Please don’t kill me for that last joke, Mr. Griffith.

§ April 29th, 2024 § Filed under from the vast Mikester comic archives § 3 Comments

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was left with insufficient time to work on the next part of my Byrne Superman Reboot deep dive (or at least knee-high wading) so with luck I’ll get to it next time. And to the person who suggested I change the category tag for those posts to be a little more specific than just “Byrne reboot” — yeah, you have a point. Unless I decide to do a whole series on Byrne’s reboots/relaunches of various titles, in which…nah, I think I’ll just change the tag. I’ll do that soon.

Anyway, in the meantime here’s a look at a little mini-comic thingie I just acquired. It’s a 12-page mini-comic created for a 1980 Bill Griffith art exhibit:

…featuring the man’s own autograph inside the back cover:

Pretty neat! Also, I just noticed a couple of the pages aren’t cut along the top edge, so now I have to decide if I want to cut those apart with my old and shaky hands. We’ll see.

This makes like the third item I own signed by Mr. Griffith, which is pretty good considering I’ve never even met the man. The other items were a hardcover of full-color Zippy strips, and one of the Fantagraphics Best Comics of the Decade hardcovers (this volume also signed by Matt Groening).

Okay, back to 1980s Superman next time, where I will discuss his most famous piece of dialogue: “Yow! Are we having fun yet?”

My British accent is impeccable.

§ April 26th, 2024 § Filed under byrne reboot, dc comics, superman § 21 Comments

More specifics about the actual content of the 1980s Superman reboot will come in future posts (yes, it’s continuing into next week). You can find the previous posts under the newly-created “byrne reboot” tag, so I don’t have to keep adding a large list of links to past posts at the top of each entry.

Today, I wanted to post up something else I found in that long preview articles from Amazing Heroes #96 (1986). Now, I’d read this ‘zine when it originally came out, and I know I absorbed every column inch of this article in anticipation of the Byrne reign of Superman. It’d been several…well, decades (egads) since I’ve read it, and peeking back at it as reference for this series of posts have reitroduced me to some interesting bits of information.

Specifically, this plan for a Superman team-up comic (like the defunct DC Comics Presents) as part of the reboot, written by…well, take a look:

When I spotted this, I immediately popped it up on Bluesky and it generated some discussion.

Bully the Little Fanzine Bull noted that this magazine “was pretty infamous for just letting creatives run at the mouth and printing that as news, though,” which, you know, fair enough. That is the foundation for many a ‘zine, prozine and fanzine alike, and while this article does appear to be informed by primary sources, I’m sure some of the noted plans weren’t firmed up yet, or no more than floated ideas.

Like, this Alan Moore thing sounds like it was no more than “can you do it?” “strewth, I don’t have the bloody time, mate” “oh okay thanks” and that was that. At that point in Moore’s career, I’m sure he got lots of job offers like this. “Can you write West Coast Avengers for us?” “Flippin’ ‘eck!”

Adam Knave had the probably very correct response in saying “I’m sorry we never got it and glad he didn’t do it at the same time.” I mean, yeah, Watchmen (or The Watchmen) would end up being an ugly mess re: merchandise royalties and creator ownership, not to mention being plundered by lesser talents for knockoffs. Probably best that there’s not also a one or two year run of Superman team-up stories by Moore to provide content to be clumsily reinterpreted later by writers whose names might rhyme with Reff Rohns.

But on the other hand, would we have read a run of Alan Moore-written Superman team-up comics? Oh, you bet your sweet bippy we would. Imagine, like, 24 or 36 issues of comics on par, or even better, than this one. That would be an absolute treasure, Moore just traipsing through the DC Universe.

On the other other hand, this was the period when Moore was at his deconstructive height, pulling apart the very idea of superhero comics and looking at their components in a new light. I don’t know if DC, in their fragile “we’re not sure entirely what’s going on here” post-Crisis phrase, trying to rebuild continuity after the structural damage inflicted by Crisis on Infinite Earths, would want Moore going through its new direction upending things even more.

Just picture the aftereffects on Adam Strange, after his brief 1987 appearance in Moore’s Swamp Thing run, and how his reinterpretation there still affects Adam Strange stories to this day. Now picture that with dozens more characters in addition to the ones he’d already touched with his wizardy powers. It really would be Alan Moore’s DC Universe now.

But even if the Moore thing had been a done deal, as blogging brother Andrew said on Bluesky, “the question then would be ‘how long until Byrne and Moore got on each other’s nerves and one/both quit'” and he ain’t wrong. I feel like the two would not play very well together. All it would take is Byrne saying “hey what you’re doing here with Superman isn’t in line with my vision,” and Moore would be all “blimey, you’re a barmy bloke, I’m gutted” and he’d be in the wind.

Anyway, thought that was an interesting bit of forgotten trivia involving this particular time in funnybook history. I don’t know how close this actually came to happening (like I said above, probably not too close), but it’s still quite the thing to think about.

Orange is the new Luthor.

§ April 24th, 2024 § Filed under byrne reboot, dc comics, superman § 16 Comments

So last time I talked a bit about the first issue of John Byrne’s Superman revamp, and how it felt to encounter it as it was happening, after having read Superman comics prior to this and witnessing the changes to the franchise in real time. I pointed out a number of those changes that happened just in that one comic, but a few of you beat me to the punch and started bringing up other alterations later in the Man of Steel mini-series.

Right out of the gate in the comments, David slings the following at me

“I always felt like the biggest change in Man of Steel was the change to Lex Luthor. His pre-Crisis persona was genius supervillain. Man of Steel established him as a genius businessman, who hated Superman, which moved him to villainy.”

Luthor went through several changes in the character’s history (a number of which I listed in this long-ago post which may amuse). The “mad scientist who hates Superman” remained fairly consistent from Luthor’s inception up through this point in the 1980s, cosmetic costume/hairstyle overhauls aside. The biggest alteration to the character was the adding the idea of Luthor having grown up in Smallville, concurrently with Clark/Superboy, and establishing the origin of his hatred (i.e. blaming the Boy of Steel for the loss of his hair).

But with the reboot comes A New Take (not to mention the loss of Superboy — more on that in a future post — effectively removing Smallville from Luthor’s backstory) and apparently Marv Wolfman had the idea for Big Businessman Luthor some time before Byrne came along. Here’s a bit from an article in Amazing Heroes #96 (1986), previewing the reboot:

Now the new idea as to why Luthor hated Superman had to do with him being the most powerful man in Metropolis…until the Man of Tomorrow showed up.

Hair still comes into play, as Superman’s first post-reboot encounter with Luthor in Man of Steel #4 ends with Lois hairline-shaming him:

Yes, I borrowed these scans from a two-year-old post where I go into a little more detail about the changes in Luthor’s motivations over the years. I’ll repeat here what I said there, in that there were some comments at the time that New Luthor bore some resemblance to Marvel’s “respected businessman” villain Wilson Fisk, AKA the Kingpin. Interestingly, both characters have had their evil shenanigans become increasingly more public knowledge as time has gone on, though still being able to hold high political offices (Luthor as President, Fisk as Mayor of New York).

Speaking of which, Byrne/Wolfman Luthor had that veneer of legitimacy crack a bit in that very “first” appearance, where Luthor was arrested. And as the years have continued, and DC continued its trend of backpedaling on the sweeping changes from both Byrne and Crisis on Infinite Earths, Luthor slowly became more and more like his pre-Crisis incarnation, to wearing versions of his early 1980s superarmor, to regularly being shown in prison. The “businessman” era still exists in current continuity, but now has more or less merged with previous versions.

Yet more reboot fiddling had initially made Luthor a much older man than previously portrayed. As you saw above, Lex and Clark were contemporaries in Smallville. In the reboot, he was at least a couple of decades older…he had to be old enough to believably have a son in his 20s, per a storyline a few years later. In Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography (1989), he’s shown as a child, and friends with a young Perry White:

However, Luthor has gradually become younger, both with an in-story explanation of his brain being transplanted into a youthful clone body, and with a no-explanation “he’s just younger now” pushing him back to around Clark/Lois’s ages. In fact, he’s now back to having have lived in Smallville and hangin’ with Teen Clark. I think this return-to-form was first evident in the continuity-or-not mini Birthright, discussed here (where the series’ writer himself chimes in).

So this new version of Luthor was indeed a significant modification to the Superman saga. But like many of DC’s changes from the period, the inertial effect of previous portrayals force at least some reversals of those decisions. If DC can make (multiple) attempts at bringing back the multiverse concept done away with in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it shouldn’t be surprising that Luthor has traded his business suit back in for his prison greys (or oranges).

And that he played football in high school, that was somethin’.

§ April 22nd, 2024 § Filed under byrne reboot, dc comics, superman § 33 Comments

I know I’ve talked about this before, but bear with me for a moment. I will hear modern day criticisms of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s continuity-changing mini-series from 1985, where it is essentially summed up as being “a bad story.” Beautifully drawn, there’s no argument about that. But the actual plot and script itself are held up as flawed.

And, I mean, fair enough. I once posted on Bluesky “thou shalt not read Crisis for its prose,” as just reading it for the story is only part of the experience. And the part of the experience that is arguably most significant is one that simply can’t be captured decades later, by people who weren’t there for it in 1985 as it debuted. It especially can’t be captured after the onslaught of universe-changing events and crossovers and reboots and rejiggerings that have been churned out since Crisis.

It was the excitement at the time that fed into the Crisis experience. Yes, maybe the storyline was, to be kind, slightly nonsensical. But DC Comics promised BIG CHANGES in their series, at a time when readers weren’t quite so jaded to assurances like these, and right from the get-go we were getting those changes in this series. As you picked up each succeeding issue, you were left wondering “what happens next? What worlds will live, what worlds will die, what will never remain the same?” Things were happening in this series, seemingly irrevocable things, and readers were left in suspense month to month as to what was next.

Well, that was then, this is now, DC has spent nearly 40 years trying to undo Crisis, and after seeing, like I said, reboot after relaunch after reboot, the primary oomph that moved the series along has faded away, leaving a nicely-drawn comic with a story that no longer has the energy it once did. It’s like reading about a roller coaster that had been torn down long ago and you can no longer ride. Meanwhile, old farts like me are all “you just don’t get it, that roller coaster was awesome back in the day.”

Which brings me to Man of Steel #1 from 1986.

Crisis wasn’t the only engine of change over there at mid-1980s DC Comics. Superstar comic book artist/writer John Byrne moved from Marvel to their rivals to take command of a “reboot” of the Superman line of comics.

The previous five decades’ worth of Superman comics would be brought to an end, the two main titles (Action and Superman) would be put on a brief hold, while Byrne’s six-issue mini-series The Man of Steel would be issues on a biweekly basis. That series would essentially restart the Superman line from scratch, with a new canonical origin, redesigns of old establishing elements, and a shaking up of Everyhing We Know about the character.

Right from the first page we’re presented a new vision of Krypton:

Inspired in part its depiction in 1979’s Superman: The Movie, this new version of Krypton does away with the sci-fi pulp style cities we’d previously seen. We now have a cold and sterile environment, where the inhabitants shun contact with each other, where babies (like Kal-El) are created in a “birth matrix” without all the fuss and mush of mixed genetic material the old-fashioned way.

As I recall, Byrne’s intent was to create a Krypton that wasn’t a high-tech fantasyland, a wonderful and magical place, but rather a loveless world that was already dying even withoiut the whole “about to explode” thing. A place that a young Kal-El was lucky to escape from.

There were other changes in this first issue, too, such as establishing that Clark’s powers didn’t really come in full ’til he was older, thus doing away with the Superboy (and Superbaby!) era of the character. That only one piece of Kryptonite made it to Earth. That there was some sort of “aura” around Superman’s body, a thin one just above the surface of his skin, that would prevent damage to, say, a skin-tight superhero uniform made out of ordinary Earth materials. (As opposed to resewing super-strong Kryptonian blankets in which he was swaddled as a baby.) That Superman wouldn’t let on that he even had a secret identity, letting folks think he was just Superman all day, every day.

There were other little changes, plus plenty more in the rest of this mini-series, but the big change, the BIGGEST change:

…is Ma and Pa Kent still being alive.

This was the wild one, the choice that really struck me out of all the other decisions made for this new version of Superman. For years, one of the big emotional elements of the character was ultimately how alone he was…I mean, despite his cousin Supergirl and a whole freakin’ Bottle City of Kandor in his Fortress of Solitude. This was long before Lois new the secret, of course, which was still a reboot away. And I suppose he had his super-pals in the Justice League.

But when it just came to Superman in his own books, he was pretty much just on his own. No confidantes, no family (unless Supergirl was guest-starring), just him and his thoughts. Most notably there’s those scenes when he goes back to Ma and Pa’s now empty Smallville home (which he still owns, of course), and putters around there for whatever reason, sadly recalling his younger days. It’s especially evident when you compare this to, say, DC’s former line-up of superhero TV shows, where every hero has a support team, either back at the home office or out in the field, who all know his secret, who all fight beside him.

The other change this makes to the mythos is that we lose out on the lesson Superman learns, that there are just some things even a Superman can’t do.

That’s from DC Comics Presents #50, where Supes and Clark are split into two beings…long story. But the important element is there…”with all my power, I couldn’t save them.” Now the “save them from what specifically” isn’t important. In some comics it’s just old age, in others it’s a deadly virus picked up during a time travel vacation to piratey days (because Superman comics), but the result is the same. It’s an important lesson, one that even makes it into the ’79 flick.

Despite that, it is kind of fun to have them around, to have a home that Superman can go to and have actual parents around, versus ghosts and memories haunting him pre-Crisis. They add a little emotional depth to the proceedings. In recent years it was a little unclear what their status was…George Pérez had famously stated he couldn’t get an answer as to whether they were alive or dead for the New 52 relaunch. But Pa Kent died during a storyline prior to that, and post-New 52/Rebirth they had both apparently died in a car wreck, but [SPOILER] revived due to universal shenanigans in Doomsday Clock. So I guess they’re still around now, which is nice.

Now the Man of Steel mini itself, even at the time, took a little critical drubbing from reviewers and fans. Part of it was, I think, just out of spite. Folks thought a certain way about Byrne and they were always looking for a way to knock him down a peg. Plus Superman, despite having low-selling comics for quite a while prior to the reboot, was still an object of “well, this is the way it should be” backlash from some quarters, objecting to the alterations. And on top of all that…yeah, the series was a little clunky in parts. Byrne was trying to rush through several years’ worth of continuity and world-building in these six issues, catching Superman up to the “present day” of the DC Universe.

Like Crisis (remember Crisis from way back at the beginning of this?) this is a book that also suffers a bit in retrospect. I think it may be a little easier for readers new to it to understand that this book was a Big Deal at the time, given it was tackling the Biggest Hero in Comics and giving him a fresh start. And that, when all is said and done, this is the Superman that is still around today, despite whatever fiddling was done with continuity, despite the asides we got with the absolutely-distinct-from-the-post-Crisis-version New 52 Supes. Our current Superman is the John Byrne Reboot Superman. You can still draw a line directly from Man of Steel #1 to the latest issues of Action and Superman.

But that said…I feel like any readers not old enough to have read Man of Steel back in the mid-1980s may be in a similar position as those new to Crisis. They weren’t there, in real time, watching the pre-Crisis Superman getting wrapped up and put away, while this new series came along to reintroduce the hero. The excitement of change was there, as we wondered what this Byrne fella had in store for us as Man of Steel wrapped up and the new Superman titles launched and/or relaunched. It’s a particular frisson that’s missed when coming to the stories now, especially after all the retoolings both Superman and the DCU at large have undergone since then.

Special thanks to Sam Hurwitt for reminding me of that DC Comics Presents sequence.

Something fell.

§ April 19th, 2024 § Filed under cerebus § 15 Comments

Hoo boy, comments beget comments beget comments, and I told myself I was going to restrict CEREEBUSTALK to just this week, so I’ll try to cover a lot here in short order.

From Monday’s post, here’s JohnJ with

“…Even got a photo I took at a Capital City Distributors show published by Dave as a back cover. It was a shot of Dave, Colleen Doran, James Owen and Martin Wagner all mugging for my camera.”

Oh, do you mean…this photo, from the back cover to Cerebus #174 (1993)?

(I whited out your last name, in case that was a state secret or something.) Huh, it’s a weird the longer I’m online, the more people tangentially related to the comics I’ve read have found me online. Neat!

JohnJ also say (not a typo, was trying to rhyme)

“…It did seem like he dug a hole by promising 300 issues and having to stretch his story to get there. I found the small type impossible to read so kind of flagged on it as it neared the end.”

I’ll address the second part first, in that the overreliance on text pieces to carry the story in the latter part of the series was…unfortunate. In the “Jaka’s Story” and “Melmoth” sections it worked surprisingly well…usually throwing a giant text piece in the middle of your funnybook generally functioned as a big ol’ speedbump, and a bad habit of a number of 1970s comickers. (I will however give Steve Gerber a pass on this.)

But then we started getting into “Reads” and the text pieces there, which were at least readable, but contentwise a bit…well, we’ll say “alarming.” And then those issues that were almost all text with the pseudo-religious screeds that few if any tried to plow through, what amounted to wasted pages that could have gone to story but instead just supplied pages that could be stapled together to make a full-sized comic.

That sounds awfully harsh, and to reiterate: Dave’s comic, he could do what he wanted with it. But this was a ride that I, and many others, just couldn’t go on. It was literally a period of looking at the two or three pages of comics in each issue and skipping the text pieces and just filing the book away in my Cerebus box. Maybe someone will drop by here to yell at me for missing “the important stuff,” and I do mean someday to try to tackle it again, but…well, What Can You Do™?”

In looking something up, I came across the entry for “Lord Julius” (the Groucho Marx-inspired character) in a Cerebus Wiki, which included what Dave had to say about an unused story idea late in the series:

“[I] wanted to do Groucho as an old man somewhere in the course of Latter Days and just not having room for it. I was going to make Palnu this last lonely outpost completely surrounded by Cirinists and the place was just one big rotgut distillery with Lord Julius and Baskin running everything pretty much by themselves….”

If I may, perhaps a couple dozen or so fewer text pages could have made room for one more appearance by one of Dave’s more delightful characters. I mean, it’s not like the actual Groucho’s later years weren’t rife with the need for some kind of commentary. There’s even a lady who latched onto old Groucho in her own attempt to achieve fame, and if that doesn’t sound like something right up Dave’s alley, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, I’ll save that for my Cerebus fan fiction.

• • •

Thom H. hollers

“Sim did a lot of good work around creators’ rights back in the day. And 300 self-published issues is a huge accomplishment. It’s a shame all that gets overshadowed by his sad Light and Void ramblings.”

Just wanted to say, yes, Dave was (and still is, presumably) a primary supporter of self-publishing. Making it all the way to 300, in whatever form it took, was astounding, and I’m sure he had to do it with naysayers all around him telling him there was no way he was going to succeed.

“I’m sure the phone books still make him some money, but not as much as they would have if he had reined in his worst impulses and stuck the landing.”

I do wonder how well they are selling. I imagine well enough, since they’re still being carried by Diamond, he’s still printing new editions, and I even still sell a volume here and there. Despite how we may feel about how the book went in the end, it’s still a major work in the comics field, and gets attention simply just for that.

• • •

John sez

“…The last few years of the run we had dropped from about 30 people getting it, to just two (and we were only ordering one extra for the rack -that never sold, and then just went to back issue).”

That has me trying to remember how it was selling for us as Cerebus hit that magic 300. I think we still had a few diehards hangin’ on ’til the very end, including yours truly. My hunch is that sales dropped over time, but ordered a few extra for the last issue because that was a fairly momentous occasion. I don’t remember if we actually did sell more of #300 or not. I was even blogging at the time and didn’t make a mention of how it was selling. Ah well, maybe next time. (“What?”)

“I’m always eager to pick up other Dave Sim work just to look at what he’s working on. The Alex Raymond book is Fantastic.”

I’m glad to hear that. I was enjoying the strip cartoonists stuff in glamourpuss, and even told Dave during that phone call I was really looking forward to it. Alas, it’s another victim of my eye troubles as it’s in the backlog of goodies I need to read.

• • •

Mike Loughlin remembers pal-of-the-site Tegan O’Neil’s writings on Cerebus, and Rob S. comes through with the link. And as Rob notes, Tom Ewing already linked to Tegan’s writings in his own series of posts, but I like Tegan and want to link her too.

• • •

Onto Wednesday’s post, here’s old, old friend (as in I’ve known him a long time, not that he’s decrepit) tomthedog with

“I was seriously going to try to finish Cerebus, or at least get through Jaka’s Story, because of Tom’s blog posts, but then I read Tangent again.

“Tangent, dude. Tangent.

“Cerebus deserves to die alone, unmourned and unloved.”

Yeah, that link is a gathering on Dave’s writings re: feminism. SPOILER: he don’t like it, not at all, nuh uh. Also, it’s very, very long, and uses the phrase “feminist-homosexualist axis,” so, uh, you’re warned, I guess.

• • •

philfromgermany has something germane to say

“There were a couple of specials but I cannot provide reprint status: A-V in 3D (with Neil the Horse), Cerebus Zero and Cerebus Jam. You need not skip these to evade the awful stuff.”

This gives me an excuse to add another break to this massive wall of text with that great Cerebus Jam cover by Bill Sienkiewicz:

Cerebus Jam (which I’ve talked about before) is a collection of short Cerebus stories by Sim with other artists, like Will Eisner, Terry Austin, and Murphy Anderson. Fun stuff, don’t think any of it has been reprinted.

A-V in 3-D is a sampler book of various titles being published by Dave’s company Aardvark-Vanaheim at the time, all in glorious three dimensions. According to the Comics Database link, it’s almost all been reprinted elsewhere except the Cerebus story. (Note to Tom W – there’s your answer!)

Cerebus Zero is a one-shot reprinting those issues of Cerebus that, I said last time, were not included in the “phone book” reprints for dumb reasons. Honestly, they should totally be in there, c’mon son.

Also of note is Cerebus World Tour Book 1995, reprinting the short stories produced specifically for the early pre-phone book Swords of Cerebus reprint volumes. Most stories feature Dave collaborating with other creators, like Gene Day or Joe Rubinstein. A six pager entirely by Barry Windsor-Smith is also included, as is a run of strips from the Comic Buyers’ Guide with the in-universe parody of Prince Valiant.

• • •

And speaking of Tom W, he talks about his experience with Cerebus and admires Dave’s mastery of the comics form. I mean, yes, absolutely, there’s no denying he was a master of pacing, caricature, dialog, and especially lettering. Just some of the purpose it was put to was a tad troubling near the end there.

“And the excellent three-pager in Alan Moore’s AARGH!, a publication raising funds to combat Britain’s homophobic Section 28 law which it now seems deeply surreal Sim contributed to. Spoiler: the Sacred Secret Wars Roach has urges.”

Oooh yeah. If you can find this book, it’s great. The Alan Moore/Steve Bissette/Rick Veitch “Mirror of Love” is astounding, but Dave’s contribution delivers a pretty solid, if dirty, laugh.

• • •

Daniel T squares off with

“Sim’s views have never put me off Cerebus for one big reason: his ideas have absolutely no effect on anything, except maybe some of his most ardent admirers. […] He is basically screaming into the, er, void.”

That’s likely true…there may be some of The Usual Suspects on Xwitter still who are all “right on, man” assuming these comic fans actually read any of his comics (or any comics, honestly). But even given his the effective reach of his opinions are nil, they still impact the work itself, which is the real problem. What could have been a masterpiece is…well, I spent two posts already talking about this, you know what I’m going on about.

Whoops, and Daniel also mentions Dave’s wonderful lettering. I wasn’t copying Daniel, I swear!

“…High Society and Church and State show him to be an intelligent, thoughtful writer with a firm grasp of ideas and history.”

Yes, exactly…there are so many good ideas in the comic that when the bad ideas show up, it’s a real showstopper.

• • •

Jim Kosmicki notes

“I know that I’m not the first person to point this out, but Sim really created biggest problems by proclaiming it a 300 issue story early on and then not being able to admit ‘I was young and brash’ to stop when the story really needed to stop. Pushing to fill those last 100 or so issues seems to have ‘forced’ him to let any ideas get on the page.”

to which Daniel T replies

“It is of course entirely possible he had no plan for all 300 issues, but I always thought whatever he might have wanted to do with the character over the last 100-150 issues became less important to him than getting his ideas about things in front of people.”

I don’t know for sure just how far ahead, and to what detail, Dave planned out the Cerebus storylines. But I do have at least one piece of evidence in favor of him having done so, at least to some extent.

Swords of Cerebus, published in 1984, reprints among other issues Cerebus #22 from 1980. In this issue Elrod (Dave’s parody of Michael Moorcock’s character Elric) is killed, but finds he becomes a ghostly spirit who can possess the living (in a parody of DC Comics’ Deadman). Swords of Cerebus includes text introductions to each issue, and for the reprint of #22 Dave says “we’ll find out why Elrod was able to do this around issue #175.” (Or thereabouts, I don’t have the book in front of me right now.)

In 1984, when this volume of Swords of Cerebus was published, Cerebus was around issue 55 or so. In issue #180, published in 1994, we do indeed find out what Elrod’s deal was.

So I think Dave had at least some plan in place…at least with large swaths of the story (“okay, Jaka and Cerebus will journey back to Cerebus’ home town at this point of the series”) while leaving enough room to maneuver for new ideas and plotlines, such as they were.

• • •

Joe Gualtieri recommends

“…you should absolutely read the Last Day.”

I mean, yeah, probably. If you’re going to go at least partly into Cerebus, knowing how it’s supposed to end with #300, you should probably see how it all wraps up. There are some…sour notes even here, given it is late in the series, but the very final scene is pretty wild.

• • •

Smichael swonders

“I am very curious about what the letters pages were like throughout the series…but particularly the last third. Can you share a bit about what reader response was, as seen through the lens of what Sim allowed into this space?”

Hoo boy, that may be more than I’m able to tackle at the moment. I seem to remember Dave doing away with the letter column entirely at some point, replacing them with more text pieces. A sample issue from the “Latter Days” period I popped open to check had almost half the book dedicated to a piece titled “Islam, My Islam,” and oh dear.

The letters column was a wild ride, particularly during the “High Society” and “Church and State” days, but a more detailed description may have to wait until I can take a more thorough overview of the issues. Suffice to say, when the letters column existed, it was never boring!

“…Is it reasonable to see parallels between the last third of the Cerebus run, and the last third or so of Steve Ditko’s published work? It seems like they are both characterized by a domination of ideology over storytelling, and become more and more challenging, dense, alienating, choose-your-term-I’m-trying-to-be-nice…to the reader. Likewise, regardless of public opinion they both remain absolutely unique creations, doing things creatively that no one else could (or would choose to) do, and immediately recognizable as that creator’s work. That lack of regard for public opinion and attitude of ‘this is what I’ve got, take it or leave it’ seems have driven both men’s output.”

I think that’s not a terrible comparison, leaving out the actual content of their positions. Both had the fortunate-for-them apparent freedom to do what they wanted, marketplace be damned. As I’ve repeated over and over again, Dave had the right do whatever he liked with his comic. He can look at everything everyone said here in criticism of Cerebus, and he can say “you guys are all dummies, you just don’t get it,” and he’d completely be in his rights to do so. Dave created something that is uniquely his, representing his ideas as he wanted them expressed, and completed the project with issue #300 as he’d planned.

It may not be the work we ultimately wanted, and some of the ideas we may find repellent. We may mourn the loss of what could have been unambiguously a classic. But there it is, all Dave’s, for us to examine, to interrogate, to debate, or simply to ignore. It’s that last option which is the real shame, but unfortunately work itself tries very hard to encourage that response.

• • •

Okay, that’s the end of Cerebus posts for a while. I didn’t address everyone’s comments, but you all had some good ones, and thank you for them. If you want to still discuss, the comments remain open, but my actual posts are moving on to other topics. Thanks again for your participation, and making me ponder this aardvark once again.

If you do use his last name, remember it’s “Sim” with no “s” at the end.

§ April 17th, 2024 § Filed under cerebus § 15 Comments

So y’all had some good comments about Cerebus and the troubles thereof, with a small side conversation about a 1957 Mighty Mouse I originally talked about on this site 18 years ago (Patrick, if you’re reading this, I replied in the comments with the info you need!)

I also got a comment (that went straight into moderation) from a particular troller who loves nothing more than being rude and insulting. This time he didn’t like me saying, in essence (and in admittedly too many words), “Dave’s worldview was troubling, and it negatively impacted Cerebus.” Which is, I think, about as objective and factual a description of the events as one can manage.

I’m not trying to pile on Dave, here (and yes, I’m perhaps being overly familiar by just calling him “Dave,” but referring to him just by his last name feels weird). There’s plenty of that out there, and some of it a whole lot more harsh than I’m being. I do like Cerebus, there’s plenty about it to admire, but as the more problematic elements begin to slip in, they become harder and harder to ignore as the series rolls along. To repeat myself, they go from informing elements of the story to becoming the story, to its detriment.

This isn’t a case of me, the reader, being “too woke” or whatever. It’s the story going from “being about Cerebus” to “being about Dave and his specific interests,” which is not what we signed up for. Like I said, it’s Dave’s comic to do what he wants with it, but for a whole lot of folks it went in directions that readers didn’t care for. And that ended up being the series’ legacy.

I don’t hate Dave. From what I heard on Bluesky, he seems completely affable in person. A few years back I spoke to him on the phone (and I’ll tell you what, seeing “Aardvark-Vanaheim” on my caller ID was something else). He was calling to set up a time to come by the store to promote a book, and he tried to introduce himself, to which I replied “I read all of Cerebus and glamourpuss, I know who you are!” which made him laugh. We had a perfectly friendly conversation about comics and retailing for a few minutes and that was that. His tour got called off due to COVID, so he never made it by, unfortunately.

But I don’t agree with certain positions he holds, and I don’t like how those positions derailed a comic I so loved. It was so disappointing to see something I’d been following for years wrap up the way it did.


Okay, enough of that. Let’s get to your specific comments, at least what I have time for tonight:

aj had this to say

“…I did borrow the first phone book collection, and, honestly, i cannot tell you what happened in it or even my reactions to events in the books now. literally nothing stands out to my memory. not characters, not events, not dialog. Some might take that as thinking i hated it, but it just didn’t HIT.”

That is a very not-uncommon response to those early Cerebus issues. Very often (in fact, even during the Bluesky discussion we were having on the topic) it would be recommended that you skip the first volume entirely, and go straight to volume 2, the inarguably excellent High Society. The very early issues, especially the first, are…unpolished, shall we say, and don’t fully express the wit and energy that would come in later stories. Generally the suggestion is that you go back to Volume 1 after reading later material.

However, I personally say differently. Which is ironic given that in my personal experience with Cerebus, I read later issues first (beginning as I did early in Church and State, i.e. what would be the third volume) given how I was collecting the series. I was reading earlier stories out of order, with missing issues, basically as I bought them. I did get the Swords of Cerebus books relatively early on:

…which reprinted the first 25 issues (which would eventually be collected in the thicker “phone book” edition pictured higher up in this post). But even getting them somewhat early in my Cerebus hunting-and-gathering, I still had read plenty of the then-newer material.

Even so, I say “read the books in order.” Yes, the early stuff is…the early stuff. It’s rough around the edges, and can be tough going. But it’s the beginning of the story, it introduces many of the major players who will occupy the series. And it doesn’t stay that crude for very long…you get to watch Dave improve in leaps and bounds as the series continues, and in short order it’s recognizably Classic Cerebus.

Just my opinion…there are people who skipped straight to volume 2 and never looked back and were perfectly fine, so there you go!

• • •

Allan Hoffman has a question which is a spoiler for the series, so I won’t quote it here. But I will answer “yes.” Which raises questions about earlier references, in a “was it there in front of us the whole time?” kind of way.

• • •

Chris V enters the formation with

“…I found that the series becomes a terrible slog through the next few volumns, as Sim’s changing personal beliefs take up more and more of the text. I do have more time for the artistry of the later volumns (starting with Going Home), which is where many readers choose to give up.”

I quoted this bit specifically because it allows me to bring up a topic I get asked frequently whenever the subject comes up…if one wants to read Cerebus, where do you begin and end?

I spoke already about where to start…I think Volume 1 should be read, in order, but if you want to go back to it later after reading later issues, I suppose I’ll allow it.

Altogether there are 16 “phone book” collections reprinting most of the series. (For reasons that are mostly dumb, issues #51, #112/#113 (published as a double-issue), and #137-8 are not reprinted, being “in-between” or “epilogue” stories mostly unrelated to the main narrative). If you want to mostly avoid the “bad” part of Cerebus, I would stop with Volume 9, Minds, with the caveat “DON’T READ THE TEXT PAGES.” The first ten volumes cover the first 200 issues, more or less, of Cerebus‘ 300 issue run, which pretty much takes care of all the plot points and such from the earlier issues that you’d be interested in.

• • •

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’ll wrap this all up on Friday, and also remind you to read Tom Ewing’s Cerebus essays that I’m hopefully not inadvertently pinching from. Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll see you soon.

Spoilers for Cerebus #100.

§ April 15th, 2024 § Filed under cerebus § 26 Comments

I’ve talked about this in various places before, and Tom Ewing even points out it out in one of his essays, but Cerebus reaching issue #100 in mid-1987 was a special event. Even the cover, pictured above, looked out of place from the Cerebus covers before or since, reprinting segments of covers of previous issues (specifically #1, #25, #50, and #75) relegated what would have been the standard cover, reflecting the actual contents, to the back.

Let me give you a little lead-up here. (And just to remind you, the title of this post will indeed spoil something major, so if you haven’t read Cerebus and in the statistically-unlikely event you plan to do so, you might want to skip to after the “• • •” bit.)

The series began as a parody of Conan the Barbarian (“Conan the Barbarian” –> “Cerebus the Aardvark,” you see), and in particular the Barry Windsor-Smith version of the character from the earliest issues. The conceit that our lead character is a tough sword-wielding aardvark in a world of humans is one of the initial sources of incongruous humor.

And as the series went on, Cerebus…well, continued being an “aardvark,” obviously. A cartoony rendition of one, anthropomorphized, walking around on two legs, kinda sorta looking like a real aardvark if you squint a bit:

a real aardvark, taken from the Wikipedia page and credited to this source

And as you read the comic, you simply accepted that our protagonist was this weird little grey-toned thing and the representation of the idea of an aardvark just became, well, Cerebus. Cerebus was Cerebus, the focus of the willing suspension of disbelief, and once you suspended that belief, there wasn’t much call to reflect on Cerebus’ nature.

I mean, it came up from time to time. Cerebus used his tail to do stuff (and it would notably pop out of his clothing at quite the inopportune moment). I can’t remember if it’s brought up (or simply implied) that Cerebus’ parents were ordinary humans by this point in the series. And eventually a character states “there are three aardvarks,” which is quite the revelation (and puts me in mind of the still technically unresolved “three Jokers” reveal in that Justice League comic, depending on the shaky canonicity of DC’s Black Label line).

To cut to the chase here, Cerebus #100 hits us with a last page shocker that I’d put up against almost any other cliffhanger in comics. I’ll link the image here so it just doesn’t pop up and spoil people trying to skim past all this text, but what we get is…another aardvark. Hey, that fella saying there were three aardvarks is, as of #100, at least two-thirds correct!

And it’s, as I said, a shock. We were so used to Cerebus just being Cerebus that we forgot he was An Aardvark in a World of Men, that he is, not just in the context of being a funny animal parody of Conan, but in the actual fictional context of the world within the comic, he’s well, a freak. With the introduction of this new aardvark character, we no longer can just have Cerebus be Cerebus. Now we have to think about what it means that there are humanoid aardvarks in this world, what is the relationship between the two aardvarks we’re aware of, where is that supposed third aardvark? The “aardvark” part of the story went from a gimmick to get you to pick the comic off the stands to, suddenly, a vital part of the narrative.

This was a masterful bit of storytelling, one that not only opened up the comic to new possibilities, but forced readers to reconsider their own relationship with, and interpretation of, the unfolding saga. I’ve read comics for a very long time, and this particular issue remains one of the high points of my immersion in this art form.

• • •

Okay, SPOILERS are over, let’s get to the point of all this. Just a few days ago, inspired by Tom Ewing’s essays, I started chatting about Cerebus on Bluesky. Mostly I talked about how, once creator Dave Sim’s personal beliefs and opinions and very life became part and parcel with the comic’s narrative, the series’ potential as an enduring classic was diminished. As I said there, it’s Dave’s comic, he could do whatever he wanted with it. But what he did with it was largely offputting and…wildly controversial in regards to his particular worldview, that now any discussion of the work as a whole has to address this.

There was someone on Bluesky who kept trying to argue with me and others that it’s the fault of critics who keep bringing up Dave’s views in discussing the comic. That the comic should just be discussed as it is, without bringing Dave into it.

Which, as anyone who’s read the comic or is at least familiar with it knows, is an entirely bonkers idea as it’s not critics or readers who brought Dave’s Views into the comic. It was Dave. As I said on Bluesky:

“Dave’s worldview doesn’t just inform the work. To a major extent it IS the work, and trying to discuss CEREBUS simply as a work of fiction without addressing its creator would be a failure of literary analysis.”

It affects literally everything in the comic, once Dave reveals what he believes. Is the degeneration of Jaka over the course of the series simply supposed to represent this one character’s arc, or is it “see what women are like!” I mean, the thought will cross your mind.

The top bit of this post was me trying to discuss a specific part of Cerebus that stuck with me, ever since I read it…I don’t know, given comic cover dates I was either just wrapping up high school, or I was in the summer before I started college. It impressed the hell out of me, and still does. Many parts of Cerebus still impress me. Even in later issues, after, well, everything, the artwork and even the lettering are still outstanding. But in talking about #100, though trying to avoid anything about what happened later in the series, I see I still put a tiny caveat in.

To be clear, as I was writing it just sort of came out of me as I was shunting words from my brain to my fingers, dashing off an initial draft. I refer to anyone who hasn’t read Cerebus as being “statistically unlikely” to do so at this point. I just went ahead and left it in there, since, without really meaning to, I still made at least some reference to the fact that you’re not going to read it, for the implied reason of, well, you know.

I’ve talked about Cerebus a lot on this site. I think most of the time I bring up, even if only briefly the controversy around this comic. It’s almost reflexive. “Yes, I do love the early parts of Cerebus. Yes, I know how it all ended up.” I still love those early issues. I still love that #100. I’m still in the market trying to complete the first 25 issues of the series that I only previously had in the Swords of Cerebus reprint paperbacks. I still hold up the “High Society” story as one of the absolute heights of sequential art.

But I know there will always be an asterisk on the work. And that the great parts of the series will be overshadowed by the not-so-great bits. And what could have been an eternally-read classic is instead disdained if not outright ignored. It really is too bad.

Cameo appearance by my fingers.

§ April 12th, 2024 § Filed under cerebus, nancy, sir-links-a-lot § 8 Comments

So I’ve had a mostly-working eye out for one of these for a while. One had been on the eBays with torn and missing pages, so I kept waiting for a copy that didn’t suck to show up on there for a halfway-reasonable price. And lo, my patience did pay off, as a complete copy of the Nancy Better Little Book from 1946 finally made an appearance:

This volume measures around 4 by 4 inches (maybe a little taller than it is wide). Whitman, the publisher, put out several books in this format, mostly under the name “Big Little Books” which may be more familiar to most of you.

Here’s a look at the spine:

And here’s the back cover:

The first page:

This is the beginning of the actual content, with a small text piece setting up the situation:

But aside the very occasional text piece like that, the book is all comics, one panel per page:

…which differs from most Big Little Books I’ve seen, which would have a piece of art on one page, facing a page full of prose. This has me curious whether the other Better Little Books listed on that back cover are similar in format. Especially the Popeye volume…I’m a sucker for that ol’ sailor man.

Anyway, that’s the latest addition to the Once Vast Mikester Comic Archives. Well, aside from everything else I’ve picked up recently.

• • •


  • There was a new Dreadstar graphic novel just released, Dreadstar Vs. The Inevitable, available via Kickstarter. I gots mine (with a little squiggled signature from Steve Apollo himself, Jim Starlin, on the cover) and I kept meaning to write a litle something about it. But Chad Nevett wrote a lot of something about it, and there ain’t nothin’ there I can disagree with. Go read it, it’s quite the review.

    My personal, and much less in-depth, review: art’s great, the story is wafer-thin despite the obvious allegories, and it comes to a conclusion that I didn’t expect but oddly works anyway. Also, no Skeevo, so points off for that.

  • So Tom Ewing’s been writing a multi-part overview of Cerebus, which are all on one page here, or you can find them at the top of the sidebar in order on the individual posts. It goes deep into its qualities and its impact, good and bad, and this entire series of essays is worth consuming whether you were a Cerebus reader at any time, or just interested in the artform in general.

    I keep saying “I’m going to reread Cerebus one of these days.” Yes, I read it all, in mostly periodical form, mostly one issue at a time, one month at a time. (I started picking it up around issue 70-something, bought back issues back to 26, and have the first 25 in the multiple Swords of Cerebus paperbacks. Though I’m making progress in buying actual copies of the first 25 now!) Tom’s writings make me wonder if I want to make that a half-reread, stopping around 150 or so. …However, I feel like if I make that commitment, I’m going to have to see it through to the end.

Seriously, it would have taken like two seconds to cut those out of the image.*

§ April 10th, 2024 § Filed under publishing, this week's comics § 6 Comments

So this week is the release of the Labyrinth #1 facsimile edition from Boom!/Archaia, reprinting the three issue adaptation of the Jim Henson movie originally published by Marvel in 1985.

It does look nice, with the artwork by John Buscema and Romeo Tanghal appearing nice and crisp on the white paper. The paper stock used for the cover feels a little more fragile than I’d like, but that’s kinda par for the course in comics now, so I’ll live.

But one thing that does bug me is this little bit of business right here on the front cover:

Yup, they reproduced the original cover down to the original prices. Before you ask, no, this comic is NOT selling for seventy-five cents, but rather for the $4.99 price indicated on the back cover. Which of course means I’m going to be asked “is this really $0.75?” all day.

Usually, when DC and Marvel do their facsimile editions, they either obscure/remove the original price, or change it “499¢” or whatever. Leaving the original price on the cover for a reprint like this always leads to customer confusion. Especially in recent years, when comics have been released with actual low gimmick prices, or seeing something supposedly selling for 75¢ would not be unheard of. It looks like this comic is getting a little sign under it on the shelf saying “REALLY IT’S $4.99.”

So anyway, publishers, don’t do this. It’s annoying for me as a comics retailer, and it’s frustrating for customers, some of whom will think someone’s pulling a fast one.

I did see some wondering online about why this is being reprinted in the first place, and I think the obvious answer is, like I said above, Boom!/Archaia have been doing Henson comics for a while now. This is just another one, only a reprint instead of new material. Hopefully they’ll get around to reprinting Dark Crystal next.

* I mean, they took the time to edit the Marvel logo out of the corner box, right?

I’m too tired to make up a funny X-Files title for this post, submissions welcome.

§ April 8th, 2024 § Filed under publishing § 9 Comments

So Thom H. and Chris V brought up the X-Files comics in my movie adaptation post from a week or so ago. Okay, X-Files comics are technically a TV show adaptation, though it would get a couple of movies eventually.

I’ve written about the X-Files comic before, a whole ten years ago (and it’s weird to read about me processing a collection of old comics for the previous place of employment and not my own store). Anyway, way back then I wrote about how when that first issue (picured above) originally came out in the mid-1990s, the crash still affecting the market, we were caught off-guard by how much demand we had for it.

So much demand, in fact, that a second printing was rushed out, with the added bonus of individual serial numbers appended to the covers:

Serial numbers were cropping up a bit on comics around this time, as you can read here. A print run of 120,000 seems mindboggling today, though I suppose Marvel’s new Ultimate books may be approaching those numbers. The intent of the serial number was to boost the “collectability of the reprint in the collectors market, though they needn’t had bothered given the demand from the unconverted who couldn’t care less about printings and whatnot.

The X-Files comics sold relatively well for its short run, ending with the demise of publisher Topps Comics in 1998, more or less. Now at this point in history, I don’t recall if those comics were nearing their natural end sales wise after the initial faddishness had worn off, or if they were cut down in their prime by the publisher going under, but my guess is that they were still doing okay overall.

There were a number of spin-offs and one-shots and repackagings of the material and whathaveyou which either tells me demand was still high, or they were making up for slumping sales with volume, volume, VOLUME. One of those series, X-Files: Season One:

…gets back to the initial discussion point I was having here about comic book adaptations of other media. As the title suggests, they were adapting the first season’s episodes into funnybook form, so this was a somewhat rare case of a direct comic book adaptations of specific television show episodes, versus just doing movies. There was a lot of material doing new stories based on TV shows, but not so much translating broadcast episodes into comics (though, as mentioned, a couple current/forthcoming Star Wars comics are doing just that).

How did it sell? Again, my memories of the period aren’t as sharp as I’d like, but I feel fairly safe in saying the TV-based comics didn’t sell as well the ones with original stories. They were still picked up by the X-Files diehards,

And how were they? Couldn’t tell you. They were likely competent at worst, and likely visually interesting, given the creative teams. But here they were, Topps Comics generating essentially souvenirs of TV episodes for for the fans. (Though as has been pointed out, maybe some fans first encountered these specific stories this way, perhaps not even realizing they were retellings of TV shows.)

Some additional info you might find interesting regarding these: the Wikipedia entry for “Topps Comics” has an excerpt from an interview with Tony Isabella, talking about the apparently grueling approval process they had to go through for each X-Files comic.

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