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Thursday, August 01, 2019

Flash #12 [1988] (Random Comics Theatre)

Random Comics Theatre

Flash #12 [1988]

This is a year into Mike Baron's run as writer of FLASH, reviving the book with Wally West in the lead two years after the Barry Allen run finished. Baron would wind up soon, with #14. Jackson Guice was the initial artist, but he finished up the previous issue, and Mike Collins handles the pencils for the end of Baron's run. Inker Larry Mahlstedt was there from the beginning and would stick around for a few years while the rest of the creative team changed.

While I like this run of FLASH overall, I can't say I much like this issue in isolation. That's kind of a regular thing with Mike Baron books for me. I remember I picked up a few scattered NEXUS issues for Steve Rude's art, but couldn't get into the writing until I sat down with four or five consecutive issues, and it took me a few tries to appreciate BADGER. In this story, "Velocity 9", we have several different speedsters, like the Russian team Red Trinity from earlier in the run, now operating as the Kapitalist Kouriers, and other mysterious ski-masked speedsters, working for a shadowy boss revealed at the end of the story. That makes up for the running quota in the book, which is definitely not fulfilled by Wally West, who only appears in costume in one panel in the book (and that was gratuitous, probably only tossed in so there would be Flash appearance in the story. He's not even on the cover), spending most of it dealing with a conflict between his mother and his girlfriend. It works in context of the whole run, but really not as a single issue. The artwork is pretty solid, but has a lot of bland things to illustrate.

In the middle of the book is a "Bonus Book", a shortlived DC experiment from the era, where every month had a free 16-page insert done by new creators. This is the second one, and featured Doctor Light, then a relatively light-hearted villain, escaping from a prison transport and ending up in a small town, where he suffers his most humiliating defeat yet, at the hands of the children of Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys (minor characters from the 1940s who ran as back-ups to Wonder Woman in SENSATION COMICS). The story is written by George Broderick Jr., penciled by Gordon Purcell and inked by Tim Dzon. It's not too bad, a nice diversion.

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.
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