Friday, June 16, 2017

Quarter Bin 113 "Wildcats/X-Men"

Wildcats/X-Men: The Modern Age #1 (Image/Marvel)
from August 1997

I was really hoping this comic would help explain the Wildcats a little better.  I mean, I get the premise, but I wanted more about the characters in the team, what helped make them stand out individually.  James Robinson, I think, didn't have the same interest.

But Adam Hughes at least makes everything look really nice. Hughes was a superstar artist in his own right, maybe not what one thought of as the Image model, but the Marvel/DC equivalent in the '90s.  His work here looks more traditional than his later covers, which really ramped up the Hughes appeal.

For what it's worth, the X-Men don't come off much better. Fans will say that's because the '90s weren't particularly kind to the X-Men, but it was a distinctive era.  Just not one that's reflected in this comic.  It seems to have wanted to present an iconic version of both teams, but in doing so glossed over what made either of them special.  That's always the risk with team books, let alone team-up books, trying to squeeze too many characters into the story, so none of them really get a chance to shine.  I mean, the Hellfire Club gets more of a shout-out than anyone...!

Well, it was worth a try.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Quarter Bin 112 "Teen Titans Turning Points"

Tales of the Teen Titans #59, 78 (DC)
The New Titans #71 (DC)
Teen Titans #16 (DC)
from November 1985, June 1987, November 1990, November 2004

Each of these issues kind of encapsulates a turning point for the Teen Titans, so that was pretty neat.  Tales #59 is a reprint of their first adventure under Marv Wolfman and George Perez, the start of a wildly popular run that rivaled the X-Men in the '80s.  Tales #78, meanwhile, features the team apparently splitting up.  New Titans #71, as you can tell from the cover, is an anniversary celebration.  Teen Titans #16 kind of once again reintegrates Superboy into Legion lore (long complicated history, there).

I don't think the Wolfman/Perez run ages particularly well.  I've read "The Judas Contract," and that did age well, but a lot of the soap opera elements that made the run so popular don't work as well today.  Reading Geoff Johns' Teen Titans again is always interesting, because that was one of the runs where he cut his teeth, that and JSA, as DC's resident continuity guy, which is funny because his Titans drastically revamped characters like Superboy [insert classic anecdote about the letter here] and Kid Flash while also giving the team its first successful run in more than a decade.

New Titans #71 also has the distinction of having Tom Grummett art.  Grummett went on to be a Superman artist, and in that way helped introduce the modern Superboy.  By 1990, apparently, his style was already set, so there was no trouble recognizing his work.

It's kind of amazing that Wolfman thought in the '80s that a Titans movie was imminent, which is far more humbling in 2017 than Stan Lee hyping a Spider-Man movie in the '90s.  But that's one of the many reasons to read back issues, to see what people were thinking back in the day...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quarter Bin 111 "Whitman Star Trek"

Star Trek: The Psychocrystals (Whitman)
from 1976

Some of the early Star Trek comics, before the franchise revival.  Technically at this point not only the original series but The Animated Series existed.  But this comic is pretty rubbish.  It barely seems to care about characterization.  Scotty's accent comes and goes, for instance, depending on whether or not the writer cares to make the effort. 

Whitman was repackaging Gold Key material, by the way:

Gold Key is the publisher history knows better.  Marvel briefly had rights to Star Trek around the release of The Motion Picture, but DC had gained control by Wrath of Khan, and held onto it for years.  At the moment, and on the whole doing a really good job, is IDW.  But Star Trek comics have never been as famous as Star Wars comics.  There the rights have always been pretty clear-cut: from Marvel (Howard Chaykin! drew the original adaptations) to Dark Horse to Marvel again.

But if you like the original series, Gold Key/Whitman's output would probably satisfy you.  The intent seems to have been to closely mirror the spirit of the TV adventures.  No doubt helped fans keep in touch with the spirit of the TV show.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Quarter Bin #110 "Will Eisner's Spirit"

The Spirit #60 (Kitchen Sink Press)
from October 1989

I confess to not having a lot of experience with Will Eisner, one of the giants of the comic book medium, whose creation of The Spirit influenced the artistry of comics all the way to the present.  These days a lot of fans will associate that impact with Frank Miller's Sin City, an association made more potent by Miller directing The Spirit (a movie that didn't get a lot of love, alas).

But as I read this issue, a different association came to mind.  Granted, this is with limited exposure, but I immediately thought of Jeff Smith, specifically RASL.  Have a look for comparison:


It's in the storytelling, the lettering (both apply to Smith's Bone, too, naturally).  I can't help but see parallels, and I wonder how many other fans have made the connection over the years.  Smith's biggest acknowledged source of inspiration was always Pogo, which I've likewise never had the pleasure to read.

Hmm.  Seems the lettering is the same.  But I haven't seen this lettering style outside of these examples.  I don't know. 

It's certainly worth considering, anyway.  Fascinating, in the issue, is the inclusion of creator notes on each included reprinted story.  Eisner, it seems, felt strongly about all of them.  Makes you wonder what comic book creators today would be saying about their work.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Quarter Bin 109 "Rocketman"

Rocketman #4 (Innovation)
from 1991

So apparently this was based on a classic serial, one that has been lost to history, much like this later comics adaptation.  The idea of the movie might have inspired the Rocketeer.  The comic, in its final issue, barely features the hero, but it seems pretty relevant, on the whole, to modern times, the age of terror.  I wonder if anyone else noticed that.

(In case you thought the serial wasn't real.)

The Rocketeer, meanwhile, was a kind of comic book version of Indiana Jones, insofar as it was an update of classic serials developed in the '80s, and later it became a movie, one of the '90s attempts at cashing in on the superhero success of Tim Burton's Batman, well before anyone was really ready for a lot more superheroes.

Maybe Rocketman (kind of reads like Dean Motter's Mister X, in some ways) will be revived again?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Quarter Bin 108 "Alan Moore's From Hell"

From Hell #7 (Kitchen Sink Press)
from April 1995

I'm not an Alan Moore fan.  I appreciate the guy's legacy, but...I'm not an Alan Moore fan.  So I haven't gone out of my way to read his work.  When I see it in a back issue bin, I'll scoop it up, which is what happened here, but I've yet to find the thing that will change that basic fact.

From Hell was adapted into one of the many movies that disappointed Moore, and that's mostly how I even knew it existed.  It's a Jack the Ripper story, which seems right up Moore's alley, so it's not at all surprising that he wrote it.

The art, if I were to pick this up on the basis of the art alone, I think anyone would agree, not factoring Alan Moore into the equation, does not sell this material. So it's good that this particular issue seems important to the overall work.

In it, Moore has his Ripper perform a gruesome murder and mutilation.  During it, his Ripper loses his grip on reality.  I have to say, it's riveting.  Then Moore explains his creative process at the end of the issue, and that's worth reading, too. 

I didn't end up changing my opinion of Moore, but it was probably the best Moore I've read since Watchmen

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Quarter Bin 107 "Aron Wiesenfeld"

Deathblow and Wolverine #1 (Image)
from September 1996

Wow.  So I guess I'm not the first person to wonder whatever happened to Aron Wiesenfeld.  Read about that here.  Because the minute I saw this art, I had to wonder why he never became a comics superstar.  That art is positively phenomenal.  The coloring is itself completely out of the ordinary, but the level of detail is astonishing.

And the whole issue is like that.  Unbelievable.

The best thing I stumbled upon that day, by far.  This was one of those team-up comics between Image and various other companies that happened throughout the '90s, right about the point everyone was wondering how long the Image revolution was really going to last.  Deathblow in 2017 means absolutely nothing, and weirdly enough he barely registers in this issue, too, and maybe that's one of the reasons why.  Wolverine, though: not only does Wiesenfeld draw an exceptional Logan, he writes one, too. 

Here I'll acknowledge that Richard Bennett apparently "finished" the art, something that happens in a lot of Dan Jurgens comics, and I guess I'm still a little shaky on the concept.  Was Bennett merely the inker?  Or was he more involved?  Should I be heaping the Wiesenfeld praise on Bennett?  Or sharing it?

Either way, Wiesenfeld abruptly left comics, and became a traditional artist.  I suppose it's not unexpected.  Comics in some respects represent the formative development of any artist, learning perspective, detail, the "rules."  Which artists then tend to break.  I'm sure Wiesenfeld doesn't miss comics at all, but I gotta say, comics surely miss him...

Friday, June 9, 2017

Quarter Bin 106 "Challengers of the Unknown"

Challengers of the Unknown #5 (DC)
from July 1991

This was a series I originally discovered, randomly, rummaging through back issues, so it's always nice finding it again that way, even though eventually I read the complete story in the trade paperback collection that ought to be reprinted, perennially, as the classic it is.  Unfortunately it's mostly remembered, if at all, as the first pairing of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, who later ended up collaborating on Batman: The Long Halloween, and a host of other stuff that brought them far greater acclaim.

Reading an issue again, now, is to be reminded just how special it really was, a truly inspired work of art in which Loeb felt free to write exactly as he wanted, completely untethered.  I became an amateur fan of the Challengers after discovering this, and sampled later versions, but beside the fact that none of those could ever hope to compete with it, I'm still surprised that DC hasn't even tried to bring them back recently, whether in the New 52 or, so far, in Rebirth.  Heck, even in the new Young Animal line.  Loeb's Challengers, like disgraced Gerard Jones's Green Lantern: Mosaic, was Vertigo material that was never identified as Vertigo material, even though in hindsight it clearly was, as Vertigo was in its nascent days, when Grant Morrison was doing Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and not so much The Invisibles

Reading these original issues also helps me keep tabs with what readers were thinking.  And you know the concept is doomed when the editor is begging those readers to spread the word, "and with any hope there will be more!"  This never means anything good.  And it's a shame to report, more than a quarter century later, that this stuff is still waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Quarter Bin 105 "Bone"

Bone #20, 22 (Cartoon, Image)
from October 1995, February 1996

I'm an avowed fan of Jeff Smith's Bone (and Jeff Smith in general), so I read the complete Bone saga some time ago, finally, in the handy One Volume Edition.  I have a friend to thank for turning me on to Bone in the first place, because otherwise such a comic would never have been on my radar, but I started reading around the time Smith ceded publishing to Image, for a time.  These issues actually catch the series in transition, and that's pretty fascinating in and of itself.  Smith finds himself justifying the business decision in the letters column.  History shows he later brought Bone back to its self-publishing roots at Cartoon Books, and later still reprint rights at Scholastic, where it found a whole new audience.

I stopped reading Bone regularly well before the end of the series, so reading the One Volume Edition was a way for me to find out just how much the story evolved, over time, how it became truly epic fantasy.  That's still developing in these issues, but in hindsight it's already apparent, although there's still plenty of the Bone cousins being the Bone cousins, more Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring than his Return of the King, in terms of the hobbits. 

This is a series always worth revisiting.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Quarter Bin 104 "Detective Comics #627"

Detective Comics #627 (DC)
from March 1991

The New 52's Detective Comics #27 was one of my favorite single issues from that particular era, so it was pretty interesting to get my hands on a similar issue from an earlier era.  Like the later one, this celebratory issue reprints Batman's origin, but it also has other interpretations.  In fact, that's the whole issue, different eras presenting their versions of the classic first appearance of Batman.

Yeah, it's interesting.  You can tell each team based its versions on whatever it thought defined their particular age.  There's nothing particularly timeless about any of them.  This was before DC allowed its creators to deviate from the typical superhero script, something that didn't really happen until the lessons of Alan Moore and Frank Miller had become internalized and brought back from Vertigo, where they'd incubated. 

So suffice to say, this is one of those comics that's tough to read from a modern perspective.  You know there are different creative impulses at work, and you know there are different creative eras represented, but the best way to approach it is as a curiosity.  It doesn't really stand the test of time.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Quarter Bin 103 "Moon Knight"

Moon Knight #4, 7-10, 13-17 (Marvel)
from August 2014-September 2015

So, inspired by Jeff Lemire's recently concluded Moon Knight, and remembering I'd once read the last issue of Brian Michael Bendis's run, too, and last year so other back issues (I could check to see how much I may have duplicated my reading, but...nah), I decided to have a look at some older stuff, from the likes of Warren Ellis (I figured if anyone was comparable to Lemire it'd be him), Brian Wood (I have a spotty history with him), and Cullen Bunn (not the biggest fan).

And Greg Smallwood, by the way.  He illustrates the Wood issues.  It's clear he hadn't yet developed the intricacy of what he'd later bring to Lemire's run, but it's still fun having that continuity.

Of course none of them were ever going to do exactly what Lemire later did.  That would kind of diminish Lemire's work, I think.  But there's stuff here and there. I mean, it's the same character, who long ago developed a reputation for multiple personas. 

Ellis has Declan Shalvey on art.  Shalvey has kind of become a big deal recently.  Bunn doesn't have anyone with name value doing his run, and he has the least distinguished storytelling, the stuff you'd expect from someone who has a far more generalized concept of the character, who recognizes the trappings but can't quite exploit them. 

It was interesting, reading more Moon Knight.  That's about all I can say about these issues, seeing where the character came from immediately before Lemire.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Moon Knight #14 (Marvel)

The final issue of Jeff Lemire's Moon Knight sort of follows its own logic.  I struggled a little to find resolution with it, but here it is:

Lemire originally set out to explore Marc Spector's state of mind.  He started the series with Spector in an asylum, once and for all questioning his sanity.  Subsequent issues explored Spector's various identities, while distancing him from Khonshu, the Egyptian moon god who made him a superhero. 

(In a lot of ways, Moon Knight is more a DC kind of character than he ever was Marvel.)

But then Lemire decided, if there was to be any kind of resolution, Khonshu had to come back.  The issue details Spector's decision that he doesn't have to confront Khonshu at all.  All he has to do is quit giving Khonshu so much power over him.  If this were any other writer, Khonshu could just as easily say, "It ain't that easy."  He'd exert his control over Moon Knight all over again, the way he did in the first arc.

But the thing is, Lemire's Spector is defined by the relationship between his separate identities, how this is something he's had since he was a kid, and has gradually found some use for, especially as a superhero, where compartmentalizing comes in handy.  He never had to deny himself, but rather finally become comfortable. 

And so he's able to take Khonshu's power over him away.  It really is that easy.  Does that solve all of Spector's problems?  Well, no.  But at least he no longer has a moon god usurping his sense of control, even if he isn't always in control. 

Greg Smallwood's art, as it has been throughout the series, is sensational.  It used to be, I loved the covers first and foremost.  I mean, it's kind of a Saga thing.  But the interior art has become more impactful, I think. 

One of my all-time favorite creative runs.

Quarter Bin 102 "Road to Flashpoint"

Flashpoint was a seminal comics moment for me, and it remains one of my happiest memories and favorite stories.  I'd been bummed that Geoff Johns started writing The Flash again, only to end after twelve issues, but I never got to finish reading those issues until now.  Of course, I was happy once I read Flashpoint, and even happier about his New 52 work (Justice League and Green Lantern were highlights of many a year), so I gave up being upset that these were the final issues.

The Flash #10-12 (DC)
from June, July 2011.

Drawn by Scott Kolins (who'd done a lot of Johns's Wally West Flash series) and Francis Manapul (who'd launched this one with Johns, and would lead the New 52 reboot), these are "Road to Flashpoint" stories that teased a character called Hot Pursuit, who turned out to be Barry Allen from an alternate reality (he probably needs to return at some point, despite his fate here), only to feature the return of Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, ahead of his role in Flashpoint.

There's a strong emphasis on Bart Allen who I enjoyed reading so much in the '90s as Impulse but who Johns transformed into Kid Flash in the pages of Teen Titans, which was nice.  The new 52 version of the character totally revamped the concept, which angered a lot of fans, but I never let it bother me.

Ironically, this was the last time DC had letters in its comics, and in the last two issues apparently Flash finally joined the bandwagon, only for the idea to go away again and never (so far) return.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Digitally Speaking...58 "Neil Gaiman's Eternals"

Okay, so I've been doing a pretty lousy job of talking through my comiXology library, but really it's because there hasn't been much to speak of.  I guess the material was kind of top-loaded or something.  But the good news is that very shortly I'll have finally read all of it, all the Submit stuff and the Image stuff that came in those massive bundles and everything else I got several years back.  What I'm talking about today, actually, is something I added recently because of that dwindling supply, something I'd read when it was originally released but hadn't thought that much about at the time, but having now reread it...
So yeah, I wish I'd read the whole thing.  I guess I wouldn't have appreciated it at the time, but at least I'd have read it.  I'm talking about Neil Gaiman's Eternals, a rare Marvel project from about a decade ago, when he was dabbling in comics again, figuring out where he might still fit in after having left the medium for a full-time career writing books.  Part of why I had a look at the freebie first issue comiXology had available was that I've now read the complete Sandman, and that's a great feeling in and of itself.  Part of it is that I've read a few issues of the comics adaption of American Gods, which is the Neil Gaiman book (along with its sequel Anansi Boys) that to date is my Neil Gaiman prose standout, and reading American Gods in any medium made me realize what Neil had done with it all over again, and so why not have a look at Eternals again, right?
I remember thinking, at the time, that Eternals didn't seem to live up to the reputation Neil had based on Sandman.  I don't know if it's Marvel's typical inability or lack of interest in keeping its back library visible, but Eternals seemed to blink in and out of existence.  It was Neil's version of a Jack Kirby concept that the King developed as his Marvel answer to his DC New Gods.  I thought that it was merely Marvel handing Neil something that seemed vaguely expansive in the Sandman sense, but that Neil didn't seem to have found as interesting as that, and so the result was easy to dismiss.
Well, I found it a great deal more interesting this time. It's a different story from Sandman, of course, although in a lot of ways you might consider the Eternals to be comparable to the Endless Ones.  I didn't really know much about the Endless Ones before actually reading Sandman, so I didn't know that.
But what really struck me was the art, from John Romita, Jr.  At the time he did Eternals, John was still very much a Marvel guy, and I was still very much a DC guy trying to figure out Marvel.  In fact, probably a large part of the reason I found it so easy to reject Eternals was because it was a Marvel project, and John was definitely a Marvel artist, whose style was something I'd never really tried to figure out.  Then I had a chance to associate it with something else, Mark Millar's Kick Ass, and still later, Superman, because John eventually became a DC guy. 
It's not because he became a DC guy that I suddenly started liking John's work.  I know plenty of DC readers who struggled a great deal with his Superman.  But it probably didn't hurt.  I know it was impossible to think of anything else when reading that issue of Eternals again.  All I could think was, I love this art!  And maybe that helped get me into the story, too.
Yeah, though, it's the combination of the plot, and my affinity for the writer and the artist.  I think that's a good equation for liking anything, really, what it is and who's responsible for it, and I guess whether they brought their best material to the table. 
Well, I guess at some point I will have to read the rest of it...