Two things that have nothing to do with one another!

What could they be? Find out under the jump!

CHARLES BURNS X ED OUT GN: Well, there's an apostrophe or two in that title, but Diamond's database doesn't play well with those (not that I bought it from Diamond, but there you are)

Charles Burns is, I think, one of our best working cartoonists -- his line is as distinct as it is accomplished, and he knows how to weave suspense and tension in really amazing way. There's nothing else that FEELS like a Charles Burns comic, in a way that exceedingly few of his contemporaries are able to achieve. Disturbing, off-kilter, askew -- and I find that tremendously appealing.

I think that his previous major work, BLACK HOLE, was one of the seminal works of the late 20th century, and much of its strength came from the mining of teenage angst and alienation where I imagine that much of the vibe of that work would translate even if you were culturally distinct from the late 20c North American setting.

This new work tries, I think, to be more "international" in tone -- the Tintin homages couldn't be more clearer, and about a third of the work takes place in an unsettling alien (?) landscape that makes me think of Tunisia or something (or, at least, my perception of Tunisia filtered through Western movies, which I bet is NOTHING like the real Tunisia!). But either way, Burns remains a master of tone, and reading his comics always makes me feel like an unseen spider is scuttling up and down my spine.

If you like Burns' previous work, you'll love this, I have no doubt -- I certainly did. Which is why it bugs me that I have to pan this based on price and format.

The first problem is that this isn't a complete story -- there's a clear "to be continued" at the end of the book, and who knows exactly where or how it is going to continue? There's no volume number on the book anywhere, and I can't find anything on the web (including the B&T website, which has books as much as six months before they'll appear in stores) to indicate that there IS going to be more. Even Pantheon's solicitation copy doesn't give a lot of insight:

"From the creator of Black Hole, the first volume of an epic masterpiece of graphic fiction in brilliant color! Doug is having a strange night. A weird buzzing noise on the other side of the wall has woken him up, and there, across the room, next to a huge hole torn out of the bricks, sits his beloved cat, Inky, who died years ago. What's going on? Drawing inspiration from such diverse influences as Hergé and William Burroughs, Charles Burns has given us a dazzling spectral fever-dream - and a comic-book masterpiece."

Heh, they used "masterpiece" twice!

But this makes it mostly sound like the work is self-contained, and it most assuredly is not. And that makes it an extremely frustrating work. I quite imagine that it will continue/complete at some point somewhere, but for someone picking this up "cold", it isn't anything like a satisfying read thanks to that "to be continued" there.

There's another problem, too: it is 52 pages (albeit in oversized and in color) for twenty bucks. I know the creative costs are the largest expense in creating a new work (which is why Pantheon has mostly published comics work that's been serialized elsewhere, I would imagine), but, ugh, nearly 39 cents a page for something that is a work-in-progress (and, more importantly: not self-contained within itself, or even "self contained"...) seems unforgivably expensive.

Don't get me wrong: I loved what I read, I love his line and his tone and the pervasive sense of...oddness that permeates every page, but this is pretty close to double (or maybe more) of what this should really cost, especially for only a fragment of a story. When this comes out in a cheaper and complete SC format, I'll be all over this, but this format and this pricing means that even I aren't going to buy it for my personal bookshelf -- and I pay wholesale!

For craft it's an easy VERY GOOD; for pricing and format, it is pretty AWFUL.

(First week sales have been fairly solid -- actually even a bit better than I initially expected, but I expect a certain amount of "Buyer's Remorse" happening this week)


SUPERIOR #1 (of 6): Mark Millar is one weird cat. He wrote a long run of some of the best Superman stories I've ever read in "Superman Adventures" (wouldn't it be nice if there was a full-sized trade of those out there? Just sayin', DC), where he's shown he can write "all ages" with the best of them, and he's also written some of the filthiest comics of all time (a decade or so later, his "Authority" arc with Quitely still kind of creeps me out... and that was, or so I understand it, extremely toned down from the original intention)

So that makes SUPERIOR even that more jarring to me -- here's a story that would have been an excellent all-ages superhero thing (it even has wish-granting space monkeys!), but the impact and the potential audience is entirely gutted by the rampant and wholly uneeded cursing.

I have no real problem with profanity, in its place -- KICK ASS becomes all the more amusing from the over-the-top swearing from its pubescent cast for instance, but the subject matter (and the specific cast) of SUPERIOR doesn't seem to lend itself to the potty mouthing here. I could give you ONE, right there at the last beat, there's an "Oh SHIT!" moment, sure, but the rest of it seems so completely unnecessary and out of tone from the rest of the comic, I really wonder what the fuck he's thinking?

As I have to say to my newly seven-year old son, Ben, a lot these days, "swearing isn't really big nor clever, little man" (he's reached that wonderful age where the ABSOLUTE height of wit is "ballsack" and "dingleberry" and stuff like that)

What's funny about Ben (if you'll permit me to digress) is despite that he's slightly puritanical when cursing appears in something. We've just finished the final Harry Potter book last night, and while I self edited a few times, when the text really supports it (I try hard to "stay in character", as it were, when I read to him), I'll let a "Hell" slip through (instead of "heck, y'know). "Did they REALLY say the "H" word, Daddy?"

Heh, and last night there's the final battle in Hogwarts, and Molly Weasley screams at Belatrix Lestrange, "STAY AWAY FROM MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!", and I rendered it as "B-word", and Ben insisted I stop reading right there: "They said 'B-Word'?" "Well, no, son, not exactly" "Let me see the book!" and he wouldn't let me go on until he took the copy from my hand to see "bitch" spelled out (well, he knows how to SPELL it, already), and we had to delay the final battle to have a 10 minute conversation about the acceptability and context of using a word like that, where I think I left him pretty confused, actually, if I'm being honest.

As long as I'm digressing here, let's go with one longer one: I like reading multi-book series with Ben. Like a whole lot. One of my favorite things to do in the whole wide world. We started with the Lemony Snicket "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books when I had a wild hair as he's-an-older-four-year-old, and we've ventured into Oz [staggeringly archaic in a few of those books; and I totally lost the thread in the one where the Wizard returns to Oz. BOTH of us got completely bored about halfway through that one], and now Harry Potter. We're going to take a break from multi-book series for the next week or two -- I'm going to start "Harriet the Spy" tomorrow night, which I recall from my own childhood as being pretty awesome -- and I might descend into Narnia after that, but I'm not so sure that those have the "acting and readability" I'm looking for. (for example: "The Hobbit"? Completely unreadable outloud -- not enough dialogue driving the narrative, we never even got to a second night of reading it -- which kind of surprised me)

So: anyone have any recommendations for multi-book YA or younger series that has a gripping story, and out-loud-readability and -acting opportunities for us to dive into? Ben likes stuff that's scary, for sure [he does a better and creepier "Voldemort voice" than I do!], and he's totally not into like kissing and stuff (making Harry Potter v6 a hard read for us), and I want something that uses good (and smart!) vocabulary, and trips off the tongue when you read it. You can say what you want about Potter, but JK Rowling writes good reading-out-loud prose.

(I just wish Ron and Hermione had had really ANYthing to do in the last half of the last book, whatsoever)

Anyway, digression done: I liked SUPERIOR pretty well, but I think the blue language cut off 3/4 of the audience that would really REALLY like it, while being too simplistic and silly for the cats who like KICK-ASS and NEMESIS. I'll give it an OKAY, but I would have happily given it a GOOD or better with a little more self-editing on the swearing front. I don't think it needed the @#$% school or the Milestone-Squiggle either; the swearing was just entirely out of place for this reader, in this story.

As always: What did YOU think?