The Sunday Magazine: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

I am not usually asked what my favorite perfume book is. I do know my answer is one few of my infrequent interrogators expects; Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins.

Jitterbug Perfume was the fourth novel released by Mr. Robbins. By its release in 1984 Mr. Robbins had staked out a reputation as a literary cult author. His most famous book is “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” which is how I first discovered him. Mr. Robbins has a style of writing a tale in multiple layers covering different timeframes and almost always a bit of the fantastical. In between those threads are many laugh out loud moments. I’ve always categorized Mr. Robbins as a writer whom it is best to read over a few days and not in small bits before bed or on the commute. To fully enjoy his writing I think you have to ride the wave of prose until it carries you to the shore. Fortunately, his books are written in such a way that they propel you to wanting to know the answer to the questions of the narrative which keeps you turning pages. There is also some odd focal point which ends up tying many of the protagonists together. In Jitterbug Perfume it is beets.

The first sentence of Jitterbug Perfume informs us, “The beet is the most intense of vegetables.” After a few paragraphs supporting that thesis Mr. Robbins closes the first chapter with, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil. That is a risk we will have to take.” From there a beet is delivered to three protagonists living in the modern-day Seattle, New Orleans, and Paris. All of them are working on making a modern version of Jitterbug Perfume. As the story progresses we learn they are connected by more than the beet they received. Interspersed between their story are chapters of King Alobar and his paramour Kudra. Their story tells of the reason for and the creation of Jitterbug Perfume.

Tom Robbins

When I read it for the first time in 1984 my knowledge of perfume was at an early stage. When reading it twenty years later discussions of Jamaican jasmine and synthetic replacements of the natural ingredients resonated more. The plot drives towards the moment the new Jitterbug Perfume will be revealed while Alobar and Kudra supply the historical foundation.

If you have not discovered Mr. Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume is a great place to start. I consider him to be one of the great American writers. His books are a good choice for vacation reading where you can dive in and spend uninterrupted time with them. Just be ready to have people look at you when you laugh out loud; and ask for beets in your salad.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Acceptance of Passion

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It will be unsurprising to know that my eyes have been turned towards Orlando over the past few days. Since Thursday Star Wars Celebration 2017 has been going on which means news about all things Star Wars has been coming out over the last few days. It is also the 40th anniversary since the release of Star Wars in 1977. To begin the weekend, they had a panel celebrating the original cast. It was bittersweet because of the recent death of actress Carrie Fisher who played Princess Leia in the original movie. The end of the panel was her daughter Billie Lourd appearing dressed in a Tom Ford Leia-inspired dress making her first appearance since her mother’s death. She gave a moving tribute to how much Star Wars and the fans meant to her family. There was one line in the speech (entire text can be found here) which has resonated with me since I saw the video of it. Ms Lourd said to the fans, “That is why she loved you, because you accepted and embraced all of her; the strong soldier of a woman she was, and also the vulnerable side of her, who openly fought her own dark side, knowing early on that we all have a dark side of our own, whatever it may be.”

Billie Lourd at Star Wars Celebration 2017

Those words connected with me because I realize that is what I receive from all of my different communities of which I share passions with others. On the night those words were being spoken I was happily among the local Washington DC perfume group gathered at Arielle Shoshana to meet Robert Gerstner of Aedes de Venustas. The perfume was the focus but it is the camaraderie which means as much to me. I walked away with a glow of friendship mingling with the new perfume.

Attending New York Comic Con connects me with a long-time friend once a year which gives us a chance to catch-up. In between, the different panels connect the passionate to their passion. I sit and talk with people from all over the country about something we adore. That common ground leads to learning there is even more than just the initial connection. Importantly that common ground provides an opportunity for different opinions to be listened to. It is an interesting dynamic that has repeated itself multiple times throughout my over forty years of being a fan.

It is only in these gatherings where I truly feel the acceptance of being passionate about something. Nobody questions why I love perfume as much as I do on Thursday night at Arielle Shoshana. On Friday morning at work that acceptance is more difficult to locate. It is why I look forward to each time I can spend time with people who share my interests because acceptance of passion is also just plain acceptance.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Don Rickles

If there is a subject I have written about most in this column it is my love of late-night television. When I was growing up trying to stay awake until 1AM to see the entire The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was one of those “adult” thing. Only “kids” fell asleep before the end. One of the best guests on the show was Don Rickles.

Mr. Rickles passed away this past week at the age of 90 and there will be who eulogize him for what he meant to stand-up comedy. How his style of insult comedy would spawn hundreds throughout the years. I want to talk about how he nearly single-handedly created the guest-host symbiosis that every late-night show needs to thrive. For it to work there must be two key ingredients respect and friendship. Mr. Carson and Mr. Rickles were the right counterbalance. For Mr. Carson, any appearance of Mr. Rickles allowed his more acerbic wit to surface. It was allowed because his guest was already firing with both barrels. If most of Mr. Carson’s time talking to guests was the equivalent of fast food; any appearance of Mr. Rickles allowed him to up his game.

That give-and-take was the staple of the late-night talk show in the 1960’s and 70’s. What was not at the time was the twist on a remote piece. One of the funniest things I saw when I was 10-years old was Mr. Carson being shown the art of massage as a young woman was walking on his back. He was cracking jokes when suddenly Don Rickles walks in and takes over. Before long Mr. Carson has pushed Mr. Rickles into a tub and they are flinging water at each other. The spontaneity of the comedy and playfulness stood out.

On another occasion, Mr. Rickles had been on with one of the guest hosts while Mr. Carson was away. There was a wooden box that Mr. Carson kept his cigarettes in. On the previous night, Mr. Rickles broke it. When Mr. Carson returned to the studio the next day and noticed the broken box and who had done it he decided it had to be resolved immediately. In 1976 when this happened the portable news cameras were just becoming adopted. Mr. Carson gets one and walks next door to the studio where Mr. Rickles was filming his sitcom CPO Sharkey. Walks on to the set and asks what the hell did you do to my cigarette box. Again, spontaneity and playfulness was on display.

The current evolution of this is the Jimmy Kimmel and Matt Damon feud on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live. A throwaway joke about having to apologize to Matt Damon because they ran out of time at the end of one show has become the best running gag on late-night. Of all the current hosts Mr. Kimmel has the spontaneity and playfulness that you saw with Mr. Carson and Mr. Rickles.

If there is an afterlife I know two old friends have been catching up and probably leaving a mess for others to clean up.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Prisoner by Ryan Adams

There are musicians who find their inspiration in the low moments of life. Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams is one of those. His first solo album in 2000 called Heartbreaker clued us in to a man who would let his emotions guide his music. He has been one of my favorite musicians since then because of that genuine emotion within his songs.

It seemed like Mr. Adams had found some long-term happiness in his life when he married actress Mandy Moore in 2009. When it was announced in 2015 they were separating I must admit a selfish part of me thought there might be some good music from the experience to come. Which was why when the first release post-divorce was a complete re-interpretation of Taylor Swift’s “1989” it threw me. I thought it was his way of looking back from his 40’s as Ms. Swift looked forward from her 20’s. Maybe there was a message there. Which I thought meant there wasn’t going to be that assemblage of new music based on his divorce.

Then I found out he was releasing a new album in early 2017 called “Prisoner” which was going to be about his divorce. It came out in mid-February and is everything that I like about Mr. Adams’ music. I think it is a follow-up to that version of 1989 he released where the wistfulness of his version now transforms itself into honesty.

It starts with the first track, “Do You Still Love Me?” The loaded question any relationship that is beginning to fray doesn’t want answered. The bridge summarizes it all, “I didn’t want it to change/Is my heart blind and our love so strange?” The second track “Prisoner” more fully answers the question, “I know our love is wrong/ I am a criminal”. The difficulty in living in the house you shared when your partner is gone is explored in “Haunted House”. Every song on “Prisoner” examines a relationship which is disintegrating while you watch helplessly.

While the lyrics are much of the appeal of Mr. Adams there is also his throwback guitar licks which are also appealing. His style is a bit alt-country hearkening back to his early days in the band Whiskeytown prior to going solo. It also is a lot of that fuzzy crunchy guitar reminiscent of a lot of alt-rock bands in the 1990’s. Mr. Adams confidently splices those influences together into his own sound which fits his material as eloquently as his lyrics.

There is a part of me that feels churlish for liking this album as much as I do. It feels like I am asking the universe to not allow Mr. Adams to be happy in a relationship. I would like to think I am not putting that request out there; but maybe I am. If you are looking for music which unflinchingly looks at the emotional fallout of a divorce “Prisoner” is one you should give a listen to.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Wild Poodles of Poodlesville

I never had a dog when I was a kid. I can’t say I thought it was something I missed. Then Mrs. C and I adopted a brown standard poodle named Jojo. We got Jojo from Poodle Recue of New England. As it is with most all rescue dogs they have not had an ideal life. Jojo’s story was he was part of a puppy mill and when not being asked to mate he was kept outside in a cage. He was rescued when he was nine. He was a mess and the rescue organization cleaned him up. Jojo was a gentleman with an emphasis on the gentle. His previous existence had made him very reserved but occasionally I could get him to play with me. One morning he decided he had had enough of me and stood up and barked in my face. Then heartbreakingly he pulled his snout away to the side anticipating a smack. With tears in my eyes I hugged him and said “good boy”. Over time he learned that barking was okay. He would need it.

Georgie in the yard in Poodlesville

Two years after we got Jojo we realized we wanted to get him some younger company so we contacted Poodle Rescue. They had rescued a litter of four poodle puppies from a would-be breeder who was going to abandon them. Jojo was a favorite within the rescue group and they wanted his life to be easy so they asked us if we would take in one of the puppies who looked to have hip problems. We had no problem with that. Watching young Georgie not be able to go up the stairs in our house was awful. We were ready to figure out how to make it easier for him when a funny thing happened. Regular feeding of good food and the hip problems went away revealing a frolicking puppy underneath. One for whom Jojo would need his newly-found bark. Almost every night Georgie would wait until Jojo curled up on his bed and closed his eyes. At that moment, he would cross the room and pounce on him. Jojo would get up and let him know he was not amused. When I would come home from work I would always say I was greeted with the 21-bark salute.

Rocco

When Jojo passed away we realized we needed a new companion for Georgie who was acting sad at being an only poodle. After a short adoption of Gunner who had a genetic disease we eventually received Rocco from the rescue organization. From the moment, we got him Rocco had already learned that charm got you attention. Whenever anyone came near he would sit and lift a paw. The list of admirers was legion. The many treats he received numerous. I called Rocco a Moochasaurus because almost nobody could resist giving him a treat. Rocco and Georgie were best friends who when we moved to Maryland and the size of the yard increased immensely were as happy as could be. The town we moved to is called Poolesville but we have renamed our part of it Poodlesville.

Henry (l.) and Jackson

When Georgie passed on Henry arrived. Henry had been struck so hard by his first owner that his right eye was ruptured and he lost vision in it. The next owner passed away from a stroke and they found Henry curled up next to her when they discovered her. Henry is the sweetest tempered poodle we have had, unless you’re a squirrel. When Rocco passed, we waited a year before adding our latest rescue, Jackson. Jackson came courtesy of negligent breeders again. He was not allowed to socialize with other dogs or people which made him very skittish. Over the three months we have had him in Poodlesville it has been interesting watching him realize Henry, Mrs. C and I are his pack. Every day the fear and nervousness get a little less.

Next to asking Mrs. C in to my life the Wild Poodles of Poodlesville have given me the most pleasure.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Poetry on Perfume by Lynne Haussler Oakes

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My wife, Mrs. C, is an artist and serves on the board of a local arts association. One of her fellow members, painter Lynne Haussler Oakes, who started the Art League of Germantown 35 years ago; began corresponding with me. As is common among creative minds it generally isn’t confined to just one medium. She shared some poetry she had written on perfume. I really enjoyed what I read and asked her if she would allow me to post them on Colognoisseur. For this week, I am turning over The Sunday Magazine to artist-poet Lynne Oakes.

My Personal Perfume Story

By Lynne Haussler Oakes

Early in my life I learned where to place the scent so it did the most ‘damage’. Perfume was ammunition. For after all, didn’t we want guys to swoon over us? It was the invisible weapon. Put it on pulse points, at one’s neck, at the crook of your arm, even behind your knees! I started putting it on a cotton ball and tucking it between burgeoning breasts.  The guy had no chance at all.

As I became a young lady, I was given cologne or more precisely, eau de toilette. One would not spend what true perfume cost on a child. Even in the days of my youth, it was expensive stuff. I can’t say that I understood what it took, or even now what it takes to secure and create the elements of a perfume, but early in my life it was those lighter scents that got me hooked on smelling delicious and hugging the women in my family who wore the real thing.

Things of mine that I see or touch nearly every day seem to cause a line of poetry to appear and with it, the demand to write something about it. Sometimes the lines come to me at night, or when half-awake just before I get up. Recently it has been like that with my perfume bottles. Fragments of memories surface from the small assortment on my dresser.  I recall the round mirrored tray with gold filigree embracing my Mother’s collection. And my Grandmother’s art deco vanity, her tray staging the beautiful glass containers. These trays were part of the presentation and a practical matter as well. They protected one’s dresser from the damage of alcohol rings. The bottles themselves are a story of art and design. Remembering them on my mother’s dresser is clearer to me than remembering the scent within. Each woman had her favorite, a sort of extension of their personal essence. It was part of who they were, these ladies with perfume.

 

Scents

 

I remember a stylish European woman from a place where I worked years ago.

Can one say ‘I remember a fragrant woman’?

She was Belgian with that lovely French accent in the middle of New York City.

Walking into an empty room you knew she’d just been there.

Her perfume lingered and it always made me smile.

She told me it was “Femme” when I asked her.  

Fifty-some years ago and still I remember that, but not her name.

I wasted no time buying some for myself, even the scented powder.

I was so captivated by the magical effect it made.

Perfume, that perfume. 

 

Standing in line behind a man in a bank,

I became aware of the same body scent my boyfriend had.

This was after years away from being a teenager

who borrowed a jacket and slept with it because

it smelled like the one I loved then.

 

A college boyfriend gave me a very expensive

and famous one

and I did not like it.

I did wear it a few times, just to please him,

but it mostly stayed on a little shelf

over the sink. 

 

How can I say what it is that I like?

What my heart, nose and body respond to?

You just have to experience it,

inhale it at the perfume counter, try it on

and wear it home,

breathing it in over and over.

 

I’ve heard that upper classes and royalty used it

to mask the infrequency of bathing.

It had to be really powerful.

 

It is totally, seriously, dangerously, utterly powerful.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

Perfume

 

The bottles are themselves a work of art,

exquisite feminine sculptures of crystal and glass.

I’ve kept some especially lovely ones

of grandmother’s and mother’s 

which were theirs.

 

It is the contents that bring memories

Mother’s Shalimar

Dad’s Bay Rum and one he gave me

called ‘First’

which I was.

 

My dresser is the stage for a few of my own,

tucked in with empty ones I’ve saved.

A Chanel scent my son brought me from Paris,

another arriving in a box of goodies from a friend,

and one I found myself called ‘Dead Sexy’

and it is.

 

Spraying on the one I’ve chosen,

brings instant connection to someone I cherish.

The enchantment of perfume with its

sensual notes that carry love

and it does.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

 

Dad’s Bay Rum

I have a bottle covered with woven grass

holding a remnant of my Dad’s aftershave.

Its disappearance is not by evaporation,

but from his use of it.

The bottles of scents he liked

were all lined up

on the back of the commode

in the master bath in the house where I grew up.

 

It is a sweet memory for me

hugging him, kissing his neck,

inhaling his day’s chosen fragrance.

Now I open the one bottle I have left,

breathing in what is so familiar

bringing him to me

once again.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

 

Shalimar

 

With my oil paints

I fashioned

a small canvas of

the empty bottle.

Beautiful, alone,

empty now for years.

My Mother’s Shalimar.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

 

For those interested in checking out Ms. Oakes' paintings here is the link to her website.

My thanks to Ms. Oakes for allowing me to post these on Colognoisseur.

The Sunday Magazine: Logan

I remember a time many years ago, when the idea of a superhero movie based on the comics was laughable. Whenever I would sit with my fellow geeks reading the week’s comics there was a bit of wistful hope that someday the comics would come to the cinema. It could be said the turning point came with the release of The X-Men in 2000. I remember sitting in the theatre at the end of it and saying softly, “Perfect”. This was what geeks had hoped for a director and writer who treated the source material respectfully. Bryan Singer did that and really laid down the formula for the best of the movies that have followed. When the creative team has been a fan of the comic it usually produces a good to great movie. When it becomes more cynical it usually produces something that kind of attitude should produce.

The X-Men have been one of the successes because the people who are in charge do love the material they are adapting. The latest release in the family is “Logan” and it sort of closes the circle begun with that first X-Men movie.

When it comes to the X-Men the most popular mutant is and has always been Wolverine. When Mr. Singer cast Hugh Jackman in the role I don’t know if he knew what an ideal choice he would be. Mr. Jackman has never treated the role as anything but serious. Even when interviewed about it he embraces playing this particular superhero. It is why with “Logan” I am sorry to see his time with the character come to an end but it does come to a beautiful conclusion.

Hugh Jackman as Logan

“Logan” is an adaptation of the Old Man Logan story from the comics. Directed by James Mangold with a script he co-wrote it tells a story of the future set in 2029. In that time mutants, have stopped being born while the ones which exist have been slowly lost. Logan lives as a limousine driver in El Paso when the movie opens. It is revealed that he lives with a tracker of mutants named Caliban and an aged Professor X who is suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. When the most powerful telepath has a seizure it is not a pretty sight and Logan is one of the few who can get close enough to help when Professor X has one. A mysterious little girl shows up at the same time as a cybernetically enhanced band of hunters called The Reavers do. The rest of the movie is our trio of Logan, Professor X, and the girl attempting to stay ahead of their pursuers until they get to a purported safe haven.

Once again it is Mr. Jackman who portrays the duality of savagery and sensitivity within Wolverine. He makes both sides of the personality believable. As the movie drew to a close I wonder about the next actor who has to follow this performance. It is difficult to think of anyone who can do a better job.  

One last thing I am pleased about is the studio was unafraid for this to be an R-rated movie allowing for the violence to be more visceral which it is. For the first time the damage a man with metal claws can do is shown. For that reason, if you have younger kids who are fans you might not want to take them to see Logan

If you have been a fan of The X-Men and Wolverine on the screen Logan is the fitting epilogue to seventeen years of movies. It is the kind of superhero movie I am surprised to see made and I had the same response to the final scene here as I did seventeen years ago, “Perfect”.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hamilton Russell Winery

I really enjoy finding new wine regions to dive into. Last summer I discovered the South African Walker Bay region. At that time, it was through their chardonnays. As I’ve mentioned in the past I have issues with the way many American chardonnays go about tweaking their wines to accentuate the woodiness or the buttery and in the worst cases both. It is something which has become worse over the years. Which means I must look elsewhere to find balanced chardonnays in which the winemaker has the trust in the grape to let it be the balanced wine it can be. I complain about this so much that my local wine store invited me to a tasting of the new chardonnay releases from Walker Bay. I was bowled over as these hewed closer to French white burgundies than the American version. The Hamilton Russell Winery was the chardonnay I liked best. As I spoke to the store owner he mentioned that the pinot noir from Hamilton Russell was even better.

Anthony Hamilton Russell and Hannes Storm

Walker Bay is located on the south coast of South Africa. It is known primarily as one of the premiere whale watching sites in the world as Southern Right Whales gather there in the winter and spring. What it also does is provide a moderating warm sea breeze to the cooler air temperatures in the wine growing valley of Hemel-en-Aarde which is where Harrison Russell is located. The oversight of the vineyard has been kept in the family since its founding in 1979. Currently Anthony Hamilton Russell is the current owner-operator. He has been working exclusively with winemaker Hannes Storm since 2000. It is this partnership which has turned these wines into what they are.

The chardonnays carry a supernatural clarity and I recently found out the reason why. The oldest vines produce grapes which are most prone to picking up the woody aspects of being aged in barrels. Mr. Storm came up with a brilliant idea of aging those old vine grapes in clay amphorae made from the clay on the estate. It took some trial and error but the most recent three vintages have about 3% of the grapes used from these amphorae. It is this choice which adds the fresh quality to the chardonnays. It tones down the woody nature while they purposefully keep the malolactic fermentation down as well. It results in a chardonnay with crisp fruity openings. They all have this lovely apple and peach early phase before heading to a subtly creamy finish. The 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages are all examples of this style of chardonnay.

When I was told the pinot noirs were better, based on the evidence on the recently released 2015, I have to agree. Just like the chardonnays the pinot noir is very like French Burgundy red wine. Mr. Storm chooses to rack the wine once which is the process of moving it using gravity from one barrel to the other. This technique is meant to open up a wine which the winemaker considers closed off from its aromatic potential. I can’t speak to what it was like prior to adding racking to the process because it began back in the 2010 vintage. What I can assess is the 2015 has reached the peak of its aromatic potential. What I also think it does is makes this wine very soft on the palate as the plummy red tea early taste deepens into a spicy toasted wood finale. This 2015 vintage is spectacular in its evolving complexity.

The Hamilton Russell wines are not best buys as they are generally available for about $30 for the chardonnay and $40 for the pino noir although I think they are great value for their price considering the cost of their Burgundian counterparts. If you’re looking for a nice bottle of wine for a special meal either of these are great choices.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hidden Figures

Later today the Oscars will be handed out for movies released in 2016. Part of the fun of watching the ceremony is having rooting interests. I’ve already mentioned my ambivalence towards favorite “La La Land” as well as my enthusiasm for “Arrival”. As much as I’d like to see the latter win Best Picture and the former to get shut out completely there is one movie which I think has a shot at blocking “La La Land” from the Best Picture Award; “Hidden Figures”.

Hidden Figures is the story of three African-American women who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It takes place in 1961 as the United States were beginning the Space Race in competition with the USSR. Each country trying to outdo the other by being the first to do something in space. By 1961 the Russians had placed the first satellite, Sputnik, and the first human, Yuri Gargarin. At the Hampton, Virginia NASA facility was where the mathematicians and physicists were gathered to come up with the scientific foundation necessary to have the US catch-up. When it comes to efforts like this the prevailing prejudice of the day is tamped down in the desire for success. So, it was for the women at the heart of this movie.

(l. to r.) Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer

The women are part of the “computers” team who assist all over the facility as needed. They are segregated in to their tiny cramped office overseen by supervisor Dorothy Vaughn, played by Octavia Spencer. Ms. Vaughn is not given the title even though she does the same work as her boss Vivian Mitchell, played by Kirsten Dunst. Two of her staff are brilliant and are given assignments where those skills can be used. Kathryn Goble, played by Taraji P. Henson, is added to the group which is doing the calculations for the first manned flight. The challenges of being the first “colored” member of the team is what her story entails. The other story we follow is that of Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae, who is assigned to the capsule design team. Her white supervisor encourages her to fight for her right to attend an all-white school to take the course she needs to continue her education and become an engineer.

Director Theodore Melfi who also co-wrote the screenplay doesn’t take Hidden Figures any place you can’t see coming from a mile away. Which didn’t matter to me because the actresses embody their roles so seamlessly while each story provides a different angle on the state of race and gender relations in 1961 America. Even though I know the story will have a happy ending the journey to it is so entertainingly told it was a joy to spend a couple hours in the dark watching it.

Over the Holidays I try and see as many of the Oscar candidates as I can. I saw Hidden Figures on the same day I also saw “La La Land”, the movie which has resonated since that day is Hidden Figures which is why I am hoping when they open the envelope for Best Picture that’s the title on the card inside.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s The Vision Vol. 2

While I eagerly await my latest issues of the typical superhero comics I can still be impressed by something completely different. Over the past twenty years the two big comic book imprints, Marvel and DC, have become less risk-averse to allowing their comics to take some unconventional turns. The burgeoning independent comics publishers thrived at offering readers something different. What much of this has resulted in is the mainstream comics taking on new writers from different backgrounds to see what they can do with existing characters.

One thing many of these creators choose to do is to not want to write stories for Captain America or Superman. They are more interested in the characters who are less-known. A lot of the time it is because they have an affection for the character. More importantly for storytelling purposes the ancillary characters carry less baggage in the term of known history. One of the most important new writers for Marvel and DC has taken this path.

Tom King

Tom King only recently joined the comic book writing world. Before that he wrote a novel, “A Once Crowded Sky” which asks the question if superheroes give up their powers to save the world only to have the attacks continue; what then? It was clear what Mr. King’s influences were and there are times when reading the book I almost felt like it should have been a comic series. The novel suffered from some rough patches in the resolution but it gave insight into many of the things Mr. King would take with him to the actual writing of comic books.

After starting at DC in 2014 with a series focused on Robin from the Batman mythology a year later he would write for Marvel. I heard through the grapevine he was coming to Marvel and was playing a guessing game in my mind what character he would be writing for. My surprise was complete when I heard his series was going to follow the synthetic humanoid The Vision from The Avengers. I was curious but my anticipation for The Vision Vol. 2 was not high. It should have been.

There are many stories of robots/androids who want to be human. To apply the cold logic of their circuitry to figuring out the human condition. The Vision Vol. 2 goes in an entirely different direction as The Vision creates himself a family of creatures like him; wife, son, and daughter. They go to live in a middle-class community in Virginia but they aren’t trying to be human. Their neighbors comment on their artificiality with no attempt by the family to change that. Over all the societal commentary from that set-up Mr. King overlays a tragedy in progress complete with an omniscient narrator who points out the moments that will have far-reaching consequences. This has the effect of adding a sense of dread because what the narrator’s future vision tells us of are some pretty grim events.

Mr. King never lets the readers off the hook as he tells a complete story over twelve issues full of shocking twists and pyrrhic victories. It is near the pinnacle of what comic books can achieve. It also confirms Mr. King as one of the new voices in comics to keep an eye on. Especially as he takes over Batman for 2017.

Mark Behnke