At the beginning of March, I spent a week living out of a hotel room.
Hotel-living turns into the fucking Shining for me pretty fast. Long creepy hallways of identical rooms, filled with strangers. Why are there so many pillows on hotel beds now? 9 pillows? 10 pillows? The classier the hotel, the more pillows on the bed. Occam’s Razor says that the logical conclusion is that fancy people like to play pillow fort on vacation. Plus, thanks to the Local Channel 6 News Action Eyewitness Investigation Squad-team on my TV, I’m convinced that if I had UV goggles, the entire room and all 20 pillows would all glow white-hot with fancy-man semen stains, like Tron bukkake aftermath.
After the hotel stay, I visited my hometown, stayed with my family. I was around My Stuff again, not Hotel Stuff. Not just My Stuff, but My Old Stuff. Found a stack of old comics, thirteen random comics from different years, different eras, slung together next to my bed, collecting dust.
I want to write about that stack. Not really "reviews" or anything that formal-- I don't see the point of "reviewing" any of these comics, but just talking about what books were in that stack. Plus there’s another stack, a second stack.
The Mighty Thor #382 by Walt Simonson and Sal Buscema: This was the very last issue of the Walt Simonson run. Thor's soul is trapped in the body of the invincible Destroyer robot, and he has to robot-fight his way through Hell in order to steal his dead body away from the Goddess of Death, in time to defeat an army of evil ice dwarves invading Asgard.
Do they still make comics like that? Maybe they do; I haven’t bought one recently.
In the letter pages, Sean of Tahoe, California, "a fan of legends", writes a letter in support of Thor's new beard. He is responding to a previous letter from an earlier letter column that disapproved of the beard. Tank Girl 2 #1 by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett: A collection of short Tank Girl stories. They just cram jokes into the margins, nooks, crannies— it’s just filled with drawings and doodles and noodling. It still feel very alive. A lot of people don’t make that effort.
Suicide Squad #18 by John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, and Bob Lewis: After I quit Marvel comics in middle school, I eventually switched to DC. This was one of my first DC books; I got it from the 24-Hour Ameristop next to the chili place in town. The Suicide Squad fights some bad guys. Without even re-reading it, just by looking at the cover, I could remember at least one line from it: Captain Cold tells a bad guy how "Hell isn’t hot. Hell is cold, and buddy, I'm Captain Cold."
When I first got into DC Comics, everyone in them was a middle-aged failure at life. The Suicide Squad was all about Amanda Waller, an aging, widowed, morbidly obese bureaucrat. The Secret Origins story of Cave Carlson ends with one of Cave Carlson’s sidekicks, years after their adventures together, homeless and in a wheelchair, begging for change. The Atom was divorced, after he’d caught his wife cheating on him in the back of a Chevy. Captain Atom had a dead wife and kids he couldn’t relate to. The Swimmer would go from swimming pool to swimming pool, fighting crime. I don’t really understand DC characters any other way, I guess. DC books don’t make any sense to me, anymore.
The Last American #1 by Alan Grant, John Wagner and Mike McMahon: I don't really remember anything about this comic other than buying it for Mike McMahon's drawings, the way he builds drawings out of sharp lines, flat colors, off-kilter shapes. Lego humans, wandering through desolate post-apocalyptic landscapes.
Most of the comics I’ve read lately have just been that sort of “Art Experience” for me. When I got home from my trip, I returned back to a second stack of comics. I’ve been buying #1 issues this year, non-established-universe #1 issues, trying to get some whiff of what’s new in comics, what people making new things were trying to do. But: Jersey Gods (Image), The Great Unknown (Image), Mysterius the Unfathomable (Wildstorm), Bang Tango (Vertigo), The Life & Times of Savior 28 (IDW)…?
Couldn’t catch a scent of anything.
I’m not saying these are bad books necessarily (well: maybe some of them)(Bang Tango), just that my experience of them has been really art-focused. I guess I’ve been distracted. I've already forgotten every single one of Jersey Gods' characters; I just remember enjoying Dan McDaid's performance.
Jersey Gods is about Kirby-style Space Gods fighting in New Jersey; The Great Unknown is about an inventor whose ideas are being stolen from his mind; Mysterius the Unfathomable is about a magician who is a PG-13 asshole; Bang Tango is about a retired gangster who dances tango, who goes back to being a gangster; Life & Times of Saviour 28 is about a superhero who gets murdered while protesting the Bush Administration.
Some of the books are entertaining, for what they are. Mysterius seems focused on “fun” in a very professional way, and in a way I think most people will find effective; I think smart people trying to create fun stories is at least admirable in theory-- it's something I've always enjoyed about the Ocean's 11 movies, say. Et cetera. Sure: entertainment, if you’re in the mood to be entertained.
I just didn't feel very connected to any of them regardless.
But more than that—the way a comic can contain a whole world. You can see signs in the background, you can see what people are wearing, you can see the brand-names of their junk food. The characters in FLAGG, I know what they watch on TV: Bob Violence. The name of the cab company in WATCHMEN? Prometheus Cabs.
Who does that needlepoint right now?
The new comics I’ve read-- none really created an entire world for themselves. Jersey Gods tried but its first issue cribbed so heavily from Jack Kirby that it was hard to take it very seriously as its own thing. But I can’t really criticize all of these new books for failing to tell me their main characters' favorite TV show, can I? That sort of world-building seems rare in general, so singling these books out in particular strikes me as unfair.
X-Men Classics #98 by Chris Claremont, John Romita Jr., Glynis Oliver, Dan Green: Before I’d ever seen an X-Men Comic, or had any idea what one was, another kid in third grade attempted to describe the contents of this issue to me. Do you have any idea how long it took him? “The X-Men fight Nimrod” takes somewhere between nine hours and forever to explain to someone who’d never heard of a mutant, Rogue, Wolverine, Sentinels, Days of Future Past, any of it. Now, you can just rent the movie.
Someday, I would like to travel back in time and give both of those kids wedgies. Then: I'd put them in a figure four leg-lock or a camel clutch, and I'd explain to them that they were gebronies. Then, dangle them over a cliff until they wet themselves, you know like Bill Paxton in True Lies. Then, I would explain sexual intercourse to them because I think at that age, it'd really gross them out and it'd just be super-funny to see their expressions. Plus, I would throw in stuff like vagina dentata or nekomimi fetishes or docking or whatever, just to screw them up a little mentally, you know, for giggles. Then, if I had time, and I wasn't tired, I'd go back in time and murder Hitler and prevent the Holocaust or whatever. But first: beating up those little brats. Priorities.
The last panel of this comic is my favorite-- a Russian with an eyepatch says "We are fast approaching a crossroads, Sasha. And I fear that somewhere, somehow, the decision has already been made...to turn us irrevocably towards Armageddon."
I’m about 100% sure this is how every single issue of the X-men ended in the 1980’s.
Tribe #1 by Todd Johnson and Larry Stroman: this was a black superhero team by Larry Stroman at the peak of his comic career, published by Image Comics near the peak of its fanboy-dominance. 1993. The cover is black cardstock with the Tribe logo in gold-embossed letters. No art-- just the gold-embossed letters. Stroman and Johnson's names are almost bigger than the title of the book. According to Wikipedia, it was cancelled by Image before the second issue came out, because it had been delayed so much. According to Wikipedia, its final issue was issue #0.
If you explained the 90's to a kid reading comics today, do you think they would believe you?
Jinx True Crime Confessions by Brian Michael Bendis: Bendis creates a comic around a series of monologues and interviews, people talking about violence they've witnessed, pranks they've pulled. I think this is reprinted in the Total Sell-Out trade.
The selling point aren’t any characters; it has no characters. The selling point is just Bendis. The old Jinx books were just so packed with entertainment value-- letter pages, reviews, short humor strips from his Cleveland newspaper strip. That’s not really true of any of the books in my New #1 Comics stack. Everyone’s trying to make their stories the stars; no one seems very interested in communicating anything about themselves instead. Only Jersey Gods even has a letter page, and it’s not exactly rich with personality...
I doubt this one-shot would ever get made today, but it’s not like comics have ever really been set up to sell books like this. Plus: not many people seem interested in making stuff like this anyways, comics that are just entertaining without trying to sell some new character / concept / bullshit.
Stray Bullets #3 by Dave Lapham: This issue is titled "The Party," but it doesn’t have Lapham’s best party scene in it. For that, you want issue #5, the first Orson issue. But I remember when this comic first started coming out being so excited, going out-of-my-head excited, that the page numbers continued from issue to issue. You know, how if issue #2 ended at page 45, then issue #3 started at page 46...? Oh, man!
It's a strange detail to be excited by but I think a lot of people overlook how much those little details can matter for fans. The letter page in the old Bendis Jinx comics, the page numbers in Stray Bullets, the lettering in American Flagg-- just some hint that there's something going on, some extra bit of work being invested.
I tried Dave Lapham’s Vertigo book Young Liars again a couple weeks back, issue #13 (“The Rock Life”). I hadn’t thought much of the first issue, but the new issue had some Twilight Zone moments that were somewhat appealing. The premise apparently went in more of a science fiction direction than the first issue had promised. I didn’t think the first issue had promised anything with any particularity, at all.
Which: maybe that’s true of the other new comics I’ve read recently-- maybe they’re holding back some key part of their DNA. Reading past a first issue is essentially a leap of faith. One I’m making less often.
I went to a screening of a documentary about Joe Sedelmaier the other day. Yes, THE Joe Sedelmaier. At the Q&A afterwards, he said two things that stuck out. First, talking about the work he'd created that he hadn't felt good about, he said "I always said 'Oh-oh' when someone said to me, 'Joe, it's good for what it is.' If something's 'good for what it is', what it is is usually bullshit." I laughed and thought of Mysterius the Unfathomable. The second thing he said, before introducing a (terrific) short film he'd made: "It's about the importance of having an open mind. Everyone thinks they have an open mind, the same way everyone thinks they have a sense of humor. Usually, they don't have either." I didn't really laugh at that.
Instant Piano #1 by Kyle Baker, Mark Badger, Robbie Busch, Stephen Destefano and Evan Dorkin: This was a very uneven issue of a comedy anthology. Some comedic voices blend together well; these guys, not so much-- everyone's voices were just too different. I remember the second issue being much better, but the series didn’t last very long. Dorkin still makes comics, too rarely; Destefano works on the Venture Bros. now, I think; I don’t know what happened to Badger or Busch, though both have blogs, of course.
Challengers of the Unknown #2 by Steven Grant, Len Kaminski, John Paul Leon, Shawn Martinbrough, and Matt Hollingsworth: Aaah, John Paul Leon working with Matt Hollingsworth-- why doesn’t that happen every week?
This was in a brief era in comics in the mid-90's when everyone was trying to recreate the success of the X-Files television show. DC's solution was a Challengers of the Unknown revamp. I enjoyed it at the time—Grant & Kaminski did done-in-one “weird mystery” stories that Leon & Hollingsworth were suited for more than would always be the case in their later assignments.
But living in something else’s shadow never makes much sense in the long term. I’m no expert on positioning, but-- you know: as fun as Dan McDaid’s art is (and it’s fun), as hard as they try, can Jersey Gods ever be anything besides “that book trying to be Jack Kirby”? Jersey Gods is about Kirby; tango-dancing aside Bang Tango’s first issue didn’t promise anything besides cliched pulp crime fiction; Mysterius is about a Mandrake/Doctor-Who type character; Life & Times of Saviour 28 will likely be compared unfavorably to the current storyline in Captain America, let alone any number of other superhero "deconstruction" stories. An argument can be made here on behalf of The Great Unknown. The Great Unknown at least doesn’t feel assembled from a pop culture erector set, at least. Which isn't to say it succeeds at the whole character/dialogue/plot thing, but...
Of course, The Walking Dead perhaps started out owing some debt to George Romero; Casanova owes a debt to, well, plenty; Umbrella Academy probably pays some small licensing fee to Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. I don’t know. There’s an expression that “bad artists copy; great artists steal.”
Casual Heroes #1 by Kevin McCarthy: This was a weirdly well-remembered celebrity superhero riff-- very fondly remembered by the few people who caught on to it, though glancing at it now, I don't really know why. The celebrity superhero riff has become old hat since this first came out; maybe it was fresher then. There were rumors that Kevin McCarthy was making comics again a few years back, but I don’t know what became of them.
Super Powers #4 by Jack Kirby, Joey Cavalieri, and Adrian Gonzales: This is terrible shit, a 10-cent bin gamble that never paid off. Jack Kirby draws a cro-magnon Superman fighting the Justice League on the cover, but nothing inside remotely pays off on the promise of that.
Adrian Gonzales draws the interiors. The cover sold the book, though. Jack Kirby. I went with the Jack Kirby hardcover LOSERS collection this week. I’d never seen any of his LOSERS comics, but I love the Kirby HOWLING COMMANDO comics. I'm only a couple issues in; so far, the Losers aren’t quite as cheerfully violent as the Howling Commandos. I like Kirby’s war comics for the violence, but I have a hard time putting the fact that he served in the war out of my head. Kirby almost lost limbs to frostbite, but could still make happy-go-lucky comics about the Losers saving a classical pianist from the Nazis...? These sugary candy-coated explosion-fantasies. But, you know, Lee Marvin made The Dirty Dozen. It's sort of amazing, sort of odd.
According to wikipedia, Kirby’s wife Roz worked in a lingerie store during the war. I’d never read that before today. What were lingerie stores like during World War 2? I never really thought about World War 2 era lingerie stores before, what that shopping experience must have been like.
“Dateline: Normandy. Jerry's nowhere to be found now that our boys landed on their shores. Goodbye, Jerry, say hello to St. Peters. Dateline: New York. Sale on Crotchless Bustiers brings Broadway to its knees-- the bee’s knees. Why, is that Vivian Leigh buying a chiffron babydoll with faux fur trimmed cups, satin bow, and g-string? Those leathers corsets she's buying provide as much support for her, as Liberty war bonds provide support for our boys. Our March to War has been silky smooth thanks to pink-satin corsets with removable straps. What’s that? Francis is getting in on the action, buying a spaghetti-strap fishnet crotchless bodystocking with low-cut, criss-cross backstraps? Thatta boy, Francis! You know who doesn’t likes Lace Deep-V Teddies? That’s right: Adolf Hitler.” Oh god, I could do this all weekend...
And weren’t they rationing fabrics during the war? Was lingerie during World War 2 made out of, what, potatoes? Sex potatoes? I’m guessing Jack Kirby's wife didn't sell very sexy lingerie. Deal with that opinion, nerds. Savage critics.
Anyways, right: comic books. I guess I gave up on my whole first issue plan. It just wasn’t leading me anywhere interesting, and I'm having a better time sticking with Jack Kirby. Same as everybody, I really enjoyed Boom Studios' and Roger Langridge's MUPPET SHOW #1-- I'm not made out of stone. Same as everybody, I liked that they didn't do some "Muppets have a Charles Dickens adventure in Space" bullshit but stuck with the Muppets at their most entertaining: theater-nerds trying to put on a show.
Past that, I’m not finding anything that means anything to me. Whatever inspired these creators to create these particular books, I didn't share in that feeling when I read them. But: I didn't give any of them much of a chance either. If I'm honest about it, I don't think I did. Everyone thinks they're open-minded but... And I don't know why that's the case, why I wouldn't be receptive to what they're selling. They're nerdy books? Well, I'm a nerdy guy so that should be an okay marriage. But: not so much. And it's disconcerting. It’s like being in a hotel-- you’re surrounded by this stuff, and it’s like, “Bed” or “Table”, stuff you like in theory. But they're not right. There’s something not right about them. There’s too many pillows.