Umbrella Academy: DALLAS #2
Issue #2 begins with a scene that seems to reference Hemingway's "The Killers"--or maybe Don Siegel's film The Killers or maybe Siodmak's film, or maybe both or all three--as two fake-friendly and therefore, all the fucking scarier hit man types needle a waitress and diner owner. There's probably some Edward Hopper's "Night Hawks" in there too, and the torture that follows is some Reservoir Dogs type shit (complete with Godard's thin suits that John Woo took that Tarantino then took), but it's more a big sloppy mess of references and ideas turned inside out and around one another than some in-joke clever pastiche that means nothing.
Then again, it doesn't exactly mean something either, it's atmosphere and context and slowly moving towards the same nebulous pre-hippie, late 50s/early 60s sense that issue #1 of "Dallas" touched upon with J.F.K and bowling alley blues and milkmen and all the rest. Unlike the first volume/story arc/mini-series of Umbrella, "Apocalypse Suite" which hit the ground running, "Dallas" is a slow burn that's moving towards some odd cohesion.
More than anything else, I'm reminded of DC's Final Crisis which before it stopped making any sense in issue #3, was a mess of scenes, ideas, and mini-events that only sort of connected but filled you with a weird, palpable dread. That series became so disappointing because I felt like I was in good hands with Morrison and that'd it all work out or end up a little clearer or at least be fun and it you know, didn't. "Dallas" though, I'm a little more confident in and each issue's filled with enough mini-moments and weird ideas that the fact that it's kind of playing the comic-book bullshit game by teasing you issue-to-issue becomes negligible.
At the same time, the disjointed, not-totally-satisfying feeling of "Dallas" makes a lot of sense because it's about all of them not being together and not getting along. The series was set-up as a kind of "The Uncanny Royal Tenenbaums" or something, with the series looking back to the victories as children, their failures now, and their re-finding their glory, but then, they all split up, and this is like the failure after the failure after the re-found glory. Each character's on their own and they're all kind of devastated, mad at one another, and mad at themselves. When you go from Number Five in an ugly ass tenement buiilding drinking liquor and watching a monkey dressed-up as Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to Seance drunk in a Hawaiian shirt in front of Pogo's grave at like midnight, you're not exactly reading for a story and where it's going hardly matters, you just sort of viscerally feel it.
And there is this comic book-y feeling of dread and whatsgonnahappennext??!! with the hit men, who are looking for Number Five--just like the rest of the Umbrella Academy or at least, the ones that care to look. They're funny and creepy, oversized Japanese Vinyl Toy heads atop the body of Mr. Blonde. I promise I'll stop with the old movie references but their companionship takes on a like misanthropic romantic aspect--like the hit men in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia--by the end when they hug one another in a graveyard after one hands the other a box of Girl Scout cookie thin mints. These guys are especially evil because we haven't really seen a true, at least for now unexplained evil in Umbrella. We've seen giant, city-crushing monuments and we've seen The White Violin, a member of the Academy, her "evil" caused by years of family resentment, but there's not been a conventional villain(s) bent on doing bad.
When talking about really good comics, I end up celebrating the story and writing more because it's kinda easier and there's more to open-up and discuss, but Gabriel Ba's art really needs to be discussed here. The first Final Crisis connection I made, outside of the pacing, was the way that like J.G Jones' stuff on that series, Ba (along with colorist Dave Stewart) do this thing of giving each part of the story--or each character's scenes--it's own color scheme and sense of shading and angle. It's something multi-character movies like Magnolia or Traffic do too, but there's a sense of colors bleeding into one another or abruptly contrasting here that works much more effectively. And Ba's work, is just the right amount of lines or details to be both cartoony and fun and devastating and ugly when it needs to be (Spaceboy's bloated laziness, the hacked-off arms and legs of the diner owner).
When Ba does "wide" shots, he just dashes off an oblong circle for a head and draws a stretched-out "W" for legs, but will draw each and every architectural detail of a building or the knicks and dashes of use and wear on a bedpost or windowsill. Last issue's brilliant eight-page fight scene was uh, brilliant, but the thing that really got me about it was the glow around the parking lot lights. They were colored, off-center circles and nothing more (the candle flickers at the end of this issue are really similar) but it was the perfect amount of detail and in a way, gave off this odd, eerie feeling that was the perfect, subliminal preamble for the violence about to occur. And that "something's about to happen" is what "Dallas" seems to be about, from the slowly moving narrative, to the mystery hit men--and the fact that it's called "Dallas" and had JFK in it, some kind of assassination's going to occur, right?--you keep reading for the big story, but you also read for the little, sad, ugly details of the Umbrella Academy's dysfunction.
There's also this really cool Ross Campbell drawing of "The Rumor" in the back: