“I'm Not Sure I Ought To Have To DO It Alone." COMICS! Sometimes I Return With You Now To Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear…!

A bit of a break from war comics this time out. Because if there's one thing I know you folks love more than war comics it's Western comics. Damn, if I pander any harder I'm liable to break something!  photo LRaTStartB_zpsf4p400wh.jpg THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO by Truman, Magyar, Lansdale, Parsons & Joyce

Anyway, This...

THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO #1-4 Art by Timothy Truman & Rick Magyar Written by Joe R. Lansdale Lettered by Brad K. Joyce Coloured by Sam Parsons TOPPS Comics, $2.50ea (1994) The Lone Ranger created in 1933 by Fran Striker or George W. Trendle

 photo LRaTCovers_zpsu0ehppj5.jpg

When I was a kid I used to watch The Lone Ranger but then he got some curtains, and that was the end of that joke. A joke there almost as old as The Lone Ranger himself. Because not only did I (being a man whom we have established in past instalments is basically dust about to happen) watch the B&W TV show but so did my dad when he was a kid in Canada. That’s two very different places separated by decades, tons of water, different opinions on how to spell the word colour, and more miles than I can honestly be bothered to look up today. I checked with “Gil” and he only knows The Lone Ranger from the “poorly received” 2013 movie. He enjoyed it mind you, but since “poorly received” is polite Tinseltown speak for “the audience avoided it like it was trying to rub shit in their eyes” I imagine he was in the minority on that one. Prior to that there was a 1981 LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER movie, which even I’d forgotten about. I guess what I’m getting at is that by 1994 when these comics appeared The Lone Ranger’s appeal was somehat shy of raging like a prairie fire. While these comics would do nothing to change that state of affairs (a two-hour TV pilot was broadcast in 2003 on the WB channel and someone will one day admit to seeing it) they are by a talented team and if you’re partial to a Lansdale or Truman shindig you’ll probably like these comics too.

 photo LRaTTrainB_zpslycxotmg.jpg THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO by Truman, Magyar, Lansdale, Parsons & Joyce

Posterity may have given this series short shrift but be assured that here the pair bring the same scruffy panache they brought to their three Jonah Hex series for Vertigo. Anyone who has read their salty take on the man with the fried egg eye will know that Lansdale & Truman are as safe a pair of hands as could be found for a property like this. Timothy Truman’s art always looks like it has escaped from The Old West as it is. Even when tasked with superheroes such as Hawkman Truman’s art brings with it a singularly malodorous air of malnutrition and poor sanitation. And I mean that in a good way. I like a strong style; you should see my ties. So, when depicting a world where malnutrition and poor sanitation were something to aspire to then Timothy Truman’s the man, true. His whole body of work shows an obvious affinity for The Old West, so much so that back in 1985 his SCOUT series for Eclipse Comics had been basically set in a futuristic dystopia informed by Native American mythology which was, well, the Old West, just with better hardware and totemic demons. (If I recall correctly there was even a serape a la The Man With No Name in the first issue.) Scout is also, commonly, the name of Tonto’s horse, but that may be a stretch to test Reed Richards there. Here, even though it’s an oater, Truman doesn’t just have to draw horses and horseshit and saloons and spittoons though, because this is also a Joe R Lansdale joint so Truman’s art also has to encompass visual absurdities which range from the plain unsettling to the plumb appalling. He’s up to it though. The tranquil horror of an unfeasibly large pile of bodies is as queasily affecting as a land boat racing across the prairies is ridiculously impressive. Nor does Truman stint none on the small scale stuff, with the creature on the loose (no spoilers) possessing a ball crawling combination of dainty finickitiness and implacability which static images shouldn’t really be able to impart, but my crawling balls can assure you they do here. The art here isn’t pretty and nor is precision at a premium; the utter dicksplash of a Governor looks like Ronald Reagan for only a couple of panels, but it’s enough to make the bit where The Lone Ranger And Tonto give him his comeuppance via sarcasm and cigars that much sweeter. But the value of Truman’s imprecision is the flexibility it allows him, flexibility shown to no greater effect than when a creature swallows a man whole in a series of panels which will have you gingerly touching your own throat like a defrocked vicar in a moment of stress.

 photo LRaTMeatB_zpsvyjxkc2y.jpg THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO by Truman, Magyar, Lansdale, Parsons & Joyce

While I’m trying to avoid spoiling this one it should be as clear as the river when the snows thaw that this time out The Lone Ranger and Tonto are up against a mite more than cattle rustlers or bank robbers. What they are up against is whatever fell out of Joe R Lansdale’s head while he was writing it, and what falls out of Joe R Lansdale’s head during the writing process can err towards the bizarre. And I mean that in a good way. I like a strong imagination; like when you used yours to picture my ties back there. Joe R Lansdale is of course America’s primo mojo storyteller hissownself. He writes weird fiction and crime basically. He ain’t exactly Don DeLillo, but sometimes you don’t want Don DeLillo. After all, you are large, you contain multitudes. So, stop putting yourself down. Comic reviews and a pep talk, no charge! You may know Joe R Lansdale’s work from the movies BUBBA Ho-TEP (2002) and Cold in July (2014), or the episode of MASTERS OF HORROR “Incident On And Off A Mountain Road” (2005). All of which are worth reading in their papery incarnations even if you have seen them. He’s also done a series of books starring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine which are profane and brutally violent in a way which never feels cheap because of the underlying moral horror which fuels them. Could be Hap and Leonard are a Lone Ranger and Tonto for the modern world, though they’d probably break your jaw and steal all your vanilla cookies for suggesting it. In photographs Lansdale looks like he’s stolen Robert Mitchum’s torso, and perpetually sports an expression of guarded tolerance at the very idea that someone would want to do a damnfool thing like take his picture with one of them new-fangled camera doohickeys. Basically the guy writes like he’s trying to smash through a wall. He’s good is what he is. And I don’t say that just because Joe R Lansdale ran his own dojo and could drop kick me so hard I’d be wearing my ass for a hat. No, he’s a good writer. The End. Part of why he’s a good writer is how lightly he wears his ingenuity. Instead of calling a fucking press conference to celebrate his meta antics when they occur he just ups and gets it done.

 photo LRaTRaceB_zpsw3hnsjg9.jpg THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO by Truman, Magyar, Lansdale, Parsons & Joyce

Look, huddle in here round this imaginary fire and picture the scene with me…we’re way back now in the primitive hell of 1994 and TOPPS want to revive the Lone Ranger IP but, well, look, no one wants to start any trouble here but there’s no way around this, while The Lone Ranger’s okay it’s his mate who’s the issue. Because if you have The Lone Ranger you have to have Tonto. (Oh I sense your confusion what with his name being Lone and that, but his name means there aren’t any other Rangers with him rather than he prefers his own company.) Although Tonto was tardy, turning up first in the 11th episode of the radio serial, thereafter he was always with The Lone Ranger. Because after that like Silver, silver bullets, powder blue tasselled jackets and white Stetsons, Tonto is always part of the deal with The Lone Ranger. Tonto had, over time, become built in and by 1994 he’s now part of the origin, being as he’s the one who rescues Allen King/Bill Andrews/John Reid/Luke Hartman/Uncle Tom Cobbley and thus enables him to make the peculiar decision to turn his dead brother’s vest into a mask, and ride about hither and yon firing ostentatiously expensive bullets at men of low character. Which stuff is all just dandy, if highly suggestive of a particularly flamboyant form of PTSD, but Tonto is a Native American and that kind of character has not been, uh, well served in popular literature. For starters his name, unfortunately, means “silly” in Spanish. (In early Martin Amis novels “tonto” means fucked in the head, for some reason. I don’t know why; I’ll ask him next time I see him.) While he spoke in broken English (Tonto not Martin Amis) this was because he had (naturally enough) learnt it as a second language (still talking about Tonto here, not Martin Amis). Despite this actually making Tonto smarter than a monolingual like, say, oh, me his lack of verbal facility was often taken as a sign of stupidity. Luckily, Joe R Lansdale knows how to work round that stuff; he just writes Tonto like an intelligent human being.

 photo LRaTMetaB_zpshhvsq5mc.jpg THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO by Truman, Magyar, Lansdale, Parsons & Joyce

Which is smarter than it sounds and the smartness doesn’t stop there; he builds the obvious baggage the character brings right into the story itself. Throughout the mini-series references are made to the dime novels portraying the adventures of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. These are clearly meant to represent their earlier movies, books, comics, newspaper strips, etc with their, uh, less than ideal portrayal of Tonto and their possibly Ranger-centric approach. Again and again Truman’ delightfully scrofulous townsfolk treat The Lone Ranger like a movie star while his sidekick is kicked to the side. And it’s this stress between reality and public perception which is as threatening to the pair as any skin feasting fiend. Joe R Lansdale and Timothy Truman’s tale then is not just about a frightsome beast or revenge for sins past but also about two friends whose bond is riven by success and secrets. The entertainment is all in the ride because the end is never in doubt. After all, as all us old gits know, it’s part of The Lone Ranger’s credo that to have a friend one must be one. And The Lone Ranger and Tonto are many things to many people in many ages but they will always be friends to each other. (However, I suspect Tonto is the smarter of the two). THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO is whip-crack smart and scruffy stuff. In 2006 Dynamite would have greater success with a Lone Ranger series but I haven’t read that; I read this one and it’s GOOD!

They are how the West was won - COMICS!!!

"ARRRRRRRRUUUUGGGH!" COMICS! Sometimes I Should Have Probably Just Watched Valley of the Gwangi Instead!

There’s a new JURASSIC PARK movie out! I’m not particularly bothered! I won’t be going to see it! But I did read a comic adaptation of the first movie! So why waste happenstance! And that’s about as zeity as my geisty gets.  photo JParkEyeB_zps0x7mlhwq.jpg

JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith Anyway, this… JURASSIC PARK#1 -4 Art by Gil Kane & George Perez Written by Walter Simonson Lettered by John Workman Coloured by Tom Smith Based on the screenplay by David Koepp Based on the novel by Michael Crichton and on adaptations by Michael Crichton & Malia Scotch Marmo TOPPS COMICS, $2.95ea (1993)

 photo JParkCoversB_zps6uyuo6yl.jpg

In 1978 Michael Crichton wrote and directed the entertaining slice of speculative hooey WESTWORLD. This had robots run amuck in a theme park. Because genius cannot be hurried it would take Crichton a further 12 years to come up with the idea of replacing the robots with dinosaurs, which he did in his 1990 novel JURASSIC PARK. It would take a further 3 years before Steven “ALWAYS” Spielberg would deliver the technically innovative but peculiarly unsatisfying movie of the same name. As a tie-in the short lived TOPPS Comics threw this four issue adaptation out into the world. Several years later I bought them off E-Bay because I saw Gil Kane’s name on the listing. Last week I found them in the garage and finally read them. Which brings up to date, I think. I haven’t read the book so I’m not getting into that. I am as scientific as a chimp so I’m not getting into that either. But I do know I don’t really like JURASSIC PARK the movie and I know that because I’ve never owned it. And this is from a man who owned FALL TIME, TRACES OF RED and FTW on VHS. Yet never JURASSIC PARK. This is less because while JURASSIC PARK has many leathery denizens Mickey Rourke isn’t one of them, and more down to the fact I found JURASSIC PARK a bit underwhelming. I mean, it’s okay when you’re sat in front of it but as soon as you go and do something else there’s a nagging sense that you’ve just done something for the last 127 minutes but a maddening lack of specifics about what exactly that thing was. Usually when that happens I’m wearing a dress with blood in my hair and there’s a uniformed man outside with a bullhorn and some well-armed friends. All you know is it definitely involved Jeff Goldblum and a cup of water. For something that cost $63 million that seems like a remarkably poor return. Usually you can point at something about a movie and say That! That! is why it failed to entertain! But JURASSIC PARK is well directed, well scripted, ably cast, brimming with special FX which are special and, y’know, dinosaurs and…none of that ever actually comes together to make a good movie; it’s just stubbornly bland. As much of an achievement as the FX were at the time surely the eternal achievement of JURASSIC PARK is making a movie about resurrected dinosaurs running amok in an island paradise less engaging than sneaking a fart out.

 photo JParkDNAB_zpsyuwrgw7f.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

Of course, I had already been somewhat spoiled on the old dinosaurs running amuck front by Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH in 2000AD (1977-1978). Despite “Pat Mills and Various European Gentlemen’s FLESH” sounding like something that would be seized at Customs, it was in fact a luridly violent strip aimed at children which involved time travelling Future Cowboys harvesting dinosaurs, in the course of which the tables quickly, predictably, and violently turn. It was fast, nasty and punched its point home like it was trying to grab your spine. In comparison JURASSIC PARK is like a dinosaurs’ tea party where the worst that happens is T-Rex spills milk on a doily and the Velociraptors say something unfortunate about someone’s sister. I don’t want to be crass (but we aren’t always all we want to be) but how many deaths are there in JURASSIC PARK? Four or five? Six tops. That’s pitiful. There are six deaths on every page of FLESH. And if there aren’t (because someone will take me literally) it feels like there are. The deaths in JURASSIC PARK are frictionless punchlines to efficient action set-ups. The deaths in FLESH, however, are nasty and brutal with much screaming and precision about exactly what is happening and how unpleasant it all is. Look, In FLESH you get dialogue like “Gotta STAB this she-hag right in the BRAIN!” and that’s always going to trump “Have some ice cream. Twenty two flavours and I tested every one!” Sure, no one talks like people do in FLESH but then no one is going back in time dressed as cowboys and farming dinosaurs for future supermarkets. YET! If you’re calling foul on dialogue on that creative battlefield you’re getting hung up on the wrong barbed wire, pal. Maybe that’s it - JURASSIC PARK tries to marry spectacle to respectability. Come on, anyone trying to make a respectable dinosaurs run amuck movie has failed at the first hurdle. Basically then, I remain ashamed that I enjoyed CARNOSAUR more.

 photo JParkWordsB_zpsnb9uj7mp.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

I can’t actually speak to how well the adaptation and the movie line up because I was unwilling to give up some of my valuable time spent staring into the middle distance and being disappointed in myself to rewatch it. And if you think that makes all this pointless exercise in self-amusement then have a banana! Take two; knock yourself out! Flash Fact: this is my free time. Anyway, parts of the comics adaptation are ridiculously faithful and I’m kind of thinking Walter Simonson simply and efficiently adapted the script (or at least a near to shooting script). I mean that’s basically all he does. I’m not making any huge perceptive leaps here. That’s no foul. Obviously expectations may be raised because of all that pushing-of-comics-into-weird-new-shapes-in-order-to-evoke-the-experience-of-the-movie he (and Archie Goodwin) did with ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY. (I may have mentioned it previously. At length.) But Simonson doesn’t do that here so don’t be expecting what he hasn’t done. What he has done is deliver a meat’n’taters movie on the page. In fact, the most interesting thing visual invention wise is how John Workman positions his (as ever) wonderful lettering FX; they really help shunt the eye through the pages. Also interesting are the slight deviations from the movie I could identify. Unless I’m wrong there’s an extra scene with the lawyer at an amber mine (more lawyers talking to capable men in short sleeved shirts outdoors; that’s what JURASSIC PARK needed!) and I know I’m not wrong when Simonson has Kane & Perez illustrate Sam Neill’s “no one in the audience has ever heard of Raptors but you need to be aware of how awesome they are or all this build up simply won’t work…”speech to that random kid as a kind of dream sequence.

 photo JParkCardsB_zpsmmfl0jni.jpg

I also thought Bob Peck was in charge of the luckless wage slave bit at the start, but here it looks like it’s Howard Victor Chaykin sporting some shades. (And another thing, I mean, seriously, the whole fiasco is down to employers thinking they don’t have to adhere to basic Health & Safety because, what, it impacts on the “bottom line” and affects “targets” (trans: “money”). There’s a lot of huffing and puffing trying to make the lawyer the villain (because tradition) but all that dude wants is everyone to do what the law says. Fuck that dude, with his safety concerns; I hope he dies humiliatingly hiding in a portable loo. Look, I don’t care how cuddly Richard Attenborough is, he still values human life less than a theme park ride. That misty eyed reminiscence thing about the flea circus? Get real, people, Life is the Circus to Richard Attenborough and we, the people, are THE FLEAS! Dude’s a cock of the first order. Does he get eaten? No, he does not. That’s bloody Rule #1 in dinosaurs run amok movies- payback! Payback for the shitters of the world! Ultimately JURASSIC PARK is toothless (Oh God, that’s some great wordplay. Professional level shit there, John; keep that up! Publishers will be “interested” (trans: “money”) so it’s no wonder I can’t be doing with this movie.) Mind you maybe Gil Kane did that as a joke (recap: the Howard Chaykin in shades thing) because Gil Kane seems to be playing pretty loose character design wise.

 photo JParkRunB_zpsxywpyofg.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

Oh, yeah, that’s why I have these comics – Gil Kane. No, not because I ever believed the lie of easy riches implicit in the “Special Collector’s Edition” status of these books with their protective sheaths (which you have to re-insert the comics back into; if you close your eyes you can imagine putting a French tickler on Gumby) and the trading cards included therein. Man, never has a generation been so betrayed as the Comics Fans of the ‘90s. Life wasn’t supposed to be like this. We were all going to be rich. None of us learned life skills because we were going to cash on our mint holofoil BALLJUGGLER#1s and live a life resembling a blizzard of jizz and glitter but with added cats in speedboats. None of us can actually even talk to people never mind hold down a job! Shit like this is why I’m in favour of regulation. Well, that and the whole global financial collapse which threw my country rightwards and into the arms of the Tories. Other than that though, it’s definitely the whole trading cards thing. So, Gil Kane. We were talking about Gil Kane; well, Gil’s here but so is George Perez. Look, I have no beef with George Perez’ work usually; it’s fine. A bit busy and stolid for me personally, but if you want a lot of superheroes all in one place George Perez can do that pretty well. But, man, here in the place where there are no superheroes his heavy lines and consequent dearth of suggestive space where the reader’s mind can play really flattens Kane’s work into inertia. I guess it’s decent enough stuff; he keeps Kane’s basics intact, nothing is omitted. In fairness there are a couple of “imaginary” scenes where the detail gets pared back and in those bits Perez and Kane are a team to reckon with. But Perez’ signature insistence on specificity really hurts Kane’s inherent grace and flow. It’s just a less than ideal combination; both men on their own – smashing, but together, meh, not so much. Hey, that’s how it goes sometimes.

 photo JParkFaceB_zpscpzaqccr.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

The salt’n’marshmallow art combo sure makes some of Kane’s faces look weird as well. There certainly seems to have been some kind of power struggle over Laura Dern’s face (artistically speaking). There’s no doubt in my fat and generous heart that Gil Kane was a phenomenal artist but he could only draw two ladies faces- either a goddess or a crone. Laura Dern is neither; she just looks like a normal human being. I’m saying it looks like George Perez redrew her face. Actually I don’t really know what’s going on with the faces here. Kane nails Wayne Knight (artistically speaking) but his Samuel L Jackson looks like he’s never heard of Samuel L Jackson, his Richard Attenborough looks like he’s got a mossy skin disease instead of a beard and (the late, great) Bob peck who looks like Gil Kane drew him in reality doesn’t look like Gil Kane drew him here. I find the face work in these comics fascinating but I can tell from the depth and regularity of your breathing that you want to move on. Why am I even talking about faces! It’s a comic about dinosaurs run amuck and I’m talking about faces! There’s the crux of the matter right there. I never got within about 2000 miles of Gil Kane but you don’t have to be Thought Jacker to guess he probably turned up here to draw dinosaurs, not a bunch of mostly normal looking people in drab clothes ambling about impressively unmemorable set designs. Eventually Kane does get to draw dinosaurs but Walter Simonson, tumbling into the trap of hyper-fidelity to the source, has knacked the pacing. So the bits where Gil can go dino-crazy are well worth showing up for but they are also kind of cramped and hurried. Meanwhile there are all these pages of weird faces saying words, none of which are why anyone turned up, least of all the audience.

 photo JParkRexB_zpscjcdzbt1.jpg JURASSIC PARK by Kane & Perez, Simonson, Workman & Smith

I love Walter Simonson and I love Gil Kane, John Workman is a little cracker and George Perez ain’t never done me no harm so these comics weren’t a total wash. But Honesty, like Christ, compels me to admit they’ve both done better work elsewhere and there are even better dinosaur run amuck comics. So, sure, given the talent involved JURASSIC PARK may be EH! but then that goes for the movie too. So, as adaptations go it’s spot on.

What I want to know is, if dinosaurs were around for so long how come they never invented – COMICS!!!