Yeah, I know things don’t end well for the dog.

§ May 26th, 2017 § Filed under swamp thing § No Comments


So blogging sister Tegan reminded me with her Twitter post about that poor ol’ mutt in the early issues of Swamp Thing, so anyway, there he is with our swampy pal.

I don’t think they ever called the dog anything other than “mutt” (or “hound dog” or “Linda’s dog”) for the entire time he was in the book. Hmmm…maybe “Bernie” would be a good name for that dog. Let’s just pretend that’s what Linda Holland named him off-panel.
 
 

image from Swamp Thing #2 (Dec 1972/Jan 1973) by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson

You probably thought I forgot about your questions, didn’t you?

§ May 24th, 2017 § Filed under question time § 6 Comments

Okay, it’s been exactly a month since I last dipped into the most recent question pool, so let’s knock out a couple right here:

William Burns lights a fire under my butt about

“Do the Black Mask Studios comics sell much for you?”

They do…okay, I suppose. Some better than others. There was a while there, a year or two back, where the investor-types were looking into new releases from indie companies for their next fortunes. It’s still happening to a somewhat limited extent, but mostly with, say, Aftershock and Scout, possibly because nobody’s quite sure how to order on a lot of these, meaning if one catches one, any given store is likely to be caught short.

But with Black Mask, Four Kids Walk into a Bank and Young Terrorists still get a small bit of attention…in fact, I just turned a customer on to the latter title, and he thinks it’s great, so, you know, they’re still capable of finding new readers. It’s hard, though, in the current marketplace, to get any sort of traction, but I’m glad companies like Black Mask, and Aftershock, and the rest are still hanging in there.

• • •

Rob Staeger grills me with

“I’ve recently been reading a bunch of old Warlord issues. They’re so enthusiastically batty! I was wondering what your thoughts are on Mike Grell and the evolution of his career. Are you/were you ever a fan?”

Sure, I liked Mike Grell well enough. I wasn’t a huge follower of Warlord but I had this digest collecting his several-issue battle with his wizardly arch-nemesis Deimos, and that was pretty good. I tried the monthly series for a while (though at this point I can’t remember if Grell was still involved with the series or not) but I didn’t like those single issues as much as that digest, so I didn’t keep reading.

I don’t know if I would say I was a “fan” in that I was a devotee of his work, but usually his art was professional and effectively presented the the stories it was illustrating, like in Green Lantern or in Legion of Super-Heroes. I haven’t read Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters in a while, so I don’t know how that holds up…all I seem to remember are some unfortunately violent bits that may not have aged well in the nearly 30 years since its release. And I read Jon Sable Freelance for a time, too, and the “usually” qualifier I used just a moment ago applies to this title, as the art got a little…sketchier that I preferred in the later issues of this series. I never did get around to reading Starslayer, though I own several issues for the Grimjack back-up stories and that early appearance of Groo the Wanderer. Should probably look at the stories in the fronts of those books someday.

Overall, I think his work is fine. I know he’s done a few covers for the recent Green Arrow series, and those have been nice. I can’t recall how much interior work he’s done of late (aside from a couple of those Arrow TV show tie-ins), but I wouldn’t mind seeing his storytelling in action on a regular basis again. I mean, if they can give Neal Adams regular Batman and Superman minis for him to be his Neal Adams-est, why not give Grell a short-run Green Arrow or Green Lantern (or Green Arrow AND Green Lantern) series? I’d read that.

So it begins…the Swamp Thing-a-Thon.

§ May 22nd, 2017 § Filed under self-promotion, Swamp Thing-a-Thon § 5 Comments

Okay, gang, I finally started it. My ideally-twice-monthly looks at every Swamp Thing comic, in order, available initially to Patreon contributors (for as little as a buck a month!) before eventually getting posted on this site several months later. Well, with the exception of the first post in the series, which I’m including here as a sampler for those of you previously unfamiliar with my excessive typing.

A couple of notes: I’m just going with the credits as listed in the book (or “borrowed” from the Grand Comics Database). I know Wrightson had some assistance on this first story, but, I don’t know, it seemed weird wherever I plugged those other names in there. Maybe I’ll add them in later…lemme sleep on it.

Yes, that’s a scan of my actual copy of House of Secrets #92. The plan is to scan the covers of my personal copies for each installment, so you can see how beat up my copies get while reading them in the bath, while eating barbecue ribs, etc.

I am not 100% certain what content I’ll be including for each “review.” You’ve read my reviews before, you should probably know what to expect. Maybe it’ll be story analysis, maybe it’ll be some personal recollection regarding that specific issue, maybe it’ll be something retail-related…we’ll see what each issue inspires me to write as I get to it.

Anyway, here it is…if you want more of it, and faster than waiting for it to show up here, then hie yourself hither to my Patreon account and drop at least a buck per month (or $100 per month, I won’t stop you) to get access. Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll be back with More Stuff™ soon.

• • •

ISSUE: House of Secrets #92 (June-July 1971)

TITLE AND CREDITS: “Swamp Thing” – written by Len Wein, illustrated by Berni Wrightson, coloring by Tatjana Wood, lettering by Ben Oda. Cover art by Berni Wrightson.

IN BRIEF: Alex Olsen is believed dead, killed in a lab explosion secretly prepared by rival Damian Ridge, who then takes Alex’s widow Linda as his own wife. However, Alex rises from the bog in which he was buried, transformed into a hideous creature, a swamp thing, who must come to his wife’s rescue when Damian begins to have designs on her life as well.

MIKE SEZ: Well, here’s where it all begins. What struck me as I read this again for the first time in quite a while is the parallels between how this story starts and how the relaunched/rebooted Swamp Thing ongoing series starts about a year later. I mean, not just the premise, obviously, but just structurally. Both this tale and the later Swamp Thing #1 start with our muck-encrusted mockeries of men looming outside their homes (well, barn, in the latter case) worrying about the people they left behind as they continue their lives within, leading towards the record scratch/“yeah, that’s me, you’re probably wondering how I ended up here” flashbacks that follow.

What also impressed me was just how much storytelling and emphasis on character perspectives were crammed into these eight pages. You start off with the first-person narration from Swamp Thing himself, leading into Linda’s second-person narration (like “you smile because he expects you to” — rarely seen outside EC Comics, text adventure computer games and “Choose Your Own Adventure” books) and her recollection of the disaster that killed her husband, then back to first-person narration for Damian’s involvement in said disaster. If I can talk like an old person for a moment, nowadays were so used to stories stretched out over multiple months, decompressed into 5 or 6 or 8 issues that conveniently fit into a nice paperback collection, that it feels just a little weird to have this much narration, this much dialogue, squeezed into so little space.

And yet, it never feels cramped. Yes, it’s all very text-heavy, but not at the expense of Wrightson’s art, which shares the burden of the story’s emotional weight. The narration explicitly tells us what everyone’s feeling at any given point, but the illustration conveys so much. Linda’s downcast looks of quiet sadness, Damian’s crazed desperation as he decides to kill Linda to protect himself, Swamp Thing’s glance down at his wrist where the bracelet Linda gave him once was…and the long, thin panel immediately afterward of Swamp Thing’s eyes rolled upward in despair. It’s the ideal balance between writer and artist, creating a tiny little masterpiece in the short feature format that’s mostly forgotten by the Big Two companies.

Speaking of the art, there’s something to be said about the portrayal of Swamp Thing himself. The human characters are all very naturalistic, which is only how it should be given that heavy photo reference was used by Wrightson in laying out the art. But Swamp Thing himself seems almost…cartoony, by comparison. He’s a big misshapen lump, mostly hidden in shadow so that you can’t ever get a real feel for what he actually looks like, with the exception of those previously-mentioned eyes. They’re large, lolling orbs, perpetually sad, poking out of the top of a figure that we can only barely discern. He doesn’t look scary, even when he’s bursting through that window at the climax to stop Damian. He looks…pathetic. He looks every bit as despairing as he feels. Now the character goes through a serious redesign into a more muscular-looking “action hero” type (I mean, relatively speaking) once that ongoing Swamp Thing series starts, but here, Swamp Thing’s sodden, burdened mass reflects the weight and tone of this short piece.

I’ve stated in the past that Spider-Man’s debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 is the Perfect Superhero Origin Story. Everything you need is right there, and in fact the story needn’t have continued. If the only Spider-Man story Stan Lee and Steve Ditko ever produced was just those 11 pages…that arguably would have been all the Spider-Man the world ever needed. Nearly everything that came after that was just extrapolation from the original.

I bring that up because this story, “Swamp Thing,” is I think in the same upper echelons of comic book origins. Perfectly constructed. No threads left untugged. No need to continue. And, in fact, there was no intention to continue “Swamp Thing” (unlike Spider-Man, which was designed to be a new ongoing superhero character, even if they weren’t sure at the time he actually would continue). However, once the sales figures came in on House of Secrets #92, and after some convincing, Swamp Thing would return…but it wouldn’t be turn-of-the-century Alex Olsen, but the modern scientist of 1970s-today Alec Holland who would take up the mantle, as Wein and Wrightson didn’t want to dilute the power of their original short. Of course, a few decades later another writer would figure out a way to make Alex Olsen part of the latter Swamp Thing’s continuity, but that’s a Swamp Thing-a-Thon review for another day.

THE WRAP-UP: One of the all-time classics in the comic book medium, and almost certainly the best short horror comic story you’ll find outside of the legendary EC Comics oeuvre.

Rich Buckler (1949 – 2017).

§ May 21st, 2017 § Filed under obituary § 7 Comments

I’ll always have a soft spot for Rich Buckler, because he drew these two Roy Thomas-scripted issues of DC Comics Presents teaming Superman with the Marvel Family and I must have read ’em a million times:


In fact, Buckler drew a lot of comics around that time that made quite the impression on a Young Mike still trying to figure out this whole funnybook thing. I particularly enjoyed All-Star Squadron, another book he worked on.

My condolences to his family, friends, and fans. So long, Rich.

“Manhattan in a muumuu / I know I know / It’s serious”

§ May 19th, 2017 § Filed under self-promotion, watchmen § 5 Comments

So the thing everyone has been wondering about Watchmen‘s Doctor Manhattan finally making his full debut in the forthcoming DC Universe comic book Doomsday Clock is, of course, what they’re going to do about Doc M’s…er, “Downtown Manhattan,” as it were. I’ve made passing reference to this situation in the subject lines of a couple of posts here, but I am curious as to what they’re gonna do.

As we all know, one of the ways…well, okay, the main way…Manhattan’s continuing alienation from humanity was represented in Watchmen was his no longer caring about such social niceties as “dressing.” He gradually wore less and less and eventually there he was, freely blowin’ in the wind. Now, he’d wear clothes when he had to, like during that ill-fated television interview, so maybe for this DCU story, Manhattan may well be fitted out with his own super-suit, just to fit in. Or, as is stated at the end of Watchmen, he’s rediscovered an interest in humanity, so maybe we’ll get the reverse of what happened in the original story, and he just slowly dons more and more clothing over the course of Doomsday Clock. Like, swim trunks, then some Dockers, and then, inevitably, the muumuu.

The other option is just “Austin Powers”/”Opus’s Post-Surgery Beak”-ing it and have Manhattan in the altogether, but always having his naughty bits blocked by, like, conveniently-placed potted plants or furniture or even just careful shadowing, or something. That may feel a little contrived after an issue or three, however, and I’m sure that last thing anyone would want is for this story to feel contrived.

Or they can go full Ken Doll, and just…um, smooth things out, I guess. Or go completely the opposite direction and say “screw it, we don’t have the Comics Code to worry about anymore!” and just reveal Manhattan in all his anatomically-correct Manhattan-ness. I mean, honestly, what’s gonna happen, the comic might get some publicity? (Okay, and maybe some comic shop will get in trouble for selling it to a five-year-old, because there’s always someone. Maybe NOT such a great idea.)

But hold on…I have an idea: a shocking plot twist that solves the problem of Nekkid Manhattan and a certain Superman redesign mistake.

Superman and Doctor Manhattan finally meet in this Doomsday Clock series. Superman says “ah, HA, you no-goodnik, I finally found you! Now to kick your butt out of this continuity for good!” And Manhattan’s all “whatever you want, buddy, I’ve got what I came for” and he steps out of the shadows and he’s wearing Superman’s long-missing RED TRUNKS. And then get our knock-down, drag-out fight over the remaining eight or nine issues of the series, and the final pages are basically a variation of this Tarzan sequence.

Yes, I know this idea is fantastic. DC, you have time to rewrite Doomsday Clock. I suggest you use it wisely.

• • •

Speaking of brilliant writing, I’m about ready to launch the ol’ “Swamp Thing-a-Thon” on my Patreon, in which I review all them Swamp Thing comics. I’m looking at this Monday, barring any problems like being driven off the internet for this post. It’ll be the usual rambling and occasional intentional humor and unintentional insight you’ve come to expect from a guy pushing 50 who’s still writing a comics blog after everyone’s moved on to posting their content directly to the chips in your brain. (I’m assuming that’s what they do, I haven’t really been keeping up.) The first installment (about House of Secrets #92, natch) will be available here for free right away as a sampler, but future installments will only be available to Patreon donors at least for several months, before being posted publicly.

Anyway, we’ll see how this goes, and I’m always open to suggestions and creative criticism once I get started on this new project.

PANTS STATUS: UNKNOWN.

§ May 17th, 2017 § Filed under swamp thing, this week's comics, watchmen § 1 Comment

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

I’ve had this ongoing fascination with the many ways Watchmen has been exploited by parties aside from the original creators. I mean, there were the wristwatches, the role playing game supplements, the Heroclix miniatures, these weird-ass shirts, the pseudo-crossover with The Question, the video games, the toaster, and I understand there was a movie at some point, too. Of course, the majority of it was all toys and tchotchkes and whatnot, and not actual comics, God no. Who could imagine Watchmen comics not by Moore and Gibbons? You’d have to be crazy to do something like…oh wait.

I had thought for sure the next step past Before Watchmen was going to be After Watchmen, the continuing adventures of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, and Ozymandias, and Dr. Manhattan, and maybe Seymour. And in a way, that’s what we sort of got, once the whole “DC Rebirth” thing kicked off with a special one-shot that explicitly referenced Watchmen that tied it into the current DC Universe.

Anyway (did I mention SPOILERS because here they come) I was as at least somewhat correct in my suspicions that any actual on-page appearances of Watchmen characters in this whole “The Button” storyline would very limited, saving it, apparently, for the just announced Doomsday Clock series coming this fall (and given a big ol’ two-page ad in the back of Flash #22 — or a four-page ad if you count the button-to-S-shield sequence, or even a forty-page ad, if you count this whole “Button” storyline). Despite the arguments that can be made for the whole…misguidedness, perhaps, of the situation, I can’t deny there was a weird sort of frisson seeing even just the brief glimpse of that specific character at the conclusion, our first physical appearance of someone from Watchmen in the DC Universe “Rebirth” narrative. Well, unless Mr. Oz turns out to be anything other than a red herring. (Personally, I think he’s Bubastis.)

I do like the general conceit of the Watchmen tie-in to the DCU, in having the “New 52” reboot actually being an attack on DC’s regular continuity by outside forces (i.e. a certain big blue presumably still naked guy). And that’s all “The Button” was really about, letting our heroes know that their universe is screwed up and that some immense power outside their universe was responsible…and also letting the characters and we readers know what’s at stake…that there’s still so much of their old pre-reboot universe that’s still fighting to come back. I do anticipate the eventual in-story explanation they’re going to have for why any of this was happening in the first place, why the character would do what he apparently did, and so on. The real world explanation, of course, is that clinking, clanking sound that makes said world go ’round.


Oh, and Swamp Thing is guest-starring in Batman this week. There’s a very nicely done two-page spread in this issue, which you should point your peepers at. Usually I wince at that much square-footage being used for so little in the limited amount of space any given comic book has, but I’m going to let it pass. This time.

Maybe Dr. Manhattan can work on the Marvel Universe next.

§ May 15th, 2017 § Filed under free comic book day, publishing, watchmen § 1 Comment

Well, all I can figure is that Free Comic Book day took a lot out of me, as I didn’t really have the energy during the past week to generate that award-winning [NOTE: not actually award-winning] Progressive Ruin content the entire comics industry depends on [NOTE: nobody depends on it]. But I’m well-rested [NOTE: mostly] and in fighting trim [NOTE: nothing about Mike is trim] so let’s see what trouble we can stir up today:

I had a couple of comments in response to my FCBD post-mortem I wanted to address. First, Dave Carter of Earth points out, in response to customers (and me) wanting a Sonic the Hedgehog freebie this year:

“Archie appears to have lost the Sonic license, or at least they aren’t publishing any Sonic comics any more.”

Well, by cracky, that appears to be the case, doesn’t it? I guess I hadn’t really noticed…when you’re slogging through 500 pages of Diamond Previews, it’s easy to overlook the fact that maybe something that should be there isn’t. And, a quick check at the distributor’s website shows nada forthcoming from Archie Comics involving any sort of spiny mammal content. I did a quick buzz about the Internets and saw a lot of discussion on the topic, so I guess I’m just not looking in the right spots to have had this particular bit of information at my fingertips. It’d be a shame if the Sonic comic book franchise did vanish from the stands…especially since Archie still has that prime grocery store placement.

Dean wonders

“Mike, as a retailer, what’s your opinion of Marvel’s HYDRA FCBD promotion?”

Hoo boy. The Secret Empire event comic is the wagon Marvel is hitching all its chickens to for the next several months, so of course Marvel is going to want one of their FCBD comics to be a plug for it, like their Civil War 2 freebie was last year. Now, by and large, a lot were given away, and a handful of conversations I overheard seem to be at least intrigued by the concept — “whoa, Captain America is a bad guy!?” It’s yet another “how does our hero get out of this one?” story, designed to unfold over the next several months and keep readers in suspense. No one really thinks Cap is going to stay a bad guy, and that everything will be fixed. How it will be fixed is naturally the hook for the event.

But.

I suspect a number of people are coming into this fresh, and haven’t encountered the online brouhaha and the somewhat controversial “Hydra makeover” promotion and the whole “so is Hydra the same thing as Nazis or what?” debate. Without all that baggage, this one-shot could have been fine as a come-on for Marvel’s big event. A bit overwrought, maybe, but what superhero crossover event isn’t, really. However, that baggage does exist and there’s a tone-deafness in the responses to the online anger regarding this series, its promotion, its timing, and the defense of it by those involved. Basically, it’s turned into a huge mess and a public relations issue for Marvel, to the point where they had to put out a press release to tell fans “look, Cap’s gonna be fine, we promise.”

That’s a lotta typing around Dean’s question, so let me see if I can narrow it down a bit. For folks coming into the “Secret Empire” event fresh, the FCBD giveaway may be have been an intriguing introduction to the event. For folks who are more aware of the historical context and of the current reaction to said event, the FCBD book was probably just digging that hole a little deeper.

Personally, I feel like this is a bit like the Spider-Man Clone Saga from the ’90s. If they told the story, were in and out and done in, like, six months, it would have been fine. But dragging it out like this, particularly in the face of increasing consumer rejection, isn’t doing the company any favors. The Clone Saga almost killed the Spider-Man franchise, leading to a more-or-less still ongoing series of relaunches and reboots. Not that Marvel’s been shy about relaunching/rebooting any of their titles lately, but I suspect Cap may need some serious refurbishing after this to get readership back.

On the other hand, Secret Empire sales in the shop have been ticking upward in the last week or so, so what do I know.

• • •

In happier news:

…I hope this never, ever stops.

This turned out to be a Low Content Mode week.

§ May 12th, 2017 § Filed under low content mode § No Comments

Sorry about that. I do plan on addressing some of your questions/comments in response to my Free Comic Book Day After post, as well as getting back to your questions from way back when. Oh, and the whole Swamp-Thing-a-Thon for Patreon supporters will be starting up right quick as well.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I’ll be back on Monday with a real post, after hopefully much sleep.

And now, Archie dressed as pretty much every dude who’s ever appeared on “The Voice.”

§ May 11th, 2017 § Filed under archie § 4 Comments


 
 

from Archie #299 (December 1980) – art by Dan DeCarlo

A few pieces about Free Comic Book Day.

§ May 8th, 2017 § Filed under free comic book day § 5 Comments


And that was your 16th annual Free Comic Book Day, completed this past weekend at your local funnybook emporium. If you’re a fan, hopefully you had fun at your shop and got the comics you wanted. If you’re a retailer, hopefully you had plenty of happy folks come through your doors.

Not much to report from my end, aside from a nice increase in business over the previous year, making this once again a huge success, not just in terms of profitability, but in getting lots of free comics into the hands of an enormous amount of people. Didn’t have a special guest this time, but that didn’t seem to quell the crowds. We had a full house from the get-go, and I could barely turn away from the register for more than a moment for at least the first couple of hours. I only managed to snap a couple of photos this time around, and only after the initial rush slowed just slightly, which you can see on the store site.

Other notes/observations:

  • Saw lots of little boys and girls picking out comics, including one four-year-old girl who told me her favorite character was Swamp Thing and thereby became Sterling Silver Comics’ #1 Customer.
  • Had a couple of folks visiting from out of town thank me for not putting a limit on the number of different comics they could take. Longtime readers know that I prefer no restrictions, though I have learned to be sympathetic to stores that place limits if, like for financial reasons, they don’t have a lot to go around. But these folks told me their store only allowed two FCBD books per person, and, hoo boy. That’s not “Free Comic Book Day comics are free with purchase” wrong, but man, that seems awfully stingy. I mean, who knows what that store’s particular situation was, but if things were that tight, I’m surprised they participated at all.
  • Related is the fact that despite the fact that I had no limits, the nightmare scenario that I’ve had thrown in my face in the past by people objecting to this particular policy did not come to pass, and all my FCBD comics didn’t disappear into the hands of the first customers through the door. Yes, some people did take one of each, and that’s totally fine, but a lot more people were a little more selective this year versus previous years. Many voluntarily took only two or three comics, despite constant reassurance that yes, you could take whatever you wanted. Despite having more people come into the shop for this year’s FCBD (and more people spending money!) the actual free comic stock didn’t diminish quite as quickly.
  • The most popular books for me this year were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spongebob and Rick and Morty. There were many requests for a Sonic the Hedgehog freebie, and perhaps Archie should have gone for one of those again this year, given the somewhat lackadaisical performance of their Betty and Veronica and (surprisingly) Riverdale comics this time around. The Marvel/DC titles did fine, with Guardians of the Galaxy being the big winner, which should come as no surprise given the timing. (Also sold a bunch of the regular GOTG issues, from all dozen or so current series, off the new comics rack.)
  • Saw a few faces I hadn’t seen in a while (“Hey, didn’t you manage Ralph’s Comic Corner?” I heard a couple of times).
  • No real problems this time. One person did try to hold up the line at the register a bit by asking me about pricing and grading his old comics, and, uh, yeah, maybe right now isn’t the time for that?
  • Nothing to do really with FCBD, but I did open up a coin roll for the register at one point, and it was filled entirely with Bicentennial quarters. I took that as a good omen.
  • It was a tad rainy that morning, which I thought would curtail my usual FCBD plans for having a table of bargain comic boxes in front of the store for perusal. Thankfully, rain wasn’t a problem…though it did get pretty darn windy later in the day.
  • Alas, Batman only made a cameo appearance this year (as opposed to last year). He was clearly in stealth mode, since I didn’t even notice him come in…I just looked up and there he was!
  • The one downside for a having a big in-store sale on FCBD…having to restock everything. Not that my shelves are bare or anything, and some things I’m glad to see the tail end of, but the racks are a tad bit leaner than what I prefer.
  • Despite not having discounts on toys, I did seem to move a few…especially the Funko Pops which are still going strong after all this time. Amazing the lifespan these Funkos seem to have.

So, Free Comic Book Day…it’s done, it paid for itself, and now everything’s back to normal until…what’s next? Wonder Woman Day? I think that’s right. Had some people ask “why don’t they do FCBD every month?” and I believe my answer to them was “because it would kill me.” But once a year is enough, because I’ll forget how much work it is by the time the next batch of free books pop up in Previews. Anyway, thanks to my girlfriend Nora, my dad, and pal Dorian for helping out, and thanks to everyone who came into the shop…and to all of you for reading all this. Let’s do it all again next year!

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