Lewis Trondheim is one of the few comics creators whose work appeals to me despite carrying large doses of whimsy. Can I be honest with you? I hate whimsy. I hate anything whimsical. But the autobiographical comics of Lewis Trondheim, these I love.
Trondheim’s autobio comics both feel very close to reality to me — I love other autobio creators like James Kochalka, Harvey Pekar and Jason Marcy — but all their work feels translated into comics in a way that Trondheim’s autobio comics do not. Trondheim seems to be living his actual life right there on the pages of the comics he creates. If that makes sense to you, then you’ll enjoy and appreciate Trondheim’s new collection from Fantagraphics, Approximate Continuum Comics.
Of a piece with Trondheim’s excellent NBM series Little Nothings, this new book features Trondheim reflecting on cartooning, life, friendship and the many squabbling sides of his own personality. Trondheim can go many dark places in his ponderings, but the darkness is always relieved by other facets of himself arguing, observing, and sometimes beating the crap out of each other. He can puff himself up all he wants, but within a few panels another side will emerge to deflate his ego and put things into better perspective.
Throughout all these goings-on, we see glimpses of Trondheim’s home life, his work and friendships with his fellow cartoonists (given equal time in the back pages to respond to what you’ve just read), and the search for a new home for his family. If you’re not familiar with Trondheim’s cartooning (and hoo-boy, you should be), he blends funny-animal body-types with breezily convincing cityscapes to create an eminently readable and visually gorgeous narrative. Trondheim is one of the easiest cartoonists to read, and one of the most satisfying to experience. Approximate Continuum Comics wanders far and wide among topics and settings, but the whole book also tells one long tale about a period in its creator’s life, and by the time you’re done with it you feel you’ve spent some very worthwhile time with a great storyteller. Because you have.
John Belskis is the owner of Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, New York and the organizer of the twice-annual Albany Comic Con (an advertiser on Trouble With Comics). The following is his response to DC’s recently announced plans to relaunch their universe of superhero comic books and provide same-day digital download capability for their titles.
If the words, “desperate times need desperate measures,” were ever really spoken, I can’t think of a worse time to put them to use. The comic book business has seen its share of both, through its 85 years or so of existence. Even the direct market has had a fair share of both in these last 25 years, like Marvel’s hiccup, and bankruptcy, and Diamond becoming the sole distribution life of DM stores. As a longtime retailer, it’s obvious that the times are a-changin’ again. And probably need to.
DC’s market share has been dreadful, so I understand the need for change. With this economy, this much change this quickly can be, and probably will be, a disaster. Never mind that with 52 new #1s, there will soon be 52 old #6s, or that this is as much a “jumping off” point as it may be a “jumping on” point. The major focus here is about money, and getting more of it.
Now let’s talk about recent history. DC bought into the theory that it was okay to basically disregard small stores by arranging their discount structure to not allow smaller retailers to compete with a fair discount ( loss of market share). That was all handled matter of factly, with either “buy the amount we say, or forget you.” Any small store that was left, ordering with a 35% discount, was put off even more when they made all of their comics $2.99. Again making it more difficult, if you were on the cusp, to maintain that 50% discount (losing more market share).
Now, we move to, “Let’s reboot every title, oh yeah, and by the way, readers can buy them directly from us, at the cover price, online.” So now the larger stores that have maintained their discount can get squeezed out, too. Now, you can call this sour grapes, if you want, and maybe it is. But, I have to say, having been called “‘DC’s retail partner” for over 25 years, I think the partnership has been dissolved. I have been out of DC’s plans for two years now, without a phone call, or a rep saying “Hey, you have been an account for over 20 years, how can we help?” Terms have always been dictated, and Diamond has capitulated.
As retailers we were always obliged to carry the product so our customers can see it, and choose. Those days are done. The day and date release will only enhance the customers that already read the comics for free online now. For everyone who wants to own a printed copy, the problem will be finding a shop that will carry 52 #6s. I don’t think many will, forcing more readers to pay the online price, to read the books they cannot find. I doubt that DC will allow readers to read the book beforehand, as shops have done forever. This trend will eventually get people reading and using the online system, even if they don’t want to, and the segment will grow.
Finally, it will be easier, less travel, and less hassle to just get your books online. Here is the wrinkle that I want everyone to think about. When the shops are gone, and it’s just the big boys left with the major market stores, and DC’s online comics: Do you think they will be worried about keeping the price affordable for you? After all, you’re whose pocket they wanted to get in, in the first place. How much will you be willing to fork over for your Batman fix? In essence, you will be DC’s new “Consumer partner.” Have fun with that. I’ll enjoy my front row seat, at the destruction of the direct market. Thank you very much.
Writers - Dean Mullaney & Bruce Canwell Publisher - IDW Publishing $49.99 USD
I get a little uneasy calling anyone a genius, but since many folks I respect got there to slap that sobriquet on Alexander Toth way before me, I can live with it. There are really only a handful of true eccentrics and iconoclasts in the history of the comics medium. In recent years, publishers have gotten around to collecting most of the great comic strips from Herrimann, Schulz, Caniff, King and great comic book work from big names like Kirby, Eisner, Tezuka. Even more recently, reprint projects have begun focusing on early and lesser-known Steve Ditko work than his years at Marvel Comics, and now we get another game changer, this first of a lush, three-volume biography/retrospective on Toth.
As a comics legend, Toth falls somewhere between Ditko and Wallace Wood. Like Ditko, Toth became reclusive in later years without ever retiring. Like Wood, Toth made some rash decisions that would have negative consequences on his career. This volume covers Toth as a promising young artist learning under mentors like Frank Robbins, finding work fairly quickly and becoming quite a competent, even inventive stylist early on. Even the late ’40s material represented here, while often providing rather mundane, formulaic scripts for Toth, still made me a little frustrated not to be able to read every story through to completion, just to see how he put it all together. Fortunately, there are many complete stories in this volume, such as an early career highlight, 1950’s “Battle Flag of the Foreign Legion,” a brave and successful experiment in unusual p.o.v. and silhouette that works magnificently and was almost certainly an influence on B. Krigstein’s better-known “Master Race” art.
The ’50s started well enough for Toth, with regular work at National (DC), where he handled Westerns, Science Fiction, Romance and Superheroes with grace and increasing mastery of light, shade and depth, but a fabled conflict with editor Julius Schwartz caused an angry, humiliated Toth to leave DC for a time. In the short run, it was a win for Toth, who did some terrific work at Standard, often inked by his favorite embellisher, Mike Peppe, but in retrospect Toth hasn’t been as influential on succeeding generations of comic artists because much of his work has been hard to find. Every now and then, one sees echoes of Toth in an artist like Mike Mignola, Steve Rude or Michael Lark, but there has never been a wave of minimalism and chiaroscuro in comics. Maybe that’s a good thing, I dunno; you appreciate those folks more when you find them.
Mullaney and Canwell make excellent choices in presentation, sometimes presenting the work as it was printed, sometimes offering original pages to contrast Toth’s pencils with the finished product. As mentioned, even the pap is generally quite entertaining because of Toth’s efforts, his relentless pursuit of fresh perspectives and real-life faces and body language, but there are also some real gems, such as “The Crushed Gardenia,” one of the few Toth stories I was already familiar with from a crime anthology. It’s as stunning a portrait of a psychopath today as it must have been in 1953. “Grip of Life” and “Murder Mansion” are as good as most of the horror stories of the EC Comics heyday, and the complete “Jon Fury,” a crime serial Toth produced while stationed in post-war Japan, proves that Toth had some nascent writing talent he unfortunately didn’t pursue further. The lone Zorro story here is dynamite, and in the preferred black-and-white with the graytones Toth added in the late ’80s for collection.
As this volume closes, Toth has made some inroads into animation, with work on the cult series Clutch Cargo as well as the unproduced Space Angel, on a third failing marriage with a few kids from it, working hard to be a breadwinner while seething with every compromise he had to make. It’s an unalloyed but balanced account, leavened with comments from his children, who found him hard to live with while still feeling his love. Genius or no, Toth walked a rocky path for his art, experiencing great pains in the pursuit of the purest, most impactful arrangements of lines. The work presented is of an artist who could be called a genius, if genius means having a strong vision and the will to push oneself to realize it, while the biography presents the contrast, a man of flaws like any other, trying to be happy and fulfilled and trying to bringing the same to others, while often failing at both.
Christopher Allen: So, as everyone knows by now, DC Comics is relaunching every single one of their ongoing series on August 31st, as well as a bunch of new ones. Kevin Melrose at CBR and Kiel Phegley at Newsarama have done good work tracking the news we have so far. Basically, on that date, there will be 52 #1 issues, meaning relaunches of most current series as well as several more. Note, some are taking this to mean 52 new ongoing series, but DC doesn’t actually say this, so knowing their publishing practices, there will likely be several one-shots or miniseries addressing the aftermath or previously unseen, unnecessary crap related to this reboot. The other big news, though less sexy, is that on this date, DC will start offering their books digitally on the same day they hit the stands, a move rival Marvel Comics has yet to make.
Alan David Doane: It might be a good idea if top-flight talent were set loose on the titles and allowed to create great superhero comics. If Geoff Johns is writing Justice League, no such luck. Made of fail. Once again, as with Brightest Day, as with Marvel’s recent whatever-it-was-called relaunch that restarted Avengers and other titles, you can’t really have a new direction if you have the same talent on the books that have necessitated the new direction in the first fucking place!
CA: As far as the creative teams announced so far, I’m only interested in Superman, written by Grant Morrison and an as-yet-unnamed artist, with the two caveats that Morrison already wrote a great, self-contained Superman series already, and that DC may very well saddle him with another Kubert or someone worse. At least we know he won’t have Phillip Tan, as he will be doing his part to keep James Robinson’s Hawkman from soaring, pun intended. I would rather Morrison tackle Green Lantern (which Johns will naturally be keeping), or Hawkman, but from a career perspective, I understand him picking one of the biggest characters available. Johns will also be polluting Aquaman’s waters with Ivan Reis, another DC clock-puncher given to gore, clenched jaws and clenched buttcheeks. Johns and Jim Lee will be handling Justice League, at least for the first story arc, as Lee’s track record and multiple corporate duties will probably force him to hand off the book after that. Not very excited by the image I’ve seen so far; it’s easily the worst Superman Lee has drawn; the little collars on the costumes of Supes, GL and Aquaman are needless decoration to what were pretty elegant costumes. I don’t mind getting rid of Superman’s red trunks, though; makes sense. Lee’s Wonder Woman redesign looks better when he does it, I’ll admit. Not terribly excited about the Cyborg redesign, which looks more like, I dunno—Stryfe? It was a nice design that’s been turned into more of a ‘90s Image artists idea of kewl, but if you lose some of the fins it’s okay. Apparently Lee is a big fan of Cyborg, which explains his complete lack of involvement in anything to do with the character the past 15 years. But Jim Lee doesn’t age, so there wasn’t any hurry.
I thought this comment was funny: “He’s a character I really see as the modern-day, 21st-century superhero,” Johns said. “He represents all of us in a lot of ways. If we have a cellphone and we’re texting on it, we are a cyborg — that’s what a cyborg is, using technology as an extension of ourselves.” In other words, folks, Da Vinci? Shakespeare? Anderson Cooper? Anyone who has ever conveyed any information through a medium that did not originate within their own bodies is a cyborg. I mean, we already knew that about Anderson Cooper, but still. Johns is the architect of the DCU as it stands…
ADD: I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.
CA: …and being in the catbird seat with JLA, he’s going to unfortunately suck other writers into whatever the next big invasion/uprising/resurrection event he’s got planned. Let’s be honest: if the DC Universe truly started from scratch in 2011 and you had the likes of J.T. Krul, Tony Bedard, Fabian Nicieza and Judd Winnick writing your big superhero books, the company would go bust in six months. I think it’s great but typical comics fandom silliness that many folks are upset about Gail Simone not writing the new Birds of Prey (or Marc Guggenheim not writing JSA). Gail is a solid writer and a good employee, always online and enthusiastic about what she and her peers are doing. She doesn’t complain that her books never get much promotion or that her characters don’t play pivotal roles in the rest of the DCU. But Birds of Prey (and Secret Six) found their sales level under her, and it wasn’t high and it wasn’t going to improve. Try someone else and give her two new books.
ADD: As to Johns’s cyborg analogy, by that definition I think a monkey sticking a stick in an anthill to get a tasty treat is a cyborg, right? Johns’s ability to wear his high-70s IQ on his sleeve never fails to amaze me. To me this entire reboot looks like a catastrophe waiting to happen, a truly apocalyptic, end-of-everything-as-we-know-it disaster. Not that everything as we know it isn’t well and truly due for a punch in the face, but a lot of retailers are going to have trouble making their rent and paying for food if this goes bad, and there’s a greater than 50/50 chance that it will. I think dumping 50+ new #1 issues in one month could very well be the end for them. Apparently no one explained that one man’s jumping-on point is 50 fans’ jumping OFF point! But maybe I am biased, I haven’t bought a new issue of a DC title since Greg Rucka stopped writing Batwoman and I think Geoff Johns is the worst thing to happen to DC creatively in its entire history, so of course the lead book is his JLA, which I predict will be as lousy as the LAST time the title re-launched. How you can have a book called “JLA” and have it written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, one of the architects of the incredible animated JLA series, and STILL screw it up, only DC could pull that one off. But as trainwrecks go, this one should be entertaining to watch. I just wish it wasn’t coming at the expense of the livelihood of many thousands of retailers, and and at the expense of the goodwill and patience of readers — “fans” if you prefer — who have supported the company through their last half-decade or so of unreadability. The digital thing will be a disaster too. Apparently they don’t know that EVERY COMIC PUBLISHED is available FREE within 24 hours of release on the internet, and that the only people left buying paper copies are the very same ones who don’t want digital or don’t know how to get them that way. Never mind that the freely-available digital versions come without digital rights management and all the hassles that that entails.
CA: Well, I disagree with you on the day-and-date digital initiative. First, digital is becoming the way people read. They had to do it and they can’t give up just because there is piracy out there. You can find pirated movies, too, but that’s not stopping Netflix from streaming.
ADD: Agreed. My point, really, is that DC and everyone else should be looking at how pirated comics works in order to create a working model that will make them money. If they charge a good fraction of the retail price of a printed copy and include Digital Rights Management, you’re not going to bring the many thousands of people reading pirated comics for free every week into your big tent.
CA: As far as day-and-date digital affecting comics retailers, well, you can only keep back progress so long. DC and every other publisher are there to sell comics (well, service trademarks on intellectual properties that can then be exploited more profitably in other media, but that’s another discussion). Publishers already agree in many cases to sell collections in comics shops weeks or even a month before they hit online retailers like Amazon. As readers become more comfortable with digital comics, the ubiquity of TPB/HC collections will decrease, as will these longstanding agreements. DC is not there to help keep the charming, struggling LCS in business. They just give you the products. If the products are now available online, well, that sucks for you, but it just means the LCS has to do an even better job of offering additional value to the consumer. When I go to the shop, it’s partly because it’s the fastest legal way to get monthly issues, yes, but it’s also for the experience, the cool feeling in the shop and the opportunity to shoot the shit with the guy behind the counter about what we’re reading, what’s happening. But you know, for many people, they may find that it’s just as enjoyable to download their comics on Wednesday and then go talk to geeks where they buy burritos or coffee. As others have written, many of your superhero comics fans are quite comfortable with technology. Just as DC makes most of their sales from an aging, existing, dwindling fanbase, they have to give that fanbase an easy way to get the product. I do totally agree with the comment about jumping off. What if you’re a potential new reader who enters his LCS for the first time in October? Nothing but #2s all around. Very weird and short-sighted not to stagger things out over several months. Guess what? OMAC can wait his turn. It will hurt these second-and-third-tier books worse, but then DC usually takes a kind of Mama Seaturtle approach: a lot of those babies won’t make it to the water.
Ultimately, Alan, you said that the plan should have instead been to let top-flight talent loose to create great superhero comics. I’m not a guy who remembers a lot of quotes, but one that always stuck with me is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” A lot of fandom is made up of those little minds, and publishers like DC have the tough task of trying to grow beyond those fans to reach new readers, while at the same satisfying those who are concerned that every story fit with every other story, even if that can’t help but hurt the quality of some of those stories by the restrictions it puts on the writers. The positive aspects of starting everything with some semblance of a clean slate are going to be immediately undone by the fact that some stories would have been better without a clean slate; that the talent leading the charge as announced so far is with one exception mediocre; and that the show is being run by Bob Harras and two Chief Creative Officers unproven as officers and not known for being creative, at least if you take creative to mean having a sense of wonder, novelty and the spark of life.
I don’t know exactly why I’m fired up. In very real terms, this affects me almost not at all, because I don’t read that many DC books to begin with and I have plenty of other things to read, and watch, and eat, and lick with my time. It would be nice if there were really cool DC comics for my kids to read, but my kids aren’t even really into comics. They liked the Timm/Dini cartoons and they like the recent superhero movies, and Bone, but most comic books I give them go unread. A forward-thinking company would be treating each book as its own special thing and exploring different formats and abandoning house art styles and intertitle continuity and crossovers and bullshit grubbing miniseries and specials. You want talent from a wide, and in many cases, younger, pool, rather than hiring that guy who meets his deadlines, toes the company line and regularly sells 15,000 copies. You want an atmosphere where almost anything can happen, where readers might be shocked and even irritated by what you’re doing with “their” heroes but it’s so entertaining you can’t stop reading it. Instead, it’s a culture where people are having meetings in conference rooms about whether the new Black Canary should have fishnets again, and which hero can be kill first so we can bring them back as a zombie.
I only started watching the show this season, so I realize I’m not going to get the full impact here. Still, aside from not really having a feel for Lex Luthor, I don’t think I missed too much or was in any way lost. I’ve enjoyed the series, though I think the season didn’t completely fire on all cylinders because they only advanced the Darkseid storyline every now and then. As someone familiar with all the comics characters, I was surprised at the choice to make Oliver Queen so important and so close to Clark, and Justin Hartley was great throughout, adding humor, flirtation and occasional self-righteousness that Tom Welling’s Clark could not, due to how he has been written. Erika Durance as well has been an excellent Lois. A bit soft for a Lois this season, but I understand that as she and Clark have already passed those early relationship hurdles during seasons I wasn’t watching. I suppose the reason I never watched this series from the start is that I never cared all that much about Smallville itself, and Ma and Pa Kent were always best in small doses in the comics.
This episode had a lot to wrap up, and I have to say only the becoming-Superman part really was done adequately, not even great. The romantics in us were denied a real wedding for Clark and Lois. Lex’s return and Tess’ redemption were crammed in. I’m sure there have been some earlier fans of the show, or Superman fans in general, who were put off by Lex being killed a while back, as he’s Superman’s main nemesis and the Fourth World characters have rarely been used that well in the main DC Universe in the comics. I liked the takes on the minions this season, particularly Granny Goodness, but Oliver’s overcoming them and “the darkness” was too easy. The framing sequence made it clear from the start that everything was going to work out fine.
Using Lionel Luthor as the embodiment of Darkseid felt to me like a budget-driven decision, as it apparently wouldn’t have looked believable to have Superman fight the obviously CGI Darkseid of whom we’ve seen glimpses. It was really unsatisfying that all Superman had to do to stop the invasion was push Apokolips away. If that’s not what happened, it was unclear what actually did. A little fighting with some Apokoliptian soldiers would have been nice, along with something scientific that could have provided Emil Hamilton with a scene or two, along with glimpses of some of the other heroes fighting the invasion. I realize the writers and producers of the show are Superman fans, and probably floated a few of these ideas that then had to be compromised due to the limited budget, which looked to be not much more than a regular-length episode, especially since some of this one was padded (often suitably, sometimes just padded) with montages of bits of past episodes, plus it seemed to me that the establishing shots, such as the Fortress of Solitude, lingered longer than usual.
I liked the Pa Kent and Jor-El stuff just fine, though Ma Kent as a politician or whatever she is seemed too far from the original premise, which probably has something to do with her lack of impact on the season. Once you’re a Congresswoman, no one trusts your homespun wisdom. I do understand the dramatic reasons for giving first Lois cold feet, and then Clark, but it did not only eat up some valuable episode time but sort of diminish how destined they are to be together. Overall, not a bad finish, and the cast all did good jobs, but I’m betting almost everyone associated with the show has other episodes they think came out better.
Artist - Andy Kubert (Scott Kolins and Francis Manapul on Flash #11 & 12)
Publisher - DC Comics. $3.99 USD.
I try to be fair. I cop to not being a Geoff Johns fan, but I like the Flash and I like alternate reality stories, so I thought I’d give Flashpoint a try. And to be fair, I figured I’d read a couple issues of The Flash, since it leads into the story. So here we go with #11, and it honestly only takes three pages before I flip out. A red-haired kid, who’s witness to somebody aging at an alarming rate, hasn’t given his story yet. Barry Allen, who I always thought was more of a CSI type, is apparently running the investigation, so he tells a bespectacled female coworker to talk to him. She takes the kid, who by the way is wearing a red and yellow shirt, so with the red hair you know he’s probably going to be a new Impulse or something soon, off to the cafeteria. Another detective asks Barry, “You really think it’s smart to hand over this witness to a wallflower like Patty Spivot?”
Now, I let Barry’s “How did someone age eighty-plus years in a matter of seconds…And why would they do it?” slide, even though in the context of the scene the how and why meant exactly the same thing. But this line really threw me. “Wallflower?” Really, Geoff Johns? Just because your story involves unnatural aging doesn’t mean you’re supposed to write like Stan Lee in 1963. If, somehow, this comic was slipped under the white door of Steve Ditko’s apartment, he would read this and go, “Wallflower? Isn’t that expression kind of outdated?” And this is a guy who still thinks men wear fedoras. Does Johns even know what wallflower means? Is Patty’s inability to dance in public going to cause the witness to clam up? (Clam up is also an antiquated phrase, but we actually still have clams in 2011, and they do close up tightly, so living people can figure out what it means)
Of course, what Johns is trying to do is cram two idea-dicks into one vaginal dialogue balloon (known in the comics industry as DP), which is that Patty, this character with a last name that sounds like a plumbing fixture, is 1) a nerd, and 2) as a nerd, not to be trusted with the important child witness. But why? What’s wrong with the plain Jane policewoman? Should only Type A hard-on cops be grilling a scared-to-death kid? It makes absolutely no sense.
Things get a little better with The Flash #12, although Johns treats Barry Allen’s goodness as a kind of virus that makes not only him but everyone around him earnest and boring. We get an intervention from wife Iris and other speedy types, because Barry’s been working too hard (guys—he was vibrating in another dimension for years, cut him some slack), and then in #12 there’s a lot of touch-feely with Barry admitting he’s still upset about his mother’s death, but Iris is there for him, and then there’s a douchey scene with Barry telling Patty he just wants to be friends, because of course the hero with no testosterone or sex drive is going to be irresistible to his female coworkers, blah blah blah. Johns is certainly not alone in this, but there’s just a very programmed feeling about the whole thing, like he’s just hitting plot points but without bringing any life experience, insight, humor or life to them. Surely someone has had a heart-to-heart with Johns about something, and maybe it wasn’t over coffee and involving lots of hand-holding? Maybe it was in a cab, or while brushing teeth before lights out, or something not so Hallmark/Lifetimey about it. Surely he knows what it’s like to have let someone know he’s not as into them as they are into him? You could have done this with other characters interrupting, to increase the awkwardness, or with both of them trying to work at the same time, or something not so damn pat and flat.
I’m not saying Johns is without feeling, because clearly he’s a very loyal guy, keeping Scott Kolins around despite the artist’s work deteriorating over the years into a stiffness in his figures he didn’t have a decade ago. If you want an argument against digital pencils, it’s Scott Kolins, and it doesn’t help that the coloring is similar to ads for roast turkey, where the meat is sprayed to look browner and shinier than real life.
I don’t mean this as a nonstop rip on Johns, because it would be ridiculous to suggest a guy who has reached his level of success can’t write a decent comic now and then, and as it happens, Flashpoint #1 is prettty good. I say this with some qualification, though, as it’s not that hard to make the first issue of an alternate reality superhero comic work. You change the status quo as much as possible, have dead characters now alive and/or living ones dead, and present plenty of different costumes and codenames. Johns does all this, and it’s perfectly fine. As with Johns’ past successes, he’s looking to give some second-tier characters as much attention and chances to shine as the big names, so here we have Cyborg as the leader of the ragtag resistance force against the two threats to civilization, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Does it really matter why The Question is called The Outsider here, and looks different, or why Thomas Wayne is the Batman? No, because this will all be wrapped up and put right in five issues. Am I interested in finding out the answers? Yeah, kinda. I do think Johns could have bucked convention, and his own dark impulses, and presented an alternate reality as less grim than the regular DCU reality. It might have been fresher for the heroes to be a little more naive, to not have experienced such darkness, so that the Aquaman/Wonder Woman invasions would hit them that much harder. It’s okay, though. Andy Kubert has gotten way too fussy with drapery and other faces, though. It’s like a Greg Capullo issue of Spawn or something.
Is “pretty good” really good enough for the longest-running superhero title’s 900th issue? I guess we’ll have to take what we’re served. Cornell and Woods wrap up the Lex Luthor “Black Ring” storyline with Lex gaining ultimate power but losing it because of his fatal flaw—his need to beat Superman. Cornell has done a terrific job the past nine months or so depicting Lex as the complicated genius he’s meant to be, his “evil” due to his intellect overriding personal sentiment. And as this issue emphasizes, he never really had a fair chance to be a nice guy, lacking the parenting Clark Kent had.
At the same time, Cornell made Lex’s villainy enjoyable; you rooted for the guy to overcome less interesting bad guys like Vandal Savage and Larfleeze, even though you knew a Lex with godlike power would be a very bad thing for the DCU.
Early in the run, Lex explained that he had created the robot Lois Lane, in part, to provide a different perspective. It was about the first time I can recall Lex essentially admitting he could be wrong about something, or that he could use some help, and it was refreshing. But in this issue, with the robot Lois revealed as a pawn of Brainiac, Lex abandons these ideas, and defaults to his need to best Superman, even though there’s no real need at this point. This would be fine (we all know someone gifted who can’t seem to get over some weakness or other), but Cornell chooses maybe the wrong method: Lex forcing Superman to see the depths of human emotion. It totally backfires, since Lex doesn’t really understand human emotion, even less so now that he’s a god. It doesn’t make any sense. If pale, redheaded chef Bobby Flay achieved godhood, methinks he would take on his nemesis in something cooking-related, right? Not…tanning.
It’s okay, but considerably diluted by a subplot continuing this “Reign of Doomsdays” story that has wound its way through a Steel one-shot, Titans, a Superman/Batman annual and elsewhere. It’s forced into the Lex story as if he had something to do with it, plus it makes Doomsday a less impressive villain, plus nobody likes Cyborg Superman, plus there are too many other artists on deck.
It would have been nice if this 900th issue finished off the Lex story in a stronger, more concise fashion, leaving out the Doomsday story and leaving more room for shorts by some of the biggest talents in comics. Instead, we get a clever, restrained taken on Krypton’s last days written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and some other stuff.
Paul Dini is a talented guy but no longer a guarantee of good comics, and his space parable doesn’t work. But comics fans are forgiving and loyal, which may explain the presence of Richard Donner, who is here for directing a good Superman movie over 30 years ago and not much else. Donner has forgotten more about what makes Superman work than most of us will ever know, and in this storyboarded script, he proves it.
David S. Goyer writes the instantly newsworthy story about Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship so that he will no longer be seen as a symbol of U.S. policy. This results from a hamfisted attempt by Goyer at mixing superheroes with real-world troubles, when Superman shows support for rioters in Tehran by standing still for a long time. Okay? And when did this alien with a fake name ever become a citizen, anyway?
And of course, it couldn’t be a notable DC superhero comic without Geoff Johns showing up. He’s like Snoop Dogg. Do either of them ever turn anything down when they’re not feeling it? Johns’ story isn’t terrible; there’s just nothing to it. Lois invites the Legion of Superheroes over for a party, and they sit or stand around and eat. As nice as Gary Frank draws Lois’ butt, or Timber Wolf eating pizza, it’s not much of a story. As colossal anniversary issues go, it’s okay.
Writers - Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski, Geoff Johns, Brian Augustyn, Various
Artists - Guy Davis, Ryan Sook, Matt Smith, Cameron Stewart, Michael Avon Oeming, Various
Publisher - Dark Horse Books. $34.99 USD
For those of you for whom this is the first exposure to these comics—I’m envious. Not for you the worry that Hellboy’s supporting cast would falter on their own. Not for you the concern that Mignola would spread himself too thin, or later, that the franchise would be diluted with too many un-Mignola-like creative visions. And not for you the unease that maybe there just wouldn’t be that many good horror stories to tell after a while.
For me, and no doubt many who were Hellboy fans in the ‘90s and onward, these were some real concerns. We’d seen creator-owned genre franchises deteriorate with too many spinoffs, or just too many issues. Mignola had already flirted with selling out with Hellboy team-ups with Batman and Starman (together), as well as the now-forgotten ‘90s Dark Horse hit supernatural heroine, Ghost. Those were fine but forgettable. Was B.P.R.D. going to be the same?
Well, yes and no, though the first effort, Hollow Earth, was decidedly in the Win column. Mignola wrote it just like he was going to be drawing it, instead bringing in Ryan Sook on art. Although Sook takes a different approach to faces, he’s otherwise pretty close to Mignola in style, at least here, as he’s no doubt trying to please his writer and also using Mignola-designed characters and creatures.
Hollow Earth has a good main plot, involving a subterranean “King of Fear” and his trollish minions using Liz Sherman’s pyrokinetic powers to fire up their fearsome, world-conquering machines, but what really makes it work is the amount of effort Mignola puts into fleshing out the B.P.R.D. cast. Hellboy appears in flashback, so that we can see how his warm, welcoming presence helped Liz and Abe Sapien as frightened newcomers to the B.P.R.D., and Hellboy’s example provides the foundation for Abe’s first shot at leading a team in Hollow Earth. We also get to know the delightful Johan Straus, he of the gaseous spirit contained within a clear, humanoid containment suit, and there’s a little more on Roger the Homunculus, who has that great big lock on his genitals that should have started a real world fashion trend.
The question of whether Mignola’s characters would work without a Mignolaesque artist wouldn’t be answered immediately, as the volume includes a couple of short stories (solo Lobster Johnston, a kind of pulp era monster hunter, and a solo Abe story that retroactively introduces Roger) with art by other noted Mignola acolyte Matt Smith. Then, the scales tip a bit from Art towards Commerce, with a raft of one-shots by other creators, as Mignola’s time is taken up with work on and around the Guillermo del Toro Hellboy film. Brian McDonald’s/Derek Thompson’s Drums of the Dead finds Abe fighting a nail-adorned warthog man fighting Abe on a boat, a thin effort not bettered by Geoff Johns’ and Scott Kolins’ workmanlike Lobster Johnston adventure, Night Train. Perhaps the least of the bunch is Joe Harris’ and Adam Pollina’s There’s Something Under My Bed, a generic monster story that has real connection to Mignola’s work and world.
A couple bright spots exist. Brian Augustyn and Guy Davis offer up the entertaining Dark Waters, which is more notable for an impressive Davis art job than a completely cohesive story, although Augustyn at least shares Mignola’s interest in small town secrets, religious fanatics, and the enduring terror of the deep. Mignola also gets partly back into the mix with a script polish on Miles Gunter’s and Michael Avon Oeming’s The Soul of Venice. While some of what made it exciting when first published are no longer such big deals—the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe hadn’t at that time done much with vampires, and Oeming was becoming a big deal as an artist on the series Powers—it still holds up as a pretty good B.P.R.D. horror story. It’s also notable for glimpses of sexual depravity that Mignola himself shies away from in his own scripts, plus it establishes Oeming as an artist capable of handling Mignola’s characters extremely well, and with a similarly impressive command of light and shade, even if his style is unlike Mignola’s in most regards. Cameron Stewart also acquits himself well in the Mignola-written, Another Day at the Office, but as the title suggests, it’s a slight, pedestrian effort.
While it might be unfair to call the non-Mignola efforts cynical, they do call into question whether it’s worth doing B.P.R.D. stories without his involvement as writer. Even Dark Waters owes some of its appeal in this volume to what Guy Davis does later, establishing himself as the B.P.R.D. artist for several years. Fortunately, the first fruits of this run are included here, as well they should be if you’re going to use Plague of Frogs in the title.
I haven’t counted pages, but I’d have to guess there’s enough for at least one, probably two more Plague of Frogs omnibuses like this one. It’s in this one where we first see the next direction for B.P.R.D. As with Hellboy, there would be two kinds of B.P.R.D. books—one developing a complex and increasingly horrifying story, with dark gods and destiny and world threats, and the other kind the more self-contained, lighter stories—told by others but perhaps with a more watchful eye by Mignola and editor Scott Allie.
With Plague of Frogs, Mignola gets back to business, taking inspiration from the Bible and mixing it with H.P. Lovecraft in a story involving a kind of intelligent fungus infecting people and turning them into froglike monsters. There are a lot of footnotes in this one, to Mignola’s research as well as past Hellboy stories, indicating he’s put in a good deal of thought into where he’s been and where he’s going. That doesn’t mean the story is dry at all; it’s a lot of fun, and Davis makes an immediate impact, with horrible/cool creatures as well as distinctive takes on the existing cast. His Liz Sherman in particular is unusual, a little harder and not as fragile as Mignola draws her. Longtime colorist Dave Stewart gets to expand his palette much more than the reds and earth tones used on Mignola’s art. As expected in a story with reptiles, there’s plenty of green, but also lots of violet, blue and a wide array of fleshtones. Whereas with Mignola it always seems to be nighttime, with Davis it’s usually dusk.
While this would be a good romp as just a monster story, again Mignola is concerned with character development, and so this is where he finally gets around to an origin story for Abe Sapien, and it’s a strange one best left unspoilt here. Mignola was right not only to invest more effort into planning a long-range payoff with this story, but also to bite the bullet and trust in a talented artist with a very different style than his. Although maybe 20% of this collection is forgettable, by the end of the book we see it start to evolve from agreeable to exceptional, an equal to pure Mignola Hellboy stories. It probably goes without saying that this volume also features a generous sketchbook section from Mignola, Davis and some of the other top-tier artists who drew stories in the book.
Very nice, if brief, interview by TCJ’s Dan Nadel with Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell, author of the new biography, Alex Toth: Genius, Isolated, the first of a three-part bio from IDW. I’ve ordered the book and can’t wait to get it and dig in. Meanwhile, thoughtful comments from Mullaney and Canwell, and I liked that there’s a bit of intellectual tension between them and Nadel, though in a respectful way.
Kevin Melrose, posing the tough question only someone paid to gin up comics “news” every day would ask the day after OBL is killed: How does this affect Frank Miller’s most ludicrous project yet?. Good thing he got this up right away, while all the quotes are still old and out of context. I like Melrose and Robot6, but are there any pieces that ever go unposted for being too thin or ill-conceived?
Maybe it’s unfair, but until Pixar decides to tell the animated story of a bunch of anthropomorphic egg siblings, I’m just not interested. Look, I just think if you have to give your little eggy characters stick figure limbs, and ninja outfits, then to me, you’ve somehow failed to work within the limits of your concept. It might as well be mice or shrunk-down humans in a big scary world or, you know, any sentient, ambulatory creature with brain function, rather than unfertilized chicken embryos. As the bio page indicates, Schmidt was inspired by Australian artist Norman Lindsay and decided to make a comic, so he sequestered himself and did it. But as far as I know, Slave Labor is under no legal obligation to publish it. I don’t want to be mean, but I just didn’t connect with the comic at all. You know what’s a better use of eggs? Boil some spaghetti, drain the water, and while the pasta is still hot, throw in butter, olive oil, parmesan, salt, pepper and a cracked egg, and stir. The heat will cook the egg that coats the pasta, adding protein and extra flavor. Alternately, make pizza with dough, olive oil, salt, cheese and cured meat on top such as prosciutto or salami and then crack an egg on top of that while it’s still in the oven. These are two good things to do with eggs. Let’s end on a positive.
DC Comics. $19.99 USD / $39.99 USD (Tabloid Facsimile)
One thing I like about Neal Adams is how much pride he takes in his work. And I don’t just mean that his hard work is evident, but that he publicly takes pride in it. The Introduction to this hardcover reprint makes that clear—he thinks this is a great book that shows everyone how great comics are. You know what? He’s right on both counts.
Although I have no doubt Denny O’Neil made an important contribution to the plotting of this titanic team-up, it’s probably to the better that Adams ended up writing the thing—a superstar depicting the meeting of two superstars. Adams gets Superman fine, but he really understands Ali, because Adams is also a “it’s not bragging if you can do it” kind of guy. Adams takes pleasure in depicting a man who is not only at the top of his game, physically, but who also has a philosophy behind what he does. Adams was never just a showy artist; he served a story, and was constantly trying to move the art form forward.
I don’t mean to just lather up Adams here, but I was honestly really pleased to find how well this book holds up over thirty years later. I remember it coming out and reading my cousin’s copy, but I never had my own. It turns out it’s very well-plotted, with a number of interesting twists and developments, not to mention a great depiction of a respective union of two talented characters of integrity. It’s also a great distillation of Muhammad Ali, a knowing primer on some of the intricacies of boxing, and a celebration of American ingenuity and resilience, and it can’t have been the easiest book to put together, given that it featured a living icon and had to be approved by his religious guru. Somehow, Adams leaps the hurdles, and delivers a fun but well-thought-out story with not just the stuff above, but some pretty good fights, aliens, robots, spaceships and celebrity onlookers.
Adams is pretty corny at times, but that’s the only minor complaint. There’s so much more going on here than most specials of the past couple decades, with their full-page spreads and extended battles. Adams rightly found the common denominator of dignity between Ali and Superman, and even gives some to some of the alien enemies, which raises the tale up a couple notches from your average alien invasion story. And the art, forget about it. Adams is not only inked by his most complementary embellisher, the late Dick Giordano, but a young (but recognizable) Terry Austin inks the backgrounds. It’s great stuff, and unlike some of the Adams reprints of recent years, the recoloring is for the most part an improvement, though noticeably different from the original book. Really one of the most enjoyable single issues of a superhero comic you’ll ever read.
It’s been a busy 70th anniversary for Steve Rogers, the once and future Captain America. Between his titular series, every Avengers book, and the new Fear Itself, there’s not a week that goes by where once doesn’t see the star-jumpsuited soldier judging, counseling or beating someone for the good of Earth or the U S of A.
Captain America: Allies and Enemies
Writers - Rob Williams, Kathryn Immonen, William Harms, Kieron Gillen, Kelly Sue Deconnick
I’m referring to the hardcover collection coming out May 18th, but these were the five Captain America and… one-shots Marvel published the past couple months. There’s no strong theme uniting them other than whoever is in the title besides Cap is actually the star of the book. This is especially true with Captain America and the Falcon, which wastes several pages on the tail-end of an Avengers/Lethal Legion fight just to get Cap in the book. The rest is Falcon, Sam Wilson, going back to Harlem to try to help one of his old prostitutes from his pimp days get her son out of the gang life and back into a promising college football career. It’s a shame that no one can write a Sam Wilson story that isn’t about his criminal past or his feelings of being overshadowed by Captain America, but this one isn’t too bad. At least it doesn’t have the expected happy ending, though again, it might have been better with more space devoted to Sam’s story rather than the labored Avengers stuff, especially if Williams could have used that time to flesh out the complexity’s of the mother character, who’s concerned but mercenary at the same time. I also liked how the little bit about the redwing falcon’s resilience in NYC mirrored The Falcon’s.
Captain America and the First Thirteen fleshes out a little of the Cap/Peggy Carter romance during a mission she’s leading for the French Resistance. It’s fast-paced and nicely wistful at the end, but while it features Cap more prominently than the other one-shots, that ends up being a negative. Immonen writes him as a violent, gung-ho horndog unlike most of the takes we’ve seen of the character over the past six decades. It’s a shame, because she can be a witty writer and some of that is present in how the other characters are written here, but it’s almost like she has an axe to grind here. It seems like where others have written of Peggy as Steve Rogers’ first love, for Immonen she’s just this nervy chick he liked to fuck during the War, until he didn’t. It really wasn’t necessary to tear Cap down to make Peggy and her female Resistance friend look better.
Captain America and Crossbones by Harms/Shalvey is the best of the lot, a dark espionage mission for the unrepentant killer Crossbones involving trying to clean up a government virus experiment gone awry on a small Balkan island. Shalvey captures a Crossbones who’s badass but thoroughly human in proportion, Harms making him an almost completely bad egg with just a glimmer of compassion that expresses itself in a darkly comic ending. Add Captain America and Batroc, an amusing and surprisingly effective character piece by Gillen and Arlem on the type a man a villain would have to be to keep going up against Captain America with no hope of success, and you’ve got the only two essential one-shots of the five.
Captain America and The Secret Avengers is the weakest effort, so it’s too bad it’s the last one. It feels a lot like an old Solo Avengers story of some inventory piece for Marvel Fanfare or Marvel Comics Presents, so it’s kind of funny that the one-shot is padded with an old MCP story starring Black Widow and Silver Sable, with art by a young, not-as-bad Rob Liefeld (others have featured Lee/Kirby Cap stories). Greg Tocchini handles the art, and it’s kind of like the series of interlocking covers he did for all the one-shots in that there are some nice moments between some very awkward poses and ugly faces (the women on the covers look stoned to the gills). Deconnick comes up with a serviceable reason to get Black Widow and Agent 13 together on a mission: to save young Russian agent Tatiana from taking revenge on a corrupt girls finishing school that’s really a front for assassin training for various dictators and warlords, called L.A.S.S.E.S. (don’t ask). It struck me during the leader, Lady Ashley’s (that’s the L and A in the name, since you went ahead and asked), speech to the gathered bad dudes at the fundraiser, that Deconnick is willing at any opportunity to sacrifice logic and plausibility for jokes and would-be bright lines. Lady Ashley praises the throng for being, among other things, “soulless,” but as anyone who watches the news can see, every Mubarak and Ghadafi can rationalize their bloody acts as being for the ultimate good of their people. Perhaps unintentionally, this one-shot bookends the Falcon one and they’re both about trying to help a young person from making a terrible mistake with dire consequences, but here Deconnick does go for the pat ending after a suspense-free climax. The lasting memory of this one is the running joke about Sharon Carter being called Natasha’s mom. If you think about it too much, the real joke is why anyone thinks former Avenger Natasha can still do undercover work.
Secret Avengers #11
Writer - Ed Brubaker. Artist - Will Conrad
"Absolutely not, Gary!" It’s not enough that Brubaker brought Bucky back from the dead in an arc that made him a brainwashed Russian assassin to the newest Captain America, as well as getting Steve Rogers to hang up the shield and start a team of black ops Avengers, but to finally introduce a character into the Marvel Universe named Gary, never mind one who gets Hank McCoy pissed about something non-mutanty, is really something. Bravo, Bru. In the non-MU, most of us don’t know a lot of John Steeles and Natashas and Hanks (and I’ve had a longstanding rule never to trust anyone named Steve that’s 99% effective). But we all know a Gary, and he’s often a stout, stammering fellow like this one. Whether he’s also a scientist with technology that can show a subject’s memories on a monitor with non-POV camera angles is irrelevant.
As far as the other, Garyless stuff in the issue, it’s the first of a two-parter that will wrap up Brubaker’s uneven run on the series. It’s mainly a WWII flashback story with Cap and Steele against not just Nazis but kinda-sorta zombies and maybe even a Lovecraftian tentacled monster, so there’s that. Conrad’s art is fine but unexceptional, and is in keeping with the general stylistic range of past Cap/SA artists like Deodato, Epting, Perkins et al.
What’s more interesting about this issue is that it really doesn’t fit the general remit of Secret Avengers, and counting next issue and #6, that’s 25% of the series thus far that’s not really about black ops, Defendery team book adventures. It kind of felt from early on that Brubaker’s heart wasn’t really into the concept of the book, and it didn’t seem like he had any real plans in mind for the team members like Ant-Man, Beast or Valkyrie who aren’t currently being served in their own or others’ books the way Rogers, Black Widow and Agent 13 still pretty much are in Captain America, and I think Moon Knight still has a series, right? I think it’s notable that Nova and Shang-Chi amounted to little more than guest stars, and both were there to serve stories about secret societies, a recurring theme of Brubaker’s. Another recurring theme is reclamation projects and redeeming the damaged or brainwashed (Bucky, Sharon, the ’50s Cap, Zack Overkill from Incognito), with the latest project being John Steele. Brubaker explores these themes well, don’t get me wrong; I just think it’s interesting how a creator’s prime directive will take over despite the purported premise of the book. Which leads me to…
Captain America #616
Writers - Ed Brubaker, Cullen Bunn, Frank Tieri, Howard Chaykin, Mike Benson
Artists - Mike Deodato, Ed McGuinness, Jason Latour, Howard Chaykin, Paul Grist, Travis Charest, Paul Azaceta
It’s the 70th Anniversary issue, clocking in at over 90 pages of comics. Don’t get too excited by seeing Charest’s name there, as he just does a one-page distillation of the basic Cap origin/rebirth for Brubaker, but it looks good. Late greats Jim Aparo and Curt Swan have a couple late career Cap commission pieces in here as well. A big chunk of the book is by Brubaker, though. First is the beginning of “Gulag,” a story taking Bucky to a Russian prison for crimes committed while he was the Winter Soldier and for which he was already tried and convicted in absentia. We’ve already seen Bucky in jail in “The Trial of Captain America,” and prison stories are another recurring motif for Brubaker, but this begins ably enough. Although Steve Rogers’ position in the current administration could ensure better treatment of Bucky by the Russians, that wouldn’t be as dramatic as having him face a former Crimson Dynamo who wants to kill him, or having him battle Ursa Major, possibly to the death, would it? Deodato puts in more effort into rendering an angry bear-man than anyone has a right to expect.
Brubaker accomplishes a couple things in the next story, first taking us through Steve Rogers’ feelings of frustration at not being able to help Bucky at this time, and also setting up the coming Captain America and Bucky series he’s going to write with Marc Andreyko, as the story is largely a flashback Invaders adventure that gives McGuinness a chance to draw some classic Golden Age characters. Some have said it shows that McGuinness is capable of drawing with less bombast, but to me, a story with the Invaders and the Red Skull could have used more of it. Not bad, though, and it will be interesting to see Brubaker explore moral ambiguity and secret societies during the Greatest Generation/Four Color Comics era.
The rest of the stories are all about Steve Rogers’ Cap during various times, by various creators, most of whom have little experience with writing or drawing him. The Bunn/Latour “Spin” is an interesting story about a farming town so devastated by the economy that they agree to let AIM set up underground weapons facilities there, while Howard Chaykin uses a fanciful premise of a Norman Rockwell painting of Cap and a young woman as the backdrop for a nice story of romance lost, times passed, and oh yeah, there’s Nazis.
There’s a goofy WWII Baron Blood/Invaders story where Cap briefly becomes a vampire. It’s funny that Grist does the art, because he already covered so much of this material in his own Jack Staff, which is basically his own Union Jack, who has a nemesis very similar to Baron Blood. It’s nice to see him go right to the source here, but Jack Staff is much better.
I wouldn’t call the Tieri/Azaceta story the worst piece here, as the art is nice, and the Union Jack tale never gets going at all, but it does still leave kind of a bad taste. The idea is that there have been several clones made of Hitler over the years, and almost all have been tracked down and destroyed, but Steve Rogers finds one right in Manhattan, an art gallery curator and artist named Edmund Heidler, who apparently doesn’t know who he really is. Tieri has Sharon Carter, a seasoned spy who has seen many weird things and many good people committing horrible acts (like Winter Soldier), go nuts at this news and want to turn the car around and do some sort of drive-by on Heidler, forcing Steve to practically punch her to get her to cut it out. Tieri’s idea is not a bad one, that Heidler is innocent because he has none of Hitler’s memories and is not himself guilty of any crimes. But the execution stinks, with a risible shock ending where Heidler can’t help this urge to paint the swastika into everything, including a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. He’s also named his cat Eva. Oy vey.
Vertigo took some well-deserved flak last year for its Vertigo Crime imprint, a series of thin hardcover graphic novels that look similar in design to real novels and cost the same, but for much simpler stories and often mediocre art. Heck, I recall at least a couple weren’t even true crime novels but more along the lines of castoff Hellblazer stories.
Peter Milligan, though, he’s usually worth a read, and James Romberger’s online persona has always revealed him to be an individual of taste and intelligence, so one would hope that when he chose to draw something again it was going to be noteworthy. As it is, The Bronx Kill is certainly one of the better of the Vertigo Crime books, but that’s not saying a lot.
The story follows Martin Keane, a writer suffering a block after a successful debut novel. His ex-cop dad is an insensitive asshole, so we want to like Martin, but going off to Ireland to research a book and leaving his wife alone for months doesn’t inspire sympathy, or at least it doesn’t as presented here, because it’s unclear just what is pulling Martin to Ireland. Soon after returning, his wife, who had become fascinated with the stretch of land known as the Bronx Kill in New York, ends up dead there, making Martin a suspect. Martin’s guilt isn’t really presented as a possibility; Milligan has other fish to fry, tying the murder and the Bronx Kill landscape together, along with the prose pieces of Martin’s Irish novel in progress, in a story about history and sins of fathers being visited on sons and on down.
Romberger does an admirable job of storytelling, as is the case with most of the Vertigo Crime artists. When I used “mediocre” above, what I really mean is that while some, like Romberger, have a more effective style than others, in no case does any of them really let loose with a page of breathtaking beauty or invention. They are subordinate to the scripts, Romberger more than most and with some excuse, because of the prose sections of the book breaking up the flow. It ends up a rather compromised project that probably would have worked better as a prose novel, opened up with more twists, more background and greater attention to the novel-within-the-novel. At 180 pages of comics, Milligan gives short shrift to some promising ideas, and also short changes the character of Martin, as well as giving the story a shock ending that’s more sour than surprising.
I wasn’t too worried about the new Dan Nadel/Tim Hodler revamp of TCJ.com, but it’s off to an even better start than expected. Now, I’m not offering anything close to a comprehensive review; one nice thing here is that there’s quite a bit to dig into and most of the articles, columns, interviews and reviews are relatively lengthy. Just a few thoughts on the ones I read first:
Tucker Stone on Johnny Red - Tucker’s a good reviewer, but it seems like he exposed a soft spot here. This sounds like a raft of formulaic, derivative old sub-Enemy Ace bollocks—why not let rip with some anti-aircraft fire? I realize he knows one of the other three people (Grant Goggans) in America who might be getting this book, but still. (Note: I just realized I wrote this after a loving review of a book of Adam Hughes’ T&A covers. My daughter was embarrassed by Power Girl’s cleavage.)
Sean T. Collins interviewing Blaise Larmee. Jaunty Sean T. is a thoughtful interviewer and Larmee is an exciting young talent. But while Larmee isn’t insulting, I wasn’t really into the games he was playing here. Which is fine. Maybe from now on I’ll just focus on his lovely comics. (Note: sometimes we shouldn’t interview artists we like. For me it was Kevin Huizenga, but it didn’t ruin my affection for his comics.)
R. Fiore’s Funnybook Roulette. Hey, Fiore’s one of my favorites and I’m glad he stayed on. The line about Toy Story 3's characters exchanging one god for another is brilliant. Still, call me a dick editor but if I was Nadler I'd want to launch this new webmagazine edition of “Funnybook Roulette” with something about actual funnybooks. Not cartoons. (Note: this kind of attitude may be why nobody lasted very long with me editing them at Comic Book Galaxy.)
Bob Levin on the Frank Frazetta stolen artwork case. This is the best piece I read yesterday, and it’s not even in my top 20 Levin pieces (never mind his full-length books). It was sad/funny to see commenters on the piece ripping him for a) not appreciating Frazetta’s artwork the way they do, and b) practicing an un-tabloid reporterlike restraint by not intruding further into the lives of the hurting, feuding Frazetta kids (Bob could get another good piece about how we consume Art while not really caring about the artists themselves and the pain that results in or from their art). There’s a kindness in his method, and in not pressing too hard on what seems pretty clearly an opinion that Frazetta’s work was simplistic, didn’t evolve, and even suffered some technical failings in the classic sense of believable light sources and the like. He also maybe thought Frazetta was kind of a loudmouth, if only judging by the TCJ Gary Groth interview years earlier.
While the piece offered no new revelations in the story (and even missed one or two recent developments), I appreciated the psychological insight of it. If your world-famous Pops moved your family out to the boondocks, that might feel a little stifling, might cause some resentment. I liked Levin’s problem-solving here; lacking juicy quotes or an obvious hook for the story (he hitches a ride on the Art of the Steal/Van Barnes story, but it’s not enough of a parallel with Frazetta to get him very far), he turns inward, seeing in the aging lion Frazetta and the void his passing left for his survivors his own struggles and obligations with his elderly, stroke-surviving mother. That’s more of a fiction writer’s technique, feeding off one’s own life when inspiration ebbs. It works nicely here. (Note: I just really like Bob Levin’s writing).
I’ve been aware of Adam Hughes’ artwork from pretty early on—not his Maze Agency stuff but Justice League and onward. At the time I thought, this guy is a pretty good replacement for Kevin Maguire! Since then, I guess I developed an attitude where guys like Hughes and Brian Bolland—guys who started doing interiors and now only do covers—were somehow not really living up to their potential. It’s like, by not portraying the exploits of our beloved superheroes in sequential form, they weren’t really contributing to their history, weren’t really connected. It’s nonsense, I see that now.
I picked this book up in my local library on a whim. I do get to some comics late in the game but don’t live under a rock, so I’ve known for many years how good Hughes was as a cover artist, even if I was mainly experiencing it in thumbnail-sized solicitation copy or a quick scan at a comic shop shelf of new releases. That he has had a long, venerable run depicting Wonder Woman wasn’t lost on me, but clearly, I didn’t really appreciate how good he is.
This volume is an eye-opener into not just how good Hughes has been and for so long, but how hard he works to keep getting better. With a witty, self-deprecating tone, Hughes walks the reader through cover after cover, including preliminary sketches. We learn where he feels he went wrong, where he picked up a valuable bit of insight into, say, how best to depict the values of metallic clothing, or how Diana’s lasso can be not just an Art Nouveau design element but also one that serves a storytelling function, leading the viewer’s eye along an intended path. With each image, one comes to appreciate the fierce-yet-joyous, vaguely Mediterranean face of Diana, and where Hughes cops to making her too harsh here, too busty there, and boy, those boots are hard to get quite right. It’s amazing; the guy really has a strong opinion about those boots, and he’s sorry but he’s going to keep drawing them that way. Technology like Photoshop has by Hughes’ own admission been a godsend to his work, but the tools and toys are absolutely in service to a real artistic vision, a thoughtful and often humorous journey for beauty. I’ve surprised myself, but I really need to own this book.
If you watch any reality television like Top Chef or Project Runway, you will notice that there’s always that one guy who expresses a kind of superficial shock and empathy when the person who’s just been cut by the judges comes back into the waiting room. “Really?! You’re kidding me!” A lot of comics readers are like that, or at least a lot of the ones who post in comments threads. I’m not trying to be negative here—it’s a nice gesture that at its best lets the people who were producing the canceled comic know that the few people who were buying their comic liked it and wished them well and an easy transition to other projects.
Still, the cancellation of DC’s First Wave imprint shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone after the first month. The premise of a pulp fiction milieu for Golden Age comics characters like Doc Savage, The Spirit, Crimson Avenger and others to interact in a universe where they were the big heroes and the only superhero was a pulpy, out-of-continuity Batman, was going to be difficult to make a success under the best circumstances. None of these characters have endured in the public consciousness in a way that would bring in many non-comics readers, nor have they been particularly successful comics characters for many years.
Matters of taste aside, having Brian Azzarello script a lead-in one-shot and miniseries to introduce these characters wasn’t a bad idea. Azzarello has his fans. Using Batman as a way to lead superhero readers over to the line was also a sensible idea. Where DC went wrong has much to do with scheduling and marketing, and those problems are not unique to this line, nor other comics publishers.
Publishers often have a perverse sort of Darwinism when it comes to publishing new titles, offering three or four in the expectation that that offers better odds for one succeeding than just publishing one and focusing on making that the best it can be. Of course, many times the editors in charge of putting these books together don’t have much choice. Here, DC owns these characters and eventually must publish something featuring them, so there is some logic to doing it all at one time and hoping that generates more buzz than a single title. The problem, then, is that the prospective new customer is led to believe that he or she might need to buy all the titles to understand the line, and so it becomes easier to pass. Instead of a shared universe, it’s a fishbowl with maybe only enough food for one fish. There is no camaraderie here. Do you think Seth MacFarlane was happy about Bob’s Burgers? It’s a competitor for his viewership. First Wave launched with the first issue of the lead-in miniseries, but it wasn’t designed well as a lead-in because they scheduled the release of the Doc Savage and The Spirit books within weeks of its first issue, rather than building off the momentum of a hopefully good conclusion to the miniseries. The fact that those series didn’t feature any of the talent who did the miniseries itself would also dull the excitement, unless readers were as excited by the new creative teams.
When it comes to the marketing, it seems reasonable to criticize DC for how little they promoted these titles, or indeed most ongoing series once they’ve debuted. I liken DC to a mama pig with a litter of piglets but only two teats, so only the two strongest piglets get fed. And having fed, they’re going to be stronger than the others and thus able to keep getting fed, while those others get weaker and weaker, with many eventually starving to death. I can’t blame DC for putting more time and money into promoting the projects and titles that either have already been selling or show more signs of crossover appeal, as in your Brightest Day and DC Universe Online and Batman and Green Lantern books. That just makes sense. But then again, if you’re not going to do much for other books but one house ad, why bother? What expectation could DC have that this Doc Savage is going to be the one that takes off? I think it’s probably reasonable to assume that most of DC knows that such titles aren’t going to do well, so perhaps they publish them knowing they’ll fail, and the lack of marketing push is just an attempt not to throw good money after bad.
With the First Wave line, it also occurs to me that those appear to have been approved and developed prior to Diane Nelson taking over. It’s common practice in the motion picture industry, at least, for a new studio head to underpromote movies greenlit by the previous studio head, so that their failure will only reenforce that firing the last guy was the right move. I don’t know how it works with publishing, but it’s just human nature that one will work harder to make something succeed if it started on your watch. Having no attachment to First Wave, once it had performed its first function of trademark renewal and shown the titles were underperforming, it only helps Diane Nelson to show her bosses she’s watching the bottom line and culling the books that are draining profits.
As far as the execution of the books, it feels wrong to knock them too hard when they’re down and almost out, but Azzarello’s cynicism never seemed a good fit when he wrote Batman stories, so Golden Age pulp heroes seem even more out of his comfort zone (though I could see him as a decent fit on The Shadow with his knack for conspiracy stories). On Doc Savage, well, they took a chance on a novelist with little comics-writing experience and it didn’t work out. It happens, though one would think that there had to be an established comics scribe who had some affection for the Savage novels. Asking a contemporary novelist to take someone else’s character and adapt him to a less familiar medium seems like an added degree of difficulty. Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark notwithstanding, I would prefer someone who’d already written musicals to do the book for a superhero musical than hiring a superhero comics writer for the job.
As for The Spirit, that was a lovely book, both Mark Schultz and David Hine managing to take a character with a tone and look wedded to the ’40s and adapt him pretty successfully to a grimmer, somewhat contemporary urban setting with his essence intact, aided by the great artwork of Moritat. Those issues are worth tracking down, and one hopes those creators find their next gigs soon and that they’re at least as satisfying and of longer duration. As for DC, it remains to be seen whether they’ll learn anything or continue to dump too many related books on the market at a time and let them cannibalize each other.
The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 2 - Unexplored Worlds
Writers - Joe Gill, Various
Artist - Steve Ditko
Editor - Blake Bell
Publisher - Fantagraphics. $39.99 USD
This second volume of Fantagraphics’ chronological (in terms of creation rather than publication) reprinting of comics by moralizing maestro Steve Ditko finds the young cartoonist rebounding from a battle of several months with tuberculosis in 1956 to emerge into the beginning of a great period of prolificacy. Ditko found work at Timely/Atlas, which would eventually become Marvel Comics, including his first collaboration with Stan Lee, but the majority of the work here was produced for Charlton, which paid less than the industry standard but at least paid on time.
The other benefits for Ditko were steady work and very little editorial interference, so that he was able to refine his style and storytelling skills quickly. If one story didn’t come out quite the way he wanted, there was always another script ready for him to start drawing.
Although it’s unclear who wrote these stories, it’s certain that Charlton regular Joe Gill wrote many of them. He was their lead writer, and at a rock bottom rate of $2 a page, Gill had to keep the work coming to make a living. This quantity-over-quality approach results in most of the stories here being, in Gill’s own words, “shitty.” Most of them are science fiction or horror stories with slim premises just deep enough to warrant the four or five pages they’re given. The best ones have a predictable, O. Henryesque twist ending, not unlike the work Stan Lee was writing for Marvel at the time, and the worst ones seem to cut off abruptly or with slapdash, even nonsensical endings. It’s possible Ditko may have written a few, but if so, his Objectivist philosophizing and intense outsider ethos have yet to emerge in his writing. There may be a tale or two here that does find a character who wants to get away to a better world, like the vaguely pedophiliac “The Man Who Stepped out of a Cloud,” but if this isn’t unlike some later Ditko-scripted stories, well, it’s also logical that a script monkey for a third-rate comics publisher like Gill or other Charlton writers might share those fantasies.
The value in this volume is not in the stories themselves, which are not just generally poor but irritating in large doses, but in tracking how Ditko’s art develops. Amid the stock characters of hapless dullards, five o’clock shadow Everymen and saturnine businessmen and the typical rocketships and ray guns of the day, Ditko gains confidence and consistency in his depictions, and an ability to pack more information into fewer images and to guide the reader’s eye across the page for maximum impact. His ability to convey otherworldly horrors flowers as well, especially in a story like “A World of His Own,” which benefits from a terrifically colored sequence where Ditko alternates panels of yellow, gray and orange, the figure within the same color as the background, as if with a filter used in film. It’s not a steady progression but a fascinating one, as taking these stories in order, one sees Ditko constantly experimenting with line weight to mixed results, the amount of effort put into creating texture with ink sometimes diluting the power of the composition. Still, there’s a good deal to enjoy in seeing how Ditko solves problems and attempts to add drama and imagination to the hokey stories.
Rest in peace, Dwayne McDuffie. His work in comics and especially on Justice League Unlimited was witty, visionary and wildly entertaining. His work was filled with a commitment to presenting diversity, a lesson both my kids took to heart in the untold hours we spent watching JLU together.
I’ll never forget the joy he brought me and my kids, and I’ll never forget his honesty and commitment to what he believed in. There aren’t many people in comics that set a standard like Dwayne did.
Like Mike Wieringo, another comics creator who died way too young, I cherish the few times I got to interact with Dwayne, and I will never forget his work and the profound and very personal impact it had for my family and I.
I’ve been reading books and some old comics, but had a chance this weekend to catch up on a chunk of recent stuff:
Batman and Robin #20 - Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason step in for a three issue arc in which Tomasi seems determined to misinterpret Damian Wayne as just another disrespectful young delinquent, using contractions, calling Commissioner Gordon “old man,” wisecracking about the dead. That’s just not the character Grant Morrison created. He’s a know-it-all, sure, but a very articulate one who takes his role seriously and knows when to let the grown-ups talk, for the most part. I also thought it was funny that just a month or two after Scott Snyder established that the Dick Grayson Batman wasn’t the type to disappear while Gordon was in the middle of a sentence, Tomasi has him do just that. I blame the editors for this small oversight, but as a creative choice I don’t get why Tomasi isn’t interested in writing Dick as a different kind of Batman, especially when the book opens up with an odd take on Bruce Wayne as the kind of Bat-patriarch who gathers all his boys together for movie night. I only remember the weird characterization; the plot escapes me. Gleason is very average.
Amazing Spider-Man #653, 654, 654.1 - Dan Slott, with some scripting help from Fred Van Lente, wraps up the Spider-Slayer storyline, which makes the younger Smythe into a convincing legacy villain with a new take on the Spider-Slayers: they’re now guys in buggy exosuits that mimic Spider-Man’s danger sense, which makes them hard for even the Avengers to hit. Smythe tries to take down all the Jameson clan for revenge, and succeeds in getting one of them, though I won’t spoil who if you haven’t read it. I will say it makes good dramatic sense and could open up at least one character to a fresh take. I wasn’t a fan of Stefano Caselli’s art, but Humberto Ramos comes back for the .1 issue, which presents legless Flash Thompson as a new, government-controlled Venom, the symbiote approximating his legs and whatever else is needed for missions that don’t take more than 48 hours, so that he can be out before the symbiote takes over his mind. With both stories, Slott proves himself at the very least to have a facile mind when it comes to remixing old intellectual property.
Soldier Zero #5 - Paul Cornell is now off this book, replaced by Abnett/Lanning. They follow through on his ideas well enough, but it’s still a pretty easy book to cut, which is probably what I’ll be doing.
Starborn #3 - Likewise this book. I am not exactly a fan of Khary Randolph’s art style, but I think it’s consistent and accomplished. The story isn’t bad, either, but I’ve seen it all before many times, and aside from the prospect of a race of warrior lion aliens, there isn’t much here that’s novel.
Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #515 - I’ve been liking this. I think David Liss understands that he’s not writing an ongoing Panther series and so he keeps his story tight: T’Challa sets himself up as Hell’s Kitchen’s new protector, and he’s got a new enemy to contend with, a nasty Romanian with family issues and a pretty cool superpower. Panther is going low-tech and solo to prove himself. Good Francavilla artwork that looks organic and sort of in Mazzucchelli territory. I love that Francavilla writes labels by hand, sloppily, rather than having the letterer do it perfectly but incongruously with his art. I’m amused that Luke Cage’s relatively brief time as an Avengers leader has now given him balls big enough to give T’Challa orders, but then this is a guy who went all the way to Latveria to collect a fee from deadbeat Doctor Doom.
New Avengers #9 - Another creative change as Mike Deodato moves from Secret Avengers to this title. Not a whole lot going on yet, and a largish part of the book was given to a flashback with Nick Fury hunting escaped Nazis in Cuba, 1959, drawn by Howard Chaykin. At the end, he’s approached about The Avengers Initiative. Not sure how they’ll make the timeline work.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #4 - Similarly, this team book also gives its opener to veteran George Perez, drawing a kind of recruitment speech/history of T.H.U.N.D.E.R., complete with a busy two-page spread. Perez still looks good, though Scott Koblish’s inks are heavier than I’d like. The rest of the book is mostly talky, leading to a nice surprise at the end. I like what Nick Spencer and Cafu have been doing on this series, which isn’t a book I was expecting to like, but I do wish there was more going on in each issue.
Heroes For Hire #3 - Abnett/Lanning/Brad Walker deliver the okays in this series, as mercenary Paladin delays helping Moon Knight on a mission, as he’s in the middle of surveilling those close to Misty Knight. He thinks she’s in trouble and he’s right. But Iron Fist doesn’t take kindly to being spied on and there’s a fight before known amoral, double-crossing Paladin rather uncharacteristically yells at Iron Fist that his avoiding Misty is a cop-out. When did Paladin get touchy-feely? If you like to see what second-and-thirdl-string Marvel characters do between miniseries and failed solo series, this book isn’t bad.
John Byrne’s Next Men #2, 3 - After a bumpy start, in which it looked like Byrne was working in older pages and taking too much time in set-up, we get two issues with much stronger, more consistent art. One probably has to be a big fan of the old series, though, because the characters are not really themselves yet, all dropped in different eras, or maybe that’s another illusion. It’s entertaining, though I do wish Byrne took his freedom with the series to do more than amp up the sex and torture, but then, that’s the fun in wishing.
Commenting on Twitter, Fantagraphics publisher (and one of my personal heroes) Gary Groth called the controversial Obama Nation comic strip by James Hudnall and Batton Lash “witless,” among other things. I’m not sure I agree with Lawrence O’Donnell’s characterization of this particular example of the strip as racist, but I do think Obama Nation as a whole is a loathsome, unfunny comic strip obviously fueled by hatred, much like its closest ancestor, Mallard Fillmore. Again, this particular strip may not be overtly racist in its execution (although it certainly is easy to say it looks that way on a very facile level), but it’s very hard not to suspect the strip’s creators operate from a place of malice and loathing.
I’m far from Obama’s biggest fan. I am, in fact, one of his most disappointed former supporters. But maybe if Lash and Hudnall spent some creative energy on positive work that urged real solutions to the problems here in Los Estados Unidos, they would not get painted with the racist brush by opportunistic commentators on the opposite side of the ideological fence. I am somewhat impressed that most people commenting on the issue seem to realize what a sorry, pathetic piece of cartooning the strip overall represents.
Should Obama Nation be censored? No. Should it be ignored and reviled because it is ugly, nonsensical and epically unfunny? Hell, yes.
Tumor was a big Kindle hit a couple years ago, its serialized chapters much in demand. I don’t recall reading a whole lot about it through the usual comics news sites, but maybe that’s just me and my irregular attention to such sites. I actually happened on the book in my local library’s New Releases rack and was drawn to its elegant, clever design, with a stark, sepia image of a middle-aged detective holding a handgun on a Chip Kidd-like partial jacket which cuts off the top of the guy’s skull to line up with an embossed image of a brain on the cloth cover. Add to this the unevenly cut pages—a favorite touch that adds welcome texture to the reading experience the way a fine chef may add an item to a dish for a different mouthfell rather than taste—and I was looking forward to the book.
It’s not a bad effort, though I’ll cut to the chase and say my recommendation is a mild one. The hero in question is an aging P.I. who takes on an undesirable case to find the daughter of a local crime boss. She took off with his money, and her boyfriend, and the boss looks to be much more interested in getting the money back than his daughter’s safety. In fact, he’s probably going to punish her severely, maybe terminally. Our man Frank knows this might be his last case because he’s got a brain tumor and not a lot longer to live. It might have been more novel for this last case to be just another paycheck—more hardboiled and unsentimental, I mean—but no, this case is a chance for redemption, as the girl reminds him of his own wife, also the daughter of a crime boss, and her life cut short long ago because of it, with Frank feeling responsible.
There is much made on the cover copy of the most gimmicky element of the book, which is that due to Frank’s tumor, the narrative jumps around in time. Comparisons are made to the film Memento, and I suppose that’s appropriate enough. Both are gritty but standard crime stories enlivened by the device of non-linear storytelling. In the case of Tumor, though, Fialkov doesn’t do much with the device. The jumps in time don’t add a lot of mystery, suspense or pathos to the story; for the most part they either provide abrupt breaks between action with the unseen intervals either promptly explained in dialogue or narration, or easily deduced. And Fialkov also leans way too hard on the easy device of Frank’s tumor causing him to hallucinate that his current female charge is his dead wife, leading to glimpses back to days gone by where the wife is conveniently posed the exact same way, not just in a similar situation. There were some great opportunities with this device for interesting, thorny juxtapositions and contrasts between the past and present, but Fialkov sticks to a pretty basic remit: Frank failed before, and now he has one last chance to redeem himself by being stronger in almost the same situation. It ends up not a bad book but despite the slightly unusual (for comics) nonlinear narrative, an ordinary one, with strong, no-frills art by Tuazon and a script that could have used not frills but more depth and rough edges. On the plus side, I remember the creators, the character’s name and the story a week or so after reading it and returning it to the library, which is something. And I would call Fialkov one to watch, in that he comes up with some decent concepts and different routes of getting them to market. The big superstar talents of 2015, 2020, are probably not going to be the guys who come up the ranks writing a year of Green Arrow. They’ll figure out new ways and how best to utilize the new media.
Seeing this hardcover makes me feel, well, nostalgic. And it wasn’t so long ago. I started writing about comics about 2000, which is when this first came out. Kurt Busiek was riding high as a comics writer, going from strength to strength, from Marvels to his creator-owned Astro City, and I think this series was preceded by a fine one-shot called Superstar, also drawn by Immonen. This was part of a company called Gorilla, which was Busiek and Mark Waid and some other guys, trying to break away from Marvel and DC and the work-for-hire system and doing their own thing, sort of like the Image boys did, only with guys who could write well instead of draw really awesome tits and asses and thugs and chains and such. I rooted for them, but it ended quickly, as they just didn’t have the dough to make a go of it, popular though they were.
It’s not that Shockrockets or the other Gorilla work was better or, let’s say, nobler, than superheroes. Look, this is about some futuristic flyboys. It’s genre entertainment like superheroes are. The charm is just that superheroes so overpower the comics landscape that any divergence is novel and worth nurturing. Busiek borrows from Star Wars and other stories to tell of Alejandro Cruz, a blue collar gearhead who wants not only a better life but a heroic, adventurous one, and the fates conspire to give him his chance when one of the Shockrockets, the hotshot elite squad of heroes piloting alien ships, dies. Cruz bonds with the ship, not unlike Abin Sur passing on the power of the Green Lantern to Hal Jordan, and he becomes a new, if insecure and mistrusted, rookie on the team, trying to prove his worth.
The series is a trial by multiple fires for Cruz, as he not only must overcome emotional barriers in place for his teammates but he has to take on the big baddie, General Korda, a former hero who helped defend Earth from alien invaders but then went on to become a despot with his own country and advanced technology.
Artist Immonen creates some state-of-the-art work for the time, incorporating manga spaceship design and lots of speedlines, while keeping it relatable to the fairly standard human characters who would not be out of place in any superhero book. It’s a fairly delicate balance and he does it well, although in retrospect the orange/blue color contrast becomes redundant early, and his choice of using black without white or color to depict eyeballs gets a little tiresome as well. He does excel at body language, though, and the facial expressions are rarely overplayed, so he should be commended for these.
Busiek does an able job of carrying off the main story and making Alejandro accessible. There is a sort of hernia in the middle of the book, where he breaks off to focus on another member of the Shockrockets. It’s a kind of bulge of the main story membrane, as if Busiek predicted an ongoing series that could support focuses on all the team, rather than the five issue, discrete miniseries. It’s a fine issue but in comparison to what looks to be all the Shockrockets we’re likely to see, it’s a digression that sort of tilts the book off its rather narrow axis for a time. But good is good, and if given the choice of four tightly plotted issues and four tightly plotted issues and one nice change of pace, I’ll take it.
IDW’s production is stellar, and the pages look as good as they’ve ever looked. The bonus material isn’t lavish, just some preliminary sketchbook stuff from Immonen, but it’s nice, and makes one wish these two big talents can eventually make room in their schedules to work together again.
Rob Vollmar is not just a former contributor to this site (and its progenitor, Comic Book Galaxy), he’s also been a great friend of mine for the past decade. But that’s not why I’m talking to him about his new project. I’m talking to him about Inanna’s Tears because he is the writer of Bluesman and The Castaways, two of the best graphic novels of the last 10 years. New work from Rob Vollmar is exciting news indeed, and I am in Rob’s debt for taking the time to talk to me about his new project with M.P. Mann, Inanna’s Tears.
Alan David Doane: Rob, correct me if I’m wrong, but Inanna’s Tears is your third full graphic novel to see print?
Rob Vollmar: That is correct. Castaways originally in 2002, Bluesman Complete in 2006 (i think) and now, Inanna’s Tears.
Inanna’s Tears is quite a departure, narrative-wise and visually, from the Depression-era concerns of Castaways and Bluesman. Tell me how the project came about, and what the story concerns?
I 'd say it was the intersection of several factors. For my first post-Bluesman project, I wanted to get away from the Great Depression as a setting.
The kernel of the project came from my interest in ancient history and was in line with my usual concerns about belief, faith, power and how they intersect in people’s lives. I did about three years of intensive research, even while we were still working on Bluesman, studying the rise of civilization and the tools that made it possible. I became fascinated by the particular seam of history that Inanna’s Tears represents and started looking for ways to inject it with a compelling narrative.
The story focuses on the transition of power from the matriarchal communist theocracy that forged the tools of civilization and the patriarchal militaristic autocracies that used those tools to create the idea of empire.
How did you go about humanizing such complex ideas?
Well, it wasn’t easy. Our data on how exactly this transition took place is incomplete at best and I had to compress what probably took several hundred years to complete down on to a fulcrum, if you will, of a particular moment in time.
Ultimately, successful fiction is about people and their relationships, so I did my best to personify the various interests into believable characters and then opened up the floor to see how they might interact with one another.
Tell me a little bit about your artistic collaborator, M.P. Mann and what he brought to the project.
Marvin has been working in the comics industry since the late 1980s. I believe he helped ink some of the latter issues of The Trouble with Girls at the end of the black and white boom. As I was fishing around for collaborators, I was already familiar with Marv’s work on Lone and Level Sands and found it to be in harmony with the kind of look I wanted for Inanna’s Tears. When I approached him about the project, I was more than pleasantly surprised at the kind of questions he was asking.
Questions about textiles, architecture. I could tell immediately that he had both the visual and intellectual chops to bring this remote period of history to life.
How smooth was the partnership once you got rolling?
Very smooth. Marvin has a gift for visual storytelling and blocking that you can’t embed into a script without becoming overbearing. He also works VERY fast and brought a certain energy to the creative process that was different than my experience with my earlier books. He knows how to suggest detail without laboring over it. That’s a valuable commodity to say the least.
Who do you think is the ideal reader for Inanna’s Tears?
I think it is a book that works on several levels. Folks with an interest in history, anthropology and language are going to feel like it was written for them.I think it also features a very accessible story within about people and how they love and how, on occasion, that love can destroy their ideals that most anyone could identify with.
I come from a liberal arts background and was using Greek theater as my model for Inanna’s Tears. It’s a conversation about universals set in a very specific moment in time. It’s taken a while for the book to be collected in graphic novel form, but finally it will be available in February. Tell me about the road to publication.
Well, it was long and winding. But just as we were about to bring the GN to market, the economy fell apart with the difficulties that we have now in the Direct Market in tow. It went very quickly from a market very inviting to GNs to very hostile in a very short period of time.
To Archaia’s credit, they never said, “Sorry, fellas, but we just can’t do this anymore.” We all stayed in communication and, after a few hard fought battles to get the word out and get reflecting pre-order numbers, we’ve finally gotten to the place where print makes sense. Both Marvin and I are very grateful that we’ve had advocates for the book on the inside who care about creators and have worked hard to live up to their obligations, contractual and otherwise.
Tell me how readers can make sure they get their own copy of Inanna’s Tears.
As a former Direct Market retailer, my first piece of advice is always to try and support their locally owned and operated comics shop. Finding a responsive one can be a challenge depending on where one lives but it is worth the effort.
Barring that, the book is available for order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other reputable online retailers. I will also be partnering with Atomik Pop in Norman, Oklahoma to make signed copies available for purchase at regular price plus shipping for those who’d like that personal touch. We’ll be releasing details about that through our Facebook page, which we encourage people to join if they want to be kept in the loop on updates.
* At The Panelists, Craig Fisher has a twopart look at DC’s Jonah Hex, part of its ten percent of quality comics. I haven’t read every issue, but the ones I have read have been almost uniformly entertaining and pretty to look at.
* Uncomics: Christopher Butcher again, this time at his eponymous website, running down his Five Favourite McDonald’s Sandwiches. Seriously. Now, I didn’t eat at McDonald’s when we were in Canada a few years back, but my wife did and told me that everything tasted better, something my Canadian friend d. emerson eddy told me can be attributed to better food standards up north (not surprising). Agree with Mr. Butcher about most of these, especially the McRib, which it seems to me used to be good but just does not cohere as a sandwich anymore. My feeling is the sauce is wrong, and roll should be buttered and grilled, not that Mickey D’s would go to that much trouble this late in the day.
Back in the 1980s when I was around 14 or 15, my mom bought me just about every one of the EC hardcover sets published by Russ Cochran, and they really opened my eyes to how good comics could be. The books themselves set the standard for how beautiful books could be when published by people who are committed to quality. Russ Cochran has earned my undying respect and gratitude for his critical contribution to my lifetime appreciation of comics and quality publishing that really has its foundation in his EC reprints way back when.
Right now is a crucial time in Russ’s publishing efforts. I’ll let him explain:
I’m going to have to be completely honest with you now. My business, which has been in existence since 1971…that’s FORTY YEARS…is in financial trouble, and unless something changes soon, I will be closing my doors before 2011 is over.
I’ve already had to terminate my oldest employee, Chris Rock, who was with me for 35 years. Chris worked on all the EC projects with me, he went to NYC with me to photograph the EC art for the EC portfolios, and it was very difficult for me to tell him that he was being laid off. This leaves only two other employees, Angie Meyer and Judy Goodwin, and right now my monthly sales through my website, eBay, and Amazon are not enough to cover their salaries.
I’m hoping to get permission from the Gaines Estate to continue publishing the EC ARCHIVES series, but unless this comes soon, my publishing days will be ended. With no new products to offer you, all I can do is to offer special deals on the items I do have in inventory. I would rather sell them to you, my faithful customers, at a lower price than to wholesale them to dealers and booksellers.
So here are some special offers being made only to my internet customer list:
1. THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN COLLECTING, a hardcover, limited-edition book in slipcase, which originally sold for $200, I now offer for only $45.
2. Your choice of any three EC ARCHIVES books (11 are available out of 13 which have been published) for $95, or any ten EC ARCHIVES books for $285. These are the lowest prices I have ever offered for these books.
3. The following special deals on EC ANNUALS:
TALES FROM THE CRYPT: Annuals 3, 4, 5 and 6, the last 20 issues, all for $20.
THE VAULT OF HORROR: Annuals 1 thru 6, the complete 29-issue run, all for $30.
THE HAUNT OF FEAR: Annuals 1 thru 6, the complete 28-issue run, all for $30.
ALL OF THE ABOVE, 16 ANNUALS CONTAINING THE NEW TREND EC HORROR COMICS, FOR $70.
ALL ELEVEN EC SCIENCE FICTION ANNUALS, FOR $55. This is a complete collection of EC’s s-f comics except for WEIRD SCIENCE Annual #2, which is sold out.
ALL NINE EC SUSPENSTORIES (SHOCK SS AND CRIME SS) ANNUALS FOR $45. This is a complete collection of EC’s suspense comics except for SHOCK Annual #2, which is sold out.
ALL EIGHT EC WAR COMICS (complete runs of TWO-FISTED TALES and FRONTLINE COMBAT) ANNUALS FOR $40.
ALL EIGHT “NEW DIRECTION” EC COMICS ANNUALS: MD, PSYCHOANALYSIS, PIRACY (2 VOLUMES), VALOR, EXTRA!, ACES HIGH, IMPACT FOR $40.
ALL THREE PANIC ANNUALS (Al Feldstein’s answer to Kurtzman’s MAD) for $15.
ALL FOUR EC “PRE-TREND” CRIME ANNUALS FOR $20.
AND, FINALLY, THE BEST DEAL OF ALL, VIRTUALLY A COMPLETE COLLECTION OF EC COMICS IN THE ANNUAL FORMAT, ALL OF THE ABOVE, EVERYTHING FOR $200.
And last but not least:
HOPALONG CASSIDY TRADE EDITION (list price $75) for $35.
LES PAUL—IN HIS OWN WORDS TRADE EDITION (list price $75) for $35.
These last two books are hardcover, high-quality, 368 page books which are considered to be the definitive reference and picture books on Hoppy and Les Paul. These are new copies in DJ.
So, you can get some good bargains while helping me to stay afloat by ordering any of the above specials. Thanks for your business, and thanks for the last forty years!
Sean T. Collins: “[The comics industry in 2011 revolves] around the equivalent of a really killer Entertainment Weekly panel at San Diego, basically: Bendis, Johns, Morrison, Kirkman, O’Malley, and to an extent Millar.”
What’s depressing is that I would be very, very happy if three of the six people on that list never, ever wrote another comic book again. If half of Comics 2011 is unreadable shit and half is readable-to-genius, I know in my head that’s a good ratio, but in my heart it makes me want to not look at another comic book for the rest of the year.
Additional Art - Elena Casagrande, Claudia Balboni
Publisher - IDW Publishing $3.99 USD
Mama mia, that’s a lotta mediocre Italian artists. This is the first issue of IDW’s first big licensed crossover event, with two bookend issues and then two issues each focusing on a zombie & infected robot invasion of various Earths related to the G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Trek and Ghostbusters franchises. If you’re going to put together a successful story that somehow works for all these varied properties, you can either get some top talent who are just going to let loose and make it over-the-top, goofy, balls-out fun, or you get some mid-level talent who are going to roll up their sleeves and try to actually make something sensible. Abnett and Lanning are Plan B, always competent, able to make something sturdy out of the materials at hand, but they’re never going to surprise you. It’s kind of nice that they found a way to make the IDW property C.V.O. (Covert Vampire Operations) and some of the Zombies vs. Robots characters and ‘bots into the stars here, but they’re mostly shorthand cliches like the hardass soldier dragged from retirement, ready with B-movie lines like “eat ‘em if you got ‘em.” It’s inoffensive, and it seems like one can only read the bookends and the particular franchise issues one’s interested in and get the basic story without needing all of it. Still, based on the issue itself and the two-page previews of the other first issues, having Kirk, or Optimus, or the Baroness taking on zombies and evil robots should have been a real geekgasm, a lot more fun than what’s on display here.
(advance copy provided for review by the publisher)
* Mark Evanier reflects on Saturday’s terrorist attack in Arizona and notes that a liberal commentator has apologized for his strident rhetoric. I have a feeling a similar apology will not be forthcoming today when the Hate Radio gang (Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc.) take to the airwaves. In fact, I’d bet you twenty devalued American dollars (oh, why didn’t I invest with Goldline years ago?!?) that those assholes will find some way to be the injured parties in the wake of an event that left six dead, including a 9-year-old girl. Oh, and Bryan Lambert hits a little closer to my own personal feelings about this shooting rampage.
It is such a worn-out and much-mocked cliché of autobiographical comics for the cartoonist to declare his own self-loathing, that when Seth does so at the end of a heartbreaking and presumably true strip at the end of Palookaville #20, one has to assume he is both unaware of the frequent citing of such moments as trite and self-obsessed by critics of the genre, and more importantly, that he is absolutely serious. How could he not hate himself, when everything he has spent the last 30 years doing has been a complete and utter waste of time? He’s thrown his life away, and for what? Comic books.
In many ways, despite being a $20.00 hardcover art object, the new Palookaville feels very much like the last comic book. In a long and introspective introduction (presented in Chris Ware-like teeny-tiny type that is a slap in the face to my aging and diabetic eyes), Seth explains why he went along with publisher Drawn and Quarterly’s suggestion that Palookaville transition (Like Acme Novelty Library, like Love and Rockets, like J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman, ha ha ha just fuckin’ with ya) from floppy, saddle-stitched comic book to hardcover “periodical.” (Yearly hardly seems periodical to me, and I am so old now that entire years go by in three weeks.)
Bemoaning (accurately, at that) the death of the comic book stings particularly for me, a guy whose best-fulfilled dream in life culminated in the creation and decade-long maintenance of a website two words of the three-name URL of which were “Comic Book.” How ironic that Seth (accurately, at that) declare the comic book dead and buried in the same era in which I more or less gave up “Comic Book _______” and declared, instead, my Trouble With Comics. Although in these unemployed and increasingly desperate times, it more often seems to be “Trouble, with comics.” Selah.
Being the last comic book, I find a further layer of irony in that the same day I expend twenty dollars (that I could have spent on rent or feeding my family) on a single “issue” of Palookaville, I eye-witnessed a superhero fan buying — and I’m not making this up, I heard him say it out loud and saw the pile — 140 superhero comic books at Earthworld in Albany, New York (where I could not find the new Palookaville; I had to go to the local indy bookstore The Bookhouse — not a comic book store — to accomplish that feat of latter-day and unwise comic book investing). And to be utterly frank, the fact that there are superhero junkies willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a pile of 140 frankly shitty superhero comic books (Marvel and DC together have not produced 140 good comic books in the past ten years, effendi) is not a sign of a healthy Direct Market, but rather the futile but comforting-to-the-surviving-family-members defibrillation of a patient whose heart stopped at least five years ago and whose organs aren’t deemed worthy of donation and transplant, but rather will be quietly interred in the dumpster out back of the hospital at the 11-dollar-an-hour (plus shift deferential) orderly’s earliest convenience.
And finally one has to gaze in wide wonder at the fact that the best content in the last comic book, Palookaville #20, is not the many dozens of pages of comics it contains (all of which are good and entertaining and thought-provoking and unutterably pretty and nostalgic in that Seth manner), but rather a photo-essay and written history of Seth’s Dominion project, a huge and mind-blowing collection of hand-drawn, obsessively-crafted cardboard buildings made out of old FedEx boxes. There’s no question at all that Seth’s creative spirit and longing for the past is finding its truest expression in this ongoing and amazing and strange art installation, and it’s coming to Montreal (a city I have actually driven to from my house and not freaked out about the expense or the distance) sometime this year.
If it’s not too late — that is to say, if I have found paying work or my unemployment benefits haven’t dried up or been shot and killed by the tea-bagging thugs that took over Congress this week — if it’s not too late, I’d really and truly like to go and see those crazy, motherfuckingly AWESOME cardboard buildings Seth has been creating. I’d like to shake the man’s hand and tell him how sad it makes me that I had to see off my entire first-print hardcover collection of Seth books a few months ago to make the rent (goodbye, Vernacular Drawings; so long, George Sprott; sayonara, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken; take care, Wimbledon Green; seeya again sometime, Clyde Fans). I’d like to thank Seth for listing all his books in the front of the last comic book, because I had them all, and I sold them to make the rent, in case I didn’t mention that.
But I bought Palookaville #20, mainly because I wanted to see the pictures of Seth’s cardboard city (which he says he fantasizes about as he drifts off to sleep each night), not because of the comics.
And because, as I have just explained, it is the last comic book.
“Moore’s a rather squirrelly old man who worships a snake god.”—Jason Aaron, a very insecure young writer, on Alan Moore, whose worst work is more of interest to me than everything Jason Aaron and his amazing friends have ever or will ever write.
Putting the dis in distaff, Marvel unloads a misguided monument to mediocrity for that $125 you had no better use for. I see a lot of failed series and by-the-numbers miniseries here, but they seem to miss on some legitimately empowering stories like Kitty Pryde vs. The Brood or ’80s Ka-Zar/Shanna. With an Introduction providing context, even that ’70s story where the female Avengers rebelled against the chauvinistic males would have been fun, and what about Byrne’s solo Sue Storm FF story? There are a few good ones here, but what should have been a carefully spun celebration is more of a sad exposé of decades of disservice to some decent characters and readers of all genders. For the same money, why not buy a set of cheap tires and set them on f
ire? It’s more entertaining, and the fumes actually cause less brain damage*:
Collecting TALES TO ASTONISH (1959) #51-58, X-MEN (1963) #57, NIGHT NURSE #1-4, CAT #1-4, MARVEL TEAM-UP (1972) #8, GIANT-SIZE CREATURES #1, MARVEL PREMIERE #42, SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL (1972) #1-5, KA-ZAR: LORD OF THE HIDDEN JUNGLE #2, DAREDEVIL (1964) #108-112, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #3, MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #12, #16 & #18, FIRESTAR #1-4, SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK: CEREMONY #1-2, CAPTAIN MARVEL (1989) #1, CAPTAIN MARVEL (1994) #1, MILLIE THE MODEL #100, PATSY AND HEDY ANNUAL #1, SOLO AVENGERS #9, MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS (1988) #36 and MARVEL FANFARE #59!
* Trouble With Comics is not responsible if you do this, and the tire fire would in all honesty cause more brain damage than reading or even burning this book.
ADD and I are often pretty cranky about the state of comics today, and publishing practices and strategies, but I have to commend IDW Publishing on the upcoming three volume biography of master storyteller Alex Toth (Genius, Isolated; Genius, Illustrated and Genius, Animated). I haven’t seen anything but the covers and read the descriptions, but IDW’s Dean Mullaney has a good track record of putting great care into classic reprints, and he already did a well-regarded Toth collection (The Complete Zorro), so I think we’re in good hands.
It’s also another encouraging sign, because to me it will sort of check off one more of the greats off the dwindling list of those who deserve to have their great bodies of work back in print and don’t. Don’t misunderstand; I know that the three volumes are largely biographies, with some complete story reprints and a lot of previously unseen art. But still, it’s a step in the right direction, up there with DC’s many recent Jack Kirby reprints, Fantagraphics ongoing Steve Ditko Archives (IDW also had a good if uneven Art of Ditko book, and DC has announced another Ditko collection, probably focusing on Shade the Changing Man). Ever since I knew who Toth was, I had little to sate my curiosity, with one legendary book out of my price range and cd-roms and free stories on a fan site not the ideal presentation for his work, at least not for a guy who generally likes to read comics in printed form. It’s great that even in this economy, those days are gone and publishers are giving these great artists the formats their great work deserves. Here’s hoping someone makes a major Wallace Wood announcement soon and I’ll be ecstatic.
* At Comics Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson has the news that DC is reinstating letters pages in their funnybooks. GOOD. Dropping this seemingly minor tradition in comics is one of the reasons for my own personal disconnect with much of what the industry has to offer, I think. I can’t provide a rational, scientific explanation for this, but I can tell you that reading just about any new #1, corporate superhero comic, artcomic, any kind of comic at all, and finding no text piece at all, no little introductory essay, always seems like a little slap in the face to me as a reader. If DC does it right and uses letters pages as a way to communicate with readers (and not as a vapid promotional tool), I wouldn’t be surprised to see the erosion of readers begin to slow down a little. I’m not saying it will actually increase sales, because I don’t think it will, but I do think it could help build loyalty among whatever readership remains.
* Glycon knows I love me some Alan Moore, and I haunted the shelves at FantaCo for something like a year waiting for the 1963 Annual that never was. Big Numbers is another great, incomplete Moore epic, and it seems artist Bill Sienkiewicz is game to wrap it up.
* In design news, CBR has news that Archie is taking their covers in a more retro direction. I’m a little baffled that anyone would think the example given is really retro looking, but maybe they’ll get the hang of it eventually. Not having the UPC code on the front cover is definitely a step in the right direction, if that’s really what I am seeing, there.
That’s a really pretentious title for a little back-and-forth email chat about some comics stuff right now, but there you go. As far as DVD-type extras, it’s interesting to note that I was eating a snack of cheese and crackers with sharp cheddar as we were emailing each other, when Chris threw sharp cheddar into the discussion. Eerie! — Alan David Doane
CA: Reading Robot 6’s long piece asking comics people about 2010, it’s funny to me that when given the opportunity to give a shout-out to an overlooked book, many pick mediocre books that got normal attention but were rightly unheralded (Ultimate Mystery? Siege: Loki?). Thor the Mighty Avenger was the most talked about Thor book before it was even canceled, but the people who blog about comics aren’t exactly the same demo that buys the same ol’ sooperhero stuff. And I guess everyone felt digital comics was the big deal of 2010, even though it hasn’t made much of an impact yet as far as I can tell.
ADD: I read the first issue of Langridge’s Thor but it didn’t blow me away. I may or may not go back and read the rest of the run. It just didn’t strike me as amazing or outstanding in any way.
CA: I suspected as much. I think there are just too many books that are very samey, so when someone does something just a little different, it’s often overpraised. I’m not quite ready to crown a Chris Roberson, Paul Cornell, Nick Spencer or Cristos Gage geniuses yet, y’know? They have some flair. An all-ages Thor book drawing from decades of stories and hundreds of years of mythology, with clean art, shouldn’t be that difficult to pull off, and no offense to Langridge, but so should Muppet Show. Mark Evanier could probably crank out just as good a version, but who talks about Evanier as a writer these days? Action Comics, Avengers Academy, Secret Avengers — these are fine books but they really should be the bog-standard in superhero comics. We’re just used to accepting so much less and gutting it out.
ADD: I honestly don’t think anyone ever talked about Evanier as a writer, except perhaps for six months when DNAGents was around, and honestly the most entertaining thing about both that and its spinoff book Crossfire was the letters pages. And I am not belittling the comics, which were above-average superhero stuff for the time, but the letters pages were pure gold, in much the same way his very best blog posts are today.
CA: Right. But based on Groo, he can be pretty great. I liked the Langridge Muppet Show TPB, the first one, but haven’t felt the need to keep up with the rest. It hit the marks of what you would expect of an adaptation of the show and was drawn well, but it’s not like it made me feel I need more Kermit and Piggy in my life.
ADD: Right, I read the first four issues and was blown away by the technical excellence of it, but would much, MUCH rather see Langridge free to do his own thing. His 13th Floor online GN was BRILLIANT, but no one has ever put it into print. It would be a perfect fit at Top Shelf. Oh, and, agreed that Secret Avengers should be the bare-minimum acceptable level of quality, with the exception being #5, which was just spectacular and makes me wish the entire series would get that good. It would help if Lark were the regular artist, of course — Deodato’s fine, in the same way mac and cheese for dinner is fine. I’ll eat it but I won’t remember it next week.
CA: Ha ha. I got these mac-n-cheese bites for lunch last Saturday. For the kids but I ate them, too — basically mac-n-cheese rolled in a crunchy coating like a hush puppy. When you stop and think about it, it’s still pretty bland, but I sure ate a lot of ‘em.
I like Deodato a little better than that — maybe mac-n-cheese with sharp cheddar? His Shang-Chi was pretty nice, and the way he draws Sharon Carter, Steve Rogers should be sporting wood in every scene. But it’s just pretty pictures.
I’m through three issues (of five so far) of Hickman’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and wondering what the point is. It’s fun to use DaVinci and Galileo and Newton and come up with all the secret history stuff, but I’m not sure why I should care. I’m not seeing a story there yet and it has a curious lack of narrative oomph. You would think the previously untold story of Galactus attacking the Vatican 400 years ago and being repelled by Galileo would be cool but it’s like getting history from a textbook.
ADD: My kids have ordered those mac and cheese nuggets occasionally. I don’t think I could bear putting one in my mouth. I read Hickman’s first S.H.I.E.L.D. and as I recall the art was nice, but yeah, damn, it was BORING.
CA: Hickman seems to like to add bonus features to comics like this and Secret Warriors — text-heavy things — and that’s nice, but I wish he’d get a little more push from his editor to amp up the conflict, action and tension in the actual comics themselves. Just having every old genius also be some kind of secret superhero isn’t enough.
I’m not kidding when I say that, after The Complete Peanuts (also published by Fantagraphics), this is the reprint project I’ve been waiting most of my life for. Barks was an absolute master of comic book storytelling, but there has never been a definitive, all-encompassing project you could point to and say “Yeah, get that and you’re all set.” As of today, that has changed. Fantagraphics (an advertiser on this site, I should note) has long prided itself on being the publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists, and it’s astonishing and gratifying to see them add one of the probably half-dozen best of all time to their stable. The Complete Peanuts, Krazy and Ignatz, Prince Valiant and other Fanta reprint projects have proven that they know how to handle material like this with class and respect, and Gary Groth, Kim Thompson, Eric Reynolds and the rest of the gang at Fantagraphics are to be congratulated and thanked for adding this monumental feather to their cap. Way to go, guys. You just made 2011 a very good year for a lot of comics-loving folks like myself.
TWC News with ADD : How Binary You Look Today
* Tom Spurgeon is continuing to add entries to his regional comics scene list, and if you’re in one of the communities listed (or in one that isn’t but know of multiple comics folk in your area), you should get in touch with Spurge and make sure you’re on the list. One of the things I really dig about being on this, the comics internet is the thrill of seeing my name on this annual list. It’s like, I’m still here, you know?
* At Comics Alliance, Straczynski’s Superman gets the royal ass-kicking it deserves. Yet another overblown and undercooked example of the Fan-Fiction Age of Superhero Comics. What I wouldn’t give to wake up one morning and find out that Bendis, Straczynski, Meltzer, Johns and their ilk were never actually allowed to fuck up superhero comics they way they have, that it was all just a bad dream.
* Roger Green looks back on 2010. Wish I could say I am not more disillusioned with politics than I was a year ago, but 2010 was politically one of the most cynical and harmful years I’ve ever lived through.
* It’s the first day of 2011, a year which appears to my eyes to really look futuristic. Like if I look out the window I should see a flying car in the driveway, not my wife’s beat-up Chevy. As David Byrne noted a couple of years ago, “Nothing has changed but nothing’s the same, and every tomorrow will be yesterday.” Well, after a year that really tested my ability to deal with uncertainty and change, I’m ready for something different. And I hope I get it. And I hope you and yours enjoy a peaceful and prosperous new year.
TWC News with ADD : The Fury of the Uninvolved
* Longtime comic book writer, creator rights advocate and industry observer Tony Isabella explains the methodology he is using in his continuing career autobiography. He’s about to get into contentious territory, so it’s good that he is letting readers know exactly what he is thinking and how he is laying out the facts he is presenting. Having known Tony for years and having some small idea of where he’s going with at least some of this, I can almost guarantee you that a lot of hardcore corporate superhero “fans” who have nothing whatsoever to do with the industry, or the injustices Tony and countless others have suffered at its hands, are about to get righteously outraged at the truth about the North American sooperhero machine. For the rest of us, those interested in the truth about the history of the comics industry, this is absolutely essential reading, if not always pleasant to learn (see Wednesday’s Tony’s Bloggy Thing, in which the tragic story of DC colourist Adrienne Roy is recounted).
* Tom Spurgeon interviews Dee Vee’s Daren White. Dee Vee was a quietly awesome comics anthology, one you’ve probably never heard of, that contained great comics by names like Eddie Campbell, James Kochalka and many others. I came for the Kochalka and stayed for the general comics excellence. I haven’t read this interview yet, but as soon as I get myself settled this morning, this interview is first on my to-do list. Spurgeon’s holiday interviews are always a highlight of this time of the year, but honestly this year seems to have raised the bar to an intimidating degree. Just one great comics discussion after another, day after day. Thanks for making the season bright (and informative and entertaining!), Tom.