Monday, July 29, 2013

COMICS READING FOR JUNE: “Iron Man...made of iron”

“I guess that’s why they call him Iron Man,” said Brian

* NOW WITH STAR RATINGS (ala Wrestling Observer Newsletter PPV reports) *

*****    Watchmen, Miracleman, V For Vendetta
****       From Hell, Supreme, Swamp Thing, Fashion Beast, League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (first two series)
***         Axel Pressbutton, Tom Strong
**           Promethea
*              LoEG: Century: 1969
DUD (or lower) any of his non-comics stuff

1. Superman 3-D #1 (DC, 1997) ***
- originally published in Superman 3-D (DC, 1953)
Writers/artists: unknown
2. Children Of Fire #3 (Fantagor Press, 1988) ***
Writers: Jan Strnad, Richard Corben/Artist: Richard Corben
The highlight is the reprint of an old underground tale called “Kittens For Christian”. The newer yarn is pretty ordinary, but. Beautiful Corben art as usual, though.
3.-4. Giant-Size Sidekick #3-4 (free with Comic Heroes #16-17, 2012-13) ***
Writers/artists: various
They can try to be as nostalgic as they like, but rereading old British strips like Shako (killer polar bear) and Johnny Red (disgraced English pilot now flies for the Russians during WW2) are laaaame.
5. Local Heroes (free with Comic Heroes #16, 2012) ***½
Writers/artists: various
English-based publisher SelfMadeHero is putting out some very interesting graphic novels right now. A few of these could wind up in my collection, including Pachyderme and Deadbeats.
6. The Comics Journal #299 (Fantagraphics, 2009) **** (*** for Eve)
I normally wouldn’t include a comics news’n’interviews mag in this list, but this issue features a complete graphic novel, 1943’s whimsical, text-free Eve by legendary animator Myron Waldman. Actually, I bought TCJ#299 for the extensive feature on (at that point) the greatest comic book never published, The Someday Funnies, compiled by Michel Choquette. This will be discussed in-depth in a upcoming podcast.
7.  Occupy Comics #2 (Black Mask, 2013) **½
Writers/artists: various
Stridently righteous. Alan Moore’s left-wing history of comics has become tedious. So has some cynical screed on the uber-rich fucks who destroyed the American (and possibly the world) economy in recent years. And, frankly, don’tcha think this whole 99% “Occupy” bullshit kinda done its 15 minutes? Yeah, me, too.
IN CELEBRATION of the recent release of Iron Man 3, I decided to read a whole bunch of Iron Man comics I’ve built up over the years. Let’s see if the yarns are as rusty as Shellhead is after he’s been caught in a storm.

8.-27. The Essential Iron Man Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2000) **¾
- originally published in Tales Of Suspense #39-72 (Marvel, 1962-65)
Writers: Stan Lee & friends/Artists: Don Heck, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko Wally Wood & friends
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, I used to wonder why Iron Man was constantly referred to as a second-string superhero. After all, he was immensely powerful (strong enough to take on Thor in a battle),  and was a key member of The Avengers. But this 500+ page B&W omnibus explains why by exploring Shellhead’s crappy past. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I read these seminal stories from half a century ago, but boy! Do they suck! The artwork – primarily by Heck – is pedestrian at best. But it’s Lee’s writing that really lets down the series. Where do I begin? The horrible romantic clich├ęs involving the tiresome unconsummated relationship between Iron Man’s alter ego Tony Stark and his secretary Pepper Potts; the love/hate relationship between Pepper Potts and Stark’s chauffeur Happy Hogan; the constant whimpering by Stark about his weak heart preventing him from leading a normal life (he dates movie actresses, is a multi-millionaire and is a genius inventor...yeah,  right, I’m sure readers wept for him); regular near-death occurrences where Iron Man has to rush home mid-battle and plug a power cord into a wall socket to re-energise his heart (seriously); the constant recycling of plots (super-villains attack a Tony Stark factory, Iron Man stops them); the boring nature of his foes (for every Mandarin and Hawkeye we got a Jack Frost or The Actor); the lame limitations of Iron Man’s powers back in those days; and the pro-government/anti-Communist propaganda that must have been tiresome even during those Cold War days for pre-teen readers. Need I go on? Luckily, Iron Man was to get better (although it took more than 15 years in his own title). Phew, time to move onto some better-quality, more-recent Shellhead material, me’thinks.
28.-35. Iron Man: The Armor Wars (Marvel, 1990) ***½
- originally published in Iron Man #225-232 (Marvel, 1987)
Writers: David Michelinie, Barry Windsor-Smith /Artists: Mark Bright & Bob Layton, Barry Windsor-Smith
Not the best storyline ever, but still strangely satisfying. Tony Stark discovers that all his Iron Man technology has been stolen and used to enhance armoured supervillains. He decides to retrieve te stolen tech by force, pitting him against a wide array of Marvel Universe baddies – Stilt-Man, Controller, Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, etc – along with goodies such as Stingray and the Guardsmen. Iron Man is soon at odds with former friends and allies such as Captain America, Nick Fury, The Avengers and, eventually, the US military. The storyline’s resolved way too easily in the end but Iron Man’s rogue nature and “do-what-must-be-done-and-hang-the-moral-expense” attitude is refreshing in many ways, especially for late 80s Marvel. I enjoyed the trade.
36. The Invincible Iron Man #500 (Marvel, 2011) ***¼
Writers: Matt Fraction & friends/Artists: Salvador Larroca, Kano & friends
I felt like I stepped into the end of a major storyline here. I’m gonna have to go back and read these Matt Fraction-penned Iron Man omnibuses I bought last year and work out what I missed.
37. Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #2 (Marvel, 2008) **½
Writer: Jon Favreau/Artist: Adi Granov
What a gyp. I thought this miniseries was only two issues long, turns out it’s a four-parter...that was never completed for reasons unknown (boo!), featuring great Adi Granov art (yay!) and sub-part writing by a slumming actor/director (boo!) and guest-starring a rebooted Fin Fang Foom (boo!). Disappointing.
38.-40. Iron Man: Director Of Shield #22-24 (Marvel, 2007-08) ***½
Writer: Daniel & Charles Knauf/Artist: Roberto De La Torre
To be fair, I only bought these issues because they featured Captain Ultra.
41.-46. Iron Man: Industrial Revolution (Marvel, 2011) ***½
- originally published in Iron Man Legacy #6-11 (Marvel, 2010-11)
Writer: Fred Van Lente/Artists: Steve Kurth & Allen Martinez (#6-9), Philippe Briones & Jeff Huet (#10-11), Juan Doe (covers)
To be honest, I only bought this for the cover art – very Soviet, very people’s revolution. This “untold” story from Iron Man’s past is fine and features interesting appearances from the Serpent Society, The Pride, obscure villain The Hangman, Herbie the Robot and The Illuminati, as well as Tony Stark during his “I’m a destitute recovering alcoholic” period in his career. That said, a tale like this is innately damaged because it’s set in Stark’s past so we know he’s not going to die, nor is the storyline gonna fuck up what happens later. It’s essentially meaningless. But IMIR is still a fun read, especially as the entire conflict is based on a thoroughly sitcom-ish mistaken identity/two parties at cross-purposes cock-up. Very 80s.
47. Clive Barker’s Next Testament #1 (BOOM!, 2013) ***¼
Writers: Clive Barker & Mark Miller (no, not THAT Mark Millar)/Artist: Haemi Jang
48. The Phantom #1663 (Frew, 2013) ***
Writer: Jim Shepherd/Artist: Keith Chatto
A reprint of Phantom #951A from 1990, the first all-Australian produced Phantom tale. This came out to commemorate the recent death of Shepherd, who did much to maintain the Phantom’s popularity in this country in the 80s and 90s and into the 21st century.
49.-54. Saga Vol. 2 (Image, 2013) ****
- first published in Saga #7-12 (Image, 2013)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan/Artist: Fiona Staples
55.-58. Deathmatch Vol. 1 (BOOM!, 2013) ****¼
- originally published in Deathmatch #1-4 (BOOM!, 2012-13)
Writer: Paul Jenkins/Artist: Carlos Magno
Marvel Secret Wars done right.....and much bloodier. A damn good read so far, much better than I expected, actually.
59.-63. Ed Burns’ Dock Walloper (Virgin Comics, 2008) **¾
- originally published in Dock Walloper #1-5 (Virgin, 2007-08)
Writers: Ed Burns & Jimmy Palmiotti/Artist: Siju Thomas
A gangster tale that doesn’t quite make the grade, although Siju’s Kirby-influenced art is nice in parts (but amateurish in others). A gangster with a big right hand (literally) slowly begins his rise to power in 1920s New York. This is nothing I’ve not seen before in Hollywood flicks.
64. Groovy Gravy #11 (Edge Comix, 2009) DUD
Writers/artists: various
Even a cool cover plus various strips by good friend Mister J can rescue this Aussie comic. It’s the utter shits.

65. Nuts: A Graphic Novel by Gahan Wilson (Fantagraphics, 2011) ****
66. Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez (Faber, 2013) ****
The world of kids – in all its casual brutality, day-to-day fun, banal activities and things far more meaningful (although we were all too young to fully understand them at the time) – are captured in two very different books. Nuts was a regular strip in National Lampoon from 1972-86. This book collects all the strips, childhood experiences appraised with a more cynical adult eye (and infused with a 1970s post-Watergate/JFK cynicism). This is far darker than anything Wilson ever drew for Playboy magazine. As for Marble Season, the work is far more innocent and playful, but still there are big issues hanging around the periphery, on the edges of the comic panels. Both books end nowhere in particular. The principal stars are still in the midst of their childhood, a little wiser but still young and reckless enough not to care too much about the mistakes they’re inevitably going to make in the years ahead. I envy them a little.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

QUICK REVIEW: Red Dragon #1 (Comico, 1996)

YOU'D think a comic written by the great Brian Azzarello, with interior art by Tony Akins and a blockbuster cover by Simon Bisley would be an awesome read. And you'd be utterly wrong.
Red Dragon is just about the worst piece of shit I've read this year. Admittedly, this came out in the dying days of Comico, a great indy company in the 1980s - home to the intelligent superhero/horror series Elementals, plus Mage, Grendel and Robotech - that went bankrupt in 1990. Sadly, byy 1996, it had degenerated under new ownership into a sub-Image (y'know, anguished antiheroes, big guns, improbable outfits and physiques, gritted teeth), T&A-oriented line, mainly living off various Elementals one-shots, like the tawdry Elementals Sex Specials.
In 1996, there was a flurry of activity and a bunch of new titles were promised to the comics-buying public. One of them was Red Dragon, which I bought the other day on a whim for a buck. God, I wish I hadn't.
From what I can tell from the poorly written plot, it's a tale of a dragon god, brainwashed by them godless Chinese commies to be some kinda Oriental Superman. On his first mission, he violently beats up a psychotic gang of bank robbers, causing the death of all the innocent hostages in the process. It's dumb, cartoonishly violent (which takes away from the seriousness of the shit going down) and has no likeable characters whatsoever. Red Dragon is brutal, arrogant and an all-round dick. There's also a glaring plot hole that Azzarello just ignores at the end of the issue. Never has a second issue felt so unwanted and, luckily, Comico went belly-up before it could think about producing a No. 2 (although No. 1 is a pretty big number too already).
To be fair to Azzarello, this was one of his first writing jobs. He's gone on to bigger and better things.

Of equal amusement to the appalling main story are the various T&A-filled ads for upcoming Comico releases, some of which may (or may not) have seen the light of the day. The funniest of the lot is the ad for Bathory (below).

Seriously, have you ever seen a more PORNO comic book ad in your life? I think not. It'd be fucking hilarious if it wasn't kinda sad. It's depressing how far Comico went downhill in its last few years.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Classic "Bunny Allen" by Keith Chatto

THIS seven-page instalment of the good-girl comic "Bunny Allen" was published in Tex Morton's Wild West Comic (c. late 1940s). Chatto was one of the finest exponents of good-girl art in Australia from the 1940s through to his death in 1992.