“COURAGE! He Is But A MOLLUSCOID MOUNTEBANK!” COMICS! Sometimes We're Making Whoopee!

A samurai, a shadow and a sponge. It's either a further trudge through my pull list or the best pop band ever. Let's see!  photo TopPicB_zpsbt8qnwjr.jpg The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane by Wagner, Wagner & A Larger World Studios Anyway, this...

USAGI YOJIMBO #155 Art by Stan Sakai Written by Stan Sakai Lettered by Stan Sakai Cover by Stan Sakai Cover coloured by Tom Luth Dark Horse Comics, Inc., $3.99 (2016) Usagi Yojimbo created by Stan Sakai

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In which our roving ronin happens upon a murder most mysterious and is reunited with his old friend, Inspector Ishida, he of the emotively animated mono-brow. With more than enough suspects, both likely and unlikely, our anthropomorphic investigators could probably do without the uncanny and bloody additions to the notorious “Hell Screen”. Hurry Usagi, the game is a-paw! I mean, a foot! (Ouch!) So, yeah, another super-solid exercise in entertainment by the man who is quite possibly Comics' Most Undervalued Talent, Mr Stan Sakai. There is nothing that is not very good about Usagi Yojimbo, so much so that it remains somewhat galling that each issue receives little to no acknowledgment of its existence by the comics' press. This then is the reward for consistent brilliance: silence.

 photo UYpicB_zps4a5hnsv7.jpg Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai

Meanwhile, The Hulk got shot by an arrow made of Dumb and someone got all school marmy because Wonder Woman doesn't go commando, and, quite rightly, that's all anyone goes on about. Alas, Usagi Yojimbo has to get by on clever plotting, consistent characterisation, barbarous action and a general air of amiable excellence. And then, when you've read it you can go back and marvel at how simply Sakai depicts his rain, how he creates the illusion of depth via varying the heaviness of his line, and how he expertly employs cross hatching to evoke texture. Every panel of every page proves Stan Sakai remains implacable in his delivery of high levels of artistry and entertainment. But never mind that, someone drew The Hulk with his cock out! Or The Hulk got shot by a cock! Or something. Oh yeah, more often than not the estimable Mr. Sakai finds time (as he does here) to pen a wee pin-up on the back cover, which is nice. Also, the letter column is one of the healthiest I've read, with people just genuinely reacting with unfashionable (ugh!) affection for the book and its author both. There's none of that creepy and needy validate me! Validate my tastes! stuff you usually get in independent lettercols; just pure heart. The cosplayer highlighted this issue is impressive alright roo, but, and I have no idea why this is, she just made me imagine David Keith replaced by a large rabbit for the final scenes of WHITE OF THE EYE. Why is daddy wearing hot dogs, indeed. That's a reflection on me rather than the talented lady in question. Man, I don't know what's wrong with me but I sure know what's right – Stan Sakai and Usagi Yojimbo. VERY GOOD!


SPONGEBOB COMICS #57 Art by Nate Neal, Vince DePorter, Derek Drymon, James Kochalka, Marc Hempel, Andrea Tsurumi, Maris Wicks, Hilary Barta, Jacob Chabot Written by Nate Neal, Vince DePorter, Derek Drymon, James Kochalka, Jay Lender, Robert Leighton, Maris Wicks, Chuck Dixon, Hilary Barta Lettered by Rob Leigh Coloured by Monica Kubina, Scott Roberts, Jason Millet Cover by Shawn Martinbrough (with thanks to Jacob Chabot) United Plankton Pictures Inc., $3.99 (2016) Spongebob Squarepants created by Stephen Hillenburg

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As you can see by the text on Martinbrough's Hitchcock indebted cover this issue's theme is “noir”! But only in the loosest possible sense of “crime stuff”; you know, before a bunch of tedious old men start flapping their gums about what noir is or isn't. Look, it's a comic for kids about a talking sponge, so get back worrying about whether noirs can be in colour or not. Yeah, you take care of the important stuff, while the world goes to Hell in a handbasket. Anyway, as is mostly (but not always) the case there's a bunch of smile raising shorts. Sometimes there's only a couple, or just one, but they are always smile raising. It isn't the smile raising that’s in doubt, it's the number of stories within. I trust that's clear: SPONGEBOB COMICS is funny stuff.

 photo SBCpicB_zpsl5aob5e4.jpg Spongebob Comics by Hempel, Lender, Roberts & Leigh

And those titter inducing tales herein? Our porous pal's life is complicated when he crosses paths with a larcenous double, the new fish in prison reflects back on how his life was ruined by a yellow terror as implacable as a guilty conscience, a hilariously learnedly loquacious Patrick eruditely narrates the terrible tale of “Doctor Calamari” in a suitably German Expressionistic stylee (which, no, isn't noir but it is the root from which noir sprang. So go back to sleep, tedious old men.), there's a trenchcoat and hat PI pastiche, and Mermaid Man reveals the terrible secret of his stylish cape. And! Maris Wicks gives a one page shoal of facts about hermit crabs while James Kochalka remains James Kochalka. VERY GOOD!


THE SHADOW: THE DEATH OF MARGO LANE #1 Art by Matt Wagner Written by Matt Wagner Coloured by Brennan Wagner Lettered by A Larger World Studios Cover by Matt Wagner & Brennan Wagner Dynamite Entertainment, $3.99 (2016) The Shadow created by Walter B. Gibson

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See! I told you about my LCS! They only went and sent me another Shadow comic! Again with The Shadow comics! I'm not old enough to remember The Pulps, people! I am old enough to remember Pulp though. In fact I'm old enough to have attended their final gig at the Magna Science Adventure Centre. Well, their first “final” gig. I'm also old enough to remember when words meant things, words like “final”. Grumble. Grumble. Mutter, mutter. So, The Shadow! Dynamite's Shadow stuff has been a bit variable, to be honest. There was that series which had a weird obsession with sinister Chinese laundries and had George Orwell fighting with El Shadder; it was okay and while the bit where George Orwell ended his adventure by going “Hmmm, ANIMAL FARM is catchy, but so is NINETEEN EIGHTYFOUR; which to write first?!?” was pretty hilarious, it was still nice to have a comic writer who knew about George Orwell. Then there was that one set in the present which was, well, terrible. After that it was all a bit patchy with Houdini cropping up and a Nazi car factory or something, but of late things seem to have settled down with Matt Wagner taking the reigns. And Matt Wagner? He can draw. Anyone who claims he cain't is all wet. And how!

 photo DMLpicB_zpsmj49bxfy.jpg The Shadow: The Death of Margo Lane by Wagner, Wagner & A Larger World Studios

Now I ain't ladling out no applesauce saying that this guy's blotto on graphic design and knows his onions when it comes to page layouts. I must have been all turned around for the last forty odd years because Matt Wagner's excellence has somehow passed me by. Sure and I wasn't giving his stuff the high-hat, I just never crossed its path is all. From the first page of this Shadow joint I was crushing on this stuff so bad I had to check my cheaters were clean. Storytelling-wise this ruckus is the cat's pajamas , and I ain't laying down a line. Boffo stuff all round. It's swanky stuff, on the up and up, I tells ya. Maybe it is just meat'n'taters, just horsefeathers story-wise what with alla them shenanigans with hats, flivvers, gats, cocktails, luxury liners and death traps. But, hey it's a Shadow comic and alla that guff is why we came in the first place. A ragamuffin it may be, but it's a ragamuffin swanked up like Valentino. That's gotta be worth the scratch. So I'm a few decades late for this party but I'm tellin' youse, this Matt Wagner kid's got the goods. Heck, he's got the VERY GOOD!s

Lips That Touch Liquor Shall Not Touch – COMICS!!!

“PREPARU POR LA BATALO!” COMICS! Sometimes They Are Bilingual (But Not Single)!

And now a word from our sponsors: Calling all cars! Calling all cars! Remember: Comics is better with Brian Hibbs in it! So heed the call! Or, y’know, read the linked article, think about it and after a period of sober reflection make a considered decision. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! We now return to our regular programming:

It’s Event Season! And so in the much loved tradition of ignoring what you 'orrible lot want to hear about let’s look at an Event from last year involving a primitive sedentary aquatic invertebrate with a soft porous body clad in a quadrilateral outer garment covering the body from the waist to the ankles, with a separate part for each leg ,whose name contains the diminutive of Robert. Or: Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS!

 photo SCstrengthB_zps18hxwnuf.jpg Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

Anyway, this… SPONGEBOB COMICS #32-36 Showdown at The Shady Shady Shoals Parts 1 - 5 Art by Derek Drymon with Jerry Ordway Written by Derek Drymon Coloured by Hi-Fi Lettered by ComicCraft United Plankton Pictures, $2.99 each (2014) Spongebob Squarepants created by Stephen Hillenburg

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The larger corpus collectively titled Showdown at The Shady Shoals is composed of five episodic portions which originally appeared in Spongebob Comics #32 -36 , and occupied one half of each of those issues. The remaining portion of each individual periodical was given over to the regular assortment of short comedic features by a variety of talent including, but by no means limited to, Tony Millionaire.

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Image by Drymon, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

In Showdown At The Shady Shoals Spongebob attempts to sew into a friendship belt the statistics of all the battles fought by his idol, Mermaid Man. Spongebob diligently harvests this information from old issues of his Mermaid Man comics but completion of the crafted keepsake is threatened when the finale of Mermaid Man’s first battle with Viro Reganto is found to be missing. Or is not found to be not missing. Look, I don’t have time for this; it isn’t there, basically, Buster. Luckily for our porous pal and his loyal cretin of a chum, Patrick, help is at hand down the road at The Shady Shoals Retirement home, wherein resides the witless old fool which Mermaid Man has become. Is the key to Spongebob’s quest contained within the withered cranium of the aged aquatic ace? Whither Viro Reganto? Has Viro Reganto in fact literally withered, because it’s been a while and, let’s be honest,  Mermaid Man has weathered about as well as an untreated fence. Will we ever know whether Viro’s weathered and withered or whether he’s weathered with vigour?  Can you rely on the memory of someone like Mermaid Man? What if you can’t? Isn’t it sad in that movie when they point out that all we are is our memories, and when we lose them we too are lost? I don't want to lose myself!!! Will Mermaid Man stop shouting? Can a sea cucumber be found who is capable of assessing the karmic balance of events as they unfold? Will the narrative adhere to the device commonly known as Chekov’s Sentient Tidal Wave Trapped In A Decommissioned Submarine (i.e. “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a sentient tidal wave trapped in  decommissioned submarine, before the story closes the sentient tidal wave trapped in a decommissioned submarine must return to menace our porous protagonist and his aged allies. If it’s not going to menace our porous protagonist and his aged allies, it shouldn’t be trapped in there. Also, a submarine is  naval wessel, Captain. Phasers to stun!”)? Is a villain who resembles a cross between a man and a manta ray called Man Ray plain wasted on children? Are they really going to pepper Viro Reganto’s dialogue with Esperanto and provide a key to this real-life “universal language” each issue in various hilarious forms? Will you just go and track these issues down, already!?!

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

Basically Showdown at The Shady Shoals is stupid from soup to nuts. It’s stupid nut soup. That doesn’t mean Derek Drymon's script isn’t very clever though. Clever croutons bobbing about in the stupid nut soup. Er. Anyway…The story is split between the “past” and the “present” and, logically enough, so is the art. In the “present” Derek “Double Threat” Drymon draws events in the style of the Spongebob cartoon with a soupçon of his own style to keep it distinctive. So far, so good but also, so far pretty much par for the course for Spongebob Comics (which are never less than GOOD!) The clever bit is having the “past” sequences drawn by Jerry “My Way or The“ Ordway. This is just a fantastically apt choice because the “past” isn’t the “past”, see, it’s actually Spongebob’s old Mermaid Man comics, and Mermaid Man is very much a ridiculous riff on Nick Cardy/Ramona Fradon-era Aquaman. Last I heard Jerry Ordway was bemoaning being out of vogue and light on work, so it’s kind of nice his  getting a payday out of hamming up the datedness others saw as a lack in his work. I say others because I, that is me, don’t think classy action dynamics ever dates and Jerry Ordway is all about classy action dynamics. So: Jerry Ordway never dates, you feel me. And before you start thinking that self-satirising is all someone as old as Jerry Ordway’s fit for, I’ll just point out he’s doing a bang up job on Semiautomagic in Dark Horse Presents for Alex De Campi. And that one’s nothing like Spongebob Squarepants. And another thing about Jerry Ordway is…no, just joking, I’m done. Just spreading the Jerry Love is all.

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

There’s a lot of cleverness in the unobtrusive way Drymon makes hay with the uh, elastic setup of Spongebob’s universe. It’s set underwater but this impacts so rarely on anything that it’s easily forgotten, so you don’t actually get the joke about rescuing people from drowning until a character points out the stupidity of this. In fact so easily forgotten is the undersea setting that this trick is pulled more than once with equal success.  Or it might be that my memory’s not so hot either. And here's another illustration of the good use the strip puts the, uh, mutable milieu of Spongebob to: well, I mean, back there it all  got a bit confusing didn’t it? With the “past” and “present”, but the “past” isn’t even the past it’s actually the comics so in effect the comics Spongebob owns are taken as historical documentation of actual events. And you don’t blink at that because, why not?

It’s Spongebob’s show, but Mermaid Man’s the star. I like Mermaid Man right from the name down. I particularly like his name because it reminds me of that time I was a young man and I had nothing in the house except some rice and marmalade. So I concocted what I dubbed Marmarice. Mermaid Man, Marmarice? Really, John? Hey, similar enough for government work, pal. Sure, I like Mermaid Man more on the cartoon show because he was voiced by the late and very great Ernest Borgnine (who I believe wiser minds have dubbed “the dreamiest”) but his paper incarnation retains the cadences of the character’s speech so well you can hear a ghostly overlay of Borgnine’s gruff blustering as you read every buffoonery filled bubble. Drymon's ability to conjure the characters' vocal counterparts isn’t limited to Mermaid Man though. Everyone sounds right and I guess that’s down to the writing. Although, on reflection the fact that I’m looking at a sponge with a face probably cues my brain in on which “voice” to “hear” with my “mind-ears”. Of course, in the case of new characters like Viro Reganto I don’t have a voice pre-loaded but thanks to the preening machismo of his dialogue and posture it’s not hard to pull a suitable voice from the memory library. (Personally, I plumped for Ricardo Montalban’s Khan.)

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

Because I live in deadly fear of actually improving at this writing nonsense I’ve almost forgotten to mention what might be the most important fact about Showdown at The Shady Shoals – it’s very funny. I have quite purposefully not used any of the jokes (altho' I have shown some; there was no way round that) because while you can spoil the plot of something if it’s well written there’s still pleasure to be had (I don’t re-read Watchmen every two years because I forgot what happens, you know?) but jokes? Good jokes are hard and there’s plenty of them here and I thought it would be poor show to ruin them. All the humour is kid friendly, but no less funny for that. There’s a range of humour from ridiculous conceits, deadpan mocking of capes conventions, slapstick, wordplay and a hilarious answer to what would happen if superheroes existed in the real world. Since this is Spongebob rather than, say, Miracleman’s flesh flapping on barbed wire and subsequent icily dehumanised paradise we get sink fixing and stairwell painting. It’s funny stuff; it's fit for ll ages. Although I do realise humour is personal so you may disagree, in which case you’re wrong.

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Image by Drymon, Ordway, Hi-Fi & ComicCraft

Yes, I did consider writing this in Esperanto but then I thought about the shape your face would take in response and thought better of it. Also, that's a lot of work but I did think about it. It might even have been worth the effort because Showdown At The Shady Shoals (Spongebob Comics#32-36) is VERY GOOD!


Ernest Borgnine died in 2012.

Marmarice tastes like the devil’s shit. John went hungry that night. He likes to believe he is now a much better person.

Jerry Ordway remains at large.

Hey, Kids! COMICS!!!