Category Archives: Reviews


(PHANTOM ZONE #1-4: written by Stever Gerber, art by Gene Colan & Tony DeZuniga, 1982. DC COMICS PRESENTS #97: written by Steve Gerber, art by Rick Veitch & Bob Smith, 1986.)

As usual, I can’t remember exactly how or why these comics ended up on my wish list. I think I may have read something about it in the Krypton Companion, and I do like learning minutia about Silver Age Superman mythology, so maybe that was it.

Anyway, first up is the Phantom Zone miniseries by Gerber and Colan. There is a guy at the Daily Planet named Kweskill who we learn was once incarcerated in the Phantom Zone but upon his release somehow lost both his powers and memory and is now living like the Average Joe. Except the villains still in the Phantom Zone are psychically manipulating Kweskill to build a Zone projector which releases the criminals while trapping Superman and Kweskill inside. The pair then spend the remaining issues trying to escape, while Zod and the other escapees build a giant Zone projector to phase the whole planet Earth into the Zone.

The concept of the Zone is that you can only think and observe while you are there — no feeling or aging, though criminals can psychically communicate with each other. So I actively disliked the way that Superman only had to do a bunch of stuff to escape — much the way he came back from the dead in the 90s. Somehow the way Gerber delineates the Zone in such physical detail detracts from the existential horror of the idea. And the whole idea is so huge that plot holes are bound to emerge if you try to describe it too much. I have to admit though that I found Gerber’s approach less disconcerting on a second read through. Still, at times it was almost as if he bit off more than he could chew. Gerber’s best notes are played on Kweskill, who is the kind of Man-On-The-Street Gerber excelled at writing and often appeared in Gerber’s Howard the Duck. In fact, the fact that he makes time for the panel below amongst the chaos is classic Gerber.

But there is some weird stuff in this series. One the very first page of issue one, in the very first sentence, there is a misprint which reads: “Perry White is a newspaper of the old school.” Ironically, this page is about newspaper editing. (It’s so blatant part of me wanted to believe it was some kind of meta-commentary by Gerber.) We get a bit of history of Jor-El’s discovery of the Zone as well. Jor-El proposes the Zone as a punishment for criminals instead of cryo-freezing them and rocketing them into orbit as they do currently and the council seems to accept this after one day of deliberation — no scientific investigation or anything. Jor-El explains that the criminals are in the same physical space as them after they are projected into the Zone, but it’s not clear how they “travel” from place to place — how did they get to “Earth space” 30 years later? The council decides to rocket the projector into space to protect people from the psychic influence of the prisoners. This makes no sense since the criminals do not exist in the projector, and dooms them to eternity in the Zone no matter how long or short their judged terms were. It’s also very, very fucked up that Perry forgets that Kweskill was a Kryptonian until Batman reminds him in issue 3! And why does Superman keep a “disintegration pit” filled with “radioactive Kryptonian fuel” at his Fortress? Where did he get that fuel anyway? It’s also weird that Superman only has to destroy Zod’s mega-projector to return Earth from the Zone after being half phased into it. Really? So all you have to do is destroy any projector and whatever’s inside pops back out? Finally: Zod escapes and his one goal is to completely destroy the Earth — but his motive is never given. As far as we know, the Earth never did him any wrong. And if he kept the people alive, with his superpowers he could rule over them as slaves.

In terms of art, the work by Colan — a frequent collaborator of Gerber on Howard the Duck as well — is beautiful and moody and horribly reproduced. The heaviness of it is well suitted to the wasteland-like Zone. So why did they choose to make the covers so “comedic”? Weird. And I found it odd that when the villains manage to launch nuclear bombs against the Earth and Superman is forced to watch helplessly from the Zone, his face is practically emotionless. Also — probably not Colan’s fault — I disliked that Zod was bald. Aren’t Braniac and Luthor enough bald villains for Superman?

DC Comics Presents #97 (the last issue of the series) on the other hand, is one of the best superhero comics I have ever read. Gerber returns to write, this time with Rick Veitch on art, to create the final chapter of the Phantom Zone’s history in which the living entity which is the Zone becomes corporeal in our universe, fusing with Mr. Mxyzptlk, and releasing the prisoners once again.

As the cover states, this is an “Untold Tale of the Pre-Crisis Universe” — meaning Gerber had almost complete freedom to mess things up as much as he wanted since the continuity he was writing for no longer existed — much like the freedom Alan Moore had with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE MAN OF TOMORROW. In fact, Gerber seems to have had so much freedom, that some of the events in here involving Mr. Mxyzptlk seem to contradict directly what Moore did with his story.

There is a very obvious Moore-influence here. Gerber often narrates in the first person here, instead of the omniscient third person narration he used in the miniseries. And the Zone, as a sentient being, speaks in an appropriately “unhuman” version of English — something too difficult for the 11-year olds reading the miniseries, but something Gerber seems quite comfortable with after Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing bomb hit DC Comics in 1984. This isn’t a knock-off though — it’s more like Moore revealed to Gerber more tools in his shed that he could be making use of, and Gerber used them to craft his own kind of house. (Although it is possible that the miniseries and this issue are each enriched by reading the other.)

Veitch’s work on this story is phenomenal. Gerber covers a lot of the same Zone backstory that he did in the miniseries (was it already in place before then even?), but he’s far more passionate about it here, and Veitch — Moore’s frequent collaborator on Swamp Thing — attacks it with the eye of Victor Moscoso, abstracting and intensifying the layouts. Characters are sweaty and paranoid and visceral — I felt like Veitch was channeling Justin Green the whole time. I haven’t seen superhero characters look this emotional since Kirby. After reading this and Veitch’s Heartburst and Shiny Beasts recently, I am convinced that Veitch is one of the true greats of comic art, and I wish sometimes he could draw every superhero comic.


(Faora and Binky Brown — separated at birth?!)

The other great thing about Gerber’s freedom on this book is that the ending is negative in a way that I don’t ever recall seeing in a superhero book up to that time. It’s almost like the DC Universe version of Miracleman #15, with Metropolis largely destroyed — which totally makes sense if Kryptonian villains were allowed to run rampant on earth — and Mxyzptlk having seemingly become a god.

Excellent. A heady, feverish experience of a superhero comic book. Highly recommended.


Review: No Guts No Glory


Just a quick review today since, unlike the last two How-To books about comics I read, this one is actually very good, and provides little to complain about.

Beau Smith’s book is really all about networking, getting other people in the business of comics to remember you, and getting yourself to remember them. When I got to his chapter on how to write comic scripts, I initially wondered why it was in the book to begin with, and then I realized that what he was really writing about was establishing relationships with the artist and editor.

Smith takes on a manly, rancher-cowboy persona to write the book. I say “takes on” but maybe it’s genuine, in which case he may track me down at a con one day and challenge me to some fisticuffs for casting suspicion on it. At any rate, being a wussy-writer-type, the very idea of self-promotion scares the shit out of me. Manliness of the jockish, macho, biker, or any other variety also scares the shit out of me. So theoretically, this book should have sent me running to the toilet. What I found instead was that it was genuinely ENCOURAGING.

It’s so well written, rather than feeling like he was grabbing me by the lapels and throwing me into a prison rodeo, it was more like he was a sympathetic mentor or Jack Bauer telling me, “You can do this,” before jumping into the water to wrestle the crocodiles. He is perpetually a nice guy, and all of his advice is delivered in a straightforward, common sense way that doesn’t make you feel a fool if you didn’t know it beforehand. I felt like he genuinely wanted even us wussies to get out there and do our best if it meant good comics. This was a real breath of fresh air. So many of the other books seemed like their real agenda was sabotaging any potential competition. Even his chapter on keeping physically fit to survive the war was inspiring — especially compared to, say, the ridiculous section on showering and dressing nice to meet editors in The Writer’s Guide to the Business of Comics by Lurene Haines which seemed to assume that its readers were all slavering Neanderthals.

NO GUTS made me feel like my goals were realistically achievable. And the reality is, if you are intending to self-publish, even us shy-artist types will need to get up on our feet at some stage to go out there in the world and get our work printed, marketed, and distributed. This book gives us some manageable options for establishing the necessary relationships to make that happen.

The only thing I would’ve changed is made the thing a less manly size. The book is in a large and somewhat unwieldy format despite a relatively low page count. It could have been more compact and ninja-like.

There is a lot here, and I don’t think I would be able to implement all of his advice at once. Plus, a lot of it is aimed at getting the attention of editors on work-for-hire books. This is not my area of interest obviously, and the book does not pretend to be comprehensive, but it is a necessary read for getting off your damn ass and getting to work. Recommended.


Review: G.I. JOE COMICS MAGAZINE #1-4, 6, 13

(Marvel Comics, 1987. Writer: Larry Hama, Art: various)

Well, I bought these because I’m slightly addicted to digest-sized comics. It’s weird, I know. I also hear people talking about how good these old Marvel G.I. Joe comics are all the time, so I figured I’d better finally check them out. Most of these reprint three issues each of the series and they are considerably cheaper than trying to get the back issues or even the current TPB reprint series. Especially for me since I probably won’t be looking for any more of them

Look, I know, I know. It’s a goddamn G.I. Joe comic. What did I expect right? How could I come in here remotely expecting to find a comic I could give a positive review to?

I was biased to begin with. As a kid I liked science fiction, and I hated anything that promoted the idea of American military superiority or American patriotism / nationalism. I liked Knight Rider, and I hated The A-Team. And I loved Transformers and I disliked G.I. Joe (except for the ninjas). As an Indian-born kid growing up in Canada, I found it hard to see — even at that age — how one country could be said to be better than any other, especially if the grounds of that claim was muscle-power or money or Olympic medals. Also, there were a lot of redneck tough guys on the Joe team (an affliction COBRA did not seem to suffer from) which is something I REEEEAAAALLLYYY hated. — the same reason I could never watch Dukes of Hazzard. And I was never interested in “tactics” or “ops” or “hardware, This may sound strange from someone who suffered from severe Punisher-itis for twenty years, but that was more a case of me enjoying the violence rather than details about guns.

Of course, the basic concepts of neither G.I. Joe nor Transformers make any kind of sense if you think about them for more than five minutes. I always preferred Ditko’s Doctor Strange to Spider-Man, because with Spider-Man you have to at least consider the science-fictional constructs and it all falls apart. With magic, if it doesn’t make sense you can just write it off to something they didn’t explain on-screen. Transformers was so out to lunch, it was practically in the magic category. G.I. Joe, why do you only have ONE GUY that can pilot a jet?

So, anyway, Larry Hama’s G.I. Joe. People swear by this comic, and many point out how much better it was than the cartoon. That may be true. COBRA peons get regularly killed instead of ubiquitously ejecting to safety whenever they’re shot out of the sky. Hama seems to have staged all of the combat so that it works within the three-dimensional space described. Early issues feature one-issue stories, around issue #14 or so, we start seeing longer, interconnected, more complex storylines running over multiple issues. The introduction of the COBRA character Destro around this period and also his romance with the Baroness is interesting. They also introduce internal dissent and backstabbing within the COBRA ranks around this period which was way more fun than Joe-vs-Cobra-listen-to-my-witty-banter-while-I-describe-my-tank over and over again for reams of issues.

But this is still a G.I. Joe comic, aimed apparently, at stupid twelve-year olds. Snake Eyes is arrested and spends several issues in jail. At no time during his booking or jail time is he ever made to remove his mask. The G.I. Joe scuba guy participates in dry-land missions always in his full scuba gear. A COBRA agent attacks Snake Eyes on a ferry, and after beating him, Snake Eyes throws him overboard rather than taking him prisoner.

Take a look at the cover to issue #10. I get the point of this cover — it’s supposed to be a nice town, but COBRA is secretly lurking in the background. Except I wonder how normal any town is where a ninja and a woman carrying a crossbow can walk around in broad daylight (the woman with a huge grin on her face) without causing any issues.

I hear tell that there’s some ninja stuff later on — Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow stuff. That is some material I would genuinely like to read if anyone can tell me the relevant issue numbers. I would like to read the famous silent issue as well.

Otherwise, the idea of continuing to read this series to the stage where we discover that freakish, flamboyant, psychotic mastermind Cobra Commander used to be a used car salesman (actual storyline!) is just too head-spinning to contemplate.


How to Self-Publish Comics… Not Just Create Them #1-4

How to Self-Publish Comics… Not Just Create Them #1-4

by Josh Blaylock

Devils’s Due Publishing, 2006

This is another pretty awful book about self-publishing comic books. I would like to say that — like with How to Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book by Tony Caputo which I reviewed recently — anyone attempting to follow this book to self-publish a comic book is bound to crash and burn, but the reality is, I don’t think there is enough information in here to even start a company to drive into the ground.

The problem most often with this book is that Blaylock tells you WHAT to do but not HOW to do it. This is a book full of advice, but without information to act on.  Just flipping through issue #1 again here, Blaylock’s “chapter” on ‘Distribution: Bookstores” is a whole half-a-page long, he says: “When distributing your comic books through bookstores, there are a lot of distributors out there.” He mentions a few of these but doesn’t give any contact details or discuss in any way how to approach these people or what is needed from you when you do so. At one stage on this same page, he says: “In a future volume, I will go into more detail about marketing to the book market,” but I’ll be damned if I can find where he actually got back around to that detail anywhere in this series.

It feels like most of his chapters end with: “There’s lots of information about this on the internet, so be sure to go look it up!” rather than himself telling you how to do it. Where the Caputo book was almost overloaded with in-depth details, Blaylock reads like he wrote this thing in between games of Halo and picking up nachos. He is so vague at times and clandestine with concrete information that I felt like he must have been so deliberately in order to sabotage any possible competition. Caputo was out of business when his book came out — Blaylock is still in it. Coincidence…?

Another unforgivable offence with this book is his “chapter” (this time a whopping seven sentences long!) on “Distribution: Newsstands.” The chapter describes what newsstand means: “Newsstand is the avenue of distribution for periodicals such as the magazine rack at your local grocery store, or the comics you find in convenient stores” (that hilarious typo is Blaylock’s, not mine). Blaylock then goes on to say that he doesn’t really know anything about newsstand distribution and that he “may cover Newsstand distribution in further detail in a future supplement, but for now I’ll only touch on it, because it may have been an outlet you were planning to exploit.” Actually, he didn’t even really touch on it for those people — he only mentioned it existed for people who already knew it existed anyway having been planning to exploit it. This chapter is fucked. If you are writing a chapter about something in a non-fiction book, you have to write about it. If you don’t know much about it, you have to research it. You can’t say: “I don’t know anything about this subject” and then slap a $4.95 cover price on the front. Imagine opening up a biology textbook to the chapter on photosynthesis and finding: “I don’t know much about this subject, but I sure would like to. Maybe someday I’ll get back around to it.”

(below: The offending page on newsstand distribution.)

The typo I mentioned above also brings me to one of my favorite passages in the book — this line about being accepted by Diamond Comics Distributors: “Their requirements aren’t really that strict, so a rejection means you need to take a serious look at your comic book. It’s most likely nowhere near the professional level it needs to be, and you need to be honest with yourself about the quality of what you’ve put together.” Well, Diamond regularly rejects art comics too, so this statement from the publisher of Barack the Barbarian sounded slightly narrow-minded to me. But what I love is that at the bottom of this page and the top of the next, some text has been deleted resulting in unintelligible gibberish. Is this what Blaylock means by a professional level of quality? It certainly seemed to be good enough for Diamond so even the validity of the statement’s intended meaning is questionable. Typos are frequent in the series.

(below: Another offending page — misprinted professionalism.)

I also found it weird that “Vol. 1” (issue #1) covered “Building the Infrastructure” such as setting up shippers and distributors, and Vol. 2 was “Building Your Creative Team.” But you need to have the comic before you can approach distributors to distribute it for you. Weird, especially since the goddamn title of the book seems to assume that you’ve already created the book.

The one thing I did like about this series was the sample contracts, invoices, and other practical documents at the back of each issue. Issues 3 and 4 then had 10 and 8 pages of house ads respectively, which led me to the belief that this was really intended as an exploitation book. There are a lot of people out there — myself included — who are hungry to self-publish and will spend money on a book like this as soon as they see the title — like I did. What they get is lazily written and shoddily put together, and full of ads for titles published by Devil’s Due; and delivering those ads (at an inflated cover price) to vulnerable, unwitting readers strikes me as this title’s real agenda.


P.S. This series was also published in a trade paperback edition which I struggled to find, so I got the periodical version.

P.P.S. Hilarious update, one day after writing the above review:

Review: How To Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book

How To Self-Publish Your Own Comic Book

By Tony C. Caputo

Watson-Guptill Publications, 1997

The most egregious problem with this book is the title.

If you are keen to write and draw your own comic book and self-publish a modest print-run of, say, 1000 to 5000 copies (just as an example), then this is NOT the book for you.

Despite the title, this is actually a book about starting an entire line (i.e. starting a comic book company) of comic BOOKS, not BOOK — many or most of which would preferably (for marketing motives) be licensed comic book versions of existing franchises — and hiring artists and writers to draw them for you. Does any of this sound like self-publishing “your own” comic book? Most of what Caputo (one-time founder and publisher of Now Comics) describes in the book requires tens-of-thousands of dollars just to start with and requires multiple investors and capitalists, plus in-house staff, so I’m not sure how much of this publishing is actually supposed to be done by one’s “self” either.

I don’t know exactly what the publishing climate was like in 1997 when this book came out, but I have to assume that Caputo saw a potential target audience of people who had no interest in comic books but saw the potential to get rich on this “new” industry that was suddenly making a lot of money. At one point Caputo says: “your ultimate goal being to develop your business into an internationally recognized and accepted entertainment phenomenon with sales in the tens of million of dollars.” There is one chapter on writing and drawing your comics that seems so rudimentary that it feels like it was included for people who did not even know what a comic book was.

I have to admit though, Caputo seems to know his stuff. He backs up all his statements about the growth of the comic book industry with lots of pretty legitimate sounding figures, and given his company’s own meteoric rise to success in the late 80s, it’s easy to understand his enthusiasm and belief in his own statements — he probably DID have sales in the tens of millions of dollars at some point.

Caputo also goes into lots of excellent detail about things like the printing process, and the back features tons of addresses and contact details for comic shops, conventions, etc. He also has lots of details about forming different kinds of companies (even corporations), contracts (not just with talent, but also investors), newsstand distributors, etc. which is mostly useless information to small-fry operators like yours truly and probably the one or two of you out there reading this.

Speaking of distributors, that’s another problem with the book in itself. The book was written with multiple direct market distributors in mind, but the distributor wars of the 90s left Diamond the only game in town in the very same year (I believe) that this book was published.

Which also brings me to the fact that inevitably the section on the then-nascent internet is grossly outdated as well.

Anyway, at this stage of Weird Crime Theater’s publishing gestation, what I cracked open this book hoping to find was some marketing advice. What I got was: using the name recognition of your “hot” talent to stir up a “frenzy of interest,” hiring a PR firm (???!!!), and hiring costumed models and celebrities to appear at your multi-thousand dollar convention booth (Caputo admits for once that this might be a bit expensive). Here’s another personal favorite: “offer retailers a raffle contest in which one retailer will win an all-expense-paid trip to the San Diego Comic Book Convention.” There was nothing in here for someone like me.

Weirdly, despite the obvious intentions of the book, Caputo does not cover investors and capital until the very last chapter, when — as mentioned earlier — the reality is you need to sort all of this out first before you can even start using any of Caputo’s advice for founding your multi-million dollar comics publishing empire. Hyuk. Caputo never says how much money you actually need to pull off what he writes about in the book, but I have to guess it’s a LOT. Maybe the book was intended for people who were already multi-millionaires and needed a hobby. It certainly feels that way at times.

But ultimately, like I said at the beginning, the problem with this book is the title: It should have been called something like “How To Start Your Own Massive Comic Book Publishing Company with $500,000 in Capital to Start” and then I would never have wasted my money on it — but maybe mistitling books is one of those marketing secrets that Caputo doesn’t reveal in the book (maybe ‘cause it’s FREE).

And the supreme irony, of course, is that Caputo’s own multi-million dollar empire, NOW Comics, completely collapsed just a few years BEFORE this book came out with Caputo himself quitting HIS OWN company a few months before it dissolved (all of which is not even remotely alluded to at any stage in the book when you would expect to detect at least some subtext of regret about something in the plethora of business processes described). Now THERE is a potential book about the publishing experience that I would love to read.


P.S. In 2003 Caputo attempted to revive the company but it withered into vapor again with nary a gasp.

Now that he’s dead…

Today is a national holiday in Australia, so since I’m spending time with my family I don’t have to do a full blown post today.

Instead, I thought I would finally have a rant about the comic I hate most in life — not Youngblood, not Justice League: Cry for Justice, or the Rise of Arsenal, but: Johnny Hart’s B.C., which I am happy to stomp on even though the man is now dead.

Here’s why:

The evangelical strips were bile-inducing enough to begin with. What pissed me off about B.C. was all the strips specifically ABOUT JESUS. I mean the fucking strip is called **B C** as in BEFORE CHRIST for fuck’s sake, meaning how the fuck can people be talking about Jesus by name before he ever (supposedly according to a certain demographic) existed?! And aren’t neanderthals not supposed to exist in the bible anyway, Johnny Hart you bible-thumping hypocrite!! I hope he is rotting in hell — which I don’t believe exists anyway — for all the shitty strips he hoisted on us.

Happy Queen’s Birthday, Australia.


More capsule reviews

More of those reviews I promised last week…

1. DC Comics Presents #93: Superman and the Elastic Four (DC Comics, 1986. Writer: Paul Kupperberg, Art: Alex Saviuk / Kurt Schaffenburger)

I can’t remember what made me buy this comic. Maybe just the weirdness of the team-up.

Back at the age of eleven, one of the very first comics I owned in the stack of ten or eleven I had at the time was called “Superman and the Atom #51.” There was a kid in my class that year in Grade 7 that was super into comic books, so I brought in the little pile I had to show him. He looked at that one and said, “Oh, yeah. DC Comics Presents number 51.” I had no idea the comic was actually *called* DC Comics Presents — I though that was just a bit of advertising on the cover, ya know. And that was my very first bit of comics education. That kid ended up really getting me into comics, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, back to this thing. The Elastic Four are actually Plastic Man, Elastic Lad (Jimmy Olsen) and Elongated Man, and the mystery villain.

That’s a lot of stretchy characters that are all basically the same thing. It was obvious reading this that DC had (and still has) no idea what to do with the Plastic Man property they had acquired. In DC’s hands, he’s just a bog-standard superhero who occassionally turns into unusual objects. That alone should make for some comedy value, but this comic — while not trying to take itself seriously — doesn’t make any effort to make fun of itself either, or at least if it does then it doesn’t do a very good job of it. It was a lot less fun than I was hoping it would be.

Although, with Jack Cole’s Plastic Man the genius was in the cartooning, not particularly in the character (much like Will Eisner’s The Spirit). To make matters worse, Elastic Lad and Elongated Man only stretch — they don’t turn into things. Kyle Baker had the best run on Plastic Man since Jack Cole and the market refused to support him (as I feel it fails to support many humor books). But at least Baker’s run was funny and he knew to turn Plas into funny things to deal with different situations.

The one thing I did kind of like about this comic is that at the end it is revealed that the villain got his stretch powers by replicating the accident that gave Plas his powers. I’m amazed they don’t do this all the time in superhero comics — like, gimme some o’ those cosmic rays, please!

2. Punisher: Get Castle (Marvel Comics, 2010. Writer: Rob Williams, Art: Laurence Campbell, Color: Lee Loughridge)

From about 1988 to 2008, I suffered from acute Punisher-itis, a rare condition in which one is compelled to buy every appearance of the Punisher in a Marvel comic. I am sure there are variants such as Moon-Knight-itis and Spider-Woman-itis, and I plan on writing more about the subject in the future, but for now to make a long story short, when Garth Ennis left the book, so did I. I tthought I might continue buying the title of Tim Bradstreet continued painting the covers, but he left the book at the same time too, so that was that.

He does, however, occassionally come back for one shots so I picked up this miserable little book. PUNISHER: GET CASTLE is a pointless exercise in human scum-dredging with competent, ugly artwork. Ennis’s PUNISHER had to constantly face the never-ending-chain of consequences of his actions, and the effect that relentless killing had on his psyche and that of everyone else who came into his orbit. After Ennis, it was just violence for kicks — and not “fun” violence, but just human ugliness. The post-Ennis MAX Punisher has no personality — neither the muted passion nor the cold awareness of what he is. He is simply an object who moves through 20 odd pages each month so the reader can witness dimly lit torture scenes. There is no enlightenment, elucidation, or entertainment value at the end of it. Boy, I felt grimy after reading this thing. Same goes for PUNISHER: NAKED KILL. If Marvel didn’t put Bradstreet covers on these things, I would simply not buy them, but that’s Punisher-itis, you know?

3. Punisher: Butterfly (Marvel Comics, 2010. Writer: Valerio D’Orazio, Art: Laurence Campbell / Hubert Boulard)

This on the other hand was pretty interesting. The comic was written by Valerie D’Orazio who has been quite shittily treated by the comics industry and famously kept a blog about all the abuses she suffered at its hands. The comic is about a female assassin (who appears to mostly hit mafia targets) who writes a tell-all book and is then marked for death by the mob. There are some obvious parallels there, and there have been some suggestions around the net that this comic is kind of autobiographical in some ways. And it’s not a bad comic.

But, Marvel Comics, if you are going to put out a comic book with PUNISHER in the title, I fucking expect the Punisher to be in it for more than three panels. Had I known, I would not have bought it, you assholes. “Punisher Presents Butterfly” (like “The Punisher Presents Barracuda”) would have been acceptable.

Yes, the Punisher shows up at the end, tells Butterfly: ‘You’ve killed a lot of people” and then kills her. Actually, I’ve never seen a Punisher comic where he kills a mob assassin. My guess is that he would probably let them keep going because they are helping him do his job for him. So, even his three panels in this comic have obviously been shoe-horned in.

4. Fantastic Four #267 (Marvel Comics, 1984. Story & Art: John Byrne)

This is the issue where Sue loses the baby. Sorry if I spoiled that for you twenty years after the fact.

Anyway, Sue storm is pregnant with her second baby, but it has radiation sickess of some sort. The doctors don’t know what to do, so they recommend that Reed goes to the world’s foremost expert on radiation: Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus.

Otto is in a mental institution where he seems to have made a recovery from his evil ways and only wants to help people. He agrees to help Reed. But while they are flying back to the hospital, they pass a Daily Bugle billboard with Spider-Man on it, and Otto flips out, resummoning his mechanical arms from storage, and he fights Reed. Reed manages to beat him, but by the time he manages to get back to the hospital it is revealed that they are too late — the baby has died.

I have a stack of about 12 or 13 John Byrne FF issues that I got from I-don’t-know-where, and I just loved this issue back in the day. I loved the unpredictable insanity of going to a villain for help, the unpredictable goodness and altruism of Doctor Octopus, and the unpredictable shock ending and its dramatic staging. But when I recently went through my comics this issue was missing (what the hell happened to it?!) so I bought a new copy. I found reading it again that it still held up except for Byrne’s art and his goddamn relentless background cheating.

(p.s. Apparently the baby is currently alive in current Marvel continuity. Don’t know how the hell that happened.)

5. Girl Comics #1 (Marvel Comics 2010, Story & Art: various)

The stories in this 3-issue series are all famously (according to press releases) written, pencilled, inked, lettered, colored, and lettered by women. And yet it’s not called Women Comics.

Anyway, very nice art on most of these from an excellent list of creators, but mostly lame stories. It would have been better if the creators had not been restricted to using Marvel superheroes. In fact, the more hero-focused the stories are in here, the worse. Since it is an anthology series though, I will be picking up the next two issues anyway — there could be some good stuff in there.

Gotta love that Amanda Connor cover too.

6. Xenon #1 (Eclipse, 1987. Story & Art: Masaomi Kanzaki)

I’ve been interested in the cover of this since it first came out decades ago, but I never bought it until recently. The interior art is lame compared to the cover, and features the typical muddy reproduction of Japanese comics of the time. The story is about some kind of government program to create a super-cyborg out of a musclebound teenager or something. After a twenty year wait to read this thing, you can tell I’m pretty disappointed, but you can’t judge a book by the cover they always say and I should have listened.


Capsule Reviews May 31, 2010

Some comics that have gone from my “Read” pile to my “Read” pile in the last couple of weeks (don’t you just love the English language!):

1. Marshal Law: Fear and Loathing (Marvel / Epic, 1990. Writer: Pat Mills, Art: Kevin O’Neill)

This is a collection of the very first Marshal Law miniseries from Marvel / Epic in 1987, depicting a dark, violent, extreme future where mass numbers of humans genetically modified for war return from the battlefield to become a disenfranchised, decadent, violent, criminal class which the hero Marshall Law — also a veteran — hunts down. I’m not sure that I’ve read anything written by Pat Mills before. Artist Kevin O’Neill I know for his collaborations with Alan Moore on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and that notorious Green Lantern story.

As far as superhero deconstructionism goes, this thing should be totally dated, but somehow it’s not. I mean, a lot of the same ground is covered by Watchmen, Miracleman, Astro City, Rick Veitch’s The One, The Boys, Scott McCloud’s Destroy!, Hitman, and dozens of others that I’m sure I’m forgetting. But the art is great, and frankly despite the fact this this is supposed to be an over-the-top parody / satire of superhero comics, it reads like most DC titles do today. It struck me as still kind of relevant in that respect, but at the same time I really don’t know that superheroes are an important enough subject to be worth deconstructing in the first place in every one of the above cases. (Sometimes I feel that Watchmen works despite all of the superhero trappings around it.) Also, the action is at times somewhat hard to follow, but I don’t know that it’s O’Neill’s fault. I had trouble following American Flagg at times too — was it a problem of some indy comics in the 80s trying to cram too much in at times…?

2. Groo the Adventurer (Marvel / Epic, 1990. Story & Art: Sergio Aragones)

This is a collection of the first four issues of the Marvel / Epic series of Groo by Serio Aragone and Mark Evanier. I don’t have much to say about this except that — like Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo — Groo is just completely reliable. It’s always hilarious and fun and remarkably well-drawn (especially the hyper-detailed opening splash pages), and I have yet to read an issue or TPB that was anything less.

3. Marvel Fumetti Book (1984, by: various) / Generic Comic (Marvel Comics, 1984, by: unknown

These comics both came out the same year: 1984. In both cases, I don’t know what the fuck Marvel was thinking. I guess they figured they were such an awesome company that they could put out books parodying themselves, and that they would automatically be funny with minimal effort thanks to their aforementioned awesomeness. Fumetti Book is printed so shittily that you can barely tell what’s going on in most panels — it’s just a muddy pulp of gray most of the time. It’s sadly unfunny, though some of the images might have been neat if they were more legible. Anyway, basically the book takes you on a tour of the Marvel offices and depicts the hijinx that ensue as they try to put out books.

Generic Comic is just weird. There are no credits listed whatsoever — I don’t know if that’s supposed to be part of the gag. The art is amateurish — is that part of the gag too? There are occassional typos — is that part of the gag as well? I have to ask these things because this comic makes no attempt to make any jokes or parody Marvel’s superhero comics. It simply reads like every Marvel comic published in 1984. Except for the cover, it is completely straight-faced (except for one possible joke I think I came across) and boring as hell. Instead of parodying superhero comics, they just put out a superhero comic. Bizarre.

4. Unknown Soldier 1 (DC / Vertigo, 1997. Writer: Garth Ennis, Art: Killian Plunkett)

This comic was written by Garth Ennis. I loved Garth Ennis’s Punisher, most of Preacher, and some of his war stuff, but there is nothing really interesting going on in this comic. Some goody-two-shoes FBI agent starts creeping around on files on The Unknown Soldier — a mystery-man from WWII — and is then targetted for assassination. Neither the Soldier (seen in WWII flashbacks) nor the agent seemed particularly engaging and the cliff-hanger ending had me on the back of my seat thinking about getting a chocolate milk. I will not be looking for issues 2-4.

That said, I hear that the recently-cancelled Unknown Soldier series set in Uganga was excellent, and I will check it out.

5. Jughead 200 (Archie Comics, 2010. Writer: Tom Root, Art: Rex Lindsey)

This is one of the best comics I’ve read so far this year. It’s laugh-out-loud-hilarious at times, the story is compelling (Jughead trades his metabolism to a witch for a mega-burger, and the gang try to get it back for him), and the characters are very well delineated in a minimum amount of space. In fact, I was amazed at what a complete, solid little story the creators had managed to construct in twenty-odd pages, averaging about six panels per page, and with no narration or captions. The presence of a witch seems a bit weird for the Archie universe, but then the story smartly reminds us that there is already a witch of long-standing in Riverdale. Amazing.

The comic was written by Tom Root, who is a writer on Robot chicken, which is a show I have never seen, but after reading this, I will be sure to check it out.

6. Somerset Holmes 2 (Pacific Comics, 1983. Writer: Bruce Jones, Art: Brent Anderson)

I bought this comic because the cover was phenomenal and I loved some of Bruce Jones’s other writing (especially his collaborations with Richard Corben), and when I first read it, I felt like I should try to track down the other five issues. But when I flipped through it again, I couldn’t remember a single thing about it, couldn’t even remember ever having seen the scenes I’d read a week earlier even though I definitely had. Weird. Sorry, Bruce. (Nice art by Brent Anderson of Astro City-fame though.)

More reviews later in the week…


More reviews tomorrow…