Review: 'Multiple Warheads' makes Michael fall in love with Brandon Graham's comicsA comic review article by: Michael Lindsey
So I came looking for some four-color supers; heroes and villains, teen angst and heartbreak, obligatory super-powered fights. Guys getting knocked through walls and whatnot. I certainly didn't come to pick up some indy comic full of girls in tattoos and references what little the writer picked up in the college classes that they dropped out of. *meh*
But there sitting on the shelf was a collected trade of comic I had not yet heard of, titled in just-comprehensible letters as Multiple Warheads (book one). The cover really caught my eye: a bespeckled wolfboy carrying a sword and his cute girl companion, floating above a snowscape with a stylized dragon motif in the sky behind them. Wearing outfits provided courtesy of Moebius, apparently.
So I picked this book up and started flipping through it.
Immediately I was hooked by the density and sweep of Brandon Graham's art; crammed with details and masterly linework, not afraid to be messy and cartoony when called for, not afraid to be silent when a well-executed panel tells the tale or sets the scene well enough, but packed wall-to-wall with text when that text added to the overall flavor. I felt like I was 12 years old again, flipping through my first-ever copy of Heavy Metal. There was clearly a whole new world in here to be explored.
Entranced, I took the lovely book into my grubby fingers; keeping an eye on my newly found prize as I boredly looked at the other offerings in the shop. Finally checking out with it (along with my planned purchase of Invincible volume 1), I went home to eat dinner then read through both books.
Invincible was good, as advertised. Great stuff, in fact. I'm sure I will be picking up the whole series.
But Multiple Warheads was a revelation. My first impressions flipping through it were only reinforced as a plodded my way through the book. It's packed with the same gorgeous art that had caught my attention to begin with, it was also full of strange gonzo characters, a bizarre post-apocalyptic fantasy world peopled with gods, monsters, talking animals and objects, where an entire mythology has been built largely out of puns (more on that later).
The Cliff's Notes synopsis of the story (provided by Image Comics) is as follows:
"Ex-organ smuggler Sexica and her werewolf boyfriend Nikoli travel across a sci-fi/fantasy version of Russia while the hardcore organ hound Blue Nura tracks a bounty across radioactive wastelands."
What this synopsis doesn't tell us is that Nikoli is a werewolf because Sexica sewed on a werewolf penis to him after having smuggled it into their home, The Red (or Dead) City, in a medical case stuck up her bum.* (*If that isn't true love, I don't know what is)
Nor does it tell us that the bounty hunter Nura is accompanied by a sentient bloodhound motorcycle, or that her prey (Ian Marx) is a regenerating immortal that she seeks because he can provide a seemingly limited supply of organs for the vast organ-smuggling black market.
It also doesn't tell us how truly bizarre the world that these characters live in is: complete with singing cigarettes, a Cthulhu-esque mobster named ‘Pumpkin Patch' who serves up inedible candies and complains that no one understands him, radiation-eating talking worms called ‘quimmys' who serve as pests as well as a food and power source.
Also: rampant and blood-curdling puns upon puns, lengthy food-porn worthy descriptions of the curious culinary delights enjoyed by Nikoli and Sexica (ex. self-heating root vegetables ‘turnip the heat' and ‘beet the heat'). And lots and lots of decapitations, and occasional and occasionally quite-graphic sex.
This description also fails to tell us that this gonzo backdrop is being used to tell the most traditional of tales; a tale of travel and discovery, of dangerous adventures, of obstacles encountered and overcome.
But I am telling you these things so you have an idea of what you are getting yourself into here.
Writer/artist Brandon Graham presents us with a fantasy world that absolutely demands to not be taken seriously, but it's peopled with protagonists that do: I was surprised that I liked and even cared about Sexica in her journey to find a better place - a ‘perfect' place- for her and her boyfriend Nikoli to live.
The character Nura - whose story runs concurrent to, but not intersecting with, that of Sexica and Nikoli's - didn't grab me as much as Sexica or Nikoli did. But I like her: she's smart and badass in a way satisfactory for her story, which is a violent adventure filled with strange characters and impossible circumstances. Although we never see the resolution of her tale, we left with little doubt that she eventually finds and bests her quarry.
Re-reading my review above, I note that it's not really a proper review but rather just provides an idea of the flavor of this gem of a comic. There are two reasons for this:
Firstly, as noted above this comic is just impossibly dense. Trying to cover all the twists, turns and incidents within would spend more words than I can comfortably provide, or is appropriate for this forum.
Secondly: I really want you to read this book. As you can probably tell from my gushing above, I really enjoyed the experience of reading this comic and hope that I can lead others to do the same. If my meager words above make this sound like it could be something that you might enjoy, then you probably will.
A few words in closing about the physical book itself. I have recently been dabbling with the idea of switching over entirely to digital comics: they don't take up any physical space, and the fingerprint smudges I (inevitably) leave behind are easily cleared off the screen of my iPad.
I am glad I didn't choose to start with this book. It's beautiful, with a nice non-glossy cover, and packed front-cover to end-cover with contents, no filler. No cheesy ads to ignore in the back, no intro from some other comic-creator in the front to read after you have devoured everything else. Just pure gonzo goodness throughout.
This is my first read of a Brandon Graham comic: he's a creator who has apparently been working in the industry since the 1990s. If what he has accomplished here is any indication of the quality of the rest of his work, you can be assured that this will not be my last.
Michael Lindsey lives in Seattle, where he engages in a good deal of geekery. He is the (mostly) benevolent dictator of the (mostly) gaming blog Station53.