Robocop: Last Stand #1 (August 2013)

Robocop: Last Stand #1

Robocop: Last Stand; Boom! Studios; 2013; $3.99; 32 pgs; available collected.

Robocop: Last Stand is, conceptually, a tough sell. It’s a comic book adaptation of a movie no one liked (Robocop 3) when it came out twenty years before the first issue of Last Stand dropped. It’s ostensibly based on Frank Miller’s original screenplay, but when a different publisher did a “based on Frank Miller’s original screenplay” adaptation of Robocop 2 (just called Frank Miller’s Robocop), it turned out Miller’s Robocop 2 script included a lot of his Robocop 3 too. That much-hyped adaptation, Frank Miller’s Robocop, wasn’t just a bad comic, it was a notoriously late one. It’s also not like there had been any particularly good Robocop comics over the years. But the license kept bopping around as one publisher after another tried to hit Robo-gold.

So it’s interesting Last Stand is so… well… good.

The comic is a perfect storm of creative impulse—Steven Grant’s adaptation of the film (which he’d already adapted for Dark Horse back in 1993) is one event after another, with Korkut Öztekin’s punky cartooning tying them together. This first issue has plenty of action violence, but never gets particularly gory. Or, more accurately, Öztekin doesn’t focus on the gore. He emphasizes the action, focuses on the characters.

The issue opens with the issue’s only direct tie-in to the Frank Miller’s Robocop series, which Boom! (Last Stand publisher) reprinted when they picked up the Robo-license. It’s a TV ad showing the future dystopia, which the movies did a lot better. The TV segment also reveals some of the ground situation—Robocop has gone rogue. The newscasters, again played by Leeza Gibbons (who hadn’t returned for the actual Robocop 3) and Mario Machado don’t buy it. The evil company, OCP, has fired all the cops. They’ve also renamed their urban housing project for some nonsensical reason. Maybe something with the license?

Seriously, if it weren’t for Öztekin, the most interesting thing about Last Stand would definitely be the behind-the-scenes editorial mandates.

There’s an action intro to Robocop, saving a streetwalker from the OCP cops, then the action cuts to a new character, Marie. She’s trying to find Robocop. Only Grant doesn’t establish her name so her identity is unclear; she could even be Nancy Allen. Only she’s not because there’s a flashback to Nancy Allen dying and making Robocop promise to avenge her, which he’s apparently doing now as he takes on the OCP cops.

Meanwhile, OCP is trying to kick people out of their homes in Old Detroit and they’ve only got five days to do it, then OCP and their Japanese financing partners will default. There’s a big expository altercation involving a company suit, Bertha (who everyone always assumed was a Frank Miller nod to Martha Washington, but who knows), and then Robocop. Öztekin gets to do a big action scene involving an ED-209 robot, then the issue ends awkwardly with Marie—introducing herself finally—tracking down Robocop.

The awkward finish, which leaves the scene hanging mid-conversation, is just the sort of awkward Last Stand needs. Grant and Öztekin can only do so much, with a Robocop 3 adaptation, with a Robocop comic, and the truncated finish seems to acknowledge it. Grant’s not willing to make Robocop a more traditional protagonist, but he’s also shifting the spotlight. Not in this first issue, anyway.

The comic functions as a peculiar hook, distinguishing itself—in no small part thanks to Öztekin—from all those conceptual limitations and obligations.

Maybe it’s all thanks to editors Alex Galer and Eric Harburn. But whoever’s responsible… it’s a Robocop comic where you want to read the next one, which is quite a feat.

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Even in the future of the future of law enforcement there is room for improvement

Frank Miller's Robocop #1

Frank Miller's Robocop; Avatar Press; issues 1-9 (of 9); 2003-06; $3.50 to $3.99, 36 pgs ea.; collection (2007), $29.99.

Like most media with a Frank Miller credit on it, Frank Miller’s Robocop does not aged well. More accurately, as far as Robocop goes anyway, it doesn’t improve with age or maturity. It was always as bad as it is now, every reading another bloody stab at nostalgia. Frank Miller’s Robocop is an adaptation of Miller’s original Robocop 2 script. It’s a pseudo-infamous script—Miller, hot off Dark Knight loves Robocop and writes the sequel. There’s a writer’s strike in there somewhere. When the sequel finally does get made, Miller’s script has been rewritten by Walon Green (who wrote some of The Wild Bunch script). The sequel doesn’t get a good reaction, everyone starts thinking it’s because Miller’s script got rewritten. But then Miller’s back for Robocop 3, which should seem weird but actually makes perfect sense because they’re really just using his Robocop 2 script ideas.

So Frank Miller’s Robocop initially comes off more like a Robocop 3 adaptation than a Robocop 2. The first three issues are just Robocop 3, then with 2 elements, but still with a bunch of 3 going on. If only adapter Steven Grant could unravel all these threads….

And he doesn’t. He leaves Robocop entirely jumbled, with Juan Jose Ryp’s highly detailed, precisely messy, very busy art not doing anything to save the comic. Ryp’s art never really hurts it—whoever gives him too many pages for action scenes, for example, is the one who hurts it. Ryp does well with fast paced action. He doesn’t do well slowing down to go through a throw-by-throw. Especially not with the comic’s version of “Robocop 2,” the big villain (sort of) in the finale. It usually feels like Grant’s never seen Ryp’s art, otherwise no one would plot out the scene the way Grant does.

Editing matters. Though with Frank Miller’s Robocop you probably don’t get to tell Frank Miller how his ideas are so bad, even a franchise-desperate movie studio could improve on them.

I’ve read this series something like three times now. Maybe four. Definitely three. I’ve read it as published (often delayed), I’ve read it slowly, I’ve binged it. It never gets any better. There’s never enough story for the issues or even the series. The first three have something like an arc, which suggests Grant might do something similar with the back six, but he doesn’t. Once the big action set pieces start, the comic rushes to get out of there way so Ryp can have too many pages to do boring action.

In the end, all Frank Miller’s Robocop does is raise questions not particularly worth having answered—did Miller write any of these characters any better, did he really have such bad plotting or was Grant trying to make it fit the nine issues (it feels like there’s one missing, though who’d want to read another one).

Robocop 2, the movie, is far from great shakes, but seeing notes on Miller’s script from the studio execs? Seeing those might be interesting, if only because there’s so much to “fix.”

(It’s also strange how few of the “regular” cast show up in the script. Makes you wonder what Miller liked about the first movie).

Peloponnesian Cliffs

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Titan Comics; issues 1-5 (of 5); 2017-18; $3.99, most issues 32 pgs ea., first issue 56 pgs; collection (2018), $19.99.

En France… whoops, sorry. In France, Hercules came out in three forty-eight pages volumes. The first came out in 2012, the second in 2013, the third in 2017. It appears each volume is going to be one of Hercules’s twelve labors. Are they called labors? I spent about fifteen minutes trying to dig up original publication information because French comics information doesn’t get readily translated. The Wikipedia page for Hercules author JD Morvan is atrocious.

The reason I was trying to dig up that original publication information is because Wrath of the Heavens is five issues and gets through the first three labors. I was even reading up on Hercules’s Wiki to try to figure out if the story was done or if the gigantic cliffhanger was indeed a cliffhanger.

I’m not familiar with the mythological Hercules, which (thanks Wikipedia) doesn’t matter too much with Morvan’s hard sci-fi take on him. It’s the far flung future, humanity lives in some kind of servitude to intergalactic beings (the gods). There’s a bit about a revolution of the humans being bad because it would tank the economy. Morvan does a really good job updating the mythology and adding to it. Same goes for Looky, who realizes it all without ever getting goofy with the design. The gods look like gods, but in the context of being this special race of alien overlords.

There are some too obvious moves—humanity is called sklaves or slkaves or something similar. It’s slaves, get it. But it usually doesn’t matter because the story’s moving so well, which is another reason the strangely abrupt ending seems wrong. Morvan is very deliberate in his plotting. The finish is perfunctory at best.

The comic’s got some inventive and loose adapting as far as the mythological source material goes, which is weird at first then improves. Awesome art start to finish. Some of the characters resonate, even though Hercules is a bit underdeveloped. His actions are interesting to Morvan, not his reactions.

It’s a good comic. I only hope it doesn’t take another five years to get the next installment.

Though Titan, who translates and reprints, seem to have waited until the third volume was done for this series and it’ll be ages for labors four through six get done. There’s not even a four in France yet.

In Threes and Fours: Christmas Alien

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Dark Horse Comics; issues 1-4 (of 5); 2018-19; $3.99, 32 pgs ea.

I’m really impressed with Johnnie Christmas’s Alien 3 from Dark Horse. No doubt they’ll lose their Fox licenses to Marvel, who should just have Disney buy Dark Horse at this point, since it would simplify reprints and give Marvel a better back catalogue.

Because someday Disney and AT&T having a big back catalogue of mainstream but indie genre comics will be important.

Anyway, Christmas is doing an adaptation of the William Gibson A3 script, which has probably been floating around the Internet since Usenet. I know I’ve downloaded it a couple times and never read it, separated by large swathes of time, getting it the second time because I was nostalgic for being a teenager who thought he’d someday have time to read unproduced screenplays, like it would be important.

Crying emoji.

But it’s not a bad story. Elements have come through in the subsequent sequels, though Christmas also appears to be doing some knowing homage, which is cool. Christmas never gets lost in the homage, just the occasional nod. It’s well-executed.

Unfortunately I read the first four issues without realizing it was a five issue series. I would have just waited. But depending on how it wraps up, I’m considering doing a focus on it. I watched about half of that “Alien: Isolation” digital series and so maybe I’m just more aware of how easy it is to do this kind of thing poorly—this kind of thing meaning to insert breaks into a narrative to serialize it—Christmas’s adaptation is more impressive.

I imagine it’ll all hinge on how it wraps up, but so far it’s all very character-focused. Christmas isn’t doing an Aliens comic so he can do a lot of Alien drawings. He always works with the characters, making it far more like Aliens than one would assume. Depending on that last issue, who knows… maybe I’ll finally read that Gibson script. Though I would need to download it again.

If this adaptation ends up being one of Dark Horse’s best Aliens comics… well, the best Robocop comic is the BOOM! Robocop 3 so….

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 50

We know you’ve been waiting… five months for this episode, which makes us even more embarrassed about the audio quality but the episode’s worth it. All three hours of the episode is worth it.

That’s right, it’s a three hour extra-sized episode… we cover the Best of 2018, a very deep dive into Love and Rockets Volume One, a discussion of media, and then some news about the new amazing.

(Again, very sorry about the audio. It’s been so long since we podcasted, we sort of forgot how. Technically speaking.

you can also subscribe on iTunes

New Mainstream Visions: Mark Russell and Mike Feehan’s Snagglepuss

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles

DC Comics, issues 1-6, or collected $16.99 tp

When considering indie comics, the unexpected is always hopefully expected. When given few constraints, indies can explore paths unthinkable to the person next to you; I guess that’s why they call it art.

But when considering mainstream commercial comics potential, there’s not a lot a writer/artist can work with. The main goal of acceptance with widespread success along with the added baggage of a wholly already defined concept can curtail even the cleverest of minds. Really, how many new Batman stories can be there to tell after 75 years? The best of commercial writers are lucky and skilled enough to surf the demands of the publisher’s needs, yet bring something extra to the table unique to their sensibilities. Mark Russell seems to respond well to this challenge, taking a simplistic concept and giving it more complex textures.

In the relatively short period of time Russell has worked for DC, he has invigorated not only a forty plus year old property –Prez, the story of America’s first teenage president, but also taken the horns on DC’s recent push of their stable of Hanna Barbera cartoon properties as well. His ridiculous amount of success with the Flintstones mini series (with artist Steven Pugh), demonstrated not only could he keep Fred and his cohorts interesting, he could also infuse them with a modern sensibility while examining society, incorporating the animated cave man’s aesthetics along with an updated look at todays foibles. Not only did these provide more entertainment than a hundred superhero comics, but more to the point, took a commercial assignment with highly defined limits and turned it into something fresh, new, and original for today’s readers.

Whether due to this success or just good luck, Russell grabs some more work from DC on their continued push of the HB cartoon characters with Snagglepuss, a character far down the line in terms of popularity from Fred Flintstone. Much to DC’s credit, they gave Russell incredible room to stretch his legs here, reimagining SP (Snagglepuss) as the famous American playwright Tennessee Williams, his struggles surviving in the foreground of 1950’s government investigations of un-American activities to punish him not only for his unorthodox approach towards his art, but using his homosexuality as a tool against him in the public eye.

So how to take this seriously because Tennessee Williams is drawn as an upright pink feline cartoon character? Well, Russell concocts a solution of cartoon animals coexistence with normal “human” looking people, as per demands of the necessities of the comic, with a preconditioned acceptance on our part to go along with it. While I think their contrasts are a bit jarring to be fully comfortable with, I can’t deny Russell’s success in portraying his story in such a compelling manner that it easily smooths out the rough spots of such acceptance, and keeps us fully on track with the narrative, making me want to pursue it to its conclusion. He is also able to seamlessly weave in many real life people (along with other Hanna Barbera characters) into actual historical events, giving the simplistic cartoon characters a sympathetic weight formerly unimaginable.

Artist Mike Feehan is to be credited with a disciplined approach in depicting this shared animated/real life universe, carefully keeping the cast distinct from one another and constantly identifiable. Colorist Paul Mounts brings his usual bright, garish approach to his pages, but here in this “animated” universe, his palette is much more comfortable in its surroundings, adding a visual layer of bouncy electric life to the proceedings.

Here we have quite the successful balancing act, where a writer gives the publisher the goal of a favorable commercial tie in comic, but also a controversial tale, rife not only with convincing cartoon characters, but also a well researched telling of important current history along with a biscuits worth of social vetting and political examination-whew! Sadly, the comics inevitable rough ending (it is based on Williams, after all), is countered by the solemn acceptance of it’s cast, with the promise good things can follow. Which is pretty close to how it generally works in real life. Quite the feast indeed for a comic named Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles.

Russell continues to impress here, with all three of his first forays into commercial comics writing must reads against all odds of them being so. May he have many more.

The Comics Fondle List of Favorite Graphic Novels Guaranteed to Offend at Least Someone

Crossed – Garth Ennis and Jacen Burrows pre-apocalyptic series about man’s evil ID breaking out and dominating humanity. Many sequels by other authors, vol 1 is the best, with a second fave of the series, Crossed +100 by Alan Moore, also damn good, but a much more complicated read than Ennis’ vol 1.

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart– Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius. While Jodorowsky is known as a european film director, he dabbles a lot in comics, and with superb artist Moebius, produces his most coherent work here. Great rollicking story about a college professor who’s convinced by one of his students he has the seed for the next Christ, the plot is all over the place like a great chase movie, with a great cast of characters, sex, drugs, and an outrageous plot that travels worldwide. The art by Moebius fantastic also.

Pinocchio– this retelling of the fable by French artist Vincent Paronnaud (nee Winschluss), is quite possibly the greatest. No holds barred, Pinocchio is certainly put through his paces in this jaw dropping, visually disturbing tale with a great formal technique by Winschluss. Lots of fun!

Weapon Brown– Jason Yungbluth’s great story of the end of the earth, where classic cartoon characters are the last to survive. All of the greats are here, transmogrified in a story that keeps going at breakneck speed throughout 350 plus pages. Charlie Brown, little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Calvin and Hobbes are all here. Yungbluth is really inspired, a master of dark humor, and his artistic chops are solid.

Big Man Plans– Tim Weisch and Eric Powell, whose Goon is quite popular, outdoes himself here in this mean spirited, brutal, dark tale of revenge of a midget who worked Vietnamese foxholes as a soldier, and the horrible revenge he seeks against those who where mean to him. Great stuff and very disgusting.

Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers– Gilbert Sheldon’s great 3 Stooges parody, with three hippie brothers that are always looking for the next buzz, and the hilarious methods it takes them to get there. A classic 60’s underground comic.

Neonomicon– Alan Moore’s tribute to the disturbing writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The end of the world is here, and the dark god begins his unveiling on earth. Two stories, the first an introduction tale, based on Moore’s prose, and the sequel, a progression of the authorities pursuit of the evil.

Providence– the prequel/sequel to Neonomicon, begins with a turn of the century writer, and his quest to find Lovecraft and share his sensibilities, is a work of dark horror than has been unmatched in comic books. Not for the squeamish, this book leaves none untouched by its disturbing concepts and visuals that bothered me in my sleep, no easy task.

From Hell– an earlier book of horror by Alan Moore, this one takes everything he can find on Jack the Ripper, and works it into a complex, multi faceted biography that is perhaps his most complex work. Great well researched art by Eddie Campbell only makes it better.

Big Blown Baby– Bill Wray, one of the geniuses behind “Ren and Stimpy,” goes several notches further on the depravity charts, with this hilarious and disgusting story of an alien infant stranded on earth. Wray is also one of the best cartoonists in the business, giving this R rated adventure some serious flavor.

Black Hole– great alternative artist Charles Burns does a great story on a sexually transmitted virus that mutates high school classmates in this David Lynch flavored monster story, with real creepy sexual overtones.

Empowered– Adam Warren’s parody/homage of superhero comics featuring a hot young superhero with serious self esteem issues. Started with a bondage fetish strip that were commissioned drawings that evolved into it’s own, these are perhaps some of the better superhero comics made today. That they feature sexual tension throughout as well as some really suave art make these a fave. Skip the Avengers and read this.

Fade Out– To this date, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips noir masterpiece. A movie starlet is killed in this whodunit in post WW2 Hollywood is one of the better realized stories of our era, and Phillips art along with fully developed characters make this a must read.

Bratpack– Rick Veitch’s perverted, dark look at the REAL lives of teen sidekicks to the heroes was made years before The Boys, and I would say an initial inspiration for it. Not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

Clown Fatale– Viktor Gishler’s b movie plot about a group of women that become circus clowns to later take over the circus drug running and mob operations actually works, and is a fun read, laced with all the good stuff that goes with these things. If this one grabs you, look for his Order of the Forge, a ribald adventure with three of Americas founding fathers taking time off from their debaucherous pursuits to stop a power mad governor from invoking Satans plans on earth during the revolutionary war. Gishler is real good at this b movie stuff, so If this one also grabs you, look for Sally of the Wasteland, another dystopian look at post war earth that stars a hot lass that will go to great lengths to save and love her hillbilly boyfriend.

Livewires– Adam Warren of Empowered did some some straight mainstream work at Marvel with this one featuring a group of female SHIELD LMDs that rebel and take on their own lives is good Marvel all the way. Superior mainstream.

Miracleman– Alan Moore’s take on superheroes didn’t begin with Watchmen, and this earlier study of the genre first started in England, but finished here years later, is perhaps the most realistic and logical of the super mythology tropes. While the art gets a bit weak in the middle, Rick Veitch and John Tottleben step in to finish the saga which concludes in the only way it could. Skip the Neil Gaiman sequels.

Rawhide Kid– back when Joe Quesada ran Marvel, he did wondrous things. One of them was this unusual take on the Rawhide Kid, an old western gunslinger who in this version just happens to be a gay man in the old west. Great humor, and some perfect art by John Severin, who could draw horses in his sleep. Recommended.

Rover Red Charlie– yep, post apocalyptic earth is certainly in enough comics, but if you love dogs, Garth Ennis scores well here featuring a group of canines that fight to survive in a post “Crossed” time situation. Definitely for dog lovers.

Smax– a spin off of Top Ten, Alan Moore’s look at the Superman character that has to go back to his own dimension for a weekend funeral is a great send up of fantasy roleplaying gamer quest type nonsense, with Moore sparring nobody’s feelings.

Ultimate Adventures– again, when Joe Quesada ran Marvel, great books just happened. This over the top parody of Batman and Robin, along with an Alfred type character, entertained me profusely, and much better than regular Batman.

We 3– One of Grant Morrison’s greatest stories, this one involving three lab animals transformed into military killing machines that break their leash is great social commentary, and a good message on cruelty to animals with a great ending. Frank Quietly’s art is a big draw too, blending Morrison’s imagination into reality seamlessly.

Comic Strip Apocalypse: Weapon Brown

Weapon Brown$23, 400 pages
Death Ray Graphics
Mature readers


In my half century plus of devouring comic books, one looks for the occasional diversion from the mainstream highway. The 60’s underground comics scene showed that the language of comics didn’t need to be subverted or limited by the “necessary” publisher of comics. Creative folks could find like minded souls to publish and print their more personal types of work.

In the late seventies and early eighties, printing costs lowered as technology elevated print methods, and was more accessible to individuals, so a plethora of privately published comics started demonstrating what comics creators could do when given absolute authority over their own product.

Not that this venue didn’t produce its share of self indulgent crud; but as always, a few dedicated, talented artists could sneak through and provide content just as professional and even more successful (at least aesthetically), than mainstream publishers.

So somewhere after 2000 comes Jason Yungbluth, with a burning need to create, and a fair amount of talent to go with it. Fused with an ability to draw, and a subject matter to inspire, Weapon Brown is born. Initially done as a series of self published comics, Jason has foisted a collection of them on us, and I am only too pleased to receive it.

The modern apocalypse is a regularly tread story for comics, the optical sturm and drang along with a limitless amount of social issues to draw from, make it indispensable to current creators. How to keep one’s opinions valid while mixing them with an entertaining vehicle remains the challenge.

Yungbluth’s obsessive love for classic and modern comic strips provides him with the grist needed to pull this one out of his hat. And pull it out he does.

Based on a loose framework of characters from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip, Jason puts them through the wringers of post apocalyptic life a la the flavor of Mad Max along with countless scenes of death and destruction.

Weapon Brown is a transmogrified version of Charlie Brown, pulled apart and rebooted to suit the desires of the evil Syndicate, a group dedicated to the submission of all the remnants of earth. Within this simple concept, Yungbluth’s art is constantly on the move, and always willing to show off his drawing chops like there’s no tomorrow. The strip itself bleeds this immediacy, showing scene after scene of beautifully illustrated carnage alongside a hilarious and bizarre roller coaster ride of a plot, plowing through endless amounts of characters in service of its pay off. Even the most nebulous of pets, Snoopy, here gets a reincarnation that makes him a million times cooler. End of time comics don’t get more dramatic or as funny as Weapon Brown.

The inventiveness and execution are all important here, and Yungbluth not only shines, but we get to see his wonderful evolution as a visual artist as well. The earliest strips show hints of things to come, but by the third chapter, you’re in absolute wonder of how far the visuals develop, and by its end, Yungbluth has shown he’s in the big leagues, easily dispatching many of those whose mainstream work he emulates. Yungbluth makes comics his, depicting characters you care about in a hilariously comedic fashion with some of the most disgusting visuals you can imagine.

The difficult path here may be the relevancy of classic comic strips characters themselves. With the near demise of newspapers, and the ever stagnant condition of modern comic strips at their lengthy end, you would most likely have to be at least 50 years old and have a nostalgic interest in them to even know who these characters are. It’s to Yungbluth’s credit his interpretations don’t need it. They stand as individuals first, with the visual layering of their original associations an added treat to old fogies like myself. Also, the fact that Youngbluth goes through a litany of artistic development and influences, mastering them along the way, teasing the reader waiting for what he’s going to regurgitate next.

With it’s 350 page plus length, you could be tempted to think he may of overstayed his welcome, but the opposite is true; there isn’t a page or a panel “wasted” to gratuitousness that doesn’t contribute to where he’s going with this.

That the extra material demonstrating his creative process, a wonderful pin up gallery, and pages of annotations to mention his influences and what you may have missed the first time through are the sheer definition of necessary back matter as well.

It’s these “one shot wonders” of our art form that occasionally sneak out and grab us, bite us in the ass, and when you’re finished, to just sit back and wallow in the glow that is finishing a story that not only satisfies in its essential goal, but leaves a lasting imprint upon those who experience it.

Despite it’s in your face, nightmarishly disgusting visuals, it’s disrespect towards honoring anything of human value, or the sacrilegious yet hilarious handling of beloved classic comic strip characters, Weapon Brown is one of those rare outlaw masterpieces you should not miss.

Love and Rockets #50 (May 1996)

Love and Rockets #50

Fantagraphics; 1996; $4.95; 60 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #50 is a perfectly solid issue of Love and Rockets. Beto’s Palomar farewell is outstanding in its execution, with him employing a lot more comic strip-influenced narrative techniques than usual. He doesn’t have enough room, it’s clear, and some things are rushed. Mario’s back for the finale too, which is fitting since he was in the first issue. It’s a perfectly good Mario story, not great, but with some excellent art and a fine sense of humor. And even Jaime’s Locas finale is good. It’s definitely affecting, even when Jaime’s being manipulative and burning through pages for no reason except to mess with the reader. Beto doesn’t have enough room, Jaime’s got too much.

The issue starts and ends with Jaime’s last two parts of “Bob Richardson,” which have seemingly unrelated short text pages before them. Short but big letters. So when the third part of the story opens with “God Mother Son,” you’re paying some attention to Esther talking on the phone to her mom. Maggie’s off having a really weird scene with the masked wrestler where she tells him about their mistaken engagement (her family thinks they’re getting married, as does Danita who’s in love with said masked wrestler). It’s a wordy, lengthy scene and Jaime doesn’t really get anywhere with it. Maggie seems weird. And she goes on seeming weird the rest of the chapter. Jaime’s lost her perspective. Even though “Bob Richardson” always seemed like a series finale for the strip, chapter three doesn’t feel much like chapters one or two. Maggie’s positioned way different. So’s Danita. Esther gets more to do but it’s literally nothing for herself.

Then there’s a break and it’s time for Mario’s interlude. It’s a story about him (Mario) losing his comics creating muse and how he gets her back. There’s some great art and it’s always an amusing story. It’s just not particularly special, other than Mario coming in and doing a last contribution. It just…doesn’t make a lot of sense given how little Mario’s done in the book lately. It’d be a lot more effective if he’d been regularly contributing. Emotionally effective anyway.

And then it’s for the Palomar extro, where Beto runs through what seem like a dozen story ideas–some resolving outstanding issues, some creating new ones–in twenty-four wonderful pages. There’s a big overarching story–an earthquake has hit Palomar and residents are back from all over to help in the time of crisis, including Luba’s family from the States (save Maricela). Even the awful American photographer guy comes back for a bit. It’s not exactly like a Human Diastrophism-focused sequel, but it’s sort of like one.

Beto does an amazing job hopping and skipping through all the stories as they go. Sometimes a scene or a subplot will get its own page, usually not. Sometimes it’s just an extremely well-executed panel. It’s kind of a Chelo story, but also a Luba and family story–which now includes Pipo. It’s very interesting to see how all the characters interact thanks to their developed, much different relationships, something Beto mostly skipped over when he left Palomar for a while. It’s a far more upbeat Palomar story than usual, full of Beto’s love and enthusiasm for the characters.

And he finally makes the Guadalupe and Jesus stuff work, though I might just be worn down in the last issue.

The last page is a big reveal. Sort of. It’s a big reveal with no bearing on the series, not even in hindsight. It’s just a big smile to go out on.

Jaime’s also got a big reveal in the last seven pages of Locas, “Bob Richardson Part Four.” He intentionally wastes three of those pages so it’s more like four, story-wise. Of course, the big reveal comes as an aside on one of the wasted pages, not even given a hint of the time it deserves. One last revelation about Speedy.

But otherwise, it’s just a chipperer-than-ever-before Hopey finally tracking Maggie down. Maggie’s possibly sad out of jealousy, possibly not. Doesn’t actually matter as it turns out, because the grand finale hinges on coincidence and bad luck. It’s a really fast, flashy finale, with Jaime laying on the nostalgia. It’s a perfunctory finish. There’s no ambition to it, not like Beto did in his Palomar farewell. Jaime just lets it wrap up and avoids the rest. The big difference, as always, being Beto never avoids anything, he just paces it out. Jaime always implies he’s pacing it out, then just avoids it.

Some great art on the Jaime stories, of course.

The last pages of the comic advertise the future from Los Bros, so you’re not too broken up about the series’s conclusion (I mean, Beto practically has Chelo advertise a new Luba comic), but it’s an earnest occasion. Especially since both Bros had done some amazing work in just the last few issues, when they weren’t steaming to the end. Or, at least, you didn’t know they were. Love and Rockets goes out high.

Love and Rockets #49 (November 1995)

Love and Rockets #49

Fantagraphics; 1995; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

On the inside front cover, there’s an announcement Love and Rockets #49 is the penultimate issue. Both Bros embrace it, but very, very differently.

Beto has this exceedingly disturbing and self-loathing series of short strips, usually starring himself (or an obvious analog). There’s some great art and some rather good storytelling–like the one where he talks about meeting a girl–and some “funny” anecdotes. Like the kid superhero, unidentified by name, he just has a big G on his chest. There’s also a lot about racism and how it exists simultaneous with his art. Like, it’s a lot. Beto digs really, really deep. Or gives the impression of doing so. Given the bad situations the stories recount or imply, one hopes there’s some narrative liberty.

The least depressing story has a guy chopped in the head with a butcher knife who can’t get change to make a phone call. Because maybe all but two of the rest of them have a bunch to do with abuse. Usually with a child suffering. Like, it’s really heavy, all the way through.

Beto’s got some great visual pacing in the stories, great storytelling, especially with the longer pieces (standouts for visual storytelling are the superhero one and one with an alien kid getting in trouble for staying out after school). Oh. And then the adorable Disney one about the dead father.

Running through it all is this undercurrent Beto–the creator–is a failure for the series ending.

It’s almost unbearably heavy.

Jaime does the complete opposite. Sure Maggie’s got to tell everyone she’s not really getting married and she’s got to survive Rena and her cousin getting attacked by would-be kidnappers, but it’s all fun. Rena and her cousin kick ass. The cousin’s the masked wrestler who Danita works for and, we find out, secretly loves. Danita’s convinced Maggie is going to steal him away. Meanwhile Esther feels like Maggie is abandoning her after her telling her to come to Texas. And Hopey is in town on tour and trying to see Maggie.

There’s some wonderful art and great moments from Jaime and he’s really just getting ready to give everyone a nice ending. It’s all romantic confusion and delayed gratification (the Locas way). There’s a cameo from one of Luba’s sisters, which is funny, and then a visual callback to the Izzy story in the very first Love and Rockets. Jaime’s story seems content.

Beto’s stories do not.

It’s a great issue. The clashing styles does make it read a little funny–if Beto went second with all the downers it’d be a very different experience–but Jaime’s pacing makes it work. He seems to have some regret about wasting Esther and Danita’s time, which makes one wonder what the original plan was for the three girls living together.

But it’s an extremely well-executed wrap-up. Jaime’s storytelling is a lot tighter. Even if it does turn Hopey into a cameo in her own book.

Love and Rockets #48 (August 1995)

Love and Rockets #48

Fantagraphics; 1995; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

Two issues to go, but no countdown clock other than Beto promising a last visit to Palomar in #50. Now, he got me once before with that Farewell, My Palomar story so I’m not sure I’d have believed him back in 1995.

Because the Jaime story, despite dealing with Maggie trying to tie up the loose ends of her life, doesn’t seem like an end of the book story. It might be an end of the arc story, but there’s nothing ominous about the story. It’s Maggie going and telling people she’s getting married, presumably to a guy named Bob Richardson (the title of the story). She breaks wrestler Gina’s heart, has a pointless farewell with the migrant worker guy who she literally made out with once, tells Aunt Vicki, then gets herself held hostage with Rena.

Locas is so much more exciting with Rena around.

Meanwhile, Esther is having a secret birthday and Danita is thinking maybe her boss is sweet on her. Mild stuff. Then a big cliffhanger. It’s good. Jaime works at it composition-wise. Maybe it doesn’t feel like a second-to-penultimate story because it’s such a solid narrative. Jaime’s not doing a long-form Peanuts, he’s doing a Locas. It’s really cool.

But then Jaime does that promised “Last Maria and Gorgo Story,” which is about Fritzi and Petra going down to Palomar to meet Luba, Guadalupe revealing her son’s father, Gorgo and Luba getting used to being around each other, whatever’s going on with Jesus and Guadalupe stalking him (sort of). It’s all set against Doralis getting famous on TV. It’s a big, awesome story, in seventeen pages but two of them don’t relate so it’s fifteen amazing pages. It’s absurdly great work.

There a bunch of Palomar cameos–Ofelia gets an arc, sort of, but enough of one–and maybe even some visual references to previous issues. There’s one big one and I wish I could remember if Beto’d used the visual before. Luba also gets more to do than she’s had, in the present, since before Poison River. It’s established material with Beto’s always developing narrative skills looking at it with slightly different eyes. It’s very much a done-in-one.

And then Beto just one-ups the whole thing with the last page. It’s too good.

Right before he promises last Palomar story in two issues, which doesn’t exactly make the story any better but it does make reading experience sincerly precious. After forty-seven issues, Beto’s earned the right to be sincerly precious with Palomar. He’s more than earned it.

Great issue.

Love and Rockets #47 (April 1995)

Love and Rockets #47

Fantagraphics; 1995; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

It’s an outstanding issue. Los Bros each contribute a story and each story does very different things.

Beto’s first. He’s finally bringing Luba’s daughters into contact with their previously unknown grandmother, while also doing a Gorgo story. There are flashbacks for Gorgo and Maria–including Maria’s (previously unrevealed, I think) involvement in Eduardo’s death (which happened during Poison River). In the present it’s mostly a Doralis story, as she’s meeting her grandmother and Gorgo. She saw Gorgo get shot on the news, so Beto finally irons out that timeline of events. Maricela, Pipo, and Guadalupe all have parts too. As well as Fritzi and Petra. Beto juggles it all beautifully, taking the time to do two almost wordless pages of Maria flashback with a bunch of sci-fi slash good girl art while still making time to do character development on the entire cast. Even Gorgo, though not in the present. He barely speaks in the present.

It’s a fantastic story. Lots of seriousness but a lighter tone than usual. It’s sunnier than Palomar or, most definitely, Poison River.

The end has Luba being brought into it (only just), along with the promise of the “Last Maria/Gorgo Story” next issue. So while Poison River started as a Luba origin story, that phase of Beto’s Love and Rockets has really become the Maria/Gorgo Stories? He’s done amazingly well with it, given how much he’s been doing at once and in extended format. It’s not a single story, it’s threads in a series of stories, something Jaime (initially) did a lot better in the book.

Speaking of Jaime, his story’s excellent too. Though it’s all about the subtle formal exploration he’s doing with it. He’s basically doing a long form Peanuts strip, which he references at the end of the story.

It’s a Maggie (or Perla but really Maggie) story. Danita’s sick and Maggie needs to take her wrestling valet outfit to the evening’s match. Esther’s hanging around the house, around for conversation and to further Maggie’s character development but otherwise mostly inactive. She peaked early.

Simultaneously the prostitute Maggie had problems with at Chester Square gets run out of said strip mall and ends up at an Italian restaurant. After a frustrating adventure of dropping off the outfit at the wrestling match (and having to dodge Gina, who’s still in love with her but also wants to beat her up for the prostitute cutting her), Maggie heads over to the same restaurant. There she’s got to avoid Gina, survive an encounter with the prostitute, all while trying to find out if the masked wrestler Danita works for is handsome under his mask.

And then she runs into an old friend.

It’s light and mostly breezy–though with some real danger at times–and Jaime, of course, avoids the pay-off scene with the old friend. But he doesn’t avoid it too much. He lets it affect Maggie; the story, which is continuous, has some really solid character development for her.

Great art, fantastic visual pacing, all while sticking to that extended form Peanuts riff.

It’s a fantastic issue. Each story has very different ambitions–the enthusiasm is the closest similarity–and both Bros realize them successfully.

Love and Rockets #46 (December 1994)

Love and Rockets #46

Fantagraphics; 1994; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

Even with Beto doing the centerpiece, Love and Rockets #46 is (technically) a Jaime issue.

The issue opens with Maggie/Perla (it gets even more confusing because there’s a flashback to pre-Love and Rockets #1 days) and Esther hanging out at Vicki’s wrestling training camp. There are three Butt Sisters stories, but they’re really just one story with a brief interlude in the middle to catch up with Danita back in Hoppers. Jaime plays the wrestling “prologue” mostly for laughs. Esther has, unfortunately, become Hopey-lite in this story. Maybe even Hopey-lite-lite because she’s really just there to do comic emphasis for Maggie’s plight.

Maggie hasn’t worked out her issues with Gina, the wrestler who not only is mad crushing on her but also took a knife for her (sort of). Xo and Vicki are also at the wrestling camp (obviously) but they’re secondary supporting, which is kind of weird since–at least with Xo–Jaime had promoted her to a lead role. Not now with Esther around.

The interlude with Danita is Jaime’s second best work of the issue, if only because of its brevity. No dialogue, no text whatsoever. Danita misses Ray (which requires the usual massive suspension of disbelief because Ray), she’s lying to her mom about stripping, she gets a dangerous stalker, she’s in a bad place.

So the third “chapter” of Butt Sisters is Danita moving to Texas to live with Maggie and Esther. Along with her son. But mostly it’s a flashback about how Maggie got back into the mechanic business pre-Love and Rockets #1, starring Hopey, Izzy, and everyone else from those days. Even though Jaime’s doing it in his current art style, the flashback just reminds how much fun Locas used to be, which is a bit of a downer, because it’s like he knows–and Maggie definitely knows–how much more fun life was in those days.

The third part also reveals Esther is only Hopey-lite in certain circumstances. The rest of the time she’s a bit of a buzz kill.

But it’s a good story, with a really nice flashback, and a solid punchline at the end. So it’s a real surprise when Beto doesn’t just smoke it, he smokes it with his own riff on Locas.

Hernandez Satricon is Beto doing a Mechanics story. Maggie, Rena, Hopey, Penny, Izzy, Daffy, and Rand Race all appear. Maggie’s the lead, working with Rand and Rena to figure out what a gigantic bowling ball is doing. Changing reality is what it’s doing. Maggie gets the day off and spends it looking into the other scientific teams, leading to disaster, romance, and–finally–a new reality.

Beto boils it all down to the base elements and does a phenomenal job. Great art–his tightest lines in a while as he’s homaging–and a fantastic story. He brings the wonder back to Locas, whether it’s Penny as a superhero or just the pleasures of jigging. It’s awesome.

Jaime gets his own shot at Beto’s characters with the next story, which is Maricela and Riri as kids in Palomar. Riri steals her mom’s makeup so Marciela can get Luba looking like a movie star whether she likes it or not. It’s a really cute story, great art, but it’s just a cute story. Maybe cuter than Beto would ever do, sure, but it’s nowhere near as ambitious as Beto’s riff on Mechanics. Of course, Jaime only gets four pages while Beto got fifteen.

The issue starts good, with sprinkles of greatness, then gets singular with the Beto riff. The Jaime riff on Palomar is cool too. It’s just not jawdropping like the Beto.

Love and Rockets #45 (July 1994)

Love and Rockets #45

Fantagraphics; 1994; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

Beto’s only got one story this issue. Sure, it’s eleven or so pages–so almost twice as long as most of Jaime’s–but Jaime’s got four stories. There’s a lot from Hoppers. And a lot of Hoppers.

I guess I’m talking about Jaime’s stories first. So he’s got two stories with Maggie (Perla) and Esther. The first is Esther narrating a family get-together. Maggie there’s, Aunt Vicki and–not really introduced–family are there, Cousin Xochitl and family are there, Maggie and Esther’s dad, his new wife, their kids, are there. Lots of people. But the narration is all Esther. It’s more about her life until this point, so a short (but long) four page introduction. It’s fine. It’s a little talky and it’s weird Esther doesn’t seem to notice Maggie’s despondence, but it’s fine. It’d be nice if the accompanying party visuals worked better. But fine.

Esther narrates a lot about Hoppers and Dairytown, something Jaime’s been avoiding literalizing for… well, it’s issue #45 so forty-four issues of Love and Rockets. It gives some context for Esther’s situation, but it feels weird having this minor character doing such a big introduction.

Turns out later it doesn’t matter.

But first there’s Hopey’s interlude. She’s playing a gig in L.A. with her band and spends the day in Hoppers with her brother’s now ex-girlfriend. Hopey avoids seeing anyone she knows, dealing with any situations outstanding; it’s almost like she’s Jaime’s analogue for avoiding situations. Though Hopey does finally find out Maggie’s not back in Hoppers and gets some vague idea where she’s gone. It’s a really good Hopey story, even if it’s depressing as heck.

Then there’s the flashback story. More Hoppers history, with Ray narrating a time the KKK tried to come to town. It’s a “day with the boys” story; although the kids are in high school, Jaime draws them younger. Ish. Unlike the Esther revealing things about Hoppers, Ray’s a fairly standard Love and Rockets character. Arguably the third biggest character in Locas.

Still doesn’t make the history lesson work better. Jaime’s inorganically dumping information.

The last Jaime story is the second one with Maggie and Esther. They’re unpacking in their new apartment and trying to figure out what they’re going to do about another room. Maggie gets a little more heartbreak. Esther doesn’t really know how to help her with it. It works all right, with a funny finish.

Jaime’s best stories this issue–the Hopey one and the apartment one–aren’t the most ambitious ones. The KKK one is a true story adapted for Locas. The Esther party one… well, Love and Rockets has had some amazing parties (but they’ve all been Beto’s).

Meanwhile Beto is still peeling back the onion to reveal more of the Maria story. There are some flashbacks with some Poison River supporting players, there’s the introduction of Maria’s first… well, wait. There’s the introduction of Maria’s second husband and father of Fritz and Petra. There’s also some tying back into other Poison River events for Gorgo and maybe even some forward narrative development in the present day. Lots going on, some great art, awesome story.

Beto starts the issue too. So it’s downhill from page twelve. Yes, Jaime’s art is always great and the writing is always good–there’s nothing bad–it’s just not successful. It’s sort of ambitious? But in an obvious way. And then Jaime doesn’t even achieve the ambitions. Kind of a bummer.

Love and Rockets #44 (March 1994)

Love and Rockets #44

Fantagraphics; 1994; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

For the first time in either a very long time or ever, there are only two stories in the issue. One Beto, one Jaime.

First up is Jaime’s, which has Maggie’s sister Esther visiting her in Texas. Well, it starts with Esther visiting their dad, then going to see Maggie and pals but their dad is off-panel. Also Esther now calls Maggie Perla, even though I’m nearly positive Esther didn’t call Maggie Perla during the Speedy story arc.

Anyway.

It’s a simple enough story–Esther, Maggie, Xo and her husband, and Gina all go out drinking and dancing. They run into Penny and end up back at Chester Square. We learn Penny grew up near Chester Square and Jaime gives her this exceptionally affecting subplot while Gina–now in love with Maggie instead of Xo–confronts the prostitute who beat Maggie up a few issues ago.

It ends with Esther and Maggie finally having a talk about Speedy, making it the first time anyone’s actually had a talk about Speedy dying instead of just talking about possibly talking about Speedy dying. Jaime’s avoided dealing with it for dozens of issues at this point.

Jaime splits the story between Esther, Gina, Maggie, and Penny. Xo and the husband are just scenery or good for some exposition–i.e. some of what’s happened to Esther since her last appearance. Maggie’s still in a really bad place, which Jaime hints at more than explores. He’s delaying again, but it’s fine because the desolate Texas setting looks wonderful with all silhouettes and shadows and Jaime’s detailed buildings (and costumes).

And Esther’s a good supporting player. Far more than Gina, who isn’t any younger than most of the other Locas cast when the strip started but Jaime’s looking at her from Maggie’s older perspective than on Gina’s own age level. It seems like Esther’s coming into the book. We’ll see.

Then Beto introduces some mystical realism into his story, which starts in Palomar and ends in Los Angeles. His whole Farewell, Palomar story isn’t making much sense as a) he hasn’t stopped doing stories about Palomar and its denizens and b) Jesus is still in Palomar. That story was all about Jesus leaving Palomar. Wasn’t it?

Anyway. He splits the story between Luba’s daughters in the States, though it’s mostly through Pipo’s perspective–with Diana showing up for a bit too–and Luba’s daughters in Palomar. The mystical realism comes in when Casimira (I cannot remember who she’s got for a father) goes hunting this evil bird who pecks out the eye of one of her friends.

There’s a real soap element to the story and all the romantic troubles (or at least complications) in the lives of Luba’s daughters and it’s all very open-ended, which isn’t how Beto usually does a story. He usually at least implies a wrap-up. Not here. The biggest change from beginning to end is daughter Dolaris goes from Palomar to the States. And I guess Gato and Jesus are there now too, but they’re still background. They’re less background than some of the other cast members–Carmen and Heraclio for example–but Beto’s definitely made some changes in who he’s telling the stories about.

So I guess maybe he did say Farewell to Palomar a little, but Beto’s Palomar stories have always been a lot more fluid than, well, anything else in Love and Rockets. The soap aspect just makes it feel a little more Jaime than usual… but also not.

Beto’s art is also a little different. There’s a different sense of visual pacing and scope.

While Jaime’s story is good and affecting–the Penny stuff is phenomenal–Beto’s new normal is amazing.

Love and Rockets #43 (December 1993)

Love and Rockets #43

Fantagraphics; 1993; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

It’s a packed issue. Six stories, three from each brother. While Beto’s got one wordless one, he’s also got a sixteen panels a page one. Packed. And kind of entirely unexpected, as far as Beto’s stuff.

His first story catches up with Petra and Fritzi–the two half-sisters Luba doesn’t know she has in the states–as well as their mother, Maria. The story jumps all over, time-wise, and is mostly about Gorgo’s involvement with the family. It jumps around so much it’s hard to say whether it’s all reality or some of it might not be, but there are some definite events. It’s rather unsettling at times. Beto does eight panels a page, with some fantastic art.

While he maybe has said “Farewell” to Palomar, he’s building a lot off the Poison River story arc.

Jaime also expands with the next story, giving Maggie’s cousin Xochitl and her family their own story. Xo’s the wrestler who never wins. The story’s this gentle family thing with the three kids bickering about what TV to watch and Xo and her husband have a late dinner and a big fight. Lots of character stuff in a few pages, with some really nice art. It’s a cute and intense story. The realities of domestic bliss angle works.

Then Beto’s got this wordless three page boxing match. Just two fighters pummeling each other. Great art. It’s just the two fighters too. Around them is endless black. Real good. Beto’s getting a lot more experimental with the visual narrative lately.

Next is Jaime’s flashback to 1967 Hoppers and Ray and his fellow kids being excited about Christmas. It’s three pages and cute. Not much else to it. Lots of exagerated expression and the possible implication grade school Doyle is already a lush.

It’s certainly nowhere near as ambitious as Beto’s Pipo story, which is that sixteen panels a page one I mentioned earlier. Sixteen panels a page and maybe five hundred words a page. It’s intense. The story is in the text, which is Pipo’s first person recounting of her present situation and how she got there. Beto also brings up the whole “Pipo and Gato are back in Love and Rockets and Gato’s beating her” thing, which he’s always avoided until now. Not sure it was worth waiting thirty issues for the whole story, but it’s nice to see him finally address it. The art is Pipo leaving Palomar for Los Angeles and then her adventures in Hollywood. The story’s exceptionally dense and good.

Though, again, when Beto suggests he’s done with Palomar does he just mean the place?

Finally, there’s a Maggie story. Or a Perla story. Penny tries to get her to get a mechanic job. There’s some development–Maggie makes a date and discovers someone’s got a crush on her. Someone unexpected, not the guy she makes a date with. There’s a flashback, which informs some of Maggie’s situation when Jaime came back to her a few issues ago, and a lot of Rand Race mentions before he finally returns. Well, in a newspaper story. The story’s good, if a little less ambitious, narrative-wise, than even the kids at Christmas one.

The issue showcases a big constrast between Los Bros–Jaime’s still avoiding things (that Maggie flashback could’ve been its own story and, even though her first return story was excellent, maybe should’ve been revealed first) while Beto’s examining them. Even if the timeline occasionally gets fractured too much.

Also, while the last few issues certainly “felt” like they were wrapping up Rockets (which is now t-minus six issues to end), this one doesn’t. The Pipo story doesn’t feel like a conclusion but a beginning. And, hey, kid Ray is just as engaging as adult Ray.

War Was Made for Comics: Tardi’s I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War

I, Rene Tardi, Prisoner of War
By Jacques Tardi
Fantagaphics, hc
185 pgs, $29.99

When it comes down to it, War comics have a top tier place in all things comics, with their constant struggle, conflict, and resolution in story format. Never a big genre of our generation, but at a time when physical war between large powers was still possible, war comics held their own as a genre in this hobby. Obviously, the World War Two propaganda lent itself to the dramatic storytelling of comic books, using their aggressive dogma to accept a favorable influence, it was the human element however, that stretched and defined what war comics were and what they could be in this post war lack of innocence period.

During the actual struggle of World War Two, the romantic, psychological, and yes, even patriotic slant fueled the emotional flames of their essence. One rebel with a cause, Harvey Kurtzman’s war books for the EC line of comics of the fifties, let creep out an eerie underskin of war, its effects, and exactly how unromantic war can be to the helpless civilians caught in it. This decidedly contrary attitude marked many of the EC’s war tales, and along with their top level art, made an indelible mark in war comics history.

While during the sixties, hippie comic artists were hardly proponents of war, but their comics didn’t shield readers from what it was and its graphic finishes. While was not a huge driver in underground comix subject matter, Jack Jackson, Greg Irons, Rich Corben, and Spain Rodriguez among others created memorable war stories for the revolutionary in us, both realistic and fantasy inspired.

The introduction to more biographical war stories ascends here with the Japanese series Barefoot Gen (‘73-‘85), an actual first person narrative by Keiji Nakazawa, depicting his own survival of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, with the horrendous tale of the remaining members of his family and their day to day existence.

After the seventies softening up of the mainstream publishers, honest, graphic, and more realistic war stories started taking hold. Sure, you could pit the mindless adventures of Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos against the more pertinent tales of Sgt Rock and Easy Co., but for the most part, war comics in general not only became pretty realistic, but also great narratives for those of strong enough chops to weave a story within them.

From the gritty Vietnam era and an exact respect for military detail not seen since the 50’s EC’s, Dan Lomax’s Vietnam Journal featured a writer that scanned every angle he could to show what life was actually like there in the jungles, to the rough, nasty, post modern Punisher tales by Garth Ennis, who would latter take the modern throne with War Stories, incorporating actual historical wartime events into personal life changing moments of the folks that lived them.

A later example of the biographical strain, where the story is related by the one that lived it, being Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the story of his father’s survival from the German WW II prisoner of war camps. Related visually in a slightly distancing manner that utilizes anthropomorphic animals as upright replacements of humans in a dark cartoonish, expressionist style, its emotional underpinnings are written on its sleeves. Given a Pulitzer for its success, the book is masterful in getting across the wounds of war in a somewhat digestible manner.

Spiegelman, listening to his fathers stories, relays them to us, both as a bit of mental release, worked out from conversations with his father that he recorded, and adapts to comic book form.

In his approach to his own volume, Jacques Tardi also relates his fathers time at war as a POW, depicting some generationally related discussions over the years, but inspiration from the biggest details come from a series of three sketchbooks his father did as a way of keeping it alive.

While both fathers to the artists were prisoners of war, both reacted differently to their time (which makes sense, Tardi’s father being French, and part of Germany’s shared occupation of France with the French, and Spiegelmann’s father a Polish jew), but there we begin to part ways. While Spigelman’s history is related in an highly dramatic, immediate manner on explicit reality, Tardi’s is softer, and slower in tone, gathering many details as it goes along.

Tardi, a renowned French cartoonist in his own right, has practiced quite liberally relating tough war stories on WWI to get to this point. His drawing style, not changing much, here uses three horizontal panels per page, constantly reinforcing the panoramic nature of the camps, and the environments within them. Photo derived at times, they exude a simpler, inkyness to them that keeps the compositions easy to comprehend, yet provides many shapes for the eyes to wander in. Also involved is Tardi’s younger self, walking alongside the tank his father drove, and shared space with a modern version of his father during the camp scenes. They provide a father/son back and forth that keeps the modern perspective in, yet also a reverence for what happened and the respect its reflected in.

A successful mix, the book had me gliding effortlessly throughout its run, its dozens of haunting images hard to take in, but not be scared or scarred by. Tardi is living this period of his Dad’s life with him, and they relive it with different sensibilities, and mostly diplomatically.

Life in the camps gets the full treatment, with its own rules and regulations, laws of supply and demand, and the sheer myriad of personalities that thrive and fall here. Reni’s communicative skills help him survive, and thrive a bit compared to those less fortunate. Tardi also successfully impresses the overall weapon of hunger used against the prisoners, seen as the most potent and painful of all the sins committed against them by the Nazis.

This book performs its service nicely, keeping me curious and wanting for more after every page, perhaps slightly disappointed at the end with the finish promised in the NEXT volume. I guess a 350 page trade paperback may not of been wieldy, but hopefully its sequel will be along soon. Tardi is a modern master of depicting war, and the intertwining of his fathers life gives it half of its punch, an ingredient missing in many lesser war comics.

While the inevitable comparisons arise when two masters of comics tackle almost the same exact subject matter, each comes away with a hard sought, highly labored effort that easily convinces us of sheer amount of work it took from its authors to visually create these stories.

War is hell, and for those involved in its detail, Tardi doesn’t shy away from the facts, but keeps them manageable for even the most casual listener. There’s something about an artist that will take the time to do the research for accuracy, and Tardi helps set the standard for it.

In a round about way, each generation of great artists involved with stories of war were able to step up to the playing field, accomplish something their predecessors couldn’t, and generally elevate the details of war and its effects in ways that real war can’t. Not only entertaining, I, Reni Tardi, takes its place among successful war comic stories, and helps raise the bar for the next one.

Love and Rockets #42 (August 1993)

Love and Rockets #42

Fantagraphics; 1993; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

I’m wondering if Love and Rockets #42 reads different knowing there are only eight more issues. Though Beto’s Farewell, My Palomar certainly hints at something coming to a close. And maybe so does Jaime’s opener, which is a Maggie and Penny story only it’s all about how Maggie’s real nick name is Perla and it was the Hoppers punks who called her Maggie. It’s a weird story, mostly because it’s like Jaime’s… regretting the early stories? He’s definitely changing the narrative distance to Maggie, but with a sense of finality.

Or I’m reading the foreshadowing into everything because I know it’s ending soon.

The Maggie and Penny story is quite good. Jaime’s doing his good girl art so much on Penny it carries over to one of his other stories where Hopey’s brother Joey, with his long flowing locks, is quite lovely. So much so it plays against that story’s script, which resolves who put Hopey on the milk cartons a dozen issues ago. Jaime got a lot of pages out of that subplot.

But back to Maggie and Penny. It’s a kind of grown-up Locas story, including the now muted fantastical Penny lifestyle. It’s nice. And so much more successful than the Joey Glass story.

Let’s just get Jaime done before Beto and Palomar.

Jaime illustrates a script Beto wrote when he was ten. It’s absurdist, involving easter eggs and flying saucers. Jaime draws it with Hopey and Maggie, punk days, in the leads. So it plays off the thread Jaime started in the Maggie and Penny story–we need to start understanding how Maggie remembers her early stories and not how the early stories actually read–it’s really weird and sort of disquieting juxtaposition, which also makes the disposable Joey Glass story even more annoying.

Two out of three great, with extra points for Jaime doing Beto’s old script but making it relevant to the ongoing Locas plots.

Now. Farewell, My Palomar. Jesus gets out of prison and returns to Palomar. Stopping by for a quick orgy with Israel, and to watch Satch abuse his grown children, and to meet up with prison lover Marcos. In a few panels each, Beto does postscripts on all his open Palomar plot threads. He’s putting each character to bed. Everyone’s last panel is iconic.

It’s a Palomar party story once Jesus gets to town. It’s set parallel to some of the action in the previous Love and Rockets story. Steve the Surfer is still in Palomar as background. Beto briefly explored developments in Palomar in that story–what everyone is doing a few years after the previous long Palomar arc. Farewell, My Palomar could be an epilogue on the Rockets postscript, but it’s instead this thoughtful rumination on the town and its residents through Jesus’s perspective.

Mixed into the present action are occasional flashbacks to old Palomar, one set just after the first Palomar two-parter, thirty-eight issues ago. It’s an all-encompassing conclusion. Focusing mostly on Pipo and Guadalupe–Jesus has crashed their going away party–and their immediate relations. With a bunch of cameos. And a glorious conclusion.

It’s wondrous, particularly since some of the best material are followups to stuff he just introduced in that Love and Rockets Palomar postscript. He’s doing character development through the party, bouncing all around. It’s awesome work. And his visual pacing is similarly fantastic.

Farewell, My Palomar has four parts, read two and two, with Jaime’s stuff before, then after the first parts, then the second parts closing the issue. So the issue has all this weight as it goes out with Farewell. Beto hurried this Palomar conclusion and it’s still phenomenal. And it also means, with eight issues to go, Beto’s going to be doing something new, different, or both. Again, the knowledge of the series’s impending conclusion might play a factor in the read.

Love and Rockets #41 (May 1993)

Love and Rockets #41

Fantagraphics; 1993; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #41 is kind of strange. Both Beto and Jaime have somewhat peculiar story subjects. Beto opens the issue with an Errata Stigmata comic, but about her parents trying to ward death away from her. It’s four disquieting pages. Beto concentrates on the mood and lets the narrative bewilder. It’s an experiment in making the reader squirm for mixed, murky reasons.

It’s quite effective. But also an inglorious return for Errata.

Then Jaime does this sixteen page wrestling epic. It’s Maggie in the present at her aunt Vicki’s wrestling camp for girls and it’s flashbacks to Vicki’s wrestling career. Specifically how she let her homophobia ruin her life. In the present, while Maggie considers her experience at Chester Square–and last issue–she also discovers a girl in love with her best friend and quietly identifies. Loud, then subtle, loud, then subtle. Great stuff from Jaime. The scenes are all well-paced, the talking deads stuff is amazing. There’s a funny Peanuts reference at the beginning. It’s great.

And a little weird in being Tia Vicki’s return to Love and Rockets. She’s been gone maybe eight or ten issues.

Then Beto’s got two more stories, both Palomar adjacent. The first, the secret history of underworld enforcer Gorgo, ends up in Palomar. And reveals some Palomar secrets. Or hints at additional secrets. It’s a good three pages. Funny and weird and affecting. All in about equal portion.

Speaking of affecting, Beto goes for the jugular with the finale. Seven pages of terror with Luba’s half-sisters as kids in the United States. Turns out Luba probably didn’t miss much with Maria for a mom. Her half-sisters–Petra and Fritzi–showed up in Beto’s Love and Rockets story, very, very discreetly at the start–stay at home all day while mom Maria is out doing whatever. Seducing men it sounds like from the obscene phone calls from angry wives and lustful husbands. The grade schoolers answering the phone, disturbed without understanding why. Beto’s exploring intense trauma. There’s two and a half excruciating pages where you’re just wondering how much worse things are about to get for the kids. You’re trying to imagine it; Beto’s set up all the danger.

But of course you’re also supposed to remember they’re safe and well in the present. At least one of them, anyway. Beto might write big epics but he paces them to be read as published–even after he’s finished Poison River and Rockets, he’s still using their connections to explore new material. The last story is intricate. And terrifying. And great.

With an Errata cameo of sorts.

So nothing super weird, but everything a little weird. It’s one of those great, not particularly ambitious but achieving without apparently trying issues of Love and Rockets. It’s the Love and Rockets version of comfort reading.

Love and Rockets #40 (January 1993)

Love and Rockets #40

Fantagraphics; 1993; $3.50; 52 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #40 is a surprising issue. Beto’s Poison River finale is a surprise, lost Los Bros brother Mario contributes his first material in at least seven years, and Jaime gives Maggie her own story for the first time in a while. Not seven years but almost seven issues?

Jaime opens the issue. Maggie’s in a desolate micro-town–motel, restaurant slash bar, Laundromat–alongside the highway. She maybe got there on bus. She’s leaving on the bus. The story’s about her waiting for the bus to arrive and what happens. There’s a supporting cast–the shop owners, the sole local hooker (who thinks Maggie’s competition), the literally junior security guard, a bunch of migrant workers (one of whom knows Maggie). It’s their day in this place. It’s Maggie’s story about being in that place for the day–there’s no exposition about where she’s been or how long since she’s left Hopey, instead Jaime just relies on her behavior and expressions. It’s a rough day for Maggie. It’s a very different Maggie story–there aren’t any laughs–and she’s not on a Hopey quest. It’s the first time Jaime’s had Maggie alone in ages. And the first time ever after the two year time jump forward. It’s intense and excellent; Jaime does wonders with the emptiness of the “town,” both in bright day and dark night.

Then it’s Mario’s story, fourteen exceptionally dense pages about an election in a South American country. There are U.S. college students helping with the election for the U.N., there are rebels, there are local election officials, there’s the corrupt soft drink company officials, there are bandits, there’s a lot. And Mario fits it all in. The story, Somewhere in the Tropics, races and jumps all around. Characters intersect, separate, intersect again, separate again. It’s an extremely complex read. And a very successful one. Mario’s art is extremely detailed but with a wide brush. It’s very impressionistic.

There are a lot of narrative techniques to pass between stories, lots of composition techniques to emphasis characters, it’s great comics. And makes one wonder what Mario’s been doing away from Love and Rockets.

Beto’s Poison River finale finishes the issue. It’s like sixteen pages. It has enough content for three times as many. Beto does exactly what I didn’t think he could do–he brings Luba to Palomar and ends the story just before the first Palomar story, thirty-seven or so issues ago, starts. He relies entirely on summary–after resolving Luba and Ofelia both getting seduced by hippie dudes, which takes about ten pages. The last six pages are all summary to rush to Palomar. It’s expertly done, but also not the best thing for the story.

It’s particularly interesting because of how River now reads without the (not initially obviously) connected Love and Rockets entry in the same issue. Beto’s still got references to the Rockets stuff here, but the echoing is different. It doesn’t feel forced so much as… rushed. Beto’s rushing the finish of the story. Albeit by making it a successful Luba origin. River didn’t start as the Luba origin; well, it sort of did, but then it expanded. Now Beto’s contracting it just so he can finish it up.

It’s too bad. Some great stuff throughout, of course. It’s a perfectly solid finish. It’s just not exceptional and it’s rushed. It’s also a little weird because not only doesn’t Beto overshadow Jaime this issue, he doesn’t overshadow Mario either. His big Poison River finale is the least exciting part of the comic.

Realistic Flintstones: Anthro

DC Showcase #74

DC Showcase #74
Anthro issues #1-6
DC Comics
1968-69 12-15 cents ea.

Deep within the recesses of DC’s late sixties explosion of titles, a unique direction for mainstream comics occurs. I’m referring to Anthro, Howie Post’s take on prehistoric living.

Post, a gag cartoonist, who first started drawing comic books in the golden age, was an animation director, did a stint working on scary stuff for pre-Marvel Atlas comics in the fifties, and is best known for his long running syndicated strip, The Dropouts (1968-81). Just before that he ended up proposing to DC his version of what caveman life was like. Within this framework, he eschews a natural interpretation of history, bringing along dinosaurs, some modern slang, and our protagonist, Anthro, who with his immediate family, venture forth and survive the tests of daily living.

This family unit includes his parents, his grandmother, and younger brother Lark, to complete the set. Post creates an exciting, semi realistic set of challenges for them, along with modern takes on their relationships, including Anthro’s father losing arguments regularly with his mother in law, the dangerous and regular hunt for sustenance, and his continuing distraction with those curved cavemen, known as women, whom his father claims are the most dangerous of beasts to be wary of in this challenging world.

Anthro #1

Each issue tells a chapter of his tale, from his early encounter with thwarted love, helping his father protect his miniature clan from starvation as well as attacks from wild beasts, surviving contact with superior races, culminating in a trek across many lands to avoid the “ice age”, and ultimately, his reunion with Embra, his first contact with someone of the female species of his own age. Anthro is strong enough for the challenges, yet always uncertain of their outcome, and rarely confident in his ability to win the day.

Post provides a galloping ride to the proceedings, never sitting still long before the next menace comes, keeping the plot fresh and fun to follow. His cartooning, a scratchy, yet easy on the eye type of line work, creates caricatures that while type cast, have a certain grubby charm of their own. Post keeps a light feel to the proceedings, despite the ever lurking dangers, as well as a wonderful contrast between the somewhat handsomeness of Anthro, and the primitive, Cro-Magnon look of his father and others. The girls here, are depicted with a similar grace, cute when needed, and realistically homely when the humor demands it. None of the men or women however, are sparred the indignity of at least mild unattractiveness.

Anthro #2

What sets this series apart from your “typical” adventure series is the overall warmth generated by Anthro and his family. Whether they argue about the indignities of “nuclear family” life, or teaming up to protect one another from harm, there is a genuine camaraderie about them that is fully convincing.

Here within is Post’s strong suite, taking the average and mundane, and giving it life to make us care about it. Sure, death is around every corner, but they will face it with the limited skills available, along with the earnestness of a group that really cares for one another. Post manages to tell a legitimate tale of an early family, along with an atmosphere of lightheartedness that keeps you vested in their survival.

Not too airy and not too deep, Anthro is an honest read in its aims to entertain, yet not hit us over the head with it’s wild premises and bends of reality. There is a bit of Post’s personal involvement with all the characters here, and it pays off in a mild mannered, breezy read, that brings you completely into it’s world and keeps you warm and fuzzy. The series only flaw here being it’s premature ending, with solid yet contrasting inks this issue by Wally Wood, most likely brought about from the intrusion of Post’s new gig as a syndicated cartoonist, a step up for artists, with a much better paycheck.

Anthro #6

And that’s plenty for me.

If you’re lucky enough to sample Anthro (not sure its EVER been reprinted), and enjoy it as I have, click on the link here for an interview with Post to find out how exactly alike he and his creations are.

http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/05post.html

Anthro. A real charmer of a sixties comic, for those of us that revel in such things, as well as a taste of a comics era that will most likely never be seen again. Sadly, it’s all the poorer for it, I think.

Love and Rockets #39 (August 1992)

Love and Rockets #39

Fantagraphics; 1992; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Two stories end in this issue, with Poison River having one more to go. But the issue opens with the finale Wigwam Bam, which Jaime didn’t announce last issue, and the last Love and Rockets, which Beto did. Wigwam Bam opens the issue, Love and Rockets finishes it.

Jaime gets a lot done in Wigwam Bam. It helps he’s finished the Hoppers stories. He’s got time to spend a lot of panels on Hopey. Her East coast adventure comes to a very grim conclusion, albeit a grim conclusion arrived at via lots of humor. Meanwhile Izzy is off visiting Maggie’s dad and he gives her an old journal. So the story is Izzy reading Maggie’s journal and Hopey’s awful day.

While Jaime doesn’t get into Hopey’s interiority much–he more lets her expression or even eyebrow her way through it–it’s an excellent Hopey story. Maybe the best Hopey story in Wigwam Bam. Because it’s all about her. Jaime sticks with her, doesn’t jump away. Instead it feels like he’s jumping to her, instead of avoiding her. Very nice.

And the Maggie journal stuff is fantastic. Because it answers open questions, like what happened a dozen plus issues ago when Speedy died, before Jaime did a jump ahead. The journal is mostly about Maggie’s first best friend, who appeared a long time ago (also in flashback) before dying suddenly and tragically.

There’s also plot, not just everyone in Hoppers having stuff going on so here’s ten to sixteen pages. Hopey’s awful adventure this issue is fantastic. The best plotting–with the most layers–Jaime’s done in a while. He doesn’t “save” the story, because Wigwam Bam isn’t so much a story as a period in Jaime’s Love and Rockets stories.

Otherwise, he probably would’ve saved the story.

Beto’s second-to-last Poison River is outstanding. There’s some postscript on the gangsters, then Luba returning home. The grown Luba. Lots of character development for Luba and Ofelia, not much clue as to how Beto’s going to finish it. He brings back elements from earlier chapters but everyone’s outgrown them in one way or another. Beto’s getting the story settled before it ends while reintroducing Luba and Ofelia, with a relationship dynamic much more familiar than Poison had been covering before.

Of course, given how Beto’s plotted the story, it could go on another ten chapters without coming to a conclusion. It all depends on where he’s going to finish Luba’s origin story. Based on the timeline, I don’t think it can end with them showing up in Palomar. They’re still too early.

Anyway.

Then comes Love and Rockets, which is Beto’s simple but not, obvious but not, stone-cold masterpiece. It’s way more impressive than it originally appeared–it also echoes things from Poison. The two stories don’t exactly complement one another, but Rockets has always felt like Beto doing things he couldn’t do in Poison. And then when he started doing more in Poison, he started doing more in Rockets too.

Beto perfects the panel jumping from subplot-to-subplot in Rockets’s finale. Along with the characters addressing the reader directly. He goes all over the place, does so much, including a lot with fourth tier supporting cast members. Turns out it was all important.

And it ends on one of Beto’s montages, which he hasn’t done in a while because he hasn’t been ending a story. And the montage perfectly grounds the finish. So much amazing storytelling done so concisely. It’s awesome.

Love and Rockets might actually be Beto’s most complex narrative. There are just so many characters–so many entirely new characters–so much random interaction… it’s really impressive stuff. Particularly because Beto’s ambitions on Rockets have been rather muted.

So good. It’s the best overall issue in a while.

Love and Rockets #38 (June 1992)

Love and Rockets #38

Fantagraphics; 1992; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Beto gets two stories, Jaime gets two stories. Beto’s are installments of Love and Rockets (the surprisingly penultimate one) and Poison River (part ten, but apparently not penultimate). Jaime’s got two Wigwam Bam entries–parts six and seven.

There’s some funny stuff in Jaime’s entries. Not to mention Izzy and Hopey reuniting. But Beto’s got two phenomenal stories. And they’re really short. Love and Rockets is nine panels a page, six pages. Eighth part of Love and Rockets and it’s still unclear who’s going to get a focus. Maricela makes sense; the story has become about her and Riri over the installments. And other characters have fallen off. Or been shipped off to Palomar for safe keeping. But Beto’s got a story with the skinheads. They haven’t gotten a lot of attention–kind of ever–but their story is the framework everything else in Rockets plays off. Even though those characters don’t participate in as many story threads as the other ones.

Beto’s done an unpretentious character intersection thing set in Los Angeles and Hollywood. And he’s never drawn attention to it. Even when Love and Rockets has seemed a little too slight or a little too much (the band), Beto’s never let it get out of control–he’s always been able to keep it on the path to get it to this conclusion.

It’s not a particularly flashy story–even with the surprising title–but Love and Rockets really does show off Beto’s writing skill.

So does Poison River this issue, but it’s always been the flashier of the two stories. It’s a ten page crime story. Luba’s sort of just been a red herring. It’s all about her husband, Peter, and his father and the various criminals they’ve interacted with over the years. The end of the entry returns focus to Luba, but Beto took it away from her for a lot of this story. And apparently it’s not over next issue, so maybe he’ll have a chance to tie it all together?

It seems possible. Though more from what he’s done in Rockets than River. River has excellent sections, but the connective tissue is sometimes tenuous. Rockets isn’t sections–with one exception–just connective tissue laid out linearly.

Jaime’s Wigwam Bam chapters aren’t anywhere near as ambitious as Beto’s entries. Even when Jaime goes for something a little more–a regular cast member’s grand exit–it doesn’t really come off. It kind of comes off, but it’s not a main cast member. No matter how hard Jaime has tried to make them one for more than a dozen issues.

Meanwhile, Hopey has a weird encounter with a famous female comedian. It’s really funny stuff and Jaime’s comic timing is great, but it’s kind of just Hopey mugging for the… page. Juxtaposed with Hoppers and Hopey is Izzy heading east and visiting various people. What’s must upsetting about Wigwam Bam this issue is how well the second installment opens only for Jaime to run away from all of it. He’s avoiding scenes again.

Though Rocky and Fumble have parts, with Rocky now a friend of Danita and Fumble on her bed. It’s cute, but also during Jaime’s apparent abandoning of Danita as a character. She’s not the one who leaves, she’s just utterly reduced. It’s weird.

So while the Wigwam Bam stories are effective, sometimes it’s Jaime trying to be effective. The Hopey and Izzy stuff is excellent, but it’s measured and precise and deliberate. Jaime’s avoiding again, like I said. He hasn’t lost his mojo. He’s just figured out how to do his mojo.

Meanwhile Beto’s seemingly effortlessly turned his “play” story Rockets into something amazing and rescued Poison River (once again) from its troubles.

Batman’s Junk

Batman: Damned #1
DC comics, $6.99, 48 pages
2018

Ok then. The arrival in DC’s new line of “mature” titles featuring their biggest characters starts with an expressionistic take on the dark, forbidden knowledge portion of the Batman mythos. Not that it’s a new idea, Bats has been something various writers have stretched as far as editorial will let them after what, 75(?) years of Batman stories. Where do you go from there? In it’s quest to reinvent itself for a new generation and relevance in today’s pop culture, DC has decided a more original, adult approach is supposedly an idea whose time has come.

After reading the story, which features a trio of DC mystical characters that cameo in Bats attempt to help with the books plot, facing an unknown part of his life, that provide the impetus here. Sadly, not much is really new or different. Lots of overly used metaphors abound, along with John Constantine’s new and annoying, mysterious
narrative dialogue that pretty much abandons his former accent and smart ass attitude.

Lee Bermejo’s art, while technically accomplished, seems odd in places, perhaps with a tad too much realism to get the viewer fully engaged, being more distracting than complimentary. The Elseworlds approach used to always display to the reader this was a different type of story, not necessarily bound to the established canon with the characters. This quite often was a successful approach, with an inner sense of logic that would satisfy, and got you from point a to b in a satisfying manner.

Not that there isn’t craft of some sort operating here. It’s just that it’s not particularly original or well serviced, with a slightly askew dc universe different from the others just because it can be. All the characters seem off, not really themselves, and by not knowing a purpose for this interpretation, keeps me at a distance to care. I’m not sure where the story aims after 48 pages, and other than an interesting take on Zatanna, I’ve still got nothing invested after reading it. Murky stories and hyper realistic art aren’t a substitute here for a story I can get enthusiastic about, or even keeping me curious enough to want to read the second issue.

Then there’s the “mature” part of the story, really the only “mature” part of it, and it doesn’t add to the proceedings at all. To give this new “Black Label” an edgy, adult look and feel, we’re forced to see Batman’s full frontal junk in three shots (that I can tell, anyway), that seem ridiculously gratuitous in their inclusion. I didn’t know Bruce walked around the Batcave naked, and not sure I needed to.

Why this even exists in a Batman story is totally beyond me. I’m not a puritan, and if you gave me a valid reason to see Batman’s John Thomas I’m sure I’d go along with it. Sadly, this isn’t it. The only reason I can guess is that it gives you a reason this week to buy the new Batman comic.

Adding fuel to the fire, the week the book came out, that’s really all folks could talk about, simply because it was the only thing that made this Batman comic different from the rest. Not better or even equal, just different. The cheesy mechanization that led to this editorial decision for attention and sales elude me, and it seems this just creates more questions and problems going forward.

This brings up imaginary scenarios of my former life as a comic book retailer, where more than once I’d be confronted by a parent whose child reads Batman and wonders why this comic wasn’t out on the racks for little Joey to peruse. Following would be me demonstrating the graphic content, with the inevitable hopeless defense of why they’d make Batman inaccessible to anyone under 21 in the first place.

After all, once you get to see Batman’s junk, what’s next? Selina’s stuff?

Pass, unless you’re investing in it for speculative purposes. Even then, sell quick, cause you know this won’t be the last time we’re going to see this new, mysterious, provocative portion of Batman’s life at 7 bucks a pop.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 49

We’re a few weeks late but we actually read some good comics, which is always nice.

  • Quick Rant: Comics sales.
  • Floppies: Batman The Damned, Kaijumax vol 4, The Magic Order, Ether The Copper Golems, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Infinity 8 vol 2, Hey Kids! Comics, Babarella, The Weatherman, Redneck.
  • Trades: The Complete Killer, All My Heroes Have Been Junkies, Criminy.
  • Media: Marvel Netflix, Daredevil, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow.

you can also subscribe on iTunes

How The West Was Really Won. At Least In Comics

DC Showcase #76

DC Showcase #76, Bat Lash #1–7
DC Comics, 12–15 cents ea. 1968

Ah, Westerns.

For me, Westerns have always been that convenient, handy, all purpose source of fiction that utilizes Americans utopian, noble, and utterly romantic interpretations of ourselves and our history. A uniquely North American period of time, Westerns give forth the vision of how we wish to depict ourselves, generally in the best fashion, to the rest of the world. Filled will grandiose stories featuring our self imposed spirit, they can be not only ironic, but a glimpse into to the American psyche itself.

The timing of their popularity comes in the 50’s after the Second World War, and was solidified in pop culture by films, the expanding cultural icons of television, and the handy and cheap format of the comic book.

While it could be said the best representations of the American Western themes succeeded the most where the big money was, with films by John Ford far out-lapping the rather pedestrian fare found on episodic television shows.

Comics tread a similar path, with the best of the form saved for the better paying, self copyrighted newspaper comic strips, with outstanding examples being Rick O’Shay by Stan Lynde, or The Cisco Kid, by Jose Luis Salinas. This level of craft was later supplanted by the Belgian/French series Blueberry, by Jean Michel Charlier and Jean Giraud, their mastery of the American Western period perhaps the apex of the form for me.

In 1968, while the popularity of superhero comics was hitting its peak, DC and Marvel were expanding their empires of comics publishing, adding ever more titles to compete with each other and starve off rack space from the second tier publishers. They tried a lot of odd, sometimes goofy approaches to comics, throwing lots of stuff at the walls to see what would stick.

While many of the “bronze age” of American comics were still mired in commercial and semi conservative boundaries, this was a good time to grow, trying many avenues of approaches to see if there were readers of comics outside the tried and true superhero genre.

And among these oddities was Bat Lash.

Brainchild of gag writer Sergio Aragones (of the Mad magazine border cartoon fame), scripter Denny O’Neil (whose English and command of dialects was better than Aragones), and house artist Nick Cardy (whose art style didn’t need to change no matter what he was drawing), came yet another attempt to revisit the Western comic book.

Bat Lash, neither fish nor fowl of the typical Western epic and characters, brought a new game to it. While most American Western comics were visually flat and dull as dirt with leads and stories to match, Bat Lash always gave his cowboy a chance to shine, utilizing the typical attributes of the old west, yet adding some spice to it. Bat Lash was a handsome devil, he had an unerring direction towards the ladies, providing a continuous weak point for his goals, as well as being a bit of a selfish cad. As much as he liked the females, Bat Lash never prioritized them over the creature comforts of money and the opportunity to move on to the next one. In fairness to the apparent misogyny here, it can be said that most of the females depicted had the same attitude towards Bat, moving on once his usefulness to them was over with.

The world of Bat Lash is populated with a stereotypical cast, but one used effectively in relation to the lead, who was selfish in the extreme, yet highly appreciative of beautiful women and a gourmet meal. While demonstrating a typical Western drawl, he also possessed a vocabulary far beyond the yoklesque townies.

First published in an issue of DC’s anthology title Showcase, he then went on to a short lived seven issue series, each one a complete tale, but giving clues about Bat and his history along the way. Aragones provides great plots as only a lover of the Western genre can, O’Neil flourishes it with dialogue thats genuine and unique to each character, and Nick Cardy’s art perfectly compliments the proceedings, utilizing a messy brush that depicts the dirtiness of the old west, but also using fine pen lines to soften Bats features and give the women a delicate sweetness that put Bat Lash’s weakness on constant display.

Another feature in this series that gave it spice was its constant dedication to humor, an almost non existent entity in Westerns, at least on this level. Never quite taking itself too seriously, yet also providing grit in the realistic manner of how life could be cheap and over soon. It balanced the inevitable violence of the drama with a warm sense of humor that smoothed out the edges and make it an entertaining, positive read.

While not quite on the aesthetic level of Blueberry, this is one commercial comic book with a sense of identity in its hands that was consistent throughout. It’s never overly serious, yet always fully involved in its need to tell a story compellingly. You can’t accuse it of being a work of high art, but Bat Lash is certainly a work of high craft. Lovers of Westerns will recognize all the familiar elements here, mixed with added ingredients that provide fresh zest for the meal, as Bat Lash would surely appreciate.

Of the eight issues produced, my faves were issue two with Bat as a reluctant father figure, along with some of the best art found in a commercial comic; issue five, with a mirror themed antagonist comically named and depicted as Sergio Aragones with double crosses supreme, and the sixth issue, featuring none of the usual humor in a story that relates how Bat Lash come into being, with an ever present sadness that’s absent in the rest.

Perhaps the best thing about Bat Lash is that you really don’t have to have a soft spot for Westerns to enjoy it. But while its execution in style and craft overwhelm any need to adhere to a genre formula, it instead relishes in its submersion and loves it.

Good Oaters…

Lewis Trondheim: The Cerebral Cartoonist

Infinity 8 #1

Infinity 8 #1-6, or volumes 1 & 2, 3 issues ea.
Lion Forge comics, 32 pages ea, $3.99, or collected as trades

When thinking about various applications of comics, I often use the term “formal approach” towards particular ones. To me, this term describes a comic where the author has a structured, or formal direction they choose to use as inspiration, or as a springboard.

Some of the earliest practitioners of this method in American comics are Rube Goldberg, who drew outrageously complicated machines to demonstrate how to do the simplest of acts, leading to an absurdist conclusion along with a laugh; Windsor McCay, author of Little Nemo in Slumberland, exploring dreams from the mind in exquisitely designed landscapes featuring characters helplessly led through a series of visual challenges, up to the more recent fare of Chris Ware, whose Acme Novelty Library pushes despair and melancholy of contemporary life in the shape of the meticulously drawn classic old newspaper strips themselves.

Infinity 8 #2

Each of these artists chose a particular method to help direct the narrative, working within a disciplined language unique in comics that both entertains as well as gives marvel in the way they accomplish it.

Lewis Trondheim, a French practitioner of this method, works in this manner in the most successful way. Neither artsy nor intellectual, at least not on the surface, his work gives forth the atmosphere of just another daily cartoon, using simplicity of concept, as well as simple technical means, to achieve this goal. When experiencing Trondheim’s work, you are not reminded of the grand structural goals of the aforementioned cartoonists, you are merely on the ride along with him, whimsically drawn along whatever he’s feeding you with.

Infinity 8 #3

Trondheim, a young master born in 1964, has had an incredible volume of published work in his life so far, and the only drawback for us yankees is that most of it isn’t translated into English. However, thanks to such forward thinking publishers as NBM and Fantagraphics, some of the masterpieces are readily available to those good hunters within our hobby.

Such formal directives as Mister I, a 60 page book consisting completely of 60 panel, one page strips of the protagonist in a universe of situations, where he is doomed at the end of every single one of them. Even more disciplined is the follow up, Mister O, a twin-ish volume of the same structural 60 single page, 60 panels per page use of the title character trying to cross a chasm in each, but spectacularly failing in every attempt.

Infinity 8 v2 #1

Other exercises include A.L.I.E.E.E.N., and the absurdist Mickey Mouse’s Greatest Adventures. These use the “lost” discovery method of unearthed antique masterpieces, offering the left behind comic book of an alien child visitor from outer space; or rediscovered Sunday newspaper comic strips never published with popular Disney icons in an adventure that makes little sense the further you go into it, but doesn’t matter as the journey itself is what keeps you captivated, helplessly turning the pages for more.

His most well known work, Dungeon, a collaboration of many volumes with several European cartoonists, takes shape in the ever present “geographically placed” dungeon, spanning eons and endless dimensions, an ever changing cast of characters, with a couple of hanger ons, in a narrative that while each is individual, they have a familiarity between them all that will captivate lovers of fantasy books as well as gamers. Trondheim, to this point, produces high quality work, regardless of whether he is working solo or as part of a team.

Infinity 8 v2 #2

Infinity 8 seems to be another formal challenge along these lines. While fully ensconced in a modern comic book narrative style, both in terms of visuals as well as storylines, is yet another puzzle he has created for both himself and the reader, entertaining and also seeming cerebral in origin.

The spaceship Infinity 8, on its “mission”, contains an endless variety of cast and crew, all from different areas of space, all with different motivations, directions, and visual cues, with the book itself set up as a series of tales, each one lasting exactly three issues, with its total run set for exactly 8 adventures.

Here, Trondheim sets up a rigid structure that both produces “typical” comic book fare, but told in a pattern that stays true to the challenge he sets himself up with. The first, a post modern horror story, establishes our central character, a female law enforcement officer that seems sucked into the horrid plot of the tale, the second, a prickly review of the Hitler ultimate solution, finds our protagonist is now a different female law officer, remarkably similar to the one in the first tale, yet different in name and visual depiction. This is supplanted and reinforced by the captain of the ship, a powerful alien that can reboot reality back in time after a certain amount of hours, a limited amount of times. This captain, a beautifully depicted alien presence, and his(?) contrasting first operating officer, an overweight, unshaven sad look of a man, who constantly and fruitlessly attempts to court our femme fatale protagonist. Reading only the first two entries to this date, there is a perfect balance between what is consistent and what is changed in each “rebooting” of the stories of the two mini series.

Infinity 8 v2 #3

While I’ve read each story three times each, I’ve got to say even note taking doesn’t give you the entire picture of what’s going on, the sheer basic simplicity of the tale(s) is the highly successful kingpin of the narrative, giving both endless complexity along with a simple driving story that keeps you engaged and wanting more. Infinity 8 for me is the rarest of beasts, then. Something both for everyone, and also for the discerning comic book fan.

Each arc has a selected artist perfectly chosen for their visual talents to each tale, with cartooning skills not too detailed, yet just detailed enough. That perfect balance of story and art, an extreme rarity for those of us that are stuck merely reading American adventure comics, take the tools used in those comics, but shows what masters of the form can accomplish in the same genre. You don’t notice the art or the vivid coloring right away, and that’s the point.

Beware, though. If you’re a fan of modern adventure comics, there is a danger here. To read and enjoy them is a pleasure not easily matched by lesser practitioners, so remember that once you reach that plateau, ordinary comics will forever seem, well, ordinary.

Love and Rockets #37 (February 1992)

Love and Rockets #37

Fantagraphics; 1992; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Nobody gets a happy ending in Jaime’s opener, part five of Wigwam Bam. It really seems like it’s been longer. How long has it been since Maggie was around or Hopey wasn’t a red herring? Two issues? Three? Jaime’s cast–Danita, Ray, Doyle, Doyle’s girlfriend, whoever else–the kids–it feels very much like a comic strip. The way the characters constantly interact with one another without any actual on-page development. Or if there is on-page development in a relationship, it’s the point of the scene, it’s the big event.

This story has two big events. One for Ray, one for Doyle. Well, one involving Ray, one involving Doyle. Doyle’s event has more to do with Nami, who’s stalking Doyle since he rejected her. Will he reject her a third time? As for Ray, he’s still having relationship problems with Danita, even if he doesn’t know it. Even if she doesn’t know it. So he’s got a big event, only he doesn’t really get to experience it. But neither does Danita.

Nami’s the closest thing to a protagonist the story’s got.

Then there’s some Hopey at the end and a lot with the little kids roaming Hoppers, bewildered by the adults.

There’s some really nice art throughout and the narrative moves just fine. It’s just Jaime’s putting things off more. He always puts things off.

Whereas Beto, with Poison River, Part Nine–it’s hard to believe it’s been nine but anyway–Beto isn’t putting anything off here. He’s revealing all involving Maria–Luba’s mom who walked out in the first installment–and the truth about Peter, his dad, all the gangsters, Peter’s band, Isobel, and maybe a couple other things. Peter’s stomach fetish. But the story plays out naturally, detailing Peter’s obsession with Maria.

Yes, it means he stalked and manipulated Luba even more than he already seems to have stalked and manipulated Luba. So creepy. But humanized in a way the rest of Poison River hasn’t done for Peter. It really has some surprises regarding his dad, past and present, as well. And the Isobel stuff isn’t exploitative like Beto flirted with earlier.

I imagine reading the Peter flashback in chronological order with the rest of the story would change it quite a bit.

And then at the end it’s the first time teenage Luba has felt like real Luba. In a moment of tragedy, of course, but Beto does a whole lot with this installment. He’s totally changing the… ahem… course of Poison River, but also the course the reader’s assumed it was on.

Bold, successful stuff.

Then comes a six-page Love and Rockets installment, checking in on the various characters in nine panels on the first page, only for the reveal to be Steve–following his car accident–went back to Palomar to discover himself.

So now we’re back in Palomar, for the first time in at least nine issues, and Beto’s doing a lot of catch-up. Khamo’s alive and with Luba, though he’s disfigured from the self-immolation. They’ve got new kids, who are adorable trouble-makers. Toddlers these new ones. But then Steve runs into Pipo and her teenage son Sergio, who wasn’t a teenager last time he was in the comic. And then there’s Chelo and Mayor Luba and what’s going on with Heraclio and Carmen and Guadalupe and there’s a a baby for Carmen and on and on. Lots of catchup. Steve’s background to a lot of it, often literally silent.

Guadalupe is headed to the States to visit Maricela and Riri, which they mentioned before, but she actually befriends Steve in Palomar to practice English for the trip. It’s fast, it’s intricate, it’s great. It’s weird for Palomar to get such a hurried treatment, but Beto does a great job with it.

The Bronze Age Cometh! The Amazing Adventures of Killraven

Amazing Adventures #18-39

Marvel Comics, 20-30 cents, 1973-76

#18-20

Hot on the heels of a fury of fantasy heroes such as Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian, Roy Thomas looked for further ways to expand this non-powered concept of heroes. Taking H.G. Wells’s noted novel War of the Worlds and morphing it into a post apocalyptic action series based on the Martians second visit to earth, they’ve totally subjugated mankind, made them slaves, as well as use humans in genetic experimentation to further their goals of dominance.

In the introduction, he creates Killraven, a spectacularly successful arena fighter who’s a rebel with a secret even he doesn’t know. He gives the adventure proceedings a new coat of paint as it were, unique from its fellow fantasy comics brethren.

The first issue, written by Thomas, has some good establishing art by Neal Adams. Good with depicting action and distinct likenesses, Adams immediately gives the series an oomph that would have been difficult for a lesser artist. He makes the first story very successful, establishing the cast and world in a visually exciting manner. Sadly, Adams isn’t available afterwards, but Howie Chaykin steps in admirably. While he isn’t the draftsman Adams is, his forte with fantasy based themes, as well as exotic costuming make this a still interesting read. Continuing in this schizophrenic creative vein, Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman step in for scripting chores on the next two issues, keeping the action going from what I assume is Thomas skeleton for the series. Regardless, the proceedings are still on track, probably saying more about the method of Marvel comics production and its in-house talent pool at the time than anything else. Don McGregor takes over as the series regular writer next issue.

#21-24

The next four issues feature new regular artist Herb Trimpe. While McGregor’s prose displays an inspired attack, the strip goes more into irony and commentary on the human condition. Whether it’s deadlines, or budget(?), Trimpe’s art gets more and more rushed from the first issue, and by the last two, story content is reduced to 15 pages per issue, with golden age monster reprints filling the book(ugh!). While he’s not able to get past flat, stereotypical characters, the divorce from Marvel reality helps enormously, and the series becomes more a treatise on mankind according to McGregor’s philosophy. The mere 20 cent cover price makes it a bargain compared to the majority of Marvel’s output of super schmucks. Hope the new to comics Rich Buckler’s art next issue can elevate it…ooh, Klaus Jansen inks, too!

#25-28

Well, after the totally underwhelming run of Herb Trimpe on art, newcomer Rich Buckler does a fill in on issue 25, and the possibilities of the book begin to show a bit as it starts to evolve. While Buckler’s figure work is a bit wonky, his emulation of both Kirby and Neal Adams add an excitement to the proceedings that wasn’t there before. The next issue is another fill in by Gene Colan, of all people; he gives this episode a dark melancholy that helps demonstrate McGregor’s story emphasis. This schizophrenic approach to visuals,-(hey, who’s got time to do a Killraven issue?), and the continued use of a mere 15 pages to tell a one off, really hurt McGregor’s strengths in trying to make his point. On one hand, he’s got bigger fish to fry, but can’t do it in 15 pages AND perform the dynamics that Marvel comics demand (editorially, I assume).

Then in issue 27, Craig Russell arrives. Two things happen that make this story work so much better than than the entire previous run. One, Russell’s art is fully ensconced in the romantic and social depths that McGregor’s writing has desperately needed a visual partner for, and Russell’s chops are up to the task. Second, he is able to turn this into a two parter, utilizing 30 pages to tell the entire story, and give it the space and length it needs to be convincing. Killraven’s band here is also given the room necessary to develop their one dimensional depiction so far, and begins turning them into genuine people. The best story of the bunch thus far, both in writing and in physical depiction.

#29-34

McGregor and Russell totally fooled me here. While last issue provided a satisfactory end to the Death Birth Citadel story, this next issue picks up mere minutes from the end of the last, making this project not one of several short stories, but evolving into a continuing narrative, really without a concrete end from issue to issue. I notice as well that Russell not only does pencils and inks, but has been doing the coloring for the last two issues as well. If creators were trying to transform this into quite possibly the most ambitious workload as possible, this comic is able demonstration of it.

Russell’s art complements McGregor’s prose perfectly. While it can be argued McGregor bites off more than he can chew in his socially conscientious narrative, Russell’s art is equal to the task, providing the needed checks and balances, elevating a mere post apocalyptic tale into what can be said is as close to a work of art as Marvel could ever publish.

But commercial publication schedules will have their way, and this one provides more casualties than just McGregor and Russell, as issue 30 provides a frickin reprint of the Herb Trimpe story we just read a few issues ago, Killraven not an old enough property to have enough history of reprints to choose from, so this one is bookended by some character pages by Russell along with a couple of pages of the main villain reiterating what we pretty much knew. Whoop, wait, the character pages provide a couple of tidbits fleshing out some facts hereto unknown about the characters. But otherwise, ugh, pass.

Issues 31 and 32 get things going again, solidifying the continuous narrative McGregor is pursuing, with little advancement in plot, but it doesn’t seem to matter. At this point, Killraven’s story with his crew isn’t about the quest, but more about McGregor’s disillusionment with humanity and its self destructive path. One that the Martians have not only finished, but provide a inevitable exclamation point for. #32 emphasizes this, putting Killraven and his buds into a prewar amusement park that caters to the dreams of the freemen, showing in its conclusion the futility of man’s selfish goals in the first place. These nihilistic threads are balanced by Russell’s exquisite art, giving hope in the form of beautiful fantasies for the freemen. By this issue, he has mercifully given up coloring and handed over inks to the excellent Dan Adkins.

Of course, after two mere issues of overwhelming craft, we fall victim to another fill in. This one written not by McGregor, but Bill Mantlo and drawn by the ever present Herb Trimpe. This issue stands out as a sore thumb scheduled as a fill in, the editor knowing by now this will be the norm. However, astute readers will notice this one should have appeared after next issue. The story itself? Well, let’s just say this. While it was originally published in ‘75, it lands with a thud as perhaps the most graceless way to offer a sliver of continuity with a writer that had little idea of the narrative McGregor is working toward here. Also, even in 1975, this had to come off as fairly racist in its idea and execution. Now it seems little more than a horrible embarrassment in the annals of comic publishing history.

While #33 is pretty jarring in its near complete train wrecking of the series flow, with #34, our intrepid duo manage to right the ship again with perhaps the end(?) of the current storyline, and their ultimate battle with the toughest villain of the series. McGregor provides dramatic sacrifice for his characters, and Russell gives the proceedings a convincing display of an epic finish. War of the Worlds comes full circle here, transforming its narrative of basic action comic into something mainstream comics hadn’t seen before.

#35-39

And here you have it. The final five issues of Amazing Adventures featuring Killraven complete his saga, in a more or less satisfactory manner. The deadlines for the book have at this point convinced McGregor and Russell to limit themselves to more modest, single issue stories, or perhaps McGregor has decided that format suits his needs better. The aim of each issue seems better off for it, primarily since this was a bimonthly comic.

#35 features Jack Abel inks, perhaps the best work I’ve seen by him, no doubt guided by the tight pencil work of Russell. Sonny Trinidad embellishes #36, and #37 has Abel back again, all to satisfactory ends. Each issue’s themes work very well in the 18 page chunks, suggesting McGregor has a bit more of a handle on how to approach his stories. There’s also a nice balance between attempting to tell a story, with the metaphorical flourishes still there, just reigned in somewhat by conventional story standards, and perhaps the better for it. At last, the series, while not as ambitious now, has started to gel somewhat.

#38, being one of those shoehorned in fill ins, features for some strange reason another script by Bill Mantlo, I guess because he did the first fill in. While not as offensive as the first, retreads a theme McGregor has already covered, and is clunkily drawn by Keith Giffen (in his first published work?), whose Kirby influences only hurt his cause, both in terms of the utterly graceless figure drawing, and some pretty insufferable page layouts. Once again, you can pass on this one.

#39, the final issue, has McGregor and Russell depicting what they seem to know would be their last; they made sure they got it done in time for publication, with Russell inking his own work, but in a more simple, flowing style, showcasing what would later become his signature traits. McGregor, for his part, realizes there’s absolutely no way to tie up or finish his plot threads, and avoids them entirely. While visually looking a bit rushed, it’s nice they were at least able to go out on their own terms.

In hindsight, it seems inevitable this series wouldn’t make it commercially, as I can’t imagine the young male audience (for the most part, I presume), having the patience for the all over the place storytelling, and the artistic level set up by the creators here far too labor intensive and prose heavy to keep it them entertained, as well as on schedule. While Killraven never quite grabs you on a personal level (its characters being pretty much vehicles for McGregor’s main interests), the series remains a piece of Marvel Comics history that shows an experiment, that while never standing a chance under the systems it inhabited, at least a demonstration of what could be in commercial comic books.

A smoother read of this series would be pretty much the first couple of issues for set up (#18 & #19), skipping to #25 & #26, the semi successful fill ins, #27 is where Russell comes on board, skip 30 with the reprint, read #31 & #32, skipping the abominable issue #33 fill in, picking it up again at #34-37, skipping the sad issue #38 fill in, and end with the somber finish of #39. This order of experience will give you an uninterrupted, more pleasing read of the series, unencumbered by the commercial necessities of deadlines and interruption of mainstream hack work.

Love and Rockets #36 (November 1991)

Love and Rockets #36

Fantagraphics; 1991; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Either Beto is going to explain all the conspiracies apparently running through Poison River or he’s not. This installment resolves almost every outstanding story thread. It also doesn’t have anything to do with that Pedro cartoon character. He was big in the last installment. Nothing here. Ditto various inneundos.

Instead, Luba’s pregnant. And refusing to admit it. Maybe it’s her husband’s, maybe it’s her lover’s (he initially assaulted her, there’s no transition explaining their romance), maybe it’s the guy who raped her’s. He comes back this issue in an inordinartely depressing scene. Beto hasn’t tried making Luba sympathetic in a while, but at this point he’s obfuscating her thought process. She–and everyone else in Poison River–are a mystery. Even their histories are mysterious, like Peter’s father running a popular musical act (with Peter) and also being an assassin.

Of course, the bigger event is Poison River finally snaking back to the beginning and tying into the first installment.

The flashback is abrupt, which makes it come off a little too cheap, especially given the final reveal, but it’s a good installment. At this point, the question of Poison River is whether Beto’s going to be able to pull it off. There’s so many connections–these guys plotting to kill those guys, these guys stealing babies–then in the flashback Ofelia gets mentioned–well, it’s probably Ofelia, right after her horrifying story from many installments ago.

The story’s changed settings multiple times and even though it has settled in the Peter and Luba in the city thing, there’s still not a tone. It feels more technical than it should.

Whereas Jaime just goes for it with Wigwam Bam. Nicely the issue of Doyle having some romanticized notion of experiencing homelessness comes up so I’m glad his girlfriend was on to his bullshit. But the story opens with Hopey’s brother Joey, who hasn’t been in the book in a while, definitely not since the two year jump forward. Was it two years? Anyway. Joey’s in trouble because his mom found Hopey’s picture on the milk cartons and thought Joey did. Everyone thinks Joey did it. Even Hopey, we learned a few issues ago.

So some of the story is Joey trying to figure out the mystery, some of it is threads from previous installments continuing. Things eventually converge at Izzy’s house but without conclusion.

Izzy gets some scenes, which is nice, even if Jaime is playing way too coy with her. He can do more with Izzy; he’s just not.

He’s not doing more with anyone. There’s eight panels of sight gags on a nine panel page just so he can further delay having to deal with his story. Some very nice panels throughout, of course, but mostly perfunctory. Even when it’s some awesome work, it seems to lack his full attention. Or interest.

Then Love and Rockets cops out with the black kids at the party. Sure, the Hollywood white people are racist about it, but it’s much ado about nothing before sending Maricela and Riri off on separate rides home. Riri with Steve, who’s got the crush on her, and Riri with some of the other supporting cast. Then there’s a big twist for Maricela and Riri, which Beto had never hinted at and ignores some of the previous issue’s developments. Or at least concerns.

It’s effectively done, however, and the cliffhanger is disturbing as heck.

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