I am a huge fan of the graphic memoir for a number of reasons; maybe it’s the way that the author is often the artist (or at least works closely with them) and can better let us see what they tell us, maybe it’s just that I’m lazy and think prose memoirs are, if I’m honest, A Little Much sometimes. We’ll never know! And some of us should stop. asking.
Thi Bui’s parents fled a falling Vietnam with her when she was only a toddler, and all three of them have spent her entire life in the shadow of that event.
It always tastes kind of funky to review a person’s human life the way one would fiction1, so I’m not really gonna try. I will say that this is a must-read for fans of memoirs, intergenerational trauma, and anybody who, like me, knows almost nothing about what Vietnam went through outside the very specific context of the United States’ presence there. It’s often rough, sometimes funny, and is ultimately a person honestly trying to take what’s been inside of her for her entire life and trying to give it to us in a way we can understand (she literally learned illustration just for this), and that’s always worth experiencing.
I am SO HYPE FOR THIS. Now, it’s been a long time since a new volume of Chainsaw Man and I don’t remember exactly what’s going on, but I’m sure once I get back into it everything’ll come right back to m–
I’m…gonna try this one again next week.
Listen: do I remember the exact details of the gang (an adventuring party eating their way through a dungeon) came to this town of comatose weirdos, or what exactly they’re doing there? Denizen: I hella do not. What I do know is that these people gotta eat, this friggin’ phoenix won’t stay killed long enough for them to cook it, and that 👏a👏 bird👏problems👏require👏absurd👏solutions.
Later, they go hunt rabbits for reasons that are unclear to me but end with Marcille having to control the corpses of her friends like marionettes, so who am I to complain:
First, a content warning: as the title indicates, this is a comic about Ed Gein, maybe the most disturbing killer in American history, who was famously the inspiration for Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho and the Hitchcock picture that followed. It’s a Very Upsetting Book, and it’s not possible to talk about Gein, what he did, and the kind of stories he inspired without touching on the fucked-up web of abuse, misogyny, mental illness, and homo/transphobia2 that color everything about the legacies of both Gein and Psycho. You Have Been Warned.
We’re introduced to the Gein family, which was never a happy one: Ed, his brother Henry, and their father all lived in terror of his mother’s religious fanaticism, rabid anti-sex screeds, and constant verbal and physical abuse.
His troubling behavior begins and worsens, and it’s unknowable how much was the mental illness he was later diagnosed with and how much resulted from the abuse and isolation his mother inflicted on him. Also, in the final accounting, almost everything we know comes from interview testimony (often unreliable), academic scholarship (distant and detached from the events), and Gein’s own recollections (trustworthiness completely unknowable but dubious); one trusts that the creators have done their research and indeed they include several appendices of notes and clarifications at the end, but the simple fact is that we’ll just never know, and I think that scares us more than what we do.
So, I would cautiously bet that I know more about Psycho as a movie and a series than a rough majority of people, mostly due to She Who Is My Wife being an Anthony Perkins superfan; we rewatch the first two a few times a year, the third every few years once we’ve forgotten how bad it is, and we pitch the fourth into the merciful sea, where it can do no harm. (This May Hurt A Bit, a fantastic horror-movie franchise podcast I’ve recommended before, just wrapped up their coverage of the series and I strongly recommend a listen if you’re into production trivia and minutæ the way I am.)
That said, I’m learning very quickly that my knowledge is apparently just Psycho-qua-Psycho, because I had NO idea how much of Norman and Norma was lifted directly from Eddie and Augusta:
A fundamental truth of telling this particular story is that we live in a post-Psycho world and cross-contamination is completely unavoidable; e.g., the above smile is a dead ringer for Anthony Perkins (seriously click that, it’s eerie), and that’s extremely effective to an audience that’s seen Psycho, but it doesn’t actually look anything like Gein. Was that intentional? Could Eric Powell have helped it if he tried? There cannot be answers to these questions, and you can ask them about almost every aspect of the book.
One final note I’d like to make is regarding the artist, Eric Powell, creator of The Goon and Hillbilly. He is a master of the neo-pulp horror scene and has made his living telling stories about disturbed, miserable, and murderous people, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say he looked to Gein as inspiration, it’s undeniable that without Gein and other True Tales of Horror, iconic elements of Powell’s milieu wouldn’t exist, such as the Zombie Priest with his top-hat bearing a stretched-out human face-pelt, or the Buzzard, an undead avenger forced into grave-robbery by a curse that renders him only able to consume human remains. Powell has always depicted these characters as sympathetically as possible without shying away from their monstrosity, which makes him uniquely equipped to handle a story like this one; I also think this project is something of a mea culpa for him, an attempt to undo some of the harm caused by many of The Goon‘s early jokes surrounding mental disability and illness, and I applaud him for taking the chance. (I might just be projecting, as someone who said a lot of dumb, hurtful garbage when he was a wee shithead and has spent a lot of time trying to make up for it, but if I’m going to make wild assumptions about people’s motivations they might as well be benevolent and complimentary ones.)
I always worry that it sounds sketchy to express too much sympathy for the people society labels ‘monsters’, like to do anything less than call for their extermination is to applaud their actions, but there is equal danger in forgetting that every serial killer is a human just like you and I, a human with a childhood they had no control over; a human with a mother. Schechter and Powell have (wisely, I think) decided to sidestep questions of blame and Hell, and simply say: this is just what happened, God help us all.
I’m a big ol’ sucker for almost anything James Tynion IV cares to put to paper, and while The Department Of Truth probably remains his high-water mark for me, Something Is Killing The Children was where I met him and where I see him most often, as I suspect is true for many. One of the strongest elements of SIKTC is the mythology surrounding the House of Slaughter, an arm of an organization called the Order of St. George, both of which are dedicated to finding and murdering monsters with extreme prejudice, ostensibly in the name of Protecting The Children3. They’ve got everything: cool swords, bitchin’ spooky bandana-masks of various colors and with different patterns of predator-teeth on them that mean different things, monster-spirit familiars that inhabit adorable stuffies and act as their advisors, they’re rad, and I was VERY worried that they were the kind of story-element that only remains cool as hell if you don’t look at it too hard, or too often; all too frequently we’ve seen a mysterious and intimidating person or organization or whatever be rendered bogus and boring by over-exposure. Well lemme tell ya, FEARS UNFOUNDED, FRIENDO.
The series is fronted by Aaron, a Black-Mask House of Slaughter Hunter introduced in a previous volume of SIKTC who had shared history with that series’ main character; apparently, he struck a chord with readers because HoS isn’t just a story that he features in, it’s his story, and the creators took that chance to tell one that I imagine would be difficult to find support for as a series pitch: a specifically and unabashedly gay, Black love story, set in a house that teaches them their love is more dangerous than anything lurking in the shadows. (The strong implication is that their relationship is forbidden because Love Makes You Weak, not Because Homophobia, but the parallel is clear and, I have to imagine, intentional.)
Not belonging to either of those groups I can’t speak to those aspects of their relationship4, but the story-beats would all work perfectly well with any other combination of partners, so I’m cautiously prepared to call it Romantic AF when it’s not being heartbreaking or punctuated by monstros and House politics.
It would be easy to crack HoS open expecting more of the carnage and spookums you’ve come to love and find yourself stymied by this Tale of Forbidden Romance, but rest assured that in addition to the love story, House Of Slaughter packs plenty of the extremely upsetting monstro-mayhem and atmospheric horror you’ve come to know and love:
It also takes the opportunity to inject a few badly-needed moments of fun; one of the few fair complaints one could level at SIKTC is that it’s not what you’d call a good-time book, and HoS is able to toss a couple of new ingredients in and make something still familiar, but also refreshingly different.
Helen and the Twins are also an excellent example of how a change in the reader’s perspective can inform characterization; in SIKTC, Aaron is a distant, mysterious, untrustworthy force, but here he’s our precious cinnamon roll protagonist, so we need a new symbol of amoral menace and these three are happy to step in.
My only caveat with HoS is that I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting-point; you certainly could go in cold and have a good time re: romance and monstros, but its narrative presumes a familiarity with this world and its players that would be hard to do without, and you’d also miss all of the small pay-offs to references in SIKTC, so like, you do you, but there’s a reason most people watch Breaking Bad and then Better Call Saul5.
Okay, so fundamentally I believe that “genre” is a costume a story wears (Star Wars is just a western, which are just samurai movies, etc.), and The Human Target is an absolutely perfect example of that: mechanically, it’s a taut, old-fashioned noir thriller about a man trying to solve his own murder; it just happens to also feature a jackass Green Lantern (whose magic ring could represent a corrupt cop’s untouchability) and The Dame happens to have ice-powers (which could represent emotional isolation), and the Client happens to be Lex Luthor.
My understanding is that The Human Target was a Silver-Age comic that King has repurposed and revived, much as he did with Strange Adventures, and as far as I’m concerned he can resurrect as many titles as he likes if they’re all this good and this gorgeous and also feature pizza:
Being a detective story at heart, you get plenty of reflective internal dialogue that I think we can all agree sounds best in the voice of Eric Roberts, and although Christopher Chance is always ten steps ahead, that leaves plenty of room to sneak up behind him.
I read what I feel comfortable calling a lot of comics, and I can say with confidence that The Human Target, as a two-volume limited series, is one of the best I’ve read in the past decade. I can’t go much more into it without spoiling, but if you can’t take my word for it, take Guy Gardner getting his fuckin’ teeth fed to him:
I’m struggling a little with this Arlong Empire/Nami Is A Traitor story-arc, because just through pop-culture osmosis I already know that Nami doesn’t suddenly, permanently abandon the crew less than a tenth of the way through the series.
But it is nice to get her backstory and some bonding with her and the other Straw Hats as they learn what the deal is with her and Arlong’s crew and why Nami is the way she is.
Her story is genuinely tragic and unfortunately highlights one of my main frustrations with the series: tonal inconsistency and neck-breaking mood whiplash. I love it when this series is goofy as hell, and I love it when it’s hyper-emotional and dramatic, but it often pivots between the two with little warning and less grace, so you end up bouncing back and forth between Usopp and Sanji being dorks and the revelation that (SPOILER) Arlong murdering Nami and her sister’s foster mother in front of them when they were ten years old (END SPOILER). It might be something the series refines as it goes on, but I doubt it; Oda’s obviously an unapologetic rascal and clearly loves taking us out at the knees when we least expect it, and that’s what we get for picking up one of his books. Also, maybe that’s just what life is? A bunch of stuff happening, some of it Serious Business, some of it ridiculous, all of it at the same time, forever?
Star Trek? AND Ryan North?! Well that’s the maximum number of rad things it’s possible to have at once, it couldn’t possibly get any bet–
DRACULA PROBLEMS?! THAT’S MY FAVORITE INDIE-POP RECORD OF THE EARLY 2010’S!
Mmm, that’s-a some nice tortured wordplay. But yes: Mr. Dinosaur Comics himself, Mr. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Señor Cuatro Fantastico, put a Dracula on a spaceship and said “here, deal with this, IDIOTS”, and predictably it rules. Well, to be more precise, he had Mariner put a Dracula on a spaceship because she was bullying Boimler about his character-appropriate boring, lame holodeck choices6.
I’m very glad to see that Starfleet is finally taking the rights of artificial life seriously (not a joke, it’s an effective and important allegory), but I’m almost more glad that after years of holding their own against the Klingons, the Borg, and Kevin Uxbridge, they’ve decided that one enemy they definitely don’t need is Dracula. It’s a good call! He knows some powerful people!
If you’re a fan of Lower Decks, of Star Trek in general, of Dracula showing up in places that are STATISTICALLY less likely to have a Dracula, or honestly just really funny comics, this is for you. Lower Decks has a very particular comedic voice and flavor that fits Trek perfectly while also standing in contrast against most of the ‘adult animation’ available; that’s not to say there aren’t dick jokes aplenty, but that they’re dick jokes in a Star Trek context, not dick jokes wearing Star Trek like pants to get into a club they weren’t cool enough for7. Ryan North has the perfect textual voice for this, and I don’t think it would be speaking out of turn to suggest that some of the writers of the show itself are probably fans of and have been influenced by his immense body of work, not unlike Your Humble Bageler. Recursion! Fun!
That’s what I read this week! What about you all? Which of YOUR boon companions clomped their hat down on your head which is a nice gesture but, let’s be honest, is also pretty sweaty and gross? When was the last time YOU punched Guy Gardner and no matter what your answer is, hasn’t it been a little too long? Where did YOUR pal put a Dracula and really goozle your afternoon of super-borning normie holodeck bullshit? Lemme know in the comments!
Until next time, be good to yourselves and to each other or FACE MY WRATH.
Good night, and good luck.
- “I thought the arc involving The Bageler learning he was a test-tube baby made with a stranger’s seed was poorly paced” YEAH, ME TOO BUDDY
- I’m not lumping those together; at the time of these events they weren’t separate topics in public consciousness
- It does just barely and briefly pass the Bechdel Test, but fails to pass the Bechamel Test, which is whether a story has two chef characters discuss something besides sauce and neither of them are being controlled by a rat under their toque
- Mike Ehrmantraut: *silently tails a guy for an entire episode*
She Who Is My Wife: HOW DID HE LEARN ALL OF HIS LINES???
- If your friend’s holodeck scenario can’t be improved by the addition of Dracula, they might be too cool for you; visit your sickbay and request a nerd-immunity test, you might be due for a booster
- Although let’s be honest, if there’s a club that won’t let you in wearing Star Trek pants, that’s not a club you need to be a part of. Ignore their protests that “it’s not about the pants” and “this is a kiwanis lodge meeting” and “how did you get into my rumpus room”; if they don’t need your pants you don’t need their canapes