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Super Bowl Weekend In the Stacks

There is a large sporting event taking place tomorrow that has my hometown of Seattle in a frenzy not unlike the one in the old Star Trek episode "Return of the Archons." You know, where the clock strikes six and everyone runs riot in the streets screaming "FESTIVAL! FESTIVAL! AH-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Which, from where I sit, makes it a good weekend to hunker down with the pile of books, comics, and stuff that's been accumulating since last fall and see if I can't put a dent in it. So here's a bunch of capsule reviews.

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Showcase Presents: The Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 5 by Cary Bates, Jim Shooter, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, et al. The blurb: This latest Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes title collects adventures of the 30th century team originally published in the 1970s. These stories reestablished the Legion's popularity and introduced new heroes including Timber Wolf, Karate Kid and Wildfire. Includes artwork by The Uncanny X-Men co-creator Dave Cockrum and Warlord creator Mike Grell. Collects SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #193, 195, 197-220 and KARATE KID #1.

What I Thought: I know that most comics fans, if they care about the Legion at all, have one version that's 'their' Legion among all the different times DC has rebooted and re-jiggered this particular franchise. Probably the most popular was the Levitz/Giffen version that gave us The Great Darkness Saga, with a close second being the post-Zero Hour years. The grim-n-gritty "Five Years Later" version from Tom and Mary Bierbaum, I did not much care for at all, myself, but it has its staunch defenders. I do have a great fondness for the Waid-Kitson "Eat it, grandpa!" run, and really you have to give it up for Mark Waid just for being the guy that successfully re-launched the Legion TWICE. And even the animated television cartoon from a few years back-- that seems to be largely forgotten among fans today-- had its strong points. The point is, the Legion has a history probably as varied as Superman or Batman, you can pick the version you like.

Well, this Showcase Presents volume stars the Legion that I think of as MINE. My version is the groovy bell-bottoms-wearing Legion as rendered by Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell, and it gave me such delight to see these stories again that I can't even tell you.

It was like settling in under a comfy old quilt. All the deranged dorky awkward 'relevance,' the wildly impractical costume designs.... it may be one of those "You had to be there" things, but man, it sure felt cutting-edge back then and I was just pleased beyond measure to have the chance to check these comics out again.

You have to understand, considering it was supposed to be about teenagers in the future, the Legion had always been one of DC's stodgiest strips. It was very textbooky and stilted, for the most part.

Then in the seventies its new creative team was determined to change that. Dave Cockrum taking over the art chores gave the Legion a dynamism and power they'd never had before, and at the same time writer Jim Shooter was determined to give the stories some edge. Seeing the book LOOK like the futuristic sci-fi thing it was alleged to be...suddenly it was hip and happening. Then Cockrum was replaced by Mike Grell and it was even more streamlined and futuristic looking. Even kinda... well, sexy, which was definitely NOT a word anyone ever had associated with the Legion before. Look at Superboy down there with the girls all around him in the time-honored 007 movie-poster tradition.

Cary Bates and Jim Shooter split the writing chores and both of them were doing really strong stories. Revisiting those stories today, what I noticed was the sense of FUN. It reads like a cross between a kid's idea of science fiction and a deranged romance comic... sort of like Star Trek filtered through the CW television formula of incredibly hot young people having adventures amidst tormented soap opera. Considering both Bates and Shooter were practically still teenagers themselves, it's not surprising. Mike Grell's having a good time, too.

There's all kinds of artistic jokes and Easter eggs, as well as interesting experiments with layout.

Overall? Everyone just seems to be having the time of their lives doing the stuff and that spirit of fun is contagious. It may not be for everyone, but if you have a taste for comics from the Groovy Age, these are among the most entertaining of those, now in a nice affordable package.

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The Gathering: Western v2, anthology edited by Doug Hahner. The blurb: By Creators, For Creators! Gray Haven Comics is a comic company specializing in up and coming creators looking to get published. The Gathering is GHC’s ongoing self-published anthology. The western genre has faded from cinema and comic popularity, but our fans have proven that there's still a lot of interest in the stories of early America... From a night at the saloon, to raging gunfights, to battles with the Native Americans, westerns touch on a time in American history driven by dreams of financial gains, new settlements, and new lives. We hope that the stories in this volume compel our readers to take the time to consider how America came to be as it is today.

What I Thought: Some of you might recall that I largely approved of the last issue of The Gathering that Gray Haven sent me, and that one was built on "Paranormal Romance," a genre I don't even like. This one's all-Western and thus pretty much owned me from the second I saw that cover with the surly gunslinger at the bar. Moreover, I approve of doing anthologies built around a theme, it poses an interesting challenge for participating creators and I think it forces people into doing better work.

So far, every issue of The Gathering I've seen tickles me because it reminds me of the pre-webcomics days of underground comics and zinemakers struggling to get their stuff OUT THERE; there's that same wonderful feeling of hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show! excitement that permeates the whole enterprise the same way it did efforts like Star*Reach or the old APA-zines. And some of these kids putting on the show are pretty good. I was especially impressed with "The Albino" by Charles Butler, which has a delightful scratchiness about the art that perfectly suits the spaghetti-western vibe of the thing. And "Fences" by Sean Seal and Sean Fagan is just exquisite. Those were the strongest pieces in the book, and by themselves justified the (very reasonable) cover price of $3.50, but you get a bunch more good stuff beyond that.

The writing throughout is uniformly good; the weak point of The Gathering continues to be the art, which is rather uneven. You get brilliant painted work like the aforementioned "Fences," and then there's other pieces with amateur mistakes on perspective and anatomy; more like promising student work than real pro stuff. But nothing that's a deal-breaker.

Overall I continue to be impressed with The Gathering and I appreciate writer Attila Kiss --who, as it happens, has an amusing vignette in this issue-- passing this one on to me. Check 'em out; you can order here.

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Marvelous Mythology, by Todd Frye. The blurb: A fascinating new look at the origins of the classic Marvel superheroes and the fictional world they inhabit! Marvelous Mythology traces the unfolding of the modern Marvel superhero universe from its origins in 1961 with the first issue of Fantastic Four, up through the 1980's and the introduction of the new X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Learn how talented creators like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others created a new, modern mythology every single month, issue by issue, story by story. From Tales Of Suspense to Journey Into Mystery, from The Amazing Spider-Man to The Avengers, learn how all of Marvel Comics' classic characters were created, and how each one of them fit into the growing fictional Marvel Universe.

What I Thought: This is a fun look back at Marvel's first two decades of superhero comics, from Fantastic Four #1 to Thor #300 or so. Its approach is a little different from other histories of the same time-- the stories of the characters and the stories of the creators are recounted more or less in parallel, and it's kind of a cool way to structure the narrative. The only real trouble I had with this book is that it could really have used a few illustrations; it's the only history of comic books I've ever seen with no artwork of any kind. For $19.99, I'd think a reader ought to get at least a page scan or two. However, it's considerably more accurate, and less gossipy and vicious, than the similarly-structured Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Even for someone like me, who mostly knew all this already, it's a pretty entertaining read, and it strikes me as a handy primer for those folks who want to know about Marvel history. You can find a preview chapter here.

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Silvertongue 30xx, by Nando Sarmiento and Chris Mullins. The blurb: Silvertongue 30XX: Space-Time District Attorney follows the story of Silvertongue Hernandez and a rat-pack of time-travelling lawyers, specialised in revisiting (or more like crashing), so-called "Trials of the Century" throughout space-time. Silvertongue, a selfish, dark, ego-centric womanizer and addict, will encounter the most bizarre of adventures in search of Reality 2; a parallel multi-verse he and his motley crew are carefully crafting, which will possibly mean salvation for us all. Or, will it?

What I Thought: This is one of the pleasures of being an internet columnist-- because I would never in a million years sought this out for myself. I'd have glanced at the cover and dismissed it as "manga, not my thing," and moved on. Once it landed in my inbox for review, though, I felt like I ought to check it out, and I'm glad I did, because it's hugely entertaining. It's the sort of gonzo fantastic SF story you used to see in magazines like Heavy Metal, but done manga-style. Lots of snark and crass humor, often exceedingly politically incorrect, and it's definitely not for kids despite the endearingly cute artwork from Chris Mullins. I suspect it's one of those strips that people will either love or hate.

As for me, well, I grew up on Warren magazines and Heavy Metal, so it felt sort of nostalgic once I got over the shock of seeing everything rendered manga-style. I liked it a lot and it's available right here digitally, for free. You can't beat that price. Give it a look and decide for yourself.

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And that's all I've got, this time out. Those of you that are anxiously awaiting the game, enjoy yourselves and be safe-- we've already had a couple of drunken-fan ugly traffic incidents here in Seattle and it's only Saturday.

Me, I'm going back to hiding out with my pile of books. I'll see you next week.

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