gorillas riding dinosaurs
Tommy Kovac and Andy Hirsch’s The Royal Historian of Oz reminds me that there’s a fine line we have to walk as fans of comics and adventure stories in general. At least, this is how it is for me. You tell me if it’s the same for you. I first noticed it around ten or fifteen years ago when I was really into Star Wars and Star Trek novels. I loved both of those franchises and couldn’t seem to get enough of their characters, so I tried – really hard – to keep up with those characters’ exploits in every medium I could: films, TV, comics, and books.
The bad thing was that the book publishers knew it. They knew they had me and between Wars and Trek they published new books just slowly enough to let me keep up, but quickly enough that I didn’t have time to read anything else. It was the No Time for Anything Else part that was their downfall. Frustrated that I was only reading Wars and Trek stuff, I quit them. Cold turkey. I love my old, favorite characters, but not so much that I’m willing to give up discovering new ones. That’s the tightrope.
It’s the same with comics. Even though they’re much quicker to read, most of us have limited time and money to spend on them. We have to make choices. And every time we choose a licensed comic or one about a corporate-owned or public-domain character, that’s one less creator-owned comic we can read. This isn’t a post about how creator-owned comics are better than corporate ones (‘cause that’s certainly not always true), but it is a post about balance. I’m not advocating that anyone give up corporate or licensed comics; I’m just saying that we need to be thoughtful about our purchases.
After the break: Royal Histories or Fanfics?
As I’m writing this, folks are arriving in San Diego and getting settled for the big show. It’s going to be a busy weekend as comics fight with movies and TV for convention-goers’ attention. And as SDCC continues to diversify – adding bigger and bigger names to its attractions – I figured that maybe it would be appropriate to do the same thing here this week. We’re typically focused on creator-owned adventure comics, but at the risk of stepping on Tom and Carla’s toes, I’d like to discuss something this week that’s mostly an issue only for big-time, corporate-owned, super-hero comics.
We’re talking of course about retroactive continuity – retcons – that controversial thing that happens when a character’s adventures have gone on long enough that they include embarrassing things that need fixing. Or at least someone thinks they need fixing. People of course disagree about these things and that’s where the controversy comes in.
What reminded me of all this is Marvel Boy: The Uranian. Marvel Boy’s a fellow who’s been through a lot of continuity changes, most of which are documented in the collected edition of Jeff Parker and Felix Ruiz’s mini-series. It’s an excellent place to get a snapshot of both the positive and negative aspects of retconning.
Retcons: Hero or Menace? Or, Who Crusades for the Crusader? After the break.
I have a confession. I don’t usually like time-travel comics. Or time-travel stories in any medium really.
You’d think I would. I love awesome things and what’s more awesome than going back to dinosaur times or trying to assassinate baby Hitler? But I tend not to like messy stories and time travel is so freaking messy.
Take the X-Men for instance. How many alternate futures do those guys have? Someone’s always coming back from the future to change something in our present. They say that they’re doing it to make the future a better place, but it never really works out that way, does it? In X-Men comics, when you change something in the past, it doesn’t do a damn thing to your version of the future. It just creates a divergent timeline so that, yes, a better future does exist somewhere, but it’s still possible to visit the nasty, Sentinel–filled future that you came from. The result is infinite possible futures with infinite possible versions of yourself and your friends. That makes for some okay Events for a while until there are so many futures to keep track of that it becomes more migrainoid than amusing. That’s what I mean by messy.
There’s another way of doing it though. Time-travel will always be complex. Should always be complex. That’s part of its fun. But it doesn’t have to barf a zillion different futures all over you in the process.
An atomic example, after the break.
Time again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new adventure comics.
Mouse Guard: Black Axe #1 – David Petersen returns to the series. I want to say what I’m most looking forward to about that, but just realized how spoilery that would be. If you haven’t read Mouse Guard yet, you’re missing out. It’s the new Bone.
Serenity: Shepherd’s Tale – I miss Firefly. Can we please go back to calling the series Firefly? This title sounds like it’s going to be about New Age meditation when it is in fact about a kick-ass bounty hunter in space.
After the break: Robots fighting monsters, freaks (and a gunslinger) fighting nineteenth-century serial killers, chain-smoking chimps, a Frankenstein pop-up book, and more adventurers than you can shake a mummy at.
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This week’s column isn’t so much a review as it is an observation and a request for your thoughts and recommendations. One of the things that appealed to me about Archaia and Roddenberry’s Days Missing series when I learned about it at C2E2 was the non-serial aspect of it. Rather than unfold a long-running plot about it’s main character and the people and things that threaten his goals, Archaia and Roddenberry chose to present the series in almost an anthology format. Though one in which the same character appeared every issue and always had adventures that followed a similar formula.
I’m reminded of some of the TV shows I used to watch as a kid. Today, shows like Lost have changed the television landscape to the point that every show has to have some kind of over-arcing plot. Even detective shows – which you’d think would be perfect for a simple format of stand-alone episodes – have meta-stories like Will Jane Ever Catch Red John? or Will Castle and Beckett Ever Tell Each Other How They Feel? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there’s something pure and refreshing about shows where it’s just our heroes fighting this week’s bad guy or trying to meet this week’s challenge.
Comics are the same. Even when the latest company-wide crossover isn’t besieging them, most comics stories can’t wrap themselves up in a single issue. The Writing for the Trade phenomenon is so standard and familiar that it isn’t even worth griping about anymore. That’s what makes a book like Days Missing stand out.
After the break: What it’s about and do we want more of it?
Written by Jordan Mechner; Illustrated by LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland
First Second; $12.99
There’s no Book 1 printed anywhere on the cover of Solomon’s Thieves, but there should be. It’s the first story in a planned trilogy, but I didn’t know that until I got to the author’s afterword. (Jordan Mechner writes really useful afterwords, by the way. I found both this one and the one in Prince of Persia full of great information about the development of their stories.) Had I known that the story wasn’t going to wrap up at the end of this volume, I wouldn’t have gotten so nervous about two-thirds through.
The title of the book refers to the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, aka the Knights Templar. In the afterword, Mechner describes learning about the dissolution of the Templars by King Philip IV of France who – according to my Wikipedia research anyway – was in deep financial debt to the order. Philip was able to use public fears to his advantage and forced Pope Clement to support him in his Inquisition against the Templars. Which led Mechner to sympathize with the rank-and-file knights of the order who found themselves “pawns in a political chess game their simple ideals of chivalry and brotherhood hadn’t equipped them for.”
That became the seed of his story, the works of Alexandre Dumas became the format, and Mechner crafted a loving tribute to both these nameless knights and the father of the historical swashbuckler. Solomon’s Thieves does indeed read like a Dumas novel. It focuses on the personal lives of a few fictional characters who end up brushing elbows and crossing swords with some notorious, non-fictional people in order to affect actual, historical events.
Time once again to flip through Previews looking for fun, new comics.
Koni Waves: Perfect Wave – I had mixed feelings about the storytelling in some of the single issues I read from this collection, but the concept is awesome (a beautiful Hawaiian PI solves tiki-related and other supernatural crimes) and the art is stunning with heavy influences from tiki-culture and other ’60s groove.
Syndrome – The concept’s really difficult to describe in only a few words, but Archaia sold me on it at their C2E2 panel. It’s basically about a group of scientists – each with his or her own reason for doing so – trying to discover the root of evil by putting a group of innocent, unsuspecting people into a “controlled” compound with a serial killer. Sounds fascinating and scary.
The Killer, Volume 1
Written by Matz; Illustrated by Luc Jacamon
As single issues, The Killer was a gorgeous, entrancing reading experience. Or rather, I imagine that it was. That was my experience with the two or three issues I bought before deciding to wait for the collection. The trouble was a sporadic publishing schedule and a story that didn’t really encourage a serialized approach. Issues were intimately connected with each other and there wasn’t much in the way of recapping from issue to issue. It was obvious that this was going to read much better in larger chunks. And so it does.
The title character is a nameless assassin-for-hire who operates out of Paris. As the story opens he’s holed up in a hotel across the street from the home of his next target’s girlfriend. The problem is: his target hasn’t shown up for nine days and the Killer’s getting restless. As he continues to wait, he recalls past kills and how he got into this business. Through his narration he reveals an honest, non-hypocritical attitude about his life. He knows what he’s doing isn’t nice and he doesn’t apologize for it, but he thinks you’re the two-faced one if you condemn him for it.
Justification, complications, and James Bond after the break.
Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 1: Orientation
Written and Illustrated by Thomas Siddell
I’m certain without looking that someone somewhere has already compared Gunnerkrigg Court to Harry Potter. I imagine that someone somewhere may have even called it the next Harry Potter, because that thought crossed my mind too. I hope that no one’s called it a rip-off of Harry Potter, because that would be grossly unfair.
It’s impossible to ignore the superficial similarities. For one thing, there’s the concept of a young person’s entering a strange and wonderful school – divided into four “houses” even – where her parents once played important roles in the institution’s history. For another, there’s the structure of following this student through her academic career with each volume covering a single school year. But the story unfolding in Gunnerkrigg Court is very much it’s own, unique thing. There’s no particular significance given to which house characters belong to (at least not in this volume), none of the characters parallel JK Rowling’s, and Antimony Carver isn’t some kind of messianic wonderchild. She’s an outsider to most of the goings on at the school, but none of the other students single her out or bully her. They’re not always friendly to her, but that isn’t a significant focus of the story. Student politics aren’t even a consideration.
Antimony – or Annie, as her new friend Kat calls her – is a quiet, pleasant girl. She’s lonely, but not angsty about it. Having lost her mother at a young age and been shipped off to boarding school by her distant father, she seems to have accepted that that’s how life is for her. Her relationship with Kat is important to her though and reveals that she’s not content with being alone. The two girls share a profound friendship that’s sweet and funny. This optimistic attitude is something else that Annie has in common with Harry Potter, but her early experiences at the school separate her from him again.
Minotaurs, clockwork birds, ghosts, gods, and faeries after the break.
Olympians: Athena, Grey-Eyed Goddess
Written and Illustrated by George O’Connor
First Second; $9.99
After loving the Zeus volume in George O’Connor’s Olympians series, I hoped that the other volumes in the series could live up to it. Zeus was surprising in the uniqueness of O’Connor’s designs and how well he succeeded at making it exciting as well as faithful to the myths. I had enough respect for O’Connor to expect another great volume, but still… one gets nervous.
O’Connor does succeed again with Athena, but he goes about it in a different way than he chose for Zeus. That’s nice in that it keeps the surprises coming, but it’s also necessary because of the nature of Athena’s mythology. While Zeus’ was a straight-out origin story with a single narrative running through it, Athena’s is made up of several unconnected events. To accommodate this, O’Connor has the Three Fates tell her tale.
This sounds like a straightforward device, but O’Connor adds depth to it by understanding the nature of the Fates’ storytelling and applying that to his book. The first Fate begins the story by spinning out the tale of Athena’s birth, then the other two add to it, weaving in other events until at last the full picture of the goddess is complete. It’s more than just a way to present the story; it’s a philosophy. And it works. Athena presents a view of the goddess that at least feels whole. As O’Connor points out, it’s not whole – that would require “a thousand walls with a hundred thousand tapestries” – but it is satisfying. And besides, Athena will undoubtedly show up in future volumes of the series.
Betrayal, giant monsters, and the Clash of the the Titans after the break.
Because Moonstone Books publishes a lot of Pulp adventure comics (and prose anthologies), I originally wanted to try to fold this recap of their C2E2 panel into last week’s article on the Pulp Fiction one. That article ran long though, so it works best to just give Moonstone their own week. And they need it too because they’ve got a lot going on.
Their panel was moderated by Ed Catto from Captain Action Enterprises and consisted of Co-Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Joe Gentile, writers Aaron Shaps, Mike Bullock, Len Kody, and Jeff Lemke, Co-Publisher/Art Director Dave Ulanski, artist J Anthony Kosar, and Co-Editor Lori Gentile.
The company made lots of announcements for new books and series. Buckaroo Bonzai will become an ongoing series by Tom DeFalco in the Fall. Steven Grant will be writing a new Captain Action series. There’s also going to be a new Kolchak ongoing called Night Stalker Files.
One of the most intriguing announcements though was for a mini-series illustrated by Kosar called The Spider: The Iron Man War. It sounds almost illegal until you realize that it’s an adaptation of one of Norvell W Page’s original Spider stories called “Satan’s Murder Machines” that appears to have been a direct inspiration for the creation of Iron Man (and was also apparently used by Siegel and Shuster for a Superman newspaper strip).
Other superhero inspirations, classic characters, female heroes, and clunky robots after the break.
Since it’s exactly what we talk about here at Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs (now back on Wednesdays), I figured it would be appropriate to hold off talking about C2E2′s Pulp Fiction panel until now. I thought I’d also be able to squeeze Moonstone’s panel into this post as well, but that would make it way too long, so I’ll save it for next week. The Pulp panel was moderated by Ed Catto, Licensing Agent for Captain Action Enterprises. The members of the panel were Jim Beard (Marvel.com), BC Bell (Dan Fowler: G-Man), illustrator Tom Gianni, Joe Gentile (Moonstone Books), Mike Bullock (The Phantom), and Wayne Reinagel (Pulp Heroes), with Brian Azzarello (DC’s First Wave) joining later.
Catto opened the discussion by asking why Pulp is still popular and – more specifically – why it’s currently making a strong comeback. Gianni’s response was simply that Pulp stories are fun, but Bullock added that many readers today are yearning for a simpler time when problems were more easily solved. That’s a fascinating response to me as someone who believes that healthy fantasies can be a strong deterrent to inappropriate behavior, rather than provoking it. I love the implication in Bullock’s answer that society – while working hard at becoming more peaceful – still fantasizes about solving problems with violence, possibly as a way of channeling aggression into appropriate outlets. That makes a lot of sense to me.
Catto next asked about genres, particularly which the panelists thought were the truest embodiment of Pulp. Bell noted that Gangster stories were the biggest in Pulp’s heyday, with Westerns also being very popular. Gentile offered Heroic fiction as the definitive Pulp genre and Beard added that – Doc Savage notwithstanding – street level Pulp is best. The conversation then turned to personal favorites with Air and Jungle Pulp getting mentions.
Old vs New, creating Modern Pulp, and the endurance of the genre after the break.
Time again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for interesting new adventure comics.
Mighty Samson Archives – I barely remember these comics from when I was a kid, but they and stuff like Planet of the Apes, Thundarr the Barbarian, Kamandi, and Marvel’s War of the Worlds comics with Killraven have created a soft spot in me for this kind of urban, post-apocalyptic, monster-filled world.
Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives – This mostly makes me mad because it’s a reminder that I can’t get the volumes I want from Checker’s reprints of Alex Raymond’s strips. But it could also help tide me over until those become available again.
Abe Sapien: Abyssal Plain #1 – I’m so far behind on BPRD that something in the solicitation for this spoiled part of Abe’s story that I haven’t read yet. And made me even more anxious to catch up. At any rate, any new comic about Abe Sapien is worth mentioning.
Buzzard #1 – As is any new thing by Eric Powell. But I especially love the look of this character. He’s one of my favorites from The Goon and I’m glad he’s getting the spotlight for a bit.
Pirates, werewolves, dinosaurs, a giant talking bear or two, and more after the break.
City of Spies
Written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan; Illustrated by Pascal Dizin
First Second; $16.99
This column wraps up sort of an unplanned First Second Month for us, but the publisher isn’t the only thing City of Spies has in common with last week’s subject. It also shares the concept of kids fighting Nazis, though it’s presented in a completely different way from Resistance.
If you look at the cover to City of Spies and imagine that it’s about a couple of New York kids who like to pretend to be superheroes, I’ll understand. That’s what I thought too. That’s also why I bumped a few other books ahead of it in my reading pile. It looks fun – and I love the European look of the art – but I had a hard time getting excited to read what I presumed to be a story about a couple of bored kids who let their overactive imaginations get them into trouble. I should’ve trusted First Second more. Though I haven’t loved everything they’ve published as much as everything else, unoriginality has never been a problem for them. Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Pascal Dizin have created a story with a lot more depth and emotion than I expected or even imagined.
It is indeed about a couple of New York City kids with too much time on their hands one summer. And they do get into some trouble chasing spies – or what they think are spies. But the story’s not some flighty, fanciful adventure. There are some heavy feelings at work all throughout the book that keep the plot grounded and make what’s going on feel important. If there are real Nazi spies running around New York stealing government secrets, Evelyn and Tony’s actions matter to the country. But even if it’s all in their heads, what they do will have a lasting impact on them and those around them.
Paranoia and spy-hunting after the break.
Resistance, Book 1
Written by Carla Jablonski; Illustrated by Leland Purvis
First Second; $16.99
If you’d asked me last week what’s cooler than robots fighting Nazis or demons fighting Nazis or bullwhip-wielding archeologists fighting Nazis, I would’ve been hard up for an answer. Imagine my surprise to learn that children fighting Nazis does the trick quite nicely.
I love the cover to Resistance, Book 1. The child’s slingshot aimed squarely at the back of a German soldier’s head says everything you need to know about the book. It’s a fun, cute image – an act of childishly brave defiance against a universally recognized evil – but as you continue to look at it, you realize how foolhardy that act is and a feeling of dread sets in. That’s an SS soldier the kid’s about to shoot. As adorable as the picture is, the anticipated consequences are horrifying. Which pretty much sums up this story about a group of French kids who join the Resistance against occupying Germany in WWII. It’s at the same time heart-warmingly endearing and upsettingly dreadful.
Though there are moments to make you chuckle, Resistance is a drama before it’s anything else. There’s some inherent cuteness that goes along with having kids as heroes, but the kids in this book are cute because they’re real. Which makes the danger to them that much more awful.
Join the Resistance after the break.