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The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-Three.

§ November 8th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 16 Comments

And we’re back to the “fave ’80s indies” poll with our next entry:

Jon Sable, Freelance (First 1983-1988)

I did read Jon Sable Freelance for a while, starting somewhere in the early issues (not with #1, but around issue #10 or #12 or so) and kept up with it for a couple of years. Near the end there, I was mainly picking it up for my dad, as it was one of the few comics I was buying that he was also reading. I eventually dropped the book, as it was costing me a whole $1.75 a month, and I wasn’t enjoying it quite as much. (At least I was still buying Groo the Wanderer which my dad was also reading.)

The series premise was that Jon Sable was a bounty hunter for hire, who had a “secret identity” as a children’s book author named “B.B. Flemm” (complete with a blonde wig and mustache), which was a little peculiar but did give the book that little bit of a twist to make it unique. Mike Grell created the character, wrote the entire initial series, drew all the covers, and illustrated most of it with other artists stepping in during the last dozen or so issues.

A second series started up in 1988, after the first ended, called simiply Sable and primarily written by Marv Wolfman, with art by Bill Jaaska and others. It was accompanied by a TV show adaptation of the property, also called Sable, that came and went with seven episodes in late ’87/early ’88. I never did read any of this second series, despite enjoying Jaaska’s artwork when I’ve encountered it. I also maybe saw a total of about 10 minutes of the TV show, which all things considered was probably about 10 minutes more than most people. Which…you know, it feels like the premise would lend itself to television, but not everything gets traction, y’know.

While the second series was running, First also published Mike’s Grell’s Sable, reprinting the early issues of the original run. The comic was canceled with #10.

Grell would return to the character with a couple of new mini-series from IDW: Bloodtrail in 2005, and Ashes of Eden in 2009. IDW would also release eight volumes of The Complete Jon Sable Freelance, which reprinted up to #45 of the initial run.

Comicmix would later, in the mid-2010s, put out four volumes of the Jon Sable Freelance Omnibus, reprinting all 56 issues of the original run, as well as the two iDW minis. The non-Grell Sable run is skipped entirely, unless some issues of that run are included in Volume 4 (as the original solicit for that volume lists the contents as including “other surprises”). All these reprint volumes appear to be out of print, but hopefully are still easy to find if you’re interested.

Along the way, Jon Sable popped up in the First Comics 988 crossover series, appropriately titled Crossroads, teaming the character with the ninja character Whisper in the first issue. This was by Mike Baron, Angel Medina and Rod Whigham. In 2000 Grell wrote a prose novel called Sable (which you can get for as little as five bucks from Amazon). And in 1996, Grell wrote and drew two issues of Maggie the Cat for Iimage Comics, featuring a recurring character from Jon Sable.

Like I said above, I only read these comics for a couple of years, and not from the beginning, so I can’t pin down a “peak” period of the character for you to sample. I think, though, if you want to give it a try, sticking to the first couple years’ worth of stories may be your best bet, where Grell’s story and art are at their strongest. And they’re fairly cheap, too…I think I have a couple of copies of the first issue at my shop right now, and they shouldn’t be more than two or three bucks apiece. And I’m pretty sure I have more of the series in the endless backstock that I’m always trying to get processed and priced.

I do want to point out one issue of particular note, #33 from 1986, which presents material from one of Sable’s alter-ego’s children’s books. Here we find out “B.B. Flemm” draws an awful lot like Segio Aragones, who provides the art for those segments.

And here’s something I wish I had a scan for to back me up…but sometime in the 1980s, my dad spotted in the classified ad section in the Soldier of Fortune magazine an entry that read something along the lines of

“Need help? Problems solved – Jon Sable Freelance”

…along with a phone number. Okay, I’m not sure of that wording at all, but it was definitely for “Jon Sable Freelance.” I have no idea if that was a joke inserted by an editor who was a fan of the comic and needed to fill space, or if it was an ad placed by First Comics, or possibly Grell himself, with the phone number going to a recorded message plugging the comic or something. A mystery for the ages! Unless someone knows the answer and can tell me.

EDIT: hold the phone, I actually used this new thing called “Google” and found this entry on the Internet Archive, featuring “full text of ‘Soldier of Fortune Magazine.” It’s, like it says, just text, not scans of the pages or anything, but it has the ad:

“JON SABLE, FREELANCE MERC. Covert, efficient, passport, anonymous. Short-term, high pay/risk contracts. Urban work preferred. Fee’s plus expenses. Nothing illegal. Contact:
H9S-3J3. (514) [REDACTED]. (101)”

I cut out the address and phone number, but they’re intact over at the link. This appears to be from the February 1986 issue, if I’m reading the info correctly. Anyway, my memory of the ad text was way off, but still I…I don’t know what to make of this. Again, if you folks have answers, let me know!

EDIT: Click here for the follow-up to this post!

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-Two.

§ October 23rd, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 11 Comments

Movin’ along the Favorite ’80s Comic Poll list to our first four-vote-getting entry:

Grendel (Comico 1983-1984)

This is another case the listing the first ongoing series featuring the character in the header there is a little misleading as to the size and impact of the property. After first appearing in the second issue of the Comico anthology book Primer in 1982, Matt Wagner’s character launched in what was supposed to be a six-issue series the next year. It was crude and amateurish but had an undenialable energy beneath its striking covers that put it a step above most of the other black and white boom comics of the era.

The series ended prematurely after three issues. In 1984, Comico started publishing Wagner’s next big project Mage: The Hero Discovered, a full-color urban fantasy adventure. Starting in issue #6 of that series in 1985, and running through #14, Wagner included a serialized Grendel back-up story. This story retold the tale that was intended for that aborted mini, in a more experimental caption-heavy format.

The premise of the Grendel comics, at least at the beginning, can most simply be summed up as “the villain is the hero,” where Grendel, AKA rich socialite Hunter Rose, is a handsome, witty and appealing, while living a secret life as a murderious crime lord. The hero of the story is Argent, a misshappen and grotesque wolf-like being, flipping on its head the usual superhero/supervillain dynamic one would see in comics. It’s not an unusual inversion…I mean, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Godfather or a Breaking Bad where we’re invested in the bad guys. Even in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, all the good bits involve Satan and all the Heaven stuff is boring.

Now, at the end of that initial story, Hunter Rose is killed, and the next Grendel series launches in 1986. The first 12 issues of that, written by Wagner, illustrated by the Pander Brothers, takes place in the near-future of…sometime around 2010 or so in which the “grandaughter of Grendel” (Christine Spar, the daughter of Hunter Rose’s adopted child) takes on the costumed identity. From there, the idea of “villain as hero” evolves into Grendel being more an examination of violence and aggression as the mantle passes from person to person and the “spirit of Grendel” supposedly influences people and events.

That Grendel series ends with issue #40 in 1990, with the title of Grendel being held by the conqueror of Earth in the 26th century, so clearly the premise had gone through some permuations. Past this, Grendel comics move to Dark Horse Comics with a number of mini-series by various creative teams, either continuing in this future world, or filling in backstory (like a mini featuring the tragic adulthood of Hunter’s adopted daughter Stacy), or a handful of series telling more tales of the original Grendel. Of note are two mini-series pairing up the character with Batman (one with Hunter, the other with Grendel-Prime, a future Grendel who arrives via time-travel). There’s also Gredel Vs. The Shadow in 2014, so long as we’re talking about crossovers.

The most recent series, Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey, ran from 2019 to 2021, written and illustrated by Wagner. To be frank, I gave up briefly on some of the earlier Dark Horse minis set in the far future, as I just didn’t have the interest. I did pick up the later Hunter Rose minis, and that Devil’s Odyssey I have to read eventually, but it started during the height of my eyeball issues so it’s ended up in the “read these later when I can see again” stacks and I haven’t gone back to them yet. It looks good, though!

Now, if you want to read any of this stuff…a lot of it is still available in paperback, primarily through four omnibuses, starting with the Hunter Rose era and working its way through to the future Grendel Prime era. The “Devil by the Deed” story that ran as the back-ups in Mage has been reprinted on its own several times, including an 8 1/2 by 11 inch graphic novel from Comico, and a couple of comic-book sized reprints from Dark Horse. The non-Wagner Grendel material has been reprinted in two Grendel Tales omnibuses, but only the second one appears to be available currently.

The original black and white Grendel stories from Comico, the Primer short and the three released issues of the mini, were collected in Grendel Archives from Dark Horse, but that hardcover appears to be unavailable. Most of the Grendel run has been reprinted in one form or another over the years…I had a paperback at my shop recently that Comico had released in 1988 of the Christine Spar Grendel story, and the story that had followed in the 1986 run, illustrated by Bernie Mireault, had been collected on its own as well. There’s lots of out-of-print books out there, you just have to keep your peepers peeled for them.

Shipping in November of this year is Devil by the Deed Master’s Edition, a brand new retelling of the Hunter Rose story, written and drawn by Wagner. So, there’s more yet to come!

One oddity I hadn’t mentioned was a slim 16 page Grendel comic, Devil’s Vagary, which was included in the Comico Collection slipcase. The slipcase, which is actually a pretty nice item featuring a Grendel design, was a “sampler package” (i.e. Comico trying to clear out the warehouse) of a handful of random back issues, which featured this exclusive Grendel story (written by Wagner, drawn by Dean Motter). I’m sure this story must have been reprinted somewhere, probably in the first Omnibus, but there’s no indication on the comics database page I linked. Maybe someone can let me know.

If you’re new to Grendel and want to try it out, I honestly think you can’t go wrong with any of the Hunter Rose stuff. It’s Basic Grendel, the purest distillation of the concept, and the source from which everything else follows. The 1986 series that begins with Christine Spar and moves on from there is good as well, though as the series progresses further into the future, and the mini-series by Other Hands kick in, the franchise gets a little lost in the weeds, I think. Your Mileage May Vary, as they say.

And I should probably bring up the fact that a live-action Grendel series was pretty much all ready to go on Netflix, until Netflix decided this was the one series they weren’t going to throw at a wall to see if it stuck. Ah well. Hopefully it’ll get out there somewhere.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty-One.

§ October 2nd, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 5 Comments

Back to Ye Olde Favorite ’80s Comicks Polle for our latest entry:

The Tick (New England Comics 1988-1995)

I’m a’gonna get the shameful confession out of the way first. I…never really got into any of the Tick comic books or its many, many spinoffs beyond the initial issues by creator Ben Edlund (those cited in the heading just above).

I know, I know, don’t yell at me. People loved the Tick, as per my observations as a humble funnybook seller over the decades. Folks didn’t just get one series and skip the others…they bought all Ticks, all the time, as fast and as many as were published. Even recently, after I acquired a giant pile of Tick back issues for the shop, they remain regular sellers. (Wither new Tick comics? More on that in a moment.)

Now, that first Tick series launched around the same time I started working at the local comic book store, and was also attending college. I didn’t start buying it from the beginning, despite the fact 1) I was always looking for new and weird offbeat books, 2) I always checked out the black and white comics for idiosyncratic visions, and 3) I liked comics that were funny.

But it took a college pal, Ray, who also worked just down the street from the comic shop and would buy comics from me occasionally, to turn me onto the book. Just hanging out between glasses one day, Ray asked me if I’d been reading The Tick, and after I said no, he regaled me with a handful of funny bits from the comic…enough so that next time I was at work, I decided to try it out.

And it was a good decision. That first series, under Edlund’s pen, was a wild ride of a superhero parody, starring a mysterious, oversized, “nigh-invulnerable” dude in a blue costume with antennae fighting crime in his own peculiar way. Eventually accompanied by Arthur, his moth-costumed pal who, as far as I remember, only went by “Arthur” as his superhero name.

Tick started as a mascot created by Edlund for the New England Comics store, appearing in newsletters until graduated to its own full-sized comic. (And I mean “full-sized” as it was printed at “Golden Age” size, larger in dimensions than other not-as-funny comics on the stands.) It ended up being enormously popular, with multiple Tick series (Karma Tornado starting during the initial series’ run) following by Many Other Hands. And that’s not counting spin-offs like Paul the Samurai and Man-Eating Cow.

Look, a lot of great people worked on these other non-Edlund comics. I admire the craft and consistency and willingness to just continue keeping Tick on the shelves and in front of people. But…what tickled me about those original Ticks didn’t seem to be in these other releases. Probably a “me” problem, since humor is very subjective. Again, don’t yell at me, please.

Now, if you want to read the Tick…well, nothing is currently being published, and the Tick offerings for recent Free Comic Book Days have even dropped off of late. On the plus side, a lot of Tick comics and trade paperbacks reprinting those comics have been unleashed over the years, so there should be plenty of these out there to track down. The most recently available book, brought back into print on occasion over the last few years, is a trade paperback reprinting the Complete Edlund stories (plus the Psuedo-Edition #13, produced to provide the thirteenth issue Edlund planned but never did).

I didn’t list all the series and reprints and variants and whathaveyou here just because there are so many. My suggestion is try out the Edlund material first, and if you like that, ignore cranky old Mike’s opinions and try out some of the spinoffs, which most people like just fine.

Should also note the media spinoffs, including a well-regarded animated series, a beloved single season of a live action show starring Patrick Warburton, and a couple seasons of a more adult-oriented but still hilarious Amazon Price series starring Peter Serafinowicz. Oddly enough, I loved the live action shows (more the Warburton one than the Amazon one), but I never warmed to the cartoon. Look, I know that makes me a weirdo…the path I follow is not an easy one.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Twenty.

§ September 11th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 18 Comments

Finally back to the favorite ’80s indies poll, which I put off a bit because…well, I’ll get into it.

Mister X (Vortex 1984-1988)

My first exposure to the idea of Mister X came from Amazing Heroes #48, which cover featured the character and contained an extensive preview of the then-forthcoming titles. While the character was created by Dean Motter, who had originally planned to produce a series illustrated by Paul Rivoche, the initial issues of the first Mister X comic were by Jaime, Gilbert and Mario Hernandez.

That issue of Amazing Heroes came out early in my picking up that ‘zine, so I read and reread this issue and thought this Mister X thing sounded interesting. And the Hernandez Bros’ involvement of course caught my attention. Inexplicably, I ended up not buying the comic. I don’t know if I missed it on the shelf, or if I didn’t have the scratch for it (I was 15, long before I had the Infinite Comics Retailer Budget that all comic shop owners have now), but I just didn’t pick it up. And, to this very day, it still remains one of the very few Hernandez blind spots in my funnybook reading. Even now, as an issue from their run shows up at the shop, it’s just, like, a single copy of #3 or something and not a full run, I just go ahead and price and sell it.

Anyway, the Hernandezes left the book after the fourth issue due to some problems with the publisher, and Motter wrote #5 with Ty Templeton (who’d been lettering the book), and the art was by Klaus Schoenefeld (who’d colored the previous issues. Issue #6 through #13 were illustrated by Seth…yes, that Seth of Palookaville fame. The last issue was drawn by Rodney Dunn, which was redrawn by Motter himself when the story was included in a later collection. Motter provided most of the covers for the first series, with others drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, and Mike Kaluta.

The premise of the series I still remember form that Amazing Heroes preview (and I double-checked against Wikipedia, to make sure I wasn’t too far off): Mister X is a bald and bespectacled fella who lurks about in the wildly-designed Radiant City, and as allegedly its architect he seeks to maintain the city and deal with any problems that arise within it. He is also dependent on a drug to keep himself awake 24 hours a day. He is a man of mystery to most of the cast, though his girlfriend Mercedes refers to him as “Santos.”

There were more series that followed, including a second one from Vortex (1989-1991, mostly written by Jeffrey Morgan, with art by Shane Oakley and D’Isareli), a four issue series in 1996 from Caliber Press, and then a few mini-series from Dark Horse (2008-2015) as well as appearances in Dark Horse Presents. Also in there was a Mister X Special from Vortex in 1990 by Peter Milligan and Brett Ewins.

So yes, I missed a lot of this as it was happening. I think the only Mister X content I experienced in real time were entries in the A1 anthology from Atomeka (including a story by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean). And I never got around to these either, but other Dean Motter books that took place in the same “world” were Terminal City (DC/Vertigo 1996-7) and Electropolis (Image 2001-3), both by Motter. Mister X is in the latter…I don’t know if he’s in the former.

Now, if you wanted to read all this stuff now? The only collection currently available from Diamond is Razed, one of the later Dark Horse minis. Otherwise, this may take some searching, but Dark Horse produced two volumes of Mister X Archives, reprinting up to the second Vortex series. Volume 1 appears to have been in both hard and softcover. Volume 2, “Brides of Mister X and Other Stories,” I think was only in hardcover. A third Dark Horse release, Mister X: The Modern Age, reprints all of Dark Horse’s Mister X releases. (All of the Dark Horse minis have had their own trade reprints.)

From iBooks there were two volumes of Mister X: The Definitive Colleciton from iBooks in 2004-5, reprinting up through the second Vortex series plus lots of extra material (from A1 and elsewhere). And for you completists, there were also collections for Terminal City (in HC from Dark Horse) and Electropolis (in trade also from Dark Horse), both out of print.

Now I put off writing this entry because, like I said above, my knowledge of the series is almost exclusively from 1) the Amazing Heroes article, and 2) those segments in A1. Most of what I wrote here was cobbled together from those memories and what I could piece together from the Comics Database and Diamond’s old product catalog. It remains a pretty big gap in my comics reading, especially those early Hernandez Bros. issues. I can still recall a bit of that feeling of experiencing something new in comics when reading that ‘zine article, like when I first read about Cerebus in Comics Scene. But I missed out at the time, and hopefully I can make room in all the comic reading I have left to do to finally redress this omission.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Nineteen.

§ August 23rd, 2023 § Filed under final countdown, miraclemarvelman § 23 Comments

So next up on the ol’ Final ’80s Countdown, the following three-vote getter:

Miracleman (Eclipse Comics 1985-1993)

Hoo boy, where do I even start? Well, technically, I’ve started already, as I’ve got a whole category on this very site talking about Miracleman and its long history and hiatus and revival and hiatus again and revival again. Well, talking, and whatever this is.

Anyway, let me give you a very brief rundown. A British publisher, L. Miller and Son, had rights to publish Captain Marvel (the Shazam! one) stories in the UK, until Fawcett Comics stopped publishing them in the 1950s. However, L. Miller and presumably also the Son were having good sales on these comics, and had Mick Anglo rework the Shazam! Family of characters into the hopefully-lawsuit-avoiding-but-similar Marvelman Family. This revamped series ran though the early 1960s.

In 1982, the character was revived for the British comics anthology magazine Warrior in its first issue. The creative team, Alan Moore and Garry Leach, took an “adult” and “realistic” approach to Marvelman, addressing the clichés and tropes of the superhero genre in a form familiar to anyone who’s read Watchmen and pretty much anything else that was inspired by Marvelman.

Did I say brief? I’m trying, honest. So in 1985 Eclipse Comics got the rights to reprint the Marvelman stories in the U.S., with the minor problem of a little company named Marvel Comics possibly not being amused by another publishr using “Marvel” in a comics title. Hence, the change to “Miracleman,” the name by which the character has been known ’round the colonies ever since. (With a few exceptions, I’ll tell you in a moment.)

That run from Eclipse was 24 issues, which reprinted nearly all from Warrior magazine (save for one short story) by Leach and Alan Davis. That was followed with new material, illustrated by Chuck Austen, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben. Moore departs with #16, and the remainder of the run is by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham.

And then Eclipse went out of business and Miracleman went into limbo and there all sorts of questions of who owned what (with Todd McFarlane believing he owned the character at one point, and attempted to integrate the character into his Spawn comics as well as releasing some limited merchandise).

Eventually things get as straightened oout as they’ll ever be, and Marvel, ironically enough I suppose, now owns the rights to the character. They kicked off their reign with reprints of original Marvelman material from the ’50s, before launching into reprints of the Eclipse run. The promise was that after the reprints concluded, Gaiman and Buckingham would be back to continue the story. Well, technically they did, I suppose, though the reprints ended in 2016 and the new Miracleman stories would not appear until very late in 2022.

Now don’t shout at me if I missed anything…I’m sure I left a bit out of the character’s compliated publishing path. The Wikipedia entry gives a more complete overview (though it notes complaints about the “birth issue” were mainly in fanzines, without noting a particular distributor was certainly not pleased about it).

There was also a mini-series Eclipse released called Miracleman Family, reprinting ’50s material, as well as Miracleman: Apocrypha, a three-issue mini featuring new short stories by various creators. Eclipse also released the Miracleman 3D one-shot, reprinting the UK Marvelman Special, which was a new Moore/Davis framing sequence around more ’50s Marvelman reprints.

Marvel also had some extra material outside the main story, once it got its mitts on the property, with a couple of annuals, Apocrypha-style, with new stories by other creators.

And one should also probably note, once Gaiman and Buckingham were back doing new issues, Buckingham went back and redrew the previous two issues with parts one and two of “The Silver Age” before moving on to the never-before seen story in #3.

Granted, it’s been a little bit since the latest issue of the new Miracleman comics (last one released early May), but at least something has come out after such a long drought. I mean, how many comic book series have had a hiatus of nearly three decades and come back with the same creative team? Not a whole lot, I’m guessing.

Now, what’s the best way to read all this mess? With the Eclipse comics, I’d say…the original comics is the best way, if you can get your hands on them. Or the trade paperbacks released by Eclipse, which I believe reprint through issue #22. There is an Apocrypha trade as well. The problem with any of these options is that they can be a bit on the pricy side. Even Apocrypha is slowly getting up there, after years of being a cheapie (and not yet having been reprinted by Marvel, near as I can tell).

Best bet for an “affordable” version…Marvel had individual collections for the material, which in typical Marvel form are all out of print (save for a volume reprinting all of “The Golden Age” segment, Gaiman and Buckingham’s opening chapters, plus a back-up from Total Eclipse). There is a Miracleman Omnibus with all the material prior to that, including a “Warpsmith” story from the A1 anthology.

If you’re going to read the comic book versions of Marvel’s reprints, keep in mind that Miracleman #14 (2005) had a drastic printing error that Marvel never bothered to fix in the periodical format, but hopefully got right in its trades.

For sampling the earlier material released in England, try the Marvel Tales: Miracleman which includes stuff from Warrior, among other sources.

Okay, I talked a lot about where you can read it and how it came out, but is it all worth it? I would say…yes, yes indeed. It was going the superhero “deconstruction” thing back when it was still a fresh idea, and it’s filled with wonderful and bizarre concepts and new takes on an old genre. (It should be noted that it’s been said that the novel Superfolks has had a strong influence on this series, and other works of Moore’s.) It blew my mind as a young Mikester, and it definitely helped steer where things were going in the comics industry at the time.

I shouldn’t let pass the fact that Marvel, despite being, you know, in charge of the Marvel brand (well, okay, Disney actually is, but go with me here), still kept the name “Miracleman” on the revived series. I suspect very much it’s to keep the very not-Marvel-House-Style-y version of the character as its own separate thing, leaving the company free to introduce its own separate version of the character into the Marvel Universe proper with the less-burdened moniker of “Marvelman.” This feels like what’s going on with the DC Rebirth one-shot-esque revelation at the end of this State of the Marvel Universe special Timeless that M(something)man is going to pop up eventually.

Now I’ve joked that this particular revelation could point at the fact that, following “The Golden Age” and “The Silver Age” Miracleman chapters, we could get from Gaiman and Buckingham “The Marvel Age,” with MM fighting Galactus or Stilt-Man or whoever. If this were the case, I would find myself in the very peculiar state of being simultaneously extremely pissed off and supremely delighted.

But no, I’m guessing we’re getting a Marvelman event in the Marvel Universe entirely aside from the Miraclman thing. Which leaves us with the question of which name will they use for the eventual Marvel movie that will underperform?

I’m getting off-track here. Miracleman was a great comic that I think holds up even today. It’s very early Alan Moore, with some clunky writing at times, but still exciting and compelling. And Gaiman and Buckingham’s follow-up material, picking up from a very definitive conclusion by Moore and Totleben, remains wondrous and fascinating. If you were turned off from reading the series because of Marvel’s initial terrible handling of the material (with overpriced comics stuffed with unwanted material padding out the few pages of interest), give the collected books a go.

(And I didn’t mention it, but you guys probably will if I dont, but Moore had his name removed from Marvel’s reprints, and it was replaced with “The Original Writer.” And lo, there was much frivolity when this was revealed. Look, Moore’s not a big man of Marvel, he could have said “no” to having his stuff reprinted at all, so I’m just glad the material’s available in the first place.)

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Eighteen.

§ August 7th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 13 Comments

Back to the fave ’80s titles survey, with the next three-vote getter:

Mage (The Hero Discovered) (Comico 1984-1986)

In 1983 we saw writer/artist Matt Wagner’s Grendel, which had its run cut short at three issues. The covers were quite striking, Wagner’s then-amateurish-but-charming art assisted by subdued coloring. The interiors were simplistic and, to a certain extent, crude, but clearly promise was there and the story (of our title character, a glamorous villain, pit against a not-so-pretty hero) remained compelling. But with the story half-completed in this format, we didn’t get a chance to see Wagner learn on the job, improving his artwork and storytelling skills as we watched.

Not so with Mage (subtitled “The Hero Discovered” on the cover), as we can clearly watch Wagner’s evolution as a comics creator over the course of this 15-issue series (helped in no small part by inker Sam Kieth, who comes on midway through the run). Looking at the first issue compared to the last…well, I’m not going to say it’s like looking at two different artists, because clearly you can see the line from one artistic state of being to the other, but there certainly is a notable refinement in form.

The story is…well, our hero, the surely-by-coincidence-looking-like-his-creator Kevin Matchstick is called upon by Mirth (the titular Mage) to protect the Fisher King from the Grackleflints, spawn of the evil Umbra Sprite, and whatever mystical menaces they unleash. In this Kevin is assisted by Sean (a ghost) and the streetwise Edsel.

…Yeah, that’s a bit, but it all works in context, I promise.

The story continues in Mage (The Hero Defined) published by Image from 1997 to 1999 (including a #0 issue you had to mail away for), and concludes in Mage: The Hero Denied from 2017 to 2019 (also from Image, also with a #0 issue that, this time, you could buy in stores). The second series deals with Kevin working alongside other mythical heroes, and the third series has him as a husband and father once again called into battle against mystical evils.

The best way to read this first series however, aside from collecting the original issues (which shouldn’t be too hard at this point) is to get the Donning reprint volumes released in 1987-8. These are oversized, printed on nice, slick paper, and even include the Mage back-ups from the second Grendel series. Comico also published a thing called Magebook that reprinted four issues in each of the (far as I can tell) two volumes released. I think these may have been rebound copies of the actual issues, I’m not sure. I also seem to recall they weren’t…terribly sturdy, but maybe someone can chime in and let me know.

There was an 8-issue series from Image reprinting “The Hero Discovered” in the late ’90s, but…mmm, I’d probably avoid that one. As I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong) due to Wagner no longer having the original art or the film shot from that art, current reprints of this story are sourced from actual printed copies of the original Comico comics. And for this series, the art was relettered and some digital effects applied to some of the artwork, and…it wasn’t great, as I recall. I believe there were several typos in the relettering, and the added effects were very much of the “because we can do them” variety. I don’t know, maybe those effects were covering up defects caused by the less-than-ideal method of obtaining the artwork, but they certainly didn’t appeal to my eye.

As of right now, more or less, all three series have been reprinted in a series of paperbacks, or three hardcovers, from Image (with the typos hopefully fixed in the first series, but the digital fiddling is likely still present). Checking with Diamond’s current stock even as I type this, they have the hardcovers for the first two series and one of the two books reprinting the last series. (EDIT: my mistake, a third hardcover reprinting Denied appears to have never been released.)

Again, ideally, just get the original comics if you can. It’s good stuff all the way through, you get the letters pages, and in that first series you get the Grendel back-ups (telling the full story that was never finished in that 1983 comic). Oh, and you have to get Grendel (2nd series) #16-#19 for the Mage “Interlude” back-ups.

However you get it, it’s a fun read, and it’s hard to believe, looking at the dates, that I read all of these series as they came out, and waited patiently over the literal decade between each one. It was weird, to age along with Mage. Well, Kevin, but that didn’t rhyme.

Anyway, as I’ve said half-jokingly before, I’m still awaiting the fourth series, “The Hero Disco-Dances.” C’MON, WAGNER

As an added bonus, here’s a post from about a year and a half ago with an old piece of Mage promotional material.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Seventeen.

§ July 26th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 11 Comments

At last, we’re up to the three-voters from my little ‘ol “Favorite 1980s Indies Comics” survey. Just for my own sanity/need for sleep, I may only do entries with one title at a time (like last time and today), but we’re in the home stretch so we’ll be done relatively soon!

And here we go:

Concrete (Dark Horse 1987-1988)Paul Chadwick’s large rocky fella has been missing from the stands for quite a while (though with the occasional promise of a new series coming down the pike), but the character retains a beloved following among the comics cognoscenti even today.

First appearing in Dark Horse Comics’ premier publication, Dark Horse Presents #1 in 1986, Concrete was primarily presented in short stories for the first year or so of his existence. The mostly down-to-Earth stories, told in a purposefully mundane and introspective style, presented the life of Concrete, a person in a huge rocky pody trying to adjust to living in a world too small and fragile for him. At the same time, Concrete uses the advantages conferred upon him by his body to go on exploratory adventures around the planet.

In this early period no explanation is given for Concrete’s existence, until early in his brief ongoing monthly series (the one listed in the header above). It’s aliens, what took political speechwriter Ron Lithgow and a pal who were on a hiking trip and for reasons yet unknown transplated their brains into these large artificial bodies. Aside from this origin (and an expanded retelling in a later mini-series), we don’t get any more aliens or monsters or whatever in the strip, leaving Concrete as the one fantastical element.

[NOTE: in the original telling of the origin, Concrete escapes the alien’s craft as it departs, while his hiking buddy remains behind. Chadwick had said in the past that his idea of the last Concrete story beginning with Concrete’s pal showing back up on his doorstep. In the expanded original, it appears that during the escape Concrete’s pal is killed, so either this was a fake-out or Chadwick’s changed his name on the ending.]

That monthly series ended in ’88, and was followed by several mini-series and one-shots (in color and in black and white). The most recent mini (The Human Dilemma ended in 2006 (on one heck of a cliffhanger), and some short stories that appeared in the revived Dark Horse Presents anthology were reprinted in a one-shot in 2012.

The Concrete stories have been reprinted a number of times in a number of formats, but the most convenient method of reading everything (or at least most everything, but I’m pretty sure these are comprehensive) would be this set of 7 trade paperbacks. This has everything except the 2012 one-shot. The books don’t appear to be currently available from Diamond but they should be relatively easy and inexpensive to find.

A movie was in the planning stages but alas was never to be. I think…Bill Murray was one of the names floated to voice the character? I still believe the comic would lend itself well to some form of adaptation, be it live action or animated. I would fear, though, it would stray too far from its low key comic origins and just go straight to “Concrete Vs. Aliens.”

This is a great series, well worth checking out in those collections or even just sampled out of back issue bins. And I hope we see new stories with Concrete again someday.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Sixteen.

§ July 17th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 7 Comments

Today I am doing the last of the two-voter getters from my Fave ’80s Indies (plus Marvel/Epic Because Why Not) survey. It’s a long’un, so strap in:

Yummy Fur (Vortex/Drawn & Quarterly 1986-1994)

Yummy Fur started as a mini-comic self-published by cartoonist Chester Brown, running seven issues from 1983 to 1985. It would be picked up by Vortex Comics, reprinting the contents of those minis in the first three standard-sized comic issues and continuing with new material afterwards.

While many of the very earliest strips were short stand-alone gags, the main thrust of the book was the adventures of Ed the Happy Clown, to whom horrible things would happen and continue to happen through the features’ tenure in the book. However, some of those short seemingly unrelated strips would eventually feed into the main Ed narrative, most notably “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop” (about a man sitting on a toilet who, well, it says right on the tin, really).

The Ed stories tended to be surrealistic, morbidly humorous, occasionally shockingly violent, grotesque, and often a little sad. There’s a lady vampire in there too, who becomes one of Ed’s few friends in his travails. The childlike Ed just suffers through nightmarish scenario after nightmarish scenario, the peak of which is, well, the minature head of an other-dimensional Ronald Reagan replacing part of his penis. Hence:

And on top of all this, most issues featured as back-up stories just straight adaptations of stories from The Bible, which also seemed to occasionally feed, at least thematically, into the lead feature. Was it a strange mix? Oh, certainly. But it was all done so…plainly and matter-of-factly that both the humor and the horror were unfettered by any sort of distance between the narrative and reader. It was right there, in your face but not overblown, presented in an almost mundane way.

After ending the Ed story in #18, Brown moved on to more down-to-earth autobiographical stories (but not without the occasional flight of fancy, such as in “The Little Man”) which ran through the rest of the series. The Bible back-ups continued as well. This was at the height of the autobiographical indie comic, and Brown was one of the most prominent in the genre.

There have been numerous reprints from this series, and it gets a little confusing particularly with the “Ed the Happy Clown” material. (One should also note that Brown did self-publish a collection of the first six minis in ’85.) I’m delving into the Wikipedia article to keep it all straight. However, I do own the initial trade paperback reprint from 1989, which contains the Ed-related stories from the first 12 issues and a foreward by Harvey Pekar.

The second Ed collection from 1992 also ends the reprints at issue #12 (with some material from a later issue), and includes a new ending.

In 2005-6, there was a nine-issue Ed the Happy Clown comic series from Drawn & Quarterly, re-presenting the Ed story as it appears in its definitive, “truncated” version from 1992, along with notes from Brown. This was collected into the 2012 Ed the Happy Clown hardcover, which is still available as I type this.

And the later autobiographical material has been collected into three volumes: The Little Man (various short strips), The PLayboy (about Brown’s fascination with said magazine), and I Never Liked You (the life and loves of Teenage Chester). Not reprinted is a big chunk of the latter “Ed” stories (from #13 – #18, though portions of #17 make it into the “definitive” edition), and I believe a few things from the “mini-comics” era also remain unreprinted. The Bible stories are also uncollected, far as I can tell, which honestly surprises me a little.

Long, long-time readers of this site know that I had some trouble tracking down a couple issues of Yummy Fur for the longest time. #6 and #9 eluded me for years, though I did eventually track them both down. Issue #9 was the last, getting a copy from, of all places, Scott McCloud’s collection back in 2013.

Now I knew one of the reasons some of those issues of Yummy Fur were so hard to find was that Diamond Comic Distributors decided to not carry the title for a while, presumably to make room for higher quality, better selling material. Eventually, after all the accolades Yummy Fur received, Diamond was shamed into carrying it again. According to the Wiki article, because of being dropped by Diamond, ordered bottomed out on #9, with a reported print run of under 1,700 copies. No wonder it was such a pain in the ass to find this stupid issue.

Anyway, Yummy Fur is pretty great. It’s a shame that so much of the Ed story was removed from the “definitive” edition, but those later issues should be sorta relatively easy to find. So, get the official story in the hardcover, and get the “deleted scenes” in issues #13-#18. The autobio stuff is entertaining, too…Chester doesn’t really pull any punches in depicting his life, so brace yourself for some cringey discomfort. Hope you like masturbation!

But if you want the Bible stories, you’re gonna have to buy the original issues. In fact, ideally, you should get a full run of the series for the unadulterated experience. I mean, good luck finding #9. No, you can’t have mine.

• • •

Okay, that’s it for the two-voters…on to see what series got three votes in my little ’80s indie overview thingie! Thanks for reading, pals!

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Fifteen.

§ July 12th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 5 Comments

At long last, here is the next installment of our little ’80s indie overview here, as voted upon by YOU, the people what still read the blogs and also a few people I cajoled into voting on Twitter.

And speaking of the Twitter, a couple of you have wondered what happened to my Twitter feed that used to be in the sidebar on this site. Well, I mean, it’s still there, it’s just not working anymore aside from a link that won’t do you any good unless you’re on Twitter, too. For reasons too stupid to go into, Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk decided to no longer 1) feed out tweets through embedded widgets like the thingie I had in the sidebar, and 2) prevent anyone not logged into Twitter from being able to see anyone’s tweets.

So for those of you following my feed there, I’m sorry, it wasn’t my decision to cut you off. With luck Bluesky will open up to the public sometime soon and you can find me there (under, and I’m also on Mastodon, and if you absolutely have to, I’m “mikesterlingjr” on Threads. I really don’t like Threads. Don’t forget you can usually find what I’m up to at

Enough of that nonsense, let’s talk some comical books:

Usagi Yojimbo (Fantagraphics 1987-1993)

Hoo boy, where do I even start. Stan Sakai’s samurai rabbit has been going strong since debuting in Albedo Anthropomorphics #2 in 1984. After some appearances in that anthology, Usagi moved over to Fantagraphics, first in the anthology Critters, then a one-shot special, and then a 38-issue run of his own series (the one noted in the header above). From there the character moved to Mirage (the original publisher of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) for a short run, then it was off to Dark Horse Comics for its longest numbered run from ’96 to 2018. Since then new Usagi has been coming from IDW, in both an ongoing series and various minis.

That’s just a barebones overview of its publishing history, not mentioning stuff like the Space Usagi mini-series (leaving the usual setting of Japan from centuries ago and presenting the adventures of Usagi’s descendant in a sci-fi future), or the various crossovers with the aforementioned Mutant Turtles (one series going on even as I type). There are literally thousands of pages of story produced over the last few decades, and nearly all of it has been reprinted; I direct you to this part of the Wikipedia entry to find what comics show up where.

“Yes yes, but is it any good, Mike?” The answer is “yes, it is excellent.” I missed out on buying it from the start (though I have on very rare occasions held that Albedo #2 in my hands), but I tend to drop in on the character from time to time, at one point several years ago sitting down and reading, like, sixty in-sequence issues that showed up in a collection. Sakai’s storytelling, from his scripts to his art to even his lettering (the last of which very familiar to Groo the Wanderer fans), is flawless. Sakai populates his book with a cast of anthropomorphized animals (including the lead: “Usagi” is Japanese for “rabbit”), and tells a straight, serious (but not without its moment of humor) tale of his lead’s relationships, adventures, and travails.

The character has appeared in various animated adaptions, perhaps most famously in the original 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, and then later in the 2012 TMNT series. Most recently a CGI cartoon has been appearing on Netflix, which, like Space Usagi, is set in the future. Haven’t seen it, but I feel like not putting it in the Japan of the past was a lost opportunity. I don’t know, like I said, I haven’t seen it, maybe someone can tell me if it’s any good.

But what is good is Usagi Yojimbo comics. Well worth your time. I know there’s a lot of material out there, but Sakai’s master storytelling will draw you right in and tell you everything you need to know to enjoy what you’re reading. Easily one of the best comic books ever produced.
Xenozoic Tales (Kitchen Sink 1987-1996)

But Xenozoic Tales ain’t no slouch either. Mark Shultz’s very EC Comics-inspired series is set in a post-apocalyptic future where prehistoric beasts once again roam the Earth. The concept was introduced in a short story in the Kitchen Sink legacy underground title Death Rattle in ’86, before getting its own series in ’87. 14 issues were produced in a ten year span afterwards, taking a while due to the meticulous art, but probably also due…

…to the advent of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, an animated adaptation of the comic that debuted in 1993 and ran for one season. I imagine the development of the show took up some of Mr. Schultz’s time.

The Cadillacs and Dinosaurs name had appeared previously, when Marvel acquired reprint rights and reprinted the first six issues in color. That title was used again on a handful of series published by Topps Comics in the mid-1990s, which were new stories written and drawn by hands other than Schultz.

There have been multiple reprints over the years, but none appear currently available from Diamond. Dark Horse had a two-volume series that reprints all of Schultz’s work from book. There has also been a hardcover edition from Flesk that puts everything under one cover. If you want to go for the original comics, they shouldn’t be expensive, but may be a little harder to find now. But it’s well worth the search…these are some beautiful-looking funnybooks.

• • •

Okay, I should wrap up the two-voters next time. Thanks for reading, folks and I’ll catch you on the flip-flop.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Fourteen.

§ June 26th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 35 Comments

So here we are, finally up to the two-vote getters in my little survey from a while back re: Your Favorite ’80s Indies That Aren’t Actually Comics Like Elfquest and Cerebus That Started in the ’70s.

And today’s entry features a couple of heavy-hitters from the period, so this post may get a little more attention than normal. As such, let me point out to anyone new that the dates presented represent the length of the initial run of the subject’s first primary series, so it may skip earlier appearances as back-ups or anthology entries an’ such. (I fudge this a little in the Nexus entry.) Admittedly, I should have just noted “year of first appearance” or something, but no,I had to be more difficult about it. Anyway, I do at least try to mention those earlier appearances.

Got it? Good! Confused? Probably also good! So here we go….

Elementals (Comico 1984-1988)

I recently had…not a full set of all the Elementals (at least, the “good” ones, more on that in a moment), but pretty close, and a friend who had an interest in reading those but missed ’em the first time around expressed interest. After taking them home and reading them, he reported back “…um, yeah, not for me.”

Here’s the thing, I’m still interested in reading these all in sequence someday. I’ve read scattered issues here and there, I’ve glanced through them at the shop, I generally like Bill Willingham’s work from this period (fresh from the TSR ads). Thus, I have at least a passing familiarity with the books.

First appearing in Texas Comics’ Justice Machine Annual #1 in 1983, they got their first ongoing series from Comico the following year when the previous company went other. The comic, about four people who had died but were revived with power over the element that caused their demise (the woman who drowned getting water-based powers, for example) ran 29 issues. Willingham wrote and drew most issues through 23, with occasional guest stints from other artists. Jill Thompson is probably the most notable, and she draws the remainder of the series through to 29 after Willingham’s departure. There was also an Elementals Special published in ’86, drawn by Willingham and written by Jack Herman.

Willingham returns to script the second series, and provide covers, which starts in 1989. Mike Leeke is the main artist for this run, aside from the occasional assist from guest-artists like Chuck Austen and Adam Hughes. With #23 Willingham is gone again, and other hands bring this series to its conclusion in 1993 with #26. (Willingham did write and draw a second special in 1989.)

There was also the Elementals Sex Special, an adults-only series that ran 4 issues from 1991-3, with Willingham involved only in #1. Another two-issue run under this title was issued in 1997. If that’s not enough, there was the Sexy Lingerie Special, a 1996 Swimsuit Special, and well, you can see what the new owners of this property, having acquired it from Willingham, think of the whole thing. There were a couple of attempts at actual narrative for these characters in the mid-late-ish ’90s but that was pretty much that. And Willingham’s out so he’s not going to revive the property (but he was credited on something called Ghost of a Chance as writer, Tony Akins on art, in 1995 that I thought was reprints but is maybe new? If someone out there knows for sure, please drop me a line (or a comment).

Oh, and I should note the early crossover mini Justice Machine featuring the Elementals from 1986, script by Willingham.

So, that’s a lot of stuff, and aside from maybe a trade paperback or two, there’s never been a comprehensive reprinting of this material, nor is there likely to be one. Fortunately, the once relatively sky-high prices on that Justice Machine Annual and the first Comico issue have come way, way down, and everything else should be cheap cheap cheap. You can probably get by without anything published after the end of the second series (except maybe that Ghost of a Chance book, depending if it’s new stuff by Willingham or not). I like the concept of the series, and it’s a shame it got out of the control of its creator.
Nexus (Capital/First 1981-1991)

I wrote about Nexus a few months back, on the occasion of a new (and, um, pretty overpriced for what you got) graphic novel. Despite that, the series has featured some remarkable and memorable work over the decades, primarily the the comic’s creators Mike Baron and Steve Rude.

Beginning with a three-issue run of a black and white magazine in 1981-2, Nexus continued as a color comic (with a new #1) in ’83. This was under the Capital Comics banner, but the series ended with #6 in 1984, moving to First Comics in ’85 and running ’til issue 80 in 1991. Mike Baron wrote pretty much everything, Rude drew primarily in the first half of the series, with an array of usually top-flight artists (like Paul Smith!) doing the rest of the work. Given the premise of the series (Nexus is compelled by dreams to find and execute mass-murderers) it seems like it would just wallow in darkness, but it remains energetic and fun and inventive pretty much through its entire existence.

Following First’s demise, Dark Horse picked up the property and issued a whole slew of mini-series, several by Baron and Rude, some by other creators (like 1992’s Nexus the Liberator). The ’90s also brought us intercompany crossovers teaming Nexus with Madman (and The Jam) and Magnus Robot Fighter.

There were also plenty of tie-in minis and one-shots featuring Nexus’s pals and gals, both from First and Dark Horse. Most notable were Next Nexus from First, the handful of Hammer of God minis from both companies (starring best pal Judah), Mezz: Galactic Tour 2494, and, of course, the Clonezone Special (issued by Dark Horse whilst Nexus was still at First, curiously enough — one can only presume First was too chicken to publish it).

Post-Dark Horse, there was a short run in the mid-2000s from “Rude Dude Productions,” reteaming Baron and Rude on the character. Also released was a collection of “Newspaper Strips” (which I think were a Kickstarter or subscription thing?). The 2010s version of Dark Horse Presents had some serialized stories. And then there was that recent graphic novel I linked to above.

If you’re trying to catch up on Nexus now, well, good luck friend as I think a lot of the books are out of print, but Wikipedia has a list of what’s been reprinted and how. Looks like the Omnibii are the way to go, all you have to do is find the darned things.

The first three magazine-sized issues were reprinted in a nice trade by First (sans the flexidisc from the third issue) at their original size, so I think that likely looks better than being shrunk down to comic-sized pages in the Archives/Omnibus books. But that’s just me, the guy with crummy eyes who wants larger pages to look at. There was also a standalone trade of Next Nexus, and there was a reprint series called Nexus Legends that presented the early color issues.

This was a good series, with a fleshed-out universe and interesting and unusual characters (and the occasional guest-appearance of that other Mike Baron character the Badger), and I sorta miss having a new issue of this to look forward to every month. Rude apparently has a new Nexus graphic novel on the way, and supposedly he’s also split with Baron, so…we’ll have two competing Nexus continuities, I guess? Well, I guess we’ll see what actually comes out.

If I were to recommend any Nexus, I’d say “start with the early stuff” and so long as Rude is drawing, you’re in for a good time. The first dozen or so color issues are, like, Peak Nexus, but there’s lots of good stuff elsewhere in the run. Ah heck, just read ’em all. Get those ominuses as you can!

• • •

Only two this time? Yes, sorry, the mind is able, but the flesh is…sleepy. Well, so’s my mind, while I’m thinking about it. Anyway, got to give it a rest tonight, and I’ll see you guys back here soon.

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