The High Five Episode 4 – Five Incredible Black Comic Creators

On this week, I’m celebrating Black History Month by running down five of my all time favorite black comic creators. This was a delightful trip down memory lane, but also a great look at some of the greatest comic writers and artists around. I hope you enjoy it!

If you’re interested in the links I mentioned in the episode, here’s the CBR interview I did about Goldie Vance. If you want to find out more about McDuffie being let go from Justice League of America, you can read the initial Lying In The Gutters column here and then the news itself about him being ousted here. Finally, enjoy a few pics I snapped while putting this episode together including the fantastic Kyle Rayner sketch Darryl Banks did for me!

Dennis O’Neil’s The Question Trade Post Volumes 4-6

The Question Volume 4: Welcome To Oz (DC)
Written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Denys Cowan & Rick Magyar
Collects The Question #19-24

I really wish I had read all of the Dennis O’Neil’s The Question together. I didn’t write about the first or second volume, but gave a brief summary of my history with the character while writing about the third volume. I noted then that I liked how the story threw plenty of curveballs at you as a reader and realized while reading the last three collections–which finished out O’Neil’s run on the book–that this book feels like it would make an excellent TV show. There’s solid, interesting characters who all feel very real (read: flawed), some situations that take place in a single issue while others spread themselves out over arcs as well as thrilling action. Since, for the most part, this series takes place outside the DCU (there are no superheroes, though a few costumed vigilantes show up) you actually feel like some bad things can (and will) happen to masked vigilante Vic Sage.

This volume deals with the politics of the ridiculously corrupt Hub City as the mayor’s wife runs for mayor herself. It’s kind of shocking how timely some of the political talk sounds today with the way right wing nuts seem to have taken over the conservative landscape. In addition to the political stuff, which is interesting in its own way, there’s also a series of decisions made that lead to crazier and crazier action, from a clown getting murdered to a fight with a biker gang during a tornado. There’s a lot of build up in this volume that leads up to a pretty shocking final page (I think I did a high pitched “WHAT!” when I got to the end) which makes for a satisfying read in and of itself but also leads so well into the next one that I picked it up right away and got to reading!

The Question Volume 5: Riddles (DC)
Written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Denys Cowan & Bill Wray
Collects The Question #25-30

I know I said above that this book didn’t have much interaction with the DCU, but this volume does feature a pretty wonderful Christmas issue in which the Riddler decides to ditch Gotham in favor of Hub. On the bus ride he meets a crazy broad who wants to kill a bunch of people. It’s the perfect example of what I was talking about above where these episodic things happen in the middle of a much larger story. This time around the overaching story deals with Sage veering towards exhaustion as he tries to clean up his disgusting city and take revenge after the end of the previous volume.

We also get to see Lady Shiva in some of her better appearances. She’s one of those characters who seem to be invented just to show how awesome other characters are. “She’s the best fighter in the world…except she looses to EVERYONE.” In O’Neil’s hands, she’s actually handled effectively, like a coiled spring ready to go off at any time. Her incredible fighting skills also lend themselves to the story as it progresses.

There’s also an issue that I found fascinating. Sage’s adviser Tot has a brother who was a comic book artist during WWII. This dude claims to have helped win the war because he and so many other people were writing about America getting involved with and eventually winning the war. It’s a really heady idea that I enjoyed wrapping my head around and probably has some fun interpretations and evidence out there. Anyone know if this is a thing that people really believe in? I’d be curious to read more about the concept.

The Question Volume 6: Peacemaker (DC)
Written by Dennis O’Neil, drawn by Denys Cowan
Collects The Question #31-36

Any time I read a series like this, I get a little worried towards the end. You never know if the creators knew things were coming to an end or not and sometimes these things are not always handled well. But, thankfully, it seemed like O’Neil knew what was happening and not only gave a very satisfying ending, but also left a few breadcrumbs that could have been followed later on down the line. It felt like a very satisfying conclusion like the best TV shows do.

Let’s call this SPOILER TERRITORY because the end of this book leads to some pretty interesting stuff you don’t see in a lot of Big Two comics. At the end of this book, after getting really messed up, Vic Sage winds up leaving Hub City along with most of his cronies–Shiva stays around because she thinks hanging out there will be an interesting physical challenge for her. The hero quit! You NEVER see that, but it was cool to see it this time around. I mean, he doesn’t quit the hero game altogether, but everyone in the book realizes that this place is just too much of a mess for them to handle and they bounce. Batman wouldn’t do that, but Bruce Wayne might if he wasn’t a millionaire, you know. Sage is just a news reporter which is the perfect job for a vigilante (and handled better in this book than in most of the Superman comics I’ve read). I like seeing things in books like this that I’ve never seen before. Otherwise, you’re just reading the same stuff over and over and over again and where’s the fun in that?

You should read this comic book. I think the only road block for some people might be the art by Denys Cowan. I mentioned in my post about the third volume that his artwork might seem kind of sloppy to some folks, but it has a weird kinetic energy to my eye. That style also works so well with the story that I can’t really imagine it being told without his Bill Sienkiewicz-esque style. This is a story about a man fighting such huge corruption against impossible odds in the shadows while trying not to completely lose any sense of himself. Cowan not only captures that, but also never misses a beat when it comes to pacing and clearing showing action and acting in ways that lots of guys don’t.

Like I said above, I liked these three volumes so much that I want to give all six volumes a read back to back. I honestly don’t remember what happened in the first three trades, but I now get the sense at how well planned-put and fluid O’Neil’s tale is. I’ve read lots of his comics in the past, but this one is currently the one that intrigues me the most and makes me want to read even more of his stuff. Maybe I will finally, FINALLY read the Green Lantern/Green Arrow stuff that I’ve had sitting around for literally years but have never gotten further than a few issues into. That’s a subject for another post, though.

If you like action, adventure, political intrigue, corruption and one man’s struggle with attempting to achieve the impossible told in an excellently episodic fashion, do yourself a favor and get your hands on these books. I haven’t been this unexpectedly swept up in a series in a long time and it rejuventated me a little when it comes to trying some of these older series’ that I don’t know a lot about.

Trade Post: Question Epitaph For A Hero, Trials Of Shazam & Buffy Omnibus Vol. 4

Written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Denys Cowan
Collects Question #13-18
The Question’s one of those characters I never had much of an opinion about good, bad or indifferent. In the early 90s when I was coming up in comics, he wasn’t really around, which is surprising. You’d think he would have made some appearances in Batman or something, but I don’t really remember seeing him until years later. My first real exposure to him was in 52, which was fantastic and, of course, lead to his death. He was also really great in the JLU cartoon. The two of those were enough to get me interested in reading his series from the 80s. Luckily, DC started reprinting them a couple years back and now we’re up to six volumes at last count. I’ve read the first three and liked them all.

There’s an interesting subsection of DC comics from the 80s that were basically set in the real world or at least ignored the super hero aspects of the greater DCU. Mike Grell’s Green Arrow book was a lot like that and so was The Question. This volume includes the first meeting between those two versions of the characters. The stories are mostly one-offs with a political bent following the Question as he rights wrongs. What I like about the book is that it continually throws curve balls. The racist cop throws himself in front of a bullet. Green Arrow and Question don’t become buddy buddy right away. They’re not huge twists, but enough to keep the story flowing and interesting. Cowan’s art might be considered sloppy, but I think it’s got a strange energy that actually lends itself to the types of stories O’Neil tells. Personally, I’d rather see him using the style he did on Hardware, but, like I said, it works. I recommend giving the first installment of this series a look if you’re interested in more grounded mystery adventure comics with something to say without drowning you in it.

Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Howard Porter and Mauro Cascioli
Collects Brave New World 1, The Trials Of Shazam #1-6 and 7-12
Captain Marvel’s another character I’ve known about, but never really felt one way or the other. He was used incredibly well in Kingdom Come, I liked him in JLI and JSA, plus a few appearances here and there. The character has gone through a lot of changes over the past few years. Infinite Crisis rewrote the laws of magic in the DCU, the Wizard died, Mary Marvel went absolutely crazy and Billy had to take over as the Wizard. That meant that someone had to take over and the mantle fell to former Captain Marvel Jr. (or CM3 as he was called for a while) Freddy Freeman, which is where this maxi-series picks up. See, Freddy has to meet up with a series of gods–the ones who make up the name SHAZAM–go through trials and get those abilities.

Winick puts on a good story with Freeman starting off nervous about the whole thing and turning into a dog gone hero by the end. The problem is that the story’s a little long. It could have been cut down to 7 or 8 issues and been a lot tighter. Another negative thing about the book isn’t really its fault but DC’s and that’s that the character of Captain Marvel hasn’t really been used since the end of this book. I know he’s shown up a few times, but his supposed inclusion in Cry For Justice turned out to be a ruse. So, you finish reading this pretty great story, which is basically an origin story. And what’s the first thing you want to do after reading a character get set up like this? Read more of his adventures. Too bad there’s no where to turn. I’d like to see Freddy as Captain Marvel leading some kind of magic oriented team like the Shadowpact or some other concoction.

Art-wise, it’s an interesting affair. Howard Porter, whose style I loved in JLA, changed things up and it looks…I don’t really know how to describe it. Less crisp? JLA had the sharpness to it that I really liked, but this is a little sketchier. It’s not bad by any means, just not what you might be expecting from a Porter comic. He was replaced by Mauro Cascioli whose art I like, but goes from looking really awesome to really wooden sometimes from panel to panel. Overall, I liked the story and the art, but I won’t be keeping these books on my shelf.

Written and drawn by a bunch of folks
Collects Buffy #9-11, 13-15, 17-20, 50, Annual 99, Angel #1-3, Wizard 1/2, Lover’s Walk & Dark Horse Presents #141
Buffy fans who weren’t reading the Dark Horse comics back in the day while the show was on have no idea how good they’ve got it. Now, the comics flow directly from the show with Joss Whedon heading things up (at least that’s what they say) and, for the most part, are damn good. Back in the day, though, the comics weren’t so good. They weren’t bad, but they were saddled with keeping their stories set in earlier seasons so as not to interfere with or contradict the show. I bought those comics for two years and actually quit reading because of the main story in this Omnibus. It took a long time to tell, I couldn’t remember all the details and I was sick of reading about Buffy in high school when she was going off to college and having completely different adventures. I actually sold those books on eBay in past year or so.

The thing about these Omnibi is that they collect the stories in chronological order by season. It’s actually really interesting editor Scott Allie’s forwards in these books as he explains the thinking behind that and how the stories inside came to be. All that being said, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed reading this volume and got through all 368 pages in one night. The main story is called Bad Blood and features am image-obsessed vamp from an earlier comic appearance coming back and forcing a doctor to use science and magic to create a new kind of blood that made super-vampires. Reading it all together was a much more satisfying experience, but I also found a nostalgia going back and reading adventures set in Buffy’s high school, as those have turned out to be my favorite seasons.

The rest of the book has short stories here and there. I probably shouldn’t have tried to read the whole thing in one setting because the stories have a definite rhythm that gets really repetitive when you read them in a row. If you’re a Buffy fan, these are good books to pick up, but I would imagine you already have. If you’re not a Buffy fan, well, I don’t think this book will make you one.