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Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Rick Geary has carved out an interesting niche for himself in comics, building up a library of true crime books, starting in 1987 with A TREASURY OF VICTORIAN MURDER (looking at three cases), continuing with the Victorian era in 1995 with JACK THE RIPPER and then seven more books focusing on individual cases until 2007, and then moving on to the next century with THE LINDBERGH CHILD in 2008 and subsequent books.  The 2011 release THE LIVES OF SACCO AND VANZETTI is thus the 13th overall book in the overall series, and the fourth with the "A Treasury of XXth Century Murder" banner.

For this installment, Geary looks at a 1920 armed robbery in Massachusetts that left two men dead,  and the subsequent arrest, conviction and 1927 execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti for the crimes. The case was very famous at the time, with quite a few people convinced the decision was a miscarriage of justice. I'm mostly familiar with it from the Woody Guthrie album BALLADS OF SACCO AND VANZETTI, which as you might expect falls squarely on the "miscarriage of justice" side.

Geary, as is his wont, takes a much more clinical look at the case, first presenting the armed robbery and subsequent police search that led to the arrest of Sacco and Vanzetti, then detailing the backgrounds of the two men from their births in Italy through their immigration to the US and involvement in radical anarchist politics before moving on to the trial, the long appeals process (and the questions about the trial process in Massachusetts that were raised there), the eventual execution and aftermath.

This was a very entertaining book, maybe my favourite of the series. It does a great job of evoking the era, outlining the issues involved and keeping it all a good read as well, and Geary's art has been consistently excellent for decades.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

More Library Comics

Some more stuff recently read from the library. Exhausted the currently available 20th CENTURY BOYS, not that eager to finish it up. Took a look at the new edition of ADOLF to see if it'll be worth an upgrade. Kind of liked Alan Moore & Co.'s TOP TEN, less so the related books. And not as impressed with the second FATALE book.

Sitting around waiting to be read, THE HEART OF THOMAS, THE UNDERWATER WELDER, THE NEW DEADWARDIANS and some more DC "New 52" books.

20th CENTURY BOYS Vol. 9-19
That finishes up the volumes of Naoki Urasawa's series that the library has so far. It looks like they've been getting volumes about a year after they come out for some reason, so there's a chance they'll get the rest. After the last few books, though, I'm not sure I care. It was really great stuff for a few books in the middle there, but some of the convoluted twists and drawn out storytelling in the last few books just make me tired. A shame, for a while there I was seriously considering buying at least the books the library was missing, maybe even a full set. Now, I'll probably finish if the library eventually gets the rest, but I'm in no real hurry.

Or, alternatively, I noticed that they also have all three volumes of the film adaptation of the series, so maybe I'll take a look at those some day. Not sure how faithful the films are to the plot of the series, but I assume the general idea is the same, and this is a case where compressing the story would be a good thing, eliminating some of the redundancies and red herrings.

This is the first of two volumes of a new translation of the Osamu Tezuka series ADORUFU NI TSUGU, previously published in English in five volumes as ADOLF. That was the first Tezuka I'd ever read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I was glad to see it in the library, since I wasn't sure if I wanted to get the new version (one of the reasons I've been reading so much from the library recently is that I'm trying to avoid accumulating stuff I already have in another form and stuff I'll only read once). I still need to compare the two versions. The reproduction of the linework seems a bit better in the new one, while the translation seems to be roughly of the same quality. It is a much nicer looking book. The publisher, Vertical, usually has a table at TCAF, if they have the two books at a decent price it'll be hard for me to say no.

TOP 10. BOOK 1
TOP 10. BOOK 2
The four Alan Moore written books of the series he co-created with Gene Ha, about the police force in the city of Neopolis where everyone has super-powers, with Ha providing the art on the first three, and Zander Cannon doing layouts on the first two and pencils on the last one. I liked the main series quite a bit more than I was expecting to, though it was far from perfect. On the top of the list of problems, I thought the (spoiler alert) "Justice League analogues are frauds and child molesters" reveal of one of the long-running subplots was a bit trite. Ha's art was pretty effective, although sometimes I found the level of "chicken fat" (to use the old MAD expression) on the pages was overwhelming, where I would recognize the reference in just enough background elements for it to be a distraction from reading the actual stories, and sometimes distracting from actual story elements I should have been picking up from the art. Didn't like the two spin-offs as much.  THE FORTY-NINERS goes back to a story about the early days of Neopolis, and it's solid but hardly an essential story. SMAX takes two of the characters out of the city and into the homeworld of one of them, where there's a similar level of reference to fictional fantasy characters, and really wasn't too satisfying in the end. I'm slightly tempted by the upcoming oversized reprint combining the four books, which would probably make some of the more obscure background bits clearer, but I'm not sure I liked it quite enough for that.

Didn't really care for this second book of this on-going Brubaker/Phillips crime/horror comic, after a mildly intriguing first book. The bulk of the action moves on to 1970s Hollywood from the 1950s setting of the first book (with the continuing modern day plot showing up in "Interlude" chapters), and I just didn't find any of the new characters as interesting or worth reading about, and Phillips art just seemed a lot looser, less detailed. Don't think I'll be back for a third helping.

Friday, April 12, 2013

ON THE ROPES by Vance & Burr

ON THE ROPES is the new book by James Vance and Dan Burr, a continuation of the story of Fred Bloch  from their earlier book KINGS IN DISGUISE.

KINGS was serialized in six parts from Kitchen Sink in 1988-1989, and collected, along with a short story from DARK HORSE PRESENTS #42, in a single volume in 1990. In that 1990 book, Vance outlines the genesis of the book in a stage play he wrote in 1979:
The result was a bizarre pastiche of Depression-era leftist melodrama called On the Ropes. Set in 1937, it was crammed with characters drawn from the icons of that period:  WPA artists and performers, labor agitators, messianic Communists, sociopathic strikebreakers, and the inevitable tough-but-tender-hearted female journalist. To make things more frenetic, I threw in an escape artist with a death wish, and more onstage violence than any two Jacobean tragedies.
Fred Bloch was a secondary character in that play, and Vance's desire to expand the character led him to write KINGS IN DISGUISE, first as a play, and later as a comic, featuring the character in 1932, a poor boy from California who winds up on a journey across the early Depression-era America with a hobo named Sam who claims to be the King Of Spain in disguise.

KINGS was a great book, so I was glad to hear that Vance had decided to go full circle and return to the ON THE ROPES story for a sequel, presumably greatly modified since Bloch is definitely the main character now (but all the elements described above are present), along with Burr on the artwork. Maybe slightly wary in addition to glad, since the track record of creators returning to a beloved world after decades away isn't great, but maybe somewhat surprisingly I always lean towards the optimistic side.

This might be one of the few times that such a return results in a superior book to the original. I'm not prepared to say that definitively yet, since I've only read it once, but it definitely stands with the original. The writing is sharp, capturing the various "icons of that period" in a complex story involving real events of the labour movement of that era, not sugar-coating some of the harsh realities of that time.

Burr's artwork is definitely much improved from the already high quality he showed back in the 1980s. His characters are a lot more natural and less stiff than in the earlier book, and the facial expressions get a lot of emotion across in more subtle ways than they did before.

Definitely worth taking a look at, whether you've read KINGS IN DISGUISE or not (it was republished a few years ago in an inexpensive updated edition with an introduction by Alan Moore. I didn't pick it up before, but seeing how nice a package W.W. Norton puts together I'm tempted to upgrade). Vance mentioned in his introduction to KINGS that the evolution of the story included a brief attempt to write a story of Fred Bloch fifteen years after these events, so maybe someday we'll see another book. Hopefully in less than a quarter century.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Carmine Infantino, R.I.P.

I'll add some more on my appreciation of Carmine Infantino's work later, but for now here's an issue of THE FLASH that he signed for me at a convention a few years ago.  It was nice to have a chance to tell him how much I liked his work.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Newly acquired books 2013.04.04

Minimal number of additions to the vast Four Realities Archives, aka the stacks of printed paper which will one day bury me, since the last post three months ago. I'm really  hoping to minimize the effects of that burying, so there are also a few digital acquisitions below.



The second of the new series of creator themed EC collections, this features Wood's 26 crime and horror stories published from 1950 to 1954. Some great stuff, like "Confession", I've read about half this stuff before, and I'm looking forward to the rest. Really looking forward to the Al Williamson volume, which is running a few months late.

Dave McKean's wordless "erotic graphic novel" from a few years ago, I never picked it up before because I wasn't sure I'd like it. I loved CAGES, but what I loved most in it was the dialogue. My plan was to wait for a softcover or for the library to get a copy, neither of which has happened, so I finally broke down and picked up the hardcover. Seems pretty enigmatic from a quick leaf through, have to see how it actually reads.

The latest issue of the long-running magazine, now apparently coming out once every year or two with a very thick package.  I usually just leaf through my brother's copy of TCJ, but I got a copy of this one since I'm quoted a bit in an article about the Mouly/Spiegelman edited TOON TREASURY, specifically about one of my five favourite topics, Sheldon Mayer comics.  Interesting selection of features, with interviews with Maruice Sendak and Jacques Tardi, comics by Joe Sacco and Lewis Trondheim and articles on a variety of comics. I really don't like the distracting formatting used for the text on some of the articles (an article on Robert Crumb is made to look like a set of old typewritten and photocopied sheets, an article about the 1950s public backlash against horror and crime comics is made to look like old newspaper articles taped in a scrapbook), which only makes them harder to read without adding any real content. It'll take a while to get through everything interesting in here, but then it'll probably be a longer while before the next issue.

THE COMICS V23 #9 [2012]
THE COMICS V23 #10 [2012]
The two most recent issues of Robin Snyder's long-running newsletter, the most recent issues feature Ron Goulart's on-going biography of Artie Saaf, whose work I'm not too familiar with. I mostly know him from some of his 1970s work for DC, but he had an extensive career Golden Age career for publishers like Standard. I don't know if much of that stuff has been reprinted in modern times. #9 also included the first installment of Steve Ditko's THE FOUR-PAGE SERIES, with five essays on a variety of topics, which continues in...

Five more essays by Steve Ditko, co-published by him and Robin Snyder. “Honoring Or Dishonoring” has some interesting bits about some

DITKOMANIA #90 [2013]
The latest issue of the magazine devoted to... um, what's it devoted to, again? The answer's on the tip of my tongue. If only the title made it obvious... Anyway, this issue is mostly taken up by an in-depth article by Ron Frantz on his publishing experiences, including several books by Ditko, some published and some planned but unrealized. Fascinating stuff, including some previously unseen images of Ditko character designs for a project with Jerry Siegel.

Got caught up on the two latest issues of the magazine devoted to... oh, I did that joke already. Anyway, content is back to normal after the break in format with #58, and back in the regular sized magazine format after a few years as a tabloid. A few good Kirby tribute panel discussions in these issues, lots of great artwork, #59 has an unpublished 1970s SOUL LOVE story and a lot of Kirby collages in full colour, #60 has a 1950s JIM BOWIE story

James Vance and Dan Burr's brand new follow-up to KINGS IN DISGUISE, coming about 25 years after that series was published, but moving the story of Fred Bloch up just five years to 1937. Just read this yesterday, after re-reading KINGS IN DISGUISE last week, and it's definitely a worthwhile follow-up to the original, and might even be better than the first book. I'll try to write a longer post about it soon.

And new digital, from Bob Burden Comics I picked up digital copies of the first two FLAMING CARROT books. I already had the first one in print, but never had any luck finding the second one at a reasonable price, so $15 for the pair was a pretty good deal. Especially since the second book contains most of the Carrot stories I was missing. And I can't deny that I'm tempted by hardcover editions of both books Burden has available right now.

Other than that the new digital stuff I've gotten has been the usual free stuff.  Marvel had a somewhat botched free digital comics offer, I managed to get a few things from that I haven't had a chance to read yet, most notably FF ANNUAL #1 by Kirby and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 by Ditko.
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