Graphic Miscellany #3

Three more graphic novels read recently:-

Weird Tales Volume Two

Written and illustrated by Diverse Hands

This is not what I was expecting given the title, but it is a collection of short strips in which assorted writers and artists get to have their way with Mike Mignola’s creation Hellboy. There are twelve stories in all, some of them no more than vignettes. We get to go on vacation with Hellboy twice; once in Hell itself, and another time in some sort of limbo where he meets jazz musician Charlie Parker, or somebody claiming to be him. We see him tackle a Grand Guignol theatre group dealing in human sacrifice, watch him deal with some ghost children, battle a giant serpent in Guatemala, and so on, and so forth. There is even a pastiche in which a member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense gets to talk with a psychiatrist about the perils and mental toll attendant on his job, while in another story two members of the Bureau get to shoot the breeze and set the world to right because there is nothing on television. It’s a fun book, but all the same there’s nothing here that is truly memorable, at least at the story level. What makes the book stand out is the wealth of artwork on display, the very different styles and approaches to the material, some of which work gloriously well, others not quite so glorious, but always interesting and worth looking at. In addition to the strips we get a gallery of Hellboy paintings and another of pencil sketches, all of which are very impressive. And finally, as a bonus, there’s a Lobster Johnson strip, set in 1939 and attempting to capture the feel of the so called golden age of comics, with a lantern jawed hero tackling the Crimson Hood and assorted Nazis. It felt out of place and horrendously retro, and was something I could have well done without.

Leatherjack

Written by John Smith, illustrated by Paul Marshall

This is set in the far future where a galactic war is raging between “the Khmer Noir, ruled by the terminally ill Lord Qwish, and the Empire of Spinsters, half-senile fanatics headed by the Dowager Khan, who are leading a crusade against smut and indecency”. So basically then it’s your decadent and autocratic Roman Emperor type versus a future Mary Whitehouse. Key to the outcome of this power struggle is the library world of Shibboleth, currently under siege by the Spinsters. Qwish sends his top agent, the genetically enhanced Leatherjack, to pierce the library world’s force field and steal a book that may contain the information to save his life and grant almost godlike power. But Leatherjack himself is transformed by the so called Book of Whispers and goes off the grid, forcing Qwish to send the mercenary Mr. Whipcord in pursuit, but the two agents have a history, one that will impact on the future of the galaxy. This is storytelling on a widescreen, with a wealth of blue sky ideas and some grotesquely larger than life characters, such as the bloated monstrosity that is Qwish with his unbridled hedonism, the fanatical Spinsters, and the foppish dandy Whipcord with his talking rabbit familiar. Leatherjack by comparison is simply a tabula rasa, on which the will and desires of others can be transcribed. At the book’s heart is the struggle between two extremes, the regimentation and censorship of the Spinsters pitted against the arbitrary and tyrannical egotism of Lord Qwish, and underlying this is the deep seated need for a third alternative, a way that is both progressive and liberal, with the subtext that knowledge is power, that learning can transform lives and even the course of galaxies. The mightiest force in this universe is a book, which is something I can certainly get behind. Overall it is a bravura performance, visually reminding me of Lynch’s Dune and the TV series Lexx, with stunning pictures of conflict and life on other worlds. I enjoyed this graphic novel very much, with my only complaint it all seemed a bit inconclusive, as if this was simply the setup for further adventures, and perhaps that’s the case. I’ll have to check it out.

Sir Edward Grey Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever

Written by Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, illustrated by John Severin

An English milord comes to the Wild West in search of his nemesis, but instead Grey finds the mining town of Reidlynne, the scene of a terrible and unnatural tragedy. Its people are not too keen on him, but Grey manages to escape, and then with the aid of Wild Bill lookalike Morgan Kaler and his friend Isaac he tackles the sorceress Eris and the horde of zombies she controls. This is a pretty straightforward read, with little in the way of originality, and characters whose whole personality can easily be read from clothes they wear. The highlight is John Severin’s muscular, stylistically simply artwork, which feels very retro given the modern trend away from panels and with stuff exploding everywhere, and yet I liked it very much and thought it perfectly suited to the material. Having said that though, there really isn’t much to it and, while I like the idea in the abstract, the execution all felt a little flat.

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