Year end review

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I read a lot of comics this year, listened to a lot of awesome comics related podcasts,  and went to a bunch of great conventions and shows. There were certainly more high points than there were low points and I thought it might be fun to look back at them now.

Highlights

Black Hammer

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Some of the consistently best titles that I read are Jeff Lemire’s Black Hammer comics. This year the story was renewed with Black Hammer: Age of Doom with Lucy finding the missing heroes. We also got the Doctor Starr and Quantum Age mini series and the announcement of a new mini series next year, Black Hammer ‘45, that he’s doing with Ray Fawkes and Matt Kindt. While Black Hammer is a love letter to classic DC comics stories and characters, it is much more that than. It is a gripping story that is an excellent example of how superheroes can be so much more than powerful beings who save the world week in and week out.  I would highly recommend this comic to anyone whether they are a superhero fan or not.

Fear Agent

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I think what makes a great artist is that they can evoke an emotional response when viewing their work. For me that makes Rick Remender a great artist. Every single issue of his comics that I have read has sparked big time emotional reactions. When I first read Seven from Eternity I was so blown away I read it again immediately. It was one of the things that inspired me to start this blog. Black Science has been a wonderful journey across time and space that has complexity and cliff hangers so exciting that it is thrilling when a new issue arrives.

This year Image released new collected editions of Fear Agent in softcover trade paperbacks. I read the first two volumes on two different plane rides, finishing each one just before landing. While I am really a huge fan of buying single issues and collecting back issues, there really is something to be said for trade paperback collections and being able to read a story in one shot. It is hard to describe how I felt after reading these stories. I was so excited it was all I wanted to talk about. I felt like I had been on an emotional roller coaster with the main character Heath Hudson. Even as I write this I find it difficult to put emotion to keyboard. Anyway, it is a great comic and Image published some very nice trades that were priced just right. I would recommend this series to any fan of science fiction or pulp style stories.  

#JLAMay2018

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Back in May a group of podcasters got together for what I believe was the third or fourth annual JLAMay event. This year they were going to revisit the Mark Waid lead event JLA Silver Age from 2000. I had a few of the issues already and picked up the rest online. I read the series and followed along with all the podcasts. The series was okay, the podcasts were much better. I was a lot of fun reading the comics and then listening to the podcasts. I hope they do another event year.

Superman

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It was a big year for Superman. Action Comics 1000 was released, Peter Tomasi finished up his wonderful run on the Rebirth Superman series, and Brian Michael Bendis was brought on to helm both Action Comics and Superman. I was quite disappointed to see Peter Tomasi leave. He wrote some great stories over the last two and half years including the Dinosaur Island tribute to Darwin Cooke, the country fair issue, the Manchester Black “Black Dawn” story, and the touching “BOYzarro Re-Death” story in issues 42-45. Brian Michael Bendis kicked off his run with a story in Action comics 1000, that continued into the Man of Steel mini-series. From there Superman and Action comics were re-launched as monthly series (previously bi-weekly).

The Man of Steel mini series was only so-so. The story could easily have been released as a 64 page giant as the lead in to the new series, but I’m not an editor at DC and no amount of fan mail is going to change that. Superman kicked off with a new number 1, Action continued with the legacy numbering, and both series have been very good. All the hand wringing and fret over Tomasi and Jurgens (Action Comics) being booted was for naught.

The arson and murder mystery going on in Action Comics has been very interesting with some clever details, like criminals knowing not to say Superman’s name out loud because he’s always listening. I’m a couple issues behind on Superman but I’m excited to see how the Phantom Zone story wraps up. Both series have featured some fantastic art; Joe Prado & Ivan Ries (Superman) and Patrick Gleason & Yanick Paquette (Action). Each series has been fun and as far as I know have been released on time. Again, I would recommend each.

Comic Conventions

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I was fortunate enough to be able to attend several conventions this year. I went to the Connecticut convention, TerrifiCon at Mohegan Sun, for the first time. It was very well done convention with a lot of dealers selling all kinds of stuff, including plenty of comics to search through. There was a lot of fantastic talent too, Jim Starlin, Christopher Priest, Jerry Ordway, Mike Zeck to name just a few. The main reason I went though was to get Roy Thomas’s autograph. I don’t think he does too many conventions and I wanted to ask him to sign some issues of my favorite comics of all time, All Star Squadron. He was a super nice guy and a pleasure to talk for the minute or two I was able to while he signed my books.  

I also made what has become an annual trip to the Baltimore Comic Con with my brother and a couple of friends. Baltimore is a convention primarily for people who still read and invest in comics but there is plenty of Cos-play and kids stuff for families to enjoy. This year I spent the bulk of my time collecting autographs and met quite a few creators. I was most excited to meet Wendy and Richard Pini and ask them to sign some Elfquest comics. They were awesome and seemed to appreciate every fan that they meet.

Finally I went to the Northeast comic con and collectible extravaganza a couple of times. This show appears every few months in different parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. There are a usually a good amount of dealers selling comics, at least enough to spend a couple hours digging through bins to find a few gems to make the afternoon trip worth my time. This year I picked up lots of good stuff but the real story was the issue of DC Comics Presents #47, the first appearance of He-Man that I found. I paid a price that was very much in my range due to two stamps that had been pressed into the cover. The stamps are barely noticeable and I was able to get one step closer to completing my collection of DC Comics Presents. I plan on doing a post on it next year.

Not So Highlights

I don’t want to write too many negative things about this past year (you can get plenty of that in the real world and elsewhere on the interwebs). Instead I’ll just touch on a couple of things that were either disappointing or did not work out too well.

Metal

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Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Zack Synder and Greg Cappulo’s big event book. It was a crazy story and was fun. Kicking everything off with Challenger mountain showing up in Gotham to the final defeat of the Dark Universe Gods it was a thrilling ride, but not without its problems. There were plenty of delays, which in my opinion, has been a big problem with DC events for years. A story that could have been nice and tight with cliffhangers making the reader look forward to each consecutive month really suffers when the first three issues come out on time and the rest suffer from delays. The delays really deflate the anticipation for the reader.

The other problem was that the tie in books were only so so. Some of the books were pretty good, while others were not (I’m looking at you Murder Machine and The Devastator). I know tie in books are just done to sell more comics but these were a little flat and with the release delays of subsequent issues brought only more of a let down.

Finally the New Age of Heroes books, that were launched from the Metal story, really had nothing to do with the events of Metal or only loosely did. I liked most of these titles, but other than The Terrifics, I don’t feel that any of them are “must read” books.

Doomsday Clock

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Truth be told I am really enjoying Doomsday Clock. I love Geoff Johns story, and feel it is a worthy sequel to the original story, or is at least the best use of The Watchmen characters since the original maxi series. Gary Frank’s art is breathtaking, I cannot remember ever being disappointed by his work. None of that is bad. Where the problem lies are the delays.

The twelve issue story that is supposed to move the entire Rebirth story to the next stage and what started in November of 2017 is now scheduled to finish in the summer of 2019. What should have taken a year to finish and now will take almost two and is just causing all the other story lines to have to wait. The kick off issue with Wally West and the Button stories were super exciting when released and unfortunately we fans are now spending more time waiting to see what happens next as the issues of Doomsday Clock trickle out.
DC’s Hanna Barbera comics

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(The above issue of Future Quest presents was not a disappointment, it was just the first Hanna Barbera comic I found for a photo)

I have enjoyed almost all the Hanna Barbera comics. The Jetsons was fantastic and touching. Future Quest presents were fun stories featuring classic characters. The Supersons & Blue Falcon story is what all the crossovers should aspire too (I thought it was even better than the King’s Elmer Fudd story). What I think they need to move away from is having all the series try to recreate the magic of Mark Russell’s Flintstones series.

Most of the series; SnagglePuss, Rough & Ready, etc. all seemed to force beloved cartoon characters into stories with heavy social commentary. I liked them well enough but they felt very formulaic, heavy handed, and trite all at the same time. These characters are classic characters and I think that the first thought should be “what can we do that’s fun?” and then add whatever themes might work and not the other way around.    

This Blog

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a ton of fun writing this blog and the reaction to it has been more than I could hope for. What’s disappointing is that I had more plans for it than I was able to carry out. I had an planned for an ambitious read through of the entire Micronauts series in the summer but when I took a trip for work and spent every day working close to 16 hours I did not get to read much and fell behind. I’m not looking for pity, I just need to have better expectations for what I can get done and cannot when life gets in the way. For 2019 I’ll try my best to get a couple posts a month and be happy with that.  

Final Thoughts

There are certainly lots more great things that I read in 2018, Margaret Atwood’s Warbears, the conclusion to  Mister Miracle, the new Shazam comic, Daredevil vs the Beast and Mayor Fisk stories, and Plastic-man to name just a few. I discovered the seventies humor / weird anthology Plop! and was able to complete almost the entire run. I got a fantastic deal on Thanos Quest #2 (first printing), 50 dollar comics with Thanos Quest thrown in for free. I got to spend a weekend discussing nothing but comics with my brother and friends in Baltimore. And probably best of all I have almost finished converting all my long boxes to short boxes.

All in all 2018 was a pretty great year where my comic collection was concerned. I want to wish that everyone who happens to read this post a happy and prosperous 2019. I would also invite you to comment on the comics that you liked and didn’t like this year. Thank you for visiting. I’ll close out with one of my favorite variants for Action Comics 1000 by Patrick Gleason. 

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The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories

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The earliest Christmas comic I can recall reading was in the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book comics. It was the Carl Barks story “Letter to Santa” featuring Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck. Over the years I’ve read plenty of good Christmas stories, the Bark’s classic “Christmas in Shacktown”, Denny O’Neil’s “Wanted: Santa Claus – Dead or Alive”, or even “Last Christmas” featuring Firestorm from this year’s DC Nuclear Winter Special. Almost all the Christmas stories I’ve read feature either Superheros or the Disney Ducks.

This Treasury of Christmas Comics is filled with comics with Santa Claus, funny animals, and little kids. It also has a version of Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” drawn by Mike Sekowsky and the biblical story of Christ’s birth drawn by Alberto Giolitti. For this piece I want to focus on the story that was the reason I ordered the book, Walt Kelly’s “How Santa Got His Red Suit”.

Walt Kelly (1913 – 1973) was a world famous cartoonist who created Pogo and all his wonderful friends. He also worked for Disney and Dell Comics. Over the years I have really become enamored with his work and was eager to read this Christmas story. I just love his art with his wonderful characters and the amazing details. There is a softness to his work that is very comforting. I could gush on and on about his abilities but instead let’s get to the Christmas story.

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This Treasury is a soft cover comic published by IDW Publishing and edited by Craig Yoe. It features twenty stories from the Gold and Silver ages. There is a introduction from Yoe where he says that one of the best things about Christmas was the new Christmas comics that he received as gifts when he was a kid because they featured some of the writers and artist’s best work. I appreciated the brief introduction as it lets the focus be on the comics themselves. Some historical info might have been good but I think the book was designed for the young and the old and I know when I was a kid I didn’t pay much attention to introductions or any of that kind of thing.

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The story begins with an introduction informing the reader that Santa didn’t always wear red. In fact he wore everything from green trousers to yellow cloaks, and sometimes even blue. In this story Santa is wearing yellow pants, a green coat, and an orange cape. He does have his familiar black boots and red gloves. One interesting note is that when Santa is leaving the North Pole his little friends are called gnomes, not elves as they are commonly referred today.

Santa’s trip takes him to the forest of St. Nicholas, where there is nowhere to land his sleigh. He parks on a cloud and climbs down a rope. All this time he is being watched by Jack Frost, a mischievous looking elf if I ever saw one. Jack Frost leaps to Santa’s sleigh and takes off while Santa is on the ground. Santa shouts at Jack who replies that he always wanted to drive his team. Dejected Santa decides there is nothing to be done and starts to look for shelter.

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Santa comes across a tiny house at the base of a tree and knocks on the door hoping that whomever is home can direct him to some shelter. A naked pink elf with two antenna answers the door, wishes Santa a Merry Christmas and invites him in. While Santa finds the prospect of someone his size entering the tiny house humorous the elves all start to help him in. Several push from the rear and the rest pull his beard. Eventually the elves get him in doors.

Once inside they ask him who he is. Santa, surprised they don’t know who he is, replies with the question, “Who am I?” The elves respond, “You mean you don’t know either?”. It really is a great gag for a kids comic.

At first the elves don’t believe him because he has no gifts, sleigh, or reindeer. Santa tries to prove his identity by telling them that he can tell them what they each got for Christmas the year before. One snappy elf replies that everyone knows elves get clothes for Christmas. An older grey haired elf with a pipe starts to give Santa the business saying sure, the real Santa always drops presents down the chimney, knocks over the tree and leaves feeling pretty proud of himself.

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Santa starts to catch on and recognizes the old elf as someone who worked in his toy workshop. He identifies the old elf as Bundlecrunch and they have a happy old time. Eventually everyone settles down and they ask why Santa is there and not out delivering toys. Santa explains that Jack Frost stole his sleigh and now he has no toys for the children of St. Nicholas forest. Not wanting to hear all the crying children on Christmas morning the elves all decide to make new toys.

As the elves start churning out toys made from things around their house, Santa realizes he has no clothes to give the elves this year. He decides to make them new cloths from the clothes he’s wearing. Sitting in his boxers and t-shirt, he cuts up his pants, cape, and sweater to make new clothes. As he starts to make the clothes he feels tired and decides to take a brief nap. The elves find Santa asleep and see that he was making them clothes, but pretty awful ones. It turns out Santa is not a tailor. The elves decide to finish the clothes themselves and when Santa wakes up he’ll think he did it.

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Santa eventually does wake up and Bundlecrunch tells him that he made all these wonderful clothes the elves are now wearing. Santa is surprised with them turning out so good because he’s never sewed a stitch before. He also realizes that he’s got no clothes to wear to deliver all the toys the elves made. The elves have got an answer for this problem as well. They know their friend Timbertop the giant will be coming by very soon and they chase him down when he does. The elves tell the giant they need to make clothes for Santa from his red coat tails.

The elves then make the familiar red coat and pants with white fur trim. Santa is worried he won’t look good in red, but the elves tell him that everyone looks good in red. I’m not sure that’s exactly true but we’ll go with it. The elves have saved the day and Timbertop helps Santa deliver the presents to all the children of St. Nicholas forest.

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Final Thoughts

I thought this was a really great story because it was not typical Christmas fair. Right off the bat there are the gnomes and elves. The gnomes that appear in the first couple of panels are tiny people with cute hats and long noses. They are identified as Santa’s friends, while later on we meet the elves in St. Nicholas Forest who are then identified as toy makers that have worked for Santa. I find it odd and amusing to have the characters differentiated this way.

Also the elves are sort of naked little cherubs with antenna, like aliens, but if Santa gives them clothes every year why aren’t they wearing them now? Why are they naked? They can clearly make clothes and like the presents Santa gives them, so there is no reason for them to be naked now, and yet here we are. Finally the elves are sarcastic little buggers who really seem to enjoy teasing Santa. They are not the typical work horses that sing all day and make toys for kids.

It’s also not the typical story because the original problem of the stolen sleigh is never resolved. Santa gets the toys to the kids of the forest but we never see Jack Frost, the sleigh, or the reindeer again. Santa really does come off as a bit of a dope. Between not being able to park his sleigh, not recognizing one of his previous toy makers, and then believing that he made all the clothes after sleeping away the night, it seems rather improbable that this guy could get it together to give toys to all the children of the world.

All in all it is a wonderful story with some dynamite Walt Kelly writing and art work. It has good humor and that warmth I mentioned previously with its soft colors and detailed pencils. The story alone is worth the price admission in my opinion but there are plenty of other wonderful stories in this treasury. This is something I will definitely pull out next year to revisit. I’ll wrap the piece up with a one page gag from the inside front cover that I am pretty sure is also Walt Kelly. And to you, the reader, I wish a Merry Christmas and Happy and Safe New Year!

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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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