Comics By Chance: Reviewing Cheap, Random Buys [August 2013]
I think the intuition/thought process of buying cheap comics is interesting. There's a combination of randomness, curatorial sense and instinct at play. You end up with a group of comics that would ordinarily never be linked together, from different times, artists and publishers, but links and common themes are there and just need to be unearthed. You end up with a vantage point on the artform you would never get otherwise. No scholar would ever link these comics, but the link is there. This is how most readers, especially the uncounted legion of casual fans who aren't part of the Wednesday crowd, encounter comics.I picked up this particular group of comics at a sidewalk sale for a dollar each. They're exactly the type you'd find at a place that doesn't specialize in comics, in this case The Record Exchange. None are rare or valuable. None are celebrated classics of the form. They're probably comics you've seen a many times and thought nothing of, but each tells its own story.They are Green Lantern Corps #223 and #224, Super Soldier #1, The New Teen Titans #9, and Green Lantern1,000,000.The first one I read was Green Lantern Corps. #223, 1988.
The creative team is listed on the cover, something common to DC comics of this era and is very helpful when you're looking at comics sealed in Mylar bags. The names Steve Engelhart and Gil Kane are what got my curiosity. It's a great cover, the utilitarian humility of Gil Kane's marker line functions in the same way as Joe Kubert's slash marks, not caught up in flashy surface, but in the deep down structure of a tableaux.
I'm not sure about the Green Lantern Corps. as a comic book concept. I can't tell if the "green" works for it or against it. I suppose it's good brand identity. You're able to have a diverse range of alien designs, but have them all linked by a unifying color scheme.
Since it's the same year as Roger Rabbit, this story starts with a cute cartoon animal about to hang himself. Like many superhero artists, Kane can't draw funny animals. He uses the same anatomical and mark-making strategy that he uses for his superhero figures. It just doesn't translate. See also the Wile E. Coyote issue of Animal Man.
"It's even worse than you think," is an excellent punchline to this page.
So far we're in some very Howard the Duck territory. This comic is written by the other "Steve"...Engelhart. My curiosity about the combination of Engelhart and Kane is what made me purchase this issue. "Couldn't win over the woman who was once your wife." I don't know anything about either of these characters, but I'm assuming he was married to a Beverly Switzer type rather than a female cartoon raccoon/beaver/whatever.
I'd thought DC heroes were disinclined toward Capital Punishment, but here's ultimate good guy Hal Jordan agreeing with the majority vote.
Salakk goes on to casually describe how he's been living in the future with his wife.
"Then as now, it's a depressingly long distance, even with curved space!" This is the kind of flourish that makes Engelhart very readable.
Gil Kane is very good at depicting sci-fi planetscapes.
That's a fun sci-fi idea revealed through exposition. I love comics.
Engelhart's brand of cosmic was always more mechanistic and convoluted than his contemporaries, Jim Starlin for one.
At one point in the story, one alien insults another by calling him a "Wazil." I'm glad there's another alien word that Kilowog can sprinkle into his vocabulary other than "Poozer." Engelhart deserves special praise for having Kilowog's overused epithet appear nowhere in this comic.
"A Slyggarian never dreams." An offhand remark like that can become canon, requiring a whole miniseries to erase it if need be. Proceed with caution.
Is that Hal's girlfriend or is that amber-hued alien named "Honey?" Coming into a random issue works to the advantage of these old superhero comics. Not knowing who anybody is or where they come from adds just enough mystery to keep them from being boring. I found this sequence difficult to understand. At first I thought Driq puked stone, but now I realize he turned into stone. Cool! The fingertips are a continuity cue between panels.
I'm guessing the guy in yellow armor is a heavy hitter. I don't know if yellow vulnerability is still in play at the time of this story, but it probably is.
There's a lot of good sci-fi content in this issue.
Twenty-four years before Before Watchmen, we have Dr. Manhattan in a Speedo. A circle of space monks focus their mental energy at a green crystal. I've read just enough Steve Engelhart comics to know that the Manhunters were the robotic predecessors of the Green Lanterns, but I've never seen them without their armor. I'm assuming Engelhart is letting us in on some brand new instant arcane secret lore, like when he revealed in the '70s that the Skrulls were actually a peace-loving people until the warlike Kree forced them to defend themselves.You never see any reference to that in the Marvel Comics of the past 20 years where Skrulls are depicted as the irredeemable ultimate evil, to be slaughtered without moral consequence by the heroes.
In the last few pages, the story enters truly weird territory. I wonder if Engelhart knew those would be his last pages and wanted to do as much damage (I mean that in a good way) as possible. He goes on to give us more Green Lantern Gnostic Gospel, telling us why Oans are all blue dudes with big heads.
It takes a turn into territory that would be covered in fanzines or Playboy and Penthouse superhero parodies. Basically, the men of Oa become so hyper-intellectualized that they lose all interest in sex. The ladies of Oa, who are still quite human-looking, leave the planet in search of men. They find willing partners among the men of Kurogar. This might explain why the Oans hate Sinestro so darn much. He's from the planet that took all their women. We're heading into fan fiction territory. For the first time, I'm glad there's a Comics Code keeping this comic from getting truly gross.
Reading this comic, I'm surprised how much of the Geoff Johns Green Lantern mythology was already in place. His comics really are in the spirit of this one. If they were on newsprint with flat colors I'd probably like them as much as I like this one.
There's an ad for a Superman story that looks pretty neat.
As a parting gift, we get the convoluted explanation why the Oans never killed Sinestro, no matter what crimes he repeatedly committed. They programmed a self-destruct into the battery if they ever tried to kill a Korugan. This is like Robocop's fourth secret directive to never kill a member of OCP's board of directors.
I'm sure if pressed, Engelhart could come up with a deliciously loopy reason for Batman not killing the Joker, too.
"To be continued in our Final Issue -- Next month," says the blurb. I bought the next issue, too, but I don't want to read it right away. I want to let the moment of anticipation linger. Instead there's another purchase that caught my eye.
Super Soldier #1 by Mark Waid and Dave Gibbons with colors by Angus McKie 1996. It's drawn by Green Lantern alumnus Dave Gibbons. It's one of the Amalgam comics, where Marvel and DC characters are mashed up into a new creation. This one is a combination of Superman and Captain America. Strangely enough, I've seen this comic a bunch of times but never picked it up. With every passing year I like Gibbons's work more and more, so that's what won me over.
Panel one starts the story off on the most depressing note imaginable. It begins with a dead baby. Welcome to the '90s.
Maybe Marvel published this one? Starting the story by slyly killing their competition, baby Kal-El?
No, DC in fact published this comic where panel one shows dead Superbaby. Warren Ellis and John Cassaday did something similar in Planetary, but still, this is Amalgam. It's supposed to be happy time.
Is there any writer who doesn't portray J.O. as an utter creep? The semi-splash is great, but I yearn for the newsprint colors of "For the Man Who Has Everything" or even John Higgins' Watchmen day-glo. These are the toxic hues of the second Martha Washington miniseries courtesy of colorist Angus McKie, who won an Eisner for his Martha work.
In spite of the fact that it's a really well-drawn comic, it's relentlessly ugly. That is due to A: the horrible costume, smashing two classics together (Cap and Superman) in as ugly a fashion as possible. It's obviously a costume built to last the one issue of the series. B: the comic is colored with gusto and enthusiasm by Angus McKie, who won an Eisner for his similar Martha Washington Goes to War color job. Unfortunately it's 1996, so the state-of-the-art is oppressive, over-rendered toxic browns and greens, attempts at photorealism over the heavy black of the line work. Computer coloring was very new. I was there, aiming for exactly this type of color, thinking it was the dawning of a new era. The sins of youth. McKie's color before this era, with actual rather than virtual airbrushing, and his color after this era, as digital coloring approached maturation is worlds better than what is in this comic.
After Watchmen, all Gibbons heroes tend to look smarmy, even when they're not meant to. It's a testament to how that series changed the way we "read" superheroes.
I wonder what Ultra-Metallo's hidden power source is and what it will do to Super Soldier.
When you integrate photographic water and air textures, combined with CMYK black heavy linework it draws attention to the artificiality of everything.
Jimmy Olsen looks a lot like Walter Kovacs without his Rorschach mask. This comic has had three starts already. This is the first and last time we'll see this character, so I understand wanting to cover a lot of ground in his chronology. By page 6 we get the opening credits. It's a difficult task deciding what stays and what goes when you only have 22 pages to tell a story.
"What SIGNAL were you trying to give me with your WATCH, old friend." These kinds of cutesy clever in-jokes proliferate in late '90s superhero comics. In a way, Amalgam itself is the culmination of those in-jokes.
What we're seeing on this page is a Silver Age Superman-style mystery, with clues, and an over-sized prop. It gives the reader the illusion of participation, that maybe next time you'll figure out the solution before Superman does. Using an iconic building like the Washington Monument is also very Silver Age.
McKie is really going nuts on the airbrush tool. This looks like the spoof of '90s color in the final pages of another Gibbons comic, 1963: The Tomorrow Syndicate. At this time in comics history, areas of pure flat unadulterated color were out of fashion. Flat color was considered a misuse of space.
I think Super Soldier is the very worst costume design of the whole Amalgam enterprise, which says a lot. These costumes were throwaway, there were no long-term plans for any of these characters. I think the red, white, blue and yellow is one costume color too many. The yellow is somewhat evenly distributed, it's on the hair, the shield and the belt.
Add some yellow to Cap's design, give him superman's belt and shorts, and S-shield instead of Cap's shield. These were joint copyrights/joint trademarks so there wasn't any incentive to share your best designs with your competitor. It's possible the Amalgam designs were deliberately bad. Super Soldier's costume conveys way more information than a superhero costume should. Going from top to bottom: Superman hair with Steve Roger's color, necessitating the decapitation of Cap's mask. From there down, it's all Cap, until you get to Superman's Belt, shorts, and shield, which is now, quite literally, the S-Shield. From there down, it's all Cap. It looks less like a blending of iconic signifiers, and more like Captain America with a couple of Superman highlights.
After the flashbacks, multiple setups, false starts, and brief mystery, the remaining 14 pages of the comic is devoted to the action slugfest, the Captain America part, the Kirby part. I would say the "Simon and Kirby" part, but the action here owes more to Kirby's 1960s Marvel superhero art than the Timely era.
Dave Gibbons does an amazing job with junky (junk is my favorite) action-heavy superhero comics. In this comic, he's working in classic Kirby mode with dynamic human figure-centric action compositions, bold linework and deep focus perspective. Gibbons has said that around this time he tried to put more Image-esque dynamism into his work. Gibbons + Image = Kirby. (This presents two interesting corollaries: Kirby - Image = Gibbons and Kirby - Gibbons = Image).
I wish he did more superhero comics, but I understand the typecasting he gets. When you see his art, you expect something more to be going on. Every comic doesn't have to be Watchmen, but when you see that style, those lines, those faces, you kind of expect it to be. Watchmen made such a lasting impression that when you see Gibbons art, it takes you out of whatever reality is being depicted and into Watchmen land. I'm glad Alan Moore decided to give his half of the Watchmen movie money to Dave Gibbons. The writer can do other things, but it's much harder for the artist, the face of a comic, the part that ages most visibly, to shake the association with the project.
This comic has ads for CD-ROMs and goth/heavy metal albums with Dave McKean-esque cover art. I thought the '90s would age better than this, but it's just like any other decade. Things get old.
Usually when you see the "we all get older but Superman is eternally young" trope, it's with Lois. Because of that, it seems a little more poignant when Jimmy Olsen is an old man and Clark Kent looks young as ever.
In the fake letter column, there's a letter from Simon Shuster. That's a good pun.
This videogame ad for CyberMage on the back looks neat. CyberMage doesn't sound like a superhero name now, but back in the '90s it was a perfect fit. I would link to footage of the game at this point, but I checked it out. It's a bland Wolfenstein clone.
I can't wait any longer. It's time for the final chapter of Green Lantern Corps. This time Steve Engelhart won't be joining us, instead Joey Cavalieri does the writing. Gil Kane is still on art. It's a farewell cover and since it really is the final issue I feel like anything can happen, though I assume the Green Lantern proper comic kept going, so Hal should be okay, though the 90's are fast approaching and I know there were a lot of Hal Jordan replacements waiting in the wings. My Green Lantern knowledge is spotty.
Green Lantern Corps. #224, 1988: This is the final issue of the series. I'm not AS interested in the combo of Joey Cavalieri and Gil Kane, but I'd probably regret reading #223 without finding out the final fate of the Green Lantern Corps. and the suicidal cartoon animal.
This is a very different look for Gil Kane, he's obviously not inking himself, instead Mark Farmer is handling inking chores. I must admit, I'm a little bummed out. I miss Kane's inks.
"Green energy splits the air like electric whips." I miss Engelhart."Alive it seems a thing with tendrils that clutch." Cavalieri is a much better writer than this, so I'm assuming it was a last-minute fill-in job. Engelhart's skill as a writer is proven by the fact that the word "Poozer" never showed up in his issue. Without Kane's inks and Engelhart's writing, I'm not sure I'll be able to finish reading this. The recap of last issue's recap is even more nonsensical.
That's a nice spaceship and planetscape.
The yellow dude doesn't look as awesomely toyetic as he did with Kane's inks. "Sciencells," more of the cool stuff I thought Johns came up with was already part of the mythos.
"Poozer" is only allowed once per issue. Twice is grounds for dismissal.
The yellow dude has a name. Goldfinger + Scarface = Goldface.
The whole universe was going to blow up unless you jumped into the battery? Brave man, Hal Jordan. With universe-wide destruction a certainty, was there really any alternative?
So far all these aliens die instantly or revert to a primitive form if they lose their rings. I wonder if this former Guardian, now pink rather than blue, is the same one Hal travelled the country with in an RV in the O'Neal/Adams issues.
Myrwhydden the Gaelic Mxyzptlk.
Cool minimalist spaceship. What happened to the suicidal squirrel?
Third "poozer!!??" How about a Green Lantern story where Kilowog doesn't say "poozer." It'll be like how you never see the heist in Reservoir Dogs.
Goldface really doesn't look badass anymore without his helmet. Are all DC villains avuncular white dudes?
The Gaelic Mxyzptlk speaks in limericks. I like the hallucinogenic geometry of this sequence.
Entering Ditko territory.
Sinestro is alive at the center of the battery controlled by the yellow impurity. That's pretty cool.
This is the prophesied "Blackest Night" every generation thinks they're living through. The end of days.
I wonder if Baron and Rude's Nexus influenced this wave of capital punishment superheroes, like John Byrne's Superman execution story we were reminded of after Man of Steel.
The fourth "poozer." How many times in an episode of Happy Days did Fonzie say "AAAAAyyyy?"
The anticlimactic final issue comes back to the framing sequence from the previous issue. Ch'p the space chipmunk decides not to take his own life.
The New Teen Titans #9 by Marv Wolfman, José Luis García-López and inker Romeo Tenghal 1985: The Final Battle. After grabbing the last issue of Green Lantern Corps. I was enticed by the possibility that this was another LAST issue that might feature the closure that superhero comics rarely give us. I'm an anti-fan of The New Teen Titans. There's something about the writing, the art, the costumes that just rubs me the wrong way, but I know enough people who swear by it, so I keep giving it another chance. This is what comics looked like when I was a kid, so to me it's generic, weak and off-putting. The painted Dungeons and Dragons-style cover was enough to entice me. García-López is an artist I know mainly from DC's licensing art, so I wanted to see what he could do as a storyteller. I imagine the assignment was to hew as close to George Pérez (half of The New Teen Titans creative team) as possible. García-López works in a similar style, that early '80s DC style: draw a ton of characters as small as possible in as many panels as possible.
There's Destiny from Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I guess he was a pre-existing character. I wonder if that's true of the rest of The Endless?
Nipples are permitted because it's a direct market book, not on a newstand under the jurisdiction of The Comics Code. It's very flashy, arresting and not what I'd expect. There's something about García-López's art, which usually looks generic to my eye. Is it because he was the main artist for DC's licensed art? The drawings you'd see on lunch boxes and thermoses. I saw some of his Joker, Batman and Superman drawings at the pet store the last time I was there. It's good solid art, it just feels vanilla to me. He has a mastery of technique, good layout, and above all clarity. These are the things that matter. I think my reaction to López's art is like when you hear a good song too many times.
Here's some of that D&D art I was craving. It looks a lot like George Pérez's comic for the Atari game-and-contest Swordquest.
Wild double-spage splash. No figure dominates the composition. Even the giants are small. It's a Stairway to Heaven. Starfire's trail of hair that she leaves behind her as she flies is disgusting. I still don't get the appeal of the Titans.
This ad is in a lot of '80s comics. They would've had to pay extra for E.T., so they came up with something kind of close. The face looks a lot like Mork from Ork.
1985 seems like a few years too late for this Xanadu-esque Disco Dazzler-looking character.
Here's the big Clash of the Titans/Ray Harryhausen moment from the cover. This is way cooler than the painting on the front of the book.
An incredibly convoluted composition, but all the information is there if you feel like studying it. It's a different approach to art, and a different approach to reading than I'm accustomed to. If you're willing to read it slowly and study the images, you'll be able to decipher them.
Ronald Reagan makes an appearance. When JFK makes an appearance in a comic, he's a saintly figure. When it's Nixon he's a villain, or at least a heel. When it's Ford or Carter, he's a prat. Reagan's comic book persona is a combination of all of those attributes.
I'm not sure what I just read.
Green Lantern #1,000,000,000 by Ron Marz, Brian Hitch, and inker Paul Neary 1998:
I enjoyed Grant Morrison's DC "1,000,000,000" stories. Like him or not, Brian Hitch is one of the giants at a time when penciling superstars are few and far between. I thought it would be interesting to check out a relatively early work at a time just before he became The Brian Hitch.
The concept is that this is issue #1,000,000, and is dated as such, though it's all been nullified by the New 52. Yeah, like they'd let a number get that high before they reboot it.
This is a "getting you up to speed" text piece with a CGI illustration. It's 1998, the year I first self-published a comic (Codex Pop #1) with Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics, Randy Costanza and this year's Eisner super-judge, Frank Santoro.
This issue of GL is a faux collector's item from the future, printed the way a 20th century comic would've been. "Available on HeadNet." It jokingly predicted the death of print comics which now seems more imminent than ever.
I've never read this story before. I was reading Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman and his JLA 1,000,000 stories. I like the long rich future history these comics presume, the endless descendants of Superman, his "dynasty" as this comic calls it. After reading all those comics, when Superman Returns was released, it seemed perfectly natural for Superman to have a son, a kryptonite-immune son at that. It felt like a natural long-delayed next step for the character. As far as I know, Grant Morrison was the prime mover behind the whole 1,000,000 crossover thing. These sound like his ideas, particularly Batman as warden of the asylum world of Pluto.
The Flash: Info engines of mercury fits with the whole thing of Flash as Hermes/Mercury, the messenger god, the god of information, the god of technology.
Page one of the actual comic is laid out nicely. A big overlapping figure, eye closeup, has a nice rhythm while still being poster-like. "I'm in the future." I know the feeling. "853rd" Century kind of looks like it says "ABSURD Century." Absurdly far into the future. Marvel's futures tend to be dystopias and DC's tend to be utopias.
There's a "'90s" joke about how Star Trek the Next Generation overuses time travel as a plot device. ST:TNG went off the air in '94, so maybe he's talking about Voyager or something.
"Star Crossed" using the ST:TNG logo font. Bryan Hitch draws one of the things he's known for, his space dreadnoughts. His art looks good on this uncoated paper stock. There are no GL's by the 30th century. This is full of portent, no doubt the result of the doom foretold in Alan Moore's oft-referenced Green Lantern story. Bold statements become canon. It really does look like ABSURD century. Knowing Morrison's penchant for creating sigils from words, it seems like that might be a magic number? Eight is the number of building (or destruction). Five for the 5 alchemical elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and ether. Three, the three aspects of God: Father, Son, Spirit or 3 aspects of Goddess: Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Grant, please let me know if I'm on the right track in the comments section.
One thing Morrison did right is that if you tell everyone there's a deeper encoded meaning to your work, people will look for it. If they look for it, they will find it, whether it's there or not.
It's a bold compositional move, putting Green Lantern himself so close to the center of the double-page splash. You run the risk of him getting lost in the crease, but he is perfectly visible, millimeters away from oblivion, as close as you can get without being swallowed up by the void between pages. Hitch is a pro in full command of his format.
This voiceover is very '90s, very looking-into-the-camera, MTV's Real World, diary cam stuff.
Did the idea of an "untranslatable" name start in the movie Splash or is there an earlier precedent I'm unaware of?
This double-page splash is reminiscent of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. The aliens are very Neal Adams-y, with the exposed brain dome.
"Mach Turtle." Good pun. Getting into digital non-black holding lines. His figure work is nice, more lithe than he gets credit for.
That's a Neal Adams pose.
Octopus in water, a classic panel going back to the Hal Foster and Alex Raymond days.
The book's space chariot race was published a year before Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace came out. This and the other athletic competitions going on in the other tie-in books seem like time wasters, easy ways to fill space in a crossover. That's one of the bad things about crossovers, all the tie-in stories where nothing happens. The writers get treated like second-stringers, holding Morrison's jacket (or whoever's got the main book) while he has all the fun. It's hard to imagine wasting comic book real estate this way today.
Part of what superhero comics offer is an opportunity to look at drawing of the human figure in motion against lushly illustrated backgrounds. It's not what I'm looking for, but satisfies the $1 price I paid.
Nice roomful of demons. I like the color, too.
Exploring empty environments. Reminds me of Silver Surfer #1. "ILM, eat your heart out." From the 1970s to the 1990s superhero writing hasn't changed much. I don't think I've ever heard someone say "eat your heart out" in real life, but it happens all the time in '90s comics. It's that cornball Stan Lee writing that is the genre's default setting. There's also more Star Trek jokes because the only people who read comics are nerds.
Who is Kyle doing these comedic impersonations for? The power ring? The job of the writer is to figure out how to get people in a room together, not to get everybody to scram. It's easy to write (and draw) scenes of a single figure exploring an empty environment (I've done my share) but please resist that temptation. A story should feel like a party with lots of different people. It makes the reader feel less lonely.
The first 16 uneventful pages were to get this bit of information that Solaris (the creepy-looking spiky death orb) is actually a bad guy.
"The Contra Adventure." I've never heard of this Contra sequel. Usually a Contra game is a big deal.
The last Green Lantern in the universe disguises himself as a slightly different Green Lantern.
That's a cool panel. Solaris looks creepy.
The last two pages are pretty nice sci-fi. There's Flash Gordon's gang. "Continued in Martian Manhunter 1,000,000." I'm assuming this reddish brown planet is Mars and is also a living planet, literally the Manhunter of Mars. Whether it's J'onn or a descendent who has become the planet itself I'll have to find that issue to know for sure. Since it's the '90s it probably involves nano-something-or-other.
Four books, linked by chance and intuition, present a cross-section of what cheap comics have to offer.