Comics and Music
various reviews by Mike Baron

Secret War Book One
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Gabriele Dell'otto
Publisher: Marvel Comics, Price: $3.99 US

You have to admire Marvel's chutzpah launching a series called "SECRET WAR" a mere seventeen years after Shooter's similarly titled project nearly sunk the company. The marketing guys know that ninety-nine per cent of Marvel's readers were born after the first Secret Wars and think history began yesterday. The original Secret Wars was a standard marketing gimmick that infuriated readers. This Secret War promises to be an interesting read.

© 2004 Marvel Comics

Bendis seizes on an anomaly that has been a comic book stock-in-trade for decades--the super-powered villain who uses his hi-tech to grab chump change. Guys with million dollar exo-skeletons risking their lives for a couple thou. Comic book universes are full of them. Bendis asks why. Rather, he has SHIELD ask why, and comes up with an interesting premise. The Tinkerer is behind most of these clowns. But who's behind the Tinkerer? Right off the bat he wastes Shrike. Shrike? Shrike gone? How will the Marvel Universe survive (SOB!)?

Spider-Man is on the cover, but not in the book. Luke Cage starts the story doing social work in his neighborhood before being blasted. Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Iron Fist figure in. It's a mystery, and it looks like it's going to be a good one. For the most part Bendis avoids clich? and offers pretty fresh dialogue, although his bad cop/bad cop banter between the two SHIELD officers gets a bit stale.

The painted artwork by Gabriele Dell'Otto is exquisite. People emerge as individuals with just enough painterly light tricks to thrill the fan boy. Honestly, if Rembrandt had painted comics they might have looked a little like this. Not that Dell'Otto is that great, but he sure knows how to pick out light. Problem. SHIELD is still with the United Nations, that bunch of craven, egotistical, amoral gangsters who meet for the dual purposes of ham-stringing the United States while guilt-tripping us for money. SHIELD out of UN now!

Sam and Twitch 26
Writer: Todd McFarlane
Artist: Paul Lee
Publisher: Image Comics, Price: $2.50 US

This is the last issue of Sam and Twitch. Like a tree that falls in the forest it leaves no sound and will not be missed. A reader should be able to pick up any issue of any comic and derive entertainment from it. In this respect, the final issue of Sam and Twitch is a failure. If the characters weren't drawn differently, I wouldn't be able to tell them apart . Dialogue is stripped to expletive-peppered directions. Large amounts of space are given over to the wordless depiction of two detectives skulking around an old farmhouse at night looking for a killer. You can read the entire story in about five minutes and have time left over. If readers don't care about the characters, fuggedaboudit.

© 2004 Image Comics

The art by Paul Lee is adequate, but murky and joyless. Trees died. Fans wept.

Writer: Hans Rodionoff, Adapter: Keith Giffen
Artist: Enrique Breccia
Publisher: Vertigo, Price: $24.95 US

A brilliant evocation of the life of H.P. Lovecraft that combines everything that is known with much that is unknown, weaving a secret history as frightening, if not moreso, than any of the master's works. Screenwriter Rodionoff understands the pale anti-romantic was terrified of sex, and this fear of intimacy and messy bodily functions fueled his wild imagination. Rodionoff treats his mother's depredations wordlessly but with breathtaking power. It was not Cthulhu Lovecraft feared, but his own mother and all women.

© 2004 Vertigo Comics

This could easily pass for a straight bio. All the facts are there. There's a wonderful encounter between Lovecraft and Houdini, for whom Lovecraft briefly considered ghosting a book. To say their sensibilities were at odds would be an understatement. Riodionoff wonderfully recreates the world of pulp fiction, a vest-pocket version of Kavalier And Clay. He shows the world through Lovecraft's eyes, taking us through his mind to Arkham itself. For Lovecraft, Arkham was real. This book makes it real for the reader as well. The great failure of horror comics is to try and give vision to our deepest fears. The problem is no matter how great the artist, the image always fails to match up against what we conjure in the dark privacy of our own minds.

Artist Enrique Breccia, whose masterful techniques incorporate everyone from Chagall to Frazetta, switches from pen and ink to water color for the Arkham episodes, allowing him to conjure creatures that are half abstract, half teeth. Although the images themselves are frightening, it is their context that takes the breath away.

Lovecraft had a prognathous lower jaw which Breccia uses to masterful effect. The young Lovecraft is a misshapen encephalitic. The mature Lovecraft appears emaciated, freakish with that jutting lower jaw. In many panels he looks as if drawn by R. Crumb. Breccia is also capable of the most delicate and romantic scenes, as where Lovecraft shows off his beloved Providence to his girlfriend and future wife Sonia.

A tour de force and one of the best graphic novels ever published.

Further Ruminations

It's all pop culture, right? It's all meat for the primordial stew. With that in mind, let's lateral once again from comics into music.

Hindu Rodeo: Nalladaloobr
Label: Awkward Pop
Info at, or

Hindu Rodeo's self-titled 1995 release is among a handful of transcendental power pop albums which grow ever fresher with repeated listening. It's few antecedents include Sgt. Pepper, XTC's English Settlement, and Jellyfish's Spilt Milk. Which is to say its pleasures are both ephemeral and lasting. Goethe called architecture frozen music. Hindu Rodeo's songs are among pop's most enduring and intriguing structures. All the more amazing that Hindu Rodeo is a trio. On the debut album they sang about living in George Martin's mind, brilliantly covered "I'm Only Sleeping," followed by Sayles' own "Chasing the Beatles," a song that clicks as satire, social commentary, psychedelic and rave-up pop.

Hindu Rodeo would have been an impossible act to follow if anyone had actually heard the record. If there were any justice in pop music the Nalladallobr would be front and center at every record store in the land. While the so-called "music industry" produces balkanized dreck and laments the loss of its audience, bands like Hindu Rodeo have been driven underground where they can produce music on their own terms. Ironically, this music could rejuvenate the industry, if the industry didn't have its head up its ass. Joel Sayles, singer, songwriter and bass player, is among the most clever wordsmiths in pop today, penning one unforgettable line after another. You've got to hear McLife to believe it.

"First I'm McBorn/then I McCry/learn to McWalk/I don't know McWhy"

Had Mark Twain been a singer he might have written "Somebody's Eyes." "There's always something better/ there's always something new. There's always gonna be stupid shit you don't wanna do." While this might sound banal in cold print, it soars on the strength of Hindu Rodeo's song craft. When we speak of "good bones" in music, it means the song is built on a solid, logical chord progression. Too many so-called pop bands have yet to discover a second chord, let alone a third. Every song on Nalladallobr is a polished gem of good songwriting, aided and abetted by Dirk Freymuth's startlingly fat guitar and sitar work.

The sitar raises its beautiful head on "Radio Ready," reminding us why we loved the Beatles. Freymuth's sitar pops up repeatedly throughout the record helping to impart that unique Hindu Rodeo sound. The only reason I'm giving this record nine instead of ten is because perfection is theoretically impossible, and if it were, the first record already has it. I doubt there will be a better pop record this year, or until Hindu Rodeo puts out another one.

Mike Baron is the creator of the award winning comic book Nexus and during his career has written an enormous variety of comics from The Flash to The Punisher. He is currently writing Faro Korbit for AP Comics, working on a Green Lantern novel for Byron Preiss, and is working on several projects destined to change the face of pop culture in his secret skunkworks.

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