I came across Hogg through his interactions with de Quincey, and so I grabbed his most notable work from Project Gutenberg, expecting another 'Opium E...moreI came across Hogg through his interactions with de Quincey, and so I grabbed his most notable work from Project Gutenberg, expecting another 'Opium Eater' about some clever reprobate's adventures through the Victorian. If you know anything about this book, then you can imagine my shock and wonder at discovering the story it actually contains.
It begins simply enough, as a witty picaresque set in Scotland and making some mockery of self-righteousness and Calvinist pre-destination in particular. But then the thing breaks off, it becomes suddenly clear that it is impossible for it to continue as it began, and we are split off into a second telling of the same events from a new point of view, a la Rashōmon. This second version is much darker and the prose becomes experimental, until we seem to be dealing with a crazed serial killer attended and impelled by a strange figure who may be the devil himself--if indeed he exists, at all.
The narrator is what we'd call a 'flat character', as despite his doubts and concerns, he remains static throughout and does not go through a great revelation about his state. This can be somewhat frustrating, as often, the only thing we desire of the character is for him to show the slightest bit of self-awareness, but the story is also a kind of satire of allegory, and those of us who recall The Pilgrim's Progress, Piers Plowman, and Everyman will see that Hogg's work provides a sort of parallel to Candide, and that the wooden characters are a fuel for mockery, and for deeper thought.
Yet I found Hogg's work much more interesting than Voltaire's, for as much as Voltaire turned the allegory on its head, in the end that's just an inverted allegory, relying on the same stereotypes for its message, but mocking instead of lauding them. Hogg, on the other hand, manages to make the whole thing conflicted, self-consuming, deluded, and mad. His treatment of Calvinist doctrine might be said to play rather straight, but all the other notions his story is concerned with intermingle and subvert beyond any straightforward interpretation.
But in the end, and for all that, I'm not sure what to say about it. As a piece of art, it is powerful and unusual, prefiguring existentialist and experimental literature, but for what it all means, I feel somewhat less qualified to say.(less)
Beautiful art--it's like a 1970's fashion catalogue sprung to life and pulled guns. the backgrounds and vehicles are particularly impressive: clean an...moreBeautiful art--it's like a 1970's fashion catalogue sprung to life and pulled guns. the backgrounds and vehicles are particularly impressive: clean and precise as a draftsman's. The story is plucked from the original Bourne Identity, but the writing is much crisper and more moving than Ludlum's aimless, sprawling volumes. I did feel the translation was a bit stilted--not as good as other Franco-Belgian comics I've enjoyed--but it was one of those rare cases in which an interesting, well-paced story made up for lackluster dialogue and the occasional overly-lengthy bit of exposition.
Fun story, I'm curious to see if the big reveals will be as interesting as the clues we're getting, or if this will eventually turn into another rambling soap with no satisfying end, like LOST, Battlestar Galactica, or X Files.
So, we already have a comic where there isn’t a lot of subtext. Characters tend to say what they mean and do what they say. So I don’t know why Aaron...moreSo, we already have a comic where there isn’t a lot of subtext. Characters tend to say what they mean and do what they say. So I don’t know why Aaron chose to open this next story arc with a long dream sequence where the backstory is reiterated and all of the character conflicts are stated outright by dream figures. Whenever characters are sitting around discussing what has already happened and what it all means, that’s a sign that the author does not have confidence that they are getting their story across. In this case, it’s hardly warranted because, despite all the jump-cuts through time, the story is hardly difficult to keep track of.
Choosing to reveal all that subtext through a dream sequence is even worse, because a dream sequence is already a convenient, artificial way to try to tie things together. It might be alright if the dream sequenced added new subtext, but just using it to review events means it’s not contributing anything new to the plot.
It also plays into the ‘mystic dream vision’ cliché, and we could hardly have a story about Native Americans without hitting that one. I mean, can you even be a Native American if you aren’t magically clairvoyant? As with the other Native tropes in the series, we don’t get any kind of original take on the vision. It plays out about as expected, except it’s less concerned with creating strange, hallucinogenic connections and more concerned with plainly explicating any subtext which had not already been reiterated (and some that had).
Though Aaron refrains from time switching, the prophetic nature of dream visions allows him to once again reference things that the audience already knows about but which the characters have yet to figure out. The problem with this technique is that it relies on there being some unknown outcome for the audience to wonder about. If all that happens is ‘the character finds out something unpleasant happened’, that isn’t building any tension, because nothing specific is dependent on that revelation. Without that tension, all Aaron is doing is providing spoilers to his own story, and it’s already a fairly simple story to begin with, so telling us what is going to happen next hardly helps to create the tense mood that crime stories thrive on.
But after the opening story, we get back into plot development, and I'm happy to say Aaron has stopped trying to be cute. We leave behind the scattered, overlapping, time-jumping structure and get into a simple, straightforward relation of events as they happen. If a story doesn't have fathoms of depth, mixing up the form isn't going to do anything to change that, and there's nothing wrong with an unadorned, transparent structure.
The art gets a lot cleaner, too, though we start switching artists back and forth, which hurts the overall continuity. It's hard enough to remember which secondary bit player of the ensemble cast I'm looking at without the distraction of a completely different style. The physical layout and the focus are still sometimes murky, but less often.
I suspected Aaron's been trying to play off the chief as an Al Swearengen sympathetic villain, a la Deadwood, which was confirmed in an interview I came across. Unfortunately, he isn't able to fill the page with the pure, unstoppable personality required to carry off such a character. The dialogue all tends to run together and we rarely get any surprising emotional moments, which means little depth. So, the chief ends up a pale imitation.
I'm also tired of the plotline where we see how terrible and inhuman the rez is, and one of the characters wants to give up, but then something good happens and they are utterly redeemed and they decide that the rez is good. It's not a terrible little story, but it's happened at least three times now and it's not helping the book buck predictability. Aaron has expressed a desire to show a complete little story in each issue, but he doesn't seem to have enough different stories to actually doing it without getting repetitive.
While I do appreciate that the book is getting on track, I'm just not getting much reward from reading it. Frank Miller did crime better. Garth Ennis did quirky, harsh dialogue better. Every Native novel I have read covered the same rez cliches. I just don't see anything here that I haven't seen before.
It's so hard to write a dark, violent book and take it completely seriously. Both Miller and Ennis kept their tongues in their cheeks, stepping back from the darkness now and then to keep their story from becoming a mirthless trudge through the exact same emotional territory as the last issue. A story which is so joyless, which demands that you take it seriously, and yet has the emotional depth of a crime drama is hard for me to get through without a lot of eye-rolling and laughing.
Looking through the ads in the back just started to depress me. Seeing Y: The Last Man, The Exterminators, Pride, and Fables just made me realize how miserable most comics are. I'm not going to say there aren't great comics and innovative authors out there, I'm just saying I wish I could find them and I'm tired of reading the same damn thing over and over again.
Better than the first volume, but still has problems. At first, I hoped Aaron had given up on the constantly shifting plot: '2 hours ago', 'the next d...moreBetter than the first volume, but still has problems. At first, I hoped Aaron had given up on the constantly shifting plot: '2 hours ago', 'the next day', 'six days ago', but he soon starts up with it again. I'm not opposed to playing around with time in a story, but you've got to be good enough not to let it break the flow, and there has to be a good reason for it. So far, it just seems like an affectation. It's something a lot of unusual, conceptual comics have played with, but adopting the modes of good comics does not make a comic good.
The story is straightforward, which is a blessing since it jumps around like an adolescent with ADHD and 500 channels of cable, but the only purpose I can see for the complicated structuring is to try to make a straightforward story seem more complex. I don't see anything that would be lost by just letting the story play out from beginning to end, with a flashback here or there. There are some moments where we get a fun 'Rashomon' look at how other characters see the same event, which would be a perfectly good reason to jump around, but there's no need to cut all of those stories up with one another with little rhyme or reason.
We're still getting a lot of overplayed cliches and very little new insight about Native American life. We've got the old magic mentor who sees visions and lives outside of society (combined with the 'wasted life' drunkard for simplicity's sake), rampant alcoholism, allegorical figure of destructive whiteness within the tribe, crooked casino politics, vague references to spirit animals, and plenty of high-minded ideals. When Aaron pulled out the 'in harmony with nature' bit of Noble Savage silliness, it was almost too much. Conceptually, we're still not getting anything interesting or new.
He harps a lot on how terrible the rez is, and how downtrodden everyone is, which is so expected that you hardly even have to mention it, let alone devote an entire issue to it where you hit all the worst bits in succession. He tries to turn it into a little redemption story, but we never get deep enough into the character for it to matter much.
As usual, the dialogue tends to play out on the surface with a lot of flash and very little subtext. People say just what they mean, with a smattering of slang and curses in place of original voice.
What makes a tragedy is when the character suffering has enough self-recognition and depth to really understand and experience the depth of that suffering. I understand that these characters are poor, downtrodden, and uneducated, but I hardly think that's an excuse to make them so straightforward and predictable.
Subversion is best produced by making a character who, despite being beset with the problems we would expect, has a very different view of those problems and approach to life. Aaron seems to recognize this, on some level, and makes his wise 'medicine man' figure versed in Western philosophies, but fails to demonstrate it except in a few out-of-place literary quotes and some assurances by the narrative voice.
It's also not that new of an angle, since every successful modern novel I've read from a Native perspective are steeped in Western literary and philosophical traditions (which is fine unless they pretend they aren't). I certainly don't expect a story that is entirely divorced from European traditions, and this one certainly isn't, but the cliche rez setting over a standard crime story is hardly breaking new ground.
Guera's art shows a great deal of skill, especially in depicting the human form. There is a fineness in many of the lines, showing a thoughtful, deliberate hand, but unfortunately, much of it is obscured by a lot of thick, muddy inking and coloration. The lines show a quick, confident gesture, but the illustrations are often too complicated and detailed to be sustained on such lively, imprecise lines.
The draughtsmanship is also somewhat murky, failing to lead the eye naturally and often creating undifferentiated layers of action. The book owes much to Frank Miller's crime comics, and in comparison, it's easy to see how much a clean, spare style allows a convoluted, action-oriented story to flow uninterrupted.
Despite the somewhat murky visuals and constant cutting through time, the story is still easy to follow, but this is not a sign of precise structure. Aaron apes Moore, particularly evident in the 'lingering dialogue box' which ties scenes together, but unlike Moore, Aaron is not capable of carrying ideas and themes from one scene to the next by this device. Again, it seems to be something used mainly because it is a signifier of 'literary comics', not because it is necessary.
No, despite all the convolution, the story isn't easy to follow because it is expertly assembled, but because it relies on many cliches, resulting in predictable characters and plotlines which even needless story chopping cannot obscure. The Fact that Aaron seems to think himself part of the new wave of revolutionary comic authors just underlines how out-of-touch the insiders in the big companies can be.(less)
Thirty years ago Alan Moore changed the face of comics, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke--we've all heard the story before, and I've certain...moreThirty years ago Alan Moore changed the face of comics, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke--we've all heard the story before, and I've certainly put my 2 cents in. Now, he's not the only revolutionary comic writer out there: Gerber was writing realistic superhero stories years before Moore, and Milligan has a complex, literary voice to rival Moore's.
But Moore is still the great inspiration, the ever-changing, wide-reaching face of comics as an art form. And so he has become a touchpoint, a polarizer, and a target--though hardly one of his own making. As Emerson once wrote, 'To be great is to be misunderstood', and I am hard-pressed to say whether dear old Alan is more great, or more misunderstood.
So, because he is the acknowledged high priest of 'graphic novels', and because a lot of people who wouldn't touch a comic book take great pride in reading 'graphic novels', and because one of Moore's creations is invariably relicensed and remade every year, people seek Moore out. Journalists go to the old wise man on the rock, begging for visions of the future.
And Moore is every bit the wily hermit, which is why these interviews always turn out the same way:
Journalist who hasn't done his homework: "Mr. Moore, where do you see comics going in the future? What are your favorite comic books?"
Merlin in a black cutoff shirt: "The industry betrayed me over and over, especially the big companies. I don't really read comics any more, and I certainly don't follow them enough to have an opinion."
J: "Oh, I see. Well, what about the news that they are going to remake [something Moore did in 1987]?"
AM: "Well, they own it, so they can do what they want with it. I don't care, but I don't want to see it."
J: "Well, how about the fact that [other company] is going to make a sequel to [some minor Moore story] using old scripts you pitched to them in 1991 but they rejected?"
AM: "Well, I'm sorry to hear that, I wish that they would stop cannibalizing old stories and ideas, trying to recapture their glory days, and instead to to move ahead with something new."
J: "Like what?"
AM: "I don't know, how about something that isn't just a rewrite of work from decades ago? How about they promote a culture of new-thinking, creative talent instead of just hiring guys who grew up as comic fans and just want to tell the same stories about the same characters, stories which are so full of inside-jokes and impossibly complex histories that no new reader could possibly find them interesting? It sounds like nothing has changed since I left, and the industry is still run by people who discourage anything new and push for anything that resembles a successful work that is now old an outdated."
Then the journalist publishes the piece as 'Alan Moore Bashes Comics Industry (Again)" and the internet erupts in another unpleasant shitstorm. People who are tired of Moore's huge reputation say he's an old man who is out of touch, and people who buy into his reputation a bit too much say he's completely right, and that all modern comics are shit. And so we see how reputations are built: both sides misread Moore's statement and then everyone talks about how he is a saint and/or a bastard, while Moore sits at home writing stuff and not caring.
Inevitably, people in the industry start putting in their opinion. We usually get something from Grant Morrison about how there are all kinds of great comics out there besides Moore's, which is true, but since Morrison has spent his career being labeled 'that guy who is like Alan Moore, but not as good' (sometimes fairly, sometimes not), he tends to be too close to the controversy to see things clearly.
And he's hardly the only one. After reading Jason Aaron's 'The Year I Stopped Caring About Alan Moore', I found myself thinking that someone else in the industry had grossly misread him, taken the whole thing personally, and ultimately, failed to refute any of the points Moore had made about the industry. In fact, his naive lashing-out rather seems to confirm Moore's concerns.
Moore contends that the industry does not promote talent. He doesn't just say that they have no top talent, but that there is no system of writing promotion, whatsoever: "Why are DC Comics trying to exploit a comic book that I wrote 25 years ago if they have got anything?". But Aaron contends that he has written a story where he, as a character in his own story, is shot in the face by a funny in-joke character who only die-hard geeks remember.
As any writer from Family Guy will tell you, there is no more creative act than combining violence, obscure references, and breaking the fourth wall--a technique that was already tired when Morrison did it in 1990. Already, Aaron is feeding into Moore's critique of the industry as worn-out, incestuous, and cannibalistic.
Then there's Moore's assertion that the industry is now run by fans. He's not saying it shouldn't be run by people who love comics--clearly, Alan himself loves comics, despite all the bitterness and difficulty-- this is more akin to a winery being in the hands of alcoholics: of people who do not want to make the best product, but who want to make something that will get them good and drunk.
This is supported by Aaron's own whining assertions that Alan Moore 'owes him' for buying all his comics over the years. Now here, I had always thought that the writer repays you in the story, and if you like what he has written, you buy it, and you both get what you want. But in the mind of a 'fan', that's not how it works. The relationship between writer and consumer is personal, it's an interaction, or as Aaron puts it:
"But just how has Alan Moore seen fit to thank me for all the support and adoration I've shown him over the years?"
Well, I'd say he thanked you by writing great stories in the medium you love. Not enough? Tough shit. Alan is not obliged to coddle you and be your friend, nor is it necessary for him to read every single author's work in order to see that the industry is stagnant and backed up, and that, despite the great, undiscovered authors who may be out there, the industry is not embracing a new vision.
And I've been looking for one. There are a lot of comics coming out these days and I wish that there were voices as revolutionary as Moore, Gaiman, and Milligan leading the way to some new period, instead of just aping the past. Instead of Sandman, we have Fables, a pale shadow of Gaiman's mythic explorations, lacking writing ability, insight, and character. For artistic exploration we have The Nightly News, which is pretty enough, but which has the sort of plot a first-year college student might write while using the term 'sheeple' without a trace of irony.
The Walking Dead is an endless, straightforward soap opera with some passable characterization, but no aspirations to anything greater. Y: The Last Man does have aspirations, but gets lost in chauvinism, cliche, and overly-convenient plotting.
I could go on. My first thought, after reading Aaron's invectives against Moore was 'who is this guy, and does he have any ground to stand on?' So I looked him up and found he was the author of a few comics, but then I forgot about him and moved on. It wasn't until much later that I happened to read a highly-recommended book called 'Scalped' and then, while writing this review, realized it was by the same guy.
Well, if Aaron wants praise from Moore for keeping comics alive into a new era, he's going to need more than this. It's a rehash of Frank Miller's Sin City, without the hard-driving, elegant plot. Aaron tries to do a bit of what Moore is famous for: a disjointed story that skips back and forth, but like Morrison, he shows how damned hard it is to do without losing the thrust of the plot. He does have some nice moments and attractive pieces of composition, but they are the exception.
Then again, the plot isn't very well-constructed to begin with. He takes a noir bent and lampshades it, calling his protagonist 'Dashiell', then writes out a story where everything is confused and uncertain, doled out slowly over time for our hard-nosed hero. But we never get any starting impetus to get us into the story, its all just undefined mystery with the characters jumping back and forth between time and place, trying to get us to our destination.
Aaron didn't seem to learn from either Miller or Hammett that you need to stick with something small and palpable to hook the main character, a central personal journey for him to follow as we uncover the larger tale, otherwise it just feels like a normal story with the structure chopped up and reversed to fool us into thinking it might be interesting.
The dialogue is reminiscent of Preacher: every third word isn't a swear word and everyone is constantly threatening and insulting one another. Yet there isn't as much differentiation between the characters, especially in terms of dialogue, so everyone just ends up sounding the same. Everything is loud and crude for its own sake, and the tone suffers.
Using characteristic, strong dialogue can be a great way to give your story mood and your characters personality, but filling every bubble with as much wild vernacular as possible is just distracting and silly, and it makes everyone sound the same. At some point, you're going to have to tell a story.
But this is Sin City on the Rez, and therein lies some opportunity for a new vision--something not already done to death in comics--and which has the added benefit of being able to comment on the long tradition of Western comics. But this is not an eye-opening bit of realism, not a glimpse into the Rez culture. So far, I haven't seen any details I haven't already encountered in the cliche depictions of Natives that sometimes show up on TV. This isn't Sherman Alexie or Louise Erdrich, it's not even Momaday, it's just a crime drama with a 'Native' veneer.
It's frustrating because you do finally have these Native voices coming out in those authors or in movies like Dead Man and Pow Wow Highway, and then to read something like this, which is so reductive. It lacks the self-aware humor which makes stories about isolation and poverty feel human. But then, mirthlessness is a sure sign of an 'edgy' comic that takes itself too seriously. Sure, there's plenty of witless sarcasm, but that hardly adds depth to an already cynical story.
So whatever Aaron wants from Alan Moore, or feels he deserves, I've seen nothing so far to suggest that he's earned any of it. He's not in the new vanguard of up-and-coming writers who are going to redefine comics for the next generation, he's just another guy remaking the great comics of the previous generation.
Maybe his childish diatribe would have had some more punch if he had some accomplishments to back it up, but as of yet, I'm not seeing it.
Another solid story by Milligan, and a bit more unpredictable than the last two volumes, though it ends on a rather silly note. More than anything, I...moreAnother solid story by Milligan, and a bit more unpredictable than the last two volumes, though it ends on a rather silly note. More than anything, I was glad to have a new artist on the series. While Chiang's style was simplistic and blocky, like Pulido's, Chiang had a less cartoony style, with a greater focus on anatomy and dimension.
Though I was just as appreciative of the switch in colorists, going from rather light, predictable color to a lot of depth, and chiaroscuro. It's nice to see a comic that isn't afraid to paint people in colors other than light pink.
Milligan keeps an even keel in this series, but there's just not enough variety the stries. Same problems, same themes, same insights about identity....moreMilligan keeps an even keel in this series, but there's just not enough variety the stries. Same problems, same themes, same insights about identity. I don't feel like we've gotten anything that wasn't covered in the first, much more interesting arc. As in Shade's 'American Scream' storyline, we get another glimpse here of Milligan trying to come to terms with things that are quintessentially American; namely, baseball.
His take is amusing, and Chance's distance from the national pastime feels a bit European, though interestingly, the series itself feels more Japanese. I've never been fond of Pulido's work on this series, too flat, not enough flair or style. He's not pushing any boundaries with the art to match Milligan's scripts so I keep downgrading the books.
Whether it was intentional or not, Pulido is evoking Japanese baseball Manga and for once, he's actually experimenting with the form. I didn't feel like the experiments really went anywhere, they were just unfocused attempts to break the frame and do something more 'Vertigo'. Mere difference never makes for strong inspiration.
In his aping of Manga, we get some rather out-of-place art decisions, such as changing protagonist Chance from a classic Hollywood Clooney-lookalike with a lantern jaw to a young, slender, pointy-chinned bishonen (Japanese 'cute boy' stereotype). It was fairly inexplicable to me, but at least Pulido is trying.
Not a bad story, lots of twists and flashy language, but Milligan seems content to coast, or perhaps he's just not sure what else to say. Not every setting inspires every writer. Again, he's tackling the quintessentially American: Noir. But if Charlier and Leone can outdo us for Westerns, it shouldn't be beyond Milligan to bring a new perspective to it.
The characterization was weaker in Milligan's second outing in this series. There was more narration and exposition, but not a greater psychological d...moreThe characterization was weaker in Milligan's second outing in this series. There was more narration and exposition, but not a greater psychological depth requiring it. We were told too much and shown too little. The themes explored in Chance's character didn't cover any new ground when compared with the first series, though the dialogue and pacing were strong and there were moments where Milligan's flair for honest little moments and realizations showed through.
Pulida's art did not impress. Its simplistic, cartoony style was a poor match for the violence and drama of the story. Sometimes, an artist can get away with simple art through stylized action and a focus on color, layout, and chiaroscuro, as shown in Powers or Hellboy, but Pulida didn't have the idiomatic strength to pull it off.
All in all, a solid book, but with little to set it apart. But perhaps I do Milligan a disservice by comparing him to himself, he did set a rather high bar of expectation.
I've come to expect a lot from Milligan over the years, and while this isn't his best series, the opening arc is strong. This is the least bizarre sto...moreI've come to expect a lot from Milligan over the years, and while this isn't his best series, the opening arc is strong. This is the least bizarre story I've read from him: it's mostly an action-packed (if rather dark) spy story, though that doesn't mean it is, by any stretch 'normal'. Once again, his penchant for plunging deep into character psychology and interrelationship pays off.
It certainly shouldn't surprise us to see a theme of lost self-identity in a book about a man who lives the lives of others, but Milligan's take is fresh and filled with those little, surprising bits of verisimilitude that mark him as the preeminent literary voice in comics, even in a less mind-bending story.
Unfortunately, Milligan doesn't expand much upon these themes in later volumes, as the series unfolds, we tend to get more of the same. It's unusual to see a Milligan who isn't pushing his own boundaries, but perhaps he felt limited by the setting, or it could be his way of writing a simpler, more accessible series.
Biukovic's art is solid and evocative, and it's a certain shame to have lost his talent so young. His replacement by Pulido in the next volumes is a big loss for the series, as the soft, light colors and blocky, cartoonish characters are hardly a good match for an introspective hard-boiled spy story.
Cute book. While Hickman never actually throws away his credibility with the word 'sheeple', there is that vibe there. The plot smacks of the convenie...moreCute book. While Hickman never actually throws away his credibility with the word 'sheeple', there is that vibe there. The plot smacks of the convenience that marks conspiracy theory, which is either a reflection Hickman's personal philosophy, a boon to streamline his writing, or both. One always has to fall on one or the other side of the Great Conspiracy, as there seems to be a lot of evidence both ways, but for the cynical, never enough to convince.
Hickman himself admits that the idealism of the conspiracist is no more pure or useful than that of those he opposes. There is some balance in his presentation--a degree of subtlety and satire--but I don't think it quite overcomes the straw men and picked arguments in the book.
But then, he's trying to provoke a reaction, which takes a delicate hand when dealing with dull and frightened people, which is how he paints his readership. Perhaps, hedging his bets, he wrote the story for that sort of person; hey, why write an instructional book aimed towards people who should be intelligent enough to have figured things out already?
I prefer writing as if to a peer, but it can be terribly tempting to imagine the world to be full of ignorant people with no self-will, and raging against it for the damage it does to you.
Hickman litters his book with charts, quotes, and invectives which can be quite amusing. I particularly liked the characters confusing quotes between Chomsky and Goering (particularly apt because of the fascist way Chomsky tries to control his field and silence detractors).
The shout-out to Tufte was also appreciated, but not unexpected, given the design-focus of the creator. I should, for a moment, mention the art, which is conceptual and explorative. Hickman doesn't mind flaunting his design background, and it really helps to give the book an original tone, even if it sometimes looks like a T-Shirt from Express.
But the simplified color scheme, intense inking, and stylization means that very specific and consistent character design is necessary to maintain the flow of the story, which Hickman doesn't always achieve. But overall the design aesthetic is a nice change from your run-of-the-mill book, especially seeing as a lot of those have same-face problems, too.
Nietzsche scholar Rick Roderick expresses that it is the nature of society to wear people down, to make them similar, and to replace their singular, free-thinking parts with socialized, communal ones. As a metaphor, identity is a sort of 'last bastion', under constant siege from without, and hence, any depression, frustration, or desperation you feel is not the symptom of maladjustment, but the perfectly natural reaction to being trapped under external pressure.
But, personifying this social/individual conflict edges too close to pathetic fallacy: more pain and injustice is caused by ignorant, thoughtless actions than by malicious ones. Certainly, there is a consistent form that this conflict takes, which some authors represent in personal terms, but usually, this allegorical representation is about as apt as suggesting that bears meet secretly in order to plan better ways to use their claws and teeth on hapless salmon.
Certainly there is a destructive imbalance at play, and it is soul-wearing to labor beneath it, but it is disingenuous to represent this power-play as ultimately purposeful and unnatural. It makes for an exciting story, gets the revolutionary blood pumping, making you feel alive, and revealing, for a moment, all the bare scaffolding of our unequal society, but it's an oversimplification.
Like Fight Club, it's meant to wake you from your daze, your useless, work-a-day life, and make you feel righteous, for a moment. Beyond that fleeting fist pump, the method is rarely effective. I always prefer works that treat the reader more respectfully: presenting multifaceted, subtle arguments, allowing the reader to come to their own informed conclusions.
There is some subversion in TNN, but it is difficult for me to see what line Hickman intends to draw between cynicism and idealism. The character of the author is always acknowledged, and despite some deliberate self-deprecation, Hickman portrays himself as informed, sure, and freed from social control by his knowledge and will. Combined with the portrayal of the reader as weak and ignorant, Hickman comes off as somewhat egotistical and deluded, as conspiracists tend to be: no one would be out to get you if you weren't worth getting.
The book wasn't one-sided, and it did reverse its themes a few times, but it’s rather linear, and if you think you’ve guessed the Big Twist, you have. His attacks on the media evoke other comic greats, particularly the talking heads from Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight’ and the struggle between information and power from Ellis’ ‘Transmetropolitan’.
He has other similarities to Miller, as well: with his thick ink and violent storyline of a small armed man acting against a large power structure, it is evocative of Sin City. However, TNN doesn’t have the heavy satire of Dark Knight, nor is its exploration of journalism and the power of ideas as vivid as the gonzo sci fi adventures of Spider Jerusalem. Hickman’s story is going for a much more realistic approach, yet he seems to have traded a sci fi fantasy for an ideological fantasy.
Hickman states several times that the book is meant to be a fun, simple revenge story, though condescendingly prefaces these admissions with the implication that the reader would be incapable of seeing anything deeper, anyways. Perhaps he's trying to be funny, or perhaps it's merely an extension of the little trust he puts in the reader, or maybe, he's simply hedging his bets: putting his philosophy of the world out there, and then indicating that no one will 'get it', since, if changing people were as easy as entertaining them with personified inequality, the world would have long ago grown better on the backs of willful, informed, revolutionaries.
But then that's never how it plays out. Every power structure comes to resemble the ones before it, independent of who put it there or why. I could have done with some more cynicism about both 'revolution' and 'enlightenment', but then, Hickman needed there to be a firm ideological structure for his revenge-bent protagonist to follow.
Unfortunately, the straw men he's fighting him make his journey feel rather weak, and perhaps that should clue us in. If Hickman isn't capable of presenting the enemies of revolution as sympathetic human beings, then he probably isn't capable of comprehending why such structures develop, despite all the illumination he places before us in pretty charts.
In the end, the bad men in his allegories are more villains than characters, sociopathic and acting not out of their own ideals or confusion, but from ennui and a need for chaos. He suggests that his protagonists’ methods aren’t that different, but since their enemies are not true foils, it becomes clear where Hickman's sympathies lie, and that those sympathies are coloring his conclusions.
I enjoyed this book, but I would have liked it more if it respected the reader and painted the situation in realistically complex ways, showing the difficulty of trying to comprehend the Big Picture. But maybe that's a problem Hickman, himself has, which would have come off better if he presented this flaw as something to struggle with instead of something to idealize.
I once read in a mystery readers' newsletter that one invariably favors either Chandler or Hammett, and that the minute difference in character betwee...moreI once read in a mystery readers' newsletter that one invariably favors either Chandler or Hammett, and that the minute difference in character between the two preferences is an unbridgeable gap. I started with Hammett, and expected much more than I got. It was brusque and brooding, but its brusqueness lacked refinement: it was not laconic but merely truncated.
The brooding lacked the sardonic wryness which I had come to associate with crime fiction, and which I now find to be the flourished signature of Chandler, with his abstracted yet fitting metaphors. Chandler also misses the mark when it comes to laconic elegance, leaning more to the luridly painted scene.
Both have that slow-burn plot that is only saved by the aid of an insider (and coincidentally, the delivery of a small box containing the macguffin). Hence, I wouldn't call the plotting tight, exactly, as it hinges on a kind of authorial intervention to keep it moving; but it does move.
In the end, Chandler could have used a bit of Hammett's brusqueness, while Hammet could use a lot of Chandler's elegance, if you could call it elegance. The sort of elegance shown by a nondescript thug pulling and firing, killing without wasting a second bullet, and then disappearing into the wave of screaming, trampling patrons, leaving behind only a body amongst the broken glasses, spilled liquor, and ticket stubs. If there could be any elegance in a thing like that.
But that newsletter was right. I find myself drawn to Chandler and scorning Hammett. As with most such contests, it all comes down to the commas, in the end. In Chandler, they're a shrug, a wistful moment: a recognition that whatever you're about to say isn't what you wanted to say. In Hammett they're a stutter before a restatement.
Both show a recognition of something left unsaid, something sought for but in the end, something not found. That's the legacy of most crime novels: that even when you find what you were looking for, it doesn't change anything, and that need to look is still there.
And when a man searches for that thing and fails to find it, I find him more charming if he shrugs instead of stutters.(less)
Despite his small output, Hammett's influence on books is considerable: fast-paced plots wrapped tightly around eccentric characters and tacked up wit...moreDespite his small output, Hammett's influence on books is considerable: fast-paced plots wrapped tightly around eccentric characters and tacked up with idiomatic quips. Hammet is capable of drawing the reader in with tone and wit, but then his golden threads unravel.
As often as his simplicity achieves elegance, it can equally grow cumbersome and repetitive. His unpolished tone has a great deal of charm, but to write simply is harder than it seems. For the simple plot to become tight-laced, it must be built from the individual sentences: from declarations, quick turns, and unfettered progression.
In such a stripped and simple work, anything superfluous (or sloppy) immediately breaks the flow. A grandiose and overwrought work can get away with more than a tight, simple story, It's hard for even numerous errors to overwhelm a sprawling, confusing, melodramatic story (which goes a long way to explain the NYT bestsellers).
Derailing a trim, direct plot is much easier. Hammett needs a ruthless editor to excise pointless adjectives, restatements, and to streamline the interplay of dialogue.
Hammett's effect on books is small compared to his effect on film, because most of us would rather watch a movie than read its screenplay. Hammet starts with setting, moves to wardrobe, then lines and stage direction. He doesn't take advantage of the ability of the written word to set pace, to work minutely and in congress, and to provide a unified, unbroken voice.
Like many pulps, reading Hammett is like watching a movie, but the fault of many pulp authors is that they often leave their readers with the job of direction and cinematography. The problem is that when the author gives up creative duties to the reader, he is giving up part of his authorship, and is not taking full advantage of the written word and its ability to direct and define a world from structure to sound to tone to style.
The vision that Hammett creates is intriguing and clearly infectious, its influence can be seen in film, television, comic books, &c.; but while many seminal works outperform their imitators (Petrarch, Tolkien, Collins, Wister) Hammett is the innovator but not the master of the style.(less)