Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #282: Multiple Warheads,Vol. 2: Ghost Town by Brandon Graham

I don't want to call Multiple Warheads just a stoner comic -- for one thing, I'm about as far from a stoner as you can get, and I like it quite a bit. But there's a definite free-and-easy, anything-goes vibe to it that will appeal to the cannabis-inclined among us.

Brandon Graham started Multiple Warheads as a sex comic -- I was surprised, several years later, when reading the first collection to find that hardcore-sex scene embedded in the middle of it -- but it mutated after that first story into something less gonad-centric [1], a medium-future amble through what seems to be the radically changed former USSR, full of weird technology and various kinds of sapient creatures and lots of dodgy schemes and little-to-no effective government.

After a hiatus, Graham came back with a second cluster of Multiple Warheads stories over the past year or so, and those were collected this summer as Multiple Warheads, Vol. 2: Ghost Town. (The cover seems to make that last bit "Ghostown," but I think that's just Graham's design-style, which leans heavily on punny misspellings and similar wordplay.)

Our main couple, Sexica and Nikoli, are on an extended journey: Sexica is delivering "the warhead" somewhere for a reason that I don't think was deeply explained in the first volume and definitely isn't here. They're "on vacation," as they put it -- Nikoli is definitely away from his usual work, though Sexica's stealing and sneaking is the kind of thing she can do a bit of no matter where she is.

And so she does.

She connects with some people -- both bipedal, neither anything like human, which is par for the course in Multiple Warheads -- who want to get into a "wizard's lair" to retrieve something ancient and valuable. Meanwhile, Nikoli wanders around, get roped into doing some mechanic work, and has a surprising transformation near the end. The staff of the place (hotel?) where they're staying and the intersecting dancers at a club where Sexica has a meeting with her new partners also get some featured scenes -- the whole thing is loose and flowing, with an extensive cast who have complicated interrelationships.

Graham presents this all a bit sideways: he is fond of puns and wordplay, and that comes up in dialogue and the names of things (the restaurant All's Whale That Ends Whale, one guess as to the main ingredient; a local bodega-ish place is the Manticorner) as well as in labels and other "throwaway" text. So this is a world full of wordplay, where things are named quirkily and those quirks are important.

Ghost Town is, at its core, a caper story -- assemble the small team of experts, learn the secrets of what they're trying to do, and watch them go do it -- but there's a lot of other stuff going on around that. Graham gives Multiple Warheads an everyday, lived-in feeling: his world may be a weird mix of technology and what looks like magic, and his people may look like anything and everything, but they're all still people, trying to make it through their days and get back to the ones they care about.

Despite the big caper stuff, Ghost Town is quieter than the first volume: there's a lot here that could potentially have been overly dramatic, but that's not how Graham plays it.

Multiple Warheads is an intricate delight, full of tiny details and silly sidebars. Each page is a moment to be savored...though some, occasionally, almost need to be decoded. This is definitely not a comic for everyone, but its joys are real, deep, and unique.

[1] Though the sex scene is still completely in continuity, and is referenced on the first story page here -- the fact that Sexica got a werewolf penis through her nefarious activity and sewed it onto her boyfriend Nikoli is central to a lot of Multiple Warheads in general and Ghost Town in particular.

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