Sacred Creatures 3 (September 2017)

Sacred Creatures #3

Sacred Creatures is real long this issue. And nothing happens. Oh, wait, turns out the Seven Deadly Sins have somehow Rosemary’s Babied ne’er-do-well lead Josh’s baby. It’s all part of some ancient plan. Regardless, nothing happens. Lots of talking heads saying nothing and Raimondi and Janson don’t have the writing chops to make it pass. It’s generic, it’s formulaic, it’s boring. Raimondi’s art is still good, but Creatures is desperately low on steam.

CREDITS

Writers, Pablo Raimondi and Klaus Janson; artist, Raimondi; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Sebastian Girner; publisher, Image Comics.

Sacred Creatures 2 (August 2017)

Sacred Creatures’s second issue is still a longer-than-normal comic, but still feels like a significant decrease from the giant first issue. Raimondi and Janson are careful with their pacing. They jump around a bit–present, flashback, present, then introduce another character–and Raimondi seems a little pressed on space. His panels are sometimes tiny, just so he can get in all the story. This issue has some reveals, some clarifications; previous issue protagonist Josh seems like more a bystander to the big events going on around him. It’s a fine enough shift. He’s appropriately second-fiddle. It’ll be interesting to see what Raimondi and Janson do next–they’re not grandoisely ambitious, just exceptionally, professionally competent. At least in the writing, Raimondi’s art is plain awesome, even hurried.

CREDITS

Writers, Pablo Raimondi and Klaus Janson; artist, Raimondi; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Sebastian Girner; publisher, Image Comics.

Sacred Creatures 1 (July 2017)

Sacred Creatures #1

Sacred Creatures seems like a vampire book, but it might end up being an angel book. Angels can be Machiavellianly evil too.

This oversized first issue starts with an introduction to the evil “siblings,” who don’t really resemble each other in a familial sense, which is the first clue to something supernatural. Then there’s the introduction of a regular NYPD detective. Then there’s the introduction to the dorky white guy lead. Then there’s a big flashback sequence explaining what’s going on with the dorky, covered-in-blood, white guy lead. And then there’s a hunky blond priest running around saving the day. And saving the dorky white guy lead from giant possessed cats.

It’s a lot.

And writers Klaus Janson and Pablo Raimondi go all out. They write the heck out of it; they’re really working with the script, covering all their bases. Raimondi draws even more heck out of it. It’s a creater-owned property so Raimondi does have to be cost effective–all of the exteriors are what appear to be computer enhanced (beautifully so) photographs of New York City. At least during the flashbacks. The action’s too exciting to concentrate on backdrops.

Sacred Creatures isn’t the most original or the deepest book, but it’s solidly written and plotted and, more importantly, it’s Raimondi kicking ass on the art.

CREDITS

Writers, Pablo Raimondi and Klaus Janson; artist, Raimondi; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Sebastian Girner; publisher, Image Comics.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 5 (August 2016)

DKTMR-Cv5-ds-aa40bAs the millennials like to say, I just can’t. Go on reading The Master Race any longer, that is. Maybe Miller and Azzarrello have something amazing planned for the conclusion, but anyone following this series bimonthly instead of waiting for the trade is throwing their money away. Half the issues so far have been mediocre, but this is the first to be a total waste of time. With the exception of a nice underwater Aquaman double splash page, and some cool panels of the Kandorians finally getting some of the wind knocked out of their sails, all of the imagery is recycled – not only from previous issues of the series; Miller actually swipes from himself by putting us in the cockpit of the Bat-Tank once again, and putting him back in his power suit. The only twist is that he’s now joined, in a lame pseudo-big moment cliffhanger, by Superman in his own powersuit – Superman, whose apparent death in a previous issue has now been revealed to have only been so much pointless padding for the already anemic storyline.

The mini-comic is a real stunner of a disappointment as well. There are almost no backgrounds whatsoever; Superman’s daughter and a Kandorian are flying around trading vacuous quips atop fluorescent gradients. Nothing remotely interesting happens.

The only reason I didn’t ask for my money back is that comic book shops are dying and need all the help they can get, but crap like this is exactly why they’re dying. Monthly comics probably shouldn’t be a thing any longer, unless publishers want to make a real effort towards content that justifies the price tag. Maybe they should focus on publishing “graphic novels” and transitioning the shops into full-on bookstores, while putting more effort into promoting work like Paul Dini’s Dark Night: A True Batman Story which could appeal to both casual and longtime Batman fans. Last month’s double-issue-length Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade was surprisingly entertaining – clearly Miller and Azzarello are capable of doing decent, serviceable Batman stories, which only makes a comic like this one so insulting. If the whole trifle were published all at once in one volume, it might be an overall enjoyable read. But at present, this series is a scam.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Three; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 4 (June 2016)

STK699760Once again Miller and Azzarello punish me for getting my hopes up with this series. Once again, too, I notice myself praising Miller alone for every good chapter and the two of them for every bad one. As the series lurches onward, the finality of The Dark Knight Returns and its pitch perfect “good enough” grace note of a conclusion to Batman’s adventures are only further diluted. The Master Race is in an alternating holding pattern, as I recall issue #2 was similarly lethargic. The plot progresses predictably with zero surprises to the reader. The spoilers are two sentences long. $5.99 for two sentences worth of plot development, stretched out by endless splash panels and another mini-comic of wonky Frank Miller art, which is sadly the only memorable part of the experience. For DC, not Detective Comics but the asset of Time Warner’s media empire, to charge $5.99 for this while an indy outfit like Avatar Press charges a buck less per new installment of Providence is utterly pitiful. On the plus side Miller does retain a consistently pessimistic, contemporary point of view – Obama and Trump are again invoked and this time disparaged as equally cowardly appeasers to the eponymous Master Race. He and Azzarello do know how to plot out their simple, cynical story. The insult to the reader, which ruins these positives, is how blatantly he’s elongating a four issue story across eight issues for what can only be a contractual obligation. Per Miller’s worst habits, they haven’t even been published in a timely manner.

Being a member of that tiny hipster elite who can find some value in The Dark Knight Strikes Back, it saddens me to realize every time I reach Miller’s mini-comic midway through a new Master Race that his late-period derangement, which Big Two fanboys consider his weakness, isn’t even present here. His art is still big and crazy, he just didn’t care about this project enough to contribute more than a few pages every couple months, leaving Andy Kubert to carry that load with competence that feels reliably adequate to the point of blandness. The new series has been dishearteningly lacking in any big or crazy ideas; the storyline is neither as jarringly off-kilter as Dark Knight 2 nor as fresh and original as Dark Knight 1. This is a book that goes out of its way not to take chances. Dark Knight 3 simply exists, as Dark Knight 4 could someday exist and make all thast came before just a little less special. Something like All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was at least a beautiful disaster; a joyously irreverent prank. Master Race reads as though Azzarello came up with the uninspired story purely as a mechanical continuation of what is now a franchise (there’s a prequel coming) and Miller peppered in his stylized dialogue afterward.

Has anything really innovative actually been done with Bats or Supes since 1986 when Miller and Moore wrote their imaginary final adventures? Every other week DC relaunches their “universe” hoping someone will figure out how to make them relevant again, and it seems increasingly apparent that The Dark Knight Returns and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow really were the ultimate showstoppers. If Batman is doomed like all superheroes of the current era to be merely an amorphous multimedia IP rather than a comics character, the best entertainment anyone can hope for are occasionally some good cartoons. Maybe when The Lego Batman Movie is the highest profiting Batman movie of all time DC will finally give up on self-serious, pointless cash grab comics for nostalgic manboy fanboys and grow a new comics readership where the real money is: actual children.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Four; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 3 (February 2016)

dk3After Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Dark Knight III: The Master Race suddenly seems a lot better. The film wasn’t as bad as everyone histrionically made it out to be – Zach Snyder at least understands how to use these characters to compose compelling imagery, unlike Christopher Nolan. What the film reconfirmed to me is how irrevocably superheroes are tied to the comics page. This is their medium, and ironically only the relentless march of superhero movies can make me appreciate the value of a superhero comic. Frank Miller and Zach Snyder do have several things in common: an unpopular public image, a uncomfortable fixation on rape as a dramatic device, and an ambivalence bordering on contempt for Superman. As many reviews have pointed out, Ben Affleck’s Batman is essentially Frank Miller’s Dark Knight brought to life; an older and surlier abstraction of grimly righteous vigilantism who, yes, will pull the trigger of a gun if it means saving a life because that’s a decision a so-called “realistic” superhero would have to make, you liberal fanboy wimps. It’s really too bad Snyder didn’t do The Dark Knight Returns instead of Watchmen or BvS, not that BvS didn’t just swipe DKR sequences left and right throughout. Miller is a simpleton but Snyder does a simpleton’s adaptation of a simpleton. All the hammering on about gods and man and superman feels like it has a bit more of a point in Miller’s hands.

Issue 3 finally brings Bruce Wayne and Batman out of the shadows and as I’d hoped, Frank Miller still writes those cranky internal monologues better than anyone. If anything he’s writing them better than ever, now that he’s aged within five years of his old-man-Batman. He also incorporates topical problems better than any Marvel superhero screenwriters, who tend to namecheck “the issues” while studiously avoiding alienating any potential section of their audience, or David S. Goyer’s various Batman scripts from the past decade which use a ponderous tone to mask their dull lack of imagination. Miller’s deftly sardonic usage of text message balloons and Tweets are as relevant and witty as his usage of cable news in the previous two volumes of the Dark Knight saga, and even pay off in a funny scene when various Gotham-ites are too busy with their phones to pay attention to the super-apocalypse. Miller actually puts some pretty harsh anti-consumerist stuff in the mouths of his characters, reminding that though the medium has been generally dumbed down by the death of print, it’s still beneath the mainstream radar enough to function as a gutter platform against sacred technophilia.

The story is dumb as can be, but the writing has a lot of wicked satirical flourishes besides making fun of these kids today and their social media addiction. There’s a Trump cameo that probably wasn’t originally planned when the series started back in November 2015, so it’s nice to know the series is alive and malleable. Thematically Miller seems to be developing a redemption of Superman – something Snyder insincerely made overtures towards. Having been a government stooge until now, Supes is at last poised to fight in the right alongside Carrie Kelly and Bats. All it took was betrayal of the titular Master Race to which he belongs, and to which the Earth’s governments have collectively surrendered. Unbound by Hollywood squeamishness, Miller is allowed the full effects of his cynicism towards both the genre and modern society: his superheroes obliterate millions of people and millions more respond with media-saturated apathy. The unfairly maligned The Dark Knight Strikes Again felt like a true reflection of recent post-9/11 discord compared to the moment-of-silence-now-back-to-tights-and-fights business acumen from the rest of DC and Marvel. Dark Knight III‘s story reads like Frank Miller screaming in your ear that things have only gotten worse, as the slicker Andy Kubert art suggests a world painted over with a shinier gloss of distraction in the interim.

Kubert’s art is growing on me though, aping Miller’s staging and character designs at the right moments, and well complimented by Klaus Janson’s inks. Brad Anderson’s coloring continues to impress, especially his use of muted colors in the Antarctic and underground locales. Miller indulges in a splash page or reveal practically every two pages, but Kubert’s art justifies them and his command of visual language is solid. Unfortunately it’s used as a crutch throughout the otherwise forgettable Miller-drawn mini-comic of this issue starring Green Lantern. Apparently DC has been printing some of these issues with the mini-comic scaled to full size at the issue’s end, which is a mistake because having a comic-within-a-comic is an artistic choice unique only to comics, and comics need the boosterism.

Against better taste, Miller’s misanthropic idiosyncrasies continue to intrigue as to what he’ll do in the DC toybox. The serial installments may not be worth the cover price but as a whole, the whole experience is improbably shaping into something worthwhile.

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Three; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race 1 (November 2016)

1500x1500_f7053631fab02ddb09c3e5e2680f91c2a783acc3d0f517464c4f38b4In December 2001, a follow-up to The Dark Knight Returns was a momentous occasion. Batman fandom was in hibernation. The character had been in the mainstream spotlight for a solid ten year epoch, starting with The Dark Knight Returns, continuing through the Burton movies, the animated series and finally flaming out with Batman & Robin. In hindsight it was a time of limbo between disinterest from the general public and the oncoming renewal of interest from an unholy collusion of bros and manboys in the form of sadistic video games and Christopher Nolan movies: Batman reinvented for the torture porn set.

At the time, it had been two years since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and three months since September 11th. We not only needed the reassurance of our pop cultural icons, we needed reassurance that our pop cultural icons would not let us down again. Into this maelstrom returned Frank Miller, who’d made Batman grimdarknight forevermore in the pseudo-cyber, pseudo-punk decade of the 80s, that time which in 2001 hadn’t even yet been consummated (along with the 90s) as consumer pop culture’s halcyon era. Surely Frank would not, could not let us down. He would make – or rather, re-make (again) Bats and deliver the gut punch to the brain that The Dark Knight Returns had been to any young reader in 1986, or 1996, or even 2001.

Instead, The Dark Knight Strikes Again was a colorful, hyperkinetic pinball ride around the DCU. It’s “about” post-9/11 stuff, sure. The police state, terrorism, media schizophrenia – but in the abstract and without the specific real world references Miller used to address similar topics in 1986. Reagan, for example, was in The Dark Knight Returns, but Bush 2 was not in Dark Knight 2. The story was barely even about Batman: he and Carrie Kelly go around gathering up an all-star team-up of every retired superhero from The Atom to Plastic Man in a crusade against Lex Luthor and Brainiac. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson pretends to be the Joker to take revenge on Batman, a twist DC and Judd Winick obviously liked enough to rip off a few years later in Under the Red Hood. Caught up in the middle somewhere are Superman, Wonder Woman and their daughter Lara.

The story was a mess, but the art was pretty cool in a completely loose and crazy way, so jarringly different from The Dark Knight Returns that it was extremely difficult to appreciate at the time. Miller going wild with DC iconography, instead of telling a focused Batman story, was frustrating.

Another 15 years later we now have Dark Knight III. The phrase that became a franchise unto itself. The Dark Knight. The first Batman movie about something, for smart people. “‘The Dark Knight Returns’?” she asked me. “Don’t you mean ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?”. No, I began to explain, it’s a new animated movie based on a graphic novel from 1986…

Dark Knight III is still, at least, an event. An event for whomever so loves characters-appearing-in-publications-by-DC Comics enough to buy some of those publications, and perhaps be persuaded to shell out a little extra for some many dozens of variant covers. Really, it’s all a promotional expense to drum up enthusiasm for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Per that unspoken edict, the comic already feels like Dark Knight 2 redesigned by committee. Gone is the unhinged Frank Miller art and Lynne Varley colors, replaced with the clean modern pencils of Andy Kubert, and colors by Brad Anderson which resemble Dark Knight ’86. Gotham City’s skyline resembles the 80s near-future of Anton Furst, and on the very next page is the return of Commissioner Ellen Yindel. Ellen Yindel!! She wasn’t even in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. While Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter Lara is back from Strikes Again, the otherwise total lack of continuity from The Master Race’s predecessor strongly suggests that Miller and co-writer Brian Azzarello were instructed by DC to work from the supposition that Strikes Again never happened. I’m shocked they even titled it numerically.

While Wonder Woman and Superman (who, not coincidentally, are both in Batman v. Superman) show up along with their daughter and even The Atom, Miller & Azzarello are already making it clear that this is a Batman story. The opening, narrated with text messages, shows him save a black kid from murderous cops (ooh, topical!) and by the end of the issue he is revealed as a she (ditto) – Carrie Kelly taking over as Batman for an apparently dead Bruce Wayne is the paint-by-numbers sequel people wanted in 2001.

The provocative subtitle was seemingly chosen to troll liberal-progressive fanboys still sore about Miller’s “Islamaphobic” Holy Terror graphic novel (which originally starred Batman) and anti-Occupy Wall Street comments of recent years. The Black Lives Matter theme is something of a curveball for everyone, but considering Lara wants The Atom’s help to big-ify the bottled city of Kandor it’s not hard to predict that “The Master Race” probably refers to how the Kandor-ites will regard themselves upon attaining human size, in yet another humdrum routine of the essential Batman vs. Superman conflict about human/superhuman power/responsibility. But we’ll see.

The only really intriguing and positive aspect of The Dark Knight III’s debut is that 15 pages of it are a mini-comic-within-a-comic, drawn by Miller himself, covering the scene wherein Lara brings Kandor to The Atom. Playing with the medium’s format is always good. Miller reigns in his art style to a conventional look compatible with Kubert’s, and he must really love The Atom because Strikes Again opened with a near-identical sequence of Carrie Kelly rescuing him from prison. It’s his own little nod to his own private Dark Knight Universe, and anyone who’s kept up with it.

Which isn’t easy. And only intermittently rewarding. Topical or not, “Book One” doesn’t immediately grab you the way The Dark Knight Returns does to this day, or even the way The Dark Knight Strikes Again did with its expectation-defying audaciousness. But he’s still got seven more issues to do something with old Bats even as inadvertently iconic as “I’m the Goddamn Batman.”

CREDITS

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book One; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert and Frank Miller; inks, Klaus Janson; colorists, Brad Anderson and Alex Sinclair; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.

Howard the Duck 27 (September 1978)

Howard the Duck #27

Howard is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. So what does he do? He stops the Circus of Crime. Why? See the first sentence. Is he mad at the Circus of Crime? Not so much. Is he worried about his friends being hospitalized? Not so much. Does Howard finally admit he’s got deep feelings for that hairless female ape Beverly? Sort of.

Did Marvel just not let Gerber get crazy with Howard’s affections for Beverly? There’s got to be an explanation. Because this issue isn’t just strange–it’s an action comic, one with good art and good dialogue, but an unambitious action comic. And Gerber is usually all about the ambition for what an issue can do.

So when this one doesn’t do much, the mind has time to wonder what else is going on with the comic. Hence my questions.

Though troubled, it’s solid.

CREDITS

Circus Maximus; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Phil Rachelson; letterer, Gaspar Saladino; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 26 (July 1978)

Howard the Duck #26

Well… last things first. Winda gets assaulted and Gerber shucks it off page. After her startling–and entirely unnecessary–attack, Gerber just mentions her in Howard’s summing up of the issue’s misadventures.

Most of the comic involves him running around with the Circus of Crime and how he gets away from them. Gerber, Colan and Janson do a rather good human drama subplot too, which one of the Circus’s victims drunkenly reacting.

But then Gerber ties it all together and there’s not enough room to do it in scale so Colan is left to rush through it. And if anyone is going to do reaction shots instead of action shots, Colan should be the one to do them; he gets a lot of energy in them. It still feels like an unsteady issue. Gerber has enough story for two issues or at least one and a half.

It’s mostly good.

CREDITS

Repercussions…!; writer, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; editors, Jim Shooter and Gerber; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 25 (June 1978)

Howard the Duck #25

Well, Bev’s back this issue and… Gerber has her and her new husband getting it on. He plays it for laughs, starting with Bev complaining about being stuck in a square marriage like her mother’s and ending with the creatures of Bong’s island peeping on them.

So it’s kind of like if Sue married Doom to save Reed and then was happy about it. It’s weird.

Meanwhile, Howard’s other pals are back (after ten issues, which is way too long), and they’re hanging out in New York society.

The issue’s okay enough. Howard’s no longer the lead in his own book–not sure why Gerber thought Paul Same, failed artist, was better than Howard the Duck for a story protagonist; not much of Gerber’s moves this issue make sense.

With the Colan and Janson art, however it’s hard to get too upset. Like I said, it’s okay enough, just not special.

CREDITS

Getting Smooth!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 21 (February 1978)

Howard the Duck #21

It’s a better issue than the recent norm, but Gerber still doesn’t have Howard on much of a path. At one point, Howard all of a sudden seemed like the perfect cultural relic from the Carter presidency, but it’s not.

Instead, it’s like Gerber is showing how much he can abuse the reader as far as the plot is concerned. Howard meets up with Beverly Switzler. Not Howard’s Beverly, but her uncle. What a joke. Gerber gave a fat dude Beverly’s name and ran him into Howard.

I’m not sure if the series has just gotten too tame (this issue has Howard battling the nicest, most likable murderous cult leader ever–one who even gets sympathy from the reader when Howard’s being sexist) or Gerber’s just lost interest.

But, it’s a better issue than usual. Carmine Infantino guest pencils. He and Janson are a neat team; contrasting while still complimenting.

CREDITS

If You Knew Soofi…!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Carmine Infantino; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 20 (January 1978)

Howard the Duck #20

I’m seeing the problem with Howard. Gerber is refusing to get Howard into a comfortable situation at all. Bev is still out of the picture, but so is the new girl. Bong is even out of the picture. Howard just happens into an entirely new situation with a new supporting cast.

The problem isn’t the fluidity, it’s how little Howard cares about it all. He’s not worried about Bev being married to a Doctor Doom knock-off, he’s curious why said knock-off isn’t more enthusiastic about her. Gerber doesn’t acknowledge Howard isn’t enthusiastic enough about her. It’s weird.

The comic is nearing its two year mark and Gerber himself only seems enthusiastic about one thing–treading water as far as Howard’s character development goes. It’s stopped. But so has the plot development.

It’s too bad because Colan and Janson knock the art out of the park on this one.

CREDITS

Scrubba-dub Death!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 19 (December 1977)

Howard the Duck #19

Howard’s adventures as a human continue, but Gerber sets him down a particular path. Howard ends up at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which puts him in contact with a particular set of humans and maybe not the most interesting ones.

After a certain point–Howard is back in a hippy girl’s apartment–one has to wonder if Colan really just wanted to try out drawing someone doing yoga; the issue’s mostly talking heads, mostly Howard (the human) unable to understand the human condition while his fowl alter ego eggs him on to act more ducky. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

It’s really depressing stuff, actually. Gerber, Colan and Janson capture the misery in the bus terminal–Howard teams up with a homeless guy refused a seat in a coffee shop due to smell. The dysfunctional hippies are actually a mood booster in contrast.

The finale’s small joy is a big help.

CREDITS

Howard the Human!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Phil Rachelson; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 18 (November 1977)

Howard the Duck #18

Bong’s still a dumb villain, but the rest of the issue is strange enough to get it through.

While Bev is off getting married to Bong, Howard has been changed into a human and is escaping Bong’s castle in the company of a duck-girl, one of Bong’s other experiments.

The early highpoint of the issue is Gerber retelling the end of Bride of Frankenstein, only with Howard as the Bride and duck-girl as Boris Karloff. It’s a cute little homage and Colan and Janson do a good job of it.

They also do a good job of Bev’s stupid subplot with Bong (even though Gerber does occasionally give her good stuff to do). They also do a rather good job with Howard as a human. Colan doesn’t go for humor with it, he goes for how a human Howard would really appear.

It’s a good comic… just good.

CREDITS

Metamorphosis; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 17 (October 1977)

Howard the Duck #17

I don’t like Dr. Bong. It’s a strange misstep for Gerber on Howard. He creates a supervillain who seems like a cross between a Bond villain (he has all sorts of technology and a private island) and Dr. Moreau (he uses said technology to create animal mutations to populate the island). But this guy doesn’t have Dr. Doom’s backstory. He’s an angry tabloid reporter who’s hot for Beverly’s bod.

(He saw her in a modeling class in college).

On one hand, it does give Gerber the chance to let Beverly shine in Howard but he doesn’t take that route. Instead, he tells the villain’s story and Beverly is peripheral. Howard’s not even part of the main plot this issue and his subplot falls flat.

The artwork is good, but the figures seem a little fuller than usual. They look awkward against the backgrounds.

Gerber took seventeens issues to achieve mediocrity.

CREDITS

Doctor Bong; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Janice Cohen; letterer, Annette Kawecki; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 16 (September 1977)

Howard the Duck #16

I don’t want to call this comic book strange. Instead of a regular, strange issue of Howard the Duck, it turns out Gerber was just too busy to break out an actual plot for Gene Colan so instead he did an issue in prose.

Howard the Duck #16. It’s Gerber making fun of himself well, which makes one think about how the comic is the same thing. It’s Gerber making fun of a comic book called Howard the Duck well. And how does one accomplish that task well? By being sincere. By going through the artifice of the series to the point of sincerity.

“Howard” even co-narrates, Gerber telling the reader’s Howard’s a voice in his head. True or not, it’s a direct communication between Gerber and the reader without illusion. Gerber still spins a good yarn to go with it. Because it’s how Howard works. Through narrative disruption.

CREDITS

Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing: A Communique from Colorado; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; pencillers, Gene Colan, Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, Tom Palmer, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Dick Giordano and Michael Netzer; inkers, Klaus Janson, Weiss, Hannigan, Severin, Cockrum, Palmer, Milgrom, Buscema, Giordano and Terry Austin; colorists, Janson and Doc Martin; letterers, Austin and Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 15 (August 1977)

Howard the Duck #15

It’s a strangely gentle issue. So gentle I almost went back to check to see if Gerber wrote the thing. Instead, I waited until I finished the issue.

Howard is chill. This issue has a chill Howard the Duck. Gerber takes all the previous events–like Howard’s mental health issues–into account as he lets the cast relax. Sure, they’re on an ocean liner plagued by strange, gigantic threats, but they’re relaxing while making sure they survive.

But Gerber’s humor is also gentler. For the most part. There’s some incisiveness from Howard, who then calls himself on it (confusing Bev while showing his hand to the reader). But, otherwise, it’s a fun, laid back issue.

The pace is fantastic too. Since so little is happening, even though the cast is on a big set, Gerber is able to get a lot of stuff into the book. It’s strange and great.

CREDITS

The Island of Dr. Bong!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker and colorist, Klaus Janson; letterer, Irving Watanabe; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Howard the Duck 14 (July 1977)

Howard the Duck #14

And Gerber is back on with Howard. After being possessed by the Son of Satan’s demon, Howard heads to Cleveland to get revenge on Beverly for not loving him. It’s a lengthy trip, however, with Howard having little moments on the way. Gerber also cuts back to Daimon Hellstrom (the guy who’s supposed to be possessed) forecasting how dangerous Howard has become.

He is dangerous. Beverly is in danger. Gerber establishes the possessed Howard as a threat. It’s kind of real crazy for the protagonist of a comic like Howard the Duck to not just become detached from the reader, but to be what seems to be an actual threat to the others.

Klaus Janson inks Colan here; they give the characters a lot of physical weight in their scenes. Howard’s imposing, even though he’s small. It’s cool.

It’s another great issue in a fantastic run from Gerber. He’s outstanding.

CREDITS

A Duck Possessed!; writer and editor, Steve Gerber; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Irene Vartanoff; letterer, Jim Novak; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Firestorm, The Nuclear Man 1 (March 1978)

Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #1

What an awkward first issue. Writer Gerry Conway has a lot of story to tell, since he covers the origin of Firestorm and has to introduce the two alter egos, but there’s also a couple action sequences. His solution for having to convey all the information isn’t original–he uses expository dialogue. Lots and lots of expository dialogue.

Offsetting the exposition is the playful nature of Conway’s narration–from the first issue, Firestorm feels more like a Marvel comic, between the colloquial tone of the narration and penciller Al Milgrom’s New York City backdrop.

Milgrom’s has some rough patches–Firestorm has a funny looking face–but it’s fine for the most part.

With the rush of information and characters getting introduced, not to mention Conway harping on Firestorm’s teenaged alter ago, Ronnie, having low-self esteem. At least he’s got a personality, while Professor Stein (the other alter ego) doesn’t.

C 

CREDITS

Make Way For Firestorm!; writer, Gerry Conway; penciller, Al Milgrom; inkers, Klaus Janson and Joe Rubinstein; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Jack C. Harris; publisher, DC Comics.

Star Trek 10 (January 1981)

Star Trek #10

Having an interested artist helps Trek quite a bit. Leo Duranona does get Janson on inks and Janson’s been one of the series’s best parts so far.

The story, from Michael Fleisher, has Kirk sick and Spock and McCoy on an away mission. They get involved with the uprising against a warlord while Kirk tries to figure out a way to get down to the planet.

It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the art’s engaging enough for everything to move along smoothly. Removing Kirk from so much of the story is an odd move from Fleisher, especially since he doesn’t do a lot with Spock and McCoy. They get separated and work to get back together but McCoy’s biggest scenes are with one of the native girls. As for Spock, he just gets to work a rock quarry in his uniform.

It’s competent enough though. The good art helps bunches.

C+ 

CREDITS

Domain of the Dragon God!; writer, Michael Fleisher; pencillers, Leo Duranona and Klaus Janson; inker, Janson; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Rick Parker; editor, Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Trek 7 (October 1980)

Star Trek #7

Tom DeFalco’s Trek script feels a little too generic. He doesn’t bring much personality to the principal cast members, saving it instead for Scotty and Uhura. She gives him a very clear bicep squeeze for support. It’s interesting.

But Kirk just occasionally yells when he’s stressed out and Bones makes a quip or two at Spock’s expense. DeFalco doesn’t write Spock well. It’s probably hard to write the character after Star Trek: The Motion Picture as the character just went under a major change. DeFalco tries with it and does not succeed.

Still, Michael Netzer does a great job on the pencils. He does lots of stuff with panel layout and with perspective in space. The Enterprise shooting while rotated and so on. The art is very imaginative. And Janson inks it beautifully. All the art’s good, some is better.

DeFalco moves the issue well too; it’s just got problems.

B- 

CREDITS

Tomorrow or Yesterday; writer, Tom DeFalco; penciller, Michael Netzer; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Ray Burzon; editor, Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Trek 6 (September 1980)

Star Trek #6

Barr gives the Enterprise crew a mystery to solve. Unfortunately, it’s almost the same mystery as one of the television episodes. It’s like Barr took out one part just to make it fit better in a comic.

There’s an almost amusing scene for Sulu and Chekhov–the issue otherwise centers around the big three. Uhura never gets a scene. But it might be a more accurate representation of the television show. Barr clearly knows how to structure the issue like the show. That feat sometimes is more impressive than what’s going on in the story.

Cockrum and Janson are really on the ball. Their faces have a lot more depth and have similar expressions to the source actors. Overall, the art just feels less rushed.

I’m still waiting for a lengthy subplot or some sign of character developments. Even for a licensed property, Star Trek feels too restrained, practically stifled.

B- 

CREDITS

The Enterprise Murder Case!; writer, Mike W. Barr; pencillers, Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson; inker, Janson; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Rick Parker; editor, Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Trek 5 (August 1980)

Star Trek #5

This issue's better than the last, with Spock kidnapped by Klingons and Kirk trying to figure out how to resolve the situations. No Dracula appearance–maybe Mike W. Barr didn't like that idea either (or maybe Wolfman always insisted)–but there are still a bunch of dumb monsters showing up.

Barr has the formula down for a "Star Trek" story, complete with Spock and Bones bickering at the end, but he doesn't seem to have the best ideas for the plot. Though less silly than the previous issue, there's still no good reason for these earth nightmare monsters in space. Barr explains it fine, he's just explaining the reasoning behind a bad story.

Also distressing is his lack of story for the characters. Spock gets a bunch of time to himself and Barr writes those scenes well, but Kirk doesn't make any impression. The balance needs work.

A lot needs work.

C+ 

CREDITS

The Haunting of the Enterprise!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Dave Cockrum; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, John Costanza; editors, Denny O’Neil and Louise Jones; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Trek 4 (July 1980)

Star Trek #4

With the limitless possibilities of a comic book, Wolfman goes instead with the Enterprise encountering some kind of haunted house in space. It’s bewildering, but somehow appropriate–it certainly feels like an episode out of the television show, what with the budget and everything.

The issue itself doesn’t leave much impression. Cockrum and Janson’s art is decent; their renditions of the crew, save Kirk, often have problems. They can’t do age well. It’s too much. They need to hint at it sometimes, but go too far.

The issue’s best scenes are early, before the goofiness starts. Wolfman writes an interesting couple guest stars, though Cockrum bases one of them too much on the monster from Alien.

I had hoped it would be a done in one; the cliffhanger promises a different type of issue as a followup. Assuming there are no more Dracula cameos, it should be an improvement.

C+ 

CREDITS

The Haunting of Thallus!; writer and editor, Marv Wolfman; penciller, Dave Cockrum; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Carl Gafford; letterer, Jim Novak; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Trek 3 (June 1980)

Star Trek #3

Unfortunately, the final issue of Wolfman and Cockrum's Star Trek: The Motion Picture compounds all the problems they had in the second issue. While they're skilled at densely packing scenes with characters and dialogue, Wolfman apparently can't cut back on the events enough to give the issue a good flow.

He really needs another one, especially considering how little science fiction spectacular Cockrum gets to illustrate. Most of the really visual space scenes are restricted to a small panel, something quick before all the talking starts again.

Wolfman does make some big changes to the movie to streamline the story. Some of it is shifting the dialogue around, but there's also a part where he throws Kirk into a scene where he not just isn't in during the movie, but doesn't serve any purpose. It's like William Shatner's ego influenced the comics adaptation.

It's not terrible, but it started stronger.

C 

CREDITS

Evolutions; writer and editor, Marv Wolfman; penciller, Dave Cockrum; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Marie Severin; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Trek 2 (May 1980)

Star Trek #2

There’s a really impressive scene with a lots of dialogue and Cockrum having to fit something around seven people into a small panel. Cockrum and Wolfman occasionally do some masterful adaptation in this issue. It’s nice enough to make up for the bad moments.

The worst moment–there are a handful of shaky ones–has to be when Spock arrives. Wolfman deviates from the movie (perhaps he had a different version of the script) and neither he nor Cockrum give Kirk or McCoy any time. They come off as jerks, with McCoy appearing downright mean-spirited.

Also unfortunate is Cockrum’s handling of the space stuff. There’s the giant cloud in space and every shot is from the rear of the Enterprise. Maybe it was just an easier way to draw it.

The aforementioned impressive scene comes towards the end, which sends the issue out on a high note, but there are clearly problems.

B- 

CREDITS

V’ger; writer and editor, Marv Wolfman; penciller, Dave Cockrum; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Marie Severin; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Star Trek 1 (April 1980)

Star Trek #1

It’s going to be difficult to talk about this one. Not because there’s anything particularly wrong with this first issue of Marvel’s adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In fact, there might not be anything wrong with it at all. I suppose the art could be better, but Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson do all right. Cockrum loves doing some of the space panels.

Then there’s how they draw William Shatner. As opposed to drawing him like it’s really the Kirk of the movie, they draw him more like the Kirk of the TV show. It’s kind of cool.

This issue came out some time after the movie came out and Marv Wolfman’s script almost exclusively uses dialogue from the film itself. It plays less like a promotional material and more like something for a movie fan to take home since sell-through VHS wasn’t around yet.

It’s perfectly fine.

B 

CREDITS

Star Trek: The Motion Picture; writer and editor, Marv Wolfman; penciller, Dave Cockrum; inker, Klaus Janson; colorist, Marie Severin; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Detective Comics 554 (September 1985)

5659

Janson art again. It’s just phenomenal. He’s even figured out he doesn’t like doing splash panels with bland superhero poses so instead he’s doing complex panels indicating lots of movement. The way Janson draws Robin beats how he draws Batman; he’s very enthusiastic about all the movement.

The feature story is actually rather confusing. Not throughout, when Batman, Robin and Harvey Bullock are trying to get on an ocean liner to save hostages, but when Moench gets to revealing why the hostage takers are in town. I had to read like maybe three times and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right.

But with the art–and the banter between Robin and Bullock–who cares. It’s a fine outing.

And then, in Green Arrow, Black Canary gets a new eighties costume and the Canary Cry. It’s not a great story, but the artwork’s excellent and it amuses well enough.

B- 

CREDITS

Port Passed; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Klaus Janson; letterer, Todd Klein. Green Arrow, Crazy from the Heat II: The Past is Prologue; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Bruce D. Patterson; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 553 (August 1985)

5658

It’s an issue of amazing art. Klaus Janson isn’t doing a lot of detail on faces, which is not good, but his composition is breathtaking. The way he translates Moench’s script–sort of sapping out the sentimentality and enthusiasm–this issue is a mix between superhero idealism and melancholy cynicism. It’s beautiful. Janson’s also got the best Jason Todd Robin anyone’s drawn so far.

Moench’s script is fine. There’s too much with the Black Mask and the New Age mumbo jumbo Moench throws in, but the story moves great. It evens out. There’s an odd moment where Julia (Alfred’s daughter) apparently tells Lucius Fox a black joke.

Also, another plot detail to show up in Burton’s Batman–the corrosive acid on faces and subsequent masks.

The Green Arrow backup, with Black Canary losing her nerve, has some awesome mainstream art from Moore and Patterson. The script’s well meaning but slight.

B 

CREDITS

The False Face Society of Gotham; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Klaus Janson; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, Crazy from the Heat; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Bruce D. Patterson; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 550 (May 1985)

5655

Moench goes a little too high concept for this one, especially since Broderick isn’t really the artist to do a protracted chase sequence.

A small-time thug runs across the rooftops, Batman in close pursuit, and Moench flashes back to all the things in his life to bring the thug to this point. It’s a little contrived, but it’s definitely ambitious. So when Moench actually brings damnation into the picture–the guy, it turns out, has robbed a church and attacked a nun–it’s just too much.

It doesn’t help Broderick eventually gives up and is practically drawing this story comical. There are a couple Batman cowl shots I was surprised Smith didn’t fix, but maybe he’d given up too.

Then the Green Arrow resolution is odd. Moore doesn’t write too much (or enough). It’s a decent enough action story, with lots of mood from Janson but not good detail.

D 

CREDITS

The Spider’s Ninth Leg!; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Pat Broderick; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Workman. Green Arrow, Night Olympics, Part Two; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Klaus Janson; letterer, Todd Klein. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

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