Jake Parker appeared in the Sunstone comics issue I edited last year although I was aware of him before that and reviewed the first Missile Mouse book for Fantasy Magazine. That book, published by Scholastic, was, in my opinion, probably the best introduction to space opera for young readers. I say “was” because I liked this, the second book, even more than book one.
Missile Mouse is Han Solo and James Bond and Spider-Man. But I need to be very very clear about one thing:
Missile Mouse is his own man.
You won’t have a hard time arguing that elements of Missile Mouse are derivative, but utter newness is not the point. Jake invented Missile Mouse in 1992 when he was 15 and that passion and wholehearted embrace of genre is apparent in every panel of every Missile Mouse story. If you love genre, give your kids Missile Mouse. If you love well-told rollicking fiction, read Missile Mouse yourself. If you like fun dangit GET SOME MISSILE MOUSE.
Sorry. This is not a review.
The thing is, I love Missile Mouse in a way that sidesteps “criticism”. I just love it. I love reading it to my kids and see them get excited. The longest sustained reading my oldest has done may be with the new Missile Mouse book and why? Because he loves it. Because it has adventure and explosions and friendships and changes of heart and it does it with a guileless freshness that we just don’t see in our jaded media landscape very often.
You’re looking for a fun read. You know you are! You want your kids to have access to something awesome and fun and that will get them into the same things you were into. And that thing is Missile Mouse. Just go buy a copy already. (And for all your friends. Jake’s two-book contract is up and I want more.)
Let me start by situating Blammo in the comics scene. It’s published in traditional comic-book form, though on heavier paper (eg, this book is less disposable than your average Green Lantern book). Once upon a time, alternative comics like Blammo were fairly common place. Now good luck finding them. Even here in the East Bay, Berkeley venerated Comic Relief shop has bit the dust and now I don’t know where to pick up indie stuff. Noah’s not much exaggerating when he claims that Blammo is the “last alternative comic standing” (and one reviewer suggests “Noah Van Sciver could save this sub-category of art for future generations”).
The first story in Blammo #7 deals with this commercial reality. Shocked to discover Blammo covering up the stories they actually want to buy and read, customers and comic-store owners are outraged the news arrives to report on the scene and the unhappy faces of the anchor and reporter tell us all we need to know.
But now that we’ve got some ironic hipsterism out of the way, we can get into the stories proper. Basically, all my uncertainties about Blammo #6 are irrelevant in #7. Each story holds together solidly and, beyond that, they all hook together as well.
The first story, “Who Are You, Jesus?” stars an unemployed guy named Jesus Espinoza. We first see him at a job interview as the interviewer asks him, “So tell me Mr. Espinoza, what would your friends say about you? What kind of person would they say you are?”
The questions sticks in Jesus’s head as he finds a wallet with $250 in it, hooks up with the girl who’s wallet it is, etc. The question haunts him, sometimes forcing him back onto the right path, sometimes unable to stop him from veering far from it. The story is a stellar meditation on karma’s relationship to choice.
This story is followed by a one-page Poesque buried-alive story (two more similarly macabre stories come later in the issue, but this one in particular ties into the Poe tradition — the others are more closely connected to the modern serial killer fetish), after which we get to the heart of Blammo #7, “Because I have To.” [sic]. This stars Grant, the same fellow as appears on the issues cover. It’s Halloween and his brother died the previous fall. Grant is walking about meditatively when he runs into a little girl who has lost her brother and her home. He takes her trick-or-treating while they look for her brother. Along the way they develop a sweet relationship which is nearly destroyed tragically (and finally destroyed obnoxiously), but as we watch Grant walk away into the late fall win, we are left with a bit of poetic meditation. It’s a beautiful story and while I’ve liked Noah’s stuff since discovering him, this is the first time I’ve really recognized that he has staying power. I now think he may be the Next Big Thing in the world of indie comics (where being a Big Thing merely means one copy of your book is at Barnes and Noble and a hipster dude at an LA NPR station seriously considered plugging your book on the radio).
Then Noah sends his grotesque Bill the Chicken character to hell with more pathos than I saw for Bill in #6, but let’s skip ahead to the story that will probably be of greatest interest to AMV’s readers: the telling of Joseph Smith’s story.
Now, Grant looks more like a typical depiction of Joseph Smith than Noah’s Joseph Smith does. And like Joseph Smith (and Jesus Espinoza, I suppose), Grant was looking for meaning. Noah’s Joseph Smith story starts with a quarter-page treatment of James 1:5 then drops us right in the middle of the sacred grove.
I’m going to pause here to quote a paragraph from this books inside back cover:
While preparing to publish this issue of BLAMMO I thought a lot about not including all the Joseph Smith stuff. In a way I feel embarrassed about it. I was indeed raised in the Church of the Latter day Saints until my parents divorced and I went with my mother who had had enough of the Mormon housewife role she had been playing. I was then taught that everything I had been brought up with in the religion was a lie. When I was Young I knew why I was on this earth and where I would go when I died because the Mormon Church told me. And it was all a lie. And who knows but the dead what it’s all about? I’ve been deprogrammed from religion. I’m just too jaded about everything now. And when I die and nothing happens at all, why would I care? I wouldn’t even know! And if I die and angels take me to a castle in the sky, then that’s a wonderful bonus! Anyway, I hope you didn’t actually read all of this. It would only embarrass me. I get embarrassed alot!
Now that you’ve read that, you might be wondering why I’m writing about Blammo when AMV is generally perceived as being a place to talk about the art of “believing” Mormons.
Simply put, my answer is that Noah’s voice matters within the field of Mormon letters. Let me quote him again:
Growing up in a Mormon family, I understand that Joseph’s life has played a part in who I am at least indirectly. My home was eventually split in half over the believe in his church. An event which strongly messed me up, and confused me when I was younger. Being told two different things about the church from two different people who I loved equally, left me unsure of what to believe. Who was lying? Which one of my parents was going to go to hell? Ultimately I’ve learned to never fully trust or side with any two extremes. So now, in perhaps a misguided attempt to understand more about myself, I am researching and looking for the truth.
Whether you like me are still firmly in the Mormon camp or not, I hope you can agree that Noah’s drawing Joseph Smith is not “misguided”. In fact, I hope you’ll agree with me that Noah’s perspective on the much-told story is, in fact, enlightening.
For instance, instead of the beatified face Joseph usually has during the First Vision and Moroni’s visits, Noah’s Joseph looks rather terrified/horrified when, for instance, Moroni snarls and tells him that “the day cometh that shall burn as an oven” or” the whole earth would be utterly wasted”. And you know what? After I got over my cognitive dissonance, it made sense. Surely Joseph wasn’t happy to hear about people burning as stubble. And Noah’s illustration of men running from the flames matches my imaginings of the Second Coming at the age his family split: Awful.
This is the first part of Noah’s Joseph Smith series and takes us from the First Vision to the publication of the Book of Mormon in five pages. And my understanding is it will be reappearing in Sunstone later this year.
While this story seems far, perhaps, from other stories in Blammo #7, it’s really not. I’ve been debating with myself whether Noah purposefully made the Jesus of the First Vision look more or less exactly like a longer-haired earringless Jesus Espinoza. And Joseph’s uncertainties and worries team him up nicely with Grant adrift and the characters trapped in his horror stories. The world is a mess and we have to find a way out. Joseph succeeded. Sort of. I mean — he was shot in the end.
In the end, Noah’s Joseph does not taste quite like other tellings of this story I’ve read in the past. He is very literal; he neither mocks nor quite embraces. When we see Joseph with his face in his hat, it’s not presenting with levity or distaste, but neither is the inherent weirdness of the image denied. I’m certainly looking forward to further installments of Noah’s Joseph history and to see what new treasures he discovers therein. (And, incidentally, someday I want to see his Abe Lincoln history.)
The final story features a Grant lookalike who nearly misses being trapped in a horror story all his own. The story wraps back the reporter from the first page and manages a few things in a short space. It ties together the violence of the previous stories, the Grant story, religion, fate/karma, and the ironic hipster gags that we began with. In short, Noah hasn’t published a simple collection of stories. He’s published a book that holds together as a unit. Thing concept album, and a solid one, and you’ll have a sense of what I mean. I highly recommend .
[Note: Some readers may be put off by language and violent images.]
Originally this post was going to be called THREE New Comics, but I haven’t gotten around to purchasing the new iZombie collection yet (and Mike Allred only draws it anyway.) But it’s out now all the same and, more importantly, his new Madman book will be out next month. Don’t miss it.