Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Even Monsters Need Lawyers

Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre #3, 5, 8-10, 12-13, 16-17 (Exhibit A; September 1994, February, September, and November 1995, February, August, and October 1996, July and October 1997; $2.50)
Batton Lash is a self-publishing self-made man. Drawing Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre since 1979—first for The Brooklyn Paper and then The National Law Journal, Lash has produced a weekly comic strip, comic book, or webcomic (as Supernatural Law) for about four decades. A former student of Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman, Lash worked as an assistant to Howard Chaykin, and worked in a studio housed in the former offices of EC Comics. The man is steeped in comics history, and his style shows it.

To whit: "Even monsters need lawyers. And the law firm that specializes in this unique clientele consists of Alanna Wolff and Jeff Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre." Lash's black and white comics are cleanly drawn, humorously written stories about the cases taken by Wolff & Byrd.

The issues in this writeup address topics such as Sodd, the Thing Called It, a Swamp Thing- (or Man-Thing-, or Heap-) like creature—a recurring figure over this run of issues—zombies and unfair labor practices, levitation, body image and fat shaming, leprechauns, lawyer conferences and conventions, Cthulhu, lawyers in love, The X-Files (in a loving sendup titled The * Files), UFO abductions, repressed memories, lawyers in love, romance comics, Rosemary's Baby and selling your soul to the devil, guardian angels, vampires, triskaidekaphobia, TV news, environmentalism, sovereignty and land law, and Dr. Frankenstein's assistant Igor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Not Fallen Far from the Fan

Big Bang Comics Vol. 2 #30 (Image, February/March 2000, $3.99)
"Knight Watchman Meets the Verdict" Writer: Mike W. Barr, Artist and Letters: David C. Zimmerman, Inks: Jeff Austin.

Gary Carlson and Chris Ecker have been hawking their Big Bang wares since the early '80s. This issue comes from their self-titled series for Image, which ran from 1996 to 2001. Rather than rehash public domain heroes or applying a postmodern take on modern-day heroes, they and their friends—and fellow fans—have created a shared universe of sorts drawing on the best of each comics era. The result are new comics that feel like old comics but remain as fresh and energetic as anything currently in print.

I can't quite peg this issue. The main story is a 21-page black-and-white Knight Watchman (created by Tom King, of all people!) piece featuring the Verdict, a team made up of Hot Wire, Kuttar, Psi-Mage, and Quintessence. It feels like it could sit in the '70s or '80s, and I quite like that it's not entirely obvious. Knight Watchman tracks a woman embodied by Psi-Mage to a penthouse foyer hosting a gathering of the brethren. He and the Verdict team up to rescue Quintessence, held prisoner by Dr. Smight.

"Spa Fun!" Writer/Creator: Mike W. Barr, Penciler/Letterer: John Watkins-Chow, Inker: Tim Stiles, Editor: Gary Carlson.

This solo backup story, an eight-page story done in the manner of the '70s or '80s (again, hard to peg!) that highlights Psi-Mage. The title is a pun on the EC Comics-style phrase "spa fon"—which was also invoked in F. Paul Wilson's novel The Tomb, which I recently finished. After the happenings in the lead story, Psi-Mage needs to take a break, so she goes to a day spa. Her time there is far from restful, yet she emerges a new woman.

The issue also includes a back issue listing and a Barr-penned column, "Rendering the Verdict," which details how his involvement in Big Bang came to be. Reportedly, he met with Carlson and Ecker while they were in LA for an event at Golden Apple Comics. He describes the trio as "three comics pros who hadn't fallen far from the fan" and calls mainstream comics a "no fan's land."

Availability: Big Bang's golden age Knight Watchman stories have been collected in Knight Watchman: The Golden Age.

Monday, November 12, 2018

An Audition Tape for Image

Pyrite (Samson, 1996)
"Blood on Water" Pencils: Philip Xavier, Inks: Kaleb AKA "Cabin Boy," Writer and Letters: Chad Michael Ward, Cover Artist: Brandon Peterson, Colors: J.D. Smith, Gaunt Sneak Preview: Mark Kidwell, Editor: Peter Caravette.

Featuring a cover by the artist and creator of the 1997 Image comic Arcanum, this comic has "audition tape" written all over it. In the editor's note, Caravette mentions that Xavier and the "mysterious inker" Kaleb have joined Wildstorm, Jim Lee's studio for Image and, later, DC. So this unnumbered, unpriced one shot might be of interest to mid-'90s Image fans.

The main 20-page Pyrite story, while not my cup of tea entirely, is very well done—in the Image style. A tactical team of three blow up a skyscraper before being shot by gunmen in a helicopter. One might have survived. Readers are then introduced to the main character, Major Dawson, who seems to have lost his memory. He finds himself at a nightclub, where he ogles a dancer.

Professor Doyle expounds some on Dawson's background: "severe neuro damage caused by the reanimation process... our walking corpse is losing his mind." Dawson is brought back in a healing tank, teamed up again with Angel, or Major Atkins, and given a mission.

The artwork reminds me of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, so there's a lot of muscular men and buxom women. But Xavier can draw. For every fight scene or dramatic pose, there's a lovely surprise: p. 8's cityscape and street signage; p. 12's wordless, five-panel city- and nature-scapes that serve as pacing and punctuation while Dawson's unconscious; p. 13 and 15's moon through the window imagery; p. 20's final panel featuring the moon again. He can do much more than he does in this comic—beautiful art.

The flip side of the book, "Raisin' Holy Hell," is an 11-page preview of The Gaunt, by Mark Kidwell, who is more in the Todd McFarlane and early Sam Keith wheelhouse. His pages and panels are much more dense and angular than Xavier's, which makes the book fun to look at, if not read. The hero is another back-from-the-dead type, a compatriot of Major Velocity, Lycanthra, and the Wunderkind—all murdered by a fellow superhero who betrayed them, Mantas. The demon Samhain brings him back 10 years later to hunt Mantas down.

Had the title character continued past this preview, I would have liked the backstory of the group of superheroes to have been explored. Seems like rich fodder in the vein of Alan Moore's America's Best Comics and Gary Carlson's Big Bang Comics.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The True Story of the Nez Perce War

Relentless Pursuit #2 (Slave Labor, May 1989, $1.75)
"The Battle of White Bird Canyon" Writer and Artist: Jeff Kear, Letters: Kevin Cunningham, Publisher and Editor in Chief: Dan Vado, Art Director: Scott Saavedra.

What a strange little comic! It's especially strange that this was published by Slave Labor, which usually trafficked in cartoony humor books a la It's Science with Dr. Radium and Samurai Penguin. But it's an excellent experiment, and a stretch for Vado—"different from anything else I had ever published." It'd make a good companion read to William Messner-Loebs's Journey and Chester Brown's Louis Riel.

The miniseries told the "true story of the Nez Perce War of 1877," and this 24-page issue focuses on the battle of White Bird Canyon in Idaho Territory, which catalyzed the war on June 17, 1877. The comic vacillates between prose and illustration, and cartooning, and Kear's artwork is aptly realistic, wonderful for black and white.

The Nez Perce initially held the line, causing Captain Perry and his men to suffer losses—and to fall back to Mount Idaho. The Native Americans then moved to the far shore of the Salmon River, and one-armed General Howard returned with 400 soldiers and 100 volunteers. The soldiers took an entire day to cross the river, and Captain Whipple led a force to Looking Glass Village, which they destroyed.

The war is not a bright spot in American history. The Native Americans were fighting a forced removal that violated the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla. Kear's comic treats the subject with respect and seriousness, and it's wonderful that this was published in serial form; today it'd be a graphic novel.

Letterer Cunningham is not actually credited in the comic. But the copy I have was signed by Cunningham, who also penned in a lettering credit on the inside front cover. The illustrated prose portions are typeset, and the cartoon sections are lettered well. Kudos, Cunningham.

Availability: This series has not been collected. That should be remedied. We recommend William Messner-Loeb's Journey, available in two volumes, and Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

An Extremely Silly Comic

Samurai Penguin #1 (Slave Labor, 1986, $1.50)
Writer and creator: Dan Vado, Artist and creator: Mark Buck.

I'm not sure if this is a parody of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or of the already cartoony and masterful Usagi Yojimbo, both of which were contemporaries, but thanks to the editorial, readers know there's no relation to the Samurai Penguin characters in Antarctic Press's Extremely Silly Comics.

Regardless, this comic book is extremely silly. Because the penguins in it are silly, except for the samurai. The penguins tumble into each other like dominoes, dive into cold water, provoke a shark, pester the seals, duel with the predatory skua, and otherwise attract the ire of Artimus Walrus—who plans to "eliminate the Samurai Penguin... and to enslave the entire penguin colony."

Heavy drama, indeed. Vado's writing goes for quick gags, visual and verbal, and Buck's artwork is cleanly cartoony, featuring some excellent use of Zip-A-Tone. The samurai is necessarily larger and more human-like than the standard penguins, and he looks like a bird in some panels.

The issue includes a couple house ads and "True Penguin Facts," which educates readers a little about the penguin and includes a caveat from Vado: "I will pull out my creative license. Settings will differ from what they are in nature; predators will do some unnatural things." A fun, throwaway read. The series lasted eight issues and was reportedly an early success for Slave Labor.

Availability: Samurai Penguin has not been collected. Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo and Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Capitalizing on Ninja

Amazing Comics Premieres #1 (Amazing, 1987, $1.95)
"Ninja*Bots" Created, Written, and Illustrated by: Roger McKenzie and Kevin VanHook, Lettered by: Lee Harmon.

Offered by the publisher of Ex-Mutants and New Humans, this is Amazing's showcase book, intended to be a tryout book explicitly similar to DC's Showcase and New Talent Showcase, Pacific's Vanguard Illustrated, and Comico's Primer. What began as a joke on a car trip to the Chicago Con capitalized on the mid-'80s love affair with ninjas and giant robots—and the result is quite impressive.

The 32-page black-and-white comic seems a lark on VanHook's well-drawn cover, but the interiors are anything but silly or dismissive. Instead, writer McKenzie weaves the tale of centuries-old ninja caretakers, tenku (supernatural beings), and warriors. Tao-Sun, the ancient one, encounters wayward student Ratu after defeating a group of ninja, remembering their time together serving as "sworn guardians of the sleeper from the stars."

Power hungry, Ratu slayed their mentor Sin before confronting Tao-Sun, who, as tengu, exacts justice. Now, Tao-Sun returns to the hidden shrine of the sleeper from the stars, where he realizes Ratu has taken control of the sleepers, alien shells in the form of enormous Ninja*Bots, seemingly biomechanical battle bots. Tao-Sun transforms into a tengu demon, the star-lizard, who fights Ratu's Ninja*Bots.

Personally, I could do without the giant robot, but McKenzie's scripting is excellent, and VanHook's artwork is sublime. His style reminds me slightly of Gene Day's work on Master of Kung Fu, and the inking—while brilliantly black and white—isn't heavy handed or muddy. The issue features "The Premiere of Amazing Comics Premieres;" Kevin VanHook's "The Creation of a Comic Book," which further describes the ideas behind the comic; and a couple house ads. Pied Piper later published a Ninja*Bots Super Special.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

One of 20 Black-and-White Titles

Edge #1 (Silver Wolf, February 1987, $1.50)
Published by Kristoffer A. Silver, owner of the now-defunct Alexander's Comics in Sacramento, California, this title was one of Silver Wolf's 20 black-and-white titles—as well as 10 additional color comics—that self-admittedly contributed to the B&W "glut in the market" in the mid-'80s. The 24-page issue was written by Silver and drawn by Gary Shipman, who was slated to later also write the title. The comic was carried by no fewer than 15 comics distributors. Remember those days?

Shipman's artwork is pretty decent for such a book (Silver Wolf also published early work by Sacto locals Ron Lim and Tim Vigil). His characters are stronger than his backgrounds despite some anatomy challenges, and the heavy inks occasionally distract from the lack of panel backgrounds, but on the whole, the art is solid. The story, then is about Edge, costumed vigilante Jason Holden, adept at martial arts and making a living as a "thief of thieves."

In this issue, Edge dispatches a "band of punks" that accosts him in an alleyway, remembers acquiring a wealth of gems, gets flustered talking to a pretty neighbor who drops off a UPS package, dresses in the just-received suit he "designed and ordered," and sells the gems to a reluctant fence in downtown Sacto before encountering "Lance of the Eradicators." The Eradicators was another Silver Wolf title.

This book is a fascinating example of the mid-'80s comics boom, and the title is quite good given the sizable ambitions of the publisher. The issue also includes a publisher's note, two pages of back issue listings—including portfolios and roleplaying games (spun out of The Eradicators!) from the company—and a column in place of the lettercol.