NEWS ON THE MARCH, OCTOBER EDITION: SEVEN ITEMS OF INTEREST
I was going to run a "Before They Were Famous" entry this week, spotlighting the last pre-Micheline/Layton "Iron Man" issue, but that's a column that can run anytime, and...I'll be honest, I still have to track down my archaic DVD-rom collection of all the "Iron Man" issues so I can actually read that comic. It's somewhere. Somewhere safe, I'm sure. Beneath piles of Zero Month issues and "Avengers vs. X-Men" tie-ins.
Plus, I have plenty of things to talk about this week that aren't decades-old comic books (well, some of them are, but none of them are "Iron Man"). So I'll run down all of my items of interest and give you some quick thoughts on what has been going on with me and the amazing world of comic books.
ITEM #1: I WENT TO THE NEW YORK COMIC CON AND IT WAS KIND OF TERRIBLE
Not too long ago, New York Comic Con was my favorite convention. That was in the early days, when it was not unbearably packed with people every minute and there was a good balance between vendors and pros and comic book folks and New York publishing houses. As the show has grown, it has become more and more about loudness and Craftsman booths and lining up to pay money to get a signature from the guy who played the Emperor in some Star Wars movies you maybe used to like.
I was at the show for just one day this year, with my wife and kids, and my daughter spent all her money at a single booth (the one that sold stuffed undead babies -- yup), my wife didn't buy anything, and my son wanted to head home after ten minutes of walking through crowds and finding nothing of interest. He eventually splurged on a giant wooden sword, because he was stuck at the convention all day anyway, and he wanted to leave with something.
I bought only one book: the "Harlem Heroes" collection from the 2000 A.D. booth. And I picked up a bunch of cool prints from the likes of Joe Quinones and Chuck BB and Daniel Krall and Geof Darrow that I will eventually hang up on some walls of my office when I get around to buying frames and all that stuff that I'll probably never actually get around to doing.
After the convention, I asked, not quite rhetorically on Twitter: "Who is NYCC for?" And I still think it's a fair question. It's far too crowded and ridiculous for anyone to get a chance to meet and talk to anyone, really. (I only had a few extremely brief conversations with friends and acquaintances and writers and artists during the entire day of walking around.) The panels are almost all promotional rah-rah kinds of things that are the comic book and geek culture equivalent of time share seminars. The vendors are either selling stuff you can get online -- often at a better price -- or they are selling stuffed animals or swords or t-shirts, and, oh year, you can get all that stuff online too.
I can't imagine that anyone on the east coast who has ever been to Heroes Con or even Baltimore Comic Con would prefer the New York Comic Con. It doesn't offer anything the smaller conventions don't, except way-too-large crowds and Samwise Gamgee.
ITEM #2: SOME INTERESTING PUBLISHING NEWS CAME FROM NYCC, THOUGH
Tom Spurgeon has done a nice job corralling most of the news from NYCC all in one place so rather than recap all of it, I'll just highlight a few things that I'm looking forward to, based on the announcements.
I'm particularly interested in Joe Casey's take on "Comics Greatest World" from Dark Horse, particularly with the artists he's teaming up with: Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas. If you had me name my Top 10 artists who should be doing something interesting with an off-kilter revamp of a superhero line, those three guys would have made my list for sure, and they each have distinctive approaches to superheroes and comics in general. Working with Casey on a bunch of old properties that few readers even bothered with when they first came out should make for an interesting stew of ideas and execution. I'm far more interested in this kind of approach, with these particular creators, than I am with the solid-but-safe Valiant relaunch of this year. Those Valiant comics are just fine, but Casey plus McDaid plus Maybury plus Farinas promises to be super-fine.
I'm also curious to see the Howard Chaykin/Gerald Parel "Iron Man: Season One" book. (I lied about not mentioning Iron Man this week.) Chaykin's Marvel work, as a writer, has been unspectacular, and these Season One volumes have not taken any chances yet, but Chaykin seems like the perfect guy to script the early days of Tony Stark and Parel is an extraordinary image-maker. I'm not a fan of painted comics, but he's doing a good job at making me reconsider my opinions on that, from what I've seen from him before and the few preview pages that have been released so far.
In other news, Scott Snyder is finally going to make New 52 Superman worth reading, even if the comic has another name, so that's a long-overdue occasion.
I'm also looking forward to the stuff Ales Kot has coming out from Image, like "Zero" and "The Surface." I see his "Wild Children" as a flawed but passionate work that was Kot getting a bunch of influences out of his system, and I really want to see where he's headed next.
ITEM #3: I HAVE BEEN ONLY READING ONE COMIC PER DAY, AND THAT IS GOOD
In an effort to not make myself disgusted with comic books, and to free up some time for other activities (like writing and actually talking to my wife and kids), I have begun a strict regime of one-comic-per-day. Sometimes it's not-so-strict, actually, since I might read two issues of the same series back-to-back and still consider it my "one comic" for the day. But I make the rules, so I can change them every single time I want to, so stop judging.
Anyway, this mostly-just-one-comic-per-day thing has been great. I highly recommend it. First of all, it means that I've been carving out a few minutes each day to read at least one comic every day, which is nice, but also, by sticking to just a single comic -- or a single graphic novel -- in a day, instead of plowing through a stack, I find that the comics resonate all the more. I don't think I'm finding them to be better than I did before. For example, I sampled two recent "Justice League" comics (issues #12-13) and an old "Conan" comic from 1981 by J. M. DeMatteis and John Buscema and I found all of those comics to be pretty weak. I expected more from each of them, but the "Justice League" issues were shallow and declarative and fit for a Mattel insert and the "Conan" issue was goofy and pseudo-mystical and bland all at the same time. But even though I didn't like any of those comics, they still felt more substantial and meaningful (even if, well, they were not good) because I had a chance to live with them for a while without other comics flowing in and out of my brain.
Other comics I read this week were better, and they deserve items all to themselves!
ITEM #4: I READ "THE CARNIVAL OF IMMORTALS" BY ENKI BILAL
This book -- the first volume in "The Nikopol Trilogy" -- is a complete mess and I really can't recommend it, but it's a fascinating work that's unlike anything I've read before. It does sort of fall into the weird euro-sci-fi camp, and you could read it and say that it's just "Heavy Metal" nonsense that looks nice, and that's not too far off, but it's a unique and specific piece of comics, and so while it falls apart on a plot level it also has its own charms as a relentless piece of storytelling that refuses to follow the rules.
Here's an overly simple summary of its opening premise: a spaceman from the present unthaws in the not-so-distant future where a group of Egyptian gods hover over a dystopian city-scape and everything is corrupt and unpleasant and high-tech but grungy.
But from there it becomes a story about a renegade on the run and some ice hockey and political satire and suspense and none of those things really fit together nicely in this comic, and even while Bilal's art makes everything worth looking at, it all seems to be improvised from page to page until the final scene when the protagonist suffers mental incapacitation but -- guess what! -- his son appears all of a sudden and he happens to look exactly like the protagonist so everything's fine and he can just pretend to be his father or something.
That makes it kind of great or kind of terrible and in some ways it's both but it's never dull.
ITEM #5: I ALSO READ "NEW SLUDGE CITY" BY BRENDAN LEACH
From the offices of Box Brown and Retrofit Comics comes this Brendan Leach joint about a weird sci-fi dystopia. Hey, wait a minute, it's almost like these young cartoonists are increasingly influenced by "Heavy Metal" magazine or something. Imagine that!
Leach, who I know almost nothing about other than that he's the guy who drew a comic about a Pterodactyl that some people once told me was worth a look, draws this comic like it's a low-budget punk rock sci-fi action sequence with a beginning, middle, and end. It's raw-looking and energetic, and relatively thin on subtext, but the plot whizzes along and it's basically a neo-punk-noir mind-swap crime movie on paper. It's genre trash as end effect, and it doesn't get in its own way. I enjoyed the heck out of it, but its simplicity did make it seem slight in comparison to the much denser Bilal work that I had recently read. Is it better than Bilal? I don't know. Is a piece of chocolate better than an ambitious but imperfect four-course meal?
ITEM #6: "HAWKEYE" CONTINUES TO BE THE BEST MARVEL COMIC
Javier Pulido is scheduled to draw the next story arc, but for the first three issues of "Hawkeye," we got to see David Aja do his thing and issue #3 was the Aja-est of them all. With this series, Matt Fraction seems to be able to shake off whatever other storytelling burdens he has in his other mainstream comics and get back to the attitude of "I like comics and I'm going to write me a good one."
"Hawkeye" #3 is dedicated to Eliot R. Brown, the master of Marvel technical drawing from the 1980s (and beyond), and the reason for the dedication is obvious if you flip through the issue: this is a comic about Hawkeye's gadgets, and though Aja doesn't go overboard replicating the Brown style with cut-aways of elaborate hideouts, we do get insert panels spotlighting some of Hawkeye's wonkier arrows, and Fraction and Aja give us a story in which they are used with grand flourishes.
Part of the comic is "ha, ha, Hawkeye used to have such silly equipment" but it's mostly "ha, ha, Hawkeye still has silly equipment and it can be super-cool in a story that's also super-cool and aren't comics super-cool anyway?" And the answer to that last question is "yes."
ITEM #7: "LOVE AND ROCKETS NEW STORIES" #5 IS THICK WITH ARTWORK
Matt Fraction, of "Hawkeye" fame, happens to have a fan letter in this "L&R" volume. He likes Los Bros Hernandez a lot, and he's not afraid to say so in public.
Neither am I, obviously, as "Love and Rockets New Stories" tends to crack my Best of the Year lists on a regular basis.
But this newest volume is the weakest entry since Volume 1. After such stunning work from Jaime Hernandez in volumes 3 and 4, this one gives us the story of Tonta, an annoying simpleton of a character who gets caught up in some low-life crime drama and family hijinx. Jaime sometimes goes broad with his character work, but the Locas stuff was always grounded so well in humanity that he could balance exaggeration with emotional depth. He just doesn't pull it off in this volume, with Tonta's story. It looks great but feels like a joke that takes too long to tell and lacks a discernible punchline.
Gilbert Hernandez's work in this volume is much stronger, though it relies on reader knowledge of his past work pretty heavily. I would imagine that new readers would find "Proof That the Devil Loves" you to be incomprehensible. Or, if they could follow it -- and not be confused by the way certain characters look similar -- they certainly wouldn't see what matters about the story, which is that it's a sleazy movie version retelling of Gilbert's most famous "Palomar" cycle of stories. But as a sleazy variant version of Gilbert's earlier work, it's a weird commentary and a jarringly suspenseful story in its own right.
I liked "Love and Rockets New Stories" #5, but mostly because of the Gilbert stuff. And I'm not sure that's enough. Then again, it is still better than most.
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.