A Great Week for Funnybooks


Holy crap last week was a great week for funnybooks! Lots of variety in tone, topic, and aesthetic, with everything from grounded spies and dystopian futures to hyper-kinetic crime and meta-fictional sci-fi horror. AND ALL OF IT SO GOOD! There were so many good books, in fact, that I despair for the rest of the month. But SCREW YOU, FUTURE! Because right now… RIGHT NOW!! …we are rollin’ in the good stuff!

Annihilator 1, by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving

Irving Annihilator 1

Okay, so yeah. As long-time readers know, I’m a pretty easy mark for a Grant Morrison comic. But I’ve been a bit worried about his stuff, of late. His best work seems to have been poured into Batman (a worthy character, to be sure, but come on), while his original works have been a bit wanting (Happy! is probably my least favorite Morrison comic).

This, though… This is nice. Not completely unfamiliar territory for Morrison (we’re still dealing with the connection between imagination and reality), but I’m digging the context. It’s the story of a debauched horror writer, struggling with depression and a lack of inspiration, seeking ideas in his new home, a haunted Beverly Hills mansion with a Satanic history. What develops is an exploration of Void Horror, the crushing existential dread of emptiness, served up with a splash of sci-fi pulp ridiculousness in the adventures of an evil hero with the positively Dickensian name of Max Nomax.

It’s not Morrison at his most subtle.

But that’s okay. Because, despite its somber title and subject matter, Annihilator is a comedy as much as anything else. Our Hero (the writer, not Nomax) is shallow, if not a bit of an idiot, and there’s humor in his problems. The self-negating name of his protagonist captures his situation well. Which is to say, it’s as preposterous as it is horrifying.

The whole thing’s also very meta, of course (did I mention this was written by Grant Morrison?). Nomax may or may not be a real person, an imagined personality who’s attained sufficient weight to impact the real world. The series is also a gentle skewering of Hollywood culture, probably says a thing or three about the relationship genre fans have to their favorite fantasies, and makes explicit commentary on the high power of low fiction:

Irving AnnihilatorPuerile

Heh. That was the best moment in the issue, to me. It’s pretty much exactly the reaction I had when I read Morrison’s Final Crisis a few years back, and his narrative flights of fancy about the machinations of Darkseid both excited me and made me cackle at their excess. Nice to hear that he might have had a similar reaction to writing it.

That artwork up there is by the brilliant Frazer Irving, whose work might best be described as “luminous,” especially here. He’s doing a lot with light on this book, appropriate to the story’s setting (famously sun-drenched Los Angeles), but also appropriate considering its preoccupation with black holes. There may be one of those in Our Hero’s head (or it may be a brain tumor), and Irving’s staging shows us the world as warped by its gravitational pull:

pardon our seam ... and click to embiggen

pardon our seam … and click to embiggen

And that’s all I think I’m gonna say about the book at this point. I’ve got theories (OH, do I have theories), but unlike my usual meanderings about Morrison comics, I think I’ll let him develop his themes a bit more before I go off on public literary analysis.

Suffice it to say that Annihilator is fun comics about depression, with a nasty, black, 2000-AD-ish sense of humor…

Irving Annihilator Bugeyes

…and I dig it.

Grade: A

Lazarus 11, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

Lark Lazarus 11

Moving to the other end of the tonal spectrum, we have the latest installment of Lazarus, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s dystopian political sci-fi drama. Though it’s rather humorless, Lazarus is nonetheless a joy to read. Rucka’s done his homework here, grounding his story in cutting-edge science and current events to make it as convincing a future as possible.

This issue revolves around political machinations between the world’s ruling families, how the powerful use laws and treaties (and even their own flesh and blood) to get the results they want. I won’t delve into the details of the plot here; it would take more time and space than I have to explain it all (though each issue does have a tidy summary of events on the inside front cover to help new readers get up to speed). But suffice it to say that the story moves forward less with lurches of shocking revelation than it does with the inexorable progress of a chess game.

This is not to say that there are no surprises or thrills. It’s quite exciting when another family’s Lazarus shows up at the Carlyle border (though the cover makes her confrontation with Eve look a bit more like a Kurosawa film than it turns out to be). But the real shock of the issue is a far more quiet one that reveals Jacob Carlyle to be even more Machiavellian than I’d suspected. And I’d suspected quite a bit.

So while this book doesn’t soar to the sort of artsy heights that most excite me as a reader, it is rock-solid political intrigue and character drama. And I dig that, too.

Grade: A-

Hawkeye 20, by Matt Fraction and Annie Wu

Aja Hawkeye 20

Swinging back toward comedy, we get the new issue of the best spandex book on the market. That’s right. I said it. Nothing else coming out of mainstream spandex fiction right now really comes close. Maybe Morrison’s Multiversity, but the first issue of that honestly felt a little tired to me. I may come around once it gets wound up good, of course, but in the meantime… Hawkeye is The Book To Beat.

Anyway. Hawkeye. Funny.

This issue wraps up Kate Bishop’s California adventures in preparation for the big series finale that’s coming up all-too-soon, and… you know… much as I’ve bitched about these stories over the last year… now that they’re over, I kind of think they should have gone on a little longer. Not that Fraction doesn’t bring things to a satisfying conclusion. He does. And not that this final Kate story is suddenly as good as the Clint stories. It’s not. But it still feels like a plotline that was originally intended to go on a bit longer.

Or, I don’t know. Maybe it was something that wasn’t planned at all, but became a necessity to keep corporate happy during the long gaps between issues with artist David Aja. Maybe he’d intended to just kind of run with it until it was no longer necessary, then wrap it up quickly. And, with Fraction and Aja (and hopefully their publisher) closing up shop on the book so soon… Maybe it was time.

But, damn. Just when Annie Wu starts turning in art I really like (because this issue looks really nice)…

Wu Hawkeye 20 Mugshot

…it’s over.

Ah well. Such is life. Bring on the finale!

Grade: B+

East of West 15, by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

Is this now, officially, Jonathan Hickman’s best work?

East of West 15

I think it is.

Has its promise of apocalypse been met?

Dragotta East of West Apocalypse

I think it has.

And does the book’s weird aesthetic blending of Katsuhiro Otomo and Sergio Leone now embrace Hiyao Miyazaki as well?

click to embiggen the pretty awfulness

click to embiggen the pretty awfulness

I think it does.

Well, alright then.

Grade: A

Prophet: Strikefile, by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and the Whole Prophet Gang

Prophet Strikefile 1

I’ve said before that I don’t ever really want this book to make complete sense. It’s at its best, I think, when it hints at its convoluted past and complicated present, giving you all you need to know but never fully explaining anything. It lends the air of myth to the book, and maintains that sense of the alien, of the other, that is its primary appeal. I mean, I want to know all that stuff, but I’m a smart enough reader to know that I probably shouldn’t get it. Too much explanation, after all, would reduce the series to the level of everyday space opera. And that would be a shame.

So it was with equal amounts of trepidation and gleeful abandon that I tore into Prophet: Strikefile, a handbook to the future world of Prophet, its characters, and its history. The history, in particular, gets covered, in an opening 10-page sequence covering the rise and fall of the Earth Empire, and Old Man John Prophet’s role in the great war that brought it down. This sequence worried me the most going in, but it’s a perfect example of how well the Strikefile walks the line between explaining the series’ background and maintaining its weird-ass appeal. Because, though it does tell us things we didn’t know before, it doesn’t read like exposition written to satisfy reader curiosity. So while I now know that Old Man Prophet actually grew other free-willed Johns to fight the Earth Empire, that information only serves to make the vast Prophet epic more bizarre.

And that’s how most of the Strikefile goes. There are explanations of various and sundry items, like the Dolmantle or the weird bubblegum-colored giant space baby suits, and those do offer clarification of small bits of weirdness that I didn’t entirely understand before. But for every feature like that, we also get something like this:

click to embiggen the WRONGNESS

click to embiggen the WRONGNESS

Which… Holy crap. I might now know more about Earth Empire Prophet birthing methods, but… My god! That process is WAY wronger than anything I might have envisioned for it!

And that is exactly what I want out of this book to start with.

Grade: A

Velvet 7, by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

Epting Velvet 7

Back to the more grounded stuff here, with the latest installment of Brubaker and Epting’s letter-perfect spy thriller. We have a bit of a departure in this chapter, though: rather than focusing on Velvet herself, this issue turns things around and shows us what her former allies have been up to while she’s been busy giving them the slip.

It’s a nice fleshing-out of the cast, and a needed outside look at Our Heroine. Because Velvet’s her own biggest critic, and it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of how very good she is. But from the perspective of the men who are pursuing her, men who haven’t seen the mistakes Velvet sees herself making, she’s some kind of mystery genius. And that’s a good sort of thing to see.

Also good to see is Steve Epting keeping the quality up on the artwork. I understand that the level of work he’s putting into these pages is making the book run a little less than monthly, but that’s fine by me. He’s turning in what might be the best realist artwork in comics today, and I’m willing to wait for illustration so pretty as this. It makes Velvet feel like a classic, and that’s worth every minute it takes the man to do it.

Grade: A-

Alright. Running out of time here, so these final two reviews will have to be brief…

Powers Bureau 11, by Bendis and Oeming

Oeming Powers Bureau 11

This book’s been on a roll lately, and this issue continues the trend. Action! Excitement! Danger! Revelations! BIG revelations. Revelations of the type that could (and maybe should) bring the series to an end.

I’d be happy with that, in fact. Yeah. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think that if Powers ended its run in another issue or two… one more story arc, maybe… wrapping up everything currently in play… which includes all the major themes and plotlines that have been running through it for its entire history… Yeah. Yeah, that wouldn’t be a bad way to go out at all.

There’s something to be said, after all, for going out on a high note.

Grade: A-

United States of Murder Incorporated 5, by Bendis and Oeming

Oeming Murder Inc 5

I want to like this book more than I do. It’s not bad, just very hit or miss. There are things in this issue that I liked, and some things that I thought were kind of inept. But there’s nothing in it that I loved. And that makes it the week’s one disappointment.

Grade: C

Pulpy Thrills and Pathos With Aurora West


The Rise of Aurora West, by JT Petty, David Rubin, and Paul Pope

Considering how long it took Paul Pope to complete Battling Boy (my fuzzy recollection is that he worked on it for three or four years), I was surprised to hear that we were getting a second Battling Boy book this year. But when my local funnybook store (Nostalgia Newsstand, represent!) gave me a chance to check out an advance reader copy for review, I happily jumped at the chance.

Then I discovered that it’s not actually by Pope.

Rubin Aurora West

Sure, his name’s on the cover. And artist David Rubin does such a great Pope imitation on that cover that, if I don’t look at it carefully, I think it IS a Pope illustration. And inside, Pope’s credited as a co-writer behind JT Petty. But… It’s not the sort of singular, idiosyncratic work I’ve come to love from Pope, so…

“Well, hell,” I thought. “What’s the point?”

Seldom have I been happier to have my preconceiving head handed to me by a comic. Because The Rise of Aurora West is a great little all-ages book in its own right that, in some ways, I actually like better than the first one.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Paul Pope’s Battling Boy came out last year, and it’s Pope’s answer to the lack of good comics for kids in today’s funnybook market. If you haven’t read it, it’s fun stuff, with a pretty great adventure set-up: a city beleaguered by monsters, its only protector killed in action, and now depending on an adolescent god sent down to prove himself.

This book’s a prequel to all that, starring the series’ other youthful hero: Aurora West, daughter of the monster-fighting juggernaut Haggard West, whose final battle was chronicled in the opening pages of the first Battling Boy book. Aurora’s story is about her training by Haggard, and about her coming of age as a hero in her own right, as she investigates the mystery of her mother’s murder.

It’s not Pope. It plays in his world, and so is lent some of his craziness. But it doesn’t feel much like a book he would write. JT Petty’s script is more conventional in many ways. But it’s also more coherent. Tighter. And, considering the subject matter, that’s probably a good trade-off. The story here is more complex than that of Battling Boy, so the tighter scripting serves it well.

The murder of Aurora’s mother adds a degree of pathos to Rise of Aurora West that was almost entirely absent from Battling Boy. That book had a light, “boy’s adventure” feel that didn’t have time for much in the way of depth and introspection. Here, though, emotional subtext abounds. While Aurora is hardly what I’d call a brooding character, the loss of her mother, and the affect it’s had on her father, looms large. I’m particularly fond of this page, about the three big conversations in Aurora’s young life:

Rubin Aurora West Conversations

It’s a nice summation of her time on Earth, but what really impresses me about it is that glare of sunlight over her mother’s face in the first panel. Aurora was very young when her mother died, and so doesn’t remember what she looked like very well. Though we see her face in other flashbacks later in the book, those aren’t from Aurora’s perspective the way that panel is, and it speaks volumes about the role her mother plays in the story.

(The fact that her name was Rosetta is kind of nice, too. ‘Cause if there’s a Rosetta Stone for the West family, it’s her.)

Aurora’s relationship with her father, on the other hand, should be slightly familiar ground for comics fans. Haggard West is sort of a cross between Batman and Doc Savage, and Aurora’s story isn’t dissimilar to that of Robin. Not the “orphaned circus performer” part, of course. But the training part, and the relationship-to-the-father-figure part, are bound to feel a trifle familiar. This isn’t a criticism, understand. There are enough differences that this isn’t just another “alternate Batman and Robin” story. And even if it were… honestly… it would be a pretty good one.

There’s a classic adventure fiction feel to the proceedings here. The book is thoroughly modern in its way, as I’ll get to in a minute, but also redolent of pulp (and not just because of the cheap paper this advance copy is printed on). The West family explores ancient ruins, trains in esoteric Eastern meditation, and dabbles in super-science. Haggard’s got a jet pack that Aurora’s dying to try. And their one-legged warrior woman retainer Ms. Grately echoes characters as diverse as Orphan Annie’s Punjab and the Asp, and Batman’s butler Alfred.

Ms. Grately is particularly important to Aurora’s path in this book, in fact, not only because she’s one of Our Hero’s combat trainers, but because of the way she wants to protect Haggard from Aurora’s investigation. Haggard was crushed, almost beyond redemption, by his wife’s death…

Rubin Aurora West Death

…and Grately believes that bringing up the spectre of it again might destroy him. So Aurora operates on the sly, applying the things her father teaches her both in the investigation, and in keeping that investigation a secret.

This is all accomplished with a sort of effortless, matter-of-fact feminism that I like a lot. Aurora’s gender never enters into the discussion of whether she’ll succeed or fail. That’s based solely on her youth and inexperience, and how well she can apply her training and native cunning. That’s a nice message to send to both girls and boys who might be reading this thing. And it’s not a bad thing for adults to see, either.

There’s more to discuss, but the book won’t be out til the end of September, so I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible. If I haven’t convinced Battling Boy fans to pick this one up, though, I’ll also say that it gives us some interesting insight into life in Arcopolis, and hints at the society and origins of the monsters, important background that the first book couldn’t slow down long enough to cover. But that’s all I’m going to say for now.

I do have a few things, however, to say about the art. That’s entirely the work of David Rubin, and it’s pretty terrific. He’s obviously been influenced by Pope, but with a cleaner line that lends slightly greater clarity to the action scenes.

Rubin Aurora West Training 1

Pope’s hardly the only influence here, though. I can see a bit of Rafael Grampa in it, as well, along with some manga dynamics, and maybe even a bit of Bruce Timm or J Bone here and there. Rubin’s one heck of a cartoonist in his own right, though, and rises above his influences to create something unique unto himself.

So! Pretty, engaging, mysterious, pulpy, and even just a little bit creepy… That’s The Rise of Aurora West, in a nutshell. Not the greatest funnybook ever made, but good kids’ comics that us poor benighted adults can enjoy, too. It’ll be out on September 30th, and I’d advise you to check it out.

Grade: B+

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE KING!


Today would have been Jack Kirby’s 97th birthday! And though that is, of course, a national holiday here on the nerd farm, we still couldn’t let the day pass without notice.

So HERE’S A LINK TO A NICE LITTLE PIECE ON THE DAY FROM NPR, who open with a tidbit of information that even hardcore funnybook fans seem to forget: Kirby created new move sensation Groot.

(Which, of course, is why I will not see Guardians of the Galaxy. No matter how well they’ve treated Bill Mantlo, creator of Rocket Raccoon, they still repeatedly went out of their way to screw over the man who created the furry bastard’s partner.)

But, hey! It’s the King’s birthday! So let’s not end this on a sour note. Instead, please enjoy this amazing machine-faced robot!

click to embig-- actually, no. Click to make KING-SIZED!!!

click to embig– actually, no.
Click to make KING-SIZED!!!

 

Happy Birthday, King! Wherever you are!

THE PURGE! Part the Fourth: Letting Go


It’s funny, but the deeper I get into the Great Funnybook Purge, the easier it’s becoming to let go. I may have mentioned last time that I was pricing out my Alan Moore Swamp Thing run. And, sure… I’ve got all those in book form (hardcovers, even). There’s no way in hell I’d be letting them go if that wasn’t an option. But, still…

I’m selling my Alan Moore Swamp Things.

The enormity of that is staggering. I was in eighth or ninth grade when those books came out, and they blew my freaking mind. They were exactly the sort of thing I needed at that point in my reading life: a more adult variation on the stuff I’d already been reading, with just enough punk attitude toward what had come before to appeal to my burgeoning adolescent belief that I freaking knew everything. But more importantly, they’re really good comics. Nasty-edged horror fiction with just the right kind of lovely-ugly artwork from the team of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben.

Bissette Swamp Thing 2

I like them as much today as I did back in 1982. Maybe moreso, because I understand certain aspects of them better as an adult. They’re great, any way you slice it, and if I’m selling those…

Well, hell. I can sell anything.

That revelation caused me, this past week, to go back through the boxes of stuff I’d decided to keep, and jettison even more. Like Hellboy! I most certainly enjoyed reading that book, and consider it an all-time funnybook classic. But it’s available, every page of it, in book form if I ever decide I want to read it again. And the chances of that are, honestly… Not great.

This is not to knock the series, of course. Mike Mignola is the Jack Kirby of obscure myth, and–

Kirby - Satan's Six 2

No, wait! That’s Jack Kirby being the Jack Kirby of obscure myth! Hold on a sec…

Mignola Hellboy

Yeah! That’s more like it! Mignola draws on numerous Celtic, Sumerian, and Eastern European traditions to weave monster-fighting stories of great weird energy. They’re crazy fun. Or at least, the first few storylines are. Eventually (around the time of the movie), Mignola started introducing some pretty stereotypical angst into the book, something I’d always found it refreshingly free of. Suddenly the charming conceit of this uncomplicated demon hero was interfered with by some kind of bullshit Monster Racism, and I kind of lost interest. That doesn’t make the early stories worse, of course, but it does make me remember them less fondly. And, now that I’ve made this mental break, it makes them easy to let go of, too.

And that’s what this is really about, of course: letting go. As I’ve said to friends more than once since I started this weeding process… STUFF BAD. STORIES GOOD. More and more, I’m coming to appreciate the… compactness… of comics in book form, and appreciating my boxes of floppies less and less. Books are more attractive, easier to take care of, and make actually accessing the stories I’m still so enamored of far easier.

Take Matt Wagner’s Grendel, for example. I bought and read the original Comico series avidly back in the 1980s and 90s. Loved it. Loved its exploration of aggression, both on the intensely personal level and, as the series continued, on a larger cultural scale. I also loved the artwork, a riotous clash of styles from Wagner’s own smoothly cool art deco noir…

Wagner Grendel

…to the 80s-chic angularity of the Pander Brothers…

Pander Brothers Grendel

…and everything in-between.

Snyder Grendel Tim Sale Grendel

I consider it, along with Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Baron & Rude’s Nexus and Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, one of the pillars of 1980s indie comics. I’ve thought back to it often over the years, and evangelized about it to numerous friends.

But I probably haven’t pulled the actual comics out of the box and looked at them in close to 20 years. I’d kind of forgotten how pretty they are, in fact, until I got my copies of the omnibus editions and flipped through them. Seeing it in that form, page after page after page of gorgeous funnybook art right there in my face, rekindled my love of the series, and made me realize that, if I’d had it on my shelf in easy reach, I might not have ever forgotten how very good it really was.

I’ve been talking like this a lot lately, which lead one friend to suggest that I’m going to “go digital” if I’m not careful. That is to say, buy my monthly comics digitally, and only get physical copies of the stuff that I think is extra special good. And he’s not wrong. That’s the pattern I follow for novels these days, and it makes even more sense for funnybooks. If I keep up my current buying habits, after all, I’m only going to be doing this same damn thing all over again in a few years. And, holy crap, I do NOT want to go through this shit again. So, yeah. It looks like digital-to-trade really is the way to go for me.

Except…

I love me some funnybooks. The actual, physical object still means something to me. Not in every case, of course. The vast majority of mainstream comics are ugly, generic things that I can (and will) happily give up in physical form. But then I pull out something like Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale, with its beautiful white-bordered covers. Or Jonathan Hickman’s East of West and Manhattan Projects, with their sleek, eye-catching design. Or anything by JH Williams, whose incredible two-page spreads get lost in the gutters of square-bound books.

click to embiggen

Then there’s Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, also known for some beautiful cover design experimentation:

Kindt Mind MGMT 24

Another weird thing about that book: it’s printed on the very kind of cheap-ass newsprint that made me start selling my collection off to begin with. I sometimes feel a little sinusy even just flipping through the brand new issues when they come out, so god knows how bad the allergic reaction to them will be once they start to decay.

But Mind MGMT‘s rough-at-the-edges “field report” design sense (every page is bordered by instructions to Mind Management agents on how to properly affix their reports to the page) makes it work. It gives the whole thing a “found document” feel, so it’s only right that such a thing should be on the cheapest paper imaginable. It takes something that would normally be a huge detriment to my enjoyment of the comic, and instead makes every issue into a minor work of art. Will I be able to comfortably read these works of art in ten years’ time? No. But I’d still hate not to experience it in that form.

I’m just stupid like that, I guess.

THE PURGE! Part the Third: Why I Hate Comics


So the Great Funnybook Purge continues here on the Nerd Farm, and it’s taking far far longer than I thought it would. For one thing, my plan of using a seven-year-old Overstreet guide and E-Bay in combination to figure out prices is turning out to be way more time-consuming than I thought it would be.

I can’t use the former, for instance, to find a realistic price for Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run, and finding that long run on E-Bay proved so frustrating that I finally threw up my hands and made up arbitrary prices designed to move them out of my house. All but the “death” issue, of course.

(Though by that point, I was kinda wishing I could take Cap's place...)

(Though by that point, I was kinda wishing I could take Cap’s place…)

It doesn’t help that I’ve never liked the collecting side of funnybooks. I mean… I acknowledge it, and dutifully put all my books in bags. But I don’t really care so much about protecting them from… whatever it is that’s supposed to hurt them in the open air.

(Artist's Interpretation)

(Artist’s Interpretation)

With the slick paper most modern comics are printed on, I’m not sure how much that’s even an issue anymore. I do like to keep my stuff in good shape, though, and I find that bags help with that when you store your books in comic boxes. So bags make sense.

Of course, you don’t need a bag for every individual issue. That’s crazy talk. Depending on what size bags you get (I prefer Silver Age), you can get anywhere from four to six comics in a single bag without hurting them, so that’s what I do. I mean… if the covers on a book are particularly nice, I’ll only go two per bag, with the covers facing out so I can look at the pretty pictures. But if I’m selling the things… I kinda do need a bag for each individual issue. So I’m also having to bag stuff. LOTS OF STUFF.

So… tedious…

On top of that, I’m having to deal with the sometimes-perplexing thought processes of the people who buy and sell funnybooks on the internet.

(Worst. Simpsons Reference. Ever.)

(Worst. Simpsons Reference. Ever.)

I get, for instance, that the prices of the Eclipse printings of Miracleman are falling in the face of the on-going Marvel reprints. They should; the key to those books’ “value” was that the story was so hard to get, and now that it’s not… supply and demand kicks in. But the prices are falling ridiculously far (in some cases lower than the cover price of the reprints), and the issues Marvel hasn’t gotten around to yet are still going for high dollar. But why would you be willing to pay out thirty bucks for a comic that’ll be reprinted in a couple of months when you’re not willing to pay it for one that came out last week? I don’t know, but I’m thinking that I better get my Miracleman 15 up on the E-Bays soon if I wanna get in on the insanity…

Only 75 bucks! Cheap!

Only 75 bucks! Cheap!

Far more bothersome to me, though, is a trend of “wishful thinking” pricing. People are declaring previously-unremarkable books important for the slimmest of reasons. Take Swamp Thing 25, for instance:

Bissette Swamp Thing 25

A fine comic, early in Alan Moore’s redefining run on the book. If I remember correctly, it’s the beginning of that horrifying children’s home story with the white monkey demon thing.

Swamp Thing Spelling Monkey

It’s a fact!

Brr. One of my favorites. But it is not, I’m afraid, the first appearance of John Constantine. That’s issue 37. So why do I keep seeing it listed as “First Appearance John Constantine”? Apparently because of this:

Constantine Swamp Thing 25

Which, okay, sure. That certainly looks like Constantine. But it’s not. It’s Sting.

(Hello!)

(Hello!)

Here’s what happened, see… Series artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben wanted to draw Sting. So they did. That’s him mugging to the camera in the midst of a horrible tragedy on the streets of Houma, Louisiana. Then they suggested to Alan Moore that they have a recurring character in the series who looked like Sting, presumably so they could draw more pictures of Sting. Or maybe just because they thought it would be funny. I don’t know. Whatever their reasons, about a year later, Moore acquiesced and gave them a British street magician who looked like Sting:

(Though he was initially drawn by Rick Veitch.)

(Though he was initially drawn by Rick Veitch.)

That’s in Swamp Thing 37, however, and the guy in issue 25 is, as we’ve already established… Sting.

(Hello again!)

(Hello again!)

This is all an established part of funnybook history, a fun little story that can teach us all an important lesson about the interplay between writer and artist. Even a writer whose scripts are as notoriously detailed as Moore’s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But this doesn’t stop the price-gouging scum– er… con artists– er… ever-prudent businessmen (yes, that’s it!) of Funnybook Interweb Sales from claiming that it IS Constantine’s first appearance, and charging exorbitant prices for the issue.

(I WILL KILL THEM!!)

(I WILL KILL THEM!!)

Sigh.

All of this kind of makes me hate comics. And that makes me mad, ’cause I love comics. So I can’t go more than a couple of hours before I have to open up one of the books I’m selling and read it. Then I love comics again, and everything’s alright. Of course… Then I also start having second thoughts about selling the book I read, and hem and haw over it, and…

Yeah. This is gonna take a lot longer than I thought it would…

THE PURGE! Inner Space Interlude


So here’s the problem with my big Funnybook Purge: all the time I would normally spend writing has been spent deciding what to keep, what to sell, what to sell cheap, and what to sell for real money. So the in-depth piece I was planning to do on the comics I’m keeping… just hasn’t materialized. So as not to leave the Nerd Farm completely unmanned in the interim, though… I thought maybe I should do something a little more… visual.

Golden Micronauts Ad

Micronauts was my favorite comic when I was ten. It was also based on my favorite toys, of course, which probably had a lot to do with why I loved it so much. But it was great funnybooks, too. Bill Mantlo’s story, steeped in metaphysics, body theft and political corruption, was by far the most grown-up thing I’d ever encountered. Sure, it cribs a lot from Star Wars. But with teaser ads like the one above, a villain as awesome as Baron Karza…

Golden Baron Karza

…psychedelia on the level of the Time Traveler…

Golden Micronauts Time Traveler

…fantastic vistas of space armadas…

Golden Micronauts 9

…sci-fi sword fights (with robots!)…

Golden Micronauts Acroyers Attack

…and Kirbyesque grandeur with the super hero WHO COULD BE YOU…

Golden Karza vs Universe

…I don’t really care. All that gorgeous Michael Golden artwork helped a lot, too, of course, and it’s really him we’re celebrating here.

Now, this book is so old that the paper’s gone well past the point where I can read it without setting off my allergies. So, by all the rules I’ve set for myself in weeding out my collection, I should have dumped this book without a second thought. It meant so much to me once upon a time, though, that I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. Maybe if there were trade collections, but as it is… Nope! Keeping that one close!

In fact, I might invest in some Benadryl and dive in for a re-read. The first I’ve done in at least 25 years…

 

THE PURGE! Part the First.


So last week was a great week for funnybooks. New stuff from David Lapham, Shaky Kane, Gillen & McKelvie, AND a new book from Bryan Lee O’Malley! I had a blast reading that shit over lunch on Wednesday. Good comics and a spicy chicken bowl! A little slice of funnybook heaven.

But that’s not what I’m gonna write about today. I tried, believe me. But my heart just wasn’t in it. Why? Well, because my funnybook brain is currently wrapped up in THE PURGE. Because I’ve hit that point in my comics-collecting career. That critical mass tipping point when I look at the short boxes piling up and think, “Great weeping Jesus, why do I have so much crap?!”

So it’s time. Time to pull the boxes out, open them up, and make some hard decisions. If I don’t think I’ll ever read a book again…

Andrews Hulk 38

Or if I’ve got a trade collection of it…

Jaime Whoa Nellie 3

Or if it’s gotten old enough that it’s gonna set off the unfortunate allergy I’ve developed to decaying newsprint…

Adventure Comics 347

…it’s gone. I’m selling. Cheap.

I’ve cleaned out the collection before, of course. I sold most anything I had of any great value back in the 90s, when everything was going for inflated prices. And I sold off a bunch of stuff to my Local Funnybook Emporium (Nostalgia Newsstand represent!) just a few years ago. But that was more of a weeding. Getting rid of the easy stuff. The stuff I’d outgrown. The stuff without any sentimental value. The utter crap I’d forgotten I had. But, now… Now I’ve just hit the point where I want the shit gone.

I’m shocking myself a bit with what I’m getting rid of. John Byrne’s Fantastic Four was thrown to the wolves without a second thought, and it’s probably the second-best run ever of my favorite spandex funnybook of all time (Lee and Kirby rule, of course, but Byrne’s a close second, especially in his first year). I kept Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, but didn’t pause a minute in dumping Black Kiss. And I kind of gave Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch a pass at first, then yanked it once I stopped and asked myself why.

It’s that question I want to talk about today: Why? Why am I keeping some books and getting rid of others? Let’s start, since we’re already talking about it, with Stormwatch.

Stormwatch 37

I automatically kept it on first pass because… Well, because it’s Warren Ellis, a writer whose work I think well of, and because it’s a fondly-remembered bit of spandex storytelling that looms large in the genre’s history. Or at least, it looms large in my personal vision of that history. I mean, everyone credits Ellis’ The Authority with reshaping super hero storytelling in the 21st Century, and that’s certainly true. The “widescreen action” and “decompressed storytelling” (both terms Ellis himself coined) were lifted wholesale for Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, and that book changed corporate spandex philosophies for a decade (and counting). But that’s the flash. The surface. Under the hood is a story of messy interpersonal relationships, political subtext in a quasi-military setting, and the idea of people as weapons. That’s the important stuff, the stuff that makes the first Ultimates series better than 99% of its imitators, and THAT is lifted less from Authority than it is from Stormwatch.

Ellis did a better job with the high concept stuff than Millar did, of course. The dehumanizing aspect of People of Mass Destruction is explored far better with the Stormwatch introduction of Apollo and the Midnighter than it is with any of the various Super Soldier projects seen in Ultimates, and Ellis also manages a better sense of wonder with stuff like Sliding Albion, the Bleed, and the trip through comics history that is the 100-year life story of Jenny Sparks.

Jenny Sparks Eisner

(Seen here: a rather pointed political commentary on the 1940s, in the style of Will Eisner.)

That last bit is also pretty important, I think. I don’t remember if it was in Stormwatch or Alan Moore & Rick Veitch’s Supreme that I first ran across the idea of making flashback stories look like old comic book pages from the appropriate era, but it’s a technique I like, and that I’ve seen put to good use elsewhere. Jim Rugg used it to great effect, for instance, in both Street Angel and Afrodesiac, and anything that went into making those two books as good as they are is something I’m behind 100%.

So, yeah. Stormwatch. Enjoyable, cutting-edge super heroes from (gasp) nearly 20 years ago. The template from which modern spandex funnybooks has (to varying degrees of success) been copied. Good comics, any way you slice it. So why am I getting rid of it?

Sigh. Fondly as I remember those books (and hard as I worked to find the earliest issues when I discovered it about a year into the run)… I just can’t see myself ever reading it again. I might enjoy it if I did, of course, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen. There’s too many other books, and it’s not a work of such literary brilliance or sheer insane fun that I’m apt to revisit it. So it goes.

So does Matt Fraction’s Iron Man.

Iron Man 20

That was a book of considerable subtlety, I always thought (well… subtlety for a super hero comic, anyway. Let’s not get crazy here). Fraction wrote a complicated Tony Stark, a man of great ego, driven by uncontrollable urges and crushing guilt to do right by the world. If the threats weren’t always the most thrilling, that was okay, because the corporate espionage and drive for technological betterment was what the book was really about. But like a good many on-going series at the time, it sort of crashed on the rocks of the Fear Itself event, a story of horrible sacrifice and startling tragedy that reversed itself before it even ended. I know corporate spandex properties are all about creating the illusion of change rather than actual change, but my god… That book manifested its illusion and then rolled out the mirrors that created it before anyone even had a chance to applaud. The words “damp squib” come to mind. So do the words “wet blanket,” which is the affect it had on my enjoyment of Iron Man. There’s no way in hell I’m plowing through all that again, just to be disillusioned before it’s done. So I’m dumping it. Cheap.

It’s not all important books and interesting-but-ultimately-disappointing series I’m getting rid of, though. There’s also little gems in the mix, like all those Garth Ennis war comics I’ve got (entertaining to read once), Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s gonzo spandex crime comic Zodiac (ditto), and a book I had completely forgotten about til I pulled it out of the box: Jason Aaron and Cam Stewart’s The Other Side.

Stewart Other Side 1

This was a little six-issue thing written early in Aaron’s career, looking at the Vietnam war from the perspective of two grunts, one American, the other a part of the Viet Cong. It’s searing stuff, the disillusionment of one soldier mirroring in reverse the increasing fanaticism of the other as they head toward inevitable confrontation. Aaron deftly captures both the ugliness of war, and the reasons men fight it, dealing simultaneously with the messy politics of that particular conflict. Cam Stewart’s also firing on all cylinders on this thing, turning in work that puts me a little in mind of ‘Nam-era Michael Golden. It might be my favorite Stewart art job, and I’ve liked pretty much everything the guy’s ever done.

So, yeah. It’s good stuff. But the re-read I did when I stumbled across it is probably the last one I’ll ever do. And if I change my mind, I think it’s still available in trade.

So’s the last comic I wanted to discuss today, but this one… man. This one’s tough. REAL tough. The true Heart of Darkness in this Funnybook Purge: Hellblazer.

McKean Hellblazer 1

I’ve written about this series before, but the basics bear repeating. In its 25 years of publication, this book was never actively bad. Some runs were certainly better than others, of course, but I never picked up an issue that I didn’t think was at least pretty good.

Think about that. Twenty-five years of continuous monthly publication? With annuals, specials, and mini-series along the way? And NONE of it was bad? That’s an amazing track record. I can’t think of another book that can match it, in fact, except maybe Cerebus. But that was written and drawn by the same incredibly talented, incredibly driven, incredibly maddening guy for its entire history. Hellblazer, as a corporate property, didn’t have that luxury. What it did have, evidently, was a persistence of editorial vision sufficient to hire good people and let them run wild.

Or at least, run wild within the established Modern Horror boundaries that were the series’ stock in trade. Demons, angels, monsters, ghosts, serial killers, investment bankers, the British royal family… You name a horrifying menace, and this book stared it down the gullet. It’s a milestone in comics history, one of the first and best examples of genre comics written for an adult audience (and that’s truly an adult audience, not just an adolescent one that likes blood and boobs). As a fan of good genre, the graphic novel, horror, and of comics history in general, I should own the shit out of this series.

And as of right now, I still do. I’ve got the first 80-some-odd issues (the runs by Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, and Eddie Campbell), with stops along the way for the better stuff that came after, and any anniversary issues that came along, too. I’ve never bought it for my bookshelf, because there’s just so much of it. But I love these books, and even if I might only ever read them again once or twice ever… I can’t imagine letting them go. Except…

In my enthusiasm for the funnybook classic that is Hellblazer, I decided to re-read the first issue. And I was diggin’ it, man. I felt the dark atmosphere of Thatcher’s London slowly creeping back up on me, thrilling and evil and bad, and then… My eyes started to water. I coughed. I sneezed. Shit! The damn book was printed on cheap-ass paper, and a quarter-century in a plastic bag had rendered it un-fucking-readable. So off for sale it goes.

Looks like I might be investing in a few trades, after all…

 

Aaaaand… I think that’s it for now. Next time: books I’m actually keeping! And why!

Hope to see you then.

 

A Post-Script: As I was perusing back issues of Garth Ennis & Jim McCrea’s transgressive-mainstream crime comic Hitman (which I’m also dumping, by the way, even though it kinda breaks my heart not to own the series that gave the world Bueno Excellente)…

McCrea Bueno Excellente

…I ran across something that struck me funny (well, okay, funnier…). There’s been much celebrating in fan circles about Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. You know, the Jack-Kirby-created tree man who only says one thing:

I Am Groot

Which, yeah, sure, good joke. I laughed the first time I heard that about him. But the gag always sounded just a tiny bit familiar to me, and now I know why:

McCrea Baytor

Garth Ennis got to it first. Meet Groot’s comedy ancestor, the Demon King / Bartender (and Hitman supporting cast member) …BAYTOR!

I’m not sayin’ they ripped Ennis off here (you call it an homage if you’re smart)… But I am saying that Baytor’s way weirder, cooler, funnier, and more disgusting than Groot. Plus, he has all that lovely dental work…