Wednesday, August 30, 2006

SOLO #12

Brendan McCarthy draws the way I wish sex felt like. He's hardly the greatest artist in the world, or even the greatest cartoonist, but there's something so dirty, so sensual, so physical, so transgressive in his art that it just looks like the greatest sexual moment you never even dared to dream about. And 'dream' is the operative word. McCarthy strikes me as the sort of artist who is dreaming a better world than he is experiencing, and living that dream. And it's a wonderful thing to be able to hold some new McCarthy in my very hands.

Solo #12 is the final issue in a strange series from DC Comics and editor Mark Chiarello, handing 48 pages over to a different, idiosyncratic cartoonist with each installment. It's the final issue because sales weren't really that good, the series routinely finding itself lacking any real 'mainstream' star power and the stories inside ran counter to the prevailing 'event-based' sales focus of contemporary superhero comics. This is a very eighties-feeling series, but this isn't the eighties and individualistic approaches to superheroes is not as strong a hook as editorial-driven, linewide crossovers that 'change' the licensible characters or their world until the next editorial-driven, linewide crossover. It's the inherent weakness of the series, since sales of each issue probably would have been the same if the cartoonists got to work with their own creations instead of spending time on OMAC or Saturn Girl. Since the focus of the series has been "what would it be like if Sergio Aragones drew Superman?" instead of, "what it be like if we gave Sergio Aragones free rein to do whatever he liked, and the market presence to have it seen?", just about every issue has been a dispointment. Yes, even the Darwyn Cooke and Paul Pope issues.

This issue is EASILY the strongest in the series. One of the reasons it's so strong is that McCarthy gives a great, big "Fuck you" to the concept and instead provides a virtual sequel to his bizarre "artbiography," Swimini Purpose.

The first hint that something is different is the cover. Instead of DC editorial rejecting Mike Allred's "Batman doing the Batusi" cover, McCarthy doesn't include a single recognizable charater, instead opting to present a figure that's a pastiche of some of McCarthy's own characters that appear in the book. It's done in the same, textured contour line McCarthy employs in most of his pen-and-ink work with the highly textured coloring that fills his shapes out. It's psychadelic, futuristic, surreal and dirrty. It's trangender, weird and a lovely image.

Inside, after a couple of pencil sketches, the book proper opens with a small image of a train amidst a nebula covered in typeface. It's not really that great at all. The drawing of the train is nice enough, but the poetry and photoshopping over the NASA photo looks more like a college dorm poster than a great McCarthy piece.

Things then take an abrupt shift sideways to quality with the first new Brendan McCarthy comics strip in 13 years. Has the madman lost anything? No, he hasn't. There aren't enough McCarthy comics in print (one of the great shames in comics), so it's a revelation to see this. Brian Bolland, Transmetropolitan Darrick Robertson, Geof Darrow and Frank Quitely wish they were Brendan McCarthy firing on all cylanders. Man's man/woman's woman, Duke Hussy and his Kirby-god neopet headdress, Sir Slapalot are shopping on new comics day. They buy the new "Lord of Nothing" comic and we're transported into the story of the superhero who loves your trash. He even comes out of the comic (or did Hussy go in with us?) to collect the Duke's trash.

Things just keep getting weirder as strange characters try to deal with the "crossed clouds" phenomenon that's lurked in the book since the cover, a trippy green Meeny is sent out to assasinate someone and then some more weird collaging involving an alien Sgt. Rock and Superman.

Then it's Barry Allen, The Flash, except this is, "What if Brendan McCarthy created the Flash," and our tattered Allen is "flashing" through dimensions, witnessing his death and escaping the void people. And Toby, another man with great, big tits, a crazed Braniac 8, some more weird collaging and Johnny Sorrow, a John Constantine-meets-Jerry Cornelius type, saving the kids and taking out the devil for the Jesus-freaks that hold him hostage.

We're a little more than midway through the book and, some questionable photoshop collages aside, the only real weakness to any of these pieces is their brevity. A little more elbow room, and I think some of these could have really shaped up into something nice.

Possibly the strongest fragment of the bunch is the Robbie Morrison-written Batman story, of all things. McCarthy manages to perfectly capture the spirit of a silver-age Batman strip while crafting a piece about a comics fan, a forgotten comics creator, the joys of older printing processes and some disturbing imagery. There's even a bit that perfectly replicates the strange sexual allusion that would sometimes creep into these naive stories.

Things get weirder again with a four-page strip and then there's a four-pager that enlists psychadelic superheroics into a Ballardian short story. It's also only four panels, but it feels complete. We're then given images that weren't included in the book (eh hem), some character studies and even a hint as to what's been going on in this jumble of ideas and images.

"Slouch World" is probably the most traditional comic in the bunch. Two kids dress up as superheroes and go to a party thrown by a character who promised us wouldn't be appearing in the story earlier in the book. That's right, this as traditional as it gets. The kids and their increasingly tatooed busdriver meet the author in Morrison/Milligan style, but McCarthy has the balls, the old, shriveled balding balls with a combover to suggest that this comic shouldn't stop with meeting the author, the noncurious cat still has another layer to peel away.

This is a dream comic about dream comics, not about dreams. Characters take on the properties of other characters and images appear as symbols without meaning. It's a drug trip not about a drug trip but AS a drug trip. If we tripped or dreamed in comics, how far might we go? Would we find ourselves in a comic of our own creation? Would our souls become trapped in a story, a fragile cage of ourown design? Could we find ourselves in another comic book character's dreams? Would we find ourselves swallowed up into our drawing hands or would we find ourselves in a world that could be tossed out like so much garbage? Maybe we are already in such a world.


Blogger Kenneth Belasco said...

I just read Solo, It was awesome!
It was the best note that series could have left on.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Justin J. Fox said...

It's true. Did you get ASS? I heard that was also great.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Kenneth Belasco said...

I'll pick it up tommara!

9:45 AM  
Blogger Justin J. Fox said...


2:40 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker