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.

Even though reading 10 issues of the series in one sitting got to be a bit much, the comic is amazing—a real work of art. Not surprisingly, Lash's style occasionally evokes Eisner and Kurtzman, and his depiction of the secretary Mavis is an obvious homage to Dan DeCarlo and Archie Comics. The writing is well done and cleverly intelligent, and Lash isn't afraid to go text heavy when he wants to do so (#17's "Nosferatu: Special Report," for example). Storylines bob and weave over multiple issues, and Lash incorporates several plots and subplots throughout. This is a smart, smart comic.

Lash also loves comics, generally. Every issue included minicomic recommendations, as well as a two-page lettercol featuring occasional notes from people such as Eric Reynolds, Don Simpson, Mark Evanier, and the ever-present Carrie O'Brien. Issues also featured pinups contributed by Very Vicky's John Mitchell and Jana Christy, Donna Barr, Paul Pope, and Steve Lafler. #16 featured cameo art by Stephen Bissette, Berni Wrightson, Charles Vess, and Jeff Smith—and a one-page backup by Rick Veitch.

If you've never read Wolff & Byrd, the court so orders you do so.

Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre's Greatest Writs #1 (Exhibit A, 1997, $2.95)
This one shot was intended to introduce new readers to the series and includes several reprints from #1, as well as two collections, Supernatural Law and Fright Court. Sodd, the Thing Called It, makes his first appearance, and the collection also features a sendup of "The Monkey's Paw" and Pet Semetary, Tintin, the Boogeyman, demons, and ghosts. It's a good first read, and kicks off the above series of reading quite well.

Availability: The series and original comic strip have been collected in multiple volumes, including Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre: Case Files Vol. 1, Supernatural Law, and Fright Court.

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