My Comic Book Crisis

A middle age woman, a computer, and a love of comics

A is for Astro City

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This is the first of a series of blog entries chronicling my random comic book discoveries, because being a semi-noob at thisAstro City: Life in the Big City cover whole comic thing, there’s plenty for me to discover.

For the purposes of this particular feature, the choice of comic technically isn’t “random;” the method I’ll use to pick a comic each week will be based on the alphabet. Since this is the first one, I chose something random that started with the letter “A.”

Ian Clark, who is sort of my comic book Yoda (“Comics. Read you will.”), lent me Astro City ages ago and I just hadn’t got around to reading the two volumes. Hey, I have a lot of catching up to do and my paying job gets in the way of everything else for a good part of the week. But in good conscience, I can’t keep the two books much longer, so Astro City is a natural for my comic book discovery of the week beginning with “A”. So I guess it’s not really random at all, but at least I can finally get the books back to Ian.

Hey, I made up the rules; I can bend them. Deal with it.

* * *

There are eight million stories in the Naked City.

Astro City: Confession coverThere are somewhat fewer in Astro City, but they’re still pretty damn awesome.

I mean, there’s a whole city here and it’s not just a city in name; it’s the kind of city you’d make up if you were a kid and you had lots of time and imagination. It’s got its own map, its own skyline and its own neighborhoods. The city and its inhabitants have a funky but familiar retro feel, that’s oddly comforting. It’s like our own world – just different.

Astro City has a whole roster of superheroes who live among the humans. It’s not like one of those comic book cities that have ONE measly superhero — there is a whole community of them — Samaritan, Silver Agent, Jack-in-the-Box, Winged Victory and more. Superheroes flock to this place like wedding guests to an open bar.

Of course, there are villains, too – The Enelsians, for instance, and my personal favorite, Shirak the Devourer with his legion of shark men who could have looked really silly, but instead pull off that whole half man/half shark thing with absolute perfection via the pen of Brent Anderson.

“Life in the Big City” starts with an introduction to Samaritan — just an average (yet ripped) 9-5 guy who saves the world in between assignments at his magazine fact-checking job. The volume also ends with Samaritan — in an unlikely romance. In between there are several episodes with their own story arcs, including one with a reporter who stumbles on a great story that may or may not make it to the press. Hey, as a journalist myself, I know the feeling: Find a bunch of shark men from another world, see them being fought by superheroes saying funAstro City: Family Album coverthings like “these oversized sardines need to be put back in the can” and write a killer story – only to have to hand it in to some dumb-ass editor who nitpicks everything looking for a few so-called “facts” that can be verified. Apparently newspapers are the same in every world.

Ian told me Astro City was among his absolute favorites and I can see why. Kurt Busiek’s writing is smart and engrossing, the images are beautiful and the coloring delicious: I could hardly put “Confession” down. Within 24 hours after finishing it I had stopped by my local comic store and bought The third TPB in the series, “Family Album.”

So now I’ll be looking for something that starts with “B.” Any suggestions?

Comic book cover fun

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Comic books are a great source of intentional and unintentional humor. Here are a few of my favorite recent finds from the flea market:

Avengers 239 with David Letterman
And now for Stupid Superhero Tricks …
What if 14 Sgt. Fury
I know I’VE always wondered about this. Haven’t we all?
Superboy 177
Remember: Research shows that key areas of the teenager’s brain aren’t fully mature until their third decade.
Flash 271
Doesn’t he look sharp?
Avengers 201
Boy, does his job suck.

So you want to date a superhero?

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Group of superheroes - Blackest Night
So many superheroes, so little time

So I stopped at CVS on my way home, and there near the checkout was a tabloid with the headline, “Nostradamus knows your future.”

It really freaked me out. I mean, how does he know that I’m going home to make macaroni and cheese, because my husband’s not home and he does all the cooking? When he’s not here, I usually fall back on the path of least resistance when it comes to food, which usually means mac and cheese. And a glass of wine, which requires no prep whatsoever.

Why would Nostradamus know that and more importantly, why would he care?

It made no sense, but it did get me to thinking about my future. Specifically what my future would be like had I married a superhero instead of my husband.

Then I thought, wait a minute, maybe I don’t want to marry a superhero, I mean, I’ve been reading comics for less than a year and maybe I’m just not ready to commit. Maybe right now I should just settle for dating a superhero.

OK, that seems reasonable, but who to date? So many superheroes, so little time. What’s a girl to do?

I did what any modern girl who’s not ready for online dating would do: I checked out Eight-minute Dating. Eight-minute Superhero Dating. Here’s how it works. You spend eight minutes talking with each candidate, then at the end of the night you let the organizers know which one(s) interest you and leave your number for them. If they’re interested in you, they let the organizers know that and you swap numbers. So I spent eight minutes reading up on each of a handful of superheroes in the quest to find the most datable one. Here’s what I found:


Wally West as the Flash
Fast times with Wally

Wally West AKA Flash

So he first thing the guy tells me is “My name is Wally West. I’m the fastest man alive. I’m the Flash.” What does that mean? Fast like a speeding bullet? Or fast like sex on the first date? The guy doesn’t stop moving and I’m getting dizzy and I don’t even think it’s the wine I’m drinking. Which, trust me, I need because the guy is stressing me out. Unlike the original Flash, Barry Allen, who runs the speed of light, Wally (may I call him Wally?) runs the speed of sound, so I can’t hear a word he’s saying, and he’s saying it all really fast. I do catch, however, that in addition to being really, really fast, he’s able to control the speed at which his body vibrates (uh-uh, no way, I’m not touching that one. Come up with your own joke.) He can vibrate at speeds so fast that he’s unable to be seen with the naked eye. I’d never know what this guy was up to. Plus, he’s lived with a lot of women — check the DC database — which is rarely a good sign.

I think I’ll pass on this one.

Clark Kent AKA Superman

OK, even with his buff bod, as Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent is a dork with a capital “D”. This is the kind of guy who still wears a Members Only jacket and listens to Wham! He’s the kind of guy you love, just “not in that way.” He’s the kind of guy who’s just too nice.

Clark Kent
What should I wear to ComiCon?

On the bright side, he’d probably go to ComiCon with me — and dress up as a superhero.

As Superman, he’s more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings, bend steel in his bare hands, yadda yadda. And oh, yeah, there’s that X-Ray vision thing. He’d never use that cheap pickup line “I can guess what color underwear you’re wearing,” although he actually could. And that kind of creeps me out.

Anyways, there’s one other little problem: Clark Kent/Superman has been in this country for 72 years. Anyone ever seen his green card? I have enough problems without waking up to ICE at my front door.

Yo Clark, don’t wake me up before you go go, if you get my drift.

Bruce Wayne AKA Batman

Bruce Wayne reading the paper
All work and no play…

Sure, he’s handsome; sure he’s rich; but will he be there when I need him? If it’s at night, fuggedaboutit. Picture an idyllic night at the opera. La Traviata is onstage, there are roses, champagne, then suddenly Bruce is gone. Again. It’s another ride home with Alfred while Bruce goes out to fight crime as the Caped Crusader – with that young boy Robin he spends an awful lot of time with.

Face it, the guy’s a workaholic. Every night he’s out and when he’s home, he’s either sleeping, coming up with new gadgets or talking about his job. He’s all “Joker, this, Riddler that.” What about my needs? I can expect a lonely existence. A rich one, but a lonely one. Hm. Wonder what Tony Stark’s doing tonight …


Tony Stark
Cocktail hour in Stark land

Tony Stark AKA Iron Man

Rich, brilliant and handsome, he works, but he plays too. Maybe a little too much, but still …he knows how to treat a woman. Not seeing a downside here.

I’ll leave my number – along with ever other woman in the room.

Kyle Rayner AKA Green Lantern

Another guy who can pull off a one-piece bodysuit, Kyle Rayner’s got some good attributes, but he carries a bit of baggage. His girlfriend was murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator, giving new meaning to the term “cold shoulder.” It’s just not the kind of thing a guy gets over real quick, even one with a ring that allows him to conjure up almost anything through sheer force of will.

The Green Lantern Kyle Rayner
Lord of the Ring

I had to stifle a giggle when he recited his oath:

“In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight
let those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power … Green Lantern’s light!”

So I finished it for him:

“Cold hearted orb that rules the night
Removes the colours from our sight
Red is gray and yellow white
But we decide which is right

And which is an illusion…”

Sorry, I got a little bit confused there. That last part is actually from “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues. Kyle is not amused.


The new Atom
Small change

Ryan Choi AKA Atom

A professor at Ivy University, Ryan Choi discovers his mentor’s “bio-belt,” which allows him to manipulate size and density — of himself. First thing he does is shrink down to a size so small, that were I to put him in my purse, he’s be lost among the Tic-Tacs, lipsticks, Blackest Night rings and supermarket receipts. Who wants a guy who can get hurt and/or lost so easily? I mean, he’s so small. And gentlemen, if you take only one thing away from this today, take this: No matter what you’ve been told, it does matter.

Bad-ass women Part II

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One of the things I like about comic books is that there are so many strong female characters. These women KICK ASS! Even Lois Lane, who during some eras seemed to have nothing better to do than try to get Superman to marry her, is really at her roots, a tough, smart, determined newswoman who actually went out and fought stories – no small feat in an era when many women at newspapers were relegated to the Society page or the Family desk.

I was a journalist for more than 20 years, so Lois Lane has always been kind of a role model for me. Here’s a Golden Era Lois Lane – She’s quite the dame, ain’t she? And she’s even got Superman doing the typing!

Lois Lane with Superman

There is no no shortage of bad-ass comic book women. Here’s one I discovered recently.

Now this is one bad-ass woman:

Dakota North

Dakota North

Bad-ass profession: Private Investigator.

Bad-ass skills: Trained in hand-to-hand combat and able to pop a wheelie on a motorcycle while shooting at bad guys. Able to pull off wearing skin-tight jumpsuits.

Bad-ass line: (Upon being thanked for saving the day) “Pshaw. Just doing my job. I love a man whose check clears.”

Claus and claws

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“Wolverine: Blood & Sorrow” had been sitting by the couch, buried under a stack of comics for several weeks when my son picked it up and read it, then left it on the top of the pile. Last night, when I had the house to myself for a few magnificent hours, I was trying to write a new blog entry when I noticed “Blood & Sorrow.” Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? So I put down the computer and picked up “Blood & Sorrow.”

Hugh Jackman sans shirt
Um, what was that I was saying again?

The collection includes Wolverine #41 and #49, Giant-Size Wolverine #1 and X-Men Unlimited #12, and gives a nice little cross-section of standalone Wolverine stories that are tragic, dark, and occasionally darkly funny. I’m a big Wolverine fan, although, honestly, a majority of the Wolverine lore I know comes from the X-Men and Wolverine movies, and quite frankly, once Hugh Jackman takes off his shirt it’s hard to concentrate on anything that’s going on, so to get some more comic book Wolverine exposure was definitely a good thing. The funny thing is, even after all the movies, when I see the comic version of Wolverine, I don’t think of Hugh Jackman at all – they’re two completely different entities, unlike, say, Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter who have become one and the same. But I still love the comic book Wolverine; the guy is just so damn cool, even though his stylist should be sued for the crazy haircut and mutton chops.

Page from Blood & Sorrow
Wolverine as Mr. Dad

The first two stories in “Blood & Sorrow” are written by Stuart Moore with artist C.P. Smith and my favorite is the second one “The Package” which has Logan/Wolverine in Africa rescuing the baby of the murdered president of “Zwartheid,” Africa and getting her out of the country. This sets up some interesting dilemmas: Logan’s got the baby in something that looks like a Snugli baby carrier, and he’s ready to go flat out nuts on everybody, but he can’t: he has a baby to consider. It’s really kind of a funny metaphor for parenthood.

Page from Blood & Sorrow
Don’t cry children, they’re bad guys.

My second favorite in the book, “Better to Give…” written by Rob Williams, is a nice twisted tale in which the X-Man is in “Lacy’s” doing a little mundane Christmas shopping at the request of Kitty Pryde  and he’s not happy about it. (” ‘You’re in New York anyway,’ she sez. ‘Just pick up a few presents,’ she sez ‘I’ll give you list.’ “) While he’s there, an heiress is kidnapped by bad guys posing as Santa and his elves. Say it ain’t so! What’s the world come to when you can’t even trust Santa?

Fortunately for the heiress, Wolverine’s on the case and, with the help of the girl’s bodyguard, carnage ensues. So many elves, so little time. It’s the classic holiday tale.

What I read this week

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Girls' Romance # 135

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I was here. This new job involves a lot of hours, leaving me little time (or energy) to do this blog.

When I first learned of the promotion, my initial thought was “If I get a raise, I can buy more comics.” I just didn’t realize that I wouldn’t have time to read them.

Fortunately, this weekend I was able to catch up on a few comics (AND go to Granite State Comicon, where I got a couple more). So here for your reading pleasure is some of what I read this week.

I promise to come back soon.

I, Zombie #1

I Zombie #1 cover

Loved it. It seemed like such a — pardon me — delicious concept: Gwen works as a grave-digger. Her best friend is a ghost and, oh yeah, Gwen’s a zombie. Here’s the twist: When she eats a brain, she “sees” how the person died. In this first issue, as she chomps away, she “sees” that the recently deceased was murdered and she vows to find out who did it. Kind of like Nancy Drew meets Night of the Living Dead.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #91

Jimmy Olsen #91 cover

I got this one at a flea market and it’s hilarious. On the cover Superman is holding Jimmy up in the air by the collar and Jimmy’s saying “You don’t scare me, super-fink. I’m no stoolie.”

Turns out that “Superman” is a robot owned by the dreaded biker gang the Dragons. Jimmy’s trying to infiltrate the Dragons so he can get a big scoop for the Daily Planet. What pluck! Robin – yes, that Robin – even crosses over to lend a hand. I hope I’m not giving anything away by telling you Jimmy gets the scoop.

In the last strip he’s seen riding off on his motorcycle a la The Wild One with a babe on the back. Quite a stud, that Jimmy.

The Return of Bruce Wayne #1

Return of Bruce Wayne #1

In this time-traveling Batman story, Bruce Wayne mystifies the locals – mostly because they’re cavemen and he’s crash-landed a rocket, which they refer to in their droll way as his “sky-cart.”

Bruce Wayne seems pretty bewildered and we find out later his superhero buddies are looking for him. They reveal to us that Bruce Wayne has no memory of who he is and what’s happening to him. I know the feeling; I’ve had a few days like that myself.

Here’s the kicker: According to Superman, if Batman returns to the 21st century on his own everyone dies. Yikes! Things could get tricky.

Girls’ Romances #135

Girls' Romance #135 cover

This is another flea market buy. It was hard to resist this wonderfully over-the-top cover. Inside it’s just as side-splitting, although I suspect it wasn’t meant to be.

The issue has several suspenseful (not) tales of romance, all with happy endings, except for the last one which is a cliff-hanger. “Is this the end of the road for Karen and Kip? … You learn the answers in Part 2 of this heart-rending story, in the next issue of Girls’ Romance.”

Whatever. I thought Kip was kind of a creep anyways.

The two best things about the issue were a center spread on “Mad, Mad Modes for Moderns” that showcases some pretty groovy fashion ideas and “Julia Roberts, Romance Counselor.” What training do you need to be a romance counselor, do you think?

Kickin’ it Old School

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Avengers detail

My husband went to an auction the other night and brought home a big box of old comics, so I had a lot of fun this past weekend going through them and picking out a few to read.

It was quite a change of pace since so far most of my reading has been current stuff — heavy on the Vertigo and not so heavy on the classics. Today I got to delve into a little vintage Avengers, a little Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, several Spectacular Spiderman issues and a little Batman thrown in for good measure. Here are the treasures I unearthed:

The Avengers 234 (1983)Avengers 234 cover

In the grand-daddy of dysfunctional family stories I learned The Scarlet Witch was raised by gypsies, is married to Vision, a synthetic man, and discovered that Magneto was her father. Whew, that’s a lot going on in 24 pages. It was like watching a Dr. Phil marathon; I was emotionally exhausted by the end and down a pint of Haagen-Dazs.

It was the first time I’d seen Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel and she’s definitely cool. You gotta love anyone who takes time to notice — and eat — the pastries being served in the Avengers mansion and still look good in that all-white bodysuit.

Justice League America 27 (1989)

Wow, I knew this cover looked familiar

Justice League of America cover and Exorcist poster

In this one the Blue Beetle has been programmed a la “The Manchurian Candidate.” He’s set to go off at the words “Bialya my bialya,” which sounds like nothing more than an innocuous ode to a breakfast food, but it turns him into a wild man. Batman’s in the background and he’s as humorless as ever and there’s an appearance by the Green Lantern that does nothing to forward the plot, but he’s sporting a haircut that vies with She-Hulk’s outfits for the biggest fashion faux pas of the decade. Remember, this is the 80s, so that’s saying something.

Fantastic Four 94 (1969)Fantastic Four 94

Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Girl’s baby Franklin is introduced and in order to keep him safe, the Fantastic Four travel to “up-state” to take him to a child-rearing specialist. Somehow (and this is never explained) the Frightful Four has found a way to monitor the Fantastic Four, so they head “up-state” too and it all becomes a battle of the weird superhero powers: Rubber, invisibility, rock and fire vs. sand, glue, magnetism and hair. Awesome — somebody really DOES have a hair super power! Add Medusa to my list of kick-ass women.

Spectacular Spiderman 150, 151 and 152 (1989)

Spiderman is lots of fun because he does have a sense of humor and there’s a certain playfulness that’s lacking with, say Batman. Don’t get me wrong: I love the Dark Knight, but sometimes he just a little too, well, dark. And he’s about as funny as an undertaker.

Covers of Spectacular Spiderman 150, 151, 152

Peter Parker also has a special spot in my heart because he’s a newspaper guy and there’s always a scene or two at the newspaper. In this series, he and MJ are married, but as he’s wont to do, he occasionally bolts at odd moments to go fight crime. I would find that awfully annoying, but then my husband has annoying habits too: Sometimes, just to amuse himself, he’ll turn on the original version of “Battlestar Galactica” then hide the remote until I’m just about ready to rip out my own eyes rather than watch another badly acted minute of that 1980s dreck.

In the Spiderman issues I read last weekend there was an awful lot of crime going on in the city, what with Kingpin, Tombstone and the Lobo brothers — who are tall, dark and harbor a secret — in town. Meanwhile, Daily Bugle Editor J. Jonah Jameson is acting really weird — although, as a journalist I can tell you, an editor acting weird isn’t exactly cause for alarm; it’s more like a pre-requisite.

It’s all a very tangled web — but a fascinating one, as were the others I read last weekend. I realized I’ve been missing out on some really cool stuff and in the future I intend to delve a bit more deeply in the past.