Issue #273

Suddenly it's Christmas. Peace on earth and all that, and I'm not just saying that. I know it's always "the other guy" who doesn't want peace, but everything's got to start somewhere, know what I mean? Anyway, the clock's ticking down to your Secret Santa moment, and if you're looking for a last minute gift for the comics fanatic on your list, several readers sent in their suggestions (and to those who suggested firearms, trust me, you don't want a gun that costs $50 or less):

"I think the JACK KIRBY'S ETERNALS TREASURY Marvel released this year would make a fine gift, priced just around $50 depending on where you look, $47.25 today at Amazon. Shouldn't have to explain the Kirby goodness...

The newly released STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES is better than you remember, and priced at around $40. Nifty/Annoying plastic case aside, these episodes were written, in many cases, by real science fiction writers, and features most of the original cast's voices. Star Trek meets comics and animation... talk about an uber-geek overload!

A couple other DVD's that make great gifts for the comic book lover:

COMIC BOOK CONFIDENTIAL starts with Eisner and Kirby, covers the rise of EC comics, the dreaded comics code, and then looks at "underground comics". This 1988 documentary film features very cool interviews with Kirby, Eisner, Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Harvey Pekar, Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Charles Burns, William M. Gaines, Victor Moscoso and many more, and some of the creators read from their works. Great to hear the stories from the real folks who lived them. Kevin Smith did a new introduction for the 2002 DVD release. It's usually around $20 or less. Bonus features include a comic book archive with a story by each featured artist.

Speaking of Stan Lee and Kevin Smith, STAN LEE'S MUTANTS, MONSTERS AND MARVELS also came out in 2002. If you've got a Marvel fan on your list, they might like to listen to Kevin Smith and Stan Lee talk about Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, among other things, over the course of two different interviews. I've been seeing it for around $22.

"Just" to be fair... The JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED Season One DVD set is a must for any hardcore DC fan. Personal favorites: seeing the adaptation of Alan Moore's "For The Man Who Has Everything" and Booster Gold's shining moments in "The Greatest Story Never Told". I watched it with my four year old nephew, who fell in love with the character and kept asking "Where's the gold man? Where's Booster" as we watched the rest of the episodes (didn't have the heart to tell the lad about 52...). Not too high a price, just around $30.

And there's always the best comic book movie that wasn't from a comic book: THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI: ACROSS THE EIGHTH DIMENSION released on special edition DVD in 2002, and now a comic book of dubious quality from Moonstone. Don't buy the books, watch the movie. Also around $30.

And finally, I recommend putting the Christ back in Christmas, and maybe even Christianity, with the fine thin volume HOLY SH*T: OR... PAT ROBERTSON IS THE ANTI-CHRIST published earlier this year by Mike Luoma, also available through Amazon, or for 50 cents less through Mike Luoma's website."

Is there any real reason to put Christ back into Christmas? He was sort of a late addition to the season in the first place...

"THE LAST CHRISTMAS by Brian Posehn & Gerry Duggan at 14.99 - it's a low-priced action-filled bit of santarchy. The book looks amazing courtesy of Remender, Barta & Madsen. It's the sad, funny, action-packed tale of Santa after the apocalypse. Please consider it - one things for sure - you can't accuse us of forgetting about Christmas this Christmas season."

I can see the movie in my head already, starring Robert Duvall as Santa...

"I think I've suggested this before, but it still stands: THE SLINGS AND ARROWS COMICS GUIDE. It's basically like HALLIWELL'S MOVIE GUIDE, but for comics. It's interesting to read and useful if you use eBay and the like."

Why does no one ever mention this book?

"THE LONG ROAD HOME (ONE STEP AT A TIME) and THE WAR WITHIN (ONE STEP AT A TIME) Doonesbury books by G.B. Trudeau: two small TPBs ($19.90 total) which chronicle the journey of Doonesbury character B. D. from the battlefield in Iraq home after an amputation, hospitalization and Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD). All royalties from these books will go to to the Fisher House Foundation for American servicemen and women who have been wounded in service to our country. No matter what you think of our overseas conflicts, this is a good cause to contribute to and after 35 years in syndication, has any cartoonist ever taken a major character on a story arc like Mr. Trudeau has done with B.D. over the last 18-20 months? This is his best work and I think its the best comic strip in the world right now."

"Give a fun alternative TPB such as one or more of the following:





And so many more. Or a nice comics related book such as:

MEN OF TOMORROW by Gerard Jones


More mainstream gifts could include DC's animated TV shows like JUSTICE LEAGUE or JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, BATMAN ADVENTURES and so on.

Perhaps a set of manga books. LONE WOLF AND CUB is always a classic.

A nice graphic novel that is of relevance to today's politics might be PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi.

Any of the Scott McCloud books on comics might also make a nice gift for the aspiring artist. Also along that route is 99 WAYS TO TELL A STORY: EXERCISES IN STYLE by Matt Madden.

If the giftee is an artist, buy art supplies for them, pens, pencils, Bristol boards, sketchbooks, a paint set, any of those are always appreciated."

That's a pretty good list. I'd recommend MEN OF TOMORROW to anyone anytime, but with COMIC WARS it pretty much shatters any illusions that the comics industry was ever a place of innocence. Manga is arguably the best way these days to get many people into comics - it has a hipper cachet than most Western comics - but you have to be careful to match the manga to the receiver's personality, and even something as venerable as LONE WOLF AND CUB isn't going to have particularly catholic appeal. If I had to pick one manga series to apply to widest possible audience, it'd likely be RANMA ½, a pretty deft combination of action, romance and humor, but even that would turn off anyone uncomfortable with mild nudity and sexual innuendo. But that's key in all gift purchases: don't assume the receiver will like something just because you like it - tailor all gifts to personalities.

"I don't know if this counts since it won't arrive at anyone's house by December 24, but I'd like to recommend a five-issue subscription to THE COMICS JOURNAL, weighing in at $36. This includes a free subscription to their website. Why's this better than getting someone a subscription to a comic? Well, THE COMICS JOURNAL covers a pretty wide range of topics, so you don't have to know what particular monthlies someone likes. With huge interviews and all sorts of reviews and news, TCJ is a full meal. Unless you hate Fantagraphics or Gary Groth."

Even if you do, the magazine still covers a lot of territory no one else does, publishes great "lost" comics work, and can get a comics fan's blood roiling in more ways than one. Great choice.

"I believe in giving real comics to people. Not a book about comics, not some slick reprint edition, or trade paperback but an actual single issue comic. I think a FANTASTIC FOUR back issue from the fabled Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run would be perfect and still within the $50 budget so long as you find one in G/VG condition. You might even be able to afford two FF's. If the FF is not your cup of tea, pick the excellent AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 by Lee and Ditko. Each of these issues has something neat to offer and the reprints don't always capture the magic of the actual comic in your hand. The color is different, the inking is less crisp and the reprint doesn't smell like a 60's comic. And it shows your recipient that you understand what comics are all about. That one good story that makes your day and you remember for years."

I'm not sure the experience can be recaptured, even with an original copy, after forty years, but it does show effort and imagination.

"Darwyn Cooke's ABSOLUTE NEW FRONTIER is $47.50 at Amazon, shipped. It's pretty and way better than most other super-funnybooks..."

Especially good for Silver Age comics fans, I agree, with, among other things, Hal Jordan like they could have been doing him all this time...

"Trade paperbacks: BRODIE'S LAW by Pulp Theatre, creators Daley Osiyemi and David Birchman. This book made me want to get the next volume the second I finished it.

BALLAST by Joe Kelly and Ilya. Joe Kelly and Ilya - come on, what a combo. Speaking of Ilya work: SKIDMARKS is in TPB as well. A great work from the early 90s, it is one of the few comics series I have kept around since back then.

Seeing as I am a temporary resident of the UK let me throw this in: Classic Marvel Figurine Collection figures from Eagle Moss Partworks. If you're lucky enough to be in the UK in a newsstand or comic shop (with a price not too much higher than the original release price) the figures are very nice. I know they are available stateside now, but I don't know who they are through for U.S. distribution. If not get someone a subscription after the holiday.


From Thoughtbox Comics:

GODS OF THE NEW EMPIRE by Travis Bundy & Colin Blanchette (no price given)

The author's introduction describes how he once told Brian Bendis no one would stop him from creating this graphic novel - an admirable enough attitude - but maybe somebody should have. But it's got pretty much everything: angels and demons, cyberpunk future, ultraviolence, underwritten script, mediocre artwork, and lettering for the deaf. Aside from a lot of people beating each other up, I've no idea what it's about, but at about the point where an assassin in shades, black suit and skinny tie hauls out a samurai sword - three pages in - it's pretty apparent it's going to be a kitchen sink of other people's clichés. It's not the worst comic I've ever read by a long shot, but it would have been helped immensely had there been, oh, an idea or even an original thought somewhere in it.

From Image Comics:

ZOMBEE by Miles Gunter & Victor Santos ($12.99)

An idea so obvious you'll wonder why no one has done it before: a samurai on a mission for his lord battles a zombie epidemic in feudal Japan. For a fairly simply story, it develops at a nice pace, the zombies take little twists that make it less tedious than most zombie epics, the human characters are nicely realized, there are a couple good in-jokes (esp. an early LONE WOLF AND CUB reference) and they don't belabor anything. It's fluff, and the resolution comes out of nowhere, but it's entertaining fluff.

From Fantagraphics Books:

THE GRAVEROBBER'S DAUGHTER by Richard Sala ($9.95)

I like Sala's work, with its creepy ghouls, pissy heroines and Grand Guignol humor, in principle - he's got better claim than most to title of "modern day Charles Addams" - but in practice he always seems somehow... unfinished. In this latest adventure, his foulmouthed Nancy Drew stand-in Judy Drood is amusingly surly as ever as she gets stuck in a small town full of rebellious slacker teens, killer clowns, and little else. And, as usual, she's little more than our tour guide through disturbing, vaguely familiar situations that are ultimately resolved by someone else. Which may be the joke, but it's no longer fresh, and was never a particularly good one in the first place.

LET US BE/PERFECTLY CLEAR by Paul Hornschemeier ($19.95)

Take pretty much all of alt-comics history - Jeffrey Brown, Harvey Pekar, Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, even Chris Ware - put it all in a blender, and Hornschemeier is what will come out; his sheer talent is massively impressive. Interesting aspects: besides being an observant writer and sharp artist, he obviously has a foot in mainstream comics culture as well, while he works very comfortably in so many styles while maintaining a unified tone and thematic quality to his work that he's living proof style is much more a matter of attitude than specific technique (though it should be noted that despite the apparent shifts of style from story to story, the underlying technique remains constant and strong). Hornschemeier's work isn't what all comics should be - that would be boring - but it's how all comics should be done, at least metaphysically. Excellent.

From Heavy Proton:

SCARS AND BARS by William Rees & Jason Moser ($19.95)

A decent crime novel that sets a violent prison guard-turned-cop against an ex-boxer ex-con out to make his experience make sense, against a backdrop of rationalizations for criminal behavior by both corrupt cops and inveterate mobsters. Rees' narrative is confident and intricate enough to make you almost forget his pacing, which is a mite pokey, and the book is a textbook example of how interesting technique can save shaky artwork; Moser's wash style, evoking everyone from Gene Colan to early Richard Corben, is striking enough to steer your attention away from many of the compositional flaws. The underlying story of a patsy's revenge doesn't break new ground, but this is one time the total is greater than the sum of the parts, and suggests big possibilities for both writer and artist, with a little more seasoning. Worth a look.

From TwoMorrows Publishing:

MODERN MASTERS VOL. 9: MIKE WEIRINGO by Todd DeZago & Eric Nolen-Weatherington ($14.95)

I like Mike Weiringo's work - it always struck me as John Byrne with Amerimanga inflections - but I'm not sure he'd be ninth on my list of modern masters. That aside, this relatively slender volume (by TwoMorrow standards) is a good introduction to his work and thinking, composed mainly of a lengthy interview and a lot of art. Ringo's particularly generous in sharing childhood art that any sane professional would have kept hidden (it's crude but endearing), and the apparently modern sketchbook that wraps up the book (after copious amounts of work from through his career) suggests he's on the verge of a stylistic jump that could bump him up to #9. The book's not likely to change your mind about his work one way or the other, but like the other Modern Masters books if you're a fan it's a treasure trove.

ALL-STAR COMPANION Vol II ed Roy Thomas ($24.95)

There are times when Roy Thomas' obsession with ALL STAR COMICS and the Justice Society Of America seems to border on pathological - he practically made his career in the '80s out of the JSA - though it works quite nicely here, as Roy and his cohorts go into some depth on oddball aspects of the '40s material, from various ads in '40s comics to a legendary, never published JSA adventure and editorial decisions about some that were published. The last half of the lengthy book is basically an encyclopedia of JSA appearances from their revival in the '60s through the end of Roy's involvement with them in the late '80s, and of the characters involved. The book's value is proportionate to your interest in the subject matter - it doesn't constitute an entry point - but it's again abundantly illustrated with all kinds of interesting material, and the design is unusually clean, open and logical for a Thomas production, a trend I hope continues into his other titles.

More next week. Gobs more.

Notes from under the floorboard:

Got shopping of my own to do, so I'm taking off early this week. Congratulations to Jerry Scanlon, the first to correctly identify last week's Comics Cover Challenge theme as "winter." A lot of people were daunted by how easy it seemed to be this week, but a lot also walked right up to the gate then veered at the last moment to "cold" or "weather." So it was what we call deceptively easy. Jerry would like to direct praise and attention at the website of what he calls "the anti-WIZARD" - THE COMIC BUYERS GUIDE - now in its 1625+th issue. Why, I remember when it was being published out of the little town of Moline IL, long before it shifted bases to the megalopolis of Iola WI...

Scattered throughout the column are the covers for this week's Comics Cover Challenge. Seven comics, one secret theme connecting them. Be the first one to tell me what it is in an email, and you can promote any website of your choice here. (We reserve right of approval, but that hasn't been an issue so far.) Though we get our covers from the fabulous, ever-expanding Grand Comics Database, you don't have to check it this week; everything you need to know to puzzle out the solution is here. I like to hide a clue to the solution somewhere in the column each week, and this week is no different: file it under "already given," by association.

And if you've been holding off for some reason, remember that a week from Monday ends the Xmas sale at Paper Movies on my three pdf books - TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting all my legendary MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS columns; IMPOLITIC, collecting my political commentary on the Age Of Terror; and HEAD CASES, a collection of comics scripts. A package deal on all three for a low, low price. The clock's ticking...

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.

IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.

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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