You've gotta pay for quality.

*What?! Out of time again??? Well, “Blood Orange” gets to wait until tonight then…

Palooka Ville #17

It’s not the fact that this 24-page comic cost $5. That’s not what gave me pause. It wasn’t even the fact that 10 of those 24 pages had already been previewed in the recent “McSweeney’s”, giving me only 14 pages of new story for my five spot. Nope. It was the fact that I know I’m gonna buy it anyway, because I’m pretty sure that there’s still four issues to go before the second (and final) hardcover compilation, and I know that it’s gonna be quite a long time for those four comics to come out, and I know I can’t wait that long. I’m sure it’s easy to say “Oh fuck you” to something like “NYX” which was pretty awful (or at least the writing was) to begin with and then took its damn sweet time in delivering further doses of awful (although I personally dropped it before terminal tardiness set in).

But “Clyde Fans“ is good stuff. I want to know what’s happening as soon as it happens. And I know that producing high-quality alternative comics is expensive work, and you ought to be willing to pay a little more for really good material. But in the two or three years it’s probably gonna take for the rest of this story to come out, it’ll be another twenty bucks just for the floppies, then twenty bucks for the collection, if you want a matching volume for your first “Clyde Fans” hardcover. But if you like the story, who’ll wait years to hear the end of it? That makes waiting for the trade a good deal harder, I think. It’s an interesting situation we’re in: pay a high price for a little bit now, or bite the bullet for a few years. It’s a little different than with the really small ones, the self-publishers (like, say, “Strangehaven“), where you get the feeling that if you opt to wait for the trade there might not be any trade because the creator will have to close up shop. I think it’s a different situation here; I wonder how floppies like “Palooka Ville” act as economic benefit to the company or the creator, when I‘m fairly certain that the collection will simply arrive regardless. I also suspect that the floppies won‘t move many copies in the Direct Market (and certainly not a lot of bookstores will bite until the collection is out). It would also be different in a situation where the serialization is handled by one company and then the collection by another, but not here. I’m really bad with comics economics. Feel free to step in and educate me to the realities of the market. Are these serializations profitable? Do they simply act as a salve for readers like me who’re burning for the latest installment? I’m interested to know.

As for the story, we’re still peeking in on good old Simon. I liked the early parts a little more, where Simon’s investigating the origins of an attractive postcard, puffing on a cigarette and musing “I’ll need to make some inquiries from my usual sources.” Very nerd noir. And also tied nicely to the version of Seth himself that conducts his own investigation throughout “It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken”. Simon also has a nice conversation with a shelf of vintage toys that represent different aspects of his subconscious (tying the self to the pursuit of the past again). Things slow up a little as Simon leads his mother to bed, and muses at length on the transformation of the self throughout time, and compares his home (outside possessions, accoutrements) to a shell, and his body to the soft mollusk pulp within. It will be nice to tie all of this into the larger story, whenever it is done. And the visuals, of course, are divine.

Garth Ennis’ 303 #1 (of 6)

I mentioned a few days ago that this new color miniseries from Avatar looked a lot like what writer Ennis is currently doing on “The Punisher” over at Marvel. I was more correct than I’d anticipated; here we have a mostly silent, ultra-competent killing machine on a single-minded quest. Except this time he’s still in the military, an aging Russian specialist who cut his teeth on the Soviet war with Afghanistan. So basically it’s Frank Castle meets Ivan Drago, giving us the very best of Dolph Lundgren in one comic.

Our Hero’s closest friend is his 303 caliber short magazine Lee-Enfield, a gun that’s seen most of the 20th century’s most awful battles, and is prepared to take on the worst of the 21st. Caption after caption is lavished on the storied history of the title weapon, as its owner strides through the desert, the skies lit up by Greg Waller’s rich colors. But most of this issue is a flashback to three days prior, as the mystery man leads a very green batch of Russian soldiers into the Afghani mountains, tracking a British unit that’s searching for a downed US transport, with a very desirable secret cargo. Our Hero has dreams of all the people he’s killed, as well as his WWII hero father, but mostly demonstrates what a bad-ass he is by blowing the rifle clean out of a sniper’s hands at long-range, and snarling at a wounded companion to stay behind as the rest of them pursue their target. A little more military detail than the average Punisher exploit, but let’s just say that this apple is in close proximity to the trunk.

Jacen Burrows adds all the loving detail to the weapons and uniforms that one would expect from such a tale, although (as some other commentators have stated) his character faces look oddly similar, like the mystery man is leading his children into battle. Still, it’s a nice looking book, and fans of Ennis’ Marvel work (as well as some of his “War Stories” stuff) will probably like it. A little pricey at $4, though.

2000 A.D. Showcase #32

I fished this one out of the fifty cent bin while I was picking up my new books. You never know what you’ll find in there. Although if you guessed “A whole lot of Crossgen,” you’re pretty much right.

This, however, is part of Quality Comics’ array of “2000 AD” reprint material that was packaged into standard comic book form and released into the US throughout the latter half of the 1980’s and into the early 90’s. This one came out in 1989, and lord knows the only reason I fished it out was because of the cover feature: Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s “Zenith”, which was serialized from issues #29-45. My estimation is that only Phase One and possibly some of the Interludes made it to US shores in this fashion (leaving phases Two through Four out), although whatever did get here made it pretty quickly; the original UK serializations were from 1987-88.

“Zenith”, of course, is one of the harder-to-find Morrison epics, owing to legal controversies surrounding the property that have sorely limited its reprinting throughout the years. I’m sure there’d be a lot of interest in reprints; it’s Morrison’s first ever long-form work (pre-"Animal Man" although its serialization continued into the early 90's), and reflects his career-long interest in superhero pop. Zenith himself is a modern teenage superhero, a pop star with a styling jacket over his tights, and his eyes on the charts as much as on justice. You can find a lovely overview of the series (complete with some SPOILERS) right here. This issue of “2000 A.D. Showcase” presents one installment (about 10 pages long, par for the “2000 A.D.” course), along with a lot of other assorted back-ups and continuing serials. The “Zenith” story is pretty nice, although it’s early Morrison, and his dialogue doesn’t quite have the punch it’d later develop. It seems a bit plain, to us spoiled modern readers. The plot involves evil gods who made a deal with Hitler back in the day to produce super-powered human bodies for them to inhabit in order to physically conquer the Earth. The plan failed, but one of the Nazi super-soldiers has returned, and he’s killing off plenty of his retired foes. It all ties into an ex-hippy superhero who’s 'reformed' into an influential conservative politician. Somehow, Zenith will no doubt fit into everything, but not really in this short, early installment.

Unfortunately, the reproduction quality is pretty bad. Everything is blurry (reading the credits is honestly difficult), and even reasonably large faces become obscured through a fog of dots. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Titan’s crystal-clear b&w reproductions of other “2000 A.D.” stories in book form, but this color haze is certainly less than optimal. I’m sort of glad I only spent half a dollar on it; not just for the poor visuals, but since I had no idea that only one installment of “Zenith” would be inside.

Morrison also wrote one of the backups, a “Tharg’s Future Shocks” short from 1986, drawn by Barry Kitson. It’s ok for a three page 'twist' story. We also get assorted episodes of Malcolm Shaw and Redondo’s “Return to Armageddon” (lethal shape-shifting alien children loose on the spaceship), Alan Hebden and Bilardinelli’s “Meltdown Man” (one-eyed two-fisted Sergeant transported to a world of talking animals by a nuclear blast) , and Tom Tully and Belardinelli’s “Inferno” (pro stunt bikers - in the future), which I’ve listed in descending order of interest to me. None were mind-melting. But that’s the fifty-cent risk I love to take in my thrill-seeking life.