Chosen and Stay Puffed

Oy. Welcome to this incredibly late New Comics Day. Apologies for the long delays — paying work and some side project have been taking over life as of late. (If you happen to have a few grand laying around the house, though, you could always send it my way, thus ensuring that the reviews are more frequent.)

Due to increased deadlines with other projects I’ll be cutting New Comics Day back to a bimonthly schedule for the time being following next week’s column (look for a lengthy review of the new Optic Nerve, the latest from Jeff Brown and Tom Beland and whatever else comes my way this week).

If you’re really missing New Comics Day, just go over to Fourth Rail and create your own New Comics Day edition. First, lower the ratings of pretty much every book by five or six out of ten, then liberally insert the words “fucking moron” and “cocksucker” into alternate sentences.

Oh, and be sure to check out the latest edition of Bookslut for my review of Douglass Coupland’s picture-less novel Hey, Nostradamus.

Until then…

Jesus, Decompressed
And You Thought the Bible Was Long The First Time

Of the three new Mark Millar titles (supposed to be four, except that Ashley Wood went and forgot to draw Run), Chosen seemed to be the most intriguing. Wanted is a passable but not particularly good costume book and, unless Millar goes in a much different direction with The Unfunnies than he did in the first issue, it’s bush-league Crumb with shitty art.

To begin with the obvious: the cover is appalling. An older Jesus hangs from a cross wearing a shirt that reads “Frankie Say Relax.” I’m not sure if Millar or artist Peter Gross designed the cover, but it sets the wrong tone entirely for a book. To begin with, this is the story of a teenager, not an adult version of Christ. It’s also a relatively serious book, so going for obvious and easy shock like putting Jesus in a T-shirt featuring the name of a song about anal sex (why do you think Frankie is saying to relax, anyway?) is just frivolous. Going for easy shock is what made (or at least a big part of what made) The Unfunnies seem more like The Unreadables, but it’s not what Chosen is about.

The book opens with three teenaged boys on a day-long journey in search of a porn mag rumored to be lying somewhere in the local woods. It’s a lazy cliché and a glaringly obvious bite from Stephen King’s The Body (filmed by Rob Reiner as Stand By Me). On their way to find the magazine, a truck veers off a highway overpass and falls toward our hero, Jodie Christianson, or, as I like to think of him, The Least Subtly Named Boy Ever.

Jody isn’t killed by the truck because, as we know from Matthew 15:7, Jesus has super-strength. Also, he shoots eyebeams, but those don’t come into play just yet. Jody’s parents pretend to be confused by their son’s ability to come out of such a massive accident completely unscathed, but they clearly know more than they’re saying. Not long after, Jody’s mother finds him standing on a desk and stunning his class — including his teacher — with what seems to be a limitless understanding of the world. He knows the answer to every question his teacher poses. She recognizes this as a parallel to a young Jesus Christ’s coming to maturity when he regales an audience in a temple with endless knowledge. It seems that Jody’s mother and father have never even had sex, that they were paired off by a religious sect and that she is finally ready to tell him that he is indeed the second coming of the savior.

“Holy shit,” he replies in the book’s one believable and amusing bit of dialogue.

I wondered if Millar might be biting off more than he could chew with Chosen, and certainly the execution of the story is a little lackluster. The dialogue is wooden and he lapses into cliché at several points. That said, Chosen is definitely an interesting book, and maybe even a good one.

Despite Millar’s shortcomings, he does seem to have a grasp on his lead character. Jody is a believable and interesting character, and his burgeoning relationship with the troubled girl next door (I’m waiting to find out her last name is Magdelena or something suitably obvious) is the core of the first issue. The framing device of having a shadowy character tell the story to a group of adults — in the first person, no less — leaves plenty of room for surprise, too, and works quite well. Is the story being told in the context of another Last Supper (which would, of course, make the first one The Next To Last…)? Or perhaps the shadowy figure is actually a charlatan?

Millar could go in several different directions with the story. He’s left himself plenty of room to maneuver, and though he could certainly screw it up in the concluding two issues, it doesn’t seem likely thus far.

Peter Gross’ art is very clean and simple, but it works well. He captures facial expression and little gestures quite well, and he does a particularly nice job of the book’s one “action” sequence with the falling truck. His work, combined with Jeanne McGee’s absolutely beautiful, muted colors makes for a book with a very understated but very nice look.

One issue in, and it looks like Chosen might be the one launch for Millarworld that’s remembered the week after the last issue ships.

Layman, Crossland and Stay Puffed
This Has Nothing To Do With Ghostbusters

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: why aren’t any of the goddamned funnybooks funny anymore? NinthArt recently ran an interesting albeit rambling conversation between several creators of humor comics, and one of the main topics up for discussion was why aren’t there more comedies in comics?

I love humor comics and I love one-shots, so even if John Layman and Dave Crossland’s Stay Puffed hadn’t been so damn good, I probably would have liked it ok anyway.

Stay Puffed is their pseudo-sequel to the three-part miniseries Puffed about a guy betrayed by his friends, trapped in a dinosaur costume and dropped off in the ghetto. It was awfully dark comedy, and damn funny, too. In Stay Puffed, the villain of the first series heads off to Iraq to fight in the war while the hero of the last series finds himself stuck in a bad situation with a fish and a hungry bear. It’s a fast-paced book that basically exists to set up one big joke at the end, but the joke works, and there are plenty of throwaway gags along the way to keep you entertained.

Artist Dave Crossland does an amazing job. His style is quirky and instantly recognizable, kinetic and goofy all at the same time. He’s as adept at drawing a double-page spread of Saddam fighting a dragon as he is working tiny details into a crowd scene (my favorite being the group of soldiers slobbering over porn mags like “Equine Delight” and “1-800-But I Poop From There”).

Layman’s story is big and silly. All of his characters are pretty detestable, but that makes the payoff of the book all the stronger. The cover and first five pages alone are worth the three dollar cover price — and they throw in the rest for free.

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