Sequential State – the comics criticism archive of Alex Hoffman

Review: UR by Eric

I try as much as
possible to keep up with Ad House Books; Chris Pitzer has a good eye for
comics, publishing last year’s Noah Van Sciver book and Operation Margarine from
Katie Skelly. Published in October of 2014, UR
is 48 pages of full color short stories from Eric Haven, generally ending
in either apocalypse or dismemberment.

The thrust of Haven’s work is to make doom entertaining, or at
least mildly humorous. Each of the tales in UR
feature either an odd creature, strange superhero, or hapless dude as they
cause havoc, rain down the apocalypse, get viciously murdered, etc. There is a
dry wit to the telling, an obvious side-eye that gives some context to stories
that don’t seem to move in any obvious direction except towards a punchline.

Haven seems to focus on ideas of transformation; he seems
transfixed on the obscenity of it. In one story, the writer-insert character
Race Murdock, is attacked by a bartender and thrown into a pit. She transforms
into a reptilian creature and watches as he is killed and eaten by a monster in
the pit. In another, a strange cat/man breaks into a house, wrecks the place a
little, then blows its head off with an oversized gun. A winged creature grows
from the stump of his neck, flying off to cause chaos. This idea of surreal transformation
as terror and punishment is reminiscent of Fletcher Hanks, whose Golden Age
comics Haven specifically references in a story titled “Bedman, Dream-Lord of
the Night Sky.”

Referencing Hanks further emphasizes the surrealness of Haven’s
comics. The difference is in the delivery – where Hanks work is disorienting
and horrific, strange in its delivery and content, Haven seems to want to
deliver this same stuff with a wink and a sly grin. That humor in delivery
dulls the horror significantly, making it less like a horror story and more like an episode of South Park.

While there is some interesting stuff going on in UR, ultimately it was the research into
Fletcher Hanks’ work that took up most of my time. I’m thankful to have gotten to read those comics, and would likely have not have picked up Fantagraphics’ archival books without the prodding of UR. 

That said, this collection is a
little weird and a little funny, but with its small stature and relatively
disconnected content, UR is the amuse-bouche
for a main course that never arrives.

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