Monday 8 August 2011

Coming Back to Comic Books | Pinhead Presents Strange Adventures

As I outlined in my introduction to this semi-regular new feature, much as I love the comic book medium, its nature is such that - short a collection or an accumulation of monthlies, for instance, or some other thing I feel warrants discussion - there's not really enough meat about most single issues to justify full-blown reviews, a la the pieces you're seen on Conan and The Frost Giant's Daughter and Red Sonja: Blue so far.

But that isn't to say I can't have a bit of a burble about the comics I've been reading of late, before I forget all about them as I'm prone to, so today... today we're going to try a couple of quick hits.

How d'you like them apples? :)


First up, so as to ease you strictly bookish sorts in all gentle-like, maybe a month or so ago Vertigo put out the first bumper-sized issue of Strange Adventures, an anthology featuring a fairly astonishing array of talent -- including none other than Arthur C. Clarke Award-winner Lauren Beukes, whose batty but brilliant Zoo City was among my highlights of last year. Now her contribution to Strange Adventures, "All the Pretty Ponies," didn't turn out to be my favourite of the nine short comics gathered together in these pages, but it's entertaining enough, and I think reminiscent of Beukes' thematic preoccupations.

The tale of a technology called MindRide, which essentially allows anyone with the credits to take a temporary time-share in another person's life, "All the Pretty Ponies" is a decidedly familiar fable about identity: about yuppies who want to get down and dirty with the poor, and poor people who would give anything - literally anything - to trade places with the upper-class asshats who rent out their minds to see and feel and smell how hard the other half have it. Beukes packs a lot of ideas into what is a very short space, in truth - Beukes' ambition is a credit to her - while artist Inaki Miranda bestows upon "All the Pretty Ponies" pencils so clean as to seem... oddly sterile.

More satisfying, I think, are the humbler, self-contained stories in Strange Adventures -- for instance the curious, heart-breaking beauty of "Ultra the Multi-Alien" by Jeff Lemire of Sweet Tooth fame (more on which in another instalment of CB2CB), and "Partners" by Peter Milligan, who I have fond memories of for his time on Human Target and Animal Man before that, and who invests in "Partners" - the bittersweet story of a friend like no other - an earnest, back-to-basics sensibility that really rang true with me.

On the other hand, I didn't find a lot to like about "Spaceman" by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, the creative team behind 100 Bullets. In fact I don't think there's really not a lot to it to like. If the pair mean to develop "Spaceman" into a series, which for some reason I'm under the impression they do, I'll say they've got their work cut out for them, turning this ugly thing into something people could actually care for.

Then again, I didn't appreciate 100 Bullets immediately, either, so perhaps the last story in Strange Adventures doesn't close out the anthology on such a down note after all. Even if it had, I'd still strenuously recommend that you hunt down a copy of this value-packed first issue. A couple of minor disappointments aside, it certainly makes for a stonking good start to a series I can only hope lasts longer than most such multiplicitous endeavours.

From a comic I have my fingers firmly crossed for, to another new series whose fate I feel almost totally apathetic about: from Boom! Studios, Clive Barker's Hellraiser. There've only been three issues to date, and one brief prelude which you can read for free here, yet already I feel like this is not an ongoing for me. First and foremost, I really, really, really don't like the artwork. Though I understand that there are some who would and will champion it, the work of former Hellblazer penciller Leonardo Manco reminds me a great deal of Barker's own paintings, and truth be told, I don't much appreciate those, either. Much as I can get behind the idea of such authenticity, in practice Manco's lurid dirty/filthy/nasty roughs leave me, alas, entirely unmoved.

Tim Bradstreet's covers, however, are incredible. Go on - embiggen that thing!

As to the tale itself, well... this might surprise you, but I'm actually a pretty devout fan of the Hellraiser franchise, not to mention the other work of Ser Clive Barker. I know the sequels got pretty terrible, particularly after the Hellraiser series went direct-to-DVD, but all the same, I had my modicum of repulsive fun with them, and that was alright. I even met Doug Bradley once, and that was alright too.


In and of itself, the premise of this comic book is interesting enough. It wisely disposes of the mythos beyond the second Hellraiser flick, Hellbound, and sets in motion two interconnected narratives. In the first, twenty years after the events of that film, Kirsty Cotton has become a bit of a crazy Cenobite obsessive. In fact she's gotten a whole gang of survivors together, and when someone tips them off as to the location of a certain Cenobite artefact, off they pop - but of course they do! Meanwhile, back at the hell-ranch, Pinhead seems to have tired of the myriad pleasures of forbidden flesh. He wants to be a man again; just a dude without a thousand needles stuck in his skull, you know? And that's not a lot to ask, is it? Sadly, the other Cenobites don't seem particularly pleased about Pinhead's surprising change of heart...

Particularly given Clive Barker's seal of approval and indeed input in the plot, I'm nominally interested in seeing where all this funny business is headed. Sure enough it's a novel direction for the comic to take, but I'm afraid that three-and-a-bit issues in, the execution (no pun intended) of Boom! Studios' Hellraiser ongoing leaves me quite, quite cold, all told.

So I'm not in. But I'm not out just yet either. What I'll do is hang about till the end of this first arc, at the least... see if Monfette and Manco's collaboration grows on me at all. I just can't say I'm holding out a hell of a lot of hope.


That's it for this edition of Coming Back to Comic Books, everyone. The good and the bad, eh? Maybe next time we'll do the ugly, make it three for three!


  1. Niall, I'm happy to hear that you enjoyed Strange Adventures.

    For my money that's by far the best Anthology to hit the shelves so far in 2011. I've been mostly let down by the other anthology issues such as Dark Horse Presents, which I feel has been a waste of my money.

    I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of Sweet Tooth.

  2. Yeah, Dark Horse Presents has been pretty disappointing, hasn't it?

    I remember loving Concrete before I took a time out from comic books... just loving that series. But the further adventures of Concrete in DHP have left me cold, one and all (so two for two, or have I missed an issue?) - and to be honest they've still been about the best of a nothing lot in this new Dark Horse anthology.

    Sweet Tooth, meanwhile... oh my. So pretty! So creepy! So, so, so good!

    But more on that another time. :)

  3. I sure much of the same opinion of Strange Adventures: a real quality anthology, which is more than most I can say are out there. Speaking of, you also might like CURSES (by Kevin Huizenga).

    Sweet Tooth is a great series, and we're pretty proud to name Lemire as one of our Canadian brethren (+1 for us!) Seriously though, all joking aside, it's pretty cool to see you venture through this gateway of comics.

    Might I give a recommendation here? I'd definitely say try the Daredevil run from Bendis & Maleev, or, on an entirely different note, the recent Daytripper from Moon/Ba. It'd be cool to see what you think of them, someday.

  4. Agreed,Concrete has been just about the only palatable portion of DHP. I found the Neal Adams stuff to absolutely terrible, and I was disappointed by the Clara Speed McNeil stuff too. I think there's only two issues out so far, if there is more, I wont be spending my money on them.

    The next anthology that looks promising is The Unexpected, which Vertigo is gonna release around Halloween...promises of Horror stories and the nice looking Rafael Grampa cover make me hopeful for that one.

    In the latest Sweet Tooth issue Lemire handles the colors for the first time, doing some nice looking water colors. It adds a bit of extra creepiness.

  5. @Dan - I've bought all the Daytripper I could lay hands on already! Comes highly recommended from folks whose opinions I very much respect, so some talk of that's a gimme whenever I get round to reading it.

    And I definitely read some Daredevil, back in the day... enjoyed it a great deal, even. Kevin Smith's run and the Frank Miller stuff, as I recall. But I've been taken it slowly on the superheroes since returning to the fold; Batman's been my only real allowance in that sense.

    Hell with it, though -- I'm up for some decent Daredevil, and the talent sure sounds superb. Should I just start at the start of the run?

    Also, go Canada, on all counts! I used to dream of the time I'd finally make it to America, but these days I'm all about a summer in Ontario or some such. So congrats on your country, sir, and thanks for all the recommendations. Really very much appreciated. . :)

  6. @Ryan - And here I'd clean forgotten the Carla Speed McNeil strips! Best thing about them, by far, has to be Finder in full colour. So, so purdy!

    I take it Finder's a Dark Horse joint these days, then? Wouldn't have expected that at all.

    Is there an ongoing on the horizon, do you know? All coloured and lovely? Now that I'd look forward to...

    Meanwhile I'll keep my eyes peeled for The Unexpected. I've a few fond memories of Flinch from way back when, so here's hoping!

  7. @Niall

    Daytripper is excellent. Excited to see your view on that.

    Yeah, Bendis' run on Daredevil is some particularly potent stuff- better than Miller, in my opinion- and essential if you want some high-quality superhero comics. The HC omnibuses are a bit pricey for my tastes (the first book costs nearly 100 dollars Canadian) but if you were to start anywhere, start with the first volume of the Ultimate Collection, here:

    Oh, and Bendis' run is also Eisner Award winning, if that adds any more legitimacy to the fact.

    There's some great places to visit in Ontario, though I'm perhaps a bit biased, since I live there. Hopefully if you hop on down sometime, we can meet up in a cafe or something.
    Anyways, cheers to some fine comics!

  8. @Dan - I dare say it'd take a good few hops for me to end up in Ontario, but hey, it could happen! Leastwise I'm going to keep right on dreaming it could... but if it does, and I do hope it does one day, I'd be glad to coffee it out with you, Dan. For one thing we could discuss how very overrated that damned Miller fellow is! :)

    Anyway, I'll get on that Ultimate Collection; I gots pennies to spend at the moment, so.

    (Though startlingly less of them since I started in on the comics again; expensive habit this...)