To continue with what I’ve been calling my miniseries meanderings, I’ll look next at two titles from Image Comics that have recently concluded, Ed Brisson and Michael Walsh’s Comeback and Ales Kot and Morgan Jeske’s Change. Both of these are mind-bending comics, challenging out conceptions of time and linearity, but in very different ways. While Comeback takes a more traditional approach to time-travel narrative, at least within the realm of speculative fiction, Change uses time as a disruptive device to undermine the reading process. Both miniseries have their strengths and weaknesses, and within the narrative contexts they establish for themselves — at least the contexts that I am assuming they set for their comics’ success — they more or less accomplish what they apparently set out to do. I’m reminded here one of my favorite lines from Henry James’s essay, “The Art of Fiction,” where the novelist writes , “We must grant the artist his subject, his idea, what the French call his donnée; our criticism is applied only to what he makes of it.” In the case of Brisson and Walsh’s comic, that donnée is the premise of time traveling for profit. This isn’t just a sci-fi story where scientists discover how to go backwards into the past or forwards into the future, and then discover the consequences of disrupting the timeline. Instead, Comeback assumes the real possibility of time travel, and then given that fact, how some would use that technology to make big bucks. Of course, this business — an illegal one, we come to find out — is built upon desperation and gullibility of others, people who have recently lost loved ones and will pay anything to get them back. Reconnect, the name of this company providing time-traveling services, preys upon family members who have lost someone, and then goes back in time to remove or “undeath” that individual from the situation that ended their lives. Over time Reconnect begins to leave a trail of revised medical reports, disappearing evidence, and mysteriously missing recently deceased bodies that the FBI can’t help but notice. At the same time, one of Reconnect’s agents, Seth, begins to question his involvement in this illicit business, and his misgivings are brought to a head when he learns that time-traveling is slowly killing him and that the clients they are supposedly serving are actually evidence that the business has to “make disappear.” Seth’s partner, Mark, is caught in the middle, unaware that his partner is informing to the FBI or that the company is making its profits on the graves of its clients. This scenario in and of itself is intriguing, and for the most part Brisson and Walsh are able to play it out successfully over the five-issue run. Seeing the paradoxical reality of a character confronting his own future, or past, self is engaging, as is the erasure of revelations and discoveries once the past is altered. Indeed, this idea of erasure come to the fore in what I think is the highlight of the series, issue #4. As a past timeline is altered, the reality of the “present” comes apart…literally. Michael Walsh does a great job of visually representing this disintegration by having the edges of his panels peel or flake off, and then showing that breakdown eating its way into the depths of the image itself. This is intelligent visual storytelling, and it’s reminiscent of the kind of metafictional play you find in the works of Grant Morrison (in particular, Animal Man, The Filth, and Doom Patrol). However, I can’t help but feel that the last issue of this miniseries is a bit of a letdown, that Brisson ends more with a yawn than a bang. Compared to what we see in issue #4, the final installment is rather tame and expected…and sentimental, as well. The resolutions are okay, but they don’t pack the narrative punch that they could have, or that they promise or set up in the earlier issues. When Andy and I reviewed this comic back in the fall, it was part of our episode of recent #1s from Image Comics. Comeback was actually one of those #1s that we really liked and had high expectations for. And although I liked this miniseries well enough, it didn’t end as memorably as I would have liked. Still, an interesting time-travel story.
An Image title that Andy and I didn’t review for The Comics Alternative, not in episode 14 or otherwise, is Kot and Jeske’s Change. And maybe it’s good that we didn’t, because I’m not sure exactly how we would have discussed this comic in a way that our audience could really grasp. And in all honesty, I’m not sure I understand Change enough to even write about it clearly. I feel that I need to go back and reread this four-issue miniseries again…but during my initial reading I went back to reread multiple parts that I felt just weren’t registering. In other words, I’m not sure what the hell was going on in this comic, and if you ask me to recap the events in a coherent manner, I’d be at a loss. This is what I was referring to earlier when I wrote that this title challenges not only our concept of linearity, but the very act of reading…at least passive reading. Change is certainly not one of those comics that you can quickly read through and digest its content. It begs you to go back and reread sections that you thought might have made some kind of sense originally, but then given later contexts appear less clear in retrospect. This is a very fragmented narrative, and intentionally so. There appear to be three main characters: W-2, a successful rapper who wants to get into the movie business; Sonia, a screenwriter who is also a car thief and has some sort of surgical implant that can help disguise her identity; and a cosmonaut who is adrift and returning (was he ever here?) to earth. And that’s the part of the comic that seems to make sense. From there, it just gets even more fragmented, confusing, and frustrating…and least confusing and frustrating if you’re expecting a straight understandable story. Much of this comic is surrealist or dreamlike, and I would also say that it’s impressionistic in places. The impact of this title is in the emotional impressions it leaves — vignettes and scenarios that might linger in the mind — more than in the story it tells. In fact, regarding story, I went back to look at the solicits Image had on each of the four issues, and this is what I found:
Issue #1: “A foul-mouthed struggling screenwriter who moonlights as a car thief. An obscenely wealthy rapper completely disconnected from the real world. A dying cosmonaut on his way back to Earth. Los Angeles is being toyed with by destructive forces that repeatedly find the city through time and swallow it whole, and those three are the only people able to save it – if they survive the fanatics who live in the hills, National Security Agency agents, and the horrors that lurk in the Pacific Ocean.”
Issue #2: “Have you ever lost someone? What if the city you lived in your entire life, the city you loved with all of your soul, the city you were inextricably connected to – what if that city was about to die, and you were the only one who could possibly keep it alive? Sonia and W-2 will do all it takes – but the horrors tear through the walls of reality to get at them. Dreams are crushed. New facts appear. Old alliances fall apart.”
Issue #3: “Did you ever wake up to find / A day that broke up your mind? The astronaut is falling. Someone is dead. Someone is dying. Someone needs saving. NOW.”
Issue #4: “Everything drowns. Some patients can’t be saved. What if the hardest thing you ever had to do was to look yourself in the eyes? This is where it ends.”
In going back through these solicits, especially now that I can read one immediately after the other — and remember, solicits from publishers are supposed to sell the story by boiling it down to its main, and most exciting, components — I’m at a loss as to what the hell this miniseries is about. Even after having read the comics, I’m still unsure what happened in this title. But my reaction is based on the assumption that the story is what matters most, especially one that adheres to traditional linear progression. If this comic’s donnée is an almost self-reflexive emphasis on the breakdown of traditional narrative, then this comic just might accomplish what it set out to do. After all, the title says it all. The constance and coherence that we might be looking for is actually an ongoing fluidity lacking much, if any, stability. Yet while part of me wants to appreciate what Kot is doing in Change, another part of me — a more cynical and jaded reader — wonders if this comic is more self indulgent (perhaps masturbatory) than otherwise. A part of me feels that there might be something in this comic if I just take the time to carefully go through and look for it, and another part is highly suspicious, wondering how much I’m being duped. Or at least wondering how much I’m creating my own fictions of narrative viability in reading this miniseries. Overall, Change appears to be an interesting experiment, but it’s one that I’m not entirely convinced comes off well.