I haven’t read many comics this summer.
Well, I haven’t read many new comics, anyway. I’ve read dozens of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman comics for some of the present and future reread projects I’m working on over at Tor.com, but other than that, I’ve only read the Monkeybrain digital releases and a handful and a half of regular ol’ single issue comics, even though I’ve continued to buy upwards of 50 comics a month.
I tell myself that I’ll wait until I have a nice run collected before I dig into the reading, but the reality is that when I do have the time to catch up on my comic book reading, I’m not inclined to do so. Instead, I’ll read role-playing game books (I’m currently obsessed with late-phase Gary Gygax products, like the out-of-print and hideously-designed “Lejendary Adventure” series), or play some Tiger Woods on the PS3. The new comics continue to pile up, unread.
With the exception of a few series from Image, they all feel so antiseptic and impersonal. I think the combination of the New 52 and the dead-eyed stare that is “Avengers vs. X-Men” has pushed me away from the kinds of comics that I’ve spent years writing about for CBR. They feel more like product than ever.
I have to admit, as unexciting as the Marvel NOW! initiative seems to be, with what amounts to musical chairs and the same kinds of writers and artists shuffling around on the same kinds of comic book series, there are a couple of pairings that I’ll likely check out. Jonathan Hickman has some powerful artistic collaborators on his Avengers, by the looks of it, and I’m curious about Jason Aaron’s take on Thor, and the Matt Fraction/Mike Allred dream team jumping on that “FF” comic. But those issues may pile up like the rest of these. We’ll have to see how inspired I end up feeling when October and November roll around.
One of the problems with these stacks of comics, by the way, is that they get to the point where I don’t even feel like sorting through everything to find things I actually want to get caught up on. I’m behind a couple of months on “Prophet,” for example, but I can’t find the June issue. That month’s “Wolverine and the X-Men” comic has also gone missing, so I must have dumped those books somewhere in a bookshelf and can’t remember which one. (I have a lot of books and comics — at least 60′ of wall space devoted to just my shelves, and that doesn’t count the 50+ longboxes — and sometime I’ll have to email J. K. Parkin with some of that Shelf Porn action so you can see what’s staring at me when I think about what I might want to read.)
Too many comics to read, and they all tend to blend together. That’s always been true, but it feels more true, for me, now than ever.
So I sit there, reading Tom Moldvay’s “The Yeti Sanction” from Avalon Hill circa 1984 and wait for the next Michael DeForge book or the next volume of “Powr Mastrs” while hundreds of issues of “Green Lantern” and “New Avengers” and “Batwoman” and “Invincible Iron Man” threaten to crush and children who walk near.
But…I have read a few things this summer that have reminded me, “Oh, yeah, comics are good and fun to read.” So let’s talk about that, instead of this depressing talk of paper hoarding.
So, while you all were watching Joe Casey and Rob Liefeld tear into the machinery of the comic book industry and hurt people’s feelings, these are some comics I read that were pretty good:
“Goliath,” by Tom Gauld
This hardcover came out earlier this year from Drawn and Quarterly, but I didn’t sit down to read it until recently. I love the heck out of it. Gauld’s sparse-but-sometimes-obsessively-crosshatched panels are somehow incredibly comforting and yet perfectly balanced with the weird anxiety underneath the story. This is the tale of David and Goliath, but not in any way you’ve seen it before. It’s no action-packed yarn, but it’s also not a stolid, immobile slice of nothing. It’s a calmy revealed story about an important conflict, but it has just the right amount of humor, and just the right amount of emotional weight. It’s a matter-of-fact tale of heroism, without the fanfare and the Biblical flourishes.
“Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX” #2, by Jason Latour and Connor Willumsen
I’m guessing we all assumed that this miniseries was the inventory pile from whatever was left after the cancellation of “PunisherMAX,” post-Jason-Aaron’s-run. Turns out that it may have been that with some of the stories, but it was also a kind of try-out book for some new-to-Marvel talent. Somewhere they could cut loose without doing much damage to anything sacred. So, without any fanfare, or even a mention in the solicitation for the issue, we get Connor Willumsen’s mainstream comics debut in the second issue of this under-the-radar series. And it’s written by Jason Latour, who I have praised every chance I get? Yeah, it’s a good comic. If you recall, I first mentioned the greatness of Willumsen’s artwork over two years ago, and he brings a completely different — yet no less dynamically expressive — style to this Punisher comic. Latour’s script is also strong, with quickly-defined characters trapped by their own actions. He’s going to be the new writer of “Winter Soldier,” and that’s something that will definitely not go on my stack. I’ll read that one every chance I get.
“Adventure Time” #6-7, by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb
I’ve had people tell me, surprised, “you weren’t kidding about that ‘Adventure Time’ comic. It’s great.” Did people think I was kidding, and my ranking of the series as the best comic of the year so far was some elaborate joke? Or…is “you weren’t kidding” just a figure of speech underlining their genuine surprise about how great the comic really and truly is? I’ll assume the latter, because we all know that I take my comics very seriously, according to the experts. Anyway, “Adventure Time” #6 and 7 may be even better than the first four issues — and just as good as the genius that is the doppelganger Adventure Tim in issue #5. It’s a time travel fandango, with clockwork mechanical cyborg arms and facial scars and the world will never be the same! Also, it’s hilarious.
“Punk Rock Jesus” #1-2, by Sean Murphy
Hey, this is Bible-related too, right? What chapter and verse has that fable about the clone baby Jesus and the media conglomerate that turns his childhood into “The Truman Show”? Whatever book of the Bible that comes from, this is Sean Murphy’s retelling of that. With an alternate reality Bruce Wayne who was raised by the IRA and turned into a no-nonsense killer/security consultant. I like it a lot. Sean Murphy’s art remains shockingly good and viciously alive and overall It’s much more of a sci-fi action comic than I expected it to be, even if it’s not filled with high-tech equipment and laser guns or any of that. It’s like “Gattaca” if it were directed by the late Tony Scott. Sean Murphy must cherish his Andrew Niccol screenplay collection. Waiting for Al Pacino and a holographic Rachel Roberts to show up next issue, and that would be totally cool with me.
“Hawkeye” #1, by Matt Fraction and David Aja
Yes, Aja is doing his David Mazzucchelli impression and Fraction fills the comic with track-suited gangster cliches straight out of a CW show, but Mazzucchelli is worth imitating and those gangsters give the story some immediate personality and set up a lighter tone to contrast with the extreme violence we see in the first issue. It’s been awhile since Fraction and Aja did their Iron Fist jig, and this little dance number has a different flavor to it, but I liked this first issue quite a bit. It reminded me, actually, of some of the Bronze Age “Power Man and Iron Fist” comics. It didn’t look at all like those Kerry Gammill classics, but it had that same urban, exploitation vibe. Like “Starsky and Hutch,” but with pages that looked like “Daredevil: Born Again.” I’d like to hope that a comic called “Hawkeye” — he’s in the movies! — with a creative team this good would get to produce 50 issues of a series like this. That would be nice.
“Amazing Heroes” #131, by a whole bunch of people working under Kevin Dooley
This isn’t a comic. And it’s not at all newish. But I picked up this 1988 installment of the venerable and long-defunct comic book magazine in a bargain bin earlier this summer because it had a cover featuring art by both Bernie Mireault and Steve Rude (two of my all-time Top 10 in the pantheon of comic book artistic amazingness) and because it’s “Amazing Heroes.” Who doesn’t like reading old issues of this magazine?
So this one has a Comico spotlight and talks about the great plans for the future of the company. A year later, it was basically doomed, with massive cancellations and creative teams leaving for work elsewhere. But that cover with Grendel and Space Ghost recalls the high points of the company.
Seriously, have you ever seen the Steve Rude “Space Ghost” one-shot? That’s a slice of comic book heaven, right there. Read it, and learn to love comics all over again.
This “Amazing Heroes” issue also has news about “The Pitt,” from the New Universe. Yeesh. And an interview with Todd McFarlane, right before he began his “Amazing Spider-Man” run where he talks about some confusing plans to return the web slinger to his classic costume but the black costume would still be around in some form. I wonder how that turned out? McFarlane also talks about his then-recent ambitions “to pencil, ink, and write a comic.” “So I can say, here’s my book, here’s my name on it,” he adds. Note, he never promised that it would be any good, just that it would have his name on it. And so it did.
The rest of the issue is filled with product releases and articles about things I can’t believe anyone ever actually sat down and read, like the “History of the Cat” or “Ten Grudge Matches in Comics.” The latter is about comic book characters, not creators, by the way.
The best part of the issue is the review section, featuring Lawrence H. Burdick’s takedown of the first George Perez “Wonder Woman” issue. Not only does Burdick take the unorthodox stance of telling the reader how he would have done things differently if he were in charge — always helpful, in a review — but he also writes sentences like this: “…the Classical origin [emphasized in the Perez version]…pulls the character away from the really pressing issues of our society, and sends her off on tangents delving into her own world rather than ours.” Then, he adds, emphatically, “Boston, her base city, has one of the highest rates of car thefts in the United States! Burglars, rapists, child abusers, and toxic waste dumpers are ignored in favor of mythical creatures and the whims of a Manhunter satyr!”
And that, comic book reviewers of the world, is the best criticism ever written about any comic book in history. Don’t even try to top it. Lawrence H. Burdick has spoken.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of “Grant Morrison: The Early Years” and editor of “Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes” anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.