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Issue #154

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #154
  • It’s a hot August morning here on the mountain of review comics, and I’d like to reach the summit by dinner. So we’re off to where even my Sherpa guides now fear to tread. Reportedly there’s always the risk of running into something abominable out there:

    Apparently teacher Brian Clopper has been producing children’s books and comics for some time now, and it plays like a kids’ version (that’s not a slam, trust me) of Neil Gaiman or FABLES. B.O.F.A. is a 12-hour mini-comic wherein a demon wanders a monster realm for mysterious reasons. HUGH AMONG US ($3) is really a promo for a forthcoming graphic novels, centering on one of Clopper’s core ideas: “figments” are leaking through from the world of imagination to the real world, and a group of figment secret agents called The Far-Fetchers are there to keep their fellow figments secret. HUGH AMONG US does a nice job of introducing the Far-Fetchers concept and its main players, and a less adequate job of suggesting the direction of the forthcoming graphic novel. Still, it’s very stylishly done, and Clopper’s art is a strange but appealing Mignola/Wally Wood blend. Clopper also sent a couple of his prose kids books, PAUL THE PILLOW MONSTER (no price given) and GRAHAM THE GARGOYLE ($6.95), which, unlike PAUL, is illustrated, and costars Far-Fetcher The Flying Mummy. Both fall into Clopper’s main milieu, and both are very pleasantly written. Though the subject matter does little for me, I can see kids enjoying these quite a bit, so I’m donating them to my local library. (I really like his COMIC BOOK CARD ($4@) idea, though – a birthday card with a short comic book inside. That’s an idea he could widely market, and I’m surprised no one else ever thought of it.)

    Nat Gertler’s About Comics is back with a couple more books. The first is COMICS PROSE ($9.95) a collection of short prose stories written by comics writers (that’s the theme; there’s no specific genre), and the spread’s pretty impressive: Kurt Busiek, Denny O’Neil, Max Collins, Marvl Wolfman, Steve Englehart, TANK McNAMARA‘s Jeff Millar, Mike Baron, and others. Englehart’s is the only story that specifically ties into comics, starring his familiar Coyote character, and it’s a very amusing play on flying saucer myth. I liked Baron’s rock horror story best – he has turned into quite a good prose writer – but all the stories are very readable and a lot of fun.

    Nat’s quasi-graphic novel THE FACTOR ($9.95) has an interesting concept with somewhat less interesting execution. A costumed crime fighter takes to the streets of New York, and, in Eisneresque fashion, Nat follows not the crimefighter’s exploits but the ripple effect of his presence on other people, in all walks of life. The vignettes are drawn by a variety of talents, and that becomes a weakness; the art’s very uneven. The tone also shifts uncomfortably, and there are times, particularly in an extended Hollywood sequence, where it gets out of control. But the scope is good and what isn’t all that good isn’t really bad either, and at least it’s ambitious. Worth a look.

    What can I say? Get Daniel Merlin Goodbrey‘s surrealist western mini-comic THE LAST SANE WESTERN (no price given), where a cowgirl gunfighter enters the strange town on Insanity to rescue her brother the goldfish. Don’t ask questions, just get it. Goodbrey’s terrific.

    Also well done is Adi Tantimedh & Diego Olmos’ graphic novel retread of a forgotten old action hero, BLACKSHIRT (Moonstone; $10.95). In this version, novelist and ex-SAS assassin Richard Jerrill is forcibly recruited by a mystery woman with a bloody secret of her own to help make the world a better place under the codename Blackshirt. With nice art and barely a false move by Olmos, the book, which owes a considerable debt to MODESTY BLAISE, is suitably hardboiled and all the apparently contradictory behavior of one of the characters is well-explained by the end (though I figured out the big twist well in advance, but that’s me). Probably the best thing Moonstone has put out to date, BLACKSHIRT more than justifies their existence.

    Steve Niles is getting around these days. First he pops up with a story in WESTERN TALES OF TERROR #1 (Hoarse And Buggy Productions; $3.50) and then in PERIPHERY (O-P-P; $3.50). The latter anthology’s the better of the two, and Niles’ piece there, well-drawn by Brian Horton, about a small-time hold-up with a couple very unexpected twists, is more satisfying as well. His WESTERN TALES gunfight, murkily drawn in quasi-Sienkiewicz by Nick Stakal, comes off as more of a goofy lark. I liked most of the art in WESTERN TALES OF TERROR, and there’s nothing wrong with the writing, but the terror just wasn’t terrifying enough and the western just a bit too familiar. Really nice cover, though. PERIPHERY reminds me of anthologies in the good old days of underground comics, when no one worried about genres or styles and just filled books with material they thought was good. Vampires, cavemen, murderers, tales of Hindu mythology, what more could you want from a good read? Get it.

    Tim Sale’s a much better artist than he’s commonly credited to be, a fact amply proven in the excellent TIM SALE BLACK AND WHITE ($24.95), a classy hardcover from Active Images. Anchored by a long and fascinating interview with Sale, the book demonstrates Sale’s art is largely hurt by color and the cheap printing of most comics. On high gloss paper, it really comes off as… well, Art. Terrific job, full of great work and interesting insights into the creative process and the business.

    I didn’t like the first volume of NEGIMA! (Del Rey Manga), Ken Akamatsu’s borderline smutty tales of a preteen wizard becoming a teacher at a Japanese girl’s school, but was told Vol.2 ($10.95) was better. To my surprise, it is. Akamatsu cuts way back on the sex jokes and amps up the characterizations (still hard to tell many of the characters apart, though), and the storylines are much more enjoyable. It’s still the weakest of Del Rey’s generally strong manga offerings, but it’s not bad and it could be (and has been) worse.

    SHOOTING STAR COMICS ANTHOLOGY (Shooting Star Comics LLC has sort of a down issue with #5. It’s not terrible, but nothing really quite connects either. Stefan Petrucha is the issue’s guest pro, with a curious sci-fi vignette about a cryogenic baby that falls apart when you think about it five seconds (and can’t really be discussed without blowing the ending), and Jeziel Sanchez Martinez’s fantasy-based art is pretty good but oddly inappropriate for it. An odd new comedy superhero, Yankee Doodle, is introduced, with too many incongruous elements tossed in for the sake of wackiness. It feels like writer Scott Hileman came up with the name first and tried to cobble a story around it, and it just doesn’t work. Nor does the Emerald Mantis and Son, Scott McCullar’s remake of Lone Wolf And Cub as a Bruce Lee movie. Nor a dragon-sent-to-the-age of dinosaurs story by Jayme Lynn Blaschke and Lori Krell. Even the origin of the usually pretty good Aym Geronimo and the latest chapter of the Rex Solomon series play as “who cares?” Almost all the features in SSCA are well done enough technically, but none have any punch this time around. It’s weird.

    Shooting Star is also publishing FISHNET ANGEL: JANE DOE, a mini-series about an action heroine who’s part Wonder Woman, part Black Canary, by Sean Taylor and JP Dupras, but #1 ($2.99) is a mess. Not many quibbles about the art – Dupras has trouble with foreshortening here and there, but he’s making huge leaps forward every time I see new work from him; he’s almost there – but the action starts in the middle, characters aren’t introduced, the setting bounces back and forth between present and distant past and not enough information is given about either place, and we’re asked to be interested in the heroine – who doesn’t do anything the whole issue – seemingly just because her name’s on the masthead, and, apparently, because there’s a caption revealing “she” is actually a man channeling an ancient female spirit. But if you missed the caption (on the first page) you wouldn’t be able to guess that from a single other thing in the story (or any other Fishnet Angel story I can recall). Clean it up!

    More from the revamped Atomeka: the hilariously vulgar A1 BRICKTOP SPECIAL ($3.50) by Glenn Fabry and Chris Smith. You know Glenn Fabry, right? Artist? All those great PREACHER covers? Reviews like this just write themselves. I shouldn’t have to say more than “Glenn Fabry.” It’s a refreshingly chaotic tale of an English workingclass punkette and all the people and other beings she pisses off, just so’s you know. But really. Glenn Fabry. Buy it.

    For $9.99, there’s also the A1 SKETCHBOOK, with art from just about everyone who ever appeared in the old A1: Fabry again, Garry Leach, Steve Parkhouse, John Bolton, Steve Pugh, a comics page written by Alan Moore, Charles Vess, Brian Bolland, etc. etc. 64 pages; if you’re an art nut you won’t want to miss it. If you’re not, it’s optional. Sure is pretty, though.

    Having staked his claim to vampires on books like SWORD OF DRACULA, writer Jason Henderson wisely shifts gears with SYLVIA FAUST (Image; $2.95, and unexpectedly in full color), a tale of a young extradimensional sorceress relocating to Greenwich Village (complete with visual Dr. Strange jokes). It’s more lighthearted than Henderson’s other works, and he focuses on the social scenario and gentle characterizations, with only a hint of impending struggle. And it works. Artist Greg Scott goes with a much more open, enticingly Alex Kotzkyesque style. I liked it. The tone balances somewhere between alt-comic and Jim Lee Image, so I’m interested to see where it goes from here.

    Writer Patrick Neighly’s been carving out his own little niche at his Mad Yak Press with a series of tasty self-published comics and graphic novels, and it’s a shame more people aren’t paying attention. BLACK-EYED SUSAN #2 ($2.95) continues his future sf story of human survivors after an alien attack trying to figure out what to do with themselves, and it’s a significant improvement on the first issue, as the heroine has more odd hallucinations and the hero rounds up the few survivors of a girls’ boarding school. Neighly and artist Donny Hadiwidjaja, who does a great job with facial expressions and body language, take their time, building calmly and steadily, delivering a great sense of clashing despair and determination while teasing out the mysteries of the invasion. Good stuff. (Much better than the first issue.)

    ZOE #1 ($2.95), also from Mad Yak by Neighly and Hadiwidjaja, is a curious little kids’ comic about a young girl who gets a pet demon and heads out to he first day of school. Turns out the school’s full of monster kids. I’ve never been too keen on kid monsters, and Neighly could stand to tighten things up some, but it’s a much better treatment of the concept than I’m used to. Not bad. I could see it being developed into a cartoon show, with a little more material out there to show where ot take it.

    Artist Steven Buell joins Neighly on FIRST LADY ($2.95), a Mad Yak series set in a future where voting scandals have resulted in a computer selecting replacements when a sitting president dies, and following a suspicious “natural death” the computer selects a 16 year old girl. It’s a good political thriller, with the logic of actions well worked out, and the tension quickly amplifies at a nice pace as a conspiracy slowly comes to light. The big flaw in the book is Buell’s art; he handles the humorous moments well, but his work doesn’t quite have the weight the story deserves. Pretty good start, though, capping with a very edgy hook.

    Finally, Neighly and Hadiwidjaja reteam for the Mad Yak graphic novel TEXARKANA ($12.95), where justice, in a future North America where the US has broken up and Texas has annexed Mexico and most of the Southwest, is done practically Judge Dredd style, and criminals are tried on the spot by traveling teams of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, in almost ritual manner, and sentences – “I only prosecute the guilty,” one prosecutor announces – are carried out immediately. A rookie “executor” learns the ropes on the very dangerous job, and Neighly again shows his storytelling skills as it develops into a tense, nourish cop drama. I don’t know why companies right and left aren’t giving this guy work. Then again, he doesn’t really need them. The one thing I don’t like about TEXARKANA is the story continues into another volume, but buy it anyway. It’s good.

    Danny Fingeroth’s WRITE NOW!, a craftzine aimed at comics and animation writers, does a stunt crossover with its art counterpart DRAW! in its latest issue, #8 ($5.95). It’s a fascinating look at the collaborative process in comics, as Danny and DRAW! editor Mike Manley (who formerly worked together on Marvel’s DARKHAWK work through the entire development of a new series called Thief Of Time. This is the sort of thing I get e-mails about all the time, and here’s where it’s all put together for you, in easily digestible bites, along with Danny and Mike interviewing each other about the whole thing. Add in lengthy, informative interviews with Stuart Moore and Don McGregor and a writer’s diary from neophyte William Harms, and it’s a pretty good introduction to comics writing for anyone who’s interested.

    The 2004 GLÖMP (Boing Being; I’m uncertain of the price) is out, and this Finnish anthology is as terrific a package as ever. Complete with English translations at the bottom of each page, it features a vast array of styles: alt, underground, Vertigo mainstream (I particularly like Jouko Ruokosenmäki’s little horror piece), experimental, surrealist… when I see things like this, I realize just how tightassed about the comics medium we really are in this country. True fans of the comics medium should seek this one out; you probably won’t like everything in GLÖMP, but it’s an ambitious and refreshing perspective.

    I’ve got a fairly low tolerance for fantasy material, but Brian Holguin & Lan Medina’s ARIA Vol. 3 (Image; $16.95) strikes me as exactly the sort of fantasy Crossgen thought they were doing. It’s strange, really; this story of a Manhattan woman who travels into particularly dangerous fairy worlds (I smell a lot of BOOKS OF MAGIC on it as well) is almost stylistically identical, in dialogue, attractive art, and lush coloring, as many of the Crossgen books. But it’s got a level of humanity and invention the Crossgen books rarely reached. It’s pretty good, and when Marc Pajarillo takes over the art it’s not a letdown.

    I’d heard good things about Phil Hester & Andy Kuhn’s entry into Image’s recent “new superhero” line, FIREBREATHER, but never read it. It mostly lives up to the hype. Vol. 1 ($13.95) plays the by-now familiar gimmick of the superpowered teenager who’s unfairly feared and hated, but Hester & Kuhn give it a good reason: the hero’s dad is a sort of semi-domesticated version of Marvel’s old Fin Fang Foom dragon, a would-be world conqueror training his son. They play it fairly naturalistically, the “growing pains” seem reasonable enough for the situation, and there’s the right amount of drama without being histrionic about it. Good.

    As an old Kinks fan, how could I not like a graphic novel called WATERLOO SUNSET (Image; $6.95)? Easily, as a matter of fact; but writer Andrew Stephenson and artist Trevor Goring make it hard. The book’s a bit murky, but the art’s very photorealist evocative and Stephenson makes good use of slang and culture to build blighted, mystery-drenched demonpocked London some fifty years on in the wake of some unspecified collapse. Strange conspiracies about as an outsider arrives with news of who’s really in charge of the world, and alliances rapidly unravel as parties jockey for position. A good start, but where’s the next one already?

    Man, I hate zombies, but I have to say some decent zombie stories have popped up lately. Amusingly, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s THE WALKING DEAD Vol. 1 (Image; $9.95) starts almost exactly as the recent film 28 DAYS did. In an America overrun by zombies, a cop who comes out of a coma travels cross-country to find his lost family and come to grips with the terrifying new world he finds himself in. There’s nothing terribly original in the material, but it’s done so damn well. Nice pacing and dialogue; open, evocative art. Like a movie on paper.

    Good grief. The peak in sight, and no more time. We’ll just have to pitch camp again and finish up with the last assortment of Image books, and anything that materializes in the meantime, next week.

  • Another reminder to all the pro writers and artists reading this that, on Sept. 8 I’ll be running a new rundown of what projects are coming up from whom, so drop me an e-mail about your upcoming projects, including who’s writing and drawing it, who’s publishing it, and when it’s expected out. Remember: the column’s widely read and it’s a good chance to pimp yourself. (I’d rather not list projects without a publisher, since those tend to get never-never – hell, enough projects with publishers attached turn out to be never-never – and that gets too frustrating for the readers. Self-publishers without a track record, hold on; we’ll get to you another time.) A very brief summary of what it’s about – you know, like a standard listing in the TV GUIDE – would be nice, but no dissertations, okay? If you want to include a jpg from your project, that’s cool too. (Better include trademark & copyright information if you do, though.)

    Data deadline is September 3, which isn’t that far away. Don’t miss it.

  • More mail:

    “Why didn’t you tell that guy who wanted to give his kid some Teen Titans comics but doesn’t trust the mainline version to check out TEEN TITANS GO!? J.Torres is doing a wonderful, funny job, and I believe DC’s first digest just came out. Nothing wrong with Wolfman/Perez, naturally, but nothing will be closer to the show than the comics based on it…”

    Probably true. Didn’t suggest it because I didn’t know about it. Never read it, never seen it, don’t remember anyone ever mentioning it before. Thanks.

    “I have to agree about the BIONCLE comics. My son who is 5 loves it and would have a blast if he could get it more often. I am originally from Sweden and Egmont Publishing has been collecting the DC BIONCLE comics an put them on newsstands, and they sell well. If this comic can compete with video games, DVD’s, Manga/Dragonball Z/Yu-Gi-Oh in Scandinavia why not in the US???”

    Good question. I have to assume the answer has something to do with DC’s traditionally painstaking market research…

    “You mention how if kids are willing to pay $4 for a pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards, then $2.99 for a comic doesn’t seem too out of line.

    The difference between the two is that the cards are re-usable – they’re able to be played with repeatedly as the kid plays games with their friends, etc. Furthermore, you can trade them – there’s a huge trading market in America’s school yards as kids shift their Yu-Gi-Oh (and Pokemon, etc.) cards amongst themselves.

    Your $3 comic book is good for 1 read, maybe 2 – you’re done in under half an hour, and good luck finding anyone to trade with. Your $4 pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards is good for as long as you play the game.”

    Sorry, doesn’t wash. When I was a kid, nobody read a comic just once, and not just because there was little else to do. We re-read them until the staples fell out. And we never traded. (Loan, yes. Trade, no.) You may get theoretically unlimited play out of Yu-Gi-Oh cards – and I’ve played the game, it’s fun – but you also have to keep spending money on new card sets if you want to keep up your deck and stay competitive. It’s not just a “plunk your money down, the fun’s yours for life” affair.

    “Meant to respond to your remarks last week about kids and comics but didn’t have the time to get back to it (I see plenty of others did). After skimming the quotes this week, this response caught my attention:

    “Comics survived from the late ’60s-’90s by becoming a collectors’ market, which also generated the comics shops, but with the collapse of the speculator bubble is it possible we’ve converted to simply a readers’ market once again?”

    I think this is a big part of today’s market that I haven’t really seen discussed. Personally, I think between trade paperback/graphic novel collections and the emerging digital collection technology, we will never see comics as a collectors market again, at least never to the extent it was or has been. Not to mention how much more readily available everything is on the internet (read eBay). All of these things have created a buyers market, and when will this ever change back? So, yes I think we have become very much a readers market, and when your readers are mostly collectors (or at least hobbyists), that’s a big problem. Hopefully current trends in bookstore/mass markets will continue, along with the possible continuing growth of manga, to keep bringing actual mainstream readers to the medium (regardless of age).

    Another good quote from you I’d like to follow:

    “Diversity and value for money are both important considerations, but I’m not convinced kids are dead set against superheroes. I suspect it’s more a value-for-money issue again. Citing Cartoon Network, I know TEEN TITANS is a hot show, and what’s that if not superheroes?”

    I agree here, there are far too many examples of either straight up superhero mangas, or at least tons that are very derivative, and most are at least hero based. So to say kids read manga but won’t read superheroes is contradictive. If they read manga, they read super heroes (unless it’s just Shoujo or whatever the girls/romance stuff is). To the point, it’s more to do with approach/packaging or perception. No, they don’t want to pick up the mainstream domestic comic stuff because it’s so blatantly different, and obviously not associated with the stuff they like, and even if they say it comes down to superheroes, it’s more likely to do with perception. It’s all in approach, if it’s fresh, new, or exciting, or even packaged differently, it stands a chance, I think.”

    No way to tell if you’re right on that without testing it out, but you’re probably right about the collectors market. For anyone with access to a computer and a PayPal account, eBay has turned the entire world into a giant back issue comics shop, and not many shops can compete with that. I think there will still be collectors, but is the emphasis on comics-as-artifact, as has been commonly the case the past couple decades, or on comics-as-artifact-but-reading-material-first, as it was when I was collecting comics. (I mean, it was great to run across ’40 issues of ALL-STAR COMICS and CAPTAIN MARVEL ADVENTURES in a friend’s garage, remnants of his father’s boyhood, but as much as we wanted them, we wanted to read them more.)

    “I was wondering what your thoughts were on the Marvel Age “Giant Size Comics” currently on sale at Target. I was at a local store when they were first on the shelf and kids seem to have been picking them off quite regularly. The second wave of them just came out.

    If they work out, Marvel may have a bit of a coup here. I just read the Runaways collection. It’s essentially a graphic novel they were selling for $5 (collects #1-6). They are on a prominent rack between the adult and childrens book sections.

    I’m not sure what the bottom line $$ impact would be on creators if these things do well. Not much right now, as they’re reprints of already successful material. If they become more prominent, though, it would be Marvel making $5 for what would normally be $16-18 worth of comics (actually less now that I think about it given wholesale prices).

    The only upswing would be if the volume was huge, bringing more overall dollars in. It’s an experiment that deserves paying attention to by others in the media. The buyers have mostly been children, most of which will probably not set foot in a comic book store.”

    I’ve never seen them in my local Target, but as long as Marvel’s paying royalties on the sales, I’ve got no problem with the books. It’s always good to see publishers actively pursuing markets, and I’d guess the theory is that the books will sell to customers who aren’t normally rushing out to buy comics anyway, but at least some of those will get the bug and start rushing out. Way to go, Marvel.

    “”First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is” is a variant of a Zen koan. Other variations include:

    A master who lived as a hermit on a mountain was asked by a monk, “What is the Way?”

    “What a fine mountain this is,” the master said in reply.

    “I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way.”

    “So long as you cannot go beyond the mountain, my son, you cannot reach the Way,” replied the master.

    …and…

    In the beginning the student of zen sees his task as a large mountain. Those who study it struggle to climb its heights. Those who know it look back and see no mountain.”

    Then, of course, there is one again, right?

    For a little more on the subject:

    “I’m sure it doesn’t matter to anyone, but Donovan was quoting a much older saying, from Chinese Chan (Zen) literature.

    First, there are independently existing objects such as “mountain” or “myself.” This is a deluded view. As one understands intellectually and experiences meditatively the truth of emptiness, such discrete “things” cease to exist, and more than a “drop of water” exists independently in the ocean. But this non-dual perception cannot or should not be sustained, so one returns to the conceptual world of objects, for the sake of compassion (and in order to speak, since language is nothing but fictional distinctions). The “Middle Path” in Chinese Buddhism is the non-contradiction of “there is no such thing as ‘mountain,'” and “look, there’s a mountain.””

    Or, in the immortal words of Procol Harum, “O my son, life is like a beanstalk. Innit?”

    Again, thanks.

    “I didn’t know Bill (“shut up”) O’Reilly was a fan of your column!

    Great comment about distinguishing the job from the man. Bush is and has always been unfit for the job. I hope you have a chance to read the 3-part story at the Washington Post about Bush’s campaign against the regulatory process. It’s downright scandalous, if we only had a legitimate media to expose it…”

    Come on, you can’t blame them. They’re too busy tracking down what anti-depressive drugs President Hand Puppet is taking and what he’s taking them for, and filling in the gaps in his National Guard record… oh, wait, are they?

    Sure, Bill and me, we go way back…

    In answer to my question on who used the barbed wire “Free Speech Zone” in Boston during the Democratic Convention:

    “Actually, very few, if any people used the “official” free speech zone. I remember around the first day of the convention, one of the local stations had a story about one of the protest organizers who came down, walked into the free speech “cage” and walked right back out saying “I’m not protesting in there” or words to that effect.

    Even if the area designated as the “free speech zone” wasn’t fenced in, I don’t think many people would have been interested in protesting in that particular area anyway. The Fleet Center doesn’t have an entrance facing the main public street running past it. The entrances are on the sides, but because of all the construction in the area, there really aren’t any suitable open spaces where you could have staged a protest visible to delegates entering the building.

    I saw on the news on the day of the Kerry speech that the police did allow a group of protester’s to put on a little “street theatre” on one of the side streets near the Fleet Center. The group was allowed to burn either Kerry or Bush in effigy – I don’t remember which one – and someone even threw the American Flag on the fire for good measure. An altercation between the police and the protestors did occur after the fire – police say a protestor pushed an officer, the protestors say the police officer was the aggressor, I’m sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle – but there were only some minor injuries and one or two arrests. The protestors filed a formal complaint about the incident and the police commissioner is investigating.”

    Interesting. I’m pretty sure the whole point of the “Free Speech Zone” was to keep any protests out of sight, since that’s been the main purpose of such areas when instituted in Washington DC or at WTC meeting sites.

    “When anybody talks about “respect for the office” in reference to the president, they’re revealing that deep down they don’t really believe in democracy. They want a king. One they can depose at will, but a king nonetheless. The framers of the Constitution were a bit distrustful of democracy as well, and maybe they just didn’t have the imagination to conceive of a state that didn’t have a “head”, so they gave us an elected king instead. They stripped him of a lot of royal authority, but we really want a king, so we still treat him like one. We give him a palace to live in. We draw up a line of succession in case of his death. We give him the authority to issue proclamations, to pardon criminals, and (effectively) to declare war. Whoever he happens to be married to gets the title of “First Lady” (translation: “Queen Consort”). We even continue using his title after he leaves the job, without so much as a “(ret.)” to indicate that his elevation to presidency was a temporary thing, not a lifetime peerage. Etc. Conservatives tend to be more devoted to this, but liberals seem to be just as regally minded.”

    Yeah, I’ve never generally noticed a huge difference in that regard. A lot of people even think the President should have quasi-regal authority, and that’s the way the office has been steadily going. Unless it’s a president they don’t like, of course.

    “Seems to me I’ve read about a small sect of people in the Middle East who actually still do worship John the Baptist as the “true messiah” and believe Jesus to be a false prophet and “deceiver.” I cannot remember the name of this group at the moment, but I think they live mostly in Syria and Iraq. I also seem to remember reading something about this group suffering increased oppression since our President Savant “liberated” Iraq. Again, “W”… nice work…

    I’m aware there have been cults since Roman times that worshipped John as the true messiah, but I don’t know if any such groups still exist.

    “Way back when I subscribed to the Christian ideals, I decided I wanted to do a novel about the man… basically, I wanted to call it “The Voice.” Taken, of course, from the scripture saying “A Voice called from the wilderness…” It was going to be a story about a young boy who heard voices and was out cast into the desert because of the fact… But the truth of the matter is, you hit it right on the head. We have little info about John the Baptist. We know who his mom and dad is. We know his dad was struck dumb because he didn’t believe an angel saying his wife was pregnant. We know John was Jesus’ cousin, had a huge following, who wanted to start their own version around John. We know he baptized Jesus, and then he was executed. From there Jesus picked it up. I always thought John was a much more interesting character, literature wise, but hey… no one asked me. I think your theory on Campbell and John is very interesting… and if I ever decide to go back to those beliefs, I may write the book… BTW, I think more interesting is the Daily Show’s interview with Clinton, which can be found on the same site.”

    Story I came up with years ago and never did involved a young boy escaping from Roman slavery in Jerusalem into the desert, then running into religious fanatics he had always been warned about, and to keep from being eaten alive (that’s the sort of story spread about them) he “reports” to them an entire scenario that comes off the top of his head about some preacher they sent out who he never heard of and they never heard from again. It’s an Arabian Nights sort of thing, he figures he can escape death as long as he keeps telling them stories Forty years later, the boy is now an old man, having gone through many adventures, and on his deathbed converts to Christianity, not recognizing it as the religion he fantasized to save his life that time in the desert. Maybe I’ll write that one of these days too…

    “I can’t remember where I read this, but in some book or another on the historical basis for the New Testament I read that you’re pretty much right. There were a lot of people at the time who believed John the Baptist was the Messiah (which is probably why the gospel writers make a big point of having him say he isn’t). In fact, this book claimed that there still are non-Christian followers of John the Baptist living in Ethiopia.”

    That wouldn’t surprise me. A lot of Middle Eastern cults fled to Ethiopia when things got too hot for them at home.

    “Interesting thoughts about John and Jesus, but I don’t think the analogy to Dionysus/Zeus or Thor/Odin really holds up. I’ve been studying the christian gospels for a project I’m working on, so it’s pretty fresh in my mind.

    Yes, there were a number of messianic cults in Judea in those days, and John B’s was one of them. You’re right in recalling that there were folks who thought he was the messiah who’d lead the Jews back to greatness. But his cult wasn’t an established religion or anything when Jesus came along and took over (at least I’ve never heard of any evidence of such). It’s an in-story transfer of power, not an historical one.”

    Yes, but who wrote the story? Given that Jesus’ impending religion wasn’t established at the time either, and there’s really no contemporaneous information about either John or Jesus, the whole thing could just as easily be read as mythology as history, making the “in-story transfer of power” analogous to mythology reinventing Thor as the son of Odin.”

    “You reviewed both issues of Jim Massey’s “Death Takes a Holiday” mini comics. I was looking for an address to write to Jim/Varmint press. All I can find at their site is the e-mail addy, and they don’t answer it. I assume it’s in the books themselves, but I don’t have one in front of me to refer to. If this info is indeed in the comics and you could share I would greatly appreciate it!”

    Oh, all right:

    Varmint Press

    12034 206th Place SE

    Issaquah WA 98027

    Why, I used to live about 15 miles from there…

  • This week’s heads courtesy of(not to mention ©2004) by, respectively David Bezzina and Mario Boon.

  • Speaking of Warren Ellis, those who want a sneak peek at his new line of Apparat one-shots should click here.

    If you get the Independent Film Channel (IFC) on your cable system, there’s a documentary on Frank Frazetta, FRAZETTA: PAINTING WITH FIRE debuting this Saturday at 8P E/P. Just thought you’d like to know.

    I’m finally almost done with the new version of the Paper Movies website, which’ll have all kinds of things, including a store where you can buy some of my books and copies of some of my scripts. (All creator-owned material; there are various legal problems with selling old PUNISHER and CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN scripts.) And I’ll start running some news on interesting upcoming projects, now that things are rolling again. The site’ll be up sometime over the weekend. Check in periodically.

    Meanwhile…

    ROBOCOP: KILLING MACHINE came out from Avatar last week, and I immediately got a lot of complaints that it was only 10 pages for $2.99. For some reason I was under the impression there was another feature in the comic. The only thing I can say is I enjoyed doing the story…

    CATWOMAN THE MOVIE AND OTHER CAT TALES, a trade paperback from DC Comics, includes a Catwoman story I did with Brad Rader, where the FBI sets a trap for her using one of Catwoman’s criminal rivals as bait.

    DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung

    Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends. (Cyberosia publisher Scott Brown tells me this has been doing a very brisk reorder business, so I want to thank everyone who’s buying it.)

    MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

    Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.

    MY FLESH IS COOL

    : still available in three issues from Avatar Press, art by Sebastian Fiumara.

    Crime/science fiction/horror. A hitman earns his living by throwing his mind into other people’s bodies, but civilization threatens to crumble when his secrets get into the wrong hands.

    BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

    Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.

    BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

    Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.

    PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

    Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he’s out takes an unexpected turn.

    HATED AND FEARED: Best Of X-MEN UNLIMITED: trade paperback from Marvel Comics collecting a number of short X-Men stories, including two by me: a “Blob” story with art by Sean Phillips, and a “Lockheed The Dragon” story drawn by Paul Smith.

    GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

    Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.

    FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

    Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller’s vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

    I encourage the patronage of local comics shops where applicable, but don’t forget that if you can’t find what you want there, you can always shop the fine online retailers Khepri and Mars Import.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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