Amazing animals and other comic-book characters

VON HOFFMAN’S INVASION by Tom Tully and Eric Bradbury is typical of the British comics I remember from the 1960s and ’70s. Von Hoffman was once Nazi Germany’s most brilliant scientist, but WW II’s been over for 25 years, he’s obviously no threat, why not release him to live out his last years in peace?

Oops. Developing a formula that turns animals into giants under his control (similar to another Bradbury strip, Black Max), Von Hoffman journeys to England to avenge Germany’s defeat (British fiction assumes this means targeting the UK, much as American fiction assumes it means targeting the U.S.). Can two plucky boys with an antidote to the growth spray end his reign of terror?

This is fun, with some creative use of the monsters, though not as good as Black Max. And like a lot of strips I remember, this volume ends with a soft reboot of sorts, as Von Hoffman gains control of some robot dinosaurs rather than just giant animals.

“What if animals turned on us?” is a premise that goes back at least a century. Nevertheless, Marguerite Bennett’s ANIMOSITY: Wake did very well by the concept: animals suddenly gain intelligence, prompting them to engage in revenge schemes, suicide (rats taking rat poison by choice) or commerce (ducks selling their own eggs). Against this backdrop, young Jesse and her bloodhound Sandor escape New York after her parents die but where can they go that’s safe? I look forward to reading V2.

The same cannot be said of Michael Fiffe’s COPRA: Round One because if I wanted to read about the 1980s Suicide Squad, there are lots of volumes following the two I’ve read recently. While using serial-numbers-filed-off characters to offer a new take or metacommentary is common and often successful, this self-published book is just a knockoff without any fresh insight on the source material or on comics in general. For the life of me I can’t see why it’s become a hit.

I wasn’t much more impressed by the TPB STEVE ROGERS: Super-Soldier (this was during the period Bucky had taken over as Captain America) by Ed Brubaker and Dale Eaglesham. The story, involving an attempt by Machinesmith to recreate and sell the supersoldier serum, isn’t bad, particularly when the villain turns Steve back into his original weakling self (it doesn’t occur to Machinesmith that Steve’s combat skills and training aren’t dependent on the serum); however Brubaker’s dead wrong to claim the serum has never worked on anyone else (for example). A bigger issue for me is that Marvel padded out this four-issue story with a Cap/Namor/X-Men crossover that mostly reminds me why I don’t read the X-books much any more (I’d be a lot more annoyed if I hadn’t bought this used for $5).

I’ve never been much of a Brian Michael Bendis fan, but ALIAS: The Underneath by Bendis and illustrator Michael Gaydos turned out to be very good. Jessica Jones (yes, the woman from Netflix’ Jessica Jones) is a chainsmoking ex-superhero who finds herself digging into a shady world of drug dealers to rescue former Spider-Woman Mattie Franklin (one of several Marvel characters to carry the name — probably necessary to protect the trademark) whose become the plaything of a Big Apple drug dealer. This kind of grim and gritty thing usually doesn’t work for me, but Bendis and Gaydos pulled it off. I’ll have to look for the other volumes eventually.

Returning to animals, I bought and reread BEASTS OF BURDEN: Animal Rites preparatory to reading V2. In Burden Hill, life for cats and dogs is a lot like Lady and the Tramp, except now it’s taking a weird turn: demon frogs, zombie roadkill, a haunted doghouse, rats plotting something sinister and by the end of the book clear evidence Burden Hill is turning into Sunnydale (I get the impression the authors didn’t see it as a long-term series until several stories in). Fun and creepy, and the fact I don’t hate it for having dogs killed mid-story shows I really like it.

#SFWApro. Covers by Eric Bradbury and Jill Thompson, all rights remain with current holders.

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Filed under Comics, Reading

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