New Comics

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On any given week when new comics come out I am behind on half or more of the titles that I buy regularly. Last week, December 5th new issues, something odd happened. Several comics that I was actually caught up on came out as did a bunch of new books that I was really looking forward to. It is only odd because normally I only permit myself to read a couple new comics each week because I don’t want to read things out order, but this week I could read more than half the pile without getting the shakes or something awful happening. It was such a good week I wanted to write up a couple quick takes on some good comics. Let’s get right to it.

Martian Manhunter #1

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Creators:

Writer – Steve Orlando
Artist – Riley Rossmo
Colors – Ivan Plascencia
Letters – Deron Bennett
Cover – Riley Rossmo

This comic is new maxi series that I expect is hoping to capitalize on the success of the King / Gerhard Mister Miracle series that recently concluded. I don’t know many of the details of the planned story, as I mentioned in my last piece I don’t read the solicitations very closely. I do know that the series is going to focus on Martian Manhunter in a solo story instead of leading some version of the Justice League. The real emphasis will be on his John Jones, police detective, identity.

In this issue John and his partner, Diane, have to investigate a brutal home invasion. While examining the crime scene John, using his abilities to try and see who committed the crime, encounters something that really shakes him. He has some flashbacks to his life on Mars, and is not quite right after that. It’s downhill for our hero after that.  

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I had a real good time reading this. The art is really different. I’m not familiar with Riley Rossmo’s art but I really dug it and thought it worked well for the character. When the comic was announced I saw a lot of complaints about how John looked in his Martian form. People did not like the big insect eyes but I think it works. I didn’t love Tom Mandrake’s version of the character in the series from 98 / 99 but it grew on me and I hope that people who like this character learn to like Rossmo’s version. The story was a good set up for the series to come. We get a solid introduction to John as a detective and to his old life on Mars. There are enough “what is going on??” moments that I am looking forward to the next issue.

Doomsday Clock #8

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Creators:

Writer – Geoff Johns
Illustrator – Gary Frank
Colorist – Brad Anderson
Letterer – Rob Leigh

I first have to say that despite all the problems with this series, the lateness, the impact it is having on the rest of the overall rebirth plans, I really like the story. I don’t love the idea of using the Watchmen characters outside of the original story, I would be have been perfectly okay with them existing solely in that one 12 issue series. Doomsday Clock can be hard to follow because of the gaps between issues. Again though, I still enjoy this comic.

Geoff Johns really is one of the best writers in the modern era for DC. I cannot recall anything of his that I did not enjoy. His work on Green Lantern was awesome and the new 52 Aquaman was my favorite new 52 book at the time. Gary Frank’s art is dynamite and unlike his previous work the characters all look healthy. They don’t have that sullen, jaundiced look that his characters often have. I don’t know if that is the doing of the supporting inker and colorist but it is some of his best pencils in my opinion.

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Since this piece is going to be spoiler free I’ll just say that this issue focuses on Superman and Firestorm. It also features some awesome cameos from The Creeper, Giganta, Black Adam, Volstagg (from the Others) and plenty of other characters. It was a good issue and I didn’t have to go back to the previous seven issues to understand what was going on.

Batman #60

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Creators:

Writer – Tom King
Artist – Mikel Janin & Jorge Fornes
Color Artist – Jordie Bellaire
Letterer –  Clayton Cowles

Bane’s plans seem to be working. Batman is becoming unhinged. Commissioner Gordon is pissed off. This was hyped as a big issue and I guess it is. This arc seems to be reaching its climax. I’m enjoying the back half of King’s story more than the first half now that I know it is part of one larger story. It doesn’t feel as disjointed as it did before.

Green Lantern #2

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Creators:

Writer – Grant Morrison
Artist –  Liam Sharp

I was very disappointed when DC announced that Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns and Green Lanterns were ending and the book was being relaunched as Green Lantern with the focus on Hal Jordan. I’ve mentioned several times before how much I liked both series, especially the Green Lanterns duo of Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz. But as much as much as I miss both of those books this new story has been a ton of fun.

Morrison is writing a dense and very enjoyable science fiction story filled with oddball characters, good dialog, and a tough as nails space cop. It is all complimented by Liam Sharp’s highly detailed and amazing art. The comic looks like something ripped from the pages of 2000 A.D. instead of a DC superhero book. Plus, how can anyone not love a Green Lantern that is a muscle bound body with an active volcano for a head!

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Shazam #1

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Creators:

Writer – Geoff Johns
Artist – Dale Eaglesham
Colorist – Mike Atiyeh
Letterer – Rob Leigh

Another Geoff Johns book makes this list. I enjoyed Johns / Frank Curse of Shazam story that appeared as the backup in the new 52 Justice League. That series left me wanting more so I was wicked excited when this comic was announced.

This issue had everything a fan could want. There is a nice recap of who Captain Marvel is, there is some fun action, character development, some magic and mystery and a surprise ending. All that with a good back up story written by Johns and drawn Mayo “Sen” Naito. Anyone who is a fan of the Captain Marvel character needs to check this book out.

Die #1

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Creators:

Writer –  Kieron Gillen
Artist – Stephanie Hans
Letterer – Clayton Cowles
Designer – Rian Hughes

I ordered this book based on the fact that it featured kids playing a role playing game with polyhedral dice. I’ve not read anything by Gillen or Hans. Going into this not knowing what to expect I was blown away. It features a group of teenagers that start to play a role-playing game and nothing goes as they expect. A lot happens in this issue to set up the series. Imagine the old Saturday morning Dungeons and Dragons cartoon if it were written by Stephen King and that’s what this comic is.

The art was interesting. It looks like a horror comic but occasionally the faces are really weird looking. Sometimes the people and faces are really good looking and a couple of times they really seem to miss and feel a little flat. It’s hard to describe. Overall the story is really good and I want to see what happens next. It was one of the best books I read this week.

Wrap up

This was a really good pile of comics. I don’t want to sound like one of those people who rates everything a perfect 5 out 7 because these books are not without their flaws. I don’t understand what is going on with the major reveal in Batman. Doomsday Clock is consistently late and so dense that whenever I read it I feel like I am missing some hidden message. Green Lantern is going to focus on Hal Jordan when for the last two years DC has been building the GL Corp and some new characters that were really well written.

Despite all those flaws I read some good comics and when it comes to new comics in this day and age any week where I can read six really good new comics that is a win. I’m going to close this out with one of the funniest pages from Shazam (still spoiler free).

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Warbears #1

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A long time ago I took a literature course in college where we read and studied novels about dystopian societies. We read ‘Brave New World’, ‘1984’, ‘We’, and several other novels including “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. That was my first and only exposure to Atwood until I read this comic.

Dark Horse Comics is one of my favorite comics publishers. I’ve been reading Dark Horse ever since I got back into collecting comics in college. I love those old Dark Horse Presents anthologies, the original Aliens and Predator stories, and of course the Legends creators line. I thought that the Conan and Star Wars comics published by Dark Horse were awesome. The editors at Dark Horse have a real passion for comics and that shows in the material they publish and the care and attention to detail that they put into each finished product. The point is that I dig their comics.

I also need to mention that I rarely read the full solicitation for any comic, even when trying something new. When I was filling out the order book the month this issue was solicited I figured that a comic written by Margaret Atwood published by Dark Horse and that featured Bears fighting Nazis had to be worth getting. Let’s see…

Creators:

Story – Margaret Atwood and Ken Steacy
Art – Ken Steacy

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The story begins on one of the famous red and white Toronto trolley cars in 1943 (Fun fact, the outdoor city scenes in the movie “A Christmas Story” were filmed in Toronto and you can see the trolleys in those scenes). A young man is reading a comic book while the older woman next to him admonishes him for reading trash. As the kid asks the woman what she had said he realizes that he’s missed his stop. As he exits the trolley he almost gets hit by a truck and drops the portfolio that he’s carrying.

After he gets his act together he arrives at his destination, Canoodle Comics Inc.. In the office he meets an attractive blond woman whom he assumes is the receptionist, but is actually the publisher and editor in chief of Canoodle comics, Gloria Topper. Removing the foot from his mouth the young man introduces himself as Alain Zurakowski and says that he’s the artist who answered the ad and has an appointment. Alain shows Gloria his portfolio and she hires him on the spot and says he can start the next day.

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Alain goes home to tell his parents the good news. His mother is pleased for him but his father gives him grief about drawing stupid cartoons and says he should be more like his brothers who are serving in the military and are currently overseas fighting the Germans. After his father leaves his mother shares a letter from his older brother who been promoted to gunner on a bomber crew. Alain tries comfort his mother and tells her that her other son will be fine. Alain shares her concerns though because that night he has an awful nightmare about his brother’s plane getting shot down.

The next day at work Alain is introduced to the head artist, Mike Mackenzie. Much to Alain’s surprise he’s told by Mike that he’ll be starting out doing his finishing work, including borders, backgrounds, and secondary characters. Grunt work as he calls it. This is how the industry worked back then and I assume still does to a certain extent, The new guy has to put his time in before the big time, but it’s probably no less disheartening.

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One night Alain is working late when Gloria checks in on him and finds that he’s not working on the assignment that he’s late with, but is instead working on his own material. He’s designed his own character, Oursonette. A half woman, half bear character that is punching out Hitler, a-la Kirby and Simon’s first Captain America. Gloria likes it and tells him to have an outline in the morning and she leaves. It looks like things are starting to go Alain’s way.

Another day Mike congratulates Alain for finishing the project he was working on and gives him another. The pages Mike hands him are the beginning of an Oursonette story. Alain is furious and barges into Gloria’s office screaming that Oursonette is his strip. She quickly admonishes him for barging into her office and then corrects him that he created the character at her office on her paper and that makes it hers. Dejected and angry Alain storms out and heads to a local gin joint.

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As Alain drowns his sorrows the bartender reminds him that he still has to pay the rent and his tab so he might have to eat a little humble pie and ask for his job back. Much like myself, Alain appears to be highly suggestible when he’s had a little to drink and he decides to take the advice and go ask for his job back. (Fun fact number two, I once swallowed a whole Jerusalem Orange after suggesting it to myself after having a few adult beverages.)

When Alain gets back to the office he finds Mike and Gloria on the corner, arms around each other, trying to hail a cab. Alain yells at Mike that he stole his girl and takes a wild swing at him. Still drunk he misses but Mike fires back and connects. Gloria is shocked and yells at Mike. The whole scene does not go well and ends with Mike and Gloria in the cab mad at each other while Alain stumbles home embarrassed and with busted glasses.

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In the next scene Mike and Alain are working side by side. Mike says he still feels bad for hitting Alain while Alain conveniently asks if Gloria is still mad at him for what happened a month ago. Gloria calls both men into her offices and tells Mike that his women still aren’t very good and that he’s being put back on Hat Trick Comics, their sports strip, and that Alain is getting the Oursonette strip. I guess time really does heal all wounds.

The story ends with Gloria giving Alain the first copy of Victorious Comics that features his were-bear heroine Oursonette. We, the readers, are finally treated to a couple pages of the comic in a comic where Oursonette is riding bombs and fighting Nazis.

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In what servers as a nice epilogue to the story, or possible lead in to issue 2, we see the old woman from the trolley scene at a newsstand. She’s buying a magazine and as she does she tells the purveyor of said newsstand that he shouldn’t sell comics, that they are the leading cause of juvenile delinquency and that she’s going to write her member of parliament. The newsman responds that his kids love comics and they’re not delinquents. He offers to sell the old lady a stamp for her letter and then goes back to reading his copy of Victorious comics #1.

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Final thoughts

I have to say that I was blown away by this story. Ken Steacy’s art looks like some of the great EC and National artists from the forties and fifties, like Wally Wood or Al Feldstein. The lines and inks make for very dramatic work with a lot of emotion. The story itself was well done and packed a lot into 28 pages with no ads. This was one of the best comics I’ve read this year.

This story comes from the story “Oursonette” that Margaret Atwood wrote for Canada’s sesquicentennial about a comic writer and VE day. The premise of that story is that Canada is celebrating the victory in Europe while at the same time this comic writer of the series Oursonette, a bear woman who fights Nazi’s like Wonder Woman, knows his comic is going to come to an end and he’s going to have to find work in the commercial art industry. This story features the characters we met in Warbears; Alain, Mike and Gloria and was printed in the Globe and Mail, who had commissioned a series of stories about Canada by Canadian writers. Warbears serves as a prequel to the Oursonette story and we get to really find out more about where the characters came from while being treated to bits of comic history.

The comic tells the story of what it was like for lots of men and some woman in the early days of the comic industry without being overly dramatic or sensationalizing anything. This could easily be the story of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, or anyone of hundreds of famous and not so famous comic book creators. Pick up any issue of Comic Creator or Alter Ego and you’ll read similar tales. I would recommend this to anyone that has even a passing interest in comics history.

Finally I want to say that even as Dark Horse loses more and more licenses like the Conan and Buffy the Vampire slayer they still march on putting out good comics. Every month when I fill out my previews order I’m still a little sad that they are no longer the first company listed but as long as they publish stuff like Warbears I’ll still buy ‘em.

I’ll close this out with the introduction from Margaret Atwood and Ken Steacy where they discuss the origins of this comic.

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Phantom Stranger 41

Phantom Stranger #41

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This piece is dedicated to Chris from Chris and Reggie’s Cosmic Treadmill podcast. Their recent episodes discussing Action comics weekly have inspired me to write about this issue, which I picked up at the Baltimore Comic-con in September. I’ve never read an issue of this particular volume of the Stranger, so why not start with the final issue. Interesting fact, according to the indicia it is volume 8 but if you count the number of Phantom Stranger series, it is volume 2.

Creators

Writer –  Paul Levitz
Artist –  Fred Carrillo
Editor –  Joe Orlando

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This issue is the third part of a story co-staring the greatest ghost in DC Comics, Boston Brand, the one and only Deadman. The story starts with the Stranger telling Deadman who he is and where he comes from. The Stranger is being cryptic and Deadman is pissed because he wants some straight answers. Having not read the previous parts of the story I am as lost as Boston Brand is.

The story shifts to an old man, Dr. Nathan Seine sitting and thinking while cradling a skull in his lap. He is joined by Cassandra Craft and a male companion. While the captions tell the reader that this is taking place at the Sander’s school for the blind, Ms. Craft looks a little out of place. She’s wearing a sexy pink one piece, a belt riding low at her hips, and a matching pink cape. It seems like a bit of a crazy get up for someone who is apparently a teacher for the blind. She questions why Dr. Seine requested to see them and he responds by aiming the skull at them and zapping them with lighting bolts telling them they can die.

It is safe to say at this point I have no idea what is going on. Thankfully that is rectified pretty quickly.

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Over the next few pages Seine provides plenty of exposition to catch the reader up. It seems that the good doctor blames the Phantom Stranger for the death of his wife and his blindness and he wants revenge. He intends to use Ms. Craft as a sacrifice to some Nether Gods in exchange for them destroying the Phantom Stranger. The demons that have appeared tell Seine that they accept his offer but they are not going to stop the Stranger. Instead they are going to provide Seine with the power to do it himself. Seine accepts the offer while Cassandra thinks to herself that she has nothing to fear as long as her friend the Phantom Stranger lives. She uses her physic abilities to send the Stranger a message that she needs help. Seine imbued with the power of the Nether gods grows in size and declares himself a Nether god on earth.

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We shift back to the Stranger and Deadman still arguing when the Stranger receives Cassandra’s physic message. In a disappearing act worthy of Batman, The Stranger teleports away just as Deadman was going to try and inhabit his body. The Phantom Stranger reappears in the room with the giant Dr. Seine, Cassandra still tied to her altar, and the Nether demon.  Stranger blasts the Nether god making short work of him and then defends himself against two golden dragons that Seine has conjured.

As the dragons start to get the best of the Stranger he summons Boston Brand to aid him. Deadman has no idea what is going on and tries to possess Cassandra’s companion whose been lying motionless on the floor since Seine first blasted him. Boston does not realize that the man in blind and he cannot look into his eyes, which he needs to do in order to complete the possession. When Seine see the lifeless corpse of the man moving, Boston is trying to get the unconscious form in front of a mirror so he can do his thing, Seine simply blasts the guy, killing him, before Boston can figure out what to do.

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By now the Stranger has recovered enough from Steine’s first attack that he can retaliate. In what amounts to quite a power play from the Stranger, Steine begins to shrink and lose the power the Nether gods granted him. Steine, having not defeated the Stranger, is dragged off the the portal he communicated with the Nether gods through for his punishment. Deadman, still angry but about how the guy he tried to possess was killed, blames the Stranger for what happened. Stranger is pretty nonplussed about the situation and, blowing off Deadman, goes to revive Cassandra. After she comes to, the Stranger wisps her away in cloud of pink smoke leaving Deadman to rant in an empty room.

Bonus Story – “Will the Real Black Orchid Please Stand Up”

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Creators

Writer –  Michael Fleisher
Artist –  Fred Carrillo
Script Continuity – Russell Carley

An attractive blond woman is tied to a safe door with a lit fuse headed toward her. Four other women dressed as the Black Orchid wait around the corner for the explosion. The captions explain what came before. Apparently the woman tied to the safe door is a young heiress, Ronnie Kuhn, who was duped by a group of women calling themselves the Black Orchid Legionnaires into trying to rob the world bank by telling her they were going to fight crime.

The real Black Orchid shows up and frees Ronnie and then throws the rigged safe door through the bank ceiling high into the sky where it explodes safely. She jokes to Ronnie that she could have just blown out the fuse but there might be a talent scout for the Justice League around so she decided to show off what she can do. The Black Orchid then leaves Ronnie to go after the impostor Black Orchids.

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Black Orchid traps several of the impostors on an elevator by breaking the cables and then carrying the elevator car away. In an amazing bit of early fourth wall breaking, the narration panel describes the effortlessness of Black Orchid carrying the elevator car as if it were as light as a pot of lobsters to which she thinks to herself, that they are disgusting lobsters. Take that Deadpool. Ronnie takes out the last impostor as the Black Orchid is just getting back to her. Black Orchid flies off leaving Ronnie to deal with the Police. As they take away the Legionaries one officer comments to Ronnie that she ought to wear her mask if she doesn’t want people to know she’s the Black Orchid. She tries to deny it but the good-natured cop doesn’t believe her.

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Final Thoughts

Personally I have always liked the Phantom Stranger. I enjoy when he shows up here and there to cast judgement or help out. I like the design of the character with the modern fedora, dark suit and Gothic cape. When he is drawn well he is an imposing figure. I might be one of a very few but I had a good time reading the New 52 Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin, and Justice League Dark series. I liked the idea that he was the biblical Judas Iscariot wandering the earth trying to atone for his sin. Those stories treated the Phantom Stranger as a mystic character and mixed a little modern religion in without being preachy.

I also really like Deadman. Usually I like the character more when he provides some comic relief or is just a regular guy who happens to be a ghost trapped in our world. The angry Boston Brand in this comic works okay, I just happen to prefer a more light-hearted dead guy.

As I was reading this issue I did not realize it was the last of the series until I got to the letters pages in the middle of the comic and read the announcement that the book was cancelled due to poor sales. I cannot say that it surprises me though. I think that the Phantom Stranger suffers from the same problem that other characters of his ilk do. It is challenging to have an ongoing series where the main character has to bridge the line between superhero comics and horror comics. Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing and the Hellblazer Vertigo comic were probably the exceptions to the rule.

Honestly this story was just okay. I was able to pick up what was going on well enough once the villain started his monologue but I really don’t know why Deadman was even there. Other than yelling at the Phantom Stranger all he does is mistakenly get a blind guy killed, through no fault of his own. The story is a little rushed and does feel like Paul Levitz was told to wrap everything up quickly as he was not getting another issue to write. There were several highlights though.

The first is the Black Orchid back up. The story was funny and odd. There were a bunch of pretty women running around in pink, skin tight costumes, with sexy black underwear on the outside and what’s not to love about that? I find it hard to believe that this character with super strength, could fly, and was funny was not more popular, but I guess if she was only showing up in the back of Phantom Stranger comics with poor sales she was not getting a lot of exposure.

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The other highlight was Fred Carillo’s art in both stories. The Phantom Stranger story evokes the creepiness of the horror comics from this era while the Black Orchid story features a strong female character with some good action. I’m not familiar with Fred Carillo’s work but I’ll keep an eye for it in the future.

Normally I would close with a neat ad from the book, and there were plenty in this issue, like the the one for Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. action figures. Instead I am going to finish up with the letters pages that carries the announcement of the cancellation.

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Loveless #1

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A Kin of Homecoming

Creators
Writer – Brian Azzaello
Artist – Marcealo Frusin
Colorist –  Patrica Mulvihill
Letters – Clem Robins
Assistant Editor – Casey Seijas
Editor – Will Dennis
Loveless created by Azzarello and Frusion

This falls under the category of comics series I bought because I thought they looked cool and then never read. This afternoon I was working on the collection and came across my run of this and American Vampire (another Vertigo title in that same category). I decided to pull out the first issue and give it a go.

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The story opens right away with a big ol’ swear, I assume for the effect of letting the reader know that this is an adult story. I would have thought the Vertigo imprint would have been enough for that but here we are. Several men are on a hill checking out a group of men on horseback in the distance. They are trying to decide if they are going attack, rob, or maybe join up with, we don’t really know. These men are approached by another rider who seems to know them.

The mystery rider dismounts and addresses the group. There is some back and forth about how the men thought the new guy identified as Wes, was dead in prison. The story apparently takes place at the end of the Civil War and these men were Confederate Soldiers, who now on the losing end of the war, have lost their land to Union Soldiers and carpetbaggers, but that term is not used. There is some very derogatory language, probably meant to be period appropriate, but definitely unnecessary.

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One guy asks Wes who the rider is that accompanied him. Wes, pointing to a circling buzzard, says that he’s been with him since he got out of prison. Now things start to get a little tense. Wes makes a smart remark asking the group if they know why a buzzard might follow him and at the same time moves the poncho away from his shooting arm, as his right hand grips his pistol. We get a nice series of panels of close ups on the men’s faces and hands as they go to their pistols, a la “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. The group suggests that Wes should move on to which he disagrees vehemently and then proceeds to shoot the entire group.

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In the next scene a group of Union soldiers, a white officer and several black infantry men, break into a home while a woman and two children appear to be having dinner. The three of them are subdued while the officer tells the other soldiers to look for “that murdering scoundrel”. Another officer joins the soldiers asking if the premises are secure. The two officers rather crudely and violently question the woman and children stating they are looking for her son Boyd Johnson.

One of the soldiers interrupts the questioning and directs their attention to a young man trying to get away from the home on crutches. As the two officers realize that the kid trying to get away could not be the shooter they are looking for one of the infantry men fires and the mother screams outs the boys name, Tyler.

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We join Wes and his still unseen companion as they ride into town. Wes questions the undertaker, currently working on a coffin, if the nearby body is Tyler Johnson, to which he replies with the affirmative. Wes greets the people around town, including the locals in the saloon. They seem to know him and are surprised he is alive. They also apparently know that he’s killed his former riding companions.

Wes has a drink and then gets into a bit of an argument with one of the saloon patrons named Frank. Frank is pissed about the way Wes is invoking the Lord’s name to which Wes replies with a comment about how they took up arms for what they believed to be right and righteous. He goes on to say how wrong they were and swears some more, again, to remind us that we are reading an adult story. Wes has apparently abandoned his religious beliefs after having been through whatever he’s been through. When Wes goes to leave the men ask where he’s headed.

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Wes replies that he’s headed back to his land to be with his woman. One young man tries to warn him but Frank tells him to shut up. As he approaches his home he is actually talking to his companion about the mule carrying the bulk of their cargo, that is apparently on its last legs, literally. Wes eventually goes off on a curse landen rant about how everyone; blacks, whites, Native Americans, North or South can go **** themselves. The vulgarity of the dialog in the comics continues in the rant.

When the two riders finally get to the house several Union soldiers greet them and Wes ever so politely tells them to get off his land. A brief brawl ensues and Wes proceeds to drive the men away. Wes then points points his revolver at his companion and tells them to get off the horse, lose the pistol and the pants.

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It turns out, surprise, that Wes’s traveling companion is his lover / wife Ruth. The comic closes with the couple making the beast with two backs under the moon. In the final panels the poor mule collapses, revealing that it was carrying a large crate of dynamite. I expect that this mean something in a future issue.  

Final Thoughts

The story appears to be a pretty standard tale of the long lost hero returning to reclaim his old life taking place at the end of the civil war. For a Vertigo comic the sex, swearing, and violence do not feel out of place, they just feel predictable. This first issue feels like any run of the mill spaghetti western with the exception that the heroes love interest is not dead. It is still set up as a tale of revenge, just not the standard avenge my dead wife story.

As I think about it, that is actually a pretty progressive idea, that the female character is not dead / hurt / raped or otherwise degraded in order to give the male character a reason for doing what he is doing.

The art is pretty fantastic. I am not familiar with Marcelo Frusin’s work but since he is listed as one of the creators I assume that he goes on to draw the rest of the series. Both Azzarello and Frusin are obviously fans of the Western genre as the comic does have a very cinematic quality to it. The story is well paced and as I read it I could hear Ennio Morricone’s haunting score from “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. With the exception of Wes’s long hair and lack of ever present cigar he is clearly modeled after Clint Eastwood’s Man with no name.

All in all it was an decent story with art that was better than the dialogue, but good enough to make me want to dig out the rest of the series to see what happens.

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Ragman #4

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The Dream Killers

It was the late seventies and the Comics Code Authority had been relaxed quite a bit. Wolfmen and Vampires were back and so were more adult themes. Spider-Man and Green Arrow had significant anti-drug messages several years previous to this comic. While The Amazing Spider-man #96 – 98 and Green Lantern #85-86 are more famous comics than Ragman #4 the message is no less significant. Comics carrying an anti-drug message could reach a lot of young readers and while Ragman is not Spider-man I’m sure plenty of kids must have read it.

Creators
Writer – Bob Kanigher
Artist  – The Redondo Studio (I assume this is Nestor Redondo and Joe Kubert)
Ragman created by Joe Kubert and Bob Kanigher

Let’s start with the amazing Joe Kubert cover. Ragman is walking towards the reader carrying the body of a young blond woman. There are four pistols aimed at him The green hooded figure really pops on the orange background. The whole thing is a very dramatic image that just makes the reader want to open the comic.  

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The story begins with young Jeanne Wilson getting high and then overdosing. The imagery here is very realistic with Jeanne being offered a small white envelope and then she is back in a room alone getting high. Finally her lifeless corpse is shown being surrounded by three men. I have no idea where these guys came from and the story doesn’t really explain it.  It is all pretty intense.

The men talking among themselves decide they have to get rid of the body. As they are trying to dump the body in the river Ragman shows up. The men fire on him but after a couple of punches they run off. Ragman recovers Jeanne’s body and gives the reader a dire warning that “unless the dealers of death can be burned out of their nests anyone can be next!”. He brings the body to the morgue where the mortician tells Ragman and the police officers with him that they have to stop this plague. It’s all pretty ominous.

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Back home Ragman removes his costume revealing his true identity, Rory Regan, junk shop owner. The following morning Rory is woken up by a young child named, Teddy and blond woman, Bette. They are from the local orphanage, because of of course they are, and they are going to Funland.

Rory, Bette, and a big group of orphans take the ferry to Funland, an amusement park that is on an island. When the kids arrive in Funland they are greeted by a heavy bald man who gives all the kids some coins, I assume for arcade games, and tells them to enjoy themselves, everything is free for them today. Why does he give the kids coins if everything is free, I think it is just this guy’s thing because it’s going to show again later. The whole thing has a very Pinocchio vibe to it. If this were not a story about drugs, I would assume that Ragman would be rescuing a bunch of kids who had been turned into donkeys later in the story.

rollercoaster

The kids all have a great day riding roller coasters and the mini submarine ride. There is actually a lot of focus on the submarine ride, foreshadowing that it is going to show up again in the story. On the Ferry ride home the kids are all worn out and sleepy. Not all the kids are resting though. One young man is on the back of the ferry and he thinks he can fly. He starts yelling while standing on the guard rail and slurring his speech. He then takes a nosedive into the water thinking that nothing can hurt him. Rory sees this, thinks the kid is stoned out of his mind, and dives in after him.

Rory tries to save the kid but the young boy ends up getting swept away by the current. Back on the boat Rory is upset that he was not able to save the boy but everyone else says that it was not his fault, that the kid was “gone before he fell into the water”. It feels like a pretty cold judgement of a kid who who just drowned when he was stoned. Well Rory is not having that so Ragman heads back to Funland that night to investigate.

coins

While exploring the park, Ragman comes across the bald man, who runs the place, and a group of shady characters. He showers Ragman with the same silver coins he gave to the kids earlier that day, except these coins are electrified. Ragman is then subdued, bound to one of the roller coaster cars, and then launched into the water as the car speeds around the coaster. This is why I never ride rollers.

After Ragman frees himself he sees one of the subs that he rode with the kids earlier that day. He then figures that is how they are bringing the drugs in. The mini subs must be meeting the supplier out at sea and then bring the dope back to Funland. As the drugs are being unloaded from the submarine Ragman calls out to the men from the roller coaster. He then attacks and makes short work of the thugs. In the final panel the bald man sits in a jail cell muttering to himself that Ragman is the devil and that he cannot be killed. That wraps up the first story but there is more Ragman action to come.

backupsplash

There is a back up story in the comic with no dialog. The story has a brief introduction and then a couple newspaper headlines at the end. It takes place in a cemetery. Ragman is just hanging out when he sees three grave robbers enter the graveyard with sledge hammers and shovels. The men start destroying tombstones and then dig up a coffin.

In the coffin they examine the corpse and the tattoo on the arm. The tattoo is of a hooded figure with wings. One of the men points to a large grave marker of a hooded figure with a scythe and wings. They start digging up that grave. When they open the coffin the corpse is covered in jeweled necklaces which the men steal. It turns out the first corpse was a bit of a treasure map. It is then that Ragman attacks. He takes out one guy when the leader smashes him in the head with a shovel.

Ragman is knocked into the winged grave marker and it falls forward on to the remaining grave robbers. He gets to his feet and simply walks away with the bodies under the stone wings. The newspaper headlines explain that the grave robbers tried to use vandalism to hide the fact that they were digging up graves to steal belongings.

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Final Thoughts

I picked this comic up because whenever I hear anyone talk about Ragman they always sound excited. I do not recall ever reading a comic with the character before so I had to see what he was all about.  I am very glad I did because I really enjoyed this.

I’ve already mentioned how great the cover is but one more thing that makes it so good is that the scene depicted actually happens in the comic. This is awesome. The stark reality of a drug overdose is portrayed right at the start of the book and it doesn’t pull any punches. This is serious message and the story gives it the weight it deserves. It doesn’t pander and it does not portray drugs in an unrealistic manner. A young white girl overdoses alone in her room. It does not use goofy slang terms or make it seem like you have to do a lot of drugs to have something awful happen.

Through the rest of the story the characters and action do not overshadow or minimize the message that is being conveyed. On the flip side there is enough of a comic story here that it does not feel like a free PSA comic to be handed out in a special assembly in the school auditorium. As someone who grew up in the “stranger danger” and “just say no” era, this book feels more honest than the Teen Titan PSA comics or that episode of Diff’rent Strokes that Nancy Reagan showed up on.

Ragman himself was really interesting. I like the idea of a vigilante being a small business owner. He can avoid all the inconveniences of having to get away from his job to do something heroic and then struggle to have an explanation for the boss. If he wants he just puts the closed sign up and goes after the bad guys. It is too bad this volume only lasted for one more issue. The art is fantastic and does a great job invoking the grittiness and dirtiness of the urban environment from that era. All in all I thought this was a good comic and worth the dollar I paid for it.

I’ll close this out with what is probably my favorite toy soldier advertisement of all time, the 100 toy soldiers for $1.50, footlocker storage box included.

toysoldierad

 

 

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