Crisis of Infinite Comics: Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #1-6

Tempest

Hmmm…where to begin?

Perhaps itʼs better to start at the end.

Alan Moore, perhaps one of the most influential comic book writers of our era, has for some time now announcing heʼs calling it quits. After listing his last few works in comics, he sums it all up in the latest and final LEOG story.

While Moore has certainly had his share of controversy within the comics world, his writing sometimes compared to mere “genre” writers, has transgressed that merely by being perhaps the greatest of all comics genre writers. Whatever direction heʼs taken, you can be rest assured that it will be the most clever, detailed, and at the least, obsessive approach taken to developing fascinating themes for comics. No half assed dips into the pool for Moore, itʼs either full boat involvement in his subject matter, with enough incorporation of concepts to make any other creator of comic tales feel helpless, witnessing an artist taking over completely his chosen subject matter at a level far beyond the capability of most others.

LEOG, which started as an elaborate tribute to stunning fictional characters plucked from various English literary works, spun together in a super team effort made all the more interesting due to their positions in fiction as monsters, failures and oddballs, their anti humanistic paths now working together to prevent cataclysmic disaster. Their ultimate place among humanity and itʼs price are also touched upon as well.

The first two LEOG stories were detailed, shocking tales with world changing outcomes, with the protagonists hardly suited for the lofty goals upon which they were now summoned. Moore then wraps the stories in resolutely English themes, using only characters and most situations with their founding in English literature and fiction.

Over time, his LOEG tales then took on a more distinct route, parlaying formal aspects of comics, bending his characters and the narrative, along with the reader, on a journey that must be really studied to be understood and appreciated, making you work to discover and perhaps understand why he was creating it in the first place. You are bound to Mooreʼs narrative, helpless yet willing to go wherever it takes you, comfortable or not.

This final tale, bringing us up to date chronologically and formally, is an utter distillation of all things metahuman (nee superhero) comics over the last 75 years that have been wrought upon us. Its blending of stylistic nuances, outrageous fictional characters, the inevitable team up of the heroes, all brought up for display, tells us the final fate of these types of venues, using perfectly the tics and tropes of the comics themselves to display his thesis/journey.

The grand motives of superhero comics and their heights and fallacies are all here to behold, to enjoy their miracles, yet at the same time, point to a larger vision, a demonstration of how they work, and the bases they touch upon their way to the most mega fantastic of conclusions. Perfectly linear in its progression, there is perhaps every cliche in the book used here in service of the homage, using as many types of comic approaches seamlessly incorporated into a mass narrative to enjoy and drive you crazy with its scope of ambition as well as the reserve not to take any of this too seriously. An amazing balance is achieved here between contrasting goals.

It’s also a tale not for the simple comics reader weaned on a sugar fed, monthly pulse short attention span of pablum, either. Only the mature and well travelled comics reader will spot most, but probably not all, of the winks and nods shown to its audience. There is a lifetime plus of the superhero genre on view here, and while it’s not necessary to have an encyclopedic knowledge of such things to “get it,” the well-read comics fan will be able to dig deeper and catch on more than the novice.

In this narrative, Moore brings nothing less than the totality of English and American comics history, dozens of literary references, approaches from golden age comics to the Watchmen, and a blazing framework brought together by Shakespeareʼs Tempest, no less. Donʼt be scared to venture here though, as while you may be googling or wiki-ing things you donʼt recognize, you are not penalized for doing so.

And that’s where the point here lies. Moore has taken the lifetime of superhero comics and put them into one final, master, superhero crossover spectacular-stories the big two like to whip out every season, and not only present them in all their absurdity, but in an involving tale with the highest stakes available; the continued existence of the meta human genre, perhaps the greatest threat to our heroes ever imagined.

And succeed he does. While some may not have patience for where it goes, there is no denying this is a well thought out and conceived tale, showing both the polar duality of a great mythical end of times story with a poignant presence, a mature objective point about all these things that are both majestic and more than a little sad. That while we take such things seriously as comic fans, there can be no denying the overstated importance we give them as such, and the passes we give them when they suck and disappoint.

Moore swings from both sides of the pendulum, praising superhero comics goodness, their personal touches of life we experience when reading them, and in its finale, taking its rose colored glasses(or 3D, theyʼre in there too), and confronting the reader about the final realities about such things, while also comforting the reader with a respect for such things and the inevitable conclusion we have when weʼve taken them as far as we logically can.

It is within such parameters Moore demands respect for his chosen idiom as well as demonstrating its shortcomings and their conclusion; superhero comics have gone about as far as they will go. For such a well executed and convincing demonstration I can only make this tale of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (although the members are all women by this point), my swan-song in any kind of involvement with the modern superhero genre at all anymore.

For that Mr Moore, I graciously thank you, and shed a metaphorical tear for my innocence lost and the transformation of my childhood friends.

Before I tie it up, his longest collaborator, Kevin O Neill, delivers a masterful virtuosoʼs worth of cartooning skills, perhaps his best. O’Neill furnishes this endlessly inventive dense pack of info perfectly, with each panel composed to its fullest, with no wasted space and the latest version of Will Elderʼs “chicken fat” art style a feast for the eyes and the brain. Todd Kleinʼs lettering and Ben Digmagmaliwʼs coloring are wonderfully crafted yet almost unnoticeable, contributing more layers to the proceedings to make this a total artistic endeavor of a package. Creative examples of encyclopedic talent at this level are rare, enjoy them.

So this will most likely be the last modern superhero tale I will read because of this. Damn you Moore, for waking me up, but thank you as well, for showing me the sublime beauty of my earliest dreams, and the realization that itʼs definitely time to be moving on.

Foolkiller (1990)

Foolkiller #1 (1990)

The last time I read Foolkiller, almost fifteen years ago, I really liked it. I wish I knew what I’d liked about it because it’s really not good. Even back then I know I thought the art—Joe Brozowski on pencils, Tony DeZuniga then Vince Giarrano on the inks—was bad. And the art’s bad. It appears DeZuniga had been handling the facial features and without him, the people start looking real bad, but then Giarrano adjusts or something. Very rocky, art-wise. Never good, sometimes less bad than other times.

But the art’s not the problem. The problem’s the script, which is from Steve Gerber, who’s not just good, but also not the guy you expect to do a comic all about how the “super predators” are real. At one point they even do a Central Park Five reference. In Foolkiller, it’s a string of Central Park attacks on cyclists where the gang beats the victims to death, enraged the victims can… afford bicycles. Even the killers’ parents are okay with their sons brutally murdering those better off bicycle owners.

Of course, one of the other bad guys is a right-wing TV host. The first few issues of Foolkiller have a different feel than the rest of the comic and not just because the noses go bad at some point. The comic’s about a new Foolkiller, inspired by the original, who’s actually the second one, and is currently in a mental institution in Indiana. The protagonist, Kurt, has just lost his father, his job, his house, his wife, and finds Foolkiller—on the right-wing TV host’s show—aspirational. Pretty soon Kurt’s going around killing bad guys, romancing his shift manager at the burger joint—the only job he could get because savings and loans—and working out in garbage. On one hand, Foolkiller feels like Gerber amping up the absurdity over this kind of character but Gerber’s also grounding it as he goes along. It’s like Gerber’s too dedicated to the actual narrative to subvert it with jabs at the protagonist’s philosophy. Taxi Driver: The Comic.

And outside a mention of The Avengers and Spider-Man swinging through an issue to sell at least one to the Spidey collectors, Foolkiller doesn’t feel very Marvel comic. Outside the art, which—even bad—looks like Marvel and the lettering, which is perfunctory and somehow inappropriate. Foolkiller’s journals are all supposedly written on the computer but they appear in handwriting. It’s also unclear how the journals are supposed to be read—contemporary to events, past tense. It’d be nice if it mattered. Something in Foolkiller should matter.

Yeah, Gerber created Foolkiller, didn’t he. At least the most famous one—and he was in Man-Thing. I just can’t figure out what happened to the joke in Foolkiller. The comic takes a shift when it starts dealing with the Iraq War in the last few issues; that news is pushing Foolkiller’s killing spree out of the headlines. The other headlines are about crack babies and something else kind of iffy, even for the early nineties. The first half of Foolkiller is Randian objectivism with some sprinkles of libertarianism, the second half of it is the lead dispassionately offing examples of those philosophies. Maybe if there were a connection there’d be some impact but Gerber introduces the relevant supporting characters—outside the TV host—when he needs them, not before. And the TV host doesn’t really provide much texture. Foolkiller confuses hyperbolic with effective.

Nothing in the comic stands out. None of the characters, none of the moments Gerber tries out with the supporting cast. He’s got a lack of empathy for everyone involved, which matches the protagonist I suppose but… it’s a little long—ten issues—to go just to prove you can do something. Though Foolkiller is from the old days, back when publishers never would’ve dreamed off cutting issues off a limited series. Or at least it seemed like they wouldn’t. What do I know? I used to be a big Foolkiller (1990) fan. And not when I had any excuse to be.

Maybe the most disappointing aspect—other than Gerber’s exaggerated, almost defensive classism—is the pointlessness of the narrative. It doesn’t add up to anything for anyone involved, not Foolkiller III, not Foolkiller II, not Foolkiller II’s too liberal psychiatrist, not the girl who falls for Foolkiller III, not the stupid villain who can’t seem to die… no one. One of the villains is even a New York City real estate developer who is way too competent to be confused for any real figure.

Either something went very wrong with Foolkiller or it was always a terrible idea.

I’m not sure I wrote about Foolkiller the last time I read it, but if I did, the posts are long gone. I don’t know if I want to know what I thought but I’m frankly embarrassed about it.

Foolkiller (1990) is most decidedly not good. From the start. I kept thinking maybe it turned around in the last few issues and Gerber finally acknowledged the nonsense.

But no.

It’s just bad all the way through.

Planetes, Volume 01 (2003)

Planetes, Volume 1 cover

The first volume of Planetes has five different stories. They’re vignettes. I’ve read this volume before, I remembered the vignettes. Even if the first story doesn’t feel much like a vignette.

The story opens with a spaceship disaster. Actually it opens with a cute married couple and then the disaster, because it’s sad when disaster strikes. Except the husband—Yuri—survives and goes on to become a debris collector in the future. The future being the comic’s present tense.

Yuri’s not the only debris collector on his ship, there’s also serious Fee and joker Hachimaki. Because Yuri’s so quiet and Hachimaki’s so loud, Hachimaki quickly becomes the “lead” of the story. He’ll be the lead of subsequent stories in the volume, but in this one it really feels like he’s usurping the actual lead.

It’s an okay story; it doesn’t pass a reality sniff test but it’s okay. It certainly distinguishes creator Yukimura Makoto and Planetes as a little different. And very willing to tug on the heart strings.

The second story is about Hachimaki meeting a girl on the moon base. He has to go to the moon base because people weren’t meant to live in space and it screws up their bones. Except this girl turns out to have been born on the moon and so can’t go to Earth and there’s a gentle romance until it turns out she’s twelve, which is kind of creepy and Yukimura doesn’t ever deal with it. There’s also some more stuff with Fee in the story, but it’s not until the third one where she gets the focus.

The third story, and where Planetes distinguishes itself as something other than thoughtful, realistic space stuff, is about Fee craving a cigarette and being willing to take down interplanetary terrorists to get one. It’s pretty awesome. Yukimura’s not as good with the fast-paced action as the gradual stuff—Planetes is better when it feels like 2001 versus Star Wars—but the writing makes up for it. Lots of fun. And thoughtful too, with the terrorists.

The fourth story is about Hachimaki taking Yuri home to meet his family. There, Hachimaki contends with his annoying little brother and Yuri possibly flirting with his mom. There’s also some okay-ish character development for Yuri, though it feels like Yukimura is shoehorning it in, and a lot of humor involving the little brother.

The last story is about Hachimaki having space paranoia or something and how he works through it. It’s a fairly serious finally, without much action or payoff, making it a very uneven finish.

Overall, Planetes peaks a little too early. The last couple stories, ostensibly imperative for character development, just aren’t interesting. The one with Hachimaki’s family plays way too much to humor (at Hachimaki’s expense) and then the last story positions him as dangerously vain, with Yukimura again avoiding exploring it fully.

There’s a lot of cool stuff to Planetes, but it ought to be adding up to something by the end of the volume and it doesn’t. Yukimura’s capital A ambitions, at least with the characters, never work out. The little stuff, like Fee’s cigarette obsession or Hachimaki’s flirtation, works out a lot better. Yukimura just hasn’t got it with the character development… even though he focuses on it.

PTSD (2019)

The best thing about PTSD is creator Guillaume Singlein’s action. He paces it beautifully. The book, when it doesn’t have dialogue but just people doing things… it looks its best. So it makes sense Singlein’s going to be good at the action too. Of course, whether or not PTSD should have action is a whole other thing.

The comic takes place in a post-racial Asian metropolis. There are Asian people, White people, Black people. No difference between them. It's almost post-gender too—the many women living on the street in the comic don’t seem to be under threat of rape, for instance—but when the protagonist flashbacks to her war days, her comrades definitely treat her as a little sister more than an equal.

Even though she’s the only one who can shoot.

Singelin’s male-gaze-free manga style also plays into the postish-genderness.

So the protagonist. She lost an eye in the war; the flashbacks lead up to that event, after focusing on when she learns certain things pertinent to the present action (her medic skills). In the present she’s a loner on the streets, addicted to painkillers (government provided to vets, which Singlein doesn’t explore and is, I suppose, one of the biggest logic holes in his ground situation), not above robbing the occasional fellow junkie or even inept drug dealer.

Her path to redemption comes in the form of a kindly old vet—the war has been going on forever (and is presumably still going on but that one’s not clear either)—who loans her a dog. The dog then gives our hero the will to live.

So she goings to war, Punisher-style, with the drug dealer gang.

Hence the awesome, albeit narratively questionable action. She’s especially dangerous with the dog, who goes along even on rooftops, and her lost eye doesn’t do anything to impair depth perception, which is good.

Besides the dog and the old man, the only people who like the hero are a single mom diner owner and her son. Only our hero doesn’t care about the single mom’s attempts at altruism—Singelin has a really, really hard time writing the dialogue for the single mom and why she’s all of a sudden caring about the starving people on the streets—but he does manage to queer code the hell out of the relationship.

And, spoiler, it’s all a red herring.

Because when our hero does find herself, it’s got nothing to do with the mom, the kid, the old man, or the dog. Singlein got to the end of the avenging vet angel arc and then realized it was actually classist, apparently, and so our hero has to move forward in a different way. Other than just having all the drugs.

The only thing unpredictable about the end is when Singlein does a pointless six month time jump forward.

Good movement, even if manga’s not your thing, but it gets real bumpy during the dialogue. Really, really, really bad dialogue. Not sure if it’s Singelin or the translator.

But the simplistic motivations and anorexic character depth suggests no translator was going to fix the existing problems.

I mean, hey, if you’ve got the shakes from PTSD… try doing charity work. Works better than highly addictive drugs.

Nice art can only compensate for so much.

Batman Versus Predator (1991)

Batman Versus Predator

Batman Versus Predator, in case the title doesn’t give it away, is bad. It’s real bad. It could be worse, sure, but it’s real bad.

It doesn’t open terribly—sure, the Kubert Brothers art is pretty bland from go, but the subject matter is at least sort of interesting (compared to where it goes later). And writer Dave Gibbons (who doesn’t just overwrite the comic, he badly overwrites it) has some style for the opening. He juxtaposes the Predator attacking some old guy and his dog with the Gotham City championship boxing match. The former isn't important (other than it's a little weird the Predator is attacking a junkyard watchman), but the latter turns out to be the whole comic. See, the Predator isn’t initially interested in hunting Batman or even (armed) criminals or (armed) cops. It’s out to take out the championship boxers.

Because they’re champions. Says so on the news. The Predator watches a lot of news in Batman Versus Predator and repeats sound bytes to make dialogue. Because Gibbons is incapable of writing an action sequence without a bunch of stupid recycled sound bytes the Predator has picked up somewhere. At one point, it seems like the comic would be at least somewhat better without their constant addition. But then, once the Kuberts never get any better—they can’t make the Predator versus the criminals interesting, they can’t even make Batman versus the Predator interesting, though it’d probably be hard to do given the big showdown is in the woods surrounding Wayne Manor. But there are times when it doesn’t seem like Batman Versus Predator isn’t going to be a complete waste of time.

Sadly, all of them are in the first issue (of three). And by the end of the first issue, it seems kind of unlikely the book is ever going to turn around.

Most of the comic, overall, is about the crooked businessmen and gangsters who run Gotham (and the boxers) getting wiped out by the Predator. It kills them because… it knows they’re swinging dick criminals and it came to town to hunt some white collar looking criminals. Then it takes on Batman and puts him down for the count—there’s this terribly ineffective device where Gibbons and the Kuberts have a single panel showing Batman getting home all cut up at the bottom of pages while above the main action with the cops or crooks or whatever plays out.

Because Jim Gordon’s got a big part. Not sure why he doesn’t try to take out the Predator himself as the Kuberts draw him just as buff as Batman, which is considerable because they’re Batman is super buff. So big and buff it’s like, obviously you need some meaty muscle guy like Ben Affleck for that part.

But you wouldn’t want to see Batman Versus Predator: The Movie with Batfleck or anyone else, because the only thing the comic succeeds at showing is how bad it would be. Even though it’s about two “characters”—Batman arguably has less personality than the sound byte spouting Predator here—who are known for their wonderful toys, there’s not much competition.

You’d think after fighting aliens since the fifties or whenever they first showed up in a Batman comic, Bats would have some better ideas than he comes up with here. Nope. There are a couple times in action scenes where it’s like… why did that work? The Predator is scared of cars?

The big action finale has Batman in special armor, which looks like the suit from the end of Batman Forever, though I don’t think the Kuberts got a thank you, and then he has a sword at some point. Because armor and swords and whatever.

Batman Versus Predator is pretty dumb, even for a comic called Batman Versus Predator. I’ll bet if you bought this comic back in 1990 thinking it would resemble Watchmen in some way because of Gibbons, you were pissed as all hell. Though, as someone who bought it back in the day—at age twelve—I recall being shameless about it.

I shouldn’t have been shameless. I should’ve acutely felt the shame.

Angola Janga

Ang2

Angola Janga is historical fiction. It falls victim to a few of the genre’s main pitfalls. Cartoonist Marcelo D'Salete has done his research, he knows all the facts. And he moves within them. With the single exception of flashing forward to modern-day, urban Brazil (which turns out to be a bad move), D’Salete does it all straight. He stays within those fact lines. And Janga suffers for it.

Also, it suffers from the translation’s subtle Kingdom of Runaway Slaves. The actual translation of the original subtitle would be something like A History of Palmares. Now, maybe Fantagraphics is thinking American audiences won’t know Palmares—it’s a quilombo or a settlement of escaped slaves in 17th century Brazil. Palmares lasted eighty-nine years before the Portuguese destroyed it.

D’Salete doesn’t do a great job, in the comic, of laying out Palmares or the kingdom. The supporting cast isn’t interchangeable because there’s not really a supporting cast. Not of the escaped slaves. There’s a bunch of Portuguese supporting players, but it’s a core group of African survivors.

The comic starts in 1673. Palmares started in 1605. So D'Salete is skipping a lot of the formative stuff, because it’s not about the formative stuff. It’s not really a “History” of Palmares. Not like you’d know anything more about the historical facts. D’Salete, as an artist, also isn’t big on aging his cast, so they never feel like living people. And D’Salete’s got a great essay about the history. Mixing text and comics might be the better way of conveying the story. Though Angola Janga’s story also falls victim to that other big historical fiction pitfall… the wrong protagonist. D’Salete picks the wrong guy to follow, even though the whole thing is structured to follow this guy. He lacks personality, even as D’Salete keeps throwing him curveballs, the protagonist never reacts in an interesting way. Meanwhile all the Portuguese get great characterizations—with a single exception, they’re all exceptionally bad people—D’Salete gives them a lot of personality. But the actual good guys, D’Salete tries to humanize them through their faults. It’s very weird.

Again, D’Salete’s sticking to the facts and his cast are historical figures but… he’s got no insight into them. Hence why a more mixed media approach might sit better. Especially given there are leaps ahead in time between every chapter and no time spent connecting to the previous one’s cliffhanger or finish.

Art-wise, D’Salete’s fine. He’s best, both in art and writing, when doing the battle sequences. They’re incredible and make you wish he just did a war comic out of it instead of the story of the settlement’s downfall. The history is full of doubt, cowardice, and betrayal. D’Salete never makes it feel melodramatic but he also never makes it compelling.

It ought to at least be compelling. The battle stuff is phenomenal; compelling. The rest is obviously interesting, but not interesting in its execution.

Punks Not Dead: London Calling

No spoilers, but Punks Not Dead: London Calling is obviously the last Punks Not Dead for a while. It’s the second Punks Not Dead series and it’s excellent, but it’s clearly finite when you’re reading the early issues. It’s a wrap-up series. It’s not growing. Writer David Barnett and artist Martin Simmonds are tying off threads versus stretching them out.

So when the series manages not to feel reductive, it’s a feat. The mystery of lead Fergie’s dad, which is pretty much the A plot throughout, works out. Sure, Fergie’s sidekick, Sid, gets reduced to a supporting player but so does everyone. So does Fergie. Instead of the characters driving the narrative, the narrative acts as a VW bus and drives the cast to their next scenes.

Insert super-film snobby reference to Other Side of the Wind here, which no one will get unless you did.

Barnett’s got some solid set pieces and some great observations–particularly how disappointing punk turned out to be in terms of social change–and nice characterizations. Culpepper’s still great and she’s still around, she’s just not a force of nature like before. Her sidekick, young agent Baig… well, even though he’s ostensibly got an important role to play in events… he really does feel shoehorned in as the gay Muslim dude.

And it really feels like there’s at least a missing issue about the bonding between Fergie’s mom, Julie, and his crush, Natalie. Barnett’s in a hurry, after all; he’s got to resolve the cliffhanger stuff from the previous series while introducing and working to a series conclusion in this series. It’s a lot.

The sequel series to close-off the first series is an indie comic publication trope at this point (though it didn’t really happen at old school Vertigo, which is about the closest comparison to what Black Crown Press has managed to do–make an imprint of comics worth reading at least once; major props to Shelly Bond). Barnett and Simmonds do well enough in their wheelhouse; Simmonds does a lot of double-page spreads in the middle of the series and a lot less towards the end. He could’ve used some at the end, to the point I thought I was missing a page. Or two or three.

Maybe I was missing those pages… it would explain a lot, but I don’t think so. I think they were just rushed and had to wrap it up, which is a shame; Punks Not Dead introduced a fantastic cast and was primed for far more than just one sequel series.

Hopefully the band will get back together someday.

Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell’s Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is another of these YA graphic novels without any chapters or natural narrative breaks. The first time I came across one, I realized it was going to be a trend and yep, it’s a trend. The difference is last time it didn’t work, this time it works out perfectly. Writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s plotting works for a single sitting read. Tamaki has these narrative frames—the protagonist writing emails to an advice columnist—which provide a nice backdrop and structure. The protagonist not being particularly reliable also helps.

Not reliable like she might be dishonestly reporting to the advice columnist (and thereby the reader) but she’s not reliable. She messes up, just enough to stay actively hopeful she won’t mess something else up. Because at some point it just becomes her predicted behavior.

The protagonist, Freddy (short for Frederica), is dating the titular Laura Dean, a popular girl. Freddy’s got her core group of gay friends, while Laura Dean seems to be popular with everyone. It’s never explained why Laura Dean is popular—other than her mom frequently being out of town and there being booze and beds—but it’s also never explained exactly what Freddy sees in her. Presumably it’s some unquantifiable attraction thing but… Tamaki doesn’t give it enough attention. And Valero-O’Connell’s art doesn’t do implying of that nature. It implies other things; it has to imply a lot of other things, actually, because Freddy is frequently turned away from the panel or somehow obscured. We don’t get to see her reaction shots to how things play out around her.

There’s something non-committal about the book too—it’s aimed at a YA audience and there’s a certain age appropriateness. Or not being willing to not be age appropriate, which is fine but is definitely going to limit some potential.

It’s a solid read. Valero-O’Connell puts a lot into the panel layouts and compositions and it works.

I’m not a hundred percent on the coloring. At least every page something is pink. It’s a drab pink, kind of a mopey one. Or maybe the story’s just sad a lot. But it doesn’t add anything to the work.

Last thing—Tamaki has these talking stuffed animals, which is awesome, and not in it anywhere near enough.

Blast From The Past: American Flagg #1

9404 20051117164334 large

Recently I spread the word on Howard Chaykin’s recent series on the history of comics from the inside, Hey Kids! Comics!, being a success for the seasoned comics creator. Within that review, I mentioned his earlier effort, American Flagg, which I believe to be his most successful creation. So lo and behold, here I am at one of the local comics shows, and what leaps into my hand but a copy of AF #1. Didn’t look like it had been read, was in a clean bag and a board, and was for sale for the bargain price of one dollar. Obviously an omen, I had to relive this older favorite of mine.

Chaykin, who’s made his rep depicting high adventure, lusty, cynical, violent hero types, perhaps like many creators, uses his leads as a portrayal of themselves as center actors, living through their characters. Howie is certainly guilty of this, but while his leading males are certainly bigger than life, they are also infused with an everyman sense of how outrageous their situations are, and a sense of indignation for being put there. Rueben Flagg, our protagonist, is an out of work soap opera actor replaced by a holographic projection, and finds himself working a crap job as a law enforcement officer at the local Plexmall, a microcosm of what future society holds for us, excesses and all. It’s midwest based, with the Plexmall inspired by suburban Chicago malls, with numerous local inflections sprinkled along the way.

To Chaykin’s luck and First publisher Rick Obdiah’s credit, Chaykin gets LOTS of leeway on mature content for a comic I could of sworn was on the newsstands. Flagg jumps right into the action, the basic plot and numerous characters introduced at breakneck speed to keep action in the forefront. While they may display a stereotypical slant to them, Chaykin’s self sense of interest leaves a fresh, spicy imprint on all, giving his actors a personal distinctiveness rare among comics, especially right off the bat here. The boundaries of good taste are also pushed a bit, with suggested sex, drugs, and continuous gang violence just the beginning of this ride.

While Chaykin is always on the forefront of narrative graphic panel composition, American Flagg displays an assurance of talent, a mature mastery of eye movement, composition, and the full integration of literal word messaging within the panels contents. Rare indeed are the experimental approach and the common sense of storytelling disciplines working in perfect tandem as they do here.

Yet another strength in Chaykin’s bag of tricks is is an ability to constantly invent costumes and clothing. The thought and detail here should be a visual lesson to any creator of what it takes to produce a multi layered, textural reading environment. This makes the comic repeatedly accessible, each new read revealing previously missed visual cues. I really didn’t notice the “ben day dot” effect till my second read, that gives the figures another easy to achieve level of depth, allowing Chaykin to focus elsewhere within the panel on other inventions.

Big kudos to “new” letterer Ken Bruzenak here, who’s skill at typography and design take Chaykin’s birthings to a new level. There are literally dozens of fonts on display here, encyclopedic in their numbers, yet fully clear with their intent and narrative focus. Flagg incorporates figure drawing, graphic design, and typography to a high level here, and it works just fine. Lynn Varley’s limited palette with its 64 standard printing colors is also a demonstration of what pros can do with skill and limited means. What both accomplish here without computers certainly paves the the way for later practitioners.

While one can quibble with Chaykins manish approach and overtly sexy derring do, it’s obviously what inspires him to do comics at this level in the first place. What he does with 28 pages here is a visual testimony of his skills, and a “restrained” approach for a wider audience. All of the actors here are likable, stylish, and leave a great impression with the reader, despite their role in the drama.

Like the fine arts, comics sometimes are so far ahead of their time, their true value not recognized until much later. This books mainstream accessibility along with its continuous sophisticated display of invention, form a perfect balance of commerce and creativity, easily placing it into my pantheon of favorite comic books.

American Flagg, now over 35 years old, still remains as fresh and different as the day it was published, a superior effort from one of comics modern masters. Quite the bargain at a buck, which was also its original cover price, by the way.

Nowak’s Girl Town

Girl Town is haunted. Far more than it is haunting. Creator Casey Nowak often cuts right before it gets haunting, instead its cast is haunted. Town collects five different stories. At least two of them deal with heartache. Two of them deal with nonspecific ache. One of them is potential literature but in the modern podcast, fandom era.

Nowak has some similar themes and visuals. She’s got this “roofs off” shot she does into houses. Sometimes it’s for establishing shots, sometimes it’s for scene. Usually it’s establishing shots. Theme-wise, things are often in a near future of some sort. The first story has space being colonized and attractive women left behind on Earth instead of getting to go into space. The third story—by far the longest one (sort of the “feature”)—is about a woman getting a sex robot who proves, just like the T-800, to be the only one who measures up (no, not that way). Those two stories, the futuristic realism ones, are the two heartache stories. The first one—the first story in the collection—ends with this really awesome, really weird move from Nowak where she changes things up at the last minute, staying truer to the character than reader expectation.

It helps set the tone for the rest of the book. Like the second story, which has an unexpected finish as well. It’s a little bit more magical realism than futuristic; there are some mundane fantastics in it, but no specific sci-fi tech. The second story is really good too. Town just keeps getting better until the sex robot feature; after it, the intensity of the read changes. The fourth story is that aforementioned potential literature one. It’s all about these two podcasters who get their hands on a copy of a rare vampire TV movie from the early nineties. It’s got a cult following, even though no one has seen it since it first aired. It works out to be a really nice, really assured story. Different from everything else, but a nice show of range.

Then the finale is an encore of the quiet devastation Nowak does earlier. The last story has no futurism, no magic. It’s just about sadness and memory. The characters are so layered—Nowak’s got these aching leads opposite powerful, confident love interests and friends—and the finish to the story just makes the whole book ache. Just like the first story’s ending reverberates through the rest of the read, the last reveal shoots it back to the front. Girl Town is a literal mood.

Hey Kids! Comics! – Howie Chaykin’s History of Comics

Heykids

Howie Chaykin, a writer/artist who’s been on the comic scene since the early seventies, has always been a bit of an outsider. While he’s done his share of the standard and not so standard mainstream hero fare, has generally exemplified his best work among the “anti mainstream” tendencies. After all, a guy’s gotta work, right? But it’s within those oddball, fantasy concepts he reveres and excels in.

Early on at DC, working on the Burrough’s revival Weird World series, the wonderful Sword of Sorcery adaptions from Fritz Lieber; the related creator owned Cody Starbuck from Gary Frederich’s Star Reach label; culminating here on his most successful creation (in my own humble opinion), American Flagg for First comics. About this time he matured, decided to push the envelope on “acceptable” comics, and went off on a series of outlaw concepts for the mature readers Vertigo line, did the nasty x rated Black Kiss series at Vortex, and stayed away from the big two, only dipping his feet in the water for the steady paying work. During a recent reentry into semi mainstream, he collaborated with writer Matt Fraction on the wonderful (but also not fer kids) Satellite Sam series at Image.

While all this time having both steady income and critical praise, he still kept that outsider, trend bucking cynic that picked scabs frequently off those with gentler tastes. Whether brought on by personal experiences or sympathetic attitudes towards his fellow creators, this history in comics has brought him to create Hey Kids! Comics!, a five issue history of comic books and the creators that brought them to life and suffered greatly for the experience.

Chronically depicting the lives of three comic books creators that spent their lives working within our favorite hobby, he covers lots of ground by splitting chapters by decades, showing the aging and growth of our protagonists and the world they inhabit, warts and all. It’s a good way to keep all the misery from overcoming us, done in several page chapters, each issue repeating the format while continuing the main story, as well as some of the more scandalous and heartbreaking tales from its history.

Chaykin spares no expense here in the lives of these creators, as they struggle to continue to earn a living, meanwhile watching the business grow and evolve around them, swallowing decency and mutual friends along the way. The comics business is shown by its soft underbelly, the stuff you didn’t want to know, but knew it existed. The many lives destroyed in its endless conquest for fame and the almighty dollar.

While a decent understanding of comics actual history will provide dividends to those who study such things, the synonyms of those depicted will entertain and horrify any reader. The industry whose products we loved for a lifetime had their origins in stories not far removed from EC horror comics of the fifties. Both sides of the coin are represented and contrasted, the wealthy publishers, the insane editors, and the mercilessly taken advantage of creators, adding up as entertainment for mainstream comic readers that probably didn’t even know they existed for the most part.

Chaykin is in his element here, ceaselessly parading it all for us, never withholding the sordid truths, the monetization of sex, the racism and ever present class warfare, all adding to our precious comic memories, unshielding our eyes from it’s mean and devastating truths.

Aesthetically, one can say Chaykin here has some of his ticks that some readers may find off putting; his slight visual repetitions from one character to another and an expanding list of characters can make you work a bit to keep it all straight. I read each issue a couple of times, then blew through all five for a much more coherent and continuous read. The sheer cynicism on display here could turn off some readers, but its the subject matter here thats off putting, Chaykin’s talents only serve too well the stuff he’s depicting. For me, these ticks can be forgiven. After all, Howie is in his seventies, and he’s producing here an incredible tale- a sympathetic story thats incredibly sad mostly because it is real and the casualties are those we grew to love and admire in our desire for four colored fairy tales.

Chaykin only works with A-list talent, so kudos also to Wil Quintana’s rich, lively colors, and the never ending varieties of Ken Bruzenak’s lettering. Also assisting in his line up are several guest stars, helping him create the detailing that helps give the book life and it’s authentic touch, as well as back matter thats essential.

Despite whether you can stomach the details and the story, the utter lack of ethics or morals portrayed by those in charge that benefitted the most from them, there can be no doubt that (paraphrasing from the book) comic books are truly the ATMs of the media development industry these days.

Howie, you’re a tough read. But somebody’s got to do it, and while I’m sorry its you, you are the best fitted for it. Thank you.

More Formal Comics: Kevin Huizenga

Ganges #5Ganges #5; Fantagraphics; 2016; $8, 32 pgs; in print.
Ganges #6; Fielder Media; 2017; $8, 36 pgs; in print.
Fielder #1; Drawn & Quarterly; 2017; $8, 36 pgs; in print.

As far as results in mainstream comics go, entertainment is the number one priority, generally. But what if a creator(s) wanted to add something else to the mix? More extraneous content, such as a secondary, or plural purpose behind their intentions? Formal comics, as I call them, take into account a creator’s desire to go beyond simple entertainment. Such as adding a “profound” point, or perhaps displaying further inclusions into the author’s mind. Perhaps, dare I say it, comics providing an additional level of sensory experience?

Kevin Huizenga, what one could label a contemporary formal cartoonist, has been working for a number of years now, eschewing powerful fictional leads and situations, and produced some truly thought provoking work, with a talent that still entertains, yet seeks to provide another layer of humanism to the mix.

Initially in self produced “fanzine” formatted mini comics, Kevin has explored subtle questions about a variety of personal interests, pushing the expectations of comics in a uniquely different direction, while simultaneously giving himself aesthetic challenges to what comics depict, as well as attempt to reveal questions that puzzle him and provide impetus to produce comics, and test the mettle of his act of creation.

These examinations look toward the real and the imagined, the easily visible and experienced, as well as the realm of unreality itself. Whether it be a more traditional biographical approach, incorporating the side tracks and inroads towards non visceral, imagined, and theoretical reality as well.

His narrative approach, while seeming scattershot at times, reveals an artist that loves tangents, forks in the road as it were, to explore and develop as he goes along and discovers them, all the while keeping a touch of narrative approach to keep the reader on board. These little pamphlets have the physical ability to be both charming, intellectual, yet never entirely give up on the basic goal of comics themselves: to keep the reader reading, take them on a journey, and prove to them its an interesting journey in and of itself.

Now this approach can be fortuitous with success, or a disaster that leaves the reader lost, whirling in an undefined haze that ditches the needs of the reader for an egotistical self navel gazing mess that no one but the creator is interested in. For every rare successor, there are countless others that have left the witness behind in a surreal dimension that is neither interesting and fails utterly to come close to entertainment.

Yet, Huizenga’s craft level does this, submerging his personal context to keep the oddball topics accessible and even provoking. This is even reflected in his artwork that continues this approach, sublimating any type of recognizable style of rendering for a simple, basic, shape based set of visual icons that doesn’t bombard the reader with fancy visual tricks. It almost could be categorized as a non art type of visual, leaving no overt personality to interfere with the ideas he’s exploring.

Ganges #6

Such mundane topics as cohabitation, video games, sleep disorders, as well as fascinations with historical figures and events are all delivered with an almost generic method of depiction, yet the effect of page layout on the way your eye travels across the page are all done with the utmost care during this process, each with its own set of visual cues that the witness can grasp, and have fun with on this journey.

We comic readers generally all have this “stack” of unread comics we’ve accumulated yet not read, and when I recently purchased a copy of Huizenga’s Ganges #6, and discovered I had a copy of issue #5, they both fell into a two issue examination of the life and experiences of protagonist Glenn Ganges, a character I assume is a metaphor for Huizenga himself. Shortly after, I came across his newest comic, Fielder, that nicely rounds out a good reading challenge.

Ganges #5 explores many domestic topics including his relationship with Wendy, Glenn’s wife(?), their shared careers in creative art, the interaction of family members during a funeral that winds up with feelings of misplaced guilt that pretty much anyone could relate to. All of these topics work within the 12 page story, and despite its all over the place approach, comes off as linear and relaxed. The second, which begins as an overview of James Hutton, the originator(?) of modern geological theory, segues into an existential treatise on the passage of time, and how perception can completely turn around your view in an instant, all the while keeping its narrative focus and avoid being a didactical mess. It’s rounded out by a few pages of short bursts, comprised of little questions thrown at the reader to puzzle and explore.

Ganges #6 significantly ups the ante, utilizing almost the entire issue depicting reflections of Glenn’s perception of reality, seamlessly integrating a more complex set of visual tactics, dense packed with as many things as the brain can handle, yet it still comes off as a structured narrative, with as good a conclusion as we can produce in our own real time. All this and accomplishing a developed set of visual devices while still maintaining a non personal, simple drawing style that keeps the focus on its proceedings. Ganges #6 would have to be one of the more complex comic books I have ever read, yet keeps its identity as an accessible, entertaining exercise in its own right. Incredible.

Fielder #1

Fielder #1, the most recent, entertains, yet provides a half book length exploration this time putting forth his formal recreation of an abysmal third rate 60’s style adventure comic, breaking it down into pieces to examine its elements, and displaying their strengths and weaknesses for us to contemplate. The final set of short stories, one featuring Glenn Ganges and an overview of the mixing of sleeping and waking perceptions, features little reference to personal life pretty much entirely, and another more abstract video game interpretation of creation(?) round it out, except for the final tale, an unmistakable auto biographical foray in to Ganges life as an artist, takes a 180 degree turn as it is realistic, and cannot be confused with anything other than a mature cartoonist at the crossroads of his career and life. It comes off as somewhat melancholy, and discusses in length developments in his drawn work, and is purposely I believe depicted in as personal and realistic(?) manner as Huizenga has ever shown. While troubling, it may signify an end(?) to his previous approach, and sadly to this reader, an unknown sense of whether we’ll see him again. Nonetheless, Fielder #1 remains a solid example of what has come so far, and I really want to see what comes next for this impassioned, thought provoking artist that many can relate to, and of course, enjoy. I also noticed that the time it took me to read these three 32 page comics was just about 2 hours total. Try getting that much experience from three issues of the X-Men.

While Huizenga is not a simple read, he pays great dividends to the comic readers that will appreciate a road less traveled, as well as one that transcends typical storytelling methods for a greater reward, and perhaps an expanded view of what comics can be and achieve.

Biddi-biddi-boo, Or: The Eltingville Prescience – The Eltingville Club HC

Either Evan Dorkin’s got the Eltingville TV rights back or whoever has them is a complete numbskull because the book’s so relevant you could subtitle it “An Incel Fable” and it’d be totally appropriate, narratively speaking.

But it’d be somewhat intellectually dishonest, as Dorkin started The Eltingville Club long before the incels had a self-identity or community. Dorkin’s actually way too optimistic… or maybe anti-pessimistic in his predications for fandom.

This edition collects every Eltingville story, published over twenty-one years from 1994 to 2015. The last two stories are the two-issue closer Dorkin did, which I had read when they were published; I hadn’t read any of the shorter strips. I did watch the TV pilot, which is “included” in the trade in the pilot was an adaptation of one of the stories.

I actually won this book in a giveaway promotion Dorkin ran. It’s one of the few things I’ve won online. Awesome prize.

I had planned on reading through the collection (does anyone else want to call hardcover collections trades but then can’t because they aren’t?), but an Eltingville-read friend told me it might be better with some breaks. And, wow, is he right. Eltingville is exhausting.

Although Dorkin published the book over twenty-one years, besides the final “flash forward,” no one ages. The Club is frighteningly eternal, its four members not growing any older or any wiser over their adventures. Their adventures always involve some major pop culture—or, at least at the time, comic book culture details, which do change to reflect current events. So it’s a comic strip where the characters don’t age but react to current events.

I didn’t realize how long the two final issues ran and I expected to read the book in three sittings; first two sittings the shorter stories, last sitting the two-parter. But it turns out there actually isn’t a lot of shorter stuff, it’s sixty percent of the material sure, but it’s nine strips adding up to sixty percent.

It’s fine—it makes the first issue of the two-parter even more impressive to see how artfully Dorkin is able to scale to a longer narrative—but it did leave me focused on the finale more than the first twenty years of material.

Most of the stories involve the Club getting into either a fight or significant trouble (or illness) because leader Bill is a complete dick. Bill is the comics guy. Josh is the sci-fi guy. Pete is the horror guy. Jerry is the RPG guy. Bill’s the leader and finds himself constantly arguing with Josh, because—as it turns out as the series progresses—they’re alter egos. Sort of. Enough. Pete and Jerry are mostly just there, though Pete gets enough material over the stories it’s too bad when he becomes such a significant creep in the flash forward.

Dorkin doesn’t have any sympathy for the Club and doesn’t ask for any from the reader. They’re assholes. To each other, to their parents, to everyone. It’s incredible. And incredibly funny. Dorkin gets some crying laughing laughs into these stories. Sometimes you don’t even need to get the pop culture reference.

Reading the original, mid-nineties stories, Dorkin’s prescient about where fandom and the Internet is going. Eltingville never feels dated, even when they’re talking about Batman Forever. Dorkin was really good about anticipating burgeoning fandoms too. The older stories are also relevant as a documenting of the evolving fandom awfulness.

Dorkin’s epilogue is somewhat hopeful (realistically hopeful?) for things, though it’s from 2015 and 2015 was a time where measured hopefulness was still a thing.

Would Eltingville be as good if the world weren’t such a shit show? Yes, but there’d be different adjectives to use about Dorkin. The comic is just the right combination of hilarious and terrifying. Excellent art from Dorkin—it’s really cool to see how he’s developed, cartooning-wise, with the last two issues. Eltingville is a must.

Insert Meow Joke Here: Jonesy or, Alien vs. Cat Requiem

I’ve had various problems with the first Alien movie over the years, but it wasn’t until I read Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo did I realize the film has some major problems regarding the cat. Like, it’s not enough of a cat. Of all the times I’ve seen Alien, I think I’ve only seen it once since becoming a cat-person.

Creator Rory Lucey does a great job doing the film—sort of—through the cat’s perspective. The cat’s only in Alien so much, so there are only so many scenes from the film adapted. A lot of the book is the cat finding somewhere comfortable to sleep or scratching on something or going after the alien’s tail.

Lucey doesn’t adapt all those scenes. While completely believable, there’s not a scene where the cat lovable messes up the crew’s breakfast. Jonesy seems like a lot more of a dick in the movie and far less affectionate with the crew but he’s sweet and adorable in the book.

One would also hope their cat—even if it’s a communal cat—might bat an eye when a space monster is killing them. Lucey’s Jonesy doesn’t. The deaths take place off panel in one way or another. Brett gets it in silhouette, for example.

Lucey removes the horror from the story and instead does a cute cat story. It works. For a cat-person (owner or not), the book will be fun. Jonesy acts like a real cat in the book (as opposed to the movie); he’s a real pain in the ass. Ripley’s got to lock him out of rooms, he’s trying to get the human food, he messes with Dallas’s hat. All very cat.

Not very Alien though. It’s kind of impossible to imagine how they’d be able to do the whole run a spaceship thing with this troublesome cat around. During one sequence, Jonesy goes around to break all the precariously placed set decorations—the helmet on the bridge, the tippy toy. He also misses a lot of the action (he sleeps until it’s time for Ridley to put him in the carrier, through Parker and Lambert and Ash’s finales). It’s kind of weird given how much Lacey inserts him in the rest.

Jonesy’s pretty cute. It’s got some good giggles if you’re an Alien fan or a cat-person. Lucey’s discipline is impressive with the dialogue-free, single-sitting comic. The pace is always good, the art is always good. It’s conditionally worth a read.

Got to like cats. Got to know Alien pretty well to get the jokes.

Wait, I don’t get the title: Colleen Coover’s Small Favors

I have no idea how I’m going to talk about Small Favors; it’s my first “erotic” comic. Possibly ever. (The first edition of Lost Girls is sitting on my shelf, still unread).

The collection’s subtitle is “The Definitive Girly Porno Collection.” I’m just worried what kind of SEO I’m going to get from frequent usages of the phrase “Girly Porno.”

So. We’ll see how this post goes.

The collection—three years of short stories, plus sketches, plus at least one new story—starts with compulsive masturbator Annie (set off by her fetching neighbor) getting in trouble for her lack of conscience. So she gets assigned on in the form of Nibbil. Nibbil’s probably the size of an action figure. And Annie seduces her before they even get back to the real world from the magical sexy land. Sexy but no sex. Annie’s got too much of the sex is the whole point.

After the setup, each strip is basically Annie and Nibbil being adorable and then having sex. Eventually they make a girl friend—every character in Small Favors is a woman, which becomes apparent after Nibbil reveals to Annie she can grow to human-size (instantaneously, which writer and artist Colleen Coover uses imaginatively)—and have adventures with her. Though their adventures tend to all go the same way. Adorable setup at the beginning of the strip, then sex.

There’s some tension involving a bean counter out to confirm Nibbil’s doing her job in keeping Annie’s sex addiction under control and another subplot involving the girl friend trying to find love. But mostly it’s just explicit and very positively portrayed sex.

Coover’s Good Girl art is fantastic. All but one of the strips are in black and white, with Coover occasionally trying a little bit different of a style. The color entry is fantastic; color adds a whole new dimension to Favors. Not the sexy time, but the narrative stuff. Well, probably the sexy time stuff too but the big surprise is how lush the Coover intends the world. The strip’s positivity doesn’t start and end with its constant hay-rolling.

I’m now getting into euphemism territory so it’s time to wrap up; Small Favors is precious and quite exquisitely executed.

A Cyndi Lauper reference seems inapt: Venable and Crenshaw’s Eighth Kiss

Kiss Number 8 is a really long read. Just around 300 pages, without any natural or artificial breaks. I kept waiting for a good point to put it down, after this development or that development, but writer Colleen AF Venable doesn’t ever slow down. Not even when protagonist Amanda will have an incredibly stressful evening and fall asleep, it’s not like there’s a pause before the next day. Venable and artist Ellen T. Crenshaw work up a great momentum.

Amanda is narrating the story, which is about the circumstances of her eighth kiss (presumably kissing partner; it’s heavily implied she never had second kisses with her previous kissers). 8 is set in what seems like Ohio, but only if people in Ohio talk shit about people in Pennsylvania for being a nothing state? But it’s definitely set in 2004, which occasionally seems anachronistic. Amanda finds some really, really sincerely woke people in its not-at-all-big-city locations. Or maybe the guy was shit talking Pennsylvania and it takes place in Pennsylvania (because there’s a real Meadville, Pennsylvania). Does it matter? A bit. The time period setting feels a little pointless, like it almost makes the bigot characters more acceptable? But not exactly, because dealing with the repercussions of bigots’ actions are one of the places 8 goes but doesn’t want to investigate.

Venable’s got a very set path she’s taking the protagonist on. No stepping off to explore, no taking a break, just forward on the path.

See, Amanda’s got a very big half year or however long the present action takes. She finds out a family secret, which boils down to obscene amounts of mental cruelty and abuse (not on Amanda, but on another family member), and sets her on a path of self-discovery, which has some major consequences too, but only because the comic starts out being about Amanda and her friends living in this development—which never gets visually explored, which is weird until you think about how close Venable’s keeping the narrative distance. Crenshaw’s art is always good, but she never explores anything. It’s a little too accessible.

Of course, it’s targeting teen readers, which might be why the story stops when it does, just as things seem like they’re going to start getting really interesting for Amanda in terms of actual character development. The problem with her self-discovery arc is Venable keeps too much self-perception a mystery; it doesn’t seem right Amanda’s narration would skip over her most important decisions. It’s weird.

It’s one of those “it’s heart is in the right place” but its ambitions are truncated.

Maybe it’s just one of the genre specific pitfalls—YA graphic novels are, more than anything before, real “graphic novels.” Kiss Number 8 is all right, but given how front-loaded it ends up being… it seems even if YA graphic novels are their own medium, they’re still enough comics to desperately need the right editor.

New Comics Wednesday

I got four.

Had lunch with a friend recently and afterwards went to a comic store with him. While nothing hit me on the the mainstream rack, the indies had me curious. So here, in no particular order, and possibly not as new as “this weeks long underwear books”, is a smattering of what caught my eye, and got me to purchase them.

Pope Hats #4,5– when I got home, I discovered I had issue 4 in my “stack”, so I read ‘em both. Hartley Lin, current master of short stories about everyday people with issues, goes with an anthology style of shorts in 4 with good results. A half a dozen quick narratives are the stomping ground, with a huge swath of characters and some poignant conclusions on them. While each has a distinctness of it’s own, it s in issue 5 where Lin lets his inner talents loose with a lengthy 60 page story all about his well realized Frances, a young lady who’s watched her bff/roomie move away for work, and now deals pretty much alone with her position as a law clerk at a huge firm. While I could say it’s a more complicated version of Betty and Veronica, the love he has for the fate of Frances is more than communicated with a warm, formal, cartooning style that nearly brought me to tears here more than once. I now love Frances, I just can’t help myself.

Black Hammer-Age of Doom #8– while I picked up this middle issue cold, I was still familiar enough with the concept and the group here enough to catch on to the endless reboot theme thats underlying here. While there’s not terribly much meat on this comic, Dean Ormstrom’s art carries it, along with just enough willingness on my behalf for patience to see where Jeff LeMire is going with this. On the edge of teetering from it’s own weighty premises, Black Hammer gives something for those too crazy or stupid to give up on superhero comics.

House Amok #5 – one of those favorite Vertigo replacement series from Black Crown, Chris Sebela manages to take a fast paced crazy family story with likable characters and just about kill all the momentum he built in the first four issues. Not the ending I wanted, but Shawn McManus’ great cartooning helps digesting this mess immensely. Decent first four issues, though, the train wreck that composes issue 5 kills it.

Lodger #2 – Another Black Crown book, noir styled authors Maria and David Lapham relate a story here about a nomadish guy that gets involved with certain peoples lives, mostly for a bad ending for them. Lapham’s experience with down trodden folks and a love for depicting real violence give this one a convincing tone, and makes me curious for another.

All in all, not bad. Makes me want to try it again sometime. The threat of walking into a comic series cold was balanced by enough talent, and for the exception of Black Hammer, the ability to read a copy of something and get a warm fuzzy feeling while experiencing comics again, enjoying the random issues.

Even in the future of the future of law enforcement there is room for improvement: Frank Miller’s Robocop (2)

Like most media with a Frank Miller credit on it, Frank Miller’s Robocop does not aged well. More accurately, as far as Robocop goes anyway, it doesn’t improve with age or maturity. It was always as bad as it is now, every reading another bloody stab at nostalgia. Frank Miller’s Robocop is an adaptation of Miller’s original Robocop 2 script. It’s a pseudo-infamous script—Miller, hot off Dark Knight loves Robocop and writes the sequel. There’s a writer’s strike in there somewhere. When the sequel finally does get made, Miller’s script has been rewritten by Walon Green (who wrote some of The Wild Bunch script). The sequel doesn’t get a good reaction, everyone starts thinking it’s because Miller’s script got rewritten. But then Miller’s back for Robocop 3, which should seem weird but actually makes perfect sense because they’re really just using his Robocop 2 script ideas.

So Frank Miller’s Robocop initially comes off more like a Robocop 3 adaptation than a Robocop 2. The first three issues are just Robocop 3, then with 2 elements, but still with a bunch of 3 going on. If only adapter Steven Grant could unravel all these threads….

And he doesn’t. He leaves Robocop entirely jumbled, with Juan Jose Ryp’s highly detailed, precisely messy, very busy art not doing anything to save the comic. Ryp’s art never really hurts it—whoever gives him too many pages for action scenes, for example, is the one who hurts it. Ryp does well with fast paced action. He doesn’t do well slowing down to go through a throw-by-throw. Especially not with the comic’s version of “Robocop 2,” the big villain (sort of) in the finale. It usually feels like Grant’s never seen Ryp’s art, otherwise no one would plot out the scene the way Grant does.

Editing matters. Though with Frank Miller’s Robocop you probably don’t get to tell Frank Miller how his ideas are so bad, even a franchise-desperate movie studio could improve on them.

I’ve read this series something like three times now. Maybe four. Definitely three. I’ve read it as published (often delayed), I’ve read it slowly, I’ve binged it. It never gets any better. There’s never enough story for the issues or even the series. The first three have something like an arc, which suggests Grant might do something similar with the back six, but he doesn’t. Once the big action set pieces start, the comic rushes to get out of there way so Ryp can have too many pages to do boring action.

In the end, all Frank Miller’s Robocop does is raise questions not particularly worth having answered—did Miller write any of these characters any better, did he really have such bad plotting or was Grant trying to make it fit the nine issues (it feels like there’s one missing, though who’d want to read another one).

Robocop 2, the movie, is far from great shakes, but seeing notes on Miller’s script from the studio execs? Seeing those might be interesting, if only because there’s so much to “fix.”

(It’s also strange how few of the “regular” cast show up in the script. Makes you wonder what Miller liked about the first movie).

Peloponnesian Cliffs

1000006 150842101747455

En France… whoops, sorry. In France, Hercules came out in three forty-eight pages volumes. The first came out in 2012, the second in 2013, the third in 2017. It appears each volume is going to be one of Hercules’s twelve labors. Are they called labors? I spent about fifteen minutes trying to dig up original publication information because French comics information doesn’t get readily translated. The Wikipedia page for Hercules author JD Morvan is atrocious.

The reason I was trying to dig up that original publication information is because Wrath of the Heavens is five issues and gets through the first three labors. I was even reading up on Hercules’s Wiki to try to figure out if the story was done or if the gigantic cliffhanger was indeed a cliffhanger.

I’m not familiar with the mythological Hercules, which (thanks Wikipedia) doesn’t matter too much with Morvan’s hard sci-fi take on him. It’s the far flung future, humanity lives in some kind of servitude to intergalactic beings (the gods). There’s a bit about a revolution of the humans being bad because it would tank the economy. Morvan does a really good job updating the mythology and adding to it. Same goes for Looky, who realizes it all without ever getting goofy with the design. The gods look like gods, but in the context of being this special race of alien overlords.

There are some too obvious moves—humanity is called sklaves or slkaves or something similar. It’s slaves, get it. But it usually doesn’t matter because the story’s moving so well, which is another reason the strangely abrupt ending seems wrong. Morvan is very deliberate in his plotting. The finish is perfunctory at best.

The comic’s got some inventive and loose adapting as far as the mythological source material goes, which is weird at first then improves. Awesome art start to finish. Some of the characters resonate, even though Hercules is a bit underdeveloped. His actions are interesting to Morvan, not his reactions.

It’s a good comic. I only hope it doesn’t take another five years to get the next installment.

Though Titan, who translates and reprints, seem to have waited until the third volume was done for this series and it’ll be ages for labors four through six get done. There’s not even a four in France yet.

In Threes and Fours: Christmas Alien

DraggedImage de87247122884bd3b7fed94c6967342a

I’m really impressed with Johnnie Christmas’s Alien 3 from Dark Horse. No doubt they’ll lose their Fox licenses to Marvel, who should just have Disney buy Dark Horse at this point, since it would simplify reprints and give Marvel a better back catalogue.

Because someday Disney and AT&T having a big back catalogue of mainstream but indie genre comics will be important.

Anyway, Christmas is doing an adaptation of the William Gibson A3 script, which has probably been floating around the Internet since Usenet. I know I’ve downloaded it a couple times and never read it, separated by large swathes of time, getting it the second time because I was nostalgic for being a teenager who thought he’d someday have time to read unproduced screenplays, like it would be important.

Crying emoji.

But it’s not a bad story. Elements have come through in the subsequent sequels, though Christmas also appears to be doing some knowing homage, which is cool. Christmas never gets lost in the homage, just the occasional nod. It’s well-executed.

Unfortunately I read the first four issues without realizing it was a five issue series. I would have just waited. But depending on how it wraps up, I’m considering doing a focus on it. I watched about half of that “Alien: Isolation” digital series and so maybe I’m just more aware of how easy it is to do this kind of thing poorly—this kind of thing meaning to insert breaks into a narrative to serialize it—Christmas’s adaptation is more impressive.

I imagine it’ll all hinge on how it wraps up, but so far it’s all very character-focused. Christmas isn’t doing an Aliens comic so he can do a lot of Alien drawings. He always works with the characters, making it far more like Aliens than one would assume. Depending on that last issue, who knows… maybe I’ll finally read that Gibson script. Though I would need to download it again.

If this adaptation ends up being one of Dark Horse’s best Aliens comics… well, the best Robocop comic is the BOOM! Robocop 3 so….

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: