Atomic Diner's third title lacks the charm of In Dublin City and is without the finesse of Naked Lunch, but does offer a brash, ballsy appeal that should sate the between meals appetite of fans of hard-boiled detective fiction. Be prepared to pile on the weight, though - Freakshow is a thirty-five issue maxi series! (Hark! Does the death knell sound so early?)
Set in America during the 1950's, Freakshow #1 echoes elements of LA Confidential, but in it's urgency to deliver a complete story with its premiere issue, provides a purely surface reading experience, and ends before one settles to what semblance of a mid-section of story the thing offers. However, the scripting of Rob Curley is crisp, the pace fast, and the dialogue ugly.
Equally ugly is an artwork over-stylised in a bid to lend sophistication to an inappropriately cartoonish look. Panels of penciler Terry Kenny and inker Lisa Jackson at times are without clarity and without subtlety of expression due to lack of variety in the weight of inked line; but conversely, pages are attractive, utilising inventive layouts and competent compositional use of black areas.
Room for improvement then, but with a sound enough story-telling, a solid draughtsmanship and a sequential know-how already in evidence, there is reason to believe that, given time, Freakshow could develop into a satisfying series. One hopes the death knell will fade. (The fact, anyway, that it exists only in my pessimistic head suggests it may well just be a case of tinnitus. Hurrah!)
Colour cover, 28 glossy pages, Euro 3.75/$2.95 from: Atomic Diner, 2 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask why it is that a publication printed in Ireland, at a time when the euro is stronger than the American dollar, should be priced so. (Explanations to 'comments' below!)
Society: Party Animal #1 and #2
Society, Brian Yuzna's 1989 film and still his career high water mark, is something of an overlooked gem. It looks like a straightahead teen horror flick, but gently pulls you into its uneasy queasy setting, ultimately delivering a pretty sharp satire of Reagan-era America.
Society: Party Animal is the 2003 comics sequel to that film. It picks up Billy, the film's hero, 10 years on. He's been on the run, fighting Society whereever he found it, writing up his exploits on websites and phoning in to radio talk shows. In Party Animal, he's drawn back into Society, discovers the truth about himself, a splats a big blobby pile of flesh into pieces. Good fun stuff.
The story doesn't attempt to pull the Reaganomics satire into the 21st century, which is probably a good thing. Reaganomics, like ra-ra skirts and Woodpecker cider, is the stuff of 80s nite at your local nite-spot. Trouble is, it doesn't really replace it with anything - all we have is a straightahead story of capture, escape, capture, discovery, big blobs of flesh and escape. It does what it does well, but it all just seemed a bit thin. Perhaps a greater length would have allowed for more depth, but I'm guessing there are economic factors at work here too.
Physically these are well presented comics - rather good painted covers, colour interiors (good colouring too), American size. Unfortunately the art and lettering teams change between issues. Unforunate not because the art in either is radically better or worse than the other, but because the styles are very different and this jars rather.
There's a second Society mini-series in the works. Having reestablished the characters, I'm crossing my fingers that it'll do a bit more with them.
Both issues available at £3.45 each (inc p&p) from Rough Cut Comics, 129 Langmuirhead Road, Glasgow, G66 5DL
or online at the Rough Cut Comics website. See website for US$ and Euro pricing and shipping.
MBLEH! is written, drawn and published by modern Irish renaissance man Bob Byrne. This is a man so confident in his talents that he thinks nothing of giving his comic a name that is basically unpronounceable and even if you can manage it, sounds a bit like someone being sick. Way to generate strong word-of-mouth!
Still, never mind. MBLEH! is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of stories from Byrne's singularly fecund imagination, ranging from surrealist action-adventure to bitterly misanthropic autobiography. The disparate stories are bound together by a common tone of sleazily hallucinogenic bad taste, pitched somewhere between Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and early Irvine Welsh; whilst there's not nearly so many explicit drug references, there's definitely an air of being on something. And not necessarily something good. Cockroaches wearing papier-mache human masks, gangs of glue-addicted juvenile contract killers... it's all quite substantially messed up.
The absolute highlight of all this is the lead feature 'Clam Land', which features the ongoing adventures of the utterly perverted and morally corrupt Penzram, his insanely violent ice-cool-muthafucka pal Lucas, and his mentally-retarded coprophile infant nephew Herby in the colourful setting of Clamtown. Think Uncle Scrooge's Duckburg, but with more crack whores and bum rapists. Basically, this is one of the funniest things you're ever going to read, as long as you find jokes about AIDS and child mental illness funny. Which, clearly, I do. If you can see past the explicit violence and teddy-bear-fucking you will find a classic sitcom family structure, built around a central set of relationships that are really rather sweet.
So, yes. It's an excellent comic, and everyone should go and read it. If we lived in a world with any kind of natural justice, Bob Byrne would be as famous as.. oh, I don't know, Carol Vorderman. At least.
Issues 1 and 2 are available for 5 Euros (inc p& p) from:
43 Kilclare Gardens,
Full ordering details and lots of fun stuff besides are to be found at www.clamnuts.com.
More reviews at www.urt.blogspot.com