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Issue #165

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #165
  • A few weeks back, THE LAST HEROES, the full-color collection of the EDGE series the late, great Gil Kane and I started and never got the chance to finish at Malibu Comics, was set to come out from Byron Preiss’ iBooks. It was abruptly pulled from Diamond’s schedule, leading a number of people to wonder if it had been cancelled. Which is always possible in this day and age, but, fact was, I didn’t know.

    Now it can be told.

    Too bad it’s not a particularly sexy story: like many smaller publishers, iBooks get their books published overseas to save costs. In their case, somewhere in Europe, but there are potential problems in that, in particular the cost of shipping back to the USA. You can get them airmail, but that eats up any money you’ve saved on printing. Or you can have them shipped over by boat, but that…

    Mainly it means you can’t be terribly certain when the books will get here. Which is why most comics companies don’t print regular monthly comics in Europe or Asia; it’s just not worth the hassle. Graphic novels and trade paperbacks are a different matter.

    So THE LAST HEROES was printed in Europe and swam back for Oct. 15 release. And missed.

    Not that this wasn’t par for the EDGE course. Part of the big Bravura launch at Malibu, it was intended to be Gil and my final word on superheroes and some of the more cosmic themes imposed on them in recent decades, like superbeing as evolutionary heir to human being on Earth, much as the two-issue “Green Lantern-Atom” team-up we did years later for LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE was intended to be our final word on the Silver Age (I’d grown up with it, Gil co-created it, and it was time to put it behind us). The deal we got for doing the book was so good we knew it would eventually kill the book, and it did; when my lawyer first showed me the contract, I read it and told him if I were a publisher I’d never sign off on a contract like that, but, not being a publisher, I did, and, sure enough, it came back to bite us in the ass, but it’s not like we didn’t expect it. Malibu managed to put the deal together about ten minutes before the business collapsed in 1994, and by the third issue their books were selling so poorly that continuing to publish it, and pay us the contractual rate, would’ve killed the company in no time. (EDGE wasn’t selling X-MEN numbers, but it wasn’t doing badly, but the money they were paying us put it waaaaaaaaaaaaay in the red. When then-editor Dave Olbrich told us they were yanking the book (and most of the other Bravura books) from publication, it didn’t come as a shock, but, with an issue to go to wrap up the first mini-series/story arc (two more were planned) it was hardly good news.

    There have been similar little adventures with EDGE for years. By the time we put this volume together, the original pages had passed from Gil to the executor of his estate, Gary Groth, who was very helpful. (With the gracious help of Fantagraphics’ staff, of course.) Unfortunately, Gil’s art was scattered, the pages unnumbered, amid piles and piles of other pages of Gil’s art. No matter; when Marvel bought Malibu, they didn’t buy Bravura because Malibu didn’t own Bravura (last I heard, the official rights to the line name rest with Walt Simonson, whose STARSLAMMERS appeared there), and were obligated to return the film to each creator or creative team. Which they did. So Gary also had the film to EDGE #1-3 in his possession. Except for one little problem: when the film marked “Edge” was sent to Byron and examined, it turned out Marvel had sent us the film for Howard Chaykin’s POWER AND GLORY instead. Whatever was on the “Power and Glory” film in Howard’s possession, it wasn’t EDGE.

    Ain’t comics fun?

    So the entire print run vanishing like Amelia Earhart into the Atlantic Ocean (yeah, yeah, I know she vanished into the Pacific, but it’s a simile), that was just par.

    Turns out, though, the boat has landed and THE LAST HEROES will finally be available, in total (or, rather, with the entire first mini-series completed, along with unpublished Gil pages and various other EDGE rarities the week of November 15th. Only about ten years to the day from when it originally should have finished. It’s like the ending to a Hollywood movie. Let me know how the story holds up after all this time; I know the art does.

    And here you thought all you had to do was write and draw the stuff, right?

  • Picking up the reviews where we left off last week:

    SAVAGE HENRY: POWERCHORDS #3 by Matt Howarth, b&w 32 pg. comic. (Aeon;$2.95)

    The mini-series concludes, as musician Ron Geesin helps sci-fi guitar hero Savage Henry finally put an end to an extradimensional invasion. Have I mentioned how much I love Matt Howarth’s work, and what trails he has blazed in his 30-someodd years in comics? I’m sure I must have. SAVAGE HENRY, despite the name, is among the gentler of Howarth’s creations (certainly way more gentle than his brilliantly sociopathic Post Brothers, and for all out fun, THOSE ANNOYING POST BROS. may have been the most perfect comics run of all time) and the stories are light but intriquing, and inventively plotted (The twist at the end of this one makes perfect sense, but there’s no way you could see it coming) yet so friendly you can walk in on them at any time without feeling lost. Go find it, and anything else from Howarth’s oeuvre.

    CENOZOIC by Mark Fearing, b&w 32 pg. comic. (OPP;$2.95)

    Amusing tales of prehistory, when men were men and monkeys rank amok. Fearing’s art is deceptively primitivist, but appealing; it’s easy to overlook just how well he controls the graphics. Like many comics, it’s more whimsical than actually funny, but it’s not bad, though Fearing relies a bit too much on anachronisms in his humor.

    BODHISATTVA by Richard Raleigh & Omaha Perez, b&w 100 pg. graphic novel (OPP;$11.95)

    Perez has got sort of a “Jack Kirby does Roger Brand” thing going in his art – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t – but Raleigh’s story, about aliens in the guise of Hindu gods who entrust acolytes with power and a mission to be carried out through succeeding lifetimes, is intriguing and ambitious. It’s not perfect, but he weaves a nice tapestry between ancient and modern days, as various acts of violence and loyalty build to a sweep of karma, though it collapses into essentially a Dr. Strange story by the unsatisfying feelgood ending, which leaves too many questions unanswered.

    THE VON FANGE BROTHERS by Carlin Trammell & Bill Wiist, b&w 48 pg. trade paperback (Cast Iron Comics; $3.50)

    A trio of aging, celebrity-hungry adventurers battle “uncommons,” another name for supervillains, while the government secretly covers their butts. Mildly entertaining lightweight fluff, but it’s hampered by indecision. It’s not satirical enough to be satire, though it trots out satirical elements, but as a straight adventure comic it’s not focused and sharp enough. It’s obvious these guys are having fun with the comic, but it’s not particularly captivating fun. (Nice Kurt Busiek pie recipe on the back cover, though.)

    WAR by various, b&w 112 pg. trade paperback (Saddle Tramp Press;$10.95)

    With Marvel grinding out pro-war propaganda provided to them by right wing think tanks, it’s nice to see anti-war antidotes popping up. But too many of the anti-war stories here are too poorly thought out, and the art varies too greatly. In theory an anthology like this, done mostly by small press talents, should start from strength and get stronger, but despite a couple good stories toward the beginning, like Damon Hurd & Jason Wright’s subtle “Last Day Of Summer,” the stories quickly degenerate into cliché and mostly mediocre artwork, and some of the stories, like Ken Pickleshimer’s “Born With A Bible” seem to have no point of view at all. WAR‘s heart is in the right place, but that’s just not enough.

    HACK SLASH by Tim Seeley & Stefano Caselli, 48 pg. color comic (Devil’s Due Publishing;$4.95)

    A cute little take on zombies, biblethumpers and FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, set against spring break in Ft. Lauderdale. No element of the story is particularly new, but Seeley & Caselli synthesize it all well, in a fairly striking package with good art and dialogue. A genuine surprise; I liked it.

    IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS by Art Spiegelman, color 38 pg. graphic novel (Pantheon Books;$19.95)

    38 pages is a bit misleading; these are big oversized pages on very stiff cardboard dense, so there’s a lot more material here than in a comic of equivalent length. This is probably the most lauded comics project of the last year. There’s no doubt Spiegelman is a brilliant cartoonist, and there are some brilliant designs here; the main conceit is the overlapping of early 20th century newspaper strips with Spiegleman’s often conflicted reactions to and reporting on 9-11, witnessing it and witnessing the political and personal aftermath of it, and how our political parties descend spiritually and philosophically from those old day as well, complete with reprints of old strips like HAPPY HOOLIGAN and LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND that eerily reflect on 9-11 or topics like our attitudes toward the Middle East. It’s just clever and heartfelt enough that’s it’s not immediately obvious that Spiegleman’s essay never concludes; his reasoning disintegrates into seemingly impotent rage. Maybe that’s the point. IN THE SHADOW OF NO TOWERS is still well worth reading, but I’d like to read the ending someday too.

  • This week’s TWO HEADS TALK is brought to you by Alan David Doane and Rob Croonenborghs, ©2004 respectively, as usual.

    If you’re interested in seeing your art appear in TWO HEADS TALK, follow these simple rules and notoriety beyond your wildest dreams will one day be yours:

    1. All panels should be 3″ wide x 6″ tall jpgs, 150 dpi.
    2. All panels should be head and shoulder shots of original characters. No trademarked characters of any sort please. (But don’t worry: copyright will be assigned to you.)
    3. Head and shoulder shots should fill only the bottom 3″ of the panel. Leave the top half blank, please. (You can put color there, just not figure work.)
    4. One head per panel, thanks. Color or black and white, your choice.
    5. Don’t put any borders on the panels.
    6. Email it to me, with “Head” in the subject line so I know don’t think it’s a virus, because I’ll trash an unknown attachment in a heartbeat.
    7. Include a website or some other contact information so that your new legion of fans will be able to find you.

    And that’s it. All heads will be used eventually. Can fame and fortune be far behind?

  • Last Wednesday, following Kerry’s concession speech, I got a number of e-mails commiserating on (and, in a few instances, gloating over) how miserably I must have taken the news.

    Truth is: not so much.

    Which must sound odd, considering all the column inches I spent citing the current administration’s smug criminality. Now think back: how many column inches did I spend extolling Kerry’s virtues?

    Truth is: Kerry was a lousy candidate and a lousy choice. In both the Democratic and Republican parties, there’s the running concept of whose “turn” it is to be president. Republicans are usually pretty unrepentantly naked about this, very early rallying around the chosen candidate and rather mercilessly crushing contenders (if you don’t believe me, ask John McCain who, aside from refusing to slander Kerry for the general political gain, spent most of the campaign toadying for the party like a whipped dog who’d learned his lesson. Nixon in ’60 and ’68, Goldwater in ’64, Dole in ’96, HP in ’00; these were all “designated candidates.” The only real in-party fight I can remember was in ’80, when challenger Ronald Reagan stole the title from “designated candidate” Bush The First, establishing the hegemony of the yahoo “California” wing of the party over the “East Coast Elite” wing, albeit briefly. (Nixon’s candidacies don’t count, since Nixon was a creation of the East Coast Elite, specifically of Bush family patriarch and Nazi collaborator Prescott Bush, who came out of WWII with a grand scheme to “conservatize” the country and placed newspaper ads looking for candidates to challenge liberal candidates on redbaiting platforms; Nixon got his start in politics by answering one of these ads and becoming the guinea pig for the Prescott Bush campaign formula, which was basically “smear, smear, smear.”) Bush the First was, of course, the designated candidate in ’88, but he was supposed to be the candidate in 1980 (and, in fact, quietly took over many of the president’s duties following the ’81 assassination attempt on Reagan, from which, we know now, Reagan never really recovered).

    The Democrats, being faux-populists much more concerned with what people think of them instead of telling people what to think of them, generally put on more of a show. It lets them project the illusion of “bowing to the will of the people,” but also makes for a messier, if more entertaining, primary season, where Democrats eat their own tails and provide anti-candidate accusations for Republicans during the general campaign. Which is the downside of the process. It also occasionally provides some surprises, like McGovern in ’72, Carter in ’76 Clinton in ’92 (can’t for the life of me remember who were the designated Democratic candidates in those years), and Kennedy stealing the nomination out from under designate LBJ in ’60. What the Democrats can’t quite get through their heads is that while many still believe in the values supposedly enshrined by the Democrats, nobody really trusts the Democratic political machine. The Republican political machine may reek of prayer meetings and secret money deals, but they don’t give off the stench of smoke-filled back rooms. Al Gore was the designate in ’00, but vice presidents for popular sitting two-term presidents usually are; no one really expects otherwise. (Dear god, does this mean The Dick in ’08?) Recent American politics are littered with Democratic designated candidates: Humphrey in ’68, Mondale in ’84, Dukakis in ’88 (well, Dukakis wasn’t really the designate, but there wasn’t one that year, the Democrats having been pounded into insensibility by “the Reagan Revolution” for eight years and few willing to throw away their political futures trying to tame that bronco, so Dukakis became the designate by default) – and now Kerry in ’04.

    This was the first primary I can remember where the Democratic Party obviously set out to undermine a potential candidate, Howard Dean (I didn’t like him as a candidate, but that’s not the point), and hammer home a designated candidate, John Kerry. It was obviously intended to generate (the image, if not the reality of) party unification, but had the opposite effect, turning off a lot of people by appearing to belittle popular interest. So why was Kerry a bad candidate? Because his main platform was “I’m not George Bush.”

    Which was an appealing message, as far as it went. Certainly it was the reason I voted for him. (My father used to say elections should let you vote against rather than for candidates, and whoever got the least number of negative votes would be the winner.)

    But it’s also why I’m not terribly disappointed that Kerry lost. What other platform did he have? HP’s “tax cuts” were stupid and misleading, of great value to the rich and little value to anyone else, and they were tax deferrals at best, since under HP government spending skyrocketed at the same time government coffers shriveled, which means government on the installment plan and your ingrate kids get to foot the bill instead of you. But there’s no way to talk about “repealing the tax cut” without it coming off as “I’m raising taxes.” Almost every other card in the deck was stacked against him. He ran against the war in Iraq, but voted for it right down the line. He couldn’t claim to champion civil liberties; he wrote portions of the heinous Patriot Act himself. For all his anti-war activities in the early ’70s, Kerry’s “radicalism” throughout his political career has mainly consisted of voting so as not to offend anyone, which isn’t a terrible characteristic in a public servant (anyone claiming to represent the will of his constituency should be allowed a little leeway to sacrifice his personal principles to theirs) but it does make for an inconsistent record. This is why congressmen generally make worse presidential candidates than governors; it’s not because anyone really thinks that being a state executive will make you a good federal executives, it’s that congressmen have voting records, usually filled with contradictions and inconsistencies because that’s the nature of politics, and governors don’t vote for bills. They just sign, or not. From a public image standpoint, governors are purer; they can get away with standing on avowed principle, while congressmen have to stand on their actual records. Not to mention that most bills aren’t “pure”; they’re weighed down with riders and addendum, usually having nothing at all to do with the main body of the bill, and often with unconscionable pork or vile social provisions stuck in to “ride” the main point of the bill to passage. Sometimes this results in defeat of the main bill, and sometimes that’s the intent, with the strange site of bill sponsors voting against their own bills.

    This sort of thing is hard to explain in the content of a presidential campaign. Congressional politics are about practicalities; electoral politics are about ideology. It’s a rigged game.

    And Kerry ran a puzzlingly bad campaign. Democrats seem to have a very bad habit of believing all they have to do is appear before voters and their beatific virtues will automatically be recognized and appreciated, ’cause they’re the good guys after all. The upshot of this is usually that Republicans get to generate the public images of Democratic candidates, and this year was no exception. He was the “war hero” candidate; how could he lose? But even by those standards, Kerry played weird. He came out of the primaries fairly strong, finally giving the impression the rank and file had rallied around him, and he came out of the Democratic National Convention stronger. And then – nothing. Not for months. He was making the circuit constantly hammering at the president. For more than a month, he all but vanished as the Republicans held their convention and HP soaked up the aftermath. But the Republicans never flinched, never backed off, and they never stopped hammering. Throughout these months, the Democratic Party’s fervor focused almost exclusively on its direst enemy: not HP, but Ralph Nader. Kerry held off trying to really establish himself until the debates, and, while he didn’t score any knockouts (very few people ever do in debates), he did greatly improve and solidify his public image. Problem was, if last Tuesday’s exit polls were correct, most voters had made up their minds on which candidate to vote for before the debates took place.

    But that’s the problem with the two party system. If you don’t like the Republican, your only choice is the Democrat, and vice versa. I could’ve run all these criticism prior to last Tuesday, and did run a few of them, but what percentage was there in what would amount to encouraging people not to vote for Kerry. There was never a moment when I actually thought Kerry would make a good president. I only thought he wouldn’t make as bad a president as HP, and I still do, but that’s damning with faint praise at best; even Lex Luthor made a better president than HP, and DC was trying to make him look like a villain.

    At any rate, yeah, sure, I’m disappointed HP won. I’m not upset Kerry lost. Funny how that works. But, you know, we survived Nixon. We survived Reagan. This won’t kill us. And we know what we’re getting with HP, which I suspect was the big point of appeal for the moderates that voted for him.

    In fact, there’s a lot I found interesting about the election, but the most interesting thing was this: despite being a lousy candidate running a lousy campaign, John Kerry almost won. It wasn’t a Gore-Bush thing, but he wasn’t that far off. Which means that while just over half the country voted to keep HP, almost half the country voted to get rid of him. (If you’re wondering, I’d have written pretty much this same essay had Kerry won, only I’d have been pointing up what a bad president HP would have been, that the Kerry campaign actually managed to beat him.)

    Which I suspect even HP figured out. His victory speech on Wednesday was soberingly different from the one in 2000, where a margin so fragile and narrow the Supreme Court had to put in the fix for it was touted as a huge triumph. Last Wednesday, HP sounded almost contrite, shaken. He even asked the Democrats for their help. That was a whole different sound for him. Of course, the Dick was cheerleading with nonsense about “mandates,” but the President didn’t make such noises at all. I now see pundits widely writing articles about the “conservating” of the country, and about how America is a Christian country, but those aren’t necessarily the messages to get out of this. There’s nothing about being Christian (which has so many sects and denominations that believe so many different things than the collective appellation doesn’t begin to sum them up) that means being conservative, and in the breakdowns of who voted for HP and the Democratic candidate as compared to 2000, the only two groups to actually vote in lesser percentage for HP this time around were gays (no doubt spurred on by the growing anti-gay marriage backlash) and, oddly, Protestants. More Protestants, proportionately, voted for Kerry in this election than voted for Gore in 2000. And assuming Republicans have no qualms about the President from the vote is erroneous; many very conservative Republicans have been calling for a liberalizing overhaul of the Patriot Act than Democrats have, and Arlen Spector, expecting to head up the Senate Judicial Committee next session after campaigning ceaselessly for HP this year, put the President on notice against trying to stack courts with right wing judges. There’s plenty of dissent inside the Republican party. All the vote can be taken to mean with any certainty was that many voted for HP because he wasn’t Kerry.

    For the Democrats from now on, the challenge is simple and difficult. The Republican Party, whatever else can be said for it, can put forth an image of standing for something. The Democratic Party has been riding on the New Deal for so long no one can even remember what the New Deal was. The only longtime image they’ve got left is that they’re for Big Government and they want to raise taxes, even though it’s always Republican administrations these days that expand the federal government. It’s time for the Democratic Party to specifically elaborate what it’s supposed to be about in clear, concise terms or get off the stage. The best they’ve been able to do in recent decades is to promote themselves as no real alternative to Republicans, on the theory that proving they’re more conservative than conservatives (the basis of Joe Lieberman’s successful political campaigns, of Kerry’s most unnerving campaign moment where he ran ads voice a determination to specifically kill Osama Bin Laden instead of “bring him to justice,” and of Democratic congressional votes to support unnecessary wars). But what’s the percentage in voting for non-Republicans who behave like Republicans? Might as well vote Republican. If the Democrats don’t re-establish some easy-to-absorb principles to define themselves by, that speak to the concerns of Americans and offer reasoned alternatives, they’re just going to get beaten by Republicans again and again and again.

    Wednesday’s mail also brought a lot of moaning about how it’s over, “we lost,” the end of all things is nigh, blah blah blah. Sorry, got no sympathy. Politics isn’t a once-every-four-years and forget about it thing, it’s an ongoing process. If anyone seriously wants to change things, now’s the time to figure out what you want and start working toward it. At minimum, dig behind the news, ask questions, examine possibilities. The only thing that keeps politicians honest is constantly observing and questioning them. Question everything. If you’ve got concerns, talk to other people about it. Write letters to op-ed pages (they still get paid attention to). Start organizing. It’s time-consuming and it’s not easy, but, hey, it’s your future at stake. In politics, there’s no such thing as defeat unless you give up; just ask the Republican Party, which, in 1975, in the wake of Watergate and the Nixon resignation (though the Watergate investigations were sponsored by Republican legislators as well as Democrat; it was a much more bipartisan effort than is usually remembered, and it was Republicans who convinced Nixon he had to resign) seemed dead in the water, with no political future left.

    Depression is for wimps. Start working for ’06 and ’08 now, and maybe in ’08 the Democrats will manage to find a candidate worth voting for. (And, dear god, please don’t let it be Hillary Clinton…)

    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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