Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Comics Commentary: Dollar Comics (DC, February 2020-January 2021)


This is a Media Diet Comics Commentary video review of three DC Dollar Comics: Batman #663 (June 2020), Birds of Prey #1 (February 2020), and Sandman #23 (January 2021). Unscripted, unedited. Just a guy talking about comics.

Audio only.

Transcript below...

Today we're talking about three comics. We're talking about three DC Dollar Comics. These are the DC corollary to the Marvel True Believers that I just commented on not too many days ago.  They don't come out as often. They don't come out as plentifully. They're still worth picking up, and they cover, actually, a wider range of time in DC's history, as well. The True Believers stuff tends to be more in the Bronze Age and the Silver Age, and it is rare that they even dip into the ‘90s. That recent Black Widow True Believers from 1999, for example, was a bit of an anomaly.

We have three titles today. We have a Dollar Comics Batman reprint of #663. This was originally published in 2007 but came out this year with a cover date of June, although with the pandemic and distribution being wacky, it came out more recently than that. We also have DC Dollar Comics: Birds of Prey #1 that originally came out in 1999, I believe, and has a cover date or a publication date that is indeterminate. This came out more recently than the Batman. Lastly and most recently, we have a Dollar Comics Sandman #23. This was originally published in 1991 and has a cover date of January 2021, so we're already publishing into next year.

Interesting books worth picking up again. Great for gifts, for people who are new to comics, great to fill in some key issue slots if you just want a reading copy versus something that you know is of the time—and absolutely wonderful. They only cost a dollar, and I wish that DC came out with more of these. These are also tied into reprint events and activities. This Batman reprint refers to the Joker 80th Anniversary 100-Page Super Spectacular, which was originally going to be on sale in April of this year. This Birds of Prey reprint says to be continued in the Birds of Prey Vol. 1 graphic novel, which might have come out relatively recently. That issue actually has a house ad for the three volumes of that reprint. 

And the Sandman Dollar Comic... let's see what it's tying into… it has a house ad for the Sandman Universe Locke & Key two-issue miniseries that's coming out jointly between DC and IDW. There's also some back matter on The Dreaming: Waking Hours #1, so it's just connecting the original Sandman series and Gaiman's work to other recent things. Although, throughout the Sandman comic, there's other house ads of note. We have some collected volume reprints advertised. We have the Audible Original recording also featured. Some other Gaiman stuff featured in a house ad; Lucifer, a sideline series by another creator; The Dreaming: Waking Hours, which is a sideline with other people; even the audiobook. Those things are kind of odd. You actually buy a physical thing that holds the MP3 that you can listen to with earphones. Those make sense if you have a lot of stuff on it, but just one audio book, I don't think it's worth the shelf space. Interesting stuff, all tied into other things going on—the first two tied into reprint volumes and the last one less tied into something that's timely but there's plenty of Sandman stuff going on. I think the Audible Original is probably the most recent thing

How are they? The Batman issue… when I first saw it, I was actually angry. Written by Grant Morrison, which is a good thing, and art by John Van Fleet. The art from Van Fleet is this 3-D art, almost like that on a Residents album cover of more recent vintage. The 3-D art is not really my thing. I don't like it. It doesn't speak to me aesthetically. I’m not interested in looking at it. So when I first got this and saw what was being reprinted, it's almost like video game stills—which, if you're a gamer, you might like more—but I was not looking forward to reading it.

Then I shifted my thinking because I was also hung up on the idea that this isn't a comic book. This is an illustrated story, and I read comics to read comics. If this were a Big Little Book, it would be different. If it was a prose book that had illustrations, that would be different. But this kind of awkward middle ground calling itself a comic, just too many illustrations for the text, and illustrations that I'm not interested in looking at. No offense intended to John Van Fleet. It's just not my thing. So I had to shift my thinking. I had to shift my thinking from not liking the art, not thinking that it was a comic book, and thinking about it more as this is a short story written by Grant Morrison. I shifted my thinking even more to say this is a pulp fiction story written by Grant Morrison, and that shift in thinking actually made reading this extremely enjoyable.

Thinking about this as an issue of a pulp fiction magazine featuring Batman, the Batman in a pulp fiction-like story written by Grant Morrison broken into chapters—it's got chapter headings and everything—I enjoyed it a lot. I would have enjoyed it more in the style of a pulp magazine probably because I like pulp magazines. Probably if there wasn't a background behind the text and it really was more just text page, if it had been collected in a book, this would be great—as a short story in a book, but as a comic it took me some doing to to get over my preconceived notions, biases, and judgments against it. As a reader, that was an interesting experience.

The story is about Batman going to see the Joker in prison. The Joker and Harley Quinn aren't really getting along. Batman gets in the middle of that. It’s a really dark love story between the Joker and Harley Quinn in a way that I was aware of but hadn't really exposed myself to that much. I'm not a big Harley Quinn fan mostly because the Joker doesn't deserve her love—that is my thought on the matter.

Really interesting. I had a lot of biases and judgments against this. Once I thought about it as a short story written by Grant Morrison in the style of the old school pulps, I was hooked and i was sold. It's a wonderful read. You might really enjoy the art. You might like that video game-like 3-D style, but I did not so much. But as a story, it reads well. Interesting reprint. I’m curious what other people think of this issue as an issue of a comic book. I do not think it's an issue of a comic book.

The next reprint, Birds of Prey, was also really interesting. Let me just make sure I stick to the creators because I missed that last time. The Batman reprint was Grant Morrison writing and art by John Van Fleet. The Birds of Prey reprint was from Birds of Prey #1, again, from 1999. The creative team on that was Chuck Dixon, writer; Greg Land, penciller; and Drew Geraci as inker. It’s a pretty straightforward comic from the late ‘90s. Not as garish or hatchy as some stuff from the ‘90s, this actually looks really nice. It focuses on Black Canary and focuses on Oracle, who's, I believe, a newish character at the time. A good story! It actually makes me want to check out the collected volumes that it's tied into, and that is not that common because I like these reprints just as reprints. The art is clean. The story's good. It's kind of an action-adventure tale like an ‘80s adventure movie on an island.

Oracle’s behind the scenes working the computer. Black Canary’s on the ground kicking butt and taking names. There's a twist at the end that you don't expect. The only thing that bugged me was that given the scan quality and the DPI that they went with, some of the text doesn't seem like it reproduced that well. There's some slight pixelation in the lettering, and the pixelation doesn't come across the same in the artwork—so I don't think it's a general scan quality issue. But I did find the text fuzzy, and that was challenging. I know that's an opportunity and an invitation to make a “you're getting older joke.” Not fuzzy for those reasons, fuzzy because of scan quality and DPI. Really interesting reprint and a series worth checking out. The collaboration between Dixon, Land, and Geraci really worked well in a way that a lot of ‘90s collaborations didn't for me. The ‘90s were not my decade in comics, actually the latter half of the ‘90s probably—and maybe even into the early 2000s. Worth checking out. There's three volumes of the series collected, so maybe worth a look.

The last one we're going to talk about is DC Dollar Comics: Sandman #23. originally published in 1991. I read this when it came out. It's got a creative team of Neil Gaiman, writer; Kelley Jones, penciller; and Malcolm Jones III, inker.  What a wonderful comic. At the time I read it much more for Gaiman's writing than anyone who was drawing it, so it was interesting for me as someone who likes Kelley Jones. His Deadman stuff is just crazy. Look at the folds in that fabric. I like Kelley Jones, but I didn't read it for the art. I read it for the story and for the words—and for the way that the words made me feel. So this took me back because I haven't reread Sandman since then.

I have some of the collected volumes, I think, from back in the day, but I haven't reread Gaiman's comics since he started writing fiction and publishing fiction, so interesting to return to this—and what a great, great, great, great, great, great story. It’s basically a story about Satan closing up shop in Hell. What if all the souls in Hell were sent somewhere else? What if he closed and locked the gates? What if he gave you the key? A really interesting story, very much for mature readers.

There's some neat Voivod-like or H. R. Giger-like architecture there in the opening spread. We have Jones’s art, excellent throughout. There are some dark bits and shocking bits. Just a neat three-panel look at Dream himself.  Kind of a Clive Barker moment there, a bit intense for the younger reader. Here's a couple of other images. Actually, I'm not going to share them with you because they're so cool to see in the book. Be sure to read this if you like Neil Gaiman, and if you like the Sandman, or if you like Satan. Today, I think, is Aleister Crowley's feast day or something like that. A great reprint worth returning to, probably worth returning to in collections, but it held up well.

As I said, I had not read Gaiman's comics since originally reading them, and this makes me think that maybe I need to return to Sandman and revisit it again to see if, one, it makes me feel the same, see if the references to legend, lore, and myth hit me the same and, two, see if I pay more attention to the art this time. Because the first time around, I was not reading it for the art, ignored the art, and paid attention to Gaiman. It's worth it. Really interesting reading experience.

Of the three DC Dollar Comics—Sandman, Birds of Prey—this, I think, is my pick of the three—and the Batman reprint, I say to DC, do more pulp fiction-like stories. You can do them as audio books. Do them as downloads. Even if they're shorter. But print them in print just as books or booklets or as a little digest magazines. There's a lot of opportunity here in the way that Grant Morrison approached the character, and it's not just dependent on the story line with the Joker. It's an idea that could be returned to for many of the characters.

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