One thing I love about the way material is produced in today’s market is the collected editions and trades that are always available. I’m like everyone else and I never have the chance to read everything, so often I miss some gem and something brings it to my attention. An e-mail to my comic store or a few clicks of the mouse to some other outlet and soon I have that material in hand. In this case I have two such books, one a collected edition of recent work and one a lovely collected edition of some of the most bizarre golden age material you every want to read.
Publisher Avatar Press
Writer Warren Ellis
Artist Jacen Burrows
This is one of the most horrifying books that I have ever read in comics. The reason it is so horrifying is it is all too real. On one hand you could dismiss this as just another crime book and say that it is shocking and gruesome just to be shocking and gruesome, but I feel that it displays just how sick and twisted some people are.
It is my opinion that the vast majority of the people are decent and basically civilized. Then there is anywhere from 10% to 20% of the population who are less then forthright and are not the best people in the world, but still have a modicum of humanity in them Then there is that say 1% of the world that are just twisted sick and vile people unworthy of even being called human. They walk among us and learn to hide in plain sight, but they are not human and will do things that cause humans to be horrified. We do not think like those people and we can not willing believe those people exist or would do the things they do. The worse part, even if it is only .1% of world that would be 6,000,000 million people who are like that. This is the story of a police man who has dealt with too much and of one of that .1% of the world.
John Cain is the main character of this story and it starts off with him getting called to a homicide scene. The scene is gruesome as can be, as the murderer left three boxes outside a store and they contained the cut up body of an eleven year old little girl.
As John investigates this murderer you see the signs of someone who is losing it. He is excessively violent as time wears on and obviously having personal issues. During the course of the investigation we find out that John and his pregnant wife were gunned down in a drive by shooting and only John survived. We also learn that the little girl had been missing for months and her murderer was only the end part of a series of horrific acts that were done to her. The combination of what John has gone through and this murder is making him cross lines that he normally would not have crossed.
John does contain to pursue the case and eventually puts together who her murderer is and it is her teacher. The teacher looks so benign that you would not think of him as a bad person. Between him and John Cain you would actually be more concerned about John in then the teacher. The problem for John is the SOB has covered his tracks pretty well and they may not be able to get a conviction of him. John at this point really does not give a damn and goes after him anyway. What John does is not necessarily the law abiding thing and his partner does try to stop him, but John shoots the man down in cold blood. I’m the father of two daughters; I would have shot him too.
Jacen Burrows art work is very clean and well done. It is realistic looking and has tons of detail and added to the overall story telling. Burrows gave us the emotion that was needed to make this story come alive, but kept it real so we knew we were grounded in our reality.
It is a book that does not leave you right away and it does not make you feel happy, but it does make you think and realize that there are monsters in this world and we all hope they don’t live next door.
And now for a totally different type of collected edition.
I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets
Publisher Fantagraphic Books
Edited and Complied by Paul Karasik
Art & Story Fletcher Hanks
This material is out and out insane. It is so far on the outer realms and stupid at times as to be brilliant. I know that statement does not make sense, but after reading the acid trip that these stories are, you may agree.
First off I believe this material is all public domain and the editor Paul Karasik ran across one of Fletcher Hanks “Stardust” stories and then fell in love with the material and he pulled together this compilation.
It is enjoyable because it is so different from anything else you have ever read in comics. It was done back in the “Golden Age” of comics where much of the material was very, very weak. Fletcher Hanks is also a decent artist; certainly better in some stories then others, but far superior to many of the rank amateurs that filled the many pages of comics from that era.
Then the characters themselves are so over the top that you have to laugh at them. The main hero is “The Super Wizard Stardust”. Stardust is “that master mind of the universe, with a mysterious knowledge of criminals and their plans”. He has so many different powers that it is impossible to list them all as Hanks makes them up from story to story. He is about nine feet tall, flies from his planet to earth to save us from bombing planes all the time. His method of dealing with these bad guys makes the Spectre seem like a piker and unimaginative.
One thing which is hilarious is the amount of time bombing planes attack our cities and it is not another nation or anything so mundane it is criminal empires that are doing this. The dialogue is equally outrageous. One criminal Yew Bee states simply “We must end democracy and civilization forever.” Of course Stardust stops Yew Bee and his bombing planes and turns him into a rat. At the end he leaves him as a rat with a human head and gives him to the FBI so they can round up his henchman.
Another story has the bad guy release the anti-solar ray that causes the Earth to stop rotating and of course everyone on the planet flies off into space. The bad guys have chained themselves to the ground so they would not be affected. Stardust finds most of the population of the world “gasping for breath” in outer space. Yeah, in a vacuum that would be a problem. Not to worry as Stardust’s attractor beams bring everyone safely back onto the planet.
We also have a Buzz Crandall adventure who is obviously just hijacking one of Stardust’s scripts as it is the same inane story as Stardust. Another Hanks hero is Big Red McLane – King of the Northwoods, who basically is a big guy who beats the crap out of people.
The other main hero in this collection is Fantomah, Mysterious Woman of the Jungle. If Stardust is Superman done on acid, Fantomah is Sheena done on peyote, cocaine and alcohol. She makes Stardust seem almost pedestrian with his normalcy. Fantomah is this huge Amazon white woman who protects the jungles of an Africa like place. She usually lets a menace build up a little bit and for some destruction to occur then she floats in and solves everything with whatever power she needs for the story. BUT, she also changes her face into a skull, but she still has her long flowing blonde hair. It is the same formula as Stardust and the same plots, but still has its own amusements.
As you read the book you can see how formula driven the stories were and how each story is almost the same. Hanks also has many pen names so only Stardust I believe is by Hanks.
The joy is the sheer lunacy in these stories. It was from a different time and a different era, but the artwork holds up and the stories are a pleasant departure from the sameness that we get in many of today’s super hero books.
The end piece drawn by the editor tells the story of his tracking down Fletcher Hanks and instead finding his son. We find out that Fletcher Hanks was a lousy person in real life, a drunk, an abusive husband and father. Which actually rounds out the collection rather well as it makes you realize that comic book creators are human and that means some are decent and some are lousy and maybe s0me are that .1% I spoke of earlier.
Bottom line this is a fun collection to read. The outrageous insanity that is Fletcher Hanks comics should at least make you laugh and smile once or twice. I would recommend reading it over time, as when I read it in one or two sittings, the sameness of the plots became too evident, when you really want to just read it and enjoy the crazed ways villains are being punished.