If you’re looking for something to read while sheltering in place, you’ve come to the right blog, as the Smash Pages crew has a whole mess of comics to talk about this week. So without further ado …
I’ve been reading a lot of digital comics this week. I backed Ryan K. Lindsay’s and Chris Panda’s She: At The Tower Of All That Is Known from ComixTribe a while back and it shipped out this week. It’s about an intergalactic bounty hunter with a secret. It sounds simple, but every book by Ryan K. Lindsay is never as simple as it sounds. The creators put so much depth into their characters that you quickly identify with them and get sucked into their world in only a few panels. They did this so well in the book that when one character doesn’t make it, i audibly said “No!“. That’s good storytelling and craft, as it’s not easy to get a veteran comic fan that invested.
Another comic I “picked up” is Friday by Ed Brubaker, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente from Panel Syndicate. It’s a spooky little mystery with a main character that reminds me of the best of Nancy Drew. Brubaker, Martin and Vincente offered it up as a pay what you want comic, and it’s definitely worth whatever you are thinking of giving. The artwork is of course magnificent, and Brubaker writes to Martin and Vincente’s strengths. It’s moody, it’s creepy and it’s fun. Highly recommended.
The last thing I really want to talk about is The Last Supper by DB Andry and Paul Schultz, offered for free on Twitter. It’s a great, deeply personal slice-of-life comic from the creators, with a twist at the end that just really hit home for me. The characters felt very real and it takes the time for you to get to know them enough that the ending really tugs at you.
Like I said above, I’ve been reading A LOT of comics so I’ll just list off some of the others I recommend from my stack:
- TMNT from IDW – I’m starting from the beginning and I really like this reboot of the Turtles.
- The Walking Dead – The entire series was available on Humble Bundle for $18. Sadly it’s over now.
- Dark Horse’s Greatest Universe – Most of the omnibuses like Ghost, X and Barbed Wire are free on Comixology.
- Twilight – I picked this up for $5 and it’s a steal for the Jose Garcia Lopez art alone. It’s a story about Golden Age sci-fi heroes reimagined by Howard Chaykin, and it’s an engrossing but horrible little story that you can’t stop reading.
- Alec: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell – Eddie Campbell is just a master storyteller, it’s all the little things he does with the art and the silent panels. Everything just flows and draws you into this autobiographical comic.
This week I read the first three issues of Justice League Quarterly from 1990-91, reprinted in the recent Justice League: Corporate Maneuvers paperback. Each issue is 72 pages, with issues #1 and #3 each telling a single story. These issues came out during the back half of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ five-year stint as writers of the various Justice League International books, so generally they’re of a piece with the regular Justice League America and Justice League Europe series. However, by this time Giffen and DeMatteis had peaked – basically, only the General Glory storyline and the epic finale “Breakdowns” remained – so the quality wasn’t as consistent as it had been.
Anyway, JLQ issue #1 picks up on a JLA subplot where Booster Gold had quit the team, and introduces his new, corporately sponsored super buddies, the Conglomerate. They’re noteworthy but not spectacular: a couple of new faces, plus JL Detroit’s Gypsy (seen most recently in JL America‘s Despero storyline), Vibe’s brother Reverb, Praxis (from the then-current Spectre series) and Maxi-Man, from the DeMatteis-written Mister Miracle. The overall arc is also fairly predictable: the Conglomerate enjoys early success and even outdoes the League, but ultimately the two teams learn to coexist, symbolized by Booster and Blue Beetle’s renewed friendship. The story distinguishes itself by having the Conglomerate intervene in another country’s internal politics in order to advance its sponsors’ interests, thereby putting it in conflict with the United Nations-sponsored League. Plus, the art is from Chris Sprouse and Bruce Patterson, whose uncomplicated style made them good fits for Giffen’s thumbnails.
Issue #2 brings back Mister Nebula, the Galactus parody who’s also a painfully blunt fashion-designer stereotype. This wasn’t that funny almost thirty years ago, so I can’t imagine it being okay today. The art is from penciller Tom Artis and inkers Randy Elliott and Bruce Patterson, and appropriately enough it adds to the wackiness. I did like that Galact– I mean, Mr. Nebula wouldn’t have come to Earth if G’Nort hadn’t saved the life of his former herald, the Scarlet Skier. I also liked the Skier’s exasperation at G’Nort, which honestly felt like a whole new reason to be exasperated with G’Nort. The rest was just kind of tacky.Because the Mr. Nebula story was only 56 pages, the issue also had room for a 17-page Fire & Ice adventure (drawn by Aldrin Aw and Malcolm Jones III) pitting them against Captain Cold and Heat Wave. This reminded me that there was a time when the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery wasn’t made of grim and cool super-criminals, but down-to-earth schlubs whose best days ended when Barry Allen did his laps around the anti-matter cannon. Most of the story focuses on that characterization, since it doesn’t take that long for Fire & Ice to dispose of the villains once they start fighting.
Finally, issue #3 is a much more straightforward JLI story, featuring a mix of the American and European teams on a dimensional road trip to Marvel-ish Earth. Basically, that Earth is a postapocalyptic hellscape after the Extremists (pastiches of Dr. Doom, Dr. Octopus, Magneto, Dormammu and Sabretooth) started a nuclear war. In this story, a survivor from that world tries to change its history, so we see more pre-disaster Avengers pastiches as well as a version of Wolverine with Mickey Mouse ears. It’s doubly ironic, because the main time-traveler is himself a parody of Walt Disney. Complicating matters further, our heroes have been shrunk in size, Atom-style, by the dimensional doorway. There’s also a subtext of history being immutable, hammered home by a then-rare opportunity for Wally West to see his uncle during the return journey. This issue was scripted by Gerard Jones, pencilled by Mike McKone and inked by Bob Smith; so again, it feels very much in the main JLI wheelhouse. It was the most entertaining of the bunch.
I’ve also gotten back into The Golden Age Wonder Woman volume 2, reprinting the stories from Sensation Comics, Comic Cavalcade and the main WW book. All came out in 1943 (in fact, the whole book is 1943 stories) and all were from creators William Moulton Marston and H.G. Peter. As you might expect, there’s not much subtlety: “War Against Society” (from Sensation #21) literally equates organized crime with Naziism, with the villain “American Adolph” setting himself up as head gangster and rubbing out all opposition.
Next, Wonder Woman #6 serves up the 3-part introduction of the Cheetah, and it is amazing. Socialite Priscilla Rich is the worst Junior Leaguer ever (and yes, she’s identified as a Junior Leaguer). In Part 1, she sets up a charity show for Wonder Woman to perform feats of strength, but she’s so infuriated that people are paying more attention to the Amazing Amazon that she frames Wonder Woman for stealing the proceeds and tries to kill both her and the guy in charge of the show. The Cheetah comes about when Priscilla has a psychotic break and her evil personality convinces her to make a cat-costume to personify her badness.
In Part 2, the Cheetah kidnaps a couple of psychic women and blackmails them into stealing secrets from the spouses of military officers. This sends Wonder Woman into the Pacific Theater, where she has to convince the Japanese navy (racist stereotypes, unfortunately) that Cheetah’s intel is inaccurate. Part 3 has the Cheetah herself infiltrating a delegation to Paradise Island, because a sexist Army officer doesn’t believe that women can train themselves to be physically superior to men and has sent a group to compete against the Amazons. This part ends with Priscilla Rich vowing to reform, and staying on the island rather than facing American justice.
However, we’re not done with the Cheetah yet! In Sensation #22, she’s gotten one of her henchwomen to pose as her, so that she can pretend to be on the good side. In reality, she’s stolen an experimental submarine. Wonder Woman ends up among her hostages, but realizes that the Cheetah just wants to be appreciated for who she is – and that happens when it turns out that the Cheetah is a fantastic dancer! This affirmation helps the Cheetah persona fade, and (after Wonder Woman saves them from the floundering sub) Priscilla agrees to go back to rehab.
Clearly there’s a lot going on with any particular Marston/Peter Wonder Woman story (not to mention or excuse the unfortunate racism), but they were really trying to do something different with superhero comics, and they seemed to be hitting their stride by this point.
Let me see if I can track how I got here: I’ve continued reading Starman (on to Omnibus vol. 2), where a particularly affecting story arc about the Golden Age Sandman (“Sand and Stars,” #20-24) got me thinking about the JSA and Golden Age heroes in general. This brought me to Hourman and his revival around the same time as Starman in 1993, where I first heard of Snapper Carr (a “Rick Jones”-eque supporting character in the JSA, sometimes powered, sometimes not, also in the pages of Hourman in the 90s) in Young Justice as kind of a mentor figure to the teenaged heroes. All of this to say that there is a very clever gag in those Young Justice issues between Snapper Carr and the previously referenced Rick Jones in Marvel’s Captain Marvel; you see, Peter David was writing both Young Justice and Captain Marvel at the time and, in issues I have yet to officially track down, these two managed a phone call between two worlds.
All of this to say I’m currently reading the oft-forgotten series from 1999-2004, Captain Marvel by Peter David and ChrisCross. Genis-Vell, the forgotten son of Mar-Vell and the Eternal Elysius, was a brand new cosmic superhero trying to live up to the legacy of the father he never knew. Rick Jones, erstwhile sidekick to a multitude of Marvel heroes, including Mar-Vell, was bonded to this new Captain Marvel in this new series, so there’s a lot of fun to play on the idea of the non-powered mentor to a super-powered newbie.
Peter David is a master of witty banter and comedy, making the dialogue between Genis and Rick fast and snappy, the perfect flow for this new buddy cop sitcom situation. He’s also great at providing emotional depth and thought-provoking commentary on being a hero and what that means to you and everyone around you — highlights of everyday life mix well with cosmic adventure and interpersonal relationships. ChrisCross’s art is amazing, full of energy and life, with expressions that border on the cartoonish, if not for the heavy black inks and surrealist framing devices. The colors pop with vivid primaries and the lettering is almost art in itself as it weaves itself into the panels as part of the artwork itself.
This series will not be for everyone; it’s a product of its time that wasn’t that well-received in that time. It has a lot of slow moments, catching the readers up on previous issues or Marvel lore, and comedy that either slows down the action or tickles you with clever references sprinkled generously throughout the story. But, if you’re sent down a rabbit hole of memories or want to hit Bingo in your Five Degrees of Separation between the Big Two, this is a hidden gem.