Friday, June 4, 2010
Don't Stop Believing
Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire Volume 2 by William Messner-Loebs and Nadine Messner-Loebs: Journey, published first by Aardvark-Vanaheim and then by Fantagraphics, is one of the ten or twenty great comic books of the 1980's. It followed the adventures of hunter/trapper/postman/gun-for-hire Joshua "Wolverine" MacAlistaire in the wilds, the settlements and the forts of Michigan and environs in the early 19th century. It's a funny and character-driven book, the humour and character observation making themselves felt through both the writing and the delightful cartooning. The comparison most often made in reviews at the time was that the writing and art reminded one of Will Eisner. It's an apt comparison, though I also see a lot of Harvey Kurtzman in Messner-Loebs' art.
William Messner-Loebs wrote and drew the approximately 40 issues that make up the entire saga, now collected by IDW in two fat B&W volumes. The story structure is guided by MacAlistaire's wanderings -- while moving from place to place, he also attempts to deliver a mysterious package -- with a number of side-stories spinning off from the main narrative, as the book turns its attentions to the various settlers, soldiers, natives, Sasquatches, squirrels and comic grotesques whom MacAlistaire comes across.
Probably the most memorable character -- other than stubborn, clever MacAlistaire himself -- is writer/poet Elmer Alwyn Craft, an East Coast naif pretty much way out of his element in the wilderness. Craft begins as a parody of/homage to the writings and personal lives of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, but he soon becomes a distinct (and often distinctly annoying) character of his own. Craft also allows for some fairly sophisticated, understated play with the nature of history and stories -- his tendency to look for a narrative in events is repeatedly undercut by MacAlistaire's observations that life doesn't operate that way.
Various seismic shifts in the independent comics business would cause Messner-Loebs to end Journey perhaps before its time (though it does have an ending and an epilogue), and he would move on to work on mainstream characters that included the Flash and Wonder Woman. The two volumes of Journey stand as a great and idiosyncratic achievement, however, and also work wonderfully as Comics For People Who Don't Like Comics. My only real quibble with the reprint volumes is that they don't reproduce the covers of the original single issues. Hopefully, if sales are good, this could be rectified in a subsequent edition. Highest recommendation.
Justice League of America: Another Nail by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer: Writer/artist Davis's second exploration of a world where Superman didn't 'become' Superman until nearly a decade after his first 'real' comic-book appearance continues in high-epic, anything-goes mode. Raised by Amish parents, Superman finds the modern world confusing and difficult; the modern world, meanwhile, suspicious of super-heroes for decades in a Superman-less world, rushes to embrace the new hero. Meanwhile, some giant thingamabob is about to destroy the universe. Uh oh! Fun, breezy superhero stuff. It's too bad Davis didn't come from around these parts so that we could have gotten a few Super-Mennonite jokes, but so it goes. Recommended.