Rain Comic #1

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Comic book, 2013

Rain Comic #1 is a recent release in a series of anthology comics published by Mickey Z and featuring work by her, Patrick Kyle, and Michael Deforge, each focusing of a different subject (Basketball Comic #1, Xmas Comic #1, etc.) Sometimes the subject, as with the most recent release, Butler Comic #1, contains thematic elements so intrinsic that they can’t help but surface in each author’s piece, no matter how far outside the realm of human experience and perception they twist it. So I was interested to see how they handled the subject of rain, possibly their most thematically broad topic yet. Reading it, I was surprised at how central the authors managed to make rain to their stories, both to the plot and thematically. In the various stories, ranging from one to six pages long each, rain is used to talk about legacy, experience, and as a transformational agent. All in all, only a couple of the one page strips seemed to say “oh, and it was also raining”. After I finished the book, I remembered what James Kochalka did with the same subject in his Hulk Vs Rain story, and felt silly for not realizing ahead of time that, in the hands of a storytelling lineup as strong as this one, a broader subject could actually serve as an even more direct tool.


Lloyd Llewellyn #1

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Comic book, 1986

It’s difficult to view early work by a great artist outside the shadow of their later, more substantial achievements (if that’s the trajectory their career in fact took). This is the case with Lloyd Llewellyn #1, the debut solo book of the great Dan Clowes. The work stands on its own, with style and personality to spare, but what it has in those areas in volume it lacks in density, clipping much of that personality from a certain irony-tinted nostalgia for 50’s swank and masculinity. It’s an area of interest that comics doesn’t support any more. (I can think of a number of artists that paint with a similar broad, lively brush who stopped releasing work a number if years ago, although Steve Mannion recently seems to have found a new way to funnel interest for it via Kickstarter.) This could be due to a shift in the interests of comics readers, a shrunken industry no longer being able to support work this insubstantial, both, or something else. So it’s a good thing Clowes made the shift in his work he did- he went from this, to having his characters be into this, to this being only one of a variety of hues that color his work- because he saved his career, and helped shape the industry, by doing it.


Badger #46

Badger 46

 

Comic book, 1989

Deep into the middle of its run, Mike Baron’s initial series of Badger comics is starting to come loose at te seams. There are a couple new features of the comic I can attribute this to. First, the instances of Baron ham fisting his anti-left political agenda into the book have grown in both frequency and unpleasantness. There was the joke last issue where Baron, in an in-panel note from the editor, asked the “Madison lesbians” not to get mad at one of his characters for believing that a woman isn’t complete without a man. Then in this issue, Baron has a left-wing talk radio host hastily usher a caller off the air for stating she’s a happy housewife. Now, listen. Let’s give Baron the benefit of the doubt and say maybe there was a time when there was a group of extremely vocal social change advocates in Madison. Even so, actively discrediting an oppressed minority, even for turning it up to 11, just seems sleazy. Maybe there was a time when these references made at least a little sense. We are no longer living in that time, and this book isn’t aging well as a result.

Second, I don’t think Ron Lim’s art is a good fit for the series. I’ve already made the case that a realistic style is intrinsically important to The Badger‘s thematic success, and Lim’s art is too cartoony. There’s no danger in this world any more, only fun, and the loss of that dynamic is a huge blow to the series.

To be honest, it’s hard not to let the shortcomings of these later issues cast doubt on the quality of what came before. Was I wrong about The Badger being a subtle satire? Is it actually being straightforward in its depiction of violence? Was the deft utilisation of a stiff art style in fact a simple case of bad taste? These types of distinctions have never really mattered to me. I’ve always been much more interested in what I see in a work than what a creator intended. The key to a good work for me then is that it has enough complexity to provoke thought, or to at least imply depth, without telling you outright what it’s about. The Bill Reinhold era of this comic possessed those ingredients. I hope later issues find them again.


Badger #25

badger comic 25

Comic book, 1987

I love telling people about The Badger. It’s about a mentally ill Vietnam vet who is a martial arts expert and dresses like a superhero. He savagely beats anyone he doesn’t approve of, from supervillains to jaywalkers, all in equal measure. It uses the old gag that someone would have to be a militaristic crazy person in order to be a superhero and milks it for all it’s worth, somehow presenting The Badger as a sweet, likable guy in the process. Also, he’s employed as a bodyguard by a time displaced 18th century weather wizard turned stockbroker named Ham. And it has the best balance of humanity and humor in dealing with the subject of mental illness that I’ve ever seen. Did I mention The Badger can talk to animals, like Dr. Doolittle? So, after telling all of this to someone, I get to tell them that no, I wasn’t just free-associating. There’s actually over 70 issues of this comic. And it’s very good.

I used to be annoyed that the cover for this issue, #25, is the main image for The Badger on Wikipedia. It looks very morose, and a poor representation of what reading the freewheeling comic is actually like. But now that I’ve read the issue, I very much approve. Not only is it a solid story, but one that would definitely serve as a good introduction to the series. In it, The Badger helps an old woman get revenge on her neighbors for murdering the ducks in her pond. It shows The Badger’s sweet side, his physical prowess*, and his surprisingly accurate sense of justice. (It’s the amount of punishment in relation to the crime that he has trouble accurately gauging.)

The art in this issue is by Bill Reinhold, who I believe drew more issues of the series than any other artist. His art is generic, dull, and stiff, and I imagine it’s a big reason why no one ever talks about the title with any reverence. But I think Reinhold’s art is what makes The Badger really work. The humor in The Badger works because it’s juxtaposed against its presentation as a second rate action comic. When The Badger does things like irately yell “Honk!” at a group of confused ducks while flapping his arms like wings, as he does at the end of this issue, it appears truly absurd. If depicted in a style that appeared to have any sense of humor at all (like the art in, say, fellow funny superhero comic The Tick), the jokes wouldn’t have nearly the same punch. The classic humor comic Herbie uses the same strategy.

This conventional style also allows the action, guided by writer Mike Baron (a real-life martial arts enthusiast and practitioner) to have real weight. When The Badger’s eyes go crooked and he starts spouting gibberish, you know that someone is about to be seriously hurt. There will be no cartoon stars or birds shooting out of their head, only their own teeth and blood. And that’s exciting. Baron (as he does with his other signature creation, Nexus) stacks the morals of the situation so inarguably in his protagonist’s favor, primarily by making his villains unilaterally, absurdly rotten, that it’s not hard to get behind The Badger‘s acts of violence, and even to turn your head  and chuckle as he dispenses even more justice than is warranted.

The Badger reminds me of a New York Times pull quote Marvel frequently uses to sell Milligan and Allred’s X-Statix, which they describe as “a witty blast of media criticism disguised as a garish spin-off of the X-Men”. I hope someday more people realize there’s a similar level of satire at work in The Badger.

* Side note: I like that almost no one can defeat The Badger in physical combat. I think it makes the character exciting, and forces the narrative to go in unique directions. In my opinion, whenever writer and creator Mike Baron would write The Badger being defeated by anyone less than a world champion, he was fucking up.


Bade Biker & Orson #1

Comic book, 1986

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the creator of this comic, Jim Lawson. But I was a big fan of his work a long time before we met, and I was very interested to see this extremely early instance of it. In what must be close to his first published work, Lawson shows an unexpectedly high level of influence from 70’s illustration like Sergent Pepper and Vaughn Bode. His high-waisted, long legged depiction of the human form has an undeniable weight and motion to it, showing Lawson to be a naturally gifted artist from minute one of his career. The story is fine, the typical case of an artist throwing their interests in a blender in their early work, but it has a lightness, in both content and storytelling (at least after we move past the exposition), that make it a pleasurable enough read.


Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp #1

Comic book, 2011

I bought this for the art, hoping the story would also embody its Mad Magazine-esque qualities, but was disappointed on both fronts. The art is fine, but seems a bit dashed off in most places. The artist, Steve Manion, is a great renderer, there’s no questioning that, but he seems to be in a hurry through a lot of this. And it’s not because he spent so much time writing it. What pages aren’t merely sketchbook material subject us to plots that forsake everything to throw tropes and some really bad jokes at us. This book does have it in two places where it counts, however. That’s with a really fun design for its lead character and some killer monster art.


Dark Horse Presents #3 (2011)



Comic book, 2011

The new Dark Horse Presents series, on a base level, just doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t feel there’s a broad enough comics readership to support a monthly anthology, even if they are loading it with all the biggest print comics names they possibly can. And it costs eight dollars. Monthly. Okay guys, I’m sure you know what you’re doing. But in my experience comics fans cling tenaciously to the idea of smaller purchases that reward them with a slowly revealed extended narrative. Prove me wrong! Really. Overall I’ve only kind of liked the content of this series. There’s no one short I can point to and say “This. This is why the new Dark Horse Presents needs to exist,” but I’m hoping it comes. The biggest problem with this series is its lack of scope. The editorial on this thing is… not fresh, to say the least. Pretty much everything here looks twenty years old. My advice to Dark Horse would be to make this thing more diverse. There have been a few new names to hit the scene since Neal Adams and Dave Gibbons, guys. They’re great old masters, but they’re not going to give you the wide appeal that could make this book really vital. Get Kate Beaton, CF, Cursed Pirate Girl, Ethan Rilly, the guy who draws Dresden Codak. This is all new stuff that would totally fit Dark Horse Presents that people who aren’t forty would get fucking jazzed about, and you could mix it right in with the stuff you’re doing now. This could be so great.

Here’s what we get in this issue:

  • Dave Gibbons’ Treatment is I don’t know. I like looking at his art sometimes, but it didn’t do too much for me here. The story seems kind of like a bunch of cliches thrown together (cop’s last day before retirement, reality tv parody, ultraviolence, etc.)
  • Number 13 is awful. Awful writing, awful art. I checked to see if any of the creators have the last name “Richardson”, but they don’t. The worst part about it is probably the colors. They’re not terrible, they’re standard mainstream comic book coloring. But the art is most definitely “underground” and would probably look better if it wasn’t colored the same way as Dave Gibbons’.
  • The new DHP is my first exposure to Finder, which always seems to be a pleasant little poof of a story that leaves my head just as soon as I turn the page.
  • The Concrete story is appropriately preachy, but has an ending so silly and weird I kind f love it.
  • I only found out about Howard Chaykin within the last couple of years, and other than loving Black Kiss, I just can’t seem to “get” his stuff. But I don’t really care about Snatch or Reservoir Dogs either, so maybe it’s not just for me. Something about this installment of Marked Man really caught my eye though, enough to make me think about going back and reading the previous installments.
  • Similarly, the Jim Steranko material seemed good but not for me.
  • Patrick Alexander’s humor material, of which there will apparently be some in every issue, has taken a nose dive for me, going from brilliant in the first issue, okay in the second and this issue’s Indecisive Man being totally boring.
  • Richard Corben’s Murky World serial has been my favorite thing in all of the issues, due to it being nothing but a clearing house for Corben’s unbridled imagination and skill, a feat for which the medium of comics is particularly suited.
  • Rotten Apple reads like the dull, lifeless adaptation of a video game that, as far as I know, doesn’t exist. I read the first installment a month ago and remembered nothing about it, then promptly understood nothing about the second installment.
  • David Chelsea’s Snow Angel is delightful, but it seems to take up a bit too much space for how light it is.
  • I consider having read every word of Neal Adam’s Blood to be an achievement in endurance, like holding your hand in a bucket of cold water for an extended period of time. Seriously, what the fuck is this?
  • Mr. Monster. Dude. ENOUGH! This is the third goddamn loosely drawn story about Mr. Monster fighting the same tree monster. I would have preferred that Michael T Gilbert work three times as hard on a story 1/3 the length, or made three completely different MM stories. Reading about this fucking tree monster again and again feels like work, and that’s the worst thing you can say about something like this. I’d say thank god it’s over, but I’ve been burned before.

At this point I’m kind of waiting to see how long it takes my ambivalence toward most of the material to win out and cause me to yank this title from my pull list. But for now there’s enough stuff coming that I’m genuinely excited about (Beasts of Burden, Geoff Darrow interview, Bob Burden, Hellboy and BPRD stories) to give it a stay of execution.


Sam & Max: Surfin’ the Highway


Comic book, originally serialized from 1987 through 1995 with this edition published in 1995

Sam & Max have an anarchic comic spirit that I’ve found really inspiring over the years; their unbridled enthusiasm for mayhem balanced out by verbose wordplay and truly wild ideas. I’m a huge fan, but even I’ll admit that the stories never really stand on their own as much as I would like. I’m certainly not asking for meaning or emotions, but a little craft in that department wouldn’t hurt. 3.5


Further Grickle

Comic book, 2003

Not as developed as his more recent, brilliant work but there are a few bright spots in this collection of short stories by Graham Annable. Particularly the lengthy closing story which hits on a more human level than anything else I’ve seen him do. 3.5


The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol. 1

Comic book, first published in Japan in 2002 with this American edition being released in 2006

Merely serviceable artwork and a story that mixes a bunch of concepts it thinks are edgy together and hopes they seem cool. They don’t. Cool cover though. 2