Well, after months of waiting and speculation, the new DC universe has arrived with Justice League #1.
With Geoff Johns and Jim Lee at the helm (the comics equivalent of Page and Plant, rockstars of the medium), there’s no question that this book will fly off the shelves. Word has it that it’s already gone to a third printing (3 days after release). The only question is: is the book any good?
It’s big, bold, and simply great comics. Johns slows down the classic origin tale, much like the Ultimate relaunch from Marvel in 2000. A lot of fans of old comics fans call it ‘decompressed’ storytelling: what once took an issue to tell now takes six. I prefer to think that Johns is simply giving the room to breath, allowing for colourful character moments. Batman is hard, but he’s clearly new at all of this. Green Lantern is a far cry from the experienced ring-slinger in the Johns-written Green Lantern; he’s brash, cocky even, and him and Batman don’t get along from the start. Johns understands these characters, and he should; he’s written most of them for more than 5 years. The story is mostly set-up, but it’s fun set-up. It’s the kind of set-up that makes you excited for what happens next, rather than bore you into not buying the second issue. There’s also no slowed-down introductions to the characters, explaining their new place in the universe. This isn’t a detractor; it makes for a fun, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of story. There’s no certainties in this new status quo; the stakes are high, and Johns knows how to keep a reader on the edge of her seat.
Jim Lee hasn’t drawn interiors for a couple of years, and it’s good to have him back. His pencils are simply astounding. His panels are wide, bold, and always concerned with character. He draws the story at a breakneck pace, and it reads just as quickly. Lee really lays out the Green Lantern constructs: no bubbles, no pathetic shields. He understands that the ring is a tool of the mind: whatever you can think of comes up. The detail is impeccable.
I truly believe that Lee doesn’t get the respect he deserves in the medium. Sure, he sells in the millions (see X-Men #1), but most people ignore the fact that the man is an extremely talented artist. He understands anatomy better than anyone in the business. His characters are big, strong superheroes to be sure, but they look real in all their grand poses, gritty battles, and quiet moments. There isn’t a single pencil line unused; no panel unnecessary. Unlike the other Image artists of yesteryear, the man knows how to draw action and tell a story.
This book will be hated by plenty out there, and for all the wrong reasons. A lot of people want their ‘old characters’ back. A lot of people think that this relaunch won’t last, and they are really missing out. This is a helluva fun book featuring two of the oldest characters in comics; it starts in a Gotham street and ends with the big seven saving the world. Written and drawn perfectly, I can’t wait to see what happens next. If ever there was a book for new readers, this is it. Jump on and get a glimpse of the new DC Universe, it may just draw you in.
Well, after months of waiting and speculation, the new DC universe has arrived with Justice League #1.
I go to my local comics shop every Wednesday. I don’t buy a ton of books, but I usually pick up an issue or two a week. Maybe treat myself to a trade. I know what’s coming out before I hit the store. I know what I’m going to get. Same routine, week in, week out.
Today was different. Today I walked into my comic shop beaming, a rare expression when you think about the types of books filling the racks. Crime books set on Native American reservations. The end of an era of superheroes. Gods of fear plaguing humanity. We constantly hear about how comics aren’t for kids anymore. The problem with that is it’s hard to imagine a smiling face heading into a comic shop anymore, either.
DC Retroactive: Justice League of America - The 90s is one of those comics that manages to be both funny and fun. Maybe it’s because the old band of Giffen & DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire created it. Maybe it’s because I’m bit nostalgic for the characters that have since turned evil, been killed off, or gone through some event so traumatic that they just aren’t that fun anymore. I don’t know exactly what it is, but this books got it.
Giffen and DeMatteis know how to make their readers laugh, and reading this story feels like slipping into worn in pair of jeans. They embrace the earlier days of comics rather than try to shift it around and make it appeal to older, mature audiences. It’s never childish or inferior, it’s just good storytelling.
Maguire is the star of the show, though. He was doing Frank Quitely before there was a Frank Quitely. His lines are cleaner than anyone in comics. He can draw motion, action, characters, monsters, you name it. But above all, the man can draw expressions. He dances that thin line between cartooning and pencilling: always emotive, but never caricature. Just perfect.
I love comics of all genres. I love how comics have become more serious and I love that they’re taken more seriously by non-comics readers. But, what I really love is reading books that remind me why they were every called funny books in the first place. Sometimes it feels great to walk away from those 4-colour pages with a smile on your face.
Brian Azzarello isn’t known for writing good guys. The writing is good, that’s for sure. Grab yourself an issue of 100 Bullets if you don’t believe me. The tone is always on the mark. Again, no book does noir like 100 Bullets. The characters are damn strong, well-developed, compelling, and always mysterious enough to draw a reader in. But I’d never say the characters are good.
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel certainly continues that trend. It’s is a unique look at one of the most diversely one-dimentional villains in comics. Luthor has been depicted as a mad scientist (See: Super Friends); as a corrupt business man (See: Superman: Man of Steel); and as a wacky criminal mastermind (See: Superman film of 1978). In all previous stories he was definitely the bad guy, whether or not his power suit was Kyrptonite-powered or Armani. This book, like Red Skull: Incarnate over at the other company, stands out as a sympathetic portrayal of classic evil nemesis. It isn’t an origin story. Azzerello doesn’t waste one page on times past. Here, the focus is on Luthor’s current drive to rid the world of Superman.
To Luthor, Superman is not the beacon of hope the world believes him to be; he is an excuse to rest back on one’s laurels. Why push the boundaries of science when Superman can save the day? He’s Nietzsche’s overman: the end of the rope that humanity could never possibly reach. Why try? Luthor views his nemesis as everything preventing humanity from reaching its highs. His very name is an act of deception on the public. He’s not a man at all. He’s an alien posturing as a god. And Luthor’s certainly not alone in his view. Even Batman, in a great dual-identity cameo, has hesitations about the Boy in Blue: what if God goes wrong?
So, Luthor tries (once again) to expose the alien’s fiction. He never wears the battle suit, picks up a green space rock, or bands together his Legion of Doom to fight the alien. He does what Luthor does best: he generates a series of events designed to expose Superman as unhuman; as an outsider; as alien. Unsurprisingly, he succeeds; after all, that’s what Superman is.
Still, the story is much more than its outcome. Like I said before, Azzerello never writes good guys. Although his goal may be noble, Luthor’s methods certainly aren’t. He employs evil men. He spares no expense, be it living or material. His strongest negotiation tactics usually involve gunpoint. And this is why Luthor is the most terrifying villain in comics: he believes wholly in what he is doing. He’s not some smiling mad man. He just wants the best for all of us.
All of it is beautiful drawn by frequent Azzerello partner, Lee Bermejo. The story is clear, and the pictures are gorgeous. His characters are elegant but always grounded. His urban landscapes have been around for years. They aren’t merely backgrounds: they’re cities with centuries of history and people. The story is just great, but Bermejo sells it. His portrayal of Superman is horrifying. His eyes glow red; he only grimaces; and he hovers above Metropolis: a more-powerful Big Brother for the 21st century. After one glance at this alien, you’re on Luthor’s team.
This book has been collected fairly recently in both hard and softcover, and it completely stands on its own. You don’t need to know about Superman, Lex Luthor, or any other DC comics. If you’ve always wondered what drives this particular villain, this book will provide some answers. If you just have an itch for a darker story where the moral lines blur a little, pick this up. Just keep in mind that there’s no good guys.
The Marvels Project: Birth of the Super Heroes goes over everything you need to know about the foundations of the Marvel Comics universe. In a lot of ways, it could be called an “exercise in continuity”. But don’t let that scare you away, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. Nazi spies? Check. Mad scientists? Check. A tidal wave crashing over Manhattan? Check. A Coney Island Super Hero throwdown? Check. Altogether, there’s more than enough excitement to keep you turning the pages.
Set during the Second World War, this book weaves historical fact with four-colour fiction. The Americans and Nazis are locked in a science race, each hoping to develop a super-soldier before the other to change the outcome of the war. Narrated by a oft-forgotten, golden-age character, The Angel, we see mystery men fight off Nazi saboteurs; big-name heroes repel underwater Nazi agents; and good old-fashioned G.I.s parachuting into Nazi territory. Regular joes give way to super-powered heroes as the Marvels enter the spotlight.
The story is historically accurate, so there’s not a lot of surprises as to what’s coming next (spoilers: Pearl Harbour happens). But writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting, already well-known for their innovative and strong run on Captain America, focus less on the history itself and more on the way the characters react to the early events of WW2. Brubaker has worked with these characters before, and he understands their younger incarnations. Steve Rogers isn’t the experienced avenger he will become; Nick Fury isn’t the cool-as-hell super spy; and Namor’s unforgiving fury towards humanity leaves little room for love.
Epting renders it all beautifully. There appears to be a lot less photo-reference in this book than in the Captain America run, but every line, face, character, or car realistically jumps off the page. The streets of Manhattan look dirty, in all their pre-gentrification glory. The Red Skull’s face is cracked, scabbed, and without remorse, like any evil Nazi’s should be. Epting illustrates the personal moments with the same, impeccable detail as the wide-screen war scenes. Dave Stewart’s uses colours skilfully; the backgrounds reflect the dark tone of the time, while the super heroes’ colourful get-ups provide stark contrast.
For those of you with a taste for war or espionage books, go pick this up. If your a fan of Marvel super heroes, this is one fun back story. If you’ve never read a comic in your life, this book is a great introduction: you get to discover the heroes and how they came to be.
If you still aren’t sold, and in case I wasn’t clear, there’s hell-of-a-lot of punching and killing Nazis!
Northlanders is an ongoing Vertigo title, with 5 volumes in print as of August 2011. Written by Brian Wood and drawn by a slough of amazing artists, the book is, on the surface, about vikings.
Creator/writer Wood has written his fair share of comic books, most of which can be summed up in great one-line pitches. DMZ is a war between two factions of the United States that reflects the post-9/11 political setting. Local is a string of one-and-dones about the importance and influence of our hometowns, all thematically and narratively connected. Supermarket is “Swedish-beauties meets Ninjas”. But there’s always a lot more going on between the panels than these reviewer-friendly taglines let on.
So what kind of a book is Northlanders? Wood himself admits that he pitched the book as a “viking crime book”: vikings as criminals with gangs fighting for territory. And at first glance, I suppose the book could be described in that way. But, like all those other books above, there’s much more going on. Northlanders has been an examination of family; legacy; our relation to geography; the globalized world; capitalism; faith, in its many forms; and of human potential, be it good or bad. Mostly, it’s a book about change: the moment between two great paradigms where people make choices, take sides, and ready their God(s) for blood.
Northlanders: Metal is perhaps the best collection published because it demonstrates these theme so strongly. The first story, “The Sea Road”, with art by the extremely talented Fiona Stapes, is a single-issue story (or warning) about how small the world already is, and how much smaller its going to be. Short, sparse, and beautifully rendered, the story ends before you want it to but the thoughts linger long after.
From there Woodgives us, with more than a helping hand from his DMZ accomplice Riccardo Burchielli, the five-part “Metal”, where an old believer struggles against the rise of Christian capital. There’s mysticism, old gods, and some bloody viking action, but there’s a love story at the arc’s core. Here, Wood shows us that time between eras at the human level. Much like DMZ’s reporter at the middle of it all, the viking couple walk us through an increasingly hostile world.
The collection ends with a two-part arc drawn by frequent Wood collaborator Becky Cloonan. In “The Girl in the Ice”, it is an old Christian man that is caught amongst change. After finding a girl frozen in a lake, he abandons normalcy to pursue some answer whilst rival viking gangs lay claim to the world around him. His quest is a pious and personal one, while major political and physical events occur around him without consult.
If you’re a new reader, pick this book up. Although the spine says it’s Vol. 5, don’t let that scare you away. Each issue and arc of this title is self-contained, at least narratively speaking. If you like the themes and ideas in this book, go back and pick up the first four collections. If you’ve been reading comics for years, this book is a definite departure from your usual superhero fare. If you’ve been reading Brian Wood’s work for a while, chances are you’ve already read this. But, if you haven’t, grab it off the shelf. If the tagline “viking crime book” hooks you, great, but I promise there’s a hell of a lot more going on than that.
Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s new Moon Knight series is shaping up to be quite the book. For those of you unfamiliar with Moon Knight, he’s exactly as he seems. Poor man’s Batman. The Punisher, but nicer. Powered by some Egyptian god named Knoshu. Oh, and yeah, he’s absolutely insane. Multiple personality disorder; bi-polar disorder; depression; you name it, he’s got it in spades.
In older volumes, writers have had to struggle (at best) to work with Moon Knight’s crazy side. They’ve (at worst) jumped into a sea of poorly balanced melodrama. In Bendis’ hands, Moon Knight’s craziness is series hook: urged by Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, Moon Knight heads out to L.A., where a crime syndicate is gaining ground. He sets up shop, dual identity and all. Fights crime, and so on. Cap, Spidey, and Wolverine help him out along the way. The catch? Cap, Spidey, Wolverine (and whoever else) are all just in his head.
Still, this sounds like the sort of thing we’ve seen in comics, or at least some entertainment medium before. But as the series develops, it’s hard to tell where Moon Knight’s list of personalities ends. Thinking you’re the hero is one thing, but not knowing that you’re the villain, that’s something else entirely. I’m half expecting to turn the page and find out that Moon Knight’s been in a room himself the whole time.
Even though the plot seems a little reminiscent of “he was dead all along…”, Bendis handles the balance perfectly. Where Bendis’ rampant strong character dialogue can often hurt or over-clutter a book like The Avengers, here it works perfectly. You’ll catch yourself thinking that Cap really is talking to Moon Knight because he is written so true to character.
Maleev sells the story though. If it was drawn tongue-in-cheek; if there were traditional, cartoonist flourishes to the work, it would fall flat. Maleev’s jagged lines, combined with Matthew Wilson’s muted colours, create a world where craziness works.
Highly recommended for new readers and for old readers, especially Moon Knight fans looking for a new take on the character.
Red Skull: Incarnate #1 is a thematic sequel to 2008’s Magneto: Testament, written by Greg Pak. Both series focus on the young life of a Marvel villain, both are written by Greg Pak, and both centre around early 20th century German history. The similarities stop there, I assure you.
Johann Schmidt is a young boy living in an orphanage in 1923. Monetary inflation has forced many Germans to give up their basic needs; a bag of sugar costing several million marks. Schmidt is thoroughly beaten and ridiculed by a headmaster who longs for the glory of the Kaiser’s Reich and disdains the communists, socialists, and Jews, who he blames for his nation’s fallen status. Slowly and gruesomely, we see Schmidt develop into what will become the infamous Red Skull.
Pak handles the story very well. It is brutally realistic, unforgiving, and historically accurate. The characters are fully-developed, and none of them behave in an arbitrary way. As in the previous Magneto series, Pak is never heavy-handed. For a man known for writing Incredible Hercules, it is amazing how subtle Pak can be.
Mirko Colak is an artist whose work I’m unfamiliar with, but not for long. Even though the book contains everyday scenes and small character moments, Colak keeps a quick pace throughout the book. In particular, he renders the emotionally-heavy final scene subtly, never shifting to gratuitous or fetishized violence. The work is darkly coloured, and it reminds me somewhat of Fiona Staples. If Colak continues to impress with art like this, you should expect to see his name on the cover of many more books.
But the most interesting thing about this book isn’t the script or art. It’s not the absolutely gorgeous, period perfect covers by David Aja, either. It’s the character history Pak has to deal with. In Magneto: Testament, the reader was presented with the origin of an already-sympathetic villain. Sure, Magneto had initially been a one-dimensional foil to Xavier’s X-Men, using nuclear weapons and other violent tactics. However, over the years he has become, in simple terms, a good guy. We learned that he was a Holocaust survivor. He had lost his parents, family, and great love. He was a character driven to make sure that such violence never happened again. Magneto: Testament expanded on this already-established origin, and it made an already sympathetic character all the more believable.
Here, Pak is dealing with the opposite sort of character. More than just a Nazi, the Red Skull is the abstract personified form of Naziism. He is hate, uncontrolled and unforgivable. What makes this book so remarkable is that it humanizes this abstract form. It doesn’t necessarily force the reader to sympathize or to feel bad for Schmidt. It simply shows that there is an historical, social, political, and human context to remember behind every character, hero or villain. We may never sympathize with the Red Skull, but we can see how Johann Schmidt was unfortunately twisted into such demented hate.
Highly recommended for new and old readers.
Sub Mariner: The Depths is not your typical Marvel book. There are no super-heroes to be found in the pages. The title character, Namor the Sub-Mariner, doesn’t fully show up until the final act of the story, and even then it’s unsure what exactly was seen. Don’t let this dissuade you from picking up the book; Sub-Mariner: The Depths is an eerie examination of man’s separation from the known world.
Following the undersea disappearance of an explorer in search of the mysterious Atlantis, Professor Stein begins an expedition to the bottom of the ocean to debunk the myth of the sunken city once and for all. A man dedicated to the pursuit of scientific truth, Professor Stein ignores all warnings from his crew to abandon the search and stay on the surface, for a mysterious figure known only as Namor protects the depths at all costs.
Yes, the plot sounds like its taken from some cheesy Republic serial from the 1940s, but writer Peter Milligan uses the standard b-movie narrative as a means of exploring man’s relation to myth. Is the scientific pursuit of knowledge a noble one? Does it kill something far more primordial? These questions are at the heart of the work. Milligan’s Professor Stein is skeptical at first, but as the expedition moves on, Stein begins to question what he’s seen. The deeper he goes, the more uncertain he is, wishing to return to the ignorance on the surface. Here, Namor is not a certain character, he is an unknown force; the reader is left wondering if he’ll show up at all. What we’re left with is one of the freshest takes on an old (indeed, the oldest) Marvel character: Namor becomes a feeling, that thing in the shadows that is always there.
The tone of the book is perfectly complemented by artist Esad Ribic. Ribic stands out as one of the most unique painters in the industry. Unlike Alex Ross’s realistic, Rockwellian approach, Ribic’s style is much more impressionistic. The deeper Professor Stein goes, the darker the work gets; the final chapter contains more black than visible images, and the characters look trapped and distraught. Ribic’s work leaves the reader with the same, disturbed disposition as Stein. Did I really see something in the shadows, or was it simply a trick of light? Was there something hidden behind that corner or behind that glass? Ribic never lays bare the scene; he leaves the reader in the dark.
For new readers, the story requires no prior knowledge of either Namor or the Marvel Universe as a whole. For old readers, take all that knowledge and toss it aside, it won’t save you from the depths. Milligan and Ribic have given us a wholly new take on an all-too-familiar character, plot, and medium.
The Deadman and the Flying Graysons covers are just too good. A fun story and killer interior art don’t hurt the book either. Writer JT Krul uses the new Flashpoint status quo as a jumping-off point for a fun story about family, full of daredevil stunts and eerie premonitions. Strange characters from the DCU can be spotted throughout the story (Killer Shark as a circus freak? Brilliant idea), but Krul never drones on about the Flashpoint world. Sure, we hear a bit about Emperor Aquaman and Wonder Woman, but these ideas are relegated to the background, giving the new (old?) characters room to breath.
While the cover art is astounding, the interior work is just as gorgeous. Mikel Janin’s style is part Daniel Acuna, part Moritat, and part Frazer Irving. Don’t get me wrong, the art is never imitative; Janin’s name can simply be added to a stable of artists whose work looks great while conveying the story easily.
For old fans, knowing the Flying Grayson’s history is half the fun. Throughout the story, they are up on the high-wire, and I can’t help but feel anxious waiting for them to fall. But for new readers that don’t know anything about the famous acrobat family, don’t worry. Krul lays you everything you need to know to follow along in the fun.
(Also, Dr. Fate!)
Thoughts on the DCU Relaunch.
There has been much talk about the recently-announched DCU Relaunch. Will it last? How long till Action Comics #1 reverts back to its original numbering? What’s with the 90s creators and costumes? The biggest question of all: why do we need a relaunch?
Most comic aficionados will say that the relaunch is a gimmick to gain back some of the lost market share. Some will say that it’s simply an alternate-earth scenario writ-large. But why do we need it? To shake things up. To experience something new. To see our favourite characters in a new light and to feel a sense of anxiety when reading along with the unfamiliar ones.
A lot of people are ranting about how the old stories don’t matter; how they are being erased. Those books still exist. Your local comic shop will still sell those issues and collections. They aren’t going anywhere. However, this relaunch is a breath of fresh air for new fans that have never picked up a book before, and for old fans tired of the same static characters. If you’ve never picked up a DC book, September is your chance to experience a brave new world. If you’ve been a reader since Detective Comics #1 in 1938 (the company’s namesake title), check in on your favourite characters. With creators like Grant Morrison on Action Comics, Geoff Johns on Aquaman and Justice League, and a whole other batch of great talent, what’s there to lose?
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #1 is a different type of Criminal story. We’ve seen banged up prizefighters; washed up mobsters; war vets trying to adjust to life at home; and a cartoonist wound up in a death plot with a femme-fatale. Here, Brubaker and Phillips show us something we’d never expect: a man returning to his idyll hometown for a fathers’ funeral. Up until the last panel, I forgot I was reading a Criminal story, which isn’t a bad thing. Conversely, it’s a testament to Brubaker’s writing abilities; rather than getting caught up in the cliches and pitfalls of noir, he’s able to tweak our expectations while fulfilling all the dark fantasies of his audience.
While Brubaker leads the reader in a roundabout way, it’s Phillips that grounds the story in the genre. Even the white-picket-fenced hometown of our focus character, Riley, is rendered suspiciously dark. The characters look heavy: Riley’s clearly got a secret; his wife Felix doesn’t give a damn; and the innocent hometown girl Lizzie is likely going to be a source of trouble. In the flashback scenes, Phillips departs from his usual Criminal style, using clean lines reminiscent of an Archie comic to portray Riley’s (still seedy) childhood. This technique conveys just how far down hill all these characters have fallen.
Four volumes later, Criminal hasn’t slowed down or lightened up a bit. This is a perfect jumping on point for new readers, and for those that have been here since the start, this is another new twist on the familiar genre. Pick it up, indulge yourself, and watch some terrible things happen to some equally terrible people.
dopey-glasgow asked: What do you think of marvels ultimate universe? and could you review the event death of spiderman?
As far as the Ultimate Universe goes, I think it’s a great idea. There was a lot of continuity baggage in the regular Universe and introducing the Ultimate Universe was a great way to bring in some new readers and surprise old ones. Also, it was a hell of a lot of fun seeing the unique twists on old characters. Wolverine is Cable? For any fan growing up in the 90s, that combination was very exciting.
That said, it’s been over ten years since the relaunch, and the Ultimate Universe has quite a bit of continuity baggage now. That’s perfectly fine, and I’ve heard the stories are just as great. However, I really enjoy that Marvel Knights imprint because it allows creators to tell one-off stories that respect but never adhere to Marvel’s continuity. Silver Surfer: Requiem, Magneto: Testament, and Submariner: The Depths are all interesting and emotional stories about our favourite Marvel characters, and readers don’t have to keep track of a laundry list of past events.
Can’t say I’m caught up on the Marvel’s ultimate stuff. I’ve read the Ultimates by Millar/Hitch and some of Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Trilogy, but that’s about it. So, as far as reviewing goes, unless I start to pick up some of that stuff in the near future, no reviews of The Death of Spider-Man. If you want some great Spider-Man stories, check out the bi-weekly Amazing Spider-Man.
If you’re craving some good, old-fashioned superhero reviews, there’s more to come!
Chester Brown’s Paying For It: a comic-strip memoir about being a john is not your typical comic story. In many ways, it’s not really a ‘story’ at all. There is no easily mapped narrative; no shocking reveal; no climax (at least not of the narrative variety). In fact, the story ends fairly abruptly, likely leaving the reader either a little bothered or wanting more. But this is not the point; Brown’s latest work is a meditation, a deliberation on the legal, social, and political aspects of sex work and romantic relationships.
Following his girlfriend’s partner swap after attempting an ongoing, open relationship, Chester finds himself questioning why he ever bought into the romantic ideal in the first place. Realizing that his desire for sex necessitated his entering into any sort of ongoing, romantic relationship, he tries using escort services to see if sexual relationships require romance or vice versa. Many of his friends—cartoonists like Seth and Joe Matt—are repulsed by this decision, sparking the book-long debate over whether sex work and romantic relationships are right, wrong, personal, constructed, or altogether uncertain.
This dichotomy forms the centre of the book. Brown goes into great detail as to how romantic relationships are a new construction; historically, marriage was a strategic and economic partnership rather than a lust-filled mutual infatuation. He discusses how romantic relationships go sour; how they are based on past promises rather than current feelings; how they simply aren’t for everybody.
While characters debate the political and social contexts of sex work throughout the book, the appendices are where Brown directly engages in an essay style argument. Directly opposing many historical arguments against prostitution and other sex work, his critique is scathing. To those that believe that sex is sacred and thus should not involve money, Brown retorts that churches should stop selling the bible and passing the collection plate. To those that argue that sex work is plagued by physical violence and thus must be stopped, Brown argues that taxi cab drivers often experience violence, but nobody argues that cabs should be criminalized. But above all, Brown rejects many of the myths and false beliefs about sex work, arguing that certain individuals will have different experiences than others. Using his own experience and stories told from the many sex workers he has encountered, Brown creates a human portrayal of sex work that dispels the many negative stereotypes presented through religious, conservative media, and social discourse.
Artistically, Brown uses the 8-panel grid throughout the book. His style here is certainly a departure from the Herge-influenced characters of Louis Riel. He uses clean lines with solid backgrounds; however, as noted in Robert Crumb’s introduction, the characters are depicted as fairly emotionless. The escorts’ faces are not revealed; Chester’s friends, angrily opposing his lifestyle, remain blank despite the tension; and Brown draws himself with a simple slit for a mouth, never a smile or grimace. The text conveys the story, and Brown never refrains from using thought balloons over line manipulation to get the point across. This is not to say that the art detracts from the book at all; conversely, by keeping the line work simple, Brown forces the reader to focus on the voiced debates at throughout the book.
In the “Notes” section, Brown describes the ambiguity of the title, noting that it implies that both johns and sex workers ‘pay for it’ in some other way, whether that is a social cost or otherwise. Brown is right on the mark, as this was my impression before picking the book up. However, after reading the book, I’ve realized that the ambiguity points to the major critique of romantic relationships at the centre of the book. Individuals pay in non-monetary ways in romantic relationships; they often sacrifice time, friends, and hobbies that do not fit in with their ongoing partnerships. Society is paying for the romantic ideal; those that deviate from a traditional relationship structure are seen as abnormal, incapable of intimate humanity, and criminal, as seen in the case of sex work. Sex workers are paying the social price of living in an undereducated and conservatively indoctrinated society that fails to recognize the human value of sex workers.
Who’s paying for it, then? We all are.