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I don’t write very much on my supposed blog about comics. This is largely because I work in a comic book store, and because I work in a comic book store, for the most part, mainstream or genre comics are not a topic of terrific interest to me on a personal level. I read them as time-wasting entertainment for the most part, but digging into them on a deeper level is unappealing. I spend 40+ hours a week dealing with the people who really and truly need to read fewer comic books, or for whom comic books about the Punisher shooting black people are the peak of literacy that their minds can handle. There are plenty of great customers, grown men and women who read comics as a hobby, who engage the medium and meta-content thereof in a healthy and curious way, and make me happy to work there. Still, at the end of the day, comic books are not modern mythology to me. They are commodities. They are stapled piles of paper that I sell to you, and you take home, maybe read once, and put in a bag and board forever, in longboxes whose feng shui is unfathomably disrupted by renumberings and relaunches.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but most comic book store managers (and owners) are carnies at heart. They’re people who, in a more innocent time, would be grifters at the circus, guessing your weight to win a dollar. The idea behind collecting comic books for profit is simple: you put in zero work for maximum reward. You increase your theoretical wealth by doing something fun! Imagine being one of those guys who was smart enough to buy a Walking Dead #1 and sell it now, CGC’ed and flecked with Robert Kirkman’s personal Sharpie jizz (as authenticated by a man with a strange career path at a comic con), and buying a fucking boat with the money.

In practice, there’s a certain kind of subset of people who collect comics for profit, usually split into two camps. The one I see the most of, and it might just be because of my suburban New England location, is the blue collar guy who looks at comics as a heavily illustrated pile of scratch tickets. They usually come in in jeans stained with old paint and sweatshirts with the names of landscaping or moving companies, tanned from working outside, usually speaking with a thick local accent — wherever “local” happens to be. They like Wolverine, Punisher, Carnage, and Spawn. They think back to how good it used to be back in the days of Wizard Magazine. They buy every X-Men book they can, and they half-assedly follow along online communities on Facebook, finding out that The Spectre #54 is the first Michael Holt appearance and as such is a dollar-bin book that can be flipped on eBay for enough to buy three or four sandwiches at Panera, no drinks. They look at ten copies of the death of Jason Todd and CGC’ed Spider-Gwen Phantom Variants as “the retirement fund.”

The other half might have a successful job, who knows. They walk in with slicked hair and nice-enough clothes, chin in the air as they regard your wall books and ask about Silver Age rarities. These are the guys who don’t dig in dollar bins. They understand that to have a collection of comic books that are worth money, you actually have to spend money on them. They don’t like to talk to you except to ask you for the store copy of the Overstreet guide, to borrow as they flick through the bins, hoping they can find something that’s worth noticing. They are more rare, and I’m not sure if it’s a demographic thing, or because they just do most of their business at cons and trawling on eBay.

When people at my store ask me what comics they should get into that’ll retain their value, I tell them that there’s only one thing I can say about collecting comics for their supposed or projected worth: “Don’t.”

The people who run stores are similarly divided into two camps. They’re lifers, one and all. Some of them are the guys who love comics so much that they just want to put comics into people’s hands. They usually look kind of harried and tired all the time, and their stores are full of stuff, floor to ceiling, with copies of Daniel Clowes’ Patience pushed up against old shabby Catalan Communications copies of Milo Manara’s Click!. Their bins are usually a mess but you can go in their store without having anything on your want list, and find a dozen things you didn’t know you wanted.

That, for the record, is the kind of comic book store guy I try to be. I want to be enthusiastic but straight-talking. I try to use my too-deep knowledge of the X-Men to help guide people to stories I think they’ll like. I tell them when something’s worth it and when something’s fluff. I don’t want them to come in once and spend $400 — I want them to come in and spend $4, 100 times.

The other kind of comic store owner — well, let me give an example. I went to a store recently that had a copy of The Mutant Misadventures of Cloak & Dagger #1 up on the wall, stickered at $20.00, squished between $30 Venom cover appearances and $40 Lady Death chromium variants. I’ve read that issue of Cloak & Dagger, and it’s nothing special. It’s not their first appearance, and it’s not even their first series. It’s just stuff. I asked an employee why it was up there, and he shrugged and said something about the store going by the trends on eBay. I asked the owner of the store, and he replied, “There’s a Cloak & Dagger on the wall?”

All of this rambling is prelude to me stating, bluntly: I put in my two-week notice at the comic book store I work in today. I try to be a good seller to good buyers but I’m finding myself shoulder-to-shoulder with profiteers looking to sell to speculators: carnies selling to carnies, who want to flip them to more carnies still. I do not want to be a carny.

I drove home tonight and when I got home, a new issue of the New Yorker was waiting for me. The cover was by Jaime Hernandez, depicting people traveling on an airplane. For all of the doubts I have in comics — and they are many — seeing that when I got home was like a light shining down on me, telling me that I was forgiven, and once I was free of the carnival, maybe I can start loving comic books again.

-LTZ

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My favorite comic book coming out from Marvel right now is probably Scarlet Witch, written by James Robinson and with a cast of artists who roll over issue-by-issue. Scarlet Witch #1 was illustrated by Vanessa Del Rey; #2 was by Marco Rudy.

The premise of Scarlet Witch is two-pronged. The first prong is the obvious comic book metaplot element, which is that “witchcraft is broken” (as vague a statement as you’ll ever find, even in a universe with Jonathan Hickman dialogue) and our heroine is roaming the world, looking for clues as to what done did it. The second prong is that Wanda Maximoff, the title character, has experienced a bafflingly insane character history, and is now trying to put her life back together and cope with mental illness.

One new aspect Robinson has written into the character is that practicing witchcraft is taking a toll on her soul. When Wanda sees herself in a mirror, she’s aging a la The Picture of Dorian Grey. She totals up the cost of her spells in wrinkles and grey hairs. The Watson to her Holmes (or maybe vice versa, we’ll see) is the ghost of Agatha Harkness, a Silver Age Marvel witch who tutored Wanda and was eventually killed by her.

Wanda Maximoff might be the only Marvel character whose revised history is worse than Charles Xavier’s. Twenty years ago, John Byrne did his “Darker Than Scarlet” storyline in Avengers West Coast, that had Wanda’s children revealed as homunculi and her own mental state shattered into cackling villainy. Around ten years ago, Brian Bendis revisited this in Avengers Disassembled and House of M, revealing that Wanda’s traditional use of “chaos magic” was a lie, and that she was actually a super-powerful reality manipulator, whose sanity never actually recovered from her earlier breakdown. For no readily apparent reason, had another breakdown, which resulted in multiple deaths, rewrote reality into the House of M universe, and then when she restored it, took away the powers of most of the world’s mutant population. Recently, Rick Remender in Uncanny Avengers revealed that Wanda and her twin brother Pietro were, in fact, not the children of the mutant villain Magneto, as they had believed their entire adult lives. More is likely coming.

With these add-ons to her history, Wanda Maximoff is thus a mostly incomprehensible character, borderline unusable as a protagonist. In Bendis’s comics alone, she killed her friends, overwrote all of existence, and then brought it back with a mass de-powering that seems like it should be comparable to genocide but really isn’t. That’s not anything you can really sweep under the rug, nor is it anything that can be written off in a satisfying way through some act of heroic contrition. She can’t just save some schoolchildren from a fire and have a grand epiphany of a monologue.

James Robinson is a good enough writer to recognize this, and his Wanda is mostly a loner. She takes medication for her mental illness, but she doesn’t look at home in any particular crowd. This solo mission to find out what’s wrong with the world of witchery isn’t one where Captain America can tag along without sticking out like a sore thumb. Robinson — and Del Rey, and Rudy, and Dillon on #3, and whoever else is coming — has kept this a single-issue superhero book, but given it an uncommon measure of dignity in the way it treats its characters, both in dialogue and in the way they’re drawn. That alone puts it head and shoulders over the rest of Marvel’s output.

So, Scarlet Witch. I enjoyed it enough to write around 600 words about it. I hope I’ll continue to do so.

-@less_than_zero

2016.01.18: Medication

January 18, 2016

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I had a discussion with a friend today about Marvel’s upcoming Civil War II event series. One of the things that came up was this bit, from a New York Daily News article:

“What if the pressure causes (the hero) to commit suicide,” suggests James Robinson, another Marvel writer, adding that it could be a good way to draw attention to the scourge of cyber-bullying.

But editor Tom Brevoort’s Spidey-sense is immediately tingling.

“I don’t think you’d want a Marvel Super hero committing suicide,” he interjects.

After hours of occasionally heated debate, [writer Brian] Bendis and [editor Axel] Alonso reveal they had a eureka moment during a 10-minute break and came up with the perfect superhero to sacrifice and an even better candidate to murder him. The answer actually gets a loud ovation from the crowd.

“That’s like an epic,” says Robinson. “I’m genuinely shocked.”

So that’s where we are now: grown men paid to coop up in a room and argue over why all the superheroes should fight all of the other superheroes, with one normally quite sane storyteller more or less suggesting that a Marvel superhero be cyber-bullied into committing suicide. Moreover, the “eureka moment” isn’t one where all involve realize that they’re probably over-thinking an intensely silly concept — it’s when they figure out which superhero to kill, and who should kill them.

I maintain, as I did during my earlier conversation, that this really is just ridiculous stuff we’re dealing with here. The thrust of Civil War II, by early rumblings, seems to be a divide within the hero camp over whether or not they should enforce Minority Report-style predictive justice. I’m sure that attempts will be made to tie this into the real world — “something something, uh, drone warfare” — but as a premise, that’s even less relatable than the original Civil War series. So to ground this Marvel superhero comic book in the firm reality of human emotions, grown men got paid to coop up in a room and argue over how and why a Marvel superhero should die.

I’m all for writing superhero comics that can be enjoyed by adults, but this doesn’t sound like it’s written for real functional adults. This sounds like it’s being written for cretinous 13-year-olds and Eminem fans who drink too much Mountain Dew and need to come home from the Army. There are already comics perfectly calibrated for those people: Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Punisher, Red Hood, and every other comic book about a moron with guns or ninja swords.

I don’t see this as “adultifying” the Marvel Universe, or making it intersect in any meaningful way with the state of the world in 2016 AD. I see it as pandering to the lowest common denominator, to guys with neck tattoos who like Carnage. It’s not even being pitched as a novel idea — it’s a sequel, for Christ’s sake. Everything I’ve heard about Civil War II makes it sound like it’s the story equivalent of a guy who wears sweatpants while hanging out in a Dunkin Donuts all day.

In the introduction to the new paperback collection of Garth Ennis / John McCrea Demon stories, Ennis reflects on comics he wrote some twenty years ago:

There’s also the inevitable scene that everyone was doing at the time, where some malevolent influence affects numerous characters in the vicinity and they start committing acts of unspeakable evil–why didn’t it occur to me, I wonder, to reverse this hoary old cliche and have people suddenly become unnaturally pleasant to one another? “Habitual bastard Kevin Smurd helps an old lady across the street…crack whore Sally Finnegan bakes a cake for a crippled orphan…in an ancient house without a name, sickening pervert Bobby Braun replaces the rotting floorboards–because, you know, someone could fall and hurt themselves in there…”

I’d like to see something like that. Not that exactly, but something that takes the obvious, stupid way of doing things and just casually kicks its leg out from under it. There’s probably more “adult insight” about “our real world” to be gained from a premise like the above than there is to be had from Psylocke fighting Ghost Rider about whatever, even if it was written by a total clown.

I fancy myself a grown-up these days, and Marvel superhero comic books about Marvel superheroes fighting and killing each other doesn’t sound grown-up to me at all. Superhero universes perpetuate themselves as “modern myths” or whatever on the basis of being, in many ways, worlds better than our own, full of heroism, wonder, and curiosity. Things like “the eureka moment of deciding which superhero needs to die” might be clever, but it’s cleverness heading right into a dead end. To “adultify” superhero comics, all that’s necessary is the confidence to treat them with dignity. There’s no dignity in sticking a firecracker up a G.I. Joe doll’s ass, just to see where the bits of plastic land. It’s just stupid.

@less_than_zero

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Copra has been my favorite comic running since it started. Insexts, from new publisher Aftershock, is coming up on it fast.

Not long ago, I found a complete eight-issue run of this Vertigo series called The Minx. It was written by Peter Milligan and drawn by Sean Phillips, sometime around the turn of the millennium, when everyone in music videos wore tight silver trousers. It was about a woman with a split personality — the titular Minx — who had super-powers, and how she got on with her life. There was a telepathic monkey returning from a space trip who led a cult, a politician without eyes, incest between cousins, wacko fundamentalists forming a united Christian-Muslim-Jewish terror army, a then-transgressive transgender occultist sex-pest villain, etc. It was laying the groundwork for some kind of big, strange story, but I can see precisely why it got canned in eight issues.

It was just too willfully and perversely weird for public consumption.

If there was a major publisher backing Insexts, I’d feel like it’d be destined for the exact same fate. Insexts is about an affair between a mixed-race society lady and her handmaiden. The handmaiden, it turns out, is some kind of magical insect-woman, and they kill the society lady’s jerkoff husband and use his corpse to incubate their horrible monster-child. This, of course, leads to intrigue, and scenes of the two ladies sharing a bath.

Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina are the primary forces behind Insexts, and both of them are coming off of mid-profile work at Marvel, on things like Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy and Secret Wars: 1602: Witch-Hunter Angela. While I’m sure those gigs were very creatively fulfilling in their own right, Insexts really does feel like they’re exulting in the freedom that Aftershock is affording them — there’s a glee in this comic, the same kind of glee that you get from Saga when they do a double-page splash of a dragon sucking its own dick, just because they can get away with it.

And then there are bits like at the end of #2, when our lesbian-insect-mother heroine is ripped a new one by her racist sister-in-law, in part of a speech that seems content to drown itself in its breathless vileness:

“I will see you end in a brothel like the one you have sought tonight. I will see you spreading your reeking black gash to sailors and soldiers and dogs. I will see those ripe lips riddled with sores, weeping pus… that lying tongue wrapped around the pricks of the men for who you betrayed our family’s honor. I will see you so hungry, so abject, you will happily go gagging, chokingretching on the seed of the vermin of the earth. I will see you eat your own filth to survive.”

The Milligan looms large in this one. I like that quite a bit.

@less_than_zero

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Tick it off the list: first comic book of 2016, read.

I feel a little bit swindled, but I really only have myself to blame. I bought Interceptor #1 — Heavy Metal‘s newest floppy-pamphlet-format comic book offering — based on solicit text that made it seem like Grant Morrison was involved in some editorial capacity.

From the solicit text for Interceptor #3:

A comic about space vampires and mech suits with an all-female cast, written and drawn Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett, published by Heavy Metal with Grant Morrison at the helm.

So what they meant was that Grant Morrison is at the helm of Heavy Metal, I now realize (which won’t be true until April anyway). The first reaction I had upon opening Interceptor #1 was a pang of disappointment, seeing no credit for Morrison at all, not even in the publisher’s masthead.

The next sentence of solicit text:

A film is already in development only three issues into the series.

So it’s one of those things, I guess. The front of the comic has a quote from Jeff Lemire: Interceptor is irreverent and kinetic. This is science fiction comics at their best!”

You know how Vertigo did that “12 new titles across 12 weeks” launch deal, right? And each of those new first issues had quotes from various luminaries, impressing upon you that hey, jerkoff, this comic is fantastic. I’m acquainted with a friend of one of those quote-writing luminaries, who was surprised by the quote in question. He told me that the friend confessed to not having read the comic — he just wrote something because the writer of the comic was a friend of his. Suspicion looms before I’ve even read one proper page of Interceptor, now.

Interceptor is a five-issue mini-series written by Donny Cates and illustrated by Dylan Burnett. It’s about the future, as sci-fi usually is, and like always mankind has made a mess of things. They fled planet Earth due to an overabundance of vampires — for some reason, all I could think of was the apocalyptic stuff at the end of the movie Lifeforce, but that might be me imposing my own will onto things.

So the humans, led by a sixty-five-year-old cigar-chomping President who looks like a little boy for some reason, discover that the vampires survived and may have found them. So they sent a super-soldier named Poli Lehan (almost Pynchonesque, but not quite) to go smash their space program up or something. But it turns out there are still humans left on Earth after all, and that about takes us through issue #1.

I guess it was all right. I mean, it was certainly very competent, and it seemed to have an idea of what it was doing. I feel like I would have liked it better if Grant Morrison had actually edited it, but then again, I’m not sure a single page would have been any different, what with Morrison being the creative hurricane bringing us no less an artistic monolith than Klaus.

I bought a load of old Heavy Metal magazines for a song last year — a gentleman’s subscription run from somewhere in 1978 or 1979, through 1985. I haven’t had the time yet to properly dig into them, but even just in flipping through to sample them, I’m struck by how it all seems borderline alien. When Richard Corben is the most immediately and innately understood thing on the menu, well.

Not so with Interceptor. Interceptor is as clear as airplane safety instructions. It might make an okay movie one day, too, but I doubt it’d be half as weird as Lifeforce.

@less_than_zero

2016.01.11: Copycats

January 11, 2016

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I don’t think I’ve actually read any comic books so far in 2016. I know that at some point, I read Scarlet Witch #1, which was okay, and Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat #1, which was also okay but generally less so. But I think I might have read those at the end of 2015. So for now I’ll stick to my story that I haven’t read any comic books in 2016, which has put a bit of a kink in my plan to blog more about comic books in selfsame 2016.

Mostly, I’ve been going to the movies. After getting a degree in film-related nonsense in 2010, I basically stopped going to the movies, by and large. I have my theories as to why, and none of them really have to do with the degree. It was just an odd turning point. Now I’m back on the movie horse and seeing a couple of them a week. Part of my ill-defined new year’s resolution was to do things that I enjoy more: weirdly, this has included “going to three movies a week” and so far not included “reading comic books” at all.

I’m also listening to records again, something I kind of stopped doing for a long while in 2015. I mean actually listening to them, not just putting them on to make noise while I’m driving to work. So far my favorite has been Eartheater’s RIP Chrysalis, which was the perfect accompaniment to a long drive down a rainy, foggy highway. I didn’t like Visionist’s Safe very much at all.

The fewer comics I read, the more interested I am in doing normal human being things, I think.

@less_than_zero

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I got the new issue of The Wire magazine in the mail the other day and the Masthead editorial by Derek Walmsley struck a chord. “When we invited musicians and contributors to look back on the year in music, sound and culture, the cons just kept on coming: racial politics in the US …, austerity in Europe, attacks by Western powers in Syria, and the many ugly faces of racism rearing up across the globe. … The task of coming up with a top 10 of favorite music of the year, a process that is by its very nature self-centered and judgmental, is divisive at the best of times, but you can see why writers find it less urgent in troubled times.”

Firstly I will acknowledge that I am a man with a blog that has not been updated since August, so I am hardly in the running for the title of “writer” at all. That out of the way, this excerpt (and the rest of the editorial that contained it) made me actually stop and think about why it is that I just don’t read that many comic books anymore.

When I really noticed this trend in myself, at first I assumed the fault was that of the people making the comic books. “It’s the pictures that got small…” and all that. Then, after a while, I came to the idea that it was probably a shift in myself, perhaps the pains of actually growing past comics and trying to edge into a break-up: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Maybe it’s bigger than either of those options, though.

I’ve still been buying comics, of course. I’ve been buying them in great steaming, reeking gobs of paper matter, cruising quarter bins for colorful trash that then sits in stacks on a TV tray near my closet door, unread. That’s in addition to the stacks of new comics elsewhere in the room, also piled up in dormancy. Oh, you think, reading this. Pauvre bebe.

Hear me out, though: the more I buy, the deeper the hole goes. Marvel and DC are plainly not interested in speaking to the modern condition in any kind of immediate way. Some of their titles graze it with an elbow, but even in those cases, the primary intent of these big-league comics is to address the modern world as fodder, using timely controversies and buzzwords to oil the gears of the same old pap machine. In the independents, most of the fare is uninspiring: either solipsistic to a fault or spaced-out beyond empathy. Those are the cases where an indie title isn’t plainly just a product to be placed on a shelf, like the generic-brand everything in the film Repo Man. “COMIC BOOK.” Even a comic explicitly trying to address the Here and Now, such as Ales Kot and company’s Image title Material, seemed to grope in the dark until pulling its own plug after four issues.

There will be no comic book that takes everything I am thinking about lately and spits it back into my face as white rose petals. No movie or novel or television show, either. Still, 2016 is the year that I’d like to make my comic book consumption something that I think about. Not in terms of theory and criticism, mind you. Just in terms of pleasure: finding it again, stripping away the pieces that aren’t working. Methodology will consist of just fucking winging it.

I’d like to stop being a consumer and start being a reader again, and this blog is now going to focus on my thoughts as I go through that process. In doing so, my hope is that it might live up to the forces I invoke in its title. That’d be nice, anyway.

— @less_than_zero

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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.

20150815_002608Another 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.

20150815_002528Impulse 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.

20150815_002438Impulse 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.

20150815_00292020150815_003057This 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.

20150815_002247One 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.

20150815_002258The 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.

20150815_003220So 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.

-LTZ

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

-LTZ

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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.

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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.

-LTZ