Hey, CHU! It’s DrunkWooky here with a completed unsolicited review!
That’s right, readers didn’t ask for it, Tony didn’t ask for it, but here it is!
I love Kickstarter comics! Okay, yes they are a bit of a crap shoot. Blast Furnace, Recreational Thief from Ryan Browne was, well, a blast! Fans of God Hates Astronauts will be happy to learn it’s in the same universe —as loose as the term “universe” applies to Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts. Other books I’ve funded on Kickstarter? Not so much. No names named.
And as far as crap shoots go, anthology comics are the perennial example! Sure, you’ve got Judge Dredd, who spread his wings and flourished from anthology comics. Many other beloved intellectual properties also got their start in anthologies (Detective Comics, Strange Tales, anybody?). However, it is safe to say that monthly comics anthology popularity has been waning as of late.
Alan Moore set out to try and remedy that with his Cinema Purgatorio Kickstarter. This black and white horror anthology is rather unapologetic in its presentation. Alan Moore barely veils his distaste for the regurgitated cycle of the “The Big Two” in his Kickstarter campaign intro:
“In a world of used ideas spun out into unending single-premise sagas and told in full cyber-enhanced Technicolor, unapologetically we offer up CINEMA PURGATORIO, a black and white horror anthology which reaches for something both new and startling beyond the endlessly recycled characters and concepts of the 60s and the 70s. An anthology, to let its authors exercise the discipline and the invention that only short stories can provide – and out of which the vast majority of today’s memorable franchises were created – and black and white in order to impose that selfsame discipline upon its artists by removing the alluring camouflage of colour and requiring the same values that the classic comic illustrators made their byword….Varnished with blood and Brylcreem, in our razor-collared cutting edge collection we restore the broken-bulb emporiums where, in the creaking backseats, modern terror and monstrosity were shamelessly conceived. In our worn aisles and glossy pages the most individual and inventive talents in contemporary comics are delivering a landmark midnight matinee in monochrome, intent on pushing both the genre and the medium beyond their stagnant formulas and into shapes that suit the unique shadows and disquiets of our present moment. “
It’s clear from Moore’s description of this work that each story contained within is intended to leave the reader deeply unsettled. And I would say that it definitely accomplishes that goal!
Issue 1 opens on Cinema Purgatorio, Moore’s self-proclaimed framework within which the rest of the anthology works. Think Cryptkeeper. This opening, illustrated by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Kevin O’Neill is a first-person narrative of a man, perhaps the reader, attending a run-down theater in town. I won’t spoil anything, but the viewer sits down to what they believe to be an archetypal silent film. What starts as a Chaplin-esque comedy of a short silent film quickly unravels into manic madness and leaves the viewer, and thus the reader unnerved. We’re left with a cliff-hanger. The viewer resolves to stick around for a short while longer:
Up next is Modded by Kieron Gillen and Ignacio Calero. This tale, inhabiting a twisted Pokemon-style world of battling beasts, is also deeply unnerving. Fans and non-fans of Pokemon alike will love this terrifying illustrated dystopia. The opening scene is set in the “Atlantic Desert” which should be enough to turn a few stomachs. However, Kieron takes Pikachu’s role and flips it on its head, which, admittedly, is where that role should have begun.
Let’s just say that the battles in this world don’t end as amicably as those rainbow-colored episodes of the japanese hit.
Then there’s Code Pru by Garth Ennis and Raulo Caceres. Is a story still buddy-cop if the cops are EMTs? Anyway, this “buddy-cop” story seems like an episodic romp through the more esoteric and occult occurrences of the city. Our protagonist and her a$$h*le cat are immediately endearing. I’ll just leave it there.
Next, Christos Gage and Gabriel Andrade bring us a Kaiju story that should get Tony’s blood pumping. The Vast is mostly set-up, but good set-up at that. Keep in mind that each of these stories is about 8 to 9 pages in this first issue. While some of these stories are all hook, the premises are all expertly plotted, with little exposition, in no time at all! It leaves the reader wanting more.
Finally, Max Brooks (of World War Z fame) and Michael DiPascale bring us A More Perfect Union. Not only is this alternate civil war history well characterized, it is well-explained in Brooks’ excerpt after the final panel. This context is important to fleshing out the reader’s enjoyment of the setting Brooks lays out in these first couple of pages . Again, we’re left with a cliff-hanger. Knowing Brooks’ this will be zombies. Confederate zombies? Perhaps. However, we don’t know yet.
In general, this was a great read! When reading through [enter other anthology name here] I sometimes find myself slogging through somebody’s tiresome idea of what they deem to be creative. Sometimes anthology stories can be derivative, contrived, or just plain pretentious and boring. You name the negative adjective, there exists an anthology story out there somewhere to fit it. However, this book marketed itself as horror. In that vein, , I would say that Moore and Company have accomplished the task of meeting their solicitation.
Now would I say that each story is as ambitiously creative as Moore stated in his intro? Perhaps not. At its base Modded is a twisted vision of Pokemon or Digimon. Similarly, The Vast seems like another Kaiju story and A More Perfect Union might be Brooks marching zombies through a different epoch than he has before. There again, I’m open to being surprised and impressed.
To say that the ideas have identifiable sources does not detract from the expert pacing, plotting, and illustration of each of these vignettes however. In terms of presenting unsettling premises for what Avatar Press has promised will be long-form stories, each of these stories excelled. I feel it’s unfair to determine the quality of the stories until the full scope of these ideas is revealed. We need more flesh on this tome’s decayed bones!
The choice to exclude colorists is a homerun! Nothing adds to the moody atmosphere of this anthology more than the fact that all depth, movement, detail, and scale is based on shades of white, gray, and black. Furthermore, anybody who has ever so much as glanced at a sketch cover in a comic shop will gaze longingly at every page of this all-star illustrated book.
So now comes the fun part. I’ve never written up a full-blown review for CHU, so that means I get to pick my rating scale! We’ll use the classic “out of 5” scale. If it ain’t broke… As for a symbol, I’m going with short boxes. As in, how many short boxes do I hope to fill with this title? Okay, maybe the analogy doesn’t fit too well, but you get the gist.
I can safely say that I am interested in the next revealing chapter of each creepy tale within Cinema Purgatorio. The minor short-comings of this anthology still set the book head and shoulders above many titles flooding our racks every week. It’s probably impossible to give 5 short boxes to a first issue so reliant on cliff-hangers, but this title has safely wriggled it’s dead leathery skin into my pull box for now! Having raised 1000+% of its fundraising goal, the Cinema Purgatorio Kickstarter has also promised that it won’t vanish from my pull box unexpectedly either. From the Kickstarter Comments section:
“Phill Warren on February 22
Avatar – considering how massively overfunded this was, what are the plans for the excess money? Will it be used to support further issues of the anthology (in which case it should be comfortably funded up to issue 10)? Or will the writers & artists get a share of the profits?”
“Creator Avatar Press on February 25
@Phil – the funds are being used to keep this series going for a very long time. Bringing together titans of the industry for one project is a very costly endeavor. But thanks to the generous support of our fans here on Kickstarter we can make sure that the book is around for a very long time. We owe each and every person that participated a huge thank you!”
4/5 Short Boxes for Alan Moore’s Cinema Purgatorio!