mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, April 24, 2004

I love Jack Kirby, but sometimes he hurts my head. 

from the back cover of Captain Victory #5 (PC Comics, July 1982)

Friday, April 23, 2004

Corrections, Hellboy, and a Giant Robot Warriors review.  

Somedays, I wish I were a robot, and maybe I wouldn't make as many mistakes as I do...or at least, I'd make more interesting mistakes. First off, my apologies to Alan David Doane, who, despite what I said in this here post, does indeed has a web presence, an archive of his reviews located right here.

Next, I got Bambi's gender wrong in this post (which I've since corrected). I have no excuse. I've been all fouled up about this sort of thing ever since The Crying Game.

Finally, to any teenage girls I may have offended with the whole Adrian Tomine thing, I apologize. I have nothing against teenage girls. In fact, I love teenage gi...er, I'd probably better rephrase that.

So, anyway, I see that Neilalien has linked to a handful of articles regarding the lack of Hellboy trades in the comics market, now that we need them the most. Well, as a "comichaendler by occupation," I wanted to note that I planned ahead for the possible Hellboy book drought by ordering several copies well ahead of the movie's release...as long as the movie wasn't a Howard the Duck / Doc Savage-level bomb, I knew Hellboy books would be a consistent seller and I'd be able to move the extra stock even if the movie didn't increase interest in the character. Well, as it turns out, the movie did increase demand -- a lot -- and my extra stock blew out the doors right quick. And, of course, I had (and still have) a devil of a time (har har) trying to get more. This has happened before...when the Ghost World movie was released, I had a rough time getting copies of the graphic novel (from multiple distributors) for, oh, pretty much the entire time the film was in theatres. In contrast, there's always plenty of Spider-Man and X-Men graphic novels available for sale...but guess what people don't want to buy?

Speaking of Hellboy, I was going through some backstock and came across issue #2 of Babe 2 by John Byrne...which featured Hellboy's pal Abe Sapien on the front cover. Now, I know I have this comic in the vast Mikester Comic Archives, but I completely forgot Abe appeared in this mini-series...as did Hellboy, in a brief cameo. Most people know that Hellboy pops up in an issue of John Byrne's Next Men (pretty much the only issue that we consistently sell from that series...a shame, as the series as a whole is pretty good), but I didn't see much mention of the Babe 2 appearance. Of course, just by mentioning it here, I'm sure my vast and powerful influence over the comics industry will cause it to become a hot eBay item, a Wizard top pick, a CGC must-slab, et al. Don't say I didn't warn you.

And what new book from the AiT/Planetlar box of goodies will I examine today?

Why, it's Giant Robot Warriors by Stuart Moore and Ryan Kelly! In addition to nuclear missiles and biological weapons, the United States finds itself in an arms race with other countries over GRW technology...that would be Giant Robot Warrior tech, as you might have guessed. The story opens with hotshot GRW engineer Rufus Hirohito badmouthing his boss on television, presaging the amusing relationship between the two throughout the story. Upon returning to work, it's discovered that, due to escalating tensions in the Middle East, Hirohito's company is expected by the President of the United States to have a GRW ready to do battle with the GRWs over there...by tomorrow morning! Of course, Hirohito's robot is nowhere near ready....

Now, this is all obviously a parody on Transformers, Voltron, Shogun Warriors, et al, but the fictional world in this story is well thought out. The brief history of the "robot-race" among the countries is amusing (the British GRW is a hoot), and the CIA agent's discussion of recent real world events (such as '91's Desert Storm) and their impact on GWR development is oddly compelling. On top of all this, the dialogue, and there's a lot of it, is all funny and snappy...the banter between Hirohito and his boss, as well as between Hirohito and the female CIA agent, is a lot of fun. There's a minor level of political humor in this book as well..the President (very obviously George W. Bush) is a major source of humor, particularly in his enthusiasm for the whole GRW program, and he's a primary plot point as well (where you find out just why he talks that way!).

Kelly's art is detailed and cartoony and dense...there's not a whole lot of white space left on these pages, which is a style I generally enjoy. However, sometimes it feels just a little claustrophobic in places, especially in scenes that are supposed to be taking place outside. There's a shot of a GRW battle near the end of the book where, due to the heavy blacks in the art, it's a little difficult to tell what exactly is going on. However, this is a minor quibble, especially given the appealing caricaturing style on the characters. All the people in this book have a unique and instantly recognizable look, which is necessary given the heavily-illustrated backgrounds against which they appear.

Plus, any comic that can squeeze in the line "I have negative pinky control" is okay by me. Recommended to fans of Tokyo Storm Warning, people sick of the whole "Transformers" thing, and anyone who enjoys funny science fiction.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

1. I've apparently contributed to
a firestorm of controversy, and I didn't even realize it!

2. Because you demanded it...here's the back cover of that Four Color Comics #289 from this post, showing how the "animation" is supposed to work.

So you're basically cutting out a super-long tongue and stringing it through slits in the cover to make the characters look like they're shouting at each other. Well, I guess that's what kids did before Grand Theft Auto.

3. You know what? There's not a single damn story that can't be improved by adding a superhero to it. Pirate movies, secret agent movies, espionage team comics, sword and sorcery novels, romance novels, whatever. How many of Hamlet's problems would have been solved if he had X-ray vision or super-hearing? If Harvey Pekar could fly, wouldn't he be a darn sight cheerier? If Bambi had powers like Iceman's, Bambi's mom could have been saved. You know I'm right.

Reviews of AiT/Planetlar books will resume shortly...probably on Friday. Keep an eye out! And thank you to those of you who have given me feedback about my reviews...reviews of my reviews, as it were. I'm trying very hard to do reviews that don't spoil anything, but still give you enough information about the comic to decide if it's up your alley, regardless of whether I like it, and that's not terribly easy for me. Also, I need to give Big Larry his money's worth...I'm not going to pay back his generous donation of a large quantity of books with just a two sentence review. I'm not quite at
this level of reviewing, but I'm doin' my best!

As for Wednesday's releases...the new Comics Journal is out, and it's the transitional issue between former editor Milo George and the beginning of Dirk Deppey's reign of terror. It's a goody, too, with reviews the way they should be done of some of the best books of 2003, including reviews by one or two or three people that might be familiar to folks who frequent the comics weblogosphere.* (There's a fourth, Alan David Doane, but he has no web presence at the moment.) Look for the gorgeous cover by Drew Weing. I haven't had a chance to read much of this yet, but Deppey does have a very gracious introduction praising the efforts of George...that's a class act. I can't wait to see the first all-Deppey issue.

Tom Strong's Terrific Tales #10 has a great Peter Kuper-illustrated story...it's amazing how perfectly Alan Moore can tailor his stories to his artists' strengths, and this story is no exception. If you're familiar at all with Kuper's work (now most visible on Mad Magazine's "Spy Vs. Spy" strips), you know the last thing in the world you'd expect him to do is a superhero story, and yet he pulls it off perfectly. Also, as pal Dorian noted, we find out in the Kuper story what's up with the Tom Strong universe's version of George W. Bush, apparently. Also in this issue, in the Art Adams-illustrated "Jonni Future" story, the point is made that all of us readers have been wondering this whole time...isn't that costume a bit much?

The Diamond Comics shipment of Optic Nerve #9 has finally come out this week, as well. (I screwed up and didn't order it from one of alternative distributors...I decided to wait for the Diamond solicitation, which took forever.) Now, I like Adrian Tomine's comics...very understated, very melancholy...but I had an old friend of mine once describe the comic like this: "it's as if the cartoonist wants to be a teenage girl." I now have that description stuck in my head every time I see a new issue of this series. Sigh.

Elsewhere in the internet world...everyone seems very excited about director Robert Rodriguez using actual pages of Frank Miller art for his filmed version of Miller's Sin City comics. Well, while I'm sure it'll look nice, hopefully the fact that Sin City is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of hard-boiled detective novels will make it into the movie, but I have this fear that they're gonna take it all in deadly earnest. I mean, everyone realizes that Marv in the first Sin City story was just as screwed up as any of the bad guys he took on, right?

Ah, don't pay any attention to me...I'm all jaded and bitter and stuff.

* You may have noticed that I actively avoid using the word "blog." I really, really, really, really hate that word. And yes, the irony of my using "Blogger" for my weblog is not lost on me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Should in the unlikely event that Marvel is forced to
change the name of their Icon imprint, may I suggest another name that may perhaps be more indicative of that company's history of creator's rights?

How about "Kirby?"

On top of everything else...
is this the first time we've seen B.D. without a helmet?

For some reason, that adds to the emotional impact of the strip for me.

EDIT: Laura notes this as well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Cultural sensitivity in comics.  

Okay, granted, it was the mid-1940s, but sheesh. Be glad I didn't post any Walter Lantz's "L'il Eightball" panels from the issues of New Funnies I was looking at. Hoo, boy.

I wish I could remember what comic this was, but one of the "kid gang" comics from the 1940s, while portraying the black member of the group in the story itself as a perfectly normal looking young man, had him as an "Ebony"-esque caricature on the front cover. Was that to grab the elusive racist demographic that would otherwise be put off by treating a member of a minority group as, oh, say, a respected human being?

Hi! God has commanded me to review another book from the AiT/Planetlar box of love, and this time it's...

...Doll And Creature by Rick Remender, John Heebink, and Mike Manley! The world of the future has fully embraced the goth culture into its pop aesthetic, treating ugly things as beautiful and vice versa, people undergoing "monstrification" surgery, broadcasting zombie and vampire TV shows, banning religion, et al. In this world, a very dangerous drug called Grey Matter has hit the streets...and a few unfortunates who take this drug unexpectedly turn into "Hydes," murderous monsters that maim and kill.

Enter Gristle, a Frankenstein's Monster-type feller whose sole purpose is to stop the Hydes, though his partner Modo insists that Gristle kill the Grey Matter addicts before they turn into Hydes...a notion Gristle resists. Into the mix comes the doubly-ironically-nicknamed Doll...so named because, while to our eyes she is a beautiful woman, she is unattractive by the standards of the world in which she lives. She ends up joining Gristle and Modo in their battle against the Grey Matter drug...and the mysterious power seeking to control the Hydes that result.

Now, I really wanted to like this comic much more than I did. Not to say I didn't enjoy it...it's amusingly written, well drawn, and the action sequences are well laid out. This feels as if it wants to be in the same vein (har har) as Hellboy, The Goon and Mr. Monster, where the heroes are just as unusual and grotesque as the villains but...well, I can't quite put my finger on it. I think Doll And Creature is just a little too verbose of a comic. Like Hellboy, Gristle is very much a down-to-earth blue-collar kind of monster-fighter, prone to being blunt in his speech and direct in his actions, but the rest of the characters in this comic just don't know when to keep their mouths shut. There's a lot of expositional speech going on...it's a minor flaw, but it still sort of annoys when it feels like everything is being explained to you.

A lot of work is put into establishing the unusual setting of this story. As noted, gothiness ("gothiness?") rules this world, established in the lament of the "Seven Helleven" employee on the very first page: "Doom and gloom on every channel. Everything is vampire-this and deadgirl-that. A rack full of magazines, and every one is the exact same! ...Chicks that dress like monsters, self-imporant dudes in leather skirts, and dark poetry in no short supply!" Even the television news reporters are done up like Morticia Addams, signing off their broadcasts with "Life will tear us apart." It's a fairly elaborate set-up that doesn't take itself too seriously, but one that allows characters to dress up as sexy mummy-girls (as our heroine Doll does) without having to come up with an excuse to put them in ridiculous costumes.

Also, I should probably note the excellent cover by Dan Brereton...the Halloween-y orangish color scheme should give the casual onlooker an idea of what to expect within, if the '50s-greaser-monster and the mummy girl weren't hint enough.

Overall, despite my slight misgivings with the dialogue, I did enjoy this graphic novel, and wouldn't mind seeing more. Perhaps it would work better as a monthly comic, where time and the shorter installments might work out some of the storytelling kinks. Fans of the similarly-themed Hellboy and Goon comics would probably most enjoy this book.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Well, first one out of the AiT/Planetlar box is Last of The Independents by Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer. There is a minor spoiler ahead (more about the structure of the story, than any specifics).

It's a "tough people doing bad things but you root for them anyway" story, where three people (an older gentleman, his younger lady lover, and a big muscular fella who's a bit on the slow side) rob a bank, but end up with several million dollars that belong to a mob boss. The majority of the story is our gang of three staying ahead of the mob's army of enforcers...it's a fast-paced story, told with a minimum of dialogue and a focus on action. Fraction's thank-yous in the back of the book (Clint Eastwood, Segio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, etc.) probably tell you more about the story than I ever could. As far as the actual plot goes...it's very slight, but that's by intention. You only get just enough information to move the story along.

One of the nice touches is that the characters' backstories wait until there's a lull in the action, and given that the action doesn't let up for most of the book, that means we really don't get these backstories until just before the climax. At that point, though, it doesn't really matter...just from what we've seen in the interaction among the characters up to that point, any questions we had about the relationship among these three people have either 1) been answered in our own heads, or 2) relegated to the position of "oh, we don't need to know those stories anyway." When the backstories do come, then, it's a nice surprise.

Visually, the book is very attractive. It's printed in sepia tones, it's comic-sized but formatted on its side (like Liberty Meadows or those Garfield strip reprint books), with few panels per page. The art has a rough, sketchy look to it, which adds to the down-and-dirty western feel of the story. It looks like a spaghetti western translated to the printed page, in tone if not in content.

It's an afternoon movie, not deep but certainly entertaining. Recommended for fans of Eastwood and Leone (as mentioned previously),
Straight to Hell, and Preacher (which, in an odd way, I was reminded of while reading this comic).

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Yesterday I received my parcel from
Big Larry, so here we go...here's my review of my AiT/Planetlar box:

Well, the box is about 18 inches long, 13 inches high, and about 3 inches deep; it weighs about, say, 15 pounds, and there's some heavy scuffing along the sides. I find it to be a very satisfactory box, and I recommend it to...

...Ah, I'm just messin' with you. I'll start reviewing the actual contents this coming week.

Actually, I'm very grateful to get this box of goodies. I don't really get a lot of comics on a weekly basis anymore, especially compared to the buy-lists that some of my comic-weblogging brethren (and sister-en) will post on occasion. This is not due to lack of interest so much as due to lack of time and lack of extra funds, both mostly as the result of being a (relatively) new homeowner. I do however attempt to at least glance through most comics and books as they pass through the store...if I'm gonna be selling them, I'd better know a little something about them.

This means that an awful lot of those original graphic novels that have been coming out I've been having to pass up buying for myself, and that includes a goodly chunk of AiT/Planetlar's output. I've noticed how well they've been selling at the store (especially Couscous Express) but I never had more than a brief look between the covers...until now. And no, I just can't read them at the store...one, I don't like to sell used goods as new, and two, unlike what some people think, running a comic shop doesn't mean you get to sit around and read comics all day. It would be nice, but that's not the case.

So, again, thanks to Big Larry for sending these my way. My reviews (such as they are) will follow soon.

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