Friday, December 29, 2017

Living a Fantastic Life

Marvel 2-In-One #1 (Marvel, February 2018, $3.99)
I was very much looking forward to this book. While not a return or new volume of the old Thing team-up book Marvel Two-In-One, the new series is very much a return of the Fantastic Four—or, well, two—as Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, team up again. We haven't seen issue of Fantastic Four—or even a story—for a couple of years now, and I am hopeful as heck that we'll see a return one way or another. They are much missed.

So don't miss this potential sleeper of a comic. Written by Chip Zdarsky and drawn by Jim Cheung, this comic is a solid homage to the stories of the past—and a welcome new focus and direction for the remaining team members. Johnny Storm is struggling, concerned about losing his powers over time, and pushing himself—testing himself—in risky ways. He and Grimm are estranged, but Spider-Man encourages the Thing to reach out to Storm, even giving him the keys to a storage unit chock full of stuff from the old Baxter Building.

There, the Thing finds his old chair, plenty of memories, the Fantasticar—and Doom! Doom is there to return something he pilfered from the Baxter Building: an orb intended for Grimm to access upon Reed Richards's death. Richards leaves the Thing a device called the Multisect and encourages Grimm to continue living a fantastic life—with the Human Torch, as well.

The two heroes reunite, albeit uncomfortably, and will soon head to Monster Island to look for the device. I bet Doom wants that device. This comic has all the signs of a promising new series, as well as the return of a much-missed force in Marvel comics.

Availability: This issue is available online. I also recommend Essential Marvel Two-In-One Volume 1 and Fantastic Four Epic Collection: The World's Greatest Comic Magazine.

A Joyful Return

Mage: The Hero Denied #4 (Image, November 2017, $3.99)
Like Rock Candy Mountain, Mage: The Hero Denied is one of my favorite comic books of 2017. Written and drawn by Matt Wagner, this series is such a joyful return. I've been a fan of the creator since his work on Grendel, as well as on the two previous Mage series, The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined. Such wonderful comics.

We're far enough into this new series now that we can step back from reintroducing the world, its characters, and the themes of the book. This issue—similar to Rock Candy Mountain's chase scene in #6—is almost all fight scene. And what a fight!

The Pendragon has lured Ereshkigal, mistress of the underworld and keeper of one of Death's houses, the ancient hell of Irkalla. He fights an assortment of zombies (pp. 7-8's splash panel is quite impressive)—"The dead are everywhere!" Their battle is interrupted by the arrival of another house claiming the Pendragon's soul.

The art is characteristically excellent, the coloring solid, and the scripting well paced and interesting. Welcome back, Mage. And welcome back, Mr. Wagner.

Availability: You can get this issue online, even direct from Image. I recommend going back to the beginning, as well. Mage Book One: The Hero Discovered Volume 1 collects the first six issues of that 1980s Comico series.

Lively and Large Bodied

Rock Candy Mountain #5-6 (Image, November-December 2017, $3.99)
Like Spy Seal, Rock Candy Mountain is one of my favorite comic books of 2017. Luckily, that list so far isn't all Image Comics, but that publisher is over-indexing on the quality comics front this year. And this title has been a real pleasure.

Kyle Starks's simply and languidly drawn comic about hobos, selling your soul to the devil, World War II and the Spear of Destiny, and one man's struggles to return to his wife and daughter—perhaps at the titular mountain—is a lively, large-bodied story. Chris Schweizer's color work is excellent (case in point, #5's us of green on p. 3, the pinks on p. 11, and the muted evening shades on p. 14), and there's even a surprising use of panel-less space on p. 16 to bolster a transition. Starks and his colleagues have given thought to presentation and pacing, throwing in some belly laughs ("I think your face must be allergic to knuckles.") and teenage colloquialisms along the way ("Wreckt!").

Benito Cereno contributes a two-page text piece "The Destiny of the Spear" to offer background and context for the presence of the spear in the comic—as well as Hitler's possession of it.

While #5 was a little more flashback oriented and expository in nature, #6 is all action. The devil returns to Pomona Slim, and our hero is getting chased on a train. That chase lasts most of the issue, and it is very funny ("Guys! Please be better at your jobs!") and visually beautiful. As above, the art and coloring are particularly effective in this book, as is the timing of panel sequences—p. 3's initial leap between train cars is awesome. But it is the third panel on p. 15, and the single-panel p. 20 that impress the most artistically. That page—oh, that p. 20—is beautifully composed.

At the end of #6, Ryan O'Sullivan and Plaid Klaus serve up a five-page backup story promoting their new book Void Trip.

Availability: Rock Candy Mountain #1-4 have been collected. A second volume combining #5-8 is expected in March 2018. You can also buy the two issues online.

Cliffhangers and Humor

Spy Seal #3 (Image, October 2017, $3.99)
Like Royal City, Spy Seal is one of my favorite comic books of 2017. Written and drawn by Rich Tommaso, creator of the astounding She Wolf and retro-noir Dark Corridor, the series is an ornately detailed funny-animal take on The Adventures of Tin Tin. Think Richard Scarry meets Richard Sala. The book is pristine and crisp, and some of the cliffhangers and humor are quite impressive.

Kes and Malcolm think they've encountered Miles McKeller, Communist sympathizer and terrorist, on the train. Fisticuffs ensue, and Kes gets stabbed, falling from the train. Malcolm also falls, both landing in the snow. They make their way to a "disgruntled ex-spy convention," where they infiltrate a gallery showing. After finding a hidden message—and after a bombing—Kes and Malcolm make chase of McKeller again, trailing to him his secret hideout.

Cinematic in its pacing and page design, Spy Seal is a wild ride of a read. The detailed artwork—such a fine line!—is a delight. Look for some of the highlights such as p. 1, searching the train on p. 4, the last three panels on p. 6, p. 8 in its entirety, the third panel of p. 14, and the concluding panel of the issue. So many little details. It's like Geoff Darrow drawing Where's Waldo?

Availability: The series will be collected as Spy Seal Volume 1: The Corten-Steel Phoenix in January 2018. You can also buy the issue online.

Life, Love, and Longing

Royal City #7-8 (Image, November-December 2017, $3.99)
Like Eleanor & the Egret, this is one of my favorite comic books of 2017. Jeff Lemire is one of the better writers active in comics today, and I have been thoroughly enjoying this non-superhero title, which Lemire also draws.

While the book's sense of time is rather fluid, the book seems to be about a teenage boy named Tommy who develops a brain condition of some sort. It's about all the worry that that entails, as well as how it affects his family and their relationships. The book also touches on the people we think are, the people we think our parents are, and the uncertainty that everyone feels inside every single day, alone but together. The artwork and wash-like watercolor tones are very subtle and quiet, perfect for the emotive storyline.

That subject matter makes Royal City a standout on the comics racks. It could be a novel or series of short stories. In the end, the series is about life,  love, and longing.

#7 focuses on Tommy going in for a CAT Scan or similar test, which leads to a referral to a specialist, and his father's introduction to antique radios. #8 addresses Tommy's envy of his older brother Richie and jealousy of his relationship with Clara. After some kind of panic attack driving around with his brother and his friends, Tommy walks home, where he spends some time with Tara. She just learned she's pregnant.

I cannot wait until the next issue of this comic book comes out. Always enjoyable and building toward something important.

Availability: Royal City #1-5 have been collected in Royal City Volume 1: Next of Kin. You can also buy these two issues online.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Very Big Bird

Eleanor & the Egret #5 (AfterShock, November 2017, $3.99)
Like Motor Girl, this is one of my favorite comic books of 2017. It was written by John Layman and drawn by Sam Kieth, who brought us The Maxx, one of the earlier Image series, Four Women, and Zero Girl—all of which are worth reading.

Oddly enough, I cried. I don't often cry while reading comic books, but I did reading Motor Girl and I did during Eleanor & the Egret. What started out as a comedic art heist comic featuring a very big bird ended up being a commentary on artistic license and creative freedom.

Kieth breaks many comic design standards, which is wonderful. The realistic/surrealistic character designs of pp. 2-3; the spread of pp. 4-5 (whoever buys that original art is a very smart person); the David Mack-like panel 3 of p. 6; the lettering on pp. 5, 7, and 14; and the watercolor/ink impressionism of p. 7 and 17-19 all surprise, delight, and break the mold of the rest of the comic—or comics.

In the end, the series is about creative freedom and freeing one's voice. Read it all at once, in one sitting. My one concern about the series was about its episodic nature, though the pacing is excellent.

Availability: The series will be collected in March 2018. Before then, buy back issues from Lone Star or Mile High.

Amateur Nature

Yeet Presents #16 (Cost of Paper, September 2017, free)
Published by comic book fans for fans, Yeet Presents has showcased aspiring comics writers and artists since 1994. Previously published as a half-legal comics digest, the anthology comic—similar to a smaller press Charlton Arrow—is now a full-format 36-page comic.

The comic opens with an eight-page Guardians of the Blue story by Mac of Bionight. It's part three of chapter one, and this issue's segment seems to start with page 20, so a lot has already happened—and it's not entirely clear what is happening now. You might want to get the previous issues. There's a team of superheroes, one of them doesn't want Lightning to damage the plants in the forest, and they're looking for someone named Daimon—but they find something else entirely. The computer-aided backgrounds give the pages a busy quality, but the art's not bad for an amateur comic.

Greta Fantini offers four pages of Malerba art and story. The too-brief encounter with the diminutive character reminded me of Warriors of the Shadow Realm, Tinkerbell, and Neil the Horse of all things—and more of Famtimi's work would be welcome.

It's an abrupt shift to Theodore Raymond Riddle's Compu-M.E.C.H., a mechanically enhanced and computerized hero controlled by Tommy Chase under the tutelage of Dr. Green. In this installment, a seven-page issue #0, the Mech unit extinguishes flames engulfing a Los Angeles that looks more like San Francisco. While editor Mike Jones compared Riddle's work to Ditko and Kirby, it reminded me a little of Grass Green for some reason.

The issue closes with three pages of Eli Jansen's Eternal Life International, which is over-dark and cluttered, and an art gallery featuring Wonderman and the Black Fury, both of which show promise.

Given its amateur nature, Yeet is a mixed bag, but there's enough good among the less good to make it worth reading. Kudos to all involved!

Availability: Write Cost of Paper Comics care of Mike Jones, 3257 Kneeland Circle, Howell, MI 48843. TwoMorrows published Grass Green's Xal-Kor the Human Cat.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

All This Time

Motor Girl #10 (Abstract, 2017, $3.99)
The final issue of this black-and-white comic, this is the book that you should have been reading all this time. Written and drawn by the creator of Strangers in Paradise, Echo, and Runaways, this series might be his most important work yet.

I cried.

It's got two-panel pages. Seriously.

Availability: The beginning of the series was collected in Motor Girl 01 Real Life.

This is one of my favorite comic books of 2017, and I debated writing a longer, more detailed review. If you read one comic I've reviewed this year, please read this one. It's beautiful.

The God Con

Hellblazer #16 (DC, January 2018, $3.99)
I haven't read Hellblazer for awhile. I'm not sure I like the mainstreaming of the Vertigo books into the DC universe proper, and I'm particularly not sure that John Constantine is easily pigeonholed with the Swamp Thing and Phantom Stranger like the publisher did with Justice League Dark or even Forever Evil: Blight.

But Richard Kadrey—Richard f*ck*ng Kadrey—as writer is enough to bring me back in. Because if anyone can save Constantine (and after that movie, he needs saving), it's Kadrey. The author of wonderful books such as Metrophage (read it, already), excellent comics such as Accelerate (drawn by the Pander Brothers, naturally, because who else can draw Kadrey?), and author of the more recent and relatively popular series of Sandman Slim novels, Kadrey's pen is mighty.

Dude, what did you do to me? This comic sucks. I'm glad that you wrote #17, too, so I can see if things improve—and so you already drew check—but oh, my goodness. It's like an Amanda Palmer fan wrote an issue of Testament after watching Preacher. Seriously.

Davide Fabbri and Joe Marzan, Jr., could be drawing anything. "I never pictured you for the god con." Profanities are dingbatted. P. 6 goes five panel, which suggests some page design consideration. But otherwise, it's like a Dresden Files novel until the Halloween Demon shows up.

Kad, you pushed all the buttons. Why didn't you rip open the machine?

Availability: You can buy this issue online.  But the best thing you can do is read Metrophage.

Stayed on Message

Daredevil #595 (Marvel, January 2018, $3.99)
Written by Charles Soule and drawn by Stefano Landini, this issue—a special Legacy issue and part one of the "Mayor Fisk" story arc—sports a cover by Bill Sienkiewicz. While I'm not sold on Landini's artwork (it's not quite photorealistic, but similar to rotoscoping or traced photography), I did enjoy several artistic moments, including pp. 8-9 and the representation of DD's sonar on p. 10, pp. 13-14. and p. 17. Overall, Landini adequately captures the dark realism of the series and character.

So it's the story that sings here. Perhaps not as ideal as #28 was, this issue still trips some prime Daredevil triggers for new and long-time readers alike. "How the hell did the Kingpin become the mayor of New York City?" In part, it could be a parable for our current presidency (in fact, some of Soule's writing even suggests that that's the case—"Fisk never denied it. Never even addressed it. Just stayed on message.").

Fisk's even ordered the District Attorney's office to investigate the vigilantes in the city, including Daredevil. Matt Murdock is personally assigned that case, perhaps to encourage him to find other work. On Daredevil's nightly rounds of Hell's Kitchen, he is entrapped by police officers impersonating a mugger and its victim, and arrested. Fisk is meeting with Hammerhead, one of the Maggia crime bosses, as DD approaches his office. Daredevil and the new mayor of New York City meet briefly—and the manhunt begins.

The issue also features one of 53 Marvel Value Stamps and a three-page origin retelling written by Robbie Thompson and drawn by Rod Reis. Interestingly, on the Digital Copy Offer page, Marvel breaks down the title's Legacy numbering—which is very helpful indeed.

Availability: You can buy this issue online. Soule's run on the title continued in Daredevil: Back in Black Vol. 2: Supersonic.

Friday, December 22, 2017

An Odd Team Up

Super-Team Family Vol. 3 #12 (DC, August-September 1977, 60 cents)
"The Eternity Pursuit" Writer: Gerry Conway, Artists: Arvell M. Jones and Bill Draut, Letterer: Ben Oda, Colorist: Jerry Serpe.

This 30-page issue is "a new double-length novel" presenting Green Lantern and Hawkman plus the Atom. After a cover by Al Milgrom and Jack Abel, one might be disappointed by the interior art, but Jones and Draut, while unknown to me, do quite well. Not at all a drawback.

Nevertheless, it's an odd team up, and hardly the stuff of "family" as seen with the similarly named Batman and Superman titles of the time.  The three begin the issue in hyperspace, "that peculiar dimension between universes where nothing may travel at less than the speed of light."

Seeking Jean Loring, the Atom's fiancee, they are attacked by aliens, the Dhrune, there to subjugate the Aurians, who had somehow been weakened by Loring's "unnatural scream," able to tear the actual fabric of reality. Hawkman and the Atom search for Loring on the planet below while the Lantern goes to another planet. There, he finds a battle underway between the soldiers of Brewtus the Black Duke and Prince Simax, regent of Titan.

Captured, Hawkman and the Atom are imprisoned, where they meet an old woman. The Atom escapes, and on Titan, the Lantern is forced to fight Brewtus—but without his ring. He struggles, but, reclaiming his ring, succeeds—to return to find the Atom, Hawkman, and the Aurians now free of the Dhrune.

Taken to Titan to find a new home, the Aurians realize the danger posed by the swollen sun. They "pool their common mentality" to push the planet back into its original orbit. All is well, but Loring remains missing.

The issue also includes a one-page letter column and the three-page "How Hawkman Won His Wings," written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Joe Kubert, reprinted from the 1962 Brave and the Bold #42. This is a wonderful short piece, worth reading on its own!

Interestingly, this issue and #11 were reprinted in 2007 as Countdown Special: The Atom #1 to highlight key events that tied into the Countdown event, or Countdown to Final Crisis. Other specials featured the Flash, Kamandi, the New Gods, Eclipso, OMAC, Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew, and Jimmy Olsen.

Availability: While this issue hasn't been collected per se, related Atom stories can be found in Showcase Presents: The Atom, Vol. 1 and four volumes of Countdown to Final Crisis (1, 2, 3, 4).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Human Secret Weapon

Steel, the Indestructible Man #2 (DC, April 1978, 35 cents)
"The Monster Who Mined Miracles" Written and created: Gerry Conway, Designed and drawn: Don Heck, Inker: Vinnie Colletta, Letterer: Ben Oda, Colorist: Adriene Roy, Editor: Allen Milgrom.

This is a strange little comic series; it only ran five issues before cancellation. In the late 1930s, Hank Heywood is injured while preventing an act of sabotage, and is reconstructed "using the miraculous bio-retardant formula." Think Captain America meets the Six Million Dollar Man. Yet somehow, Dr. Gilbert Giles doesn't quite make the connection between the rebuilt Heywood and the emergence of the "costumed vigilante" Steel.

A Doctor Moag demonstrates his transmutation machine to Baron Toten, an industrialist with an allegiance to the motherland. Tumbling into the Omega Field, Moag is reborn as Mineral Master.

During a demonstration of his capabilities "for the Army brass," Steel hopes to convince the war department "of my usefulness as a human 'secret weapon.'" He encounters Mineral Master, "like something out of a Gernsback science fiction magazine!" They fight—"worse'n that 'War of the Worlds' radio show!"

A one-page article "Steel Filings" details how Steel was created and why. It's a little too similar to Captain America or Fighting American for me. At times, Heck's artwork gets a little Ditko-esque (p. 6, panel 4; p. 15 in its entirety), but otherwise, there's little to recommend this title.

Availability: Steel has not been reprinted or collected. Back issues are available from Lone Star and Mile High. The original Fighting American has been collected.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

For Safekeeping

New Avengers: Illuminati #1-3 and 5 (Marvel, February-July 2007 and January 2008, $2.99)
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed, Penciler: Jim Cheung, Inker: Mark Morales, Colorist: Justin Ponsor, Letterer: VC's Cory Petit, Production: Kate Levin and Irene Lee, Assistant editors: Molly Lazer and Aubrey Sitterson, Editor: Tom Brevoort, Editor in Chief: Joe Quesada, Publisher: Dan Buckley.

I quite like the idea of the Marvel take on the Illuminati: some of the smartest heroes banding together to develop a unified point of view and strategy on issues beyond the pay grade of lesser heroes.

After the Kree-Skrull War, Dr. Strange, Reed Richards, Iron Man, Professor X, Prince Namor, and Black Bolt warn the Skrull to leave Earth alone—but are then captured. An unarmored Tony Stark, trained in hand-to-hand combat by no less than Captain America, escapes and proceeds to free the others.

At times, the artwork of Jim Cheung reminds me of a younger John Romita, Jr. The last page of #1 is downright sinister: "Did we get what we needed from them? Then it was worth it."

In #2, Mr. Fantastic reveals to the others that he's started collecting Infinity Gems, you know, for safekeeping. He shows them how the Infinity Gauntlet works, as well as how the gems communicate with each other. Several of the Illuminati travel to the collective unconscious of humanity, and the others help Black Bolt make a hole in reality. Neither task is as easy as it might be, and once five gems are gathered, the sixth arrives. As does the Watcher (gosh, I love the Watcher), prompting the Illuminati to distribute the gems, to hide them, and to protect them.

#3 ties in the Secret Wars and the Beyonder, a mutant Inhuman, who were created by the Kree. Because Black Bolt doesn't remember the Beyonder as a subject, they go to look for him, finding him on a recreated island of Manhattan in the middle of an asteroid belt.

In #5, Iron Man reveals that Skrull have been hiding among heroes—without being detected—for some time. After an attack by Super Skrulls, and once the Illuminati no longer trust themselves, the seeds are sown for Secret Invasion, which I've never read. Based on this wonderful miniseries, I think it might be worth reading!

This series had it all: Skrull, the Infinity Gauntlet, the Watcher. A secret organization with a master plan for superheroes? Why wasn't more made of this? Wow.

Availability: The miniseries was collected in New Avengers: IlluminatiSecret Invasion has also been collected.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Anthropomorphic Samurai

Usagi Yojimbo #163 (Dark Horse, November 2017, $3.99)
While this is #163 of the current series, the indicia indicates that this is #227 overall. Stan Sakai's long-running black-and-white anthropomorphic samurai comic is one of my absolute favorites, and every issue is a welcome continuation of the story, which features Japanese history and myth, samurai, ninjas, adventure, and mystery. It's like Lone Wolf and Cub meets Critters, or an issue of Comic Ran if populated by funny animals.

In this issue, part one of the storyline "Mouse Trap," Nezumi has robbed Hatamoto Asano's home. A Robin Hood-like thief, Nezumi rains money down on the citizens. "The townsfolk always side with me!" Usagi Yojimbo takes chase across the rooftops but loses his footing, allowing Nezumi to escape.

While assessing his spoils, which include a silver ingot with the shogunate crest and an interesting netsuki, Nezumi witnesses members of the Black Goblin gang harass down-on-his-luck Merchant Kubo. The gang members frame Nezumi for a crime he didn't commit. That leads to Inspector Ishida and Usagi learning even more through their investigation: Perhaps Nezumi isn't the only criminal!

This is such a wonderful comic. So much love and effort go into making each issue, and the series has been so consistently excellent. While I've felt that some issues in the past have been flat—foreground and background blending together—this issue has no such problem. On page one, panel one, Sakai uses thicker and thinner lines to delineate depth. He uses a similar technique on p. 20, panel one, even incorporating very limited shading to set off a secondary image in the foreground.

Beautifully cartoony and painstakingly done. Awesome.

Availability: You can buy this issue online. This issue will be collected in Usagi Yojimbo Volume 32, expected in July 2018. The most recent collection is Usagi Yojimbo Volume 31: The Hell Screen. We also recommend Usagi Yojimbo Saga Volume 1.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Stories and Memories

The Shell of the Self of the Senses #22 (Nib Comics, November 2017, $10)
Ron Rege, Jr., publishes 100 copies of his monthly minicomic for subscribers. This issue presents part one of "Andy Remembers" from 1992. The 24-page minicomic was drawn between April and June 1992 and shares Rege's friend Andy's memories and stories about people he knew in grade school. "He was angry remembering all the cruel things that these kids had done to him, and to each other."

Rege pairs slightly grotesque—cute brut, perhaps—portrayals of the children drawn from school photographs and class pictures with quotes from his friend's memories. Themes and topics include crushes, dreams, classroom activities, friends' family members, learning how to swear, and Japanese food. The photos cover the years 1974-1981.

Part two of this mini is expected this month. I would have liked more—more of everything: more stories and memories from Rege's friend Andy, and more text. I'd also like more artwork, more pictures. Rege includes one image twice, perhaps because the memories about that friend take up two pages. More imagery would have been welcome.

Looking forward to part two!

Availability: You can subscribe to Rege's monthly minicomic for $10/month. Earlier this year, Fantagraphics published two Rege books: The Cartoon Utopia and What Parsifal Saw.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Make the World Better

Detective Comics #968 (DC, January 2018, $2.99)
While I've been enjoying reading Batman (see "The Bat's New Paramour"), I've also been enjoying Detective Comics as it builds toward #1000. This issue opens with a brief vignette featuring Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong registering a formal complaint until Brother Eye comes online and he decides to "finally see what all my toys can do."

Then we return to the Batcave, where a Tim from the future (who we'll call Batman Tim) is fighting Batman, Jason, the current Tim (Red Robin), Dick, and Damian. Batman Tim makes the case that Batwoman will betray everyone and that Batman's mission—their mission—is a curse that "systematically destroys each of our lives."

The battle shifts to the Belfry, where Batwoman, Clayface, and others await Batman Tim's arrival—and as Batman Tim fights against the time stream, which "doesn't want to be changed." Red Robin suggests that "you can stand up and make the world better. ... You can bring the people in who lift you up and make you stronger. You can be a full person."

As the conclusion to the "A Lonely Place of Living" storyline, the writing by James Tynion IV was very well done, and Alvaro Martinez's artwork ably balanced the fight scene and action sequences, as well as the more dialogue-oriented progress. The issue offers a solid commentary on the cost of heroism—and the call to do the good one can rather than take an easier, less involved but more "normal" life path.

Availability: This issue will be collected in the forthcoming Detective Comics Vol. 5: A Lonely Place of Living, expected in April 2018. The most recent available collection is Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Deus Ex Machina.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Bat's New Paramour

Batman #33-35 (DC, December 2017 to January 2018, $2.99)
I've been enjoying Tom King's writing in Batman, and these issues start the storyline "The Rules of Engagement," which opens up a new direction for Batman and Catwoman.

Drawn by Joelle Jones, #33 opens with the two traveling across a desert on horseback. The first five pages are very slowly paced and quietly presented, giving the new couple a brief moment of comfortable togetherness. The counterpoint scene in Wayne Manor is also quiet and homey—affectionate and joking before Alfred informs Damian, Jay, Thomas, and the others ("The mansion, like this family... is as large as it needs to be.") about Bruce Wayne's illegal mission to Khadym.

With the help of the tiger king of Kandahar and "a little girl," Batman gets past the guard in the desert appointed by the Justice League of America. Soon, he'll meet again the "daughter of the demon."

Following #33's slow pace and gentle unfolding, #34 offers an alternative approach. Batman and Catwoman face "a lot" of enemies, the silent soldiers of the pit, as well as a very angry ex-girlfriend. The three-page fight scene is clever and brisk. "The bounce of their jaws on my knuckles. It's off. They don't have tongues." After telling Talia al Ghul why they're there, Batman falls to her sword. She then faces the Bat's new paramour, the Cat.

While Damian waits outside for his parents with Richard, Talia meets Selina. Their conversation is more important than their combat, although that's cleverly presented, too. "As much as I want him to love me, I'll always be second to a child's idiotic fantasy." All in all, their journey to Khadym ends well.

I'm quite impressed by how lovingly and tenderly these three issues unfolded. King has a real affection for the characters, and they have a real affection for each other, as complicated as the world of Supermen and Misters Terrific might be.

Availability: These issues of Batman have yet to be collected. The most recent Tom King collection is Batman Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles. And Catwoman: A Celebration of 75 Years collects some of the better Catwoman stories over the years.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Modern History of the Fist

The Spirit #10 (Quality, Fall 1947, 10 cents)
My coverless copy is missing a wrap, as well, so I'm missing the first couple of pages of the first story, as well as the last two pages of the last.

"Diamonds and Rats" Script: Manly Wade Wellman, Pencils and inks: Lou Fine, Letters: Martin DeMuth (Originally published April 22, 1945)
The Spirit and Ebony are tracking smugglers to the old Grimm house, a country inn. While giving "a lesson in the modern history of the fist," the Spirit is conked on the noggin by one Juanito, but our heroes escape from the basement and turn the smugglers in to Commissioner Dolan.

"Jonesy" Script and art: Bernard Dibble.
In this one-page gag, Jonesy attempts to be made of sterner stuff when he spies "another nut-sundae siren" but proves quite adept at picking up dropped handkerchiefs.

"Mr. Sorrel" Script and art: Jack Cole, Letters: Martin DeMuth. (Originally published Jan. 9, 1944)
Ebony challenges Commissioner Dolan to catch the killer of Mr. Dolan. Ebony and the Spirit go to interview Mrs. Sorrel. After thoroughly searching the dead man's papers, they learn the identity of the killer.

"Hungry for Romance" Script: Manly Wade Wellman, Art: Robin King, Letters: Martin DeMuth. (Originally published Sept. 2, 1945)
Ellen's cousin Cookie is visiting, and Ellen is worried about an admirer named Sparling. He proves to be no good, romancing Cookie to "learn a lot about the police department's activities." Planning to dissolve the Spirit's body in acid (!!!), he is thwarted by Ellen and a seltzer bottle.

"Commissioner Dolan Under Arrest" Script and art: Jack Cole, Letters: Martin DeMuth. (Originally published March 19, 1944)
Dolan is invited to the offices of Skelter and Crabb, private detectives, who plan to demonstrate their expertise. The lights go out, and Skelter is dead, Dolan's fingerprints on the knife. The Spirit and Ebony investigate Crabb's past with Ellen's help. He turns out to have been a knife thrower of some skill.

"Jonesy" Script and art: Bernard Dibble. (Originally published Jan. 14, 1945)
A one-page gag featured Jonesy practicing the trombone, causing his father to ruin a cathedral of collar buttons.

"From the Army Air Forces Experimental Department" Script and art: Al Stahl. (Originally published Oct. 21, 1945)
Flatfoot Burns, star detective, strives to be the speediest crime-solving detective in the world. His new jet bike allows him to travel faster than sound and light. He introduces the chief of police to the mayor of Iglooville.

"Jonesy" Script and art: Bernard Dibble.
After reading a self-help book, Jonesy works up the nerve to "ask that new super-snooty witch" to go to a dance. Instead, he asks her a more interesting question, which goes unanswered.

In this two-page text story, Nock Strube plans to move in on Central City big. After recruiting for the Protective Association, three fires break out in three stores on the main streets of the city. The Spirit solves the mystery before going to a clambake with Ellen.

"Killer Ketch" Script: Bill Woolfolk, Art: Robin King. (Originally published Jan. 2, 1944)
Safe cracker Ketch gets out of jail after 10 years and hunts down Lulu Mae Cronin. Ketch is being hidden by private detective Jennifer Jordan, but the Spirit finds him with Ebony and Ellen's help.

These quarterly comics were reprints of material that originally appeared in the seven-page Spirit newspaper sections. Will Eisner was serving in the military between 1942-1945, so the work in that time period was largely uncredited. The Jack Cole material is particularly excellent, and Dibble's "Jonesy" gag pages are notable, even if Jonesy doesn't seem to actually like women very much.

Availability: The above Spirit pieces have been collected in The Spirit Archives, Vol. 8: January 2 to June 25, 1944The Spirit Archives, Vol. 10: January 7 to June 24, 1945, and The Spirit Archives, Vol. 11: July 1 to December 30, 1945.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

That Coyote's Mean

Beep Beep the Road Runner #20 (Gold Key, October 1970, 15 cents)
"Knights and Daze" This uncredited eight-page story drawn by Phil de Lara and lettered by Bill Spicer entails a time machine used by Wile E. Coyote. Accidentally sending the road runners—the Road Runner we know and love, and his three sons—800 years in the past, the coyote follows them, unintentionally insulting Sir Loin (ha!), who demands "revenge to save my honor as a knight!" Before the queen, the Road Runner jousts Sir Loin (hee!) while wearing a lantern case as a helmet. They leave with Wile E. hanging onto the doorknob.

Rather than try to adapt the cartoon as a wordless comic—or with only the coyote and other characters speaking—Gold Key gave the Road Runner three sons and decided that they should all speak in rhyme. "Please, ma'am... no! That coyote's mean... but we can't drive his time machine!" The overall effect is quite irritating.

"Feather or Not!" In this six-page story written by Don R. Christensen and drawn by Phil de Lara, the Native American Sleepy Wolf is sent to get some nice, new feathers for his tribe. He encounters the road runners, who are beeping as they walk rather than speaking—but Wile E. trips him before he can catch them.

The whole group happens upon the "injun village," where the Native Americans try to catch the birds as well as the coyote, leading them to hide in an eagle's nest. The road runners distract Sleepy Wolf by dowsing Wile E. with "some cactus goo... to stick like glue" before showering him with loose feathers.

Even though AIM didn't occupy Wounded Knee until 1973, 1970 is awfully late for such a dim-witted and insensitive portrayal of Native Americans. The rhyming dialogue continues to irritate and distract from what could be a promising comic.

"Leave It to Beavers" Featuring more uncredited work by Christensen, de Lara, and Spicer, this six-page piece opens with the coyote "too tired to chase those road runners anymore" and planning to rest in the "quiet river country." There, he nevertheless captures two of the road runner youth. Enlisting the aid of the industrious beavers, their father lures the coyote to an obstacle course of sorts.

"The Big Bus Fuss" Drawn by Pete Alvarado and lettered by Spicer, this four-page story stars Cool Cat. The hunter tries to shoot Cool Cat, "that fugitive from my trophy room." Interrupted by a monkey and a hippopotamus, the hunter decides to trick Cool Cat by picking him up in a bus. Unfortunately, other animals want to ride the bus, too.

The issue also included Gold Key Comics Club News, the Stamp and Coin Collector's Corner by George Allard, a Reader's Page featuring Doodles, a one-page Bugs Bunny text piece ("The Carrot Crisis," a 1956 story reprinted from the Dell Looney Tunes #173), and a one-page Road Runner gag, "Slicker Tricker Trap," in which the coyote fails again.

Availability: The Gold Key Road Runner material has not been collected, but the more recent DC Looney Tunes series has. There are three volumes: Looney Tunes: Greatest Hits Vol. 1: What's up Doc?Looney Tunes: Greatest Hits Vol. 2: You're Despicable!, and Looney Tunes: Greatest Hits Vol. 3: Beep Beep.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Seeking Help from Dr. Faustus

Marvel Super Action #9 (Marvel, August 1978, 35 cents)
"If the Past Be Not Dead" Script: Stan Lee, Pencils: Jack Kirby, Inks: Syd Shores, Letters: Artie Simek.

My coverless copy of this reprint book offering again the November 1968 Captain America #107 is also missing several pages. This review is based on only 13 of the 18-page story, already two pages shorter than the original publication.

Without Captain America's awareness, Dr. Faustus has prescribed him a nightmare tablet every evening in order to drive him mad. Already coping with the many changes that occurred while he "was in suspended animation for two decades," Steve Rogers is seeing people he knows on the street: a Sharon Carter lookalike and a police officer who looks like the Red Skull.

Seeking help from Dr. Faustus, Rogers is taken prisoner by Nazis—only to be revived by Faustus. "Snap out of it!" Prescribing more pills, Faustus plans to end his "little game" that night. Rogers wakes to find himself aged, now elderly. "I've grown old—overnight!" Bucky arrives to enlist the elderly Cap to stop enemy agents "try to steal our new missile plane!" To Faustus and his lackeys' surprise, Rogers mind is not yet broken and shattered.

What an awesome story. This is why you should read coverless comics when you come across them. Who knows what you'll find. Kirby's artwork is wonderful: four-panel pages (p. 7 and p. 14), p. 11's Red Skull, the Nazis on p. 13, the elderly Rogers on pp. 21-23 (astounding with a page turn!), and pp. 27-28—and that's not even the complete comic! This is a great issue.

Marvel Super Action was an odd little reprint book that lasted 38 issues. After a 1976 non-reprint black-and-white one-shot magazine, the 1977 series reprinted Captain America starting with #100 before changing to Avengers reprints to pick up where Marvel Triple Action left off. Unfortunately, the reprints often shortened the original stories—so even if reprint book back issues are less expensive, you sometimes won't get the full experience, coverless or otherwise.

Availability: Captain America #107 has also been reprinted in Essential Captain America, Vol. 2Marvel Masterworks: Captain America - Volume 3, and Captain America Omnibus, Vol. 1.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Scale Not Always Seen

Thor #343 (Marvel, May 1984, 60 cents)
"If I Should Die Before I Wake..." Art and story: Walter Simonson, Lettering: John Workman, Jr., Colors: Christie Scheele, Editing: Mark Gruenwald, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

The dragon Fafnir rampages in the South Bronx calling for Thor while the sorceress Lorelei watches on TV, but Thor is far away, in Antarctica with Eilif the Lost, "last survivor of a Viking community that has been hidden here for centuries." Thor calls on Cloudrider, Valkyrie's proud steed, and his own chariot, drawn by Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, so they can ride into battle. Eilif, questioning his age and strength, wounds the dragon.

Simonson's artwork is grand, representative of his run on the title. There are several highlights: The slightly Kirby-esque splash of Fafnir on page 1, page 5's summoning of the steeds, the dragon's stance on p. 11, the sequence of panels showing Eilif's rising on p. 18, and the ascent to Valhalla on p. 23. There are a couple of narrative touches that will come into play in future issues: Lorelei's interest in Thor, Karnilla's tending to the Loki-ruined Balder, and the forging of the sword called Twilight.

Read Also: Thor #342.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Tour of the Supernatural

The Tomb of Dracula #1 (Marvel, October 1979, $1.25)
This 68-page black-and-white newsstand magazine was published after the 70-issue full-color comic book run and freed the creators and publisher from the constraints of the Comics Code Authority. The first issue featured four pieces: a 43-page uninterrupted comics story and three journalistic articles about various aspects of Dracula film fandom.

The comics piece is the highlight, written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by Gene Colan, and inked by Bob McLeod. "Black Genesis" is a story about Sandy Sommers's self-esteem and relationships with men, the wife of a wizard and her mysterious ring, and a "tour of the supernatural" that takes a group of Americans to Dracula's castle in Transylvania.

The group of tourists goes to the site of his castle, recently destroyed, and the woman with the mysterious ring finds "the final remains of—Dracula!" Somehow, Dracula soon lives again. That is bad news for Betty, for the reporter with the crucifix, for most everyone. But it's good news for the reader because the story is adequately dark and looming—black and white is particularly well suited to this book. There are some appropriately horrific moments—the rats and David Lorning in the old London hotel—and being non-Code even allows some showing of breasts, tastefully done and suitable for the erotic nature of the vampire myth.

The story behind Florence Ebers's ring is promising. While the effect on the bearer is unclear—panel six on p. 32 suggests that touching the original meteorite killed Gholen Yazdi, its finder, but he didn't actually die—its powers to "make reality out of thought" are ample. Ebers and Dracula team up to find the rest of the jewel—so she can revive her husband Augustus. But he has other plans. A good read.

Jason Thomas contributes "The Newest Dracula," a five-page article about the 1979 Dracula starring Frank Langella. (Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing!) It is mostly a walk through earlier film versions of Dracula from Nosferatu to Love at First Bite. The 1979 film followed a Broadway play that also starred Langella—and featured Edward Gorey set designs! The rest of the piece describes the plot of the then-new movie.

Tom Rogers's three-page "Love at First Bite" recounts the American International spoof starring George Hamilton. It mostly retells the plot with some light review elements. Finally, Rogers's six-page "Legend: According to the Movies" draws on the rich history of vampire cinema to address how to find and destroy a vampire. You know, just in case.

That article includes a surprisingly wide range of movies, including Scream, Blacula, Scream; Does Dracula Really Suck?; The Vampire's Coffin; Curse of the Blood-Ghouls; and Dracula in Istanbul. Rogers really did his research, and the piece provides an awesome list of vampire movies. Comic aside, that last article is enough reason to track down this magazine, which sits squarely between horror comics and monster movie fanzines. More of these, please!

Availability: The Tomb of Dracula #1 was reprinted in Tomb of Dracula - Volume 3 (Tomb of Dracula Omnibus).

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Wonderful Return

Love and Rockets Vol. 4 #1-3 (Fantagraphics, October 2016-July 2017, $4.99)
There have been three previous volumes of Love and Rockets. The original series began in 1982 and ran for 50 issues. The second volume included 20 issues over six years, and for the last eight years, there's been an annual graphic novel. This new series returns to the original magazine format and feels like reading a long-lost friend.

Jaime Hernandez's "I Come from Above to Avoid a Double Chin" (six pages) jumps right back in with Maggie and Hopey at a 40 Thieves/Ape Sex show. His two-page "Zine Fest" is a wonderful, brief look at tabling at a small zine show.

Gilbert contributes a 16-page Fritz story focusing on Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez, an actress who's inspired no fewer than five lookalikes who work in pornography. The story shimmies between the past and the present, which gets a little confusing. ("What does it mean when we're surrounded by thicker lines?" "Indicates flashback.")

Jaime also offers an eight-page science-fiction superhero story in which Anima and Lumina meet Katak. The issue ends with a letter column. What a wonderful return for the comic. It's nice to see some old friends again, and there's enough new—and new potential—here that Love and Rockets is sure to be a welcome ongoing read.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Simple Stories About Bee Stings

King-Cat Comix and Stories #76 (Spit and a Half, June 2016, $5)
This minicomic by John Porcellino is one of my favorite self-published comics of all time. His work is simple, earthy, loving, and gently important. He reminds me to slow down, live life, and to pay attention to the details and little things that can often go unnoticed. Things like animals, bodies of water, and the wind.

Porcellino now lives in northern Illinois not far from where I grew up in southern Wisconsin. This issue made me miss my former home: its geology, geography, flora, and fauna; and my family still there. The opening text piece "Sinnissippi Days" tells about a spring walk to where the Rock River meets the Pecatonica and the birds seen along the way, including an egret and a cormorant.

Comics, simply drawn, address a project started while waiting for car repairs, living in an unheated apartment, and signs of fall and winter. Porcellino also includes a top 40 (45!) featuring books, records, and experiences; and a nine-page letter column that includes missives from minicomic long-timers Jeff Zenick, Ariel Bordeaux, Jenny Zervakis, and Buzz Buzzizyk.

If you've never read King-Cat, give it a chance. This is a comic series for the ages.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Web Comics Gone Print

To Catch a Tooth (self-published, 2013, $2.99)
This 16-page minicomic was written, drawn, and published by Dylan Campbell, whom I met at Pulp Fiction in early December. He started making comics after taking a class several years ago and now publishes a Web comic, Scared by the Bell. This is his first mini.

Drawn in a slightly cartoony style that reminds me a little of Ariel Schrag by way of Mark Crilley, this brief comic tells the tale of a boy who conspires to rob the tooth fairy. it is a gently clever family comic that reads at the pace of a cartoon or TV sitcom. At the end, it's a story about love and looking out for the ones you love.

Campbell's artwork is friendly and his writing conversational, which works well for the story. The lettering is uneven, using a computer typeface and inexplicably switching from uppercase to lowercase on page 4. Lastly, Campbell's panel and page design offer room for improvement. The structure of the pages don't always serve the narrative, and the panel arrangement and composition occasionally feel arbitrary. A stronger sense of unity and direction will serve his work well. That said, this is a great first effort. All first minis should be this good, and the formal issues are small in light of the art and ideas.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lush and Lovely

Rima the Jungle Girl #2-5 (Marvel, June-July 1974 to December-January 1974/1975, 20 cents)
Writer: Robert Kanigher, Artist: Nestor Redondo, Cover and layouts: Joe Kubert.

This has got to be one of the most perfect, under-appreciated comic books in the history of DC. Published in the mid-'70s and based on W.H. Hudson's 1904 novel Green Mansions, which was made into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn in 1959, the comic features jungle heroine Rima, who even later appeared in the cartoon The All-New Super Friends Hour. Green Mansions was also adapted by Classics Illustrated in 1951 (#90).

The heroine and storyline have more in common with weird fiction and writing by authors such as H. Rider Haggard, at least in the initial issues, than with other jungle adventure regulars such as Tarzan.

#2: "Flight from Eden" In Venezuela, John Abel, injured by a snake bite, muses over the "beautiful apparition" of Rima. Brought into the forest by her grandfather Nuflo after her mother died, Rima is able to communicate with animals. Clothed in spiderweb, she is angered by her grandfather's eating of meat, After Abel returns to an Indian village, she welcomes him back to her grandfather's hut, indicating she wants to return to her mother's home.

Redondo's art is lithe and nimble, and some pages—4, 8, and 12-13 in particular—are breathtaking. The issue also includes a one-page Li'l Brontosaurus gag by Henry Boltinoff, as well as a five-page Space Voyagers backup story. Written by Kanigher and drawn by Alex Nino, "The Delta Brain" is science fiction comics at their finest: sense shattering, inventive, and threatening. Editorial Assistant Allan Asherman contributes a one-page text piece, "The Riddle of the Didi," which contextualizes Rima.