"Seems Like Even The GODS Have Their ACCIDENTS!" COMICS! Sometimes The King Is Still Dead!

“Tarru!” to you, too!! Just look at the creators on this thing! It’s like the comic book equivalent of one of those Irwin Allen films where Steve McQueen and Paul Newman jockey for top billing, Fred Astaire tumbles burning out of a lift, Michael Caine shouts about bloody, bloody bees and Gene Hackman tells God off with his steam blistered fists raised. It isn't a movie, but is it a disaster?  photo JPLeonB_zpsb5f63aca.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by John Paul Leon, Kevin McCarthy, John Workman & Tatjana Wood

Anyway this… TALES OF THE NEW GODS Pencilled by Steve Rude, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, Ron Wagner, Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Erik Larsen, Howard Victor Chaykin, Rob Liefeld, Art Adams, Jim Lee, John Paul Leon, Allen Milgrom, Eddie Campbell & Steve Ditko Inked by Mike Royer, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, Ray Kryssing, Frnk Miller, Dave Gibbons, Al Gordon, Howard Chaykin, Norm Rapmund, Art Adams, Scott Williams, John Paul Leon, Klaus Janson, Eddie Campbell & Mick Gray Written by Mark Evanier, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, Eric Stephenson, Walter Simonson with Howard Victor Chaykin, Jeph Loeb, Kevin McCarthy & Mark Millar Lettered by Todd Klein, John Byrne, John Workman, Clem Robins, Ken Bruzenak & Richard Starkings Coloured by Anthony Tollin, Lee Loughridge, Noelle Giddings, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, Tatjana Wood, Buzz Setzer & Drew Moore Collecting stories from Mister Miracle Special, Jack Kirby's Fourth World #2-11,13-20, and Orion #3-4, #6-8, #10, #12, #15, #18-19. Plus, a never-before-published short story by The Socialist Mark Millar with art by Steve Ditko and Mick Gray DC COMICS, $19.99 (2008) The Fourth World created by Jack Kirby Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

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In 1970 Jack Kirby, finally tiring of Marvel’s inability accord him decent treatment, chose to go to DC Comics. It was there that he began the greatest phase of his many great phases of work, a phase I have taken the liberty of dubbing with fierce precision “1970s Jack Kirby”. While at DC this phase encompassed his majestically epic work on The Demon, Omac, The Sandman, Kamandi, First Issue Special, The Losers and of course, and most pertinently, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World concept took the form of an interlocking suite of books (Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People) which were intended to be collected in a series of bound volumes for bookstores and, thus, a wider audience. In 2015 this is common practice for any old trex but in 1970 this kind of thing never happened. And it didn’t happen with Jack Kirby’s Fourth World either.

 photo MillerB_zpsd119c243.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by Frank Miller, John Workman & Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh

Controversy still smoulders regarding whether these books were successful or not but it’s all a bit moot as the last of them was cancelled in 1973. Short lived but much loved, Jack Kirby’s original Fourth World work is currently available in a series of four TPs from DC Comics. Sometimes they are even seen in bookshops as Jack Kirby originally envisaged. Post-Kirby DC has attempted periodically to revive the various Fourth World IPs with, to be kind, varying levels of success. Remember that time Jim Starlin inflated the New Gods’ thighs and killed them all? No, me neither. But, you know, that’s what comics companies do; no harm, no foul. And if they make good comics while doing so, then everyone wins. Tales of The New Gods reprints, somewhat haphazardly, some of the best illustrated attempts at being Jack Kirby. The results are variable, but as awful as a couple of them are they are all better than my attempt at being Jack Kirby, an attempt which starts and ends with not being able to drive.

 photo ChaykinB_zpsd1857224.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by Howard Victor Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Ken Bruzenak & Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh


 photo RudeB_zps6ced5e7b.jpg Mister Miracle Special by Steve Rude, Mike Royer, Mark Evanier, Todd Klein & Anthony Tollin

Given it’s written by Mark Evanier this volume opener is, as you might, expect, an exercise in respect. It doesn’t do anything new but then it doesn’t want to. It’s kind of a primer on Mister Miracle, as though the whole run were truncated to one book. It could work as a self-contained summation of that whole Mister Miracle deal or as a scene setter for a new series. Either way it’s a hectic romp filled with knowingly cornball humour, tinges of darkness, flamboyantly ridiculous death traps and inexplicable escapes from certain death. Mostly though, it’s all about Steve Rude’s art which here is as much of a politely inflamed (sometimes even a tentatively frenetic) collision of Kirby and Toth as it ever has been. It’s wild and wacky stuff adroitly sold. But Rude’s art, like Evanier’s script, as madcap as it all gets remains too tethered to reality to ever risk lifting both feet clear of solid ground and floating “out there!!!” like the King. It’s still wonderful stuff, just different. It lacks the irreverent insanity Kirby would suddenly plunge into without warning. Basically there’s nothing like that bad guy called “Merkin” but then to be honest I’m entirely comfortable with the idea that Jack Kirby knew what a pubic wig was. Rude & Evanier’s strip is happy enough to be a tribute and homage to Mister Miracle and I’m happy enough to have it be such. GOOD!

JACK KIRBY’s FOURTH WORLD #2-20 (pages 43 - 147)

 photo ByrneSeidB_zps7bf81b8c.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by John Byrne & lee Loughridge

In 1997 John Byrne started vigorously emitting issues of a series entitled Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. This was a dream come true; for John Byrne anyway. I’m not saying John Byrne seems to have an unhealthy fixation with bettering Jack Kirby but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was often mistaken in the street for a 1975 John Huston movie adapted from the works of Rudyard Kipling and starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer. Phew! While John Byrne’s no Jack Kirby (who is? No one.) he’s very definitely John Byrne, and John Byrne is a talented man in his own right. So there’s a certain level of fascination in watching him get stuck into Kirby’s mythology. And then fascination turns to dismay as you realise he is actually stuck in Kirby’s mythos. While (I assume) the main stories in his series progressed Kirby’s mythos what we have here are the back-ups and these are more concerned with regressing and filling in the background to The Fourth World. John Byrne, sadly, suffers from Roy Thomas Disease and so that goes someway to explaining why he backfills the backstory of Scott Free, Metron and The Forever People for example, but only a truly unnerving level of hubris can explain the fact that John Byrne gave Darkseid an origin.

 photo ByrneTalkB_zps15dbc2bd.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by John Byrne & Noelle Giddings

As origins for Darkseid go it’s not bad; there’s even a surprise - it turns out to be someone else’s origin too. Unfortunately, and fundamentally, I don’t think Darkseid needed an origin. I think Darkseid works better as a granite faced mini-skirted embodiment of the fascistic darkness ready to pounce when civilisation becomes complacent. Which, to be fair, none of which Byrne has changed, but after reading his origin the looming brute is forever after diminished by the thought of the henpecked sneak he came from. What’s important is (simply) that Darkseid IS not (convolutedly) who Darkseid was. Whether by design, sheer forward momentum, or a fortuitous combination of the two, Kirby left loads of spaces both within and around the Fourth World; spaces for the imagination of his readers to fill. Kirby’s creations invited reader participation because Kirby believed indiscriminately in imagination. John Byrne also believes in imagination, but only in his. Again and again, with a fixity of purpose that stifles any imaginative flex Byrne returns to the spaces within Kirby’s stories and starts filling them in, like graves.

 photo CollageB_zps49764de1.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by John Byrne & Noelle Giddings

Of course Kirby would also go back, when able, to show what was past. But when he did it we got The Pact; when he did it they were revelations not explanations. Kirby’s additions opened up his narrative, Byrne’s additions all feel like a door has been slammed shut somewhere. As Byrne’s pages pass there’s a sense of narrative claustrophobia as the characters, characters who more than most characters should have access to the infinite, run out of room, they risk becoming entombed in their own narrative. Visually this impression is also, unfortunately, true; great wodges of stilted and circumlocutious dialogue hem his figures into his badly planned panels with dismaying frequency. Which is a shame because I like John Byrne’s art here, when I can see it. It has an appealingly loose and impromptu aspect which invests it with more energy than can be entirely stifled by the narrative slog it inhabits. Sometimes Byrne will surprise, with the early Apokolips scenes being visually lively, or by drawing more birds in the sky during the old timey scenes, which feels right (I don’t know, I wasn’t there). Then he’ll dismay with a character called Francine Goodbody, and the sudden threat of John Byrne penning some period sauce about dirty earls and bosomy maids turns your ears scarlet with dismay. Byrne's fatal miscalculation is to let Walter Simonson provide one of the backups, whereupon Simonson shows how it should be done. Thanks to a lightness of touch and his usual impeccable storytelling wizardry Simonson explains how Kanto came to dress like a Borgia in tale which is both hilariously obvious and melodramatically arresting. It’s a bit of a shame really as Byrne’s clearly into this stuff. He even goes so far as to update the Kirby collage technique with a couple of images combining his drawn figures with CGI of the time. By the end of this section though we have found a talent capable of invigorating Kirby’s mythos anew. Unfortunately it wasn’t John Byrne. OKAY!

 photo SimonsonB_zps8dc11d13.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by Walter Simonson, John Workman & Noelle Giddings

Orion #3-4, #6-8, #10, #12, #15, #18-19. (Pages 148 - 207)

No, in a bitter twist worthy of The Source itself , it was Walter Simonson! In 2000 Walter Simonson began his Orion series. This focused on the angry pup of Darkseid while also flopping happily about in the wider Fourth World concepts. As is usual in Comics quality had nothing to do with sales and it ended in 2002. Taking his cue from Byrne’s series there was a main strip and then a backup. I guess Walter Simonson is a lot more amenable than John Byrne because a cavalcade of comics creators muck in to help him out on them. I know because I typed all their names in up there. That’s my free time that is; you’re very welcome. Rather than the main strips then it is these backups which are presented here. Unfortunately while Simonson made the more sensible decision to have his backups inform and augment events in the main strip rather than compete directly with the King, that does mean that reading them here, divorced from their original context can be less than satisfying.

 photo CampbellB_zps7740a955.jpg TALES OF THE NEW GODS by Eddie Campbell, Walter Simonson, Pete Mullins, John Workman & Tatjana Wood

Some stand alone and read well such as Frank Miller’s typically, and appropriately, brutally drawn birth of Orion which, again opens up rather than closes off story possibilities. The John Paul Leon strip is his usual wonderful balancing act between extremities of light and dark with a script by Kevin McCarthy which is a nice bit of business about fathers, sons, and the place of art under Darkseid (beneath his boot). Mostly though they are just a bit of fun where you enjoy the performance as much as the story. Howard Victor Chaykin characteristically provides pages involving a blue skinned sexy lady which involve domination, badinage and a messy ending. Of most interest there is the crucial part Ken Bruzenak’s letters play in deciphering the climax and the way the printing serves Chaykin so poorly that the climax has to be deciphered. Otherwise Eddie Campbell draws Darkseid, Arthur Adams channels Jean Giraud and, well, it’s just nice seeing most of these folk having fun. There’s a whole two duffers which isn’t bad by any stretch. Liefeld & Loeb remain inept and as much love as I have for the work of Steve Ditko either he isn’t really trying here or the thick inks by Mick Gray destroy any of his signature fluidity. In fact the best bit of this final (previously unpublished!) strip is that Ditko is teamed up with Mark Millar. Pairing someone as ideologically resolute as Steve Ditko with, well, Mark Millar is a black joke worthy of Darkseid his bad self.  Overall this section Is VERY GOOD! which by my calculations makes the whole book - GOOD!

(NOTE: But the whole Simonson Orion run is shortly to be released by DC as an Omnibus. Knowhumsayin’? Because that thing will be fat with - COMICS!!!)

“They're As Big As The Sky...” COMICS! Sometimes The Eyes Have It!

O, America! There you go again sneaking another holiday in! Did it involve turkeys? You and your turkeys, America! Well, there’s no holiday from me going on about something I read. Much as both of us might wish otherwise. Was it a turkey though? Eh? Eh? Some clever word play there. Force your own face under the break to find out!  photo EXWantB_zps58889462.jpg

Anyway, this… EARTH X Story, character designs, epilogue & covers by Alex Ross Pencils by John Paul Leon Inks by Bill Rheinhold Story & Script by Jim Kreuger Coloured by Matt Hollingsworth, Melissa Edwards & James Sinclair Lettered by Todd Klein Marvel, $29.99 (2010) Collects Earth X issues 0, 1-12 & X

Featuring characters created by a veritable multitude of minds in tandem with a host of hands the naming of all of whom it shames me to say I am not up to. However, the bulk of the stuff herein must surely have come from some of these: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Carl Burgos, Don Heck, Gene Colan, Joe Simon, Neal Adams, Dave Cockrum, Herb Trimpe, Bill Everett, Wallace Wood, Dick Ayers, Marie Severin, John Romita Snr, John Romita Jnr, Jim Starlin, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Gerry Conway, Arnold Drake, Steve Gerber and one more time…Jack Kirby

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I picked this up from the remaindered book store despite it looking like someone had beaten four generations of spiders to death with it. It was a bit shop worn is what I’m getting at there. (1) I’d not read Earth X before this and I didn’t really know anything about it. From the Alex Ross covers I’d lumped it in with Marvels and Kingdom Come; books that hit readers younger than me harder than they hit me. Because to be honest both those admittedly well-crafted series just sort of glanced off my burly shanks; that’s nice, I thought and thought no further. But at £8.99 I was willing to have a pop at this unknown quantity. My pecuniary impetuosity was spurred mostly because of the presence of John Paul Leon’s art because, c’mon, John Paul Leon is a pretty great comic book artist. (2) The words and such in Earth X are by Jim Kreuger and his name didn’t tempt me much. (3) So when I opened the book I thought I’d just end up flipping through it and making cheeky monkey faces at Leon’s sweet art (4) but when I shut the book I had actually read it all and had a surprisingly good time.

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I know! Considering the whole thing is mired in Marvel continuity up to its nuts and has its origin in some sketches (artistic not comedic) Alex Ross came up with for Wizard or something Earth X turned out to be a decent enough read indeed. Basically then Earth X seems to be set on an Earth (Earth X, I guess?) where all the Marvel characters exist but in the time since their inception they have aged and things have happened to them that have actually not been undone five minutes later. (5) This means a lot of characters are dead when the book opens and a lot of characters aren’t who their name would lead you to believe. (6) This is fun stuff and arrests the attention early on but the real advantage of the set-up is that this is a story where there are actual consequences. If there’s a threat of such magnitude that the world might end then, in this book at least, there is actually a possibility that the worst might happen. (7) The book also attempts to tie all of Marvel’s continuity up in a neat bow (8) and it does a credible job too. Of course I’m not all that invested in the minutiae of the Marvel Universe so it’s possible some of the fudging and bodging necessary to make the book work might curl some readers’ hair. Those readers are duly warned although let’s be honest I probably lost those particular readers at the first footnote where I gently intimated Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby’s legacy was somewhat less than ideal. I’ll find the strength to soldier on though.

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Given the scope (wide) and the scale (big) of the story it would be quite understandable if characterisation received short shrift, particularly as two of the major story strands initially seem to revolve around how You Can’t Trust The Smart Folk and how Captain America Can’t Make The Hard Decisions. (9) However, Kreuger & Co. slowly layer their portrayals and while not everyone (there’s a lot of them so fair enough) is nuanced those who are nuanced are revealed as being surprisingly so. By the close of play things have become quite emotional indeed.(10) The writing and the art play the whole thing on the dour side but, crucially, Earth X is never as dour as I feared and it is always more entertaining than I hoped. This is largely because the creative team remember that you can have the biggest stakes in the world but it matters not one jot unless the reader cares. (11) They also remember that there is always humour in life even when things are looking pretty grim (especially then? Yes, especially then) so there is also some humour; I liked the Vision joke and that whole domesticated Ben Grimm dressing like an elderly Jack Kirby shtick but there’s a sparse smattering of other comedic offerings; offerings which seem to rise naturally out of the situations presented and temper the dourness somewhat.

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Be in no doubt though that given the reverential treatment of all things Marvel for some folk Earth X will be the interminable continuity wank I feared. Luckily for all our souls John Paul Leon’s presence swung it for me. Assisted here by Bill Rheinhold's sturdy inks he’s got this high contrast thing going on. A lot of detail is bleached out but all the detail you need is there. This approach is super rough on the colourists but Hollingsworth, Sinclair & Edwards do a mighty fine job. John Paul Leon’s got the magic happening in pretty much every aspect of his art on the pages of Earth X. His staging’s great and a lot of the impact comes from this and his thin vertical panels which suddenly burst on a page turn into double spread splendour. Because be in no doubt that there are images in here that need to have some impact; if some of this stuff doesn’t work the book won’t work and I think John Paul Leon makes it work. But he also makes the small stuff sing. This is a book which starts with a man in a room and ends with another man in another room but in-between there are swarms of humanity and creatures so gargantuan humanity is less than a swarm and John Paul Leon sells all that tricky shit like Ricky Roma on a roll. Only a truly talented artist could make comics with so many vertical panels work so well, and only a few of that select bunch could successfully lend humanity to a robot exoskeleton. John Paul Leon’s chunky lines and slabs of black give everything the necessary gravitas but he builds in sufficient space for the crucial emotions to sit. (12)

While John Paul Leon’s mostly to blame for my enjoyment of this book there’s no way everyone else’s contributions can be discounted. I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked the covers so maybe that made me value what I found all the more. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Almost as surprised at how influential Earth X has proven to be. (13) I can’t deny Earth X was VERY GOOD! What a revoltin’ development!

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(1) Initially I was going to pick up a Rick Remender X-Force book and make a joke about Rick Remaindered but I think he’s suffered enough recently, so I’m glad I didn’t make that joke. There was also a whole bunch of Brian Bendis books but, I’m sorry, even at remaindered prices…not with your money even. Truthfully I was tempted by his tiny wee digest Oral History of the Avengers but I read a bit and I don’t know what happened but when I came to I was crying in a library surrounded by burning televisions. Yes, the selection of trade paperbacks on offer was just Marvel books by the way. Which is probably due to some distribution deals or other rather than any intrinsic lack within Marvel’s trade program per se. Heaven forefend anyone should think I’m being petty just because Marvel refuse to acknowledge the contribution of Jack Kirby to their multi-billion dollar revenue streams. I don’t need a reason to be petty.

(2) John Paul Leon’s work on Winter Men is pretty much reason enough for someone to put that beauty back into print (and Brett Lewis’ writing on it is none too shabby neither).

(3) The only place I recall his name from is his and Alex Ross & Doug Braithwaite’s Justice (DC Comics, 2005-2007) and if I can tell you one thing about that comic seven years on then I’d be guessing. The JLA all turned into robot toys or something? I should dig that out for a re-read. Right after I sort my life out.

(4) Ook! Ook!

(5) The quicker studies will have gathered I’m not one for recounting plots; I’d rather let you know if I liked something and why that was or wasn’t. I will also throw in some heroically terrible jokes and probably lose my mind for several sentences over something or other like a goddamn crazy man. That’s why this shit’s free.

(6) Thankfully they even keep the High Evolutionary and the fact that he created an exact duplicate of earth, but without bologna or something. Every time that High Evolutionary guy shows up I want to know where he got his funding. He must pitch like nobody’s business.

(7) This is slightly undermined by the fact that I now know that Earth X was followed up by Universe X (2000 - 2001) and Paradise X (2002 – 2003). N.B. There is no truth to the rumour of plans to pave over Paradise X and call it Parking Lot X. A little early Christmas present for Brian Hibbs there; more of a Joni Mitchell man than a Cher man, I’m guessing.

(8) People are always pulling this “Everything’s Connected!” shtick and it always irritates me how we are supposed to be impressed. Of course everything’s connected if you write something where everything’s connected. Nuh!

(9) It is possible these were still original approaches back then but after a decade of writers continually going at them like a dog with a bag of chips it’s hard to tell. I think Jonathan Hickman is the one currently sucking the marrow out of these conceptual bones but we won’t know for another fifty years when he finally finishes his story.

(10) Although since I am the kind of man who blubs at the “That’s no salesman…that’s your Daddy!” scene in Armageddon YMMV. (Yes, Michael Bay’s made some shit but it is in the nature of shit that sometimes it sticks).

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(11) Or if “caring” is a bit Dad then feel free to use “gives a shit”.

(12) Or: I like John Paul Leon’s work and I think the book succeeds as well as it does largely because of him. Why can’t I just say that? Write about the art, my arse. Do I come out there and tell you how to read? Well, do I?

(13) Truly, it’s like everybody at one of these Marvel Writer’s Retreats (Let’s whiteboard this one! We’re ordering burgers IN, how valued thou art! I’ve arrived, I’m a cog!) has a post-it note studded copy of Earth-X under the table or something. To say Earth-X has been influential is to put it mildly. Anyway, here are all the similarities I could remember. There may be more!

ITEM! Uatu the Watcher is blind. In 2014 he would lose his eyes and be killed which is about as blind as blind can be. In Earth-X he’s still alive mind, just blind. In both Earth X and the normal Marvel U something a bit more unpleasant than Pink Eye happens to his eyes anyway.

ITEM! The Terrigen Mists are changing everybody into special magic people. This is basically the same as that Inhuman series no one cares about. Even Matt Fraction, a man who cares so hard about everything veins pop out of his head like pulsing blue worms, doesn’t care about this series. If he cared he wouldn’t have left! Like my Dad! (N.B. this is a joke, my Dad didn’t go anywhere.)

ITEM! Black Panther has made Storm the queen of Wakanda. I think this happened a couple of years back. I’m not sure, I was busy and couldn’t make it but I sent a telegram and told them to let me know Wakanda present they’d like but they never got back to me. Brian Azzarello gets paid for puns like that and people still take him seriously.

ITEM! Johnny Storm is dead. I know he came back but he was dead for a bit back there in the Marvel U, or maybe he wasn’t; I haven’t read Fantastic Four since Wieringo & Waid’s (Very Good!) run, looking at the FF sales figures I’m not the only one.

ITEM! Norman Osborne has a position of political influence. In Earth X he’s President and in those post Secret Invasive comics he was whatever he was (Secretary of the Tommy Lee Jones Fan Club). I don’t really know about Sensual Invadement because there is actually a level of drivel I won’t sink below; yes, I’m as surprised as you are. In Earth X it’s believable that he’d be President because no one actually cares about being President on Earth X, they are all busy with their new powers and stuff. In the normal Marvel U it is not believable in the slightest but, hey, whatever, as The Kids are wont to emote.

ITEM! Beast’s appearance has changed. But then when has Beast’s appearance not changed. There are even comics where Beast’s appearance changes from panel to panel. But those comics are drawn by Greg Land, so there you go.

ITEM! Cyclops’ dad is alive. He’s that space guy who dresses like a pirate who is very comfortable in his sexuality, right? Nice sash, buddy! I’m sure he was dead in normal continuity but now he’s alive in some X-Men comics? I expect the explanation given for this sudden turn of events will be profoundly satisfactory.

ITEM! Professor X is dead. He died during Avengers vs. X-Men when things got out of hand at a rest stop in Phoenix. I don’t know; I have neither the money nor the patience for such Events. That’s what Wikipedia’s for. Do I look like Wikipedia? No, sir or madam, I do not.

ITEM! Thor is a lady. In the current comics this is shortly to occur due to the natural progression of a story Jason Aaron was compelled to write with a forcefulness non writers will never know, and they will always secretly hate themselves for the not knowing. Really. Ah-huh. In Earth X this is the result of Loki tricking Thor which is quite funny. Unfortunately in Earth X Lady Thor has a costume with these raised studs running down each side of the torso giving her the appearance of having being bestowed with many brass teats with which she can suckle her strange barnyard animal kids or something. It’s not a good look, honey.

ITEM! Cyclops leads a team of X-Men on Earth X. I understand that he now does this in normal continuity while also pursuing Revolution as effectively as anyone can while being written by someone who thinks it is a ride at Alton towers.

ITEM! In Earth X Captain America isn’t black but he is bald which is different but they do both begin with “b”. There’s a lot of prejudice against the bald even today. In many ways the bald are the invisible victims of our culture. Which is heart-breaking but they’ll just have to wait until we cut all that hateful racist, sexist, homophobic shit out first. (I see you, Internet. I see you!) Anyway, they should make Wyatt Wingfoot Captain America. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t you walk away from me, America. You heard; Wyatt Wingfoot. There’s nothing wrong with your ears, America!

Oh, I'm just mucking you about but I'm deadly serious about my love of - COMICS!!!

"When do I EVER have an alibi?..." Comics! Sometimes they are really good!

Oh, God! He’s back again! Hopefully he won’t be chittering on about WILL EISNER’S THE SPIRIT (DC Comics, 2010 – 2011)! Um, don’t really know how to break this to you…


WILL EISNER’s THE SPIRT (2010 – 2011)

It’s cancelled now, of course. Living in LCS discount boxes across the globe waiting for eager hands and enquiring minds to alight upon the lovely Ladronn covers and pluck them out for a good hard reading. Doing so would certainly be something I’d recommend. For 17 straight issues Mark Shultz, David Hine and Matthew Sturges delivered the scripting goods. Solid, enjoyable writing all the way only occasionally undercut by decompression, but even when the pages seemed a little unnecessary they were made necessary by the delightful stylings of Moritat, for the most part, but also subs such as Victor Ibanez. Moritat was a revelation in this series; to me a new discovery whose art was a sheer pleasure on every page it graced. If I weren't already signed up for ALL-STAR WESTERN his presence would have ensured it. But it’s cancelled now of course, yet there’s still time for one last look before the final issues slip off the shelf to make way for another tie-in, yet another re-boot, yet another thing that matters less but will sell more. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the demise of WILL EISNER’S THE SPIRIT it’s probably that in today’s wacky world of funnybooks VERY GOOD! will only get you so far but hype will get you further. This series was always the former but had little of the latter and so now it’s cancelled of course. Time for that one last look back then…


WILL EISNER’S THE SPIRIT#16 By John Paul Leon (a), David Hine (w), Daniel Vozzo (c) and Rob Leigh (l) Cover by Ladronn (DC Comics, $2.99)

Consisting as this does of a story told via splash pages this corker is pretty much definitive proof that splash pages can be more than lazy page filling; that the derision and heart-sink I feel when presented with one more big image is more a learned response to their implementation over the past years by wastrels and hacks. It’s an exercise in artistic constraint, the kind Alan Moore (ssshhh! Now, Internet. Shhhh!) regularly delights in tasking himself with. Here the brief is clearly to tell the tale in splashes but each splash has to carry the story forward, include all the relevant visual information, convey mood and, just for yucks, also to include THE SPIRIT logo worked into it unobtrusively. Tell the story basically. In lesser hands it would be a stunt, in even lesser hands a pitiful waste but in hands as nimble and facile as these it becomes a joy. A delightful reminder that those rich in imagination and craft can achieve more when restricted than those who are not so blessed can achieve when given complete freedom.


There are 19 more pages as good as this! I shit thee not!

Clearly the star of the show here is John Paul Leon who carries the major weight of the enterprise. John Paul Leon is known to me from the WINTER MEN series he illustrated Brett Lewis’ words for. The fact that I consider WINTER MEN to be the nearest thing to AMERICAN FLAGG! since AMERICAN FLAGG! probably gives you some idea of the regard with which I already hold his work. A regard that this issue does nothing to diminish. It’s one of those artistic performances you really have to see for yourself. I’m not really one to tell people to buy things sight unseen due to all that nasty subjectivity floating about, but, hey, here I am saying buy this one sight unseen. Your eyes will owe you a pint for it because John Paul Leon’s work here elevates a solid script to EXCELLENT!


WILL EISNER’S THE SPIRIT#17 By Brian Bolland, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Brian Bolland (a), Howard Victor Chaykin, Paul Levitz and Will Pfeiffer (w), Rob Leigh and Galen Showman (l) Cover by Ladronn (DC Comics, $2.99)

This final issue of the series contains three short and sharp B/W strips. Such strips formed the back-up of the regular comic until DC cut pages and kept prices down (as opposed to Marvel who cut pages and kept prices up). I guess these were in the can when the axe came down but they make a fine fare thee well for the series.

First up is a strip drawn by Brian Bolland. If I have to tell you about Brian Bolland I can only surmise you have arrived here due your abiding love of bad prose styling rather than your love of comics. For to know comics is to know Brian Bolland and to love one is to love the other. It’s Brian Bolland! and although there’s a stiffness evident that was absent from his hey day he’s still Brian freaking Bolland and that makes him well worth the eye time. Here he’s illuminating a strip scripted by one Howard Victor Chaykin. You’d know that even if you didn't read the credits because it’s got all his little, um, interests in abundance (ladies, infidelity, murder, female, ladies, body builders, snappy patter, you know the deal with this guy and it’s a sweet deal indeed). Also, either he scripted this tighter than a gnat’s chuff including breakdowns or Bolland and Rob Leigh went out of their way to make it look exactly like a Howard Victor Chaykin production right down to the signature layering of sound FX. It’s Brian Bolland and Howard Victor Chaykin and so it could never be less than EXCELLENT!


If this panel was any more "Howard Victor Chaykin" it would have had a bah mitzvah!

Next up Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is freed from his merchandising illustration duties to bring vitality and elegance to a tale by Paul Levitz in which The Spirit versus Illegal Lottery Lad and Newspaper Kiosk Kid. Not really, but it does revolve around illegal lottery tickets and an old man in a kiosk who gets dealt with surprisingly harshly at story’s end. There’s a washed out quality to the art that is entirely at home with the snowy setting and, really, as usual Jose Luis Garcia Lopez is worth the ticket price on his own. DC should really collect TWILIGHT by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Howard Victor Chaykin before I die, just saying. Mostly because of the art, as the story lacks a certain clarity, this was VERY GOOD!



Finally Will Pfeiffer and P Craig Russell take us on an entertaining whistle-stop tour of art history which runs parallel to The Spirit chasing a hood with many irreplaceable works of art meeting a slapstick end. It’s fizzy, informative and fun stuff that reminds me of how good Will Pfeiffer is and then makes me wonder why he doesn't write more. Being centred on Art it’s pretty much P Craig Russell’s show all the way and this being P Craig Russell it’s a barnstormer, and I can only genuflect at the wonder of his execution. Mind you, I do love me some P Craig Russell. I love him for his graceful and delicate art but I also love him because when he’s allowed to do what he wants he doesn't just illustrate a new and exciting (i.e. stale and uninteresting) take on teens with superpowers intended for other media, no, he adapts Oscar Wilde fairy tales or operas like The Ring Of The Nibelung. Then he does stuff like talk about how his pacing is intended to mimic the movements of the music and it’s right about then that I realise that although I can never appreciate his work to the level it deserves I can at least love it. So I do and this makes the final story in this issue VERY GOOD!


Let there be P Craig Russell...

So there you go - WILL EISNER’S THE SPIRIT published by DC Comics from 2010 to 2011 is cancelled now but it was VERY GOOD! And time won’t change that. Take a look in the dollar bins and prove me wrong, why doncha!

Pah, enough! I must go tend to the roses in the garden of my Life! Have a nice weekend and remember every weekend is better with COMICS!