My Comic Book Crisis

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

It’s been a busy week.

I got a big promotion this week and at the same time learned the truth of the greatest comic book movie lesson of all: With great power comes great responsibility.

Fifty-five to 60 hours’ worth, to be exact.

This has left me little time for anything, including comic books and my blog, and I hope to make up for that over the weekend. But meanwhile, for your viewing pleasure I found another good lesson in an old comic book: Eat right, exercise and occasionally take a vacation or else you’ll end up like this:

Marvel comic Heart Association ad

Wait a minute, if Commisioner Gordon is here, WHO turned on the bat signal?

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.

Wolverine

I have all these comics to write about – my “B” entry for instance – but I got distracted by a book I got at Granitecon last month and hadn’t read yet.

“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

Page from Blood & Sorrow

Don’t cry children, they’re bad guys

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.

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.

The Sinners detailTHE SINNERS #5

To be honest, I’m starting out this entry by lying. I didn’t actually read The Sinners #5 this week; I read it last week when it came out. I know that’s kind of cheating, but it’s my blog, so I can do that. If you think that compromises my credibility, then you’re reading the wrong blog. I’m a newbie; I am completely devoid of expertise in this area. I simply write about stuff I like.

The Sinners #5 coverThe Sinners (No, not the 2005 motorcycle movie) is by one of my favorite writers (so far), Ed Brubaker, and Sean Phillips. It’s part of the Criminal series and it’s about Tracy Lawless a reluctant hitman (I know, ironic name, right?), who has been given the task of finding out who is responsible for a string of unsolved murders. The murderees are all bad guys.

He’s also a military deserter, so there are a couple of story lines going on at the same time, all written with a good ear for dialog and great illustrations. The Sinners #5 was the last in this series and everything was wrapped up very tidily and in a believable way. I love the Criminal series and there’s a lot of great stuff in the back of each issue about the noir genre, so it’s definitely worth price, although the price is a moderate $3.50, so I guess I should say it’s worth more than the price.

LIVING WITH THE DEAD #1

Living dead #1 detail

No, Living With the Dead is not that book by the Grateful Dead’s manager and it’s not the CBS show with the guy from Cheers. It’s about zombies. And living with them. Hence the name.

Please try to keep up.

Living With the Dead #1 coverAnyways, much like in “I Am Legend,” there’s been some sort of worldwide mishap in which everyone has been turned into zombies — except for, as the cover tells us, two boys and a girl. We meet the guys at the start of the comic and they don’t seem all that bright, but they have figured out that if they wear zombie masks and intone things like “need flesh” and “brains,” the zombies will think they are one of the zombies’ own and thus leave them alone.

It seems to work.

We meet the girl closer to the end where she’s knocking the brains out of some zombies with a golf club. And here I want to say “Oh sure, let the girl to clean up the mess.” But I won’t.

The comic comes with a “Zombie Survival Kit” which will definitely come in handy in the event of an eventual zombie calamity.

WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD!

DAYTRIPPER #1, 2, 3 & 4

Daytripper (no,not the Beatles song) start out as a kind of lyrical and leisurely tale in which we begin to learn about the a young protagonist, Brás, who is on his way to a gala being held for his father, a writer of some stature. On the first page, we are told that Brás, a writer of obituaries, is thinking about the fact that people die every day.

Daytripper #1 detail

While he considers death, we learn that it’s also his birthday. And guess what happens at the end of the issue? He DIES. That’s right, he dies and the issue ends and you wonder, where the heck is this going from here if the protagonist dies in the first issue? But guess what happens in issue 2? He’s the protagonist of the story again. And he dies AGAIN, only this time he dies somewhere else. And guess what happens in issue 3? And issue 4?

Daytripper #4 coverIn every issue we learn a little more about the protagonist Brás at different points in his life; about what he does, where he goes, opportunities he misses. Woven among the events in each issue are references and characters that occurred in previous issues.

It’s all strangely fascinating, bittersweet and moving and I tried to understand what it all meant. Perhaps, I thought, it is an allegory, or perhaps a metaphor about the hundreds of little deaths we die throughout our lives, perhaps … PERHAPS IT’S JUST A FREAKIN’ STORY. A strange and beautiful freakin’ story, but just a story, nevertheless. As Freud may or may not have once said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Am I right?

Astro City: Life in the Big City coverIan 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’m a newbie; 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. Astro City: Family Album coverHey, as a journalist myself, I know the feeling: Find a bunch of shark men from another world, see them being fought by superheroes saying fun things 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?

The Losers Issue 12

Yesterday was the glorious kind of New Hampshire day where the sun was shining, the temperature was moderate and there was no sign that we would be hit with a massive snowstorm as we likely will in the next couple of weeks. It happens like that every year and every year, for generation after generation, New Hampshire-ites fall for the climatological feint and end up getting get sucker punched every time. I guarantee you, in a couple of weeks when the snow is knee-deep, I’ll be saying. “I can’t BELIEVE it’s snowing again.” It’s a tradition.

Bottle of Firehose RieslingIn the meantime, I was going to enjoy the run of springlike weather as long as I could and I did what any decent, hard-working American would do on such a glorious day: I opened up a 2006 Firehose Riesling, went out on the porch and read issues 7-12 of The Losers.

I know what you’re thinking: The Losers? With a Riesling? It’s not a serious wine, not a heavyweight contender. It’s semi-sweet (or semi-dry depending on whether your glass is half-full or half-empty), and girlfriend, you’re a red wine kind of gal.

All of this is true, of course, but the warmth and sunshine always brings out the white wine side of me and a light wine was just what was called for.

With The Losers, of course.

The Losers promo still

The L Team

If you’re not familiar with The Losers, it’s a Vertigo comic by writer Andy Diggle and illustrator Jock about “an elite U.S. Special Forces unit that served as the covert bloody hand of America until they stumbled across a C.I.A. secret they couldn’t ignore. The C.I.A. tried to kill them, but they’re about to learn that it takes more than one try to eliminate The Losers.” (www.dccomics.com). The plot’s great, the dialogue smart and the artwork fabulous. It’s everything I want in a comic.

So, after the first few issues, I was hooked on The Losers, and I got a deal on about 25 of them, so I have every issue now.

I you’ve seen the movie, it’s all exciting, fast-paced and there are lots and lots of explosions. Without his Comedian mask, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as Clay (in his pre-Neegan days), was way more yummy than I ever realized. And after I watched the trailer, I wondered if he will boldly go where Capt. Kirk wasn’t able to go with Uhuru in Star Trek. And by Uhuru, I mean Zoe Saldana who plays Aisha.

Morgan isn’t the only veteran comic-to-movie role actor: Chris Evans who plays Jensen was The Human Torch before he became Captain America; and Idris Elba, who plays Roque, is in the Thor movies.

Page from The Losers issue 3

Cougar

Lemmy from Motorhead

Lemmy

Oscar Jaenada in The Losers

Oscar Jaenada

Rounding out The Losers is Columbus Short as Pooch and Óscar Jaenada as Cougar. The casting for Cougar threw me because, from reading at least the first few issues, I had pictured him kind of like Lemmy from Motörhead, who I’d seen photos of in a Spin magazine that had been left in my hotel room in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. But Jaenada looks nothing like Lemmy; when I finally saw Cougar’s face in the comic, I realized he looks nothing like Lemmy either. And after seeing Jaenada, I’m totally embracing that casting call.

Hey, I’m middle-aged, not dead. Or blind.

Whatever. I’m looking forward to this one and to continuing my expedition through the pages of The Losers, which hasn’t let me down yet. If you haven’t read The Losers, you can start here with a free download of issue #1. I’d pair it with the Riesling.

Wonder Woman from Blackest Night

Wonder Woman splitting a few hairs

I got to wondering the other day, if I could have one superhero attribute, what would it be?

Wonder Woman Blackest Night 1

What’s a ghoul to do?

I went through all of the usual suspects one by one, but discarded each of them in turn: exoskeleton – nah, might increase my dress size; flight – not so sure about the whole heights thing; invisibility – what’s the point of a superpower that nobody can see; superstrength – sure, then all of my frends will expect me to help them move; x-ray vision – frankly, there’s a whole lot of stuff about people that I just DON’T want to see.

Then I realized there was one totally cool, absolutely awsome, superhuman power that would never fail me: perfect hair.

Almost all of the best superheroines have long flowing tresses that, no matter what the conflict – extraterrestrials, mad doctors with poison that will end civilization as we know it, multi-limbed bomb-toting megalomaniacs or, as shown above, strangulation by the undead – the hair not only doesn’t move, it often remains a full cascade of follicle perfection that ripples and tumbles, sometimes sweeping out both sideways and upwards.

Variety of superheroines

Generations of hair perfection

And only comic book women are able to pull off this amazing feat. While I’ve been writing this, my husband has had the 1971 Western “Red Sun” with Charles Bronson and Ursula Andress (2 Desperados … 1 Hellcat … and a Samurai … the greatest fighting force the West has ever known!) on television. While leading lady Andress has managed to keep her tresses looking better than yours or mine would after being in a bordello, riding the plains, and being attacked and nearly killed by Indians, by the end it’s looking pretty ratty. While she is a pretty super Bond girl, she isn’t a superheroine. She is, after all, like the rest of us, merely mortal.

On Thursday, New Hampshire saw a blistering tempest that brought with it winds of up to 91 mph in some places and a Sweet Tooth issue 4mere 70 mph in others. Coupled with torrential rains earlier in the day, the storm left in its wake flooding, downed trees and some 300,000 homes without power.

Have ridden out the last two multiple-day outages at home in discomfort, this time we secured a hotel room early and, when the power had been out for a full day and night, packed our bags and headed for the safety and comfort of the Marriott.

It was tough to pack in the dark, but I managed to pack all the necessities for an evacuation: Tooth brush, change of clothes, bottled water, laptop, makeup, a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, issues 2-5 of Sweet Tooth, the first TPB of Transmetropolitan, Astro City: Confession, and The Drawing of the Three, book two of Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series.

It was, after all, only a temporary evacuation. If circumstances had been more dire and we’d had to leave our home for a more extended period – say, due to raging conflagration, alien invasion or a nuclear event, I certainly would have packed differently. I would have added my iPod and Ed Brubaker’s Criminal series. And probably Watchmen. It is after, all, best to be sensible under those kind of extenuating circumstances.

Two-Face in Detective Comics #66

Two sides of the same coin?

There are all kinds of bad guys in the comic book world, but one of my favorites (at least so far) is Two-Face, who is one really, really good bad guy.

And I say “good bad” guy on purpose: Two-Face is a fascinating study in contradictions. Like the really nice pair of sweaters I got at an awesome sale recently, he’s a kind of two-for-one deal.

We all know the back story. Handsome and successful DA Harvey Kent (later Harvey Dent) has acid thrown on his face and suddenly he isn’t handsome anymore — or at least half of him isn’t handsome anymore. The other side looks the same as always, although that seems to be lost on his fiancee Gilda who can’t seem to look past the half that has been disfigured. Shallow wench. I bet Maggie Gyllenhaall’s Rachel Dawes in the “Dark Knight” wouldn’t have left Harvey; she seemed like a solid kind of gal. Or at least she did until she got blown up. Then she wasn’t all that solid, I guess.

But I digress.

Two-Face in Detective Comics #66From the start (Detective Comics #66, 1941) Harvey is the embodiment of good versus evil. Or from a Freudian point of view, he could represent the struggle between the ego and the id.

Or maybe he’s just plain nuts.

To take the duality even further, all of his clothes have two contrasting sides and even his home is divided in half; one side impeccably decorated, the other in shambles – it’s as if his decorator went to the sturm und drang school of design, and quite frankly, he might want to get his money back on that one.

It all adds up to one guy with two sides. As everyone knows, the way he decides which side to heed is with the flip of a coin — fate decides whether he robs a bank at night and divvies up the spoils among his band of merry men or robs a bank during the day and gives the money to charity. He’s like Robin Hood with a personality disorder.

Two-Face in Detective Comics #66Or maybe he’s just a Gemini.

On top of that, they guy is seriously obsessive-compulsive — aside from his (oddly) single-minded need to flip a coin in order to make any decisions, he bases all his crimes on the number two – like stealing the proceeds of a double header baseball game — all the while saying delicious things like “How appropriate that Two-Face should make his getaway on a two-wheeled vehicle!” and “Ha! What irony! I based all my crimes on the number two and end up finally being double-crossed by one of my own mob!”

No two ways about it: this guy is one messed up criminal, which is why he’s my really good bad guy #1.

On second thought, perhaps he should have been #2.