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Friday, September 29, 2017

Comics that a kid in Wisconsin bought with paper route money and

... birthday money, and a wee bit of an allowance.


I am trying to do the occasional article here about comics that are current, interviews, reviews if such work comes my way, and some PR.  I love comics.  So this will be a recurring theme now and then, because comics that are new alone, are not the whole picture.  They are comfort food, they inspired me to be moral as much as my fallen flawed psyche can be, and led me to becoming a creative artist, however successful or not.  I think about them in terms of being art.  I think about them as things to make children smile.  And I think of all the amazingly talented comic industry professionalsI have met due to comics, and additionally, some truly awesome people who have become my friends also love comics. 

If I received an allowance, I didn't spend it all.  I saved most of anything I had.  But, I'd eventually fork over a quarter for a comic, and OMG, I was spellbound.  I was also somewhat specific in my taste, comics with cartoon characters didn't move me.  Funny animals weren't my thing.  I liked the genres of war, giant monsters and superheroes. I still do.  I'd add horror, and stuff that defies any convenient label.  And while my tastes have matured and evolved, the reasons I like those genres are not the same. 


My brother was a guy who read a shit ton of books, all the time, and from an early age.  We didn't altogether share taste in comics, but we both loved comics.  Escapism is one reason to read comics, and beyond simple escapism, appreciating great story telling, being moved by the art or characters, made comics different from kids books, they were ageless, at least if they were well done.  Escapism is one thing.  A creation of art is another thing.  But maybe another reason I read them, is that it gave me, a kid who stood out in crowd being chubby faced, tall, and naive, an agency to respond to bullies.  No, I didn't whip out my cape and beat them bloody.  No I didn't turn invisible and make them look to be fools.  I read in the comics stories about good defeating evil, people faced with impossible odds, and still achieving victory.  I was able, through comics to see and imagine the defeat of enemies, and bullies are assholes needing an ass whipping.



I was far more familiar with DC characters like Batman and Superman than the Marvel comics characters.  I can't say, however, that it was due to enjoyment of the comics.  For the most part Marvel stories didn't get told in a single issue, while DC mostly did.  As a kid in a town with very spotty comic book sources, I didn't want to be left hanging and never know what happened.  As an adult I've even bought comics that had been continued next issue, and left me stranded.  Some of the comics weren't good at all in retrospect, but damn it felt good to get an answer.




Friday, September 15, 2017

Just in time for Halloween TPBs that ought to be

THE DEMON
Alan Grant writer
Val Semeiks art

Despite the quality of both writing and art, Demon gets no love.  Despite the story telling that is modern in aesthetics and humorous, it gets no love from the publisher.  DC Comics was about to create the Vertigo imprint, and Demon would have fit in, but, for whatever reasons, it never became a work for that imprint.  The early run of Demon has been ignored, but there were two late series collections, written by the more sexy name, Garth Ennis.  And however good that was, the work that preceded it was better.   It ought to be captured in tpb.  It is criminal that it is not.


THE SPECTRE
Doug Moench writer

Gene Colan   art

The Tom Mandrake John Ostrander run of Spectre was beyond good, and it has been collected little by little.  This version was not at all bad, and I enjoyed it.  It was not the same work as the previously mentioned version.  But, whatever the differences, this version was both well written, thought provoking, and lovely to look at.  I say this despite my not being a great fan of Gene Colan's art, but this comic required a dark moody presentation, and Colan did succeed in doing that.  The tone of this version of The Spectre was somewhere between the cosmic and the superhero.  The stories were interesting, if not nearly as deep as the Ostrander/Mandrake version.  I say all this and recommend that it be collected, because there are plenty of crap books out there, why not reprint the many good ones?


HELLSTORM
Rafael Nieves, Len Kaminski writing
Michael Bair, Peter Gross art

I am sorry to include this one.  Not because it doesn't deserve collecting, I think it does, but because I believe that it could have been so much better.  The Son of Satan was given a regular series and the comic shows how he is divided between his desire to be fearsome, and powerful, but somehow become more than his lineage/father.  He isn't a hero, but isn't quite a villain.  This work is often times exciting but it does not reach the depths of darkness possible, due, partly I think, to the limits of the audience and limits of expression.  Still, it is interesting, well drawn with writing that was good despite the desires to keep the stories within a certain boundary of taste or expression.

The advent of the TPB helped many readers sit in one take a comic released, originally, serially.  It allowed a less disjointed experience... and thereby some comics with subtle building of plot lines and story ideas could become better by the experience of a single read of the entire run in question.  This book would read much better in tpb form, and eventually readers were entertained by Warren Ellis's take on the character.  But, Marvel needed a Vertigo section of the publisher so the power of expression could be unleashed.  I enjoyed it, but always wanted more. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Len Wein 1948 - 2017

Len Wein has passed away. He has gone to wherever we go when our bodies stop functioning. Why is this important? Len Wein, the man, was a driving force in comics beginning in the late 60s right up until September 10, 2017. 

Len wrote some of the most memorable comic books of my youth. I am particularly fond of his run on Justice League of America. I came into it in the middle of his run with issue 106 “A Wolf in the Fold”. It introduced me to one of my favorite characters from my youth, Red Tornado.
Red Tornado was an android created by the mad scientist T. O. Morrow. The android’s purpose was to infiltrate and destroy the Justice League of America and their multiversal counterparts, the Justice Society of America. I identified with the detached alienated feelings of the Red Tornado. I was further drawn in by his entrapment as part of a scheme of which he wanted no part, but was the crucial element to it. The character wanted to be self-determinant.

Len was touching on themes (alienation, misunderstanding, persecution) which he would later plant in Marvel’s X-Men relaunch. Themes which were nurtured and cultivated by Chris Claremont, under Len’s early editorial guidance, that propelled the X-Men into popular culture superstardom. 

Len moved on to be an editor for both of “the Big Two” superhero publishers, DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Books which he edited had a particular pace. It was a pace that never allowed an ongoing story to go further than four issues. It was a pace that was used widely into the early 1990s, before every story had to achieve the epic scope of critically acclaimed stories like DC Comics’ Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns or the nascent cash cow events like DC Comics’ Crisis On Infinite Earths or Marvel Comics’ Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars (aka Secret Wars).

Len Wein, the man, may have died, but the storytelling force of nature that was Len Wein has left indelible impressions across popular culture landscape of superheroes for ages to come.  Thank you, Len Wein, for the stories, the dreams and the lessons which you have given us.

Friday, September 1, 2017

TPBs that need to be: Roy Thomas Edition

Roy Thomas was very young at the same time as very successful in the world of comics.  For a very brief second or two spent at DC, before going to Marvel full time, he was an under 25 years old comic book fan with an enormous love for the medium, and a vast knowledge of the characters of both major publishers.

Thomas quickly became Editor in Chief to Stan Lee's role as Publisher, and there was a certain dynamism between the two.  Thomas was considered the main writer for the character Conan, and used his knowledge of the history of the characters of Marvel to establish teams of the past, such as the Invaders, Liberty Legion and more.  His work was that of a fan favorite, and he was prolific.

Thomas stepped down from the EiC position and was eventually replaced by Jim Shooter, who seemed very much a pharaoh who sought to erase all memory of the previous pharaoh.  Roy Thomas eventually found the cold relationship too much to remain at Marvel, and he began a run at DC Comics that saw him taking over the golden age characters he had long desired to write.  If he was somewhat seen as being too concerned about the iron tight continuity he believed necessary, he was also counted upon to do just that.  DC united the various alternate earths and comic worlds and Roy Thomas kept busy rewriting the new history of DC, and he tried to keep the golden age characters relevant.

The following offerings suggest only that these should be done, but with such a prolific and well considered writer, much of his work is already in TPB form.  As such, it is possible that these are not his best series, because they've been done, but these works do deserve to be collected.


CONAN THE ADVENTURER came about as an attempt to reboot and reintroduce the character to an audience who had not begun reading the long running original series.  Rafael Kayanan OBVIOUSLY loved the subject, his highly detailed stylistically pleasing work was a fine accompaniment to Thomas's comfortable and fun writing style.


ANTHEM's themes and setting harkens back to the ideas of The Invaders and The Justice Society, but is different in one very important way.  This world's heroes are not fighting alongside the soldiers of the Allies, they are trying to recover and renew a defeated and invaded America.  It is an alternate version of history with superheros and fantasy elements, and it captures, shows or tries to show the heroic ideal fighting for the life of the country.  I include this because I love the idea.  And the writing is good, for what is there.  But the art?  I really wish the series could be reconsidered with new art because it was very different issue to issue, and however various panels were, it was not a congealed work.  So, while I'd like a tpb of this, I'd like a new edition with better art.  Yeah yeah, I can hear you all out there saying gee, it is easy spending other people's money and time.  Big deal.  I deserve it.


CAPTAIN THUNDER AND BLUE BOLT are a father son team, that is both different than any other comic duo, and reminiscent of the best of comic hero teams.  But this had generational angst, settings of real life, and actually, quite nice art and story telling.  A B level work, nothing perfect but it is completely entertaining and smart.  (Another work that has been reprinted in TPB form Alter Ego was an equally clever use of the format and reality, to the point that the writer Roy Thomas did comic style dialogue for certain situations while the non heroic comic moments used what could be described as a more mature real sounding, perhaps adult voice speaking.  Captain Thunder is less mature than Alter Ego, but both are good).


THE SAGA OF THE SUB-MARINER runs from the very beginning of Marvel's history, and ends at the present.  Prince Namor the Sub-mariner was an anti hero most of the time, and various writers have attempted their own interpretation of why he was so naughty on occasions.  But few approach this level of awesome.  Thomas is a comic historian, and this book evokes every era of the character and reminds us why we love Namor.  The Rich Buckler art was among the best of his career, and this series was a complete and absolute joy.


ARAK: Son of Thunder was a cross cultural character who was not created with stereotypes in mind.  I liked it a lot for what it was, even if it wasn't perfect, the writing was good, and the art was great.  I think this series needed to be as violent as the story demanded.  So, I think it could have been a lot better, and I am not complaining, it was the era still of comics being seen as for general audiences. 


THE SAGA OF THE ORIGINAL HUMAN TORCH  This series is very much like the aforementioned Saga of the Sub-mariner, but with a less wide focus.  It remains, however a fine work, with excellent art.  I really think it should be paired with the Sub-mariner book in a larger tpb, but two series tpbs is fine too.  The Original Human Torch was awesome, intelligently done from the beginning, and is a very heroic figure, however much his recent use is cliché.