August 15, 2015
I haven’t updated in about three months mostly because the idea of discussing comic books seems faintly exhausting to me right now. I spend 50 or more hours a week in a comic book store, going through the routine, and it just doesn’t leave me with much to say. Case in point: the most I have to talk about all summer is how I blew a bunch of money at Connecticut State Comic-Con. I technically attended as a member of the press — though not for this blog, god no, I have some dignity even if it’s not much — and did actually fulfill some semblance of a function that way, helping my conspicuously unnamed friends try to secure guests for their conspicuously unnamed media venture. Jerry “The King” Lawler gave me a limp handshake in the process — that much I’m pretty sure of.
But in between doing things of marginal use to society, I also bought comic books and things.
Comic books like the ones up there: Police Action, published by Atlas-Seaboard in the 70s. I ask about Police Action at every con I go to, at any table that seems to have vintage back issues beyond the scope of “CGC’ed Avengers #37.” Usually, no one ever has them, because people trying to make back their table fee usually don’t bring terrible Atlas-Seaboard comics with no real monetary value. Luckily, CT State Comic Con bucked that trend at not one but two (!!!) tables.
Police Action was written (not very well) by Gary Friedrich, and drawn (generally competently) by Mike Sekowsky, who handled the Lomax: NYPD bits, and Mike Ploog, who did Luke Malone: Manhunter. Both of these features are ridiculous tough guy garbage. I’m not a hundred percent sure that Atlas-Seaboard had a real editorial process, despite editor Larry Lieber coming first in the credits. These comics read like the first ideas to come to mind, and they’re mostly really lucky that those first ideas were entertaining lunacy. I’m 100% sure I already own a copy of #3, and 50% sure I own #2, but I was so amazed to see them at all that I bought them anyway.
Another baffling Atlas-Seaboard find was the first issue of The Destructor — I think I have issues two through four, I honestly don’t remember, but I know I was missing #1. Archie Goodwin wrote this one, maybe after having a paint can fall on his head, but the real draw for Destructor #1 is the art team of Steve Ditko pencils and Wally Wood inks. Ditko does his best to make this as bizarre and singularly Ditkoesque an experience as possible, while Wally Wood strains to give Ditko’s panels some kind of passing resemblance to a real and sensible world. It’s like a comic book art version of David Bowie and Brian Eno in the studio together, trying to fulfill hidden objectives that run counter to one another. I wish I could say the tension makes the art better, but it mostly just makes it look like it’s uncomfortable in its own lines. As far as the story, this is a comic book that literally and unashamedly recaps its opening pages halfway through the issue, and it’s still not memorable.
Impulse Buy #1: a cheap copy of Red Sonja #1. I love Frank Thorne’s art, but I don’t have any kind of big justification for buying this. It’s by an artist whose work I really enjoy, it was cheap, and it was there in front of me. I’ve been poring over Thorne’s work in those big Art Edition things that Dynamite did of all of his Red Sonja work, but as mind-blowingly good as the guy is, stuff like Red Sonja still reads best on crappy newsprint.
Impulse Buy #2: This Justice League of America #60 with a goddamn wonderfully strange cover. (It’s also the second part of a Mike Sekowsky double feature, after Police Action, which may have somehow made more sense than this.) I got it for cheap, which is good, because when I got it home and started paging through it, I realized some of the center pages had come unstapled. The original, silver age Queen Bee is one of my favorite weirdo DC villains. She’s just some alien woman in a weird bathing suit with the sort of gimmicks you only find in silver age DC comics, or affectionate Ty Templeton parodies thereof: Queen Bee drank a serum that gave her immortality, but is slowly turning her immobile (this is not explained in any kind of detail, we just have to take it on faith), so she turns the Justice League into tiny bug-people. It’s one of the early Batgirl appearances, too, but that’s less important than all the deranged Gardner Fox script stuff.
This is where most of the money spent on actual comic books got spent: Bill Mantlo and Al Milgrom issues of Spectacular Spider-Man, from that little two-year run where he gained and lost Black Cat as a partner. I read most of these when I was a kid when they were much cheaper, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the whole story arc. (The thing that really makes me nuts, though, is how now comics dealers jack up the price on #90, on the basis that since it came out in the same month as Amazing Spider-Man #252, it also counts as a “first appearance” of the black Spider-Man costume. This is the kind of logic you usually see from cultists and serial killers, since in the real world, if something comes after a first appearance, it’s generally considered “second” and not “also first.” I only paid a couple bucks for #90 but I still paid too much. Fucking carnies.) Unfortunately for you, I covered up most of the awesome covers these issues had, which I think were all at least designed and laid out by Ed Hannigan, though Milgrom drew most of them.
One half of our special main event: a poor photograph of a great sketch by Tom Mandrake, of the title character from Kros, a book he’s working on with John Ostrander. Mandrake was a humble, funny, and genuine guy, and watching him work was amazing. I’m not excited for a lot of comic books these days, but I’m excited for one with him and Ostrander on it.
The second half of the main event: an even worse photograph of a fantastic sketch by Tom Mandrake’s wife, Jan Duursema. The sketch is of Aayla Secura, from Star Wars — Duursema co-created her with John Ostrander as a sidekick to the addled Jedi Quinlan Vos, and George Lucas liked a cover painting of the character so much that she ended up in the movies. I really wish I’d taken a better picture of this. Trying to color-correct the fine pencil-and-erasure shading in GIMP to show it off was just obliterating it. It’s really something.
True story: the main reason I even went to the show in the first place was to meet Mandrake and Duursema, two artists whose work I’ve been seeing since childhood and who I gained a better appreciation for as an adult. (This puts them in the company of artists who I didn’t “get” until I was a teenager, like Jack Kirby and Bill Sienkiewicz.) Getting sketches is great and all, and I’m happy to throw money their way, but I think what was the most satisfying thing for me was that they were both so friendly and approachable. They both never quite got the level of recognition in the comics world that they really deserve.
So then I got home at like one in the morning and waiting for me was a new issue of Michel Fiffe’s Copra, and a Typhoid Mary sketchcard. I got out of work around midnight the other week, and went to 7-11 on my way home. I decided for whatever reason to check my email as I was going in, and just arrived was a note from Fiffe to his Copra subscribers about how he had a few sketchcard commission openings — so there I was, ordering a Typhoid Mary sketch while leaning against a Slurpee machine, like normal adults do in their normal adult lives. I’ll read the comic in the morning, but I’ll stare at the sketch for a while longer before I go to bed.
I did this last month and didn’t quite object to it, so why not, let’s do it again. This is me traipsing through the meadow of the August 2015 Previews catalog put out by Diamond, the only large-scale distributor for comics and related goods. I’m just flipping through from the start to the end and chattering mindlessly about whatever catches my eye, regardless of whether or not I intend to purchase it or think it’ll be any good.
The problem I have with this month’s issue starts right at the cover, which promises: “THE DARKSEID WAR RAGES ON!” While I’m sure getting the cover of Previews is still valuable ad space, it’s kind of an ill omen that the thing most worth promoting — at least in terms of ad dollars spent, I guess — is the middle chapter of something. The back cover gets Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl, an Image threequel about which more later.
THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB #2 (p. 50): Well, this one is only around fifteen months late. Evan Dorkin’s LiveJournal has featured the occasional self-flagellating confession about the progress on this comic, which is the final statement on his three-time Eisner-winning journey into the dark heart of fandom. I love The Eltingville Club, both because of its sheer crudity and brutality, but also because it comes from a very real space that Dorkin himself (and just about everyone with any working knowledge of X-Men trivia) has visited and mapped the corners of. There’s an argument that Eltingville is a case of nerd-on-nerd violence, or maybe nerd self-immolation, but with the time I’ve spent behind the register of a comic book store, it really counts more as observational comedy, and it’s probably tamer than what’s out there in real life.
GRINDHOUSE: DRIVE IN, BLEED OUT #8 (p. 60): “Milo Manara’s cover is too hot for Previews!” I haven’t read Alex De Campi’s Grindhouse, either the previous series or this one — I think it triggers some kind of automatic response in me, calling a comic Grindhouse, where I think “well, the best grindhouse movies are the ones that didn’t hype themselves as playing in grindhouses,” that kind of dumb semantic stuff. I’ve sort of kept it in my peripheral vision, though, so I know that there are schlocky sci-fi stories in it, schlocky horror, schlocky spy stuff, schlocky schlock. There’s one key ingredient that’s been missing, though, and in this cover for #8, they’ve located it: “artistic” European sexuality, once incarnate on celluloid in the form of Christina Lindberg’s breasts, now appearing as a Manara cover of a spacewoman jilling off.
THE COMPLETE LOVE HURTS TP (p. 64): I’ve never read any of Kim W. Andersson’s comics, collected here for the US market, but the cover is intriguing.
DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #1 (p. 72): Meanwhile, absolutely nothing at all about this is intriguing on any level whatsoever. If a human centipede could be a figure-8, this would be the end result. The DC “Bombshells” product line is, at its core, a brazen co-opting of DeviantArt-style fan art culture that DC can then turn back around and sell to the same fans who will go on to make more fan art that DC can turn around again and on and on into, one hopes, total oblivion. That an ongoing comic book series is resulting from this is the tail wagging the dog about as hard as I’ve ever seen it happen. This isn’t virgin territory — DC tried to wring cash out of the spirit of fan-art reinterpretations before, with the Ani-Comi Girls or whatever the faux-anime stuff was called — but the marketing for the Bombshells stuff, the sheer number of useless fucking products being pumped out for you to buy, really makes this one a horse of a different color.
PREZ #3 (p. 93): Does anyone else wonder if, between now and publication, the Bible’s Yelp score will rise above an “average” three out of five?
THE MULTIVERSITY DELUXE EDITION HC (p. 126): This October, DC publishes a handsome companion volume to Andrew Hickey’s popular and informative ebook!
SUICIDE SQUAD VOL. 1: TRIAL BY FIRE TP (p. 127): Well, it only took a movie that looks like the sharted-out dregs of an all-Sucker Punch diet to get these stories back in print. I won’t look that particular gift horse in the mouth. If they can make it through reprinting all 66-odd issues of Suicide Squad — probably eight or nine volumes — then more people will get a chance to read what is, for my money, the best superhero comic book series ever, and maybe, just maybe, my favorite comic series of all time and all genres, all ever.
INSUFFERABLE #4 (p. 164): Hopefully by #4 the people making Insufferable will have fixed the egregious problem I had with issue #1 a week or two ago. Insufferable is a print compilation of a digital comic from Thrillbent, and I flipped through the first issue… and saw that the second half of the comic had apparently been printed from lo-res files with “jaggy” lines galore. It’s the sort of quality-control goof that makes me wary about picking up future stuff, or at least needing to see it in-hand before any silver crosses any palms for it.
PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 (p. 184): I want to be into this but I don’t think I am. Years ago, Phonogram was a genuinely exciting thing for me, because it was back when Image wasn’t quite the wide-open frontier of genres that it is now — it was still mostly superheroes and crime and Kirkman. Now, though… I feel like Gillen and McKelvie have probably perfected the aspirational-and-so-rebloggable pop comic format on The Wicked + the Divine, so I’m not sure what new thing this book has to offer, especially based on the brief preview here. There’s an added dimension to the original Phonogrammatical premise — in a world where music is explicitly magickal, what of music videos? — but I can’t shake the feeling that this is the anniversary full-album-in-sequence tour, or worse, the album of a band’s old hits re-recorded.
8HOUSE: KIEM #3 (p. 198): I’d never heard of this Xurxo G. Penalta guy — the guy drawing the second arc of 8house, written by noted individual Brandon Graham — but the cover image they put up for this issue made me track down more. Penalta looks like he’s chasing the Moebius dragon, but along the way I see a lot of Frank Quitely and Juan Jose Ryp (probably not explicit influences, but within the same continuum-space). His Tumblr is here, look at this stuff.
THEY’RE NOT LIKE US #7 (p. 207): I talked about this comic last month, and I’ll probably talk about it next month, and what I say will remain the same: Simon Gane is a superb artist and this is a series that’s elevated greatly by his artwork.
THE ETERNAUT (p. 326): There’s not much in the indies that’s really catching my eye this month — note how we just jumped forward about a hundred and twenty pages. A lot of what’s being pitched in the indies just looks like… stuff, things that you can consume and then forget about. Little of it is markedly interesting. An exception to that: The Eternaut, an English translation of an Argentinian comic strip whose political allegory is of the “the real-life writer was disappeared by the military junta government in the 1970s and presumably died or was killed in prison” variety. The metatextual elements of The Eternaut are captivating, and while I’m actually more interested in seeing the more explicitly political and experimentally drawn 1960s remake, I have high hopes for this as a memorable reading experience, not just stuff.
KILL LA KILL VOLUME 1 GN (p. 386): Is Kill La Kill the modern Evangelion? I guess that’s a faulty question, because it presumes that Evangelion has stopped merchandising itself in seemingly endless configurations and reconfigurations, like a physical meme. Kill La Kill seems poised to smoosh itself into the same space of merchandise feeding frenzy that Evangelion‘s been maintaining for twenty years. This begs the question: if Kill La Kill‘s plot can be recreated in only three volumes of manga, how long until it’s re-done so that it takes up over a dozen, like Evangelion‘s?
SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVE #1 (Marvel p. 13): Michel Fiffe, Typhoid Mary, done, sold.
So, that Mad Men finale, huh?
S.F.V.P.N. PLUS: AN S.F. SUPPLEMENTARY FILE
Written and illustrated by Ryan Cecil Smith; self-published; #8 of 100.
Shocker — Fabulous Volume Printed Nowish! See Finely Variable Printing Nonconformity! So Frickin’ Vast Past any Need — Still, Fun Value and Potent Narrative! Smith Favors Versatile Puns ‘N’ Shenanigans For a Victorious Portfolio of Newly Sized-up Facility, Versus Ponderous Numbskullery. Seize this Flavorful Visitation of Profuse… uh… kNow-how… shit.
The other day I went down into my folks’ basement and surveyed the collection of toys my brother and I accumulated in our youth. I ended up throwing most of them out, and the ones that managed to make it through the stewardship of myself and my brother in one piece — fewer than you’d think — are being offered to the children of my parents’ neighbors and then what’s left will hopefully get sold for a couple bucks at a sale benefiting the local library.
Going through the old toys offered an occasion for a lot of introspection. Not many of the toys had specific memories attached to them (though some certainly did), but all of them had the persistent memory of simply being there. Now they’re not.
Most of the introspecting I did was around how, when I was younger, I liked to collect things a lot more. I still do, I guess, though I try to tell myself I don’t. The idea of completeness, of being the master of some great Alexandrian library, it appeals to my base reptilian back-brain. I tell myself how I don’t like collecting things anymore and then I look at my bookshelf next to me with the complete set of DC Jack Kirby Omnibus hardcovers, Doom Patrol Archives, Holdaway-drawn Modesty Blaise, Mobile Suit Gundam: Origin books, Charley’s War, Grant Morrison…
I don’t think I’d be happier having nothing, but keeping the impulse to collect on a shorter leash than I once did has definitely helped me. I think the biggest single reason that I can still enjoy comic books today is that I’ve learned to let go of things — some things, anyway. Some things, you don’t hold on because it’s important, it’s just important because you’re holding on.
GIANT DAYS #1-3
Written by John Allison; illustrated by Lissa Treiman; colored by Whitney Cogar; published by Boom! Box.
Back in the early days of the current millennium, I devotedly read John Allison’s webcomic, Bobbins. I followed him from there to Scary-Go-Round, and somewhere in college I just kind of lost track. I haven’t forgotten him or his sense of humor, or the important fact that he did the single best Achewood guest strip. So when Giant Days #1 opens with the names “Daisy Wooton,” “Esther De Groot,” and “Susan Ptolemy — a human common sense silo,” it’s like hearing a familiar tune that hadn’t crossed your mind in ages. The best way to summarize Allison’s authorial voice is that vaguely adorable creatures say things like “I’m a pacifist, Esther. And I’m worried that if I start [boxing], I might like it. Something inside me might snap and I might kill someone.” Basically, Allison and Treiman have managed to fill a vacancy in the comics market which I never would have guessed needed to be filled until it was, and that’s the spot for a comic that’s pretty much just The Young Ones but with less vomit, less dynamite, and fewer surely fatal injuries.
LADY KILLER #5
Written by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich; illustrated by Joëlle Jones; colored by Laura Allred; published by Dark Horse Comics.
Somewhere in the middle of the Lady Killer mini-series — apparently, there will be more, with artist and co-writer Joëlle Jones taking over the whole enterprise — Josie Schuller, the ideal nuclear-family housewife with a secret side job as a government contract killer, is faced with a mission to murder a small child. This final issue of the mini is mostly brainless fighting, various characters getting comeuppances and Jones’s art alternating between sleek, Spanish-artists-in-90s-Heavy–Metal-back-issues style and ink-splatter gore. It’s not as exciting as it maybe should have been. In a series that really struggles (and, I think, ultimately fails) to transcend just being a combination of various other things — we never learn much about Josie, beyond “what if Betty Draper from Mad Men was the Bride from Kill Bill with a job as Arnold Schwarzenegger from True Lies?” — the carnage simply isn’t as interesting as the ages-old moral struggle of child murder. I didn’t know skulls being crushed sounded like a whimper, but that’s what Lady Killer goes out with.
… Bellow came on the scene at a time when many people imagined the fate of modern man to be somehow tied to the fate of the novel. Was the novel dead or was it not? Much was thought to depend on the answer. … So even “Dangling Man,” an awkwardly written book about which Bellow later said, “I can’t read a page of it without feeling embarrassed,” was received as a sign that the novel might after all be up to its historical task. “Here, for the first time I think, the experience of a new generation has been seized,” Delmore Schwartz wrote…
I don’t read much in the way of other people’s comics reviews anymore. If a particular article or blog post gets tweeted by someone whose take on things I respect, then sure, I’ll have a look. That’s the exception to the informal rule. I don’t take not reading these comics reviews as a point of pride, make no mistake — it’s just that after a while I gave up on the sheer banality of it all.
I remember on a web forum I used to post on years ago, there was this one guy who would post in the “rate/review your new comics!” thread every week. He was a guy who drew hideous superhero porn on the side and who, without irony, compared Wally West being replaced as the Flash to Hurricane Katrina. Every week he would post about 20 or 25 Marvel/DC comics in the rate/review thread, and even if he completely hated a thing, the lowest score he could bring himself to give it was a seven out of ten. This guy is the baseline of writing about comics on the internet: the dude who actually cares about maintaining the continuity-integrity of what Iceman did in the Defenders, and will call Big Bang Theory “nerd blackface” and then look puzzled when he’s not carried off by a cheering crowd for his bold in-your-face rebel take on major network sitcoms. He’s the guy snorting dismissively about how Grant Morrison “shoots heroin into his eyeballs” or something and then turns around and declares Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers the best comic of the decade hands-down.
Those guys (they’re all guys) are just white noise, though. They’re easily ignored. The stuff that really drives me away is when you have someone trying to do a Serious Review That Shows How Serious and Thoughtful They Are About Superhero Comic Books and they spend 1,000 words saying “you know, the writing was good, and the art was also good, and the characters are also good, and overall it was good! Four and a half out of five stars.” It might as well just be a gif of a beard being stroked next to a number score. It’s the guy at a dinner party who won’t shut the fuck up about tiny houses for an hour even though all he has to say about them is fifteen hundred variations of how he thinks they’re really neat. (Even worse when they try to go all dry professor on us and talk about the panel constructions in a way that communicates little more than “I’ve read Scott McCloud’s textbooks, maybe.”)
Inevitably, it’s these people who want to stand up with their thinkpieces clutched in their sweaty fists and proclaim how some weird random product like the latest issue of Rocket Raccoon actually has a lot to say about, you know, society, and culture, and oppression, and gender relations, and race, and the mysteries of adolescence, and what it means to grow up, and the human condition, and whatever. I mean, yes, it’s a comic book about a sassy raccoon shooting guns, published to maximize brand synergy with a billion-dollar movie franchise, but isn’t it really about us, like, deep down? Does Rocket Raccoon not reflect the crisis of the (Post-)Modern Human? And what was so bad about Havok’s “M-word” speech in Uncanny Avengers anyway, I mean, isn’t he right about us all being brothdhfdsfljdsajlfdslgldsgfsdglagla
This is the same as every consumable pop culture review system on the internet. It’s all shit, everywhere. Including and especially here. Hi. Welcome.
THE NAMES #9
“The Dark Loops: Conclusion” Written by Peter Milligan; illustrated by Leandro Fernandez; colored by Cris Peter; published by Vertigo.
The Names makes me think of Wire’s first album, Pink Flag, and how the band ended each song whenever that song ran out of lyrics. Peter Milligan does the same sort of thing. He doesn’t write comics that build to crescendos; he writes comics that start when they begin and then end when they’re finished, and in getting from one point to the other there are hopefully some insights, or at the very least some good jokes. Philip in The Names is Milligan’s funniest character in ages, which on the one hand feels mean because he’s massively autistic, but on the other hand all that means is that he’s a skeleton key for Milligan’s bone-dry absurdist humor. When Philip is in the clutches of an entity posing as a sexy girl who keeps referring to him as “human,” Philip’s response isn’t to put two and two together like any other action-comic protagonist, but to say “What is it with all this ‘human’ business? Technically, you’re correct. I’m of the subspecies ‘homo sapiens,’ but–“ Tellingly, Philip is the only character Leandro Fernandez consistently draws as baseline normal attractive, without freakish proportions or something like co-protag Katya’s semi-Sideshow-Bob ancient-sun-etching hair. The Names ended because it was nine issues long, and this was #9, and once Philip identifies the villain of the piece as being “a metaphor for how cyber technology and stochastic processes are taking over our lives,” the game’s up.
ROCKET GIRL #6
Written by Brandon Montclare; illustrated by Amy Reeder; published by Image Comics.
I don’t remember how long it’s been since Rocket Girl #5. A year? More? Forever? It doesn’t matter, I guess. Rocket Girl #6 is all energy, all forward motion, showing us future-teen-cop Dayoung Johannson stranded in mid-80s New York with all the fanny packs and Bugle Boy. She’s running around, doing stuff, and her friends are also doing stuff, and it’s all fine, bouncing along like the bass synth in something produced by Nile Rodgers. Rocket Girl #6 also has a flashback to the future where we see Dayoung’s first mission. That has probably the best panel of the whole comic, where after she’s screwed up and committed herself to doing things “by the book,” she’s putting her Rocket Girl helmet on and we see in a way we’ve never seen before just how awkwardly shaped and heavy the helmet must be, and the way it cinches tightly around her neck like a noose…
“Chapter 16: The Black Thing, the Ugly Spirit” Written by Ales Kot; illustrated by Stathis Tsemberlidis; colored by Jordie Bellaire; published by Image Comics.
To be perfectly honest it feels rude to comment on Zero at all, at this point. It’s like sitting there watching as someone jabs themselves with their medication, or vomits up something poisonous — what do you say? “It’s good that you did that, uh, you know, puking up the bad thing that was inside of you.” Or maybe it’s more like someone showing you photos of the new baby and hey, look, there’s dad and baby sitting naked together in the bath. More than ever before, Zero feels like Ales Kot cleansing and purifying his concept of himself, and while it’s fascinating to read it also defies review. There’s no “it’s good” or “it’s bad,” only “it’s personal,” and the only way to respond to the personal is to either build a wall or to tear a wall down, and I’m deflecting doing the latter so I must be doing the former. It’s a good thing Stathis Tsemberlidis is here on this issue, because with a neater, cleaner artist the whole thing would feel too tidy and pat — rooting around inside yourself is a grimy process and even if you clean yourself out you’re still a lump of watery flesh in the end.
I read Secret Wars #1 and I don’t even really remember what happened in it. “Stuff happens” is the worst review I can give anything, because what it should say to you is that whatever I’m talking about communicated so little to me that I couldn’t even be bothered to record it. If I had to go into more detail, it’s just Crisis on Infinite Earths, plus Dr. Doom acting as writer Jonathan Hickman’s jack-off spirit animal because Doom is a character who can plausibly spend four years spouting cryptic bullshit, chalked up to “Doom is on a level above us all, playing the long game” or some other John Byrne roll-onto-your-shoulders-and-upside-down-wank-into-your-own-mouth bullshit.
Esad Ribic sure draws some stuff in Secret Wars, and the stuff he draws is usually attractively rendered, but what that stuff is, who knows. Hickman’s written a script that thinks it’s being impactful when it’s actually being incomprehensible, and that it’s being smart in a “the audience will rise to my level!” kind of way when it’s actually just the guy at the party jabbering something baffling about Julian Cope or power electronics before falling over and smashing his head off a coffee table. This creature of a comic has the edge over Convergence in that it’s actually trying, but I’m not sure how many points for effort can be given when there’s no reasonable or rewarding end result in sight.
Before Secret Wars #1 came out, I joked to one of my customers that I had a week to read all of Hickman’s Avengers so that I’d know what was going on in Secret Wars. He replied that I’d have to go back further and read all of his Fantastic Four, too, and I genuinely didn’t know if he was joking or not for a minute, because it was so grimly plausible. When I told that previous sentence to someone else, they said that I’d probably need to read his Ultimates, too, and it was definitely not a joke.
I’ve talked with pro- and anti-Hickman customers and the Hickman boosters really seem to be convinced that Hickman comics are like precision Swiss watches. I might have used this analogy before. It’s not so much about the aesthetics as much, most expensive watches look like other expensive watches. But then the one is just so much more perfectly constructed within the case than the other! The appeal is in how all the little gears fit together to make the little hands go. People who love Hickman act like 48-issue Hickman runs are these precision masterworks of little gears turning in unison, and I don’t see it, but hey, I’ll take their money just like I’ll take people’s money for Grimm Fairy Tales or whatever.
A lot of cryptic slow-burn stuff that, in Hickman’s ideal design, snaps into place at the ending to make you realize it was all connected all along: it’s a cute party trick but he’s only got the one.
DEAD DROP #1
Written by Ales Kot; illustrated by Adam Gorham; colored by Michael Spicer; published by Valiant Entertainment.
“Things are not what they seem,” promises the cover of Dead Drop, which is a relay-race style caper (each issue tags in a new runner) featuring members of the Valiant government-aiding-and-abetting Unity squad chasing after what may or may not be a biological weapon. I say “may or may not” because if the cover is true, it might be tipping too much of the comic’s hand: the government stooge who feeds us our exposition assures us (and X-O Manowar, this issue’s star, though it probably doesn’t matter who’s in his role, it could “star” just about anyone with minimal script changes) that this attractive young woman-of-color parkour specialist is a “violent anarchist” despite her not hurting anyone that we can see, and gets things asked of him like “Is there something you’re not telling me?” without any response other than static. Gorham’s tasked with giving the comic its sense of forward motion, and he’s up to the task, since this is all but literally twenty straight pages of people running and vaulting over things and it doesn’t get tedious to look at. This seems like a mini-series that will bend and unfurl pleasingly but ultimately dissipate into the air like wisps of smoke, but at least we get oh-fuck-it-why-not moments like X-O Manowar zapping some guns out of the hands of New York City cops like an adult taking away a toddler’s toys.
THE FOX: FOX HUNT #2
“Chapter Two: The Situation” or “Chapter Two: The Other Shoe” depending on if you believe the cover or the credits page, anyway — Written by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid; illustrated by Dean Haspiel; colored by Allen Passalaqua; published by Dark Circle Comics.
This is a superhero comic that’s pleasantly dopey without being both by and for bozos. I don’t know what it’s doing in the Dark Circle imprint, honestly, and I kind of hope Dark Circle isn’t a shared universe. Because The Fox is so much fun and the other books are like — well, there’s an ad in the back of this issue for some upcoming fucking Frank Tieri comic called The Hangman (and between Hangman and Black Hood there are now two Dark Circle books starring guys who on their best days look like the Zodiac Killer and on their worst like palette-swapped player-two Klansmen) and just from the ad alone it looks like a contender for most dreary, boring, useless comic book of 2015 and Beyond, not in the least because it’s by Frank Tieri and the only noteworthy thing he’s ever done is when Garth Ennis hurt his feelings or something so he wrote an issue of Wolverine where he called the Punisher gay. What I’m saying is that Dean Haspiel is the polar opposite of Frank Tieri, and that might be the nicest thing one human being can say about another without it being part of a wedding vow.
NO MERCY #2
Written by Alex De Campi; illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil; colored by Jenn Manley Lee; published by Image Comics.
I think No Mercy is a comic where my reading experience is well-served by not having read a particularly deep path into the world of manga. If you told me that the basic premise of this series (high school seniors are on a trip down south of the border when their bus flips down a mountain into godforsaken nowhere; cue struggle for survival) had been done to death by ninety-something manga series since 1986, I wouldn’t really bat an eyelash at the idea of it. I don’t know why I just automatically assume that this could or would be true. Night falls and coyotes attack the group, and we get flashes of activity in the darkness, short sharp little moments in the chaos, and then everything smashes to a halt when we get this big panel of the coyotes eating a corpse — no detail spared by McNeil or Lee, no ink-black shadows obscuring the fact that wild animals are tearing the skin off of a meat-dispensary that was until recently a living and thinking human being. Manga does that stuff a lot, doesn’t it? The whole bit, ramping up the pace to a frenzy and then just not so much hitting the brakes as putting a concrete wall in your path. I’m not making a joke here, I’m genuinely asking. I’m as ignorant as these dumb fucking high school kids and maybe that’s why it’s so affecting to watch them die.
The rules are simple: I’m just scanning the entire Diamond Previews catalog for stuff releasing in July and commenting on anything that catches my eye. That’s all, that’s it.
BARB WIRE #1 (p. 40): If this was the future of Barb Wire as interpreted by the palm-line-readers on How Did This Get Made?, I’d be all for it. Instead, it looks like an actually serious comic about Barb Wire (and as Dark Horse’s front-and-center pick of the month, no less), but on the upside, the Adam Hughes variant cover is Barb kicking someone directly in the cock, so it’s at least got one point going for it. (Welcome to what will be a recurring theme in this whole spiel: finding tiny, insignificant victories that matter to no one, like a life preserver in the ocean that’s conspicuously missing a body.)
CYBORG #1 (p. 82): I think Ivan Reis might be the best superhero artist around who’s capable of putting out six issues or more in a calendar year. Maybe Cyborg is being sneakily positioned as a key book in DC’s roster, but somehow I doubt it, and while it’s a step up from ongoing series for Vibe and Katana, that’s like saying sleeping in a doorway is a step up from sleeping on a highway traffic island.
BATGIRL ANNUAL #3 (p. 115): I always support Bengal getting work. His graceful lines made Naja into a book worth reading, which is an amazing feat because I think that comic was actually and seriously written by someone whacking a keyboard with their bare ass. So far in American comics he’s done the most forgettable issue of Avengers imaginable and a cute-but-thin Batgirl crossover tie-in — maybe the third time’s the charm and this Batgirl vs. Dick Grayson story will be the script worthy of his talent. I feel like this is a possibly unreasonable hope.
GOTHAM ACADEMY #8 (p. 121): Continuing a theme, the way to get me to keep reading a comic I was considering quitting is to announce Helen Mingjue Chen is drawing it. Gotham Academy still has yet to convince me that it has more going for it than its elemental cuteness, but the cuteness is a gratefully received break from Batman and the Joker fucking each other’s eyesockets to death or whatever happened in Batman #40 to make morons throw $15 at it.
BATMAN NOIR: HUSH HC and BATMAN R.I.P. UNWRAPPED HC (p. 131): Talk about hoping comics buyers are dumb fucking rubes. Batman Noir: Hush is just a reprint of Hush without the colors, and Batman R.I.P. Unwrapped is Batman R.I.P. with Tony Daniel’s art in its original penciled state. This is seriously bottom of the barrel stuff and hopefully they don’t sell well enough to start any trends.
WE STAND ON GUARD #1 (p. 198): Hey, look, it’s Steve Skroce, and he’s doin’ stuff! This is the first thing I’m bringing up here where I actually like both the writer and the primary artist of a book. The preview pages they show are a bit, well, generic-action-movie, but hopefully Brian K. Vaughan and Skroce can subvert those expectations at least a little bit — at worst, this will be a deluge of Canadian-history-and-culture trivia punctuating robots blowing up, like Robot Jox without the joi de vivre.
ISLAND #1 (p. 202): I’m into this on a conceptual level. An anthology magazine with 20-to-30-page chapters of new work: Heavy Metal minus the ads for The Fantasy Pin-Up Art of Boris and Julie Collectible Fine China? That sounds all right by me. I’m also always up for more Multiple Warheads, and the teaser page for Emma Rios’s story shows a brain being eaten, so yeah, let’s see what’s going on there too.
WOLF #1 (p. 206): People sure sing a lot in Ales Kot comics lately… Wolf is the least-exciting new Kot project, at least to me personally, but I think that that’s because it doesn’t engage in my expertly-curated set of interests the way something like The Surface is doing. The solicit text promises something reminiscent of True Detective and Neil Gaiman, which is honestly kind of a turn-off, but at least Matt Taylor and Lee Loughridge can make a singing man who’s on fire fill a page attractively.
RED ONE: WELCOME TO AMERICA HC (p. 242): Xavier Dorison and the Dodson’s Soviet-superheroine-in-L.A. lark, reprinted en anglais in the original BD hardcover format. This is neat, because I tried to buy the French edition (Red Skin) off of Amazon.fr, and weeks later the surgically-removed address label from the package was sent to my home like a finger in a ransom scheme, with a note from the USPS amounting to “we destroyed your package, whoopsie-daisy!” The conspiracy deepens.
THEY’RE NOT LIKE US, VOL. 1: BLACK HOLES FOR THE YOUNG TP (p. 244): A good friend of mine once described Grant Morrison’s New X-Men as “X-Men for people who hate X-Men,” and so in turn I must describe They’re Not Like Us as “X-Men for people who take Lana Del Rey videos at least kind of seriously as capital-A Art,” and that’s exactly what I’d want Simon Gane to draw if he was drawing any kind of X-Men for anyone — so it’s good he’s doing this, and we all win.
MERCURY HEAT #1 (p. 279): From the rockin’ and rollin’ Avatar bullpen comes a comic descibed as “pure Kieron Gillen,” immediately followed by a scenario that I’m honestly pretty sure is exactly the plot of the Divergent movies but with an added space-prison-planet bit. (Maybe that’s why Gillen takes care to point out in his introducing-the-band editorial that this has been in development since 2008.) Then again, Über looked bafflingly awful before it came out and actually wowed me, so I’ll reserve judgment till then. Can’t get much of a bead on artist Omar Francia going by just his covers, but the “Regular Cover” image of main Mercury cyber-cop Luiza makes her look like some kind of ill-defined creature.
SERPIERI COLLECTION VOLUME 1 HC and VOLUME 02 HC (p. 372): I don’t think even Milo Manara can touch Paolo E. Serpieri’s knack for marrying visually beautiful comics to stories that are still problematic on their least troubling pages. These books advertise themselves as Serpieri Collection, but in practice look like nothing but his signature babe-in-peril Druuna — my first impulse was to think “wow, I hope they don’t censor it like Heavy Metal did, censorship is, like, totally bogus, and also wack, dude,” and then I looked up an online gallery of the uncensored Druuna book Mandragora, and remembered what I had genuinely forgotten, which is that it’s full of graphic anal rape and stuff like the heroine of the comic blowing a guy as he’s being hanged to death. As much as I love Serpieri’s craftsmanship and technique, I’d have to think long and hard about buying his books just because I have no idea how I’d respond if a houseguest plucked one of them from my shelves and said “so, what’s this one about…?”
FANTASY SPORTS VOLUME 1 GN (p. 374): I’ve heard nothing but raves about this, which from the solicitation text sounds like Adventure Time meets Battle Chasers meets that one Charles Barkley computer game people pound off to. It could be a great welding of a sports narrative to totally loopy genre weirdness, like Corey Lewis’s Peng, but after reading and not really liking some Supermutant Magic Academy I can no longer tell up from down with regard to what’s getting rave reviews from the most-current folk, and I think I might be tone-deaf and fatally old. This is one of those things where I want to be excited for it but I’m so worried I won’t gel with it that I don’t even want to buy the infinitely cheaper PDF version off Gumroad because if I don’t like a PDF I can’t give it away come Christmas.
GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #8 (Marvel p. 87): Remember what I said earlier about Bengal finding an American comic worthy of his level of talent? I guarantee two thousand percent that this one isn’t it.
DAREDEVIL: TYPHOID’S KISS (Marvel p. 125): Now this is a collection I can get behind completely. Ann Nocenti’s Typhoid Mary stuff — spinning out of that first jaunt in Daredevil, she went on to confound Wolverine and Ghost Rider in Marvel Comics Presents, then a pit-stop in Spider-Man country before getting her own mini-series that beat the 90s Tarantino idea of cool into a wall until its head was bloodless blue mush. There’s stuff in these comics I’m amazed that anyone got away with in the Comics Code days of Marvel, and in their best parts they fuse the moody Vertigo aesthetic with the tweaking menace of the Harry Dean Stanton torture scenes in Wild at Heart. Sole beef: with all the great Steve Lightle and John Van Fleet work inside this book, images that were sexy and whose sexiness was scary, they went with a fugly Photoshop of a Joe Madureira Spectacular Spider-Man cover for the front cover, which couldn’t be more misleading if it tried — and maybe trying is what they’re doing.
Nothing else in Previews at all warrants any comment, from anyone, ever.
April 13, 2015
There aren’t many artists I’d spend that kind of money on a sketch from, but Arthur Adams is definitely one of them. I don’t have a rolling huge blob of text to attach to this one, because really, you’re not looking at the text in this post anyway — just to say that this is Adams drawing Jonni Future, a character he and Steve Moore thought up for the America’s Best Comics line around the turn of the millennium. Jonni Future was some of Adams’s best work, especially in that it honored many of his disparate influences without explicitly referencing them like a lot of his gigs tend to do.
Adams was the first guy that made me realize that different people created comics, that they weren’t just spat out from a factory — his 1991 Marvel Universe trading cards are ones locked into my memory banks as a pivotal moment in both fandom and understanding basic things about art. I’m still not even sure this drawing is real, that’s how much an Art Adams sketch means to me.
April 11, 2015
So I drove down to East Coast Comicon. Last year it was Asbury Park Comicon, but now it’s not. It’s bigger than Asbury was, from what I heard, but it’s still not really big — it had a few choice names but you could walk the floor and survey every booth in ten minutes even if you stopped somewhere in the middle for a cigarette. I table-sat for five minutes for J, the creator of Farlaine the Goblin, so maybe give his comic a look. Anyway.
While the feeling of a con going through puberty and growing pains was charmingly awkward (to an extent), my main disappointment with East Coast Comicon was the selection of merchandise. Now that the speculators are back, comics dealers — being, at the best of times, fucking carnies — are trying to fleece as much off of them as possible before collecting comics isn’t “hot” anymore. So every table had $50 Spider-Gwen variants, but I was hard-pressed to find many assorted-garbage bargain bins for cheaper than $2. It’s all variants, key issues, CGC, and CGC’ed variants of key issues…
I spent $20 total on comic books at East Coast Comicon. Here’s how it broke down.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #205, 226, 227 ($1 each): Some early Black Cat issues, in chewed-over condition but suitable for reading and then chucking in the recycling. I’ve always liked the Black Cat as a member of Spider-Man’s supporting cast, dating back to when I was a total Spider-freak in my misguided youth (during the height of the Clone Saga, no less). I know she’s a big deal now ever since Terry Dodson started drawing her with truly enormous breast implants, but my loyalty lies with the still-Code-Approved version of the character, especially that weird little run in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (by Mantlo and Milgrom, I think) where she got bad-luck powers to be Spider-Man’s sidekick, and just ended up jinxing him constantly. I thought that stuff was great. #205 was at one point very mildly controversial because it’s the second part of a story that was started by Marv Wolfman and then finished by David Michelinie, who pretty much invented the “stalker of Spider-Man” angle on his own, but compared to shit like people doing Howard the Duck comics in 2015, it’s small stuff. Total spent: $3.00
GEN13 3-D #1, GEN13 & GENERATION X 3-D #1 ($1 each): I found a vein of Art Adams Gen13 material in one dollar bin, and my only regret about that is that they only had the J. Scott Campbell covers for these two, which is like getting a cheeseburger on a bun made of human shit. Gen13 3-D #1 has a story written and drawn by Art Adams, where the Gen13 kids go to the mall and fight dinosaurs, because that’s what Adams wanted to draw, I guess. The Generation X one is written by Brandon Choi, so the only meaningful review I can give of its story is “at least it’s pretty.” The 3-D on these is sort of inconsistent — some panels have random lines that they seemingly forgot to 3-D-ize, which sometimes fucks up the depth perception of a panel, and on top of that, looking at mid-90s Wildstorm computer colors through 3-D glasses is a great way to give yourself permanent damage. Total spent: $5.00
GEN13 & MONKEYMAN & O’BRIEN #1, 2 ($1 each): From the same vein of Adams Gen13 mentioned above, this was a two-issue series where Gen13 met Adams’s creator-owned characters, and then all of them met their mirror-universe evil twins. It’s a feather-light lark, but Adams was drawing what he wanted and put his own sense of humor — wry, articulate, just a little corny and just a little juvenile — into the script. There were like six different covers of #1 in the bin I found them in, so I picked the chromium-effect one, because if you can get the chromium cover for the same price, then why not? Total spent: $7.00
BATMAN ANNUAL #14 ($1), SUICIDE SQUAD #22 ($2), SPIDER-WOMAN #16 ($3): Three comics I bought for their brutality. Batman Annual #14 and Suicide Squad #22 are ones that warped me as a kid. I think I first read them both around age nine. Batman Annual was the post-Crisis origin of Two-Face, retold by Andy Helfer and Chris Sprouse as a tale of psychological damage, parental abuse, nude serial killers, hypocrisy giving birth to savagery… I first read it juxtaposed with a bunch of goofy Silver Age stories in a “Best of Two-Face and the Riddler” trade paperback that came out to tie in with Batman Forever. I was unprepared for how upsetting it was, and that’s why I still love it today. Suicide Squad #22, I found in a dime bin way back when — it’s the issue where Deadshot returns to duty after his son has been murdered by a pedophile, has a breakdown mid-mission, assassinates a U.S. Senator and then tries to commit suicide by cop. Short of the actual Deadshot mini-series, it might be the darkest point in John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s Suicide Squad, and it just might be the best. Spider-Woman, I discovered later — this past year, in fact. #16 is the issue where Mark Gruenwald culminates a plotline of Nekra running a cult by having her and Spider-Woman beat each other half to death in a way that’s startlingly physical for a 1979 Marvel comic — and dig that Sienkiewicz cover, one of the highlights of his Neal Adams phase. Total spent: $13.00
TYPHOID #1, 2, 3, 4 autographed by Ann Nocenti ($1 per autograph): One of the first comics I remember buying is an Ann Nocenti / John Romita Jr. Daredevil, which was full of stuff that soared clear over my head then but still felt cool. The Typhoid mini-series, starring her Daredevil villain/paramour Typhoid Mary and her multiple personalites, was that in extremis: I was probably 10 when it came out, and a Tarantino-spoofing series about police corruption, sex workers, mental disorders, the patriarchy, and all the rest was a little past me then. As an adult? I’m honestly pretty amazed Marvel published this mini at all. I brought my own copies to the show to have signed. While we were talking about the comic, I mentioned I’d just recently re-read it, and Nocenti asked me, in her watery New York voice: “So am I crazy?” I told her that hey, if she is, that’s her business, and she laughed and then charged me for the autographs. Total spent: $17.00
SUPERMAN FAMILY #166 ($3): I just picked this one up on a whim, really. The main cover is some prime Super-Dickery (“Lois told me to meet her here! Why can’t she ever be on time?” while he ignores Lois getting chucked off a building by a robot). Maybe the story will live up to that cover image, but who knows. I’m also intrigued by the “Superbaby Captures Pumpkin Gang!” story, because what an arbitrary-seeming title to affix to that generic gun-melting image. Last question: when has Lois Lane ever worn an outfit as vampy as the one in her Superman Family sidebar shot? Total spent: $20.00
April 10, 2015
One of the weirder parts of running a comic book shop is when someone sells you a collection and you find their secret stash of porno. I once picked up 20 longboxes from a guy who was moving house and had to unload, and mixed in through all the boxes were copies of Alice in Sexland and Extreme Bondage Fairies and all the other late-90s hentai manga that was dutifully flipped for raincoat-wearing American consumers. Another collection had a complete run of the “adults only” versions of Barry Blair’s Leather and Lace, where Blair asked and answered the question “where’s all the porn full of supposedly 18-year-old boys who look 11?”
In a box of Conan stuff I just picked up, I found Eros Comix’s The Erotic Worlds of Frank Thorne #1. This isn’t exactly a concealed timebomb of perversion, and it at least was of a piece with all the painted covers of busty slave girls looking on in shock as Conan wrestles a monster… Still, there’s that little awkward moment between me and the comic box. “So, this guy as into Erotic Worlds, huh.”
The first issue of The Erotic Worlds of Frank Thorne was a new (1990) story featuring Ghita, who’s basically Red Sonja, the character Thorne became famous for drawing. Except instead of being a red-haired she-devil with a sword, Ghita is a blonde “whore-goddess,” whatever that means. The premise is the same: fantasy land, the Antediluvian World, full of swords and bikinis passing for armor. I like Thorne’s Red Sonja, so I paid myself a dollar and decided to give Ghita a whirl.
The story in Erotic Worlds #1 is called “The Deathman’s Head,” and I’m still not sure what’s going on in it. Ghita and her cronies (“Thenef, the sham wizard; and Dahib, the former dung-carrier of Zephyran”) get a message from another city that an old flame of Ghita’s is about to be executed, so they go to that city, save the guy from being beheaded, Ghita has sex with the executioner, and then kills him, the end. So far, so filler-issue-of-Heavy-Metal.
What kept me interested is that Thorne is a weird, weird guy. It might be expected of someone as devoted as he is to cosplay — before “cosplay” was even a thing, he was dressing up as (to quote Grant Morrison) a “dirty old wizard,” with comely lasses dressed in chainmail posing as Sonja, or Ghita, or whoever. The dialogue in this comic has the same tin ear for any lifelike human quality that Kirby had, just drowned in D&D fantasyspeak and porno bluntness (“Ho! A fine trick, mage! I thought you were inept at magic. Now conjure up a boner and let’s try again!” — and at one point Ghita curses, “Dunnnng!”). It makes reading “The Deathman’s Head” as a story frustrating, but vaguely compelling in a b-movie kind of way — where I’m not sure if I’m supposed to laugh at Ghita and the executioner’s sex causing a pile of skulls to scatter everywhere, or take it without a drop of irony.
Then there’s the people in this comic. Only Ghita is a stunning beauty — everyone else is tall and gangly, or short and squat, or missing a leg, or moon-faced in extremis, or lard-assed, or… But at the end of the story, having chopped off a man’s head during a militia siege slash public sex show, Ghita retires to bed with a collection (more like a dogpile) of odd monsters, hung dwarves, and boil-marked Peter Lorre types. I don’t think there’s any real lesson to be learned from that, but it’s just so against convention — the warrior-woman usually rides off into the sunset, still ironclad in chastity or feeling the loneliness of a love who’s been murdered — that it sticks in the mind. For a day or two, anyway.