YES OF COURSE I READ IT
Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, this week I read new comics by Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Neil Gaiman, and I added a new section at the bottom for books that are inexcusably late.
I SAY I read a new book by Neil Gaiman. I actually read a reprint of a Neil Gaiman issue of MIRACLEMAN that uses an old JG Ballard story as a template for a kind of lateral superhero story in a very effective way. Gaiman now has a style of his own but I like him a little better as a mimic, frankly. Bitter Grounds is basically a Gene Wolfe story, Stardust reads like a long-lost Diana Wynne Jones novel, and the ghost of RA Lafferty haunts The Sunbird, probably my favorite of his short fiction. (There’s a minor character, referred to but never seen, in the Miracleman story – “Spy Story” – named Ballard).
Mark Buckingham’s art is just stunningly beautiful as always (the Tim Bradstreet variant cover is quite nice, too). Visually speaking the whole first Buckingham arc is really off-kilter and experimental and collage-y; “Spy Story” looks like every panel was photocopied and photostatted at different sizes a different number of times and the smeary, uncertain quality of the art complements the Cold War-era paranoia of the writing just perfectly.
The Ellis is the final issue of his Project Superpowers miniseries, BLACKCROSS, which Dynamite is publishing. It’s pretty good; I have to say I am totally in love with this phase of Ellis’s career, which has gotten so totally off-the-charts weird I can’t understand how the books keep selling. Maybe I give people too little credit, but this and Supreme: Blue Rose and Karnak are so, so strange, which is one reason I like the much more conventional Ellis James Bond book less the more I think about it.
Colton Worley’s art is solid; I suspect him of being very young but his style is developing nicely and he took a little extra time with this last issue, which paid off. The Project Superpowers world is unique among comics publishers: a few midcentury superhero publishers that couldn’t compete with DC/Fawcett/Timely (later Marvel) and so on and went out of business without selling off their IP assets because for some reason they didn’t foresee the billion-dollar boom in superhero movies, so their characters have been determined to be in public domain. Dynamite has picked them up — Standard/Nedor is a big treasure trove of abandoned intellectual property, as is Fox Comics — and started publishing them again, despite their having made a guest appearance in Tom Strong over at DC/Wildstorm a few years ago. They have the power to transcend corporate bookkeeping, which is perhaps the greatest superpower of them all.
Yes all right fine, I read DK III: THE MASTER RACE, about the plot of which God only knows. I have never found Brian Azzarello’s writing to be even remotely compelling and the notion that he was “helping” Miller on this book seemed really worrying. But I actually love Frank Miller. His Daredevil stuff is so raw and cool even now, thirtysomething years later, especially the big arcs — Born Again, Man Without Fear, Elektra, all the crazy-ass ninja stuff.
Which brings me to my next point: his execrable politics have caused many comics readers to underrate Miller as a writer, which is frankly their loss. With the exception of the main sequence Miller didn’t draw any of the Daredevil stuff he’s famous for and far more people read Elektra: Assassin and Born Again than leap in midstream to his journeyman stuff on the main title. Also Martha Washington Goes to War and Hard Boiled didn’t write themselves.
And of course as an artist he’s totally unparalleled and given how hinky his Batman writing has been in the last ten years or so I kind of didn’t want to pick it up until I heard there was a 16-page minicomic insert penciled by Miller himself and inked by his longtime partner Klaus Janson (who is good, but not as good as Miller himself, who wields inkwells like hand grenades and thickens his lines with a paint roller), so I figured I’d pick it up anyway.
It’s fine. It’s not Sin City. It treats Miller’s old Batman stuff, The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again (or DK2 as the DC marketing men would have it), as worldbuilding, and if you couldn’t tell from the title, the latter is kind of a goof, so pretending it’s The Lord of the Rings is a little silly.
I’ve been shocked and horrified to find a soft spot for DK2 as I’ve gone back to it. Sure, it’s eye-rolling bullshit but given the state of DC’s superhero lineup, thank God for eye-rolling bullshit. Superheroes are kind of stupid, guys. They’re loads of fun and I have boxes of superhero comics all over my apartment to my saintly wife’s quiet chagrin but they do not make any sense at all, not even a little bit no they don’t no they don’t get a job, and pretending that the nonsense of the whole exercise isn’t part of the fun and proclaiming that everyone should be extra serious about people in bat costumes after the age of about 9 stops being cute and becomes worrying.
Miller’s contributions to DKIII are great. He’s clearly got some fun stuff planned for Superman, and the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman is a character here; she’s very interesting. The Atom, who was the best thing about DK2, is back. Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be seen in the first issue, and I just desperately hope that he’s dead, because Miller is nothing if not a vicious iconoclast and superhero comics need somebody to set stuff on fire. You used to be able to count on Grant Morrison for that sort of thing, but when he last wrote Batman at the very last minute he turned chicken. Bawk bawk.
Oh and Andy Kubert is just fantastic. DC put out a big anthology of his stuff with the coloring and inking stripped out out so you could see his bare pencils and it did not disappoint. If you love Neal Adams’ stuff for its energy and movement, anything Kubert puts together will scratch that same itch. It’s kind of a shame that he’s drawing for Miller, who is terrific but whose style could not be less fluid and graceful. Miller’s pages look like he stomped on them and the footprint happened to look like a beautiful drawing; Kubert’s look like they’re about to grow wings and fly away. So it’s a real mismatch in that sense, which is a bit disappointing, like they put the team together using sales figures rather than their eyeballs.
Here’s my suspicion about this book: Bat, tentatively, man and Superman will continue to be World’s Finest-style frenemies and they will go on and have adventures together. They will also both be roles assigned to women by the end of the eight issue series, I bet. Which I could not be happier about.
I’ve pulled my post about Providence out of this, because the issue was really disturbing and I want to talk about it at greater length.
—Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s oddball manga-style fantasy series MONSTRESS is fun. The first issue is so heavy on the exposition it’s hard to know whether or not Liu has any idea about character yet, but it’s a very interesting, gothy, steampunkoid book with some great monsters in it and I approve of Takeda’s artwork a great deal. There are a lot of good writers and illustrators at Image but I think this is the only one with two women of color working on it? Anyway, check it out if for no other reason than that the first issue is gigantic and good for a long train ride or visit to the doctor’s waiting room.
—HOWARD THE DUCK remains excellent. Joe Quinones didn’t draw the latest issue but he’s back for the next one; Veronica Fish did a great job on the fill-in, which takes place in a gender-bent alternate universe, so her issue is thematically appropriate!
—I still don’t hate PAPER GIRLS! It’s coming out super fast, which I also don’t hate. Also it owes a lot to Stephen King’s The Langoliers, which, again: approval from me.
—Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo’s DOCTOR STRANGE is the funnest. Feels like it will stay fun for a bit, too, as long as it doesn’t get messy and crossovery.
—We finally learn about the Lipstick Incident in ARCHIE #4, and it’s surprisingly touching. And it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be at all. Bravo, guys.
***GIVE IT TO ME NOW***
New section! Artists don’t like to be rushed, which I understand, so to make people feel better, I am putting some of the tardiest books I ever wanted to read FIRST on this list, and then list the books in descending order of lateness. The trick is that books will not go OFF this list until I have them in my hands. Feel the scorn of my admittedly single-digit but fantastically influential readership. I’ll put more on here as I think of them and as they go AWOL.
LAST SEEN: Issue #2, Aug. 1990— I’ve wanted to read this book since 1990, when Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz published two issues of what looked set to be one of the coolest series ever written. Then it died on the vine, with no explanation. Rumors abounded: Moore’s marriage had collapsed, Sienkiewicz’s assistant, Al Columbia, had taken over the book, then been so disappointed in his own work that he set fire to it. It sounds like a joke, but some of it is actually out there; it showed up in an old issue of Sub Pop magazine I have in a box somewhere. I propose somebody print it.
LAST SEEN: Issue #24, June 1993 — Yeah, the publisher went bankrupt and it got stalled in legal limbo for 25 years. Excuses, excuses. This book ended mid-arc during one of the most promising runs in comics. I want it. It’s been revived and is solicited for April of 2016, which will make it the latest comic ever published.
LAST SEEN: Issue #9 January 2008 — Warren Ellis and watercolor painter Ben Templesmith’s crazy-ass one-and-done crime comic set in an unnamed city is one of my favorite comics by anybody. It ran for 9 of 16 issues and Templesmith said in an interview that he had a full script for a tenth that Image won’t run until Ellis has a few more scripts in the can. Ellis is currently writing two other books for Image at the moment. Templesmith told me personally at NYCC last year that he wishes he could finish it. Hey, me too.
AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE
LAST SEEN: Issue #8, May 2015 — This book is SO GOOD and it’s had fully eight issues since Oct. 2013. The problem here is less perfectionism and more that the two guys who do it just blew up as soon as it started coming out; Francesco Francavilla, blessed be he, does like five Marvel variant covers a month and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is now trying to run the entire company and the new CW show. BUT I WANT IT. I WANT IT NOW.
LAST SEEN: Issue #5, Sept. 2015 — I really like this book. It’s an outer space Lovecraft thing by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham and every issue has just been crazy and great. I want to read the last one. It has been months upon months. I get that it’s an Image book and thus irregularly scheduled but even by those standards it’s been too long. It’s on the docket for Dec. 23, which I hope turns out to be accurate. Excited to read it.
LAST SEEN: Issue #1 Oct. 2015 — Warren Ellis, I love you, but you are late all the damn time. By all means finish it and make it good but this is the second issue of a Marvel comic the publisher expected to put out every three weeks. Issue #5 is solicited for January. It’s December already. Knock it off. I’m still mad about Desolation Jones.