Remember back-up stories? Back-up stories represented the lost art of providing extra stories for the reader’s quarter (or $1.50, as is the case here). Usually back-up stories consisted of little more than five pages of fluff, of silly little yarns featuring the likes of Air Wave and the Huntress, second-rate heroes and heroines who could never support their own series but nonetheless were felt to add value to the comic for the casual reader. I guess the thought was “I’ll get two stories instead of one with this comic; therefore, I’ll buy this one. Why the average reader of The Brave and the Bold, featuring Batman team-ups, would buy the comic because of the presence of “Nemesis” as a back-up is beyond me, but the practice lasted for many years.
It was rare for the back-up to overshadow the lead feature, but it was the case for me with Coyote. This collection of issues 5 through 8 of Epic Comics’ ‘80s Coyote series reprints both the lead and the back-up stories for each issue. The lead stories are kind of baffling at times, and I’ll get to them in a minute. But the back-up strip is a real joy.
“The Djinn” is a spectacular high adventure story illustrated by Steve Leialoha and the great Steve Ditko, and is written by Steve Englehart (“The All-Steve Squad”, as Englehart dubs them). Englehart’s story is worthy of Indiana Jones, involving death traps, exotic women, scene-chewing villains, and enough narrow escapes to make Bruce Willis jealous. It also features some exquisite artwork by Ditko and Leialoha. It’s clear that Ditko was enthusiastic about this story: his line-work and figures have a real dynamism to them that makes the story zip along. Leialoha does a great job of emphasizing Ditko’s boldness, helping add even more energy to a thrilling story. Though there are only a few pages of this back-up in this volume, the wonderful Ditko art and Englehart story make it worth checking out.
Unfortunately, Chas Truog, artist of the lead story featuring Coyote, can’t help but to disappoint when placed next to Ditko. It’s not that Truog is a bad artist – as Englehart notes in his introduction, “everything Chaz draws is like a fever dream” and therefore is ideal for the story. He’s just a unique artist whose work appears alongside that of one of the most unique artists in comics history, and therefore he suffers in comparison.
It’s also nice to read Englehart’s description of the comic as a fever dream, because that’s a great description of the lead stories. It’s clear that Englehart was trying something really different with this comic. He offers a bit less exposition, a bit more stream-of-consciousness action than usual. Instead of the comic having a feeling of being objectively about the characters, with an omniscient narrator and an external view of the storyline, this feels much more subjective.
Readers see the story somehow through the eyes of Coyote, an impulsive, egotistical and mysterious Native American spirit personified in the body of something closely resembling a super-hero. This sometimes makes the story hard to follow, and I think that was part of what Englehart was going for in this comic. If Coyote was confused, the reader should be confused. If Coyote got into a situation that made him think of a Native American legend, that’s what readers get, too.
This comic asks more from readers than most comics. Readers are asked by Englehart to parse the action, to bridge gaps and make sense of what’s not explicitly mentioned. The story rewards re-readings and contemplation. That makes it a nice contrast for the much more standard back-up story.