Thursday, September 03, 2009

Some old first issues I've recently read

Captain America: Dead Men Running #1 (Marvel Comics) I was pretty excited to finally find a copy of this comic, as I somehow missed it the first time around, despite the fact that it featured cover art by Derek Hess, the Cleveland-based rock poster artist (and avowed Captain America fan). The interior art comes from Danijel Zezelj, and while there's obviously a bit of a gulf between the two men's respective styles, they're at least close enough on the spectrum that a reader shouldn't get whiplash when they open the cover and start reading.

I was pleasantly surprised by the comic, perhaps because I was expecting it to not be very good—I guess I've mentally sorted modern Captain America history into Brubaker and pre-Brubaker, with the former being the good stuff, and the latter the bad. But this issue read an awful lot like a Vertigo style comic that just so happened to feature a Marvel character in it (quite a few of the Marvels from the first years of this decade read like that actually, on account of Marvel hiring Vertigo editors, writers and artists to work on their comics; these creators among them).

Darko Macan scripts this one, and the focus is on a small group of American soldiers and some little kids lost in a jungle, surrounded by enemies, and beginning to despair tha they're not going to get out of this alive. That's when a U.S. military plane drops a single man in a parachute off, not far from where they're lost. But of what help can a single man really be in their dire straights, they wonder aloud. Ha ha, buck up guys, that one man is Captain America! Hooray!

After a middle section in which Captain America is viewed through these soldiers' eyes, there's a few twists near the end that flip the script in an intriguing way. I wanted to get the next two issues in the miniseries, not just because there were two more Hess covers on them,
but because I wanted to see what would happen next. And in serial comics storytelling, that's exactly what you want your readers to feel like when they get to that "to be continued" in the last panel.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Marvel ever collected this into a trade, either because it's only three-issues long, or because Macan and Zezelj don't have names that move trades the way other cover credits do. Collect this book Marvel. I promise to buy it!

El Diablo #1 (DC/Vertigo) Speaking of Zezelj and Vertigo comics, here's a Veritgo comic illustrated by Zezelj from 2001. Brian Azzerello handles the script, in which DC's old Western hero is kept off-panel for the bulk of the first issue, appearing as little more than a silhouette when he appears at all. They play up the otherworldy aspects of the original iteration of the character, to the point where he seems to almost certainly be a ghost or spirit of some kind—or at least a super-sneaky dude who is a really, really good shot.

The protagonist is a former bounty hunter who settled into a new role as the sheriff of a town, and he finds himself being forced to go back to hunting men when El Diablo rides into town and slaughters a bunch of outlaws.

There's obviously something in the sheriff's past that links him to El Diablo, but Azzarello teases it with a few sensational clues without revealing it in this first issue. Again I found myself eager to see what happened next, although this time I'm in luck—there is a trade collection of the miniseries, although no local library has it.

It can be pretty weird reading a Vertigo comic from the late-nineties or early-aughts and thinking of how incredibly tame they are, even compared to mainstream DCU books these days. For example, last week's Batman: Widening Gyre #1 featured several pages of Etrigan the Demon eating severed heads and other body parts and a Poison Ivy whose entire costume consists of a leaf over her vagina. I didn't see any mature readers stamp on that. El Diablo #1 did have a little "suggested for mature readers" tag on the cover, but the only "mature" bits I noticed were one instance apiece of the words "fuck" and "pussy," and a sex scene in which you can see part of a man's ass in one panel.

The Hood #1 (Marvel/Max) Now is probably a poor time to try reading the first issue of this 2002 miniseries by Bryan K. Vaughan, Kyle Hotz and Eric Powell. Over the past few years, Brian Michael Bendis has used Vaughan's character extensively in his Avengers comics, first building him up as a sort of Kingpin of super-crime, then involving him in some sort of magical storyline (I'd dropped New Avengers by this point), and making him a key player in the post-Secret Invasion, "Dark Reign"-branded Marvel Universe, where he sits at a table with such archvillains as The Green Goblin, Loki and Dr. Doom.

If his current ubiquity and the primacy of Bendis' flatter, more generic bad guy version of the character taints the original Hood story, this first chapter gets off relatively easy, as The Hood isn't The Hood yet, but still just Parker Robinson, a low-level crook and pretty scummy individual who nevertheless loves his ailing mother and girlfriend enough to lie to them and try to make enough fast money to help them out.

This issue is pretty much all Parker actually, and there's relatively little Marvelous going on. A plainclothes Electro shows up at a bar, and a Hydra recruiter gets a beatdown from Parker and a friend as payback for 9/11 (Not that Hydra was responsible, but they are a terrorist organization, and Vaughan uses the incident to draw a line between Parker and really evil pricks).

We basically follow him through a night in his life. He visits his mom in a hospital/sanitarium, he meets a friend at a bar and learns about a smash-and-grab job, he visits a prostitute, he visits his pregnant significant other, he goes to rob a warehouse but finds instead of a shipment some kind of monster wearing a red cloak and boots, he kills it and takes its clothes, and he then discovers they hold some kind of power while he tries to flee muggers.

Vaughan's pretty good at this sort of character-focused work, and he can be a very clever writer when it comes to dialogue and setting up certain scenes (I was struck by how he out-Bendises Bendis when it comes to a street-level Marvel Universe crime story; the subject matter and situations are familiar to the sorts of stories Bendis has often written for Marvel, but the dialogue is all much more natural sounding).

He's also lucky enough to be working with some talented artists with unique styles. Hotz has a cartooniness to his work, but not a silly or child-like sort of cartooniness. His work is a bit abstracted, but it retains a hard edge. It's loose and fun, but perfectly effective, and serves Vaughan's script well.

This is a Max series, with a big old "explicit content" warning on the front, but all that's explicit is the language. The only difference between this and, say, a Bendis-written Marvel book is that when a character says "fuck" or "pussy," it appears as "fuck" or "pussy," instead of "@#$%" or "@#$%&." It's also only $2.99, rather than the $3.99 price tag that Marvel's Max books were the first to carry.

I was eager to see how the magical boots and cloak would effect Parker's life, but I didn't have the next five issues. There is a trade of it, although not anywhere nearby.

Ruse #1 (CrossGen) I bet there's a fascinating and funny book to be written about the short-lived publisher CrossGen, although I don't know if anyone will ever write such a book, because a) I have a feeling all of the employees may have signed some kind of wacky non-disclosure form gagging them from talking about what went on in the CrossGen Compound and b) comics professionals seem to hate to say anything bad about one another and/or their employers, on account of how small the industry is.

My own exposure to the publisher's work is extremely limited (although I've got a whole stack of Sojurn with art by—ugh—Greg Land sitting there in the corner now, thanks to the same collection from which all of the books in this post came from). I think I read a few issues of something involving swords and a boat drawn by George Perez, and at least one other issue of Ruse.

I remember kinda liking that issue, although I think CrossGen imploded shortly afterward. I did kinda like this issue too.

The premise is on the simple side, but it's extremely well executed. What if Sherlock Holmes lived in the CrossGen Universe, and Dr. Watson was a hot chick with a time-stopping super-power she's trying to keep secret? That's it, really. Maybe writer Mark Waid's version of Sherlock Holmes, Simon Archard, is a bit more of a total cock than Holmes though. As someone who's only read a couple of Doyle's original stories assigned in school, I'm most familiar with Holmes from various movies, and his cock-ishness seems to vary from film to film. But Archard? Total cock.

Of course, you might be a total arrogant prick with no social skills if you were as smart as Archard is. (Batman's a real asshole, for example, and like Archard and Holmes, he's a master of detection and deduction).

In this over-sized first issue, we meet him and his blonde assistant Emma during the drawing room climax of a mystery we weren't privy too. The murderer attempts to make his escape, and Archard kicks his ass and saves a helpless hostage in a pretty dramatic action scene in which stopping the bad guy and saving the girl seem completely impossible to everyone but Archard.

From there, we learn a bit more about our protagonists, including the fact that Emma has some kind of crazy super-power that she's not supposed to use under any circumstances, since once she uses it she'll expose herself and/or lose a bet or something.

The pair then attend a fancy party, take on an extremely difficult case, solve it and determine there's much more to said case than was originally apparent, the comic ending with a cliffhanger climax in which another lady with another crazy super-power appears.

The crazy super-powers are a bit jarring at first, as is the setting, which looks like Victorian England under a different name, but it's actually some sort of sci-fi facsimile, I guess (also, there are a little race of gargoyles that flie around, which no one seems to pay too much attention too). The sci-fi elements seemed to come out of left-field to me, but I put that down to my own unfamiliarity with the CrossGen line. Perhaps if I was reading this as it was originally released and intended to be read, I'd know it's set on a particular planet or in a particular dimension or whatever.

Anyway, if you can roll with that, it's solid, solid work. Waid's Archard is a fun character, the sort that's 50 steps of everyone in certain arenas, but at the expense of being socially inept (Emma is as much as social buffer for Archard as she is his assistant), Emma is an appealing point-of-view character, and Waid's presentations of various mysteries and their solutions is clever.

Butch Guice's art, inked by Mike Perkins and colored by Laura DePuy, is gorgeous, maybe more gorgeous than usual. I'm having trouble recalling where I've seen it look brighter and sharper.


John Cochrane said...

I love Ruse! I got the first trade at a used bookstore for like two bucks and it's been one of the best purchases I've made comics-wise in a LONG time.

Augie said...

Waid never wanted the Sigil in Ruse, as I recall, and pretty much dumped it as soon as he could. (issue 2 or 3). This is Guice's best work, and he laid out the whole series with double page layouts. Would love to see a '300' style reprinting for his issues.

Teebore said...

Man, I miss Crossgen. It had its highs and lows (Ruse being a definite high) but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of those books, and they had cheap monthly collections that collected 2-3 issues of three or four different series in each volume, priced at 8 bucks or something like that. So you could pretty much read their entire line for pennies on the dollar.

Which probably attributed to their collapse, though from what I've heard that had more to do with major mismanagement by the owner.