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Fleen Book Corner: Catching Up

Readers of this page will recall that on more than one occasion I have noted how Diamond (until recently, the only distributor that the comics industry allowed itself to have) absolutely refused to get me books that had been on order. Sometimes, the better part of a year would go by, much to the consternation of myself and the staff of my local comics shop (who I hold blameless in this fiasco).

Thus, somewhat recently, books that have been in release for a really long damn time have come into my possession and I’d like to talk about some of them. Since they’ve been long out in the world and other people have talked about them, these will be somewhat briefer reviews than normally found here. Oh, and spoilers may abound.

  • Evan Dahm’s The Harrowing Of Hell first came onto my radar in the summer of 2018, and I made a habit of asking Dahm about it at MoCCA each year. It was delayed by COVID for some months from the appropriate Lenten season last year¹, finally releasing about eleven months ago.

    Given that it’s a 2000 year old story — accounting for those days between the Crucifixion of Jesus and the Resurrection — maybe waiting not quite a year isn’t such a big deal. On the other hand, it’s such a gorgeous book, I reserve the right to be annoyed. Dahm’s taken what is often a triumphant story — various apocrypha tell of Jesus tearing things up in Hell, rebuking the fallen angels, and redeeming the souls of the righteous — and turned it into a cautionary tale.

    The mocking of demons echoes the cries of Jesus’s own followers: Blessed, Hosana, this is the Son of God. Their message is one of twisted praise, predicting how his message will be corrupted in the years to come: he will be remembered not as a teacher and storyteller, but as a conquering king, bringing punishment and retribution rather than redemption. The greatest damnation that the fallen can offer Jesus is to grant his name power and glory rather than humility.

    The book is done in stark black-and-white (with the occasional splash of red in the robes of Sanhedrin or the uniforms of Roman soldiers) in the scenes of Jesus’s ministry, and given a lurid blood-red fill during the descent; there’s not a bit of white on the Hell pages, except to depict Jesus’s figure. It’s a first-rank mood-setter, as well as drawing the eye to exactly where Dahm wants it.

    Regardless of one’s own belief system, it is not possible to move in Western society without acknowledging the influence of the Christian faith; here’s a story that even many Christians don’t know, and those that do will find a very different interpretation, one that casts a very different light on that historical and pervasive influence.

  • Dahm also released Island Book 2: The Infinite Land this year, a sequel to a quiet, contemplative story that’s reminiscent of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. In that review, I noted that in the many sequels Dorothy would return to Oz and get her companions back together to meet the next challenge, and in Island Book 2 Sola does the same. Like Dorothy, Sola is hailed as a liberator in a way that isn’t really warranted (witch-killer in Dorothy’s case; monster slayer in Sola’s), and given power and authority (Dorothy as a Princess of Oz, Sola as a leader of her people in a new nation, one that is rapidly moving forward in technology²).

    But Dorothy didn’t find one of her peers hellbent on turning Oz into an empire, determined to sweep all unknowns away in case they became threats later. She didn’t have one of her companions fall into the dream of empire. Dorothy remained an innocent, Sola is nothing but doubts and wondering if she’s unleashed a great plague upon the world in the form of her own people.

    We’ve left Oz behind and found ourselves in a place more like the Empire of Sahta, and it’s going to take Sola a hell of a lot of work to stop what is starting to look like colonization, pogroms, and genocide. Island Book 3 is going to have a tightope to walk, and I know that Dahm’s up to the challenge.

  • There might not be anybody better suited to adapting an elliptical, almost Möbius-shaped story like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five into graphical form than Ryan North. He gets nonlinear storytelling and the sometimes counterintuitive way that something that happens here/now can be intimately linked with something that happens there/then. Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time, and having pictures (by Albert Monteys) to navigate the branching paths is a tremendous aid.

    One of the first page spreads shows Billy Pilgrim at the various key stages of his life, and the way he looks at each age on this timeline go a long way to demystifying when Billy lands as he jumps back and forth within his life. We know where the story is heading, because Vonnegut, North, and Monteys tell us almost from the beginning (after, as it turns out, a brief few pages where North notes that much of what occurs in the book actually happened to Vonnegut), but the journey is still full of surprises and despite that.

    Slaughterhouse Five is rightly regarded as one of the most brilliant, most important novels ever written; this new version of Slaughterhouse Five for a different medium can stand next to the original with head held high.

Spam of the day:

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I find your story somewhat unconvincing. Can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh well, one less opportunity for me.

¹ You got a horror book, you want that out in October. Book about what happened when Jesus threw down the gates to Hell? You want that out at Easter.

² The better analogy might be the leap from agrarianism to an industrial revolution between Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend Of Korra.

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