Where did my weekend go?!

*Splendid Buzz Dept: Totally missed this, until Tom Spurgeon pointed it out: Noel Murray of The Onion AV Club says the recent Harvey Pekar/Dean Haspiel book The Quitter is so stunningly mediocre that it’s actually not worth reviewing. Hey, that’s fine. However, part of the motive also seems to rise from the fact that Murray and fellow critic Tasha Robinson “…saw no reason to put down one of our heroes in a permanent, archived way.” And I’ve gotta confess, I just can’t wrap my head around that admission; I comprehend the feeling behind it, the concept, the philosophy perhaps, but really - if a major, prominent work by a major, prominent creator isn’t very good, even if it's a creator you normally adore, and since you plainly have the means and space and opportunity to release a review, and especially if you’re going to explicitly cite the fact that you disagree with the largely positive body of reviews the work has seen thus far, wouldn’t that be a pretty clear call for a formal review stating your problems with the work? One that, say, integrates many of the concerns you’ve already listed in your blog post? I don’t know. It’s kind of a puzzling decision, given the statements.

*Since I know you’re all simply on the edges of your seats wondering - yes, I’m really enjoying Gerard Jones’s Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, which is a hugely informative, compelling read on the early history of comics, even though I do pause slightly whenever I read a particularly neat portion of the text and then turn to the source guide back only to see that it was based on a single conversation with some tangentially-related party to the action (and I pause mainly because Jones himself sometimes stops his own narrative to note when his telling is largely based on hearsay - but sometimes he doesn’t). Then again, comics history is choppy enough that such means are perhaps the only way of retaining certain things ‘for the books,’ so to speak.

Most valuable, I think, is Jones’ immersion into the culture and development of early comics publishing and distribution, an absolutely vital yet often glossed-over (or outright caricatured) facet of the development of the form; his insights into the backgrounds and personalities of the money men at what would eventually become DC Comics are sometimes revelatory, and far more even-handed (and I dare say more believable) than most accounts. There’s still some largely negative portrayals - Bob Kane and Mort Weisinger in particular are not afforded many redeeming characteristics in Jones’ telling, at leat as far as I’ve gotten with it - but mostly it’s a story of complicated human compromise, and conflicting social forces, with Jerry Siegel and Jack Liebowitz almost fated to collide through their vastly different life experiences. I’m late to reading this thing, but just in case any of you still haven’t gotten around to it, it’s pretty interesting stuff, especially from a sociological standpoint.

*I don’t have too much to say about Marvel Monsters - Fin Fang Four #1, save for the fact that it was fun and cute and offered up a nice, solid all-ages tale, which still somehow managed to get slapped with a T+ rating on the back cover, perhaps for the use of the term ‘gonads,’ or maybe due to the presence of that Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers Fin Fang Foom story from 1960, populated largely by Chinese characters with flesh the color of lemon-flavored Pez. Regardless, it was a good story to include, since it emphasizes exactly how much writer Scott Gray (though Marvel’s site and a recent interview with artist Roger Langridge suggest that Langridge was also involved in the scripting process - granted, Marvel’s site isn’t quite a paragon of accuracy, as you can see from the link) based his own characterization of Foom off of the original, in which he’s really a weary, endlessly manipulated, kind of sad character. It’s also good four laffs, as you try to figure out how a single man moving on foot could constantly outrun a gigantic beast with a leg-span of lord knows how much. I also appreciated the carefully shaded yet chillingly realistic dialogue given to the Red Forces of China: “The freedom-loving traitors must be seized and punished!” Good ol' Cold War...

The main story is a sweet little thing, light as air but successfully entertaining, and with nice messages for the kids about respecting others despite their differences and working as a team, with a sly little requiem for the age of Marvel Monsters, soon to be literally and figuratively smashed by superheroes, thrown in for the older fans. I almost wish the writer(s) had played up Reed’s friendship with Foom a bit more (it would have been really great if the two had found common ground in Foom’s Commie-smashing past, considering how Reed was characterized as being quite stridently anti-Communist at that period in comics history - I don’t know if that’s even part of Reed’s official character anymore). And naturally Langridge’s art is simply excellent, balancing action and comedy with perfect skill.

So yeah, a very good all-ages book, in that it actually has some appeal to a wide breadth of ages (though I’d say it leans toward younger readers, really), despite the mild insensitivities of the vintage material and the rating on the back cover.