Marvel, Machine Man #1, written by Tom DeFalco, drawn by Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith, 1984
Isn’t it strange how one series can affect another? What’s there to really like about Machine Man? He’s a (usually) purple robot, his arms stretch out, he’s got some hidden gizmos… it’s all a tad played out, isn’t it? I mean, he was created by Jack Kirby, that’s cool. Afterwards artists like Steve Ditko and Barry Windsor-Smith tackled his books—that’s cool too. Oh, and remember how he was in Nextwave? That was awesome, right!? Sure, but none of the above explain why I love Machine Man so much.
Alex Ross, Jim Krueger and John Paul Leon made a book called Earth X, do you recall? I got said book for Christmas one year, accompanied by the largest poster I’d ever seen. It was the “Monster Lithograph” combining all of Ross’s covers together, and it left me speechless. Who were all these strange characters? What the heck was going on? Why did it all look so…real? Needless to say, that poster changed the way I saw comic art and Earth X transformed comic books from my passing interest to my obsession. And which character was my favourite of that story? Why that would be Mr. Aaron Stack, our Machine Man. Since then, any time I read that character, I’m reading the Ross/Krueger version, it doesn’t matter. It’s amazing how one story can effect both past and future appearances of a character. This book came out in 1984, more than a decade before Earth X, and I bought and read it solely based on my love for the character. Is Machine Man the same deep, introspective icon for “humanity”? Not in these pages, not in 1984, but in my mind he’s still fascinating. It’s amazing what a good piece of fiction can do.
So, is this comic any good? If you’re into 80s robo sci-fi and can put up with Tom DeFalco’s less than stellar scripting, it’s not bad. Here we’re thrust into the future where there are a bunch of corporations, a new breed of tech bandits and lots of robots everywhere. We’re introduced to a few do-gooders who kick butt and pick up scrap metal as they stumble upon the “outdated model” Machine Man all packed up in a junkyard. There’s a robo-melee, plenty of faux-scientific talk and a nice set-up for the impending conflict. The story isn’t anything special and DeFalco’s world-building could use some work but I would be happy to read the rest of this four issue mini.
The real win for this book, no surprise, is the art. With breakdowns from seasoned pro Herb Trimpe and finishes by the rookie Barry Windsor-Smith, this is perfect 80s sci-fi comic bookery. This isn’t art that will stop you in your tracks and make you rethink comics (like Alex Ross did for me), but it’s a professional package that doesn’t miss a beat. A lesser art team could have easily made this a passable reading experience.
If you, like me, are a sucker for anything Machine Man, then you probably already have this book. If you don’t, consider it next time you hit the cheap bins. It’s neat, but not essential.
Marvel, Secret Wars II #1, written by Jim Shooter, drawn by Al Milgrom, 1985
I wasn’t alive when Secret Wars hit. I missed out on the toy line, the first huge Marvel crossover-event and, from what I hear, some decent Mike Zeck art. Now I grabbed this first issue of the sequel event, Secret Wars II with little to no expectations. Good thing too—this is a strange one.
Ever wonder what the Molecule Man’s domestic life is like? Wonder no more, as that scenario takes up a surprising amount of this book. Another huge chunk is taken up by a fed-up everyman who suddenly gets a piece of Beyonder’s power and turns himself into a quick super-villain, destroying his workplace and getting the attention of a handful of Marvel heroes. We also check in with just about everyone from the X-books, get a quick recap of the first Secret Wars and are left wondering what will happen next. From the looks of things, the Beyond is hanging around wanting to learn, and with his unlimited power, anything could happen. I couldn’t tell you what the next nine issues hold, this is a surprisingly self-contained issue with a solid introduction, climax and resolution. And it’s the start of an event book! Boy, how times have changed.
The script by Jim Shooter takes patience, especially for one accustomed to the standard 10-minute reads of today. There are a lot of words filling a lot of panels and it takes quite a bit of time to get through. There’s also a lot of explanation, plot development and action. You get your money’s worth, that much is certain–especially coming from the cheap bins.
Now I was all excited for more Mike Zeck art, but inside it’s all Al Milgrom. His work is fine, I suppose, but he sort of embodies the generic Marvel ’80s look. It’s competently put together, but with so many words it also seems squished. The amount of detail is impressive and the layouts are solid, but in the end it’s Milgrom’s middle-of-the-road style that leaves the impression (or lack thereof).
Marvel is bringing back Secret Wars and things look like they could get pretty exciting. Unfortunately, unlike the ground breaking Secret Wars of past, this new series will be just another event book in a sea of event books. Hey, if it stinks you can always go to the bargain bins and fish out some Secret Wars II. It’s not too bad, and there’s quite a lot inside!
Dark Horse, DHP #66, written by Paul Chadwick, Manny Coto, Ed Brubaker and Eddie Campbell, drawn by Paul Chadwick, Alan Burrows, Eric Shanower and Eddie Campbell, 1992
Dark Horse Presents is an easy book to collect. It’s often in the bargain bins, contains easily digestible, short-run (or done-in-one) stories and features some of the top talent in the industry. There’s always a few throw-away features, but for the most part it’s solid black and white entertainment.
The lead story here is Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, and you can never go wrong with Concrete. This particular tale revolves around a visit with an eccentric writer and as usual, it’s a story about so much more. When it comes to slice-of-life storytelling, it’s hard to top Chadwick. The characters speak with realistic voices, the plot moves as if you’re in the very same room and the art is always impressive. I don’t read a lot of Concrete, but when I do, I enjoy it immensely.
From there we move on to Manny Coto and Alan Burrows’ Dr. Giggles. It’s a horror tale used to promote the upcoming movie of the same name, a movie I never did see (and probably never will). Slasher-horror is not my genre of choice. It’s a gross little tale of murder by dental-work and that’s really all there is to it. The art was impressive, in sort of a Howard Cruse/Rick Geary kind of way, but again, this one just wasn’t for me.
Now Ed Brubaker and Eric Shanower’s An Accidental Death, that one was for me. Unfortunately, this is part 2 of 3, so collecting a few more DHPs has become absolutely necessary. I don’t want to ruin any part of the story should you someday have the benefit of experiencing it, but trust me it’s a doozy. We all know Ed Brubaker can write a great crime tale, but he surprised me with his ability to write young characters so well. And then there’s Eric Shanower. If you’ve never experienced his art before, do yourself a favour and treat yourself to one of his books. It’s a crime we don’t see more of his work today. The amount of detail, realism and gorgeous attention to layout design, backgrounds and facial expressions is uncanny.
Finishing off the issue is Eddie Campbell’s Alec. I really need to read more Alec—I’ve heard so many great things about it. This short two-pager isn’t much, but it’s a satisfying little collection of anecdotes. Campbell’s very sketchy art and true-to-life observations are quite nice, but I really need more before I can form a solid opinion.
As always, you should pick up DHP. I wouldn’t go out and pay big bucks for any back issues, but for cheap, they can’t be beat!
Image, 1963 #2, written by Alan Moore, drawn by Steve Bissette, 1993
We’re all suckers for Alan Moore, aren’t we? I mean, who among you doesn’t like his work? I love almost everything he’s done. But therein lies the key. I love almost everything he’s done. For some reason, I could never get into his brief flirt with Image, especially 1963. It’s retro-homage, but… it’s just not that interesting.
That being said, this second issue of the series combines the best and worst parts of the Silver Age. What’s the worst part of those old comics? The over-scripting, I’d say. The best part? The art, easily. So what does Alan Moore do? He over-scripts. And what does Steve Bissette do? He draws a brilliant comic book. I suppose that’s the problem with such a tight homage, the parts that didn’t age well don’t get any better.
This particular issue is a Spider-Man pastiche, so if you’re into that it might be right up your alley. Personally, if I want to read Silver Age Spider-Man, there’s more than enough out there to fill me up. Our hero, “The Fury”, fights the villains, talks a lot and still makes it home before curfew. It’s a well done story, perfectly paced and well-thought out, but it seems very “done before”. Perhaps that’s the point, but it didn’t do it for me.
Now Steve Bissette nails to Ditko appropriation, and that I can appreciate. The layouts are dynamic, the faces are expressive and everything is beautifully curvy. Silver Age art holds up much better than Silver Age scripting, so it’s obvious I enjoyed this aspect of the book much more. Bissette is a great, versatile artist and watching him play in the playground of the 60s is a real treat.
I recommend this book for the art alone, but if you’re not into the retro thing, this probably isn’t for you. Moore fails to impress by shunning originality in favour of imitation and it doesn’t pay off, in my opinion.