Giving Credit Where Credit’s (Long Past) Due


From the title page of today’s new issue of Fantastic Four:

Kirby Credit

Yes.

Yes, they were.

Bout damn time they acknowledged it, too.

 

(Sorry that’s not ten times bigger and high-def. I’m not actually buying the current lousy-ass FF run, so I couldn’t scan it in myself.)

(And this doesn’t make up for the many, many slaps in the face delivered to Kirby when he was still alive, either. As Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s publisher figured out over 30 years ago, credit costs them not a penny. But it still feels good to see it in print. I mean, after all…)

Kirby Self-Portrait

She’s a Wonder


Halloween being a national holiday here on the Nerd Farm, we’re taking a little vacation this week. But just so as not to leave you with no funnybook diversions in the meantime, we thought we’d do a little link-blogging instead…

american-scholar-image-pg.-85

Yesterday, NPR had a long-form interview with Jill Lepore, author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a look at the character’s creation and at her creator, William Moulton Marston. Marston was a psychologist, the creator of the polygraph, and a man with a keen interest in feminism, domination, submission, and a polyamorous lifestyle. It’s easy (and fun!) to make jokes about all the S&M trappings in Marston’s Golden Age Wonder Woman stories, but Lepore has done her research and dug much deeper, looking at the strange brew of obsessions and fascinations that made the early Wonder Woman comics so compelling.

Because, make no mistake, Golden Age Wonder Woman stories are amazing things to read. Though they’re crude by modern standards, I’m often stunned by the stuff I find in them, whether it’s characters pondering Marston’s unique philosophy on male-female relations, or villains clearly designed to show the negative side of the bondage fantasies the stories indulge in. But beyond that, they’re also crazily imaginative and fun. Marston’s Wonder Woman is the only version of the character I’ve ever read who seems like a whole person. In his hands, she’s boisterous and fun-loving, a powerful dynamo with a can-do attitude and an active libido that’s noticeably lacking in most later versions of the strip.

In the interview, Lepore discusses the mix of influences and beliefs that shaped Marston, and lead to that strange, heady mix of funnybook brilliance. It’s a great stuff, and well worth the time for any serious student of funnybook history. If I’ve piqued your interest, you can check it out here:

NPR: The Man Behind Wonder Woman was Inspired by Both Suffragists and Centerfolds

And, if that doesn’t sound like your cuppa tea… That’s cool, too. Hope you have a Happy Halloween. And we’ll see you next week.

Roses and Trees: Warren Ellis Returns to Form


So have I mentioned how much I’m enjoying Warren Ellis’ recent work? Holy crap, that guy’s on a roll. His recently-completed run on Moon Knight was fun, but it’s his other two current projects that have really impressed me. I hesitate to say this is the best work of his career, but it might just be. It’s something new and interesting from him, at the very least, and that’s worth making note of. So let’s do that very thing…

Supreme: Blue Rose 4, by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay

Lotay Supreme 4

God bless Rob Liefeld.

No, really. I mean, the guy might be responsible for some of the very worst comics ever released by a professional publisher, but at least he’s open to letting more talented people play with his toys. I’ve gone on at length about how much I love Brandon Graham and company’s take on Prophet, but there’s also Joe Keatinge & Ross Campbell’s sadly under-appreciated version of Glory, and of course Alan Moore’s Eisner-winning late-90s revamp of the entire Rob Liefeld library.

It’s Moore’s work with Supreme that Ellis is building on here, in fact, and he’s going about it pretty much exactly how you should approach such towering work: using it as a starting point to tell a very different story that’s all his own. That’s particularly appropriate in this case, since Moore’s whole point with Supreme was that these long-running characters get revamped periodically, their realities warped and changed and turned upside-down in ways they’re only vaguely aware of, if at all.

So Ellis’ Supreme is anything but the Silver Age homage of Moore. He’s dealing in a new paradigm shift, one that’s gone slightly wrong, and the result is a grounded, human, sci-fi indie comics approach. That’s reflected in the every aspect of the comic, from Ellis’ handling of character and plot to the psychedelic realism of artist Tula Lotay, to my favorite aspect of Blue Rose: Professor Night.

Lotay Professor Night 1

 

Or should I say… Professor Night. Every issue of Supreme: Blue Rose features a two-page Professor Night strip, much like the one above. Which is to say, enigmatic, poetic, and artsy. Nearly to the point of ridiculousness. It’s been wildly entertaining and kind of funny, this stylish six-panel interruption of the story that seems to be there for no good reason other than entertainment.

Of course, with this issue, it becomes apparent that Professor Night is actually pretty integral to the larger story. The Professor is an Alan Moore creation, you see, much like Doc Rocket (pictured on the cover, above). But whereas Doc Rocket has run into the broken new world mostly intact, Professor Night is just a comic (or some form of digitally-delivered entertainment). He’s a fiction trapped in a fiction, and he’s trying to get out, two pages at a time.

Which… DAMN. That’s great stuff. Grant Morrison’s going to have to bust his ass to portray his “haunted comic book” concept any better than that over in Multiversity. And, you know, much as I love me some Morrison… I don’t think he can do it.

Anyway. This issue, Professor Night is followed by another two-page sequence, laid out exactly the same way, which gives it that same feeling of meta-fictional interruption. I won’t show you the whole thing, but it’s set in the future, and it concludes with this ominous panel of someone identified only as a “late human render ghost”:

Lotay Supreme 4 Help

Brr. Haunted funnybooks, indeed.

I haven’t heard much noise about this book in fan circles, but seriously… If you’re not reading it… You’re missing something special.

Grade: A

 

Trees 6, by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

Howard Trees 6

None of the Trees covers thus far has been terribly indicative of the contents of the issue, this one perhaps more than most. They’ve all been visually arresting, though, so it’s all good.

What’s that? What the hell is Trees?

Well, it’s Ellis’ other current major work. It’s of a similar tone to Supreme, but has a wider scope. Its cast is spread across the globe, their stories connected only by the fact that they all live in the shadow of the Trees, towering alien structures planted on Earth by forces unknown. Whether you’re dealing with a young Chinese man coming to grips with his sexuality, a Greek woman’s political awakening, the geo-politics of the Trees themselves, or an Arctic research team’s terrifying discovery of new Tree behavior, it’s all gripping realist sci-fi of a type seldom seen in comics. Much like Supreme, if you’re not reading it, you’re missing one of the most interesting comics on the market.

Grade: A

 

Hmm. I feel like I’ve said less than I intended to here. Not about the books themselves, necessarily, because I’m trying hard not to spoil them too badly. But I maybe haven’t said as much as I wanted about Warren Ellis himself.

Frankly, I felt like Ellis was phoning it in for a few years there. The truly interesting work was few and far between, dotted with a whole lotta “Avatar really will publish anything, won’t they?” and “SUCH a great premise! SUCH a disappointing third act!”

But this stuff… This is nice. There’s a maturity to it, or maybe a calmness, that I haven’t associated with Ellis before. He’s tried something like it, I think. Global Frequency was on this tip, with its hard science action-adventure premise and focus on ordinary people saving lives. But it still had something of that shouty/sloganny angry-man-making-a-point feel that characterizes so much of Ellis’ most popular work. That’s the element that’s missing here, and its absence doesn’t hurt my feelings one little bit. I’ve liked quite a lot of Ellis work done in that style, but maybe enough is enough. Maybe it’s time to move on.

I do wonder if Freakangels might not have been in this style, too. I read so little of that, and feel like maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance. Or maybe this new work is just the culmination of a lot of things he’s been building to in work I didn’t read.

Hmm. Whatever’s going on here, I like it. It’s a creative renaissance for one of my all-time favorite funnybook writers. And that is a very good thing indeed.

BEHOLD THE AWESOME!! Morrison and Irving Channel Their Inner Kirby


Warning: The Funnybook General’s Office has determined that the following review SPOILS THE EVER-LIVING HELL out of a comic that just came out today.

“Seriously,” their statement read, “he just flat-out shows you the three best pages in the thing, completely ruining the surprise and impact of a really great scene. And I mean, sure, the STORY is NOT SPOILED in the main, but… It’s the best pages in the book! He just scanned the damn things in and– Look, that sort of thing is fine if you’re reviewing something that’s a week old, but on day of release? That’s just no good at all. No one should read it.”

So proceed with caution, or not at all…

 

Annihilator 2, by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving

So I’m sitting in the Hibachi place reading along in the latest issue of the new Morrison / Irving joint, when

Irving Annihilator 2 Vada

Holy crap, did I really just read that? I think I did, and

Irving Annihilator 2 Jet Makro

Omigod, seriously? That’s

Irving Annihilator 2 Jet Makro 2

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Ooooh, man. That’s the stuff. Morrison learned the Kirby lessons right, and he just unleashed them full-force. You just don’t get that kind of grand idiocy, that crazy-ass power-poetry, often enough. But this book delivers, and it’s a great surprise.

Or it was, at least. I… just pretty much gave you the bulk of it right up there. Sorry. But I just couldn’t do it justice describing it. “Like a Roger Dean album cover in comics form” kinda didn’t cut it. Neither did “The Mahabharata on steroids … IN SPACE!” So there was no alternative, really. I just had to SHOW YOU THE AWESOME, and let the chips fall where they may.

The whole book’s not like that, of course. I mean, my god, how could it be? So, no. It’s not all JET MAKRO(!) making AMAZING PROCLAMATIONS that CHANGE THE COURSE OF MIGHTY CIVILIZATIONS. It’s mostly, in fact, Ray and Max talking about memory and writing and brain tumors. And bad food. Then there’s a talking teddy bear, and some obscene graffiti. A black mass is mentioned, too. Or, you know… a Black Mass. Like, with Satan Robes and stuff. Not, like, rotting vegetable matter, or… Oh. You got that. Okay. So, yeah. It’s… talky and goth.

You know, more like issue one.

That’s not a bad thing, however, because (if you’ll recall) I thought issue one was pretty ginchy, too. This issue might offer the best expression yet of Morrison’s obsession with the connection between fiction and reality. He gets a bit into the nuts and bolts of the writing process, moving between reality and screenplay (or reality and… OTHER reality) with aplomb…

Irving Annihilator 2 Script

…and delving on some level into the age-old question every writer’s gotten at least once: “Where do your ideas come from?”

In this case, they come from a data bullet fired into Ray’s brain, a memory download from another reality that he has to make sense of in order to save the universe. Which is actually not at all a bad way to describe how it feels when you’re telling a story, and the writing’s going really well. It all just pours out of you, and damn your plans or your intentions, things are happening this way, dammit, because that’s just how they happen. The best stuff always works like that. And the worst… doesn’t.

So! Annihilator Number Two! Amazing prog-rock ridiculousness… gothy trappings… bee-yoo-tee-ful artwork… a meditation on the creative process… a character named JET FREAKING MAKRO… Plus, it’s funny!

If the raucous laughter above didn’t get that across. One of these days, they’re gonna toss me right on outta that Hibachi joint…

Grade: A

(A post-script: if you didn’t click to embiggen the above images, I urge you to do so. I left ‘em at extra-big screen-filling size for you, and man… They reveal detail in Frazer Irving’s art that I simply couldn’t see at printed size. I’m tempted to scan the whole issue in, just to see his work in its full glory. It is GAW-geous!)

Flagship Down: The End of the Fantastic Four


So Rich Johnston’s reporting, over at Bleeding Cool, that Marvel Comics is cancelling The Fantastic Four sometime next year. And they’re cancelling it not because sales are in the crapper, but because Ike Perlmutter’s pissed that they don’t own the movie rights, and so doesn’t want to give “free advertising” to whichever studio does. I don’t remember what studio that is, and don’t care. Because let’s focus on what’s important here: THEY’RE CANCELLING THE FANTASTIC FOUR.

Kirby Fantastic Four 51

Well, shit.

As long-time readers know, I don’t really care about most corporate spandex franchises. Nothing against them. I’ll read them if they’re written and drawn by people I like. And if they’re not rendered unreadable by corporate comics bullshit / crossover nonsense. But my days of being a fan of long-running corporate-owned funnybook characters are long over.

Except…

Except the Fantastic Four.

I mean, Batman, sure. Because Batman.

But the Fantastic Four, man.

Kirby Fantastic Four 1

I mean… The Fantastic Four!

Kirby FF

Seriously. THE FANTASTIC FOUR.

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

It’s THE Marvel comic. The flagship. The foundation stone of their funnybook empire. And they’re cancelling it because their CEO’s got his panties in a bunch about a movie contract that his company’s still making millions of dollars on.

Just don’t seem right.

Now, I could go off on a rant about how this is putting the cart before the horse, and how wrong it is that movie business is countermanding funnybook business, and how much I don’t give a rat’s ass about the movies in the first place, and how messed up it is that they’re getting in the way of my reading. But… well… Those are all bullshit arguments.

The Fantastic Four is a corporate franchise like any other (even moreso now that they’ve settled with Jack Kirby’s heirs), and it will be treated according solely to how it will make the corporation the most money. Or, you know… according to the whims of the guy in charge, whether he’s being rational about the bottom line or not. But that’s beside the point. They’re properties, not characters. And feeling attachment to them is silly.

Still, though.

The Fantastic Four, man. It’s my favorite funnybook. Hands down, no competition, my all-time favorite. It’s the one corporate spandex book that I’ll read if it’s even halfway decent. God help me, I love it. I love the mix of characters. The odd super powers. The bad guys. The focus on science and exploration over vigilantism. The ideas. Yeah, the IDEAS. I think that’s what I love most of all. At its best, The Fantastic Four was inventive. Crazy. Weird. Even idiotic at times. But grandly so.

It’s my favorite funnybook. And I will miss it when it’s gone.

Formalist Trickery: Matt Kindt Gets Trippy in Mind MGMT


So… uhm… Remember when I said that so many great funnybooks had come out a couple of weeks back that I was worried about the rest of the month? And then a ton more great funnybooks came out the very next week, so I was worried about nothing? Yeah. Yeah, I think this week’s the payback. I only got one funnybook this week. ONE. Ah, well. At least it’s a doozy…

Mind MGMT 26, by Matt Kindt

Phrases like “one of the best comics on the market today” and “just keeps getting better and better” are over-used (I’m especially fond of that first one). But in this case, they really do apply. I love the style and tone of this series, the personal focus, the epic scope. That scope really comes out this issue, as Meru digs into the history of the Mind Management group, and comes face to face with a character we haven’t seen in a good long while: Sir Francis, the First Immortal.

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

It hadn’t occurred to me previously that the Immortals are actually, well, immortal. I figured it just referenced how hard they are to kill. But Sir Francis certainly seems to be literally immortal. He’s been sitting in that subterranean chamber for a while when Meru finds him, anyway, meditating and, uhm…

click to embiggen the ingestion

click to embiggen the ingestion

EATING THE MUSHROOMS GROWING OUT OF HIS OWN HEAD.

That’s right. MUSHROOMS. That GROW OUT OF HIS FUCKING HEAD.

This book’s given us some great grotesqueries in its run. The horribly-scarred Immortals who’ve survived innumerable terrible injuries, the freak show Agents with their brain-derived deformities, even the Magician, who hides her advanced age behind an illusion of youth. But this one… Heh. This one’s the first that’s actually made me pause to drink in how awesome it is. So weird and gross. Kudos, Mr. Kindt! I don’t shock easily, and you got me!

Meru turns down the Head-Shroom when it’s offered to her, and so we don’t get the awesome psychedelic head-trip I was hoping for. But that’s okay. Because what we do get is the Secret Origin ™ of the Management, and of the Field Guide we’ve been getting snippets of in the margins throughout the series.

(click to embiggen two examples from this issue)

(turn your computer sideways, and click to embiggen two examples from this issue)

This is the element that makes Mind MGMT simultaneously so much fun, and so annoying, to read. The Guide excerpts (or whatever else Kindt puts floating in the margins) break the flow of the story, and have you constantly turning the book sideways to read. It’s almost a relief, in fact, when Kindt goes full bleed on the art and you don’t get the things.

But the technique also adds a level of complexity to the series that makes the flow-breaking and the physical difficulties of reading the thing more than worth it. Because he shows you the “rough edges” of the page, actually printing the bleed lines and instructions along with the Guide entries, it gives things extra visual impact when he breaks the rules (something that can be seen in both of the first two images above).

The Guide itself, meanwhile, also serves as counterpoint to the story. Sometimes it’s ironic counterpoint, as seen above, with the Guide offering advice counter to what the characters are doing. But it’s also often revelatory, giving context to a character’s actions, or revealing how ingrained the Guide training is.

And this issue we find out why: the Field Guide is implanted in each agent’s mind subliminally, so the training comes to them automatically, without requiring conscious thought. That adds an even more interesting twist to the thing. It’s not just a weird storytelling device, it’s a glimpse into the minds of the characters. So when it suddenly starts to intrude on the story itself…

click. embiggen. you know the drill.

click. embiggen. you know the drill.

…it feels like a revelation. The kind of revelation that makes me want to go back and re-read the series to date.

(Which, you know, sure. I’ll do that just as soon as I get done re-reading Cerebus and The Silmarillion. Or maybe just finishing the two novels, collection of short stories, and book on early 20th Century Chicago brothels that I’m currently working my way through in addition to all the funnybooks…)

But even if I never do get around to that re-read, it doesn’t change how good Mind MGMT is. You should totally be reading it. WHY AREN’T YOU READING IT?!

Grade: A

ANOTHER Great Week for Funnybooks


So… Did I say that last week saw the release of so many good funnybooks that I was worried about the rest of the month? I did? Yeah. Yeah, just forget about that…

Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes, by Grant Morrison and Chris Sprouse

I thought the first issue of Multiversity was a bit tired. We’ve seen so many alternate versions of so many characters in the last decade that Morrison was really going to have to pull off something spectacular to make it work. And he didn’t.

This, though…

Sprouse Multiversity SOS

This is more like it! There’s so very much to like here. Morrison’s created a complete world in this issue, fleshed out with a smartly-chosen collection of characters re-invented in pulp fiction style. Chief among these is Doc Fate, a mystical utopian who combines Doctor Fate with Kenneth Robeson’s Doc Savage. We’ve also got Lady Blackhawk (leading a distaff version of the Blackhawk fighter squadron), Green Lantern Abin Sur, and villains Vandal Savage and Felix Faust. All these characters are a great fit for the more grounded heroics of the pulps. Even Doc Fate’s magic is shrouded in the Eastern mysticism so prevalent in stories of the pulp era. But my favorites are the final two members of our cast. First up is Immortal Man…

Sprouse - Multiversity Immortal

click to embiggen

…a Silver Age character that Morrison’s combined with comics’ premiere caveman hero, Anthro the Caveboy. This guy’s awesome for several reasons. First, if you have TOO MUCH COMICS in your head like I do, you know that both Immortal Man and Anthro have been cast as enemies of Vandal Savage before, and Morrison follows suit here. But this character’s perfect for the pulp treatment, too, because he’s got such a great pulpy set-up anyway: a caveman made immortal by a mysterious meteor, he walks the Earth in search of fortune and adventure.

What really makes Immortal Man shine for me here, though, is that he’s essentially been made into a Howard Chaykin character. Seriously. Look at that swagger and smirk Chris Sprouse puts on him in that intro scene above. His super-pulpy narration of the issue also has that fatalistic arrogance that marks all of Chaykin’s heroes, and he flirts with Lady Blackhawk in exactly the way a Chaykin character would. It’s a nice pastiche, and appropriate, considering that Chaykin is pretty much the modern master of period pulp.

The other go-to guy for period funnybooks, of course, is Roy Thomas, and he’s also given a nice nod here in the form of my other favorite member of the SOS: Al Pratt, the Atom. This is the original Golden Age Atom, of course, but here with a great Thomas twist: he’s a devotee of a fitness program created by Iron Munro, one of my favorite late-career Roy Thomas inventions. I like the recasting of Munro here as a Charles Atlas style super-guru, and I especially like Al Pratt’s one deviation from the Munro program:

Sprouse Multiversity Atom

Which brings me to the meat of this issue, its thematic core: principles. What does it take to defeat the forces of the Gentry? Well, in the first issue, we saw that brute force doesn’t work, and noble sacrifice only gets you turned into one of them. And here, we see heroes sacrificing their principles in the name of fighting a war. I won’t go into how, exactly, but (SPOILER!) it doesn’t go well for them. What will finally defeat this newest threat to the multiversal soul? If past Morrison super hero comics are anything to judge by, I’m sure it’ll be something about staying true to heroism and believing in the power of something as awesomely stupid as a cartoon rabbit. But time will tell.

In the meantime, though, we’ve been given a master-class in world-building, a universe of conceptually-interesting heroes brought together with style and flair. This is a world I want to read more about, even as I know that further adventures completely misses the point of the thing. I’ve been engaged here both as an intellectual reader of fictions designed to end, and as the supreme dork who wants his next cool funnybook fix, and thematic integrity be damned. Which I guess means that I’d go down to the Gentry, just like the SOS.

I’ve read the haunted funnybook and failed its test.

Or maybe passed it. Hmm…

Guess we’ll find out down the line.

Grade: A-

 

The Wicked + the Divine 4, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

McKelvie WicDiv 4

I am not remotely ready to discuss this comic on any serious level tonight, especially after dorking out over all the dorky dork stuff in Multiversity. This one engages the other side of my head in a lot of ways. I mean, it’s a story about reborn gods, so… There’s a good bit of dork in it. But it’s smarter than that, and cooler than that, and funnier and more true and…

Oh god. I think I’ve got a crush on it.

But, hey! Maybe that’s the best review I could give it, anyway.

The Wicked + the Divine: a totally crushable funnybook experience.

Grade: Dreamy

 

Trees 5, by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard

Trees 5

“Crush” isn’t the right word for my relationship with this book. No, I think I more… admire it. You know, from a craft perspective.

You gotta love Warren Ellis, though. Renowned as one of the masters of intelligent funnybook crassness, he’s now gone and given us a comic so understated that a transgender gang-bang comes off as peaceful and heartwarming rather than titillating or grotesque. Continue reading