Comics Published 17 September 2003

Bit of good news (I suppose) for the readers (reader?): I quit my job.Which, naturally, means I’m back to managing the comic book store. Which, at least theoretically, means that reviews should be getting kicked out fairly regularly again (incidentally, the previous column was written over two weeks ago, but due to some computer foul-ups, never reached the appropriate parties, so it was posted late; hence the seemingly sudden shift in employment between one column to the next).

As well, a warning: I get pretty bitchy in my review of Lone. So never let it be said that you weren’t told upfront.

The Sandman: Endless Nights
DC Comics/Vertigo – Neil Gaiman (w); Various (a)

If you’ve read Gaiman’s epic, landmark series, The Sandman, and you meet someone else who has read it as well (and in this industry, or this hobby, that’s not altogether uncommon, by any means), I’ve always found it interesting to ask them which arc of the book is their favorite.

It should be noted that I was interested in Sandman at the time it was serialized, but also in middle school, and sufficiently aware of my own shortcomings enough to realize that I wouldn’t appreciate it if I tried to read it. So I didn’t read the trades until I got back into comics in 2000. Hence, I tend to think of the story as being broken into ten separate pieces and define them as such (despite the fact that the trades do not collect the individual issues in strictly sequential order).

My personal favorite was, at the time I originally read them, and remains today, Fables and Reflections. Now some people will tell you that The Doll’s House was where Gaiman really made a name for himself or that World’s End is nothing short of brilliant, but for me, it’s always been all about Fables and Reflections. Because that was where the genius of Sandman hit me like all those bullets hit Sonny at the tollbooth. I think it was the idea that I held in my hands a collection that was simultaneously part of an ongoing story and yet at the same time nothing more and nothing less than a completely unrelated series of one-off stories, all tied together by the most tenuous of plot threads.

This, to me, was a big deal.

I mean, sure, Morpheus is less than absent from the stories contained in the trade. But at the same time, he’s not really the center of attention (not that he’s necessarily front and center all the time in the rest of the series, but you get the idea). The characters that would be bit players in any other series take center stage for a while in stories that, at the time, didn’t seem to be all that relevant to the bigger picture (but obviously, the bits with Orpheus are pretty damned important in the end). No, it just seemed like Gaiman had some good short stories to tell and that he worried about telling the story first, then fitting it into the Sandman mythos second.

And that’s pretty much what Endless Nights boils down to as well.

There’s no longer a big picture for him to paint; he’s already painted it. So this also must have been incredibly liberating, as a storyteller, to just sit down and tell whatever kind of story strikes your fancy (though, as I’ve already mentioned, Gaiman was never one to stick to the rules of sequential art). And that’s basically what he does.

There are seven stories, by seven different artists, one for each member of the Endless family. They’ve all got merit, unsurprisingly. Some are better than others (I’m partial to the first three, myself), naturally, but they’re all beautifully crafted, both in regards to the prose that narrates them, the dialogue that propels them and the artwork that brings them to life. And the stories are all over the map, as far as plots are concerned. Some are more abstract than others, like Barron Storey’s “Fifteen Portraits of Despair,” a piece so heartbreaking that I thought about putting the book down to read something with Batman in it, just to lighten my mood.Others are seemingly more whimsical at times, like “The Heart of a Star,” the story by Miguelanxo Prado that is sprinkled with references to the core DC Universe, a throwback to the early days of the series, prior to the founding of Vertigo.

In the end though, Endless Nights is a hard book to review, because no matter how long I talk about it, I’m not going to be able to capture the ephemeral something that makes it such a work of genius. It’s the kind of book that deserves to be read in one sitting, at night, when things are quiet. And afterwards, you just take a little time to sit on your front porch and mull it over and it just keeps seeming better and better the more you think about it.It’s a book that makes you realize that this is what people are talking about when they say that comic books, our beloved pop cultural bastard child, can be art. And I mean Art with a capital A.

To rephrase, Endless Nights is something that any intelligent comics fan should be ashamed to not having sitting on their bookshelf, it’s that good.


Gun Theory #1
Marvel Comics/Epic – Daniel Way (w); Jon Proctor (a)

Now this was completely unexpected.

For one thing, I’ve read two books by Daniel Way and, frankly, I thought both of them sucked. One was an issue of Wolverine, put out right before the relaunch, where Logan picks up a hitchhiker and then kills him or something. I dunno. I can’t really be bothered to remember it; I think my subconscious is trying to block it out. The other was the first issue of the new Venom ongoing, which I previously reviewed and hated.

Then you add in the fact that this is an Epic book, which doesn’t exactly thrill me either, given the fact that the Epic title that Marvel threw all their marketing muscle behind (Trouble) was basically a trainwreck of a book, and you can see why I had my doubts about Gun Theory.

Writer you don’t like, imprint that’s already disappointed you in a very short span of time. Not exactly a formula for success, in my book. But all the same, it turns out I was pleasantly surprised: Gun Theory is good. Damned good, as a matter of fact.

It’s a simple story, really; simple enough to be classified, unflatteringly, as archetypical. In fact, if someone were to call it cookie-cutter, I think I’d be hard-pressed to disagree.

The lead character is a hitman by trade and apparently a damned good one to boot. Over the course of the issue, he carries out a contract killing (plus the murder of another poor bastard who had the misfortune to be in the same place at the wrong time) and collects his pay. Noticing the blood of his victim of his white shirt-sleeve and cursing himself as sloppy and unprofessional, he rushes away to a low-rent laundry service to have it cleaned, where he inadvertently foils a robbery and promptly falls in love at first sight.

See what I mean? It sounds like the hitman with a heart of gold story. And it doesn’t matter if you replace hitman with hooker or con man or whatever in the previous sentence. The point is that we’ve all seen the story where the career criminal goes straight for the love of a good woman (or man, as the case may be).

But this isn’t that story. Not just yet, at any rate.

What makes Gun Theory so notable, in my opinion, is the narration, which flows quite naturally. In other words, it reads like a real voice sounds. There’s none of the usual stiff, clinical plot exposition narration. Instead, Way lets Proctor’s rough, scratchy, Guy Davis-style art tell the story for him while he just sits back and transcribes our nameless assassin’s inner monologue. So while he’s straight-facedly gunning down two men in cold blood, he’s bemoaning the fact that he missed breakfast that morning and planning (and rethinking and planning again) what he’s going to eat when the job is done and his pockets are filled with hard-earned, ill-gotten cash. Afterwards, Way writes a fair bit of monologue dealing with the fine art of life as a contract killer, none of which slips into the usual clichés, all of it sounding fairly logical (at least to me; it’s like I know how hitmen think).

Now granted, the aforementioned thunderbolt of attraction for the woman in the laundry service is a bit contrived, but given the fact that the opening pages pretty much spell out the ending for you, I’m willing to let it go. Their story is clearly not going to come to a storybook end.

In the end, Gun Theory is pretty successful attempt at translating the Quentin Tarantino-style of filmmaking into sequential art. And by that, I mean that the plot is not necessarily told in strictly chronological order, the protagonist is more than a little shady and the dialogue just flat out pops. I’m giving Gun Theory a pretty high rating, not just because it’s good (which it is), but also because of how good it is in relation to the creator’s previous work. I’d be nothing short of thrilled if five years from now I could look back and say that Gun Theory was where Daniel Way turned the corner from being a guy who made Frank Tieri’s Wolverine look like James Joyce by comparison to being a writer who’s made a serious contribution to diversifying the output of mainstream comics. I mean, this is a Marvel comic, for God’s sake. That Way convinced them to put it out in the first place, even through Epic, is a pretty incredible feat, if you ask me. .

Lone #1
Dark Horse Comics – Stuart Moore (w); Jerome Opena (a)

OK, I have this problem: I find it terribly difficult to separate the creator from the craft.

That is to say, when forming an opinion about someone’s work, in any creative field, it’s really hard (i.e., pretty much impossible) for me to ignore the differences between the creator’s opinions and mine. For example, I have a friend who loves Neil Young and is constantly harping at me to listen to some of his albums. I can’t stand Young. Why? Is it because he can’t sing worth a damn? Partially. But mostly it’s because he’s a whiny hippy and that really gets on my nerves. The Young-loving friend is always telling me that I should be able to ignore that, since not every song he’s written is about protesting wars and condemning corporate sponsorship. And on some level, I know he’s right. But I can’t get past that, man.

Let’s put it another way: if Michael Moore had directed The Godfather, I’d have never seen it. And if, by some bizarre twist of fate I had, I wouldn’t have liked it.

So we’ve established, quite clearly I think, that I’m a fairly conservative guy. And you’re asking yourself, I’m sure, why this is relevant?

It’s relevant because despite the fact that I’ve never met the man and have no personal animosity towards him, I don’t like Stuart Moore.

And I say that for the exact same reason that I say that I don’t like Steven Grant. Both of those guys have weekly (or semi-weekly) columns at major comic book websites, columns that are ostensibly about comics. What do they write about every week? Politics. And left-wing politics to boot. So I’m annoyed twice by them, because 1) it’s a waste to devote web space at a comic book site to political opinions (you know, they have entire sites just for talking about politics out there) and 2) I don’t agree with the politics they’re espousing anyway.

Now honestly, and I’m not just saying this, a good portion of the reason that I don’t like their columns is because they simply have no business being on a comic book site. I’d be irritated if Steven Grant’s column continually devoted itself to talking about…oh, I dunno…football or something. The point is that it’s not about comics, OK? But it doesn’t help that I couldn’t agree less with what they have to say.

Which begs the question, I guess, of why I read them fairly regularly and it’s a sad answer: I’m morbidly curious and I have this genuine belief that one day… ONE DAY, my friends … I will open the link to their column and they won’t mention a single word about politics.

OK, so I’ve wasted an entire page and never mentioned a single damned thing about the book. But I felt it that the previous portion of the review was important because a) it felt good to rant and b) I’m not going to review this book favorably and I’m not sure how much of that is genuine and how much of it is just irritation at watching Moore get headline status at Newsarama once a week to not really talk about comics.

So what I’m saying here is that I’m gonna do my damnedest to be objective…Take whatever I say with a grain of salt, I guess is the message.

Incidentally, the irony of a liberal writing a comic about a cowboy was not lost on me, given the fact that the President is widely referred to (unfavorably I might add) as a cowboy. But anyway.

OK, seriously, I’m done this time. On to a discussion of the book.

Lone is what could accurately be described a “Weird West” book. It’s not technically a western, I guess, because it doesn’t take place during the time period that we, as Americans, typically identify with that culture known as the Wild West though it definitely maintains some of the feel of the films of that genre (with a twist, of course). Lone takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, not unlike Mad Max or something, the decimated remains of a civilization crushed by nuclear and biological warfare.

Across that dystopian landscape are scattered settlements, ramshackle affairs populated by the bedraggled survivors of a world gone violently mad who are terrorized by a wide variety of radioactive mutants (such as an impossibly large boar) and flesh-eating zombies. Our introduction to this world is given through the narration of a girl named Luke (the best shot in town), tracking a pack of zombies across the blasted terrain, seeking revenge for the death of her friend. Trailing the walking dead to their hideout, Luke discovers that a glowing, vaguely humanoid-shaped creature is giving the orders, something she clearly didn’t expect. When their leader discovers her, Luke fires a volley of shots into the zombie mob and high-tails it back home, where she finds that the undead have taken over several houses in town and are expected to make a move for the rest. With her family fleeing into the hills to seek shelter, Luke and her brother are dispatched westward (where else?) in the family truck to seek the aid of a man known only as Lone.

Pretty decent start, I thought. Not great, because it’s been done before, but that’s OK, because the delivery is just as important as the story in a book like this. So, naturally, the book pretty much falls apart afterwards.

To make a long story short, Moore basically lifts Clint Eastwood out of Unforgiven, calls him Lone and sits his geriatric ass down inside a tarpaper shack (with an airlock, no less) in the middle of a toxic no man’s land, complete with the protestations that he’s no longer a gun-for-hire. And complete with a return his former ways, albeit with none of the pathos of Eastwood’s role, when more zombies inexplicably burst into his home. There are some implications that Lone finds something familiar about Luke’s description of the zombie’s leader, but that’s about it.

Basically, I just can’t think of a reason why I, when I already read more than enough books in a given week, should add Lone to a pull-list as long as some people are tall (granted, those people are children; it’s still a big list). The first issue is entertaining enough, but in a “blah blah, I’ve already seen this” sort of way. It’s like reading Garth Ennis’ Just a Pilgrim, but without the promise of comedic violence or genuine camaraderie that an Ennis-penned book generally carries (and, for the record, I was none too impressed with the aforementioned book either).

In the end, the saving grace of Lone‘s first issue might be the simple fact that this week was a fairly light week for comics. If Moore could somehow convince Dark Horse to only release his book on weeks when they wasn’t any strong competition, it’d probably do alright. It’s that kind of book, the kind that you could stand to read on a week when you didn’t get any of your favorite titles and needed something else to kill time on, but one that you’d pass right over when you see a shelf full of books like Fables and Y and New X-Men.

Not much a review, I know, but then again, it’s not much of a book. It’s simply mediocre; it’s by no means the worst book I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly not good and it’s not worth three dollars either.


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