By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
When you buy a graphic novel from Archaia Press, you know one thing: It probably won’t be like any other graphic novel you’ve ever read. Hybrid Bastards
($17.95) is a case in point.
The concept is simple, ribald and truly weird. Also mythological: Hera gets fed up with Zeus cheating on her and puts a spell on him that for one night makes him mount everything in sight, including and especially inanimate objects. Zeus being a god, all of these objects become impregnated, resulting in half-humanoid hybrids that embarrass the sky king so much he sends goons to kill them all. “Hybrids” focuses on the survivors: Cotton, a collection of cloth that wants to be a lawyer; Carmine, a timid half-car; Corey, a self-loathing fruit; and Walter, a wall with a bad temper. They are led by Panos (the offspring of Zeus and a homeless man) in a quixotic quest to force their father to acknowledge paternity. Hijinks ensue.
I have to say that the concept alone is worth some sort of award. It’s a plausible extension of the myths, given that Zeus was forever transforming into bulls, swans and horses to have his divine way with Earthly wenches, whether they liked it or not. It’s true, Google it! Tom Pinchuk’s dialogue is appropriate, and appropriately goofy. So, good dirty fun all around.
I have to say, though, that I didn’t warm up to Kate Glasheen’s art. I think it’s watercolor or wash with some minimal ink outlines, which makes it appear unfinished and far too pastel. It’s also oddly angular and blocky, which I find unattractive. But my questionable art tastes aside, the main function of art in a graphic novel is to propel the narrative, and it fails on that score.
* They say you
don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and I’ve discovered that’s the case with the horror/suspense anthologies that used to dominate the comic-book medium in the 1950s and early 1960s but are now nearly non-existent.
What brought me to this epiphany was Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery Vol. 3
(Dark Horse, $49.99), which reprints six issues from 1965-66. These stories aren’t really anything special, generally written and drawn by B- and C-list talent, usually ending in a mysterious comeuppance for the ne’er-do-wells who populate them.
I didn’t appreciate these sorts of books back in the ‘60s, as I pursued super-heroes with a single-minded passion. But now that the genre is almost entirely gone, I find that I miss them, and the comforting formula they followed. Perhaps I’ll feel different around volume 10 or so, but for now I’m just wrapping myself in the warm nostalgia of a bygone age.
* I’ve never been
a big fan of WildStorm’s superhero comics, as I found them – at least in the beginning, when they were part of Image Comics – derivative and shallow.* But I did enjoy WildCATs 3.0,
the third version of the Covert Action Team, wherein they use their super-abilities to really improve the world … by becoming a multinational corporation and selling beneficial alien technology. As much as I like me some superheroes, that’s really a lot more plausible – and more effective – than pulling on a mask and fighting bank robbers.
And lo, here come WildCATs Version 3.0: Year One
(DC/WildStorm, $24.99), which collects the first 12 issues. As I remembered, Dustin Nguyen’s art is classy and stylish. And Joe Casey’s story is even better than I remembered, not just because of its high concept, but because several lines of his 2002 dialogue are astonishingly prescient about the freedom of corporations to flout the law and the cowardly, corporate-owned media that looks the other way. It’s a lot of subversive fun.
* NOTE: As this story was being posted, DC Entertainment has announced that the WildStorm line will be phased out entirely. I, for one, won't miss it.
* The beauty and influence
of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon
comic strip is legendary. Flash’s comic-book adventures? Not so famous.
Nevertheless, Dark Horse has embarked on reprinting them all, beginning with Flash Gordon Vol. 1
($49.99). This volume collects early Flash adventures from Dell, primarily his Four Color Comics
appearances in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
It’s pretty mediocre fare, completely bloodless and formulaic. The only comfort is in knowing that future volumes will include work by the likes of Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, Archie Goodwin and Jeff Jones.
Meantime, go buy the gorgeous Alex Raymond stuff. There’s no need for Flash Gordon Vol. 1
on your bookshelf unless, like me, you’re a hopelessly addicted completist.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at firstname.lastname@example.org