In an attempt to revive some of the blogging I did on a previous site, I’m going to bring back my semi-regular mini-column, “Four Color Comics.” The premise behind the feature is rather simple – I’ll pick four properties (99% DC or Marvel, right?) on which I’d like to see a particular creative team (read: writer/artist). This thought experiment is partially based on a series of Jeff Lemire tweets from nearly ten years ago and bar conversations I had with my comic book regulars and friends.
Or: There’s an Oldsmobile Joke that I Can’t Quite Land . . .
Mister Miracle #2 of 12
W – Tom King
A – Tom Gerads
The last time we really heard from Mister Miracle prior to the King/Gerards revival was close to ten years ago, in the midst of Final Crisis, after Shilo Norman had emerged as the heir to Scott Free’s mantle. I find myself transfixed by this book to a certain degree. To start, Mitch Gerads’ artwork is conversion worthy material for pencil purists. But is isn’t Gerads alone. He and Tom King seem to improve with every issue of every project. In the days of frequent shipping and rotating groups of artists, it is both refreshing and relieving to see a writer/artist team collaborate at such a remarkably consistent rate. I think that the first issue of this Miracle Man maxiseries took many readers off guard. It had a far darker tone than most would have assumed. It also felt tangential to the DC Universe, appearing much more reminiscent of proto-Vertigo/early Vertigo DC Universe releases. I found myself asking the same questions I do when I read those books: “Is this a superhero book?” and “Where does this fit?” Ultimately, neither King nor Gerads are going to answer either query, and the fact that DC is comfortable with that level of ambiguity says a lot about the company’s continued relaxation of its sometimes crippling continuity. That, or it’s just going to all loop back OR function as a major catalyst for an important event. Either way, right? Spoilers after the jump.
Cartoonist – Stan Sakai (backup w. Julie Fuji Sakai)
Cover Colors – Tom Luth
Believe it or not, Usagi Yojimbo turned 30 this year. (Don’t tell him he’s a millennial). When the epic finally wraps, it should enter a fairly unique club. Along with Jeff Smith’s Bone, the Hernandez Brothers’ Love and Rockets, and (yes, fine, begrudgingly) Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Usagi Yojimbo holds a fairly strong claim to the title of definitive creator owned comic. In fact, I would contend it easily beats our two of the other three contendors since Sakai neither sold his creation to Scholastic (no judgement, just a disqualification in this particular barstool debate, though Usagi made his way into our living rooms as part of the extended TMNT cast) nor . . . how should I put this . . . got weird (??) (sorry, Dave). Along with Love and Rockets, Sakai’s commitment is remarkable and consistent.
Not much intrigues me in terms of bookstore releases for August 22. There are a few interesting finds.
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin is a retelling of the Monica Lewinsky saga (who says we don’t have our own mythology). It extends on Zevin’s previous work, Trainwreck, of which I’ve read a few excerpts (and seen the rather unfaithful screen adaptation starring Amy Schumer) that essentially provides a fairly strong overview of the “Madonna or the whore” characterization for women in modern society (if leaning more towards the latter demonization, since . . . well, society realized years ago that it only needs the salacious, and that contrast with alleged “superior” examples is entirely unnecessary to drive home the all out, blanket character destruction of American women). What intrigues me isn’t the philosophy of the book, since, to be honest, we’ve been re-living this tragic element of the American story since Hawthorne first exposed inherent gender hypocrisy in 1850 that we’ve done fairly little to improve things since. What piques my interest, instead, is the idea that these national stories, sensational as they may be, are the new American mythology. I remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal rather well. I was a pubescent adolescent, a sophomore in high school, so this story and the media blitz surrounding it are fairly well burned into my skull. Nonetheless, I feel that I’m on the younger end of those who had first hand awareness of this story and who could also parse out the political, social, and sexual details of the scandal with any degree of intellectual capacity. And really, I’m being generous there. It is definitely a phenomenon that nestles softly in the wheelhouse of hyperbolic nostalgia. As we’ve reached the end of history, our past history becomes our myth. There’s nothing necessarily groundbreaking in that occurrence. Early “history” had little metaphysical distance from mythology, and thus from entertainment. What makes it all particularly postmodern is the fact that this mythology is rooted not just in pop culture, a far cry from the heroic field of battle, but a pop culture scandal based around a blowjob.
Along similar lines, Sue Grafton releases the penultimate (assuming she doesn’t descend into numbers) Kinsey Millhone Alphabet murder series, Y is for Yesterday. I find this release intriguing because . . . wow, talk about sticking to a shtick. These books are literally as old as I am, and they’ve occupied a specifically tight niche of the pop fiction market. I used to buy these books for my mom, who could read a mystery novel in a night, and I’d purchase them from both the drug store and the book store. Grafton achieved a remarkable amount of success with these books, but she falls just shy of being the household name that many of her contemporaries became, mostly likely because her books never became movies, or television shows, or miniseries. I have to assume she was offered and chose not to – so good for her(?).
Mystery is the type of genre fiction that seems to attract more “serious readers” than others, and it has a tradition of being taken more seriously as literature than science fiction, fantasy, etc. It also seems that detective fiction is the subgenre most often aped by literary fiction, or perhaps that’s just because I read Pynchon, and he likes to do that. I’m not sure where Grafton falls, but I’m inclined to think it’s somewhere between detective fiction and pop fiction. Nonetheless, it’s a remarkable achievement, and one done at a pace that is far more respectable than many of her contemporaries. Kudos, Sue.
There isn’t much in the way of new music that intrigues me this week, but I’m definitely about a week behind on purchasing the new records by Guided By Voices, Rainer Maria, and Brand New. I will, however, be picking up, Filthy Friends’ full length debut, Invitation, that drops on August 25. I loved their contribution to the anti-Trump 30 Songs in 30 Days. It’s rare that we get supergroups in the world of indie rock. It’s even rarer that said group includes a member of King Crimson, but I think that’s even more of a reason to pick it up.
This is one of my “off weeks” for comics. I’m frankly torn about purchasing comics now because I’m running out of solid storage space. I’ve culled my collection over the years, and I still don’t have the room for it. I’ve gone through various periods of selling large runs of books (way too impatient to sell smaller sets) and I’ve at least mitigated the costs. I’m remarkably regretful though. I sold off my entire Morrison Batman run under the idea that I would buy the collected editions to re-read, and I haven’t done much of that yet. I was more thoughtful about my sale of Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run because I purchased each hardcover as it came out.
Nonetheless, I will definitely be picking up a few books, if not necessarily this week. DC looks to have another great week lined up, and I feel great about that recent trend. It’s been a little while since I’ve been this intrigued by week-to-week DC releases for the company as a whole, or at least in general. I’m frankly surprised how well DC has been able to manage the Rebirth transition given that (1) retconning/rebooting/relaunching is incredibly hard, (2) the New 52 was handled incredibly haphazardly*, and (3) DC has previously seemed a little too dedicated to its history to allow for the necessary degree of flexibility to prove attractive to new readers.
Hellblazer # 13 (Writer/Cover- Tim Seely, Art – Jesus Merino)
I haven’t invested in Constantine since the original series ended, but I’m a big fan of Tim Seely, and I think he’ll bring the necessary grit and cred to the character that will make this book a success. Seely has been quietly moving up through the ranks of DC Comics. He now has the keys to Hellblazer and Green Lanterns. I hope this run is long and epic in the grand tradition of the Vertigo Hellblazer series.
Black Hammer # 12 (Writer
I think Jeff Lemire is a genius. I don’t know too many people who work in comics who are as versatile or prolific. Lemire’s work ranges from comix** to mainstream superhero titles. Lemire bent form and genre along with Scott Snyder on “After Death,” composed the critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic epic “Sweet Tooth,” and wrote the all-too-short-lived-Pre New 52 Superboy series. He works as both a cartoonist and a scripter. Recently, he’s been plying his trade with creator-owned genre books such as the utterly remarkable Descender (along with the equally form-bending Dustin Nguyen). Black Hammer is up my alley 100% – weird superhero tales that recall the independent spirit of the 90s and the glory days of Vertigo. This book is a must for fans of off-the-wall “superhero” books like Madman or Doom Patrol.
Finally, a new tradition: “I’m not going to buy it, but I wish I would” – Bucky O’Hare Graphic Novel Coloring Book. In the wave of nostalgia, it’s hard to figure why Larry Hama’s creation hasn’t been revived more properly. I mean, just tap the goddamn zeitgeist already and cross the character over with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Late Gen-X and early Millennial money will line the coffers for years.
*DC bit off more than they could chew with the New 52, and I’m still more than a little baffled about how it could have made it out of a pitch meeting. It seemed bizarre to put a finite timetable on the existence of heroes, both from a consistency and logistics standpoint. Popular books from pre-New 52 canon were almost left alone. We all expressed a degree of confusion about the amount of backstory that both Green Lantern and Batman were able to build upon in a mere five years, only to be told in the same tone that a fourth grader explains his missing homework that these characters had actually been around for longer than the existence of the rest of the heroes. Books were inconsistent across their “family” of titles. Morrison’s and Tomasi’s Batman seemed to line up, and Snyder’s and Tomasi’s did also, but it didn’t seem like Morrison’s and Snyder’s did . . . if that makes any sense. And nothing seemed to gel with Detective Comics, at least until the end of the run. Speaking of Morrison, I’m still not sure that Action Comics’ Superman was the same character featured in the eponymous title. And I’ve just rambled for a paragraph about the New 52 one plus years after its demise . . . so . . .
** Maybe? Right? Is it right to call Essex County or Underwalter Welder “comix?” I don’t know. They’re not quite underground, a word that tends to be the qualifier for all things “comix,” but they are certainly independent.
Mage: The Hero Denied # 1 (of 15), Image Comics – $3.99
Full disclosure: I am predisposed to love this book. When I first discovered Mage: The Hero Defined, the second “arc” in Wagner’s opus, I was at a formative position in my life. It was near the end of my freshman year in high school, and I was branching into all things independent. There’s a certain punk-rock or independent spirit about Wagner’s story, and that resonated with me in ways that are beyond qualification. So if I gush, sue me.*
This issue follows on the heels of last month’s zero issue that heralded the return of Kevin Matchstick/Pendragon. If you missed the primer, it’s not going to detract from this issue at all. # 1 is almost entirely exposition, as Kevin and his son, Hugo, (a concept that hits home even more intensely since this book is a collaborative effort between Wagner and his son who serves as colorist) stroll through a park in this new community, seemingly years since the events that conclude “The Hero Defined,” tempting fate with proclamations of contentedness.
This is a difficult issue. I mean that qualification to explain both composition and analysis. The last Mage series debuted ten years ago. A key demographic had yet to pick up comics at that point. Stretching back even further, the series first launched under the auspices of Comico in 1986. There’s a significant chunk of that fanbase who may have left comics. Wagner thus has a bit of a dilemma to encounter. He is a comics maverick, to an extent. He more or less follows his own lead, and he approaches projects with a unique perspective. That having been said, he needs to do something to appeal to a new reader. It is a #1 issue after all.
What Wagner does to make issue one friendly both to new readers and fans whose memories aren’t as strong is immediately hit the major tropes of the series. Trouble will follow Kevin Matchstick. He isn’t entitled to a normal life. In lesser hands, and perhaps sans context, this would seem somewhat played. Ok, a new volume has started, and . . . great, the same things are happening. I get it, and I wouldn’t entirely dismiss this criticism. What I would do, though, is encourage the reader to think about the nature of the inevitable disruption of Matchstick and company’s idyllic suburban life. Wagner almost goes out of his way to establish the peacefulness of Kevin’s new life, which can seem like a somewhat cheap, telegraphed plot device out of a corny movie preview: “In a world where Kevin Matchstick finally found peace . . .”
But that’s not what happens here. Wagner works to establish a juxtaposition, not a lamely telegraphed and all to brief foreshadowing. At the point that Kevin and clan have achieved peak mundanity, between strolls through the park in autumn and spousal arguments about repairmen, conflict thrusts itself to the forefront. For new readers, this device works to establish immediate tension. For returning readers, it allows for a meditation about the first two arcs of the trilogy.
Ultimately, Mage: The Hero Denied #1 functions exactly as needed. It establishes a certain immediacy and allows Wagner to jump directly into the action a mere five pages into the story. Wagner picks up tropes familiar to any reader, nay human – familial bonds and the existential dilemma. Life, for Kevin Matchstick, must be defined by the hero cycle. Wagner’s first issue in his return to his semi-autobiographical epic certainly made me excited for the next fourteen installments, and that’s truly the best kind of analysis you can give to any first issue.
*In the 90s, independent things were, paradoxically, becoming mainstream. Built on the back of the various underground movements in the 70s and 80s, independent concepts broke through in the 90s, and comics were no exception. Image launched more as an alternative than an independent. And I think it still occupies a similar position today. It started, with some exceptions, as an independent publisher of mainstream style superhero books. Gradually, though, Image diversified its lineup, and books like Mage helped to foster that transition.
Comic Picks for the Wednesday, August 16
Dark Nights: Metal # 1 (of 6) – DC Comics, $3.99
W – Scott Snyder
A – Greg Capullo
I’m a sucker for summer crossover events. I harken back to a more innocent time, at Breezy Point Swim Club in Langhorne, PA, reading issues of Infinity War with my friends after morning swim practice, trading various and assorted tie-in issues with one another*. When I returned to comics in 2009, I occasioned to walk into a random comic store the week the first Blackest Night book was released. The proprietor asked me what my general comic interests were, and I replied, “I loved Green Lantern, and I’ve always loved summer crossovers.” He thought I was messing with him.
My friends at Third Eye Comics proclaimed, ” If Frank Frazetta and Jack Kirby collaborated with Seasons in the Abyss as their soundtrack — you’d get METAL.” If that doesn’t sell a book, I don’t know what does. The fact that Snyder and Capullo have both said that this book pulls on plot threads from their entire epic Batman run also ups the ante. I’ve been jazzed about this series since I read the announcement from DC. Hearing Scott Snyder wax nostalgically about the series (and Batman in general) for nearly half of his Q&A at Awesome Con ramped up my excitement even more.
Snyder has been a prolific writer of Bat-family crossovers – Court of Owls, Death of the Family, Endgame, Batman Eternal, and Batman and Robin Eternal – but his work outside of the Dark Knight for DC is fairly limited, all things considered. He wrote Swamp Thing for the launch of the New 52, building a great mythos of the Red and the Green via a crossover with Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man, and he penned the Superman: Unchained mini with Jim Lee on art duties. For a guy who is arguably DC’s biggest writing talent, this is a big step. If DC wants to continue the momentum of Rebirth, they need worldbuilders not named Geoff Johns. I think Snyder and Capullo (along with Glapion and Plascencia) are more than up to the task, and I’m dying to get my hands on this book before the interwebs spoils it for me.
Superman # 29 – DC Comics, $2.99
W – Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
A – Dough Mahnke
This is the best Superman we have had in years. Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are the best character builders in comics today, and the rotation of artists through the series has worked far better than I could have predicted. I’m partial to Gleason-draw issues, but I have absolutely no complaints about Doug Mahnke. His arts tends to contrast the lighter tone of Gleason’s, and it should be the appropriate look for a book in which Supes dons a Yellow Ring. Yes. Superman joins the Sinestro Corps. Do you need another reason to pick up this book?
Super Sons # 7 – DC Comics, $3.99
W – Peter Tomasi
A – Jorge Jiminez
Did I mention that Peter Tomasi is fantastic? It speaks to the very nature of the success of serial storytelling when an iconic writer (Morrison) creates a uniquely important character (Damian Wayne) who grows into a deep and complex fully formed creation via the pen of another writer (Tomasi). This issue continues the guest appearance of Damian’s Titans. This series is the response to the (deserving) criticism of the past few years, namely that DC’s overall tone was mired in dark storytelling. Part of this criticism stemmed from the fact the popularity of Batman became synonymous with the editorial direction of the company as a whole. Books that weren’t necessarily dark, such as Green Lantern, took on a darker tone. Mired in all of this were the various Superman titles that had been wallowing in general more or less since the departure of Geoff Johns or at least by the time War of the Supermen commenced. I think DC heard the message, though. At the launch of the New 52, DC tried to be intentional about its inclusion of various non-traditional genres as high profile books. That idea was certainly commendable, but not necessarily successful. With Rebirth, they seem to have righted the course and built a roster of books that (mostly) adheres to standard superhero fare, but spreads out the tonal continuum to a far more desirable degree.
Mage: The Hero Denied # 1 (of 15) – Image Comics, $3.99
Mage: The Hero Defined was one of the first comics I actually collected**, and certainly piqued my interest about independent comics. I thought it was one of the coolest looking comics. I was intrigued by Kevin Matchstick’s thunderbolt shirt and glowing baseball bat. Mage felt like, for the lack of a better description, an “indie rock” comic book. And since punk rock and hardcore dominated my life as a high school freshman, Mage made perfect sense to me. There’s not much that could keep me from procuring each issue of this series on its release date. If I only had $3.99 (plus tax) to my name, I’d still buy this book.
I’ll probably also be picking up:
Uncle Scrooge #29 (IDW, $3.99)
Mother Russia #2 (Alterna, $1.50)
Wicked Righteous #1 (Alterna $1.50)
If I had more walking around money, I’d also buy:
Astonishing X-Men # 2 (Marvel, $3.99)
Batgirl: Stephanie Brown TPB Vol. 1 (DC $29.99)
*The communal nature of youth lends itself to event books. It was a lot easier to trade baseball cards with your friend than it was to buy new packs in the stores, and it was certainly much more economically advantageous to pool collective comic resources to maximize reading content.
** I don’t know when it clicked, when I realized that books connected with one another, or when I even realized that books came out on specific days, but I’m sure I didn’t quite “get it” for a long time. I think that I actually started to collect books in a series around 8th grade, and I believe I came to Mage as a freshman in high school.
Or, Middle Class Problems
Here are some stationary items that I would buy if I weren’t facing crippling student load debt:
Frasizzle Made Book Journal – I often take notes on the books I read in a pocket notbook in addition to the notes I write in the margin. I like the idea of keeping them all in one place.
Back Pocket Co. SpaceX Mars Journals – I’ve seen various versions of these floating around the interwebs, but the Martian ones are my favorite. I think I should buy these and journal about the second season of The Expanse. ( I found this on Etsy, but it looks like they are a British-based company. Pretty cool: https://backpocket.co/)
SlimNote Pineapple Notebook – I would use this notebook for an epic Psych rewatch. (Also an Etsy find, but stationed at http://www.slimnotestudio.com/)
Cognitive Surplus Ornithological Notebook – The couple behind Cognitive Surplus company have crafted some remarkably cool science ephemera. I will likely be picking up one of their notebooks very soon. I hadn’t heard of them before, but they are approaching stationary items in one of the more unique ways I have seen. And they’re standing up for science! (Also, this one).
Robert Geller Public Supply – This design is stunningly minimal and straightforward, and the compnay’s social mission is near and dear to my educator heart.
Since I don’t have the money for these, I highly suggest you empty your wallets and tell me how you like them.