THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/3/10 – Veterans & Introductions)
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Hey everyone. My name is Joe McCulloch, although you might also know me by my various internet aliases, like “Jog” or “Thierry Groensteen.” I was a contributor to two of the print issues of Comics Comics — and I currently write reviews and essays at The Savage Critics and The Comics Journal (er, soon!), while contributing to a weekly movie column with the Rev. Tucker Stone and occasionally blowing dust off my homepage — but I’m here right now to put this site into compliance with recent amendments to the Greater Internet Funnybook Discussion Act of 1933 (initially prompted by an especially potent stack of Tijuana Bibles and, likely, the repeal of Prohibition) requiring all comic book websites redesigned after December 31, 2009, to furnish a weekly post detailing all the neat-looking shit due in comic book stores that particular Wednesday, or be liable for penalties, including and limited to death.
So here’s a short rundown of comics and things due imminently (3/3/10) at Direct Market retailers serviced by Diamond Comics Distributors (and whatever else I find). Not all of this stuff is guaranteed to show up, although most of it stands at least a fighting chance.
MW (softcover): And I can’t think of a better way to start than hell and death and fucking damnation from an unassailable master of the form – Dr. Osamu Tezuka. The year was 1976, the artist was nearly 50, and the early raw howl of gekiga had given way to an adult mainstream of manga; hardly one to let an opportunity pass, Tezuka began work on a cruel, sprawling serial of suspense, the saga of a young boy kidnapped by freaks and accidentally exposed to A Certain Nation’s experimental gas, intended for use in Vietnam. The boy is stripped of all empathy and the prime kidnapper is consumed with guilt, and the two men grow up to be lovers, the former an amoral master of intrigue and the latter the most tormented Catholic priest in Asia. It goes without saying that many more complications arise, really more than will fit comfortably in a 584-page book (new in softcover from Vertical); you’ll all but run your fingers along the seams of serialization with this one as the author sweats to keep your mature eyes steady and ready for the next magazine installment.
Still, the work remains compelling, particularly as Tezuka smashes his humanistic worldview against some ugly realities; heaps of corpses weren’t something the young artist had to imagine during wartime. Even Astro Boy could get violent and dour, of course, and this wasn’t Tezuka’s first crack at specifically adult readers, not by a long shot, but here he seems distinctly loosened up by working in a big, trashy thriller idiom, allowing his populist storytelling instincts to roll through some specified fears — America, domestic radicalism, political ennui — while steadily building up his story’s villain as more and more of an anti-hero, just the cynical scoundrel necessary to shock a nation into doing something affirmative, saving the world while insisting he’s bored. In this way, the old Tezuka worms his way into even the simmered-down state of seinen rising, just as how his splendidly composed pages see a few old funny drawings sneak out among his sturdier figures. Not the best of a storied career, but good times for fans of certain crises. Preview here; $19.95.
Unlovable Vol. 2: Being another thick (408-page) Fantagraphics collection of Esther Pearl Watson‘s comics from BUST Magazine, adapting an authentic 1980s teenage diary to full-page funny drawings in two colors. I didn’t read the first one, but it seems to have been well-received for its gangling verisimilitude. Big preview; $22.99.
Stooge Pile: The latest from Drawn and Quarterly’s Petit Livres line of small art books showcasing drawings and illustrations. This one’s 5 1/4″ x 6 1/2″ and 80 pages, dedicated to Canadian artist and animator Seth Scriver. Samples; $14.95.
Starr the Slayer: A Starr is Born: One of the quiet so as to slip by you stories of the last decade is how Richard Corben, consummate alternative genre stylist, has carved out a steady zone of activity for himself in front-of-Previews comics – Hellboy and Conan and various Marvel pursuits, among them the recent MAX (‘mature’)-rated barbarian series this 96-page softcover compiles. Written by Daniel Way, it’s noteworthy as loose and dirty-mouthed and parodic and scatterminded fuck-offy in a way that evokes its artist’s underground/ground-level past. Like so; $19.99.
Dead Ahead #3 (of 3): Plus – Alex Niño drawing an Image comic about zombies on the high seas! Not a huge fan of the coloring on this one, I confess; shiny and overbearing. See for yourself; $3.99.
Starstruck #7 (of 13): But I’m a little surprised by how much I’m enjoying Lee Moyer’s new colors on this IDW edition of Elaine Lee’s & Michael Wm. Kaluta’s never-completed, ultra-compressed 1980s space opera from the pages of Heavy Metal (and a collected Marvel Graphic Novel) (and a later Epic Comics series) (and an even later Dark Horse expansion of said graphic novel and comics series). In fact, I like literally everything about this cleverly revised, nipped & tucked edition, apportioning and expanding upon Lee’s modular, time-skipping vignettes with text features crammed right between the ‘main’ story and Charles Vess-inked backup material intended for different venues, creating a kind of call and response between different characters from different points in time, walking you carefully through Lee’s collage of varied femininity in a hazardous future. World (universe!) building like you don’t see so often, and never has the prospect of 13 issues getting you maybe 1/3 of the way through the overall plot — ’cause that’s as far as IDW is going for now, up to maybe the start of the Epic run — seemed so pleasantly fitting; $3.99.
Girl Comics #1 (of 3): Speaking of varied femininity, here’s Marvel’s latest anthology miniseries, premised on an all-female list of contributors. I wasn’t crazy about Marvel’s prior effort in this format, the ‘alternative comics’-styled Strange Tales (collected this week into a $29.99 hardcover); it felt aimless and jokey, obviously possessed of a few good bits — I really liked Junko Mizuno’s Spider-Man short, which deftly summarized her entire aesthetic in just a few pages — but mostly giving off the feeling of forces posed to form an artificial dichotomy and pointedly failing to take each other seriously. This is a different concept, granted, but I think defining an ‘alternate’ take on otherwise serious-minded superhero characters as an ultimately frivolous Other is an active hazard nonetheless. With Trina Robbins, Colleen Coover, Ann Nocenti and others. Samples; $4.99.
First Wave #1 (of 6): Meanwhile, DC launches a new line of linked property revivals with writer Brian Azzarello at the helm – it’s a pulp hero-type shadowed universe, with applicable characters like Doc Savage and the Spirit running around and dealing with the earliest, gun-toting incarnation of Batman. Synergy, yes — individual character spin-offs and relaunches will spring from this miniseries — but I like the idea of setting up a whole line of characters as premised on an alternative ‘reading’ of superhero history, one that expressly links superhero development to anxious, violent city fears. Rags Morales draws. Preview; $3.99.
Age of Reptiles: The Journey #3 (of 4): Just Ricardo Delgado drawing a dialogue-free Dark Horse comic about dinosaurs running around. Some things you gotta acknowledge. Preview; $3.50.
Planetary (HC) Vol. 4 (of 4): Spacetime Archeology: Lots of people have been waiting for this; vol. 3 was released by Wildstorm back in July of 2004. When you open them all up, I think you can see the grand irony of Planetary, a much-heralded, lauded, loved endeavor from writer Warren Ellis and artist John Cassaday, at first an episodic series of adventures in which super-powered archeologists of the weird uncover… types of action, pretty much. HK movie-style shooting, giant monsters, charismatic spies; metaphorically, a lost potential for action comics, literally hidden in-story by evil, greedy versions of the Fantastic Four, “superheroes” as the perfect supervillain, with a medium-world bent over their knee. I wasn’t bothered by how Ellis criticized superheroes by way of essentially a fancy superhero comics, because all the lost alternate potentials for the medium he presented were never meant to be the whole medium; they were just what was applicable to pop comics about people hitting each other and other things in fine style, a community’s possibilities. And indeed, as the series picked up steam as the millennium turned, a lot of superhero comics seemed particularly ready to branch out and take on new attributes, to blend and restore.
But the decade went on, and manga grew into its own mainstream, and comics expanded and split into camps of readerships, superhero comics slowed a bit and buckled down to focus on its established, devoted readers. Planetary just slowed, and as it entered the late phases of its story, it seemed oddly (and I do suspect unintentionally) responsive to the hardening of superhero comics around it, in that it became fascinated with its central conflict between super-powered forces, struggling for the fate of the world, which never was the fascinating thing about it. You have to end the conflict, sure, but the broad sweep of action types evoked by earlier issues became more like decoration as the superheroes, at heart pretty simple, fought the supervillains, then struggled to save a fellow superhero as the world changed essentially behind it, and then that was it. Of its time, as if tethered to its time and pulled along. But, you know, maybe you’ll see it differently, all the more if you’ve been hungry for half a decade; $24.99.
Crossed #9 (of 9): Ellis rose to prominence among many readers with the Vertigo (well, Helix at first) series Transmetropolitan, which for a good while ran alongside another popular favorite, Preacher, from writer Garth Ennis. It’s a keystone work for sure, enough so that I think a lot of readers still kind of judge Ennis by it, although he’s split his interests off a bit since then, both into his War Story and Battlefields series of straightforward combat fiction of a kind not commonly developed in North America, as well as increasingly acrid, nihilistic journeys into genre-fed hell, best embodied by his latter run on Marvel’s The Punisher. This is another of that latter type, an Avatar Press miniseries most easily described as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by way of comics’ insatiable delight in zombies (see: Dead Ahead, others).
Inexplicably, a large number of people develop cross-shaped wounds on their faces and become slaves to their every violent urge. Survivors, including what I’m now thinking is a possibly unreliable narrator, tread carefully through a ruined America toward possibly no salvation at all. A fantasy-addled nerd dooms his family to horrible atrocities. Children are put to death for the greater good. All is conveyed through the reliably divisive art of Ennis regular Jacen Burrows, who works in an animation-ready cartoon style apt to bursting out only when bodies do the same. This one’s grown on me, and here’s the extra-long finale; $4.99.
The Boys #40: But hey, the gross humor Ennis is still around too, although that’s usually the weakest stuff in here. Preview; $2.99.
Greek Street #9: Peter Milligan! Hell yeah, the Vertigo superstar quotient of this website is already through the fucking roof. However, in a startling twist, this ongoing series is actually being published by the DC label. I’m actually way behind on this high concept revamp of ancient myths into a contemporary crime drama context, but I like to keep a log of everything Milligan puts out these days, which is a hell of a lot of stuff compared to the various prior periods in his long career; it’s easy to forget that those old Brendan McCarthy collaborations stretch back a ways into the ’70s, although my fondness burns brightest for ’90s classics Rogan Gosh, one of my favorite comics ever, and the Duncan Fegredo-drawn Enigma, maybe THE great forgotten superhero comic of the decade. Currently, I’d give his still-going run as writer on Hellblazer the advantage over everything else (i.e. random superhero issues, the gaming tie-in Army of Two), but still, I do take note, toward some 21st century Milligan concordance; $2.99.
Batman Confidential #42: Aw hell, why not push this history back a little more with one of my personal high-saddle heroes of the Image Revolution circa just-before-junior high – Sam Kieth, creator of The Maxx (and, lest we forget, errant co-creator of Vertigo monument The Sandman, FOUR IN A ROW AND I’M NOT EVEN DONE), maybe one of the ideal weird genre comics for syncing up with an 11-year old’s pliable brain. I never watched the MTV cartoon; I didn’t need it. Kieth has since had an especially odd and winding career path — 2000 saw him direct a rock-climbing movie(!!) titled Take It to the Limit — but I’d particularly recommend his recent Oni Press book My Inner Bimbo (art assists by Josh Hagler & Leigh Dragoon), a seething, sooty slab of symbol-adorned crypto-autobiography in which a man’s feminine aspect breaks off into his waking sight and begins driving his body around for herself.
He’s also been putting together a bunch of DC superhero things lately, this being the newest: part 3 of 4 in a characteristically subdued Batman journey through tricky interrelationships (a Joker graphic novel, Arkham Asylum: Madness, is forthcoming). His prior project, Lobo: Highway to Hell, seemed especially loose and doodly, although that was a drawings-only job (scripted by Scott Ian of Anthrax), reproduced in a somewhat blurry manner possibly attributable to colorist Lee Loughridge or maybe the printer or something. This one is written and drawn by Kieth, and colored by Kieth and José Villarrubia, and it looks a bit more solidified; $2.99.
Kieth: The Sketchbooks Vol. 1: But for those interested in breaking it down, be on notice that IDW has its own offering for the week – a 48-page, 8.5″ x 11″ collection of random workings from across one quarter of a century; $9.99.
Our Sentence is Up: Seeing Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles: And finally, here’s your book-about-comics for the week – a “conversational” survey of… wait for it… yet another ’90s Vertigo smash, this time writer Grant Morrison’s sprawling, troubled opus of stylish sedition. Authored by one Patrick Meaney, featuring a new “wide-ranging” interview with Morrison himself, and published by Sequart, which is also releasing Meaney’s upcoming documentary film, Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods. It’s 372 pages; $26.95.
Labels: This Week in Comics