What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – September 2019

“Wait a bit,” said the old man, and showed Pierre a globe. This globe was alive – a vibrating ball without fixed dimensions. Its whole surface consisted of drops closely pressed together, and all these drops moved and changed places, sometimes several of them merging into one, sometimes one dividing into many. Each drop tried to spread out and occupy as much space as possible, but others striving to do the same compressed it, sometimes destroyed it, and sometimes merged with it.

“That is life,” said the old teacher.

“How simple and clear it is,” thought Pierre. “How is it I did now know it before?” (Leo Tolstoy, from War and Peace)

Sigh. I really love reviewing comics, but life is always getting in the way, and now we’re a week into October, and if I scan panels this might take another day (depending on how much time I find today to do it), so no panels this month. I apologize! Let’s get to the reviews, at least!

The Immortal Hulk volume 4: Abomination (Marvel).

Al Ewing’s first arc of Immortal Hulk was amazing, and the second and third volumes were pretty good, but not quite as good as the first one. With volume 4, it’s back to being amazing, and while I can’t imagine Ewing can keep this going too much longer (maybe 30-35 issues?) and there’s definitely going to have to be a reset button, it’s still a terrific horror/adventure comic, and Ewing is really pulling out all the stops. He’s using Bushwacker as his main assassin (he’s working for a Shadowy Gubb’ment Organization, or SGO), and while Bushwacker has to lose, I’ve always thought he was a really cool villain, and for someone like the Hulk, who has his own body dysmorphic issues, Bushwacker is an interesting foil (not that he’s all that good at stopping the Hulk, but he might be good at stopping Banner … if Ewing hadn’t done something with Banner that makes that unlikely). We also get Joe Fixit, who’s always nice to see, and Betty Ross has become … something else (I’m sure someone knows when that happened, but it ain’t me), and then the Abomination turns up, altered in a horrible and terrifying way, and things aren’t great for the Jade Giant. Joe Bennett, who manages to draw the entire arc (he’s been pretty good at keeping up throughout this run), is doing brilliant work (the best of his career?), especially when it comes to the Abomination, who’s, well, abominable. But Bennett also draws Banner’s transformation into the Hulk in the most disgusting way possible, which is both appropriate for the tone of the book and also something that more artists should do, because it’s not like it’s pleasant. Both Ewing and Bennett are really at the top of their games here, and I hope Marvel ignores them while they finish this epic, because whenever the Big Shots get involved, the comics suffer. Don’t look over at the Hulk comic, Joey Q! Nothing to see here!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Judge Dredd: The Small House (Rebellion/2000AD).

I bought this mainly because I like Rob Williams and Henry Flint doesn’t do nearly enough American comics work, so while I’ve never been the hugest fan of Judge Dredd, when good creators work on him, I will check it out! This is a good little story – not too epic, but weird in the right places, as “ghosts” kill a witness in a locked room and Dredd and some of his allies have to figure out how and why. The POV character is actually Judge Sam, a younger judge who was the only survivor of a space mission that is somehow tied to the dead witness. It becomes a story about massive government corruption, and the villain’s end game is a bit too familiar, but it’s a nasty little piece of work, and it’s always interesting to see Dredd working with a team (in the stories I’ve read, he’s either solo or with one other judge, but here he has several allies). Flint’s art is terrific, of course – he does a nice job with the massive scale of Mega-City One but also with the dark corners of it, and his characters are unique and interesting. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this is a nifty little Dredd story by two talented dudes. So that’s fun!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother (Titan Comics).

As Max Allan Collins points out in the introduction, these are not the earliest Ms. Tree stories, as these are the ones that he and Terry Beatty began when they went to DC in 1990, so the stuff from the 1980s isn’t here. That’s okay, though, because the first mystery gets us up to speed, and there doesn’t seem to be too much to get up to speed on, anyway (this is the first Ms. Tree stuff I’ve ever read). I don’t know if I have much to say about these comics. They’re very solid detective fiction, not quite as pulpy as I thought they’d be, but still entertaining. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Beatty’s art, but that’s not to say it’s not solid, because it is. The “cleverness” of Ms. Tree, her dead husband, and her dead husband’s son all being named “Michael” is annoying, but what are you going to do? Collins makes sure each story is a single mystery, but he also has reoccurring characters, so we get a sense of Ms. Tree’s world, which is nice. I do like the fact that following the trend of 1980s television shows, Ms. Tree is not a down-on-her-luck P.I. but a very successful one, not unlike Maddie Hayes or Laura Holt. So that’s a refreshing change. Collins also does a good job of showing the issues women had to face in the 1980s and 1990s without emphasizing it so much, so it’s part of the stories but also gives some biting critiques of society. Of course, he makes Ms. Tree pregnant late in the book, which is annoying because Collins writes her as a man thinking he knows what’s going on with women, so of course she has always wanted a baby because her “biological clock” is ticking and she’s almost 40. It would be far too radical if she simply didn’t want kids, right? But that’s fine – it’s a weird place to take the character, who doesn’t seem all that maternal in the pre-pregnancy stories, but whatever. These are just good, solid detective stories, and I’m glad I finally got to read them!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Amazing Spider-Man: Going Big (Marvel).

It doesn’t seem particularly hard to write a good Spider-Man story. I know that Dan Slott and now Nick Spencer have been getting accolades for their work with the character, and that’s great, because Spidey has always been one of my favorite Marvel characters, but that doesn’t mean I want to pay 4 bucks for the series every month or even that I want to keep up in trade, because it seems like there’s just so much going on that I can’t even begin to fathom. But again, as a character, Spider-Man is excellent, and single-issue stories with the character don’t seem that hard. Marvel is doing these one-shots and weird events for their 80th anniversary, and somebody smart at Marvel said, “Why don’t we call Gerry Conway and see what he’s up to?” and someone else smart at Marvel didn’t immediately say “Who?” and/or “Why would we want an old person writing our cool characters?” So Conway teams up with Mark Bagley to give us a perfectly solid Spider-Man story. Conway comes up with a timely problem – Mary Jane’s cousin, Kristy, stupidly decided to pursue a story about human trafficking (she’s not stupid for wanting to write the story, just stupid for thinking she could get it without getting into a lot of trouble, especially as she presumably knows that super-villains exist in her world), she disappeared, and now Peter has to find her. There’s a villain actually called “Coyote” (people who smuggle illegal immigrants across the border are called “coyotes,” in case you don’t live in a border state and don’t know that) who’s working with the bad guys, and he dresses literally nothing like a coyote, as he looks like a three-eyed Venom with the Spot’s powers. He causes some problems (I’ve always liked the Spot’s powers, despite the one-trick-pony-ness of them), but nothing that Spidey can’t handle, and we get a nice adventure with some decent political messages (I suppose it’s a bit controversial, but only if you think we should keep refugees in cages, in which case I don’t think Conway cares), and we get a nice cameo guest (whose identity is really not hard to figure out at all). Just a good Spidey story. Plus, for your extra dollar, Ralph Macchio and Todd Nauck have a quick vignette about Peter facing down a bully, and Uncle Ben shows up with his never-wrong-and-always-homespun wisdom (man, I’d love to read a story where Peter reminisces about some advice Ben gave him that was so, so wrong – “Never trust the gays, Peter – they’ll try to recruit you!!!!”). Finally, Erik Larsen returns to the character with a fun 10-page story that has Peter talking to the antagonist but really talking to us about how “he” (in the story, Peter is talking about himself, but it’s clear Larsen is talking about himself) is back and how everyone missed him. Larsen is one of the most distinctive artists the comic has ever had, so it’s fun to see him working on Spidey again. Given what’s been seen recently in Savage Dragon, I suppose we should be grateful Peter doesn’t have explicit sex with Mary Jane or even the villain in this story. That would have been bold of Marvel!

So yeah. I don’t know if and when Marvel is going to collect all these one-shots, so it might be good to scoop it up. Why wouldn’t you want to read a good Conway Spider-Man story and a good Larsen Spider-Man story?!?!?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Moon Knight Annual #1 (Marvel).

Here’s another weird Marvel one-shot. Moon Knight currently does not have a regular series, so of course we get an “annual” instead of just a “special,” because that makes sense. It’s labeled as “Acts of Evil,” hearkening back to Marvel’s now-quaint quasi-crossover in the late 1980s, “Acts of Vengeance”* (the lettering is the same), when heroes fought other heroes’ villains (it’s quaint because now, the idea of heroes having particular villains that no other hero ever fights is largely a fiction of the past, although it’s not completely gone), and Marvel has released some other “annuals” under this umbrella, as well (none of the others looked that interesting, though). They adhere to the spirit of that long-ago crossover, though, as Moon Knight fights Kang the Conqueror, who, when he first appears, monologues an introduction that ends with him calling himself “Kang the Conqueror” in a different font. I want to have an appellation affixed to my name (a cool one, not like Charles the Fat or Æthelred the Unready) so I can announce it when I introduce myself, and does the different font make his words sound different? I’ve always wondered that. Anyway, this is a fairly standard “Chase the bad guy across ______ (in this case, time itself) on a scavenger hunt” that writers like for one-shots like this, because nothing really changes and it’s fun to do, and Cullen Bunn and Ibrahim Moustafa do an okay job with it. The biggest problem I have with the book is that Bunn has a bunch of Moon Knights from throughout history, going back an ur-Moon Knight who inexplicably pre-dates Egyptian religion, which doesn’t make much sense (she’s chillin’ in Mesopotamia in 4000 BCE). I don’t know if Bunn invented these Moon Knights for this comic or if I missed something in a previous series, but this “succession of heroes” has to stop. It was not too bad when Brubaker and Fraction did it with Iron Fist, because Danny Rand is a generic white dude and there’s nothing really special about him being Iron Fist except that he’s Iron Fist. Of course, if someone else had done it in a more ham-fisted way, it might have sucked, but Brubaker and Fraction are, you know, good writers. But we’ve had hints of other Ghost Riders (although I don’t know if that’s still canon) and other heroes, too, and I don’t think it works all that well, especially with Moon Knight. Marc Spector might seem like a generic white guy, but he’s not, really, and by making him the latest in a succession of Moon Knights, you turn him into one. The great thing about Marc Spector being Moon Knight is his backstory, fleshed out by Doug Moench and subsequent writers. He’s a mercenary who has a change of heart; he’s Jewish; he creates multiple personalities that might actually be part of his psychosis and not just a convenience; and most importantly, we’re never sure if Khonshu is actually real or not. Recent writers have made Khonshu more of a presence in the character’s life, but there’s still a question about whether he’s real or not. With this comic and if you make Marc Spector part of a line of Moon Knights, all ambiguity is lost: Khonshu has to be real, because not every Moon Knight in history can be crazy in exactly the same way! So it makes Spector far less interesting, and it even makes Moon Knight far less interesting, and he’s one of the most interesting superheroes in comics. Anyway, that’s my take. Maybe this is all in Spector’s head, and there’s not really a Moon Knight fighting in World War II or sitting on a dusty hill in Iraq or fighting the American Revolution. That would work.

* “Acts of Vengeance” is largely remembered today, I would imagine, because it’s when Psylocke became Asian Ninja Assassin Psylocke (the Mandarin is the bad guy). But hey, Spider-Man fought Graviton! That was cool, wasn’t it?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Bone Parish volume 2 (Boom! Studios).

Unsurprisingly, the middle third of Cullen Bunn’s story is not the greatest, as the characters are reacting to the horrible thing that happened at the end of volume 1 and setting things up for the big showdown in volume 3. It’s not a bad read, but it does feel like a bridge, and that’s too bad. We get some gangsters trying to reverse-engineer the Winters’ drug, which ends up having some horrific consequences (drawn beautifully by Jonas Scharf), and we get some new characters who will presumably cause some grief to our “heroes” in the last act. There’s not really a lot to say about this trade – it’s solid, not as good as volume 1, and given that the series is ending with issue #12, probably not as good as the third volume (unless Bunn fails miserably to stick the landing). If Boom! releases a fancy 12-issue hardcover, you won’t even notice the slight slump in the middle, but for right now, it’s frustrating because it’s obvious and probably necessary, but that doesn’t make it a great book on its own.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Domino: Hotshots (Marvel).

Gail Simone’s series apparently wasn’t selling well, so Marvel killed it but allowed her, I guess, to do one more mini-series. Frankly, for characters that aren’t established stars, I wish Marvel and DC would do this more often – maybe a five- or six-issue mini-series every year or so, and if the same creative team wants to do it, fine. It makes more sense than to just throw characters into ongoing series that won’t sell anyway and get cancelled quickly, turning their “ongoing” into a “mini-series” anyway. Oh well, what the hell do I know – I’m not a marketing genius!

Anyway, this is a perfectly cromulent story – something lands in Antarctica that turns people into little Celestials, sort of, and of course they can’t handle the power, and Black Widow wants Domino and her gang to get the MacGuffin before a nation gets it because they can weaponize it. Domino, Outlaw, and Diamondback are already hanging with a Wakandan, and then Widow and a South Korean superchick join them, and then Deadpool shows up. Of course, the instant they see the weapon, the three new members of Domino’s team want it for their respective countries, but eventually they decide it’s really too powerful for one country and they fight together. Of course, one of them gets “infected” by the MacGuffin (it moves by skin-to-skin contact), and things go pear-shaped, and Grrl Power wins the day, and it’s fun to read and David Baldeón draws it well until he doesn’t, and Michael Shelfer finishes up and he’s quite good, too. It’s entertaining, but it’s also not surprising that it didn’t sell, because it doesn’t really stand out from a crowded field. I do, however, lovelovelurrrrvvvve the White Fox, the South Korean superchick, and I wish to subscribe to her newsletter. I know she’s been around for a little while, but this is the first time I’ve read a comic with her in it, and she’s awesome. Now I have to pay attention to her!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Innsmouth (ComicMix).

This is a fun and funny take on the Cthulhu mythos, as Megan James brings it into the present and decides that it can work as a comedy. Randolph Higgle is a typical devotee of the Old Gods, spreading the word ineptly through pamphlets that he usually is not able to give grumpy homeowners, but he’s still enthusiastic! James envisions the people of Innsmouth as typical followers of a slightly stale religion – sure, they believe and all (and the presence of the Old Gods is much more obvious in their town than we find with religions in our world), but they also have lives to lead, so when Abigail Marsh, a particularly fervent follower (James does a nice job showing how the young are fired up with belief, while the older people are more sedate), announces that they have to start preparing for Cthulhu’s rise, they’re not that interested if it interferes with their potlucks and weddings. Abigail begins the ritual anyway, but it goes awry thanks to the interference of Randolph’s mother, and Randolph himself ends up being the guardian to a shoggoth, which portends the end of the world. Randolph decides he really doesn’t want to be the chosen one, so he heads to Miskatonic University to find a Necronomicon, which will help him get rid of it. He teams up with Fatima, whose ancestor wrote the Necronomicon, and they try to figure out how to stop Armageddon, which despite Randolph’s efforts in proselytizing he really doesn’t want to bring about. So they try to figure something out.

James does a good job with the humor, because it’s steeped in Lovecraftian themes. There’s still a bit of horror, to make us aware that there are real consequences here, but it’s more of a clever look at what happens when a religion becomes entrenched – early devotees of a religion often believe things are going to happen soon (the easiest comparison is Christianity, where early Christians believe Jesus was returning at any moment!!!!), but once the followers realize that their prophecies might take a while to occur, they become complacent and realize that things are pretty good the way they are. James takes that and puts a fun spin on it, and while there are still creepy elements to the book – Herbert and West, reanimators, are part of the cast, and a few people are killed by the shoggoth, but it’s more about wanting to live a life without outsiders telling you what to do, even if those outsiders are the Gods you’ve ostensibly worshipped all your life.

James’s cartoonish art strikes the right tone, and her story hums along nicely. It’s a good, entertaining comic, and a bit more thoughtful than you might expect. It has a “1” on the cover, implying that it’s the first of a series, but I’m not sure how that could work, because it tells what seems to be a complete story. Give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl volume 11: Call Your Squirrelfriend (Marvel).

I mean, at this point, if you’re not reading Squirrel Girl, you’re only hurting yourself, and I can only believe that you dislike fun and happiness and are probably watching Joker right now, so maybe you should talk to someone? Squirrel Girl is not only ridiculously fun and funny, it’s probably been the best, on a consistent basis, comic that Marvel has published over the course of its run (a few might have had higher highs, but they haven’t been or weren’t around as long). Now that the book is coming to an end (who knows if Marvel relaunches it with a new writer in a month or two, but Ryan North is leaving, so this series is ending), you can catch up on all of it! No excuses! This volume is just another great read, as we get a one-off with time travel, and if there’s one thing that can make me like time travel stories, it’s doing them with a very good sense of humor, so this one works. Then Doreen gets involved in the War of the Realms event, mainly because Loki has been a tangential presence in her comic before (he thinks Doreen’s best friend is awesome), so she heads off to Alberta to fight frost giants. North uses a real-life event – the fact that no rats live in Alberta (it’s true!) – to help Doreen figure out a solution, and like all of the best Squirrel Girl stories in this series, it involves some punching but it’s not really about punching. North continues to come up with clever solutions to superhero problems, which is just one reason the book is so great. Derek Charm draws it all very nicely, and there you go – an excellent comic. It’s not too hard, people!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague (Walker & Company).

In English-language history, Elizabeth I gets more press than Rudolf II, mainly because of Shakespeare, but also because on the political stage, she was far more successful than her Habsburg contemporary. The clashes between England and Spain in the late 1500s shaped a great deal of Western history for the next 500 years, and Rudolf’s odd court in Prague could not contend with that. On the other hand, the Holy Roman Empire was still the bulwark against the Ottomans, who were constantly menacing Europe even after the death of their greatest sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1566. Suleiman’s great-grandson, Mehmed III, won some important battles in Transylvania and the eastern edges of Europe, and Rudolf was constantly attempting to raise troops, raise money, or seek allies among the more Western powers. So while his reign politically isn’t as important as his close contemporaries, Peter Marshall’s book makes the case that his reign was as important as other late-Renaissance rulers for its contributions to culture. Elizabeth may have had Shakespeare, but Rudolf had … Tycho Brahe!

Rudolf ruled from 1576 to his death in 1612, at a time when the Habsburg family had begun its slow but inevitable decline until the Holy Roman Empire was put out its misery by Napoleon and the family had to live with autocratically ruling Austria and Hungary for another century. Rudolf, as Marshall points out, wasn’t too keen on politics, but he was keen on esoteric learning, and this is where his court became the leader of Europe. Rudolf encouraged all kinds of thinkers to come to Prague, where he would use the vast Habsburg fortune (which took a big hit over the course of Rudolf’s life, to be sure) to pay them to experiment for him. He was very interested in alchemy and the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, which would turn lead to gold and extend a man’s life, but as Marshall points out, in the 16th and into the 17th century, alchemy was just a small step away from actual science (Newton, for instance, was a big alchemist), and many of the people working for Rudolf made actual real contributions to science that would not have been made in other parts of Europe, which despite the Renaissance were still locked into a harsh religious paradigm. Rudolf was nominally Catholic, but the Pope didn’t like him, the Italians and Spanish were always intriguing against him, and he was extremely tolerant of Protestantism and Judaism. He employed John Dee for a while, but it’s interesting that Edward Kelley, who was Dee’s traveling companion and widely known now as a fraud, stayed in Prague after Dee returned to England and actually made some headway in scientific research even though he spent most of his time trying to scam people out of their money. Rudolf also convinced Brahe to come to Prague, and around the same time, he brought Johannes Kepler to the city, and the two astronomers (who were also astrologers, for the same reason that alchemists could be “real” scientists) revolutionized the way people looked at the heavens, popularizing the Copernican system of the galaxy and charting planets like no one had before them. Rudolf also promoted the Mannerist school of painting, which is a precursor to Baroque and features distended figures, a great deal of adornment, and garish colors. Rudolf was fascinated by clockwork and other modern technology, so he promoted sculpture, machine-making, and the dissemination of printed material. He was an interesting figure, mainly because he was so out of step with the way rulers were supposed to act. Marshall does a nice job with bringing his strange court to life, even if he gets a few minor facts wrong (he has Sir Philip Sidney attending a wedding during James I’s reign, which would be hard as Sidney died in 1586).

Rudolf’s biggest tragedy, perhaps, is that he never married, so he never had a legitimate child and he was succeeded by his brother Matthias. While Rudolf’s disinclination to rule and his interest in other religions helped stave off the tensions boiling under the surface in early 17th-century Germany, Matthias was even weaker as a ruler, and he was unable to prevent the Catholic Counter-Reformation from making inroads in the empire, which led, shortly before his death, to the infamous Defenestration of Prague (there are technically three Defenestrations of Prague, which is a wonderful historical oddity that I love) and thence to the Thirty Years’ War, one of the nastiest wars in history (and that’s saying a lot). Marshall tries to absolve Rudolf of most of the blame for the war, and he does a decent job of it (historians generally blame him, but not as much as they blame his brother and successor). While the book isn’t about politics, Marshall has to dip his toes in a little, considering what came so soon after Rudolf’s death, and which began in the city he loved.

This is an interesting book about a little-known historical figure. So yeah, it’s pretty neat.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Assassin Nation: Number One With a Bullet (Image).

This is the comic Erica Henderson left Squirrel Girl to draw, and good for her, I say – here she gets to draw a lot (and I mean, A LOT) more violence and gore than she did on that book, and if that’s what she wanted to do, more power to her. She does a nice job, not only with the violence and gore, but also with the inventive ways she kills people, the moments she gives the characters right before the die (which makes it more powerful when they actually die), the way she choreographs the fights, and the sheer fun she has with designing the characters (she also draws in fun sound effects, which are always nice to see). She gives us a good sense of who these characters are, and considering they’re all larger-than-life quasi-stereotypes, it’s pretty keen.

Kyle Starks’s story leaves a bit to be desired, however I don’t know if he’s planning on another arc, because the way this book ends leaves it open for another, but he doesn’t do the best job with this arc, which maybe is because he wants to do another arc that will flesh things out a little. First of all, the plot of the book is so basic I can’t believe Starks did it. I know that it’s not really the point, because the point is to introduce the 20 best assassins in the world and then let Henderson draw mayhem, but it’s still a weak plot. Second, he does that thing where he introduces a bunch of seemingly interesting characters and then kills half of them quickly, so he can focus on the “real” stars. I get that it’s done a lot and that it can be fun, but it’s still lazy writing. I mean, the reason the killing starts is obvious and dumb, and it’s clear it’s just a plot device to winnow the herd. But, I mean, if you don’t want to do any work with characters beyond “Hey, doesn’t this person seem cool?”, then you should probably not introduce them in the first place. But that’s just me. (It can be done well – Milligan’s X-Force might be the best example in comics – but Kyle Starks is no Milligan, and Milligan took advantage of the corporate nature of the comic, where things like that just didn’t happen, thereby upending our expectations. Starks doesn’t have that backdrop, so it doesn’t have the same impact.)

I hope there’s a second arc, because Henderson’s art really is a joy to look at and Starks ends it with a bit of a promising tease, but we’ll see. This is a marginally fun comic, but that’s about it. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Flaming Carrot Comics Omnibus volume 1 (Dark Horse).

I don’t know about you, but I always have a sneaking suspicion that comics (or really, a lot of fiction) from before I started reading them (or watching movies or television shows or reading books) might not be as good as their reputation. There’s always someone to extol the virtues of something old, as in, “Sure, Hickman’s X-Men are pretty good, but you should have been reading the Chuck Austen run – now those were great comics!” Okay, no one has ever said that, but you get the idea. As I have mentioned before, I came to comics later than what most people think of when they think of a comics reader – I was 17 when I bought my first comic, and while I had read some before, I was never that into them. Early on in your comics reading careers, most people hear a variation of the “You should read this!” exhortation, and many comics readers want that advice, because they don’t know. I was certainly glad to get it, and I hope that I can help out newer readers fill in their collections now that I’m a grizzled veteran. The interesting thing about when I came on board was the time – it was 1988, so I just missed several notable “Eighties” phenomena, including the indie boom. I’ve read several of the comics that were coming out by good creators, making their way on their own in the 1980s, and some … just aren’t that good. Some are overrated, like American Flagg!, some are great, like GrimJack, and some coast on their reputations, but they’re really not that good. Such is the case, sadly, with Flaming Carrot Comics. It’s nice that Bob Burden got to do something he really dug and he created a character that seems to resonate with people, but the comics just aren’t good. Burden is early in his career, and his art is fairly primitive, with stiff figures, oddly-shaped bodies that are wildly inconsistent panel to panel, poor backgrounds, and a lack of perspective in far too many places (over the years, he’s gotten quite good at art, but this is, after all, very early in his career). It’s not a complete deal-breaker, but it’s not great.

The real problem with this is the writing, which is where it’s supposed to shine. Kevin Eastman’s breathless introduction made me anticipate something a lot weirder, but Burden’s stories are just kind of there. They’re not really that surreal – I mean, strange things happen, but nothing all that odd for superhero comics – and, crucially, the comic isn’t funny. Humor is both subjective and difficult, so of course you might find this funny, but it was as if Burden came up with his title character (which is what I like to call a “Last Call Character” – when you’ve been sitting around drinking too much with your buddies and you come up with ideas that you think are hilarious but aren’t really, it’s just the alcohol is skewing your judgment) and decided he didn’t need anything else. There’s something a bit odd about Flaming Carrot, who’s a regular dude who simply puts on a carrot mask and lights the top on fire (I assume he also wears fake flippers on his feet, because why would he have flippers?), but not enough to sustain a series. Burden never thinks to give us any character development for his titular figure, or anyone else, really, but the lack of knowledge we have about the Carrot makes the book far less interesting, because it’s just a sight gag brought to life, and who cares? Burden just thinks drawing bizarre things makes his book bizarre, but despite Eastman’s contention that Flaming Carrot was an antidote for corporate crap, corporate superhero comics are stuffed with all sorts of weird things – I mean, Superman once delayed saving a dude’s life so he could correct someone’s math on a chalkboard, for crying out loud! So there has to be something more for Burden’s book to stand out, and there’s really not. Plus, I know this is the Eighties, but Burden is weirdly anti-Communist and pro-corporations himself – the mayor is clearly corrupt, yet Flaming Carrot works hard to prop up the power structure and take shots at “Commies.” Granted, Communists are perfectly valid targets for criticism and were even more so during the Reagan Decade, but the contempt with which Burden treats people who don’t bow down to the status quo is a bit weird.

So yeah … it’s nice to read these comics, for me, because I’m always interested in artifacts from other eras, but that doesn’t make them good comics. If you’ve never read Flaming Carrot, don’t feel like you have to, and if you have … I don’t know, did you like it?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The New Mutants: War Children (Marvel).

Marvel has been doing these 80th-anniversary one-shots all year (see above), and I was most excited for this one, because Bill Sienkiewicz remains one of my favorite artists, and he doesn’t do very much interior work these days and when he does, it’s even more abstract and cartoonish than when he radically changed his style in the 1980s. In this comic, he draws in that old style, naturally, and Claremont gives him a Warlock story, naturally, so he can have fun with it. Sienkiewicz hasn’t lost any of his talent for astonishing artwork, and this book is gorgeous to look at – there are several nice splashes, and Sienkiewicz always integrates multi-media nicely into his work. It’s just so much fun seeing him draw Illyana as a demon and Warlock and Doug Ramsay melding to solve a problem and Dani Moonstar arguing with Hela, and it makes me sad that Sienkiewicz doesn’t want to do this kind of work anymore. He still likes to ink, apparently (he’s inking the new Question book for DC), but I guess he doesn’t want to do interiors much anymore. Unless no one is hiring him, which would be ridiculous. Anyway, Claremont gives him a nice story to sink his teeth into, a forgettable tale about Warlock embracing his destiny as Magus, which means killing all the New Mutants, I guess, although it’s Claremont, so who the hell knows what his motivations are. But Claremont still makes it worthwhile, as these characters, even more than the X-Men in many ways, are “his,” so he writes them so well, even if the plot is a fluffy. As usual, when these old guys are given a chance to write comics, they still know how to, yet Marvel and DC don’t employ them. I mean, I get that Erik Larsen is doing his own thing and Mark Bagley still draws regularly, but Conway isn’t doing much and neither is Claremont, but nobody wants them to write their comics. Weird. Anyway, this is a perfectly fine comic, in that Claremont gets the hell out of Sienkiewicz’s way. Isn’t that how it should be?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

That’s all she wrote for this month. I hope you find something in here that tickles your fancy, and I will try to be more timely next month. We shall see! I’ve provided a link to one of the books here, but remember, if you use that link to do any shopping, it helps keep the lights on here at the blog. Have a nice day!

13 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    I’ve read the New Mutants annual just recently, and before that New Mutants Epic Collection vol. 2: The Demon Bear Saga which included much (or all) of Bill Sienkiewicz’s run. I enjoyed the brief respite into the ’80’s.

    I’ve heard about the immortal Hulk, but have not read any of the series yet.

    Innsmouth, wasn’t this a horror film a few years ago.

    Bone Parrish, guess Bunn’s series is sometimes a hit or miss.

  2. I’m with Travis: Flaming Carrot (which I did read much of as it came out) was hysterical. And I always found his anti-communism to be tongue in cheek. Plus yes, I did think his stories were way weird (ditto when I reread them a few years ago).
    Bill Sinkiewicz? He makes my eyes bleed.
    I wish DC/Marvel would remember that Birds of Prey started as a minseries, then several more, then finally became a big hit.
    I agree about the desire to retcon characters into legacy heroes or in Ghost Rider’s case create a Green Lantern Corps equivalent (yes, I believe they’re still canon). Heck, even Captain America isn’t the first super-soldier now.
    I remember Act of Vengeance mostly for a scene where Loki pitches his plan to the Mad Thinker and the Thinker just laughs in his face (“The probability of failure is 86 percent — and you’re brother’s going to be furious.” — which was before anyone else knew who was behind it). And for the plot of Spidey briefly becoming Captain Universe.
    Regarding that interesting Rudolf II book: according to one of my books on magic in 1500s/1600s England, the Puritans accepted astrology as science so they didn’t ban it the way they did other forms of magic.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: We’ll just have to agree to … admit that you’re wrong about Flaming Carrot. Ha! I always assume comics writers whose characters make political statements to the right of my thoughts are tongue-in-cheek, but I didn’t get that sense from Burden. I mean, the anti-Commie stuff is over the top, true, but Flaming Carrot does seem to really like propping up the status quo. Maybe I’m wrong.

      As for weird … well, sure, but no weirder than almost anything you could find in superhero books in the mid-1980s. Flaming Carrot can’t hold a candle to Starlin’s Warlock saga, for instance.

      Oh, you’re so very wrong about Sienkiewicz. So sad. 🙂

      That’s interesting about Puritans. They were a weird bunch!

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Can’t really comment on Flaming Carrot either way, as I’ve never read it, but when you noted how things seem hilarious to drunk people when they’re not brought a big smile to my face – it’s so true. As I left behind my drinking to excess days back in my mid-20s, I’ve often found myself at parties or other get togethers, sipping a coke while everyone else is downing beers, and then watching everyone laugh hysterically at the stupidest things. And there’s always that one guy (and it’s pretty much always a guy) who suddenly discovers alcohol turns him into a stand-up comic. Yeesh…

    Anyway, back on topic: Sienkiewicz. I have mixed feelings. I like most of his work into the early ’80s, but very little after that. For example, I was unimpressed with Elektra: Assassin, which everybody else apparently went ape-s*** over. And I have to say, I lost interest in the New Mutants and stopped reading the series a few issues after Sienkiewicz took over as artist. So this new book doesn’t interest me very much, either, Claremont notwithstanding.

  4. I read one TPB of Immortal Hulk, where Hell has come to Earth or something. It frankly didn’t seem that different from something Peter David would have done. But if our library gets more TPBs, I’ll certainly try them.
    Warlock and Flaming Carrot are weird in very different ways, but they’re both awesome. It’s hard to believe Starlin’s the same man who wrote the endless string of Infinity Crap big events.

  5. Simon

    “You’re hurt pretty bad, mister… Have some wheaties!”

    > “Burden never thinks to give us any character development”

    “Charlies Brown remains a sad loser who can’t hit a ball or fly a kite.”

    > “Burden is weirdly anti-Communist and pro-corporations”

    “DR. STRANGELOVE is weirdly anti-peace and pro-Nazi.”

    > “the comic isn’t funny”

    “The Marx Brothers aren’t funny. Neither are Monty Python or ZAZ.”

    1. Greg Burgas

      Yeah, but saying something is satire and that people just don’t get it is the last gasp of the creatively bankrupt. 🙂 I tried to read Flaming Carrot as a satire, but I don’t completely buy it. It’s like when everyone tried to convince us that Frank Miller’s later work is satire. I call bullshit. Dr. Strangelove is obviously satire, and more than that, it’s funny. And I said that humor is subjective, so you might find Flaming Carrot hilarious. I find the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and ZAZ hilarious. Flaming Carrot stands in the valley and looks up at them on the summit and cries because it will never come close to them! 🙂

      The lack of character development in a gag strip like Peanuts is the point. I don’t expect it. In a serialized comic that seems to want to move the character forward, the lack of it is annoying. I mentioned this before, but in situation comedies, the inconsistencies in the characters work in service of the joke, so it’s fine. As I don’t find Flaming Carrot funny, its lack of any kind of character development hurts it, because it’s not in service to a comedic plot, it’s just in service to dull stories.

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