You're here now, and yet we started without you! Check out Jog's first two posts on this little shakedown: he's got a state the facts introduction on what we've planned and a review of Miss: Better Living Through Crime. I'll keep it simple: this is all of the DC/Humanoids collections. This is the kids who showed up on the playground with a pack of Gitanes instead of Camels five years ago only to find out that America still wasn't ready for them. They didn't slink off though! They stormed out the way they came in, and when it was all said and done, they'd left a stack of softcover collections behind them that proved they'd been here, whether anybody cared or not.
We were supposed to be further along, I think, in 2004. Long live the new flesh, that sort of thing. But that's who we were, and we have what we gave ourselves--Humanoids Publishing, DC Comics, together for a brief moment. They stood in the wrong place for America's stereotypes of Frenchmen--as Eddie Izzard once put it, America likes the French to smoke, to have sex with your family. We can't abide them being cocky on the rooftops, that's where Steve Rogers belongs, it's the spot for Japanese dragon kids wearing orange jumpsuits. Humanoids knew they couldn't rely on people fiending for diacritical markings too. They knew that America fears the freedom of the beret, the steely silliness of Anna Karina, hell, we fucking hired the director of that porno Archie movie to remake Breathless--the Humanoids catz knew they couldn't win us over if all they brought was the guy that Denzel Washington makes fun of in Crimson Tide. So DC made sure that one of the Humanoids reprints would be from a guy who had done an issue of Birds of Prey, and that another would be from some crazy Ukrainian ex-soldier. That's how you beat xenophobia. You use the Birds of Prey to gild the lily.
There must have been a time when being a connossieur of zombie stories was a charming private hobby, but I imagine, now that zombies have become something of a fictional category all to itself, with every major and minor form of cultural output having a profitable zombie universe, it's a bit irritating to find a whole bunch of unwashed proletariat types showing up with their tents and vegan trail mix to steal your porridge. What used to be a swampy homeland populated by Fangoria subscribers and Italian VHS traders is now packed full, with Spider-zombies, video game buffs and the cardigan wearing tea-slurping World War Z readers. (Remember how Barnes & Noble put that book on the "Popular Fiction" table? We've come a long way from drunken 80's road trips to the Monroeville Mall, oh yes we have.) Fragile probably believed itself as a part of the cherry trips of the past, a more pure re-imagining of zombie apocalypse story tics, but then again, nobody likes to openly admit they're jumping on a bandwagon. Well, admit it or not, it was. Additionally, Fragile is a solid example of what happens when the rote standard tries to go in a New and Fabulously Innovative Direction, fails completely with all the new twists it brings, and is only tolerable in so far of the portions it leaves genre-standard. It's a bad comic, and the length only serves to hammer that point home, over and over again.
The story prefers an almost antagonistic relationship with the concept of simplicity, throwing out ideas every three or four pages, most of which last about as long as the three or four pages after which they are introduced. The ones that last aren't that much better, and only one that is rewarding, a couple of zombie-killing monsters, zombies themselves, who play the part of comic relief in the same way that Jeff Smith relied on a similar pair of Stupid Rat Creatures--are pointlessly abandoned twenty pages from what the book treats as a climax. Roughly speaking, Fragile is the story of a post-apocalypse zombie-fied world, where the uninfected live in walled cities, protected by a government sponsored program of "Disinfestors", or "zombies that hunt zombies". The plot focuses on a newly infected young man--a sort of Paul Pope-ish hottie with an expensive haircut and a retro v-neck t-shirt--who meets and falls in love with an ex-super-model turned decaying zombie. Separated by fate and horrible plot twists, one ends up following the young man as he tries to take a serum of zombie cure to save his new girlfriend from evil before her body completely falls apart. His traveling companions are the two bonehead Disinfestors, a post-op transsexual who loved him when he was just a lad, and some random friend from the walled town he escaped following his infection. The zombie cure is in the post-op transsexual's bloodstream. Invention, thy name is boring the shit out of me while writing down a synopsis of your plot.
Fragile is the sort of comic that would probably most benefit from a wikipedia page that summarizes its plot, as that would be a quicker read--the only problem would end up being that the only reason to spend any time with its world at all is the occasional piece of art. The story is fractured in the worst possible way, with the most interesting ideas abandoned time and time again, and the more important story tics dealt out between the panels. Primarily, one has to deal with what may or may not be DC's choice to focus the collected editions blurb copy on the most underdeveloped part of the story--the love between Alan, the could-be-a-model, and Lynne, the used-to-be-a-model. There's only five pages between when the two meet and when Alan blurts out "We were together, and I was ready to fly, to face the storm with her." As their relationship progresses from that moment--delivered in the same splash page that makes up the covers primary illustration--Alan's love is described in singular turns of phrase all bent around shallow assertions of how hot Lynne was, because, well, now she's a fucking zombie and her body is falling apart. So she's not hot anymore. There's no concept or idea that the girl--who has so little personality that she comes across more as a bitter writer imagining the mentality of some STUPID GIRL who NEVER called back--has any attraction to Alan at all beyond how her decaying flesh has made her that much more desperate to prove she's still got something going on in her vapid, stupid head. You've never seen an empty, blood-caked eyesocket look this good! Hopefully! By the climax of the book, which is handled in an epilogue that depicts the transsexual and the hero's pal having a discussion in front of huge statue produced by the same company that made that Superman statue in Metropolis following his short period in the ground--it's difficult to say anything nice at all about this comic whatsoever. At least American trash lasts around 22 pages. But it does make it clear, once again, that if you're going to tell a post-apocalyptic zombie story, and you don't care enough to develop the world the characters live in, you really shouldn't be telling a post-apocalyptic zombie story. The setting is always the best part. At this point, a nine year old can write stories about why you need to shoot the things in the head.
By Igor Baranko (credited as Baranko)
Colors by Dave Stewart & Charlie Kirchoff
Translated by Pat McGreal & Igor Barnanko
We'll have to change things up just a bit, I think, for this Jog thing to have some flow. While the two of us will definitely handle a bit of the "why are you doing this" in the Savage Collaborators, I'd like to note that Horde, along with Jodorowksky's first volume of Technopriests, are the two books that cemented the imprint for me, and they are the reason I'm one of the random fools that bought so many of these books when they first came out. The initial launch of titles that I came across were Bilal's Townscapes, the aforementioned Technopriests and this, The Horde. Those were the only three that I bought at the stand--after reading Horde and seeing Bilal's art, I "signed up" as it were for the Humanoids line en masse. For those who haven't ever been to a comic book store, that means I made a gentleman's agreement with the owner that if he ordered them for me, I'd buy them each week. I stuck with it a lot longer than I should have and was eventually broken by the glut of Jodorowsky that made up the middle of that time period. (That's not to dismiss all the Jodorowsky, I'd hate to spoil future reviews, but there came a point where the stack of unread Humanoids that "I'd get to later" threatened my collection of Flash Gordon movie stills for prime shelf location.) Upon the initiation of this project with Jog, I came back to Horde for the first time in years. I'd hate to tell you in these early posts that it's "all downhill from here", but hey. This is some of that good shit.
This is the first time you get to see people killed on panel. There's an off panel russian roulette mishap a couple pages earlier. That's a Muslim Chechen in the Time Trapper's cloak, by the way--one of the last of his kind. He just showed up and said he wanted to sell all these Russian soldiers some vodka, which is good, because they had just run out of vodka. Then he changed his mind and decided that he'd rather kill all of them instead, because hey, why not. They were just going to accidently kill themselves anyway, Deer Hunter style.
(Sorry abut the color striations in the below scans. They seem to be a technical issue on this end, and I'm trying to get it fixed.)
These aren't the last people that will die before this comic is over. But first, Baranko has to tell his story--and it isn't an easy one to summarize. Set in the year 2040, where an ex-science fiction writer has taken over as the dictator of Russia, The Horde is focused on four separate protagonists. The first is the dictator, whose whims and worship of the past-as well as a copious amount of drugs and drug-like virtual reality simulations-have led him to believe that he must capture the "sulde" of Genghis Khan so that he can extend his control and rule across the boundaries of Russia. The second protagonist is our Muslim Chechen friend, who has just achieved enlightenment, Satori style, in the mountainous nuclear wastelands that Russia left his Chechen home, and who believes he is protected by Allah in his search for a version of the afterlife called "The Heavenly Chechnya." The third is a group of Russian military spies, searching for the corpse of a Lama they believe to be the last reincarnation of Khan. The final is a naked Mongolian girl who can levitate in the lotus position. Along the way, they're going to run into the robotic servants of the clone of Isaac Newton, who believes the path to pure reason is paved with cutting off one's penis, a clone of Abraham Lincoln who may or may not be an American spy, and a naked woman hundreds of years old who claims to be the female counterpart to the long dead Khan.
So yeah, there's a lot of ridiculous bullshit here. But that ridiculous bullshit looks like this sometimes:
There's all kinds of interesting stuff in comics involving cartoonists and writers purging themselves of their anger. Garth Ennis, Peter Bagge, and Evan Dorkin come to mind as a contemporary artists who have used their actual revulsion towards various subjects or people as the fuel that fires their work. The trick, because there's always a trick, is to do it in such a way that it doesn't just come across as a jetstream of fire, a breathless polemic of rage pointed at the demons that sputter up their conversation. Baranko had some of those same rages--pointless wars, the domination of the young, the tyranny of faith--but unlike the relative luxury complaints of a white American cartoonist, his stem from being a young Ukrainian artist who served two years in the Soviet Army during the Cold War. Hey, his biography on the back of The Horde doesn't screw around, here's an actual quote: "Baranko served for two years in the Soviet Army, where he developed a great hatred of military life." When he created Horde, it was after his 1999 move to America, a move made possible by the US Immigration Lottery. (The numbers are different now than they were then, but it's still a lucky break, especially for an artist.) Don't make the mistake of thinking that his depiction of Russia's dictator as a revolting sociopath is the only contempt he displays towards power. He's no wide-eyed immigrant drawing America like he's a mouse in an oversized red sweatshirt.
This is the America of the future, the one that the impoverished of Russia turn to in The Horde's illegal movie theaters. It's 2040, and we're still watching super-hero movies--thankfully, they've stopped being like The Dark Knight and started being more like 2009's actual super-hero comic books. Blatant exploitation abounds, gigantic collagen soaked lips dangle, nipples--not in this shot, but others--beckon the eye, and it's so enticing that Russia's poor are willing to enter the Gulag just to catch a glimpse of the West. A land where Americans watch shitty super-hero movies about women with gigantic breasts and steroid arms. The future! It's coming!
The other nice thing about The Horde too is that, although it doesn't mince around with subtlety, it doesn't care much for simple explanation either. Although the story's plot eventually centers around whether or not our Chechen ronin--which is what he is, if you're paying attention--will choose faith or power, a choice that each of the other protagonists have to make as well, it's not a story that pushes too hard for the idea that it really is going to matter in the first place. There's a sense of social failure seeping into everyone in the story, shown when the ultimate practitioner in faith--the naked Mongolian nun--has rejected any sort of possible future that isn't tangled up in her benign spiritual quest, a quest that succeeds only in redeeming the soul of a long-dead tyrant who would have been rejected by the latest of his hosts anyway. The Chechen finds his afterlife, yes, but in the way Baranko depicts it, that afterlife is merely dissipation into nothingness. It's an empty death, and it's--within the context of the story--pretty much meaningless.
See, but he's not his opposite. As is made clear right before what could be termed his "ascension", the Russian dictator and the Chechen both carry the same vigorous lust for power that motivated the dead Khan. They have the same goals, and the balance that is spoken of is a balance only found when they die. The balance is that what happens here, right now, because the future doesn't matter to the dead, and the lust of men--one for power, one for an end, will both leave the world in the same condition it was in before they left it. The names change, but power doesn't leave the horizon. The Horde is a story that says all kinds of things, but what it says to me is that Baranko saw this passion for conquest as a negative, but not a negative that could be treated as a cancer to be removed. It's just bad, and bad will either be destroyed, or it won't be, and it's foolish to pretend that it might not be replaced by something even worse. Even the conclusion of the story sees the Mongolian nun asking for meaning in the story just told, and when the responses-first an intellectual one, the second a flirtatious "let's fuck?"-fails to be correct, she departs with nothing but a first year version of Descartes, asking whether or not any of us can even prove we were here in the first place. Which: yes, that's fucking cliched stuff, it's the cries of teenager who wishes he could fight ninjas in church because it's a better life than the one he has. But it works, and it works in no small part because A) this story has Abraham Lincoln, B) Isaac Newton wearing biker clothes and C) a border guard who has the powers of Jean Grey, only better.
Oh, and this guy gets kidnapped by aliens and resurrected, and then he becomes a living angel.
Hello to you.
-Tucker Stone, 2009
T1 Introductions & Miss: Better Living Through Crime by Joe McCulloch
T2 Fragile & The Horde here at TFO
T3 Sanctum & Transgenesis 2025 Vol 1: The Ancestor here at TFO
T4 The Incal (Preparations by Joe McCulloch
T5 Son Of The Gun here at TFO
T6 The Incal (Execution) by Joe McCulloch
T7 White Lama here at TFO
T8 The Technopriest here at TFO
T9 Bouncer, Megalex & Metal Hurlant by Joe McCulloch
T10 The Metabarons by Joe McCulloch
T11 Memories here at TFO
T12 The Chaos Effect here at TFO
T13 The Bilal Trilogy here at TFO