THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/16/10 – Gary Groth Will Assassinate Your Disposable Income With One Shot)
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Nothing in this comics world is more compulsively readable than random Steve Ditko comics, and here’s a recent favorite: The Big Man, from the 1986 Renegade Press release Murder #1. Simplicity in action – an anxious toymaker gets back at his nasty business partners by building a super-costume that transforms him into an enormous guy at will. Then he crushes his enemies with enormity. “An envious mind, maybe a tiny mind with a big hate. A victimized mind seeking redress, etc. etc. etc.” muses a detective, whose function is mostly philosophical elaboration; the villain dies in a costume malfunction. So basically it’s The Incredibles, if The Incredibles was 115 minutes of Syndrome handing out critical beatings.
Murder was one of frequent Ditko cohort Robin Snyder’s anthology projects with Renegade, loosely arranged under the banner of Robin Snyder’s Revolver, as in ‘revolving’ artists and themes, although only the first six issues were numbered under the Revolver title – then came three issues of Ditko’s World: Static, an issue of Ernie Colon’s Manimal, three issues of Murder and a reprint-heavy Revolver Annual subtitled Frisky Frolics. Ditko showed up in almost every issue, as well as various artists and writers associated with the Warren magazines, which had folded a few years prior in 1983; indeed, some of the content is reprinted from Warren publications, while it’s possible the assorted Bill DuBay and Jim Stenstrum pieces (scripts?) were intended for Warren during their time with the publisher. To your left you’ll see Jim Stenstrum’s Tales of the Siberian Snowtroopers #1 (Revolver #6, reprinted in Annual #1), drawn by future Image co-founder Erik Larsen, who otherwise contributed a few illustrations to the extended Revolver project. If the story wasn’t intended for Warren, this would mark the only original, non-Warren comics work by Stenstrum, a specialist in keen violence and sarcastic heroism of the sort that would eventually spark a pre-Image comics revolution in America, the ’80s British Invasion fed by a growing 2000 AD and Warrior, as I’ve indicated in this space before. Here, it seems several time periods exist at once, although I wouldn’t call Stenstrum ‘ahead-of-his-time’ in the ’70s – internationally he was perfectly of his time, while many American genre comics hung a few steps back.
But now, onto the sequels, collections and follow-ups you dare not miss:
Billy Hazelnuts and the Crazy Bird: Fantagraphics has a huge stack of books out this week, and basically all of them look good, so let my start with a particularly long-anticipated arrival – Tony Millionaire’s sequel to his excellent 2006 Billy Hazelnuts, a gorgeous evocation of sprawling, daydreamy adventure strip narratives pairing gritty-but-whimsical hardcases with not-too-sweet innocents. Here we find grumpy homunculus Billy adjusting poorly to helping out with animals on the farm, only to set off on a mission to reunite a baby owl with its mother. It looks really funny and beautiful. Preview; $19.99.
Temperance: Speaking of follow-ups, here’s Fantagraphics’ second release by Cathy Malkasian, an animation veteran whose 2007 book Percy Gloom provided an interesting perspective on comics-as-movies, in that its structure was not unlike a straightforward three-act motion picture, but with enough canny usage of comics elements like pliable word balloons that it didn’t come off as storyboards – and anyway, the knock against comics-as-movies is that the comics are pitches, like yearning for a completion that only movies can facilitate through their own unique properties, while Percy Gloom was perfectly dedicated to its metaphors of human caution as aggravated by society and religion. This new 240-page work promises a similarly-conceived world, this time as built by an amnesiac war veteran forever alert to obscure but surely dire threats. Surely! Preview; $22.99.
Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake: No, stay in your chair, this close-to-last-of-the-classic-one-artist-anthology-comic-books isn’t going bookshelf for good – it’s an expanded 240-page softcover reissue of Fantagraphics’ 2003 (200-page) hardcover collection of the best of Dame Darcy’s comical fictions and stitched-up Victoriana, with guest writer Alan Moore popping in for a later story (he and Darcy later reunited for some funny Cobweb comics toward the end of Moore’s Tomorrow Stories with DC/Wildstorm/ABC). Contents and info, samples; $22.99.
Artichoke Tales: Getting back to much-awaited new projects, here’s Megan Kelso’s 232-page intergenerational fantasy, excerpted/anticipated here and there, depicting struggle and serenity among the fleshily vulnerable artichoke folk. Details are not forthcoming, but Kelso’s visual style remains appealing as ever. Preview; $22.99.
The Book of Mr. Natural: Finally(!), here’s a new 128-page hardcover edition of Fantagraphics’ 1995 compilation of assorted Robert Crumb shorts starring the famous lil’ bearded guy. No doubt this is in part inspired by Criterion’s upcoming August release of Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 Crumb movie in Blu-ray, since some of these comics are prominently discussed therein, but do note that a vastly less reputable Mr. Natural feature is also now available for $9.99 download – 1973′s Up in Flames (*NSFW*) a semi-legendary unauthorized porno adaptation of Crumb’s Mr. Natural and Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, complete with swiped art and Grateful Dead music (more info here), and now helpfully archived by the great Something Weird Video. Samples; $19.99.
20th Century Boys Vol. 9 (of 24): Meanwhile, among other publishers, Viz presents your Naoki Urasawa release for June; $12.99.
Criminal Vol. 5: The Sinners: For all those waiting on the trade, here’s the newest from Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips, a sequel to the Tracy Lawless saga of vol. 2; $15.99.
Seven Soldiers of Victory Vol. 1 (of 2): And for those waiting a really long time for a 400-page omnibus-type hardcover, well, now’s your chance to enjoy one of the best of writer Grant Morrison’s 21st century works, a sprawling 2005-06 spread of 30 comics charting seven iterations of comic book heroism on the fringes of the DC shared universe, with an eye set toward how old narratives need to evolve into something capable of overcoming a culture prone to recycling properties rather than building upon them. Uneven, sure — and missing a three-issue prelude featuring some of DC’s bigger superheroes — but cumulatively dazzling, and chock-full of very adept super-person art from J.H. Williams III, Cameron Stewart, Ryan Sook, Frazer Irving and Simone Bianchi; $39.99.
DC Universe: Legacies #2 (of 10): In true tie-in fashion, DC also has a release for the original Seven Soldiers of Victory this week, as part of writer Len Wein’s extended explication of DC history, with Mr. J.H. Williams III again providing the art. The solicitation also promises more from the Andy & Joe Kubert team, and artist Scott Kolins; $3.99.
Classic Red Sonja Re-mastered #1: And speaking of legacies, here’s one of those comics where an older story gets fancy new coloring. Our subject is Esteban Maroto, from the Roy Thomas-adapted The Ring of Ikribu, which appeared in 1995 near the end of the line for Marvel’s b&w The Savage Sword of Conan (#230-233). It’ll take at least three of these Dynamite comic books to finish the story. Have a look; $3.99.
The Joker’s Asylum: Mad Hatter: One of a bunch of Batman one-offs floating around these days; this one’s noteworthy for Bill Sienkiewicz interiors. Script by Landry Walker; $2.99.
Age of Bronze #30: You are now on notice as to a new issue of Eric Shanower’s massive Trojan War series, still from Image, still looking very lush. Preview; $3.50.
Hellblazer #268: It’s Peter Milligan; $2.99.
The Boys #43: It’s Garth Ennis. Preview; $3.99.
Creepy Archives Vol. 6: It’s the Warren magazines! This particular big expensive Dark Horse hardcover accounts for issues #26-32, which were heavy on above-mentioned Manimal artist Ernie Colon for quality content; really, a lot of reprints were getting hashed out in this period, the absence of which I presume explains the increased issue count. Still, there’s a little bit of original Archie Goodwin to be found, as well as Neal Adams’ adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s story Rock God, which Ellison had actually written for comics adaptation, with Adams as the preferred artist (Dark Horse and Ellison previously reprinted it in 2008′s Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor Vol. 2). Ellison would also figure into the latter days of Warren, when an unauthorized Bill DuBay/Alex Niño comics version of A Boy and His Dog assigned to Jim Stenstrum to modify would eventually precipitate (non-exclusively) his departure from Warren and a lawsuit (yes exclusively) from Ellison, and indeed mark the passing of the Warren magazines. And so we have come full circle; $49.99.