Love and Rockets #38 (June 1992)

Love and Rockets #38

Beto gets two stories, Jaime gets two stories. Beto’s are installments of Love and Rockets (the surprisingly penultimate one) and Poison River (part ten, but apparently not penultimate). Jaime’s got two Wigwam Bam entries–parts six and seven.

There’s some funny stuff in Jaime’s entries. Not to mention Izzy and Hopey reuniting. But Beto’s got two phenomenal stories. And they’re really short. Love and Rockets is nine panels a page, six pages. Eighth part of Love and Rockets and it’s still unclear who’s going to get a focus. Maricela makes sense; the story has become about her and Riri over the installments. And other characters have fallen off. Or been shipped off to Palomar for safe keeping. But Beto’s got a story with the skinheads. They haven’t gotten a lot of attention–kind of ever–but their story is the framework everything else in Rockets plays off. Even though those characters don’t participate in as many story threads as the other ones.

Beto’s done an unpretentious character intersection thing set in Los Angeles and Hollywood. And he’s never drawn attention to it. Even when Love and Rockets has seemed a little too slight or a little too much (the band), Beto’s never let it get out of control–he’s always been able to keep it on the path to get it to this conclusion.

It’s not a particularly flashy story–even with the surprising title–but Love and Rockets really does show off Beto’s writing skill.

So does Poison River this issue, but it’s always been the flashier of the two stories. It’s a ten page crime story. Luba’s sort of just been a red herring. It’s all about her husband, Peter, and his father and the various criminals they’ve interacted with over the years. The end of the entry returns focus to Luba, but Beto took it away from her for a lot of this story. And apparently it’s not over next issue, so maybe he’ll have a chance to tie it all together?

It seems possible. Though more from what he’s done in Rockets than River. River has excellent sections, but the connective tissue is sometimes tenuous. Rockets isn’t sections–with one exception–just connective tissue laid out linearly.

Jaime’s Wigwam Bam chapters aren’t anywhere near as ambitious as Beto’s entries. Even when Jaime goes for something a little more–a regular cast member’s grand exit–it doesn’t really come off. It kind of comes off, but it’s not a main cast member. No matter how hard Jaime has tried to make them one for more than a dozen issues.

Meanwhile, Hopey has a weird encounter with a famous female comedian. It’s really funny stuff and Jaime’s comic timing is great, but it’s kind of just Hopey mugging for the… page. Juxtaposed with Hoppers and Hopey is Izzy heading east and visiting various people. What’s must upsetting about Wigwam Bam this issue is how well the second installment opens only for Jaime to run away from all of it. He’s avoiding scenes again.

Though Rocky and Fumble have parts, with Rocky now a friend of Danita and Fumble on her bed. It’s cute, but also during Jaime’s apparent abandoning of Danita as a character. She’s not the one who leaves, she’s just utterly reduced. It’s weird.

So while the Wigwam Bam stories are effective, sometimes it’s Jaime trying to be effective. The Hopey and Izzy stuff is excellent, but it’s measured and precise and deliberate. Jaime’s avoiding again, like I said. He hasn’t lost his mojo. He’s just figured out how to do his mojo.

Meanwhile Beto’s seemingly effortlessly turned his “play” story Rockets into something amazing and rescued Poison River (once again) from its troubles.

Batman’s Junk

Batman: Damned #1
DC comics, $6.99, 48 pages
2018

Ok then. The arrival in DC’s new line of “mature” titles featuring their biggest characters starts with an expressionistic take on the dark, forbidden knowledge portion of the Batman mythos. Not that it’s a new idea, Bats has been something various writers have stretched as far as editorial will let them after what, 75(?) years of Batman stories. Where do you go from there? In it’s quest to reinvent itself for a new generation and relevance in today’s pop culture, DC has decided a more original, adult approach is supposedly an idea whose time has come.

After reading the story, which features a trio of DC mystical characters that cameo in Bats attempt to help with the books plot, facing an unknown part of his life, that provide the impetus here. Sadly, not much is really new or different. Lots of overly used metaphors abound, along with John Constantine’s new and annoying, mysterious
narrative dialogue that pretty much abandons his former accent and smart ass attitude.

Lee Bermejo’s art, while technically accomplished, seems odd in places, perhaps with a tad too much realism to get the viewer fully engaged, being more distracting than complimentary. The Elseworlds approach used to always display to the reader this was a different type of story, not necessarily bound to the established canon with the characters. This quite often was a successful approach, with an inner sense of logic that would satisfy, and got you from point a to b in a satisfying manner.

Not that there isn’t craft of some sort operating here. It’s just that it’s not particularly original or well serviced, with a slightly askew dc universe different from the others just because it can be. All the characters seem off, not really themselves, and by not knowing a purpose for this interpretation, keeps me at a distance to care. I’m not sure where the story aims after 48 pages, and other than an interesting take on Zatanna, I’ve still got nothing invested after reading it. Murky stories and hyper realistic art aren’t a substitute here for a story I can get enthusiastic about, or even keeping me curious enough to want to read the second issue.

Then there’s the “mature” part of the story, really the only “mature” part of it, and it doesn’t add to the proceedings at all. To give this new “Black Label” an edgy, adult look and feel, we’re forced to see Batman’s full frontal junk in three shots (that I can tell, anyway), that seem ridiculously gratuitous in their inclusion. I didn’t know Bruce walked around the Batcave naked, and not sure I needed to.

Why this even exists in a Batman story is totally beyond me. I’m not a puritan, and if you gave me a valid reason to see Batman’s John Thomas I’m sure I’d go along with it. Sadly, this isn’t it. The only reason I can guess is that it gives you a reason this week to buy the new Batman comic.

Adding fuel to the fire, the week the book came out, that’s really all folks could talk about, simply because it was the only thing that made this Batman comic different from the rest. Not better or even equal, just different. The cheesy mechanization that led to this editorial decision for attention and sales elude me, and it seems this just creates more questions and problems going forward.

This brings up imaginary scenarios of my former life as a comic book retailer, where more than once I’d be confronted by a parent whose child reads Batman and wonders why this comic wasn’t out on the racks for little Joey to peruse. Following would be me demonstrating the graphic content, with the inevitable hopeless defense of why they’d make Batman inaccessible to anyone under 21 in the first place.

After all, once you get to see Batman’s junk, what’s next? Selina’s stuff?

Pass, unless you’re investing in it for speculative purposes. Even then, sell quick, cause you know this won’t be the last time we’re going to see this new, mysterious, provocative portion of Batman’s life at 7 bucks a pop.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 49

We’re a few weeks late but we actually read some good comics, which is always nice.

  • Quick Rant: Comics sales.
  • Floppies: Batman The Damned, Kaijumax vol 4, The Magic Order, Ether The Copper Golems, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Infinity 8 vol 2, Hey Kids! Comics, Babarella, The Weatherman, Redneck.
  • Trades: The Complete Killer, All My Heroes Have Been Junkies, Criminy.
  • Media: Marvel Netflix, Daredevil, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow.

you can also subscribe on iTunes

How The West Was Really Won. At Least In Comics

DC Showcase #76

DC Showcase #76, Bat Lash #1–7
DC Comics, 12–15 cents ea. 1968

Ah, Westerns.

For me, Westerns have always been that convenient, handy, all purpose source of fiction that utilizes Americans utopian, noble, and utterly romantic interpretations of ourselves and our history. A uniquely North American period of time, Westerns give forth the vision of how we wish to depict ourselves, generally in the best fashion, to the rest of the world. Filled will grandiose stories featuring our self imposed spirit, they can be not only ironic, but a glimpse into to the American psyche itself.

The timing of their popularity comes in the 50’s after the Second World War, and was solidified in pop culture by films, the expanding cultural icons of television, and the handy and cheap format of the comic book.

While it could be said the best representations of the American Western themes succeeded the most where the big money was, with films by John Ford far out-lapping the rather pedestrian fare found on episodic television shows.

Comics tread a similar path, with the best of the form saved for the better paying, self copyrighted newspaper comic strips, with outstanding examples being Rick O’Shay by Stan Lynde, or The Cisco Kid, by Jose Luis Salinas. This level of craft was later supplanted by the Belgian/French series Blueberry, by Jean Michel Charlier and Jean Giraud, their mastery of the American Western period perhaps the apex of the form for me.

In 1968, while the popularity of superhero comics was hitting its peak, DC and Marvel were expanding their empires of comics publishing, adding ever more titles to compete with each other and starve off rack space from the second tier publishers. They tried a lot of odd, sometimes goofy approaches to comics, throwing lots of stuff at the walls to see what would stick.

While many of the “bronze age” of American comics were still mired in commercial and semi conservative boundaries, this was a good time to grow, trying many avenues of approaches to see if there were readers of comics outside the tried and true superhero genre.

And among these oddities was Bat Lash.

Brainchild of gag writer Sergio Aragones (of the Mad magazine border cartoon fame), scripter Denny O’Neil (whose English and command of dialects was better than Aragones), and house artist Nick Cardy (whose art style didn’t need to change no matter what he was drawing), came yet another attempt to revisit the Western comic book.

Bat Lash, neither fish nor fowl of the typical Western epic and characters, brought a new game to it. While most American Western comics were visually flat and dull as dirt with leads and stories to match, Bat Lash always gave his cowboy a chance to shine, utilizing the typical attributes of the old west, yet adding some spice to it. Bat Lash was a handsome devil, he had an unerring direction towards the ladies, providing a continuous weak point for his goals, as well as being a bit of a selfish cad. As much as he liked the females, Bat Lash never prioritized them over the creature comforts of money and the opportunity to move on to the next one. In fairness to the apparent misogyny here, it can be said that most of the females depicted had the same attitude towards Bat, moving on once his usefulness to them was over with.

The world of Bat Lash is populated with a stereotypical cast, but one used effectively in relation to the lead, who was selfish in the extreme, yet highly appreciative of beautiful women and a gourmet meal. While demonstrating a typical Western drawl, he also possessed a vocabulary far beyond the yoklesque townies.

First published in an issue of DC’s anthology title Showcase, he then went on to a short lived seven issue series, each one a complete tale, but giving clues about Bat and his history along the way. Aragones provides great plots as only a lover of the Western genre can, O’Neil flourishes it with dialogue thats genuine and unique to each character, and Nick Cardy’s art perfectly compliments the proceedings, utilizing a messy brush that depicts the dirtiness of the old west, but also using fine pen lines to soften Bats features and give the women a delicate sweetness that put Bat Lash’s weakness on constant display.

Another feature in this series that gave it spice was its constant dedication to humor, an almost non existent entity in Westerns, at least on this level. Never quite taking itself too seriously, yet also providing grit in the realistic manner of how life could be cheap and over soon. It balanced the inevitable violence of the drama with a warm sense of humor that smoothed out the edges and make it an entertaining, positive read.

While not quite on the aesthetic level of Blueberry, this is one commercial comic book with a sense of identity in its hands that was consistent throughout. It’s never overly serious, yet always fully involved in its need to tell a story compellingly. You can’t accuse it of being a work of high art, but Bat Lash is certainly a work of high craft. Lovers of Westerns will recognize all the familiar elements here, mixed with added ingredients that provide fresh zest for the meal, as Bat Lash would surely appreciate.

Of the eight issues produced, my faves were issue two with Bat as a reluctant father figure, along with some of the best art found in a commercial comic; issue five, with a mirror themed antagonist comically named and depicted as Sergio Aragones with double crosses supreme, and the sixth issue, featuring none of the usual humor in a story that relates how Bat Lash come into being, with an ever present sadness that’s absent in the rest.

Perhaps the best thing about Bat Lash is that you really don’t have to have a soft spot for Westerns to enjoy it. But while its execution in style and craft overwhelm any need to adhere to a genre formula, it instead relishes in its submersion and loves it.

Good Oaters…

Lewis Trondheim: The Cerebral Cartoonist

Infinity 8 #1

Infinity 8 #1-6, or volumes 1 & 2, 3 issues ea.
Lion Forge comics, 32 pages ea, $3.99, or collected as trades

When thinking about various applications of comics, I often use the term “formal approach” towards particular ones. To me, this term describes a comic where the author has a structured, or formal direction they choose to use as inspiration, or as a springboard.

Some of the earliest practitioners of this method in American comics are Rube Goldberg, who drew outrageously complicated machines to demonstrate how to do the simplest of acts, leading to an absurdist conclusion along with a laugh; Windsor McCay, author of Little Nemo in Slumberland, exploring dreams from the mind in exquisitely designed landscapes featuring characters helplessly led through a series of visual challenges, up to the more recent fare of Chris Ware, whose Acme Novelty Library pushes despair and melancholy of contemporary life in the shape of the meticulously drawn classic old newspaper strips themselves.

Infinity 8 #2

Each of these artists chose a particular method to help direct the narrative, working within a disciplined language unique in comics that both entertains as well as gives marvel in the way they accomplish it.

Lewis Trondheim, a French practitioner of this method, works in this manner in the most successful way. Neither artsy nor intellectual, at least not on the surface, his work gives forth the atmosphere of just another daily cartoon, using simplicity of concept, as well as simple technical means, to achieve this goal. When experiencing Trondheim’s work, you are not reminded of the grand structural goals of the aforementioned cartoonists, you are merely on the ride along with him, whimsically drawn along whatever he’s feeding you with.

Infinity 8 #3

Trondheim, a young master born in 1964, has had an incredible volume of published work in his life so far, and the only drawback for us yankees is that most of it isn’t translated into English. However, thanks to such forward thinking publishers as NBM and Fantagraphics, some of the masterpieces are readily available to those good hunters within our hobby.

Such formal directives as Mister I, a 60 page book consisting completely of 60 panel, one page strips of the protagonist in a universe of situations, where he is doomed at the end of every single one of them. Even more disciplined is the follow up, Mister O, a twin-ish volume of the same structural 60 single page, 60 panels per page use of the title character trying to cross a chasm in each, but spectacularly failing in every attempt.

Infinity 8 v2 #1

Other exercises include A.L.I.E.E.E.N., and the absurdist Mickey Mouse’s Greatest Adventures. These use the “lost” discovery method of unearthed antique masterpieces, offering the left behind comic book of an alien child visitor from outer space; or rediscovered Sunday newspaper comic strips never published with popular Disney icons in an adventure that makes little sense the further you go into it, but doesn’t matter as the journey itself is what keeps you captivated, helplessly turning the pages for more.

His most well known work, Dungeon, a collaboration of many volumes with several European cartoonists, takes shape in the ever present “geographically placed” dungeon, spanning eons and endless dimensions, an ever changing cast of characters, with a couple of hanger ons, in a narrative that while each is individual, they have a familiarity between them all that will captivate lovers of fantasy books as well as gamers. Trondheim, to this point, produces high quality work, regardless of whether he is working solo or as part of a team.

Infinity 8 v2 #2

Infinity 8 seems to be another formal challenge along these lines. While fully ensconced in a modern comic book narrative style, both in terms of visuals as well as storylines, is yet another puzzle he has created for both himself and the reader, entertaining and also seeming cerebral in origin.

The spaceship Infinity 8, on its “mission”, contains an endless variety of cast and crew, all from different areas of space, all with different motivations, directions, and visual cues, with the book itself set up as a series of tales, each one lasting exactly three issues, with its total run set for exactly 8 adventures.

Here, Trondheim sets up a rigid structure that both produces “typical” comic book fare, but told in a pattern that stays true to the challenge he sets himself up with. The first, a post modern horror story, establishes our central character, a female law enforcement officer that seems sucked into the horrid plot of the tale, the second, a prickly review of the Hitler ultimate solution, finds our protagonist is now a different female law officer, remarkably similar to the one in the first tale, yet different in name and visual depiction. This is supplanted and reinforced by the captain of the ship, a powerful alien that can reboot reality back in time after a certain amount of hours, a limited amount of times. This captain, a beautifully depicted alien presence, and his(?) contrasting first operating officer, an overweight, unshaven sad look of a man, who constantly and fruitlessly attempts to court our femme fatale protagonist. Reading only the first two entries to this date, there is a perfect balance between what is consistent and what is changed in each “rebooting” of the stories of the two mini series.

Infinity 8 v2 #3

While I’ve read each story three times each, I’ve got to say even note taking doesn’t give you the entire picture of what’s going on, the sheer basic simplicity of the tale(s) is the highly successful kingpin of the narrative, giving both endless complexity along with a simple driving story that keeps you engaged and wanting more. Infinity 8 for me is the rarest of beasts, then. Something both for everyone, and also for the discerning comic book fan.

Each arc has a selected artist perfectly chosen for their visual talents to each tale, with cartooning skills not too detailed, yet just detailed enough. That perfect balance of story and art, an extreme rarity for those of us that are stuck merely reading American adventure comics, take the tools used in those comics, but shows what masters of the form can accomplish in the same genre. You don’t notice the art or the vivid coloring right away, and that’s the point.

Beware, though. If you’re a fan of modern adventure comics, there is a danger here. To read and enjoy them is a pleasure not easily matched by lesser practitioners, so remember that once you reach that plateau, ordinary comics will forever seem, well, ordinary.

Love and Rockets #37 (February 1992)

Love and Rockets #37

Nobody gets a happy ending in Jaime’s opener, part five of Wigwam Bam. It really seems like it’s been longer. How long has it been since Maggie was around or Hopey wasn’t a red herring? Two issues? Three? Jaime’s cast–Danita, Ray, Doyle, Doyle’s girlfriend, whoever else–the kids–it feels very much like a comic strip. The way the characters constantly interact with one another without any actual on-page development. Or if there is on-page development in a relationship, it’s the point of the scene, it’s the big event.

This story has two big events. One for Ray, one for Doyle. Well, one involving Ray, one involving Doyle. Doyle’s event has more to do with Nami, who’s stalking Doyle since he rejected her. Will he reject her a third time? As for Ray, he’s still having relationship problems with Danita, even if he doesn’t know it. Even if she doesn’t know it. So he’s got a big event, only he doesn’t really get to experience it. But neither does Danita.

Nami’s the closest thing to a protagonist the story’s got.

Then there’s some Hopey at the end and a lot with the little kids roaming Hoppers, bewildered by the adults.

There’s some really nice art throughout and the narrative moves just fine. It’s just Jaime’s putting things off more. He always puts things off.

Whereas Beto, with Poison River, Part Nine–it’s hard to believe it’s been nine but anyway–Beto isn’t putting anything off here. He’s revealing all involving Maria–Luba’s mom who walked out in the first installment–and the truth about Peter, his dad, all the gangsters, Peter’s band, Isobel, and maybe a couple other things. Peter’s stomach fetish. But the story plays out naturally, detailing Peter’s obsession with Maria.

Yes, it means he stalked and manipulated Luba even more than he already seems to have stalked and manipulated Luba. So creepy. But humanized in a way the rest of Poison River hasn’t done for Peter. It really has some surprises regarding his dad, past and present, as well. And the Isobel stuff isn’t exploitative like Beto flirted with earlier.

I imagine reading the Peter flashback in chronological order with the rest of the story would change it quite a bit.

And then at the end it’s the first time teenage Luba has felt like real Luba. In a moment of tragedy, of course, but Beto does a whole lot with this installment. He’s totally changing the… ahem… course of Poison River, but also the course the reader’s assumed it was on.

Bold, successful stuff.

Then comes a six-page Love and Rockets installment, checking in on the various characters in nine panels on the first page, only for the reveal to be Steve–following his car accident–went back to Palomar to discover himself.

So now we’re back in Palomar, for the first time in at least nine issues, and Beto’s doing a lot of catch-up. Khamo’s alive and with Luba, though he’s disfigured from the self-immolation. They’ve got new kids, who are adorable trouble-makers. Toddlers these new ones. But then Steve runs into Pipo and her teenage son Sergio, who wasn’t a teenager last time he was in the comic. And then there’s Chelo and Mayor Luba and what’s going on with Heraclio and Carmen and Guadalupe and there’s a a baby for Carmen and on and on. Lots of catchup. Steve’s background to a lot of it, often literally silent.

Guadalupe is headed to the States to visit Maricela and Riri, which they mentioned before, but she actually befriends Steve in Palomar to practice English for the trip. It’s fast, it’s intricate, it’s great. It’s weird for Palomar to get such a hurried treatment, but Beto does a great job with it.

The Bronze Age Cometh! The Amazing Adventures of Killraven

Amazing Adventures #18-39

Marvel Comics, 20-30 cents, 1973-76

#18-20

Hot on the heels of a fury of fantasy heroes such as Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian, Roy Thomas looked for further ways to expand this non-powered concept of heroes. Taking H.G. Wells’s noted novel War of the Worlds and morphing it into a post apocalyptic action series based on the Martians second visit to earth, they’ve totally subjugated mankind, made them slaves, as well as use humans in genetic experimentation to further their goals of dominance.

In the introduction, he creates Killraven, a spectacularly successful arena fighter who’s a rebel with a secret even he doesn’t know. He gives the adventure proceedings a new coat of paint as it were, unique from its fellow fantasy comics brethren.

The first issue, written by Thomas, has some good establishing art by Neal Adams. Good with depicting action and distinct likenesses, Adams immediately gives the series an oomph that would have been difficult for a lesser artist. He makes the first story very successful, establishing the cast and world in a visually exciting manner. Sadly, Adams isn’t available afterwards, but Howie Chaykin steps in admirably. While he isn’t the draftsman Adams is, his forte with fantasy based themes, as well as exotic costuming make this a still interesting read. Continuing in this schizophrenic creative vein, Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman step in for scripting chores on the next two issues, keeping the action going from what I assume is Thomas skeleton for the series. Regardless, the proceedings are still on track, probably saying more about the method of Marvel comics production and its in-house talent pool at the time than anything else. Don McGregor takes over as the series regular writer next issue.

#21-24

The next four issues feature new regular artist Herb Trimpe. While McGregor’s prose displays an inspired attack, the strip goes more into irony and commentary on the human condition. Whether it’s deadlines, or budget(?), Trimpe’s art gets more and more rushed from the first issue, and by the last two, story content is reduced to 15 pages per issue, with golden age monster reprints filling the book(ugh!). While he’s not able to get past flat, stereotypical characters, the divorce from Marvel reality helps enormously, and the series becomes more a treatise on mankind according to McGregor’s philosophy. The mere 20 cent cover price makes it a bargain compared to the majority of Marvel’s output of super schmucks. Hope the new to comics Rich Buckler’s art next issue can elevate it…ooh, Klaus Jansen inks, too!

#25-28

Well, after the totally underwhelming run of Herb Trimpe on art, newcomer Rich Buckler does a fill in on issue 25, and the possibilities of the book begin to show a bit as it starts to evolve. While Buckler’s figure work is a bit wonky, his emulation of both Kirby and Neal Adams add an excitement to the proceedings that wasn’t there before. The next issue is another fill in by Gene Colan, of all people; he gives this episode a dark melancholy that helps demonstrate McGregor’s story emphasis. This schizophrenic approach to visuals,-(hey, who’s got time to do a Killraven issue?), and the continued use of a mere 15 pages to tell a one off, really hurt McGregor’s strengths in trying to make his point. On one hand, he’s got bigger fish to fry, but can’t do it in 15 pages AND perform the dynamics that Marvel comics demand (editorially, I assume).

Then in issue 27, Craig Russell arrives. Two things happen that make this story work so much better than than the entire previous run. One, Russell’s art is fully ensconced in the romantic and social depths that McGregor’s writing has desperately needed a visual partner for, and Russell’s chops are up to the task. Second, he is able to turn this into a two parter, utilizing 30 pages to tell the entire story, and give it the space and length it needs to be convincing. Killraven’s band here is also given the room necessary to develop their one dimensional depiction so far, and begins turning them into genuine people. The best story of the bunch thus far, both in writing and in physical depiction.

#29-34

McGregor and Russell totally fooled me here. While last issue provided a satisfactory end to the Death Birth Citadel story, this next issue picks up mere minutes from the end of the last, making this project not one of several short stories, but evolving into a continuing narrative, really without a concrete end from issue to issue. I notice as well that Russell not only does pencils and inks, but has been doing the coloring for the last two issues as well. If creators were trying to transform this into quite possibly the most ambitious workload as possible, this comic is able demonstration of it.

Russell’s art complements McGregor’s prose perfectly. While it can be argued McGregor bites off more than he can chew in his socially conscientious narrative, Russell’s art is equal to the task, providing the needed checks and balances, elevating a mere post apocalyptic tale into what can be said is as close to a work of art as Marvel could ever publish.

But commercial publication schedules will have their way, and this one provides more casualties than just McGregor and Russell, as issue 30 provides a frickin reprint of the Herb Trimpe story we just read a few issues ago, Killraven not an old enough property to have enough history of reprints to choose from, so this one is bookended by some character pages by Russell along with a couple of pages of the main villain reiterating what we pretty much knew. Whoop, wait, the character pages provide a couple of tidbits fleshing out some facts hereto unknown about the characters. But otherwise, ugh, pass.

Issues 31 and 32 get things going again, solidifying the continuous narrative McGregor is pursuing, with little advancement in plot, but it doesn’t seem to matter. At this point, Killraven’s story with his crew isn’t about the quest, but more about McGregor’s disillusionment with humanity and its self destructive path. One that the Martians have not only finished, but provide a inevitable exclamation point for. #32 emphasizes this, putting Killraven and his buds into a prewar amusement park that caters to the dreams of the freemen, showing in its conclusion the futility of man’s selfish goals in the first place. These nihilistic threads are balanced by Russell’s exquisite art, giving hope in the form of beautiful fantasies for the freemen. By this issue, he has mercifully given up coloring and handed over inks to the excellent Dan Adkins.

Of course, after two mere issues of overwhelming craft, we fall victim to another fill in. This one written not by McGregor, but Bill Mantlo and drawn by the ever present Herb Trimpe. This issue stands out as a sore thumb scheduled as a fill in, the editor knowing by now this will be the norm. However, astute readers will notice this one should have appeared after next issue. The story itself? Well, let’s just say this. While it was originally published in ‘75, it lands with a thud as perhaps the most graceless way to offer a sliver of continuity with a writer that had little idea of the narrative McGregor is working toward here. Also, even in 1975, this had to come off as fairly racist in its idea and execution. Now it seems little more than a horrible embarrassment in the annals of comic publishing history.

While #33 is pretty jarring in its near complete train wrecking of the series flow, with #34, our intrepid duo manage to right the ship again with perhaps the end(?) of the current storyline, and their ultimate battle with the toughest villain of the series. McGregor provides dramatic sacrifice for his characters, and Russell gives the proceedings a convincing display of an epic finish. War of the Worlds comes full circle here, transforming its narrative of basic action comic into something mainstream comics hadn’t seen before.

#35-39

And here you have it. The final five issues of Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven complete his saga, in a more or less satisfactory manner. The deadlines for the book have at this point convinced McGregor and Russell to limit themselves to more modest, single issue stories, or perhaps McGregor has decided that format suits his needs better. The aim of each issue seems better off for it, primarily since this was a bimonthly comic.

#35 features Jack Abel inks, perhaps the best work I’ve seen by him, no doubt guided by the tight pencil work of Russell. Sonny Trinidad embellishes #36, and #37 has Abel back again, all to satisfactory ends. Each issue’s themes work very well in the 18 page chunks, suggesting McGregor has a bit more of a handle on how to approach his stories. There’s also a nice balance between attempting to tell a story, with the metaphorical flourishes still there, just reigned in somewhat by conventional story standards, and perhaps the better for it. At last, the series, while not as ambitious now, has started to gel somewhat.

#38, being one of those shoehorned in fill ins, features for some strange reason another script by Bill Mantlo, I guess because he did the first fill in. While not as offensive as the first, retreads a theme McGregor has already covered, and is clunkily drawn by Keith Giffen (in his first published work?), whose Kirby influences only hurt his cause, both in terms of the utterly graceless figure drawing, and some pretty insufferable page layouts. Once again, you can pass on this one.

#39, the final issue, has McGregor and Russell depicting what they seem to know would be their last; they made sure they got it done in time for publication, with Russell inking his own work, but in a more simple, flowing style, showcasing what would later become his signature traits. McGregor, for his part, realizes there’s absolutely no way to tie up or finish his plot threads, and avoids them entirely. While visually looking a bit rushed, it’s nice they were at least able to go out on their own terms.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable this series wouldn’t make it commercially, as I can’t imagine the young male audience (for the most part, I presume), having the patience for the all over the place storytelling, and the artistic level set up by the creators here far too labor intensive and prose heavy to keep it them entertained, as well as on schedule. While Killraven never quite grabs you on a personal level (its characters being pretty much vehicles for McGregor’s main interests), the series remains a piece of Marvel Comics history that shows an experiment, that while never standing a chance under the systems it inhabited, at least a demonstration of what could be in commercial comic books.

A smoother read of this series would be pretty much the first couple of issues for set up (#18 & #19), skipping to #25 & #26, the semi successful fill ins, #27 is where Russell comes on board, skip 30 with the reprint, read #31 & #32, skipping the abominable issue #33 fill in, picking it up again at #34-37, skipping the sad issue #38 fill in, and end with the somber finish of #39. This order of experience will give you an uninterrupted, more pleasing read of the series, unencumbered by the commercial necessities of deadlines and interruption of mainstream hack work.

Love and Rockets #36 (November 1991)

Love and Rockets #36

Either Beto is going to explain all the conspiracies apparently running through Poison River or he’s not. This installment resolves almost every outstanding story thread. It also doesn’t have anything to do with that Pedro cartoon character. He was big in the last installment. Nothing here. Ditto various inneundos.

Instead, Luba’s pregnant. And refusing to admit it. Maybe it’s her husband’s, maybe it’s her lover’s (he initially assaulted her, there’s no transition explaining their romance), maybe it’s the guy who raped her’s. He comes back this issue in an inordinartely depressing scene. Beto hasn’t tried making Luba sympathetic in a while, but at this point he’s obfuscating her thought process. She–and everyone else in Poison River–are a mystery. Even their histories are mysterious, like Peter’s father running a popular musical act (with Peter) and also being an assassin.

Of course, the bigger event is Poison River finally snaking back to the beginning and tying into the first installment.

The flashback is abrupt, which makes it come off a little too cheap, especially given the final reveal, but it’s a good installment. At this point, the question of Poison River is whether Beto’s going to be able to pull it off. There’s so many connections–these guys plotting to kill those guys, these guys stealing babies–then in the flashback Ofelia gets mentioned–well, it’s probably Ofelia, right after her horrifying story from many installments ago.

The story’s changed settings multiple times and even though it has settled in the Peter and Luba in the city thing, there’s still not a tone. It feels more technical than it should.

Whereas Jaime just goes for it with Wigwam Bam. Nicely the issue of Doyle having some romanticized notion of experiencing homelessness comes up so I’m glad his girlfriend was on to his bullshit. But the story opens with Hopey’s brother Joey, who hasn’t been in the book in a while, definitely not since the two year jump forward. Was it two years? Anyway. Joey’s in trouble because his mom found Hopey’s picture on the milk cartons and thought Joey did. Everyone thinks Joey did it. Even Hopey, we learned a few issues ago.

So some of the story is Joey trying to figure out the mystery, some of it is threads from previous installments continuing. Things eventually converge at Izzy’s house but without conclusion.

Izzy gets some scenes, which is nice, even if Jaime is playing way too coy with her. He can do more with Izzy; he’s just not.

He’s not doing more with anyone. There’s eight panels of sight gags on a nine panel page just so he can further delay having to deal with his story. Some very nice panels throughout, of course, but mostly perfunctory. Even when it’s some awesome work, it seems to lack his full attention. Or interest.

Then Love and Rockets cops out with the black kids at the party. Sure, the Hollywood white people are racist about it, but it’s much ado about nothing before sending Maricela and Riri off on separate rides home. Riri with Steve, who’s got the crush on her, and Riri with some of the other supporting cast. Then there’s a big twist for Maricela and Riri, which Beto had never hinted at and ignores some of the previous issue’s developments. Or at least concerns.

It’s effectively done, however, and the cliffhanger is disturbing as heck.

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