Inventory/Fanfare: Jeff's Capsules Reviews, Barely

Dang, man.  You try to show a little love for the website by doing capsule reviews and then next thing you know you're stuck in a Hibbs-styled Death Race 2000 "who will blink first?! Who will die last?!" event.  [Okay, Hibbs didn't say that, but I'm pretty sure that Kirby did in one his next issue blurbs...] Anyway, after the jump: What Jeff Writes About When He Hasn't Been to the Shop That Week.

BEST OF DICK TRACY TPB:  IDW just published this sucker, as far as I can tell, because it was easy as hell to do so--although I can't confirm it, I'd swear this book had been released earlier (but my current Internet/browser configuration punishes the shit out of me every time I try to research it).  Certainly, the "stories picked and introduced by Jay Maeder/project edited by Dean Mullaney" credits make me suspect some sort of re-packaging situation.

The only reason I mention that is because this book works great as a sampler for the IDW's complete Dick Tracy hardcover series, since it carefully introduces each of its story excerpts by villain and year of publication--how hard would it have been to include a pic of the cover for  the corresponding IDW collection?

Anyway, this compilation of work from Gould's long history on Dick Tracy is far from ideal--it's very much a greatest hits collection and the comparatively slim length (128 pages!) to the daunting period surveyed (forty years of daily strips!)--but it is the most convenient way to get a measure of the man's body of work without plunking down too much coin.  For example, flipping through the ones at CE, I'd assumed 1938 was still too early for me to get to the dark, brutal stuff I'd gotten hooked on in my youth but, in fact, there's a very nasty little sequence from that period where Gould shows Tracy shooting a slaver sea captain right between the close up.  That and a sequence where Tracy is nearly killed in an improvised death trap featuring a diver's pressurization chamber made me realize I should probably pick up IDW's '38 volume as soon as I could afford it.

Also, if you're a fan of Art Spiegelman or Marti or the collage artist Jess, you might already have an appreciation for the strangeness of Gould's work, and  skimming through the latter half of this book just to see what catches your eye is a great aid to that end.  Gould's inking just got bolder and more assertive as things went on, and by the '50s, the panels are all but socking you in the eye with its linework. By then, it feels like every character has turned grotesque, and every object requires an arrowed caption to label it, a paranoid's world where nothing can be dismissed.  It's no wonder Gould took Tracy into space in the '60s to have adventures with moon people.  By then, he probably longed to look around at everyday objects again without seeing their capacity to inflict violence.

I'm conflicted about this collection because it could've been so much more, but, like I said, as a fast survey of a remarkable career, it's VERY GOOD stuff.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #165-168:  After a longish bout reading GHOST RIDER, THE HOBO OF HELL on my iPad, I'm back to making my way through the period of ASM between #121 and #200 (a.k.a. "my" era).  I'm not nearly as much of a fan of Wein on the book as I am of Gerry Conway--although his plotting was flawed as all hell, Conway had a definite emotional arc for Pete after Gwen died that kept the book grounded and tied the supervillain stuff as closely to the supporting cast as possible.  By contrast, only when the gang throws Peter a surprise housewarming party in issue in issue #163 do we get any kind of real attention paid to the guy's social life.  As D.B. Webb puts it in the letters pages of #167:  "When was the last time we saw four whole pages of Peter Parker? I'm not sure, but it was far too long ago.  These four pages were worth the thirty cents alone."

(Fuck.  Thirty cents.  Also, because issue #167 has the circulation statement filed September 30, 1976, I can tell you that the average number of copies sold during previous 12 issues of ASM was 278,909 with the single issue nearest to the filing date selling 323,762 copies.  No wonder why some of us think all we have to do is drop digital comics to under a buck and suddenly we'll be up to our necks in comic book readers again.)

(I'm not sure whether I'm one of those people or not, BTW.)

Anyhoo, ASM #165-166 has a very fun storyline with Spidey caught up in a battle between The Lizard and Stegron The Dinosaur Man which has the latter reanimating dinosaur skeletons from the Museum of Natural History and having them rampage through the streets. Issues #167 and #168 has Spidey battling both a Spider-Slayer remote-controlled by J. Jonah Jameson and "Marvel's most shocking new superstar" the Will-O'-The-Wisp.  The character apparently died at the end of #168 and was so dull I'm surprised anyone brought him back.  (But of course they did, though.)

But even those #167 and #168 are kinda awesome, because Ross Andru is working his ass off to give us New York in all its comic book glory.  Not only does issue #168 start off with a battle in the 30 Rock skating rink (where it is rendered as properly dinky) but finishes with a seven page fight scene on Times Square. Even though it's just  a throwaway panel, Spidey using the statue of Father Duffy to pull himself out  of an attacking crowd underscores for me just how seriously Andru took the work.

(Oh, and if you're into making connections between the stuff I choose to review--probably not a very good idea, I admit--maybe you can help me figure out if the final scene of ASM #168, where Stegron is able to avoid Spidey during a snowstorm but then succumbs to the cold and crashes through a frozen lake without the nearby hero even noticing, was influenced by the amazing end to the Shaky storyline of Dick Tracy, where Shaky hides from Tracy under the boardwalk during an ice storm, but then gets trapped and slowly and painfully dies with everyone searching for him just a few feet away.)

[Hey, I think I figured out where my lifelong fear of snow came from!]

They're not my very favorite issues of ASM--not by a long shot--but I'd like to think it's just some really god-damned stellar craft and not spellbound nostalgia that makes me think of these as GOOD stuff.

IRON MAN IN "CITY CRISIS":  Oh, also in ASM #167 and #168 is an ad for Hostess Twinkies wherein "Kwirkegard, a philosophically sinister villain, aims his existential depression ray at New York City's water supply."  Thanks to kids being unaffected ("because they haven't forgotten how to play!" according to a scientist pointing at a chalkboard drawing of a hot water bottle), Iron Man is able to overcome the effects of the ray.  In the last panel, Iron Man tells a bunch of kids in Central Park, "It's up to you kids to save New York.  Your laughter is the city's only hope.  Be happy, and here are Hostess Twinkie Cakes to help you!"


You guys are lucky I'm not Jean Baudrillard because I would Jean Baudrillard the shit out of that ad.  But suffice it to say: did millionaire industrialists urging on commercialism and gentrification help New York shake off its aura of filth and decay? Did it do so by rendering rational thought and history a cartoonish villain?  Obviously, the answer can only be FUCK YES.