Ex Libris Trade Post: Five Fists Of Science & Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities

the five fists of scienceFive 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 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.

Trade Post: Madman Volume 1

madman vol 1Madman Volume 1 (Image)
Written & drawn by Mike Allred
Collects Madman #1-3, Madman Adventures 2 #1-3

Madman’s one of those characters that achieved legendary status in my mind long before I read a single issue featuring the character. Not long after getting into comics I soon discovered Wizard which turned into my main source of news. While the mag mostly featured mainstream superhero comics, they’d also occasionally talk about indie books being done at the time. I remember reading about everything from Hepcats and Box Office Poison to Hellboy and Madman in the issues. Between that and Madman’s appearances in Kevin Smith films and the action figure aisle thanks to his Graphitti Designs figure, he seemed like a big deal.

As it turned out, my first real foray into the wild world of Mike Allred’s Madman wouldn’t come until I started working at Wizard. I believe I picked up a few of the Superman/Madman Hullabaloo issues when they came out, but don’t remember much of the experience. During my tenure at Wizard, though, Allred moved the book from its longtime home at Dark Horse over to Image where he not only started reprinting the original stories, but also kicked off a pretty mind blowing new one. I quickly fell for the new series and was on the hunt for the reprints.

I even got lucky and scored a copy of the first of three trades featuring the original stories. I read it at some point and dug it like crazy. Later someone passed me the third volume. Great! Only one more to go…cut to five or six years later and I finally have the second volume in my clutches. There’s no great story to the acquisition, I had some extra scratch thanks to my recent birthday, decided to buy myself some trades and figured it was a good time to close that gap. With all three books together, it seemed like the proper time for a read through.

Technically, the first volume consists of two three-issue miniseries’, but really, each issue is its own tale. The first three introduce us to a mysterious figure dressed in a white superhero costume who can read some minds when he touches them. He seems like a pretty good guy, but also goes off the handle every now and then. At least he feels bad about it. That first series introduces us to a lot of mainstays from the book who show back up in the second series, Madman Adventures. This feels more like the traditional Madman I’m familiar with from my later readings. Instead of dealing with clone monsters or murderous wannabe mayors, Madman goes on dates, travels through time, fights robots and helps save a 2,000 year old alien all while working with his mentor Dr. Flem and the increasingly brainy Dr. Boifford. The two books also kick off one of my favorite romantic relationships in comics: Madman and Joe.

When I first started hearing about Madman and maybe saw a few pieces of art here and there I got the idea that the book was filled with fun, retro imagery and light stories. While I was dead-on with the former, I was pretty far off on the later. In fact, the character of Madman is all about dichotomies. Even his name is a misnomer for the most part. This is a person with no sense of his self in the beginning of this book who can read other peoples’ minds with a touch…sometimes. In the first mini he rips a guy’s eye out of his face and chomps on it, in the same trilogy of issues he wonders why he can’t drop F-bombs. And while the art might make you think you’re looking at a cartoony book that’s all bright colors and fun, that’s only half the case. The other half finds our hero contemplating huge questions like “Why am I here?” and “Why can’t we fly?”

The beauty of Madman is simply how beautiful Allred decided it should be. It’s gorgeous to look at. Few cartoonists on the planet hold a candle to Allred in most fields. His wife Laura is perfectly suited to color this big, bold book. And yet the beauty isn’t just in the look of the book, it’s also in the words and the themes and all the wild, emotional places Allred decides to explore.

Casting Internets

tumblr_inline_mhgvhhahCr1qz4rgpCheck it out, my buddy Josh Wigler‘s working on a comic!

I would like to try this Mind the Gap cocktail, preferable with my pal Jim McCann who’s writing a terrific comic of the same name over at Image. (via Esquire)

Brian Cronin did an awesome Movie Legends Revealed over on Spinoff about the myth that Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Cyborg actually started off as a Masters of the Universe sequel. I knew about a third of the story, but its connection to Spider-Man is all new to me. Great piece!

THIS ROBOT BAND IS PLAYING THE RAMONES!!! They look like Johnny Number 5 on punk rock steroids and I love them. Where can I get one of the drummer ones? (via Please Kill Me)

This Grantland story by Steven Hyden perfectly encapsulates why KISS was/is awesome. First concert I ever went to and still one of my favorites. A great show is a great show.

This Penn Jillette piece for the New York Times rings true for me on a lot of levels.

BC over at HMAD got around to doing his Best/Worst Movies of 2012 list, as always, it’s a hoot. Just realized he’s going to stop watching a Horror Movie A Day and it makes me a little sad inside.

I’m less surprised that some restaurants are banning food photography as per this New York Times article, than I am at how inconsiderate some people are about all this. Just snap a simple no-flash pic, it’s not a big deal.muppets again

This first image from the upcoming Muppets movie doesn’t tell you much about the new movie, but it still gets me really excited. (via EW)

Having read Please Kill Me, I was curious to check out this Rolling Stone piece about one time Velvet Underground member John Cale.

The League‘s Nick Kroll had an interesting talk with Esquire.

The most Lost-like show on TV as far as deep, long lasting character moments and mysterious goings-on is How I Met Your Mother. Much like with the former, I’m glad the latter is getting an intended series finale after the ninth season next year. (via THR)

Brad Meltzer has a new line of kids books in the works with the theme of Ordinary People Change The World. This is a good thing. (via THR)

sonic mega man

There’s a Sonic/Mega Man crossover from Archie?! Are those books any good? I’ve always thought Mega Man had seemingly unlimited potential for radical stories. (via CBR)

This THR piece about some of the difficulties reporters have had covering Scientology in the past is pretty interesting.

Jim Zub has been at it again writing insightful pieces about creator owned comics. This one about posting his book Skullkickers online for free was particularly eye opening.

I never really thought about it before, but Ron Marz is right, there’s not that much difference between writing a licensed comic and a Big Two comic.

Disney cast Cory and Topanga’s daughter for Girl Meets World. The producer talked to THR about some of the concerns I voiced here.

Remembering OverPower

overpower card backI’ve had OverPower on the brain lately and it’s all my friend Brett White’s fault. He started tweeting about the collectible card game that launched in the mid 90s and I’ve been reminiscing ever since. Back when the game launched in 1996 I was 13 and super into comic books. My aunt did PR work for one of the malls in Toledo and told me about a comic book, card and collectible show that was going on in the aisles of the mall. My parents drove me out and after buying a few random Image books — Shaman’s Tears #1 and a Shadowhawk comic both caught my eye because of their shiny foil covers — I was shocked to find something, something I had never seen or heard of before: a deck of OverPower cards.

At this point in my life I wasn’t into CCGs, but my friends were. They were all in Boy Scouts at the time and the older kids introduced them to Magic. At that time it seems like just about everyone was getting in on the CCG racket, which probably explains OverPower’s existence in the first place. I don’t remember off the top of my head which deck I found, but it was cheap and I might have actually picked up two of them. I took them in to school and showed them to my friend Geof who was one of the guys into Magic. He was the closest thing I had to a friend who liked comics, having a subscription to a Superman comic or two if memory serves (he would go on to accompany me on my nearly weekly trips to the comic store in high school because I gave him a ride home). Soon enough our other friends were getting in the cards and we started trading and whatnot.

Here’s the strange thing, though: OverPower cards actually became pretty popular among the guys in my class for a few months. The more popular kids (I’m sure it’s shocking to learn that I wasn’t necessarily in the cool group) started buying up decks and booster packs. I should note here that I don’t know much any of us actually played the game. Geof and I faced off quite a bit, but I don’t really remember playing with anyone else. There was even something of a racket going on with a few of the more enterprising kids happening upon what were considered really good or valuable cards and selling them to the highest bidder among the more obsessed of us. I remember Wolverine being a good card and some kid getting $10 or $20 for it.

The first few series’ were all focused on Marvel characters, but I got really excited a few years down the line when it was announced that DC was getting in on the action. I bought those cards up like crazy. One of my favorite parts of collecting OverPower cards — along with pretty much all the comic based cards I collected over the years — was checking out all the cool artwork. I’ve been looking around online to see if I can get a good deal on some cheap unopened boxes (no luck so far) and have been riding all kinds of nostalgia waves seeing these cards. It’s wild, I remember even some of the much later cards.

overpower Booster BoxEventually, I realized that buying cards wasn’t the best use of my money, though and the OverPower cards went the way of my sport and non-sport card collections: boxes in my parents’ basement where they sit to this day. I need that money for important stuff. No, not dating, I had more comics to buy!

To bring things back around full circle, Brett White and his co-host Matt Little bought their own unopened box of OverPower cards and did an unboxing for an upcoming episode of their excellent podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics. I’m excited for the episode, it should bring back even more memories.

Here’s a few final, random thoughts. First, I asked my parents to bring out my boxes of OverPower cards when they come to visit this weekend. There are three of them! Second, I realize now that I really should have raided the InQuest library for OverPower cards after the magazine folded and all that stuff went up for grabs. And three, I have no idea how the rights would work for something like this, but I’m all for an OverPower app. I know they have them for other CCGs. Someone make this happen!

Jack Kirby Trade Post: Silver Star & The Demon

silver star jack kirbySilver Star (Pacific Comics/Image Comics)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
Collects Silver Star #1-6

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me tweet about a stack of books I want to finally finish in this new year. Some I started in the waning months of 2012 while others, like the two reviewed in this post, have been in the works for longer. I actually got my first copy of Image’s reprinting of Jack Kirby’s Pacific Comics miniseries Silver Star while working at Wizard. I had yet to really discover Kirby’s genius at that point and wound up swapping it or passing it along to someone else. After reading the Fourth World stuff, though, I was converted. In a strange bit of timing, I actually finalized a swap for the volume on January 19th, 2011 and finished reading it on that same day in 2013. Weird, right?

Speaking of weird, that word perfectly describes Silver Star. Man, this is one wacky book. The basic plot, as much as there is one directly expressed in the story, is that a doctor introduced his “genetic package” to some pregnant women (this is not a euphemism, by the way) who eventually had babies referred to as Homo-Geneticus, essentially super humans. Silver Star, the lead, discovered his abilities while fighting in Vietnam (called Viet Nam throughout the story). He can basically control atoms and also traverse various dimensions or something. Some of the H-Gs have the same powers while others utilize them to be super strong, grow to immense sizes or become indestructible. Darius Drumm, the bad guy, has the same basic abilities as Star, but, well he’s bad, the product of a crazy abusive father who was a quasi-religious leader.

The reason it took me two years and several attempts to read this book from front to back, though, is because it’s kind of a mess. Not on the art side of things, of course, Kirby still kills it drawing everything from rocks that turn into dragons and scenes from Viet Nam to gigantic carousels and a group of new costumes. (I will say that I prefer the issues inked and lettered by Mike Royer over the latter ones by D. Bruce Berry who just doesn’t match the thick lines or deep blacks I associate with Kirby’s artwork.) The problem is how much the story jumps around. Star and his fellow H-Gs can teleport, which seems like as much of a power as a way to rush the story along. It’s not uncommon to see the focus characters and setting switch from one panel in the middle of the page to the next. At its base, the story is just plain old hard to follow.

At the end of the day, Silver Star just doesn’t feel like a complete story and I’m guessing that’s because it was originally a screenplay. The full treatment and additional materials are actually reprinted in the back of this collection, though I haven’t made time to read more than the intro just yet. Reading Silver Star is kind of like talking to someone whose been having the conversation with you in their head for about 30 longer than its been going on in real life. They’re going on and on like you’ve got some basic knowledge that you don’t while you’re just trying to keep up with everything being thrown at you. I’m all for taking off at a sprint and letting the reader eventually catch up, but there has to be a time at some point in the story for that to actually happen. I didn’t see that with Silver Star.  Still, I’m going to keep this one in my collection this time if for no other reason than to stare at Kirby completely unleashed in all his creative glory.

jack kirby demon omnibusJack Kirby’s The Demon (DC)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
Collects The Demon #1-16

The Demon doesn’t suffer from that same stream of conscious type storytelling that Silver Star does, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easier read. I’ve been starting and stopping this one for most of 2012 if not longer. I hate to say it, but I found the first half of this book to be pretty boring. Much of that feeling comes from my existing biases and experiences, things that I would not have had if I was reading this book when it came out. For instance, I hate the character of Morgan La Fey thanks to John Byrne’s run on Wonder Woman. I don’t really remember why, but every time that character shows up in a DC comic, I let out an audible “Ugh.” I also wasn’t super interested in watching Etrigan face off against random witches and monsters. I think this was partially because they weren’t super interesting (aside from visually) but also because I wasn’t really sure what the Demon could do and not do. I know this was a book created in a more fly by the seat of your pants days, but I could not understand why this supposedly super powerful demon was having trouble fighting a witch.

And then, at around the halfway point, Kirby essnetially decided to just make the book “The Demon versus Universal Monsters.” The Demon faces off against a wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera (in a THREE PARTER), Frankenstein’s monster and the like. At first I was bored by these stories too, especially because I just watched a lot of these movies this year, but then I thought about it and posed the following question to myself: Would you like to read a Kirby adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera? When the answer was a clear “yes” I accepted what I was given and enjoyed it all the more.

What also helped me start liking this book is that it’s not really like any other Demon comic or guest appearance I’ve read. Instead of running around the DCU and popping up wherever something weird is going on, Jason Blood actually lives in Gotham and has a pretty swank apartment filled with all kinds of awesome things for Kirby to draw (I stared at a desk in one panel as much as I did a double page spread of Blood’s armory). But he’s also got a supporting cast in the mystic Randu, regular guy Harry who loves a good one-liner as much as he loves a party and Blood’s love interest Glenda. I actually found myself enjoying the non-Demon moments of this book more than the others because I’ve seen a lot of what goes on on the page in various forms before.

The problem I seem to have every time I open a Jack Kirby book is that reading some of these comics is like watching a beautiful film by Akira Kurosawa, but with the cast of your average Disney live action show doing voiceovers. It looks amazing, but the dialog leaves much to be desired. I think these are the kinds of things that could have been easier overlooked in a monthly format, but reading through issue after issue just makes Kirby’s lack of grace with the written word all the more clear.

And that’s really what it is, a lack of grace. Kirby’s not a terrible dialog writer — there are some great conversations and jokes in these pages — but he lacks subtlety and it often reads like he didn’t give the words as much thought as the beautiful artwork. And, again, like above and every other thing I’ve seen from The King from the 70s and on, Jack can draw. He can draw expressions as well as witches with horrid faces. His style is just so damn cool and intricate that I can’t help by stare deep into some of these pages. And that’s where some of the frustration comes, it looks so good you want the words to match that level of quality.

Casting Internets

Goodness. I started keeping notes for this particular post before freaking Christmas. We were pretty busy, so I lost track of links and time. Anyway, here’s the links I liked with a few irrelevant ones removed for extreme oldness.

In addition to my usual posting on CBR and Spinoff, I also contributed to CBR’s top 100 comics of 2012.

Friend and all around wonderful writer about comics Sean T. Collins‘ review of My Friend Dahmer is, as you might expect, wonderful.

Sean also wrote a really moving piece for Buzz Feed about how a certain album helped him get through a tough year.

My buddy and former Topless Roboteer Rob Bricken wrote a piece called “The Theologically Confusing Nightmare that is the He-Man & She-Ra Christmas Special. It is as fantastic as you would think knowing him and after reading that title. It’s on io9 of course. I know this one’s super old, but read it anyway if you haven’t already, it’s hilarious. lilostichThe Ashcan Allstars did a wonderful run of Disney Women a while ago. Riley Rossmo’s Lilo and Stitch was a big favorite of mine.

I love that chef and food writer Michael Ruhlman self-published this e-cookbook about Schmaltz. I don’t think it’s for me both because of the topic and because I don’t have an iPad, but I hope to see more of these in the future.

Halloween Scene: Jack Frost (1996)
I don’t usually care who likes what things that I like, but I’m glad Brian at HMAD liked Jack Frost.

Sketch Attack is dead, long live Sketch Lottery. I might get in on some of that action. I like not having to think of a subject and just joining in on the fun.

Check out T Lo’s run down of the Miss Universe pageant looks, hilarious commentary as always. Dig parts 1, 2 and 3.

kamandi klassics

CustomCon 33 was a few weeks back and it was a pretty great offering. My personal favorite line was the Kamandi Klassic one by Joshua Izzo, those are some damn fine looking figures.

I would very much like to listen to the full recording of the Merry Minstrel Musical Circus performance from earlier this month. Jeff Lynne, Jackson Brown, Bob Weir? Yes to all that. (via Rolling Stone)

I agree with all of Nicholas D. Kirstof’s points on gun control and refutations of the points brought up by many in regards to the subject in this New York Times piece.

On a similar note, this New Yorker piece on the history of the Second Amendment fascinating. Funny how things that are only a few decades old are taken as gospel by some.

Another New Yorker piece not only laid down some compelling facts about other countries’ gun control laws but also an amazing virus/faith healing/antibiotics comparison in the opening that was near perfect.

A show about a summer camp that’s supposed to be a cross between Meatballs and Dazed and Confused? Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. (via THR)shark tank
TVGuide has a pretty cool story on why Shark Tank is doing well, I’m a big fan of that show.

I haven’t checked out any of DC’s digital comics yet, but I love the idea of them doing a She-Ra book in that format. There’s no reason this shouldn’t blow up amongst that fan community. (via CNN)

Jim Zub is one of my favorite people in comics to interview. I also dug his 2012 recap post. Dude’s blowing up and totally deserves it.

Zub also wrote this really great piece about why The Big Two won’t give any rookie writer a crack at their characters.

In more “truth about comic news” pieces by creators, dig this ComixMix post by John Ostrander about how tough it can be being a comic book freelancer.

Finally, I’m sad that James Kochalka’s diary strip American Elf has come to a close, but this was a pretty good last strip.

Casting Internets

If you want to see what I’ve been working on lately, head on over to my author page on CBR. I talked to Paul Pope and John McLaughlin and also did another installment of my collectible column Toying Around!justin aclin's star wars comic

My pal, one time boss and all around rad dude Justin Aclin talked about writing a Star Wars OGN for Dark Horse over on his blog. As you  might expect, I’m super proud of him and super jealous at the same time.

Karen Burger leaving Vertigo is pretty huge when you think about all the amazing series’ she helped foster. Good luck to her! (via The Mary Sue)

Everyone interested in comics and comic production should read Jim Zub’s breakdown of costs and profits for such books. Then he wrote about digital comics. Eye-opening stuff.

I fell in love with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere when I first read it. I’m very excited about the BBC radioplay version that will include James McAvoy, Anthony Head, Benedict Cumberbatch and Christopher Lee! (via Hypable)phil noto 70s storm

I love Phil Noto‘s series of original art pieces that are supposed to be photos from Hank Pym’s collection. Dig this Storm he posted.

Esquire scored an interview with June Diane Raphael, the wonderfully funny co-host of one of my favorite podcasts How Did This Get Made and a  recurring player on the equally wonderful New Girl.experiencing nirvanaI’m pretty curious about Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt’s e-book about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana in Europe in 1989. $5 isn’t too steep, but is it only available on the iPad? That’s no good. (via Rolling Stone)

Billy Corgan talked to Rolling Stone about my first ever Smashing Pumpkins album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Rolling Stone talked to Jimmy Page about his days in the Yardbirds. I’m sure I knew most of this stuff from Hammer of the Gods, but it was still a nice read.

Speaking of music, I discovered The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” by way of a cover and fell in love with it. This Guardian story about the song’s origins are pretty interesting.

Whoa, this skateboarding video posted over on One Cool Thing A Day is AMAZING. Tricks you’ve never seen before, guaranteed.

I hope you’re enjoying 25 days of Doctor Who goodness over on the BBC’s Adventure Calendar.

I’m pretty excited about Comedy Central giving shows to Nick Kroll, Amy Schumer and Anthony Jeselnik. Here’s hoping I’ll actually know when they’re on. (via THR)

Speaking of funny people, Louis CK answered the Proust Questionnaire over at Vanity Fair.

Lastly, I’m grown to really love Judd Apatow’s movies. I always liked them, but as I get a little older I can relate to the truth and honesty in them a lot more. As such, I’m very excited for This Is 40, though I have no idea when I will see it. Until then, I’m happy reading interviews about him and Leslie Mann from The Chicago Tribune.