Prose: Night of the Mannequins – Stephen Graham Jones
Look, I have never let being late to a party prevent me from making it my new home and inviting a few other people over without the host’s consent, and so it is with Stephen Graham Jones, my new favorite horror author about whom I simply will not shut up.
“Have you ever thought about like, what if humans were the real monst–oh you just recently started to?”
Night of the Mannequins is pretty much the perfect bite of the Jonesburger where you get a little bit of everything with no crust and a minimum of lettuce: genuine human pathos, a writing style that’s so natural and hilarious it feels like he’s cheating, growing paranoia from an increasingly unreliable narrator and sheer, profound horror at a situation that may or may not be what it seems, and either way you are screwed.
As with several of his books there’s really no way to give a summary (one that would be useful, anyway) without spoiling the whole thing, so I’ll just say this: one magical summer, a group of friends find a mannequin in his natural environment: the swamp. They love him and spend every minute of vacation with him, but as children will do, they return to school and grow up and move on and forget about him. But he doesn’t forget about them. And soon they’ll remember their old pal, and they will never, ever forget him again.
This was the first of Jones’ books I’d ever read, and it was a powerful (but manageably mid-sized) introduction to an author who has become a preorder-automatically, buy-for-friends, re-read regularly part of my life. Whether you’re looking for a new obsession from a Native author with a deep back-catalog to dive into, or a fairly quick read unlike anything you’ve experienced before, or just an author who tweets incessantly about slasher movies and how he accidentally got his blood all over everything this time, Jones is for you and Night of the Mannequins is maybe the perfect place to start before you dig in on meatier fare like The Only Good Indians and the upcoming My Heart is a Chainsaw, for an advanced reader copy of which I lobbied and was denied and I don’t even care, I just wanted to read it sooner, I still preordered that bad boy and will be diving into it on day one.
Score: 8.5/10 Bags Of Miracle-Gro With An Inhumanly Giant Bite Taken Out Of The Side
Graphic: Batman: White Knight
Look, we’ve all read pretty much all the “What if” Batman stories in one form or another, right?
Batman is a character defined not by his abilities but by his limits, and those limits determine the kinds of stories he can be used to tell, so there’s ultimately kind of a limited roster even in a storytelling industry that runs on whatever bonkers concept they can get away with publishing that week. So we’ve all seen the Big Event comics that were supposed to change everything forever: What if Batman wasn’t a tortured crusader but a violent extremist who causes more damage than he prevents. What if the Joker went sane. What if Batman killed somebody. What if Arkham held a terrible secret. What if Batman had to fight Superman. What if the Waynes weren’t murdered. What if the Joker died. What if Gotham finally said enough of this bullshit, hitched up its britches and kicked both their asses. All of these are worn smooth and familiar by the rock-tumbler of time through which a character is put when they’ve been around for 80 years, and so the Batman game has become not can we tell a new story (because the answer is no), but how can we take these stories and use them in a new way? And admittedly I am mere an amateur Batmanologist but I’m fairly confident I’ve been through enough Loebs & Sales, Kings, Morrisons and Moores to feel pretty sure we’re looking at a refreshingly original combination of comfortable ingredients.
The upshot: Batman, already causing millions in infrastructure damage on a nightly basis with his roof-hopping tank, already endangering civilians left and right to the point that Batgirl and whichever Robin is on the schedule this week have to actively protect them from him, has finally gone too far. After one joy-buzzer and squirting-flower too many, he corners the Joker in a pharmaceutical warehouse and proceeds to stuff several after-school specials’ worth of uncrazy-pills down the Joker’s craw, physically choking his airway with antipsychotics until the laughter is just muffled gagging. It is deeply, genuinely upsetting. And then it gets worse, because the Gotham citizenry have been catching the whole thing on their phones, and the public is finally committed to holding Batman accountable for his actions, especially when the Joker wakes up, apparently sane, and immediately sets about proving that he can fix Gotham’s problems better than a vigilante who goes around beating up the mentally ill. It’s, uh–it’s a bad day over at the Wayne estate, is what, and it’s only gonna get worse when the sun goes down.
White Knight is a really great Batman story and a really great comic; special mention goes to its active, quite literal takedown of Hypersexualized Consumptive Cheerleader Harley and the return of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, Ph-goddamned-D and also criminal, who was received so well she got her own spinoff limited series, and my brother in law was kind enough to send me a first-run #1 which has remained safely in its bag and board, and which I look forward to reading it as soon as the trade drops on ComiXology, as is my custom. It also has a sequel miniseries, Curse of the White Night, which I liked tremendously against my will, and a yet-to-be-announced third and final title rounding out the White Knight trilogy, although depending on how well Batman: The White Knight Presents Harley Quinn is received there’s been substantial chatter about the author, Sean Murphy, being given room to develop more of his own shared-world, Batman-adjacent stories.
Score: 9/10 Drinks That Have Been Left Out Too Long, Look, They’ve Got Dust In Them