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#0013 26 JULY 2004

There's Got to Be a Morning After -- I seem to be back up to speed after nearly two weeks suffering from a couple of different serious health problems, not the least of which was pneumonia that nearly killed me a week ago. I thought I'd seen just about everything until I spent the day last Sunday on oxygen in the emergency room very nearly unable to breathe at all. All of which really is just me saying "Hi, it's nice to be back!"

Quick Hits -- The review stack has been piling up, and I need to catch up. So away we go:

Taking up a good couple of inches in the stack are three terrific volumes written by Alan Moore, Supreme: The Story of the Year, Supreme: The Return and Judgment Day. These are from Checker Book Publishing Group, and I was thrilled to see that the company managed to overcome some early reproduction problems to turn these three books into essential reading for Alan Moore readers. Moore's Supreme deserves to be remembered with Tom Strong, Promethea and his other reimaginings of the standard comic book superhero. It came along in the mid-1990s as a startling reminder of Moore's profoundly entertaining ability to recontextualize our common mythology and make it something new and amazing, and prefigured the entire America's Best Comics line that Moore championed as the millennium turned.

Supreme could not have more humble origins, having been created as a cynical Superman ripoff by Rob Liefeld. But from the moment Moore took over the book (as seen in Supreme: The Story of the Year), it was transformed into something truly special. These three volumes collect the entirety of Moore's Supreme efforts, plus the Judgment Day miniseries that coincided with Supreme, a Watchmen-like murder mystery that actually surprises with the imagination and energy Moore put into it. It's certainly the very best Youngblood story you're ever gonna read, as Moore creates a whole new mythology to make up for Liefeld's creatively bankrupt creations and succeeds beyond any reasonable expectation.

A big surprise in the mail recently was Stan Yan's The Wang: The BIG One, available from Squid Works Comics. At once a critique of Amway-like groupthink and a bizarre, stream-of-subconscious sex romp, The Wang provides way more laughs than I was expecting and is definitely worth your ten bucks. It's dirty as hell, kind of like The Norm on crack and viagra, and the comic momentum sustains all the way through the book.

Jay Hacker's Headstatic from Fool's Child Comix (no website that I could find, but the book is available from Mars Import) is a massive, massive slab of comics. A Xeric Award winner, Hacker has compiled five years worth of his comic strips into a big graphic novel for a measly twelve bucks. Some strips are more successful than others, but he does a mean homage to a number of different cartoonists and is definitely reaching out to see what the boundaries of his talent are. Headstatic is the type of thing I'd love to see more of from more starting cartoonists, because it gives you such a great feel for what they're capable of and what they're thinking about their art.

Ill Conceived is just asking for it from the title alone, but surprise, it's actually a compelling story of marital tension and alien abduction. TJ May, Jason May and Shelton Bryant make an impressive debut that is shrouded in shadow and doesn't follow the predictible path I thought the story might be on. The nearly unfinished-looking artwork recalls Gene Colan, and suits the creepy, otherworldly story well. Ordering details are at the SUMM website.

Finally, James Kochalka's American Elf from Top Shelf collects five freaking years of Kochalka's daily diary strips, giving perhaps the most complete and complex view into the head of any cartoonist who ever lived. Having spent a couple of hours with Kochalka back in 2000, I can tell you that reading this book is exactly like hanging out with him. His strips reveal all about his love for his wife, his boner for life (and his wife!), and the ins and outs of what it is to be James Kochalka, Superstar.

This new volume collects everything from the previously-released Sketchbook Diaries volumes 1-4, plus an additional year's worth of strips and a ton of colour paintings, new strips and hidden gems. At 30 bucks, this is one of the essential releases of the year, damn it, and a GIGANTIC bargain. I know I've been telling you about how great James Kochalka's comics are for about as long as I've been doing this, but this new collection is such a tremendous capstone to his delightful career, I hope he is as proud of creating it as I am proud to own such a seminal comics work. No one has ever done something quite like James Kochalka's American Elf, and a copy belongs in the collection of anyone who just plain loves good comics.

As a side benefit, these strips are all so compact and so fun that virtually anyone, comics fan or not, will quickly find something hilarious, insightful or otherwise delightful to occupy their attention the minute they crack open the cover. So make sure you leave this on your coffee table for visitors to explore, and you'll have created a new comics reader in no time. This stuff is so addictive, and this package is so attractive, that it will shatter any preconceived notions about comics that your friends and family may have. James Kochalka's American Elf is one of the key comics releases of the year, a true lifetime accomplishment for its creator, and coming only a couple of weeks after Eightball #23, I am profoundly grateful to be alive and reading comics in the year 2004. That is all.

The Week in Comics -- Yep, too much important stuff to call to your attention to skip this award-winning (well, it should be) rundown of this week's new releases.

COMING WEDNESDAY JULY 28

BOOK OF THE WEEK

PICADOR PRESS

PAUL AUSTER'S CITY OF GLASS 14.00 -- One of the most vividly realized graphic novels ever released, this new edition is a must-buy for any comics reader. Indy Magazine recently featured a slew of articles in tribute to its landmark status, and you should give them a look. If you only know artist David Mazzucchelli from his wondrous superhero work on Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again, then you still don't know the full range of his talents. Inventive, traditional and yet cutting-edge and groundbreaking page and panel design wrap themselves around Paul Auster's complex story of urban paranoia and identity crisis (not a misuse of terms, in this case). DO NOT LET THIS ONE GET PAST YOU.

FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS

LUBA #8 (MR) 3.50 -- Gilbert Hernandez manages to crank out more great comics in a year than the entire creative components of some companies. I always delight in a new issue of Luba, which continues the stories of the people of Palomar. Which by now you should already own and love.

DARK HORSE

CONAN #6 2.99 -- I continue to be amazed how entertaining this is. I've never been a fantasy or sword and sorcery fan, but Kury Busiek, Cary Nord and company have been doing a terrific job reinventing this decades-old character and making him seem vibrant again for the first time in many years.

DC COMICS

DC THE NEW FRONTIER #5 (Of 6) 6.95 -- I've really been jonesing for this since it went bimonthly for the remainder of its run. Darwyn Cooke's spectacular exploration of Silver Age DC history remains one of the few most entertaining and dynamic superhero books of the year.

PLANETARY #20 2.95 -- A new issue is always welcome, whenever it appears. I haven't gotten around to refreshing my memory on the hardcover Volume Three yet, anyway.

SLEEPER SEASON TWO #2 (Of 12)(MR) 2.95 -- Last month's relaunch of my favourite monthly title was everything I had hoped it would be. By now you're sick of me telling you how great this book is, but if you like your supermelodrama laced with hyperrealistic plotting and dialogue and sublimely beautiful graphics, well, Goddamn it, here it freaking is.

IMAGE

SMALL GODS #1 2.95 -- I remember someone I know telling me this was worth checking out...can't remember why. But I'll give it a look in the store, at the very least.

WALKING DEAD #9 (MR) 2.95 -- America's Favourite Zombie Comic shambles on with its usual excellence...Remains is #2, in case you were wondering. That came out last week, and while it doesn't move as quickly as Walking Dead seems to, it's also a fun read.

MARVEL

ASTONISHING X-MEN #3 2.99 -- The costumes are ass-ugly, but otherwise Joss Whedon and John Cassaday are doing swell work following up Grant Morrison's divine run.

IDW

24 ONE SHOT #1 (MR) 6.99 -- I love the TV series this is based on, and am curious to see how it translates to comics. Definitely giving this a look.

Oh, One Other Thing -- I know a lot of you were at the San Diego Comicon last week, so if you missed it, check out my essay Alien Farewell, which explores Frank Miller's final issue of Daredevil as writer/artist. About the article, my buddy Jello wrote in to say "That my man, was a stunning review. Thank you again for sharing your insights with us. I remember a few years ago I suggested you post some reviews of classic comics and series to help your readers, old and new, get a better idea what you enjoyed, what you didn't, and why. This write-up is right along the lines of what I was thinking of. Only several orders of magnitude better than I expected. Hats off to you Alan." Thanks, Jello!

And thanks to all of you for spending part of your Monday with me. Have a great week.

-- Alan David Doane



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