Thursday, November 18, 2010

Drowning in my backlog

EX MACHINA VOL. 9: RING OUT THE OLD (Wildstorm/DC, 2010)
Collects Ex Machina Nos. 40-44 and Ex Machina Special No. 4 (cover dates February- October, 2009).
Ex Machina remains one of my favorite titles. Sadly, the series ended with Issue 50, so that gives us only one more trade of Brain K. Vaughn and Tony Harris goodness. This comic is a real page turner, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. (Although, given my backlog, I will have to wait for quite some time.) If you want a truly sophisticated "adult" comic that doesn't rely on adolescent pandering to be "mature", then pick this title up. 

THE GOLDEN AGE SANDMAN ARCHIVES VOL. 1 (DC, 2004)
Collects material from Adventure Comics Nos. 40-59 and New York World’s Fair Comics 1939 (cover dates July, 1939- February, 1941)
After reading several satisfying volumes of Sandman Mystery Theatre, I decided to dig deeper into the Sandman catalog. For those of you who are not familiar with Sandman Mystery Theatre, it was a title published by Vertigo/DC in the '90s about the Golden Age Sandman. It was set in the '30s and '40s and is a terrific read. I did some digging around online to see if there were any collected editions of said character, and discovered that there was indeed a DC Archive published several years ago.
While not as satisfying a read as Sandman Mystery Theatre, this was still very entertaining and bled charm. Several of the villains from the Vertigo series got their start here. DC's restoration for this volume is mostly excellent, except for the word balloons. I don't know if they worked from scans or photostats when restoring this book, but several word balloons must have been touched up. Sandman is referred to as Bandman several times, B-s are replaced with F-s, and there are a few other minor mistakes. There are less then a dozen throughout the 220-odd pages of the book, but it is more than enough to make my OCD keep me awake at night, tossing and turning over the imperfect restoration of these issues. Oh, and DC only included the covers that had the Sandman on them...I can't stand that!!
So yes, before the relaunched Sandman by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, before the guy actually made of sand created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko appeared in Amazing Spider-Man, and before Neil Gaiman made waves with his incarnation of the Sandman, there was THIS Sandman. I guess that we could call him OG Sandman...or not. 

TOMB OF DRACULA OMNIBUS VOL. 2 (Marvel, 2009)
Collects Dr. Strange No. 14, Giant-Size Dracula Nos. 5 and Tomb of Dracula Nos. 32-70 (cover dates May, 1975- August, 1979).
After many months in the backlog and a couple of months of intermittent reading, I finished this nearly 800 page monster tome (pun intended). This is dense, text-heavy Bronze Age goodness. Tomb of Dracula was writer Marv Wolfman and artists Gene Colan and Tom Palmer's tour De force. The series was to be cancelled with issue 70, but work on issues 71 and 72 was already well underway. They delayed issue 70 by several months, made it double-sized, and it was re-tooled to be the series finale. Had Marvel not included the extra, unfinished, unused pages, I would have never known that the published ending was not the creators' original intention. The ending was executed flawlessly and was a satisfying end to this epic.
This series is being reissued again as a series of affordable trade paperbacks for the masses. I think that are one or two of them out already, and they clock in around 200 pages each. I'd recommend this to any fans of the Horror or vampire genres that haven't already checked them out.
POWER PACK CLASSIC VOL. 2 (Marvel, 2010)
Collects Power Pack Nos. 11-17, Marvel Graphic Novel- Power Pack & Cloak and Dagger: Shelter From The Storm and Uncanny X-Men No. 195 (cover dates June- December, 1985; MGN, 1989).
The first thing that I thought of when I heard that Disney bought Marvel is 'finally, we will get a Power Pack movie'. No, really. It makes perfect sense for this to be a Pixar CGI flick. While I would love to see them modeled after June Brigman's artwork, they would likely be modeled after the more recent, cartoon-y, cutesy, mang-ish GuriHiru artwork.Whatever it takes, I think that these characters would be excellent in a cartoon flick.
I bought all of these issues off of the stands, with the exception of the Marvel Graphic Novel with Cloak and Dagger. That was the weak link in the book. Everything else is wonderful. The writing and artwork all hold up very well a quarter century later.
MARVEL MASTERWORKS: GOLDEN AGE SUB-MARINER VOL. 3 (Marvel, 2009)
Collects Sub-Mariner Comics Nos. 9-12 (cover dates Spring, 1943- Winter, 1943-44)
Wow, this has a steep decline in quality from the earlier Bill Everett written and drawn issues. Everett was away serving Uncle Sam during the time that these issues were made. The stories starring the series back-up feature, The Angel (by Gustav Schrotter) are a better read than the Sub-Mariner during this era. In "The Battle of Kwangto" (Sub-Mariner #12), Namor deals with a Captain Stark at Naval Headquarters. Now, I'm going to go all Roy Thomas and retroactively insert him into continuity as a relative of Tony Stark (Iron Man). It doesn't fly in the face of Marvel continuity (1961-on) and therefore, by his definition, BECOMES a part of the continuity. Retroactively, of course.
Sub-Mariner's primary enemy during this time are the Japanese, and he refers to them in any number of unfavorable ways. This WAS wartime, and they WERE the enemy. I look forward to future volumes, as I know that Everett returns down the road. His '50s Sub-Mariner ranks among some of the finest comic books of that decade; go check out the Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes volumes and see for yourself. 

AGE OF BRONZE VOL. 1: A THOUSAND SHIPS (Image, Fourth Printing, 2008)
Collects Age of Bronze Nos. 1-9 (cover dates November, 1998- November, 2000)
Eric Shanower has crafted a compelling and engaging account of the Trojan War. His artwork is very detail-oriented, with each panel having nuances that require you to stop and look in order to fully appreciate it all. The story flows nicely, being as dense or as decompressed as the scene dictates. There are segments that you fly though, and others that make Chris Claremont look like Brian Michael Bendis. This comic book is both entertaining and educating, and I would recommend it to open-minded readers.  
My only complaint is that the original issue covers are not included. They would have made for nice chapter markers, as there are none in the entire book. It is impossible to tell where one issue ended and the other began, as it read like one seamless story. 
AGE OF BRONZE VOL. 2: SACRIFICE (Image, Second Printing, 2005)
Collects Age of Bronze Nos. 10-19 (cover dates February, 2001- March, 2004)
The artwork and story remain exquisitely well done, crammed with details. I find this sort of 'historical fiction', or infotainment, to be lots of fun. I enjoy this series because it shows what comic books can be capable of being with enough thought and effort. I am primarily a Marvel guy can appreciate a well done title like this. 
SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE PHANTOM STRANGER VOL. 1 (DC, 2006)
Collects Showcase No. 80 and The Phantom Stranger Nos. 1-21 (cover dates February, 1969- October, 1972).
OK, who do I petition to get this series done in color and in hardcover? I bought this on a whim because I have been intrigued by the character's appearance in the other DC titles that I have read (like the Superman- Man of Steel trades), so I skimmed my toe in the waters of this phone book and...wow! These are superb comic books, written largely by Len Wein (some guy who created a little known character called Wolverine a few years later) with artwork by Jim Aparo, a Neal Adams clone of the highest order, and Neal Adams himself. Adams in an absolute master of the art form, often imitated but seldom duplicated...although Aparo is pretty darn close. Adams mostly sticks to cover art, but what covers they are!
The Phantom Stranger's 'adversary', or counterpoint, is a skeptic named Dr. Thirteen, the Ghost Breaker, whose primary goal is to prove that the Stranger is a fraud. Mystery heaped upon mystery, they still don't really tell you the character's true origin or nature of his powers some 540 pages later. I have Volume 2 in my queue, and can't wait to tear into it.
THE FLASH CHRONICLES VOL. 1 (DC, 2009)
Collects Showcase Nos. 4, 8, 13, 14 and The Flash Nos. 105, 106 (cover dates October, 1956- May, 1959)
Like most little boys who grew up in the late '70s, I loved the SuperFriends cartoon on Saturday morning. The Flash was one of the characters on that show, but for whatever reason I decided that DC sucked when I was around 8 or 9 and never read a Flash comic book until now. This trade paperback was in the 1/2 off section at the Motor City Comic Con last May, and since I've enjoyed the other Chronicles trades so much I figured that I'd give this a try. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman all rocked in the Golden Age of Comics. The Green Lantern Chronicles trades skipped the Golden Age version of the character and skipped right ahead to the Silver Age version. The Flash Chronicles did the same thing. Whereas Green Lantern has a zany, fun vibe going on, Flash kinda sucks.
One of the first things that you have to adopt as a comic book fan is a healthy suspension of disbelief. Many fans erroneously state that they like Marvel because their comics are more realistic. I prefer to say that they are more believable, in that the pseudo-science used to define a character's powers has a set of parameters, and the character and their power operate within them. DC seems to have a whatever suits the story type vibe to their powers. I have an extremely hard time swallowing the concept of Flash. Barry Allen is a scientist who is struck by lightning, and that along with some chemicals gives him the power to run fast. So fast that he can break the time barrier or move at 1/1,000,000th of a second. For one thing, I doubt that his lungs could enable him to breathe running at those speeds, so he'd essentially 'drown'. For another, his costume doesn't seem to be made of some fricition resistant "unstable molecules" (as Marvel calls them), so it would be scorched right off of him. His skin would likely also be peeled off him and he'd die. So yeah, while I can buy an alien crashing on Earth and giving Hal Jordan a power ring to become Green Lantern, or a baby crash-landing on an alien planet and raised by farmers, or a boy witnessing his parents murdered in front of him and vowing to rid the world of evil...heck, I can even buy Paradise Island and the whole Greek God Wonder Woman crap, but I can't swallow this. Gorilla Grodd completely rocks, though, so not all is lost. Also, the Flash's costume is among the more dynamic ones in all of comic books. So yeah, The Flash sucks...sort of. 
HERCULES: FULL CIRCLE (Marvel, 2009)
Collects Marvel Graphic Novel No. 37 and material from Marvel Age Nos. 4, 65, Marvel Comics Presents Nos. 39-41 and Marvel Tales No. 197 (cover dates July, 1983- January, 1990).
Top notch stuff by Bob Layton. I read the old Hercules- Prince of Power trade years ago and loved it, and this hardcover picks up where that left off. This has a light-hearted tone to it, and even though Hercules is an arrogant buffoon, you can't help but root for him.

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