Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

Neil Gaiman is an incredible writer. There, I said it. I kind of shied away from the guy for a long time. Sure I loved Sandman, and I thought American Gods was a great book. It’s just that everybody in the world already knew that Gaiman was the man. So everywhere you went, it was always ‘Did you read Neil Gaiman? Did you read Sandman? Gaiman, Gaiman, Gaiman?” So it took the thrill out of it for me, maybe. Reading the stuff that you knew you were going to love, just by virtue of the fact that everyone else you knew who had ever read so much as a page of it totally loved it. I’m always sticking up for the underdog, pointing out those writers that I wished more people loved but didn’t know so much about. Sam Kieth. The Maxx. Zero Girl. Four Women. Go read it. ‘nuff said. But here’s the thing- Gaiman really isn’t just hype. He really IS a fantastic writer. At the same time that I’d be willing to say that his style is a little different for everything he undertakes, it’s also incredibly polished. And what kind of stories does he write? I’m gonna say…fairy tales. They don’t read like fairy tales, at least not the exposition. They’ve got all the complexity and characterization of modern day stories (usually- unless he’s actually writing, or revamping, a real fairy tale, which he can also do quite well), but they’ve got this dream-like, universal appeal. The kind of thing Jung wrote about- the collective unconscious, archtypes, blah blah blah. There’s just something about the way he writes- you get the point of the story. The heart of the story never gets lost in translation. So even if you don’t know how you managed to realize the point of the story, you do. Maybe not surprisingly, however, my favorite points of interest among his works have been superhero comics. Sometimes I love it when DC, Marvel or Image bring in whatever New York Times bestselling author, Hollywood director, or cult-independent comic writer to write a story. Other times, it just seems frivolous to me. Sometimes I hate it- pinch-hit all-star writers have a bad habit of making the characters you’ve grown to love feel like characters you don’t even recognize. Gaiman does the opposite I think- it’s almost like the characters seem truer to their core selves then they usually do (if that’s even possible). To begin with, Gaiman does a hell of a job telling stories that revolve around plot points that are far more sophisticated, sensitive and poignant than the usual guy-in-tights-beats-up-other-guy fare. But what I really love about the way the guy writes might boil down to this- the events of the story are the events of the story and the characters are the characters, and you see the two, distinctly. That is not to say that the characters don’t drive the events of the story- but characterization is characterization, and the plot is the plot. There’s this kind of clarity to the way he writes. Even tried and true superhero icons that have been around for seventy years feel new, alive, and fresh in his hands. Up-to-date readers have probably had time to peruse Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, a two-issue I’m super-fond of. But in case you among the jaded few who still haven’t checked it out, I’m going to put the word in again for 1602. Granted, I’ve got a thing for all of Marvel’s weird parallel world stuff to begin with. But there’s something about the feel of this comic- everyone in it. It’s like he knows them all so well, knows what really makes them tick. And maybe that’s the point of the comic: seeing everyone out of context, you really get the essence of each character. There’s something sad, noble, and inspiring about it. And for that matter, everyone in the Marvel U. is really…human. I mean, I suppose that’s been the thing about the Marvel U. that has pulled readers in for years- but Gaiman really does it justice here, I think. My favorite bit involves Doom and a starved and near-delirious prisoner, discussing the possibility that light could travel at a constant speed. Suddenly, Doom angrily replies: “NO! There is only darkness and light! Nothing else!” I don’t think I had ever once felt sympathetic for Doom, for any reason. And in this moment, he pulls it off. He seems tiny to me. The idea that someone else could propose a scientific explanation that he hadn’t thought of- or maybe just a conception of the world that isn’t so stark, absolute, and dominating…it just freaks him the s**t out so he snaps. He’s driven to control everything, because that’s how he makes sense of everything. And I love how…elemental the ‘Fantastik Four’ look. Once in a while, you forget that that’s really supposed to be a big part of that comics mythology- earth, water, air, fire…the way they talk, the way they look. It’s just so dead on. I could give you more- Rajhaz, Peter Parquagh, ‘John’ Grey… but I’d ruin so much for you if you haven’t read it. So again, if you missed it last go around, I highly recommend it.