Eclipse

Somerset Holmes (1983-84)

Somerset HolmesIn his foreword, writer and publisher Bruce Jones talks about his goals for Somerset Holmes. It’s a lot of text and a lot of ego, but I think the point is he wanted to go to Hollywood and thanks to Brent Anderson’s amazing artwork, he was able to get there on Somerset Holmes. Though I’m sure, given the ego, there’s a lot about his writing and publishing.

And Jones isn’t wrong. Somerset Holmes is pretty awesome. It gets long in places, but once Jones has established his style–even if the comic is supposed to be cinematic, his narrative plotting is so episodic each episode has a different guest star, you can wait it out. You can just look at the art a little more. You can wonder who had the forethought to put the little bowl under the leaky stop valve in the scummy small town bar where the pig bartender wouldn’t lend the distressed lead a dime to make a phone call.

Somerset considers.
Because there’s always at least two things going on with Somerset Holmes–Anderson’s exceptionally thoughtful artwork; Jones might think it’s cinematic or whatever but it’s beyond cinema, it’s comics, it’s sight gags, it’s understanding how a reader processes information. And it’s raw. Anderson’s experimenting, often because Jones has such “movie” moments, so he has to change the visual tone immediately. It’s awesome.

The other thing always going on is how every guy in Somerset Holmes is kind of a complete scumbag. Or insane. Because the introduction of the book isn’t the eventual action thriller it becomes, it’s a psychological horror thriller. In the context of a comic book issue, it might seem a little less weird–Somerset Holmes originally had an Al Williamson serial backup, which maybe sort of could affect how the feature reads after a certain reveal–but in the Graphic Album? It’s relentless. Jones is positively cruel with how naively he portrays the protagonist; even her daredevil prowess, which saves her life multiple times, is derided. The supporting cast treats it like a disability. It’s heavy.

Somerset’s eventual traveling companion, Barbie, finally gives the book an honest relationship.
Because the book is called Somerset Holmes. Okay, it’s called Somerset Holmes: The Graphic Album, which is appropriate, because it’s see Brent Anderson draw Somerset Holmes. Occasionally too much of her because it’s an early eighties Bruce Jones production and there’s going to be some cheesecake only it gets to be a little much in the collected setting. Especially after the bisexual prostitute she ends up partnering with scopes her out. Somerset Holmes passes Bechdel with flying colors, only it then turns around to be really homophobic but in a “sexy” way since it’s ladies after all.

And then they walk some of that back and they get away with it because Brent Anderson. And also because, even though there are literally men speaking exposition all the time–some of it just dangerous nonsense (Somerset Holmes would be great if Jones weren’t just a pragmatic writer)–Jones does work on Somerset’s character development. It’s “on page” but it never gets the dialogue time it deserves because there are all these dudes explaining, lying, or apologizing. Usually the same dude. The sidekick.

Somerset. Okay. Let’s talk about Somerset first, then deal with the sidekick situation.

Brett Anderson doing nine panel for “cinematic” pacing… in 1983.

The comic opens with a woman getting hit by a car. She’s walking down the road, gets hit by a car. Beautiful art, setting expectations high for what Anderson is going to do. The comic becomes about whether or not it’s always going to look so amazing, as well as Somerset. The two things are tied, especially since Anderson is so careful with her presentation. She’s the visual star of the book, even when the dudes are talking. She’s navigating through their noise. And word balloons.

Over the course of the story, there are all sorts of revelations–including some where Jones doesn’t even slow down to look at the connotations (though it turns out the Graphic Album isn’t a full reprinting of the six issues, so maybe things got cut)–and it turns out Somerset’s a great protagonist. Jones basically uses her like a Technicolor Hitchcock damsel only she’s an active lead. She’s not waiting for her manly sidekick to rescue her, which is good for a couple reasons. He’s a dope and he also tries to rape her the first time they meet.

But in a playful, wrestling sort of way.

Somerset and Brian. He’s lying to Somerset again. He’s the closest thing to a good guy in the comic.

And I just now realized how gross it turns out to be when you factor in the later revelations. Jones’s lack of character continuity is a problem. It’s more a problem with his writing in general than anything in Somerset Holmes because to mess up Brett Anderson’s art on this book, you’d have to be intentionally malicious. And Jones isn’t malicious, he’s just not interested enough. Not in making the characters have internal logic, not in the flow of the story. Maybe it reads better in the floppies, but collected, it’s start and stop, start and stop.

But it doesn’t really matter, because Brett Anderson.

So the dude sidekick is a gross, rapist, early eighties cheeseball. Turns out he’s even worse. But he’s still her sidekick who ostensibly is helpful in Somerset’s attempts to find herself.

I forgot to mention she has amnesia, didn’t I? Sorry. She has amnesia.

Somerset’s friendship with Barbie gives the character her only choices not directly related to survival.

The other sidekick, the bisexual prostitute turned Somerset stan–is so much better. Jones’s handling over everything is so exploitative, but it’s still better than “if she’s not wearing a wedding ring, she must want it” man. Somerset Holmes is kind of jaw dropping in how messed up it gets just because Jones is so disinterested in writing it well as opposed to packaging it right for Anderson. But the female sidekick is at least nice. She’s at least a nice character to have in the comic. Once she forces herself on a sleeping Somerset… well, okay. She at least apologizes. She gets a lot better after that turn. The dude sidekick just keeps explaining, lying, and apologizing.

So. It’s problematic. Somerset Holmes is a problematic, exceptional piece of work. Jones mixes a bunch of genre elements, bunch of genres, throws it all to Anderson, who makes that mess visually seamless. And, despite his other problems, Jones does give Anderson all the right material to make Somerset Holmes a captivating experience.

CREDITS

Writers, April Campbell, Brent Anderson, and Bruce Jones; artist, Anderson; colorists, Anderson and Joe Chiodo; letterers, Gary Cody and Ed King; editor, Campbell; publisher, Eclipse Books.

Detectives Inc.: A Terror of Dying Dreams 3 (December 1987)

113784 20131105221507 largeThe ending is worse than I expected and I wasn’t expecting much. McGregor plotted these issues awkwardly, with way too much material before the actual investigation. The stuff with following the wife beating husband around in the last issue was pretty much pointless. McGregor didn’t need it to make the mystery work. In fact, he might have done it all backwards.

There are some okay moments here. There’s good banter between the leads, though McGregor doesn’t give them enough time together. They seem familiar, sure, but McGrefor never just lets them relax together. He’s always working in exposition or some plot point.

There’s some action, some unlikely surprises and a truly terrible villain. The postscript is ludicrous too, but McGregor does get some sympathy for his characters so he can sell it. The nonsense before? He can’t sell that nonsense.

Okay Colan art. Some nice angles, but too static overall.

C 

CREDITS

The Corpse In the Bloodstained Body Bag; writer, Don McGregor; artist, Gene Colan; letterer, Mindy Eisman; editor, Catherine Yronwode; publisher, Eclipse Comics.

Detectives Inc.: A Terror of Dying Dreams 2 (September 1987)

113783 20131105221241 largeThe fight scene is painful. It goes on for three or four pages–at least, two, anyway–and is impossible to comprehend thanks to Colan only doing pencils. It’s like a sketch of a fight scene, not an actual realized sequence.

There’s some good art, of course. Colan isn’t going to do a comic without some good art in it. Most of the good art is for the establishing pages at the beginning of each chapter–there are three or four this issue. More than two. Colan takes his time with the scenery. His pencils are less rough too. There are definite lines.

As for the story, again the best part is when Denning is off on his date. It’s a very awkward romantic sequence, not too graphic, but trying very hard to be suggestive. McGregor’s writing an honest scene though. The rest of the issue feels perfunctory in comparison.

C 

CREDITS

Knishes and Boardwalk Surveillance; writer, Don McGregor; artist, Gene Colan; letterer, Mindy Eisman; editor, Catherine Yronwode; publisher, Eclipse Comics.

Detectives Inc.: A Terror of Dying Dreams 1 (June 1987)

81754 20131105220709 largeI feel like A Terror of Dying Dreams should be a little better. Gene Colan does the art–just pencils, no inks; it’s good art but Don McGregor’s script doesn’t just play to Colan’s strengths, it plays to his standards. Inexplicably enormous scary mansion in the New York area? Check. Urban blight? Check. Even the one fight scene looks like every Colan fight scene.

There’s some reality to those sequences usually absent from Colan’s mainstream work. The fight scene is a social worker fighting back against an abusive husband who’s targeting her. The urban blight is one of the leads, Rainier, hanging around at nudie bars on Broadway. McGregor’s trying hard to update the miserable detective but doesn’t have much for him to do.

The other lead, Denning, is dealing with his mother’s illness. Those scenes are beautifully written, but Colan’s out of his element on them.

Still, ambitious stuff.

B 

CREDITS

Cheerful Lies and Desperate Truths; writer, Don McGregor; artist, Gene Colan; letterer, Mindy Eisman; editor, Catherine Yronwode; publisher, Eclipse Comics.

Detectives Inc. 2 (April 1985)

52544 20070630065814 largeI love this comic. McGregor throws a whole lot of story at Rogers–I don’t think I’ve ever read another comic with one or two page “chapters” where there’s so much content. Rogers is probably fitting two to four pages of content onto each page. It’s amazing stuff, especially given Rogers also has a lot of design going on. And the dialogue; Detectives Inc. is a talking heads book where the people move around a lot.

But what’s so good about the issue is McGregor’s determination. He loses track of Denning, who actually does the investigating, and concentrates on Rainier, whose self-examination following hostility towards their lesbian client brings him to a new place.

McGregor only hints at all the factors at play–basic machismo, post-divorce wounding, being a vet–yet the subtlety all works. The mystery resolution’s somewhat anti-climatic, but who cares… McGregor and Rogers rock.

A- 

CREDITS

A Hostile Poolside Universe; writer, Don McGregor; artist, Marshall Rogers; colorist, Tim Smith; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Tom Orzechowski; publisher, Eclipse Comics.

Detectives Inc. 1 (April 1985)

324019Marshall Rogers packs an incredible amount of information onto each page of Detectives, Inc. He’s got tiny little action panels, tiny little reaction panels, but every one of them works. His detail is precise while he’s still designing these great pages.

Don McGregor’s script is good and confrontational. There’s a lot of purple prose for exposition, but it definitely adds to the hard-boiled, world-weary tone. But the confrontational aspects are different–the leads are a black guy and a white guy, Army buddies who form a detective agency. The black guy’s better adjusted, while the white guy has an odious racist ex-wife.

Their case–McGregor opens with the resolution to one, which is neat–involves a lesbian couple. McGregor takes the time to examine how the white guy’s reacts. It isn’t just McGregor not avoiding something, he’s really doing a thorough examination of his character.

Good comic.

A- 

CREDITS

A Remembrance of the Threatening Green; writer, Don McGregor; artist, Marshall Rogers; colorist, Tim Smith; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Tom Orzechowski; publisher, Eclipse Comics.

Miracleman 16 (December 1988)

Moore bites off a lot for this final issue to the arc. It isn’t enough Miracleman and company will turn the world into a utopia, Moore has to sell it. He uses great detail–like the Warpsmiths liking the Inuit language the most–to make things process. He also throws in a lot of personality. Heavy metal gangs turning Kid Miracleman into a sensation; it’s unnecessary but perfect.

And Liz. How Moore deals with Liz is crazy good. Winter comes back, but she’s kind of comic relief. Liz figures in differently. One has to wonder if Moore always had this plan for her.

There’s a bit of joking at Thatcher’s expense. Moore is having a good time, after all.

Miracleman is not a superhero comic. Maybe Moore never intended it to be one, just let it pretend like on Gargunza’s tapes.

Fabulous work from Totleben too. The art is breathtaking.

A+ 

CREDITS

Olympus, Chapter Six: Olympus; writer, Alan Moore; pencillers, John Totleben and Thomas Yeates; inker, Totleben; colorist, Sam Parsons; letterer, Wayne Truman; editor, Letitia Glozer; publisher, Eclipse.

Miracleman 15 (November 1988)

7976 20051127175750 largeWhat’s incredible–and possibly singular–about how Moore approaches Miracleman is his distance. There are moments this issue where another writer might wink at superhero comics. Moore doesn’t. Even in those moments, he’s only writing this one. More so, he’s only writing this moment, even though it’s technically a flashback.

London is destroyed, decimated. There is no happiness. Moore pulls Miracleman away from humanity even more; tellingly, Totleben doesn’t do any of his “beauty of Miracleman” panels. The visual poetry is violence and blood. Even in the small panels.

Moore caps it off with Miracleman’s final shedding of his human self, possibly through the most humane act possible. It’s so sad it makes one despondent. Not the act or event itself, but how Moore and Totleben tell it.

I think there are slow parts to the issue. Maybe too much time spent on filler. But it doesn’t matter… it’s amazing.

A 

CREDITS

Olympus, Chapter Five: Nemesis; writer, Alan Moore; artist, John Totleben; colorist, Sam Parsons; letterer, Wayne Truman; editor, Letitia Glozer; publisher, Eclipse.

Miracleman 14 (April 1988)

7975 20051127175716 largeAs far as the art goes, it’s near perfect. Moore’s script (presumably with panel arrangement), Totleben’s art, it’s outstanding.

And most of the issue is excellent too. The stuff with the Moran family, the stuff with Miracleman and the other super-powered beings setting up their club… well, actually that decision is Moore’s second most questionable this issue. Miracleman, Miraclewoman, the other aliens, they set up a superhero club, something apparently all worlds with superheroes do. It feels too obvious.

The real problem is with how much abuse Moore throws at Billy Bates. He’s been being tortured by other kids for a number of issues now, always resisting the urge to turn into Kid Miracleman. Moore goes too far with it; it’s too much torture. Moore’s practically martyring the kid.

The bookends flow throughout the issue; during one recollection, Miracleman dances. It’s crazy, fantastic; easily makes up for the bumps.

A- 

CREDITS

Olympus, Chapter Four: Pantheon; writer, Alan Moore; artist, John Totleben; colorist, Sam Parsons; letterer, Wayne Truman; editor, Letitia Glozer; publisher, Eclipse.

Miracleman 13 (November 1987)

7974 20051127175652 largeIt’s an awesome issue. Not just in the flashback plotting and reveals, but with how Moore structures Miracleman’s narration from the present. Even though the present day stuff is all static and all summary, Moore manages to get in an amazing finish for this issue. Moore doesn’t try to frustrate the reader with foreshadowing, he instead overwhelms.

Miracleman and Miraclewoman go to the galactic council or whatever it’s called and there’s a bunch of political stuff set to Totleben’s trippy alien designs. Miracleman often has smaller panels, so it’s impressive how much Totleben’s designs resonate even if they don’t get close-ups.

But there’s also stuff with Billy and Liz and how it will all shake out to get the story to the future bookends. Moore juggles the otherworldly and the human; he brings them together in the soft cliffhanger.

It’s an outstanding issue. Definitely the best with Totleben’s art.

A 

CREDITS

Olympus, Chapter Three: Hermes; writer, Alan Moore; artist, John Totleben; colorist, Sam Parsons; letterer, Wayne Truman; editor, Letitia Glozer; publisher, Eclipse.

Scroll to Top