"And you - you've made quite a name for yourself cracking down on the bad boys!"

Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941

"So, answer the question, even if only in the privacy of your mind: Who was your first? No, go further back even than your 'official' first - recollect, if you can, not the first superhero with whom you consummated your curiosities, but the first who gave you an inkling, the first to stir the curiosities you hadn't know you possessed, the first human outline in a cape flashing through your dawning gaze."

- Jonathan Lethem, from his Foreword

This thing is pretty goddamned amazing.

It's a sampler of 20 pre-WWII superhero stories -- and covers & house ads, bells & whistles -- due out very soon from Fantagraphics, a 192-page color softcover priced at $24.99. Nobody will be able to resist comparisons to the publisher's 2007 superhero reprint hit I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, although it's somewhat smaller, a good deal thicker, much broader in scope and powered by a different vision, that of editor/designer/producer Greg Sadowski, author of the noted 2002 cartoonist biography B. Krigstein. There's lots of different artists instead of one, none of the backmatter is in cartoon format and, yes, Jonathan Lethem on the topics of curiosities and stirring.

He doesn't stop there either; soon we're deep into a prolonged metaphor concerning Marvel/DC superheroes as elements of a child's circle of acquaintances, from the unequivocal authority of history behind Superman & Batman, mommy & daddy, down through the distanced modernity of the Lee/Kirby Marvel ("something like cool kids who'd lived on your block in the decade before you started playing on the street, and now were off to college or in the army, but their legend persisted") and landing at the feet of Ghost Rider and Luke Cage and (sure!) Omega the Unknown, the new and curious stuff approachable as a peer, if you were a kid when Lethem was.

The point, naturally, is that the world of 'adults' is never so organized as it seems when you're young; grownups are often up to weird shit, and so it goes with grownup culture, like old and moldy comic books. You didn't think Fletcher Hanks acted alone, did you?

He was an individual, sure, but there were many of those at the dawn of the superhero genre; if there's any working thesis to be divined from Sadowski's arrangement -- stories grouped by publisher, with six pages of teensy-font Notes offering a short history of those publishers along with scattered artist bios -- it's that the pre-WWII superheroes were glowing novelties of desperation, forged by artists too young or too troubled to get work in more established medium, stacked up and shipped out to fill the copious waiting pages of a new, pamphlet format, nakedly derivative yet thrilled from a lack of restraining standards.

In other words, of course they were odd and glitchy and fucked-up; they didn't have the experience not to be. Forget American society - there wasn't yet a superhero society to provide direction for the wilder types, left to roam under the vaguely defined (if noticeably enormous) shadow of Superman's success. Or maybe the path of the mighty Flash Gordon from the papers; Sadowski counts space adventurers as superheroes, along with non-powered pulpish crime fighters and turbaned mystics (two of 'em!), since there's no point in being exclusionary with such an undefined age. All he leaves out is any notion of superheroes as Our Modern Myths, preferring to see each (mad)man/woman of mystery as a very specific personality; from their idiosyncrasies, we can know them as the adults Lethem considers.

And hell, what a lineup! Since Sadowski's design playfully groups his 20 selected characters in head-and-shoulders portraits on the title page, and then has them 'mingle' under the table of contents as a super-team, allow me run down the vital stats of just a few members of this Justice League.

*The Clock!

The Clock is a gritty pulp magazine adventure man whose costume is a black napkin he wears over his face. His secret identity is that of a local drug addict, which is actually pretty clever, and probably only didn't catch on in superheroics from the arrival of the Comics Code.

So, the Clock steals money from gangsters and gives to the poor, but since he's outside the law he likes teasing the police too, and really all that keeps his story moving is writer/artist's George E. Brenner's delightfully gritty sense of humor, seeing a gang boss cluck lines like "Now get dressed, - we gotta date with a coupla choras cuties -- an' we won't get to first base if we keep 'em waitin' th' first time!" Also: after the Clock kicks the snot out of a made man and has him write out a confession for his crimes, he makes sure he throws in a clause noting that the confession is made of the guy's free will.

The knife is bloody from carving extra commas.

*Yarko the Great!

No less than the famed Will Eisner sends the scowling Yarko and his turban out on what can rightly be called a two-fisted metaphysical journey, by which I mean Yarko travels to the land of the dead in search of a murdered woman and confronts personifications of Pain, Fear and Horror, which Our Hero overcomes by hitting them in the face and/or knocking them off of high ledges. Then he meets Death, who's a goateed hipster in a top hat and solid black Lennon glasses, which he totally wears indoors. Somehow Yarko outsmarts everyone and saves the day, but I presume he'd rather hit them.

*Fero, Planet Detective!

Apparently host to the first published work by Al Bryant. Fero leads a pretty simple life, rocking an ascot and taking on tough jobs which I suspect invariably center around the recent invasion of Earth by vampires & werewolves from Pluto. This particular outing sees the detective approached by an old man who wants him to find his missing daughter and unravel the enigma of the green light out in the lodge where the gardner got killed.

So the old man takes Fero out to the lodge, and the green light is a werewolf from Pluto who kills the old man and Fero shoots it. Then Fero finds the missing daughter inside the lodge, but a green dwarf shows up and demands to take her away to Pluto, and Fero strangles him. Then another green light appears and it's a vampire from Pluto, which Fero kills by knocking it off of a high ledge. Then the lodge explodes. Another case cracked.

*Dirk the Demon!

Dick the Demon is a happy kid hero in short pants, created and drawn by Bill Everett. As Sadowski notes in the backmatter, Dirk is pretty much the sort of character who'd be a boy sidekick in later comics, but didn't have much commercial success on his own. Dirk is a space hero, accompanying Princess Nemo home to her wedding with some guy. Then they're captured by masked villains, who toss Dirk in a cell, but fortunately he gathers his pluck and lures one of them in, and then knifes him in the heart.

Dirk stays smiling after that, and the scantly-clad princess even flashes him a big grin at adventure's end, although I get the feeling Dirk is a little too young to peel himself away from fatal stabbings and understand her charms! Out of all the comics in here, this is the one that most feels like the lead-in to the next storyline in The Boys. Hell, this could be the first three pages, as-is, not a word changed.

Maybe he'd ease up with a chaperone? Did Terry Lee ever bury a shiv in anyone?

*The Comet!

Of course, then there's adults like the Comet. A creation of the great Jack Cole, the Comet is a guy who injected himself with gas and learned he could soar around, although his eyes also beam out disintegration rays so he has to wear a visor; I've heard of other superheroes with the same problem, although none of them could pull off the stars 'n moons-patterned top.

Anyway, the story in here is an early (the first?) example of the classic 'villains mind-control the hero and make him commit crimes (or commit crimes dressed as him, or something) to ruin his good name.' But since this is nice and early in the genre game -- and Jack Cole (he of the legendary syringe-toward-the-eye in Murder, Morphine and Me) is in charge -- the nasties send the Comet out on a no-fucking-around all-caps RAMPAGE in which he chucks a dude off of a high ledge, steals a bunch of money and kills a whole mess of cops. And I'm not talking 'buried under rubble' or anything; I mean straight-up head shots. No, really:

Those aren't ouch circles at the end of those optic blasts, those are guys' skulls disappearing from their shoulders. Better yet: the publisher is M.L.J. Magazines, future home of Archie. The story ends with the Comet vowing to clear his name, and I presume polite society eventually got over it; he went on to grasp the acclaimed status of first-ever superhero to get killed.

Cole had moved on by that time, driven toward more excellent things. But even in the 1940 of the Comet's murder spree, it was clear that he was a cut above. Those tilted panels, so accomodating of the hero's curled dive, are the first we see of such formal trickery in the book - there's still a palpable, visceral impact to it, a real glee over destruction, coupled with an ecstasy of movement, that red arrow up charging up the hero's spine in the middle panel, launching into the space of that awesome/ridiculous cosmos leotard top and fire pouring out the front, a death ray from a sci-fi comet. Look at his hands. He'll kill them all with those if he has to.

And lest you think it's all campy laffs in here -- and there are more than a few, Lethem spells it out in the Foreword, nothing to be ashamed of -- I can assue you there's many similar moments of impact.

Sure, some stories appear to have been positioned for very specific reasons. The book kicks off with Jerry Siegel's & Joe Shuster's Dr. Mystic (aka: Dr. Occult), their first published superhero and obviously symbolic of both the birth of the Superhero and the oddness/obscurity hiding within even those earliest days - and I'm sure it didn't hurt that the good doctor was a plainclothes Superman look-alike at that time, hair curl and everything (where was he in All Star Superman?).

On the lighter side, I cannot fathom any reason for the inclusion of a totally random chapter of Ken Fitch's & Fred Guardineer's spicily-titled Dan Hastings, save for the halfway-to-dada effect of seeing the titular space hero petition aid from the leaders of Canada, at which point a guy walks in and you kind of pause, because you can't really tell if it's an impossibly horrible racist caricature or a literal creature from beyond the stars, and then you realize that it probably doesn't matter, and luckily the chapter closes on that.

But then, elsewhere, you run into something bona fied odd and striking like an outing for Will Eisner's & Lou Fine's The Flame, wherein a villain has built a small army from a weird native tribe with thin green skin and pliable minds, and everything takes place at night and there's whipping in a castle dungeon, and the hero is a red-yellow suit with a gun that spits graceful flames, and there's pages like:

That is something. From the galloping cartoon nasty in panel #1 -- disturbingly stiff and coughing sexual threats -- to the stony posed close-up of panel #2, then the woman somewhere else, far off, then he reaches for his gun and the whole. world. stops. and explodes as he spins around on the bottom half of the page, god damn. It's a mug's game to try and evaluate the colors in comics this old as anything totally in the artist's control -- usually anonymous souls at the printer just tried to get it ok -- but Will & Lou were blessed on this one. Never mind that the story, once you stop and think about it, is essentially a glass raised toward paternalistic oversight of inferior, ignorant cultures - the visuals just absorb your disquiet, making it all the more itchy and bleak.

Fletcher Hanks is around too, speaking of blessed colors and bleakness, and while his two included stories may seem gratuitous, seeing as how both are slated to be reprinted again in this summer's second all-Hanks omnibus from Fantagraphics & Paul Karasik (the oft-seen online Fantomah story is even the one that contains the book's title, You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!), their presence is kind of fitting anyway; the success of the first Hanks book probably helped a bit with getting this collection published, after all, and now the newer, wider survey can afford Hanks' work some context, treating it as the product of a time that perhaps couldn't help but allow for strange superhero comic visions, like that of Rodan-sized Venusian vultures descending on a European battlefield (it was 1940) to feast freely on combatants.

Er, vultures aren't scavengers on Venus, I guess.

Also worthwhile is the chance to compare the likes of Hanks with equally curious visualists. Basil Wolverton may be acknowleged as a humor great, but his included Spacehawk adventure is a marvel of seething creativity (as Lethem puts it, "each panel like some uncanny rebus, all surfaces stirring from beneath with some incompletely disclosed or acknowledged emotional disquiet, a barely-sublimated mystical Freudian dream"), setting stolid human figures against masses of alien textures and spaghetti 'n meatballs monsters, not quite cooked yet; it probably benefits from Wolverton's eventual association with Mad, and Mad's effect on the '60s underground, since it rather looks more like some underground genre hound's homage to a Golden Age superperson sci-fi comic than an actual product of its time.

But then, that's an appeal of the sampler: matching up works that might play tricks with their influence (however many generations removed) with equally curious, frozen-in-time works, and establishing both as products of the same time, and similar circumstances.

That can all go to hell if the samples themselves are poorly selected, of course. I've read some clunky, overwritten Golden Age superhero stories, and the most boring of them can kill your interest in reading anything stone dead in no time flat. But while there's slow spots in here -- Gardner Fox's & Ogden Whitney's the Skyman embarks on an aimless war against all comers that drags on for 11 long pages, in spite of Whitney's fun, bulky character design -- Sadowski does a remarkable job keeping things lively.

Big, bleeding cover art and barking ads interject themselves at just the right time, with any dull moment quickly counterbalanced by someone like Marvelo, Monarch of Magicians marching in to establish the superhero-as-dickhead archetype, changing rude people to hogs and bringing a huge statue of George Washington to life to lecture gangsters on proper citizenship and walk them to prison. Then he tries to drive the head gangsters insane, because he fucking can. "Kalora!"

That's Jack Cole again, up above; he's got the most pieces in here, three, because he's the best. The Claw rips down a ton of NYC skyscrapers in that one, but the Daredevil (no, not that one) survives by jumping off a plunging ledge at just the right moment and suits up to take him on in what's two or so steps away from a fully comedic Plastic Man opus. We're talking dynamite-down-the-throat silly, but bodies getting crushed so they bleed. The Claw is such mannered Yellow Scare he doesn't look so much like a hateful caricature as a guy possessed by a culturally insensitive ancestor of the Venom symbiote.

Oh, it's still racist as hell, sure; there's a fair amount of that in here. But in positioning this particular clash near the end of the book, aside from saving the best for the final quarter, Sadowski conveys the congealing of superhero tropes; the racial terror of the Claw (himself the first big bad to star in a comic) becomes sunk into the pomp of supervillain superciliousness, even as he and the Daredevil engage in an especially high-profile hero-villain throwdown, with massive property damage and the nasty escaping in a poof of smoke to terrorize the world again, and again, and again, and again.

The Daredevil grins at the end, right at the reader, in the last panel. "Well, folks, it looks like we can breathe easier for awhile - but if I know the Claw, he'll be back for revenge. - And when he does return, this little scrap will seem like a Sunday school picnic!" New York is in ruins, and nobody cares. Get ready to amp it up. Get ready.

Get ready for Captain America. Get ready for Pearl Harbor. The book's final story finally teams Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, on Blue Bolt, two months before the debut of Captain America. It bookends the Siegel & Shuster piece at the beginning, odd stuff by known figures, just an inch or two away from a legendary breakthrough. But the end is really the end; Sadowski sees as the birth of Cap as the dawn of the WWII era in superhero comics, at which time the genre would adopt a broadly martial posture in the name of propoganda, thus becoming domesticated in a way. Falling in line. Lethem's teenagers going away to military school. The dawning of adulthood.

There's no blanket dismissals, mind you. No gnashing of teeth over how superheroes were never the same. It's not that kind of book. No, what happens is, we're shown what happened. That the first era was over, though greater and more Golden sales were to come. The aesthetic densened, the atoms slowed. Signs of condensation. Fletcher Hanks would never have made it then. There were things to be, instead of just things in being. It's all right, it happens to everyone. We have books like this to remind us. Books to get you fired up, to get wanting to draw this stuff. To recreate the Big Bang, collide some particles. Restart. Remember.

God, no wonder so many people starting reading these things, this genre.

Remember, remember.


Upcoming Comics and From-the-Ass Oscar Analysis... For You!

*I have no comment on anyone's gown.


Waltz with Bashir (comics from the 2008 film, duly prostrated)


The Zombies That Ate the World #1 (of 8) (Guy Davis, zombies & Europe: a match made in Hurlant)

At The Savage Critics!


XIII (the 2008 Franco-Canadian television miniseries, although there's lots of Belgian comics stuff in there too)

At comiXology!

*Plenty of reprints and funnybook versions of other things -


Waltz with Bashir: An $18.00, 128-page Metropolitan Books color softcover translating Israeli writer/director Ari Folman's 2008 animated Lebanon War documentary to comics form. Folman himself writes, with art director/chief illustrator David Polonsky heading the visuals (with support by Asaf & Tomer Hanuka, Michael Faust and Yaara Buchman), although I didn't think the adaptation lead to a terribly satisfying comics work. My review here; preview here.

As an aside, trivia buffs should note that the movie was the first-ever animated film to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn't win, which some commentators considered an upset, since it was by far the highest profile of the nominees, but I don't think that quite takes into account the specifics of Oscar procedure; you're not even allowed to vote for Best Foreign Language Film unless you've attended Academy screenings of all five nominees -- video or dvd doesn't count -- a procedure that's supposed to level the playing field for teeny-tiny movies that haven't secured US distribution, but effectively limits the voting pool to people that have the free time to attend all those screenings. As a result, eligible voters tend to be older, often retired, and, well, generally not the preferable audience for a flashy 90-minute cartoon centered on a sensitive political topic, widespread acclaim or not. It's finally opening at a theater near me this weekend, though.

Larry Marder's Beanworld Book 1 (of 2): Wahoolazuma!: Plenty of folks have been waiting for this - a 272-page, $19.95 hardcover collection of the first nine issues of Marder's 1985-93 series, one of the formative 'indy' comics to many an impressionable mind. It's a curious, timeless study of a whimsical, metaphorical fantasy society, or so it looked from the new Holiday Special I reviewed a while back, which I felt "suggests Mat Brinkman's Teratoid Heights as converted into a dialogue-heavy mainline newspaper strip," for what it's worth. I'm looking forward to digging in deeper, as many admirers already have. And once the reprints are through (book 2 is due in July), new stuff is promised. From Dark Horse; preview here.

Tintin in the Congo: Oh my, look what's come strolling in for another go. Unless I'm wronger than colonialist attitudes, this should be a new Direct Market release for the 2002 Last Gasp edition of Hergé's second big Tintin story, 1930-31. And while the content -- seeing our boy romping around Belgium's then-colony via a scattershot series of exploits -- later underwent two substantial revisions, this particular edition lovingly preserves all of the original b&w artwork, so that every last panel of rough early draftsmanship, wanton violence towards wildlife and unabashed paternalism is perfectly in place. Tintin enthusiasts and students of European comics history will want it (if they don't have it already); I'm pretty sure it remains the only version of the stuff readily in print in English-speaking North America. It's 120 pages for $24.95.

Dave McKean - Postcard from Paris & Squink: Dessens de Dave McKean: Being a new pair of limited edition (of 3000) books from Allen Spiegel Fine Arts/Hourglass, both devoted to the popular illustrator-filmmaker-occasional comics artist. The first is the $18.90 latest in a line of hardcover sketchbook releases (48 pages, 6" x 6") tracking McKean's travels to some European locale; previous postcards hailed from Vienna and Barcelona, and all are printed on white satin paper. Oooh fuck yeah. The second is a fatter (200-page), larger (9" x 9") and way costlier ($42.75) softcover collection of the artist's b&w illustrations, mixing old charmers with new endeavors.

Eerie Archives Vol. 1: Beginning the expected(?) companion series to Dark Horse's deluxe Creepy Archives hardcovers, tackling that other Warren horror magazine for 240 pages. Same 8 3/8" x 10 7/8" size, same $49.95, same 'first five issues of the series,' featuring vintage contributions by Frank Frazetta, Alex Toth, Steve Ditko, Jack Davis, Johnny Craig, Al Williamson, Joe Orlando, John Severin, Gene Colan, Gray Morrow, Angelo Torres, Reed Crandall and Wally Wood (contrary to what Dark Horse's solicitation might suggest, Neal Adams doesn't show until issue #9), plus plenty of Archie Goodwin's writin' & editin'. Have a look.

The Starman Omnibus Vol. 2: And in other fifty dollar reprint news (alright, $49.99), DC has another 416-page chunk of writer James Robinson's signature series. Issues #17-29 of the main series are covered, with primary pencils by Tony Harris, primary inks by Wade Von Grawbadger, separate flashback issues pencilled by John Watkiss and Craig Hamilton, a Sandman Mystery Theatre tie-in with Guy Davis, a Christmas issue with Steve Yowell, and partial-issue support pencils by J.H. Williams III, Chris Sprouse and Gary Erskine - god, those are the fill-ins. Also: Starman Annual #1, featuring the J.H. Williams III/Mick Gray team supreme, and pertinent stories from Showcase '95 #12 (with Von Grawbadger on pencils and inks) and Showcase '96 #4-5 (with artist Matt Smith). Quite a fertile period.

Next Men Premiere Edition Vol. 1: That's right, you saw those b&w phonebook reprints sitting around, but it wasn't enough for you, was it? Well here's your reward from IDW - the opportunity to drop $50.00 (yeah! right on the nose that time!) on a 312-page oversized color hardcover compilation of issues #0-10 from the noted 1992-94 John Byrne superhero series. Yeah, that's two issues less than the first phonebook, and minus the 2112 graphic novel. Good eye.

Alan Moore's The Courtyard (in color): No doubt everyone scanning this site is aware of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, writer Moore's big return to serialized comics this year; even the errant porno searchers must have a notion by now. Ah, but 2009 as a second, long-cooking Moore original in store - Necronomicon, a Lovecraftian horror project with Jacen Burrows, to be published by those contemporary purveyors of Magus miscellany and adaptation at Avatar. Mind you, it'll be an all-new, all-Moore, made-for-comics project when it's done, as opposed to something based on a short story or poem or whatnot. When it's done. In the meantime, here's a handy, newly colorized reprint of a 2003 Burrows-drawn, Lovecraft-inspired short story adaptation, laid down in balloons 'n boxes by Antony Johnston. It's a very minor piece, but not bad - Moore actually is pretty hands-on with these things, going so far on this particular piece as to ask Burrows to re-draw the ending from a different perspective, if I recall correctly. Also sporting a new introduction by Garth Ennis; 56 pages for $7.99.

Garth Ennis' Battlefields: Dear Billy #2 (of 3): Snejbjerg, Ennis; one woman's revenge.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #4 (of 6): .

Savage Dragon #145: Larsen/OBAMA.

Youngblood #8: Casey/Donovan/Liefeld/OBAMA.

The Sword #15: I hear Tom Spurgeon likes this.

Popbot #8: Gosh. I... I genuinely didn't expect to ever see another issue of Ashley Wood's "let's do anything" signature series again, but it looks like IDW really and truly has another 48 oversized pages lined up, priced at $9.99. I presume T.P. Louise is still co-writing, and that all contents will adhere only to Wood's dearest and most intimate whims, logic be damned. Every issue is a swell jumping-on point! Preview here! It's real!!


Limited time, I know.

*Yeah, I'll have my usual Monday post up in a few hours, but I might as well direct you to my latest column, now in its regular timeslot - expect new installments every two weeks.

The topic this time out is XIII, the megahit Belgian comic turned made-for-television miniseries, which you can now watch online via Hulu, if you so choose. Also: jokes about cake, tollbooths, Fist of the North Star and many other things that are very relevant to a discussion of one vaunted comics tradition's success failing to translate to a separate culture's funnybook environment. Enjoy!



Movies to Comics - New Direction, Same Result

Waltz with Bashir

This should be out very soon. It's the comics version of a high-profile 2008 animated film, the first from Israel to debut in theaters, I think. I'm sure you've heard of it; the Academy's recent Best Foreign Language Film nomination was merely the latest bump to its profile. The book looks to be getting a strong push too - it's a 128-page color project, published by Metropolitan Books (of Henry Holt and Company) as both an $18.00 softcover and a $27.50 hardcover. I suspect bookstores will take to it.

Now, I haven't seen any of the movie beyond the trailer, although I've certainly heard plenty. It's actually a documentary project -- albeit heavy on reenactments -- focused on writer/director Ari Folman's inability to recall portions of his service in Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon. Many parties are consulted to help spark something: friends, fellow veterans, a journalist, a psychologist and even a fellow filmmaker. All of them lend opinions or personal stories, which, together, reconstruct a human view of the conflict, culminating in various parties' presence (Folman included) at the Sabra and Shatila massacre of September, 1982, in which Lebanese Phalangist militamen entered a pair of Palestinian refugee camps under the pretext of searching for suspected terrorists in the aftermath of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel's assassination, and killed hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees.

It's an interesting choice of subject matter for animation, and I don't mean the war story. No, it's the interplay between present-day conversation and dramatized recollection that gets my attention - supposedly there's some contrast between the (allegedly more limited) style of the conversations and the (supposedly fluid, surreal) manner through which the memories are conveyed, which I suspect could come off strikingly in animated form. I've also read that the particular art styles employed give the film a very 'moving comics' feel; I guess it seemed natural to actually make a comic in much the same style, although the prospect gave me pause when I realized that much of what I considered interesting (in theory) about the movie had to do with animation, not graphics.

And unfortunately, I can't say the book proved very effective on its own, though its troubles weren't born from any lack of attention by the film's principals. It's written by writer/director/protagonist Folman himself, with visuals headed by David Polonsky, the film's art director & chief illustrator, working from the original storyboards of animation director Yoni Goodman. Additional art is provided by Asaf & Tomer Hanuka, Michael Faust and Yaara Buchman, all illustrators from the film.

Indeed, from the looks of the Hanukas' production art, it seems some of the comic's images may have been taken virtually as-is from the movie, although I don't think there's any literal screen grabs. Rather, it appears that every effort was made to ensure that the comic resembles the movie as much as possible, without actually transforming it into the most high-falutin' cine-manga ever to grace your local Barnes & Noble.

But as well-intentioned as I'm sure it all is, this approach doesn't flatter the comics form. For example, from what I've read, the animation (at least of the non-memory sequences) is executed through the pretty novel method of breaking character images up into many tiny bits, all fit together to form a seamless body, then manipulating various portions at once, puppet-like, to create movement. It does look neat in the movie trailer, but preserving that 'look' in the comic leads to odd effects, like a character having exactly the same facial expression in a series of panels, regardless of what he's saying.

I'm guessing this seems much more natural given the benefit of movement, whereby such limitations could be better integrated into a stylistic whole, but the comics form forces attention on specific gestures and expressions to carry an especial storytelling weight; stripped of the element of movement (and perhaps the vocal inflections of the characters), a small, maybe deliberate limitation suddenly becomes distracting and odd, since different parts of the image are required to perform different duties.

That's a small example, yes, but endemic to the book's approach to the comics form as a vessel for approximating cimetographic effects in a limited manner. It's very much an Official Comics Adaptation in that way, a true supplicant to its cinematic source material, if one prepared to stand and adopt the poise of a literary graphic novel, so very weighty and 21st century lush.

The illustrations themselves are sometimes quite nice, if very digital-oriented and shiny-blurred-flashy; it does the soul good to see a high-profile book come out and make the case for five artists on the same story, each of them unique but guided by clear aesthetic direction, so that variations in style become logical variations in tone. A flashback beach scene might suddenly see the character art cast off all black outlines, to briefly transform young soldiers into more self-evident graphic elements, leaving them both iconic and distanced, as fond recollections might be. A fantasy sequence sees a nude giantess rise from water, all soft features and huge eyes, and light shadows that give her a rich cartoon texture.

It's a smart mix of approaches, although the variation is strictly illustrative. The book is somewhat less successful at panel-to-panel flow, in that characters frequently seem frozen in place; a side-effect of such struggle to replicate the particulars of storyboards intended to serve as a launch pad for moving pictures, one expects, although I do believe the storyboards were themselves struck from video footage of live actors shot beforehand. Regardless, the final result becomes distracting when characters are called upon to make some particular movement, such as the gun-blazing waltz of the title. It wasn't until I saw the trailer that I could be sure the girl below was supposed to be dancing instead of pouting melodramatically in her narrating ex-boyfriend's face.

I do get the impression that Polonsky may have became aware of this limitation; the storytelling leans firmly on near-omnipresent narration captions used to keep the reader steady as to where characters are, and what they happen to be thinking behind their waxy, dramatically shadowed faces.

Land/cityscape vistas are favored for perspectives, with plenty of long horizontal panels provided for that movie-like 'widescreen' effect - it often seems a bit like The Ultimates, or some other North American pop comic from half a decade ago capering to play at Bruckheimerian bombast, but recontextualized for a 'literary' comic hewing as close to a bona fied cinema source as it possibly can.

Yet Waltz with Bashir has more to lose from that authenticity of origin. If there is some substantive shift in presentational style between the animation's present and recollection, it's certainly not visible here. The illustrations shift in style at times, as indicated above, but memory and conversation are flattened into one experience by the squares and rectangles of page layouts; those many shifts in perspective and scene, steadily narrated and denied much nuance of gesture (which I presume would be remidied by teeming animation), give Folman's storytelling a sensation of abridgement, although plot synopses suggest nearly all of the movie's content is represented.

Some impact remains. The gist of each character's story comes through, some of which are interesting; there's a nice bit with young Folman wandering through an airport terminal that's gradually revealed to be ruined. The work's general thrust remains certain, juxtaposing personal narratives to create a means of approaching a massive tragedy, long ago frozen in notoriety and thus elusive from personal relation, i.e. memory ("Against your will, you were cast in the role of Nazi," muses specialist in longform narrative).

And yes, the movie's big formal flourish is preserved in the comic, as all musing and puzzlement and stories and dreams and artifice are obliterated by a concluding volley of photographic evidence of the atrocity, a reminder that all the subjectivity of filmmaking and interviews and confession can't obscure the plain fact that something happened.

If only the artifice had been more compelling in its sale of subjectivity! I wouldn't call this a bad comic, but I'm also not sure what I'd call it; I feel like I still ought to see the movie to give a thorough opinion on the value of Waltz with Bashir. It's not incomplete so much as outlined in detail, like a very long trailer, or (yeah) a set of storyboards. Or an Official Comics Adaptation. Whether anyone will want that kind of keepsake in this lavish, bookstore-ready form, complete with a premium price tag higher than that of an actual movie ticket -- or, in the hardcover's case, maybe that of the eventual dvd -- remains to be seen.



*Yes, new.


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #1 (of 3): 1910 (the NEW comic from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill, coming soonish!)


20th Century Boys Vol. 1 & Pluto Vol. 1 (two NEW releases of Naoki Urasawa megahits)

At The NEW Savage Critics!


Afro Samurai: Resurrection (a NEW anime outing for the cross-cultural swordsman)

At my NEW NEW twice-monthly column at comiXology! New.

*Also new -


20th Century Boys Vol. 1 (of 24): Friends: That's right - Naoki Urasawa's magnum opus about coming of age and going toward age for people his age in the late '90s. It's a mystery and a comedy and a drama, and basically lives up to the hype so far. Review here. Note that the "24" counts the last two volumes, which are titled 21st Century Boys and marked vols. 1 and 2; it'd be pretty unfunny if VIZ didn't license those. It's 216 pages for $12.99, all fancy with flaps.

Pluto Vol. 1 (of 8): Also from Urasawa, his update of an Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy classic. I'm only guessing that it'll run eight volumes in total, although it's a pretty educated guess, given that the Japanese serialization is due to wrap in April. I wrote a bunch about it years ago, although my re-read wasn't so excited, I'm afraid.

The Zombies That Ate the World #1: Continuing Devil's Due's dalliance with Les Humanoïdes Associés, this time in the form of a $3.50 pamphlet format translation of B.P.R.D. artist Guy Davis' European zombie comedy series with writer Jerry Frissen. I do believe this issue should collect material seen before in English as part of the 2002-04 Metal Hurlant revival. I recall liking this. Interview and samples here, longer French preview here.

Daybreak Vol. 3 (of 3): But if it's serious end-of-today zombie stuff you want, I direct you to this $10.00, 52-page conclusion to Brian Ralph's first-person perspective horror series. From Bodega; review by Tom Spurgeon here.

Teenagers From the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes: Being the new book-on-comics from the Seqart Research and Literary Organization (website still down), a 344-page, $26.95 tome on a readily discernible topic, edited by Timothy Callahan with a Foreword by comics's own Matt Fraction and an Afterword by novelist and former Diamond employee Barry Lyga. Featuring essays on many Legion eras and topics, with contributions by noted bloggers Chris Sims and Scipio Garling, among many others. Have a look.

A Comics Studies Reader: Also in books o' words, the University Press of Mississippi has this neat-looking 304-page, $25.00 collection of 30 learned essays on the form from various times, edited by Jeet Heer & Kent Worcester. The lineup includes Bart Beaty, Charles Hatfield, Art Spiegelman, Thierry Groensteen (of The System of Comics), R.C. Harvey (of The Comics Journal) and even the good Dr. Fredric Wertham. Worth many flips.

Afro Samurai Vol. 2 (of 2): Also in highbrow criticism... oh wait, no, this is the conclusion of Takashi "Bob" Okazaki's pro-published manga version of his own dōjinshi creation. In black & white & red (blood only); features many fates, and probably a more focused ending than the original Gonzo anime, now that I think of it, although many unused scenes pop up in the sequel too. From Tor/Seven Seas; $12.99 for 176 pages.

Eden: It's an Endless World! Vol. 11 (of 18): Your reminder for the financial quarter that Dark Horse has not yet cancelled this sci-fi manga from Hiroki Endo. Not too much more to go, folks. Too much. Preview.

Garth Ennis' Battlefields: The Night Witches: In case you missed (or avoided) the pamphlets, here's a $12.99 Dynamite collection of the first storyline from writer Ennis' revived War Story (more or less), honing in on both female Soviet bomber pilots and the traditional young man in the thrall of a dangerous worldly superior. Not as concentrated as the best of the Vertigo tales, and yeah, Russ Braun's art isn't quite up to the level, but it has its passages of cruel power. Preview.

Four Eyes #2: Fiumara.

Johnny Boo Vol. 2: Twinkle Power: Kochalka.

The Punisher: Frank Castle MAX #67: Shootings.

Hellblazer #252: Peter Milligan.

Mysterius the Unfathomable #2 (of 6): Jeff Parker.

Gødland #26: Many cosmic returns.

Heavy Metal Cryptic Special (Spring 2009): Oh wow, it's the second half of Philippe Saimbert & Andrea Mutti's 2004 series Break Point (last seen in the Summer 2005 Mystery Special). I remember liking it... a gritty crime thing. Er, the memory's kinda cloudy, but I do know I liked it, at least. That's a great pull quote.

Comic Foundry #5 (Winter 2008): Final issue of the comics 'n culture glossy, featuring a feature piece on Bryan Lee O'Malley, a chat with Grant Morrison and writing by my double sitemate Tucker Stone. It's $5.98. And that is that.



Current Greatest Page On the Internet

*That would have to be the AX Research Project. Yes, in reference to Top Shelf's forthcoming AX Vol. 1: A Collection of Alternative Manga, a 400-page brick of treats from one of Japan's most prominent off-kilter antholgies. But who are these people?

Robert Syrett and the Electric Ant zine (and anyone else who wants to contribute, including Ed Chavez of MangaCast and Sean Michael Wilson, the book's editor) have some answers, starting with a full list of contributors -- you've probably heard of Yoshihiro Tatsumi (A Drifting Life), Takashi Nemoto (Monster Man Bureiko Lullaby), Yusuaku Hanakuma (Tokyo Zombie) and Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time) -- and pushing onwards to samples of most participants' art and as many short bios/primers/link parties as can be mustered.

Go read or (better!) go help.


Another Endeavor!!

*Oh no, what the hell is this?!

Why, it's my NEW COLUMN at the wise and friendly comiXology, home to Tucker Stone of The Factual Opinion, Noah Berlatsky of The Hooded Utilitarian, Shaenon K. Garrity of VIZ Media, Kristy Valenti of The Comics Journal and Karen Green of Columbia University (all 'of's non-exclusive, of course!).

It's titled The Watchman, previously written by Kent M. Beeson; as you can probably guess, it's (yes!) a movies-and-television-and-whatnot column, all somehow comics-connected. I've immediately betrayed everyone's trust by talking about anime, specifically the new Afro Samurai: Resurrection, which has a related manga on the stands now. It'll be a twice-monthly thing that'll run every second Monday. Hope you enjoy.



Song of the Insufficiency of Human Struggling

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #1 (of 3): 1910

God, I'd forgotten this was almost done.

Not quite done, mind you; the version I've read is b&w -- not toned or printed in b&w, I mean inked pages still awaiting color -- and missing the obligatory text feature, part one of a New Wave science fiction pastiche, which ought to look interesting next to Chris Ware's somewhat similarly-toned piece in the most recent ACME Novelty Library. It'll be 80 perfect bound color pages when it's ready, priced at $7.95 by Top Shelf/Knockabout. I don't exactly know when 'ready' is; April looks like the general idea, but I suspect the answer wants to be 'as soon after the Watchmen movie as possible.'

This puts me in sort of a tricky position, first and foremost because I obviously can't discuss the art very much; it's simply not finished as intended for publication. As luck would have it, though, Kevin O'Neill happens to be maybe the most reliable stylist in semi-mainstream comics today, so it's probably safe to just say it looks like he's done his usual splendid job, barring catastrophic coloring/production errors.

Of course, then there's the problem of reviewing a comic that nobody is going to read for maybe two or so months, particularly when that comic sort of demands a certain amount of detailed study; any close reading is likely to prompt confusion (moreso than usually found on this site), aside from those readers who just aren't going to want to know anything in advance. Honestly? This might be a slightly better comic if you go in blind - I'll just note that it's better than Black Dossier but maybe not what you think, and leave it at that.

Aaah, but I just can't resist a good opportunity to pollute the collective anticipation. It's why I was put on this Earth. Let me tell you a few things.

Century is the third 'full' volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; it'll be the longest of the series' segments and, according to writer Alan Moore, the darkest. But its composition is three separate stories, each one standing alone in wildly different eras, yet adding up to a grander thing - it makes sense, then, to evaluate this 1910 chapter as its own small sequel in the ongoing LoEG saga.

It holds up well. Freed from the laborious give-and-take of comics and faux-historical multimedia that tired out Black Dossier, 1910 returns to the adventure team irreverence that powered vol. 2 of the series. And I mean irreverence toward adventure teams - if LoEG vol. 1 was all about how impossibly awesome an idea it is to throw various fantastic Victorian literary characters together into a big adventure, and vol. 2 was about how it's actually a completely horrible idea since everyone would kill each other, 1910 looks to what happens when the idea outlasts its utility to its times.

Anyone expecting hard-hitting public domain thrills in here is bound to be disappointed; Mina Murray and Alan Quatermain may have joined up with ghost finder Thomas Carnacki, gentleman thief A.J. Raffles and the immortal, gender shifting Orlando for a new Edwardian era League, but Moore portrays them as singularly inefficient, prone to squabbling and gossip, and largely shit at solving mysteries, which proves troublesome when Carnacki starts having visions of mayhem during the coronation of George V.

It's a very deliberate deflation of expectations, right down to the team's B-plot-at-best engagement with an apocalyptic plot masterminded by obscure W. Somerset Maugham villain Oliver Haddo, a parody of Aleister Crowley; it almost goes without saying that Moore seizes the moment to populate Haddo's entourage with fictional creations of the actual, prolific Crowley, while steeping the diabolist's scheme in arcana from Crowley's 1917 novel Moonchild. But while one imagines it'll all prove more suitably threatening in future issues, here it's only another means of baffling Our Heroes with omens they can't cope with. It's not a triumphant teamwork kinda comic.

No, what it is, specifically, as you've probably guessed by now, is an extended homage to The Threepenny Opera -- that epic theatre classic by Bertolt Brecht & Kurt Weill (not to confused with Moore's old pen name, Curt Vile!) -- ensconcing a blazin' color pop comics crypto-remake of Moore's own From Hell (abridged).

Really! Jack the Ripper is a prominent presence in this episode, now a charismatic anti-hero in the Mr. Hyde mold; Moore even sees fit to swap out the Eddie Campbell collaboration's minute research and historical detail with references to brash, popular Ripper fiction, most prominently Peter Medak's 1972 film The Ruling Class -- an old favorite of mine, based on a Peter Barnes play and boasting Peter O'Toole's greatest performance, which also informed one of Grant Morrison's early Doom Patrol stories, the Red Jack adventure of issues #23-24 -- and G.W. Pabst's 1928 silent Pandora's Box, which all you film scholars know was completed only three years prior to Pabst's early sound era adaptation of... The Threepenny Opera.

And the cleverness hardly ends there. I'll estimate that about 1/6 of the text in this comic is actually song, sometimes-extensive reworkings of The Ballad of Mack the Knife, Pirate Jenny, Epitaph and Second Threepenny Finale (aka: What Keeps Mankind Alive?), all 'performed' by or about the likes of Macheath, Suki(e) Tawdry and Jenny Diver via word balloons with musical notes around them in the old-school manner of Bojeffries or certain bits of Tomorrow Stories.

But while it's surely very clever, I can't say it's all that witty or meaningful; several of these characters have added connections to established bits of the LoEG universe, and Moore's modifications to their classic numbers mainly serve to shore up these amended character aspects, or push especially hard at, say, the sexual violence marking a working woman's world at that time (Extraordinary as it may be). Moore also assumes you know your Threepenny, and that you're capable of matching up the mood of a particular tune with his necessarily soundless verse; it could be that O'Neill's art can take over the burden of mood for less acclimated readers, but I wonder if they'll take all this singing as one fancy too many, slowing the affair down (maybe they should have included a record with this one).

I also wonder, relatedly, if Moore doesn't lean a bit much on the reader's pre-established familiarity with his various appropriated characters, to the point where their arcs carry unintended implications on the page. I know I was excited to see more of Moore's gender-switching Orlando, set up in Black Dossier as torn between the sensuality of his feminine nature and the warlike thrill seeking of his masculine side; a little pat in the dichotomy, but sure. Unfortunately, the Orlando glimpsed in this comic is always male, and little more than a chatty, sashaying fop who -- surprise!! -- turns out to be hell in a fight at the end.

It's remarkably close to stereotype, and even then only one part of a generally tee-heeing approach to male homosexuality that chafes against Moore's oft-voiced yen for social justice and liberated eros. I eventually got to the point where I wondered if Moore deliberately omitted mentioning the averred gay subtext of Raffles' character (perhaps so the League wouldn't seem too gay) or just expected us all to know that already, and thus left it unstated amidst complaints of Orlando being a "he-she."

Also unstated is the Marxist aspect of Brecht's & Weill's work, which will no doubt irritate some, though Moore has never been interested in the specifics of politics in LoEG so much as the broad implications of narratives among humans-as-narratives.

The Threepenny's cast of beggars and killers were set in contrast to the 'proper' crimes of the upper class, revealing the corruption of those above, yes, but also reminding us that Macheath and company are capitalists too, basking in the true slime of a system stripped of finery. In contrast, Moore's focus is on violence, flattening the plane of wickedness so that a Jack the Ripper can really know the streets (no doctor, this one), and brutal threats can come from the seemingly helpless, rather than the rarefied plane of mad masterminds or underworld lords or space monsters or elite clubs of magic.

Such is the key to the League's failure in 1910. They're 'heroes' that think like heroes from a passing time, sitting around in lavish costumes in a headquarters no doubt financed by a ruling government, all lazy and monied and inattentive. Of course they never understand the threat - the coronation isn't just another Threepenny reference, it's a changing of times toward new systems, newer and meaner fictions and more wicked adventures. All who read the Black Dossier know that the League shifts to meet this challenge, going underground and tapping into a mystic union of Good fiction, unmooring themselves from the awful world.

Here, they're still part of the cracking landscape; if this is the 'dark' LoEG, it's because our eyes are away from the blazing horizon and fixed on the docks and the roads, where cruelty becomes equalized and fiction begins getting Bad. Put that way, even coming from Moore, it's a curiously conservative rendition of that old tune: The Birth of the 20th Century.


I got a chip in my windshield.

*So begins another thrilling chapter in my life of surrendering twenty dollar bills.


Man Against Time (a 1996 Image series from the Motown Machineworks studio, which only seemed to publish in 1996; maybe the first published comics work by Brett Lewis of The Winter Men, with John Paul Leon on covers even!)

Yeah, that's it.

*Anime Dept: Famed designer-mangaka Yoshitoshi ABe takes on moé. From Eastern Standard, a fine anime/manga/other things blog from veteran translator Andrew Cunningham and friends.

*Speaking of losing your money -


Sabre: 30th Anniversary Hardcover: Yeah, the ol' Direct Market may be in for some turbulence in days to come, so why not let Desperado Publishing close your fluttering eyes and whisk you back to the sunny days of idealism that were 1978, when a fancy-looking b&w comics album could hit the stands and everyone would realize that shit was going down that wouldn't happen on newsstands, no sir. This is a new 48-page, $14,99 edition of that album, a sci-fi take on vintage gallantry and derring-do from writer Don McGregor (then best known for a popular, similarly-toned run on Marvel's Killraven) and artist Paul Gulacy (with some uncredited inks by P. Craig Russell, if I recall correctly). Contains bonus chit-chat with McGregor. Samples 'n info here.

APPLE Vol. 2: Being UDON Entertainment's return to A Place for People who Love Entertainment, which a plurality of cartographers has identified as a 272-page collection of full-color comics and pin-ups from Korea's most available video game and manhwa talents. Think Range Murata's Robot (also published in English by UDON), only more illustration-heavy (and from a different country). It's $34.95; preview here.

I.R.$. Vol. 2: Blue Ice: There really are a lot of totally random releases this week, huh? Here's the latest Cinebook two-in-one (vols. 3-4) English-language softcover (96 pages, $19.95) for writer Stephen Desberg's and artist Bernard Vrancken's ongoing Belgian-born saga of an I.R.S. special agent and his glamorous adventures in the world of high finance and monied crime, currently up to vol. 10 in Europe. Pure, slick escapism, I expect. Have a look.

Blake and Mortimer: The Strange Encounter: You can get old-school (or faux-old-school) with your Belgian funnies this week too, since Cinebook also has this 2001 installment of the venerable Edgar P. Jacobs series (created in 1946) concerning the exploits of a famed British scientist and a pal from MI5. This time they confront strange, laser-toting forces and ghosts of America's past, although Jacobs isn't behind the action, having died in 1987; the series currently gets passed around among various creative teams, with this particular installment being the second (and thus far final) contribution by writer Jean Van Hamme and artist Ted Benoît. It's 66 pages for $15.95; preview here.

Apropos of nothing, did any of you US residents catch part one of the XIII tv miniseries (a 2008 Franco-Canadian production based on the megahit comic Van Hamme co-created) last night? I thought the first hour was a pretty clever update of the initial album's Robert Ludlam tropes, kind of linking things up with the latter-day Jason Bourne movies; on the other hand, the pacing was sorta lacksidasical, Val Kilmer was awful as the Mongoose (just bored-looking, puffy, winded) and the script appears to be mixing and matching plot points from all over the series, only the first three volumes of which have ever been released in English. I think even the video game got farther into the plot than vol. 3. Man.

Welcome to Hoxford: This is writer/artist Ben Templesmith's recent werewolves-in-prison miniseries from IDW, now a 132-page, $19.99 softcover. I haven't seen any of it, but Templesmith is generally worth a look. Preview here.

Jack the Lantern: Ghosts #3 (of 3): I am bound by blood to mention all Tim Vigil comics, as they are released to the North American comic book retailing scene. Do not ask questions.

B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess #2 (of 5): Davis.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #3 (of 8): Fegredo (and Davis, in a backup short).

Incognito #2 (of 5): Brubaker & Phillips.

Captain Britain and MI13 #10: Dr. Doom & Count Dracula team up on the moon.

Patsy Walker: Hellcat #5 (of 5): A lot of people liked this, I think. Kathryn Immonen & David Lafuente. Looks pretty. Here is the end of this.

All Star Superman Vol. 2 (of 2): Oh, people liked this too. Now your $19.99 hardcovers can match.

Batman: R.I.P.: Shit, people even liked this! All right, all right - it did have its moments, at the height of the "Batman's backup personality" mania. Vol. 4 of the complete Grant Morrison run, a 208-page oversized hardcover, priced at $24.99. This also collects the two Final Crisis tie-in issues, so it totally wraps up the Morrison run until it restarts later this year.

Batman #686: But no, R.I.P. is over, Final Crisis is over, that handful of other storylines is over - it's time to get down to brass tacks and look toward the future, by which I mean give Neil Gaiman this and the next issue of Detective Comics to riff on a 22-year old Alan Moore story, Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Qualitative debate aside, I think we can all agree that's what Final Crisis was truly meant to accomplish. Maybe some surprises? Andy Kubert & Scott Williams draw it; 48 pages for $3.99.



When Am I?

*Jesus lord, it is crap to work on stuff that can't instantaneously pop up for everyone to see. The next few days ought to bring something new, though.

*Ye Olde '90s Dept: Meanwhile, I've kept on digging through old comics - as if I'd ever stop! There's great rewards sitting around in fifty cent bins across this fine land; strange, forgotten things that carry new significance to our troubled contemporary times. You never know what you'll find.

Like, maybe Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon, creators of The Winter Men, working on a doomed series from 1996 that nobody seems to remember?

Well, ok, I'm stretching a bit. Leon only did covers for this series, and I'm not even 100% sure this is the same Brett Lewis, although it'd be a funny coincidence if someone with the same name was around for a different Image-published series (Bulletproof Monk) less than two years later and went on to collaborate with Leon... whenever the hell The Winter Men actually got started.

As you can from the cover, Man Against Time (rather than Crime, haw haw) was presented under the banner of Motown Machineworks -- apparently the comics wing of Motown Animation, itself the animation division of the famed Motown Records -- which was headed by Michael Davis (President/CEO) & Denys Cowan (VP/EiC), two of the founders of Milestone Media. "Machineworks" has kind of an omnious ring, like hammers banging on properties as they glide down a conveyor belt toward some hopeful multimedia exploitation, but not a lot came of the line - as far as I can tell, Motown was only ever in the comics game in 1996, which wasn't exactly a banner year for the health of the Direct Market, to say nothing of the unchecked proliferation of readymade superhero universes just then cresting.

But anyway, Motown Machineworks did exist, and Brett Lewis was its editorial director for a short while. Man Against Time appears to be his first-ever published comics work, accompanied by the pencils of one Gino DiCicco, in what seems to be his one and only comics credit. The visuals are very much of the era (and publisher), loaded with splashes and poses and details and muscles, although the energy seems to flag in issue #2 when inker Andrew Pepoy is replaced by Mark Heike and the colorists are changed. Still:

I can't say it's a really good series or a stellar piece of writing or anything - it feels like early work, with a type of throw-everything-at-you aesthetic that suggests a restless creativity without a ton of restraint.

The dialogue is blunt and perpetually declarative, and the pace of the action easily outsteps attempts at characterization - a rocket-suited pink-haired policewoman Of The Future is whisked outside of time and goes from befuddlement in one panel ("You're all under arrest!") to fighting anger half a page later to weeping despair following seven panels and four word balloons of explanation as to why her timeline no longer exists, and that's pretty much the most extensive arc anyone goes through.

The flow is jerky, with a romantic interlude leading without warning to one of its participants bursting into a different room shouting crucial plot information they've learned off-page, prompting a small explosion of violence by characters otherwise bereft of motivation, or sometimes even names. Maybe it's modernism?

Nah, it strikes me as more the product of a writer with pretty specific ideas of how a series ought to connect -- a lived-in world surrounding the reader and various colorful characters as small mysteries cluster to obscure a grand scheme -- but somehow without the ability (be it through inexperience or interference or something) to pull it off.

Still, it's a fun, loopy plot, while it lasts. The concept of the series has Law, a white-cloaked enigma, plucking people out of their discreet timelines so as apply their special skills to his crack team of extra-temporal operatives; it eventually turns out that Law has actually been creating some of the timelines for the express purpose of cultivating specific skill sets, only to collect the cream of the crop and shut things down on the remaining billions of timeline residents.

So it goes for Tammie, the aforementioned pink-haired cop in a robot suit (chunky and domino-masked in the much-later manner of The Umbrella Academy), chasing Flash Gordon-costumed crooks in the far-flung metropolis of 1985 one moment, then zapped away as Law closes down her universe (without quite telling her) and assigning her to the important task of knocking down trees in the 15th century so as to somehow affect the master future in some obscure way.

Obscurity is necessary, so as to throw off the Chrono Cops who've been after Law for a while - there may be a psychic and a brute and a gold thing with claws on the team, but our all-powerful anti-hero still needs to step in sometimes and transfer some nosy fucker's head (and only their head) to an alley in 1972. It's little wonder that issue #2 sees Law builds himself a legendary assassin by subtly toying with the emotions of a little girl who's just witnessed her black ops tech father's murder at the hands of ninjas sent by Congress.

Meanwhile, Tammie and a lecherous math whiz named Glom (who closes out his part of the chapter laying on the ground with a bloody face huffing one of Tammie's shoes) infiltrate the funeral luncheon of a character killed in the prior issue, while a 19th century cowboy goes undercover in 18th century Rotterdam County to urge the citizenry to turn on the Redcoats with aid from local natives, who are led by Law to believe that their grandchildren will romp on the land twenty generations hence.

"Why didn't you tell them the truth?" Law is asked by an operative.

"Because I haven't decided it yet."

Of course, trouble was apparent with the series early. As of issue #2, Lewis was no longer listed as Motown Machineworks' editorial director, the position having been replaced(?) with the role of editor, filled by former associate editor Thomas Fassbender. The same page bore a message from production director Jason Medley apologizing to penciller DeCicco for issue #1.

The second issue's house ad for issue #3 listed Lewis as writer, but the actual comic suddenly featured Faust scribe David Quinn on script, working from a story by Lewis and himself - a situation oddly similar to that of later issues of Bulletproof Monk, albeit with no discernible Tim Vigil connection.

It's funny reading issue #3 - the comic all but screeches as Quinn steers the plot in his own direction, at one point dispensing with most of Lewis' supporting cast by having Law get really upset and blast the lot of 'em off to parts unknown in the chronosphere. DeCicco pencils only select pages, with Shawn Martinbrough filling in the rest in his own, completely different style. With issue #4, Milestone veteran ChrisCross took control of the pencils, and Quinn's story became increasingly bizarre, with roughly 1/3 of the issue expended on Law's efforts to prove himself a hero through a manga-style parody of the origin of Spider-Man, while other scenes saw the remaining operatives plot a comedic insurrection.

None of it came to much. An ad for issue #5 popped up in the back, and some websited claim it exists, although I've never seen a copy (or evidence of a copy for sale) myself. The whole Motown Machineworks line seemed to poof out of existence with the summer of 1996, almost as if collected by some weird cloaked time god, determined that none of us would even recognize the stuff left behind.

All right, enough of that. Tons of comics came and went in the immediate post-boom of the mid-'90s, most of 'em rightfully so. Man Against Time is a curiosity, noteworthy for some of the people involved and the lack of information surrounding the whole thing, although far from a satisfying experience.

And yet, I think such things are worthwhile. For their little bits of foreshadowing. Their hints.

There's a bit in issue #2 where the sad little girl has grown up and Law has picked her up for his use, as a means of bookending the issue. She's finished murdering the last of the Congressional ninjas that killed her dad, and she lets out a cry she's been denying herself since Law pursuaded her to keep silent, thus placing her on her life's path. At that moment, she meets her white-cloaked god, and he shows her the massive clockwork machine that allows him to track all timelines, and we see it's not dissimilar to the mechanisms her father used to build weapons, and she realizes that the crucial moment of her childhood has always been connected to that place, that everything she's done since has been timed and planned, like clockwork.

You get the feeling you're standing in the midst of the series' Big Idea, and it's pulled off pretty well, maybe the best bit of the series. It comes to nothing, as did many big ideas of 1996 and surrounding years. Maybe it's more appreciable now, with a stronger Brett Lewis (hopefully the same guy!) around, here at the font of the latest not-quite-a-banner-year for the Direct Market, maybe. The more things change...


Stuff Doin'

*Various projects simmering, including a fun(?) new thing that'll be popping up very soon. The only toll is on my precious instant gratification. To wit:


Final Crisis #7 (of 7) (thank heavens we can all agree on something)


Oishinbo A la Carte Vol. 1 (this is a popular manga about food, although you shouldn't really put it in your mouth, particularly if you're reading it in Barnes & Noble)

At The Savage Critics!

*Links Dept: David Brothers of 4th Letter is running another Black History Month series this year - one post per day for the whole of February. Personal experiences will be mixed with thoughts on today's comics, particularly the character sprawl of Marvel and DC. I like what I see so far - check back often.

*Fresh items, coming up -


Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5 (of 6): Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe: Oh yeah, yeah, just the latest installment in possibly the alternative pop comics series of the first decade of the 21st century in terms of sheer grasp of the zeitgeist. No introduction needed. From Oni, as always; $11.95 for 192 pages. Be aware that one of creator Bryan Lee O'Malley's favorite old-school manga series is also around this week, with VIZ's Knights of the Zodiac Vol. 25 (of 28). Coincidence? Yes.

The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude: An autobiographical piece by veteran cartoonist Carol Lay, tracking her long quest to hit her target, and showing you how it's finally done. All in color, from Villard; 208 pages, $18.00. Preview here.

I Saw You... Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections: Being a new anthology of short funny comics inspired by authentic posts on Craigslist, edited by The Fart Party's Julia Wertz. Full list o' artists here, including the likes of Peter Bagge, Tom Hart, Keith Knight, Gabrielle Bell, Jeffrey Brown, Shannon Wheeler, Sam Henderson, Aaron Renier, Ken Dahl, Elijah Brubaker, Austin English, Shaenon Garrity and many more. From Three Rivers Press; 192 pages for $12.95.

Slam Dunk Vol. 2 (of 31): Hell yeah, I've been waiting for more crazy ass basketball juvinalia from Takehiko Inoue - gets you feeling like high school again (lust, hitting, etc.). A mere $7.99 for 200 pages. Vol. 1 was great.

08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail: All the Campaign 2008 books? Like, the mature ones - the tell-alls, the detailed surveys, the investigations? They're gonna be so awesome. This particular one is characterizing itself as a 'diary,' so I'm expecting something a little more off-the-cuff, or at least as off-the-cuff as a 160-page comic drawn in a realist b&w style can get. From Michael Crowley, a senior editor at The New Rebublic, and Dan Goldman, artist of the noted webcomics Shooting War (released in print in 2007) and Yes We Will. A $17.95 Three Rivers Press softcover; big preview here.

The Complete Chester Gould's Dick Tracy Vol. 6: God, IDW got six of these out? Good on them. It's another 344-page, $29.99 block of cop funnies, this one ranging from July 1939 to January 1941. Do note that this is the final volume in the current format; vol. 7 will see the project shift to join the rest of IDW's newspaper reprints in the Library of American Comics format, which looks to basically up the dimensions and add another $10.00 onto the price.

Indiana Jones Omnibus: The Further Adventures Vol. 1: Hey, Dark Horse has an idea - when you run out of stuff to collect, just press a little further back. As such, this latest 368-page, $24.95 color brick collects a bunch of old Marvel comics, including the 1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark movie adaptation by Walt Simonson, John Buscema & Klaus Janson, and issues #1-12 of the subsequent The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones ongoing series, featuring scripts by John Byrne, Dennis O'Neil, Archie Goodwin & David Michelinie, and art by Byrne, Terry Austin, Howard Chaykin (just before American Flagg! started up), Gene Day, Ron Frenz & more. Preview here.

Parasyte Vol. 6 (of 8): Nothing fancy here - just more terror of the flesh and alien mutations from Hitoshi Iwaaki, a man who's won your trust.

Agents of Atlas #1: All-new, all-ongoing, all-return-of-the-well-respected-revival-of-mid-century-Marvel-heroes-from-writer-Jeff-Parker. Get ready for throwback attitudes in the modern Marvel U. Artists Carlo Pagulyan & Jason Paz will strive to bring you the robots and apes of your dreams; preview here, which you've already seen most of if you read basically any Marvel comics in January. Note that Parker also has the debut of his latest old-timey X-Men project this week, the four-issue X-Men: First Class Finals with artist Roger Cruz. Have a look. All these comics are $3.99, by the way.

Jersey Gods #1: I don't know much about this new $3.50 Image series from writer Glen Brunswick (a movie producer whom I mostly remember as co-writer of John Romita Jr.'s 2004 The Gray Area miniseries); it's something to do with a girl who marries a Kirby-type cosmic god, to comedic results, I think. But boy, Dan McDaid's art sure looks nice.

Madman Atomic Comics #13: Allred. Also of the Jersey Gods cover art, actually.

The Sandman: The Dream Hunters #4 (of 4): Oh that P. Craig Russell.

The Boys #27: Just the latest chapter in the 'Hughie Joins the Dirty X-Men' saga, running until issue #29. Preview.

I Am Legion #1 (of 6): Oh wow, remember this? It's John Cassaday's French comic, which managed to get its 2004 debut album released in English (albeit in scaled-down Prestige Format) during the short-lived union of DC Comics and European publisher Les Humanoïdes Associés. Written by screenwriter and comics scribe Fabien Nury, it had something to do with vampires and mind control among the Axis and Allies in 1940; it's been a while. Anyway, the DC/Humanoïdes thing fell apart, although the series kept going in France until its third album in 2007. Now Devil's Due is bringing the whole thing back to America as a $3.50 pamphlet-format miniseries, which will still be small, but at least complete. Sneak a peek.