Category Archives: Comics

Doomsday Times Two, and more: books read.

DOOMSDAY MORNING, which I mentioned last week, was C.L. Moore’s last novel and decidedly different from her usual work. Rohan, once a theatrical star, is now a migrant farm worker in a dystopian near-future America run by the sinister Comus (Communications of the U.S.), which drags him back onto the stage to perform in a traveling show in parts of rebellion-prone California. But why does the show have to be done exactly as written? What’s the meaning of Rohan’s strange dreams. And what is the mysterious Anti-Comus weapon the rebels are supposedly developing.

This was a good, though grim book, very much of its time in some ways; Comus is all-seeing but via psychological testing and monitoring rather than the surveillance tech they’d use today. As I said last week, the theater stuff is dead-on, which was a plus for me. However the various mental compulsions laid on Rohan frequently make him little more than a puppet rather than a free agent.

DOOMSDAY: A Remy Jones Adventure by Heather Elizabeth King is urban fantasy in an off-the-wall setting: a post-apocalyptic, corporate-run city where we have outcast mutants, magic, and a team of magic-powered superheroes (with Heroine Complex going the same route, I wonder if it’s a trend), not to mention a hunky manbeast named Vincent (and obvious reference to the 1980s Beauty and the Beast TV series). The urban fantasy aspects of mutant Remy Jones (one odd point is that the mythos term for mutants is “parasite”) hunting down a zombie making sorcerer didn’t work for me, as I’m not much of an urban fantasy fan, but I give King (whom I met and bought the book from at Mysticon) credit for doing something different from most of the books I read in the genre.

ROUND ABOUT THE EARTH; Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit by Joyce E. Chaplin looks at the history of round-the-world journeys, starting with Magellan’s attempt to reach China, then following through Sir Francis Drake, James Cook and other explorers to the development of commercial tourist trips and then on to railroad, plane and rocket (with sidelines such as several attempts to bicycle around the Earth). This starts well and has interesting thoughts on how growing national cooperation made things easier (the more ports you can stop in, the simpler it is to restock your boat with provisions) but too much of the book is just a list of This Person Went Around The World, Then This Person, Then This Other Person … I got bored.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN by Alan Davis and Jamie Delano was the final collection of Brian Braddock’ superhero adventures before he became part of the Excalibur super-team. While there’s the usual action and peril, it’s surprisingly gentle too. Brian accidentally kills someone in a fight, but the guy’s parents don’t freak out or send anyone to kill him — they know what their son was like and they sympathize with Brian. Dai Thomas, “the cop who hates superheroes” from Chris Claremont’s early run on the series shows up again and apologizes for being a jerk to Brian. And everything ends on a note of peace and affection. That doesn’t sum up the book but after years of reading comics, that’s wht jumps out at me.

SUPERGIRL SILVER AGE V1 by (mostly) Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney reprints Supergirl’s Silver Age adventures up to the point Superman’s ready to reveal her existence to the world. This goes slightly past the stories collected in Showcase Presents Supergirl (it skips a couple of crossovers into other Superman Family books to fit it all in) but the added stories are frustrating.The long arc of Supergirl being replaced by her Kandorian lookalike Lesla-Lar (probably my favorite Supergirl villain), ends with Mxyzptlk as a deus ex machina (thwarting Lesla Lar’s plans without even realizing it). This appears to start an arc where he’s made Supergirl more powerful than Superman, but instead we get two stories of Supergirl undergoing freaky red kryptonite transformations (red k could always provide enough weirdness to fill an issue) and then it’s done. I half wonder if the editors made Siegel cut the Lesla-Lar arc short, or if he just ran out of ideas. As I said reviewing the Showcase, fun but YMMV.

#SFWApro. Art is uncredited all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Airboy, hero of the indie comics skies!

So having written about the Unwritten series last week, I thought I’d tackle a less arty, but still enjoyable series today, Eclipse Comics’ 1986-89 Airboy (I finished up the series last year, using TPBs to fill gaps in my original run).

Airboy was a revival of the hit WW II character, who started in Air Fighters from Hillman and eventually took it over. How could he miss? A teenage boy taking the fight to the Axis in his personal plane, Birdy — and better yet, the plane has wings that flap, making it the most maneuverable thing in the skies (never mind whether it’s aerodynamically sound, the point is it just looks so cool!).

The premise of the Eclipse version is that Davy Nelson Jr. is the son of the original Airboy. His father has always been distant, and Davy doesn’t discover Dad’s true history until after his death. Inevitably, with the help of his father’s right hand, Hirota (a Japanese ace dad shot down during the war) Airboy steps into his father’s shoes. With the help of some of his father’s old friends, such as Skywolf, the Iron Ace and the Heap (the prototype for Swamp Thing and Man Thing), Davy, Birdy and Hirota go up against Misery, a demon of suffering whose flying fortress, the Air Tomb, holds the souls of aviators who die in despair. It turns out he’s also holding Valkyrie, a reformed Nazi aviator he captured on the eve of her wedding to Davy Sr. Sparks immediately fly between the new Airboy and Valkyrie (she hasn’t aged any) but he’s freaked out by the idea of dating his father’s girlfriend.

The stories are fun, action-packed and as I said last month, don’t use the retro aspect of the series to perpetuate sexist/racist cliches. The action jumps from the US to Central America to the USSR and Afghanistan, pitting Davy and his crew against drug dealers, dictators, werewolves and the living dead (Misery’s work). In the process he has to grow up fast, get a handle on his relationship with Val and wrest back control of his father’s aviation company, which Dad had largely neglected as Misery worked on his soul.

Although I associate Airboy writer Chuck Dixon with being anti-gay and very conservative, a lot of readers thought of his Airboy work as ultra-left wing, for example because it criticized US support for Latin American dictatorships (one of whom has Reagan’s autographed photo on his desk). This may be partly because Eclipse editor Catherine Yronwode was way to the left of Dixon, but from his responses to letters, he seems to have been perfectly comfortable with those choices (he also has a long history of writing capable women, having been the original writer on Birds of Prey).

In the final arc of the series, Davy learns how Misery captured Val on the eve of her wedding to his father, and how losing her broke Dad, leaving him writhing under Misery’s influence the rest of his days … until his soul ended up on the Airtomb. Davy rallies his allies and takes the fight to Misery, destroying the Airtomb (temporarily) and apparently dying himself. The next arc would have involved Davy finding himself in Africa, where he winds up battling with a Tarzan-type white jungle god.

But it wasn’t to be. In the last issue, Yronwode said she and Dixon were both a little uncomfortable with the idea of a teenage boy shooting bad guys for no better motivation than his father doing it — plus, Kid With Guns Killing People raises hackles in a way killing people with mutant powers doesn’t. And while both she and Dixon liked political stories, they invariably got flak for them, yet they didn’t want to rely purely on supernatural villains or bad guys it was acceptable to kill (child molesters, drug dealers, etc.). All of which wouldn’t have mattered if sales were stellar but they’d been dropping. So game over.

But while it lasted, Airboy was a kick.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Tim Truman, uncredited and Joe Kubert, all rights remain with current holder.

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Gods, clones, superheroes and flappers: this weeks reading

After the disappointing filler of Wicked and the Divine V3 the series gets back to form with THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE: Rising Action by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie. It turns out Ananke’s murder of Laura, the groupie recently turned into Persephone, didn’t take; Persephone’s back but can she convince the other gods that Ananke has an agenda they need to stop? As odd and absorbing as always — though it suddenly struck me how odd it is one of the deities is Baphomet, as he wasn’t any sort of a god (confused crusaders identified him as the god worshipped by Muslims, but he was never actually worshipped by anyone).

X-23: Family Album by Mariko Tamaki and Juann Cabal was an exercise in frustration: the character bits are good, the action scenes are good and the creators are capable but the whole thing is less than the sum of its parts. Partly that’s because the plot (pitting X23 and her clone sister Gaby against the Stepford Cuckoo Clones of Doom) never made a lot of sense (it’s also really hard to sort out one Stepford clone from another), partly because clone angst is just as annoying as mutant angst; as one clone in DC’s Power Company put it, nobody in the world ever chose to be born so just suck it up.

ASTRO CITY: Aftermaths by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson wraps up the long-running series not by resolving the plotlines in Broken Melody (I presume that will in one of the planned graphic novels) but with three stories dealing with loss, and what happens afterwards. A two-parter spotlighting the man-Corgi superhero G-Dog made me cry (admittedly that’s no great accomplishment when it comes to stories with dogs); a three-parter catches us up on Michael, the protagonist of The Nearness of You in which he learned the wife he loved had been erased from history as collateral damage a cosmic time war. He’s running a support group for people who have similar losses, but how will they react if they learn his story — especially when there’s no way to prove Miranda ever existed. The one part story dealing with a woman learning her father’s final fate was minor, though I do like the idea of a superhuman whose response to police brutality or government overreach is purely defensive (as opposed to Magneto like militarism).

FLAPPERS: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell is not the book I thought it was (my fault for just going by title and not reading the flyleaf) — rather than an overview of the flapper generation, it’s six biographies of prominent artistes of the era, from Zelda Fitzgerald to Josephine Baker to Russian emigre painter Tamara de Lempicka. As a collection of biographies it’s good, as an exploration of flappers in general it isn’t (though it does have a lot of general cultural perspective in the early chapters). And while I agree Zelda and Brit party girl Diana Cooper could reasonably qualify as flappers, I can’t see Baker or de Lempicka making the cut.

Oh, and over on Atomic Junkshop I have a post up about my fondness for DC’s largely ignored 1990s superhero Gunfire.

#SFWApro. Cover by Alex Ross, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Writing about the Unwritten

So it occurred to me a while back that reviewing long-running comics series TPB by TPB doesn’t really convey the overall effect. So as I recently finished rereading the 2009-13 Vertigo series Unwritten, I thought I’d try doing a whole-series review (with spoilers, be warned)

Created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, the first issue introduces us to Tom Taylor, son of legendary children’s author Wilson Taylor. Wilson’s masterwork is the Tommy Taylor series about a boy wizard (yes, Harry Potter is the template, though not the only one) which has made his son’s life hell. Just imagine if JK Rowling had a son named Harold Potter: the jokes, the fans who want to jump him just for his name, the crazies who insist Harold is no mere boy — he is the real Harry made flesh! That’s Tom’s life.

Then at one con, a young woman named Lizzie Hexam challenges Tom, claiming he’s not Wilson’s son at all. This sets off ripples in fandom, accelerating when Tom, retreating from the fuss, is framed for a series of murders. Oh, and he also meets the Frankenstein monster, who identifies him as a fellow artificial creation, neglected by his father. Tom, Lizzie and reporter Savoy begin investigating what’s going on, and who framed Tommy. Weirdness continues to multiply, such as one man getting transformed into Tommy Taylor’s archfoe, the vampire Ambrosius.

It turns out there’s a secret organization, the Cabal, that has been shaping humanity’s storytelling for centuries. Which stories are remembered? Which are forgotten? Do they teach us war and heroism? That greed is good? That self-sacrifice is good, or a waste of our potential? Inconvenient storytellers are broken, or dispatched by the Cabal’s enforcer, Pullman. And Wilson, a former Cabal agent, is telling stories the Cabal doesn’t like at all. Killing Wilson would only make the stories more popular, so Pullman went out to frame Tom; when that doesn’t work the Cabal launches a scheme to discredit the series with a really horrible book.

It turns out there’s much more going on. The Cabal is an unwitting front for Pullman, who belongs to one of the oldest stories ever created, that of Cain and Abel (which he says was a distortion of true events). The legend that grew around his fight with his brother attracted the attention of Leviathan, an entity that lives on human imagination; because of that, Pullman can’t die, as Leviathan preserves him in story (the relationship between Leviathan and human fiction is symbiotic). Pullman’s goal is to kill the Leviathan so he can die, even though humanity may die with the great cosmic whale.

Wilson, meanwhile, created Tom (who is his son) as a weapon against the Cabal. As belief that Tom=Tommy Taylor grows in fandom, Tom becomes able to tap his counterpart’s magic. Because of the way Wilson raised him, Tom is able to slip in and out of stories, understanding them at fundamental level. He fails to stop Pullman wounding Leviathan but is it possible he can put the whale back together?

It’s a strange epic journey, but it works. Carey and Gross do a great job playing with stories and how they influence us, though the idea we’re all stories to someone else never quite came across. They throw in some great characters such as Pauly Bruckner, a horrible human being Tom accidentally trapped in the Hundred Acre Wood (sans serial numbers) and willing to do anything to get out. They also make effective use of the way the Internet plays such a big role in fandom.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending on first read, but it worked better on this go-round. Tom’s fate isn’t quite as dark as I thought and he never does forgive Wilson for using him as a means to an end (I’d remembered some sort of warm hug that never happens).

There are 11 volumes collectiong the series plus Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, depicting the first Tommy Taylor novel with cuts to show Wilson formulating his master plan. I recommend them all.

#SFWApro. Covers by Yuko Shimizu, all rights remain with current holders.


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A disappointing set of books this week

I love Jack Kirby’s post-apocalyptic Kamandi series and I really dug the DC Challenge round-robin limited series (each issue ends on a cliffhanger; the creators of the next issue have to solve it). Combine them for THE KAMANDI CHALLENGE and you get a mess. The story of Kamandi hunting his parents through a post-apocalyptic world of intelligent, evolved animals has many bright moments, like Tom King’s issue (a powerful story with Kamandi stuck in a single room the whole time), but when they get to the end of #12 they apparently couldn’t figure out a solution so they pull a deus ex: Jack Kirby shows up, reveals Kamandi is one of his creations, and that saying his name outloud (“Command D!”) will delete the entire Earth and restore things to normal. What a lousy, stupid resolution that was, the kind that retroactively makes me hate all of it.

METAMORPHO: Two Worlds, One Destiny by writer/artist Aaron Lopresti was this week’s other big disappointment. This New 52 reboot of the shapeshifting chemical freak has him on the run with scientist Sapphire Stagg (this is the first version to give her anything to do besides be beautiful and rich), seeking a cure for his condition but instead winding up on another world. The inhabitants need him to save them, but Sapphire’s corrupt father and the alien tyrant Kanjar Ro both have other plans. This just petered out at the end though, with some disappointing twists and some set-ups not paying off (the implication Kanjar Ro has ties with Simon Stagg just got forgotten). A shame.

DOCTOR STAR and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows by Jeff Lemire and Max Fiumara is a spinoff of Black Hammer written as a love letter to James Robinson’s 1990s Starman series. While I admire the series too, that didn’t make me any fonder of this routine variation in which “Doctor James Robinson” gets so distracted by adventuring he neglects his family and loses their love; a lot of the themes Cat Stevens did better in Cats in the Cradle.

LAZARUS: Cull (following V4, Poison) by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark reveals a great deal about Forever Carlyle’s backstory and secrets (she’s a clone and the family has another one being trained in the wings) while the Carlyles’ battle with some of the other ruling families continues. Like the previous volumes it’s competent, but nothing I want to spend money on.

Switching away from graphics to novels, FAIR FIGHT by Anna Freeman is a historical novel in which the lives of compulsive gamblers, a gambler’s wife and a female prizefighter intersect and interact over the years. I became interested in reading this after finishing A History of Women’s Boxing and the boxing scenes are certainly good. However they’re only a part of the story and historical novels aren’t my thing (which is not a flaw in the book, of course).

#SFWApro. Top image by Jack Kirby, bottom by Sal Trapani, all rights remain with current holders.

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Going retro: “It’s okay to look back. Just don’t stare.”

Writing a text page in the Airboy and Mr. Monster Special back in 1987, comics writer Gerard Jones used that quote from baseball player Satchell Paige to describe the challenge of retro: if you’re going to revive something from the past (both Airboy and Mr. Monster were Golden Age characters) you need to do so without lugging their cultural baggage (racism, sexism, whatever) along with them. Eclipse’s Airboy series, for example, gives hero Davey Nelson a Japanese mentor and a tough, competent girlfriend. As Jones notes, it also rejects the assumption that America is the right side in every conflict: one early arc involves an American-backed dictator in Central America (I’ll be writing more about the series soon).

Staring back — just embracing the stereotypes and racist/sexist/homophobic tropes of fictions past — is never a good thing. And I don’t think it’s any more acceptable because that’s just the way movies/comics/SF was back then. For example, if SFWA can’t put a scantily-clad woman on the cover of its magazine, that’s spitting on genre history because so many covers had scantily clad women back then. Likewise, sticking Jonni Future, a character from America’s Best Comics, in a space suit that bares her ginormous boobs down to the navel, is certainly faithful to a lot of pulp imagery, but that doesn’t make it any less sexist.

And it’s more likely to be sexism than anything else. As I’ve complained before, writers are much more likely to use sexist heroes or sexist stereotypes way easier than to bring on a shuffling black servant in the old Stepin Fetchit style, and it’s more acceptable to a lot of people when they do. Though we still get retro racism too, like Alan Moore’s use of old Victorian tropes about Arabs and Chinese in League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

Or consider Robert Bloch’s HP Lovecraft tribute novel, Strange Eons. The premise of the book (which I read a month or so back) is that Lovecraft’s fiction wasn’t fiction, it was a warning: his antiquarian interest in history had uncovered evidence of the terrible reality underlying the mundane world. His stories were a coded guide to the future to prepare for what was coming, boosted by psychic flashes of events to come (which explains why several scenes and details in the book mirror exact details in HPL’s fiction). The story has various characters discover the truth and try to resist the return of the Old Ones. It doesn’t go well for them.

Overall it’s an excellent novel, though the FBI vs. the Mythos section bogs down a bit (I think it worked better the first time around, when the idea of the feds dealing with this sort of horror was novel). Unfortunately, Bloch faithfully incorporates Lovecraft’s racist tropes about sinister non-white races worshiping the Great Old Ones and those haven’t aged well at all. Worse, he attempts to work Lovecraft’s loathing of immigrants and miscegenation into the plot: what if Lovecraft wasn’t racist? What if his horror of racial mingling was just a metaphor for the mingling of human and nonhuman races? I actually find the idea interesting, but unfortunately it’s bullshit. I love Lovecraft’s work but the dude was a racist and his fiction reflects that. This does not justify doing it in modern-day mythos stories; it’s not an essential component of the whole (Molly Tanzer, for example, does a great job going in the opposite direction in Creatures of Want and Ruin).

Retro can be fun. But some things should be left in the past, dead and buried. Look back, but don’t stare.

#SFWApro. All rights to cover image remain with current holder.

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A psi spy, Helen of Troy and a return to the Witch World: Books

THE BRAIN BOY ARCHIVES by Herb Castle and Frank Springer (with Gil Kane providing art on the first issue) collects the adventures of psychic teen spy Matt Price. Recruited by the US government, he uses his telepathic and telekinetic powers to tackle various threats to America, most notably the Latin American dictator Ricorta, a psi himself.

I’d heard that this Dell Comics series was above average and it is. In Brain Boy #3, for instance, Matt investigates the disappearance of a number of Americans in the Arctic. Is the threat foreign espionage? No, it’s a Tyrannosaurus mentalis, an intelligent, psionic tyrannosaur! The plots in most of the issues (six total) are similarly well done. The only problem I had with it is that Matt’s girlfriend Maria, despite being another psi, is largely written as a typical 1960s nagging women-are-never-satisfied character.

I’d assumed HELEN OF TROY: Beauty, Myth, Devastation by Ruby Blondell would be a look at interpretations of Helen through the ages down to our own time, but Blondell instead focuses entirely on the ancient Greeks: how they prized beauty in women while fearing its ability to override reason, and how various poets, philosophers and writers rationalized waging a ten year war for a woman who abandoned her husband. Specialized, but interesting within that specialized range.

While jumping to the next generation is a common way to stretch out series, I’m surprised Andre Norton made the jump just three books into the Witch World saga. THREE AGAINST THE WITCH WORLD covers twenty years (following Web of the Witch World) in the first chapter or two, shuffling Simon and Jaelithe offstage in favor of their telepathically linked triplets. The Wise Woman of Estcarp seize the sister, Kaththea, as a new recruit, forcing her brothers Kyllan and Kemoc to free her, then head east into Escore, a land mysteriously blocked from the awareness of Estcarp blood (being half Terran, they can make it). Here they discover a region where magic was once much more powerful until a devastating war drove Estcarp’s founders out. Things are quiet but the Tregarth siblings’ coming is stirring up powers that were better left sleeping.

The levels of magic in Escore are much wilder, more alien and nastier than what we saw in the first two volumes, which makes this book work better for me. However it always seemed a little unfair that where his siblings have some degree of magic, Kyllan’s limited to controlling animals.

#SFWApro. Cover by Frank Springer, bottom cover uncredited, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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An extra post of comic-book TPB reviews

BLACK LIGHTNING: Cold Dead Hands by Tony Isabella and Clayton Henry has Jefferson Pierce return home to Cleveland after his father’s death (unlike the pre-New 52 continuity or the TV show, peacefully in his sleep). The Tobias Whale that Black Lightning once battled has been replaced by the real Whale whose identity he misappropriated (a fatal mistake), a Keyzer Soyze-style shadowy schemer whose current plot is to put alien weapons in the underworld’s hands, thereby creating an outcry for police to use them too, and for private citizens to get them. And guess whose going to reap a fat profit from supply the demand?

This is good, but frustrating. Whale’s scheme is good, and Jeff’s new supporting cast is fine, but I hate it when a reboot leaves me baffled what’s still canon. I understand and applaud Isabella wanting to get away from the Evil Albino stereotype of the original Tobias, but are Jeff’s battles with him still in continuity or not? It appears so, but then again why doesn’t Jeff react to facing another Whale, or Tobias point out he’s way more dangerous than the imposter? Why did Jeff even go to Suicide Slum where he began his career? That he’s never met Lynn until recently is further jarring. So like I said, frustrating — though I’ll be happy to keep reading if we get more.

BPRD: The Devil You Know: Pandemonium by Mike Mignola, Scott Allie and multiple artists is the penultimate volume before the inevitable (so we’re told) apocalypse. Hellboy’s back with the BPRD, but will it do any good as the demon-cbild Varvara turns New York into ground zero for her new kingdom of the damned? Once again (as Hellboy notes), the BPRD has to invade a nightmarish Big Apple, but this time they have all the big guns, from old-timers like Abe and Liz to relative newbies such as Ashley Strode. Will it be enough?

Action-packed certainly, but it feels like Mignola’s rushing too fast to wrap up everything in the final volume, which makes it choppy and confusing at times. And given Varvara and Hellboy were both fond of Professor Bruttenholm, I’d really have loved to see them talk about him a little. Still I look forward to the finish later this year when we (hopefully) learn how the ending twists and reveals here make sense.

BLACK HAMMER: Age of Doom Part One by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston follows up the first two volumes by having Lucy, newly empowered as the second Black Hammer, bounce through a series of nightmare worlds before returning to Rockford and learning the truth about what’s been happening to her fellow heroes. It’s a good story, but the reveal is actually one I suspected earlier, and not that interesting. Given how much of the book has been riffing and meta-commenting on various superhero types (Abe Slam, the nonsuper Golden Age tough guy, Golden Gail as Mary Marvel, Madame Dragonfly as one of DC’s horror anthology hosts), I’m worried that returning to the real world will lack the appeal of the series’ stranger moments. Fingers crossed I’m wrong.

#SFWApro. Cover by Clayton Henry all rights reserved to current holder.

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Doc Savage and Branding

“Branding” gets tossed around as a magic word a lot (I rarely see any branding-related writing advice that wouldn’t work just as well if you didn’t take the word “branding” out) but I think it’s reasonable to argue that any long-running character — James Bond, Superman, Archie — is a brand of sorts. It’s inevitable that the character changes, but it’s essential they don’t change so far they no longer fit the brand.

Superman, for example is light years from the original Siegel/Shuster brawling roughneck — more powerful and a lot better behaved. Nevertheless, he’s still the same character. While I hate the way writers handle Batman in the 21st century, I’d hardly argue he’s no longer Batman. For many fans, however, the 1950s Batman battling monsters and alien invaders was very, very off-brand (I like the 1950s a lot better, but its critics do have a point).

Archie has proven to be an exceptionally flexible brand. At various points he’s been a superhero (Pureheart the Powerful), a spy (The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.), a zombie slayer, grown up and gotten married and played in a rock band. He’s remained Archie throughout, though as writer Mark Waid has said, there are limits (“Betty fails a pregnancy test” or “Opening shot: Jughead’s meth lab.” would not make the cut).

But rebranding doesn’t always work for every character. Wonder Woman’s been through a lot of changes as my WW-reread shows, but the non-powered, karate chopping Diana Prince phase didn’t work at all for me (or most people). As I’ve said before it would have worked as a new character, but not for the Amazing Amazon. The Snagglepuss Chronicles was too far from Hanna-Barbera’s original to work for me, though others liked it.

And then there’s Doc Savage. As both Bobb Cotter and Will Murray have written, Doc’s 1940s adventures became much more realistic, with Doc himself much more human. The Derelict of Skull Shoal and Satan Black have very little in common with stories such as The Squeaking Goblin or Sargasso Ogre. Doc’s adventures are more down to Earth; Doc himself is just tough and competent and much more fallible.

Cotter and Murray like the transition to a more human Doc Savage; for me they damage the brand. I’ve enjoyed some realistic pulp and paperback adventures over the years, but that’s not what I read Doc Savage for. I read Doc to watch the amazing Man of Bronze take on and triumph over wild threats like the cult of the Thousand-Headed Man or Ool from the Land of Always Night, not to smash a relatively ordinary adversary. I want gadgets, deathtraps, bizarre lost races and doomsday weapons.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the WW II adventures, but for me they are not adding luster to the brand.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Joe Shuster, Sheldon Moldoff, Fiona Staples, Modest Stein and the rest by James Bama.


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A random assortment of covers

Returning to writing Leaf has used up some of the time I’d have used to get today’s blog post done, so art it is. First a groovily hip cover by Ric Estrada.

Next, one by Virgil Finlay.

This Peter Stevens cover looks like the harem girl is trying to fight off danger with jazz hands. And how exactly does the guy in the foreground get his knife out of that curved sheath?

For a non-cover illustration, here’s a splash page by Will Eisner capturing one of the Spirit’s Bad-Girl characters.

And here’s the wonderfully cinematic opening to another Spirit story.

One by Walter Popp —

And a war comics cover by Jerry Grandenetti

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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