Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rant-Reviews: Death, Sex, and that Old-Time Religion

Getting Raunchy, Reckless, and Religious
There are a variety of topics that make people uncomfortable. Often folk don't like to talk much about death, a variety of individuals get nervous discussing sex, and many an argument has broken-out over religion. When these interesting topics begin to intersect in various fascinating ways you get some cool comics. Here is a smattering of titles that have incorporated a lot of violence, sex, and some varying interpretations of God--or Gods, as it were.

Devils and Gods
Saga #30
The 29th issue of "Saga" had my mouth agape, shocked at all the apparent deaths. Well, this issue reveals some of those deaths were just serious injuries, but then go ahead and kills some other people off just to keep us readers utterly offended that characters we've grown to care about can be so mercilessly killed by the author of the title, Brian K. Vaughn. There is of course also the incredible art by Fiona Staples to lushly illustrate all the violence and destruction, as well as the softer and quieter moments that give those bursts of blood and viscera an extra punch. 

The overall theme of these various space races fighting for beliefs, and some who realize such a fight isn't needed, has made for some great stories. Saga has been a title that often leaves me breathless at the end of issues, and it will surely continue to do so after the short break that occurs every once-in-awhile between story-arcs. We have some surprisingly explicit sex in some issues, grisly violence in others, and discussions of philosophy and religion that occur throughout it all. There's a reason this is one of my favorite titles, and it's good stuff like this issue.
5 out of 5 stars.

Rise of the Anti-Christ #3
I reviewed the 1st and 2nd issue of this series before and found it enjoyable, so I am pleased to say this third issue continues that trend and even improves over the earlier issues. Whereas the earlier issues went a bit heavy on the biblical quotes and allusions, plus they suffered from not always giving the characters enough personality, this one moreso just delivers a solid story while also very carefully walking a tightrope of commenting on religion without leaning too much into the realm of bible-thumping or bible-bashing.

A question within the comic has been whether our main character, Michael, is in fact dealing with demonic powers or is simply mentally disturbed. I'm starting to think it might be a mixture of both, as he clearly demonstrates a kind of otherworldly power when dealing with some ignorant punks, but also utterly freaks-out when given some harmless food by a homeless hippie lady that simply wants to help him.

Speaking of Michael's fight, it is interesting to see how he steps-in to defend a young gay man from being beat-up but then goes on to appear just as bigoted as them by asking the man to pray with him to "cure" his homosexuality. It goes to show how even if Michael means well, his narrow-view of what is, "Right," may end-up being his own undoing. I overall quite enjoyed this issue and am interested to see what comes next for Michael as he faces demons--both those that are possibly real and others that are most likely imagined.
4 out of 5 stars.
Note: This is a digital comic and can be located here on Comixology.

Southern Bastards #10
This title here straight-up opens with a scene of two people having sex, whilst one is being informed someone wants to save his soul. The person whose soul is being offered to be saved is named Esaw, and the man who wants to help him ends-up beaten near to death by the end of issue by the very person he thinks needs to be saved--e.g. Esaw. Perhaps the moral of this issue is that some people are just beyond any sort of saving, maybe the idea is that some folk are just so horrible the best thing to do is get as far away from them as you can. Whatever the main point of this issue is, "Southern Bastards" continues to be a fascinating examination of a variety of horrible human beings behaving in awful ways towards each other. However, Esaw is unfortunately quite possibly the least interesting person to have the story focus on them so far, and it does make things suffer.

Jason Aaron's writing may not impress as much this issue, but he continues to be amazingly complimented by artist Jason Latour's work, which with its harsh style and sharp edges gives the scenes of violence an extra degree of grotesqueness. If the earlier-mentioned Fiona Staples makes violence look beautiful, Latour makes it as ugly as sin--and I love it. Still, Esaw is just dull to read about, and not as much happens this issue to advance the plot. We instead kind of see things barely moving forward to what I bet will be an epic confrontation between Coach Boss and the daughter of the recently departed Earl Tubbs. Perhaps this is just the quiet before the storm, but does it have to be so quiet?
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Providence #2
Alan Moore, a name that inspires a wide range of emotions and opinions. Some feel he is washed-up and needs to shut-up. Others feel he has been consistently wronged by comic publishers and deserves the utmost respect. I myself think he is an immensely talented man who may not be making stuff as incredible as his most famous works, but definitely still knows how to spin a good yarn, as evidenced by this dense second issue in his 12-part epic for Avatar Press about all things Occult. After a relatively mellow first issue it is beginning to become more apparent how the concepts of Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and other mysterious forces play a part in this story of a Mr. Robert Black--and my interest continues to be quite piqued. It helps artist that Jacen Burrows does such a stellar job making things look so authentically based in the past.

Moore said in previous interviews how he wanted to tackle subjects Lovecraft loathed with this story, almost forcing some of the less pleasant aspects of the man and his literature to turn a mirror unto themselves and gaze at a reflection of hatred, however uncomfortable such an act may feel. Hence, we have a secretly gay and Jewish protagonist facing down horrors in 1919 before Lovecraft had yet actually entered onto the scene with his concepts of ancient ones and other horrors.

There is an almost naughty feeling to seeing things Lovecraft despised (he often disparaged Jewish people, much to the offense of his wife he would forget actually had Jewish heritage) turned into the heroic elements of the story, and Moore isn't afraid to go heavy on exposition, having characters engage in verbose conversations before also tacking on pages of additional text materials such as excerpts from Robert's journal or some choice selections from a  fictional pamphlet on the subjects our protagonist happens to be exploring. As it becomes more evident about just what kind of dangers Robert may be in I'll be eager to watch everything unfold.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Good Books of Bad People
As you've witnessed by now, there can be some fascinating stories about fictional religions, involving real ones, and the way these beliefs can inform our behavior (for better or much, much worse). The lesson here is that even if people get uncomfortable talking about sexuality, death, and religion, they can help make some great stories happen.

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