Well, that was a big gap. I thought for sure that I was going to take a two week break from the column while I was away on my trip to Ireland and Scotland, and then come back and get back into the writing habit. But somehow that extended into eight weeks. Eight weeks! Summer vacation brain, what can I say? There’s a lot of stuff to catch up on, and there’s really no way to effectively catch up on literally everything that I want to tell people about for the column. So instead of using this space to talk about two or three different things in some depth, I’m going to talk very briefly about a handful the best things that I’ve encountered since last we met.
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I read the first 20 or so issues of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets during my trip to Ireland and Scotland. I’ve been a fan of Lapham since I discovered his work on the mind-blowing Young Liars, but I hadn’t dug into his early creator-owned work before. Stray Bullets is a dark, noir-inspired crime series with a number of off-genre twists that don’t initially make sense. The first time the reader meets Amy Racecar, the world’s most dangerous gangster from the 31st century who knows God’s ultimate secret, I was a little bit confused about how it might fit into the previously established Stray Bullets story (dark American crime stories set primarily in the 1980s), but it was such good comics work that by the fifth page I honestly didn’t care how or if it connected up with the rest of the stories. It’s fascinating to see Lapham’s art and storytelling develop along with the story, and it’s so good that I ultimately forced myself to stop binging on it because I wanted my experience with the book to last longer.
Something I didn’t stop myself from binging on, however, was the first season of Deadwood, which I finished in four days in early August. Seeing as it’s a critically-acclaimed television show that’s over a decade old, there’s not much I can say about Deadwood that hasn’t already been said, but since it took me forever to actually take it off my shelf and watch it, there may be others that need a little encouragement. It’s full of tremendous actors who have been given quality scripts to work on, and the surreal setting of a lawless Western settlement gives everyone involved the opportunity to let loose. The storyline and performances are practically Shakespearean, in the best sense of that word. If you haven’t seen Deadwood yet, don’t be like me — stop making excuses and just watch it.
I honestly didn’t like Frank Miller’s Ronin the first time I read it; I was a fan of both samurai in general and Miller’s work on titles like Batman and Daredevil, but I thought Ronin was…weird and more than a little sloppy. What a difference a re-read makes. What initially struck me as weird now seems multi-layered (if a little simplistic) and the “sloppy” art now strikes me as kinetic and exciting. Before this re-read I had never seen a connection between the work of Jack Kirby and Frank Miller, but I saw Kirby’s fingerprints all over the action scenes and huge ideas in Ronin. Miller visually composes scenes in Ronin that are still impressive and innovative by today’s standards. And yes, it’s also a book about the rebirth of an ancient Japanese demon in a dystopian society and the immortal soul of the ronin who is destined to fight him, who is reborn in the cybernetically-enhanced body of a powerful but damaged psychic. So it’s got that going for it as well.
I discovered a number of really interesting musical acts at this year’s Edmonton Folk Music Festival. First of all, there’s the Tuareg musician Bombino, a phenomenal guitarist whose album Nomad has been on constant rotation in all of my music players for the past two weeks. I also caught Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, a rocking R&B and soul outfit whose self-titled album is released today, and I’m going to purchase it after I finish this column as a reward, it’s that good. I also love Jenny Lewis‘ new album, The Voyager, a pop record with some really catchy and smart songs. It was my first Folk Fest in over five years, and a very nice way to be welcomed back.
The end of the first season of iZombie didn’t quite end with the huge shock that I was lead to believe was coming, but it was a satisfying way of wrapping up some storylines and exploding other ones for the start of the next season. Every time I watch it, I get a little twinge in my chest that it’s so different from the comic book that I like so much, but then again, I also like “Veronica Mars But With A Zombie” so I will be eagerly anticipating the second season of iZombie when it comes back in October.
I also completed what was probably my tenth re-read of the first Hellblazer collection, Original Sins, and I love it just as much as I did the first time. The way artist John Ridgeway lays out a page is a thing of beauty, and when Alfredo Alcala takes over on inks the figures and faces tighten up and the book loses a little of its rough around the edges charm but keeps the innovative visual storytelling style. Jamie Delano’s scripts are wickedly clever, turning the mundanely awful business of the 1980s — Thatcher, the war on drugs, yuppies — into truly grotesque stories that have burned themselves into my brain. It’s my favourite kind of horror book, the kind that uses the conventions to explore the real blackness in the heart of humanity. There’s a reason Hellblazer ran for 300 issues, plus all the miniseries and special one-shots, and the core of it is on display in these early issues.
After all the hubbub on Gail Simone’s Twitter account this past Wednesday, I checked out the first five issues of the new Secret Six series. Simone’s work on the previous Secret Six series are some of the best superhero comics that came out from DC in the past ten years or so, but considering how much of a mixed bag the post-Flashpoint DC titles have been, I was gunshy. The first issues that were illustrated by Ken Lashley and Drew Geraci were fine, though the lines felt a little soft and shadowy, and not quite in tune with the over-the-top script and characters that Simone was writing. When old Secret Six penciler Dale Eaglesham came on board in issue #3 (and then again in issue #5), it felt like the band had gotten back together, and everything just clicked. Yes, the characters and story are different in this new reboot, but there’s something magic about Simone and Eaglesham working together. There are some really fantastic developments afoot in this series, if issue #5 is any indication, and I’m back on board the Secret Six train, the way I should have been at the start.
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That’s going to do it for me this week. I want to go on and on about more things — the amazing Old Hollywood mystery of Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips’ The Fade Out, the 10th anniversary of Derek Coward’s Deliberate Noise podcast community, the sheer brilliance of Grant Morrison pre-emptively skewering himself in Ultra Comics — but I have to head out to the Edmonton International Fringe Festival to perform in a few hours and I should probably get ready for that. So, until next week, drop me a line! Let me know what you’ve been up to, what’s good that you’ve been reading or watching that I should sink my teeth into. I’ll see you in seven days.