Plenty of comics fuel left in my reviewing tank, gang. It was a big week.
Warren Ellis' Crécy: Oh, it’s a new Apparat book. I suspect most of you recall Ellis’ and Avatar’s 2004 effort at simulating the offerings of a comics industry that developed along different lines than the present. Basically, it meant Ellis playing with a group of different long-lived genres for a while. This new book is a self-contained thing of 48 pages, b&w at $6.99. I believe that will be the official Apparat format now.
So what type of comic is this? Educational! Yep, it’s the sort of comic where a character addresses the reader directly, walking them through a specific historical period or event, happily pointing out bits of trivia, and occasionally interacting with real historical personages. Helpful maps are included. The narrating character here is a cocksure, foul-mouthed trooper marching for England toward the famed 1346 Battle of Crécy, in which English longbows decimated both French noblemen and chivalry in war. Our friend both reports and editorializes, fully aware of his 21st century audience; he explains tactics and weaponry, reveals class distinctions, pauses in the middle of gory mayhem to define battlefield terms, and sometimes even expresses the concern of the soldier over combat (oddly, since he knows how it ends).
Ellis often employs flights of explanation in his comics, so he’s quite comfortable crafting a fast-moving lecture, one that expectedly basks in the nastier aspects of its topic, yet deftly characterizes the merciless battle and its terroristic surroundings as an assertion of humanity from people considered by their enemies to be not so much barbarians as beasts of the field, even as those people don’t spread much charity around between themselves. Raulo Caceres provides lushly rendered (if cluttered) visuals that serve to ground the narration in period accoutrement. A pretty GOOD exercise.
Speak of the Devil #1 (of 6): This new Dark Horse release from Gilbert Hernandez surprised me, in that I had absolutely no idea it was coming out (or even existed) until I saw it on Diamond’s list for this week. My surprise doubled when I discovered that it’s part of Hernandez’s plan to ‘adapt’ to comics several of the unsavory movies Love and Rockets character Fritz has acted in; apparently, this effort will now span multiple publishers and formats, since Fantagraphics will soon be releasing another of the series, Chance in Hell, as a graphic novel, and I’d sort of associated the project with that publisher. And that format, actually, given Hernandez’s recent expressions of weariness toward serialization. The title page is dated “2006-7,” so perhaps it’s already done.
The plot is sex thriller cheese deluxe, with a spunky teenage gymnast taking to the streets at night in a wide-eyed devil mask to peep in on the private affairs of the neighborhood. This includes the sweaty trysts of her father and stepmom, the latter of which rather likes being watched. Meanwhile, a tired-eyed boy philosophizes in a cemetery about dark secrets. And there’s a beatnik.
That’s about it for the first issue, although the relative lightness of content doesn’t suggest a larger work mechanically broken into pieces; Hernandez is a nearly unparalleled comics storyteller, and there’s tangible ebb and flow to the work that suggests a keen mind tuned to pamphlets. The real trick is that Hernandez is deliberately employing a spread-out ‘cinematic’ comics idiom for a half-jokey work that would probably benefit from having all of its grotty power on display for immediate consumption. Like, with Chance in Hell, from the looks of it. EH for now, but I expect better as it collects itself.