Even though this week’s Trade Pile isn’t quite as robust as others, I still wanted to get a few thoughts down on three books that I read this week that I thought were pretty darn spiffy. One set an established character out on his own in a way that really worked for me while the other two featured brand new characters, one set in an equally new world an one rooted in a far more familiar one!
When Teen Titans by Geoff Johns and The Outsiders by Judd Winick launched in 2003, I’d been reading comics for about a decade. I still loved them, but my reading habits had changed, mostly because I was in college and diving into my to-read pile Scrooge McDuck-style when I’d come home on breaks. I still read Wizard when I could, but my actual exposure to comics was very different than it had been.
And then at some point in my junior or senior year, I discovered that a nearby hobby shop sold comics. I can’t remember if I found this out myself or if this one girl I knew mentioned it, but I started buying a few books here and there. I stuck to ones that I knew I wasn’t getting in my pull box. I think the two I started reading were Runaways and Outsiders. Not bad choices, if I do say so myself. Continue reading The Great Teen Titans/Outsiders Deep Dive Part 1 – Graduation Day & Secret Files 2003
Brian K. Vaughan’s one of those comic writers who might not hit a grand slam every time, but he sure seems to swing for the fences. Saga, Runaways and Y: The Last Man are amazing pieces of long-form comic book storytelling. I’m not the biggest fan of how Ex Machina came to a close and Pride of Baghdad isn’t my thing, but the way this guy attacks his ideas and collaborates with his artists just blows me away every time even if the story isn’t fully up my alley.
So, of course I was interested in checking out The Private Eye, a pay-what-you-want, digital-first series he created with Doctor Strange: The Oath artist Marcos Martin for Panel Syndicate, the company they also started. I actually ready the first issue or two a few y ears back when I had the pleasure of interviewing BKV for CBR, but fell off a bit. When the collection, printed by Image, appeared on the library website, it was an easy request. Continue reading Trade Post: The Private Eye
Even with all the Halloween-related work I had going on this season — which included healthy doses of Warren’s Eerie comics and Marvel scare books — I still had some time to read a few other things leading up to the big day. I’ll hit these up in a quick hits fashion, but still wanted to call out a few fun aspects of each book. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Trade Pile
Leading into the new year, I was on a big Captain America kick. After organizing my trades in my new office I realized that I had all of the trade’s covering Ed Brubaker’s run up through Reborn and decided it was time to give the whole run a read-through. This won’t be a traditional trade post going volume by volume, but I did want to take a bit of internet real estate out to write down some of my thoughts on this epic undertaking (Brubaker’s, not mine).
This run kicked off in late 2004. At the time of launch, I wasn’t aware of what was going on aside from what I read in Wizard. At the time, I was in my last year of college and not reading too many books, aside from Runaways and New Avengers which I was picking up at a local hobby shop (when I went home for vacations, I’d mainline my regular books). I can’t say for sure, but I probably didn’t even know who Brubaker was at the time. He was working on a run of comics that easily became not just a favorite of mine, but I believe, a definitive one for one of comics’ longest running heroes.
And it all started with a bit of continuity craziness. For as long as I’d read and read about comics, the adage was, “No one stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben and Bucky.” But Brubaker noticed something interesting: Bucky never died on panel. The event was referred to and remembered many times, but readers never actually saw it happen “in real time.” With that in mind, he set out on a series of events to bring Bucky back, first as the villainous Winter Soldier and then as a potentially more interesting man-out-of-time than his partner. Around all that, Brubaker created an espionage-filled tale of intrigue that involved Red Skull, a new villain called General Lukin, the Cosmic Cube, S.H.I.E.L.D., Arnim Zola, Agent Carter, Falcon, World War II adventures, murder, Civil War and falling through time.
By pitting the seminal hero against a variety of villains old and new and also teaming Cap up with the best heroes the Marvel U has to offer, Brubaker shows how great of a person Steve Rogers really is. This is a man who never, ever gives up. He won’t just fight until he can’t fight anymore, but he will also believe in the goodness of his friends, even when they’ve seemingly done terrible, awful things. At the same time, Brubaker gives fantastic treatment to characters like Sharon Carter, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson that feel equally weighted, and sometimes even more important than what’s going on with Steve.
Of course, as anyone who read this book or paid attention to comics in the past 10 years or so already knows, Steve Rogers was not the star of the book after getting apparently murdered after the events of Civil War. This allowed Bucky to step into the costume and become a new kind of Captain America. This allowed Bru to continue exploring Bucky as a character while also showing how great Steve is in comparison.
Even with Steve out of the picture, though, that doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t still planning and plotting against anyone wielding Cap’s shield. But, as we learn — and you’ll notice upon a new read through — this particular gang of miscreants has been planning something huge for YEARS. That’s one of the many reason I enjoy going back and doing these larger read-throughs, I pick up on so many of the seeds planted that I wizzed by the first time around. Of course, it helps when you already know where the story is going.
All of this comes to a head with Road To Reborn and Reborn. When I first read these books, I was working at Wizard and we’d snatch the issues up when they were available. That meant I read through them pretty quickly, usually while eating lunch, and getting them back to the stacks so someone else could read them. Actually being able to take my time with these, savor and study them a bit made for a much richer reading experience.
I’ve talked a lot about Brubaker in this post, but I also have to give huge props to regular series artists Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Luke Ross and Butch Guice who did an amazing job of keeping a consistent tone throughout these issues. Epting’s the hero for me, but all of these artists came together to create a general idea of dark, yet bold superheroics that look just as good in the daylight as they do in the shadows. I also give a lot of credit to series colorist Frank D’Armata who kept things consistent across the board. I think his work on this book was actually the first time I really noticed how important a colorist’s work can be.
I read these 11 trades in pretty short order, but hit a roadblock because I didn’t have many of the trades after Reborn. I requested a series of books from the library — including these other Brubaker-penned volumes — but went off track in my read-through when I got some extra Christmas money and purchased the Trial Of Captain America Omnibus for about half price. I returned the Cap books I’d gotten from the library and waited for my killer hardcover to come in, but in the mean time, I went a little crazy with the library requests and haven’t cracked the brand new big book.
I’ve calmed down a bit with the requests and hope to get back to Captain America pretty soon. Not only did I have a great time going back through these issues, but we’re getting to a point in the book that I’m not nearly as well-versed in. In fact, I haven’t read a good deal of these issues, so this will be a whole different, reading experience!
Five Fists Of Science (Image)
Written by Matt Fraction, drawn by Steven Sanders
A few weeks back, when writing about a trio of Marvel minis from the mid 2000s, I mentioned an intended shelf cleaning project before moving. I pulled a series of trades out of my collection to re-read and see if they continue to earn shelf space. Here’s two more of those reviews.
I scored this copy of Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders’ Image Comics OGN The Five Fists Of Science back in my early Wizard days. If there was a free trade sitting around, I was likely to grab it and give it a read, especially if it had a strange or interesting concept. And this book definitely fits the bill.
Five Fists revolves around Mark Twain teaming up with his good friend Nikola Tesla and his one-handed assistant Timothy Boone to create a giant, robotic war machine that can be sold to every nation on Earth to ensure peace (the ol’ mutually assured destruction concept). They join forces with Baroness Bertha Von Suttner who introduces them to all the right people. Meanwhile, a group including J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi are erecting a building to help bring demons into our realm. See what I meant when I said “strange” and “interesting?”
The book features a nice mix of historical characters, many of them who were quite eccentric even when not dealing with demons and robots, with made-up ones to tell the kind of story you’re just not going to get anywhere else. Though, for what it’s worth, I do think this would make a ridiculously fun movie int he vein of the Sherlock Holmes films. Anyway, Fraction did a great job of make this story fun, exciting, strange and adventurous, which gets the thumbs up in my book. My only complaint is that Sanders’ art comes through a bit muddy. I’m not sure if this was a printing, inking or coloring problem, but there were a few pages here and there that were difficult to parse. It’s possible this has been change in the new printing (linked above), but I don’t know for sure as I have the one from 2006. All in all though, I had a great time revisiting this book and will be keeping it in the collection. If you’re looking for something to pass to a friend who’s into science, this is definitely on the list of passable materials.
Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities Volume 1 (Dark Horse)
Written by Eric Powell, drawn by Kyle Hotz
Collects Billy The Kid’s Old-Timey Oddities #1-4
Another Wizard acquisition, Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities comes from Goon creator Eric Powell and artist Kyle Hotz. I believe this was the first book written by Powell that I actually read as it wound up taking me years to get around to The Goon: Fancy Pants Edition Volume 1.
This book finds a freak show owner approaching Billy the Kid, who’s supposed to be dead, and offering him a job accompanying some of his performers on a mission to Europe to recover a Gollum’s heart. Said performers include the Alligator Man, the Tattooed Woman, the Wolf Boy, Watta the Wild Man and the Miniature Boy. As it turns out, the artifact is currently in the possession of another character thought long-dead: Dr. Frankenstein, who has gotten even crazier in his experiments.
One of the most impressive elements of a book like this is how Powell sucked me into the story and got me to like these characters so quickly. I mean, you’re dealing with just four issues and yet, every time someone had a nice moment I smiled and every time someone wound up on the wrong side of a monster, I felt bad. That’s just darn good yarn-weaving, right there.
Hotz deserves a lot of the credit for that as well. He does an amazing job of conveying emotion, terror, humor and action all while rendering these fantastical and monstrous looking characters. To my mind, he’s got a Kelley Jones vibe (who I love), but with his own unique, sometimes grotesque style. He and Powell not only made a fun comic I’ll be holding onto, but also two more volumes I want to check out.
Green Arrow: Year One (DC)
Written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Jock
Collects Green Arrow: Year One 1-6
Earlier this month, after watching that week’s episode of Arrow, I finally got off my butt and decided to give Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One trade a re-read. The fact that tonight marks the second season finale made today the perfect day to write about three different Green Arrow comics I read and enjoyed lately.
I got on the GA train back when Kevin Smith restarted the book in 2001. I was onboard throughout Brad Meltzer’s run and Judd Winick’s, but after the latter left, I thought it lost most of what made the book special. I even gave the first volume of the New 52 incarnation a read, but was pretty disappointed.
In 2007, DC tried to make Year One a thing by doing minis starring Green Arrow, Metamorpho, the Teen Titans and Black Lightning. For the most part, they weren’t particularly interesting, but Green Arrow had the one that not only sticks out as being pretty rad, but also works as a bit of source material for The CW show. The series really gets into what turned Oliver Queen from careless billionaire playboy into avenging arrow-slinger.
In Diggle’s re-telling of the origin, Queen essentially forces his way onto the boat that inadvertently puts him on the island. This time, though, it’s betrayal that directly leads to his life changing ordeal. A bow and arrow enthusiast thanks to knowing Howard Hill the stuntman who did the trick shots in Errol Flynn’s The Adventures Of Robin Hood (an element found in all three of these books), Ollie creates a make shift arsenal that he uses to hunt and keep himself alive long enough to discover that the island he’s on is also the major source of poppies for heroin dealers lead by China White.
The great thing about this mini is that it not only shows how Ollie grew into the physical character who could run around a city shooting arrows at bad guys, but also the mental transformation he had to go through because the former doesn’t necessarily correlate with the latter. Ollie sees that human kindness can exist even in a hellhole where natives are enslaved and tortured which goes a long way to turn him from a self obsessed rich kid into an empathetic hero whose eyes are now open to the horrors of the world he previously didn’t see or ignored. Jock’s able to convey all of this as well as the more action packed scenes with his very specific style in a setting that allows him to draw scenes in broad daylight which really show off his skills.
After reading Year One, I started going through some of the longboxes I’ve got sitting in our closet in an effort to make space, read some books that have been sitting around for a long time and generally clean up. While doing that, I came across the huge number of pre-Kevin Smith Green Arrow comics I started collecting back in college. At that point, I started just buying up back issue lots on ebay so I’ve got a lot of random stuff including this Mike Grell-written, Gray Morrow-drawn miniseries called The Wonder Year. In fact it was Morrow’s name that made me want to read this right away because I just discovered his amazing art in the pages of the first Creepy collection and was blown away.
Chronologically speaking, this 1993 mini takes place right after Ollie got back from the island. It’s funny, in this version, Grell made the island a place for pot farmers, a note that Diggle obviously took, morphed and ran with in Year One. Anyway, we get to see Ollie stopping bad guys while wearing a Robin Hood costume, hating the name Green Arrow as bestowed upon him by the press and scoring that first, real GA costume.
But the real thrust of the story here is a more personal one for Ollie as he comes to discover that an old college girlfriend of his has popped back into his life with some mysterious political affiliations that turn out to be a lot more nefarious than expected. In these issues, Grell paints young Ollie as a more politically oriented and complicated character than he was in something like Year One, going so far as to get into level-headed economic discussions with his hippy pals.
When I first read these issues, I wasn’t super impressed, but after thinking about them for a while, I actually like the book a lot more. For one thing, it’s great reading a Green Arrow book without many of the aspects that became common place later on like his extended hero family (Connor, Roy, Mia, etc.) or even Black Canary. Also, for longtime Green Arrow and Ollie fans, it’s interesting to see this older romantic relationship for our hero, especially how it ended the first time and more dramatically at the very end. It’s not necessarily the kind of book that will be referenced much, but it does reveal one of the many bricks in Ollie’s wall that got put up between himself and womankind for so long.
As far as Morrow’s art goes, it’s very hit or miss in these issues. You do get to see some of that amazing shading, page composition and collage skills on display in the pages of Creepy. But, other times, the figures look very weak or half-baked and occasionally, it’s not easy to figure out what’s going on. Still, I give all that a pass because we’re talking about 30 years between Creepy and Green Arrow: The Wonder Year.
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (DC)
Written & drawn by Mike Grell
Collects Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1-3
Before Mike Grell launched what is still the longest running Green Arrow book of all time, he laid down the basics of his take in a three issue prestige format miniseries called The Longbow Hunters. This 1987 story took a character previously associated with big time superheroes in the Justice League and put him squarely in the real world city of Seattle, a corner of the DCU that ignored the big guns like Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern in favor of focusing on more street level, human dramas. Ollie wasn’t alone in this descent into more seemingly mundane madness, though, he did have Dinah “Black Canary” Lance along for the ride as the two moved in together above Sherwood Florist, the best possible name for a flower shop in the history of clever flower shop names.
But, this isn’t the story of two people settling down to a simple life of vigilantism. Instead, Ollie tries to track down someone who’s using his archery MO to kill people while Dinah investigates a drug ring. The two wind up connected and Oliver must team up with the murderer known as Shado to save Dinah and also bring the bad guys to justice while dealing with some incredibly tough moral questions about the superhero code.
I feel like I should note that, up until this time, Green Arrow not only never had his own ongoing, but wasn’t much of a character. Denny O’Neil laid a lot of the Ollie groundwork in “Hard Traveling Heroes,” comics I’ve never been able to get through because not only are they well-mined by those who came after, but also pretty heavy handed. Grell took those ideas and ran with them, adding plenty of new layers as he went. If you want to get an idea of those early days, check out Showcase Presents: Green Arrow, Vol. 1 or The Jack Kirby Omnibus Vol. 1: Starring Green Arrow to see what I mean.
Anyway, I’m a big fan of this story which, along with enjoying the then-current run on the book, lead me to start collecting the issues from this volume which eventually lead to Ollie’s death and his son Connor taking over. You hear a lot about the 80s being too dark, grim and gritty in the wake of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, but I think there were a lot of quality comics being put out at that time that might have dealt with more real world issues and been darker in tone, but didn’t wallow in it. In this case, Green Arrow still shines as the hero even as terrible things are going on around him.
I absolutely love Grell’s art in this book. It’s beautiful, like paintings composed in pencil, sometimes on paper that looks rough, almost like brown grocery bags. He really took advantage of not only the nicer paper quality of these prestige format books, but also the freedom to break away from the traditional grid system to do something unique. My only complaint about the composition is that, occasionally, they can be difficult to read when he goes into double page layouts where you’re supposed to read the panels straight across the spread. After reading comics for a while, I’ve realized the best way to do this is to make sure that a panel from the right hand page starts on the left hand page, so the eye naturally carries over. In many cases in this book, the second page of the spread starts in the gutter or on the second page, so your eyes go down instead of over which can be problematic. Because of all that, I don’t know if I’d recommend this book to a new comic reader or someone who wants to check out some GA comics because they like Arrow. I mean, I’ve been reading comics for 22 years and I was confused.
Even so, it’s not a terrible thing to work a little to properly enjoy a great story like this one. If you’re at all interested in the history of Green Arrow as a character this is a pretty important piece to absorb at some point, but maybe give the collection Grell’s first six issues on the book (aka Green Arrow Vol. 1: Hunters Moon that came out in 1988 to see if it’s something you’d dig. For me, it’s all thumbs up and aces. Now I want to finish up my GA collection, but also want to get my hands on the trades I’m missing from the next volume.
PS – I’m trying something a little new lately by throwing in links to Amazon pages for the books and movies I review. If you’re interested in getting your own copies of these trades, just click on the main title next to the image and that’ll take you to Amazon. If you do buy it, I get a little cut and it doesn’t cost you anything extra.
After reading Sin City: Booze, Broads and Bullets, I figured I’d stick with some my shelf for further reading selections and decided it’s time to give one of my favorite comics of all time another read. Like a lot of the more progressive comics I love, I discovered Grant Morrison’s Animal Man while interning or working at Wizard. I’d read a few Morrison comics before that, specifically JLA, but hadn’t gotten into his crazier stuff. Morrison has a reputation as being weird for weird’s sake, but I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, some of his stuff is just bonkers, but as far as I’m concerned he’s just trying to go to new places in the medium. I totally get it if that’s not for you, especially if you were a big time Animal Man fan before this run which took the character and did a lot of crazy stuff with him, but I dig it.
The run follows the adventures of Buddy Baker, a man who can copy the abilities of any animal in his immediate vicinity after an alien spaceship blew up in his face. At least, that’s how it works in the beginning. Buddy’s married, has two kids and doesn’t bother with a secret identity. He also develops into a vegetarian concerned with animal rights, which makes sense when you consider his power set.
The first four issues of the series mainly focus on Animal Man trying to figure out why B’Wanna Beast is running around making disturbing animal hybrids and wrecking STAR Labs facilities. These four issues really set the stage for the series as a whole in some respects. We see the relationship between Buddy and his wife Ellen which is super realistic and one of the best superhero relationships around. Meanwhile, Morrison puts Animal Man through some standard superhero paces — fighting another hero, meeting Superman, etc. — but he puts a different spin on them. Buddy can and does throw down, but he soon finds out that it’s not the only way to solve a problem which definitely carries throughout the series.
After that initial arc, we’re treated to a series of killer single issues. #5 takes a meta approach to Looney Tunes cartoons, #6 is one of (if not THE) best Invasion tie-in, #7 finds Buddy dealing with an old villain called The Red Mask, #8 has Mirror Master invading Buddy and Ellen’s home and #9 brings in Martian Manhunter and the JLI tech team to secure the house. #5-7 are actually three of my all time favorite single issues stories because of the unique ways they look at the material and superheroes in general.
On a quick note, I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but there’s a crowd-scene skater kid in #2 with an Anthrax T-shirt and then an issue or two later we find out that the scientists were experimenting with the drug of the same name. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but reading so many Morrison comics with little hints and nods like this have primed me to look for those kinds of connections which makes for a fun reading experience. I also noticed that Ellen’s drawing a spaceship heading towards a planet in #1 that I assume refers to something, but can’t figure out what. I thought it might have been from Invasion, but that doesn’t check out.
One of the major aspects of Morrison’s run that a lot of people talk about is the meta nature of the story which ends with Animal Man actually meeting his writer, Morrison. The first volume doesn’t get into those ideas hardly at all, though #5 does prime that pump to an extent. All of that really starts coming to the surface in Origin Of Species which finds Buddy meeting the aliens who actually created him. Meanwhile, Dr. Hightwater and Psycho Pirate first enter the story, two characters who continue to break the fourth wall, revealing that some of these characters know that they are actually comic book characters. We also start seeing scenes that will make a lot more sense at the end of the next volume.
On the superhero side of things, Animal Man keeps meeting more heroesincluding Vixen, who he has a lot more in common with than just powers. A lot of this material was revisited in Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League Of America volume called Second Coming. There’s also a pretty moving issue featuring future Aquaman co-star Dolphin and a few of the Sea Devils trying to put a stop to a gross dolphin killing ritual in Denmark. The abused animal stuff gets offset by a fun adventure with the Justice League Europe before getting back into some pretty awful things done to apes.
It’s interesting looking back at these comics from the 80s that tackled some of the real world’s horrors, especially as perpetrated on animals. These are the kinds of things you might have seen on Dateline or 20/20, but they weren’t in your comics until Morrison and creators like him went out on a limb with a potentially off-putting social perspective. They might be too in-your-face for some people and I don’t agree with everything presented in the issues, but I appreciate and respect him for going there and DC for allowing him to do these crazy things with their characters. At the same time I get that some readers just want to read about superheroes punching each other, so this probably isn’t the best comic for them.
And then things get really weird. Buddy and Highwater take peyote in the desert. Characters die. Villains help heroes. Costumes change. Revenge is had. Time is traveled. Limbo is visited. And Grant Morrison has a chat with Animal Man. I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but I will say that this comic is both one of my favorite regular-guy-as-superhero stories as well as the best commentary-on-comics books around. The whole last conversation between Buddy and Grant should be required reading for everyone who gets bent out of shape about their favorite characters getting turned into something they don’t like. In addition to all that it’s a wonderfully plotted, long-form story that has end-of-run elements seeded going way back. Plus, above all else, it actually makes me feel things when I read it, even this second time around.
The beauty of a story like this is that it came at a time when DC Comics was allowing their creators to not only take risks with long-lasting characters, but also tell wild stories that hadn’t been done before (at least in Corporate Comics). Basically, Morrison was allowed to tell the story he wanted to tell while utilizing elements of the larger universe when they made sense. Characters weren’t just showing up to show up or boost sales, but because they made sense. Heck, Morrison got to take this idea to even crazier levels by using The Psycho Pirate and Limbo as ways to play around with pre-Crisis and alternate reality versions of the DC characters.
A lot of people have noticed connections between Morrison’s DC works. There’s quite a few to be found in these pages. First off, Animal Man is the first place he wrote the Justice League specifically characters like Superman and Martian Manhunter who he would go on to pen later on. More obviously, he created this new version of Animal Man and then returned to the character with 52 almost two decades later. Morrison also dealt with multiple realities and whatnot in Final Crisis and Superman Beyond, which also featured Limbo, Merry Man and Ace The Bat Hound all of which appear in these books.
I enjoyed reading Animal Man so much this time around that I decided to do a long-term read/re-read of his other DC Comics work I have in my collection. I don’t have Arkham Asylum, Batman: Gothic or the third and fourth JLA deluxe books but I’ve got just about everything else. I’m not only looking forward to enjoying those stories again, but also getting a better feel for the connections.
Sin City was the first trade paperback I went into my comic book shop and purchased. I’d picked up trades with gift certificates to book stores like Barnes & Noble or our local book store Thackery’s. One week, though, my comic load was super light, I saw that stark red, black and white cover with Marv are beaten up and decided to give it a shot. I want to says I’d read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns by that point and had read plenty about him and Sin City in Wizard so it seemed like a good purchase.
I remember being quite taken with the kinetic black and white pages therein along with the hyper-everything, violence, language, characters, actions, cars, driving, etc. I realize in hindsight that Sin City comics — I went on to get all seven trades — were my main entryway into the world of hardboiled crime fiction. I realize now that some of those characters and comics would seem ridiculous outside the pages of Sin City, but I still think they fit perfectly when surrounded by Miller’s perfectly suited pencils and inks.
Anyway, with the second film on the way, I decided to dig into my trade collection once again and pull out a few lesser known Sin City offerings starting with the short story and one-shot collection Booze, Broads and Bullets. I should note here that I have the normal sized trades put out by Dark Horse in the 90s, not the digest versions that appeared around the time of the first film. I’m not a huge fan of that smaller format, especially when it comes to an artist like Miller whose pages deserve to be put on as big of a screen as possible.
This book works as a kind of sampler for all things Sin City. It’s got tough guys Marv and Dwight, deadly little Miho and verbose killers Klump and Shlubb. More than that, though, these tales give the reader a feel for the terrible kind of place Basin City really is, the kind of place where you can be driving along, meet a beautiful woman, hook up with her in the tar pits and wind up getting murdered because she’s an assassin and has mistake you for her mark. It also sets up the way Miller builds these stories in a way that just throws the reader in. There were times where I wasn’t sure if I was reading a well known character or a new one. Dwight’s a hard one to keep tabs on thanks not only to Miller’s less-than-clear style (which perfectly first this series) but also that pesky surgery of his.
Because of all this, I realized while reading through this collection that it’s actually a great place to start for new Sin City readers. Along with everything I mentioned above, it also teaches the reader to keep their eyes peeled for recurring characters. Instead of telling the reader when a story takes place, Miller uses characters as a kind of timeline. Is Marv in this story? Then it must take place before (most of) the first volume which was later named The Hard Goodbye. I haven’t really dug into it yet, but I believe there are even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-like moments where we’re seeing the same scene in different stories from different angles based on which characters we’re following that time around, which is something found in the larger narrative as well.
I’ve been reading comics for about 22 years now and, for the most part, that time has been spent reading and absorbing new material, either newly released or new-to-me. When I was actively collecting single issues, it never even occurred to me to go back, dig out a bunch of my carefully organized collection and give them another read. It wasn’t until college that the idea popped in my head and I gave series’ like JSA and 100 Bullets another look.
Around that same time, I got more fully into the idea of collecting trade paperbacks. Since then, the trade has taken over as my main delivery system for comics and I feel like I’ve built a pretty solid library of objectively good comics mixed with some personal favorites. But like my comic collection, I’ve been mainly adding to the trade library without using it as a source of material. Well, apparently I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately what with my recent return to the first volume of The Runaways and a few other ongoing reading projects, so the newly minted Ex Libris titles seemed appropriate.
One of the less well known trades in my collection is a WildStorm/DC joint called The Highwaymen co-written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman with art by Lee Garbett that collects the five issue miniseries of the same name that bowed in 2007. I was reminded of this series I discovered back in my Wizard days as it was coming out when I listened to Kevin Smith and Bernardin’s Batman Forever commentary on a pair of Fat Man on Batman episodes. I dug it at the time and added it to my library when I scored a copy of the trade from somebody’s comps later on down the line. I remembered it as a cool, taut thrill ride set a few decades in the future with some funny moments and a bit of sci-fi.
And I was dead on. The book kicks off with a shadowy government group accidentally setting off a long dormant protocol that alerts a man named McQueen to a threat he’s tasked with stopping along with his former partner Able Monroe. The duo used to be known as The Highwaymen, a pair of black ops guys who became famous. They’ve got to find a young woman named Grace and keep her alive because she’s actually one of the last survivors of government experiments shut down by Bill Clinton when he was president.
I had as good a time reading this book the second time as I remember having when it debuted seven years ago. Garbett does a killer job conveying the huge Bernardin and Freeman-penned action scenes in the book which cover everything from basic gun fights and driving sequences to cyborgs and cars driving out of planes. He also does a lot with facial expressions that convey the quieter moments of the book. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t usually like car stuff in comics but Garbett does a great job making them seem as visceral as they do on the big screen.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed this comic book in the same way that I love a great, fun action movie from the 80s or 90s. There’s an over-the-top nature to it, but it still always feels grounded, even when it literally leaves the surface, which is no easy balance to achieve. This one not only gets a thumb’s up, but will be going right back on the shelf.