Monday, February 11, 2019

An unfocused, un-tidy post about Marie Kondo and Yuka Uramoto's The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story

Sometimes I really miss Comics Alliance. Sure, I miss it as a reader, as there aren't really any good places to go to find smart analyses, funny jokes and quality writing about comics on the Internet anymore*, and most of the long-lived sites that do cover comics are so choked with comics-adjacent stuff about superhero TV shows, movies and video games that it hurts my will to live too much to wade through them to find the occasional bit of comics coverage that interests me.

Of course I also miss it because sometimes I'll think of a story about comics I want to write, and I don't have anywhere to pitch it, because no website ever arose to fill CA's precise niche in the online comics coverage ecosystem, an ecosystem that seems to have shrunk dramatically even as Western pop culture as a whole became obsessed with comic book characters.
Such was the case a few weekends ago, when I was wandering through my local Barnes and Noble and was confronted by this, the cover to The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story, the 2017 adaptation of Marie Kondo's phenomenal-selling 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I never read the book, although I have handled it plenty. I work in a library, so I checked that book in and out, pulled it off the shelves and put it back on the shelves dozens and dozens of times. It's cover became almost as familiar to me as James Patterson's face, which I see more often than the faces of any of my loved ones.

Kondo seems to be having something of a moment now, thanks to the debut of her new Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. If my Twitter feed--which is like 95% comics people, 3% politics and 2% Mystery Science Theater 3000 and 90210 alum--is any indication, she had become quite the topic of conversation. Comics people in particular seem sort of fascinated with her, in large part because they are aghast about this whole "no more than 30 books" rule. I mean, comics-reading, which often goes hand-in-hand with comics collecting**, is pretty much in diametric opposition to tidying-up, or leading any sort of minimalist lifestyle. (Sure, you could just read comics online, but I abhor the experience, even if it makes sense to me environmentally...and financially. Like, I'm eventually going to have to buy a house just to store my comics midden, which currently fills my apartment and a room of the Mozzocco Ancestral Home).

So despite whatever clicks a post about Marie Kondo and tidying-up might provide a comics site, on the tried-and-true journalistic formula of taking whatever is popular and applying it to your readership, I also just find a sort of satisfying irony in the existence of the book in the form of a comic, given that the contents of the book would suggest that I discard what is probably at least 100 volumes just like it. That is, The Life-Changing Manga is basically How To Throw Away Your Comics: The Comic.

While most of the tankobon I've accumulated now reside in my ancestral home, here is how I'm currently storing the last five years or so worth of them, now that the small book shelf with small, digest-sized shelves on it that I have in my apartment is full. not tidy.

Anyway, that irony: You could say it sparks joy for me.

At the very least, I would have pitched a review of the 2017 manga to Comics Alliance, particularly since I don't recall it getting much attention at all in the comics media at the time. But I do think there's probably a decent essay in there too about the strange clash between a manga volume about discarding manga volumes, and the clash between the forces of tidiness represented by Kondo and the materialism of the comics reader, which in many cases is little different than a comics collector which, at a certain point, is little different than a hoarder.

There are a couple of general interest news, politics and pop culture websites I read regularly that occasionally cover comics when merited, and so I even thought about perhaps pitching a piece to one of these sites. So I sat down and read the manga--in the Barnes and Noble cafe, after which point I put it back on the shelf, rather than buying it and bringing it home to add to the precarious piles of manga atop the graphic novels atop the bookshelf full of books and comics collections.

At that point, I realized that while elements of Kondo's method really do sound appealing, and that I and my apartment and my life could probably benefit from them, there are two areas of my life I could never, ever tidy: The books and the paper, given all the notes and scribbled lay-outs I have for dozens and dozens of comics and short stories and novels and prose books that I will, honestly, probably never actually write or see published, but I can't just throw ideas away, you know?

So pitting Kondo vs. comics collecting within my own apartment and recording the process for the sake of an article? Pretty impractical (Also, I don't know how much those sites pay freelance writers, but, based on my past experiences, freelance writing generally pays somewhere between 1-3 graphic novels, depending on the venue. And the graphic novels. The economics here wouldn't work out).

Then I thought about this whole sparking joy thing, which is Kondo's measure of whether you should keep something or not. Would that make for an interesting way to review one's comics holdings?

Like, just looking around the "office" corner of my apartment...

This sparks joy!

Oh, um...I actually haven't read this yet. I accidentally bought the second volume rather than the first, so I still need to go back and buy the first volume and read that, and then I can read this and determine if it sparks joy or not.

I'd be lying if I said this sparked joy. Sorry Aquaman! Sorry Mr. Aparo!

Oh, I thought this was a great read, but I'm unlikely to read it again, so I felt joy at the time but joy...?

Oh hey, I read the first half of this but never finished it...! I guess I'd have to get back to you on whether it sparks joy or not...

And so on. I mean, that's certainly a criteria for criticism. And if paired with a few paragraphs with each "joy" or "no joy," maybe it would be a fun blog to read, but...nah, it would take forever. I mean, reviewing every comic I read as they come into my apartment and/or midden is basically what this blog is, and this has taken me...yeesh, like 12 years...?

So there probably isn't much more to the idea than a simple review of the book. Certainly not an essay. Or, at least, not an essay from me. I still like the idea of tidiness vs. comics hoarding, and the idea of Kondo as an avatar of a force for goodness and clarity striking at the inertia and materialism inherent in amassing a personal library/book hoard, but I don't think I have the discipline to write such a tightly focused piece. Especially since I don't have anywhere to write such a thing. Except here. And, if you've been reading EDILW for very long, you already know that none of the writing I do here can be called disciplined or focused.

Still, I could at least review the book here...


Marie Kondo's name is very large on the cover, appearing alongside her manga avatar, and you would have to stop and look a bit closer to see the name of her collaborator, manga artist Yuka Uramoto, who is credited as the illustrator. I'm curious if Uramoto just drew the pictures, working from a script or some kind of breakdowns from Kondo, as "illustrator" implies, or if she actually did much more, literally adapting the prose book into comics form. I guess short of asking one of the pair, there's no real way to know. I suppose it's worth noting here that the book is set-up as a work of fiction, telling the story of a character badly in need of the life-changing magic of tidying up as a way of demonstrating Kondo's principles, methods and their benefits.


I think it's somewhat weird that this book even exists, because I am not entirely sure what kind of crossover exists between "People Who Want to Magically Change Their Lives By Tidying Up" and "People Who Read Manga," but then, it is published by Ten Speed Press, which is Kondo's joint, and, well, she is Japanese and the crossover between "People Who Are Japanese" and "People Who Read Manga About Basically Anything" is pretty sizable, really. (Er, not to over-overgeneralize, of course...)

I'm glad this book exists, though. It was a format that I could easily read, enjoy, digest and even incorporate into my own life, if I wanted to, after just one sitting. I don't know how good a job it does adapting the prose book, having not read that, but high-quality manga adaptations seem like a particularly good way to take in popular books that people are talking about, without having to devote many hours or multiple sittings to them. Like, I would never have read the original based solely on the fact that it seems popular or that people are talking about it, but I'll spend the time it takes to drink a couple of cups of coffee in a Barnes and Noble cafe with it, sure. Eat, Pray, Love, Fifty Shades of Grey, Outlander, The Secret, a book about hygge, whatever Oprah is hyping--I'd read, or at least attempt to read, manga versions of any of those topic of conversation books.

I say attempt, because I suspect there's more to this book's being effective and enjoyable than just the fact that it has been turned into a comic book. Like, I've tried a few of those Manga Guides To Subjects That I Struggled With In School books before--the first for a review for a newspaper--and they were sort of fun as a novelty, but turned into slogs very fast. This was a breeze, and that has a lot to do with the fact that it is so well told, I imagine.

Also, there are sections in here on how to fold socks, shirts and suchlike. I have no idea how you do that in prose. I mean, I know how you do that in prose, but I can't imagine it working (For what it's worth, I tried the sock folding method of Kondo's, and I did not care for it. I plan on attempting the t shirt folding technique later, but it has so many steps that I've been procrastinating doing so).


As I said above, though the book is non-fiction, the manga tells a fictional story that incorporates Kondo's lessons. Our protagonist is Chiaki Suzuki, a busy 29-year-old single sales representative who lives in an apartment in desperate need of tidying up.

Chiaki reaches a crisis point one night when she's soaking in the bathtub and receives a knock on her door. Through the peephole she sees that it is her next door neighbor, and that he is very cute, so she rushes to find nice, clean clothes before answering him. In the process, she falls, and he comes in to see if she's okay...and he then sees the state of her apartment, as she's pinned to the ground beneath clutter.

He did not come over to flirt with her, it turns out, but rather to tell her that the garbage bags she's storing on her balcony--she put the garbage on the balcony to get it out of the way, but then forgot to take it outside on garbage day--has begun to smell so bad that it's bothering him in his apartment.

Seeking help online as she lay in bed with her phone, she finds Marie Kondo--"Konmari"--and engages her services.

Chiaki is quite surprised to mee tKonmari, who is much tinier and more cheerful than she imagined--she repeatedly refers to her as a fairy--and even more surprised by her unusual methods. She expected help in cleaning, but instead she gets advice on changing her life.
From here, the book is mostly devoted to Konmari communicating her method to Chiaki directly, and the reader indirectly, as we sit in on their lessons. Intermittently, we learn more about Chiaki--that she falls in love quickly and often adopts the interests or hobbies of her paramours, but none of her relationships have lasted long--and what she wants most out of her life and out of her apartment. We periodically check in with her neighbor, and they gradually begin a flirtatious relationship.

That deciding what one wants from life and one's home is the foundation of Konmari's method. In fact, the entirety of their first lesson is basically a meet and greet, and a homework assignment: "I just want you to think about this question...what kind of life would you like to live here?"

She goes on, "Tidying up will change your life dramatically. So how would you like to change?"

(Here let me pause to note that I am currently in a mid-life crisis--like, an actual, literal mid-life crisis, since I'll be 42 next month; I've been having life crises of various sorts on a semi-regular basis since I was about 17--as I'm no longer certain what I want to do with my life, so I can't answer this question, which will keep me from actualizing the Konmari method, as much as I'm interested in attempting some of it).

Once that's decided--Chiaki wants to make and eat delicious meals at home, eventually with another person--they get to work. Between each chapter are a few paragraphs of prose, explaining the principle just explained or previewing what comes next, and then we see as Konmari and Chiaki put it in action.

So they finish discarding first, Konmari talks about sparking joy, tidying by category (clothes, books, papers and komono), dealing with sentimental things, and so on. There's a surprising amount of drama in some of this, particular one of the items from the sentimental category, as Chiaki and Konmari deal with the challenge of a painting that an old boyfriend made of her and gave to her when they were in their twenties. Konmari argues with getting rid of it--"If you hang on to things because you can't forget an old love, you'll never find a new love," she tells Chiaki--but she struggles with it, throwing it away, retrieving it, sleeping next to it in bed that night. I would have kept the picture, but then, as we've already established, I am closer to a hoarder than a tidy person.

I don't know who is right about such matters, either. Konmari's words are proven true almost immediately, as Chiaki and her neighbor do indeed begin a relationship, and he becomes the "new love" that replaced the old one, but then, this is a fictional story that Kondo and Uramoto are in charge of, so this "example" is highly manipulated.

The most fun part of the book happens near the end, after Chiaki's life has been changed, and Konmari explains her own secret origin. We flash back to her childhood. She enjoyed tidying bookshelves and complaining about the how untidy other parts of the house were, and she became obsessed with tidying up her room; cheerfully explaining that she had a "nervous breakdown" over tidying, and here Uramoto provides a panel of young Kondo in her school girl uniform, dragging a trash bag through her room while her eyes glow, and she looks frantically around the room for something she can discard.
Then a voice seemed to speak to her, telling her that it's not what one discards, but what one keeps: That is, the stuff that sparks joy.

Manga, with its hyper-expressive characters and explosive emotions portrayed for comedic effect, is the perfect medium for Konmari, who is here a fairly ideal manga character. While present-day Kondo moves back and forth from prim, proper pleasantness and stern task-mistress, childhood Kondo is an obsessive.


Among the most relatable scenes are those dealing with books, obviously. At one point, Konmari turns her attention to the books that Chiaki has yet to read, and it's a pretty healthy-looking stack, which Konmari has no mercy for:
Here's my own personal "to read" stack...s:

I guess, in my defense, I am a semi-professional comic book critic, so I get sent a lot of books for review, in addition to buying a bunch I intend to read someday. And because I also have that full-time library job, I don't get to plow through those books with the speed and efficiency I would if I were a 100% professional comic book critic. So there's that.

Konmari has an answer to Chiaki's retort about book throwing-away, as she has clearly heard it plenty of times before: How would you like it if someone got rid of your book? Konmari's cool with that, so long as her book doesn't spark joy with the person throwing it out.


Another was when Konmari catches Chiaki in the middle of planning to send something to her parents' house.
That is one of my major de-cluttering strategies too, as if I were forced to live with my entire comics library/collection/midden/hoard in my current apartment, I would have to sleep outside in my car while my comics lived in here. Am I...Team Chiaki...?

What's wrong with sending stuff to your parents' house? It means filling their house with stuff that doesn't spark joy, and thus prevents them from achieving the life-changing magic of tidying-up. I don't feel too bad about it, though, as I come from a long line of people-who-save-everything-forever, so The Mozzocco Ancestral Home has more than just hundreds/hopefully-not-thousands of comics cluttering up its spare rooms...

*Well, I do click to and read The Comics Reporter and The Comics Journal and The Beat every week day, of course, and if you, dear reader, happen to have a blog or to work on a website that covers comics, than I certainly read that. Obviously. I mean, how could I not? We're friends, right?

**Even if, like me, the act of "collecting" comics amounts to little more than not wanting to throw away the hundreds and hundreds of comics, graphic novels and tankobon I've purchased over the decades because, jeez, do you know how much money I spent on these damn things? Oh God, I hope its just "hundreds and hundreds" of comics, and not thousands and thousands at this point...

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Review: Female Furies #1

When DC Comics first announced Female Furies, a six-issue mini-series featuring a group of characters from Jack Kirby’s sprawling 1970-1973 saga about a mythic war between twin planets populated by superheroes and supervillains, there was little indication that writer Cecil Castellucci had anything out of the ordinary in mind.

Here is how the first issue was solicited to retailers and readers, back in November:
All their lives the Female Furies have been raised to be the meanest, most cunning and most ruthless fighting force on all of Apokolips. So why are Granny Goodness' girls left behind every time the men go to war? With the might of New Genesis hanging over the planet, and the Forever People making mincemeat out of Darkseid’s army, Granny thinks it's about time that changed...And so, Big Barda, Aurelie, Mad Harriet, Lashina, Bernadeth and Stompa set out to beat the boys at their own game. Little do they know the game is rigged—and one accidental murder could spell disaster for them all!
If this was going to be a feminist reading of the characters and their place in the traditional Apokolips vs. New Genesis story, if there was any telegraphing in the announcement at all, it seemed to be of a rather standard, current pop culture, safe level--women are just as good as men, or, specific to this setting, just as good at being bad as men.

That is, in large part, what makes this issue so surprising, if not shocking: Castellucci and artist Adriana Melo have turned a story about a half-dozen female super-warriors, each with a particular gimmick or power reflected in their often childish name--Lashina, Stompa, Bernadeth, etc--into a #MeToo-era superhero comic exploring and eviscerating all of the types and degrees of sexism women are subjected to on a daily basis in a world where men hold all of the power.

If you’re unfamiliar with what has become known as Kirby’s Fourth World story, here are the basics. Red-eyed, stone-skinned god of evil Darkseid rules the industrialized hell-scape planet Apokolips with an iron, dictatorial grip, his high court helping him keep the population down while he quests for The Anti-Life Equation, which will allow him to crush all free will and subject all sentient life in the universe to his will. He is opposed by the white-haired, white-bearded Highfather, ruler of Apopolips' utopian sister planet New Genesis, whose heroes all seem like your typical superheroes, albeit it cut with pop culture hippie-ism and New Age philosophy.

The two rulers traded sons once upon a time as part of a peace deal, so that Highfather’s son Scott Free was raised on Apokolips, eventually growing up to be the super-escape artist Mister Miracle, husband of Big Barda, one of the Female Furies, while Darkseid’s son Orion was raised on New Genesis, struggling to repress his bestial nature while fighting for the side of good against his own evil father.

In that story, the Female Furies have always been among the more colorful of Darkseid’s "name" soldiers, standing out from the crowd of winged Parademons and giant dog-riding warriors; they are the elite squad serving directly under Granny Goodness, a short, stocky hag in green chainmail who is in Darkseid’s inner circle and is charged with raising the population’s orphans, like Barda and Scott.

Female Furies opens in the distant past, the night that Darkseid takes control of his planet, in order to better catalog the indignities Granny Goodness suffered in her career. On that night, she wasn’t yet "Granny," but is just the ironically named Goodness--Big, tall, strong and young. It is she that defeats and strangles Darkseid’s mother Heggra for him, although she gets a last minute assist from Desaad, who immediately takes credit for her accomplishment.
After the battle, Darkseid corners her and propositions her: "Battle makes me hungry for what food cannot fill," he intones, grabbing her. She resists long enough to let readers know she doesn't reciprocate Darkseid's lust, but reluctantly obeys when he makes it clear her "career" depends on it. "Do as I say and rise higher than anyone else," he says. "Refuse and find yourself back with the lowest of the low."

While her obedience doesn't hurt her career, it doesn't seem to help much, either; she's given a less-than-desirable post, while the male members of Darkseid’s court all grumble at the fact that she gets "special" treatment from their god-king. The treatment she receives will sound familiar, as the Apokolips bros call her hysterical, suggest she be less emotional, comment on her looks and how she uses sex to get what she wants.

In the present, the cycle begins anew, as she presents her new Furies to Darkseid and her co-workers, but they seem more interested in the women's looks than their fighting abilities. After Darkseid refuses to let the Furies join the males in his armies--some of the arguments sounding quite familiar to anyone who has followed arguments of the integration of our own armed forces over the years--one of his circle, Willik, offers to give one of the Furies, Aurelie, private martial arts lessons.

She refuses, but is eventually convinced by Goodness, and during the training, Willik repeatedly gropes her, making a threat similar to that Darkseid gave to Goodness years ago. Aurelie is similarly punished by her peers, who chide her for using her looks to her advantage, for taking so long with Willlik and, not knowing what happened, Barda scolds her: "Stop complaining...Any of us would trade places with you in a heartbeat to get private instruction from Protector Willik."
Double standards, objectification, gaslighting, sexual harassment, sexual assault--in just the first 22 pages of the series, Castellucci covers a lot of ground, little of which has been previously covered in the almost 50 years of tellings and retellings of characters' stories, and little of which seems to contradict or take away from any of those previous tellings.

The genius of using these particular characters for such a story isn't merely that they are among the only female characters in the male dominated story cycle--in much the same way that Castellucci and Melo still stand out as rare in the male-dominated superhero comic market*--or that they are demonstrably better at fighting and killing than their male peers, the vast bulk of which don’t even have names, but that their home setting has always been the most cartoonishly evil place in comics, this side of hell.

Of course working with the god of evil, ruler of a planet of evil, who is intent on subjugating all life is a hostile work environment. Darkseid coercing a henchwoman into sex, or his other underlings sexually harassing her, might not be something we have seen in their past appearances, but it's certainly well within conceivable behavior for them. The trick of writing comics starring supervillains is to always pit them against worst villains, and next to Darkseid and his court, the Furies can’t help but seem heroic--even were it not for the presence of Barda, whom we know ultimately rebels against Apokolips and fights for New Genesis at some point after this series concludes.

There's also the matter that, while these characters are, like seemingly all superhero characters these days, fodder for cartoons, TV shows and even have a movie in the works, they are minor enough in the grand scheme of things that Castellucci and Melo can make the bad guys particularly repugnant without worrying too much about making them unmarketable, in the way DC might have worried if someone proposed a comic book in which, say, Lex Luthor, Brainiac and The Joker sexually harass Cheetah or Giganta in The Legion of Doom headquarters or something.

While Castellucci’s first issue chronicles all this supremely toxic male behavior, that;s not all there is to it. It's complicated, as the difference between Goodness' and her Furies' reactions, and Goodness' reaction to their reaction reflect generational tensions and differences that have arisen in the wake of Weinstein and #MeToo, and, well, this is still a story. Near the end of the first issue, immediately after being groped by Willik, Aurelie hears one of the male soldiers offering to torture a victim less of she kisses him, and she responds by slitting his throat, forcing Barda to help her hide the body and keep it a secret. With five more issues and about 100 pages to go, clearly it won’t remain a secret.

It's also funny. There is some humor in the juxtaposition, and in the discomfort that juxtaposition causes in readers, who might laugh nervously at the chutzpah of the book, but Castellucci includes scenes clearly meant to be read as funny, as in the second stage of the Furies' demonstration of their martial abilities to Darkseid and his court, which is basically just a 20th century beauty pageant transported into space, complete with a bake-off and evening gown and swimsuit competition (the latter renamed a "smile competition").
Humorous, yes, but blackly so.

It's always difficult to review a comic book series by its first issue, particularly a limited one like this, when one knows it will completed and republished in a new and complete form in a half-year's time, but it can be worthwhile when an easy to overlook comic delivers so much more than is expected. How successful Female Furies will ultimately be as a story remains to be seen, of course, but the first issue reveals that it is one well worth reading to see: Sharp, funny, relevant and ambitious, it's the too-rare superhero comic book with a point to make.

*I counted 58 serial issues of comics slated for release by DC into the direct market for this month, only three of which have both a female writer and a female pencil artist/primary artist listed among the creators, but it's always possible I miscounted a book or two.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Review: DC Primal Age

Walmart is no longer the only big box retail giant with exclusive DC Comics; Target gets its own 100-Page Giant in the form of DC Primal Age, a $9.99 one-shot featuring all-new material from a surprising line-up of comics talent, ranging from Marv Wolfman, Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway to Scott Koblish, Phil Winslade and Brent Anderson.

The comic is based on Funko's DC Primal Age toy line. The line appears to be one big, elaborate Masters of the Universe homage, with DC Comics characters applied to the original MOTU template, from the proportions of the figures to the beast mounts to the Castle Grayskull-like Batcave playset. For the purposes of the comic then, the idea seems to be an Elseworlds Justice League story in a sword-and-sorcery setting (A cover blurb reads "DC's Heroes As You've Never Seen Them Before!", but 1996's League of Justice and 2001's JLA: Riddle of The Beast both did something similar).

For increased veracity, I suppose the ideal format for a DC Primal Age comic book story would be character-specific 15-page mini-comics packed with the toys, but instead DC seems to have gone with an extra-length comic book of their usual dimensions.

The bulk of the special consists of a 32-page story written by Wolfman and drawn by Scott Koblish, with Tony Avina coloring the art. In it, a mysterious hooded figure is stealing glowing orbs of mystical power, and Batman--wielding a logo-shaped bat-tle axe and riding upon a horse-sized Ace the Bathound, seeks to stop her. This thief turns out to be Wonder Woman, and she is trying to steal the orbs before The Joker, who here looks like a chalk-white He-Man figure with a Joker head atop its shoulders and "HAHAHAHA" scrawled across this chest*, can use then as part of his nefarious plans. Joker wants to use the maguffins as part of he and King Shark's plan to sink Themyscira below the sea and rule the world and suchlike.

Together, Wonder Woman and Batman visit Aquaman in Atlantis, and then travel to Themyscira, where allies Superman, The Flash and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan flavor) meet them. There's a big battle between good and evil, during which The Scarecrow uses his powers to turn some of the Leaguers evil for a bit, but ultimately the good guys win, Themyscira isn't sunk and there's talk of formalizing this alliance of heroes into some sort of Justice League, although the suspicious Batman doesn't quite trust Superman, because he is an alien.
On a mechanical level, Wolfman's story works just fine, but there's not much in the way of style or flair to the writing. Indeed, it's strange how little the story has to do with the unique--or at least, unusual--setting of the so-called "Primal Age." The characters' dialogue all sounds just as it would were this story set in our modern, mundane, magic-less world and, indeed, it wouldn't be difficult to rewrite the story to set it in a version of the regular DCU; it would mostly be a matter of having Koblish draw Batman on a motorcycle instead of a giant dog, for example, or calling "Apollo's Solar Orbs" something like "Solar Super-Batteries" instead.

It's frankly quite disappointing, as there is obviously a lot of potential to do something fun, funny or at least just different and interesting with these characters in a Robert E. Howard by way of He-Man setting, but Wolfman doesn't seem to take the opportunity. I suppose, given the nature of the project, it's quite possible that doing anything beyond providing a script that gets all of the characters in it at some point just wasn't in his remit, however.

That leaves a lot up to Koblish, though, as a bland, unimaginative super-comic script means it's all on the artist to make the story worthwhile. Koblish too is hamstrung, though, as the designs for all of the characters were established by the toys themselves before the comic was being drawn, so unless he was involved in the design process for the action figures as well, Koblish doesn't really get to go crazy with the "Justice League, but as barbarians" aesthetic.

As for those designs, there's not a lot to them either. The characters all basically resemble their "normal" selves, which I suppose is something of a must since they need to recognizable as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and so on, and so the alterations are relatively minor. You can see stitching in some of the costumes, so they look as if they were made long before the invention of spandex. Everyone's got harnesses, arm-bands, furry underpants (in primary colors) and fur-trimmed boots. Superman has a spiked metal ball over his hand like Machiste from Warlord**, for some reason. That's...really about it. Because most of the book takes place in either Atlantis or Themyscira, settings that are always more-or-less depicted as islands of sword-and-sorcery oases within the modern DC Universe, they don't even really need to be reimagined.

Taken altogether, the main story is thus pretty dull and disappointing, and did little to grab my interest or fire my imagination. Granted, I am likely aged far beyond the target/Target audience, but, on the other hand, I've been reading/re-reading the original He-Man mini-comics as I gradually work my way through Dark Horse's 2015 He-Man and The Masters of The Universe Mini-Comic Collection***, and many of those still have pleasures to offer me.

It is fortunate then that this book contains an additional 68 pages. These are five shorter stories--about ten pages apiece, with title pages pushing the book up to meet the "100-Page Comic Giant!" size boasted on the cover--by different creative teams, each focusing on a particular character within the DC Primal Age--and these are all actually pretty engaging, each offering at least something for a reader to grab on to.

These five shorts were all strong enough that, in retrospect, I wish the entire book was an anthology, and rather than a full-length Wolfman/Koblish story, the book opened with a short comics prologue or framing sequence that made room for more shorts featuring different characters and different art styles by different creators (As a Scarecrow fan, for example, I would have liked to spend ten-pages with that character, rather than the handful of panels he gets in the opening story).

Jerry Ordway both writes and draws the first of these short stories, "Born On A Monday," and you can probably guess which villain appears in it. Ordway's art, here colored by Wendy Broome, is as highly detailed as ever before--perhaps even more so--and is an immediate and dramatic departure from Koblish's art in the previous pages.

It opens with Wonder Woman atop a horse, charging to rescue a young boy from a mountain lion. Wonder Woman looks like "herself," with a slimmer build and more natural-looking hair than in Koblish's take, and given that her current costume is just ancient armor, the costume she wears here looks not unlike what she could be wearing in the DCU comics. It's different, of course, with golden rather than silver bracelets, a nose guard built into her tiara, and something rather weird going on with her boobs, which seem to be separated by a chest plate with special holes cut out for them, but there's not much about it that says "barbarian" rather than just "alternate Wonder Woman costume."

After she saves the child from the cat, she tries to take him home, and he leads her to a swamp full of orphaned children, each of whom has a crutch or rag over their eyes to denote some physical imperfection. Wonder Woman is then attacked by Solomon Grundy, dressed in a ripped-up black robe and sandals rather than his usual ripped-up black suit and boots, but as they fight Wondy learns that Grundy has adopted the children, each of whom was tossed into this swamp by the rich assholes at the nearby castle, so she goes off to have words with them.

Again, this is a story that doesn't necessarily need to be told in this setting, and would work just as well in the regular DCU setting, but if there's not much to the story, Ordway nevertheless tells it masterfully, and his art here is just as good--if not better--than I've ever seen it.

The next story, "Ice & Fire," carries the highly-detailed, high fantasy aesthetic of Ordway's story forward, thanks to some quite gorgeous artwork by Phil Winslade (colored by Carrie Strachan). This script is written by Louise Simonson, and it stars Mr. Freeze, who does not appear in the lead story. Here Freeze is a blue-skinned mage with magical ice powers. Engaged to a woman named Nora who felt faint in the heat of his desolate, desert kingdom, he built a magnificent ice palace for her, but he became overwhelmed by his powers and, touching her, froze her solid, and now strives to find a way to free her from the curse.

That tragic story is told in flashback, while the majority of the action involves a really rather cool-looking fire-breathing dragon attacking Freeze's palace. He arms himself with a helmet, gauntlets and a sword of ice and does battle with it, ultimately freezing it solid. On the last page, King Shark approaches to recruit him, and Winslade's King Shark is as cool as his Freeze or Dragon; rather than the silly, Street Sharks-style version on Jon Bogdanove's cover, Winslade's King Shark is tall and thin and dark, looking more like an eel in shape than a shark, and bearing black pin-point eyes and an upside down smile full of triangle teeth.

Simonson scripts the next short too, "Darkest Knight," a Primal Age Batman origin story drawn by Brent Anderson and colored by Broome. Batman is an ordinary man in a blue fur cape fighting crime with sword and shield when, one night, he saves a mage named Lucius Fox from a pack of demons conjured by a generic evil wizard. Fox uses his own magical abilities to heal a wound Batman sustained in the battle, and then follows him back home to the Batcave playset.

This Batman's origin is told in a few lines of conversation--Prince Bruce's parents were killed by a wizard, and he was tossed into a deep dark, crevasse filled with bats. There he adopted his new identity and set up his base, intent on fighting the mages who "run roughshod over the non-magical folk." Fox helps him by giving him a crime-detecting crystal ball, a new and stronger costume and then transforming his throwing daggers into Batarangs.

Ordway scripts the next story, but doesn't draw it. Instead, two-thirds of it are drawn pencil artist Chuck Patton and inker Karl Kesel, while Tom Derenick handles three pages (Kelly Fitzpatrick colors the whole shebang). It's called "The Joker's Wild"--there's not a title among these stories that hasn't been used at least 300 times before--and it naturally stars The Joker. He rides atop a giant purple lizard, who looks at bit like a sharp-toothed dewback from Star Wars, and he and his hyena horde--a small army of men dressed in hyena skins--are pillaging a town, searching for a vague treasure that I think is meant to be one of the Apollo orbs from the opening story.

There's a neat bit about a peasant boy who shows kindness to the giant lizard--feeding it a pumpkin and beer--and The Joker deciding to spare the boy. The act of seeming mercy isn't actually mercy, but a sort of reward for making his lizard monster funny, which was an interesting bit of character work in an otherwise generic-ish story.

Pollard and Marzan Jr
The final story is "Not A Bird," and its written by Wolfman, drawn by Keith Pollard and Jose Marzan Jr and colored by Strachan. This too is one more story that is your average DC superhero story--Superman appears to go rogue and start committing evil acts, a suspicious Batman fights him, but it turns out that Superman was innocent and it was Bizarro who was doing all the bad stuff--made medieval. At least in this particular case Wolfman puts some extra effort into finding pre-industrial age analogues to elements of their stories, so that Superman hails from Metropolis Shire and Batman from Gotham Village, for example, or that Batman is summoned by a signal fire shining through a bat-shaped hole in a tent, or that the authorities try to fight the rogue Superman with kryptonite-tipped arrows.

Pollard and Marzan's art is pretty incredible, and filled with images of dynamic human figures in action, with most of the images of the super-people drawn to resemble the "real" Superman and Batman, only with a touch or two of the Primal Age designs to remind a reader this isn't supposed to be set in the 20th or 21st century, despite how far Pollard has strayed from the toy designs.

And then, presented almost at random, is the best page of the book, a pin-up of the Ace-mounted Batman charging The Joker and his lizard monster, by Michael Wm. Kaluta:
I certainly wouldn't mind reading 100 pages that looked like that.

The strengths of the back half of the book makes up for the weakness of the front half, but I'm not entirely convinced the whole package is really worth $10. Regardless, I won't be at all surprised if we get more DC Primal Age specials in the future, as Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Scarecrow and King Shark don't really get much of a spotlight compared to the other heroes, and, obviously, there are so many more characters that can be Primal Aged. This issue's cover, for example, features Luthor and Krypto, neither of whom appear within the book.

If more comics do appear, I hope that DC will continue to assign the stories to artists of this caliber, and that the writers lean harder into the setting.

*Unfortunately, he never says "Just call me Ha-Man" at any point in the story.

**I was actually thinking about Warlord a lot while reading this comic, for the rather obvious reasons.

***The new-ish Netflix series She-Ra and The Princesses of Power re-ignited my interest in the goings on of Eternia and Etheria, and after watching that I wanted to refamiliarize myself with the source material which is, obviously, quite different. That show, by the way, is really great.