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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.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Random Realities 2019.07.21

So, just a few more things, an old Eisner fanzine cover, recommendation for a comedy news podcast, more on Vertigo and discussion of the type of retrospective I'd like to do for it, but never will, and links to examples of what I'd like to do on other sites, and one of my favourite current Canadian sitcoms starring two SCTV alumni.

Hey, if anyone is reading this, I'm kind of out of touch on how people use the web these days, is it more useful to have a longer post like this with multiple topics, posted less frequently, or to post each as a separate article, posted every day or two?

From the Fanzine Cover Files, AMAZING HEROES #157 [1989] has a great Will Eisner piece of his creation the Spirit meeting the Bat-Man (created by Bill Finger with Bob Kane).  I guess this can be considered a companion piece to his other piece with the two, printed around the same time over in DETECTIVE COMICS #600 [1989]. In fact, I kind of wonder if this was intended for the DC book but not used for some reason so Eisner found another home for it. This is definitely the better of the two. Eisner also did a similar piece earlier in SUPERMAN #400 [1984].

This was the tenth of thirteen AMAZING HEROES PREVIEW SPECIALS published from 1984 to 1990, numbered rather confusingly 39, 62, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 133, 145, 157, 170, 10, 11. It was also the first I picked up new off the stands, having just made trips to the comic book store a regular part of my routine shortly before this. Man, did I learn about a hear about a lot of comics first in these pages. I eventually did pick up all the older ones, and I have an old post about them over here, which I really need to add more to.

This one has a long interview with Dennis O'Neil, mostly about what's coming up in the Batman books he was editing, just before the big explosion in sales from the movie in a few months. Dave Sim also does a two page piece on what comics he's reading.

On the podcast recommendation front, the news/humour podcast The Bugle is a long time favourite. I was an old school listener, going back to the launch in 2007 when it was hosted by Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver under the unlikely auspices of The Times newspaper. I kind of drifted away when episodes became more intermittent as John Oliver became busier with his TV work, but came back after it was relaunched with Zaltzman and a rotating group of co-hosts in 2016. I admit I didn't love the new format as much for the first little while, but after a few months they seemed to settle in nicely, and over the last year it's been consistently hilarious, especially the most frequent co-hosts, Alice Fraser and Nish Kumar, and the live shows released on the podcast feed. Definitely a highlight of the weekend for me, and always a disappointment if they take a week off. I even subscribed to Zaltzman's cricket podcast The Urnbelieveable Ashes even though I know nothing about the game just to get a taste of the Bugle as Zaltzman was busy with his Cricket World Cup reporting duties recently.

Still thinking a lot about Vertigo, but I don't think I'll ever get around to doing some ambitious series of posts on the history, rise and fall of the imprint. I did find one site which made a decent start at what I was thinking of, over at Comic Vine with some decent pre-history on the line and then a year-by-year look at what they published, running up to sometime in 2014. The notes on individual books start off really detailed, but get cursory a few years in.  Still, a useful resource, and I did learn a few things.

Something else I found, my model for the Vertigo retrospective was the Eclipse rereading blog  and Fantagraphics series that Lars Ingebrigtsen did. While looking at those again I saw that he also is working on one for Pacific Comics. That's a slightly less ambitious one only about 100 books, compared to about a thousand for each of Eclipse and Fantagraphics. I'd like to see something like that for Vertigo, but it looks like you'd be looking at something like 4000 original publications for Vertigo, a few hundred more if you count the pre-Vertigo stuff, maybe up to 5000 if you count all the the reprints. More daunting a task than I'd be willing to start. Maybe.

On the TV front, I've been catching up on the most recent season of SCHITT'S CREEK this week, the comedy series created by Daniel and Eugene Levy that's run for five seasons, coming back for a sixth and final next year. I watched the first four seasons last year, and it took a few episodes to get into it, but once it clicked I really enjoyed it as a sort of classic quirky character sitcom with some unexpected character bits thrown in. Sorry that I only have a few more to go before the long wait for the last season.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Space Circus #2 [2000] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Space Circus #2 [2000]

This was part of a 4-issue mini done by the long-running GROO creative team (Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai and Tom Luth) between GROO minis in 2000.  The series is right what it says on the tin, the story of a touring circus travelling through space. In the first issue, on a repair stop on the backwater planet Earth, they accidentally pick up a stowaway, young Todd Cooper.

This time around, Todd tries to fit in with the circus, without much luck, and mistakenly helps some space pirates who have infiltrated the circus in a plan to steal the technology which will allow the pirates to invade "secured space".

A fun little issue by a well-oiled machine of a creative team. Aragones does some great fanciful designs of the various aliens, in particular on the centerfold which is a detailed  double page splash page of the circus in action. I think I'll re-read the whole series while I have it out.

In addition to the main story, Evanier writes a two page short story in the form of a diary entry by the gorilla-like character Grlx, although they accidentally included the wrong Aragones illustrations (the ones for this story appear in #3). As is typical for Aragones books in the past few decades the backcover is a wordless gag page.

Doesn't look like this was ever reprinted. Wouldn't mind seeing it in an omnibus book of the other non-Groo work by the the Groo-crew, including MAGNOR, THE BOOGEYMAN and a few one-shots.

Jonah Hex #57 [1982] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

This was briefly a regular feature of this weblog, where I let my computer pick one of the too-many comics I own and, if I'm in the mood to read it and not too embarrassed to admit I own it, I post a few things about it.  Now that it seems I'm posting regularly again I'll try to revive it.

Jonah Hex #57 [1982]

I didn't read too much JONAH HEX when it was coming out. I think just a few stories that were reprinted in DC's annual "Year's Best" digest volumes. I also knew the character from a few guest appearances in other titles. It was years later that I picked up a handful of issues, mostly from around this era, which is about the mid-point of Michael Fleisher's long run as primary writer of the character, having replaced co-creator John Albano back in 1974 and continuing through the rest of the series and the follow-up HEX series until 1987.  Tony DeZuniga, the other Hex co-creator, had recently returned to the feature, sometimes doing full art, usually just inking at this point. The pencils he worked on were most frequently from Dick Ayers, but for this issue the pencils were by Ross Andru. This was the only Hex story Andru penciled, as he was primarily an editor at this point, including most of the run of JONAH HEX, and also a frequent cover artist at DC, including many on this series.

"The Debt" is the 17-page lead story in this issue, and features what I gather is the only appearance of Hex's mother, who he greets pretty matter-of-factly for someone seeing their mother for the first time in 27 years. Quite a bit of the story is an extended flashback to the circumstances leading to her departure back in 1848. I think his understated demeanour is supposed to be intentional, but I also think it comes across as funnier than intended. I got to the end of the story and didn't even realize it was over until I flipped the page.

I've found Fleisher to be at best and uneven writer, and this is about in the middle of his range. A lot of stories I've read are much worse, occasionally he's very good this is just solid. I thought the Andru/DeZuniga combination on the art was very good, although Hex's facial injuries are much more understated than usual.

The back-up this issue was an 8-page El Diablo story, "Desert Hell", with DeZuniga doing full art on a Gary Cohn story with the Kanigher/Morrow created character of Lazarus Lane. I'm not too familiar with the character, I don't think any of his early 1970s stories have been reprinted. It has something to Lane being comatose following an accident, but emerging as the masked El Diablo when called on in the pursuit of justice, in this case a group of murdering bank robbers who flee into the desert, pursued straight to the gates of Hell.  Or something. A pretty decent story, I'm sorry none of the other issues of HEX I have has more from the feature.

Rounding out the issue are two single-page historical bits on the old west by Laurie and Rob Rozakis and Adrian Gonzales, looking at food on the frontier and the short-lived Pony Express.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Random Realities 2019.07.12

So, where was I...

Wait, three posts in one week? Weird...

This time around, a look at a fanzine cover leads to some memories of the Inferior Five, a podcast recommendation, a Karen Berger interview leads to thoughts of doing a Vertigo retrospective series and a quick review of a rare streaming series that was better than I expected.

I've got an absurd amount of comics related magazines in my collection. Now, I'm sure that some people would say that more than one is an absurd number, but I have considerably more than that. As in over 500. A lot of them have pretty cool rarely seen covers, so I figured I'd post them every now and write a few words about the art or the artist or the characters.

This 1983 AMAZING HEROES cover is by Kevin Nowlan, and features the 1960s DC team the Inferior Five. Nowlan had been doing great work in the fan press for a while, and I think just starting to do some professional work at the time, and would go on to do some spectacular work both as a solo artist and as an inker (and even as a letterer, like the recently discussed MOONSHADOW). He hasn't posted in a while, but his blog is a treasure trove of rare images and process art.

For those unfamiliar with the characters, this was a super-hero parody series, featuring the children of some (invented for the series) retired golden age super-heroes who are pressured to enter into the family business, despite not quite having the powers or temperaments for it. Much chaos ensues, including several issues which make fun of those new super-heroes popping up across town at Marvel.

I was briefly excited when I saw The Inferior Five on a list of upcoming DC releases, but it turns out that it's a new revival that takes the name, but so far it appears nothing else, from the original concept. I might check out this new book sometime, since both Keith Giffen and Jeff Lemire have done work I've liked in the past, but I was briefly hopeful we were finally getting a reprint of the 1966-68 comics (three issues of SHOWCASE followed by a ten issue series) by creators E.Nelson Bridwell and Joe Orlando and other artists, including Mike Sekowsky and Win Mortimer. I've read about half of those, and really enjoyed them. Hopefully with the revival of the name maybe we'll see a reprint of the original, at least digitally. And hey, DC, if you're doing a reprint, I can recommend someone to draw a new cover...


I listen to quite a few podcasts these days, so I think I'll start posting my podcast episode recommendation of the (day) (week) (month) (however often I end up posting). My choice for this time is Punch Up The Jam episode 78 with regular (for now) hosts Demi Adejuyigbe and Miel Bredouw and guest Matt Belknap discussing and the 1990 song "Poison" by Bell Biv DeVoe. This is kind of full circle since I first heard of Adejuyigbe when he appeared on the Belknap co-hosted Never Not Funny, and started listening to Punch based on a mention on NNF.

The high concept of the podcast is that the hosts (usually but not always with a guest) discuss a song in ridiculous depth, and then one or both of the hosts debuts a cover/parody of the song that usually comments on some problematic or ridiculous aspects of the song, or just goes off on some random silly tangent.

It's always an enjoyable show, but this was an especially good episode. Belknap has an interesting history with the song, and he's got a lot of experience talking at length about trivial topics into a microphone. And this particular song is much more ridiculous than I was aware, having never really listened to the lyrics, and Adejuyigbe delivers a perfect punch up.

There's some interesting stuff in this interview with Karen Berger, proprietor of the Berger Books line and founder of the soon-to-be-retired Vertigo imprint at DC. She talks about some of the reasons that she left the Vertigo back in 2013, and how those reasons probably made the closing of the line inevitable, as well as about the current books she's working on.

I've been thinking a lot about the Vertigo line lately, which is kind of odd since I was never the most vociferous reader of those books. They did publish several books that I consider favourites, but I also couldn't get through a lot of their major books. The label was never a guarantee that I would like a book, but I think in the heyday of the line it was at least a signal that a book was worth taking a second look at, or sampling. Anyway, I was finding that there's a real lack of a solid resource about the history of the line and everything they published, so I've been toying with the idea of doing a series of posts on this weblog about the line, looking at the history leading up to the founding of the line, all of the books they published, what I though of them if I read them, or whether they look interesting enough to track down and read now, if they're even available (many have found homes at other publishers). Eventually I'd like to even talk about the reasons for the end of the line, and some of the things spawned by it (several publishers/imprints in addition to Berger Books are currently run by former key Vertigo editors).

Anyway, something I've been thinking of. Not sure if I'll actually do it, and how far I'll get if I try, but we'll see.

One of the better TV shows I've watch recently was "Dead To Me", available on Netflix, which was a pleasant surprise. I didn't have high expectations based on the premise, a recent widow being befriended at a support group by a woman with a dark secret, but I heard some good things about it. And I thought I kind of guessed the secret early on, and was dreading it. Then it turned out to be something else. Then it turned out to also be what I thought in the first place. And then I thought maybe it didn't. And it turns out it did. Maybe. Anyway there are quite a few twists and turns, and I kept expecting it to veer off, but it remained interesting right up to the end (fortunately it's only 10 episodes, usually around 30 minutes, so it doesn't suffer the streaming series mid-season bloat all too common in 2019). I was glad to hear that it was renewed for a second season, which I was not expecting all through the first.

Okay, that's a wrap. I introduced a few of the recurring things I hope to do here in the future. If anyone is still reading, feel free to let me know if any of them are especially appealing to you.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Recently read 2019.07.09

So, where was I...

Wait, it's still the same month as the last post? That can't be right...

Some quick thoughts on stuff I've read recently.  RED RANGE, 4 KIDS WALK INTO A BANK and IMMORTAL HULK, if you want to know before scrolling down.

RED RANGE by Sam J. Glanzman and Joe R. Lansdale

This is a 2017 edition of the western adventure first published in 1999, in colour and hardcover for the first time and with lots of extras. I did get the original, though a few years after it was first published. I'm not sure if I even saw it when it came out, and if I did I might have passed by it because of the odd choice to use the completely incongruous N. C. Wyeth idyllic painting "Cowboy Watering His Horse" from 1937 as the cover. Let's just say that watering his horse isn't top on the priority list for the Red Mask, Caleb Range, the hero of the book (not sure why the title mixes his two names, like calling a book "The Lone Reid" or "Bat Wayne"). Fortunately this new edition has a much more appropriate cover, using Glanzman's interior art.

Anyway, it's a great, if somewhat brutally violent book about a black man in post-Civil War Texas who rescues a young boy named Rufus from the Klansmen who murdered both of their families. The story takes a pretty unexpected third act twist, and even promises a sequel on the final page which is only now coming twenty years later from Lansdale's son (note that the interview and images in the link will give away the twist in the original book). The colouring is well done, not obscuring any of the linework, I think I like it more than the original version. If you're familiar with the Jonah Hex work that Lansdale and Glanzman (with Tim Truman) did in the years prior to this book you have an idea of what you're getting into, only it's much more unrestrained and profane than those books.

Extras include a short western story by Glanzman that fits the theme (kind of a shame they don't have "Devil's Sombrero" from DC's WEIRD WESTERN TALES #2 [2001], another Lansdale/Glanzman work. They also did a war story together in another Vertigo anthology) and some extensive notes from Stephen Bissette placing the work in context of both the creators' careers, the history of cowboy fiction and race and the history of cowboy fiction and... something else that's part of the twist.

4 KIDS WALK INTO A BANK by Tyler Boss and Matthew Rosenberg

This is a collection of a 5-issue series published from 2016-7, about a young girl and her friends who get involved in a world of schemes and heists when she tries to protect her father from some lowlife acquaintances.

The book wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve (and on the backcover, where several of them like Tarantino and THE GOONIES are namechecked in review excerpts, and again in about 3 dozen variant covers in the backmatter, many of them based on iconic movie posters, and again in the chapter breaks with quotes from various movies modified to fit the characters), but does a good job of translating those influences to a comic page, doing things in the story that couldn't have worked the same way on screen. I especially liked the opening of each issue using one of the games that the kids play to set up the situation with some added visual flair.

While there's nothing overly revolutionary about what the book does, it does it all well (though I'm not sure I really liked the ending). It's also a nicely put together book, much better designed and substantial feeling that most books that come out from major publishers.

by Joe Bennett, Al Ewing, Ruy José & Co.

This is the current iteration of the 1962 Jack Kirby creation, launched in 2018 and still on-going. These three books collect the first 15 issues of the run. Al Ewing writes all of it, Joe Bennett and Ruy José draw most of it, with occasional guest artists.  Fortunately, unlike the usual Marvel way of random artist changes, the guest art is usually used for specific storytelling reasons (flashback scenes, stories told by other narrators).

This has become a much hyped book in the last few months, enough that it probably can't live up to the hype, and it really doesn't. I mean, it's pretty good, nicely readable, builds on Hulk history going back over 50 years but for the most part it doesn't seem to require knowledge of all that history, or explains the parts that are needed, and tells a different type of Hulk story. In the last few stories of this run I think Ewing tripped up on that a bit, as I had the feeling I was missing something from my spotty knowledge of Hulk history. I do find the writing a bit thin, so where get to in 15 issues probably could have been more effectively done in about 10, but I'd need more of the story to assess how much of the extra stuff was important and how much was filler.

I was pretty pleasantly surprised by Bennett's art, which had never made too much of impression on me before. It's bold and open in a way that fits the story. I did think the bigger action sequences tended to be less clear than I'd have liked, it sometimes took me a few tries to figure them out, or it only became obvious in retrospect as the story played out, but overall I liked it.

I've heard some people talk about this run as somehow transformational, as if you couldn't go back to the classic "Hulk Smash" version of the character. I'm not convinced that's the case at all, based on the first three books. I remember hearing similar things about the run Bruce Jones did almost 20 years ago, and that run seems to be less than a footnote in comics history now. And the Planet Hulk story by Greg Pak, which at least started off better and more transformational, that was all eventually reversed.  Certainly you can read this run without any reference to the Jones or Pak version (while aspects of the earlier Peter David version are essential backmatter)  I imagine this run will be fondly remembered if it sticks the landing, however far in the future that is, or quietly forgotten if it doesn't, but in any case followed up by a return to a classic version of the Hulk or a whole other version.

For the future, they seem to publish enough for three of these thin collections a year, so I'll probably catch up once a year until it ends. I wouldn't be surprised if it goes in the 50-60 issue range (possibly with some relaunches and title changes, given modern Marvel) so that's a few years away. Hopefully they keep it to one book, and don't do the classic Marvel response to success and launch THE IMMORTAL SHE-HULK, THE IMMORTAL RICK JONES, THE IMMORTAL ABOMINATION and THE IMMORTAL SQUIRREL GIRL.

The biggest problem is how slight and insubstantial each of the books feels. Five issue collections, with most issues only have about 20 pages of story, and printed on about the thinnest paper that would be acceptable. Very little thought given to the design, just the standard Marvel cookie-cutter book design. Variant covers are thrown in at random between issues (probably so that the double page spreads line up correctly), sometimes those are covers that don't even have anything to do with the Hulk, much less this version of the Hulk. Nothing like a random pin-up of Conan fighting the Avengers to keep the story momentum going in a Hulk comic. And, I'm sure I've complained about this before, but why does Marvel continue to use the inside front and back covers of their books for ads? At least they've gotten better over the last few years and usually have ads for related books (it seemed to be random before), but it still looks cheap and crass. I don't think any other publisher feels the need to do that. Keep them blank or design some nice endpapers.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

MOONSHADOW, DeMatteis and other topics

So, where was I...

Well, the stars are in that peculiar alignment which causes me to post on this weblog again. Will this mark the return of regular posting? History suggests it will not. In fact, I'll state right now flatly that it will not, since my track record on predicting things is so bad that it'll increase the odds if I bet against it.

(topics below include the career of J.M. DeMatteis, the news on MAD MAGAZINE and the TV show ONE DAY AT A TIME)

So, one of the things that I wanted to mention was the new edition of MOONSHADOW by J.M. DeMatteis and Jon J. Muth (with a few guest artists).  I'm technically still on a policy of not getting any newly published print comics, and doubly so not any that mostly duplicate stuff I already have in some form, with a few exceptions. This is one of those exceptions, as I just really love this comic. It was originally published by Archie Goodwin's Epic from 1985 to 1987, though I didn't discover it until 1994 when it was reprinted by Karen Berger's Vertigo, where it also eventually got an epilogue published in 1997. This new hardcover collects all the original 13 comics, a new introduction, plus over 30 pages of extras, in one impressive 512-page package. Some sample pages are at Dark Horse's website, DeMatteis has posted his introduction on his site.

It's pretty much an impossible book to summarize, as it ranges all over the map, it can be poetic, scatological, profound, profane, literary, vulgar, hilarious, tearjerking and many more things, often many of them on the same page. Sometimes even the same panel. If I end up posting regularly here (which, I stress, I probably will not) I really want to get more into this book as I re-read it, and especially as I go over some of the fascinating looking bonus material.

I've actually been thinking a lot about DeMatteis' work in general in the last few months, since this book was announced. The closing of the Vertigo line had me thinking about some of my favourite books from that line, several of which were from DeMatteis. I also just read his recent series THE GIRL IN THE BAY (with artist Corin Howell, published by Berger Books at Dark Horse), and I liked it a lot, except for the fact that it's too short and sets up a longer story not currently on the schedule, and I was thinking that it was a welcome return to my favourite facet of DeMatteis' long and varied career, the adult horror/fantasy with a philosophical tinge. I think the last book in that vein was SEEKERS INTO THE MYSTERY back in 1996/7, and has been mostly supplanted in the last two decades by his (always very enjoyable) comics more aimed at children, starting with ABADAZAD in 2004. And then since I like to categorize things, I got to thinking how many different DeMatteises  there have been in a comics career going back over 40 years. He's been remarkably prolific in that time, probably over 1000 comics written, and while I can't claim to be an expert, as I've probably read under half of them, that's still a lot I've read.

As I said, my favourite is the one doing adult comics, usually with some horror/fantasy element, often exploring philosophical matters and with veiled or explicit autobiographical elements. MOONSHADOW is probably the exemplar of that body of work, although my favourite is probably BROOKLYN DREAMS or THE LAST ONE. I think the first hint of this DeMatteis was the "Greenberg The Vampire" story in BIZARRE ADVENTURES #29 back in 1981, though I haven't read too many of his earlier short stories in DC anthologies to see if any of them suggest what the future would hold (though obviously all of them would have been code-approved, so lacking in bite).

The children's book writer is probably my second favourite. A lot of these books have a metatextual angle, and are heavily inspired by some classics like Baum, Carroll and others. ABADAZAD is probably the exemplar there, despite its unfinished status. It's also my favourite, unless you want to expand beyond comics to the novel IMAGINALIS. I need to re-read the two AUGUSTA WIND books, they might also be a contender.

I consider the next DeMatteis, and the first I was really familiar with, to be the one most associated with his collaborations with Keith Giffen . Obviously the exemplar there is the JUSTICE LEAGUE run from 1987 to 1992, with a few reprises since. Some of the related books he wrote solo (like DR. FATE and MISTER MIRACLE) also fall in this category. HERO SQUARED from Boom is also a good read, as is their DEFENDERS mini-series.  I need to get around to reading some of their more recent collaborations.

I'm not as familiar with the rest of DeMatteis' work to know if I need to divide the rest of his career into two or more categories. This would be the general mainstream comics, which are generally more serious than the Giffen collaborations (though not without humour). Tentatively I'd say the exemplar here would be the classic Spider-Man story "Kraven's Last Hunt". There's also some excellent Batman and Doctor Strange work in this group.  I've heard some good stuff about some of the other Spider-Man work and others. I really liked parts of the SPECTRE series he did. I suppose I'd put THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SAVIOR 28 series from 2009 (partly based on plans he had for Captain America in the 1980s) in here. Like I said, I need to explore this stuff in more detail, I've liked a lot of it. If I ever get the Marvel Unlimited digital service I think most of the first few months would be spent reading DeMatteis comics (the rest would probably be reading any Steve Gerber comics I don't have yet).

Wow, that ended up being a lot longer than I expected. It's a good thing that I probably won't keep posting or I'd have to go on a DeMatteis reading / re-reading jag and writing about that. And if someone more qualified than me wants to do a DeMatteis career retrospective, I'll be there to read it.

In other news...

Sorry to hear about the recent news about MAD MAGAZINE going all-reprint and taken off the newsstands, likely as a precursor to its cancellation (though no doubt the brand will survive in some form other than a printed periodical). Like just about everyone else, I was a big fan of it in my formative years, the stuff published while I was 8-12, and later read quite a bit of the earlier stuff, back to the original Harvey Kurtzman colour comics run, plus many of the Sergio Aragones, Don Martin, Al Jaffee, etc. books. And again like just about everyone else, I hadn't really paid much attention to the new stuff in a few years, which maybe makes my aforementioned sadness a trifle hypocritical. And if I can identify hypocrisy, even in myself, I owe it to MAD (and to a lesser extent CRACKED. But never CRAZY!!).

I spend way too much time watching TV these days, so I though probably write about some of that here, if I continue to post (which is so unlikely to happen). I was very pleasantly surprised by the revival of ONE DAY AT A TIME. I had only vague memories of the original show, but after hearing several words of praise for the revival, some from unexpected corners, I gave it a try and found it to be a very watchable family sitcom with a lot of genuine emotion, a lot of humour, some of it from unexpected directions, and sometimes almost educational. I was actually sorry to hear that it was cancelled, which was announced when I was about half-way through the run, and very happy to hear that it uncancelled, though I'm still not sure if the next season will be available somewhere I can watch.

Okay, this is already a lot longer post than anyone wants to read.  I'll be back soon, or more likely next year.
Weblog by BobH [bobh1970 at gmail dot com]