Why? Because I can.
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This isn’t an installment of my semi-regular sci-fi comics series, although they’re both science fictional enough for my blood. But two books came out last week that I feel like folks ought to take a look at, and I have the feeling both of them have the potential to be overlooked.
KARNAK #1, by Warren Ellis, Gerardo Zaffino, and Dan Brown
Karnak is billed as an ongoing, although if I know Warren Ellis he’ll likely only be helming the book for the first six to twelve issues. I intend to mentally treat it as a miniseries until I know more about his plans. I know next to nothing about the Inhumans, and I didn’t know Karnak was even a character until this book was announced, so I’m coming at this from a position of almost total ignorance. That said, the first issue intrigues.
The book begins with a call from something called the Infernal Device. One of Karnak’s monks– he has monks– comes to get him. The Infernal Device is in here:
…and it turns out to be a phone. Right away, you realize Warren Ellis is writing the book, which should probably tell you right away whether you’re reading this or not. Karnak’s deal is that he can instantly see the flaw in anything: philosophies, objects, systems, people… everything. It makes his abilities both hard to define and extremely versatile. He splits a bullet in half with his bare hand at one point. Also, this happens:
The plot itself is pretty thin: Karnak is hired, through S.H.I.E.L.D., to find a young man who has been exposed to the Terrigen mists and captured by an offshoot of AIM called IDIC. The genius of this book is the atmosphere; you already have an idea of the color palette and the general tone, and the book is remarkably sparse with words– I’d say half the book has less than one dialogue bubble per page, and there are at least half a dozen with no dialogue or text at all. It’s well worth checking out, if you’d let it slip by.
CLEAN ROOM #1, by Gail Simone and Jon Davis-Hunt
This one’s definitely an ongoing, and since it’s a Vertigo title not called Hellblazer one assumes it will be written by Gail Simone until it gets cancelled or she decides to end it. The book starts off in Germany, probably but not definitely in the past, where a red-headed little girl (who is never named) is run over by a truck driver who doesn’t seem entirely in control of himself while he’s doing it. When she wakes up, she asks her mother where her daddy is, and when Mom points out that Daddy’s in the room with them, she asks why Daddy’s face is made of snakes.
So we start off lighthearted and cozy, is what I’m saying.
I’ll be honest: KARNAK is pretty straightforward, if a story told in an interesting way. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in CLEAN ROOM, but I know I like it. The rest of the book is a journalist trying to track down Astrid Mueller, author of a book with no punctuation that supposedly either reveals the secrets of the universe to you or drives you insane. And if you’re catching echoes of THE KING IN YELLOW… well, I doubt that’s a mistake.
Her name is Chloe Pierce, and ever since her boyfriend blew his head off soon after reading the book, she’s been searching for answers. She survives a suicide attempt at the beginning of her part of the story, and by the end of it she’s confronting Astrid Mueller, who is red-headed and has a German last name. Hmmm…
Like I said, I have no idea where it’s going, really, but the book’s overall vibe is creepy as hell and Gail Simone is always great. So check it out.
Good day, everyone! It’s been quite awhile since you’ve heard from me, but I felt it was high time my Batman column here at Sourcerer saw another entry. Today, I want us to talk about Jerome Valeska (played by Cameron Monaghan) from the Gotham television series.
I know; the first season of Gotham was certainly a mixed bag. Personally, I enjoyed it despite recognizing its many weaknesses. I’m happy to see that the second season has started off rather strongly and is set to do greater justice to its source material while still forging ahead with its own story. I would say Gotham‘s greatest strength so far has been in its introduction of the character of Jerome Valeska, the show’s proto-Joker. Please note that from here on out, there will be spoilers for the show.
When Jerome and his bizarre circus family were first introduced last season, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Surely, the episode was visually stimulating and a murder mystery on a police procedural certainly sells, but it still seemed like there was something yet to be introduced. I was not disappointed; this episode ended on a surprise note that made my skin crawl, with Jerome transforming in an instant from a simpering child victim to a laughing psychopath that had any Batman fan worth his or her collection instantly on edge.
And the character has only grown more this season into the role set for him in that simple scene. Jerome’s appearance and demeanor are of a young man constantly on the verge of some sort of outburst, and he tends toward the morbidly dramatic. Further, Jerome cares little for even his own life, but cares a great deal about taking charge in a situation in order to insure that he gets his point across, whatever it may be.
The character’s showmanship coupled with Monaghan’s stage presence are a wonderful combination that plays out beautifully. Jerome isn’t a man who even pretends at a plan; rather, he is a true agent of chaos pursuing the greatest possible shock value with the highest possible body count.
On a final (and much appreciated) note, the writers of Gotham demonstrate that they are fully aware of the Joker’s irreplaceable, mythic role in the Batman mythos. This is worked in wonderfully with Jerome’s father (a blind fortune-teller played by Mark Margolis) reciting a prophecy concerning Jerome’s personal legacy of horror.
I find it a shame that Jerome had to be killed off after only four episodes. He was one of the greatest things about Gotham thus far, and that show has many, many great performances going for it, from Sean Pertwee as Alfred Pennyworth, to Robin Lord Taylor as the Penguin, and of course Erin Richards as the broken Barbara Kean. Perhaps the greatest tragedy, and appropriately enough, the greatest treat, is that Cameron Monaghan gave us the greatest live action Joker yet, and he wasn’t even playing the Joker. I raise a glass to such a performance.
That’s it for this installment, everyone. Thanks for reading and welcoming me back. I plan on doing several more guest posts as the year wraps up, most especially once Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello’s Dark Knight III: The Master Race hits shelves. As for reading recommendations, I suggest that, Batman: Europa, and Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles once all three see publication. Each should offer up a different take on the character from what is currently enjoying mainstream publication.
I hate to say it, but I remain disappointed in the entire “Last Days of Ms. Marvel” arc. I sincerely hope that others found Ms. Marvel #19 moving and meaningful, but I just thought it was trite. I saw nothing surprising in this issue.
Last month‘s big reveal was that Kamala’s mother already knew about her secret identity. She’s very supportive. Yay.
On the one hand, it’s nice. Secret identities are generally implausible with close relatives anyway, and I’m glad they’re not going the “You’re grounded for the rest of your life” route, but still. This is such a typical scene, and it’s followed immediately by an even MORE obvious interaction with Zoe. She’s the popular blonde girl usually seen making racist remarks in Kamala’s direction, but she apologizes and explains she only did those things because she’s jealous of how much everyone likes Kamala. Understandable, maybe, but haven’t we seen this conversation in every high school friendship movie EVER?
Then, another conversation! Nakia, Kamala’s best friend, is upset that Kamala never talks to her. Nakia only hears about Kamala’s life through the grapevine.
I felt this conversation was more relatable to me personally, and that feeling of being dumped by a friend tends to be glossed over in other stories. Its something that shows up in the grand denouement of a high school friendship drama, but those stories are usually about the person leaving, not the person being left.
And finally, Kamala speaks to Bruno about his feelings, and they both declare their love for each other. BUT! Kamala has committed to being a superhero.
It’s a good conversation with good lines, just good scripting. It shows Kamala and Bruno being brave and talking about their feelings, and I can respect Kamala’s commitment to herself over anyone else. I love that, actually.
But… really? Really, though? Is it really necessary to show the exact same conversation every other superhero has ever had about personal relationships? Not to mention that she just spent the whole issue reaffirming her familial and social relationships. Is it really necessary to draw this subtle distinction between being “just” a friend and being “more than” a friend? Really? I’m not saying they should get together at this stage by any means, but if it were up to me, I would’ve just let that simmer a lot longer. Make something creative and intense out of it, instead of playing out the same old story.
A lot of young people are reading this comic, and maybe this is the first time they’re seeing these arcs. It might be new for them, and as I said, I hope it was meaningful for other readers. For me, it was disappointing, frustrating, and derivative. As always, though, I’ll be tuning in next month, if only to see how Kamala and Bruno’s relationship develops. It’s all out in the open now, and it’s nigh impossible to recover from that.
by Philip N. Cohen
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