Category Archives: Comics

Comics covers for Sunday

Normally I’d have written a book review post for today, but Trixie’s leg problems have thrown me off schedule. So covers it is.

I love this Joe Sinott cover.The classic actor’s nightmare is being on stage with no idea what your lines or even what the play is. Here’s a somewhat less common nightmare, captured by Jack Kirby.

Russ Heath does a great cover for a Sgt. Rock spotlight.Here’s another war comics cover by Joe Kubert.Mort Meskin gives new meaning to the phrase “bargaining chip.”Bob Brown’s monster on this cover looks more like a kiddie amusement park ride than a threat.Dick Dillin’s monster here clearly disapproves of the men violating social distancing.Dillin also provides the cover for this story in the “Screw your superstitions I’m going to do exactly what you said would doom me!” genre. I like the title too, it has a great rhythm and the right level of alliteration.

And here Carmine Infantino gives us a guy whose quarantine is more extreme than planned.

#SFWApro. rights to all covers remain with current holder.

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Heroic ages begin with this week’s reading!

NEW FRONTIER was Darwyn Cooke’s reinterpretation of the birth of the Silver Age, collected here in an omnibus with a bunch of special features. We open as the WW II squad known as the Losers dies on Dinosaur Island (the setting of a long-running DC war-comics series, The War That Time Forgot), then House Unamerican Activities Commitee drives the Golden Age Justice Society out of the hero business, ultimately leaving Superman standing alone (and Batman operating in the shadows). But now new heroes are appearing, ranging from a super-speedster (“You’re the Illinois Flash?”) to a Martian — how will the government cope? And what happens when the world needs heroes to stand against a new threat?

I like this better than I did first reading, but still not as much as others do. This kind of mashup isn’t new (Steve Englehart did a very good one situating the birth of the JLA against the 1950s during his time writing Justice League of America) and while the individual scenes are all good, Cooke takes a long time to get to the superheroes: we have the war comics stuff and a whole lot of pages spent on Hal Jordan, Korean War veteran, borderline pacifist, test pilot before he even gets into the ring. Reading the end notes I realize this is because Cooke grew up more into war comics than superheroes, hence his emphasis on non-costume Hal and his relationship with other pilots of various eras (Rick Flagg, the hardcase Patton-type, Ace Morgan a moderate and Hal as the kind of liberal who might have joined John Kerry protesting the Vietnam War). But even understanding the reason, I still feel it takes too long to get to the good stuff, but YMMV.

FACE THE CHANGE is Samantha Bryant’s third Menopausal Superheroes book (following Going Through the Change and Change of Life (which I thought I reviewed, but can’t find the link) and it feels like the wrap up of the origin arc, setting the stage for future adventures. In the first book, four women discover the hot-flash treatments they’ve been taken have endowed them with superpowers, not entirely welcome (one woman gets gender-flipped, another “hulks out” when enraged). In the second book, as they hunt the scientist responsible, they met the shadowy “Department” that like the DEO deals with superhumans and has a few of its own.

In V3, former mad scientist Cindy has been deaged to a teenage girl, trying to resume her weird-science career while caring for her obnoxious but injured father. Several of the cast become full-on superheroes and just in time, as a mind-controlling team of villains is taking over their town. This manages to balance the women’s strange experiences and personal drama with the action and the running plots well, and it ends feeling very much as if this fictional world’s age of heroes is starting. I look forward to book four (and in the meantime there’s a retcon novella, Friend or Foe). Samantha’s a friend of mine, but my review is honest.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Darwyn Cooke, don’t know the second artist. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Gryphons, stock speculation and a hellcat! This week’s reading.

GRYPHON IN GLORY is Andre Norton’s follow-up to The Crystal Gryphon wherein Kerovan, having won Joisan’s heart in the first book, decides he doesn’t want it. Or more truthfully he does want it, but he doesn’t want Joisan shackled to a freak such as himself (a standard disability cliche). So when Lord Imgry (who first appeared in the chronologically later Year of the Unicorn) needs someone to enter the Waste that borders the Dales and seek mystical help against the invaders, Kerovan volunteers. Too bad for his plans Joisan is determined to get him back and rides after him.

This is very much a crossover book. We have the Were-Riders from Year of the Unicorn, plus Elys and Jervon from Spell of the Witch World who gives both Kerovan and Joisan an example of mismatched outcasts who’ve become a couple. The Dales setting is looking more and more like Estcarp: the Waste, like Estcore, is pocketed with powers of light and dark who’ve retreated from the world but can easily be stirred up again. The invaders from Alizon are definitely backed by the Kolder, who are seeking their own allies or tools in the Waste. On top of which the subterranean Thals (featured prominently in Sorcerer of the Witch World) show up this side of the ocean. It feels very much like having wrapped up Estcore’s struggles in Sorceress of the Witch World, Norton’s giving herself a do-over — but it works. Better than the previous installment, in fact, as the magic, while pushing Kerovan and Joisan around, leaves them room to decide their own fate at the climax.

DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST: A History of Financial Speculation by Edward Chancellor does a great job with the topic, starting with what, exactly makes speculation different from investment, or from gambling (Chancellor’s view is that it’s much closer to the latter). Chancellor looks at the famous bubbles of history including Tulipmania in Holland, England’s South Sea Bubble, France’s Mississippi Bubble, railroad bubbles in the U.S. and England in the 19th century (one of the books points is that shiny new tech always attracts speculators) and Japan’s 1980s speculation bubble (which I only knew about vaguely, from reading about the film Bubble Fiction for Now and Then We Time Travel). Chancellor looks at the shifting role and perceptions of speculation in between the big event; following the Crash of ’29 and the Depression, the U.S. tightly regulated and generally disapproved of it, but that faded with the “greed is good!” attitudes of the Reagan presidency. While some economists argue for a perfectly rational economy in which speculation must therefore be equally rational, Chancellor makes a good case that this view ignores reality in multiple ways. While the book came out in 1998, both the bubble and the real estate bubble of 12 years ago fit his arguments perfectly. Very good.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT: Hooked on a Feeling by Kate Leth and Brittney Williams is the first TPB of a now-ended series. Patsy Walker was Marvel’s A-lister in the 1950s, a female Archie-type teen whose adventures sold well until the mid-1960s; Steve Englehart then turned her into the superhero Hellcat in his run on Marvel’s Avengers. In this incarnation, she’s somewhat burned out on superheroics and hoping to put together a temp agency providing gigs for metahumans who similarly don’t want to participate in clashes of titans. Unfortunately the Asgardian sorceress Casiolena is trying to recruit the same sort of folks for her evil plans — and meanwhile Patsy’s former bestie, Hedy, is exploiting the rights to the Patsy Walker comic books (which exist within the Marvel Universe too). The results got overly cute at times, but by the end it won me over.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Lawrence Schwinger, bottom by Brittney Williams.

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A PI and an Arab boy in this week’s reading

Having read so much Leigh Brackett SF recently, I decided to check out one of her straight mysteries. The only one easily available was NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE, an extremely hardboiled 1944 thriller that has a lot of Raymond Chandler in its DNA but also reminds me of Cornell Woolrich’s Phantom Lady (which came out a couple of years earlier). The violence also reminds me of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (who debuted a couple of years later) — when protagonist Eddie Clive hits or gets hit, it’s hard, visceral and leaves a mark. And the treatment of women feels more like Spillane than Chandler (whose heroes tended to the chivalric under their hardboiled shells).

Eddie has just returned to LA from an out-of-town case that’s made him quite a high-profile gumshoe. He reunites with Laurel, his almost-girlfriend: Eddie’s crazy about her, but he knows she couldn’t stay faithful to him or any man. Much to Eddie’s annoyance, Laurel also convinces him to help out Mick, Eddie’s closest friend until Mick put the moves on one of Eddie’s previous girlfriends (like Laurel, Mick can’t keep it in his pants); someone’s been sending poison-pen anonymous letters about Mick’s embarrassing past to his wife and Mick wants to know who (I suppose that kind of harassment is pre-internet trolling). They all crash at Laurel’s apartment, but someone clubs Eddie dead and uses Mick’s stick to beat Laurel to death.

Eddie, of course, sets off to find out whodunnit before the LAPD pins it on him. Is it Mick after all? One of his dysfunctional relatives? One of Laurel’s other suitors? How is it that every time Eddie finds a person who can help, they end up dead? It ends up being a solid little thriller, though the sexism gets a little thick (as it does for some of Brackett’s SF).

Riad Sattouf was just a kid when his parents — Syrian dad, French mother — upped and moved from France to Libya. THE ARAB OF THE FUTURE: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 chronicles Sattouf’s culture shock and experiences dealing with family he’s never met, the policies and economic dysfunction of Khaddafi’s Libya and Assad’s Syria and his parents squabbles and political views. I think I prefer Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis but if any more volumes of Sattouf’s work are available at the Durham Library — and it’s actually open — I’ll certainly pick ’em up.

#SFWApro. Cover image by Sattouf, all rights remain with current holder.

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Comic-book trade paperback sequels and more! Books read.

SUPERGIRL: The Silver Age Vol. 2 by Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman and artist Jim Mooney starts with Supergirl, her powers restored from Kandorian scientist Lesla-Lar’s tampering, finally going public as Superman’s cousin and ally (there’s a continuity error in that Luthor learned about her in V1, but now he’s astonished she exists). This volume adds quite a lot of material to the Supergirl mythos: rather bland boyfriend Dick Malverne, Luthor’s long-lost sister Lena Thorul (very different from the CW show) and Comet the Super-Horse (what super-girl wouldn’t want a super-horse?) whose origin has to be read to be believed (he’s a centaur accidentally turned into a full horse, given super-powers by Circe, then trapped in space until Supergirl’s rocket ship freed him. Oh, and sometimes he can turn fully human and romance her). There’s also a new super-foe, Black Flame, a cunning admirer of Lesla-Lar (who shows up in this volume just long enough to die) but like her mentor, she didn’t see much use (she won’t return for another seven years). I enjoyed this, but YMMV.

BEASTS OF BURDEN: Neighborhood Watch by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson continues in the same vein as Animal Rites: supernatural forces are gathering around the Burden Hill subdivision and the local pets are struggling to keep the neighborhood safe. I don’t think this volume advances the overall series arc, but that’s okay. The stories are solid, the cast is engaging and I thoroughly enjoyed this.

I was disappointed, however, with UMBRELLA ACADEMY: Hotel Oblivion which brought back the Gerard Way/Gabriel Ba series after several years now that the Netflix series has given them a wider audience. The core of the story is the sinister Perseus leading an escape from the eponymous prison the team’s father-figure, Hargreeves, set up in another dimension. However there’s just too much going on to hold things together, including a space adventure, Viola learning to walk (apparently the old cliche that she just needs the will to get out of the wheelchair!), one character’s drug issues and a parallel world Academy. I’ll still be back for V4, but this wasn’t up to the first two books.

THE STORY OF ENGLISH by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil was the companion to a 1980s PBS series, chronicling how Indo-European begat Anglo-Saxon which despite the linguistic pressure from the Norman conquest began transforming into the language we know today, with contributions from imperial conquest, black slaves, the American frontier and Australian aborigines (though according to one of my phrase-origin books “kangaroo court” is an Americanism not an Aussie-ism), while linguistic critics wonder if they can stabilize the language before all these additions corrupt it (the last chapter looks at the ways English is spinning off into potentially separate languages such as Spanglish). While this lacks the advantage the TV show offered of actually hearing the language, it’s a lot easier to look stuff up in this version; while missing the past thirty or forty years of linguistic change (“rap” as a form of music doesn’t come up), I found it well worth rereading.

SEA MONSTERS ON MEDIEVAL AND RENAISSANCE MAPS by Chet Van Duzer argues that the various monsters were less about realistic depiction of potential dangers and more about prettying up maps to make them more marketable. Van Duzer looks at several centuries of maps decorated with purely imaginary or supposedly real monsters (some depictions of a walrus look like a saber-tooth cat, and there’s one “octopus” that’s a giant lobster) which makes for lots of pretty images but nothing as fascinating in the text as other books on maps that I’ve read.

#SFWApro. Cover by Curt Swan, all rights remain with current holder.

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Graphic novels and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: this week’s reading

THE VIKING PRINCE by Bob Haney (primarily) and Joe Kubert was the latter’s shot at doing Prince Valiant (a classic comic-strip by Hal Foster) for DC, chronicling the adventures of Prince Jon in medieval Scandinavia. While the art is striking, the series suffers from repeatedly rebooting the premise (I presume due to poor sales). First, Jon is an amnesiac dwelling in a Norse village he has to protect from the usurper who stole his throne. Suddenly, he’s trying to complete the Twelve Trials of Odin to win his throne back from a different usurper, accompanied by a mute bard (this was easily the best stretch). Then we flash back to Jon’s early years as a prince at his father’s court. After that reboot failed to save the series, it ended, but Jon returns for two stories in WW II, teaming up with Sgt. Rock due to a curse put on him by Odin. That was the last we saw of him, though a late Bronze Age series, the Viking Commando, reused the “cursed Viking in WW II” premise.

THE TICK: The Complete Edlund collects all twelve of Ben Edlund’s original Tick comics (with a thirteenth chapter by someone else), about an indestructible dimwit who’s unaccountably decided to use his powers for justice as a superhero. This is great fun and gloriously weird as Edlund mocks superheroes, Dick Tracy, Elektra, ninjas and 2001. It doesn’t always work (getting some of the Elektra jokes would require I ‘d get her series) but most of the time it works beautifully.

BOMBSHELLS: Queens by Marguerite Bennett and multiple artists shifts the action to Africa, where Queen Mari of Zambesi (AKA Vixen) enlists the Bombshells’ help in fending off a Nazi attempt to acquire ancient god-robots from an archeological dig. Enjoyable, with Hawkgirl — here a tech whiz with a flying harness and a nose for trouble — stealing the show in every scene she’s in.

I wasn’t impressed when I learned Darwyn Cooke would write and draw a new Spirit series but the second collection of his THE SPIRIT won me over. Denny Colt deals with lost love Sand Saref (a faithful remake of one of Spirit-creator Will Eisner’s classic tales), master criminal the Octopus and a brawl in a tenement, among other stories and the stories capture the spirit (sorry!) of Eisner well. There are two or three that don’t work, including a long satire on the media, but overall I really liked this.

THE DOINGS OF RAFFLES HAW is a long short story from Arthur Conan Doyle in which the eponymous millionaire stuns a neighboring family by the up-to-the-minute technical wonders of his home (steampunk long before the word existed) and his willingness to use his great wealth (derived, we eventually learn, for transforming base matter into gold) to transform the world for the better. Unfortunately the story is a kind of moralizing tragedy in which Haw’s charitable efforts only ruin everything by corrupting people or converting them from hard work to easy living, so not one of Doyle’s successes.

#SFWApro. Cover by Joe Kubert, all rights remain with current holder.

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April Fool!

I don’t really have anything funny to post, so I’ll repost three images of comics’ greatest clown, the Joker! Hoodlum Harlequin, Menacing Mountebank, Clown Prince of Crime! First a shot from his debut, drawn by Jerry Robinson (story by Bill Finger) —And then one of the most classic Joker covers, by Neal Adams.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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The Victorian Past, the Unimaginable Future and parallel worlds

After reading Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead, I thought THE INVENTION OF MURDER: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders would provide more insight in the same vein. Unfortunately it’s more like a listicle of once-sensational crimes — a lot of them don’t stand out by today’s standards — and the press coverage and stage dramatizations that fed on the public’s interest in them. Black Swine had more insight into the Victorian psyche and Jess Nevins’ Fantastic Victoriana is more interesting on the development of crime and detective fiction. So I put this one down unfinished.

In his historical notes on Flashman, George Macdonald Fraser referenced A JOURNAL OF THE FIRST AFGHAN WAR by Lady Florentia Sale as a good source on the disastrous events in his novel; discovering TYG had a copy I finally got around to reading it. Writing in 1842, Sale chronicles a long string of missteps and bad judgments made by British military and diplomatic leaders in Afghanistan, ranging from soldiers retreating when they should have won to wildly misreading who among the Afghans was trustworthy. This ultimately led to a disorganized withdrawal bogged down by servants, camp-followers and families, that ended for most of the retreating Brits as corpses strewn across the landscape, though Sale herself made it to safety. A grim study of military ineptitude and some tart-tongued writing.

THE TIME AXIS is a very Olaf Stapledon-ish epic by Henry Kuttner in which a boozing journalist doing an article on a high-powered scientist discovers the real purpose of his assignment is to join a team traveling to the end of time and finding a cure for the mysterious indestructible substance slowly taking over the world’s matter. The story that follows (Arnold Schoenberg’s cover captures a lot of it) seems like Kuttner just kept pumping out ideas and throwing them in — mandroids, transporters, time travel, psi-possession — but it worked for me.

Leigh Brackett’s THE BIG JUMP has a protagonist investigating the aftermath of Earth’s first interstellar expedition: what happened to his friend who apparently didn’t come home with the ship? Why is the Solar System’s most powerful corporation covering up what happened on the journey? Learning that something bad happened to the crew, the protagonist deals himself in on the follow-up flight, only to discover their destination holds a threat he hadn’t anticipated. I love the monstrous alien Transuranea but the sexism of this hardboiled SF yarn gets heavy.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE: Every Me, Every You by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera and Michael Avon Oeming starts poorly: a flashback to a Superman crossover, then some really confusing jumping to parallel worlds for more battles with the Whisperer. Things pick up after they finally land on another world where they join forces with an older counterpart of Cave and Cave Carson Jr. against the bad guys. The end result is not as fun as the first volume, but it’s good enough I’ll try the third and final volume eventually.

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



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Bronze Age C-listers and Nexus: Graphic novels

MS. MARVEL: This Woman, This Warrior by Gerry Conway, Chris Claremont and multiple artists, begins the superhero career of the woman who’s now Captain Marvel. According to Gerry Conway in the text page, the creative staff came up with the name, then developed the character, reintroducing Carol Danvers, a Cape Kennedy security head who’d worked with the original Kree Captain Marvel. Now she’s a writer for J. Jonah Jameson’s new magazine (Conway, a former Spiderman writer, drew heavily on that cast, but Claremont moved away from that) — who also transforms into a split personality, Kree warrior Ms. Marvel. Can she keep her job when she can’t explain why she’s blacking out all the time? Can she survive against AIM, Grotesk, Deathbird and the Elementals? The results are enjoyable to read, but not at all memorable — I can see why I didn’t feel the urge to buy this one back when it was on the stands.

THE ESSENTIAL IRON FIST, written by Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella and Chris Claremont, with multiple artists (most notably John Byrne) is a better book, despite the (as they say) problematic overtones of having a white guy become the greatest martial artist of the lost city of K’Un Lun, far superior to all the Asians (and ending up in the same category as B’Wana Beast and the Western Ghost Rider, the white guy who becomes the sacred champion of a nonwhite culture). After his parents’ murder, Danny Rand winds up in K’Un Lun, eventually rising to become its ultimate champion, the Iron Fist, then heading to NYC to get revenge on Meachum, the man who murdered the Rands. But Meachum is powerful, Danny knows nothing about the Western world and there are a whole bunch of supervillains who wind up drawn into his orbit …

Claremont’s writing is a lot stronger here and Byrne’s art is dynamic in some of the martial arts sequences. I still don’t regret skipping this on the stands (except for one issue, guest-starring the X-Men), but I enjoyed reading it.

BLOODSTONE AND THE LEGION OF MONSTERS is actually two generations of heroes. Created by John Warner, Ulysses Bloodstone was an immortal monster-hunter who had a backup slot in Marvel’s Bronze Age Rampaging Hulk black-and-white magazine; when they totally rebooted the lead feature (originally it had been a retcon set during Hulk’s early years), His daughter Elsa debuted about two decades ago, in a four issue series written by Dan Abnett, who had more success rebooting Guardians of the Galaxy a few years later. Ulysses’ back-up run (this also includes his first appearance in Marvel Presents) is an odd mix of supervillains, monsters and Jim Starlin-style 1970s mysticism (Bloodstone’s psychic senses can read auras, for instance) before Steve Gerber kills the protagonist and wraps up the series in the final story (a really heavy handed Everything You Know Is Wrong twist ending). The Elsa material includes a visit to a secret city of monsters under NYC and several one-shots, including pairing her as buddies with the mutant Boomer. Overall a fun collection.

The seventh NEXUS OMNIBUS brings Nexus’ saga to a satisfactory stopping place (as I wrote about recently) but overall it’s a weak collection. The Nexus the Liberator miniseries (done without either of Nexus’ creators, Mike Baron and Steve Rude) is awful and much of the collection is spinoffs involving various supporting characters, though mostly enjoyable spinoffs.

Oh, and speaking of comics, I have a new post at Atomic Junkshop on change in the Silver Age.

#SFWApro. Bottom cover by Gil Kane, upper two by Dave Cockrum.


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Comics covers about social distancing

Like this 1958 image by Ruben Moreira, clearly anticipating the importance of avoiding COVID-19 in 2020!Even the Justice League, as drawn by Murphy Anderson, get the importance of isolation.Flash later decided to break quarantine and not even wash his hands. Good thing the Weather Wizard was there! Art by Infantino.Superman is a lot more responsible, as shown by Al Plastino —Other people, as Bob Brown shows, have to be encouraged more forcefully.Hopefully you’ll be more sensible, like this woman in Ruben Moreira’s cover. Nobody’s making her into a carrier!#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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