Live From The Comic Shop – Sandman: Overture, The Wake, Revenge, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Silver Surfer

Ms_Marvel_2_Cover658-320x180It's been a struggle this winter to make it to the shop on a regular basis with snowstorms well-timed for Wednesdays and general lurginess sweeping the world, it seems, but today it was time to find some true grit, if nothing else to see Sandman: Overture #2. But I've been catching up on the past couple of weeks of reading slowly but surely and I've found that Marvel have rather impressed me lately. I found Moon Knight #1 quite compelling and interesting, especially from the psychological-mythical angle, and Ms. Marvel #2 didn't disappoint in the least with its nuts and bolts approach to the superhero experience. I'm still finding my way with the new arc of Iron Man, but showing the home of the Dark Elves from their own perspective was a nice touch. This week there are so many books in such a diversity of genres, that I'm choosing quite a wide range of comics for my reading experience, from fantasy to horror and even an all-ages glimpse into some favorite characters…

Much-awaited, much-anticipated, I was naturally going to read Sandman: Overture #2 by Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III first, with colors by Dave Stewart and letters by Todd Klein. The Williams cover reminds me of an Edgar Allen Poe poem, "The Haunted Palace" where the central premise is that a mentally and physically wrecked individual is akin to an abandoned building, and suggests the many compartments of The Dreaming which take us through the soft-zone border realms into individual minds and mythological zones. There's plenty of mystery and humor in this issue, a game of improbabilities that allows Dream to observe himself and comment on his qualities, some of the most winning features about Dreams monologues/dialogues in the past, and in many ways this issue addresses what was presented as a smooth transition to Dream-Daniel at the end of Sandman. Now we learn things are not so simple, and that is satisfying for readers because we suspected as much. One aspect of Dream cannot simply disappear or end without consequences of one kind or another, a paradox that needs untangling at least. For me, the most intriguing thing in the wild journey of this issue is the presentation of deeply old versions of Dream and what they must have appeared or seemed like in their time. Aspects of science and aspects of philosophy blend and shift in this cosmological update, forcing a crisis that is rather massive and significant.

download-3It is possible that Gaiman and Williams could have created a Sandman tale that was entertaining, even riveting, without hitting on big crisis points for the universe, and the scope of this issue attests that they weren't prepared to create a story that was simply "good enough". It teases out all the implications of Sandman, most of which were always cloaked in a respectful hush, and doled out in tiny doses from time to time. This comic creates the impression that "this is it", the Armageddon of Sandman mythology in which our questions, like those of the many Dreams in the story, are poised to be answered. And it is Dream who has to pursue his own mystery, a numinous procedural inquest of sorts.

Not all Sandman stories allow us to identify and "follow" Dream in this way. Just as in Alan Moore and JH Williams III's Promethea, all beings become individual and all and the reader is drawn into the point of perspective, we are encouraged to become Dream and see things from his perspective. This feels like a gracious act from Gaiman and Williams. We don't wait in the wings, we take part in the heart of the mystery. I'm particularly impressed by the microcosm/macrocosm comparison between the human brain and the universe as a group of focal points like "cells"emphasizing the organic aspects of The Sandman universe that have always been there, and certainly a prominent part of teaser art for the new series from Williams. But even Dream is not "alone" in this journey, and in his dialogue with himself, we get to take part also. There are some big reveals in this book, and I won't give them away, but it's more than fair to say that Gaiman and Williams are intrepid in venturing into aspects of the Sandman mythology that have always seemed taboo. They ask the questions that even the reader didn't fully dare to ask and set up answers that even the biggest fan may not be sure they want to know. But there's no turning back now, that's for sure.

Well, it's hard to recover from the deep thoughts in Overture enough to read any other comics, but we forge ahead with the also very high-minded series The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy from Vertigo. The previous issue, #6, peeled back the layers on the promised "future" of a world where Mermen were making life hell for humans, and this issue, #7, is all about how awful human beings can be in a struggle to survive environment. Of course, that doesn't mean leaving out the fight, the courage, and the planning necessary to resist the darker trend of human behavior, as well follow outposts attempting to change their fate, but who is the bigger enemy here: humans or the Mermen? Well, in physical size, we have "bigger" in Kaiju-like proportions and quite a physical spectacle from Murphy in this comic. This comic has gotten rather complicated in its jumps between resistance groups, but look out for the small connections that will help you put the pieces together.

downloadMurphy's aesthetic, jumping to the sun-drenched and inhospitable world of Merman-dominance is a powerful and reader-including experience, and Lee's unchanging personality and drive is undoubtedly the binding element that holds the narrative together. The casual single hint at a big future plan will keep you hoping for the future of this devastated world, as well as a certain kind of faith that smarts and an inability to give up will keep characters on the move. This is an issue about struggle of the deepest variety, and the odds seem so stacked that it'll leave you holding your breath. No simple hero story here—this is about the bedrock of human nature in its best and worst qualities and that's precisely the kind of thing that sets The Wake apart from other comics that are about easy entertainment. You'll go through the ringer to find out what happens next—and that's the sign of a strong narrative.

download-1Revenge, from Image Comics, has gotten some stick for being uber-violent and also so morally ambiguous, but issue #2 will reveal whether it has the right stuff to be an interesting or meaningful narrative. Written by Jonathan Ross, with art by Ian Churchill, the first issue shows an unlikeable character being taken advantage of by even less likeable characters and a kind of fight out between predators taking the stage. But as I indicated previously, exploring a world of people at their worst is a narrative tradition with a long history, and has its merits in an unflinching presentation of just what bastards people can be. Griffin's dark dreams of his past deeds while held in his purposefully painful state, as well as his fairly full of shit imaginings of his own grandeur as a father are equally revealing of a man who has justified his own existence in any way possible, mostly by turning a blind eye toward self-judgment. But we also can't really find ourselves rooting for his rather creepy oppressors in their strange plan to seize his money and estates, though it's unclear if in some ways Griffin has made his own bed to lie in by surrounding himself with utter cutthroats or raising them to be such. In this issue, it's all going up in flames, and things get even more grotesque, if you can imagine that. I wouldn't say I've quite found my answer as to whether the plot is going to satisfying my pursuit of a bigger picture of the tragic outlook on society. Remember that revenge plays usually only ended when everyone was dead. We'll see if Ross and Churchill feel the same way.

download-2I think at this point, I need a little Rocky & Bullwinkle from IDW, a comic that when announced, created quite a stir of fan interest. These are enduringly appealing characters but can the comic keep up with the humor and zaniness coined by the show? It's a tough act to follow and we need more than just cute characters to keep things interesting. Written by Mark Evanier, with art by Roger Langridge and colors by Jeremy Colwell, the book does not to attempt to slavishly copy the art style of the cartoon show, going for flat colors in bold surface areas, and sharp outlines for characters. That signals that the comic is attempting to find its own voice and mode rather than act as a continuation of the show in new format. We've got our "voice over" narrator and a cast of familiar characters, including Captain Peachfuzz, and a fourth-wall breaking Bullwinkle who comments on his own "story". What is very, very difficult to suggest in a comic is the fast-paced feel of the mile-a-minute narration of the show, and the first couple of pages do lag a little, however, when Boris and Natasha show up, their dialogue does smooth out the sense that the comic is still trying to find its feet. The issue also included Dudley Do-Right, and since his stories are traditionally a little less frenetic, they work better in this format. His natural caricature cartoonishness in behavior also stands up in panel-to-panel exposition.

Visual gags carry the final Bullwinkle story in the issue a little more confidently than the opening tale, and so the issue ends on a stronger note. All in all, the comic is facing plenty of pressure from fan expectations, and has to cope with a medium that doesn't allow for some of the cartoon show's most defining features. My personal take on the comic is that it needs to be more dense to create a breathless pace—decompression probably won't create enough of a sense of recognition from readers. Though, of course, if this is reaching a new generation of all-ages readers who have never seen the show, they might find the pacing and content more than entertaining and meet a cast of characters with their own qualities to recommend them.

download-4Lastly, I'll venture into my own unknown a little by looking at the new Silver Surfer from Marvel Comics, by Dan Slott and Michael Allred, with colors by Laura Allred and letters by VC's Clayton Cowles. I know few comics people who aren't reading this comic today, but given my recent props to Marvel books lately, I'm going to give it a try too even though the extent of my Silver Surfer knowledge starts and ends with Moebius (well that's not a bad thing to live and die by, anyway). Well, unsurprisingly, the artwork is stunning. That doesn't take away from the praise it deserves. Allred and Allred present a Silver Surfer world that sucks you in from the first panel, and there's a double-page spread that will make you want to high-five comics. The contrast between the beauty of the cosmos and the dark needs of Silver Surfer's master is handled very well by Slott in what's becoming a more than trademark edginess that veers away from the sentimental at every turn. The cosmic needs of the universe, the perspective that's purely energy-based has its own shocking beauty, and we're forced to see things through that lens even as mortals face the "burn" of that drive. And Silver Surfer himself must somehow account for the uneven scales he's contributed to.

The burden of misdeeds are classic comic book hero fodder, but it holds our interest every time as we follow a tragic figure. Awareness, conscience, that makes central characters compelling. But the fact that Silver Surfer is still terrifying, still given to wrath, still uncertain of whether he can be anyone's "hero" is the bite behind the book. The classic contrast between human fragility (and alien) and immense cosmic power is kept in neat balance in this first issue, and the pacing is admirably quick and challenging, revealing new vistas and concepts in rapid-fire. This is a very promising first issue—if the Allreds and Slott can keep this kind of density and minimal exposition up in future issues, it'll be an easy fan favorite. None of this is surprising, but if it worked on me, a relative newbie to the Silver Surfer mythos, that's a good sign.

I'd also highly recommend you check out Mind MGMT this week (which I'm catching up on), and The Bunker #2 worth every minute of the read, and stay tuned for my take on Blackout from Dark Horse, which I've been looking forward to for quite some time.

That's all from me Live from the Comic Shop at my local shop Conquest Comics in New Jersey. Next week better find me reading my comics in warmer weather and less sniffly or I'm going to stage a meaningless weather-defying protest akin to mere mortals complaining at the excesses of Greek Titans in mythology.

Special thanks to Conquest Comics in New Jersey. You can find their Facebook page here. They are currently dominating POP vinyl collectibles with their White Phoenix exclusive and now have their Metallic Harley Quinn exclusive in stock.  

Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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