And now it's cold again - CRAZY.

*My distracting back-issue acquisition of the moment: the first three issues of the 1988-89 Epic series Havok & Wolverine - Meltdown. Many things attracted me to these books, aside from the fact that they were only two bucks each - Walter & Louise Simonson provide the scripts (the former will soon be writing Hawkgirl with Howard Chaykin on art, and I’d like to get a feel for his scripting; he’s one well-known talent whose work has largely eluded my gaze thus far), with Kent Williams (most recently of The Fountain - did anyone out there read that thing, by the way? I’m hearing virtually no talk about it; maybe the price successfully deterred everyone) and the great Jon J. Muth (Moonshadow, The Mystery Play) tackling the art. More specifically, Williams illustrates the Wolverine bits, while Muth handles the parts with Havok.

I’ve only flipped through it thus far (a complete reading is going to be sort of difficult, seeing as how I’m missing the final issue), but it looks real pretty - I suspect any atmospheric similarities to Elektra: Assassin, that earlier Epic-does-Marvel painted affair, is largely intentional, though there’s a unique feel to seeing Muth’s wispy, oft light-bathed figures (even his grotesqueries seem delicate) interacting with Williams’ more weighty designs, his Wolverine in particular striking me as something of a smearier Simon Bisley approach. Can’t say I’m expecting all the world and a golden pony from a Havok/Wolverine team-up, but I hope the scripting manages to keep up with the drive of these visuals.

Fell #3

Well, I’ll start off by mentioning that writer Warren Ellis had already scored some bonus points today before I even opened this book up - while in the store I flipped to the back of the Ocean trade to check out what sort of changes he’d made, and I noticed that one new line of dialogue reads something like “I have no idea what happens next,” right before the book moves into some of those narrative-free panels of explosions that tripped people up the first time around - it gave me a nice chortle, at least.

This is one of the better issues of Fell, as that nasty feral municipality of Snowtown once again comes to the fore; the more this books plays up its environment as a character, the better it looks - and even the themes of this issue are one with those ominous streets, paved right in. But really, the first four pages here were my favorites; Detective Fell has been stabbed twice in the last few weeks and he’s ruined his last good suit, so he just wanders around town for a quarter of the book, looking for a clothing store. He stares down a host of former businesses, encounters drug dealers and frozen foods, and generally attempts to take his new home in stride. Artist Ben Templesmith is at his best here, keeping the character art sharp and clear, whilst occasionally melting the backgrounds away into gray fuzz and sparse lines (as always with this title, Templesmith ably handles his own colors, selecting only a few hues to stand out from his muted palette, Fell’s burning blonde hair always the brightest, since his mind is ever-bright). It’s an enveloping place, a noxious urban miasma, and even without that nun pointing a gun at him Fell could never help but seems downcast by the end of his journey.

It’s then that the plot needs to start, and it’s to Ellis’ credit that I didn’t notice that nearly the whole thing amounts to page upon page upon page of talking heads, most of them uniform nine-panel grids. Fell, you see, wanders into a thrift shop run by an old lady who appreciates the past of Snowtown and loves to give away relics to nice people - there’s also a third party present, off in the dressing room, a suicide bomber whose payload is scraped together from common junk and an internet recipe. Fell (naturally) needs to talk his way out of this mess without getting everyone killed.

What’s interesting about this plot is the constant presence of discarded junk, transformed to dangerous weapons - this is true both of the bomber’s homemade weapon and some of the thrift shop’s inventory. It all ties in with the old lady’s speech on the poisoning of the cultural well in the postwar period: “See, what the war did? It trained a generation of men in the expert use of firearms. That’s what made the fifties crime waves so bad. The bad boys came back with a couple of years experience in shooting. A lot of them found ways to bring things home from the war.” But regardless of the origins of the city’s state, Snowtown is now a feral place, and it turns everything wild along with it - the young, the elderly, the disturbed. They can pick things up from the past (or even right off the streets) and use them for violence, as that is the way of the land. No wonder Fell (who arguably fits into his new home better than he consciously realizes) can’t find a blood-free suit - even the garment he eventually captures is stained, not literally, but both by circumstance and locale.

It keeps the attention, even though Ellis doesn’t really do a lot with these notions beyond utilizing them as illustrations of the book's environment’s vicious state. But perhaps that belies a certain recognition of this book’s strengths, its force of background. Even as the speeches reach up into outright melodrama (“He was my only brother and he loved me and it was just me and him and and and we’re never gonna play together again and he’s never gonna bring new cds home again and he’s never gonna tell me its ok again”), there’s something to the staging, not to mention Templesmith’s exaggeration-friendly designs. How this will change Fell is still up in the air - after all, how a man wears a suit is about the man, not the fit.

Don’t get too excited about bonuses - Ellis cites his allergies as confounding his ability to produce fresh backmatter, so this time we get a good old fashioned (plaudit-stocked) letters section, four pages long, with some bits of rough art tossed in, and a preview of next issue’s cover. Worth your two bucks, on the whole.


Earth splitting, sky burning...

*The last thunderclap outside did a pretty nice job of shaking my building. Let’s see how far I can get before the power goes out (time warp: it didn't).

*True Confessions Dept: Avatar artist extraordinaire Jacen Burrows discusses his personal history with comics:

At one point, my mother was dating a guy who had a collection of underground comics. I believe I was 5 or 6 at the time but I clearly recall chilling in his living room, reading copies of FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROS and CRUMB comics while the adults played out by the pool. I have clear recollections of 4 or 5 topless women sunbathing around that pool while I flipped through FRITZ THE CAT. I think my mother may have been a swinger back in those late 70's, sunny San Diego, single mom days. Good for her.”

Lots more where that came from, including an appreciation of Frank Miller’s Ronin (probably my favorite of Miller’s work as a writer/artist) and an ever-welcome mention of the old Eclipse/Viz manga pamphlets from way back when.

Colonia: On Into the Great Lands

This one will be out tomorrow at all your favorite comics stores. It’s $12.95, 152 pages, b&w, from AiT/Planet-Lar.

It’s a title I kept hearing about on a few sites every time a new issue was released, but I never quite got around to checking out. I’d enjoyed what I’d seen of writer/artist Jeff Nicholson’s work before - his Through the Habitrails was one of the most welcome recurring features in Steve Bissette’s infamous Taboo horror anthology (even for someone like me, collecting old issues out of order - the pleasure of encountering a good, unfamiliar recurring feature is much the same as seeing it new), and I greatly enjoyed the collected edition. Nicholson had also been active with his long-running, self-published Ultra Klutz, and would later create the comedic Father & Son at Kitchen Sink and do some work on The Dreaming at Vertigo (and be sure you check out Nicholson's Small Press Tirade, a priceless look at the '80s photocopy comics scene).

Colonia, begun in 1998, was initially published in pamphlet format by Nicholson’s own Colonia Press, with AiT/Planet-Lar eventually arriving to handle the collected editions, of which this is the second, compiling all remaining uncollected issues (#6 - #11). You’ll note the past tense I used in regards to the title’s pamphlet incarnation - in his forward to this volume, Nicholson notes that the next we’ll see of Colonia will be in original graphic novel format. Thus, as the author notes, this will be the last material to surface for several years.

But for now, we have the two extant collections. I’ve not read the first of these tomes, but the plot is pretty easy to pick up, as Colonia is a good-natured, low-key fantasy adventure, one that’s had some time to build up its world, but not enough to develop an intimidating wall of backstory for the neophyte reader to scale. The setup is easy to grasp: bright young Jack and his two uncles are out fishing, and inexplicably drift into a strange world that’s reminiscent of a barely-colonized America, with charismatic pirates like the roguish Cinnabar stalking the seas and hungry for gold. As this particular book picks up, the trio is stuck with Cinnabar and a host of other characters, pirates and otherwise, on a journey inland to find either treasure or a way home, depending on who you’re asking. Many sights are seen, like cute pagan girls and crafty ship-sellers, and revelations unfurl regarding Jack and company's passage to this odd world. But there’s more than just alternate history at play - there’s a talking duck that lays golden eggs, a man made entirely of fish, bizarre shape-shifting beasties, dwarves who bowl and brew the best booze around, and a vaguely sinister mermaid who is surrounded by scary beings with fins for hands and the mouthless, slit-eyed visages of Nicholson’s Through the Habitrails cast, the designs now more literally applied to the inhuman.

The rest of the character designs here are simple and bright, sometimes awkwardly so when positioned against Nicholson’s crisply-rendered environments, or beside the detailed, expressive animals and beasties that cohabitate the book’s world. There’s an excellent scene a ways through where Jack happens upon a strange being’s discarded human disguise - at first it seems like a cloak, or a towel, but then it’s revealed as a crumpled pair of legs, the bottom half of a ‘man-suit,’ so to speak, and the slinky detail put into such costume is impressive; it adds an air of gentle, creeping perversity to the proceedings, without polluting the all-ages atmosphere. The book could have used more of such kick; largely, the story maintains a type of half-whimsical questing aura where there’s a lot made of the characters finding their way through various travails, though there isn’t all that much in the way immediacy or danger, and plenty of jokes are available to mute the intermittent presence of such in any case. Even an unexpected side-trip to an unfriendly Indian city-state seems less threatening or suspenseful than interesting in terms of developing the book’s world, regardless of the supposed peril Our Heroes happen to be encountering. The resultant feeling is one of slight detachment, as if all of these events are being viewed from a certain distance.

But still, it’s a fast and easy read, and not one without its charms; Nicholson’s interests in historical play do pay off when the crew encounters a Blackbeard-patterned pirate character, a much feared and respected scourge of the seas who’s actually never killed anyone, and whose passion is driven mainly by a need to quell his profoundly ill mind. In other words, he’s a lot like the actual Blackbeard, with a knowing contemporary mist of historical/fictional legend surrounding him - one can say he’s our understanding of the historical figure, layers of myth peeled away as Jack and friends draw closer. It’s sequences like this that kept me most interested, and I was glad for their presence. I also enjoyed the reference to Ron Rege Jr.’s Skibber Bee-Bye, though that’s not quite as important.

There’s also a fair amount of bonus material here, including a very simple, very helpful, yet rarely-seen feature tucked away in the back - a short guide to the author’s prior works, complete with handy synopses and cover images. A seven-page sketchbook section is also included, as well as six pages of (prose) book reviews - many of the titles covered seem to have been used as reference material in the creation of this series, so it’s a bit like a heavily-annotated bibliography at times. It all works nicely as a look behind the making of this series, regardless.

The most telling extra feature, however, remains the aforementioned author’s forward, in which Nicholson lays out the troubles inherent to self-publishing a comic book series in the current day with much candor, production fluctuating from bi-monthly production to annual issues depending on his employment situation or personal state of mind (producing regular issues while working a day job was only possible after “I lost my mind again,” according to Nicholson). He estimates that the next Colonia release will be “five or six years away, but without the clutter of issuing the comics, maybe [Volume 3] will come much sooner.” I’ll hope for the latter outcome; Nicholson is too interesting a talent for a half-decade’s wait to be comfortable.


It's quite unseasonable.

*Sixty-one degrees on a November night?! Crazy. Makes me think of the past...


Will Eisner: A Spirited Life (a fragmented prose bio of the comics great, but there's a ton of interesting viewpoints and some detailed information)

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna #4 (of 4), Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #1 (of 4)

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #4 (of 5)

Jack Cross #4

What times they were!

*We all know what the big news of the day (yesterday, actually) was - Diamond’s new sales standards threatens to bear the fruit of destruction for Claypool Comics. I agree with Warren Ellis’ musings that “[i]t's saddening that the first time a lot of people may hear of Claypool is through what must be a last-ditch plea,” while admitting that the name of the company didn’t quite set off any bells in my head at first, although I think I might have heard of some of their books in passing. As to why such information may have merely flowed through my head without registering, Chris Butcher has some ideas; he also has a nice piece up on the rise and fall of manga localization experts Studio Proteus, and how their striving for the highest-quality presentations of manga ultimately fell from grace.

*Soldier Reserves Dept: Well, most of you have probably already heard this one too, but it bears repeating: Seven Soldiers - Mister Miracle is now getting a third artist. Issue #1, you’ll recall, was handled by Pasqual Ferry, who had to leave the book for contractual reasons. A new artist was named - Billy Dallas Patton, of the upcoming Zoom Suit comic. And now, it seems Patton will only be working on issue #2, with parts of that second issue and all issues thereafter to be completed by Freddie E. Williams III, of Noble Causes. Plenty of art samples at the above link, plus a peek at Patton’s cover art for issue #3 (which will now probably not see print) at Rich Johnston’s. Hey, why break the pattern? Bring in a fourth artist for issue #4! I’d go for Igor Kordey myself.

*Not an awful lot to catch the eye, though still some choice picks,


The Secret Voice #1: Ah, I’ve been waiting for this one, the first issue of this new one-man anthology, a solo series by Zack Soto, published by AdHouse Books. I’ve really enjoyed Soto’s work in the past; you might recall his contributions to AdHouse’s Project: Superior anthology and Superior Showcase #0 (a Free Comic Book Day release). He’s got a nice visual style, and these 64 pages are sure to be packed with tales of the fantastic and dreamlike, or so reliable sources indicate. It’s also only $4.95 - quite an attractive price for a book of its length. Definitely worth seeking out.

Colonia: On Into the Great Lands: The second collection of this humorous adventure series by writer/artist Jeff Nicholson, also author of the excellent, yet largely unknown Taboo serial (and subsequent collection) Through the Habitrails. Advance review tomorrow.

Optic Nerve 10th Anniversary Pack: Damn. I saw the ‘10’ there and became briefly fooled that it was the long-awaited Optic Nerve #10 (which I believe has already drifted into certain sources); actually, this is a special pack of the first seven issues of this well-known series, with a special print by writer/artist Adrian Tomine thrown in to sweeten the deal. Actually, at only $19.95, this is a pretty sweet deal to begin with - probably worth looking into if the series has been catching your eye.

The American: Whoa, Dark Horse really cracks open the vaults for a fat (360 pages), cheap ($14.95) and b&w compilation of this old Mark Verheiden-written series, which ran for eight issues and one special from 1987-90, then received a four-issue miniseries continuation in 1992 (The American: Lost in America), with a few short stories here and there as well. Chris Warner and Grant Miehm were the primary artists, although the likes of Jim Lee, Frank Miller and Mike Mignola provided covers and assorted illustrations at different points. It’s a satire of US culture, with a fallible patriotic superhero featured at its center - it might be interesting to see how the material has aged since its pre-Clinton heyday, and I’m sure fans from back then will want to jump at this compilation.

Image Comics: Yes, that’s the name now for this most infamous of hardcover projects, originally intended to celebrate the title publisher’s 10th anniversary by offering new stories by the remainder of its founding creators. That was in 2002. Unfortunately, the book soon transformed into an all-too apt metaphor for those early ’90s days of big hype and intermittent production, as the project kept getting pushed farther and farther back. But now it’s finally here, sans Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld or Whilce Portacio, and with Jim Valentino’s story having already been released as a San Diego con ashcan (it being a lead-in to the then-upcoming ShadowHawk revival, which is currently up to issue #7). As nostalgic as I tend to get over these things, I’m finding it a little hard to justify the $24.99 price tag for a 128-page book, though I’m sure devoted fans will be itching to discover Erik Larsen’s long-awaited secret origin of the Savage Dragon or to witness Todd McFarlane’s first full-length comics story in the better part of 10 years. Or to see whatever it is that Marc Silvestri did. I don’t know.

Negative Burn Summer Special 2005: Of course, lateness at Image isn’t exclusive to deluxe anniversary books, as you can readily see. New Brian Bolland material, at least, for this newest installment of this recently-revived anthology series, plus work by James A. Owen of Starchild fame. Also out from Image, a somewhat more prompt title - Fell #3.

Ocean: Speaking of writer Warren Ellis, here’s perhaps the week’s most notable Big Two release - a slightly revised collection of the 6-issue miniseries of months past, with art by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story of Tom Strong fame. The final issue of this title featured some rather difficult-to-parse images of things exploding and bright lights and the like - it was actually rather similar to the difficult final pages of another Ellis outer space epic, Switchblade Honey. But apparently this time the barriers to comprehension were enough that Ellis has elected to add some newly-crafted explanatory dialogue to clarify what exactly is happening; it’s far from the first time such collected edition textual tinkering has taken place (right off the top of my head I know Sam Kieth altered some of the word balloon positioning in the collection of his own Wildstorm miniseries, Four Women), but it’s notable nonetheless. Not that it’ll do all that much to aid Ocean, which is about 2/3 of a good book on the whole, its pulp-flavored notions of violence being passed from one generation to the next and its amusing satire of institutionalized groupthink (and yes, the two are connected) ultimately being tossed aside to focus on the same old slam-bang action posturing. Ah well.


All jammed up.

*Now, obviously I should have expected traffic on the roads seeing as how it’s the end of Thanksgiving weekend and all. Still didn’t stop me from getting annoyed at moving about twenty miles in just under an hour. It really tossed my plans out of line (sorry Jason!) and I’m still kind of catching up. Basically that means I had to move some of the stuff I had planned for today on this site over to tomorrow. I’ll probably get it up earlier tomorrow than I’m getting this up today, at least.

*Someone mentioned to me a while ago that Entertainment Weekly doesn’t give an awful lot of negative reviews of comics; I agree, though I generally see EW as knowingly utilizing their (very) limited review space to toss some light on comics that their editorial staff finds deserving of exposure to the wide readership that the magazine enjoys. Negative reviews only seem to follow visible releases that require some sort of comment - you’ll see She-Hulk getting an ‘A’ this issue (#852), but I don’t know if you’d see it getting a ‘D’ - more likely you’d simply never see it. The last really negative review I recall EW handing out was to Posy Simmonds’ Gemma Bovery, a fairly high-profile Pantheon release (of course, the extremely small spaces allotted to reviews makes negative critique a more difficult task, especially when dealing with a work that‘s been getting some acclaim - I recall my chief reaction to the Gemma Bovery review as wishing that the writer had more space to explain his or her reactions).

So that’s why it’s interesting to see this week’s ‘C-’ appraisal of the Oni release Capote in Kansas. It’s a fairly withering piece (critic Gillian Flynn notes that artist Chris Samnee’s design for the title character resembles “a cross between Harry Truman and Bobby from King of the Hill”), but perhaps it’s just as well taken as an indicator of the access Oni has obtained for its titles, a greater breaking into the media at large. Other reviews include Seth’s Wimbledon Green (‘A-’) and Strange Detective Tales: Dead Love (‘B+’) from Jesse Bausch and James Callahan.

Of course, the real comics feature of the issue involves Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, whose artwork is all over the bonus music section Listen to This which has a feature story on Gorillaz, that animated musical collective visually designed by Hewlett, who also heads up their music videos.

I’ll confess that I was sort of distracted by the news that Grizzly Man (best film of 2005 thus far) apparently didn’t even clear the first level of nomination candidacy for the Oscar for Best Documentary, falling behind no less than fifteen other films. Oh well, it’s not like Crumb was nominated either, just over a decade ago - no respect from those bastards!


Obsessive video game miscellany, plus a comics review.

*Been playing plenty of video games lately - an obvious side effect of being near a working Playstation 2 for the first time in a while. Mostly I’ve been focusing on one of my favorite gaming genres, one present from near the very beginning of video game era: the shoot ‘em up, or ‘shmup,’ in which you control a small ship (or a flying person, or something else), and you use various brands of weaponry (many of which must be collected) to single-handedly repel hordes of enemies advancing from all fronts. The stage scrolls for you. You can power up your weapons by collecting things that drop from fallen foes or destroyed structures. Bosses regularly intrude. The screen often becomes thick with bullets and missiles and rays, and the player must enter a bizarre state of arcade zen to navigate their way through. Far, far more information can be enjoyed here.

These games have become something of an acquired taste in recent years, as the style has fallen from widespread favor across the current gaming scene. I still love ‘em, and I love to search for ‘em, especially when new examples are actually released in the US. This brings me to my most recent set of acquisitions, a semi-related series of titles that had the added bonus of exposing me to a level of alternate title confusion usually unseen outside of drive-in horror or exploitation films.

I made a reference in the title of my last post to a Mobile Light Force 2. I really did buy such a game on Black Friday. It was for the PS2, and cost less than $10. But the details behind this game deserve a nice explanation, if only to illustrate the fun and magic that games can sometimes experience on their journey from one nation’s shores to another.

Mobile Light Force 2, you see, was released in the US in 2003 by a company called XS Games. XS also, as one would expect, had released a first Mobile Light Force game. It was released the same year, for the original Playstation. The trick is, Mobile Light Force was actually a US Playstation port of a shmup called Gunbird, which was released in Japan on the Sega Saturn way back in 1995, following a 1994 Japanese arcade debut. There was also a Gunbird 2, which appeared in Japanese arcades in 1998, then the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, in both the US and Japan. Mobile Light Force 2, however, was not a PS2 port of Gunbird 2; it was a version of a totally different Japanese shmup titled Shikigami no Shiro (released to Japanese arcades in 2001, and ported to the Japanese PS2 in 2002). Both of these games were licensed, then re-titled by XS to make them part of a ‘series,’ complete with hilariously misleading cover art depicting a trio of leather-clad (and ethnically diverse) ladies toting guns in front of evil robots - no such characters were seen in any of the actual games. Indeed, Mobile Light Force 2 retains most of Shikigami no Shiro’s introductory screens, which depict the actual cast of the game, only to plop in an ad hoc title screen featuring the new US cast at the last minute - and the US cast never appears again, not even in the instruction booklet!

But wait - there’s more! In 2004, XS decided to snap up the license for Shikigami no Shiro 2 (Japanese arcade release in 2003, Japanese PS2 release in 2004). So, naturally you’d think they’d call it 'Mobile Light Force 3,' right? Well, such a title is mentioned occasionally in the instruction booklet, though the title on the box is now Castle Shikigami 2, despite the fact that no ‘Castle Shikigami 1' had ever been seen in the US - the actual ‘Castle Shikigami 1' was Mobile Light Force 2, which itself was offered as a sequel to a totally unrelated game, Gunbird, which had its own sequel, Gunbird 2, released in the US years ago on a different system, by a different company, under its real title. Got it?

Ah, the wonderful world of budget releases of semi-popular genres. I only own Mobile Light Force 2 and Castle Shikigami 2 (which was also under $10 - that’s no discount, that was the suggested retail price), and the localization jobs are simply fascinating to behold. From reading the manuals, I can only assume that English is not the first language of the persons providing the text; I also must presume that an alternate party handled the translation of the text onscreen in the game itself, since character names are often spelled differently between the two areas. Also, portions of the Mobile Light Force 2 manual had apparently been saved and pasted into the Castle Shikigami 2 instruction book - that would explain the repetition of already curious language, plus the occasional mention of ‘Mobile Light Force 2’ in the wrong booklet. As for the games themselves, all story content (including the ending!) has been excised from Mobile Light Force 2, and all in-round dialogue (battle cries and the like) has been dubbed into English. In Castle Shikigami 2, the between-level story scenes are retained, dubbed into English, with the spoken lines often merely paraphrasing the text displayed onscreen beside speaking characters. And all of the in-round cries are left in Japanese this time.

It’s a strange experience, these confusing, dirt-cheap packages, but I love the gameplay so much that it doesn’t really matter. The Shikigami no Shiro series (a third entry just hit Japan’s arcades this year) can withstand all manner of localization brutishness; they’re short, punchy shmups, possessing a neat ‘level-up’ system for weapons upgrades as based on the manner in which you defeat your foes. You even get added blasts of shooting power the closer your character comes to being struck by an enemy or their shots; thus, the game rewards daring, celebrates the dance through burning fields of doom that all of these games present in one way or another (in Mobile Light Force 2, there’s even one boss that literally cannot be harmed - you simply have to dodge all of his shot patterns until he burns himself out and self-destructs). Bliss.

Jack Cross #4

For the record, the ‘Next In...’ box in the back of this issue assures us that Jack Cross will be returning “in a few months,” so DC hasn’t pulled the plug just yet, despite the title’s absence through February.

It’s with a modicum of enthusiasm that I report this issue isn’t quite as fall-out-of-your-seat awful as issue #3, in that the action at least flows logically from one panel to the next. Artist Gary Erskine’s characters, when locked in combat, do seem to look like they’re fighting instead of rehearsing for their roles in an upcoming off-Broadway adaptation of the same material. Not that the visuals in this one are flawless; be sure to keep your eye on the CIA operative with the blue jacket and the cell phone - his hairstyle, hair color and shirt color refuse to remain constant throughout the action. Were this still issue #1 or #2, I’d be holding out hope that this is all meant to reflect the continuing deterioration of Cross’ grip on reality; alas, I fear the book is just plain old sloppy, through and through, leaning heavily on big fat action scenes that it just doesn’t excel at.

But at least the basic flow of reading isn’t impeded. Indeed, there’s actually a pretty nice bit of narrative misdirection pulled off here, though I must confess I haven’t gone back through the whole storyline to make sure it all synchs up; I’d really rather not experience this material all over again. Suffice to say, this concluding issue sees Cross whisked off to San Francisco to prevent an octet of CIA operatives from blasting a batch of anti-war protestors with a mind-melting complacency device once used by Saddam Hussein. Insert ‘US operatives resorting to the methods of our enemies’ comment here. In earlier issues there was also some stuff about a rogue DHS agent/CIA mole’s being manipulated by the same forces via his ill-fated efforts to spring his lover from Guantanamo Bay, but that stuff’s pretty much over by now - it basically served to feed the book’s running theme of US operatives creating their own problems, then creating new problems to cover for the old, all of it tied to domestic politics and covert squabbling. An interesting action piece (or even a slyly satirical action piece) could have been produced from such material. Not here, though.

Even when not focusing on action, the book remains broad and booming, relying on only the most unsubtle motions to sell its themes. As if to throw the flaws behind this story’s execution into even sharper relief than expected, writer Warren Ellis slows things down a bit this issue to make room for a little political debate; unfortunately, this only serves to give Cross room to bluster at a hapless opponent, herself prone to lines like (in reference to persons of certain ethnicity) “I never want to be a racist. But any of those people could be one of them,” and (in reference to anti-war protestors) “[t]he only way you keep a herd safe is to fence it in, guard it well, and make sure none of them cause a stampede,” whilst Cross delivers sterling oration on protecting the rights of Americans, at one point standing against a backdrop of the smoke-engulfed Twin Towers. Can there be any doubt that Cross will soon shed the blood of villainous US operatives and manfully carve up his skin afterwards, one notch for each death, thus placing both American and foreigner on equal footing in the metaphorical cemetery of his skin?

No, it all goes according to plan, including my own plan to drop this book as of right now. But I do have to admit that a smile was raised by the resoundingly self-important penultimate story page, utilizing a BBC news report to mix strand-tying plot information with scenes of Amnesty International identifying wrongfully-imprisoned Gitmo detainees and DHS agents mistaking children’s toys for bombs. It’s here, for me, that the whole affair ventures remarkably close to high camp, though I think many readers will find the subject matter a bit too raw to chortle at. Plus, it’ll probably never beat an across-the-aisle wonder like Liberality For All, so it looks like a wash on all fronts.


I broke two legs to get this copy of Mobile Light Force 2 - luckily, neither of the legs were mine.

*New column is up: a Black Friday spectacular, chronicling my retreat into the past when confronted with the breakneck pace of near-future acceleration. As a bit of a postscript - yes, I actually was up at 4:30 this morning (well, more accurately I didn’t go to sleep) and I went charging through the aisles, looking for some deals for my dear mother. And I goddamned found them, because I am a feral beast. Also recommended is Tom Spurgeon’s Black Friday special, a lovely piece with smart recommendations.

*Well, my Thanksgiving day was fine yesterday too, thank you for asking. I did an awful lot of sleeping, which was sort of surprising considering that I’d already done more than my share the night before (it was the whiskey - puts me right out every time). The only amusing comics-related moment was when my little cousin asked to see The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (as seen in the above column) and slammed it shut after flipping through about five pages. “These are old,” he said, “and there’s not enough color.” Indeed.

*Tideland Dept: The official site is up, including a trailer and some clips (just check the site map if you get lost). Looks pretty intriguing to me; the bit in the trailer with the doll head blinking was great, though the score in the clips seems a bit overbearing. Lots of eccentric, sort of over-the-top performances (I like the little kid); I’d have preferred an even more washed-out, arid visual style - this one seems a bit too rich, although I guess it’s striving for kind of a rotten storybook look. I sure hope this thing plays in more than ten theaters (all of which will inevitably be located in the LA and/or NY area), since I like my Gilliam on the big screen, and the sound design here strikes me as the sort of thing that’d benefit from booming directionality.

*Not all that swell a week in new comics, so far as I’ve read. Really the best thing I bought on my Thanksgiving-related travels was a 1987 reprint of the first two issues of EC’s Panic (it was Book 10 in the Russ Cochran EC Classics line of reprints). Panic, for those not familiar, was Mad’s sister title, though it was reportedly planned and shelved prior to Mad’s creation; ultimately lasting for twelve issues, it was written and edited by Al Feldstein as opposed to Harvey Kurtzman, who masterminded Mad, though there was some artist overlap between the two, which is fortunate, as vintage Will Elder and Wally Wood art is never a bad thing. There’s also work by Joe Orlando, Jack Davis and Jack Kamen; Davis handles the visuals for a particularly interesting parody of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (excellent title: “My Gun is the Jury!”), positively loaded with over-the-top misogyny, the title character (well, ok, it’s ‘Mike Hammershlammer’) constantly shooting gorgeous women to death and conveniently justifying it with various dark secrets from their pasts. Quite a lot of sex and violence throughout the whole pair of issues actually; to modern eyes this material seems unquestionably targeted towards ‘mature audiences,’ though I guess a lot of kids enjoyed the sheer transgressiveness of it all.

What surprised me most about these issues was the level of coherency each book had as a single issue; these things were designed to be read from start to finish, and there’s a certain amount of ‘nested’ humor, jokes that’ll only make sense if you’ve read earlier stories in the book, going in order of presentation (by way of example, issue #2 kicks off with a parody of The African Queen, which had been released years before Panic’s 1953 debut, and constant sport is made of the then-current John Ford film Mogambo, which was seen by some as a rip-off of the earlier Bogart/Hepburn classic - the mere mention of ‘Mogambo’ then becomes a running gag for the rest of the issue, even in parodies of other works, like A Streetcar Named Desire). I wonder if such techniques were used in part to smooth over the book’s slightly wobbly launch - a few of the stories in issue #1 really feel like they were meant for one of the EC horror books, what with the twist endings and evil twists on fairy tales. Or maybe Feldstein didn’t want to stray too far from winning formulas, not right off the bat.

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #4 (of 5)

Oh for the love of bugfuck. Well hey everyone, plot twist - apparently a hugely talented career killer, constantly on call for England’s dirtiest of dirty work, is simply mortified (I’m talking drastic action-taking, life’s direction-alteringly aghast) at the fact that his government has committed awful crimes upon children. Heavens! Now let’s be fair - I’m almost half-convinced that Kev as a character is so outstandingly thick that he’s never thought that maybe he’s been putting children in harm’s way before (by, say, slotting their fathers by the ton) and has to be directly confronted with evidence of kiddies being hurt to accept that his government is doing these extra-nasty things, but since writer Garth Ennis doesn’t bother to connect this to what we’ve seen of Kev’s past on any level beyond a flashback-fueled cumulative ‘oh man, it turns out these patently abusive people who’ve sending me around the globe killing folks by the score have maybe not had everyone’s best interests in mind!’ why should I bend over backwards to justify this painfully forced means of propping up the title character’s predictable moral journey?

On one level, I’m sure the image of Midnighter surrounded by innocent children squealing that he’s their rescuer is supposed to be kind of tongue-in-cheek, simply because I’d rather not believe that Ennis is this willing to dive into contrived melodrama, but given the soppiness of the rest of this issue, who knows? Oh, there’s also a bit involving retarded superheroes who’ve soiled themselves, just to reemphasize that Ennis thinks capes are a bit silly, but given the rest of the issue’s ‘aw, superheroes ain’t so bad after all since they can be moral and stuff’ drive (I’ve read that Ennis’ superhero satire The Pro ultimately adopts a very similar stance, mocking various superheroic stand-ins for most of its length then immediately spinning around to reaffirm traditional superheroic values at the conclusion, though I haven’t actually read the book so don’t hold me to that), it seems less amusing to me than calculated to offset the soppy tone of the rest of the issue. And having followed the well-trodden ways of those flashback issues, it’s even less appealing to me.

God. It occurs to me that this issue embodies exactly what I’d hoped wouldn’t happen to this title following the mistimed pathos at the conclusion of the last Kev series. At least “Oh, this is lamentable...!” is a pretty good line. Ah well. What really gets to me is that I know I don’t have the fortitude to drop this thing with only one issue left to go. Bah.

Tom Strong #35

And this thing is worth spending a few sentences reviewing just to try and articulate why it’s so difficult to review. Simply put, this issue is eminently competent yet compulsively disposable enough that virtually no words can stick to it; all verbiage falls away like strands of undercooked spaghetti. Tom and company confront Permafrost and Tom’s old girlfriend Greta. There’s a little friction between Tom and Dhalua, and a little conflict between Tom and Greta, but all is wrapped up with perfect ease. It’s good to have penciler/co-creator Chris Sprouse back, and Karl Story’s inks fit him well. The action is well-mounted, flowing right by. Maybe I’m just tired from my Black Friday activities, but I found this book to be almost supernaturally light, as if the reading of the book was dissolving in my head as soon as it registered. Nothing really wrong with it, nothing at all, but I feel I need a paperweight to keep it from floating off toward the ceiling. Here’s to Alan Moore’s return next issue, and the end of most things.


No, thank YOU!

*It's some sort of holiday in this country today, or so my advisors tell me. As such, I'll see you all tomorrow, after we've all digested whatever it is we've eaten.


Just presume that there's ***SPOILERS*** running throughout this whole Seven Soldiers post.

*Lovely, very chummy Howard Chaykin/Walt Simonson interview up at Newsarama. Lots of neat tidbits on their upcoming Hawkgirl run, though my personal favorite part was the revelation that the book would be scripted in the Mighty Marvel Manner (writer does outline, artist constructs pages, writer fills in dialogue), as that suggests that Chaykin will be handling the page designs largely on his own, which is one of the keys to his style’s visual impact. Also - Chaykin is working on some sort of Guy Gardner project, though I don’t know if he’s only scripting it.

*Also found at Newsarama - apparently, Duncan Fegredo is now the artist for the upcoming Hellboy miniseries Hellboy: Darkness Calls. He will replace Lee Bermejo, the original artist slated for the series, which will be the first ‘major’ Hellboy storyline to not feature creator Mike Mignola on art. The whole thing has accordingly been pushed back to a September 6, 2006 release.

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna #4 (of 4)

Ooooh, so maybe that’s why the metafiction elements of Mister Miracle #1 got cut - they’ve been moved to over here!

Upon completing this issue, my first thought was that it’d be utterly incoherent for anyone not closely following the entire Seven Soldiers project. Actually, some might find it incoherent anyway; this is writer Grant Morrison working fast and loose with logic and/or explanations, and getting especially high on image and exclamation - this sort of thing can easily lose readers not inclined to embrace a certain degree of peculiarity in their superhero clashes. But then I pulled out the other three issues of this particular miniseries, and I now realize that there’s been as definite a character progression throughout these four books as there’s been in each Seven Soldiers title; taken as one unit, Zatanna is at best a series of anecdotes, vignettes intended to present moments in the title character's journey to a greater self-confidence, but the 'transformation' theme as present throughout this entire project is clearly here as well.

I think what I now like most about this miniseries is the visual highlighting of Zatanna’s uncertainty, her inability to make peace with her memories of her father - she’s been searching for his four lost books, after all, as if collecting them can offer her the sort of security in her powers (as the carrier of her father’s formidable legacy - again, the motif of newer heroes affected by those from the past arises) that she can’t always produce on her own. Thus, most of the villains in this title sport a visual design that mocks the image of her father: the mustache, the long face, the magic. Gwydion’s pre-capture form, The Tempter, and this issue’s Zor, an old foe of The Spectre - all of them reflect Zatanna’s interior struggle. “...I guess you could call the whole experience a confrontation with my own guilt and self-doubt,” Our Heroine helpfully notes at the conclusion of this issue, and it seems to me like a valid analysis.

Of course, things are hardly self-contained here on the whole: Zor is apparently also the Terrible Time Tailor from Guardian #4 (various characters’ commentary and the twin references to black flowers here and in that earlier book seem to confirm such a guess), and there’s also plenty of references to Shining Knight, and the Seven Unknown Men make another appearance. The latter is most noteworthy, and not only because penciler Ryan Sook opts to draw the Seven as far more explicitly resembling the project’s writer than average (one of the niggling issues with this project is that the various art teams apparently can’t settle on a single set of character designs for the ‘shared’ members of the cast - at least the ever-thoughtful Morrison gave most of these characters special attributes that could explain their varying forms, like the slightly amorphous body of Neh-Buh-Loh, the skin-swapping nature of Melmoth, the outside-time status of the Seven Unknown Men, etc.). Here is where the project makes its (heretofore lightly lobbed) commentary on the revamping of superheroes extremely explicit.

It’s already been established that Zor is in the business of watching and altering realities - in other words, he’s a writer of established universe superhero comics (stay with me). But his motives are decidedly impure: “I will make playthings of you all! You will love and kill and die at my command!” He’s also interested in introducing only the most foul strains of ‘maturity’ into the places he views: from Guardian #4 - “My world has no place for smart-ass kids... now go try on the clothes I’ve made... I make special clothes, see. Suits you’ll wear when you’re older.” The revamping writer as ‘tailor’ metaphor is a potent one - see the various costume and equipment upgrades the Seven Unknown Men brandish in Seven Soldiers #0 as they prepare for the miniseries to come - and the image of a Terrible Tailor creating oppressively heavy garments, seemingly out of sheer self-indulgence, works well. It’s no wonder that he’d loose the culture-razing Sheeda on his poor subjects. Ah, but the Seven Unknown Men are here; but though they’re a group of seven, that Sheeda-hated godly number, they will only set events in motion, allowing pre-existing characters to grow, to develop more gracefully - Enlightened Maturity.

Perhaps this all ties back to Morrison’s occasionally stated theory of superhero universes as living entities (amusingly, the conflicted villain Neh-Buh-Loh actually is a living universe, though one devoid of superheroism in anything but the most nascent sense, from what we know), free to develop on their own and survive past whichever creative teams are currently tending to them - the crux of Seven Soldier’s conflict thus tellingly rises from an evil creative, one who threatens to destroy everything through his arrogance and vanity (“Liar! It’s a magnificent beard and I know you want one!”). And, if we’re in a particularly playful mood, we might want to compare this project to the DCU’s other current big deal, Infinite Crisis, which is also concerned with the current status of superhero storytelling (ain’t the era of decadence grand?).While Morrison approaches matters through layers of metaphor and analogy and citation of parallel heroic themes and, yes, the occasional burst through the fourth wall, Infinite Crisis has thus far literally brought back an old Superman to literally chat about the DCU's status whilst literally viewing scenes from stories past and literally suggesting that past worlds be revived. Meanwhile, the Seven Unknown Men work (mostly) through more indirect means, as does the One Known Man pulling most of the strings. But Morrison is no citizen of Earth-2; he does not desire a return to the past, only a more richly-considered future.

That’s what I found most interesting about Zatanna #4, in both the self-contained and macrocosmic senses, although the actual plot of this issue mainly features evil magicians firing bullets from their eyes and Our Heroine sneaking around behind panels like it’s a Harvey Kurtzman gag page and heated narrations and the like (Barbelith tells me that the big fight here is apparently an extended homage to an old Spectre battle of issues past). Eventually the magic gets so intense that Zatanna breaks through the very boundaries of fiction, and she even gets what she’s been spending the whole miniseries searching for - and while the resolution of what exactly happened to Dad’s books is decidedly cliched, the character’s journey still feels authentic. And then, the concerns of the project at large drop from the sky, and we’re off again. Because newly enlightened heroes need something to do with themselves, after all.

Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #1 (of 4)

But as one 'ends,' another begins. I notice that the exclamation point that used to be found at the end of the title has been jettisoned from everywhere but the information page in the back. And since we’re discussing details, does anyone else get the feeling that the '1955' caption on page four was supposed to be on panel four rather than panel three? Because the page would make a whole lot more sense in terms of both narrative and design that way.

Anyway, this series looks to be largely Sheeda-focused, based on this issue and the solicitations (and Morrison’s stated plans) for later installments. The book opens in a nice, catchy manner, with the title titan blowing recurring Seven Soldiers villain Melmoth’s head off with an enchanted gun (he’ll be back, as we know), but we soon delve into the exciting world of Sheeda breeding mechanics, as utilized as a metaphor for teenage insecurity. In short, a woefully unattractive kid is twisted by the Sheeda into exploiting his slightly better-adjusted classmates’ secret doubts, reading their minds (cutely conveyed by having him spot thought bubbles floating above everyone’s heads) and transforming them into quivering fodder for spine-riding metamorphosis (first sign of trouble? excessive Internet use!). Only the nice girl who cares for him can... er... wander around screaming until Frankenstein rises from the ground to stab that nerd in the fucking neck with a goddamned broadsword. One to grow on.

This particular plot pulls off the impressive trick of fitting in perfectly with the Sheeda’s backstory and accompanying themes, while still feeling like a slightly weary stock plot rolled out to fill time as the project hits issue #20. The execution seems weirdly tossed-off, from one character’s half-sniggering death scene (“I love you. In a totally doomed way that you’ll never forget.”) to the utterly bizarre background locale of ‘Excalibur Fantasy Butterfly World,’ which has an awesome name but... what is it? A butterfly supply store? A butterfly-themed fantasy/comics shop? I get the 'bad maturity v. good maturity'/'Sheeda-as-evil-butterflies' metaphor, but this is just awkwardly positioned, as if Morrison just liked the name and decided to roll with it for better or worse.

Still, there’s something to be said for a high school outcast story that ends with no forgiveness, no understanding, only the realization that some situations are so irrevocably poisoned that one can only burn down the school and move on. Doug Mahnke (veteran of a lot of DCU properties but still best known to me as the primary artist for The Mask) provides some decently grotesque visuals; his talents with the humorously vile are well-utilized on this subject matter, with our awful high school antagonist serving as a particular standout. There’s still a long way to go with this title, and I expect matters will level out soon.


It's pretty early here...

*Readers on the West Coast can probably still taste their lunches at this point.

*Recurring Stories Dept: Publisher’s Weekly’s Comics Weekly supplement has some more details on the Seven Seas contract revisions (I think these articles stay posted for longer than a day). It’s now explicitly mentioned that the revised full creator ownership offers were extended to the creators of three webcomics, two of whom had previously agreed to joint ownership terms. Quotes are offered from both creators involved, Crystal Yates of Earthsong and Sarah Ellerton of Inverloch, each of whom were (respectively) “certainly” and “perfectly” happy to turn over half of their ownership rights in exchange for publication and bookstore distribution. Also included is the third creator, Dave Cheung of Chugworth Academy, who says he was never offered a joint ownership contract, and would have turned it down if given the opportunity. In addition, Seven Seas retains the rights to represent all three webcomics to film and television licensing purposes. Interesting reading.

Also from Publisher's Weekly, their carefully genre-blended Best of 2005 (but... it's not even Black Friday!). Lots of expected choices mixed in with some interesting trends (the manga is pretty evenly divided between OEL and Japanese-produced) and a few genuine puzzlers (Ghost in the Shell 2 was certainly... singular, but one of the best of the year?). Worth a look too.

Will Eisner: A Spirited Life

There’s a lot of Will Eisner tributes still going around - most recently there was Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s appreciation in Tomorrow Stories Special #1, as well as a star-studded tribute issue of Comic Book Artist (Vol. 2, No. 6). Of course, one didn’t need to witness the outpouring of emotion following Eisner’s January 3, 2005 passing to understand the impact of the man upon the industry: he does have an award named after him, after all, and even a cursory glance at his career sees him striding through a diverse range of comics subjects and styles - costumed heroes, industrial and educational strips, realistic longform narratives - while retaining a certain business acumen oft absent from the tales of similarly-positioned comics icons.

Now comes Will Eisner: A Spirited Life, written by Bob Andelman, a 376-page prose-format biography of the man, shedding light on his accomplishments and doling out some useful personal details. Andelman mentions in the front of the book that this project was originally conceived in 2002 as Eisner’s autobiography, with Andelman aiding in organization; after the first draft, the project transformed into an authorized biography, with Andelman interviewing dozens and dozens of people whose lives bore some connection with Eisner. That’s important to know, since interviews are the key to the book’s structure - this is an extremely anecdotal work, organized into occasionally convoluted categories and subcategories, many of them overlapping chronologically, with each chapter usually broken up into a primary source narrative followed by (and sometimes interspersed with) an array of supplementing comments by involved parties. Andelman also goes out of his way to note that the book “is not a critique of [Eisner’s] brush style or wordsmithing,” and indeed the content here is focused mainly on the life and times and business of the subject, not the contents of the material he produced beyond whatever impact they ultimately had on the aforementioned germane subjects.

The book is divided into four sections - ‘Four-Color,’ ‘Opaque,’ ‘Gray,’ and ‘Black & White’ - each of them loosely corresponding to both a time in Eisner’s life and a certain subject matter, although these classifications are hardly hewn in rock: ‘Gray’ and ‘Black & White’ in particular cover many of the same years, with the former generally devoted to Eisner’s business dealings and industrial comics, and the latter largely focused on his graphic novels and influence as an artist, although both of them ultimately delve into subject matter apart from their implied areas of coverage (especially when dealing with entities like Kitchen Sink, which fall squarely into both categories). This stands in contrast to the largely chronological ’Four-Color’ and the partially-overlapping private life-focused ‘Opaque’ - the result is a strangely disjoined, sprawling book, though one full of information.

Indeed, it’s a bit like listening to a group of people telling you interesting stories about the same topic, many of them covering the same ground from different viewpoints - there’s not as much massaging of the material into a seamless narrative as one might expect, and convolution is an occasional hazard. But there’s certainly some insightful stuff, and a great list of interview subjects, everyone from Denis Kitchen to Alan Moore to Rick Veitch to Jon B. Cooke to Stan Lee to Mark Evanier to Steve Geppi to Paul Levitz to Jim Warren to Dave Sim to Legs McNeil to Robert A. Iger (President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company and grand-nephew of Jerry Iger of the Eisner & Iger Studio) and many more - there’s even a bonus appendix consisting of additional unused interview material from seventeen parties, plus an introduction by Michael Chabon and a special appreciation by Neal Adams. Surely there was no shortage of folks ready and willing to talk, and Andelman takes full advantage of such access.

Perhaps the book reads a bit more smoothly in its early pages because there’s simply not as many people equipped to offer anecdotes, circumstances thus forcing a more straightforward relaying of events, though chapters are still blocked up into individual stories when appropriate. Having just completed Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow, a number of the early stories and bits of information relayed here were familiar to me (and several others have long ago passed into the annals of industry lore - if by chance you haven’t yet heard the tale of Jack Kirby mouthing off to the mobster at Eisner & Iger, well, here it is again), but it’s good to have an Eisner-centric view of events. Andelman is at his best here when covering Eisner’s personal life, utilizing his personal access to gather many details on his subject’s sketchy academic background (he never graduated high school), his home life, and the tragedy surrounding his children (some of which is made explicit, some of which is only alluded to).

The later portions of the book, moving towards the modern day, rise and fall on the strength of their topics, their stories. My personal favorites included an entire chapter devoted to Eisner’s dealings with cat yronwode (one of the forces behind Eclipse Comics and Eisner’s #1 fan, inventory keeper, reprint editor, art agent, and something of a surrogate daughter), amusing chronicles of Kitchen Sink’s all-star 8-issue The Spirit: The New Adventures series (at one point Eisner asks Dave Gibbons to make sure that Alan Moore doesn’t turn the title character into a drug addict or anything, given his reputation regarding costumed characters) and the infamous ABC-produced The Spirit television pilot, and an excellent overview of Eisner’s teaching career at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

It’s in that chapter that Andelman’s approach bears the most fruit, darting and weaving through the years and among alumni to craft a kaleidoscopic portrait of Eisner’s methods and influence. It seems like it was a fascinating class - a pass/fail simulated Golden Age-style ‘shop’ setting meant to cultivate both storytelling ability and business acumen. Testimony is given by Batton Lash (Supernatural Law), John Holmstrom (founder of Punk Magazine) and Patrick McDonnell (Mutts), among others. But it’s not all sunshine: Eisner prompts a student to drop his course after declaring “one Robert Crumb is worth a dozen Frank Frazettas to me,” Eisner throws Drew Friedman out of class for acting up, Eisner flunks Joe Quesada - partially for not turning in his projects on time (INSERT JOKE HERE). At one point Jim Shooter notes that he never had “an Eisner kid” work out (save for Quesada) when producing art for Marvel or Valiant - it’s left for the reader to provide whatever connotation they want from such a statement.

It’s in chapters like this that Andelman’s approach seems most justified; the author is often detail-oriented, dutifully providing information about various and sundry corporate maneuvers, and listing the current holders of the publication rights for all of Eisner’s major works (for example, apparently Dark Horse currently holds the reprint rights for The Spirit: The New Adventures). And it’s the details and the stories and the conversations that carry the book. During one passage regarding the delay-prone process of putting together Dark Horse’s Eisner/Miller project, Eisner snaps “I’m fighting a losing battle with time,” and this moment offers a sudden jolt of immediacy, of time passing that the rest of the book keeps at arm’s length. But for those looking for a compendium of information and anecdote and lore, much of it straight from the subject himself, it’ll be hard to find a resource more comprehensive than this book. Sitting back and letting it all sink in upon completion, I did get a sense of having been through Eisner’s life with this book - it’s just something you have to do on your own, having been given the information this tome is so eager to provide.



*Man, that $1 frozen sausage & pepper stromboli was better than expected.


Local #1 (of 12)

All Star Superman #1

Tomorrow Stories Special #1 (of 2)

Plus, at Comic Book Galaxy I have a review of Jenny Finn: Messiah.

And I did a little film review of the Harold Lloyd/Preston Sturges team-up, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock.

Really... even the aftertaste was ok...

*Kind of eclectic


Æon Flux: The Herodotus File: Very interesting - apparently, MTV Productions is determined to roll out every last bit of Flux miscellany to coincide with the debut of the new live-action film, since here’s a reprint of this strange 1995 book project, originally released to supplement the ten-episode stand-alone iteration of the television series. Executed in the style of a confidential file (though bound in book format, I believe), this 96-page production presents magazine and news articles, random bits of data and surveillance info, ‘photographs’ and historical essays, all of it set in the Æon Flux universe. Eventually some sort of plot can be gleaned, regarding Trevor Godchild’s (dastardly?) plan to shore up his own power by perverting the world’s historical record. Scripted by Mark Mars and Eric Singer, both writers on the television program. I don’t know who does the art, but there’s apparently a lot of it. Devout fans might want to snap this up on Wednesday after spending much of tomorrow evening gorging on the newly-released Æon Flux - The Complete Animated Collection dvd set (which, by the way, apparently features various animation enhancements, occasional dialogue rewrites, and one minor character’s voice actor entirely replaced - creator Peter Chung oversaw all of these alterations to cover some of the weaker elements of the original broadcasts and increase inter-episode continuity). High times!

Winsor McCay Early Works Vol. 6: Continuing on. I reviewed the prior volume of this at the Galaxy, and I’ll echo what I said there in mentioning that it’s good that more and more of McCay’s gargantuan body of work is coming into print; Little Nemo in Slumberland is but a fraction of the story. I do hope that some of my other comments regarding typos and haphazard dating and poor reproduction quality will not require any cross-application here, but we’ll have to see. This edition will showcase another barely-seen McCay feature, Mr. Goodenough, a social comment strip about a wealthy man of leisure who continually strives to become more active, always never quite making it. Plus: more Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, more A Pilgrim’s Progress and plenty more editorial cartooning. Also keep your eyes peeled for Fantagraphics’ new reprint of their own McCay miscellany compilation, Daydreams and Nightmares - it should be out any week now.

Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol. 4 and Vol. 5: Yes, that’s two separate books, two volumes in one week. Obviously, Checker has been busy with their vintage strips. This is their 100-page per volume, landscape-format hardcover compilation series of the original Flash Gordon Sundays. Just to keep a pattern going, here’s Derik Badman’s reviews of the first three books from the over at the Galaxy. I love Raymond’s Flash; silly as it gets, it’s never less than utterly saturated with muscular pulp atmosphere and barely-contained sexuality (characters’ clothes get ripped off an awful lot), and the art has been rightfully hailed for ages as featuring some of the best adventure visuals of its day. The reproduction quality isn’t stunning, but one gets the feeling that Checker is doing their best given the means at their disposal. If you don’t already have this stuff, you should give it a look now. Oddly, Checker doesn’t seem to have any listings on their site for the two or so future volumes necessary to complete Raymond’s run. Hopefully we’ll see these books eventually.

Cromartie High School Vol. 4: Oh I’ve been waiting for you, dearie. At this point, nobody needs me to explain the magic of Cromartie High School to them: it’s just damn good comedy. Who even knows what happens in this volume? Just let Cromartie take your hand and frolic with you through the tulip fields of entertainment.

Palooka-Ville #18: New comics from Seth are always a treat; Wimbleton Green should be out very soon, and that’s sure to satisfy your cravings, from what I’ve been hearing. But some of you are probably also following Seth’s current ‘big’ project, Clyde Fans, which Palooka-Ville has been serializing since issue #10 (released in 1997). I believe this issue marks the end of Book 3, leaving one more three-issue book to go before the project’s completion (a hardcover compilation of Books 1 and 2 is currently available, for those looking to catch up). If you’ve been waiting, I’m sure you’ll not want to wait even longer for whatever collected edition is planned for the future. Or heck, maybe you do.

Yuggoth Creatures #2 (of 3): Ha ha ha holy shit! Where the hell did this come from?! It’s Avatar’s b&w Lovecraftian short story series, which I had basically given up for dead seeing as how issue #1 came out in Summer 2004. If this issue is anything like the first (and I’m going by some very old solicitation copy), it’ll be a 40-page spread of Antony Johnston-scripted short stories, about six of them, at six to eight pages each, all of them centering around the memoirs of some professor who keeps getting mixed up in monstrous happenings. It’s all pretty light and snappy, an unashamed excuse for Avatar’s regular stable of artists to draw a lot of freaky monsters; if the old info holds, we’ll get Jacen Burrows (Garth Ennis’ 303), Juan Jose Ryp (Frank Miller’s Robocop), Dheeraj Verma (Escape of the Living Dead) and more. Man, at this rate we’ll be seeing issue #3 of Alan Moore’s Glory any week now.

Down #1 (of 4): Another Warren Ellis blast from the past, this time dating back to 2001. Down was intended as a 6-issue transplant of the too-much-is-never-enough ethos of The Authority to the environs of crime fiction, with heavy doses of Hong Kong-style gunfire action drizzled atop; it was to be released by Top Cow’s Minotaur imprint, with art from Tony Harris (currently of Ex Machina). For whatever reason, Harris never finished issue #1 and the project got shelved. But this week it returns, now from Top Cow proper, scaled back to 4 issues, with Harris having completed that first issue and the remaining three to be illustrated by Cully Hamner of Ellis’ Red. Here’s a preview of Harris’ visuals for issue #1, and here’s a look at Hamner’s work on future issues. The plot involves an undercover cop who, five years ago, got too enchanted with the criminal world and eventually became king of the local drug trade. Now only a tough-talking loose-cannon badass cop (she once shot an entire gang to death by herself OH MAN) can stop him, but maybe she’s just angling to take his place (because, you know, she’s a badass). Sounds… well, pretty fucking stupid actually, and perhaps best left in 2001, but maybe it’ll work as a record of the writer’s state of mind from nearly half a decade ago. The art looks nice, at least.

Jack Cross #4: Or maybe I’ve just been ruined by the declining quality of this thing. Last issue was just plain bad, with poorly-staged action scenes overwhelming any sort of potential that I thought the book might have held. Ah well, maybe this concluding chapter of the opening arc will pull it together - if not, that’ll be it for me, thanks.

Gødland #5: Latest issue of this fun series. If you go here and look way over on the right sidebar, you’ll find a nice five-page preview. Still liking it.

The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin #4 (of 5): Wish I was liking this more than I am; maybe this issue’s return to the present day will liven things up.

Tom Strong #35: Penultimate issue, allowing writer Peter Hogan to wrap up the varying loose ends left by his own intermittent contributions to the title, specifically the fate of Tom’s icy ex-lover Greta Gabriel. Penciler/co-creator Chris Sprouse also returns, with inker Karl Story in tow. Alan Moore will be back next issue to wrap it all up.

Seven Soldiers - Zatanna # 4 (of 4) and Seven Soldiers - Frankenstein #1 (of 4): Ah here they are! The much-delayed (and allegedly much-rewritten) conclusion to the initial wave of Seven Soldiers books, along with the project’s final debut issue (wipe those tears from yer eyes, everyone). I’m looking forward to not being let down!

The Comics Journal #272: Featuring part two of the excellent, career-spanning interview with Golden Age legend Jerry Robinson, plus chats with editorial cartoonists both American (Jeff Danzinger) and English (Steve Bell). And all the fun and frolic you’ve come to expect. Keep watching that homepage for the soon-to-arrive update.


An unexpected load of things to do...

*Well, that was a busier Sunday than planned. Since Ingwit pointed it out in yesterday's comments thread, I think I'm going to stare at Turner Classics' Harold Lloyd marathon tonight, at least for a while - starting at 11:00 PM EST (er, hope you're reading this soon after it's posted), they're going to be running shorts with the audio commentary from New Line's new dvds - certainly that'll get me to watch Haunted Spooks again (though I'd probably want to see Lloyd's 'suicide' routine again anyway; many comedians of the day had a suicide routine, like Buster Keaton's in Hard Luck, enough so that such things could be parodied by the likes of Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse newspaper strip - of course, now that such things are less common in mainstream comedy, strips like Gottfredson's just look strange and distressing). Check it out - I think the whole marathon runs into the wee hours.

*From Heidi: apparently Marvel's direct-to-dvd Ultimate Avengers animated film, the first in a line of eight films released in partnership with Lion's Gate, sports some rather cost-cutting animation, even compared to various television animations in the superhero genre. That lines up with some of the things I've been hearing, which is too bad - often a focused, direct-to-home-viewing release affords an animated project a stronger opportunity for quality visuals, away from the hustle of television production. Or, at least that's how it generally works in the anime industry, where Original Video Animtion is fairly common (though less so now that it has been prior). Maybe the money just wasn't there?

*Ok, more stuff tomorrow.


Movie post!

The Sin of Harold Diddlebock

For quite a few recent years, the understanding of Harold Lloyd as the third portion of some kind of Holy Trinity of silent film comedy has been exceedingly academic for all but the more devout videocassette hunters - remarkably little of Lloyd’s output had been available on dvd, with the rights to all but the public domain portions of the catalogue kept under lock and key by the Harold Lloyd Trust, awaiting a satisfactory offer. It’s one of the bigger ironies of Buster Keaton’s career that much of his current fame stems in part from bad business and the comparative low grosses of his films (as William K. Everson noted in his excellent overview of the time, American Silent Film, there’s much conflict as to which of the silent clowns were really on top of the box office, but little doubt that it was Keaton constantly bringing up the rear among the ‘A’ list): because most of his filmography has fallen into the public domain, his work tends to be among the first to show up in new home viewing formats, and his fandom is strong enough that a certain level of presentational quality is maintained. It’s different with Lloyd, and certainly more profitable for him and his descendants, though some had feared that his work was being ‘protected’ straight out of the realm of accessibility.

It’s different now, as New Line has recently released The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, which compiles the entirety of Lloyd’s feature length silent work into a 7-disc set, along with scads of shorts, home movies, and even a selection of Lloyd’s amateur experiments with 3D photography (glasses included). Many other shorts have been collected by Kino’s two-volume The Harold Lloyd Collection (note the shorter title), with three discs in total, and some overlap with the New Line release. So naturally, I’m going to talk about something entirely different, a film that was made long past Lloyd’s prime, and has been one of the few Lloyd features available on dvd for a while.

Indeed, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, shot in 1947, represents a meeting of three larger-than-life figures, all of them arguably with their greatest filmic work behind them: star Lloyd, writer/director/co-producer Preston Sturges, and co-producer/financier Howard Hughes. Lloyd in particular was well out of the game; his last film had been made in 1938 (though he'd since produced a pair of films for RKO); he was now over fifty years old. Sturges had broken away from Paramount, the studio at which the likes of Sullivan’s Travels and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek had been made, and was looking for a fresh start - Hughes, who had only produced two pictures in the prior decade, was responsive (to give a sense of the time period of Huges’ life in which the production took place, this was also around the time he smashed that experimental aircraft into Beverly Hills). Sturges, an appreciative fan of slapstick comedy and Lloyd in particular, wrote his script, a sequel to Lloyd’s wildly popular 1925 feature The Freshman, to lure the star out of retirement. It worked.

And as a film, it sort of works - it’s a half-success, and the parts that don’t work are honorable failures. It’s most successful as a study of Lloyd’s own career, most specifically the philosophy his ‘Glasses’ character (which is reprised here) embodied - less stylized a character than Keaton and Chaplin, Lloyd’s Glasses character embodied an everyman’s enthusiasm and unflappable will to succeed, surviving all brands of peril. It was an eminently positive outlook, so naturally Sturges opted to contrast this outlook with the (then) present day. Thus, we begin literally in the Silent Era, as the first ten minutes of the film are actually the final ten minutes of The Freshman; actually, it’s more of a heightened ‘silent’ film experience under Sturges, as all intertitles have been removed, with all onscreen dialogue conveyed only through the bleating of horns, timed to match the movements of characters’ lips. There also some inserts of Raymond Walburn tossed in to bridge this footage to the film proper, and the end of The Freshman neatly segues into some newly-shot scenes set in the same time period, as Walburn’s wealthy banker offers Harold (the last name of The Freshman’s iteration of the Glasses character is changed from ‘Lamb’ to the more Sturges-appropriate ‘Diddlebock’) a job at his headquarters. Many a fine speech is made about enthusiasm and Ideas and moving forward through hard work, and Harold (naturally!) agrees. Lloyd looks eerily like his own image of over two decades prior in these scenes.

And then, he sits down to work, and the camera pans over to a calendar, and a lovely strain of America the Beautiful sparks up, and years pass to the present day via fades, and then the camera pans back over to the same desk, where Harold is still sitting. And now he definitely looks older (though he doesn’t look to be in his early-50’s - the always preternaturally youthful star quite conveniently looks to be only around his late-30’s, which is how old the Glasses character would be, given the movie’s timeline). And the same boss calls him into his office, and has him fired, basically for being a drag on the business - it’s unstated but obvious that the environment Harold was in did not afford him any opportunity to advance anyway; it squelched his enthusiasm, and then hypocritically exacted a toll over the conditions it created itself. Harold is downcast, and it’s genuinely distressing seeing him aged and frowning, his former brightness finally beaten down; it’s an effective play off of Lloyd’s carefully-tuned persona, and the actor himself sells it nicely. He rips down a wall of positive quotes he’s kept by his desk, and he drops one on his way out - we see people trampling on it as they pass by.

Ah, but this obviously isn’t the end. At his lowest, Harold meets up with Sturges regular Jimmy Conlin, a drink-loving gambler, who convinces Harold to go with him for some liquid refreshment; a teetotaler, Harold is utterly naïve about alcohol, which sparks the attentions of the bartender (“You arouse the artist in me.”) who invents a very potent drink called the Diddlebock. The quaffing of such a beverage (the ‘Sin’ of the title) has a weird effect - it unlocks the beaten-down (but not dead, only hidden) fire in Harold’s soul, and he becomes once again something like his young self, a winner and a born comedian. The present can’t keep him down.

Naturally, this being a Preston Sturges film, there are complications, and reams of curling dialogue and sparkling wit. Lloyd nicely holds his own in these displays of verbosity; he’s actually quite capable with dialogue, and this is better dialogue than most. There’s a superb scene in which Harold confesses to a pretty young graphic designer his love for not only her, but each and every one of her six sisters, taking them one by one. “Your mother kept making them better every year,” Harold remarks at the height of it, though the conversation ends on a note of defeat; the film, after all, is really about Harold finding himself again, and about the spirit of silent comedy returning to inform the modern day - it won’t be replacing it, but it’ll be interacting with it, which is what Sturges’ film intends to do. But that’s where it doesn’t quite succeed.

As the plot moves forward (and I should note that for most of its runtime the film feels more like a collection of sketches and situations than an entirely cohesive film, which is ok - the same went for many silent comedy classics), Harold winds up the owner of a circus, and prone to alcohol-powered blackouts as to what exactly he’s done to get there. The animals are getting hungry, so he and Conlin try to hash out a money-making plan; fortunately, Harold no longer needs alcohol to embody his old self, and the two of them wind up running around Wall Street with a lion named Jackie on a leash, storming into banking headquarters and terrorizing America’s finest capitalists into realizing the value of doing good things, like purchasing a circus to hold for the poor. It’s a wonderfully anarchic sequence as it is - at one point, Lloyd is speaking and the lion quite obviously (and unexpectedly) snaps at his hand. Without missing a beat, Lloyd says something like “whoa there, Jackie,” and immediately resumes his lines. What a pro!

But then, Harold reclaiming the spirit of the past being apparently not enough, the film explicitly transforms into a prime-period Lloyd feature, or at least the most easily recognizable portions thereof: the 'thrill' comedy. It’s like the film itself is becoming soaked in Harold’s returning enthusiasm, so the film climaxes with Lloyd (and Conlin, and Jackie) hanging off a skyscraper. The problem is, this scene goes on for quite a long time, and Sturges and his team don’t seem to know how to shoot this sort of thing. It's just dull. It’s overloaded with dialogue and screaming, the special effects aren’t very convincing (the film can’t hope to match the free-wheeling spirit of Lloyd’s silents here, since those would often involve Lloyd actually hanging off of a tall building), and it’s edited without grace, just a lot of straightforward shots to accommodate the effects. It’s kind of a letdown, and a nasty reminder that the power of silent comedies can’t entirely return - circumstances are too different, and maybe newer filmmakers can’t quite do it the same way. There’s no doubt in my mind that Sturges understood the era and what it could mean better than most, but he still couldn’t really execute it in the way he wanted. It’s kind of a letdown, and in a crucial moment.

But it’s still a fascinating work; a genuine effort on the part of a comedy master to interact with an earlier brand of comedy, and relate it to the present in interesting and emotional ways. While the end of the film is quite happy, it wasn’t so in real life - the budget ran well over (some say by $1 million), and Hughes wasn’t happy with the final cut. It sat unreleased for years, until a reworked, shorter version re-titled Mad Wednesday hit theaters, where it proceeded to flop. Lloyd returned to retirement, never to emerge onscreen again, save for in revivals of his old vehicles. Sturges toiled away on another Hughes film, Vendetta, before quitting to work at 20th Century Fox, which also didn’t suit him. And we all know what happened to Howard Hughes. But as far as last hurrahs for silent comedians go, this is a fine one, if not a perfect one. It’s fortunate that as sensitive a film as this exists to form some type of bridge from one era to the next, as so many silent clowns simply faded away.


A fast one to open the weekend.

*The arrival of Friday means this week’s column is here. It’s sort of an expansion of my earlier comments on All Star Superman serving as a model for other superhero books; the timing is quite perfect, as DC looks to be thinning the ranks and doubtlessly making plenty of replacements. What better time could there be to shrug off the bondage of backstory and origin and the nostalgic replaying of Top 40 hits in the brain, and get around to newer things? The pieces may already be falling into place. Give it a look.

*Also probably worth a look is the newly revised and updated version of John Canemaker’s seminal Winsor McCay, both a biography and a coffee-table art book. Now it’s got new images, freshly uncovered notes and sketches, and improved image quality all around. A 272-page, 12.3” x 10.4” x 1.0” beauty, which can be found online for under $30 (the full retail price is $45). I’d forgotten this was coming out, but the new Entertainment Weekly (#851) made it their Editor’s Choice of the week for books, which caught my attention. Also found in EW and making me ill with need: Stanley Kubrick: Drama & Shadows, a collection of the famed director’s photography for Look Magazine - many shots were snapped when Kubrick was still in his teens. Too bad I don’t have even the $44.07 Amazon is asking, let alone the $69.95 cover price.

*And finally: Superman Returns teaser. Apparently, he's here to save our souls as well; nice Brando-powered nostalgia hook, but seeing as how I can't even remember the earlier films, I'm still not sold on any of this, including Brandon Routh, and I think 'selling' is the point of these things...


It's all over the Internet!


*Oh! Oh I think I too shall talk about Grant Morrison now! Huh!

*Innovation Dept: Brian Cronin of Comics Should Be Good has a particularly interesting edition of his lovely Comic Book Urban Legends feature up, in that it covers an ‘urban legend’ that just recently came into being. I’m sure you’ve heard some of the discussion as to the cheesecake factor of the Seven Soldiers book Bulleteer, and how it relates to the themes the book means to present; I personally feel that the non-stop barrage of visual sexualization means to push the reader, perhaps uncomfortably, into something resembling the pervert husband character’s point of view, bolstering his lustful outlook via art whilst detailing the consequences of his pursuits through the story. There’s more at work too; for example, the husband picks up on flaws in his wife’s human beauty that the reader is never allowed to see, which illustrates the depth of his fetish. I thought it was a very smart use of penciler Yanick Paquette’s often, ah, boisterous style.

Some didn’t entirely agree, however, and I noticed a few comments left on a few blogs suggesting that Morrison had not intended quite so much sexualization to leak into book’s visuals, that Paquette was acting largely on his own initiative. I don’t think this entirely matters as per the final book anyway - even if Morrison didn’t explicitly delineate each and every instance of unveiled flesh, he did construct a premise that would prove to be unusually responsive to Paquette’s personal style apart from the details. Brian, as evidenced by his postings on the matter, agrees. But the extent of Morrison's direct involvement remain an interesting thing to ponder nevertheless, so Brian decided to take a very simple step that a lot of sites often won’t (or can’t):

He had the question addressed to Paquette himself, as well as his studiomates.

The consensus appears to be that Morrison quite explicitly provided the level of dress (or lack thereof) that the lead character was supposed to exhibit throughout the issue. Only once did Paquette decide to amp up the skin on his own volition. Granted, this doesn’t cover everything (ho ho); there’s an awful lot of leaning over and arching of the back and such on the part of the lead character, things that are often left up to the art team to hash out. But again, see mine and Brian’s comments about the expectations inherent to selecting a particular artist (and by all accounts, Morrison specifically requested Paquette for the book) to work with a script, and how a premise can be tailored to benefit from such an arrangement even apart from a high degree of direct control by the writer.

So anyway, very nice post by Brian.

*And now, to compliment all the Morrison that's floating around -

Tomorrow Stories Special #1 (of 2)

The first of two 64-page giants meant to commemorate the continued winding up of the ABC universe. And don’t mistake me - there’s no ads in this book whatsoever save for the back cover and the cover interiors, so it’s actually 64 pages of new (well, not entirely… but I’ll get to that later) stories, 40 of them written by Alan Moore. It all goes a ways toward justifying the whopping $6.99 price tag, and maybe it’s all worth it in the end. Maybe.

In this way, this book is a nice evocation of Tomorrow Stories itself: lasting for twelve issues, and always sort of an odd duck of the comics landscape, the title offered Moore the opportunity to write four short stories per issue, the material picked from a pool of five character/artist pairings (with the occasional fill-in, most memorably Dame Darcy). And most of them were funny, which made the series all the odder: an honest-to-god ongoing humor book from one of the more respected writers around. The series grew prone to delays, it didn’t sell very well, and it was ultimately eclipsed by Moore’s adventure-based continuing narrative books in the same line, but I loved the damn thing on the whole (never was a fan of The First American, though). And this special offers more of what you loved. There’s no sense of ‘wrap-up,’ not yet at least - it’s basically an extra-long issue of Tomorrow Stories, for better or worse. And Moore doesn’t write everything, though the stuff he does write is easily the best, and worth reading.

Take Jack B. Quick (art by Kevin Nowlan): this was probably the most popular of the Tomorrow Stories features, concerning an energetic, perky and utterly malevolent young Midwestern boy who’d use his awful genius to construct fantastical, ill-fated, yet eminently logical inventions. It was pretty much the perfect vehicle for Moore’s wit at the time, and so it remains here. At 16 pages, this is probably the longest Jack B. Quick story ever, but despite its length it remains amazingly funny throughout, with utterly superb dialogue (I can’t choose a best line, though it’s either “Dad, there’s no time to lose! I’ve decided to recklessly usurp God’s divine option again!” or “May Gol durn you to heckfire, young Quick!”). The plot involves Jack building an artificially intelligent being out of a scarecrow, a wheelbarrow, a supermarket adding machine and a selection of pre-recorded messages. Naturally, humanity is quickly subjugated under the boot (wheel, actually) of this horrific entity, and only Jack can save the world. Nowlan’s art is as deadpan as ever, weighty and detailed as any ‘serious’ genre piece, which makes the often absurd sight gags all the funnier. Honestly, this story is so good it’ll just make you depressed, seeing as how it’s probably the last Jack B. Quick story ever. Went out on top, though.

There’s also a Splash Brannigan tale (art by Hilary Barta). It’s also vintage Moore (though the casual reader might be forgiven for only being 98% percent sure as to who the writer is, since somebody thought it’d be an awesome idea to credit the writer as simply ‘Moore,’ even though there’s also a Steve Moore writing stuff in this book - and the credits on the Wildstorm website are certainly no help), loaded with wordplay as Splash, a porous, shape-shifting investigator a la Plastic Man, makes his way through a noir parody. Very text-heavy, but very funny, and Barta’s lovely art is evocative as ever of the EC-era Mad aesthetic of Will Elder and Wally Wood. Less funny, as expected, is Greyshirt (art by Rick Veitch), though it’s good to see the design play of prior exploits return. This one’s an extended homage to Will Eisner, who provided much of the inspiration for the character; as Moore mentions in Bob Andelman’s recent book Will Eisner: A Spirited Life (review coming soon), Greyshirt was meant to continue in the adventurous spirit of Eisner rather than acting as a simple homage - thus, this Eisner tribute is set up like a ‘primer’ (one of those “A is for… B is for…” books for toddlers) with Moore basically providing an extended poem and Veitch illustrating each ‘letter’ of the piece. When put together, Veitch’s illustrations also form a little story of their own. Sweet and heartfelt.

Thing get a little troublesome without (Alan) Moore at the helm, which maybe explains the sluggish output of ABC without him - it’s tough to maintain the level of quality needed to follow the Magus. Steve Moore gives it his best with a Jonni Future story, though it’s technically a Johnny Future thing, following the time-traveling travails of Jonni’s predecessor. Jonni was never part of Tomorrow Stories - she debuted in ABC’s other anthology series, Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales, always written by (Steve) Moore and originally illustrated by Art Adams. Here we have Cameron Stewart of Seaguy and Guardian stepping in on the visuals, and it’s a fitting style, enhanced by Randy Mayor’s often stark colors. There’s a high contrast feel to the piece, lending Moore’s simple chronology-twisting plot a bit more impact than it otherwise might have, and a peculiar whiff of the ominous to boot. Apparently the story is going to continue next issue, probably from a different perspective.

And speaking of perspectives - I suppose it’s just a nasty trick of scheduling that this book and the recent ABC: A-Z #2 arrived within one week of each other, but I don’t think any amount of time could have salvaged the remaining story in this book, the Cobweb saga (art by Melinda Gebbie). Remember how much I liked the Cobweb-centered pin-up calendar thing in last week’s book? I thought it was the best thing in the issue. I still feel that way, but I didn’t like it nearly enough to want to hear the same story again. And I’m not joking around - the Cobweb short here, for 11 or 12 of its 16 pages, is exactly the same story as presented in last week’s book, only now in sequential format rather than as prose accompanying full-page illustrations. I mean, even a bunch of the jokes are directly reused. Was one of these scripts written a long time before the other? Is this some sort of ill-fated attempt at a multi-title formal experiment (and if it is, it really doesn‘t work - it only feels painfully repetitious)? Is nobody behind the wheel at ABC anymore in matters of editorial oversight or scheduling (or posting credits to the Wildstorm website)? All I know is that I liked this stuff a lot better the first time, and (Steve) Moore’s jokes were a lot better in prose form. I remain pleased with Gebbie’s visuals (and I suspect I’m in the minority with that), a plastic ‘50s romance look here, but this just feels like a waste of time.

But that’s not true for the whole book, just like it wasn’t true for Tomorrow Stories in general. Not everything in every issue was a hit, but whatever I liked I usually liked enough that I felt almost every issue was something of a success. And I feel the same for this, the power of the good (especially that killer Jack B. Quick) making up for the weaker bits. Seven bucks is an awful lot, even for 64 pages, but I didn’t feel like sadly leafing through my wallet after I was finished, and I think some of these stories are totally worth looking through.