Image Comics

Pulp (2020)

Pulp  2020Pulp is good. I would’ve liked it a lot more with a different ending, instead of the same ending writer Ed Brubaker has used at least once before—but it’s such a distinctive, painfully obvious a reveal it sticks with me a decade after I first read it in Criminal. Though maybe he’s just trying to make the twist work, doing it over and over until it does the work it needs to do.

Real quick, the reason it doesn’t work is because it requires the narrator to be unreliable for the entirety of the piece. The narrator’s reveal is just another ruse, another manipulation and it keeps Pulp locked in its genre, a mix of a Western (though barely, just some flashbacks) and a pre-WWII crime thriller.

The narrator’s name is Max Winter; it’s so much from his perspective, I didn’t even realize he had a name until I got to the back cover. I guess people are always yelling out, “Max,” when he has heart attacks. Max has multiple heart attacks in the comic because Max is an old, breaking man. Hard-living is finally catching up, only in 1939 New York City when Max has got a wife at home in his tenement apartment and he wants to at least get her out of there before he dies. Hard-living didn’t catch up with him, for example, when he was an outlaw some forty years earlier.

Brubaker does have some nice narrative tricks, like how he introduces some of the story between Max and his brother (they led a gang or something) with Max talking about his Western stories and his plans for them—the Pulp in the title refers to Max writing for a story magazine in the Golden Age of story magazines—before actually introducing the brother, before explaining Max’s first-hand knowledge of the Western stories.

It’s nicely done, with Brubaker keeping just the right balance with the present and the flashback. Max narrates in a mix of past and present tense, just enough so you don’t know how it turns out. I don’t think Brubaker’s ever done a Sunset Boulevard but there’s a first time for everything. But whatever Brubaker does with the narration—and he does a good job of it, old man in 1939 experiencing that era—gets derailed with the twist at the end. Even with Brubaker muting it, putting it off as long as possible, trying to get to a… Pulp ending.

A lot of the plot concerns the American Nazi movement in 1939. The biggest action set piece involves them, they’re in the background to all the action, they even have to do with one of the twists. Because so many twists. Some of it is how Brubaker structures the narration, which gets to be personable while still writerly thanks to the narrator being an experienced writer.

The writer stuff doesn’t figure into Pulp much. There’s this initial impetus with Max having to write more stories to make up for getting mugged and losing the previous book’s pay. But he just effortlessly cranks them out, even though his wife mentions his all-nighters. Brubaker wants him to be a writer but isn’t really interested in him being a writer. Outside some interludes with the editor, which turn into a C plot by the end.

The wife’s extant but not present. Again, Brubaker makes it work by just making it about fitting in the genre.

Pulp would’ve worked better as a longer limited series. It’s rushed.

But good enough. High highs, not too low lows. Fantastic art throughout from Sean Phillips. Making it a series would’ve meant more Phillips 1939 New York art, which is gorgeous. Great colors from Jacob Phillips too.

Maybe twenty pages into Pulp, I started getting more invested in it because I thought it was going to be really good, like maybe Brubaker had really figured it out this time. So I was an extended disappointed… not to mention that familiar final “twist.” But it’s good. Like, real good. It’s beautifully paced, looks great, and has a strong first person protagonist.

It’s just not singular and it seems like it should be.

Nailbiter Returns (2020) #1

Nailbiter Returns  2020  1I jumped shift halfway through the original Nailbiter series, so I think I missed the part about the serial killer antihero (the Nailbiter) having a daughter with the hero of the series. It’s been so long I can’t remember if the first series felt like a pitch for McFarlane Toys, but Nailbiter Returns feels it. Complete with play sets.

All of a sudden I’m reminded of that “Mentalist” quote, “If you don't get horny reading Fangoria, I'm Britney Spears.”

But Nailbiter Returns tries so hard not to just be an exploitation comic. And suffers for not just embracing it.

If it were just exploitation, writer Joshua Williamson could get away with the new lead—the Nailbiter’s teenage normal girl daughter—not being able to shut up about Argento movies and Goblin scores. After some serial killer torture violence—which is only disquieting because of how blandly the comic executes it—Williamson does some exposition to catch us up, but with a whole bunch of horror movie talk thrown in.

Scream has been old enough to drink for three years and we’re still at the Scream level of pop culture references.

Not to get into a whole thing about how pop culture references do and do not add to a narrative work but it’d almost be more interesting than talking about the comic.

Nailbiter Returns is almost middling. Williamson’s does a thorough job, albeit without any nuance. Mike Henderson’s art either feels rushed—lots of empty backgrounds, ill-defined character physiologies—or forced.

The double-sized first issue, which barely has any story and I think I’m remembering what helped me jump on the first series, doesn’t do anything to make me think jumping was the wrong choice.

The Weatherman (2019) #1

The Weatherman  2019  1

I read the first Weatherman series because Nathan Fox having a steady gig seemed like it was worth seeing. And the series was fine… I didn’t even remember it ended on a cliffhanger though. This second volume continues the action as mind-wiped former interplanetary terrorist turned weatherman turned fugitive (so he was mind-wiped out of being the terrorist into the weatherman, who got found out and became a fugitive) and his Scooby gang head to Earth to try to unlock the terrorist memories in order to stop the other terrorists.

This issue’s all establishing; writer Jody LeHeup shows how Earth is doing—where people are still stranded with an incredibly lethal virus, which will get them someday soon if the rest of the humans living off planet done kill the survivors off first so they can get the real estate back (Weatherman’s cynicism is on point)—and how things are going on the Weatherman’s mission. He’s pissing off the rest of the gang while still trying and failing to flirt with the secret agent woman who first found him and is basically his love interest. At least fits that role’s spot in the narrative, whether or not they’re actually getting together is besides the point.

There’s a lot of exposition, a lot of hints at future personal conflict (one crew member’s tattoo pisses off another crew member for some reason), all while there’s the time crunch with the terrorists still out there and then political intrigue as the solar system female president doesn’t want to kill off all the Earthlings without trying to save them but the white men don’t care about trying to save them.

It’s… all right. Kind of a lackluster return for the series, which hasn’t got any exposition for anyone starting here—you’ve got to be versed in the previous volume not just for information but also for investment. There’s no reason to read Volume Two if you aren’t invested from before.

Fox’s art is good. A tad restricted. Probably not enough on its own to keep the interest up for the series. Especially not since it seems a little too streamlined here. It’s not interesting on its own.

If Weatherman Volume Two #2 were sitting here, I’d read it. But probably not if I had to reach for it. It’s perfectly fine.

Just… not exciting at all.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 49

We’re a few weeks late but we actually read some good comics, which is always nice.

  • Quick Rant: Comics sales.
  • Floppies: Batman The Damned, Kaijumax vol 4, The Magic Order, Ether The Copper Golems, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Infinity 8 vol 2, Hey Kids! Comics, Babarella, The Weatherman, Redneck.
  • Trades: The Complete Killer, All My Heroes Have Been Junkies, Criminy.
  • Media: Marvel Netflix, Daredevil, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow.

you can also subscribe on iTunes

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 48

It’s been five weeks, which makes sense since it’s not easy to find books! Even some mainstays have disappointed the last couple months… and, of course, some haven’t.

Floppies – The Weatherman, Punks Not Dead, Barbarella, Bloodstrike, Highest House, Ether: Copper Golems, Infinity 8 vol 2, Maestros, Jimmy’s Bastards, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest, Redneck, X-Men: Second Genesis, Seeds, Kaijumax Season Four.

Retro – Love and Rockets.

Trades – Complete Aleck Sinner Vol 2, Fourth World Omnibus, The Complete The Killer.

Mixed media – Luke Cage, CW, Titans.

you can also subscribe on iTunes…

Real Heroes 1 (March 2014)

Real Heroes #1The first issue of Real Heroes doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises. It’s Bryan Hitch doing realistic superhero disaster scenes and he’s good at those. He does a lot of photo-referencing, of course, but it fits since he’s doing Hollywood stars.

The premise is pretty simple. What if the cast of The Avengers had to go play superhero in an alternate reality. How Hitch wasn’t able to sell “Galaxy Quest with superheroes” to a major studio is beyond me. Or maybe he’s trying to establish the brand first.

Hitch doesn’t shy away from plot or character contrivances either. His cast includes the son of a 9/11 firefighter who’s obviously going to be concerned about doing the right thing and then a paraplegic actor who’ll probably get to walk again in the alternate universe.

It’s a little too real with the 9/11 stuff, but Hitch’s earnest and definitely engaged.

B 

CREDITS

Writer and penciller, Bryan Hitch; inker, Paul Neary; colorist, Laura Martin; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editor, Drew Gill; publisher, Image Comics.

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