“****ing WHITE People, Know'm Sayin'?” COMICS! Sometimes People Are...Complicated!

That surly rogue Howard Victor Chaykin had a new comic out, so I took a look. Buckle up, Sunshine...  photo DSoHboomB_zpsidiy88g7.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov

Anyway, this…

THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA© #1 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Coloured by  Jesus Arbutov Cover Colourist Wil Quintana With thanks to Ramon Torres and Calvin Nye A tip of the Chaykin chapeau to Sabrina Pandora Image Comics, £2.49 (digital), (2017) © HOWARD CHAYKIN INC

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1. An Actual Honest To Gosh Synopsis To Start Us Off, Like I hear The  Professionals Do…

THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA (TDSoH) is the latest paper swagger from cerebral beefcake, Howard Victor Chaykin (Tony Curtis), and his unruly crew, Ken “The Bruise” Bruzenak (Russ Tamblyn) and Jesus “No Relation” Arbutov (Channing Tatum). It’s set in a kind of alternate reality that doesn’t seem altogether all that more awful than, uh, actual reality; it’s just slightly more awful in different ways. A Presidential coup has been averted but America is getting low on Presidents, and paranoia is the new normal as the skies are spattered with drones and besmirched with the babble of conspiratorial chat rooms. Besmirched visually, because interestingly this latter internet chatter is given concrete form by “King” Ken Bruzenak, giving the pages a chaotic ugliness I’d guess is entirely intentional. It’s an ugly world under Arbutov’s crisp kitchen-catalogue sheen. Basically The War on Terror isn’t going well in this one, particularly for CIA spook-meister Frank Villa whose career just turned to wet shit and in order to save his rep and the world itself he’s going to need the help of polite society’s worst nightmares.

 photo DSoHCrowdB_zpslcsqzri6.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov


2. The Bad Ham Sandwich of History Always Repeats Itself

Judging by this first issue it looks like Howard Victor Chaykin is tweaking his 2004 CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN series for the 2010s. That is, a ragbag of ragamuffins are introduced and clearly set up to combat the instigators of a terrorist attack on American soil. Close reading Chaykinmaniacs will note the recurrence of the terror-attack-on-American-soil motif from both CHALLENGERS and CITY OF TOMORROW (2005), even closer reading Chaykinmaniacs will smugly recall this goes back through BLACKHAWK: BLOOD AND IRON (1988) and, yea, even unto AMERICAN FLAGG!(1983). That’s because, unlike 99.9% of North American Comic Creators Howard Victor Chaykin didn’t just start thinking about terrorism post 11th September 2001. And that’s because Howard Victor Chaykin knows that there are fundamental forces which move through history, thanks to the delightful intransigence of human nature.

Alas, terrorism itself is far more persistent than it is modern, staining history’s robes from the 1st Century AD  Sicarii Zealots’ opposition to the Roman occupation of Judea, to, well, that Islamophobe in a van just the other day in dear old London town. (Yes, it’s still terrorism if the perpetrator is a white dude.) That’s two thousand and seventeen magical years of terrorism, not that anybody’s counting. There are other tangy chunks of familiarity in Howard Victor Chaykin’s latest jam, such as the fractious domestic doonybrook (see also MARKED MAN (2012)), because although somewhere in-between 1590 and 1597 William Shakespeare wrote that “the course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), it was true before that and it’s still true today. Chuck in kids, as Chaykin does, and make the bloke a philandering schmuck and it’s truer than ever. Truth persists after all. But so do shitty interpersonal relationships and terrorism. But there are other forces equally tenacious.

 photo DSoHstreetB_zpsfb40tniv.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov


3. Exit Hubris, Pursued by Nemesis

“Theresa May is more popular with voters than any leader since the late 1970s, a new poll shows…” The Daily Telegraph, 26 April 2017.


What with a clutch of terrorist attacks, a general election, the resulting hung parliament, the possibility of the Tories propping themselves up with a party that doesn’t believe in either dinosaurs or homosexuals, a horrific fire so horrific it resists acceptance and sundry other whatnots and wellnows, the world of comics has been far from my senescent mind. Seriously, with all the real world upheaval I can’t even pretend to care about Nick Spencer’s Captain America comics, Marvel’s shrinking share of the market, or even DC’s latest attempt to use some dust they found trapped in an Alan Moore script to wrap Geoff Johns’ latest bovine Event comic maunderings around. As to that last, it seems that there is just too much honour and decency in comics (sarcasm), so DC have had to outsource the latest corporate fracking of Watchmen to some ex-CIA dude. Hey, I’m not saying the CIA are hazy on morals, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they thought ethics is a county in England immediately north-east of London.

All of which is a typically round the houses way of saying that like DC’s latest wunderkind homunculus TDSoH’s main protagonist, Frank Villa, is CIA, although Villa’s still employed by The Agency and currently riding a crack-head high on results and reputation. Nope, old Villa won’t have to write comics about Batman finding buttons (UK: badges) in his Batcave anytime soon.  Crucially Villa also displays all the humility of a Marvel editor on Twitter. Pride goeth before a fall, as my old Mum used to say (she had a lisp). But it’s a pattern even older than my old Mum (bless ‘er oxen heart). Aye, truth be told  thousands of years before Geoff Johns bought his first baseball cap the ancient  Greeks noted that Hubris (the god of arrogance) was oft followed by Nemesis (the goddess of fate and revenge).

 photo DSoHwolfB_zps0mdboqe3.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov

But since Howard Victor Chaykin isn’t Greek lets stick to the Hebrews, who stuck it in a book for posterity: Proverbs 16:18 to be precise in a little tome called The Bible. Said spiritual foundation would of course be familiar to our Prime Minister, Theresa May, who is keen to remind everyone at every opportunity that she is a vicar’s daughter; as though this were the 1930’s and somehow that accident of birth meant anything at all with regard to morals or the lack thereof. For as Saint Francis of Assisi (and indeed Otis Redding in 'Hard To Handle'), would have it, “actions speak louder than words”, and her actions contain as much Christian charity as Turkish Delight contains vitamins. In essence, my mum was a Nursing Auxiliary but I think there’d be some raised eyebrows if I started bed bathing strangers. Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with anything, I’m just sick of Theresa May. In a minute I’ll go on about her again, but it will actually be relevant. Which will make a nice change for us all.

So, yeah, what I’m getting at is the pursuit of Hubris by Nemesis is not some cobwebby redundancy to be disdained in this age of wifi, streaming content and fidget spinners. It was true back when men wore togas and were lot looser about where folks’ gristly bits went, and it’s no less true now. What’s that? “Can you give me an example, John? Perhaps involving Theresa May?” I’m glad you asked, imaginary reader! Flex your brain and imagine being so secure of your political position that you called a General Election three years early with the stated intention of gaining a massive majority and driving the opposition back into the sea for a generation or more. (That’s Hubris.) Now, keep that brain flexing and imagine if the election results came back and you not only had lost any previous advantage you had, but were now dependent on alliances with other parties in order to have a functional government, and even better, the opposition you sought to scour from the face of the earth had risen up and pushed back hard, in the process rediscovering its fire and grit. (All that bit would be Nemesis.) There’s a lot of it about, basically, and there’s been a lot of it about for a long, long time; so it’s exceedingly apt that Chaykin chooses this as his starting point. Hubris is all over the pages featuring Frank Villa, but on the last page, in the very last panel, Nemesis roars.

 photo DSoHsniperB_zpswkq6afng.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov

4. All The Action Is Always At The Shit End of The Stick

“The scum of the earth... but what fine soldiers we have made them.” The Duke of Wellington on the British soldier.


Knowing he’ll set Nemesis loose at the close of the issue Chaykin fills the preceding pages with introductions for his motley cast of embryonic leads. He makes some, er, interesting choices here; choices so extreme in their awfulness I suspect some dark joke is being played. I think part of the set up for that joke is recognition of who exactly ends up being the boots on the ground when a geopolitical fart unfortunately follows through. Because, c’mon, it is always, always, down to the ordinary Joes and Josephines to come to the rescue.  Christ, these days even the spooks themselves don’t even have to get their hands wet; they sip their root beer in a shed a thousand miles from the zone, drawling instructions to some Iowa farmboy weighed down with a cam set into his breastplate, like it’s Call of Duty 15: It’s Not My Balls On The Wire. Yeah, should things turn to shit in a hot second it won’t be the sugar rushed Yalie whose mum gets folded flag and  a telegram. And all for the benefit of the Status Quo (not the Dad-Rock band) and those who benefit most from the Status Quo (still not the Dad-Rock band); all of whom it would be pushing things to say gave even the slightest wisp of a shit for the human lives spent keeping them fat and happy.

More realistically, and more pertinently to us all on a day to day basis, take the low regard with which Emergency service workers are held by the political class. Their disdain for these mere cogs is clearer than a Cornwall summer dawn. Over here the emergency services have  suffered more cuts than a sadist’s Sunday roast under the last 7 years of Tory austerity. But when the bombs go off, when the knives come out, when the cars slam into crowds and when the buildings burn, who is there saving lives, containing chaos, stacking the dead and stockpiling nightmare scenes for the rest of their nights? It’s not the politicians. It’s the mortgage slaves and the supermarket shoppers; the people who always have to do more with less. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. It’s not the people who start the shit who finish it, it’s the people who get stuck in the shit. In a bleaker than bleak gag Howard Victor Chaykin overeggs this propensity  to the extent that his whole sick crew are plucked from the ranks of the razor taloned boogeymen under the bed of western civilisation: the real bottom rungers. These being Henry John Noone, a black racist fresh off a shooting spree; Paul Evan Berg, a confidence trickster with a yen for mass murder; John Cesare Nacamulli, a serial killing shithead; and Christopher Michael Silver, a chick with a dick kicking violently against the pricks.  And Howard Victor Chaykin, a comic book prince, sets these utter sweethearts the task of saving the world. Or he will do, next issue. Unless his pacing is totally fucked.

 photo DSoHdroneB_zpsak4gcd42.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov


5. Offence Is In The Eye of The Beholder

Even in my privileged cis cocoon of blithe obliviousness I heard some people were offended by this comic, now I’m no fan of Arbutov’s colouring myself but really, people, chill! Ah, a little cornball humour there. The thing is if people were offended then people were offended, I’m not about to argue against that. But if Comics as a whole is to be offended it’s probably best to nail down the nature of the offence. In the pages of DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA is Howard Victor Chaykin transphobic, homophobic or (God forbid) neither? After all, the point of contention appears to be the portrayal of the character Christopher Michael Silver, and the book’s not entirely crystal on Silver's status. As I understand it a “chick with a dick” can be either a passive male homosexual or transvestite, or a trans woman (i.e. male to female) with male genitalia. Silver's one of them. Unfortunatley Silver is also beaten savagely while turning a trick and kills in self-defence. This, it has been argued, is a less than wholesome representation of an already besieged section of society. Well, yeah, it is. And?

Look, Chaykin has long been active in at least promoting the existence of the, uh, sexually lavish. I don’t know how many Trial By Internet points that’s worth, but it must have some traction. But just because he has a preoccupation with this aspect of human diversity I don’t think an automatic blanket condemnation is due. That would be as moronic as pointing out there’s a lot of rape in Alan Moore’s work and thinking that you had thus proved Alan Moore himself is a bit rapey. You’ve got to take it on a case by case basis. If the approach is consistently derogatory or repellent then, fine, fuck off, Sunshine; but if it isn’t… And just in case you think I am contorting myself unnecessarily to support an inherent bias, you’ll be pleased to note that, on a case by case basis the results are not entirely wonderful.

 photo DSoHvictimsB_zpsan653xfx.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov


6. An Incomplete Look At The Many Chicks With Dicks of Howard Victor Chaykin

In AMERICAN FLAGG! comedy occurs when Reuben kicks a chick and his foot finds a dick. Comic relief is one of the earliest stages of societal acceptance when it comes to types considered outside the norm (see all the homosexuals in the sit-coms of the homophobic ‘70s), so…not great, but okay. Ah, but there’s also a whole plot in FLAGG! revolving around a kind of transvestite twist on Vertigo, which is pointedly humane in its portrayal of the (then) improper. Big points go in the pot for that one.  The camp comedy stylings continue with a urinal encounter between the plucky fireplug Maxim and a hefty transvestite in POWER AND GLORY (1994). Significantly Chaykin’s bold as brass about it all, and the real punchline arrives with the superhero’s full pelt flight from the glam man, powered not by the atom or nanotech, but by his super-homophobia. So, still in the realms of humour, but since the brunt of it falls fully on the homophobe, some strong points awarded there. Unfortunately, in PULP FANTASTIC (2000) Chaykin’s portrayal of the sexually versatile reaches a sour nadir, so we’ll just say that the series itself has a thoroughly distempered air that does none of the contents any favours. Oof, some genuine demerits there. It’s okay though, because the spectacularly unpleasant BLACK KISS/BLACK KISS 2 is Chaykin’s ace in the hole. BLACK KISS (1988) prominently features a chick with a dick and while this prominence is slightly undermined by the fact s/he is used as none too flattering metaphor, by BLACK KISS 2 (2012) Chaykin, in a quite phenomenal feat of artistic sleight of hand, delivers a romantic horror comedy in which the demonic chick with a dick finds true love and peace (of a kind) with Chaykin’s doppelgänger, Cass Pollack. There are probably some I missed but I think that gives the gist.

 photo DSoHmurderB_zps5el7dea3.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov

Pillory Chaykin if you wish, it’s your dime and I’m sure he couldn’t give less of a shit; but I can’t think of another white male whose work extends to chicks with dicks the ultimate compliment of treating them just like everyone else. No, I don’t know why I  am even bothering; it’s not going to change your mind. Howard Victor Chaykin’s a transphobe, a homophobe a Francophobe and a chifforobe. Think what you like. Sure, The Anti-Chaykin Grant Morrison had a  chick with a dick in the waywardly great THE INVISIBLES, but s/he was an avatar of bullshit magicky wagicky woo-wooooooh! Maybe that’s better, more helpful to the cause, but I don’t think so. In his grumpy back matter Chaykin chunters on about identity politics, and I think this point gets lost in his anger at Trump winning the election. (There are many reasons Trump won, but mostly it’s because The Democrats didn’t campaign on policies, and seemed to believe they should win just because Trump is a dick. SPOILER!) Because I think his point is...that you shouldn’t define people by their labels, but instead by their behaviour. Define them by who they are, not what they are. There are white shitheads and there are black shitheads; there are hetero shitheads and there are queer shitheads; there are cis shitheads and there are chicks with dicks shitheads. Real equality is not achieved by singling a group out, but by treating that group as individuals, and treating all individuals equally. So, to take an example from TDSoH, it might rankle that Chaykin’s black character, Noone, is a racist murderer, but it’s not his skin that defines him, it’s his racism.

I was a bit naughty there. I overplayed how equally Howard Victor Chaykin treats, Silver. Mostly because the Witchfinder Internet also ignored this (how odd!). Howard Victor Chaykin does in fact apportion a greater measure of narrative sympathy to Silver than any of the other misfits. Significantly the only one of the characters whose situation is adulterated by backstory is the trans/queer character. It’s fairly clear from the punchy and unself-pitying internal monologue that the situation in which Silver finds him/herself is down to society’s failure to adapt or include. So, yes, there is transphobia and homophobia on the pages of TDSoH, but it belongs to the characters not to the author of those characters. The only two protagonists who don’t come across as monsters are Villa and Silver. Hey you know, this could turn out to be a love story after all. Let the chick with a dick get the guy. It’s 2017 after all, so why the fuck not?

 photo DSoHBronxB_zpsyunhf5qn.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov


7. Poor Old Ken Bruzenak

The real loser after all that noise is Ken Bruzenak. I intended to spend the bulk of this thing digging into the colossal contribution of Ken Bruzenak to the look of TDSoH, but now I have neither time nor room. Also, he goes over it himself in the backmatter. That's right! The backmatter in TDSoH is actually of interest! Sure, there's Howard Victor Chaykin's provocative screed about the election and how it messed up his intentions for the series, which is nice. But, better yet, Ken Bruzenak takes us through the creation of one single panel, from a black and white bitmap devoid of letters to the lushly layered final product. In the process he cements his right to be considered as much the artist as the colourist, Jesus Arbutov or the penciller, Howard Victor Chaykin. He puts a ridiculous amount of work into every panel and I'd like to single out his contribution for applause and pony rides but I've run out of room. Maybe next time, Ken Bruzenak. Because there will be a next time since THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA was VERY GOOD!

 photo DSoHpainB_zpsiii06fcc.jpg THE DIVIDED STATES OF HYSTERIA by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Arbutov


NEXT TIME: Hopefully something a bit sooner, lighter and altogether shorter than this, and involving the plural of comic, which is – COMICS!!!

“F*** you, Tarzan.” COMICS! Sometimes ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore!

In which I aimlessly amble around Howard Victor Chaykin’s recent series ‘Midnight of the Soul’ and see what strikes my fancy. No, really, even more than usual, I just sort of prattle on rather aimlessly and hope some kind of coherent point emerges. It probably won’t, but as I haven’t written it yet we’ll have to find out together. Take my hand, fellow stranger in paradise! Take my hand...  photo MotStabuB_zpsngnrr5c3.jpg MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL by Chaykin, Arbutov and Bruzenak Anyway, this...

MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1-5 Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Jesus Aburtov Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Image Comics, $3.50 each (2016)

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On one level ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is exactly the kind of comic everyone thinks Howard Victor Chaykin makes, but on another level it isn’t, and the abrasion between what you expect to read and what you actually read creates some smart sparks. I think. The success of Chaykin’s smuggling run in 'Midnight of the Soul' is aided no end by the fact he draws it and so, inevitably, it looks just like a Howard Victor Chaykin comic. This is the bit that misleads because the surface is flawlessly “Chaykin”. Obviously. What did you want, Dave McKean? The guy’s in his sixties, he’s not likely to be suddenly incorporating mixed media and sculpture into his work. Not when “Diagnosis: Murder” is on and there’s kosher Franks in the pan! Thus, the art is as Late Chaykin as Late Chaykin gets. And, yes, it breaks my heart too, but it is getting late in the Seasons of The Chaykin. But dry your eyes, o feral child, because he’s still with us, and he’s still delivering his pugnaciously suave art. Sure, some eyes will still be perturbed by the clip art that doesn’t quite gel and flinch at the odd lapse in positioning. I’m a Chaykin maniac but I’m not blind to his transgressions; there’s one panel of Patricia in a doorway that doesn’t work – at all, and he’s stuck himself with a motorbike image that doesn’t always suit the angle of his composition, and that precise image of a woman was in Satellite Sam, and that cop’s all out of whack with that barrier and, and, and, you know, we could carp all day, but what matters is that for the most part, most of it works. As your eye sweeps over it, as you read it, it works. If you sit and look at each panel, eh, not so much. But who’d do that? Whaddya think comics are? Art? Comics are for reading first and looking at second. 'Midnight of the Soul' is a VERY GOOD! read.

 photo MotSsailorB_zpszow0ttqs.jpg MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL by Chaykin, Arbutov and Bruzenak

The occasional glaring visual infelicity aside, Chaykin definitely gets in a major artistic victory by resurrecting a sense of of New York as 'twas. While Arbutov’s colours remain a little too garishly lacquer-ish for my sedate tastes, they contribute enormously to this effect as well. The interiors of the dance halls and gin-joints are particularly noteworthy and Arbutov lays down some seriously hot pinks and cool greens. So, y’know, yay. The ‘50s being the Golden Age of The Billboard, omitting to mention the phantasmagoria of styles and fonts Bruzenak scatters as gloriously and as evocatively as the notes Gershwin throws over the opening of ‘Manhattan’(1979) would be a serious dereliction of duty. Bruzenak also subtly colour codes his speech bubbles so you know who is speaking even when they are “offscreen”. The big thing about Big Ken Bruzenak is that he never stands still (artistically, that is), and his stylistic evolution continues here with a pretty darn exciting and innovative mock 3-D lettering effect, used sparingly and effectively. Conjuring a particular time and  a particular place from the past into the present via paper and ink is a very Chaykin preoccupation. The man’s rightly proud that locations in the original ‘Black Kiss’ are so redolent of ‘80s Los Angeles that readers’ noses start convulsing for coke in sympathy. In ‘Midnight of The Soul’ Chaykin (and Arbutov and Bruzenak) work a similar feat for ‘50s New York, though here it’s your stomach that rumbles for coffee and a doughnut, rather than your nose for Class ‘A’s.

 photo MotSHornB_zpstexcff1j.jpg MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL by Chaykin, Arbutov and Bruzenak

Not that the New York of ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is drug free. Au contraire, mon frère! On past evidence Chaykin’s not one of those selective amnesiacs who thinks the past was a magical Eden, to which the present is a disgraceful relative. If anything he’s prone to wallowing in the seamier side of things, and we’re not just talking about stockings there. And so it goes that Joel Breakstone’s search for his errant wife brings him up against a rash of rascals, a pair of gun slinging gunsels (in the correct sense of "catamites"), a saucy whip-smart dancer, a corrupt cop, and a boss man with a ginger flattop. This is after all, the ‘Midnight of The Soul’, so a certain sense of threat and moral conflict come with the territory. I mean, I could be wrong, but I believe the title alludes to ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ (AKA ‘Noche obscura del alma’). That’s not because I am an expert on the poetry of St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), but because ‘Midnight of the Soul’ has a familiar structure, one which accords with the ‘time of testing’ the poem assures us we must all go through before reaching a state of Grace. Something to look forward to there, kids. That’s some high falutin’ stuff, poncho! Don’t worry, it just means ‘Midnight of the Soul’ is a lot like, oh, ‘After Hours’ (1985). Basically in these things you get some dude (or maybe a lady these days) out of his depth flailing about a thoroughly threatening city, encountering threats embodying his inner failings, while his intended goal remains persistently out of reach until his ordeal has suitably shriven him for the final confrontation. After which he’s a lot more at peace than he was when he started. And so it is for our slightly schmucky and typically Chaykin-esque looking lead, Joel Breakstone.

 photo MotSRedB_zpsbeyr6ifw.jpg MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL by Chaykin, Arbutov and Bruzenak

Joel’s a failed writer but a successful drunk who slouches despondently in the garage of a house he sold to his Brother-in-Law to clear debts accrued, pecking out unwanted alt-History tales of a World where Germany won WW2. If Joel punched himself every time he ate a bagel he couldn't be more obviously a self-hating Jew. He doesn’t hate himself because he's a Jew though, he hates himself for some unpleasantness which occurred during the liberation of a Concentration Camp in WW2. Something, as Joseph Heller famously had it, happened. Coming to terms with that memory is Joel's key to Grace, but to do it he'll have to navigate his 'Midnight of the Soul'. Meanwhile, just to underline his emasculation, his wife is out bringing home the bread working as a night-court stenographer. Except she isn't, as Joel finds out while pathetically creeping the house for booze. Turns out she's turning tricks. The lit match of his self-righteous indignation plops straight into the accumulated reservoir of self-hatred, and the resulting explosion of dumb machismo is sufficient to propel the cuckolded schmuck out into the city in search of vengeance. New York, however, has other ideas. 'Midnight of the Soul' is a picaresque adventure comic in which a man finds out a lot of the things he thought he knew about himself aren't true, and that the truth might hurt but not as much as living a lie does. Also: violence, jazz, profanity, blow jobs, snappy patter, racism, jokes and a man dressed as a baby in an Irish bar. 'Midnight of the Soul' has something for everyone! Except humourless drips.

 photo MotSBlamB_zps7jnc9rwm.jpg MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL by Chaykin, Arbutov and Bruzenak

Joel's a luckless boob for the most part, but he is ultimately lucky because he gets to inhabit one of Chaykin's more vital narratives. From the first loaded word (“Parallels”) there’s a sense of Howard Victor Chaykin pushing through the pages of the narrative at the reader. The explicit fictional narrative of the book seems shaken every now and then by subsurface ructions, barely repelled authorial outbursts, which threaten to make it lose its footing.  Which it never quite does, but it comes close. There’s a lack of commitment to the pulp fiction on show, as though Howard Victor Chaykin is intermittently is gripped by the urge to be doing something else. And I think he probably is. In a sense 'Midnight of the Soul' works as a big kiss-off to a bunch of tropes you suspect Chaykin feels he’s outgrown. Joel enters a midnight world of Chaykin standards, but always at an odd angle, always a few beats behind thee action, always playing catch-up, as though trying to find his way into the story proper. A story which seems to be occurring in parallel(!) to his search. This story, the story Joel circles for the bulk of the book, is the “usual” Chaykin, the Chaykin we expect; all bad behaviour, colourful characters, sassy patter and blunt force violence. For much of the book Joel never quite connects with this pulp strand, instead he keeps bouncing off it into a more sedate but no less colourful screwball romantic comedy. Both strands hinge on a portrait of New York anchored by visual verisimilitude and the odd nod to reality (is that Joe Gould reciting 'The Face on The Bar-room Floor'? In #3?) but both run parallel(!) to each other; until the final pages, anyway. And it's on these final pages that Chaykin seemingly states his current genre preference. But is it “Goodbye” or just “Au Revoir” to the genre staples that made his name and brought him fame? Alas, despite what I tell ladies in bars, I don't know Howard Victor Chaykin personally, so we'll all just have to wait and see together...

NEXT TIME: Take a guess, punchy. That's right - COMICS!!!

“I Myself Played A Zobo Kazoo.” COMICS! Sometimes Comedy Lurks In The Unlikeliest of Places!

Yeah, uh,  sorry. Didn't mean to be gone quite so long. Got distracted by the real world. Big Mistake. What an awful place the real world is. Simply dreadful. So, yeah, not a good year thus far for any of us, huh? Hey, I know what we need, some sweet, sweet COMICS!!! (DISCLAIMER: Contains words of praise for Alan Moore.)  photo MotTOP_zps8wymixgp.png Midnight of the Soul by Chaykin, Arbutov & Bruzenak

Anyway, this... MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL #1 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Jesus Arbutov Lettered by Ken Bruzenak Image Comics, Inc., $3.50 (2016) Midnight of the Soul created by Howard Victor Chaykin

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So, yeah, at long damn last Howard Victor Chaykin's MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL strikes at your eyes like a comic book cobra! My son (“Gil”) wasn't even born when the coiner of the phrase “moral cripples” started talking this one up. You can't rush awesome though, so here we are. Fifteen hairline depleting years later, here we are. This time out Howard Victor Chaykin's dreamy doppelganger is one Joel Breakstone who as ever looks good, looks fine, maybe a little too good, a tad too fine for someone in Joel Breakstone's position. That being one of a man wallowing in a self medicated haze of booze following an as yet unrevealed incident while liberating the WW2 Death Camps.

We'll obviously be coming back to the Death Camps of WW2. Largely because Joel Breakstone keeps going back to the Death Camps of WW2. Because, as Joseph Heller might have it “something happened” in the Death Camps of WW2. Not just the stuff we all know went on in the Death Camps of WW2 but something particular to Joel Breakstone. Because Joel Breakstone helped liberate one and what occurred in The Death Camps of WW2 is the gift that keeps giving. But then don't judge the book too quickly, because there is such a thing as an unreliable narrator and a pretty good candidate for such a post would be a man whose spent five years coping with PTSD by self medicating himself with alcohol and refusing to leave his house. That's Joel Breakstone, not me. On the very first page turn Chaykin seamlessly entwines the past and the present via the images of chimneys and he keeps this high standard of storytelling up for the duration. He seems more than present, he seems engaged, and because Howard Victor Chaykin is engaged the words on the page matter and no word matters more than the first word here “Parallels.”

 photo MotS003B_zpsi7gbqzio.png Midnight of the Soul by Chaykin, Arbutov & Bruzenak

Art-wise it's looking good, it' s looking cleaner and smarter than a Howard Victor Chaykin joint has for a while. The big test of Chaykin art in 2016 is how is going with the cheeks'n'chins? I checked with my eyes and the cheeks and chins in MotS seem altogether more controlled than they have for awhile. Chaykin's reigning in his prognathous tendencies and no one is stylin' Jō Shishido cheeks,so that's good. His figure work's sweet, with a killer panel of Breakstone kicking his TV in. And that TV, like everything around it, seems period authentic so I guess he's as reliable as ever in that respect. There's still a little ghost-float where the images don't quite cohere ideally, but Jesus Arbutov's shadows attempt a corrective tethering. And Ken Bruzenak, lovely, lovely Ken Bruzenak continues his ridiculously innovative attempts to visually represent the purely audible; by now his constructions of visual onomatopoeia are as integral to the art as a whole as any pictures Chaykin lays down. It's a finely honed machine, is what I'm saying.

MIDNIGHT OF THE SOUL is as ridiculously virile, as cheekily provocative, as visually intelligent and as resolutely “Chaykin” as anyone could wish. VERY GOOD!

THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE SHADOW #3 Art by Dave Acosta Written by David Avallone Coloured by Omi Remalante Lettered by Taylor Esposito Cover by Francesco Francavilla Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99 (2016) The Twilight Zone created by Rod Serling The Shadow created by Walter B Gibson

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Here's a thing, my LCS just automatically sends me every comic about The Shadow. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but it is. Maybe they think I am so old I remember the pulps or something. Anyway, this isn't what I was expecting at all. I was hoping The Shadow would be maybe fixing Burgess Meredith's glasses, or leaning past William Shatner and firing his twin .45s through the plane window and blowing that thing to fuck and back, or maybe saving the world by saying, “For the Love of God, it's a cookbook, you blithering fools.” Nope, it's some kind of meta affair whereby Shads has entered The Twilight Zone and every issue he is plonked into some situation where The Shadow is a fictional construct (i.e. kind of our reality; last issue he was an Orson Welles doppler, this issue he's “Maxwell Grant”, and thus deucedely confused) and learns a lesson which brings him that bit closer back to the humanity he had been in the process of losing.

 photo TZSpicB_zpsycbpmhrg.jpg The Twilight Zone: The Shadow by Acosta, Avallone, Remalante & Esposito

It's a clever little set up and while David Avallone might have bitten off a little more than he can chew and the spindly art by Dave Acosta is more game than it is successful, it's neat enough stuff. The kind of thing Neil Gaiman makes such bloody heavy weather out of , but Avallone & Acosta keep it all light with just the right amount of humour and some inventive set pieces. What could be more Twilight Zone-y than The Shadow being attacked by giant typewriter keys spelling J-U-S-T-I-C-E? Not much, I trust you'll agree. GOOD! PROVIDENCE #9 Art by Jacen Burrows Written by Alan Moore Coloured by Juan Rodriguez Lettered by Kurt Hathaway Cover by Jacen Burrows Avatar Press Inc, $4.99 (2016) Providence created by Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows Inspired by and indebted to the works of Howard Philips Lovecraft

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In which everyone's favourite ginger haired Jewish homosexual nebbish glides blithely nearer a Stygian fate swarming with noisome and gibbering cyclopean terrors whose preternatural forms possess angles in defiance of all mortal conceptions of GEOMETRY!!! It took a bit of getting into to be honest, this one. Burrows' art was a bit of an impediment to immersion until I figured it out. It's purposefully bland. Being, I think, the visual equivalent of Lovecraft's dense and willfully archaic texts, which softly lull you into a kind of waking stupor, allowing the horrors to encroach subtly but decisively even as your eyes glaze over. Thus leaving you ripe for the final unveiling of...no, no, it cannot be named! At first I thought the series could be improved by having, say, Cam Kennedy or Richard Corben draw over the, uh, unutterable aspects. But then they'd really stand out, which isn't what they're after, I think. Even the, uh, eldritch elements have to be visually contiguous so that our protagonist’s rationalising of the thoroughly irrational has some credence.

 photo ProvPicB_zpspf590exx.jpg Providence by Burrows, Moore, Rodriguez & Hathaway

Sure PROVIDENCE took some effort to read, but it repaid that work. Heck, I even started rereading Lovecraft hissownself, and I haven't touched the stuff since I was 15. Lovecraft that is, not the glue. Yes, I'm still merrily huffing into my forties. No, but, anyway re-reading Lovecraft? Hoo boy is he racist! It's right on the page as well. I missed that when I was fifteen, so either I was a bit thick or I was very racist myself, because seriously HP Lovecraft? Big racist. Just lays it right out there. Turns out he was the kind of racist who was anti-Semitic too. Lovely. Funny thing is though he was the kind of anti-Semite who marries a Jewish woman, because racists never make sense. (That's because racism doesn't make sense.) Anyway that marriage was less than successful (I know! SURPRISE!), but it does lend HP Lovecraft's jolly time with our Jewish friend herein a undercurrent of humour. Because there's a lot of humour in PROVIDENCE, some of it quite dark but some of it just plain funny. I mean, HP Lovecraft on these pages is a hilarious creation, seemingly inhabiting the century just prior to the one everyone else is living in. His erudite vocabulary set to task on the most mundane of conversational niceties is a proper hoot. He was actually a bit like that as well, so they say. Odd cove all round that HP Lovecraft. Say, did I mention the racism?

With PROVIDENCE Alan Moore brings a depth, intelligence and care to his writing which makes most everything surrounding it in the mainstream comics world seem as unto hurried mush, and Jacen Burrows acquits himself well r.e. his apparent brief to keep it real. The book repays the work you put in, basically. That dumpy looking washer woman staring balefully from the tower in this issue? It's not the first time she's appeared in the series. But to what end. To what...END!!! VERY GOOD!


That is not dead which still reads – COMICS!!!

"I'm Hip." COMICS! Sometimes The Best Diet Is Revenge!

Yes! Just in time for Christmas! Howard Victor Chaykin, Ken Bruzenak and Jesus Arbuto team up to present a breezy paced filthy mouthed corpse strewn comedy of bullshit and revenge in a book of which I said, "It's okay, you know. I liked it. I'm not mad about it but I'm glad I have it." Photobucket

More incisive criticism, impotent invective against the new fangled medium of Television and a distinct lack of editing skills or even self awareness after the break! MARKED MAN Story and Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Colours by Jesus Arbuto Letters by Ken Bruzenak Dark Horse Books, $14.99 (2012) Previously serialised in DARK HORSE PRESENTS #1 - 8 MARKED MAN created by Chaykin, Arbuto & Bruzenak


Mark LaFarge is so good at life he can lead two. The naughty one pays for the nice one but the price of Life is steep and the price of two is steeper still. When his world explodes and the only life he retains is his own LaFarge goes looking for payback. And payback for two lives is going to be a Bitch indeed.

Despite only just having been serialised in DARK HORSE PRESENTS and now available in 2012 via a tidy hardback form MARKED MAN harks back to projects being touted by HVC as imminent way back yonder in 2004. That would be around the time of CITY OF TOMORROW (2005) where, I think, and I take no pleasure in saying this, HVC’s allotted rope as The Prodigal Returned finally ran out. He went away, cogitated and on his return HVC was seen to be largely lending his art to other people’s scripts. This being something he had done only rarely (e.g. TOM STRONG #19) since AMERICAN FLAGG! It was in fact something he had expressed a dislike for but, hey, that’s what he did for a long spell until his cache rose again and projects he could both write and draw were greenlit. So, it’s kind of nice that he got round to MARKED MAN in the end. They call that surviving, babyface! K-Chow! K-Chow! And, yes, I am doing finger-guns at you. No extra charge.

Of course the reason HVC was The Prodigal returned was that he had gone away in the first place. Up until MIGHTY LOVE (2005) he was working mostly in Television. Television. Not my favourite thing, you’ll have gathered by now. HVC’s work from this period does seem somewhat cramped by TV friendly traits (the high concept! the small cast, the limited locations, the too neat plotting) while at the same time enlivened by the abrasive assholery endemic to HVC’s work; the very abrasive assholery which would be the first thing TV would stamp out. Oh, there’s someone at the back there shouting about The Wire and, yeah, The Wire was fine TV but most TV isn’t The Wire. Last night I watched some TV to see how TV MARKED MAN was.


Chance favoured the idle and an episode of Criminal Minds uncoiled from my screen and into my eyes. I don’t know if you are familiar with this one; it’s an FBI Unit composed of about four or five people whose characters are basically the same elements of quirky and troubled but in different quantities. Genitals and skin colour are calculatedly diverse but of no actual importance. The whole charisma lacking crew revolve around a respected actor in a jumper that by virtue of its daring to be even the slightest bit tatty makes everything around it look as hollow and lifeless as the whole stultifying thing actually was. This episode was set in a real-life run down area of America, the name of which I missed because, er, my heart wasn't really in it, y’know. Anyway there was this montage of poor people, mad people and poor mad people and mad poor people over which was some awful sub-Boss shit-rock (“Oh ain’t no jobs now the looms are rusty/computers makin’ cars/people makin’ trouble/no money or hope but gimme a grope/oh, let me stick by broken off key in your rusty lock, babe/Lovin’s what the poor got ‘stead o’money/and it’s the rich who are poor when I’m up you, babe")…or something I don’t know. You know what I mean.


And you do know what I mean because you've seen this show. Even if you haven’t seen this show you've seen this show. This was the one about the vet who is frightened by a loud noise while changing his tyre and goes to ground as the flashbacks take over reality and he finds he brought the war home with him. See you do know it. There’s even a bit where his sad (but well groomed) wife says “It’s been like living with a ghost.” Because he kept putting a sheet over his head and jumping out at her. No, because that’s what sad wives always say in this story. Yes he was traumatised by the death of a child over there. Yes, the FBI were talking him in when a child strayed into the paths of the guns. Yes, yes, he did end up dead. Because while this show would say it was tackling a very real issue in the end it didn't know what to do with the mad poor bastard except kill him. But only in a way in which everyone kept their hands clean. Cowardly toss, I call it. So that’s TV; I can see why so many of our comic writers are so keen to work in it. It’s the creative opp…oh, give over.


I’ll tell you this for true and proper, I’d rather have been reading MARKED MAN than watching Criminal Minds. That’s not because it’s HVC roaring like a lion or anything. No, it’s just GOOD! Sure all the characters are assholes but they all possess a profanity-rich patter which make them assholes pink with the healthy blood of life and puckered like rosebuds seeking a kiss. I wouldn't really want to explain any of that before a jury so let’s just move on. Because MARKED MAN moves, yes, MARKED MAN has momentum. It might be that this momentum  costs MARKED MAN depth but I don’t think depth is what HVC’s going for here. It’s a fast’n’nasty crime caper about revenge, trust and taking responsibility for your actions. Refreshingly LaFarge doesn't seek revenge because he feels wronged out of all proportion to his deeds, no, he accepts his portion of responsibility but he’s still going to leave hair on the walls. Accepting responsibility is one of the hallmarks of a HVC protagonist; they rarely do it easy but they always have to do it. Sometimes HVC refers to it as being forced to become a higher moral authority.


This is a phrase I associate most with that time in the ‘80s when HVC’s heroes stopped smoking; a development the vigorous one claimed was due to his being responsible to a higher moral authority. Being a pretty spiritually barren kind of guy I’m not too sure what that means. What exactly is a higher moral authority to HVC? A rabbi on a step ladder? (Try the veal!) The point he was making was that if he no longer smoked he wasn't going to portray that vile, stupid and stinky habit in a light of a heroic hue. There’s no no-smoker like an ex-smoker now, is there folks. I raise this because Agent Hecht, the lady FBI Agent and the closest to a heroic figure in this low down dirty tale, sure likes her gaspers. If there’s one thing HVC nails visually in this it’s the total body surrender to the sheer noxious pleasure of inhaling state sanctioned mustard gas. But if she smokes and isn't exactly the hero(ine) what can this mean with regard to HVC and his higher moral authority? I’m not saying anyone’s been going for suspiciously short walks down the beach but I will point out that mints may make your breath kissy-fresh but they don’t stop your clothes smelling. Just throwing that out there.


The other big thing MARKED MAN is about is the big thing most HVC stuff is about and that’s those evil rich old white dudes who summer in The Hamptons, wear v-neck, slacks and bass weejuns combos and mistake golf for anything other than a waste of time, life and acreage. Moral cripples is the usual term he affixes them with but he doesn't do so here. They are though, very much so, and it’s their very moral lack that leads to them being unable to trust anyone that leads to their disastrous decision to clean up a mess; one that should have been left well enough alone. These are the kind of fun guys who all meet up at a boys only retreat to wear hoods, burn an effigy and chant Begone Dull Care. Which banging toon we will of course recall as being either the hidden track on Born This Way or a song which evolved from a French chanson prior to the reign of James II and is associated with West Yorkshire. I am originally from West Yorkshire but I don’t think we should read too much into this. Or should we? Anyway, these are rich white assholes who think no one can touch them and are thus the most deserving people in the world to be touched very hard indeed. Repeatedly and with great vigour.


Overall then, the book has characters, momentum, villains, action, banter, ooh-la-la frisky woo-woo and at least one clever plot point but it also has a couple of creaky floorboards that stop it getting out of the house without a couple of stern looks as it shuts the door behind it. You may remember back when the sun was young I mentioned too-tight plotting and there’s some of that here. There’s a caesura of sorts at he midway point where things change and time passes off page. When the story picks up again it turns out that LaFarge has secretly been The Best At Computers Ever! He has in fact found out everything he needs to know about everyone involved (even the FBI Agent) necessary in order to do what he has to do. Look, I've played Left4Dead so I know computers are amazing but that amazing? Really? No. It’s probably a casualty of the length but it’s also likely that HVC doesn't want to spend time on the boring stuff. And, y’know what, as a reader I don’t want him to either. LaFarge's mad-IT skillz made me laugh but didn't spoil the book. Because there were other things to enjoy which outweighed it. But if I hadn't mentioned it this would have been dangerously close to one of those reviews that are never like this: “John Kane gives CrackPipe Avengers 5 Stars saying “although it tracked dogshit all across the carpet of my mind at least it didn't get all the way into the kitchen...Another flawless triumph from The House I Want A Job At!” how could you doubt him!

Chief among the compensatory pleasures are the letterings of Ken Bruzenak. Ken Bruzenak, bless him, has just gone balls-out crazy on this lettering. Seriously, it’s like he did this the day after buying a new software app or something. It’s certainly not unobtrusive and I have to say I found it busy and distracting but that’s me. I do give Ken Bruzenak points on the ring tones though they are a twinkly humourous touch. It occurred to me that the letters might look better on a screen and that might be because that’s how this stuff’s put together now, on screens and stuff. Hitting you with the Tech-fu there! Both the lettering and colouring just seem really cold and glossy but then the paper they are on, as with most modern comics,  it occurs to me now is rather like a screen. It’s like someone from the future heard of paper and recreated it but there were no more trees so they substituted polymers and asbestos. It’s not like paper was when I was a lad, all soft and warm like mommy’s cuddles. Damn, maybe HVC’s moving into The Future smoother than I am. Ain't that a kick in the nuts.


MARKED MAN then, not that I've just realised I've got to be off now and have seriously shanked the structure on this thing but...MARKED MAN then is, I'm guessing, HVC's later period art applied to his late-mid period writing. It's got a TV feel but a quality TV feel I'd be okay having watched it on the box but I enjoyed reading it more. Because with comics, HVC comics in particular it's the whole package I'm after. HVC's well honed layouts, Bruzenak's bedlam of letters and even Arbuto's slightly chilly and certainly texturally busy colours. Hey, MARKED MAN was a GOOD! time.

So yeah,  I hope to be around before Christmas but I'm a bit sporadic at the moment, so maybe not. If I don't see you have a jolly nice Christmas and I hope you get some COMICS!!!

"Guh, UH. Huh, HUH." COMICS! Sometimes They Are Unseemly!

So, Howard Victor Chaykin returned to his successful BLACK KISS creation and penned a sequel. What could possibly go wrong!?! (SPOILER: I liked it.) Photobucket

BLACK KISS 2 #1 Story & Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Lettering & Logo by Ken Bruzenak Cover Colours by Jesus Arbutov Additional design by Drew Gill Image Comics, $2.99 (2012) BLACK KISS created by Howard Victor Chaykin


This is actually how it arrived- in a semi black bag. I unwrapped it and was immediately compelled to begin using a cheese grater on the blameless plum of my glans. Buyer BEWARE! Indeed.

Well, it isn’t for everybody. In fact if you live in the United Kingdom or Canada it isn’t for anybody. The first issue made it past the real life heroes of HM Customs after a thorough vetting but Diamond have since declined to submit the second issue for the contemplation of HM Customs due to there being “scenes depicted which may fall foul of UK Customs’ regulations on the importing of indecent and obscene material.” Apparently if you commission HVC to create a sequel to his controversial sexually explicit and raucously funny‘80s series BLACK KISS he isn't going to turn in six issues of wrinkle faced dogs and sunsets over still lakes. Who knew?!? I mean he’s all old and shit for totes so he should just be producing comics about boiled sweets and Stannah stair lifts when he isn't weeping over faded Polaroids of all the ladies he squired to the sound of Glen Miller’s In The Mood back when the sky was still blue with futures yet to live. Turns out though that people over 50 don’t just stand still and wish for death, turns out they can still actively engage the world via the mechanisms of their mind and produce creator owned work that has a little more ambition than, say, superheroes but in the real world or a fucking TV pitch the ambition of which flies no higher than an episode of The Rockford Files from the ‘70s. You may not like BLACK KISS 2 but there’s no doubt it’s about something.


Not just the title of a shitty farce.

Don’t expect me to tell you what though. I was so confused by the first issue that I intended to let the series end before I belaboured your ever dwindling patience with another unbiased and restrained 1000 words on why Howard Victor Chaykin is just super, thanks! That’s not going to be an option though is it? So, from this first issue here’s what I can fillet out. For a start the most arresting aspect of BK2 is what it isn't. Because what it isn't is a typical HVC comic. HVC comics are usually about various things depending on the series but are presented in the same HVC style. This one isn't. It’s a lot less linear than the usual HVC affair. We start in 1906 with a visit to the pictures. This is framed by two pages reminiscent of nothing so much as the title sequence to the popular sit-com Cheers, which is weird an more than a little discomfiting. Now, I’m not too sure what goes on from then on because either it was usual in 1906 for men and women to attend performances of pornographic films en masse or what we are being presented with is not to be taken too literally. HVC is seemingly casting cinema as a demon which will divert and sap the strength of the lower orders while he's also trying to communicate what it must have been like, what a very sensual experience cinema must have been, to the first audiences. Or, as is often the case, a demon with a plenitude of phalli does in fact pleasure the entire audience via every orifice before the cinema itself disappears like a haunted toy shop in a Victorian ghost story. Given the less than delighted descriptions of cinema (“..two-faced God of Cinema”, “..light exploding from the very asshole of Hell itself.”) I think HVC is definitely not on its side. Which is borne out by knowledge of HVC’s oeuvre in which he is often to be found lambasting the cinema for its portrayal of fake heroism and dissemination of impossible to fulfil ideals.

Photobucket "...and they're always glad you CAME." (Sigh. Sorry about that. It just slipped out.)

HVC’s work is also concerned at times with the polymorphous perversity of people’s appetites and how technological advances are bent towards this end. In CITY OF TOMORROW (2005), a series in which HVC’s apparent conviction that if we can invent it we will try to fuck it is at the forefront, there is this sequence:


Once the scene has shifted to the Titanic in 1912 (natch, I guess) BLACK KISS 2 contains this sequence:


Now this one involves a demon (succubus?) rather than an automaton but, and you’re going to have to bear with me here, the intention is the same I think. HVC has already explicitly linked cinema to the demon i.e. a technological advance and the supernatural or magical. If we just shut up and agree with the thought that magic is just science that we don’t understand then the parallels are plain. In both scenes the advanced creature (science based or supernatural) controls the situation by appealing to the protagonists basest instincts. Lack of self control isn't something to be encouraged, show some gumption or you'll soon be having someone get grotty on your botty, Bubba!

The hero initially seems like it’s going to be the usual HVC stand-in, one Abie Gelbfein but the focus switches, in part two, to Bubba Kenton. This makes sense as Bubba was the force behind the mcguffin in the first series, even though he was dead when it opened. I guess the series is going to show us Bubba’s descent into Hell over the next 5 issues, which will be a useful bit of back-story for the chronological sequel to rest on. I mean, I won’t know will I, as my country would make of HV a prisoner; a prisoner of Sex, in his shackles of Love! Anyway, although HVC wrong-foots us by basically telling us the story of the villain rather than the hero this is still very HVC. After all what we’re about to see, or you are about to see anyway, is another exercise in HVC’s demonstration that power corrupts. “Power Corrupts (What The Hell Else Is It For?)” declared the cover to HOWARD CHAYKIN’S AMERICAN FLAGG #1 and Howard Victor Chaykin still hasn't stopped declaring it here in a comic which, should you pass through Customs, you would itself have to declare.


Chin up, Old son. You can probably get the TPB when it comes out.

There’s also a nice joke in the art when Bubba is thrown through the air mid-forced bum fun and there’s a panel that is a hilarious inversion of the usual HVC hero swaggeringly soaring through the air while unloading his weapon. Y'know what, I found the art throughout to be pretty strong throughout, only sagging when HVC used his computer to reduce and enlarge images; turns out that sounds easier than it is. There are some nice compositions and I liked the scenes of panic on the Titanic. It was, in fact, quite refreshing to see HVC's art free from some of the busyness all those textures he applies for colour were absent. I just really like looking at his art in B&W it seems. Still, Jesus Arbutov does some really slick and candied colours on the cover and seems set to continue this excellent performance onto issue 2. Ken Bruzenak remains a force of nature but I thought the caption boxes got lost in the art too easily, but that’s just whining, any Ken Bruzenak is good Ken Bruzenak. Despite the fact that the editor missed a few bumpy bits, as a comic I thought it was VERY GOOD! I already told you I did !

Photobucket Wow. No One liked ULTIMATUM did they!?!


Compare and Contrast! (N.B. I have edited the latter panel to remove any indication of biological items that we all might possess and/or see on a daily basis. In case it might turn your hair white or make you fondle dogs or something.)

I still have questions. Why does the series begin in 1906 when the demon is apparently already in the USA and then switch to 1912 when the demon is apparently on its way to the USA? Are Alfie and Rose going to be the hero and heroine; if not what were they doing in the book? I guess we did get to hear the ear scarring sound of Gentle Jeff Lester reading the narration to the “horsecocked little Jew” text, so I guess that’s reason enough. Is the last page meant to remind me of a ‘70s Marvel short strip involving a lifeboat from the Titanic in which one of the survivors turned out to be a monster; a strip I cannot clearly remember beyond that, but the existence of which I am certain of? If every sex scene in the book was replaced by a scene of equally explicit violence would this book still be problematic? Really? Who knows? Not me. Because, as I said, I will be unable to read any further issues. I guess, as befits my National stereotype, I finished too early. Just think of it as a compliment, that’s what I always say in those situations. (Psst. Edit that bit out, John).

In case you needed another reason to value the continued existence of Howard Victor Chaykin the comic also has a Q&A with him which contains this:


'Nuff Said, True Believers! Have a good weekend and enjoy only the most decent of COMICS!!!

"Oh, Come ON." Comics! Sometimes They Are Set in 1959!

Yeah, sorry about this. What can I say?  I will take your patience and shatter it like the dry bones of your childhood dreams! Photobucket

Next Time: A Howard Victor Chaykin free zone. Promise! My Other Half said, "There's no pony like a one-trick pony." That certainly set my mind at ease. Ah, well...

AVENGERS 1959 #1 By Howard Victor Chaykin (w/a), Jesus Arbutov (c) and Jared K. Fletcher (l) (Marvel Comics, $2.99)

Spinning off and out of that NEW AVENGERS arc where in the present the Avengers took 6 issues to ring an ambulance while in the past Howard Victor Chaykin earned that month’s alimony payments comes this 5 issue series! Nick Fury and his rag tag ensemble of D-Listers (Bloodstone, Kraven, Namora, Sabre Tooth, Silver Sable and Dominic Fortune) celebrate the successful end of their mission with a swanky meal before disbanding. Immediately a new threat targets our heroic band, well, those members Howard Victor Chaykin is interested in writing about (Silver Sable and Bloodstone are dispatched from the narrative as soon as possible) and The Blonde Phantom is introduced in order to fulfil Howard Victor Chaykin’s stringent lingerie quota.

Consequently the issue has a rock solid structure consisting of an introduction of the team and then a succession of scenes in which each member evades an attempt upon their life by the mysterious new foe. A mysterious new foe that could well be an embryonic Hydra. It’s efficiently delivered tongue-in-cheek stuff that entertains and retains momentum despite the fundamentally episodic composition. Howard Victor Chaykin isn't breaking any new ground here but what he is doing is bringing his considerable talents to bear with the aim of providing a nice slice of pulp pie. And in that he succeeds.


"Ooooh! Meta!"

AVENGERS 1959 #1 is probably a pretty good point to examine The State of The Chaykin in the year of 2011. The current mode of Chaykin criticism is to bemoan the downward trajectory of his work while also bleating about how he draws “fat faces”. This latter criticism first appeared with his work illustrating Marc Guggenheim’s 2006 BLADE series. This prompted me to make the hilarious joke that Guggenheim had told Chaykin that Blade was “phat”. Since I am a repellent human being no one else was in the room and the joke fell to the floor and expired for want of appreciation. But I have held it in reserve for 5 years knowing that its time would come. Like a quality butcher I waste not; I use everything but the scream. So Howard Victor Chaykin? Degenerate degenerating or innovator innovating? Let’s warm up the thermometer, get AVENGERS 1959 #1 to drop its strides and see what Doctor John can diagnose.

The cover to AVENGERS 1959 #1 is great. Real swell stuff but that’s no big shocker. If there’s one thing Howard Victor Chaykin excels at its, allegedly, lady baiting if there are two then we’d have to admit to page design; cover design in particular. Now as rabid and immune to sense a fan as I am I have never had the financial wherewithal merely to buy a comic because it had a Howard Victor Chaykin cover. Actually on one occasion I did. The 2009 Vertigo series BANG TANGO. Look at this:


Howard Victor Chaykin’s covers were some hip shit, pals o’mine. Alas, the series itself was like wading through hip deep shit. (No offense to all the talented individuals involved.) So I learned my lesson. And the lesson I learned was that Howard Victor Chaykin does covers like a cover artist should. Google image AMERICAN FLAGG! And tell me that those covers aren't like comic cover Heaven. Working in the field of advertising and paperback cover design sure didn't do him no harm. Just ask the Louisiana State University. So yeah, Howard Victor Chaykin knows how to do covers and with AVENGERS 1959 #1 he belts out another winner:


There’s nothing amiss with the storytelling on these pages either. The Howard Victor Chaykin Method is here in full effect. I guess you could call it a formula but then we’d have to argue out the negative connotations before I’d smile at you again. Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff so let’s call it The Howard Victor Chaykin Method and say it can be summarised thusly: long panels for scene setting and context, vertical panels for action within said scene and inset panels for reaction shots and moments of notable action. It varies a bit but that’s pretty much what we have here and it works just fine. It’s not experimental or visionary just solid and effective borne of decades of being experimental and visionary. It’s unobtrusive but it works and that’s pretty much what AVENGERS 1959 #1 demands.

And the stuff in the panels, well, I guess we’ll call that draughtsmanship and that’s pretty…variable. This is kind of where the shakiness starts to set in. Now, as you all remember from previous soliloquies Howard Victor Chaykin doesn't give his draughtsmanship much props. Together with his frequent claim that it’s the design aspects that make his brow feverish rather than the finishing I think we can start to see where the problem may lie. Now, Howard Victor Chaykin’s work is, I understand, the result of his own mighty self and assistant(s). This is super peachy in terms of fulfilling his page quotas as the primary benefit is one of speed. In fact it’s a peachy arrangement all round depending on, well, the assistants. If long before the finished article Howard Victor Chaykin’s sloped off down the bingo to charm a blue rinse then a lot of weight rests on the poor assistant. I don’t know who Howard Victor Chaykin’s assistants currently are but they aren't of the calibre of, say, Don Cameron or Rick Burchett. They aren't terrible and in fact the book does seem to get better as it goes on. There’s a lot less wonkiness by the final page and more precision. Things are looking good on the old assistants front!


"Howard Victor Chaykin: yesterday."

Maybe it isn't the assistants after all maybe it’s the technical methodology involved. When I potter about The Internet sometimes I look at original Howard Victor Chaykin art (and pictures of those wrinkly dogs) and I can say that as recently as the 2009 DOMINIC FORTUNE series the original art looks a whole heap better than the printed version. Come to that his art as whole seemed a far tighter and attractive affair right up until the bulk of his output started flooding out of Marvel. His work on CITY OF TOMORROW, CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN and, yes, even the much vilified HAWKGIRL had a level of precision and sureness that seems lacking in much of his Marvel stuff.

Judging from my on-line scourings Howard Victor Chaykin has also taken to drawing figures in isolation and then placing them on backgrounds via 21st Century technology. He’s not alone in this but to me, being old, it brings to mind those Letrasets from by gone days. You’d get a background sheet and a sheet of characters and objects. The latter would be applied to the former by firm application of pencil rubbing. I liked the KOJAK one best. Who knew the future of comic book art would take its direction from things given away in ‘7os packets of cereal! It’s a perfectly fine method but the results do tend to suggest that maybe all these artists should watch that scene where Father Ted explains to Father Dougal the difference between “far away” and “small”. Maybe it’s the increased output, maybe it’s the assistants or maybe, maybe it’s the colouring.

Now I tend not to notice the colouring on comics too much but, by Tatjana Wood’s eyes!, I notice the colouring in recent Howard Victor Chaykin’s comics. Regrettably this is largely not because of its excellence. There were times when reading RAWHIDE KID: SENSATIONAL SEVEN when I didn't even know what I was looking at. It was like being a character at the end of a H.P. Lovecraft story. My mind could simply not process that which it perceived.  Now it’s a Howard Victor Chaykin Fact that he’s colour blind but that’s no reason to take advantage! There seems to have been a real effort in the Marvel stuff, particularly on the part of Edgar Delgado, to colour Howard Victor Chaykin’s work in the manner of animation cels. That’s okay, that’s an approach but it’s an approach that only works, I think, when the art is built to accommodate that. I don’t think Howard Victor Chaykin’s art is built that way. Thankfully for my ocular orbs Jesus Arbutov, the colourist here, seems to agree and I’d have to say the colouring in AVENGERS 1959 #1 is, yeah, its okay. It’s obviously done with computers and science so it has that weird unnatural vibrancy that makes each page look like it’s been lacquered like lacquers’ going out of fashion. Crucially though it doesn't make me re-enact Rod Steiger’s stand out scene of restrained (cough!) horror in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979). Small mercies, eh.



Of course Howard Victor Chaykin wrote as well as drew AVENGERS 1959 #1 and it's pretty much boiler plate Howard Victor Chaykin writing. The patter has fizz and spark, the exposition is delivered economically and painlessly and the whole thing has a patina of self deprecating humour that makes it a jolly appealing read. When the comics scene was blessed by the return of Howard Victor Chaykin following his adventures in the financially lucrative field of Television it turned out he'd added writing tool to his arsenal; the omniscient narrator. I like this innovation in his work as it lends extra value to each enterprise and also because I like words. Ideally I like to "hear" the narration in my head as the voice of a 61 year old mensch whose tonsils have been gargling musk. The kind of guy who declares loudly "I'm a sexagenarian, but, hey, who was in doubt? Am I right ladies!" before firing his finger like a pistol at every female in the room. I also like this narrative technique because it displays a confidence in language and provides evidence of research that is sorely lacking in other writer's work. It also allows for neat touches like the realisation that the opening narration isn't about the characters we see on the page but rather about the situation that is developing independently of them as they sit toasting and bantering; a situation that will soon enfold each of them and so propel the plot. Words are useful tools for writers, even in a primarily visual medium, and it's laudable that Howard Victor Chaykin remains not only aware of this fact but fully able to press it to his advantage.


"That's the word!"

So, wait what was the question again? Degenerate degenerating or innovator innovating? On the whole, taking everything into account, with all the facts in hand, after due consideration I'd have to say; degenerate innovating! (Legal note: Howard Victor Chaykin is not a degenerate. It's a joke.)  It's not as smooth as previous Howard Victor Chaykin stuff, no. But the bumps seem to tend from attempts to embrace new methods and technologies and the fact that these experiments rest upon a solid foundation of tried and true achievements means that AVENGERS 1959 #1 is an example of a comics master embracing modern technology with variable results. On the whole the results are VERY GOOD!


"Well, Avengers 1959, yes. Now, that other AVENGERS stuff..."