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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Recently read 2019.10.24

Some of the recent comical material that passed in front of my eyes.


This is the third and last of three volumes by Ed Piskor doing an offbeat stylized retelling of X-Men history. The first two books largely dealt with material I was to some degree familiar with, with the first featuring the Silver Age stories by creator Jack Kirby and various collaborators and successors, and the second the "All-New X-Men" re-launched by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum and continued with other collaborators, most notably Chris Claremont, up through about UNCANNY X-MEN #200. I've read almost all that stuff at least once, and some of it many times over the years, though Piskor also incorporates some later retroactive backstory elements that were new to me. In the first book, for example, he very much re-frames X-Men history as being all about the Phoenix Force, a concept that didn't exist until after those comics were created. In the middle of the second book he also starts to deviate from the stories I remember reading in some odd ways.

Most of this concluding volume deals with stuff I'd never read, so only know second hand from reading other comics while those issues were coming out. It makes for much more challenging reading, as I'm not sure that this is meant to be a primary text, but a supplement work. Every now and then I succumbed to the urge to hit an internet search engine to clarify what exactly the deal was with a character or setting or object I was unfamiliar with. And I have to say, it did not make me eager to go in and fill in that gap in my comics knowledge. Still an enjoyable read. The ending takes a bit of a twist, which explained at least some of the deviations from my prior knowledge in the second book.

I think when I get a chance I'll go back and re-read all three books, and maybe some highlights of the original comics, to see if it all hangs together. It is good to see a Marvel book with a sense of independent spirit and creative graphic design.

This is the first in a new series of reprints for the title character, created by Terry Beatty and Max Allan Collins. First published by a variety of smaller publishers in the 1980s for 50 issues and some spin-offs and short stories, and then by DC for a 10 issue series of longer standalone stories from 1990 to 1993. This collection features five of the ten DC issues:

#1 - Gift Of Death
#4 - Drop Dead Handsome
#7 - The Family Way
#8 - Maternity Leave
#9 - One Mean Mother

There's a particular reason for this choice of stories, which the amateur sleuths in the audience might figure out from the titles. A second volume next year is planned to collect the balance of the DC issues, and I guess if that does well we may see the large body of earlier work in some form.

I have about half of the existing Ms. Tree work, including the first three stories in this book. While not one of my favourites, it's usually enjoyable, with Collins' weirdly earnest, unashamedly pulp-inspired writing and Beatty's clear storytelling straight from a classic adventure comic strip. I'm kind of surprised it's taken this long for them to start collecting the stories, given the success of some of Collins' other work.

Anyway, these are five solidly entertaining stories. The first one is, as originally intended, a good introduction to the world and history of the character. The rest tell a few new stories while building up a larger change in the status quo.

This book also includes a short prose story, "Inconvenience Store", which Collins wrote in the 1990s. It was pretty entertaining, so I might check out the Ms. Tree novel DEADLY BELOVED which came out about a decade ago.

This is a collection of a six issue mini-series, plus a few short stories, published in 2018 to relaunch the Superman line of comics for the umpteenth time since the character was introduced by creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel in 1938. The latest temporary custodian of the line is Brian Michael Bendis, joined here by over a dozen artists.

This is kind of a mess, in a lot of ways, but somehow remains readable despite that. For whatever reason they aren't going with a clean re-launch, so the story is mired in some on-going continuity which they take no real effort to explain. They seem to take it as a given that the reader will understand what the deal is with Superman having a young son, and then his father Jor-El showing up (I'm a pretty irregular Superman reader over the past few years and none of that makes sense to me. I wasn't even quite clear how Superman and Lois Lane were married again). And they introduce a new villain, who's largely a walking cliche in these stories, largely serving as tease for future releases, as do a few other subplots. As many problems as I have with John Byrne's work, and I do have them, at least when he did a series of the same name a generation ago he explained most of what was going on. Over-explained, really. There has to be a happy medium between these two.

The large number of artists doesn't really help. Most of them are okay, a few are really good, but the book has no real artistic identity. The writing is more consistent, it doesn't have all of the negative tics I associate with Bendis, but some of them are there. Whenever he tries to be funny it's kind of painful, and the odd story structure with flashbacks was needlessly confusing, seemingly only designed so you could lead off the book with a big Jim Lee fight scene and draw out some revelations for far too long.

But despite all this, kind of readable. I know, I don't understand it, either. I think it could have been far better, maybe if it was all by one of the better artists (Evan Shaner or Kevin Maguire, maybe), especially for a book meant to be a jumping on point. I might continue reading the subsequent Bendis written Superman books some day.

This is a thin collection of two recent issues of CRIMINAL, the long but intermittently running series that Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker have been doing since 2006, but somehow is only up to #8. There may have been some restarts along the way... (in fact there have been enough issues for seven collections).

I've read the series even more intermittently than they've been creating it. I usually like it enough while reading it, but don't really find it that innovative and little of it sticks with me after I read it.  I've also started most of the other Phillips/Brubaker collaborations, but I'm not sure if I ever finished one.

In this short bit set in 1997, an occasional character from earlier stories, comic artist Jacob Kurtz, is tasked with minding an older comic artist at a convention. The older artist, "Hal Crane", seems to be some sort of amalgam of Alex Toth, Gil Kane, Stan Drake and maybe a few others. Presumably some aspects, like the pistol whipping of another artist in a washroom and breaking into an art dealer's home to find some missing artwork, are fictionalized. Or maybe not, comics can be a strange business.

I liked this. I should probably go back to the beginning and catch up on the series, as there seem to be some connections to previous stories, and finish some of the other Phillips/Brubaker books.

Yeah, I don't know why I did, either.

From way back in 2017 to cash in on the surprise success of the film featuring the character, this is a long 100-page comic book, pencilled and written (probably in that order) by Rob Liefeld, who "co-created" the character Deadpool back in 1991 with Fabian Nicieza. This story is scripted by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims and inked by a bunch of people.

This might be the most Liefeld I've read in a row since he drew a HAWK AND DOVE mini-series back in 1988. Man, that was a good series. I remember I was so looking forward to seeing what that promising young artist did next. And being disappointed. Over and over again.

Anyway, as I understand it Liefeld did very little with Deadpool back when he co-created the character, so most of the development was handled by others, including most of the humourous aspects that made the movie successful. I can believe that given this book, since it's surprisingly devoid of the kind of humour that's been in any of the handful of Deadpool stories I've read by other creators over the years. Overall it's a pretty mundane story that belies its fancy format. It was all very insubstantial, I was kind of surprised when I got to the end that so little had happened in 100 pages.  It was also kind of funny how Liefeld keeps making little changes in Deadpool's costume from panel to panel in the same scene. That has to be deliberate, right?

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)?
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