Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #352: The Complete Multiple Warheads Vol. 1 by Brandon Graham

This is the only book I've ever gotten from a library that includes a explicit scene in comics form of a man with two functional penises having sex with his girlfriend after she has just smuggled one of those penises (in the usual fundamental bodily location for smuggling similarly-shaped objects) and then sewed it onto his body. It's inventive and sexy and weird and entirely original, like the rest of Multiple Warheads, but it's quite a shift in material from the bulk of the book, and I suspect the library that bought this book still doesn't know about that scene. [1]

That brief hardcore porn aside -- I personally am mostly in favor of porn, though it can be disconcerting to come across it unexpectedly while reading on a train -- most of The Complete Multiple Warheads, Vol. 1: Alphabet to Infinity is content with brief female nudity for its titillation, like most comics marked "mature" these days. And cartoonist Brandon Graham mostly keeps sexiness as a minor element in his mix: he seems to be much more interested in puns and strange concepts, which are vastly more prominent.

Organlegger Sexica -- she traffics in magical organs with particular abilities, like eyes that see the truth and livers that regenerate, and gets them in vague mercantile ways that don't include assassination/dissection -- is living in the living heart of the mostly-ruined Dead City with her boyfriend, mechanic/werewolf [2] Nikoli between her frequent trips out in the wastelands to retrieve organs and smuggle them back into the city. They live in a medium-future Russia -- or Russian-influenced alien world, or something even more exotic with a Russian flair -- a world full of strange creatures, ruins, high technology both biological and wired, and relics of long-dead conflicts, several decades after a major devastating war between aliens and werewolves. The reader can assume that the werewolves were defending humanity, and that they lost -- since aliens, or intelligent not-humans more generally, are ubiquitous in this world, and humans are somewhat rarer -- but Graham never actually says anything like that. But this is a weird world, deeply textured, something like a particularly baroque advanced Gamma World campaign illustrated by Moebius, with lots of background details and in-panel labels of hard-to-read text, which usually turn out to be yet another bad pun.

Graham, as a writer, is not overly concerned with plot: the main story here is that an unexplained explosion destroys Sexica and Nikoli's neighborhood, so they decide to take the long roadtrip vacation to the Forbidden City that they've been planning for a while, in a car that almost becomes a character, but not quite. Their story then turns picaresque, with various minor adventures in the places they drive through or stop in. About halfway through the stories collected here, Graham also starts following one of Sexica's competitors/co-workers, the more violent and direct Blue Nura, as she seeks the body behind (beneath?) a mysterious severed head, and finds a lot of semi-identical men who share that head. Nura's adventures are more action-comics focused, though even they have pages of languid impressions of scenery or interesting personages. Some tertiary characters also recur, and their stories may become more important when and if the series continues. Nura's story, though, so far has essentially nothing to do with Sexica's.

All of this is collected from a one-shot comic from 2007, in black and white, and a four-issue series in color that came out between then and 2013, supplemented with a bunch of pin-ups, illustrations, and shorter stories (including the aforementioned porn). It may be called "Complete," but that's only in the sense of "all the stuff up until now" -- there's no ending to Sexica or Nura's stories here, just the pause at the end of an episode. It's incomplete, but given the way Graham plots, there's no serious expectation of a big ending -- things will likely drift on like this for as long as he can or wants to keep telling these stories.

Graham's art is pretty and eye-catching, particularly once he turns to color -- there does seem to be a strong Moebius influence there. (His aliens are also as inventive as anyone this side of Matt Howarth, though there's no artistic through-line there.) Multiple Warheads, despite the bellicose title, is a comic to experience like a lazy tourist: spend a lot of time looking at the sights and checking out all of the odd inscriptions, making your own pace and not worrying about what else is going on. If you're willing to sink into that kind of story, there's a lot here to see and appreciate.

[1] I'm not sure if I should tell them -- not sure how to tell them, too, since I got this through inter-library loan. But, if you happen to be a librarian, it is one very powerful reason not to buy this book, unless you are in an extremely tolerant community.

[2] Only part werewolf, actually, and entirely because of that second penis that Sexica sewed onto him. Trying to make sense of the ground rules of Graham's world can only lead to splitting headaches.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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