Friday, March 28, 2003

Alan Moore's The Courtyard, Issue Two, written by Alan Moore, artwork by Jacen Burrows, sequential adaptation by Antony Johnston

Since the first issue of this Avatar Press mini I've done my research and discovered that Moore had a short story called "The Courtyard" in an anthology called The Starry Wisdom : A Tribute to H P Lovecraft. Hence I am assuming that "sequential adaptation" refers to, well, adapting the short story into comic form. It brings to mind the recent graphic adaptations of Neil Gaiman's stories Murder Mysteries and Harlequin Valentine. It says something--and I'm not sure what--that while the Gaiman adaptations received lushly painted treatments at the hands of John Bolton and P. Craig Russell, while Moore gets a B&W treatment by a virtual unknown.

No disrespect to Jacen Burrows is intended. He does a nice job with the adaptation, with an attention to detail that is reminiscent of Geoff Darrow without approaching the frenetic pace of a Darrow panel. Burrows's details are less fantastic and more a reflection of the squalor of the urban setting, and the four-panel, two-page image which opens and closes the story is quite effective. At times the background lines threaten to overpower the action, though, and I thought the use of the panels was less than inspired overall. This despite the Bosch/Breugel-like triptych of pages 14-19, which has some disturbing imagery but is also reminiscent of John H Williams III's other-worldly (literally) depictions in Moore's Promethea series.

As for the story, well, it's based on the Lovecraftian mythos, which is not one of my favorite things. I know this is not entirely the case, but I often feel as if all stories of this type end with the protagonist(s) witnessing something terrible and either dying or losing their minds as a result. I don't find this particularly interesting, and while Moore places some new ideas in the story, they are little more than asides and are overwhelmed with the predictable horror of the story. Sadly, I can't recommend this comic to any but completist fans of either Moore (that would be me) or Lovecraft and his tales.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Redsine, Number Ten

This is the most recent issue of Redsine, but hopefully not the last. According to the website, they're looking for a new publisher. Good luck, guys.

Once again, James Sallis shows up in this issue, tying Brian Hodge for most-reviewed writer on this young site. His story "When Fire Knew My Name" is a numbing look at a bleak urban landscape of the future. It walks a line between the poetics of the wasteland and the utilitarian prose of dickian disintegration. As such I found it difficult to get a handle on--how literally should the idea of construction and deconstruction be taken, and how real are the signs of the apocalypse of civilization? Is there really a fight to be won, or is it already lost? This confusion dulled my enjoyment of the story only a little. Sallis is adept with language, and there are many powerful images here. An intriguing, if frustrating, story.

"Rake at the Gates of Hell" by Dirk Flintheart (this can't be a real name, right?) is a sort of afterlife twist on "The Ransom of Red Chief." Captain Bernard Devlin MacFlannery, late of the Spanish Foreign Legion, shows up in hell determined to suffer for his sins. The problem is, no one in hell is tough enough to give the Captain the torment he insists that he deserves, and he tears the Nine Circles apart in search of the people in charge. When things get sorted out--turns out that the late Captain isn't as late as he feels--the hosts of Hell are granted a reprieve, but it may only be a brief one. An enjoyably over-the-top tall tale.

Monica J. O'Rourke's "Eye Contact" is, as Hobbes once described the life of man, "nasty, brutish and short." Not graphic, exactly, but shudder-worthy nonetheless, and therefore effective.

"The Random Breakfast Generator" by Paul Hassing is absurd and satirical and mean and very enjoyable. I won't give anything away here; the title should be inducement enough to read it.

Hertzan Chimera and M.F. Korn collaborate on another story (as they did on "One Day at a Time" back in Redsine Number Eight) called "Is There Life on Mars." This one is a little more scatalogical and a little more successful than the last, though as with the last the weirdness piles on to such ridiculous extremes that my eyes were glazing over by the end.

There is also an interview with Brian Stableford in this issue.

I'd like to note briefly that I skipped several stories in this volume, and chose not to comment on some of the ones I did read. There are two reasons for this, though both don't apply to all the stories in question. Firstly, I didn't feel right commenting on stories when I didn't feel like I could say a single nice word, and secondly, many of the halfway decent stories in this volume left my critical faculties at a loss, as they were simply one-dimensional. I have to admit that where I thought that issues #7-8 of Redsine had a lot of thought-provoking fiction, the proportion of that to dull and amateurish horror has shrunk considerably in the last two. I do hope Garry and Trent find a new home for their magazine, but I hope even more that they find some better fiction.

Monday, March 24, 2003

100 Bullets: The Counterfifth Detective, written by Brian Azzarello, art by Eduardo Risso

Noir, for whatever reason, seems to be done most successfully in comics nowadays. There's Hellblazer (see below), there's Frank Miller's Sin City (slightly over-the-top for noir, true, and the characters kick a bit too much ass to be true noir heroes), and there's 100 Bullets. Azzarello and Risso have walked the shadows of the Marlowes and Hammers in previous storylines, but in this volume (which collects issues 31-36 of the series) they push the hapless and clueless Milo Garret, private detective, into the light and put him through his paces. Milo has recently had a run-in with a windshield, so his face is bandaged like a mummy in a cheap suit, and that fact becomes significant when questions of his identity are raised. Of course there's a girl--actually, there are two, and they're both knockouts--and a mystery which seems to be the tip of a deadly iceberg.

For one thing, Milo's accident may not have been an accident, at least according to Agent Graves, the guardian angel/devil with his own agenda who gifts Milo with the infamous briefcase, familiar to readers of the series. Graves appears in the lives of people who've been wronged and don't know it, or at least are ignorant of who's responsible. To these people, carefully selected, Graves gives 100 untraceable bullets and a matching gun, along with evidence implicating their tormentor(s). There's no catch, at least, not the obvious one. The bullets really are untraceable, and no DA in the country will prosecute for their use. But there is more to Graves than simply accessorizing revenge, and as the story unfolds it appears the Milo may be part of that without even realizing it.

The language of Milo's story is a bit too poetic at times; it's the poetry of the detective/knight figure which Raymond Chandler's Marlowe exemplified, and more than once it's clear that Azzarello is forcing it a bit. And the superstud part of Milo's personality is a bit much to take, aside from being anti-noir. But the mystery of Graves and the Minutemen grows more intriguing at every turn, and Milo's story is an integral piece of the puzzle, as becomes apparent by the end. As always, Eduardo Risso's art is dynamic and fluid, and he doesn't feel the need to use straight realistic portraiture as a crutch. His characters can approach caricature, but they are always convincing and alive, and some of the background action is not to be missed. 100 Bullets is a Vertigo production from DC Comics. I highly recommend it.