'Luna Park,' 'House of Secrets,' 'High Moon' and 'Tek Jansen'

By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service

'Luna Park,' 'House of Secrets,' 'High Moon' and 'Tek Jansen'

November 10, 2009 -- Luna Park will haunt you.

A graphic novel by best-selling author Kevin Baker (Dreamland) and artist Daniel Zezelj (Loveless), Luna Park (Vertigo, $24.99) begins as a noir crime thriller but expands into historical fiction and dystopic dreamlike scenarios, stretching through centuries of Russian and New York history.

The principal characters are Alik Strelnikov, a deserter from the Russian Army and enforcer for a sliver of the Brooklyn mob, and Marina, a sex slave and fortune-teller. Both are addicted to heroin, both are haunted by demons (Alik the horrors of Chechnya, Marina her kidnapped child and enforced prostitution) and both live in the shadows of crumbling Coney Island, a festering, rusting rat’s maze that bitterly hints of better times.

As it turns out, Marina’s fortune-telling ability is real. Or maybe Alik and Marina are experiencing shared dreams. Or maybe it’s the smack. At any rate, our heroes begin to relive similar circumstances in earlier times, both in Russia and Coney Island. Their past lives overlap with each other and the present one in an endless echo of betrayal and loss.

All of which is masterfully brought to life by Zezelj, whose characters seem to breathe despair and radiate sadness. His women, although beautiful, are especially poignant, both mysterious and mournful. And many artists would get lost in the increasingly surreal storyline, but Zezelj manages a dreamlike quality that is still rooted in the hard nuts and bolts of good, clean storytelling.

Luna Park isn’t perfect. I felt like the interlinked, cyclical stories were superbly crafted until close to the end, when the narrative seemed to jump the tracks to non-parallel scenarios (possibly to achieve a boffo finish) that seemed out of place. But others may interpret that differently, and it wasn’t jarring enough to ruin the seductive, soul-numbing world Zezelj had crafted.

Yes, Luna Park makes use of dream logic and feelings. But it will leave you with nightmares.

* Showcase Presents: House of Secrets Vol. 2 ($17.99, DC Comics) reprints stories from this “horror” anthology from the early 1970s, when comics were firmly in the grip of the draconian Comics Code and couldn’t be horrible at all. And yet, these 500 or so black and white pages managed to entertain me quite thoroughly, with hardly a drop of blood to be seen.

You know, maybe less IS more. Or maybe it’s just the skill of the writers, which include luminaries like Gerry Conway, Michael Fleisher, David Michelinie and Steve Skeates. Or the artists, which include stars like Alfredo Alcala, Sergio Aragones, Michael Kaluta and Berni Wrightson. That’s practically a who’s who of early 1970s DC Comics, and it shows.

Whatever the reason, House of Secrets was more of a treat than I expected. You could do worse than to plop down on the couch with this tome for a couple of nights.

* High Moon ($14.99) collects the first winner of DC’s online comics competition site Zuda, and reads like a comic strip, a format Zuda features often emulate. That’s a nice way of saying that David Gallaher’s story is choppy, episodic and doesn’t really seem to know where it’s going.

But, oh, the fun it has getting there! “High Moon” is a cross between Spaghetti Westerns and Universal horror movies: overwrought Wild West gunplay by squinty-eyed werewolves, hard-riding vampires and other things that go bump in the saloon. That sounds silly when I type it out, but Steve Ellis’s art is outrageously lurid gun-slinging, moon-howling, bullets flying, neck-biting hoo-ha. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but who cares? Slap leather, lycanthrope!

* Comedian Stephen Colbert’s science fiction spoof Tek Jansen is quick bits of animated silliness on his Colbert Report show on Comedy Central, and one of the running gags is that his laughably huge Tek Jansen novel can’t find a publisher. Of course not; parody really only works in small doses.

Which is the problem faced by Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen, a 2008 Oni Press miniseries recently collected into hardback ($19.95). Having an actual narrative that holds up for five issues bleeds a lot of the humor out, as the genre requirements of genuine adventure fiction take the wheel.

It’s still Tek Jansen, though, and not Buck Rogers. Which means broad satire as Colbert’s oversexed and ultra-violent spaceman does what he does best, to humans and aliens alike.

It’s funny enough, although not as funny as the cartoons on TV.

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

Views: 499

Comment by The Baron on November 11, 2009 at 2:22pm
Geez, i remember reading House of Secrets and House of Mystery when I was tiny. I wonder how they'd hold up if I looked at them now?
Comment by Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) on November 11, 2009 at 3:43pm
I read the first volume of The House of Mystery. Like Cap says, the stories are pretty tame by current standards. But the art is frequently terrific.


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