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Monday, October 14, 2019

"..and meet the sun" (reprise)

So, this is kind of weird...

Over a decade ago (and does that make me feel old), I posted something about quality control at DC comics, specifically concerning a well regarded run of comics that they were then starting to reprint in a fancier hardcover edition, and which I was perfectly willing to buy in that version, despite already having at least one, and in most cases two or more, previous printings of the work. When the actual first book of that series came out, I was disappointed to learn that an especially egregious production error that had cropped up on earlier reprints, the deletion of the final line of script for one  of the stories, was repeated in the new hardcover.

This is how a powerful moment at the end of the first Bissette/Totleben/Moore Swamp Thing storyline should appear:

Some people reading this are likely surprised, since the version they read is missing a certain something, and they saw this:

And yeah, those colours are also way too bright, but that's another issue.

Anyway, fast forward a few years and one of the first digital comics I bought was that issue of SWAMP THING, and the first thing I checked was that page and it was missing the caption. I sent off a quick note to Comixology (also noting some paging errors on double page spreads of other issues), got back a prompt response saying they'd check with DC and a few days later got back a note saying updated files were available, and indeed they were, a quick download confirmed the caption was restored.  Later I even heard it was correct in the softcover print version of the collection, though I didn't check for myself. Good God was in his heaven, good gumbo was in the pot.

So it was kind of a surprise a few months ago when the foremost living expert on Swamp Thing posted about checking the comic on DC's new digital subscription service and noting that the caption was missing again, and followed up to note that it was also missing in the most recent print copy he'd gotten in his store. And I went back to my digital copy on Comixology, downloaded it again and, lo and behold, no caption. Good God is not in his heaven, and the gumbo in the pot is spoiled.

And recently I noticed that my local library had a few copies of the book, some acquired within the past few years, and I figured I'd take a look. The first I got was an older edition, from before the hardcovers but after the first print (the version with gorgeous but incongruous Michael Zulli cover), and it was missing the caption. In fact, I think that was the version where the caption issue first cropped up. I returned it and placed another hold, and this time got a fourth print of the current edition. And there's the caption in all its glory.

Now I'm really confused. The other day I was in a bookstore and checked their comic section (hard to find, they label it "graphic novels" for some reason). There's a copy of the book. First I check the printing, and it's the seventh printing. Then I check the page in question and... motherforker! No caption.

This is kind of driving me crazy all out of proportion to its importance (yes, I know a corrupt and possibly crazy man is running the most powerful nation on Earth). What is it about this error that it defies all attempts to correct it. I'd say it has a "herpes-like persistence" if that expression didn't have another meaning in Alan Moore fandom circles. Now that DC are preparing to reprint the issue in their even-deluxier Absolute format in just a few weeks, is anyone taking bets on whether we'll have another outbreak, or will the re-colouring on the newer version finally be the thing that stamps out the error for good (and fixes a few other problems with reprints of this run of comics)?

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Random Realities 2019.09.23

Still alive, if sometimes just barely. Today's ramblings, a weirdly random discovery of two almost 50-year old rebel songs thanks to a song which is not a rebel song, a great old fanzine cover by a true living legend of comics, a quick look at one of my favourite comedy podcasts and by far my favourite current TV show as it enters its final season.

So, heard a U2 song in the car earlier today, and about half the time I hear U2 I immediately think of their singer Bono Vox's patter before a live version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

There's been a lot of talk about this next song.. maybe a little too much talk. This song is not a rebel song... this song is "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

For some reason that always cracks me up (I think it's regularly mocked on the "Never Not Funny" podcast by Jimmy Pardo, and might have been joked about on "U Talkin' U2 To Me?" by Adam Scott Aukerman, but my amusement at it definitely predates both of those) . So I decided to do an internet search for "Is Sunday Bloody Sunday a rebel song". Not sure what I expected to find, but I did not expect to find out that John Lennon had a song called "Sunday Bloody Sunday" from 1972, shortly after the actual January 30 "Bloody Sunday" of that year, and a decade before the U2 song. For a few seconds I wondered if I was the last person to find out that U2's song was a John Lennon cover, but quickly found out that it was a completely different song that I had never heard of before. And I give thanks that I found out about this in 2019, because a few years ago it probably wouldn't have been so easy for me to listen to it.

And hey, guess what? Rebel song!

You anglo pigs and scotties
Sent to colonize the North
You wave your bloody Union Jack
And you know what it's worth!

It's a bit of a mess in the production, lots of Phil Spector and Yoko Ono and all that entails, but I like it, and can dream of a more stripped down version.

And the revelations keep coming as I found out that, surprisingly, Paul McCartney was there even before that, and eschewed all subtlety on his position with "Give Ireland Back To The Irish".

Tell me how would you like it
If on your way to work
You were stopped by Irish soldiers
Would you lie down do nothing
Would you give in or go berserk

I think we're going to have to go with "rebel song" for this one as well. Also, like just about anything by McCartney with Wings from the that era, over-produced mess of a song, but still pretty cool and you can feel the heart of a good song underneath all the layers.

So this was kind of a cool day, in a musical discovery sense.

From the Fanzine Cover Files, let's take a look at THE COMIC READER #133 [1976]. Sergio Aragon├ęs provides a great cover image featuring himself and the various DC horror hosts, at the time doing double-duty as hosts of the humour magazine PLOP, but clearly the hook indicates that title wasn't long for the world (and indeed the final issue was published around this time). Pretty amazing how consistent Aragon├ęs' work has been from this work 43 years ago (and indeed from over a decade before then) to today. Not sure if any other comic artist has been so steadily great for so long.

Nice issue of the long-running fan magazine, founded in the early 1960s by Jerry Bails and by this time edited by Mike Tiefenbacher and Jerome Sinkovec. Besides some news and letters there's a good history of Gold Key comics with a long list of their publications, a short comic story and a long amusing interview with Jim Warren on his company (with a rebuttal by Marv Wolfman). I especially like Warren's referring to Stan Lee as "Mr. Presents", which I do sometimes (not sure if I picked it up from here or somewhere else. I'm thinking maybe Roz Kirby called him that once somewhere).

On the podcast recommendation front, as mentioned above I'm a listener of Never Not Funny, Jimmy Pardo's podcast, which has been running for something like 13 years. I haven't been listening that long, I started maybe around five years ago, though I subsequently listened to most of the earlier stuff. It is, as it says on the tin, always funny, and frequently hilarious, with a lot of great guests who fit in well with the general conversational tone of the show. There are two episodes a week, one available for free on Earwolf (the most recent is the second appearance of Paula Poundstone, and is highly recommended). The second requires you go to their website and join the "Players Club", which also gets you the option of a video version of both weekly episodes, which isn't essential (the show works fine in audio-only) but often adds something to the hi-jinks (the recent spontaneous outbreak of a limbo contest, for example). I've discovered a lot of great entertainers from their guest spots on the show, and a lot of other things besides (I can directly trace my obsession with the play Hamilton to the frequent discussion of it on the show a few years back). Check it out.

Well, let's finish up this time with some TV. For the last week for me that's pretty much meant THE GOOD PLACE, non-stop. I really do love that show, I've watched every episode multiple times, often in random order, and have been devouring all of the supplemental material that they release on-line, which thankfully there's a lot of (including the official show podcast by Marc Evan Jackson (he plays Shawn)). I don't want to post too much about it right now, but fair warning that there might be long posts about it full of spoilers in the coming weeks, as the final season starts in just a few days (and I'm hoping that lasting only four seasons and ending on its own terms means that it'll avoid the disappointing finale syndrome that most TV shows fall victim to. What was the last great TV show to end as a great TV show?).

If somehow you've gotten this far without knowing anything about what happens on the show, definitely start checking it out now.

And that's a wrap for this time. Coming up, more on some of the long-running serialized comics I'm reading (including a few new ones added to the mix), more random comics pulled from the boxes, maybe some other stuff.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Flash #12 [1988] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Flash #12 [1988]

This is a year into Mike Baron's run as writer of FLASH, reviving the book with Wally West in the lead two years after the Barry Allen run finished. Baron would wind up soon, with #14. Jackson Guice was the initial artist, but he finished up the previous issue, and Mike Collins handles the pencils for the end of Baron's run. Inker Larry Mahlstedt was there from the beginning and would stick around for a few years while the rest of the creative team changed.

While I like this run of FLASH overall, I can't say I much like this issue in isolation. That's kind of a regular thing with Mike Baron books for me. I remember I picked up a few scattered NEXUS issues for Steve Rude's art, but couldn't get into the writing until I sat down with four or five consecutive issues, and it took me a few tries to appreciate BADGER. In this story, "Velocity 9", we have several different speedsters, like the Russian team Red Trinity from earlier in the run, now operating as the Kapitalist Kouriers, and other mysterious ski-masked speedsters, working for a shadowy boss revealed at the end of the story. That makes up for the running quota in the book, which is definitely not fulfilled by Wally West, who only appears in costume in one panel in the book (and that was gratuitous, probably only tossed in so there would be Flash appearance in the story. He's not even on the cover), spending most of it dealing with a conflict between his mother and his girlfriend. It works in context of the whole run, but really not as a single issue. The artwork is pretty solid, but has a lot of bland things to illustrate.

In the middle of the book is a "Bonus Book", a shortlived DC experiment from the era, where every month had a free 16-page insert done by new creators. This is the second one, and featured Doctor Light, then a relatively light-hearted villain, escaping from a prison transport and ending up in a small town, where he suffers his most humiliating defeat yet, at the hands of the children of Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys (minor characters from the 1940s who ran as back-ups to Wonder Woman in SENSATION COMICS). The story is written by George Broderick Jr., penciled by Gordon Purcell and inked by Tim Dzon. It's not too bad, a nice diversion.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Failed Universe #1 [1986] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Failed Universe #1 [1986]

Some things in my collection I'm not sure how they got there. I know I wasn't buying any comics in 1986, so any comic I have from that year was bought as a back issue. I probably found this one around 1990, either really cheap or in a blind pack with some other comics.

This was published by Blackthorne, a short lived company from the late 1980s, mostly of black and white comics in the post Ninja Turtles b&w boom, including a lot of licensed comics, many in 3-D, and a handful of creator-owned comics. This is one of a series of parody comics they did (other ones advertised in this issue are MAN OF RUST and LEGION OF STUPID-HEROES). This one is a parody of Marvel's "New Universe", which launched with much fanfare a few months prior. It's created by Cliff MacGillivray, David Cody Weiss and Michael Kelley.

The cover is based on the house ad which announced the line. Looks like they took the graphic from the ad directly, just redrawing the Earth. It's a pretty decent gag.

I don't think I've read this since 1990, and at that time my knowledge of the New Universe was pretty slim. In fact, I think this book might have been my first real exposure to most of the details of the line and informed most of my ideas of the books. I know a bit more about the line now, though I've still only read a handful of the actual comics (mostly the first year of STAR BRAND for some reason).

It looks like Blackthorne's parodies were as much parodies of comic book publishing as the actual books, so this one opens with the corporate offices of Mediocre Comics where they decide to create a new line of comics, with the assurance from the fanboy community that they'll buy anything and the accounting department that not having to pay creators will save millions. They turn the job over to the marketing department, which fires up the Cosmic Computer to churn out the product based on established cliches, so we get the story of Star Bland, calling out his similarity to Green Lantern, and then bleeding in to other comics like Sue Force through endless crossovers.

It's all... not great, but serviceable for what was no doubt a rush job. A few good gags that seem to actually be based on the early issues of the comics being parodied, some clear art, lacking a bit in backgrounds but otherwise solid. I'm actually not sorry I still have this for some reason and took the time to re-read it, which I did not expect going in.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Recently Read 2019.07.26 - Long-running serial re-start edition

I've got this bad habit of trying comics early in their run, and even if I like them well enough not being interested in reading them as they're being published, either in periodical form or once-or-twice a year collections of 5-10 issues, but then never getting back to them when the serialization is over and the whole story is available to read at whatever pace works best for me.  So here are a few now-finished books I'm making a (re-)start on, THE WALKING DEAD, THE BOYS and FABLES.

THE WALKING DEAD Vol. 1 - DAYS GONE BY by Tony Moore and Robert Kirkman
THE WALKING DEAD Vol. 2 - MILES BEHIND US by Charles Adlard and Robert Kirkman
THE WALKING DEAD Vol. 3 - SAFETY BEHIND BARS by Charles Adlard and Robert Kirkman
These three volumes collect the first 18 issues of what we now know are 193 issues of THE WALKING DEAD published between 2003 and 2019, eventually to be collected in 32 books of this format (with a slightly thicker final volume), among other formats. The most popular of the formats appears to be the Compendium volumes of over 1000 pages which will collect it in four volumes.

I'm sure you all know the drill, it's the never-ending (until now) story of Sheriff Rick Grimes, who wakes up from a coma to find himself in a world where civilization has collapsed after the dead start returning as flesh-eating zombies, and has to lead a small group of survivors against not only the undead but other groups of survivors.

I started reading the series a few times before, I think last time I got about 12 of these books in before giving up, around the time the TV show started. I think I eventually made it to about the same story point in the TV show. Now that I know there's an ending to the comics, I figured I'd start again and see how long I last.

The first book is the only one drawn by Tony Moore, whose work on the book I preferred to subsequent artist Charles Adlard (who continued on the book until the end), at least in the early going. I seem to recall being much more impressed with Adlard a few volumes down the road. That first book is still a pretty good complete story, quickly establishing its characters and situation by liberally borrowing from predecessors like Romero's DEAD movies, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and 28 WEEKS LATER. Moore's art has a nice density to it that rewards slowing down and spending some time with each panel, which is a good contrast to Kirkman's writing, which is very quick to read and for the most part exists only on the surface level. This becomes more noticeable when  Adlard starts drawing, as his art isn't as dense, so it's very hard to slow down and it's very easy to find yourself half way through the book in just a few minutes. It's still an entertaining read, with some imaginative ideas within the genre. I know last time I found some of Kirkman's writing ticks become more irritating as it went on, even as Adlard's art became better, it'll be interesting to see if that's the case this time, especially if I make it further than I did before.

THE BOYS Vol. 1-4 by Darick Robertson, Garth Ennis and others
These four books collect the first 30 issues of THE BOYS. The series was published by DC briefly in 2006, apparently during a long weekend when the adults left the kids home for a long weekend, sure they were mature enough to handle it. After the fallout from that it continued at Dynamite until 2012, 72 issues of the main series and 18 issues of three spin-off mini-series later.

The Boys of the title are a super-powered (but not usually costumed, mostly just in black leather) black-ops team that the CIA finances to control super-heroes in a world where all super-powers come from contact with an unpredictable chemical called Compound-V and where the actual apparent costumed super-heroes are mostly corporate controlled characters who are mostly amoral and violent in private, while maintaining a public veneer of traditional super-heroes to make money for their corporate masters. The Boys method of keeping them under control generally involves a lot of violence and death. A lot of this is familiar ground if you've read MARSHAL LAW (Mills/O'Neill) or BRAT PACK (Veitch), among the most high profile examples. The putative super-heroes are generally the standard mainstream heroes with the serial numbers filed off, The Seven for the JLA, Payback for the Avengers, G-Men for the X-Men. Nothing groundbreaking, but done in a kind of stylish way.

So 90 issues in all, collected in 12 slim books and various configurations of fewer, thicker books. I read the first few issues when it came out, and intended to check out more eventually, but I figured they might go 25-30 issues, 50 on the outside. So I just looked at the prospect of 90 issues of the series as a bit exhausting, especially given Ennis' track record of failing to hold my interest after a promising start to a long narrative. Also, by the time it ended I knew that most of the back half of the series wouldn't be drawn by co-creator Darick Robertston (except for the covers). He draws all but a few issues of these four books, then only a handful more of the regular series and one of the spin-off minis before returning for the final issue.

As capable as his substitutes might be, Robertson is a pretty big draw for the series. He's kind of like George Perez after being tempted by the dark side of the Force, a really detailed style suitable for a story with lots of different super-heroes, but more than willing to draw them in the most extreme and lurid situations. I think THE BOYS was also the first time he inked his own work for an extended run, which definitely took it up a notch.

Anyway, with the focus on the series now that a TV adaptation is coming out, I figured I'd give it a try again.

For the most part the story works throughout this run, but you can feel it running out of steam towards the end of this run, in an extended story about the ersatz X-Men (and endless affiliated teams) which just  kind of meanders before an unsatisfying end. If there were only one or two more books I'd get right to them, but knowing that this is only one third of the way there, that there are 60 issues to go, over 1300 pages... I need a break before thinking of that. I'm not even sure if there's a general consensus about whether they stuck the landing on this one. I don't know, I'm kind of conflicted about this book, for reasons I might get into if I ever finish it.

FABLES Vol. 1 - LEGENDS IN EXILE by Bill Willingham, Lan Medina, Steve Leialoha, Craig Hamilton and others
FABLES was a long-running book created by Bill Willingham for DC's Vertigo line, one of the biggest successes of the line (probably only behind PREACHER for books launched after the imprint was established). The main series lasted 150 issues from 2002 to 2015, but with various spin-offs (which continued to at least 2017) and specials there's probably the equivalent of over 300 regular periodical comics worth of material. Those are collected in about 45 or so books in this format, the main narrative but not all the side trips are available in thicker hardcovers as well. I dipped in and out in the early years, probably read about 10% of the total, mostly from the first half. I think the general consensus is that the book starts strong, kind of wanders off track for extended periods, especially in the second half, but recovers somewhat for the end of the main narrative, but probably should have ended sooner. So let's see how long I last with it.  Note that I'm somewhat spoiled on a few of the major mysteries of the series, either from what I read before or from general cultural osmosis, and I'll try not to hold that against it, but can't make any promises.

This first book collects the first 5 issue, plus a short illustrated prose story original to this book. It pretty deftly establishes the premise, a society made up of characters from all sorts of fables and fairy tales and general public domain folk culture, all having fled their own worlds centuries ago from the armies of a mysterious Adversary and continuing to live in secret in modern times. The leads are Snow White, now the deputy mayor of "Fabletown" and Bigby, a usually human version of the Big Bad Wolf.  The extensive exposition is handled well when wrapped in a self-consciously by-the-book murder mystery complete with a parlour room reveal. This was a pretty decent set-up, maybe a bit better than I remembered it. I know that Willingham has some tendencies in his writing that can irritate me, but they're mostly absent in this book.

I did like Lan Medina's artwork, which was clear and well designed. He only ends up drawing a handful of issues after this, with the main series artist Mark Buckingham starting in the next book. I seem to recall the look remaining pretty consistent, which may be partly due to veteran inker Steve Leialoha, who inks four of the issues here and sticks around for most of the run.

I'm not sure if I'd put money on me getting through all 45 or so books it would take to read the complete FABLES story any time soon, but I'll I'm sure I'll read a few more, and maybe decide after a few if I'm going to stick with the main narrative or also try the side projects.
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