Sunday, March 29, 2009

Monster Mash: Small towns can be dangerous

Links of interest:  This has already gotten plenty of links, but it's pretty cool: somebody has posted photocopies of Big Numbers #3, the infamous "lost" Alan Moore comic.  I never read the existing issues of the series, but it's one that people have long talked about as something that it's sad we'll never get to finish reading.  The first two issues were illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz, and story about the third issue goes that his assistant/replacement Al Colombia refused to release the art, and eventually destroyed the originals (or maybe that was the fourth issue?  I don't know).  So it's kind of a big deal to actually see the issue.  Neat.

I don't know if I'm all that interested in this, but A. David Lewis has made all four issues of Some New Kind of Slaughter available for free download, hoping to be considered for the Harvey Awards (and probably the Eisners).  It's a series about flood myths around the world, written by Lewis with art by mpMann.  I haven't read it, and I'm a bit trepidatious, since I didn't like their previous project, The Lone and Level Sands.  But you never know, it might be good.

And since I like to link to online comics, check out this comics-format review by Alison Bechdel of Jane Vandenburgh's A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century.  It's neat.

On the news front: The new creative team on Runaways has been announced, and it's Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli.  I haven't read anything by Pichelli (I only know of NYX, in which I'm completely uninterested), but her work does look nice.  And Immonen is a perfect choice for writing; hopefully she'll bring the same crazy, fun energy to the book that she brought to the recent Patsy Walker: Hellcat miniseries.  I might be interested in actually reading the series again.

Also, Chris Butcher announces the lineup for Comics Festival, the Free Comic Book Day comic that is coming out in conjunction with/support of the Toronto Comics Art Festival.  Looks pretty awesome.

And if you want to read more of my stuff, I reviewed last week's Dollhouse at The Factual Opinion.

Monster, volume 17
By Naoki Urasawa



The revelations are coming fast and fierce in this penultimate volume, although many of them are the kind that raise as many questions as they answer.  I don't know if Urasawa is going to be able to close everything out satisfactorily, but at least the series has been one hell of a ride.  And whether or not the various mysteries and plot complications are resolved, I still feel like I've spent plenty of quality time with well-developed characters, witnessed some gorgeous art and well-constructed comics storytelling, and breathlessly turned many a page while gasping at the mindblowingly tense chases and confrontations.  

But wait, it's too early to be writing a summary/conclusion about the series.  There's still this volume to discuss, and one more to go!  This volume kicks off with the continuation of the last one's cliffhanger, in which it was hinted that Nina, not Johan, was the twin who underwent Franz Bonaparta's brainwashing (or at least witnessed his nasty handiwork).  That turns out to be true, but what does it mean?  The series has tended toward the old "nature vs. nurture" question, asking whether Johan is inherently a monster, or if his upbringing made him that way.  The former seems to be true, since Nina managed to grow up to be relatively normal (although that seemed to come through repression of horrible memories), but who knows what further revelations will do to her.  She seems pretty devastated by this current one, and only Tenma can talk her down from killing herself, in a powerfully emotional scene:



But as this volume ends, she's on her way to the final confrontation with Johan, so everything might change with her once again.

The rest of the volume sees a skillful setup for the apocalyptic finale, as Inspector Lunge and Mr. Grimmer separately track Bonaparta to a small town called Ruhenheim, just in time to realize that it's a powder keg that's ready to explode...with murder!  It seems to be a plan of Johan's to commit "the perfect suicide", which would involve destroying all traces of his existence, including anyone who has any memories of him.  At least, that's what people say, but we don't even get to see him at all, unless he's one of the various shadowy figures haunting the town's narrow streets.

No, most of our time is spent getting to know a few of the inhabitants and understanding how just a small push can plunge everything into mayhem.  A drunk layabout doesn't get any respect from the town's other inhabitants, and his young son is continually tormented by bullies.  An old woman has a dog that constantly barks at nothing in particular, driving her neighbors crazy.  A teenage girl longs for someone to show up and take her away from the small-town drudgery.  A middle-aged couple bickers about the wife's habit of playing the lottery and hoping for an escape from their low-class existence, but when she unexpectedly wins, rather than rejoicing at their fortune, they end up fearful that the other townspeople will kill and rob them.  And somebody (Johan? Roberto?) seems to be dropping guns into people's hands, preparing to spark a frenzy of killing from the long-smoldering resentments.  It's chilling and ominous, and another testament to Urasawa's skills to make something like this believable in such a short span of pages.

There's plenty of other stuff going on as well, including Lunge and Grimmer confronting the long-hidden Franz Bonaparta (whose identity, unfortunately, is given away by the image on the back cover).  He apparently had a change of heart at some point, forsaking his evil ways and attempting to retreat to the middle of nowhere and live out his existence in peace.  What made him change?  Did he glimpse the true face of evil that he had unleashed?  Or is he working out some sort of plan that's even more obscure than the rest of the series' plots?  Whatever the case, it's all rather compelling, and Urasawa throws in some of his usual creepy details, like the discovery of an abandoned house that contains a multitude of obsessively-drawn portraits of a young Johan and Nina:



The intrigue doesn't stop, and all parties seem to be converging on Ruhenheim for a bloody showdown in the final volume.  I don't know if Urasawa is going to be able to answer all the remaining questions or wrap up the various plot threads in a satisfying way, but I can't wait to find out.  One volume to go!