SITTIN’ ON TOP OF A WORLD OF REVIEWS: Castle Waiting, Jimbo’s Inferno, Comics Journal Library 6, Runaway Comics, Tales Designed To Thrizzle, Luba’s Comics And Stories, Billy Hazelnuts, Mome, Jeremiah Harm, Zombie Tales, The Last Island, My Father’s Son, Mouse Guard, Robotika, Just Another Guy With A Planet For A Head, Hazy Thursday, Comic Effect, Citric ESP, tons of GI Joe, Black Harvest, The Lost Squad, Purgatori & Superior Showcase
FOR PROFESSIONALS ONLY: In the April 5th PERMANENT DAMAGE, you can promote upcoming projects you’ve got coming up in ’06. Needed are: title (and name of book it’ll appear in, if it’s part of an anthology); name of publishing house; names of collaborators; price; format; a short descriptive paragraph – really short; an art sample is optional, but if you want to send one keep it no more than 600 pixels wide, 72 dpi. PAY STRICT ATTENTION TO THESE THINGS. Thanks. This is your big chance to stand out from the crowd, so send that info in.
Congratulations to Ron Lake, who was the first to correctly identify the theme of last week’s Comics Cover Challenge as “lawsuits.” All the titles shown were involved in lawsuits in some way. Ron would like to point your attention to James Randi’s website. As Ron put it, “I meet way too many people who believe all psychics except the one they go to is fake.” For those who’ve never heard of him, stage magician James Randi is the king of skeptics, offering a sizable reward for verifiable proof of unexplainable psychic phenomena. No one has collected on it yet…
For those who came in late: scattered throughout this column are seven seemingly unrelated comic book covers. This is The Comics Cover Challenge. In fact, they all share a secret theme. The theme could be anything: historical or social significance, shared creator(s), character names in common, design styles – anything. But there’s also always a clue hidden somewhere in the column as well. The first person to e-mail me the correct solution to the challenge can promote any online site of their choice, subject to approval (not that approval has ever been withheld, but there’s always a first time, and we must tack on the disclaimer). It’s just that simple. In fact, while some might say this week’s solution is of secondary importance, I say it’s right on the money. Good luck.
Amusing to see all the sudden hubbub, in places as diverse as blogs and the Los Angeles Times (loved the recent hagiographies of now dead former publisher Otis Chandler, by the way), about Marvel and DC’s attempt to trademark the phrase “superhero” and variations thereof. Legal or not, Marvel and DC have been trying to lay claim to that for at least 20 years now, and, at this point, who really gives a rat’s ass? They pretty much own the superhero market anyway and even if someone wants to challenge them in the costume crimefighter arena, all that means is they’ll have to come up with a better, sexier term to market – something apparently neither DC nor Marvel can be bothered to do. Some see this as a nasty restriction of the marketplace, but they’re wrong. It’s a liberation. Time for the rest of the comics market to leave superheroes behind, at least in name, and head elsewhere.
Regarding my WizardWorld L.A. comments of last week: I am informed a possible reason that the Joss Whedon-Jim Lee (among others) panel was shall we say drastically underattended was that it was a late addition to the schedule. WizardWorld did kindly supply an updated panel schedule that Saturday that revealed the panel – but not the room it was being held in. Hopefully they’ll get someone on that sort of thing next year. If there is a next year. (By then, WIZARD honcho Gareb Shamus may be too busy turning his mixed martial arts Ultimate Fighting Championship knockoff into the multi-billion dollar business he’s been telling all the reporters it will be to be bothered.)
A quick non-review: TwoMorrow Books sent along a partial Xerox of Pete Von Scholly’s new one-shot magazine COMIC BOOK NERD, a MAD magazine style parody of just about every comics magazine available: WIZARD, COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE, ALTER EGO, THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR, THE COMICS JOURNAL, COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE etc. On the one hand, what they sent is pretty funny, especially things like “Whizzer Presents The TOP TEN Reasons Why Comics Are SO MUCH BETTER Now!” that compares modern era covers with Kirby and Ditko classics, with explanations of why recent covers where you can barely spot Spider-Man amid all the other detail are so much better than old covers where Spider-Man figured prominently. On the other, since I haven’t read the whole thing I can’t really review or recommend it. I can only suggest you pop over to TwoMorrow’s website and check for yourself.
Aimed at young readers, VERSUS is a sports pseudo-manga series created by Marv Wolfman and published by Steck Vaughn, about a team of young Americans competing in a three-sport international tournament playing soccer, baseball and basketball. Two volumes have appeared so far, and I’d review them but I can’t, since I wrote the second one, “Home Troubles.” I’m just saying…
Except for a brief touch-up, I finally have the screenplay out of the way, so it’s time to get back to other business. Coming up: a revamp of the Paper Movies website, and finishing my .pdf book of comics scripts, which I still need to format, which will include, among other things, pilot scripts for series sold but for one reason or another never produced. (The names have been changed to fend off the lawyers.) There’ll be a dozen scripts included altogether, in varying styles. Collect your small change now and get ready for next week.
In the meantime, don’t forget my two books are available in pdf e-book form at The Paper Movies Store: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting my Master Of The Obvious essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life; and IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS, a running commentary on American life and politics in the first half of the Terror Decade. 250+ pages each, $5.95@ or both for $10.95. What are you waiting for?
CASTLE WAITING by Linda Medley, 444p b&w trade paperback ($29.95)
What happened after Sleeping Beauty woke up and rode off with her Prince Charming? Bill Willingham picked up their story in FABLES but Medley takes a different, more unexpected route: following the people and land left behind. The result, watching and hearing the stories of those who have taken refuge there, is charming. Medley’s a natural raconteur with a great sense of humor – while a fantasy, CASTLE WAITING is more a pop version of Chaucer; you’ll be hard pressed to see anything of CONAN or LORD OF THE RINGS in it – and her art’s quite good. The book has one weakness. It feels incomplete, with stories unfinished (particularly the story of its central character, who, once she arrives at the castle, takes a back seat other people’s stories). The series ran a long time as a widely-admired if not widely-bought independent comic, and I have no idea if all the issues are reprinted here. If there are more, I hope this volume sells well enough to merit a second collection. If there aren’t, I hope it sells well enough to convince Medley to pick up the pen again. CASTLE WAITING is almost pure storytelling. Get it.
JIMBO’S INFERNO by Gary Panter, 40p b&w hardcover ($19.95)
Panter is perhaps the greatest of the semi-underground “punk rock” artists who sprang up in the wake of West Coast punk movement, and vulgar, violent, doomed punk Jimbo was his primary creation. As the title suggests, this is a twisted takeoff on Dante’s INFERNO as Jimbo, who I presume is dead at this point, wanders a bizarre landscape of four-eyed dragons, mad minotaurs, robots and mall shoppers. Sharp and subtle wit in a great looking format, though a bit expensive for the length.
THE COMICS JOURNAL LIBRARY 6: THE WRITERS ed. Tom Spurgeon, 360p trade paperback ($19.95)
A collection of interviews with many of the pivotal superhero comics writers of the early direct market era, culled mostly from COMICS JOURNALs of that era. While much of it is dated, the historical viewpoint is still interesting, particularly when so many creators of the day displayed a real disconnect about comics. On one hand, they promote comics as a mature medium capable of all manner of expression. On the other, there’s an inherent tendency to dismiss as presumptuous or egotistical any real attempt to break from the longtime strictures of superhero comics. Creators are still doing that en masse today. And that’s probably the most interesting thing about these interviews with the likes of Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont and Alan Moore – much that’s in them is still being said, as though new ideas, in interviews conducted with other people today. It’s a good set, with interviewers willing to operate as inquisitors and devil’s advocates rather than mouthpieces.
RUNAWAY COMICS #1 by Mike Martin, 32p b&w comic ($3.50)
Nicely drawn, mostly pointless quasi-humor comic. Besides an amusingly irreverent two page biography of Carry Nation, I’m not certain who this stuff is supposed to appeal to. Pass.
TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE #2 by Michael Kupperman, 32p b&w comic ($4.50)
More outré humor from Kupperman, cannibalizing all kinds of pop culture into skewed, schizoid satire, mockingly sorted by “age group.” Especially good is the pseudo-woodcut “Remembering The Thirties,” with entries like “Everyone made such a big deal about the moon launch in the Sixties. They forgot that people use to go there all the time in the Thirties. We were ‘can-do’ back then.” Good stuff, in a diverse collection of styles.
LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES #7 by Gilbert Hernandez, 32p b&w comic ($3.50)
This one spotlights Hernandez’s chief heroine Luba’s man-hungry lisping little sister, Fritz, filling in holes in her past. Hernandez’s work remains a giant jigsaw puzzle where everything seems disconnected but falls into place piece by piece, and even the fragments glow with life, humor and fully realized characters. As I’ve said before, his work doesn’t collect, it accrues. If you’re not reading his work, start now. You can jump in anywhere.
BILLY HAZELNUTS by Tony Millionaire, 114p b&w hardcover ($19.95)
I have to admit, I just don’t get Tony Millionaire, but if Andy Dick likes your work what I think of it is probably pretty much irrelevant. Not that this story of a homunculus running amok on a farm is badly written or drawn; I’ve got no problem with his technical skills, which are quite good. It’s that, at least here, the characters aren’t very interesting and the story sputters out with no payoff.
MOME WINTER 2006 ed Eric Reynolds & Gary Groth, 112p color trade paperback ($14.95)
Still one of the best anthologies available, particularly of alternative comics. What’s amazing about MOME isn’t the diversity of material (in fact, this issue isn’t quite as diverse as earlier volumes) but that it’s all of a piece quality-wise. Somehow they always get the best work out of Jeffrey Brown, too. One small flaw is the sense that, as with most alternative comics these days, there’s very little new ground broken. One exception is David B.’s medieval symbolist fantasy “The Armed Garden,” which is almost worth the price alone. Worth the money.
From Boom! Studios:
JEREMIAH HARM #2 by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant & Rael Lyra, 32 pg color comic ($3.99)
For a guy who started out trying to mock ultraviolence in comics like LOBO (which took on a life of its own), Keith Giffen sure has become a master of ultraviolence. Three vicious aliens arrive on Earth to recover a cosmicidal weapon, pursued by morally ambiguous former Earthman Jeremy Harm, who’s sentimental enough about his homeworld to want it kept intact. Co-writer Alan Grant has done enough JUDGE DREDD stories to get the tone and the characters – especially two women Harm runs into at a Bronx free clinic – just right, while artist Lyra give the art a great European look. It’s worth checking out, with one caveat: like last issue, this issue still seems like prelude to a story more than the story itself, and while the portrayal of Harm’s personality is strong, we still don’t have a wider sense of him or his capabilities, aside from reputation. Still, I look forward to more.
ZOMBIE TALES: THE DEAD #1 by various, 48p color comic ($6.99)
Boom!’s first ZOMBIE TALES was something of a revelation, a real breath of fresh air. Now, half a dozen iterations later, the air’s getting a bit stale. Too many dead things. Some of the stories, like Michael Alan Nelson & Lee Moder’s “The Miracle Of Bethany” and Jim Pascoe, Don Simpson & Chris Moreno’s “A Game Called Zombie,” just don’t make much sense. There’s a very well-done story by Johanna Stokes and the incredibly underrated Cynthia Martin about the animal kingdom taking advantage of the new environmental niche created by the zombies that’s far and away the best thing in the book, John Rogers and Ed Tadem’s “Four Out Of Five” is just a cheap joke, and the two running series, Keith Giffen & Rom Lim’s “Deadest Meat” and Andrew Cosby & Fabio Moon’s “I, Zombie,” just sort of sputter to a halt, as if the talent realized the ride is over. Technically the stuff is fine, but… enough with the zombies already.
From New Radio Comics:
THE LAST ISLAND by Alex Cahill, 64p b&w comic ($6)
A mostly silent story about two boys on a desert island, a small war arising between them as one’s desires infringe on the other’s. Cahill’s art is clean, expressive and interesting, and the story escalates in a pleasantly baffling way – forget “realism” – until a somewhat abrupt ending that makes sense but is unfortunately a little trite. It was pretty good up until the last two pages, though.
From Publish America:
MY FATHER’S SON AND OTHER SUPER!! STORIES!! by Frank Byrns ($?)
Seven prose superhero stories. I can’t say I’m terribly impressed. The writing’s not amateurish or anything like that, Byrns is reasonably good with character, but his prose is a bit clunky and uninspired. When I get to lines like “His wife’s eyes were wide with disbelief as Fox-5 detailed Blue Streak’s amazing act of single-handedly foiling The Braintrust’s attempt to steal the priceless Mongolian Death Mask Collection on display down at The Institute,” it makes me think that what Byrns needs to do is listen to his prose more. He can put words together well enough. Now what he needs is grace.
From Archaia Studio Press:
MOUSE GUARD: BELLY OF THE BEAST #1 by David Peterson, 24 pg color comic ($3.50)
A fantasy about a mouse society and the warriors who keep it safe from predators. This chapter, economically written – Peterson deftly introduces his three main characters and quickly distinguishes them – and beautifully drawn and colored – is a mystery story that quickly evolves into a thrilling action piece then effortlessly shifts into suspense mode. It’s surprisingly captivating, with a sense of urgency rare in fantasy material.
ROBOTIKA #2 by Alex Shiekman, 32p color comic ($3.95)
There’s no denying that Shiekman’s art is very attractive, and it’s the star of the book. But the story, while more coherent than the first issue, is still pretty pointless, and the future society Shiekman has invented so far remains nonsensical, more a repository for pretty things he wants to draw than any logical construct. The book sure is worth looking at, at least; artwise, Shiekman is a real find.
JUST ANOTHER GUY WITH A PLANET FOR A HEAD by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, 16p b&w mini-comic ($?)
Goodbrey specializes in dadaesque surrealism and Photoshopped art; if nothing else, he delivers work nobody else even comes near, and at his best his “mad ideas” are what Grant Morrison’s only dream of being. This isn’t one of those ideas. A man with born with the Earth for a head (surgically transplanted planets for heads are common) sits on a park bench and has a couple dull conversations while bemoaning his fate. For a Goodbrey project, it’s shockingly uninteresting and even more shockingly just fizzles out, which his work almost never does. Better luck next time.
From Idle Child:
HAZY THURSDAY by Oli Smith, 20p b&w mini-comic (£2.50)
More of a children’s book with watercolor style art (albeit in black and white) than a comic, Smith’s story is a weird autobiographical sketch about his mother running off with him to a commune only to find disillusionment. It’s a stark, impressive presentation, a very strong, brief meditation on the schism between desires and realities. Very good.
From Comic Effect:
COMIC EFFECT #45, 48p b&w fanzine ($3.50)
My favorite fanzine discusses my least favorite character in this Superman/Superboy special, apparently timed to coincide with DC’s spiritual gutting of Superboy. Murray Ward provides a decent summary of how Superman and our view of him has changed over the years, and Jim Kingman discusses his favorite Superman covers (especially under Mort Weisinger, Superman’s covers were often far more intriguing than the guts of the books), but most of the issue is given to John Pierce’s capsulization of Superboy plots. Not my favorite issue, but not bad.
VOIDpulpo Vol 2: CITRIC ESP ed Kevin Birtcher & Gabriel Bautista Jr, 212p b&w trade paperback ($20)
Another anthology, and, like most anthologies, extremely variable in quality. The best art, by Doug Harvey, Kenneth Rocafort (who’s really good) and James Stokoe, is all up front; the bad art, by Jakub Tywoniak and Evan Dahm, is buried in the middle; and the rest ranges from okay to not bad. At this point, though, I can’t remember a single thing that happened in any of the stories, which is never a good sign.
From Devil’s Due:
GI JOE: AMERICA’S ELITE #5-9; GI JOE: SPECIAL MISSIONS #1; SNAKE EYES: DECLASSIFIED #5-6; GI JOE: SIGMA 6 #2-3; GI JOE-TRANSFORMERS: THE ART OF WAR #1, by various, 32p color comics ($2.95@)
GI JOE‘s recent revival is kind of amusing, since it’s conceptually a throwback to a more “pleasant” time when we could trick ourselves into believing that military power and dogged gutsiness would lead to victory and Hydra was a practical model for terrorism. But enough people must want to cling to that, since Devil’s Due is apparently doing enough business with the concept to pump out JOE series after series. The best of the lot of Joe Casey & Nelson Blake’s GI JOE: AMERICA’S ELITE, applying Casey’s X-MEN experience to another superteam – much as Joe likes his satire and weirdness, his work is often best when he plays it straight – in a storyline mainly centering around the death of JOE Wolverine stand-in Snake Eyes. B.C. Moore isn’t too far off the mark with SPECIAL MISSIONS, but Jeremy Haun’s art is stiffer and so is Moore’s dialogue, which includes jarringly silly comments like “Well, isn’t THAT just ducky.” Uh-huh. But it’s SNAKE EYES DECLASSIFIED that sums up just how silly the whole concept has become; while Brandon Jerwa and Emiliano Santalucia have become more at home since the early issues, the plot is comics fanfic unleashed, where everybody ends up being related to everybody, and the story’s not only the origin of Snake Eyes but turns into the origin of the Joes and Cobra as well in one vast, laughably interconnected web. SIGMA 6 is obviously the kiddie version, to tie in with the cartoon show, but while Chris Lie and Ramanda Kamarga’s artwork is perfectly satisfactory, Andrew Dabb’s stories are really by the number. #2, for instance, has villain Zartan stealing an heirloom from an Indian family – that just happens to include a Joe. Why does Zartan want the heirloom? Who knows? What’s it for? Who knows? Top it off with a rebellious teen in the family being so wowed by all the Joe action that he changes his ways and realizes all the traditions he mocked have personal value to him etc. and it’s all one really half-assed After School Special. Oy. Finally, GI JOE/TRANSFORMERS is everything you could hope for from a team-up: not much. Cobra steals the remains of former Transformers arch-villain Megatron, to use as the basis for an invincible world-conquering superweapon. Tim Seeley and Joe Ng do an adequate job, but, again, this is really by the numbers teamup stuff, with the world’s sketchiest characterization. Not that any of this seems to be affecting Devil’s Due’s fortunes at all, but while I doubt many actually expect GI JOE comics to be good, there’s no reason they can’t be better. Unless you’re obsessive, stick with the Casey stuff.
BLACK HARVEST by Josh Howard, 32p color comic ($3.25)
Things liven up a little as UFOs appear and the mysterious abduction survivor Zaya vanishes into the night. Howard is still a little too much in love with plotting ellipses – his main method of creating suspense is to have people speak darkly but obliquely to each other – but at least he seems finally to have learned out to do a third issue, as reporter-hero Daniel digs his way into a real X-FILES turn of events. I don’t know if the series is good yet, but it’s at least staying interesting.
LOST SQUAD #3 by Chris Kirby, Alan Robinson & others, 32p b&w comic ($2.95)
In WWII, a squad of GIs is commissioned to deal with Nazi-directed supernatural threats. Kind of reminds me of DC’s old HAUNTED TANK series, crossed with HELLBOY (and Alan Robinson’s pencils seem to have more than a little Mignola influence). The action’s decent Kirby’s starting to include funny bits, but a couple areas need improving: despite this supposedly being life or death material, there’s not a lot of tension in the pacing, and after three issues, I still can’t tell most of the characters apart. What this series needs is a little less HAUNTED TANK and a little more SGT. FURY. But it’s worth a look.
PURGATORI #3-5 by Robert Rodi & Cliff Richards, 32p color comics ($2.95@)
Brian Pulido’s creations – and I worked on some of them, I know what I’m talking about – have always been problematic. Brian had a flair for them, but at their core most are extremely limited; characters defined entirely by nastiness and self-obsession just aren’t built for sustaining interest over long stretches of time. So it is with Purgatori. Robert Rodi’s a good writer, and Cliff Richards’ works fine – let’s face it, at heart it’s a smut book and Richards drawns naked and semi-naked women well – but this origin of Purgatori, reconstituted from Pulido’s original, just goes on and on and on, as she turns from human to vampire in ancient Egypt then unleashes her unholy wrath on the Pharoah. Problem is, there’s nothing to hang onto here, and Rodi’s shift toward more traditional fantasy adventure type material won’t hurt, but that wasn’t what was wrong with it.
From AdHouse Books:
SUPERIOR SHOWCASE #1 by various, 32p b&w comic ($2.95)
Um… okay. Indie cartoonists riff on superheroes, following on the PROJECT: SUPERIOR anthology, and, again, it’s kind of… what’s the point? The stories in this issue prove what a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t proposition it is. Nick Bertozzi sticks costumes and goofy names on mini-mart workers, dumps them in mini-mart situations, and, well, that’s pretty much it. I like the art, but the story’s only fleetingly amusing. On the other hand, Mike Dawson’s “Ace-Face: The Mod With The Metal Arms” seems straight out of JACK STAFF, following a former superhero to a brief revival and collision with modern sensibilities, which makes for a decent bittersweet joke, and Dean Trippe weighs in with a strangely reverent takeoff on Superman, Batman and Robin. They’re all done well enough, but there’s still nothing new in any of them. I mean, if you want to do superhero comics, go do superhero comics, but this whole “we’re too cool to do superhero comics so we’re doing superhero comics” concept is for the birds.
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.
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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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