Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Halloween equals good comics

I am finding that October and the time of Halloween is a time for some good comics. It's been perfect time in past years for dipping into the back-issue trades and picking up some of the Horror-hero characters from Marvel such as Essentials starring Ghost Rider, Doctor Voodoo, the Living Mummy, and the Scarecrow. This year there is a nice smallish volume featuring some of the b/w magazine stories featuring their various vampires including Morbius (one of my favorites, especially when done by Gil Kane). There is also a hardcover sampling of Dick Briefer's Frankenstein stories, a series that ran the gamut of being straight forward horror, to a supervillain, to an almost cuddly affable monster ala Herman Munster, years before that series ever did it.

Angel vs Frankenstein II: John Byrne returns this Halloween to Angel & Frankenstein. As with the first one, the only real drawback is that it could use another issue or two to really bring out the tension and horror as there is so much for one issue to do. It's a period piece, so it has to establish both the physical place but also the status quo and supporting cast and make us care for them and worry about them. Byrne manages in a few short pages to introduce various characters, some with secrets, relationships and pasts all of their own and make them compelling enough that a one issue story just seems too short for them. His version of the Frankenstein Monster is in keeping with the classic novel. He's bizarre and scary looking and presented as a sociopath and not some misunderstood Romantic Hero. The story presents about as definitive a death scene as you can possibly get when dealing with a creature that seems too tough to die.

Batman: Hidden Treasures: Most new fans think of horror comics and they no doubt think of the likes of the dark fantasy of Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. Older fans will think of the works of Tom Sutton, Mike Ploog and the legendary Berni Wrightson. Berni is one of those creators like Steranko, Barry Windsor Smith, Dave Stevens and Neal Adams, men who don't have many lengthy credits or long stretches of work to their name, but the little they have done was game changing and influential on so many levels. Wrightson's name is inextricably linked to Swamp Thing, but he's proven to be a great Batman artist. This book presents two Batman stories, one previously unpublished and one that has been published many times when he and Swamp Thing first crossed paths.

The first story part prose and part pin-ups as Batman investigates a serial killer of homeless people and it leads him to Slaughter Swamp and comic's first swamp monster, Solomon Grundy. The prose of the story is a little confusing at first as the identity of the narrator is kept purposely obscure until the end. However, I spent considerable time in the first two pages trying to figure out the point of view of the story, who the narrator was as it doesn't make it clear that the narrator is not supposed to be a witness to the events of the story. It's only by the tone that you first rule out Batman and then Commissioner Gordon and after that point, I was sufficiently hooked into the story to not care. In fact, when the revelation did come, it just seemed a bit too cutesy and I really no longer cared.

Wrightson's art is excellent and strong enough that Kevin Nowlan's usually overpowering inking was kept to a minimum annoyance. Most of the time I could forget Nowlan was the inker until certain panels with people's faces and his habit of going cubist on straight on head-shots of characters by making their mouths look like they are being viewed by an extreme angle, at odds with the rest of the face. It tends to give all his faces this puckered or constipated expression. Plus, his line is often thin and inorganic, something I wouldn't think to match up with an artist like Wrightson whose art is practically synonymous for being natural and organic. However, for the most part the pairing works surprisingly well.

The second story is the reprinted "Night of the Bat" by Lein Wein and Wrightson from Swamp Thing #7, first series. The story has obviously been re-colored which makes its presence known in several places, such as putting a leaf pattern in Swamp Thing's thought balloons. I miss this version of Swamp Thing, when he really was Alec Holland and before he went all supernatural and elemental.

JSA 80-Page Giant 2010: This is one of those books that if I looked at it first I would have returned it. It was a JSA book so it got put in my bag automatically and I did not realize it was not the regular monthly title since it had the Justice Society of America title logo in the usual place. Instead it's just a big book focusing on the legacy characters in short story bits with varying degrees of lameness. The Obsidian story contained the overpowering and scratchy inks of Bill Sienkiewicz in a story that was little more than the writer recapping Obsidian's lifestory and homosexuality, reinforcing his total misinterpretation of Obsidian's story in the JLA. And, as the plot is about Obsidian and his boyfriend trying to adopt and thus the regaling of his life-story, it's lame in that we don't get a reason they are turned down. Especially as the most logical conclusion of him being a superhero is denied. Told what it's not, but not what it is. The Jesse Quick story was passable with nice art but otherwise unforgettable. Mr. Terrific's story was confusing as it starts with a guy in a coma, I at first figured everything after that was meant to be a flashback on how he got to be in a coma. Instead, it was supposed to be about him coming out of the coma. A pity the artist drew him asleep then. And, we see Mr. Terrific now flying with some kind of jet-boots? Cyclone's story reinforces her contradictory nature. In many ways she's annoying and she's meant to be and yet I find her all the more likable and fresh for that. The best thing about the Wildcat and son story was that for once his son didn't annoy me in a bad way too much and the artwork was far better than I had seen by Williams in JSA All-Stars. Sand and Dr. Fate were just boring, to the point that I kept nodding off in between word balloons in mid panel. Then there's the whole idea that the latter story is telling readers it's ok to commit suicide in order to be reunited with the ones you love.

Magnus #2: A solid comic that updates the future of Magnus for modern sensibilities but still has enough of the style, themes and background to be familiar with the other versions. The artist at times seems a little overwhelmed at times in depicting the action scenes or small things like a character's hairstyle. As the story concerned itself with white slavery and exploitation of women, the comic veers close to being too adult and prurient when it doesn't really need to be.

We get signs that in the future, there are other threats other than just the robots, including cyborgs and what appear to be aliens that consider human meat a delicacy. This brings a needed variety to Magnus' future world. Even more development of that world is needed, though. The book was originally created in the 1960s, we could use a book that is more multi-cultural, with more strong female characters other than Leeja who offers herself up as victim-bait this issue.

Warlord of Mars #1: Calling the book "Warlord of Mars" and I'd expect that ideally, John Carter would be on Mars by the third page. I don't think you need to drag out his past, it's not really that important. However, this is a Dynamite book so I don't really expect to see John Carter get to Mars until the fourth issue, they like their decompression too much and dragging out the origins of the characters.

Surprisingly, it didn't bother me too much with the first issue in that they decided to tell a dual story giving us the backgrounds of both Carter and Tars Tarkas so we see still get quite a bit of Mars. I think the backdrop at least gives us an idea of what kind of man John Carter is, fiercely loyal and quick to fight if the situation demands it. What is missing is the idea from the books that Carter is some kind of immortal with little memory of his past but always finding himself embroiled in conflict and battles.

Sadowski delivers on the art and it's not so colored that the pencils are lost. However, the story is a bit confusing as Union Soldiers are colored to be wearing grays, the short-hand identification of the Rebels. Maybe the colorist didn't know that the bad-guys in the story were supposed to be the Northerners and not the South for a change?

Multiple covers, so I chose the Joe Jusko one myself. Reminded me of when I first discovered John Carter, Deja Thoris and Tars Tarkas and those paperback covers.

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