Monday, September 30, 2013

The Great Darkness!

The Great Darkness Saga is one of those grand comic book epics I missed at the time. I was not plugged into DC much post-Crisis and to be totally honest I've never been a rousing Legion fan. I like them sure, enjoy them fine, but never one of the devoted. And finally at long last reading this fan-fave story, I can really get a sense of what it must be like for newbie fans to wander into the complex storytelling of such a sprawling universe like DC or Marvel with little background data.

I read this story because of its Fourth World connections, the fact that Darkseid is the enemy and that other Kirby Fourth World characters come into play, at least tangentially. But the very fact I know that Darkseid is the villain, a fact advertised by the cover of the vintage trade I read really rather ruins much of the impact of the story since the revelation of the mystery villain is much of what makes the story hum, or should.

When this story first rolled off the presses, the Fourth World was mostly a footnote, finished at long last but dormant within the confines of the DCU, having found little purchase in most broader tales. Paul Levitz's idea to project the villain Darkseid forward into the future of the Legion was a great notion, and keeping his identity a mystery most of the story must've been great fun for readers at the time. But now it's incredibly anti-climatic.

But that's not what kept me from totally plugging into this story. The myriad back stories of the Legion just overwhelmed me as I plodded through. The various romances, dalliances, and trysts which made up the Legion's storyline dropped cold as ice while I was trying to follow the main plot. I didn't care two hoots about the romantic entanglements or political ambitions of these characters, which they seemed all too intense about as they fought for their very lives. The emphasis seemed off.

The artwork by Keith Giffen was dandy at times, but at other times hard to decipher, and frankly I prefer Giffen inking himself. Larry Mahlstedt is a damn fine inker, but his soft lines seemed unsuited to Giffen's hard edges. I know a lot of folks have a soft spot for this story, and I get that. I love lots of Avengers stories a lot more than they deserve on their absolute merits, but this one despite some fine moments didn't seem to have the epic scope I'd hope to find in a Darkseid story.

Rip Off

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Flashes Of The Past!

This Flash 80-page giant featuring a dramatic symbolic cover by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito is one of the very first comics I ever got hold of for my own. The glory of such a package to a young kid over forty years ago is hard to fathom these days, but this was a trove of imaginationand adventure. I was whisked away into volatile capers with The Flash and his partners and friends. 

The Golden Age Flash was on hand, and I was never more a moment confused by the existence of two Earths, despite what the apologists for the Crisis would claim many years later. The "Double Danger on Earth!" was averted.

The Green Lantern was here, his comradeship with the Fastest Man Alive was palpable and compelling as they saved the planet yet again despite becoming "Captives of the Cosmic Ray!".

And then there was Kid Flash, at this point still a mirror image of his mentor as they worked in tandem to visit the mysterious "Land of the Golden Giants". Kid Flash looking on in his outstanding newer costume on the cover.

In one lush comic book I was introduced to most of the classic Flash tropes and some elegant Carmine Infantino artwork. 

Rip Off

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Good Government!

I have about a thirty minute commute to and from my work, so I get to spend some quality time everyday with talk radio. I could opt for music or slightly more enlightening fare from public radio, but at the end of the day I feel like something with a little pepper in it.And that's what talk radio is all about, adding spice, often too much spice to the nettlesome issues of the day.

With all the chatter in recent weeks about the government shutdown possibilities, I hear rants from some of the more extreme goobers out there that such a thing would not be at all a bad thing. Such addled luddite thinking makes me groan, and that voluble folks keep popping off with it is noisome to the max.

A world without police or fire protection immediately raises some red flags. Not that crime would suddenly erupt, but over time the lack of enforcement would create dangerous scenarios, especially on the highways where a winner-take-all approach to driving already makes travel more hazardous than it ought to be. Fire would take it daily toll and more so as the neglect increased.

Then there's the trash collection. Anyone remember the trash strike in New York City many years ago. Let the trash trucks not show up for two weeks and I imagine all those folks who don't want government would be howling a slightly different tune. Much of what we know of effective government is about regular and effective service, or ought to be.

There's the little things we don't consider most of the time because they have become so standard. Food and water safety are presumed because of federal, state, and local governmental regulations which oversee that we aren't ingesting poisonous compounds on a daily basis, at least not those we don't want to ingest. The food scares out of China should give all anti-government yahoos a pause.

And then there's media. I'm always amused when talk radio boneheads yammer on about government regulation when their livelihoods exist almost exclusively because of governmental regulations which make radio broadcasting possible. Otherwise when the dope down the road jumps on the radio and makes noises I don't like I could with the power of the marketplace behind me erect a taller tower and drown his dumb ass out. But I can't, and it's because of government that I can't.

We all hate government when it sends us a bill to pay for its services. We all hate government when the people who run it do a horrible job, or even a mediocre one. But that doesn't mean we don't need governance, we just need good government. Why don't these yahoos preach for that, instead of the nihilistic claptrap they currently bray.

On another note I just ran across this great example of good governance from my own state. We need more of this practical talk. The irony that most folks in my state never voted for the man who will make such a profound difference in their lives is not lost.

Rip Off

This Takes Me Wayback!

I have to confess that I am intrigued to see what they do with Mr.Peabody and Sherman in this four-issue IDW effort which is produced in anticipation of a new movie from Dreamworks starring the Jay Ward duo. I'm an unabashed fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle and for me the artfully dry humor of "Mr.Peabody's Improbable History" was an absolute highlight of the show. From the awesome introduction (both of them, though I like the museum bit the best slightly) to the final painful pun, their romps through time and space were delicious morsels of pure entertainment.

The very concept of a genius dog with a pet boy is so ideally comical, that everything follows after it. Add in time travel via the WABAC/Wayback Machine and you have  one of the most perfect concepts in the history of popular entertainment. I don't know what tack Sholly Fisch and Jorge Monlongo have in mind, but I'm heartened by the art, which while still modern does evoke the inherent madness of the concept.

I'll have to sample an issue of this. I just have to. It might be almost like time travel itself. I hope.

Rip Off

Friday, September 27, 2013

Eerie Likeness!

This vivid French comic book cover sure looked familiar.

One source is this classic Sanjulian cover for Eerie magazine. But it's not an exact swipe.

You'll note that the Minoton from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger has been lifted, flipped and added to the scene. Also a hand-raising sorcerer type gets tossed in too. The demon with the axe then gets shifted down to take the place of the double-skull decorated ogre. I loved the stoic Minoton in that old cheesy Sinbad movie, he was so very relentless, if alas so very slow.
I can almost see the nameless French artist working away,  his two sources of inspiration spread out before him.

Rip Off

Thursday, September 26, 2013

More Artifacts From Ylum!

In this second collection of Nexus stories from the First Comics years, the saga of Nexus really gathers some steam. The consequences of being the universe's most famous executioner lays heavy on Horatio Hellpop and after killing a Sov general, a lingering reminder of our own times, he goes on a bit of bender. He goes all "Elvis" after surgery which removes his dreams and headaches, but also it seems his will. Nexus is sprung from his ennui by Sundra Peale who reawakens his sense of purpose, and we get to meet the ancient force behind both his dreams and his power. Then an existential threat to Ylum itself forces Nexus to make hard choices about his own life in order to save the thousands of sentients who have found and who seek safety in the refuge world. The final story in this volume is one which bristles with potential for the next volume.

This second volume has a nice arc to it as the consequences of the first story, a classic Nexus story by Mike Baron and Steve Rude,  resonates throughout the volume in often surprising ways. The saga of Nexus is one in which hard choices are often required by all the characters and the consequences of those choices don't dissolve readily. It's a book about power and responsibility, but unlike that other comic about such matters doesn't blink in the face of what those responsibilities entail.

Artistically the book actually picks up speed. Eric Shanower's elegant inks are replaced by a more potent brush by John Nyberg, giving the stories a bit more bite. There are also a few fill-in issues in this sequence, one drawn by Shanower featuring Judah Macabee on vacation and the other a callback issue with art by Keith Giffen which relates an untold tale of Nexus and Judah when they teamed up with Badger beyond the Black Hole.

One downside in this volume for me were the back-up stories featuring Clonezone the Hilarator, a walking talking alliagator who also is a professional comedian and actor. His misadventures written by Baron and drawn by some guy named Nelson (for the most part) are pretty unfunny and actually rather tedious for all their six or seven pages at times. I didn't grok this at all. 

That final bit excepted, not surprisingly Nexus is proving to be a slick and provoking read. This is a superhero who not only wants to make a difference, but must.

Here are the covers, some quite powerful, of the issues in the second omnibus.

Rip Off

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Slamming With The Stars!

It only took thirty years but I finally got around to reading Walter Simonson's Star Slammers. This Marvel Graphic Novel made an impression, even if at the time it hit the stands I was not in a mood to sample it. It's been out there ever since, a book I was sort of curious about, but never so that it pushed its way to the top of a buy. It's not the price which has never been all that much, but for some reason my interest and my finding it never coincided. Until a few days ago when I found it lurking in a back issue box for a mere two bucks. That was too good a price to ignore. For the price of a Coke I could finally read this story which I'd known about for decades.

It's pretty good. The Star Slammers are a hidden race of magnificent warriors who are threatened by a much more abundant race of humans who seek to wipe them out. They have made a name for themselves by hiring out their impressive warrior skills as mercenaries, acquiring over the years an arsenal against the inevitable day when their enemies would come seeking their destruction. This is the story of that ultimate battle and of three Slammers in particular who spearhead the defense of their people.

It's strange story of warriors who don't fear death, but only defeat. And it is a secret weapon they all possess but cannot use which is the key to their victory if they can only unlock its secret. Walt Simonson's artwork is impressive, and while his page layouts are at times bizarre, I never found my eye lost on the page as I strolled through the tale.

It took me thirty years to read Star Slammers. If you can find it cheap, don't let it be that long for you.

Rip Off

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Back In Black!

He was such an irrascible fellow by reputation, that in retrospect I prize even more every scrap of artwork I see by the late great Alex Toth. He produced art for dollars sure enough, he was a pro, but he seemed to only do it if it suited him at the time. That's why it's remarkable that we have the image above, the back cover for the second issue of The Black Hood from Red Circle Comics. Toth produced three covers for the three-issue run as well as two stories featuring The Fox. The interior stories of the Black Hood himself were by Gray Morrow and Pat Boyette, but it's all Toth on the outside.  

Rip Off

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lone Justice!

Lone Justice by Robert Tinnell and Mark Wheatley has been lurking on the shelves of my local comic book store for many moons. I've picked it up a few times, given it a glance then put it back. The story is spread across two trade volumes, both popping for twenty bucks, so the idea of taking a chance on a brand new character for nearly forty dollars was a bit off-putting. I relented yesterday to temptation after reading and enjoying classic Wheatley storytelling in the Mars volume, also from IDW. I took the gamble and it paid off in spades.

This is a fantastic story, well told and blessed with lush beautiful compelling artwork. It's a pulp yarn in the vintage tradition, set in a mythical city during the Great Depression, it tells the story of Lone Justice, a masked vigilante who is at the end of his string financially in his struggle against the mysterious foe called "Scion". He is in reality Octavius Brown the seemingly indolent son of a pillar of the community who has served his community in secret for many years. He is ably assisted by Mrs.Solstice, the family's longtime servant and once upon a time by a scientist named Gus Gotmoggen and once had a partner named Lady Fortune. His partners have turned from him, put off by the times and by his unwillingness to fight for things which in their minds truly matter. He has become too much a defender of the status quo and is blind to the broader suffering the hard times have wrought. Now he needs help to keep up the fight and he cannot find it, so he finds himself down and out but still driven to make a difference. How he will make that difference is discovered when he meets a young woman named Jean who helps him find a way forward.

"Crash!" is the actual title of this story which unfolds over the course of both trades. It was originally produced for the internet at the ComicMix website and is gathered together here. It's a story with power and punch and real actual heart which hits all the right notes for its pulp roots as well as showing how those old tales can still have something important to say to us in these modern days of the "Great Recession".

The artwork by Wheatley is  simply outstanding. He apparently painted these pages which have a powerful cinematic flair and read unerringly and with momentum. I'd love to read more in this universe, but it seems unlikely. But we have this story, one which will please pulp fans immensely and will have something to offer those wanting a bit of modern commentary in their tales.

Rip Off

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Jon Sable Freelance!

Mike Grell is doubtless a fine comic book artist with an immense track record of entertaining and well-crafted comics to his credit, both as a writer and as an artist. But I have to admit I was slow to appreciate his talents. It mostly has to do with his debut on the Legion of Super-Heroes which put him in the exceedingly unenviable position of having to follow Dave Cockrum. Grell had Cockrum's gloss but lacked the easy sense of anatomy which made so many of Cockrum's costumes work. And it has always been that oddball anatomy of his which leaves me a bit cool on Grell. But that said, I really like artists like Herb Trimpe and Steve Ditko who have decidedly specific ways to draw the human form. I should like Grell more than I have traditionally done. 

But if I was going to fall under Grell's spell, it would have to be in the exceedingly well done series he concocted for the then-new First Comics in 1983. Jon Sable Freelance is Grell at the top of his game with a character who has a number of fascinating qualities. I've been on a First Comics kick lately so I went ahead and picked up the first volume of IDW's The Complete Jon Sable Freelance which reprints the first six issues of the series. These are the first two action-filled stories (one guest-starring Ronald Reagan no less) in which we meet Sable and his cast of characters and the four-part origin story which together form a reasonably tight tale overall. I owned all of these comics once upon a time, when I thought that First Comics might well be the way forward for the form, a smart well-organized company with top talent. They lasted longer than many, but failed ultimately to live up the expectations.

Rip Off