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Well, this is the big week, folks—the relaunch of Comic Book Galaxy -- as Alan and yours truly and some of our best old-timers and recent regulars are joined by a huge dollop of the cream of the Comics Blogosphere. I’m very pleased and honored to be among their company, and while I don’t think there will ever be one site that fulfills all a comics reader’s needs, I do think we will at least make this one a pretty essential stop on a daily basis, and that’s quite enough. More important for me regarding these changes is that they represent a very positive event in my friend Alan’s life. We’ve both been through plenty of tough times over the past year, and despite the distance of thousands of miles, I feel like we’ve been through it together. So it’s nice to be here to experience the beginning of what I think is going to be a very good time.
And, capitalizing on all this bonhomie, the bastard has made me agree to make this column weekly again. So, if you like this sort of thing, keep coming back every Friday, beginning next week.
Teenagers From Mars by Rick Spears and Rob G put both creators on the comics map, making possible the recent graphic novel, Filler, as well as Rob G’s artistic collaboration with Brian Wood on his Couscous Express sequels. So it was high time the series’ first eight issue arc was collected.
It’s no wonder Wood would take notice of the book, due to its story of youthful rebellion, but the approach here is a bit less hyperbolic and the pacing is set on LINGER. that manages to reference STAR WARS in a fresh way, we meet our male lead, Macon. Macon is a Mallmart clerk by day, a thrifty minicomics creator by night, without a lot to show for either efforts. But when he is fired for refusing to remove supposedly offending comics from the store, getting into a fight with the manager in the process, he finds that his impulses, both creative and destructive, are no longer restrained by having a regular job…and he wants revenge against Mallmart.
So too does Madison, a cute, pierced girl with a similar lack of compunction about fighting, and a similar rage against Mallmart, after she is charged with assault for hitting a store employee trying to look up her skirt. As one might expect from a comic created by two young men, the reader is treated to just what the employee was looking at. A chance meeting at a party becomes an impromptu date becomes the sought-after revenge, as Madison and Macon destroy the Mallmart sign with rocks, throw a garbage can through the glass, and then Macon spray paints “Comicbook Liberation Army” on the wall.
Vandalism becomes terrorism based on this afterthought, and the rest of the book involved the couple’s efforts to evade police and enlist support. The plot itself is fairly unimportant, and one can easily say not only that the couple are wrong and deserve to be caught, but that comics themselves are just a convenience symbol for the target audience of discredited, juvenile trash, and Spears makes little or no effort to explain their importance. What he is good at, though, are moments—the tough but tender words and gestures between Macon and Madison that make their bullet-riddled romance feel authentic. Spears and G have applied what they’ve seen in movies—Tarantino especially--to good effect here. The growing fame and how that leads to physical desirability comes straight from Natural Born Killers, while the scene with the profusely bleeding Madison in the arms of desperately soothing Macon carries the tenderness and creeping dread of a scene between Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs. And while there are some lulls in the second half of the book as Spears gears up for the finale, the structure of the book is generally very impressive, early moments paying off big at the end of the road. For his part, G has an appealing style and makes great use of graytones for depth, though his style simplifies by the end to become slightly less interesting. A debut of passion, intensity and youthful energy. Gigantic Graphic Novels $19.95
Our Most Beloved is the major label debut CD by James Kochalka Superstar, the recording/performing musical outlet for cartoonist James Kochalka. He’s enlisted Peter Katis of Interpol to produce new versions of old favorites, with, I presume, some new stuff here and there as well over the course of the 25 tracks. Katis wisely keeps the sound spare and low-rent, as anything more lush would probably overwhelm Kochalka’s charmingly humble vocals, and the whimsy of the lyrics. As with Kochalka’s comics, much of the work here is suitable for children, some of it absolutely isn’t, and some straddles the line. “Twinkle Twinkle Ringo Star” sounds promising, but lines like “The Beatles came down in their spaceship/And the whole world went apeshit” will have you lunging for the volume control or track skip button. Other tracks like “Pussy Gangster”, “Keg Party”, “Put Down the Gun” and, well, “Show Respect to Michael Jackson” are clearly not kid-friendly (though I was able to convince my son the song was called “Cake Party”, as it’s not really about drinking but about kissing). But many of the songs are so catchy and attuned to the musical sensibilities of kids and kids-at-heart that the lyrics hardly register, anyway. JKS use synths, drum machines, or guitars amped to 11, but never with an arrangement too freaky or heavy for the little ones.
Of the songs I played for my own kids, “Breaking Stuff”—a timeless ditty about what to do if you break a dish, break a bone, or break a heart; the aggressively silly “Monkey vs. Robot”; “Neigh-Neigh and Woo-Woo”, which is full of enthusiastic horse imitations by James; “Hockey Monkey” and “Talk to the Wooky” all registered very strongly, usually calling for replays as soon as they were over. My son couldn’t stop singing “Talk to the Wooky” the first night, and it’s also a good song to make a game out of, making up new lyrics at the dinner table. If he doesn’t realize it’s actually about cunnilingus for another decade, I’ll be quite happy. With a bonus DVD of videos and performances, and a short color comic about James and bandmate Jason Cooley. Rykodisc. $13.99
Super F*ckers is James Kochalka's newest series--his first prolonged attempt at superheroes—and it’s a solid success. The first issue introduces us to the team of arrogant, infighting, variously reprehensible or loathsome young heroes, along with a crop of hopefuls arriving to try out for the team. Does it represent growth? Yeah, in a way--the storytelling and structure is much tighter and much more plot is packed in than most of his graphic novels, and it's very funny. I should note it's funny in a really juvenile way--lots of superheroes getting high and swearing--but it works. And it's always a pleasure to see Kochalka's art in full color. Recommended. Top Shelf Productions. $7.00
Green Lantern #1 by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Sciver, Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino confuses me. What's the deal with the art duties? I was surprised to see the cold, lackluster work of Van Sciver on the first few pages of the first issue, followed by the technically superior but still curiously unenthusiastic work of Carlos Pacheco, but the solicitation for issue #4 shows Van Sciver going it alone. Is the the regular artist now, or do the two men switch, or what? Maybe cold is the wrong word, as the heroes often look creepy, like maybe there’s a thinly veiled contempt for the work coming through. I didn't think the first issue was bad, per se, but it really seemed to take for granted that the reader knew the recent history of Hal Jordan, and that they think he's hot shit. I couldn't figure out at one point if there was a flashback to him starting out at the Air Force base, or that was all happening now, or what. I guess for me there's a big problem from the start, in that I find it hard to grasp how a guy who can fly under his own power would still want so desperately to be able to get back up in a jet again. Do NBA players wish they could cut their games short so they can go back home to play NBA 2005 on X-Box? Jordan's yearning to take that stick again just seems like a kind of nostalgia, and isn't nostalgia a kind of fear? $2.99. DC Comics
The Comics Journal #268 features a long interview with Craig Thompson, one with Bob Burden, a big chunk of color "Our Gang" comics by Walt Kelly, and most importantly, a review by ME of the first trade of Gotham Central, that I wrote almost a year ago. It was nice, as I'd forgotten about it (I have nothing else on tap for TCJ, but I really ought to get back in the game), and though I was I think the only guy in this section reviewing something at all superhero-related, I think I did a pretty good job of it. It's funny how seeing something in print, with art and nice captions and fonts and such, it seems smarter than when it's just you plunking away on a keyboard.
I waited on the Thompson interview, as he’s one guy whose work I like a lot but who seems like kind of a tight-ass personally. I remember a couple of Comic-Cons ago trying to get him to agree to an interview for my online home at the time, Movie Poop Shoot, and he declined outright, the name of the site horrifying to him. It’s a very good interview, though, and I ended up liking and respecting the guy more, which actually happens much more often than not in TCJ interviews.
I liked Sean T. Collins' massive takedown of Jaime Hernandez' Locas as well, not because I agreed (I'm still in the early part of the book), and not that it was a brilliant review, but mainly because I liked how much of Sean comes through. I mean, this is not a focused assault on the book at all, but rather Sean hopping back and forth across his impressions and expectations and his own concerns as an artist. Maybe I could say I see myself and my own struggles as a critic in Sean's work here, like that (as I perceive it) need to show one's intellectual credentials with the highfalutin reference (in this case Dulcinea) battling with the need to show one can still keep it real (the punk aesthetic). Above all, it's very readable, so much so that I realized I should stop, so as not to be biased against the book, but I had to stay on the ride. Good column by Steven Grant, too, on the common, foolish practice by many fledgling comics publishers to seek to create a presence by flooding the almost-always-hostile market with too many books at a time. I sensed maybe he was pulling his punches a bit, not mentioning recent failures but pointing instead to publishers who more or less have gone about it the right way, like IDW and Avatar, coincidentally or not current publishers of Grant's work, though Grant doesn't plug his own books or anything. TCJ.com. $9.95
I suppose it’s occasioned by the release of the Spectre-starring Day of Vengeance miniseries, but whatever the reason, I’m glad to finally have the Michael Fleisher/Jim Aparo Spectre stories collected, in Wrath of the Spectre. According to Fleisher, this was his first experience writing comics scripts, so he was able to convert his ignorance into audacious, fast-paced stories free of some of the clichéd, safe tropes of other superhero comics of the time. In this case, though, that meant he inadvertently wrote stories closer to an earlier genre, the EC “eye for an eye” type of horror comic, where every moral transgression is met with a cruelly ironic fate. The Spectre, as always, is Detective Jim Corrigan, who encounters heinous murders on the job, and after yelling a bit and chewing a cigarette, gives up on actual detective work and lets his alter ego exact vengeance. That’s one of the annoyance of these stories. Moreso than Batman’s Bruce Wayne, or Superman’s Clark Kent, Corrigan makes a mockery of policework. Since he’s dead, why go through this charade?
If one can ignore this flaw, the stories themselves are very entertaining. Fleisher comes up with increasingly bizarre and horrific crimes, and he has to, as the Spectre’s punishments are so severe as to almost make the villains sympathetic. Men are turned to wood and sawed into several slices, or melted, or cut in half by giant shears. It’s a series meant to be a short one, as it’s based so much on shock value, and unlike so many comics today, a lot happens in each story.
Maybe too much, actually. The plots are fine, but Corrigan is not a character, and though The Spectre comes from another dimension doesn’t mean he has any. Fleisher seems to sense this, and seeks to quickly add a romantic subplot doomed to failure and redundancy: immediately after her father is killed, Gwen Sterling throws herself at Det. Corrigan, only to be rebuffed, and rebuffed, and rebuffed, through endless explanations that, “hey, lady, I’m, like dead, you know?” and a ridiculous number of situations where Gwen is the pawn of various killers. Gwen’s love for the macho but paper-thin Corrigan is so sudden and all-consuming as to stumble headlong through absurdity into certifiable insanity, perhaps stemming from her displaced grief over her father, not that Fleisher is interested in psychological underpinnings to his characters. The persistence with which Gwen, and Fleisher, pursue this dead-on-arrival (no pun intended) romance nearly derails the book. Fortunately, Fleisher rebounds in the trio of concluding stories that went undrawn and unpublished until the the late 80s, where reporter (and intentional Clark Kent lookalike, though Kent is treated as a fictional character in Fleisher’s corner of the DCU) Earl Crawford gets so close to the trail of unbelievable coincidences and bizarre killings that he becomes a suspect himself, before yet another Spectre dealing of vengeance lets him off the hook. Aparo’s art had by this time lost a good deal of its spark, and the workmanlike inks of Mike De Carlo don’t help, either, but the more sympathetic inking of Pablo Marcos on the final tale ends things on a relatively high note for this short and remarkably savage series.
Finally read Ho Che Anderson’s King graphic biography. It's good for the fact that it effectively shows King as a decent, brave and committed man who nonetheless has a weakness for the ladies. That is, it's neither a hagiography nor is it pure dirt, but presents the different sides of the man in a compact and entertaining format. I most enjoyed just seeing King and his fellow activists talking through their visions for change and the various dangers and roadblocks in the way of that change. That's not to say this is a brilliant book, though. I think it's absolutely worth reading, and it's interesting throughout, but as a kind of illustrated screenplay of King's life it could have used another draft or two. It's just event after event with no real epic sweep or dramatic ebb and flow. It goes from THIS to THAT to THE NEXT THING, and most are pretty interesting, but once it's over, it's over, with no lasting impression or haunting image. The art, which is a mixture of several styles and media, is always good but the choices often seem arbitrary, aside for the well-chosen black-and-white, heavily inked portions for unnamed observers to comment on the events and offer different perspectives on King. That’s one of the more effective approaches in the book.
Also, while it might be a more accurate approach, as real life is never tidy, none of the subplots introduced are ever resolved. Coretta Scott King reveals her knowledge of ML King's affairs, but she never brings it up again. King keeps sleeping around, and it never really affects him. King loses a lot of credibility for his nonviolent stance and not following through on his efforts in Chicago, and then he's killed. King asks Ralph Abernathy to be his successor, but we don't see whether this happens. It's still good; it's stuff everyone should know, and it's presented in an easy way to gain this knowledge, but it's not a great book. It’s an ambitious attempt at presenting a balanced view of a complex, important man, but not an entirely successful one. Fantagraphics Books. $22.95
Here’s something I’ve wondered about comics self-publishers: do the postcards and bookmarks and all that cost so little that it seems like a good idea? From the perspective of this reviewer, all of that stuff is a waste of money, as it generally goes right in my recycling bin. Including just one buff-colored page of 8 ½” x 11” paper talking about the book is all that’s necessary, and whenever possible, include the URL and email on the inside cover of the book itself.
Hey, finally, a big Thanks and tip of the cap to Larry Young, who so nicely provided the huge shwag for our relaunch contest. It’s very appropriate, as I remember Larry being one of the very first publishers to send me and other CBGers comps for review purposes, within weeks of me beginning at the site. In fact, I think he sent me a box of everything they’d published at that time, with the exception of nobody, which must have been briefly out of print or something. Anyway, it was very nice of him. Thanks to Mark Millar for the Intro as well, which was a treat.
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