Just for a change I thought I’d look at an Original Graphic Novel rather than a British anthology comic featuring a poo eating robot that talks more sense than most public figures. Naturally, I loaded the dice by picking one by one of my favourite writers working with an artist whose work I have much fondness for. And Michael Easton. Guess how well that worked out for everyone. THE GREEN WOMAN (Bolton, Straub & Easton, Klein) Anyway, this… THE GREEN WOMAN Art by John Bolton Written by Peter Straub & Michael Easton Lettered by Todd Klein Starring Peter Capaldi Vertigo/DC Comics, £14.99 (2010)
On the banks of the Milwaukee River squats a bar and in that bar there broods a man who is both more than a man and less than a man. He is old now and senses the fast enchroaching end to the long road paved with his dead. But no man murders without trace and in New York a self-hating cop begins to follow the trail which will end in either his redemption or in his destruction, but it will certainly end in a bar on the banks of the Milwaukee River where a man broods. A man once called Fielding Bandolier.
I know who Peter Straub and John Bolton are, but who is the mysterious Michael Easton? If only there was some easily accessible source of inf...ah. A quick glance at his Wikipedia page shows me that Michael Easton is a master of the smouldering glance and favours large cuffed shirts. He is also an actor (ALLY MCBEAL, MUTANT X, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) in things I’ve never seen, a poet whose poetry I’ve never read, an author of OGNs (the SOUL STEALER SERIES) which I’ve never heard of, in fact all I know for certain is he’s just basically six different shades of dreamy, ladies. And, I guess, gentlemen too; it’s all just friction, you prudes! Now, being a nasty piece of work I would like to blame the failure of THE GREEN WOMAN on him alone. However, that’s probably unfair. Because in the interests of fairness I should probably point out that Peter Straub’s output has somewhat diminished since 2004’s IN THE NIGHT ROOM. Diminished in frequency and scale certainly but, THE GREEN WOMAN excepted, not in quality. This book first appeared in its hardcover iteration in 2010, a year which also saw Straub produce THE JUNIPER TREE AND OTHER STORIES and A DARK MATTER. A healthily impressive output at first glance, no doubt. However, as all readers of supernatural fiction know, appearances can be deceptive; THE JUNIPER TREE was a collection of previously published stories and A DARK MATTER, his first original novel since IN THE NIGHT ROOM, was poorly received (I liked it, but there you go). It basically took Straub six years to produce a single novel, which is par for some writers but not par for Straub. What I’m trying to get at is THE GREEN WOMAN feels like a new short initially intended to freshen up the THE JUNIPER TREE, but one that didn’t make it to fruition and so the basic outline was repurposed into an OGN with help from the dreamy enigma Michael Easton and John Bolton. Alas, this is of course pure conjecture and as a consequence utterly worthless, but it killed some time for us all. And gave me an introductory paragraph. In my opinion, which is basically The Truth of The World by any other name, Peter Straub is a magnificent writer, one whose output I hold in the highest of esteem. (I heartses Peter Straub, basically.) Some of his books may not be as good as others, but they are all better than most other people’s books. This is because he is a masterful prose artist who can make distressingly horrific effects explode seemingly from nowhere following the most sublime of slow burns. His books work because Peter Straub is an unnervingly fastidious author and also because he is in complete control of his prose. This obviously isn’t the case with THE GREEN WOMAN where other hands muck in and, well, things go a bit to pot.
THE GREEN WOMEN is intended to act as a capstone to all the fiction Straub has previously penned regarding one Fee Bandolier. And there has been a lot of fiction from Peter Straub regarding Fee Bandolier. I’ll resist the temptation to list them as sometimes part of the joy of Straub’s work is realising how something you are reading ties in to other works, and such a list while making me feel all superior would edge a wee bit too close to SPOILER territory in some cases; trust me, Fee’s all over Straub’s post-KOKO work like a psychotic yet weirdly endearing rash. Don’t worry though THE GREEN WOMAN recaps everything you need to know about Fee and his…tendencies. Unfortunately it does so in the bluntest possible way, lacking almost wholly Straub’s prose finesse which usually effortlessly ameliorates the clichés which underpin this material. Basically dependent on others to aid his vision this just reads like a not terribly well executed serial-killer-with-‘Nam-flashbacks-hunted-by-rogue-cop-who-is-more-like-his-prey-than-he-wishes-to-acknowledge. It’s just disheartening to see Straub stoop to a cop who is the tiresome Troubled White Guy with a Gun so familiar to us all. But then I recall that he has done that in his novels and it’s worked a treat. See, it’s not the concepts in THE GREEN WOMAN which are at fault, it’s the execution and maybe the limited page count. The core tale of Straub’s (previously brilliantly realised) tragic monster reaching the end of his rope, while being hunted by a man who’s character is swiftly unravelling due to the moral faultlines within him, would have been plenty all on its todd but, no; there’s a secondary plot revolving around a malevolent ship’s figurehead which in the long gone days caused its crew to suicide en masse, and now wants to be reunited with the timbers of the boat it was stuck on, which are currently holding up a pub in Ireland. Yes, that’s right we’re talking here about spooky wood pining (get on that one, Brian Azzarello! Geddit: “pining” wood! That’s GOLD!) Obviously most scary doodahs can be reduced to the laughable via fantastic word skillage as what I has. However was a similar excellence in prose in evidence it could make the concept of haunted wood turn your bowels to water. In a Peter Straub novel this would be the case (see IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW) but this is not a novel it is a graphic novel, so the prose is sparse and far too much rests on the art. Which is terrible. Really bad.
It gives me no pleasure to point out the artistic failings of THE GREEN WOMAN. I have enjoyed John Bolton’s flowing Frazetta-esque art in the past (HOUSE OF HAMMER, WARRIOR) but not here, not in THE GREEN WOMAN. Not unsurprisingly, and entirely to his credit, John Bolton has developed since then as an artist. However, the area he has chosen to take his art into centres around photo manipulation. Unfortunately for my eyes it turns out that I’m a bit picky, and I only like John Bolton’s art when he is actually, you know, drawing, which he isn’t here. He’s doing something with photographs which regular readers (hi, mom!) will recall I welcome like warts on my nethers. Even so, I am usually magnanimous enough to at least suggest the slightest possibility that that might be a matter of taste. Not here though; this is patently poor no matter what your preference. For a start the whole thing looks so blurry I had to keep looking away to focus on other things in the room to reassure me that cataracts weren’t kicking in at a rate of knots. Then there’s the fact that someone has clearly set the resolution wrong on some of the pages, so you’re just left looking at it and wondering how many eyes this passed in front of, and how so many eyes could not care. A lot (all?) of the images are collaged together but sometimes you can clearly see the edges where the elements haven’t quite fitted together, and again those eyes, those uncaring eyes are brought to mind. There are some richly fruity images there for Bolton to play with (the women hung out like fish) but it’s all muffled and lacking in impact. THE GREEN WOMAN is just not a good reflection of John Bolton’s talent, because as sloppy as this stuff looks he’s a far from untalented artist. It’s a real shame because we’ve all had bad days at the office but few of us have those bad days printed up and bound for posterity. Mind you I don’t charge anyone money to look at my bad days at the office, either.
Even were it not ramshackle stuff (and, boy, is it ramshackle stuff) Bolton comes a cropper for me in his choice of model for Fee, our unhinged protagonist. See, he’s based every appearance of Fee here on the popular thespian Peter Capaldi. I mean, sure, Peter Capaldi gives good gurn so he’s a deft choice in that respect; you’re not ever in much doubt about Fee’s emotions at any given point. When the book was originally released (reminder: in 2010, in hardback) Capaldi was a recognised face in the UK thanks (largely but not solely) to his splenetic portrayal of the sweary king of spin Malcolm Tucker in THE THICK OF IT (a political satire which now appears quaintly understated thanks to the idiocies of reality). So I’m guessing America was probably largely still oblivious to his spittle flecked charms when the book premiered, but in 2016 with Capaldi playing the 197th Doctor in DOCTOR WHO pretty much any reader is all but guaranteed to be thrown out of the book every time he appears, which is often. (And FYI: he’s playing “The Doctor” not “Doctor Who”; woe fucking betide anyone who makes that error anywhere near some winner who has tied their sense of self-worth to a children’s TV show).
So often does Capaldi’s emotionally contorted face glare out at you from these pages that THE GREEN WOMAN should in all fairness appear on Peter Capaldi’s Wikipedia page, somewhere between IN THE LOOP and BISTRO. It won’t do though, because it’s not like he owns his own face is it? (This is fine by me as I currently use Capaldi’s sinewy visage on dating websites to lure young women into extra marital filth because I have no respect for my partner, but that’s okay it’s the 21st Century. It sure seemed like a good idea, but every time I try to explain away the fact that I don’t look like Peter Capaldi by saying I’m still currently playing Doctor Who but a different incarnation, they start shouting about how it’s “The Doctor! Not Doctor Fucking Who! What’s wrong with you! I don’t mind being lured into creepy sexual nastiness but what kind of pervert and general failure as a human being doesn’t know that! IT’S THE DOCTOR! You massive nonce!” And then they storm out like I’ve seen ladies in movies do, and I end the evening tearfully wanking into a hanky. Then the head waiter asks me to leave.) Seriously, it’s a total immersion destroyer turning the page and seeing Peter Capaldi fiercely scrunching his face up like a sock ready for the laundry again. I keep expecting him to ask someone if they’d like a jelly baby. (I know that was Tom Baker; I am fucking with you. It won’t be the last time.)
THE GREEN WOMAN is at once overstuffed and undercooked, and everyone involved has done better work elsewhere. Better to seek that out instead, say I, because this was AWFUL!
NEXT TIME: Uh, (SPOILER!) - COMICS!!!