Madness and Metafiction – Grant Morrison and the Superhero

God, another post about metafiction?

Well, the best I can say is that this one is about a comic book, so hopefully the sequential art will distract you long enough for me to make my great escape!

Right up front, I’m going to say it… Grant Morrison is probably the smartest guy writing comic books.  Many of his books have a lot going on beneath the surface, and I’m fairly certain I don’t understand half of what’s going on.

For instance, Morrison’s Doom Patrol run has some of the strangest villains in all of comicdom…  Bad guys with names like The Brotherhood of Dada (a group who superpowered anarchists fighting against reality itself) and The Scissormen (a group of villains who literally cut people out of reality… like clipping a coupon!).

Much of the series devolves into maddening trysts of philosophy, morality, and madness.  Luckily, Cliff “Robotman” Steele (yes, Steele… he was created in the 60s, okay? Subtlety wasn’t exactly the cornerstone of comic writing then…   It is the same era that brought us Matter-Eater Lad, let’s just leave it alone) is there to make us feel less stupid.  Cliff will often voice his confusion, letting us know that we aren’t the only ones not making all the connections.

But before Doom Patrol, before Morrison’s fantastic Arkham Asylum, before his seemingly Reich-like 1000 Year run on Batman, Grant Morrison wrote Animal Man.

Animal Man, as a character, doesn’t really have the best history.  Created in the sixties, he was never part of the top-tier of superheroes.  In fact, he wasn’t really ever a part of any tier.  Outside of a few brief, sporadic appearances, Buddy Baker seemed to be headed for the dustbin of comics history, next to Prez Rickard and Brother Power The Geek.

And along came Grant Morrison.

After impressing with work in 2000 AD, a weekly comic which has featured other major British comic writers like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman,  Morrison presented a re-imagining of the to DC Comics who approved a 4-issue miniseries.  When the series took off, DC gave Morrison free rein to do whatever he wanted and… boy does he.

But the book begins relatively simply.  Buddy Baker, A.K.A. Animal Man, has been called to investigate a break-in at a laboratory.  What follows is standard superhero fare.  Animal Man fights and wins… all while attempting to balance his home life with wife and children.

But…

Sweet tapdancing Christ, I still have trouble believing this issue exists in the world… it is so weird, even for Grant Morrison that I almost hesitate to talk about it… except that I love it too damn much to gloss over it.

The fifth issue, entitled “Coyote Gospel” is where shit starts to get weird.  I’ve used issue 5 to introduce people in the series (and I like it so much that I own a copy of the single issue for that exact reason).  In this issue… well, there’s a coyote who walks on two legs and a trucker is constantly trying to kill him.

The trucker runs him over with his truck, shoots him, and even throws him off a cliff and drops a giant boulder on him (sound familiar yet? meep meep!).  Near the end, Animal Man comes across the broken body of the coyote and the coyote delivers a scroll to Animal Man.

The scroll tells the story (in a wonderful, Saturday Morning Cartoon sort of style) of a world where the beasts fight amongst each other, but cannot die.  Until one day, the coyote takes an elevator to heaven and demands the Creator stop the madness and end the suffering of the creatures.

The Creator agrees… but only if the coyote will take the suffering all upon himself (and seriously, what kind of dick move is that?).  The coyote agrees and is banished to our world… erm, well the DC Comics world… which is like our world, but has Batman.  And Superman.

Animal Man stares at the scroll… is it with intense thought?  No, no.  Dear reader, that would be too kind to the poor coyote.  Instead, Animal Man is confused.  He tells the coyote that he can’t read it and… to add insult to injury (well, insult to DEATH in this case) the coyote is shot and killed by the trucker… this time with a silver bullet, to guarantee that the creature is dead.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

And that’s only the start of it all for Animal Man.  Over the next twenty-one issues, Buddy Baker will meet (among others) aliens who “reboot” his powers and watches, confused, as the same aliens literally dissolve a villain (in a really awesome sequence where the villain goes from fully inked and colored, to inked, to pencils, to roughs, to a blank panel… ONLY IN COMICS!), an old Flash villain named The Mirror Master, a bizarre failed villain named The Red Mask, and an equally bizarre old villain known as the Psycho Pirate.

Oh… and Animal Man also comes face to face with both the reader (quite literally), and with Grant Morrison himself in the final issue.

And for the most part… the work holds up.  Animal Man is used as a sort of conduit for a lot of the thoughts and ideas that Morrison was dealing with at the time (such as Morrison’s conversion to vegetarianism), and the comics, though designed as mostly typical superhero fare, are incredibly thought-provoking, and a lot less dense than some of Morrison’s work from the same era (especially Doom Patrol).

Since his successful runs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol, Morrison has gone on to do great work with DC Comics.  His superhero stuff (JLA, Batman) is fantastic, as his non-superhero work for Vertigo (We3, Joe The Barbarian), and he doesn’t show any sign of stopping.

If you’re interested in checking out more of his work… I’d suggest All Star Superman (which is 12 issues of pure, unadulterated bliss), or his recent run on the New 52 version of Action Comics.  And if you really want to give yourself a mindfuck, check out the newly reissued trade of Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery.  You won’t know what hit you.

Magic Verses Technology – Alif The Unseen

I just finished reading Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (writer of several comics, including Air and Cairo).  Wilson is an American born Muslim and her experience greatly informs her latest novel.

The book itself has blurbs from Neil Gaiman, Matt Ruff, and Steven Hall… so I knew that between those quotes and the fantastic cover art… I had no choice but to read this book.  And I’m glad I did!

A Note: Wilson is also an accomplished essayist, journalist, and a wonderful blogger as well… Check out her work in whatever form you can, because everything I’ve seen has been stellar!

Alif The Unseen
G. Willow Wilson
433 Pages
Grove Press
June 19, 2012 

It is a bit difficult to classify Alif The Unseen as far as genre goes.  It is a bit of a realistic novel, at times a techno-thriller, at other times there’s some magic realism (that will occasionally lead to full-on fantasy), and there’s a strong love story at its core.

The novel’s plotting is smooth, though it does start a little slow.  However, as good as Wilson’s plotting is, the strongest aspects of her novel are the ways her prose magnifies the sensory details the characters are going through.

We see the stark colors of The City (the otherwise unnamed setting of about 90% of the novel), feel the heat and grit of the desert, and smell the cooked food of the marketplace and the garbage that litters the poorer areas.

Even the emotions of the characters bleed off the pages in realistic, and sometimes chilling, ways.  We feel Alif’s fear as he’s chased by members of The State, our heart breaks as he is separated from the one he loves, and we’re treated to the elation he feels when things are (finally!) going well for him.

Some of the most descriptive writing comes when Alif and his friends visit the world of the djinn.  At various points, the group must take refuge in the parallel reality of the genies and the descriptions of the architecture (as well as the djinns, ifrits, and various other mystical creatures that inhabit that particular plane of existence) are some of the finest in the novel.

Alif isn’t your typical techno-thriller protagonist either.  He’s a slightly chubby computer nerd who spends more time on his computer than he does out in the bright lights of his desert home.  He is also prone to apologizing (and he often will not stop apologizing) and has regular overly emotional outbursts (mostly crying).  But even so…

He has a brilliant mind and Wilson has deftly written Alif to be immensely likable even with his numerous shortcomings (not to mention his various moments of density that border on idiocy, especially in his relationships with other characters).

Equally impressive in Wilson’s writing is how her religion informs her prose, but never in a heavy-handed, or tedious way.  There is much discussion of religion (Alif himself is rather dismissive of the religious, including his best friend Dina) and it is consistently interesting and informative.

Of particular note is the discussion between Alif, a djinn named Vikram, and an American woman who has converted to Islam (only referred to as “The Convert”) discuss how a word from the Quran translates to “atom” in English, even though there were no such thing as atoms in the 6th century.  The discussion, a scant two pages of the novel, provides Wilson with the space to describe the beauty and miraculous ways of the text of the Quran in a way that I’ve not before read.

The last thirty to forty pages of the novel is meant to invoke memories of the Arab Spring that took place in early 2011.  Thoughts of revolution simmer in the background of the early parts of the novel, but when the revolt happens in earnest… it isn’t described in a biased way.

Wilson writes the people who are revolting as good people… bad people… all kinds of people, really.  And she does it without the sort of saccharine writing that a lesser writer would use.  Wilson is obviously invested in the ideas behind the Arab Spring, but it doesn’t color her writing in any way.

And the ending?  Well, I won’t spoil it, but it is satisfying, and we’re left to ponder the fate of the characters while we’re treated to Alif’s real name (though it was hinted at several times before in the text).

If you’ve enjoyed any sort of magical realism novel before this (think Salman Rushdie, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez) you’ll definitely find a lot to enjoy here.  Similarly, if you love Arabian Nights, literary techno-thrillers, or a good love story… you’ll also enjoy Alif The Unseen.

So get to your local bookstore and grab a copy to enjoy!  I did and I think the novel has the quality to be this year’s Night Circus (and if you tell me you didn’t read The Night Circus I just might cry… and then I would attempt to get you to buy the paperback that’s coming out in a couple of weeks).

Death of (Several Thousand) Ensigns – Redshirts by John Scalzi

What surprises me most about John Scalzi is that it has taken me so long to read one of his novels.  I read his non-fiction book Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded a year or so ago and loved it.  Scalzi was smart, erudite, and hilarious.  I looked at Old Man’s War and The Android’s Dream several times at both work, and the library, but never bit the bullet.

After following Scalzi on Twitter some months ago, amongst the promise of nude buttercream  frosting pictures (long story, don’t ask) and stuck with him because of his frequently random, funny thoughts.  A solid addition to my Twitter line-up, but I still hadn’t read any of his other novels.

That has now changed.

Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas
John Scalzi
320 Pages
Tor Books
June 5, 2012

Redshirts is a novel that I really have no business liking.  For one thing… I’ve always hated Star Trek.  No matter which iteration… movies, TV, video games, whatever… I’ve never enjoyed any aspect of the franchise (well, except for the most recent reboot by JJ Abrams… that was fun!) and I don’t typically enjoy a lot of traditional science fiction (Arthur C Clarke being a lone exception).

But Redshirts… is so much fun that I just have to love it.

I’m going to warn you now… heavy spoilers from this point on.  And, despite recent studies showing that spoilers don’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of a story… Well, fuck that noise.  I hate spoilers.  They’re annoying and detract from my enjoyment of the story.

HEAVY
F’N
SPOILERS
BELOW

Seriously, spoilers ahoy.  Just sayin’.

Our story begins with Andy Dahl, an ensign who has just be assigned to The Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union.  From the get go, he notices strange things.  How does everyone in Dahl’s Xenobiology lab seem to know exactly when a senior officer is incoming?  Why is the important work always done without science, but instead with an item that looks like a microwave of some sort and is referred to, almost reverently, as The Box?

The weirdness doesn’t end there!  When comparing notes with the ensigns he entered the ship with (Finn, Duvall, Hanson, and Hester), they discover even more strange inconsistencies (and sometimes  consistencies!).

For instance, why do the same floors get damaged whenever the ship is attacked?  Why do the ship’s officers come back from “away missions” (that is, missions on hostile, alien worlds, missions to derelict ships overrun with killer robots, etc.) while the ensigns do not.

And what in the cool blue hell is an ice shark?

After several close calls, Dahl and his friends start making a concerted effort to avoid away missions (unless an officer named Kerensky is there… he seems more apt to be injured, which may or may not save an ensign or two from death).

At this point, Dahl and his fellow ensigns set up a plan.  They want to track down a yeti-like man named Jenkins who seems to know everything that happens on board the Starship Intrepid.  But when they find him, things are worse than they thought…

Jenkins reveals that they are part of a world that is directly affected by the plot of a sci-fi television show from 2012.  And worst of all?  The show wasn’t even that good.

As would anyone… the ensigns refuse to believe it.  And who could blame them?  Television hasn’t even existed for hundreds of years… how could a crappy show from the stupid ages possibly have any affect on them?

But as time goes on, and more of their friends fall victim to what Jenkins has labelled “The Narrative” (i.e.: a plot twist from the show that will invariably leave an ensign dead, Kerensky injured, and the rest of the crew miraculously unharmed), Dahl and co. realize their days are numbered and concoct a plan to go back in time, stop the shitty writer from killing them off, and return to their time triumphantly… and alive!

The first problem: they have less than a week to do it… because The Narrative had already set up that in their Universe, time travel will kill anyone if they stay out of their timeline for more than a week.

Of course.

While much of the book is funny up to this point… when Dahl and his rag-tag crew of ensigns (and Kerensky… since they’ve got to bring an officer to ensure their survival) arrive in 2012… the real humor begins.

This ends my long-winded plot explication.  A lot more happens in the final third of the novel, but… you’ll just have to read the book to find it out what.

The events that take place in Los Angeles are my favorite. They’re funny, touching, and a lot more real than most of what occurs on the Intrepid.  And the three codas at the end of the novel?  Well… I loved ’em, which is in direct contrast to many of the reviews I’ve read so far.

The codas, told from the POV of a different “real world” character, are the most philosophical, funny, and imaginative parts of the book and I think they really allow Scalzi to give his themes a stronger emotional punch in ways that couldn’t be as successfully explored in the ridiculous universe that Dahl and his friends existed in.

The favorite of these themes comes up in the first coda.  What sort of responsibility does a writer have to his characters?  Does a writer have to treat a fictional character with respect?  Should an author be allowed to kill off characters on a whim, even if it doesn’t affect the story in any way?

The codas are thought-provoking and provide a much-needed glimpse into the real world of the novel.  Additionally, the first coda is absolutely hysterical, and reads like one of Scalzi’s Tweets (or blog posts).

As I said before, I have almost no direct knowledge of Star Trek.  I’ve never seen any of the movies (well, except for the recent reboot which I loved), and I’ve only sat through a handful of episodes of any iteration of the popular TV series.

Despite this, I feel I was able to enjoy a large number of the jokes (thanks Futurama audio commentaries!), and the book itself felt like a complete entity, even if I couldn’t tell the difference between a horta and a tribble (OK, I know those… once again, thank you Futurama audio commentaries!).

So, even if you’re not a fan of Star Trek… pick Redshirts up.  There’s humor, heart, adventure, and death by ice shark.  What else is there to a good summer read?

The World Ended And All I Got Was This Lousy Simulation – Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One

So I’m back to post-apocalyptia sooner than I expected.  But that’s ok…  My first summer reading book has been completed and I enjoyed it!

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
384 Pages
Random House
August 16, 2011

The economic downturn in the early 21st century became a serious depression and the world economy never recovered.

Around the same time, a man named James Halliday created a realistic video game simulation known as OASIS.  In OASIS, you could become a completely new person through your avatar and escape your tedious life into an untold number of worlds ready for exploration.

The year is now 2044.  Halliday has died and left behind a video will that claims if any player in OASIS is able to find his hidden Easter Egg, they will inherit his riches (which are sizable considering the popularity of OASIS) and complete control over OASIS.

One one side of the search, we have the “gunters” who are (either solo or in groups) hunting for the easter egg with more noble intentions.  At the very least, they’re in it for the sport, as well as the money.

Your hero, on the gunter side, is Wade, not-so-better-known by his OASIS handle Parzival.  He has been searching solo, as have many other millions of people.  But one day, Parzival’s name shows up at the top of the High Score board, as the first person to ever score…

On the other side, you have a corporation known as Innovative Online Industries (IOI).  Their plan, backed with thousands of their own gunters, is to find the easter egg and use the money and power to transform OASIS into a advertising-heavy money machine.

IOI is represented by a man named Sorrento, a real knob end and all around douchebag who will stop at nothing to become the first person to solve all the game’s puzzles and emerge victorious in the easter egg hunt.

The plot is fairly straightforward, but it keeps the book moving at a rather brisk pace.  Because much of the story takes place in the virtual world of OASIS, it takes away some of the dramatic tension when one realizes that the characters themselves aren’t in any real danger… but Cline gives enough detail as to why we should be just as afraid for the character’s avatars as we would for their weak, human bodies.

The writing is also rather funny and the interactions between Parzival and his friends are typically laugh out loud funny and they bleed warmth, and familiarity.  The characters, and their interactions, are essentially secondary to the true star of this novel…

References to the 1980s.

The book gets so bogged down in the constant references to 80s movies, music, and video games that it often reads like a Family Guy script with some of the references not going anywhere.  I would be able to write this off easier if the writing was a bit stronger, but…

The book reads like it’s meant for a teen audience.  The writing isn’t bad, but it lacks complexity and (especially in the case of the villains) subtlety.  This wouldn’t be an issue if not for the fact that most teenagers aren’t going to have any familiarity with about 99% of the references made throughout the book (except maybe Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was from 1975 anyhow).
So there’s the main problem with the novel.  People my age, who are going to understand the references (and they are plentiful and often integral to the plot) may not be able to get into the prose of the novel… and those that would really enjoy the prose aren’t going to understand what the hell Cline’s talking about when he references Joust.
Just the same, Parzival’s story is a fun response to books like The Hunger Games and if you like your post-apocalypse infinitely more geeky, fun (with just enough social commentary!), and packed chock full of references to old video games and movies… You’ll find more than enough to enjoy here.
This is starting to sound like my post about the Hunger Games series.  I really did enjoy Ready Player One.  I really did!  But with a week’s worth of reflection, I’m more able to look critically at its faults.
But there are to reasons the book is worth reading:
1.  For the interactions between Parzival and Aech.  Their funny, and eventually touching, battles for the Nerd-Weight Crown are some of the best parts of the book, and it was the hope of their eventual reunification that kept me reading the novel.2. OASIS.  The real world is not the setting for the novel.  OASIS is where much of the book takes place and Cline has done a bang-up job of making OASIS seem like a real fictional world.  The sheer impossibility of OASIS makes it one of the most fascinating settings in recent science fiction because just about ANYTHING can happen.  And it does (and don’t get me started on why that’s a problem… I don’t want to knock this novel any more!).
So if you’ve ever enjoyed playing an Atari game, or ever been able to quote the entirety of Monty Python and the Holy Grail… this is a novel for you.  Plunk down the $15 and start your summer off right!
Up next:  John Scalzi’s Redshirts, Grant Morrison, and approximately ten tons of superhero comics… Summer reading is in full swing!

Comics For The Apocalypse – The Apocomicsalpyse

So 2012 is here.  After a rather shitty movie (at least I hope there was only one…), an uncountable number of terrible novels, and more than a decade of hype… we’ve made it.  By the end of the year, we’ll have an apocalypse.

The latest in a series of mind-numbingly stupid predictions, the idea behind the 2012 Apocalypse revolves around the Mayan Calendar.  Honestly, that’s about all I know.  There might be something to do with crystal skulls… maybe some aliens (or was that an Indiana Jones movie that I’m still trying to forget), maybe fire from the sky… who knows.

All I’m completely certain of is that, despite the fact that the most recent of End of Days is supposedly coming on December 21, 2012, I’ll have my ass planted in a movie theater to watch The Hobbit for a second viewing some time in early January.

We’ve made it through the year 2000… we made it through both May 21 and October 21, 2011 apocalypses.  Apocalysi?  Whatever… we’re still here and having a blast.  Or at least some of us are… you know, the ones who didn’t give up their homes and possessions in a crazy attempt to spread the word of a madman.

But I can hear you wondering… What comic books should I be reading as I prepare myself for the latest (and hopefully lastest) end of the world?  Well, I’ve got six suggestions that I hope will help pass the time after the world ends, and the Elect have been raptured up to heaven and\or abducted by aliens.

6. X-Men: Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Marvel Comics make several appearances on this list, mainly because there’s roughly six thousand different stories about apocalyptic situations.  Some of them are alternate histories (a metric shit-ton of the What If… stories) and others, like this one, are part of the canon for the series.

I’ll come right out and say it here… I’m really not a huge fan of Chris Claremont.  I don’t actively dislike his writing, I don’t think he’s a terrible author… but much of the time, his writing just doesn’t work for me.  I put it down to the fact that I didn’t read any of his stuff while it was fresh and new.

That said, this storyline is fanTASTIC!  Sentinels, mutant internment camps, violence, the death of your favorite characters… and then it all becomes an alternate timeline.  So… not the best ending, but… hey, a great read from a great team of comic people!

5. Promethea by Alan Moore and JH Williams III

What can you say about Alan Moore that hasn’t already been said about Howard Hughes? I mean, really.  Alan Moore is incredibly intelligent, not to mention gifted as a writer.  But man is he a little… eccentric.  See Promethea, for example.

The story follows a mysterious heroine named… what else?  Promethea!  Honestly, I’ve read this series twice over (as the final couple of issues multiple times) and I’m still not 100% invested in it.  The main crux of the story is that a young girl named Sophie Bangs is possessed by the spirit of Promethea and (eventually) attempts to stop the universe from being destroyed.

There’s talk about stories, mythologies, madness, fantasy VS reality, good VS evil, and a whole lot of discussion of Kabbalah.  In fact, most of the story is structured around Kabbalah.  Much to its detriment.  But that’s a post for another time…

Just the same, if you read the books, you’ll get an amazingly well laid out story (the panel arrangements are consistently inventive) and it remains one of the strongest of Moore’s post-Watchmen works… but just go into it knowing that you’re going to trip your balls off.

4. Hulk: The End by Peter David, Dale Keown, and Joe Weems

Another Marvel series that deals a lot of post-apocalyptic stories is, strangely enough, titled simply The End.  Many of the comic publisher’s biggest stars have their own version of this story… Iron Man, Wolverine, Punisher (check that one out… f’n hilarious!), and even The Fantastic Four all get a special cataclysmic series, but Hulk’s… well, his is my favorite.

The trade for Hulk’s The End story begins with a two part story that’s… well typically 90s in its execution.  The art’s not terrible, but it tends to the gaudy and ugly… the writing, once again, isn’t terrible, but… well… It takes place in the future.  Or The Future, I suppose.  In The Future characters speak with terms that we’re unfamiliar with… but worry not, dear reader!  The characters will let you know what they mean… for no apparent reason.

So skip that first two-parter.  You’ll be better off than I was.  Skip it and simply read The End and you’ll be pleased.  Bruce Banner sits on a dead planet, where all human life was killed off in a nuclear holocaust… everyone, but Bruce Banner, who was saved by his Hulk persona when the bombs dropped.

Hulk surfaces every time Banner attempts to kill himself (or stumbles into a situation that will kill him) and we’re shown that Hulk cannot die.  Even when super-futuristic, super-mutated cockroaches eat most of his outsides and insides… Hulk does not die.  He simply regenerates.

And The End for Hulk?  Well… it doesn’t end.  And we feel just terrible for poor Bruce Banner.

3. Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

Flex Mentallo is one of the more normal of Grant Morrison’s characters.  Think Charles Atlas with powers centering around his musculature.

Oh and imagine that he’s also one of several characters of Morrison’s that is aware of his existence as a comic character.

The Flex Mentallo mini-series revolves around a mystery.  Flex Mentallo investigates the possible disappearance of his fictional partner (ironically named The Fact) while the drugged out writer of the also-fictional Silver Age Flex Mentallo comics (named Wallace Sage) has a drug (maybe) freak-out while the world ends around him (also maybe).

By the end of the tale, there are so many layers of meta-fiction that it’s difficult to determine what’s real and what isn’t.  Ah Grant Morrison… always letting us question the reality in fictional situations (see: Animal Man, Arkham Asylum, The Invisibles, etc.).

Best line?

Only a bitter little adolescent boy could confuse realism with pessimism

Take That! 90s comics!

As the second weird, experimental title on this list, I recommend you not attempt to read Promethea and Flex Mentallo in the same week.  Your brain will thank you for it.

2. Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

Oh boy, Old Man Logan.  This is the book that drew me into Marvel Comics after I had become a bit lukewarm on them, after attempting to read several other series that people gassed over, but I couldn’t just seem to get myself to care about (see: just about anything Frank Miller wrote for Marvel).

But this?  This is something else.

In a not-so-distant future, the super-villains have won.  The heroes are mostly all dead and the United States has been carved up into territories for the strongest survivors… Red Skull gets Washington D.C., Kingpin gets Vegas, and The Hulk gets a large chunk of the West Coast (after defeating The Abomination to claim it).

Wolverine, now just Logan, has hung up his claws and lives with his family in Hulk’s territory.  Hulk has reproduced like mad in the time between the fall of Good and the rise of Evil and now has an entire trailer park of relatives to do his dirty work.

After threats from Hulk’s crew over rent, Logan decides to ride with Hawkeye (now blind, but still sharp as hell) cross-country to ensure a delivery that will give Logan enough money to keep Hulk off his back for a long time.

What follows is a story that strikes me as atypical for both Marvel Comics and Mark Millar.  There’s a lot of pathos to this tale… a moroseness that pervades each issue as we see the hell the Marvel Universe has become without heroes.

Thor’s Mjolnir sits untouched in the desert, roving bands of both criminals and dinosaurs that ride a path of destruction through the Midwest, and Red Skull has collected many artifacts from now-dead heroes, including Iron Man’s armor and Captain America’s shield.

Of course, Wolverine eventually returns (and triumphs! duh!) and we’re treated to a helluva bloodbath (there’s the Millar I’ve come to know and… erm, enjoy the work of).  If Neil Gaiman hadn’t written an excellent apocalyptic story, this would easily be at the top of my list (miles above Flex Mentallo… sorry Grant!) if only because of Millar’s treatment of Wolverine’s character.  Everything fits really well for me and McNiven’s art has never been stronger!

1. Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

If you’ve been here long enough to have read my review when I first posted it months ago (or if you’ve been exploring the archives), this won’t come as much of a surprise to you.  Signal to Noise is one of my favorite comics ever, and the message is nothing if not inspiring.

In this slim volume, a film director comes face to face with death, and silently begins a mental construction of his final film… a film that he doesn’t ever expect to see completed.  In the film, people gather on the eve of a new millennium… December in the year 999, waiting for the seemingly inevitable Apocalypse.

Two favorite quotes:

It’s not my obsession, it’s the obsession.  Human beings are always living in the last days.

And:

Apocalyses are always just around the corner.  Words mean whatever you want them to mean.

Of course, using this comic is a bit of a cheat because it doesn’t deal with a real apocalypse… but a fictional one.  Just the same, the message about how people always seem to be predicting a new time for the end of the world is a sobering response to all the people panicking and stockpiling supplies in their post-2012 bunkers

Morrison’s Animal Man has elements of apocalypse in it… So does the second volume of his run on Doom Patrol.  And if you still haven’t read it The Walking Dead is consistently horrifying, exciting, and emotionally draining.

For straight up novels, there’s Gaiman and Pratchett’s Good Omens, Brooks’ World War Z, McCarthy’s The Road, and Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.  Oh, Ready Player One is also flippin’ fantastic, though more of a dystopia than a straight-up post-apocalyptic tale.  But novels… well, those are a post for another time.  If there’s another opportunity before this is all over.

If you have any favorites, sound off in the comments and let me know!