Paul Kingsnorth’s Beast is about a man who goes out on the moor to be alone. A storm hits and he becomes more alone than he anticipated. Though there’s some fixing of broken ribs and fashioning a splint, the challenges in this story are far more internal. Time passes strangely in a mostly uninhabited world. Uninhabited except for the beast, which proves elusive.
This is the kind of novel that pulled me along, not by plot but by language. And then it kept me thinking with vaguely delirious yet important digressions.
It doesn’t use made-up language like Kingsnorth’s previous novel, The Wake and generally feels like a haunted house story, or maybe The Prisoner with a less well-hinged protagonist.
The thing about not growing up as a comic book geek is not being hugely invested in the various continuities of the Marvel & DC universes. I didn’t grow up with a certain Green Lantern so it wasn’t traumatic when he went crazy and destroyed the universe (or whatever). I also knew most of my Marvel history from the cartoons, but I knew somehow those weren’t the “real” versions (even if Kevin Conroy is the voice I hear when I read Batman). They’re all just characters with stories being told about them.
So I kind of really like the Ultimate line of Marvel comics. The idea is to strip these long running stories down to a more manageable and modern history, so Peter Parker hasn’t been 16 for 50 years. This Saturday I settled into reading volumes 4-8 of Ultimate X-Men, the more recent Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk and Ultimate Human. I got them all from the library but there’s at least one of them I would buy.
I like the young X-men you’ve got in the Ultimate ‘verse, and the classic storylines (Cyclops and Wolverine really don’t like each other and Jean Grey is in the middle of it) mesh interestingly with stuff like Beast and Storm (Hank and Ororo) having broken up after a teen romance. Magneto was much more villainous than my preferred interpretation (Magneto as a slightly more radical version of Xavier): at one point he’s threatening to reverse the entire planet’s magnetic fields. And I suppose Beast, my favourite X-Man, is better in Astonishing X-Men than this young Ultimate version, but whatever. This Nightcrawler (my second-favourite X-Man) is pretty awesome.
But I really like the Ultimate Tony Stark who appears in a couple of these books (most notably Ultimate Human, which is written by Uncle Warren and has some good batshit science fictional stuff in between Hulk smashing the shit out of things). He’s funny in the way that 1970s Tony Stark wasn’t allowed to be. I also like the idea that he’s been infused with nanomachines and thinks of the Iron Man suits as a product, a product humanity will use to go out into space and elsewhere.
The best of these books though, was Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk. Wolverine starts the story off by getting ripped in half by Hulk. There’s a meeting between Logan and his spirit animal (not a wolverine), an answer to how the man with an adamantium skeleton makes it through airport security, loads of angst from Bruce Banner over the hundreds of people he’s killed as Hulk, and Nick Fury (the other thing I love about the Ultimate ‘verse is that it’s the Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury) being enough steps ahead you’d think he was the goddamned Batman.
So yes. Superhero comics can be pretty fucking awesome. Even when they’re silly and basically just excuses for things to explode and get punched. In the middle of one of the Ultimate X-Men volumes there’s a great story about a young mutant who accidentally destroys a town and Logan has a talk with him, offers him beer and murders him in a cave because a mutant like that is terrible PR and Logan is the mutant who does what needs to be done.
Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi make a hell of an X-Men comic in Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Box. At this point in the Marvel universe, Cyclops and Emma Frost are an item and the remaining X-Men have moved to San Francisco where they consult with the police. I like dipping into continuity every once in a while to see what the “current” state of affairs is. (Evidently Nightcrawler’s dead! Nooo!)
This state of things is pretty awesome. This is a very Science Fictional story with beautiful, sort of arcane looking art. There’s lots of good banter (not Whedonesque, but the casual viciousness that comes out of Warren Ellis’ brain) and there’s actual discussion of the impact of all the violence they undertake. Ororo (Storm) doesn’t want to kill anyone and hates that she’s in a position of power that she’d have to. Some people do well with that kind of adult power. Some wish they could remember being young. It’s a good story about multiverse hopping, too. And freaky sex between Beast and his girlfriend ends up saving the day. (Beast is awesome.)
At the end of the collection is an issue called Ghost Boxes which explores some alternate versions of this story that didn’t turn out so well. I loved the fuck out of that. An examination of what happens if the pyro burns Cyclops instead of Wolverine. Of what if they just failed? So good. I would love to see more of that kind of stuff in comics.