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Hot Ink — Chew, The Hangman, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest — and best — books coming out this week.

I’M GOING TO KEEP COMING BACK FOR MORE – Chew #3

There’s something about a sweet, sappy story of love at first sight that makes the contents of my stomach want to rise up my throat and have nothing to do with the inside of my body anymore. And, it would seem, the antidote to that effect is to have random non-essential characters graphically expelling their own lunches in the same story at a frequency of, oh, every other panel or so. This is a passable summary of the key events of issue 3 of Chew, John Layman and Rob Guillory’s series about a detective with the unusual ability to learn the past of any piece of organic matter he eats. Tony Chu’s powers have led to his employment by the Food and Drug Administration where, alongside experienced partner, fellow “cibopath” and later-years Orson Welles look-a-like Mason Savoy, he uses that power to unravel unsolved crimes. At least, that’s what he’s supposed to do.

In issue three Chu finds himself given the task of arresting Amelia Mintz, a “saboscrivner.” This means that Mintz is such a skilled food critic that readers can actually experience the taste of meals she describes. And she’s become so bored with her job that she now only reviews restaurants who have spectacularly failed their health department examinations. Think the rejected leftovers of a high school cafeteria left out back in the sun for a week or so and you’re probably close to the right flavor.

Unfortunately, Mintz is both an attractive blonde and the only person capable of making Chu understand what it’s like to taste food without also experiencing all of the unseemly steps of its production, and so he proceeds to instantly fall head over heels in puppy love with her so hard that it would make a “Twilight” fangirl look down with pity. Layman continues to quickly and efficiently introduce and endear us to each new character he creates in a series that has been constant fun since the start of the first issue. And Guillory’s artwork’s a great match, cutely cartoonish enough to prevent the often disgusting subject matter from becoming too gross.YOU KNOW WHAT COMICS NEEDS MORE OF? SUPERHEROES – The Red Circle: The Hangman

While most of DC and Marvel have spent recent years making a big deal of bringing characters back from the dead, J. Michael Straczynski has spent considerable time with the two companies bringing back entire series long condemned to the nebulous afterlife of comic book purgatory.

His work at Marvel has included “Supreme Power,” which breathed new life into the Squadron Supreme, and “The Twelve,” a miniseries about the return of characters from the 1940s, back when Marvel was known as Timely Comics. While DC lured him into working for both companies with the promise of fulfilling a longstanding ambition to write Superman, Straczynki’s always thrived when given the freedom to create new characters, or to restore forgotten ones with minimal continuity to like-new condition. And he’ll be doing this at DC as well.

This week’s “The Hangman” one-shot marks the first of four characters to be relaunched from the Red Circle Comics imprint, formerly owned by Archie Comics and now the property of DC. So if you’re a Straczynski fan who’s not content with only the recent release of episodes of She-Ra on Hulu (a series on which he served as story editor and wrote an occasional episode for), this’ll be the book you’ll want to pick up this week.

The first issue of the relaunch has it moments, although isn’t much more than you’d expect from superhero origin story. One of Straczynski’s strengths as a writer is his ability to keep a character’s true motivation secret from readers. By reasonably explaining conflicting viewpoints and presenting plausible explanations for how the same action could be taken for either a benevolent reason or a malicious one, he maintains a level of suspense until the key moment he decides to let the truth spill out. He’s also skilled at putting a difficult choice in front of a hero and then following the detailed consequences of that decision through to a conclusion, often not an entirely happy one.

And in the case of The Hangman, he seems to be starting down both of those paths once again. Robert Dickering, a civil war doctor faced with an unjust execution, cheats death when’s he’s presented with the possibility of immortality as a protecter of the innocent and punisher of the gulity. But whether he’s an agent of God or of the devil, even Dickering doesn’t know. The first impression of Dickering, now fighting crime in the present day, comes off as a cross between Batman and the Spectre. And that’s certainly not a complaint, as those are both seventy-year-old characters that creators continue using to produce new and interesting stories. But this issue serves only as an introduction to the new version of The Hangman, and it remains to be seen whether the character will grow into the full potential on display here.

TOO SIMILAR A COPY – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? #2

Reading a story by Philip K. Dick is an experience, where thoughts and ideas manically thrown at you at such a pace that the only way to move ahead is to plow through it. Not stopping to try to consciously understand the concepts the author creates but instead letting the product of his wild imagination pass through you. Processing it all on some subconscious level until understanding slowly begins to come to you, almost without your awareness that it’s happening until the moment when you look at the pages again and it makes sense in a way it didn’t the last time you set the book down. And unfortunately that’s an experience that isn’t duplicated by Boom’s faithful recreation of one of Dick’s best known works, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” as a graphic novel.

The famous first adaptation of the book was the film “Blade Runner.” But if you’ve never read the source material, be prepared for something quite different. “Blade Runner” is about as similar to “Androids” as a Disney faerie tale is to the original, darker story it originates from. In “Androids” the reader sees a fully developed post-apocalyptic world only hinted at in the film, complete with a strange and mysterious new religion based on electronically shared empathy.

But while devoted followers of Philip K. Dick might have been disappointed at the lack of a faithful recreation in “Blade Runner,” at least the film attempted to adapt Dick’s novel to fit the differences of the medium it was presented in. Boom’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is a word-for-word recreation of the original text, narration included, and given the prolific narration Dick employs it doesn’t work all that well. Pages are crowded with text, and it all moves too slowly, unable to duplicate that essential mad rush of far-out ideas. What’s more, reducing the imagery of Philip K. Dick’s story to one, single image is, on some level, unsatisfactory.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Tony Parker’s artwork, but Dick’s writing, more than that of most other writers, needs to be a unique experience for each reader, a reflection of what their own imagination brings with them. If you’ve never read “Androids,” buy the novel first. Then pick up these issues. Look at th
em as an interesting visual companion, only one possible interpretation of the story’s dystopian future. Read them for the commentary on the story, its author, and its effects on all that followed, written in issue two by Matt Fraction following a first issue essay by Warren Ellis. But if you open these pages without having read the book, you’ll be limiting your imagination if you ever choose to go back to the raw text later.

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