So we’re still in quarantine, and we still have no new funnybooks to read. Or almost none. Because the nerd farm was briefly lit up with one little ray of new comics light last week, and we’ll be starting the column off with that. Afterwards, though, it’s back to the quarantine stash for an old favorite and a new discovery…
by Ed Brubaker and Marcos Martin
Ed Brubaker describes this series as “Encyclopedia Brown meets HP Lovecraft.” So of course I was immediately sold with no further explanation. But he gave more, anyway. As the elevator pitch probably tells you, this is the story of a pair of classic “kid detective” heroes, investigating occult goings-on in their small hometown while also dealing with the complications of transitioning into adulthood.
Our primary protagonist is Friday Fitzhugh, sidekick and muscle for boy genius Lancelot Jones (Friday’s the taller one on that cover up there). She’s coming home for Christmas from her first semester in college, having left behind her childhood life of mystery and adventure in favor of finding her own way in the world. But as soon as she steps off the train, Lance waylays her right back into their old ways.
She’s changed, but he hasn’t. He’s still there, helping the sheriff solve crimes and dealing with their old childhood nemesis Weasel Wadsworth. One wonders why Lance (who is a genius, after all) hasn’t gone to college himself. Is he younger than Friday, or does he just not want to change? We don’t find out in this issue, but I presume we will. Not all is well between Our Heroes, and I have my suspicions as to why. But those would be SPOILERY suspicions, so I won’t share them now.
One thing I should share, though, in case you were wondering, is that Friday is a web comic. It’s available from Panel Syndicate, at this link right here in the very words you’re reading, at a price of “pay what you will.” If that’s nothing, they’re okay with that. I gave them three bucks, personally, because that seems a fair price to me for a single-issue comic book.
At any rate. Because this is a web comic, artist Marcos Martin (who’s done a couple of these things already: The Private Eye and Barrier, both with Brian K Vaughn) is making good use of the wide-screen format the computer screen gives him.
There’s more two-page spreads like that, some of them even better than that one. But as you can kind of see from the layout there, I think this book is really being put together for eventual publication in a more standard comics format. Most of the issue is broken up into what would be two traditional comics pages, and there’s even a single-page version you can download, for reading on tablet screens and the like.
Not that I think they went with the web release because they couldn’t release it in print right now. From the discussions I’ve read of the book, it was planned to be done this way from the get-go. So I think the formatting may be to avoid some of the problems Martin and Vaughn ran across with Barrier, which came out in a taller-than-standard single issue format, to be read sideways, and I’ve heard that a lot of shops didn’t quite know what to do with it.
Martin’s using both formats well, though, as you would expect from an artist of his caliber. His character designs are pretty great, too. I especially like how Friday herself looks: tall and wide-faced, with framing red hair and big horn-rimmed glasses. Very striking, and very much like a kids’ book character. Even though Martin doesn’t give her a real spotlight establishing shot anywhere, she still makes an impression.
Storywise, as you can see above, we’re dealing with the occult. Deep woods magic. Ancient pagan stuff. There’s references to a “White Lady,” and a stolen sacrificial dagger that has… unusual effects on people who touch it.
Heh. So, yeah. We’re off to a good start on this one. Interesting characters, spooky doings, beautiful artwork… I’ll be coming back for more.
The Human Fly
by Bill Mantlo, Lee Elias, and Frank Robbins
Like with last week’s Invaders re-read, I’m revisiting another childhood favorite here. This book was based on a real-life stunt man who wore a colorful costume, complete with a mask, whose real identity was kept secret from the public. He was like a cross between Evel Knievel and El Santo, the kind of cool and mysterious figure guaranteed to capture a kid’s imagination. Or, well, to capture THIS kid’s imagination, anyway. I mean, think about it! He was one part super hero, one part motorcycle stuntman, and one part pro wrestler! The only way he could have been better would be if he’d also been some kind of Frankenstein’s monster, cobbled together out of the corpses of Hal Needham and Joey Chitwood, thus completing my childhood quad-fecta of everything cool.
The reality of the Human Fly was far less romantic, of course. He was just a guy hired by a marketing firm to play the part, and his life, by all reports, was sleazy and low-rent in a way only the 1970s could support. In the movie of his life, he’d probably be played by Warren Oates rather than George Hamilton.
(I’m sorry. You’ll have to pardon me for a moment. The idea of Warren Oates in that outfit has me laughing too hard to type…)
Not so in the comics, though. There, they played the romance and mystery of the character to the hilt, never revealing the Fly’s real name, or even showing his face. All we knew was that he’d been in a terrible accident, and 60% of his bones were replaced with solid steel! Which of course made him able to withstand all the punishment he took (and not, you know… too heavy to walk). His travels were thrilling, his stunts were dangerous, and he even somehow managed to thwart various crimes while he was at it! That book was awesome.
In concept, anyway. In actual execution, the stories weren’t great. Bill Mantlo wrote all 19 issues, and god knows I loved me some Mantlo when I was kid, but… This was not his finest hour. It’s not awful or anything (Mantlo was seldom less than pretty good), but let’s just say that I’m glad I was only able to find a few issues to read. But that’s all I really wanted, anyway. This is not Omnibus-ready binge reading. It was meant to be disposable done-in-one entertainment, and it largely succeeds at that. I can’t say that I’d actually recommend it or anything, though, unless you really like the art.
Which would be understandable, because from an art perspective, this series is pretty impressive. Lee Elias and Frank Robbins did the bulk of the run, with a fill-in from no less than Carmine Infantino. So it’s solid old-school adventure art through and through, from guys who worshiped at the feet of Milton Caniff. So while it’s not as good as Invaders, I could have done worse for a weird obscure funnybook to love.
This page notwithstanding…
by Garth Ennis, Steve Epting, and Elizabeth Breitweiser
I can’t believe I missed this book when it was coming out monthly, but somehow I did. It’s a Garth Ennis war book, which admittedly can be a little hit and miss. But it’s also got some gorgeous Steve Epting artwork, AND it’s colored by Epting’s best collaborator, Elizabeth Breitweiser.
That’s the splash page for the first issue, and that alone should have made me pause and look closer. And when you look closer, you see that this is Ennis on his war comic A game. This one’s about a team of female Russian snipers in World War II, and the best of their number (the title character). It’s an intelligent, well-researched, and understated piece of work that doesn’t really question the morality of the sniper’s job, or even delve that much into the mental toll it takes on the shooters. I mean, it does those things. But they’re not the focus. It’s more interested in things like duty, risk, the things that make a sniper good at the job, and that terrible Russian fatalism.
It’s also an exciting war story, of course, with plenty of battlefield sequences. And lots of blood.
These things are to be expected. It’s somber, but a good read. And I came away from it feeling like I’d learned something about a conflict I’ve done a good bit of reading on (which is to say, World War II). This isn’t the first time I’ve felt that way about an Ennis war comic, and I hope it won’t be the last.
But, if I’m going to be perfectly honest here, the bigger draw is Epting and Breitweiser. This is Epting drawing full process here, with full backgrounds that give Breitweiser a real chance to shine. I mean, a lot of it takes place in the snow, which admittedly doesn’t leave Epting much to draw in some scenes. But Breitweiser steps in to give that snow texture, mixing blues, grays and whites to make that snow-covered landscape actually look like something. And when Epting does fill in the backgrounds, giving her, say, a forest to play with…
…the results are even more beautiful.
But Epting, like Ennis, is on his A game all the way around in this book. The whole cast dresses in snow camo for much of the book, and it would be very easy to mix characters up. But Epting’s done a fine job of making everyone distinct, turning in some particularly fine work on the faces. This is one of the more diverse-looking funnybook casts I’ve seen, and that’s a credit to Epting’s talent.
So, yeah. Sara is good funnybooks top to bottom, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re interested in getting a copy, though, and you can’t get to your local funnybook store, please allow me to suggest you buy it direct from the publisher, TKO Studios. With so many shops shut down right now, they want to do their part to help. So if you buy a book from their website, they’ll give 50% of the proceeds to a local comic shop of your choosing (the same amount the shop would get if you bought it from them). You can do that here: https://tkopresents.com/pages/covid19.
So if you see something you like, and you’ve got the money to do it… Please do.
And that’s all for this week. We’ll have more quarantine comics next time, I’m sure, and I’m going to try to finally write up a book I’ve taken far too long to get around to reading: Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s G0DLAND. I’m only six issues in, but so far it is seriously the best Kirby pastiche I’ve ever read. Until then… Stay well, stay safe, and read more funnybooks!