Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pulp Museum

That's certainly the notion one gets when a comic by artist J.H. Williams III is released. This week of August 15, 2012 sees a new Batwoman issue hit the stands. And it hits hard, as the monstrously talented Williams packs twenty pages (half of them double-spread) with more designs and textures than fill most comics in a year-long run. His work deserves to be seen on walls, the taller the better.

Marketing savvy alone connects Batwoman, Kate Kane, to Bruce Wayne and Batman. Her battles against were-creatures and child-killers, when not illustrated by Williams, are distressingly stale (no offense to Amy Reeder and Trevor McCarthy, who thanklessly tried to hold his paper for a few months). Williams' psychotropic sensibilities are a propulsive force entirely their own in current monthly comics. Turning his pages (co-written by W. Haden Blackman), it almost doesn't matter who stars in the narrative. You read because there's no telling what will appear on the next page. There's no predicting Williams' innovative layouts, against which most scripts pale in comparison.

Not that it isn't thrilling to see Williams return with demi-goddess Wonder Woman in tow. "World's Finest" is the name of this remarkable team-up, in which Kane's gory realm of darkness meets Diana's gory realm of Greek sensuality. Williams gives each character her own visual palette (just as he does with the civilian Kane and her girlfriend, Detective Maggie Sawyer). It'll be pure joy seeing them clash, in what is likely a four or five issue storyline.

But there's plenty of pure joy to be had, here and now, with Before Watchmen: Rorschach. Written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Lee Bermejo (the team behind Batman: Noel), this may be the most beautiful and compelling series to spin out of the best graphic novel of all time. Bermejo's stunning, gritty art suites Azzarello's sparse dialogue perfectly. On the trail of a killer named the Bard (who carves poetry into the backs of his trickin' victims), vigilante Rorschach speaks with the same taciturn menace that creator Alan Moore established in 1986. As our hero bludgeons a man named Carter for info about drugs (in the confines of a peepshow booth), he snaps the man's elbow. "The sewer," says Carter, perhaps untruthfully. "Wasting time with the arm," Rorschach replies. "Moving on to the back."

Colorist Barbara Ciardo's cool, coppery work evokes the night streets of late 70s New York perfectly. Bermejo's aerial shot of the city, though clearly a photographic tracing, throbs with heat and deserves to hang in the MET. His textural shots of sewers, alleys and Cadillacs are equally transporting. The end, in which Rorschach's alter ego visits a diner, face bashed purple, comes too quickly. "The muggers... they made a mistake," he tells the waitress and cook. "Meaning you didn't have anything on you?" she asks. "Meaning I'm not dead," he answers.

If, however, you'd rather trek on the campier side of pulp, there's a new series called The Victories, by Michael Avon Oeming. The very adult Powers, with Brian Michael Bendis, is this artist/writer's most notable work. Here, Oeming throws us neck-deep into the sleaze by introducing the Jackal (a foul-mouthed riff on the Joker) and Faustus (a desperately funny Batman), as they pummel and slash each other like playmates of old.

Planned as a five part series, The Victories' first issue is intensely promising. The narrative unfolds in a nameless city where, "The buildings creak like an old man's bones." In this near future, pandas are genetically engineered pets, and a drug called "float" is eased through the streets by corrupt legal gears.

Oeming's art, always deceptively cartoonish, is here full-throttle phantasmagoric. Painterly blue backgrounds push forward scenes of crimson mayhem. The morning after is lit by bilious yellow and green, and scrawled over by TV chatter. Faustus sits in his tenement apartment drinking, surrounded by pages that say "I hate the sun" from top to bottom. Only one other member of the Victories, Metatron, is mentioned, and he's supposedly on the moon. Four more characters grace this issue's cover, and I can't wait to meet them, zits and all.


  1. But...but...Barnes & Noble at the Prudential Center carries NONE of these comics, so none of them can be even remotely worth their salt.


    1. They should occasionally have Batwoman. But get there fast- seats by the window fill up by 9:02 sharp!

  2. Liked this, but took issue with your claim that 'Watchmen' is the "best graphic novel of all time". It is certainly one of the better titles, and at times shows why it's so loved, but give me a choice between this and 'Kingdom Come', and I'll choose the latter every time. That said, I've been looking forward for the 'Before Watchmen' to finally turn to Rorschach, easily the best part of that aforementioned graphic novel. I've got it sitting next to me and will be picking it up as soon as I finish typing.

    1. I know, but I Kingdom Come might be more for the seasoned comic reader, who'll be thrilled by Superman and Wonder Woman having a child, and more insider riffs.