Trouble with Comics
TWC Question Time #28 Re-evaluating Gimmick Covers

This week’s question:  How do you feel about enhanced covers? They always get a large part of the blame for what happened in the 90s, but is it deserved? Were there any you liked?

Logan Polk: I don’t think it’s entirely fair to place the blame of the ‘90s comics market collapse at the feet of gimmick covers. Yes, they had a part to play in it, but the over saturation of issues was, I think, a much bigger problem. With the possible exception of the poly-bagged Deadpool card, can any retailer still move their copies of X-Force #1 at even face value? Yet it still gets mentioned in conversations regarding how many copies were sold, how popular the book was, and so on. The only gimmick to it was that there were different trading cards bagged with each issue,* and I don’t recall there being a shortage on any particular card, Mike Sterling would have a better memory of that though. But, the true gimmick covers, like the glow-in-the-dark Ghost Rider issue, or the chromium/acetate/hologram stuff? I always enjoyed them. I can’t speak for the retailers though, maybe they were an absolute nuisance. My favorite has to be that Ghost Rider issue, easily. I even have the second printing.

*Ed. Note: There was also the matter of the reverse-image UPC boxes.

Chris Allen: I never had a particular problem with special or variant covers. I remember being one of those guys in the early ‘90s buying all the different editions of X-Force #1, which was poly-bagged and had 4 or 5 different trading cards to collect. Even at the time, I questioned why I was buying multiple editions of a comic made by a creator I didn’t even like all that much, but I did it, and that’s on me. A little later, acetate covers helped the quite good Kurt Busiek/Alex Ross miniseries MARVELS stand out on the shelves, and while the acetate one-shot thing was quickly overused and applied to lesser books, I didn’t blame the covers themselves. I was already growing beyond the irrational need to buy every cover, especially once some variants got to be over $10. Mostly, I don’t care that much about the cover, especially if I really only have to buy one edition of the book. In the internet age, I think most people kind of decide whether to pick up a comic by the description of the story, list of creators, etc., and the cover doesn’t much matter. At the same time, I think maybe there’s something to be learned from some of these covers, as a lot of the time, one sees a cover and, due to the “it’s going to be collected in a trade very soon anyway” nature, the cover itself isn’t treated as a necessary selling tool.  

Joe Gualtieri: I love a well-done gimmick cover (please note the well-done modifier). Some of that is certainly nostalgia; after all, I was the right age in the early 90s to be into them at the time. That being said, I honestly believe that a gimmick can enhance a cover to create an effect traditional pen an ink cannot replicate. My favorite example of this is probably the cover to Darkhawk #25 by Mike Manley. Rendering Darkhawk’s blast in foil makes it pop off the cover in way that even modern coloring techniques would be hard-pressed to match. Similarly, Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme #50 uses prismatic foil to make Strange’s magic look truly otherworldly. Glow in the dark covers tend to be a favorite of a lot of people, and I’m not exception. Ghost Rider #15 is probably the most famous and best example, followed by Venom: the Enemy Within #1, but I’m partial to Green Lantern #50.

So what’s the difference between a good and a bad gimmick cover? Well, for starters, let’s just get this out of the way—polybags are bad. They keep people from being able to flip through comics on the stands and generally discourage reading (the Colorforms-style covers DC did were neat, and probably the only justifiably poly-bagged comics).  Beyond that, let’s compare the thirtieth anniversary covers for Spider-Man in 1992 to the ones for the X-Men in 1993. In both cases, Marvel “celebrated” with hologram covers. The Spider-Man covers are, essentially, only the holograms with a border. Coming out in 1992, covers usually reflected the contents of the comic, so iconic shots of just Spider-Man were a rarity, and making them holograms were an added twist. The X-Men covers, by contrast, are mess. The six X-Men anniversary covers are wrap-around images, nearly a quarter of which are then covered up by a wall of text in a very 1993 font with a hologram card slapped on top. The Spider-Man covers revolve around the hologram while the X-Men covers just slap them on in an example of unattractive excess. It’s actually a shame, as the X-Men holograms look a lot better, on their own, than the Spider-Man ones (the X-Men thirtieth anniversary magazine contains an in-depth feature on how they were made that is quite interesting), but they have nothing to do with the covers that they’re attached to, making them aesthetic abominations and among the worst gimmick covers.

No title better exemplifies the good and the bad of gimmick covers than Fantastic Four. Between #358 and 400, the title featured seven enhanced covers (not counting the issue polybagged with Dirt magazine, an allegedly hip magazine Marvel poly-bagged with a random title a month for awhile), and basically serve as a microcosm for the good and bad of the trend. #358 is one of the earliest enhanced covers and sports a simple die-cut for the book’s thirtieth anniversary. #371 is a completely gratuitous in terms of being a gimmick cover (ostensibly it was a key story, but in hindsight, no, it was not), but it is utterly gorgeous, with its all-white, varnished and embossed cover. #375 has a terrible, poorly integrated foil cover because it’s an anniversary issue. #394 comes poly-bagged with an animation cel promoting the new FF cartoon and sports a metallic-ink cover just because. Finally, #398-400 all have a foil covers, as a closing iris gradually reveals the new look team that does not exactly debut in #400. So as with gimmick covers as a whole, those FF covers start off as something new and innovative, and gradually just become a sales gimmick that are not well thought out and are solely there to bring in more money. It’s not at all accurate to blame them for the comic market collapsing in the 90s, but they certainly fed into the bubble that existed, as the history of Fantastic Four gimmick covers shows.

Mike Sterling: You know, by and large I was okay with enhanced covers, at least until things got way out of hand. As I’m presuming some of you know, I’ve been in the business of funnybook-sellin’ for nearly three decades now, so I was there when, as the market began to swell with more and more comics all demanding the consumer’s attention, companies began to look for new ways to grab the eye. I’m not quite sure what the first comic out of the gate was that kicked off that '80s/'90s trend, but there were predecessors: there was Boffo Laffs with “the first holo-comic!” in 1986, and I suppose there was that one issue of RAW from 1985, where corners were torn off each cover, and then randomly taped back into each copy of the magazine.

Like I said, I was fine with the idea of it, but as the marketplace burgeoned with more and more first issues and event comics, and too many investors were desperately looking for whatever the next big thing was going to be, the proliferation of special covers of course meant they were less special as time went on. Retailers, ordering cases of these books when they once could have expected to blow through them all in short order, were now finding they had to dump them in their bargain bins. Piles of chromium and foil and die-cut covers, all relegated to dusty backroom shelves, filed away in 50-cent boxes,hiding away in forgotten storage units, or occupying landfills as they slowly break down, or not break down, depending on what exactly comprised the material of the cover in question.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, however, is that there is once again some demand for those enhanced covers. Kids who weren’t around back in the Stone Age twenty or so years ago, and thus weren’t burnt out on the fad, are pulling those foil-or-whatever covers out of the back issue bins. They’re able to see them with a fresh eye, not contemptibly-familiar with them, not pulling stacks off the racks with one hand while clutching their “Comic Book Becketts” with the other, but buying them because they look neat. They have no idea these special comics went from “oh hey this is kind of cool” to “oh God I have to pay extra for yet ANOTHER shiny cover?” in, like, a year and a half.

And, you know, some of them are pretty neat. Probably my favorite 
just plain ol’ shiny holographic/foil/whatever it is cover is Adventures of Superman #505 from 1993. Some of you may recall the whole Death-And-Return-of-Superman brouhaha, which itself was no stranger to multiple special covers along the way (including the infamously over-ordered Adventures of Superman #500). At the conclusion of the storyline, to herald the return of the one True-and-Mulleted Man of Steel, a special cover was provided for #505, which used the holographic/foil enhancement to nice effect, making it appear as if fireworks were bursting in the background as you moved the cover around. Really, get your mitts on one of these and check it out yourself… it’s pretty cool-looking and it is sufficiently celebratory given the context in which it is presented.

Ah, but that isn’t my all-time favorite cover enhancement. In fact, this may not even count as a cover enhancement but rather a full-book enhancement, as, Adhesive Comics, back in 1993, took their copies of their comics anthology Jab #3 down to the shooting range and put a bullet through every copy:

Here’s a slightly closer look at said bullethole, in case you don’t
believe me 

And get this: the regular version of Jab #3 was shot in 10-copy stacks by a .22 caliber bullet. There is an ad in the back of the issue where you can order “Ultimate Collectors Edition” copies of Jab #3, each shot individually by a 9mm ($6) all the way up to the "guaranteed not to be readable" shotgun edition ($10). Each comic would be bagged with the shell of the ammunition fired into it. I don’t know how many people went for this admittedly awesome offer, but I do know that they created something amazing, a crazy-ass enhancement to beat all enhancements. The bullet’s passage through the book was even incorporated into some of the stories themselves, such as this panel from Shannon Wheeler’s “Too Much Coffee Man” entry:

This is just downright bonkers, but this almost makes the piles of Namor the Sub-Mariner #37 and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 all worth it.


TWC Question Time #25 Romance!

This week’s question: What’s your favorite romance in comics?

Logan Polk: Thanos is one of my favorite characters. I think he’s endlessly compelling when handled right, and a big part of that is his love life. So, my favorite romance in all of comics has to be Thanos and Death. Okay, it’s more of an obsessive and unrequited love than an actual romance, but it’s a story that I’ve followed for most of my comics reading life, and one I still find completely fascinating. To want the approval and affection of someone so much that you would seek godhood and attempt to wipe entire portions of the galaxy out of existence? That’s an epic love story. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the bad guys just as much (or more) than the good guys.

Tim Durkee: Even though it is not as popular as his first fling with the human Lois Lane, I enjoy the chemistry between Superman and Wonder Woman. I was first introduced to their relationship with the Kingdom Come miniseries, an Elseworlds tale. That is a story that does not take place in the current time frame of stories in the DC Universe. I’m not sure if he was seeing the Amazon on the side and decided to go full-time after Lois Lane’s death, sorry for the spoiler. They both are also an item in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight universe. More spoilers: Superman and WW have a child together and another on the way. The impression is that there was still a relationship between Clark and Lois before Lois’s death. I can understand Lois being all gaga over the Man of Steel, I just can’t see him seeing any interest in her, so having him with the most powerful woman in the DCU makes more sense to me. Now, the new 52 universe has them together, so I’m told. I have read some reviews about them together. Some love hate, more hate it. I am curious what direction the DCU films will take with the introduction of Wonder Woman.

Mike Sterling: I never really paid much attention to romance in comics when I was younger. Generally, that was for good reason; in most of the superhero comics, it wasn’t so much “romance” as “plot point” or “character description.” You know, “Lois is Superman’s girlfriend” or “Iris is Flash’s wife” or whatever. Love interests existed to be threatened by villains, or to be nosy about secret identities, or to be pined over, or whathaveyou. It was a technical point, not an emotional connection.

So, as will come as no surprise to most of you who are familiar with my online shenanigans, it was the romance that popped up in, of all places, Swamp Thing that caught me off guard.

Yes, Swamp Thing, the comic about a monster who fights other monsters while hangin’ out with pals who are related to monsters or are monsters themselves. That’s where a comic book romance finally hit home with me, and yeah yeah make your jokes, but it was one of the most totally out-of-nowhere-but-yeah-of-COURSE moments I’d ever read in a comic at that point. I’m talking about Saga of Swamp Thing #34 (March 1985) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, where Abby tells Swamp Thing of her feelings for him, exclaiming “how could you love me?” Swampy’s response: “Deeply…silently…and…for too many…years.”

That pair of awkward admissions between a couple of characters I’ve been reading about for so long…that was the sort of honest emotion that’s not present in the eternal running-in-place of Superman and Lois, or most other superhero books. Particularly for someone like me, who’d been invested in these characters and was suddenly blindsided by this step forward, a change in the status quo in a storytelling industry that doesn’t like changes in the status quo.

Naturally, the relationship was fuel for melodrama, as this is comics, after all. Abby getting up to some plant-lovin’ becoming fodder for tabloid journalists, losing her job as a result, etc. etc. – all part and parcel of the soap opera style of funnybook storytelling, but through everything, Swamp Thing and Abby felt like an actual, and oddly normal (or as normal as they could manage) couple.
It didn’t last, sadly. Now, a couple of Swamp Thing series and a line-wide reboot of the shared DC universe later, Swamp Thing and Abby's life together is no longer at the center of Swampy’s adventures. It's nice, though, to recall a time when I could be genuinely surprised at a turn of events in a comic book. And not the usual "THIS ISSUE - SOMEBODY DIES!“ type of nonsense that’s no longer really working anyway - but just a couple of characters that you’ve read about for several years, quietly and shyly admitting their feelings to each other.


Joe Gualtieri: Growing up, I was the weirdo in your group of comic-loving friends, the one with really weird taste. You see, I vastly preferred Cyclops (Scott Summers) to Wolverine.

As the kid in your class who literally would remind the teacher to give the class homework, I suspect this is part of why Scott Summers appealed to me, along with the hyper-competence. I suspect it’s also worth noting that my first X-title was X-Factor #65, and I started regularly reading with X-Men #1, so more than five years after the ugliness with Madelyne Pryor occurred, and a couple years after Pryor was firmly established as a clone of Jean Grey created by Sinister, so that controversy was essentially a settled matter when I began reading. So I was Cyclops fan, and I was really into his relationship with Jean Grey. When John Byrne and Fabian Nicieza teased an affair with Psylocke, I didn’t take it seriously as storyline (nor, rereading those issues, should I have. There’s nothing there, really). Years later though, when Stephen T. Seagle hinted at real cracks in their relationship, I was apoplectic, and wanted him off the comic, which happened not long after, and after a few terrible issue by Alan Davis, I dropped the X-Men comics for the first time in about eight years. I soon started buying them again, as Davis finally did “The Twelve”, a story the X-books had teased since the late 80s. That arc ended with Cyclops apparently dying after being possessed by the soul of Apocalypse (this is all actually relevant). That was basically it for Davis, as Chris Claremont returned to the X-title for a disastrous run both creatively and n terms of sales. Marvel’s Editor in Chief Bob Harras was basically fired over it, he was replaced by Joe Quesada, who brought in Grant Morrison to revitalize the X-franchise. Oh, and Scott Summers returned from the dead prior to Morrison’s run starting in New X-Men #114.

Morrison’s run infamously begins with the line, “Wolverine. You can probably stop doing that now” foreshadowing how the series would focus on the idea of change and nowhere would Morrison affect more change than in the character of Cyclops. Following his resurrection, Summers’s marriage to Jean Grey is in tatters, the two not having touched each other for five months. Cue Emma Frost joining the team. She almost immediately hits on  Summers, and Morrison leaves the result of her come-on ambiguous at first. Gradually, it’s revealed that the pair involved, but only psychically, as a sort of sexual therapy for Cyclops. Jean Grey-Summers learns about it at the end of “Riot at Xaviers”, and the fallout carries into the first part of “Murder at the Mansion”. To Jean, the affair is just as real even if it’s happening on the psychic plane, and it soon turns out that despite her detached demeanor, Frost has real feelings for Summers. The reveal comes on one of my all-time favorite pages (drawn by Phil Jimenez) as she break down in Wolverine’s arms, the panel layout narrows until she has to ask, “Why did I have to fall in love with Scott Bloody Summers?”

The relationship hits the back-burner for the series from there until the final arc, “Here Comes Tomorrow” (the title an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), a new take on “Days of Future Past” where the key moment is Summers walking away from Frost at Grey’s grave (she died at the end of the previous arc). Jean Grey, in a superhero afterlife, heals reality, urging “Live. Scott.” Which prompts him to embrace Frost, after answering her question, “Don’t you want to inherit the Earth” with “I… yes.” The “yes” and scenario reads as a gender-flipped allusion to Molly Blooms long soliloquy that closes Joyce’s Ulysses:

[…]how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.

As the Blooms do not have a perfect relationship, but love each other, the allusion suggests that rather than the story-book, “perfect” romance of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Summers and Emma Frost will have a more realistic and messier relationship. Subsequent comics certainly bore this out and while the relationship seems to have run its course (plus Cyclops is dead again), the beginnings of their relationship make it my favorite in comics.

Men of Steel and Miracles: Scott Cederlund on Alan Moore’s Miracleman #1-16 and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow

Whatever Happened to the Man of Miracles?

“As it transpired, I was quite touched: They made a bonfire on the wastelands that was once Trafalgar Square and on it heaped their comic books, their films and novels filled with horror, science fiction, fantasy, and as it burned they cheered; cheered as the curling, burning pages fluttered up into the night; cheered to be done with time when wonder was a sad and wretched thing made only out of paper, out of celluloid.”

from Miracleman #16 (December, 1989)

Alan Moore ended the era of the superman. He first did it in 1986 when he sent the Superman of Siegel and Shuster off into the realms of memory with the two-part “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583, almost immediately following DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths which reset the DC universe and marked a clear departure from the old DC Comics. In that story, the Superman of the Golden, Silver and Bronze age is given one last adventure as all of those corny, aged villains come back, more bloodthirsty than ever. It’s one last remembrance of friends and foes before John Byrne reimagines the character into something not quite as magical. And then Moore finally ended the idea of a superheroic nirvana with the destruction and resurrection of London in Miracleman #15 (Nov 1988) and #16 (Dec 1989.) That conclusion of his “Olympus” arc accuses DC and Marvel Comics of every atrocity that allowed to happen within the pages of their comics and blithely ignored. Sure it was all imaginary stories but did that make them any less real?


Miracleman is such a product of its time that when Marvel Comics recently reprinted the long-out-of-print comics, it was basically ignored. It was like you could almost hear fandom’s collective yawn of “been there, done that.” After all, the Alan Moore of the mid-late 1980s directly influenced the tenor of comics for at least 10 years, that is if the strong reach of Moore isn’t still very active in the most mainstream of superhero comics today. Geoff Johns has spent a career trying to rewrite Moore so the general direction of DC is haunted by the ghost of Moore. Moore and Frank Miller wrote the textbook on superhero deconstruction that’s still used by the likes of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar.

For Moore, that legacy is mostly cemented by Watchmen, his mic drop moment in superhero comic books. But Miracleman both predates and postdates Watchmen, begun as a serial in the British Warrior magazine in April 1982 before wrapping up over seven years later as a semi-monthly Eclipse Comics publication. If “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was Moore’s gently rocking the Superman myth to a gentle and unending slumber, Miracleman counted off every sin of the superhero and laid them all down at the superman’s feet.


As Moore progresses through the Miracleman story, he begins it by wondering what a C.C. Beck Billy Batson character might be like if they suddenly found themselves in 1980s Britain with the power of a god? Middle-aged Mike Moran is a bit overweight, probably overworked, and wakes up from dreams of flying through space with pounding headaches. Rediscovering his magic word, “Kimota!” he becomes a blonde, chiseled god. Even his thinking is so much clearer that it’s like he’s a different person. From finding his maker, his “father,” to discovering others like himself, Miracleman’s story is about him becoming something more than human. He’s not just the next evolutionary step; he’s the next one thousand steps.

Moore and his various artists’ stories are about how a god operates first as a superhero and then as a man. But the twist isn’t that the god learns any real lesson. In the end, Miracleman accepts his godhood, his place above humanity and sets to reign from on high in his new Olympus. For all of the sins of the superhero, Moore judges them to be apart from humanity and unanswerable to them. This isn’t praise of the superhero; it’s a condemnation of them.

It’s odd that in all of Moore’s superhero work, the one character he remains somewhat sympathetic to is Superman. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” gives Superman and Clark Kent the sendoff that they deserve. The story, drawn by Curt Swan, with inks by George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger, sees the future in which these childish characters become more “grim and gritty,” more homicidal. The story is a mercy killing as much as anything else, protecting the original Superman from what comics would become in the late 1980s and 1990s. The irony is that this is the future that Moore himself created primarily in Watchmen. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” serves as an apology for Watchmen but it also serves to protect the story of Superman, no matter what may happen to the characters afterwards.

In Miracleman, particularly in the final “Olympus” storyline (issues 11-16), Moore doesn’t show the character the same kindness. He’s far from being protective of Mike Moran, his wife, his daughter or any of the other heroes or villains introduced in the story. His Miracleman story shows a god remembering who he is and then taking his place among a pantheon. London and humanity are collateral damage in this world where middle-aged men and children wear the bodies of gods. Or are the gods wearing the bodies of middle-aged men and children and then discarding them in favor of their godhood? The damage done is both emotional and physical. The destruction of Liz Moran is no less frightening than the desolation of London.


It’s almost funny how much DC’s movies look like they’re embracing the ideas of Alan Moore’s Miracleman while Marvel chooses to ignore them.  The idea of cities falling out of the sky is commonplace in Marvel’s movie kingdom while DC’s The Man of Steel visually embraces parts of Moore’s “Olympus” storyline.  The final battle between Zod and Superman in Zack Snyder’s film looks an awful lot like John Totleben’s scenes of chaos and destruction.  But Snyder in that movie didn’t follow up on the consequences of the fight the same way that Moore did in his final issue. Once again, it’s the wrong lessons of an Alan Moore story applied to one of those future iterations of the Superman that Moore tried to spare the character of back in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Alan Moore’s Miracleman still remains one of the great superhero comics. But what once looked like the celebration of the superman now looks like its condemnation. John Totleben, the final artist in Moore’s run, ends the story with Miracleman in a military dress-style version of his own costume, sitting in the heights of Olympus, sipping on a glass of wine and looking down on mankind. It’s not a protective gaze of the character but more a gaze that puts Miracleman and mankind in their places, one sitting high above the other. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” ends with a wink and a nod to the reader, letting them in on the secret of the way that Moore saved Superman. Miracleman: Olympus ends with a warning about placing these characters to high on a pedestal.

And much like what we all took away from Watchmen, the lessons of Miracleman fell on deaf ears.

I miss the Silver Age Superman to this day.

– Scott Cederlund

TWC Question Time #21: Cover Artists

This week’s question: Who’s your favorite cover artist?

Logan Polk: I’m torn with this question. For me cover art is like a song; I love ones that tell stories, but I also really dig big splashy pieces that usually don’t contribute much to anything at all. But, just like there are songs you hear and you think “I must buy that album,” immediately, there’s one cover artist who will get me to pick up an issue of anything, and that’s Alex Ross. I don’t think he’s the best in the business, probably not even close, and he’s likely done as many bad covers as he has good ones, but if I see a Ross cover I will pick up the book. I may not always buy it, unless it’s in the discount bin, but there’s always a moment I’ll at least consider it.

Joe Gualtieri: One of the great ironies of the current age of comics is that even as the collectible side of the industry has placed a great emphasis than ever before on covers (witness both the variant market and how certain back issues become hot solely because of their covers), for about the past 15 years there’s been an increasing divorce between the cover and the content. Long gone are the days when Mort Weisinger would come up with a cover idea to dictate the story (I was tempted to make Weisinger my answer, despite him not actually being a cover artist). A lot of the blame for this squarely falls on Marvel’s shoulders, where the Quesada/Jemas regime began to favor “iconic” covers that told you nothing about the content of the issue (and crucially, could be kept on a comic even if the contents changed without making it returnable). I’ve never been overly pleased by this trend, but forced to pick one cover artist, I’m going to pick the artist arguably as responsible for the trend as anyone else, Bryan Hitch.
Hitch was a solid artist for years before joining Warren Ellis on Stormwatch volume two, but the combination worked remarkably well, so well that Ellis revived the title as The Authority to keep working with Hitch. Critical discussion of that work has usually centered on the widescreen presentation within the comic itself, but I adore those covers. They strike a balance between telling something about the story inside (as they are not all static shots of the group’s members) and providing iconic images. When Hitch moved to Marvel and The Ultimates, his covers became less representative of the story, but still managed to convey more character other those for other books in the line.
I’d never argue that Hitch is the best cover artist in comics history, but that run of covers on The Authority and The Ultimates is solid, unforgettable bunch that for better or for worse, helped to define the comic cover for the twentieth-first century.

Mike Sterling: In thinking about my favorite cover artists, I suppose one should really focus on technical proficiency, design, a little bit of flashiness, and so on. However, I’m going to have to go with just straight-up nostalgia in my choice.
As a young Mikester slowly feeling his way through the comics art form in the late 1970s/early 1980s, the superhero I took the most liking to was, of course, the most popular of them all: Superman. And boy, did I read a lot of Superman, in digests, in more high-end reprint volumes (as previously discussed), and, naturally, in the monthly newsstand comics. Curt Swan was my preferred artist on the Super-books (as also previously discussed) but he rarely provided cover art.
The art team that did frequently provide the covers was Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, whose work became as familiar to me as Swan’s. I remember thinking it was odd that they didn’t provide the artwork inside – not that I was complaining, because, as I said, as long as it was Swan I was happy. “Maybe they’ll get to do some interior work, someday,” I thought, ignorant as I was of the artistic history of both these talented gentlemen. I would later learn of Giordano’s long history in the business, as well as Andru’s (who did draw Spider-Man for many a year, after all).
Eventually, I got to experience Ross Andru’s storytelling first hand in the Superman and His Incredible Fortress of Solitude treasury edition…Giordano didn’t ink the story, but he was there with his longtime cover-collaborator on the wraparound exterior!
Andru and Giordano didn’t just do covers for Superman, but across the DC publishing line. It was on Superman, however, that they left their mark on me, forever entwined with my love of Curt Swan’s work on the character. It wasn’t the flashiest. It wasn’t the most dynamic. Still, though, the sight of their cover art always gives me a good strong poke in the nostalgia gland,reminding me of that time when every Superman story was fresh and new to me, and every copy of his comic that I came across and hadn’t yet read held the promise of entertaining adventure. .

TWC Question Time #20: Number Ones

This week’s question: To celebrate the new year, what’s your favorite #1 issue?

Tim Durkee: My favorite first issue is Justice League. I’m referring to the 1987 series written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis with pencils by Kevin Maguire. I was always a fan of the JLA, even the Detroit era. DC’s ads (featuring a picture of the cover of the first issue) for the book had me anticipating the release, and I was not disappointed after that long – or what seemed to be a long – wait for the release. Everything about that cover just teased the readers that this was going to be a very different JLA book than what we were used to. I knew it was going to be a fun title; I don’t know how I knew that as I did not have any inside information about it. I followed the book seriously for about two- dozen issues and then casually for another two dozen. The cover is still one of my favorites, and the first 24 issues along with the first two annuals are in my “Forever Box: not for sale, not for trade.” Yes, I do have several of those. Just the right amount of action, along with a well-written cast makes this version a great read. Grab a copy of the first issue and see for yourself.

Logan Polk: This might be the hardest comic book related question anyone’s ever asked me. My collection is filled with first issues to series, many of which never saw a proper end, with just as many that are nothing but relaunches for book that needed a sales bump. To pick my favorite? That’s a Herculean task of the geeky kind.

The obvious choice is probably X-Force #1. I know, I know; typical ‘90s comic, Liefeld, blah blah, but like I said in last week’s QT, it was Cable that pulled me completely in to the world of comics. Still, other than the cover, I don’t actually remember too much about that first issue. Probably because I didn’t read it until months after it hit the stands, possibly a year.

Qualifying something as your favorite would mean it would have to have had an impact, making itself memorable in a significant way. That narrows down the choices a great deal, and the first #1 issue I recall doing that was The Maxx #1 by Sam Kieth and William Messner-Loebs. I still remember opening that book and being both perplexed and thoroughly engaged by the dialogue and the pseudo-superheroics of Kieth’s Br'er Lappin; the juxtaposition of his grimy cityscape and The Outback, the way his characters weren’t action figures (outside of Maxx that is), the opening monologue from his cardboard box, the ride in the police car, the introductions of Julie, Gone and those creepy Isz. It’s a series I’ve owned in multiple formats, and that first issue has never gone out of my mind.

Mike Sterling: Picking out my favorite first issue is a challenge…which series are my favorite is a lot easier, since those are much longer bodies of work with which to form an opinion. But trying to remember just that one issue, separate from your memories of the issues that followed, the single installment that grabbed your eyeballs and fed itself directly into your mind, embedded forever in your fondest comic-reading memories – well, that’s certainly the trick, isn’t it?

There have been plenty of great first issues, of course. Fantastic Four is a brilliant transition between the sci-fi/monster books of 1950s Atlas and the 1960s superhero universe of Marvel. The first issue of the recent She-Hulk series really knocked me for a loop. I still have some fondness for the debut issue of John Byrne’s Alpha Flight. And so on. I appreciate these as solid examples of comic-booking, but they lack the specific emotional component that made me decide on what exactly is my favorite #1.

And that would be The Saga of the Swamp Thing #1 from 1982.

“Whoa, now hold on there a minute, Mike,” those of you who have some familiarity with my particular tastes may be saying to yourselves. “Now, picking a Swamp Thing comic is no surprise, but the Marty Pasko/Tom Yeates Saga the of Swamp Thing #1 and not the original considered-by-everyone-to-be-a-classic Swamp Thing #1 by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson from 1972? Have you done flipped your gourd at last?”
Well, lemme 'splain. My entry into the world of Swamp Thing fandom was two-fold: through old copies of the '70s series found in a used book store, and the ancient Nickelodeon program Video Comics which would present a comic panel-by-panel onscreen with narration and sound effects (as seen here). I spent some time piecing together that original series, in whatever order I could find them, reading and rereading the books once the holes were filled, and wondering what I was missing. I knew those Swamp Thing stories were out there, and I knew the series was over and done, with no more continuing adventures coming after I completed that run. Well, aside maybe from a guest-appearance or of Brave and the Bold or DC Comics Presents here and there, but that was hardly the same.

Until, of course, the new Saga of the Swamp Thing series was announced. None of the folks from the original series were involved, beyond co-creator Len Wein as editor, but that was fine. The old comics were great, but they were the old comics. They were done. Wein and Wrightson and Kraft and Michelinie and Redondo weren’t doing new stories, and even as I was putting together that original run, I realized this was a finite thing. Once that was done, that was it.A new series, however…! That’s a promise of a new issue only a month away from the current issue you have in your hot little hands! And you don’t need to go out on a treasure hunt to find that next installment, as it’ll be coming, freshly printed, to a newsstand near you!

Sure, that first issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing wasn’t the same as the older stuff, and maybe it wasn’t quite up to the classic material in the original 10 issues by Wein and Wrightson. But it was good, and for someone who was certain that he was just about to have all the Swamp Thing there ever was, knowing that, for at least a while, there was going to be brand-new, previously untold tales of his favorite character coming each and every month was welcome news indeed.

So that’s why Saga of the Swamp Thing #1 is my favorite first issue. Not so much about the actual quality of the content (which, as previously noted, I enjoyed just fine) but for the promise that single comic book held: that there would be more of these Swamp Thing comic books forthcoming.

Joe Gualtieri: This question was a lot harder than it seemed on the surface. TV pilots are notorious for not always resembling what a show becomes, and the same is true of comics series as well. There’s also the matter some of the best comics #1s are not really #1s at all, like Amazing Fantasy #15 or New X-Men #114 (which is surely better than any X-Men comic that actually has a #1 in the corner box). It was sorely tempting to subvert the intent of the question and go with Invisibles v3 #1, which is actually the last issue of the series.

Ultimately though, I was over-thinking it and missing the obvious—Action Comics #1, specifically the Superman story. Taken out of context, it’s an action-packed story that does a great job of establishing Superman as a champion of the oppressed and the love triangle between Superman, Lois Lane, and Clark Kent. Lane, interestingly, isn’t an ace reporter for the Daily Star, but instead an advice columnist; her fiery personality is all-there, however, as she slaps a gangster who interrupts her date with Kent.

What really makes me love the first Superman strip though, is Philip Wylie’s novel Gladiator. Published in 1930, Gladiator is a turgid sci-fi novel about Hugo Danner, whose father experimented on him in the womb, resulting in Danner possessing super-strength, invulnerability, and the ability to leap great distances. Sound familiar? The difference between Danner and Superman is one of personality. Danner is a whiny shit who agonizes over what he should do with his great power. In a way, you might say Wylie invented the Marvel superhero, 30 years before Stan Lee. The issue of whether or not Jerry Siegel read Gladiator has been somewhat controversial, but apparently he admitted reading it in an unpublished autobiography. Anyone who reads both Gladiator and Action #1 would have little doubt that was the case though, as many of the vignettes in Action come off as direct responses to scenes from Gladiator. Unlike Danner, Superman never hesitates to use his powers to do good and in his very first adventure tackles gangsters, wife-beaters, corrupt politicians, and saves an innocent man from the electric chair. In context, the whole comic reads like a response to Gladiator, one that finds it wanting and desires to show how a man with superpowers should act. It makes for an exhilarating and generally up-lifting read, and means that the aspirational aspects of Superman, which are the best parts of the characters, were there from day one

TWC Question Time #19 The Gift of Comics

This week’s question: What is the greatest comics gift you’ve ever received? TWC editor/publisher Alan David Doane shared his response Monday to coincide with Stan Lee’s 93rd birthday. Now let’s find out what everyone else had to say:

Logan Polk: Oddly enough, I’ve received very few comics as gifts in my 20-plus years of reading. Even if that weren't the case, I think Uncanny X-Men #201 would still be my favorite of the bunch. Written by Chris Claremont and penciled by Rick Leonardi, it features the first appearance of Nathan Summers, son of Scott Summers and Madelyn Pryor, the young baby that would grow up to become Cable.

Cable is my favorite character in all of comics; in fact the mystery of his backstory is largely responsible for fueling my interest in the medium as a teen. So, of course after tons of speculation, and eventually a reveal of his lineage, Uncanny #201 became kind of a lesser holy grail, with New Mutants #87, his first appearance as Cable, being the true biggie. While I’m sure I’d have preferred the more expensive NM #87 at the time, I’ll never forget the smile on my Dad’s face when I opened the carefully wrapped so-it-doesn’t-look-like-a-comic box with #201, and how happy it made him to see me freak out about it. It may be my favorite gift of all time.

Joe Gualtieri: In 1989, like seemingly everyone else on the planet, eight-year-old me was Batman mad. I watched reruns of the ‘60s TV series, got the lousy Toybiz action figures, and started reading the monthly comic (my first superhero comic). Come Christmas morning, there was a treasure haul of Batman-related items under the tree, mainly more upscale Toybiz items, but there was also The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.

Originally published in 1988, by the Warner Books division created to sell Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, GBSET followed a similarly-titled Superman volume and served to celebrate Batman’s fiftieth anniversary. It’s the second of DC’s more-or-less every ten years rotation of printing such collections. In the ‘70s, Crown Publishing released the From the ‘30s to the ‘70s line, which are some of, if not the earliest comic-sized reprint collections. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s had the Greatest Stories line. The aughts used the same title for the line, but placed the character or team’s name in front (so you had Batman: the Greatest Stories Ever Told). Now, in the 2010s, there’s the A Celebration of 75 Years line. Among its other influences, I blame GBSET with making me enjoy picking up the different versions to compare them. I admit my prejudice, but the presentation of the eighties/nineties line strikes me as the best of the four. The introductions, forewords, and endnotes all give a sense of context, of how the stories were chosen, and of stories that did not make the cut. They’re also illustrated with tons of covers from stories not included in the volume, and to this day, I get thrill whenever I see any of those covers, because I spent years wanting to read many of them.

As for the actual comics included, GBSET is not perfect, but it’s close, and clearly influenced a lot of my taste in comics (and comics greats). The book opens with two of the notorious early tales where Batman uses a gun – the Mad Monk two-parter by Gardner Fox and Bob Kane, and the Hugo Strange Monster Men story from Batman #1. Matt Wagner would later modernize both of them. Both of these are wonderfully moody stories that hold up today. After some decent ‘40s and ‘50s issues comes “The First Batman” and “Robin Dies at Dawn,” both by Bill Finger and Shelly Moldoff. Those two stories would be major touchstones for Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel’s Batman: RIP storyline. Even at eight, I thought revealing someone had hired Joe Chill was going a bit too far with Batman’s origin, but Moldoff’s design for Thomas Wayne’s costume is inspired and justifies the story. “Robin Dies at Dawn” is the volume’s sole representative of the weird sci-fi era Batman stories, and it’s fantastic, completely tense and psychologically terrifying. “Ghost of the Killer Skies” by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano is probably responsible for my love of Enemy Ace. The story features Batman going up against a descendant of von Hammer. The weird thing about the story is that actually came out in the middle of the original run of Enemy Ace stories, but O’Neil completely makes it feel like a tribute to something from years ago. There’s an odd little running sub-theme of aeronautics in GBSET, as one of the forties stories included centered on Batman building a new Batplane and it also includes the gorgeous “Death Haunts the Skies” by Archie Goodwin and Alex Toth. “The Batman Nobody Knows” by Frank Robbins and Giordano has sort-of been adapted twice, once as part of Batman: the Animated Series and later as Batman: Gotham Knight. I say sort-of, because they take the idea of the story, which is three kids on a camping trip talking about the “real” Batman, while having their own spins on the stories the kids tell.

Of all the stories in GBSET, “The Deadshot Ricochet” probably had the most profound effect on my tastes. Taken from Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s legendary (but brief) Detective Comics run, the issue is part of an attempt to translate the Marvel style to DC and probably imprinted itself on me as the best sort of superhero comics. The comic contains a one-in-done main plot, but has subplots involving supporting characters feed from issue to issue (the two issues after “Ricochet” are included in The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, which I got within the next year).  Batman’s love interest here, Silver St. Cloud, makes more of an impression than any of the other non-Catwoman paramours in the volume by figuring out his secret identity, making her quite different from the Julie Madisons and Vicki Vales.The issue is also heavy on nostalgia for the comics of yesteryear, as the climactic fight is a tribute to the work of Dick Sprang and the villain is one forgotten and unseen for nearly 25 years at the time of the story’s publication. I’m also sure reading the comic at age eight is at least part of why, to this day, Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton is one of my favorite characters. A lot of that has to do with subsequent work on the character by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Christos Gage, Gail Simone, and many others, but the Englehart/Rogers revamp of Deadshot makes an immediate impression, which is why the character didn’t disappear the way he originally did after Batman #59. Lawton’s desire for revenge is utterly palpable, and that design! It’s completely ridiculous and comic book-y, but you can’t stop looking at it and admiring it!

“Batmite’s New York Adventure” by Bob Rozakis, Michael Golden, Bob Smith, and Anthony Tollin is the oddest story included in the volume. It really shouldn’t be in there, but it probably influenced my love of metafictional comics. “A Caper a Day Keeps the Batman Away” is a trifling comic by Len Wein, Walter Simonson, Giordano, and Petra Scotese, but it’s an utterly gorgeous one, and a comic I think I think about nearly every day. That’s no exaggeration, as in it, Wein teaches the audience the roots names of the days of the week through Calender Man’s week-long crime spree!

The volume closes out with two of Alan Brennert’s then-handful of comics (now closer to two handfuls), “To Kill a Legend” with Giordano and Adrienne Roy and “The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne” with Joe Staton, George Freeman, and Lovern Kindzierski. These comics served as my introduction to DC’s multiverse. In the first story, the Phantom Stranger presents the Batman of Earth-1 with the chance to prevent the death of the Waynes on an alternate Earth (possibly Earth Prime). As with most of Brennert’s stories, it does a great job of distilling characters with long life-spans down into just a few pages, as while Batman obsesses over small differences making stopping Joe Chill not as easy he thought it would be, while Robin questions the rightness of depriving a world seemingly without superheroes of its Batman. “Autobiography” is the “last” story of the Earth-2 Batman, as he teams up with Catwoman to find out why everyone he loves has vanished. The answer touches on the fear of abandonment that’s driven the character since the day he lost his parents and ends with him finally entering into a relationship with Catwoman. These are great stories to end the book on, as “Legend” has obvious callbacks to other stories included in the volume while “Autobiography” provides a happy ending. In a way, this is all the Batman you’d ever need and I got it from my parents at eight years old.

Tim Durkee: I have received many comic books as Christmas gifts over the years. The ones I remember specifically were packed with other toys. Kenner released the Super Powers line of toys. They were the DC heroes and villains. I still feel the figures themselves were some of the better ones produced then and even now. Each figure came with its own mini-comic. That year Santa brought me Superman, Batman, Flash, and Green Lantern. There was nothing about the stories in the books that was memorable. Just the fact they came with some really cool toys is why I will always remember those as the Christmas Comics I will always remember.


Mike Sterling: This was a hard question to answer, forcing me to go way back to my long-ago pre-comics retail days. For the last, oh, nearly thirty years or so as I’ve worked in, and now own, a comic shop, pretty much any comic book I wanted I generally bought for myself. And even farther back than that, as someone who regularly visited the local comic shop, I was getting my mitts on just about any comic I was interested in. And, as I’m sure you know, it’s really hard to buy comics for someone as a gift unless 1) you have access to that person’s want list, or 2) the giftee’s told you the specific comic desired.
Prior to that, sometime in the late 1970s, I was already slowly amassing a bit of a comic collection, but I wasn’t quite the Big Time Collector just yet. However, I was always on the lookout for anything comic book related, searching for any new sources to feed this burgeoning interest of mine. This was usually restricted to bicycle tours around all the local convenience stores, seeing what comics would appear on which racks, and seeking out new 7-11s and Stop-n-Go shops at greater and greater distances from my home. Plus, when I would go with my parents on shopping trips, I would zero in on any book or magazine racks that I could find.

It was on one such trip to a department store, one that I’d already known from previous visits did not carry reading material of any kind, that I discovered quite the surprise. I believe it was around Christmastime, as what I found was part of a display of gift ideas. Among the other knickknacks and boring items intended for adults, was a copy of Superman: From the ‘30s to the '70s. I don’t think I’d ever seen such a book before. Maybe I’d come across the Origins of Marvel Comics and Sons of Origins at the library, but my particular funnybook leanings at the time were toward DC’s output, and a big hardcover book of Superman stories, pulled from throughout the character’s long five-decade history? Why, that was amazing. I remember pleading with my mom to buy this book for me, despite the fact that the dust jacket was torn and the book had obviously been kicked around a bit. The condition didn’t matter as much as the content; here were a ton of Superman comics that were all new to me, and I couldn’t leave behind such a unique find! This was the only copy of this book that I’d ever found, and surely if we left it behind, I would never see it again! Well, needless to say, my mom opted not to spend her money on this beat-up book, which I’m sure bummed me out at the time.  However, Christmas wasn’t that far away, and sure enough, my desire for that item was definitely passed along to Santa Claus, for beneath the tree that 25th was a pristine copy of  Superman: From the '30s to the '70s.

It’s an odd book, with a smattering of color pages in otherwise mostly black and white interiors, often going from color to b&w in the middle of a story. I remember thinking that was a bit weird at the time, but I didn’t care. This was a large, permanent edition of classic Superman stories and I was glad to have it. Not that I wasn’t open to getting comics in any format, but being able to have comics in something other than the periodical magazine format was a real eye-opener. The very idea that comics didn’t have to be cheap disposable entertainment, that they could have a life beyond their particular month on the shelves, that they could have historical context…maybe that wasn’t an idea exclusive to the Superman: From the '30s to the '70s book, but it was that publication that solidified it for me.

Years later, I was visiting a bookstore in a local mall when I happened to spot a copy of the revised edition of the book, Superman: From the '30s to the '80s, sitting by itself on a small table in one of the aisles. I wondered then how many kids begged their parents to buy them that book. I hope someone did.

Tim O’Neil Takes Over The Comics Industry

Editor’s note: Marvel and DC are both revamping their universes and creative lineups this fall. We asked Tim O’Neil “If you could launch or relaunch five Marvel and five DC titles and pick the creative teams, what would they be?” Here’s what he had to say.

Action Comics - Mark Waid & Chris Samnee

There are a number of reasons why Mark Waid has never been allowed to write Superman for more than an issue at a time. Putting past politics and timing, perhaps its simply a question of wanting it too much. Almost everyone in the industry knows how long and how vocally he’s wanted the book. Based simply on his affection for Kal-El, there has never been a more perfect match of character and creator than Superman & Waid, and perhaps for that reason alone it should stay in the realm of pure potential, lest the reality disappoint.

But if we’re assuming for a minute that the industry as we know it has been razed to the ground and none of the people at DC who dislike Waid are employed at DC any longer, and that there are no more obstacles – fine. Let’s give it to him. Let’s give him one of his best collaborators, too. For my money Waid can be hit or miss – the same man who wrote one of the best-ever runs on DAREDEVIL fell flat on HULK, and his FANTASTIC FOUR veered from brilliant to mediocre sometimes in the span of a single storyline. (To say nothing of STRANGE FRUIT. Seriously, let us say nothing.) But that one misstep aside (and surely we can chalk that up to some kind of hubristic temporary insanity, right?), the guy understands Superman. So let’s step out of the way and see what he can do.

Detective Comics - Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli

This is another one in the “put up or shut up” column.

The problem with Brian Michael Bendis, even after years and year of diminishing returns, isn’t that he’s a bad writer. He’s never been a bad writer. What he is, is completely miscast. He can’t write team books, he struggles outside of the crime genre, and he certainly can’t write event books – and yet, because of (considerable) past successes, because of his speed, and because of his timing as having been the guy who gave Joe Quesada his biggest successes at Marvel in a time of upheaval – these are the plum assignments that he has consistently landed. But even though he’s written hundreds and hundreds of comics that he had no business ever writing, he’s also written a smaller but also significant number of excellent comics, books which have at times been overshadowed by his better-selling team books.

So fuck the Bendis who wrote AVENGERS, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, X-MEN, and every crossover that he ever came near. Let’s hear it for the Bendis who gave us ALIAS, POWERS, (the good parts of) ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, and DAREDEVIL – the guy who has, in other words, already spent the better part of his career auditioning to write the character most perfectly suited for his skill set. As with Waid, give him a top-shelf creator with whom he’s produced a great deal of top-shelf work in the past. (And it should go without saying – he should only be writing this, and Powers, too, which might actually get back on a reasonable schedule if he’s only writing one other book.)

Amazing Spider-Man - G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona

Every decade Marvel stumbles upon a popular new hero who gets to wear the mantle of “new Spider-Man,” for better or worse – a character who captures that ur-Marvel mode of being a young hero torn by personal responsibility and heroic duty, updated to fit the circumstances of the present day. This is pretty straight-forward, then – if you’re going to have a Spider-Man book, why not get the people already producing the best Spider-Man book in decades. Sometimes it really is that simple – and, given Marvel’s newfound ability to actually keep together top-shelf creative teams over multiple books, this one has a not-insignificant chance of actually coming true, someday or another.

Uncanny X-Men - Al Ewing & André Lima Araújo

The X-Men have been a mess for years, and this has mostly been true regardless of the quality of the creators on board. Al Ewing has proven himself over the past few years as one of the best writers Marvel has, but he still hasn’t quite burst through from being “up-and-coming” to being the superstar his talents would seem to imply. He’s mostly worked on the AVENGERS family so far, but why not give him the chance to make some sense out of a franchise that has become hopelessly wrapped around the axle?

Burn it to the ground, with only two caveats: 1) give us an X-Men team we recognize – for all the work Marvel has done in creating new generations of (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) new mutants, the fact that there’s no one book on the stands that you can point to with Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Rogue, etc. seems not just odd but, from a commercial point of view, beyond stupid. And 2), even if it seems like it might contradict #1, it’s still important to “make it new” – give us something other than warmed over Claremont (or warmed over Morrison, for that matter). Lots of people have tried over the last fifteen years to do just that, with not many succeeding. It’s a tall order.

And while this one is neither Marvel nor DC I trust it is still in the spirit of the exercise:

Ultimate Spawn - Michael Fiffe & Emma Rios

I’m not making this suggestion out of any real fondness for Spawn as a character or a mythos, but rather as a result of a recent conversation with none other than Mike Sterling. There are people who can drink alcohol and drive cars today who don’t remember a time when SPAWN was regularly outselling X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN – it was THE WALKING DEAD of its day, complete with TV show, a movie, and lots and lots of toys. It was Image’s flagship back when no one thought Image was going to last. It barely sells at all anymore.

But as I said to Mike, there’s no real reason why SPAWN has to be bad. Todd McFarlane knew what he was doing when he created SPAWN (even if he hasn’t seemed to know what he was doing at any other step of the way, except for the toymaking). The character is everything adolescent boys love: supernatural horror – complete with demons and skulls all the way down, along with a ludicrously EXTREME mythology cribbed off the back of an Iron Maiden record; covert-ops action, with shadowy conspiracies and cyborg super-soldiers hiding around every corner; and even good old fashion horny angst, with Al Simmons unable to ever reunite with the love of his life because he has returned from Hell permanently deformed. The fact that this premise was ever not a massive success is bewildering – this should be every thirteen-year-old boy’s favorite comic book, forever and ever until the heat death of the sun.

So why the fuck isn’t it? Well, nothing ever happens. The book has been around for almost twenty-five years and (last I checked, and I used to check in periodically) absolutely nothing has changed. Still a lot of people walking around doing a lot of the same – they even still use those same TV talking-head newscasters that’ve been around since the very first issue. In order for SPAWN to ever be a hit again, they’ve got to switch things up. This is one book that could actually benefit from the much-maligned reboot approach. Tear it all down, keep the bare bones of the premise, give it to Michael Fiffe. Tell me you wouldn’t buy that. I’d buy that.

Tim O’Neil


Those girls! 

–said the newspaper reporter.


Those girls! 

–said the newspaper reporter.

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.

Quote of the Day | ‘What makes Superman unique?’ | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

This is basically every kid ever, if you think about it for longer than a half-second. This isn’t a Superman thing. It’s not profound. It’s just the human experience. It’s how we do. It’s not special.

(via iamdavidbrothers)

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).

The New DC 52 Week Four, Part Two - Three Men and a Little Daemonite

Four titles here, and another four in a day or two to wrap up the first month of DC′s relaunches. It′s been a long time since I′ve reviewed this many books in this short a time, and I fully admit it′s probably unfair that books from IDW (a very good Star Trek series just started) and Dark Horse (the B.P.R.D. still going strong) and lots of interesting books from Fantagraphics, not to mention some important reissues. But hey, I felt like doing this, you know? Not because it′s important, just because I wanted to be thorough and fair when in all honesty I thought this would be much more of a disaster. So, without further adieu, and chosen at random…

Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri is not a title that will last very long. Very minor WildStorm character, journeyman writer and relatively unknown artist. The alien-turned-stripper-turned-superhero didn’t even get Alan Moore′s best efforts way back when he wrote a miniseries for her. But that’s okay. As I′ve said before, the titles no one expects much from are the ones where the creative team usually has more freedom.

When Moore wrote Voodoo back in the ′90s, he perhaps not surprisingly focused on her New Orleans background and the magic native to the region. It wasn’t a bad idea, but Marz sticks more with the science fiction thriller angle, as we are introduced to Voodoo performing in front of a rapt crowd made up partially of two federal agents who have been tracking her. Before we find out much about this, Marz essentially atones for introducing Voodoo in a bikini, stripping, by showing the dressing room backstage, where we learn that these are just young women doing the best they can, trying to make money to take care of children with no father in the picture, or who are earning money for classes to better themselves. There′s no intrigue or competition here, just women trying to look out for each other. Like others, I′ve taken issue with the portrayal of some of the women characters in other new DC books, but Marz deserves a pass here, especially for the higher degree of difficulty of writing a stripper in a non-exploitative way. Basri also deserves credit—Voodoo and the other women are all very attractive but his line is clear and minimal, the naughty bits left to the imagination, and aside from a little cleavage there aren’t really any panels where body parts are the main point.

Instead, Voodoo, or Priscilla as she′s known, is not the most sympathetic character, killing one of the agents once he revealed what he knew about her, but its not unlike the violence Supergirl caused in her first issue; they′re both just trying to survive. The trick is to see how long readers can take it before she turns toward humanity′s side instead of her Daemonite people. 

Superman #1 by George Perez and Jesus Merino is a solid B, B+. Yes, for the most part I feel like it’s a book Perez already did back on his Action Comics run about 25 years ago, but I liked those books. Although Perez is only writing and providing layouts, those layouts let him control how much information he wants to get across here, and it′s more than most books. Sometimes the old, non-decompressed ways are best, as I felt like I got my money′s worth here. 

We see the Daily Planet building, with its famous gold globe, come crashing down, a victim of changing times. With print on its way to a final death rattle, the Planet has been purchased by Galaxy Communications, to be just a piece of its multimedia empire that also includes the local television station. Seems the new owner has something of a fearsome reputation, and even has a Murdoch-like wiretapping scandal in his recent past, though that is apparently more the fault of the previous owner. Lois Lane has been tapped to head the TV network, which in real life makes no sense, as she is a print journalist with no production, direction or management skills, but for comics drama I guess we can let it go. Or just call it the one big flaw of the issue.

The rest is taken up with reintroducing the cast and showing how they are all reacting to the change in the status quo. Perry White has to get used to a new boss, and Lois has to get used to being a boss immediately, going from the gala announcing the changes to covering Superman fighting a creature made of flame. She has to be resourceful to keep her helicopter crew out of harm′s way, and we find out her boss is more interested in results than safety, so she′s got her work cut out for her there.

The Superman fight ended with no answers, but we do see that this is a cockier, more threatening Superman, although still heroic and concerned with the safety of innocents. He has that in common with Lois, but neither he nor his Clark Kent alter ego have much of a connection with her aside from mutual respect. Clark cares for Lois, but she finds him too distant, and she′s in a relationship with some guy and it doesn’t appear to be much deeper than sex. Comics fans are often pretty puritanical, especially about long-running characters, so Im sure the implication that Lois is getting it on unashamedly in her apartment is going to turn some people off, but I thought it was a good way for Perez to raise the emotional stakes and nudge the book into, I dunno, the 80s? Merino is following Perez′s blueprint here, but clearly his style is a bit different and it looks terrific. Aside from some unsuccessful bits here and there, such as the narrative captions describing the fight that don’t read anything like the newspaper article they are supposed to emulate, this is a solid book with old school craft. 

Green Lantern New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham is an amiably ho-hum book, which I guess is going to happen when you mandate four Green Lantern books a month. Kyle Rayner now has a little more potential to be cool, since he′s not the #1 GL anymore. Bedard introduces him as a nice, creative guy (although the majority of waitresses would not take kindly to a patron leaving a sketch of them in lieu of a tip), but there isn’t time for much more, as we have to get his GL induction out of the way in rapid, Silver Age style. Before you know it, he′s saving folks and meeting his not-so-adoring public, and then something weird happens where a bunch of different Lanterns have their rings taken away and all the rings go to Kyle. I was confused, because taking the ring away seemed clearly to cause some of these Lanterns to die, either because they were in the middle of fighting or they were in space and using the ring to provide breathable air, but at the end, there′s a bunch of different-colored Lanterns all heading to beat up Kyle. Oh, and in keeping with the Johns model, there is a disemboweling where it would have been just as well to cut away to the next scene. I′m not very interested in the mystery, there are plenty of kinda likable heroes out there, and Kirkham′s Jim Lee-influenced art isn’t enough of a draw. I wouldn’t call this a terrible book, but it’s an easy one to drop.

The Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony S. Daniel and Philip Tan is probably going to bother a lot of Hawkman fans, as Carter Hall is now a rather reckless loser of a cryptologist who finds that when he tries to give up on Hawkman completely, the Nth metal bonds with him, so hes sort of like Venom, with his costume and weapons erupting from his body. This comes in handy on his first day back on the job, when a sunken artifact releases a deadly alien energy vampire thing. 

Philip Tan goes for a bit more of a painterly look here, possibly trying to approach an old pulp novel cover, but for now he can add this to the list of styles he hasn’t mastered. I liked it better than what he did on Batman & Robin, but that’s not saying much. Nice creature, though, although Daniel gives him a rather unalienlike name, Morticius, which seems more like the name of a cackling ghoul meant to host one of DC′s old horror books. 

It′s kind of funny when were introduced to Carter Hall talking about getting rid of Hawkman, and his narrative caption has a hawk symbol in it, not that there was much doubt he was going to be Hawkman again. That part isn’t Daniel′s fault, but he does louse that scene up with a tendency to go over-the-top. I mean, you can′t just pour gasoline on the Hawkman garb and light a match? No, instead it’s a fifth of bourbon, ignited with a gunshot, which seems like a waste of booze and ammo. I′m not sure how to take the lack of any kind of sexual tension between Carter and his boss′ pretty daughter. You gave the fat old guy a hot daughter for a reason, Daniel—do something with her more than a bland, ″Hi Carter″. I guess this might turn into something as far as the buttkicking aspects, but so far I′m not impressed. 

–Christopher Allen