May the Fourth and All That : John Jackson Miller – “Lost Tribe of the Sith”

Taking place after “Dawn of the Jedi”, but feeling even more genuinely mythological, John Jackson Miller’s “Lost Tribe of the Sith” is further evidence that almost everyone in the Galaxy has given more though to Star Wars mythology than George Lucas. Now no longer “canon” and relegated to the “legends” designation, this is a nice collection of 9 novellas: “Precipice,” “Skyborn,” “Paragon,” “Savior,” “Purgatory,” “Sentinel,” “Pantheon,” “Secrets,” “Pandemonium.” (Notice a certain pattern?) After the Sith Starship “Omen” crashlands on Kersh, 5000 years or so before the Battle of Yavin, the Dark-Forced castaways made themselves a new home by conquering the Keshiri with incisive, genocidal glee over millennia. Their biggest challenge, though? Their inability to co-operate:  a civilization of sheer evil doesn’t last long because its leaders turn to political cannibalism. How the Sith of Kesh manage to make it all work is an interesting tale, although necessarily fragmented and rushed (you try covering two millennia of Lost Tribe history: even Gabriel Garcia Marquez stuck to 100 years of solitude.)

Jackson Miller, (who also wrote the “Knights of the Old Republic” series) would return to the Lost Tribe with “Spiral,” a 5-issue graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics. This follows the collected stories, and is set two thousand years or so before “A New Hope,” or, as normal people call it, “the first Star Wars movie, the one that didn’t have that Jar Jar Binks fella.” Continuing with the idea of strangers in strange lands, “Spiral” is about two discontent Sith who wind up in Kesh’s supposedly uninhabited version of the South Pole, only to find “The Doomed”: descendants of Fallen Jedi.

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There is a particularly dumb moment in “Episode III : Revenge of the Sith” when Annakin says something to Obi-Wan Kenobi like (and I paraphrase because dialogue this bad shouldn’t be committed to memory): “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” to which Obi Boy replies all like: “Only a Sith would think like that. THEREFORE YOU’RE NOT WITH ME AND YOU ARE MY ENEMY AND I MUST KILL YOU AND I DON’T SEE THE IRONY IN ANY OF THIS!”

The much smarter (and better-written) Doomed, instead, have  realized that there IS a possible middle ground between the Dark Force and the Light Force. This is a concept so apparently beyond the subtleties of Hollywood cinema that so far it hasn’t even been considered in 7 “Star Wars” movies- and a spinoff. To find out how they make it work, of course, look up the comics.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH, clearly best for SW fans.

In Cold Blood : Daniel Clowes – “Ice Haven”

“You want to know why we did it? Because we damn well felt like doing it.”

In 1924, two seemingly well-adjusted young men from “good families” abducted and murdered a 14-year-old boy because they were convinced they were bright enough to get away with it. They were indeed bright, perhaps remarkably so, but Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb got caught almost immediately, their “perfect murder” botched in a way that would be laughably idiotic if the circumstances weren’t so horrifying. (To wit, Leopold dropped his custom-made glasses at the crime scene! D’oh!)

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The Crime of the Century long before O. J. Simpson, the Leopold and Loeb case is at the chilling core of Daniel Clowes’ “Ice Haven,” a “comic strip novel” about the small titular town, where a boy named David Goldberg has disappeared. Has he been done in by a local L&L admirer?

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If Lloyd Llewellyn , “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” and “David Boring” are, at least nominally, surreal mysteries, “Ice Haven” is more about what happens on the periphery of a mystery: David’s disappearance is an excuse to look at the lives of his family, his neighbors, his schoolmates – the surprisingly expansive circle of people touched by the loss of this most insignificant of lives, (and it’s no slight; David himself embraces his own insignificance with stoic pride.)

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Clowes, like most of his peers, is a child of the comic strip, and it’s in the Sunday Funnies format that “Ice Haven” unfolds; but although there are Schulz parodies here, (and “Nancy” and “Little Lulu” allusions and, heck, even nods to “The Flinstones”) these strips are mainly riffing on their own Daniel Clowes-ness.  That would be self-parody if “self-parody” didn’t usually suggest creative bankruptcy; to the contrary, there’s wealth in this slim volume. Think of it as Clowes’ illustrations for “Our Town” as inhabited by Nabokov characters. A listing of the novel’s wacky cast would read like a chapter index, and give too much away. Go saunter through “Ice Haven,” and meet its denizens. In the words of Random “Not Thornton” Wilder, (the town’s bespectacled, self-proclaimed bard): “It’s not as cold as it sounds.”

RATING: COOL! Perhaps too brief for MASTERPIECE!!!

P. S.:

“While prose tends toward pure ‘interiority,’ coming to life in the reader’s mind, and cinema gravitates toward the ‘exteriority’ of experiential spectacle, perhaps ‘comics,’ in its embrace of both the interiority of the written word and the physicality of image, more closely replicates the true nature of human consciousness and the struggle between private self-definition and corporeal ‘reality.’ ”

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Hanta Yo! : Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera: “Scalped”

ABOVE: “The Man who Ate People who Ate Other People.”

 

The Prairie Rose Indian Reservation is a fictional South Dakotan locale populated by the somewhat less fictional  Oglala Lakotas. In Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera’s crime saga “Scalped,” Oglala is the poorest American county, with an 80% unemployment rate and pitiable rates of alcoholism; every other store is a transparent front for a meth-lab; and Sheriff Lincoln Red Crow rules over his domain with the greedy rapaciousness of his animal name-sake.

Into this dead-end, one-horse town strides Dashiell Bad Horse, (turning Prairie Rose, I suppose, into a two-horse town.) Dash is an undercover FBI agent who has infiltrated Red Crow’s farcical “police” force; he’s also the Rez’ prodigal son, having lit out over a decade earlier for reasons that will only be slowly revealed. It’s a great / bad time for Dash to return to Prairie Rose. The new Crazy Horse casino is about to open, and with it a whole new can o’ criminal worms.

ABOVE: “Also, can you direct me to the nearest hospital? This head-wound is not gonna heal pretty.”

 

Dealing with the local ready-to-brawl toughs is easy. Much harder is dealing with the women from Dashiell’s past: Gina Bad Horse, the mother who perceives him as a race traitor; and Carol Ellroy, the former childhood sweetheart who once let Bad Horse watch her pee and is still waiting for reciprocity. Carol also happens to be Red Crow’s daughter- and the most openly, self-destructively promiscuous “heroine” in any non-erotic graphic novel I can recall. Maybe in any “novel” period.

Things get exponentially complicated over the 60 issues of this modern American classic.

ABOVE: Bad Horses Make Bad Romantic Decisions

 

By choosing to draw his cast from mostly corrupt non-heroes, Aaron is forced to explore the human complexity at the core of the inhuman criminality. We learn how the past influences the present through the secondary inhabitants of the rez: Diesel, the white boy trying to pass for Kikapoo; Officer Falls Down, the one un-bribable cop around; Dino Poor Bear, the kid who dreams of escaping the pervasive poverty; Baily Nitz, the FBI agent bitterly settling an ages old score; Catcher, a Rhodes Scholar/ alcoholic burnt-out who believes he gets messages from the Thunder Beings.

Dashiell is the familiar all-Native-American hero: ready to get violent on the quest for justice. Much more complex is the Big Bad, Lincoln Red Crow, a former Red Power idealist who traded integrity for success, wealth and power- all variables subject to the machinations of the higher-ups in the Tribal Council and rival gangsters.

Look past the grit and the deliberate ugliness of R, M. Guera’s work (best described as “Impressionistic Carnage”), this is a graphic novel of intense humanity, perhaps the most ambitious Native-American epic in modern pop culture, and even comparable to Sherman Alexie’s work in its unflinching understanding of the cultural dilemma of the Native American: The ultimate disenfranchised minority in its own native nation.

If you want the biggest representation fail in American culture, reflect on this. When you ask the average person what their favorite Native American actor or actresses are, they’ll stare blankly for a moment. After some deep thought, they’ll summon something like: “That one guy from ‘Longmire.’? Lou Diamond Phillips! Yeah, him!”

Lou Diamond Phillips is a Filipino-American.


RATING : MASTERPIECE!!!

 

Does This Have Enough Ls? : Daniel Clowes – “Lloyd Llewellyn”

“Eightball” would be Daniel Clowes’ first real achievement, with cynical shorts like “Art School Confidential” and “Devil Doll” padding the serialization of “Ghostworld” and “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron.” “David Boring” would be the on-its-own breakthrough, and the first graphic novel I read that truly impacted me in subtler, novelistic ways. (“Maus,” after all, was non-fiction; subtlety is not among the many attributes of “Watchmen.”)

But before “Eightball” and “David Boring,” before becoming one of the most important graphic novelists of our time, Clowes had some doodling to do for Fantagraphics, and “Lloyd Llewellyn” was his first experimental comic, a Mad-Magazine-influenced send-up of everything 50s:

Greasers! Hepcats! Squares!  Flailing Robots! Barflies! B-Movie Space Punks! Everything to which exclamation points can be appended!

An average Lloyd Llewellyn detective tale starts much like a Lew Archer noir; but soon, Lloyd gives up all pretense at detection and devotes himself to keeping a straight face amid the increasingly surreal twists. Of course, straight faces are easy to keep when you’re this simply drawn. When Lloyd Llewellyn resurfaced in early issues of “20th Century Eightball,” the drawing technique was about 200 times better, and the lounge-noir gimmick was so gone that a “Lloyd Llewellyn Adventure” could simply involve vitriolic ranting. (I love when misanthropy is unleashed, as it is in Clowes’ classic “I Hate You Deeply” or in Ivan Brunetti’s ‘Schizo.’)

“If you aren’t either a) exactly like me only a little worse at everything, or b) a pathetic yes-man to my every changing values and shallow opinions, I HATE YOU DEEPLY!”

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH; the best was yet to come.

Fairy Tale Endings : Emily Carroll – “Through the Woods”

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Horror is learned early. I can’t think of many fairy tales that aren’t horrifying in premise, if not in effect. The world is presented to children as an open jaw. Emily Carroll’s “Through the Woods” collects five fairy tales of gothic peril that are beautifully painted and colored. Included are “His Face All Red,” “Our Neighbor’s House,” “A Lady’s Hands are Cold,” “My Friend Janna,” and “The Nesting Place.”

RATING: COOL!