Report what comic books you have read today--and tell us a little something about it while you're here!

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I just reread The New Frontier this weekend, and it's even more impressive, and richer, than I remember. Plus, there are a few extra scenes in the Absolute Edition that apparently aren't in the original series. One scene, cut for length, shows Task Force X returning to the Island a few years before it goes airborne -- we get to see Flagg return to Johnny Cloud's cave. 

Also, there's a slight expansion to the origins for Flash and Martian Manhunter. Cooke figured the buyers of the monthly wouldn't need the explanation, but readers of a collection might need more context.

"Barney Google and Star Wars would be an awesome comic."

"The Force will be with you, Barney... always."

100-PAGE CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS GIANT!: This is the first of these I bought. I really liked the two new stories, both pseudo-tie-ins to the “Arrowverse” Crisis (I think). They are both “continued,” but that’s kind of an inside joke (I think). The “Giant” also reprinted two issues of the original COIE: #1 and “The Death of Supergirl” one. Not bad for five bucks.

IRON MAN 2020: There is an Arno Stark timeline at the end which goes back to 2013. It helped a bit, but I am so far removed from Iron Man continuity this series, for me, takes place in an alternate timelime (for all intents and purposes). I don’t know if I’ll buy any more; maybe the Machine Man one (although I won’t like seeing X-51 as the villain).

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #3: Superboy brings Robin to the 31st century. Bad idea. I am really starting to dislike this Superboy under Bendis. For three issues now, the joke has been that the Legion has prepared an orientation for him, but although he desperately needs it, he refuses to take time to watch it.

FIVE YEARS #7: The best comic book currently being published? I could make a case for it.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #3: Would ya believe… Lady Dragonflyman?

SECOND COMING #6: The end of the first limited series and the best individual issue since #1.

ARCHIE: 1955 #4: The penultimate issue.

CLASSIC PULP #1: From the same people who brought us Sham Comics. Except these aren’t parodies; they’re faithful horror comics cherry-picked from the Golden Age. I really miss the horror and romance comics Craig Yoe used to publish, and this series fills that hole quite nicely.

IMMORTAL HULK #29

FLASH FORWARD #5

JIMMY OLSEN #7

Skullcracker and Skeleton Boy #1-2: I didn't realize this was in the Black Hammer universe, so that's a bonus, since I've liked everything else from that line.

This one is like the others, a pastiche of concepts that seem vaguely familiar but go their own way. In this case, a boy's parents are gunned down on a street in front of him (yes, like Bruce Wayne), but before the killer can kill him, a man in a skull mask with a metal skull on a chain kills the killer. (This is Skullcracker, obviously).  The kid is shipped off to a loonie bin, but is rescued by Skullcracker, who locks him in a locker until he gets angry enough to fight back. Presumably, he will become the Skeleton Boy of the title. So it's like Robin, where a kid's parents are murdered but he's adopted by the man who avenges the crime. But instead of Bruce Wayne, the new dad is Frank Castle.

Or something. Invent your own analogy!

There's also a lesbian (of course) cop who really wants Skullcracker's head on a plate. There are strong hints that she was an earlier Skeleton Boy, or something like it. That's gonna be interesting when it plays out.

I like the art by Tonci Zonjic, which I think I saw on Daredevil. It's a bit cartoony, but with some grit and solidity. It feels grounded, which most cartoon art doesn't.

Addendum: I just realized that the book is named Skulldigger and Skeleton Boy. I misremembered. But Skullcracker makes more sense!

Also, it occurs to me that Dark Horse has, in its history, a couple of failed attempts at a superhero universe. But it has now achieved one almost by accident, through the Black Hammer properties.

Butcher of Paris #1-2: This takes place in occupied Paris in 1944. The description and blurbs say that the story will eventually center around a serial killer operating under the noses of the Nazis and Vichy French, and that this horror will somehow resurface in the present. Two issues in, none of that is in evidence yet, as the book laboriously sets up the major players. This is the opposite of deconstructed writing, where they're taking so much time with set-up that I'm getting bored. And, seriously, how scary is a serial killer during the Holocaust? He's a piker compared to what your average SS officer was doing at the time.

Didn't much care for the art, either, which goes for realism, but without the rendering necessary to make it, you know, look real.

Dying Is Easy #1-2: Another book that didn't rouse me.

It's about a former homicide cop who is trying to become a stand-up comic. He gets framed for the murder of a joke thief, and as the second issue ends he's on the hunt for the real killers. It all feels awfully familiar, and not in a good way.

But I usually enjoy noir, so maybe it was the art that put me off. It's a sort of airbrush-by-computer technique that I found distracting and ugly. I suspect I would have liked this story better with a different artist.

Olympia #1-2: Strike three.

A boy hides in the woods to read his Olympia comics, which are sort of erstaz Thor. Then Olympia himself, who is supposed to be fictional, crash-lands next to him, badly wounded. The boy consults the next issue of Olympia comics to figure out what to do next as Olympia heals, but it's the last issue -- Olympia has been canceled. So he and Olympia resolve to find the writer/artist to figure out what's going on.

This is such a childhood fantasy concept, one suspects it was actually dreamed up by a 10-year-old, maybe by the writer when he was that age, or by one of his children. If it was dreamed up by an adult and greenlit by another adult, it makes me sad for humanity.

Again, the art helped ruin it for me. And this is the worst of the bunch. I think it's supposed to be a Kirby pastiche, but it's so bad it looks more like Mike Sekowsky. Only Sekowsky was better.

The book is dedicated to "Stan and Jack," but I can't think of a worse way to honor their memory than bad comics that try to rip off their style -- and do it badly.

I'm sure everyone involved was trying hard and doing their best. I don't mean to savage work that is heartfelt, if that's what this is. But this stuff is not ready for prime time.

British Ice: Hated it. Man, I'm gonna get a reputation as a crank!

But here's the thing: This book makes exactly the same mistakes in the treatment of native peoples that it is criticizing. I'll elucidate:

A milquetoast-y British bureaucrat is sent to be the governor of an Arctic island (above Canada) that is somehow still a UK possession. There is a mystery as to what happened to the previous governor, that nobody seems interested in solving. When he gets there, he meets exactly one other white person (who runs the trading post) and his only ally is a native leader who is somehow friendly to the Brits as well as the natives. The other natives make no mystery of how they feel: They hate him.

Well, it turns out that there's a history of white cruelty to the locals in pursuit of mineral wealth. I know you're shocked.  Our Hero, filled with righteous fury, wants to fix this. However, he's in danger of being killed by the natives who are, say it with me, bloodthirsty savages.

In modern drag, of course. But a book that is essentially based on liberal outrage over how natives are treated by white people only has one native person with a name. (And her ability to exist between two cultures is never explained.) All the other island inhabitants are just a dark, nameless mass threatening scalping, or whatever. I'm surprised the word "warpath" was never used.

This isn't a story, it's a soapbox. And like any screed in a comic book, right or left, it's an awful comic book. (Save us the pain and write an op-ed, OK?) Since it's a polemic instead of a story, more than the native Quisling is unexplained. Like, we find out what happened to the previous governor, and it's understandable that the natives weren't interested in solving his disappearance, but why was Her Majesty's Government disinterested in investigating a possible murder or kidnapping of one of their own? They were certainly ready to go to the mat for the Falklands.

A number of preposterous things happen, including spineless guy delivering a speech upbraiding his reactionary boss that is something liberals only dream of doing -- like Marshal McLuhan being in front of Woody Allen in line at the movies turning around to tell a pompous guy he's mansplaining his concepts wrong. It just doesn't happen, mainly because the object of the lecture won't stand there and let it finish without pushback. Only in fantasy do they meekly take their well-deserved tongue-thrashing.

A political stance can be used successfully in comic book stories, but not if it's the only thing.

Kill Whitey Donovan #1-2: OK, this one's better.

Set in July 1864, it involves a woman running away from home to go kill the guy in the title, who was her fiance, but she's got a letter from him that we're not privy to that angers her, and her sister committed suicide after he left for war, so we can kinda guess.

One problem here is that we don't know the exact nature of her beef with Whitey, so we can't gauge whether her response is rational or not. I mean, for all we know, she's unbalanced. On the other end of the spectrum, he might be such a terrible person that he needs killing. Until we see that letter, we're not gonna know where on the spectrum between those two points our protagonist falls, and we're gonna have to hold her at a remove.

Another problem is, duh, the Civil War. The story begins as Whitey has survived a recent battle, but here's the deal: He's a Confederate, so his odds of continuing to survive are low. And I'm not saying that just because I have the 20/20 vision of someone in the present. In July 1864, our protagonist would be familiar with the carnage of Shiloh, of Fredericksburg, of Antietam, of Gettysburg. And for the South, the writing was on the wall by summer 1864. She should just wait for nature to take its course with Whitey -- and if it doesn't, THEN kill him.

Again, this gets back to the letter. Is her need to personally kill him justifiable? I mean, as much as planning murder can be. Is her motivation really that compelling that she, as a woman in the 19th century, willing to walk/ride cross-country with no protection into the middle of a war? That must be one hell of a letter.

But what the hell, there's no movie if people act rationally. So off she goes, and for a reason I forget needs to take a slave girl with her, one who was planning to run away herself. So they run away together.

But they do not like each other, which is unhelpful when they run into trouble, which of course they do. So things get interesting.

And that's where I stand: Kill Whitey is interesting. As noted, I'm holding some opinions in abeyance, but I'm enjoying the story. The art's kinda ... off in some way. (Eyes are WEIRD) but not so much that it detracts. It's clear enough and the storytelling pace/style is good.

Daphne Byrne #1: This is a DC book, and it's already gone from their review site, so I can't refer to it. I remember I liked it, though.

It's funny, Cap. I actually liked Olympia. Sure, it's a very familiar story -- but the story's genesis is touching (the world of Olympia was created by the writer/artist and his father to pass the time while his father was undergoing cancer treatments, which ultimately didn't save his life), and you can see echoes of this struggle in the "real-world" segments, such as the abandoned medication the kid uses to save Olympia. And I'm interested in seeing them contact Olympia's creator next issue, given the state we see the writer/artist in on the final page of issue 2.

As for the art, it's definitely sketchy, and I feel like it's deliberately  so. (The real-world sequences have more weight to them, for instance.) But I really liked issue 1, and liked the twist at the end of issue 2, so I'll be staying with the series for it's 5-issue run. My opinion is probably colored by the creator's biography, but for whatever reason, I want to see where this hope-vs-despair fable goes, even if it's only to all the old familiar places.

Thanks, Rob. I love hearing about stuff I didn't like from people who do like it, to see what I missed. I knew nothing about the creator's backstory, which does explain a few things. In theory, who the creator is shouldn't affect how we react to the creation, but in practice it often does.

Yeah, it definitely does. It was hearing the backstory from a friend on new year's eve that led me to pick it up -- I never would have glanced at it otherwise. So there's definitely no way of extricating my feelings about the comic from my feelings about the author, even if I'd reacted poorly to the comic. 

It actually strikes me as a concept JM DeMatteis might have written some years ago, around the time of Seekers Into the Mystery and The Last One -- an exploration of death, and despair and hope, using comic tropes. Curt Pires isn't nearly as polished as DeMatteis is (and was, even at the time), but I think the same yearning is behind it, which is coming through to me... but it's a signal I had a leg up on receiving over a casual reader coming in cold. 

My two favorite arcs of 1990s Spider-Man comics are Spectacular Spider-Man #178-184 (“The Child Within”) and Spectacular Spider-Man #194-196 (“The Death of Vermin”), both from J.M. DeMatteis. They are the only 1990s Spidey issues I have actually kept. I wrote a letter to Marvel suggesting that they be reprinted in TPB form. I found them to be very well-written, using the characters of Peter Parker, Harry Osborn and Vermin to explore child development and child abuse issues. Unfortunately, except for other language comic reprints they have never been reprinted. I recommend them to anyone who can find them in back-issue form.

Thanks, Richard! There are long swathes of Spider-Man comics that I've never read, so it's great to get some recommendations of some lesser-known stories. And they're probably available on Marvel Unlimited, so they're not completely out of reach!

HULK:

I recently purchased the Hulk by Peter David omnibus, but when I started to read it I felt I was coming in on the middle of a story, so I decided to back up a bit and get a running start at it.

#314-319: The Byrne run. As good a PAD’s lengthy run was, there are few of his individual storylines I hold in as high esteem as these six issues (plus Marvel Fanfare #29).

#320-327, 329 and Annual #15: The Milgrom run. A definite transition between Byrne and David. Milgom’s run followed Byrne’s storyline closely, and David’s closely followed Milgrom’s. Milgrom reintroduced the grey Hulk, but the foundation was laid in Byrne’s run. #329 was the mopiest of all Mopees.

#328: David’s first issue as scripter. It’s a very “Peter David” story, as Bruce Banner confronts hallucinations based on the five four stages of death, a type of story PAD would be much better, later.

FOURTH WORLD: I think I’ve decided to re-read Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” titles again (i.e., New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle plus Jimmy Olsen). With collections of post-Kirby New Gods and Mister Miracle soon to be released, it’s time. Having already participated in two in-depth “Fourth World” discussions since joining this community (one of which I led), I don’t think I can gin up enough interest for a third discussion, so I plan to take my time and handle it as a series of “quick hits” within this thread.

Stay tuned…

Finally finished PS  Artbooks' Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. It got better, but not a lot better, from when I first broached the subject. Some observations:

  • The strip began in Dell's Four Color for three issues, before graduating to it own title for eight issues (#4-11). After it was canceled, Prize picked it up for three issues. That was it for the pre-Code era. (It has been picked up for a couple of tries in recent years at small publishers.)
  • The early art was pretty bland, but it improved by fits and starts. By the end of the Dell run, Frank Thorne was handling the pencils and it was pretty good.
  • When Prize launched its book, it had Mort Meskin on art. I know he's somewhat legendary, but I found his art sketchy and unattractive.
  • The stories improved, too. They became more imaginative as time went on. You still had Westerns in space more often than not, with all the usual Western frontier tropes in SF drag, but sometimes they came up with elements that were pure SF.
  • One thing that never improved: The dialogue was all mid-century American, except the irritating habit of putting "space" in front of everything to make it sound future-y. You can't call a guy a jerk; he's a space jerk. You can't say, "Hang on a minute," you have to say "Hang on a space minute." Arguably, space jerks are different than regular jerks, and space minutes might be longer or shorter than regular minutes. But it's an argument that falls apart when you read the thing. They were, in fact, obviously just dropping "space" into regular dialogue almost randomly. Which made me wince a lot.
  • OTOH, you very quickly get over the initial urge to laugh whenever anyone is called a Space Cadet. It's a joke now, but it wasn't then, and this is a typical '50s book -- adults are unimpeachable authority figures, and the heroes are earnest young men. It's a world familiar to most of us (in comics), and easy to fall back into.
  • The initial trio of cadets grated on me. Tom was bland and earnest, Astro had a stupid name but was basically Tom's sidekick, and they were fine. But it was the third, Roger Manning, who irritated me. He was a braggart and credit-stealer, and nobody ever set him straight. It was virtually laughed off. I can't imagine that's how things work in a service academy -- or, really, anywhere. But especially someplace that puts such a high priority on honesty. Plus, he was also insulting the rest of the cast. As Commander Benson has pointed out, no organization would put up with a member who was so damaging for unit cohesion. 
  • Yes, I know that it was based on a radio/TV show and that the cast was probably set in stone. Still, what an irritating character.
  • In the Prize issues, Roger was replaced by Thistle, sometimes called T.J. He wasn't much better: He was a screw-up. But he was also a jokester and prankster (allegedly; I didn't find him very funny), and the implication was that the rest of the cast put up with him because he was amusing, although his mistakes often got them in trouble. He was also physically smaller and weaker than the other characters. That's ... sad, from a modern perspective. I don't know if he had a TV/radio counterpart or not.
  • In the later Dell issues, the central trio was sometimes joined by a fourth, Alfie. Alfie was a stereotypical academic type, eager to study flora and fauna on other planets (and willing to say so out loud, using the biggest words possible). And, in fact, an enthusiast of studying and taking tests and so forth. Yes, he wore glasses, despite this taking place in whatever century it takes place. Naturally, the others -- well, Roger -- made fun of him relentlessly, when not outright bullying him. Anti-intellectualism has a long, ugly history in our country, whose fruits are pretty obvious today.
  • Often Tom Corbett would get science right, but just as often it would get it wrong. Captain Strong sums up global warming (while on Venus) in a single sentence, and it's all correct. On the other hand, everyone's walking around on Venus without space suits, and there are local Indian-like tribes, and it's a Western. The writer giveth, and the writer taketh away.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the Dell issues weren't anthologies -- they were one single story, from beginning to end. Pretty unusual for the early '50s, and I expect we have the TV show to thank for that. The Prize issues are multi-story.

Overall, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet was about average for the SF of the time. Which I have to say, wasn't anything to write home about. I was mildly entertained toward the end of the Dell run.

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