Let us not be deluded by forms of government. The word may be republic in France, constitutional monarchy in Prussia, absolute monarchy in Austria, but the thing is the same. Wherever there is a vast standing army, the government is the government of the sword. (Benjamin Disraeli, 1852).
Adventureman #1-4 by Matt Fraction (writer), Terry Dodson (penciler/colorist), Rachel Dodson (inker), Clayton Cowles (letterer), Lauren Sankovitch (editor), and Turner Lobey (editor). $15.96, 142 pgs, Image.
I wrote about issue #1 when it came out, because it was terrific, and this continues to be a really great series. Fraction can be not very good, but he can also be brilliant, and he’s closer to the top of the scale here. His story – about a forgotten group of heroes not at all based on Doc Savage – isn’t too original, but I’m not going to get into how it’s not original, just point out that it isn’t. But who cares, because it’s still a very fun story, and stories aren’t great because of their plots, they’re great because of how the creators make the plots work, and Fraction is doing a nice job with that. He gives us a family of adopted daughters (so he can add diverse characters without it being too weird), with Claire Connell as our POV character. After she begins investigating the disappeared heroes, she begins to change into a superperson herself, and Fraction does it with the right amount of wonder and horror on her part, as she digs it but is also freaking out a bit. He brings in her family slowly, so by the time we get to the end of the arc, they’re ready to have a bigger role in the proceedings, which is good as it seems that Claire is going to need them. The villain is over-the-top but still creepy, and fits pretty well into the world of Adventureman, which makes them wildly out of place in the modern world, which is kind of the point.
Another reason this is so good is because it’s probably Dodson’s best work of his career, which is saying something as he’s been around a while and has always been good. I noted earlier that it might be because he’s coloring his own work, which allows him to control it a bit more, and he and Rachel really do well on the work, with his usual beautiful design sense and line work, a lot better use of blacks than we usually see in his work (not because he doesn’t know how to do it, but because whatever he’s working on doesn’t usually call for it), terrific hatching, and a palette that really heightens the unusual circumstances in which our characters find themselves. Usually Dodson’s work is very bright, as that’s just the kind of artist he is and colorists go along with it, but here, he mutes the colors a bit, giving us deeper blues and sickly greens, and the colors match the tone of the book perfectly. It’s very impressive work.
On more thing: You’ll note that these four issues come out to 142 pages, which is as long as 7 issues from DC or Marvel. The first issue was a whopping 56 pages, but the next three were 32, 24, and 30, so these issues feel packed because they are. The trade that’s coming out is a slightly oversized hardcover, which I’m sure will look amazing, and while it’s $25, it’s slightly cheaper than if these had been 7 issues at 4 dollars a pop, so it’s worth a look if you haven’t gotten the single issues. I know that Fraction can be slow and I’m not sure how fast Dodson is, but I can’t believe he’s all that fast, so it might be a while before we see more of the book, but it’s very cool so far and I’m looking forward to more!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Well, I guess we can count our blessings that they didn’t call it a “Spooktacular” …
This is a fun little anthology, with Ram V and Mike Perkins providing the book-end stories, one about a kid who gets lost in the swamp but is rescued by Swamp Thing, and the other about the kid, now an old man, finding Swamp Thing again and trying to figure out what his life means. It seems like DC is getting rid of Alec Holland and making someone new Swamp Thing, and Ram V and Perkins are doing a mini-series about it, so this sets it up. Whatever. Then we get some fun stories about Swamp Things through history. Philip Kennedy Johnson and Dominike Stanton do a tale about Julius Caesar in Britain and finding out some about some strange things deep in the forest. Vita Ayala and Emma Rios do a story about two sisters who take revenge on an evil landowner. There’s a story by Julian Lytle and John Timms about a Japanese soldier on a Pacific island who refuses to believe that World War II is over. James Tynion IV and Christian Ward have a story about a kid with a Spanish explorer/conquistador whose crew finds a disturbing island. All of these stories have a Swamp Thing, of course, and they’re all decent little horror tales. If I might take a page from my fellow contributor to this blog, Le Messor, who writes about Christian representation in comics, I’m always curious about the way writers kind of skirt the idea of Christianity. In two of these stories, Christians are portrayed as pretty much evil, which doesn’t really bother me – the two stories are about Spaniards in the New World, and let’s face it, they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory with the way they acted in America. However, it struck me because the characters in comics tend to believe very easily in other gods, and they see the other gods every once in a while, yet the Christian God and Jesus are never portrayed. Is it a respect thing, or is it a fear that Christians will boycott the comics if they screw up? (Which, it seems, they will no matter what they do.) The reason it’s frustrating is because the Christians in DC or Marvel comics are almost always portrayed as naïve, as if people can’t believe they would believe in something as esoteric as Jesus, yet it’s fine for Wonder Woman to believe in the Greek gods because they show up all the time. It’s a weird thing, and I wouldn’t mind reading a mini-series by a writer who takes it seriously about the beliefs of people in the DCU or Marvel U, because it’s usually not brought up. It might be interesting.
Anyway, this is a fun little book. Nothing great, but fun.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
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The problem with The Clock is its very timeliness, as Doran obliquely admits in the introduction – it’s vaguely annoying that the pandemic in this book is something that ultimately is a plot by bad guys, because of course that’s not true in the real world. It heightens the cruelty of our real world, as there’s no hero coming to save us, and the problems we’re experiencing with this virus are, to a large extent, self-inflicted, and that stupidity is costing lives. There’s nothing that Jack Davidson, the hero of this book, can do to save certain people in this book, but he can figure out why it’s happening, while in our world, there’s plenty we can do to save certain people, but we don’t do it, and nobody is going to be revealed as the mastermind behind this. I’ve never been a huge fan of pandemic stories where either things get solved pretty quickly or where there’s some Shadowy Cabal behind it all, but coming right now, it seems to hit harder, and not necessarily in a good way. Hawkins is an interesting writer, so he keeps thing moving along nicely and he always has back matter that explains where he gets some of the plot points in the comics, and of course Doran is a very good artist, so the book looks very nice, but it just doesn’t click as well as it might in a more stable world. But it might not, either. But coming out right now, it feels somewhat … insulting? It’s hard to really articulate, but in a world where sucky things just happen and we have no control over it, reading fiction that parallels the real world except that sucky things can always be traced to an evil source seems insulting somehow. Beats me.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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For some reason they changed the name of this book from Protector (which is how the single issues were released) to First Knife. First Knife isn’t as generic as Protector, but I wonder what thing named “Protector” took umbrage at this comic. Anyway, this story takes place a bit over 1000 years in the future, and we get a story about warring tribes in the Great Lakes area trying to figure out what the strange thing that just appeared in their midst is all about. Roy and Bensen do a good job creating this world, as they actually think about how this society might come about (and there are some text pieces in the book explaining some of it, too, which is neat), so it’s easier to accept the blend of Asian and Native American and Catholic and Hindu beliefs that collide in this book. There appear to be aliens, which one group worships, while another group has created an extremely bastardized form of Christianity, and there’s a foul-mouthed robotic warrior who may or may not be a man wearing an armored suit and who wants to know what the hell’s going on. It’s kind of a weird book – it feels like it should be more epic, but it appears that this is all we’re going to get, so it’s hard to care too much about the three main characters, and while it’s fascinating, it’s still hard to really love it. I assume sales weren’t great, and comics are a hard sell and weird fantasies probably even more so, but it’s too bad. Of course, Trakhanov’s busy and cartoony art is a highlight – much like the writers create an entire world, Trakhanov creates an entire visual world, and it’s really nice. The clothing is terrific, but his armored robotic thing is extremely freaky, with a sensual vibe to it that belies its armor and a visual relationship with one of the other main characters, Mari, that works really well (they’re not lovers or anything, but Trakhanov does a wonderful job visually explaining the odd relationship they do have). Trakhanov seems to do really well with fantasy books, but he keeps working on comics that don’t sell very well. Is it him? His style is very cluttered, which might put people off. More likely he’s just had bad luck, and one day he’ll get on some comic that really sells, and people will realize that he’s pretty danged good.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
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I tend not to write about manga here – I did back in the good ol’ days when I had more time to write, but not anymore – but this is the first volume of this series, and I actually read it before I had accumulated several volumes (I try to read the first volumes of manga series, but sometimes I don’t even do that and I read 2-3 in one sitting), so why not? Unfortunately (or fortunately for me, I suppose), this isn’t that good. It’s about young James Moriarty and how he became a villain, so it portrays him as kind of an anti-hero, which isn’t a bad way to go, as no one ever thinks they’re the villain, so why would Moriarty? But the actual story of who Moriarty is and where he came from is a convoluted story of adoption and murder, in which we get criticism of England’s class structure (which isn’t bad) but couched in extremely modern terms and featuring all manner of anachronistic storytelling. Moriarty is striking back against a system that keeps most of the population in servitude, but the very nature of English society at the time meant that there’s no way he could do anything he’s doing, and to blithely ignore that makes this a very weird amalgam of Victorian mores and modern attitudes toward them. It doesn’t really work, unfortunately. I get that we want to get to Moriarty on his own, “solving” crimes (which is sort of what he does, but in a rather different way than his nemesis does, which is an interesting twist), but how he gets there is unconvincing. There’s never a sense that these people actually live in the kind of society they say they do, except when we get a cartoonish villain talking about the lower classes in wildly over-the-top terms. It doesn’t help that the art is far too generic “manga” – I don’t have an issue with the style, but Miyoshi doesn’t really try to make this look like it’s taking place in the 1860s-1880s – the hair is that nice mussed look that everyone in manga has but no one in Victorian England had, and the clothes are fancy to the point that they look like costumes, like everyone in the book is cosplaying Victorian England dress. It’s frustrating. The idea of Moriarty as an anti-hero who takes on the moral façade of Victorian England (which, if we read social histories, was a lot freakier than we might expect), represented by Sherlock Holmes, is fascinating, but it’s just not handled all that well here. Oh well.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Straczynski really likes the idea of superheroes in the real world and superheroes in the real world being some kind of persecuted minority and fighting against a corrupt government. He did it in Rising Stars, and now he revisits the idea, with the second trade I’ve read this month featuring a pandemic that kills a bunch of people, but this doesn’t bother me quite as much as The Clock did, because it’s just a MacGuffin to get to the people with superpowers, as a tiny minority of the people infected with the virus becomes superpowered people. The governments of the world, unsurprisingly, are nervous about these people, and they start keeping tabs on them and trying to mainstream them (one of the plots is about a marketing company trying to turn them into easily digestible heroes and villains, which is a nice twist on professional wrestling), which leads to – wait for it – a RESISTANCE! This is honestly kind of an annoying comic, as Straczynski takes his time getting to the point, and the superpeople don’t actually do too much that’s, you know, super. They are trying to change the paradigm of power, and they resist using violence because their leader, a young woman whose sister had something to do with stopping the spread of the virus, tells them that’s just playing into the hands of the governments (which it is). The governments strike back, of course, and the book honestly only gets to the point in the final few pages, when we see what the government is willing to do and how that will shape the movement going forward. I get going for a slow burn, but there’s a balance between a slow burn and actually having the characters do stuff, and Straczynski tries to find that balance but doesn’t hit it exactly. It’s not a bad comic, certainly, but I doubt if anyone reading this cares too much about how these people got their powers. We accept spiders and gamma bombs and yellow suns giving people powers – don’t overthink it, JMS!
Deodato is still doing his soft pencils, no inking thing, which I like but which needs a good colorist to really make it work. Frank Martin, who isn’t my favorite colorist, uses too many saturated colors in the first issue, but Loughridge eases back on that a bit and the work looks more naturalistic. Martin’s not bad, just not as good as Loughridge. Deodato can still do action as well as he did back in the 1990s, but because it seems like he’s using models a bit more, occasionally his posing is a bit stiffer than it used to be. I don’t mind that artists use models, but Deodato uses far too famous ones, so Ed Harris as the president in this book is just too distracting (I’m sure there are other famous people, but I can’t quite place them, and Harris is the most famous person he uses). There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it, either – a lot of artists simply use people they know as models, but Deodato insists on using famous people. Doesn’t he know anyone? Anyway, it’s generally a nice-looking book, although I get that Deodato is not for everyone.
This is ground zero for the AWA books, and JMS clearly wants to have some kind of shared universe here, as he makes references to another comic that I’m not sure exists yet (when I write the X-Men, I will constantly make references to books that don’t exist, but everyone will be in on the joke, and I don’t think JMS is joking). But even if that other book doesn’t come out, it seems like JMS is committed to a big story, and while I don’t love him as a writer (he’s fine, but not great), I do respect his ambition. I’m curious to see how much he can pull off with this.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Patrick Kindlon continues to be a confounding writer (this is the third trade I’ve read by him in the last couple of months), as he has these interesting ideas but can’t quite pull them off. In this, we get a mega-store that is a satire of all mega-stores, one in which they actually do commit violence against anyone even suspected of shoplifting and no one really cares. There are a lot of different characters, but the main one, such as it is, is a strong-arm security officer who happens to fall through a panel in the floor and ends up in a subterranean world full of ex-employees and ex-shoppers in the mega-store. So, weird, but rife with story possibilities. Meanwhile, an executive attempts suicide but is thwarted, and this gives him a new lease on life and a great new idea for shoppers. Kindlon gives us interesting stuff with both these plots until they intersect, but he never really gives us interesting characters, so the security officer’s presence among warring factions who want to use him for their own ends doesn’t resonate all too much because there are so many characters and therefore no one registers too much, while the executive is a vile human being who seems to have a come-to-Jesus moment, but then it turns out he really doesn’t, but because there’s not enough attention on him, we never get the sense that his suicide attempt is something serious (even though it is) and so we don’t really care about his great idea. This is five issues, and it feels overstuffed, so maybe it would have worked better if it had been a bit longer. But I’m thinking it’s just a flaw in the way Kindlon writes, as he has interesting ideas but can’t quite make them work, and maybe more room isn’t what he needs. There’s just something missing from his comics, and it’s too bad. Like here, he cuts to the core of ideological differences between groups very well, and that’s something of interest, but the people talking aren’t very good characters (I don’t mean they’re “evil” people, just not well developed) so it comes off a bit as polemical, and doesn’t flow terribly well within the narrative. That’s hard to do, and one reason why I will probably keep buying Kindlon’s comics is because he’s willing to try to do all this shit instead of playing it safe, and I respect that. I just hope he gets better at balancing the interesting ideas with the ability to create characters you care about (again, not that they’re “good,” but that they’re compelling even if they’re “evil”). That would be nifty.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
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I began reading this and my heart sank a little bit, as Morris name-drops Ernest Hemingway on the first page of the foreword, in the first paragraph even, which is some next-level shit there, and I thought that this history would be a bit like Hemingway’s writing, which I like but which is also very much of its time. I thought it would be of its time anyway, as it was published in 1965, and Morris, while a good historian, is still a white man in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the book is really not that bad in regard to any racism or condescension. Morris calls the Zulus “savages” a bit too often for my taste, but what you can’t really suss out is whether he’s using it as a term the British would use against them (as in, “I can’t believe we’re losing to these bloody savages!!!!”) or if it’s a term he uses because he believes they were savages. Probably a little of both, and it’s also possible he was just using the argot of the times, because it’s clear that he does admire the Zulus on many levels, even if he shows the many flaws in the way their kings ran their kingdom.
This is a massive book, and Morris really gets into the weeds, so to speak. It feels like he goes a bit too far, but you can’t say he’s not comprehensive, and I do appreciate it even if it’s a bit meandering. I’ve never read a book that gets into the beginning of the Dutch presence in South Africa and how they expanded outward from Cape Town, but Morris does, and it’s very interesting. Similarly, he goes into the expansion southward of the native Africans and how the Zulus came to be where they eventually ended up. One thing that is fascinating but not harped on too much is that in the area where the Dutch – now the Boers – and Africans came into contact – along the Great Kei River in southeastern South Africa, neither were native to the region, and the Boers had been in Africa so long that they considered themselves indigenous, and the tribes in the area hadn’t been there all that long themselves, so it casts the conflict into a more interesting and less racist/colonialist light (not that the Boers weren’t racist – they were, in fact, super-racist – but they weren’t colonizing a land where the natives had lived for thousands of years, is my point). He gets into how the British ended up in the area, and only then does he begin to discuss Shaka and the founding of the Zulu kingdom. He then shows how the Zulus dealt with the British between Shaka’s murder in 1828 and the beginning of the Zulu War 50 years later. The Zulus were the most successful tribe in the region, but they weren’t the only one, and Morris does a nice job getting into how the British tried to deal with the many tribes both under their purview (in Natal, one of the colonies that later made up the Union of South Africa) and not under the direct rule (in the Zulu area and in the Boer nations). Eventually, they decided to go to war with the Zulus, so in the best white colonizer tradition, they goaded the Zulus into a small confrontation, sent them a ridiculous ultimatum that not only could they not accept but perhaps didn’t even understand, gave them almost no time to respond to said ultimatum, and then, with their conscience clear, invaded. Perhaps the only reason anyone cares about the Zulu War is because the Zulus managed to do what almost no native tribe was able to do, and that’s inflict a massive military defeat on the British as Isandhlwana, where they destroyed an unprepared British force. The British regrouped a few miles away at Rorke’s Drift, which was a ford across the river border between the Zulu nation and Natal, and their defense of the ford became the stuff of legend and resulted in a bunch of Victoria Crosses for the defenders. The Zulus were able to defeat a few other British units during the brief war, but basically once the British got their heads out of their asses and took the Zulus seriously, they easily defeated them and destroyed the independence of the tribe (although they tried to keep up the pretense of independence for a time). It’s an interesting story, but the Zulus were never really a threat to stop the British from doing what they wanted.
Morris, as I mentioned, gets really into the details of the story. He goes over the various and many units of the British army in South Africa, and he does the same for the Zulus. He explains how the Zulus ordered their society and how they ran their kingdom. He spends, I shit you not, just over 100 pages on the attack at Isandhlwana and the defense of Rorke’s Drift, which is impressive, to say the least. He seems to have a healthy quasi-contempt for the Zulus, the Boers, and the British, as nobody really covers themselves in glory with regard to the way South Africa became a country. He does single out certain people on the British side who tried their best to make the weird configuration of peoples work, but it’s harder to do with the Zulus, as they didn’t leave any writing behind and he has to rely on what others wrote about them. Therefore, while he gets into the society of Natal quite a bit, he can’t do the same for the Zulus, because their society was, yes, more “primitive” than that of the British, and no Zulu kept a diary or wrote a book about their society, so he can’t access that. On the plus side, Morris does know a great deal about the language, and he always makes it clear what the Zulus might have meant in their speech and why the British misunderstood and why they should have listened to those who knew the language, so, again, he tries to be as even-handed as a white dude writing in the 1950s and 1960s can be. He also writes a bit about the reaction in England to the war, as no one cared about it until a British army got exterminated, and then there was an international frenzy when Louis-Napoleon, the only son of Napoleon III, was killed in a skirmish in June, five months after Isandhlwana, after he pressured the British government into letting him tag along with the army, as he thought some martial experience would make him look good for a possible attempt to restore his father’s empire. His death is an extremely minor footnote in history, but Morris, like he does everything else, goes over it in exhaustive detail.
This is an interesting if a bit difficult book to get through. Morris’s style is fairly dry, and his tone is very even, which is fine for objectivity but makes the reading of it a bit tough. It’s exhaustively researched, though, and a very good source for the time period and subject matter (Morris doesn’t completely ignore the Boers, for example, because he can’t, but he doesn’t get into their society all that much, because it’s not a book about the Boers). I enjoyed it even though it’s not the greatest book, because most books I’ve read about South Africa focus far more on the British-Boer conflicts that shaped the region, and mention the Zulu War as only a sidebar (you can’t really write a history of South Africa without mentioning Isandhlwana/Rorke’s Drift, but usually it’s only for a page or two). As you can see from the cover, I bought this at the marvelous Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association book sale, the superb event held each February at the state fairgrounds in Phoenix, so I don’t know if it’s still in print or not. You might not be able to run right out and get this now like you want to!!!!!!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Once & Future #7-12 by Kieron Gillen (writer), Dan Mora (artist), Tamra Bonvillain (colorist), Ed Dukeshire (letterer), and Matt Gagnon (editor). $23.94, 132 pgs, Boom! Studios.
Gillen continues to explore the idea of English/British myths, as his Zombie King Arthur decides to call up Beowulf to deal with the troublesome people who are trying to stop him from taking over Great Britain and purging it of the non-native (meaning, non-Celtic) elements. This leads to Grendel and Grendel’s mother showing up, of course, and it’s interesting seeing how our hero Duncan and his grandmother will figure out how they should stop the monsters based on the actual poem, because that’s how Gillen is treating this, like another myth, so whatever works the first time should work the second. Gillen continues to be awfully brutal about the book, as characters are killed in horrific fashion (including Simon Pegg as Nicholas Angel, poor fella), but that’s part of what makes the book good – not that nobody is safe, because Duncan ain’t going anywhere, but that the world has become dangerous, and it’s starting to affect the “norms.” We get a glimpse at how the government keeps this from spilling into the “real” world, but it’s obviously becoming increasingly difficult.
Mora and Bonvillain continue their superb work on the book, and I’m glad Mora is still on it and I hope he’s committed to staying on it. His Beowulf is fine, but his Grendel and Grendel’s Mom are wonderful, and he’s just terrific at the action scenes as Duncan and his grandmother desperately try to stop them from wreaking havoc. Bonvillain continues to get better, too, as she uses really nice blues and greens to set a somber tone but then crashes into that with reds and yellows, showing the violence breaking through from the mystical world. She also uses eerie blotches of fluorescence throughout to show, again, how the worlds are colliding. I’m pretty sure I own some of Bonvillain’s first comics work, and she’s just gotten better and better over the years.
So this is a nifty comic, and it seems like Gillen has an interesting story plotted out. No reason not to stick with it!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
This is a fun twist on the “regular person becomes superhero/witch/savior of the world” in that the person who becomes the savior is an old, grumpy woman instead of a young person, which is usually the case in these kinds of stories (see Once & Future above). Plus, unlike these kinds of stories (see Once & Future above), the wise mentor is really not that wise, as this is her first time doing one of these kinds of things. So there’s a lot of potential for humor here, and McCourt does quite well with that. She brings in gentrification as well, and while she doesn’t do a ton with that and simplifies it far too much, it’s still not a bad way to show the banality of evil and how it might get into a world. She makes a silly misstep toward the end, as something happens that’s supposed to be shocking but, because we don’t really know so much about the characters, doesn’t move the meter as much as McCourt would like, but despite being a misstep, it’s a bold move, and shows that she’s committing to subverting these kinds of stories. Lee’s art is rough and a bit stiff, but it’s otherwise quite good. She gets to have fun with the shoggoth-esque creature that menaces our hero, and she does a good job with both Lottie Thorn and Lady Peruvia, because they look elderly and therefore Lottie’s newfound abilities come as a bit of a surprise.
This is a fun if inconsequential tale, but it would be interesting to see if McCourt has more stories about Lottie and Peruvia up her sleeve. I’d read them!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Blackhand & Ironhead volume 1 by David López (writer/artist), Nayoung Kim (colorist), and Stephen Blanford (translator). There’s a “script tutor” and several “adapters for the American audience” listed, which is kind of weird. $24.99, 141 pgs, Image.
I’ve been a fan of López’s art for years now, so I figured this would look good, as it does – López is a terrific superhero artist, and this is a superhero story. I figured his writing was probably decent – I’ve never read anything by him – so even if the story was a bit weak, the art would still make everything worth it. Luckily, the story is pretty good, too, as López gives us a hero who has managed to make the world safe from supervillains, but when he dies, his daughter discovers he had a second daughter with another woman who, naturally, has a slightly different view of her dad. The neglected child – Amy Camus – crashes the hero’s funeral, and the plot kicks off from that, as the first daughter – Alexia Ross (coincidence?) – doesn’t take kindly to it. López makes sure to take his time with the characters, as they don’t exactly hate each other but they certainly don’t like each other for some time, and even as they are forced to work with each other and learn more about each other and their father, they don’t become besties all of a sudden. It’s a nice story about how people learn to become friends, which is neat. Of course there’s a grand plot and of course the father isn’t exactly what he seems, and the big plot is entertaining and action-filled, but the best parts of the book are when Amy and Alexia are forced to talk to each other, because López does a very good job giving each an interesting voice and point of view. Alexia is obsessed with her weight, as she wants to be a superhero and therefore thinks she needs to fit into spandex very well, while Amy is dealing with all the abandonment issues you’d expect from someone whose father knocked up her mother and never came back. So while the plot is fun, the way López digs into the girls relating to each other is the real heart of the book.
His art is excellent, too – he has a nice fluid line that makes him a fine superhero artist, so we get really nice action in this book, as well as solid choreography. López creates a nice world, too, one where superheroes obviously exist and so it feels a bit more “futuristic” than ours (it might take place in the future, but we never know, it’s just that if superheroes existed, you’d think there would be people creating better ways to live, too) without being too crazy. His characters are interesting, and with Alexia and Amy in particular (he does this with everyone, but they’re the stars), he really does nice work with their non-verbal communication, as Alexia is obviously worried that her perfect world is coming apart and Amy is fretting that her new sister might not be the evil person she thinks she is. We’ve seen the “real-world superheroes” thing so many times, but if an artist can have an interesting twist on it, it’s appreciated, and López does a nice job imagining a world where superheroes have an impact.
This claims it’s “volume 1,” but it does tell a complete story in case López doesn’t get back to it. It’s a nifty superhero story, but it’s also a story about growing up and how to make friends. That’s nice if the writer can pull it off, and López does pretty well.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I don’t really have a ton to say about these almost 40-year-old comics – it’s DeMatteis doing his thing, which is always good, it’s not quite Peak Zeck but it’s still wonderful, and the fact that he drew most of the book is a huge plus, and they’re just very fun superhero comics, with DeMatteis trying to reconcile the 1950s Captain America and even a few others years before Kurt Busiek decided he could integrate every weird thing in Marvel history, a Defenders crossover, appearances by Zemo, Baron von Strucker, Vermin, Scarecrow, Viper and Hydra, but no Red Skull, thankfully, and Sam Wilson coming to terms with his “Snap” persona, which remains one of the more befuddling things in Marvel history. Steve Rogers is dating Bernie Rosenthal, who figures out he’s Captain America, but I don’t know what happened there because it happened after this collection is over. There’s Captain America confronting Nazis during a time when we didn’t like Nazis instead of, you know, voting for them, so that was refreshing. Generally, it’s just a good bunch of comics. What I wanted to say was that in issue #267 (which came out, maybe, in December 1981 or January 1982), this person shows up:
Now, at this time, famed future editor Karen Berger was, it seems, already working in comics, so it’s not impossible that DeMatteis could have known about her and put her in there for fun (Berger is also blonde, so that works). I have taken to Twitter to find out if it’s just a coincidence (it’s not like it’s that uncommon a name), so stay tuned!
And … we’re back, and J.M. DeMatteis has responded on Twitter that it is, indeed, future famed editor Karen Berger and not a coincidence. So that’s fun:
Yes, he did.
— J.M. DeMatteis (@JMDeMatteis) November 11, 2020
Then, in issue #268, Steve gives us his unvarnished opinion of what is now regarded as a classic movie:
Dang, Steve, tell us how you really feel!
So yes, these comics are good, solid superhero comics. And, of course, the best parts of them are when Steve isn’t wearing the costume. Isn’t that always the way?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel: Well, I just gave you two good ones, so let’s move on!
Brian Joines is a pretty good writer, so I thought I’d like this, and I did. Funny how that works out. Joines gives us “Death Race 2000 with Time Machines,” basically, as a mysterious individual offers several people with black marks on their souls (and records) a chance to wipe them away if they win a race. Alyson Levy is our POV character, a getaway driver with a tragedy in her past that she tries to drown in alcohol. The race is 30 miles long, which everyone thinks is dumb until they begin and are suddenly transported to a land full of dinosaurs, and it turns out that each stage of the race is through a different era in history, offering different challenges. For every leg, there’s a “checkpoint” where they’re safe, and all they have to do is reach it safely. Of course, Joines assembles the usual cast of suspects in these kinds of stories – morally shady people who don’t like each other but will also stick together if some outsider tries to mess with them, so they realize they might have to ally with the others to get through it. Which, of course, the mysterious individual who runs the race has already thought of! It’s a slightly goofy story, but Joines does a nice job playing it straight and making the characters interesting enough that it’s a bit sad when they die (not the first few who get eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, because they’re just there for shock value, but in later chapters, it’s actually a bit tense worrying who’s going to die). I’m not entirely sure Greek soldiers in medieval Constantinople would be as nonplussed at seeing automobiles as these seem to be, but that’s a minor point.
I’ve never seen Elphick’s work before, but it’s really good. It reminds me a bit of Greg Tocchini and Tony Harris, who are also very good, so that’s nice. He has a good, fluid line, so the action moves briskly and beautifully, and he and Garback do a wonderful job with the dinosaurs, both with the actual creatures and the setting. I’m the slightest bit disappointed with his Constantinople and his East Berlin, because they’re not as detailed and they look a bit generic, but his characters make up for it, because they’re all very intriguing-looking and they interact with each other well. I’m glad to find another artist to like!
I don’t know how long Joines is planning this for. It seems like it won’t last more than 5-10 more issues (probably 5, as this collection is 5 issues long), but we shall see. This beginning stage is certainly enjoyable!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? by Matt Fraction (writer), Steve Lieber (artist), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), and Scott Nybakken (collected edition editor). $29.99, 277 pgs, DC.
I began this post writing about Matt Fraction’s excellent Adventureman, and now I’m going to end this post by writing about … Matt Fraction’s excellent Jimmy Olsen. Man, that dude is on fire this year, isn’t he? I’ve been a fan of Fraction’s for many years, so much so that I used to write poetic odes to Casanova (seriously, how brilliant is Casanova?), but recently he’s been spinning his wheels writing Sex Criminals (blech) and other things that haven’t been as good, and I was sad. Maybe now he has his mojo back, because, seriously, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? is 12+ issues (there’s a prologue!) of sheer comics amazement. We begin with Jimmy in Gorilla City, waking up married to a pan-dimensional jewel thief, taking care of a blood-vomiting cat (that may or may not be the one from that Red Lantern thing but even if it is, Fraction and Lieber manage to make it tons o’ fun, unlike that other blood-vomiting cat), and it just gets wackier from there. Ostensibly, this book is about Jimmy trying to figure out who wants to murder him, but the culprit is fairly obvious if not from the very beginning then at least from not even halfway through, but it doesn’t really matter, because this is really about who Jimmy Olsen is, why he acts the way he does, and why Superman is friends with him. That, and Fraction wants to go on an insane tour of the DC Universe in all its bizarre glory. He tells the tale out of sequence, which just adds to the enjoyment because it’s a lot of fun keeping up (and it’s tightly plotted, too, so Fraction must have had a lot of note cards or a “crazy string board” to keep it all straight, much like Jimmy does in this comic) and the jokes come fast and furious (if you don’t like one, don’t worry – there are probably a few more on that very page). Some people might not like Fraction’s take on Batman, who’s psychotic one moment and bummed because no one finds him funny the next, but in small doses it’s brilliant, and it’s not like he’s not still a great detective. Fraction doesn’t just have fun with Batman – he gives us a wonderful take-down of the “Reign of the Supermen” thing that DC did after Supes died, and he takes down Clark Kent and Lex Luthor a peg, as well. None of it is really cruel, just hilarious satire, and it makes some of the more subtle humor land better, too. Fraction mocks our own internet culture, too, as the more outrageous Jimmy gets on-line, the more successful he is and the less able Perry White is to fire him, because he’s the only part of the Daily
Bugle Planet that’s making any money. This is just such a fun read. A good part of that is Lieber, whose work is stellar. He easily gives us all the silliness, from Jimmy wearing Metamorpho as underwear to Bruce Wayne on a date with a vapid “influencer” (named Gliminny, because why not?), but he’s a terrific Batman artist, both with imposing Batman and sad Batman, and his Superman is clean, fit but not buff, and classic. His “Reign of the Supermen” characters are wonderfully goofy, and he even changes his style when he does flashbacks to Jimmy’s childhood, making those scenes look like something out of “The Family Circus” or “Peanuts.” Lieber has been drawing great comics for what, 25 years, but because he’s not super-flashy, he’s never been a top-tier guy. That’s too bad, because not only is he a hell of a nice guy, he’s a superb and versatile artist, and it would be nice if more people sought out his work.
This is in the running for best comic of the year – it’s just so packed with goodness, both on the writing side and the art side. It’s the kind of book that DC ought to do more of – I don’t necessarily mean the humor, although that’s never a bad thing, but I mean getting some good people to write short things without worrying about the bigger picture. They’re doing a lot of Black Label stuff with good creators, but those seem to be kind of gloomy (maybe not the Palmiotti/Connor Harley Quinn book, but a lot of the others). I hope this book, and the Lois Lane one, and even the Amethyst one, sell pretty well, because I’d love it if DC did these kinds of books more often. We’ll see. In the meantime, I can’t recommend this enough!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
(More than) One totally Airwolf panel:
Let’s take a look at the money I’m spending on comics these days:
7 October: $172.59
14 October: $259.43
21 October: $83.23
28 October: $186.45
Total for the month: $701.70
Well, that’s certainly something.
I apologize for this post being so late. Recently I’ve been in a bit of a funk, and I’m not sure why. I don’t think it had anything to do with the election; as I have noted, who the president is doesn’t really make much of a difference to me, and while I’m thoroughly glad we don’t have to hear about the Orange-Faced Wannabe Dictator anymore (I don’t know if people in other countries realize this, but it’s exhausting trying to keep up with all the foolishness that comes out of that man’s turnip he calls a brain), I don’t think Biden is the Savior We Need Right Now, although I’m not really looking for that in a president. I think my funk might be due to the weather – we’ve been having some weird peaks and troughs in the temperature, as we veer through autumn from the high 80s/low 90s into the high 50s/low 60s over the course of a few days. I think it’s been messing with my nose, which isn’t the best part of my body at the best of times, and I’ve been sleeping poorly, so I’m exhausted during the day, and then I don’t want to think to type (some people might say my posts show no evidence of thinking, but that would be mean). So it took me a lot longer to do this, and I didn’t even get to absolutely everything I got in October (nothing too amazing, just solid collections). So I apologize. I love writing about comics, but man, it’s a lot of work, yo! 🙂
As you might have noticed, we had an election here in the States, and things went about as we expected. We could figure that Biden would win the popular vote, and he did, getting more votes than any candidate in history. Our current Fool-in-Chief got the second-most votes in history, and he still lost by a decent margin. And, of course, he is challenging the election results, even though every single one of the Administration’s lawsuits about voter fraud has been thrown out so far, sometimes hilariously (the judges seem to be Over This Shit so much that they’re not even trying to hide their disdain). A democracy only works when the losers admit it, said some famous person, and that’s what’s depressing about this. As fun as it would be to see Biden arrest the White House trespasser on 20 January, it’s not healthy for our country if it happens, because 70 million people still think the Leaning President of Pizza is legitimate, and who knows what they’ll do if he doesn’t get his “day in court.” Jeebus. My crazy conservative friends on Facebook (those who haven’t gone off to Parler, because they need a “safe space”) are already predicting doom and gloom for the Biden presidency, even though they weren’t all that affected by an Obama presidency, and Biden isn’t going to be much different from him. People are, to coin a phrase, fucking nuts.
I don’t have much else to say – nothing too fun, unfortunately, has been happening recently. We had a small Covid scare a few weeks ago – my daughter was sitting in front of a kid at school who didn’t feel well one day and stayed home the next, and then she came home feeling lousy. They were both wearing masks and he wasn’t too close, but you know. So we got her tested and it came back negative, which was nice. She was just sick in some way, I guess, but my wife has a terrible immune system, so we certainly don’t want it anywhere near us (although my wife is convinced she had it in late December, and I’m inclined to think she’s right). Mask-wearing in Arizona seems to be going well, as far as I can tell, although I don’t go out too much, so I can’t say for sure. I know cases are going up all over the place, so be safe, everyone. It doesn’t seem too hard to avoid getting Covid, but at least we can be smart and cautious, right? Unless you want to go to a rally for the Soon-To-Be-Ex-Prez or even a celebration for the new prez (my crazy conservative friend, who doesn’t think Covid is all that bad, was of course criticizing the people celebrating, and while I tend to agree with him, at the very least most of the people I saw were wearing masks). Have fun with that.
Anyway, thanks for reading, everyone, and I hope you can find some fun comics in this post that you might have missed. I have a link down below for the Jimmy Olsen book, but feel free to use that link for anything you might be buying, as we get a tiny piece of it. Have a nice day, everyone, and fret not – we’ll all get through this!