Archive for June, 2005

Spooky – the Warren Fanzine vol. 2 no. 2 (2005)

June 30, 2005
If you’ve read my blog in the past, you know my affection for the old Warren Magazines. I’m really fond of those magazines, which presented some wonderful writing and art over the years. That’s part of why I was excited to stumble across Piers Casmir’s wonderful fanzine Spooky.
Spooky is a terrific little fanzine. Each issue contains several real gems, including some charmingly informal stories by those who were active in the comics industry back in the day. This issue of Spooky takes an informal look at the early days of Vampirella. Vampi is certainly the most well-known of all of Warren’s characters, and she had a real impact even in 1969, when she first appeared. It’s hard to resist that sultry, scantily-clad blood sucker. We meet Mike Royer, who drew the first Vampi story, and Don Glut, who wrote it. We also get an interview with, ands reminiscence with, former Vampi writer Nicola Cuti.

It’s wonderful to read the memories of these creators who are pretty much forgotten these days. Royer, for instance, had a long and prolific career in comics. However, if anyone remembers Royer at all, it’s as a former assistant to Jack Kirby. Here we get to know the man better, and he’s quite entertaining and charming.

And that is the joy of a print fanzine like Spooky. Spooky is so informal and charming, so light and fun, that it’s almost impossible to resist.

I can’t say if you’ll like Spooky if you’re not a Warren fan. Frankly some of this talk might go over your head if you have no idea what the guys are talking about. But for those of us who know and loved the Warren mags, this zine is a real treat.


Doctor Who (2005): The Parting of the Ways

June 29, 2005
Was that big enough?
Anyway, this was a damn good conclusion to a damn good season. The "Bad Wolf" plotline would up being very different from what probably anybody expected – I know I never imagined the Bad Wolf was Rose, with the power of the TARDIS coursing through her. Bad Wolf sounds like an evil creature, and for it to end up being something so benign was quite unexpected. It was nice how the episode took a small element from not just a previous episode from this season, but a classic Doctor Who element, and turned it just slightly so it appears in a completely new light. The TARDIS always had this mysterious power supply, and suddenly that power was being used to kill a Slitheen and imbue Rose with power. That’s just plain cool.
Cool like the surprising return of the Daleks. After the Doctor announced that the Daleks and Time Lords had wiped each other out in the Time War, I, like most fans, expected never to see them again. But this episode had a nice, logical reason for their return. They were suitably spooky is the battle on the space station, though somehow less scary than I’d expected somehow. Do I sound like I’m hedging my opinions here just a little bit? Maybe I was expecting the Daleks from the "Dalek" episode taken to the nth degree, maybe I just wanted the Daleks to present a little more of a danger, but then again maybe I’m just looking for things to complain about.
Because I can’t complain at all about the way Rose was presented in the episode. After the Doctor sends Rose back to 2005 London, her reactions were wonderful and fitting for all she’s gone through. It’s always bothered me a little bit that companions seemed happy to return to their normal lives. After running through space and time, living a life of adventure and doing good throughout space and time, how can someone go back to their quiet, normal life? It was wonderfully fitting for Rose to be in deep mourning about having to give up the life she came to love.
I never expected the new Doctor Who to be as fun as it ended up being. It’s just a shame that the show hasn’t been shown on an American channel so far. This deserves to be seen by more people.

Of Bitter Souls #1 (2005)

June 28, 2005
It’s nice to see Norm Breyfogle back working in comics again. I think the most recent thing I read by him was the Hellcat mini from Marvel in 2000, a shame because I always loved the work he did on Batman in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He was always a solid storyteller, and his character work was very consistent and clear. He wasn’t a flashy guy like McFarlane and Liefeld were at the time (perhaps to his financial detriment), but Breyfogle was a very solid and professional cartoonist.

Which is why it’s nice to see him back, in this solid new series. Of Bitter Souls is a kind of supernatural super-hero series, with super-powered men and women tracking down supernatural threats. This sort of comic is right in Breyfogle’s wheelhouse, especially combined with the solid writing of Charles William Satterlee and colorist Mike Kowalczyk. We get a lot of action and excitement in this origin issue, but also some nice character moments and some moments of real creepiness.

In this issue readers meet a group of four leather-clad evil-fighters. Each has been dragged from their normal lives, by an unknown being, seeming to fight the specter of evil in New Orleans. We meet a corrupt cop, a drug addict, a grifter and a prostitute who are all summoned at one of the lowest moments of their lives to be part of this new team, Few if any answers are given in this issue as to why these people are used in this battle, but there’s enough to intrigue a reader.

The storytelling is well-done, Silent scenes are used effectively to counter wordier scenes, and a scene where time is reversed is done in a really intriguing way. It’s clear that Breyfogle and Satterlee have thought deeply about the world of Of Bitter Souls, and therefore the comic promises much more than what we just see in this debut issue.

This is a very solid and intriguing first issue. It’s great to see Breyfogle back, and he’s chosen an intriguing project in which to be involved.

Bacchus #34 (1998)

June 27, 2005
Eddie Campbell is one of my favorite cartoonists of all time. His autobiographical comics are among the most charming and wonderful comics ever to appear. In contrast with American Splendor‘s Harvey Pekar, who seems to go through life with the weight of the world on his shoulders, Campbell always seems to be enjoying life, reveling in all the small things that make life with family and friends worth enjoying.
Campbell is the king of shaggy dog stories, stories that just amble along without point or conclusion, just endings. The telling of the story is the thing as much as the story itself. Just like life, interpretations of facts are outside of our experiences. Life is usually just a series of events, and such is the case in Campbell’s comics.
Thus we get "The Forriners", where Campbell and his family go back to his native Scotland, where they visit his old school. In the tale, the group eventually find their way to the place young Campbell was formed, only to turn around and go to Pizza Hut. "The Court Sketcher" tells about Campbell’s experiences doing court rendering for TV. There are some charming anecdotes in the story, but the tale ends rather than drives towards a conclusion.
Not everything Campbell works on has this shaggy dog style. His work on the Jack the Ripper story From Hell is justifiably praised, and he has a pantheon of mythological creatures who face off in the backup "Hermes Vs. the Eyeball Kid".
But i’s the autobiography by Campbell that I love. His stories are a lot like hanging out with a very pleasant and amiable friend. It’s a joy just to be in their presence.

Creepy #143 (1982)

June 26, 2005

Creepy ended with issue 145, so this was very close to the end of the run for this famed comic magazine. With some mags, the end seems to come suddenly, while with others, like with the Warren mags, the end seemed to be in the making for quite some time. First the mag’s famous logo was changed by some good-intentioned editor. Then the mag moved from hand-lettered stories to machine-lettered. Now, of course, computer lettering is the way of the world. But at that time, the ugly machine lettering used in the magazne was annoying and distracting. Typeset lettering almost never worked back in the day. Even when EC Comics usd the lettering, it seemed off-setting and frustrating in the extreme.

Added to that was the fact that owner Jim Warren, an extremely powerful presence in his magazines, was away from them at the time. According to interviews, Warren had gotten sick – it’s unclear if it was mental or physical illness – and was spending less and less time at his offices. He was such a powerful presence at Warren Mags that the company sufferered from his absence.

In addition, Warren seemed to be behind the times in 1981 and 1982. The independent comics market was burgening at that time. Publishers like Pacific, Eclipse and Capital Comics seemed to popping up at the rate of one per month, promising new energy and a new creator-driven style that seemed to imply that an old era of comics was past (Pacific’s motto was "For the NEW Era in Comics"!) Warren, with its endless reprints and its constant art by Spanish and Phillipine unknowns, seemed out of step with its contemporaries.

At the same time, Warren opened up just a little bit as the host of some slightly different horror stories. Don McGregor, a most unusual comic book writer indeed, began doing some more work on the line. McGregor was, and stillis, unusual because of his intense passion for bringing a poetic energy and spirit to comics. McGregor once confessed to me that he "writes every comic book as if it is his last" and you can see that in every page he writes. He’s famous for the huge amount of verbiage his stories delivered; there’s a possibly apocraphical story that Marvel used to have to pay their letterers extra to letter McGregor’s stories.

Creepy 143 features two stories by McGregor. One, part two of the vampire western "Moral Blood", was pretty near incomprehensble for me. I’m not sure if that’s because of the cliched western accents of the main characters, or the fact that I haven’t read part one, or because it was just plain a bad story.

In this issue, McGregor has a second story, one very different from much of his other work. "The Spectator Who Wept" is a long, bizarre yarn about an alien invasion of Earth. The aliens invade Earth is response to a serial killer who’s been killing children in a large American city. The police are stymied while the killer keeps striking. In response to the murders, the aliens decide to abduct all of Earth’s children to their home planet. Violence and battles ensue, until a child with a rare blood disease appears and starts to help drive a plan to defeat the invaders.

Even as an aliens-invade-the-Earth yarn, this is completely preposterous stuff. I want desperately to trust McGregor in this story, but it’s so far-fetched and bizarre that the story brings irritation rather than pleasure. McGregor really could have used an editor in this comic, but unfortunately, there just wasn’t the oversight at Warren at that time.

Still, it’s cool to own such a low-circulation old school Warren book. 

Doctor Who (2005): Bad Wolf

June 25, 2005

All this season, there’s been a phrase that’s been lurking in nearly every episode of Doctor Who: "Bad Wolf." The phrase has been painted on the TARDIS, it’s been the name of the Cardiff nuclear power plant in "Boom Town", there was a reference to it in the third episode of the season. Now, finally, the question of the Bad Wolf has started to come to a head

For the first time in this season, the Doctor and his companions find themselves transported to a place they don’t mean to get to. A mysterious force has somehow taken the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack, and TransMatted them to the bizarre space station from the previous episode "The Long Game". At the end of that episode, the Doctor freed Earth from the TV broadcasts that had prevented the human race from evolving as it should have. Here, the three companions find themselves stuck in a world where reality TV is everything, where the consequence of losing a game is death. And where these shows have prevented humanity from evolving the way it was supposed to.

Truthfully, this isn’t the best episode of the series for most of it. The Captain Jack sequences are fun – he’s definitely not a traditional Doctor Who companion. But the last couple of minutes, where a truly surprising twist ending happens, are some of the best of the season. I can’t wait for next wek?

And the Bad Wolf? I have my theories, but there are stll a few more days till "A Parting of the Ways".

Common Grounds #5 (2004)

June 21, 2005

In the ’70s Marvel had a whole line of "monsters gone wild" titles. "Where Creatures Roam," "Where Monsters Dwell," "The Monsters Are Coming… Beware" and others reprinted the often very campy monster stories that Lee, Ditko and Kirby created in the dark days before Fantastic Four #1. None of the stories were especially great, but they were always a lot of fun. Troy Hickman remembers those days, too, and writes a grand and hilarious tribute to them in issue 5 of his wonderful series "Common Grounds."

In "where Monsters Dine", Hickman introduces us to a group of monsters having a reunion in a remote section of Montana. We meet "Critorr, the behemoth who walks the Earth," "Kkrapp, the garbage pile that walks like a man" and "Grondar, the unbelievable monster from Planet X." Oh yeah, and Wang Dang Doodle, who’s, like, a dragon, so he’s all scary and stuff.

If you get the idea that Hickman doesn’t take all this too seriously, you’re right. The monsters are ridiculous and absurd, much like the original stories that inspired them. But Hickman gives these monsters the kind of twist that has become typical of this series. By the end of the tale, the weird giant monsters have taken on an odd sort of poignance, a feeling of, for want of a better word, humanity, that emanates from them.

And there’s why this comic is so wonderful: Hickman is one of us, a fan, someone who obviously has thought some of the same fanboy thoughts we all do. Unlike most of us, though, Hickman has thought his thoughts through. He has a fully developed world-view, and it’s reflected through his passionate love for comic books and super heroes. Any fan of super-hero comics owes it to him or herself to check this series out. Each issue stands alone, so you can start with any issue. Once you do, you’ll feel yourself swept away by Troy Hickman’s wonderful comic.

The Gray Area #1 (2004)

June 19, 2005

Detective Chance is an amoral guy. It’s his job to go after drug dealers and other scum of the earth. He’s a cop, that’s his job. But he can’t resist skimming off the top, making a little scratch for himself on the side. He doesn’t care; he’s a self-involved creep whose main concern is making himself happy. Or what amounts to happy in his sad, pathetic life. His wife bores him, his partner only exists to help him to achieve his personal goals, even critically injured criminals are forced to wait as he takes care of his personal needs. He’s a jerk, an ass, give him any name you like. If you ever met Chance, you wouldn’t like the guy. By the end of this comic I was sick to death of Chance. All throughout the issue, when he wasn’t wallowing in self-indulgence, Chance was wallowing in self-pity. Towards the end of the issue, I was rooting for this creep to get shot.

And lo and behold, he does get shot near the end of the issue and the story picks up a bit. We see a two-page glimpse of …something… that suggests that Chance’s story might have a bit of redemption built into it, an arc from evil to good perhaps. In any event the last few pages are intriguing. I wish there were more of those pages and less of the setup, but I have to assume the setup was for a good reason. As it is we never see Chance in the power harness he wears on the cover and which is mentioned in the “sketchbook” section in the back of the issue, making the cover a bit of a cheat.

JR Jr.’s art is just what you’re used to from all the comics he’s done over the years. It’s slick and competent, slick and solid in the way it always is. If you’re a JR Jr. fan, you’ll like it just as much as his other comics work, no more and no less.

Romita Jr. and Brunswick deliver 32 pages of story and art in this squarebound 48-page $5.95 comic. The last sixteen pages are devoted to sketches by Romita and comments by Brunswick. They’re nice, but they double the price of the issue over what it would be if it was normal-sized, and we readers get no additional insight from it. This is a ripoff for us readers – we’re forced to spend twice as much for the comic with its bonus features than we would if Image had released the comic as a 32-page book. The way I see it, Image owed me a free issue of Savage Dragon or something to make up for the extra cash they forced me to spend on this book.

After spending time in the amoral world of Detective Chance, I felt rather dirty. He was a seedy, creepy world he lived in. He deserved to die. I hope his story will get more interesting as this series rolls along, hopefully in a 32-page, $2.95 format.

Alter Ego #48 (2005)

June 13, 2005

Can you imagine what it must be like to be incredible at something? Not just really good, not just terrific, but really great? As in, one of the best people ever to do what you do? Few people have that experience. Olympic athletes maybe, or Pulitzer Prize winners, or Bill Gates. Will Eisner was such a man. Eisner, the cartoonist who created "The Spirit" and pioneered the field of graphic novels, was a legend. He was a genius, one of the top four or five cartoonists of all time. Perhaps alongside Jack Kirby, Eisner is one of the finest cartoonists to come out of the United States (though you can easily make a case for Kurtzman, Barks, Crumb, perhaps even Frank Miller in terms of greatness). Eisner’s command of light and shadows, feel for character and mood, mastery of the storytelling medium, and ability to tell mature stories, were unequaled in the field. Even in his 80s, Eisner was doing brilliant comics – his book on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was released to thunderous acclaim this year. Which makes his death on January 3rd, at the age of 87 so sad.

Eisner was a truly beloved figure in the world of comics, and that is part of the point of this issue of Alter Ego, which pays tribute to both the man and the legend of Eisner. The main feature in this issue is a long and charming interview with Eisner, done several months before his death. As usual, Eisner is a wonderful interview subject. He sheds light on the past while maintaing his typical grace and good humor. Editor Roy Thomas adds some wonderful art, and the interview takes on the odd patina of a nostalgic and warm reminiscence.

Also in the issue, we get a series of tributes to Eisner from such luminaries as Gene Colan and Stan Lee, accompanied by some wonderful rare sketches by the great cartoonists.

The most amazing piece in the issue is a short reminisence by artist Alex Savuik about Eisner. Savuik worked on perhaps the final Spirit story, doing pencils for a tale that would see print in the Dark Horse comic The Escapist. We see the evolution of the art on the piece, from a nice sketch by Savuik to a gorgeous rain-swept scene by Eisner. Even at age 87, the great man still had it.

I never knew him, but I miss Will Eisner. He was truly a great in his field.

Batman: Dark Detective #2 (2005)

June 12, 2005

Okay, bear with me on this one. I know that I should only write about the comics that I’m passionate about. That’s certainly a logical approach; there are few things more boring than a blah review of a blah series. But in the case of this comic, I’m just not passionate about either way, and that’s causing me just a little bit of angst. See, I was one of those who felt the original Englehart/Rogers/Austin Batman stories definitely were the definitive Batman, as they were hyped at the time. At least they were until about 1987, when Frank Miller’s Dark Knight became the definitive Batman. In my mind (and not to go too far off on a tangent) there’s no arguing the influence of Miller’s take on Batman versus Englehart’s. Simply in terms of circulation and mind share, Englehart’s take is far less important than Miller’s. Still, it’s exciting, at least in the abstract, for one of Batman’s most esteemed creative teams to return to the book.

Within the last few years a number of creators have returned to their original series and produced fine comics. Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy’s return to Master of Kung Fu was an underrated treasure, Steve Gerber’s return to Howard the Duck was a lot of fun, and J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire’s return to the JLA has been charming. And now here are Englehart and Rogers, back on the Bat.

So why am I left feeling a little bit cold about it? This story just feels a little too old-fashioned, too re-hashed from old ideas. Kind of like reuniting with an old girlfriend thinking old fires could be rekindled, and finding out that too much time has passed. Despite anyone’s best dreams, times have changed too much and the fires never get past a low spark. Englehart writes a professional story here, and Rogers mainly draws well – there are a few scenes where Silver St. Cloud looks crazy or anorexic or both – but the old spark just ain’t there.

I guess my lack of passion is a sort of passion after all. I wanted to love the old girl, but in the end all I could muster was a pleasant enjoyment for sharing her company.