Archive for March, 2006

Doctor Who Monthly #365 (2006)

March 30, 2006
I’m amazed by how many people at Microsoft are closet Doctor Who fans. It’s not just the people who have been watching the revival of the show on the SAci-Fi channel or the people who, like me, caught it on CBC or even Torrented it. But there are so many people who watched the show when they were younger. I was testing a DVD dub I made from a video my friend Mike made me of an episode, and the guy across the all from me heard and immediately recognized that very unique theme song. I kind of figured Jeff as a closet Doctor Who fan when he was younger, but I was more surprised by straight-laced Barry dubbing a project K9, after the Doctor’s robotic dog. Who knew, indeed?
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American Virgin #1 (2006)

March 29, 2006
Adam Chamberlin is a soldier of God. He’s a happy foot soldier in the army of purity, preaching virginity and a godly life to anyone who will listen to him. And Adam is a pure soul, suffused by a pureness of spirit and calm that translates into raw charisma. People are attracted to him, even beautiful girls, but he resists all temptation. After one of his "Save Yourself" sessions, Adam even tells a girl who propositions him, "I am totally flattered by your offer. But I am not the one for you. You will know him when you meet him with your heart and not your lust." And the girl believes what Adam says, because he really means it with all his heart and soul. He believes he’s blessed, so he is blessed.
 
Unfortunately, Adam is living in denial of the evil and worldly ways that surround him. His mother and stepfather are professional televangelists who care more about how Adam can help their ratings than they do about Adam’s message. Meanwhile, his brother is a stoner, his sister is a tattooed rebel with unspecified troubles that are forcing her to leave town, and his cousins are rough-spoken men who hang out with exotic dancers. And, most distressing of all, his girlfriend, on an African Peace Corps trip, is about to make international news. Against all this temptation and evil, how can Adam stay pure?
 
As this issue ends, Adam is standing on the precipice. Will the cruel reality of the real world cause Adam to fall from grace, or will he be able to resist temptation and become an even more exemplary example of a purity of mind and spirit? Can Adam’s faith survive the cruelty and evil that exists in the world, or will it begin to eat his soul? I know how I would feel if I lived through what Adam experienced, but I’ve never been in the state of grace that Adam lives in. He could go either way, and this first issue gives only a small clue as to which way he’ll go.
 
Give Steven Seagle a lot of credit for creating a fascinating dilemma for his lead character. This is a man who’s clearly come to conclusions that have served him well, but which also seem to sow the seeds of his own destruction. The fact is that Adam is actually a quite admirable character at the beginning of this issue. He’s a truly happy man, who is happy in the way that only a very religious young man can be. Who wouldn’t want a completely happy life, as Adam lives? Unfortunately, that happiness seems to have come at the price of not truly experiencing the world around him. Which way will Adam go? Can he maintain his values, or will reality take its unfortunate toll?
 
Becky Cloonan’s art is a nice fit for this book. I especially liked the increasing desiccated look of Adam as the issue progressed. The man who begins the issue with a pure look, with perfect hair and grooming, has by the end of the issue become a disheveled man who looks like the world is falling down all around him, a man who looks like he has literally had a hell of a week.
 
This is one of those very unique first issues that give no indication of how the series might play out. This could become another Preacher, or it could become something very different and unique. I can’t wait to see in what direction American Virgin goes.

Marvel Preview #7: Satana (1976)

March 28, 2006
Remember the Seinfeld episode "The Jimmy", which centers around a guy who plays basketball with Jerry and George and always refers to himself in the third person? "Jimmy hit a great shot, didn’t he?" and all that?
 
I was reading this comic and it brought that episode to mind. Instead of "Jimmy" this and "Jimmy" that, it for a long time was "Marvel" this and "Marvel" that. There were Marvel Adventure and Marvel Spectacular. Marvel Chillers and Marvel Presents launched with fill-ins in their first two issues. Marvel’s Greatest Comics continued from Marvel Collector’s Item Classics (not to be confused with Marvel Classics Comics, which had two issues written by Don McGregor). Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One were team-up books, while Marvel Premiere, Marvel Spotlight (two series), Marvel Preview and Marvel Fanfare were anthology comics of one sort or another. There were Mighty Marvel Western and Special Marvel Edition, Marvel Double Feature and Marvel Triple Action (never understood how it was triple the action), which became Marvel Super Action. Not to mention Marvel Super-Heroes (logical title for the whole line) and the venerable Marvel Tales, which resurrected its title from a horror comic.
 
So which witch is which? How can you tell your Marvel Fanfare from your Marvel Spectacular? To me, this is the perfect test of true geek knowledge. To not only be able to remember these titles but know what appeared in them is one of those tests that only those who really care about this minutia can pass. (For the record, Marvel Fanfare was an ’80s book that ran old, inventory stories as well as a few cool one-offs, while Marvel Spectacular was Thor reprints).
 
And Marvel Preview was a black-and-white anthology comic that presented various stories. The second issue featured the first solo appearance of the Punisher, while the 4th introduced Starlord for the first of five appearances, and other issues included a two-part Sherlock Holmes story and another adapted the classic novel Gladiator.
 
And some issues were like this one, fill-ins that presented inventory stories from Marvel’s archives. Satana was the Devil’s daughter, but she always felt redundant. We already had the Son of Satan and Lilith, Dracula’s Daughter (in a series written by Steve Gerber), so there just didn’t seem to be a niche for Satan’s baby girl. Under the hands of Chris Claremont (just as the X-Men were getting started) and artist Vincente Alcazar, there’s nothing at all memorable about this comic. it’s competent, and the artwork has an exotic feel to it, but in the end it’s just another blah ’70s Marvel book.
 
Has this character ever been brought back? Does Satana still stalk the mean streets of New York City, possessing unknowing women? Or, damn it, is that Lilith who possesses? What was Satana’s schtick? I have the comic sitting next to me and I don’t even know…

Daredevil #83 (2006)

March 27, 2006
Warning: In this review I discuss a major spoiler that happened in the previous issue of Daredevil. If you’re waiting for the trade, don’t read this review.

So apparently Foggy Nelson is dead. This is comics, so it may or may not be true, but it certainly feels like Brubaker has shaken up the status quo for this book, killing off another supporting character that’s been around since the early 1960s. Foggy has been Matt Murdock’s partner for as long as Daredevil has appeared on the printed page, always the faithful best friend and law partner.

And, you know, it feels right for Foggy to be killed somehow. Sure, it’s weird for such a long-lived character to be gone, but it perfectly fits the feel of this comic over the last several years. Matt’s life has slowly been falling apart since Brian Bendis took over his book, and Ed Brubaker’s two issues have only accelerated that dissolution. Matt is becoming ever more and more trapped in a disaster of his own making, stuck in the general population in Riker’s Island Prison, and living with scum like the Owl and Morgan, who was once the crime lord of Harlem.

Is this all part of an elaborate scheme to take down the Kingpin once and for all, or is Matt continuing to suffer the results of his own mistakes, literally the tragic hero who plants the seeds for his own fall? That question sets the subtext for this series of stories, putting everything into a unique perspective.

Meanwhile, this issue really focuses on the struggles of Ben Urich, a good man, a hell of a reporter, and one of Matt’s best friends. Urich acts as a sort of surrogate for readers, as we see Matt’s struggles and the story’s mysteries through his eyes. Urich is trying to figure out what’s really going on, trying to help Matt wherever he can, but constantly falling short in his hopes. Urich is, as he often is, the real hero of this comic, the everyman trying his best to help one of his closest friends. That humanness paradoxically makes Urich seem more super-human in his intelligence and intensity. Because we as readers feel that Urich’s actions will have a high cost, his steadfastness is even more powerful.

Lark and Gaudiano’s art is wonderfully dark and moody, a perfect counterpart to Brubaker’s grim story. The shadows in this comic seem alive with conflict, conflicts that mirror the main characters’ internal battles. It really is a gorgeously human and tough world that these characters live in.

It’s a real compliment to say that this issue feels like a really good episode of Law & Order. In Daredevil #83, people try to do good, try to fight for justice, but always seem to fall short. As everyone knows, Law & Order always has a twist somewhere in the plot. I can’t wait to see what the twist is in this one.

FOOM #11 (1975)

March 26, 2006
Marvel’s in-house fan magazine was highly beloved by aging boomers and post-boomers like myself. FOOM was like an extension of the Bullpen Bulletins page, where these cool Marvel minions would talk to us readers like we were part of a family of fans, part of a special, cool group because we were smart enough to be fans of the greatest line of comic books in the world.
 
FOOM was an extension of that ethos, presenting fun articles and previews of upcoming comics. Always, the magazine was written with a breathlessly positive style, but one that was positive and fun rather than cloying. The message was that Marvel was a fun place, so wouldn’t you want to come visit it for awhile? I really think that this ethos, as much as the comics themselves, was a big part of why Marvel became so successful in this era. Readers were told repeatedly that they were making a great choice by joining this club; simply by reading the Bullpen Bulletins, you became part of a club with its own unspoken rules and its own in-jokes. What young kid wouldn’t want to be part of something like that?
 
This issue highlights the return of Jack Kirby to Marvel, and it’s clear that this return was a big deal at the time. Of course, the King’s return would be ill-fated at the time – his books didn’t sell as well as anyone hoped, and Jack’s work was hated by many of the Marvel staffers at the time – but here, at least there’s a giant feeling of optimism about Jack at Marvel. We get a wonderful interview wth Kirby, where he expounds on his empowering philosophy: "We already are super-heroes," he says at one point.
 
There’s also a nice little appreciation of Kirby by Alex Boyd, which makes several points that have become the common wisdom about Kirby. My favorite is that Kirby’s lack of attention to anatomy is a big part of what gives his work real power – they seem to be real and elaborate, but it’s all in service to his grand stories. I like that a lot!
 
In Marvel news, this month eatured the debuts of Tigra, Howard the Duck and Black Goliath in their short-lived series. X-Men #97 was released this month, while my man Don McGregor was writing Jungle Action with the Black Panther, Power Man and Amazing Adventures featuring War of the Worlds, while Steve Gerber was writing Defenders, Man-Thing and, of course, the duck.
 
I tend to look back on this era fondly, but I’ve heard more than once that the company almost went out of business before the runaway success of the Star Wars comic in 1977. It’s pretty clear that there was no unifying force between Marvel’s line in ’75, and that the company spent a lot of time trying to find new successes. Of course, ’75 was also when the company successfully tried to kill Atlas/Seaboard Comics, so maybe that effort sowed the seeds of the company’s eventual destruction. I’ll leave that question for smarter people than me to think about.

Supergirl #75 (2002)

March 25, 2006
I paid twelve bucks for this comic. Twelve bucks! For a comic from less than four years ago. It seems crazy, especially since I had every reason to want to pick this comic up. By then my friend Mike had already keyed me in to the greatness of this comic, and I had a pretty good run of the series. I was intrigued by the new Supergirl, the whole Earth Angel/Chaos Stream storyline being fresh in my mind from reading the series, and even though this was a new direction in the storyline, I should have known to trust writer Peter David to deliver something interesting.
 
But no, I didn’t pick it up for the mere $2.50 I could have bought it for at the time, instead spending nearly ten times as much as cover price to read the first reappearance of the original Supergirl.
 
Yeah, that last sentence sounds like tanged comic book logic, doesn’t it? The first post-Crisis reappearance of a classic Silver Age character in a comic featuring a heroine who shares her name but not her powers or her looks.
 
Damn, that sounded worse.
 
See, the Silver Age Supergirl was from Argo City, a whole city-sized chunk of Krypton that was shot into space. There were a lot of survivors of Krypton in the 1960s. I don’t know what happened to the city, but somehow Supergirl rocketed to Earth and became part of DC’s mainstream hero line, including some wonderful stories illustrated by Curt Swan, Jim Mooney and Mike Sekowsky.
 
Meanwhile, there was a new Supergirl in this series written by Peter David, who took a much less common approach to the character. Her backstory is impossibly convoluted, and had its fans, including me. But many people didn’t want a complex Supergirl who didn’t even dress like her cousin Superman. Instead they wanted the original. And in this issue, they got her.
 
And, you know, there really is something refreshing about the original. She’s cute, she’s naive, she doesn’t quite know how to handle her powers. The original Supergirl is retro-cool, a sweet reminder of days long past when comics cost a thin dime. And here she was, back again for our entertainment.
 
Twelve bucks for a nice illustration of the power of nostalgia versus the modern world? That’s not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Creepy #91 (1977)

March 23, 2006
What a line-up in this one! Neal Adams! (a reprint, but a terrific story). A clever monster story by Berni(e) Wrightson! A story by John Severin with inks by Wally Wood – a combination I’ve never, ever seen before! The great Alex Toth! The underrated Luis Bermejo! Berni(e) Wrightson in collaboration with Jeff Jones! And, perhaps most amazing of all, a story written by Dave Sim.
 
Yeah, Dave Sim. The cartoonist who wrote and drew 300 issues of Cerebus, one of the most controversial and famous cartoonists of all time, a true independent spirit maven, writes a story in this issue, illustrated by the great Russ Heath.
 
It’s weird to remember back to around when Cerebus launched, when Sim was simply a big name fan looking to go professional. He did work for many fanzines in ’76 and ’77, and obviously sold a few professional stories. Sim’s talked many times how creating Cerebus was in some ways an attempt to find work at the big publishers. It’s clear that Sim tried to diversify his portfolio of quality work in an effort to make himself more useful to publishers, a very interesting strategy.
 
The story’s really not too bad. It’s a twist ending story about an axe murderer who gets his comeuppance. It’s not a great story, but "Shadow of the Axe" is quite readable and, quite logically, plays to the strengths of artist Heath. I like the way that Sim obviously gave some thought to how the story would play on the page, and how the rhythm of the events would play out. It’s a solidly professional bit of writing, and it’s clear that if the ‘bus hadn’t worked out, Sim could have had a decent career as a freelance writer.
 
But that’s parallel universe stuff. In this universe it was a gateway to bigger and better work.

Hard Time Season Two #4 (2006)

March 22, 2006
This terrific series keeps rolling along.
 
The issue begins with Ethan Harrow, our young protagonist, being beat up by a group of Italian thugs in the jail they share. The jail is divided among various ethnic and political lines, and Ethan is the ultimate outsider at the jail. He’s not part of the Italian gang, or a Nazi or black power fighter. Instead, Ethan seems to always be involved in things he shouldn’t be, picking fights with members of each power broker, in order to fight for his idea of justice. Surprisingly, though, the person who stops the beating is the man whose very physical presence hurts Ethan: Cutter, the man who loves to inflict and receive pain.
 
Cutter leads a group of outsiders, which includes Cindy, the young man who loves to be treated as a woman, and this issue is mostly about his life, both before and after entering prison. Readers get a feel for Cindy’s younger life, as we see him fight his impulses towards femininity, finally coming to head with a confrontation with his step-father. The story seems familiar, but as usual with Gerber and Skrenes, the writers find some new and unique touches in the story.
 
Finally, at the end of the issue, Cutter is a horrible fight himself, as retribution for what he did earlier in the issue, which beings up interesting questions for what Ethan should do.
 
Overall this is a nice, thoughtful issue. Cindy moves from being a cipher to a more fully-fleshed character, and Brian Hurtt’s cover is terrific.

Vampirella #18 (1972)

March 20, 2006
I seem to be stuck on the magazine format comics when I look at older things lately. I’ve been filling in some holes in my collection with the Warren mags and such, and thus they’ve been at the top of my list. There’s a lot of good stuff in these mags, and this stuff is extremely hard to find anymore due to its odd format, so it’s always a treat to read an old school b&w.
 
This issue features work by several great Warren writers. T. Casey Brennan was a very popular writer for the mags, cited by no less than Dave Sim as a big influence on him at the time. My man Don McGregor also has a story in this issue, as do solid mainstays Don Glut and Doug Moench. Unfortunately, this issue isn’t as good as I’d like it to be.
 
The first story, naturally, features Vampirella, the sultry vampiress from the planet Drakulon, who in this issue seems to be in a running battle with Dracula. Drac is from the same planet as Vampi, and in this issue falls under the influence on a woman from their planet who can save his soul. It’s an extremely odd take on Drac, from writer Brennan. In this story, Dracula is looking to redeem his immortal soul, and seems more tormented than evil. This is tremendously at odds with the way that Dracula is usually portrayed, and that makes this a hard piece to get through. Dracula is such an archetype that such a dramatic movement out of his normal portrayal is hard to get into.
 
Also, unfortunately, Don Mcgregor’s "Song of a Sad-Eyed Sorceress" is also oddly hard to get into. This may have been one of McGregor’s first professional sales, so it’s easy to forgive. But this story is verbose even for McGregor. It seems almost overwhelmed by the number of words used. And unlike usual, the words don’t intensify the story but instead feel like a man fumbling around trying to find the right words for his story. And it is a very odd story. It’s really two stories in one: the tale of a jerk of a man who loves ’em and leaves ’em, and at the same time a story of that man tortured by a goddess for his jerkitude. Frankly it all feels a bit over the top, a bit much of a reaction to a simple every day relationship gone sour. Luis Garcia’s beautifully rendered art doesn’t quite redeem the story. But it sure is pretty.
 
Doug Moench’s "Won’t Get Fooled Again" is a simple little revenge tale. It has its clever moments, and some nice art by Aureleon, but it’s shallow and obvious.
 
And Don Glut’s "The ‘Dorian Gray’ Syndrome" is a clever idea ruined by an idiotic ending.
 
So not primo Warren stuff. I feel especially disappointed that I didn’t like the McGregor piece. I’m quickly running out of comics that feature Don’s writing, and I want each one of them to be even better than the one before. Oh well.
 

Jonah Hex #5 (2006)

March 19, 2006
Holy freaking crap. Tony DeZuñiga is back drawing Jonah Hex! Talk about a match made in heaven. DeZuñiga was one of the key artists for Jonah’s original series, way back in the 1970s and ’80s, and I’d honestly thought the dude had retired or died or just gave up comics for a higher paid career in animation or something. But here’s DeZuñiga, back drawing the adventures of the bounty hunter with the facial scars that match the scars that life has inflicted in his soul.
 
Man, it’s great to see DeZuñiga back. The man was born to draw Hex. With his moody, impressionistic line work and uniquely scratchy style, DeZuñiga is the ideal artist for a comic that takes place in a wintry frontier in the old west. Like the cinematography in the TV series Deadwood, DeZuniga’s art conveys the intensity and grit of life in the old west. Peoples’ lives look hard, and every day is a struggle to get by. People at that time wake up each day and fight just to get by, and sometimes that fight spills over into schemes to hijack railroads and generally make other peoples’ lives miserable.
 
The coolest thing is that it isn’t just some sort of nostalgia that brings DeZuñiga back to the book. His style has grown and changed in the intervening years, becoming even more gritty and intense than it was back in the day, giving Hex’s world even more of a feeling of roughness and struggle than it had when he first was drawing the book.
 
This is the perfect issue for DeZuñiga to draw. On Christmas Eve, Hex is caught in confrontation at a small railroad station when trying to hold a train robber from recapture by his friends. The nasty confrontation in a small building on a snowy night with only an old man, a woman, and the train robber to help him is a tremendously dramatic tableau, one that shows the intense brutality of life in that era and the toughness of Hex. As usual, Hex loses the battle, only to win in the end, with an absolutely thrilling conclusion.
 
I have no idea how many issues of Jonah Hex will boast the art of Tony DeZuñiga, but this one, at least is a real treat.