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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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