“What is WRONG with everyone?” one of my best friends asked me earlier this week when she called to see how I was handling the heat. The friend lives in Los Angeles, a sprawling suburb in search of a city that I left years ago because it was too hot. Joke’s on me.
“Why isn’t everyone freaking out?” she said as we discussed our plans for surviving the next thirty years. She’s planning to move back to her family’s farm; I’ve been looking into subterranean homes. Neither one of us even floated the possibility that elected officials might start taking climate change seriously; just last week federal officials slashed funding for sustainable transportation but left billions in place for doom-accelerating highways.
The story of the 21st century is that the people in charge of everything are rotten, and that if you trust them, you will die. Not the most cheerful of guiding principles, but it’s one that seems to animate more and more of our storytelling — including some of my favorite comics this week, from a book about a kid led astray by parental pressure to one about fending for yourself in a catastrophe.
Thanks as ever to Phoenix Comics for helping to pick out this week’s highlights, and for providing a brief air-conditioned respite from this heat. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to start digging if I want my underground lair to be finished in time for the coming Solar Wars.
A sweet-natured middle-schoolish story, Chunky is a funny-thoughtful graphic novel about the perils of internalizing the opinions of others. Our hero is Hudi, a heavyset tween who’s discovered that he has a talent for making people laugh; but many of the people in his life would rather harass him about his weight. His mother obsesses over his diet; his father pushes him to play sports. The only character who understands what Hudi needs in order to thrive is his imaginary friend, Chunky, who encourages Hudi to pursue his passion for comedy. Set against the backdrop of a working class Mexican-Jewish family, the art is joyful and bright even as Hudi agonizes over his developing identity. And although I’m making it sound like some kind of ponderous Ingmar Bergman film, the tone is generally light-hearted and enjoyable. Lurking at the edges of this story are some darker undertones about how easy it is to compare yourself unfavorably to your peers, and how the pursuit of so-called “health” can lead to unhealthy outcomes.
Rating: 🏅🏅🏅🏅 (4/5)
Author: Yehudi Mercado.
KANE & ABLE
Around the halfway mark of this unexpectedly large book there’s a fleeting reference to an exquisite corpse, the game where one person writes or draws a fragment of a piece and then hands it to someone else to complete. That certainly is the feel of this book, a pulpy plop that veers seemingly at random between the middle parts of stories already in progress. We get little samplings of various, possibly related superhero stories, drawn in a low-budget style of several decades ago and interspersed with fake ads. If you were a pre-teen in the '80s reading books that were just slightly above your age group, you’ll be tickled by this trip back to what seemed at the time like the most revolutionary art ever created. There’s blood and guts, gross bugs, melting bodies, and skull-faced muscle men — though it’s billed as “genre-busting,” it’s really a love letter to one genre in particular: Books Your Parents Would Confiscate if They Caught You Reading Them.
Rating: 🦟🦟🦟 (3/5)
Creators: Krent Able & Shaky Kane.
GODZILLA RIVALS: VS HEDORAH
Despite appearing on almost every page of this one-shot, the kaiju are barely in it. Instead, the story focuses with wonderful clarity on two humans caught in the giant monsters’ city-crushing fight. While the big guys in rubber suits clash overhead, what’s going on down at the street level? A surprisingly intimate race to save the life of the one woman who, it is said, can save the world. Wisely, the book devotes almost no time to lengthy exposition about why the monsters are fighting or what the mysterious “defense mechanism” is that must be activated. Instead, we see the lengths to which two seemingly ordinary people will go in order to survive in the midst of a calamity, and the uncomfortable moral choices that doom thrusts upon us. Godzilla and Hedorah are mostly only glimpsed between the buildings they're destroying, with the people placed front and center on the page. It’s a great story; immediately upon putting it down I stepped outside and was blasted with unbearable heat and found myself wondering how I’ll handle myself if our real-life infrastructure proves as unprepared for climate change as comic-book cities are for monsters.
Rating: 🦎🦎🦎🦎🦎 (5/5)
Author: Paul Allor. Artist: E.J. Su. Colorist: Adam Guzowski.
ALSO: QUEER CAPTAIN AMERICA and KINKY SEX
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve related to Captain America, because that number is one, and it’s in the new United States of Captain America. I won’t be reviewing it, because it’s written by a friend; but I will be reading it, many times. Also good this week is a reprint of Sunstone, a fun kinky queer story. There’s also a Green Hornet reissue, including a run set in Seattle; and also White, a sequel to Black, both of which investigate superheroism and race.