Realistic Flintstones: Anthro

DC Showcase #74

DC Showcase #74
Anthro issues #1-6
DC Comics
1968-69 12-15 cents ea.

Deep within the recesses of DC’s late sixties explosion of titles, a unique direction for mainstream comics occurs. I’m referring to Anthro, Howie Post’s take on prehistoric living.

Post, a gag cartoonist, who first started drawing comic books in the golden age, was an animation director, did a stint working on scary stuff for pre-Marvel Atlas comics in the fifties, and is best known for his long running syndicated strip, The Dropouts (1968-81). Just before that he ended up proposing to DC his version of what caveman life was like. Within this framework, he eschews a natural interpretation of history, bringing along dinosaurs, some modern slang, and our protagonist, Anthro, who with his immediate family, venture forth and survive the tests of daily living.

This family unit includes his parents, his grandmother, and younger brother Lark, to complete the set. Post creates an exciting, semi realistic set of challenges for them, along with modern takes on their relationships, including Anthro’s father losing arguments regularly with his mother in law, the dangerous and regular hunt for sustenance, and his continuing distraction with those curved cavemen, known as women, whom his father claims are the most dangerous of beasts to be wary of in this challenging world.

Anthro #1

Each issue tells a chapter of his tale, from his early encounter with thwarted love, helping his father protect his miniature clan from starvation as well as attacks from wild beasts, surviving contact with superior races, culminating in a trek across many lands to avoid the “ice age”, and ultimately, his reunion with Embra, his first contact with someone of the female species of his own age. Anthro is strong enough for the challenges, yet always uncertain of their outcome, and rarely confident in his ability to win the day.

Post provides a galloping ride to the proceedings, never sitting still long before the next menace comes, keeping the plot fresh and fun to follow. His cartooning, a scratchy, yet easy on the eye type of line work, creates caricatures that while type cast, have a certain grubby charm of their own. Post keeps a light feel to the proceedings, despite the ever lurking dangers, as well as a wonderful contrast between the somewhat handsomeness of Anthro, and the primitive, Cro-Magnon look of his father and others. The girls here, are depicted with a similar grace, cute when needed, and realistically homely when the humor demands it. None of the men or women however, are sparred the indignity of at least mild unattractiveness.

Anthro #2

What sets this series apart from your “typical” adventure series is the overall warmth generated by Anthro and his family. Whether they argue about the indignities of “nuclear family” life, or teaming up to protect one another from harm, there is a genuine camaraderie about them that is fully convincing.

Here within is Post’s strong suite, taking the average and mundane, and giving it life to make us care about it. Sure, death is around every corner, but they will face it with the limited skills available, along with the earnestness of a group that really cares for one another. Post manages to tell a legitimate tale of an early family, along with an atmosphere of lightheartedness that keeps you vested in their survival.

Not too airy and not too deep, Anthro is an honest read in its aims to entertain, yet not hit us over the head with it’s wild premises and bends of reality. There is a bit of Post’s personal involvement with all the characters here, and it pays off in a mild mannered, breezy read, that brings you completely into it’s world and keeps you warm and fuzzy. The series only flaw here being it’s premature ending, with solid yet contrasting inks this issue by Wally Wood, most likely brought about from the intrusion of Post’s new gig as a syndicated cartoonist, a step up for artists, with a much better paycheck.

Anthro #6

And that’s plenty for me.

If you’re lucky enough to sample Anthro (not sure its EVER been reprinted), and enjoy it as I have, click on the link here for an interview with Post to find out how exactly alike he and his creations are.

http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/05post.html

Anthro. A real charmer of a sixties comic, for those of us that revel in such things, as well as a taste of a comics era that will most likely never be seen again. Sadly, it’s all the poorer for it, I think.

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.

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…

Batman: White Knight #8 (July 2018)

Batman: White Knight #8

White Knight is fine. Murphy finishes it fine. The art is great, there’s some really cool action–imagine if a Schumacher Batman movie vehicle setpiece were good–and the dialogue’s occasionally really strong.

It’s not great. The sequel setup stuff is weak and a copout as far as character work goes. There are other copouts on the character work; Barbara and Dick are accessories, so’s Gordon. There’s nothing to them.

Other than the art. And Murphy’s love of all things Batman.

After dawdling through multiple issues, Murphy runs out of time in this one. Not just the sequel setup nonsense, but also with the action sequence. Nightwing gets lost. And the action sequence develops to something Murphy could really go wild with and he doesn’t.

It’s too bad White Knight wasn’t great. The art’s great and there’s some really cool things about it, but it didn’t achieve that initial promise of a new great Batman comic. Murphy should have tempered his ambitions, as they all turned out to be empty anyway.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5 (July 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5

It’s the penultimate issue. I forgot there were six. I was hoping for five. Especially since the comic opens with the Soviets–in the fifties–talking about how eventually America will elect a complete idiot president and then they’ll nuke us. Or something. If Russell wanted to correlate with modern day stuff, he needed to do it. Not just as a throwaway joke to distract from the endlessness of Exit Stage Left.

This issue has a big speech from Snagglepuss to Congress. Tragedy has struck and S.P. is dismantling his life so he can speak the truth. It’s not a rousing speech. I mean, if it were a rousing speech or if he gotcha’d the senators, it’d be something. But it’s nothing.

At the same time as S.P.’s testimony, his play has its opening night. The recent tragedy informs the play, the rousing speech informs the play, yada yada.

If only some of it were good.

The art didn’t bother me as much as usual. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s better, but it might be. Maybe I’m just so thrilled it’s almost over.

CREDITS

Opening Night; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Sean Parsons and Jose Marzan Jr.; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Terrifics #3 (June 2018)

The Terrifics #3

The Terrifics #3 is completely false advertising. There’s nothing terrific in the comic at all. Certainly not the art; Joe Bennett and the three inkers have bad expressions and static figures. Not the characters. Plastic Man’s obnoxious, Mr. Terrific is a jerk, Sapphire Stagg is enabling her megalomaniac father, Simon Stagg is a megalomaniac, Metamorpho is dim; Phantom Girl is all right. The caveman is all right. Otherwise, no. And the writing isn’t terrific.

It’s kind of stunning how fast this book ran out of steam. Apparently all it had going for it was the promise of Tom Strong being integrated into the DCU. That promise isn’t worth sitting through the rest of the material.

The worst thing about the three different inkers–these aren’t terrible inkers either, at least two of the names are people who’ve worked on fine books (and I don’t recognize the third)–is there’s no visual continuity. There’s Bennett’s busy and visually uninviting composition and everyone looks a little bit different every few pages.

Terrifics has gotten to be anything but.

CREDITS

Meet the Terrifics, Part 3 of 3; writer, Jeff Lemire; penciller, Joe Bennett; inkers, Sandra Hope, Jaime Mendoza, and Art Thibert; colorist, Marcelo Maiolo; letterer, Tom Napolitano; editors, Andrew Marino and Paul Kaminski; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4 (June 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4

If Exit Stage Left were any better, it might be full on problematic. Some of Russell’s juxtapositions and analogues should cause more intellectual consternation. They don’t, however, because the comic isn’t better. It’s perplexingly mundane.

This issue opens with the government woman who wants to force Snagglepuss’s cooperation in the witch hunt out visiting the nuclear test grounds in Nevada. There she discovers the U.S. government is lying to the American people about their chances of survival in a nuclear attack. So, she’s already a bit of a tool, long before Russell demonizes her in a juxtaposition later.

Then the Snagglepuss stuff is basically his fake wife and his boyfriend getting pissed at him and so he does something about it. It’s like the C plot though. The comic really belongs to Huckleberry Hound, who gets a really depressing storyline this issue.

It’s become clear, four issues in, some of Exit Stage Left’s problem is the art. Feehan and Parsons are competent but uninspired. Russell’s already doing drab history with the inclusion of anthropomorphized cartoon animals supposedly going to make it special, the art should at least be enthusiastic. It’s not.

What’s worse is the art on the backup, Sasquatch Detective, is a lot more enthusiastic. Gus Vasquez is on the art this time. Brandee Stilwell is still writing. Still not a funny strip. And the cameo isn’t funny either.

Exit Stage Left has two more issues. Expectations keep plummeting. It’s not a bad comic, it’s just utterly pointless.

CREDITS

Doom Town; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Sean Parsons; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #7 (June 2018)

Batman: White Knight #7

Murphy really likes deus ex machina plot devices. He uses three or five of them in White Knight #7.

Given where the series goes, I’m not sure he really needed eight issues–this issue seems like the always intended, not drawn out, penultimate issue. There’s a lot going on, a lot of crowded rooms with exposition, a lot of rushed character moments, a handful of revelations. Murphy recenters White Knight on Batman this issue, which almost comes as a surprise. Whether or not it’s successful is going to depend on the finale–Batman makes some hard promises as he gets out of Arkham and teamed with Jack Napier. Murphy’s going to have to keep some of them.

He can’t just have it turn out Thomas Wayne was a secret agent fighting the Nazis. The series’s early success came from Murphy’s willingness to reveal red herrings to be real herrings.

There’s a lot of awesome art–including the “Batman” TV show Batmobile getting some action–but the panels are mostly tiny. Grizzled Batman gets way too many big panels while Murphy’s gorgeous design work gets relegated to little ones. It might be Batman’s comic again, but it doesn’t mean he’s the most interesting thing to see. I mean, Jake Napier’s Jokering out uncontrollably, which Murphy does like a hybrid homage to Bolland and Sienkiewicz. It’s awesome art.

So Batman: White Knight might make it. Not the heights it initially promised, but some significant ones.

It’ll probably make a good trade. It could be a great movie (but not one of those animated ones… and most certainly not a live action one with Ben Affleck and Jared Leto).

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

The Terrifics #2 (May 2018)

The Terrifics #2

I wish The Terrifics were terrific but it’s not. It’s perfectly fine. It’s gorgeous DC superhero stuff. Reis’s art doesn’t particularly invite dwelling, but if you decide to dwell, you get reasonably rewarded. As for the story, it’s very much part two of the series opener.

Oh, and Tom Strong is a red herring. Let’s just get it out of the way. After the cliffhanger “resolution” with him, it’s backstory on Phantom Girl. Then it’s action, action, action, quick romance (I mean, Rex and Sapphire have to kiss, don’t they), then a little more action. The last bits of action aren’t particularly exciting, as they’re expository action. Reis and Lemire pulling them off so (relatively) well showcase that rare quality of the superhero comic book–it lends itself to expository action.

The cliffhanger involves why the team is now a team.

Good writing. Plastic Man is starting to grate. But only slightly. Lemire’s writing for him seems like a series of postscript quips to scenes. Too many of them. Though Plastic Man’s not wrong about Mr. Terrific being a bit of a dick (but not too much of one, Lemire keeps everyone affable).

We’ll see. So far, it’s totally solid DC superhero stuff. Might even end up being worth reading.

CREDITS

Meet the Terrifics, Part 2 of 3; writer, Jeff Lemire; pencillers, Ivan Reis and Jose Luis; inkers, Vicente Cifuentes and Jordi Tarragona; colorist, Marcelo Maiolo; letterer, Tom Napolitano; editor, Jessica Chen and Paul Kaminski; publisher, DC Comics.

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