Confessions of a Comics Shop Junky, No. 66
Since we’re dealing, at least at first, with a retro series I figured I’d use the retro spelling…so welcome once more to Confessions of a Comics Shop Junky, in which I wax effusive about a handful of comics and/or graphic novel releases of recent vintage, presumably helping you sort out the wheat from the chaff or something like that when you visit your local comics shop or make out your online order or illegally download…however you choose to mainline your sequential narrative entertainment.
When Dave Stevens’ homage to old-time movie serials and pulp adventure magazines made its debut waaaaay back in 1982 as a back feature in Mike Grell’s Starslayer, of all places, it was like manna from heaven for this old fan of not only Doc Savage, the Shadow and the Avenger pulp paperback reprints, but also the wonderful if short-lived Dennis O’Neil/Mike Kaluta (and friends)/Frank Robbins/E.R. Cruz Shadow for DC and Steve Englehart/Ross Andru/Tom Palmer’s nicely done Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze for Marvel in the 1970’s. Heck, Stevens even snuck that pair in at different times in his stories. Stevens’ sleek approximation of the pinup greats from Bolles to Vargas to Elvgren, mixed with a little Russ Manning, hit the sweet spot for me (why else would I buy an issue of Starslayer, for god’s sake)…and I faithfully followed the series as it flitted from book to book for the next few years. Unfortunately, even though it spawned a not-bad but flop Disney motion picture adaptation, it didn’t sell all that much, and Stevens soon found other vehicles for his work, though he continued to contribute a lot of covers and spot illos to several comics over the years until his sad and untimely death in 2008. A welcome and somewhat unexpected side effect to the series was the resurgence of interest in 50’s pinup model Bettie Page, upon who Stevens based the appearance of the Rocketeer’s girlfriend Jenny. Along with such early 80’s non-Big Two comics stalwarts as Zot!, Aztec Ace, American: Flagg! and others, I’ve always credited The Rocketeer, wherever it appeared, with keeping me from dropping comics entirely in the early part of that decade.
All this said, as the years have gone by, I couldn’t help but realize that really, maybe there wasn’t a whole lot else to be done with Cliff Secord and his jet pack; once the whole “various interested parties seek Howard Hughes’ experimental jet pack” storyline got wrapped up, what was next? Recycled Doc Savage or Operator No. 5 scripts? It was sort of a moment captured in time, and the collected edition, wonderfully illustrated by a creator at the very top of his game, conveniently advertised by IDW in the back of the comic, would seem to provide a satisfying read. Is there a need for more Rocketeer stories? The fine folks at IDW think so, and here’s the first of a series letting Stevens’ contemporaries have a go. First up is John Cassaday, with a routine, if pleasant enough, tale of Cliff taking on gangsters who’ve kindapped Jenny and tied her to a rocket. Cassaday’s art shares much in common with Stevens’- he has the ability to replicate his overall look, but his figures are as stiff as always and nowhere near as graceful as Dave’s. Next up is another creator with a propensity for stuff anatomy- perhaps these guys should be doing porn comics ha ha- Mike Allred, whose tale (which seems to pick up where “Cliff’s New York Adventure” leaves off) of Secord encountering a sinister-seeming inventor who apparently can replicate the rocket pack. He strikes a deal with Cliff, and Allred leaves us cliffhanging (ouch) as he flies off to carry out his part of some as-yet unnamed deal with the inventor, leaving Jenny with mentor Peevy. I didn’t know that they would be having continued stories, but I guess this is one of those. Allred, while I constantly carp about his posed-looking figures, actually does a good job, at least with facial expressions, another past problem. Maybe iZombie is loosening him up. One negative- Allred’s lettering here is terrible, just amateurish and awful. I get as bored by commercial fonts as the next guy, but this is nigh unreadable sometimes. Pay someone next time, IDW. Finally, a beautifully detailed Mike Kaluta-drawn Kurt Busiek story which takes off from the notion that Cliff is off fighting in World War II and Jenny’s making ends meet as a nurse, pining away as she waits for a letter or some sign that he’s OK. This sort of thing is right in Kaluta’s wheelhouse, and he does not disappoint; yes, he, too is guilty of the stiff pose or awkward anatomy at odd times, but he has such a command of staging and detail that it more than makes up for it. Busiek’s story is surprisingly tender, and his artist really helps sell it. A couple of pinups round out the package, including one by Mike Mignola, who, should he deign to do a Rocketeer story, would be one of the few creators that would really get me all worked up.
Perhaps there’s still life in the old boy yet…if you’re inclined to like this sort of pulpy adventure stuff, and are intrigued by the names attached but are still on the fence, it’s worth a look. If you’re still a fan of the character, like me, then you most likely have already preordered this.
Here’s David Hahn again, giving me the chance to talk about him for a while instead of Cam Stewart as I did when I reviewed their Suicide Girls collaboration. This one was intended for DC’s sadly short-lived Minx line, and it shows; it seemed like pretty much everything that came out from that line featured plucky young heroines making their way in an urban setting and interacting with a varied group of supporting players, and this one’s no different. But there’s an adult tone to this which elevates it a little, at least in my eyes, and perhaps that reflects the rethinking that needed to be done when its original release was scuttled. In the interest of clarity, I’m going to cheat a little and post the solicitation text for this issue, which sums it up quite neatly and better than I probably could:
Kit Bradley is a 20 year-old art student and petty criminal who knows it’s time to leave her delinquent past behind, but isn’t ready for the responsibilities of adulthood. Her social headquarters is an all night diner, and while trying to put the ‘off’ on an on-again-off-again boyfriend, she runs into an old flame, and an enigmatic loner named Martha, whose mysterious disappearance will alter Kit’s life forever.
Two things got my attention- first, Hahn the writer pulls off the neat trick of making a hard-to-like character likable; even while shaking my head at the dubious decisions Kit makes, I couldn’t help but hope that things work out for her. She seems to have good intentions, and circumstances keep dragging her back…and who doesn’t identify with that? Even the boyfriend comes across as not a total loser, and that points towards well-rounded characters, always welcome in this sort of thing. Second, Hahn the artist turns in some of the best work of his career here; he still retains his angular, crisp style on his figures, and really steps up his game on their surroundings- check out the detail in this wide shot of the interior of the diner at left, one example of what I’m talking about. I love the range of people depicted, their faces, and the proportions, where they are in the shot- their seats, etc. are all spot-on, with no cheating or cribbing in the rendering. Hahn has a fairly even ink line, but has a good command of black spotting and an expressive style, and I’m thinking it’s a shame we haven’t been seeing more from him on a regular basis.
All Nighter is what it is, as the cliché goes; it’s twentysomething young adult drama. No high concept, no capes, no demons or explosions. Well, not yet anyway. What it seems to be shaping up to be is a solid story with interesting characters, and if you’re looking for something like that, you should give this a look when it comes out next month. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can download a PDF directly from Mr. Hahn himself right here.
After Peter Bagge had decided to step away from the series that made his rep, Hate, in the late 90’s, he surfaced in a most unlikely place- DC, specifically their short-lived Homage imprint (which was often as much fromage as homage, but I digress), and with Gilbert Hernandez in tow no less, and what these titans, these legends of the alternative comics scene decided to do was this. Obviously Pete had missed seeing Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space as a kid growing up. Actually, according to Bagge’s foreword, it was his contributions to a late 90’s one shot dedicated to celebrating and sending up the Spice Girls, called Spice Capades, which provided the spark. Intended to be a fun, hip, all-ages anything-can-happen little series, playing off such tried and true comics and TV series as Bunny Ball, Jem and Josie and the Pussycats, it also promised more of Bagge’s cutting wit and insider knowledge of the ins and outs of the music biz. And on top of that, Beto on art, just to pique the curiosity of the artcomix snobs with whom the Hernandez brother still has cred. But.
It just wasn’t funny. In Hate, Bagge’s writing style, when skewering suburban foibles, lunkheaded conservative dads, self-absorbed yuppies, or dead-end Seattle musicians, was pointed and barbed, and his everyman Buddy Bradley was the perfect vehicle for expressing his often sour and dismissive views. We couldn’t predict what would happen to Buddy and his friends or family next, and that kept me, at least, coming back for more. This same approach served him well in his more Libertarian-leaning political stories for Reason, as well. Here, the all-girl group Yeah!, a cutesy trio with clunky clumsy names like “Woo Woo”, “Honey”, and “Krazy”, with a “K”, no less, was anything but, even if they were given something to be funny with. Basically, these girls, who came from a fairly normal high school background, form a group. They pick a manager (or he picks them, actually, another ongoing joke is how they keep trying to fire him) who looks like a broken down hippie biker burnout, but is able to communicate with people from outer space…and much of the humor here derives from the oh so ironic situation that while they can’t get a gig to save their lives here on Earth, out in the cosmos they’re the biggest group ever. So, they go live on other planets from time to time, and wacky hijinks ensue, such as diminutive drummer Honey’s hippie husband’s pet goat growing to be ten times his normal size eating alien food, and Yeah! has to get back to Earth for an emergency, and can’t, because the goat’s too big to fit in the ship and they don’t want to leave him behind! Can you stand it? In another ongoing storyline, guitarist Krazy acquires an infatuated alien stalker (who looks like one of the Sea Monkeys in those old comics ads, that’s kinda clever, I guess) after playing a show on an alien world, and Bagge spends the next three issues showing him in silhouette as if it’s a big mystery as to what his identity is. Eventually all is revealed, and he and Krazy hit it off until his parents come to get him. And so it goes. The situations are contrived, the dialogue is stilted, and the tone is leaden as we plod from one situation to the next with no sense of flow or drive. I think Bagge really thought he was doing some sort of fizzy, happy-go-lucky pop confection, and he just doesn’t have it in him, the big mope. Another problem, to me, is that Gilbert’s style just doesn’t have the visual flash that could maybe have goosed some of this along- character design is typically quirky but not especially attractive to the eye, and he has absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever; the outfits the girls sport look bland and uninspired. Even when one isn’t comparing him to his brother, it’s crude and ungainly, with an uncertain-looking ink line. I do think that as a creator of complicated, detailed and lengthy narratives, Gilbert is outstanding, but after all is said and done I just don’t care for his art, and that’s one reason why I declined to buy this when DC was putting it out in the late 90’s. Which is not to say that he isn’t capable of the occasional outstanding page, and it’s obvious to anyone he knows how to lay out and tell a story. It just comes down to the visual impression it makes on me, and this art just does absolutely nothing for the scripts. In fact, while I didn’t see this credited anywhere, I suspect that Hernandez was sometimes working in places from layouts Bagge did himself; some of the poses, expressions and facial features, as well as the header style in the splash pages that led off each issue suggest either that or that perhaps Gilbert was trying, consciously or subconsciously, to emulate his writer’s frenetic, distorted style. Again, I found nothing to verify this, but it would explain it.
I really wanted to like Yeah!, but it was a chore to sit through. Bagge himself recognizes that something was lacking, and he muses in his foreword that part of this failure was that his previous audience didn’t find anything they’d come to expect from him there, and that’s true; also, he speculates that intended-audience teenage girls didn’t read it because it seemed old-fashioned. I think a bigger problem was, the new-title hostile readership (the same now as it was in 1999) aside, that Bagge was just trying to do something he had no real flair or feel for, and chose an unsympathetic collaborator to boot, resulting in a flat, forced, and uninteresting result. No harm in trying to branch out, sure, sometimes an artist needs to do it to avoid being pigeonholed. Bagge went on to try some other even more dissimilar projects with mixed results, and sorry to say none of them, at least to me, were half as interesting as his once-a-year Hate Annuals. When it comes to this, however, I’m sure Gilbert’s art won’t be the deterrent for some that it is for me, and might even find charm in Bagge’s scripts, so while I can’t recommend this at all, I will admit that when it comes to the fictional most popular group in the universe, I may be a little tone deaf. Wouldn’t be the first time. (A PDF was provided by the publisher for review purposes)
The All Purpose Review Writing Music List: The Beach Boys- Carl and the Passions: So Tough/Holland; The Allman Bros. Band- Idlewild South; The Marshall Tucker Band; Hall and Oates- Along the Red Ledge; Jefferson Airplane- Bark; Blue Oyster Cult- Cultosaurus Erectus.
Thanks for your attention, see you in two weeks!