Sunday, October 28, 2018

The State of Comics And...

Our beloved founder and zen "pool" master, Jim, has let it be known that he's bowing out of our Comics And...Other Imaginary Tales reunion tour.  He's certainly been the guiding force behind this endeavor, encouraging us with his comments and schedule reminders.  Not to mention he's the one person we can always count on to actually read our posts.  According to said schedule, Shawn and Lee are up for the next two Sundays, but I honestly don't know if they or Thomas will want to continue on a regular basis or not (Gwen was already taking a hiatus).  I for one have two posts "in the can" to share that I keep pushing back for newer material.

Anyway, I, personally don't plan to stop (the "...of course, we can still be friends" stage), but in terms of a standard rotation or organizational format, I think it will be whenever the mood strikes us, i.e. "No Deadlines!"  It'll be interesting to see if not having the deadlines will promote more posting or less.  We're all quite busy (as I'll discuss more below) and this is just for fun.  I appreciate the opportunity to express myself and this is an awesome way to accomplish that on a semi-regular basis.  Without it, I'm just reading/thinking about stuff by myself and that's not nearly as enjoyable as being part of the larger Comics community.  We may not be comics creators (yet), but somebody's got to be the "Siskel and Ebert" too.  To quote Roy Neary from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, "This means something; this is important." Or not, maybe we just like to play with our mashed potatoes...


So, in typical comic-fashion, I've been having a Crisis of sorts...A Crisis of Too Many Unread Comics!  (That was going to be the original title of this post. I probably have well over a hundred by now.)  Every week almost without fail I faithfully stop into my Local Comics Shop (LCS) on New Comics Wednesday, the stupendous Cosmic Comix and Toys, which I've been a patron of for over 20 years.  I truly love it there, not just the atmosphere, but the chance to chat with the gang and the regulars.  It's a bit like my version of Cheers.  I get my books hand delivered for me from my box, or I'm allowed the privileged to go behind the counter and get them myself.  I carefully study the issues (like Juan Valdez) and if necessary go to the rack and select the best copy possible. The service is exceptional. They'll place stuff in my box (beyond my "normal" list based on just an e-mail [sometimes the day of]) to check out with no pressure or obligation to buy.  I can always put something back, because they know there is always something else I'll probably pick up.

Even when I try to cut back, I usually get something new.  For example, this week I picked up Batgirl #25, 26, 27, and 28.  The art by Paul Pelletier was the main draw, but the story was really great too and I highly recommend the series (and may discuss further in another post).  I canceled Vampironica by Archie Comics.  It was like a combination of Buffy and Blade with Archie characters and drawn by the excellent Greg Smallwood, but EVERY issue arrives DAMAGED.  I might be willing to pay a buck for a beat up book, but not four!


I also picked up a slew of Marvel books, including a lot of Infinity Wars/Warps tie-ins. (I really enjoyed Duggan's All-New Guardians of the Galaxy, but they've gone overboard with this Warps concept (trying to create the next Spider-Gwen or Cosmic Ghost Rider.) Really, the best thing about Marvel is their digital codes.  I have a friend in Australia who Paypals me cover price minus $2 for each of them.  It's a huge savings for both of us. Unfortunately, I've gotten so far behind in my Marvel reading that I get the books only to bag and board them for months at at time until I give up on ever hoping to read them and relist on ebay.  I just sold my Venom:First Host lot last Friday.  I actually read that and liked it, but it was one of the few things I thought would actually sell , so up it went (it took less than 24 hours).  It might have helped that I listed it for cover price minus a dollar per issue to account for the lack of digital codes.  I loved the finale of Dan Slott's Amazing Spider-Man, but the new series is a little too tongue in cheek for my tastes. Sure, it's funny and entertaining, but it doesn't feel like Spider-Man to me.  A lot of books are that way.  Then there are the super serious ones like Immortal Hulk and Captain America, both sporting exceptional Alex Ross covers.  I enjoy the Hulk quite a bit, but Cap is unreadable and the middle-aged Sharon Carter desperately hoping for some affection from Steve is painful to watch.

To be honest, I'm digging DC books more than Marvel right now. Hawkman by Bryan Hitch is a stand out for me along with Tom King's Batman, the recent Two-Face arc in Detective Comics and Justice League Dark.  Then there are the mega maxi-series like Doomsday Clock and Heroes in Crisis (are those people really supposed to be dead?!  Wally West?!  We just got him back!)  Although, I've given up on reading the Bendis Superman books for now.  Of course, I'm still buying them all, but I'm three months behind (times two series) and I'd spend all my limited time catching up. (Plus, I really hate Rogol Zaar and can't wait for him to be gone.)  Now, I may eventually binge read a bunch or try to sell them.  I've been getting the new Justice League series, but I'm like 9 issues behind now and the Drowned Earth series is just going to further tax my budget.  You can buy them here (second shameful plug).  Despite my interest, I'm just not invested in these storylines right now.  If only that were true for all the comics related TV shows I partake in...


I love all the Marvel Netflix series (those that are left, sadly).  I watched Iron Fist season 2 twice, the first viewing in 26 hours.  Then I rewatched Defenders with my daughter and started Daredevil season one for the umpteenth time.  I'd probably be well on my way of watching Daredevil season three by now, but my wife wanted me to wait to watch it with her (it's been a week since episode three [SOB]).  The fever has at least left me for now.


The new CW shows are all in full swing with Riverdale being my favorite.  Flash seems promising again this season, Legends is still a lot of fun, and Arrow has been pretty good.  I'm really excited that John Wesley Shipp is returning as the 1990's Flash in an upcoming cross-over.  I've been waiting for that since the beginning of the show.  I like Black Lightning, but I'm going to probably wait to binge it once the season is over.  I don't want catching up on my weekly TV shows to be a part-time job!  Besides, there are still some Petticoat Junctions to watch (excellent series, so funny).  My youngest son and I are about to finish the original Lost in Space series, which we usually view on Friday mornings before he goes to school.  We've finished the 60s Batman series and Six Million Dollar Man.  We need to finish Buck Rogers, Bionic Woman, and The Incredible Hulk.  We took a side trip and enjoyed the first (only?) season of the Justice League Action cartoon, which included great portrayals of Firestorm and Booster Gold.


So obviously, TV watching, which I'm highly invested in, takes up a bunch of my "free time".  Then there is blogging (thinking about what I want to write at least) or ebay listing (thinking about what I want to sell at least), not to mention unscheduled Facebook challenges!  There are also the numerous hardcovers I'm getting.  These are high on my reading list and kick the new comics to the curb.  The Doug Moench Fantastic Four's have been slow going for me (Marvel Masterworks volume 20).  Bill Sienkiewicz draws an unsettling Reed Richards with his neck always stretched out. The latest Iron Man volume (#11) contains some favorites and I'm eagerly awaiting volume 12 next Spring.  So much to read, so little time.  That doesn't even bring into play the fact that when I do sit down to read something, I often fall asleep!  Or when I wake up in the middle of the night from insomnia on the weekends (or just get up early), my eyes aren't focused enough to actually enjoy reading.  Plus, even with my new Oscar Goldman's I still have to vary the distance to get perfect clarity.

The point of this all is that I really need to change my buying habits.*  This year's Baltimore Comic-Con reminded me how much I love original art and classic Bronze Age comics.  If I severely reduced my new comic list, then I could afford some really cool commissions.  But it's so hard to stop, after all part of the act of buying something you may never read is a hopeful endeavor...a promise that you really will get that time by the pool to relax and enjoy something special one day.  What I want is a series or character I really care about like I do my favorites on TV.  Batgirl has some strong potential at least.  But some of the big events...it may be a great story, but in the scheme of things I can live without it or wait for the trade. 

*My motivation for the books I'm getting is out-of-whack:  It should be reading first, then collecting, and finally looking at resale value.  Instead it is more backwards, looking for resale (buying the next issue to help with a sale), mindlessly collecting, and then reading.

I have enjoyed some independent books lately too like Isola, Oblivion Song, and Hey, Kids Comics!  Unfortunately, the Simpsons ended it's 25 year run with Bongo the other week.  We didn't even get a new Halloween Treehouse of Horror this year.  Speaking of Halloween, the kids are back from the Halloween-Disco (thankfully I found that 5-spot on my dog walk earlier which helped pay for them to go), so I better sign off.  Happy Halloween and I'll see you around sometime when you least expect it.  Keep Reading!









Sunday, October 21, 2018

Royal City

Image result for royal city lemireJeff Lemire is a busy man. Most of it is writing, sure, but at the time this was published he was working on several books for Marvel, a couple for Dark Horse, and several for Image, including this one and AD where he also did the art. In Royal City his stated intent was to tell a long, more or less open ended story, but he soon realized that he was reaching the point of telling the story he wanted to tell and that forcing it further would be counterproductive. So it went 14 issues instead.

 

And a good decision it was.

 

Straight off, if you like his Essex County work you’ll like this. He even slips in a reference to that work in mentioning an opposing football team for the high school four of the characters in the story attend. If you don’t like Lemire’s art, as I know one person who doesn’t, this book isn’t for you.

 

I’m a fan of both his art and writing, especially when the latter is of characters of his own creation, such as this and Descender, which also just ended (sort of). More on that another day. Whether Essex County or the more fantastic Sweet Tooth, I find his art unique, spare, and wonderfully sketchy.

 

But on to this show. The story in Royal City is of the Pike family of the titular company town. The story takes place in 1993 and the present of 2017 when the book started. Peter and Patti have four children, Patrick (Pat), Tara, Richard (Ritchie), and Thomas (Tommy).

 

The 1993 portion of the story is in the fall. Pat graduated in the spring, but his lofty ambitions of being a writer only have him working a drill press at the Royal Manufacturing plant where his father is a floor supervisor who’d rather be back on the floor. Tara is a senior with a boyfriend and is determined to not lead her mother’s life of young parenthood and frustrated ambitions. Ritchie is an outrĂ© personality and vigorous imbiber as well as adherent to libidinous habits that leave his girlfriend, Clara, betrayed. Tommy is 14 months younger than Ritchie and a freshman who suffers debilitating headaches that further his preference for being alone with music and his thoughts.

 

Image result for royal city lemireThings happen in 1993 that determine how the family interacts in 2017. In 2017 Peter has a stroke that leaves him in a coma, drawing Pat, now a successful writer under a past due deadline for his next book, back to Royal City. Tara is not her mother, though she's still living in Royal City.  Ritchie is a floor worker at the plant.  Tommy is the most obviously trapped in 1993, but all of the Pike family has been stuck because of events that happened then.

The struggles among them, spouses, affair partners, and a surprise grandchild are all told with a spectral presence who is perceived how each of the Pike family idealizes him. Each family member, reasonably or not, has guilt associated with the spectral presence.

 

One of my favorite aspects to the story is that marriages continue or end without over the top dramatics. There are arguments. There is sniping. But there’s also self awareness enough that all of the characters in three distressed marriages recognize there’s no high ground. No one is superior to anyone else in dissatisfaction with how the marriage is proceeding. Each of the distressed marriages is distinct in the causes and dynamics, with each coming to its unique resolution.

 
This isn’t a book to read if you’re looking for fighting. There are exactly two instances of anyone being punched. This is a book about relationships, events that stress and strain them, and how letting go of past events that have damaged those relationships doesn’t create Hollywood style happy endings but does tend toward happier people.
Image result for royal city lemire

A little bonus feature to Royal City is that Lemire throws in a mix tape at the back of each issue.  These are songs that influenced him or to which he listened during the creation of the story.  Or maybe just enjoyed that day.  Anyway, if you want you can compile the songs and listen as you read, if you're so inclined. 


The only writing for the Big Two that Lemire has done that I have read has been Moon Knight for Marvel.  On the whole I've been dissatisfied with the results of independent voices like Lemire writing characters that are owned by a corporation rather than the creator, but I did enjoy his Moon Knight work.  If your only experience of Lemire's work is Moon Knight or another of the corporate cowls, read Royal City, Essex County, Descender, or AD

Monday, October 08, 2018

Old Comics Teach Boys How to Be Men

Everyone knows Golden Age Comics can be, to be kind, inappropriate.  Have you ever wondered how the Silverage stacked up?  Well wonder no more because I'm about to tell you.

The book, Sarge Steel #1, from Charlton Comics, published December 1964.

The question, what to do when a woman is crying?  See the panel below...




So, what could you do?  Hug her to sooth her?  Talk to her calmly until she isn't frightened?

NOPE!  WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS!




And now you know how to deal with crying women!

Oh my on my how times have changed.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The Place Holder

So, today was my day to post and... I'm way behind.

Why?  Lots of reasons but one of them was the fact that I was in Cali this week. 

And if you were convinced that Cali is it's own unique little corner of the universe, check out this sign.  It seems like an ordinary sign sign you would see in any ol'parking lot.



BUT, upon closer inspection you will notice that my car, and the fact that I need to drive the car to work are equivalent to a pack of cigarettes?  Oh my.  A close up in case you can't see it...

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Goodbye, Norm

I learned that artist/writer Norm Breyfogle passed away six days ago on September the 24th. He was fifty-eight years old. It's been a tough week in part because it broke my heart. His art was an extremely important part of my comic book consumption throughout middle school and high school. This was the second time I was given sad news about him, and the only thing I can possibly hope for is that he found peace.

Breyfogle is probably best known for his run with the Batman family characters. He worked on Detective Comics, Batman, and helped launch The Shadow of the Bat title. Breyfogle co-created characters like Ventriloquist, Anarchy, Victor Zsasz, Jeremiah Arkham, Amygdala, and Ratcatcher. Probably his most important creation along the way was his co-creation of Ultraverse's flagship character Prime. He worked on lots of different comics including having a run on Archie Comics in 2008.


The most influential part of his contribution to the Batman mythos (in my opinion) was not the co-creation of some of the previously mentioned characters, but his redesign of the Robin costume given to Tim Drake. It remains my favorite and arguably inspires every version of Robin's costume since. I can't even look at Damian's horrible redesign without thinking that Breyfogle's original design and Tim Drake wore it better.

I loved remembering Breyfogle and his art, but it was bittersweet receiving the news of his death. I like to remember him and look through his art, but I'm sad he's gone. After working on a Batman Beyond Unlimited digital comic in 2012-2013 (which was collected in print), I thought he was going to have a resurgence drawing mainstream comics again. His work on Batman Beyond was pure joy and I adored it.

In 2014 Breyfogle suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side. He drew with his left hand, and although he did recover movement, he couldn't draw anymore. I can't imagine what it is like to have what you love taken away from you like that. He was pretty honest and upfront about it and chronicled his struggles online through social media. He seemed a kind and gracious creator and I knew he was trying to get into writing comics because he could no longer draw them. They say he died of natural causes, but I still think fifty-eight is way too young and he was gone too soon.

After Breyfogle's health issues in 2014, DC Comics put out a hardback of Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 1. DC did this in part to help him financially, but it is truly a wonderful edition to anyone's Batman collection. A second volume will be coming this November. I own the first one and will be buying the second, and I'm hoping to track down the collection of his Batman Beyond Unlimited series as well.

 I recently discovered they also put out a Batman Black & White statue based on Norm's illustrations. I tried to see about buying one, but it is backordered. Maybe I'll get lucky at some point and pick one up. It's pretty cool looking and I think it would do my geeky home justice.

I realize that sometimes people we never meet still impact us and leave something behind that touches our souls along the way. Thank you Norm for your art, man. I always hated Batman's blue and gray costume, but never when you drew it. Your version was the only acceptable one as far as I was concerned. May you be at peace knowing you left behind so many fantastic comics.

Goodbye, Norm.

-SJD

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Fantastic Four: Behold...Galactus! OHC -- A Review

Wow, this week really has gotten away from me.  My plans on getting my stuff ready for the 2018 Baltimore Comic-Con (#bcc2018) next weekend epicly (why is this not a word?) failed yesterday.  However, we've got all my daughter's supplies and she's working on fanart to sell.  (See some examples on her FB page.)  So feel free to come by the Who's Mannz  Artist Alley table (A-135) to look at (and hopefully buy) her wares or talk to me about comics.  We got her some business cards and I thought about getting one for myself as a Comics And blogger. : )  We'll be there all three days, Sept 28-30 and Lord willing I'll have an interim update next Saturday just before our next blogger's post on Sunday morning.

Now in case you haven't noticed, something about the blog page is broken (or at least when I look at it).  Gone is the search field and the listing of posts by year.  However, there is a workaround.  If you go to an old post where those fields are still shown, then obviously you can still use them.  So, I'm putting this link here of a post from 2013, which is good background to the upcoming Superior Octopus series coming out.

Enough of this preamble stuff (consider it my warm-up exercise), let talk about the World's Greatest Comic Magazine PRESENTATION:  The Fantastic Four: Behold...Galactus! Over-sized Hardcover (OHC).  In this instance "World's Greatest" is not hyperbole. It. is. simply. beyond. belief.  It's AWESOME to the highest degree (no pun intended) and gives you a never-before-EVER uncanny reading experience like no other.  It's so good that I bought two more copies and had them shipped to friends as surprise gifts. (I wish I could've bought even more.)  This was helped by the outrageously inexpensive price  -- $25 the first week  (50% off) at www.instocktrades.com and afterwards about $29 (40%).  Unfortunately, I think it is already sold out there, but if you can get it for the $50 cover price it is still more than worth it.  $100 wouldn't be too much either. [Just checked - only $38 on amazon.]  The concept is simple: Let's reprint some of the best Galactus stories at a Galactus size.  And Galactus-size it is, the book is nearly two-feet tall!  Bigger than any Omnibus, Treasury Edition, and Artist Edition I've seen.


I had my eye on this book from its first announcement in Previews.  I knew it was going to be great, but I couldn't conceive of the unexpected ways. Find out more after the break:


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Kill or Be Killed




Yeah, I know. Another Image book. What can I say? They publish a lot of good stuff.

Kill Or Be Killed #1 

This one was easy to spot, being another Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips work. Elizabeth Breitweiser worked with Phillips on the art, having first joined with them for Fatale. As always with this team it’s great looking work.

 

Of course Brubaker and Phillips are deservedly well known for their noir work in Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out. Kill or Be Killed certainly follows in that vein in tenor and appearance. The back matter also includes great writing about noir films, most often by Kim Morgan. These essays are worth reading on their own.

 

But Kill or Be Killed is a book that uses the form of noir to examine consciousness. It never once uses that term, but that’s what it is. What is reality? Kill or Be Killed leaves the reader wondering.

 

Kill Or Be Killed #10Lead character and narrator Dylan has a history of suicide attempts, self medication, and complicated romantic relationships. His father, a talented but frustrated illustrator, was a suicide when Dylan was young. His father’s sexually charged horror illustrations were porn in the woods to young Dylan and his friends.

 

When the story opens Dylan is a serial killer targeting people who are unsavory, whether child molesters, Russian mobsters, or American oligarchs. Taking a nonlinear narrative approach that parallels Dylan’s own mental process, Kill or Be Killed jumps around to fill out Dylan’s story that includes girlfriends Kira and Daisy, roommate Mason, dealer Rex, and detective Lily.

 

Throughout the story the reader is pressed to determine how reliable Dylan is as a narrator. Is his perspective what’s really happening? Is it an adverse reaction to harms to his mind? Is he suffering from an organic brain problem? Better yet, the question includes whether Dylan is morally and ethically right in his actions even if he is unreliable as to why he he’s taking those actions.

Kill Or Be Killed #15Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser don't tell the reader whether to believe Dylan or whether his actions are justified.  They weave a complex story that's full of questions, as well as a lot of violence and a little bit of sex.  The reader can take the surface joys of sex and violence as sufficient entertainment, or the reader can have the added enjoyment of thinking about what is consciousness, reality, and morality/ethics, and who decides any of those for anyone but themselves.

 

Coincidentally I was recently in a group discussion about consciousness in the philosophical sense. This book, which concluded at 20 issues, fell right in with that discussion, certainly as much so as the Force from Star Wars that owes its genesis to Jung and which was a part of the group discussion.

I should also mention the covers.  A small sampling here shows several of them.  Different arcs within the story merited a different theme to the covers.  The opening arc all had the dark background like the first issue.  In the middle there was a run of orange and the demon that Dylan says is his impetus.  No detail is too small for this creative team to use in telling the story.

 

Kill or Be Killed is an excellent read, full of tension like any great noir story, that has the addition of an insightful look at what is reality, who can be believed in telling a story, and the uncertainty that is life.