"Rowdy" Roddy Piper Reported Dead at 61
The story of a deeply unhappy and unfulfilled middle-aged woman — or, more occasionally, middle-aged man — who makes a spur-of-the moment decision to break routine and embark on a journey of self-discovery is a staple of popular fiction.
With few exceptions, these sorts of feel-good stories about vanquishing ennui don’t feature compelling, can’t-put-‘em-down mysteries with life-and-death stakes, which goes a long way toward explaining what makes Etienne Davodeau’s Lulu Anew such an unusually suspenseful graphic novel.
It’s the story of Lulu, a mother of three, the wife of an alcoholic lout and the center of a large and supportive circle of friends. Her tale begins at a wake at her house, as her friends try to make sense of what exactly transpired to bring them all to the terrace, avoiding going inside, where the body is.
Fans of the weekly format — like yours truly — had an interesting new comic book day. That’s because all three of DC’s weekly series concluded on Wednesday, and the publisher kicked off its next weekly series with a zero issue.
When it comes to weekly comics, the first and last issues are the most important. Weeklies have a distinct advantage over monthlies, in that readers tend to be more forgiving from issue to issue. Perhaps the art is rough, but we excuse it, because we understand the brutal deadline pressure. Perhaps the story drags and stalls, but because a new issue arrives each week, we don’t have a lot of time to dwell on the flaws — and there’s always the hope it will get better with the next installment, which, of course, is just seven days away. But when we reach the final issue, that hope is gone, and readers discover whether their investment in the story— time and money — was worthwhile.
As television shows go, Jem and the Holograms and Miami Vice couldn’t possibly be more different. The former, which aired from 1985 to 1988, was a children’s carton that also functioned as an extended ad campaign for an accompanying toy line, while the latter, which ran from 1984 to 1989, was an hour-long adult police drama.
Other than their medium and the decade in which they were produced — and, perhaps, how readily they embraced and celebrated the pop culture of that era — a viewer would have trouble finding a whole lot of similarities between the two.
Now, more than 25 years after both shows ended, they have something new in common: They’re being adapted as comic books released by IDW Publishing.
I’m a big fan of weekly comics in general, and DC’s experiments with the format over the past decade in particular. Some of those weeklies have been among the best DC comics I’ve ever read (Wednesday Comics, 52), some have been so bad I checked out after after the first few issues (Countdown, Earth 2: World’s End), and some have fallen in between (I enjoyed Trinity, and have never hated The New 52: Futures End enough to drop it).
Batman Eternal, which published its 50th issue Wednesday, has been a great example of what’s so enjoyable about weekly comics (there’s something for you at the shop every Wednesday, they offer space for a large cast and sprawling story), in addition to providing a good blueprint for future weeklies (co-plotters, a small group of rotating scripters who also serve as consulting writers, and a focus on a single franchise), even while representing the main weakness of the format (without massive amounts of lead time, super-speedy artists or a carefully assembled roster of artists with compatible styles, the books will necessarily feature sub-par, often disjointed artwork that will only read worse in trade).
I’ve actually gotten more and more excited about Batman Eternal the longer it’s run, as there’s been a mystery to the storyline regarding the identity of the villain. On more than one occasion a villain appears who seems to fit the bill, only to be dismissed later, revealing that he’s either working for someone else, or was invited to take part in a conspiracy to destroy Batman and Gotham City by a person unknown to him.
At the risk of sounding like a library poster encouraging youth literacy, reading can take you on a journey … whether you’re reading a comic book or one of those lame old books with no pictures.
Sometimes those journeys can be quite literal, as in the case of Lucy Knisley’s travelogue Displacement, chronicling the cartoonist’s 10-day Caribbean cruise with her grandparents.
“Caribbean cruise” probably sounds pretty nice, especially to those of us hiding from the snow and cold, but this is not the sort of live-it-up-while-you’re-young trip chronicled in Knisley’s previous book, Age of License. Knisley’s grands, as she calls them, are in their 90s, and her grandmother suffers from dementia, to the point where she often wouldn’t recognize her own granddaughter.
You’ll be forgiven if you missed Sweatshop the first time around. Sure, it was created, written and mostly drawn by Peter Bagge, and yes, it was published by DC Comics, but not for long. It lasted just six issues in 2003 and, according to Bagge’s afterword to the new collection (published not by DC, but Fantagraphics), then-DC President Paul Levitz decided to pull the plug around the time the second issue shipped.
The unlikely pairing of DC with talent like Bagge was apparently an outgrowth of editor Joey Cavalieri’s success with the hardcover Bizarro Comics anthology, which teamed “alternative” comics creators with DC regulars. Bagge, who had written DC’s poorly received nine-issue Yeah!, met with Cavalieri and decided on a pretty perfect premise for a comedic comic book. (Yeah!, by the way, was drawn by Gilbert Hernandez and was also collected by Fantagraphics rather than DC.)
Each of Lucy Knisley’s memoirs has been stronger than the last, and Displacement continues that rising arc. While An Age of License, her story of a trip through Europe, was sort of a free-range travelogue, Displacement, her account of a cruise she took with her elderly grandparents, is more introspective and self-contained.
I can’t claim this is an original insight; Knisley lays it all out on one page of Displacement, where she recalls the trip that became An Age of License. “That trip was about independence, sex, youth, and adventure,” she muses. “This trip is about patience, care, mortality, respect, sympathy, and love.”
Indeed, where An Age of License is filled with drawings of interesting places and fabulous food, Displacement focuses tightly on Knisley and her grandparents. Traveling on a cruise ship is all about the journey, not the destination; Knisley only gets off the ship for two short excursions, and even then, she is less interested in local color than the people around her. While she started every chapter of An Age of License with a drawing of her journey to the next destination, she starts each chapter of Displacement with an image of the empty ocean, with the horizon getting higher with each day of the trip.
This week Marvel released the final issue of Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s She-Hulk, which fell into the publisher’s post-Hawkeye rubric for solo titles starring second-tier characters. That is, it’s one of those series that, while still a superhero book, leaned hard in the opposite direction, eschewing genre formula for a more singular vision, while having a sense of humor, a distinct style and, of course, a focus on what the character does when not in costume.
She-Hulk, like all the other characters in similar comics, still saved people and fought crime, but as for saving the world? That’s the stuff for team books and big, line-wide crossovers (which the publisher is producing at a faster rate, one benefit being that the Marvel Universe had more room for Hawkeyes, She-Hulks, Black Widows and Iron Fists). For She-Hulk, this was easily accomplished, as she just so happened to be one the Marvel superheroes whose day job is exciting; as omnipresent as superhero TV shows and movies may seem these days, they’re still dwarfed by the gigantic body of work starring lawyers.
After all, Swamp Thing just happened to be the title for which Len Wein hired young British writer Alan Moore, leading to a run whose importance and influence is difficult to overstate. And Man-Thing, the Marvel character that shared so much in common with Swamp Thing, just so happened to be one of the first vehicles for writer Steve Gerber, introducing that weird and wild talent to mainstream comics audiences.
It’s therefore not that surprising that TwoMorrows Publishing found it worth devoting an entire 200-page book to the swamp monster subgenre, from its Golden Age origins to its late-’80s climax, the result being editors Jon B. Cooke and George Khoury’s Swampmen: Muck-Monsters and Their Makers.
First Year Healthy (Drawn and Quarterly): Technically not comics, this illustrated prose picture book for adults is still of great interest to us because of its author/illustrator, Michael DeForge, and its publisher, Drawn and Quarterly.
It’s also of interest because of its compelling quality.
In matter-of-fact first-person narration, DeForge tells the story of a young woman who just got out of the hospital, having suffered some traumatic event or disease that alienated her from many of those around her. She chronicles her relationship with a man, to whom she refer only as “a Turk.”
After she moves in with him, he takes a job out of town doing something for a vaguely criminal associate and, one day, never returns, leaving our narrator to deal with the people in his life: the landlady with whom he fathered a child while exchanging sex for rent, that child and, eventually, the criminal associate. There’s also a magical cat creature, which plays a small but ultimately vital role in the short story.
At first glance, The Multiversity: Guidebook #1 — this month’s chapter of Grant Morrison’s grand epic exploring DC Comics’ Multiverse — looks like a somewhat-skippable book, supplemental material of the sort that the publisher used to release under the title Secret Files & Origins.
Everything seems to bear that out, from the content advertised on the cover (like the already well-traveled map of the Multiverse) to the artists involved (Marcus To and Paulo Siqueira are good, but not of the same superstar status as previous Multiversity artists) to the particular Earths the cover boys come from (the Batman on the left is from Morrison’s new version of the world of The Atomic Knights; the Batman on the right is an off-model drawing of the character from an Earth introduced in Morrison’s brief Action Comics run).
Second and third glances confirm that initial assessment of this book’s importance. On flip-through, you’ll note that about half of its 70 pages are devoted to illustrated prose in an airy, space-filling format, defining each of the 52 Earths and identifying a few of the key players.
But once you start reading the thing? Well, on a purely conceptual level, as a piece of comics writing and a piece of comics writing about comics, it’s probably the most ambitious, important and fascinating chapter of The Multiversity to date. And that’s in addition to being an extremely timely reminder of how to “read” DC’s continuity-realigning storyines and just what, exactly, it is that makes DC Comics and the DC Universe so special in the first place.
The second volume of Rep. John Lewis’ autobiographical trilogy March is darker than the first one, both literally — artist Nate Powell fills many panels with almost unbroken blackness, as he depicts smoke, night and noxious fumes — and figuratively, as it shows human cruelty at its worst. Even in its lighter moments, Book Two shows the flaws as well as the triumphs of the Civil Rights movement. As this era recedes from living memory to history books, it’s in danger of dwindling to a series of inspirational images and iconic figures. Book Two of March is a bracing antidote to that.
March‘s first volume focused on Lewis’ youth and his involvement with the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins of 1959-1960, his first experience with nonviolent social action. In Nashville, the protestors were mostly students, their leaders were mostly religious, and they took the principle of nonviolence seriously. The refusal to answer violence with violence, whether verbal or physical, was integral to their actions. While there are violent moments in Book One, the story doesn’t dwell on them.
In Book Two, on the other hand, Lewis jumps right in with an attempted murder: The manager of a diner not only refuses to serve Lewis and a colleague, he sends his staff away, turns off the lights, turns on a fumigator spraying insecticide gas, and locks the door. The opposition has moved from harassment to deadly force, and while Lewis was rescued by firefighters (who must have been called by someone), it’s clear from the start that the stakes have been raised.
The first page of Marvel’s Star Wars #1 is essentially a splash-page version of a screen cap, featuring the blue “A long time ago …” opening text. And they’re not kidding. The first Star Wars film opened 38 years ago, in 1977, which is when Marvel initially published licensed Star Wars comics. The company kept a monthly series going for a decade before canceling it. The racks were Star Wars-less for just four years before Dark Horse picked up the license, beginning a fruitful 23-year relationship that produced some pretty great comics — in fact, almost all of the good Star Wars comics (that aren’t the product of Jeffrey Brown, anyway).
And now, thanks to various corporate acquisitions, “The Greatest Space Fantasy of All!” is back in the hands of Marvel, which used to refer to it as such in the ’70s (and its principal heroes as “The Star Warriors”).
So how is the much-hyped, $4.99, 30-page comic with a variant cover for every star in the sky? Not bad. Not bad at all.
Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga Vol. 1 (DC Comics): It was so long ago at this point that it might as well have been the 1950s, as fast as Internet time moves, but I seem to recall Chip Kidd and company’s 2008 book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan getting some static for its treatment of Jiro Kuwata’s Batman manga. Kuwata’s contribution was by far the most fascinating aspect of the book — and took up the bulk of the page count — but many thought he didn’t get the credit he deserved (his name didn’t appear on the cover alongside Kidd’s and those of two others), while others felt weird about comics work being presented alongside photos of goofy Batman toys, as if it were just one more example of collectible kitsch.
Kuwata’s contributions certainly proved to be the most influential element of the book, however, inspiring an almost beat-for-beat adaptation in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon and inspiring writer Grant Morrison’s scripts for his critically-acclaimed Batman, Inc series. Now DC is giving Kuwata’s Bat-Manga its due, packaged in a distraction-free all-manga format.
They’ve been serializing the comics, created in 1966 and ’67 during the height of “Batmania,” digitally, and are following up with hard-copy collections, the first of which is this hefty, 360-page brick.
Unlike Kia Asamiya’s 2003 Batman: Child of Dreams, in which that eminent manga artist told a regular American Batman story in his style, Kuwata’s Batman feature is a highly-strange, almost heady parallel take on Batman. The most basic elements of the story are there — millionaire Bruce Wayne and his young ward become Batman and Robin to fight crime in Gotham City, using the Batmobile, batarangs and other gadgets — but everything around the Dynamic Duo seems somewhat alien.
If you read about comic books on the Internet, and I have reason to believe you do, then chances are you’ve seen a lot this year about Lumberjanes.
And there’s good reason for that. First, the monthly series from BOOM! Studios is the sort of book many talkers-about-comic have been saying we need more of forever: It’s full of strong female protagonists, and it’s the work of strong female creators. (It’s a comic book about a group of awesome ladies, by awesome ladies!)
Second, and more importantly, it’s really, really good. It’s the story of five teenage best friends who occupy the Roanoke cabin of their Girl Scouts-like summer camping organization — April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley — and their discovery of, and battles, against all kinds of weirdness in the woods around them. In the first, eight-issue arc they became involved in a contest between Greek gods, fighting three-eyed woodland creatures, yetis, dinosaurs and giant lightning bugs in the process. All that while earning merit badges.
Why do I bring this up? Well because if you’ve been reading about Lumberjanes and haven’t yet sampled it, this week’s issue is a pretty great jumping-on point.
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