Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Post-Shingles Reviews

And the shingles are gone! Time for some bloggin', Martin style!

So, since I haven't been blogging in a while, but I've read quite a bit in the past few weeks, I thought I'd start off with brief reviews of some of the books I've picked up recently.

Silent Dragon
By Andy Diggle and Leinil Francis Yu
Published by DC/Wildstorm; $19.99 US
Collects Silent Dragon #1 - #6

Silent Dragon is set in a futuristic Japan where mechanized samurai and ninja police the populace. The lead, Renjiro, serves a supposedly idealistic yakuza boss with dreams of "protecting" his countrymen from the government and re-instituting bushido as the nation's governing principle. Renjiro is falsely accused of betraying his master and submits to seppuku in order to protect the real traitor: his master's wife. Once resurrected in a cybernetic body by a government agency, Renjiro goes on a mission to get revenge on his former master, win back his true love, and slip free of the back-stabbing and elusive government agent who brought him back to life.

Silent Dragon is the only book reviewed here that's come out in the last couple of weeks, and I went into it completely blind. I hadn't read any of the single issues, seen past work from any of the creators involved, or any promo stuff for the series. My post-Lone-Wolf-and-Cub mad-on for samurai stuff is all that drew me to Silent Dragon, and it didn't steer me wrong. Yu's classical Japanese settings, like the yakuza boss' home in the beginning of the book, are just as stunning as his uber-mechanized samurai. I'd heard praise for Andy Diggle's work before, but never had the chance to experience it for myself, and now I know what all the fuss is about. Silent Dragon often feels like a faster-paced Sleeper, and makes me wonder if the mini might not have been somewhat less enjoyable if read issue-by-issue. Without giving too much away, the conclusion kicks you hard in the chest, and the nature of it is refreshing in the kind of tale that tends to hold the concept of the medieval Japanese warrior as a purer and more desirable alternative to modern life. While I love my seppuku and my katanna-slicin', I tend to doubt the samurai were any more or less heroic than their European counterparts, or that the ideals that put swords in their hands were necessarily any purer.

By Scott Morse
Published by AdHouse Books; $9.95 US

So, when I decided to broaden my horizons and start reading books that had less to do with superheroes and more to do with "etc.," I stopped by ADD’s Blog and started clicking madly on all the links he’s got to the companies that publish things like 300-page tomes of a Brazilian chick on a beach or love stories with anthropomorphic hippos . You know, silly stuff. Not the kind of serious literature you’d expect from Heroes for Hire or Blue Beetle (and I was a little surprised that some of those sites, like Ait-planetlar and Fantagraphics, are on my employer’s restricted list). At AdHouse’s site I saw a Scott Morse book called Southpaw about a tiger, apparently introduced in Project: Telstar, who fought robots. And it was by Scott Morse, whose work I’d reviewed just a little bit. And I thought hey! Robot-fightin’ tiger-man! I can get down with that! I can be all artistic and shit! Remembering that cool boxing scene in Ancient Joe, I figured I was in for a treat.

And I was, but it wasn’t what I expected. The story of Southpaw is told in single, uncolored panels on orange paper. Its protagonist is mute, and the story is a familiar one: the boxer who refuses to take a dive and flees from the criminals who would punish him for it. Except with robots. And a tiger.

I was disappointed with Southpaw at first and was pretty sure it would end up on my trade list at Sequential Swap. The story seemed short for its price tag, at first I found the orange paper a little abrasive, and there were a few pages - for example, one showing the twisted remains of a defeated robot - where I had trouble simply figuring out what was going on.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to let it go. Southpaw’s characters are few, but well-defined with minimal treatment. A scene towards the end - when the main character briefly reunites with his children - though only a handful of panels long with hardly any dialogue, was one of the most endearing and sad scenes I’ve ever read in a graphic novel. Without words, Morse created a loveable and tragic hero-on-the-run, and I honestly don’t think I’m a good enough reader yet to tell you how. I can say that rather than regretting the price tag, I’ve come to appreciate the brevity, because it means I can re-read it before any other grown-ups figure out I’m flipping through a funnybook about a robot-fightin’ tiger-man. It’s certainly my favorite of the graphic novels reviewed here, and I think I’ve found a creator whose work can act as a door to all those strange comics that have nothing to do with Hulk smashin’.

(not that there’s anything wrong with Hulk smashin’, he’s apparently the strongest one there is)

Rocketo: Journey to the Hidden Sea, Vol. 1
By Frank Espinosa and Marie Taylor
Published by Image; $19.99 US
Collects Rocketo #0 - #6

When I mentioned my “post-Lone-Wolf-and-Cub mad-on for samurai stuff” earlier, I don’t think I was completely accurate. Lone Wolf and Cub didn’t leave me hungry for samurai vengeance tales as much as epic adventure stories. Stories with the heroism and action of superhero comics; while blessed with the negligible story qualities most superhero stuff lack like forward-moving characterization, humanity, and narrative conclusions. I was hungry for Conan and ElfQuest and Age of Bronze. I was hungry for The Odyssey.

I never imagined Rocketo would be one of the books to fill that need. I remember when I saw the preview at Newsarama and thinking, “Oh, please make it to a trade, make it to a trade.” I remember breathing a sigh of relief when it was announced Image would save Rocketo from the death of Speakeasy. Still, I never thought Rocketo would be the book it is. Just judging by the art I guess, I figured its main character - with a shirt that looked like Aquaman’s and everything from the bridge of his nose to his chin looking like it was culled from Fred Flinstone - would be a finely rendered Flash Gordon parody. His willful companion Spiro had a face like Chubby Da Choona from Seaguy and the ninja-like Boaz looked like a pez dispenser from Hell. I guess I can’t blame myself for expecting the book to be a skillfull, yet silly action romp.

Rocketo Garrison is no parody, but a daydreaming hero scarred by war. Rocketo feels more like The Odyssey than any comic I’ve come across, and not just because the first chapter (from Rocketo #0) is a direct homage to part of the Greek hero’s adventures. Espinosa uses the post-apocalyptic setting to create a land of fantasy rather than the bleak wastelands, bursting with weighty social commentary, that you find in most post-apoc tales. The worldwide disaster opens the way for men like Rocketo and his ancestors to revel in the kind of adventure that fueled Odysseus’s soul. While there’s certainly humor in the book, the cartoon-y style doesn’t render its heroes any less serious nor its villains any less terrible. The style succeeds in giving the story an epic feel that I never thought possible with such a strong element of cartoon. I am far too dumb to adequately describe the book’s incredible art, I just know I’m chomping at the bit for those floppies to come out, so they can hurry up and release the second TPB.

Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 1
By Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon, and Tom Palmer
Published by Marvel; $16.99 US
Collects Captain America, Vol. 5, #1 - #7

If I were to ever find myself in Marvel’s Bullpen, Captain America would probably be the last character I’d want to handle. While I’m still on the fence as to whether or not there just aren’t any more interesting directions to take the decades-old superheroes of the Big Two, Captain America is particularly problematic. His identity as a leader has become such a defining characteristic that the prospect of reading his solo adventures just seems silly. I’m just so used to fight scenes with someone like Justice thinking “Wow, Cap is so brave! And smart! And handsome! I can’t believe I get to punch people alongside him!” And his morality is so set-in-stone that trying to introduce anything innovative in his characterization, no matter how negligible, is bound to piss a whole lot of people off. Hardcore wing-head fans liken Mark Gruenwald’s Cap run to a sacred text these days, but I remember the letters pages back in the day, and fans weren't writing love notes to the guy; particularly when Gruenwald had Cap blow away a guy with an uzi, and later when Cap temporarily gave up his title. I wouldn’t say fan-favorite dartboard targets like Austen and Bendis had it easy in comparison, but that’s only because the Internet was just a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye back when Gruenwald was scribing Cap.

I don’t know if it would be right to say Brubaker and Epting have worked magic with Captain America, but the fact that I intend to pick up a copy of Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 2 proves its predecessor a success, simply because it’s the first time in a long while that I’ve given a damn about the character or the comic. I don’t think this is a result of Brubaker revealing anything new or insightful about Steve Rogers. I think Marvel has been at a loss as to what the hell to do with Cap for years. He’s a marquee-level character in name, but as far as buzz is concerned until now he’s been somewhere around Brother Voodoo and Man-Thing (unless you count the brief spike in Cap-chatter the release of Truth caused). Brubaker’s just applied a model he’s had success with in other books to one of Marvel's most stagnant characters, and because it’s a model Brubaker’s adept at molding, presto, people are actually buying the thing.

Which isn’t to say it isn’t good, solid espionage storytelling, because it is. It’s suspenseful and engaging, with great, mostly “silent,” action sequences by Steve Epting, and it leaves you wanting more. But it’s no Sleeper, and the only real innovation here is that one Cap rule that Brubaker shamelessly broke (and I won’t spoil it, even though I doubt there’s anyone left for whom it would be a spoiler).

Quantum & Woody: The Director’s Cut
By Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright
Published by Acclaim Comics; $7.95 US (Out of print, so you’re probably going to have to dish out more than the cover price)
Collects Quantum & Woody #1 - #4

I’ve been hunting for this goddamn trade for years. I heard about it when Priest’s Black Panther was in full-swing, and the descriptions from fans plus Priest’s skill on BP made it look too good to not pursue. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that EVERY SINGLE TIME I’ve browsed through Sequential Swap’s trade list that I’ve clicked on the “Q,” saw almost nothing by Queen and Country collections, sighed and surfed onwards. Once it finally showed up, I jumped on it, and luckily I had just filled my own swap list with enough not-completely-bad books that the swapper was willing to give up the goods.

The bad news is that Quantum & Woody was worth the wait, meaning I'll be hunting down the other three trades, and at this rate my 2-year-old nephew will be a freshman in college before I see the things (along with the hardcover collection for Ultimates 2).

Quantum and Woody are really Eric Henderson and Woody Van Chelton respectively, a pair of childhood “friends” who are, in spite of because of their differences, as close to brothers as you can get without sharing a sperm donor. From their playpen to their nursing home, the pair are constantly at odds, with Woody constantly doing stupid things and dragging his highly intelligent and responsible friend Eric down into his world of stupid. When both of their fathers are killed in a suspicious plane crash, Eric is determined to find the culprit and exact revenge, while Woody is determined to get his father’s money and just hang out. Because of an accident in their fathers’ lab, the pair are forever linked, possessing strange armbands that must be clanged together every 24 hours, or else the both of them will become immaterial.

It’s funny, because I have to stop myself from writing something like “With Quantum & Woody, Priest lets loose with the Everett-Ross goofiness and Tarantino-esque time-shifting, that’s comparatively tame in Black Panther, with hilarious results!.” Which, you know, would be stupid since I keep forgetting Q & W actually came first. Though, I guess, considering Priest’s non-linear storytelling, that would be fitting.

So, with Quantum & Woody, Priest lets loose with the Everett-Ross goofiness and Tarantino-esque time-shifting, that’s comparatively tame in Black Panther, with hilarious results!!!!!

Quantum & Woody succeeds where so many other superhero parodies fail, I think, because Priest and Bright are able to walk a line that so many others plummet over. There’s a lot of superhero parody that’s way too parody and not enough superhero. It’s one of the reasons I could never get into Byrne’s She-Hulk or the JLI creative team’s recent take on Defenders. The stories fall too deeply into the goofiness and the result is humor that’s easy, formulaic, and predictable. Priest and Bright never forget that their heroes are heroes. Quantum looks genuinely cool spinning discs at foes or hopping flagpoles down the side of a building, his white cape billowing behind him in cool, Batman-y ways. There’s enough seriousness and genuine heroism to make the book more than just parody.

It’s freaking hilarious, the art is sweet, and goddammit, it’s out of print.

Okay, that’s enough for tonight.

This has actually been pretty cool: writing a bunch of short reviews rather than longer reviews, one-by-one. I might opt to do more of this from now on.

Though, you know, re-reading a lot of this stuff, I don’t know if I can call myself a reviewer. My stuff is more of a recording of impressions, I guess. Oh well. Whatever. I’m a ‘bloggin’, regardless.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Review - Planet Hulk: Gladiator Guidebook

Planet Hulk: Gladiator Guidebook
By Anthony Flamini, Greg Pak, and various artists
Published by Marvel Comics; $3.99 US

I usually don’t go in for guidebooks, handbooks, “secret files,” or whatever you want to call them. I enjoyed the 1980's Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe when they first came out, but have since regretted the fact that the things ever saw the light of day. I think the idea of cataloguing the specifics of super-heroes and super-villains has led to an RPG-mentality among comics readers (evidenced by the ka-zillion message board posts across the net devoted to answering the all-important question of whether or not Drax-with-a-power-gem can defeat Thanos-with-a-kazoo) that judges comics not by artistic or storytelling ability, but by whether or not Spider-Man should have been allowed to beat up Firelord. And the Marvel handbooks of recent years haven’t even had the advantage of being pleasing to the eye. While the old OHOTMU featured numerous panels borrowed from comics in which the profiled characters appeared, such snapshots have been rare in the more recent volumes, and usually they’re poorly cropped and only included to fill space.

Planet Hulk: Gladiator Guidebook is a cut above the rest, and the reason is that the goal isn’t to chronicle the events any reader could find just by reading the comics on which the guidebook is based, or the cataloguing of power limits.

True to its name, PH: GG pretends to be an annual guidebook for audiences of Sakaar’s gladiator games. The guidebooks gives readers a surprisingly intricate history of Sakaar, its people, its geography, its wildlife, and the surrounding star system. A prime example of the guide’s thoroughness is an entire page dedicated to Ronan Kaifi, a character who lived and died in about two or three panels of Hulk #93. It includes three beautiful double-page maps – drawn by Jim Calafiore*** – of the Tayo Star System, Sakaar, and the Crown City. It’s a testament to how far Pak and co. went to create a believable and engaging setting for “Planet Hulk,” and it also provides ammunition for my desire for the green guy to NOT return to Earth for vengeance after the conclusion of “Planet Hulk,” but to remain among the stars and have more epic adventures. I even found myself thinking, while reading about specific historical events or characters, that those stories on their own could become cool mini-series.

***While I can’t provide a link to confirm this, I believe I recall an interview in which Calafiore claimed the Hulk was one of his favorite subjects to draw. I don’t think he’s ever been a regular Hulk artist, but he did a wonderful job drawing the character for guest appearances in Black Panther and Exiles (and perhaps others I don’t know about).

The history that Flamini and Pak outline is both believable and interesting, as are the scientific explanations for much of the technology, physiology, etc. (of course, this is coming from someone who knows as much about science as Jerry Bruckheimer knows about subtlety). At 48 pages, PH: GG includes a hell of a lot more extra info than I was expecting, and the info proved engaging enough that I read it all the way through without a break, despite the two tpbs I had bought and was waiting to crack open (Rocketo and Silent Dragon, for anyone who cares).

For the first time since I started reviewing parts of “Planet Hulk,” I do have to admit to some disappointments, though most of my complaints have to do with the formatting of the book rather than information contained within.

For example, while the aforementioned double-page maps already put PH: GG a few notches above any of Marvel’s recent handbooks as far as new art is concerned, most of the art is pulled directly from “Planet Hulk” issues (I only spotted one piece that may be new or may be from a future issue – a pic of the Death’s Heads fighting the Devil Corkers on pg. 27). Of course, this is to be expected and usually isn’t a problem, but it’s regrettable that more new pictures couldn’t have been commissioned, particularly for the “Wildlife” and “Wildebot” sections. There a number of pictures in the “Wildlife” section where you really have to squint to even figure out where the wildlife in question is hiding, and the pic included in the “Wildebot” section features the Imperials running from the wildebot more prominently than the wildebot itself.

It may just be that my eyesight is failing and I need some glasses, but the white lettering on the black background gave me some trouble. Also, the font size changes often to suit the formatting, and in particular a lot of the profiles for the warbound gladiators got really, really tiny. I was blinking and rubbing my eyes a lot while reading PH: GG.

This isn’t so much a complaint, but I think it would’ve been cool if the formatting of PH: GG more strongly suggested the idea that it was something produced on Sakaar rather than a handbook for comics readers. Admittedly, this might have been difficult, particularly when trying to keep the cost of the book reasonable. The only really successful example of something like this I’ve seen is the Astro City Visitor’s Guide that came out right before Astro City: The Dark Age.

As far as the information contained within PH: GG, most of it is consistent, but there is one itty, bitty thing that’s been bugging me. “Planet Hulk,” we find out in the intro of the guidebook, is set in the Sakaarian year 566 Post. The guidebook stays true to the idea that the time between the creation of the Fantastic Four to today equals about 10 “Earth” years. In Hulk’s profile, for example, it says that Bruce Banner became the Hulk 10 Earth years ago. Likewise, in Korg’s profile, it says he fought Thor 10 Earth years ago. But, using the Sakaarian designation for years, Korg’s profile says he landed on Sakaar in 464 Post. Since “Planet Hulk” begins in 566 Post, that means either A) Earth years are 10 times as long as Sakaarian years or, B) going through the Great Portal causes some kind of time shift or, C) someone made a boo-boo. If the answer is A, then it might have been a good idea to work in an explanation of the difference between Earth and Sakaarian years. If the answer is B, then that opens up some interesting possibilities concerning if/when Hulk returns to Earth. If the answer is C, then, whoops.

In spite of its faults, Planet Hulk: Gladiator Guidebook is certainly one of the best handbooks this Hulkling has come across. It lives up to Anthony Flamini’s comparsion – made during a brief interview in Giant-Size Hulk #1 – to the appendices found at the end of The Lord of the Rings. The info contained isn’t essential to understand or enjoy “Planet Hulk,” but it adds a historical flavor to the epic that will make it that much harder to say goodbye when it concludes next year.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Review - Incredible Hulk: Prelude to Planet Hulk

The Incredible Hulk: Prelude to Planet Hulk
By Daniel Way, Keu Cha, and Juan Santacruz
Published by Marvel; $13.99 US
Collects Incredible Hulk #88-#91 and Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Hulk 2004

So, "Planet Hulk" has got the entire greenskin-lovin’ world feeling like they managed to locate that remote control from Click and found out where Power Girl likes to jog. Words like "best," "since," "Peter," and "David" litter not only the fan message boards but just about every other review. He may not be getting Civil War numbers, but it’s obvious Hulk’s making the kind of splash the book hasn’t made in a while.

As a regular browser and poster on a few Hulkilicious message boards here and there, I’ve seen a lot of unfamiliar "faces" on the green forums in the past few months. And a lot of them tend to ask what there is before "Planet Hulk" that they should read. So, I thought I’d take a look at the story of how Hulk got lured into the last frontier in the first place.

The story: Bruce Banner seeks solace in the Alaskan wilderness. Nick Fury finds him and enlists the reluctant scientist to use his greener side to dispose of a decades-old Hydra satellite with the capability of detonating every nuke on Earth. As soon as Hulk locks horns with the sentient machine, he finds out Fury hasn’t been completely honest with him, but he doesn’t know the half of it yet.

The name of this arc, when originally released, was "Peace In Our Time." In fact, before Marvel officially announced the creative team of Way and Cha, the trade was listed as Incredible Hulk: Peace In Our Time at Amazon. While the decision to change the sub-title to Prelude to Planet Hulk likely had more to do with the buzz "Planet Hulk" was getting than any kind of admission of guilt, it still reflected an unintentional and surprising bit of critical honesty on Marvel’s part.

In other words, Prelude to Planet Hulk is perfectly named. It’s a prelude to something else, and that’s all it is. It’s a story that could easily have been squeezed into one or two issues, and it leaves the reader feeling that the editorial direction Way received amounted to little more than "Please fill space." The only noteworthy thing about it is that at the end the Hulk gets kicked out of the classroom, Major-Tom-Style.

Way has leaned towards so-called "decompressed" storytelling in the past, and in some cases it’s worked well. Unfortunately, Prelude isn’t the right story for this particular style. In series like Venom and Sabretooth, which both featured predator-and-prey stories with strong sci-fi thriller flavor, the pacing helped to build suspense. In Prelude, Way keeps the same pace but the suspense just isn’t there. Much like Bruce Jones's first issue of Hulk, the first chapter of Prelude does nothing but let us know Banner has isolated himself from society, while giving us a brief tussle between Hulk and some unimpressive thugs. The art from both Cha and Santacruz seems stiff and ill-suited to action sequences.

There really isn't much left to say. It's boring and slow and really not worth your money. The trade also collects Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Hulk 2004, and I've never enjoyed handbooks, so I didn't even bother to read it. I am intending on picking up the Planet Hulk Gladiator Guidebook, though that does seem to do something the other handbooks don't. It offers info that you couldn't get otherwise and that isn't essential to understanding the story, while most of Marvel's guidebooks just compile info that any reader could know had they read the issues. No disrespect meant to the folks who put the handbook together, it's just not my cup o' tea.

Go US Mail System! Go!

Well, the resurrection of Superheroes, etc. goes relatively slow, mainly because, well, heh, I have the shingles.

That's right. I am suffering from a medical condition that makes me sound like I should have roofers working on me. I looked it up on Wikipedia, hoping that I could find a more technical term, because "shingles" just sounds so damn dirty, and guess what the medical term is? Herpes zoster. HERPES zoster. Much better. It sounds like something you catch from having sex with a priest (and I could've sworn Father O'Reilly was using protection).

From what I've read and heard, I don't have it so bad. My mother said my grandfather caught it once, that he had a rash under his belly, and that it was so bad that it looked like someone tied a rope around his waist.

I've got a few blisters behind my ear and behind my neck, thankfully hidden under my hair. For the past few days I've suffered from a good deal of throbbing pain, not excruciating but too annoying to concentrate on reading and writing. I'm still working, but it's been tough. I've got some anti-virals and pain meds, and I'm already feeling a little better.

My girlfriend is going away for the weekend and I'll have a few days off work, so I'm hoping to do nothing but eat, sleep, read, and relieve myself (emphasis on sleep) until Monday. Since I've watched every damn DVD in my apartment, I'm hoping the mail system will work a little faster than normal. I made a couple of trades at Sequential Swap, and I'm hoping the books reach me by the weekend so I have something to pass the time. In total, I've got 9 books on their way from two different swappers:

Captain America: Winter Soldier, Vol. 1
Conan, Vol. 2: The God in the Bowl & Other Stories
Hulk/Wolverine: Six Hours
Justice League: A New Beginning
Planet of the Capes
Quantum & Woody: The Director's Cut
(the trades of Q&W have proven damn hard to track down, in fact I almost hope I don't like it too much, because otherwise I'll want to track down the other three)
Twisted Toyfare Theatre, Vol. 4
Twisted Toyfare Theatre, Vol. 6
Young Gods and Friends

If I don't get them, and I'm feeling well enough, I may begin the first major project I want to do for the blog: reviewing every single volume of Lone Wolf and Cub.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Review - The Incredible Hulk #96

The Incredible Hulk #96
By Greg Pak and Aaron Lopresti
Published by Marvel; $2.99 US

The first installment of "Planet Hulk: Anarchy" brings with it the opening shots of the military conflict between the Red King’s forces and those of Hulk and his warbound gladiators, a revelation about Miek’s past, and new penciler Aaron Lopresti.

Right up front I’ve got to give props to Lopresti for maintaining a stylistic unity between his work and Pagulayan’s (who, unless I’m mistaken, will be returning for the third arc). There are visible differences, obviously. For example, the Hulk looks just a little less rugged than he did during "Exile." But for the most part Lopresti has given us a seamless transition, something I imagine could give a kick to the ego for someone working in any kind of visual medium.

The supporting cast takes the starring role in "Anarchy, Part 1." Hulk, in fact, only has about a half-dozen lines of dialogue. Though his presence is still felt and we do get some cool Hulk-smashage. Miek, in particular, takes center stage as he leads the warbound gladiators to the land where he was born (hatched?). Hiroim takes on a more prominent role as the strategic adviser of the group, and the Brood Sister is becoming one of my favorite of Hulk’s allies. Pak makes her both surprisingly empathic and utterly creepy.

I’m not going to get into the particulars of Miek’s story, because Pak handles it so well I feel like relating even the basic, non-spoiler facts could take away from a reader’s enjoyment. Suffice to say, Miek’s past leads to a conflict, and Pak fools you into thinking he’s going to give it your average "shiny happy people" Hollywood ending. Then he pulls the rug out from under you and shows why this chapter of "Planet Hulk" is called "Anarchy."

Finally, kudos for the hilarious letters page that features the Red King answering reader questions, and also what may or may not have been another light-hearted jab at Hulk’s Ultimate counterpart (hint: It’s on the first page and it has to do with Hulk’s diet).

Here comes the love

If there’s blame to be assigned for my return to this cobwebbed blog, lay it on Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. I had resigned myself to forgetting Superheroes, etc. I started a new Hulk fan blog called Green Days to satiate my need to run my mouth (so to speak) on comics that wouldn’t bite too deeply into my hectic schedule. Then, after Lone Star Comics threw some credit my way for selling them back issues, I got my hands on the last four volumes of Lone Wolf and Cub and read them all the night they arrived.

I cried. I cried like a big, fat Daigoro with my shoulders on the counter in front of me, and my face buried in my palms. Something happened to me at the end of the series that’s never happened while reading a comic book, a novel, anything.

Hopefully, this won't give too much away: In the final scene, Daigoro listens to his father’s words about life, death, rebirth, and how they relate to the ocean.

And I heard the ocean. I heard it. I didn’t intellectually appreciate the artist’s depiction of the ocean or feel particularly struck by Itto’s metaphor. I just fucking heard it. Not in my head. In my ears (well, I guess they’re part of my head). In stereo. I heard the ocean. I literally heard the waves roll up the shore, lick at Daigoro’s toes, and trickle back. I heard it. To Hell with seashells, I’ve got the final volume of Lone Wolf and Cub.

Then I read the third volume of Runaways. It was okay. Lots of snark. Cool art.

The next day, I thought about my growing collection of trades, hardcovers, OGNs, and anthologies. I thought about how I’d spent close to $300 on Lone Wolf and Cub, how little I regretted losing a dime of that money, how much I looked forward to cracking open the books again, maybe even sharing the stories with my children (they don’t exist yet, of course) once I felt they were old enough for the kind of material inside (Runaways, obviously, would be a safer bet), and finally how much I DID NOT feel the same about my collections of Runaways, Young Avengers, Sabretooth, X-men, Bullseye, WildC.A.T.S., House of M, Young Justice, etc.

It struck me how much I deserved to expect nothing less than stories that were, in some way, extraordinary. Not good. Not okay. Not super-cool or killer. Extraordinary. I felt a simultaneous hunger for stories that could affect me as much as Lone Wolf and Cub, and a complete apathy for series - like those named above - that I’d bought only from a need to gather more ongoing super-soap-operas in which to become engrossed. Not that all, or most, or any of the above-named series were bad, but I didn’t just want "not bad." I felt a strong need for books that genuinely do some of the things art, in any form, is supposed to do: to entertain, to change life, and to maybe even alter the audience’s view of the world. I wanted more of what I felt after reading Watchmen, Moore’s Swamp Thing, WE3, Barefoot Gen, and the Astro City trade that brought me back to comics after a long break.

So I took all the super-soap-opera trades mentioned earlier, and more, and stuck them all on my swap list at Sequential Swap, hoping to barter for some more books that might alter my reality. And then I went out and bought some.

I bought three trades at my local comic shop on Wednesday, and I’ve never had a better comic book buying day. I’ve never bought multiple trades in one day and been so absolutely impressed with all three. I picked up the second book of Bluesman, the first 15-issue collection of Matt Wagner’s Mage (the trade, not the HC, I didn’t become rich since last I updated the blog), and Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan. Again, I read them all that night.

And I wanted so bad to FUCKING TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT!!!!!!!!

But I couldn’t. The friends I talk to on a daily basis are limited in their comic book knowledge, and usually their body language reveals their lack of interest when I start going on about Lone Wolf and Cub or Starman. The guy who works the shift before me is occasionally willing to talk to me about new or upcoming superhero movies. That’s about it.

So, expect more reviews. I still feel ill-equipped to review non-superhero stuff like Bluesman and Lone Wolf and Cub, but I’m going to give it my best shot because the prostitutes, drunk fratboys, and bikers choking the bars around my radio station tend to be disinterested in my thoughts on classic manga and Harvey Pekar.