"G'wan And STARE At Me. I KNOW I'm Not Pretty!" COMICS! Sometimes They're So Fine They Blow My Mind! (Hey, Mickey!)

In which I carved out a bit of free time at the weekend and chose to spend it with you worshipping at the altar of Mike McMahon. Just like any sane person would.  photo LoDHimB_zpsbf146653.jpg

Anyway, this...

BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #55-57 Artist: Mike McMahon Writer: Chuck Dixon Letterer: Willie Schubert Colourist: Digital Chameleon DC Comics, $1.75 each (1993) Batman created by Bob Kane

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These three issues comprise the self contained and out of continuity Batman tale Watchtower. The comic itself, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, specialised in such tales. This title delivered a surprising number of accomplished tales from a talented and varied array of creative minds and hands; certainly at least for as long as Archie Goodwin was at the editorial helm. The attraction in this arc for me was very much the magic of Mike McMahon. Now, Chuck Dixon does a fine job, don’t get me wrong. Like a TV version of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Dixon’s story is of a near future Bruce Wayne pining for the colourful criminals of the past. Here though none of the colourful loons conveniently return and so Batman must confront the banal but no less evil prospect of Privatisation (and its co-joined twin Corruption). Craft wise it’s spot on; Dixon hits all the beats. You know, those beats the comic book writers are always going on about. He doesn’t use narrative text either; just dialogue. I know! It turns out you can write a well paced entertaining story which makes sense by combining just dialogue and art. (Actually it turns out people have been doing it for decades, but shhhh!) Yes, Chuck Dixon provides a strong script; one so strong I suspect it would have succeeded in entertaining the reader had most anyone drawn it. That’s not faint praise but that’s all he gets because most anyone didn’t draw it; Mike McMahon did.

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Before I demonstrate my love for McMahon’s work on these pages (work he has dismissed as awful) in the usual storm of horseshit hoping to pass for art appreciation let’s talk about Mike when he was but a tyke. The first time ever I saw Mike McMahon’s art was on Judge Dredd in the weekly British comic 2000AD in 1977 AD. Turned out that was his debut. McMahon, the scent of Chelsea Art College still lingering in his puppyish nostrils, was called in to pinch hit due to editorial shenanigans centering around Carlos Ezquerra. That’s why his early stuff looks like Ezquerra – that’s what he was told to do. And, bless his gifted mitts he did it. But, leisurely, he stopped doing it.

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As the years passed it was clear McMahon was developing his own style under cover of The Carlos. Initially grubby and giving the impression of portraying a world made of compacted scabs there was soon a sense of flakiness to McMahon’s art, as though a slow act of shedding was underway. In strips like Ro-Busters and A.B.C. Warriors there is a definite impression of McMahon’s Ezquerra-isms swelling as though from internal pressure. It’s true, I tell ya; his figures become bloated and even have strange flecks drifting off them. And then his art, primarily on Dredd in this period, seems thereafter to suddenly retract, fitting itself tautly around a new wholly McMahon framework of geometric precision. But it didn’t stop there; McMahon’s art kept going (and it is still going), kept fresh with refinements both calculated and accidental. (How his outstandingly appropriate woodcut style on Slaine was the unexpected result of a new method involving Bristol board, markers and tracing paper has now passed into Legend.) Then he got ill. A couple of years passed and he came back strong with The Last American for Goodwin’s EPIC imprint. McMahon, being notoriously self critical as he is, was unimpressed by his work there but Goodwin knew the real stuff when he saw it and so (I assume) threw McMahon this assignment. But like San Francisco’s favourite cop you don’t assign McMahon you just turn him loose.

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Loose being the last word you’d apply to McMahon’s work here. Meticulously constructed from the most basic level as it is to reflect the comprehensive vision of Mike McMahon. A vision which embraces the two dimensional nature of comic art like no other. Looking at Mike McMahon’s art is like looking at the world through the eyes of an alien creature. You can tell what everything is but everything is off.  Yet in relation to each other every element is clearly related to the same perceptual set. It’s the flatness that gets me. Usually that would be a pejorative term obsessed as comic book art can tend to be with verisimilitude Here though realism is out of the window. Indeed, McMahon’s art seems to imply that if you want realism then look out the window because right here, pal o’ mine, is something better than reality. Something other. Something no one else could produce. Something that you won’t get anywhere else. I could have just said it was unique but I have a reputation for going on a bit to maintain. Standards and all that.

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Surprisingly given its unique nature McMahon’s art isn’t hampered by the involvement of other hands. I have no idea whatsoever if there was any level of communication between the various parties but if there wasn’t then what we have here is the happiest of artistic accidents. Willie Schubert’s font in the speech bubbles and the Sound FX, with their slanted angles and hand crafted air have a very McMahon feel to them. They seem a part of the art. There’s a killer sequence where a hood is beaten by security specialists and the SFX appear in the panel showing a witness quailing in fear, but they are then absent from the next panel which shows the risen clubs. I described that quite tediously but the actual success of the effect is indisputable. You’ll notice there is only the slightest indication of motion in the image of the clubs (the blood on te rearmost club). McMahon eschews motion lines throughout. Usually he’s designed the image in a panel to lead the eye in such a way that the implicit motion is conveyed. Sometimes though ,as in a panel where a club strikes a head, the only clue to motion is the presence of a SFX (“WOK!”).

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Digital Chameleon’s colours are noticeable even to me and I am notoriously inert in my appreciation of comic colouring. However, they don’t stand out because they jar or if they jar they are meant to. The palette of lime greens, midnight blues, soiled yellows and popping reds all provide another level of visual interest at the very least. And at their very best they collaborate with McMahon’s images in achieving the effects he’s reaching for. Particularly when it comes to the layering of the image. McMahon’s very keen on layering the elements in his panels. His panels can be many layers deep but each layer is distinct and the illusion of depth is the result of their distance being adequately conveyed. It's akin to those fuzzy felt pictures you used to do as a kid; if you are super-old like me. Anyway, there are panels where the colouring quite blatantly enhances this effect. In these issues i was pleasantly surprised to find that McMahon’s work adapted well to the many hands make light work ethos of North American genre comics; something everyone involved gets a high five for.

So, yeah, Mike McMahon did a Batman comic back in the day. Mike McMahon probably doesn’t like it and I can’t conceive what fandom of the day made of it, but I thought it was VERY GOOD!

But then again Mike McMahon is – COMICS!

"The Cane Does The Rest." Comics! Sometimes They Are Butch!

So I managed to get an hour and I wrote this.  So, you know, it's hardly incisive or anything and certainly not structured but I hope it entertains. People like seeing other people fail, right? Tuck in! Photobucket PUNISHER: BARBARIAN WITH A GUN By John Buscema (Artist), Chuck Dixon (Writer), Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson & Art Nichols (Inkers), Kevin Tinsley (Colourist and Jim Novak (Letterer) Collects PUNISHER: WAR ZONE #26-30 (Marvel Comics, $15.99, 2008)


This comic features the character of The Punisher created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Snr and Ross Andru here presented in an adventure I was drawn to purchase by the title and the presence of John Buscema. Also - it was on sale at my LCS for a fiver. In fact I was initially misled by the presence of John Buscema and the title to expect Frank to be swept up by a Time-Space vortex and dumped into Hyboria where he would initially act like Conan but with a gun but upon exhausting his ammo would then turn his 'Nam sharpened reflexes upon the populace of the stinky primitive land before being hailed King. This does not happen. However, if there is a comic where this does happen (and how could there not be?) then I am all ears.


What the comic delivers is, I guess, the next best thing. On the trail of a drug dealing brother-sister combo Frank is soon removed from the civilised and hygienic milieu of lovely America to the stinky and primitive land of The Caribbean jungle. No offense to my Caribbean chums but that’s how it’s presented here. This is a tale from the time before The Punisher was taken seriously (if anyone can in fact take PUNISHERMAX seriously; which it appears they can) but after the time when he wore white disco boots. The boots have been ditched by this stage which is a shame because I always believed they were his dead wife’s and he wore them as tribute to her memory. Luckily he still retains several of the goofier elements that I always enjoy about The Punisher. In several scenes Frank is pictured in a nice Hawaiian cut shirt emblazoned with his TM skull motif. This suggests that either Frank, like myself, holidays in Whitby and is partial to frequenting the make-your-own design T-Shirt shop just back from the sea front or that he spends his free time sewing and indulging his passion for crafts. Also, early on in the story Frank adopts a disguise. Now, Punisher disguises are one of my favourite things being as they are so terrible as to inspire hooting. My favourite was in the Punisher/Ghost Rider/Wolverine one-shot HEARTS OF DARKNESS written by Howard MacKie and illustrated by John Romita Jnr. In that one Frank grew a pencil tache and slicked his hair back. Luckily Wolverine’s acute smell sense pierced this quickly. I think he used his smell-sense but in all honesty he could have just used his eye-sense. In BARBARIAN WITH A GUN Frank wears a brown wig of no fixed style and another mustache. This works out pretty well until he meets a woman who had earlier seen him shoot the guy he’s disguised as and was also physically pleasured by said guy. Oh, Frank undone by sentiment!


So. Yes, it’s one of those old timey adventures where Frank has all the moral complexity of a brick and just batters himself against the obstacles in his way until everybody who should be dead is dead and then he gets on with a nice bit of sewing. It’s pretty well done, too. Chuck Dixon is certainly a professional at this stuff. He’s certainly professional enough not to let his personality infect the work and thus Frank never spends anytime whatsoever worrying about what consenting adults of the same gender choose to do with their genitals. Dixon is also professional enough to deliver a satisfyingly violent action-adventure romp that takes itself seriously enough but never too seriously. He does a really smart job on Frank’s clipped narration which includes gems like, “Carbine goes Winchester on me.” and “He’s asking for mercy. Sorry. Fresh out.” I dig that stuff, that He-Man steak and taters stuff and it’s all over this one.


There’s no politics either despite the fact that the island of Porta Dulce is bursting into revolution more often than a teen’s face bursts into zits. The ruling class are corrupt and violent, the peasants are corrupt and violent, the Americans there to make a buck are corrupt and violent even the crocs are violent (but not corrupt). The nicest character is a pig that just ambles through and rescues our bunch of heroes with its unerring sense of direction. And it is a bunch by this point because Frank has called in Micro and Ice Phillips. This latter character is a new one on me but he’s obviously got some “juice” because the back of the TPB declares “Guest starring Ice Phillips from Marvel’s controversial series The ‘Nam!” (The ‘Nam was indeed controversial since (at least for a while when it was written by Doug Murray and illustrated by Michael Golden)  Marvel published it and it wasn't awful and was in fact quite good). So one for Ice Phillips fans here! There’s a great scene between the trio where Micro almost spills the beans on why Frank does what he does to Ice (who apparently thinks Frank is just doing it for chuckles or something) and Frank says, “Don’t tell him. Don’t ever tell him. He doesn't deserve to know.” Which is super-pissy of Frank. Then he just flounces off! Ooooh, get her!


Of course all this is illustrated by John Buscema. Or John “The Don” Buscema. Now John Buscema wasn’t really the paterfamilias of a crime family in much the same way as Gene Colan wasn’t the head of a faculty in a school or college but Gene was still “The Dean” and John will always be “The Don”. He was also referred to as The Rembrandt of Comics which means he was frickin aces. It’s important to remember that John Buscema was frickin’ aces because the production of monthly comics didn't do him any favours really. He was mostly relegated to pencils so they could get more of him out there but, man, he loved inking his own stuff. And if you see any you’ll love it too. BARBARIAN WITH A GUN is typically Marvel Buscema as here he provides pencils and as bare as they may seem they still display his talent for framing and generally getting the stuff that matters into the panel in a way that’s unfussy and pleasing. Oh, and he still got emough ink on his brush to draw smoking hot ladies that embody the word "fleshy". Mind you he’s not helped by the buggers muddle of inkers, sometimes there’s more than one of them having a pop at his pencils in one issue.


These comics were originally published in 1994, I think, and John Buscema died in 2002 so we're definitely looking at a Lion in Winter here or at least one that’s feeling the chill a bit. It’s all still there though, all the Buscematic bustle and muscular pop just a bit sticky with the ink of others. It’s a bit odd really because we’re talking about John Buscema here and you’d think he’d have been treated a bit better. It isn't as though Marvel were unaware of the importance of Buscema’s work in identifying Marvel as being quite good. In fact as far back as 1978 Buscema was chosen to illustrate the book HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY. His art was chosen as the template for the sausage factory. Not Gil Kane or Jack Kirby,no, John Buscema. Mind you Jack Kirby and Gil Kane would probably have told Marvel to take a flying f*** at a rolling doughnut by that point. Or at least have pointed out that How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way was to have sound legal representation at all times, never depend on verbal promises and remember that you might need money in the future. So, John Buscema’s value was clearly acknowledged by Marvel but at the end they have him pump out some books that have to have the heavy hands of others all over them in order for them to come out on time. Kirby forbid John Buscema be given time to do some stuff the way he wanted at the end of career. Nah, just get those books out, Buscema? Never heard of him, never did anything for us. Where’s my Punisher comics?!?


This lack of respect extends to the physical artifact itself. While the creative contents are fine, even managing to entertain despite the mish-mash of inking, the physical contents lack even cursory care and attention. The cover is a graduate of the school of Intern With Photoshop, the colouring in general is imprecise and wishy-washy and when blood is shown to fly from punctured bodies it is coloured yellow. Yellow. Maybe The Punisher fires harmless custard bullets? Maybe the people he kills are aliens? Maybe Kevin Tinsley needs biology lessons? Maybe Marvel don’t give a chuff? Which, y’know, is their prerogative and all but this costs $15.99 and I don’t think it’s whiny for someone handing over that amount of cash to expect a decent product in return. I hear your TPBs don’t sell so well, Marvel? Maybe that’s why.


Despite all that it is still a sound piece of hugely testicular entertainment which does its job well due to the professionalism of Dixon, Buscema et al. but the fact that it’s such a cheapjack package makes it only EH! If, however, you like John Buscema, daft violence and got it for a fiver it’s really GOOD!


And that’s it from me and now...back to the COMICS!

Wait, What? Ep. 70: The Hour (Times 2.5)

Demolition Derby from Jon Pinnow on Vimeo.

The Pact still holds! Another week in 2012, another episode of Wait, What?

We are still experimenting with the done-in-one podcast (although many of you have used our comments thread to weigh in and say you like multiple eps. because it gave you something to look forward to...which I was worried might be the case but nobody articulated it before the change-up). I'm thinking I might get us back to two installments (or more) per ep. because something about it reminds me of the way Marvel U.K. used to chop up stories from U.S. Marvel comics and that sorta fits Graeme and I, in a way.

But, uh, it may be a while because there's something nice about only recording one intro, mixing one episode, etc., etc. So here is all two and half hours of Wait, What? Ep. 70, with the dauntless Graeme McMillan and the all-too-full-of-daunts me talking getting hacked, dreams about comics, Brubaker and Philips' Fatale, the Elseworlds 80 page giant, Chuck Dixon's G.I. Joe comic for IDW and Seal Team Six, Defenders #2, Action Comics #5, OMAC #5, Uncanny X-Men #4, New Teen Titans, Downton Abbey, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Avengers Annual, Freak Angels, Mud Man, Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation and King Cat Comics #72 by John Porcellino (the star of the short embedded above).

Sensible souls surely spotted said spirited show (on iTunes), but for hearty heroes hoping to hear happenings here (hear, hear!):

Wait, What? Ep. 70: The Hour (Times 2.5)

As always, we appreciate your patronage and thank you for listening!