Still raining outside.

*Open Question Dept: Let’s say a fellow is rustling through some old stuff, and he happens to uncover a genuine 1915 Sunday funnies page from The Philadelphia Press. It’s getting kinda brown and brittle, but the visual quality is still quite nice. What would be the best means of storing this page, to prevent further deterioration and preserve the print quality? Feel free to post a comment with your suggestions.

Strangehaven #18

Look at that, we’re closing the gap a ways! It’s been under six months since the last issue of this famously irregular series, which has been holding down something resembling an annual schedule for a stretch of years, but has now finally completed enough material to fill a third trade volume (Strangehaven: Conspiracies, out now - the prior trade, Strangehaven: Brotherhood, was initially released roughly half a decade ago). In the meantime, creator/writer/artist/publisher Gary Spencer Millidge helped spearhead the Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentleman benefit book, did some work on The Simpsons comic series, procured vital art supplies for Dave Sim during the final stretch of Cerebus, released an excellent minicomic of pre-Strangehaven rarities titled Insomnia, and presumably continued on with his everyday life.

But it’s Strangehaven that people keep coming back to, and it’s a book in possession of a not inconsiderable power. Which means it's quite a bit like the titular village itself, a very English array of eccentric townsfolk, charming scenery, old magic, and secret orders. All the way back in issue #1, outside vacationer Alex Hunter crashed his car and wound up staying in Strangehaven - he just kept getting pulled back to the village, despite the presence of odd apparitions, nasty murders, and The Knights of the Golden Light, a secret society that perhaps wields a bit more power then its reputation as a local men’s lodge lets on.

And readers continually return to Strangehaven the comic, despite it being perhaps the least delay-friendly sort of title imaginable: an atmosphere-heavy magical suspense soap opera with a huge cast that serializes a single large story from issue to issue. But hey, I’m still here, and while the semi-comprehensive ‘What Has Gone Before...’ section helps catch me up, I find myself flipping through old issues anyway, eager to continue the story for another 26 or so pages. Alan Moore once referred to this series as “...an occasionally-opening portal into a beautifully realized otherworld, a plane all the more intriguing and sinister for its resemblance to our own mundane territories...” and I fully agree. The subtle mysticism and environmental energies of this book make it something the reader is eager to return to, regardless of the extended waits, natural gaps in memory, or even Millidge’s decision to change his visual style with issue #13 (first chapter of the new trade) into a heavy ink wash thing, far richer than what had been seen in the first two volumes.

All of that said, there’s basically no reason for new readers to purchase this particular issue, as the newest trade is already out to collect it, and trades are the best way to fall into this story (the first trade, for the sake of reference, is Strangehaven: Arcadia - are you catching the little motif Millidge has going with the titles?). I do expect that after you’ve completed all three trades (and this issue ends on quite a cliffhanger, though not as literal a cliffhanger as issue #17 did) you’ll want to pick up each new issue as it’s released; the wait for a fourth trade will be too long, and you’ll want to return too soon.

So, given all that, this particular issue is pretty much the province of established fans who’ve been collecting the single issues for a while; even a few of them might opt for just getting the trade this time around, although Millidge’s editorials and letters pages are often quite interesting on their own, and will only be found in this pamphlet. For those who pick it up, they’ll find the overarching story creeping ahead as always, with immediate events locked down in pure soap opera mode. There’s no less than two venerable daytime television (or even soapy superhero comic) tropes rolled out here, one of which is a merrily ironic treat for those who’ve been following the story for a while, with the other at least raising a smile. In addition, we get a nice look into the inner workings of the Knights, and valiant Sergeant Clarke starts to catch on to a few forbidden facts. Oh, and a major character is brutally killed, so it’s not all natural placidity and seething emotions, don’t you worry.

There’s little use in denying that this all works much better in cumulative effect, big chunks of story read at once, but that’s the way I usually wind up reading this anyway, even after I finish each new issue on its own. Ah, but for the rest of you, those not yet sucked into this book’s weird orbit, I recommend you start with the first trade, and work your way up. There’s no loose issues anymore, so there’s no better time than now.

Marvel Monsters: Devil Dinosaur #1

I have exactly one qualm, a minor one, regarding this wonderfully goofy book, and it’s the price. As fun as this thing was, it was also the most expensive pamphlet-format book I purchased this week, at $3.99. It is a much better deal in terms of original content than Marvel’s recent ‘Giant-Size’ books, which tend to provide eight or so pages worth of original story with reams of reprints for $4.99 (and hey, I don’t know - maybe you think the reprints are worth the coin); this one presents a full-length, all-new 22-page story along with a 13-page reprint, so you’re basically paying an extra dollar for the vintage stuff. It’s not that bad; I don’t feel ripped off or anything, but just be aware of what you’re shelling out for.

The main story sports art by Eric Powell, creator of The Goon, and a script by Tom Sniegoski (‘with’ some sort of additional contribution by Powell). It’s a pleasantly ridiculous romp with the Hulk being warped across time and space by an errant space-faring Celestial (nice Kirby curves!) to do battle with Devil Dinosaur, the big red guardian of a peaceable tribe of prehistoric folk. Who is also, in every other way, actually just a plain old dinosaur. He doesn’t have dialogue or superpowers or anything - even after a late-story power-up, he just roars a lot and eats things, which really makes him the perfect foil for Hulk, who’s been roped into aiding a gang of mean pre-humans with conquest on their minds. Naturally, the two fight, but then they put aside their differences and battle a greater threat. In space. “Space?!! Hulk hate space!”

It’s actually pretty funny, even for readers not particularly well-versed in Marvel arcana, and Powell even utilizes his cleaner, earlier Goon style, which works wonderfully with Hulk and dinosaurs and cosmic entities alike. Devil Dinosaur is actually kind of adorable; just look at him happily eating those nondescript yellow fruits right off the tree! Awwww. Also cute is the Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers reprint, a short story from Journey Into Mystery #62 (Nov. 1960), featuring the first appearance of a monster dubbed ‘The Hulk,’ though it’s actually a giant furry orange robot escapee from an intergalactic prison who plans to use hypnosis to enslave the Earth into building him a nuclear-powered spaceship before he eradicates the lot of them. A salt-of-the-earth electrician is our planet’s only hope. It’s kitschy enough to hold one’s attention in that Silver Age way, and the art is perfectly decent. Also included - the misleading original cover, though many of those things were drawn with no exposure to the actual story anyway, so who can cast blame?

It certainly matches the exuberance of the main story, and maybe that’s worth the extra dollar. Marvel is planning another three of these Marvel Monsters specials in the coming weeks, all at the same price point with a similar original-to-reprint ratio, with work from Steve Niles, Duncan Fegredo, and Mike Allred. If they keep up a similar level of silly entertainment, the price probably won’t smart too much.