Monday, May 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: April 2024


Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller, The Man Who Created Nancy (Harry N. Abrams) This month's comics purchase was made in preparation for the upcoming Nancy Fest at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum in my old home of Columbus. Cartoonist Bill Griffith, best known for his Zippy the Pinhead strip, will be giving a presentation on his 2023 book, and I wanted to be ready for it by having read it.

Unfortunately, my local library didn't have access to it, so I had to resort to buying my own copy, something you may have noticed I've increasingly tried avoiding doing with comics (Not simply because comics are getting more expensive and writing about comics isn't getting any more lucrative, but mostly because my comics midden, groaning bookshelves and precarious To Read piles have reached the point that they are simply too large for someone who doesn't own their own home to keep adding to). 

Having now read it, I'm kind of surprised I hadn't heard about it at all in the months since its release last August (Although I suppose I don't read as much comics news as I once did...and comics news doesn't get covered as well as it used to on the Internet; The Comics Journal covered it, as did a lot of mainstream, legacy press, being covered in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic). 

Griffith naturally uses the most appropriate medium for a biography of a cartoonist, telling Bushmiller's story as a graphic novel, with all of the liberties that allows. Much—in fact, most—of the book is in told in a straightforward, realistic style in Griffith's black and white, the thin linework and cross-hatching far removed from the bold-lined, machine-precision work that Bushmiller is famous for...although the styles intersect, and frequently.

That's because Griffith uses Nancy—and, occasionally, Sluggo and Fritzi Ritz—as a tour guide of sorts to Bushmiller's life, the familiar little girl icon breaking up chapters with regularity, using what appears to be repurposed and recontextualized work of Bushmiller's, although it's clear that Griffith can do his own impression of Bushmiller's Nancy, given how frequently the character appears on the pages and in how many different ways her image is employed throughout.

This being a visual medium, rather than a prose affair, Griffith has a great deal of freedom to show us examples of Bushmiller's work, not only by neatly plopping them onto the pages, as a prose bio could just as easily have done, but by incorporating them into the story itself. It's one thing to read that Bushmiller sold his first gag or took over the Fritzi Ritz strip, for example, while it's quite another to see the actual strips presented to us as we're being told, without it even interrupting the flow of the narrative. 

Griffith, who took the title of his book from a common element seen in the background of many strips, something he considered "the boiled down essence of Bushiller's universe", opens in 1949 with a vignette about the successful Bushmiller taking a business meeting with a sponsor, all the while preoccupied with his latest strip. He had "the snapper," the gag that worked as the "catnip" for the audience in the very last panel, he just had to work backwards to figure out how to get the strip to its pre-ordained climax, a peculiarity of the way he worked (Another would be, later in his career, working at four separate drawing tables on four separate strips at a time, to keep himself from getting bogged down or bored with the work). 

From there, we get a fairly straight, chronological biography of Bushmiller, from his childhood to his first newspaper job as a copy boy at The New York World, his first comic strips to taking over Fritzi Ritz, the introduction of Nancy and her gradual takeover of the strip, his time in Hollywood, his becoming a New York big shot and, eventually, becoming successful enough to move out to Connecticut, where he would spend the rest of his career and life on the strip that made him a legend.

Although there's a chronological, A-to-Z story to be told, Griffith takes plenty of fanciful detours, including imagining a Krazy Kat/Fritzi Ritz crossover comic after he meets with George Herriman, passages on the persistence of Aunt Fritzi cheesecake in the strip, space given over to Mad Magazine parodies, a section set in a stereotypical beatnik coffee shop where intellectuals discuss the strip told and drawn in the style of John Stanley, an interview with one of Bushmiller's assistants, a long-ish but welcome section in which Griffith simply shares Nancy strips for almost 20 pages and, most frequently, visits to the entirely imaginary Bushmiller Museum of Comics Art (B-MOCA) in Stamford, Connecticut, where curator "Griffy," Griffith himself, lectures the assembled crowd about the artistic merit of Nancy, the deceptively sophisticated techniques Bushmiller employed in what seems a simple enough sight gag-driven strip, and the meaning of the strip, as well as its deserved place not only in the pantheon of great comic strips, but also as fine art. 

In addition to a rather complete biography of the cartoonist and the cartoon while he drew it (the first post-Bushmiller strip appears, but we're mostly left with the simple knowledge that the strip continues to this day, rather than any exploration of its post-Bushmiller existence), there's also a rather trippy sequence in which the dying Bushmiller is accompanied by his creations to a heaven of sorts where he sees on a billboard the perfect gag, and a stranger-still epilogue in which "Griffy" returns to B-MOCA to interview the now elderly Nancy (who looks just as she always has since the design stopped evolving, save for here she has white hair). 

It's quite a tribute to one of our greatest cartoonists, and, importantly, it's the work that Bushmiller and Nancy deserve. 

I found the imaginary museum, drawn with columns out front and hanging posters featuring Nancy and Sluggo an intriguing image, particularly given Griffith's scheduled appearance as a real-life museum of cartoon art. It's been a while since I've visited the Billy Ireland, and I of course have no idea to what extent OSU will decorate it and how, but I have to wonder if it will be like Griffith's imaginary museum made real or not. 


Batman/Superman: World's Finest Vol. 3: Elementary (DC Comics) The third volume of writer Mark Waid and artist Dan Mora's Silver Age-set team-up book contains two stories. 

The first, guest-drawn by penciler Emanuela Lupacchino and inkers Wade Von Grawbadger and Norm Rapmund, is a done-in-one depicting the disastrous date of Robin and Supergirl, both as it unfolds and as each talks about it to their respective superhero partner, Batman and Superman. It goes so badly—Robin shows up in costume, forgets his wallet after accidentally bragging about how the ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne doesn't have to worry about the upscale prices at the fancy restaurant they've chosen—that when a bizarre car accident involving a monkey, a bus and a tractor trailer full of bowling balls occurs right outside, it comes as a relief.

It's great fun, especially the bits of conversation between sidekick and mentor that occur after the fact, and Waid does a pretty fine job of showing a date-gone-wrong without painting either character as "the bad guy" in this situation. (It basically seems to boil down to Dick Grayson not really being ready to date yet, if you ask me; that and the fact that the pair are rather ill-suited to one another, at least as Waid writes them here.)

So if you've ever wondered why Dick Grayson and (this version of) Supergirl never dated, now you have an answer.

The rest of the volume is devoted to the five-part title story, which begins as a locked-door mystery involving Metamorpho and his supporting cast—billionaire industrialist Simon Stagg turns up dead, and the two major suspects seem to be Bruce Wayne and the Element Man himself—and quickly spirals out, bigger and wider, until new villains are introduced (one of which is an evil opposite of Metamorpho, the main one of which is also an update of a classic DC character, a move reminiscent of plot points from Tom Peyer's late, great Hourman series) and the entire world seems to be under threat of a robot uprising. 

To his credit, Waid actually treats his book as one set firmly in the DC Universe shared setting, albeit a past version of it, and thus many other heroes are involved in what is, of course, a threat to their entire world. And so we get lots of guest-appearances throughout the book, from cameos of the likes of Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol, Martian Manhunter, Captain Marvel, The Flash and Firestorm to more substantial roles for the likes of The Metal Men, Green Arrow and, of course, Metamorpho, whose origin is retold and is rather integral throughout the storyline. 

Waid, obviously, has experience with just about all of these characters, and writes them all quite well, just as Mora draws the hell out of them. It's a treat to see so much of DC's deep, colorful bench get some time in the World's Finest spotlight, even if, for some characters, it's only a panel (Black Lightning) or two (Batgirl).

This book has been—and, here, remains—a blast, and one that I feel is made directly to appeal to a reader like me. I look forward to the next volume. 

Godzilla: Here There Be Dragons (IDW Publishing) Toho found great success late last year by moving the setting of the original Godzilla story a few years backwards into the past, from the mid 1950s to the end of World War II and its immediate aftermath, in Godzilla Minus One. This IDW five-part miniseries by writer Frank Tieri and artist Inaki Miranda goes much further, shooting Godzilla and his breed of 20th Century kaiju all the way back to the 16th Century, and the golden age of piracy. In fact, that's the basic logline of the series: Godzilla vs. Pirates. 

The year of 1556, and a pirate named Hull is about to be hanged for his crimes. To buy time, and perhaps bargain with the British authorities, he offers to tell the fantastic tale of what he witnessed while sailing under Sir Francis Drake, a tale of a real, live, fire-breathing dragon, a bevy of other monsters and a bizarre conspiracy of monster-worshippers that reaches all the way to Queen Elizabeth herself (the last of which is revealed in Miranda's most striking panel, of robed men wearing elaborate masks that look like the heads of Godzilla, Mothra and other familiar Toho kaiju). 

The story is pretty simple, actually. There's a story of an immense horde of treasure hidden by pirates on a remote, uncharted island called "Monsters Island." After engaging the Spanish Armada and being caught in a terrible storm, Drake finds himself there, and face-to-face with the aforementioned fire-breathing dragon, whom Hull names "Godzilla." (Where did the name come from? It is later seen carved in English into the walls of the monster's Monster Island cave home.)

After making short work of the Spanish Armada, one ship of which had the audacity to fire upon him, Godzilla submerges and leaves our protagonists alone. It's interesting plugging the Toho menagerie into the roles of sea monsters in a pirate tale, but the technology of the era isn't quite up to challenging their likes. Only one man survives, a man who has sworn revenge on Drake, and helps provide some more human-scale drama to the unfolding events...a welcome conflict, seeing as how the humans are even less of a match for the monsters than they usually are in the franchise's various film cycles.

On Monster Island, Drake, Hull and the rest of the crew meet giant sea turtles and giant bats and, ultimately, a pair of name rivals who challenge Godzilla, the two members of Toho's monster roster that best fit the description of "sea monsters": Ebirah, from 1966's Ebirah, Horror of the Deep/Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster and Oodoko, the giant octopus that attacked Kong in 1963's King Kong Vs. Godzilla

The existence of other monsters is hinted at, not just in the panel of the masked monster-worshippers that reveals the likenesses of several of the monsters, but in one of Miranda's panels showing a map with old time-y sea monsters drawn around the edges along with the likes of King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra, another scene where Hull discusses monsters "throughout history" that shows the same trio plus Hedorah (how a pollution monster could exist before the Industrial Revolution, I don't know) and, finally, a brief sequence where a list of Godzilla's enemies is rattled off, and we hear the names Titanosaurus and King Caesar (along with simplified, hieroglyphic-like images of them). (Finally, Anguirus, Gigan and Megalon appear with some of the other, already mentioned monsters on a variant cover by Benjamin Dewey; that's a pretty wide swathe of Toho monsters getting at least a cameo in this book, then).

Tieri manages a bit of a twist ending after the more predictable conflicts between the pirates and the monsters play out, and Miranda's art, while not the best I've seen from IDW on these monster characters, at least seems to be able to handle both the human characters and the monsters adeptly, and it provides a decent sense of scale between such diverse groups of characters.

If you have an itch for Godzilla and friends in comics form, and, in particular, one for something a little more off the beaten path for the venerable, 70-year old franchise, then Here There Be Dragons ought to scratch it. 

How To Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels (Fantagraphics) Another book read specifically to prepare for Nancy Fest—authors Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden will be presenting on their book as part of the goings-on—I wasn't entirely sure if I should include this in the column or not, as, strictly speaking, it's not comics. I mean, the subject matter is comics, but it's not a work of comics, but a prose work about comics...although it does include 42 pages of classic Nancy strips at the end of the book, so it is, in addition to everything else, also something of a comics collection.

The meat of the book is it's 44 chapters analyzing the elements of a single Nancy strip, a three-panel affair from August 8, 1959. If that seems excessive, that seems to be part of the point of the book, which is both serious and humorous in its extreme rigor (Do keep in mind that the chapters are all very short, only several paragraphs long).

It's hard to imagine a more thorough examination of a single example of comics. Karasik and Newgarden isolate every single conceivable element of the strip, item by item, until it is as seemingly deconstructed as it can get. That the strip can bear such scrutiny is a testament to how complex cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller's work really was; it may be possible, but it's hard to imagine this same scrutiny being applied to, say, Garfield, for example. (Although much of what is applied to Nancy here can, and probably should, be applied to one's close-reading of any comic and should be of particular interest to those in the business of creating comics, although it's difficult to imagine one managing to keep all of this in mind when drawing comics. Some of it, one imagines, must be intuitive). 

 There's far more to the book than just this critical exercise, though. After various introductions and preambles, it opens with a 45-page biography of sort of Bushmiller, one that pays close attention to the development of the comic strip as a medium in the young cartoonist's early years and on Bushmiller's development as an artist (Up until the publication of Bill Griffith's Three Rocks, above, this was probably the most thorough examination of Bushmiller's biography).

There are also 18 appendices illustrating various topics brought up throughout the proceedings, including one exhaustive, exhausting examination of the hose gag, which goes on for some 20 pages and includes just as many examples of it appearing in previous comics. And then, of course, the comics collection, which is labeled "DO IT YOURSELF!" and is named after a do-it-yourself book gag in one strip from 1974.

"The forty-tow lessons of Nancy, August 8, 1959, that have been extracted in this volume's analysis can profitably be applied to most, if not all, comics," the pair write at the beginning of this section. "To emphasize each of them, the strips in this section have been selected as exemplary. Now it's your turn to connect the blacks, measure the horizon lines, and size up the panels." 

What follows then is a highly curated selection of comics, each page given a suggested element to examine, such as "The Gag," "The Dialogue," "The Background" and so on. The beauty of Bushmiller's strips, of course, is that one need not do any such examining to enjoy them. They just work, whether you take a scalpel to them the way Karasik and Newgarden do, or if you just read them the way you always have. 

Highly readable despite its scholarly bent, How To Read Nancy is a book anyone who engages with comics, be they classic newspaper gag strips or graphic novels, would benefit from exposure to. 

Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 29 (Viz Media) Itan High finds itself in a battle for its very existence after the school's proxy chair enters it in a shady study-off against a rival high school. That school is led by the steely, composed and beautiful Rami Kawai, who has a past with Tadano; in fact, he confessed his love to her in junior high, but she turned him down flat (This apparently happened in a flashback sequence within the first two volumes of the series, but I had no memory of it). 

As it turns out, Kawai actually reciprocated Tadano's feelings, but she recognized that he was going through a phase at the time (and we get to see rather a lot of that phase play out here), and if she accepted his declaration of love at that point it would only prolong his phase. Wanting him to grow out of it and better himself, she turned him down...for his sake.

And now they meet once again, and not only has Tadano successfully grown out of his phase, but he has Komi as a girlfriend. Thus starts a bitter rivalry between the two beauties, one that Tadano is mostly left unaware of. 

As a love triangle, this one is maybe a bit less interesting than the earlier one with Rumiko Manbagi, given how similar Komi and Kawai are, but then, their similarity to one another does differentiate this turn of events from the earlier ones in which Komi found herself competing for Tadano, and now, of course, she's in the position of defending her relationship status with him, rather than trying to secure it in the first place.

Tomohito Oda's high school comedy remains a lot of fun, even as it passes its 300th chapter, and completes its 29th volume. 

Predator Versus Wolverine (Marvel Entertainment) Marvel acquired the Predator license, long held by Dark Horse Comics, in 2022, but this late-2023, early-2024 many-covered, four-issue miniseries pitting the alien hunter against the publisher's best-selling mutant character is the first time they did what would seem to be the obvious thing with the license, cross it over with members of their long list of huntable characters. 

DC, for instance, never held the Predator license, but had a pretty good working relationship with Dark Horse, and so over the years they had Predator hunt Batman (not once, but three times), Superman, the entire Justice League and, rather goofily, Batman, Superman and the Aliens. 

An event series in which the Predators set their iconic, three-red dot sites on the various heroes of the Marvel Universe seemed like a smart, or at least highly marketable move. That, or at least a series of "vs." books like this one, with Predator Vs. Daredevil, Predator Vs. Spider-Man and so on. Perhaps they will eventually go that route, and Predator Versus Wolverine is just the first meeting between one of the alien hunters and a Marvel hero. To date though, all we've got are a series of variant covers and this Wolverine crossover.

It's the work of writer Benjamin Percy and seven different artists and it is, somewhat surprisingly, not all that great. 

I say "somewhat surprisingly", while I suppose some of you with more sophisticated tastes than I are not the least bit surprised, because of the potency of the original Predator premise established in 1987—big game hunter from beyond the stars comes to Earth to hunt the most dangerous game of all—and just how easily it can be applied, formula style, to just about any action-adventure comic template, simply by swapping in a new hero as the designated prey. In addition to the DC heroes mentioned above, it's been fairly successfully used to pit some version of the Predator character against Judge Dredd, Tarzan, Magnus Robot Fighter, Witchblade and even the cast of Archie Comics. 

Wolverine, then, would seem an easy enough fit, and certainly not as big a reach as, say, Archie Andrews. 

The problem is that Percy's tale is a bit more ambitious than the simple application of the hunter/prey scenario that has dominated Predator crossovers to date.  Rather than just having the bad guy and the hero fight and maybe meditate on the nature of hunting, he posits a century-plus relationship between Wolverine and one particular Predator, who this comic refers to as an alien species known as "the Yautja." (I'm assuming the name comes from somewhere other than this comic though, which is branded with a "20th entury Studios" logo in the upper right corner; personally, I think the more mysterious the Predators are left, the better.)

The book opens in the Ken Lashley-drawn "Present Day," during which a very badly injured Wolverine—you can see his exposed humerus, like a cartoon bone, jutting out from a bunch of scorched flesh—is on the run from a Predator with a distinctive set of claw marks on its shiny, silver, mail-like mask. He narrates in his native tough-guy talk, flashing back to the year 1900, when he first met this opponent (During which the first of the many "guest" artists takes over for a sequence. First up? Greg Land. Real talk? If I knew Land were drawing/inserting photo-reference part of this book, I probably would have just skipped it entirely). 

This, then, establishes the format of the book. Wolverine battles the Predator in the present, while flashing back to a past encounter with the Predator and others of its kind, each past battle coinciding with a different status quo in the long-lived Wolverine's colorful life (and each of these drawn by a different artist, including Andrea Di Vito, Hayden Sherman, Kei Zama and Gavin Guidry). 

And so the Predator hunts a young, turn-of-the-century Wolvie on the Candian frontier; he and some serious back-up returns to take on the mind-wiped, "Team X" Logan (in scenes that recall the jungle-set, Predator vs. team of army guy alpha males of the original film); he fetches "Weapon X" from the facility where he's kept (see the cover);he fights a sword-wielding Logan and Muramasa in Japan; and, finally, he launches a full-scale invasion of the Westchester manor and rather quickly and decisively gets his ass-kicked by the assemblage of mutants that have Wolverine's back (and so quickly as he might have had other mutants been present, though; I'm not expert enough at X-history to know when exactly this happened, but I bet a fan could pinpoint it based on Kitty's costume). 

All in all, then, the Predator is very patient, and has the rather weird, or at least convenient, luck to come back for Wolverine's skull only when the character has entered into a brand-new, quite distinct status quo. I suppose, had the series been six issues instead of four, we might have also seen the Predator go after "Patch" in Madripoor or invaded Stark Tower to find the New Avengers protecting their teammate Wolverine. 

Sure, it defies logic a bit—never more so than when Wolverine decides to set-up one final confrontation with the Predator and he does so simply by baiting him with his mask on a stake; just how the Predator knows to come look for it in Canada at that particular time is left unexplained—but, on the other hand, it keeps the narrative interesting, and the rotating artists similarly keep a reader's eyeballs entertained (It could certainly have been worse; Land could have drawn the whole series).

Ultimately Wolverine's plan for once and for all defeating a character that turned out to be one of his oldest archenemies—move over, Sabretooth—is kind of silly. Despite all of his friends, allies and resources, Wolvie decides to just go at the Predator man-to-man, claw to claw, just as he did in his first fight with it, 124 years ago. That Wolverine wins isn't a surprise, although the way he wins is kind of weird. Basically he and the Predator deliver mortal wounds to one another at the same time, prompting the Predator to set his self-destructing nuclear arm-band to go off while the two are still claws-deep in one another. Thanks to his healing factor, Wolverine's body grows back and restores him to life. The Predator's body remains dead. 

Thus Wolverine won not by proving himself a better hunter or fighter, or being more adept at the Predator's own game than the alien hunter itself was, as Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch in the original film did, but simply by having mutant powers. It took a lot longer to get there, then, but the conclusion was never in any more doubt than if the Predator fought, say, The Hulk; The Hulk would win, because he's got super-powers.

An interesting enough attempt to graft the Predator onto Wolverine's long, complicated history, but the story was ultimately a disappointing one. 

The story is followed by six pages devoted to showing off a gallery of variant covers, from the likes of Mike McKone, Steve McNiven, InHyuk Lee, Adam Kubert, While Portacio, Gary Frank, and even Dan Jurgens and Bill Siekniewicz. These are mostly generic-ish images of the two characters locked in one-on-one combat, with only Peach Momoko's and Skottie Young's covers really sticking out, given how different their styles are from those of the more traditional superhero artists.

Before we move on, can we talk about the one panel that really struck me in this volume? 

During the first issue, in the Land-drawn "Young Wolverine" sequence, there's a scene where the newly-arrived Predator, who doesn't seem to suffer at all from the extreme cold, despite the species' canonical preference of extremely hot weather, goes about killing various forms of wildlife, not unlike the sequence where the Predator in 2022 film Prey did the same. 

He kills a deer, and then, on one three-panel page, engages other forms of wildlife: He leaps toward a bighorn sheep, he dodges as a mountain lion leaps at him and, most strikingly, he poses astrde a killer whale, a spear in his hand.

I am honestly a big more interested in a Predator vs. a killer whale than I am in a Predator vs. Wolverine...or any human (or, I guess, mutant) hero. In fact, for the longest time, that was "my" Predator story. A Predator comes to the Arctic, where the cold itself is a challenge to its very survival, fights a polar bear, and stalks some native human hunters, until he comes across an orca skull, and decides to hunt the world's actual deadliest prey—not Arnold Schwarzenegger, Batman or Wolverine, but a fucking killer whale, a 20-foot-long, three-to-four ton, apex species whose home is in an entirely different element than the one any Predator is accustomed to moving in, let alone hunting in. That, my friends, is Earth's ultimate prey.

Sadly, Percy found his way to the same idea, but all we get in terms of exploration of it is a Land drawing of Predator posed upon a small-looking photo of an orca amid that weird effect that happens when Land tries to convey water. Presumably, this Predator bested the orca, or at least fought it to a standstill. How on Earth did he accomplish that? Percy leaves it to our imaginations. 

Small surprise that the same Predator survives an attack by a grizzly bear—a timely attack that saves the young Wolverine and scars the Predator's face-mask—given that it managed to fight a fucking killer whale earlier in the story. 

Personally, I would have liked to see more of that then Samurai Wolverine vs. Predator and the like. 


Club Microbe (Drawn and Quarterly) Following her similar The Mushroom Fan Club and The Bug Club, the ever prolific Elise Gravel goes microscopic for another hybrid picture book/comic book in which she enthusiastically shares a favorite subject of the natural world with young readers. More here

Monkey King and the World of Myths: The Monster and the Maze (G.P. Putnam's Sons) Cartoonist Maple Lam remixes the story of Sun Wukong into her own, unique, unifying cosmology, and mashes it into the Greek story of the Minotaur and the labyrinth for a fun adventure that reinvents the myths that inspired it. More here

Winnie-The-Pooh (Drawn and Quarterly) I had mixed feelings about cartoonist Travis Dandro taking on the venerable nursery classic and adapting it into a comic now that author A.A. Milne's work has fallen into the public domain. But one can't really argue with results. If it was going to be done, this was the way to do it. More here

Saturday, April 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: March 2024


Thorn: The Complete Proto-Bone College Strips 1982-1986 and Other Early Drawings (Cartoon Books) My sole comic book purchase for the month of March came not from a comics specialty shop or from an online bookseller like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but rather from a Kickstarter campaign: The complete collection of Jeff Smith's mid-eighties comic strip from Ohio State University's student paper The Lantern, a strip that would eventually evolve into the comic book series Bone, the impact of which on the direction of the comics industry—or should that be "graphic novel industry"?—is hard to overstate.

When the book was last mentioned here on EDILW, it was in the context of wondering if there was some failure in the traditional comics publishing industry of the moment that Jeff Smith (and Matt Wagner and Kelley Jones) would have to turn to crowd-funding to get a project off the ground. Having now seen the final product, it's a little more clear why Smith might have gone this route. Not only has he been self-publishing his work for a long while now, but this is a very personal, somewhat niche project, and one imagines Smith relished the complete control over what it included, beyond what's in the title—the entirety of his Thorn strip.  Also, it looks like Cartoon Books is following the Kickstarter campagin release with a wider release...?

Not merely a curio for fans of Bone and where exactly the cartoon-character-in-an-epic-fantasy-world came from—and given how early Smith drew Fone Bone, it's safe to say it was a story he had spent his whole life building up towards—this edition of Thorn contains pretty much everything you could possibly want from such a collection, and it therefore serves as an important artifact in Smith's career as a cartoonist and storyteller...and also one of note in the areas of Lantern history and Columbus comics history. It is, in other words, essential reading for someone like me...and, I assume, like many of you.

The thing that is most immediately noteworthy about Thorn is just how sophisticated it is. It's a student strip in a college paper—although, thanks to taking a few years off after high school, Smith was a little older and thus, we can assume, a bit more accomplished than your average freshman cartoonist—but it's remarkably well-made. 

The artwork is head-and-shoulders above what you might see from a typical college strip (and there are examples here-in, as when Smith's Thorn crosses over with its comics-page neighbor, Steve Spencer's 50% More Absorbent Comix, or the final strips, in which Thorn hosts a goodbye party that the other Lantern comic strip characters all attend). Its visuals seem inspired by Walt Kelly's Pogo (a few characters of which make an off-panel cameo in one strip) and even, I hazard, the not-that-visually-dynamic Doonesbury by Gary Trudeau (I see it in the way the dragon's cigarette dangles, I think). 

As far as a comic strip goes, it's rather remarkable to see the early, first draft version of the Bone epic play out, with characters Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, Thorn, Gran'ma Ben, Ted the bug, the dragon, The Hooded One, the Rat Creatures, Roque Ja and, quite belatedly, Smiley Bone all appearing as part of the cast, and many of the same story beats playing out, but in the context of a daily comic strip that seems to vacillate between a continuity-strip adventure and a daily gag strip tackling politics and culture in a way that evokes the aforementioned Pogo and Doonesbury, not to mention Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County, with which Thorn seemed to share a bit of its DNA. 

So between the drama of the Rat Creatures and the Hooded One's interest in the Bone cousins and what we might now think of as "the Bone stuff," there are storylines  in which Thorn falls in with her world's version of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, Cold War politics as played out at a picnic knife-fight with a socialist pig with a Russian accent, and, in the most curious section, a satire of the 1986 election, in which a clownish dwarf king named "Ronnie Doody, The Talking Puppet" tries to make Thorn his running mate. 

Smith himself also enters the strip at various points, after it is established early on that the characters could visit him at his drawing board. And so he kinda sorta helps save the day when the Rat Creatures have Thorn and Fone Bone surrounded at one point and, later, he hires Fone and Phoney to work at the ice cream factory where he has a summer job. Then there's the aforementioned crossover with 50% More Absorbent Comics, where Smith basically pals around with the strip's star for a couple of weeks, wandering around campus...and even meeting Brutus Buckeye, or at least having a vision of Brutus Buckeye.

If all the book contained was a four-year run of Jeff Smith's college comic strip, the laboratory where he would eventually work out his seminal graphic novel saga Bone, the book would be well worthwhile. But there's a lot more to it than that. What else, is there...? Well...

•A foreword by Lucy Shelton Caswell, the founding curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University and co-founder of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (as well as one of Smith's teachers and, to a degree, a mentor).

•An introduction by Smith.

•The final, post-Lantern strip from the pages of The Sundial (Think of it, as Smith did, as a Thorn Sunday strip).

•Five installments of a strip called Mickey & Rudy, about a young woman and her talking cat.

•An interview with Guido WeiBhahn, whose name I can't reproduce correctly here as it has a non-English character I don't know how to make in it (I just used a capital "B", which is wrong).

•A two-page remembrance by Smith's fellow Lantern cartoonist Derf, now better known as Derf Backderf, about the time a young Smith tried to call out racism...and ended up getting accused of racism himself. The particularly controversial strip prompted a guest column by Smith apologizing for the offensive content (the column is also reproduced herein).

•A "Tales From The Inkwell" section showing the evolution of Smith as an artist...and Fone Bone and other Bones' evolution right alongside him. This section includes plenty of art, including from Smith's childhood—he first drew Fone Bone at age 5, after all—plus some barbarian stuff, some superhero stuff, and the extremely intriguing possibility of another alternate version of Bone, one inspired by Smith's love of Frank Frazetta and Heavy Metal. The period, Smith writes, didn't last long, and "I never got it organized enough to send anything to the magazine Heavy Metal (thank goodness!)"

•An afterword by Smith's best-friend and one-time business partner, Jim Kammerud.

•A section comparing scenes from Thorn with scenes from Bone, many of which are beat for beat the same, but quite differently drawn (as polished as Thorn seemed for a college strip, Smith's later work on Bone looks almost like the work of an entirely different artist). 

It's an awful lot, really.

The book is currently on Amazon and in Previews for a July release, so apparently it will be more widely available then to those who didn't jump on the Kickstarter. (I don't understand how publishing works, I think it's safe to say.) This being a Kickstarter release, however, there were several "stretch goal" prizes that came along with the book, including three versions of a cast portrait (in blue pencil, inks and full color), "evolution" of Fone Bone and Thorn drawings, showing the two key characters at different points in their visual development, a Ted the bug drawing and, most weirdly, a trio of "mini-comics", publishing Bone adventures that Smith created between the ages of 9 and 14. 

I have no idea what to do with any of these things.  

Whether or not you're a particular fan of Bone or even Smith, I'd still recommend Thorn as a good place to start exploring both. Hell, it's where Smith himself started.


Superman: Action Comics Vol. 1: The Rise of Metallo (DC Comics) I came for the jackets. Dan Mora's collection cover, featuring a now expansive Superman "family", all rocking a new uniform of sort in jackets rather than capes, intrigued me enough to check out what's going on in Superman comics at the moment.

That Superman family includes Supergirl, Superboy Conner Kent/Kon-El, former Superboy Jonathan Kent, Chinese "New Superman" Kong Kenan, Steel John Henry Irons, Steel Natasha Irons and the "Super Twins," newly acquired Kent adoptees from War World. 

It's a huge cast, and somewhat unwieldly, although writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson does a pretty good job of juggling them all to the extent possible, coming up with a threat in this volume that requires a large number of super-people.

 It turns out the jackets aren't really the best idea visually, though, as the characters can be hard to tell apart, given how similar so many of them look; their original, caped costumes popped more than the subtle differences in jacket style or "S" font do here.

As the sub-title indicates, much of this volume is devoted to the return of villain Metallo. The Steels are about to open a new Steelworks facility in Metropolis, and not everyone is happy, particularly the new "Blue Earth" protest movement that is opposed to the infiltration of aliens into Earth society (I guess the fact that Superman has his own little army of super-people now doesn't help them feel any better about his presence on Earth). 

Metallo tries to sabotage the grand opening, at the behest of a holographic Luthor...although it will be revealed that it's actually another Superman archfoe pulling Metallo's strings. As to why Metallo is so eager to help, it turns out his little sister has been kidnapped by the villain, and he won't release her until Metallo succeeds in killing off the whole Super-family...a rather tall order. 

Raffa Sandoval and Max Raynor handle the art, and they do a pretty good job, especially considering how many similar-looking characters they have to draw, in and out of costume (the Super-family all reconvene at the Kent household a few times for plainclothes hang-out sessions; it wasn't entirely clear from the proceedings, but I think Superman may have his secret identity back after Brian Michael Bendis outted him, although I have no idea how that was achieved.)

I'm not sure for how long a super-family focused book like this will be tenable, as with so many characters few of them get a chance to make much of an impression other than fill in crowd scenes, but it's still nice to see DC attempt to use all of these characters, and, given the nature of the threat here—with Metallo building a small army of drone cyborgs—it works pretty well. 

Maybe this will eventually lead to a Wayne Family Adventures style Superman book. 

Speaking of which...

Wayne Family Adventures Vol. 3 (DC) CRC Payne, Starbite and company's Web Toon series returns for another collection. This volume's highlights include Oracle discovering Jason Todd's Tinder profile (which says Jason's only 19? That can't be right; is he really only a year older than Tim?), Damian trying to avoid messing up his hair on picture day, Nightwing and Huntress trading weapons for a night, a long discussion between Tim Drake and Damian about their differences, Duke teaching Jason and Cass that sometimes entering through the door is the best tactic and Stephanie and Damian practicing fighting in high heels. Guest-stars include Zatanna, Poison Ivy and Harley, and, somewhat surprisingly, the version of Vixen that appears in another Web Toon series (and who works with Grace Choi, for some reason...?) 

The series remains one of my favorite super-books, in large part because of how well Payne is able to balance silly, humorous vignettes with serious explorations of the characters, as well as ensuring a spotlight for

Batman's wide and deep supporting cast. Wayne Family Adventures remains, as far as I am concerned, the most essential Batman comic. 

Zom-100: Bucket List of the Dead: Vols 12-13 (Viz Media) I apparently missed volume 12 when it originally came out, as when I picked up volume 13, I had no idea what was going on. I rectified that immediately, however, and so this month got a double dose of Haro Aso and Kotaro Takata's zombie survivalist comedy. 

Volume 12 opens with Akira and Shizuka washing up on a desert island after falling overboard during the zombie outbreak on the pleasure yacht at the climax of volume 11. This is a dream come true for Akira, of course, who had "Live on a deserted island" on his bucket list of things to do before becoming a zombie, a list he and his friends have made quite a bit of progress on over the course of the series. Shizuka, still mad at him for his almost-dalliance with another girl, has to come to grips with her feelings for Akira, and eventually makes a confession....just not to Akira. Zombies start washing ashore, proving that not even a deserted island is a safe harbor during the zombie apocalypse.

The characters do make some surprising headway in their efforts to save the world, however, finally catching up with the doctor working on a vaccine and his traveling companion, a girl who seems immune to zombie infection. Unfortunately, they do so just before Shizuka is herself finally bitten, which would have made for a hell of a cliffhanger to volume 12, if it would have simply ended with Akira weeping over her body, and weren't for the final three panels holding out hope for a cure.

The thirteenth volume is something of an extended Resident Evil riff, coming rather late in the game considering how long the series has lived in the zombie genre, with our heroes finding an "Umbriel" Corporation facility and setting up shop there, where the doctor can work on the cure. They find that Umbriel was up to some spectacularly shady stuff, though, including the manufacture of monsters derived from the zombie virus, long-tongued frog monsters that will need to be faced by our heroes, who pick up the heavy weaponry left by an elite squad of private soldiers who are all slaughtered when caught unawares by the monsters. 

As the bucket list gets shorter, I begin to wonder—and to worry—that this series' lifespan may be reaching its limits. 


Unicorn Boy (First Second) Dave Roman of Astronaut Academy launches a new series—based on the big number one on the spine, not to mention the unresolved plot points—featuring the superhero-like title character, who is a little boy that, via transformation sequence, turns into a magically-powered, unicorn-themed hero of the title and must journey to the underworld to save his non-binary best friend, who was taken by the forces of darkness. A grandmotherly grim reaper, a talking cat and a talking muffin are all involved. It's fairly silly, but quite well-drawn and rather charming. More here

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: February 2024


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Reborn Vol. 8—Damage Done (IDW Publishing) This volume opens with a somewhat incongruous done-in-one chapter, by guest writer Michael Walsh and artists Vlad Legostaev, Santtos and Walsh. In it, the four brother turtles are hanging out alone in their lair together when they receive an unexpected visitor from the future, a middle-aged mutant ninja turtle who is apparently one of them. He's there specifically to warn Donatello not to do something he's thinking about doing, something that will visit great ruin on them in the future and, indeed, imperil the whole world.

This seems to be setting up the next arc, following the one that fills this volume (and, if I'm counting correctly, will be the last of regular writer Sophie Campbell's run, before the big reboot).

After that issue, we return to our regularly scheduled program, wherein the events of "The Armageddon Game" are over, but still reverberating (I meant to read that book in trade from the library, but didn't manage to get a hold of it before reading this, so I was a little lost on a few points, like Mutant Town's wall coming down, and the fact that mutants are now somewhat accepted as part of general, human society). 

As for the Splinter Clan, they are in the act of splintering, with different characters having different priorities: Jennika has her band; Donatello is holed up in his lab, obsessively studying something secret that he's loathe to share with his brothers; Raphael is still preoccupied with Alopex leaving; Michelangelo is feeling the call of travel, embodied by his frequent phone calls with Princess Seri, who is on some kind of press tour and Leonardo is struggling to keep everyone on the same page for regular patrols and crime-fighting purposes. 

In essence, the Turtles are growing up, and struggling with the fact that they don't have to stay together constantly just because they're brothers; they can, in fact, do their own things. 

Meanwhile, mutants seem to be disappearing and turning up dead with alarming frequency; there seems to be a mutant serial killer on the loose. Though drifting apart, the Turtles and their allies have to come together to deal with the threat, which turns out to be a couple of villains we've met before. Things get urgent when one of the Turtles' friends, one of the weasels, goes missing.

The artwork for this arc is provided by Gavin Smith, who also drew the cover, and it's highly-realistic. Perhaps too realistic for my personal tastes, as his drawings of the turtles frequently suggested the original, live-action Turtle movies to me (the ones with the Jim Henson heads). That said, he's quite adept at expressions and acting. 

Personally I prefer Campbell's art, and consider it something of a tragedy that she wasn't able to both write and draw the entirety of her run. We do get to see a few Campbell drawings in this volume, however, as she and Kevin Eastman collaborate on some of the variant covers, and the pair make a fairly ideal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles art team. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I hope IDW finds a good project for the pair to collaborate on interiors for. 

It's pretty clear from this volume that Campbell's run is winding down; in fact, the last issues reads like it could be the last issue of a run or a series, as the Turtles all go their separate ways. But I know we've still got at least one more Campbell arc to go. 


Batman: The Adventures Continue Season Three (DC Comics) Batman: The Animated Series producers Alan Burnett and Paul Dini continue their revisitation of the seminal cartoon show they worked on in this continuation of the show's continuity, expertly drawn in the style of the show by artist Ty Templeton and others (The Kevin Altieri-drawn "Old Flames," a Batman/Harley Quinn team-up a rare deviation from the Bruce Timm-inspired aesthetic of the cartoon).

Two major storylines run throughout this volume, each starring one of Batman's greatest archenemies: The Joker and Ra's al Ghul. The former involves The Suicide Squad (and its recent addition The Muscle) going after Straight Man, The Joker's new super-strong sidekick in Gotham, the latter involves Ra's making Batman an offer he has a hard time refusing, especially given the fact that the need for Batman seems decreased more than ever by the fact that crime in Gotham has, mysteriously enough, all but disappeared, seemingly overnight. 

Both are great stories, making use of the show's by-now expansive cast, including characters (and plotlines) introduced throughout the course of The Adventures Continue. Though a bit more adult than the TV show its supposedly a continuation of—there's a scene of Bruce and Talia in bed where it's clear she's naked under the sheet, and Harley rather gorily beheads a Court of Owls Talon with scythe—it's a great celebration of it, and the climactic story, "The Offer" features appearances from just about every member of Batman's rogue's gallery for what seems like it may be his biggest "animated" adventure ever, Mask of The Phantasm and various direct-to-video movies included. 

In addition to the "straight" covers and a few designed to resemble the title cards of the old show, there are several striking variant covers, including Kevin Nowlan's, which serves as the cover for the collection (above), a Daniel Warren Johnson piece showing Batman working on the Batmobile and a Kelley Jones piece featuring Batman and seemingly his whole Animated Series rogues gallery. Though few of these are in the style of the cartoon, it's interesting to see the Timm designs in such radically different styles, including those of Sweeney Boo, Gustavo Duerte, Keron Grant, Cliff Chiang, Guillem March, Rafael Albuquerque, Brian Bolland, Matteo Scalera and others. 


Mayor Good Boy Turns Bad (RH Graphic) Everyone in Abby Ableman's world seems to be acting weird lately, no one more so than Mayor Good Boy, who may have...gone bad? What's really going on? Find out in the concluding book of Dave Scheidt and Miranda Harmon's trilogy of graphic novels about a small town with a talking dog mayor. Hopefully more books from the pair are in the future. More here

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: January 2024


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Usagi Yojimbo: WhereWhen (IDW Publishing) In 2018, Dark Horse Books published Usagi Yojimbo/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Collection, which included every single one of the comic book crossovers of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's TMNT and Stan Sakai's samurai rabbit, from the 1987 Sakai-drawn six-page short "Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew" to the 2017 Sakai-created "Namazu or the Big Fish Story," a 40-page IDW-published one-shot.

The title of that book, as vital and rewarding as the book itself may be, is no longer accurate, as IDW just published another TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo crossover, this one the most substantial one to date: The five-issue, 144-page adventure WhereWhen. The book, written, drawn and lettered by Sakai, with colors from Hi-Fi Desgin, technically features the IDW iteration of the Turtles (at least the main four; Jennika is MIA), since they recognize Usagi from the pages of "Namazu", but otherwise these could be any version of the Turtles, so continuity-lite is their end of the story (something that I, a fan of the original iteration, was thankful for; these just read like the real Turtles, rather than a particular version of them).

The continuity is a little heavier on the Usagi side, with some surprising changes in the cast—read: deaths—in this, a crossover. In Usagi's time, this is set just before the events of 2014 miniseries Usagi Yojimbo: Senso, with the ronin rabbit now a general serving as part of an army travelling to eradicate Hijiki and his forces at the request of the shogun. 

As they prepare to set up camp for the day, local villagers approach Usagi and tell him of a kappa that is menacing them. Usagi seeks permission to hunt for the turtle monster, and does so, so we get to see Staki's version of the famous Japanese yokai (and, being turtle-like in shape, it is, of course, an auspicious creature for the Usagi characters to face just before the TMNT arrive).

Meanwhile, in the present, the four Turtles—"naked" compared to their current, Sophie Campbell-written IDW versions—are on the trail of a supervillain, a time-travelling cyborg Dr. WhereWhen from the future, who has come to his own past to conquer the world with his superior technology.

His robots are no match for the Turtles, though, and so he decides to flee even further into the past, where they won't be there to fight him, and thus he arrives in 17th century feudal Japan, or Usagi's time. Due to the vagaries of time travel stories, WhereWhen actually arrived there well before the Turtles, and has had time to build all sorts of clockwork samurai and monsters using his futuristic knowhow and the technology of the day. 

After a brief crossing of swords due to the stories of kappa, General Usagi arrives to greet his old friends (this story apparently takes place 20 years after the last TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo crossover) and straighten everything out. No sooner does WhereWhen hear of their arrival though then he sends waves of attackers after the Turtles in Lord Noriyuki's encampment, first an ambush by mogura ninja (that's mole ninja), then WhereWhen's "Samuroids." 

Not simply sitting still, the Turtles, Usagi and some of Usagi's allies storm WhereWhen's castle, finding various clockwork monsters built to repel them. They succeed in shutting down WhereWhen's operation, and getting his time-travel device, allowing for themselves to get back home (as to why feudal Japan is full of talking animals instead of Japanese people, there are a few brief allusions to this being weird, but nothing that stops the story; as ever, Usagi Yojimbo, like Disney comics, are apparently meant to be read as is the animals were more-or-less human, perhaps moles aside).

At this point in his career, Sakai is as accomplished as any living cartoonist, and he has drawn the TMNT enough times at this point to make him one of their better artists. 

Each issue of the series included a wrap-around cover by Sakai, and a variant by Kevin Eastman, all of which are reprinted within. There's also a single cover by Peter Laird and Eastman, which is a pretty big deal if you ask me, although it's simply relegated to the status of fourth issue variant (it's not too Turtle-heavy, either, featuring one-half of Leonardo and one-half of Usagi only; still, this is the first time the pair has collaborated in forever, and the first time I've seen a Turtle drawn by its creators since I can't remember when). 
Other variants come from Sarah Myer, who draws the "Retailer Incentive" covers, and does so in a highly animated style, including pupils in the turtles' eyes on one cover where they are shown feasting on okonomiyaki, and a connecting cover by David Petersen. 

Sadly, there are no Sophie Campbell-drawn variants; I would really like to see what her version of Usagi might look like. 


Komi Can't Communicate Vol. 28 (Viz Media) Never mind what the cover shows, it's not Komi and the girls in the cast that visit a sauna in this volume, but the boys; specifically, Tadano and Komi's dad...and little brother (Komi's dad being too shy to hang out with Tadano by himself still, apparently). They go on this date so that, as Komi's dad finally admits well into the proceedings, so that he can bond with Tadano. They even end up kissing, although it's a kinda sorta medical procedure prompted by Komi's dad pretending to fall ill.

Kissing remains on Komi and Tadano's mind throughout this volume, and they seem to get awfully close during a study date at Komi's, until her mom interrupts them. Komi's parents seem quite fond of Tadano, and, in fact, they get dressed up and join the kids during their study date until Komi eventually shoos them away. 

Other stories this volume include new editions of the Summer Uniform Grand Prix and Quiet While Studying in the Library, Wakai who can't talk to girls finds himself able to talk to Manbagi through a loophole in his logic, and Komi's dealing with a group of friendly stalkers who all want to be her friend but, well, like everyone else in this manga, all seem to have communication problems of their own. 

My Cute Littel Kitten Vol. 1 (Seven Seas Entertainment) The inciting incident of this yuri manga is Yuna bringing home a tiny kitten to the new-pet apartment she's shared with college friend Rena for years. Realizing the time may finally have come for them to go their separate ways, Rena prepares to finally let go of Yuna, despite the fact that she's madly in love with her.

What does that mean, exactly? "You see...I'm in love with you," she confesses. "I don't mean as a friend. I want to kiss you, to sleep with you. That kind of love." 

To Rena's surprise, Yuna returns her feelings...sorta. Or at least she wants to keep living together, and seems willing to go with the flow, even if that means entering into a lesbian relationship with her long-time best friend and roommate. Her attempts to consummate their love keep getting frustrated by circumstances, though, from Yuna getting so drunk she passed out for what was going to be their "first time" (and which Yuna thought might have actually happened, even though she couldn't remember it) to their newly found little kitten pet, Chibi, causing trouble.

Eventually, the pair decide to stay together and find a new, pet-friendly apartment for their new family of three, while their relationship continues to take halting, often-frustrated steps forward, as Rena tries to determine if her cute little kitten Yuna is really ready for a relationship with her, and Yuna wrestles with whether or not she's good enough for Rena. 

It's a charming enough affair, with a sufficient degree of suspense and drama, despite the fact that the confession happens so early in the proceedings. 

Star Wars: Darth Vader—Black, White & Red Treasury Edition (Marvel Entertainment) The character of Darth Vader seems well-suited to the limited palette anthology series, given that it is a limited palette character design, all in black, with a bright red iconic weapon in his hand. This book, produced at 8.7-inches by 13.25-inches, is a nice showcase for the art, which comes courtesy of names I'm quite familiar with, like Leonard Kirk and Klaus Janson, a few from names I've heard of, like Peach Momoko, Alessandro Vitti and Daniel Warren Johnson, and a few I've never heard of, like Marika Cresta, Stefano Raffaele, Paul Davidson and Danny Earls. 

The books four issues are divided up so that there's a chapter of a longer Jason Aaron-written, Kirk-drawn storyline called "Hard Shutdown" (Kirk is inked, in just the fourth installment, by Mark Morales), followed by two standalone short stories from some of the other creators, and so on to the end. The collection follows this formula, breaking up the Aaron/Kirk story with short stories throughout. 

"Hard Shutdown" introduces the son of a doctor who worked on constructing Vader's cyborg body, and who therefore knows a special code that can render the Star Wars villain into the title state, completely immobilizing him. The idea is to then cut him up and sell off his very expensive, state-of-the-art parts while getting rid of the galaxy's worst bad guy at the same time. Things don't go according to plan, however, as despite the fact that Vader can't so much as twitch a muscle, his mind is still active, and he still has access to his Force powers, allowing him to control all the tools in the room meant to cut him up, to fling around the bodies of reinforcements to come to help, to even pull a ship out of the sky. 

The point of the story, other than to imperil the 47-year-old character in a new and interesting way, is to highlight just how incredibly powerful Darth Vader really is. In fact, this is a theme throughout the book, which is basically a celebration of Vader's bad-assery, as he uses his laser sword and Force powers to meet and beat all opponents, even if he has to fight off a pack of Wampas while damaged/injured in Frank Tieri and Earls' "Return to Hoth" or fighting off a planet-wide viral life form while floating limbless in a bacta tank in Steve Orlando and Davidson's "The Inhabitant."

It's a wonder that Luke Skywalker kid was ever even able to go toe-to-toe with Vader.

In addition to the Aaron-written story, stand outs include the bizarre imagery of Momoko's dream story, a little boy learning exactly the wrong message in Victoria Ying and Cresta's "Power" and Johnson's "Annihilated", which contains some especially neat light saber effects, and the pitch perfect "ZROWWW" sound of one swinging in a wide arc. 

I was also intrigued by the variant cover gallery, which includes a contribution from Kevin Eastman, depicting the Dark Lord of the Sith on what appears to be snowy Hoth, all black and white save for the red of his sword. I'm always interested in seeing Eastman's signature style applied to other people's characters, and Darth Vader is about as unlikely a character to imagine the artist drawing as any. 


Punycorn (HarperColllins) Andi Watson's latest finds the long-time creator at his absolute silliest, in a work that seems like a rather great departure from his usual writing...and even drawing. Even when compared to his other kids work, this seems like a departure. That said, it's a fun little book, and the usual charms of Watson's work are all present, even if one has to look a little harder than usual to find them. More here


I spoke to Cleopatra In Space creator Mike Maihack about his trilogy of Spider-Man graphic novels for Abrams on the occasion of the release of the second one, Spider-Man: Quantum Quest. You can read our conversation here

Monday, January 22, 2024

Hey, Robert Ableman listens to Cub!

It wasn't something I was expecting to see in a comic book, least of all in the pages of Mayor Good Boy Turns Bad, the third installment of Dave Scheidt and Miranda Harmon's Mayor Good Boy series, about a talking dog mayor of a small town. 

Early in the book, Robert Ableman, the father of the book's heroes Abby and Aaron Ableman, is shown going through his record collection. When Aaron interrupts him, Robert clutches the album he's holding to his chest defensively and holds it there for several panels. As you can see above, it's a Cub album, specifically their second album, 1995's Come Out Come Out.

For those of you who don't know, which I assume is most of you, or at least most of Mayor Good Boy's young readers, Cub was a Vancouver-based all-girl band in the 1990s, their sound defined by simple, lullaby-like pop punk rock tunes with sing-songy lyrics that could be either extremely charming or somewhat cloying, depending on your level of cynicism. They self-branded their style as "cuddlecore." As a teenager, I loved them unconditionally, my favorite song being "My Chinchilla" from their debut album Betti-Cola, which was either a cute and innocent love song...or an ode to an actual pet chinchilla. I interpreted it as the former. 

In an earlier panel, we see Aaron holding two other albums, They Might Be Giants' 1988 Lincoln and The Cure's 1989 Disintegration, so perhaps Robert came to Cub through They Might Be Giants, who covered "New York City" from Come Out Come Out on their 1996 album Factory Showroom. At any rate, we can agree that Robert has pretty good taste in music, and a worthy record collection. 

This isn't the only Cub comics connection, or the only reason they might be mentioned on a comics blog. The cover art for Betti-Cola was from legendary cartoonist Dan DeCarlo.

Now the only question is who on the Mayor Good Boy team is the Cub fan, Schedit or Harmon? Or both? 

Monday, January 01, 2024

A Month of Wednesdays: December 2023


Batman: Dark Knight Detective Vol. 8 (DC Comics) This latest collection of post-Crisis, pre-"Knightfall" issues of Detective Comics opens with a mistake: The volume includes 1991's Detective Comics Annual #4, the Armageddon 2001 tie-in, just as the previous volume in the series did. In seems to be a mistake of addition though, as it doesn't look like it replaced anything. The next ten issues of the series from 1992 are all included, as is the 1992 Annual #5, the Eclipso: The Darkness Within tie-in. 

This turns out to be the sole contribution of writers Alan Grant and John Wagner, while the rest of the scripts in the collection come courtesy of Chuck Dixon. In the annual, featuring a nicely crazed cover by Sam Kieth featuring Batman and The Joker and great, spooky interior art by Tom Mandrake, Grant regulars Scarface and The Ventriloquist have a new scheme: A legitimate night club for a clientele of gangsters, complete with ventriloquist act by themselves, in which they have bugged all the tables, allowing them to get all the dirt on their rival gang bosses. This is how they hear of a $25 million job The Joker once pulled off, where in the Clown Prince of Crime was the only one who knew where the money got stashed before he was picked up by the police. 

So they break The Joker out of Arkham—this turns out to be the first meeting between the two characters—and try to force him to reveal the location of the loot. What does that have to do with Eclipso? Nothing. The old JLA villain turned DCU annual event Big Bad comes into play when Batman encounters a couple of his black diamonds on an ancient head piece that was part of a museum job. Doctor Bruce Gordon comes to town warning of the diamonds and the danger of Eclipso, but he's too late; it turns out this night was the anniversary of Barbara Gordon's shooting by The Joker, and her dad Commissioner Gordon is feeling extra vengeful. He has thoughts of vengeance in his heart when he touches the diamonds, and thus releases a 20-foot monster, an aspect of Eclipso, that won't rest until it takes vengeance on The Joker. This leads to a climactic battle between Batman and the monster, way out of his normal weight class, in an old, abandoned toy factory. 

Mandrake handles the drawing of all the characters masterfully, and he's especially adept at depicting a semi-scary Batman as creature of the night and, of course, excels at the monster. I was rather disappointed when I got to the final panel and saw the tags saying "To Be Continued in Robin Annual #1" and "Plus--For More of Eclipso, Don't Miss Superman Annual #4". I read the Robin Annual, of course (also by Grant and Wagner, with art by Tom Lyle and another great Kieth cover), but never did read the Superman one. As with the Armageddon 2001 tie-in last volume (and, um, this volume too), I found myself wishing DC would collect the event. I know annual events are notoriously difficult to collect due to their sheer page count—Eclipso ran through two bookending specials and 18 different annuals—but I think a coupla trades could do it (and do it better than a massive omnibus, of which I'm not a fan of). 

The rest of the collection, as previously stated, is Dixon's, and the stories within find him working with one of two of his more fruitful collaborators: Tom Lyle and Graham Nolan.

With Lyle (doing breakdowns, while Scott Hanna handles finishes), Dixon has a pair of three-parters. The first of these is "Electric City", featuring great covers by Michael Golden, has Batman and Robin trying to stop an electricty-powered killer who survived the electric chair and now wants to electrocute all those who showed up to watch his botched execution (Plus vigilante The Electrocutioner). The second is a rather big one in terms of modern Batman history, as it re-introduces footnote Batman villain The Cluemaster and his daughter-turned-vigilante, Spoiler Stephanie Brown (this one's got great covers by Matt Wagner, two of which grace the front and back covers of the collection).

Rounding out the collection are the Nolan contributions, "The Dragon", in which Batman's hunchbacked fix-it guy Harold discovers that the Batcave cave complex connects to Gotham's underground rail system (while Robin saves a faux Geraldo Rivers from a booby-trapped safe during a television special); "A Bullet For Bullock," in which Batman and the rumpled police detective team-up (this one features what I believe is the very first Kelley Jones Batman cover; someone please correct me if I'm wrong); and a two-part story introducing The Huntress as an active presence in Gotham City. 

The repeat inclusion of the 1991 annual aside, it's a great collection from a high-point in Batman comics, and not to be missed by anyone whose never read these stories before (or who, like me, only read some of them). 

Looking ahead to what next, there's little left before "Knightfall": The three-issue arc introducing The General and two issues of team-ups with Azrael. These are intersesting comics, featuring art from Michael Netzer and covers by Kieth and Jones (taking turns inking one another's pencils), but they've already been collected elsewhere. Even if they include the next annual, I don't think there's enough material for a volume nine of the series.


Batman: Wayne Family Adventures Vol. 2 (DC Comics) I remain somewhat perplexed as to how exactly this comic is produced, with one of the two inkers, Starbite, getting second credit below the writer (as well as having a bio in the back). In addition to Starbite and fellow inker Toby Fan, there are six artists credited under "storyboards by", two artists under "backgrounds by" and then a "flats & rendering" credit. That seems like a whole lot of personnel for what is a visually rather simple comic (and it's been rearranged to read more like a comic book in these collections; in the original Webtoon format they are simply phone-friendly, equal-sized sequential panels that run in a vertical stream).

My confusion about the process aside, it is clear that CRC Payne handles the scripts, and she's a magnificent writer, doing great character work with a large, even unwieldly cast of characters that includes the entire extended Bat-Family, with occasional appearances of Superman, the Justice League and even some villains and surprise characters. 

This is the only DC Comic that actually tackles the Batman cast as it actually stands, rather than strategically ignoring most of the characters because it's so much easier to do so (It is a little out of date though; Tim and Cassie are still wearing their New 52 Red Robin and Orphan costumes respectively, and Alfred is still alive, instead of temporarily dead, as he is in the other Batman comics). 

Among the highlights in this volume are seeing Alfred fly the Bat-plane to Kansas for a dinner with the Kents wherein they discuss their sons, Bruce Wayne consulting Superman on how to tie a tie (when Alfred is out of town) and the whole Justice League chiming in and the family rallying to keep Bruce Wayne in bed when injuries ground him from being Batman and all teaming-up to support Jason when he has a traumatic flashback to his death.

It's all around great stuff, and by far my favorite modern Batman comic. 

Godzilla Rivals: Round One (IDW Publishing) Godzilla Rivals is a series of standalone one-shots by rotating creative teams pitting Godzilla against one of his classic Toho foes...and telling the story of human characters underfoot in the process. Well, most of the installments in the series pit Godzilla against one of his foes. Some issues feature two non-Godzilla Toho characters duking it out, as in Godzilla Rivals: Biollante Vs. Destroyah or Godzilla Rivals: Rodan Vs. Ebirah. For the first collection, subtitled Round One, all of the stories feature the King of the Monsters himself. 

There are four in total, spanning the decades from a 1971-set battle against Hedorah in New York City to a 2027 encounter with Battra in the small, sea-side town of Hackney-On-Sea. Of these, the most substantial feeling is probably writer/artist Adam Gorham's Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah, set in 1996. 

In it, the Xiliens are attacking Earth in laser beam-spitting flying saucers, and Godzilla is doing his best to down the invading armada. He's eventually downed by a super-cannon and abducted in a little force bubble (as in 1965's Invasion of the Astro-Monster) and taken away to a Xilien outpost on Mars. There he's forced to fight in gladitorial combat for the amusement/distraction of the Xilien masses, fighting such foes as a trio of Kamacuras (this story is full of such cameos to Toho films, as we'll see). 

While Earth seems to be losing the war with the Xiliens, a Dr. Ogilvy Hu (who resembles the cape-swishing villain Dr. Who of 1967's King Kong Escapes) gathers Earth's leaders at his secret base and, after a very talky series of panels, explains his plan: pilot Captain Daitan Matsushita and a robot of his invention will pilot a special interplanetary stealth ship to Mars to drop an "electro-bomb" on the Xiliens' headquarters, disrupting their computer systems and allowing Earth's forces to turn the tide of the war against them.

As it happens, the attack happens just as the Xiliens have allowed Godzilla, who of course made short work of the Kamacuras, to face off against their monster champion, Monster Zero (That's King Ghidorah, of course). The bombing plan doesn't go quite as expected, but Godzilla, empowered by the radiation of the surface of Mars, manages to defeat his rival and, with his radioactive breath, destroy the target the bomb was intended for. Godzilla thus saves Earth, even while stuck on Mars. 

The Hedorah story, written by Paul Allor and drawn by E.J. Su, is mostly interesting for the moral quandaries navigated by the two human protagonists, both of whom seemingly want to survive at all costs, and may have a way of driving the two warring monsters off, if only someone is willing to sacrifice their own life to pull it off.

There's also a Godzilla Vs. Mothra story by Mary Kenney, SL Gallant and Maria Keane that finds a reporter discovering the secret captivity of Mothra and attempting to rescue her...just in time for the giant moth to stave off an attack by Godzilla (there are some nice lettering effects to intimate the strange speech patterns of the Shobijin in this one). 

And in the final Battra story, by Rosie Knight and Oliver Ono, Battra awakens in a small town and seems poised to start its task of destroying humanity to save the Earth, until the human heroes locate Godzilla, who fights the big bug (already in its final form; the larval stage is skipped in this story). They battle for a few pages, but before either monster can win decisively, Mothra shows up to talk sense to them, and gets them to not only stop fighting, but to warn Battra off of attacking the humans, who are just as much victims of environmental degradation as the Earth itself is. There's some particularly strong art in this chapter.

Overall, it's a pretty strong entry in IDW's Godzilla comics (and a far better read then the last couple I've read, the all-ages Monsters & Protectors collections). Certainly it lacks the narrative heft of the longer series that have preceded it, but the anthology format is a nice way to share the spotlight among Toho's wider menagerie of monsters. I am curious how the Godzilla-free stories pitting his rivals against one another read, but I guess I'll have to wait until a hypothetical Round Two for that. 

Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Child (Chronicle Books) The essential conceit of cartoonist Jeffrey Brown's original collection of Star Wars gags, the 2012 Darth Vader and Son, was to imagine Darth Vader as a harried single father raising a little boy version of Luke while also attending to his demanding day job, as evil Sith Lord and commander within the Galactic Empire. That lead to several other, similar collections, including Vader's Little Princess and Darth Vader and Friends, but the idea was essentially the same. 

The problem with Brown's latest venture with the Star Wars IP, focused on the three-season long Disney+ streaming TV show The Mandalorian, is that the show itself has as its core conceit the bad-ass bounty hunter as a harried single father raising a little kid. So here the jokes that Brown seeks to tell are so close to the source material that they are intent on spoofing that it all feels uncomfortably flat. Brown exaggerates the child care angle, of course, but it's only by degree, and thus the jokes all feel fairly small compared to those in his earlier Star Wars books. 

The art is pretty great, at least, but he does struggle to capture the adorable-ness of the Grogu puppet used in the show. 


Tasty: A History of Yummy Experiments (RH Graphic) This sequel to Victoria Grace Elliott's Yummy brings back the cartoonist's food sprite characters for another series of history lessons of common foods, this time including cheese, pickles and pizza. More here