Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Colonel Weird: Cosmagog by Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook

I have to admit: I continue to be amazed at just how much bread Jeff Lemire can spread with so little butter (in Bilbo's phrase) over the course of his Black Hammer books. There's a resolute insistence to never ever move beyond the initial setup of the story, even in this twelfth (!) collection.

Colonel Weird: Cosmagog, is, I guess, a single-character side story - looking at the previous book, Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy, I laid out a three-part structure for the books to date, but this one manages to create its own fourth category - but, more importantly, it's a book in which absolutely nothing at all happens. [1]

Now, plenty of books can have nothing happening. Some can even have nothing happening for over a hundred pages. But doing that in a superhero story is something impressive. Cosmagog is entirely a story of Weird moping about in time and space until he remembers something we the reader always knew - but Lemire hopes we overlooked while reading this book - and then, because of that, he stops moping. 

Oh, we get moments that are new, since even Lemire can't do without that. So we see Weird at various ages - kid Randy, crew-cut '50s science hero, hippie '70s counterculture hero, crazy burnout '80s hero fighting Antigod, crazy burnout ??? hero as the "current-day" version - doing things, and he bounces among those versions of himself, semi-randomly, until there are enough pages to make this book (and, before that, the four individual issues that comprise it).

But nearly all of the things we see him do are either things we already know, like fighting Antigod or discovering the the Para-Zone. The new moments are either banal - kid Randy buys a soda! he gets bullied! - or implied by what we've already seen - hippie '70s Weird floats in place and dispenses peace and love platitudes to his adoring hippie fans!

We could have seen what the hippie version did - surely he had some goofy villains, right? We could have seen how he burned out to be the wild-haired old man of the Event. We could have even gotten moments of the strong-thewed Weird reveling in his new Para-Powers to fight '50s aliens. Weird has a lot of holes in his life-story; there's room for a lot of stories.

But Lemire, in the Black Hammer books, seems to have an allergic reaction to stories: he avoids them whenever possible to instead pivot to showing the same few moments once again.

I'm still vague if Weird has come unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim or knows everything simultaneously like Dr. Manhattan: sometimes it feels like one, sometimes the other. Maybe it's a Manhattan-esque cause with a Pilgrim-esque outcome; Weird is much more like the latter than the former, for one thing, no matter what he knows or how he knows it. Either way, he's a deeply passive character from the get-go: he does very little in the best of times, and is hugely confused by all of it all of the time.

Again, making what is basically a senile old man the hero of a superhero comic is a bold strategy, and I have to appreciate that, even as I have to admit it's not actually a good idea.

Tyler Crook draws all of that cleanly, all of those familiar remixed moments with all of those varying versions of Weird, in a bright style that makes each Weird distinct - I could swear I can even tell the difference between crazy-fighting-Antigod Weird and crazy-post-Farm Weird, which is a trick. His style is subtly different for each one: science-hero Weird often has Tintin-esque dot eyes, for example. From the credit, he seems to be responsible for the entire visual presentation: art and color and letters; it's all him. He gets all the kudos for that; his visual storytelling is excellent here.

I don't know why anyone would want to make this story, other than "Dark Horse is willing to pay me for another four-issue Black Hammer series; maybe I can redo the same thing one more time." It is utterly unnecessary, and the end is faintly insulting to the reader. (Either you saw it coming, and the book is pointless, or you didn't, and you feel attacked by such a simple trick.)

But it exists, and even further Black Hammer books exist, and my guess is that they continue to spiral ever tighter and tighter into the same few moments. And, as long as I can keep getting them from libraries, I will keep poking at them, because I find this bizarrely fascinating.

[1] Admittedly, plot has been thinner on the ground in the main Black Hammer series than one would expect, since the very beginning. If you're interested, the first book was (of course) Secret Origins.

No comments:

Post a Comment