Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Zaucer of Zilk

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Zaucer of Zilk (Rebellion, 2012).

It's things like The Zaucer of Zilk that leave me so incredibly disappointed with the people who run what pass for news sites in the comic world. DC and Marvel crap out the latest iteration of their trademarks to constantly diminishing returns and this gets coverage upon coverage upon coverage, and somebody genuinely exciting and thrilling and bold like Brendan McCarthy - excuse me, BRENDAN McCARTHY - returns to draw a new serial and it gets no attention?! What the hell is wrong with you, Robot 6? The Beat? Why are you talking SO MUCH about a lousy drawing of Catwoman's butt when there are sixty new pages of Brendan McCarthy loose in the world?!

Of course, I'm very, very biased. Those occasional, unbelievable episodes of Judge Dredd that McCarthy drew in the late 80s - "Riders on the Storm," "Atlantis," "The Blood Donor" - just blew my teenage mind. I read Sooner or Later, that bizarre collaboration with Peter Milligan and Tom Frame, in completely random order, since I was finding back issues so haphazardly, and loved every demented panel. Full of imagery that might have been nonsensical had it not made so very much sense, it was the stuff that every sixteen year-old on the social fringes definitely needed to be reading.

So whenever McCarthy resurfaces, it's cause for celebration. And something as comparatively huge as The Zaucer of Zilk - did I tell you it's sixty pages?! - should be screamed from the rooftops. It's not quite hallucinogenic, since the writing, about which more in a tick, grounds it quite a lot, but the wild imagery, clothes, designs and colors shout otherwise.

The story looks like it's starting to tell us about how a humdrum nobody in a grey provincial town is actually an exile from a weird world of color and wonder, but it turns out that the provincial town - in fact, our entire existence, yours and mine - is nothing more than a trap to ensnare the selfish young hero of the piece and claim his powerful wand. Once we get going in the serial's second episode, it's a stunning take on Oz or Wonderland or what have you, with the neat exclusion of any kind of young "real world" hero or heroine to deal with the weird rules and ramifications of the fairyland where the story is set. Rather, McCarthy, and scripter Al Ewing, use the reader - yes, you, the person reading the story - as the audience identification figure, somehow.

Ewing's master stroke in putting this together is using a fantastic, dense narration quite unlike most of what you see in the medium. There's a lot to read among McCarthy's stunning visuals, and it's told by an omniscient but very unreliable narrator, the Tailor of Tales, who makes himself known four episodes into the madness, at which point the Zaucer has to capture a new pair of pants in order to travel between realities... oh, it's very heady stuff. Anyway, there are puns and inside jokes and weird literary allusions in every panel, and certain things are never explained and certain things don't need to be, and some things make the sort of perfect sense that only fairy tales make. Why is the villainous Errol Raine so nasty? Because this is a fairy tale, and he's the bad guy, now watch out, lest all the tooth-helmeted people in their cloud chairs form a giant mouth to bite you in two.

Recommended? Strangely, when read weekly, this was so light and frothy as to become almost entirely disposable and forgettable fluff. As one, it's an indispensable and essential example of perfect phantasmagoria and a very novel use of the medium to tell something that could only work in comics, and work better than most anything else. It is, sadly, not yet available in a simple digital package of its own (something that Tharg should definitely start fixing), but across ten issues of 2000 AD, progs 1775-1784. Reading it'll run you thirty bucks, but you also get some completely amazing episodes of Dredd, Nikolai Dante and other things out of the deal, so take the plunge and buy all ten issues. Don't just buy one and see what you think. Get all ten. Trust me.

That'll be the last 2000 AD-related feature here for a couple of months while I resume work on the fabulous and famous Thrillpowered Thursday blog, but I have some more features planned for August and September. Bookmark Thrillpowered Thursday and tell your friends!

YES! I made it through an entire article on McCarthy without saying "psychedelic!"

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