Thursday, February 18, 2016

The return of, Tami: the John Jacobs saga continues

A CHANCE comment from Chris Pitzer at Adhouse Books led me to these two 1989 comics, The New Power Stars and The New Partners In Peril, published by Tami Comics (via Blue Comet Press).
For anyone who knows about my decades-old obsession with Dr Peculiar and the many other strange titles (including Power Stars and Partners In Peril) published by John Jacobs' Madison Comics in the mid-80s, then you would understand why I was so thrilled to pick up these comics from Mile High (and for next to nix).
They are a continuation of the bizarre superhero universe created by Jacobs and they're nearly as mad as the original books.
The Christian vibe has been toned right down and the perverse sexual violence excised, but there's plenty of regular old weirdness to go round.
When we last left the Madison Universe, Astroman and his brainwashed/drugged ward/former enemy Tami (a thinly disguised rip-off of Terra from DC's New Teen Titans) were chilling in Antarctica (see what I did there? Boom!).

But in The New Power Stars #1, America is now run by a Communist, Russian-backed government, led by the evil and oddly schoolmarmish President Rose Kenman. In the first yarn ("Tami Unbound", writer: Dave Marchman/artist: Steven Hughes) the Prez forces Astroman to do her bidding to disperse illegal rally-goers, which pushes him to the edge of killing Kenman. Meanwhile, Tami is kidnapped by government agents for some nefarious experiment. In the process, the wristband that controls her psychotic urges is broken. She goes on a rampage before being rather quickly subdued by Astroman, who whacks another armband on her to keep her placid and compliant. The artwork by Hughes is perfectly fine, but the storyline (which I assume Jacobs had a hand in) is kinda batshit crazy. When and how did the Commies take over America? Did I miss something in Jacobs' original series?
The next chapter ("American Vengeance", writer: CA Stormon/artists: Brian Pimenta & David Mowry) sees Astroman and another old Madison character Black Atlas take on anti-Commie vigilante American Vengeance.
The last strip ("Astroman vs Super Soljer", writer: John Jacobs & Duval Stowers/artist: Duval Stowers) has a similar storyline with ultra-patriot Super Soljer battling Astroman, who he mistakenly believes is a traitor. This is the only "to be continued" yarn with Soljer getting blown up by MIG fighter planes on the final page. Oh no...will he survive? Well, we never find out.

The New Partners In Peril focuses on the members of super-team Power Stars. We get the origin of Astroman (writers: John Jacobs and Dave Marchman/artist: Steven Hughes), which basically rips off Superman's origin.
"You Say You Want A Revolution" (writer: Dave Marchman/artists: Mitch Byrd & Louis Paradis) sees the team split up over idealogical reasons when discussing whether or not they should overthrow America's Commie government.
"Communisim is a disease, evil, a corruption of human thought!" snarls a Captain Atom rip-off.
"Hey, back off, man! Communism ain't the worst thing - look at Adolf Hitler as proof!" growls some other hero who's so inconsequential that we never see his face, let alone find out his name.
So the Captain Atom rip-off  - we later find out he's called "Neutron" - snaps and quits the Power Stars.
He joins the rebel movement and attempts to assassinate the Prez. However, his attempt is thwarted by his ex-team mates. After being defeated, Neutron suddenly comes to his senses and it's revealed he was being mind-controlled by aliens known as the Gibblers. It's all very clunky and mediocre fare, but not the off-the-wall crazy you'd expect from Jacobs.

The final unnamed strip (writer: Dwight Decker/artist: Francis Mao) sees the Power Stars take down a sinister gulag in Alaska. However, they are captured and it's up to Tami to rescue the team using her earth-based powers. Unfortunately, in the process, her wristband gets shattered and she goes psycho once more, before Astroman again easily subdues her. So the storyline is basically a repeat of what happened in the other comic.

Reading and rereading these two titles, it just makes me think, "Man, John Jacobs REALLY hated Communism." It's such a surreal idea to have America in the grip of some Red Dawn scenario. It must have been very confusing for the few hundred people who actually picked up and read these comics to be confronted by this fully-formed (well…semi-formed) alternative universe that's kinda loco. 
A bigger question is why Blue Comet Press got involved with a kook like Jacobs (although he was loaded, so I guess the cash helped).
Sales must've been poor as these were the only Tami Comics titles published...and as far as I know, the comics were not revived again.
Still, as bad as they are, I'm perversely thrilled to have them in my collection.


JOHN JACOBS couldn't write and he could barely draw when he put out Madison Comics, but his amateurish pencils were helped immeasurably by the inking of Ken Landgraf (who actually did some mainstream work as well). Ken, who still sells his original artwok on eBay, also produced his own comics around this time. I recently found a copy of Starfighters #5 (Landgraphic, 1983) for a coupla bux in Comic Kingdom in Sydney.

There's a lot of overt Christian imagery going on (which maybe explains Ken's affinity with Jacobs) plus some heavy Wally Wood influences in his artwork (I could call them swipes, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt). The main feature is about a band of rebels the Starfighters fighting an evil despot. Sure it's cliched, but I bought this for Ken's artwork, not his writing.
The back-up tales of "Axe McChord" and "Alien Squad" (with additional inks from semi-pros Willie Blyberg, Sam De La Rosa, Armando Gil and friends) have nice art, but they make zero sense. Who exactly Ken was trying to appeal to with this comic is beyond me.

What I found more interesting were the house ads Ken ran, including the above full-pager for a Punisher-style character called Night Slayer.
The real ads are even better. The fact that the fan club of heavy metal "legend" Thor got the inside front cover (below left) made the $3 I paid for Starfighters totally worthwhile.
A local hairdresser got the inside back cover (below right), which I found hilarious. I wonder if it's still in business.
Someone needs to interview Ken - with John Jacobs' passing a few years back, Landgraf is the only person who can shed some light on what the hell was going on with John and Madison Comics. Hell, Ken's creative output over the decades would be worth an article by itself.
I'll have to look into this.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Best Of The Worst: reviews of books about Aussie comics rogues Maxwell Newton and Phillip Wearne

MAXWELL NEWTON and PHILLIP WEARNE were both fascinating, controversial figures in Australian politics, the media and society. They were ratbags, scoundrels, drunkards, drug addicts and, let's be blunt, criminals. They were also two of the more interesting figures connected with the Australian comics industry.
Two books (well, an ebook and a small-press booklet, to be precise) by veteran Australian writer and researcher Daniel Best examine the two men's stories and their legacy in both the local comics industry and this country in general.
Maxwell Newton
FOR Australian kids in the mid-1970s who read comics, Newton titles were a huge bargain. For 30 cents (only five cents more than American comics) you got 44 pages of great 60s Marvel reprint action (admittedly B&W, but it was classic Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, so who cared?), plus a poster, and maybe a swapcard (or a T-shirt iron-on transfer), plus the chance to win prizes. They even had our very own letters page for Aussie comics fans to connect with other fans.
And then, all too quickly, the dozens of Newton titles that flooded our local newsstands were gone.
As Best's exhaustive tome Newton Comics: The Amazing Rise And Spectacular Fall reveals, the company was really a failed attempt in 1975 by Melbourne newspaper publisher Maxwell Newton to make quick money, ripping off Marvel in the process, before a lack of sales and general management chaos (due to a boozed-up and drugged-out owner) drove the company out of business in 1976.
The heavily illustrated book covers every aspect of Newton Comics - particularly its owner's chequered history before he got into publishing and his fascinating post-life career (including a brief stint as a pornographer and pimp). The day-to-day operations of the comics' production make for fascinating reading.
Every title is listed (with covers and contents wherever possible), plus every collectible that Newton released (or promised to release). Like I said, it's an exhaustive account and is recommended to anyone who loved reading these mags as a kid.
Newton Comics: The Amazing Rise And Spectacular Fall was published in 2014 as an ebook courtesy of a Kickstarter campaign that I contributed money to. I think there was a hard-copy version proposed, but that never materialised. I struggle with ebooks, which is why it took me so damn long to get around to reading it, but I'm glad I finally did. Best has an entertaining writing style and his research (particularly court documents) is meticulous. A small bugbear would be that there is some facts repeated several times throughout the book, probably because some chapters had been previously published on Best's website,, which is where the repetition crept in, I suspect. But overall, I'm happy I played a small part in getting this book off the ground.

MUCH shorter but just as fascinating is last year's The Strange, Strange Story Of Phillip Wearne, which manages to pack in a huge amount of crazy in barely 40 pages.
Wearne was a competent cartoonist in Adelaide who published his own comic at age 17 in 1942. The Legion Of Space ripped off a sci-fi novel published eight years earlier, but people took a long time to realise that. Wearne also took shortcuts with his art, reusing the same panels over and over. Somehow, he parlayed this into a career of sorts.
Wearne would soon leave comics, however, and embark on a long, spotty career including a stint in the RAAF, some tawdry criminal endeavours and ripping off the union movement while producing their various trade newspapers.
His greatest claim to fame was his ongoing feud with Scientology, which eventually saw him catch the eye of the spooks in ASIO.
In many ways, the lives and temperament of Wearne and Newton seem identical - they were like evil twin brothers who were cut from the same cloth. I'm surprised their paths never crossed - now THAT would have been a drinking session worth attending!
* Both books are available from Daniell Best's website - as are many others - and I suggest you head there and check them out.

Phillip Wearne

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Kirby Your Enthusiam. ep. 44: "The best and worst comics I read in 2015"

IN WHICH Dann talks about the best and worst comics he read last year (my podcast titles NEVER lie).

Kings Comics
Elizabeth's Bookshop
Adhouse Books
Totentanz by Marcel Ruijters
Sticky Monsters by John Ken Mortensen
(I mistakenly refer to it as "Sticky Nonsense" on the podcast, but it's actually titled Sticky Monsters.)
Lone Star Comics

COMICS READ in 2013: 807

COMICS READ IN 2014: 1179
JAN. 82
FEB. 106
MAR. 92
APR. 69
MAY 102
JUN. 75
JUL. 210
AUG. 101
SEP. 80
OCT. 108
NOV. 96
DEC. 101
Total comics and GNs read in 2015: 1222

BEST of 2015:
Stray Bullets: Sunshine And Roses #1-6 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer/artist: David Lapham
The perfect comic.

Savage Sword of Criminal (Image, 2015) *****
Writer: Ed Brubaker/Artist: Sean Phillips
This loving homage to Marvel’s B&W magazine line in the 1970s is glorious. Phillips slips in and out of his usual Criminal art style (which is the main story set in the 70s) to the more psychedelic, Spanish/Filipino-styled barbarian artwork we saw in Conan and even the Warren B&W titles. Phillips even apes a Joe Jusko-style cover. This is a fucking masterpiece.

Herbie Archives Vols. 1-3 (Dark Horse, 2008-09) *****
- originally published in Forbidden Worlds #73, 94, 110, 114, 116; Unknown Worlds #20; Herbie #1-23 (American Comics Group, 1958-1967)
Writer: Shane O’Shea/Artist: Ogden Whitney
Quite possibly the most extraordinary, bizarre, sad, desperate, loveable, strange comic I’ve ever read. An obese autistic child, who is bullied by his overbearing father and kids at school, fantasises that he is an omnipotent superhero who can travel anywhere in the universe, have amazing unreal adventures and is friends with everyone from the US President to the Queen and historical figures, who he visits whenever he travels back in time. Herbie uses the power of lollipops to achieve his fantastical aims as he loses himself deep in a fantasy world where he is loved and respected, unlike the real world. Well, that’s MY interpretation of this crazy comic and I’m sticking to it!

Minimum Wage: So Many Bad Decisions #1-6 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer/artist: Bob Fingerman
It’s back and I am sooooooooooooooooo happy! Even if I DIDN’T win that damn competition Bob was running.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4-8 (Marvel, 2015) *****
Writer: Ryan North/Artist: Erica Henderson
The unexpected best comic Marvel is producing this year.
Solo #5 (DC, 2005) *****
Writer/artist: Darwyn Cooke
I can’t get enough of Cooke’s retro art. And he’s not a bad writer either. So this special devoted to Cooke was a joy to read. Maybe he should try his hand at some Marvel characters one day.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2015 (listen to my podcast about it HERE)
2000AD (Rebellion) *****
Writers/artists: various
And Then Emily Was Gone #0 (Comix Tribe) *****
Emily writer: John Lees/Artists: Iain Laurie (interior); Ryan Stegman (cover)
Oxymoron writer: Tyler James/Artist: Alex Cormack

Hard Time: 50 To Life & Hard Time: Sixteen (DC, 2004, 2012) *****
- originally published in Hard Time #1-12 (DC, 2004-05)
Writers: Steve Gerber & Mary Skrenes (uncredited)/Artist: Brian Hurtt
This certainly wasn’t the last series Steve Gerber wrote before his untimely death in 2008, but it’s arguably his finest work (Howard The Duck, notwithstanding).
Ethan, 15, is sentenced to 50 years’ jail for a high school prank gone horribly wrong. He quickly makes plenty of enemies, including the Aryan Brotherhood and an insane fundamentalist Christian inmate. But Ethan has a secret – a powerful entity that lives within him that comes alive at night to do his violent bidding. This intense cross between TV’s Oz and DC’s own Johnny Thunder works incredibly well, mainly due to Gerber’s funny, powerful dialogue. Thankfully, he doesn’t write in that exhausting purple prose he used at Marvel in the 1970s. The writing here is more subtle, nuanced and, dare I say it, realistic. Hurtt’s artwork is great (as always). This is a hidden gem of a series that deserves more consideration from fans and critics. It’s tragic that Gerber was still peaking as a writer before he passed away. He deserves to be remembered for more than just a talking duck.

Sticky Monsters (Square Peg, 2012) *****
Writer/Artist: John Ken Mortensen
Post-it notes seem so innocent, but not in the hands of this Danish artist, who creates tiny horrific images torn from the nightmares of Maurice Sendak and HP Lovecraft.
Delusional (AdHouse Books, 2013) *****
Writer/Artist: Farel Dalrymple
Assorted bibs and bobs from my favourite alternative artist. Delightfully unsettling.

Totentanz (self-published, 2012-15) *****
Writer/artist: Marcel Ruijters
Wytches Vol. 1 (Image, 2015) *****
- originally published in Wytches #1-6 (Image, 2015)
Writer: Scott Snyder/Artist: Jock
Freaks #1-2 (Monster Comics, 1992) *****
Writer: Jim Woodring/Artist: F. Solano Lopez
A pitch-perfect adaptation of Tod Browning’s classic horror film. Beautifully illustrated by Lopez. Just about perfect.

Starve #1-3 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer: Brian Wood/Artist ;Danijel Zezelj
Cooking and comics – what a tasty fucking combination.
Airboy #1-4 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer: James Robinson/Artist: Greg Hinkle
The greatest comic revival EVER. The greatest meta comic ever. This is arguably the best comic of the decade!

The Sixth Gun Vol. 8: Hell And High Water (Oni Press, 2015) *****
- originally published in The Sixth Gun #42-47 (Oni Press, 2015)
Writer: Cullen Bunn/Artist: Brian Hurtt

Dark Corridor #1-3 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer/Artist: Rich Tommaso
Fucking brilliant film noir-style comics from the creator of The Horror Of Collier County. I’m so glad I picked up this title.
The Twilight Children #1 (Vertigo, 2015) *****
Writer: Gilbert Hernandez/Artist: Darwyn Cooke
$4.99 for the first issue? Fuck me! Good thing this is just about the best new comic I’ve read in 2015. Gilbert rises above his usual overrated, mediocre self to deliver a strong script and Darwyn is fucking ON SONG. But damn! $4.99 an issue? guessed it, I’ll wait for the trade.

The Fade Out #9-10 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer: Ed Brubaker/Artist: Sean Phillips
Now things are getting good.
Astro City #28 (Vertigo, 2015) *****
Writer: Kurt Busiek/Artists: Gary Chaloner & Wade Von Grawbdger (interior); Alex Ross (cover)
Chaloner rules!
Pope Hats #3-4 by Ethan Rilly (AdHouse Books, 2012-15) *****
Mort Grim by Doug Fraser (AdHouse Books, 2005) *****
UR by Eric Haven (AdHouse Books, 2014) *****

Saga Vol. 5 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan/Artist: Fiona Staples
New MGMT #1/Mind MGMT #36 (Dark Horse, 2015) *****
Writer/Artist: Matt Kindt
Very sad to see this great series come to an end. Also, this ends my hard-copy single issue relationship with Dark Horse. Mind MGMT was the only comic I still bought from this company (the rest I get free from the company as digital copies).

Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas (Top Shelf, 2015 ) *****
Writers: Hunter S. Thompson (novel); Troy Little (adaptation)/Artist: Troy Little
The Bus by Paul Kirchner (Futura, 1987) *****
I loved this strip when I first read it in Heavy Metal in the early 80s. Earlier this year, I bought the latest Heavy Metal and found they were reprinting The Bus again. Not surprisingly, it’s easily the best thing in the mag. Kirchner’s surrealist take on the everyman experience enduring the daily bus commute was always entertaining. This strip collection is hard to find (as is the more recent reprinting). I’d given up on finding a copy till a friend randomly sent me a link to a website filled with The Bus strips. Inspired, I went straight to eBay and found this original edition of the book for only $13. Score!

The Collector #21 (Bill G. Wilson, 1970) -**
Writers/artists: various
I bought a bunch of comics fanzines from the 1970s/early 80s for a buck each at Elizabeth’s in January. I’ve slowly worked my way through all of them and I will write my bloggy thoughts on them down the road.
But I do want to list a few here, because some zines ACTUALLY featured comic strips and I think that makes them count as comics.
The Collector’s editor and publisher Bill G. Wilson wrote and drew Hyperman, a sub-standard, three-pager featuring his hero posing against black backdrops, confronting a generic bald villain and knocking him out. I don’t know how, but Wilson managed to “write” and “draw” an eight-panel strip where every single panel bears no logical relationship to the panel that precedes it. What’s even more incredible, he somehow managed to get industry veteran Don Newton to ink this abortion. Maybe ‘cos Newton started out as a contributor to RBCC in the 60s, he felt a sense of obligation to a new generation, perhaps.

Reagan’s Raiders #2 (Solson Publications, 1986) -**
Writer: Monroe Arnold, David George & Rich Buckler/Artists: Keith royster, Rich Buckler & Scott Gladfelter
Godawful political superhero “satire”.

Showcase Presents All-Star Comics (DC, 2014) ****
- originally published in All-Star #58-74, DC Special #29, Adventure Comics #461-466 (DC, 1976-79)
Writers: Paul Levitz & friends/Artists: Joe Staton, Wallace Wood & friends
My New Year’s Resolution was to read a DC Showcase or Marvel Essentials book a month and I kicked off with this Showcase volume.
I loved this Justice Society of America series when I was a kid – when I first saw it, Joe Staton was drawing the series and I dug his artwork a lot. Years later, I tracked down earlier issues and marvelled at some of Wally Wood’s finest mainstream work. Even though I have most of the original colour comics, I bought this cheap trade to collect the JSA’s final stories after All-Star folded and they were relegated to Adventure Comics. Those issues are now prohibitively priced (I have no idea why), so this was a very cheap way of completing my collection. As is the case with all 1970s DC and Marvel comics, the writing is overblown and full of clichés (e.g. Power Girl is an aggressive, unpleasant feminist while Wildcat is an out-of-touch, ageing male chauvinist pig). But I love that Superman (who is the original 1940s Superman of Earth Two and, therefore, the FIRST superhero) is regarded as the father of all superheroes – a man who can arrive at a site filled with warring costumed do-gooders and stop them fighting just by his presence alone. It’s fantastic imagery that got me hooked on the JSA for life. If nothing else, pick up this volume to appreciate Wood’s input. He was the inker on All-Star #58-62, then he main artist on All-Star #63-65 (he even co-wrote #65 with Paul Levitz). His final two issues on the series see the JSA take on Vandal Savage in the era of King Arthur, and they’re magnificent.
Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2009) & Marvel Essential: The Fantastic FourVol. 1 (Marvel, 2008) *****
- originally published in The Fantastic Four #1-20 & Annual#1 (Marvel, 1961-63)
Writer: Stan Lee/Artists: Jack Kirby & friends
This is kinda weird. Without a doubt, this is a classic superhero comic told by the industry’s two biggest legends. But there’s no doubt that re-reading them 54 years later does reveal some...shortcomings to the title. Lee focuses so much on dumb intra-quartet bickering that it wears thin pretty quick. Invisible Girl is depicted as truly feeble and worthless. The team’s origin is just so fucking dumb. Did NO-ONE notice that a scientist, his girlfriend and her 16yo brother were stealing a space ship to ‘beat the Commies” to outer space. Isn’t that a criminal offence?
Surprisingly, Kirby’s art comes across as quite primitive (compared to what he went on to produce in the mid-to-late 60s), not helped by some shoddy inking by the likes of Dick Ayers and Sol Brodsky (the one exception comes in FF #13 when the inking is handled by Steve Ditko, who does a “Wally Wood” and stamps his own inimitable style to Kirby’s pencils).
And while I should appreciate the relative diversity of super-villains on display in these first 21 issues (as opposed to, say, Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, which featured Dr Sivana practically every issue), there’s still waaaaaay too much Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom in these early issues.
That said, I KNOW that these were revolutionary stories back in 1961, so I need to look at them from that perspective rather than my jaded 2015 perspective.
And y’know, if I do that, these stories fucking rock.
Herbie Archives Vols. 1-3 (Dark Horse, 2008-09) *****
- originally published in Forbidden Worlds #73, 94, 110, 114, 116; Unknown Worlds #20; Herbie #1-23 (American Comics Group, 1958-1967)
Writer: Shane O’Shea/Artist: Ogden Whitney
Quite possibly the most extraordinary, bizarre, sad, desperate, loveable, strange comic I’ve ever read. An obese autistic child, who is bullied by his overbearing father and kids at school, fantasises that he is an omnipotent superhero who can travel anywhere in the universe, have amazing unreal adventures and is friends with everyone from the US President to the Queen and historical figures, who he visits whenever he travels back in time. Herbie uses the power of lollipops to achieve his fantastical aims as he loses himself deep in a fantasy world where he is loved and respected, unlike the real world. Well, that’s MY interpretation of this crazy comic and I’m sticking to it!

Vampirella Crimson Chronicles Maximum Vol. 1 (Harris, 2008) **½
- originally published in Vampirella #1-2, 8-9, 11-37 (Warren, 1969-74)
Writers/artists: various (interior); Jim Silke (cover)
I’m not sure why I bought this B&W collection...probably ’cos it was selling cheap on Lone Star. I went into reading this book with some trepidation as I always considered Vampirella a badly written T&A horror series. It certainly kicks off that way with the goofy introduction stories written by Forrest J. Ackerman. But once Archie Goodwin comes on board, the storyline kicks into gear and the quality of writing improves dramatically with the alien bloodsucker Vampi battling the evil Cult Of Chaos, whose members worship a demonic bible known as the Crimson Chronicles. Vampi is aided by a drunken magician called Pendragon and is pursued by relentless vampire killers Conrad and Adam Van Helsing. Goodwin’s strong scripts are brought to life by Jose Gonzalez’ exquisite artwork. His splash panels of our scantily clad heroine each issue are beautiful and he gives the supporting cast real character. Goodwin ties in Vampi with the Dracula mythology, then turns it on its head by having a newly-brought-back-to-life Drac repent for his past sins and try to be good. It’s an interesting journey as he tries to mend his evil ways, but keeps failing. Goodwin’s departure from the strip sees the quality of storytelling plummet, particularly the run of Flaxman Loew, who dumps the Van Helsings and reduces Pendragon to a drunken bum cracking bad puns. Even Vampirella’s ongoing struggle not to kill people for their blood – which gave her a noble, tragic quality – is summarily dismissed by Loew, who has Vampi killing bad guys willy-nilly. It’s a complete destruction of Goodwin’s carefully laid foundations and helps leave a sour note as this collection comes to an end. Only the artwork of Gonzales (and later Jose Ortiz) salvages something from the godawful scripts. Goodwin’s return to the helm in the final few pages gives hope that Vampirella was set to return to its former glory. But as it’s unlikely I’ll never pick up Volume 2, I guess that will have to remain a mystery to me.
Seven Soldiers Of Victory Vols. 1&2 (DC, 2011) ****¼
- originally published in Seven Soldiers Of Victory #0-1, Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #1-4, Seven Soldiers: Guardian #1-4, Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1-4, Seven Soldiers: Klarion The Witch Boy #1-4, Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #1-4, Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #1-4, Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #1-4 (DC, 2005-06)
Writer: Grant Morrison/Artists: various
After the clusterfuck that was The Multiversity, I’d lost faith in the magician. But reading this earlier, sweeping series starring a bunch of C-listers and reimagined B-listers made me a Morrison believer again. Sure, the tale is convoluted, confusing in parts and resolved in a way that I didn’t quite understand (with too many rabbits pulled out of too many arses for my liking), but damn! I enjoyed the ride.
Some of the miniseries were fantastic in their own right, particularly Klarion (creepily illustrated by Frazer Irving) and Frankenstein (strong, visceral artwork by Doug Mahnke). Other series didn’t do quite so well, but only the unnecessary reimagining of Mister Miracle failed to impress me.
All in all, a fine effort by Mr Morrison and friends, showing he can juggle multiple characters and complicated story arcs without disappearing up his own sphincter.

Hard Time: 50 To Life & Hard Time: Sixteen (DC, 2004, 2012) *****
- originally published in Hard Time #1-12 (DC, 2004-05)
Writers: Steve Gerber & Mary Skrenes (uncredited)/Artist: Brian Hurtt
This certainly wasn’t the last series Steve Gerber wrote before his untimely death in 2008, but it’s arguably his finest work (Howard The Duck, notwithstanding).
Ethan, 15, is sentenced to 50 years’ jail for a high school prank gone horribly wrong. He quickly makes plenty of enemies, including the Aryan Brotherhood and an insane fundamentalist Christian inmate. But Ethan has a secret – a powerful entity that lives within him that comes alive at night to do his violent bidding. This intense cross between TV’s Oz and DC’s own Johnny Thunder works incredibly well, mainly due to Gerber’s funny, powerful dialogue. Thankfully, he doesn’t write in that exhausting purple prose he used at Marvel in the 1970s. The writing here is more subtle, nuanced and, dare I say it, realistic. Hurtt’s artwork is great (as always). This is a hidden gem of a series that deserves more consideration from fans and critics. It’s tragic that Gerber was still peaking as a writer before he passed away. He deserves to be remembered for more than just a talking duck.
Irredeemable Vols. 3-10 (BOOM!, 2009-12) ****¾
- originally published in Irredeemable #9-37, Irredeemable Special #1, Incorruptible #25-26 (BOOM!, 2009-12)
Writer: Mark Waid/Artists: Diego Barreto, Peter Krause & friends
Murder Me Dead hardcover (El Capitan, 2002) ****¾
- originally published in Murder Me Dead #1-9 (El Capitan, 2000-01)
Writer/artist: David Lapham
Avengers/Invaders #1-12 (Marvel/Dynamite, 2008-09) ***¼
Writers: Alex Ross & Jim Kruger/Artists: Steve Sadowski & friends (interiors)/Alex Ross (covers)
Beautiful covers are the major highlight of this quirky series that sees a displaced Invaders visit the modern Marvel Universe post-Civil War. There’s everyone here from the Red Skull to Ultron to evil SHIELD LMDs to modern Sub-Mariner duking it out with junior Sub-Mariner. Ultimately, it leads to nothing except the unnecessary revival of Toro, but at least it’s fun and pretty to look at.
Doom Patrol #1-22 (DC, 2009-11) ***¼
Doom Patrol: Writer: Keith Giffen/Artists: Matthew Clark & friends
Metal Men: Writers: Keith Giffen & JMDeMatteis/Artist: Kevin Maguire
Giffen’s attempt to repair the damage from John Byrne’s previous incarnation partially succeeds. It takes a while but this series was coming together...until The New 52 initiative killed it.
Much more fun was the Metal Men back-up feature in #1-7. The old Justice League (of 80s fame) team seem to be really enjoying their reunion.

JLA/JSA Secret Files & Origins #1 (DC, 2003) ***½
100.-120. JSA #41-58 (DC, 2002-04); Hawkman #23-25 (DC, 2004) ****
Writers: David Goyer & Geoff Johns/Artists: Leonard Kirk & friends
This is the oldest comics I had in my collection in the sense that I’d never got around to reading them. I mean, 13 years is a long time. Not sure how I drifted away from JSA. I think I got sidetracked with life and the issues started piling up. After a while I had 20+ comics sitting there and I’d lost interest in the series. When a personal crisis hit in late 2003/early 2004 I made a decision at that time to cut waaaaay back on my standing order at Kings Comics. JSA was an easy cut at that point. Four years later, the JSA got rebooted, then a few years after they were retconned out of existence by the New 52. These decade-old comics gathering dust in my spare room seemed even less relevant than before.
However, in my attempt to reach my 200-comics goal, I decided to tackle them...and I’m glad I did. This was always a fun series with characters I really liked (I was a sucker for JSA in the 70s, Infinity Inc. and All-Star Squadron back in the 80s, too). The culmination of this run is the Black Reign storyline in both JSA and Hawkman, which leads to a big showdown between the JSA (and Hawkman) against Black Adam and his team of reformed super-villains and conflicted superheroes (including Atom Smasher) after they’ve violently liberated the African nation of Kahndaq (which is Black Adam’s homeland). Should heroes kill if it serves the greater need? The assassination of Kobra is an effective shock moment. This is a pretty powerful question and Johns (who was handling both books solo at this stage) is pretty much at his peak as a writer. Great stuff.

The Goon #30-39 (Dark Horse, 2008-12) ****
Writer/Artist: Eric Powell (except #35 where the writer is Evan Dorkin)
I’m not sure why I gave up on this series – it’s really very good. Funny, dark, violent and brilliantly drawn by Powell. Maybe it’s because the guy took FOUR YEARS to put out 10 issues. Yeah, maybe that’s it. Ya lazy fuck, Powell!

Powers #4-11 (Icon, 2010-12) ****
Powers Bureau #1-12 (Icon, 2013-14) ****½
Powers #1-5 (Icon, 2015- ) ****
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis/Artist: Mike Avon Oeming
Pretty cool catching up on five years of Powers in one hit. If you don’t read Bendis’ back matter, then you can rip through an issue pretty quick. The feeling I got by the end of these issues is that not only being a copy the WORST JOB in Chicago. But being a cop alongside powers detectives Pilgrim, Sunshine and Walker is the WORST JOB in the world. You are almost guaranteed of getting bitchily insulted by Pilgrim or Sunshine or winding up as dead collateral damage when some super-powered guy attacks Walker. Sucks to be a cop in Bendis’ world.
Also the three main protagonists have all spied, betrayed and lied to each other in the 25 issues I’ve read, so I can’t work out why they’re all still friends. Maybe Powers isn’t meant to be read in one massive 25-issue hit ’cos the plot flaws become too obvious.
That said, this is easily one of the best cop/crime/superhero series on the racks right now – and it has been for at least five years.

Essential Godzilla Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2006) ***
- originally published in Godzilla #1-24 (Marvel, 1977-79)
Writer: Doug Moench/Artists: Herb Trimpe & friends
Listen to podcast HERE.
Toho Productions’ gave Marvel a two-year run with Godzilla and it was bizarre.
Godzilla emerges from an iceberg in Alaska and goes on a rampage. He’s evil for the first three issues, attacking Seattle and San Francisco. But that quickly grows boring, so they make him a sorta good guy (like the Hulk).
Even though he kills thousands of people (even in Marvel’s PG world, there’s no way he couldn’t have wiped out oodles of folk in those cities he destroyed.
Dr Takiguchi, his niece Tamara and annoying grandson Rob create a giant Shogun Warrior-style robot to fight Godzilla.
After that, Godzilla fights alien monsters, battles rustlers, gets shrunk and fights New York sewer rats, then is sent back in time to fight dinosaurs.
Along the way, Godzilla tangles with SHIELD, The Champions, The FF, The Avengers and Devil Dinosaur. It’s weirdly stupid, kinda boring and ends with Godzilla getting written out of Marvel continuity.
At least it means there’s no more Rob, because he’s truly annoying.

Satellite Sam #1-15 & Satellite Sam Tijuana Bible (Image, 2013-15) ****
Writer: Matt Fraction/Artist: Howard Chaykin
An odd topic for Mr Fraction to tackle: the early days of TV. Still, this debauched crime noir tale builds to a satisfying climax after a slow start in the first three issues. Chaykin has the time of his life drawing near-naked women in sexy early 1950s lingerie. Really, the series is a cross between Mad Men and Chaykin’s own Black Kiss. Perversely entertaining.

The Rocketeer: Cargo Of Doom #1-4 (IDW, 2012) ***½
Writer: Mark Waid/Artist: Chris Samnee
The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #1-4 (IDW, 2013) ***
Writer: Roger Langridge/Artists: J. Bone (interior); Roger Langridge (#1 subscription cover); Walter Simonson (#2-4 regular cover)
The Rocketeer & The Spirit: Pulp Friction #1-4 (IDW/DC, 2013) ***
Writer: Mark Waid/Artists: Paul Smith (#1 interior); Loston Wallace & Bob Wiacek (#2 interior); J. Bone (#3-4 interior); Paul Smith (#1-2 cover); J. Bone (#3-4 cover)
I love The Rocketeer but these miniseries are only fair-to-middling – the first series is the best and the team-up with The Spirit is the least satisfying.

Invincible Vol. 1: Family Matters (Image, 2003) ***½
Invincible Vol. 2: Eight Is Enough (Image, 2004) ***½
Invincible Vol. 3: Perfect Strangers (Image, 2004) ***
Invincible Vol. 4: Head Of The Class (Image, 2005) ***½
- originally published in Invincible #1-19 & Image Summer Special #1 (Image, 2003-04)
Writer: Robert Kirkman/Artists: Cory Walker (#1-7), Ryan Ottley (#8-19) + friends
DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THE ORIGINAL COMICS OF THIS SERIES ARE WORTH?!!! Issue one alone is $1500 MINT! I had Invincible #1-25 and I sold the lot in 2005 for THIRTY DOLLARS on eBay!!! AAAAARRRRRGHHHHHH!
I stopped buying Invincible and sold my collection at the same time that I quit The Walking Dead (and yes, I sold the first 25 issues of TWD on eBay for a pittance, too). I’d had enough of the torture porn that Kirkman had turned both titles into – while I could sorta understand why he did in a zombie comic, I just couldn’t appreciate him taking the torture porn route in what was, essentially, a light-hearted superhero tale. To be honest, I started going off Invincible around #8 when Invincible’s dad Omni-Man was revealed to be a mass-murdering psycho from another planet. It wasn’t hard to quit the series when I did the same with TWD. Having just read the Wikipedia entry on Invincible, I’m glad I did, because Kirkman has taken the series into some truly dark territory. Still...a few years back i saw the first four volumes of Invincible for sale cheap on eBay. On a whim I bought them (along with the first two volumes of TWD...don’t ask). I didn’t know what to expect when I reread the first 19 issues. I will say that I still hate the dark road that Kirkman took the series in #8 when Omni-Man slaughters the Guardians Of The Globe. But much of the comic is endearing and Invincible is such a likeable teenager...well, he is at this stage anyway.
I won’t buy any further volumes, but I’m glad I reread it – Invincible was once a very enjoyable comic book. 

And how did I forget to include the epic Teen Titans arc that I read in September? I even did a podcast about it. :P


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

*****     All-Star Superman, We3
****      New X-Men (the early issues), Batman Inc., Batman & Robin, Dare, Arkham Asylum
***        Zenith, Seven Soldiers
**         Final Crisis, Flex Mentallo
*           Marvel Boy
DUD (or lower) Nameless, later New X-Men and any of his hippy-dippy, pseudo-mystical crap

1. Chum Ashcan Preview (Comix Tribe, 2016) ***¼
Writer: Ryan K. Lindsay/Artist: Sami Kivela
Surf black. Might be worth a look.
2. Oxymoron: The Loveliest Nightmare #1 (Comix Tribe, 2015) ***¾
Writers: Tyler James & John Lees/Artist: Alex Cormack
Not too shabby. Quite scary in parts, even if the insane villain of the title is a little too Joker-ish for my tastes.
3. Comic Heroes #21 [featuring Sidekick] (Future Publishing, 2013) **½
Writers/artists: various
A nice idea to preview a bunch of current comics, but the selection for this issue didn’t appeal to me.
4. House Of Mystery #6 (Vertigo, 2008) ****
Writer: Matthew Sturges/Artists: Tony Akins & Andrew Pepoy; Luca Rossi
Digital version.
5.-14. House Of Mystery #7-16 (Vertigo, 2009) ****
Writer: Matthew Sturges (with occasional assistance from Bill Willingham)/Artists: Luca Rossi + guest artists
#16 was a glitch. I was supposed to get #6 from Mile High Comics (in fact, it’s marked as such on the plastic bag, but I got the wrong issue. So I had to buy the digital version from Comixology. A really interesting series. I may have to collect the rest of the series.
15. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. #5 [Crayon Butchery Variant Cover; b&w interior] (Marvel, 2006) *****
Story: Warren Ellis/Art: Stuart Immonen
God, this was a fun series. I’m totally gonna have to go back and read it again soon. And you can colour in this issue. Awesome!
16. PANIC (Comic Books on Demand, 2015) ***
Writers: Aaron Parker & Nery Romero/Artist: Rory Nielander
A great marketing ploy by Melbourne-based wrestling tag team PANIC – “Jurassic Punk” Syd Parker & “Psycho Cowboy” Benny Factor – which I picked up recently at a Hunter Valley Wrestling show. The story and art aren’t great, but the marketing gimmick is brilliant. And the fact that the story ISN’T about wrestling – it’s a weird sci-fi/western/Tarantino mish-mash – means that it has crossover appeal to non-wrestling fans. Clever.
17.-28. Sidekick #1-12 (Image, 2013-15) ***¾
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski/Artist: Tom Mandrake
29. Trashed by Derf Backderf (Abrams, 2015) ***½
Nowhere near as good as his superb My Friend Dahmer. A bit too preachy about what we throw out while the main personal storyline peters out without a satisfying conclusion.
30.-33. Down #1-4 (Image, 2006) **
Writer: Warren Ellis/Artists: Tony Harris (#1), Cully Hamner (#2-4)
Ellis can write some brilliant bloody comics. He can also write violent, nihilistic shit. Sadly, Down is the latter. He must have shat out the script while on the toilet – it has virtually no plot and is clichéd, nonsensical and stupid.
34.-38. Comix Diary Era March-July (self-published, 2015) ***
Writer/artist: Stratu
Stu continues to relate his day-to-day existence, month by month. It’s both fascinating and mundane and frustrating and poignant...depending on the day.
I think I like the experiment he’s doing a lot. I’m thinking of giving my own diary comix a shot, too, after reading this one. So thanks for the inspiration, Stu.
8 pages,  11 inches x 8 inches, 3 US /3 Can/ 3 Mex / 3 World. Trades for comix
color cover, B&W inside with some color pages
Stuart Stratu, PO BOX 35 Marrickville NSW 2204 AUSTRALIA

35. Starfighters #5 (Landgraphics Publications, 1983) *
Writers: Ken Landgraf & friends/Artists: Ken Landgraf, Willy Blyberg & friends
36. The New Power Stars #1 (Tami Comics, 1989) *
37. The New Partners In Peril #1 (Tami Comics, 1990) *
Writers: John Jacobs & friends/Artists: various
The revival of the Madison Comics line was short-lived, but the fact it happened at all is amazing. Someone needs to track down the guys at Blue Comet Comics who facilitated this brief relationship with John. An in-depth blog on these comics is coming soon.

38. Guardians Of Infinity #1 (Marvel, 2016) ***½
Writers: Dan Abnett, Jason Latour/Artists: Carlo Barberi & Walden Wong; Jim Cheung & John Dell
I got this free with my Marvel Collectors Corps Guardians Of The Galaxy box. The first story features both Guardians 3000 and Guardians 1000 (!). The second features The Thing revisiting his pro wrestling shtick in outer space. Not bad. I’ll wait for the trade.
39-43. We Can Never Go Home Vol. 1 (Black Mask, 2015) ****
Writers: Matthew Rosenberg & Patrinck Kindlon/Artists: Josh Hood & Brian Level (interior); Michael Walsh (cover)
Superhero/crime noir/X-Files mash-up. Me like.

44.-45. Nailbiter #18-19 (Image, 2015-16) ***½
Writer: Joshua Williamson/Artist: Mike Henderson
46. All Star Section Eight #6 (DC, 2016) ****
Writer: Garth Ennis/Artist: John McCrea
The bleakest, darkest ending to a mainstream superhero title that you’ll ever read.
47. Revival #35 (Image, 2015) ***
Writer: Tim Seeley/Artist: Mike Norton
I’m lost. For the love of God, just end this series.
48.-49. Dark Corridor #5-6 (Image, 2015) ****¼
Writer/Artist: Rich Tommaso
50-51. Invader Zim #5-6 (Oni Press, 2015) ****½
Issue #5 Writer: Jhonen Vasquez/Artists: Aaron Alexovich & Megan Wucinick
Issue #6 Writer/Artist: KC Green
52. We Stand On Guard #6 (Image, 2015) ***¾
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan/Artist: Steve Skroce
Do wars really end that quickly and utterly? A slightly low-key, vaguely unsatisfactory ending to an otherwise-great miniseries.
53.-54. Stray Bullets: Sunshine And Roses #10-11 (Image, 2015) *****
Writer/artist: David Lapham
55. Hellcat! #1 (Marvel, 2016) ****
Writer: Kate Leth/Artist: Brittney L. Williams
I picked up a damaged copy cheap at Kings. It’s cool in that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl way, so it’ll probably only last 12 issues. Still, I liked its quirky camp humour a lot and will pick up the trade.
56. Marvel: The Hip-Hop Covers Sampler (Marvel, 2016) ****
Writers/artists: various
Why the hell not?
57. Nameless #6 (Image, 2015) DUD
Writer: Grant Morrison/Artist: Chris Burnham
Unfathomable, tedious, odious, needlessly gory shite of the highest order. Morrison disappears up his own anus once again. Avoid.
58. Will Eisner’s The Spirit #6 (Dynamite, 2015) ****
Writer: Matt Wagner/Artist: Dan Schkade (interior); Eric Powell (cover)

59.-60. Freaks #3-4 (Monster Comics, 1992) ****½
Writer: Jim Woodring/Artist: F. Solano Lopez

61.-66. The Sixth Gun: Dust To Death (Oni Press, 2015) ***½
- originally published in The Sixth Gun: Valley Of Death #1-3 and The Sixth Gun: Dust To Dust (Oni Press, 2015)
The Sixth Gun: Valley Of Death: Writer: Brian Hurtt/Artist: AC Zamudio
The Sixth Gun: Dust To Dust: Writer: Cullen Bunn/Artist: Tyler Crook
Prequel miniseries that flesh out the main series. Not essential, but fun reads for aficionados.
67.-72. Power Girl #7-12 (DC, 2010) ****
Writers: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti/Artist: Amanda Conner
73.-78. Power Girl: Bomb Squad (DC, 2011) ****
- originally published in Power Girl #13-18 (DC, 2010-11)
Writer: Judd Winick/Artist: Sami Basri
79.-83. Kaptara Vol. 1: Fear Not, Tiny Alien (Image, 2015) *****
- originally published in Kaptara #1-5 (Image, 2015)
Writer: Chip Zdarsky/Artist: Kagan McLeod
A perverse, camp sci-fi reinterpretation/pisstake of He-Man and...The Smurfs? Brilliance!

84.-87. Special Team-Up (Newton, 1976)
88.-91. Newton Four In One (Newton, 1976)
92. The Invincible Iron Man #2 (Newton, 1976)
93.-94. The Avengers #8, #12 (Newton, 1975)
95. The Mighty Thor #1 (Newton, 1976)
96. The Amazing Spider-Man (Newton, 1975)
97.-105. The Fantastic Four #1-9 (Newton, 1975) ALL TITLES ARE **
Writers: Stan Lee and friends/Artists: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and friends

Colour posters! T-shirt iron-on transfers! Swapcards! Newton’s el cheapo reprints of 60s Marvel comics were a huge part of my childhood. In reality, the Melbourne-based company, run by media magnate Maxwell Newton, only lasted from 1975-76 before collapsing in financial ruin. My podcast review of Daniel Best’s exhaustively researched Newton Comics: The Amazing Rise And Spectacular Fall will be out soon.