Artists - Jerry Ordway, George Perez, Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen, Brian Bolland, Scott Kolins
Publisher - DC Comics
Aside from one of Giffen’s goofiest styles on a ridiculous Superboy/LOSH backup story, and the ponderous, out-of-place stylings of Kolins on the framing sequences, this series has had some really nice art, particularly for those like me who grew up on a lot of these ’70s-’80s superstars now getting to take a tour with Wein down Memory Lane. Either penciling or inking, any of the pages with Ordway’s hand in them are better storytelling than the majority of what passes for it today. That said, the story—indeed, the entire premise of this series—is pointless. It’s just a jog through some of the DCU’s biggest events, kind of through the eyes of an average guy named Paul Lincoln (except the many times it’s just straight sooperhero action), from ’40s street kid to, as of #7, around a 40 year old police detective in the mid-’90s. Strangely, the Paul who introduces each issue is elderly, far older than the 60 years, give or take, that he would be if he was telling the story today. Maybe we’ll find he’s in the future, I dunno.
Wein has no problem putting words in Lincoln’s mouth like, “A hero needs only an honest, noble heart,” that would make Superman gag, and the would-be Marvels-style regular guy story is really just a ’40s Warner Bros gangster film plot, with two kids taking different paths and the criminal one getting a chance to redeem himself. If you can swallow the dialogue, and convenient plotting that, say, allows a career criminal to get a job at S.T.A.R. Labs with easy access to experimental armor, all while cramming in the broad strokes of old stories great and small like Crisis, the Detroit JLA, Legends, The Killing Joke, Jon Stewart, the Bloodwynd/Maxima era of Justice League, Doomsday and Knightfall, then this is for you. Mostly, it’s nice to admire some solid artwork and ignore the story. Highlight: the Bolland-drawn “Camelot 500” story with the Atom, Shining Knight, Silent Knight, King Arthur, and Etrigan.
Writer - Jason Aaron
Artist - Renaldo Guedes
Publisher - Marvel Comics
Just because Wolverine goes to Hell doesn’t mean he has to take the readers with him. I gave this more than the benefit of the doubt, but man, what an unremittingly boring, repetitive storyline. Each issue is just this demon trying to break Wolverine’s spirit by making him fight more demons and hellish versions of old foes, and Wolvie is an ornery cuss who’s too stubborn to be turned, while Mystique, Daken and Wolvie’s girlfriend flit around trying to figure out how to get to Hell and help him, with zero results so far. Throw in some X-cameos and repeat. Aaron can write a fun, well-paced story, but this one is stuck in first gear. It also seems to have sucked Daken down with it.
Batman and Robin #17
Writer - Paul Cornell
Artist - Scott McDaniel
Publisher - DC Comics
Yeah, I don’t know why they just didn’t retire Batman and Robin after Morrison left, but whatever. It’s a perfectly good name. So here we have a new creative team, with McDaniel bringing his usual bag of trick to scripting by rising star Cornell. I say rising star, and I like the guy, but with this new villainess The Absence (who we needed like the hole in her head), Cornell might want to be careful he doesn’t overextend himself and become this decade’s Paul Jenkins. It’s okay so far; pretty typical old 'Tec kind of mystery but with grislier details, and some fine is occasionally labored repartee between clenched Damian Wayne take on Robin and the more lighthearted Dick Grayson version of Batman.
Detective Comics #871
Writer - Scott Snyder
Artists - Jock, Francisco Francavilla
Publisher - DC Comics
Like Cornell, Snyder is quick to start playing with his new toys, in this case having some fun exploring the differences in the Dick/Gordon relationship from the Bruce/Gordon one. For one, Dick doesn’t silently slip away when the conversation is over. It’s cute. Still, I’m looking forward to Snyder digging deeper into what makes Dick a good Batman vs. just a different Batman. This one’s a mystery involving an unseen villain named The Dealer, who deals in hard-to-obtain supervillain stuff like the serum that made Killer Croc the way he is (who would buy this?) and something Poison Ivy-related that makes a would-be squealer grow a tree root out of his mouth. It makes for some good visuals but not much of a coherent story as yet, and one suspects Jock would be put to better use drawing the grim Bruce Batman. That is, he draws Bats exactly the same, but it would make more sense aesthetically if it was Bruce. Snyder doesn’t have a lot of room to get this one going, as he also starts a Gordon backup story, this one with nice art from Francavilla in a stylistic range that seems to be gaining traction (see also Paul Azaceta, Matthew Southworth). My takeaway from these two Batbooks is that the editor(s) are pushing for new villains and shorter story arcs. I’m in favor of the former but it’s too early to judge the results yet, and it makes sense for the latter as well. Three issues + three issues = HC/TPB. Having two arcs per collection conceivably increases the chances of a purchase, and just as far as the monthly series, it’s easier to jump on. Plus, I would not be surprised if this doesn’t also make it easier to get some better artists on for a three issue arc that wouldn’t want to/be able to commit to something longer term. Like, I don’t really see Jock doing 10 issues of this book, do you? I could be wrong about all this, but even if so, it’s not a bad plan. Note: of our players this week, Francisco Francavilla has the most fun name to say out loud.
The Traveler #1
Writer - Mark Waid
Artist - Chad Hardin
Not to take anything away from Stan Lee and his amazing accomplishments, but I’d be curious if his name on a comic really had any positive effect on sales. And this is not even getting into whether he had anything to do with the contents inside. For the record, the comic is copyright both BOOM! Studios and Stan’s POW! Entertainment (we finally got BOOM! and POW! together, but where’s BIFF!?), but Stan’s only credit is the vague, “Grand Poobah.” I imagine Waid and others came up with it and Stan signed off, maybe offering some minor input. Whatever.
As one might reasonably guess, The Traveler is decidedly lighter in tone than Waid’s other BOOM! series, Irredeemable and Incorruptible. Stan doesn’t do scorched earth and kinky sex and psychotic capes. But it’s not even a “feet of clay” type of old Marvel approach, either. Tonally, it’s more like ’50s DC stuff, with a cheerful, time-traveling hero trying to stop some other time-traveling creeps, all the while chattering with a scared African-American mom (with Hardin playing up her MILFy BOOM! POW! attributes a little much). Normally, Waid would be your go-to guy for Silver Age homage, but this one feels a little flat, fast-paced but lacking a distinctive hook or much in the way of characterization, and like he saved his best jokes for another comic. I mean, it reads like an assignment rather than inspiration, and while many of us would take this assignment in a minute, it doesn’t mean it’s going to turn out well.
I don’t think I’ve ever really done one of these before, but with comics and graphic novels more in the public eye than they have been since, what, the 1940s? — and as the Winter Solstice draws nearer, I thought I would weigh in with what I think would make some nice gifts this holiday season for that special someone in your life. You know, that person you are pretty sure won’t give you the stinkeye when they open up their present and it turns out, it’s comics?
To keep this list to a manageable length, I set forth a few rules:
1. The gift must be at or under $100.00. 2. One gift suggestion per publisher. 3. They must be more than just “a good graphic novel,” they have to have something special that makes them truly gift-worthy. 4. They must have mainstream appeal.
And away we go!
Alec: The Years Have Pants HC (Top Shelf) — Eddie Campbell’s extraordinary life’s work in autobiographical comics makes a fantastic gift in hardcover. This mammoth slab of witty, whimsical and brilliant comics will keep your loved one amazed and entertained for the many weeks it will likely take them to read it. I can’t imagine a better way to get through the winter than being warmed by these charming and game-changing comics.
Castle Waiting Vols. 1 and 2 HCs (Fantagraphics) — These two huge hardcovers can currently be had for less than 50 bucks, and offer up a whole new world of wonder. Perfect for anyone who loves to be transported to another place and time.
H Day HC (Picturebox) — Renee French welcomes you into her head (literally) in this mysterious and gorgeous hardcover. More challenging than her previous efforts, but the rewards make the journey worthwhile.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Box Set (Oni Press) — If they loved the movie, get ‘em the comics! I can’t imagine a better combo gift, too, than giving both this box set and the DVD of the great movie adaptation.
Star Trek Countdown HC (IDW) — For the Trek fan in your life, there’s no better comics offering than this. Countdown tells the story of what happened before JJ Abrams recreated the Star Trek universe, bringing in characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation to explain some unanswered questions about the 2009 movie, and it all ties into the new continuity flawlessly. As a huge Trek fanatic, I absolutely consider this story canon, and would dearly love to see it adapted as an animated film to come out ahead of 2012’s next chapter in the newly-revived franchise. It’s a classy, exciting and entertaining comic, and this hardcover edition would make a great gift.
Wilson HC (Drawn and Quarterly) — Dan Clowes is one of those cartoonists that really invites the reader’s eye whether they are already ensconced in comics reading or not. Wilson offers up a wealth of opportunities for discovery, both in terms of the oblique angles of its story and the mysterious way comics can unveil its wonders.
Yuggoth Cultures HC (Avatar) — Alan Moore’s Neonomicon (with artist Jacen Burrows) is the best new Moore title in years, but it’s not collected yet. So why not give this beautiful hardcover collection of eerie and strange Moore tales (definitely adults only) to satisfy the horror fan in your life?
Those are my suggestions! Leave your recommendations in the comments, and happy holidays!
Fire & Water: Bill Everett, The Sub-Mariner, and the Birth of Marvel Comics Writer - Blake Bell Publisher - Fantagraphics Books. $39.99 USD
During his time in comics, from the start of the Golden Age to the end of 1972, Bill Everett had the respect of many of his peers for his gifts as a an artist and storyteller. His penciling in the boom time for the industry of the late ’30s through the end of World War II showed a sure, almost cocky hand, the compositions dynamic with depth and potency and an easy glide of the eyes across the page. He created Namor the Sub-Mariner, comics’ first anti-hero and still a mainstay of Marvel Comics, and frequently set his creation against Carl Burgos’ Human Torch in co-authored battles legendary for their time and still recalled fondly today. So why isn’t Everett better known?
As it turns out, Everett’s story is not one of cruel fate, the fickleness of the public, or corporate injustice, at least not more than what many other comics writers and artists went through. It’s the story of what appears to be a naturally gifted man who happened into the comics industry and stayed in it as best he could, despite not making the most of his gifts and opportunities. Yes, the Sub-Mariner’s longevity didn’t lead to fortune for him or his family, although his heirs are disinclined to take the now common legal action for the return of ownership of characters and the profits they’ve made. But Everett is more of an obscure figure than his clear talent would seem to have deserved due to chronic alcoholism by the time he was just fifteen years old, as well as problems with authority figures that would see him bounced out of many a lucrative, stable job. As well, he came from a moneyed family and often had inheritances to fall back on, so he was rarely scraping and thus enabled, could afford to be sidelined when his disease got the better of him. Also, aside from one mysterious story for editor Robert Kanigher at DC Comics, Everett did almost all his comics work for Timely/Atlas/Marvel over his career. His drinking caused him to miss deadlines or sometimes turn in inferior work, and by the early ’60s “Marvel Age,” he would often be lost in the shuffle behind the prolific Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others who could get their pages done and sometimes were in the office to help out others, like John Romita, Sr., Marie Severin and the rest of the Bullpen. Everett worked from home and would mail his pages in most times.
One of the striking revelations to Everett’s story is the pains both Stan Lee, and later, Roy Thomas, made to keep giving Everett work, despite his unreliability and—shocking—the fact that Lee never even met the man. Lee was just always a fan of his work. If anyone wondered why Everett only drew the first issue of Daredevil, it’s because he couldn’t meet the deadlines on it and needed help to get it done, so he was replaced, despite creating the look of the character and his blindness (based on Everett’s daughter being born legally blind). Still, although much of Everett’s ’60s work was journeyman and lacking his earlier panache, he did finish on a strong note in ‘72, having given up drinking and finding his old verve, only to be felled by a heart attack brought on by his other lifelong vice, a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit.
Author Bell has carved a niche in biographies of cartoonists obscure or reclusive. Although Steve Ditko differs greatly from Everett in having no apparent vices, is productive in his 80s, and has long created work born of moral and philosophical concerns, he and Everett are similar in one way: there isn’t a whole lot known about them. Not a ton of interviews, especially about their craft. Not to be crass, but this ends up working very well for Bell, because there is little on record to compare and contrast with his work, and the rather skimpy biographical details and the remembrances of family and colleagues leaves plenty of room for examples of Everett’s comics covers and storytelling, much of which makes a better argument for Everett’s importance than Bell does.
One can argue that comics analysis doesn’t really belong in a biography-cum-coffee-table-art-book, but this writer would have appreciated more in this area. Poring over the pages, one wonders why Bell doesn’t delve more into the “fire & water” of his title, such as where Everett’s early fury came from, if it ever dissipated and when, and why so many of his early characters were more at home in water or as vapor or smoke than standing with their feet on the ground. It might also have been worth exploring how in creating comics’ first anti-hero in Namor, Everett unfortunately created a character few would want to imitate, as anti-heros didn’t get long-running books, cartoons and toys until the ’70s and ’80s with Wolverine, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, etc. I would have loved to see examples of Everett’s antiauthoritarian streak playing itself out in his comics, or to learn if he had been upset about the start of the Comics Code Authority and the defanging of horror comics, since the examples shown in here are evidence he was right up there with the EC greats. Obviously, Bell can’t ask someone no longer with us, and perhaps his children just didn’t know much of their father’s feelings about his work and the changes to the industry, but it’s kind of a shame at least some of these threads aren’t explored or that there isn’t a more thorough analysis of Everett’s body of work for common themes, highlights, stylistic innovations or even shortcomings (his style seems out of place with swinging ’60s Marvel). It’s a good and valuable book, but one wonders what Bell could do with a better documented figure, if he can find an angle or provide insights not seen before. But enjoy it for what it is, a portrait and gallery of a talented, troubled artist whose work should be better known today.
In this parable about racism and equality, longtime superhero comics inker Alanguilan tells the story of Jake Gallo, a chicken born in the second generation of chickens who found themselves able to speak, with all the intelligence and emotions of humans. In fact, they’re recognized as equal, but as with blacks or Jews or any other minority, not everyone can accept this. Jake is an angry young chicken, not well adjusted like his sister or particularly brother Freddie, a rising movie star.
If the reader can accept this conceit of smart chickens, they can go onto enjoy a terrific story. Alanguilan makes it easy, developing Jake as confrontational, even unlikable, but clearly hurting. His family loves him and wants him to adjust, but it’s hard, especially as he’s just lost his father, Elmer.
What gets Jake on the path to understanding is the discovery of his father’s memoir, which explains how things were from birth to the start of their human-level sentience. Alanguilan does a good job thinking through how humanity would react to these developments, and how the longtime foodstuff poultry would react to finally having the brains needed to hate and carry out revenge. The setting and plot are believable enough given the premise, but it’s his characterization that sells it. Fighting cock Uncle Joseph was bred to be a killer and he knows he can’t escape his fate; he can only be a symbol, a legend. It’s up to the wiser Elmer to take the smarter, longer range course for acceptance with his newspaper columns about life as a chicken, and it’s up to Jake to spread his father’s story and expand upon his work.
Alanguilan’s art is extremely well-suited to the story, utilizing grids for clarity but with his inking gifts on display with lots of rural texture (farmhouses, feathers, squalor), occasionally stopping for a jaw-dropping Philippine landscape or grisly scene of devastation or mass culling. Appropriately, the chicken characters are drawn with as great a range of expression (shock, joy, contentment, rage, etc.) as the humans. It’s funny, but each time I write, “humans,” I feel odd about it; that’s how convincing a case Alanguilan makes for the chickens being just a more recently recognized form of humanity. As it seems to be the last word Alanguilan wants on this world, one could make minor quibbles over the lack of development of Jake’s sister, or Jake’s possible romantic relationship with non-chicken human Anna Rosie, but again, these are minor quibbles. It’s a very well done book.
Yes, it’s true, I’m still working my auction mojo on the eBay. Right now I have an updated set of auctions that includes hardcover and softcover graphic novels (including one Absolute edition), comic book sets, mini-series, and even a nice piece of original art.
Naive in the best possible way, C.F.’s Powr Mastrs captivated me over a year ago when I bought this volume based only on word of mouth. I hadn’t seen a single panel and from the elaborate logo and no-nonsense pricing and credits below, I thought maybe I was in for a stern sword-and-sorcery epic. And yes, it’s a fantasy, but with soft edges instead of gleaming swords and chains, shy smiles instead of grimaces.
That’s not to say it’s a spoof or deconstruction, but C.F. is taking his time getting around to the heroic journey, and that’s fine with me (that’s assuming there definitely in one, as I’ve yet to read the second and third volumes). Right now, he’s setting up the world of “Known New China” and its colorful cast of witches, warlocks, warriors, organic robots and shadowy ids.
So many characters are either in the process of transforming, already changed, or able to shift between different presentations of their selves that it all works as a delightfully fresh metaphor for the transition between adolescence and adulthood, especially offhand way C.F. digresses from anything that smacks of forward narrative momentum into the sweetly childish scenes of the Sub-Men, who look and act like they came out of Yellow Submarine. These are actually important scenes in the sense that they help build up a believable world with its own barter system, though most of the diverse creatures get along well enough that one wonders from where the conflict will emerge.
It’s fun trying to get in the author’s head a bit, wondering why he stops at this or that point to add overtly sexual elements to an otherwise innocent work starring a boy in a furry costume not a million miles away from Where the Wild Things Are. The rigid lines, while showy and a way for C.F. to directly reach his audience and remind them he’s there making the work for them, also seem to be a way to make sense of the confusing world of adulthood that’s peopled with deceitful, two-faced practitioners of magic and strange science. It’s an astonishing piece of art that leaves an impression of innocent talent to be protected even after several pages of human female/male jellyfish tentacle sex that would be purely gratuitous in most hands. And the other gift is that every time one looks at the book again, it’s hard to fight the impulse to draw. Invigorating, rewarding work.
Christopher Allen Reviews DC 1st Issue Special #3 & 4
1st Issue Special #3
Writer - Bob Haney
Artist - Ramona Fradon
1st Special #4
Writer - Robert Kanigher
Art - John Rosenberger and Vince Colletta
Publisher - DC Comics (1975)
Not that anyone cares besides me, but one of my many goals, just ahead of getting a girlfriend and paying off my Visa balance, is to read and review some obscure DC series. I reviewed the first couple issues of this a while back, and since there are no comics being published this week due to the New York ape riots, I thought I’d get back to this series.
As I mentioned before, 1st Issue Special was partly a tryout book, partly a clearinghouse for unused stories for comics that already tried and failed. Metamorpho had his own series from 1965-68 and now, in 1975, Haney and Fradon reunite for another one-and-done to gauge current interest in the character.
Haney’s pretty fun when you’re in the mood for him, with his corny dialogue like, “Gotta convert to a toppler-stopper” when Metamorpho is trying to stop a Scooby Doo-style ghostly villain from knocking over the Washington Monument. As for Fradon, I admit I don’t quite get the appeal. She’s almost Will Elder-broad in her style, which is a nice change from gritty and photorealistic, and perfectly fine for all-ages ’70s superheroing, but she doesn’t do anything clever with the storytelling. It’s all simple grids, cartoony faces, uniform line weights and the least detail or shading she can get away with. It’s a mercenary job. On the other hand, as flimsy as the story is, the one page text piece by Haney, “The Making of Metamorpho the Element Man,” makes it clear he believed.
Issue #4 brings us “Lady Cop,” and brother, it is dire.
After watching her roommates being murdered by a guy with skull-and-crossbones boots, Liza enters the police academy in order to make a difference, and no doubt eventually find that killer. At graduation, she stops a crazed academy dropout with a grenade. She’s ready.
Lady Cop (where was the deodorant tie-in?) foils a tenement rooftop rape (?) and then buys a little black girl an ice cream, thinking, “her kiss wiped out Mr. Bad Mouth’s,” which was much like a thought I had after my last annual review at work. Yes, it’s risky writing about work online, but my boss’ last name has one letter different from Badmouth, and he did more than kiss me, so it’s unlikely he’ll find this on a search.
"Lady Cop" is the kind of four color urban comics story where the thugs are all white and hold chains menacingly (?) from rooftops, while wearing magenta pants. Kanigher does what he can to bring some reality to the proceedings, with one character talking on the phone about having V.D., while a stereotypically excitable Hispanic woman exclaims, "Madre de Dios!" and "muy malo!" Lady Cop (let’s call her L.C.) knocks a would-be stabber upset that in the topsy-turvy world of 1975, "skirts" are "in the cops," unconscious against a lamppost. See, he was going to stab her and use her to wipe his shoes. Yikes. But L.C. is a pro, and even gives the guy mouth-to-mouth to bring him back.
After a distracted make-out session with her boyfriend, who feels emasculated by having a lady cop for a girlfriend, L.C. finds the V.D. girl and gives her a pep talk about V.D. being like a poison underground river that can cause blindness, insanity and death. Suitably encouraged, she (Nina) faces her father (Pinta) and after he punches L.C. in the face for his daughter’s whorishness, L.C. reminds him that his dead wife (Santa Maria) wouldn’t have cast their daughter out just for premarital sexin’.
Then, Chain Rape-o finds L.C., swings and misses, and ends up in the drink, where she has to fish him out, pondering whether she’ll ever find her roommates’ killer. Just a typical day for Lady Cop.
A miserable comic, made even more cruel by what looks like honest effort on the part of Vinnie Colletta. Why this comic, Vinnie? Why?
So I Had a Chocolate Chip Bagel AND a Jelly Donut For Dinner
…and wanted to write some jittery, unfocused thoughts on comics. I left the office late and there were leftovers from our monthly breakfast thing, and they would have been stale by morning, so…
By the way, who brings McDonald’s breakfast burritos to one of these? Weird, right? Yes, I ate one.
Thor #615 & #616 - the bar was set pretty low for me to enjoy this one. It really only took the wise move of changing the lettering font to something besides the headache-inducing Norse-like thing they were using (Helavetica? Sorry, I already used the Times New Asgardian joke in an earlier post). Having the other nine realms out of whack and ripe for a takeover due to Asgard no longer occupying its normal space is a nice idea by Matt Fraction. Pascual Ferry is fine. #616 covered much the same ground as #615, though. I know it’s another paycheck and helps to make for a bigger collection, but don’t these writers realize that fans know when they’re getting padded work, and respond accordingly when it comes time for the next issue or trade? Pick the pace back up; we’ve all got lots of other things we could be doing than reading Thor.
Generation Hope #1 - So former Thor writer Kieron Gillen moves over to this new X-book, and it’s forgettable, aside from the possible new member whose power seems to be turning into Cthulhu. I didn’t dig the art, though, and for my money we’ve already got two good New Mutant-y books going, Avengers Academy and Avengers: The Children’s Crusade.
Hellblazer: City of Demons - Why on Earth was DC sitting on this beautiful Sean Murphy work? Must have been all the crap Hellblazer graphic novels they had to release first. Si Spencer’s writing is tight as well, though I’m starting to lose sight of just what the point of this demon infection idea was, and why it seems like Constantine brings it out in people. But damn, Murphy. You really bust your ass on the page, huh?
Action Comics - It’s a good time to be Paul Cornell. The Superman books have been and continue to be so mediocre that his nicely characterized/lightly plotted Lex Luthor stories look so much better. He’s DC’s tallest little dwarf right now. I did like the necrotic nose gag with Death, though.
Superman #703 - I would like to see if Straczynski’s outline for his “Superman Across America” run actually mentioned a story where Superman fights a Kryptonite-powered redneck (or whatever you call the Ohio version of a redneck). Seems not to really go along with the point of the journey. Also, the scene with Batman really felt like he planned it to be Bruce Wayne and then had to rewrite it for Dick Grayson, but forgot to tell Eddy Barrows, who drew Dick as grimacey as Bruce. I don’t want to be one of those guys who just bitch and bitch about a comic they don’t like, so I’ll just stop reading this one.
Incognito: Bad Influences #1 - I liked the first mini almost as much as Criminal, so I’m happy to see Brubaker and Phillips back in action on what seems to me kind of Wanted done right. One thing—I think it’s fine for Zack to be in a frustrating sexual relationship with Zoe Zeppelin, but this is getting to be a little too common in Brubaker’s work, as is the subplot with his boss hating his guts. It seemed like I was reading Sleeper again. Still, it’s better than a lot of what’s out there. I liked the glimpses of past adventures we missed, like G.I. Gorilla.
Amazing Spider-Man #647 - And thus three years plus of almost weekly comics comes to an end in pretty strong fashion. I’ll miss Waid’s and Azaceta’s work together most, but generally enjoyed most of the creators, and for such a difficult schedule, editors Wacker and Brennan deserve a lot of credit for how cohesive it’s been (caveat: I’ve only read the second half of this time). This issue shuttled Harry Osborn and his new son off the book, in hiding from the long arm of father Norman, and that’s kind of a shame, as Harry’s been written pretty well. Ditto for Flash Thompson, who’s, cruel as it may sound, a better character for being a disabled war veteran. I’m happy that Peter finally chose a chance at happiness with Carlie Cooper, but one thing that’s been good about the book is that with its schedule, and the backup stories, there has been ample space to explore the supporting cast. Going back to monthly, and with one regular writer in Dan Slott, might mean that some characters fade into the background. Hope not.
I’ve got some auctions ending in a few days on eBay, and quite a few heavily-discounted items still have no bids, so you have a chance to get some great graphic novel reading at low prices in the next few days. Titles include:
Astro City (complete set of all 57 comics) by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell Godland (complete TPB set) by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli Hellboy (TPB set) by Mike Mignola Buffy Season 8 (complete comics set) by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty JLA Deluxe HCs (set of Vols. 1-3) by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter Absolute Planetary Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday Fantastic Four Omnibus HC Vol. 1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Fantastic Four Omnibus HC Vol. 2 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Gary Panter (two-volume slipcased hardcover set) by Gary Panter Absolute DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke Seaguy (complete set of both mini-series) by Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart Gotham Central (complete set of five TPBs) by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and others Achewood (two hardcover collections) by Chris Onstad
No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I’ve been doing a little non-comics writing these past few days, posted at my personal blog. Click over to read:
* My report (with pictures) on a local book fair appearance by James Howard Kunstler, who signed copies of his new book The Witch of Hebron (highly recommended) and performed a reading of three scenes from the novel.
* My review of the amazing movie Winter’s Bone, which Ed Brubaker recommended in his text page for Incognito: Bad Influences #1.
* My reflections on the seeming end of the print era, which I have to admit is somewhat mitigated by seeing the enthusiastic crowds at the book fair yesterday.
* My review of the vastly entertaining and extraordinarily important new book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Human Sexuality.
Christopher Allen Reviews Jack Kirby's OMAC: One Man Army Corps
Jack Kirby’s OMAC: One Man Army Corps
Writer/Penciler/Editor - Jack Kirby
Inkers - Mike Royer, D. Bruce Berry
In the curious but arguably appropriate newsprint under hardcover DC format, this short-lived late ’70s Kirby DC project (eight issues) is a potent mix of wild ideas, headlong storytelling, and kitschy Kirby phrasing that nonetheless feels like a long walk for a short day at the beach, especially with DC’s cutthroat cancelation in the middle of a storyline.
Kirby’s notion of the mohawked super-cop OMAC, a normal guy named Buddy Blank getting a new identity and powers beamed to him by a mysterious sentient satellite named Brother Eye, is fascinating, though Kirby doesn’t get around to explaining how OMAC’s crime-busting principles jibe with the Global Peace Authority, a faceless force of agents who do not take any violent action of their own to keep the peace. It seems like cheating to subcontract this duty to OMAC, and of course there’s the issue of whether Buddy wanted to become OMAC in the first place. Sure, it beats his nebbishy former life as a real nobody (“Blank” indeed!), but he isn’t given a choice.
Kirby doesn’t seem particularly interested in characterization (there are no ongoing supporting characters for OMAC, nor is he at all introspective), or philosophy (the GPA are presented as basically benevolent, with no exploration of whether there are any flaws in their actions, or that it might lead to corruption. What Kirby wants is to, as he did in most of his solo ’70s work, just set up a hero against a succession of colorful, physically ugly bad guys with jazzy names like “Major Domo,” “Mister Big” and “Marshall Kafka” and his “Multi-Killer.” Much of Kirby’s work found him fighting through his heroes against cruel, Hitleresque villains in different guises, and this is no exception. It does serve to point out the value Stan Lee brought to their collaborations, however, as in very few cases does Kirby ever explore villains who have any dimension to them besides pure evil.
There are some interesting threads introduced here and there, such as OMAC being assigned foster parents in order to understand humanity better, but they’re quickly forgotten before that issue even ends, and not discussed again. Kirby’s notorious for starting to draw his comics with one idea in mind and then ending up somewhere else by the end, and while it can be exhilarating it also shot-circuits some dramatic possibilities.
If there’s any theme unifying the stories here, it’s that criminals will always use the latest technological advances as fresh opportunities to make a buck, whether it’s the lifelike robotic companions of the first issue, or subsequent stories featuring old crooks able to transfer their minds into the bodies of healthy, youthful kidnap victims, or the “atom collapsing” bar devised by Doctor Skuba to drain the world’s oceans for ransom money. That story, with its hints that Skuba’s daughter and son-in-law aren’t even human, is one of the better ones here, which is why it’s all the more disappointing that it ends so abruptly, with OMAC depowered back to a helpless Buddy Blank, a final panel not by Kirby wrapping the series up unconvincingly. One of many Kirby works for DC that suffers for being cut short too early, though of course the same act adds to its mythical potential. A fine Introduction by Mark Evanier puts the series in context.
Right now I have some items up on eBay, softcover and hardcover graphic novels and comics, at pretty steep discounts. Titles include Hellboy (both softcover and the hardcover Library Editions) Godland (both softcover and the hardcover Celestial Editions), Gotham Central, Buffy Season 8, Achewood HCs, From Hell, JLA Deluxe HCs, and more. If you’re looking for hours of great comics reading without paying full price, please click to view my eBay auctions.
Entertainment Weekly sent along their newest issue, #1127, which cover-features next year’s Captain America: The First Avenger movie.
Longtime EW go-to comics guy Jeff Jensen writes the article, which looks at the approach to the film and features some good quotes from lead actor Chris Evans, who played the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, although he looks so different in Cap that I might not have realized it if I hadn’t been told.
The article features some nice photos from the set that indicate to me that the movie is hewing close to the Ultimates version of Captain America’s origin, and that’s fine with me, as the first volume of The Ultimates featured a nuanced and intriguing take on Steve Rogers that was, in retrospect, a high-water moment from the writing career of Mark Millar. I get the feeling this movie will complement the Iron Man movies well, and after learning that Joss Whedon is writing and directing the Avengers movie that will follow Cap (I’m sure everyone but me already knew almost everything in this article that comes as news to me, but I haven’t really been paying attention), I have to admit I’m pretty excited for these next couple of Marvel movies (Thor, not so much).
There’s other comics-related content in the new EW as well, including a roundtable child-actor interview that includes the young woman who played Hit-Girl in the movie adaptation of Kick-Ass, a review of the Walking Dead pilot by the always-good Ken Tucker, and Tucker again on the 40th anniversary Doonesbury hardcover.
Someone this week (I think it was Tom Spurgeon) mentioned how far comics has come in terms of being accepted by the public as just another pop-culture arena, and this Entertainment Weekly issue certainly goes a long way to proving that theory.
Whatever new phrase has replaced “hot mess,” well, this series is it. Although, I guess something has to be more compelling to follow to be a true hot mess, right? These two issues continue JMS’ first WW arc, “Odyssey,” where Diana has been rebooted as a sassy, jegging-clad Amazonian chosen one, on a journey to find purpose. JMS mixes the expected Greek-based mythology here, including a quick trip through Hades, with a kind of non-Hebrew desert exodus for the Amazonians. They’re on the run from some army who conveniently can’t seem to use their vehicles to track down a bunch of women walking on foot through a desert. It may have been explained who these guys are in a previous issue, but a month or two later and I’ve forgotten.
Diana is injured by harpies called Keres, who steal her soul, and this plunges her in Hades, where the ferryman Charon explains that with his master Hades gone, he just doesn’t have the heart to ferry all the lost souls over the River Styx to get their punishment. It’s an odd scene that doesn’t seem to have much of a point, and has the effect of making this version of Hell really silly. Adding to that is that Diana has to cross over and pass Cerberus to get back to her world (I guess she grabbed her soul back at some point?), and this potentially dramatic moment is utterly ruined by confusing storytelling. The three-headed dog creature looks fierce, then sniffs at her, and goes to sleep, or dies, or just gets reallly relaxed. I’m not sure what JMS wanted to convey here—Diana smells really good? She’s so pure of heart that it knocks Cerberus out, as he’s used to smelling only corrupt souls? Dunno.
#604 is maybe a little worse, as it spends a lot of time on a burned up, supernaturally powered adversary who apparently killed Diana’s mother and took her lasso of truth. Diana patiently waits several pages for his origin story, then yells at him that she couldn’t care less about his origin, and they fight. She’s about to kill him but the spirit of her mother steps in to do the job, cautioning Diana that she cannot kill because she must be the spirit of hope to her people.
Straczynski seems uneasy with the stiffness of speech normally associated with mythological beings and noble foreigners, so whenever he can he defaults to the stammering and sarcasm more typical of middle class Americans 45 and under. It’s not a bad idea for Diana, who can use any trick in the book to try to make her more accessible to readers, but the smugness is tiresome on the villains as it’s been so overdone. He also laces each issue with some doozies that apparently no editor can question, like the Keres sneering at Diana for not knowing “the language of trees” (there were no trees nearby and the Keres seemed to have no visible association with trees, nor were trees ever mentioned again), and the double negative of, “…for this did not begin, nor will it not end, with his death.” So it will end with his death? No?
The silliness would go over a lot easier with artists who were more than teeth-grindingly mediocre. Neither Kramer nor Pansicca can keep a consistent face on Diana, nor are they able to draw action scenes with any verve or imagination. The best that can be said of them is that it’s a rare case where two pencilers on one book isn’t that jarring, but that’s only because they’re both similarly poor.
About the only thing JMS has gotten right is presenting a Diana who is strong-willed and capable but still finding herself. The idea of her going on his journey and picking up her necessary tools (shield, lasso, discovering she can fly) is fine, and really, unavoidable, but so far there amid all the tough talk and posing there has been no attempt to give her any interesting supporting characters, nor much exploration of how she feels to be going through these changes, to suddenly be the savior for a race of people she hardly knows. Instead we’re getting tepid rewrites of Greek myths and unmemorable enemies. It’s not working.
Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s Editor - Greg Sadowski Publisher - Fantagraphics Books. $29.99 USD
I might have reviewed this book a little differently a week or two ago, but in ramping up to Halloween I’ve been watching a number of horror films, new and old. And one realizes that there are few differences between this installment of the Friday the 13th or Final Destination or Saw franchises, really. You go in expecting adherence to certain tropes of the genre, and if there are some surprises, great, but that’s not really why anyone watches them.
The EC Comics horror titles were popular because they adhered to a winning story model of the wicked getting their just desserts, often in grisly fashion, and as depicted by some very talented artists. But the EC titles like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror become notorious as touchstones for investigations into whether such comics warped impressionable young minds. This ended the books but also later cemented in the minds of many the idea that in that era, these were, if not the only horror comics published, at least the only ones worthy of later consideration.
That Greg Sadowski has gathered up 40 or so mostly forgotten non-EC Comics is cause for celebration, if perhaps a muted and brief one. We are living in a time when comics publishers are digging up more and more old work for the aging core fanbase. Classic, near-classic and even mediocre old newspaper strips get deluxe hardcover reprints with adoring essays and copious background material, not unlike the expensive CD box set devoted to one artist. This volume is more like a “Best of the ’50s” compilation CD, priced to move, or a Warner Home Video Film Noir box set, each disc featuring an unrestored film, commentary track from a devotee, and skimpy featurette.
That isn’t to say the scholarship on this volume is lacking; indeed, Sadowski does an excellent job of providing historical information for the talent and studios producing each story here, with fellow ’50s comics expert John Benson chipping in on some of these as well as starting off the proceedings with a tart Introduction about the contents and how they were arranged.
Sadowski is wise to arrange the work “aesthetically,” basically following each story with one as far as possible from it in tone, plot and artistic style. It works far better than trying to sequence by theme, artists or studios, and emphasizes that these stories are meant to be fun, consumed in their five or six page chunks or in a long jag. The cover also conveys the lack of pretention, with a grinning ghoul chomping on a chicken leg, glossy, overlaid blood spattering below.
Although Benson’s Introduction admonishes the reader to consider the writing, not just the art, there isn’t much here that rises above joyous trash. It’s charming that the Iger Studios effort, “Corpses…Coast to Coast,” about an organized, industrial army of zombies, is absolutely free of allegory, but, well, that’s all there is to it. Lou Cameron displays Ditko-level skills at depicting strange worlds in “The Maze Master,” and bonus points for doing it with such small panels. The halftone textures of Harry Lazarus’ “Nightmare” are thrilling, and there are also a pair of gorgeously exuberant Jack Cole stories, “Custodian of the Dead” and “Valley of Horror” (the latter a bit more restrained, actually), and Basil Wolverton is always fun and always a little out of place wherever he goes. Bob Powell’s “Colorama,” one of the few stories I already knew, is here, but so are several other Powell tales—he and Howard Nostrand appear about the most. In fact, as the main aim of the book is to present the best ’50s non-EC horror work, it’s a little puzzling that we have stories like Nostrand’s “Dust unto Dust” and Wallace Wood’s “The Thing from the Sea.” True, they came from other publishers, but Nostrand’s storytelling is (as Sadowski notes) heavily influenced by Harvey Kurtzman’s, and Wood’s story is text-heavy and with a dead lettering style not unlike an Al Feldstein script, and plotwise it fits well within the EC formula. Still, it’s a fine story, and Wood eases up on the narration to let the action flow better after a couple pages.
The book ends up being just about right. Good scholarship to put the stories into context, a glossy gallery in the middle of covers of the horror comics magazines of the day, and a highly entertaining selection of material from some of the better talents of the era. As far as reproduction, they have elected to stay faithful to the original comic book when original art wasn’t available, with no retouching or recoloring, against a creamy white paper that is much whiter than old newsprint but not at all glossy. It’s a good compromise. Some of the work is stunning to look at, and some looks faded, but that’s a pretty realistic expectation with an anthology, especially a $30 softcover one. When I wrote earlier that the celebration for this book might be brief, it wasn’t to denigrate the book itself, which is a solid primer and should be an entertaining one for years to come, but to point out that sometimes books like these are first steps towards more lavish or more focused work to come. We are seeing books on cartoonists like Mort Meskin and Fletcher Hanks that would have been hard to conceive of earlier in the decade. A volume on Bob Powell or Howard Nostrand might not be far behind. And that’s exciting.
I think up until a few years ago, I would have preferred the “Theakstonized” approach of upping the contrast in Photoshop and trying to make the old, scanned pages look shiny, white and new again (and yes, I realize this is not how Theakston’s process is accomplished, or at least was when he invented it, but the end result is much the same, hence the quote marks). But somewhere along the line, I began to really appreciate the value of a high-quality but mostly-unretouched scan of the original comics pages. Let’s face it, the original art and/or films for 95 percent of all comics ever printed are probably long gone, and I can tell you from my experience as a radio station production director, you can make a digital file different but you absolutely can never make it better than the original sound file, art scan, whatever digital file format you happen to be dealing with.
Knowing that, I think publishers ought to take a real interest in making sure, if they are reproducing old comics, that they have people on their staff who are experts at all aspects of scanning in old pages, and making sure they resemble as closely as possible the (hopefully decent-condition) ancient artifacts they are preserving and resurrecting for a new generation of readers.
* Avoid the Future interviews cartoonist Kevin Huizenga: “The inner compulsion I have is to put together something with a kind of complex structure, with some complex arrangement of things that surprises me, or makes me feel like my favorite comics do.” More in the link.
* Jim Lee talks to Publisher’s Weekly on the occasion of his 20th year making comics. His ultra-slick-but-still-kinda-awkward style has never been my cuppa, but I have to give him credit for running the imprint responsible for bringing me some of my favourite comics of all time, like Warren Ellis’s Stormwatch, The Authority and Planetary, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Sleeper and Alan Moore’s entire line of America’s Best Comics.
I’ve had this gem for a few months now, always turning up somewhere around the house or in my backpack. I guess I was hoping for that perfect time to review it, when the book had fully crystalized for me. Finally, I realized that wasn’t going to happen, and that’s fine.
Young Lions isn’t so much about a specific thing that I can tell, but it does deal with how things sometimes don’t quite work out, and how a moment of shimmering magic, pure love or perfect harmony can become ennui, discord or heartbreak before you know how good you had it. Wilson, Alice and Cody are clever, attractive young people who are a tight unit, but there’s something missing. They try on different ideas and theories like sweaters, and it’s with this blithe spirit they become involved with Holly, a pretty blonde who’s part lost soul, part muse, part wood nymph, part siren. An unschooled rustic original, open and guileless yet not giving anything away that would reduce her. Is she a pawn, a mascot, a sacrificial lamb, a catalyst or passenger?
A hipster party leads to a road trip to Holly’s old hovel, a romantic interlude, quiet anguish. As Wilson tells Cody early on, “Like many dreamers, you mistake disenchantment for truth.” Cody tries to take a picture of Holly at one point, but admits it didn’t come out well. It’s so hard to capture a moment accurately, and moments with Holly resist capture completely. She doesn’t know the way herself, but can at least show them how to push forward and combat inertia.
Larmee does a lot here that works so well, yet seemingly so offhandedly, that it’s hard to tell how much calculation really went into it. For example, leaving the book in reproduced pencils is not just pretty but adds to both the ethereal beauty of Holly but also the sense that the characters are in transition, not completely formed and adult yet. The extra detail given to the pattern of Wilson’s sweater or the shine on his eyeglass frames is not just tactile but creates a game between reader and creator as to whether more important information is being conveyed in softer background pencils, the darker lines and patterns merely distractions.
And what to make of the rosy circles on Cody’s cheeks, often created by Larmee’s inky fingerprint? At first I thought it was a kind of clown makeup affectation of Cody, intoxicated by art and performance, rather than just blushing. I kind of prefer the former interpretation even if it’s wrong.
The character designs are marvelous as well, with all four very childlike with their large heads, slender limbs, and lack of obvious adult sexual characteristics. There’s the way the latter pages seem even less distinct, Larmee withholding those precious concrete details to grab onto, emphasizing how the bonds between the group are already slipping away. The use of song lyrics as commentary on the action and tart, physical counterpart to the dreaminess is very effective as well. And I don’t even want to ruin the Yoko Ono thing, other than to point out it’s but one more of many wonderful elements a reader can derive meaning from or leave alone. For a book that on the surface seems rather casually put together, it’s actually rather stuffed with any number of meanings, and doesn’t read quite the same way twice. Stunning and invigorating.
Christopher Allen Reviews Thirteen Going On Eighteen
Thirteen Going on Eighteen
Writer/Artist - John Stanley
Publisher - Drawn & Quarterly
Artists come and go, and one can never tell who will have lasting impact and who will drift into obscurity. Those listening to the radio in the early ’90s may be surprised that Rivers Cuomo has long outlasted Alanis Morrissette, and sold more records than Jewel. Sometimes an artist who helped define his age, like Frank Capra, falls out of favor or doesn’t become a major influence on the next generation of artists, while an iconoclast like Nicolas Ray or Samuel Fuller gain more stature as the years go on, picking up champions from the generation after. Maybe 30 years from now, a Mark Waid or Kurt Busiek will have been out so long some young tyro will new inspiration in their work and pass it on for curious audience.
When you’re dead and can’t engineer any sort of comeback or reappraisal on your own, it becomes a matter of luck who will be favored and who favors you. And sometimes it’s a matter of genre. Whereas an author like Dan Nadel has pointed readers back to ’60s genre specialists like Sam Glanzman (war, jungle), Pete Morisi (crime, superheroes) and Pat Boyette (superheroes, horror, Western), their revivals have yet to occur. Perhaps it’s inevitable in this age of reprints, or perhaps it’s that genre work from this period and earlier is still seen as trash by many in the artcomix crowd, or with those with the wherewithal to get this stuff back in print.
Somehow, innocuous humor comics of the ’60s have made the cut, celebrated by respected cartoonists like Los Bros Hernandez and Seth. Naturally, one of the foremost cartoon humorists of that era, John Stanley, was given entrance to the pantheon of the greats, and he’s enjoyed a great deal of his past work being reprinted, starting with Dark Horse’s affordable, pocket-sized collection of Little Lulu, and then in 2008, the beginnings of the Seth-designed John Stanley Library, which presented full-sized reprints of ’60s Dell comics like Melvin Monster and Nancy in lavish hardcovers with covers, endpapers and Introductions by Seth, yet still giving off the look of a crappy newsprint comic one might have read until dog-eared on a long car ride or family vacation.
This volume, published in 2009, is the biggest of the bunch, as it collects nine issues of the twenty-five original issues of the series (29 total issues, the last four reprints). Seth writes in his Introduction (actually an edit of a Comics Journal piece, also recently reprinted in The Best American Comics Criticism) how Thirteen is the Stanley series dearest to him, and it’s such an affecting essay it really builds up a great deal of expectation for the contents to follow.
Unfortunately, the series actually gets off to a slow start with Tony Tallarico’s flat, homely but slick style weighing down what effervescence there is in Stanley’s scripts, and frankly, there isn’t much. There’s some very flat soda pop about a giggling fit in the library and piffle about a girl’s machinations trying to be asked to a dance. It’s like Stanley had made notes on what he wanted to explore—cute, blonde Val is the popular, mercurial teen; her zaftig friend Judy is there for fat jokes; and young version Judy Junior (Seth has the fanciful notion this is an entirely different character) is there for slapstick gags revolving around her being a bully—but he takes a while to find a groove.
It takes a couple issues, but once Stanley starts drawing his scripts, he seems to lose the flopsweat and gain more confidence in what to do with the characters. What’s kind of interesting is that Stanley is so relentless with his gags and able to hone in on the winning formula, abandoning what isn’t working (there’s a dopey teen romance that doesn’t provide much yuks, and it’s gone in a few issues). He’s an odd guy to call for reappraisal of, because there is almost no trace of an auteur there. He’s not using fat Judy (who suddenly gets thinner from issue #4 on) as a vehicle to vent childhood frustrations. It doesn’t seem like he’s trying to understand women or children any better by writing Val and Judy. At least, I hope not—they’re cunts. Ultimately very funny cunts, but cunts all the same, and I say this having close female friends who could be labeled as such at times (I call them The Vinegar Sisters, and they like it). Val is fickle, scatterbrained, scheming, manipulative, completely self-involved and has no idea what love is, while Judy is a cruel pig who rarely misses a chance to use the only weapon she has against her supposed friend Val, her lacerating wisecracks.
But Stanley doesn’t need to understand his characters, exactly. He just has to keep putting them through his familiar comedic rhythms and premises until the ideas start flowing more and more naturally. He’s a ruthless craftsman, and part of a line from H.L. Mencken and W.C. Fields through Ricky Gervais and Larry David that knows how funny an asshole can be. It’s just that in these comics, Stanley is dealing with the female version. A Val who softens and tries to consider the feelings of others, or a Judy Junior who doesn’t push Jimmy Fuzzi around, ain’t funny. To try to character this work as layered or having unseen depth is actually to demean the rich tradition of gag cartooning. Stanley creates a machine in this series containing several premises to not only produce gags but to keep producing them, requiring only that the reader have the basic understanding of human nature that most people, especially teen girls, are selfish and silly but kind of adorable for it. Anything that doesn’t work is out or at least diminished (such as fewer appearances for Val’s mom and sister). It takes a little fine-tuning (and I don’t care as much for the Judy/Wilbur date strips as some) but by the middle of the book, it really hums along and you want more. And hey, there’s a couple more volumes’ worth left to reprint.
Brubaker, Fraction, and A Comment on The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics
My recent mention of The Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics (and a link to my first post on the subject, back in 2007 — boy, superhero comics have generally sucked for years now, huh?) generated this comment from reader Felicity Walker:
"The Fan-Fiction Age" is a good name for how I feel about a lot of recent comics.
Surprisingly enough, I think part of why modern comics feel like fanfic is because of what should be a good thing: the rise of the direct market that allows comics that don’t have to have to be vetted for news-stands. The comics I grew up on — the ones that feel like “real” comics to me — range from all-ages news-stand comics like the original Transformers and Spectacular Spider-Man to specialty-shop purchases like Howard Chaykin’s Blackhawk and Dark Horse’s Mecha.
Those still feel like real comics when I read them. Most comics today don’t, even the relatively good ones. Something has changed. Maybe it’s the way writers write, or the way people talk that writers are trying to capture in their dialogue. Maybe it’s all the computer-colouring and computer-lettering. Maybe it’s all the in-jokes and meta-humour. But I can’t shake the feeling that for mainstream superhero comics, something got lost when they stopped being made for the casual news-stand reader as well as the die-hard fan.
I wanted to highlight Felicity’s comments because I thought they were pretty apt, and also because she left her comment via Blogger on the old version of my blog, so it’s unlikely anyone would see it unless I gave it its own post here and now.
I totally, completely agree with what she says about most corporate superhero comics these days not seeming like “real comics,” despite the fact that it opens Felicity, myself (and doubtless thousands of other disenfranchised readers) up to easy dismissal on the grounds that our displeasure is vague and possibly curmudgeonly.
That being said, it still seems just that way. The corporate superhero comic book I am probably most invested in right now is Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s Invincible Iron Man, and as much as I enjoy it, even that doesn’t quite seem like “real comics.” Fraction’s writing is fine and entertaining, if post-ironic and firmly in the Warren Ellis Forum School (if you’re too young to understand the reference, I’m too old and tired to explain it), but some combination of the production values and Larroca’s Josh Holloway-based Tony Stark result in a reading experience that has its pleasures but does not feel anything at all like reading a comic book in the classic sense as I understand and have experienced it since 1972.
Which isn’t to say everything that Marvel publishes doesn’t feel like comics. Criminal feels like comics to me, as did the first Incognito mini-series and doubtless the imminent follow-up will continue the trend. Brubaker’s Secret Avengers #5 was probably the best standalone issue of a Marvel comic book I have read in years. But for all the world, when it comes to reading comics-that-feel-like-comics, at least in the corporate superhero realm, Ed Brubaker seems to be the lone standard-bearer now in the same manner that Alan Moore was around the time the ABC line was hitting its peak.
* Joe Queenan loves Peanuts: “Peanuts was always there as a touchstone and a balm. Unlike so many other venerated objects in US pop culture, it was sweet without being stupid, reassuring without being infantile. In the dark era in which it began, it served much the same function as I Love Lucy. The difference was it had brains.”
* Love and Rocktober! Jaunty Sean T. Collins reflects on the first two volumes of Love and Rockets: New Stories: “The problems in the story—Penny’s rampage, a breakout at a female supervillain penitentiary, a supervillainness out for vengeance, a Bizarro Ti-Girl—are all caused by women, addressed by women, solved by women, and have consequences felt by women. I actually think you might have a hard time getting this comic to pass a reverse Bechdel Rule, in fact.” More in the link.
Guest Post: Kevin Pasquino Looks at Recent DC Comics Covers
Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m a newcomer to the world of comic books. Sometimes I like to step back and try to look at the medium I love with new eyes. And whenever I do so I inevitably have to scratch my head and wonder if anyone who publishes comic books ever takes the time to examine what image they’re selling (and therefore sending) to the world.
And this becomes even more exasperating when DC Comics is publishing the adventures of a hero who is going to make his multi-million dollar debut on the big screen next year, because I would have thought that someone way high up the corporate ladder would say…
“Whoa, guys, are you really going to put out a cover that looks like that? How the hell are you expecting to sell that a year from now when the movie comes out? Don’t you want to have something on the shelf that people will enjoy reading and that they could share with other people? Y’know, like, maybe you guys could plan ahead and anticipate that there might be some interest in the character and the spin-offs and then maybe they could get interested in other books? I mean, is this really the best you guys can come up with? Seriously? Cuz has anyone looked at this crap?”
The character in question is Green Lantern.
Next summer he makes his big screen debut. And I’m sure that DC Comics and their corporate parent, the mega-corporation quaintly known as Warner Bros., are hoping that the film will be a huge hit and will inspire an amazing series of films and will perhaps boost the sales of the character’s adventures in mainstream bookstores. And if people enjoy Green Lantern then characters such as The Atom, Hawkman, Plastic Man and The Flash will begin to sound cool and interesting. And they will become major movie characters. And their success will inspire more movies. And so on. And so on.
Therefore I would think that it is important that Green Lantern be interesting, approachable and presentable. Corporately it would make sense because he’s going to be the poster boy for all of the great things that are to come. Because of the movie, Green Lantern becomes the flagship character for DC Comics in 2011.
This brings me to Exhibit A in The Case of Questionable Editorial Conduct: the cover to Green Lantern #57…
Carol Ferris, Green Lantern’s sometimes girl friend, is decked out in her Star Sapphire outfit and she appears to be the captive of some masked guy who is wearing some kind of shiny leather outfit. Background characters are also in chains, but none of them are at the feet of their captor and none of them have their basketball-sized breasts begging to fall out of their costume.
(I’m tempted to have my seven year old describe the cover. He’d probably say that the woman looks angry because she’s in chains and because she’s sitting on a cold floor wearing only a bathing suit and tall boots. I’d ask him if perhaps she looks both mad and excited. My son would then ask me how she could be both at the same time. I’d try to explain how sometimes people can be both angry and stimulated and there is a wonderful thing know as “make-up sex.” I would then get in trouble with his mother for showing him the comic book.)
This isn’t to say that this is a horrible cover, but it certainly makes the series look like the tawdrier parts of a cheesy 1960s B-movie. It sort of looks like Barbarella but cheaper. It’s hardly the stuff of a modern, big budget summer action movie.
Moving on: just as CSI has its Miami and New York, and Law & Order has its SVU and LA, Green Lantern has its spin-offs as well. The most recent book to sprout under the Green Lantern umbrella is Emerald Warriors.
Once again, one would expect that a new spin-off would be very aware of the upcoming movie. Interest in the main character should flow to the secondary books. All of these titles will be sitting side by side on a bookshelf display next summer.
This brings me to Exhibit B in The Mystery of Does Anyone Care What These Books Look Like: the cover to Emerald Warriors #2…
Guy Gardner, the man who could have been Green Lantern, now has his own series and the second issue has him pinned to the ground by some sort of super villain who is wearing tight leather. He seems to be doing his very best to push her away but he is being very, very, careful not to touch her breast as he’s doing so. She’s got a skeleton over her head. He looks angry. She is vomiting.
(Again, I imagine asking my son about the cover. He’d explain that he’s angry because he’s on the ground and it’s cold and she’s trying to choke him. He’d then ask me why she’s coughing up blood. I’d explain to him that she’s a Red Lantern. He’d ask if all of them puke blood. He’d ask why she has wings on her head. He’d ask why she’s wearing long boots. I wouldn’t have a good answer to any of his questions. I would then begin to explain the concept of “snowballing” and the education I got from watching Clerks but I would then think better of it and hold my tongue. Nevertheless, I still get in trouble with his mother.)
Like the first example, this isn’t an incredibly horrible cover because it at least gives some hint of conflict within the story. The blood-like vomit isn’t a great selling point, but there is the promise of some sort of sci-fi action contained within. But it would have been nice if the cover was something besides two characters wrestling. Perhaps some sense of cosmic adventure or a sci-fi setting would have been nice. Because, as is, this cover looks like it could take place in a very white gymnasium.
Which brings me to the final example: Exhibit C in The Secret of the Editors Who Don’t Care What It Looks Like Because Fanboys Will Buy It Anyway: the cover to Emerald Warriors #5…
To be blunt, this has simply got to be the worst superhero cover of the year. I look at it and wonder who would be enticed to purchase it. If someone has bought issues one through four, then I guess they’d buy it to ensure they haven’t missed an issue. But otherwise it’s worse than buying an issue of Playboy and reading it on a bus full of school children because at least then you could claim that you bought it for the articles and, look, there’s an interview with Philip Roth and short fiction by Tom Robbins. This cover, with the main character bleeding from his eyes and projectile vomiting towards something off-screen, is disgusting. It does not sell (or tell anything) about the comic. It is horrible beyond description.
(I imagine showing this book to my seven year old. He looks at me with confusion in his eyes. He starts crying. He has nightmares when he goes to bed. My wife asks what upset him, and, after I explain, she questions what sort of comic books I’m buying and then refuses to talk to me for a week.)
The only way I can possibly rationalize this cover is that it must have been some sort of dare. It’s as if all the editors where trying to see how far they could push it and were expecting for someone to step in and say, “You have got to be kidding. We can’t print this.” and they’d say “You’re right! April Fools! Here’s the real cover!” and someone would have to pay someone else five bucks because they lost the bet. It simply must be a joke that went too far.
Because if that’s not the case, with this issue of Emerald Warriors it’s obvious that DC simply does not care what is on any of their covers (let alone what’s on the cover of a book that will tie into a movie that will hopefully launch a mega-successful series of films and replace the soon-to-be disappearing Harry Potter series.)
And, to compar
e apples to apples, the covers for The Walking Dead -– a comic about zombies and the people threatened by them -– never feature zombies with their brains pouring out of their exploded skulls. There is a sense of humanity, menace and tragic loss in most of that series’ cover images. It’s as if the creators are aware that they have a zombie comic, but they don’t have to try to repulse their fans (and potential new readers) with lurid images.
It’s not that I expect comic books to be just for kids. But a comic book shouldn’t be something I’m embarrassed to be carrying. It shouldn’t make people cringe when they look at it. Or question what sort of person I am for reading it.
They say you can’t tell a book by its cover. But you can certainly tell whether a company has any interest in marketing to anyone other than a well-trained, whipped and obedient fanboy reader. DC obviously isn’t looking ahead to 2011 and the world-wide success of the Green Lantern movie. They are quite content playing in the disgusting little cesspool they’ve created.
Wow. Well, we like us some Tony Isabella around TWC and always have, but I’m not really having any part of this post talking about some sort of recent Marvel decline since “The Heroic Age” began. I’m especially not buying it if he’s going to hold up X-Men Forever, sort of the comics version of Ensure to keep old readers from starving when they don’t have much appetite for real food, as a high watermark of 2010 Marvel. Just…no.
"The Heroic Age" is, first of all, still in pretty early stages to be blasting at yet, with most of the series just finishing their first story arcs, but so be it. There’s a lot of Bendis comics, and I think they’re pretty but forgettable and stretched out, so no argument there. Ed Brubaker, another favorite around here, is still doing decent work on Captain America, though I think he’s kind of said about all he’s going to say with Bucky, and having him sleeping with the Black Widow doesn’t mean he’s actively developing their relationship. Jonathan Hickman is maybe showing some shortcomings in his approach now, but Fantastic Four and S.H.I.E.L.D. are still pretty decent. That Abnett/Lanning cosmic universe stuff didn’t really grab me, pre-Heroic or now, but it’s competent. Daredevil is ridiculous and Andy Diggle needs to get out of the Kitchen, soon, but the X-Men and Wolverine titles are actually all okay, even if this vampire thing is not really taking off yet, and you can see a lot of the plot points a mile away. Hulk is fun, though we really only need the one book and I couldn’t care less about his kids and the Gamma-bam-thank-you-ma’am women he used to bang.
There are some nice surprises on the fringe, like Black Widow, X-23, Avengers Academy and even Daken, but to me the best current book is Amazing Spider-Man, especially when handled by Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta. Azaceta isn’t even a guy whose style you’d think of as being a great fit for Spidey, but he’s good at drawing people, and that works better in this series than others where cool poses and big muscles rule. And Waid and his other rotating writers have really done a good job of giving Peter Parker new challenges, a credible new love interest who actually has a life of her own in Carly Cooper, and some situations where Pete doesn’t just fail and gripe and wisecrack about it, but actually has to confront his failures and maybe grow from them. Admittedly, it’s telling that Waid is able to be Editor-in-Chief of another publisher and still find time to be one of Marvel’s top five writers. Even in the “One Moment in Time” story, which wasn’t something I was looking forward to, writer Joe Quesada gave added to both Peter’s and Mary Jane’s characters when she confronts him with his own selfishness, the act that led to her still knowing about their marriage when the rest of the world was made to forget. Such knowledge is not only a burden for her but potentially dangerous, and if he loved her selflessly and maturely, Pete really should have let her forget.
A lot of this, of course, is just differing opinions. As Tony often says, your mileage may vary. But I do take issue with his using Secret Avengers and Secret Warriors as examples of Marvel characters not upholding the heroic values The Heroic Age was supposed to bring back. Secret Warriors, for one thing, is canceled, so it’s not like there was any reason to change direction for the last handful of months it had, and Secret Avengers aren’t doing any real black ops type of missions. They caught a terrorist using mainly just Cap’s shield and four tits, and then they went to freaking Mars to stop a cult. I mean, pick on the band of killers in Uncanny X-Force, by all means, but if that perfect example isn’t mentioned, then I’m wondering if the gripe is based on a fair, wide reading of the comics or not.
P.S. I have an aversion to the font used (Times New Asgardian?), so it’s hard for me to get through Thor. I can’t be alone in this, can I?
* In a masterpiece of understatement, Tony Isabella addresses the drop in quality of recent Marvel superhero comics. I’d track the plummet back to Grant Morrison’s departure from New X-Men, but Tony’s been keeping up with things better than I have. Tony champions Chris Claremont’s X-Men Forever in the same piece, but Claremont’s bag of tricks stopped working for me around the time Paul Smith stopped drawing Uncanny. I do know that in the past decade, Ed Brubaker is about the only writer working for Marvel that I’d consider a truly talented writer. Maybe there are great Marvel comics I’ve missed in recent years; if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.
Christopher Allen Reviews House of Mystery Annual #2
House of Mystery Annual #2 (2010)
Various Writers and Artists
Vertigo. $4.99 USD
I’m going to cop to unfairness right upfront. I don’t read House of Mystery and I’m not really interested in a comprehensive review of this issue. I thought Matthew Sturges, the regular series writer, created a nice framework with these four trick-or-treaters showing up to The House, whereupon we learn they’re middle-aged and cursed to trick-or-treat forever, never growing up and out of their costumes. Then, the creative teams for other sort of magic-based Vertigo books get to play with these “kids” in their own short stories, which also serve the function of maybe getting the reader to buy one or two of those series. Fine idea, and most everybody did about what one would expect: slight, pretty efforts that don’t serve as the best introductions to their respective series, and are inessential to those already reading those books but not reading House of Mystery. It’s a meh-meh proposition. Two days later, I don’t remember anything but that the iZombie story had nice if disarmingly slick Mike Allred artwork, took place on a lake, and if not for the name you’d never know it had anything to do with zombies.
The one story that stood out for me, muy negatively, was the Matt Wagner/Brandon Graham Madame Xanadu story. Graham offers some lovely, delicate but bold art, giving me that kind of jolt I felt when Jordan Crane did The Clouds Above, a style that’s suddenly there and you don’t want it to go away. Graham’s not the issue, Matt Wagner is. He writes backgrounds for these kids, all of them horribly traumatic, and it’s like he didn’t get the memo that a) these aren’t kids anymore, and b) living as a child in a Halloween costume for forty years supplies much more fertile ground for trauma excavation than daddy and his sour whiskey smell, right? That’s what got me, the hackneyed descriptions, with Wagner trying to jam as many putrid adjectives into the narration in case the reader was unclear that, say, putting out a cigarette on a child’s torso is not going to be remembered fondly. Wagner can be a terrific, insightful writer, but here he phones it in. Wouldn’t some positive or unusual adjectives give the story an extra frisson? Daddy always chewed Fruit Stripe gum before he touched me and he usually got through three pieces before he was done, so the smell of his breath changed and got more complicated, since he didn’t spit any out, just kept adding to it.
(with all apologies to the Fruit Stripe Zebra, and Grendel)
* Christopher Butcher presents a long, reasoned and compelling list of reasons why I’m really glad I didn’t go to the 2010 New York Comic Con. Given that Butcher is one of the driving forces behind the Toronto Comic Art Festival, the man knows whereof he speaks, and it behooves the NYCC people to listen. Comic book shows need to be about comics, first and foremost, or else, why bother? I’d give my left nut to be able to afford to go to TCAF or MoCCA next (or any) year, but I wouldn’t go to SDCC or NYCC if you paid me to, based on the available evidence suggesting I would be nothing more than aggravated and miserable throughout the entire experience, because so much of the focus is on things other than comic books and the writers and artists that create them. I try to get to every Albany Comic Con that I can because it’s affordable, it’s within easy driving distance, and it’s about comics.
Christopher Allen Reviews The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects
The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects
Writers - Mike Mignola and Katie Mignola. Artist - Mike Mignola
Publisher - Dark Horse Comics. $17.99 USD
As Mike Mignola confides in the Story Notes at the back of the book, 2003 was a good year, as he won an Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication for the title story here, originally presented as a one-shot, and he and his daughter won an Eisner for Best Short Story for their collaboration, “The Magician and the Snake,” also collected in this volume. I recall that while “Screw-On” was a well-received change of tone, some folks were resentful of Mignola’s kid coming in and getting the most prestigious award in the comics industry for her first comics work, just because her dad took the idea and made it look as good as everything else he does.
I only mention this because even Mignola’s throwaways and non-Hellboy muscle flexings have merit, though sometimes it takes a clutch of them juxtaposed to really work. And sometimes the story has to age a bit. As the title suggests, this is an odds-n-sods compendium of the few non-Hellboy/B.P.R.D. Mignola work for Dark Horse that had yet to be collected. Add to that that the main story is among MIgnola’s most lighthearted, and expectations were going to be low for a lot of readers.
And yet, as with his Hellboy universe, Mignola really works hard to create a seamless work, with threads running through the stories and other pieces newly created to add more corners to this, as I understand it, separate universe from Hellboy. Although “Screw-On” the story is the same as originally presented, I’d forgotten that the object villain Emperor Zombie was after, the jewel of Gung, tied into a 1998 anthology story, “Abu Gung and the Beanstalk.” Perfectionist he is, Mignola completely redraws this one and expands it to almost twice its original length. “The Magician and the Snake,” well, I still can’t go so far as calling it award-worthy, but there is an oddly sweet quality to the friendship between the two creatures, and it’s god a nice, random quality not usually seen in Mignola’s work.
Mignola carries the lighter tone of “Screw-On” into two new stories here, “The Witch and Her Soul” and “The Prisoner of Mars.” The former wouldn’t be out of place as a Hellboy story aside from the easygoing Devil, and the latter pays off “Screw-On” with a bizarrely silly, and kind of beautiful, sci-fi/horror story for Zombie’s sidekick, Doctor Snap, which is told in the back of a pub named, “The Magician and the Snake,” a nice touch. “In the Chapel of Curious Objects,” however, while not really a story, pays off “Magician,” by recalling its potent imagery by making a shrine to it. It might have been a better idea to keep the lighter tone of the other stories with some brighter colors or some whimsical touches in this chapel, rather than the usual Mignola montage of creaky doors, stained glass, enigmatic statuary and the requisite shadows. Not that it doesn’t look good. And the Victorian portrait gallery from the original one-shot of scary old women and the demonic monkey has some creepy old men added, which helps tie the book together in a way both simple and resonant with the promise of untold tales.
Those who own the original stories separately may be reluctant to drop $18 on something like 32 pages of new material, some of which are basically pin-ups and four of which merely expand one of the old stories without dramatic improvement. But woven together as they now are, there’s a kind of chemical reaction, the work as a whole more memorable and tingling with more promise than the pieces would separately. It’s really the way to experience it.
* Frank Santoro on grids in comic art, part 2. Focusing on the art of Chester Brown, Santoro notes “Chester was sequencing images one at a time on individual sheets of paper and ordering them on the grid – so it was very immediate, like writing. Chester wasn’t setting out to draw a complex mural-like pages – he seemed more interested to me in timing.” Much, much more in the link.
* Love and Rocktober Part Six drops, as Sean T. Collins weighs in on The Education of Hopey Glass: “For starters, this is a really weird and kind of silly thing to say about a comic book character, but I am straight-up proud of Hopey for becoming a teacher’s assistant.” Yeah, see, that’s precisely how Love and Rockets works! More in the link.
We seem to be in an age of retooling pulp heroes, with DC recently reviving Doc Savage, The Spirit and The (Crimson) Avenger, while Dynamite has flooded the market with Green Hornet product old and new. Hopefully, Warlord of Mars will be allowed to find its footing the way Lone Ranger did.
It’s a surprising debut, due mainly to the fact that before he gets to Mars and finds adventure, war, love and political intrigue a la Flash Gordon, John Carter was a Confederate soldier. So a chunk of the issue plays like a Western, with Carter and pal Powell try to enjoy a quiet drink in a post-war saloon, as a group of loudmouthed Union soldiers show up and insist everyone drink a toast to President Lincoln on the anniversary of his assassination. This leads to a “know when to walk away” moment, but violence ensues, anyway, and with that, writer Nelson has provided the reader with the basics on John Carter. Great fighter/marksman, dignified, loves his home, but has some xenophobia issues to work out.
Nelson switches the action to Tars, who in Carter’s narration will become his closest friend on Mars. Tars also shows fighting skill and ethics as he defeats one of the six-legged apes that hunt his people (the green Martians also have six limbs, on a sort of 1.5 torso design that is likely faithful to the Burroughs’ novels but awkward-looking on the page), but also spares a young one who showed fear, which is apparently an act punishable by death in Martian culture.
Sadowski has become a stalwart artist for Dynamite. I can’t say his work has knocked me out yet, but he seems to improve with each project, and his work on the Carter section was very strong. Obviously, seeing what happens to Carter once he gets to Mars will decide if the book is worth following, but it’s a good first issue.
Doc Savage #7 Writers - Ivan Brandon & Brian Azzarello, Jason Starr Artists - Nic Klein, Scott Hampton Publisher - DC Comics
I hadn’t read this series since the first issue, when it was under a different creative team. It was boring and confusing then. Now, it’s not boring, though still a bit confusing. I can cut it some slack, though, dropping in the middle like this, but one would think there would have been some way to let readers know who Doc Savage and his team are beyond their nicknames. I get that Savage has bronze-ish skin and he’s got money, but beyond that I couldn’t tell you what he’s about. For some reason I remember Ron Ely played him in some TV movies, and his old paperback novels had great covers by James Bama, but neither of those facts help me here.
Brandon, working from a plot or series bible by Azzarello, drops Savage & Co into “The Middle East,” where some warlord and his men are going to kill them. Savage and his men take out a few, then they surrender. Then they try to escape, taking out some more, and then they surrender again. Then Savage escapes again, finding an Apocalypse Now-style encampment where drugged-looking followers speak of an angry god. It looks like Brandon is going to serve up a former comrade of Savage’s team, from their military days, as a kind of Col. Kurtz, but we’ll see. There wasn’t much of consequence here, but Klein makes it look good, in a gritty, controlled kind of Sienkiewicz/Bingham style that works well for soldiers and harsh environments.
The backup story is “Justice, Inc.,” by Starr and Hampton, and it’s a treat, basically a carefully planned hit of a rising mobster by a Justice, Inc. loose cannon that goes awry. I was pleasantly surprised it didn’t end there with a perfect execution. It’s nice when the protagonist screws up and things get more complicated, and Hampton’s art, while at first a little odd in its soft colors for a crime story, ends up working really well. It’s going to be a shame in January when the backup stories go away. I can imagine a fair amount of folks on the fence getting off when they’re no longer getting even a small dose of Hampton, Kyle Baker, Harlan Ellison and the other talents who’ve graced the back pages of these First Wave books.
Deadpool MAX #1 (2010) Writer - David Lapham Artist - Kyle Baker Publisher - Marvel Comics. $3.99 USD
In the past year, I found that I kind of like Deadpool. I never got his appeal in Rob Liefeld’s X-Force (or was it still New Mutants?)…just seemed like a typically overly-accessorized, underdeveloped “extreme” Liefeld character. Nor did I pay any attention to Mark Waid, Joe Kelly or any other writer’s attempts. I guess I figured I got my funny with Spider-Man and my ruthless killer with The Punisher, and that was enough.
But, based largely on the Arthur Suydam movie parody covers, I started reading Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth, and that was fun and well-drawn, and the regular Daniel Way series was fine. The team-ups series, the Deadpool Corps with Liefeld art, that Wade Wilson’s War mini — I dropped all of those one issue in. But here we are with a brand-new series, geared for mature readers (or at least 17 year olds), with some pretty good names in Lapham and Baker.
I’m generally not a guy looking for their previously sorta all-ages characters to go all HBO with fewer limitations on violence, swearing, nudity, etc. As with convincing an actress to get naked in a movie, I’m okay if the story calls for it, but really, a lot of the time the story doesn’t really call for it. I think many if not most comics creators do better work with some editorial strictures, as it can encourage them to come up with more clever results than just letting it all hang out.
But getting back to the actual comic, I don’t think either Lapham or Baker signed on expecting this to be a high point in their careers. Still, not only is it a regular monthly gig that saves them from scrambling for the next fill-in or videogame licensed miniseries, and it’s with an already popular character due to maybe get more popular if the movie ever comes out. The bar is set pretty low, but these are both above-average professionals.
Although there’s no indication as yet that Lapham has a handle or any special plans for the character of Deadpool himself, since the story focuses on an undercover agent infiltrating the Maggia (Marvel’s faux-Mafia) and part of the story is about whether Deadpool is dead or not, Lapham does seem to be having a ball trying to outdo Mark Millar in juvenile outrageousness. There’s lots of blood and severed heads, some sexy women, sodomy jokes, and even some of the swear words you don’t hear much these days, like “faggot,” which, if Hammerhead was a real mob boss, you have to admit he’d probably say a lot. And if you ever wanted to see Kyle Baker draw a big, lustrous turd with all the care he puts into drawing his own children, this is the comic for you.
Baker draws his ass off, and a lot of other asses besides. For the most part, he’s well suited to the material, as the issue is mostly comedic, with only a few brief action sequences. His style is, as usual, highly exaggerated, but the storytelling is efficient and not flashy, probably so as to not step on the jokes. I do think, as vibrant as coloring is, at times it’s a little too much, with objects sort of sitting on top of each other like Colorforms, body parts and clothes not quite one with their environments. I wasn’t sure if his giving one character extra pink knees was just his fussiness or an extra sight gag implying the guy had just given an off-panel blowjob. I don’t imagine I’ll ever have this confusion about a comic ever again. Also, his exaggerated facial features backfire a little here, because Hammerhead doesn’t look that much more distorted than some of the other characters. Expectations were low, but they were met.
You may have noticed that we’ve added a Paypal donation button to the sidebar to the right. I’ll be right up front and tell you that if you can make a donation to support our efforts here, it would be greatly appreciated and go a long way toward making sure TWC keeps going for the foreseeable future.
Prior to our recent re-envisioning, my own blogging efforts had been light because of a number of factors, including the fact that I have been out of work for a few months now and am looking for a new job, and also that we had to cut the internet from our household budget, so my online access was extremely spotty. We managed to get our internet back a few weeks ago, and you may have noticed I’ve been on a real streak ever since — I guess I had a lot of stuff bottled up inside me.
I know times are tough all over; I’m not the only one, and we’re lucky in that my wife still has a job, and a good one at that. But she doesn’t make enough to cover all our household expenses, and some months are very difficult, so I’m asking you to consider making a donation from time to time, in whatever amount you think is fair, if you like what we do here. I’m not going to turn Trouble with Comics into a PBS Pledge Drive, and other than this one message, and maybe a brief reminder at the end of some posts, the only reminder asking you to donate will be the button in the sidebar.
Besides the donation button, you can also support our efforts by clicking on one of the BUY COMICS links in the sidebar, which take you to Lone Star Comics’ MyComicShop.com and Amazon, both of which we have affiliate programs set up with. You can also spread the word about us on Facebook, or your own blog, if you have one, or any message boards or mailing lists you participate in. If you have a project you want to tell the world about, email me about advertising here on TWC. This would be fun if only Chris and I were reading what we do here, but I have to be honest and tell you it’s a thrill to know that people actually are interested in what we do, and if you can help more people learn that we’re here, that would be great, too.
Since Chris and I started redoubling our efforts here on TWC, it’s been gratifying to see so many readers find their way back here. We’re a long way from the glory days of Comic Book Galaxy in the early 2000s, but it’s clear that we have a small but loyal audience that likes what we do, and I speak for Chris when I tell you we appreciate every one of you who stops by, checks out our writing, or leaves a comment. Thank you for being a part of Trouble with Comics, and thank you for whatever support you can provide to keep us going, now or in the future.
* Roger Ebert reviews the movie adaptation of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s Red: [It] plays like a movie made for my Aunt Mary, who was always complaining, ‘Honey, I don’t like the pictures anymore because I don’t know who any of the actors are.’ If the name Ernest Borgnine sounds familiar, here’s the movie for you.”
I’m not a collector, although I have a nearly 800-book collection of graphic novels. The completist gene just isn’t hard-wired into me. I guess it’s easy to assume everyone involved in comics is a rabid collector with one or more want lists always within easy reach, but what stays on my bookshelves has always been a fluid proposition, both because of my tendency to try to keep my library pared down to the bare essentials, and because of the occasional purge, performed either to make space or generate revenue, or both.
I especially am not a collector of old comics. I love old comic book stories, let’s be clear — my Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko contains over a thousand pages of half-century old comics that I love reading. My modest collection of EC Archives hardcovers contains stories a decade older than that. But generally I don’t collect floppy comics as such.
I hate how the ink fades over time on the ones printed on shitty paper, which of course is 99 percent of those published before 1980. I hate the cat-pee smell many old, moldering comics seem to generate after a while. I am not a comic book collector, although I have probably 2000 or so single issues at the current time. I am always trying to whittle away at that number, because I hate the stacks of white shortboxes that I try to camouflage under a table in my bedroom. I hate that the word “shortboxes,” which isn’t even a word, is a part of my lexicon.
Despite all that, I do have a few old comics that, for one reason or another, I have come to possess and enjoy having. There’s an issue of Piracy that I got for twenty bucks at a comic book show a few years ago, the cover by genius artist Bernard Krigstein is one of the finest in the history of the comics medium, and its oppressive solitude resonates with me unlike any other piece of comic art I have ever encountered. That twenty dollars is the most I think I have paid for a single, floppy comic book in my entire adult life. I just love that cover and had to possess it. It’s in a black plastic comic book holder that rests on the wall above my bed. I wish I had a better place for it, and a more attractive frame, but spending 75 or 100 dollars for conservation framing right now isn’t in the family budget.
A digression: A few years ago, when I was making the highest salary I likely ever will in my life, working for an NPR-affiliated radio station in Albany, New York, it seemed like I was buying up original comic art and getting it framed with conservation framing techniques (to preserve the condition of the art and prevent fading) on a near-weekly basis. The guy at the frame shop loved that the morning news guy for his favourite radio station was one of his regular clients, and he routinely commented on how cool the artwork was that I had him encase in protective glass and metal frames. An Eddie Campbell page from From Hell, bought from Top Shelf Productions during their legendary fire sale in the early part of the previous decade. A full-page headshot of The Midnighter by Bryan Hitch, one of the pages from the 12 issues of The Authority by Warren Ellis, Hitch, Paul Neary and Laura Martin that I hold in such high regard. Both those pages are long gone now, sold off when money was tight and I needed groceries and rent more than I needed beautiful and significant pages of comic book artwork hanging in attractive frames on the walls of my home. I’m not a collector, not of comic books, anyway, but the memory of giving up those pages hurts like a toothache all these years later.
But we were talking about the old comics in my “comic book collection.” I have a copy of X-Men #53, the very first Marvel Comics work by artist Barry Windsor-Smith. It’s a beautiful, Very Fine copy, and he personally signed it for me a few years ago, very likely destroying its value as a collectible to anyone other than me, to whom it is absolutely priceless. I recently traded for copies of Conan #1 and #9 drawn by BWS as well, and that Conan #1 felt like a real Holy Grail moment, given how much Barry’s art means to me, and how important a comic book that it is. I’ve made it kind of a back-burner goal for the rest of my comics-buying life to try to acquire the entire BWS run of Conan, because the Dark Horse reprints have just about the worst reproduction imaginable, and in fact are an abomination to the work of one of the artform’s greatest living artists.
I have the four issues of Batman that comprise the Year One storyline by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. I forget the issue numbers, that’s how weak my Nerd-Fu is (oh, all right, I think they’re #404-407, do I win something?), but I do love those four issues and the sublime meeting of Frank Miller’s soon-to-fade writing prowess and David Mazzucchelli’s growth as a comic book artist. Frankly, in the wake of the somewhat disappointing Asterios Polyp, I wonder if the period from Year One to the short stories in Rubber Blanket weren’t Mazzucchelli’s peak as an artist? I hope I’m wrong, but at least, if this is so, his fall from grace is nowhere as embarrassing as Frank Miller’s decline into creative senility.
I have an issue of Cannon by Wally Wood that I think is dated 1969? It was clearly created for comic book readers in the military, and is one of the strangest comics I have ever owned. It’s an anthology, including a hard-boiled soft-porn Cannon story and some other short stories obviously meant to spin off into marketable properties all their own. I got it from a back issue box for five bucks, and having all those pages of Wood artwork in such an odd package is a nice little object to possess.
Writing this, of course, has made me realize just how much I do cherish the few comic books that I own that really are important to me. I’m much more a comic book reader than a “fan,” (a word I despise), but maybe, just maybe, there’s a little recessive collector gene in me after all.
There’s a palpable sense of dread permeating this entire issue, the penultimate chapter in a story-arc that I have not been keeping up with, “The Origin of the Species.” Since “every comic is someone’s first issue,” as the pros used to say, I decided to pop in randomly and see if the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man could please me the way New Ways to Die didn’t quite.
Spider-Man is an impressive force of nature in this issue, silently tracking down dozens of C-List bad guys in a rampage spurred by his apparent failure to save the life of an infant parented by Norman Osborn (as old-school a Spidey character as there is) and Lily Hollister (as Brand New Day a character as there is, I think — and apparently a big secret about her was revealed somewhere in-between New Ways to Die and this issue). Writer Mark Waid gives us a relentlessly driven Spider-Man who is hell-bent on finding retribution for an unthinkable crime.
Artists Paul Azaceta and Matthew Southworth have an appealing, near-alt-comix looseness, a style somewhere near the corner of Guy Davis Avenue and Michael Lark Boulevard that provides clear, traditional (that’s a good thing) Marvel-style storytelling to carry the reader through a night of terror for NYC’s bad guys. Spider-Man is often gone by the time we arrive on the scene in the aftermath of his rage, a great technique for building suspense, reminiscent of the way Bram Stoker kept Dracula off the page for much of the novel. By the time Spider-Man learns the entire truth about what has happened, the writer and artists have earned an impressive full-page shot of the title character kicking down the doors of Kraven’s mansion in search of the true cause of his most recent problems.
I didn’t understand all the goings-on here — Mary Jane’s back, I see, but I have no idea how or why or what she or Peter Parker remember of their former marriage. I guess this is written for the inevitable collected edition, but as a single issue, as with most corporate superhero comics these days, it kind of fails to provide a complete reading experience in that sense, and makes me wonder why they even bother telling stories like this in single, monthly issues anymore. As a chapter of a longer story, I get the sense this would be a solid and entertaining work read all in one sitting, but I can’t say the story is strong enough to make me want to buy the trade paperback when it comes out, or even check into the next issue to see how it all turns out.
Christopher Allen Reviews The Best American Comics Criticism
The Best American Comics Criticism
Edited by Ben Schwartz
Published by Fantagraphics Books. $19.99 USD
It’s a mug’s game, editing an anthology. Inevitably, you’re going to find a great piece to include and not get permission. Or it’s just too long. Or it doesn’t fit the tone of the rest. Or it doesn’t fit some other criterion that’s been set for you (should this great 2008 piece go in The Best Whatever of 2010?). Or, despite your exhaustive search, you miss something terrific or find it too late for inclusion. And readers and critics will call you any and all of these reasons and make up some more to boot.
But with all due respect, and sympathy, editor Schwartz sure doesn’t try to avoid many of these pitfalls. The grotesques representing critics in Drew Friedman’s cover don’t help, though I’ve long loved Friedman’s work. It’s sort of waving a red flag at some people, and doesn’t give the impression that the book will be a celebration of great comics criticism. However, it does give the impression Schwartz is a ballsy guy and not afraid of pissing people off, so, fair warning.
It’s not all American criticism, or at least not all concerning American comics or American comics creators, so there’s that. It’s unclear why Schwartz and Fantagraphics would entitle the book so close to the existing “Best American” series from Houghton-Mifflin/Mariner when the American-ness of the contents isn’t entire, nor particularly important. But that’s a smaller complaint that just what Schwartz considers criticism. In his case, it could be Gary Groth’s and others’ interviews with cartoonists, or a piece of legal language, or comics history lessons, or an inscrutable series of illustrations purporting to be a review.
In the absence of a third party arbitrator of what consistutes criticism, let’s just say the book should be called The Best (Mostly) American Writing About Comics, and move on. Even giving latitude for the difficulties of rights clearances and space constraints, is this the best writing about comics? Most of it is enjoyable and smart, with pieces suitable for the relative comics neophyte, graphic novel enthusiast or fan of old strips from the heyday of newspapers. Unlike, say a Douglas Wolk or Dan Nadel, Schwartz isn’t on any crusade to win hearts and minds to work he feels is unfairly dismissed or undervalued. Everyone championed, interviewed or analyzed here have had either great commercial or creative success, or have already joined a cartoonist pantheon with the seal of approval of The Comics Journal and other respected critics and cartoonists. Herriman, Clowes, Seth, Eisner, Miller, Gloeckner, Thurber, Gray, David B, Elder, Kirby, Bechdel, Deitch, Ditko.
Schwartz seems to have made several of his choices based on name value: Howard Chaykin being critical of Will Eisner is a cartoonist two-fer, even if the anecdote about their confrontations is toothless, especially for Chaykin. Peter Bagge’s “Spider-Man Sucks!” is another two-fer, a highly amusing rant covering not only his complaints about Steve Ditko’s art and Stan Lee’s writing but also his negative experience making a Spider-Man comic for Marvel several years ago. It’s fun, but overlong and rambling, and it’s hard to believe there wasn’t a better piece about Ditko, Lee or Spidey, positive or negative. In fact, although Schwartz’ ballsiness is mentioned above, whenever he includes something negative, there’s a positive piece to counter it, like Alan Moore’s and Donald Phelps’ pieces on Ditko, and Wolk’s appreciation of Eisner and Miller.
Phelps’ name brings up another complaint, which is that Schwartz has a short list of worthy critics. This writer is not all that put off by Schwartz including his own low-yield piece on Harold Gray, as the writer recalls a high school literary journal he edited where he included three of his own short stories, placed at first, last and exactly in the middle. But as good as Phelps is, we needed three pieces? Three interviews by Gary Groth? Without much question, Groth’s interview with Yoshihiro Tatsumi was included because it’s the only piece about a manga creator, since it’s stilted and only mildly interested, sort of spoiled from the start by Groth’s admission in his Introduction that he had problems with Tatsumi’s work, problems he was too polite to address with the creator during the interview. Why does anyone need to collect Gary Groth’s softest, least informed and least engaged interview?
The use of famous names has been mentioned, and that’s a mixed bag. Jonathan Franzen’s Introduction to a volume of Fantagraphics’ Peanuts is fluff, but Sarah Boxer’s exploration of racial identity in Krazy Kat is thoughtful, while Rick Moody’s piece on David B’s Epileptic shows a knowledge of the European literary world that’s fresh for comics criticism (though I’m sure Bart Beaty’s done just as well dozens of times). Chris Ware enlivens his appreciation of proto-cartoonist Rodolphe Topffer with his understanding of printing techniques. John Hodgman is a very bright, funny guy who brings neither to a sloppy piece on comics epics. Seth brings all his power to bear to admit gagmaster John Stanley’s droll, teen trash trilogy into comics Valhalla. One of the better pieces is Dan Nadel’s teardown of the Masters of American Comics show, ultimately a fairly unimportant event, with Nadel ripping the curators for their stodgy, mostly safe selections of “masters.” Its inclusion is ironic, given how safe and stodgy many of Schwartz’ selections are.
Yes, Schwartz has leaned too heavily on selections from some writers, and not always their best work, and has also relied too much on famous names and a broad, somewhat stunt-motivated range of material. There were any number of other insightful, if less well-known, writers who could have also shared space here, especially if the gimmicks were excised along with the attempts at playing nice with alternate perspectives on the same cartoonists. Still, there is more of good to excellent work than there is poor, and that’s a decent start. The field of serious nonfiction writing on comics is still relatively new, and hopefully volumes like this reach readers who are either inspired or frustrated enough to want to add their own, better books.
I wasn’t a big fan of Frank Miller’s 300 graphic novel, and especially not the movie. Still, I saw a black Chrysler 300 tonight with the comic/movie “300” logo in red, covering the entire rear windshield, and it was badass. A lot better than The Big Fat Kia.
* At Robot 6, Renee French discusses her new book H Day with Tim O’Shea. She also updates the status of work-in-progress Towcester Lodge: ” I filled two notebooks cover to cover with dialogue and story and drawings for Towcester Lodge and then one day a friend came over and we did a timeline of the story on a roll of tracing paper. It took all day. Totally ridiculous. And then I unrolled the timeline and no kidding it went down the hall and hit the far end of the house and there was still more to go. I realized it would take me like 10 years to finish a book like that, and I didn’t feel I could spend that much time on that book.”
* At Comics Comics, Jeet Heer revisits David Hajdu’s great comics history bookThe Ten-Cent Plague: “I thought he was a bit too dismissive of humour comics, which were as much an industry mainstay as superheroes or horror. You don’t get a sense from the book that far more kids were reading Dell comics, including the best work of Barks and Stanley, than reading EC. And many kids, like the young Crumb or S. Clay Wilson, read both.” More in the link.
* Love and Rocktober continues at Jaunty Sean T.’s place as Mr. Collins looks at Penny Century: “Jaime takes this opportunity to indulge himself, if not his characters. He transforms Ray D. into a sort of hard-boiled hard-luck case, whose first-person narration captions speak of falling in with femme fatale Penny and cruising for action like the least violent installment of Sin City ever. ” More in the link.
Castaways, Orphans and Outcasts: Life as a Comics Trader
A long day of comic shops and used bookstores is ahead of me today, as I voyage out in search of some new reading material, trading in the old for the new, and hopefully make a few bucks folding money in the bargain, too.
My lifelong interest in comics has almost always had trading stuff in as a significant element. I’ve never been a comics hoarder in the sense of keeping everything I buy, and it’s impossible to be certain before reading something that I’ll want to always keep it in my permanent collection, so sooner or later the cast-offs and not-quites begin to pile up, and eventually it hits a critical mass and I’m off to the shops to see what I can swap for cash or credit.
In times of plenty, of course, credit is king. Stores always give a higher dollar amount when you ask for credit, since the store stock you are using, say, 50 dollars to acquire likely cost them no more than 25 dollars, assuming they bought it outright from a wholesaler or other seller or customer. If what you want in trade was the product of one of their previous trade-for-credit swaps, their margin of profit (or benefit, since no cash is necessarily involved) rises even higher.
In times of want, which for myself now is definitely one of those times, cash is of course preferable. I’m not too proud to tell you I’ve traded in comics and graphic novels and even “real” books for cash to make up a shortfall in the rent, cover grocery expenses, or pay for a doctor’s office co-pay. Being someone whose life pretty much revolves around books, they are the primary thing of value that I possess, and sadly the first thing that has to go when the financial shithammer falls.
The earliest trade-in I can remember was at a store in St. Augustine, Florida, probably when I was 12 or 13, in the late 1970s. I had discovered a shop specializing in old coins inside some gigantic indoor shopping mall that, in my memory at least, possessed Spanish architecture and seemed cavernous in its aspect. I remember hauling boxes and boxes of unwanted superhero comics to this dealer and trading them in for, it seems to me, something very close to full guide value. I can’t remember if I got cash or trade from this dealer, all I really remember about it was that there were a lot of Bill Mantlo Incredible Hulk issues in the boxes I hauled in that day, and that when I left, whether fat with cash or loaded up with comics (I honestly can’t remember), I was definitely flush with a powerful feeling of success. I had taken comics I no longer needed or wanted (I’ve said this before, but Mantlo’s Hulk seemed awesome at age 10 and dull as dirt by age 12; this is not a slam against Mantlo, but rather a reflection of how my tastes were changing and becoming more sophisticated as I grew older), and turned them into a happiness tool. From that day on, trading in unwanted comics for money or other comics (many of which eventually, inevitably also turn out later to be unwanted and thus further trade fodder) became a regular part of my existence. It happens less frequently than brushing my teeth, but more often than going out to the movies.
Becoming a writer about comics in my early 30s resulted in the amount of unwanted comics in my possession increasing by at least a factor of four. No longer was I simply disposing of unwise purchases, but now comics, graphic novels and related ephemera were appearing in my mailbox and on my doorstep with alarming regularity. Any comics critic will tell you that the bad outweighs the good by at least a 25-to-1 ratio, and sometimes it seems more like 100-to-1. And being the lover of books and all things paper and impermanent that I am, I hate to throw away anything I buy or receive in the mail. Part of the thrill of trading comics in to a dealer is knowing that someone, somewhere may find a happy home for my cast-off orphan. In the decade I have been receiving review copies from creators and publishers, I think I have thrown away, just outright tossed in the trash, only two comics. One was called Americanjism; the other was some amateurish, nasty effort about a female superhero whose origin is that she was violently raped. Both were so vile and nihilistic that I felt compelled to remove them from the worldwide reading stream, and into the trash they went.
But those are the exceptions. As a rule, I regularly feel a twinge of regret in giving up my comics and books. Paradoxically, the regret is strongest when the books are given up for want of cash for some important expense. I suppose that’s because those are the times I really look to see what I have of value that I can spare in the name of making right whatever emergent situation has presented itself. But always, in every case, whether it’s for money or in trade for more comics, there’s that spark of hope that the books will find new life in the hands of another reader, someone for whom the material will be more suitable, more thrilling, and more permanent. Whatever the reason for casting them off, and whatever their particular character flaws, I always hope my orphans find a welcome spot to settle in, and be appreciated in a way that I have failed to accomplish.
* At Robot 6, Sean T. Collins interviews Mome editor Eric Reynolds on the occasion of the anthology title’s fifth anniversary. He’s pleasantly surprised at the longevity of the series: “I’m not sure there’s ever been one in alternative comics that’s published more pages of comics than Mome. We’re at around 2,350 pages of comics through issue 20. What are the most successful comix anthologies of all-time? RAW? Zap? Weirdo? Zero Zero? Arcade? Kramers? None ever approached that many pages.” Much more in the link.
* Nik Dirga loves Vanth Dreadstar. I think I did too, when I was 15. Nothing seemed more momentous to my 15-year-old self than the overwrought scribblings of Jim Starlin. Nik is focusing on the Epic comic book series, here, but I think I dug the serialized, painted version in Epic Magazine more?
Marvel and DC Comics have announced that they are reducing the price of many of their titles from $3.99 to $2.99. I asked a number of comics retailers for their thoughts on the change, set to take effect in January of 2011. The following thoughts are from Jevon Kasitch of Electric City Comics in Schenectady, NY.
How will the price change affect your store?
I don’t think the change will have much direct effect on Electric City. People seem to have budgets, and spend X dollars per week, and add and drop titles to fit that amount. As prices went up they shaved books they enjoyed less and kept shaving until the budget worked. If prices go down, we’ll see the same dollars just spread across more piece sales. A zero sum game in general.
How do you think the change in pricing will affect the buying habits of your customers?
As I said, I think folks will re-add some titles to fill in the slack in their budgets. This means they may sample more, and be more inclined to try a mini-series if it looks interesting. We found that $3.99 was over the “wow, that costs a bit much” mental line that people had, and sales often were stopped by that voice in their head. Overall I think it will make it a bit easier to sell a book to someone.
What changes do you think this move is likely to result in for the direct market?
For the market as a whole it should bring piece sales up, which given the dismal numbers we’ve been seeing would be a plus. Having a larger number of viable titles makes for more room for that surprise hit to pop out from. For that new writer to be heard, etc. Over all I feel it’s a healthy move for the direct market.
A healthier move would be for both Marvel and DC to chill out on the number of titles published per month and cut line-size down to more manageable numbers. Fewer books of high quality would be welcome. A lot of what’s being shoveled out the door every month is crap, and the customers know it. And they avoid it… And by extension they are super wary of all new projects. But this is a digression from your topic.
Thanks to Jevon for taking the time to respond to my questions.
* Food for thought: Neilalien’s complaint about Brian Michael Bendis’s writing is character-specific (Doctor Strange, natch), but gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the current Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics. Most of today’s most popular corporate superhero comic book writers can’t envision a story more complex than a child playing with action figures in the tub. Bendis’s current Avengers with John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson is the perfect example of this type of dumbed-down storytelling, which has little respect for the history of the character(s), for the art of writing, or for the poor suckers who end up buying this intellectually retarded, sub-par shit.