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!
In addition to continually checking out new or new-to-me movies this year, I’m also trying to make a concerted effort to go through my existing collection. To help narrow the search down — I have a comically large binder that I keep most of my DVDs and Blu-rays in — I asked Alexa to pick a random number between 1 and 26. She chose 8, so I did a little finger-counting and settled on the letter H. Being a well-organized geek, my flicks are in alphabetical order, so when I got to H, Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz practically jumped off the page at me. On one hand, Edgar Wright’s just the best and on the other, I realized I hadn’t watched it in just about a decade!
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.
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.