This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #22, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Green Lantern #43, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition HC, by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons, Rick Veitch, George Pérez & Kurt Schaffenberger (DC)
  • The Unwritten #3, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #1, by various (DC)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Dark Horse)
  • Sinfest vol 1 TPB, by Tatsuya Ishida (Dark Horse)
  • Star Trek: Crew #5 of 6, by John Byrne (IDW)
Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition HC Alan Moore’s Superman stories from the 1980s get the spiffy hardcover collection treatment this week.

The titular story in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was Moore’s coda to the pre-Crisis Superman, and is one of the best Superman stories ever, especially for people who grew up reading his 50s, 60s and 70s adventures as I did. All of Superman’s old enemies come back at once, disrupting his life and threatening the lives of his friends. Superman retreats to his Fortress of Solitude to await the end of his career and perhaps his life. While Moore brings a modern sensibility to what seemed like silly menaces of past decades, the themes are fundamentally those of classic Superman: Help others even at cost to yourself, and that Superman can never kill, no matter how dire the threat. Before Spider-Man codified the principle of great power conveying great responsibility, Superman was living by it, and Moore focuses on that as the central element of the character’s classic portrayal. with art by Curt Swan, George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger, it has a classic visual style too.

The other major work here is “For the Man Who Has Everything”, in which Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman visit the Fortress for Superman’s birthday, and find him incapacitated by an alien plant that induces a dream/trance state, and his enemy Mongol ready to take over the world with Superman out of the way. Aside from the battle in the real world (which ends with a terrific moment for Robin), Superman’s dream of life if Krypton hadn’t exploded is exactly as poignant and tragic as you might expect. Moore’s career in the 80s was full of melancholy stories despite the heroic deeds done in them, and this story fits right in with them. Dave Gibbons draws the story, in a style which seems like a transition from his earlier style in which everything looked slightly shiny, and his ultra-realistic Watchmen style.

The third story is a largely-forgettable Superman/Swamp Thing story from a team-up book illustrated by Rick Veitch, whose art I’ve never really warmed to. Not everything Moore wrote was a winner even in his heyday, so this one is for completists only. Nonetheless, this is a terrific package worth picking up if you haven’t read the big two stories before and you have any interest at all in the Man of Steel.

Wednesday Comics #1 A large slice of the comics blogosphere has gone all melty over Wednesday Comics (for instance, see here, here, or here). This is DC’s new weekly anthology series where each chapter of each story is 1 page long. On the other hand, it’s a big page, printed on newspaper-tabloid-sized paper, albeit on paper of lower quality than your typical modern comic book (but better than newsprint). The series is slated to run 12 issues, which means at the end we’ll have gotten 15 12-page stories for $3.99 per issue.

The format has the obvious drawback that the first issue barely gets anywhere in any of the stories because, well, they’re only a page long. So the best pages are the ones that go for broke on the artwork: Kyle Baker’s deeply textured Hawkman page, or Jose-Luis Garcia Lopez and Kevin Nowlan’s Metal Men page (JLGL’s layout style was made for this large format). Other strips look either pedestrian, or overdrawn. Ben Caldwell’s Wonder Woman is so intricate it’s practically unreadable, while Barbara Ciardo’s colors over Lee Bernejo’s Superman make the page look stiff.

You could call Wednesday Comics a “micro-anthology” book, and it evokes the feel of newspaper adventure strips with the tabloid format. For me it more directly recalls the Action Comics Weekly series of 1988-89, which I think illustrated how difficult anthology comics are to pull off in the modern era, especially with publishers’ priorities to market their trademarked properties above all else. Wednesday Comics has a leg up on ACW in that it contains the work of many A-list creators (Baker, Busiek, Gaiman, Pope, Kubert), but it remains to be seen whether they’ll have the latitude to produce noteworthy stories. It’s far too soon to tell if any stories here will be much good.

When Wednesday Comics was announced, my reaction was, “Enh, anthology comic. I bet the stories will be entirely forgotten in a year or so.” I wasn’t even planning to buy it, but all the hype made me change my mind. I still think it will end up being largely forgettable, but there could be a couple of exceptions. We’ll see.

Sinfest vol 1 Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest is a terrific webcomic, dynamically drawn and utterly irreverent, yet charming and funny, it’s been around for nearly 10 years. There have been three collections via CafePress, and now Dark Horse has issued a new collection. I haven’t checked to see what the differences are between the collections – other than the cover and some of Ishida’s college material in the new one – but I decided to pick it up anyway.

Broadly, the premise involves the ongoing struggle between God and Satan for the soul of Slick, a young man (who resembles Calvin with sunglasses) who wants eternal hedonism. The main supporting character is Monique, the object of Slick’s desire, albeit one who’s completely her own person and isn’t going to let him just have his own way. The strip is PG-13 rated, with strong innuendoes (and language) but no nudity; it’s oddly clean, yet dirty.

Fundamentally, the strip’s humor is based in characters who have strong wants and drives which conflict with one another. This may be best exemplified in Percy and Pooch, the artist’s cat and dog (or fictional representations thereof) who play, argue, fight, and follow their drives while their owner is away. Their adventures are the favorite part of many of the strip’s fans, as he’s got the nature of and differences between cats and dogs perfectly nailed for comedic purposes.

I’ve been reading the strip for years and although it sometimes feels like its edge has been a bit blunted, these early strips feel as fresh as ever. While it might not be for everyone, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys irreverent humor, especially people who enjoyed the early Bloom County strips before Bill the Cat sent it into its downhill spiral.

(Looks like the second volume will be out in December.)

Working from Home

I’m working from home today for the first time in, geez, several years, I think. We have some work being done on our complex and I wanted to be home to keep an eye on the cats (e.g., so the door doesn’t get left open allowing them to escape).

I’ve rarely ever worked from home because I’ve always assumed that I’d be unable to avoid all the distractions of all my stuff around the house. I don’t have a proper work space – the house isn’t big enough – so my study is where I have many of my books and games and such. Hard to resist. I’ve done a pretty good job resisting today, though; I’ve made some progress on my projects. In fact, interacting with the people working around the building has been the main distraction, and since they’re why I’m here in the first place, that’s been okay.

I walked down the street for Chinese food for lunch, and the day was gorgeous (as days often are at this time of year), which makes me think I should do this a little more often.

The down side to working at home is mainly that I have few interactions with my cow-orkers. Working alone every day would drive me nuts, I think. I do have interactions with the cats, especially Blackjack, who wanted to help me type this morning. The up side is, well, I guess it’s not being bothered by people with questions, or people wanting to go to lunch or coffee, but honestly that’s not a big upside: Questions are rarely much of a bother (only at crunch time when I have no time to spare, really), and I like my cow-orkers, so I enjoy hanging out with them.

The other up side is that Debbi ordered something and had it shipped via Fed Ex, so I was here to sign for it. Convenient.

I may have to do this a little more often – at least more than once every few years. Although I really need a new desk and chair, because the ergonomics of what I’ve got suck. Not a big deal when I only spend a few hours a week at the home desktop (if that), but tougher to spend a whole day sitting at it. Another home improvement project – yay.

This Week’s Haul

Actually two week’s worth of comics, since I didn’t pick them up while I was on vacation. This includes Marvel’s notoriously large shipment from that week:

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three #3 of 4, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #2, by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely (DC)
  • Green Lantern #42, by Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Eddy Barrow, Jonathan Glapion & Ruy José (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #28, by Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • The Literals #3, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Madame Xanadu #12, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Astonishing X-Men #30, by Warren Ellis & Simone Bianchi (Marvel)
  • Avengers/Invaders #12 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Jack Herbert (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #15, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, Victor Olazaba & Livesay (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #130, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman, Rodney Buchemi & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #27, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman, David Lapham & Timothy Green II (Marvel)
  • Nova #26, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • War of Kings #5 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Echo #13, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #4, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Sir Edward Grey: Witchfinder #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck & Dave Stewart (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #32, by Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra (Dynamite)
  • Prince Valiant: 1937-1938 vol 1 HC, by Hal Foster (Fantagraphics)
Green Lantern #42 The interesting thing about Green Lantern #42 – which wraps up the “Agent Orange” story before we launch into “Blackest Night” – is that it so baldly demonstrates how machiavellian the Guardians of the Universe have become. The Guardians started off as mysterious and withdrawn arbiters of justice, and over the years have become less and less sympathetic, pursuing their own agendas, answering to nobody (least of all their own Green Lantern Corps), and making decisions humans would consider questionable.

In “Agent Orange”, a group of Lanterns confronts Larfleeze, the keeper of the orange light, an obsessive collector who desires the blue ring that Hal Jordan has acquired. (For those keeping score at home the lights we’ve seen so far include green for will, yellow for fear, magenta for love, blue for hope, and orange for avarice.) Hal manages to hold him off until the Guardians – Larfleeze’s old enemies – show up and make peace with him by giving him something he wants. What he wants is a blue ring, so they tell him where the two renegade Guardians who are forming the blue corps are hiding, and he attacks them. Yes, the Guardians essentially threw two of their own under the bus to build a treaty with this insane creature. Hal doesn’t know what exactly they gave him, but he knows it can’t be a good thing, whatever it is.

I wonder where Johns is going with all this – and I wonder it in a good way. Are we heading towards an eventual rebellion of the Lanterns towards the Guardians? Is something going on with the Guardians to make them so nasty? It’s hard to see how this status quo can hold without the heroes becoming complicit in the questionable actions of their bosses. Yet it’s also a fascinating romp through the relationships among the powerful beings that inhabit DC’s outer space milieu. Good stuff.

The Literals #3 Well thank the powers that be that that’s over.

The Literals #3 wraps up “The Great Fables Crossover”, which has been so horribly written that it actually made me consider giving up on Fables altogether. The premise is that Kevin Thorn has the power to rewrite reality, and he’s decided that our reality has worn out its welcome, so he’s going to wipe it out and create a new one. He kills his brother, Writer’s Block, and stops his father, his son, and several other characters from interfering, spending eight issues eventually getting around to taking action – before the heroes get to him and do, indeed, stop him.

There was maybe three issues of story here, stretched out to nine issues. The rest of the space is filled with plenty of Jack of Fables’ annoying antics (reminding me why I dropped his book in the first place – I can’t stand reading about him), introducing a new character (Jack Frost, the other Jack’s son), and stretching out Kevin’s efforts to overcome Writer’s Block and other minor obstacles as far as possible.

And honestly I just didn’t give a damn about any of it, especially since most of the setup appeared to revolve around the Jack of Fables supporting cast, and having nothing at all to do with the ongoing story in Fables itself.

The Literals appears to have been created specifically to play out this crossover story, featuring several character who represent various elements of literature (individual genres, as well as more abstract elements). It looks like this was the last issue of the series, which is something of a mercy: While these characters are interesting ideas in the abstract, this story has been the worst possible manner in which to launch a new series.

Honestly I’m not sure what Willingham and Sturges were thinking here. The whole thing was badly conceived, badly written, and unrewarding, a strong contender for the award of worst comics story I’ve read this year. I hope Fables gets back on track next issue and we can all forget that “The Great Fables Crossover” ever happened.

Avengers/Invaders #12 Avengers/Invaders has been perhaps the best of the Alex Ross/Jim Krueger collaborations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t set the bar very high, so this 12-issue series has been merely “okay”.

I’m not sure exactly what it is, but every Ross/Krueger book I’ve read has been ponderously paced, striving to be thoughtful but instead being merely dull. I don’t know whether this is a fundamental flaw in Ross’ approach to plotting, or if Krueger brings out the worst in his storytelling, but either way Earth X, Project Superpowers and this one have all been pretty tedious.

What elevates this series above the others is that it seems more tightly focused (even though it’s told in three discrete four-issue segments), having a clear direction and a reasonable resolution at each stage of the way. The other books seemed to get bogged down in their ambition, losing sight of what they were doing and ultimately just being unsatisfying both to read and to have read. A/I also has more action and some sympathetic characters, from tragic World War II soldier Paul Anselm who is thrown into the present along with the Invaders and who causes the problems they’re trying to resolve in this third chapter, to the two Captains America, the first of whom is currently dead in modern times, and the second of whom is his partner Bucky, who is one of the Invaders thrown forward in time. The cast is way too large to give everyone equal time – most of the Avengers are merely troops supporting the main characters – but the focus on the main figures, especially the Invaders, makes the story work well enough.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t really very original: We have Ultron again, the Red Skull controlling the Cosmic Cube again, characters from the past viewing elements of the present day as downright evil (a theme explored more brutally in the DC Two Thousand JLA/JSA story from 9 years ago). So the story has less of an impact than it might have since it feels largely rehashed.

Steve Sadowski’s artwork is pretty nifty, although I find his layouts to be a little confusing at times, and his action sequences to feel somewhat muted. I think he’s inking himself here, but a stronger inker might bring out his best elements more effectively. (His inks seem influenced by Tom Palmer, whose style worked best over a more dynamic penciller.)

Anyway, I don’t regret having read it, but Avengers/Invaders doesn’t make me optimistic that the Ross/Krueger tandem has turned the corner. And certainly I still have no interest in reading anymore of Project Superpowers.

The Immortal Iron Fist #27 The Immortal Iron Fist ends its run this week, although it’ll be followed by an Immortal Weapons mini-series, focusing on the Fist’s peer heroes from the other Seven Capital Cities of Heaven. (The preview of the first issue at the end of this issue looks pretty good.)

The series on the whole has been quite entertaining, and the switch from Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction and writers to Duane Swierczynski has barely been noticeable, as the style and quality hardly changed at all. The art has generally been strong, and the book’s strength of exploring the background of the Fist’s mystical city of K’un Lun has been intriguing and often exciting. If I have a criticism, it’s that the characterizations of Fist and his friends has been rather thin, so his personal struggles to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Misty Knight, retain control of his company, and come to grips with getting older have felt superficial. I guess there’s just been too much stuff to pack into a regular-sized monthly comic to make the characters truly engaging.

(For example, this issue ends with a revelation in the Fist/Misty relationship, which is touching and makes his future a little more intriguing, but it feels like it comes out of left field.

Nonetheless, it’s been a fun ride, and I hope Iron Fist will be back after the interregnum of the mini-series. But if not, well, I’m sure he’ll be back sometime.

Prince Valiant vol 1: 1937-1938 My choice for the greatest comic strip in history would be Hal Foster’s epic adventure strip Prince Valiant. And now Fantagraphics is reprinting the series in a series of spiffy, oversized hardcover collections, with the first volume out this week. And even though I own the whole 40-volume set of the Foster-drawn pages that Fantagraphics published in the 1990s, I’m perfectly happy to buy this new series, with larger pages, better-quality paper, and much better-quality coloring. The first volume covers the first two years, 1937-1938, and while the earliest episodes feel a little primitive by the standards of Foster’s tremendous skills, by the end of 1937 you can clearly see Foster getting his footing and developing into the artistic legend he’s become.

What makes Prince Valiant so great? After all, it’s about a fictional hero from Norway who’s exiled along with his father to the British isles during the age of the equally-fictional King Arthur (circa the 5th century). Val becomes a Knight of the Round Table and embarks on many adventures of varying plausibility, so in the large it sounds like pretty standard stuff.

Well, aside from Foster being one of the greatest pop artists of the 20th century, the story feels like nothing else in graphic storytelling: It’s told in narration rather than in the immediate action-and-dialogue style of comic books, yet it loses none of is impact. Foster conveys action and excitement without many of the conventions of superhero comics. And Val gradually grows up, matures, gets married, and has children during the course of the strip. In this volume he’s a young man of maybe 15 or 16 years of age, full of bluster and passion, yet still finding his place in the world. He’s clever, yet makes mistakes along the way and is often saved through dumb (sometimes tragic) luck. It’s an epic saga a little bit different from anything like it, and Foster’s dedication to his craft makes it better than even the notable stories by his not-inconsiderable peers (Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, etc.).

The next volume is announced for “spring of 2010”, so it looks like we’ll be getting 2 years worth of pages every 9 months or so, which will make for a pretty slow crawl to get to the strip’s apex in the 1950s. I think it will be worth it, though. It’s excellent stuff, and I look forward to enjoying it all over again.

Rainy Vacation, And That’s Okay

Debbi and I rounded up June with a trip back to Massachusetts to visit our families, for the first time in a year and a half, flying out the night of June 19. Debbi jokes that we go on these vacations but hardly see each other, since our families live 30 miles apart. The vacation itself was quite good, although slightly marred by the trip back.

The weather was, objectively, so-so: Cloudy and drizzly (if not rainy) most of the week. This was fine with me, though, since I didn’t have anywhere I needed to go, and when I wanted to go out, it wasn’t nasty enough to be a real problem. It was definitely better than hot-and-humid, which is a risk in Boston during the summer!

I was able to do the shopping I wanted (including visits to That’s Entertainment and Pandemonium), plus having dinner with my friend Bruce. I also read a book and a half, and was pleased to find that my Mom’s (relatively) new Internet connection has built-in wi-fi, which meant I could browse the Web and get my e-mail on my laptop rather than using her computer.

My first outing was to go down to visit Debbi’s family on Tuesday the 23rd. I think Debbi was happy to have someone else to chase around her nieces and nephews, who are 10, 8 and 5. The 10-year-old is getting quite fast, and chasing them around the house I was only able to catch her because she had to stop to keep from running into her siblings! The 8-year-old likes to play chase-and-catch games, and she way underestimated how far I can leap in a single step, surprising the heck out of her. We also reduced Debbi to hysterical laughter during dinner when I told the kids we should settle down because their mom was getting that look, to which the 8-year-old said, “You know the look?” Debbi almost spit out her dinner.

Thursday Dad and I drove down to Cape Cod for a day-trip around the peninsula. We chose the right day, as it was sunny and warm for the whole day, probably the one day it was while we were there. We had lunch at Cooke’s in Orleans, stopped in Wellfleet and then went up to Provincetown for some fried dough and to look into the stores. There’s a nifty game store there now, Puzzle Me This, which would be worth a trip every visit if I were still going to the Cape regularly. After that we stopped in Chatham to see the ocean, and then had dinner in Orleans again, this time at the Saltwater Grille.

We vacationed on the Cape every year while I was growing up, and my parents still go there each year, so the Cape holds a lot of memories for me. Orleans, where we stayed, is so different from the olden days: Most of the stores I remember no longer exist, and parts of town are considerably built up. Cooke’s is really the main holdout – it’s been there forever, and is just as good as it’s ever been. I remember finding some great used comics and books at stores around the Cape which either no longer exist, or are shadows of their former selves. And also a terrific kite store in Provincetown, which weirdly carried a few games like Star Fleet Battles. And biking on the excellent Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Dad said that Cape Cod feels like a second home to him. Even years after I last stayed there, it does to me too, despite all the changes. I should see if I can take a vacation there again some year.

Sunday night Debbi and I double-dated with her sister and brother-in-law, as we did a few years ago, having dinner in the North End, followed by coffee and dessert. They’re fun people to have a night out with, and we all had a great time. (With three kids I’m sure they enjoy getting a night out once in a while, too.) Debbi came back to spend an evening at my Mom’s afterwards, letting her sleep in on Monday.

This would have been a great end to the vacation, except for the flight home: Due to weather on the east coast plus a systems glitch at the airport, our flight back was delayed, delayed, delayed, until we would have missed our connection. So we switched to a different flight, and it was delayed, delayed, delayed, until it finally took off after we’d been at the airport for nine and a half hours. This one was a direct flight, but it landed in Oakland rather than San Francisco, and since it got in after 1 am, it was too late for anyone to pick us up (although Subrata did try, but it was too late even for him). So we took a cab to get Debbi’s car, and finally got home around 2:45 am. We were both exhausted and cranky by the time we got to bed. It was one of the worst travel experiences I’ve ever had.

Despite that, it was overall a very nice vacation. We get back there a little less often over time, but we always enjoy it when we do.