2020 Graphic Miscellany #1

Actually I read these three books toward the end of 2019, but we’re living in a post-factual world, so let’s not bother ourselves with that.

Hewligan’s Haircut

Written by Peter Mulligan, illustrated by Jamie Hewlett

Hewligan is incarcerated in a mental hospital because he hear voices and sees big heads, but one totally ridiculous haircut later and after following the advice of a nurse who tells him to pretend to be sane, our hero is set free. At which point the black and white illustrations and satirical tone of the story segue into a full colour and psychedelic extravaganza as, in the company of swinging 60s refugee Scarlet, Hewligan trips through various realities with the forces of law and disorder in full pursuit. Somehow that haircut has become the key to preserving the universe, and there are also Easter Island heads involved. No, it doesn’t make much sense, with the impression that writer Mulligan is just making it up as he goes along, riffing on each and every crazy idea that comes into his head, whether it be plunging his characters into the cubist universe and the Warhol dimension or having them step out on the stage of a West End musical. As Scarlet comments, ‘The world’s going out of tune. Anything can happen.’ And it does, with artist Hewlett digging deep in his bag of painterly tricks to keep pace and produce illustrations as madcap as the ideas that inspire them. I enjoyed it all rather more than not, though have to admit in the end it seemed more like an exercise in pushing the boundaries rather than a story-in-itself (whatever that means). There’s plenty of wit and invention on display, and the feeling of something important being touched on, but ultimately far more style than substance. We get a bonus story from the pages of 2000 A. D. where the writer and artist usually hang their thinking caps – a forgettable six pager in which Judge Dredd dispenses his own brand of justice to the criminals of Mega City One.

Batman: The Black Glove

Written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by J. H. Williams III & Tony S. Daniel

According to the front cover this is the prequel to Batman R. I. P., which means nothing to me, and the stories set the stage for a showdown between the caped crusader and sinister criminal mastermind The Black Glove. In “The Island of Mister Mayhem” Batman and a group of masked crime fighters inspired by him are lured to an island where they are murdered one by one, the story playing out like a costumed variation on And Then There Were None, with the heroes needing to get at the truth of past events if they are to survive and capture the predator in their midst. It sounds promising in the abstract, but the reality is a rather contrived scenario and naff costumed characters the reader finds it hard to relate to, given that they are so obviously shreddies. The other stories here have Batman delving back into his past, confronting Bat hybrids created by the Gotham Police Department, and his nemesis Joe Chill, among others, with Bruce Wayne’s love life as collateral damage. There’s some marvellous and atmospheric artwork in these stories, the use of dark and shadows bringing the character to life. Ultimately Batman, at least as portrayed here, owes more to the crime and horror genres than to the superhero comic. I’m not quite so sure about the storytelling though. The individual pieces didn’t feel self-contained, but rather like parts of some greater narrative arc, and to a degree that hampered my ability to enjoy them. It’s Batman and I want to be more positive, but don’t feel that I can. While aesthetically pleasing for the artwork, as a form of story these didn’t quite work for me, didn’t provide the emotional satisfaction and kick that I hope for from something with the Bat logo on the cover. I’m picky.

Joe Quinn’s Poltergeist

Written by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean

I suppose that technically speaking this isn’t a graphic novel so much as a short story with accompanying artwork. Joe Quinn lives alone with his mother, while his father is in gaol, and both of them are fond of making stuff up, so when they claim a poltergeist is in the house, nobody takes them seriously, except for the story’s protagonist Davie, who has reasons of his own for wanting to believe. This is an engrossing story, one of hope and loss, a rite of passage for a young man teetering on the verge of adulthood. It is ripe with pathos and sentimentality of a kind, but with comic interludes that help to keep the narrative pegged to the ground, particularly courtesy of the drunken Irish priest who wanders in and out of the story. It’s about the stories that we tell ourselves simply as a means to get through another day, the narrative devices with which we frame our lives and try to make some sense of it all. The poltergeist itself is almost an irrelevance, nothing more than a catalyst for the emotional journey young Davie is required to make. Dave McKean’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the text, filled with light and life, grounded in the everyday world, radiating a subtle and understated humour. Maybe not a graphic novel, but most definitely the finest of these three works.

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