Dollar Binging

Spider-Boy Team Up #1
Amalgam Comics, June 1997

Hawkman Comics #12
DC Comics, Feb/Mar 1966


Spider Boy Team Up  1997  1Spider-Boy Team Up #1

Probably the last of its ilk, Amalgam Comics will be known as the final example of Marvel and DC co-publishing anything. The 12 one shots that made up this line were all amalgamations of concepts of both companies, complete in single issue stories, and a couple of them stood out.

The story here, penned by “R.K. Sternsel”, is obviously an amalgam, I’m guessing Roger Stern, but thats all the thought I’m going to put into it. While “Stern” does a decent job of hitting all the right notes of this sort of thing, including a horseshoeing in a bit of the Christmas Carol, I’m giving him extra points for the five hundred or so of the Legion of Superheroes look a-likes and their catchy names, keeping it moving yet inventive and fresh for this usually mind wiping of exercises. All the different costumes gave a great new jazz too, but that was up to-

Penciller Ladronn, with some great embellishments by Juan Vlsaco. These two were working themselves up to quite a frenzy previously in Cable, but here they are fully ensconced, full steam ahead, with an inventiveness and attention to minute detail that Geoff Darrow would poop his pants about.

This 20 page pablum, packed with a dense, continuously moving and bright script by “Roger Stern”, and the offspring of Ladronn and Vlasco at the peak of their collaborative powers make this one a steal at a buck. Smoke some weed and read this.


Hawkman  1964  12Hawkman #12

While a lot of the Silver Age hasn’t aged well, Gardner Fox, one of DC’s sci-fi writers itchin’ to write comics in his spare time, lays out the usual paces in this 24 page, 3 chapter melodrama, its once again it’s the work of the visual end, Murphy Anderson, to pull the weight needed here for me to be able to finish this.

Fox has pretty much stretched out your basic superhero plot, complete with holes, not much story development (I don’t think this was a prerequisite in the 60’s), but given just enough characters and action to keep Anderson busy.

And busy he is. Every panel of this eye candy is beautifully rendered with what can only be labeled some of the most graceful human figures to grace a comic book. While backgrounds are not common in action scenes, when an establishing shot is needed, Anderson shows why he is one of the masters of the silver age. We would be so lucky to look like the macho Katar Hol and the gorgeous redheaded Sheyera. In their masterful poses, they make humans dressed like hawk people a normal and wonderful thing to witness.

Call me an old reprobate, but there is so much drawing here that I think most modern comics artists would puke if they knew how much time and effort was spent on this. Hawkman stories are generally a snooze, but our fearsome duo flying around in their wonderfully designed costumes and masks is worth the buck alone.

Weird Melvin (1995) #6

Weird Melvin  1995  6

Weird Melvin #6 gives the series a conclusion, but definitely not the one I’d been hoping for. The story title is something like part five, so—for whatever publishing reason—last issue’s fill-ins were really fill-ins. This issue opens with Melvin and the Kid headed back to base with some stolen diapers. Melvin’s going all in on taking care of the incoming monster infants, which the Kid can’t figure out—isn’t Melvin’s job to crush monsters into goo? Why would he want to care for their babies?

Turns out Melvin does have a plan or two to resolve the world’s monster problems and the Kid is just going to have to get with it.

Back at base, Melvin’s reformed monster sidekick Shag is playing doula to the pregnant lady monsters. This portion of the issue is probably the best, just because it engages with the gross factor. I wasn’t the only one queasy at the idea of two monster babies being born, Shag isn’t really into it either.

As he steels himself for the eventual birthings… Hansen starts zigging and zagging from the forecasted zags and zigs. It’s always quick—the issue feels a little rushed and often seems to be decelerating, whether with the pregnancy resolve or with Melvin not duking it out with the inbred grotesque cop who comes after him for the stolen diapers. It all makes sense in the end, when Hansen works his way to a nicely tied up finish, but just because it makes sense doesn’t make it entertaining or engaging or the right move. Leaving Weird Melvin on a never resolved cliffhanger seems a much better choice than giving him a lackluster finish.

And the issue’s grand finale is most definitely lackluster. I was hoping for more, expecting more, but it’s also competently enough executed it’s not a severe disappointment. It’s a well-executed comic, a solid series, just one without a successful finish, which puts Weird Melvin in very sturdy company.

A clean ending would’ve been nice though, just for recommending the comic.

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights (2019)

Amazons Abolitions and Activists  2019

There are a sea of faces in Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists. Sea of faces, sea of names, which is the point. The book is a history of women ignored in history books, though not always. Writer Mikki Kendall doesn’t avoid the awkward subjects, like Susan B. Anthony’s White supremacy or the significant racism of her contemporaries. Other problematic figures get their asterisks too, with Kendall never giving the impression she’s avoiding tough subjects. They just get asides. Other topics get asides too. The “plotting” of the book is excellent, especially since it’s 194 very dense pages.

More or less chronologically, the book looks at women in history. The ones whose names and faces aren’t familiar but should be, though—again—Kendall does a great job balancing it out so there are also the folks whose names you might now but not their stories. I’ve been aware of Josephine Baker as a historical figure since I was twelve, but I didn’t learn until Amazons she was a spy during World War II for the Free French. And I did World World II history in undergrad. Like, either I really forgot it or I really missed it. Amazons is probably best kept around and read casually, not so much a summary history text but a sourcebook. Also maybe because the framing device is a necessary chore. I get the need for it, I get why it makes sense given the book’s target audience, but it’s a bit of a drag.

The frame is a future class of girls and their hologram AI teacher going back through historical events, allowing artist A D'Amico some very fun panels amid the very powerful ones. The AI’s expository history lesson is well-written and rather affecting. Kendall’s found a great voice for the history, it just gets interrupted and the narrative makes it feel less like you can pick it up and put it down. Because there’s a lot in the book. It can be read with a search engine nearby to look up women, it can be read with a cat on the lap.

The most important part is it should be read. Kendall does a fantastic job covering the hundreds of subjects, D’Amico does good work visualizing them all. It’s a big success. It just feels like, with the future frame, it’s a very special episode of an animated series where you don’t care about the characters.

Also D’Amico’s panel of a Black woman trying to fight the monster of White racism while the White woman hugs on to it is awesome. Makes you want a whole book of panels like that one. The too political stuff. The stuff Random House gave the thumbs down.

For its target audience, Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists is great. For everyone else, it’s still great. Actually, when you think about how ignorant the average person and even the more informed person is about women’s history… it’s more essential for its non-target audience.

Shadow of the Batgirl (2020)

Shadow of the Batgirl  2020

Shadow of the Batgirl is a bit of a bummer, though I’m not exactly sure why. It’d be nice if it were good. It’s not bad… not if you’re getting it from the library versus spending the sticker price. And there’s a big library subplot in the book so it’s appropriate. It just feels stretched out. The chapters are very contained and the break between them messes up the pacing. There’s also a lack of immediate danger in the middle chapters, which is kind of… a lot to accept given the protagonist is a teenage girl experiencing homelessness living in a crime ridden city’s public library while her father the international assassin sends agents out to find her.

The tone writer Sarah Kuhn and artist Nicole Goux is fine but… only if you forget how dang traumatizing being in that situation would be. It wouldn’t be cute and Shadow of the Batgirl is often pretty cute. Cassandra’s a likable protagonist, even if her character development arc is sort of spotty. It never seems like the character is going to realize around other people—because she’s such a loner—but Kuhn and Goux always make it happen. The book’s got its successes and they can be impressive.

They can also be Cassandra’s sidekicks, Barbara Gordon, librarian, and Jackie, tea shop owner, who aren’t particularly impressive. They’re fun. They’re sometimes really fun. But they’re not particularly complex characters. Even if you ignore the nagging questions about how Barbara got in the wheelchair and what happened to the previous, retired Batgirl. The book even has some thoughtful exploration of heroism in the superhero world. It’s just for a bit and it’s not too deep, but you can tell Kuhn’s thought about a lot of it.

But also about how to make it aspirational, which shouldn’t be such a concern. It makes Shadow feel methodical. And, after a certain point, something’s always going wrong with Cassandra to move the plot forward. Just anything to get her to run away, spy on Barbara and Jackie, come back and be forgiven, everyone understands she’s a confused teen assassin. It would actually be a great structure if the comic were at all psychological but… it’s not.

Kuhn’s dialogue is good and she can get to heartfelt scenes, but the plotting always seems forced. Goux’s art is solid. Nice changes in style depending on the distance. No real fighting stuff—it’s not a kung fu comic—but it’s professionally executed.

It just never feels like it isn’t product. It’s competent and inventive, but it’s brand product.

Weird Melvin (1995) #5

Weird Melvin  1995  5

Weird Melvin #5 is a flashback issue. Only, not really.

There’s clearly some publication history trivia to the series; the cover says this issue has the first two Weird Melvin comics in it, previously unpublished. They present a new origin story for both Melvin and the Kid, who have much different histories in the first issue of this series. But we do finally get to see what an in-world Weird Melvin comic book looks like… generic fifties superheroes.

The issue opens with a framing device as Melvin is teaching the Kid to be a monster hunter, so no resolution to the previous issue’s cliffhangers, hard or soft. Just the Kid doing well learning how and why to crush monster heads. He’s even got to write a theme on it; Melvin requires written assignments in addition to the on-the-job training. It’s funny… even if the comic isn’t really what Hansen promised last time.

Then comes the origin story. The Kid goes to a comic shop and finds an old issue of Weird Melvin #1, which the shop owner doesn’t know anything about and just wants the Kid out of his store. Again, funny. Not as funny as the series usually gets, but funny.

See, the Kid has a monster under his bed and his dad doesn’t want to hear about it. Good thing he got the comic because it’s all about a kid in the fifties who’s got a monster under his bed and how Weird Melvin comes along and saves the day. Turns out Weird Melvin—in this original origin story—comes out of in-world Weird Melvin comics to help kids in need. As long as they’re in need of saving from various monsters.

The second part of the origin story has the Kid discovering a haunted house and the cursed creator of the original Weird Melvin comics. Complications ensue.

It’s an okay issue, with some good, creative art, just none of that wonderfully nimble Hansen plotting. Again, no doubt there is some publication trivia to explain it, but it’s still feels like filler.

You CAN Go Home Again: The Collected Mister Miracle

The Collected Mister Miracle
By Tom King and Mitch Gerads

Trade paperback, collects the miniseries #1-12
DC Comics, 300 pages, 24.99

Well, I hope you’re already familiar with the wondrous, yet tough story of Jack Kirby’s lifetime in comics. Filled with a near endless catalog of many of the standards he created that we now take for granted, Kirby’s legacy is that of the ultimate shaper of superhero and adventure comics in general. A lifetimes worth of effort, invention, and aesthetic success made Kirby the “king” of comics, inspiring generations of younger artists to emulate and grow from his example.

The later years weren’t great to him in his chosen career, but still, in his dealings with real life publishers and their relationship to creators, Kirby continued to be a ground breaker, and continued his demonstration of how to be a comic book creator in the modern business world, a beginning primer for those who would come later.

After his decades long experience with Stan Lee and Marvel comics, Kirby decided to jump the fence and work for DC, the “other” company of any size in the comics business. Now while he still hadn’t established any microcosm of ownership over what he created, DC had the sense to let the King of Comics off the leash a bit to fulfill ideas and their gestation in a way he wasn’t able to before.

Hence was born Kirby’s Fourth World. Kirby’s limitless imagination, and his lifelong fascination of gods and mythology were able to manifest themselves in short runs of the titles New Gods, Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, and the most popular, Mister Miracle. Within these works, Kirby created an entire new pantheon of heroes, battling for power, and the extermination of any that got in their way, whether by purpose or accident. The infinite war between the opposite planets New Genesis and Apocalypse gave him a landscape for what would be Kirby’s last great comics invention.

Sadly, this new direction for superhero comics didn’t catch on, and Kirby was later forced to create new series to replace them as the sad fate of cancellation prematurely ended the star spanning tales of the New Gods. A sad fate indeed, as those of us comics readers that were enamored with them were forced to give up our addiction to this tale, and follow the newer exploits of books far less interesting and forced to work within the framework of positive sales potential.

Mister Miracle, perhaps the most likable of all the New Gods, enjoyed a pretty good run, despite its hokier humor that grasped for readers beyond its reach. The main characters, Scott Free and Big Barda, given at least a semblance to an ending with their marriage in its final issue.

Years later, Kirby attempted twice again to capture the essence of what he was seeking, but age and a diminished set of abilities left two attempts lacking, and in my utter disappointment, I decided not to acknowledge their presence within the canon at all.

Recently though, hotshot writer for DC Tom King decided to take a crack at it, along with formal narrative artist Mitch Gerads, bringing a more modern sensibility to the proceedings, yet hoping to provide some sort of conclusion to this winding, truncated saga.

The modern approach King takes here brings on the added baggage of a domesticated and introspective Scott and Barda, continuing the humorous attitude to the entire affair, mimicking Kirby’s as well. Also brought to the fore are the more common depictions of violence, sadly a given these days in modern comics. He still keeps it tight and moving, along with scenes of intense beatings the characters take in their involvement in war. Also noticed here is the constant respect King brings to the characters and their situations. It seems like we haven’t missed a beat here and it seamlessly segues from the last of the Kirby ideas for the strip and bringing them to a sense of logical conclusion that Kirby wasn’t able to.

Kudos also to artist Mitch Gerads, whose formal approach visually here, while drastically differing from Kirbys, accomplishes an entire spectrum of events within the confines of a repeated nine panel per page grid, the polar opposite of Kirby’s bombastic, page filling graphics. But while the approach is different, the absolute respect for his subject and the perfect visual look is in every panel. While I’ve had a lotta beef with the horrendous depictions and manipulations of filler artists doing Kirby characters over the years, few have come close to capturing the likeness and seriousness needed to keep the proceedings convincing here.

It shows off wonderfully all its characters in a manner that just picks you up and takes you along without a doubt or suspicion of anything but love and respect for Kirby’s concepts and bringing them together for a fun final ride. It also gives me hope for current comics. While I don’t quite have the cynicism required for what seems part of the checklist in modern action comics, it didn’t push me away either, and worked well when comparing the goals of the two eras these versions of the New Gods were written in.

So rejoice, ancient comics reader! It seems as if there are actually comics that can be invented with grit, cleverness, and visual craft that not only pushes aesthetic boundaries, but entertains you as well! There indeed is hope for tomorrow. And I think that’s the way the King of Comics would of wanted it.

I, René Tardi, Prisoner of War in Stalag IIB Vol. 2: My Return Home

Phew! After the finish of volume one, I wasn’t sure what to expect other than his survival. That it would take five long years in captivity with the Germans and his need to be reunited with his wife comes through painfully here in this stories final year. It had been a long tough slog so far, but the last months journey with the Germans using pows as bargaining chips, as the war was begrudgingly winding down.

Continuing his three horizontal panels per page layout, Tardi relentlessly shows us mile after mile of the endless marching his father and his fellow prisoners were forced to take to keep them in the German’s hands. The panoramic panels with their endless dreary landscapes, depicting repeated multiple views of marching prisoners, keeps our eyes moving, an amazing balance of artistic choices and historical respect.

Tardi nails the effort, demonstrating its hardships, not to mention the grit needed for those captured, enduring continuous attacks on their health, mental condition, and their dignity as human beings. It is unforgiving in its repetition and continuous fight to live till the next day. The sheer zig zagging of their journey at the end an exclamation point to their struggles, and the madness of their march.

But survive some of them did. The long, resisted finish of the German army and its eventual disintegration is portrayed brilliantly as witnessed by the POWs and their reactions. Germany owed a terrible price after the war, and those left alive did whatever they could to see them pay for it.

Around this time, Tardi introduces slight, tight, spots of color to illustrate the slow, begrudging emergence of hope from our tale. Just bites of color here and there, not enough to spoil us, but just enough to demonstrate that color still exists, just not as much is around as before.

A completely somber and non romantic story, I was reminded of a time in my youth when I asked my father if World War Two was anything like the spirited romantic ideas put into my head by the movies and media here of what life was like stateside during World War II.

He responded. “Yeah, in some ways it was, unless you lost someone that didn’t make it home”.

After reading Rene Tardi’s survival tale in comparison, the opposites of the wars experiences stand still from the shock of their contrasts. While Prisoner of War isn’t a gross, graphic depiction of the brutal effects of war, but it succeeds greatly in relating to us what mans inhumanity to man can look like. The marching was torturous enough, that they did it scrounging for clothes, food, and sleep throughout it all feels hopeless and devastating.

Comic books can make the mundane spectacular and the fantastic banal. Tardi’s work here runs the distance of Rene’s life while a prisoner of war, using all his tools in service of the truth, showing what human beings are capable of. The quietness of the narrative is amplified with a sad gracefulness, and benefits being transferred to the language of comics in Tardi’s hands.

Prisoner is essential reading for anyone interested in exploring the infinite capabilities of the human spirit, both good and bad. Also included at the books finish are a journal of Jacques Tardi’s trek through northern Europe retracing his fathers steps, a much “enjoyed” demonstration in “real” time.

Tardi depicts his fathers journey keeping a narrative distance, yet lets through a sliver of passion on his fathers behalf. Four years in a concentration camp, followed by nearly a year of relentless, painful marching. That anyone survived this is a miracle, and Tardi shows us how it was done.

Weird Melvin (1995) #4

Weird Melvin  1995  4

There is a very good chance Weird Melvin might gross me out next issue. Hansen gets pretty close in the cliffhanger, which features two lady monsters (a mother and daughter) pregnant with half-mutated giant insects, half-monsters. What’s most surprising is the grossness isn’t in Hansen’s detail but in the action and implications of the action. So gross.

The issue has some of that great, unpredictable Hansen plotting. The imminent dangers of the previous cliffhangers get delayed or dispelled as the Swamp Witch, magically masquerading as a buxom bombshell (alliterations unintentional), can’t seal the deal on killing the Kid with her poison comic book because three Trekkies mistake her for a “TOS” bit player and stalk her. Hansen gets to make fun of both comics fandom and “Trek” fandom, going a little harder on the latter. The Kid is just obsessed with his collecting; the Trekkies are all in on terrorizing their autograph targets (or worse). It’s real funny.

Meanwhile, Melvin and his (unknown to Melvin) treacherous sidekick Shag are trying to get Melvin’s power levels back up with a moonbeam ray. But Shag’s got it out for Melvin and tries to zap him wrong; unfortunately—and leading up to the eventual potential gross-out—Shag zaps a couple bugs, who turn out to be horny male bugs. They grow to fifty feet tall or something and break out looking for love. They find it with the monster ladies. Thank goodness Hansen doesn’t show the copulation, just the aftermath.

So Hansen manages to resolve both his cliffhangers, get his characters out of the most immediate danger—while putting them in new, unexpected danger (Melvin feels bad about growing giant bugs who impregnate lady monsters and then drop dead instead of taking care of them so he’s going to take care of the monster ladies in their pregnancy)—and turn in a really funny issue full of great new supporting characters.

I get why Hansen’s not better known but it’s damned unfortunate.

Queen of the Sea (2019)

Queen of the Sea  2019

I spent the first ten minutes of Queen of the Sea underwhelmed. The book’s set in the mid-1500s—maybe—it’s unclear because creator Dylan Meconis isn’t doing a straight historical fiction thing. Meconis is sort of doing Elizabeth versus Mary but not exactly. The world is a lot like fourteenth century England, but it’s not exact. Everything’s got different names and for a while it seems like there’s some point to it, the fake history lesson. There’s not. There are other real history lessons, which are great and interesting, but the fake history exposition at the beginning… big yawn.

And Queen of the Sea is geared fairly young. It ends up getting really complicated but the first fifth of the book seems like Meconis can’t get the engine started.

The opening scene is a problem. It’s the Elizabeth stand-in, Eleanor, only we don’t know her name yet because it’s just her and some dude talking about how she’s got to go because the enemy has arrived. They make plans. The dialogue’s iffy. The art’s… okay. It’s not a catchy opening at all. Then Meconis introduces protagonist Margaret, a tween living on an island in the something something itsh-Bray Channel in a convent. The convent’s the only thing on the island. Margaret’s an orphan.

Then comes the exposition dump, where Margaret explains everything to know about the convent and the island. The supporting cast, the geography. It’s a bunch and, while it often looks great, it’s a slog to read through. Because besides the main nun, none of the rest have much of an impact on Margaret’s character development or the story in general. And Queen’s got a big story. One day two new residents arrive on the island—a fellow kid, albeit a boy, named William and his very serious mom. They’re political prisoners, exiled to the island for safe keeping (of sorts).

Margaret and William become friends and make all sorts of discoveries about their lives, including how it just so happens all the nuns in the convent are nuns because they’re political exiles too. Margaret’s there for a similar reason, even if she doesn’t find out what exactly. The arc with William and his mother and how they change Margaret’s life is fantastic. It’s where I stopped wondering if I was wasting my time with Queen. Meconis has very pretty art with a great style, but the art’s not challenging. It’s welcoming. I’m uncomfortable with how often Queen interrupts the comic to insert a prose block, which doesn’t negate the book being incredibly successful with that device. And once Meconis gets more comfortable about Margaret’s narration and we’re done with all the fake place names, the pauses in the comic narrative get to be a bonus. When Meconis and Margaret explain how the nuns’ day works—eight hours and what’s done during those hours—it’s this fantastic double-page perfectly executed infographic. It’s awesome.

It just took the book a while to get there through some rough waters.

But then it turns out the William stuff is just prologue. He’s how Margaret learns to be around people who aren’t nuns or the convent servants; she’ll need to learn to apply those lessons once the Queen from the first scene shows up on the island. It doesn’t take long before Margaret is ex-Queen Eleanor’s bestest friend, even if Eleanor doesn’t want one; a big part of Margaret’s character development is how she internalizes the teachings of the convent order and how to help those in need. Eleanor is in need, Margaret is bound to help her. It’s fascinating character stuff.

Especially once the secrets, adventures, and romances start playing out.

Meconis is always able to ratchet up the stakes, without ever losing sight of how to best make it work for Margaret’s character development. Queen’s got a very strong lead character and Meconis is very deliberate with her. Great work.

Queen of the Sea isn’t short. Approximately 400 pages. The first 85 or so are maybe tough, the next 150 are great, the final 165 are even better. The weird not historical fiction but also not exactly ahistorical fiction takes some time to work itself out. Also very weird is how Meconis handles religion. It’s too cute, especially given the convent angle.

But it’s a good graphic novel. Very impressive work from Meconis.

There’s a sequel tease at the very end, which seemed a little too forced but I’m also very interested in reading said sequel.

Weird Melvin (1995) #3

Weird Melvin  1995  3

Hansen introduces a whole new character—or two, actually—but one with history with Weird Melvin; his sidekick, reformed monster Shag. Shag hangs out in Weird Melvin’s abandoned headquarters. Seems like he’s been there a while… but he’s finally ready to walk out. But Shag doesn’t come into the comic until the third-ish act. I’m not sure if Weird Melvin has acts. Kind of but it’s hard to tell given the sequential narrative.

The issue opens with Melvin, in his Wimpy Melvin, de-powered state, still a prisoner of his new girlfriend, Vampuh. He meets her father—a monster with a runny nose—who decides not to eat Melvin after Melvin gives him a hanky, which will come up again later for Hansen’s grossest sequence in the comic. But the action then shifts to the kid, who’s decided—having lost his entire comic collection—to give up comics collecting and go out and be a regular kid.

Of course, being a regular kid who has a past of comics collecting… the neighborhood bullies beat the crap out of him.

Little does the forever(?) nameless kid realize he’s got some more trouble in store as the swamp witch has a plan to overtake him as the world’s biggest Weird Melvin fan, which involves making herself irresistible to the tween comics fan. The plan has her transforming herself into a supermodel… a supermodel with a complete run of Weird Melvin comics.

Again, it’s another full issue, with the plotting just as imaginative as the grody visuals. At one point there’s the Mucus Monster, preying on an unsuspecting Weird Melvin, and it’s amazing how Hansen’s able to do dripping repulsion palatably. It’s a very strong mix of art and story. The art’s obvious—you can seen Hansen’s technical chops during with the swamp witch supermodel, when Weird Melvin all of a sudden has panels out of a Gothic horror comic—and the story’s subtle. The plotting’s so precise. So well done.

Weird Melvin (1995) #2

Weird Melvin  1995  2

Leave it to Hansen to make it weirder.

The issue starts with a bookend—Melvin’s still unnamed comic fan sidekick is berating Weird Melvin for not stopped Monster Fanboy (who owns every comic every published and hordes them in an underground lair and is, actually, a monster when it comes to collecting)—and then goes into flashback. It’s a little confusing at the start since last issue ended with Melvin needing to hibernate for thirty years. Seemed like the kid should’ve aged.

But what actually happened was the worms went after Melvin and dug a hole down to Monster Fanboy’s lair; Monster Fanboy, knowing Weird Melvin from the comics, natch, then chained Melvin up—see, Melvin’s in his Wimpy Melvin persona since last issue, when he lost his power.

The flashback gives an origin on Monster Fanboy, who ends up being the kid’s nemesis this issue as Melvin never gets his power back. Worse, he gets a girlfriend. So it’s all up to the kid to stop Monster Fanboy’s plan to drive up the speculative market on comic books (by exploiting the other fanboys). Hansen’s got some funny stuff in the issue. He doesn’t do much in the way of building to a laugh, he just gets the joke out of the way in a panel or three. Lovely pace, especially when he moves the action over to the kid’s perspective.

Meanwhile, Melvin picked the wrong girlfriend. Vampuh used to date Sy Cyclops, who attacked Melvin last issue and is responsible for his de-powering; Melvin took care of Sy, leaving Vampuh without a dude to push around. Turns out she likes her men wimpy and Wimpy Melvin is just what she needs. So she throws him into the cellar with her father, who’s been imprisoned there a hundred years and has apparently gone cannibal….

Presumably that cliffhanger will resolve next issue. Though the finale introduces yet another bad guy, who also wants to be Weird Melvin’s biggest fan, and she might be a more immediate danger (to the kid, who’s apparently still Melvin’s biggest fan even though Melvin failed to stop Monster Fanboy)

Weird Melvin is a peculiar comic. In all the right ways. Great gross art, thorough, engaging plotting. It’s amazing how sympathetic Hansen’s able to make the characters when he’s just playing them for icks or laughs.

Weird Melvin (1995) #1

Weird Melvin  1995  1

Weird Melvin is a gloriously weird comic. Creator Marc Hansen brings the weird to the art—not just the muscle-bound grotesques (Melvin and, later, a regular human) but also Melvin’s cyclops nemesis, Sy Cyclops. The comic starts from Sy’s perspective, as he nitrous ups his car and hits Weird Melvin full speed. Good thing Melvin’s almost indestructible. While Melvin crash lands in a kid’s bedroom, Sy goes about trying to figure out a weakness.

Luckily for everyone—though not really—there’s the in-world Weird Melvin comic, which retells his monster-hunting adventures. It’s how the kid knows about Weird Melvin but it’s also how Sy is able to figure out one of Melvin’s weaknesses.

Hansen plots it out gradually, revealing in the scenes between Melvin and the kid why the moon dust Sy is going after in the other story thread is so important. See, Weird Melvin used to be a monster, not a monster hunter. And he ate kids. Lots and lots of kids. So many kids it was hard for humans to have enough kids to keep Melvin fed, much less the other monsters.

So they teamed up and took Monster Melvin out, but then the souls of the kids he ate went to Heaven—or the Moon—and then moon rays brought Melvin back to life as a good guy monster hunter. What makes Melvin’s retelling even more engaging is his reassurances to his listener he no longer eats kids, though the kid (and the reader) can’t be sure….

Then there’s a big action finale.

Hansen sets it up like a done-in-one or a special, getting to a good conclusion, with a lot of funny moments. Not just the monster stuff either. Weird Melvin’s got a lot of jokes about comics collecting.

Like I said… it’s a weird comic; a weird, good comic. Hansen’s plotting—he does a bunch this issue in twenty pages—is excellent and his art is intricate, deliberate madness.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass (2019)

Harley Quinn Breaking Glass  2019

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass is a Young Adult graphic novel reimagining of Harley Quinn, set in high school, with Harley making friends and enemies while living with a delightfully supportive group of drag queens, fighting gentrification and 1% incels. It’s also almost two hundred pages of Steve Pugh art. It’s the new Mariko Tamaki too, bring real YA graphic novel cred to the project, but it’s two hundred pages of Steve Pugh art. It doesn’t get cancelled halfway through. We don’t have to wait three years for a third issue, it’s just… lots of Steve Pugh art. All at once.

It’s glorious.

And Pugh’s even able to keep a straight face in the denouement, which introduces all the possibilities of the future. See, Breaking Glass is realistic (enough). Ivy is a Black girl in a “progressive” White school, trying to force them to drop the quotation marks. Their nemesis, John Kane, is the rich White kid who runs the film club. He’s basically Ferris Bueller if Ferris got a car instead of a computer. He only shows White men—Tamaki gets in some great digs about film noir but I feel seen with the Kubrick—anyway, the first act of the book is the high school stuff. It’s overly dramatic but not soapy; Tamaki and Pugh both have this focusing style and it plays well in the high school environment. The scenes focus on conversations, Pugh focuses on the speakers. Tamaki and Pugh are most in sync when Harley’s with other normal people—Ivy, the drag queens—not when she’s with the Joker.

I forgot the denouement. Okay, so after pushing for some kind of realism throughout, the denouement turns it into a CW teen show. But checking in on the possible familiar face of Breaking Glass’s Gotham City. So kind of like a teen drama version of “Gotham,” next year on HBO Max. Though, in all seriousness, the comic companies ought to launch a monthly subscription reading club and center them around a single release (but with old stuff too). I got Breaking Glass from the library, read it on a whim, but definitely would’ve paid five to seven bucks to read it on my iPad. Getting to zoom in on the Pugh art? Homer Simpson drool. There’s not a lot of action–or it’s rushed action—but the level of mastery Pugh’s working at in Breaking Glass is stunning.

And it’s a good read. Tamaki’s narration is just the right amount of too cute without ever being cloying. It’s occasionally a little wordy, which has a fun resolution in the third act.

Not a fan of Ivy and Harley’s friendship getting shortchanged as far as page count—once Ivy brings up race, the comic runs away. Knowingly and responsibly, but it runs away. Into the Joker, who’s problematic. It’s fine. But pretending the Joker is the best mainstream comics can do has gotten exhausting. Tamaki also cops out on really showing Harley’s infatuation because the comic’s not willing to go that subjective. The Joker’s objectively a shit-heel, even viewed through a fifteen year-old’s lens, which also becomes a bit of a plot point.

Thankfully it’s not a Joker comic, it’s Harley’s and it’s good. She doesn’t get too annoying until just before the end, which is more about Tamaki’s hammering of the foreshadowing finale events. Or racing to get them.

But Breaking Glass is a good comics read. Finite. Successful without too many qualifications. Hundreds of Pugh panels.

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