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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.

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