Archive for November, 2005

The Thing #1 (2005)

November 29, 2005
Dan Stott is one of my new favorite writers. I love the way he’s reinvented She-Hulk, and he’s now taking on the relaunch of the Thing’s new series. The thing that makes Stott so wonderful is that he loves to add humor to stories. Not the lame sort of humor that comes from clever wisecracks from Spider-Man’s mouth, but rather the kind of humor that grows out of the absurdity of the Marvel Universe,
For instance, Ben Grimm has suddenly become super-rich, so what happens when he gets together with his pal Goliath to fight a lame, second-rate villain? Goliath and the Thing defeat the bad guy easily, but the villain threatens whiplash and Goliath hits Ben up for a research grant. Or Ben going to a party, but not some small neighborhood party, No, it’s a soiree in the Hamptons with Martha Stewart (which also prompts a damn clever line – "she’s not a real criminal. She’s a white-collar criminal. That’s completely different").
There’s drama and mystery too. Does Ben’s old girlfriend Alicia carry a torch for Ben? And why is the Constrictor, an old Iron Man villain, at the Martha Stewart party?
Like many comics with humorous elements, it begins to fall apart the more you look at it. How did the bad guys sneak into the party without being detected? And why does Ben have such a lack of self-confidence when he’s obviously a star?
Still, this is a damn entertaining comic. Andrea DiVoto has a light touch with the art, and gives the whole series a light and fun feel. I’m looking forward to spending more time with the ever-lovin’ blue eyed Thing.

Exiles #72 (2005)

November 28, 2005
I’ve never read an issue of Exiles before, but I had to pick this issue up because it’s has a connection to one of the lamest lines of comics of the 1980s, the New Universe. The NewU was intended to be like the world outside our window, where life is normal until a great event happens and gives people super-powers. In concept, it’s actually rather clever, and came before other universes started popping up. In practice, though, it stunk worse than the end of a busy day at Kindercare. Most of the heroes were lame, the quality of the creators was low, and the books in general had a low-rent feel to them.
Naturally, I love the damn comics. I can’t resist them. I’m a dork.
So I had to pick up this book to see what’s up with my old pals. I found myself reintroduced with Justice, who’s a vigilante able to see the evil in people’s souls. Justice has a nice battle with an Exiles dude who I assume is called Mimic and who has bony claws like Wolverine. We also meet up with NewU characters D.P.7, who are kind of an X-Men type of "everybody hates us so we have to band together" sort of group. The team actually has some life and fun to them in this story, a fun repartee that I’d like to remember they had.
But the main star of the NewU is Star Brand, so he had to be in this comic. Kenneth Connell is the Star Brand, so named because the big space event that created him tattooed his hand with some powerful icon that makes him the most powerful guy in the universe. Which, since he’s a loser, doesn’t change his life one bit. Connell still has no luck with girls, still lives in a crap apartment. I love it how Mimic visits Connell’s apartment and analyzes him; it’s obvious that writer Tony Bedard has a real affection for these characters, too.
Artists Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar do a better job of presenting the New Universe than we got at the time (if memory serves, Magyar inked a few NewU issues back in the day). The art is dramatic and respectful of the characters, but is also light and entertaining.
So I came to this comic in kind of the opposite way of most readers. I don’t know who the Exiles are (and don’t much care, after this issue), but I loved seeing the NewU characters again.

Metamorpho #12 (1967)

November 27, 2005
I skipped ahead in my copy of Showcase Presents Metamorpho at random to choose this story, which came from the era where DC’s covers had "black and white go-go chex" on them. I’m not sure what the idea was behind these – was the theory that having a checkerboard design on the covers would attract readers? But I’ve always liked the design for its cheesy fun factor.
But Metamorpho isn’t cheesy fun, it’s just pure mid-’60s fun. Unlike modern comics, this one doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s pure wacky adventure, this one, chronicling the bad things that happen when millionaire Simon Stagg offers a million dollars to the inventor who can cure Metamorpho of his, well, metamorphism. A series of idiot inventors come in, but that’s okay, because Stagg doesn’t want a cure to be found. Metamorpho had been nagging Stagg to find a cure for his transformation, but Stagg doesn’t want him to change back to plain ol’ Rex Mason, alpha male. So he chooses an inventor at random, flat-headed Franz Zorb by name, expecting his abject failure. Instead, Zorb creates his own element creatures, Hafnium, Omsium, Selenium and others, and sets them to… well… a football game.
 The crackle of leaves, the thud of muscle against pigskin, the deep-throated roar of frantic fans – it’s football time! But there never was a game like the one kicking off now – when the rampaging robots of Dr. Franz Zorb take the field against the "golden boy" of the gridiron, "swivel hips" Metamorpho – with the fate of the world (what else!) riding on the outcome!
 This is just wonderfully wacky stuff. It brings a bright smile to my face. Pure ’60s light silliness.

Generation M #1 (2005)

November 26, 2005
In the wake of the events of Marvel’s huge House of M crossover event, a reporter for the New York Alternative begins to write about the massive changes to the Marvel Universe. She begins with profiles of some of the people who died or suffered from their loss of powers, but she quickly finds herself becoming a voice for those people. She becomes a minor celebrity, and then a more major one, until a mystery confession drops into her lap.
Paul Jenkins delivers an intriguingly human reaction to the events of House of M. Sally Floyd is an interesting lead character. An alcoholic, loudmouthed lesbian, Sally isn’t exactly the sort of lead character that one might expect from Marvel. It’s clear that the end of mutantkind as we know it is actually a very good thing for Sally personally. Her life had been falling apart before these events happened; afterwards, she finds fame and celebrity. She begins writing books and seems to have begun to grasp at something new in her life.
This is an audacious book for Marvel to put out. It would have been easy for them to trot out the standard clichés and bring in Ben Urich or Robbie Robertson to report this story. Instead, to choose such a unique character to convey the story is a very cool touch.
In other ways, though, the story seems a bit behind the times. Sally is a reporter, but there’s no talk of her using the Internet for her searches, or any use of blogs to gather or disseminate information. I find it hard to believe that in an age where information is so ubiquitous, Sally and her editor are surprised by the sadness that many people have about the fall of mutantkind. They should have some sense of the story they’re reporting rather than simply reacting to an unexpected wave of commentary. It strikes me as very sloppy reporting, even for a woman who describes herself as living in a haze.
The art by Bachs and Lucas is pretty nice. They’re effective at showing the moods and emotions of the characters in the story, though their art is often a bit stiff. It’s got to be hard to draw a Marvel comic where all you get to show is human reactions, and it felt a bit like the artists were straining to show some melodrama. But they do a nice job on the book, and help make the story work well.
This is an interesting first issue, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with Sally.

The Brave and the Bold #57: Metamorpho (1964)

November 25, 2005
They just don’t make ’em like this anymore. Rex Mason is a freelance adventurer who makes a living doing exotic things like discover rare gems and finding rare shrinking potions. He’s got a streak of white in his hair and a whole lot of testosterone in his body. He’s also in love with a beautiful babe called Sapphire Steel, who’s a millionairess and drives fancy sports cars. She, in turn, is the daughter of Simon Stagg, who has a love-hate sort of relationship with Mason. And has a pet leopard and also an aide de camp who’s a caveman.
Is that convoluted enough? Give it another minute.
So Mason goes on a mission from Simon Stagg, for which Stagg will pay him a million dollars. Somehow the magic rock Mason finds changes him from a man to a bizarre being, a being that can change the elements. An element man. And thus does Rex Mason, adventurer, become the misshapen Metamorpho, the Element Man.
This is one of DC’s odder concepts of the ’60s. In an era when their big characters were intensely formula-driven, comics like Metamorpho and Doom Patrol provided some unique characters and situations. This comic is a very odd cross between James Bond, romance comics and super-heroes. And it just gets odder from here!
I honestly never expected to see this comic reprinted, but DC recently realeased a 500+ page collection of the Element Man for a mere $16.99. You won’t find a more breeszily wacky comic for that kind of money.

Wavemakers #2 (1991)

November 24, 2005
Now THIS is what an anthology comic should be like.
Wavemakers #2 has a very spooky five-pager by Earl Geier leading off the comic. I’m sure I’ve posted before in this blog about how Geier is one of the great undiscovered talents in comics. Every story I read by him is intelligent, well-drawn and unique. Man, does this guy deseve greater recognition! Geier is the kind of guy who deserves his own Vertigo series, where he can indulge his imagination through whatever realms strike his fancy. Tragically (and I don’t use that word lightly), the guy has been stymied and we just don’t see enough of his work.
In fact, this comic is filled by work by guys with terrific imaginations but who aren’t well known. Matt Howarth, who did actually have a miniseries published by Vertigo or one of its off-shoots, here presents a nice twist-of-the-tail pieces that reflects his very unique imagination. It involves drug addiction, petty criminals and the death of a planet, all illustrated in Howart’s very unique style.
Wayno was a popular indy cartoonist for awhile; wonder what happened to him? Here he presents a nice short anecdote about a very odd guy who collects records.
Evan Dorkin is a bigger name, and he presents a great five-pager full of action and violence, and lots and lots of blacks.
There’s even a great one-pager by Harvey Pekar, so typically thoughtful and insightful.
And there’s even more great stuff in this comic from even more obscure names – Doug Potter, Jason Whitley, the team of Dave Ford, Ron Gravelle and Barry Brandon. What every story in this comic shares is a unique viewpoint, thoughtful storytelling, and passion for what they created. Anthology comics are increasingly rare, but in the right hands they’re always a treat.

The Best of Ray Bradbury: the Graphic Novel (2002)

November 23, 2005
Ray Bradbury is one of the finest writers of science fiction and fantasy literature, a true living legend whose outstanding writing transcends the genre. His stories are taught in high school and college lit. classes throughout the English-speaking world. He’s also a long-time friend of comics. He allowed EC Comics to adapt several of his stories in their science fiction comics in the 1950s, and in the ’90s helped spearhead a series that adapted his short stories. That series was unjustly ignored during the comics bust, and now it is back with a collection of some of the finest adaptations from that series.

And what adaptations they are! From the gorgeous art of Mike Mignola, adapting "The City," to Dave Gibbons’s whimsical adaptation of "Come Into My Cellar," from Daniel Torres’s warm adaptation of "Night Meeting" to John Van Fleet’s haunting adaptation of "Picaso Summer," the artists all add extra texture to Bradbury’s outstanding stories. Each of these artists are master professionals, who have frequently written their own stories. They
therefore bring a writer’s sensibility to their work. The end result is something that transcends the original work–both true to its source and with an extra element of intelligence.

Matt Wagner and the great Harvey Kurtzman, for instance, join together on a wonderful adapatation of "It Burns Me Up," which manages to be both spooky and moving at the same time. Mark Chiarello’s adapatation of "A Piece of Wood" uses color in a spectacular way to illuminate the story of two men talking about a weapon that could forever end war. And Gibbons’s take on "Come Into My Cellar" uses the artist’s traditional comics style to great effect, wonderfully conveying the banality of his characters’ lives through use of small panels that seem to be just slightly askew.

Most exciting in this collection is the interesting approach taken by the artists to Bradbury’s very personal and introspective stories. This collection is almost a clinic in composing stories in ways that enliven their plot. For instance, the different interpretation each artist takes on the Martian landscape of Bradbury’s stories is wonderful; each creator’s approach complements their respective stories while also creating a greater tableau of life on Mars that really makes a reader yearn for more stories in that strange metaphorical place.

This book is the ideal gift for a science fiction fan who is interested in comics. The worst of these stories are unmemorable; the best are wonderful examples of what happens when master creators play with each others’ ideas.

Dracula Lives! #6 (1974)

November 21, 2005
Dracula Lives! is one of the small genre of comics that have exclamation marks in their titles. The only other title I can think of is American Flagg, which was a classic early ’80s comic, though I suppose there are probably others. Maybe the movie adaptations of Daktari! or Viva Guevara! or something like that. But I can’t think of any others. Can anyone out there in Internet land help me?
The feature piece in this issue of DL! is a terrific story, "Death in the Chapel," by the stellar writer artist team of Steve Gerber and Gene Colan. Seperately, each man produced brilliant work (Among many, many other credits, Colan was the penciller of the color Tomb of Dracula, arguably the greatest horror comic of all time, for around seven years) but together they were magic. Colan noted in his recent biography Secrets in the Shadows that Gerber was his favorite collaborator, and it’s easy to see why.
Dracula is hunting down a nemesis of his, the monk Montesi, who has been hunting down the vampires who live in Rome. Dracula is the king of vampires, so he feels he must protect his followers. But there’s just one problem – Montesi has taken refuge in the Vatican, and Dracula of course can’t abide the sight of the holy cross.
What follows is a test of Dracula’s will and concentration, as he schemes and battles his way through the horrors – for him – of the holiest place on Earth. What he finds will test him like nothing he has ever encountered.
What follows is an operatic masterpiece of story and art. It’s comics melodrama at its best, full of passion and energy and fury.
This one’s reprinted in The Essential Tomb of Dracula, volume 4, and is worth the price of admission all by itself. Great stuff.

All-Star Superman #1 (2005)

November 20, 2005
What a goddamn fun comic book. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely deliver a version of Superman and his mythos that is both comfortably familiar and cleverly interesting at the same time. From the wonderfully simple four-panel, eight-word origin panels to the wonderful revelation at the end, this is a great new take on Superman. Everyone who you’d want to see in the comic is here – Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Perry White, Lex Luthor – and each has a freshness of character that makes them feel both new and familiar again. Better yet, around the edges of the book, Morrison and Quitely deliver enough hooks to keep readers interested for quite some time.

Morrison has a great feel for the characters. There’s a great sequence in the epilogue where Superman basically seems to accidentally save a man’s life. It’s a quiet and subtle scene that shows our hero’s real character while also showing the importance of Clark Kent. Similarly, there’s a scene earlier on where Lois has started typing a story about Superman saving the first manned space mission, before the mission is actually saved. Lois knows Superman so well that it’s a given that he’ll save the probe. The only question is how he’ll do so. Jimmy Olsen has a rocket pack and a signal watch – cool! And Morrison is great with Luthor. The core of Luthor is that he’s always been banal and petty, and his explanation of why he hates Superman (“Three months ago, I looked in the mirror at those nasty little spiderwebs of lines around my eyes, and I realized something. I’m getting older, and… and he isn’t.”) rings so true to tradition.

At the same time, Morrison brings in some great new pieces. Doc Quintum, the man who launched the solar probe, is also a very strange-looking genius leader of a bizarre research group. He dresses in a very odd technicolor coat and wears glasses lenses without frames. Quintum leads research into space explorer titans and nanonauts and more. Not since Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen run has there been such a spectacular world of pseudo-science in a book.

Frank Quitely art is exactly what you expect it to be. I like Quitely’s work so see this comic as a wonderful tour de force of imagination, energy and intelligence. There are some scenes that are absolutely wonderful and clever: the intensity of Superman’s face on page four, the odd lab that Doc Quintum runs, the cleverly awkward Clark. It’s just wonderful.

And to top it off, we get the kind of twist at the end that can’t help but bring a reader back (though it’s ruined somewhat by the next issue blurb).

This is classic Superman with a modern twist. Great stuff.

Flytrap: Episode One (2005)

November 19, 2005

This is a very nice mini-comic from the team of Steve Lieber and Sara Ryan. Flytrap is the story of one very bad day in the life of Maddy. Maddy works as a publicist when she’s not chasing after her deadbeat musician boyfriend Klaus. In the midst of a chaotic morning, as she’s desperately trying to get Klaus to take some responsibility for his life, destiny calls for Maddy in the form of members of a circus coming into the office. After seeing her car towed away, Klaus blowing her off, and getting fired from her job, Maddy finally makes a life decision: it’s time to join the circus.

Really the only problem with this comic is that it’s too short at a mere 16 pages. The story is fun, intelligent and involving, and the art is wonderful. It’s no secret that Steve Lieber is a very good artist, but his art is especially wondeful here. It reminds me very much of the work of Dick Giordano with its clean lines and wonderful clarity. The comic also has a number of clever storytelling tricks that make it an especially wonderful comic. I love the clever way that the word balloon is used when Maddy cofronts a tow-truck driver.

Be warned that this is a small black-and-white mini-comic with a cardboard cover, more zine than full-sized comic. But at a mere $2 for this labor of love (there’s a paypal link at the below URL), it’s well worth checking out.