Friday, September 17, 2010

The Resurrection of Junk Food For Thought


STAR TREK- ROMULANS: PAWNS OF WAR (IDW, 2010)
Collects Star Trek: Alien Spotlight: Romulans, Star Trek: Romulans: The Hollow Crown Nos. 1, 2 and Star Trek: Romulans: Schism Nos. 1-3 (cover dates September, 2008- November, 2009)
Good solid stuff by John Byrne. I am not a huge Star Trek fan but know enough about the series to be able to follow what is going on. There are probably 'Easter Eggs' for the diehard Trekkies, but I was still able to follow this with ease. 


STRANGE SUSPENSE: THE STEVE DITKO ARCHIVES VOL. 1 (Fantagraphics, 2009)
Collects material from Black Magic Nos. 27, 28, Blazing Western No. 1, Crime and Justice No. 18, Daring Love No. 1, Fantastic Fears No. 4, From Here To Insanity No. 10, Rocket Squad In Action Nos. 11, 12, Space Adventures Nos. 10-12, Strange Suspense Stories Nos. 18-20, 22, The Thing Nos. 12-15, 17 and This Magazine Is Haunted Nos. 16-19, 21 (cover dates January/February, 1954- June, 1955).
This is another beautiful hardcover by Fantagraphics, who excel at doing comprehensive collections like this. This volume focuses primarily on Ditko's early Charlton stuff. I have been a huge Ditko fan ever since I discovered his pencils in Marvel Tales #163 in 1983, which reprinted Amazing Spider-Man #9 from 1963. The stories in this book are extremely text-laden and are best digested slowly, no more than 2 or 3 per sitting. Any more, and your eyes get heavy and you nod off. Either that, or the wonderfully toxic aroma of overseas ink knocks you out. Maybe they put chloroform in the ink to keep costs down...who knows? 

X-MEN: PRELUDE TO ONSLAUGHT- BOOK 0 (Marvel, 2010)
Collects Cable Nos. 32, 33, Uncanny X-Men No. 333, X-Man Nos. 15-17 and X-Men No. 50 (cover dates March- July, 1996).
X-Men, like most Marvel Comics, sucked pretty hard in the '90s. Not every issue or every arc, mind you, but there was enough suckiness in sidebar titles like Cable and X-Man to wash away any good that may have occurred elsewhere in the X-Universe. The idea behind Onslaught wasn't that bad, merely the long-winded execution of it. 

THE SAGA OF SOLOMON KANE (Dark Horse, 2009)
Collects Marvel Preview No. 19 and material from Conan Saga No. 50, Dracula Lives! No. 3, Kull and the Barbarians Nos. 2, 3, Monsters Unleashed No. 1 and The Savage Sword of Conan Nos. 13, 14, 18-20, 22, 25, 26, 33, 34, 37, 39, 41, 53, 54, 62, 83, 162, 171, 219, 220 (cover dates August, 1973- April, 1994)
Robert E. Howard's other, non-barbarian creation, Solomon Kane is a puritan adventurer on a mission from God. What that essentially means is that he fights supernatural enemies like vampires, zombies, etc. Good stuff.


SPIDER-MAN: THE COMPLETE CLONE SAGA EPIC BOOK 1 (Marvel, 2010)
Collects Amazing Spider-Man No. 394, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 217, Spider-Man Nos. 51-53, Spider-Man Unlimited No. 7, Spider-Man: The Lost Years Nos. 1-3 and Web of Spider-Man Nos. 117-119 (cover dates October, 1994- October, 1995).
Blame it on the French, because much like Jerry Lewis, they got a Clone Saga collection first. David Gabriel, a head sales department type guy at Marvel, used to post at a message board that I go to, and used to do Q+As. These were glorified wishlists from us to him/Marvel. I brought up that France got an Omnibus, why not us? This was like 2 or 3 years ago. Fast forward, and Marvel put out a 'Real' Clone Saga mini-series, where they published the story as it was supposedly originally intended. Marvel has a lot of synergy between their trade department and other departments, so that when something like that comes out, they will issue a collection like this. Or for a movie, etc. So, either thanks to my question (doubtful) or the new mini-series, we are getting a series of nice, fat, chunky trades. I will say this, though. Several of the other requests that I made (i.e. Power Pack Classic, Complete Onslaught) back then have since become a reality, so who knows? Then again, I also requested that they reprint Shogun Warriors, Planet of the Apes, and Man From Atlantis collections, and they are nowhere in sight.
I have to admit that I expected this to suck like most '90s Marvel Comics, but this was a terrific read. Kudos to my message board homeskillet Jeph York for doing the research and sequencing of the book. While my completist OCD dictates that things be collected in order of publication, he put The Lost Years mini-series and several back-up features first because that is where they occurred in continuity. My OCD twitched at this prospect, but I'll be d***ed if it didn't make for a seamless read.
Mark Bagley's love-it-or-hate-it artwork is featured throughout the book, as is J.M. DeMatties' writing. Like I said, this was an extremely enjoyable read, and I as of yet cannot see why this is so loathed among fandom. I have never read any of these issues before, and while I know the general outcome of this saga, I don't know the path that has already been laid out. 
I remember hearing about this circa 1996, while I was on sabbatical from the hobby. It made me angry, like 'there's no way the clone won'. I had the floppies to the original clone saga, and I hunted down the Clone Genesis trade which collected it after I returned to comics in 2003. Upon re-reading, I determined that there is a grey area as to who really won the battle. Ross Andru routinely did 'camera angle' flips between panels, and I wondered 'what if he did one during the battle'? There was truly no way of telling them apart, and since the clone had been implanted with Peter Parker's memories and both believed themselves to be the real Spider-Man, it was plausible. Of course, it is also easier for me to enjoy this than readers of the monthly series at the time for a couple of reasons: 1. Hindsight. It is much easier to digest something knowing the overall outcome, and that things return to a status quo later on. 2. The fact that current Amazing Spider-Man doesn't suck.
One thing about Marvel at this time that sticks in my craw is that they expected fans to buy all four or five monthly Spider-titles, as there would be 4 part arcs every month that ran across all of the titles. That is completely unfair and likely discouraged new readers. Imagine some 9 or 10 year old kid who bought a Spider-Man comic book at this time trying to follow it, or someone who lived in a rural area who relied on subscriptions. It is insulting to expect, almost demand, that someone buy every single title that you put out in order to get a full story from one series. At least current Marvel, while still putting out umpteen crossovers, makes each title a stand alone read. You could pick up only one title month after month and not be lost. I also enjoy the way that many of the recent crossovers, i.e. Civil War, Secret Invasion, etc., have had a stand alone mini-series, and the crossovers merely fleshed out concepts that were touched upon in the main series. 


SHOWCASE PRESENTS SECRETS OF SINISTER HOUSE (DC, 2010)
Collects  The Sinister House of Love Nos. 1-4 and Secrets of Sinister House Nos. 5-18 (cover dates November, 1971- July, 1974).
This is another winner. Much like its sister titles, House of Mystery and House of Secrets, this was (after Issue 5) an anthology Horror title with great writing and artwork. The first 5 issues were double-sized Gothic Romance stories, if that makes any sense. Vampires, castles, the macabre, true love, etc. At 35-40 pages each, and crammed with text like every other comic book of the day, they offer quite a bit of depth and characterization. The format obviously tanked, and DC tweaked the title and format.
The late Alfredo P. Alcala is one of my all-time favorite comic book artists. The amount of detail that he crams into each panel is stunning, and his artwork looks even better here in black and white. A lot of his fine line work was washed out when they colored these stories in the original single issues.
These black and white phone books are the ultimate for vacation reading. They are cheap (MSRP under $20), light, and plentiful, so if you damage them and your OCD can't handle a dog-eared corner, there is no hunt required to replace them. I plowed through this in 6 days. I read 370 of the 496 pages up north in Caseville, MI, the land that time forgot. I couldn't get my Internet connection on my phone, there were 2 TV channels, and the whole area just seemed detached from the 21st Century, which is as frightening to me as these stories are. It seemed fitting to be detached from the now while reading these stories from the early 1970s which largely took place in the late 1800s.

JOHN BYRNE'S NEXT MEN: THE PREMIERE COLLECTION VOL. 2 (IDW, 2009)
Collects John Byrne’s Next Men Nos. 11-20 (cover dates January- November, 1993)
IDW are a bunch of f**king morons. High end hardcover reprint collections like this appeal only to the most anal-retentive, niche-within-a-niche-hobbyist like myself. So what does IDW do? They make Volume 2 larger and wider than Vol. 1. Like an inch or more in each direction. Morons!! I could feel twitching behind my eye when I first laid eyes on this book.
What's really sad is, this is a nicer presentation than Volume 1. The over-sized trim really makes this book feel luxurious. Nice paper, sewn binding, all of the OCD green lights that hardcover obsessives like myself fetish-ize. A pox upon you, IDW, for forever making my bookshelves be inconsistent within this line!
You know what? This book has STORIES inside of it. Amazing. I read them (again) and this was a terrific read. I originally read these in the phone books that IDW put out a year or two ago, and they work better in color. John Byrne's artwork was beginning to get looser and scratchier here, something that he would stick with a few more years. Not my favorite period of his artwork, but the writing is still solid. 

SPIDER-MAN: THE COMPLETE CLONE SAGA EPIC BOOK 2 (Marvel, 2010)
Collects Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 395-399, The Spectacular Spider-Man Nos. 218-221, Spider-Man Nos. 54-56, Spider-Man Unlimited No. 8, Spider-Man: Funeral For An Octopus Nos. 1-3 and Web of Spider-Man Nos. 120-122 (cover dates November, 1994- May, 1995).
This is still good stuff, even if some of the ongoing plot lines are getting a little long-winded. Kaine has been in the shadows for the first two 400+ page trades. For real? Stil, lots of good stuff, lots of classic Spider-Man villains, and the artwork is mostly decent. Bill Sienkewicz is not the man to ink Sal Buscema's pencils, however. What a contrast in style and intent. 

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE MARVEL COMICS VOL. 4 (Marvel, 2009)
Collects Marvel Mystery Comics Nos. 13-16 (cover dates November, 1940- February, 1941)
This one's been on the back burner for a while now. It came out last summer (2009), but it was in the backlog long enough that Golden Age Marvel Comics Omnibus Vol. 1 came out, so I figured that I would (re-)read those issues first in order to get a true sense of continuity and character progression.
Bill Everett's Sub-Mariner is frickin' awesome, and is my favorite out of all of these Timely heroes. I love his 'might makes right' mentality, and how he suddenly decides to involve himself in that "situation over in Europe"...all over a girl. It must be pointed out once again the historical significance of these issues, as their publication pre-dates America's involvement in World War II by a year (cover dates were 2 months ahead back then. At the end of each issue, there is an ad which shows the release date, likely very approximate given the lackluster distribution methods in place in those days.)
Carl Burgos' Human Torch is also great, ditto Electro, the Marvel of the Age. That character started out hokey, and either A) Professor Zog and his robot have become more developed, B) the silliness of these Golden Age stories has dulled my brain, or C) the sweet smelling fumes from the toxic Chinese ink has brainwashed me. Joe Simon and Jack Kirby unleash another great character, the Vision, who comes to, and returns from, our dimension through smoke. Yes, that's right, ordinary smoke. Cigarette smoke, any smoke will do. No matter how hokey the concept might seem in 2010, these are terrific reads.
From a production standpoint, everything here is top notch. Paper, restoration, coloring, binding...everything that even the most anal-retentive OCD-laden comic book fan can complain about is up to snuff here.

SPIDER-MAN: THE COMPLETE CLONE SAGA EPIC BOOK 3 (Marvel, 2010)
Collects Amazing Spider-Man Nos. 400, 401, Amazing Spider-Man Super Special No. 1, The Spectacular Spider-Man Nos. 222-224, The Spectacular Spider-Man Super Special No. 1, Spider-Man Nos. 57, 58, Spider-Man: The Clone Journal, Spider-Man Super Special No. 1, Spider-Man Unlimited No. 9, Web of Spider-Man Nos. 123, 124, Web of Spider-Man Super Special No. 1 and Venom Super Special No. 1 (cover dates March- October, 1995).
Amazing Spider-Man No. 400 is quite touching, and much of its emotional impact would be undone by a ret-con down the road. Even though these issues graced the stands some 15 odd years ago, I try to keep this a no spoiler zone.
Oddly enough, my least favorite material in this book is done by one of my favorite writers, Tom DeFalco. His dialogue for the Jackal is particularly bad. Oh well, everyone has off days, so I will chalk it up as a bad run for him. I know that he gets better later on in Spider-Girl. My only other criticism is that Peter Parker and his personal life is almost non-existent. This is all-action nearly all of the time, which is fine, but Spider-Man has always been at its best when the 'soap opera' aspect is played up and it somehow ties into the overall story or outcome of the action portion.
The Planet of the Symbiotes arc is pretty bad. Did they really need to spread this out across five double-sized issues? Plus, Venom as a hero sucks. Whose brilliant idea was that? He was great as a villain in his first two appearances, but once he got a tongue and sharp teeth, he jumped the shark.
On a more positive note, I absolutely love these big honkin' chunky trades, each being well over 300 pages. There is some real heft to these books, and in the world of trade paperbacks/ collected editions/ graphic novels, bigger truly is better.

2 comments:

  1. "Robert E. Howard's other, non-barbarian creation, Solomon Kane is a puritan adventurer on a mission from God. What that essentially means is that he fights supernatural enemies like vampires, zombies, etc. Good stuff."

    Howard created more than puritans and barbarians, you know.

    ReplyDelete