Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Astonishing Junk Food For Thought

So Marvel, in their infinite wisdom, has yet another all-ages, new reader friendly line. No, not Marvel Age, or Marvel Adventures, but the Astonishing line. The main difference being that this is set in mainline continuity and is supposedly new reader friendly. Why don't they just make the regular titles more new reader friendly? I stumbled into various titles in the '80s and was able to catch up with what was going on, but that is hard in the age of multiple crossovers and lazy Bendis writing, all-conversation/ feeble set-up issues.
MARVEL MASTERWORKS GOLDEN AGE YOUNG ALLIES VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2009; Hardcover)
Collects Young Allies Nos. 1-4 (cover dates Summer 1941- Summer 1942)
This series is a lot of fun at times, offensive to 21st century sensibilities at others, and ridiculous all around. This series features some of Stan Lee's earliest writing, as well as artwork by future I, Robot writer Otto Binder. The artwork is passable for the era. Unlike most Golden Age comics, the bulk of these 64 page issues are devoted solely to the Young Allies, with only a handful of back-up features appearing. There is a stray Father Time feature that is quite good, and the Vagabond is as bizarre as any of the other stories of his featured in other GA magazines. It's great to see the Red Skull as the YA's main adversary, as I am a sucker for him. We even get to see him unmasked here, which is pretty rare. Not everything is all rosy here, though. As stated in the introduction, Whitewash Jones is a product of the time. Think of Buckwheat from the Little Rascals and you get a general idea of the type of comic relief he provides. This isn't the type of book that I'd let my son read by any stretch, but it is fascinating from a historical perspective. One of the reasons that I buy all of these Golden Age collections is the fact that they are so rare and expensive in their original formats that I would never get to experience them otherwise, or certainly nowhere near the sheer volume of them that I have in the last 5 or so years. This book is totally worth picking up as long as you understand in advance what it is you're picking up. The production values on this book are top notch, with the highest quality restoration (only 1 page looks iffy to my eyes and probably wouldn't register to most people), paper and binding. It's ironic that this book is made in China, though, given the portrayal of Far Easterners in this book. I wonder if any of the workers on the lines ever look down at what is being printed.

BLACK TERROR VOL. 1 (Dynamite, 2009)
Collects Black Terror Nos. 1-4 (cover dates November, 2008- May, 2009)
Yet another satisfying installment in the Project Superpowers universe. I am really enjoying all of these titles, and someday, when I am all caught up on my reading, I plan on sitting down and re-reading all of these in the order of release. I suspect that I will be able to catch up with my reading if comics go all digital ala the iPad. I have no interest whatsoever in reading comics on a computer or a screen, so when the day comes when print comics are dead then I can re-read all of these trades and hardcovers. I do realize that we will likely never see an end to print comics, but that has to happen in order for me to catch up on my backlog and re-read this fine series.
VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS (Bluewater, 2009)
Collects Vincent Price Presents Nos. 1-4 (cover dates September- December, 2008)
Wow, this was a surprisingly good read! I ordered this on a whim, always eager to check out new Horror anthologies, and this was one time when it really panned out. Solid writing and artwork throughout, the oddest thing about this series is that Issue 1 was the weakest of the bunch. Wouldn't you want to put your best foot forward? In any case, this was a lot of fun, and the only complaint that I have is that the cover of this trade has a bizarre rubber-y feeling coating rather than the typical waxy coating of most trades. Odd to the touch, but you get used to it quickly enough. Fans of Horror comics should definitely check this series out.
STAR TREK: CREW (IDW, 2009)
Collects Star Trek: Crew Nos. 1-5 (cover dates March- July, 2009)
I am a casual Star Trek fan. I used to watch re-runs of the original series when I was kid and religiously watched Star Trek: The Next Generation for the first two or three seasons. I saw Star Trek III: The Search For Spock at the old Wyandotte dollar show, and saw every movie released in the last 20 years at the theatre. I am just not a Star Trek expert, so if this defies continuity or not I cannot say. What I can say, though, is that John Byrne turns in a helluva entertaining series that I picked up on a whim in this trade paperback that should please fans of the series (any of them). My only gripe with this book is that the covers are collected in the back rather than in front of each issue as a chapter marker. OCD on that topic aside, this gets my highest recommendation.
THE COMICS OF FLETCHER HANKS: I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS! (Fantagraphics, 2008)
Collects selections from Big Three Comics No. 2, Fantastic Comics Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 16, Fight Comics Nos. 2, Jungle Nos. 3, 5, 7, 9, 10 and Planet Nos. 7 (cover dates December, 1939- February, 1941).
I bought this book as something of a goof because I saw the way that Fletcher Hanks drew necks and it made me smile. Over the course of reading the exploits of Stardust the Super Wizard and Fantomah, I became a fan of his artwork and ridiculous writing. Stardust seems to gain a new power in every panel of every story. Like many early Golden Age comics, these are super violent and loaded with a 'might makes right' mentality, and they rock because of this. Kudos to Fantagraphics for compiling his complete work over the course of two books, as these stories would otherwise be lost to the mists of time.
ESSENTIAL LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN VOL. 2 (Marvel, 2006)
Collects Luke Cage, Power Man Nos. 28-49 and Luke Cage, Power Man Annual No. 1 (cover dates December, 1975- February, 1978).
This is strictly second tier stuff, even by '70s standards. Sure, it occasionally rises to very good (the Claremont/ Byrne stuff) but for the most part, this is overwritten bravado tinged smacktalk coupled with Don McGregor's at-the-time-interesting political commentary which, in 2010, comes off a bit preachy. Frank Robbins is one of the worst pencilers that has ever graced the pages of comic books. He's like a fourth rate Harvey Kurtzman. The villains are strictly C- and D-list. Mr. Fish? Spear? Cockroach Hamilton and his shotgun Josh, which he refers to it as in nearly every panel that it is shown. This series has it's moments, but this batch of issues isn't anywhere near as entertaining as the first 27, or after the title morphs into Power Man and Iron Fist with Issue 50.
SUPERMAN: STRANGE ATTRACTORS (DC, 2006)
Collects Action Comics Nos. 827, 828, 830-835 (cover dates July, 2005- March, 2006)
When coupled with strong inkers like we see here, John Byrne still rules. Solid writing, good artwork, and tasteful coloring made this a joy to read. Even better is the fact that this was in the 1/2 off box at Big Ben's Comix Oasis.
CALIBER: FIRST CANON OF JUSTICE (Radical, 2009)
Collects Caliber Nos. 1-5 (cover dates May- September, 2008)
I can appreciate something that is well done, even if I am not totally crazy about the subject. I picked this up in the aforementioned half off box of trades because the artwork looked decent, and that sums up this book in a nutshell. Decent. Not great, not horrible, just competently done comic books.
WOLVERINE OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (Marvel, 2009; Hardcover)
Collects Captain America Annual No. 8, Incredible Hulk Nos. 180-182, 340, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine Nos. 1-6, Punisher War Journal (Vol. 1) Nos. 6, 7, Spider-Man Vs. Wolverine, Uncanny X-Men Nos. 172-173, Wolverine (Vol. 1) Nos. 1-4, Wolverine (Vol. 2) Nos. 1-10 and selections from Marvel Age Annual No. 4, Marvel Comics Presents (Vol. 1) Nos. 1-10, 72-84 and Marvel Treasury Edition No. 26 (cover dates October, 1974- July, 1989).
Wolverine is the best comic book character to come out of the '70s, and there are many people who would argue that he is among the best characters ever created. I would not be one of them, though. Wolverine, as he was originally created and appears in the first chunk of this monster 1,000+ page tome, was a borderline psychotic quasi-hero, almost as likely to go off on a teammate as he would an enemy. This unpredictability, coupled with his lack of an origin or past, made him intriguing. As time moved on, Chris Claremont decided to add layers to the character, with mixed results. His healing factor became a ridiculous thing, eventually making him nearly unbeatable. He was suddenly a samurai, which I always thought was retarded. Claremont made him 150 or so years old, also retarded. I bought into the fact that his healing factor slowed his aging, but I gauged it around 20-30 years, not a hundred (or more in stories told this decade). Later on, they ret-conned Wolverine into Captain America's past, etc., and that is when he jumped the shark. Nowadays he is in every single title, and it makes one wonder if he has the ability to bend time in order to fit into every character and team's life. 
The Wolverine ongoing series that started in 1988 (Vol. 2) reveals that he supposedly has had all of this spare time to foster a separate identity in Madripoor. Reading comic books requires a healthy suspension of disbelief, but this is ludicrous when you go back and re-read Uncanny X-Men until this point. When exactly did he have time to do this? Things like this have made me loathe the character anymore, but thanks to this book I can at least go back and revisit a time when he didn't make me vomit.
SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL VOL. 1 (DC, 2003)
Collects Man of Steel Nos. 1-6 cover dates (October- December, 1986)
I have been a John Byrne fan since 1984, when I started reading Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight. When he went to work on this title for DC, I was very curious but wouldn't cross the "party line" back then. This was one of the first major character "reboots" which have since become a cliche, but this still holds up pretty well. Byrne's writing and artwork have a real fluidity here that make this a good read. I have issues with the book AS a book, though. I dislike the pulp paper that DC uses in their trades, as I worry that it will yellow and age with time. Also, Issue 5 has obliterated line work. These issues aren't that old or rare that they couldn't do a decent restoration job.
Sloan/ B Sides Win: Extras, Bonus Tracks and B-Sides 1992-2008
Sloan has finally listened to their die-hard fans and given us the rarities collection that we have clamored for. Unfortunately, it is only available as a download from their website, and the PDF isn't scaled for a printer friendly 5X5 booklet layout. I am glad that this has been made available (and cheap too... $9.99 for 26 tracks), but I would have been glad to pay more for a factory pressed physical CD version. This collection is by no means complete, as I own 3 songs that are not on here. Stove/Smother from DGC Rarities Vol. 1; Waterfalls from the Paul McCartney tribute album, Listen to What the Man Said, and their cover of Rush's In the Mood from the Fubar soundtrack are not included. Some of the earlier B-sides and bonus tracks are pretty rough around the edges, but some, like Dirty Nails and Pretty Together, make you wonder what they were thinking when they left them off of the original domestic releases. Strangely missing is the entirety of the Live Sloan Party bonus disc from the first US printing of One Chord To Another. I got one on eBay ages ago, and I'm sure that it isn't getting any more common. Hopefully Sloan will bundle the aforementioned songs and put all of this into a nice box set at some point. Hey, I can dream, right?

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