I was so taken with the experience of reading graphic novels during super hero month that I’ve decided to include a smattering of them in my literary diet for the future, though from now on we can cast the net a tad wider than the super hero genre.
Jennifer Blood – A Woman’s Work is Never Done
Written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Diverse Hands
By day, Jen Fellows is the average suburban housewife, taking care of her husband and children. By night she dresses up in leather gear, puts on a black wig, tools up with a generous selection of automatic weaponry, and goes out to kill bad guys. Specifically, she slaughters the members of a crime family against whom she appears to have a particular grudge, though she’s not above taking time out to deal with the occasional (non)innocent bystander. One element of the story that intrigued me is the disconnect between these two aspects of the character, how she has to drug her family so they won’t wake up in the night to discover her gone, how she goes shopping for groceries and weaponry with equal gusto and determination to get a bargain. It’s almost as if Jen has a split personality, and as her leather clad alter ego she lets rip, working off the frustrations of the daily grind with lashings of murder and mayhem. There is nothing neat or economical about the way in which Jennifer deals with her prey; while bullets serve her well, with head shots as the favoured mode of execution, she’s equally happy to chop her enemies up with an axe or even tear them apart with her bare hands. In scenes of wet work captured by the artists in all their glorious carnage, we have a four colour portrait of a psychopath at work, with only the fact that her victims are far worse than she is by way of redemption. At moments Ennis reminds us that she can be merciful, as when Jen spares the life of the peeping tom neighbour who reads far more into her penchant for leather than he should have done, but then such quibbles are swept aside as we have more lashings of gore. The plot is tenuous, with a bit of flimsy back story to explain Jen’s grudge match, but the grindhouse sensibility, with its emphasis on ever more grandiose and appalling murder carries all before it. I liked this book very much and will look for further volumes, though a faint warning bell alerts me to the fact that I should probably classify it as a guilty pleasure.
House of Mystery – Desolation
Written and illustrated by Diverse Hands
Back in the day when I ventured inside DC’s House of Mystery comic it used to be an anthology containing several stories along horror/weird lines, each introduced by host Cain. This graphic novel collects together the final issues (#36 – 42) of the 2008 iteration of the House, and while Cain might get a mention it doesn’t seem to have much else to connect it with what’s gone before. I confess that I felt somewhat like I’d been thrown in the deep end here, with a plethora of characters and situations chucked at me, most of it carrying over from previous issues. Lurking behind the different art styles and stories within stories is, I suspect, a fascinating account of a structure that exists at the centre of multiple realities and at the same time contains its own reality within it, a neutral realm for control of which other world forces battle constantly. There are hints in the text of something akin to Moorcock’s multiverse, with a house instead of an Eternal Champion. It was intriguing and kept me off balance while reading, so that I had no idea what to expect next, but at the same time it didn’t quite satisfy. I looked for a gestalt, some plot arc that made sense of everything, but if there was such a thing it remained tantalisingly out of view. I fear for me at least it was a case of it being better to travel than arrive. I may at some point revisit the House and try to follow the story from the very beginning, but self-contained this was not.
The X-Files – Thirty Days of Night
Written by Steve Niles and Adam Jones, illustrated by Tom Mandrake
To quote from the back cover blurbage – “brings together two iconic franchises, pitting the government’s best supernatural investigators against a horde of parasitic vampires”. And yeah, it certainly sounds like a good idea, but as always with such franchises you know nothing will (or can) be fundamentally changed – and so Mulder and Scully live to fight another day, the vampires are still undead and thirsty for blood, and all the reader has to do is discover how much collateral damage the trade could allow. Plotting by the numbers – there’s an inexplicable slaughter in Wainwright, Alaska. The dynamic duo comes to investigate. Mulder calls vampire from the get go. Scully shakes her head and goes off to do science stuff. More people are horribly killed, including a couple of FBI agents. Mulder is proved correct, Scully is wrong. Our heroes get to find the bad guys and survive. Plus the inevitable hint of a government conspiracy. It’s all pretty much what you’d expect from the title and familiarity with the franchises’ histories, almost a going through the motions. The fun is to be had from the artwork, which is moody and atmospheric, capturing perfectly the tone and feel of the material. I liked it, but in a pass the time sort of way.