I might be wrong, but one of the pivotal earlier comics from one of the Big Two that showed me what comics could be — sometime after Howard the Duck, that is — was Moonshadow, J.M. DeMatteis’ collaboration with John J. Muth (and later Kent Williams). It was filled with fantasy elements by way of late ‘60s hippiedom which, in the year 1985, was a lot closer than it is now, and I could still remember some of it.
When I saw that DeMatteis was scripting a new book pulling from the same era and invoking similar mysticism, I wanted to take a look. For old time’s sake. I know DeMatteis has done tons of things over the years, but for whatever reason, this one grabbed my attention.
Following hippie chick ne’er do well Kathy Sartori, DeMatteis weaves a Twilight Zone-tinged tale of time displacement — or is it something more? Kathy is a directionless teen in the late ‘60s dipping her toes in the counter culture, which is in the throes of a downward spiral into darkness. Through circumstances you can find out in the comic itself, Kathy finds herself in another era and is trying to track down her family. Has she traveled in time? Or is there something else going on?
DeMatteis poses those questions and maybe provides a hint or two, but doesn’t answer them in this first issue. But he does a good job at rendering a character that could be unlikable and helping the reader find interest and concern in her and her life. I can’t honestly predict where this is going, but DeMatteis has done a great job with the come hither mystery establishing, and if I came to this with a nostalgia-infused intent, I exited with a fresh feeling that wasn’t mired in the past at all.
If you’re intrigued by the creepy intricacies of Central Park and have a fondness for New York City history, you could do a lot worse than pick up The Lollipop Kids, which uses the park as the focus for a hidden history that contains living myths and legends — specifically monsters — that a group of urban kids is charged with keeping watch of.
Our guide through this scenario is Nick Motley, half-African American, half-Irish, who grew up on the northern side of the park with his sister Mia. She’s missing and it’s Nick’s search for her that brings him in contact with the Lollipop Kids.
By Issue #3, Nick is facing his first threatening monster but still relies on his antagonistic new friend Fresno to take care of the danger. He’s still not keen to dive into monster fighting, but Fresno brings him further into the organization, where he learns more about it and his own family, and this helps him to find his place in this new reality.
It’s a great set-up, considering Central Park’s almost mythic reputation as a place of unknown danger that goes well beyond people who actually live in New York City. I can remember as a kid it inspired a sense of foreboding even though I didn’t live there, but at the same time, such feelings can get the imagination going. At the same time, it has a nice progressive feel to it. It doesn’t ignore race as a part of history and works to address this as the story unfolds.
Writer Adam Glass is a New York City native and he conceived of the book with his 14-year-old son Aidan, which gives the behind-the-scenes a nice aspect that ties in well with the book’s theme of legacy service in the Lollipop Kids. This is a lot of fun and especially perfect for younger teen readers.
Focusing on surly, unlikable drunk Gabriel, Malaterre starts with his death and works backward, his lawyer calmly recounting the ugly story of his life and his desperate attempt to reclaim his family’s glory in Africa.
Since from the beginning you know that Gabriel is going to end up lifeless on a dirt road in Africa, the challenge for Gomont is to make the journey to that spot interesting, and he does this perfectly. Following Gabriel through his reprobate younger years and into his sinister marriage to Claudia, Gomont paints the picture of a horrible person whose decisions are destined to self-destruct.
His dream is to restore a mansion in Africa that had once belonged to his family to its former glory and make up for the blemish of his grandfather’s losing the property. In reality, it’s a desire for a return to colonialism, of a time when a white French man had a misguided pride from his social position over black Africans. In Gabriel’s warped mind, this is going to redeem him from his life as a loser.
Gomont makes this all bearable by populating the story with people you do like, Gabriel’s family, the people he is most screwing over, and as his venture becomes shiftier and more doomed, the actions of his children to get through the nightmare become more and more central to the story.
Gomont’s story is nuanced enough, but his art only adds to the depth, rendering the landscapes of France and Africa with scratchy, moody beauty, utilizing layouts in clever ways that create alternate jumbles and flows, and really excelling at the body language of his figures. I’m excited to see where this goes.
John Seven is a journalist and children’s book writer living in North Adams, Massachusetts. His books include ‘A Rule Is To Break: A Child’s Guide To Anarchy,’ ‘Happy Punks 1-2-3,’ ‘Frankie Liked To Sing,’ and others. Find out about all his things at johnseven.me.