Peanuts (July 1952)

Peanuts

Funny thing about this Peanuts collection, which contains two hundred and forty strips (of a possible four hundred and fifty or so), is it doesn’t open with the first Peanuts cartoon. The cartoon, introducing Shermy, Patty and Charlie Brown, with Shermy saying how much he hates Charlie Brown, doesn’t appear. In fact, whoever picked the strips for this collection made sure no ones ever too mean to Charlie Brown.

Charles M. Schulz had a certain pattern in the early days of the strip. He rewarded regular readers with themes and new variations on said themes, either involving Patty and Charlie Brown or Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Peanuts, in this collection, feels cohesive. Even though there’s no connection between strips–other than Violet appearing and Schroeder not just appearing, but learning the piano and starting to walk (and talk)–the collection presents the strip in some particular ways.

There’s an adult humor to Peanuts, a comic strip often about nothing, often with some very open punchline panels where Schulz just invites the reader to reflect back on what’s come in the previous three panels (this collection arranges the strip into squares–two by two, instead of four across–which also changes reading behavior). But the collection never pushes the adult humor aspect of the strip. Instead, its subtle, running beneath the more easier Snoopy jokes.

This collection does have some of Snoopy’s initial forays into a more human existence, like a satellite antenna for better TV reception.

It’s an awesome introduction.

CREDITS

Cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz; publisher, Titan Books.

Howard the Duck 5 (October 2015)

howard5Oh look, Chip Zdarsky crapped out enough Howard issues for the first trade. Andrew did a good job taking the relaunch’s debut to task even before reading the original Steve Gerber series, and I would like to add my two cents now as someone who grew up on them and holds Howard very close to my heart.

What Marvel has let happen to Howard hurts, bad. Howard isn’t Spider-Man or the X-Men. He’s not yet another beefcake in colored underwear who’s fought dozens of other pro wrestlers under the auspices of hundreds of writers and artists since 1963, standing in line to be played in live action by a Hollywood prettyboy as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thousand-year reich. He’s a unique icon with a very short history. And half that history has been a disgrace because Marvel doesn’t know or care what to do with him. Also sprach Zdarathustry.

I’m not opposed on principle to the series being written by someone other than Gerber. I don’t doubt it could be done competently. However, Andrew’s descriptions from the first issue of the comic as “soulless” and “mercenary” and that “(Zdarsky) doesn’t care” all fit the bill pretty well. “Fit the bill,” by the way, is exactly the level of humor Zdarsky aims for, just so he can acknowledge his own ironically unfunny duck puns. The scripting really does tap into the same vein as the movie, of which Zdarsky has admitted some fondness towards in interviews.

All that a post-Gerber Howard would require to succeed is very simple: a point of view. A writer with an opinion on the world who could use the absurdity inherent in a cartoon duck living amongst us as the ultimate outsider – a minority of one, to quote Gerber’s second issue – and thereby as a mouthpiece for commentary on our own “world he never made.” The big problem with that is that every Marvel property, especially since Disney’s acquisition of them in 2009, is now having every rough edge shaved down in the name of family entertainment. With a few rare exceptions like Deadpool – who has never had a family friendly image – or Guardians of the Galaxy – who were too obscure for close corporate scrutiny – no Marvel movie is going to be about anything except CGI fight scenes punctuated by formulaic melodrama.

The Disney factor is an especially cruel irony for Howard, who was forced in the early 80s to start wearing pants forevermore when the company threatened lawsuit against Marvel for his alleged similarity to Donald Duck. It sounds like a joke, but to quote Gerber just once more,  “Life’s most serious moments and most incredibly dumb moments are often distinguishable only by a momentary point of view.”

James Gunn included a quick Howard cameo in the Guardians of the Galaxy film because, presumably, he was a fan and Marvel didn’t object. Comic books are so marginal compared to movies that this one brief cameo relaunched a Howard comic, like a piece of bait thrown into the waters to perhaps catch some future movie buzz. Apparently Chip Zdarsky took the job solely for the opportunity to write jokes around other Marvel characters because there has literally not been a single issue so far that stars Howard, solo, in his own title. He’s a second banana in his own series to She-Hulk, Spider-Man, the Guardians, Doctor Strange, etc, etc. Just look at the cover. They’re not even pretending to be interested in the titular “star.” The fact Howard is a comedic character has been taken as license to reduce him to a harmless LOLrandomWTF mascot for Marvel, their preferred role for him. He’s cranky, but impotently so. No content, no opinions. He’s a stooge. A eunuch. A sitcom foil for a snarky sitcom version of Marvel Comics.

Chip Zdarsky is very much a talentless sitcom writer at the Big Bang Theory or Family Guy level of glib nerd-pandering pap. Every issue so far abandons whatever the last issue was about to shoehorn in more cameos and banter for short attention spans. Actual exchange from this issue: Mr. Fantastic – “Johnny! What’s the situation?” Johnny Storm – “I said ‘I got this!’ And then I didn’t get this, okay?”

(Laugh track)

I suppose Marvel told Zdarsky at some point early on that, understandably, they’d like to see another book similar to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Squirrel Girl is funny in a way that’s simultaneously sincere and deconstructive of Marvel super hero tropes, incorporating Marvel’s big cast of characters and throwing plucky, carefree Squirrel Girl up against guys like Kraven the Hunter and Galactus. That works for two reasons that don’t apply to Howard: 1) she was created in the early 90s era of grimdark edginess as a deliberately lighthearted counterpoint to industry trends of the times, and 2) however goofy her squirrel powers may be, they are still superpowers. Zdarsky is totally hung up on Howard’s lack thereof, having his cape cameos take endless potshots at his powerlessness. The final insult of this “arc” is Howard’s discovery that his Beverly Switzler surrogate, a tattooed hipster named Tara, actually has superpowers too, and in light of this he happily declares himself her sidekick.

What the everloving duck? (Haha, see what I did there?) (Self-aware conversational parenthetical asides are funny, right Chip?)

Plus, writer Ryan North clearly cares about making Squirrel Girl’s alter-ego Doreen Green empathic. Howard, who is he who is, is too busy sharing page time with the rest of the Marvel universe to have anything resembling a fleshed-out personality.

Joe Quinones’ art, Rico Renzi’s colors and especially Joe & Paolo Rivera’s inks are all nice to look at, though Howard’s tiny-eyed, pseudo-photo-realistic redesign is merely one more indignity. At this point I’ve lost count.

Chip Zdarsky’s Howard the Duck is smug, shallow, lazy, unfunny and disrespectful to the original in every conceivable way. It does for Howard what Space Jam did for Bugs Bunny – makes you wish he could rest in peace rather than be whored out by cash-grabbing hacks.

CREDITS

Super Hero Battle for the Fate of New York and Possibly the World; writer, Chip Zdarsky; artist, Joe Quinones; colorist, Rico Renzi; inks, Joe Rivera with Paolo Rivera, letterer, Travis Lanham, editor, Wil Moss, assistant editor, Jon Moisan; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Crossed + One Hundred 7 (July 2015)

crossed100-7Simon Spurrier isn’t the first writer to have to fill Alan Moore’s shoes on a title, but I can’t recall another writer having to do it quite so immediately, with such an urgency to validate himself. Swamp Thing had a history before Moore, Before Watchmen was done years after the original, and Tom Strong was way more than six issues in before anyone else had to take over. Spurrier’s no slouch; his Wish You Were Here series for the Crossed franchise was about on par with any of Garth Ennis’ arcs. Moore also gave his blessing in interviews, and claimed to have bequeathed extensive notes for the furtherance of the series – which apparently must be true because while Spurrier has the “story” credit, Moore is credited for “Series Outline,” whatever that entails. Still, hardly an enviable position.

Issue seven isn’t an oh-eight level surprise, just mediocre. Gabriel Andrade has been replaced with Fernando Heinz, whose manga influenced style makes Future Taylor look like she’s fifteen. She gets action lines during an emotional outburst in one panel, there’s gratuitous ass shots, a child in a crowd scene looks like he fell out of a Tokyopop book and another ‘Slim looks like Spike Spiegel. It’s all professionally rendered, but tonally inconsistent with Andrade’s designs – it feels less serious, more cartoonish. The coloring helps. Digikore Studios continues their fine work, keeping the bleakly naturalistic palette entirely consistent with what’s come before.

Spurrier’s writing is the big relief. Moore’s amazing post-apocalypse diction created for + One Hundred has more or less been maintained, with all the impish wordplay and a few funny new malapropisms. And but it’s hard to skull if you’ve audied the vernacular so closely now, you’re just used to it, or if Spurrier’s writing it a little easier to read for the first-timers. That’s a fuck possible, since the issue’s biggest problem is that nothing happens. He’s writing for the trade, for volume 2. Future does a big recap of the last issue, and Murfreesboro does a defense drill against a potential churchface attack. Some of them show up at the very end, basically just to realize that Keller lied; Future’s still alive. It actually pales in comparison to an early bit of casual, highly blasphemous worldbuilding about ‘Slim life in Murfreesboro. After so much masterful suspense built up around the revelation of the Bo Salt Crossed tribe, all I want now is to see more of them, but this issue is still just teasing.

Carrying on Moore’s literary studies theme, Spurrier bookends the issue with Future’s take on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, certainly a sci-fi book more comparable to her own situation than any of the wishful fictions Moore referenced in the initial arc. She acknowledges one of the genre details which Ennis has publicly cited as inspiration for Crossed, that all zombies and vampires can only be so scary if they have well-known exploitable weaknesses. She also acknowledges the similarity of the novel’s twist ending to Moore’s own twist conclusion from the previous issue. It’s thoughtful but almost too deconstructive of itself.

Despite being merely competent + One Issue after Moore, the Fewch of Crossed + One Hundred may still be worth an opsy.

CREDITS

Writer, Simon Spurrier; Series Outline, Alan Moore; artist, Fernando Heinz; colorist, Digikore Studios; letterer, Jaymes Reed; publisher, Avatar Press.

The Fade Out 8 (August 2015)

The Fade Out #8

It’s another strong issue of Fade Out, which isn’t a surprise. Brubaker and Phillips are doing great work.

But it actually looks like Brubaker is doing something a little different with this series. His famous (are they famous, they should be) aside issues–which I believe he’s been doing since Catwoman–this issue features the first time (at least in my memory) someone else gets caught up on that aside.

Charlie finds out Maya’s story from her aside issue. It’s kind of crazy to see, just the way Brubaker handles it, having two protagonists collide. It shakes things up for The Fade Out, which didn’t need a shaking, but the shaking works out perfectly anyway. Brubaker shows he has the skill to do the series without a lot of leaps and jumps, so when he does those leaps and jumps, they’re all the more impressive.

Fade Out’s turning out great.

CREDITS

A Dead Giveaway; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 26

After missing a month–we have no idea where that episode went–Vernon and I are back with lots of new comics to talk about. All our regular indies–Image, Oni, Ennis and Moore Avatar–and I think we even talk about a Marvel and DC comic. One for each of them. Give it a listen.

you can also subscribe on iTunes…

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