So DMZ is done. The Five Nations of New York closes out the story of Matty Roth and the civil war that defined his life. It’s interesting when a story like this ends, because it’s the story of how Matty stopped being an entitled journalism punk who picked up a gun and got into politics, but it’s a story of how he tells a story, and how he fucks up telling the story.
By the end of this book he’s taking the blame for things he didn’t legally need to, and [SPOILER ALERT] goes to jail for life. Which isn’t an altogether unhappy ending. I mean, I can see how it’s not. Because what is Matty going to do now that the war is over? The character we got to know through these 12 volumes can’t really exist outside the DMZ, and parlay his six years into punditry and all the rest. Anything he’d become would be so different from who we know. Prison gets to seal Matty Roth in lucite, having learned something about life, having his only opinion that matters, and then he’s gone from the stage. This isn’t the model for a life, but it’s a good way to seal off a story.
As far as long-form comics go, DMZ ranks right up there with Transmetropolitan for me, but then I would love science fiction journalism comics, wouldn’t I?.
Scalped is a crime story set on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation in South Dakota. There are corrupt politicians who own the new casinos, people who just want to get the hell away from poverty, and Dashiell Bad Horse, an undercover FBI agent who grew up on the reservation and is now back to expose some seedy underbelly to justice. In Indian Country Dashiell Bad Horse gets set up as a cop on the reservation in employ of bad people, and there are double-crosses and a casino opens and people end up dead.
It’s really good crime fictiony stuff. Each issue within the trade paperback ends on a story-changing reveal but it doesn’t feel forced. If you like 100 Bullets, this’ll probably appeal.
The thing that makes me a little twitchy about the book is that neither Jason Aaron nor R.M. Guéra are Sioux or any other First Nation. Does it matter? Well, at one point a big nasty character feeds right into a corrupt savages kind of viewpoint and actually scalps another one. Does that happen if this is a book about the underside of the writer’s culture, rather than some other-ized culture? I don’t think it does. (And to be clear, every white person in the book so far is a terrible murdering double-crossing selfish asshole too. But they shoot people, not scalp them.) At this point, one volume in, I don’t know if that’ll keep on being an issue. I’ll keep reading to find out.
Setting Sun collects the end of Warren Ellis’ run on Hellblazer. It’s an assortment of short horror stories, all of which I liked. John Constantine is such an arrogant bastard he seems made for Warren Ellis to be giving him words. One of the stories in the book was about a guy who thinks he’s stumbled onto the great conspiracy, and Constantine just feeds him more and more and then disappears, all for the sake of a laugh. The idea that magic is real combines really well with the idea that believing in any old thing because it says it’s magic is completely stupid.
One of my favourite things about reading Hellblazer is that I’ve never felt the need to start at the beginning. Storylines just kind of float around and work. That makes this just as good a starter volume as any.
DMZ is almost done. In trade paperback form. I think the final floppy has already arrived, but I read them on delay. Free States Rising is the 11th trade paperback and it fills in a bit of background with a two-issue prequel about the Free States and moves Matty Roth forward on his redemptive path (after being a total asshole a few volumes previously). Loose ends are being tied up, along with the war.
I don’t have any real criticism of the book at this point. If you haven’t tried it yet and you like stories about journalism and about a sense of place, you really really should read DMZ. I give individual volumes 4-star ratings but taken as a whole it’s in my top-5 comics ever. (And yes, the post when I’m done volume 12 will probably be very similar to this. Sorry.)
Sebastian O is a Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell comic about a dandy killer in a high-tech Victorian England. He’s been in jail and then busts out to get revenge on those who put him there. It’s not a bad little comic, and there is a bit of a weird Morrisony twist to the ending about how the world can be the way it is. I quite appreciated the timeline at the beginning of the book that gave me a sense of what Sebastian was capable of. It was a good way of getting a lot of backstory in so the story itself could be stylish and quickly moving.
I had always thought I’d read all of Garth Ennis’ Preacher, but it turns out I only had the first four volumes before I went off travelling and got interrupted. I don’t know why I never came back to finish it, except that I thought I had. Anyway. I’ve finished it now and Preacher remains a great comic.
The basic story is that Jesse Custer is a hard-drinking ass-kicking southern preacher who has been given the power of the Word of God and he’s off to track God down for abandoning its creation. He has an Irish vampire buddy named Cassidy and the girl he used to steal cars with, Tulip to help him. There’s an organization called the Grail that is trying to stop him to usher in Armageddon on their terms. It’s a pretty big story.
There’s a lot of backtracking in the story to go back and give us more background on characters, which, by the end turns this huge epic into a couple of guys duking it out on a street in San Antonio. It’s blackly funny and very situated in the 1990s, which is kind of fun to read now (because I am apparently becoming nostalgic in my old age).
The Cross and the Hammer is a self-contained Viking story that is less about a Viking and more about an Irishman who’s murdering his way through the countryside trying to kill off all the occupying Norsemen he can find to save his daughter and his homeland. It’s really violent. The Norseman who’s tracking him is well-educated and sends lots of letters back to his king who is fighting a war while he looks for this killer. There’s a very interesting father-daughter relationship going on, which is different from the Bonnie and Clyde stuff from Metal. It isn’t my favourite Northlanders book but there’s nothing wrong with it.
This is the volume where Matty Roth deals with the aftermath of getting involved in politics and where he makes the decision to get back to what he originally went into NYC to do: journalism. I’m not feeling bad for all of his poor choices any more, because he’s trying to set things right. When he talked about that kind of stuff in Collective Punishment I didn’t have the background of this new decision and it all felt weak. Of course, the people he’s dealing with in that book didn’t get to see all the stuff that happened in this one either, so maybe I had a more authentic DMZ-inhabitant experience when I read it with this hole in my knowledge.
Before that redemption-filled part of the story, there are a great bunch of supershort vignettes with different artists.
The Hourman and the Python is another pair of Sandman Mystery Theatre stories. In these ones, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont have become romantically involved and one of the things I loved about this book is all the unmarried sex they have. It’s not something I’m used to in stories about that time.
Another interesting thing is that Dian knows Wesley is the Sandman and they actually have a somewhat realistic relationship along with the vigilantism. The difficulties of that kind of life are dealt with in a thoughtful way, which I appreciated.
The Hourman is also introduced in this book. He’s another DC superhero, who uses drugs to give himself amazing strength but only for an hour at a time. There’s some interesting comparison between how he and the Sandman operate, but it does throw some of the noirish tone off a bit. I do appreciate how the Hourman’s meddling causes a lot of problems that punching something can’t solve.
I have a friend who loves the Sandman Mystery Theater series. He’s the one who first told me about the excellent crime stories Matt Wagner was making with these books. I read one volume, liked it and then never really followed up till last week. The Face and the Brute is volume two, and has two stories about Wesley Dodds, the wealthy detective who dresses up in a gasmask to follow up on the dreams he has about crimes.
The comic is most interesting in how it deals with its setting, New York in the 1930s. The racism against Asians is front and centre (not in Wesley, but in the secondary characters). Dian Belmont is dating an Asian man and grisly murders are happening in Chinatown. Everyone is scared for her safety and encourages her to leave that terrible foreign world alone. But she won’t. The dealing with class issues is done very well, in that the issues actually show up in the writing.
They’re good stories, but I’m not a huge fan of the artwork. It’s all just a bit garish for what I like in my noir comics.