Jeez, you guys: SO BEHIND. Not that anyone’s keeping track but me (I hope!) but my delightful trip up to Portland and some increased “Oh, hey, why don’t I stay up all night?” job stuff has put me a little more behind the eightball than I’m comfortable with. And since my extra-long Sketchbook entry is running really late (and slow? it’s not even that long…yet), I’m going to have to take a gamble and give you some capsule reviews on this, the day that Graeme and I record our podcast! Will this mean duplicative content? Will this mean I somehow manage to talk in two places about nothing? Ahhhh!
CALIBAN #7: Last issue, and it kind of shits its pants? (Which is a bummer considering the number of people who listened to me and picked it up…) Ennis is enough of a pro that it doesn’t totally fall apart, the emotional beats line up and all but it’s almost as if two-thirds of the way the author kind of went, “huh, where was I going with this? Shit, I had a really good take on Alien’s connection of body horror to class struggle but…what was it again? Oh, well.” <<cashes check>> Sorry, everyone!
BATMAN & ROBIN #35: Really interesting seeing how, just as the X-book writers in the wake of Morrison’s run alternated between erasing, pillaging, and redoing his ideas and beats, the Bat-books are pretty much doing the same thing. This issue has Tomasi and Gleason flat-out stealing Morrison’s “Batman metals up to take on Leviathan” finale of Batman, Inc. by having him get even more metal to take on Apokolips. It’s egregiously derivative (if ever a lit nerd needed to drop in Hamlet’s “Then there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life half a year…” line, it’d pretty much be in this situation) but…I think the art team of Gleason and Gray makes it work?
I mean, Chris Burnham is great but the Batman pages on this should’ve had a sound chip installed to play death metal riffs to complete the experience. If DC actually had its shit together and all this Apokolips/New Gods stuff springing up actually meant something? That’d be great, but since I have no faith in DC’s line-wide editorial coordination, it just kinda seems like an entire line of comics have been turned into Countdown to Final Crisis. In a way, I kinda wish this was the direction Batman Eternal was heading in (even as I worry it’s precisely where it’ll end up) because “Batman invades Apokolips” is a far more compelling reason to drag all of the Bat-family into action then the crazed free-for-all that is the weekly Bat book.
BATMAN ETERNAL #28: It’s interesting being so into Grayson, which is co-plotted by Tim Seeley, when I find the issues he’s written for this title to be so…J.T. Krul-esque? This issue has a certain number of emotional beats but they all feel pretty weightless and I don’t know if that’s because most of them so recently set up or if Seeley keeps trying to inject humor into situations long past the point he should’ve started reaching for the pathos button, but I feel like I was way more blase about the death of an innocent child than I should’ve been. Or maybe reading so many comics have made me a monster? We all should consider that as a possiblity, I guess?
LUMBERJANES #7: Picked this up because last time I flipped through I felt like editorial had given it more direction that I felt like it’d lacked, previously. (And also, I kinda forgot I’d stopped buying it?) Anyway, in case you were wondering what the hell was going on and why—or, really, if the creators knew—it turns out that, yep, they did! And it’s a pretty neat idea in its way. I just wish it’d been the kind of thing that’d been set up and paid off in a more traditional manner. I’m glad it’s selling because it may very well mean this book will still be going by the time it has its act together…because it’s getting there!
Okay, sorry. Short I know but I got a handful of last week’s comics I have to get under my belt if I want to be at all prepped for this episode. More later! (Maybe even sooner?)
I can still remember how excited I was to read Marvel Super-Heroes: Secret Wars for the first time, when I was a kid. I can even remember the first time I found out about it, in a text piece in an issue of The Mighty World of Marvel reporting on Spider-Man’s black costume that I read on a cold and rainy afternoon; it said that the series was either going to be called Secret Wars or Cosmic Champions, but that hadn’t been decided yet.
I read the series, eventually, in its UK-reprint form, which meant that the original issues were split across two issues and paired with an increasingly strange selection of back-up material. It started with Alpha Flight, because nothing says “obvious selection for a British superhero comic” than “a second-rate Canadian super team,” but things got weirder from there — J.M. DeMatteis and Alan Kupperberg’s Iceman mini-series showed up at one point, as did Zoids. And yet, I loved it dearly. I was, what, 10 or 11 years old or so, and it was everything I could’ve wanted in a comic: so many superheroes, and so many villains, and that Mike Zeck art! How could I resist?!?
So, when Marvel announced its revival of the title for 2015 at this weekend’s New York Comic Con, the combination of nostalgia and curiosity drove me to revisit the series, thinking “I know Jim Shooter’s Avengers turned out to be terrible, but he couldn’t mess up this so badly that I still have fond memories, could he…?”
I think you can all guess the answer to that one, dear readers.
Let’s do the positives first. Yes, the Mike Zeck art still looks great. He’s one of those artists who I loved (because of this series!) at exactly the right age for his version of characters — most notably Wolverine and Captain America — to be iconic for me; they just look “right” in a way that other artists can’t manage. And yet, re-reading the series as an adult, I was struck by how odd his art was for the time; more cartoony, and bold in a way that happily reduced characters to little more than balloon-people when the scale or scene needed something like that to work. There’s a lot of Kirby in there, but not in the finish; it’s all in the structure, and everything that happens underneath the surface. It only makes sense that Shooter grabbed him for the book, because he provides art that “feels” like Marvel in some strange, indefinable way, even if he never quite seemed to understand female anatomy (or, perhaps, because of that…).
The basic concept, too, remains a wonderful one, if an entirely unoriginal one. For me, it’s a very 1960s Star Trek concept, specifically: a being of omnipotent power kidnaps heroes and villains to try and understand such Earth concepts of good and evil — it’s basically “The Savage Curtain” from the third season of the 1960s show, but with superpowers, but I’m sure there’re earlier iterations that I’m not familiar with. Nonetheless, it’s solid and provides not just a McGuffin for the series, but also a reason for the “Wars” in question to be “Secret”; no-one else on Earth even knows they’re happening.
Unfortunately, that’s about it for things to really love in the writing as an adult. While Secret Wars bypasses most of the misogyny of Shooter’s Avengers — although the Wasp is just appallingly portrayed throughout, and the subplot surrounding alien healer Zsaji is… problematic at best (She makes men fall in love with them when she heals them, because… well, okay, I got nothing outside of Shooter’s male paranoia. Worse yet, having created that idea, he then proceeds to do nothing of interest with it, choosing instead to opt for cheap soap operatics) — it’s still not particularly any good; characters’ actions are defined by the plot’s requirements, and their dialogue is interchangeable exposition for the most part. The extensive cast is almost entirely wasted — the villains especially — underscoring the cynical reading that they were only there to make up the numbers for later toy development, and what little plot beyond “They’re on an alien planet, they fight” there is is actively stolen from a Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four storyline.
More than anything else, re-reading Secret Wars didn’t make me feel as if it was bad, per se — although it definitely is — but that it was lazy and had little ambition beyond shifting product. Despite the potential the kid-me saw in the basic idea of all these characters in the same place at the same time, holy crap, the finished series is almost impressively humdrum, happy to go through the motions of creating something that has no lasting impact or reason to exist beyond setting up storylines in other series and selling lots of comics.
In that respect, it feels entirely appropriate that it’s being revived for next year’s Big Marvel Event. In so many ways, it’s very much the spiritual father of everything that these storylines have become for both Marvel and DC.
As I said on the last podcast, I’m a big fan of Valiant’s output, and have been since they relaunched a couple years back. Apparently, though, I’m not a fan to be up to date with their books, which is how I ended up with the entire Armor Hunters crossover to catch-up on this weekend. After three smaller, quasi-crossovers (Harbinger Wars, Unity and Mission: Improbable), did Valiant manage to get a crossover right?
Armor Hunters #1-4 & Armor Hunters: Aftermath: The basic plot of the Armor Hunters crossover is, in fact, very basic, amounting to little more than “That alien armor Aric is wearing over in X-O Manowar? Other aliens are prepared to destroy the Earth to ensure that he stops wearing it. Our guys have to stop them.” The surprising thing about the series isn’t that there’s a last-minute twist, but that such a simple plot holds up surprisingly well across the four issues of the main series.
Nothing in the book is especially groundbreaking, with many elements feeling familiar to anyone who’s read enough superhero crossovers up to this point. “Hey, remember when Vandal Savage destroyed Montevideo in DC One Million? The Armor Hunters have destroyed Mexico City!” and so on. Yet, it entirely works; the story moves along briskly, with enough subtle drop-outs to set up crossovers for the other series. There’s enough action to satisfy the fans who come for this kind of thing, but also enough moving pieces to prevent it from becoming just a series of fight scenes over and over again for four issues.
For me, I would’ve said that there was maybe not enough of a grounding in the Valiant universe for new readers, but Al Kennedy from the late, lamented House to Astonish podcast told me that he tried it as a newcomer and it made him want to try out other Valiant titles, so what do I know? Well, this — as well-written as the series is for the most part, the Armor Hunters of the title aren’t really that interesting, or developed enough. They have vague motivations that get sketched in elsewhere for the most part, but I do kind of wish more had been done with them. (Of course, considering two of them — interestingly, the only two female characters of the team — survived to fight again, perhaps we’ll get to see more done with them after all.)
For the most part, though: As the spine of a crossover event, Armor Hunters boasts pretty tight script by Robert Venditti and Doug Braithwaite being Doug Braithwaite (which is to say, he’s not really to my taste, but he does what he does well). Overall, a success, then.
X-O Manowar #26-29: Also written by Venditti, this book follows the format seen in recent DC and Marvel events where the “core” series the event stems from becomes, essentially, “the untold backstory” for the duration, filling in events that explain things seen in the main title but not properly explored. In these four issues, it’s Venditti (and artist Diego Bernard, offering up uneven if not ugly work for the most part) telling the story of Primary Reebo — leader of the Armor Hunters — and how he got to be where he is by the story of the main series.
Well, that’s not entirely true; that’s what it is for three of those issues. In the fourth, there’s a swerve and it follows Malgam, the prey of the Armor Hunters (and a former Armor Hunter himself) in the aftermath of the main series. It’s an odd move, which in one sense pays off some of the earlier story but nonetheless feels like you’ve missed an issue in between. Across all four issues, there’s a sense of — not being unnecessary, exactly, but being inessential to the overall story. It’s nice to know where Reebo came from, but he was already one of the more developed villains in the core title. Despite Armor Hunters being very clearly an X-O Manowar-centric event, the actual issues of the series feel enjoyable but somewhat disposable, in the end.
Unity #8-11: That said, the Unity issues feel even more disposable. They’re written by Matt Kindt, who also wrote the massively missed opportunity that were the Forever Evil-tie-in issues of Justice League of America, which makes me wonder if there’s something about crossovers that psychs him out for some reason (Art is by Stephen Segovia, who brings a Lenil Yu-esque look to proceedings, if lacking some of Yu’s particular foibles).
Like the JLA issues, there’s very much a sense that Kindt is aware that he’s playing with characters who are needed elsewhere at certain points in the story. As a result, he uses them so cautiously that it almost saps all tension from the story. There’s no true sense of danger, nor momentum, in these comics — instead, you feel like everything is just filler between the “more important” other issues, which is the very worst feeling you can have from a comic.
Interestingly enough, the end of the Armor Hunters: Aftermath issue seems to point at a new status quo for the Unity book, just a year after its launch. If it’s something that can provide stability, purpose and definition for a title that’s been surprisingly wobbly since the end of its first arc, that can only been a good thing.
Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #1-3: In many ways, the Bloodshot mini does everything I wanted from the Unity issues — it tells a story within a story, something that feels complete (or, really, complete enough) yet slots easily within the larger event. That’s particularly impressive considering that there’s a bunch of heavy lifting writer Joe Harris has to do in here, regarding the status quo of Bloodshot following the end of his last series and setting up what’s to follow. Yet it looks, if not effortless, than at least seamless — the flashbacks feeling relatively organic even if the main plot feels very out-of-sorts with what could be expected from a Bloodshot story.
I mean that last part in a good way: I’m always surprised that more comic book crossovers don’t play with that idea more often. We don’t get “Bloodshot versus aliens” stories often, so why not play up the ways in which it feels incongruous? That’s part of the joy of this series — that what’s happening is so unusual for the character, and his response is essentially “I’m going to shoot everything a lot and hope for the best.” The fact that so many crossovers are based around big events that are supposed to feel unusual and momentous should be played up like this more often, I feel. More crossover issues should have a feeling of what the hell is going on?
Artwise, Trevor Hairsine provides very Trevor Hairsine-y work, which works better here than on many books I’ve seen him on. There’s something simultaneously sharp and grimy about his work that often rubs me the wrong way, but on a series about a nanite-filled killing machine taking on alien invaders, that’s entirely fitting. What might seem ugly or inhuman about his characters elsewhere feels right. All told, it’s a pretty great little series.
Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1-3: Meanwhile, Joshua Dysart turns the three-part Harbinger mini into something that’s as much a second Harbinger book as it is part of the crossover. With the team split up as the result of events in the main title’s “Death of a Renegade” storyline, this series follows half of the remaining team while the simultaneous Harbinger: Omega series follows the other half, and for anyone who enjoys the regular Harbinger series, it’s everything they could want.
It’s maybe the series that works the best out of all the Armor Hunters books — separate enough from the event to stand alone if you want it to (None of the characters appear in the main title, the only crossover in which that’s the case), and also a story that works entirely outside of the main series from beginning to end as long as you grant it the “Something has happened in Mexico” gimme at the start. Everything you need is in these three issues, including introductions to the main characters in this series and also a complete story arc that advances characters and larger developments from the Harbinger series proper without feeling like an excerpt of something larger.
Harbinger has, for awhile, for me, seemed like the book that Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men should have been — something that takes the trope of “gifted children” and successfully updates it into a series that feels genuinely contemporary and, as a result, uncertain and unwilling to settle into set patterns. Across the two-and-a-bit year run to date, it’s been something that plays with ideas and status quos, flirting with expectations before flipping them over and moving on to something else.
This mini continues that: it’s arguably a play on the idea of the superhero as emergency response, but something that explores that concept from a couple of directions and avoids either endorsing or refuting the idea in its entirety. I enjoyed it so much that I went back and re-read the entire Harbinger run as a result, and finished it wanting more. More than anything else, Harbinger might be the Valiant book that makes me feel as if the publisher is doing superheroes “right” while others have trouble doing the same. Armor Hunters: Harbinger is a good example of why this is true.
All in all, then, the Armor Hunters event worked pretty well, despite a couple of weak spots and Unity’s continued shakiness. It’s not the greatest crossover event superhero comics has ever seen — that’s still Millennium or DC One Million, for my money — but it is something that doesn’t outstay its welcome, offers a reasonable introductory point for all series involved with the potential exception of Unity, and is pretty fun to boot. When it comes down to it, that feels like a win in my book.
“You might have heard of me; I’m kind of a masterpiece.”
The dog ate my homework and I stayed up all night and then the computer flipped out and ate three hours like they were beer nuts and then I tried to think of what image I would put here and just about wept at the difficulty of it. So… this will be a speedy set of show notes. One day I promise to rock the shit out of these things and then we will all be happy, each and every and all and yes.
(Although maybe you’re already happy? That would be a lovely thing if so. No pressure, though! I know what it’s like to be pressured into trying to fake it.)
SHOOOOOOOW NOOOOOOOOTES: 00:00-8:54: Welcome! Even though we haven’t missed a podcast in our schedule, it feels like it’s been a while, hasn’t it? In our opening section, we talk a bit about Jeff’s recent visit to Portland, Oregon, as well as his R&B album from the early ‘90s, Can You Feel The Feeling That I’m Feeling? (Reportedly available on Amazon and Google Play). Also discussed: Jeff’s photo post for the website; the comic books Jeff was looking at in a photo; Graeme and photos of Graeme; and more. 8:54-19:57: Marvel’s settlement with Jack Kirby’s family! This is a pretty big deal in a lot of ways and we talk about it. Super-worth checking it is Kurt Busiek’s no-bullshit explanation of the suit, the settlement, and why it happened. Definitely check that out if you haven’t already. 19:57-27:53: Pivot! Graeme has read the first issue of Thor by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman, and we talk about the hype, the end result, bait and switch (Bates & Switch! They’re private eyes! Who are also professional fishermen! In Hawaii!). 27:53-37:49: Jeff makes a reference about people waiting for the trade without even knowing about Peter David’s comments about the cancellation for X-Factor. David’s comments lead us to talk about the midlist at the Big Two, the chances for books to survive in that spectrum, and the recent strengthening of titles at both companies that fall in that spectrum. Discussed: Lobo #1, Birds of Prey, and the first issue of Bucky Barnes: Winter Soldier by Ales Kot and Marco Rudy which Graeme has read and tries to unpack in a non-spoilery way. 37:49-42:51: On an earlier recommendation from Graeme, Jeff picked up The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 by Jen Van Meter and Roberto de la Torre, and we talk about it at a bit more length than last time it was brought up. 42:51-55:12: Speaking of Valiant books (which Dr. Mirage is), Jeff plunked down coin for the recent Humble Bundle Valiant sale which Jeff thought was a fantastic deal. Graeme mentions the still-ongoing Humble Bundle Oni sale (through October 13, anyway) which he also thinks is great and which Jeff, uh, is, uh, maybe less convinced of? At least compared to Valiant? Come, listen to Jeff’s churlishness. He is being a churl! Believe me, you will be on an early path to reaping many potential rewards by doing so! 55:12-1:11:24: Back to the topic of comics (as opposed to comics procurement): we both read Gotham Academy #1 by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl, and Jeff just recently saw the first episode of Gotham and so we talk about these Bat tie-ins, a compare-and-contrast of the two, if you will.
1:11:24-1:23:18: And while on the semi-bat-trip (which I’m pretty sure was the name of one of The Spin Doctors’ less successful albums), we also discuss Grayson #3 by Tom King, Tim Seeley and Mikel Janin where we compare to those other books, as well as the pretty darn amazing Future’s End issue from last issue. 1:23:18-1:59:20: Darkseid War Update! Graeme has read Green Lantern/New Gods: Godhead #1 and Green Lantern #35 with a dilemma for Jeff: can he ignore the revision of Jack Kirby’s original conception in exchange for a crossover with the feel of a Seventies Marvel crossover? Tough call, my friends, tough call. Also discussed: Thanos Quest, the changing status quo of the antihero in superhero comics, CEOs, Ms. Marvel, internet culture, visiting Portland, and more. 1:59:20-2:21:23: A quick rundown from each of us on books since we realized it was getting close to wrap up time! Graeme: Wild’s End #1 by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard (co-signed by Jeff, btw), and Dr. Who The Eleventh Doctor #3 by Al Ewing/Rob Williams, Simon Fraser, Gary Caldwell and crew. Jeff: Annihilator #1 by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving; Saga #23 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (co-signed by Graeme, btw); Men of Wrath #1 by Jason Aaron and Ron Garvey; Walking Dead #132 by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stefano Gaudiano, and Cliff Rathburn; Nightworld #3 by Paolo Leandri and Adam McGovern; Bumperhead by Gilbert Hernandez; and the stunning The Hospital Suite by John Porcellino, which is a little bit like reading Crisis on Infinite King Cat Comics. 2:21:23-end: Closing comments! Tote bags! Places to look for us at—Stitcher!iTunes! Twitter! Tumblr! and, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 80 patrons make this whole thing possible.
Here is a non-auto launchy link to our episode to cut and paste into the browser or program of your choice:
The first time I ever visited Portland, Oregon, it was just a hair over twenty years ago—I was helping friends move up there, and got to hang around the town for more than a week. I think my friends were hoping if I hung out long enough, I’d just flat-out decide to move up there, too.
Comparing Portland then to now is a bit like comparing the Internet of then to now: it was the same thing, but perhaps less convenience, more of a frontier feeling in that you could make it what you wanted as long as you toughed it out. But maybe that has as much to do with who I was twenty years ago, as opposed to who I am now? I’m much happier, much more comfortable in my skin, so maybe it seems only natural that Portland reflects that.
Nonetheless, it’s a pretty amazing place to visit, and Edi and I had an amazing time. I wanted to give you guys a comprehensive snapshot of all the great comic book stuff in this town, but unfortunately you’re only going to get a slender piece, a hind end, because even after all these years, Portland is still bigger (and smaller) than I can wrap my brain around.
PART I: GOLDEN AGE COLLECTABLES (SEATTLE)
Not Me; Not Portland
Eh, not the best, leading off with an introductory section about Portland, and then leading you right into Seattle but Portlanders are probably used to that kind of treatment.
Edi and I got into Portland and decided it’d be a good idea to go up to Seattle for a day trip. We’d spent two nights there a couple years back and really enjoyed it, and our memories were we could see most of the stuff we’d enjoyed in a long afternoon. This was a total and complete misapprehension, and having to drive up in a crazy rainstorm only seemed to underline that fact.
Anyway, this is Golden Age Collectables, on one of the lower floors of the Pike Place Marketplace. I used to be a little apprehensive about stores located in high-profile tourist areas: rent is high, which can lead to really conservative purchasing habits on the part of the owner, and an abundance of high-end merch.
And while Golden Age Collectables has more than its share of the latter (yes, that is a full-size cardboard Groot for sale), my casual eyeballing of it showed a ton of comics on site, with a wider variation than you might expect (although, yeah, a ton of swag):
Comics, sandwiched in between thick slices of swag.
I suspect that GAC is one of those destination stops, the kind of “if you can get to only one store…” places, and they take that responsibility pretty seriously, with a lot of trade paperbacks:
(Sorry, person. Fortunately you were moving at super-speed, thus preventing Lois Lane from ever discovering your true identity.)
(Also, I should apologize now for how blurry some of these dang photos turned out: clearly, I need a new prescription for my glasses….although my phone’s auto-focusing abilities seem particularly crappy?)
I didn’t pick up anything (although there was a sale set of Queen & Country comics I was pretty tempted by) but if I’d visited when I’d been in the depths of my merch madness phase, I might have dropped a lot of money here. (In fact, if I had been here the day the Kirby settlement was announced, I might have gotten more than a few of those Cap glassess).
Seattle bonus: check out these “Captain Seattle” covers, spotted in the window of a different shop in Pike’s Place:
Leave it to Seattle to give me a crazy ’70s flashback.
(Sadly, I was too cowardly to close the door so you could see the gym logo.)
Ah, yes. Remember that one-two punch mentioned above? Nothing quite quickens one’s hopes quite like a comic book store logo on corrugated aluminum siding… Although Future Dreams may not have been one of the comic stores I visited my first time in Portland, it feels like it should’ve been around then, and pretty much in exactly the condition it is now, which is to say:
Boom. Old school.
Look, I am aware of—and mostly agree with—the argument that comic book stores need to escape the cliché of the bunker-like basement where an unclear organizational structure and an overabundance of inventory makes the shopping experience daunting (if not downright unwelcoming) for newcomers.
But as a guy who has been reading comics for more than four decades, this kind of environment is entirely comfortable to me. In fact, it’s more than a little inviting.
To the extent comic book reading carries with it a complex experience of time—not just the salve of nostalgia, but also a banishment of time altogether in one’s page-turning absorption, or in the discovery or re-discovery of comics from before the reader ever came into existence—the windowless, clockless comic book bunker is a variation on this experience: ideally, you come here without anything else on the schedule, you and your wallet and your checklist of titles and issues, and you just dig in.
“Where you see risk, I see opportunity.”
Further, I should point out that the owner—or, let me be clear, the guy I assume is the owner considering he’s the only person I’ve ever seen behind the counter—is soft-spoken, approachable, friendly, and patient. Assuming he’s that way with female customers too (honestly, I’ve visited this store maybe half a dozen times over the years, and I’ve never seen another customer), then there is none of the uncomfortable clubhouse/kingdom stuff I think is even worse for comic book shops. I’d hate it if he thought I was dissing him or his store. I always love my visits here.
(I think this iteration of Cy-Gor may be one of my favorite action figures, ever.)
And I bought a bunch of old Star Brand comics (practically the entire Jim Shooter run) for just a little over a ten-spot.
But it would be dishonest to act like this kind of shop is for everybody. But I’ll admit it, I don’t want this store to disappear. In a healthier comic marketplace, it would be just one of several options for comic shoppers…just like it is here in Portland.
Part III: Floating World Comics (Portland)
“Forgetting to take pictures of Floating World Comics? Three years in an iso-cube, creep!”
I had such a fun time at Floating World Comics, I forgot to take pictures. Of the shops I visited, they were the only ones that had the Humanoids edition of Barbarella out for display, and their selection of indie stuff is pretty much flawless.
Any shop with Copra: Round One right by the register is going to get a lot of love—but no photos?—from me. So instead here’s a photo of the Judge Dredd pinball game from 1993, which I played at nearby Ground Control. In fact, between that and the Dr. Who pinball game also onsite, Anglophile pinball junkies would probably love this place.
But, yeah. Floating World. Go there.
Part IV: Excalibur Comics (Portland)
Signage, Part 1.
Luckily enough, Excalibur Comics is the very first comic book store I visited in Portland is the one closest to Graeme, so I’ve been fortunate to see it change over twenty years (with an admittedly very large gap of about 15+ years in the middle). This, for example, is their “new” sign, which, along with the “new” external paint job, I think looks pretty darned great. That said, I’m so glad they kept the cartoon duck pulling the sword from the stone, which you can see below:
Signage, Part 2.
That duck is a great connection to an earlier era of comic shops, an unofficial mascot. I don’t know if you clicked through on the earlier link, but the Golden Age Collectables web page has a very Bobby London-esque duck on their logo. The Underground movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s, plus Howard The Duck and Frank Brunner’s assorted spin-offs plus Carl Barks and the huge popularity of Donald Duck overseas gives this particular kind of cartoon duck an almost iconic form of shorthand. It’s a way of saying there’s more than just superhero books here.
Yes, this is probably one of my favorite photos ever. All we need is a waffle in there and it has everything.
Excalibur has a lot of square footage, which is great because it’s very much an old school comic store where the back issue collection is the dominant factor. Fortunately, because of the extensive real estate, there’s also long racks for all of the new issues to be displayed cover out, and long walls of shelves holding a ton of trades.
Where Browses…The Beard-o!
Fortunately, you don’t have to fully take my word for it since Edi was kindly enough to snap a picture of me in action (I’m trying to fill the holes in that Star Brand collection I started at Future Dreams). Although it’s been around since 1974, like Golden Age Collectables, Excalibur has done a good job keeping itself current with comic book shop trends—it’s very well-lit and has a broad selection. Unlike GAC, Excalibur isn’t much of a merch store: it’s about the comics. Not even the graphic novels and trades, mind you: the comics.
For that reason, it may not be a perfect comic shop for beginners and neophytes, maybe? But it’s absolutely another great shop, and probably a fantastic shop for when someone makes the transition from neophyte comic fan to hardcore fiend.
(I bought another six or seven issues of Star Brand here, with the idea of making two sets for Graeme & I to read and discuss.)
Portland bonus: also in the neighborhood is a Blue Star Donuts. People talk a lot about Voodoo Doughnuts, a super-popular Portland chain that specializes in crazily excessive doughnuts (vanilla frosting with fruit loops, bacon maple bars), but I’ve always found them wayyyyyyy better in theory than practice. (Interestingly enough, this visit I went there and had a really good apple fritter after being advised by someone in the know to stick with their more basic models.)
But, yeah, Blue Star is amazing, especially if you like a more artisanal-type doughnut like the ones in the pic. Unfortunately, I cut off the sign for it, but I had the hard apple cider fritter and it blew the other apple fritter out of the water. Exceptionally good doughnuts.
Part V: Bridge City Comics
Signage, Part 1…
One of the great things about Portland is that it has a ton of nicknames. Rose City. Stumptown. Rip City. And Bridge City.
….and Signage, Part 2.
Bridge City Comics strikes me as the new kid on the block, and I suppose it is from the viewpoint of this survey, but it’s been around since 2005. Still, I think in just a few pictures, you can see the difference between it and the other shops I covered:
21st Century Comic Shop
I’ve talked about the other stores being well-lit and inviting, but it’s hard to top this kind of bright and airy look. The day I came in, Merrick Monroe was behind the counter and she was helpful and approachable (even before it became apparent that she and I both knew Graeme). After a certain amount of dithering, I picked up the first issue of the new Stumptown mini here because that felt like the right thing to do. (Although arguably it’s a little too-on-the-nose? Plus, it turns out I already bought the issue a few weeks ago, dammit.)
We were both so surprised to encounter each other Graeme is just a blur in this.
The store isn’t entirely without merch but it’s well-integrated, and the overall emphasis is still on books and trades:
A little bit of everything on the shelves.
In short, it’s probably a classic example of what people want from a 21st Century comic book shop: colorful, approachable, filled with a good range of material, including stuff from the new mainstream. I tend to worry about these kinds of stores because it’s tough to hit the right balance of keeping things open and inviting but also retaining a deep enough stock to keep the store fresh (and profitable).
It looks like they’re making it work for them, though, and I hope the marketplace continues to expand in this direction…especially as long as that marketplace continues to fit in the other types of stores mentioned above. I thought I was pretty spoiled here in San Francisco, but having this kind of variety in just one city is something I hope every comic book fan gets a chance to experience.
One of the fascinating things about binge-reading twelve years of Will Eisner’s The Spirit over the course of the last month or so has been seeing the natural arc of the series; unlike many such long-running series, it isn’t something with peaks and troughs, as such, as much as a clear arc that coincides with Eisner’s interest and involvement with the strip.
While the sudden upswing in the strip when Eisner returns from service in World War II has often been commented on — and it is remarkable, akin to the sudden bump in quality around Fantastic Four #48 when Lee and Kirby seem to suddenly, out of nowhere, realize how to make the series work perfectly after four years of trying — what’s far more interesting to me is the other side of that, the run from late ’50 through ’52 when Eisner is clearly looking for ways not to get bored… and failing.
It’s hard to fault him for needing to do something to shake things up; from ’45 through ’49, he’d been producing the strip on a weekly basis non-stop with only a handful of collaborators (One introduction to the DC hardcover collections I’ve been plowing through suggests that Eisner wrote the bulk of the stories throughout this period, as well as heavily re-writing material from others; art wise, it’s more difficult to discern as he had some pretty faithful ghosts), and that’s a body of work that goes from “impressive” through to “exhausting.” After 200-or-so humanist noirs, it’s hardly surprising that it seemed time to shake things up.
There’s also a lack of historical context that makes the stories read particularly oddly today. As we move from ’49 into 1950, the Spirit keeps ending up shipwrecked/abandoned/somehow abroad and on some kind of multi-part quest to get home from exotic climes. Was this because Eisner and/or his ghosts kept on returning to the same idea because they couldn’t think of other “new directions” for the series, or because it was a particular then-contemporary bandwagon they were trying to jump on? (It’s post-Terry and the Pirates, so was Eisner trying to scoop up that audience?)
Similarly, as Eisner becomes more obviously disconnected from the strip, the visuals change considerably — it happens midway through ’51, at a point where the strip just starts plummeting down in quality to the point where the back cover copy goes from “Will Eisner was at his peak,” which it reads for about eight of the hardcover collections, to admitting that the series “was winding down” — and it suddenly starts looking like a far more generic comic book. It’s not just that the lifework changes, suddenly resembling some odd mix of Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Dick Sprang, but the pacing of the page changes; everything opens up and the page looks… slower, if that makes sense, as a result. The shift is so obvious, that again there’s a sense of, was Eisner trying to chase an audience for other material that he thought would make the strip more popular?
When Wally Wood comes on for the Outer Space stories in 1952, his style is arguably closer to what Eisner had been doing previously, to the extent that the series almost feels more Spirit-esque again after a year or so of it being “off” in some indefinable way. In a strange way, that “off”-ness re-energized me as a reader, because — and this sounds terrible to say — the experience of just reading so much Eisner genuinely at his peak was overwhelming, to the point where I started to just skim strips if they didn’t grab me straight away. Say what you like about precipitous drops in quality, but at least they make you sit up and take notice (and then go back and read the earlier stuff that you skimmed, because you know that it’s better than what you’re reading).
In its last couple years, The Spirit is something that’s not just on borrowed time, but seems to know it’s on borrowed time; it’s a strip that keeps tentatively moving towards some kind of reinvention and then scurrying back to an approximation of its glory days before trying out something else (that may look very like the last attempt in all but name of exotic locale). There’s something that’s just fascinating about that to me. Given how flawless some of the stuff not that long ago had been, it’s surprising how dull the new material feels, and eventually how alien and tone-deaf the new creators’ attempts to “do” Eisner is; there really is a sense that everyone involved should be able to do better, somehow.
It’s a failure despite those involved, not because of, and that just makes it all the more curious and confusing.
Housecleaning note: Jeff isn’t dead, although he was in Portland last week, which may have felt a little like heaven to him (Expect the next podcast to include some references to that visit. And, by some, I mean “a lot”). I know he’s got posts in the works, so they’ll appear soon. Also, posting on the Wait, What? Tumblr will soon get back to something resembling “a real schedule” after a very busy month on my behalf. Thank you for all your patience, Whatnauts.
The final week of Futures End issues! Hold on! We’re almost finished…!
Booster Gold: Futures End #1: For the longtime DC reader, there’s a lot to unpack in Dan Jurgens’ return to the character he created, way back when we were all more innocent and had more hair in the 1980s. Admittedly, that’s my polite way of saying “As a standalone issue, and especially one that’s created as part of a stunt month set in the future of the DCU, this issue fails almost entirely,” but it sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it?
The problem is this: if you haven’t a basic grounding in DC history, then this issue is likely just going to be utterly confusing and nonsensical. Hell, I’ve been reading DC comics for three decades, and there’s a bunch about it that’s confusing to me (For those who didn’t read the Justice League International Annual from 2012, there’s one scene in particular that might make absolutely no sense, as opposed to the little sense it made to me having read it).
The gimmick of the issue is that Booster is being thrown throughout both time and the multiverse by a mysterious, unknown force (Spoilers: It’s Brainiac, which isn’t even made clear through the issue, but you can tell from the word balloons), with each new era/planet illustrated by a different artist. In theory, it’s a good idea, and with Steve Lightle drawing the Legion again, and Ron Frenz channelling his greatest Kirby for a trip to Kamandi’s time, it should work — but it doesn’t, because Jurgens’ writing isn’t coherent enough, focusing too much on Booster going “What is going on? I don’t understand?” before introducing an entirely second Booster who, apparently, comes from a parallel earth — which one, if either, belongs to the regular DC earth isn’t established — and then the issue ends with the other Booster telling the unseen Brainiac that he’ll give him access to Vanishing Point. Which hasn’t been introduced or established anywhere else in the issue, making it entirely weightless as a cliffhanger. For all newcomers know, the issue ends with Booster offering to lend the villain his favorite Primal Scream album.
It’s an entirely missed opportunity that doesn’t even have the lightness of tone that Booster’s solo series used to have — or, indeed, much of the personality of the character at all, with him reduced to a confused, powerless cypher in an attempt to introduce the multiverse and a villainous threat that doesn’t really get established at all. It’s a very pretty issue filled with cameos that might thrill older readers, but really? This is a bit of a disaster.
The Flash: Futures End #1: There’s something to be said for the way in which The Flash, regardless of who’s writing it, manages to use the stunt month books to set up or pay off long-running storylines in the regular title; last year’s Reverse Flash issue was an integral part of the storyline in the series at the time, and this issue ties into the ongoing Wally West/time-travel arc from the main book. Of course, as someone who isn’t reading the main book right now — blame it on Brett Booth’s art, which doesn’t work for me purely because of the faces, as arbitrary as that is — this makes the issue a little bit less of a draw than it otherwise would have been.
That said, it’s not bad in any sense. Writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen actually make the issue a good introduction to the ongoing storyline, and even though it’s clearly a middle issue — there’s definitely no resolution at the end of the story, instead a cliffhanger leading into next month’s issue — it’s something that could be picked up by a newcomer and understood, despite four different Flashes of different varieties showing up. What it doesn’t really do is add anything to the Futures End five years later gimmick, nor gain anything from it, either. It really does just feel like a regular issue of The Flash. So… points for consistency, perhaps, but I’m not sure those coming to the book hoping to see Future Flash would necessarily appreciate what they find here.
Harley Quinn: Futures End #1: And, to the surprise of no-one who’s been paying attention to the regular Harley Quinn book, this is pretty much a quiet triumph. Like the Flash issue, it’s as much a regular issue of the series as it is a “special issue,” but unlike the Flash issue, it’s also a pretty good little done-in-one that doesn’t require any further investment in the book.
It helps that it’s an issue that gets to bring in the Joker for the first time in the series, and does so in a way that both (a) features him with his face again, thankfully, and (b) restores some of the fun to the character instead of leaving him as the psychopath he’s become in recent years; this issue is really just a screwball comedy that just happens to feature Batman characters, and it’s so much better for it. “Fun” might be somewhat out of place in the otherwise grim Futures End event, but this issue demonstrates very well why more fun wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
Superman: Futures End #1: The second Dan Jurgens book of the week, and the second book where the art is great, and the writing less so. Although, it has to be said, the colors chosen by Dave McCaig for this issue are weirdly muted and feel at odds with both Lee Weeks’ art and the story being told. It’s not that it’s bad coloring, exactly — there are some lovely effects he chooses, and I’d like to see this approach used elsewhere — but it doesn’t necessarily fit the “Future Metropolis!” feel of the setting (Weeks’ art, though, is just flawless; I wish we could see more of him on a regular title somewhere).
As with the Booster Gold issue, this is less a standalone issue than something that ties in very specifically with an ongoing storyline, with Lois Lane talking to Billy Batson about why he took on the role of Superman (Spoilers!) and, accidentally, talking him out of keeping that role. It’s something that feels like an overextended scene from the main Futures End series, and arguably belongs there — especially if this means that the Masked Superman will never appear in that series again after receiving so much attention in earlier issues. It’s also something that underscores how gratuitous the Masked Superman plot line was to Futures End as a series, if its explanation and resolution can be farmed out to another book without too much effort.
More than anything, though, there’s a sense of this issue being… an advertisement, or a trailer, perhaps for something else. The main action scene is something that sets up a bunch of further questions that will, I assume, be answered in Futures End with a lack of subtlety that suggests that they are Important Questions tied in with the resolution of the series. But between that and the thinness of events in this issue itself, it feels as if this was created at the last minute to fill a gap in the publishing schedule, rather than having any reason to exist otherwise.
Even moreso than last year’s Villains’ Month, that’s been the overriding impression I’ve gotten from the Futures End month issues this month, sadly — the idea that it’s something people had to do instead of wanting to do, with only a few exceptions. Even without reading all of the issues, it’s been an oddly exhausting experience. Time to leave the future behind — well, aside from the main Futures End series, which I am reading and enjoying, moreso than many of these one shots — and come back to the present. How soon is now, anyway?
Hmm, that required more clarification than I had planned. Nonetheless, it is true. So, you know, I’ve got to pack my special waffleware, my Graeme McMillan cosplay outfit, my map of the maze of secret passageways in Powell’s Books, that special shrug I only use when somebody mentions Voodoo Doughnuts, and more.
Thus, here are the show notes just the way Thomas Hobbes conceived of them: Nasty, Brutish, and Short. (Also the name of the unsuccessful competitor to Bone Thugs-n- Harmony I was in back in the day.) We hope you enjoy them, us, the accompanying podcast, and your place in the universe. (Oh, which reminds me, I gotta get the address of that floatation tank place near Graeme!)
OH, AND HOLY HELL, BEFORE I FORGET: Graeme and I are BOTH guests on the only movie podcast that has ever existed or will exist in pan-dimensional spacetime: Travis Bickle on the Riviera! Listen to Sean Witzke, Graeme, and Jeff talk Carrie, Funny Face, The Trip to Italy, and even a little bit of….superheroes! We may not be on that link when you first click on it, but keep following up. That sucker is going up today, giving you a double dose of Wait, What action! (And only a single dose of Sean Witzke, but that’s okay, you only need a single dose of Sean to clear up that nasty infection, as well as most of the helpful bacteria in your GI tract.)
Where was…oh, right. The notes for this show:
00:00-23:07: This podcast, as you will soon discover, was recorded on Jeff’s wedding anniversary and the day of Scotland’s historic vote for independence. We don’t talk so much about the former, but about the latter? We have some thoughts. And for those who would actually like some comic book talk with their comic book podcast, tune in around 10:28 to hear Jeff talk about the “insights” the debate over Scottish independence has given him about Mark Millar and Grant Morrison. Discussed: conservative liberals, liberal conservatives, lying liars, liberal opportunists, and many more permutations of same. 23:07-41:03: And here come some comics! More specifically, Grant Morrison comics. Super-specifically, Annihilator by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving,G and Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes, by Grant Morrison, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong, and Dave McCraig. Graeme has yet to read Annihilator, so you get to hear a lot of Jeff, but we’ve both read Multiversity: SOS so there’s a lot of excited yapping and verbal scrambling around the furniture from both of us. Come for the Morrison talk, stay for the weary tone in Graeme’s voice when he talks about the Darkseid War! 41:03-47:18: Speaking of DC, a bit of discussion about Batman Future’s End #1 and Batman and Robin: Future’s End #1, and a dissection of how the two books work, as well as what the two titles do differently. 47:18-51:38:Batwoman: Future’s End #1 sounds pretty terrible, but almost appealingly so? Warning: Graeme spoils the whole issue for us (but….almost appealingly so?) necessitating a certain amount of covering your ears and going “la, la, la! can’t hear you! la, la, la!” if you want to go into it cold. 51:38-55:42: Graeme also goes full metal spoiler on the Wonder Woman/Superman & Wonder Woman Future’s End issues by Charles Soule and Co., which he touched on in an earlier W,W? post and develops a bit more here. 55:42-1:03:25: Zen koan: if you tell a story about playing superheroes with your nieces at a park playground…and if your story has a cameo from an award-winning cartoonist…and that cartoonist tells a story about that award and the difficulties it presents getting into the Smithsonian…are you still talking about comics? Jeff humbly attempts to answer this timeless riddle. 1:03:25-1:09:31: All of the above was an intro to Jeff quickly talking about talking two books he’s read in the last week or two including: Demon by Jason Shiga and Sirens #1 by George Perez. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t confuse one for the other and then just pretend like he was talking about both the whole time.)
Yikes! Glad this is just a comic book…
1:09:31-1:50:49: Which bring us to….Avengers time! Yes, Graeme and I read Avengers #201-225 for your sins (and for our sins, you have to hear us talk about it). Discussed: the betrayal of Bill Mantlo; Who Weathers The Weathermen; Graeme turns into a bowl of Rice Krispies at one point; The ghost of Jim Shooter; the destruction of Hank Pym; the handling of The Wasp; the romance of Tony Stark and Jan Van Dyne; whether we should keep paying for Marvel Unlimited; strange cameos; Beast and Wonder Man a la Infantino; Moondragon and the inversion of the Shooter narrative; how to make superheroes grow up; and more. Here, have a screenshot or two!
Yikes (the finale)!
1:50:49-2:06:01: Trying to figure out if there’s comic news we should be discussing, we turn our gaze to the wonder that is Alison Bechdel winning a MacArthur Genius Grant and ponder other cartoonists we’d love to see get the award. (Don’t worry: only one of us picks Jim Shooter.) [Disclaimer: neither of us pick Jim Shooter.] [Further disclaimer: both of us talk like Ms. Bechdel is the first cartoonist to receive the Genius grant, completely overlooking Ben Katchor. We regret the error.] 2:06:01-end: Moving toward closing comments! Graeme tells us what he’s got on his desk to read, what we hope to talk about in the future, and Jeff’s upcoming trip to the PDX. And then: closing comments! Including places to look for us at—Stitcher! Itunes! Twitter! Tumblr! and, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 78 patrons make this whole thing possible.
Okay, so here is a link to the podcast for those of you who don’t like the play button thing we have going on:
I’m a little worried about this: Graeme and I podcast this very week so there’s a chance, if I do it wrong, I’ll writing about stuff here that would really benefit by me talking about it there…and yet, I think that’s a risk worth taking since I don’t want my posts to just be reviews of books “unworthy” of being talked about.
That said, there are a few stinkers talked about here, so…you’ve been warned, I guess.
LOW #1 & 2: A lof ot Image’s current line-up feels like if you’d managed to refract the eighties incarnation of Heavy Metal magazine through a prism, then sprayed the resulting spectrum across a comic book rack: heady science fiction, funny science fiction, oddball fantasy, grimy fantasy, portentous science fiction. Remender and Tocchi’s Low is very much the latter for me—those eight or ten pages I used to thumb through as a desperate teen in search of female nudity are now blown out into a full $3.99 comic book.
So there’s a certain irony to me being annoyed by the amount of nudity in the book? It’s fine nudity, I guess, but in each of the two issues when it happened I found myself deeply annoyed. Remender isn’t an especially subtle writer (which is actually the kind of thing I tend to appreciate), but it makes the first issue’s opening game of strip exposition ring especially false, kind of a “hmm, what can I do to make this crazy-ass exposition dump visually interesting in the slightest? Oh, yeah: boobs and butts!”
There’s a lot of “this world is dying!” stuff in the first two issues (in fact, it’s supposed to be so important to the optimism vs. despair dynamic Remender talks about in the back pages that it’s an essential piece of the cliffhanger at the end of issue two). But there’s no real sense of the world, just a lot of pretty sets, and the family is uninteresting: there’s no depth to any of them, which makes the “five years later” zing of issue #2 utterly without impact.
Or… maybe I’m responding to the literal flatness of the art? Greg Tocchini has an extrarordinary sense of color and composition but I’ve never been a fan of watercolor art. Even as the color heightens my emotional response, specific details end up only suggested in the overall smear of expression. So the art here made me feel like I was reading a comic book through a fishbowl at the same time I was suffering from faceblindness, which isn’t the best way for me to develop an emotional attachment to characters.
But ultimately the problem rests with Remender, who has a lot of ground he wants to cover: the way he’s chosen to do so isn’t just inelegant, it’s inefficient. I think he might’ve been better starting us off with issue #2, teasing out a significant backstory between an optimistic-to-the-point-of-being-bonkers mom and her cynical-to-the-point-of-being-corrupt cop son.
I feel like I’m only adding to Rick Remender’s therapy bills by saying this, but I thought this was crazily dull and I’m probably off the book unless something in.
ANNIHILATOR #1: I suspect Graeme and I will talk about this book more on the podcast, but I had to mention it here in part because it’s such a fitting contrast to Low: at least at first blush there seems to be a very similar set of thematic concerns, what with all the hedonistic despair on display. But, of course, Grant Morrison is the King of Four Color Manic Depression, and so while he not only has way more experience steering a story into grimmer waters than Remender, I admittedly have way more experience reading these kinds of stories from Morrison.
And so while depraved screenwriter Ray Spass isn’t really any deeper a character than Low’s “my family is in tatters but oh boy an inhabitable world!” mom, Morrison at least uses those flatter characters as a way to jam in more thematic concerns and leitmotifs in a short period of time. (Also, Frazier Irving’s art works for me in so many ways Greg Tocchini’s doesn’t.)
Mind you, Morrison’s portrait of a successful screenwriter is so diametrically opposed to just about everything I’ve ever read on the subject that I genuinely wonder how much screenwriting work he’s even tried to do in L.A., but I think it’ll be excusable if he really develops the “romantic conception of despair vs. very genuine despair” thing going on here.
And who couldn’t be charmed by “Diabolik by way of Shade The Changing Man, as told in the manner of Clive Barker”? That’s a very fun daisy-chaining of influences. I kinda can’t help but come back for the second issue of this.
FINDER: THIRD WORLD: And this, the latest trade paperback by Carla Speed McNeil collecting the Finder pieces originally anthologized in Dark Horse Presents, shares a certain amount of thematic concerns with Low and Annihilator—I guess it’s unsurprising how much discussions of climate change and diminishing resources may be influencing works of popular fiction, right?—but, of course, both Morrison and Remender are going to pale in comparison to Carla Speed McNeil when it comes to speculative fiction.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how it is for everybody else but my volume came with a pretty large printing error: my copy includes pages 129-152 twice while excising pages 97-128 altogether. Hilariously, not only is McNeil one of those storytellers who likes to keep you on your toes with big jump cuts, but she’s also *wayyyy* smarter than I’ll ever hope to be…so when I first encountered the resulting storytelling shift, I just figured I’d hit the inevitable point in every Finder volume where I get confused and baffled. But, uh, nope. Printer’s error.
Hopefully, by the time I podcast with Graeme, I’ll have a chance to exchange this for a properly printed volume. Those first 96 pages are ace, though!
BEE AND PUPPYCAT #3: The book’s still cute as hell, but this is my final issue: the stories are stunted, fragmented things, and even more so when you break them across two or three issues Everyone working on the book have chops, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of craft on display, if that makes sense? Or maybe I’m just missing how much of the humor in the book works on anticlimax? If so, it shouldn’t be too hard to do a complete anticlimactic story in one issue, right? I mean, I admit it’s actually funnier to take a completely anticlimactic story and stretch it across several issues…but that’s what I read superhero comics for, damn it.
THE WHEDON THREEWAY: Cringe-inducing name, but a great bit of comics marketing: three full-length issues for $1, and a chance to check in on the Buffyverse? As a fromer BTVS fan, I’ll take that ride!
That said, I’m apparently not enough of a fan, because these all failed to hold my interest in some crucial way. As I wrote all the way back on the Savage Critic about Buffy Season 8 (and, wow, great, I can’t even find one of my own posts, nice work), those comics tended toward big action beats and sweeping developments to the mythos. While I myself tend to pick up the books in the hopes of seeing more of the character interaction that hooked me on the TV show.
Both of the first issues for Buffy and Angel & Faith are heavy on the spectacle—which really seems like a sensible alternative to the traditional “frozen status quo” of a lot of licensed comics (though I think maybe the Season 8 series has changed that dynamic across the board)—but it didn’t seem especially interesting to me. Considering how much Buffy (the TV show) bit from Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, I kinda figured Buffy (the comic book) would move closer to that dynamic. But, I dunno.
Maybe it was because the big emotional beat in the issue resolves some stuff with Giles not in any way on my radar? Or maybe because this title’s last season was more about the emotional stuff and this issue is tnow rying to bring back a lot of big action? But either way, it was an issue of Buffy that convinced me that I’m doing right by me to keep passing on the title. And I’ve just never really been especially interested in the characters of Angel or Faith on their own, so it’s going to be doubly hard to rouse my interest in a title starring both.
One thing worth noting is I thought the Buffy and A&F issues both had really good art: Rebekah Isaacs manages to have a style that manages to strike a nice balance between cartoony looseness and a fidelity to the character’s features. She may not be well-suited to the larger scale action in the issue, but I’m not sure if it’s her fault the script doesn’t really make clear why the heroes are losing until they’re not. And Will Conrad’s work on Angel & Faith is pretty remarkable by having a far more photo-realistic take on the characters without having the usual problems of stiffness or inappropriate expressions you can get in heavily photo referenced work. He seems like someone DC would particularly eager to put through the New52 meat grinder, but some of his DC stuff I’m peeping at on the Web seems kinda generic. Maybe his chops have developed since then?
Anyway, I thought both Isaacs and Conrad’s contributions were noteworthy.
You may notice I’m keeping pretty mum about Leaves on the Wind #1, the Firefly issue? I figure I’ve done enough carping for one 60+ page dollar promotional issue. I don’t like Zack Whedon’s work, Georges Jeanty’s work leaves me cold, and I’m now starting to wonder if I ever really liked Firefly? I watched the show, saw Serenity in the theater, so I must’ve been emotionally invested in somehow, right? But by the time flashback Wash shows up to utter the (quasi-)titular line, I found myself all-but-groaning aloud . “Jesus, get over it already,” muttered Crabby-Man. “That movie is almost a decade old, let it go already,” he thought, explicitly ignoring the point that the book is set nine months after the events of the film (and so also ignoring the entire hook of the miniseries).
So yeah, the Firefly issue is really not for me. But…I still think it was a great way for Dark Horse to promote these books? Assuming there are still people out in the world who aren’t so crabby and particular, this is a great way to get the material into their hands. If one of the books had really rung my chimes, there’s a good chance I would’ve hunted down at least the next issue.
TEEN DOG #1: Bad decisions made all the way around here. Why did they make a comic about Poochie? Why did I buy a comic about Poochie? I mean, they made a comic about Poochie because they clearly believed people would buy a comic about Poochie, and I did indeed buy a comic about Poochie, so in theory Boom!’s logic was actually flawless, but…?
And it’s worth pointing out that Jake Lawrence is doing a very post-modern “Teen Dog as the Fonz” comic, with visions of mind-melting transcendence intermittently popping up among all the deliberately generic all-ages high school comic strip gags. I mean, if Jim Starlin suddenly started writing and drawing Archie, you wouldn’t hear me complaining, would you? (Graeme, yes, but me and Chad Nevett? No.)
It’s possible Lawrence has bigger fish to fry, and there’ll be some kind of meta-commentary on how mass market pop culture renders the crazily bizarre (talking skateboarding dog obsessed with pizza) into the utterly unnoteworthy, and so stifles our ability to apprehend with wonder and awe and thus keep us from the genuinely transcendent? But, honestly, it just seems to me like the kind of ironic re-appropriation needed these days required to move con merch. “What is it?” asked Crabby-Man, leaning on the cane he didn’t even need to use. “Did everyone decide Scott Pilgrim’s emotional and thematic issues just got in the way of all the great pop references?” I gave Bee and Puppycat three issues; Teen Dog isn’t even going to get to issue number two with me. Sorry, Teen Dog!
Let’s get this out the way first: All of this week’s Futures End one shots suffer in comparison to another book on DC’s release schedule today — namely, The Multiversity: Society of Superheroes #1, which manages to do exactly what the Futures End books are meant to (Tell a more-or-less one-off story with alternate versions of familiar characters that also ties in with a larger narrative in such a way that doesn’t interrupt the standalone nature of the story at hand) with more style, humor and invention than anything that takes place five years later. If, as they say, you buy only one DC book this week, it should really be that one. If you plan to buy more, however…
Batman and Robin: Futures End #1: One of the problems with the Futures End one shots is the seeming lack of consistency; this is the third Batman book I’ve read this month, and there’s a certain inconsistency between them (especially Detective and the other two, which seem entirely disconnected; this at least shares a writer and vague thematic relationship with last week’s amazing Batman issue). Instead of really following up on what’s already been established in other issues, this issue acts as both a hint of things to come and payoff for earlier events in the larger Batman mythology (The new Robin introduced in this issue calls back to Scott Snyder’s Batman more than anything in this series, while the villain is directly from Morrison’s Batman, Incorporated).
The confusion of “Does this even relate to the other issues?” is, at best, a distraction from an issue that’s slight but perfectly serviceable. It’s tempting to think of the issue as a showcase for Dustin Nguyen’s art — certainly, the amount of silent panels would suggest as much — but it’s not his best work, with only some panels reaching heights of material he’s done elsewhere. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the issue, in terms of quality, but it feels very light and inconsequential, failing to resolve the larger plot it invents. A mis-step, then.
Batwoman: Futures End #1: Of course, even a mis-step is better than an outright mess, which is what this issue feels like. I don’t doubt that it’s something that will appeal to regular readers of the title, but for someone like me who dropped out early in the series and then only returned irregularly since, this issue was like a bad X-Men comic from the 1990s, with sibling conflicts, returns from the dead, vampires and heroes corrupted. Add in some flat, almost parodic dialogue (“Your bag of tricks is running low, sister,” struck me as very sub-Claremontian, to say the least) and what’s left is very much something that does not appeal to me in the slightest.
Justice League: Futures End #1: It’s difficult to know what to say about this issue, after multiple readings. Imagine a 1970s Gerry Conway Justice League of America issue where the Legion of Super-Heroes guest-starred, only the villain was Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, and that’s pretty much what’s on offer here. In some ways, it reads like the middle issue of a Morrison JLA issue, only slowed down some, with all that means (i.e., it’s full of a clash of familiar characters and ideas, but doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense despite seeming very attractive).
Add to that art by Jed Dougherty that feels off somehow — there’s a bit of Michael Golden in there at times, but the inks lack the crispness and three-dimensionality of his work, flattening things at times (He inks himself; I do wonder what he could look like with a Karl Story or the like finishing his work). All in all, it’s a comic that feels surprisingly off-kilter, but in an inviting way. In five years, the Justice League will be in one of those periods that will appeal to longtime fans but seem agonizingly dull and weird to everyone else, it seems.
Wonder Woman: Futures End #1/Superman Wonder Woman: Futures End #1: Finally, a two-parter from Charles Soule, Rags Morales and Bart Sears that manages a lot of nice tricks — in particular, a good shift at the start of the second issue that resets the status quo of the story in a surprising way — and, for once, uses Wonder Woman as the focal character of the series. Unfortunately, that comes at the cost of ultimately undermining material from the Azzarello/Chiang run; the climax of the story is, literally, a rejection of one of the major developments from that run. There are also some awkward decisions made to service the story that, sure, make sense in light of other Futures End requirements but nonetheless seem ludicrous enough when reading to stop the reader short.
Again, there’s the problem of this not being a complete story — I suspect that it might be, were I paying more attention to the series as a whole — with a nemesis so undefined that the various actions they’re responsible for might as well be magic. While there’s a throughline of intent that tracks, the story’s focus means that what should be larger, more earned moments instead become weightless and unsatisfying. There’s an ambition to this story that’s impressive, but the execution is lacking.
Next week: The last of the Futures End reviews! The last time I’ll be running reviews on Wednesday, I hope!