Saturday, July 07, 2012

Belated Review Files: February

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm beginning a new (unfortunately necessary) series here at Antick Musings, in which I finally write about books I read months ago and have been lurking on my printer ever since.

Yesterday was January, and now today brings February! (No; there's no way I can keep that pace up -- I'm hoping to hit March a week from today, and I'll be lucky if I do.)

Mark Crilley, Brody's Ghost, Vol. 1

I'm giving that "Vol. 1" the benefit of the doubt, even though this volume (collecting a serial that originally appeared in Dark Horse Presents [the MySpace version -- remember MySpace?]) appeared two years ago, and there's no sign of a follow-up. This blog is proof enough that I'm quite good at letting time run away before I get back to doing things I said I would do, and I'd prefer not to be that much of a hypocrite.

This is, as far as I've seen, Crilley's most recent comics project -- Akiko ended close to a decade ago, and Mikki Falls was a specific story told in four volumes -- and this volume is all set-up, implying that Brody's Ghost could be an open-ended (or just long-running) series, assuming Crilley and the readers both agree.

Brody himself is a young slacker, one step above homeless, though Crilley plays that more for laughs and color -- in the "isn't he so pitiful" sense -- than for serious drama. He lives in what seems like a mildly near-future mega-city: it's that much bigger, grimier, broken-down, and corrupt than anywhere specific, with wildly divergent architectural neighborhoods, the way you'd expect from a comics creator who wants interesting things to draw. Brody begs, busks, works odd jobs, and pines for his lost (and at least slightly more upwardly mobile) girlfriend Nicole, but that's about all he does.

And then one day he sees a ghost -- Talia, a short-skirted teenager (I think -- Crilley draws everyone young, though) who's been dead for five years. For reasons she doesn't explain to Brody, she's locked out of heaven (she doesn't mention hell; perhaps there's no such thing in this particular cosmology) until she completes a major good deed. In her case, she needs to capture or stop the Penny Murderer -- a serial killer focusing on women -- in order to get her E-ticket to the Pearly Gates. Since Brody is the first person who can see her that she's found, she grabs him as her ticket out.

Brody, of course, is freaked out by a ghost, has no confidence in his ability to do anything, and just plain doesn't want to help her. So the story rolls forward from there, in very predictable ways -- Brody's Ghost could be a minor basic-cable drama with hardly any changes at all -- though Crilley's an able, energetic storyteller, so it's pleasant to see.

But there's nothing new or particularly exciting in Brody's Ghost -- it's just another "he's a bum! she's a ghost! they fight crimes!" premise, with an added line in needing to work up Brody's abilities and self-esteem before anything useful can happen. Crilley executes well, but he's working with awfully generic materials here.

Alison Bechdel, editor, The Best American Comics 2011

I've reviewed the annuals in this series -- each of them from a different yearly guest editor -- in some depth, starting with a comparison of the 2006 volume with the almost simultaneous Ivan Brunetti-edited An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories (a book which, more and more, is notable by its refusal to just say the word comics) and then moving on to standalone reviews of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 before tiring out and using 2010 to lead off a post of miscellaneous graphic novel reviews. (I even had a spreadsheet behind my 2009 review, tracking what creators appeared in which volume and other abstruse details.)

So I'm perhaps running down on that front: there's less and less to say each time that isn't just repetition and elaboration. Each year's volume is an interesting marker for a bunch of great comics that came out that year, and particularly good for pointing to more interesting, idiosyncratic, and non-corporate comics that might otherwise not strike as many readers. There is a definite, though amorphous, set of cartoonists who get included -- this is much clearer in the "Notable Comics" list at the back of each book, consisting of 100 comics that the series editor (originally Anne Elizabeth Moore, and then Jessica Abel and Matt Madden since the 2008 volume) culled from the whole universe of comics to send to the yearly editor to mostly pick from. (The yearly editors have the freedom to pick anything, but they all seem to have agreed to take serious those hundred Notable Ones.)

So, as usual, the annual Best American Comics presents excerpts from a number of book-length comics: Ken Dahl's Monsters, Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza, Brendan Leach's The Pterodactyl Hunters (in the Gilded City), Dash Shaw's BodyWorld. There are fewer of those than in the last couple years, though -- perhaps Bechdel, who herself primarily works at book-length these days, is attuned to the difficulties of pulling out an effective excerpt, and so went down different avenues.

These are all generalities: I would prefer to engage more closely with specific stories, but, to do that, I'd have to re-read the thing (or at least skim it). And if I wait to have time to do that, I'll be back where I was before, and getting even further behind. So I'll just make the same kind of recommendation I've made every year: if you're interested in reading comics at all (some people aren't, the way some people don't care for ballet or opera or television), the annual Best American volume is always a wonderful place to begin, or to discover more -- every single year.

No comments:

Post a Comment