Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Comics from a 50-cent bin are the best comics

The other day I was passing through Mentor, Ohio and while stopping at a used book store I discovered about a half-dozen long boxes labeled "all non-priced comics fifty cents a piece."

There is absolutely nothing better than stumbling across 50-cent bins of comics, with the possible exception of stumbling across 25-cent bins of comics, but how often does that happen?

Here's what I got, not counting the small stack of a dozen or so issues of Action Comics Weekly, which I haven't made time to read yet.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #0 (DC Comics) I was a little disappointed to open this comic up only to discover that it was one I actually already purchased back in 1994.

But not too disappointed. After all, it was only fifty-cents, and I sure didn’t mind rereading it again, 16 years later.

I should have realized that I probably already owned this one. It’s cover-dated October 1994, and the number and silver ink used in the number, logo and “The Beginning of Tomorrow!” slug at the top identify it as part of DC’s post-Zero Hour month of publishing, in which every regular ongoing series interrupted whatever they had going on to present a special #0 issue that served as a done-in-one, easy-jumping-on point to the title, character and franchise.

I bought a ton of the comics form that month; in fact, it’s probably the month I came closes to buying a publisher’s entire line, because that is a really good idea (DC tried the concept again with their Eisner/The Spirit tribute covers and “Big Head covers; here there was an in-story reason for the event, as Zero Hour tweaked the continuity for the first time since Crisis On Infinite Earths…which basically just meant the regular screw-ees like Hawkman, Donna Troy and The Legion got re-screwed a bit).

Anyway, I didn’t recognize the Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti cover, featuring Batman and two versions of the character that never appear in the story (like What If…Venom Possessed Batman instead of Spider-Man? Batman over on the lef there, probably because they don’t actually appear in the story.

I sure recognized the first page though, a splash by Vince Giarrano, an artist was perfect for the ‘90s. I don’t know if it’s the case, but I always thought of his work as a sarcastic version of Liefeld’s style. He uses the many little, unnecessary lines, the pinched expressions, the agonizingly clenched and flexed muscles and the tiny feet at the bottom of dainty ankles, but he seems to be in complete control of the radical exaggeration.See that Batman leaping pose there?
That’s a pretty standard Liefeld pose, but look how Giarrano draws the left leg—it terminates what, 150-yards behind Batman’s head?

The insane exaggeration in that particular splash is actually in keeping with the story, since that image is one pulled entirely from the imagination of the character.

No writer is credited for this issue, but I’ve seen it being credited elsewhere to LDK editor Archie Goodwin. If someone else did write the script, Goodwin at least had a big hand in conceiving of this particular story.

Randolph Spire, an evil-looking media magnate gathers a group of fiction writers to his Gotham castle/mansion to tell him about Batman. Spire says that Batman is a legend, which means all of the information he has, the work of reporters, is therefore “worthless” at getting at Batman’s essence.
“Batman is beyond facts!” he says in a Giarrano drawn panel that makes it look like he’s having a seizure. “Put those imaginations to work for me…take the legend and give me your viewpoints. Give me enoughand the kernel of truth about the Dark Knight running through them will begin to come clear.”

That’s the set-up, drawn by Giarrano. The storytellers each take a stab at defining the Batman, and their words generally appear in narration boxes which run over generally gorgeous splash pages, pages from, the end-of-the-comic title page makes clear, “from future Legends of The Dark Knight material.”

So, in addition to a neat little done-in-one about the legendary aspect of Batman, complete with a clever twist involving Batman capturing a bad guy in singular, dramatic fashion, the book functioned as a sort of preview clip show of the next year or so LDK arcs.

The artists whose work is featured include David Williams, Karl Kesel, Mike Zeck, Scott Hampton, Tim Sale, Mark Badger, Joe Staton, John Watkiss, Ted McKeever, and Carlos Ezquerra. That’s a hell of a line-up right there.

Chances are, you’re rather more familiar with those artists’ work than you are with Giarrano’s, so let’s look at some more of his contributions.
This is probably my favorite panel, not simply because it shows that he’s a rich big-game hunter totally into killing things, but because Giarrano draws a koala bear head up on the wall (Click to enlarge; the koala is to the left of the bison). So just how evil is Randolph Spire? Evil enough to kill a koala bear.

And here’s some ultradramatic scenes, full of jagged lines opposing one another:

Vince Giarrano, ladies and gentleman. Check your back-issue bins.

G.I. Joe #128 (Marvel Comics) Marvel’s G.I. Joe comics are a staple of my back issue bin purchasing habits, as more than any other that’s the comic book series I would have read as a kid, if I had read comic books as a kid.

Based on the costume design, this appears to be pretty late in the series (small print says it’s from 1992), and it includes several characters and awful redesigns from after my time paying attention to G.I. Joe.

There are a trio of plot threads that don’t really come together until the end. Friefly, wearing an awful costume, is using a fancy-schmancy invention and some Battle Android Troopers to brainwash Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow and other ninja characters to make an unstoppable ninja army. Cobra Commander and some dreaknoks are stomping around a giant holographic map of the world, the Commander pissing and moaning, as is his wont. And a couple of Joes, including my old pretend girlfriend Lady Jaye, are involved in some fictional Eastern European political drama that probably seemed uncomfortably ripped from the headlines in the early ‘90s.

Larry Hama obviously wrote this, and Andrew Wildman and Stephen Baskerville illustrated it. Hama’s Joe comics were always good soap operas, and it was surprisingly easy getting sucked into this, although the greatest pleasure it offered for me was the ability to see what a bunch of characters I used to spend an incredible amount of time and imagination on were up to once we stopped hanging out.

Reading this comic book was therefore a little like looking up a friend from grade school on Facebook. Only here that friend is Cobra Commander.

Green Lantern #153 (DC) I’ve never really been a Green Lantern fan—Hal Jordan being my least favorite fictional character—but I started reading the title casually once they introduced Kyle Rayner, the coolness of a cover or the appeal of a particular guest-star usually being enough to get me to pick it up.

I read it much less causally once Judd Winick had taken over, and thus missed this particular issue, in which Kyle Rayner attends his class reunion. Jim Lee’s cover, while not all that well-executed, was nevertheless strong enough to get me to notice it and pick it up.

It proved to be a particularly strong issue, heavy on conversation, character dynamics and humor, with a complete absence of super-heroics—in fact, no one fights anyone during this entire issue, although superpowers are employed repeatedly, mostly in imaginative, compelling ways.

Winick isn’t the first person to write a comic book about a DC superhero attending his class reunion, but he does a pretty good job of it. As much time is spent with Kyle’s mom as with his classmates; this was apparently back when Kyle was dating Jade, and this issue marks the first time she met Kyle’s mother.

The joke-filled class reunion sequence takes place between conversations with Ms. Rayner, and while I suppose it’s a stretch to call this story a slice-of-life one, it is a pretty relatable, realistic dramedy, with only the magic ring and the super-powered green girl marking it as something of the superhero genre.

Dale Eaglesham provides the artwork, and it’s really strong stuff, full of dynamic facial expressions and body language.

My only quibbles with it being Kyle’s hulking build (and terrible t shirt)
And the fact that Kyle’s mom looks to be about the same age as Jade.See that line on the right side of her face? That’s how you know she’s pushing 50.

What was particularly strange was reading the last two pages, in which Kyle gets a phone call from John Stewart sharing bad news about someone named Terry, and then turning to the letters page to see a familiar image in the next issue box: It turns out this was the issue right before the one in which a supporting character is hospitalized and near death after a brutal gay-bashing incident.

I remember reading that issue, although I can’t remember anything about it other than all the media attention it got at the time. I wonder if this issue marked a turning point in Winick’s career, as it was the first time a DC comic of his received so much attention, but it would hardly be the last time he’d seemingly seek such attention, either through similar “message” comics or by seemingly deliberately courting controversy.

Well, I may not remember anything about Green Lantern #154, but #153 was a lot of fun.

Luke Cage: Noir #2-#3 (Marvel) I knew the trade paperback collection of this was due out this Wednesday, and I had added it to my list of trades to buy someday when I had the money to burn, so when I saw the first three issues in the fifty-cent bin, I figured I might as well snap ‘em up—even if I end up having to spend a full $4 on the fourth and final issue of the miniseries, I’ll have save a lot of money.

Unfortunately, I neglected to bring #1 up to the register with me, so it’s presumably still in the box somewhere.

So I went ahead and read half of this series. Not the first half or the last half, but the last half of the first half and the first half of the last half.

Not the ideal way to experience part of a miniseries. I discussed what I did read of it earlier today on Blog@, so I’ll just cut-and-paste that here:
I’m therefore not sure how Mike Benson and Adam Glass’ alternate take on Cage, set in 1920s Harlem, begins or ends. But the middle was a pretty decent crime story, featuring a neat take on the character’s bullet-proof skin that is logical and in keeping with both the time period and the genre. Shawn Martinborough’s artwork is great too, but is unfortunately over-colored like most of Marvel’s line, meaning it only occasionally shines through all the browns, grays and special lighting effects. It’s too bad; you’d think something with the word “noir” right there in the title would feature more stark color palette.
The first half of that paragraph is long and rambly and could use a rewrite, but I’m not going to do it. Wait, let me try to at least simplify it: Story good, art pretty good, coloring bad…hurt art.

Outsiders #24 (DC) This seemed like a good opportunity to check in on DC’s current Outsiders comic, which I dropped just before Chuck Dixon left, seeing as how it was only two quarters (and it was a Blackest Night tie-in, meaning I knew exactly how it would play out, just not the details).

The cover is by Tom Mandrake, one of DC’s better drawers of scary shit, which makes it too bad Mandrake didn’t get to draw the interiors as well. Like Kelley Jones, Mandrake is someone born to draw Blackest Night comics and happened to be working for DC during Blackest Night, but never got a chance to go nuts with undead superheroes.

The interior art is by Fernando Pasarin (plus two inkers helping him out), whose work I’m not terribly fond of. He gives his supermen big, thick, tree trunk torsos that call to mind the Silver Age versions of the Justice Leaguers (which is cool), but he also gives him these huge, weird six-pack abs, wherein each item in the six-pack are the exact same size. His torsos therefore bother me.
His Black Lantern Terra is weird too. She's supposedly undead, but she basically just has a terrible complexion. Her skin is wrinkled and discolored, but her hair is perfectly blow-dried, and her flesh is still full and perky enough to fill out the front and ass-revealing back of her long-sleeve bathing suit. It’s pretty creepy, but more in a The People Who Made This Comic Seem Creepy To Me way than a Zombies Are Scary kind of creepy.

Still, it could have been a lot worse:The script, by Peter J. Tomasi, follows the predictable pattern of all of the Blackest Night tie-ins from the couple of months in which this one would have come out. It opens with a recap of a dead character’s continuity, presented as a Black Lantern ring downloading her data in order to impersonate her, followed by a “RISE” scene in which the deceased climbs out of the ground, followed by a confrontation with the living, starting out as “Oh, hey, you’re not dead anymore, awesome” and ending with “No, you’re not my parent/friend/spouse/ally/enemy/child/sibling! You’re a mockery of my parent/friend/spouse/ally/enemy/child/sibling! I’ll destroy you!”

This particular story is made a little more tedious in that Terra employs the exact same infiltrate-then-betray strategy she did in her classic New Teen Titans appearances…which the first two pages detail.

Tomasi has an uphill battle here, essentially telling the same story that ten other DC writers were telling at the same time and not be completely boring, so he has my sympathy, if not my admiration.

He is, after all, responsible for a particularly eye-rolling example of trying to add a darker tone and harder edge to some old bit of comics trivia that can’t support it. Terra narrates: “The super-duper name I picked was Terra because of its relation to my abilities and the earth. But secretly I chose it because to my ears it really sounded like Terror.”

Shut up, Terra.

The Young All-Stars #24 (DC) This series set during World War II is at the top of my list of comics I really wish DC would collect in Showcase Presents form, precisely because the only way I’ve been able to read it so far is random chapter at a time, pulled from back-issue bins like this. They actually had a couple issues of the series, but this is the only one with a cover I didn’t recognize, so I assume copies of the other ones they had there are somewhere under my roof.

The cover marks this as “Atom and Evil Part 4 of 5,” but Roy and Dann Thomas’ script for the issue stood fairly well on its own as a complete story, and the threads leading into it can be easily determined from clues in this issue.

The original Young All-Stars have taken on new recruits and aren’t sure if they can trust them all, so they divide into teams—a veteran All-Star with a suspect newcomer.

This issue features two such team-ups. Iron Munroe and Fireball, a fire-powered Russian heroine I had never heard of before cracking this issue, are supposed to meet with Albert Einstein and some atomic scientists at a college, and end up fighting two Axis supervillains (Ubermensch and Gudra, The Valkyrie). Meanwhile, Fury and crazy-looking character design Phantasmo (whom I’ve only read about in the DC Universe Encyclopedia) are supposed to secure some just-discovered plutonium, when they are attacked by Baron Blitzkreig and a Japanese super-samurai named, um, Sumo.

The comic is from 1989, and sure reads like a 1980s Big Two super-comic, but the period setting and incredibly conceived characters make for a pretty fun read. I suppose I shouldn’t still be surprised by this fact, but I’m still somewhat amazed to find out how long and full the average single issue super-comic of that period seems compared to the one-fourth to one-sixth of a cinematic-style graphic novel one generally gets in our post-Bendis era of decompressed comics.

The non-American heroes are all borderline offensive caricatures, but then, that is at least some of the fun of old-school superhero comics, and this is a comic from the 1980s using characters and plots from the Golden Age, so the fact that it sometimes devolves into little more than refugees from political cartoons punching each other seems appropriate, if not always A-OK.

The Young All-Stars Annual #1 (DC) This 41-page comic predates the above one by a year, and features the full line-up of the Young All-Stars, plus the majority of the All-Star Squadron.

The youngsters—Dyna-Mite, Fury, Iron Munroe, Tsunami, Neptune Perkins, Flying Fox and Tigress—are all facing some sort of trial before the adult ASS (wow, terrible team name guys!) for disobeying Liberty Belle’s orders to stay in the Squadrons’ totally awesome base during the “hunt for both the Blood Avenger and the criminal known as The Ultra-Humanite, whose brain then inhabited the form of a living Tyrannosaurus Rex,” explains Hawkman.

I did not read that comic book, but that summary sounds awesome. Maybe I don’t want to read that comic book at all; maybe it’s better just to imagine that particular adventure.

Anyway, while this is going on, Mekanique, the robot gal from the 1927 Fritz Lang film Metropolis reveals that she’s actually totally evil and from the future and she has come to the past in order to conquer it and turn it into the set of Metropolis, at the behest of her master Dr. Rotwang, whose name I would make fun of Roy Thomas for creating if it weren’t for the fact that Dr. Rotwang is form the movie too.

Metropolis being part of DC Universe continuity is, of course, weird, but it’s also part of All-Star Squadron/Young All-Stars’s most charming aspect.

Thomas engaged in a very peculiar, very through form of geek culture world-building, reverse engineering the components of his world from dozens of pre-existing sources that were never really meant to go together, but could be reassembled into something intellectually exciting. This is a world where every Golden Age superhero DC Comics eventually owned the rights to were now forced to share, along with real figures from history, characters from Metropolis and Superman prototype Hugo Danner from a 1930 prose novel by Philip Wylie. And God knows what else; as I mentioned, I read issues of Thomas’ WWII era epic super comic at random.

Anyway, the 500,000 or so superheroes who make up the ASS talk about what to do with the YAS, till the kids are finally like, “Screw it” and storm out of their base, a couple of buildings left over from New York’s World’s Fair.

Then Mekanique shrinks the grown-up squaddies and transports them to a tiny scale model of her futuristic city, and proceeds to kick their asses, until the YAS return to save the day. Mike Gustovich handles the bulk of the art, but the annual is makes use of splash pages by the likes of Joe Kubert, Michael Bair and Tony DeZuniga and, especially, Brian Murray , who devotes a portrait-style splash to each of the Young All-Stars. Also, Hawkman wears his screaming hawk style mask, perhaps the only superhero mask cooler than Hawkman’s own creepy bug-eyed Felix the Cat clock hawk mask:

In general, I think DC Direct's expensive "replica" props are kind of weird, creepy and, um, what's the world...dumb. But I admit if they made one of this mask, and I was fabulously wealthy, I'd be sorely tempted to buy it just to wear around the house or doing yard work or whatever.


Anthony Strand said...

Wow, no writer credited in 1994? That's nuts.

As for "Batman is an Urban Legend," I suppose it made a little of sense in 1994, but references to it during and after Morrison's JLA always throw me for a loop. He's right there on TV, between Superman and Wonder Woman!

I always thought it was weird that the "Terry-gets-hate-crimed" issue of GL had a cover apparently homaging the light-hearted Justice League #4 (http://www.comics.org/issue/43372/cover/4/?style=default)

I loved All-Star Squadron, but I've only read (I think) one issue of Young All-Stars. It seemed so sad, with Thomas struggling to make a sense of a world where Earth-2 never existed and he can't use Wonder Woman anymore.

Speaking of Roy Thomas, you know what else was weird? The Post-Crisis SHAZAM reboot miniseries, where the wizard makes reference to having done this all before "on another world." I wonder why they thought it would be a good idea to let Roy Thomas write that.

Vanja said...

>Reading this comic book was therefore a little like looking up a friend from grade school on Facebook. Only here that friend is Cobra Commander.
The Force is strong with this one :)

Jacob T. Levy said...

@Anthony-- in the early post-Crisis years, you got things like that "other world" reference (which was, IIRC, immediately followed by the Wizard saying No, mustn't think about that, that way lies madness). Byrne's Pocket Universe saga included references to meeting Superboy-Prime during the Crisis that wouldn't be kosher a few years later when all anybody remembered about the Crisis was the anti-matter cannon, Flash's death, and the shadow demons.

With my New Hampshire accent, terra and terror do sound like the same word. But still: shut up, Terra.

That picture of Kyle's mom also looks strikingly like it started off being a picture of a topless woman and then the colorist added a shirt, barely, kind of.

Tony said...

Action Comics Weekly! I just found out about that, literally, last night, when I got a 50-cent issue at Half Price Books.

This issue has single chapters of the Phantom Stranger and Howard Chaykin's Blackhawk. I'm dying to know what happened.