Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – August 2019

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

The brigadier could not help but notice the groomed moustache, the skin that was tanned by the desert sun, the dark eyes – it could very well be the face of the enemy. The idea suddenly struck him that it was quite remarkable what a difference a uniform made. Without the unlike colours it would be almost impossible to tell the two armies apart. (Panos Karnezis, from The Maze)

Anonyponymous (Bloomsbury USA).

The title of this book was coined by its author, John Bemelmans Marciano, who combined “anonymous” and “eponymous” to give us a word for words that are named after people who have been largely forgotten. The patron saint of this kind of word is the fellow on the cover, the Earl of Sandwich, who is, of course, no longer anonymous because he has been used for so long by people who want to cite an example of a common word named after someone no one knows about. But there are plenty of others, of course, and this is a fun book about them. Obviously, some of them will be known (I knew a good amount of them, but not all, and I have a good vocabulary), but there’s sure to be plenty that you don’t know, and Marciano has some fun with the definitions. He notes that many of the words are named after mythical figures, but mythical figures that have become minor or even unknown over the centuries. He mentions how some words are dripping with irony, such as “dunce,” which derives from John Duns Scotus, who was a ridiculously intelligent person, while others seem ridiculous but are true, like the Outerbridge Crossing, which seems to be called that because it’s the bridge farthest from downtown New York but is actually named after Eugenius Francis Outerbridge, the first chairman of the Port Authority of New York. There are a bunch of fun and interesting words in the book, and if you like words like I do, it’s worth a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Sink #6-10 (ComixTribe).

John Lees’ and Alex Cormack’s twisted and occasionally darkly funny horror comic continues with its next five issues, which don’t really make up an “arc” (each issue is generally self-contained, although issues #8-9 here are a two-parter) but which are collected in each trade. Sink continues to be a fantastic comic, as Lees not only delivers skin-crawling and/or gut-wrenching horror each issue, but like the best of the “marginalized” genres (sci-fi, horror, fantasy), makes sure to include biting social commentary as well. Issues #8-9, the two-parter, are the least subtle about this, as an immigrant Middle Eastern family is forced to fight their way out of an apartment building where the racist owner has given them and others low-income housing simply to create this game where the rich bet on which poor people will survive a gauntlet of paid killers. It’s derivative (Lees even cites The Raid as an influence), but it’s still a gripping tale, especially as Lees ties it into the rest of the series nicely. It’s the most obvious story, but the others are interesting, too. We get a young woman brutalized by the creepy clowns who roam the streets of Glasgow, and how she turns the tables on them (it’s another fairly obvious story, but it’s told entirely without words, and while we know what’s coming, it’s still devastating when we get to the end); we get the man who wants to join Si McKirdie’s gang because it’s the best one in the city, but he’s too decent a dude to perform the necessary act of atrocity to “graduate” from his current lower status – it’s a clever way for Lees to indict the “dog-eat-dog” world of capitalism while also examining how decent people can live in this world; and we get the “love story” in issue #10, which doesn’t have much to say about society but is extremely funny (and gory, but more funny than anything). Lees’s stories resonate because he takes regular people and throws them into extraordinary circumstances, so that we’re never sure how they’re going to react, and he’s also able to create interesting characters very quickly, which helps when you’re writing such short stories. Cormack is terrific, too, using sharp, brittle lines to create a world where everything looks dangerous and broken or about to break, where even the shadows look scuffed in some way, and where heavy mascara around a woman’s eyes can be used both to show her fear and vulnerability and her total bad-assery. Cormack’s a good artist, but he feels like the perfect artist for this kind of book.

I hope Lees and Cormack have more planned, because this is the kind of book that could go on forever, really, as long as Lees has stories to tell. We shall see!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Oh, those wacky Scots and their fun games!

The Terminator: Sector War (Dark Horse).

I shouldn’t buy Terminator stories, because they’re all pretty much the same, and despite Brian Wood writing this, it’s pretty much the same. [I wrote this before Wood’s latest bit of idiotic scum-baggery; he’s still a good writer, but he obviously needs some kind of therapy to deal with his drunken stupidity.] A Terminator comes to New York in 1984 to kill a policewoman whose daughter is crucial to the rebellion along with John Connor, and the policewoman has to fight it off. Lucy Castro works in the worst part of New York, so she’s seen some things, but nothing like the Terminator, of course. She allies herself with some seriously bad dudes, who are just there to die, and they hold off the robot for a while, before she defeats it by dumb luck, to a degree. It plays out exactly like you think. I never understood these Terminators – I get that they “think” they’re invincible, but their targets have to sleep sometime, right? Just wait until they’re asleep and then walk over a kill them! Wood doesn’t do anything new with the basic story, and while I like Jeff Stokely, his work is a bit too cartoony for the subject matter. He does a decent job, but it’s still lacking some certain je ne sais quoi that bugs me. This is a very forgettable comic that does nothing to improve on the original movie. Go watch that! It has Bill Paxton in it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

At least Mama Robot raised him with good manners!

Justice League of America: The Last Survivors of Earth! (DC).

This is a collection of Dick Dillin’s work on JLA, as it’s written by a few different writers (Denny O’Neil and Mike Friedrich) are the main ones, but there’s a Robert Kanigher story in here, and let’s check real quick … yep, it’s a Robert Kanigher story, all right (to be totally clear: I LOVE ROBERT KANIGHER STORIES!). Dillin’s the constant, though, and while his art isn’t going to make too many people swoon, he has a solid, workmanlike quality that was prevalent in the late 1960s and through the 1970s into the 1980s – Dillin is a true Bronze Age artist, like Frank Brunner or Rich Buckler or Ron Wilson – nothing special, but he gets the job done. Of course, as these stories were published in 1969-1971, there’s a lot of unintentional and cringey humor in them – if you guessed Page 3 of this entire collection would be the first time someone is condescending toward Black Canary, you’d win a prize (sez Green Arrow: “You’re plenty useful around here — as a morale builder!” presumably because she gets everyone horny and then they like fighting more). The stories are goofy but fun, with plenty of action that you really shouldn’t think about too much (they naturally have to figure out what to do with Superman all the time, and they do a pretty good job with it) and even some nods to DC continuity of the time, such as it is (the GL/GA Rambling Across ‘Murica tour, mostly). I’ve never been one to really shout for forced diversity in comics (I certainly appreciate it and don’t think it should be rolled back in any way, I just don’t care that much about it because I’m a white man), but when the only black people in this entire collection are actual savage Australian aborigines whose only speech is “Eeeahhhhh –” (I wish I wasn’t kidding) and about whom Batman says “Maybe they expect their talismans of human teeth to stop us!” and “[Black magic] wielded by a primitive people whose belief in the supernatural is as strong as our faith in science?”, perhaps you should think about your life choices a bit more (and yes, of course the magically possessed aborigines are in the Robert Kanigher story, because IT’S ROBERT KANIGHER!!!!!). There are a few JLA/JSA crossovers, of course, and O’Neil and Friedrich do try to bring up important topics such as nuclear war and overpopulation and pollution, but it’s always in the service of some silly stories. Kanigher gets Batman and Black Canary mackin’, because of course he does, and Green Arrow acts like a misogynistic douchebag whenever a man happens to look in Canary’s general direction even though he’s never actually, you know, asked her out or anything, and hey, it’s Silver Sorceress, Jack B. Quick, Blue Jay, and Wandjina!, and it’s all very awesome. Nothing compares, though, to the TWO Airwolf panels below, which are just something else (and they’re not even Kanigher, which is surprising).

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ (I’m feeling generous)

TWO totally Airwolf panels:

What the everlovin’ hell, Mike Friedrich?
Um, sexually harass much, guys? (I’d like to think that Dillin didn’t like this, either, because look how uncomfortable he draws Zatanna as these men paw at her!)

Knights of the Golden Sun volume 1: Providence Lost (Mad Cave Comics).

This is a very weird comic, even though it falls into a very standard pattern of “good guys fighting bad guys,” and writer Mark London doesn’t really do a lot to upend that old trope. What makes it weird is that London sets it in the 320s BCE and around that time, as according to this comic, the Old Testament was largely written by 400 BCE (debatable, but why not) and then God disappeared, leaving the angels and demons to fight it out, with Earth the ultimate prize (well, that and the soul of humanity, but generally the Earth). Lucifer, whom we would think would be the villain, is struck down (but not killed) early on by Azrael, that foxy woman-demon on the cover, and she becomes the main bad guy, leaving Lucifer and the Archangels Michael and Raphael without their memories, living human lives. Eventually, with the help of other angels and a secret society dedicated to keeping the bloodline of King David alive, they regain their memory and rejoin the fight against Azrael. See? Weird, even if the plot follows the most basic steps. Azrael, meanwhile, allies herself with Alexander the Great, because of course she does, and when he has outlived his usefulness, she kills him and turns him into an undead warrior. Like you do. There are some fairly obvious twists, but generally, it’s a big battle between good and evil. It’s the first part, too, as it ends with a few dangling plot threads, but they’re not interesting enough to make me come back. Mauricio Villarreal seems like a frustrating artist, because in the back we see some of his sketches, and he looks like a perfectly good artist, but then he runs everything through a high-gloss computer and everything looks like a cheap knockoff of the old Radical comics, when fully digital comics were in their infancy and no one knew how to make them look any good. It’s a pain, because I can imagine a comic that Villarreal draws the old-fashioned way with the exact same panels and it looks so much better, because there are some epic pages, panels, and action scenes in the book. But it just goes along with the weirdness of the project. Check out that cover – Azrael is wearing lace stockings! I mean, I get that she’s a demon and can create them if she wants, but it’s weird stuff like this – the period-inappropriate armor, the stylized art, the Christian message without being an obnoxiously Christian comic (I mean, it begins with Jesus’s birth, so it’s obviously a Christian comic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a lot of action!) – it all makes it just an odd book to read. Not a very good one, unfortunately, but definitely odd!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Easier said than done, man!

Spencer & Locke volume 2 (Action Lab).

The first volume of Spencer & Locke (which is basically Calvin and Hobbes, but Calvin has grown up and the world is really, really shitty) was almost unremittingly bleak, but it was still compelling, so I figured I’d pick up the next volume. The only way it could be bleaker than volume 1 is if Locke’s daughter gets horribly killed, but she survives, so it’s only just as bleak, not bleaker. Progress! Locke (who doesn’t have a first name) is still recovering from the events of the last volume – he’s suspended from the police force and is in mandated therapy, but he’s not making much progress. On the plus side, he’s dating a cute reporter and his daughter likes him, so there’s that. There’s a new bad guy, a rip-off/homage to Beetle Bailey, who’s going around killing city officials because they’re corrupt (in the satirical “Roach Riley” strips that are scattered throughout the book, you can see that it’s fairly amazing Beetle has never snapped at Sarge and gone on a killing spree). Locke decides to hunt down the bad guy, and things get bad quickly. David Pepose, who writes this, doesn’t ease up on any horrible thing, and he makes Locke’s obvious psychosis (he believes his stuffed animal is alive, after all) tragic and compelling and then, right at the end, horrific. It’s not a fun book to read, but it’s very gripping. I have some problems with it – when Riley is thrown in jail, no one takes his baseball cap, which always bugs me in fiction (more on this below!), but the biggest issue is that the mystery isn’t really that hard to figure out, and the cops don’t even figure it out, because none of them appear to be doing their job. I get that the mystery isn’t really the point, but when it highlights the incompetence of some characters, it’s a bit frustrating. Pepose not only has fun (“fun,” I suppose) with the concept of imaginary friends and the darkness inherent in many comic strips, but even vigilante justice itself (Locke’s daughter becomes “Kick-Ass” briefly, and it’s both as ridiculous and clever as you might expect). This isn’t the deepest comic in the world, but it tries more than a lot of them to peel away at the weirdness of society, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Damned Nazis and their depraved science!

Fairlady #5 (Image).

The issues of Fairlady are still stand-alone stories, but it’s clear that Brian Schirmer has a bigger plot in mind, and we’ll see how long it takes for it to come to fruition (of course, the comic has to last that long, too!). This issue ties back into an earlier issue, with a woman Jenner brought to justice earlier now missing from the place she was put (it’s not really a prison, but it does have many law-breakers in it), and someone is dead, so they think the fugitive is the killer. It’s like the other issues of the series so far – not exactly a fair-play mystery, but still pretty clever, and Schirmer has done a good job with Jenner, making her a strong character so even if the cases don’t wow us, it’s still interesting to follow her around as she navigates this world. In addition to bringing back a character from an earlier issue, we also get a sense of things moving behind the scenes, which, again, will play out in the deep background, it seems, until Schirmer wants to bring it forward or until the sales of the book force the issue. Mostly, this is just another solid issue of a good series, and if you’re looking to jump on board, pick up the trade in September!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yes, but the hair remained on point!

Batman: Kings of Fear (DC).

This is a forgettable Batman story except for the fact that Kelley Jones draws it, which is why I bought it in the first place. Jones can make anything look great, and his mid-1990s run on Batman with Doug Moench remains a high point for the character, so it’s always nice to see him draw the Dark Knight. And he draws the hell out of this, as Batman gets dosed with a weird fear gas by the Scarecrow and goes through a long dark night of the soul, as Jonathan Crane psychoanalyzes him. Jones gets to draw the Scarecrow, who has to be one of his favorite villains, in all sorts of weird poses, he gets to draw Batman in the shadows, casting his own shadow over Gotham, he gets to draw cobblestones and weird gargoyles and lots of brick and all the shit Kelley Jones obviously loves drawing. His Batman is a hulking monster, but one thing Jones has always been able to do is make Batman occasionally human, even if it looks incongruous. He interacts with a lost girl here, and it’s very charming. He uses blacks marvelously, and Michelle Madsen, who’s colored him before, does a stellar job as well, not allowing Jones’s blacks to overwhelm the page, so while it’s a dark book, there’s enough color to keep it from being murky. It’s printed on rougher paper, which suits Jones’s pencil work very well (on his Batman run, they used glossy paper a lot, and while it’s still excellent work, it felt a bit too shiny at times). It is a tremendous-looking comic, and worth a look just for that.

Scott Peterson’s story is fine, but nothing special. Scarecrow tries to get Batman to admit something about himself, but it ends up with nothing really being resolved. Peterson sets up the entire “World Without Batman” trope, in which Bruce Wayne used his money to make Gotham better instead of punching people, and of course Gotham is a paradise. Peterson turns it into a straw man, though (fitting, given the villain), because we know both that Gotham would certainly be better off if Bruce Wayne had channeled his rage into a more positive place and that DC will never let it happen in any way, so Peterson’s story becomes a bit dumb. The Scarecrow shows him a utopia, but then Peterson has to rely on anecdotes to show that, no, Batman really is good for Gotham. Anecdotal evidence is always used because it puts a human face on statistics, but we know that trying to address the roots of crime is better than punishing criminals, and we know that providing more and better social services steers kids away from crime, and we know that the criminal justice system is racist (not in Gotham, though, where writers have made sure to portray all ethnicities as equally willing to commit crimes and equally able to be punished by Batman) and we know that so many of Batman’s so-called “arrests” would lead to dismissal because of lack of evidence or tampering with evidence, but DC can’t admit that, so we get a story about how criminals captured by Batman have a ridiculously low recidivism rate and how one dude he busted turned his life around. I mean, that’s great, but how many people have died because Bruce Wayne wants to punch the Joker in the face instead of making the city a better place to live?

As I mentioned above, I would get back to Riley’s baseball cap, and I will, right here! Well, not the cap, but the fact that Batman takes Joker to Arkham early in this comic, and Joker almost immediately breaks free and releases a bunch of prisoners. Ignoring the fact that that would be almost impossible, when Batman confronts them, two things are wrong – one, everyone is in costume; and two, the composition of the group. First of all, I hate the standard “all costumed people are always in costume no matter the situation” thing in comics. I mean, would they really allow the inmates access to their costumes in Arkham (even if you buy that they weren’t wearing them and quickly put them on, why are their “fightin’ clothes” on-site?!?!?). I know it’s a superhero comic, but they try so hard to make Batman quasi-“realistic” and then they can’t help themselves with some things. I get that Jones probably wanted to draw all these cool characters, but someone should have stepped in. Two, let’s look at who’s here. Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Riddler, Joker, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, Penguin. Of all of those villains, you could only really make the case that Harvey Dent belongs in an asylum (possibly Freeze, but that’s about it). All of the others are just criminals and should be in a regular prison. Croc and Bane are really strong, so they should be in a maximum security vault somewhere! Joker must have teleported to the women’s wing and gotten Ivy, because there’s no way she’s in with the men. This is before Scarecrow shows up, so we can’t even claim it’s a hallucination. I get that it’s cool to see all these villains and Batman kicking the shit out of them, but it’s just lazy writing. I don’t mind a story that doesn’t do it for me – none of us like everything – but far too often in comics, we see laziness in the actual writing and plotting. I mean, come on.

Anyway, Kelley Jones draws Batman and Scarecrow. That’s almost enough!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Man, in Gotham even the buildings are evil!

Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World (Da Capo Press).

Most people, I would imagine, don’t know anything about Tamerlane, as he’s generally called in the West (it’s a corruption of “Temur the Lame,” as his name was Temur and his right hand and leg were damaged when he was young) which is too bad, because he’s probably the most fascinating “world conqueror” in history. Alexander the Great might have had a bigger legacy, and Genghis Khan, for some reason, is more embedded in the popular imagination, but Temur was more successful than Alexander in simple conquest and more interested in establishing a great culture than Genghis Khan, yet he remains largely unknown, unless you’re a fan of Christopher Marlowe, who wrote two plays about him (I’ve never seen a Marlowe play staged, which depresses me – you’d think someone would do it occasionally, because his plays are full of sex and violence, just the way we like them!). However, from the mid-1360s, when he was in his early 30s, until his death in 1405 when he was on his way to conquer China, Temur terrorized and enthralled and dazzled Central Asia. He was a cunning leader and a military genius, and he could be a brutal tyrant, but he loved all kinds of learning, bringing mathematicians and scientists and architects and writers from across the dar al-Islam (the Muslim lands) to Samarkand, his capital, so that he could make it and his culture the envy of the world. Temur destroyed much of the Mongols’ kingdoms – he was vaguely a Mongol, but is more commonly known as a Tatar, and by the time he rose to power, the Mongol kingdoms established by Genghis Khan and his sons were ripe for the taking, and Temur was happy to oblige. He was nominally a Muslim but he warred against anyone he thought he needed to, including his co-religionists (as well as Christians, of course). He ordered massacres of the populace of any city that dared defy him, but he also created a beautiful world in the steppes, where those who kept his peace could expect safety and prosperity. Temur drove himself as hard as his men – when he invaded Russia to eliminate the Khanate of the Golden Horde (which was centered basically in the triangle formed by Moscow, the Don flowing to the Black Sea, and the Volga flowing to the Caspian), it was winter, and Temur suffered with his men before winning a glorious victory. He climbed over the Hindu Kush and did something Alexander never did – invade India and seize the riches of that land for himself. He outlived two sons, both of whom would have been worthy successors, and his chosen successor, his grandson, did not last long because another grandson rebelled and usurped power, which drove a fatal wedge into the empire. It probably wouldn’t have lasted long after Temur’s death anyway, as very few men in history have the military mind and political will and canniness to hold the empire together, but for the 70 or so years that Temur and his successors lasted in Central Asia, there was a flowering of culture, especially of architecture (although Temur’s great-great-great-grandson, Babur, did found the Mughal dynasty in India, which lasted a while, so there’s that). Temur and his successors built astonishing mosques and madrassahs and public buildings, many of which are still standing today in “exotic” cities we might only know from vague references to the Spice Route: Samarkand, Tashkent, Bukhara. Today these cities are in Uzbekistan, and for much of the 20th century they were part of the Soviet Union, and the Soviets did a lot to stamp out any references to Temur, as he was both a foreign leader and a Muslim. Today, Temur is being rediscovered by the Uzbeks, and the work of the Temurids newly appreciated.

Part of the reason Temur isn’t better known in the West is because he generally ignored it. Alexander came from the West, of course, and Genghis Khan approached the Middle East when there was still a European presence in Palestine (the Crusader states) and because of Marco Polo, whose writings about the court of Kublai Khan (the grandson of Genghis) were a sensation at the time and in subsequent centuries. So news about Genghis filtered back to the West, but by the time of Temur, the Ottomans had established themselves in the Middle East, the Byzantine Empire was a shell of its former glory, the Crusader states no longer existed, and Europe was experiencing one of the worst periods in its history (the 14th century was rough, yo). The closest Temur came to Europe was in 1402, when he destroyed the army of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid (who himself had a fearsome reputation in the West) and took the ruler prisoner, where he died in captivity not long afterward. At that point, Temur could have easily marched into Europe, but he turned around. Why? Europe held no interest for him, because it was a backwater. He was more focused on the other great superpower in the world, China. The Ming dynasty, which was established in 1368 after its founder drove out the Mongols, was already struggling 40 years later, so Temur believed the time was ripe to strike. But he couldn’t stop the normal process of aging, and he died soon after embarking on the campaign.

This book is interesting as Justin Marozzi not only gives us a good history of Temur, but he also visits many of the places in Central Asia where Temur lived, so we get a nice, modern-day perspective on the conqueror, as well as the historical aspect. Of course the Uzbeks are making him into a godlike figure, and today, those who even question whether Temur was as great as all that are censured, because that’s what regimes do when they latch onto historical figures to “prove” how great they are. Of course, that never happens in the good ol’ U.S.A., right? So we get a good sense of the architecture of the region (Marozzi really digs architecture), as well as the unbelievable hardships Temur had to overcome to do what he did (the Central Asian steppes are not exactly a garden spot of the world, although they’re worse today after centuries of environmental damage than they were in the 1300s). So it’s a bit of a travelogue as well as a history book.

If you’ve never heard of Temur, this is a good book to check out. Why should Alexander and Genghis Khan get all the love, right? There’s room enough for a third brutal world conqueror in your heart, isn’t there?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Meet the Skrulls (Marvel).

I doubt if this sold very well, which is too bad, because these are the kinds of stories set in the Marvel and/or DC Universe that I LOVE. I’m not that interested in big superhero fights anymore (I never was too much, but at least I was a bit more when I was younger), but the two big superhero universes are such fertile ground for so much else, and every once in a while, some goofy editor (in this case, Nick Lowe) lets creators have some fun with it. DC tends to do it more than Marvel, but Marvel still does it occasionally, and the idea of a Skrull family living as a sleeper cell in the U.S. while trying to undermine humanity is a terrific idea, and Robbie Thompson is an underrated writer, and Niko Henrichon has been an underrated artist forever, so I figured I’d like this. So we get a nice Skrull family – dad, mom, two teenage girls – and they’re all doing their thing – Mom works for a congresswoman, so she’s inside the halls of power, Dad works for Tony Stark, and one of the girls has figured out the more evil you are, the more other teenagers like you. Only the younger girl, Alice, is having problems, but this isn’t that story, where she betrays the rest of the family because she likes humans more than Skrulls. There’s also a dead youngest girl, which haunts the family. Meanwhile, a Top Secret Government Agency© is hunting Skrull sleeper agents and doing nasty things to them, and we can’t have that! Thompson does a nice job subverting expectations (with some exceptions; it’s still an adventure story set in the Marvel Universe, after all), and he does a good job “humanizing” the Warners, showing the parents when they were younger and forged by their horrible experiences and showing why the death of their youngest daughter hit them so hard. They’re still Skrulls, so they’re still part of a warrior culture, but at least we understand them. What I don’t understand is how they can shape-shift into things much smaller or larger than they are (conservation of mass, yo!), but I guess I’ll have to live with it.

This ends ambiguously, of course, because it’s only a five-issue mini-series, but I would love it if Thompson and Henrichon could do a bit more with the Warners. There’s so much weird stuff you can do in a world where superheroes and aliens are relatively normal, and this is a good contribution to that. We shall see if we ever get any more!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Madson has it all figured out!

Marvel Comics #1000 (Marvel).

Marvel’s bandwagon-jumping answer to Detective and Action #1000 (at least those have been published continuously since the late 1930s, even if DC foolishly renumbered them at one point) is a strange animal, as Al Ewing, the primary writer, tells a story spanning the last 80-odd years which ends with the introduction of a new-ish hero to the Marvel Universe, and it’s a pretty clever one, using moments from Marvel’s history to build nicely to an ending. It’s hamstrung a bit by the format, which is that every page is drawn by a different artist and is a one-page vignette about Marvel history, but Ewing is a very good writer, so he’s able to do it pretty well. There’s a very funny page with the Black Knight set during the days of Camelot when the Knight contemplates the horror of a world in which power is taken from the kings and given to the common man (the humor is bitter because even today, has any country actually achieved that?), and Ewing does a good job. The artists Marvel employs are generally terrific, and despite its disjointed nature, the book looks great (even the Greg Land page doesn’t make my eyes bleed, so huzzah!).

There was a bit of controversy over Marvel editing Mark Waid’s contribution, which is the Captain America page (probably the worst one of the book, honestly, because John Cassaday is just drawing poses these days, so it’s just a boring pin-up with some writing over it). I don’t quite get the controversy. Waid’s original script made reference, I guess, to the U.S. as a “flawed” country, which Marvel thought would be too much for the mouth-breathers who occasionally read their comics to handle. I get that it’s annoying that Marvel axed that, but Waid’s original script looked, well, too long for the space. Waid tends to write a lot, and the area he has isn’t that large, and what’s in there implies the idea of the U.S. having flaws without coming right out and saying it, which is better anyway. Waid’s original script would have covered up some of the artwork, and while it’s a boring pin-up, it’s still drawn by John Cassaday, so it’s gorgeous. This seems like a tempest in a teacup. There are a few pages like that, where the writers get on a soapbox and have their characters say stuff that’s so earnest it makes my teeth hurt. America, for one, has never seemed like a real character to me, just a collection of liberal tropes masquerading as a character (which is why she’s the weakest character in both Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers and Kelly Thompson’s West Coast Avengers). She doesn’t fare much better here. Comics aren’t the best place to soapbox, and one page in a celebratory comic is an even worse place. When the writers concentrate on the characters (Peter Parker getting told off by a scientist because he doesn’t use his web fluid for the betterment of mankind; Hercules constantly comparing himself to Thor; Wolverine and the Punisher sharing a surprising bathroom secret), the book is fun. When the writers decide to talk about how great it would be if we were nicer to each other, the book is a bore. Luckily, that doesn’t happen too often.

Of course, Marvel, in its infinite wisdom, is releasing an issue #1001 (that’s the last one, though, which shows a tiny bit of restraint from Joey Q and the Boyz), but I’m not sure if I’ll get that. We shall see. I’d also like to point out that Marvel has a list of dead comics creators in the back of the book, which is nice. I’m not sure how they chose them – were they only creators who worked for Marvel in the past? I assume Basil Wolverton, Batton Lash, Doug Wildey, Harvey Pekar, and Minck Oosterveer worked for Marvel at some point, because why would they be listed and not, I don’t know, Tarpé Mills or Matt Baker, both of whom are very much dead?

Anyway, it’s a fun book. It’s not worth getting every cover (which is what some dude at my comic book store did), but it’s not a bad read.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

David Walker trolls the internet!

Tales of the Batman: Gerry Conway volume 3 (DC).

Other Greg just wrote a bit about this, but it’s a very solid collection of Batman comics, so I have to put in my two cents! This isn’t exactly “My Batman” – I started reading comics in 1988, so “My Batman” is the slightly more tortured one who can’t deal with Jason Todd’s death very well – but it’s a good Batman, in that the tone is dark but not utterly hopeless, as it’s been for so many years since I started reading comics. These comics are from the early 1980s, when Conway turned the two Bat-books into an ongoing serial, which was an interesting idea that got swept away in the years after Crisis. But it’s not the worst idea, and Conway does a good job with them. In this volume, we get the ending of the Boss Thorne saga that began back in the later 1970s with the famed Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run, as many plot threads from that brief saga are tied up. We get Batman turning into a vampire and fighting a Yeti (not in the same story, but still). We also get Bruce Wayne’s ongoing romance with Vicki Vale, one that gets interrupted a bit by Selina Kyle, whose characterization is the only really false note in the book (I mean, I can buy that she’s bummed that Bruce has moved on from their romance, but she goes crazy-jealous really fast). And hey, look, it’s Bruce Wayne, showing up for more than a panel every three issues! The biggest development in the volume is the introduction of Jason Todd – not the douchey one who got killed, but the boring one who got wiped out of existence after Crisis. Conway does a decent job introducing him, although why no one pointed out the bizarre coincidence of two trapeze artist families getting killed by gangsters and leaving only a tween boy behind who just happens to be the perfect sidekick for Batman is beyond me. Still, lots of good stuff here – most of the art is by Don Newton, who’s solid, and we also get stuff from Gene Colan, José Luis García-López, and a young Dan Jurgens. We get a Joker who’s definitely my kind of villain – someone who kills, sure (see below), but isn’t a mass-murdering psychopath and has bizarre schemes, not just a plan to kill everyone in the world (he wants to create a Mount-Rushmore-type carving of his own face on the cliffs over Gotham, because why not?), we get Jason Bard (Jason Bard is awesome), and we get Conway describing Gotham City – GOTHAM CITY!!!!! – as “America’s most romantic city” and night in Gotham – NIGHTTIME IN GOTHAM CITY!!!!! – as “the most romantic time.” Um, really, Gerry? Still, it’s good stuff!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Oh, Joker – you’re such a card!


I have a few things I haven’t gotten to, but nothing amazing, so I’m just going to end this here. I try to get these done by the final day of the month, but June and July were really busy for me and while I managed to get August done, it’s already the 9th of September, and I have to start working on the Previews post (which Travis is already done with; this month I’m the slow one!). So I hope you found something keen to read in here, because comics continue to be awesome! Have a nice day!


  1. Eric van Schaik

    For me it was mostly european stuff in integral versions (Luc orient, The General which is funny dutch stuff) or an deluxe version of Asterix and the big fight.
    The only special purchase was Marvels monster-sized edition which I bought while going to the LCS with my new girlfriend. When I saw it in the shop window I had to have it.
    I go on a holiday with her. We go to Egypt for 8 days (she hadn’t had her vacation yet, and I still had 25 vacation days for this year to use. I hadn’t used a lot because of the divorce a few years back).
    A shame that there is no music list this time that I can mock 😉

  2. Loved Conway’s run. Probably my favorite run post-Bronze Age.
    I actually saw a production of The Lady’s Not For Burning on PBS years ago. Good show.
    On the JLA, it stunned me when I was writing about them elsewhere and I realized they didn’t get a non-white Earthborn member until the Detroit League, around 30 years after their debut.
    I didn’t care for the era most of these stories came from at all. Denny O’Neil could do character bits but he couldn’t tell a good JLA story for toffee (in general I’m not a fan of O’Neil’s writing on anything, though he certainly had a landmark Bat-run). And Mike Friedrich’s message stories were a good example of how not to get on a soapbox.
    Re that Batman TPB, Bruce actually does do a lot of charity work to address the root causes of Gotham’s problems which makes me automatically not want to read this.
    Will look for the Tamurlane book.

  3. Basil Wolverton did Powerhouse Pepper in the late 40s and 50s. Batton Lash wrote the wonderful Punisher Meets Archie, of course. I think Harvey Pekar did a story with the Thing in it, in Strange Tales II. Oosterveer apparently did a Spider Island story. Doug Wildey apparently did a bunch of Atlas stories in the ‘50s.

    Just to let you know.

  4. Dick Dillin is, for me, the definitive JLA artist. I’m a Satellite-era guy all the way, and I loved Perez issues back in the day, but he really didn’t do very many, whereas Dillin’s 115-issue run (!!) really defined the Bronze Age Justice League.

    Conway Batman isn’t technically “mine” either–mine’s a little earlier, late 70s/early 80s–but those are some fine comics.

    I think America Chavez is great, especially in Young Avengers, though her solo series wasn’t to my taste and her page in Marvel #1000 didn’t do much for me either. But then I didn’t entirely warm to Kate Bishop until the various post-Young Avengers Hawkeye series.

    Dang, I should check out that Skrull book.

    1. I should maybe clarify here (if it’s not clear already), that when I say definitive I don’t necessarily mean favorite. I just mean he defines the look of my mental image of the Justice League, the same way Jim Aparo is my definitive Batman, Spectre and Aquaman artist (as much as I may adore other artists’ work), Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is my definitive Superman artist and Sal Buscema is my definitive Hulk and Cap artist. It has everything to do with when I came on board.

      1. I love Aparo’s Aquaman but I think my definitive Aqua-artist would be Cardy.
        I like Aparo’s Batman too (I like Aparo on most things) but I think I identify him as a Bat-artist more with Outsiders. Probably because he was Barr’s co-creator whereas I saw a lot of Batman art before encountering him there.
        No argument about his Spectre.

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