Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie: “Blazing Combat,” “Shuddertown,” and More
Time once more for Confessions of a Comics Shop Junkie, in which I attempt to point out, in often rambling fashion, various offerings of a sequential graphics-type nature that I think might be worth your time to check out, or in some cases, avoid- many of which will still be on sale at various booksellers, both online and real-world, near you.
Scripts: Archie Goodwin, various; Art: A veritable plethora of greats
Fantagraphics Books, $19.99 (softcover)
In a nutshell, the history behind this one (helpfully recapped in interviews with Jim Warren and Goodwin included in the back of this collection) is that vet/publisher Warren, emboldened by the success of his horror magazines, decided to take advantage of the talent pool he had access to, many of which were former E.C. Comics veterans that had worked on the company’s somewhat radical war comics – and launched a magazine dedicated to tales of the military throughout various time periods.
Thing is, though, this wasn’t launched in 1945, or 1955 — it was launched in 1965, just as the U.S. anti-war movement was picking up steam, and Goodwin, who wrote practically every story in the magazine’s run, was sympatico with it and wished to emulate the Kurtzman E.C. comics he loved. Practically every one of these tales is steeped in irony and often outright scorn for the “us vs. them” mindset, and small wonder, then that the U.S. Gummint decided that these funnybooks weren’t helping our war effort by depicting their soldier boys (often literally) and their leaders’ motives in such shades of gray, and reportedly had them removed from PXs.
Sales were poor, Uncle Sam wasn’t happy, and finally Warren had to perform a mercy killing on it. I was a pre- and grade-schooler during the Golden Age of Warren Publications; I already owned a handful of Famous Monsters (loved me some monster movies, dontchaknow) and a couple of Creepys. One magazine, though, I was never curious enough about to pick up, and that would be (can you see this coming?) Blazing Combat- although I liked Marvel’s Sgt. Fury for its constant banter, war comics, TV shows or movies as a whole didn’t interest me much as a kid, unless the army was shooting at a monster or spaceship.
A pity, because many of the artists I admired in Creepy and Eerie (not to mention moonlighting Marvel artists like Gene Colan), not to mention late great writer/editor Archie Goodwin, were doing some of the best work of their careers right there. When I got older, I discovered the stories behind many of the artists, some of which became favorites — Goodwin, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, just to name a few…however, when I got interested in acquiring these magazines, as well as Creepy and Eerie back issues that I loved, well, they were kinda hard to find and kinda pricey when I ran across them.
Finally, many years later, Dark Horse and Fantagraphics have done us all a big favor by making these works available for all of us. Of course, the Combat hardcover came out last year, but I live beyond my means so I had to wait for the softcover, and I’m happy to have this excellent collection, handsomely packaged (although I think the hardcover’s cover was a bit better), and all in one place for a good evening’s read. In addition to the aforementioned gentlemen, doing outstanding work on subjects they were interested in, the likes of Reed Crandall (insane detail, and great Revolutionary War story), Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, the underrated and overlooked Angelo Torres, George Evans, the great Russ Heath, the great John Severin…if you don’t know any of these names, then do yourself a favor and apply some Google Fu in their direction.
For lovers of great art, lovingly rendered in black and white and grey ink wash (Colan absolutely kills with this medium), this is as good as it gets, and the outstanding art helps to smooth over the occasional formulaic (i.e., obligatory E.C.-style twist) story or heavy handed script note- Goodwin often erred on the side of passion. I was also a tad disappointed that personal favorite Warren artist Jerry Grandenetti wasn’t represented, but it could be that he hadn’t started working for them at that time. This is one collection of war comics that even those not inclined to care about the genre can appreciate, and now it’s more affordable than ever.
Rucka shocked some people recently when he bailed on DC (and unfortunately, the good thing he had going on with the Batwoman) in order to get back to writing comics that he wanted to write, rather than perpetuating the licenses (not an exact quote, ok?), and this is but one example of that unfinished business.
A modest little P.I. story that is just now resuming after a hiatus of a couple of months, it gives us quite a protagonist — compulsive gambler, bisexual, caretaker to an autistic brother Dexadrine (yep, I guess Atomoxetine or Reboxetine, to name a couple, weren’t options) Parious, who get’s the opportunity to work off her debt at the local casino by finding the casino owner’s granddaughter, who has come up missing.
Complications ensue, as they so often do, and this issue gives us Dex figuring out a few things, but perhaps too late judging by the final page, setting up the final chapter next issue. Dex is likeable, in spite of her rough side, and you have to admire her stick-to-it-iveness as she gets into verbal slapfights with a police captain or detective Volk (if they tell us his rank, I missed it), beaten up and shot by scruffy thugs, and other unpleasant stuff, but persists on following up her clues, come hell or high water.
Perhaps she may be the logical extension of what Rucka wanted his Detective Renee Montoya to be in his long-ago stints on Detective (first time around) and Gotham Central, before DC decided to make a superhero out her (ugh). Anyway, this is a decent enough Big Sleep-style missing-person drama, and it’s nicely drawn by Southworth, who works in that psuedo-realistic, somewhat grubby style that you see people like Mike Lark or Sean Phillips bring to the table. The first couple of issues were better, even though he’s very loose and sloppy throughout; this issue looks even more rushed, as if he waited till the last minute to get started. No deal-breaker, but sometimes the sparse backgrounds and sketchy figure drawings did distract my eye.
It’s all colored in the standard mottled greens, yellows and browns that is Lee Loughridge’s stock in trade; that said, I guess I really have grown accustomed to his palette. ‘Twas a time that I would rail and gripe and bitch about seeing his byline in this or that Vertigo comic, no more. By now, you may want to wait for the trade collection, since there’s only one issue left; I do recommend this. It’s a tightly plotted detective story with a charismatic lead and a well-realized cast, and while it doesn’t break any new ground, it’s far from dull.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so they say; so when Ellis and Templesmith decline to produce any more issues of Fell, their supernatural-tinged detective series, well, nature does her thing and prompts imitation, and we get comics like this one.
Which is not to say that this is a bad thing. Of course, it’s far from a copy of Fell, and it’s probably just coincidence…but there are similarities; conflicted protagonist, malevolent, brooding city. Spencer (haven’t sampled his other two series) gives us a Det. Isaac Hernandez, who is trying to recover from a gunshot wound, has a substance abuse history, troubling dreams, and a penchant for delivering voiceover soliloquies that reminds me of Don McGregor in his prime — and would probably be an interesting match for Stumptown‘s Dexy Parious.
Isaac keeps getting cases where there is DNA evidence at the scene of a murder, and the DNA always links back to deceased criminals that he arrested years ago. This is, as you can imagine, quite frustrating for an already on-the-edge cop, and we get some interesting scenes as he goes about his investigation in the “Shuddertown Projects”, encountering a young boy who may have seen something, a friendly priest who may have seen to much over the years, and eventually hooking up with a married stripper.
Our boy Isaac is not always his own best friend. Geen’s art is squarely in the Alex Maleev/David Mack/Templesmith tradition; impressionistic, and loosely sketchy, but nicely expressive, even though it really skirts the photo-reference line a little closely. Anyway, it sets the tone of the story, and that’s the main intent. Moody, reflective, playing its cards close to the vest, this would make a good film or TV series, something which I’m sure isn’t lost on the principals, and I think it could get pretty interesting before it’s done.
Script/Art: Ryan Kelly
Self-published; $3 + $2 shipping, available after May 16 from Kelly.
Kelly first came to my attention years ago, helping add some needed definition and spark to Peter Gross’ pencils on Books of Magic and Lucifer for DC/Vertigo. After the latter ended its run, he hooked up with Brian Wood for Local, in which he was asked to provide full art, and he excelled at what was not an easy task — illustrating a number of unusual situations in a variety of settings. Kelly has a lively, thick-lined and expressive style that makes practically any script better…even the one for this, the first salvo in what I think he plans to be a multi-issue multi-character humor/action series.
In this, his first self-pubbed issue, he introduces us to what I assume will be the heavies, or at least the troublemakers in Kellyworld — a group of superpowered characters (or in the case of cartoon-like Bombcat and Concrete-like Lead Head, mutants) who spend most of this issue showing us how rotten they are by committing a bunch of not-nice acts of anarchy, like trashing the Mall of America or leaving a bomb at the White House…just like punks!
It’s all handled with a wink and a grin, though, a la Tank Girl or The Boys; I kept thinking that Butcher, Hughie, Mother’s Milk and the rest would be looking into those guys eventually. This is all OK for what it is, not especially my cup of tea but next issue’s “Raccoon” character looks interesting, and I’m willing to admit that I think Kelly may have more up his sleeve than he’s letting on. Hopefully, enough people will order this from him to enable us to find out.
I was gonna have some short takes, but I had a busy week and bumped up against schedule, so I’ll wind this up for this week. Thanks for reading, and see you next week, I hope.
Love letters, correspondence, review inquiries: johnnybacardi AT gmail.