Happy feast of summer's end!

*For some reason, all of the neighborhood children celebrated Halloween last Thursday. No idea why. I understand that tonight’s a school night, but why not last night or Friday? Was there a big sporting event that pre-empted Halloween? Was Thursday the day all the local schools decided to acknowledge the holiday’s existence, and thus went the attentions of parents?

But it’s certainly Halloween here at Jog the Blog World Headquarters, because I’m being haunted… by the yowling spirits of books that I dropped! Yes, I visited the local bargain bin (expanded by a special holiday sale) and found a whole lot of quasi-awesome shit, particularly series that I’d dumped back during their original release; now that everything’s a buck, my awful collector’s impulses can easily commandeer my body and make me hand out plenty of one dollar bills for things that won‘t entirely satisfy me. And that‘s really what comics are all about.

Like “Tokyo Storm Warning”! You remember that one, right? Warren Ellis trying to do these three-issue ’pop comics’ miniseries? This was the anime homage, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” providing the most specific influence. I dumped it after one issue since I was getting really tight on cash back then and the book didn’t seem to be doing anything original. But now that I can buy the rest of it for only two dollars I can declare with confidence: the book doesn’t do anything particularly original. What? Fantasies about giant monsters and robots wrecking cities might seem delightful and entertaining but there really a core of violence and cruelty at the center of the amusement? YOU DON’T SAY!?! But you see, now I can declare this with certainty! That’s a lot better than a stale Snickers bar in my basket!

And how about “The Clock Maker”? I’m sure you recall this one: it’s the projected 12-issue Image miniseries that folded outward to create a magazine-sized comic. Which had 12 pages per issue. And many of those pages sported big space-filling panels of clock gears; at $2.50 per issue, this got old kind of quick. The plot, by Jim Krueger, involved the daughter of the recently-murdered keeper of a secret clockworks underneath Switzerland which apparently controls the Earth’s rotations. She’s naturally a reluctant new clock-keeper. We wander around the Guy Davis-designed environs, guided by the hands of no less than four different artists, but sinister plans are afoot! That’s as far as the plot went by the end of issue #2, when I dumped it. But how can I resist getting the rest of the story this far for only $3? That’s including issues #3-4 and the newly reformatted “The Clock Maker: Act II” which dropped the oversized format, shrunk down the art for issues #5-8 (which is still only 48 pages) and released it all as an omnibus book. With a new penciler. And I’d say the resulting story is more or less worth $3, although I haven’t quite read it all just yet.

And more! I got issue #21 of “Rare Bit Fiends”, the final issue (I think) and the only one never to have been collected in trade form. It’s technically the first part of the new “Subtleman” arc, but the story serves as a lovely coda to the series, with a giant dreaming Rick Veitch hugging the Earth from outer-space as the closing image. I’ve also heard a lot of people talking about Robert Kirkman’s “Brit” so I got that too. Because again, it was only $1.

So happy Halloween, and I hope that the spirits that haunt your soul are just as benevolent as the spirits of Warren Ellis miniseries. Instead of, like, the tormented phantoms of murdered infants dripping gore and bile onto your bedclothes while a thousand demons storm from the maw of Hell to flay the muscle from your bones. That’s worse.


Speaking about one's self.

*I was directed to this fine website with promises of laffs; I was not let down. It’s the official homepage of “The Perry Bible Fellowship” by Nick Gurewitch, a weekly strip that’s appearing in several fine papers around our nation. Just click on the charming fellow wearing the birthday hat to reach the archives. This is just the sort of absurd depression humor that I adore, some of it so cruel and merciless that I chortle aloud. The style changes from strip to strip, from detailed and colorful to simple and cute. Best taken in small doses, yes, but definitely worth a look.

Babel Vol. 1

There are many familiar criticisms floating around our comics world in regards to autobiographical comics; ‘naval gazing’ is a typical term, ‘egotistical’ is another. All of us can recall more than one instance of some blinkered reader huffing that non-corporate comics are all a bunch of deadening screeds scribbled out by lazy twenty-somethings bitching about how their life is unfulfilling (yet strangely whimsical). As a blanket definition of the entirety of independent comics that’s nonsense, of course. But there’s a greater problem, I think. It’s not that, when applied to selected works, these criticisms are invalid on their face. Lord knows I’ve read a few dull, self-absorbed examples of the style. But by only characterizing the ‘autobiographical comic’ as a straightforward narrative offering a ground-level view of instances from a person’s life, there’s a certain denial of the potential that the autobiographical comic has. What is a dream comic but autobiography? Not the flickers of autobiography that saturate most fiction, but a story about the self, told by the self? The dream-life is as much a life as the waking-life. Rick Veitch just released “Crypto Zoo” last Wednesday, the third collection of his best work, his dream comics, “Rare Bit Fiends”. These are surely autobiographical strips. And yet, there is still the possibility of different forms. A dream survey and how it relates to the waking life, as individual perception and the forces of history shape the development of the childhood self into the Adult.

That’s how I can best begin to describe French cartoonist David B.’s latest US release “Babel Vol. 1”, a 32-page magazine-sized floppy from Drawn and Quarterly, a dust-jacket hugging its soft covers. Honestly I may be totally off, since I’m unsure as to how much of the story has been fictionalized; perhaps David B. (the B. stands for Beauchard) is only plucking scenes from his own life and utilizing traditional autobiographical comics techniques (the narrator directly addressing the reader, for example) to give a fictionalized narrative a greater sense of authenticity. But at the absolute least, reading the comic made me sensitive again to how much the autobiographical form can accomplish. Oh, and the book is really expensive. Ten bucks. It’s worth ten bucks, and I hope the rest of this little review will convince you to give the book a flip-through, at the very least.

I’ve not even read David B.’s most prominent book, at least to US readers, the two-volume “Epileptic”, half of which was released by Fantagraphics in 2002. The second half was never released in the US as a stand-alone volume; Pantheon will be releasing a new collection of the entire story in early 2005. I do know a little about “Epileptic”, and the plot of “Babel” seems to touch upon many of the same concerns. The story concerns a child, Pierre Francois, who lives with his siblings in the late 1960’s (as the author did). His older brother suddenly begins to experience epileptic seizures (as the author’s brother did), which greatly affects the household. But in the meantime, before and after this shattering event, Pierre Francois experiences wonderful and terrible dreams of immense primitive beasts, prehistoric fish that answer to the call of the King of the World, a muscular man-god whose face is an ever-changing mass of symbols, topped by a cat’s ears. And in his dreams, Pierre Francois can remember his family reading about the King, and he can see his ancestors living a parallel life on the ceiling, also discussing the King. It becomes clear to Pierre Francois that the King represents Power, and that there is no more Power in his house because his brother’s malady has baffled doctors and defied drugs and totally undermined the security offered by his parents. And even as these events play out, the world itself experiences seizures, as France (among other western nations) become involved in the War in Biafra in 1968.

There’s been a lot said online about how much “Persepolis” author Marjane Satrapi’s art style resembles David B.’s. I’ll concede that there’s some surface similarities in figure drawing, and a mutual tendency between the two toward the use of symbols to provide quick visual metaphor. But Satrapi uses these techniques in the service of a very straightforward narrative, often loaded down with text captions and thick clouds of dialogue, always made secondary to a realist view of her experiences. David B., at least in this work, puts far more stock in his use of icons, and allows his story to blend dream and realism at will, Pierre Francois’s adult narrator persona sometimes looming over his childhood self, accompanied by recurring images from his childhood fantasies. Images recur: an adult running through a doorway with a child in his arms, the grinning faces of pre-history fish. David B.’s skill at crafting simple, haunting visions of ancient beasties, seemingly pulled off of a scroll, or a cave wall, is formidable. But he’s truly gifted at providing single-piece visuals that tell a story all their own. Doctors poke around in front of a giant vision of the sick brother’s blank face, their own curious faces providing the brother’s features. The War in Biafra is depicted mainly in full-page splashes, loaded with iconic images of bombs and jungle leaves and soldiers; when pulled away from the reader’s face, the layout of many of these pages form skulls or grimacing faces, made up of the accoutrements and harvests of combat. It’s exciting art, filled with intellectual vigor and an energy that seems tapped from ancient sources, like the Power of Pierre Francois’ dreams.

The Tower of Babel was the place where all language was mixed as humankind failed to match their achievements to the power of God, as the story goes. “Babel” is also about language and power. The language of dreams and memory, of the relation between personal strife and global strife, and what those things tell us, and of the educational value of the icon. The power of the unknown, both in fear and hope, the unknown disease usurping the household and the search for the unknown source of strength. David B. is impressive in his command of the language of comics, and he wields a power of his own, the power to examine the known and the unknown aspects of his interior and exterior lives, and tell us something about our own dreams, our own security.

Even if he isn’t totally talking about himself.

Isn’t that something?


Comics and games are a lovely pair.

*I know what you want! Another means of devouring all of your free time! I’m the same way; that’s why I’m playing this neato freeware game, “God of Thunder”, which was created by a Mr. Ron Davis in 1993. It’s a bit like the classic NES puzzler “The Adventures of Lolo” in which you have to push blocks around to black enemy fire and get needed objects, but this is a good deal easier and a lot more action-oriented. It’s also pretty big, with three large worlds to explore. And it’s free! There’s even a free hintbook included on the same page. It’s built for DOS, but I’m having no problems under Windows XP. I like it.

*And while we’re talking games, I also found a video for an upcoming release for the shiny new Nintendo DS, a next-generation handheld system that’s coming out at the end of November. What sort of magnificent adventures can you await on this awesome new platform? How about… puppies! Yes, the game is hopefully called “Puppy Times”, although it may get whomped with the much clunkier title “Nintendogs”. Yuck. The gameplay consists of, well, playing with puppies via the touch-screen capabilities of the DS. You can pet the puppies and play catch and watch them bark and everything! And wow does it look good. Totally pointless, but damn cute. I can’t imagine paying $30 for a puppy simulator, but as a graphics demo - yikes.

*The Comics Journal message board offered up this little tidbit; Fantagraphics is re-tooling their "Blood Orange" anthology for 2005. The four issues anticipated for that year will now include mainly 'alternative' style Japanese and European artists, some of them doing continuing serials. I wasn’t impressed with the most recent “Blood Orange”, but this may prove to be just the thing the book needs; I’m certainly all for added US exposure for some of the more experimental Manga talents, and I’m looking forward to new European creators. Keep in mind, Fanta will also be debuting a new anthology with a fixed line-up of more familiar creators that same year.

Planetary #21

In which the book suddenly begins to resemble “Promethea”. Mr. Snow visits a very Strange magician looking for info on how to eliminate the remaining three members of the villainous Four. He gets a whole lot more than he’d anticipated: a journey into the very heart of creation. Warren Ellis has actually been building up to this issue for a while; think about the soul machine during the HK action homage issue. It seems like there’s a much more scientific basis behind the human soul, and many secrets are about to be revealed, not just about the nature of creation itself, but about Mr. Snow’s special part in it. There’s even ties to “The Authority”, although you don’t need to have read any of that to enjoy this. But the real core of this chapter is the breaking down of Snow’s (pardon the pun) icy exterior, and his possibly climactic confrontation of how tiny his seemingly grand ambitions to better the world really are in the face of what he ought to be doing.

Since nobody is reading “Planetary” except for seasoned fans at this point, it goes without saying that this particular issue isn’t very friendly as a stand-alone piece. Scenes from earlier chapters are visually cited, and concepts introduced before are expanded upon, even tied together. Yes, it’s basically an issue-long infodump, a very blunt and swift method of cracking through Snow’s emotional defenses, but we’ll have to wait for subsequent issues to determine exactly how critical these events are toward explaining the “Planetary” universe and Snow as a character; ironically, only after much waiting (and with “Planetary“ there will always be waiting) will we know exactly how abrupt this issue really was.

John Cassaday seems to be almost intentionally avoiding comparison to J.H. Williams III’s sweeping, boggling “Promethea” layouts. Each and every page of Mr. Snow’s wild trip is set up precisely the same: three widescreen panels, one atop the next. The effect is that of consciously sapping the dazzle from cosmic awareness, leaving the unexplainable utterly grounded. It will be up to the reader to determine which brand of attempted expanded awareness he or she prefers. Laura Martin’s colors seem particularly crisp this time out. The world of the dead has a fabulous polar atmosphere, fitting for Mr. Snow.

“Planetary” is fast approaching the moment when it can no longer operate on a chapter-by-chapter level without timely review of prior installments. But the quarterly schedule (which the book seems to be maintaining well) makes waiting for the trade, probably an easier means of consumption, a difficult chore for longtime fans who’d rather more, and far sooner.

*Quick note: David B.'s new release "Babel Vol. 1" is superb stuff, despite its hefty price. Full review soon!


Oh no! Action theory!

We3 #2 (of 3)

We3 are not perfect, but neither are WeAll.

It’s been the comedy that’s been bringing me back to Grant Morrison’s most recent works; while many readers seemed to envision “Seaguy” as a marathon make-up lecture on a blistering May afternoon, with Professor Grant pacing in front of the chalkboard armed with his corduroy jacket and unlit pipe, pontificating on the role of the animal guide in pre-Christian literature, I saw the whole affair as a marvelously funny romp through the contemporary comics landscape, a costumed mission-statement (and I‘m not talking spandex). Less chances are taken with “We3”, with its injury-to-the-eye bonbons and breakneck movement; this book is going to entertain you even if you need to fucking die to really understand what entertainment is. And yet, there’s still a (malignant?) strain of bleak humor running through the book. I’m thinking of Bandit bounding Lassie-style into a river to save an innocent civilian, dragging him from the swirling waters and heartily congratulating himself on a job well done (“Gud dog. Help man.”) oblivious to the fact that the poor fellow has been sliced right in half by the fall. There’s a really great panel depicting Bandit’s rescue effort, where only Bandit’s animal head and a little bit of metal are visible above the water as he drags the corpse to shore, but the massive bulk of Bandit’s unnatural robot shell can be seen in shadow below the water’s surface, the barely hidden secret of what we’d like to think is natural.

The trick is, everything in “We3” appears to be a pretty good idea, but nothing works very well in action. Bandit, at least, appears to have been given instruction on what is ’good’ and what is ’bad’. I don’t know if this is totally part of his formal training or if it’s an extension upon remnants of his former life as a domestic pet, but the dog has an approximation of what’s ’right’ and ’wrong’ built into him. But it’s a dog’s sense to the end. He superficially understands that hurting civilians is ’bad’ (he fears the rolled-up newspaper) but he can’t quite reach far enough to connect 'knocking the train off the tracks' to 'possibly killing civilians by virtue of that prior action'. He needs to be shown exactly where he’s urinated on the carpet to establish that such a thing was a mistake.

And yet, the humans don’t fare much better in a large sense; they just manage to inch a bit further down the road. Sure, creating animal-robots that will eliminate much of the human casualty from war seems like a nice idea. In fact, I bet falling in love with the damn beasties and setting them free to presumably take revenge on their tormentors felt like a romantic idea too. A good death, as Frank Miller would put it. But as Bandit hadn’t counted on the fall from the tracks bisecting that engineer, Roseanne didn’t expect the animals to not lash out in holy vengeance, but make a run for home, where there will be no more running. So the humans and the animals are joined in their fatal lack of foresight, of their inability to see beyond the immediate, and maybe it’s fitting that it’ll be human-made animals v. human-made animals for title of… nothing really. You know, fire fighting fire, and what’s it create?

That was a lot of words to describe what works most immediately as a rollicking fight issue. But there were other rollicking fight comics released this week, and all of them must be cursing their luck to hit the stands at the same time as this. Because “We3” also manages to be superior escapist gore amusement, and Frank Quitely gets the credit. There’s never a moment when the reader does not know exactly what’s going on at every point during the book’s many clashes. Two long double-page ultra-widescreen panels are dotted with tiny action close-ups, like malignant pop-up windows that bounce around in time and betray space, taking us inside of vehicles, underneath armor, moving sequentially and consecutively through time or illustrating different scenes in the same moment. Amazingly, this overload of information also gives us a pretty comprehensive overview of the title trio’s weapons and abilities. On later pages, Tinker literally leaps outside the book’s panels into the gutters, getting the jump on puny humans who just can’t fight outside the confines of comic-book structure; it’s an innovative and (yes) funny means of highlighting the cat’s abnormal speed and fighting prowess. Hell, Quitely even throws in a few bonus bits. When Bandit charges a certain attacker near the end of the issue, it’s easy to miss the image of Tinker slicing the head off a (non-robot) dog off to the left.

It’s rather calming to look at a book that’s at the absolute least an excellent model for ultraviolent escapism in 21st century comics, and at best quite a bit more. And 32 pages of comics (not counting ads, which pushes the page-count to around 40) for $2.95? It’s even a relatively good deal!

Frank Miller’s Robocop #7 (of 9)

But reading “We3” this week had a very negative effect on the other action-based books to see release. It’s frustrating when the victim is this, which hadn’t seen an issue released in quite a while. I honestly do like Juan Jose Ryp’s art, but comparing all-out Ryp action to all-out Quitely action isn’t beneficial to the former. I keep noticing how crowded and cluttered Ryp’s panels are, especially when Robocop or some villain catch fire or go crashing through walls or glass (and that’s a lot); it’s genuinely difficult to get any sense of motion from behind all of those detail lines. Panels seem energetic just sitting there as individual entities, but they can’t achieve that illusion of movement without effort on the reader’s part. There’s little flow. The result is like being kept at arm’s length; there’s not nearly as much reader immersion in the art as there has to be for a really good action comic to succeed. I still like Ryp’s lumpy, exaggerated character designs, and Nimbus Studios gives the page a bright, attractive look, all chrome and blood, with glowing electricity and warm fire. Their work has done a lot to establish a kind of visual identity for Avatar; a neat trick considering that many of their books are in black and white.

As for Miller’s script (adapted to comics by Steven Grant), we’re surely reaching the end of the line as we’ve all but given up on the sledgehammer satire of prior issues, although the main villainess still brings a slight smile, wholly unable to contain her power appetite beneath her caring liberal demeanor. But now it’s time for shooting, and that lays us at the feet of Mr. Ryp, who at least today cannot do more than provide comics that call attention to what they are, a series of still panels, rather than what they must be, moving in the mind’s eye.

Adam Strange #2 (of 8)

Pascal Ferry, now he can do movement. You’ll have to excuse this continuing theme in my update, but many of the comics I buy decided to put out all-fight issues this week, and there’s no greater key to understanding how well a fight can work in comics. I’ve always seen the flow of the battle from page to page as far more compelling than the beauty of individual panels, although single panels can (and should) be used to punctuate significant moments, if not through a full-page splash, than maybe through an eye-catch, or an increase in detail that will attract the eye in particular. The process of creating comics art is a slow one, and an extended action scene can be very difficult to execute, given the immediacy of the movement that’s so sorely needed, which can only be created through weeks of work. Distilling hundreds of hours of labor into a pleasingly-paced 22 pages, pages that need to lock the reader into a few moments of escapist whiplash; it’s like conjuring up an alternate timeline for the reader to join the characters in, then compressing that timeline down into a series of starts and stops and pauses because reality cannot be halted and sped, so alternate reality will have to do.

Of course, you also have to be appealing to the eye. You can’t simply ignore the sitting basis of the single panel despite the fact that movement is necessary; the ideal action comic can hold itself up as attractive regardless as to how it is approached; the single panel can be admired for its singular appeal, while the panel as grouped with many others must move the violence along efficiently and pleasantly. All of these considerations are not hard and fast and immobile. You don’t even need physical panels, for one thing. Movement does not need to be created through ‘cinematic’ use of changing perspectives. Speed lines aren’t necessary. The comics form can sustain all sorts of approaches to the creation of the rush of distraction that an action comic needs; however, the art cannot serve as a distraction to the flow. Unless, of course, you want it too. Unless that is the point. There are innumerable paths to success, I continue to believe.

Ferry goes for the traditionally cinematic route in this particular action issue. Not a bad choice. The updated starry-pulp atmosphere of Andy Diggle’s script certainly supports it, this transmutation of hoary old sci-fi tropes to gleaming modern retro sci-fi tropes. I cannot stress enough how much Dave McCaig’s colors aid the presentation; the soft and pale feeling his hues possess match Ferry’s smooth lines. Gotham City is wholly overcast, but the architecture looks just about ready to grasp the ideal future; it’s just waiting for a sunnier day. Then it’s off to space, which has become a sea of haze, like the universe’s biggest warning light is shining all around.

The story? Adam fights things. Then he gets a vital item. The we see his gently updated costume. Then he goes and investigates and whoops cliffhanger. Nothing to it, and yet even nothing like this can warm one’s eyes, if not dazzle. It’s good to know that care and skill is still going into potentially B-level titles like this, and I’ll keep sticking around.

Black Widow #2 (of 6)

As opposed to Marvel’s typical pencils/inks differentiation in their online solicitations, the book itself here refers to Goran Parlov as providing ’layouts’ and Bill Sienkiewicz as adding ’finishes’. This suggests that the Sink had a larger role in creating the book’s visual look than simply inking; I don’t know about you, but the term ’layouts’ brings images of thumbnail sketches to my mind. I don’t know anything about the reality of the book’s production though, so I will not comment further. I will say that I was correct in predicting that the book’s look has not changed much at all; even the Sink-style handwritten sound effects are retained.

So Natasha and her friend Phil dig deeper into the plot, while agents of the North organization tail them. Shooting occurs after the investigation is through, and Natasha spends two pages in her underwear. Sienkiewicz/Parlov’s cheesecake instincts are much more satisfying than cover boy Greg Land’s (I’m going on Land’s prior work; his cover here is a wholly generic action pose). There’s a nice scene summarizing Natasha’s different costumes and hairstyles throughout her Marvel career. Richard K. Morgan is doing all right with the suspense. That’s all.

*More tomorrow. “Solo” got left on the shelf in exchange for Kevin Huizenga’s “Or Else”. Hope you remembered to peek through “Fred the Clown”, now in attractive smaller size!


Pulling back the curtain, just a little...

*I’ve been looking over the last few weeks of stuff I’ve posted, and I’m kind of interested in how a certain level of structure has involuntarily appeared in my daily blogging. Monday night/Tuesday morning we’ve got the miscellaneous comments based on Diamond’s lists. Natural; Monday afternoon is when the finalized lists come out. Wednesday night/Thursday morning we have reviews of new comics; again, that’s simply because Wednesday is new comics day, although I notice I’ve been staggering my reviews throughout the week a little more than I used to. I think that might be due to the workload in my non-Internet life growing heavier, although I’m pleased to say that I’m through the worst of it for at least a few weeks. And on Sunday night/Monday morning, I have the links to all of the past week’s reviews; that’s because I noticed that a lot of readers seem to be skipping the weekend updates and checking everything out on Monday, so I might as well have a compilation of stuff ready for then, so everyone can see what strikes their interest. Soon, I’m gonna set up a little thingy on the sidebar so you all can access the weekly round-ups from each week, and thus I’ll have something remotely resembling a review database for the increasingly unwieldy size of this thing.

It’s neat to see how a lot of these things just came to me through the act of blogging every day. When I first started this site I just figured I’d not have any structure at all, but structure just felt like showing up, and it probably wasn’t a bad thing. I think it makes the site a little easier to handle, at least on my part. I really didn’t think I’d be doing as many reviews as I have when I started this up, but I find myself gravitating towards that more and more. I guess I just look at a lot of the current events in comics and it doesn’t inspire a lot of reaction from me. I’ll try to make a joke if I think it’ll be good, and I do believe that this site needs a certain level of chat on recent happenings, but I’ve found that I like commenting on books more. Especially older books, which I don’t see a lot of opinion on all of the time. I hope my often scattershot focus on what I choose to review is pleasing. I really hope my reviews themselves are pleasing. Heh.

I’m around my 100th post here. So thank you for reading my site.

Yes. You personally.

Thank you.

The Drunk #1

Now this is a mystifying one. A 32-page b&w floppy with a slick, near solid black cover that, seemingly by its own accord, materialized onto the miscellaneous rack of my local shop. I’ve never heard of it before. It’s dated March 2004, and there‘s a special guest pin-up by Tim Vigil, and there‘s even a merchandise page (shirts! prints! mugs!) and yet the production’s website, www.thedrunkcomic.com, doesn’t appear to be up yet. Also, there’s no writers or artists listed by name, with the book’s company ‘Aposable Thumbs’ getting the sole credit, although the book is creator-owned by one Mr. Erik Ressler. So just for the sake of simplicity I’m going to refer to Ressler (whose first name is alternately spelled throughout the inside front-cover with a ‘k’ and a ‘c’ at the end) as the writer/artist.

All presentational bumpiness aside, it’s a curiously interesting book. The Drunk is a hard-drinking biker devil, complete with horns and shaggy sideburns, who rides through a world of demons and monsters, looking only for another buzz. His imbibing prowess attracts the attention of a local pirate captain, who invites him to hit the high seas in search of treasure. The captain is famous for battling Old Lushie, a giant sea serpent who might be the embodiment of the soul of drunkenness or something, and while pirates may prove to be bastards, a drunk’s always got his drinking to pull his arm around.

I guess I can best describe “The Drunk” as Hellboy starring in a somewhat more general audience remake of S. Clay Wilson’s “The Checkered Demon” as written by the cast of “Maakies”. Ressler’s script, however, isn’t close to the tainted whimsy (or the Victorian elegance) that a Tony Millionaire would sling onto the bar. Instead we have short, disconnected captions commenting on the visuals, occasionally in tipsy sing-song fashion (“Women and booze, don’t get confused. Pools of fools flock to barstools. Liars. Tongues. Twisting. Make way with fire and hay”). There’s some dialogue too, usually short declarative snatches of conversation, but like the captions they are essentially ornamental accompaniment to the art, hanging around at odd angles, bits of information tinsel caught in the wind.

Ressler’s art is dark and muscular, lavishing attention on grinning monster bodies and allowing white to simulate a rain-soaked street, or the back wall of a bar, unseen through pale lines of cigarette smoke. Occasional touches of paint work well for water or clouds, but mostly the look is that of thick, weathered beasts cringing and flexing, even when relaxed. The detail of Ressler‘s character designs sometimes distracts from the visual flow of the story, though; panels filled with characters become difficult to read from all the ink and shade. Future installments of this series would do well to expand on the intermittent use of white space, to better differentiate between characters and space out all the boozing and brawling, and defuse the busy, crowded feel of much of the present issue’s interior sequences.

But it’s a decent book, one with some potential. At $3 it’s fairly low-priced for a self-published comic, and the ambition of its creator is evident. If blotto monster pirate bikers are the sort of thing you can get into, and you can handle a certain level of visual convolution, this might prove to be worth searching out.

*And hey, don't forget to peek inside your shop's copy of the collected "Fred the Clown" today. You'll like what you see...


No wait, it wasn't my band, it was my stomach... and my band.

THIS WEEK IN COMICS (is quite big):

Fred the Clown: I’ve heard this rumor that blogs are supposed to point people toward things they may not have heard of before. Ok then. This is a new release by Fantagraphics, collecting the entirety of Roger Langridge’s amazing self-published humor series. I really want you to look through this stuff, because I think it’s totally excellent work and I think you‘ll agree. It’s beautifully drawn depression humor, with a sad-sack clown named Fred wandering through all sorts of tragicomic exploits, ranging from romance to adventure to the book’s longest piece, a rapturous evocation of the soul of silent comedy, with the works Buster Keaton providing particular focus. Look for the gorgeous cover with the shining heart on it. This was one of my favorite series during its run, and it deserves far greater exposure in collected form. Give it a try!

Solo #1: And by ‘solo’ DC actually means ‘a whole bunch of collaborations.’ Anyhow, I first heard of this project a long time ago; basically, DC is going to hand 48 pages to an individual artist and have them do whatever the hell they want (presumably within certain boundaries, like no porno), including recruiting a bunch of scripters to help them out, like our first issue’s spotlight, Tim Sale, who’ll no doubt attract a lot more sales than most of the projected line-up, although I personally find him less interesting that most of the announced future contributors. Not to say that he’s bad; I’ve only read “The Long Halloween” and it certainly looked attractive. It moved about as well as a 200-page origin for Two-Face could. I’m told that he and Jeph Loeb work really well together (Loeb’s other scripting jobs seem to be more-or-less critic-proof), and I’ve been tempted by “A Superman for All Seasons”, which is the style the pair reunite on in this book. The two of them also did a lot of stuff at Marvel, like “Spider-Man: Blue” and “Hulk: Gray” and “Daredevil: Yellow” and “Punisher: Black” and “Iron Man: Rust” and “Heathcliff: Orange” and “Team America: Red, White, and Blue” and “Kickers Inc: Teal With a Whisper of Cinnamon” and many other exciting projects that retell older stories, but not in a manga style because that would be Marvel Age. Er, anyway, Sale also teams with Brian Azzarello for a Catwoman/Batman thing, and Dark Horse’s Diana Shultz for some Supergirl action. Darwyn Cooke also writes something, but DC’s solicitation didn’t bother to say what it was so it must be some dumb old non-superhero story. But I’m sure Sale genuinely loves drawing those superheroes, and I’m certain they’ll sell a lot better than anything else he chose to draw given his blank canvass. I’ll probably look in to this; I’m sure it’ll look good. But I’m really looking forward to next issue’s Richard Corben spotlight, featuring Tales of Terror (and a story with The Spectre), and issue #3, which features Paul Pope; oh where did you go, "100%" trade? And then we’ve got Mike Allred and Howard Chaykin lined up for the future, so I’m glad the book is out there.

Adam Strange #2 (of 8): A victory for blogs. I wouldn’t have even looked at this hadn’t everyone started buzzing about it. Issue #1 was a nice solid sci-fi thing, and it looked great. Pascal Ferry and colorist Dave McCaig are doing some bang-up work.

Planetary #21: With issue #22 already set for a January release, it looks like this book is pretty securely back on a quarterly schedule, despite Ellis and Cassaday taking on all sorts of other projects in the meantime. Both issues will focus on Snow’s escalating battle with The Four, this one bringing us action, and #22 filling in gaps in history. And that’ll take us to about April 2005. At least this book’s been able to keep up a high enough level of quality that it’s rarely dipped below “Oh! If only it’d come out more often!” on the collective fan enthusiasm charts, which at this point is a miracle, certainly not an achievement to overlook.

We3 #2 (of 3): Awwwww, now that wasn’t too bad a wait, right?! Get out your umbrella for the shower of praise that will doubtlessly accompany this latest Morrison/Quitely dispatch, and don’t get too agitated; it’ll probably deserve it, even if it takes 2 minutes to read. But that’ll be 2 better minutes that most comics can manage these days…

Green Lantern: Rebirth #1 (of 6): A turning point in the history of Green Lanterns! That is, turning things back around. I hope Hal decides to choose evil after all and just spends every issue committing wicked deeds with his ring. That would be great: every issue would be new, from wholesale genocide and trans-dimensional havoc to stealing all of the ice cream in town and putting cats in trees. But he’d still have the ring and thus be a Green Lantern, because that’s what the fans want too. None of those heated pleas for Hal’s return specified a nice Green Lantern, right?

Black Widow #2 (of 6): One of the better Marvel solo hero miniseries (and yes, now it's definitely a miniseries). Except, Sienkiewicz is no longer penciling. He’s down to inks only now, and Goran Parlov is handling the pencils. I have no idea why. I know I heard the name Goran Parlov attached to this project early on, but I had no idea he was replacing the Sink on pencils. Is that why Sienkiewicz was adopting a more subdued style for issue #1? To keep the art looking more consistent for the inevitable trade? And it looks to be staying this way until issue #4 at the least. So yeah, if it matters to you: BILL SIENKIEWICZ IS ONLY INKING THIS TITLE FOR THE FORSEEABLE FUTURE. But the story’s not bad either. I’ll give next issue a browse; I suspect that the visuals won’t be changing that much.

Amazing Spider-Man #513: The Internet is amused!

Frank Miller’s Robocop #7 (of 9): Well speak of the devil! Just last week we get a new “Nightjar” (which I still can’t find anywhere) and now we have the latest installment of Steven Grant’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s “Robocop 2” screenplay, with garishly satisfying art by Juan Jose Ryp? IN BLOOD-SOAKED COLOR?? Must be for Halloween.

Let's welcome a new blog before I spin around and plunge back into the past.

*Including my own past, like LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Steven #4-6 (one of the classic alternative weekly strips!)

Terra Obscura Vol. 2 #3 (of 6)

The Goon #9, Ocean #1 (of 6)

SPX 2004 (war-themed anthology, but not a lot of fight in it)

Stoker's Dracula #1 (of 4)

Live those golden hours all over again!

*As everybody and their kitten has already noted: author, former Comics Journal editor, current Comics Journal interviewer and columnist, and noted Fanboy Rampage comments section personality Tom Spurgeon is now blogging away. He’s one of the good ones, and I always enjoy his analysis wherever I find it. I particularly hope he continues his minicomics coverage from the pages of the Journal; the blogosphere could use some attention paid to that area of the comics world, and I can’t imagine a more qualified source. There’s already a lot of stuff posted and eager for perusal; I suspect some of his “New X-Men” comments will be of particular interest: “a savvy pop-culture do-over sampled from old comics riffs, a self-aware re-hash as helpless before nostalgia as any back to basics movement, a deep look inwards disguised as outreach… a long, disjointed, intermittently skilled meta-commentary sporting terribly erratic art…” And that’s just included as part of a lengthy response to part one of Dirk Deppey’s own “X-Men... Retreat!” article which, as luck would have it, can be read right here. Nice stuff.

*So, who remembers "Marvel Knights Magazine"? It lasted for six big issues in 2001, and I presume it was an attempt by the Jemas/Quesada administration to reach out to expand the Marvel name to the ranks of slick magazines, and hopefully pull in some of that “Heavy Metal“ business (however much that is, anyway). I picked up issue #4 for $1 recently, since it looked kind of interesting. Mostly it’s reprints of individual issues of various Marvel Knights titles: Kevin Smith’s “Guardian Devil” run on “Daredevil”, “Welcome Back Frank” from “The Punisher”, and Paul Jenkins/Jae Lee’s “The Inhumans”. There’s also some really short features, like 'Obligatory T&A' and a rather funny bit making light of the turgid enclosed "Daredevil" chapter, which also provided my first exposure to the now permanently on-hold superhero career of Mr. Smith. Maybe this installment (Chapter 4) wasn’t a representative sample, but Daredevil’s running narration got really annoying really quickly, dutifully informing us about such vital topics as how much it hurt to fall off of that rooftop or how lucky that narrow escape was, since we’re all exactly as blind as Matt Murdock and can’t see the art for ourselves. I guess Frank Miller could get away with that kind of stuff. Smith’s Daredevil isn’t much better speaking aloud: “Darkness, Mother! That’s what I’ve been given - a life of darkness! Seeing darkness, fighting darkness, feeling darkness! You’ll have to excuse me if I can’t find the same faith in the so-called Almighty that you’ve found!” You tell that nun, Matt! Hmmm, I think Miller covered that ground as well. And hey, Karen Page is in trouble… is the whole story some kind of Frank Miller homage? This chapter is pretty much nothing but characters spitting overcooked melodramatics at each other (or themselves) and glowering about in church. It’s all very Dark and Emotional, I’m sure. And there’s a Jay and Silent Bob joke, in case we forgot Kevin Smith was scripting. Not impressive whatsoever.


I hope I’m not stepping on Ian’s toes here, but I managed to dig out this 1986 Howard Chaykin release from the quarter bin, a DC one-shot floppy reprint compilation of even older material. Released to capitalize on Chaykin’s revamp of “The Shadow” (the inside-cover essay by Chaykin even takes a quick shot at Harlan Ellison‘s displeased reaction to the revival), the book collects all three episodes of an outer-space adventure serial Chaykin created for the final three issues of DC’s short-lived “Weird Worlds” anthology series in 1974, the first year of Chaykin’s solo freelance career. The serial was scripted by Denny O’Neil from Chaykin’s plots, and lettered by Walt Simonson.

The story (as it is) bears a striking resemblance to the general outline of Leiji Matsumoto’s “Captain Herlock” stories, which began in 1972 in Japan. Ironwolf (and there is much confusion between the book‘s cover, the introductory essays, the legal print, and the characters themselves as to whether the title is one word or two) was once a proud lord in the court of Empress Erika Klein-Hernandez, until he slapped Her Majesty across the face for selling out the people’s cherished anti-gravity wood supply to a shady bunch of aliens in exchange for military support in an upcoming campaign. This didn’t endear Ironwolf to the Imperial Court, so he took to life on the run as a space pirate with a gallant crew brought over from his days in service to the throne. Herlock, however, didn’t have to contend with afro-sporting space vampires. I always thought that “My Youth in Arcadia” could have used a little more Blacula.

Much is made in the included essays of how “Ironwolf” anticipates Chaykin’s later work. Certainly we already have the chilly blonde villainess, here nearly identical to her most recent incarnation in “Challengers of the Unknown”, right down to her Machiavellian attitude toward instigating military conflict. Ironwolf himself may not immediately resemble the archetypical Chaykin hero: those flowing brown locks are way too unwieldy, he’s probably not a Jew, the sex, oral or otherwise, is entirely off-panel, and the politics are kept mainly to a 'fight against the Empire, start a democracy' pulp sci-fi simmer, and yet he strikes me as an unadorned beta-model of future Chaykin protagonists, rather than a wholly unattached gallant hero-type. There’s still that anger against the greedy wielders of military/industrial power, and the hardened, dogged pursuit of justice that joins so many of Chaykin‘s protagonists.

But “Ironwolf“ is a very early work, and exhibits a young artist‘s uncertainty with a suddenly expanded canvass. The plots are extremely straightforward; while there is an illusion of plot advancement between the three installments (supporting cast members even perish), one can easily imagine the story continuing in such a fashion indefinitely, with the hero and his crew exploring a new portion of the galaxy with each subsequent adventure, and the core group of villains just narrowly escaping every time. There’s very little of the plot complexity that Chaykin’s later work would feature, and no sense of satire; instead, we find an earnest reliance on the spirit of classic space serials, the exotic lands and narrow escapes of a “Flash Gordon“, looking forward to “Star Wars“, which Chaykin would also lend his illustrations to in just a few short years.

Even this early on, Chaykin is visually strong. Layouts are smooth and efficient, though there’s little in the way of experimentation. There’s also far more shadow to the look, a lot of shading and cross-hatching that looks out of place to the eye of the contemporary Chaykin fan. But this heavier feel seems more in tune with straightforward adventure style of the plotting. There’s also some nice attention paid to costuming; who can resist space-bellbottoms? And boy are purple and pink the hot colors of the interstellar 1974 season...

Chaykin would return to the well of pulp adventure many times over the course of his career, but never with as much modesty in his appropriation. Perhaps we can consider “Ironwolf” in the context of Chaykin’s career as illustrative of the first half of that old axiom: ‘You have to learn the rules before you can properly break them.’


Ashlee Simpson is a fine singer.

*How dare her band screw up her song like that?! Even singing her vocals for her over the top! In a strikingly similar fashion to the evening's prior performance! Those rapscallions! At least America's families were treated to some great dancing for once.

Stoker's Dracula #1 (of 4)

A pretty surprising project to see coming out of Marvel these days; a 48-page no-ads b&w book consisting (at this point) of older material released as the first installment of a brand-new floppy miniseries. Back in 1974, Roy Thomas began a sequential adaptation of Bram Stoker's original novel; the intent was to create the most faithful adaptation of the story to any art form. Dick Giordano handled the art, and the piece began serialization in Marvel's horror magazine "Dracula Lives!", which unfortunately folded at issue #13. After a brief revival in the first (and only) issue of "Legion of Monsters", the story stalled with less than half of the work completed. Now, however, Marvel is letting Thomas and Giordano finish things up, hopefully for a later single-volume edition. This issue consists entirely of reprints; the new work will not begin until a little ways through next issue.

The story's structure lends itself well to this format (this issue collects four installments of the magazine serialization). We get the entirety of Jonathan Harker's stay at Castle Dracula with the infamous Count; the issues closes out just as the vampire hits the road for London. It's a very nice build-up, with the disbelieving Harker becoming more drawn to distasteful religious icons as he becomes aware of the evil lurking around him. The story remains modest in terms of graphic content; violence occurs off-panel, and sexuality is only implied, but Thomas does well to highlight the text's implications, playing up Jonathan's simultaneous feelings of lust and revulsion when being surrounded by vampire ladies clad in tasteful nightgowns, but Giordano's lines know that you don't need to be dressing a Top Cow heroine to look good on the page.

Will any if this prove to be of any worth to those familiar with the source material? I think. Giordano's inks and gray washes look good, giving the story a classy, timeless feel. The reproduction quality is very nice, as far as I can tell. Folks who are interested in this sort of classic monster fun will probably be quite pleased. The package even sports a 4-page essay by Thomas, detailing the history of the project. It's a very curious but very welcome anomaly that this sort of book would get such prominent treatment from Marvel, and I can't wait to see how Giordano's new art mixes with the old next issue. Call it a Halloween treat.


So really, what is it good for?

*I finally got to see “Maria Full of Grace” the other day, and I liked it a good deal. It’s about a young Columbian girl, about 17, who decides to quit her dead-end (potentially life-long) job at a local rose factory to make some real money and develop some life experiences. This culminates in her becoming a ‘mule’, a person who consumes dozens and dozens of narcotics-stuffed plastic caplets, flies into the US with the lucre within the belly, and for lack of a better term shits them out at a secure location later. The pay is amazing, but the work is tough.

And it was the work that really captured my attention. The pool-hall deals with young girls and world-weary cocaine suppliers felt fascinatingly authentic, and everything surrounding the execution of the trip was truly captivating, like the preparation of the throat for consuming the capsules. There’s a marvelously queasy flight sequence that extracts maximum discomfort from the performances of the cast (and the squeamishness of the participatory audience, myself included) without resorting to any sort of flashy camera movements or special effects. Excellently grueling stuff.

Of course, complications ensue, and several characters wind up in difficult positions. I don’t want to ruin anything, but I really admired the spirit of the filmmakers in playing up natural audience sympathy for the charismatic, attractive teen heroine, who frankly makes a lot of very stupid decisions, yet this viewer didn’t really notice until near the ending, where it becomes clear exactly how much fire has been played with. The final scene was a small point of contention with me; it felt like a natural place to stop the film, but it had an alternative benefit in preventing the need to explore some of the implications of Maria’s final decision. I was left wondering over the closing credits about how certain characters are going to react to a decision like the one that’s made, but oops, we have the veto of the ending crawl, and that is that. Still, a very good film, with some particularly visceral sequences. Written and directed by Joshua Marston, his first feature. In Spanish and shot largely on location in Columbia and New York.

SPX 2004

A couple, nervous young adults, sweat into the coffee. They exchange hushed affirmations of their mutual terror, but the male (the boyfriend?) assures the female (his lover?) that their ‘driver’ is the best. The driver appears, a leather-clad stubbly hipster, and tells them it’s time to go. They take off, and the young pair ask the driver why he’s helping them. “They took my wife and two sons,” he intones, his face reflecting all the gravity of a frat-boy being informed that the beer store is fresh out of Keystone Light and he’ll have to get something more expensive. But wait! A military blockade! The driver’s consummate skill, doubtlessly forged through years of pizza delivery, buys them just the way out, another toll on already borrowed time. Finally, eyes light up. “We’re about to cross the border,” the driver declares. And there it is:

Welcome to Wisconsin, Patriot Act Free since 2006

Well blistering fucking barnacles, it looks like the war has come home!

That was the worst story in this year’s Small Press Expo anthology, a $10, 184-page benefit book for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, although it looked pretty good. Matt Bellisle mixes some decent line art (if stiff in character expression) with b&w photography, some of it computer-altered from the looks of it. But it’s all in the service of this groaningly obvious vignette that doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea how silly it is. And I usually like silly things, but not silly things that take themselves so very seriously. The only serious competition the story has is Winston Rowntree’s awkward 'shock' story that evokes a 1941 massacre of Jews in the Ukraine to make a well-worn Bush = Fascist comparison. I’m sure the intent was to extract disturbing power from the dissonance between the cutesy-pie opening and the abrupt brutality of the ending, but it struck me as an overwhelmingly heavy-handed means of highlighting an already stale talking-point.

Most of “SPX 2004” is comfortable, settling even, which might not be the best emotions to evoke in a war-themed anthology. I certainly wouldn’t have expected it from Steve Lieber’s fine cover art, a mighty tank trundling through a fallen battleground of dead newspaper comics icons (with a few others thrown in). The stories within encompass biography, personal narrative, allegory (either to current events or 'war' as a concept), historical fiction, and more, but few entries manage to stand out, and the good is counteracted by the bad, almost as if by impulse. For each amusing bit of commentary, like Federico Reggiani and Angel Mosquito’s story about a praying soldier in the heat of battle who’s confronted by a frothing, sputtering God who slaps him around and demands that he “Kill the bad guys!”, we get something with a soldier wandering through a foreign land, where everybody speaks a foreign tongue that’s really English terms spelled backwards (ekil siht) and oh gracious if only all people understood how close we really are as humans! We get a refreshing fart of bad taste from Bartley Johnson, sending a fuzzy Vietnam vet bear through a burlesque on the Iraq prison scandals. And then we get Jeff Smith’s sketchy contribution, which extends absolutely no farther than filling us all in on what exactly Jeff Smith thinks about our most recent military conflict. At last, we can exhale.

There’s stories about people building up train tracks only to have them torn down - BY WAR! There’s narratives by the next evolution of Earth dwellers reflecting on the extinctions of the species of the past - THROUGH WAR! It seems autobiographical cartoonists can’t even watch the news anymore - NO THANKS TO YOU, WAR! But don’t get too down, gentle readers. There’s two truly excellent entries on display. Maybe they’re worth the $10 alone.

I’ve already spoken about Bruce Mutard a little, since he’s got a new graphic novel, “The Silence”, coming from Image. His story here regards Sir John, a Christian knight fighting the Crusades. We bounce back and forth through time, as Sir John witnesses all sorts of cruelties and tries to justify them in the context of his deeply held faith. It’s drawn in a lovely classical style, like the spirit of vintage newspaper adventure strips joined with grounded, tight layouts. It’s very handsome in its efficiency, and it’s a good, worthy story to tell.

But perhaps my very favorite piece in the book is Kurt A. Belcher and Philipp S. Neundorf’s “White Death”, a short biography of Tero Toivanen, a wildly effective sniper, working in the Finnish resistance to Soviet aggression in the years prior to WWII. But Tero was never comfortable with being regarded as a hero; a soldier should fight well, and then the war should end, and then normal life should resume, but really you continue to grow older, and the war you fought in doesn’t go away, it becomes a commodity, a curiosity to the young, a public relations chip for politics, a source for books, a whiff of sex appeal, the beauty of the sniper. Here we see a perfectly just battle, a wholly good and necessary war. But wars don’t cease to exist when the guns are dropped, and even the most needed conflict creates life-long scars. The viewpoint of story’s subject is well-conveyed through the art, a blocky, shadowed zone, with hasty type spitting out the (imagined?) life stories of each soldier felled, another twenty-something years of experience dispatched into ether from the trees, with a dollop of metal. It is here that reach something profound regarding the nature of war; the necessity of some degree of conflict at some point chafing against the sheer waste of it all. People fighting for good things, for inarguably good things, and the pain is still there. Nobody smiles just a bit as the score swells up and whispers “It was worth it.” Nobody arrives at a calming realization that what they did Is Right. There is blood and then shadow everywhere, then shadow all through life, and shadow over the grave. And it continues.

Is that the uniform experience? God no.

But I think it's worth bringing up.


I'm gonna bookend this post with movies, so get the popping corn.

*First of all, we have “Tyrants From Afar” a two-minute special-effects demo from Holland, fancied up to resemble a short film. It doesn’t initially appear to be anything super-impressive, until you realize that it was made by only a handful of people in less than three weeks on a non-existent budget, with most of the live-action shot guerrilla-style in DV. Then you start to wonder about how quick the world of low-budget filmmaking is catching up to the $200 million Hollywood machine. Very much worth looking at, but it’s a big file (38 MB) and the main connection’s a little sluggish (and I can't directly link to it); you might want to try one of the mirror links on the film’s website, which you should check out anyway. (Found at Comics Community)

The Goon #9

Lots of filling in of the gaps here, as Eric Powell joins the 50’s crime comic aesthetic of the title muscle’s origin to the 50’s horror comic aesthetic of his contemporary adventures. We’re still in semi-serious mode this issue, as the Goon is approached by an old football star with a proposition to bring joy to the poor folk of the city through starting a sports club. A whole lot of assumptions on the part of several organized crime families leads to a lot of cash vanishing really quick, and Big People get Big Pissed. Meanwhile, someone just might have the Goon’s secret all puzzled out.

Like the goofy Eisner sketch at the top of last issue, we also get a wholly gratuitous sequence of gross-out humor, this time in the form of a fake ad featuring the welcome return of Powell’s drug-addled Golden Age hero, The Atomic Rage, this time drawn by special guest Eric Wight. But it’s Powell’s art that always impresses, this time with his aptitude for capturing period details from an unspecified period, boiling periods of the early 20th century down to their essence and mashing them up into a convincing composite moment. One panel’s view of a cheering crowd, packed with unshaven men in smart hats and overcoats, a few with spectacles, the ladies in the flowered hats and mucky furs, it makes Powell look like a rounded, grimier Seth. In short, the mood is excellent, as always.

The melodrama isn’t quite as half-baked as last issue, perhaps owing to this installment’s alternate purpose as a mythos gap-filler. This way, even if the meat of the affair is something familiar, we at least have a tasty baguette of origin info covering it up. It will be intriguing to see if Powell opts to press farther into the backstory, perhaps dredging it up into the present in a more direct fashion, or if he’ll cease restricting his gonzo humor to ads and intros and/or guest artists, and let it fly in the book once more. Or hey, maybe balance can be maintained.

Ocean #1 (of 6)

Not a particular lot occurs in this introductory chapter, as we have been warned about. But maybe the novelty of being thrown into a non-established universe is strong enough in today’s Big Two comics that the tapping of feet and twiddling of thumbs isn’t as pronounced as it could be. It’s exactly 100 years in the future and UN Weapons Inspector Nathan Kane is blasting off to Europa, famous moon of Jupiter, to peek around on a Secret Mission. Along the way he transforms an assassination attempt into an occasion for ass-kicking, identifies himself as vehemently anti-gun but still a stone-cold killer When Need Be, and even whips up a romantic liaison with a space-pilot over the course of one week. So it’s basically exactly like the life of Hans Blix.

That is all. There’s a lot of ‘OMG space travel in 2004 was lame compared to now’ dialogue and the action scene seems heavily contrived to provide the issue with some sort of action. But it’s a nice start. The opening four pages do a decent job of setting up the mystery. And Chris Sprouse (with Karl Story on inks) draws some damn fine spacecraft and authentic-feeling future tech. A wholly inoffensive beginning, and that’s all I can say for now.

*I thought I’d save the best for last; the Internet has truly served up a bountiful harvest of awesome. What we’ve got here is the trailer to a public-access television show from out in the California area. It's called "Dungeon Majesty". The program consists of a quartet of young ladies sitting around and playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons while their adventures are dramatized through a mixture of chintzy costumes, green-screen effects, loose-leaf paper animation, and vintage video-game sound. There’s also a shady-looking Dungeon Master, and everybody seems like they’ve been partaking of… ah… magical herbs before filming. Jaw-droppingly silly and faintly embarrassing, but it goes so far beyond cheesy and ridiculous it can’t help but be sort of entertaining. It’s very possible that the whole thing’s a piss-take, but that’s not much of an issue for me. (Found at Something Awful, the very heart of our Internet metropolis, our core of iron, our gravitational pull)



*QUIZ: What do you get when you lay down for an afternoon nap having slept for two hours the prior Sunday evening, four hours Monday evening, six hours Tuesday afternoon, and zero hours from 7:00PM Tuesday to Wednesday afternoon?

ANSWER: An accidental thirteen hours of sleep! But my good ol’ internal alarm still roused me at eight this morning.

So anyway, I didn’t read most of my comics. Of course, my shop didn’t have copies of “Bighead” or “Nightjar” or that new Marc Bell thing Chris Butcher pointed out that I’d totally missed: “Worn Tuff Elbow”. That looks so cool.

Terra Obscura Vol. 2 #3 (of 6)

Soapier than a flood at the Lever 2000 factory. Will Tom Strange get used to Pantha, the Terra Obscura equivalent of Tom Strong’s own wife? Can Diana resist the pull of an old flame? Might the return of the past reopen old wounds in this troubled superhero world? Or do certain parties support a retreat into days of yore?

As usual, “Terra Obscura” is an efficient use of comics space, even as it evokes quite a lot of themes that Alan Moore’s ABC output has gone over time and again, as if Moore gets a shiny nickel for each time a period-style flashback appears in one of his books, contrasting then-contemporary attitudes to the current action, and by virtue the modern comics landscape (though it must always be noted that Moore is only co-plotter on this book, with Peter Hogan doing the scripting).

But there’s usually a fun spin each time. I really liked the puritanical Batman figure that appears here, smoothly playing off the Dark Knight’s famous lack of long-term female relationships without resorting to ‘Batman is gay with Robin lol’ humor. And the idea of an old superhero carrying over the emotional issues of his past through the form of a younger character, with the prior era’s conflicts (in quite a physical sense) plugged in, is a pretty neat one. The only logical way to go from changing characters’ personalities to better resemble the past is to reverse the very flow of time itself, emotional damage to other superheroes be damned! And man, I wonder if the last three pages are supposed to be some kind of rueful nod to “Identity Crisis”…

So, fun stuff. Nice ideas.


The Solicitations Have Broken the Walls of Their Pens.

*Everytime a blogger neglects to review the latest monthly solicitations, an angel leaves its wings on a bench in the park and by the time the angel realizes they're missing some fool kid has already pinched them and the angel has to take the bus back to Heaven and the bus doesn't have restrooms. So it's a bad scene all around.


- Scott McCloud's name on the script for "Superman: Strength" caught my eye. It's a three-part Prestige Format mini, focusing on young Clark's moral growth. I'm waiting for McCloud's new book of theory myself, but I do recall enjoying the first collection of "Zot" back in the day, so maybe this'll get a look.

- That is one killer fucking line-up for "Bizarro World", though the $30 price tag is going to restrict it to hardcore fans of the talents involved. But there's gotta be a lot of hardcore fans of at least some of these folks. There's old masters like Harvey Pekar and Eddie Campbell. Beloved humor stars like Tony Millionaire and 'Dirty' Danny Hellman and Evan Dorkin. Some pretty big names out of the younger batch, like Craig Thompson and Derek Kirk Kim. Even some folks who haven't done comics in a little while, like Dave Cooper and Bob Fingerman. It's gonna be hard to wait forever for the softcover...

- Speaking of which, we also get a softcover edition of Howard Chaykin's graphic novel "Mighty Love", which received some pretty mixed reviews upon its original release. All criticism aside though, there was no way I was paying $25 for a less than 100-page hardcover, and I'm a fan of Chaykin. It's still a little pricey at $18, actually. But I'm more willing to check it out now than before.

- Ah, good! It looks like "Lucha Libre" is going to be a recurring feature in "Metal Hurlant". Frissen might be unfocused with his scripts, but it fits Bill's excellent superdeformed manga fusion style. Still no Jodorowsky though.

- "Promethea" #32 is still absent. Perhaps they're holding it for that rumored Moore/Sprouse conclusion to "Tom Strong"? And for the record, Moore and Gene Ha's "The 49ers" is also nowhere in sight. There isn't even a new "Tom Strong" this month. Moore fans will not want to miss the reissue of the "Mr. Majestic" trade if they don't already have it; it features an obscure Moore short originally presented in "Wildstorm Spotlight" #1.

- My! I certainly did enjoy that spoiler for "Planetary" in the solicitation for issue #22! Oh well, I ought to be happy that it's even still coming out on a semi-regular basis given Ellis and Cassaday's current workloads. EDIT (12:48 AM): Wait, no. My mistake. That wasn't a spoiler at all. Carry on.

- That sure is a lot of "Hellblazer" trades.

- "We3" #3 (of 3) is go for mid-January! Issue #2 is out next Wednesday; it didn't feel like that long of a wait, I'll confess. Also: the "Seaguy" trade for only $10, even though it's longer than the $18 "Mighty Love" softcover. It's a swell value, and one of my very favorite miniseries of 2004. And it's not hard to understand either; it's a very funny book that can be understood and enjoyed on multiple levels, and I know it's gonna read a lot clearer in single-volume form. Give it a shot!


- This X-23 person from the pages of "NYX" is getting a six-issue mini. I'm doubtful that "NYX" itself will be finished by then, but Marvel's sure trying to push her...

- It's not the Negative Zone, dudes, it's the N-Zone!!! It sounds like someone trying to discuss football with their dentist while blasted with Novocain. Maybe that's the plot. Did Victor Van Damme break someone's tooth? I hope Teenage Superstar Reed secured dental coverage.

- From "Amazing Spider-Man" #516: "Another pulse-pounding issue of ASM done in the stupendous Straczynski style! Peter must confront a foe who—like himself—was given amazing powers during a science experiment gone awry." And by "science experiment" they mean "lots of sex with Betty Brant hundreds of issues ago".

- Now this "Combat Zone" thing looks pretty neat. A five-issue mini concerning American soldiers in Iraq, written by Karl Zinsmeister, a long-time embedded journalist. Curious that we've all heard nothing about this book until now; it seems like the sort of thing Marvel would want to show off to the outside press.

- And... wow. That's all that catches the eye. Um, lots of people seemed to like that "Loki" mini, and now it's getting a hardcover. That's nice.


- A new anthology is coming out, "Four Letter Worlds", featuring stories set around the terms 'love' 'hate' 'fear' and 'fate'. Lots of Image and Oni regulars on the creative list. It's good to see Image still pushing the anthology format like in "Flight".

- Yikes. "Negative Burn: the Very Best from 1993-1998". Collecting lots of stuff from the first 50 issues of Caliber's long-running anthology series. Lots of Alan Moore song adaptations no doubt (beating Avatar to the punch by many years) and obscure work from a huge list of good folk. This will probably be worth picking up, 200 pages for $20.

- Bruce Mutard had a very good entry in the wildly uneven "SPX 2004" anthology (review coming very soon). His style is heavily reminiscent of classic newspaper adventure cartoonists like Hal Foster, and he's got a good grasp on conflicted characters (even if he's a little awkward in his dialogue). Now Image is putting out his graphic novel "The Silence", which promises to ruminate on the nature of 'art'. He's got my attention, and at $10 it looks like I'm gonna give this one a shot.

Now With Comics and Gum Blogging!

*So I was checking out all the searches that people have been performing to get to this fine website, and I notice that ‘Hubba Bubba Max’ has been getting me a mystifying amount of traffic (that is, more than two referrals). One of the searches even sought a ‘Hubba Bubba Max review’. That really touched me. You see, way back when I did my little Hubba Bubba Max article all I did was make some puns as to Marvel’s MAX line and concluded the entry with a fart joke, thus providing my readers with an early dose of the sophisticated humor they’ve come to treasure from my written output. But I’d never stopped to think that maybe, just maybe, someone would like to read a nice serious analysis of chewing gum. I never expected this, and it’s totally my fault. I can only hope that I can remedy the situation, as I strive to provide the most satisfying and pleasurable reading experience for all of my visitors.

Hubba Bubba Max

The taste gets pretty intense at first. That’s good. It’s the sort of gum I’ll only chew one piece of at a time, not like Juicy Fruit or any of the stick-based gums. I just keep shoving those suckers in, but this stuff gives me a good initial blast of flavor. But just as the initial rush of excitement in beginning a new project fades so much more quickly into workmanlike utilitarian thinking, the flavor of “Hubba Bubba Max” reaches is crescendo too quickly, rendering the gum a tasteless blob, though perhaps some of the tastelessness is merely from the shock of the initial flavor rush (indeed, like the rush of new love!) saturating the mouth and commanding all other flavors within the oral zone to conform to an enforced status quo of flavor consistency merely through the presence of the dominant saturation, a dictatorship of fruity taste. Regardless, it’s an above-average gum. And like obscenity, all of us shall know above-average gum when we experience it for ourselves, and I am confident that “Hubba Bubba Max“ shall provide a uniform reaction in quality appreciation.

Whew! Another satisfied handful of readers!

*THIS WEEK IN COMICS is mercifully light. I thank the good people at Comics Headquarters for thinking of my wallet in selecting this week’s releases.

Bighead: Jeffrey Brown has been branching out a little from the autobiographical material that made him noted in comics circles. He had an interesting if somewhat compressed-feeling semi-horror entry in “Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 2” (which I ought to get around to reviewing one of these days), and here he comes again with a 128-page superhero parody book from Top Shelf. A five-page sample was provided in Top Shelf’s Free Comic Book Day entry a few months ago; it’s pretty amusing seeing superhero action conveyed through Brown’s signature style (hands like broken sticks, shaded and expressive faces, etc.) but that’s obviously not going to carry a $13 book. Brown’s got a good sense for cliché and absurdity (be sure to check out his self-parody floppy “Be a Man”) though, and this’ll probably be worth at least a flip on the stands.

The Goon #9: Former blogger Sean T. Collins had a nice review of this series in the latest Comics Journal. Well, to be exact, it was a review of the two Dark Horse trades collecting the entirety of the book’s self-published run (although newly-colored if I’m not mistaken) and the first trade of the current Dark Horse series, collecting issues 1-4. Sean seemed to like the book, but he couldn’t help but feel that Powell would be better served by pursuing a more direct horror-crime hybrid, rather than the splatter-comedy trajectory the book usually aims for. I can’t totally agree with that, although I’m gonna have to admit that I’m basing my claims on the later issues of the Dark Horse run, stuff Sean didn’t actually review. Issue #5 was my favorite issue of the series thus far because it found a wonderful balance between Powell’s nonsense sensibilities (if you will) and the darker threads running through the story. Like I’ve said before on this site, the effect was like waking up after a night of fine drinking only to have to face the sun. On the other hand, last issue saw Powell moving more directly toward outright drama, and I found it to be overcooked, frankly, with characters spouting florid dialogue while examining their pain and SACRIFICE! It gave me the opinion that Powell might be keeping his more melodramatic tendencies (and I mean mawkishly expository melodrama) under control through constant bombardments of bad taste action. And I just happen to find Powell’s ’serious’ material to be far more palatable when viewed through that filter; alone it’s just not as attractive a shade for me. This issue, anyway, takes us back into the past as the Goon forms a football team to raise the people’s morale amidst the zombie invasion. I’ll be there.

Identity Crisis #5 (of 7): I predict that the United States of Internet will be holding discussions as based on the contents of this comic. Call it a hunch. Although didn’t that recent DC Encyclopedia feature a bunch of spoilers anyway? I hope nobody got to the 'Identity Crisis Killer' entry; everyone’s gonna be pretty pissed when they find out it was Alfred.

Ocean #1 (of 6): Advance word suggests that the first issue of this new Wildstorm miniseries from Warren Ellis and Chris Sprouse (with Karl Story on inks) will be moving at a pace not entirely unlike that of “Ultimate Nightmare”, which I believe is still on the opening titles as of the conclusion of issue #3. I’m sure it’ll be nice scenery to look at. The premise sounds really interesting though, a hard-ish sci-fi exploit in the oceans of a far-away world. We’ll see.

Terra Obscura Vol. 2 #3 (of 6): And speaking of Mr. Story, he’s also on art duty in this ABC miniseries. Tom Strange is apparently going to meet some evil folk as the time distortions continue. “Terra Obscura” usually manages to provide some solid middle-level superheroics, and this’ll probably keep up the standard.

Nightjar #3 (of 4): Wow! This is a surprise! Particularly considering that I never noticed issue #2 being released and I’ve never seen a copy in any store! It’s actually a pretty decent little magical horror story, based on a concept (and a very short strip) devised by Alan Moore and Bryan Talbot, but the book itself is written by Antony Johnston and drawn by Max Fiumara. Man, next thing you know Avatar’ll be releasing issue #7 of “Frank Miller’s Robocop”…


Eat some paste!

*I may be sleepy, but you know what's beyond fatigue? LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS!!!

Gutsman Comics #2 and Accident Man #1 (of 3) (the former is a nice-looking silent superhero parable thing from the Netherlands, the latter is a smirkingly graphic assassin adventure - quite a pair)

Challengers of the Unknown #5 (of 6), Tom Strong #29, The Punisher #12

Ex Machina #5

Spawn #16-18, Skrull Kill Krew #1-5, Heartburst (Marvel Graphic Novel #10) (in order: Grant Morrison 'does' early Image, Morrison and a young Mark Millar tackle their first Marvel work in the US, and Rick Veitch gives us some early satire)

They'll keep performing as long as you need.

Steven #4-6

Flipping through my copy of Dave Schreiner's "Kitchen Sink Press: The First 25 Years" (released in 1994, shortly before the venerable alternative publisher was converted into ye olde candy shoppe by its shareholders) I keep running across mentions of "Steven" as a 'cult' comic, with little further elaboration on what exactly made it tick. Having come across three of Kitchen Sink's eight floppy collections of the weekly strip, I'm no closer to an explanation. "Steven" is the creation of Doug Allen, today a regular contributer to "Blab!" and keeper of a really impressive website. It ran in alternative papers since 1976, and Kitchen Sink's books began their compilation in 1989. Currently, Fantagraphics has two issues of a new "Steven" series out, but I'm unsure if the strip itself is still running anywhere.

Steven is a simple little fellow who likes to drink and hates a lot of things, particularly his annoying supporting cast. There's Steven's lazy pal Brock, the attention-starved bear (cat?) Woodrow, a nervous dog named Fifi Doodle who only wants his own strip to star in, and worst of all: the Plant, the world's most alcoholic potted cactus. There's many an adventure to be had with this crew, and the strip indulges in lengthy storylines, following the Plant around as he's captured by a mean dog, or presenting the supporting cast's quest to survive in the Real World after Steven fires the lot of them. It's not a gag strip. Characters often discuss how unfunny the strip is. I really can't imagine reading this in weekly installments; it'd be far too easy to totally lose track of what's going on, although the seemingly improvised plot twists might be better geared toward a gently confused audience more than anyone else.

With the emphasis on drinking and violence, the strip as discovered today all but begs comparison to Tony Millionaire's mighty "Maakies", which it may well have influenced. Allen in an attractive cartoonist, easily filling up space with detailed environments and attractive (not to mention highly unique) character designs. But he doesn't quite have the madman's skill of Millionaire, what with his staggering sense of architecture and his Segar-esque population and his hell-bent fascination with drinking and dying. Compared to this, the boozing and brawling of "Steven" seems almost genteel, and that proves to be a detriment when the storylines begin to drag, and they do.

But there's still something appealing about the little guy, now that his books are mostly out-of-print (including a best-of collection, also from Kitchen Sink). "Steven" is a bridge from the final glowing embers of the underground movement to the alternative humor books of today, and it holds up pretty well as a stand-alone strip. I wonder what comics the members of the cult of "Steven" are reading today. Perhaps those comics with a bit of "Steven" itself in its heart, which wouldn't form an insignificant body of works to choose from.


And now... obscure works by today's stars.

*But let me start by noting that I bought issue #2 (of 5) of Sam Kieth’s “Ojo” this week, and I really don’t have a lot to say. I did notice that Kieth now has a second helper for the art: Chris Wisnia, who doesn’t get the cover billing that Alex Pardee does. The end result looks great in b&w, and there’s a standout fantasy scene involving cute characters singing a song and floating through a hallucinogenic bathtub. The story (by Kieth alone) continues to be the best stuff he’s done since the first “Zero Girl”, avoiding his tendency toward literal psychoanalysis and awkward declarations of interior character feelings that would better be left inferred. It’s strong stuff, and that’s all I have.

Spawn #16-18

All the cool kids were writing issues of “Spawn” back in the halcyon years of early Image. Alan Moore. Frank Miller. Dave Sim. Neil Gaiman, most infamously. I’ve never read Miller or Gaiman’s work on the title. Sim basically turned the book into a non-continuity parable about creator ownership. Moore wrote a lot of “Spawn”. Four miniseries and a few scattered issues (one of them as an uncredited dialogue ghost, I believe). Most of them were an opportunity for Moore to have bloody fun; the “Violator” miniseries was practically “Evil Dead 2” in its gore slapstick. It was leagues away for Moore’s deepest, most challenging work. It was a chance to make some money by cutting loose and indulging in guilty superhero fun.

Grant Morrison swung in a little after the rest of the guest crew in late 1993-early 1994, tackling this three-issue arc with Greg Capullo (and three different inkers on various issues) doing the art while creator Todd McFarlane worked with Miller on the “Spawn/Batman” special. The result is a surprisingly traditional beat-‘em-up, with flashes of Morrison’s wit. It also deals with some pretty big twists to the Spawn universe, and I’ve gotta wonder how much of this was directly cooked up by Morrison, unless some of the revelations were already made in earlier issues which I haven’t read; I was a “Savage Dragon” kid myself at the time.

The U.S. Military, it is revealed, had intentionally sold out Al Simmons (now the escaped soldier of Hell known as Spawn) to demons in exchange for a large supply of psychoplasm, the very essence of Hell itself, which morphs its physical form as based on external thought. The military’s dose is currently locked into the form of Simmons’ memories: his hometown, his church, his proposal to his wife. The terribly evil Jason Wynn wants to develop weapons based on the stuff. Meanwhile, the forces of Heaven decide that Spawn is way too much of a pain in the ass to deal with anymore, so the upper levels of the Heavenly Bureaucracy green light an Anti-Spawn project. It’ll take a hard man to contain the power, and no less than the very wicked Mr. Wynn is involuntarily chosen to become the vessel to deliver the Blessed Payload of Divine Wrath. Meanwhile, Spawn is taunted by the legions of darkness with visions of the misuse of his memories in military experiments.

Since I’m not certain that spoiler warnings for early issues of “Spawn” are necessary, I’ll just go on to say that Spawn kicks Anti-Spawn’s ass (after the obligatory round of getting himself roughed up, to build 'suspense' I suppose) but he’s still pretty pissed, so he travels all the way to the military’s secret base and burns down his own memories, except for the thoughts of his wife, which he saves and delivers to her as a psychic gift, so she’ll know how much he always loved her. It’s quite sweet, at least as far as “Spawn” goes, and even gently nudges against the themes of perceiving reality that Morrison has engaged with from “Animal Man“ through “Seaguy”. But it’s only background here for superhero struggle against that classic villain type, the Evil Mirror. Fisticuffs come first for “Spawn”.

Skrull Kill Krew #1-5

Aside from his continuing efforts on “The Invisibles”, Morrison also worked throughout the mid-90’s on a wide variety of side-projects, several of them with Mark Millar, whom Morrison had begun collaborating with in 1993 during his latter tenure at “2000 A.D.” Morrison and Millar would later collaborate on “Aztek: the Ultimate Man”, plus issues of “Swamp Thing” (which Millar would later script alone) and “The Flash” (during the early months of Morrison’s run on “JLA”). But “Skrull Kill Krew”, which arrived in 1995, right in the middle of these years of collaboration, also represents Morrison’s first work for Marvel in the US (like Alan Moore, Morrison had done some work at Marvel UK in the earlier days of his career). It’s thus interesting from a historical perspective, even though it doesn’t have much of a reputation, which the story itself unfortunately lives down to.

The basis of the plot isn’t exactly rock-solid. Way back in an early issue of “Fantastic Four”, we first encountered the violent shape-shifting multi-chinned Skrulls; the FF handily defeated a group of them, leaving them stuck in the shape of peaceful cows through the magic of hypnosis. Then they managed to transform back to normal during the Kree/Skrull War, only to be returned to cow form at some point during the struggle, and placed under military custody. Then the military sent them to the slaughterhouse. Yep. With all the other cows. One would assume that upon capturing members of an alien race you’d not want to release them into the nation’s food supply, even if they are in bovine form, but the Marvel Military just isn’t that bright.

So the Skrull Meat winds up in Our Nation’s Hamburgers, and alien viruses are thus transmitted to unwitting fast-food consumers. The symptoms? A whole lot of superpowers, including shape-shifting and explosive energy and the ability to see Skrulls as they really are, but also madness and early death. A rag-tag group of victims, including a mysterious dread-locked leader, a UK white supremacist, a lesbian riot grrrl, a nervous California surfer, and America’s top supermodel join forces to slaughter as many Skrulls as they can before they all die. But their fatalistic battle is not the main conflict the book has going.

No, the big war is between the nihilistic intent of the story and Marvel’s 1995 skittishness toward extreme content. Reading through the series’ five issues, it’s clear that the book is supposed to be over-the-top violent fun, with endless waves of evil aliens getting wasted by ultra-cool (if fucked-up) anti-heroes. The book was even released under the dandy-sounding ‘Marvel Edge’ banner. But there’s little that’s edgy today in this comic; it’s a baby-step into the chilly waters of today's Marvel MAX line, where the characters can actually say dirty words and shed a lot of blood. But “Skrull Kill Krew” can’t do that. Instead, we have the hardcore killer hero screaming the word ‘witch’ a lot, which gets to be pretty funny in a totally unintentional way; he’s like a junior-high kid who really wants to be tough but he’s scared that his mom will yell if she catches word that he’s cussing. And then there’s the violence; a lot of Skrulls get killed, and even a few humans. But there’s mere drips of green alien blood, or whispers of black ink as they’re shot; it’s like the theatrical version of “Pearl Harbor” (oh yeah, we had a nice family outing to the theater that day to see it, my whole immediate clan) where people would be shot from on high with aircraft guns and they’d sort of shake around a bit and flop to the ground dry as a bone instead of being reduced to pulp. It’s distracting. Particularly a scene where a human gets killed and a character remarks “It took his head right off…” with a horrified expression, even though the victim in question only looks like he got a hearty slap across the lips. The book’s extreme intent is totally muffled by the restrictions of its time; I know the Comics Code had little-to-no authority by those years, but the very presence of its Seal of Approval on the cover is emblematic of the problem facing the book.

Beyond that, the comic occasionally feels hustled. Even ignoring the dodgy set-up, the book doesn’t seem to be thought through with much care. The team recruits the aforementioned surfer in California. They get to New York, and the guy is still ignorant of how to use his powers and clueless as to much of the back-story. So what the hell did they all talk about on the motorcycle ride across the nation (oh, did I mention they‘re a biker gang too)? In one issue, Skrulls are posing as the Fantastic Four, and apparently they can now copy the FF’s powers along with their looks. How? We’re informed that they’ve developed applicable 'alien technology' through a word balloon that was quite plainly added at a late date, since the letters are in a totally different font than anything else in the issue. Steve Yeowell, longtime Morrison artist on titles like “Zenith” and “Sebastian O” does the pencils, and his work sometimes feels rushed. Several panels in issue #3 appear with no backgrounds or color whatsoever, only foreground art. The result is a dashed-off feel in both creative departments.

There’s also an attempt to tie the book into the larger superhero community, which provides some of the story’s better material. Captain America is quite charmingly characterized as a kindly ultra-competent idealist, perfectly content to sit in an airport restaurant in full costume amusing little children while waiting to meet a vital diplomatic envoy. Baron Strucker of Hydra pops up for a brief attempt at conquering an Eastern European nation by, um, hijacking a plane and flying over with his troops. Presumably they’ll burst out and take the place over with whatever they can stock onboard. Maybe it’s not a very big nation. Anyway, he does get to deliver the series’ best laugh, badmouthing Dr. Doom by dubbing him a 'neo-liberal'. Classic.

I’m not sure if the book feels more like Millar or Morrison. It certainly strikes me as a dry-run for Morrison’s vastly superior “Marvel Boy” (my review here), what with the amoral superpower violence and the struggle against 'established' Marvel Heroes. But by the time “Marvel Boy” rolled around, Morrison was able to tailor his madness to the restrictions of the Marvel Knights line, and perfect the means of chortling at Major Characters (solution: alternate universe). That’s probably the best way to look at “Skrull Kill Krew”, as a beta test. It also shares with “Marvel Boy” an abrupt end to the plot: hints are planted regarding future storylines, but the book never made it past issue #5. It was also never collected into trade form, leaving its future discovery to hardcore Morrison and/or Millar fans eager to chart their respective paths to Marvel superstardom and prepared to feel thankful that their House of Ideas output would get a lot better than this.

Heartburst (Marvel Graphic Novel #10)

I got a water-damaged copy of this for $1, and it provided me with the happiest moment of my life. You’ll see.

As you probably can recall, Marvel put out a whole lot of 'Graphic Novels' in the 80’s, basically oversized Prestige Format-style comics, with an often generous level of content freedom. There’s enough blood and sex in this book to put in on the level of a period “Heavy Metal” story, which it strongly resembles. Actually, it may have been originally presented in (or at least intended for) Marvel’s “Epic Illustrated” magazine, seeing as how it’s neatly divided into three 16-page chapters.

Released in 1984, it’s an early work by Rick Veitch, preceding his art duties on Alan Moore’s seminal “Swamp Thing” run at DC, and his own later Epic solo miniseries, “The One“. The story is a typical little sci-fi war satire, with some neat touches. Young Sunoco Firestone is an acolyte of the dominant religion among Earth’s long-traveling space colonists, which is based entirely around mid-20th century television broadcasts which have just recently made their way this far out into space; the colonists believe them to be the mysterious word of God (known as the Sponsor, as in “Now for a word from…”) and many people have become quite powerful by interpreting the Divine Meaning behind these cryptic snatches of forgotten ephemera. The colonists have invaded a planet of humanoid green-skinned natives known as the Ploo and are busy converting them via gunpoint to the puritanical ways of twin-bed sitcoms. But Sunoco finds himself strangely attracted to a beautiful Ploo girl... and meanwhile, Earth has developed a highly experimental (though much faster) means of interstellar transportation, based on portals that are controlled by the human heart, so they send an envoy who finds herself faced with the unfortunate task of informing the colonists that their deeply held generation-spanning religious beliefs are a scientifically disproven load of horseshit. She‘s dubbed a madwoman and jailed as a heretic, particularly when she becomes outraged at the forcible sex re-education/genocide of the Ploo.

Quite a lot of ground is covered in 48 pages, as Sunoco and the envoy and the Ploo girl form a romantic triangle, all-out war breaks out, and Sunoco (naturally) discovers the secret heart-fueled power within him, which just might provide the key to re-connecting everyone and establishing peace. And in true “Heavy Metal” fashion, he is also educated in the ways of love by both female characters (the only two in the book, by the way), who disrobe on multiple occasions. Each. Again, in only 48 pages, which says a lot for the book‘s narrative economy.

If you’re familiar with the broad, violent satire of “The One” or any of Veitch’s King Hell Heroica books, you’ll get to bask in realization that such the aesthetic stretches right back to Veitch’s beginnings. The art, however, is a little slicker than Veitch’s later work, which emphasizes the lumpiness and grotesquery of his casts; even the somewhat sweeter “Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset” (still the best non-Alan Moore series ABC put out) exerts a misshapen caricature menace, which is absent from the glossy pages of this smoothly colored tale, although the violence gets quite graphic when it’s time for battle.

As a coming-of-age story, the book works pretty well when judged on the level of sex-and-violence prone sci-fi. Veitch’s satirical work has always been hit-and-miss for me; he’s prone to wandering off on tangents, like the seemingly endless training brutality of “Brat Pack”, which deflates the near-brilliant parody of the phone-in death of Jason Todd that opens the book. Forced to compress itself, “Heartburst” doesn’t have the room to wander away, although it’s not quite as effective or as unsubtly sophisticated as Roarin’ Rick’s later works. It also ends on a note of hope, which joins it with Veitch’s other satires which despite their ugliness retain confidence in the arrival of Something Better.

Oh? The happiest moment of my life? Well, the book’s pages were occasionally a little clingy, given the damage. It was mostly easy to get around. But two pages in particular were simply intent on clinging together. I tugged and tuged, and finally the death grip was released. And what, you ask, was revealed by those sticky sheets?

The alien girl’s big full-frontal scene.

The gears in my head clicked around for a bit. And soon I was wearing a smile not wholly unlike that of Jonathan Pryce at the end of “Brazil”.

It was much better than my first kiss.