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Cross-Hatchings for March 2016

by  in Comic News Comment
Cross-Hatchings for March 2016

You know, a little of this, a little of that. Mostly interesting links and event announcements. People sent some cool books and I came across some intriguing older ones. Oh, and Aquaman is BACK.

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Worst Ranger EVER And I Still Have PTSD Over IT Dep’t: Every time I write about the Lone Ranger, as I did last week, there is a lament about how no one seems to be able to make a good Ranger film since the days of Clayton Moore. This is all true.

However, when the fight breaks out over which is worse, Johnny Depp’s or Klinton Spilsbury’s– sorry, but the correct answer is neither. The 2003 pilot from the WB is the worst. Period.

Much as I have tried to purge it from my memory, some wag always brings it up when I am talking about the Lone Ranger, sooner or later. Yes, I saw it and yes, I was UTTERLY HORRIFIED.

The reason I’m mentioning it pre-emptively now is because it’s up on YouTube. So if you want to be utterly horrified too, check it out before some lawyer has it removed. Then you will agree that it’s the worst one ever. And like me, you will wish you had not subjected yourself to it. Then maybe we can all agree that it just never happened and move on, the way we do with the Mopee and plant-powers Jade and Angel Punisher.

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On the Radio Dep’t: There’s a new episode of Radio Vs. The Martians up, which I had nothing to do with, but I found it fascinating.

It’s all about Don Bluth and I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know. Worth your time.

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Aquaman is BACK! Dep’t: I did not hate Cullen Bunn’s Aquaman run as much as some others did, and he did some fairly extensive damage control towards the end of his six-issue arc… but honestly, the bottom line for me was that Mr. Bunn’s version is not the version I wanted to read about and I was going to drop the book. Then I heard he was leaving so I decided to hang around long enough to see what the new guy was going to do. But I was not optimistic.

See, here’s the thing. I really love Aquaman and I’m always rooting for the book to be good, but DC has a bad habit of screwing it up just as it’s getting good. (I documented this here a few years ago… seriously, I think the only company character to take more abuse from his corporate owner is Hank Pym over at Marvel.)

This is why Aquaman #49 left me grinning like a little kid. For the entire history of the character, at no point EVER in any of the misguided “Let’s FIX Aquaman!” revamps has anyone ever said, “Wait, that was dumb, let’s go back to the thing that was working.” Until right now, with Dan Abnett. He gets it.

He’s basically gone right back to what Jeff Parker was doing. Aquaman’s the king of the Seven Seas with his girl Mera, and when he’s not fighting sea crime he’s in Amnesty Bay getting Mera acclimated to the part of his life he spent as Arthur Curry.

Dan Abnett picked that up and ran with it. It is impossible to overstate how much I love this and how right it feels.

The mistake everyone made with Aquaman for years was trying to make him over into Namor the Sub-Mariner. Abnett is not doing that. The Aquaman I enjoy reading about is basically the Superman of the ocean, he handles the underwater stuff. That’s his gig. The more you try to make him the troubled King of Atlantis or to get him all embroiled with palace intrigues, the more the book falters. Abnett neatly solves this problem and moves on. Someone else can run Atlantis, Aquaman’s got the oceans and all of surface humanity to worry about.

Apart from that, Abnett’s take on Amnesty Bay is terrific. Julie and I have spent a lot of time in coastal small towns and Mr. Abnett is NAILING IT. This is what little beach towns are like. I love the idea that Aquaman lives in one. Why the hell not? It’s his home, it’s where he grew up. And the way the townspeople are all ‘oh hey Arthur, how’s it going, thanks for that saving-the-world thing last week’ is delightful. Most superheroes live in cities but I really like the idea of one that lives in a small town.

I don’t mean to slight the art. I am not familiar with Vicente Cifuentes other than this but he’s very good. He’s slick and he’s put in a lot of beauty shots with Mera looking hot, but that’s de rigeur with superhero comics these days. What struck me is that his characters can ACT, they’re on-model but their expressions are, well, expressive without being exaggerated.

That’s where you can tell if a guy’s got real chops or not– as Julius Schwartz famously said, “I get lots of guys coming in who can draw Superman, but the guy I hire can draw everyone else in Metropolis, too.” Cifuentes can do it.

There’s the requisite hints of evil doings afoot and so on, and we’re certainly ramping up towards a confrontation with a new undersea menace, but I really liked that there was no obligatory fight scene. The story moved along and was engaging and that’s all I need. It was a nice break, but this issue also is a clear signal that Aquaman is not going to be all tormented and angsty and pissed off. So if that had chased you away, it’s okay to come back now. This issue was a great jumping-on place. I’m in.

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People Send Me Cool Books Dep’t: Titan’s apparently got me back on their review list for all mysteries now, which is okay with me. This latest one, E.G. Rodford’s The Bursar’s Wife, was an odd mix of classic P.I. tropes and the sort of culture clash you used to get on Columbo, with the scruffy investigator annoying the crap out of snooty rich people.

Here’s the blurb– Set in and around Cambridge, The Bursar’s Wife introduces George Kocharyan, one time policeman and now a private detective. Amidst the usual jobs following unfaithful wives and husbands (including a woman he’s just photographed engaged in ‘calisthenics’ in a parked car), he is approached by the glamorous Sylvia Booker. Booker is the wife of the bursar of Morley College, and is worried that her daughter Lucy is in with the wrong crowd at Emmanuel.

Aided by his assistant Sandra and her teenage son, George soon realizes that Lucy is sneaking off to the apartment of an older man, but perhaps not for the reasons one might suspect. At the same time, the unfaithful wife he had been following is found dead in her car, and Sylvia Booker’s husband commits suicide. As his investigation continues—enlivened by a mild stabbing and the unwanted intervention and attention of female police detective DI Stubbing—George begins to wonder if all the threads are connected…

Did I enjoy it? I did, eventually, but it was a slow starter. The early chapters, especially, felt like déjà vu; I kept wondering if we really needed yet another book about a surly private eye with a troubled past, even if it was really well-written. But it gets better once the plot really kicks in– Rodford has constructed an incredibly labyrinthine and clever mystery. I just wish I liked his detective better. Granted, I’m usually the first guy to preach the value of the classics and of just doing a good story instead of being all edgy and groundbreaking, but this time it just didn’t do it for me. George Kocharyan feels like he’s pasted together from bits of other detectives… a little Marlowe here, a little Columbo there, a little Bosch on the side. I’d rather Rodford’s next one be a straight crime novel with a new protagonist– he’s a really good writer and I’m interested in seeing more– but I see that George has a series deal. I don’t begrudge Mr. Rodford his multiple-book contract, but one Kocharyan adventure was plenty for me.

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Cool Old Books Dep’t: Speaking of the classics, found this one for a dollar not too long ago. A nice British hardcover.

Vintage Spillane is a collection of stories that came out in 1973. Admittedly, it was an impulse buy and I have some of these here in other collections… though it turns out it was a bit of a score, most dealers have it for thirty to fifty dollars.

But that’s not why I bought it. It was a deal, but really it was that I couldn’t resist the cover. It looks like Steranko to me but I don’t think it is. For one thing, it’s unsigned, and for another, there are extensive Steranko bibliographies online at several different sites, including his own, and this isn’t on any of them. So then I tried to crack it from the other end, researching the book itself on various dealer sites and looking at Spillane bibliographies, but came up empty that way too. I wish I could place the artist but it just doesn’t look like any of the guys I’m familiar with. Looks a little like Frank McCarthy in places but it’s not him either. If anyone out there knows, pass it along, would you?

Incidentally, Steranko did do a Spillane cover.

Rocking the harsh noir black-and-white ink rendition years before there was a Sin City. This is a great book too, by the way; long out of print but again, you can turn it up from online dealers without too much trouble.

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Upcoming Events Dep’t: The reason you’re getting a hodge-podge this week is because we’re pretty busy for the next month. All kinds of appearances and events.

First up, I’ve got a Barnes and Noble thing happening on April 1. No fooling.

And it’s all about pulp fiction, too. Here’s the video invite. Come by if you’re in town and hear tales of my misspent youth and the English teacher that jumpstarted my writing career– twice. It should be fun.

The following week, of course, is the big Emerald City show.

We can’t afford to table there with the Cartooning students, which is a damn shame, but what we will be doing is a panel. I’m going to be there with Linda Medley and David Lasky, both of whom teach as well as make Eisner-winning comics of their own… and my own former students-turned-teachers Lindon and Katrina will be there as well. That Greg Burgas fella will probably show up too. Thursday April 7, 4:30 PM. Here’s the listing.

The following night, April 8, I will be tabling with our students at this event.

A lot of our local guys got priced out of ECCC and decided to form a Rebel Alliance of sorts. (NERD JOKE!) We’re going to be at 1927 Events on 3rd, about four blocks down from the big show. We start at 6:30 in the evening so there’s no direct conflict with Emerald City. Come by and say hi when you’re done with ECCC for the day, before you all go out to get your drink on or dinner or whatever. It’s FREE, and a lot of these guys are good. Our crew’s pretty good too. Buy a book and get a sketch. Here’s the info page.

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And that’s all I’ve got, this time out. I’ll see you next week with something. Not sure what, show prep is eating my life, but I’ll be here with something, I promise. See you then.

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