"Someone got hurt, someone got high, some of them left the rest behind"
The Original Daredevil Archives volume 1. $49.99, 282 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.
In recent years, I've gotten more interested in Golden Age comics, and I've really gotten interested in Daredevil, who was created by Jack Binder but was redesigned by Jack Cole and then really became a sensation when Charles Biro and Bob Wood got their hands on him. Daredevil might be more famous because of his arch-nemesis, the Claw, who's really one of the greatest (and weirdest, not to mention most racist) villains of the Golden Age. So when Dark Horse brought this out, which collects the first four issues of Daredevil's own comic (he began appearing in Silver Streak Comics), I figured I'd check it out.
There's not much to say about this - it's jammed full of groovy Golden Age action, which means it's occasionally primitive and often painfully politically incorrect, but also ridiculously energetic and powerful. Dark Horse reprints the entire issues, ads included, so we get to see the Golden Age comics in all their glory (I assume they've done this with the Silver Streak Archives, but I haven't bought those ... yet), and the issues are anywhere from 65-80 pages, so there's plenty of room for a lot of different stories. The first issue is simply Daredevil teaming up with various other characters from Silver Streak Comics in short vignettes in which they fight Nazis. The first story does feature Hitler, teaming up with (and then breaking with) the Claw, but there are others in which Daredevil and other heroes fight other high-ranking Nazis. After this issue, the comic becomes more like a typical giant-sized Golden Age book, with a bunch of stories by different creators featuring different characters, some recurring. Daredevil remains the star (he fights a revived - and sexy! - mummy in issue #2; solves a murder that seems to have been committed by his girlfriend in issue #3; and gets trapped on a strange and deadly island with some friends in isuse #4), but there are plenty of other characters and kinds of stories. There are boxing-themed stories starring Terry Turner, "The Whirlwind," there's a Doctor Mid-Nite kind of hero named Nightro (by George Roussos), there are the hijinks of Dash Dillon at college, as he somehow becomes a sports hero inexplicably and humorously. Jerry Robinson's London is a radio announcer in London (fancy that!) during the war who fights saboteurs and other dastardly villains, and the Claw even gets his own feature, as he plots to destroy America using her own soldiers! Oh, you can be sure it's nefarious! Two of the more interesting features are Dick Briefer's "Real American #1," which stars Jeff Dixon, a lawyer turned hero. What's unusual about Dixon is that he's a Native American, and while the stories dabble in stereotypes, it's fairly impressive that Briefer makes the Indians just people, not clichés. The white men tend to be evil, but Dixon and the other Indians outwit them not by using "mystical" Indian stuff, but just by being better than they are. Meanwhile, Biro and Wood also bring us "Pat Patriot," a female hero with no powers, who uses the fact that men underestimate her to her decided advantage. In the three stories with Pat, she never needs a man to save her or even work with her - she thwarts the bad guys pretty much on her own, which is fairly progressive for the early 1940s. There's a ton of action in these stories, and despite some of the casual racism (mainly focused at the Japanese, which makes sense given the war, but is still fairly inexcusable), they're pretty impressive.
Obviously, part of the reason to get these comics is because of their historical value, but they are still pretty entertaining. Yes, they're crude, but they're a lot more fun to read than a lot of modern comics, with all the great production values we have. The collection is a bit spendy, I'll admit, but if you can find this book on the cheap (use the Hatcher method!), I'd recommend it even more than I already am! Who doesn't love 1940s comics? Commies, that's who. Don't be a commie!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
The Strange World of Your Dreams by Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Mort Meskin, Bill Draut, Bob McCarty, Jerry Grandenetti, George Roussos, A.C. Hollingsworth, Jack Oleck, and Al Eadeh. Edited by Craig Yoe. $29.99, 140 pgs, FC, IDW/Yoe Books.
Speaking of historical artifacts, Craig Yoe brings us another oddball comic from the 1950s, this time the entire 4-issue run of The Strange World of Your Dreams, which Mort Meskin suggested to Simon and Kirby, who ran with it. Man, the 1950s in the comics world were weird - this series is based on dream interpretation. The writers and artists came up with odd dreams that their main character, Richard Temple (who only appeared in some stories, but he was the only recurring character), could interpret. Meanwhile, they also told stories that would fit easily in The Twilight Zone, with people dreaming a perfect life that has one catch - they can't wake up, people dreaming of past lives that seem to mirror their present lives, a soldier dreaming something that later saves his life, and a man who dreams the identity of a hit-and-run driver. In the two later issues, we even get some horoscopes, as I guess Meskin, Kirby, and Simon could see the writing on the wall (the book sold poorly) and tried to throw in some stuff to attract the ladies (ladies sure do love those horoscopes, man!). As the introduction notes, Strange World was a weird amalgam of romance comics (which females read) and horror comics (which males read), and it lost both sectors of the readers, unfortunately.
It's a pretty cool comic nevertheless. Kirby and Simon do several stories, and like all pre-Fantastic Four Kirby, it's interesting to see the rudimentary stuff that he was still working on before that comic. It's recognizably Kirby, but it's still not "High Kirby," so it's cool to check out. Meskin does a lot of the art, and his style is very interesting - much rougher than Kirby's (not always, but for the most part) and grittier, with a lot of spot blacks in the inking, so his stories come off tonally as "heavier" than Kirby's, even though they tend to have happy endings. Obviously, as these are comics from the 1950s, they tend to be text-heavy and somewhat cramped, but all the artists are remarkably accomplished, shifting easily from mundane reality to bizarre dreamscapes quite adeptly.
This is a bit more experimental than, say, The Original Daredevil, so it's not quite as entertaining, but it's still a remarkable book, mainly because of the willingness of a publisher to try something like this. It brings home how much more diverse the comics scene was in the 1950s, in that time between the superhero dominance of the 1940s and the 1960s (which has never ended, of course). There were a lot of unusual books out there, and it's kind of neat to see what the creators were doing. Like the Daredevil book, this is worth it partly for the historical curiosity of it, but while the stories in the Daredevil comic might be more entertaining, this is worth it to see all the various artists doing their thing on odd tales of dreams. It's pretty keen!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Creepy Presents Steve Ditko by Steve Ditko (artist), Archie Goodwin (scripter), Clark Dimond (scripter), Terry Bisson (scripter), Ben Oda (letterer), Bill Yoshida (letterer), and Philip R. Simon (editor). $19.99, 131 pgs, BW, Dark Horse.
The third of the three "historical" comics I bought recently (not all in August; it took me a while to read all of these, so they're a few months old) is the best one, and if you have to just buy one, buy this one (and not because it's the cheapest). This is Ditko at the height of his powers, really (his 1970s work is, in my humble opinion, not his best), as he began working for Warren Publishing in 1966, not long after he stopped working for Marvel. Warren had an impressive stable of creators, and as Mark Evanier points out in his introduction, part of that was because Jim Warren paid on time (not much, but on time!) and allowed artists to finish the work themselves (without passing it off to inkers and colorists) and to experiment with their styles (which they could do more easily in black and white). Evanier also points out that Archie Goodwin was a draw - apparently Goodwin is one of the few people in comics about whom you never hear a bad word (I've certainly never heard one). All but one of the stories in this collection were written by Goodwin, so Ditko obviously had a good working relationship with him.
Instead of collecting these in chronological order, we get all the Creepy stories and then all the Eerie stories, which isn't a terrible way to go but does mean that we don't get to see Ditko's progression in a straight-forward manner. In two of the early stories ("Room With a View!" and "Collector's Edition!"), he used a more hard-edged line, similar to his Marvel work, with a greater emphasis on hatching than the mainstream work, but still with solid pencils and inks. For the rest of the stories, he uses an ink-wash approach, and the results are staggering, as he can suggest far more moods and blend the "real" world with the strange fantasy world lurking throughout the pages. He often eschews holding lines and uses markers for the blacks to add realism to the folds of clothing or the facial expressions of his characters. "The Sands that Change," his final story (the only one not written by Goodwin), is an odd story drawn on textured paper, giving it a rough, woodcut-like feel which is not as beautiful as his other work, but fits the harsh landscape of the desert in which the story is set. Ditko and Goodwin let their imaginations run wild, and the stories run the gamut from typical weird, ironic horror tales to a few sword-and-sorcery tales, reminiscent of Ditko's 1970s DC work on Stalker. Ditko also gives us some bizarre dimensions that wouldn't be out of place in his Dr. Strange work - obviously, he still liked that kind of stuff, just not for Marvel.
This is an amazing-looking book, and I encourage everyone to check it out. When I first got into comics, I was neither a Kirby nor a Ditko fan, but I've grown to love their work as I've gotten older. Even so, I still have my reservations about Ditko's art, but this book is phenomenal. It's too bad that Ditko didn't get to work for Warren longer (Goodwin left in 1967, and Warren went through a period of financial turmoil), but at least we got these stories. This is a very cool collection.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
X-Men: Fallen Angels* by Jo Duffy (writer), Kerry Gammill (penciler), Marie Severin (penciler), Joe Staton (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Val Mayerik (inker), Tony DeZuniga (inker), Petra Scotese (colorist), Jim Novak (letterer), Bill Oakley (letterer), L. P. Gregory (editor), Nelson Ribiero (assistant editor), Alex Starbuck (assistant editor), and John Barber (collection editor). $19.99, 208 pgs, FC, Marvel. Sunspot, Cannonball, Wolfsbane, and Dani Moonstar created by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod. Warlock created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. Magik created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. Magneto, The Vanisher, Beast, and Iceman created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Moira MacTaggart created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum. Siryn created by Chris Claremont and Steve Leialoha. Jamie Madrox created by Len Wein, Chris Claremont, and John Buscema. Boom-Boom created by Jim Shooter and Al Milgrom. Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur created by Jack Kirby.
* There is nothing "X-Men" about this comic at all, except that it stars some mutants. These days, Marvel must put "X-Men" or "Avengers" on everything so it sells. This is the world we live in, people.
Fallen Angels is a weird animal - an 8-issue mini-series from 1987 that features 3 pencilers and 3 inkers, all working from a script that the most decompressed writers of today would be proud of. Duffy's story doesn't look decompressed - the main team, called the Fallen Angels, lurches around from adventure to adventure, but when it's all said and done, the actual plot might support a tight 4-issue series, but then Bobby da Costa wouldn't get to mope around so much.
As this is very much a 1980s comic, the characters internal monologue us to death while still making some of the dumbest decisions known to man. In the beginning, Sunspot is hanging out with his pals in the New Mutants, when a really minor soccer incident causes some friction. Bobby, whose temper has probably led him to smash a few televisions if the news pre-empted Magnum, P. I., gets a bit miffed when his best pal Cannonball lands on him awkwardly. He turns all Sunspotty and smashes Sam into a tree. Okay, so Bobby's a hothead. The entire group instantly turns on him, even though they saw what happened and could easily guess that Bobby, with his spicy Latin blood, might have reacted a bit excessively, i.e., like he always does. They might get mad at him, but they basically accuse him of being Pol Pot. Bobby, naturally, takes this to mean that he's a true villain who deserves absolutely nothing good, and he runs away from home. Eventually Warlock tracks him down, and they come across some street kids who call themselves the Fallen Angels. Siryn and Madrox also happen to end up with them, and the entire gang joins the Fallen Angels. The rest of them are Chance, a young girl who always seems to be lucky; Ariel, a strange girl who can bend space so that she can open any door and go where she wants to go; and Gori, a nerdy boy who hangs out with cybernetically-enhanced lobsters. Oh yes he does. Their leader is the Vanisher, the old X-Men villain, but Bobby figures that since he's a villain, he doesn't care. A little later the group is joined by Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy, because why not.
The problem with the story is that it's fairly standard - one of the Angels is manipulating everyone to use for their own nefarious ends - and it takes far too long to get going. The Angels spend a lot of time spinning their wheels, as Duffy introduces several plot lines that go absolutely nowhere. There's a strange cult that seems to be important, but it's not. This is early in the X-Factor years, so everyone still thought they were mutant hunters, and Duffy hints around that that will be something, but it's not. For some reason, Ariel takes them to Devil Dinosaur's world, but she seems surprised about that even though it's her power (not a mutant one, she says, for reasons that become clear through the course of the book). Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur join the team and do nothing worthwhile. The Vanisher is a coward who always bails when trouble arrives, but he also seems to have some kind of plan for the group, but we never find out anything about that. The book is very clearly marked as an 8-issue series, so it's not like Duffy is just laying the groundwork for an ongoing series (well, she may have been, but that's not a good way to go about it), so I guess this is just something of a stream-of-consciousness riff until about issue #6, when she realizes that she better get to a plot. She does drop clues about certain things, which is nice, but it's still not all that difficult to figure out what's going to happen. Bobby, Siryn, and Madrox also seem to be rather cavalier about the way they're living - Bobby is 14 and believes he's a villain, so that explains some of it, but Siryn and Madrox were specifically sent to find him, and they don't really care about that at all. I get that they're also teenagers, but why then are they entrusted with this task? They don't even return at the end of the book, as they stay with the Fallen Angels! Plus, Magneto, Moira, and the rest of the New Mutants seem very concerned about Bobby, but Duffy never checks back in with them to see what's going on, even at the end, when Bobby and Warlock decide to return, they simply stroll off into the night. The book is kind of a mess, unfortunately.
There's not much to say about the art, either. This is when Marvel had a pretty rigid house style, and only a few extremely talented and idiosyncratic artists were able to break free of that, and Gammill, Severin, and Staton do yeomanlike if unspectacular work. Staton's quirky angular work is affected the most by the inking and coloring - you can still tell it's Staton, but it's nothing like the harsh, jagged lines we would get a few years later on a series like The Huntress. There's nothing terrible about the art, but it is kind of boring ... not unlike the script, in fact.
Unfortunately, this is a thoroughly mediocre comic. I don't know if Duffy wanted to turn it into an ongoing (it feels that way) and sales on the mini-series just didn't justify it, but even so, it's just a rambling, unfocused, mildly entertaining mess. Unless you really, really, really love Boom-Boom or Sunspot or any of these characters or you really want to see lobsters fighting bad guys (it's not as much fun as it sounds), I'd give this a miss.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I've never been too into the world of Oz, but I'm not totally against it, and I was intrigued by this series, especially because it's self-contained, so I checked it out. I'm glad I did - it's quite good.
Kovac (and Eric Shanower, in the introduction) point out that many Oz authors, including L. Frank Baum, "believed" that Oz was a real place and that they were just "historians," so he uses that plot point to set up the story. He also puts the book in the future, at least after 2050, when the world has gone even more to hell than it is now (it hasn't rained in 30 years, for instance). What this means is that Kovac can use Oz as a contrast with the terrible world of "reality" and he can add some interesting plot twists, like using some of the resources of Oz to help this beleaguered world. He doesn't go too far into it, but it's a nice touch. Also, because it's the future, he can separate even more from a time when people read books - one character doesn't even know that there were books about Oz, thinking it's just merchandise. It's another nice touch, tying into the greater theme of the book.
Kovac brings us Jasper and Frank Fizzle, father and son, who live in a run-down neighborhood in a run-down city. Jasper writes Oz fiction, but a group calling themselves the Official Oz Society is threatening him with all sorts of legal and physical violence if he doesn't stop, because his Oz fiction is so very terrible (there's an International Wizard of Oz Club, but Kovac notes in an interview in the back of the book that he didn't know they existed when he began writing this). Frank thinks his father is a big loser who should stop writing about a fictional world, but it doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to know that his beliefs will soon be challenged. One day at an estate sale, Jasper happens upon the silver slippers that Dorothy used to return to Kansas, but because he has no money, he steals them. They allow him to travel to Oz, where he steals a whole bunch of other stuff, including a caravan that is bigger on the inside than the outside and which he uses to create a small museum for curiosity seekers. He's also able to block the caravan's presence from Glinda the Good Witch's magic, so she can't find where he's taken all the stuff. Frank, of course, doesn't believe him, until the ruler of Oz, Ozma, and Glinda send the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and Scraps the Patchwork Doll to our reality so they can retrieve all the items. In order to do so, they kidnap Frank and take him to Oz, hoping to use him as a bargaining chip.
The interesting thing about the way the story is set up and the way it unfolds is that Kovac doesn't write this like a fantasy, but like a gritty domestic drama that happens to star fantastic characters. Jasper and Frank don't hate each other (Frank is a disaffected 15-year-old, so of course he's a bit of a jerk, but he still loves his dad), but they don't know how to communicate. Jasper retains a sense of wonder that insulates him from the shitty life right outside his door, a world in which Frank is immersed, so he can't share his father's way of thinking. Jasper should be a better father, because he doesn't take care of Frank. None of this is too heavy - the book is pretty much all-ages, after all - but it's all there as subtext, and it's nice that Kovac doesn't shy away from some of the more uncomfortable aspects of their relationship. Similarly, while we think of Glinda and the other Ozian characters as generally good guys, they're willing to kidnap a boy to get their stuff back, but it's also true that Jasper is a thief, and Kovac doesn't take sides. The characters of Oz don't turn out to be all that nasty - they realize soon enough that Frank is an okay dude, and he spends his time hanging out with the Tin Man, but it's still interesting how Kovac sets up the conflict. Of course, there's a larger threat (there's an odd plot hole in the comic, as someone is selling what they probably shouldn't sell early on, and then spends some effort getting it back - why sell it in the first place?), and the two sides must unite, but it's pretty cool that Kovac doesn't pull any punches when it comes to showing both sides in not the best possible light. Like I noted, it's definitely not a downer of a book - there's quite a lot of humor and comic relief - but it's also not frivolous.
Hirsch does a wonderful job with the art, as well. He gives us a wonderful contrast between the grungy city where the Fizzles live, a world of trash and tenements and where even the skyscrapers look weary, and Oz, with its clean, thin lines and wide-open airiness. His details are wonderful, and his character design is marvelous - in the back of the book, Kovac notes that SLG president suggested an Oz adventure geared more toward boys, with an imposing Tin Man, and Hirsch nails it - he's not scary, but he is big and cool-looking. His Scraps is tremendous, too, as she's twisty and thin and utterly creepy, even though she's mainly just a bit of a troublemaker. As the evil begins creeping into the book, Hirsch uses more black to create this oozing miasma of smoke that snakes all over the place, contrasting the brutal real world with Oz even more. While the characters do tend to be a bit cartoony - especially Jasper and the two men of the Oz Society who harass him - that's part of the comic relief, and Hirsch's style works very well for a magical world. Part of the theme of the book is Frank regaining (or getting for the first time?) that sense of wonder about the world, and Hirsch's style makes that possible without Kovac banging us over the head with it too much. Kovac wants Frank to calm down and enjoy the magic of the world a bit more, and Hirsch is able to get that across very well.
This is a nice comic - the evil plot might be a bit obvious, but the way it's resolved certainly isn't, and the rest of the story works very well. It's very well drawn and it has a bunch of interesting characters interacting with each other in a way that feels real even if many of them are fantasy creations. It's deeper than you might expect, and it's very fun to read. What more could you ask for?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
A Distant Soil volume 1: The Gathering by Colleen Doran (writer/artist), Allan Harvey (digital restorer/letterer), Anita Doran (art assistant), and Laura Tavishati (editor). $16.99, 218 pgs, BW, Image/Shadowline.
Colleen Doran's masterpiece gets a new series of trades in anticipation of her finishing her epic, so I picked up the first collection to see what the fuss was all about. Doran began this sucker back in 1983 (but she rewrote and redrew those early issues), which was before I started reading comics, and I didn't hear of it until the mid-1990s, so I never got around to checking it out. So these new printings were fairly handy.
Doran gets going right away, introducing her main characters, Liana and Jason (sister and brother), who are being kept in a mental facility. Almost immediately after she introduces them, they break out using telekinesis (yeah, they're telekinetic) and start having adventures. Jason is kidnapped, Liana meets a street punk, a cop, and two weird alien-like creatures (which is because they're, well, aliens), and we're off!
Everyone who talks about A Distant Soil has to mention that Doran began working on it when she was 12 (hey, I just did it!), and in some ways, it reads that way. Neil Gaiman, in his introduction, claims this is a virtue, because when you're that age, you don't think there's anything wrong with putting all kinds of shit in your fiction. There's something to be said for that (it's the "Axe Cop" explanation), but there's also something to be said against that, and in this collection, at least, the presence of Sir Galahad - the actual Sir Galahad, who came through some kind of time portal - feels that way a bit. I'm sure he'll be explained, but it's such a weird part of the book that it ends up being distracting. It's not too bad, because Doran is obviously writing for the long haul, but it's a somewhat strange.
The overall plot is, so far, fairly simple. The two aliens explain that their race is ruled by a group called the Hierarchy, and the Hierarchy controls the Avatar, the most powerful telepath and telekinetic person of the Ovanans. The Avatar can be powerful, but because he's restricted by the Hierarchy, they really run things. The aliens are trying to overthrow the Hierarchy, and so they came to Earth to find Liana, because she's a "variant avatar" - she is as powerful as the Avatar, and so the Hierarchy will try to kill her. The aliens spend this volume gathering a group of people who can fight the Hierarchy, while Jason, who has been kidnapped by the Hierarchy, learns a bit about the politics of Ovanan. At the end, we learn some secrets about the two aliens, but they also are apparently keeping other ones, too. Oh dear. By the end of the book, the small group is off to fight the Hierarchy! Yay, freedom fighters!
There's a lot going on, and while a lot of it is set-up, Doran never lets the book get too wrapped up in exposition - there's a lot of action to get to the point where the group can take off and begin fighting the Hierarchy. Doran is actually quite good at allowing the characters to reveal who they are through their actions and dialogue, so while she doesn't do a lot of obvious character development, we still get a pretty good handle on how they act. Occasionally the characters feel a bit clichéd - Brent, the punk, and Minetti, the cop, are obviously the two major human characters after Liana and Jason (who aren't exactly human), but they seem a bit stereotypical early on, especially in contrast to Liana, Rieken (the alien who is recruiting people) and D'Mer (the other alien, who we think is a servant but we learn is also something more by the end of the book). Those three are very interesting, and even some of the conniving aliens on board the spaceship that the Hierarchy has sent to find and kill Liana are more developed than Brent and Minetti. That's okay, though, because Doran has a lot going on, so it's not a big deal if some of the characters aren't as well developed as others.
The art is beautiful, and if you've never seen or been a fan of Doran's art, you should check this out, because it's marvelous. Like some artists, Doran is often better in black and white, as colorist occasionally obscure her fine lines. A Distant Soil is wonderful to look at - there's a lot going on on each page, but Doran has a good command of the layout, so it's rarely confusing. There is, unfortunately, a dramatic point at the end of the volume, when the Hierarchy is about to attack our heroes and something happens that changes our perception of the series (and also reveals one of the secrets of the book), that isn't laid out very well. Each panel is gorgeous, and there's a full-page drawing that's magnificent, but the panel-to-panel storytelling is a bit confusing. This happens a few times, but not often, and it feels like a consequence of Doran trying to get so much plot into the book. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it's annoying. She also interrupts the narrative occasionally for those full-page panels, and it appears that these might have been fully painted and colored, and while they're impressive, they don't always feel like they should be part of the book. They feel, for lack of a better phrase, like Doran is showing off a bit. Overall, though, her delicate lines give us a beautiful look at Ovanan and the mystical way they use their power, and it provides a nice contrast with the more mundane aspects of the book, where Doran's keen eye for detail helps ground the book so that the aliens' use of their power seems distinctly out of joint.
The book is wildly dated, as everyone looks like they're starring in a White Lion video - there's a lot of feathered hair, poofy hair, really, really long hair, and awesome outfits. Doran, I assume, deliberately made a lot of the Ovanan men androgynous, which is fine, but occasionally, it's a bit confusing when we're not quite sure which character is which. The fact that everyone, including tough guy Brent, is so very pretty is a bit humorous, but it does make the aliens seem a bit more ethereal, which helps with their mystical background. If you can handle the fact that it's dated, the book is absolutely beautiful to look out.
I don't love A Distant Soil, because it is a bit all over the map, but I'm interested in it, and I want to find out what happens moving forward. It's obvious that Rieken and D'Mer are lovers (it's not mentioned in this volume, but it's still pretty obvious), and that relationship is pretty interesting. The rest of the group has a lot of potential, too, so I'll keep buying the collections. Plus, I get to look at Doran's art. That ain't a bad thing at all.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment by Roger Stern (writer), Mike Mignola (penciler), Mark Badger (inker/colorist), Jim Novak (letterer), Gerry Conway (writer), Gene Colan (penciler), Tom Palmer (inker), Jean Izzo (letterer), Kevin Nowlan (penciler), Terry Austin (inker), Bob Sharen (colorist), Bill Mantlo (writer), Ben Sean (colorist), Rick Parker (letterer), P. Craig Russell (embellisher), Petra Scortese (colorist), Nelson Ribeiro (assistant editor), Alex Starbuck (assistant editor), and Mark D. Beazley (collection editor). $16.99, 142 pgs, FC, Marvel. Doctor Strange, Wong, and the Aged Genghis created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Doctor Doom created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Mephisto created by Stan Lee and John Buscema. Margali Szardos created by Chris Claremont and John Romita Jr. Jimaine Szardos created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum. Namor created by Bill Everett.
This is a tremendous collection, mostly but not exclusively because of the artwork. It's always fun to see pre-Hellboy Mignola art (not that it's not fun to see post-Hellboy Mignola art, but it's nice to see his evolution into that great artist), and this not only has the original graphic novel that gives the collection its title, but two stories from Marvel Fanfare, including one from 1984. Plus, there's a reprint of a Colan-drawn Astonishing Tales from 1970 and an issue of the regular Doctor Strange series from 1983 drawn by Kevin Nowlan. So, yeah - it's a beautiful comic.
The stories are pretty good, too. Astonishing Tales #8 is included because Gerry Conway introduced the idea of Dr. Doom fighting for the soul of his mother every Midsummer Night. So Colan gets to draw a battle royale against weird forces of Hell, and if there's anything Gene Colan can do, it's draw spooky mist, so this book is right up his alley (I know that's a very specific thing to be good at, and of course Colan is excellent at a lot of things, but if you think of a really spooky story from the 1970s and 1980s that features a lot of mist, it's probably drawn by Gene Colan). Roger Stern used that plot point in Triumph and Torment, as Doom and Strange battle once again for the soul of Doom's mother. This is one of the most sympathetic portrayals of Doom that I've ever read, and it really does make him much more interesting (I've always liked the "good" Magneto who ran Xavier's school, too - bad guys desperately attempting to be good is endlessly fascinating). He manages to ask for Strange's help without begging, and he comes up with a clever scheme that allows him to remain bad-ass but still noble. Mignola draws the hell out of it, too, especially the Hell parts (sorry about that), as you can see how he would evolve into the more abstract artist he became in the 1990s. His Mephisto is phenomenal, a truly evil demon, and Badger's heavy inking (unless Mignola added it - he certainly became enamored of black when he started inking himself) link Mephisto and Doom nicely even though Doom is technically fighting for something noble. There's an unbelievablly cool page where Mephisto tries to overwhelm the two by turning into bulbous pustules, oozing over Strange's protective bubble, and it's horrifying and disgusting and absolutely tremendous. It's neat to see how Mignola is slowly changing into an artist who really has no business doing superhero comics because he's too idiosyncratic, but that very weirdness turns in into an even better artist than he already was.
Stern begin thinking about Doom and Strange teaming up in 1983, which is why Doctor Strange #57 is included - Doom has a cameo where he wonders if it's the time to learn from Strange ... just so he can eventually dominate him, of course. The story concerns the recent absence of Strange's disciple, Clea, who left his house recently, and a bunch of people showing up demanding to be his new disciple. Margali Szardos, Nightcrawler's adoptive mother, shows up in this issue, and there's a big fight. It's notable mainly because Nowlan is so very good - his magical scenes aren't as brutal as Mignola's or Colan's, but there's an elegance to it that fits the tone of the story. Nowlan never became a superstar in comics, which is too bad (it could be by his choice - I assume he's been doing other work for the past three decades), because he was such a good superhero artist. But we can still appreciate the work he did!
The collection is rounded out by two Namor stories from Marvel Fanfare about five years apart. The first story, from 1984, is much more cartoony than later Mignola art, as Namor has muscles on top of muscles and really exaggerated angry eyebrows. The story still works - it's a weird fable, and Mignola's work is still dark enough that it fits the creepy tone of the story but also delicate enough that the ending works nicely. The second story, from 1989, is much closer to the mature Mignola than the early Mignola, as Namor gets sucked into a different time by the weeds of the Sargasso Sea and ends up banging a lady pirate for a while. Mignola doesn't get to add too much atmosphere to the "surface" story, but when Namor is underwater, he gets to make things a bit weirder, including a solid final page. It's a nice evolution of an artist collected between two covers.
I imagine a lot of people have already read Triumph and Torment, but this book is worth it even if you have, because it has so many other curiosities. If you haven't read the graphic novel yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It's pretty neat.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
The Flash volume 1: Move Forward by Brian Buccellato (writer/colorist), Francis Manapul (writer/artist), Ian Herring (colorist), Sal Cipriano (letterer), Carlos M. Mangual (letterer), Wes Abbott (letterer), and Peter Hamboussi (editor). $16.99, 160 pgs, FC, DC. Barry Allen created by Robert Kanigher, John Broome, and Carmine Infantino. Iris West created by Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert. Captain Cold created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino.
Has this series gotten a lot worse in the past 16 months? I only ask because DC has just gotten around to releasing this trade, almost two years after the DCnU kicked off, and I think it's the last softcover trade to come out. I enjoyed issue #1 of this series, and saw some good reviews about the early issues, but nothing recently. I ask because this is a superb collection, one of the more enjoyable comics I've read from DC during the DCnU days and even going back some years before that. Yes, it's mostly to do with the artwork, but the story is a goofy superhero yarn without any of the blood and guts of far too many of DC's books. There's plenty of violence and a tiny bit of blood, but it just feels like Buccellato and Manapul are having fun doing old-fashioned superhero comics, and there's nothing wrong with that (in fact, there's quite a lot right with it).
Whenever I review a comic by Manapul, I feel that I have to mention that when I first saw his art (back in 2007), I loathed it. I could not stand it, and I was a bit offended that he was actually getting work in comics. I feel a bit bad about that, because he has turned into one of the best, if not the best, pure superhero artist in the business, and this transformation is really impressive. I still hate the art on Iron and the Maiden (grab a copy if you don't believe me!), but it's obvious he was still evolving, and if he hadn't cut his teeth on that, we might not have gotten the excellent work he's done for DC, both pre- and post-reboot.
Because he and Buccellato (and Herring, although I don't know which issues he colors) do a phenomenal job with the art on this comic. There's so much to love about the artwork in this book. Manapul's pencil work is great - he keeps the faces of the characters slightly more abstract (it's always a good idea to be a bit more abstract with faces), so that he can use just their eyes and mouths to convey emotions, but he puts a great deal of detail into their clothing and surroundings. He also makes the figures much more defined than other parts of the book, making them stand out more against a softer background. This helps him when, for instance, Barry starts seeing the world in a different way, because even the people start to fade into the background as his vision becomes more esoteric. Manapul also softens the pencils in flashbacks, which is a good contrast with the present-day stuff. This dichotomy becomes more important later in the collection, when Barry isn't on Earth anymore and he sees visions of other times, because Manapul has set it up quite well. Meanwhile, he layouts are stunning - he packs the pages with panels, but his storytelling is so sharp that it's never confusing. When Barry begins to see the world differently, Manapul fades the background and places small, crisp panels over the background, bringing it into focus how Barry is now seeing things. Manapul often stretches panels across the two pages, making the layout "landscape" rather than "portrait," and this helps make the book feel, for lack of a better term, faster. In fact, a lot of the book feels fast (not that it takes a short time to read it; there's a lot on each page), due to the way Manapul lays the page out and the way Barry zips across the page, never staying confined by panels for too long. Even the way Manapul incorporates the "DC Comics Presents The Flash" into the scenes is keen. Buccellato and Herring wisely use computer effects sparingly, so they don't overwhelm the art but add a clever feeling of electricity to Barry's running. It's really tremendous how good the art is.
I read some reviews about this book that claimed the story wasn't quite up to snuff. Well, maybe, but there's nothing wrong with it. It's slightly goofy superhero stuff, but if you can't suspend your disbelief when you read superhero comics, you probably shouldn't be reading superhero comics. The cool thing about the book is that Barry is fighting against three villains who aren't really "bad guys" in the way that, say, the Joker is (and thank Shiva for that). The main story is about an old friend of Barry's who kind-of sort-of gets cloned, and the clones are dying too quickly and they want to figure out a way to live longer. This makes them do some pretty mean things, but they're not necessarily evil. One of the things they do leads to Captain Cold escaping from prison, which leads to the second story, but again, Cold is on an unselfish mission for once, but he wouldn't think to ask for help. This story leads directly to Barry getting lost in the time stream, where he meets a World War II pilot who has been trapped for decades and just wants to get back home. Unfortunately, Barry can't take him back, he can only ... wait for it ... move forward, so that leads to some problems. It's nice that Buccellato and Manapul give the Flash battles to fight where there's some moral ambiguity, because it makes the book more interesting. The fact that everything is linked is nice, too. Central City and Keystone City experience a black-out, and it doesn't just go away, but remains a plot point throughout the trade. Plus, Barry gets to do some hero stuff that's extremely cool. Remember when superheroes actually saved innocent lives? Good times! The only problem is that, like so many other DCnU books, Buccellato and Manapul are telling some giant story that can't be contained in one trade, so the book ends somewhat abruptly. That's okay, though - I can deal with it.
I know that Manapul hasn't done every issue since the reboot, but I know he's still working on the book, and I can't imagine the quality has dropped too much even if he's not doing the art. Is this just a case of people moving on to the next shiny thing and they got tired of writing about this comic? Beats me, because this trade is much better than, say, a certain first volume of a certain Bat-themed good guy that people can't start raving about. I don't know why DC waited so long to put a softcover trade of this out, but I do hope it doesn't take as long for the next one!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Applebaum's book examines what totalitarianism really means and how the Soviet Union and the communist parties of the Eastern bloc tried to impose it, and it's pretty fascinating. It's a long and occasionally ponderous book, but the narrative is gripping and Applebaum's research is meticulous (we're coming to an end of the time when she could actually interview people who lived through this period, so it's even somewhat timely), so the book as a whole is worthwhile reading. Applebaum focuses on East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, but she comments on other countries as well, and she breaks the book down into two parts - the immediate post-war period, when many countries that had been liberated by the Red Army thought they would be allowed to determine their own course, only to discover that they had traded one conqueror for another; and the period of so-called "High Stalinism," when the communist parties in the countries were in firm control and began to remake society ... or at least attempt to do so, with varying degrees of success. Applebaum breaks down the post-war period into several smaller chunks, showing how the communists infiltrated every part of society, from the obvious professions like police to youth groups (to start the indoctrination young) and radio (as it was the greatest mass media vehicle of the day). In each country, the communists used similar tactics, and Applebaum points out that despite their relative weakness in these societies, the power of the USSR won the day. Before the war, Eastern European countries had generally been liberal democracies with relatively free-market economies, but in the disarray caused by the Nazis, the Soviets found their opportunity and used it well. When the populace rejected the communists in free elections (which happened quite often), the communists simply took over illegally. Part of the problem was that a good deal of the populace agreed with some parts of the communists' platform, but by the time many people realized how all-encompassing it was, it was too late.
The second half of the book concerns the later years, from about 1950-53, when the regimes were in place and attempted to control all aspects of society. As Applebaum points out, Mussolini coined the term "totalitarian" to mean "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state." It's very difficult for Americans or other people raised in a democratic tradition to understand this concept, and Applebaum tries to give us a look inside this kind of society. When active resistance is crushed immediately (she doesn't go too much into the revolts in East Germany in 1953, Poland in 1956, and the famous Hungarian uprising of 1956, although that chapter ends the book), passive resistance became the only way people could express themselves. Applebaum points out that forming a youth group or a women's league, for instance, would become a political act even if the group was non-political, simply because it wasn't approved by the state. Eastern Europeans told jokes about the regime or listened to swing music. Applebaum goes over, in great detail, how the communist rulers tried to oversee every single aspect of their subjects' lives, and while it's chilling from simply an intellectual viewpoint, it's still difficult to truly understand what it was like, even as we read the words of people who lived through it. That's not a criticism of Applebaum's writing, which can be very vivid, but more a cultural gap that simply can't be breached. I imagine that people who live in Eastern Europe or in places that are or have been totalitarian will connect with this book more, but the idea that a government can dominate so much of a person's life is hard to grapple with. When Applebaum writes about artists who convinced themselves to change their art dramatically because they believed so fervently in the communist vision of the world, it's depressing to read. When she writes about how a Polish festival to which citizens of many other countries came and dazzled the Poles with their clothing and openness, it's like you're reading about another universe. Applebaum does a very good job laying this all out, but it's still hard to comprehend.
The one problem I had with the book, and something she addresses only once and very briefly, is the reliance on oral history. I've always had a bit of a problem with oral history, because memory is so faulty and people never want to portray themselves or those close to them as bad guys. I haven't seen The Act of Killing yet, but I'm sure the only reasons the subjects of the film will talk about killing people is because they're still treated as heroes in Indonesia. Applebaum interviewed many people, and while most of it is just backing up other sources, when her subjects discuss how they felt about the regime, it becomes a bit less compelling, because in hindsight, no one wants to be seen supporting the communist regimes, especially those backed by Stalin. I'm not saying that the subjects weren't resisting, but it's convenient that they all talk about little acts of rebellion they committed and how ambivalent they were. It's a tricky situation, and it makes her two chapters about the way people resisted the communists slightly (but only slightly) weaker than the rest of the book.
If you've ever been interested in just how the Soviet Union was able to impose their will on a large swath of Europe, Applebaum's book is a good one to check out. Without getting too political, it also shows how ridiculous opponents of any American administration are when they talk about the president being totalitarian. I don't agree with a lot of what any president does, and some things have the whiff of totalitarianism about them, but to compare our current president or the one who preceded him or any other, frankly, to Stalin and his sycophants in East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria is utterly misguided. Applebaum gives us a good look at a true dictatorship, and it's enough to make you appreciate our government a bit more, as fucked up as it is sometimes.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Speaking American: A History of English in the United States by Richard W. Bailey. 207 pgs, 2012, Oxford University Press.
I'm fascinated by linguistics, even though I don't read very much about it, mainly because I rarely know where to look for books about it. When I was in college, I took a class on the history of English, and I kept the textbook because it was so cool. Not long ago I found out about this book, so I snapped it up. It's a pretty interesting read.
Bailey breaks up the history of the States into 50-year chunks and focuses on a certain city/region for each chapter. So he begins in the Chesapeake Bay are before 1650, then goes to Boston (1650-1700), Charleston (1700-1750), Philadelphia (1750-1800), New Orleans (1800-1850), New York (1850-1900), Chicago (1900-1950), and Los Angeles (1950-2000). He makes compelling cases for each city and why it was the nexus of the development of American English for that time. Charleston, for instance, was a central point for the slave trade, so influences from the Caribbean and Africa came into English through its port. Philadelphia was the center of government in the late eighteenth century, and it was also the place with the most scientific innovation during that time (and its influence fell after a yellow fever epidemic in 1793 and the government moved to Washington). New Orleans came under U.S. sovereignty in 1803/4, so of course its multilingualism would influence the language, with loan words from French, Spanish, and African languages filtering into English. We think of New York as a city of immigrants, but in 1850, 57% of the population of New Orleans had been born someplace else, while only 21% of New York's population had. New York became a great immigration center in the second half of the nineteenth century (which is why Bailey focuses on it in the following chapter), but New Orleans was the first great immigration destination in the country, partly because it had so recently been foreign territory.
Bailey examines the words that entered the language in these various cities and how language purists tries to "correct" English and restrict multilingualism, and he also goes into how the words were pronounced and how it evolved. Some pronunciations were reactions against British English, while some were reactions against the attitudes of the puritans. He studies in great deal the relationship between the settlers and the American Indians and how their languages influenced each other. As he reaches the twentieth century, slang becomes more and more evident (and presumably, with the advent of recording devices and more written sources, easier to study), and in both the Chicago and Los Angeles chapters, Bailey looks at the way people use slang to obfuscate meaning from others. He even goes into the Valley Girl phenomenon of the 1980s and the rise of the Crips and the Bloods and their use of language (Ice T gets a mention when Bailey discusses gangsta rap). It's interesting to read how there are always "language Nazis" who strive to correct the English others (usually those of a different race or class) are using, and how ultimately futile it is.
There's a lot of cool word etymologies in the book, some more in-depth, some just mentioned in passing (the earliest use so far recorded of the word "airhead" is from 1972, for instance). It's also very interesting to note how different groups were first discriminated against before being subsumed into the mainstream (the people of New Orleans long railed against Kentuckians as uncouth). Bailey's book is an interesting history of language, but it's also a pretty interesting sociological tract. It's a nice, quick read, and if you've ever been interested in how English in the U.S. evolved, it's a good place to start.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
The Airborne Toxic Event's first album is quite good, hinting at the excellence of the band's next two albums, although it's not as consistently great as those are. Like a lot of good albums, it gets better on repeated listenings, and it definitely grows on you, even though it's perfectly fine the first time through. One of the things I like about the band is that they create emotional moments that feel real, which is far harder than it sounds. Mikel Jollett's excellent lyrics bring you right into the heart of the song, and his voice is a strong instrument - it's ragged but powerful, and its hopeless edge makes the words bite a bit more. The band can lift up the music very well, adding soaring melodies to counteract the blood and sweat in Jollett's voice. This is evident on the album's first track, "Wishing Well," which starts quietly and kicks into high gear as Jollett roars to the climax, where "suicide is an alibi," before fading into darkness. The band's first single, "Gasoline," is more up-tempo, a raucous, garage-band anthem of young lust and regrets of lost love, and while it's not quite good enough to begin an album, it's a solid song. "Sometime Around Midnight," the album's best track, is an excellent example of how the band can build such powerful emotions in a short period, as it leads up to Jollett's harsh cry, "You just have to see her, you know that she'll break you in two." The other songs on the album are good, but don't quite measure up to those three, although there's not a bad one in the bunch. They speed things up in "Papillon," but the anger rings a bit false. "Does This Mean You're Moving On?" is a jangly tune that doesn't go much deeper than the title, but it's pleasant enough. The album wraps up with the faux-country boogie twang of "Missy" and the moody-at-first and then rollicking "Innocence," which is a good way to wrap up an album that is largely about Jollett's tortured love life (to a degree). When he's on, you get great songs. When he's not, he's still clever enough to make an interesting statement. "Innocence" straddles that line.
While this album isn't quite as good as the next two, it does show a lot of what would make the band really good-to-great on their next two albums. There's not a bad song on the album, but the few that rise above the rest make it clear that the band could really be something special. They have mostly fulfilled that on their next two albums.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I'm not sure why I bought Paramore's fourth album - I had heard of them but hadn't heard them, and I guess it was just a whirl. It's the first album by the band after a 2010 fracture that saw two founding members leave, and I don't know what the band sounded like before that. It's a pleasant enough album, although it goes on a bit long (it's 63 minutes) and could easily be trimmed. There are some solid rock songs, but they're lumped in with some forgettable tunes. As with many albums, it begins strong, with "Fast in My Car" kicking things off with a hard-driving drum beat and crunchy guitars before Hayley Williams jumps in with her syrupy, seductive, and ragged vocals. Williams is the lyricist, and she's the best thing about the album - some of the lyrics are quite good, and her voice is a fine instrument. The second track, "Now," is another hard-rocking song that builds to a nice climax, as Williams becomes more and more demanding. After that we get "Grow Up," another edgy song with fuck-off lyrics. Then the album crumbles a bit. It becomes more trite and mainstream, with Williams becoming a bit too maudlin on songs like "Daydreaming," "Hate to See Your Heart Break," and "(One of Those) Crazy Girls," while songs like "Anklebiters" and "Be Alone" seem like faux-rage, unlike the first few songs. "Ain't It Fun" is the best song, musically, on the album, as the band stretches its wings a bit, and "Last Hope" replicates the straining emotional beats of the three songs that open the record.
Paramore is a perfectly decent album, but it with a few exceptions ("Last Hope," "Now," "Grow Up"), it lacks songs that either grab you by the throat or set your soul free. The band has plenty of talent, and Williams is a good lyricist and vocalist, but they seem to write thoroughly mainstream rock, the kind of thing that you'll sing along to if it comes on the radio but which won't stay with you long after that. It's too bad, but there it is!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Magic Hour is the worst of the four Scissor Sisters albums, not because it's really that bad, but because it doesn't rise to the level of the first three. It has no brilliant songs, while its predecessor, Night Work, featured eight great songs, and this feels lesser in comparison. I don't like comparing albums to others in a group's oeuvre, though, but if this had been the very first Scissor Sisters album I heard, it still wouldn't be that great. Many albums by many groups have clunkers on them, but the best ones have transcendent songs that balance things out, and Magic Hour, while featuring some pleasant songs, doesn't have anything that cancels out the lesser tunes. The good songs are pleasant enough - the album begins with the bouncy, inoffensive "Baby Come Home," which is followed by the vibrant, scuzzy disco song "Keep Your Shoes On." The next track, "Inevitable," is a pleasantly breezy Bee Gees-esque song with a semi-tragic vibe, but part of its problem is that too many of the songs feel like it does - "Only the Horses" is sped-up, but the vibe is the same, "Year of Living Dangerously" is a bit darker, but still too weightless, "San Luis Obispo" is almost ethereal, and "Somewhere," which ends the album (until the inevitable bonus tracks, of course), is a nice attempt to add some more heft to the airiness of the songs, and it succeeds to a degree. In between we get "Let's Have a Kiki," which is one of the few Scissor Sisters songs that I genuinely dislike, because it's just ... pointless, I guess (although that video is excellent). "Shady Love" sounds like something that pretends to be dangerous (again, the video is brilliant), unlike some songs from previous albums (sorry!) that actually sound dangerous. It's certainly not a terrible song, and the beat is tremendous, but it sounds vaguely poseur-ish, and that's too bad. "Self Control" is another one of those songs, which is too bad. "The Secret Life of Letters" features some decent lyrics, but it's fairly inert.
I'm struggling to articulate what I feel about this album, because I don't really feel too much. With the first three Scissor Sisters albums, I felt totally engaged, and Jake's bodacious singing and Ana Matronic's snippiness, combined with the sleazy music (I use this and "scuzzy" in the best possible terms) made the listening experience quite a trip, and when they did segue into more inspirational tunes (Ta-Dah's final cut, "Everybody Wants the Same Thing," is a tremendous song), it felt more meaningful. Magic Hour is, unfortunately, more forgettable. The band is on an "indefinite hiatus," which is too bad, because as they get older, one would hope they'd transition out of the disco stuff (even though I love it) and into the more soothing songs we find on this album, but that those songs would be, you know, better. I hope they come back, because they're a good band. Magic Hour might not be a great album, but it does have some nice songs on it. I guess we'll have to wait and see what the future holds.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Well, that's all for this month. I actually have some trades I bought this past week, but I just couldn't get to them in time to include them here, so I'll review them next month. The schedule is fluid! I hope everyone has a nice weekend. Perhaps our president will have regained his senses soon and all will be well. Wouldn't that be nice?