Monday, March 31, 2008

Review: Judenhass

The folks at Bargain Comics loaned me a copy of Dave Sim's Judenhass a couple of weeks ago, and I have to admit, I avoided it for awhile. Judenhass is the German term for Jew hatred, and Sim's 48-page narrative takes an unflinching look at the historic hatred and persecution of the Jews that made Auschwitz sadly inevitable. Sim's re-rendering of photographs of the skeletal victims of Nazi atrocities are depicted in stark black and white, while the text is primarily composed of quotations degrading to Jews from many surprising social and political figures regarding the Holocaust. More than just redrawing the gaping, suffering faces, Sim knits them into a tapestry of misery, overlaid with the smug, uncaring faces of the fine and proper gentry and their quotes of indifference.

I can't say I "enjoyed" Judenhass, but it is assuredly thoughtful, disturbing look at the basest side of the human heart, and a powerful, recommended read.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Herbie, the Flaming Carrot, and Billy-Bob Shakespeare!

I'm as excited as anyone about the upcoming Herbie Archives, having precious few issues of the original comics. One thing I do have is a copy of Flaming Carrot Comics#31, wherein Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot teamed up with none other than Herbie Popnecker to learn the shocking truth about William Shakespeare.

The story begins with Herbie at school, in history class. Professor Dogwood is telling the students about the theory that William Shakespeare may not have written his own plays. The Principal barges into the room and fires Dogwood for his revisionist historianism:

Herbie likes the professor, and heads to his house after school to help him out. When Herbie finds the learned scholar doing the Horatio/Yorick routine with a grapefruit, he offers to help the professor prove his theory. Herbie returns to his own home to retrieve his time traveling grandfather clock only to find it damaged by his father's inept attempts at repair. Herbie tries to put it back together and takes the clock out for a test drive:

"There's yours, WHICH YOU BROKE,..." that, and the expression on Father Time's face never fail to make me laugh. Herbie arrives in Iron City to find the Flaming Carrot in pursuit of a hated arch-foe: Mister Chicken Pants!

Don't laugh. Mister Chicken Pants is probably tops in a rogues' gallery that includes a flying dead dog and a diaper-wearing Giant Spider. Herbie continues to hover nearby, watching as Flaming Carrot catches the thief, but the wily and elusive Mister Chicken Pants gives him the slip. ( "Sooo...While you figure that out, what say I go get us some soda pop?" )

The cunning mastermind hides in a nearby barbecue grill as the Carrot follows:

How to deal with such a strange creature? The answer, as always, is hypnotism:

Retrieving the Carrot's time machine, the dissimilar duo head back to olde tymie dayes:

They arrive in Avon. Entering a tavern near the Globe theater, they seek out and quickly find William Shakespeare, or more accurately, Billy-Bob Shakespeare:

If I have one criticism, it's here, where Burden most noticeably loses Herbie's voice. Burden's Herbie seems more verbal and engaged than the original series' terse, laconic, and unflappable plump lump.

On the other hand, he captured Shakespeare's voice perfectly, so all is forgiven!

More conversation convinces the Flaming Carrot and Herbie that Billy-Bob Shakespeare could never have written The Merchant of Venice or Macbeth, so they follow the hillbilly next door, where they find that his "one, full-time gig" is as an aerobics instructor! Suddenly:
Herbie's lollipops come to the rescue again, and the two head to Shakespeare's house:

Much later, the hooded figure leaves Shakespeare's, and the two oddball heroes investigate his footprint. The mystery man wears NIKEs, and they conclude that he must be from the future, using the third time-traveling grandfather clock to travel back and forth to meet with Shakespeare. Needing a ride back, they tackle him and unmask him:

Buddy Hackett explains that he had always dabbled in the arts, among which one was comedy and another was writing beautiful plays. He knew no-one would ever take him seriously as an artist in our age, so he retreated to the past to co-create with Shakespeare.

Finally, they all return to the school:

I don't know about you, but any comic that can combine Herbie, The Flaming Carrot, William Shakespeare, Buddy Hackett, Father Time, and most importantly, Mister Chicken Pants, is A-OK with me.

Well, time to go home and dig some more holes in the backyard!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Purple Golden Age Hulk?!?

From a recent conversation with my 6 year-old son:

The Boy: (sounds Very Serious) Daddy?
Me: What's up kid?
Did you know there was a purple Hulk once?
Yes. He was made in the Golden Age by DC Comics, but they gave him to Marvel later.
That's amazing! How come I never heard about this? What was his secret identity?
(Thinks about it) Jimmy Olsen.
Jimmy Olsen?!?
Yeah. He was the Hulk before he knew Superman.
Gregory, this is HUGE. Do you mind if I share this with my readers?
(An excited jumble of words amounting to): I insist that your readers write and produce a movie about the Purple Hulk! (Runs away roaring)
Me: I'll take that as a yes!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Comics' Numerical Nightmare

I was reminded today of something that both annoys the hell out of me, and which cannot ever really be fixed. After nearly two decades of reboots, restarts, and relaunches, there are precious few comics left that have kept their original numbering.

It used to be a good thing to be a long lived comic book series. I can still remember when anniversary issues were a big deal, proudly proclaiming a book’s staying power. Such was the prevailing sentiment at both Marvel and DC, until DC and John Byrne relaunched Superman out of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Superman restarted at #1 and the old Superman series numbering continued with Adventures of Superman #424. Adventures of Superman went on for almost two decades, and only recently reverted to Superman with #650, after which the numbering resumed as if never interrupted. Unless you're a comic shop trying to stock Superman back issues. Or a collector trying to store Superman back issues. Or if you're rich and/or lucky enough to own a complete run of Superman. Then you've got to deal with Superman #1 through 423 in your "S" boxes, then schlep waaaay back to your "A" boxes for Adventures of Superman #424 through 649, then back again to the "S"-s for #650 and up.

Click diagrams to enlarge

After the success of the Superman relaunch, the floodgates were open and DC started renumbering books left and right, often resetting the continuity to dire effect in the process. Marvel took longer to get to it, but when they started, they pissed away their legacies with gusto. Of course, a lot of their titles were screwed from the get-go in that regard. Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and Thor, to name a few, picked up their numbering from Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, and Journey into Mystery respectively. Any high numbering equity that other books had built up was trashed starting when the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America all had their ongoing titles canceled in favor of "Heroes reborn". Relatively more successful reboots of Heroes Reborn followed, and a wave of line-wide restarts followed that and have continued since. The Hulk was launched anew…into an ill-received John Byrne revamp, and Amazing Spider-Man was restarted for Howard Freakin' Mackie.

Today, the numbering of Marvel's longest running titles are all over the place; some got their old numbering back, others are on their 5th restart. Avengers resumed its traditional numbering for a whopping 4 issues before being cancelled and restarted with New Avengers. I think Marvel’s longest running title may be fucking Wolverine at this point. DC, for their part, are on their 20th iteration of JLA, Green Lantern is up to fifty-something of his 4th or 5th series, and Wonder Woman’s on her 3rd or 4th volume.

Sales are the major determiner of these moves, of course, but any gains made by the restarts are usually born of panic, and accordingly short-lived. Abrupt editorial fiat is often what leads to sudden cancellations and restarts, all in pursuit of the almighty minor sales spike that comes with yet another garish, multi-covered First Issue Spectacular. I think that it is very much a diminishing returns thing, as any jumping on point is just as easily a jumping off point. This practice also devalues the very concept of the First Issue and the Complete Set of a series. Anyone can say they have a full run of Iron Man with a straight face, when their volume 3 has just been shitcanned to make way for NEW! SHINY!! Iron Man #1 (volume 4) by superstar writer T.V. Whimsmith and artist Slo-Poke Jonezz (with DragonzLate Studios).

Does "first issue" even mean anything when you've just been offered the 12th "first" issue of Ghost Rider?

But more than that, more importantly, any sense of momentum, history, and legacy these books have has been destroyed in the constant search for the new and hot. Detective Comics. Action Comics. Batman. Those are about the only titles from the big two that haven’t been rebooted yet. Every other title in both Marvel and DC’s stables are numerically compromised. I concede that sometimes a restart is appropriate, but they can’t even do that consistently. Green Lantern relaunched several times with Hal Jordan starring, but when Jordan went nuts and Kyle Rayner took over, the book retained its then-current numbering. When Hal returned, he got a new first issue. Of course!

Unfortunately, there's not much to be done for it. The damage has already been done. Now we're stuck with an indexer’s nightmare, without even mentioning "zero" issues, "1/2" issues and “1 Million” issues for Pythagoras’ sake. The publishers can go back to the original numbering, and that helps, but they can't travel back in time and un-fuck up their entire numbering scheme. Wouldn't be cost effective, you know. So I guess we’re stuck.

You know, those baseball card guys have it easy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Countdown to Giant Turtle Olsen

So far, I've been pretty disappointed in Countdown to Final Crisis as a weekly reading experience. I should have been on the edge of my seat but not so much, actually. I'm not sure I want to get into specifics based only on my memory, but I'm not remembering a great weekly read so much as a bloody, difficult trudge. In fairness, (and since I paid for the damned things anyway), I plan to re-read the series and see how it holds up as a complete story.

But if it all leads up to a showdown between Darkseid and Giant Turtle Jimmy Olsen, it might be worth the slog. Who ever thought such a glorious thing could be? Yet it is only appropriate, albeit ludicrous, for Olsen to take out Darkseid once and for all, given that the lord of Apokolips made his debut in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135. Sort of a "I bought you into this world, I can take you out!" kind of thing.

I'm not sure to what degree CtFC head writer Paul Dini was involved with Justice League Unlimited, but I remember one crushing letdown in that otherwise excellent series came in an episode that teamed Supergirl with Stargirl and began with the JLU battling a giant monster turtle in Japan. The turtle was a nod to Gamera, but it had one thing that caught my eye immediately: A shock of bright orange hair on its head. Or an orange fin. Did I dare hope that the creature would stand revealed as Jimmy Olsen, finally, finally, bringing Giant Turtle Olsen into animated canon? No? Too fanboy? Well, the critter ended up being just a lil' old turtle. I was, as you can well imagine, crushed.

The ending to Countdown to Final Crisis may yet end up satisfying my giant turtle jones while tying things together neatly and providing a fantastic end to a thus-far lackluster series. It might read much better all at once, but one thing is certain. I've probably said this here before, and if I haven't, it can't be said enough: Everything is better with Giant Turtle Olsen.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Weird Tales of the Inexplicable

This cover caught my eye because, at first glance, it appears to feature Golden Age Ambush Bug riding a bucking werecat through a spooky series of skull-strewn subterranean tunnels with a leggy voodoo princess riding shotgun. It is instead a priapic mantis-man riding a bucking werecat through a spooky series of skull-strewn subterranean tunnels with a leggy voodoo princess riding shotgun. Or something. I'm not sure what it is, but it's happy to see you.

"Wait...How did we sail up here?"

"Good afternoon, sir! Can I interest you in a sample from our new line of Gumbell's Rich N' Hearty soups? On sale today only, ten for five dollars with your SavrzCard. We have Hearty Home Style Chicken, Big N' Bold Beef...The beef it is. Alrighty then, here you go! Trashcan's right there, hon. Thank you, you have a great day! Good afternoon, ma'am! Can I interest you..."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Cheetah's Dance Is Terrifying But Beautiful

From Sensation #22, "The Secret Submarine", art by Harry G. Peter.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Who Do You Trust...In Riverdale?

I'm calling it here: Jughead Jones has been a Skrull since 1987, when he started dating girls, dressing like a thrashin' skater dude, and wearing a ridiculous haircut. The impostor eventually found his way back to Juggie's classic look, but don't be fooled! He's a stinkin' SKRULL.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Underwhelmed eX-Fan

Got to thinking about the X-men recently, and how I seem to have left that entire family of comics behind. The X-Men books have been, and remain, one of Marvel’s cornerstone franchises, but I've been happily indifferent to the lot of 'em for some time now. I was as big an X-fan as anyone, once upon a time, but these days I don’t think Alan Moore writing with the ghost of Jack Kirby on pencils could lure me back to the mutant fold.

As a kid, I had little familiarity with Marvel's mutants, having first seen the original team in a reprint of Marvel Team Up #4, but my first exposure to the "All-New-All-Different" variety came with Uncanny X-Men #147. By then, I had been reading comics for some time, and this was a fascinating new group I'd barely been aware of, but I was immediately intrigued.

I had somehow managed to miss the Claremont-Byrne heyday of the book, but you can bet I wasted no time seeking out the back-issues. I immediately took to Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and the rest, spending an unthinkable $10 on UXM #137. I remember those more innocent times wistfully now, comparing comics after school with pal Mike, and wishing there were a second X-Men book; later nearly mad with joy at the announcement of New Mutants. Now if only Wolverine could have a solo comic! Such fools we were. Such damn delusional fools….It wasn’t long before we would know the meaning of the phrase “be careful what you wish for” all too well. New Mutants came, but the delivery was kind of flat. We all read Wolverine’s mini series by Frank Miller, a huge artistic and financial success that demanded a follow-up. What we got was the atrocious Kitty Pryde and Wolverine series:

Kitty Pryde and Wolverine was a huge letdown, serving only to clutter up Kitty’s back-story by making her previously unremarkable suburban father a freakin’ Yakuza crime lord. Then Kitty herself became a Ninja, somehow. It was beginning to become evident that quality was not a priority or even necessarily a consideration in the mutant spinoffs.

I continued to follow “Uncanny” for awhile, as well as X-Factor and several others. I dropped Uncanny right around #190, tiring of ninjas, Japan, the Brood, bondage suits, deaths, rebirths, Claremont’s overwrought dialogue, the Shi'ar and a bunch of other things, all annoying. By the time of the debut of the baffling Rachel Summers, in the X-books’ already-umpteenth iteration of this whole tired Phoenix shtick, I was out:

Over time, the insularity and relentless negativity of the X-Franchise made it easier and easier to ignore them wholesale. The insularity came when the books became the top selling franchise, and the X-Men editorial office got very possessive of the mutants, making it difficult, if not impossible to integrate the X-Men with the larger Marvel Universe. It suddenly became a whole big deal to have longtime Avenger the Beast show up in the Avengers. The negativity came with the relentless doomsday awaiting the Mutants. The X-Books seemed to remain in perpetual crisis, as profitable crossovers bred further line wide events, and zero chance to catch our breath. The net result was a multitude of crazy alternate futures and various scenarios of mutant oppression, each more horrible and depressing than the last. Then the '90's hit, all swarming with badass cyborg ponytail guys. It was awful:

Years passed, and the last time I gave the X-Men a chance was with Grant Morrison’s stint as writer of New X-Men. Accompanied by Frank Quitely, Morrison made me interested in the X-Men for the first time in a very long time. Then of course, Marvel fucked everything up, putting the book on an aggressive 18 issues yearly schedule when notoriously slow Quitely was already behind. Fill-ins by Igor Kordey were rushed out to meet the demand, and neither artist nor publisher fared well.

Morrison’s fresh look at the X-men continued for a time and the writer made some interesting and exciting changes to the franchise which were, of course, immediately dismantled upon his departure. Luckily, his final story could just as well serve as a coda for the X-Men, and I decided to take it as such. I also read and enjoyed Milligan and Allred's X-Force, then X-Statix, but that ran its course at about the same time.

I don’t follow the X-books anymore, but I can get the gist of what’s going on at any given time. If you’re a big enough fanboy, you pick up this stuff through osmosis. From Previews and the online material I’ve read, I know that the future is a nightmare, the mutants are fewer and more hated than ever, and hope is even more distant that ever. So business as usual then. And Cable is running around with a little baby girl strapped to his back that will be prematurely aging into Jean Fucking Grey in the next 18 months or so.

I'm with the Scarlet Witch: No more mutants for me, thanks!