Archive for February, 2006

Mister Miracle #25 (1978)

February 28, 2006
This is very close to a perfect super-hero comic of its era. With a stellar creative team and a wonderfully interesting plot and theme, Mister Miracle #25 is a forgotten gem.
Mister Miracle was named Scott Free. He was literally a New God, one of the greatest creations of the great Jack "King" Kirby and part of his epic Fourth World storyline. Kirby was a master at grandeur and excitement, the perfect man to tell a giant, epic story. But the Fourth World books had been cancelled for several years before Mister Miracle was revived in 1977. After several stellar issues by Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber took over the series.
Now, if you read Obsessed with Comics consistently, you know I’m a huge Gerber fan. gerber was quite simply one of the finest comics writers of the 1970s, bringing his own existential and complex thoughts to the world that Kirby created. The only thing is that the themes that Gerber explored were kind of the polar opposite of Kirby’s work. Kirby was all about the big themes, while Gerber explored the inner world. It’s not that Kirby was shallow – his "Glory Boat" from New Gods is justifiably well-remembered as an intelligent classic – it’s more that the King moved so quickly and was so caught up in his action that he never had a chance to slow down.
Conversely, Gerber’s writing was all about the absurd lives that we all live. That’s why his Howard the Duck was such a unique and beloved series. As a duck in a world of humans, Howard was the ultimate outsider.
This is all a long way of getting to the fact that this issue was another masterpiece from the master.
Declared an outlaw by the two warring worlds of the New Gods saga, Scott Free has declared himself a messiah. He’s a super escape artist, and he preaches that everyone can escape their chains. In the first scene, Scott calls to a rabid audience, "As I was constrained by links of metal – there are forces in the universe which seek to bind you! As I was sealed alive in a casket – there are forces which seek to suffocate you! But escape is possible!" These are heady themes for a super-hero comic from 1978, but for the man who made Man-Thing a star and who put Nighthawk’s brain in the head of a deer, it was business as usual.
The art is by the spectacular team of Michael Golden and Russ Heath. I’m not sure if this comic came before Golden’s star-making turn on Micronauts (ha, i almost typed Microsoft!), but the flash and energy and raw sense of style he showed in that book is on hand here. His drawings of Big Barda, Scott’s gorgeous wife, are wonderfully exciting and exotic. And Golden’s line work is clearned up and amplified by the longtime comics vet Russ Heath, who does a great job of staying true to Golden’s work while adding a cleaner and more learned line than Golden provided.
Yeah, more great stuff from Gerber. Not much of a surprise there. 

Ganges #1 (2006)

February 27, 2006
I take real pleasure in going against the conventional wisdom. I enjoy being holding a dissenting view, in going against the general curve. Kevin Huizegna’s new book Ganges has been receiving rave reviews from every reviewer who’s read it. Huizenga has been hailed as the next big talent, and his book has been hailed as the early front-runner for best graphic novel of the year. I think it’s fair to say this has been the best-reviewed graphic novel since Craig Thompson’s Blankets.

Well, the conventional wisdom was right on Blankets and the conventional wisdom is right on Ganges. This is an absolutely amazing graphic novel, with fascinating depth and insight.

Ganges tells stories of the inner lives Glenn and Wendy Ganges, a conventional couple living in an unnamed city. In the lead story, "Time Travelling," a walk to the library triggers some fascinating meditations on time, and some even more spectacular cartooning. Huizenga has a wonderfully cartoony style, which he uses to great effect in this story to show the multiplicity of time paradoxes within Glenn’s mind. More than that, though, the story is a kind of meditation on routine, on the ruts we create for ourselves, without even explicitly calling out that point.

In the second story, Glenn sees a boy litter on the street, which triggers all sorts of grandiose thoughts by Glenn about the litterer’s childhood and how the littering begins a life that would eventually lead the boy to great success in his life. Ganges’s bizarre thoughts are undercut by the subtle ending, where Glenn’s wife Wendy quietly beings Glenn back to earth.

In fact, the relationship of Glenn with Wendy is absolutely fascinating. In the third story, the pair just sit in their living room, reading. Glenn is reading a book about the history of mankind on Earth, while Wendy is lost in her work on computer animation. The pair live parallel lives, only briefly intersecting each other, and it leads one to wonder: does Wendy ignore Glenn because she’s working on her project, or because they’ve been married a long time, or is there a bigger problem in their marriage?

This question becomes poignantly fascinating in the last story, a gorgeously subtle piece where Glenn is fascinated by the sight of his beloved wife asleep next to him in bed. Glenn has gone to bed after WendY and tries in vain to have a conversation. Buzzing from the coffee he drank, Glenn imagines other couples who have slept next to each other for years: "’Last night I lay there and watch you as you slept.’ It’s like something out of a pop song… I guess it’s a pretty common sort of setup. ‘I lay there and watched the one I love sleeping.’ So many people must have done the same thing… all those people – all those centuries." Glenn is connecting to the infinite, in an amazingly gorgeous and intimate scene. It’s hard to find a scene in any art that so wonderfully conveys the intimacy and love that exists in a marriage. It only adds to the moment to know that the couple isn’t as intimate as Glenn would like them to be. Huizenga’s art and the use of blue color is exquisite in this story, serving to deepen the quiet intimacy of the moment. There’s a full-page panel that’s brilliant in its subtlety and silence.

Finally, what makes this book so special is its exquisite packaging. It’s part of the Fantagraphics "Ignatz" line, and features black, white and green art, thick paper and a slipcover cover like a hardback book. The production on this book is perfect in every way, and adds to the overall feel of excellence here. This is sort of halfway between comic and graphic novel, but in every way, this comic feels like a complete package.

Don’t be put off by the quiet, domestic themes of this book. Ganges is subtle and complex, thoughtful and insightful. Huizenga is a master at taking ordinary situations and bringing profundity to them. I know it’s only February, but the conventional wisdom is right: this is the comic of the year so far.

10,000 hits!

February 27, 2006
My blog just passed its 10,000th hit this morning. Pretty cool. I had vague dreams of becoming the most popular comics-related blog on the web, but yeah right as if people would rather read my reviews of comics from 1974 instead of the latest news and gossip. Instead, I just decided to write about whatever popped to mind on the evening I was going to be blogging. That strategy’s worked pretty well for me. I mean, this blog was mostly intended to be a place for me to spout off on whatever popped to my mind, and allow me to just have fun and write about comics.
Actually, writing in this blog has exceeded my expectations. I’ve found that I’ve become much better at articulating how I feel about comics, better at articulating abstract and complex thoughts in a generally coherent manner. That, in turn, has spilled over to my professional life. It’s true what they say: writing is like a muscle, and the more time you spend exercising that muscle, the stronger it gets. My work related writing is clearer, and I find I’m much better at constructing coherent arguments about abstract subjects.
Thanks to all of you who have been reading my blog over the last eight or ten months. I hope you have fun with this blog, maybe get exposed to some obscure thing that you find interesting, and had some fun, too.

The Losers #32 (2006)

February 26, 2006
Last night I sat down and read a long run of this series. In doing so, I realized just how good it was. The Losers was a fun comic focusing on a group of characters, thought dead by the government, who spend much of their time trying to track down a nasty SOB called Max, who’s the CIA operative behind a whole bunch of evil covert actions. The 32 issues of this series detail the team basically following Max in circles, trying to track him down while he tries to kill all of them.
Of course, in this final issue the team goes out with a literal bang. There’s impossible odds and an atom bomb; there are impossible escapes and fates that can’t be escaped. And there’s a hilarious last page, funny out of context and perfect in the context of what had come in the previous 32 issues.
The series had a nice mix of action and humor. These are mercenaries, after all, who carry guns and kill the evil bastards who are after them. There are some amazingly violent scenes in this comic. Interestingly, many of those scenes are also howlingly funny as well.
Artist Jock (no last name) is a wonderful stylist. His cover art alone is just spectacular. The man was a master at creating fascinating images. If you get a chance, look his cover work up on the web. You’ll be happy you did.
I didn’t follow this series very closely – I could always count on finding issues of it in quarter bins at cons, so I never spent full price on it. In some ways, then, I was responsible for this wonderful comic dying. So writer Andy Diggle, I’m sorry. Artist Jock, I apologize. I was a leech, a silent reader from the secondary market. But I did like your work.

Barney & Betty Rubble #10 (1974)

February 25, 2006
"Flintstones, read the Flintstones…"
You know, I was actually kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed this little comic. Sure it’s aimed at kiddies, but the eight stories are actually kind of fun. In one story, Barney gets a glider by saving up cereal box lids. I think that story’s an actual swipe on an episode, but I’m not sure. There’s a story that parodies Ewel Gibbins (sp?), a granola-crunching TV pitchman who was on TV all the time in the ’70s. I have a very vague memory of him, and no strong impulse to look him up, but isn’t it kind of cool to have an anachronistic reference in a comic that’s all about anachronism? And there’s a piece that compares modern art to a pizza – when’s the last time anyone in the mass media culture even bothered thinking about modern art?
This was a throw-in on an eBay action if memory serves. I think it was for an issue of Hanna Barbera TV Stars that has a story by Steve Gerber. But for something I got basically for free, I really liked this comic.

New Avengers #16 (2006)

February 23, 2006

Warning – spoilers below!

My fellow reviewer Kelvin Green likes to call this comic Not Avengers, but for the first time it’s literally true. Despite the nice cover illustration that shows Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain America and the rest, only one Avenger actually appears in this story, and there only in two pages dressed in his human guise. This is the worst sort of bait-and-switch technique. I pity the young fan looking for his Wolverine fix and finding not a single panel of the Adamantium Avenger. This issue presents a decent story, but this technique of lying to the readers is reprehensible.

That said, I gotta be honest here: I have not enjoyed most of the recent comics I’ve read that were written by Brian Bendis. His style has gotten tiresome for me over the last few months. It’s felt like his style has become a cliché. Bendis loves to have his characters banter, even when it doesn’t fit his characters, and then has long and quiet action scenes. He’s also great at setting the scene for a story and awful at tying the story together at the end.

There are actually no Avengers in this story. So the problem with banter doesn’t really apply here. And New Avengers 16 is the beginning of a new arc, so we don’t have to worry about the ending falling apart. This is actually a pretty intriguing first chapter. A hugely destructive force has crashed down to North Pole, Alaska, and is heading for America. That’s pretty much the plot for this issue, aside from some tiresome banter between Tony Stark and the new head of SHIELD, but the sparseness of the plot is actually OK for a story like this because the threat seems so huge and overwhelming. The first eight pages of the story show the threat crashing to Earth and slowly emerging from its destruction, and the scene gives the comic a kind of epic feel that readers don’t always feel when we’re reading Marvel books.

Because the threat builds up in a slow and intense way, the destruction he creates seems more real than it otherwise might have been. And when it wipes out the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight (are they really all dead? Just like that?), the threat just gets more real.

Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines’s art is decent enough. They’re good at drawing the epic scenes at the beginning of the book, but there’s something a bit stiff about their faces. Tony Stark almost looks like he’s made out of plastic in his scenes, and the reactions of the SHIELD officers seemed a bit stiff as well. Still, he draws a nice epic story, and seems a good fit for this book.

Bomb Queen #1 (2006)

February 22, 2006
This is a really funny comic book. Turning the traditional Comics Code virtues on their head, Jimmie Robinson creates a world where the villain wins. Bomb Queen is an evil bitch with a ridiculous costume and a passion for blowing things up. Driven by her passions, Bomb Queen ends up being in charge of a large area of a New Port City, and turns the city into a lawless zone where anything goes. The mayor is on the take, guns are feely available, and underage kids are imported as sex slaves. TV shows are even hosted by naked women, and shows like "Crime Survivor" combine reality TV with a cruel, hard world. In the end, a hero is brought in to attack Bomb Queen, but who knows how it all will end?
This is a gleefully depraved series. From the title page, with its close-up of Bomb Queen’s bustline, to the text page in the back, where Robinson explains that he’s having fun exploring his bizarre new world, this comic is a joyful journey into the dark side. It’s a wonderful satire of the power of super-villains in comics, and of the de-sexualized nature of characters who dress and act in very sexualized ways. When Bomb Queen takes a bath, Robinson does a funny take-off of the comics cliché of hiding the characters’ genitalia. Here Bomb Queen’s naught bits are hidden by a wine class, her hand, and some bubbles. Meanwhile, naked people are all over the TVs she watches. Of course Bomb Girl has to be covered – she’s the main character in a comic book story. She can’t be seen naked. But the characters on TV are unimportant, so their nudity follows different rules.
Bomb Queen is shown as a tremendously charismatic character. Despite her penchant for murder, she has enormous personal magnetism and energy. Readers believe she could be in charge of a major city because she seems to have the enormous vitality necessary to do such a job. As such, she presents a challenge for the readers. It’s hard to resist lines like "I rule New Port City. The villain, get it? I don’t make the trains run on time. I kill people who make them run slow." What a great laugh line! What a powerful character! What a frightening person she would be!
This is not a comic for the morality police to find. It’s pretty depraved from cover to cover. But for comic readers who’ve craved to see the effects of a villain’s immorality writ large, and a clever satire of comics clichés. If you’re not sensitive, Jimmie Robinson’s Bomb Girl is a real treat.

Amazing Heroes #167 (1989)

February 21, 2006
For a period of about two years, I was a writer for Amazing Heroes, which was for a time a biweekly magazine about comics. When I joined the magazine, shortly after this issue, it had just slipped into monthly status, which made a lot more sense. I mean, this issue sitting next to me on the dining room table weighs in at 106 pages, almost all of which is lovingly put together with great care and professionalism. That’s amazing to me. With 24 issues coming out per year, it would have been easy for the husband and wife team of Chris and Lynette McCubbin to slack off and produce a magazine that didn’t meet the standards of professionalism. But this was a very professional magazine: nicely laid out, with few or no typos, diverse content and good articles. And a great cover by Kevin Nowlan.
This was a news-articles-review sort of zine, and it’s always fun to see what was big at the time. The big news article was that Rick Veitch, off Swamp Thing for just a short time, was starting his own line of comics. Not a big deal now, but at the time Veitch was a very controversial creator.
The big comics that were listed in the checklist were:
  • Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Doom Patrol
  • Sandman #8 by Neil Gaiman
  • Sinner, a greatly acclaimed graphic novel series publshed by Fantagraphics
  • Todd McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man
  • a comic called Futurama that has nothing to do with Fry, Bender or Dr. Zoidberg

And featured reviews were of a mediocre X-Men Annual, an awful Rock ‘n’ Roll Comics and a great Little Nemo in Slumberland collection. Actually, it’s surprising how few comics reviewed in this issue I even remember. Mai the Psychic Girl is the only comic from that review list that I remember enjoying at that time, and it’s been years since I looked at that one.

But hey, six or so issues later, my mediocre reviews joined this gang. And a year or so after that, some of the reviewers I got to join up were part of the review gang.

Infinity Inc. #19 (1985)

February 20, 2006
Twenty years ago, things were a little different. Todd McFarlane was illustrating this mediocre super-hero comic, The Justice League Detroit was active, and the final JLA/JSA team-up was afoot. Yeah, the ’80s were pretty bad for comics, too… this resolutely mediocre comic was actually pretty decent for its time.
Actually, ‘mediocre’ might be too nice of a word. Muddled is better. Cliched. Plain bad. I think it’s pretty much a given that most every comic with the Justice League Detroit was pretty bad. Funnier people than me have described this team, which contained Zatanna, Elongated Man and the Martian Manhunter, second-rate heroes but at least legit Justice League members, alongside fifth raters like Steel, a stars-and-stripes dunderheaded idiot, Gypsy, a gypsy dunderheaded idiot, and Vibe, a breakdancing dunderheaded idiot. In this comic, Steel’s grandfather, an older stars-and-stripes dunderheaded idiot, travels from Earth-1 to Earth-2 (don’t ask) in order to get a group of fifth-rate hotheaded heroes named Infinity Inc to fulfill the longstanding super-villain plot of getting heroes to fight heroes.
You’d think something headlined as the final example of a twenty-year tradition might be of better quality, but nope, this comic was of its time, for all the good and bad that that implies.
The more I read of it, the more I ended up being amazed by the tremendous mediocrity of this comic. Maybe it was hip at the time – Roy Thomas was once a hot writer, and Todd McFarlane would go on to be, you know, Todd McFarlane. But really, in every possible way, this is an astonishingly mediocre comic book at best.
I wish I knew what motivated me to wander out to the garage and unearth this "treasure", but maybe that’s what makes me obsessed about comics and not just highly motivated about comics.

Mage: the Hero Discovered #3 (1984)

February 19, 2006
Man, I love this comic! When I discovered Mage: the Hero Discovered, I was in college. I felt I could identify with lead character Kevin Matchstick. Not because I had royal blood or a group of friends including a woman who drives an Edsel and carries a magic baseball bat, but because the story has real resonance. Kevin Matchstick is an ordinary man, to whom odd and amazing things happen to him. Soon, he’s in the middle of a mystic battle, and discovers his true destiny.
Why wouldn’t want that to happen to them? Who, especially in their early 20s, didn’t want to become someone special, to transcend whatever upbringing he had in order to become great?
Plus there’s some nice art in these stories, and stuff like that, too.
And magic is still green.