SPOILERS: I am way late in posting this (Even more spoilers: This isn’t even the post I left unfinished yesterday, because that one just wouldn’t come back to life at all), so I’m stick it all under the cut and telling you to scroll down and read Jeff’s far more entertaining comic reviews. Can he turn against Tony Daniel? The answer may surprise you! Seriously, scroll down and read. Then, when you come back, why you shouldn’t read a lot of Fantastic Four at once.
Man, you know those guys who turn around and post reviews for comics as soon as they come out? Sometimes even before they come out? Way, way back in the day, I used to be one of those guys. Okay, maybe not the day of but, you know, I’d work at CE on Friday, write reviews on Saturday, get them up before the end of the weekend. It was kind of fun back in the days where my only serious commitment was to, I dunno, Dragon Quest VIII or something. (Speaking of which has anyone played Dragon Quest VIII for the iPad? Is it any good? I’m asking for…a friend. A friend who’s on the second day of a two week vacation for which he vowed he’d devote some serious time to goofing off—okay, okay, I’m asking for me, all right? I’m asking for me!)
Anyway, the neverending Sketchook entry is still far from finished and not even all that interesting to me anymore personally (which is a drag considering the time already sunk into it), and coming back from the store yesterday and looking at my wide-open schedule I thought, you know, why not get the band back together for one last gig? “Let’s read some comics and say what we thought about them, and then post it on the Internet!” I thought. “That’ll teach me!”
Anyway, these are mostly in alphabetical order except when I think I have something clever to say, in which case they’re not. That’s sorta fair, right?
ARKHAM MANOR #1: SPOILER THIS TAKES PLACE AFTER THE EVENTS OF BATMAN ETERNAL #30. Technically, that really shouldn’t be a spoiler but since Editorial didn’t disclose it until page four of the book, I’m assuming it’s something they were trying to keep under wraps from the casual browser. Unfortunately, this casual browser read that and went “damn it,” because he’d already bought the damn book. Since Batman Eternal #28 came out this week, I have the choice of either spoiling those two issues (although I’m pretty sure I already did by reading panel three of page one) or putting this aside.
So. In two weeks: My review of Arkham Manor #1! SPOILERS: I will complain about the scheduling problems of the Bat-Editorial Department.
BATMAN ETERNAL #28: Meanwhile, this week in “wait, where the hell does Batman think Alfred is again?” Ray Fawkes returns to run the ball a little farther up the field on his “spooky shenanigans in Arkham” story. I’m not much of a fan of this storyline, in part because I generally don’t like spooky shenanigans mixed in with my Batman stories unless Mr. Bob Haney is holding the swizzle stick, and in part because giving the story to Batwing, the only Bat person of color, and having him play second banana to New52 Jim Corrigan is deeply, deeply WhiteDumb. (I’m trying to rebrand racism so that maybe white people can own up to it a little easier rather than getting all upset when someone points out they’re being racist. Let me know how I’m doing.)
But this issue had a number of nice beats, with Simon Coleby’s art given an enjoyably smoldering palette by colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. And the pacing at the end was aces, intercutting Batwing assembling his armor, all hell breaking loose in Arkham, and the code of the Riddler being computer decoded before our very eyes. Sure, that pacing is almost utterly generic now thanks to the preponderance of hyperactive thrillers on TV and in movies but…at least it was done well and kept me turning the pages attentively even when, really, part of me was like, “man, where the hell are my Brave and The Bold Showcases?”
To sum up: this was an okay issue, and I’m looking forward to getting drunk later and digging through my longboxes to find those Showcases.
AQUAMAN #35: I think this is my last issue because even though I dig Jeff Parker’s characterization of Aquaman as The Introverted Guy Who Would Be King, I’m just not into Atlantis. Atlantis is that kid brother every Aquaman writer either tries to ditch or, with a heaving sigh, turns their attention to and tries to give a makeover so they’re not embarrassed to be seen in public with. One good thing about getting to my age is being able to acknowledge the only thing I care less about than a fantasy kingdom is an underwater fantasy kingdom. Sorry, Aquaman: it’s not you, it’s me.
STUMPTOWN #2: That previous issue which I apparently bought twice was on my mind as I went into the store today, in part because I was thinking something like: remember, dummy. Do not buy two copies this time.
But also I was thinking about how I dug the whole “here’s a murder mystery about Portland soccer fans,” in part because it so obviously seemed like writer Greg Rucka was just a huge Portland soccer fan. It made me think about that one issue of Moon Knight where suddenly the cast gets all broken up over the death of John Lennon and what’s-her-name is playing the piano and then crying. It was an embarrassing issue to read as a kid because it so clearly didn’t have any kind of place in a story about a multiple personality Batman-by-way-of-werewolf’s-blood superhero (although, let’s face it, if each one of Moon Knight’s personalities had a different favorite Beatle and drove the rest of surrounding cast insane about it, that would’ve been pretty great). And yet, I also dug it. Before disposable pop culture took over the world, it was kind of neat to see people pack thoughts about pop culture into other pop culture. And Stumptown issue one reminded me of that, and how much I used to really like it.
Issue two reminded me that while I find this stuff great to read in trades, I find it pretty draggy in the single issues. Although there’s every chance it will pay off in later issues, there were way too many pages of people talking about how much they care about the victim and how important it is that the perpetrators get caught, and…I don’t know, isn’t that the kind of thing that doesn’t really need that much justification? Too many samey-seeming scenes in one issue for my taste. Reading it felt like I was right on the verge of some kind of realization about something… but it took me a few more books for that to come together.
SUPERMAN #35: Considering how slowly this book is unfolding, I don’t think it was helped by that Future’s End skip month issue. (I call it a skip month because I skipped it.) I saw issue #35 on the stands and was like, “wait, am I still…reading this?”
I am, in part because I keep trying to figure out what I like about John Romita, Jr.’s art? It’s a weird style, one where I feel like I’m always noticing something new. Like…did you know we had so many wrinkles on our nose? Maybe it’s a side-effect of having our noses broken so many times? You can look at a character in profile and sometimes their nose will look broken—clearly broken, like big old knot at the bridge and then mashed up against the face below that—and then on the next panel it won’t be? And then in a medium shot it will be wrinkled? It’s a fascinating world John Romita Jr. lives in, where people’s noses behave like dog’s noses, springing to attention before lolling back brokenly above their marionette mouth.
Seriously: I like the guy’s work. Like I said on a podcast, it reminds me more of Gil Kane (or, in this issue, Frank Robbins for some reason) than John Romita, Sr. Also, I think I just really like what the guy does with body language.
Anyway, Johns’ story doubles down on his “let’s make Superman the most boring part of this Superman story,” which is a shame. I can see how a Superman analog is our modern equivalent of the old DC Imaginary Story, where wacky hijinks will show us that it’s important that Superman be a superhero only in the most reactive, passive sense of the term. But I found the end of this issue a bit of a bummer: having Superman decide to use a supercity in an alternate dimension to house six million people to build a better tomorrow? It’s a drag that story hook goes to not-Superman, instead.
ZERO #11: Tonally, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz’s art ran the gamut in this from absolutely perfect to kind of unfortunate: perfect for the scenes of Edward Zero having a few moments of peace and happiness, and even when the tension starts to crank up…but the facial expressions in the fight scene made it feel a little too much like something out of The Castle of Cagliostro. And even though it was twenty-four pages of story, the issue felt a bit light to me which suggests it either needed just a dash more story in there or all those old issues of Avengers are totally throwing off my sense of story pacing. Probably the latter. Decent little issue overall, though.
STARLIGHT #6: I guess I’m glad my current phase of comic book reading is more focused on the art because every bit of Mark Millar’s storytelling in this was rubbish. Duke’s escape, his cigar smoking return, that kid yelling out Duke’s name even though he is in the process of being hanged (seriously, how can Mark Millar not know how strangulation works?), the final showdown with Kingfisher and Duke…just a big old heaping pile of garbage.
But, of course, Goran Parlov does something great on every page. I could never make fun of his faces the way I do John Romita, Jr.: his characters are cartoony but he can draw them at any angle and the exaggerations stay completely proportional. And of course, the faux-Moebius stuff going on in the backgrounds (aided a ton by Ive Svorcina)? I was just really happy to read 30+ pages of Parlov’s work in one go…at least until I got to the back page and remembered the price tag for doing so was five bucks.
Overall, Starlight was a pretty good reminder why I don’t read Mark Millar comics anymore. I hope Parlov sees some decent Hollywood money out of it, and someone scoops the guy up to do their much better book. But…well, let’s just say I’m very, very glad this was the mini and Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner’s Flash Gordon is the ongoing, let’s put it that way.
DEATHSTROKE #1: Probably the book I was most excited to pick up this week since it’s the return of Tony Daniel writing and drawing a book while his editors go and huff glue, or do whatever it is they do instead of saying, “Uh, Tony Daniel, shouldn’t we have more of a story here?” like they probably should.
On the one hand, this has a lot of the stuff I love when Tony Daniel writes and draws his own book. Blood-red skies? Check. Hot women with some sort of disfigurement a la a Metal Gear Solid game? Check. Ganking stuff from Frank Miller, including creating an outrageously unsubtle Wolverine analog to make fun of? Check. There’s several pages of really fun over-the-toppery, like when the bad guy gets free and just starts hacking pieces off Deathstroke with his own sword, or when Deathstroke returns the favor by lopping off people’s heads in a ridiculously glorious bottom-up perspective.
But on the other hand, even with the embarrassingly low bar I set for Tony Daniel comics, this just barely cleared it. Kinda knocked the bar off with its back foot as it went over, frankly. While I’m glad the book is free of the “this story is all about the hero and the hero’s past and how it’s really their most personal, dangerous dramatic adventure the hero’s ever had!”, it was also just a little too low-stakes for me: Deathstroke (which I just typo’d as Deathstorke, which I now pray to God someone will do in any Captain Carrot revival that comes down the pike) gets a contract to bump off a bunch of guys including Wolverine analog (also funny for a Captain Carrot revival: A wolverine named Wolverine?) and then it turns out to be a trap to get the secret memories hidden in Deathstroke’s head and then he has to swordfight his way out of an ambush? I was pretty emotionally uninvested. Plus, on the last page, beneath the newly young Deathstroke in his blood diaper yelling “What did you do to me?” there’s a next issue box hollering, “NEXT: The Secret Past of Slade Wilson!” So…cue up the story bit about Deathstroke’s past and how this is really the most personal, dangerous dramatic adventure he’s ever had. Damn it.
Still. It’s only $2.99 and I have every hope Daniel will introduce thirty-seven villains next issue, some of which will look like ordinary household objects wearing top hats so…I’m far from giving up the book.
MEMETIC #1: Jesus, another $4.99 book? Sure, it’s 32 pages of story but…that’s a lot of investment for the first shot of a three issue miniseries, don’t you think?
Or maybe I’m just extra-cranky because those 32 pages had a lot of what felt like the same scenes over and over: it’s kind of tough when you’re doing a story about a memetic invasion not to fall into “PAGE FIVE: More people love the Good Times Sloth and say it makes them incredibly happy to look at. PAGE SEVEN: Even more people love the Good Times Sloth and say it makes them incredibly happy to look at. PAGE THIRTEEN: Now all the world loves the Good Times Sloth and say it makes them incredibly happy to look at.” But…I got to the end of these 32 pages, most of which are spent in and around just a few characters resistant or suspicious of the hypno-sloth, and I don’t know if we really got more than a superficial “here are the contours of this character” take on anyone.
James Tyrion IV and Eryk Donovan are quite good at keeping the pace on a page by page basis and things started to go bad exactly when I was hoping they would, but…the work just missed being strong enough to get me back. And then I look at that price tag again and cringe. It’s probably the right move for Boom! to make in this market where there’s a lot of issue #1 speculation for indie titles but I mean that it’s “right” in a possibly-too-cynical kind of way.
LAZARUS #12: So remember what I was saying all the way up there about Stumptown and Greg Rucka and being right on the verge of some kind of realization? Lazarus #12 is where I cracked that code, and the code is: Chris Claremont.
Chris Claremont. Chris Claremont. Chris Claremont.
Screw Cyclops: Marvel should put Greg Rucka on an X-Men team title because Greg Rucka is Chris Claremont as fuck. Reading this issue of Lazarus where all of the world’s controlling families get together for a big “let’s all try and sway other families to our side on important issues that will advance our creepy agendas” and the biggest emotional beat is…having Forever, who doesn’t dance, have to dance in front of everyone at the big gala with the guy who looks a little too much like Tom Hiddleston for my liking.
The same way Mr. C was hyper-plugged into the emotional lives of his characters (especially their discomfort), and pushed for a “strong women to the point of making other men roll their eyeballs” agenda, and in fact more or less made a lot of hay by having the latter have to confront the former? That’s pretty much Rucka’s work, too.
Unfortunately, like Claremont, Rucka is a big ol’ ham, and so his drama can come off a little too melodramatically and—even worse—his characters tend to all sound samey and bloviatey. There’s a scene here where Forever chats and works out with two other Family “Swords,” and at first I was all, “oh, this is cool, we get to see how they interact and watch them gossip and that should be fun.” But none of the characters had any surprise to them, and the snap in the dialogue was precisely and exactly the kind of “oh, she’s timid; he’s extreme; and she’s reasonable, watch how every single piece of this reinforces that,” creators have to learn to achieve and then strive to subvert as soon as possible.
A ham actor gets a lot of mileage out of their commitment (and/or over-commitment) to the part, which can be surprising and fun…but it can also make them crashing bores because the only thing they know how to do is TURN UP THE VOLUME and (turn down the volume). There wasn’t one scene that surprised me in this issue, and considering it’s layered with characters I’ve either never met or didn’t bother to even remember, that’s a little depressing.
So Greg Rucka should break that habit, probably? Or, if he can’t, put it to use on an X-Men title where the nostalgia will cover up boredom’s sting.
POSTSCRIPT: Guess who forgot to buy Multiversity? Arghhhhhhh……
Friends, Whatnauts, countrymen, lend me your – Well, I guess it’d be eyeballs instead of ears, considering this is a written post. What is really is is a written apology: as a result of a crazier than usual work schedule that was a little blown up by the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer leak this afternoon, I’ve not had a chance to finish my review post for the week, which was already a day late due to me being sick this weekend and thrown off my game. I both beg apologies and tell you to come back tomorrow when I’ll really, really try and get it up. And if Jeff gets a post up as well, it’ll be like double the fun in… the same amount of time as normal except I was late and I’m very sorry…? Okay, that didn’t come over as impressive as I’d hoped, I confess.
In the meantime, go and read Colin Smith writing about Mark Millar’s Swamp Thing run. It’s far more worthy of your attentions.
Damn it, next year we’re going to have a contest centered around Graeme’s first Prog Rock album, The Moog Goo of Guy Pan or something because it’s quite a bummer to have my mug staring out from this post exclusively.
Anyway. Once again, I have managed to go an entire night without sleep so let me apologize in advance for the dozens, if not thousands, of errors, typographical and otherwise, sure to pop up in this post. (Also I need to get better at screenshotting Avengers pages.) Things should improve scheduling-wise after this, and I can go back to make dozens, if not thousands, of errors, typographical and otherwise, for other reasons.
Ready for some show notes? Some serious no-fooling two and three-quarters of an hour bare-knuckle podcasting? Well, then. I have just the thing for you!
00:00-40:51: Greetings! Cue up your Lonely Man Theme but don’t be fooled: even though we start by talking about the Incredible Hulk TV show, it takes a certain amount of time to get around to the comic book. But instead we stick to the TV side of things, with discussion of Tales of the Gold Monkey, B.J. and The Bear, and most especially Twin Peaks (and its return!). I’m going to point you to Graeme’s thoughts on the topic, with a touch of Abhay’s since we reference them in the convo but they’re definitely worth being reading on their own. We also discuss the TV show Manhattan about the building of the atomic bomb, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, and, of course, Gavin & Stacey and the current season of New Girl. And if that wasn’t enough non-comics talk for you, we also talk about Jeff’s strange relationship with iPhones, old and new. Also also discussed: hatewatching things, artisanal douches, and babies and, uhhhhhh, what else do we usually talk about? Hmm…
40:51-57:09: Comics books! That’s right we eventually remember to talk about comic books! In fact, first off we dig deep into Batgirl #35, by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr. Tossed out there in our discussion; Gail Simone, Bob Haney, the phrase “evil 4chan DJ,” target audiences, and more. It’s a bit of a tussle, this discussion.
57:09-1:09:55: Graeme received copies of Trinity of Sin #1 by J.M. DeMatteis, Yvel Guichet, Jason Gorder and Gabe Eltaeb; Earth 2: World’s End #1 and #2 by more people than I’m getting paid to type; and Klarion #1 by Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy; we also tussle a bit on this one, too. Tussle! It’s one of the all-time great words.
Also great is how Graeme calls me out on my shitty handling of percentages. (Wait, is that great?)
1:09:55-1:24:01: Changing gears a bit, Jeff feels there’s been a certain maximalism in comic books lately, a serious commitment to spectacle and too much. And never is that more true than with Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #3 by Tom Scioli and John Barber. (Please note that we also tussle briefly over the public reaction to Seven Soldiers #1.) This tremendous and overwhelming book pretty much blew our tiny minds. Discussed: Copra, Kirby, Steranko, outsider art, and more.
1:24:01-1:59:18: Avengers Talk!! It’s time for Avengers Talk! This time we are discussing issues #227-250 by (mostly) Roger Stern, Al Milgrom, and Joe Sinnott. It’s almost impossible to talk about this title and not also talk about Marvel in the early Eighties and the heyday of the Jim Shooter editorial era. A really great run of issues with some tremendous steps forward in its handling of female characters (as embodied by Monica Rambeau, the new Captain Marvel). In fact, it’s possible to see the two issue wrap up of Spider-Woman’s book (issues #240-241) as a non-fucked-up version of Avengers #200. And of course, since issues #228-229 has to do with the redemption of Hank Pym, we once again revisit the handling of Hank Pym, the issues and meta-issues, the rewriting of history (comic book history and real life history); a brilliant connection Graeme makes about “yes, and” improvisation and the work of Steve Englehart; Spider-Man, Wife Beater; Tony Stark, Super-Lush; Kirby’s Eternals and Starlin’s Titans; and then…
1:59:18-2:14:01: Something is happening at Jeff’s door so he has to run away for a moment, and comes back and terrifies Graeme. And then we’re back to talking about Maelstrom, Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott, and much, much, MUCH more.
Oh, and remember how I said I was terrible about screenshots? Look at the stuff I thought was worth showing you guys:
2:14:01-2:33:41: So. Remember when we said we could wrap this up in under two hours?
Turns out, there’s still the overdue discussion of the winners of our “Are You Feeling The Feeling That I’m Feeling” giveaway! This has a lot of us reading entries and just laughing aloud—maybe not our most professionalmoment—but we wouldn’t have if the work wasn’t so awesome. Because we are laughing all over these amazing entries, you’ll probably get a better bang for your buck reading them all below. Thanks for everyone who entered! We are terrified by how much funnier you guys are than us, and yet we’re the ones talking on air.
The stunning entries by our amazing listeners:
“If You’re Not in the World That’s Coming, I Don’t Wanna Be There (Lila’s Song)”
“Milk for Midnight (for Oreos in Bed)”
1. Can’t Comb My Beard Without You Babe
2. Cold Waffles At Midnight
3. It’s Raining (In My Heart)
4. Tonight’s The Night, Unless It Isn’t, In Which Case Tomorrow Night May Be The Night
5. Rapping Intermission
6. Your Chicken And Tomatoes
7. Taxidermist of Love
8. Don’t Make Me Wrassle Your Heart
9. Snaky Woman
10. A Sexy Little Lady Called Sex
11. Greensleeves [traditional]
12. This Jazzy Sax Solo’s For You
Dave Clarke [the lost entry!]:
1. List heavy show notes
2. Love is a savoury waffle
3. Your chicken and tomatoes
4. Rapping Intermission
5. Portland (feat. DJ Ernie and MC Gus-Gus)
6. I don’t care what people say (I like me some Tony Daniel)
7. Is this thing recording?
8. By the miracle of the internet
9. Download code
10. Sing us out
3. Ghoulash – Little Bits in the Sauce
4. Babe, I’m Your One Man Army Corps
5. Gimme That Kenny G.
6. We Are Human … Like An Animal
7. Pinky Winehardt Goes to Washington
9. I Hear You In My Dreams (& it scares me)
10. Push and Pool
11. A Lonely Heart Gathers No Moss
12. Heart U 4Evah
Derek Moreland/Nathaniel Quietly/Voodoo Ben:
1. “Erotic Vampire LOVE Heist”
2. “You Wafflin’, Baby”
3. “The Cleanse”
5. “Your Chicken and Tomatoes”
6. “Rapping Intermission”
7. “Binging (Delillo) (feat. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez)
8. “U R My Malomar”
9. “MmHmm MmHmm MmHmm / Interesting”
11. “The Cleanse (Remix) (feat. Missy Elliot)
12. “Cinema Mortalis” (instrumental)
Baby Has Her Biscuits in The Oven And Her Buns In My Bed
She Feels Like A New Man Tonight
How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Leave Me
You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too
She Got The Ring And I Got The Finger
I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You
The Pint of No Return
Please Bypass This Heart
The Wait What Waffle Window Wonton Watusi
1. Hot San Francisco Mornings
2. Am I Leavenworth Your Love?
3. Skip This Track (If You Ain’t Makin’ Love (Right Now))
4. Pause Like I Know You
5. R U Glad I Didn’t Say Banana? ft. Prince
6. Rapping Intermission
7. The World Through Rose Color Asses
8. I’ll Be the One to Be the One
9. Takes All Kinds
10. One at a Time
11. Take it All One at a Time
12. Your Chicken and Tomatoes
Hidden Track: No Stinky Fish
(Just a) Love-Struck Honky
Quiche for One
Ever-Approaching Grandpa of Love
Paul Kupperberg Blues
Bonus track from David Wolkin:
“Graeme unintentionally dropped the best entry on the podcast: ‘My Individual Issues’”
Bonus Show Notes only track from David Wolkin (because my phone lost his text for four days): “Also: ’She Beatboxes, I Drop a Few.’ You guys write this shit yourselves!”
And, as a bonus bonus, here’s Voodoo Ben’s transcript of that “Behind The Music” hatchet job they did on me. (They got most of it right, but man the stuff they got wrong still steams my clams):
In 1993, Jeff Lester was on top of the world. His soothing R&B rhythms and clever lyrical wordplay were providing a clear and contrasting antidote to the rising grunge movement, and frequent (so would say continuous) airplay of his smash hit single “Your Chicken and Tomatoes” dominated the nation’s airways. Anticipation for Lester’s debut album was so high, in fact, that he was invited to perform the hit on that year’s MTV VMAs.
It was a surprise to everyone when, instead of breaking out what would become his signature tune, Lester instead chose to perform the melodic, more soulful “Erotic Vampire LOVE Heist” that evening. The emotional, heartfelt performance was met with only muted applause by a confused audience. It would be the first of several missteps that would eventually torpedo the once promising musician’s career.
Can You Feel the Feeling That I’m Feeling? released at number 17 on the Billboard Music Charts, with “Your Chicken and Tomatoes” slipping out of the top 100 a month after the album debuted. Supporters praised the album’s deft mix of R&B sound with literary, food, and comic book references – but it was too little, too late. The VMA backlash proved more than Lester could bear. He became disenchanted with “the scene”, as he referred to the industry, and pushed for “Cinema Mortalis”, an instrumental track totally at odds with his R&B sound, to be released as the album’s second single. (His producer, Babyface, fought for the much catchier “MmHmm MmHmm MmHmm/Interesting”, but was overruled by the artist.) It proved the final nail in Lester’s musical career. “Cinema Mortalis” was soundly ignored by the audience, and Lester vowed never to record again – a rising R&B star whose flame burned out too quickly.
See? Not a single word about the debacle that was my cameo on Family Matters! Galling.
2:33:41-2:46:03: Graeme gives us a preview of the amazing work you can now see on our Tumblr, leading to an all-too-brief conversation about the genius that is Bob Haney, and some of the weirdness about Marvel’s NYCC announcements.
2:46:03-end: “We got so far away from saying goodbye.” No, it’s not a song from Jeff’s album, that’s something we actually said. (Wolkin’s right, we do write this shit ourselves!) And it’s a sign that we really do need to be going. But, let us not forget: Tote bags! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! iTunes! Twitter! Tumblr again! and, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 82 patrons make this whole thing possible. (And where our $10 and up patrons just got an exclusive video podcast from the Waffle Window!)
Okay, here’s the link. No idea if it’ll turn into a magical noise-playing thing so I’ll also add the link in a comment below all this nonsense so you can get to listening!
Thanks, and, as always, we hope you enjoy!
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.
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.)
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)
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):
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:
(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:
This person had the ’70s Neal Adams aesthetic down, which you can see even more clearly in the photos from this PA forum post. If you’re the sort excited by ’70s Adams and topical Seattle references, this stuff has got to be some kind of sexual dynamite.
Part II: Future Dreams (Portland)
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:
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.
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.
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)
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)
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:
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.
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.
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
One of the great things about Portland is that it has a ton of nicknames. Rose City. Stumptown. Rip City. And Bridge City.
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:
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.)
The store isn’t entirely without merch but it’s well-integrated, and the overall emphasis is still on books and trades:
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.