DC, Young Heroes in Love #16, written by Dan Raspler, drawn by Chuck Wojtkiewicz, 1998
If you think you’re not interested in romance comics, you’ve never read Young Heroes in Love. Or Strangers in Paradise, but that’s not the point. Back in 1998, DC published a capes and kisses comic written by usual editor Dan Raspler. It was a fresh new team of characters, set within (but only loosely connected to) the DCU, complete with a Saturday morning cartoon look thanks to original artist Dev Madan. As you may have guessed, it didn’t last very long and we’ve never really seen these characters again. If I’m not mistaken, the rights belong to the original creators. Everything about this series was different!
First thing you’ll notice about this issue is the cover—a homage to the classic romance comics of the 50s. This series wore its influences on its sleeve, but at the same time never felt derivative. This wasn’t a parody book; it was an original series that offered something completely different from everything else on the stands. The super-team consisted of wannabe heroes who looked up to the popular faces of Batman and Superman, but this wasn’t about “becoming heroes”. This book was called Young Heroes in Love and that’s exactly what it was about: love triangles, hooking up and splitting apart, forbidden escapades behind closed doors. And you know what? It was really, really interesting. For real!
Dan Raspler knew what he was doing, that’s for sure. In this issue we deal mostly with Zip-Kid, the flying, shrinking, blonde trophy-wife. She’s dating a mobster who doesn’t respect her, but back at the Young Heroes base, Junior (think The Atom, except he stays shrunk) constantly pines for someone his size. Poor Junior—but wait! Monster Girl can shrink too? And Frostbite and Bonfire—can fire and ice mix? What about Off-Ramp, what side does he play for? If you’re coming into this series new, you probably won’t care about these answers, but if you’d been following from the start there’s quite a bit tension to snap. Like a good soap opera (I imagine) your investment in the characters determines the payoff of the twists and turns. For a collector and fan like me, this issue had it all. Each character has a unique voice, the plot constantly moves and the drama… the drama! I’m a grown man reading a romance/superhero comic and loving every minute of it.
If you haven’t read YHIL yet, you should. Issue 1,000,000 (of the Year 1 Million event) is both the best event tie-in issue I’ve ever read and the best final issue I’ve ever read, but like I said the payoff is only worth it if you’re emotionally invested. I’m not kidding.
If you do give this series a try and, after a few issues, you aren’t ready to gobble up the rest, this series probably isn’t for you. Also, you’re crazy. I freakin’ love this book.
Western/Whitman, Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom #31, written by Roger McKenzie, drawn by Dan Spiegle and Frank Bolle, 1982
You know Doctor Solar right? He’s that guy in red with the visor—you know, crowding the bargain bins with his Valiant series. He used to have a green face and was published way back in the day by Gold Key, you remember, right? Right, this is that guy, but this isn’t those books. When I first picked up this comic I thought I was holding a relic from the 60s. To be fair this is a continuation of the original Doctor Solar Gold Key series, but for some reason it’s issue 31 from 1982. Issue 27 came out in 1969. Weird, eh?
So it looks like Western Publishing picked up Gold Key’s pieces in the 80s and tried giving Doctor Solar and Magnus: Robot Fight a new lease on life. Unfortunately, they seemed to do this on the cheap. Evidence? Just look at the cover. Pretty neat eh? Those images are just repurposed panels from the interior pages of the book. There are also no advertisements in this book, whether for better or worse.
If we’re talking cheap, the stories take center stage. First, Doctor Solar fights an angry actor who gets mysterious powers from a holographic effects processor. Scenes boil down to simple fights that end when said machine is destroyed. It’s quick, fun and brain-dead simple. For all I know, this was a recycled Scooby Doo plot. In the back half of the book Magnus gets attacked by a big machine. He fights it, it crashes, “wew, I saved the day”. Yawn!
I’d call the art cheap as well, but I actually really enjoyed it. The figure work from both Dan Spiegle (Doctor Solar) and Frank Bolle (Magnus) is humble, clean and easy on the eyes. Their action scenes could have used better choreographing, but the overall style was so meek and pleasing, it was hard not to appreciate. This book is rife with classic comic book styling you simply don’t see these days.
I can’t say I recommend picking this issue up, but it’s fun, corny and innocent. You could do much worse for $1.
Marvel, 5 Ronin: Hulk, written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Dalibor Talajic, 2011
Ah, Peter Milligan. You never know what you’re going to get when you dive into one of his books. Perhaps it will be like Shade the Changing Man and knock your socks off. Perhaps it will be like Stormwatch and make you question the name on the cover. I write about his inconsistencies more often than I care to, but here I am picking up another book with his name on it. And it’s… not bad, I suppose.
So what if The Hulk was a character in feudal Japan? Well, he’d be a monk constantly trying to find peace in a dangerous, violent world. He’d also explode and become very violent himself. That’s essentially this issue. Milligan writes competently enough, giving characters dialogue that sounds right and a plot that goes in a sensible direction. He provides an ample emotional package and seems to hit the right notes at the right times. It’s not incredibly original, though. “Renounce your vow of peace and protect us from bandits!” That’s it, really.
If there’s one obvious reason to buy this book, it’s the artwork of Dalibor Talajic. The name was familiar when I picked up this comic, but now it’s hard to forget. I don’t know how to pronounce it, but I know it’s responsible for some terrific comic book art. Talajic draws in a familiar style, like Phil Winslade but with more panache. He’s perfectly suited to the samurai genre and his fight scenes legitimize the existence of this book in any collection.
I’d say grab this book if the premise interests you. If you know and love Talajic’s art, you probably already have this issue. If you’re waiting for Peter Milligan to “wow” you, go read Human Target.
Marvel MAX, The Eternal #4, written by Chuck Austen, drawn by Kev Walker, 2003
The Eternals are great creations, aren’t they? Jack Kirby’s weird 1970s output is some of my favourite stuff, and when he tried to make a Fourth World for Marvel, I think he hit it out of the park. Richly entwined in crazy galactic concepts, The Eternals were larger than life—larger than the gods, even! This 2003 thing from Chuck Austen and Kev Walker though… this ain’t your beloved Eternals.
I suppose being out-of-continuity and part of the MAX imprint allows some freedom when it comes to classic properties. I knew not to expect the Kirby creations I knew and loved—but perhaps I was secretly hoping for some resemblance. To be fair, it’s in there, but it’s twisted into a suck a dark, disturbing, sexual fantasy that I’d almost rather this have nothing to do with my treasured Eternals.
It’d be rather hard to sum up the story in quick fashion, but I suppose some idea of plot would provide better grounds to judge on. Let’s see… the Eternals are a bunch of horny guys put in charge of the universe by the Celestials. They come to Earth, enslave early humankind and call them Deviants. Eternal leader Ikaeden then knocks up a Deviant (forbidden!) and his enemies jump on this weakness. There’s also an Apple of Intelligence, lots of nudity and perhaps an attempt at biblical allegory. None of it works, at least judging from this issue alone.
Kev Walker is usually a damn fine artist. If you read his Thunderbolts run, you’ll surely know what I’m talking about. I learn here that he wasn’t always so amazing, though. In The Eternal, Walker forgets to draw backgrounds. His characters are more angular and less defined; his action unclear and poorly orchestrated. It’s not overly messy art or too off-putting, but it’s very disappointing for someone familiar with what Kev Walker can really do.
I don’t recommend this issue, unless you’re into disturbing portrayals of once fun characters. I’m not much for the grim n’gritty, so this wasn’t my cup of tea, but all you Chuck Austen fans out there might find something to enjoy.
Marvel, The Crew #7, written by Christopher Priest, drawn by Joe Bennett, 2004
Let’s end on a high note, shall we? Christopher Priest is the man—I say it all the time. His Black Panther is unlike any comic I’ve ever read and his follow-up series, The Crew, is incredibly underrated. I’d been searching for this last issue for a long, long time. It’s my honor and privilege to now review it and tell you all that, despite ending all too soon, The Crew wraps up in a tidy, bittersweet fashion.
For those uninformed, The Crew was a short-lived series that gathered a bunch of minor, urban vigilante-type characters and set them up into an uneasy team. A Warmachine-less James Rhodes gets involved with Kasper Cole (the cop who showed up at the tail-end of Priest’s Black Panther run) and Junta, a strange-talking Gambit-like rogue. Fans of Truth: Red, White & Black should read this series through to the end—Josiah X pops up and sets himself up to be a major player as well. These four characters are the key to what makes this series great. There’re four distinct personalities with motives, attitudes and stories of their own. Priest fleshes them out like the pro he is… until the doors close at this book, issue 7.
The plot revolves around our four characters trying to take down a drug ring. They each have their own reasons, but working together seems to be the only way to go. Sounds simple, but Priest isn’t one to keep things cut and dry. This is intricate Law and Order type processing combined with street level issues and superheroic solutions. It’s a heck of a lot of fun.
I wholeheartedly recommend this issue, and all issues preceding it. The Crew is a unique book, despite being built on familiar foundations. The dialogue in here is like no other, the characters are surprisingly resonant and the pace is right where I want it. Oh, and the covers were great too! This series had everything but an audience.