Wednesday, January 23, 2008




Where's an animated .gif of hick fist-shakin' when you need one.

Grip. Sloth. Chance in Hell. Speak of the Devil. I really thought this —THIS— would be the non-Palomar series that didn't wildly go off the rails at the halfway point. So, I've been waiting since issue 3 hit the stands to find out whether things would go all to crazy halfway through.

Then we crossed the threshold and... BAM! WHAT???? Seriously. For a cartoonist so visually fixated on everything between collarbone and crotch, he really hates middles. He just has no interest in that connective tissue that keeps this comic you've been reading the same comic all the way through.

And, almost as if to drive home Beto's distaste for middles, the big transition happens on page 10 of this 20-page comic. Right there. Wha hoppen?

That's not to say that the new status quo isn't interesting. And it isn't to say that this issue doesn't have some of the best sequences in the series so far: the opening scene that resolves the previous issue's cliffhanger is splendidly choreographed, the visceral Clockwork Orange/Natural Born Killers assault is as disturbing as it is almost pornographically gory,the gymnastic floor exercises make for one of the sexiest pages Beto's done in a long while and the mask-dissolve/montage blend page is mesmerizing (even if it's hard to tell if it's there just to be visually neat or if there's a meaning to be read in it... and that makes me wonder if the meaning is so personally codified that meaning can't be gleaned from it).

I'd like to think that there's a reveal coming in the next two issues. One that finds a relationship between the explorations of voyeurism and taboo desire with the extreme violence. Obviously, one CAN be found. Thematically. But will there be anything from a story or character perspective. Something that explains how Val, Linda and Paul went from page five to page seven and then to page 10. But I'm not sure there is a reveal coming. I'm not entirely convinced that Hernandez is trying to iron that kink out of his stories, because it's starting to become a sort of latter-day motif.

I'm sure the rest of Speak of the Devil will be great. I'm sure this new comic will be full of all the things I expect to see in a Beto comic (including Fritzi... when the hell does Fritzi show up?), but I just don't know about the series as a whole. Still, I've said it before, and I'll say it many more times (I'm sure) that a Gilbert Hernandez comic that doesn't completely work is still a hundred times better than many that do.

The one question I expect we'll get some answer to is the one that might be the most interesting: how do they decide who wears the mask?

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