In addition to some of the critical reading I’ve been doing lately, I’ve also been taking on several comics collections. One of those is Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s The New York Five. This is a follow up to their 2008 release, The New York Four, part of the now defunct Minx imprint series from DC Comics. As I noted last month, I read that book, not only because I like Wood and Kelly’s collaborative work, but because I was wondering if this book, along with a number of other Minx titles that I have, might be appropriate for my 12-year-old daughter. (It was, I think, and just the other day Zoe read it, telling me that she liked the book.) So to follow up on these characters, I wanted to read The New York Five. I didn’t like this book as much as the previous one, and part of the reason was due to Wood’s textual familiarity with New York City. After awhile his asides and “insider” suggestions got on my nerves. I’ve lived in New York, and I know what possibilities and advantages you can find in the city. I really enjoyed my time there, in fact. But I got the impression that Wood’s glorification of New York, while certainly heartfelt, was a little too heavy handed. The message that some readers may take away from the book is that their lives aren’t near as exciting or as hip as those of his protagonists, just because they don’t live in the city. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this. What I did appreciate in The New York Five was Kelly’s art and Wood’s talents in characterization. The conflicts and the dramas surrounding the four main characters–the fifth in this book, the homeless Olive, doesn’t seem developed enough, as if her presence is almost an afterthought–are interesting and well written. This was a light book, nothing too engaging or complicated. It’s okay for what it is. I wonder if the audience assumptions for this book, which originated as a miniseries under DC’s more mature Vertigo label, were much different that the earlier book?
A more challenging and more sophisticated comic series that I’ve been reading is Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher. As I wrote last month, I’ve been wanting to take on this series for some time, and I’ve started it one or two times, only to stop after around the first collected volume. But now that the entire series has been collected in nice, hardbound deluxe editions, I thought it the time to finally tackle the entire series. So far, I’m loving it. The first four books are great, filled with action and an overarching storyline that is intriguing: a preacher who embodies a celestial spirit that is a combination of Heaven and Hell, who has the power of the Word, and who goes on a journal to confront the Almighty and hold him accountable for what he has done with creation. I like these kind of narratives that Vertigo has historically put out, series like Sandman and Lucifer. At times Preacher engages a little too much in gratuitous violence–although it doesn’t personally bother me–and it can become a big preachy when Jesse Custer goes off on political correctness, problems with our culture, and other such observations. It makes me wonder if he is serving as the conservative mouthpiece for Garth Ennis, and if this is the way that Ennis, an Englishman, sees our American culture. Also at times, the rugged individualism kind of mentality, embodied in the John Wayne figure that accompanies Jesse and serves as his conscience, can be a bit heavy-handed. Still, the character of Jesse does raise a number of intriguing points, whether you agree with them or not, and they’re certainly worth seeing played out on the comics pages. I’m into Book Five now, and I feel mixed about that volume. In it, we get a narrative aside from the main storyline, where Jesse wonders into Salvation, TX, and there finds his mother who actually did escape his grandmother’s grip, and more importantly, escaped death. Along with this is his encounter with the meatman, Odin Quincannon, and the latter’s efforts to get rid of Jesse and take back the control he once had over Salvation. Quincannon is a curious villain, more of a joke than anything. And his efforts to confront Jesse Custer are nowhere near as sophisticated, or as engaging, as those of Herr Starr and The Grail. I read this as more of a side road to the series, a curious and relatively light diversion to the main story that may give the writer a time to catch his breath, so to speak. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story, outside of the discovery that Jesse’s mother is still alive, is Quincannon’s bondage-loving lawyer, Miss Outlash. One of the best parts of this narrative arc comes toward the end, when she has Jesse tied up (in a Nazi officer’s uniform) and comes into the room dressed in red leather, a German hemet, and a G-string with a swastika on it, telling Jesse, “Your entry will be like lightning, You will invade me, occupy me–and just when I can take no more you will open up second front…Blitzkrieg,” and then jumps on top of him screaming, “Fuck me hard and call me Eva!” That more or less highlights the tone of this section, which his primarily one of humor. But the story seems to get back on track as soon as Jesse decides to leave Salvation and then takes the peyote he’s been carrying around, so that he can have a vision that will help him fill in the gaps and recall what exactly happened to him after he fell from the plane in Book Four. I’m looking forward to continuing this series.