A curious grab-bag of comics

Yes, it's time for reviews of things I got through a variety of ways (okay, only two ways) and which feature all sorts of genres, from old-school superheroes to surreal sex stories! Who doesn't love surreal sex stories? (Oh, and way down at the end of the post are a couple of scans that might not be completely safe for work. Just so you know.)

Collected Editions of Older Works from Three of the Big Four (DC, Marvel, and Image - sorry, Dark Horse!).

Recently Marvel brought out a Fantastic Four Visionaries Volume Zero, with several of John Byrne's stories with Marvel's first family before he took over the writing and drawing duties with issue #232 (July 1981). It's 25 bucks, so it might be a bit steep for you, but it does feature some nice 30-year-old stories that you probably can't find in too many places (not that I've looked or anything). The stories are decent enough, although they fall into a standard "bad guys show up and the FF defeats them" kind of mode, with nothing too memorable about them, although Fantastic Four #217, featuring a cameo by Dazzler (yay, Dazzler!) and a rampaging HERBIE, is kind of fun (it's written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Byrne). What struck me most, however, comes from the first two-parter from Marvel Team-Up #61-62, drawn by Byrne and written by some hack named Chris Claremont. What's cool about this story is a reason why Marvel, these days, isn't quite as cool as it used to be. It's a Super-Skrull story, so Claremont has to explain how the Skrull escaped ... from a "carved, green stick." That means he has to reference a comic called Marvel Chillers #7, in which the Skrull was trapped inside the stick. I'm sure Other Greg has every issue of Marvel Chillers, but I've never heard of it, and just the fact that there's a comic out there in which Tigra and Red Wolf fight the Rat Pack and their leader, Frank Sina ... I mean, Joshua Plague, who had taken the stick - said to be a "soul-catcher" - and tried to trap Tigra's soul and it turns out Plague is really the Super-Skrull in disguise and his plan backfires and he gets trapped in the stick makes me happy. But that's not what's important! In this story, Jean DeWolff shows up. I wasn't aware that Jean DeWolff was even around back in those days (the story was published in 1977), but it was nice to see her, because the fact that she's such a (relatively) long-standing supporting character makes her death, years later, all the more poignant. The fact that Marvel comics could be good and try to exist in the same universe make the comics from the Seventies and Eighties (and even into the Nineties, somewhat) charming. Plus, the story takes place in New York, and Claremont and Byrne make sure it's New York. I miss the "real-world" feel of Marvel, as most writers no longer care about that sort of thing. Yes, most mainstream Marvel books still take place in New York, but it's a vague, undetermined New York, with only token landmarks like Madison Square Garden. The fact that you could once pinpoint where in the city some battles took place is also charming. I'm not necessarily saying I want to return to that time (the current Amazing Spider-Man seems to want to exist in 1975, for instance), but I think Marvel lost something when the Powers-That-Be decided to de-emphasize the shared nature of the comics. You can tell good stories that "fit" into a shared universe, as these kinds of collections prove. We don't need to know who Jean DeWolff or Kris Keating (who also appears in the story) are, but it's nice when we recognize characters from other comics. But maybe that's just me.

And that's all I have to say about that!

The next collection is Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights from Vertigo. It's 20 dollars for eight issues, collecting two of those Vertigo Pop! mini-series from 2002 and 2003, in this case the ones about Tokyo and Bangkok (in case you hadn't figured that out). Both series were written by Jonathan Vankin, while the Bangkok mini was drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli and inked by Shawn Martinbrough. But the big draw is the artist on the Tokyo series - the astonishing Seth Fisher! (That's not to say I don't like Camuncoli's art - I do, quite a bit. But Fisher, as I've written here before, is one of those rare artists whose work I will buy even if it's something I wouldn't normally check out. So he's the big draw on this book.)

Interestingly enough, the Tokyo story is somewhat inferior to the Bangkok one, if we look at it purely by story. Both feature Americans in a strange culture, but the Tokyo one, which stars Steve, who gets caught up in a bizarre ride across the city with cosplayers, yakuza, and rock stars, feels more like an excuse for Fisher to go nuts, and go nuts he does. It's a breathtaking comic to look at, even though it's comparatively early in Fisher's career (he never gets around to giving anyone noses, for instance, something he did later on) and doesn't quite measure up to one of his later adventures set in Tokyo, the wild Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan. It's still amazing to look at, as Fisher gives us a wonderfully goofy cast of characters, with the somewhat normal Steve in the middle of it all. The gangsters are strange and not-at-all dangerous (well, not often), the rock star is outrageous and ultimately ineffectual, and the series features an unlikely femme fatale in 16-year-old Makiko, who seduces Steve, ditches him to take up with the rock star, and acts completely on impulse. She's a hurricane, wreaking havoc across the city as Steve, caught up in her wake, simply follows along, understanding nothing. Perhaps Vankin's point is that gaijin can't understand Japan. It's certainly a theme of the second series.

More than anything, Tokyo Pop! is Fisher's show, and he does a marvelous job with it. he crams the page with details, casually turns characters into demons when they get angry (metaphorical demons, but still), makes Makiko huge in a few panels to show how much she dominates the action, and gives each character - even ones who barely show up - unique styles and looks. As always when I look at Fisher's art, I'm stunned by his talent and saddened that he's no longer around. It's been three years since he died. Wow. Time flies. But at least we have something from him, and it makes this book worth it, and I haven't even mentioned the second story!

Bangkok Pop! is a better story, with very good art by Camuncoli, even if he can't match Fisher's manic energy. The story requires a bit more restraint, actually, because it's more serious than the Tokyo one. Two American tourists, the man a minor actor, head to Bangkok to re-ignite their romance. While they wander the city, they accidentally get caught up in Bangkok's claim to fame - the sex tourism industry! It becomes a trip through Bangkok's seedy underbelly, with the Americans shocked at every turn and trying to understand why, for instance, a girl might not actually want to leave the capital's sex tourism industry. "But," the enlightened American girl might blabber, "don't they see that they're being exploited?" It's a fairly typical example of culture clash, but Vankin at least tells a good story and Camuncoli does a fine job with the art. It won't change anyone's life, but it's not bad.

If it weren't for Fisher's art, I'd probably tell you to skip this. Or, you know, check it out of the library (if it's at your local library). The stories are fine, but the dazzling vision of a talent lost too soon is what's really nice.

The third of the older collected editions in this section is Eddy Current, the second book in the Ted McKeever Library that Image is currently publishing (the first was Transit, in case you're interested). It's written and drawn, perhaps not surprisingly, by Ted McKeever and costs $35. It's a nice thick chunk of comics, though, and hard-to-find ones at that. I found this interesting: I had never read this book before, yet I'm quoted on the back:

That's in reference to McKeever's work on The Extremist, but I suppose it fits for his other work, too. Like this one!

Eddy Current is certainly a typical McKeever comic, and if that's your thing, you'll probably enjoy it. It features his grotesque (in the best sense of the word) art, characters who don't quite fit into the world, and heroism from unlikely sources. McKeever is interested in examining what can make someone a hero and why certain people are and others aren't. Eddy himself is a patient at a mental hospital who orders a superhero suit from a comic and, inexplicably, becomes superpowered himself. Fortuitously, the electricity goes out at the hospital and Eddy escapes into the night, knowing he has 12 hours to be heroic (the alarms won't be back on until the morning). McKeever follows Eddy through his adventures and the book eventually turns into a banal superhero exercise in which Eddy has to save the city from old ladies who want to broadcast mind-control frequencies, but the plot, ultimately, doesn't matter. McKeever is poking a bit of fun at the superhero genre, after all, so it's not surprising that the plot becomes a bit ridiculous. The book is more concerned with Eddy and what happened to him. He is the focus of a religious cult for a while, as Nun, the large, well, nun believes that he's the Second Coming, and he also drags his ex-girlfriend into the plot. We get a glimpse of Eddy as a non-crazy, relatively well-adjusted individual, but McKeever's point is that perhaps, in this kind of world, Eddy's responses are perfectly normal. Again, that's not a terribly unique viewpoint, but it's done well.

Obviously, in a Ted McKeever book, the art will stand out. Again, if it's your thing, you'll probably like this a lot. McKeever's style is more pronounced here than it is in the first book in the "library," Transit, although even there it was rather unique. McKeever will always be an acquired taste, but despite the fact that it's "ugly," it's breathtaking as well. McKeever has a wonderful sense of the perverse, from his character design to the urban nightmare through which those characters trawl, but again, he's making a point. The city (it's named "Chad," which cracks me up every time) is a horror show of brooding architecture, oppressive and deadening, making the ladies' plan to control its inhabitants' minds ironic, as their wills appear sapped by living in the town itself. And when Lydia, Eddy's ex-girlfriend, shows up, McKeever draws her beautifully - when we first see her, she's in a sweater and panties, a weirdly innocent portrait of someone who doesn't understand Eddy's brand of heroism but believes in it nevertheless. The final battle, on the roof of the radio station's headquarters, is a sparse ballet of violence, with McKeever using silhouettes and simple shapes to show the inferno raging around the participants. It's a wonderful finale, one that puts many a superhero fight to shame.

Eddy Current is a bit expensive, true, and if you're looking for a truly dazzling plot, you're not going to get it. What you will get is over 350 pages of gorgeous (in their weird way) comics and some wonderful characters trying to do what's best for themselves and those they love. That's not a bad way to spend a reading experience, after all.

Comics That People Were Nice Enough To Send To Me Via the Mail.

It's always swell to get free stuff. I guess thanks for that need to go to Our Dread Lord and Master, whose power and fame knows no bounds and therefore redounds on me occasionally!

Felix Tannenbaum sent me his graphic novel, Chronicles of Some Made, recently, and as it's now available on Amazon and was in the most recent issue of Previews, I ought to review it, oughtn't I?

Tannenbaum's book encompasses two stories, both starring robots. And they're both love stories, one a more traditional one, the other a very weird one. In the first story, three robots on their way to an assignment get waylaid when one's programming is upset (by an angry gopher - and it's best not to ask). This robot rebels against his mission (the actual mission seems extremely counterproductive, until you realize that the government has been acting in a similar manner for decades), which leads to tragic consequences for all concerned. It turns into a rather sweet meditation on free will and why we make such silly choices occasionally. One robot wants to fulfill its programming, the other doesn't want to, and it's a rather clever way for Tannenbaum to show us a strange relationship that is nevertheless rather touching.

The second story is shorter and more "traditional," in that it's clearly a love story (the first one takes a while to reveal itself as such). A robot falls in love, but its love is doomed in the most banal way possible. However, that which dooms its love also revives it, and Tannenbaum makes a nice point about never giving up, even if it's painful and costs you a great deal. It's a slightly more uplifting story than the first, but what makes them both memorable is that they remain tinged with sadness even though they both have happy endings. In the first, we don't know if the robots will continue to triumph over their programming (it's not giving anything away to say that they do so, but to what extent remains the question), and in the second, we know that the love will continue to play out the way it does in the story, and the heartbreak will continue along with the romance. It's a nice way to show that "happily ever after" is difficult to achieve without making it so obvious.

Tannenbaum's drawings, as you can see, are rough. It's not that Tannenbaum is a bad artist - check out his web site for examples - but the art shows that he's still learning the craft of dynamic comic art, with the first story (which he drew more recently) definitely an improvement over the second story. One very impressive thing Tannenbaum does in this comic is keep several pages wordless, as his robots wander the world pondering their place in it. He manages to express a great deal through the facial expressions of the robots (even though he's only working with eyebrows, squares for eyes, and one line for a mouth), and it's nice to interpret what the robots are "thinking" (do robots think?) through the art. Both the art and the stories become better in subsequent readings, which is always cool.

Chronicles of Some Made costs $10.25, but I'm sure you can find it even cheaper. It's always nice to see creators tackling difficult subjects in neat ways, and Tannenbaum does this here. If you've ever been in a relationship, you'll probably enjoy this. If you haven't, you're probably living in a mountain shack planning to overthrow the government and have bigger things to worry about, so never mind.

Moving on, we come to three comics that the fine people at Top Shelf sent me recently. It was very cool of them to mail these off to me, especially because I probably would have missed the two books after this first one. This first one, I wouldn't have picked up even if I had seen it, because it's by a creator I just can't get into, even if all the indie people love him. His name is James Kochalka.

Yes, it's Book Three of American Elf, Kochalka's on-line diary, featuring entries for 2006 and 2007. It will cost you 20 dollars. Don't bother with it, says I. It's not worth it.

You may wonder what my problem with Kochalka is. He's a genius, after all. But I bought an issue of Super F*ckers a few years ago and hated it. I won't link to the review, because I don't feel like looking for it (it was on the old Comics Should Be Good, where it's difficult to find things), but my objection to it was twofold: it had no point beyond picking on superheroes, and it wasn't funny. I could forgive the first objection if the second hadn't held, but with the humor completely lacking, the pointlessness became overwhelmingly mean-spirited. So I avoided Kochalka from then on, and whenever I heard in random snippets some of his humor, I was perfectly happy to live a Kochalka-free life.

This book isn't half as bad as Super F*ckers, but it's still not very good. It really encapsulates the problem I have with most autobiographies - any one person's life isn't really all that interesting, especially if you're reading a day-by-day account of it. Maybe if you're the president every day is fascinating, but Kochalka's isn't. If you're not going to "fictionalize" your autobiography a bit - not make things up, but at least make it more literary, like Fun Home - it becomes a tedious recitation of What Happened To Me Today - and let's face it, what happens to us each day usually isn't all that interesting. To use my own life, my daughter just had hip surgery, which might be fascinating to some people in a general sense, but the specific minute-by-minute of her lying in a hospital bed for five days while we rotated shifts sitting next to her and taking care of the other kid really isn't that interesting. You might want to hear about the highlights, but not that I sat next to her for eight straight hours, getting up only to use the bathroom and occasionally stretch my legs. Kochalka's snippets of his day are highlights, of course, but often they're not funny, not particularly interesting, and simply show him as an arrested adolescent obsessed with bodily functions, sex, and playing in a rock band. That's not all of it, of course - his relationship with his son, Eli, is a very cool part of the book - but there's very little going on here that's enlightening or compelling or even terribly noteworthy (the birth of his second child is an exception, as it's done nicely). It certainly doesn't convince me to buy anything else by Kochalka. But this is just one guy's opinion. Here, completely at random, are some of the entries. If any of these make you laugh (not smile, but actually laugh) or show you something deep and meaningful or even entertain you, you might want to buy the book.

Let's just move on, as the next two books Top Shelf sent me are much better. They are the two volumes of Sulk by Jeffrey Brown. The first is a collection of stories about Bighead, Brown's odd superhero, and the second one is a mixed martial arts story (and therefore right in Dick Hyacinth's wheelhouse) called "Deadly Awesome," which is, frankly, an awesome title. The first volume is 7 USD, while the second is a bit longer and will therefore cost you $10. They're both good, but the second is better.

The first volume is slightly less cool because Brown's take on funny superheroes is similar to everyone else's - he plays it straight, but the absurdity makes it humorous. There's plenty to chuckle at, but nothing that makes you reconsider your stance on superheroes or even parodies of superheroes. Brown does what you would expect with a superhero parody - in the first story, the supervillain insists people use the "The" in front of his name (e.g., "Sorry, The Claw, your minions are -- were -- no match for me!"); in another story, Bighead dies (he later returns to life, naturally); while he's dead, Jesus punches Satan (Satan was, to be fair, getting uppity). My favorite villains are "The Author" (it's all meta-fictional!) and the "Beefy Hipster," who's just that. The final story leaves the volume with a cliffhanger, as Bighead has fought ... Bighead? Which Bighead won the fight? Will we ever know????

The second volume is better, because it's astonishing that Brown gets NINETY-FOUR (94) pages out of a mixed martial arts fight, and it's really good. It's a fight between Haruki Rabasaku and Eldark Garprub, the first the wily veteran, the second the up-and-comer. After a few pages of explanation about the rules of MMA and a bit of background about the fighters, Brown turns them loose. It's a three-round fight, and Brown does a remarkable job building tension and then deflating it, as the fight has its own ebb and flow. Of course, Garprub is the clear favorite, as he's younger and stronger, but Rabasaku holds his own early on. Brown does a nice job keeping the action flowing while explaining to the reader what's going on in terms of holds and scoring, and even though we think we know what's going to happen, it's a credit to Brown that we're never sure. Neither fighter is a clear-cut hero or villain, so although we're rooting for Rabasaku (well, maybe we're not, but it's clear that Brown wants us to), we still aren't sure if Brown will let him win the fight. It doesn't really matter who wins, of course - as the fight progresses, this becomes an epic battle between young and old, and how different generations view the way the world works. Garprub thinks he can overpower anything, while Rabasaku has learned the hard way that it's not always that easy. Yes, it's a MMA fight, but it doesn't go too far before it becomes a metaphor. It's nice that Brown keeps it as a fight while suggesting more to it.

Brown does a fine job focusing on the finer points of MMA fighting in the art, which keeps what could have been a tedious battle fresh. If you've never been into MMA (which I have not), it's an interesting look at the way the fighters move and plan in the octagon. The art is basically the two men beating on each other, so it's rather amazing that Brown keeps it interesting.

I have nothing against volume one of Sulk, but "Deadly Awesome" is where it's at, man! So if you have to get only one (that's so sad!), get that one. Or get both. That would be nice of you.

The fine folk at Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books sent me Waltz With Bashir, the graphic novel by Ari Folman and David Polonsky that accompanies the Oscar-nominated film. The hardcover book is $27.50, and it's a gorgeous package. I ordered this from Previews some time ago but haven't gotten it yet, so maybe soon I'll have two copies. Astute readers know what that means!

Waltz With Bashir, for those who haven't heard, is the story of Ari Folman himself, who was a soldier in the Israeli army during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. An old army buddy of his comes to visit and tells him he's been having nightmares about the invasion and the massacre of Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Lebanese Christians. The Israeli army had secured the area and allowed the Christians to go in and kill everyone they found, and Ari was right there, but he's blotted the memory out of his mind. The visit from his friend spurs him to visit other friends and find out why he doesn't remember the massacre and what his role in it was. Through this storytelling device, Folman is able to switch between the present and the past and from dreams to reality easily, as Folman and his friends circle around the truth before Folman finally finds out what happened. It's not pleasant, as you might expect.

It's easy to see that this probably works better as an animated film, but it's perfectly fine as a comic. Polonsky blends the animated figures with backgrounds that shift from true animation to photographs, and the effect isn't as jarring as you might expect and actually helps with the surreal tone of the comic. The few weak spots of the art are in the action scenes, not surprisingly, as Polonsky is using static computer imagery instead of pencils. But the action scenes are few, as Folman and Polonsky show the aftermath of violence more than the violence itself, which is a fantastic way to show how war affects the people who actually have to live there. Polonsky also does a brilliant job with the dream sequences - they're beautiful, haunting, and terrifying.

Folman's story isn't quite as good as the art, mainly because it's a typical anti-war story without being preachy (which, I admit, is nice). The idea of someone deliberately forgetting being involved in a massacre is interesting, but feels more and more like a plot device as the book moves along - could Folman really forget this huge event? However, the way Folman puts together the story helps hide the weakness in the plot. The invasion and the events that proceeded from it are disturbing, so Folman never tries to overwhelm us with horror. We know things are horrible in war, so Folman concentrates more on why Folman doesn't want to remember. When we get to the reason, it's fascinating and speaks to a bigger geopolitical problem in the Middle East with regard to Israel. It's a nice job by Folman.

The anti-war message doesn't work as well, because the book's singular moment has nothing to do with an anti-war message. It's a scene from which the book gets its name, and it's breathtaking in its horrible beauty and shows why men will always go to war. It's a disturbing moment in a book full of them, mainly because it's not necessarily meant to be awful. This is a book full of images, after all, from the dogs early on in a dream to Folman's dead-eyed girlfriend. When the comic becomes a bit preachy, it doesn't work as well. When Folman and Polonsky let images of the Israeli world at war take over, the book becomes much more uncomfortable.

Waltz With Bashir isn't a perfect comic, but it's certainly a very good one (for the most part). There's a great deal to like about it, and I'd love to see the movie to compare and contrast. Of course, I've wanted to see the movie for a while, but I don't live in New York or Los Angeles, so GOD FORBID anything besides Paul Blart: Mall Cop comes to the Basin! (Okay, so the movie did come here. Babysitters are hard to find, man!)

Comics From Companies Other Than the Big Four That I Had to Purchase With My Own Money, Like a Sucker.

I blame Chip Mosher, especially for the first one.

Kathryn and Stuart Immonen's Never As Bad As You Think recently got collected by Boom! Studios (and costs $15.99). The idea behind the book (originally serialized on-line) is that Immonen (Kathryn, that is) would take a random word from Illustration Friday and write a story, and then Immonen (Stuart, that is) would start drawing when she finished. I guess he had a week to draw it, because then there would be a new word, right? Anyway, that's the conceit.

What Kathryn did with this is the fine tradition of Richard Linklater's Slacker. We begin with a woman talking on her cell phone to her friend, who's just broken up with his boyfriend. She meets another friend for coffee, and a few pages in, she sees a cute dog. Immonen simply follows the dog and moves on to different characters for a few pages, then onto other ones. We end up south of the border somewhere, then out in a desert, where, interestingly enough, Immonen links the story back to the first character. It's a nice touch. With this unusual style of storytelling, we get just a little bit of each character's life, but Immonen does a great job with it. She nails different voices and moods in very little space, and the stories, such as they are, are often humorous, occasionally tragic, and all riveting. Even the talking animals that drop in occasionally feel right. It's fairly impressive how she even manages to link some common themes throughout the book even though she's using different characters and different situations.

Stuart's art is, well, his art. It's a lot sketchier than his usual stuff, mainly because he was so rushed, but it crackles with manic energy in the best Immonen way, and he draws a bunch of characters but none of them look alike. He does a wonderful job, even while sticking to basics. It's not as great as his art on Nextwave, but that's okay. He keeps everything flying along and does a good job giving us a sense of place even as the stories skid all over the map, from the United States to Mexico and who knows where else. It's quite neat to follow his art as we follow the characters.

Never As Bad As You Think seems, on first glance, to be a slight book, a successful exercise in coming up with a comic with odd restrictions. The Immonens, however, have turned it into something very interesting - we're constantly wondering how these people got into the situations and how they're going to get out of them, and what happens next. That we don't find out is excruciating, but part of life. Never As Bad As You Think is a delightful comic about the extras in the movie of our lives, and it's a keen book to check out.

Our next book is from NBM and will set you back $14.95. It's Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert and Kerascoët. The artist, interestingly enough, is two people - Marie Pommepuy and Sébastian Cosset (I found this out here, by the way). It's a French comic that's been translated into English, so now the important people in the world can enjoy it!

Miss Don't Touch Me is an odd book, because it looks so charming. Kerascoët's style, as you can see, looks a lot like comic strips that might appear in the New Yorker or other high-brow magazines. It's beautifully drawn, certainly, and the attention to detail is stunning - the book takes place in 1930s Paris, and the art evokes this wonderfully. Keroscoët also does a fine job shifting from joyful innocence to the lurid back rooms of a brothel to the more disturbing sex games taking place in even darker back rooms. As usual with European comics, the attitude toward nudity is refreshing - much of the story takes place in a brothel, so of course there's going to be a lot of female nudity, but there's plenty of male nudity, too, and often the characters are casually naked, and not all of them look that great. It's simply part of the story.

The story revolves around Florence, who's a maid in Paris with her sister, Agatha. Agatha likes to go to dances out in the countryside, but Florence is worried about her because there's a serial killer roaming the rural areas. One night, Florence sees something through a crack in her wall, and it leads to Agatha getting killed. Florence, convinced the serial killer was living next door to her, becomes obsessed with finding her sister's killer. With that in mind, she goes undercover at a high-class brothel, where one of the victims (the only prostitute) worked. She doesn't want to engage in prostitution, so she becomes the girl who dishes out punishment to masochists. This is where the title of the book comes from, by the way - the other whores call her "Miss Don't Touch Me" because she doesn't want to have sex with the regulars. She's quite good at her job, though, so she gets to stay. She begins to investigate and thinks she has a line on who the killer is. We're fairly sure she's wrong, but it's interesting watching her unravel the lies that exist in the brothel.

The story is straightforward, with Florence following leads and trying to uncover the truth, no matter where it leads. Hubert builds the tension nicely, as another whore who befriends Florence seems to know more about the killings than she lets on, but fears retribution if she talks. The mystery becomes more complicated but never too much so, and the answer is clever and horrible. What the story becomes is a tale of hypocrisy, as everyone is hiding something - from Josephine Baker (seriously) to the Edward VIII of England (who's never explicitly named, but it's probably him). The idea of women paying for men's sins is present throughout, and it becomes more and more into focus as Florence uncovers what's going on. Hubert never makes it too obvious, but it's still done well. We also get an interesting look at the society of prostitutes and how a pecking order is established and the women navigate through this shadow-world. It's a murder mystery, certainly, but it's nice that there's a great deal more to it.

Miss Don't Touch Me is an exciting and interesting comic. It looks great and tells a riveting tale. There's not a good reason to skip it!

Finally, we have surreal sex stories! In the Flesh is a collection of short stories by Koren Shadmi that is published by Villard and costs $14.95. It's really weird. Surreal, even.

The stories in the collection (there are 10 of them) all deal with love gone wrong in some way. They aren't necessarily sad stories, just ones where people can't get together, for any number of reasons. Shadmi is also interested in delving into just how weird sex can be, and therefore the book straddles the line between odd and absolutely bizarre. In the first story, for instance, a middle-aged man who wears a puppy costume on a kids' television show and has a lonely personal life is approached by a younger woman who also works in TV. She gets him into bed, but wants him to leave his puppy head on when they're having sex. But that's not even the weird part. It's a strange, sad story, and Shadmi does a marvelous job with the man, who never says a word in the entire tale. But it's immediately followed by a story in which a guy hooks up with a woman who carries her severed head around with her. Yes, I just typed that. It's not gruesome at all - her head just happens to be separated from her body. The stories shift back and forth from situations that could conceivably happen in the "real" world and situations that serve strictly as metaphor, and Shadmi does a nice job making them work and blending them both together. Only in the final story, "A Lavish Affair," does the surreal take over completely, as a woman goes on a bizarre journey through a Gothic mansion and into a painting and then out again. It's also the weakest story in the group.

Shadmi shows the myriad facets of love and sex, from obsession to isolation to association with other, darker desires. The people in his stories are seemingly normal (well, maybe not Antoinette, the girl who carries her head around, or Christine, the radioactive girlfriend), and by making their situations seemingly normal (within certain parameters, of course - you have to accept the metaphors), Shadmi does a marvelous job showing how difficult it is to navigate through love and sex. Most creators do this very literally, which is fine, but Shadmi takes a different route, and it works as well. Why does Antoinette (a great name, of course) have a head separate from her body? Why does Christine get better after she becomes radioactive? Why does the young girl in "Satisfaction Av." do such a horrible thing? Some of the metaphors are obvious - in both "A Date" and "Grandpa Minolta," for instance - but Shadmi does such a good job with them that we follow along and don't mind. "A Date," for example, is a brutal critique of openness and where it leads and why people lie on dates. Shadmi manages, in a few pages, to bring these characters to life and give us reasons to become invested with them. Then he twists our expectations beautifully.

Shadmi does a nice job grounding the stories with the art, too. Everyone and everything looks so real, so that the bizarre nature of some of the stories doesn't overwhelm us. There's plenty of nudity in the book, but Shadmi does a good job making sure the situations aren't too lurid or even exciting - these are people having sex (well, about to have sex, as we don't see the actual act), and they are nervous and wary about exposing too much of themselves or overcompensating by acting too free. It's a wonderful book to look at, and the story that doesn't work as well - "A Lavish Affair" - shows how good Shadmi can be, artistically. It's a mesmerizing story to watch unfold even if it goes a bit too much into the esoteric to be effective.

Koren Shadmi has given us a comic that dares a great deal and almost always pulls it off. It's uncomfortable, but that's mainly because it's very good at digging under the surface and trying to figure out why we act so strangely when it comes to sex and love. In the Flesh is well worth your while.

As usual when I have a lot of books, I like to recap!

Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne volume 0: Fun, old-school superheroics, but not all that essential.

Tokyo Days, Bangkok Nights: Worth it for the Seth Fisher art, although the story set in Bangkok works better as a whole.

Eddy Current: An odd book about what it means to be insane, with great art from an underappreciated master.

Chronicles of Some Made: Two charming love stories featuring robots.

American Elf volume 3: Does not make me rethink my avoidance of James Kochalka.

Sulk volumes 1 and 2: Solid work from Jeffrey Brown; Bighead's exploits in volume 1 are more fun, but "Deadly Awesome" in volume 2 manages to become something more than just an MMA battle.

Waltz With Bashir: A beautiful, harrowing book that wants to be more anti-war than it actually is.

Never As Bad As You Think: A humorous book reveling in humanity and all its goofiness.

Miss Don't Touch Me: An excellent creepy story about a 1930s brothel and the dark things that occur there, but it remains light because of the sparkling art.

In the Flesh: Surreal sex stories that illuminate the distances between people even when they're most intimate.

Now, go shopping! Stimulate that economy!

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