Yes, I've been gone for a bit--working on some stuff that's top secret, yet boring! FIGHT OR RUN: SHADOW OF THE CHOPPER: This might be my favorite comics pamphlet of the year so far; it's on this week's Diamond list, and if your local store doesn't carry it it's available from Buenaventura Press. It's a trifle of a thing, but so perfectly executed that I keep coming back to it with renewed pleasure. A bunch of "Fight or Run" shorts have appeared in Kevin Huizenga's other comics over the last few years, although I don't think this duplicates any of those. The premise couldn't be simpler (Huizenga describes it as "an open source comics game"): two characters (from a stable of several dozen, each with its own set of loosely defined abilities) appear on panel, and either they fight, in which case one of them wins, or one runs from the other, in which case the winner is the one who either escapes or captures the other. The battles sometimes proceed by videogame logic and sometimes go someplace totally unexpected--a page involving a hypercompetent character called McSkulls winning eight contests in a row through sheer girliness cracks me up every time I look at it. Actually, almost everything about this project cracks me up: the characters' names and designs (Pronouncement is an eye-in-the-pyramid with wings, Birther has a little Anders Nilsen scribble for a head), the terrain of horizontal dashes that functions just as well as any oh-what-the-hell videogame background, the "Rabbit Vs. Duck" fights that turn into abstract reinterpretations of the entire concept. EXCELLENT, and really not like anything else.
The last time I praised one of Huizenga's comics here, it appeared next to a joke about a (nonexistent) new Steve Ditko comic. This time, there actually is a new Steve Ditko comic: DITKO, ETC..., published by the artist and Robin Snyder. As Ditko gets older, there's something about his style that gets purer. He's not even pretending to carry stories any more--everything has been reduced to images of purity half-corrupted and sequences of thugs and snickering namby-pambies getting their comeuppance. About half of the issue is single-page pieces with titles like "Who Is Safe in a World of Non-Anti-A?"; there's also a sequence devoted to a new entity-with-a-costume called H the Hero, whose distinguishing characteristic seems to be that he's... a hero. After a few full-page pinups of H stomping out a formless mass of Ditko squiggles that's labeled "Anti-A Violence Crime Force Hatred Corruption" (and so on), we finally get a couple of pages of continuity, or something like it--really just H beating up some thugs while leaping around Spider-Man-style, as if to reassure us that Ditko can still play something like the old tune. Rather EH, on the whole, but jeez, it's new Ditko; I can imagine the gradual simplification of his artwork continuing for another few decades until everything he draws is just a straight line on the left side of the page and a squiggly line on the right, and it will be a perfect squiggly line.
And speaking of Spider-Man, I picked up last Wednesday's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #578 on the strength of Mark Waid's byline, and I'm glad I did: it's the first issue of the post-Brand New Day incarnation I've sampled that's made me want to see what happens next. This issue is one long, nearly continuous scene, which works for an episode of a weekly serial in a way that it might not for a monthly serial. There's not much in the way of plot here, but what there is is paced awfully effectively: a panel that reads at first as the climax of a joke turns out to be the moment where the story pivots from light farce to disaster-horror, and the cliffhanger ending is topped with a very clever second, character-based bit of suspense. Really nice artwork from Marcos Martin, too--it's got a buoyancy and flair that's always welcome in Spider-Man stories, and he conveys so much of the story visually that Waid gets to make most of his dialogue bouncy rather than expository. (Which also means it sometimes seems unnecessary, but even so there's something pleasantly Stan Lee-like about that effect.) Plus: the reliably entertaining image of Spider-Man about to be crushed under a big heavy thing. GOOD enough that I'm coming back for more.