“Immortal” (featuring Billy Dogma)
Writer/Artist: Dean Haspiel
“Panorama” (featuring Augustus)
Writer/Artist: Michael Fiffe
Cover artist: Dean Haspiel
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.25 CAN
Billy Dogma: Though I haven’t many of Dean Haspiel’s Billy Dogma stories, I did have a passing familiarity with the property. I wasn’t all that taken with it though not entirely put off either. After reading “Immortal,” I’m convinced of the strength of Billy Dogma and of Haspiel’s craftsmanship in the medium. Warren Ellis’s cover blurb about Haspiel being the 21st century “heir to (Jack) Kirby” is right on the money. This bizarre but simple story about love and machismo is surprisingly engaging, and I find I’m really looking forward to seeing where Haspiel will take it.
Billy Dogma has found his perfect mate, a woman as powerful, passionate and impulsive as he is. The populace misinterprets the physical expression of their love as violence, leading one of them to be locked up, but even prison bars can’t keep them apart. So ideal are they for one another that the power of their union draws forth a horrible monster, one that perhaps even Billy Dogma can’t pummel into submission.
Haspiel’s art clearly takes a lot of cues from the late Jack Kirby, and never is it more apparent than in the design and depiction of the behemoth that threatens the city. It put me in mind of Kirby’s pre-Silver Age monster comics, as well as the sort of beast Steve Ditko might have designed for a Dr. Strange adventure in the 1960s. The story works better in black and white, as it brings a timeless quality to the urban fairy tale. And a fairy tale is what it is, or perhaps a parable. The cliffhanger even boasts the classic appeal of the story of Jonah and the whale. Haspiel explores love as a dangerous experience, as something that can lead to disaster. While the connection between Billy and his lover is compelling, Haspiel’s message could ultimately be a rather cynical one. Or perhaps he’s saying that true love is worth any battle, any ordeal, any risk. Either way, he’s got my interest.
Panorama: As I began reading this short story, I wasn’t all that taken with it. The urban violence and the protagonist’s surreal flesh were offputting at first, but as I stuck with the narrative, I slowly but surely was won over. Augustus turns out to be a surprisingly grounded character, and the somewhat implausible kindness shown to him by a seemingly random woman turns out to be rather comforting instead if compromising the premise’s tenuous grasp on credibility.
An awkward, young man named Augustus finds himself lost in the middle of the city and face to face with a group of hooligans who don’t take kindly to strangers wandering onto their turf. The gangly youth seems to be in for the beating of his life, but the secret he tries so hard to hide and control — the fluid, alien nature of his own body — not only spares him but turns the attack back on the aggressors. Desperate, Augustus flees and frantically ends up in the apartment of a woman who provides him with the minutes of sanctuary he needs.
Fiffe’s art is unconventional, and it boasts a quality that’s bound to appeal to fans of indy comics. In fact, his work is so unusual, one mightn’t notice the skill that goes into its construction. He has a terrific eye for perspective and unusual points of view. The most obvious and intriguing visual in the short episode is Augustus’s melting, shifting flesh. While not exactly gory, Fiffe’s presentation of that surreal, physiological trait is surprisingly convincing.
Now, I’ll be honest… I’m not exactly sure what Fiffe’s story is about, but it definitely draws the reader in, slowly but surely. I think the reason is that eventually, the audience is able to connect with Augustus. As he panics in a bathroom, praying no one will see the literal mess he’s become, it’s easy to imagine one’s own experiences. We’ll all been in a bathroom, staring in the mirror at a garish stain on a shirt or the sweat of nausea flowing down the forehead or some kind of obvious coldsore that manifesting in the hours before a big date. The situation in this story is more extreme but oddly relatable. We’ve all been embarrassed or horrified by our own bodies in some way, after all. 8/10