Welcome to the first Confessions of 2012! I really meant to have this up two weeks ago, but life sometimes gets in the way of my writing “career” and this was one of those times. Anyway, as always, this is where I opine on various recently released publications of the sequential graphic nature, some of which may be sitting on the rack at a comics shop, or awaiting the click of a button on some online merchant’s web page, near you. If you’re lucky. Or not, as the case may be.
Don’t really know about this this title’s previous history (it was an early 90′s Rob Liefeld Image/Extreme- which says it all- title, as I understand it), don’t really care. This is a reimagining (and relaunch, continuing the original run’s numbering, which is kinda rare these days) by the monstrously talented Brandon (King City) Graham, script only this time, with Simon Roy (who I was previously unfamiliar with) on art . Graham concocts a scenario in which our boy, one John Prophet, who has apparently been genetically engineered to be a super-soldier of some sort, is awakened from cryo-sleep and heads out into a future Earth, which now apparently is populated mostly with monsters and aliens, looking for his contact to find out what his mission is. Which is a dry recap, I know, but believe me that it’s the details which make this comic as remarkable as it is…Graham has imagination to spare, and delivers a truly weird and offbeat world of bizarre creatures for Prophet to interact with, and artist Roy does an excellent job of maintaining that otherworldly verisimilitude, in his somewhat sketchy style that reminds me a bit of a cross between Geoff Darrow and Guy Davis. The ability to take a run of the mill premise like this and make it into something special is the hallmark of the greats, and Graham demonstrates that ability here. Hope he keeps it up, and I’m not betting against it. A preview can be seen right here.
Ed Brubaker sure loves his noir, yes he does…and even though he’s as good at it as anyone currently pressing keys, I’m sure that the inherent limitations to the whole genre must test his patience sometimes. Or perhaps I’m just projecting my own frustrations with the genre on him, who knows. With last year’s Criminal: The Last of the Innocents we saw his willingness to play around with the format, as he grafted noir tropes with Archie comics and came up with something pretty unique, in its way. So it stands to reason that Ed would want to color even further outside the lines, so here we have Fatale, which promises to be the great Mickey Spillane/H.P. Lovecraft mashup that nobody even knew they wanted. At its base, it’s got the typical elements- young fella at his novelist grandfather’s funeral, meets a mysterious dame. Goes to grandpa’s house later, discovers a manuscript that dates from before his first novel was published. Big goons in dark coats, bowler hats, and sunglasses arrive, straight outta Dark City, with no good intent. He’s saved by the same mysterious dame, and they flee in her car, which she drives off a cliff, and causes young fella (Nicholas, not Nick, Raines) to lose a leg. In the hospital, he begins to read the manuscript (which said mysterious dame thoughtfully left for him) and observes that it seems to be an account of another Raines (his dad?) and his encounter with that very same apparently eternally youthful mysterious dame, corrupt cops, and the occult forces who seem to threaten or assist everyone. It’s an ambitious mashup of stuff, and while I must admit to losing my place a couple of times as Brubaker kept feverishly adding new people to the mix, it does seem to be gearing up for quite an adventure, along with the inevitable unhappy ending for almost everyone concerned. Phillips does his usual reliably solid job- he can spot a black like nobody’s business- with only a few odd faces (most likely the product of rushing, I’d say) to mar the proceedings- e.g. page three, panel five, which kinda looks like it was painted by numbers. Be that as it may, this promises to be yet another series that I’m sure will find its way onto many best of 2012 lists, maybe even mine. Might as well get in on the beginning!
Here’s a shocking confession…I have never been what you could call a big fan of Barks’ celebrated Duck books. There, I said it. It’s not that I don’t recognize Barks’ superior talents, or understand why many revere him, and his work, so much…but I think the fault lies with me and my relative lack of interest in funny animal type scenarios, which peaked sometime around the time when I was in first grade…it’s not that I didn’t read or like “funny animal” comics (and I fully recognize that there are many for whom that term is complete anathema), but they always just seemed to me like kid’s stuff, and therefore beneath my notice. Of course, this is far from the reality of it, and (I like to think) to my credit I did eventually catch on to Barks’ brilliance as a (theoretical) adult…but to this day I generally tend to overlook this sort of thing. But, Fantagraphics is doing their best to get me to change my ways, reprinting all sorts of great stuff, including last year’s fine Mickey Mouse collection. Now, here’s this, a nicely packaged collection of a handful (four long form, and nine shorter ones) of Barks Duck stories from the prime of his career, and best of all, they’re new to me save one, which I read a handful of times as a grade schooler and remember fondly. That one is the second story in this collection, titled “The Golden Christmas Tree”, and it’s every bit as lively and imaginative as I remember it, and it was a stone blast to read again. The other stories are a fun read, too- things happen at a breakneck pace most of the time, and even the occasional down period is there to advance the story one way or another. Best of all, in the back of the book we’re given story notes, which are well-written and fascinating, and I learned a few things, duck-ignorant as I tend to be. One caveat- those who are sensitive to issues involving depictions of race or gender attitudes in our popular entertainment should be aware that one or two of these selections, which date from the late Forties, definitely uses the stereotypical depictions and attitudes that enrage those who get in such a snit about Will Eisner’s Spirit and Ebony White, to name but one example. I hope that people can get past that and check this overall hugely entertaining, and yes, important collection out.
I was fortunate, as a child, to be able to watch The Avengers when it aired here in the US on ABC back in the 60′s, and even though I was every bit of 8 years old, I just loved the whole daft package. Debonair, indefatigable British supersecretagent John Steed and his dynamic, witty, drop dead gorgeous partner Emma Peel (my first crush), along with the dry, understated humor, action and adventure, and the whole Jolly Olde English otherness of it all. Of course, resources being what they were back then, it took me a long time to find out the whole story, which I pieced together via articles and reference books, about the beginnings of the show, and how there were other agents that were teamed with Steed (such as the also-fine-in-her-way Honor Blackman, most famously known as Goldfinger‘s Pussy Galore), and how it was influenced by what was happening in Swinging 60′s London and all that. I even watched when Rigg left and the game but overmatched Linda Thorson signed on, and well, the less said about the mid-70′s revival the better. There are collections available, of which I have a few (I long to own the multi-disc Complete Emma Peel Megaset), and I still watch the odd episode to this day. Which, of course, is only tangentially related to this particular adaptation, which began life as a series of graphic novels back in 1990 from Eclipse Comics (now there’s a name to conjure with!), and which I bought back then as they came out. Of course, Grant was the madman behind Doom Patrol at the time, and I was very interested in what he would do with the duo. I had also, at about that time, acquired the three Titan Books volumes of The Ballad of Halo Jones, and had enjoyed Ian Gibson’s art on that Alan Moore-scripted series very much as well. So, it stands to reason that I’d like it very much, right? Well…no. My memories of reading that series were of mild disappointment; Morrison’s modern, albeit Scots/British, voice just not quite hitting the sweet spot insofar as the oddball Albert Fennell/Brian Clemens-imagined vision of Steed and Peel and their world, and their dialogue was a bit off as well. Gibson did a fine job of visualizing the proceedings in his stylized, somewhat loose style, but it lacked a certain something that I was looking for in my Avengers, and so while I dutifully completed my run, I remember being happy when it was done. So now, what do I think some twenty-odd years later, rereading the first chapters after all that time? Well, I’m thinking I was a bit harsh on it, actually. As the years have gone by, I’m more used to Morrison’s quirks, which back then could be almost as twee as Gaiman’s, and I kinda like his more authority-wary and cynical Steed. Guess it takes 22 years to achieve objectivity. Gibson’s work hasn’t aged as well, sorry to say; he has such an odd way of drawing faces, poses and feet that it distracts more than captivates me. It worked well in the straight SF world of Halo Jones, and not so much in the whimsical pseudo-reality of The Avengers. When it comes to the adventures of John and Emma, the TV series is still your best bet, in whatever format you can access it in. Still, this adaptation is not without its merits, and will do in a pinch.
Marvel’s gone back to this well once more, keeping the “Defenders” name out there in print. It does have some heavy hitting talent behind it; Fraction is firmly entrenched at the House that Stan and Jack Built, carving out his niche slowly but surely over the last few years, and the Dodsons are among the go-to artists for stylish, snappy superheroics with a hint of cheesecake, (cf. Adam Hughes, Frank Cho). This is mostly boilerplate team-comic dynamics; a terrible, world-threatening menace is loose, and Dr. Strange, at the behest of the green Hulk, seeks out Namor (callback to the 70′s #1, y’see), as well as the Red She-Hulk (how damned many Hulks are there at Marvel these days? I haven’t been paying attention), Iron Fist (I like Iron Fist, and his participation is one reason why I wanted to read this), and the Silver Surfer to combat said world threatening menace, which is heading straight for Wundagore Mountain. When they arrive, their reception is less friendly than they had hoped for, not in small part to the machinations of old FF (and original Defenders, too, if I’m not mistaken) villain Prester John. By now, I think you may be noticing a trend here, and it’s not exclusive to this or any one particular Marvel comic these days…back in the classic era, Stan and Jack and Steve and Roy and whoever else might be involved created new properties, or at least recycled old, fallen-into-disuse ones. These days, and again I stress it’s not just this but most Marvel books, it seems to be all about taking the set of blocks that have previously been established and tweaking them into whatever configuration the writer or editor seems necessary to capture the fleeting fanman interest. As Seinfeld so famously said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”, but it just struck me how there is so little that’s actually new under the Marvel sun…and the presence of a red She-Hulk is just one example. Anyway, back to this particular revival, it’s pretty well done- Fraction always writes snappy dialogue, and the story moves along briskly without the tendency towards self-indulgent convolution on display in Casanova. Characterization is mostly well done, especially Danny Rand and Namor, but his Doc Strange displays some rather dickish tendencies that I’m not sure I like very much- albeit that is a cute scene in #2 in which he tells Red She Hulk something apparently really ghastly/disgusting that makes her change back to human form and enables her to escape from the cage she was in that was designed to contain her alter-ego. The Dodsons acquit themselves nicely as well; everybody really looks good, and penciller Terry can do some dynamic action scenes. All in all, so far this is a perfectly good, serviceable cape comic…I don’t know how it stacks up to, say, current issues of the three dozen Avengers spinoffs that are out there or any of the two dozen X-Men, and I’m not ready to put it in the Thunderbolts or Daredevil tier just yet. Bears watching, though.
The Return of the All Purpose Review Writing Music List! This one’s been so long in the making that I can’t possibly list all the albums I’ve listened to since the end of December, but here’s some of the ones I’ve had on lately: Badfinger- No Dice; Wendy Waldman- Gypsy Symphony; Wilco- The Whole Love; Trombone Shorty- For True; The Rolling Stones- Some Girls (Deluxe Edition- the bonus disc is killer); Harry Nilsson- A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night; Michael Nesmith- Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash.
Thanks, as always, for your patience and for reading. Review inquiries: johnnybacardi AT gmail.