Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Last One #1

The Last One #1, July 1993, Vertigo/DC Comics
writer: J.M. DeMatteis
artist: Dan Sweetman
letterer: Todd Klein
assistant editor: Shelly Roeberg
editor: Karen Berger

What a difference a year makes. In the last 365 days, I've celebrated the births of children and the death of a friend, I've travelled countless hours and miles to spend memorable time with family, I've watched our country's search for its next President begin . . . and I've read just as many comic books. One for every day of the year -- actually, more, if you count my Free Comic Book Day marathon reviews, not to mention the books I already read on a frequent basis. More than once, particularly on those days when my responsibilities at work consumed my times and energy, I wondered why I so willing subjected myself to such a personal challenge. After all, I wasn't just reading comics; I was reading comics I'd never read before, one from a different series daily, which quickly became a test of the medium's availability, not just in the quest to find a worthy issue, but in the hope that it would keep my attention in the face of fatigue or apathy. Believe me, out of over 365 comic books, even a dedicated fan like me has to drag himself through more than one of them.

Yet therein lies why I wanted to endure this challenge in the first place. The comic book is an artistic endeavor that instantly warrants interaction from its audience, from the turning of the page to the visual incorporation of text and illustration. Further, as a monthly series, most comic book titles require a financial commitment from their readers if they want to read the whole story, or at least experience any given writer's or artist's talents again. As a collector of over fifteen years, I know that the medium boasts plenty of variety, and I know what I've liked, but how can I holistically support an art form if I haven't experienced everything it has to offer? Like television with its half-hour sitcoms and hour long dramas, or film with its buddy cop movie and documentaries, the comic book has a plethora of genres and subgenres to consider. Like many since-childhood fans, I'm primarily a superheroes kind of guy, but the likes of Batman and Spider-man became just a gateway for me to experience the virtual museum of graphic storytelling that is comics. Enter A Comic A Day, my personal dare to try something different, to subject myself to an entire medium's whims, regardless yet in consideration of its diverse contributors, cultural commentaries, and changing trends.

So, the question is, have I really learned anything?

Oh, yes. The contents of those first two paragraphs should offer some insight, but after 365 days of committed reading and analysis, I need to ween myself off of the habit. So, what better way to summarize my varied thoughts than by ending the summer with weekly series of essays about this past year's findings? See, despite today's issue's appropriate title, this is not the last A Comic A Day post. You get one more quarterly report, and then an eight-part year-end analysis. I'm professional like that.

Or crazy. Which brings us to The Last One #1.

When I discovered The Last One #1 in my local comic shop's quarter bin several months ago, I decided to horde it for today's review, despite my ignorance to the issue's contents. In fact, like many of the back issues at Comics, Toons, and Toys in Tustin, California, this issue was sealed shut, so I couldn't even give it the consideration of a flip test. Fortunately, the name J.M. DeMatteis has been good to me; though I appreciate him most for his co-writing contributions to the opus that is Justice League International, I remember him most for his stint on Amazing Spider-man. Following David Micheline, DeMatteis took Spidey down a dark post-parent-impostors/pre-Clone Saga path, pitting "the spider" against "the man" in an internal conflict that made my adolescent mind truly appreciate the dichotomy of the masked superhero. (The storyline starred Shriek and Carrion specifically and deserves its own trade. But I digress.) So, with just the encouragement of the writer's name, I considered this issue. It cost a quarter. To paraphrase Frank Miller, "I bought it anyway."

Boy, am I glad I did. More than once during this past year, while I sought some consistencies between my selected reads and, say, the holiday seasons, some connections were purely coincidental, surprising, and unavoidable -- synchronicities, I'd call them. Such is the case with The Last One, for while I wax on about this past year, this issue's protagonist suffers from the passage of time, though a bit longer than 365 days. Namely, this "last one" is actually one of the first ones, the last entity from a time before Creation, "When God lived so deep in every heart that He didn't even need a Name." When man was created and these free spirits chose oblivion over the prison of "coffin-flesh," one entity stuck around, introduced in this miniseries as a hermaphroditic den-keeper for the city's lost souls. Through prophetic figurines (that look like Monopoly pieces), this being drives these orphans of fate to embrace their potential and forsaken destinies, and while this eternal is one part inspiration, he is also one part definitively outsider, as s/he explains, "The longer I live, the less I understand. Communication . . . sometimes the simplest communication . . . just gets harder and harder. We're all revolving in our little universes . . . so cut off . . ."

Enter the iPhone. Timely, indeed.

DeMatteis' script captures the ethereal in a very terrestrial way, transfiguring the existence of pre-creation entities via sympathetic text, and while his narrative borders on lofty, it steers clear of any old English or King James-like vernacular, as one might expect from material about the divine. No, DeMatteis keeps us as grounded as his protagonist, and the paintings of Sweetman elevates this dichotomy expertly. Fans of Mack and McKean would thoroughly enjoy his illustrations, because from page one they offer stimulating tangible imagery while clearly supporting the writer's spiritual themes and intentions. When DeMatteis described that his lead had features that both appeared masculine and feminine, all the while lumbering in an "elephantine body," I wondered if Sweetman would be able to put off such a description, but he rises to the challenge and in fact takes the task to a whole new level. Not to make light of his effort, our hero is one part Mrs. Doubtfire, one part Morpheus from The Matrix: a sage-like caretaker with the weight of the world on his/her shoulders and a simmering mystery brewing underneath.

The Last One was the best comic book with which I could've concluded this challenge. While my initial intentions were to close on an iconic character, like Superman with whom I began, this hero's consideration of the context of time puts the past year in perspective. In the past 365 days, I've seen over half a dozen comics to film projects. The coffee shop where I wrote that first review of Superman #300 has since closed down. But compare that to eternity? A Comic A Day doesn't hold a candle . . . and considering that my quest for these comics has revealed that the medium has a seemingly endless amount of material from which to learn, this project is still but a microcosm of one fan's lifetime experience. I could continue for years, reading one issue from a different series every day, and maintain the integrity of this process indefinitely. The comic book as an issue may be a standard twenty-two page sequentially graphic story, but as an art it's a century-old time capsule of cultural reflection, fantastic escape, and diverse talent. This issue may be the final review in a sequence of 365 consecutive reflections, but for me as a collector, fan, and student of the comic book medium, it is by no means the last one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just came across this blog while searching for a review of Toe Tags (which you had) and let me just say this: wow. Your level of commentary and analysis is indepth but neither nit-picking or neurotically obsessive, and it's entirely refreshing to read an articulate and, more importantly, diverse critic on comics. Most of the comic sites I visit are written by obsesive fanboys who miss the point and ramble on and on and fucking on about things that aren't even related to comics (see Comic Book Resources for what I mean) and I'm really looking forward to looking through old posts and reading all of this blog. Your posts are concise, articulate and interesting to read. Awesome job man.