Wednesday, 16 April 2008

How Late Can Late Reviews Get? Ganges #2, Kamandi and, uh, New Tales of Old Palomar #1

I didn't pick up any new comics last week so I decided to write about some slightly older comics instead. One of them is only a couple of weeks old, another was reprinted recently but dates back to the 70s, but... that's enough preemptive chat.


(Or should that be "backwards"?)

New Tales of Old Palomar #1, by Gilbert Hernandez

Released back in 2006, this beautifully over-sized comic saw Gilbert Hernandez return to the past, telling untold stories about his most famous characters and setting. This might seem weirdly crass and safe and "comic-booky", especially since Hernandez is normally such a brutal and forward-looking artist, but the comic itself is so much fun that it's hard to care.

Of course, cumulative impact has always been a part of what makes Love & Rockets great. As Alan David Doane recently stated while reviewing Jaime Hernandez' latest book, "Love and Rockets stories are always better with repeated exposure -- like spending time with loved ones you cherish and adore." But what strikes me about this particular comic is how damned immediate it is. There are frantic races, weird-looking characters, and huge slabs of bizarre architecture aplenty. Hell, the issue even ends with a huge, life-threatening explosion! It might not quite be a Jack Kirby comic, but Hernandez' cast of characters have the same lust for life that Kirby's best creations do, and as such it's always a pleasure to read about them.

I'm not sure that New Tales of Old Palomar #1 is a particularly important Love & Rockets story, but it's still a great read, full of familiar characters and bizarre events. And you know what? Sometimes that's exactly what I want from a comic book.

DC Countdown Special -- Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, written and penciled by Jack Kirby, inked and lettered by Mike Royer, coloured by Little Baby Jesus

Hey, did someone mention Jack Kirby?

Forget the giant Countdown logo on the front of this comic, cos the contents of this book are pure 70s Kirby, untainted by any continuity-heavy, modern crossover bullshit. I'd never read any Kamandi before, but I was pretty hyped up for it because the two splash pages that Charles W. Hatfield here are such perfect distillations of everything I love about Kirby's work.

As such, the first issue kinda threw me by being such a straight riff on Planet of the Apes (in terms of setting if not in plot). I mean, don't get me wrong, it looks fantastic -- who better to draw a book about the struggle for survival in a strange, bestial world than Jack Kirby? Kirby's characters are all boxy faces and dynamic angles -- they always look like they're battling for survival in his improbable landscapes, so yeah, the execution fits the premise. Still, I couldn't help wondering -- where was the idiosyncratic madness? Issue #2 sorted me out on that front, with its monster-germs, fetal mutant misfits and metamorphic fission suits. By the time I got to the wonky battle for Superman's legacy that takes place in issue #3, I was officially loving it.

Like New Tales for Old Palomar, this doesn't feel like a hugely important work, but who cares? From issue #2 onwards it's very, very Kirby, which means that it's more fun than pretty much any other comic you'll read this year.

Ganges #2, by Kevin Huizenga

Love & Rockets contains several masterpieces, and for all I know Kamandi might have developed into one as it went on, but Ganges #2 is genuinely amazing in its own right. It looks like a short story about a dot com business set at the end of the nineties, but it's really a thoughtful examination of the way men bond through stupid computer games. This might sound like a subject for a wonky blog post rather than a comic, but Huizenga's control of the comic book page is so complete that becomes impossible not to be impressed by the way he handles the topic.

The book opens with eleven pages of abstract, strangely peaceful combat between two constantly morphing opponents -- it's beautiful, but hard to find a connection to at first. Eventually however, Huizenga shows us that it's a computer game that's keeping Glen Ganges from his bed, and it becomes instantly more engaging as such. From this point on we're presented with an odd mix of gentle reality and computerised violence, except... that's not quite right. One of the great things about this issue is how pleasant and dreamlike Huizenga makes 'Pullverize", the Quake-style game that Ganges and his colleagues bond over after work. In the context of this world of twisting corridors, jutting bell towers and picturesque valleys, the kill-or-be killed violence takes on a compelling weightlessness. Conversely, the low-key events that take place in the story's real world have a quietly crushing gravity to them, whether it's in the strain that Glen's gaming habit puts on his marriage or the worry that bears down on his workplace as the redundancies kick in.

Ganges #2 is a smart book, a playful and analytical look at the geekier side of male interaction. That's all very worthwhile and commendable, but what makes it truly brilliant is the fact that it goes out of its way to convey the goofy joy its characters experience while playing 'Pullverize'. It's this sense of joy that links Ganges #2 with Kamandi and New Tales of Old Palomar. It might seem surprising, that something so formally impressive can also be so genuinely entertaining, but it shouldn't. Cos hey, who said art shouldn't be fun?

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