Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Books: Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days


Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days
Written by Neil Gaiman
Art by Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Matt Wagner, Mike Mignola and Dave McKean

Available now from Islington Libraries
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An odds and ends scrapbook of previously uncollected Neil Gaiman stories that don't really fit anywhere else - I wouldn't really suggest Midnight Days for someone who's only just starting out and what's to see all the fuss is about - it's more for people who have already read The Sandman and are looking for something extra to quell their Neil Gaiman comic cravings: (so more like a plate of apéritifs than a full hearty meal).

Well - I say The Sandman (still the comic series for which Mr Gaiman is most renowned) - but actually - apart from the final story (which pits The Sandman of The Endless (or Dream as most of us know him [1]) with The Golden Age Sandman (a character first created all the way back in 1939)) the figure that hangs over this book the most is The Swamp Thing and - by extension - seeing how he's the guy responsible for making the idea of a giant green swamp monster seem respectable and a suitable contender for high-comics-art (or whatever you want to call it) - Alan Moore [2]. There's three Swamp Thing stories in all here: The first - Jack in the Green - is a leftover script back when Gaiman was still trying to break into comics - that's been made into an actual comic for the purposes of this collection and illustrated by the two guys who did the art for Alan Moore's now legendary run: Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben. It's pretty slight all-in-all and only a few pages long and probably wouldn't mean much for anyone who hasn't read Alan Moore's Swamp Thing (in fact my one piece of advice for anyone wanted to read Midnight Days is that you should really read Alan Moore's Swamp Thing beforehand - otherwises it's a bit like watching deleted scenes without having first seen the film) but it doesn't suck even if it's a little bit heavy on the allegory side of things (but then he was pretty young when he wrote it - so that's kinda understandable). The second Swamp Thing story is called Brothers - and revolves around some of the non-Swamp Thingy characters from the series as well as a character called Brother Power the Geek [3]: it's all a bit strange and freaky but eventutally things start to come together when you realise - ah! but of course! - the whole thing is a mediation on the end of the free love generation (obviously). And the last one - Shaggy God Stories: despite being illustarted by Hellboy's Mike Mignola (and man: the prospect of a Neil Gaiman/Mike Mignola story sounds amazing) just feels a little bit empty and slight (even if it does has a few ideas that you can tell were the seeds for Gaiman's American Gods novel [4]).

There's also the previously mentioned Sandman Midnight Theatre (which is co-plotted with Matt Wagner) and features very claustrophobic fully painted art from Teddy Kristiansen which - to be honest - my eyes found a little hard to digest. Like I said it does feature Dream from The Sandman - but if that's the only thrill you're looking for when you're reading - you're going to be left disappointed - as he only appears for a few very brief pages. In fact the best thing about the story (like Neil Gaiman mentions in his little introduction) is the party dialogue - the way that you only hear little snippets of conversations that each sound interesting enough to sustain their own stories is pretty cool [5].

But the best thing here (and the one you should probably save til last) is Hold Me. With artwork from Neil Gaiman's long-term partner in crime Dave McKean [6]. A John Constantine story (originally published in Hellblazer #27): Hold Me is a little one-shot about - well - loneliness and the plight of the homeless (a subject obviously close to Neil Gaiman's heart - as it's something he returned to with Neverwhere): although describing it in such plain terms makes it seem trite and two-dimensional when it's anything but. In fact - for me - the best thing about reading it is seeing how all the bits connect up - not in a "story" way but more in the fact that everything is thematically consistent - from the random cab driver conversation to the motives of the woman John meets at the party - all spinning around the idea of the need each of us to make contact with the people around us and the way that need get's perverted along the way. Which - obviously - is pretty smart for a Hellblazer comic. So well done Mr Gaiman. Well done. 

[1] Or seeing how he takes many form - cats and Lord L'Zoril and other things like that - maybe I should say "it"? In fact I'm almost tempted to say "hir" - but then I guess Desire is the only one of the Endless who's transgendered/gender-neutral - so in conclusion: I dunno.

[2] I was going to say actually that I wouldn't have been at all surprised if the reason this book came out is because of the success of the collection of Alan Moore's DC comics stories (which depending which version you have is either called Across the Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore or DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore) and that Neil Gaiman saw how popular they were I thought - "I'm having some of that" - and asked DC to do the same for his stories - which would you know - fit into the over-arching narrative of Neil Gaiman following in Alan Moore's footsteps (like it says in this book - Neil Gaiman first got his big break through the fact that he was friends with Alan Moore). Except - well - looking at the publication dates - it turns out that this book came out before the Alan Moore ones: so nevermind I guess.

[3] According to wikipedia (man - feels like I should be paying them royalities at this point): he's a character originally created back in the late 1960s who was supposed to be called Brother Power The Freak (which - hell - makes a lot more sense) before DC Management by the possible "drug references" and decided to change it to Geek: "Brother Power was originally a mannequin abandoned in an empty tailor's shop. The shop was taken over by hippies Nick Cranston and Paul Cymbalist, who dressed up the dummy in Paul's wet and bloodied "hip threads" to keep them from shrinking, having been attacked by Hound Dawg and other war hawks. Forgotten for months, but eventually struck by lightning, Brother Power was brought to life and endowed with super power and speed."

[4] Have you read it? It's quite good.

[5] And that whole having "tiny bits of interesting ideas" is something that Neil Gaiman always does really well. There's that Sandman story with the guy who keeps his muse locked up who gets given an excess of story ideas (I think it goes something like this: "So, you like ideas, eh? ... Well, have all the ideas in the world!") and of all the concepts that you hear - each sounds amazing (and isn't the cliché that writers don't like to splurge their ideas in case they run out or something? I dunno). 

[6] Who also did the artwork for the Dark Tower book I just finished reading: Wizard and Glass. Not to mention (with Neil Gaiman): all The Sandman covers and Violent Cases, The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch and Signal to Noise. 

Links: Comics You Should Own: Hellblazer #27Green Man Review, Eyrie Review.

Further reading: Swamp Thing, The Sandman, DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, Cages, Violent CasesThe Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch, Hellblazer: Pandemonium, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Murder Mysteries.

Profiles: Neil Gaiman.

All comments welcome.

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