True Friends

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SMOKE by Gregory Benton

Debuting at SPX 2015, from Hang-Dai Editions

Some cultures don’t fear death and stigmatize those nearing it like the West and El Norte do — and some communities are more reconciled to danger than the comfortable classes around them. There is an order to the Earth, brutal and unfair, and Gregory Benton’s SMOKE makes us imagine there is an order to the universe, benign and wise.

A tale that seems to double back on itself, like a clock that sometimes won’t move ahead, SMOKE is a graphic mandala of time creeping forward and for some running out. Its migrant farm workers circle the days unchanging, but with life’s end always one sweltering day or flash fire or mechanical hazard away. Existence is a flame that drives us but our lives are the puff at its end, and where it goes is the dead’s, and the artist’s, job to track.

The more words I use to describe SMOKE, the less this article will be worth it to a story told all in pictures; Benton’s narrative connects in the direct, sensory way that experience floods you as a kid, with a logic and knowledge beyond the contracted understanding of adult explanation and rules. Suffice it to say that the story involves children who are in danger or forever lost, and the worlds that both they and those left behind find around them, within the blades of grass and tiny corners we grownups overlook, and within their dreams — and maybe worlds beyond the living one but just as actual.

The naive honesty of Benton’s cartooning style — no-doubt carefully cultivated — and the intricacy with which he envisions a garden of thick vegetation or a byzantine hell-palace of crisscrossing warehouse beams, is phenomenal, as is his fantasy palette of fiery and elysian other realms, and his grasp of cultural detail and extension of Day of the Dead and other memorial motifs.

The imaginary-friend/pet-dragon feeling of a certain major canine character we see on the cover (and who readers will recognize from Benton’s previous masterful myth about states of being, B+F) is vivid, but this is a bedtime story some don’t come back from, and one meant to give us strength even as it sadly soothes. Among the best things I’ve read this decade (without a single word), SMOKE shows titanic, intimate care for people’s honestly observed and deeply felt difficulties, their rare and treasured rewards, and the cyclical nature of mortality — giving a vision not only of a pasture waiting for everyone, but a proper place existing for each of us, on one side of eternity or the other, in a universe too vast to be cruel.

Too Hard on Yourself

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SCHMUCK by Seth Kushner

Debuting at SPX 2015, from Hang-Dai Editions

It’s often said that men get to tell their story more than women, and it’s true — but the women’s fearless and revealing life stories stand out because when it’s a man we’re usually only hearing his side. Jonathan Ames, one of the few poets of self-aware male subjectivity, writes the introduction to the graphic novel SCHMUCK by Seth Kushner, who joins him on a very narrow cultural dais.

Kushner also left us all, dying after a heroic cancer fight earlier this year, and I can hear him laughing his ass off at Ames’ hilarious-because-it’s-truth homage, a self-examining, self-deflating psychological profile and literary analysis of the unsparing semi-memoir Kushner has left behind. And I say “deflating” ’cuz it’s one of the few penis jokes anyone has overlooked; Kushner’s alter-ego Adam (why, just why) Kessler is supporting character to the appendage named in Yiddish by the title, and is something of a schmuck himself.

Or was — by the time we meet Adam in this unputdownable slice-of-life, celibate-in-the-city saga, he is navigating a kind of social purgatory after having dumped a series of perfectly wonderful women and finally having it happen to him. We follow his mostly unsuccessful, usually unsatisfying, and always fraught or ill-fated attempts at companionship.

The critique of male perspective is sharp and rare and belongs in any masculinity studies class; the schism between Adam’s impure thoughts and relatively harmless behavior is a great portrait of a psyche in turmoil that sees itself as being a lot worse than its outer personality actually looks. Having been the dump-er rather than –ee so often, he seems resigned to his multiple rejections, while staying clingy to his own sexist criteria for what girl he’ll date. It’s like a sexual version of a pilgrim’s-progress narrative, with what he wants and how to give in order to get it gradually dawning on him.

Kushner knows how many sides there are to this story, so each one is expressed in a different visual voice. I especially like the tense, frenzied line of artist Kevin Colden; the out-of-register looseness and emotional immediacy of Nathan Schreiber; the garish, ungainly yet dynamic honesty of Skuds McKinley; the intimacy and authenticity of George Schall’s watercolor-sketchbook verite; and a tale with art by Christa Cassano in which the most physical of encounters is drawn with figures like phantoms and dreams.

The sexual slapstick is a hoot and sometimes horrid and always insightfully recalled, though the heart of the book for me was all those stilled and isolated moments when Adam’s loneliness surfaces and both his longing and his realization of what he’s really looking for come into view with nothing for him to currently block them out with. (Personal bias perhaps; I lost my wife to cancer not long after we lost Seth, and I relate to his avatar’s loneliness and uncertainty if not his pursuit.)

This all leads somewhere, and I can tell you without giving away too much that Seth didn’t always have unhappy endings. It’s no spoiler to you reading this, or anyone in the comics community, that long before he sprouted angel wings, the caterpillar turned into a mensch.

Three Hundred and Twenty Million Followers

Democracy was meant not to work, because dynamic systems are fixed by their own glitches. This is the genius of the, yes, virus that America’s founders released. You can trademark an idea but you can’t keep people from having it. The ideas proliferate like a benevolent critical mass in Prez, the best new comic of the year, based on one of the craziest comics ever made.Prez-01-Cover

The original (by Joe Simon and Gerry Grandenetti, who are offensively uncredited so far — ideas do belong to somebody at the start), the original is one of those things that barely happens but people never forget: a youthsploitation fantasy about a hip, teenage lefty president right after the height of the counterculture of the 1960s/early-’70s. It had five issues, and four even came out, but like the promise of liberty, it’s caught fire ever since, with a beautiful, sadly utopian issue of The Sandman by Gaiman and Michael Allred reconceiving it, and a fantastic early opus by Ed Brubaker and Eric Shanower, the one-shot Smells Like Teen President, updating it for the early-1990s social malaise.

Prez’s benevolent rule is a future that never happened but, in its weight upon our consciousness, never goes away. Mark Russell (not the song-and-dance Beltway satirist, even better) writes and Ben Caldwell draws the newest version, two issues in so far from “The DC You” era of revived creativity and carefully refreshed copyrights.

We’re in another fantasyland, the carnivalesque dystopia of 2036, which is as recognizable to us as those who’ve held onto power all that time can manage — just bigger, jitteryer, sassier, dumber. The conditioning of passivity in citizens already translates mostly into us demanding the right to be not consulted but entertained — this may be why Trump is winning. In the world of the new Prez, media surrounds us as literally as we know it’s going to, with mirage-like heads-up display images and chattering triggered-audio everywhere.

Consumerism is literal, with fast food being the IV of the masses at every turn — in the weird hologram headdresses of corporate bosses disguised in backroom tribunals as their own company mascots; in the franchising of public feeding programs to a taco chain; in the endorsements plastering everything and –one. It’s a continuous feed with no nourishing content. Beth Ross is a wage-serf at a hotdog kiosk in Oregon, whose perky training video infects the internet, and, thanks to cross-platform online voting, puts her in the running as a presidential candidate, when a bored electorate tries to put mustard on the plot of a deadlocked Congress.

Prez01Russell realizes that the point of America’s peril isn’t that our system is broken, it’s that our citizenry is brokenhearted, and wants some sense of life being more fun four years from now than it was during a Depression or a war or plague. The dysfunctions and diversions that Russell and Caldwell extrapolate in every corner of the crowded mental airspace are hilarious and horrid, the wordplay keeping one nanosecond ahead of our tendency to overload and crash. The pathos that punctures through the personal-theme-park madness, especially while Beth is trying to raise money for her dad’s completely corporatized healthcare, accentuates how hard we have to laugh to get past the graveyard of empire we’re moving though.

At the end of Issue Two “Preston Rickard” (a variant on the original Prez) shows up as an oldguy worming his way into the veep seat after Beth is Liked into the White House. He’s so hated that he sells himself as her insurance against getting shot, and they set off, maybe, to shut down the system as we know it. This book is what we should all have rolled up in our back pockets with the little Constitution booklet near our heart — bursting with new thoughts and graphic invention, Prez is an idea whose time has come and is staying.

Red Sunset

RSv2-17-Cov-A-FrisonAs a public service, I should let you know that Gail Simone is still writing Red Sonja and the plot of issue #16 that Diamond keeps putting out in press for #17 (on sale this week) is some persistent typographic curse. Simone knows that nunneries in our real world were the only strongholds of female education for centuries in Western “civilization,” and women’s right to think is embattled from censored classrooms in America to the murderous Middle East today. So the decidedly uncloistered (and formally uneducated) Sonja gets an unusual appeal from (and is pulled into an uncommon alliance with) some nuns of her era guarding an archive with their lives. Simone’s ear for cruelty and imperviousness to its sick allure is in fearless form again here, as Sonja stands between these guardians of society and their oppressive local government; monstrous men are all too willing to be its agents, and, since Simone is way more fair than males deserve but as much as reality demands, these thugs are the servants of a malevolent empress bent on keeping opportunity for herself (a few millennia later she’d make a good mayor letting women have to pay for their own rape kits). Artist Walter Geovani is in perfect modern Prince Valiant mode with his lavish illustration and expressive, distinctive character portrayals; Simone is going out (for now) after the series-crescendo last issue with a meaningful adventure (concluding in #18) that puts Sonja back on the road in a way that’s open to all possible stories and spans clearly to our own time in its significance. Sonja is still learning, and we need her even now.

Stack of Dynamite: Happy Endless

RSv2-16-Cov-FrisonGail Simone has achieved the complete Red Sonja, in more ways than one. Her run on the regular title is concluding for now, but stands forever. In the 16th issue, Sonja literally goes to hell and back, in a deathbed delusion where she has to win her own survival against a personified lord of the underworld who looks a lot like a horror reflection of herself. The real fire she must put out is her own vengefulness; to embody this, a wizard has put a curse of unforgiveness upon her a few issues before. But the woman she is now was born in acts and necessities of revenge (as the last survivor of a military atrocity), so it scarcely takes a curse; to overcome it, she finds out it only takes her own moral substance. We need our heroines to be strong and fearless, but they need to be human; no writer since C. L. Moore has so shown the inner life of a female hero and given such a look at the flaws and doubts she knows she has; these are what we all fight against before our outward battles can begin, and Simone has emerged with the triumph of this year in comics. Collaborator Walter Geovani embellishes and orchestrates with the feeling of an artist who knows he’s at a historic moment, and rises to that challenge too.Reanimator04-Cov-A-Francavilla

Coming to an end of sorts but always building in a backup plan, Keith Davidsen’s Reanimator concludes next week, as the threads of an ingenious plot tangle and resolve like the master formula the title character is searching for.  Randy Valiente’s fluid artwork and intuitive layouts coil and arc with the choreography that the intricate gang-war and monster-attack scenes call for, and the sinuous yuck that the assorted genetic monstrosities and elder-god horrors display. Davidsen’s macabre wit never breaks its cool and his bizarre amorality-play ends up making perfect sense, as Herbert West and his new partner-in-abomination Susan Greene foil Cthulhu cultists and rival New Orleans zombie crews for the fate of humanity (or a fresh supply of bodies to try out immortality serums on — whichever comes first). The scheming is flawless, but for the sake of a sequel and still more insanely inventive and entertaining comics, I hope they’ve missed something.

Blackcross04-Cov-A-LotayNothing dies for long in Warren Ellis’ Blackcross, recently up to its fourth issue and seeping into my scared subconscious like no other comic. Superheroes like to think of themselves as angels, but Ellis’ echoes of the notorious Nedor heroes are ghosts, trying to drift back into waking life through a cast of troubled loners in an isolated Twin Peaks town. These characters have huge potential and are reduced often to a nagging, faint memory; the way Ellis makes them scary — in the manner that people who can summon “electrical fire” and punch though your chest would really be — gives a creeping, gloomy momentousness to them that creates a mental movie of quiet, staggering effect. Artist Colton Worley is practically designing a new genre, vivid incidents composed of mist and shadow, a dream displacing anything you thought you knew. I loved Phil Hester’s Black Terror, and all of Moore & Hogan’s Terra Obscura stories so far, and Erik Larsen’s ongoing Daredevil — and these characters have never seemed cooler than they do in Blackcross. Long may they linger.

Meeting the Eye

JusticeAvenger02-Cov-A-FrancavillaText is character in Mark Waid & Ronilson Freire’s Justice Inc.: The Avenger. Its hero is a pulp legend whose deadened face is like a mask, and formed into one by his disguise mastery at mimicking other people to gather intelligence. He can’t reveal who he really is, and it’s implied that even (or especially) the people with but one face actually show many fake ones to the world. What’s inside overflows into the captions, a novel writing itself from our buried and disregarded intentions. The hero’s origin is unspeakable, a violent loss of his wife and daughter; his worried aides’ concern for his will to live is unspoken, and The Avenger exists in the mental terrain of what people are hiding and what the supposedly ordinary yields forth — clues revealed are the element he’s always moving in, from a deceitful war-profiteer’s emotional tells to the distinct odor of a possibly lethal chemical compound. The man who exposes nothing can detect all, a thematic free-association worthy of the attributes of ancient gods. So it falls to Waid’s dense storybook narration to tell us what Richard Benson won’t. It reads like a punchy Proust, an Eggers or Díaz who’s kidding even less. Freire’s art engraves itself deeply in complement to the typographic tension; his figures are statuary while his choreography and action-pacing are intensely alive. Colorist Marco Lesko casts the adventure in great psychological gels that flood the scene in cool emerald for an idyllic past and blazing solar gold for the urgent present. We see Benson’s uncommonly gender- and race-balanced support team negotiating between who they are and the face the world sees them behind, and one decoy identity Benson takes on is “improved” because he has The Avenger — blank and perfect — at his core, while the villains are a bizarre horde of humans and animals who can literally be almost entirely seen through. Without armor, you won’t survive, and with many layers, this comic continues to build a new literature of pop.Spirit01-Cov-A-Powell

The hero of Matt Wagner’s Spirit reboot doesn’t even appear in his own first issue — or, more precisely, he only appears but is not there. Keeping himself out of sight was always one of the character’s main strategies — striking at criminals from the shadows, evading romantic commitments and having himself presumed dead. And as the original Eisner series progressed, the Spirit receded behind the stories and portraits of the petty players and big dreamers and doomed innocents that took center stage in Eisner’s interest as they always had in the hero’s concern. So we only see him in symbol and flashback thus far, in a first issue where his old allies are getting on without him but not taking it so well. It’s 1940-something and he seems to be dead for good, though his absence looms in the power-vacuum of a crime-ridden city. The strength of the episode is in what we do see — Dan Schkade’s delightful visuals don’t often scale the compositional frontiers of Eisner yet, but are the essence of fluid, human cartooning. The character work in his rumpled, elegant, eccentric, classic figures matches Wagner’s spot-on wit and idiosyncrasy, and the sketchy city they build together is a wonderland of wistful shadow and squalid substance. Eric Powell, the most direct heir to Eisner, couldn’t be more perfect as cover-artist, and Brennan Wagner’s luminous, sulfurous color washes put you inside an incandescent, moonlit animated universe. It’s not the high-concept of Eisner or Darwyn Cooke, but the fabric of the original’s charm and personality. For now, I’ll believe my own eyes.

Littlefoot

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Like Frankenstein, Tarzan is a persona that has ranged far from his creator’s conceptions. More people know the mass-media myth than the source material. We think of brutal, misunderstood manchildren in both cases, tragic in the case of Frankenstein’s creature and farcical for the monosyllabic wild-man. Writer Martin Powell takes Tarzan back to his forest primeval to clear away some of what has accumulated around the character.

Based on the cycle of prose stories under the same title, Jungle Tales of Tarzan is a collection of Kipling-esque fables of the innocent, apprentice personality of the boy abandoned by fate in a wilderness and raised within its values. Tarzan is one of the most durable fantasies in pop culture, but, like James Bond, remains as problematic as he is eternal; the white hero in a third-world context, and the human hero in the now-embattled natural world, makes us nervous in a way we should but didn’t have to be in the secure American empire that Edgar Rice Burroughs was first writing in. At the online comic service edgarriceburroughs.com Powell does a good job of balancing the original author’s intentions with their implications for modern eyes; to a Kipling, the white man from a mechanized society was supreme, but in Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Powell understands that he is solitary.

The loneliness is palpable, as we see through Tarzan’s eyes but no really hear what’s in his head — a kind of omniscient second-person describes his perceptions in a remote way that emphasizes his out-of-placeness.

Tarzan’s “first love” (cross-species of course) is given a fairytale treatment by artist Diana Leto, washy like a rainforest of tears. Artist Pablo Marcos’ lengthy tale of Tarzan’s first captivity brings a sharpness of modeling that seems like sculpted pulp; a fine transmutation of ERB’s word-painting into sinewy image. Lowell Isaacs’ art for “The Fight for the Balu” is a breath of fresh air and seems painted in it; an impressionistic vision made of motion and rippling leaf-light and blurring fur which shows that this mythos is as open to new aesthetic interpretations as it is nurturing of timeless illustration styles (seen in the lovely engraved-postcard color and texture and Hal Foster-level clarity and vigor of Nik Poliwko’s art for “Tarzan and the Native Boy”).

It’s always a thrill to see Steven E. Gordon’s lithe line and illuminated colors; “The Witch Doctor Seeks Vengeance” is like watching the best animated Tarzan feature yet to be made. Another couplet of classic, Toth-y eloquence and contemporary painterly poetry comes from Terry Beatty (“The Lion”) and Mark Wheatley (“The Nightmare”), and Sergio Cariello brings a satisfying, rangy post-Buscema flavor to “The Battle for Teeka.”

The unifying voice of Powell is an abiding presence like the seemingly eternal jungle itself; his musical alliteration and lean prose have a bardic rhythm and campfire brevity that pulls you into and moves your through the story with magnetism and wonder.

Leto’s art direction and design is handsome and warm, a book to curl up in. Framing and incidental illustrations and pinups are generally excellent, though the creative team deserved a list of bios and links that doesn’t appear. A handful of story artists not bearing mention here are rushed, gauche and fannish, but not enough to slow Powell’s skilled storytelling. Quality control could be better (an asterisk with no footnote, the same caption twice in one panel, an exclamation coming from the wrong character at a crucial moment, etc.), and does bring the eye up short occasionally.

These are natural imperfections in the abundant and welcoming world the creators have cultivated. In these stories of cruel reality’s peril and loss and living beings’ learning and love, Burroughs, through his artistic heirs, has given us a plainspoken handbook for becoming human.

Among the Fray

All the world’s a stage, and it’s there to entertain Americans. When you’re stuck inside the story, though, it stops being so funny, and the protagonists of No Mercy are abandoned in a world they know at best from newscasts, but their story is something no one may ever hear. A bunch of privileged American highschool students doing a victory lap of conspicuous charity by going on a mission to Central America before enrolling in the inevitable at Princeton find themselves over a cliff and crossing a coyote-ridden badlands as soon as they get on their bus. No phones, no drinks, no GPS, not a single luxury-ee, including the ability to assume they are untouchable and can expect to be comfortable, even though the shock of their reduced status is almost as bad for some as disease and dismemberment; they are the guilty abroad.tumblr_npdi2yH8dL1s7f77no1_1280

The group quickly sets about not forming a microcosmic society but enacting all its dysfunctions; you’re safe from the Lord of the Flies cliché because there’s little civilization to decline from. Of course not all the kids are bad, and since this is a thriller-verite of real-life random peril and not a slasher fantasy of retributive defeats, not only the bad ones die (or any of them at all). Writer Alex de Campi has the compassion to tell you what the world is trying to tell you, and artist Carla Speed McNeil, with a phenomenal hold on the tactile trauma and un-survivable risks of the primeval landscape and its unfinished new inhabitants, slows time and widens space like a spectacular movie all of whose worst parts you can’t skip.

tumblr_nolvmbvD8l1s7f77no1_1280Back home, the monsters are already in charge. We know that Main Street is under siege, and nowhere is this felt more intensely than Riverdale, the timeless neighborhood of Archie and his gang, allegorized in a number of precarious variants on the franchise, like Afterlife With Archie and now Archie vs. Predator, also written by de Campi. Reading of the Riverdale crowd’s spring break in a theme-park Caribbean where the galaxy’s worst killer has touched down is a surreal experience back-to-back with the first three issues of No Mercy; history and farce blurring beyond what you’ll ever recognize again.

In Issue 2, the Archies are back home and have brought the killing with them, and it’s funny how the snooty kids get their swift just desserts in this story sourced from a saccharine fantasy, while the little pricks of No Mercy are given very nuanced fates. Artist Fernando Ruiz pushes the softcore undercurrents of the Archie canon to creepy, lmao levels in this splatter-inspired adaptation, and the best and worst of what the series’ stars signify comes out. De Campi’s slaughterhouse humor and hilarious, pointed anti-moralizing are at a career pitch. Strange that, while the mainline Archie series grinds down with cloying retrospect, versions like this, where everybody dies, are the ones that make it feel immortal.

Out of This World

True to its theme of emissaries from the future blending in with our past, Rocket Girl #6 is a relatively new comic that people are going to be talking about for the rest of the medium’s history. We’re in a different magnitude of storytelling as of the front cover, where a five-dimensional geometry tunnels the New York of 1986 in a continuous band around the heroine’s ascending form while a DNA helix peels the New York of her native retrofuturist 2013 in a serpentine Mobius swirling through the eye of the event horizon, the skyscrapers of the 20th century radiating like a medieval monstrance and a bizarre neon halo floating above her head.RocketGirl_06-1

Artist Amy Reeder’s sense of place has never been more vivid, bringing the world of the mid-1980s to vibrant life — and not the hellish, Reagan-hunted suburban 1986 I remember, but the vital squalor and commotion and cultural overflow of the metropolitan 1986 in NYC. A futuristic Lower East Side bears no resemblance to the one I visit, and feels utterly familiar. And the issue is the best thing Brandon Montclare has written yet; a future flashback to the plucky, manga-inspired teen cop’s first case shows with appalling poignancy, though her actions and her noble, clueless voiceover, how she is essentially a neighborhood child soldier, with the best of motives put to the most sinister of ends. You may not read a better comic this year…though this series teaches me not to predict.

4601509-midn_cv1_dsMidnighter is a book that has traveled here from another world too; the sophisticated, pioneering creative palette of European comics and cinema. It reads like a wiser, broodier Danger: Diabolik, following a day in the life of its protagonist and the deaths of anyone who tries to disrupt his dinner date with geopolitical martyrdom, like some unhurried (yet extremely lean) verite documentary. We learn all we need to know about the biologically upgraded vigilante from smalltalk and reality-show self-analysis that should be the next decade’s standard for exposition and character re-introduction; writer Steve Orlando doesn’t seem just to understand his characters, but to know them, and in his imagination for making us believe a protagonist who is like no one we’ve ever met is a clear vision for what makes every individual like no one else. This is also what makes his endlessly inventive close-quarters fights and cosmic-level crises feel important to us, and the weirdly lyrical globe-trotting and doomy after-hours wanderings and apocalyptic interstellar conflicts and most positive, visceral gay sex ever seen in a mainstream comic all seem familiar. Artist Aco’s crazy mosaics of multi-perspectival action enliven every massacre and make-out and charged quiet discussion, in a rainbow of icy radiance from colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. Midnighter is about an antihero who can anticipate his enemies’ every possible next move, and is a comic which sees a clear path to where the artform can go.

Done Justice

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We like to think that experience changes us and adversity improves us. It’s always been there in the taglines of The Avenger, a pulp hero tempered into a will of steel and a razor intelligence in the tragedy that took his family from him. But these of course are inanimate objects, and the soul he’s missing was always accentuated by the way his traumatically paralyzed face muscles can mysteriously be molded into any other likeness to confound his enemies. More than other pulp heroes he surrounds himself with sidekicks who keep him connected to humanity but are in his case a substitute conscience and personality.

In the new conception from Dynamite and writer Mark Waid, the Avenger is fighting a strange “translucent man” terrorizing New York tenements, but Richard Benson is the one who is perpetually fading from life; a perceptive reversal embodied in the eerie hopefulness at the end of Issue 1 when an aide warns him that he could be walking into certain death and he says “I know.”

There is a precision to artist Ronilson Freire’s imagery that freezes expressions of apprehension and horror and driven determination in well-etched ways; his conception of the prototypical tech used by the Avenger’s agency Justice, Inc. (flickering analog TV surveillance, sickly glowing chemicals and sensors and electrodes) is a vision of a future held together with tenuous threads, like the weird X-ray-image villain barely coheres as a person.

Waid’s dense captioning paints the pictures that the best pulp evoked, not crowding the visuals because it’s telling us what is out of sight; a tour de force of textual flavor that plays like brooding music rather than intruding.

A cliffhanger (actually, elevator-shaft-plummeter) leaves us with Mignola-caliber pulp reinvention; the Avenger’s changes can always turn back, but this book is a step forward that can’t be reversed.