My name’s Michael Hartney. I’m as big a Superman fan as you’ll ever meet. I have bought Superman comics every Wednesday since I learned to read, which was nearly 30 years ago. Superman was the subject of my blog and my one-man show. My name is tattooed on my arm in Kryptonian, for Zod’s…
“What makes [Superman] interesting other than that he’s really, really strong? That question led me to want to redefine Clark in ways that made him more interesting and more flawed as a person. Not in a dark, mean, cynical way, because that’s way too easy. But as a true outsider whose heart is vulnerable. I wanted to emphasize the loneliness of a kid growing up knowing just how different he was from everyone else, who had to keep his distance for their protection and his own.”—
To quote Orson Welles, “the right reading is the one I’m giving (and not David Brothers’)”. The “feeling like an outsider” part is, yes, typical of all children and indeed, many adults. But that’s not all the quote is about. Superman is a “true” outsider, as opposed to just feeling like one. He’s an alien, and he has to keep his distance to protect others from his powers. The trick is to mix the relatable aspect (we all feel out-of-place) with the different (real alien with powers).
Since we’re on the topic of creative changes, one of the things that was a big discussion point for a while was Gail Simone being on and off “Batgirl.” With Gail now reinstated on the title, I have to ask — how much was fan outcry and fan support part of that creative editorial decision?
Harras: What we had was Ray [Fawkes] coming on for two months to help out, schedule-wise. We’re very happy Gail is back; she’s on the book moving forward, so to me, that was a moment in time where we were just looking for Gail’s next plot to come in and we’re moving forward.
Follow-up question: “When the news broke, Simone herself said that she was informed she was no longer the new writer. That doesn’t sound as temporary as simply waiting on her next plot. Can you expand on what happened here? Was there a miscommunication?”
Don’t let these people rewrite history and use your platform to do it.
Such patent nonsense, so obviously false and easily disproven. There are good journalists covering comics, for sure, but so many are clowns who accept crap like this and post it without confrontation. Is Bob Harras now considered a forthright, truthful guy? It’s insulting to both Simone and the fans to present this farcical version of whatever the real truth is. Simone doesn’t have a reputation for being late, but even if she was, the standard procedure would have been to schedule someone, Fawkes or whoever, to do a little fill-in arc to help her get back on schedule. She announced she was removed from the book. There was no benefit to her saying that, so we can assume that as far as she knew, it was true.
Comics writer Peter A. David suffered a stroke while on vacation with his wife. He cannot move much of the right side of his body and is experiencing vision problems. Please consider sending him your best wishes for a speedy recovery.
Grant Morrison's Eroding Significance Apparently Bothers Him Very, Very Much
I understand completely why Grant Morrison is so insecure about his place in comics history in comparison to Alan Moore, but someone should really explain to Morrison how much weaker and more inferior he ironically makes himself appear with such verbose defensiveness. The work of the two writers should speak for itself, Grant, and let history decide how much you did or didn’t matter. This piece reminds me, more than anything, of Straczynski’s desperate, pathetic need to justify his participation in Before Watchmen by tearing Moore down, despite the fact that the worst thing Moore ever wrote is twice as interesting and enduring as the best thing Straczynski ever did. The last couple sentences of this article at The Comics Reporter really say all that needs to be said.
I think this is Vol. 6 of this comic, right? I’ll be brief. Kieron Gillen has written books I’ve liked, and Greg Land has done some art I’ve liked, but as he’s a Photoshop artist that is to be expected. Oddly enough, the scenes I imagine to be more “drawn” than posed, the stuff with Iron Man flying around in his new black and gold armor, is the most appealing. When Gillen switches to talking head scenes, the book screeches to a halt.
One problem is that I just finished reading Matt Fraction’s run as writer of Invincible Iron Man a couple days ago. Fraction pretty much returned the toys to the box, with Tony Stark wrapping up his Stane/Hammer/Mandarin conflict and heading to space in modified turd-recycling armor to clear his head and get some fresh ideas. So why doesn’t Gillen spend even a moment with this great premise? Marvel’s supposed to be more seamless, editorially. No, instead, Stark’s back on Earth, in different armor, and instead of seeking inspiration he’s only looking to bang another blonde bimbo with big ’90s hair in a club (I think?) while Pepper Potts tags along morosely, trying to untingle any vagina that falls for Tony’s rap.
I had to take a quick look again to remember just what this issue’s main story was about. Somebody selling an old version of Tony’s Extremis armor, which he’s already surpassed and beaten, so there’s no drama. Speaking of turd-recycling…maybe Gillen needs to go to space for inspiration, because we’ve seen all this before, and better. A year or two ago, I’d have closed with something like, “I’ll give this another issue or two to see if it finds its feet,” but life’s too short for comics that are just okay, you know? NEXT.
David Brothers on Cerebus: High Society Digital Edition
Excellent, detailed, and (unlike the product itself, clear) piece on the Kickstarter-funded digital edition of one of the more highly regarded stories in Dave Sim’s Cerebus epic. Unlike David, I didn’t fund this project, but like him, I’ve read very little Cerebus and was curious whether this would be a good place to start. This sounds like too much information, or at least a ton of ephemera presented in such a way that it distracts from reading the story. Add to that that you’re only getting one issue’s worth of story so far, rather than the entire story, and it sounds like a drag for all but the hardest-core fan. I don’t know Dave Sim enough to lecture, but it does kind of sound like one of those cases where, when an artist is used to listening only to his own inner voice, he can end up really closing himself off from his existing fanbase as well as possible new fans.
Brian Michael Bendis has taken his share of knocks as a writer over the years. Those distinctive stylistic tics that marked him as fresh over a decade ago have settled into formula, some might say self-parody, not unlike other distinctive writers like Chris Claremont or Frank Miller. I’ve taken my shots, too, and honestly am looking forward to his departure from the Avengers books. But I think his Daredevil run, while flawed, like anything, is still a pretty impressive accomplishment. And as with Claremont’s return to X-Men books or Miller going back to Batman, there is incredible risk in returning to past triumphs. Do you really have something left to say, or can’t you really go home again?
I was really worried with the first few pages here, an ugly fight between Bullseye and Daredevil that results in D.D.’s death, captured on cameraphone. It’s meant to be brutal, sure, but the combination of Janson and Sienkiewicz is surprisingly off-putting. As great an inker as Janson is, he’s often a stiff penciler, and finds in Sienkiewicz a finisher so eager to add pizzazz to the page that he ends up cluttering it with too many blood spatters and tendons and wrinkles and speed lines that it’s a mess. Try as he might, the opening splash page just doesn’t actually convey the feeling of a punch being thrown, because no matter how much he slops on or whites out, the angle of the pose is just wrong. Janson defeated him before he started.
On page 3, it’s a different story, a well-composed Janson page undone by excessive detail and shading that makes Matt Murdock look like he’s in blackface, not just bleeding and bruised. It’s not all bad, but there are several pages of fights in this issue, and Janson is hit-or-miss in dynamic action, and so, something like the last battle with the Kingpin, which leaves him dead and Daredevil disgraced, is actually anticlimactic and draggy.
I’m not really for superheroes killing, except in extreme circumstances, but I would have to admit that the final Daredevil story is one of those circumstances. And yet, Bendis does really set himself up for disappointment here, challenging the reader to recall the old, pure-hearted, non-murderous Daredevil to make us accept this new one. There are no scenes of that old Daredevil in the book, which I think was a mistake. We need to be reminded of what Daredevil was, so we can accept and understand what he becomes. As it is, storming into a restaurant and ordering the Kingpin to leave town forever or he’ll kill him, is unacceptable. That the Kingpin chooses to fight instead of run doesn’t justify Daredevil beating him to death with his billy club, and Daredevil shouting to the horrified onlookers that he’d “tried everything else” just feels hollow. He came there and made a death threat that he knew he would likely carry out.
What Bendis and Mack get right is Ben Urich. Ben had been the custodian of Matt Murdock’s secret identity as Daredevil, knew him as well as any man, and so is the only one to tell of his final days. And of course, it’s the last thing he wants to do, because it makes him feel even worse and he doesn’t want to engage with it. But J. Jonah Jameson is not going to see the end of print media by putting out a half-assed paper, and so he’s damn well sure the right writer is on the story. This is all good stuff, and Bendis/Mack write Urich as well as anyone has. It reminds me of their first Daredevil collaboration a decade ago, in that that story also found Urich as the protagonist, an investigative reporter hunting down leads. It seems the video shows Murdock uttering a mysterious name before he dies, and it’s not Bullseye’s real name or anyone we’ve ever heard of before. So that’s what we’re in for, a murder mystery—or is it? There’s some suggestion that maybe Daredevil is still alive somehow.
Later in the issue, Janson and Sienkiewicz seem to get a little more in sync, though it’s still uneven, with some pages looking much more like Sienkiewicz and others mostly Janson. Again, both terrific artists, but very different styles.
So is it any good? It has some parts I liked, some I didn’t like at all, but I’m interested in seeing it develop. When you review first issues, it’s hard to walk that line between condemnation and faith. The fact is, Bendis is an old pro and is good enough at his craft that there should be enough going right in a first issue for it to basically work. At the same time, when was the last time he wrote a gritty mystery that was light on conversation and absolutely absent of humor? There might be some rust there; for me, it’s most apparent in the fight scenes, where it feels like his brain kind of shuts off. There’s nothing in those scenes that’s unusual or containing important information; you get the idea those script pages are very basic, allowing the artist to figure out the staging. It’s in the Urich stuff where he feels engaged, and so far it’s not bad.
“Grant Morrison’s latest creator-owned series is already in motion as a feature film and rapper/director RZA is set to direct, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Happy! debuted at Image Comics late last month, and was reported Tuesday as in development with RZA as director, Morrison writing the script and Reginald Hudlin — who’s worked on comics including Black Panther and Marvel Knights Spider-Man — producing with RZA. The plan, as reported, is to develop the film and then take it to a studio or financier. With one issue out thus far, Happy! tells the story of a down-on-his-luck hitman who receives inspirational advice from a blue horse. RZA’s directorial debut, The Man with the Iron Fists, is out on Nov. 2.”—
Newsarama has always been terrible, the movie will be terrible, Reginald Hudlin is over, and David Brothers is physically unable to resist making a passive aggressive or aggressive diss against Grant Morrison. Now you have context.
And so Marvel’s latest carnival ride grinds to a halt, creaking with metal fatigue, bolts scattered across the fairgrounds. I don’t know if it’s the long or short straw, but Aaron draws the one making him wrap it up.
In full disclosure, I haven’t technically read all of this series. That is, I’ve read the bulk of every issue, but as of #7, I’ve been skipping pages, and it turns out it doesn’t really make much difference. The reason is that, like so many pamphlets these days, there’s not enough story to justify its length. We get some of that even in this ultimate issue, with several pages of unimportant heroes flying around to no purpose, without dialogue. Early in the series, you could kind of get away with this kind of thing, but by now we all know that anything Nova or Avengers Academy do will contribute fuck-all to stopping Dark Cyclops.
Speaking of whom, when Cyclops ends up as a visorless, enflamed figure with what appears to be a glowing toilet seat around his neck, you just know that mistakes were made. I had been wondering for years why nobody seemed to “get” Cyclops, such a potentially interesting character. Had anyone got right what a self-righteous prig marrying a former villain might be like? Did Cyclops ever try to be a better brother? A better son to Xavier? No, for the past few years, he’s just been the dictator of his own island, arguably a worse leader than Magneto was for Genosha. A guy who never considered that he might be wrong, that other methods might work better. And now he’s just a big bunch of power in human shape.
Much of a film’s success has to do with its editing. We don’t think about it in terms of comics that much, except in cases like this, where the scenes are sequenced in such a way as to make several pages les interesting than they should have been. That is, we see Hope turn on Scarlet Witch, and the next thing we see, they’re going up against Cyclops. THEN, we get several pages of them fighting and then learning to work together, and nobody cares by then. Add to that that, let’s face it, it’s a little late in the game to explore the very understandable conflict between the last hope of mutantkind and the mutant who made her necessary. I can’t entirely blame Aaron, since several Marvel writers plotted this whole thing, but there’s more thought put into nonsense like Hope mimicking Scarlet Witch’s hex ability and combining it into the Iron Fist, than in exploring how any of these characters might feel about all this crazy stuff going on.
The denouement has elements of a good scene between Captain America and the now-incarcerated Cyclops, where Cyclops at first expresses some remorse over killing Professor Xavier, but then rationalizes his actions as a win for mutant kind, since Cap is going to form a new, mutant-heavy Avengers and do more to forward the cause for peace and understanding. Perhaps due to crosscutting between panels of other developments in the superhero world, Aaron never pulls together the scene coherently. It’s just crap banged into publishable shape quickly. Andy Kubert has never been and never will be an A-list artist, but at least starts off okay in this one, with a polish that’s probably more to do with whoever inked those pages, before obviously grinding it out at the end. If this was a baseball game, you’re supposed to put in your closer in the 9th, not the 6th inning journeyman reliever. Well, what was a basically sound story at its core was botched and stretched and padded until it lost all meaning and momentum. But maybe down the road, a movie or cartoon will use this, cut the fat, and make it actually work.
Vertigo Comics, from The Invisible Omnibus $150 USD
I have to hand it to Morrison: only half a year into the series and he spends a issue on Sadeian cruelty and depravity, challenging material for a publishing imprint very early in its lifetime, its “edgy” material thus far mostly to do with extreme but not overtly sexualized violence. The title is an English pun on the Marquis de Sade’s famous, unfinished novel, 120 Days of Sodom, in which four rich noblemen in an inaccessible castle commit unspeakable acts of depravity on teen girls and boys, with the assistance of brothel keepers and studs, servants and others. The book was only found in 1904 and almost destroyed by the French government in 1955, though it has come to be respected by some as a satire on the lofty goals of The Enlightenment.
King Mob, Boy and de Sade himself, who we saw plucked from his timeline and plunged into their time machine, find themselves observing this fiction, which, while not part of the plan, is according to Mob unavoidable. They just have to get through it until they find the exit, or the next stage on their journey. And yes, I’ve already forgotten just what the journey is about, but I think it had to do with getting away from the murderous Orlando, who had appeared in their time. They’re only metaphysically successful, as Orlando has found their corporeal forms, and has cut off the pinkie of the awakened Jack Frost. His protestations awaken Lord Fanny, who fights Orlando to no avail. He seems beyond physical pain, a malevolent force. Again, he appears like a dark half of King Mob, also bald and fashionably dressed.
We also find Ragged Robin on her own, meeting a man at Rennes-le-Chateau who tells her of the church’s history, explored in 2003 in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code but long before then legendary for various conspiracy theories relating to treasure and certain odd features of the church, such as the Devil figure supporting the holy water stoup (rare but not unique) and a Latin inscription Morrison translates as “This place is terrible,” but is more accurately, “This is a place of awe.” As I’ve written before, I find Morrison’s knowledge dumps pretty entertaining, and I like his enthusiasm to try to tie whatever he’s been reading into this work, though he is starting to build up enough of a Jenga of famous people and places that it seems in danger of falling apart if he can’t pull it off.
We catch up with Lord Byron and The Shelleys, Percy mourning the death by dysentery of his daughter and speculating that Byron should be proud to be proved right, his cynicism trumping Shelley’s idealism and naivete. But Byron takes no pleasure in this, and attempts to take Mary Shelley’s mind off her grief with talk of his new romantic poem, Mazeppa. an interesting choice, as the poem is a transitional one for Byron, marking an uneasy end of his romantic period and the start towards the irony of Don Juan. It will be interesting to see where Morrison’s sympathies lie most, as so far, The Invisibles has been mostly earnest, with humor not generally of the ironic type.
Mary is here made of sterner stuff than Percy, but at the same time a staunch defender of the right of the poet to suffering (essentially, navel-gazing and obsessing), as, “They steal the power of creation from the gods. They remake the world with words and in the image of their dreams.” Through Mary, Morrison is giving himself license to embroider his growing tapestry of conspiracy, philosophy and sexuality as much as he wants, as it’s nigh unto a holy calling. And, you know, what writer wouldn’t agree?
The degradations of Castle Silling take up a large portion of this issue, and they’re about as unpleasant as intended, though it’s still probably PG-13 or a soft R. There’s an interesting decision, presumably by colorist Daniel Vozzo, to render most of these scenes in browns and tans, thus muting the impact of the cruelties performed. That is, it’s all still there, not obscured, but the coloring fits Morrison’s idea that these noblemen, trying to push the limits of Reason, reach a creative dead-end. Perverting or willfully disintegrating their humanity, they lack the necessary tools (love, compassion, imagination) to reach true Enlightenment. Their stagnancy is represented in rather simple visuals as a harsh winter giving way to the Spring flowers emerging from the snow, the true Enlightenment that The Invisibles represent.
We end with Robin seeing the mole-like Ciphermen again, who, while ostensibly enemies when we first met them, nonetheless lead her to something they believe she wanted to find: the head of John the Baptist, lost treasure of the Templars.
There are parts of this issue I loved. Those would be pages 1-3. We seem to be seeing the story of a Swamp Thing prior to Alec Holland, a skinnier one who lived in a cabin in Manitoba and helped grow the crops after the spring thaw. I would’ve been quite happy learning more about this guy and seeing how Kano drew him.
But then Snyder goes for what I don’t think is absolutely a mistake, but for me, an unnecessary and less interesting choice, which is to show that Anton Arcane is not just this bad wizard who continues to haunt the life of Alec Holland and those he cares about, but that he’s this agent of Rot, the forces of decay and entropy always at war with the Green (plant life) and the Red (animal life). I don’t have a problem with the whole Red/Green/Rot thing, though I think it’s occupied too much of both Swamp Thing and Animal Man, and it’s not that I have a strong attachment to an earlier characterization of Arcane. It’s not even that I’m against a fatalist approach. But man, it’s just gotten so overdone. I remember back, about ten years ago, when John Byrne did it in Spider-Man: Chapter One, rewriting history so that Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn was tied to Spider-Man’s origin and retroactively his primary nemesis. It wasn’t the primary failing of that series, but it just seemed kind of an easy, uninteresting idea. And since then, lots of comics have done the same thing when they rebooted. It’s completely unfashionable to just have bad guys show up and screw with your life because they feel like it and you’re in the way. No, it has to be destiny, some connection that goes back to primal forces beyond your control. So now we have an Arcane who seems to live for nothing but killing Swamp Things or future Swamp Things (in fact, he really enjoys killing them in the neonatal ward). He’s not a brilliant antagonist now; he’s just a monster who takes pleasure in what he does but doesn’t seem to have a choice in doing it. He’s just the biggest cog in a machine, just another agent in another shadowy group like the ones that made a decent show like True Blood into an embarrassment in a few seasons. Or, to bring it back to not only comics but Scott Snyder comics, why The Court of Owls are boring as shit. They’re just shapes and costumes and vague, sinister plans. Not a character in them. Characters are more interesting when they’re self-directed and unique and pursuing individual goals or compulsions. Anton Arcane is basically mold that talks out loud about how much he’s enjoying ruining your bread.
Vertigo Comics, from The Invisibles Omnibus $150 USD
As with the middle of the first story arc, Morrison gets a bit jammed up with a multitude of ideas and attitudes he wants to get across, leaving artist Thompson with some crammed pages she does her best to make interesting. The Invisibles are in Revolution-era Paris, looking for a local agent who will take them to the Marquis de Sade, whom they will then transport back to their timeline, presumably to help counter enemy Orlando, who we find at the end of the issue going on a kill spree. Why de Sade? Who knows? He doesn’t know anything about The Invisibles, but perhaps Morrison is choosing historical figures (artists and authors—creative types—it should be noted) who thought outside the box relative to their era, so maybe the idea is that free thinking is a kind of superpower.
Jack Frost is sick, which King Mob says shouldn’t be happening, as they aren’t even corporeal, so maybe there’s some kind of psychic malaise which affects neophyte Jack more strongly. We meet Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein and wife of Percy from last issue, and a mysterious, unaging man boards her carriage and expresses admiration for her work as well as the work of her mother, a suffragette. He’s creepy but again, on the right side of supporting the power of the intellect vs. traditional notions of the way the world works, what women can achieve, etc.
There’s a new menace introduced, The Ciphermen, which sound quite a bit like the Cybermen from Doctor Who and aren’t thematically that different. They have lost their humanity, in this case by subliminal transmissions, though why that causes them to dress up in leather and gas masks and create illusions, Morrison doesn’t explain. They look good, though. But of course, King Mob is prepared, with a weapon that disintegrates the illusions, called the Ghostbuster. There’s a bit of action, and then The Invisibles meet de Sade, who is obese and useless, self-pitying, and nonplussed at seeing the Ciphermen feed on a female corpse, even though he has imagined and written about various outrages on female flesh. They grab de Sade and hightail it back to 1995, whereupon Orlando is waiting, taking Jack’s pinky finger off with garden shears for fun.
The issue opens with King Mob witnessing an Indian puppet show, the Dalang (puppeteer) depicting a battle from The Mahabharata. Mob’s friend, Agus, tells him that the Dalang is more than just a puppeteer. He makes you believe you are witnessing a war, but there is no war, only the Dalang. It’s a testament to Morrison’s belief in the storyteller as God, or how a man—not just a writer, any man—can will their own reality into being.
He follows this with a full page of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Julian and Maddalo, a naturalistic, conversational poem/dialogue said to be inspired by the different viewpoints of Shelley (optimistic, Atheist) vs. his dear friend Lord Byron (cynical, raging). We then see Byron and Shelley holidaying together, drinking wine on a beach and then in a gondola, Shelley claiming that the present is not important, because their words will live on, will make them immortal, and that man can make his own utopia if he doesn’t succumb to despair, while Byron argues that all utopias (Arcadia is another word for paradise) are built on human suffering. If you’re wondering what happened to The Invisibles, well, we’ll get to that, but these sections are vital to the series even if they don’t necessarily move the plot forward.
There’s nothing writers hate worse than critics trying to discern their motives, but I’ve read enough of Morrison’s own words about himself in countless interviews to have an idea what’s going on here. Now, while this section reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, in how Gaiman opened the book up from horror and fantasy to bring in real-life dreamers like Shakespeare, I have no idea if Morrison was inspired by that. At the least, though, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the wide-ranging Sandman (and Morrison’s editor, Stuart Moore), let him know that virtually anything was fair game for The Invisibles, as Gaiman had already found success with the approach.
I recall that somewhere around this time, Morrison was traveling a lot, doing drugs, and searching for knowledge. That’s what this feels like, a writer being very open to all sorts of stimulus, reading a lot, trying to find kindred spirits. I don’t know that Shelley and Byron are integral to the Invisibles concept, though later in the issue there’s a mention of the the Invisible College, not an actual college but a group of philosophers in the 1600s, a couple hundred years before Byron and Shelley. In the dialogue between the two, one might see a battle between two sides of Morrison, the utopian and the opportunist, but I think most of us have similar battles. For anyone paying attention, it’s difficult not to try to put oneself in Morrison’s shoes, but without coming down on either side we can fairly say that his curiosity and willingness to ask some of the big questions (or is it more that he starts throwing out some answers here and the questions are inferred?) make this issue stand out as more progressive than the previous arc.
We do catch up with The Invisibles after this, and not to pick on poor Steve Yeowell again, but damn, it turns out Boy is an attractive woman when Jill Thompson draws her, not a man at all. She and Dane (Jack Frost now, though he dislikes the codename) have an exposition-laden conversation while doing yoga, no doubt another thing Morrison was into at the time, and also a decent way to make a lot of talking look not so boring. Boy explains that each Invisible sect has just five members, based on the five elemental symbols of earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Seems kind of limiting to me, but we’ll see how it goes. She says Jack has some latent psychic ability, too, so there’s that to look forward to, and that Jack needs a haircut, as it will get in his eyes while fighting. There’s the same old homophobic antipathy to Lord Fanny from Jack, which is annoying, but I guess it’s necessary that there be certain negative traits hanging on that he’ll have to shed later. Jack does seem to be on the right track of questioning his surroundings, asking Boy how he really knows he’s not on the other side.
We return to King Mob in Egypt, meeting a scrawny friend and her cyclopean, mutant baby. When he leaves, she calls out that he reminds her of Gandhi. Maybe it’s the bald head and round glasses. I’m not sure what the baby was about, other than maybe it represent’s one’s third eye, that ability to see different realities than the one seen by our other two eyes.
We kind of get into either Gaiman or Moore territory with a man in a park who is approached by a shadowy man in a white suit, who then seems to somehow become the first man by putting his parchment-like skin over the man’s face. It’s all well and good, though it would seem that early on, Morrison has realized that pitting The Invisibles against groups of people with the exact opposite mission—trying to spread lies and illusions—would get pretty boring, so instead, let’s keep a steady stream of monsters coming.
Just as King Mob is Morrison’s comics avatar, so too is Ragged Robin the spitting image of Jill Thompson. Unfortunately, he still hasn’t given her much to do yet but talk about King Mob and how great London shopping is. There’s some more exposition, needlessly explaining that the villain from Harmony House, Mr. Gelt, was a myrmidon on the side opposing The Invisibles, and that there are badges and other ways to identify allies. King Mob shows up for dinner with a ridiculous crop top mock turtleneck with plastic rings over the nipples, explaining that they need to make a trip through time, as the enemy assassin, Orlando (one of The Fleshless, so I guess he’s the guy we just saw with the white suit) is in London. Why they have to run away isn’t clear, but nonetheless, Jack has to hold Fanny’s hand as they all concentrate and leave their bodies. They arrive in what appears to be Bastille-era Paris, just as a man is beheaded on the guillotine. What better way to inculcate Jack in the need for a revolution than by exposing him to the one carried out by the French?
Although it’s hard to imagine many people preferring this to what Thompson’s art style would develop into, the storytelling is quite good and she doesn’t take any shortcuts. Morrison throws a lot at her in this issue, and under all the changes in scenery it’s a very talky issue, but the enthusiasm with which Morrison tries to share everything he’s been learning about is infectious.
It’s that time of year again — time to stock up on amazing comics from one of the industry’s best publishers, at rock-bottom prices. Here’s the scoop, from Top Shelf’s Chris Staros:
For the next two weeks — thru Friday September 28th — Top Shelf is having its annual $3 web sale. When you visit the site, you’ll find 170 graphic novels and comics on sale — with over 100 titles marked down to just $3 & $1! Each year we use these funds to help clear the decks on our current amazing releases, and “kick start” a full rollout for next year. So, thank you in advance for your support, as we wouldn’t be here without you!
To go directly to the list of items on sale at the Top Shelf website, just click here:
Please note that Top Shelf accepts PayPal (as well as Visa, MasterCard, Amex, and Discover — all secure), and that this sale is good for retailers as well (and comic book shops will get their wholesale discount on top of these sale prices).
Christopher Allen on The Invisibles Vol. 1 Interlude: "Hexy"
Absolute Vertigo 1995
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Duncan Fegredo
Vertigo Comics, from The Invisibles Omnibus $150 USD.
"Hexy" is a short King Mob solo adventure, from an anthology special highlighting then-current Vertigo series with exclusive original material. Fegredo has a much more aggressive style than Steve Yeowell’s on the previous Invisibles story arc, changing the position of the "camera" with every panel and using black borders around each panel, sometimes changing to a full bleed page with panels inset. Morrison has talked about King Mob being his avatar, the man he would will himself into being, and one has to believe Fegredo gets closer here than Yeowell did, as this Mob is more overtly violent and sexual, crotch thrust forward in tight trousers, torso exposed under open spiky leather jacket, and Mob is completely comfortable speaking with dominatrix Joni.
The reason he’s speaking to her is that someone has left him a fetish, a cursed object that will bring a bad hoodoo on him in short order, and he thinks Joni might have some answers. The story is packed with magical details, as if young magician Morrison is breathless to tell readers everything he’s learned so far. I found it kind of charming, but some might find it show-offy.
Joni says he could reverse the hex current if he found the appropriate sigil of his antagonist, the implication being that when you’re an Invisible, you’re attuned to this kind of thing and will certainly find the right sigil eventually, but it just might not be in time to save you. Mob takes a drive, offering Morrison the opportunity to make a nice point in a radio broadcast Mob listens to about how easy it is to erode civil liberties when you get the public scared enough of boogeymen in their midst. Points for prescience.
Morrison also has Mob making an assertion that the English have a kind of inherited sadomasochism within them. It’s not explained, but really just serves as an aural trigger for the observant Mob to realize that his tormentor was actually Joni all along. He finds her torturing a politician and confronts her, her reason for betrayal simply money, in true ’40s film noir femme fatale fashion. Slipping down the wall, her hands staining it with her own blood, Mob finds in the blood the sigil he was after. He kills the dangling politician after finding the same sigil on his person, so apparently he was the one trying to kill Mob, not Joni? The politician weakly threatens that they’ll get Mob and the Invisibles in the end, before Mob suffocates him in his gimp mask.
It’s a good-looking, moderately successful story that could, for all I know at this point, stand as a microcosm of The Invisibles series: lurid sex and easily justified ultraviolence against faceless villains mixed with esoteric philosophies and sparse social commentary. It will be interesting to see the comic’s battle between big dick and big brain.
Vertigo Comics. From The Invisible Omnibus $150 USD
The first story arc of the series concludes this issue, with few surprises but it’s executed well. After a sweet scene of Dane and Tom O’Bedlam tossing the ol’ Frisbee around like best mates, Dane bids goodbye to his angry, ignorant childhood by firebombing his last stolen car. Tom, as expected, is ready to move on or die, having taught Dane as much as he can, but there has to be one very real leap of faith to complete the journey to becoming Jack Frost, his Invisibles codename.
They ascend to the top of a London skyscraper, Dane having already smoked some more of that magical blue mold, and then Tom grabs Dane’s hand, imploring him to trust him. And down we go. Dane lands alone, in the park, a huge red sun seemingly floating just above him, showering him with transforming radiation. It then changes colors and seems to follow him, reminding me of that horrific white ball from The Prisoner, before it finally changes into a facsimile of Saturn, burning orange and rainbow-ringed.
Tom left Dane an address, and he finds the place, an empty schoolroom with a pink grenade with “Smile” on it sitting on the teacher’s desk, so much more useful than an apple. King Mob reappears (presumably the teacher), as does Ragged Robin, and the rest of the team is introduced: Boy, an African-Briton who so far only stands out for having one or two more earrings than King Mob, and the much more flamboyant Lord Fanny, the transvestite from issue #2 who gave Dane a five pound note.
It’s kind of fun that King Mob says, “It’s a man’s life in the Invisible Army,” because having one woman and one transvestite (could be transsexual, not sure yet) on the team announces that we’re going to be handling superheroes and espionage and whatever kind of typically-macho genre story material in a different way, that the notions of what being a man is will go deeper than being virile and brave and being good with one’s fists or a gun.
There’s also more interesting coloring in this issue, the lavenders offsetting the Saturn carrying over to the walls and signage on the next page as a sign that Dane has truly crossed over. Yeowell’s art looks about the best it has on the series, not so much that he’s changed much, but Morrison has given him more things to draw on each page. What I mean is, a page of Dane reacting to this moon/planet following him is more difficult, as it’s different angles of basically the same thing. But a page with Big Ben, then a close-up of a gold phone on a table with bloodstains, then a shadowy figure using that phone, with candelabra behind him, then a shot from outside the window looking in, and then outside the door—that’s diverse. Things are moving and changing. It gives Yeowell a better chance to succeed. When you give him a page that’s mostly talking, interest flags, because his staging is flat, he uses very ordinary grids, and they’re not always well-chosen, often leaving lots of negative space that drains the life from the panel.
Anyway, the rest of the issue is mostly exposition and little teases of information. We find out the fox hunters were actually King Mob and the rest of the Invisibles, which I didn’t catch before. The shadowy figure name-drops Rex Mundi (which translates not so different from King Mob). We find out Harmony House was connected to this bad guy, so there are apparently some evil things they do that are pretty out in the open in the so-called real world. The bad guy (who is also, like King Mob, bald) dispatches agents Ragged Robin refers to as Myrmidons (which basically just means minions) to get the Invisibles. Dane is given a choice of taking off with the team or trying to survive on his own, and of course he makes the choice to go with the guys from the title of the book. We see Tom walk off down a darkened subway tunnel, and then the myrmidons show up, finding the Invisibles gone, but having left behind the Smile grenade with the pin pulled. Win. It’s not an elegant or startling issue, but everything in it was intriguing and the issue was much better paced than the previous two.
Vertigo Comics. From The Invisibles Omnibus, $150 USD.
I noted that the second issue seemed to be a sort of rethink or regression from the first issue, a way to approach neophyte Dane’s entrance into the world of The Invisibles from a different angle. I suspect that part of the reason may be because Tom O’Bedlam makes for a better tour guide than King Mob, as a) he can couch his truths in enigmatic verse, and b) he’s old and probably expendable, his death showing Dane that the world beneath the world he knows is very real, and very dangerous.
Now, Tom is very much alive here, and as I’ve said, this is all new to me, so I could be wrong. This issue is relatively free of action and conflict, as the cliffhanger last issue regarding the evil men in fox-hunting garb is resolved for the moment with them capturing Dane but letting him go, telling him they can kill him any time they want, when he least expects it. Tom isn’t there to protect Dane, leading to an argument, but soon Tom starts to show Dane more of the power and knowledge at his fingertips, and this lasts the rest of the issue. Tom touches Dane, giving him black eyes like a pigeon, telling him that he and Dane are like the pigeons or rats, small, scurrying creatures who can get around because they’re hardly noticed. Not seeming to pose a threat is the essence of subversion, the foot in the door. He then puts Dane through a kind of primal scream therapy, removing the emotional dampeners “they” give us so we don’t feel anything and don’t question why things are the way the are (or seem to be). Dane is returned to a state of grace and innocence and awareness.
Although not much happens in terms of moving forward the plot, this transformation is obviously important enough to Morrison that he even uses a full page of whiteness to depict it, a real luxury for a 22 page comic book. Yes, we do get a few bits filled in, such as confirming that Tom is an Invisible and a peer of King Mob, as well as hints that Dane’s father’s disappearance may have more to do with an evil plot than irresponsibility, but it’s enough that we finally break down Dane enough that maybe he can accept what he’s been shown and taught and then become a force against evil. I still have my misgivings about the artwork, but while it’s not all it could be, it works.
I hadn’t read any Locke & Key before, but I read a tweet or something that said this was a great done-in-one story. It isn’t. Who thought stiff, EC Comics lettering was a good idea? The art is fine but cramped due to Hill’s overblown dialogue. We get that three bad French-Canadians have invaded Keyhouse and intend to rape the women living there, and perhaps the children, too. The art tells you enough, we don’t need all the description. The inevitable grisly payback is played for laughs, and it might be funny for regular readers. For newcomers, it’s incomprehensible until one reads the back matter: annotated architectural drawings that explain that there’s a room that causes people to change gender, and I guess there is one that is basically a huge jaw. I can’t say whether Locke & Key itself is good or bad. I like the idea of a huge, weird house full of strange and horrific rooms. People seem to like the series a lot, and there are some one-shots from my beloved Hellboy that aren’t very good. But this one doesn’t work, and doesn’t make me keen to read more.
Vertigo Comics. From The Invisibles Omnibus $150 USD.
This issue feels like the first episode of a television series after the pilot, when some changes have been made. That’s not what happened here, of course; this issue was probably written before the first issue was drawn and it came out a month after the first issue was published. Still, after the first issue introduced Dane McGowan and got him together with King Mob, his would-be Invisibles mentor, one would expect that issue #2 would pick right up from there.
Instead, we find Dane a little older, homeless and begging on the London streets. King Mob did disappear at the end of the first issue, but it’s still a bit of a surprise that he’s been on his own since then. Before long, he meets a middle aged bum named Tom O’Bedlam, who’s prone to reciting verse—classics, limericks, and original rhymes that may or may not be meaningful or germane to what’s happening—and Dane follows Tom on a tour of a London he’s never seen, after Tom proves his credentials by somehow making Dane invisible to a policeman. During this, we see a young woman hunted like a fox by red-jacketed hunters, apparently murdered.
Tom tells Dane that there are layers to London, different Londons than the one he sees, and he helps him see this when they smoke some blue mold growing in an unused underground train line. Up to this point, Steve Yeowell’s art has been suitable, as we’re still dealing with the mundane world of right angles and rigid lines that we think of as reality. But Morrison has written a drug trip scene here. While it doesn’t have to be swirly and psychedelic, necessarily—this hidden London is after all said to be as real as the clearly visible one—it nonetheless must be a revelation to the reader, a dazzling invitation to a deep, fascinating world that Morrison is going to be realizing and developing from here on. We get a sufficient, intentionally confusing sequence of small panels, in which it seems that Dane goes through some kind of initiation involving being scarred on the forehead by an alien. It’s okay. Having it as small panels makes them harder to stand out or have much detail, but making them small makes you look closer at them, studying, so it works as storytelling rather than attractive art. It’s functional. But when druggy Dane marvels at the colors emanating from a streetlight, and to us it just looks like any other streetlight, something is wrong. When they pass a statue of a bearded, sitting, crowned man named Urizen floating in the harbor, that needs to stand out as unusual, marvelous. I don’t know London, but it wouldn’t be hard to convince me that this statue actually exists. Again, something is wrong. It reminds me of a couple weeks ago, when I wanted to show someone Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which is a visually stunning film that also has some challenging sound design, with long stretches of operatic music and some almost whispered, extremely important, voiceover. We were at a house she was watching, and since they didn’t have a blu-ray player, I brought the dvd version that came in the blu-ray package. So that’s a slight downgrade right there. But then, since she hadn’t played a dvd on this setup before, we were somehow only getting sound through the TV speakers or the middle channel or something, barely audible. It just wasn’t going to work until we finally figured out the right button to press. I just didn’t have the right method of delivering this experience properly. That’s what Yeowell’s art is here, the wrong method of delivery for Morrison’s ideas. It’s not that he’s bad, but he’s not up to the task.
The issue ends with the fox-hunting villains finding Dane, imploring him to make a run for it so they can have a bit of sport. There are two more issues to go with this storyline, in which I’m guessing Dane will find out not only more about these hunters, but that he can’t make it on his own without the help of The Invisibles. One thing I did like about the issue was a bit where Dane is selling a newspaper and gets a fiver from a transvestite. He makes a homophobic comment to Tom, who seems to be beyond such things, so it looks like Morrison will be exploring this subject as well, like if you’re an Invisible and see beyond the illusions meant to keep us in line and unquestioning, you’ll evolve beyond these limiting prejudices. Again, though, even beyond the artistic shortcomings, it felt like Morrison has sort of lost the momentum of the first issue for what amounts to not a continuation of that story but more of just another version of the same story—the punk kid being taken in hand and shown there’s more to life than what he sees. It’s doubly odd that the events in the first issue—the horror at Harmony House—took place in the “real” world, and yet was much stranger than the fox hunters or anything else seen here in the unseen London.
A shameful secret, but I sort of never read The Invisibles. Actually, maybe worse, I read the first nine or ten issues when they came out but dropped the book. Sometimes you’re ready for stuff and sometimes you aren’t. I think a lot of it had to do with being in a serious relationship and thinking that meant cutting out the comics. That was seventeen years ago? Now, we’ve gone through the cycle of Morrison being a comics messiah to maybe a semi-embarrassing egotist, a shameless self-promoter who doesn’t have a lot of kind words to say for many others, and what was considered his masterwork, this lengthy series, is now just a thing that happened to some, part of a career arguably built off the efforts of folks like Michael Moorcock and Robert Anton Wilson. Could be. I haven’t read either. My thing has always been that artists are going to disappoint you now and then, and that’s just part of being an artist. Look at Martin Scorsese, not just his filmography but the way he studies other filmmakers. He’s effusive in his praise for Elia Kazan. Others may discredit Kazan’s work due to his shameful naming of names during the ’50s Communist witch hunt, but Scorsese focuses on the work. Anyway, I waited long enough for some sort of hardcover reissue of The Invisibles and finally got it in a huge one volume omnibus tonight, so I figure I might as well get started and see what all the fuss was about.
This first issue is relatively straightforward, focusing on one Dane McGowan, a Scottish teenager who’s bright but burning with anger at the world he finds himself in. He’s on a bad path, throwing Molotov cocktails with his friends, but people are watching him, people who need him. These are The Invisibles, a secret society led by King Mob, a bald man in leather modeled on Morrison himself, but cooler. Morrison’s 1994 editorial, as well as his memoir/comics history Supergods, let me know this was a kind of magickal act, depicting a fictional avatar having adventures he wanted to have, meeting women the Morrison in our world wanted to meet, and lo, it worked.
Dane is a special young man, and likely the reader’s entry point into the weirdness behind our everyday illusions. Interestingly, Morrison doesn’t give him that special girl to love or lust after, that symbol of innocence or unattainability. Dane really has no interests other than destruction. He’s a hotheaded blank. One night, on a Liverpool pier, he spots young John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe smoking and discussing their futures, before they disappear. Dane tries to deny what he’s experienced, but we know he’s probably in for a whole lot worse and more amazing than this. We get a psychedelic scene, with a sort of prime-era Lennon being summoned in a magic ritual by King Mob. Seems he wanted some advice about Dane.
After getting caught trying to firebomb his school, Dane is sentenced to Harmony House, a grim reformatory, where we soon see the headmaster serves some horrible dark god. We’re more in Clive Barker territory than Dickens or Orwell. All the kids in Harmony House have their individualism, their souls, burned out of them, leaving just a servile shell. I thought it was interesting that Morrison also has them all neutered (“made smooth down there”), and I’m expecting maybe there will be more examples of sexuality being an aspect of personal power and identity. We may have already seen another example in Ragged Robin, another Invisible who looks to be traditionally attractive but makes up her face like a doll or female clown.
Steve Yeowell has always been an underrated artist, with not the most attractive style but distinctive. He’s quite good at hair and body language, not bad at body language and drapery, but not very exciting at page design/composition. As with the recent Flex Mentallo collection, the colors here are not just gradated but in a cooler palette than the originals, but the choices are more effective here, the gradations adding richness without diluting power. The first issue cover, redone here for the omnibus cover, is still one of the more effective, striking comics covers I’ve ever seen, a simple image of a hand grenade framed by bright colors to make it pop, a promise of a mental explosion within.
Double-sized, it’s a very effective introduction to the series. Young Dane, a boy of promise who needs a guiding hand, rescued from certain death by a future mentor in King Mob. It’s true, Morrison might have come up with some other ways to foreshadow and build interest for King Mob aside from just having his name show up as graffiti several times, and maybe he could’ve held back that appearance longer, but it works pretty well. We get just enough of Mob and Robin to be intrigued, and enough of Dane to at least be interested in him finding a better outlet for his anger. There are some signs and portents, such as an explanation that beetles are symbols of death and rebirth, but Morrison takes a sound approach of establishing the characters and the grim real world before unloading all the crazy ideas, theories and conspiracies. He could have justified Dane’s anger by having all the adults around him be horrible, but he is more balanced and mature here. Dane’s mom is the main problem, but there’s a caring teacher who goes out of his way to help Dane, and Dane rejects him. Obviously he’s got a ways to go before he becomes what he’s supposed to.
This is a graphic novel about a bunch of kids at a summer camp sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America. It could be straight-up comedy, it could be an earnest coming of age story, and it could be a critique of the BSA philosophies. And it turns out it’s all of these things. I’ve enjoyed Dawson’s work since his co-authored indie series, Gabagool, which also dealt with adolescent angst, humiliation and competitiveness. It’s more accurate to say that’s the only other work of Dawson’s I’ve read, though I really like it and want to catch up on what I missed. That said, yes, there are some problems with this overall enjoyable book.
First, though, let’s be clear that Dawson has a really appealing line. There are over half a dozen important characters in the book, and he’s able to make them distinctive without resorting to caricature. The settings are drawn fairly realistically and he gets all the details right, but everything’s reduced to its essentials. Eyes are dots, eyebrows are thin, singular lines, hair is usually an outline with a few lines rather than a lot of lines. The camp setting serves him well because he can use black for nighttime backgrounds, and simply rendered bushes and trees for daytime. Which isn’t to say he’s cheating; he’s just an efficient storyteller. When he needs to draw a rainstorm, it looks like a rainstorm. Woodgrain looks like woodgrain. The details are there, but used sparingly.
There are a number of minor stories here, or let’s call them incidents. Dawson’s funny. There are some good setups and payoffs here involving typical camp stuff, drug stuff, horny teen stuff. Better yet, he really remembers and understands adolescence. At any given moment, you might be called upon to compete with someone, maybe a footrace, feat of strength, or putdown contest. You can want to kill your best friend for not having your back when another kid makes you feel like shit. Your parents are always an embarrassment, and if they’re not, you have deeper problems. All the kids in this story are trying to navigate their week at camp to make it the best as possible, with strategies to either do their best, stay under the radar, or look for distractions in drugs, porn, pranks or the few females present.
Into this mix, Dawson also explores some adult characters, mainly a hardass veteran camp counselor who’s very by-the-book, and the nebbishy, liberal new counselor who’s mainly there to bond with his sons, and is hypersensitive to unfairness or faulty logic. You feel like he’s experiencing camp, or at least his adolescence, all over again by being here, which just makes him even more awkward as a short-term leader of men.
Most of this is played for laughs, but the anger and betrayal is real, too. Whether it’s at camp, a couple’s vacation, or work retreat, who hasn’t had that early screw-up that is all the worse because you’re stuck with these people who are pissed off at or freaked out by you for several more days, and you have to try to redeem yourself?
Dawson doesn’t have one main narrative, nor do the stories build to one big climax. It’s messy and inconclusive, like life, and I appreciate that, though of course some people look for their fiction to be tidier. There might be a character or two too many. And there are some difficulties discerning Dawson’s point of view, particularly during a last night campfire speech from the head of the troop about the creeping menace of homosexuality. That is, it’s pretty clear that Dawson thinks this is an outdated, negative view the Boy Scouts of America hold, but there’s no further discussion of it, no repercussions. There’s a lot of homophobic, and homoerotic, words and incidents in the book, because it’s set in an indeterminate era (it could be the ’90s, it could be today), and for some youths, calling other kids “queer” and “fags” and making gay jokes or performing some homoerotic hazing is all part of adolescence and figuring out one’s sexuality and how one wants to treat people.
But whereas that aspect of the book was disappointing, Dawson brings some real depth to his characters. The “good” kids are guilty of some heinous shit, while our liberal adult stand-in dad character totally loses it and crosses the disciplinary line, while the hardass dad has more going on than that. He’s just trying to relate to his son and the other kids in his own way, and he fails in a different way than the liberal guy fails, but they both fail and both succeed to some extent, because at least they’re there with their kids, experiencing something with them. It’s hard to come up with good jokes while at the same time exploring various shades of humanity, exploring pain and fear and shame in a meaningful way, but Dawson does a pretty terrific job here.
It’s not really that important that Spider-Man is 50 years old this year, but it’s nice he’s still around. He was probably the first superhero I ever drew as a kid, and it’s really no wonder he’s the favorite character of so many comics readers, because he’s the first nerd hero. He made it okay to stick your head in books and learn about Science or anything else that wasn’t cool because hey, something might just happen and the shoe would be on the other foot. Even though that power and responsibility mantra was hammered into our heads over the years, who hasn’t fantasized about getting powers without that fantasy leading to thoughts of payback?
Before I was about thirteen, I never had many comics, but what I had were pretty choice, like Origins of Marvel Comics and those little pocket-size collections of the early issues of Amazing Spider-Man, as well as a Fireside Books collection of a handful of Lee/Romita ASMs under a painted Joe Jusko (I think) cover.
I could enjoy the after-school reruns of the primitive ‘67 Spider-Man cartoon, with its jazzy score and reused sequences, but shunned the Spidey Super Stories comic as being for babies, featuring a tame Spider-Man in line with his portrayal on kids show, The Electric Co. I did like doing an impression of that Spidey, though, when he would look puzzled and a “?” thought balloon would appear over his head, with the sound effect, “Err-REOW?”
The first actual Spider-Man comic books I had were a couple of consecutive issues of ASM featuring Nova as a guest star—on one cover they were chained to an anchor and about to plunge to watery graves in what was probably the Hudson. The only places to get comics then were 7-11s or White Hen Pantry, another convenience store chain. 7-11s had what I think were called Valu-Packs, which were three comics sealed in plastic, two in a row of a popular title, with a lesser title in the middle where you couldn’t see it. This is how I got issues of Thor and Conan the Barbarian, both of which I hated at the time. I wasn’t interested in DC, either. It was Spider-Man first, followed by maybe Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Incredible Hulk, and that was about it. Strangely, I never saw an issue of Avengers until I turned 13.
Years before that, I had memories of taking some Amazing Spider-Mans and what was probably Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1 and cutting the figures out, so I could then paste them onto this G.I. Joe footlocker I had. I put little toys and other junk in there, never G.I. Joe. I don’t think I ever even had a G.I. Joe, so who the fuck gave me this footlocker? Anyway, I know it was Peter Parker, because I remember cutouts of The Tarantula on the footlocker. He appealed to me because his costume was this evil variation of Spider-Man’s, with the spiky (poisoned?) boots and the way the mask was cinched tight in back with ribbons. Iron Fist’s mask is basically another ribboned variation of Spider-Man, too. I would regret cutting up those comics, of course.
I remember reading the issue where Spidey had his own Spider-Mobile (I think this was a Gerry Conway idea?), and thinking it was cool. Why wouldn’t a costumed hero who can swing carefree through the city, and who lives in an apartment building with no garage, want an outlandish dune buggy to navigate Manhattan traffic? I didn’t question it at all, probably because I was used to Batman cartoons and Mego vehicles and play sets. The big superheroes put their symbol on everything, and have lots of gadgets and vehicles. Of course.
What I lacked in actual comics was made up briefly by the 1979 Spider-Man TV show, which generally had about three minutes of action per episode. Much better than this was just playing superheroes with friends, especially one really good friend I had when I was eight or nine named Brian. Brian was as gay as a parasol, looking back, but hey, if you want to play superheroes, I can put up with a little singing along to your portable record player’s Andy Gibb and Shaun Cassidy singles, or your putting on a variety show with Donny & Marie Osmond figures. And while I preferred to be Spider-Man but would switch to Thing or Hulk or Iron Man or even Green Lantern, just for variety, if you want to only and always be your own creation, Wonder Lad (Wonder Woman’s nephew), then that’s fine by me. The important thing is that we’re running around the yard, pretending to fly and beating up bad guys with “Kssh!” sound effects.
I had the original webshooters. They were blue plastic and strapped to your wrists and you would press a button and they would shoot out a suction-cup-tipped dart with a string on the other end, and you could pull stuff to you, or if you shot a window or smooth surface, act like you were swinging on your web to get to there. I remember playing like this, alone, when I spotted this girl I knew, Larissa Schmidt. Larissa lived in my apartment complex, had a dad who was a cop, and didn’t like me at all. This was entirely justified, because I had tried to look under her dress in first grade, earning me a kick in what would eventually be my nut sack. I had a red mark there for a couple years afterward, so in retrospect, I probably should have mentioned it to my parents, but then how to explain my sexual assault? It was silly to think a dad, even a policeman dad, would want to beat up a seven year old kid for liking his daughter, anyway.
So when I saw Larissa, I hid my webshooters under some dead grass and went to show her this Corgi James Bond Aston-Martin I had, which had a working ejector seat. I guess I knew the webshooters wouldn’t impress her, but this car had a good chance. It didn’t do anything for her, and I returned to my hiding spot to find the webshooters gone as well, teaching me an important lesson about with great toys comes great responsibility, or that women are a huge pain in the ass.
ADD on A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: Lovers' Lane - The Hall/Mills Mystery
What else is there to say about Rick Geary’s Treasury of 19th/XXth Century Murder series, published by NBM? The series has been going on forever, every volume is a delightful and offbeat look at a genuine historical murder mystery, and Geary is probably one of the three or four most talented and accomplished North American cartoonists alive today. If sales were based on quality alone, each new volume in this series would be selling millions of copies. For surely millions of readers would enjoy this literate and visually stunning series, the overarching subject matter of which has informed untold successful movies, TV series and novels – murder.
From Cain and Abel in the Bible, to Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal in comics, from Agatha Christie to Donald Westlake in prose, murder has long been probably the second-most consumed form of entertainment after pornography, and sometimes the lines are blurry between the two. Certainly both can deliver titillation and spectacular climaxes, although stories about murder can contain subtlety and nuance few works of pornography would ever aspire to. At its best, stories about murder, both fiction and non-fiction, can tell us something about ourselves and our world.
And of course, there are nearly as many ways of telling a story about a murder as there are murders themselves. But few artists have created such a powerful and engaging niche for themselves with this genre of storytelling as Rick Geary has. For as standard as many of his storytelling devices seem to come with every project he tackles, the strangeness of the stories and the sheer, unadulterated joy he takes in telling them make the Treasury of Murder series indispensible for lovers of true crime, and for aficionados of top-notch comic book storytelling. None of these volumes has ever disappointed me in any way. Whether as seemingly well-known a tale as that of Lizzie Borden or the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to the virtually unknown-to-me stories about The Bloody Benders, or this one, about the Lovers’ Lane murders of a man of the cloth and his mistress, Geary always delivers an astonishing amount of information. Because murder is messy and real life isn’t fiction, we don’t always find out who exactly dunnit, but I think it’s safe to say no reader has ever closed one of Geary’s murder books feeling that facts were left out, or that the whole story wasn’t told.
In this new volume, Geary introduces a bizarre murder scene and then establishes the various suspects and motivations. Given the nature of the killings, there’s little doubt that it was personal, and primarily spurred by the relationship between the two lovers. But many questions can be asked about the killer or killers, and precisely what it was about the illicit affair that made murder inevitable. As always I am most fascinated by how Geary ties in the moral standards of the day and the reaction to the world at large to both the murders and the secret events that led up to them. And, as always, I am blown away by the meticulous beauty of Geary’s artwork; though he employs many, many lines in creating the worlds in which he immerses us, never does a line feel unnecessary, extraneous or flamboyant. Somehow, every line Geary lays down, every silhouette he chooses to use, is perfectly placed to tell just precisely the story he wants to tell us, in just the manner he wants to tell it in. Few writer/artists in the history of comics have show such sustained control over their instrument, while at the same time offering up exquisitely produced comics again, and again, and again.
Some of the books in this series leave little doubt who the perpetrator or perpetrators was or were. Some of the facts in some of the cases introduce so much doubt that Geary can only present them and ask the reader to render judgment, or not. But the delight in these books is not in the solving of a mystery, or the closing of a case. The delight in Geary’s ongoing investigations into some of the weirdest murders in history is seeing how he gathers his facts, and how he lays them out for us, and the little touches he injects along the way that add gravity, legitimacy and often whimsy to his reflections on the darkest of all human impulses.
The idea behind Kickstarter seems very 21st century, does it not? As we become one global village, constantly connected by iPhones and Twitter and that new one where you pin stuff to your computer (which seems to me like it would damage the screen, but what do I know?), more and more we’ve seen people use technology to reach out and hit somebody up for a buck or two. In the internet age of comics, we’ve seen publishers successfully use the World Wide Web to ask for a hand up when times were tough, by posting special sales and spreading the word on websites, blogs and social networking sites. Hell, I’ve held a few fire sales on my websites myself, turning to my readers when times were tight and asking them to consider buying stuff from me to help me keep the sites going, or keep my kids fed, and if you have a website that operates at or near a loss, you know at the end of the day the lines blur and it all comes under the heading of cash needed to continue operating as usual.
People looking to publish their comics with financial help gained through Kickstarter aren’t, as a rule, looking to maintain their operations, though. They have some new idea or new iteration of an old idea, and they work up a presentation with various levels of participation, and then they make their pitch for all the world to see. In this changed financial environment we now inhabit (and have since at least 2008), it’s not just newcomers to the industry who are looking to crowdfund their project, but even names you know have raised their flag to see who salutes it. The idea seems to have created a division in comics, from those who see it as the ideal expression of the intersection of creativity and technology, to those who frown upon it with great disdain. I guess I’m in a third camp, in that, like the majority of people living on the planet, I don’t much care about Kickstarter comics projects one way or the other. I figure, no matter how you fund your comics project, if it’s good enough, if it will appeal to me, eventually I will hear about it.
The truth is, and this is the dirty little secret of many comics critics, I don’t care about 95 percent of the “projects” that I see. The majority of the review copies I get from would-be “indy” comics creators demonstrate an overabundance of funding and a staggeringly underwhelming amount of talent. In this era of capital contraction, many wannabe publishers are relying on PDF files instead of sending out hard copies of their comics, and that’s beneficial in a number of ways. First, it costs them less. Second, it takes critics much less time to evaluate whether the project is worth reading in full. And third, it’s better for the environment, go hug a tree and congratulate it for still being alive, yay the environment.
As long as I have been writing about comics, and that goes back to the latter days of the Clinton administration, there have been too many people dying to get into comics, and too few with anything to actually say within the medium. And I think that’s where things often break down for these untested, unseasoned hopefuls. They grow up on a steady diet of professional comics, and they are absolutely dying to get into the industry and make a career out of it, but they have little life experience to inform their comics and even less talent with which to express whatever minor thoughts or ideas have shot across their brains in their fervor to “be a part of comics.” The very worst, most discouraging review copies I see are from people who have huge ambitions to be comics creators, apparently hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend sparking their little dreams, and little to no talent with which to pry their way into an industry that is already chock-full of mediocre hacks. See, for example, the recent documentary Comic Con Episode Four: A Fan’s Hope to see the sort of energy people with no real hope of ever making a splash in comics devote to, well, trying to make a splash in comics. And when one ponders what a miniscule portion of the overall entertainment dollar that comics manages to seize every year, it’s a wonder that the obituary columns in newspapers across the country aren’t filled to bursting with tales of would-be creators who decided to end it all rather than continue not living the dream.
I don’t understand it, I really don’t, this impulse to swim upstream against the surging tide of disregard and rejection that sweeps thousands into the vast ocean of never-gonna-happen every year. I think deep down I suspect that if you truly do have the talent to write or draw comics that are better than mediocre, that eventually you will find your way in somehow due to nothing more than the quality of your work. It seems to me, and this is advice I have given more than one wanna-be comics creator, that if you truly get down to it and practice your craft, if you keep making your comics and focus on making them as good as they can be and as powerful an expression of your inner voice as you can, that eventually you will have samples that are so superior to those of your competitors in the slush pile that publishers will be knocking down your door to let you have a seat at the table.
In the old days, the big publishers had anthology titles in which starting creators could hone their craft and experiment with styles and approaches until their true gifts became apparent. There’s a reason no one publishes anthologies like that anymore, and that’s because they sold poorly, and that’s because they pretty much sucked. I’m thinking of the old issue of Weird War Tales that I spent months tracking down and scores of dollars to buy because Frank Miller had one of his first handful of professional jobs in it. Yeah, it really blew. And these days it probably goes for a buck or two.
I don’t begrudge anyone trying to raise funds for their project on Kickstarter, or anywhere else. Presumably most people doing so are sincere in their efforts, and nobody is holding a gun to the heads of the people lining up to donate their fifty cents, or fifty dollars, or whatever the going rate is. I assume the system will eventually find out who the fraudsters are on there and treat them accordingly. But for those who really, really want to get into comics? If you have something to say within the comics medium, then say it. That doesn’t mean you have to immediately get it published, or even just posted to the internet, but if you must do the latter, I guess, go ahead. But be aware that almost no one’s earliest work is worth looking at, and that the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and eventually, if you’re good enough, say, five or ten years down the line, you might be good enough to get published. If that’s not good enough for you, if you want more and you want it now, then good luck to you, but you’re probably not going to make it, and your eagerness probably outpaces your talent by a ratio of 100 to 1. But go for it, because the recycle bin for my email account is emptied every day, so there’s plenty of room for your must-see project.
I would point you to more knowledgeable comics historians like Mark Evanier and Tom Spurgeon for their thoughts on the passing of this comics giant, but I do think it’s important to note this passing. As a Marvel Comics aficionado, I didn’t grow up reading much of Kubert’s work, as much of his career was spent at DC, so I don’t have any particular nostalgia for Sgt. Rock or Hawkman or Viking Prince. Still, some time in the early ’90s I did make efforts to correct the gaping chasm in my comics knowledge, buying some of the Greatest Stories volumes in which Kubert was featured, and then later the Tor Archives and Showcase Presents volumes, and even Fax from Sarajevo, part of Kubert’s late-career move into more adult(?) work. Adult might not be the right word. I don’t know if it was inspired by Will Eisner’s graphic novels, many of them about Jewish life, or if it’s just a natural outgrowth of being a senior citizen in a medium that’s thought of as pandering to juveniles, but Kubert should be lauded for stretching a bit in those later years, even if it should also be noted that his decades of Sgt. Rock stories are, of course, fairly serious studies of heroism and the impact of war. Whether teaching, drawing some younger writer’s script, inking his son, or doing it all himself, Kubert never stopped working, and his art, while lacking the heavy blacks of his ’50s through ’70s material, was always strong even in its economy, and always distinctively his. With one of the longest careers while still maintaining a high level of craft, Kubert was a giant, and there are very few of them left. If an artist has had an impact on your life, if they’ve made art that’s thrilled or touched or inspired you, take the time to tell them.
Sean T. Collins does yeoman work here with a tough remit. From the Intro, he admits some of the books on the list are deeply flawed, and some, like Batman: Court of Owls Vol. 1 and Batman: Earth One are too new to be considered “essential,” and I daresay neither will be considered essential, ever. But I can understand their inclusion. I would nitpick that as much as I like them, three Grant Morrison books is one too many for a list of 15 and a character who’s been around 83 years (and if you have to have three, isn’t The Black Glove better than R.I.P.?). More importantly, why no representation of O’Neil/Adams’s run, (collected in Batman Illustrated: Neal Adams or Batman: Tales of the Demon), which among other things debuted Ra’s al Ghul, upon which much of the Nolan film trilogy is based, and they also did the first really murderous, darkly humorous Joker. And what about the Englehart/Rogers run (collected in the now OOP Strange Apparitions but not hard to find), which had a Batman able to pursue a romantic relationship with his best match, Silver St. Cloud, while not losing sight of his mission, not to mention presenting a Joker as fiendishly clever as any seen before or since? Either or both of these would have been better choices than the throwaway floppy Untold Legend or Earth One, which is just the latest reboot of Batman’s origin, with a mediocre creative team and changes for their own sake that will have no impact, as the Earth One books are rather self-contained and not related to the DCU continuity. And are the Batman Chronicles really as essential as Dick Sprang or Jerry Robinson stuff that came a few years later and has more of the elements and characters most people associate with Batman, just because the very first Batman stories are more historically important? But hey, around a dozen of the most notable collected Batman stories out of a possible fifteen is solid work. At least he didn’t pick The Dark Knight Strikes Back.
Christopher Allen Reviews First X-Men, Hawkeye and Peter Parker 156.1
Marvel dropped three books this week that are all examples of their constant, never-ending and yet often contradictory mandate to keep coming up with fresh takes on characters at least 40 years old, while keeping these fresh takes from alienating the existing, aging readership.
First X-Men #1 (of 6)
Writers: Neal Adams & Christos Gage
Artist: Neal Adams
For those George Lucas types out there who think that there’s nothing cooler than filling in backstory on favorite characters, even if that backstory undoes a lot of what made them interesting in the first place, here’s…this.
So we have beloved comics legend, crusader and kook Adams apparently being shepherded by young, solid, within-the-lines writer Gage on one more retcon fiesta that noone was really asking for, and that has a subtitle, “Children of the Atom,” that at least one other retcon fiesta already bore. Here, we have Wolverine/Logan, as yet not part of Project X but still running with his bro, Sabretooth, kind of like in that Wolverine movie and Origin, but he’s not conflicted because he doesn’t seem to be an assassin. He has a friend and agrees to help find the friend’s kid, who is a mutant like himself. He enlists Sabretooth, who here is just a slightly rougher big brother and not really evil, and then the rest of the issue continues the putting-together-the-team formula. As one might expect, there are some new players, just like in that Wolverine movie, because of course they’re going to die and be forgotten and not have to be tied into modern continuity. We’ve got Holo, a teenage girl who makes people see what they want to see, and the fourth would-be member is young Charles Xavier, though he sees the murder in Logan and Victor’s hearts and won’t join them. At the end, we see the future Magneto, Erik Lensherr.
It’s all familiar, unnecessary and at best, just competent. Gage working with someone else means a professional but less personal job, and to be honest, I would have preferred Adams given more rope to hang himself than doing a mini nobody needed. Adams can still draw, with some great depth and forced perspective and his typical fetish for overly rendered hair, as well as the more recent fetish for drawing bodies torn apart by weapons, but his trademark for triangular, jagged panels has become a little stilted.
Peter Parker, Spider-Man #156.1
Writer: Roger Stern
Artist: Roberto De La Torre
As he admits in the Afterword, Marvel asks Stern to write a Spider-Man story once or twice a decade now. Stern had a very solid run in the early ’80s with John Romita, Jr., including a terrific issue with the Juggernaut that illustrates the never say die quality of Spider-Man to a T, and a whole bunch of issues about the corrupt Brand Corporation. That provides the connective tissue to this, a .1 issue for a series that no longer exists, which finds Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters enlisting Peter Parker to take some photos while she investigates what’s going on at the abandoned Acme Warehouse. Brand is going down the tubes with litigation and wants to get the tech that’s locked up in their labs at the warehouse. Norah doesn’t know this is the same place where the killer of Peter’s Uncle Ben was found, which has him bummed out most of the issue.
Stern has a great collaborator in De La Torre, who has a kind of Alex Maleev-like photoreference thing going on but draws faces and figures seemingly mostly from his imagination. A lot of Matt Hollingsworth filters keep things from looking too grainy and grey. The art, and Stern’s way of writing Peter Parker capably, focusing on his core of responsibility and guilt rather than nonstop wisecracks, make this one work despite not adding up to a whole lot other than beating up some average thugs and calling back to not a classic villain but a vaguely defined corporation that was notable thirty years ago. Not to mention that Parker hasn’t been a photographer for some time now, and, past favor aside, could still be nice guy Peter and tell Norah politely that he’s got a great job he should be working at and to go find some other guy to dig around a dusty warehouse full of bad memories. It’s a nice enough book, I’m glad Stern got a gig, and you can take it or leave it. Unfortunately, by making these issues adjuncts to defunct rather than existing Spider-Man titles (there’s a two-part Sensational Spider-Man story next), Marvel’s underlying message is to leave it.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja
The thing about being a critic is that sometimes you can enjoy something the first time you experience it, and then the second time the flaws reveal themselves. To be sure, Fraction is one of Marvel’s bright lights, and any chance to see him work with his Immortal Iron Fist collaborator again is a good thing, and a smartass like Hawkeye is more in line with his strengths than Thor. This is pretty much a guarantee to be at least a decent superhero comic, and so it is, well-drawn and with some good bits in the first-person narration that paint Hawkeye as a likable, almost blue collar kind of superhero.
Unfortunately, while the choice to set uncostumed Hawkeye in an urban environment, just a regular guy who goes to work, pays his rent, and enjoys barbecues on the roof with his neighbors is a sound one, the execution is off on nearly every story beat.
After falling several stories onto a car, regular guy Hawkeye breaks a bunch of bones like you or I would (if we didn’t die), but do we see him suffer? Do we see him go through physical therapy? No. We see him leave when he feels like it, all better, and dumping his wheelchair in an intersection to be destroyed and cause traffic delays, with a spoiled celebrity’s solution of, “Bill me for it.” And then we see him handle his Russian landlord’s raising of the rent to exorbitant levels (though legal) with a spoiled superhero’s solution of intimidation and then, failing that, a spoiled rich guy’s solution of taking out his checkbook and overpaying for the building by 50%. With Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, that kind of thing can be very funny, but if you’re trying to establish that this is a blue collar type of superhero, a guy who came from nothing, has no powers, but somehow has the character and tenacity to stand as an equal with gods, mutants and living legends, then you need to come up with a better way than just throwing money at a problem. Maybe Fraction is going to explore this in future issues, like maybe now that the tenants know he’s rich and their new landlord, it will change their relationship with him, and what he thought he had in this low-key setup is gone. We’ll see, but for now, it kind of leaves a bad taste.
Sometime this year, and I am not exactly sure when, I passed a milestone of having read comics for forty years. The first time I remember being given a stack of comic books was at the age of six, recovering from having my tonsils out. Ice cream and comic books in the recovery room — yes, America, our health care system has really deteriorated since 1972.
Over these four decades, some comics have blurred into obscurity to me. I am pretty sure that that first stack included Spider-Man and Archie titles, but I can’t pinpoint which particular issues they might have been. I suspect the Spider-Man was an Amazing Spider-Man in the 120s, but that’s as close as I can get it.
Other comics stand out in my memory like they came out yesterday. Some because they were so good, others because they were somehow significant in some way to my development as a comics reader. Here are the most memorable of those comics.
* Daredevil #181 - In the 9th grade, my best friend Donny and I shared a love of comics, and there was no comic we looked forward to more every month than Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Daredevil. Miller had begun drawing the book with issue #158, really started to cook art-wise around #164, and when he took over as writer with #168 (first appearance of Elektra, true believer) Miller began a long ramp up to the explosive, apocalyptic #181. I remember the cover blurb word for word — “Bullseye vs. Elektra…One Winss. One Dies.” And for once, it wasn’t just hype.
Bullseye had bedeviled Matt Murdock since, I think, #159 (back when Roger McKenzie was still writing the book), and the climax of this issue sees the assassin murder Daredevil’s first love Elektra in as brutal and final a manner as had probably ever been depicted in a Marvel comic up to that point. Elektra’s death, brief as it was (she was resurrected in Miller and Janson’s last issue together, #191), felt much more realistic and portentous than the usual superhero comics death, and although she’s died and come back a number of times since, no one could ever hope match the visceral gut-punch Miller and Janson delivered with this issue.
Additionally, with a few decades reflection, I’ve come to believe that this issue marks Miller’s absolute peak as an artist (his peak as a writer was either Batman: Year One or Daredevil: Born Again). After this, every comic book Miller drew seemed to be an exercise in experimentalism, or just seeing how far he could get his head up his own ass (culminating in the graphically bankrupt Dark Knight Strikes Again). These days I can’t find any interest at all in anything Frank Miller is involved with, which is amazing to me when I look back to Daredevil #181 and remember how very much it seemed like a new high for comics, and certainly a signal moment for Frank Miller as a writer/artist.
* New Teen Titans #1 - To say I was a huge fan of George Perez in the late 1970s and early 1980s would be a colossal understatement. The only two comic books I ever subscribed to through the mail were Avengers and Fantastic Four, both at the time being regularly drawn by Perez. So when he moved to Marvel and overhauled Teen Titans with writer Marv Wolfman, I was all over that book from the moment the preview story appeared (in DC Comics Presents, I think?), and my interest really sustained itself for a good long while — certainly through The Judas Contract, which had the somewhat shocking revelation (for a DC comic of that era) that the 50ish Deathstroke was sleeping with the 15ish Terra.
If you were the right age and reading comics, it was almost impossible not to fall in love with Claremont and Paul Smith’s Kitty Pryde, or Wolfman and Perez’s Tara Markov. The difference was, of course, that Terra was designed from the get-go to turn on the Titans, and Wolfman’s long-term planning of Terra’s story arc struck me at the time (I was in my mid-to-late teens) as extraordinarily sophisticated for a superhero comic book. When New Teen Titans split into two titles, one in the regular format and one in the Baxter Paper format, I think my interest began to wane, and by the time Perez left as artist, I was gone too.
But for quite a few years, New Teen Titans was THE monthly superhero book, stealing a lot of thunder from Marvel in the fan press and in the minds of readers. These days the books seem hopelessly overwritten and the melodrama is all a bit much, but the truth is, those comics were written for 12 year olds, and as such, they provided an exciting, seemingly more mature look at what was possible within the superhero sub-genre.
* Reid Fleming, The World’s Toughest Milkman #1 - “78 cents or I piss on your flowers.” If that means nothing to you, you weren’t there, and I can’t help you. Literally the funniest thing ever published in a comic book, and that line sticks with me, all these years later. David Boswell was an outsider artist creating a comic unlike any other before or since, and Reid Fleming’s world needs to be experienced by everybody, everywhere.
* Uncanny X-Men #137 - My first issue of Uncanny X-Men had been the one where Mesmero brainwashed the team and turned them into carnival acts, with Magneto showing up at the end in probably the most impressive full-page panel I had yet encountered — I mean, dude looked scary. I had very little clue who most of the characters were, but I was instantly engaged by Claremont’s writing (slightly better than Wolfman’s, but certainly as wordy if not moreso) and more urgently by the artwork of John Byrne and Terry Austin.
Although the team was around a few months after #137, this double-sized issue really was the climax of the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Austin era, with stunning superhero battles, heartbreaking drama (I was hugely invested in Scott and Jean’s relationship, for some pathetic adolescent reason) and a sense at the end that a genuine drama had played out and a price had been paid. I was fascinated a few years later when Marvel released the original version of the story in a Baxter Paper edition (also included in Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 5) including a roundtable discussion among the creators and then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who had demanded that Jean Grey be punished for her misdeeds as Dark Phoenix. I never get tired of re-reading such Claremont/Byrne/Austin classics as The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, and apparently neither does Joss Whedon, who pretty much borrowed those storylines whole for his TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, respectively.
* Thor #337 - In my early years reading comic books, it was a fascinating process to learn to discern different art styles. Gil Kane and Vince Coletta were two I learned to spot almost immediately, one because he was so dynamic and skilled, the other because he turned almost everything he touched to shit. I’ll let you guess which is which, although it should be said Coletta Thor appropriately rustic natural blah blah blah BULLSHIT oh my, God, Colletta was a horrible fucking inker.
But anyway. Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin I noticed both about the same time, from their work on DC books, and in Simonson’s case, especially on Manhunter with writer Archie Goodwin, which, just, there’s almost no words for how good their Manhunter was. Almost the perfect comic book story, regard in its time as a classic and it has only improved with age, a claim few other series from the 1970s can claim. So by the time I heard Simonson was taking over Thor, I was ready for some gorgeous comics. What I wasn’t ready for, had no idea I’d be getting, actually, was the wit and invention Simonson brought to the writing end of his writer/artist tenure on the book.
There was buzz on #337 from the moment it hit the stands, and I can remember having to search high and low to find a copy, I think, in a drugstore somewhere in Saratoga Springs. The book sold out fast, and for the first year or so, Thor became something it had never been, the toast of superhero comics readers everywhere. Simonson is a talent that has continued to grow in his decades in comics, never soured like Frank Miller or gotten too baroque for the audience like Chaykin has sometimes managed to do. Thor #337 was a big, dividing moment in 1980s comics. There was everything before, and there was everything after.
* Nexus #1 - This one came seemingly out of nowhere. I had never heard of the publisher, the writer, or the artist. Even the format — oversized, like a magazine, for the first few issues, and black and white to boot — sent a message that Nexus was not your average superhero funnybook. But for all its more mature concerns — betrayal, obligation, fascism — Nexus felt very purely like comics, in the same way Lee and Romita’s Spider-Man did, or Englehart and Rogers’s Batman. If I could go back and whisper in Baron and Rude’s ears, I would say things like “Never use a fill-in artist,” and “Never renumber the book.” If, retroactively, I could make those things happen, I probably would always have kept up with the adventures of Horatio Hellpop and his wild gang of friends and enemies and frenemies. But no, somewhere what made this book got lost, and I lost track of it, and we’re probably both the poorer for it, Nexus and I.
* Cerebus #1 (Counterfeit) - This was probably the single most significant single issue of my formative comics-reading years. In one weird moment, my interest in artcomix, my fascination with the Direct Market and my love of comics in general all came together. Cerebus had been gaining in popularity for a while — I think around this time it was in the mid-20s to mid-30s numbering-wise, and everyone was reading it. There had never been anything like it. I can’t remember if the Swords of Cerebus collections had begun yet, but the early issues were going for serious cash on the back issue market. A plot was hatched by unknown conspirators who went from one northeastern U.S. comic shop to the next, telling the same story to each shop about how they had stumbled across a stash of Cerebus #1s. (I know Roger Green will correct me if I get any of the details wrong here.)
It wasn’t long before the shops realized they’d been had, that the books were fake, and they were stuck with God only knows how many copies of Cerebus #1, The Counterfeit Edition. In a move that could never, ever happen today, my local comic shop, I believe with the consent of Dave Sim, offered up the fake #1s (with signage making it clear they were fake) for, if I recall correctly, ten bucks each. Later there would be guidelines that became known so buyers could determine if a copy was real or a phony, and these days I don’t have either, but I kind of wish I had held on to my counterfeit Cerebus #1, because in all my four decades of reading comics, I think that was the strangest and most surreal incident I can recall. And also the one that really clued me in that comic shops were businesses, and businesses obviously vulnerable to fraud and wrongdoing, at that. Previously I had just thought of them as a little slice of Heaven, right here on Earth.
And another series drops off my list as Brian Wood’s The Massive #2 shows that Wood, at times, forgets how to write anything someone would want to read. Dystopic adventure on the high seas, motherfucker! You have to work to make that boring, but Wood succeeds, with still-empty characters and almost nothing happening. Exotic names like Kamchatka and some statistics aren’t what readers want. Give us something happening, and happening to people we care about. I really wanted to like this series, and I say this without any rancor, because I know Wood can write good work sometimes, but it’s terrible.
I’ve been doing more of my own fiction-writing these days, as well as a lot of reviews of movies and other things at my other blog, so it really seems like a modest but achievable goal is to do maybe one or two comics posts here every month. Thus, since I’m going on vacation this weekend and not likely to write anything else for a week or so, my Comics July.
It’s just under a year for DC’s New 52, and despite trying at least the first issue of about 49 of them, the only ones I am still reading are Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., The Shade, Action Comics, Batman, and Batman Incorporated (this last one having only relaunched in the last month). What you can infer from these is that I still have some affection for Grant Morrison’s writing and will see his exit from superhero comics (Batman Inc. is fun, Action more miss-than-hit, and the upcoming Multiversity stuff sounds interesting). I also somewhat enjoy Scott Snyder’s writing, though I’m not that interested in tying in old business like Arcane to the somewhat fresher Red/Green/Rot stuff. I guess it’s fair to say that’s just an expansion of stuff Alan Moore came up with many years ago when he wrote the series, but at least it’s a little new and not something that has been explored much before. I am pretty tired of the whole Court of Owls stuff on Batman, but you know, I like Batman and it’s not a bad book, though not a good one.
Jeff Lemire has done all right on Animal Man and Frankenstein, though the art on the former, while distinctive and great at the weird, disturbing scenes, is also distancing for what seems to be a comic that wants to be about familial strength and those bonds being stronger and more important to the lead character than doing superhero stuff. Frankenstein started with some interesting ideas but seems to be treading water, or maybe it’s more accurate to say it has digressed into the Rot stuff when it should be working more on making its characters distinctive. I still don’t really get Frankenstein, much less the rest of his groovy ghoulies. Overall, even with just two writers on these three series, I think tying them all together with the same menace has made each book less special.
I still read a lot of Marvel, though not much has stood out. Daredevil has regained some of its footing with Chris Samnee on art, a good choice, and Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, though unfortunately uneven artistically, has been consistently entertaining and presented a recognizable but more mature Spider-Man. Avengers vs. X-Men has improved of late, with nice Olivier Coipel art and a few chunks of issues that made sense, though a lot of the plotting is stupid and/or redundant. Why would godlike X-Men fear Scarlet Witch so much, and why is essentially dressing up some Avengers to look like her a good idea when the X-Men have telepaths who should be able to figure out who’s who?
I’m reading more Image books than I have in maybe ever, mostly creator-owned stuff. I can’t confess to loving any of it, but Saga has been imaginative and amusing if not immensely engaging yet, and I’ve also enjoyed the sort of arty take on superheroes and apocalyptic sci-fi in Glory, Prophet, while The Manhattan Projects feels so far like Jonathan Hickman going back to the well and getting S.H.I.E.L.D. right. I was into Hickman’s Secret at first, but the second issue was kind of insulting, with a cliched gangster scene and an obvious reveal stretched out to the end of the issue with four panel pages of not much going on.
I suppose, given how much his work has meant to me, that I should write more about the latest Alan Moore League of Extraordinary Gentleman book, Century: 2009, but it was just okay. Some lovely ideas, typically good Kevin O’Neill artwork and of course, it feels like good value because you read it slowly, trying to pick up on all the pop culture references. But while I appreciate that pretty much all of Moore’s work has some terrific layers to it (I’ve not doubt there’s a great story behind even garbage like Deathblow: Byblows), here, the meta-story about Moore’s disillusionment with the comics industry and the rest of popular culture is more interesting than the plot. Making fun of Harry Potter should have been more fun, right?
Having boycotted Darwyn Cooke’s latest Parker adaptation, The Score, and with no really memorable Hellboy or B.P.R.D. books this month, the only book to really excite me was IDW’s Artist Edition of David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. I’m not like ADD—I don’t read even my favorite comics over and over again, so it had been probably 20 years since I read this story. It still holds up very well, with an absolutely bulletproof first issue, although I think once it gets to the Nuke/Captain America issue, Daredevil is kind of a guest star in his own book. But while you can see some signs of writer Frank Miller’s eventual shock and awe style, he keeps things relatively restrained here, relying on Mazzucchelli to convey Captain America’s disgust and shame and the mental breakdown of Nuke. The main story of Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s ruination by the Kingpin and subsequent rebirth is not perfect, either. Matt’s flirtation with paranoia and despair is a little too brief, and how does he survive for so long on the streets? Was he homeless? And sure, seeing old girlfriend Karen Page now a junkie whore may have seemed like a progressive move for superhero comics then, but now feels a little cheap and mean. Of course it’s the woman who wrecks things for the hero. Since there was nothing to really be done with Karen once she came back to Matt, better to maybe have left her out entirely and make Matt’s downfall come from his own hubris. I don’t know, maybe I’m just blaming a lot of lesser grim and gritty comics on this early example, which doesn’t get nearly the blame as Miller’s Dark Knight Returns or Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the better superhero stories ever written, and Miller and Mazzucchelli work so well together they can pretty much pull off anything they try here. The presentation of this book is exquisite, with oversized, heavy-weight black and white pages and a few vellum overlays to show the reader some of the more complex effects Mazzucchelli used on covers and some interior pages. Seeing what amounts to faithful photographs of the original boards makes this not only the most exciting way to experience the story but also the most intimate. Without distracting from what is a real page-turner, one still takes away the immense effort, the will to do something memorable, on the part of the artist. I can’t really imagine reading this again in the small, color format.
Just a short note that the site that spawned Trouble With Comics, Comic Book Galaxy, is back as a daily blog of news and commentary written by myself. So if that sounds like something you might be interested in, have a look at the new version of Comic Book Galaxy. It’s a modest beginning, and will likely remain modest, but it’s there, and I thought you might want to know. A lot of the old stuff is still there too.
Carol Danvers is like a lot of Marvel females. A sort of love interest who gained superpowers and then went through a lot of shit like power loss, rape, and alcoholism, because that’s what happens to women in the Marvel Universe. Maybe worse in the DC Universe.
Writer DeConnick has a lot to either work with, avoid, or synthesize with Danvers’ history. She ends up choosing a strong version of Carol, not touching on her addiction or emotional problems, but there are problems with the execution. The first section of this issue is a fairly typical fight scene that shows off DeConnick’s wit and then just keeps going, with Carol making one wisecrack after another. Spider-Man would tell her to dial it down. Choosing The Absorbing Man as the bad guy is smart, because he’s historically dumb and a chauvinist, so he can make her look good and deserving her own book again. But there is a problem, because as soon as you see Captain America’s shield and think, “Hmm, if he absorbed that, maybe he’d be invincible,” Carol is thinking the same thing, but in a way where you know there’s a twist. But damn if I can figure out why absorbing the shield leads to his defeat.
Now that we’ve sort of established Carol’s competence via a confusing tactic, it’s time to resolve the issue of how a former Air Force colonel is going to be called Captain Marvel. Captain America plays on the fact that it wasn’t really Mar-Vell’s name, either, and that it’s a legacy that not only has Carol already assume (as Ms. Marvel), but that it’s one Mar-Vell wanted for her. After a filler scene where Spider-Man compliments her hair, she decides to take the name.
Then we’re into the third and most confusing act of this little comic play. It turns out Carol wasn’t lying to Spidey to get out of a date—she really is going to take care of a sick friend, only before that we have a confusing recollection of the wit and wisdom of Carol’s friend Helen, who isn’t the one she’s caring for. Once we get to her actual friend, who seems to be suffering from cancer, that’s a good scene, but then we get to old Air Force buddy/mentor Helen and we end on a weak note, the promise of a fighter jet duel (or maybe Carol is just going to race her with her superpowers). Why do we care about that? Also, why go in the last third with the use of first person narration when you haven’t used it earlier in the issue?
It’s a well-meaning book, with basically good ideas and spotty execution. It does have a distinctive look, or at least distinctive now but ubiquitous in the mid-’90s when Marvel cranked out lots of painted or pseudo-painted Marvels clones. It’s not bad, Soy’s art, but I’ve always found that painted style a little stiff for humor. Or maybe Soy just isn’t very good at facial expressions and body language. For the jokes and dialogue and no overtly stupid ideas, it’s better than half the superhero reboots out there, but I think we should expect more.
So, The Dark Knight Rises. I had zero desire to see the movie based on the incomprehensible trailer. I had not much cared for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and felt pretty strongly that the director had failed to truly confront or address the issues he danced around in his second Batman movie, the Heath Ledger one. (Was it called The Dark Knight? I feel like it was but can’t remember for sure, and I feel like that in itself is significant in some way.) I’d spent some time evaluating reviews and deciding that Roger Ebert’s 3 and a half star review nonetheless indicated that the movie isn’t very good and doesn’t hold together well.
Oh, by the way, there will be spoilers herein.
So I had no intention at all of seeing TDKR. Then my best friend from high school, visiting from Japan, where he’s lived since the mid-1980s, says to my wife and me yesterday, “How about a movie?” The next thing I know, we are at Albany’s superb independent movie theater The Spectrum (they spell it theatre on the tickets — we were in theatre 3 in case you’re wondering) getting our tickets, me, my wife, and my best friend from high school (who was also the only person I knew in high school who read comics — we used to breathlessly discuss the wonders and merits of Miller’s Daredevil, Simonson’s Thor…but I digress).
I don’t know that it’s a smart movie — it feels quite run-of-the-mill in its intentions and execution. In their best stories, villains like Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul and his daughter Talia are motivated in the comics by fairly sophisticated ideas compared to most comic book supervillains. Bane’s drive here seems simpatico in a way with the Occupy movement, but far more violent and nihilistic, and perhaps capitalistic, since he and Selina Kyle talk about the equitable redistribution of wealth (not that they ever use that term) and the movie shows the excesses of the rich to the detriment of the poor, yet you never really get the feeling that Nolan cares much about the issue, which actually is one of the most important questions of the 21st century. He’s far more wrapped up in showing us the suffering Bruce Wayne has endured for eight years, since the death of ol’ what’s-her-name in the previous Batman movie.
Nerdy Batman fans will inform you that Batman’s paralysis here, lovingly demonstrated through Bruce Wayne’s complete lack of knee cartilage and failure to continue funding orphanages (I wish I was kidding — and by the way, doctor, can you really walk with no cartilage in your effing knees?) demonstrate a profound failure to understand Batman as a character. But that’s understandable, since there are so few comic books about Batman. How was Nolan to know any better?
Once Catwoman starts doing her stealy thing and it quickly turns out (surprise!) she’s somehow connected to Bane (as is everyone in the universe, apparently), Bruce Wayne straps on a magic cartilage thingy on his thigh, shaves off his utterly unconvincing goatee and washes that gray right out of his hair. Then shit gets real, lots of stuff blows up, and why is Robin called John Blake? I bet someone thought that was an awesome reveal. And it might have been if he had, at some point, say, the end of the movie, come face to face with the Robin costume, say, in a big glass case. At some point costumes in the Batcave stored in big glass cases became all portentous and thrilling, so how could Nolan have dropped that particular ball?
All this is not to say I didn’t enjoy watching The Dark Knight Rises. Despite my never, ever buying into Christian Bale as Batman, despite the plot holes here and there (how did Bruce Wayne know exactly when the bomb was going to blow, upon returning from his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness? How did he survive a nuclear explosion?), the sheer will of Nolan to end this thing, and a soundtrack that is astonishingly LOUD LOUD loud propels us to the end of the movie. And no, dear, there’s no after-credits teaser scene — that’s Marvel, honey. I know Avengers had one. No, that’s Marvel. Yes, and Amazing Spider-Man. Still Marvel. Batman’s DC. They’re different. Yes they are, believe it or not. (I was hoping for an after-credits scene with the aforementioned glass costume case revealing Robin’s duds or better yet Terry McGinnis’s, but no).
It’s more watchable than I expected. It’s longer than hell, and it’s noiser than an elephant fart to a gnat hanging on the ring of its anus, but it’s watchable and Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman always make these movies seem more important and meaningful than Nolan ever remembers to actually make them.
In the end, after three overblown and undercooked Batman movies, the only thing we’ll remember, the only thing that felt right and transcended genre, was Heath Ledger’s Joker. I hate all the goofy Batman villains like The Riddler and The Penguin and The Joker, preferring above all Ra’s Al Ghul in all his moral and ethical shades of gray. But Nolan’s Ra’s, interpreted by a poorly-chosen Liam Neeson, never did it for me. Ledger’s outsized Joker felt terrifying and awful and like chaos itself embodied in one sick, random psychopath. Ledger’s Joker made you feel something, which is the only time that happened for me at all in Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies. I like movies that make me feel things, and that honestly earn the right to make me feel those things. Maybe the next guy who directs a Batman movie will get that part of it right. Because that’s how truly classic movies, timeless storytelling, works. Nolan’s made some great and intriguing movies, and he’s also made three Batman movies, and that’s about all I can tell you.
Entertainment Weekly has the exclusive news on Marvel Now!, the wave of relaunched series in the wake of Marvel Comics’ latest hit comics event, Avengers vs. X-Men. The facts as presented in the article: At least three new or relaunched books, including Avengers by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena, Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender and John Cassaday, and All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen. Avengers will be twice-monthly. Avengers has the largest team, up to 18 characters for Hickman to work with, including what may be for some a surprising choice, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. Uncanny presents a Captain America-led team of Avengers that includes some mutants, as Cap realizes he didn’t do enough for them before. And All-New finds the original X-Men of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman and Marvel Girl Jean Grey plucked right out of their youthful, Xavier Academy days and plopped down in a future (our present) more horrible than their worst fears, and seeing adult versions of themselves they don’t want to become. The new titles will spell an end for Bendis on the Avengers franchise, an end for Hickman on his Fantastic Four and F.F. titles, and an upgraded status for Remender.
So what to make of all this? Well, the optimistic side of me that read nearly all of DC’s New 52 titles when they began has kind of gone back in his hole like a groundhog. Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso is quoted as saying he likes to take creators out of their comfort zone, but that seems a little disingenuous to me. He’s taking talent he’s familiar with, who have been writing team books for Marvel for years, and just playing some musical chairs. I sure didn’t see Alonso goosing Bendis out of his comfort zone during his much-too-long run on the various Avengers, taking a, “if it’s breaking but still sells, don’t fix it” approach. I still think he has his moments, but try to read New Avengers and tell me he isn’t just marking time. And as much as I like Stuart Immonen, I’d rather they put Bendis outside his comfort zone with a new artist he’s not that familiar with. I realize these two have sold a lot of books together, but at the same time, I think it’s harder to sell this as something “all-new” with the same Bendis/Immonen lineup. The premise for All-New X-Men is different, but I’m not sure I want to spend $24 on a first arc where Jean Grey & Co learn about the internet. It also begs the question of just how long ago they were supposed to be kids, for the world to have changed this much.
I think Hickman is a good writer when he keeps characters in mind more than conspiracies and complicated history, so a huge cast for Avengers sounds like it could be troublesome. But I like Opena and have pretty high hopes for this one. As for Remender, I think he’s pretty good as well, though I’m a little surprised he has what is called in the article the flagship book. How is Uncanny Avengers and not Avengers the flagship Avengers book? I think the answer starts with John and ends with Cassaday, as it seems the talented artist wants to sequential art again after the last four years or so mainly provide covers for Dynamite Entertainment and others. Cassaday is always worth a look, and I like that he’s working with what I believe is a new writer for him. As far as the concept, with its mix of both Avengers and X-Men villains, including a rebooted Red Skull clone by Arnim Zola with his ’40s Nazi mindset, it sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Remender is good at goofy, over-the-top stuff, and after eight years of mostly talky Avengers ribbing each other at the dinner table, I’m ready for some crazy stuff.
What does it mean for the rest of Marvel? I’m sure we’ll hear more soon, at SDCC and elsewhere. I would guess New Avengers is gone, replaced by the twice-monthly Avengers, and Secret Avengers (which Remender was writing) is probably gone as well, with some of those b-listers ending up in Avengers. Avengers Academy? Who knows? Hopefully if it goes, Cristos Gage will have other work lined up, as he’s done a good job on that book. What’s more interesting is what the effect is on solo Avengers books like Mighty Thor and Iron Man, and if there are changes coming to the X-Men books. How much or how little is Marvel architect Matt Fraction involved in Marvel Now? And depending on the outcome of AvX, there may be little reason to have Wolverine and Cyclops still at odds and with separate books. Finally, while Marvel still has a stronger talent pool than DC, they’ve taken a bit of a hit with Ed Brubaker now only writing one mostly stand-alone book, Winter Soldier, and folks like Bendis and Mark Millar who still sell books but who arguably were at their zenith several years ago, the question remains whether Marvel is going to keep bringing over fresh talent. Where’s the next Hickman? Is Cullen Bunn the next big guy, or will people unfavorably compare his Captain America to Brubaker’s?
But for me, the 1980s was the decade I matured into comics — I reached adulthood and started buying them with my own money, and my tastes were codified by many of the titles Tom wrote about (Thriller, X-Men, Mechanics, American Flagg, Reid Fleming, Miracleman, Saga of the Swamp Thing). It was almost as thrilling as being there in that era and buying them monthly to be able to revisit them through Tom Spurgeon’s writing. I often find his memories of comics in that era hew very closely to my own, and this long series of posts really brought that home. If you missed this retrospective series, or if, like me, you didn’t realize just how many posts there were (or why he did it, which Spurgeon explains), I strongly urge you to click the link above and take a stroll through what might very well be one of the most useful and entertaining series of articles about comic books yet written. If nothing else, Tom Spurgeon has given newer readers something of a canon from which to begin investigating a landmark era of comics, really the beginning of the modern era in comics creation. Certainly he’s given this older reader a solid reason to remember what I loved about comics during a very formative time in my life, and a solid guide to how to relive it again, if I choose.
I love tributes to artists, and believe me, I would never speak ill of anyone who takes the time to publicly appreciate a Nora Ephron or Andrew Sarris or Tony DeZuniga or any other important artist, critic, or entertainer who has died. But the older I get, the more death I see, and the more I regret not telling, or at least not putting the thought out there into the world, how much I love an artist—while they’re alive!
So, no obituary or lengthy tribute here, but today I was reminded of how great Klaus Janson’s inking/embellishing is, from some rather humble, almost forgotten comics he’d worked on, The Defenders (’70s). I was chatting with a coworker today in his cubicle. Our tastes don’t overlap all that much, and while he’ll often put an old comics image on his computer, he never seemed to have a vast knowledge of old comics. But I noticed, next to a small pile of contemporary stuff like some Avengers vs. X-Men tie-ins, that he had three consecutive issues of Defenders comics, #44-46. I have only read maybe the first year of the original series, but my understanding is that after Steve Englehart’s run ended a few issues earlier, the book entered its long and painful period of mediocrity and then outright awfulness. I can’t speak to the stories in these issues, but having three writers credited, and those writers being Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer and David Anthony Kraft, doesn’t sound promising.
But the art really stood out, even on this yellowing, faded old newsprint from 1976. Within the haphazard Kirby covers is some really attractive work by the chameleonic Keith Giffen on pencils, but what makes it great is the effort of Janson. I just flipped through it, but nearly every panel was magical. Panels of Craftint suggesting deep, rich fabric in drapes, with great care taken to make a metal desk gleam. It could have been just drapes, just a matte finish wood desk, you know? Half-silhouettes of women with star-stuff in their hair. A master at techniques almost nobody even does anymore. Janson is, of course, forever linked with Frank Miller for his Daredevil and Batman work, but really, for Marvel in the ’70s, and Marvel and DC in the ’80s and ’90s, the guy enriched anything he worked on. Janson, I believe, is more of an educator and commission artist now, but still takes on the occasional assignment. Thank you, Klaus.
David Mazzucchelli Daredevil: Born Again Artist's Edition
There’s one page in this magnificent volume that has a caption that says something like “This single page is the only one in this book not reproduced from the original art.” It’s a cover image of reporter Ben Urich, made small in his terror, having been brutally attacked and his hand broken by an enormous, evil nurse sent by the kingpin.
Somehow the presentation of the book is made more pure by the upfront admission that one page out of so many here isn’t reproduced from the original art. “Who cares?” I thought to myself, admiring the art of that page nonetheless. “The rest of it is, and it’s incredible.”
It’s possible you weren’t there when Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli seized the reins of Daredevil after a long spell that had its ups and downs but never reached the heights Miller and artistic partner Klaus Janson reached in issues #168-181. When we (the readers) found out Miller was returning to write a few more issues starting with #227, we were disappointed Miller would not also be drawing and Janson would not be inking. That disappointment was gone by the end of Miller and Mazzucchelli’s first issue of the Born Again storyline, because it was clear that Mazzucchelli was more than up to the task of illustrating this story; it was clear that it was something he was born to do.
And Mazzucchelli had already been around a while, too, that’s the amazing thing, looking back. If you pick up the Daredevil TPB “Loves Labors Lost,” you’ll see how awkward Mazzucchelli’s art was when he first came on the title, and you’ll see how amazingly quickly he developed some serious chops. In his introduction to IDW’s Artist’s Edition of Born Again (a seven issue storyline plumbing the psychological depths of both Daredevil and his arch-enemy during Miller’s run, The Kingpin), Mazzucchelli, now long-removed from superhero drawing, reflects honestly and in detail about his skill-level in those days, who influenced him (primarily Gene Colan), how he met Miller, and what their working relationship on this masterpiece was like.
It may be heresy, but I don’t think there’s a better story ever created for Marvel Comics than Born Again. That’s why this Artist’s Edition has been so eagerly anticipated by me — as I said to my son last night, driving home from the comic shop, it’s like having every page of original art of the very best comic book ever, and I can look at it whenever I want, for the rest of my life. So IDW and David Mazzucchelli and Scott Dunbier and Chris Ryall and whoever else made this happen? I am seriously grateful for your work in making this book a reality. Thank you.
I’ll be honest and tell you, in unpacking this giant book from its cardboard box and laying it out, I didn’t re-read every word Miller wrote. Not this time, although I may in the future. But the truth is, I have read this story at least 50 times since it was originally published, and I almost know it by heart. No, seeing this Artist’s Edition for the first time, I just wanted to take in the art, and I did. A number of things stood out as I went slowly through the pages:
* The overlays. Oh, my God, the overlays. If any pre-publication publicity mentioned them, I didn’t notice it. Much of the original art had vellum overlays for the purposes of colour holds, so the images of the art for those pages was combined in layers to create a single final image. Most of the overlays, we learn in the text, have been lost. But a handful remain, apparently, and IDW faithfully reproduces the technique. So we get maybe half a dozen pages with vellum overlays, which is just an extraordinary added value, in my mind. It’s a way of deepening the sense of examining the original art, as well as allowing the reader enormous insight into both Mazzucchelli’s artistic process and the reproduction challenges of the era (the 1980s). Gorgeous.
* Individual panels always memorable in the comic book now stand revealed, uncoloured and with no veil of bad reproduction between the reader and the art. Matt Murdock sleeping in the trash, his life ruined. The flirtatious look in the eyes of Matt Murdock’s ex-girlfriend as she gets ever closer to his best friend Foggy. The rooftop meeting between Matt and Captain America. The astonishing way Mazzucchelli presented Cap, Thor and Iron Man, reminiscent of how Alan Moore and Steve Bissette and John Totleben presented the Justice League in Swamp Thing: as gods among men.
* The covers. Mazzucchelli’s design sense and ability to bring his vision to life on the page are just astonishing. His covers for Born Again were absolutely masterful. The image IDW chose for the cover of the volume, which was originally thrown away on an issue of Marvel Age (a cheesy self-promotion pamphlet Marvel was publishing in the ’80s), is my all-time favourite Daredevil illustration, and its repurposing as the cover of this volume is further proof that this book was actually, specifically designed to make me deliriously happy.
The greatest thing about the month-by-month release of Born Again in comic book form was that, like with just a few other comics in the 1980s (Moore’s Swamp Thing, Chaykin’s American Flagg, Simonson’s Thor, Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets), we knew, at the time, how very lucky we were to be getting regular fixes of such incredible comics. Comics that elevated and transcended the industry that they came out of. Comics that changed minds and altered lives and set destinies. People became writers and artists and retailers and critics because they were so mesmerized by the quality and the level of entertainment that they experienced — take it from me, I was just barely an adult when Born Again was originally published, and I had no idea at all that a superhero comic book story could be so good, could reward so many re-readings. After Born Again, I wondered why they all couldn’t achieve their goals so easily, so wonderfully.
Decades on, I realize that it takes a hugely unlikely intersection of talent, ambition, opportunity and luck to make comics as memorable and unique as Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. It is given its best possible presentation in IDW’s new Artist’s Edition, made new again by letting us see and feel what Miller and Mazzucchelli accomplished in the most intimate and immediate manner imaginable. Yes, one single page is not reproduced from the original art. Who cares? The rest of it is, and it is incredible.
We’re huge fans of both individuals here at TWC, and it’s always great when Tom Spurgeon chats with perennial ace writer Brubaker, which they’ve been doing for years now. This one is maybe just a little more special, because in addition to more familiar territory like discussing the latest work (Fatale, including great insights into the strengths of longtime Brubaker collaborator Sean Phillips), we also get the not-terribly-surprising news that Brubaker is ending his almost eight-year run on Captain America to focus on more creator-owned work. He’s still keeping his hand in with Winter Soldier). That’s great, because it’s easily the best of his Marvel books the past year. It did feel like he was running out of juice on Captain America, and by his own admission here, his short run on Secret Avengers was, quote, “…so not in his wheelhouse”. We also get a well-reasoned perspective on the Before Watchmen controversy (and don’t let any sycophantic critics or online ‘journalists’ tell you it’s not a controversy anymore) and its differences with the Jack Kirby heirs’ lawsuit with Marvel. Some appropriate, if coolly worded scorn for JMS, as well.
I also really loved this quote from him, which is emblematic of a real artist, versus just a scribbler giving people what they expect every time:
"Some of my favorite books that other people have done I think the writers and artists would consider well-intentioned failure. So I figured it was smarter to do something I’m unsure of and fail as opposed to coasting on what I know I can do."
Continued good wishes for Brubaker, and a hearty recommendation for his current horror-noir epic, Fatale, as good a comic as you’ll find on the stands (or in its first trade collection out today).
Brian Wood is back with another dystopic science fiction comic. But unlike DMZ, this one is set on water. That makes sense, as global warming is going to melt the polar ice caps and cover more land. But this isn’t Waterworld. It feels much more inspired by the Discovery Channel show, Whale Wars. Wood takes a serious gamble on credibility with his lead character Callum Israel (“Call Him Ishmail?”), captain of a ship called the Kapital, a kind of ecoterrorist who’s now searching for sister ship, The Massive. As one would expect, there’s quite a bit of exposition, introduction of characters (his first mate doesn’t have anything interesting to do, another crew member, Mary, is tough and appears to be his girlfriend). They fight some pirates, they head to the half-submerged Hong Kong, we end.
I notice Wood holds the sole copyright on this one, so I’m guessing there will be another artist after the first story arc. Which is good, because Donaldson is boring, with a style like a much more controlled, detailed, but stiff John Romita, Jr. True, Wood gives him a lot of scenes of people talking on a shit, but hey, there’s some fighting and that should be more fun to watch.
I don’t mean to be too hard on the book, but look, this should have been a real kick in the ass. Disaster, adventure on the high seas, a world we knew lost forever, a quest…Instead we get some dry exposition, an action scene that wasn’t any fun at all and seemed to be included almost under protest, and so far, dull characters. It also suffers from Too-Good-Cover Syndrome, where a killer cover (in this case, two: a majestic shot by Wood himself and an otherworldly image of a jellyfish just beneath the surface by Rafael Grampa) makes the reader ache when he sees the ho-hum art inside. I think Wood can write, and there’s nothing wrong with the premise, but the execution needed work. Hopefully it can pick up steam in a hurry.
"Scrampance," a former colleague once told me, was her mother’s word for what was for dinner when the cupboards were nearly bare and you were down to nearly nothing.
Tom Spurgeon’s latest Five for Friday asks, essentially, what are the last five comics buying impulses you would give up? In other words, if you had just about lost all interest in comics, what would be the last five habits you would be holding on to? I didn’t send in any responses, because I was quite sure I am already down to less than five.
My current pull list of floppies (that is to say, whatever is left of the traditional comic book) is Daredevil (for Mark Waid’s writing), Spider-Man (I hated the One More Day reboot, but I have to admit Dan Slott’s writing a character I can actually recognize as Spider-Man, unlike most people who’ve written the character in the past 15 years), Fatale/Criminal/Incognito (because I will buy anything Brubaker and Phillips create together), Star Trek (because it’s stories I recognize as Star Trek and it feeds the hunger for more left in the wake of the 2009 movie), and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
LOEG is written by Alan Moore. The fact is that Moore is the best writer to work in comics in my lifetime, probably ever, and his work has never let me down, with the exception of a couple of Image miniseries that I don’t think he’d mind my not having enjoyed. But the recent anti-Moore tsunami on the part of comics fandom is a disgrace, and has even affected how I view comics as a whole. As an objective fact, it is wrong that DC went ahead with Before Watchmen, and the failure of the market to reject it utterly has left me more disgusted with comics as a whole than I have ever felt in about 40 years of reading them. Knowing that comic shops are carrying Before Watchmen makes me not want to step into one. Knowing readers are buying it makes me want to not ever have any contact with those people at all. Actually seeing the comics on the racks requires an enormous force of will not to pull out a lighter and set them on fire.
So my comics buying impulses are down to these: Buy anything by Brubaker/Phillips; buy anything reprinting EC work by Harvey Kurtzman, Bernard Krigstein or Wallace Wood; buy anything by Alan Moore.
Pretty much anything else I am reading now is subject to whim. I know creative changes or editorial fuckery could have me cutting Daredevil or Amazing Spider-Man from my pull list tomorrow. As much as I am enjoying them now, we’re still talking about comic books. Creative changes and editorial fuckery are as common as days that end in the letter “Y.”
This isn’t to say I won’t buy any comics in the future that don’t quite fit these criteria; there are a few critics I trust implicitly who could easily convince me I am missing out on something I would like. But after 40 years of reading comic books, my buying impulses these days are very, very mercurial. I am not at all interested in the digital strategies publishers are exploring, and I am not much interested in mail-order. Maybe it’s the contrarian in me, but in my world comic book stores should have rack copies of every new release, and I don’t and won’t go to the bother of pre-ordering everything anymore. I tried that model, and frankly, fuck it. There are a few things on my pull list, but for the foreseeable future I won’t be adding anything new to my regular purchases unless I find it first on the rack of some comic shop smart enough to have comics on the rack for people to browse. I like the thrill of the hunt. I like flipping through a book until I know for sure if it’s destined to come home with me or stay behind on the stands for someone else to buy. I don’t like flipping through Previews every month (it literally gave me a headache every time I did it, and I did it for years, like a fucking fool), and I don’t much care for hunting for stuff after-the-fact on eBay or Amazon, although I will and have done just that, because it’s less aggravating than the Previews pre-ordering bullshit.
I realize I am way, way off the reservation on this. There may not even be one other person who reads this who feels as I do. But after 40 years of reading comics and over 25 years of almost always having a regular pull list somewhere, I am sick to death of the whole rat race. I just want a few good comics that entertain and fascinate me, and I want them on my goddamned terms.
So when someone as smart and canny as Tom Spurgeon asks what my final five comics buying strategies are, I have to honestly admit I’m down to fewer than five. I’m nearly down to scrampance. I don’t necessarily like it this way, but as Walter Cronkite said for many, many years, “That’s the way it is.”
As I seem to be dropping a fair amount of Marvel books, and have dropped most of DC’s New 52 titles, I find that in the past few months I’ve gotten into a line of books from Image I wasn’t looking forward to and never thought I’d be enjoying: the relaunch of many of Rob Liefeld’s various Extreme books. Now, I like some better than others, and one not much at all, but for now let’s look at Supreme.
Although Prophet, Bloodstrike, Glory and Youngblood all continued their old ’90s numbering, they’re mostly fresh takes on those characters, or at least new teams picking up the pieces. Supreme is the only title to relaunch with its last writer, Alan Moore, as new writer Erik Larsen thought it would be fair and smart to use Moore’s final, unpublished script to bridge the gap between that run and what Larsen wanted to do on his run. It was a nice idea, as was the decision to publish a variant that matched up with the old logo and cover designs.
Moore was setting up an assault of The Citadel Supreme in issue #63, where all the various Supremes in the Multiverse hang out, by all the variations of villain Darius Dax. Larsen continues with that idea here, although what seems like a slam-dunk (lots of action and the simple fannish appeal of drawing tons of different takes on the same hero and villain) feels kind of uninspired here, with lots of corny lines and so many characters it’s treated as expected that we know and understand the relationships between Ethan and Diana and Suprema and the like.
The art, by Larsen and Cory Hamscher, looks a lot like the Larsen art I remember but more rushed, like a 24 hour comic. It lacks the texture and Kirbyesque dynamism I associate with his style, and I’m not sure if it has to do with Hamsher or not. Does Hamscher do the layouts and Larsen finishes? Don’t know, but it’s just an adequate teaming.
In the Afterword, after several paragraphs defending himself for being one of those guys who has to follow another guy’s celebrated run, Larsen explains that his goal here is to marry Moore’s Silver Age homage with the meaner, more violent take on the character as originally conceived by Liefeld. And so, the Mean Supreme is unchained and let loose on the Dax Army (I laughed when one of the Supremes can hardly comprehend that the Daxes would unite against the united Supremes—what else are they going to do?!), with bloody results. It’s okay, and I guess it’s sort of amusing that Larsen draws this Supreme in more of a Jim Lee style, but if, as it seems to be at the end, this Supreme is going to be the new Big Bad that the other Supremes have to stop, well, I honestly think I get enough of that story in Mark Waid’s Irredeemable. I didn’t dislike the issue, but unless Larsen does something really good with this new direction next issue, I’ll be dropping this one.
Greg Rucka’s gifted comics writing, which brought believability and drama to titles as diverse as Queen and Country and Gotham Central, led me to give his prose writing a try. I think I started with the Queen and Country novels, which were very well written and a nice addition to the mythology created in the comics; but it was with the Atticus Kodiak series of novels that my appreciation for Rucka’s writing found its firmest footing.
Kodiak begins his long character arc in the earliest novels as a the head of a bodyguard agency; over the course of the series his life takes one incredible turn after another, so much so that the only thing tying together his character between the first and the most recent novels is Rucka’s ability to gain and keep the reader’s confidence and investment through passionate but practical writing and what must be mountains of research.
The skill and storytelling style Rucka brought to the Kodiak novels is right upfront in his new novel Alpha, the beginning of what will be at least a trio of novels about Jad Bell, a former soldier who in this first volume finds himself placed at a prominent amusement park ahead of a possible terrorist attack on the park. Thinking about it, the events of September 11, 2001 would have been as effective, if not more so, if one of the targets had been Disney World — the emotional toll (and likely the death toll) would have probably been far higher even than the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It’s a horrific scenario that Rucka dives right into, humanizing it through the point of view of his protagonist Bell, and also Bell’s deafmute daughter and even the sleeper agent tasked with carrying out the attack.
We get right into the heads of these characters, and feel the tension, terror and call to action that arises out of the plot against the park, which may or may not be what it seems to be. Along the way we get a feel for what a soldier like Bell must go through, what motivates him and what he endures to save those he is charged with protecting. Rucka makes what could have been purely political highly personal, so that every setback, and every resulting action, feels logical and sensible, no matter how dangerous or incredible.
I recently mentioned on Twitter that after Donald Westlake’s Parker, Atticus Kodiak was probably my favourite continuing character in prose fiction. I’d say Joe Ledger from Jonathan Maberry’s novels is up there, too. And after devouring Greg Rucka’s Alpha, there’s a good chance Jad Bell will nose his way into that exclusive club pretty soon, too.
When I was growing up, in the ’70s and ’80s, the superhero comic annual was generally a big, stand-alone story, often by the same creative team as the monthly comic, or maybe the same writer and an even better artist who didn’t draw monthly books much anymore (Michael Golden, Jim Starlin). Guys like John Byrne and Frank Miller did quite a few annuals when they were coming up, and some after they were big names.
The late ’80s and ’90s brought themed annuals, where a story would wind its way across the annuals of several titles, something like Atlantis Attacks for Marvel, or DC’s Legends of the Dead Earth. You could get some really nice work, or you could get guys who really weren’t good enough for the major leagues and might disappear soon after. As popular characters received spinoff series, and done-in-one stories became one-shots or graphic novels, the annual fell out of fashion.
For whatever reason, it looks like Marvel and DC are trying some annuals again, though how widespread an effort remains to be seen.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #39
Writer: Brian Reed
Artist: Lee Garbett
Marvel Comics $4.99 USD
This one falls into the “not the regular team” category. Neither Reed nor Garbett are newcomers, but neither has a regular monthly gig. Reed takes this opportunity to spin off a story from something Dan Slott wrote in the regular book months ago, where Peter Parker’s Horizon Labs coworker creates a time machine that almost leads to the destruction of New York. Here, in one moment of that story, this same invention leads to Peter being removed from time itself. This leads to flashbacks to his childhood and high school days, where he’s still somehow aware of his adult self, even as he goes through the current, altered timeline, seeing how in many ways, things have turned out better without him in the world. Mary Jane is a big star. Norman Osborn, not having Spider-Man to haunt his thoughts, has cured cancer. And Uncle Ben is still alive and living in the same house in Forest Hills, Queens.
Meanwhile, the Avengers are tracking down the source of these chronal disturbances, mainly just to get some costumed heroes into the book, since Peter never has a reason to become Spider-Man. Garbett delivers pleasant but thoroughly average work, though in his defense, there isn’t anything exciting to draw here. The scenes between adult Peter and a proud Uncle Ben are sweet, and probably worth the price for some, but Reed’s story is sorely lacking in suspense and complications. Without any real effort, Peter just kind of walks through these episodes, which seems to gradually return things back to normal, even though it’s his presence that caused the problem in the first place.
Batman (vol. 2) Annual #1
Writer: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art: Jason Fabok
DC Comics $4.99 USD
Scott Snyder, regular Batman scribe, co-writes this one with his former Sarah Lawrence student, James Tynion IV, who will also be co-writing some backups for the regular book. Unfortunately, while that’s a nice human interest story, the actual results in this annual are rather drab and, like most annuals, quite unnecessary.
Bearing the “Night of the Owls” banner on the top, and yes, a couple owls on the generic cover for dubious reasons, this extra-long tale actually has little to do with the ongoing Owls story. That would be fine, as I’m already getting tired of it, but Snyder and Tynion sure don’t have a double-length story worth telling here. The connection to “Night of the Owls” is that Mr. Freeze created the serum that makes Owl assassins able to be revived after they seem to die. We meet Freeze as he makes his escape from Arkham. Fortunately, despite what one would think are stringent hiring protocols and training on safe patient handling, we get a couple cruel, stupid guards who make this escape easy. Freeze wants to get his beloved, frozen wife Nora back, so that he may yet cure her.
Jason Fabok, whose work is new to me, does a fine if undistinguished job. As with Garbett’s work above, nothing really stands out in terms of style or storytelling choices. It’s very typical DC fodder.
Nightwing and Robin try to stop Freeze, while we get several page-burning flashbacks to Victor Fries’ childhood and then his time working in a Wayne Industries lab. Snyder/Tynion engineer things so that Bruce Wayne comes off rather heartless in his shutting down Fries’ attempts to cure Nora, therefore justifying Fries’ craving for vengeance. And it should surprise no one who has read two comics written by Snyder that the childhood flashback features a parent saying or doing something that has a monumental impact on the child’s future. Often, it’s just an anecdote, something a father said once that ties perfectly into the events of today, but in this case it’s young Victor, who always loved Winter, seeing his dear mother fall through the ice on the frozen lake. Look, canon may have saddled the writers with the corny coincidence that Mr. Freeze’s real last name is Fries, but that doesn’t mean you have to come up with a pivotal moment that involves ice.
Like an icicle falling from the rain gutter to the driveway below, Snyder and Tynion demolish the only pathos-evoking element of Mr. Freeze: his deep love for, and relentless efforts to cure, his wife, Nora. Turns out, Nora was just an frozen research project—like a fetal pig in a jar—from the ’40s that Fries wrote his thesis on. He never met her, she’s old enough to be his grandmother, and so his love is false and insane. That’s colder than a gravedigger’s ass, as my father once said, which led to my becoming a sexton. Somehow this results in a story both forgettable and yet risible.
Written by Jack Kirby, Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
DC Comics $39.99 USD
It’s true; the majority of Jack Kirby’s significant work is now in print, enough to treasure and learn from and make an educated evaluation of a career. But the man was about the most prolific cartoonist in the history of the industry, and there are still some things worth checking out. Just out of the reprint pipeline is Spirit World, a fairly lavish hardcover collecting the sole issue of a halfhearted attempt by DC comics in the early ’70s to explore the magazine market that was beginning to take market share away from them, with college-age consumers moving from comics to things like National Lampoon and Creepy.
A visionary in more ways than one, if not a particularly good businessman, Kirby saw the future, or a possible future, and got DC to sign off on his idea of a whole new line of magazines targeting this young adult demographic, but DC not only limited the line to a couple magazines, they cut the format from glossy color to black-and-white newsprint, and only ended up printing one issue of Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob before calling it quits. It wouldn’t be fair to say, “cutting their losses”, because they canceled both titles before sales figures were even in, and made little attempt to push the unconventional product through their usual distribution channels.
In the Days of the Mob was Kirby’s return to crime comics, and one would expect that will be collected before long, but Spirit World tells stories of the occult, all introduced by one bearded paranormal researcher Dr. Alden Maas. It’s a framing device not unlike Rod Serling’s Night Gallery or The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a reassuring presence tying the disparate, done-in-one supernatural stories together.
The first and only issue looks quite a bit like a Warren publication, with a painted cover (Neal Adams was called in to redo Kirby’s effort, another sign of no confidence in the King) and hysterical Table of Contents. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing the issue wasn’t originally published with indigo ink in place of black the way it is here. It sets it slightly apart from most comics; not a brilliant choice but not a bad one. The first story, “The President Must Die!” involves precognition (oddly and helpfully, the Table of Contents lists the story title on the left and the theme on the right), with an anguished woman making predictions she has trouble getting people to believe. It’s a decent setup, with nice washes on Kirby’s art, but it’s too short and resolves unsatisfactorily, and the brevity seems to prevent Kirby from taking chances on the storytelling, relying on simple grids, although it should be noted the first page of the story is an awkward fumetti starring assistant editor Steve Sherman’s mother as a woman who displays panic in a sedan by cradling her head in her hands.
"House of Horror!" has a much more effective, unsettling collage splash page, and it’s the one story that really gives Dr. Maas an active role, although in the typical, "spend a night in a supposedly haunted house to prove it’s bunk" scenario. Kirby provides some fairly spooky, shadowy figures and unusual textures (a ghost’s encrusted mallet, a seething blob of demonic goo), but even in this more restrained, nothing jumping out of the panel style, Kirby seems by and large to be too much of a dynamic, in-your-face artist to effectively sell supernatural stories. There’s just not enough shadow and suggestion here to create mood or make the reader fill in the blanks from the depths of their subconscious fears, though it’s certainly attractive work.
"Children of the Flaming Wheel" is a silly but charming fumetti with a pretty Native American woman in a vinyl singlet attempting to impart the wisdom of the ancients to a guy with a mustache. It’s probably no worse an attempt by a middle-aged publishing veteran to pander to the hippie market than a lot of what was on the stands at the time.
"The Screaming Woman" is a better effort, though also pandering, a story of reincarnation that finds Kirby in the rare position of accentuating cleavage and side-boob shots of a young woman who is possessed by or the reincarnation of a Spanish peasant who lived hundreds of years before her. It doesn’t feel like Kirby is exactly in his element, but it does represent some of his sexiest depictions of women.
"Spirit of Vengeance" is a text story written by Evanier and Sherman, an okay two page filler that would’t have passed muster for most fiction magazines but did the job for a glorified comic book. Then we have a nice-looking but ineffectual Kirby comics bio of Nostradamus to end his contribution to the issue, followed by a one page Sergio Aragones gag strip ported over from stuff he was doing at the time for DC books like House of Mystery and Plop!
That’s the entirety of Spirit World as published, but the collection then features two pages of explanatory material by Evanier, followed by the remaining four stories prepared for the aborted second issue, which were subsequently published in the DC books, Weird Mystery Tales and Dark Mansion. These are in normal black-and-white.
"Horoscope Phenomenon or Witch Queen of Ancient Sumeria" is rather inert nonsense based on Kirby drawing zodiac-derived characters, but features some of the strongest art in the book, starring a sea witch who’s all swirly metallic surface—think Karnilla the Norse Queen with fins and, for some reason, a telephone she lifts out of the brine.
Another dull Dr. Maas intro needlessly delays the awesome “Toxl the World Killer”, an emphatic but confused ecology parable that thankfully features plenty of scenes of rough barbarians and their dancing girl entourage beating up on callow, sophisticated polluters and exploiters. Is it irony that the hero ends up destroying everything when he tries to stop the polluters, and his name is Toxl? I doubt Kirby thought about it for long, so why should we?
"The Burners" feels like Kirby read and article, or someone suggested, something about spontaneous combustion, and Kirby did a little research and then knocked out a story about it. If the book was called Gyro World, he could probably have done a similarly attractive, pointless story about a Greek family cooking lamb on a spit, and it would have been about as close to his own personal themes and interests. One could call it professional work based only on the visual presentation; there’s no real story here.
We finish up with “The Psychic Bloodhound”, which is at least a story, and not a bad one, about a psychic frequently called upon by the police. A loose cannon cop calls the psychic in to help find a kidnapper before he kills a girl, and aside from the kidnapper’s Central Casting Brooklyn dialect (“Dis goil will be pushin’ up da daisies!” type stuff), it actually has more suspense to it than most of the other stories.
It’s a Kirby Kuriosity, a long-awaited look at a book fabled for being one of many things DC screwed Kirby over on. To be fair, we will never know what might have resulted had DC been fully supportive of the title in terms of funding Kirby’s production ideas, or letting him have a few issues to settle in to something rather new to a veteran cartoonist who had spent decades producing comics, not magazines. But the truncated results here suggest that, while Kirby could still produce stunning images and an interesting idea or two, whatever the genre, he was not well suited to the project or at least not quite sure what to do right out of the gate.
As for the production, unlike the various Kirby Omnibuses of the past several years, this one is on thicker, nicer paper, not newsprint. There are some odd design choices (hot pink end papers but a rust colored title page don’t really go together, and the use of intentionally grainy b&w extracts from panels cheapens the presentation. It’s still a pretty nice book, but since it only adds up to about three comics, $40 is too much, and in all honesty DC should have lumped this in with In the Days of the Mob and the abortive Soul Love romance comic material, for the same price. Find it on sale or used.
PR: Albany Comic Con To Benefit Ronald McDonald House
The Albany Comic Con will host an auction of original comic book artwork to benefit the local chapter of the Capital District Ronald McDonald House Charities. Local comic book professionals have donated original sketches to the Albany Comic Con which will be auctioned the day of the convention in a silent auction. The auction will run from 10am to 3pm, Sunday, June 10th, 2012. Sketches of famous comic book characters including Batgirl, Supergirl, The Thing (from The Fantastic Four), Black Widow (from The Avengers), and more will be the highlights of the auction. Sketches have been donated by such notable longtime artists as Joe Staton, Joe Sinnott, Lee Moder, Paul Abrams, Fred Hembeck, and many others. This is the third charity auction that the Albany Comic Con has held, and it is expected to be the largest in terms of the number of pieces of original comic book art available.
The mission of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) is to create, find and support programs that directly improve the health and well being of children. The charity’s core values include:
* Focusing on the critical needs of children.
* Celebrating the diversity of the programs and staff, volunteers and donors who make them possible.
* Staying true to a heritage of more than 36 years of responsible stewardship.
* Operating with accountability and transparency.
There is no charge to enter the auction and all of the proceeds from the auctioned artwork will be donated directly to the Albany Ronald McDonald House. The Albany Comic Con will be held Sunday, June 10th. Admission to the convention is $5.00. We invite local media to come out for this event, and we thank you for helping spread the word about the charity auction for a very worthwhile organization.
What: Albany Comic Con Silent Art Charity Auction
When: Sunday, June 10th, 2012 Time: 10am to 4pm.
Where: Albany Comic Con, Holiday Inn, 205 Wolf Rd., Albany, NY 12205
If you’re anywhere near New York’s Hudson Valley, you might want to attend the Woodstock Day School Comic Con, coming up Sunday, May 20th in support of the Woodstock Day School. Two of the best comic shops in the upper Hudson Valley, Comic Depot in Wilton and Excellent Adventures in Ballston Spa, will have tables at the show, and the guest list includes Jim Starlin, Ron Marz, Matthew Dow Smith and others. More details here.