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.’