Sunday, December 20, 2009

SOLO #12

SOLO #12, October 2006 by Brendan McCarthy, DC Comics

This comic is kinda old, but I thought it deserved a review anyway. It basically made its way into my possession with no effort whatsoever on my part; I didn't pick it out, had no previous familiarity with the series or the creator, and honestly I couldn't tell after reading it that it was even part of a series (the number is included in the fine print at the very end). But now I'm definitely interested to see what the others are like. The general stylistic vibe is a combination of show poster/flyer art, zine collage, and a comic book twacked on Adderall but still afflicted by a serious case of ADHD. It sorta cycles through these elements or mixes them together in varying degrees. It's very colorful, even psychedelic at times (in a not-cheezy way), and makes tasteful use of digitally modified drawings. An experimental and non-traditional approach was taken for pretty much every aspect of this book.

You won't find any serial-style storytelling here--just a bunch of strange little self-contained vignettes which don't seem to have any direct continuity from one to the next, though they do occasionally reference each other. It appears to be purposefully structured like a night's worth of dreams, and I think it achieves that sense of motion and content rather astutely. The length of each piece varies greatly, from one page to several, and the entire 48 page book is filled with almost 20 separate "episodes", if you please. It reminds me a lot of the mad scientist's frequent channel flipping in Robot Chicken, but is far more subtle about being humorous when it is, and a lurking esoteric vibe pervades throughout. The longer narratives that appear in here are uniquely contrived, including a cool religious-themed magical action sequence, and a strange tale about commissioning a Batman comic based on a dream. Some of the topics are so wacky that you're just like.. umm what?? How far must one penetrate to actually understand what this weirdness means? I'm still not sure about that, but it didn't keep me from enjoying everything; it still looks cool from an artistic perspective, even if what it's saying doesn't make sense to those who haven't yet lost their mind to some sort of schizophrenic paranoia. Its derangement is a major point of attraction for me, and there are lots of interesting concepts both visually and lingually, and well... conceptually. It's smart and actually quite thought-provoking.

It's also very meta--there are lots of references to comic books and related activities, such as buying, reading, and creating them. It's very aware of itself. But the way it incorporates things like that is almost as if someone with a long-term obsession for comics went insane, confused their real lives with comic book realities, and then lots of their random thoughts were turned into a comic book themselves. I'm not entirely sure if all the characters who appear in this are regulars in the series. At first I thought the comic was a one-off, and it could stand on its own like that. Each vignette introduces a setting, style, and characters which intrigue me as to whether or not there are more adventures waiting in their particular universe. Either way would be cool. According to the little bio at the end, the creator has apparently been involved in a lot of other interesting things throughout his career, and this comic definitely left me desiring to experience more of his work from the comic medium.

(Note: I just looked up the Solo series and each issue features one main creator, so Brendan McCarthy's work in it is limited to this issue)

Sunday, December 13, 2009


In last years big Grant Morison-driven DC Comics event, Final Crisis, the two star comics were Superman Beyond. Written by the mastermind of the DC event, this extremely complex pair of comics boiled down to being about one thing: narrative's essential and eternal role in the concept of reality itself. Morison, while hardly the first comic book writer to explore the idea of superheroes that become aware of themselves as comic book characters that "we" are reading, did an epic job of expanding this concept with his run on Animal Man. Superman Beyond is his swan song of the post-modern, self-aware super hero tale. With tear jerking monologues from Superman, comparing the sensation of being read to being cradled like a baby by a breath that comes from "direction with no name". This pair of comics serves as the capital city of the Final Crisis series, a series that celebrates the love of making comic books, stories, and myth.
This year's big DC event, Blackest Night, presents a yin to Superman Beyond's yang. Also written by the events mastermind (this time Geoff Johns), and involving postmodern blurring of the comic book world and the real world; this pair of comics serves as a mockery of comic book making rather than a celebration. But a yin/yang relationship involves similarity as well, so trust me when I say that both are brilliant. Slapstick comedy instead of poetic existentialism. Bitter cruelty towards the reader and critic in us all rather than overwhelming love for the writer and creator in each of us. Blunt, literal smashing of the 4th wall instead of graceful Lynchian melting of it. Again though, still so brilliant. The cliff hanger at the end of part one is just as frightening as Superman Beyonds cliffhanger. The ending opens up possibilities for the DC Universe that are exciting and drive the imagination countless places.
It is also quite and impressive feat that Superboy Prime's humanity and heroic potential is returned in these Adventure Comics. He had been buried in a pretty deep hole of nasty behavior over the past decade. An incredible fun hole to see dug, but definitely a deep one. Here Geoff Johns gets him out of it very quickly and believably. I hope they continue in this direction with the character in 2010.
So, don't expect monumental philosophical exposition out of these two comics, they are rooted in a 50's silly pulp concept of the comic book. But they are fantastic in their own way, that serves as a great foil to Morison's similar self-referential tales.