Nexus Omnibus, vol. 1 (DH SC edition) – Mike Baron

4 out of 5

We can, by now, with a billion written issues in the rear view, qualify Mike Baron as a genius.  Bad at self-editing, yes; prone to punch-drunk whimsy, absolutely.  But what, at a glance, may seem like seat-of-his-pants writing very often proves to be a long game… but, like, a life-mimicking one in which the rule-set changes and evolves as the world turns and clocks tick.  Plotlines drill down then fizzle, sidetracked by back-up material spotlighting something random, before a sudden stakes-raising scenario brings that plotline back to the fore, advanced by information that’s sidelined into the conversation in that natural way in which we all operate as though everyone’s in on the chatter in our head…

This can be, and has been, a recipe for disaster on some books.  But not for Nexus, or at least those issues spotlit in this first collection: the origin-lite Capitol issues, and the first 11 books from when the title switched to First.  Undercover journos; a crossover with Badger; parent / child reunites; drunken cosmos-crossing adventures; de-bodied heads-as-spaceship power sources…  Hee-larious, one might say, and then there’s also am anthropomorphic lizard ‘hilariator’ to drive that point home with as many puns as possible.  Oh, and I forgot to mention the serial killing.  You know, the multiple murders committed – including women and children, absolutely – by our lead character.

While reading Nexus, the Baron method of casual composition suggests this is all a Silver Age romp of sorts.  Arted by Steve Rude – more on him shortly – with clear, lithe inks by Eric Shanower, that’s also visually supported.  Any given issue’s bevy of borderline nonsense would slot in fine amidst Exclamation Proclaiming! heroes in the bright and bouncy Marvel and DC of the 70s.  But then there’s the sneaked in hard science – maybe a text page on black holes – and the very real and grounded emotional pains Nexus experiences when he’s driven, by his dreams, to kill; there is the ever-so-slowly churning backstory of Nexus’ time on his planet of Ylum, awash in mystery, sprinkled with the social commentary of Ylum’s populous cycling through business and political foibles…  It’s oh, so simple, and yet not at all straight forward, with one-dimensional characters – stating their desires in rhyme or with comic-book pomp –  who are nothing but, ducking out of that one-dimension with the next panel’s suddenly incisive thought or statement.

And Steve Rude: what a match for this.  I didn’t really get it when reading the more recent Nexus newspaper – Rude blew up in popularity after Nexus – but, interestingly, seeing his work compressed into the smaller sized Omnibus makes it jaw-droppingly clear just how talented he is at showing us so, so much with what seem like simplified silhouettes and panelling.  This juxtaposition of simple-surface with hidden complexities has an obvious synchronicity with the text.

I’ve dug these undersized DH collections for other books – primarily the Concrete books – but extra appreciation is offered for the Nexus omnibus’, with their glossy covers, heavy, heavy page stock and pitch-perfect presentation of the book’s cool color hues, packing 400+ pages into a collection that never feels unwieldy or stiff and yet still remains durable enough to tote around and toss in a bag for flip-through reads.

Wrapping back around, the better-or-worse nature of Baron’s genius, though, is that we never quite seem to get the full story.  And so even with 14 issues of this stuff, it hardly feels like we’ve broken the surface of the Nexus world…  Although so, so much actually happens, the way we dovetail and then reconvene can create patches of toe-tapping, wondering if plot X will actually notably affect plot Y in any way.

It will.  Or… it won’t.  But it’s all important, I promise.  And that’s why we keep reading…