But first, some perspective. Thirty years ago, during the summer of 1976, I was reading the exploits of Manhunter in Secret Society of Super-Villains; Jonah Hex in Weird Western Tales (Hex would graduate to his own title by the end of the year; Scalphunter would become WWT‘s headliner); Sgt. Rock in Our Army at War (OAAW would change to Sgt. Rock at the beginning of 1977); Plastic Man, Mike Grell’s The Warlord, Claw the Unconquered, Jack Kirby’s The Eternals, Freedom Fighters, and Metal Men.
This past weekend I read current or recent issues of Manhunter, Jonah Hex, Joe Kubert’s Sgt. Rock, Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man, The Warlord, and Red Sonja/Claw. On tap for later this summer: Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr.’s The Eternals, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, and Metal Men Archives, Volume 1. Everything old is new again. I’m almost forty-five feeling almost fifteen, and there’s more to come to make me feel young. End of perspective.
Now on to my initial comments on some of the other comics I read over the past weekend (June 9-11). I emphasize the word “initial,” because I’m already having reassessment thoughts on a couple of these titles, so my opinions and grades may change down the line. But if I do not work first impressions and observations out of my system right away, I will go mad.
Loveless. 2006. Vertigo/DC Comics. (By Brian Azzarello, Marcelo Frusin, and Danijel Zezelj.) Wasn’t Dr. Miguelito Loveless Jim West’s nemesis in The Wild, Wild West? That’s what I thought, so that’s what I thought Loveless was about, the ‘true’ story of Dr. Loveless given the Vertigo twist by Azzarello. Oops! What was I thinking? a naughty Western about the sparkling husband and wife team of Wes and Rose Cutter in post-Civil War America, with a hard-boiled, soft-porn taste to it (check out the ‘climax’ of issue seven if you don’t believe me). Not very love-less to me. Honestly, I’m not sure if I “get” this comic, but I do like, up to a point, cutting through Azzarello’s prolonged-misdirection-dialogue. Regular, extended, and few and far between conversations only come into play long enough to help explain things. Then there are these flashbacks from the past that play out while the present is going on, and Azzarello is really making demands of the reader when he unfolds matters this way. I give it high marks for style and great artwork, but Clueless is what this title is gonna become if Azzarello doesn’t get beyond the clever storytelling techniques and just tell the damn story. B
All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder #4. July, 2006. DC Comics. (By Frank Miller and Jim Lee.) It was a grey and dismal weekend morning. For escape, this comics reader perused All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #4. Suddenly, there were the sounds of a symbolic train wreck in ye reader’s mind. Suddenly, the Bat Cave stretched out to the horizon. While thousands of Frank Miller fans spent their hard-earned dough, the arrogant Bruce Wayne/Batman lived in luxury. Meanwhile, after a long road trip that spanned many months and issues, a twelve-year-old boy finally got out of the Batmobile. The day grew greyer, and the hospitalized bleeding woman apparently died. The iconic superhero with the red cape came into view. Could it be that the symbolic train wreck was tied to the very comic said reader was perusing, and that he was making an important discovery on the oft-times disastrous nature of deconstructive comics storytelling? Had he finally awakened to the comic’s true direction, only to groan softly? Or was there more to Miller’s depiction of Batman than met the eye? This reader frowned, admitting only additional issues would tell. Suddenly, Superboy-Prime threw one of his last punches. It was a grey and dismal weekend morning. For escape, I perused Ganges #1. For reasons I do not understand, I felt much better. (With apologies to Charles M. Schulz) C+
The Fate of the Artist. 2006. First Second. (By Eddie Campbell.) Oh, my God, when I first started reading this book I thought what pretentious, self-indulgent, albeit compelling, balderdash from an artist I truly admire; Campbell’s taken some kind of four-color Morrissey route, only Eddie cleverly wallows in a crisis of artistic faith while subtlely projecting light at the end of the tunnel the whole time. Campbell, like Morrissey, has a following that absolutely does not mind buying into the creative and personal despair, myself included. Yet the further I read along and into it, and the more accustomed and familiar I became with his successful experiments in storytelling techniques, the more I realized how much I was enjoying, appreciating, and learning from The Fate of the Artist. It worked, like any good to great Morrissey album. At the end I understood Campbell a lot more and myself a little better. A major accomplishment on both parts, if I may be so boldly pretentious and self-indulgent. A
Superboy #194. April, 1973. DC Comics. (By Leo Dorfman, Bob Brown, and Murphy Anderson.) Gaaa?to wake up in the morning and remember that in the new DC Universe one Superboy is dead and the other is evil? it’s enough to drive me to a simpler time, when it was the ongoing adventures of Superman when he was a boy! In this issue, Superboy is captured by a renegade scientist from Atlantis, who transforms the Boy of Steel into a mer-boy (and he does get better)! A self-contained (23 pages), action-packed, cleanly illustrated, densely plotted gem of a tale that unintentionally foreshadows the Superboy of the post-Crisis On Infinite Earths era when our hero develops a new power, telekinesis! Oh, man, even nostalgia has betrayed me! A-
Shadowpact #1. July, 2006. (By Bill Willingham.) One year ago in a world with no Batman, Wonder Woman, and a powerless Superman?a perfectly powered Superman shows up for a portion of this story anyway. Sigh. Be that as it may, I love this book. It’s a devout DC fan’s dream magical team. You’ve got Detective Chimp, who debuted in the 1950s; Nightshade, The Enchantress, and Nightmaster, all introduced in the 1960s; Ragman, who premiered in the 1970s (thirty years ago as a matter of fact); and the relatively new kid on the block, Blue Devil, a mid-’80s baby. Plus you have guest appearances by Green Lantern Hal Jordan, the Phantom Stranger, Rex the Wonder Dog, and Valda of Arak fame; Willingham story and art; vile villains casting a hideous threat; and straight-ahead, entertaining super-team storytelling. Y’see? It can be done right. B+