Saturday, November 27, 2004

Image Hosted by The throne of time
Is a kingly thing
From whence you know
We all do begin
And dressed as you are girl
In your fashions of fate
Baby it's too late

Shallow are the actions
Of the children of men
Fogged was their vision
Since the ages began
And lost like a lion
In the canyons of smoke
Girl it's no joke.

"Monolith" is a great Marc Bolan/T.Rex song, from arguably his/their best album, Electric Warrior. And I know it has less than nothing to do with DC Comics series The Monolith, but I can't help but have that song playing in the iPod in my brain when I read the book. That's just the way things go in my head. Scary place, that. Anyway, the Monolith. The comic book series. I've read all nine issues in one setting, you know- and I feel like opining. For the fjords. No, wait, that's pining. Anyway.

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<br /> When I was a little kid, say about 6 or 7 years old, few things gave me more joy than to read the new issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. One of the things I liked the most were the picture features on certain films, which more often as not contained synopses of the films featured. One such spotlight was cast on the 1920 silent film Der Golem, which showed me several stills from the movie. Made a deep impression on me, it did- I would doodle, in my quaint and charming 6-year-old way, pictures of Paul Wegener's big stone guy with the funky Prince Valiant 'do, and I always hoped I'd get a chance to see the movie, on PBS or some other outlet for horror films. Sorry to say, I never did get to see it when I was a kid, and soon moved on to other, more accessible monsters. However, it did impress upon my youthful brain pan a more than fleeting interest in the folklore and legend of The Golem, and I did get to see a book or two as I grew older which satisfied my curiosity for the most part. I FINALLY got to see the film which touched my imagination many years later, in 1999 I think it was, when I ordered a copy from the fine folks at Sinister Cinema. Eagerly, I popped it in the VCR and was rewarded with one hell of an odd film- quite stagy and more than a little dull, as silent films tend to be, but also very arresting in certain places, such as the ahead-of-its-time scene in which the Golem is brought to life, with its eerie floating demon mask-head and smoky floating Hebrew characters, and any scene in which Wegener strutted his Golem-y stuff. I was a tad disappointed, since I had only had what- 33 years? -in which to be curious and wonder what it was like, so I suppose disappointment was inevitable. That being said, my interest in the Hebraic folklore aspect of the Golem legend continued unabated. One of the most interesting things- to me, anyway- about Michael Chabon's book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was its subplot involving Josef Kavalier's involvement with a Golem. Of course, I still haven't finished the darn thing yet, so I don't know how it all turned out.

Which finally brings me, in typical roundabout fashion, to The Monolith, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Phil Winslade. Tomm Coker performed fill-in art chores on issues 6-8. The Monolith in question, of course, is a Golem- a huge man made of stone and brought to life to battle oppression and organized crime in Depression-era New York by a Jewish woman, her Rabbi, and a Chinese friend, abetted by the blood of a young man cruelly shot by thugs. After a while, he came to be sealed up in a house which belonged to the woman, named Alice Cohen, where he stayed until the woman's death in the present day. She leaves everything she has- money, house, to her granddaughter (also named Alice) who has been living the junkie life on the streets of New York. She finds out about her inheritance, but of course there's a catch...the key stipulation is that she cleans up and finds gainful employment. At first unbelieving, then eventually skeptically accepting, she does rehab and in the process discovers her grandmother's secret: the Golem, still "alive" and living sealed behind a brick wall in her basement. Through a series of circumstances, the Monolith is freed and resumes his task- righting wrongs and punishing evildoers in the City every night. Alice lives in the house, with her best friend Tilt, who was a prostitute and shared Alice's dissolute lifestyle but is determined to get out of the life and help her friend out with her unexpected secret. The book has so far been divided into arcs of three- 1-3 dealing with Alice's difficulties with Tilt's pimp, discovering her inheritance, and coming to terms with the Monolith, intercut with flashbacks detailing the creation of the creature and the subsequent events. #'s 3-5 continued the flashbacks, along with a present-day story about a line of priests, beholden to the Mob and watching over a Lovecraftian being in the church in which they live. #'s 6-8 were the inevitable Batman crossover, and #9 begins a new storyline, which involves the creation of a metal Golem and a tragic turn of events for Tilt.

I mentioned Kavalier and Clay because I just gotta believe that subplot influenced this: the New York setting, the Hebrew life in the Depression, and so on. The biggest strength, story-wise, is the scope of this project and how all the diverse characters introduced so far interact and are connected. It's certainly ambitious. I think Gray and Palmiotti have done a fine job of making his principals well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, neither completely good or bad but just doing what they have to do to survive and get along, and as a result, I cared about threats to granddaughter Alice and Tilt, and also found myself liking the well-meaning rabbi and poor grandmother Alice, who falls in love then a few minutes later sees her man shot down in the street, and feels sympathy and pity for the stone creature with what seems to be her lover's spirit. The strongest story arc is still the first, although I liked the Batman crossover with reservations. On the negative side, the whole thing feels like, to me, that Gray and Palmiotti knew from the onset that they would get canned sooner rather than later, and the scripts have all been forced-seeming and rushed affairs- with events that should have taken several issues to unfold, i.e. Alice's detox and the fate of Tilt and Alice's tormenting pimp, being resolved, sometimes, from one page to the next. The Batman crossover depended on a lot of coincidences and G & P didn't really seem to have a good handle on Batman's character, how he would react and so on. These are not major faults, just quibbles, but they stood out to me.

No major complaints whatsoever about the art, though- I've liked Winslade's work since I first saw it in the long-ago Vertigo limited series Goddess. He has a fast-and-loose way of drawing figures that reminds me a lot of Gene Colan or Don Newton, perhaps, but rendered with a strong ink line that recalls Alfredo Alcala. His city scenes are lavishly and lovingly rendered. If I have to nitpick, I could complain about how incongruous it seems to me that our Monolith is so extremely cut-and-buffed and hypermuscled, like the Hulk...I guess the Rabbi was Michalangelo-like in his sculpting skills, and all this done in a dark sewer tunnel! But again, this is not a major complaint. Tomm Coker was less effective, art-wise, compared to Winslade on his stint, but he still did a solid job, especially in distinguishing the facial features of the cast. He made Tilt look as Asian as she was meant to be, something which Winslade didn't quite do. Make no mistake, though- this book clicks with Winslade- he seems to have put a lot into this project.

Which makes it such a shame that it's been cancelled with issue 12, yet another great, but short-lived fell-between-the-cracks DC series in that unfortunate Chase, Young Heroes in Love, and Major Bummer tradition. I found Monolith flawed, but still very engrossing and highly recommendable. I hope the last three issues live up to the standard of the first nine.

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