Wolverine and Gary Panter: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

But first a glimpse into the non-comics world:

*My dear Mother sent me some comics the other day, as part of a package with other stuff I had building up at her home. She had run across a fifty-cent bargain box at a mall set-up and dug some stuff out for me. I got a 1997 Chuck Dixon issue of “Robin” in which the Boy Wonder fights the Toyman, and the recent “Batman: The 12 Cent Adventure” which isn’t really a whole adventure but the prelude to a really long adventure that will cost a lot more than twelve cents. So yes, I now own a segment of “War Games” which is almost exactly like owning a piece of the Berlin Wall so I‘m very excited.

But she obviously cared a lot just to send me comics, and I should not tease. I phoned my Mom to thank her for her gift and we had a very interesting conversation:

Thanks for those comics Mom.

Oh, did you like them? There weren’t a lot to choose from. Have you ever heard of “Thor?”

Yes, yes I have.

There were a lot of those… I don’t know why. There was also a “Swamp Thing” and I picked it up, but I saw there were ‘mature themes’ in it so I put it back down.


Yeah. I mean, Swamp Thing is a big swamp monster. Who wants to hear mature themes out of some swamp monster?

Another dispatch from the non-fan aboveground!

*And speaking of the Thing of Swamp, be sure you don’t miss Mike Sterling’s review of the new dvd collection of episodes from the 1990 “Swamp Thing” cartoon! I’m tempted to pick up a copy to keep my “Toxic Crusaders” disc company…

*Get in on the ground floor for The Hulk Musical!!!

*The Comics Journal message board has some stuff on an interesting LA Times article that ran today. It’s interesting mainly for updates on what several great folks are up to. Tony Millionaire has a new children’s book “That Darn Yarn” coming soon, apparently featuring Sock Monkey. And Ron Rege Jr. is doing a Tylenol ad campaign?!

*Enough puttering and linkery!

Astonishing X-Men #1-4

You may have heard of this title. I got to the party late because I never quite finished reading Grant Morrison’s run on “New X-Men” and I wasn’t very eager to start a new X-Series. Then I started to get mildly interested (Dirk said it “reads like good escapist television”) and I found I couldn’t track down all the issues. Everyone seemed to have only issue #4. On a trip to my parents’ home I tracked down issue #1: the 'Director’s Cut'. I must have missed Terry Gilliam adding the character designs and alternate cover images to the director’s cut of “Brazil”. And who directed the comic anyway? I guess Joss Whedon has directed things in the past so what they really mean is that a director is working on the comic, which means every issue could technically be a director’s cut. Hey! Maybe Marvel could re-release every issue! On the other hand, I was actually able to find issue #1 due to its reprinting. Issues #2-3 proved to be tougher, but I finally snagged some copies at the sixth store I checked over the course of two weeks. I felt like I’d gathered all of the Infinity Gems, only my reward was reading about Cyclops rather than unlimited power.

There’s a peculiar whiff of hyper-sensitivity surrounding the series’ use of classic X-Tropes. Scott and Logan fighting? Hank eventually makes reference to how “the kids love that.” Time to re-instate the spandex? Plenty of meta-bitching from Logan. Popular character back from the grave? Mere panels later: “God, please… am I finally dead?” It’s like there’s some insecurity surrounding the use of clichés, so there must be a wink to justify the indulgence, a Diet Coke ordered after the Big Mac Value Meal of Wolverine acting all hot-headed with his teammates (“Are you gonna fight everyone, Logan? I just wanna know if I’m next,” snarks Kitty, drinking from the plastic cup). But it’s to Whedon’s credit that such things remain quibbles, and that the pop-culture references are kept at a hush, and that the bons mots feel like they’re coming from witty characters, not just a witty writer.

It’s a good thing that Whedon’s got a good grip on those characters, since the story isn’t brain-blasting material. The current lead villain, Ord, is kind of a snooze. There’s a ‘cure’ to mutation lurking about, a plot thread “X-Statix” toyed around with just last March, if I‘m not mistaken (and since I had already dropped the book by then, I may indeed be mistaken). And what hints we’ve gotten regarding the larger background plot make the whole thing sound pretty time-tested, though there’s potential for good fun, and the possibility that everything might go in a different direction.

But unlike some other books, “Astonishing X-Men” lets you have a good time just going in whatever direction it does. The cast feels natural in their interactions; you really get the sense of old friends hanging around, a big plus for a core X-Book loaded up with popular faces. John Cassaday of “Planetary” and “I Am Legion” does nice work with the visuals, making each character feel tactile and weighted. I loved the rounded aging babyface look he gives Scott. I even liked Cyclops’ scuba-gear bodysuit, though the other costumes fail to register.

It’s a nice book filled with nice stuff like nice drawings and nice characters and familiarity, but of a reasonably nice sort.

Jimbo: Adventures in Paradise

This is not the new Gary Panter book, “Jimbo in Purgatory”. This is an old Gary Panter book, published by Raw/Pantheon in 1988, collecting comics dating back to the late 70’s. The book is also long out of print, but I scored a used copy of the paperback version really cheap, and I urge you to do the same, because there’s some really great stuff here.

There’s basically two parts to the book. The first part, consisting of newer work, follows Jimbo, a futuristic punkish everyman, as he wanders around the World of Tomorrow. He visits an upper-class neighborhood and fights strange mutant gangs and orders hamburgers from psychic robots. It’s a rambling, stream-of -consciousness story, excellently conveyed through Panter’s ever-shifting art. Sometimes it’s loose, even sloppy. But then you notice that while Jimbo himself may look sloppy, the background characters are a sharper, more defined sloppy. There’s very carefully graduated levels of ‘sloppy’ on display here. And then you see how sharp, how tight some of the backgrounds are. And then you get to some lovely, geometrically exact skyscrapers, and some excellent Kirby-style robots. And I was amazed at how well all of these forms cohere on the page. And then Jimbo goes to a club, and we get the absolute best drug-use sequence I’ve ever seen in a comic. Layers upon layers of bodies and abstract shapes and scribbles, displaced word-balloons and intentionally unreadable dialogue, and small cuts of pure white space dashed across the pages (which are colored a dull green/gray) to indicate those untouchable moments of clarity. And the story continues and the scene grows somewhat clearer with time, but the residue of the trip hangs around for the rest of the segment, which also involves a chase scene with a giant scary robot. It’s a bravura sequence, and it instantly sold me on the rest of the volume.

The second part of the book is composed of short 1-4 page strips (originally doled out in magazines in semi-monthly installments from the looks of the dates) which begin as random gag pieces but later cohere into something of an off-the-cuff pulp sci-fi epic, with giant nuclear terrorist cockroaches kidnapping Jimbo’s new lady-friend. Almost every new strip is composed in a different style, including ultra-loose sketches pasted atop photo backgrounds, detailed cross-hatchings, and even a heavy shadow action page that looks remarkably like Frank Miller’s “Sin City” but over a decade early. Even moreso than the previous part of the book, Panter cannot sit still with the story, which changes direction with whiplash speed. The visual presentation is given prominence, and I’m certain that some readers will find the non-stop optical shifting to be unbearably noodly, at least as presented back-to-back-to-back. But there’s a power to the drive of the story. It all concludes in a jaw-dropping sequence involving a burning horse, with specks of bright orange paint flicked across the b&w pages to indicate the burning, while the narration gives us a parable about empathy and the unbearable confusion of humans doing good. It’s crushingly powerful stuff.

I’m gushing, I know. Hey, the book’s long off the shelves. I’m in convincing mode now. A varsity Internet swimmer like yourself can probably find this for under its 1988 cover price of $12.95. The good folk should keep an eye out.