Fugitives From the Law of Averages: Revisit World War II with Willie and Joe

A Retro Review this week! Or, well… A Retro Appreciation, maybe. Because “review” ain’t really what’s gonna be happening here…

Willie and Joe, by Bill Mauldin

Mauldin - Willie & Joe

If you’re looking for a chronicle of the American experience in World War II, you could do a lot worse than the work of cartoonist Bill Mauldin. Starting in 1940, the young Mauldin (then an Army private) started drawing cartoons lampooning military life for his battalion’s newsletter. He kept it up, through multiple postings and into the European campaign, always championing the infantry, and (now a sergeant in the Army press corps) spending as much time as possible with the men on the front lines of the war. That experience gave Mauldin’s work a grit, and an authenticity, it would have otherwise lacked.

Authenticity was important to Mauldin. He wanted to show the real war, to capture the life and attitude of the average soldier, giving the men a voice they sorely lacked, both in the Army itself, and in the sanitized media coverage the war too often received. While he never showed the carnage of battle, he didn’t really need to. Reading his work, it’s easy to get the impression that the bodies are often lying just outside camera range.

Besides, death ain’t funny. And Mauldin’s strips almost always are. They’re especially funny once the war really gets going, and the gallows humor really starts to shine through. As one of Mauldin’s many nameless soldiers says while dodging bullets, they’re all “fugitives from the law of averages.” This kind of ugly, unvarnished truth sometimes didn’t sit well with Mauldin’s superiors, including General George Patton. But the official line on his work was that it offered the troops a much-needed safety valve, a way to blow off steam about the horrible conditions through some harmless cartoons. So Patton was over-ruled, and the pugnacious Mauldin became even more bold.

But that’s enough talk. The only way to really appreciate Bill Mauldin’s work is to read it. So here are ten of his best, what I hope is a representative sampling of one of the greatest comic strips ever made. And we’ll start with my personal favorite…

Mauldin - Up Front 1 Mauldin - Up Front 2 Mauldin - Up Front 3 Mauldin - Up Front 4 Mauldin - Up Front 5 Mauldin - Up Front 6 Mauldin - Up Front 7 Mauldin - Up Front 8 Mauldin - Up Front 9 Mauldin - Up Front 10

Okay, one bonus: Mauldin continued chronicling the lives of Willie and Joe after they returned home, but things didn’t really get that much easier for them…

Mauldin - Post War


Big Shoes to Fill: Daredevil Comes to Television

This week, we give proper funnybooks a rest to discuss (Good Lord! *choke!*) a funnybook TV show…

Daredevil Logo

So, yeah… I watched Daredevil this weekend, just like every other dork in America. What can I say? For once, we got a funnybook adaptation that actually looked like it might not suck. And lord knows the source material is impeccable. I’m not sure there’s been a more consistently good corporate spandex comic in the last 35 years. I mean, sure, it’s had its down periods. But the list of creators who’ve worked on the character since the late 1970s is pretty damned impressive:

Frank Miller
Klaus Janson
Bill Sienkiewicz
Denny O’Neil
David Mazzuchelli
Ann Nocenti
John Romita Jr
Kevin Smith
Joe Quesada
Brian Michael Bendis
David Mack
Alex Maleev
Ed Brubaker
Michael Lark
Mark Waid
Paolo Rivera
Marcos Martin
Chris Samnee

That’s a lot of serious talent, turning in a lot of really excellent stories. Even the ones I didn’t personally enjoy have a certain creative integrity that I can’t help but respect. It’s a lot to live up to. So much to live up to, in fact, that I couldn’t help but maintain a healthy skepticism going into the TV show. Daredevil is the kind of heavy noir storytelling that’s far too easy to mess up. The hero is seriously flawed, and he moves in a morally complex world of a type you don’t see all that often in heroic television drama. I hoped that they’d nail it, but suspected they wouldn’t. So I braced myself, and dove in.

Initial impressions were not good.

Actually, that’s not quite fair. I didn’t think the first episode was bad. But I didn’t think it was anything special, either. The dialogue was passable, but didn’t impress. The acting was solid, but nothing to write home about. And the plot seemed to have been copied verbatim out of the crime show playbook. I think Perry Mason cracked the same case back in the Fifties. Jim Rockford might have tackled it, too. Honestly, the whole thing seemed a bit cookie cutter to me. Other than an admirable dedication to dim lighting (the blacks on this show are DEEP), there was nothing in that first episode that made Daredevil stand out from a dozen other competently-executed but generally uninteresting detective shows.

Again, I didn’t hate it. Far from it. There’s a lot to like. The fight scenes, for instance, are crisp and brutal, and Daredevil has to struggle to defeat even the nameless thugs he encounters. I mean, he still comes off like the acrobatic martial arts badass he should.

TV Daredevil

He seldom fights fewer than three people at once. But nobody goes down to just one punch in this show. Just like real people (especially real people who make their living with violence), the bad guys get knocked down, struggle back to their feet, and keep fighting. So does Our Hero, for that matter. And those are often the best parts.

I’m also quite fond of how they introduce the audience to Matt Murdock’s super powers. Rather than explaining them, they demonstrate them and let us figure it out. When he uses his super hearing, for instance, they go in for a slight close-up on his ear as the sound of someone’s heartbeat slowly fades in and comes to dominate the soundtrack. Or we hear the exaggerated sound of a gun being cocked, accompanied by a quick head turn and a reaction that makes it look like Our Hero is dodging bullets when in reality he’s just getting out of the way before they’re fired.

So they’re handling the super hero stuff really well. In that first episode, though, little else seemed to be firing on all cylinders. It was pretty good, but not much more. And pretty good ain’t gonna cut it. I’ve got better things to do with my time. So I kind of felt like I was done with it.

Then I decided to write this review.

Swiftly, I realized that one episode wasn’t going to cut it if I was going to express any kind of formal opinion. The whole first season’s available for viewing, after all. So discussing it after only watching one episode would be kind of like reviewing the first chapter of a novel. Besides, I hadn’t seen Vincent D’Onofrio yet, and he was half the reason I watched it in the first place. So I dove back in.

And it got better. The plots became more interesting, the acting improved, the characters deepened. But the good stuff kept getting undermined by narrative missteps. The second episode, for instance, does a nice job building tension as a critically-injured Daredevil has to defend an apartment building from the men who tried to kill him. But that tension is periodically deflated by a comedic B-plot with Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. It’s good character work on those two, don’t get me wrong, and both actors are good in their roles. But the other half of the episode is so much more compelling that their scenes felt like an unwanted interruption.

On the plus side, though, that episode does end with some real bravado filmmaking: an extended fight scene in a hallway, filmed as one long take. It’s a bit reminiscent of Oldboy, I suppose, but it becomes its own thing by the end. The tight quarters give the fight a brutal, claustrophobic atmosphere. You feel the impact of every punch. It’s great stuff, and it gives the show something it had been lacking up to that point: style.

The third episode starts out even stronger. The whole thing’s a huge moral quagmire, as Murdock convinces Foggy to compromise his integrity in defending a man they know is guilty of murder. Now, Matt’s pretty sure the guy’s going to get off regardless of what they do, and secretly plans to take their client down as Daredevil once they get him off the hook. But Foggy doesn’t know that, and winds up believing that he’s taken the money because sometimes you have to compromise. Ugly. The trial itself isn’t all that gripping, but it’s fascinating to watch Our Hero manipulate his best friend in the name of the greater good. I was doubly pleased to see that, because it’s an example of the moral ambiguity I was afraid the TV series wasn’t going to deal in: Matt Murdock might be a hero, but he’s not always a nice person. So I was impressed, and ready to admit that this show had more on the ball than I’d been giving it credit for.

Then they blew it. Something happens (I won’t say what), and it’s supposed to be a huge, shocking WTF moment. But the execution of it is so ludicrous that I just burst out laughing. And I’m not talking about a bad special effect or anything. I could give a rat’s ass about special effects. It’s the event itself that’s the problem. It’s ridiculous, and I laughed, and all that hard work they did setting up moral dilemmas and thematic resonances just went right out the damn window.

At this point, I was getting frustrated. Daredevil is obviously being put together with care and intelligence. They’re paying attention to color and lighting and sound. And they’re exploring all kinds of fascinating subject matter. Crime, punishment, victimization, heroism, religion, fear, anger, control… Even the moral implication of vigilantism is getting a workout, and that’s something the super hero genre usually ignores rather studiously. This thing has all the makings of an epic noir potboiler, a masterpiece of street-level super heroics that honors its excellent source material.

“It’s so close to being great,” I thought, “but they just can’t quite get their shit together.”

I plunged onward anyway, though, determined to see Vincent D’Onofrio’s turn as the Kingpin. We finally got a glimpse of him at the end of episode three, and the next installment promised the full reveal. One more, I figured, then I’d write the damn review and be done with it.

So of course he comes on screen and immediately saves the show.

D'Onofrio Kingpin

Because episode four is where it all clicks, and it clicks because of D’Onofrio and Fisk. The character is written better than I ever could have expected, and D’Onofrio’s portrayal of him is nuanced and complicated. He’s both powerful and vulnerable. An evil thug and a tightly controlled man made uncomfortable by social situations. It’s everything I’d been seeing the potential for in the show as a whole, and not quite getting.

This is not to slight the rest of the cast. They’re all perfectly competent performers. Actually, Deborah Ann Woll is a damn sight more than competent as Karen Page. She’s giving an understated performance that I’m probably not enjoying as much as I should. But D’Onofrio’s Fisk is something else again. He immediately becomes Matt Murdock’s opposite number, a step away from the cartoonishly evil criminals we’ve gotten up to that point and toward something far more interesting.

And that’s all I’ve seen. So I’m still reviewing the first third of a novel here. But at this point, I feel confident in calling it a novel. It’s a slow-building story unfolding over the course of 13 hours of television, replete with depth of theme and character, a compelling conflict, and one hell of a villain. It has all the makings of an epic noir pot-boiler, and the potential to be top-notch super hero fiction as well. Just like its source material.

And yet I still won’t call it great. Its weaknesses are real, and mar the early episodes. But now it’s won me over, and I’ll definitely be going back for more.

Grade: B+

A post-script: I guested this week on the Too Much Scrolling podcast, where we discussed Daredevil at great length. I said a lot of the same crap I said here, but my hosts (Chip and Stephen) offered far better insights, and they’re well-worth hearing. Check it out here:  http://toomuchscrolling.podbean.com/e/they-just-can%e2%80%99t-put-a-finger-on-it/

But you should totally check out Too Much Scrolling, anyway. They’re good kids.

The Talking Dead: Jonathan Hickman Gets Verbose

This week, kind of a rarity for the Dork Forty: a negative review. As I’ve said before, I prefer to talk about things I like, rather than hate on things I don’t. Plus… I don’t buy too many comics that I don’t enjoy anymore. I’ve been reading these things a long time, and have learned what to avoid. Sometimes, though, something slips through. I’ll try something new that looks better than it is, or I’ll get an unpleasant surprise from writers and artists I normally like. The latter is what happened this week, so I thought it was worth taking some time to examine exactly what went wrong…

The Dying & the Dead 2, by Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim

Bodenheim The Dying and the Dead 2

Too much speechifying.

That was my impression of this issue as I read it. Too many speeches. Too many old men standing around pontificating on their lives and what they mean. I mean, it’s a Jonathan Hickman comic, so you expect a bit of that. Philosophy and ideas are as important to him as plot and character. It’s part of his appeal. But there was just too much of it in this issue, and it felt artificial.

That’s down to story structure, in part. In the first issue of The Dying & the Dead, we met the Colonel, a retired military hero who makes a deal to go on a mission for some mysterious underworld elf types, in return for which they’ll cure his wife’s cancer. He knows it’s a bad deal, but he can’t stand to be without her, so off he goes. This issue, we meet the crew that the Colonel’s putting together to help him, so as we meet each guy, they get a little establishing scene. And after a couple of those, they get old real fast.

It starts off well enough, with a card game at an old folk’s home and a guy named Doyle collecting meds to aid in the assisted suicide of a terminally ill friend. Good stuff. It sets Doyle up as an organizer and a bit of a con man, but one who cares enough to want a friend to die with dignity. It also speaks to the series’ core themes about the tragedy of aging. I was impressed. Then he runs afoul of the most cartoonishly evil orderly I’ve ever had the displeasure to read about:

Bodenheim Dying and Dead 2 Orderly

And so the speechifying begins. And while that stuff about enjoying watching great men reduced to nothing is marvelous vile bastard stuff, I wasn’t quite buying it from this guy. He’s a little too porntastic, I think, to have such a well-developed rationale for his sadism. But maybe more importantly, it sets him up as a one-dimensional evil straw man. When Doyle beats the crap out of him with his cane a few pages later, my reaction is less a cheer for a well-deserved comeuppance than it is annoyance that I’m reading something so predictable.

Things don’t get any better from there. Next, we meet Moss, who’s made a lot of money in the oil business. He gives a long-ass speech about why that’s not a great business to be involved in, and how he’d like to be a good man again. Not utterly cliché, I don’t suppose, but in the general ballpark. It made my eyes glaze over a bit, anyway, and that’s never good.

Then it’s on to Finn, who’s now a senator. Finn delivers a speech about the nature of power that I guarantee you’ve heard before if you’ve ever watched a single movie about politics:

Bodenheim Dying and Dead 2 Senator

Talktalktalktalktalktalktalk. Jeez! Now, I’ve got nothing against talky books. I love talky books, in fact, and Hickman’s written some very good ones. But talkiness relies on the talking being good, and so very little of this is good. It’s a stream of clichés knitted together in service to the narrative, and it annoys the piss out of me.

The introduction of the Colonel’s final ally (the afore-mentioned Martin) is, thankfully, not talky at all. It unfolds across a single blissfully silent page detailing the guy’s 20 years of incarceration:

Bodenheim Dying and Dead 2 Prison

Like the opening card game, it’s a nice sequence that tells you everything you need to know about Martin. If it doesn’t speak directly to the book’s themes about aging, that’s okay. It’s still about the effects of the passage of time, and that’s just as good. Granted, in the wake of all the talking and cliché earlier in the issue, I wasn’t very patient with its evocation of every prison saga from The Great Escape to The Shawshank Redemption. But I’m a big enough man to admit that might be an over-reaction caused by my annoyance with the rest of the comic, rather than a valid criticism.

I’m also willing to admit that all this “been-there, done-that” speechifying I’m complaining about could just be symptomatic of the type of characters we’re dealing with. Old men are always full of theories. They always like to talk about those theories at length, too, and often their ideas really aren’t all that unique. I don’t think that’s how we’re supposed to read this, though, so I’m not giving Hickman the benefit of the doubt on that. It just feels tired. Rote. Hickman handled similar sentiments rather well when he was writing Nick Fury’s old war buddies in Secret Warriors, so I know he’s capable of better. And “better” is what I demand in my entertainment.

All that said… This is not a terrible comic. There are a couple of good sequences, and Ryan Bodenheim’s artwork is awfully pretty. It’s just that the clichés drag it down in a way they normally don’t in a Jonathan Hickman book. Because Hickman does, honestly, draw on cliché a lot. But usually he puts it together in an interesting way, or pairs it with something weird and unexpected, or uses it sparingly enough that it doesn’t grate. Here, he’s not doing that, and the comic really suffers because of it. Again, it’s not awful. It’s just… average, I guess. And I need better than average for my funnybook dollar.

Grade: C

Okay. Time for one more, just so we don’t end on a sour note…

Blackcross 1 & 2, by Warren Ellis and Colton Worley

Lotay Blackcross 1

This one kinda snuck up on me. I didn’t know that Warren Ellis was going to be doing one of these “Project Superpowers” books til issue two hit the stands last week. Luckily, my Local Funnybook Emporium (Nostalgia Newsstand, represent!) not only still had copies of issue one on-hand, but they had the bitchin’ Tula Lotay variant cover (as seen above). Pretty stuff.

Project Superpowers, if you don’t know, is a line of comics featuring a bunch of characters who’ve fallen into the public domain. The Black Terror is maybe the most famous of them, and even he’s not well-known outside of hard-core funnybook dorks. Most of the line has been average pulpy spandex stuff from what I understand, but this… This is quite different. It plays like a supernatural crime story, with the super heroes as possessing spirits haunting the normal world.

Worley Blackcross Lady Satan

Colton Worley’s interior art isn’t as ethereal as Lotay’s covers, but he’s got a solid illustrative style and a good sense of mood. There’s a touch of of Gray Morrow about him, I think. A little Guy Davis, too. Impressive inspirations for a funnybook artist, and fitting ones for a book like this.

Anyway. I like Blackcross quite a bit. It’s not as good, I don’t think, as Ellis’ recently-completed Supreme: Blue Rose, but it’s still got that book’s sense of grounded reality being invaded by something beyond normal understanding. Solid weird fiction, then. And lord knows I love me some weird fiction.

Grade: B+

Simple Funnybook Pleasures

I spend a lot of time around here digging deep into the funnybooks I read, picking out fine details and admiring craft. That can make me a tough audience. I get bored pretty quick with the same old thing, so if there aren’t those little touches to dig out, those artistic idiosyncrasies to appreciate, I’m probably not going to enjoy my reading. Here lately, though, I’ve run across a good number of comics that have been simple pleasures. Books I’ve enjoyed on the surface, sometimes with surprising intensity. So I thought I’d take some time tonight to talk about sheer, visceral pleasures…

Nemo: River of Ghosts, by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

ONeill River of Ghosts

It seems odd to discuss a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book as a simple pleasure. There’s so much riffing and reference going on that it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of who this character is, or why that thing’s where it is, or how the conflation of all that stuff is so very brilliant. People have made careers (or at least supplemented them) writing on that very topic. But the Nemo books are also rip-snorting adventure yarns. They’re packed with Derring-Do…

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Feats of Strength…

ONeill Nemo Hugo


ONeill Nemo CreaturesAnd madness.

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So, sure. One day soon I’ll sit back down with this book and the internet, poring over it to research the origins of every single one of the odd little things that rang vague bells, but that I couldn’t quite place. But in the meantime, I’ll just laugh and thrill to one of the best-crafted adventure comics I’ve read in a long time. And have a good chuckle over the genius of tying together The Stepford Wives, The Boys From Brazil, and Vincent Price:

Grade: A

Multiversity: Ultra Comics, by Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke

Mahnke Ultra Comics

Here’s another one that begs deep reading. It’s a story about the nature of storytelling, the relationship between story, storyteller, and audience. It pulls you into its dreadful undertow and dares you (LITERALLY DARES YOU!) to keep reading, making you complicit in the plans of both the hero and the villain. On my normal artsy-fartsy level of looking at funnybooks, it’s rich stuff, ripe for analysis.

But it also pissed me off.

Mahnke Ultra Comics Slave When the book pulled that shit on me, I nearly rebelled. I sat there for a full minute, eyebrow cocked and lip curled, thinking about going all punk rock on that sumbitch. I actually closed the comic at one point, ready to put it back in the stack and call it done, just out of spite. Then I realized how stupid that was, picked it back up, and kept reading. Only to be greeted with this:

Mahnke Ultra Comics Gentry Gah! FUCK YOU, Weird Eye Thing! I can’t WAIT to see Captain Carrot and Super-Obama kick your ass!

Which is a wonderfully visceral reaction to have to a comic that is, essentially, about the act of reading. Also? THIS IS A COMIC ABOUT THE ACT OF READING! With PUNCHING! How great is that?

And, you know, it’s got Ultra the Multi-Alien in it, too. So BONUS!

Grade: A

They’re Not Like Us 4, by Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane

They're Not Like us 4

So this book is like X-Men if Professor Xavier was kind of a prick.

Well… okay. That’s a more sensational and trivializing analysis than the series deserves. It’s actually wrestling with a lot of interesting stuff about morality and consciousness, and is a pretty damned interesting read. But I got your attention, right?

Also, though… It’s totally X-Men. A smart, slick, superbly designed 21st Century sci-fi updating of X-Men. But X-Men nonetheless. I mean, it’s a book about a mysterious psychic who gathers together young people with powers and abilities that make them outcasts to those around them. He gives them code names, they all live together in a mansion, and periodically they go out and bust the heads of people whose heads need busting. But then they steal those people’s money, and leave them for dead.

That’s… pretty much where it deviates from X-Men, and gets interesting in its own right. It’s a slow burn, I’ll grant you, focused a lot more on character and philosophy than plot. But that’s a strength in my book. The plot’s unfolding slowly out of those other concerns, and by this fourth issue, we’re starting to see a dandy little mystery develop. It’s a fun read, if not actually a deep one. I don’t feel the need to analyze it, anyway. But it does leave me thinking about it afterward, and that’s a nice sort of thing for a book to do.

Grade: B+

Gotham by Midnight 5, by Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith

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This has been a fun book, but to be perfectly honest, I might not be reading it five issues in if it weren’t for the artwork of Ben Templesmith. Don’t get me wrong. Ray Fawkes’ stories have been good. Solid light horror stuff. But it’s Templesmith who puts it over the top. I love his character designs (simultaneously cartoony and cool) and the fluorescent, super-wet colors he lays down over them. It’s a treat to watch him work. And this issue? He gets to draw Batman!

Templesmith Batman But it’s Ray Fawkes who brings it home this time, with a gut-punch of an emotional intensity I really wasn’t expecting. One minute I’m chuckling over the absurdity of the Spectre’s GIANT BATTLE with the VENGEANCE-THING from SLAUGHTER SWAMP…

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…and the next I’m getting choked up over one of the more touching heroic deaths I’ve read in a while. What’s even more impressive about it is that Fawkes doesn’t use the usual sudden shock reversal to pull that off. No, it’s more of an… inexorable stroll, a slow, deliberate progression to something that had to happen, but was still somehow distressing when it did. It got me, anyway, and I’m not an easy get.

Simple pleasures. That hurt.

Good funnybooks.

Grade: B+

The Wicked + The Divine 9, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

McKelvie Wicked Divine 9

Nothing simple about my enjoyment of this one, so I won’t linger on it. Except to say that this issue featured a reveal (a pretty freaking major reveal) that simultaneously shocked me, and made me want to kick myself for not suspecting it before now. Because, yes. Holy crap. That bitch was totally too one-dimensional to be anything BUT a god.

Grade: A-

Rachel Rising 31, by Terry Moore

Moore Rachel Rising 31

I’m a bit behind on this book, I’m afraid, which is why I don’t review it as often as I should. But in a column about simple funnybook pleasures, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t bring it up. Because this is a great little horror comic that off-sets its scenes of horrible bloody murder and supernatural awfulness with charmingly weird characters and a great sense of humor. It’s a joy to read no matter how dark it gets.

(And it gets pretty dark.)

(And it gets pretty dark.)

But it never quite crosses the line into despair on the one side, nor into cute on the other. Which is important. Because, even when I’m trying to operate in the spirit of simple enjoyment… I can’t abide cute.

Grade: B+

Box Diving for Fun and (No) Profit

So we had a little funnybook show here in town this past weekend. Nothing spectacular. Just a Masonic Lodge full of comic and toy dealers, and a few local artists shaking hands and drawing pretty pictures. A friendly little con, and a damn fine end to my vacation, where I enjoyed socializing as much as I did box-diving. But I got some of that done, too, and (since my brain is still too vacation-addled to write anything more disciplined) I thought I’d share the loot I snagged.

I’m pretty discerning about what I buy in back issues these days. I’ve got most everything I really want at this point, and I’ve developed an allergy to old newsprint to boot. There’s not many books I’m willing to pop a Benadryl to read. But sometimes, I make exceptions. I’m a total sucker for Jack Kirby’s 1970s work, for instance. I’ve got most of that stuff on my shelf in book collections, of course, but there’s an undeniable appeal to having samples of it in its original format. So if the price is right, and I run across something sufficiently cool…

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…I wind up with Devil Dinosaur. This is one of the few Kirby books of the era I’ve never actually read. But as you can see above, it’s pretty trippy stuff. I enjoyed the issues I picked up this weekend so much, in fact, that I ordered a copy of the trade collection. So there might be a retro review coming up one day soon.

That’s not the craziest book I picked up, though. Not by a long shot. I also found one of the few issues of Flaming Carrot Comics I’m missing:

Burden Flaming Carrot 4

In this one, the Carrot punches some dudes, gets drunk, meets Death, picks up chicks, dodges a murder attempt from a disgruntled ex, and buys an inflatable love doll named Melba. Other comics only wish they were this awesome.

Even Flaming Carrot has a tough time beating my next buy for sheer randomness, however:

Frankenstein Cover

Heh. Love me some Spandex Frankenstein. This is one of those legendarily awful comics, right up there with Brother Power the Geek and the collected works of Rob Liefeld. But there’s a charming idiocy to this one that makes me smile. I mean, this is a funnybook in which the Frankenstein monster is awakened by a massive bolt of lightning and decides to fight crime in sleeveless red tights!

Speaking of which… The whole thing is made just that little bit more ridiculous by those bare arms. Because Frankenstein has a green face, but his arms are lily-white. And not pure white like on the cover, but regular old white-guy Caucasian pink:

Tallarico Frankenstein Mask

(Probably makes that disguise a little easier to pull off.)


As the story progresses, Our Hero saves the life of a rich guy (or at least, saves him long enough for the old boy to hand over his millions before his heart gives out from the strain). Then he picks up a girlfriend determined to prove he’s Frankenstein (maybe she just wants to know if anything else on him is green?). And he also fights Mr. Freek, a midget genius who rides around on the back of a monstrously strong gorilla. It’s simultaneously awesome, and absolutely terrible. A welcome addition to my collection, then, well-worth the five bucks I paid for it (and long-time readers know how reticent I am to pay five dollars for any funnybook!).

Frankenstein is not the pinnacle of my con finds, however. No, that honor goes to another book by Mr. Jack Kirby:

Kirby 2001

A much-maligned later Kirby work, 2001 is actually one of my favorites. This is, of course, an adaptation of the Stanley Kubrick film, and it would be difficult to think of two storytellers whose aesthetics are more diametrically opposed than Kubrick and Kirby. Whereas Kubrick is all about quiet subtlety and control, Kirby is all restless creativity and non-stop bombast. They’re interested in similar ideas, though. Or at least they were in their respective adaptations of Arthur C. Clarke. So while Kirby is tonally the most wrong person possible for this book, his fascination with evolution and transcendence, the nature of human advancement over time, makes him the perfect guy to have tackled it. It’s that dichotomy that attracts me to the book.

Well… That, and the truly psychedelic extremes to which the King went in this series:







Woo! Trippy! You might notice that not much of that looks like something from the movie. That’s because Kirby knocked out his direct adaptation in a Treasury Edition tabloid, and spent the regular series expanding on the themes. It’s the regular series I’m most interested in, Kirby’s exploration of what it was he thought the movie was about. Because of licensing issues, however, it’s doubtful that 2001 will ever be collected. So I’ve been picking these up on the rare occasions I’ve run across them in the wild, with only limited success. But this weekend, I found a nearly complete run at a more than reasonable price. So I pounced. Much like Devil Dinosaur, I can’t wait to dive in. Definitely expect a retro review of this one once I’m done reading.

Alright. I picked up a few other things…

Adams Challengers 74

Neal Adams Challengers of the Unknown, anyone?


…but that’s the highlights. The con was a good time, and I got some good reads. What more can a dork ask for?

Objets D’Art: Eisner and Kirby Make Beautiful Things to Look At

I’m afraid I won’t be doing my usual in-depth, over-intellectual funnybook reviews this week. Why? Well, for one thing, I’m on vacation, and just don’t have the discipline required to do all that. But for another… Sometimes it’s nice to just look at something pretty. And luckily, as it happens, I’ve recently come into possession of two books that fit the bill.

First up is a Spirit pop-up book.

Eisner - Pop-Up

This was apparently released five or six years ago, but I didn’t know it existed til recently. It’s out of print, near as I can tell, but thankfully we live in an age when such things are easily attainable via the interwebs. So I got my hands on one, and it’s really cool.

The Spirit (if there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t know) is the creation of Will Eisner, one of the most influential cartoonists in funnybook history. The strip ran not in a regular comic book, but in newspapers as a separate comic book supplement to the Sunday funnies. As the cover above may indicate, it was an atmospheric noir detective strip, famed for gripping drama and inventive, multi-layered page layouts. It’s those layouts that made me want to get a copy of this, and they translate well to pop-up book form:

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

NEAT. The book is an adaptation of one of the Spirit 8-pagers from the 1940s, featuring the first appearance of Sand Serif, femme fatale and Our Hero’s childhood sweetheart. The story unfolds (no pun intended) across multiple large pop-ups like the one above, and in smaller separate booklets and flaps arrayed around the pages. The translation of Eisner’s original flat pictures into 3-D is nicely-done. Here, for instance, is the above image as it looked in the original comic:

Eisner Spirit Logo

Wonderfully gruesome, and (though it’s a bit hard to see in my photograph) faithfully reproduced, floating corpse and all. The story’s a little complex, though, and the pop-up spreads don’t always make it entirely clear how they’re supposed to be read. That’s the case here:

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

You’re supposed to read across the top, pull the tab on the upper right, then come down to the flap on the bottom left, open it, move to the stairs, go to the flap on the right, open it, and wind up with the panels in the bottom right-hand corner. But when that staircase comes popping out into your face, it kind of steals the show, and proper eye flow is pretty much a lost cause.

But HOLY CRAP A STAIRCASE JUST UNFOLDED RIGHT INTO MY FREAKING FACE! And the pull tab shifted an image so that it flowed directly into another, connected image! And both the lower flaps had pop-up sections of their own! It’s so much fun that I don’t really care if it’s a little hard to follow. It’s pretty to look at, something worth owning just because it’s cool. All other considerations are secondary.

But I said I wasn’t going to do much reviewing. So here’s a couple more spreads for you to gawk at, without my annoying commentary getting in the way. I had some trouble getting these to photograph well, however, so I shamelessly stole these from other places around the web. Places that were smart enough to buy this thing when it came out. And also smart enough to edit their couches and coffee tables out of the pictures…

Eisner - Pop-up 3 Eisner - Pop-Up 4


The other pretty thing I bought recently won’t be officially released until tomorrow. But I was given the opportunity to take a sneak peek at my copy for review purposes.

Kirby Mister Miracle

It’s the new Artist’s Edition of Jack Kirby’s Mister Miracle, reproducing the original art for issues 2-9 of the series at the size Kirby drew them. I hadn’t intended to buy this book, honestly. I like the Artist’s Editions, but there’s two problems with them: they’re crazy expensive, and they’re freaking huge. I have the Wally Wood book they did a few years back, and it’s also a thing of beauty. Something worth putting on display as an objet d’art in my home. But doing that takes up three-quarters of a book shelf, when I’m constantly fighting for shelf space (my library is, as you might guess, a bit overstuffed).

This one, though… Sigh. I just couldn’t pass it up. First of all, as you can kind of see from the cover, the whole book is designed to look like old circus posters. That’s even more apparent on the back cover…

Kirby Mister Miracle Back

…with its printed-on flaking and creases. If and when I put this thing on display, that’s the side I’ll be turning out for people to look at. The circus poster motif continues more obviously inside, though, on the title page…

Kirby Mister Miracle Title…and the two-page credits spread:

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

Those look pretty great on the screen, but now imagine them reproduced at 12×17. Guh! That two-page spread is two feet across! Your eyes can’t even quite take it all in. Great googly-moogly that’s fun to look at. They’ve done cover mock-ups for each issue in this poster-art style, as well, I assume because they couldn’t get the original art for the actual covers. Which is a trifle disappointing, but if you’re going to be missing something that important, at least they did something cool to replace them.

But the real focus here is the art itself, Kirby’s original boards reproduced at full size. When I was looking at it, trying to decide if I was going to buy the thing, I thought the individual pages were nice…

Kirby Mr Miracle Artist Edition 3

(Love the sideburns. Also the fact that Scott and Barda have a painting of Kirby Krackle hanging in their living room.)



…but it was the two-page spreads that really sold me.

Kirby Mr Miracle Artist Edition 1

click to embiggen

Again, that’s TWO FEET ACROSS, with every detail of all that weird-ass Kirby machinery blown up all in your face and stuff. And that’s not even my favorite spread. It’s just the only one I could find on-line. Because the book itself is far too big for my scanner, and (as you can see above), my camera doesn’t take the greatest pictures.

One final note, and I’ll go. When I was flipping through this thing down at the funnybook store today, a buddy of mine who was looking over my shoulder pointed out something interesting: other than a few proofreader’s marks in blue pencil, these pages have very few production notes on them. That’s a marked change from Kirby’s Sixties pages, where he would make story, lettering, and inking notes, and sometimes even suggest dialogue. The difference in these Seventies pages can, however, be explained by the credit box:

Kirby Mr Miracle Credits

There’s just two guys involved in the production of this whole comic. Well… Two guys, and Mark Evanier serving as proofreader. But, still. Kirby had tight control over these comics, and when you’re doing it all yourself… there’s no need to make notes.

Villainy, Horror, and a Many-Boobed Cyclops: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

Alright. Last week’s bad-mood diatribe has left us with two weeks’ worth of funnybooks to discuss. There’s no way I’ll get to them all, but let’s try and plow through the highlights…

Darth Vader 2, by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Granov Darth Vader 2

May I just say again… Sassiest. Vader. Ever.

The comic’s pretty good, too. This second issue is a fun, tight villain comic, featuring Darth Vader dealing with an unwanted lieutenant, assigned to spy on him by his new boss, General Tagge. The interactions between Vader and Tagge are particularly great, Tagge coming off as a magnanimous bastard, a cheerful true believer in the power of fascism, and Vader responding with a sort of cold arrogance that fits the character well. I could hear James Earl Jones in a lot of his dialogue here, and that’s a good thing.

Also good is the way we see Vader plotting the removal of his new aide. Without getting into spoilers, he leads an assault on some space pirates (because, yes: SPACE PIRATES!!), stalling for time while we see his real plan unfolding elsewhere. It’s a fun ruse, but also one of the more casually callous displays of villainy I’ve seen recently. A bunch of Stormtroopers get killed in the assault, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Vader could have prevented at least some of those deaths by acting faster. But that’s not his game. He needs to delay, and so he does. No matter how many of his men die while he’s doing it.

That’s a nice touch, and something I didn’t even consider on my first read. But that’s why I write these reviews sometimes: they make me go back and see things I might have missed.

So two issues in, and I’m still finding Darth Vader a fun read. Still don’t know if it’s four dollars worth of fun. But we’ll see. We’ll see…

Grade: B

Ody-C 3, by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward

Ward Ody-C 3

I just got around to reading this book last night, even though it came out two or maybe even three weeks ago now. That’s not because I didn’t want to read it. It’s just that I wanted to wait to read it until I had presence of mind enough to enjoy it. It’s been a demanding time at the day job recently, you see, and I’ve been sick on top of that. Often, I’ve been coming home and going straight into a Nyquil coma. And even when I didn’t, I really didn’t have enough brain power to enjoy anything much more demanding than social media and a Mystery Science Theater rerun. And this comic asks a little bit more of its readers than that.

I mean, it’s not Ulysses or anything.

Ward Ody-C 3 Apollo

Oh, wait. Actually, it is. But it’s not James Joyce, that’s my point. Fraction and Ward’s retelling of the Odyssey is a bit more straightforward. But it’s still not an easy read. Fraction’s not writing this thing in any sort of glib modern speech, nor is he using the heightened (but still recognizable) English of the old sword-and-sandal epics. No, he’s telling the story in an English approximation of Homer’s dactylic hexameter. Which is a weird meter for English. It’s taken me three issues to fall into the rhythm of it, and I’m still not sure I’ve really got it. But it’s beautiful when it clicks. Also, he’s making changes to the story (like, making everyone a woman), and logical leaps behind and around it, to the point that someone like me, who knows the story, but not intimately, is kept constantly off-balance by it. Couple that with Christian Ward’s incredible acid-trip artwork…

Many-boobed cyclops! (click to embiggen)

Many-Boobed Cyclops!
(click to embiggen)

…and you’ve got a comic that keeps me on my toes. This is not a bad thing, understand. Far from it. But reading this thing when I’m not on my A Game… is not a good idea. It’s great stuff when I work through it, though. Not touching or affecting on a personal level, but inspirational for the work that went into crafting it, and the passion behind it. It always leaves me feeling energized, and wanting to write. And that’s not something I take lightly.

Grade: A

Savage Sword of Criminal, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Phillips Savage Sword

A special issue celebrating the sword and sorcery magazine comics of the 1970s with a sharp send-up of them, interspersed with the sort of pulpy crime story we’ve come to expect from Brubaker & Phillips. I won’t go into too much detail on how all this works; that’s part of the fun of reading the thing. But it’s fun stuff, and well-worth picking up in the magazine-sized special edition (seen above). It costs a dollar more, but that gets you something closer to that Savage Sword of Conan feel they’re shooting for. Plus, you get this back cover ad that might be worth a dollar all by itself:

(click to embiggen the dealiness!)

(click to embiggen the deadliness!)

Grade: B+

Nameless 2, by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham

Burnham Nameless 2

I love the weird genre mix of this book. On the one hand it’s Lovecraftian horror, all South American mythology and medieval demon magic. On the other, it’s about a team of experts rocketing out from a moon base to stop a giant asteroid from hitting the Earth and ending life as we know it. That mix of the supernatural and the science-fictional is a bit unusual, to be sure, but it’s very much true to Lovecraft’s spirit. Albeit as filtered through a modern sci-fi blockbuster lens.

It’s got a more pop-fiction sort of aesthetic than Lovecraft all the way around, I suppose. Because this isn’t one of Grant Morrison’s more difficult works thus far. I mean, it’s got all the super-compact dialogue and pay-attention-damn-you plotting I’ve come to expect from him in the current decade. But you could also do a pretty satisfying surface reading of it, I think, one that treats all the weirdness as window dressing for a pretty straightforward horror-adventure story.

I mean, it’s still plenty weird. You still have to deal with the idea of people being driven mad by messages from beyond human understanding. And tools brought forth out of dreams for use in the real world. But I think you can appreciate that without being so into the mythology of the comic that you understand how cool it is that the message from space is written in a language made up by John Dee.

Still. Great comic. Lots of high weirdness, lots of horrible ugly things. I dig it.

Grade: A-

Supreme: Blue Rose 7, by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay

Lotay Supreme 7

And so my pick for “Best On-Going Series of 2014″ comes to its planned conclusion seven issues in. Duhr. Should have known better than to think this was anything but a mini. It just seemed so expansive, though! So full of potential and unexplored ideas! How could it possibly last less than 12 issues?!

Rather easily, as it turns out. Ellis and Lotay bring things to a satisfying ending, all things considered. The broken reality is resolved in the manner it always had to be, with an unlikely hero saving the day, and all those tantalizing possibilities left just out of reach. Which is maybe for the best. Sometimes, exploring cool ideas winds up rendering them mundane. And really, there’s no worse fate for super hero concepts.

Still, though… I could have read this book forever, and I’m sad that it’s done.

Grade: A-

Crossed +100 3, by Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade

Andrade Crossed +100 3

Alan Moore’s exploration of what happens after the zombie apocalypse rolls on with a look at what a human city looks like, 100 years on. It’s a strangely… hopeful vision, especially for a series as grim as Crossed. I mean, just look at that cover up there! It’s positively… heartwarming! Sure, life is hard. Food is scarce, electricity unreliable. But with so few normal people left, America has become a true melting pot, with divisions based on race, sex, or sexual orientation falling away in the name of survival. It’s like some kind of post-apocalyptic anarcho-hippy paradise.

Well, except for having to live in a walled township for protection against the infected. That bites pretty hard.

But speaking of the Crossed… There’s something going on with them, too. Their extreme recklessness has thinned their number significantly at this point, so yay. But now it’s starting to look almost like someone’s attempting some kind of forced evolution on them, selecting out for individuals with a little more control over themselves. That makes them far more dangerous in the long term. So maybe this thing’s not going to end well for humanity, after all.

All that said, though, this series has not been Alan Moore’s best work. It’s still better than 95% of everything else out there, mind you. Still well-worth reading. But there’s just a little something lacking, some essential element of style or depth that I’ve come to expect from Moore. It’s almost too simple, I guess, and the artwork, while technically very nice, lacks flair. I dunno. It’s good. Just not as good as I’d like it to be. Maybe my expectations are too high. Still, I can’t quite bring myself to give this one a top grade…

Grade: B+

Okay. I think that’s all I’ve got time for right now. Hope you enjoyed it. Next week, we’ll have… something. Only time will tell what.