Woo! Movie and magazine theme!

*Excellence Dept: Totally jacked this from Abhay, who posted it over at the NYC Mech board, where I tend to lurk: Michael Atkinson’s blistering slam of Dave McKean’s new film MirrorMask from The Village Voice. This one has it all, folks, starting with an opening-sentence dismissal of the entirety of the ‘graphic novel’ form as an emperor most thoroughly underdressed, “…fiction, let us remember, equipped with drawings and speech bubbles…” Along the way it’s revealed that comics readers are undemanding boobs, having elevated the sublimely lucky Neil Gaiman to “subliterate demigod-hood,” and that Ghost World is apparently the only comics-based film in the history of recent cinema that’s fit for adult viewing (note that Atkinson employs the confusing descriptive title of ‘American subgenre entry’ - this is because, as I’m sure you’ve all figured out, comics are not a real art form but a subgenre of fiction, presumably prose fiction; oh, and nonfiction comics don’t exist, I guess, or else Atkinson has devised a different term for them which he’s opted to withhold). Be sure to keep reading until the block-rocking concluding summary in which comics pros are most certainly not left off the hook: “The measure of conviction needed to make and read comic books is all that's brought to bear…” Good thing Atkinson is here to assure us that the popularity of ‘graphic novels’ is just a fad, much like that 'manga' I’ve been hearing about!

Man, this is the sort of comic-centered essay you keep thinking has gone extinct. And yet, strip away the rampant blanket dismissals and patent ignorance as to anything beyond the most mainstream-visible samples of the form, and there’s some stuff there to agree with among what’s left of the piece. I mean, don’t an awful lot of us think comics readers can be pretty undemanding? Not horrendously less demanding than, say, network television viewers and summer blockbuster film fans, but therein lies the difference between us and Atkinson, I suppose.

*Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, however, gave MirrorMask an 'A-' and noted that it has "something to astonish everyone." Lots of comics stuff in the new issue (#843), including a feature review of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes in the 'Books' section; it gets an 'A', as does The Quitter in a shorter review, which sadly forgets to credit Dean Haspiel (perhaps since the cover art screams "Harvey Pekar with Dean Haspiel," bringing to mind a celebrity writing their autobiography 'with' an experienced writer, rather than two talents working on individually vital aspects of sequential art). The errata continues into 'The Mix,' which mistakenly notes that the third volume of Tokyo Tribes won't be out until October (it was actually released back in August) at the end of its rave. Jordan Crane's The Clouds Above also gets a nice mention.

*Meanwhile, the latest issue of Giant Robot (#38) has a delightfully downbeat two-page interview with Yoshihiro Tatsumi, author of stories collected in D&Q’s soon-to-arrive The Push Man and Other Stories. Apparently, Tatsumi currently operates a mail-order comics back-issue business, and is working slowly toward the completion of his latest work, at a pace of less than 20 pages per month. He also notes that the current Japanese comics industry has basically zero interest in his brand of realist fiction (not that they had much to begin with), and praises the work of Adrian Tomine, also editor/designer of The Push Man, by the way. I particularly enjoyed Tatsumi’s tendency to distinguish his gekiga (a term he coined himself) from manga, even though most English-language fans see gekiga as a genre under the umbrella of manga (which, granted, ignores the origination of the term - gekiga roughly means ‘drama pictures,’ which strikes me as a pretty direct rejoinder to the silly or childish or nonsense pictures of manga's literal translation); it’s likely that Tatsumi has a very particular definition of gekiga - I wonder if he’d consider Golgo 13 to be part of the club, since that’s what creator Takao Saito sometimes calls it? It’s a uniquely bristling chat; at one point the interviewer asks Tatsumi if he thinks his style has changed over the course of his career (I’m paraphrasing) and Tatsumi snaps “Of course,” the irritation palpable through the page. Good reading.

Grizzly Man

Probably my favorite film of 2005, thus far. Just wonderful stuff through and through.

As you probably already know, this is a documentary on the semi-famous grizzly-devoured grizzly activist Timothy Treadwell, from much-adored director Werner Herzog (who also narrates and occasionally appears on-screen, his face always turned away from the camera). Treadwell spent a whole lot of time up on a nature preserve in Alaska, ‘protecting’ bears from nefarious (if rarely seen) poachers and shooting roughly a hundred hours of footage of wildlife, nature and himself, presumably for some nebulous television documentary project. Herzog incorporates plenty of Treadwell’s footage, as well as new interviews with assorted friends, family, lovers, supporters, experts and so on.

But what gets to me, beyond the film’s simple premise, is how deep Herzog is willing to go with the material. This is no simple biography; there’s ruminations on filmic (and in particular, documentary) reality, the slippery nature of human identity, the aspects of performance that invade everyday human life, the resulting Quixotic desire to achieve a natural purity, the impassivity of nature in the face of human struggle, the importance of accident in the creation of art, the healing power of art, the destructive power of art, death as a dealer of truth and genuinely trancendant love, the delicate threads separating madness and brilliance, stupidity and valiance - this movie puts an awful lot on its plate, but damn if it doesn’t scarf it all down.

Much of this is due to Herzog’s sly structuring of the film. We start off with the ugly details of the seemingly hippy-dippy Treadwell’s death (as well as the death of his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard). Talking heads spout off, gory details are described, and Treadwell chats away. And then, some odd things begin to happen: Herzog suddenly reveals that Treadwell had been carefully controlling his actions before the camera - he does multiple ‘takes’ of his loopy dork persona. And gradually, we begin to realize a certain artificiality to Herzog’s own footage; an actor pal of Treadwell’s suddenly seems to be ‘performing’ for the camera. Scenes begin to look staged, though it doesn’t really matter in the long run. Instead of hearing authentic audio footage of Treadwell and Huguenard’s deaths, we get what can only be described as a one-man show by the coroner who worked on them, complete with dramatic camera moves and lighting, as he vividly describes the action. It’s fiction in the service of fact.

And Treadwell, from across the sea of time and the river Stix, seems to agree. Through Herzog’s investigation, we learn of his frustrations as an actor and his invented past. We see him blowing through monologue after monologue. His initial children’s show host posturing bleeds away into plumes of profanity, shuddering anger, anti-religion invective, and raw paranoid rage - but is it any more real for its grit? Herzog approaches Treadwell’s work not as the production of a kook, but as the output of a kindred artist, praising the best bits of Treadwell’s footage, even if some of the beauty is purely unintentional (this fits in neatly with Herzog’s own filmmaking ethos, even regarding his fiction work, in which he'd often let non-professional actors improvise material). And indeed, there’s some amazing stuff in here: a shaky race with a fox, vivid bear close-ups, a beast pawing at a luminescent blue tent, shot from the inside. But the best stuff is all-Treadwell: a lengthy close-up monologue about homosexuals is the sort of outstandingly revealing bit that I can’t imagine being ‘written’ in quite as effective a manner.

And there more: the awkward, mannered nature of a Treadwell ex-girlfriend melts away as she launches into an effervescent story as to how the couple first met. A hard-hearted rescue worker offers withering, yet genuinely funny commentary on the situation. There’s bits on the native populace’s historical relations with the bears, a late introduction of a teddy bear that then serves as a potent symbol in some of Treadwell’s own footage, and an honest-to god biblical rainstorm. The final minutes of Treadwell’s footage have a distinctly apocalyptic tone, and even the film itself seems to be breaking down; at one point, Herzog announces that during the course of making the film he’d been granted access to extra footage, and he then proceeds to use it to directly contradict some things he’d said earlier (instead of, say, re-editing the material), more toying with the ‘truth’ of the matter.

By the end of it all Herzog even gets away with a soppy ‘spreading of the ashes’ sequence, so formidable is the credit he’s built up - you just know he’ll be back with another amazing bit, like a kindly helicopter pilot singing along with the film’s own closing theme, improvising a single line which perhaps holds the key to the meaning of everything. And Herzog, who never makes it less than clear that he’s philosophically opposed to almost everything Treadwell espouses, even allows the man to walk off into the sun with his beloved bears, courtesy of his own footage, the star of his own feature at least. Just professional courtesy between artists, you know.

It’s a thick, dense film, packed with stuff, and unusually sensitive to its own themes on a structural level, forcing the audience to question the safety of the documentary form on tow levels: Treadwell’s and Herzog’s. And it all trickles down onto the people involved, folks performing for the camera, performing for themselves. But Herzog would be the first to say that it doesn’t quite matter in the creation of fine art. And this is fine art, vital, sensitive filmmaking, that still not above lavishing attention on adorable little foxes when it’s not encapsulating Treadwell’s struggle in a long scene of two bears fighting, biting, clawing, shitting themselves, wrestling, then calmly returning to all-fours, nosing around gently. It’s nature's contradictions, and humans' too.


I have to make it in time for the film!

*This Had Better Show Up Somewhere On the Packaging of the Absolute Edition Dept:

“…the most eagerly awaited 12-issue maxi-series since the already legendary Camelot 3000.”

- Len Wein, doing his best to hype the upcoming Watchmen in DC’s monthly Meanwhile… column, found in The Shadow #4 (of 4), August 1986.

*Just a heads-up for anyone who liked my Pineapple Army review from a few days back - I’ve updated it with some new information, mostly because I managed to obtain a copy of Viz’s 1990 compilation of the series, a lovely dustjacketed softcover tome that, contrary to what Amazon would have you believe, actually collects all 280+ pages of the original Viz release. Various used book merchants still have copies ready to roll for less than $4, before shipping. Amazingly silly book at times, but that Urasawa art, mmm boy.

*Quicker review than usual...

The Authority: The Magnificant Kevin #2 (of 5)

I clearly recall the prior Kev miniseries stumbling a bit at the very end, as writer Garth Ennis attempted to shoot for pathos and missed the mark by a bit. Still, the flashbacks to Kev’s life in the S.A.S. were decent entertainment, and it looks like Ennis is going for a fairly similar structure here, with copious flashbacks revealing yet more of the series’ star’s secret origins (yes, I know, The Authority also gets their names in the title - it might as well be Doom Patrol or the Justice Society of America for all Ennis seems to care). Get ready for the thrilling true tale of how Kev came to enter England’s proud armed forces, and learn how disclosing the details of your uncle’s recent suicide cannot stop the gale force of the teenage sex drive. That leering fellow on the cover? Not in this issue at all.

I’ve gotten a bit more used to Carlos Ezquerra’s art this issue; it captures something of a similar feel to Glenn Fabry’s prior work on Kev interiors, though in a lighter way. Odd then that this issue is more ‘serious’ than average. Sure, we still have Kev getting his ass smacked by a riding crop whilst fornicating with a hot-to-trot sampling of the idle rich, but there’s also betrayal, less-absurd violence than usual, straightforward male bonding, and a vengeful commanding officer straight out of those other pieces of fiction that feature vengeful commanding officers tormenting their hapless, stout-hearted underlings. It’s somewhat interesting, but oddly flat; the humor in these series tends to be rather vivid, and steering the material toward more traditional semi-dramatics appears to be leading Ennis down a more oft-trodden path, or at least one which he can’t quite traverse with as much panache given the materials he's bearing. Which isn’t to say Ennis can’t write good dramatics, just that such skill doesn’t seem to be manifesting itself here, an issue after the musical number and the vagina djinn.

Obviously, Ennis is going to get back to the wackiness later, though it appears next issue is going to have more flashback material. Hopefully there’ll be a bit more devouring of officers by wild beasts and less class-conflict flavored travails, or at least some fresher travails of the sort. Kev can do weightier stuff, I suppose, but I’d like my dramatics to resound at least as strongly as the masturbation jokes.


I peeked.

*Good Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean interviews over at The Onion A.V. Club, all in preperation for McKean's feature-length directorial debut Mirrormask, scripted by Gaiman. I really enjoyed the frank tales of script clashes between the longtime collaborators, and Gaiman's unique position as an OG of comics blogging provides some fun insights. But I liked McKean's chat just a little bit more; it covers much of his career, and I was delighted to hear that he's considering doing another Cages-length comics work after the upcoming Signal to Noise film. For added fun, compare McKean's comments on Arkham Asylum to Grant Morrison's; sometimes the two agree, and sometimes they certainly don't (McKean basically takes credit for pushing Morrison's script into odder and odder territory, while Morrison has been known to say that his script was always odd, and that he'd simply planned on getting a more straightforward artist for the project). Nice stuff.

*Candied Delite Dept: Just a heads-up to let you all know that the final page of the last issue of The OMAC Project is hands-down the funniest page of comics this week; really, I don’t even need to see anything else. I’m so very glad that I opted to live up to my sacred blogging duties and keep abreast of the latest Event happenings because oh man… maybe I’m screwing everything up because I didn’t actually read the book, so do tell me if I'm off-base.

Basically, (and here’s your fanboy-friendly SPOILER warning), it appears that the book concludes with what’s more or less a snuff film being beamed out and aired in public for a ton of people to see. So the last page has folks recoiling in disgust, yowling in acute horror - I think one guy might actually be fleeing the scene with his hands flailing in the air, maybe a handkerchief dangling from his fingertips. It’s public snuff film bedlam! And then, in the lower right hand corner of the page, directly below a screaming man’s fear-twisted face:

A bright, jaunty superheroic THE END in the happiest font ever!

Good to see that the mass public display of authentic death footage isn’t gonna spoil a nice ending! The hip-happy look of the text, plastered over that mortified soul, coupled with the delightful pig-headedness of it all (it doesn’t look to me like ‘THE END’ of anything) - good times. I hope the laughs and memories continue into whatever book this leads into, like Infinite Crisis or Infinite Tie-Ins or possibly Seven Soldiers #1.

Yeah - I’ve decided that since it’s last in line, and since (let’s face it) there’s probably going to be some threads left hanging after Infinite Crisis, Seven Soldiers #1 ought to finish off these miniseries too. From what I've heard, there wasn't much more resolution than what we got in Shining Knight or Guardian. Actually, why waste a golden opportunity? Seven Soldiers ‘#1’ should turn into a miniseries (like Dark Horse Presents #100 and THB #6), and it should resolve every currently outstanding story in every DC or DC-owned or affiliated book! Hell, Morrison and Williams can do it! Seven Soldiers, Infinite Crisis, Seaguy, Stormwatch: Team Achilles, that storyline in The Shadow where he’s a robot; all of them can be wrapped up at once!

And then in the final issue Mark Waid can explode out of Neh-Buh-Loh’s chest riding Comet the Super Horse, accompanied by Ambush Bug and Flex Mentallo (wearing a bag over his head with the words FORBIDDEN BY LAW emblazoned upon it) and they’ll save the day using some combination of The Power of Hypertime, The Power of Copious Narrative Captions, The Power of Rock (either rock ’n roll or just rolling large rocks down a hill, I haven’t decided), and at least one deployment of the line “I’ll modify your continuity!” In the end Superman and Batman will shake hands and Superman will go “Still friends, Bruce?” and Batman will reply “Are you retarded or something?” and then he’ll wink at the reader and DC will suspend publishing operations indefinitely.

At least that’s the initial plan.

Jack Cross #2

This is getting likeably insane, which is probably the best path for the book to take. Sure, writer Warren Ellis is probably having too giggly a time with the surface elements, meat ’n potatoes badass antihero nonsense, but protagonist Cross is rendered in just mad enough a style for the whole thing to sort of slide through. I remain hopeful that the storyline will chronicle Cross gradually and irrevocably losing his shit in the middle of a high-stakes inter-intelligence chess match; the office-against-office set-up nicely matches Cross’ boiling interior state, his liberal philosophy so at odds with the day-to-day facts of his job that he’s turned to prisoner executions and ‘cutting’ in his hotel room (a motif also present in Ellis’ more recently-written Fell) when he’s not screaming about Real Threats to DHS toadies. Add in the fact that the secret item that everyone is chasing after appears to be Saddam Hussein’s secret mind-control ray, which makes populations obedient and docile, and I think there’s the makings of some decent satire along with the action.

Granted there’s always the risk that, like in the recent Ocean, Ellis will jettison the neat ideas in the final stretch and opt for mind-numbing action; I can certainly see how this material can easily be played too straight, focusing on semi-awkward tough-talking lines (“DO YOU WANT SOME?”) and the easy temptation of cruising on the ‘liberal badass acts like a fascist thug then makes a speech about it’ concept. Those not prone to enjoying Ellis’ work probably feel he’s doing that already, but I think there’s enough raw insanity at work in the lead character to keep me coming back for at least a third issue, just to see if anything comes from these strange ingredients. As for Gary Erskine’s art, it’s still sort of stiff and awkward (especially when characters are simply walking around), but he loves those facial expressions, especially when Cross is firing upon people, simultaneously adrenalized and terrified.

Speaking of strange things, the book’s weird attitude toward explicit content continues to befuddle. There’s a handful of shootings this issue, with each one treated a bit differently. One shot to the head releases a thin trail of blood and a neat little hole. Another shot to the head has panel after panel lavished upon it, the bullet sensually pressing against its target’s skin, then a detailed cloud of brains and blood spilling out the back of his skull. And yet another fellow hardly bleeds at all, gunshots creating those little pops of flame again. It’s pretty weird, especially coming from an apparently all-ages DCU title. Hey - maybe it’s as torn and nearly schizophrenic as the lead character!

ABC: A-Z: Tom Strong and Jack B. Quick #1 (of 6)

Perhaps banking on the fact that ABC fans who’ve already scooped up everything else won’t be able to pass up anything this close to the end, we now get this entirely unnecessary if somewhat attractive reference miniseries, complete with a one dollar price hike in exchange for three more pages of content than average. This might have been an easier sell had ABC overlord Alan Moore provided the scripts, but instead we get Peter Hogan of Terra Obscura and some assorted Tom Strong issues. He acquits himself for a little over half the issue, but I think we’re gonna need more than that for a bunch of $4 guidebooks.

It should be said that all of the original creators on the art side are present: Chris Sprouse on Tom Strong (with inker Karl Story), and Kevin Nowlan on Jack B. Quick. I’ll also note that everything in here is in comics format, with the characters narrating their life stories and backgrounds while moving through splash pages and charts or some sort of nominal story. Basically it’s a particularly reader-friendly character handbook, though necessarily somewhat light on information to make way for the art and stuff.

This kind of thing demanded Moore’s deft touch; he could have lit the characters up, and made us feel like we were getting good entertainment with our light background (and tall price tag). Hogan is less apt, though he acquits himself nicely enough on the Tom Strong material, amusingly playing up his own storylines (“This one I can’t ever forget.”) and offering some inoffensive plot summaries and yet another origin recap. I don’t know if the bit at the end with one character assuring us that “I think you’ll find it much more exciting to read about the future as it happens, in the pages of Tom Strong magazine.” was supposed to be a gag, since the series is ending this December. Oh well.

The Jack B. Quick material doesn’t fare as well, mostly because the character’s whimsically sinister cliché-logic experiments are custom-built for Moore's particular style (not surprising, since the character is basically an American pre-teen variation on Moore's old 2000 A.D. character Abelard Snazz). In Hogan’s hands, the whole thing comes out wrong, with corny jokes (hoo hoo, an Internet gag!) and stillborn one-liners suddenly the norm. Sure, the Chaos Theory hurricane prevention bit was funny, and it’s nice to see the Doomsday Machine from Promethea making a surprise cameo, but it’s mostly six pages of miscellaneous cornpone. Let’s hope Moore will be back on the character in that upcoming two-issue Tomorrow Stories Special, ready to send him off in style.



*Oh it’s a big one tomorrow; I hope you haven’t been squandering your Kopeks and Rubles on frivolity, like meats or seltzer - it’s a big bad comics day coming up, and readiness is mandatory. I think I’ll start things off with a proper review of something you’ll find on those buckling shelves in but a few short hours…


This is the new book from Sharknife creator/writer/artist Corey Lewis. Unlike the digest-sized, multi-chapter Vol. 1 (of something) Sharknife, this is a pamphlet-format 72-page one-shot. At $5.95, it’s nicely priced, and a good-looking object to boot. Lewis (who also designed the book) cites Paul Pope’s Vertigo series Heavy Liquid as a ‘Giant Inspiration,’ but the presentational aspect of the project is quite similar to some of Pope’s later THB releases from his own Horse Press - a thick, chunky b&w slab of vivid art, punctuated by an array of handsome supplements, including charts and graphs, background-building text features, lists of art tools used/music listened to in the creation of the book, helpful character guides, bibliographical cross-referencing, and more. We even get the author’s name and the book's page count positioned in the lower right-hand corner of the cover, just like in the THB #6 miniseries (and the most recent Giant THB oversized); I wonder if it’s conscious homage? I was going to compile a list of design-oriented talents whom young creators might want to emulate, Pope would probably be somewhere near the top; actually, for a book like this, he’d likely be number one.

There’s also hints of Pope influence in Lewis’ art, but only hints; at the very least, Lewis has managed to forge an unmistakable individual style from his many influences, and it’s a cohesive style at that - there’s none of the ‘visual cue grab-bag’ feeling that presides over many young artists’ works, especially those with a heavy Japanese influence, that nagging sensation that you’re looking at a half-working array of manga icon clip-outs rather than an effective means of crafting a page and a sequence and a story. One does not see the influences as much here as they see Cory Lewis. And I think that adds immeasurably to the enthusiasm surrounding his work in many quarters.

As for Peng in particular, I probably need only mention that if you enjoyed Sharknife you’ll enjoy this. At one point in the book, in between the two massive Advanced Kickball matches that make up the story, Lewis tosses out a blurb of text proclaiming:

With the Final-Four over, the two final teams take a three-day respite to collect themselves and rejuvenate their energy. Through the magic of comics, we will skip that and go straight to what you REALLY WANT TO SEE

And that about sums up the book’s approach to the plot. ‘Peng,’ by the way, is the sound that a kickball makes when it’s walloped. A fitting title, as the book is all about action, all about running and summoning special video-game powers and kicking things. Those among the readership inclined to split hairs might even hesitate to call the book a ‘sports manga,’ as most of the sports manga I’ve read feature more than a bit of downtime, getting into the characters’ outside lives. There’s none of that in Peng, save for eight pages dividing the opening action dream sequence from the first big match. No, it’s mostly The Foot Knux, those archetypical heroic rookies, led by Romeo Hallelujah (little brother of Sharknife protagonist Ceasar Hallelujah), fending off Canadian hero team The Dolpheets, music idol power squad The Anologgers, and those inevitably stolid reigning champs, The Aurora Skeddos, for the Advanced Kickball cup. Sharknife himself also makes an appearance. Apparently The Anologgers are characters from various self-published Lewis works. There’s even a surprise guest cameo from A Very Popular Character From Another Oni Press Book. It’s like an all-canon party, and who has room for niceties like story depth or character development when it’s party time?

Ah, wait. I know what you’re asking - I can literally hear you calling through your monitor (see? speaking into the screen doesn’t mean you’re crazy!). What if you had a mixed reaction to Sharknife? You can appreciate the art, say, but the rest of it kind of got to you. Well, I’ll say that Peng is somewhat better than Sharknife on the non-action evaluative plane. Lewis is getting more comfortable with his writing, managing a firmer grip on those declarative statements (“Agghhh by the knees of the gods!!!”) and breathless narrations (“Anticipation comparable to twelve-ton atomic rockets jettisons a payload of pre-action-stimulus upon all 450,000 Slo-Moz adjusted human heads within Goo-Kei-Lei International Stadium”), though his dialogue is still saturated with enough nuggets of slightly awkward slang and odd writerly tics that when ‘nowhere’ is at one point spelled ‘no-where,’ I’m not sure if it’s a stylistic flourish or an editorial gaffe. Still, there’s a pretty decent, funny scene of The Foot Knux playing Bomberman, and a genuinely excellent line periodically slips through (“Kickball Totem: I was just wondering if ballet could be worked into the art of kickball somehow. And I mean in a cool way. I’m sure it’ll come to you and then you can tell me how.”). And the characters do momentarily experience doubt and fear, which does immediately add an extra layer of complexity that Sharknife lacked, so there’s that. Still, if the non-action storytelling (or lack thereof) in Sharknife drove you bonkers, I don’t think you’ll get much more out of this one.

And if you just absolutely hate Lewis’ art, I’m sorry you wasted all this time reading this review - just skip down to the boldface text below. For the rest of you, it’s a somewhat calmer blast of visuals than Sharknife, in that Lewis isn’t tearing through superdeformed styles and multiple systems of narration, and the video gaming touches are less numerous than before; he confines himself here to his straightforward action posture. As usual, the many (many many) action sequences are prone to dancing on the razor’s edge of comprehensibility, but there’s verve to spare, and the feeling usually comes through, even if you need to go over things twice to catch the blocking of individual scenes; it’s probably a credit that something like ‘feeling’ can even carry the book so far, but it does.

So that’s Peng, a book that probably everyone knew they were going to love or hate beforehand; I think I’m just here to reinforce you all. There’s some improvements on Sharknife, but probably not anything that’ll change the minds of those too far from the center of the love/hate divide. Just close your eyes and look inside yourself - you know what you’re getting into.

*Ok, now onto that bounty of items that Greeks and geeks alike call


Oh, and did I mention that despite the size of this week’s list I’m still barely interested in any of it?

The Stuff of Dreams #3 (of 3): I will be stunned if this isn’t the best goddamned thing this week. It’s the final chapter of Kim Deitch’s wonderful blend of heavily adorned recent autobiography, various tall tales, self-referential canon tie-ins, fictional silent films, real silent films, old comics, madness, collecting, and the sheer joy that comes from falling deeply into the things you love. Plus: every issue stands alone (yet they all tie in with one another) so you can jump in right now and work your way back. Deitch has been around for a long time; he’s my favorite talent from the ’60s underground, and he’s still firing away at full power. C’mon, give this one a chance. If it’s anything like the first two issues, it’ll remind you on every page why you like the art of comics so damn much.

SPX 2005: For those who didn’t make it. They chucked out the theme this year, which is probably a good move. Of course, last year’s ‘War’ volume was bad enough on the whole that this one probably can’t help but look good in comparison. The presence of guest editor Brian Ralph will probably act as a plus too. It’s thirteen bucks, and probably still as small as last year’s - not like those SPX bricks of days of yore. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

Steady Beat Vol. 1 (of 3): On the off chance that I haven’t turned you away from internet columnists with one-word names forever, I presume you’re familiar with Rivkah. Much-visited LiveJournal? Column over at Comicon? Well, here’s the release of her comic, certainly one of the more anticipated titles in Tokyopop’s English-language creator initiative. It’s a consummate shoujo set-up, following a young woman who sets out to discover the identity of her sister’s secret lesbian paramour. Romantic and dramatic complications doubtlessly ensue. Here’s a pretty lengthy preview - see what you think.

Lady Snowblood Vol. 1: AH ha ha ha haaaaaa, oh look at that cover! Yeah, the 1973 film version of Lady Snowblood was one of the bigger influences on A Certain Popular Film, and here’s the manga that started it all, with a script by Lone Wolf and Cub (and, lest we forget, Wounded Man) writer Kazuo Koike, and art from Kazuo Kamimura, who (according to Frederik L. Schodt’s Manga! Manga!) was also doing socially-relevant comics about the lives of liberated Japanese youths at the time - I don’t think this will be like that, since it’s apparently stuffed to bursting with gory samurai vengeance. It’s not often you see manga of this vintage on US shelves, and Lone Wolf fans (and fans of popular recent films) will obviously want a look.

Showcase Presents: Green Lantern Vol. 1/Showcase Presents: Superman Vol. 1: Here’s something a lot of you have been looking forward to - big fat 500+ page slabs of DC Silver Age superhero comics, in b&w, for under ten bucks a pop. Great for light reading, or leafing through for panels to create amusing jpgs from.

ABC: A-Z: Tom Strong and Jack B. Quick #1 (of 6): In contrast to what the tortured title parsing appears to suggest, this is not the first of six pamphlet-format reference volumes devoted to Tom and Jack, but rather the initial edition of this comprehensive guide to the soon-to-pass ABC universe. Well, at least it’s as comprehensive as it can realistically get without any direct participation from Alan Moore.

Strangehaven #18: Ah, there it is.

BPRD: The Black Flame #2 (of 6): Already?

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #2 (of 5): No, already?

NYX #7 (of 7): Oh my, they’re all crawling out of the woodwork this week!

Ultimate Secret #3 (of 4): I read the recent Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual the other day. Jae Lee art and all; I guess Marvel decided to put him on it since The Inhumans were making their Ultimate debut. I get the feeling that the story was based on some early Marvel classic or something, mostly because Mark Millar’s script wasn’t actually a story itself - it was more of an outline, and I think the reader was expected to fill in the gaps with their knowledge of the source material. Whatever it was, it felt choppy and incomplete; it was in no way a satisfying work on its own. I bring this up, because here’s miniseries 2 (of 3) of the Ultimate Galactus saga, back from hiatus. Warren Ellis is writing, which one would think might at least imbue the action with some sort of purpose, but the first miniseries, Ultimate Nightmare, was simply awful, a grindingly dull exercise in milking five issues worth of cash out of readers in exchange for what amounted to a glorified prelude to something else, complete with dollops of tiresome ‘cynical’ superhero posturing and that most hallowed of trick finales: the Big Revelation that’s provided to keep the fanboys hooked, despite the all crap they’ve just swallowed. Thank heavens I got the damn thing for about a buck per issue. Anyway, here’s part of the rest of part two, which will no doubt meander its way in the general direction of setting up part three. Excelsior!

JLA: Classified #12: I mean, if you just want Warren Ellis writing the big superheroes, this is a lot better. Relatively speaking.

Jack Cross #2: And who knows what to make of this? Maybe Ellis will do some interesting things with the title character’s inner conflict (liberalism v. torture!); I’m still holding out hope that Jack's simply going insane - that would be kind of neat. The art wasn’t too hot last issue, and the balance between DCU-friendly levels of explicit content and guns-blazing hardcore action was pretty shaky. We’ll have to see.

Black Widow: The Things They Say About Her #1 (of 6): A sequel to the last year’s Black Widow revival miniseries. The first one was a lot better than expected, with writer Richard K. Morgan pulling through an interesting current of feminist thought, with a lot of variations of the theme of paternalistic domination. Sure, it occasionally came into conflict with the slightly cheesecake-inclined art (it did sport Greg Land covers, after all), but the mighty Bill Sienkiewicz kept it down to a minimum, even though he spent most of the series on ‘finishes.’ He bears the even less authoritative role of ‘inks’ here for penciler Sean Phillips of Sleeper fame, though at least he gets to take over the cover art. Probably has a better shot than the average Mighty Marvel Mini at turning into something neat.


Naoki Urasawa update - from the past!

*Right after this summary of


The Goon #14

Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #2 (of 5) (I checked another copy of this on the stands today - it was also misprinted)

Seven Soldiers - Mister Miracle #1 (of 4)

And that is that.

*Well, we’re still waiting on the US release of the 20th Century Boys and Pluto author’s Monster, but I’ve uncovered a little something that just might hold you over. Remember when I mentioned a while back that the hugely popular (in Japan) Urasawa has yet to see an official US release of any of his manga? It seems that wasn’t entirely true. No, none of Urasawa’s work as a writer/artist has seen official release, and I presume that’s what most people are waiting for. But just this weekend I discovered much to my surprise, that there was a prior legit Urasawa-related manga release. Very very prior…

Pineapple Army #9 (of 10)

(EDIT 9/29/05 2:11 PM: A paragraph in the below review has been rewritten to reflect recent findings as to the format of Viz's collected edition of this series, and a quote has been added to another section, taken from the same collected edition.)

(EDIT#2 10/2/05 4:32 PM: A well-informed fellow by the name of Althalus posted some great info in the comments section below, including some corrections as to errors made by Anime News Network; all of this stuff has now been added to the review as well. Go visit his blog, The Interested Layman)

Many fans rightfully consider the Judo epic Yawara!, begun in 1986, to be Urasawa’s true arrival on the longform manga scene; it is, to my knowledge, his first ‘big’ series (in terms of popularity) as a writer/artist. But Urasawa had been making comics for years prior, and had indeed begin work (as an artist only) on a seperate longform series a few months prior to Yawara! in early 1986 - that series was Pineapple Army, which managed to broker a partial US release from Viz way back in 1989. At this early point, you’ll recall, Viz was still playing around with multiple release formats. Pineapple Army was released biweekly as a 10-issue miniseries, in standard b&w pamphlet format; this was a style Viz had worked with since their mid-’80s affiliation with the now-defunct Eclipse Comics (another Eclipse accomplishment: in 1988, they became the first publisher to release a full-length solo comic by Chris Ware - just try and find a copy of Floyd Farland: Citizen of the Future for under twenty bucks these days).

Indeed, it was an Eclipse book that likely prompted the release of Pineapple Army - the successful Mai the Psychic Girl, from the same writer as Pineapple Army, Kazuya Kudo. It’s unlikely that Urasawa entered into such considerations; while I’m fairly sure Yawara! was a big hit in Japan by 1989 (indeed, by the time Viz's 1990 collected edition of this material rolled around, they were referring to Urasawa as "...currently one of the most successful young manga artists in Japan."), the contemporaneous US market just wasn’t ready for an extended Judo series, and Urasawa had yet to prove himself to be a master of non-sports suspense. Ah, but an extended series of action-packed stand-alone stories featuring military gunplay and copious explosions? All but built for the US Direct Market in ’89, at least to the extent that Japanese comics were welcome at all.

Pineapple Army ultimately filled eight tankoubon compilations in Japan (Anime News Network claims that these collections only featured 130 pages each, though I've been assured by an actual owner of these Japanese editions that they're actually 210-230 pages each - a later six volume re-release beefed up the page count to 300 pages each, then yet another re-release arrived in a four book format at 450 pages each); obviously, the material released in the US is hardly comprehensive, and according to Althalus, the same source cited above in regards to tankoubon page count, it's actually a combination of material from the first and second tankoubon collections (Vol. 1 Ch. 1-3, 8, Vol. 2 Ch. 1-4, 7-8, in that order). It ought be noted that Viz's later collected edition of this series is a very attractive softcover item, weighing in at 284 pages (as opposed to the 90 pages that Amazon.com erroneously lists) with a nice dustjacket, a color intro page and an afterward by co-translator/ESPers writer James D. Hudnall (who also contributed an essay to Viz's short-lived Golgo 13 release around the same time). That still leaves five or so books worth of stuff missing, however.

But all intricacies aside, it’s Urasawa art on English-language comics, out a decade and a half ago. Sure, it’s not pure Urasawa; hell, it’s not even written by the guy. But Urasawa himself has said that such name-making epics as Yawara! and Happy! were largely forced on him by editors, and that they basically reflect an attempt to reconcile his personal tastes with the demands of the Japanese mainstream manga readership, as opposed to the later likes of Monster or 20th Century Boys, which incarnate his own storytelling proclivities in a much less diffused manner. Pineapple Army is even farther back from those earlier works as a writer/artist, but certainly there’s the development of Urasawa’s visual style for fans to track, his way of staging a scene.

The premise of Pineapple Army concerns one Jed Goshi, a legendary American-born combat expert who travels around the globe, instructing those with money to burn and a compelling story as to the fine art of combat. And while I can’t say I’ve read more than this one issue, I’ll hazard a guess that he often winds up getting personally involved, with the use of his magnificent skills for, ah, non-educational purposes an inevitability. That’s certainly what happens in this one, with Jed being summoned by a young woman in Honduras in order to teach her how to rescue her fruit magnate father, who’s been kidnapped by terrorists; nasty mercenaries, hired directly by Big Fruit to sweep in and eradicate the abductors in the event of the hostage‘s death (although really nobody save for the daughter seems to believe the hostage will be delivered alive), taunt and tease poor Jed in genre-proven fashion. One of them even says that he only knows of three men who are true combat professionals, one of which he's never seen the face of. C'mon - try and guess who that turns out to be. Naturally, Jed winds up leading them the charge when push comes to shove, pulling off magnificent feats of wall-climbing and precision grenade-launching. And if all of this is beginning to sound just a bit like a humanist Golgo 13, it’s understandable - Kudo also served as a writer on that venerable manga institution.

It’s not that great a story; even to relatively new readers it’ll feel predictable, the whole ‘mystery underdog master-of-something shows them all’ arc pretty much ingrained in our minds, regardless of culture. The plot trudges along dutifully enough, hitting every expected emotional beat, but without the panache or clockwork precision of similarly-structured short story collections like Viz’s Jinpachi Mori/Jiro Taniguchi one-off Benkei in New York (yet another in the long line of manga about superkillers doing dirty work for pay). So what we’re left with is Urasawa, and his still-blossoming visual powers. Jed has a great, stocky character design, and Urasawa holds his own with the action scenes, trucks exploding nicely. There’s a great sequence of Jed perched on a wall, aiming his grenade launcher; in two panels our perspective pulls up to his face as he silently muses on his shot, then another panel pulls away as he decides what to do, then the next panel reverses the viewpoint, showing us a soldier standing way down on the ground from Jed’s angle, then the perspective creeps up to the soldier’s face as he comes to his own realization (basically: “Oh my that Jed is awesome and I should not have made light of him!”), then the perspective reverses yet again, showing Jed’s amazing grenade launch from the point of view of the soldier on the ground. It’s not flashy at all, but it’s excellent meat ’n potatoes action staging, signaling Urasawa’s skills at this early date.

After the conclusion of Pineapple Army, the never-slacking Urasawa immediately moved on to another art-only project, Master Keaton, the anime adaptation of which has garnered something of a cult-within-a-cult following in the US. Not so for this thing, which I fished out of a manga-themed dollar bin; it shouldn’t come that expensive, at least. It’s far from 20th Century Boys, but it’s a small, delightful surprise to see such a familiar name unexpectedly peeking out from the past, and with such skill. I don’t know how much authority Urasawa would have in regards to any future US release; certainly he’s successfully kept the English-language 20th Century Boys tied up while Monster plays out, apparently out of concern for the visual leaps of the former overshadowing the latter - one might suppose he wouldn’t be crazy about this stuff reappearing, though I think it would make an interesting counterpoint to the upcoming Monster release. Regardless, there’s always the past to search, always things to find buried away.


Ahhhh, home...

*Back home, back at full power (or thereabouts)!

*Confidential to Johnny Bacardi: I found that Marvel Graphic Novel you recommended, in the place I mentioned. One dollar. Looking really nice, thanks for the recommendation!

*Surprisingly great re-read of the weekend? The 2003 ninety-nine cent promotional book, Vertigo X, which was a 48-page information/interview/preview pamphlet celebrating 10 years of DC’s famous label. Looking through it on the cusp of the fourth quarter 2005, and from where I stand now as a reader as opposed to 2003, there’s really a lot of great stuff in here. You’ve got Howard Chaykin naming The Band as his favorite rock group, and Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur as his absolute favorite comic ever. You’ve got Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon hyping up City Lights, a series that’s still yet to emerge from development (Ennis: “…we’ve been wanting to do this thing for twelve years; there’s no stopping us now.”). There’s a two-page preview of The Winter Men, which has since moved to Wildstorm and finally arrived on stands the other month (buy it). James Jean praises Chris Ware, and Peter Milligan and Mike Allred team up for an all-new Shade the Changing Man short. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but there’s a lot of stuff in here - that’s why I keep promotional materials laying around, certainly not because I’m physically incapable of cleaning.

*Dorian is right - The Punisher: The Tyger is gonna be the highlight of Marvel’s December releases, with Garth Ennis teaming up with the legendary John Severin for some MAX-rated action (not the 82-year old Severin’s first contribution to the line; he also did the art for the infamous Ron Zimmerman-written Rawhide Kid miniseries of a while back), featuring Frank as a pre-teen. Sounds like a recipe for success to me!

The rest of the solicitations are pretty meh (though Marvel Spotlight looks ok, and do note: the Marvel Mega Morphs digest is a mere eight bucks, not much more than the singles will cost together by that point) - apparently we’re getting the rest of Kevin Smith’s Spider-Man/Black Cat miniseries because “You demanded it…” Well yes, people often do demand endings for six-issue miniseries that remain halfway unreleased for over a year after they’ve plugged close to ten bucks in the goddamned thing…

Seven Soldiers - Mister Miracle #1 (of 4)

Another new beginning, even with a few ‘endings’ still coming up. You’ll recall that I found the initial roll-out of Seven Soldiers first issues to get a bit tiring; it didn’t help that the first issues of Guardian and Zatanna were quite easily the weakest of their runs thus far. So maybe the starts here are necessarily slow, introductions and orientations and all; this one, like Zatanna, trades on a significant number of connections to the larger DCU, providing a number of New Gods appearances (nice Jack Kirby creator credit!) and necessarily mandating a small amount of background information as to what the concept means. It’s nothing too distracting; Morrison provides a very quick overview of the New Gods premise, not even naming a number of characters but providing their roles ably. Those who’ve read Morrison’s JLA run might be in a somewhat better position than those coming in cold, but all information needed is there.

But there’s more set-up to get through. The Mister Miracle of the title, Shilo Norman, unlike the rest of the protagonists we’ve seen, is a rich and famous success story at the apex of his powers, a celebrity escape artist (one of the Seven Celebrity Wonders of the World), used to lavish parties and exotic places. But he’s troubled none the less - on a daring stunt involving a black hole, Shilo encounters Metron and his Mobius Chair, and discovers that he and his Motherboxxx have a special role to fulfill, even if as only the subject of a wager between New Gods. You’ll note that, given certain revelations, none of the Seven Soldiers introduced in this project easily fit the predominant superhero race/gender demographic, something that sets them apart right off the bat, but there’s a certain inner clawing that marks all of them, a feeling that something is wrong, that things need to be done, a notion that transcends social and economic positioning. This Mister Miracle is part of that joining, although we don’t learn all that much beyond that in this issue.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the distinct lack of Pasqual Ferry art that future issues of this title will be suffering from; he’s here for this initial outing, though, accompanied by Adam Strange colorist Dave McCaig, who has some fun with the rainbow-hued backgrounds and dizzy light fixtures. It’s just sort of too bad that Ferry only has a few pages to show off his lush sci-fi talents - he draws an attractive-looking Metron, and Shilo seems dynamic enough in costume, but Morrison mostly has the two of them floating around in space, with only a neatly symmetrical double-page spread devoted to action, and even that seems oddly inert, undercranked, with little of that Kirby dynamism; it’s pretty, but doesn’t quite feed into the pulp iconography that Ferry exploited so well in those early Adam Strange issues. And much of the rest of this chapter has characters talking and walking around, with an odd trip to a club, plastic fetish women striking awkward poses, providing the low. I’m sure Morrison had plenty of great images all cooked up for Ferry in the future, and contract issues are contract issues, but in execution, as the book we’re all able to buy, this doesn’t seem like the best use of Ferry, if partially by poor luck.

There’s potential, yes. I think I got to repeating that a lot in that block of first issues. On a whole, the strength of the project shores up the relative weaknesses of this particular issue, and the material is there for plenty of neat stuff in the future. I think it’s in elaboration that this project works best. Introductions - they haven been as grabby as they could be. But maybe they don’t really need to be.


Today's update is: delicious candy.

*Hi all. Are you all enjoying SPX, if you went. I wish I was. Instead, magic horses took me to a land where computers don't work. I am posting this update from a hand-cranked Internet machine, and the sparks are flying into my eyes. Tomorrow I'll be back to full power, so I'll see you then. My arm is getting tired already.



*This week’s juiced-up column: a somewhat more conversational piece on how I have no outlet for my mania, and how such things shape us all. It’s true that I can summon lightning, by the way. Kind of a useless power, actually...

*Lack of Surprise Dept: Apparently, there’s a bunch of new stuff in that Acme Novelty Library hardcover, including an honest to god glow-in-the-dark sequence. Also: comics hidden behind paper bands, comics etched along the edges of the cover, and comics-within-comics that mirror the comics themselves. Did I mention that (judging from the material in here I already own) that this is often hilariously funny stuff? I don’t know; a lot of people have said they don’t detect any laughs in the Rusty Brown bits, which I think are tiny gems of pitch-black humor. Then again, a lot of people seem to think Ware is boring, which I don’t (I think it was Tom Spurgeon who mentioned on Fanboy Rampage that if a person’s critique of Jimmy Corrigan consists entirely of “It’s boring” then a perfectly adequate response is “You’re retarded”). But hell, I also loved Andrei Rublev, so what the shit do I know about boring? Here’s a detailed review from Salon (enjoy the commercial), filled with praise for the technical chops and criticism of the perceived “single note” hammering of the theme of despair, a pretty gross simplification of the emotional breadth of the work in my opinion, found on the Comics Journal Message Board. It was probably silly to hope that I could get away without plunking down cash for this.

Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #2 (of 5)

This seems like a really nice book. I’d have given it a really nice review, except my copy appears to be broken. So I’ll have to paddle against the tide here.

Writer Paul Di Filippo - he’s definitely trying. He’s not only working hard to make this a fun continuation of this much-loved series, but he’s even striving to please the fussier ABC superfans. Not only does he toss in some info this issue to square the book’s continuity away with Promethea’s, he even picks up Alan Moore’s allegorical drive, of the split between rival Prometheas echoing (and in many ways causing) the strife that courses through the current international climate. But just as Di Filippo’s humor is far broader than Moore’s, his sense of political comment is more blunt, if admittedly pretty humorous.

So we get to see poor Captain Traynor fired by the nasty Mayor of Neopolis (complete with awesome fringed jacket), who took office on a platform of tight security, and he won’t stand for underlings who won’t play the public placation game. Accordingly, he brings in Major Sean Cindercott, an apparently coal-powered war hero with a belching smokestack protruding from his right shoulder, a searing inferno where his heart should be, and medals dotting his faded metal chest. His first words are “This city is now on Strontium Alert!” and there’s plenty of references to voter mandates and international Freedom campaigns, in case anyone in the peanut gallery doesn’t get it. But you know, ‘Strontium Alert’ is pretty funny, and artist Jerry Ordway really sells the character’s ridiculous design, a literal tin soldier with a career authoritarian’s scrunched jowls. It’s good.

As is the rest of the issue, at least as much of it as I can puzzle out. Unfortunately, I only got 20 story pages, four of which were duplicates of earlier pages. In addition, four pages of ads in the back were duplicated, so I’m estimating that I actually lost a good six story pages out of an anticipated 22. Is the issue supposed to end abruptly on the page where Cindercott cancels everyone’s breaks? Whatever the answer is, I’m missing at least 1/5 of this issue somewhere, probably more, which is too bad because Di Filippo and Ordway are handily juggling the divergent plot threads and team-ups the title demands, taking us to a jellybean attack on a peaceful protest courtesy of the Derridadaists, a mysterious encounter with a gargantuan sea creature, a brief lecture on how robot narcotics have become laced with the virtual particles that bind the universe itself together, and another visit from Not Ranx. It’s feverishly imaginative stuff, not quite of the same tenor as that of the Moore/Ha/Cannon glory days, but a uniquely pleasing concoction all its own. Funny animals too - this team has a definite affinity for funny animals.

I hope not too many of these books are screwed up, because I’d like to tell you all to give this one a try. Two issues in and it’s already one of the better non-Moore ABC books. Maybe you should flip around before you purchase it? I know I’ll be thumbing through a copy on the stands to get the rest of this story.

*Tomorrow’s update: maybe a bit late. As in, after midnight, which would technically make it the day after tomorrow’s first update, to be followed by a second one, but why split hairs?


Goony goons.

*Say, I’ve got to get moving. I did manage to survive yesterday, which is a plus. But this is looking to be a mighty full weekend, so I’ll try and keep the updates coming, or at least updates that offer substantive content beyond what I had to eat that day.

The Goon #14

Ah look at that. Listing the Eisner wins right on the cover. That’s the spirit.

Well, troubling sales or not (and the sorry truth is that these days numbers in the upper reaches of 9000 are pretty good for a non-superhero book, even in the front of Previews), this at least remains a highly popular book among its cadre of readers, as well as various pros and industry folk. And Dark Horse is trying its best to promote it, releasing a special twenty-five cent issue of reprints and new stuff in October, as well as a deluxe autographed hardcover best-of compilation with bonus sketchbook devoted to the series’ ‘plot’ issues (as in the ongoing background plot) the same month.

Certainly creator Eric Powell isn’t one to sit around and coast - the path of The Goon has seen it pass through several stylistic changes and a whole array of story tones (broad comedy, pulp tragedy, soppy melodrama). Not all of it has been successful; I frankly think Powell’s recent taste for pressing his burnished, thickly rendered visual approach to the forefront (previously it was relegated to certain backgrounds and panels of atmosphere and import) has sapped energy from his style, coating his characters in amber. It feels a lot less direct. But you’ve got to give the guy credit for mixing things up, for using his personal book to pursue his particular muse in a multitude of fashions.

This issue sees another small evolution, though Powell only writes and draws the main story, a short 12-page thing called Nameless. It’s quite a major ‘plot’ issue, returning the focus to Buzzard, that endlessly aged gunfighter and Powell’s most effectively pained ‘serious’ character (at least as serious as anything can get in this book). Mostly, he has a flashback/hallucination, conveyed in a lovely, heavily crosshatched style, ink-washes all over the page, and an effectively minimal palette in force (the color scheme neatly carries over to the ‘real’ action, the heavy style of which now recalls its own use in earlier issues due mainly to its subordination in terms of space). Along the way, we finally get the secret origin of the zombie priest, and Buzzard exacts a certain type of revenge. It looks like this is leading into the next issue, and I’m very interested to see what pans out. Certainly as a visual exercise, this is one of Powell’s successes.

There’s a pair of one-page deals, a slice-of-life piece by Powell following the crackhead-pounding exploits of young Weitlauf, and a humorous ad for twine from Tony Shasteen. Powell amps up the humor in his script for El Hombre del Lagarto El Diablo de Pantano, with typically expressive art from Billy the Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities collaborator Kyle Hotz, raising the Spanish-speaking lizard supporting cast breakout to the level of myth. And veteran artist Neil Vokes, recently of Image’s The Black Forest, contributes some attractive cartooning to another Powell script, Under the Sink. It’s worth noting that Powell also provides the coloring for these latter two shorts, imbuing Hotz’s art with the same candied texture as was done in Billy, and giving Vokes’ work a glassy, almost simulated animation screen-capture feel. It’s odd, but effective for a 4-page short.

But really, visual mixing isn’t so odd for this book anymore. The anthology quality of this issue even offers a nice summary of Powell’s favored collaborators at the moment, kind of an index. It’s worth getting this issue if you’ve ever enjoyed Powell’s work, even if you’ve drifted off in enthusiasm over the last few months. I can’t call it a return to form, as the form remains in flux, but it’s among the stronger iterations of this title so far.



*Things I consumed today:

2 dry, toasted waffles (around noon)

Sheetz 6-inch cheesesteak hoagie and a cup of mac ’n cheese (around 8:00 PM)

Coffee, lots (continuously)

*Oh yes, I’ve still got work to do. I’m getting bloody hammered. Hammered into the ground. This is going to be a short one. I didn’t even read any of my comics yet. Oh boy, still more work ahead of me. Oh.

*Here’s a really nice appreciation of Guardian #4, from Marc Singer. It’s one of my favorite issues of the Seven Soldiers project too, and Marc has a lot of great insights.

*Ok, back into the thick of it! I’ll have stuff tomorrow.


Quieting down a little.

*I punted on this yesterday (must maintain the purity of my Howard Chaykin essays) but nothing can hold it back for long:


Full Moon Fever (you know the premise by now)

All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder #2 (if Miller's gonna laugh all the way to bank, might as well laugh along with him!)

Desolation Jones #3

You Ain't No Dancer #1 (new themed anthology, some good bits)

Time2, City of Tomorrow (Howard Chaykin, then and now)

My fix is in.

*It’s light, right? I’ve got little money, honey…


Strangehaven Vol. 3: Conspiracies: Wait a minute - did issue #18 come out yet? I don’t think so; writer/artist Gary Spencer Millidge’s site seems to indicate that this new trade (the first in half a decade for this delay-prone title), collecting issues #13-18, was to be released simultaneously with the pamphlet format issue #18. But only the trade is on Diamond’s list for this week. Very odd. Well, I guess those of us intent on getting all of the Strangehaven trades (and really, you should be getting Strangehaven in some form or another, although if you haven’t read it yet I don’t see why you’d want to bother with the pamphlets since you pretty much have to start at the beginning to get any sort of impact out of it - regardless, the book is really quite an excellent pastoral mystery thingy, loaded with eccentric villagers and strange magic and secret societies and murder and a very English atmosphere) will have a little bonus for a week or two. The trade will also sport an intro by Dave Gibbons.

Acme Novelty Library: Not issue #16, but Pantheon’s collection of issues #7 and #15, now pressed to the loving bosom of the Direct Market. I actually dreamt about this book last night; it wasn’t all I dreamt of, but it was sort of a comics-themed interlude in the middle of a larger dream. I was at Barnes and Noble, and there was a whole rack devoted to new comics hardcovers and paperbacks, and I was horrified to discover that Pantheon had released the book in digest size. But then I saw a different book titled The Best of Newspaper Comics 1900-1918 and I was pretty happy, even though it was the same size and shape as Fantagraphics' Dennis the Menace series (old comics need to be big!). That book may not really exist, but luckily this Acme thing should be in the same unwieldy gargantuan format as the issues it collects, just as nature intended.

God the Dyslexic doG #4 (of 4, technically): Well, here’s what seems to be the last pamphlet-format issue of this neat miniseries from writers Brian and Phillip Phillipson and Alex Nino, though it now seems that an issue #5 can be expected, though only in the upcoming trade collection of the series, which will also sport full color (the pamphlets were all b&w). So keep that info in mind.

Wolverine #32: A very odd issue, especially as a capper to writer Mark Millar’s reportedly slam-bang over-the-top action run on the title (haven't read it myself); written with aid from the late Will Eisner, the one-off script finds Logan trapped in a WWII Nazi death camp. Well, not really; it’s apparently more of a Wolverine-like character we see here, and the story proceeds as more of a vintage horror comic than a superhero book. Marvel seems to feel pretty strongly about this issue, enough so that they’re putting out two separate versions, one with artist Kaare Andrews’ work colored by the inimitable Jose Villarrubia, and one with the visuals left in ultra high-contrast b&w. Sure, in a way it’s just another sales-goosing variant, and arguably it represents a dipping of the toe into the most infernal waters of the ‘variant interior,’ but it looks kind of interesting nonetheless. Andrews’ art is well-suited to this line of presentation, and process junkies might get a kick out of a little compare/contrast.

Gødland #3: Yeah, this is a pretty nice book, a fun book. I like it. Not gonna set the industry aflame, but decent stuff. Not doing too hot in sales, though. Give it a look, maybe?

The Goon #14: Awwww, Jesus Christ. Even this thing isn’t clearing 10,000 copies anymore, and it won like every Eisner this year, even Best Reprint of Foreign Language Material, I think. Oh comics, do our awards mean nothing?!

Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #2 (of 5): On the other hand, I noticed that the new Alan Moore/Gene Ha The 49ers graphic novel launched in the Direct Market at what looks to me like pretty decent numbers, despite its $24.99 price tag. Nice. Anyway, this miniseries (from writer Paul DiFilippo and artist Jerry Ordway) is more antic than the Moore original, and lacking some of the polish and detail that Ha and Zander Cannon brought to the table, but it’s a pretty worthy follow-up series thus far, all things considered.

Seven Soldiers - Mister Miracle #1 (of 4): Get it while it’s hot - the only issue of this miniseries to feature interior art by Adam Strange’s Pasqual Ferry before his replacement by Billy Dallas Patton (reportedly over contract issues). DC’s solicitations keep using terms like ‘psychedelic’ and ‘hallucinatory’ to describe this book, so you’d better buckle up for some more advanced oddness than we’ve been seeing lately.


for now... for later… forever.

It’s my most personal work, my favorite work, and of course, nobody really responded to it.”

- Howard Chaykin, on Time2, in an interview from Comic Book Artist Vol. 2 No. 5, conducted by Jon B. Cooke.

It’s almost comforting to read something like that, to know that writer/artist Howard Chaykin was more than capable of experiencing audience indifference, even in 1986, a time perhaps just past the very height of his influence and power. Chaykin’s tenure as writer/artist on what will probably forever remain his signature book, American Flagg!, had apparently ended in 1985; it was time for the follow-up, the next grand project from the late First Comics, home of Flagg!, and solace can be taken in the fact that Time2 didn’t quite register, even at the time of its release.

Certainly today Chaykin’s presence in the comics world is less pronounced; granted, we’re currently enjoying a Direct Market where even popular, vocal, prolific name creators like Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis can barely crack 20,000 to 25,000 copies sold of books that don’t involve pre-established superhero franchise characters, but Chaykin’s similarly non-superhero, non-established City of Tomorrow! moved a scant 9,501 copies of its fourth issue, with little evident prospects as to a bump in circulation to follow. It wasn’t the lowest-selling non-kids book released in the month of July by a DC-owned entity (it did outsell The Intimates, for example), but such numbers can’t help but bring a fan’s spirits down.

Thus, it’s perhaps valuable to examine both of these works, the grand follow-up of days past and the recent output; both of them failed to connect in a large way with audiences, and both speak of where their creator stood at the time of each release. The earlier work in particular provides an interesting window into Chaykin’s peculiar imagination. A window with the glass smashed out, and the breeze blowing right in.


Time2 is a hugely self-indulgent work; that much needs to be disclosed immediately. Chaykin’s design instincts run wild throughout the project’s abridged length; it’s nipped and tucked to the very hilt, perfectly coiffed. In terms of its creator’s interests and obsessions, it’s practically a catalog, sci-fi rubbing against jazz up next to gangsters milling around supernatural forces connected to politics joined at the hip with religion and clad in the most styling fashions of the first half of the 20th century, with lights and pretty girls everywhere, and not a few dark secrets for the heroes to uncover beneath the shimmering surface of society.

And while many of these elements are present and accounted for in Flagg! itself, one at least gets the feeling that the focus was always on adventure and laughs in that one. I can’t quite say the same for Time2, which more often than not feels like an exercise in extended free-associative linkings of Chaykin’s internal iconography. Maybe that's why it didn't do all that well with readers. Proper plots do eventually emerge, more or less, but they are immediately submerged beneath the sheer import of existing in Chaykin’s universe, a pure pop surface cityscape that somehow feels achingly personal, if only through the way its creator lavishes his attention upon it.

Time2 also eschewed the monthly pamphlet format, for the most part, presenting itself as a series of ad-free oversized original graphic novels of 48 pages each; anybody who’s familiar with Marvel’s old graphic novel line will instinctively grasp the dimensions Chaykin had to work with. Not that he had many chances to work; as it stands, only three publications relating to Time2 were published - a pamphlet-format American Flagg! Special from 1986, Time2: The Epiphany (aka: First Graphic Novel Number Eight) from the same year, and 1987’s Time2: The Satisfaction of Black Mariah. None of these publications have ever been collected; you’ll just have to seek them out, and I’ll tell you up front that crazy Chaykin fans will definitely want to seek them out. I think Amazon’s used book sellers have a few of them, and they might show up on eBay occasionally. As the focus of these books seems to wax and wane with Chaykin’s own attention span, reacting to certain elements of his catalog of interest seemingly at will, it’ll be best to just examine each one of these things separately.

American Flagg! Special #1

A little ways above, I mentioned that Chaykin’s work on Flagg! as a writer/artist had ‘apparently’ ended in 1985 (specifically with Flagg! #26); I had to qualify that statement because this is technically Chaykin’s final issue-length Flagg! work as a writer and artist, although it’s really not a Flagg! book at all, but an example of that classic new series launch technique - have established, popular characters show up to ease the readers in. Thus, we have this pamphlet format slice of background-filling, even though the elements so carefully built up in this book will immediately retreat into the... well... background after the proper Time2 series begins.

Reuben Flagg is trying to relax and enjoy the Fourth of July, when a strange figure in a Santa Clause suit up and kidnaps that ever-witty talking cat Raul. A ransom note leads Flagg to a weird manhole, which dumps him into a wintertime urban sprawl, a place of seemingly permanent night, the world of Time2 (which, despite Blogger's and/or my own technical limitations as per webpage text presentation, is pronounced ‘Time Squared’ - I trust the obvious pun has not escaped any of you). I’d like to tell you what Flagg does next, but he doesn’t really do much of anything; basically he walks around with a bunch of characters and observes things, acclimating the reader with the new universe they and Flagg have tumbled down the rabbit (man)hole into. It’s common knowledge that Chaykin’s lead characters resemble their creator in many ways, physically, politically, etc; here, though Flagg acts as a pretty explicit reader surrogate, and why shouldn’t he? Time2 has its own Chaykin-image hero, who doesn’t even show up in this introductory tome; two, perhaps, would be too much.

Elsewhere in that interview I quoted above, Chaykin concedes that Time2 can get “difficult to read,” and though I suspect that Chaykin was referring to the design-heavy presentation of the later graphic novels, he might as well be talking about the sheer number of characters and concepts introduced in this slim introductory pamphlet. There’s no less than ten major characters introduced here, their influence crisscrossing the urban sprawl and likely mandating copious re-readings of the material. There’s Fabio DaSilva, the semi-senile patriarch of the eponymous organized crime family that runs the place, and also the host body for The Splendor, an immense (and immensely indistinct) magical force that maintains the clan’s dominance. There’s his relations, domineering Aunt Rose, her sleazy lawyer brother Miskeit, and her sons Azriel and Dani, who also happen to be the ones who catnapped Raul as a means of obtaining information on former jazz great Cosmo Jacobi, at the behest of Shalimar Hussy, Jacobi’s femme-fatale fiancée (and a typical Chaykin ‘evil blond’ character design). But Jacobi himself suspects the subterfuge, and has sent his men, Major Domo and Double Decker, to recruit Flagg, all of them staying one step ahead of Inspector MacHoot, a Celtic bog demon who’s also the city’s top crime fighter, at least when he’s not cutting deals on the side with the DaSilvas.

Needless to say, there’s hardly any room for Flagg himself to maneuver; the plot pretty much resolves itself with the elder DaSilva croaking (partially through the machinations of Ms. Hussy) and The Splendor inhabiting Aunt Rose, who immediately calls an end to the family’s trade in robot sex and orchestrates Flagg’s return to his own world. I haven’t mentioned the devoidoids (sex robots), have I? That’s ok, I didn’t mention the religious zombie (as in literally undead) shock troopers of the Final Salvation Army or the omnipresence of the R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) Corporation either, and they’re all present too. It’s really almost too much to take in, and Chaykin seems to realize it; often the book’s backgrounds are composed of nothing but free-floating signs and slogans, a mosaic of typography (much credit must go to regular Chaykin letterer Ken Bruzenak, who works on all of the Time2 material), leaving the characters stranded in a labyrinth of fun places to go. Use that as a metaphor for the act of reading this thing, and maybe you’ve got something. It’s worth noting that Flagg seems just as confused leaving the city as he did entering it.

Like I mentioned before, so much of this stuff is sheer background, perhaps because Chaykin never really got much of a chance to expand on all the ideas he fired out. We’ll never hear more about The Splendor, the Final Salvation Army will pretty much vanish, and a lot of the most vital plot information will simply be reiterated in the first proper graphic novel. But in a ‘casting down the gauntlet’ sense, kicking his Flagg! readership into a new universe head-first, there’s something to be said for this convoluted little prologue. The fact that it simultaneously acts as the end of an era for the popular Flagg! and the beginning of the troubled road for the next new thing - well, for fans, maybe the history of it all is too much to resist.

Time2: The Epiphany (First Graphic Novel Number Eight)

This one, the first ‘real’ Time2 story, released shortly after the Flagg! Special, is subtitled ‘a fairy tale of the under city.’ Calling it a ‘fairy tale’ sort of implies that there’ll be a moral, and there’s not much of one on display here. But I will call this book a minor masterpiece of pure design, unfettered world-building, and careening, conversation-happy pacing. You know you’re in for a visual treat from the title page, mixing the typical corporate credits and legal indicia into something of a jukebox design, though the song selections are actually channels of a radio being cycled through rapidly, the final selection segueing directly into the beginning of the story itself.

And if the American Flagg! Special was somewhat stuffed with information, this book is forty-eight pages of sheer glorious overload, yet so carefully mounted and executed that you'll hardly feel lost, mixed narrations cascading across the page in color-coded captions, sound effects carefully positioned for maximum visual impact, and panels constantly breaking down into smaller boxes to slow crucial movements. The passing of off-screen characters is signified by thick horizontal waves of white word balloons, a jazz saxophonist causes tight, jagged cuts of white notes to issue from his horn, and newscrawls snake their way through the still logo-tight backgrounds. The narrative never settles on one subject for too long; we’re constantly whisked across town, from scene to scene, locale to locale, new characters, some unnamed and minor, some crucial, constantly providing new story info, sometimes indirectly.

The plot, as best as it can be summarized, centers on the aforementioned Cosmo Jacobi, who has apparently committed suicide whilst intestate, leaving Ms. Hussy the secret shares of R.U.R. stock that she learned about back in the Flagg! Special. We blast our way through the clubs and boardrooms and penthouses of Time2, getting introduced to Mr. Kung, a mysterious executive of R.U.R., and crusading reporter Pansy Matthias, and finally our typical Chaykinesque hero-type, Maxim Glory, who loved Pansy but years ago disappeared to a place called Sanctuary with a woman named Felicia to escape the DaSilva clan, and is only returning years later as executor of Jacobi’s estate, armed with a secret will, which naturally puts Ms. Hussy’s plans in jeopardy. He’s a changed man, but don’t get too excited - we’ll never find out what any of it all means, or who Felicia was, or where Glory went to. Just take it as a boilerplate heroic origin, and it’ll do. Another sign in the background. You don't need all the answers.

But a mere plot description doesn’t at all do justice to the immense feeling that you get from this book. Maybe it’s Steve Oliff’s rich, painterly colors, or Chaykin’s adamant refusal to slow the hell down for two seconds, but this is a uniquely immersive experience, with tons of little details to ponder. For instance, how does the obviously Jewish DaSilva clan relate to the oddly militaristic theocratic atmosphere that permiates the streets? Is The Splendor really the power of the old traditions, the old cultures, the immigrant ways, coursing through a command of the city, the streets? There’s a lot of street traffic in here, like a crazed devoidoid-hating screwdriver slasher, star of his own little subplot involving a pungent anti-robot talk radio personality and a shape-shifting demon hired by the DaSilvas at the request of the Robo-Zomboid B’nai Brith, which appears once and is never mentioned again. This particular melodrama eventually crashes into the main plotline as Glory faces off with a spurned suitor of Ms. Hussy’s, desperate to prove himself a man. And what about the wordplay? Deja-Voodoo. Reincarnimation. A newspaper called the Post Modern (*groan*). All pieces of a puzzle.

And all of it relates to something, to Chaykin. It’s his internal bibliography - you can tell. Ripped from his mind and splashed across the page in as attractive a fashion as he can, this book resounds with nothing more potent than the joy of a creator who knows that he’s now in a successful enough position that he can do damn near anything he wants. And he does. Had Chaykin’s visual acumen not been so engorged, this could have been an intolerable work. As it is, it’s a gently dizzy, but eminently coherent statement of interest, if not purpose. It tells a story, or at least the beginning of one, but it’s about more than storytelling.

This might be why this book should only be recommended to experienced Chaykin fans (beyond the fact that it’s long out-of-print and you’ll have to do some hunting for it): it’s too thick. You’ve got to know the creator before you can dig this material. And even then, there’s more layers. Chaykin spoke in that same above interview about how the work was intended as “a magic realist-fantasy fiction version of my life.” Aunt Rose is apparently based on his mother, and Azriel and Dani on his brothers, whom he was estranged from for a while. And while I didn’t catch any revelations in the work itself as to Max Glory being a blood relation to the DaSilvas, well, wouldn’t it make sense? It’s just another line of typography prancing amidst the billboards and neon of the square.

Time2: The Satisfaction of Black Mariah

The second, and ultimately final Time2 book, released the following year, 1987. It’s subtitled ‘A charm to soothe the savage beast,’ and this one’s a bit more apt. It’s a ‘charm,’ certainly, a bit of oddness and whimsy, and less substantial than its immediate predecessor. It does manage to be far more direct, which is perhaps the problem. There’s less a sense of getting lost in Chaykin’s city of personality, a lack of absorption. It’s still beautifully presented, a bravura jazz sequence in particular showing off Chaykin’s page layout chops, but there’s just less to do in town this time.

Basically, the DaSilva brothers get into trouble when a demonic prostitute of theirs infects her john with evil power. Inspector MacHoot, no stranger to demonic power himself, winds up getting bathed in infernal pus, which puts him into a deep slumber. Shortly thereafter, a mystery devoidoid begins terrorizing the city, sexing citizens unto the threshold of death. Glory is quickly on the case, which leads him to the dirty secret of the R.U.R. Corporation: a Very Important Lever called the Oversoul, that controls the desires of all robots - Glory intends to use it to trigger an all-robot sex event called the Mass Conk, in a desperate bid to satisfy the mystery devoidoid, Black Mariah. However, such an implicit admission of the lack of robot free will shall doubtlessly set back the interests of those who demand devoidoid suffrage. And despite all of this high-minded talk of individual freedom and ghosts in the machine, the resolution (and the connection to Inspector MacHoot) proves to be remarkably silly, even in the context of this particular universe. But hey, it does lead into a last-second oral sex sequence, another mandatory Chaykin interest slipped in under the wire.

It’s at this point where you have to wonder where the future might have taken this material. Even at its somewhat constricted scope, this book expands nicely on ideas fronted in the prior volume. I wonder if this one was meant as something of a lighter tome, a breather on the way to the next big dip into the fantastic urban ocean. It’s not as kaleidoscopic a work, but maybe, if planned as a lengthy series of graphic novels, certain zones of rest would be necessary to maintain the flow of the total experience. I don’t know. Whatever the intent, this was the final Time2 book, with much left unresolved.

And perhaps now it can never be resolved. As Chaykin has said in regards to continuing the work, “I’m a different person, and that was the way I felt at the time.” Very true. Indeed, that’s the real appeal of Time2; not its story as much as its state of being. Rarely in comics has a creator’s secret library of influences been projected so thoroughly to his readership, under the auspices of a mainstream comics series. One can believe that Chaykin wanted everything for this series, he wanted all of himself to go into it, tiny imprints of DNA on each and every disparate entertainment element. And it can stand today as a living record of the person who let it all loose.

City of Tomorrow! #1-6 (of 6)

But who is Chaykin today? He once referred to Time2 as “the underworld of the city of tomorrow as visualized in the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair.” And look at that - his latest, just recently completed work is even titled City of Tomorrow! It also deals with the sex trade among robots, and gangsters in period style, and a Chaykinesque hero returning from a world far away to a specific, garish place from his past. The surface similarities are really quite striking (granted, there’s also similarities to other past Chaykin works, Flagg! foremost among them).

But City of Tomorrow! cannot afford to be as fevered and pinball-rolling in its vision; this is no lavish graphic novel series from a man fresh off a major hit, it’s a built-for-thrills Wildstorm miniseries, serving up action and politics in an eminently straightforward manner. Which isn’t to say there aren’t pleasures; while restrained in design flourish (even compared to the series’ immediate predecessor, Chaykin’s sly, gorgeously-composed, largely underappreciated satiric revamp of that old DCU property, Challengers of the Unknown) there’s still some great visuals, like a gorgeously stylized suicide bombing at the top of issue #1. That first issue in general might temporarily fool the reader into expecting a little bit more, with its time-jumping display of hero Tucker Foyle’s boyhood-as-television-advertisement past contrasted with his ludicrously macho present-day adventures as a cynically content tool of corrupt government interests. But when he’s betrayed by his military masters in the process of planting WMDs in A Certain Desert Nation, he returns home to his Walt Disney-as-mad-scientist father’s robot-loaded closed-off perfect American community, which has unfortunately experienced a nasty virus, freeing the automaton workforce from the boundaries of morality. Gangs and drugs and sex now control the streets, and Tucker’s quest becomes unfortunately one-track.

The most entertaining moments of this series after that slam-bang introduction all come courtesy of Chaykin’s typically rueful glimpses at current politics; naturally, the White House has taken a special interest in that titular city. The rest of it is pretty by-the-numbers, which Tucker falling for a sassy robot chick and discovering that maybe robot morality is kind of overrated. He runs afoul of gangs (amusingly, many of their goons are humans lured in via the robot sex trade), and many a shot is fired. Even the seemingly arbitrary final issue semi-twist sort of makes sense: go back to issue #1, and note how all of Tucker’s happy childhood memories are presented as advertisements - now think about what exactly is being sold, if only implicitly. The only serious downside (and its not too serious) is Chaykin’s decision to leave some half-hearted room open for a sequel, which probably isn’t going to happen with these sales numbers.

But other than that, it’s a perfectly serviceable action thing, good-looking and reasonably witty, if a bit familiar. It suffers most seriously only when it’s compared directly to the earlier works it evokes. As I mentioned earlier, the time was no longer ripe for something like Time2 to reappear, but you can’t help but look at the depth and sweep of that earlier series, and see City of Tomorrow! as evidence of constraint. Chaykin’s is a bibliography that overflows with personality; it’s impossible to mistake his art for anyone else’s, and his strata of interests is highly individual, and highly specialized. Most of his works reveal pieces of him.

But it takes a sprawling, ill-fated thing like Time2 to turn the puzzle box upside-down, scattering all of the pieces everywhere. And putting them together is almost beside the point. It's enough to gaze into the jumbled mess, and find your own pictures forming in the back of your head.


Hey! It's before eleven at night!

*Easy Win Dept: So let’s say that you live in a small, rural area, or just somewhere too far from and not enough connected to the East Coast news trade to receive your hot little copy of Chris Ware’s hot little strip in every Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. What’s a fan to do? Luckily, the Times has anticipated the cries of comics fandom, and has elected to post the whole shebang to their site, including Ware’s initial piece, out today. It’s very much an introduction, though handsome and thoughtfully constructed, as always. Also available, a too-cute-by-half audio thing that mercifully transforms into something interesting once it segues into an interview with Ware himself. Note that you might have to go through the Times' free registration process to access this stuff.

*Also on the current newsstands, according to The Comics Journal Message Board, is a full-scope consideration of Cerebus in the new issue of The Believer. I’ll have to flip through that.

*DC Solicitations, eh?

- Tom Strong ends with issue #36, and the return of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse. The story will provide Tom’s point of view as to the events of Promethea #31, and explore the greater ABC universe following the conclusion of everything. In all likelihood, this will serve as Moore’s farewell to the formal ABC cast of characters. You want this. The same month sees a second Tomorrow Stories Special, also with material by Moore.

- Ahhh, a low-priced (under fifteen bucks) collection of Eisner’s The Spirit - always good news.

- Neil Gaiman writes a comics story for a change, handling one of the shorts in Teddy Kristiansen’s issue of Solo, #7. Also featuring Kristiansen’s It’s a Bird collaborator, Steven T. Seagle.

- JLA Classified: Cold Steel - Because apparently Marvel Mega Morphs warranted a response. This is a toy line too, right?

- For those just itching for a peek behind the Oz-like curtain of All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder, Frank Miller is throwing his entire script for issue #1 into a special edition re-release of that maiden voyage, with Jim Lee’s complete, uncolored pencil art (with lettering) included too. Actually, this’ll probably be sort of neat.

But Dark Horse has a real goodie: Mamuro Oshii’s original prose novel, Blood: The Last Vampire. Oshii is one of the bigger ‘name’ anime directors, having helmed the Ghost in the Shell features among other things, along with some interesting live-action projects. Blood was a multimedia extravaganza, basically an attempt to launch a ready-made franchise. A bunch of video games came out of it, a decently trashy manga by Benkyo Tamaoki, and an entirely vapid (if terribly pretty) short anime film, not directed by Oshii. It’ll be really interesting to see where Oshii’s prose takes the material; will there be chapter-length descriptions of basset hounds? Dare I dream?!

Also, Concrete: Fragile Creature is back in print, now with additional short stories, courtesy of Dark Horse’s integrated timeline approach to reprinting all of Concrete. This is one of my favorite Concrete stories, a meandering thing about movies and creativity. Apparently it’s now in b&w? The original had a slightly awkward, minimal color scheme, that sort of added to the atmosphere…

Oh, and Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness is on tap from Oni, in case you weren’t aware. And over at IDW, the T.P. Louise/Ashley Wood series Lore is returning, apparently in comics format, instead of the illustrated serial prose novel style of the last two issues. It seems Wood is still pounding away on those Metal Gear Solid comics, however.

You Ain’t No Dancer #1

Ah, the ‘themed’ anthology: always a chance for added cohesion and individual spins on a secure topic, yet always a chance for monotony and irritating repetition. I’d put this book a little closer to the former than the latter; actually, I hadn’t really figured out that there was a formal theme for the book until I checked its official website - nothing of the sort is listed in the book itself. But apparently ‘the worst of times’ was the submission requirement in effect.

Formed by Ed Brisson of New Reliable Press, You Ain’t No Dancer is an ambitious publication, an ongoing series of landscape-format softcovers built to spotlight new and established cartoonists. It’s relatively thick (96 pages) and quite inexpensive (only $5.95). And the established cartoonists it manages to attract come highly recommended: we’ve got a cover by Dave Cooper, and stories by Jeffery Brown, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Hope Larson, and Jim Mahfood. So I expect that there will be some material in it for a lot of readers to enjoy, though I have to say that the book as a whole seems strangely insubstantial, particularly given its stated theme.

There’s a good deal of autobiography (or apparent autobiography) here, which is perhaps to be expected; looking to ‘the worst of times’ naturally suggests examining the worst times in one’s own life, after all. All of the expected variations pop up: teenage ennui, romantic complication, moving to far away places, and general ruminations on family. Some of these stories, like K. Thor Jensen’s, exhibit a certain level of visual ambition, long strips of simplified action crossing over larger tableaux of buildings and bodies. Others manage to succeed through sheer command of iconography, like Nick Sheehan’s expressive, symbol-laden tale of summertime woe. But even the best of these seem to lack the punch of the less direct pieces.

And it’s not a case of ‘seriousness’ either; probably my favorite work in the book comes from Nicholas Gurewitch of that mighty online force, The Perry Bible Fellowship. It’s just a one-page gag strip, though like the best of the PBF strips it carries a nasty payload along with its joke, with people literally drowning in a cuckolded fellow’s tears. Flooding becomes a recurring image throughout the book (strange, as I don’t believe the deadlines afforded contributors time to comment on current events), and perversely marks most of the book’s best pieces. Larson offers a strange, enigmatic piece about a woman digging through wreckage and finding a corpse, then returning it to the earth in a seemingly ad hoc yet utterly fitting fashion. It’s haunting, and it feels more personal than any of the ‘straight’ autobiographical shorts. Lilli Carre also offers a decent bit of formal play, with a boy (occupying one tier of panels) tiredly communicating with his senile mother (residing in the tier directly below), unaware of what’s truly going on; more than one gulf is separating them, you see.

The rest of the book isn’t quite as effective, though there’s some other fun to be had, mostly through the straight humor contributions. Brown’s story, that of a man ordered by God to verbally insult a pack of wild beasts, at least makes for some amusing dialogue (“I have never seen animals as stupid as you! You and your stupid furry heads!”). Jen Wang’s character designs alone are entertaining enough to carry her piece. O’Malley's contribution (apparently teamed with Larson, though the book’s list of contributors omits this information) follows a cute kitty who does nothing but eat, sleep and crap all day.

The rest of it, while registering, seems to flow on by me. There’s personal disasters and imagined personal disasters and a lot of metaphors and the like. It can all come across as somewhat nondescript at times, though nothing in the book stands out as being particularly inept. That’s a hazard of working with a lot of young talents though, and at least the folks behind the book are canny enough to keep the price low, allowing for the uncertain reader to grant a bit more leeway than they otherwise might when confronted with this material. It’s a decent entry-level anthology, good for checking out some talents you might not have heard of. Let’s hope that in a couple years we can flip back through these pages and rediscover what such-and-such a popular talent was doing back than.

(and if you want to submit something for issue #2, topic: ‘youth,’ here's the guidelines - deadline is Oct. 1)