Catching up on some notes about some stuff I've read over the last few months, in this case, comics....
:: I recently read in its entirety the comic book series Air, by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker. It's a very strange story, much in the vein of things like LOST, with weird mysteries compounding more mysteries and lots of strange goings-on, surprising revelations, plots that start small but end up huge, characters whose loyalties and status as heroes or villains isn't immediately obvious. For the most part, Air is well done and intriguing, although it does suffer from the fact that it quite obviously ends too soon. The story slowly unfolds, and then it suddenly becomes clear that the book had been canceled by Vertigo Comics, so instead of building over time, the book quickly starts to wrap up and then it ends.
Our heroine is a flight attendant named Blythe, who has taken this particular job despite severe phobia of heights (to the point where she has to pop pills to deal with it all). She finds herself in the midst of a highjacking in which her plane is directed toward a country that doesn't exist, and then she is living out her worst fear: tumbling through the sky without a parachute. Except she is rescued by a tall, handsome stranger named Zeyn. We learn of a shadowy government (or not) group that has goals all its own, and then, before long, the story plunges us into lost countries that appear on no maps, ancient Aztec artifacts, a new kind of engine that will revolutionize aviation, visions of a bird-snake named Quetzalcoatl, and a lot of ruminations on the nature of terrorism.
Air is an intriguing read that held my interest most of the way, even though, as I noted before, I could sense that the air (no pun intended) was let out of it toward the end. The comic's art is good when dealing with people, but in the flight scenes the series could have used an artist more able to suggest a feeling of 'soaring' and the wonder that exists in the sky. Still, Air was, for the most part, an enjoyable read – and a reasonably generous one, at 28 issues collected into four trade paperbacks.
:: The movie The Rocketeer is an entertaining little adventure flick that I enjoyed back when it came out in the early 1990s. However, I did not realize that it was based on a comic book, by a man named Dave Stevens. An omnibus edition collects the complete adventures of the Rocketeer, which were apparently serialized in several publications before at last appearing in a one-shot issue that resolved a cliffhanger. Unfortunately, that's all that exists of The Rocketeer; Stevens died of leukemia not long after finishing The Rocketeer. I was pleased to note the degree to which the film honored the retro homage tone of the comic. There's a lot to be fond of here.
:: I have mixed feeling about Craig Thompson's latest work, Habibi. I honestly don't know what to make of it. This long, sprawling tale follows two youths in a fictional Arabic land, a young woman and a boy, whose grim turns in life bring them together. They run away into the desert and make a home, of sorts, in an abandoned boat, where the woman cares for the boy, who slowly grows up and starts to notice things about the woman he lives with.
I really don't want to say more than that about the story, which is very long and meandering and full of developments that put the characters into positions of nearly abject horror. I found large parts of the book distasteful, with a relentless focus on sexual behavior that borders on depravity and the limits to which our two heroes must endure horrible things in order to survive and find their way back to one another. It's to Thompson's credit that when they finally do find each other again, there are no easy, happy endings; instead, the events leading to that point continue to haunt them in ways that they will probably never completely surmount.
Still, there's just no getting around the fact that I found long stretches of Habibi downright unpleasant, and there are parts that are nearly impossible to fathom, such as the mad man who clings to a sunny disposition on life, which would be fine were he not convinced that the objects he pulls out of a sewage-choked river are treasures.
Habibi also confounds expectations in other ways. There are times when the nature of what's going on in the story seem to convincingly place the story in some passed time, decades or centuries ago, but then we discover that the Arabic palace that is full of concubine-slaves and the beggar-society of eunuchs are both located in a city that is also the home of modern skyscrapers. I'm not sure what statement Thompson is trying to make about the Arab world here, but the juxtaposition of a society stuck in medieval times in its sexual mores while building for the current century is unsettling.
Thompson's art is, as ever, absolutely stunning. There are pages upon pages in Habibi that beg to be reproduced and framed. Thompson's major recurring theme is the nature of the Arabic written language, and many of the book's finest pages clearly draw artistic inspiration from the traditional illumination of Arabic manuscripts.
I'm just not sure what I think of Habibi as a whole. I can't say that I liked it, but it's certain to stick in my mind for a good while.