Monday, November 9, 2015

The More Things Stay the Same

Reset: written and illustrated  by Peter Bagge (2012-2013): Peter Bagge, that great cartoonist of the distorted, grotesque mundane contemporary world (Buddy, Neat Stuff, Hate)  turns to a piece of near-science fiction in this sharp, often hilarious graphic novel. 

Guy Krause is a washed-up comedian/comic actor who accepts a job testing out a new Virtual Reality set-up. But not all is what it seems. For one, the makers of the VR set-up have exhaustively interviewed even minor, long-ago acquaintances of Krause so that his life from high school onwards can be simulated and manipulated depending on what decisions he makes. For another, this may not be a project meant for entertainment. 

Bagge's linework is superb as always, as is his satiric but probing and sensitive writing. Like most of Bagge's protagonists, Krause is both annoying and sympathetic, as are the various supporting characters. Recommended.

Sandman Presents: The Furies: written by Mike Carey; illustrated by John Bolton (2003): Mike Carey and John Bolton bring some closure to the saga of Lyta Hall as seen in Neil Gaiman's Sandman in the 1980's and 1990's. Hall, a second-generation superhero, became a pawn in Desire's plot to kill Dream because Hall herself was a descendant/avatar of the Greek Furies -- the Eumenides, the Kindly Ones, tasked by the universe with punishing those guilty of killing blood relatives. To make a long story short, Desire succeeded. Sort of. The then-current Dream did indeed die, but Dream itself cannot die: Lyta's infant son, born in The Dreaming, became the new Dream. 

Hall's memories of what happened while she pursued vengeance have become vague and cloudy as The Furies begins. She's still suffering from PTSD three years after the events seen in the concluding issues of The Sandman. An attempt to restart her life by taking a job as an interpreter for an American theatre troupe headed to a Greek drama festival seems like a good idea at the time.

It isn't, of course, because gods and monsters and spirits of vengeance just can't leave Lyta Hall alone. Carey's prose fleshes out Hall's character poignantly -- despite her super-strength, she's an aimless wreck because of what the supernatural has done to her life. She's allowed herself to be acted upon again and again. The Furies sees her attempt to seize Agency in her own life even as the supernatural comes pouring back in looking for her to play the pawn once again in a Game of Gods.

I'm not a fan of artist John Bolton's incorporation of retouched photos in his art since computer technology allowed him to do this sort of thing -- there are points that The Furies feels like the least amusing fumetti ever. There's a point to the mix of photos and fantastic drawings -- a juxtaposition of the fantastic and the mundane -- that comes through at some points and fails at others. Hermes looks especially ridiculous in quasi-photo-realistic form. 

As an admirer of Bolton's earlier comics work, I'm a bit underwhelmed by the art here. Only the fully drawn sections bear comparison with his fine 1980's and 1990's work, some of it for the original Sandman and its older sister John Constantine Hellblazer (the latter in a splendid Annual about the 'original' Constantine, the Emperor, and his ties to our cynical modern-day magician). It's really Carey's fine writing, with its bursts of sympathy and its unnerving moments in which the supernatural breaks through, hideous and inhuman, that does much of the heavy lifting. Recommended.

Topsy Turvy: written and illustrated by Peter Kuper (1997-2000/Collected 2000): Collection of the terrific Kuper's political cartoons from the late 1990's demonstrates that the more things change, yadda yadda yadda: many of the strips lampoon Donald Trump's presidential ambitions while others lament America's love affair with guns and the NRA's love affair with gun-loving Americans. Yes, it's the American Treadmill to Oblivion. All aboard! Recommended.

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