No new funnies list 'till Tuesday evening...

*...so I thought today would be a good opportunity to publicly sift through all the stuff I've recently acquired. Just as the sun always rises, I am forever buying shit. At a discount, of course; that's how I rationalize my constant stockpiling of comics and related items, every dip below the cover price another blessed win. Soon, rubber-clad agents of the local fire house will put an axe to my door, and then to me, for I am a top threat. Every night I pray.

Seriously though, someone actually gave me the Defiant comic below. I accept anything I'm handed that doesn't look sharp or hot - ironclad rule.

Voyages Vol. 1 (Nautilus Dreams, 1983)

Seriously, though - it's books like this that keep me searching. I've never heard of publisher Nautilus Dreams, although I do believe editor Howard Feltman was somehow connected to the later, license-rich Innovation Publishing (1988-94); my copy actually has shiny gold Innovation distribution stickers covering up the 1983 cover price in favor of a steeper fee. Regardless, Nautilus Dreams does not appear to have released another comic, least of all a Vol. 2 for Voyages ("ADVENTURES IN FANTASY").

Quite a nice set of names on that cover, though. I presume this project -- a 60-page squarebound softcover anthology -- was heavily inspired by the success of Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated; its dimensions strongly recall collected editions of HM serials, and its Table of Contents is even formatted to resemble the old magazine's lineup of features.

Many HM and EI veterans are present (and my, is that manga-in-English pioneer Toren Smith with a writing credit?), some of them at interesting points in their development - Chaykin's four-page piece (the only one in color) bears a copyright date of 1982, the year before American Flagg!, and it's done in a fascinating collage style, mixing doodled faces with the sparkle-speckled imagery he brought to past bookshelf projects like Empire and The Stars My Destination , pasted over with some super-slick character art reminiscent of the book covers he was painting at the time. Flagg! would also sport collage-inspired visual elements, and you can definitely see that sort of visual accumulation building here, to be later stripped down into a form feasible for a monthly comic.

But clearly the main event is an installment of Alex Toth's Bravo for Adventure, his late-period signature work of arial adventure, conceived in the mid-'70s for Métal Hurlant, then published stateside years later in Warren's The Rook. This particular episode (preceded by a four-page illustrated primer) has nothing to do with arial adventure, though, as Toth has hero Jesse Bravo clonked on the head with a propeller blade and transported to a surreal universe of Alice in Wonderland cites and visual play, shapes and sound effects and comic icons and sketchy bits of amusement careening across rigid six-panel grids, characters shifting in and out of realist rendering, each new panel seemingly based on nothing more that what Toth bloody well feels like drawing at the moment, and he can draw a lot of things.

It has the feel of a delighted toss-off, something a longtime comics hand might submit to an unfocused forum like witzend, away from the rigors of commercial process. And, as it went for works from the Heavy Metal this anthology seems to have so admired, all of Toth's stuff was later compiled into its own book, the 1987 Bravo for Adventure collection from Dragon Lady Press, a copy of which currently costs your soul.

DenSaga #1-3 (of 4) (Fantagor/Tundra, 1992-93)

Ah lord, speaking of the old Metal. These oversized color pamphlets (initiated with help from the ill-fated Tundra, which dropped out as of issue #2) marked the mighty Richard Corben's final additions to Neverwhere, his sprawling magnum opus starring the famed, oft-nude muscleman Den, exactly 0% of which is currently in print. I don't think this stuff was even collected in English (nor was Corben's & Jan Strnad's comedic 1996-97 Penthouse Comix continuation Denz), although it sort of functions as an arrangement of side-story material that first appeared in HM, with lots of new stuff.

At this point Corben had gotten especially heavily into computers, and some of the main story material appears to have been cgi modeled, although it still retains some of the feel (and most of the color) of those '70s Den adventures. I love this stuff to pieces; it's such a ramshackle fantasy adventure contraption, hypersexualized to an almost parodic degree and kissed with mad plot concepts and hallucinogenic visuals.

Here, Den is mostly dreaming of an identical ancestor, Mal, who flies up to a floating, vine-tangled Heaven where guys in white furs have machine gun battles with pterodactyls and giant spiders lurk under the city. Mal meets an old lover, chats with baby Den and picks up a ripped, Pillsbury Dough Boy-looking flour-white angel sidekick, just in time to uncover the cannibal conspiracy at the center of society. I'm missing the last issue, so I don't know exactly what happens, but I suspect it involves at least one panel of Den or a reasonable simulacra displaying his penis.

It's bananas, and rewardingly so by my estimate; I doubt Corben's personal aesthetic blend of beyond-idealization and wrinkled body/environment grotesquerie could possibly have a more fitting world to embody, although it's not exactly an experience for everyone. But if you like Corben - hell, you'll also dig how he uses each issue (like most issues of his various Fantagor series) as a one-man anthology (well, one man plus some writers), presenting bonus Clark Ashton Smith adaptations for no discernible reason beyond his feeling like it. And surely that's enough!

The Origin of the Defiant Universe (Defiant, 1994)

You know, that sounds kind of majestic, if you lean back and try to forget all you know about comics publishers and such. Just take the title as a title, and defiant as a word. The Origin of the Defiant Universe. Almost anti-Biblical, like corporeality wringing itself discernible on its own accord, no need for the fuss of myth.

But superhero universes, particularly of the ready-made '90s start-up variety, require plenty of pomp and consideration to assure potential readers that Big Shit is Dropping. Thus: a 16-page pamphlet-format prose essay/creation myth by Jim Shooter, set atop photographic sunrises and promotional art. It's an odd little piece, grafting quantum mechanics onto ideas seemingly inspired by the The Sandman, complete with flawed gods vanishing from their posts as the Dreamtime breaks away from mortal affect. I haven't read many Defiant comics (this was 2 of 3 in Shooter's attempts to start a new comics publisher post-Marvel), and I wonder how much of this influence seeps through, particularly considering that Shooter's idiom is far more that of superhero comics than Neil Gaiman's, and he wasn't going to write every book himself anyway.

I also couldn't tell you if any of this would have gotten me at all excited for Defiant's comics, if we were back in 1994. Hell, I couldn't even tell you how I'd have felt if I paid for this. Still, it's good to see ideas like people-as-cells-in-a-living-reality cropping up in non-Grant Morrison comic book settings, particularly knowing that said living reality is set to clash with hot new superhero concepts in a David Lapham-illustrated throwdown. More gore for Org?

Vivid Girls Vol. 1 (Avatar, 2005)

And finally, we reach the true vitality of the art.

I've been looking for this fucking thing for years now, the one-and-only product of Avatar's collaboration with Vivid Entertainment; they set up a whole label, Vivid Comix (gotta get that 'x' in there), and went through with this deluxe, full-color softcover album, featuring credible writers Steven Grant & Antony Johnston with the soon-to-be-more-popular-than-he-was-before Juan Jose Ryp, current Squadron Supreme artist Marco Turini and Carlos Ferreira of World War Hulk: Gamma Corps. They promised "the best written adult comic stories ever," right on the back cover. I think a lot of copies went to adult specialty retailers, which made it difficult to find in the comic book Direct Market.

Yet there's connections! Believe it or not, Vivid Girls winds up looking more than a bit like a superhero comic of the same period. It isn't an adaptation of anything; it's a venue for using the specific licensed images of assorted Vivid performers (all credited at the top of each story) in original serials. That means the women in question will always be very specific in Vivid-approved glamor, their likenesses worked over so as to convey that glossy, made-up Vivid appeal.

As such, given the idealization of the human form at work, as well as that determined specificity in particular human forms, a lot of the art gives off the same feeling as some Marvel comic plugged into the day's rage for 'casting' celebrity likenesses. It's just that the porno comic seems a bit ahead of the curve by exploiting the use of likeness apart from a specific licensed property, with the added bonus of folding the unreal sensuality of its many 'realistic' female forms into self-evident stroke material. At last: an appropriate home for the porn face!

Ryp in particular throws himself into the work, giving Jenna Jameson and Tawny Roberts all sorts of come-hither glances and swoony poses that may not quite match up with Johnston's tale of white witches fending off a magical incursion, but at least sort of functions on a conceptual level in a smut comic that's supposed to look like a high-sheen smut film, while leaving it uncomfortably close to some of the visual cues employed in some corporate-owned fantasy adventure comics wherein the bad words still get blurred out. It's tough to explain, but uncanny to witness, particularly given that none of the artists involved had any superhero experience at that time (I think). And then, the Avatar book's trio of photo spreads arrives to smack you in the face with the in-the-flesh unreality of mainstream pornography, male appendages occasionally jutting in from off-frame in the manner of Joe Matt seeking to eradicate the male aspect from his perfect porno experience. But that's a different comic.

As for the stories, well, they're all serials, and this is the only volume. Johnston handles two of the three stories, matching the above-described naughty witches epic with angels descended to Earth to face down a demon and indulge in human sensations. Grant, meanwhile, seems content in his crime caper to amuse himself with exchanges like:

"You're pissing me off."

"Maybe later, if that's what you really want."

I can say I've read better porn comics (off the top of my head: Gilbert Hernandez's Birdland), not to mention porn comics that don't lean on a faux-realistic vamping image of the female form in getting the blood flowing. I would like to see a review of this book by a dedicated Vivid viewer, though - as David Foster Wallace once related, a great appeal of pornography can lay in observing the vulnerable ecstasy of personal enjoyment cracking through the performer's mask in the midst of the scene (he also ranked Jenna Jameson as quite lacking in this quality), and I wonder if this sort of licensed porn comic conveys any of that in the particular performers involved. I suspect not. I think it's probably all spackled out, made super-human.