to pick it up.
Scott Carney: Just another example of my bloody good taste.
DM: Indeed. The story, by Paul Tobin, begins with an explosive set piece in a mental institution. Though it goes a long way toward establishing the horror of the book, I did find the writing a bit twee in this sequence, especially regarding the dialogue of the inmates (“I am the pretty colors! I am a swirl of pretty colors!”) That same tone, however, is perfectly employed once we are introduced to the villain (or is he?) of the piece, one Nimble Jack. An appealing trickster type, he suggests a Lewis Carroll character as re-imagined by H.P. Lovecraft. Or perhaps a co-mingling of the latter day Joker (you know, the scary one) with Mr. Mxyzptlk. In any case, I imagine him being played in the film version by Crispin Glover of twenty years ago.
SC: Yes! Excellent call. Definitely the Crispin Glover of River’s Edge, circa ’86.
DM: ’86? Really? Wow. OK: the Crispin Glover of twenty-six years ago. Alright back to Jack. He’s not the main character of the story, but his actions and his personality drive it, as he pops in and out like some maleficent Cheshire Cat. As to the story, it revolves around the mystery of Declan Thomas and his ever decreasing body temperature. A former inmate of the aforementioned asylum, Declan is currently being cared for by Reece Talbot, a young doctor of some sort, and a bit of an odd duck herself. After the attention-grabbing beginning, the writing becomes more satisfyingly subtle. We get to know Reece through expository yet unforced dialogue, and she is a winning creature thus far. There is a nice combination of normalcy and menace that runs through the book; a hallmark of good horror. The same can be said of the art by Juan Ferreyra. It is clean, bright and uncluttered (unlike most horror art), and yet ever so lightly off. Having said that, I somewhat take issue with one sequence in the book. Early on, Reece is the victim of a mugging. I don’t mind the fact of the scene; given what happens earlier in the story, a mugging is rather tame. I object to the staging of it, which I’m assuming was the purview of Mr. Ferreyra. Violence against women is tough to take, and the close-up of Reece getting punched in the face–in the fourth panel of page 15–seems unnecessarily voyeuristic and exploitative, skirting the edge of playing it for laughs. It’s odd; I’m completely fine with inmates being burned alive in the initial sequence, but this stuck in my craw. It’s all a matter of how you choose to present it, I think. But this is a quibble. For the most part the excess promised by the cover is (thankfully as far as I’m concerned) never realized and we are instead presented with something else: a psychological horror story / mystery that is truly unpredictable. I’ll be back for the second issue.
SC: I liked it, too–mostly. Particularly the beginning. I kinda dig the fact that Colder kicks off with patient pyrotechnics. I like the loopy loquaciousness of the loonies as the flames lick a little love into ’em. But, yeah, it gets better with the introduction of the fantastically famished Nimble Jack, who does a delicious dance of depravity, which, dialogue-wise, is conveyed in a confusingly satisfying manner somewhat reminiscent of China Mieville’s consistently top-of-the-pile Dial H.
DM: Yeah. More on Dial H later.
SC: I’m not surprised. But, yeah, after Nimble Jack, more specifically after Reece meets up with the cop, the pace cuts to an almost intolerable crawl. It gets considerably colder. If I’m being honest, I didn’t believe their dialogue so much; I was kinda bored by it, actually. It felt forced, like I was being fed exposition after filling up on fast-paced fun. Even Jack couldn’t heat it up again: on page 22, his fire goes out in puffs of smoke when he can’t get a rise out of Declan. And the end? I thought it was at the same time completely expected and completely necessary. So, if I’m doing the math properly, it’s good enough to keep me around for number two.
DM: Another intriguing new horror entry is Lot 13 #1, though the results are decidedly more mixed. This one did come with a high pedigree; Steve Nlles and Glenn Fabry are both proven masters of the genre. Like Colder, this one establishes its dread with a scene of horrors past. When we get to the present, however, something odd happens to the tone. We are introduced to the Nelsons, who are about to move into a new home (always a bad idea in a horror story). They are presented as a typical American family; two cool yet responsible parents, a lovelorn, slightly goth teenage daughter and a couple of tweens, one of whom seems sensitive to things of a ghostly nature. The too-clever, knowing back-and-forth between the parents, as they balance the stress of moving while dealing with the kids, seems artificial, like something out of a sitcom. Even the pacing of the story, where a beat (comic or horror) is set up and delivered on almost every page feels structured more for a television show (you could almost envision where the commercial breaks would go. A perhaps related digression – I wonder why this comic was designated under the new DC Entertainment brand instead of Vertigo which has traditionally been DC’s repository for supernatural fare?) As opposed to the unforced naturalism we see in Colder, here what we get is akin to a queasy mash-up of Modern Family and American Horror Story. Still Fabry’s art (like Ferreyra’s) imbues even the everyday with a disquieting air. The cliffhanger (remarkably similar to the one in Colder) and the strength of the creators’ reputations will at least bring me back for next issue.
SC: I agree with your TV show comparison. It’s perfect. In a way, that’s what I liked about it. In fact, after the grisly opening, which I really liked, I found that the appeal of the book came from its well-developed and deliberate dialogue. Speaking of: what’s up with the poorly-costumed curse words (“f&$%ing” and “h&%$”)? What purpose does it serve to half-heartedly hide them like that–especially when the sneak preview of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has the f-word in all its glory just three pages away from the final page of Lot 13?! I want to know! In fact, I demand an answer!
DM: Yeah I don’t get it either. I don’t have an answer for you.
SC: Well, f&$% you, then.
DM: Speaking of irritating use of invective: Happy! #2. The first issue, flawed as it was, at least held out the prospect of high-contrast hilarity to follow. Well here we are, two issues into a four issue mini-series, and that potential remains stultifyingly untapped. A Grant Morrison story usually bursts with innovation, pulses with energy. Here instead we get dreary, tired scenes of seedy environs, uninspired profanity, and lowlife violence. Nick, the hero (?) escapes his would-be killers at a hospital by beating them to death. Nick uses Happy to cheat at poker and then beats everyone to death. A pervert in a Santa suit (yawn) is introduced, presumably so Nick will at some point beat him to death. The counterpoint to all this, I suppose, is the running commentary provided by the eponymous equine. The problem is, unhappily, that the imaginary talking horse isn’t nearly as funny as Morrison seems to think he is.
SC: Oof. Yeah. It was rough. It’s like Morrison’s doing his best worst Garth Ennis impression. For example: the poker game. Ugh. Under Morrison’s watch, LeDic (Obvious jokes? Check!) and his cronies around the table–who look like members of an Ennis-penned wack pack, for goodness sake–are as friggin’ flat as can be. Are we supposed to accept that Morrison chose to keep these fellas, so full of potential hyperbole, under wraps for some good reason? Wait. Is that the reason? To kill it with understatement? No; come on: I mean, if you’re going to put a pot of water to flame, let it boil! Am I wrong? Christ! Ennis would have that table humming with quirkiness. Instead, it’s a flippin’ funeral. If he’s making a statement about Ennis or about something else, I’m not hearing it. Maybe, as is the case with Happy the Horse, only one person in the world can.
DM: Now for a truly inspired use of an imaginary horse, you need look no further that Dial H #6. China Mieville slows down this roller coaster of a comic for a “breather” issue as our hero, Nelson Jent, literally never leaves his living room. The reason? The super-hero alter-ego he’s “dialed-up” would be appalling to modern sensibilities. (David Lapham, uncredited on the cover, provides the pitch-perfect art.) This wickedly fun little issue serves a number of purposes. It nicely fills in some background information on the workings of the dial, as well the hitherto mysterious Manteau. It showcases an easy repartee between the two leads that humanizes their relationship. And it cleverly explores comics’ fraught history with racism and stereotype while using that discussion as a springboard toward broader issues of identity. And did I mention? It’s flat-out funny. I can’t think of another comic that will have you so gleefully looking up scatalogical definitions (interestingly, this is not the first use of “priapus” as a name of a comic book character). Now that’s how you do foul language! This single issue of two people talking in a room has more wit and invention than most comics can muster in a year. Book of the Week.
SC: Is it wrong that I read every bit of Nelson’s dialogue as “Eh-neeek-chock”?
SC: So, yeah: clearly, this is the Book of the Week. In fact, it may be my favorite single issue of any book of the New 52. I know it hasn’t been fashionable of late, especially in the political sphere, but I must insist: DC, please do the right thing; please send more jobs to China!
DM: Rimshot! And out.
Derek & Scott