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18 Things I Loved This Week

In Spoilers Abound on May 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Man, I am in love with monthly comics right now.  Both Marvel and DC are producing some of the best mainstream fare I have read in YEARS.  Welcome to my weekly (?) love letter to comics.

1. Ganthet of Oa, Green Lantern of Space Space Sector Zero.  I got goosebumps!

Green Lantern Corps #48 (DC Comics) by Tony Bedard, Adrian Syaf, and Vincente Cifuentes

2. The Anti-Monitor (best post-Kirby cosmic villain design ever) returns!!!

Brightest Day #2 (DC Comics) by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, et. al.

3. Thanos soliloquizing/recapping his life story (a totally underappeciated genre, as the unkind term “infodump” attests).  Great reveal at the end of this issue about the “Cancerverse,” too.

The Thanos Imperative: Ignition #1 (Marvel) by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, Brad Walker, and Wil Quintana

4. Jim McCann’s nostalgic and lovingly researched Dazzler script.  Oh, let him write an ongoing.

Dazzler #1 (Marvel) by Jim McCann, Kalman Andrasofszky & Ramon Perez, et. al.

5. Everything about our heroes dealing with Max Lord’s massive mind-fuck of THE ENTIRE EARTH, but especially every scene involving Booster Gold.

Justice League: Generation Lost #2 (DC Comics) by Judd Winick, Keith Giffen, Joe Bennett, and Jack Jadson

6. Valkyrie’s return to monthly action in the UTTERLY FANTASTIC Secret Avengers #1.  I am seriously smitten with this book.

Secret Avengers #1 (Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Mike Deodato, and Rainier Beredo

7. The mystery of the other Serpent Crown.  (See #6, above.)

Secret Avengers #1 (Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Mike Deodato, and Rainier Beredo

8. Richard Rider in that cave…

Secret Avengers #1 (Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Mike Deodato, and Rainier Beredo

9. Mike Deodato drawing space ships, coloured by the amazing Rain Beredo.

Secret Avengers #1 (Marvel) by Ed Brubaker, Mike Deodato, and Rainier Beredo

10. The straight and narrow path or sprawled in the gutter with the rest of the garbage–choose, boys!  (No pressure.)

DC Universe: Legacies #1 (DC Comics) by Len Wein, Andy Kubert, and Joe Kubert

11. My wirepoon says otherwise, punks!  (Len Wein: oh you!)

DC Universe: Legacies #1 (DC Comics) by Len Wein, Andy Kubert, and Joe Kubert

12. Grant Morrison explains converging timelines.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (DC Comics) by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving

13. Grant Morrison channels Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (DC Comics) by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving

14. Grant Morrison messes with your mind.  (LOVED THIS.)

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (DC Comics) by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving

15. Paul Levitz returns to the Legion!  The Legion is the Legion again! (And it is SO good.)

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC Comics) by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, and Wayne Faucher

16. Sodam Yat: the new Pariah.  (Love the GL/Legion mashup.)

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC Comics) by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, and Wayne Faucher

17. Levitz and Cinar pay nine-panel tribute to LOSH master artist…Keith Giffen!  (I gots the warm fuzzies.)

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC Comics) by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, and Wayne Faucher

18. Dawnstar!  Dawnstar!  Dawnstar!

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC Comics) by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, and Wayne Faucher

BONUS: Dex-Star brings the rage!

Green Lantern #54 (DC Comics) by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, and Christian Alamy

More next week!

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The Truly Awful

In Pull List on May 15, 2010 at 8:47 pm

As many of you know, I have a high tolerance for bad comics.  But these ones are trying even my patience.

Oh, lord.  Outsiders.  For my money, Dan Didio has done an acceptable job of steering DC over the last few years, but he needs to stop embarrassing himself and hire a real writer—or at least a scripter—for this book.  Listen, I’m thrilled that Didio has love for Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo’s stellar years on the original series.  Me too, Dan!  So howzabout we show that love by treating ourselves to a competent wordsmith and a good artist to bring all that awesomeness to a new generation of comic readers, huh?

Kudos to Didio for reuniting the team and for coming up with some story ideas that, for example, build on the various lesser iterations of the team in the various failed relaunch attempts of the 90s (eg. Looker as Vampire).  This is all solid, and I have been pining for such developments for years (as readers of this blog know all too well).

But Didio isn’t a writer.  He has no sense of pacing and absolutely no ear for dialogue.  Evidently, Didio prepared for his new gig by rereading the original series and making note of the signature character beats and dialogue ticks Barr designed.  This is sensible, and in more competent hands would be swell.  But, Didio combines his aping of classic Outsiders mannerisms with dreadfully inept vulgarity, trash talk, and posturing.  It’s obviously meant to come across as hip and badass, but the effect is quite different.  It’s as if my dad were having a midlife crisis and decided to score points with me by reviving an old comic series he knew I used to like; in other words: mortifying.

The bottom line is that I’m conflicted.  I love that this title exists and has taken the direction it has under Didio’s stewardship.  Presumably, if Outsiders is Didio’s pet project, that bodes well for the longevity of the title, even if the sales are soft.  On the other hand, we’re stuck with this kind of hurtful mishegas:

from Outsiders #29 by Dan Didio and Don Kramer

Perhaps the most I can hope for is that Didio will find the task of scripting a monthly series too taxing on top of his regular job and will pass the reigns to someone else, even if he retains the role of plotter.  Such a development might be the best of both worlds, since his involvement would keep the direction steady, while the quality of the scripts themselves could only improve.

Outsiders is pretty awful, but at least it isn’t completely offensive.  The same cannot be said for Titans: Villains for Hire, which is, hands down, the worst comic I have read this year (I didn’t read the much-maligned JLA: Cry For Justice; perhaps they are on par?).  Basically, Deathstroke assembles a “Titans” team of villains and Dlisters and they proceed to toy with and eventually murder Ryan Choi, The “All-New” Atom.  Turns out Deathstroke was hired by Choi’s psychotic nemesis Dwarfstar, and the issue’s climax is the delivery of Choi’s tiny corpse to Dwarfstar in a matchbox.  Oops.  Did I forget to say “spoilers”?  I hope I did spoil it, and I hope you don’t buy it.  It’s a gross waste of time on a number of different levels.  I won’t bother to expand, except to say that I agree with every word of Greg McElhatton’s review at CBR, which gives the book an absolutely earned rating of 0 out of 5 stars.  I’m cancelling my subscription to Titans, incidentally.

Wait–did I say that Outsiders wasn’t offensive?  While looking for a cover scan of the latest issue, I encountered some speculation that the “Harold” character in this issue is based on a Didio-bashing message board troll.  If so: grow up, Dan!

The Good

In Pull List on May 14, 2010 at 11:39 pm

So much to catch up on.  For this post, I think I’ll concentrate on the good reads:

Birds of Prey #1 (DC Comics)

I might as well start with the brand new Birds of Prey by Gail Simone and Ed Benes, since this is the book that actually got me off my ass and into the comic store for the first time in over a month.  I feel bad for Gail that she got kicked off Wonder Woman, but, if I’m being honest, I’d rather read her Birds of Prey and Secret Six any day.  Gail has a knack for writing interesting team dynamics that was a difficult fit with the Wonder Woman gig—not that she didn’t try to bring that oddball-ensemble sensibility to Diana and her friends, even if the results were hit-and-miss.  It’s hard to be quirky with an icon, but Gail makes it look effortless on the Six and now again on Birds.

So, yeah: Birds of Prey #1.  Well-scripted, well-illustrated, well-paced, exciting.  Loved it.  And love the idea of bringing Hawk and Dove to the title—such a “Gail” move, and SO brilliant in terms of storytelling possibilities.  The prospective interplay of Hawk (the maniac? the dickbag? the “fancy boy”?) with Dawn, Zinda, Dinah, Helena, and Babs is basically just delicious.  I really missed this book and I am so glad it’s back.  P.S. to the haters: Ed Benes does a bang-up job on the visuals.

Sticking with Gail’s comics, Secret Six is still amazing 21 issues in.  The gruesome story of Catman’s dysfunctional family and his continued journey into nihilistic badassery this issue plumbed just the depths of depravity that one has come to rely upon this book to provide.  The inventiveness of Gail’s mind when it comes to developing tortures to inflict upon her characters (and readers) always astonishes me—and I mean that as a compliment, of course.  She’s making great use of Black Alice in this series—which is a feat, since Alice gives off this “annoying character” vibe that is difficult to write through.  Alice’s askew “romance’ with Ragdoll has helped, and her surprise possession near the end of this issue is delightful.

I finally got around to reading the epilogues to Blackest Night in Green Lantern #53 and Green Lantern Corps #47.  We’ve been hearing rumbles of Geoff Johns backlash around the web for awhile (something that was obviously stoked by his recent ascension to Chief Creative Officer at DC), but whatevs.  Blackest Night was a spectacular—and spectacularly well-managed—comic book event, and these issues are more of the same.  (The return of the Anti-Monitor!  Still excited about that !!)  Peter J. Tomasi’s writing still shows a bit, but he has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years.  I love his “day in the life” stories, and GLC #47 was no exception.  It’s nice to see a superhero comic spend a whole issue dealing with the issue of workplace relationships—who’d a thunk?  I liked the tease for August’s Guy Gardner headlined Emerald Warriors series too.

Brightest Day itself is a lot of fun so far.  I’m enjoying the spotlighting of Aquaman and Mera, as well as J’onn, the Hawks, and Firestorm.  The series so far has the feel of a sequel—despite the ominous beats, everything feels a bit lighter, which is not a bad thing at all after all the zombie-anguish of Blackest Night.

Bill Willingham’s first arc on  Justice Society of America didn’t wow me, but his second is turning out to be a barnburner.  Mister Terrific and the JSA vs. the Nazis in an alternate reality?  Could have felt like a waste of time, but Willingham has taken the story in a nasty anything-can-happen direction that has me riveted every month.  The ending to this issue is particularly jaw-dropping, and I can’t wait for the conclusion.  Jesus Merino’s pencils are amazing, too.

Matthew Sturges’s  JSA All-Stars has a very different feel from the main book.  Perhaps because Freddie Williams II is working an early Bart Sears vibe in his pencils, I keep drawing comparisons between this book and Justice League Europe (coincidentally a team book also featuring Power Girl!) during the Giffen/DeMatteis heyday of the Justice League.  Both spinoff books have a “cozy” quality about their storytelling that I enjoy, without being absolutely jazzed about. So far, JSA All-Stars has not felt like essential reading, but it serves up an extra helping of JSA every month that I have so far always enjoyed.  I have been particularly digging the Liberty Belle/Hourman back up romp featuring Icicle and Tigress.  It’s fun.  And kind of sexy.

NEXT: The Bad

All New Mutants All the Time

In New Mutants on April 9, 2010 at 11:35 pm

There are so many reasons not to let myself get too excited about the just-announced New Mutants Forever miniseries by Chris Claremont, Al Rio, and Bob McLeod.  But I can’t help it.  My inner thirteen-year-old (not known for his discretion at the best of times) is squealing with glee.

The New Mutants hold a place of honour in my pubescent pantheon of imaginary friends (of which there were plenty, I assure you), and I have fantastized more than once that Claremont might return to write the team exactly as they were when he left them back in the ’80s.

Dani, Sam, Roberto, Rahne, Shan, Amara, Illyana, Doug, and Warlock: alongside Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, you remain the most perfect super-powered teenagers ever conceived.  Perfect, not because you were cool, better-looking, more capable versions of me, but precisely because you were geeky, average-looking, and sort of dopey replicas of me–only with mutant abilities and more interesting problems.

I loved the dark tone of the series, which captured the terror of being a teenager with unerring accuracy.  I also loved the art, which was fabulous under McLeod and Sal Buscema, but which reached levels of expressiveness and visual sophistication I had not even dreamt possible when Bill Sienkiewicz took over.  Claremont could not have asked for a better interpreter of his sinister-offbeat sensibility, and I could not have imagined a headier pleasure than seeing my fellow mutant-geeks shed their X-Babies skin:

This poster, which I first ran across  in the old Marvel Age Magazine, was…  I don’t even have a metaphor for what it did to me.  I guess it somehow gave form to the enticing promise that I, too, might one day graduate to the level of extreme ass-kicking awesomeness on display here.  So much for that.  But it was a sustaining idea at the time!

And don’t think that my romance with the New Mutants ended with Claremont’s departure.  In fact, in a curious way, his departure led to a renewal of my ardor.  Lousie Simonson’s New Mutants rivited me, and so, too, did the post-Sienkiewicz artists: Mary Wilshire (inked by Sienkiewicz), Butch Guice (already excellent), and Bret Belvins (his self-inked pages are among the most beautiful of the entire series).

Despite my immense nostalgia for the entire series now, I was a fairly inconsistent reader of the New Mutants until the Simonson era.  I had read the first dozen issues or so religiously, then lost track of things in the ‘teens (for some reason; I’m not sure why), renewed my obsession during the Sienkiewicz-era, and bought sporadically through the Magneto’s-in-charge period (I was not a fan of that idea at the time).  By the time Simonson took over as writer, I was ready to be hooked again, and she made it easy.  It all turned to mud in the 90s, of course, when he-who-shall-not-be-named was given the keys to dad’s Ferrari, but so ended many great series (New Titans *cough* *cough*).  I don’t hold a grudge.

That isn’t to say that I’ve enjoyed all of the attempts to continue the stories of the original New Mutants since, but I have enjoyed many of them and have followed most.  I am unabashedly enjoying the current New Mutants revival by Zeb Wells, which has made a point of trying to recapture the characterization of the original series–and has succeeded quite well in this regard.  The new series is fun and one of the first things I read the week it comes out.  I am thrilled that Leonard Kirk is coming aboard as (possibly permanent?) series artist, as Diogenes Neves’s capable but unremarkable art has been the one thing I have not loved about the relaunch.

And now, never one to be given pause by the adage that there can be too much of a good thing, Marvel has magnanimously decided to double my pleasure by giving Claremont the chance to pick up where he left off in issue #54 of the original series, at least for the duration of five new issues that focus on Nova Roma and a recently fractured team that finds itself under the tutelage of Selene.  This is obviously an opportunity for Claremont to revisit some of his trademark obsessions: powerful evil women, lost civilizations, morally ambiguous mentors, and teenaged angst.  I look forward to all of it.  But mostly I look forward to the sheer weirdness that only Claremont can bring.  I look forward to dialogue like this:

It took me several years to figure out what the hell “Kayo” meant–a neologism that was ubiquitous in Claremont’s mutant titles in the ’80s.  (It is short for “knock-out,” in case you are as dense as was/am.)  Yet this delay in “translating” Claremont’s ludicrous writerly ticks reflects so much of what made his writing so wonderful to me back then: its sense of mystery and portent, the way its concluding scenes so often suggested that a terrible price would be paid for some nebulously defined transgression, its habitual style of coating violence with a kind of zany jocularity that gave the whole affair the savour of an exotic sour candy.  “Oz poppies, Rahne–we’ve got to out of here, fast, before their scent kayos us!”

Yes, yes.  That was then.  This is now.  Be sensible, Jim.  You can never go home again.

But you know what I say to that.  Bring on the damn Oz poppies!

The Outstretched Hand… The Swarm…

In The Incredible Hulk on April 3, 2010 at 9:07 am

Well, I’m finally drunk, so let’s get started.

“The Brute Battles On!”

The brute in question is the Hulk, of course, as imagined by Stan Lee, Herb Trimpe, and Dan Adkins in The Incredible Hulk #112.  My first Hulk story.

I’m five years old, maybe six, and the year is 1977 or ‘78. It’s impossible to know if I was reading my comics hot off the drug store spinner rack or a little after-the-fact, having gleaned them from one of those well-thumbed piles that emitted a magic call from the lower shelf of certain smoke-laced magazine shops in downtown Winnipeg. I wasn’t reading the actual Incredible Hulk #112, in any event, but a reprint published in Marvel Super-Heroes #66, with, strangely, a slightly redrawn cover:

(Permit me a small digression: I mean…how wonderfully odd. What was the decision process here? The mid and rear planes of the original cover are absolutely preserved; only the foreground has been redrawn, making the Hulk more…what, exactly? Dynamic? Outraged? Brutish? Saleable?  To my eyes, the revision has made the Hulk more childish—a toddler throwing a tantrum. None of the weight, the struggle, the pathos of the original cover survive. One hates to be one of those fanboys, but it’s difficult not to decry the shabbiness of the modernizing impulse of the marketplace so vividly on dislplay here.)

I may be flattering my younger self too much when I imagine that I was not entirely unaware that the story contained within this cover was already something of a relic. But surely I must have sensed that the pictures inside were subtly different from those in other comics I’d read—slightly cruder, somehow more barbaric and “powerful”—even if I didn’t have the language to name Trimpe’s faux-Kirbyisms, an aping which Trimpe himself charmingly mocks (without naming names, of course—he’s much too classy for that) in his modest introduction to the Marvel Masterworks edition of the story.

After expressing genuine dismay that he cannot redraw the pages from this era of his career to produce his own “director’s cut” of the stories Trimpe muses: “If I were to redraw #111, I would change very little in the storytelling or the layouts. It’s the drawing I would focus on… The splash in #111 shows an odd fellow with his hand outstretched in dramatic fashion. This is a gesture which more than a few have made fun of because of the frequency of its occurrence—even when the gesture was not at all necessary… Issue #112 sport many an outstretched hand, including double outstretched hands on story page ten.”

Without question, it is mortifying to look back on one’s own early work. But thank goodness Trimpe was never able to make good on this wish to revisit his pencils, even if that means he must remain bewildered by the many convention-goers who “describe emotionally to [him] how meaningful these stories had been to them.”

Like these other fans, I was and am still moved by the fantastic energy of his Hulk, however “gnome-like” (Trimpe’s word) he sometimes appears.

But mostly, I love the hands.

What better image to figure the urgent melodrama of childhood, where everything is to be apprehended, grasped, conquered? In its reaching, the outstretched hand conveys desire, but in its gestural splendor it also evokes the sorcerer’s conjuring; there is might in it, achievement, mastery, and threat. However hackneyed, however preposterous, Trimpe’s ubiquitous outstretched hands are objective correlatives for this powerful tangle of affects. They are a summation of what it feels like to plunge at life, to grasp at its elusive promise, and, perhaps, truly, to catch it.

There is, in this latter regard, a close correlation between his outstretched hands and his pointing ones, which evoke even more strongly the feelings of triumph and exhilaration.  “Behold!”

But that is only one side of the story—the human one that is told through the humanoid Warlord, his people, and the Hulk himself.

There is another story between these pages, too, and this one is pure horror. This is the story about death—the death of the ego, at least, if not the real thing—told through images of the amorphous “Galaxy Master,” a tyrannical disembodied cosmic maw with the terrifying power “to assume any form [it] desires[s].” It begins by donning the shape of a Cyclops with sledgehammer hands—the only time in the story that it will present itself to the Hulk as an adversary that meets him on equal footing. After shattering his sledgehammer on the Hulk’s back, the Galaxy Master adopts a new tactic that will ever after be characteristic: he becomes ungraspable. He multiplies.

You cannot hit what you cannot touch, and now the enemy is everywhere. In two pages that made my five-year-old skin positively crawl with revulsion, the Galaxy Master transforms himself into a swarm of monstrous centipedes that overrun the Hulk at the foot of a starship, clinging to his back like burrs.

The explosion engineered by the Hulk to disperse the centipedes is only temporarily effective. The Galaxy Master will later become a cloud of toxic gas and a hail of white hot meteors. The Hulk will only succeed in destroying him when he surrenders to the self-annihilating logic of the swarm, becoming himself a kind of particle that “disappear[s] right into the center—right inside—of the thing in the sky.”

The Hulk’s improbable/inevitable victory is not what stayed with me, however. Rather, what stuck were those two awful pages of crawling horror—and one other. This one:

For of course Herb Trimpe (or was it Stan Lee?) must have been reading H. P. Lovecraft, whose barrel-shaped Elder Things from At the Mountains of Madness seem to have furnished a prototype for the Galaxy Master’s barrel-shaped, betentacled alien race, “creatures of evil,” spawned “a thousand universes away.”

It is presumably no coincidence, then, that the Galaxy Master’s embodiment of the swarm would evoke precisely the kinds of amorphous Lovecraftian terrors whose existence routinely mocked human notions of singular identity. (The eponymous Colour Out of Space, for example.)

Between the outstretched hands and the alien swarm, between the human story of grasping and mastery and the horror story about death (the moment of our own terrifying multiplication/dispersal/vanishing), Stan Lee places a third story—his favourite story, perhaps—one about poetic justice, that most seductive of imaginary morals.

This story emerges “between”the others because its function is mediatory.  It is through the self-destruction of the callow humanoid servant of the Galaxy Master (“Traitor! Your own cowardice has destroyed you!”) that Lee rewrites and reconciles the existential dilemma presented in the story’s two main plots. Falling backward off a cliff after betraying his people’s revolution against the enslaving Galaxy Master, the Warlord resolves the tension that has emerged over the course of the tale between human striving and the horrorific pre- and post-egoic state of material chaos against which that striving sets its energies.

How nice it would be to defeat the Galaxy Master, yet how impossible it actually is to do so. But don’t worry, the Hulk can manage it, and fortunately there is a yawning gulch on hand to swallow up the “treacherous” Warlord, the “betrayer” whose only crime is to tell the truth: that we are all in permanent thrall to the Galaxy Master and that our resistance is touching but pointless.  It is through this latter ending (not through the Hulk’s more ambiguous, unsettling defeat of the Galaxy Master, which occurs only at the cost of capitulation to the swarm-logic of miniaturaization, a becoming-molecule of the “Goliath”) that Stan converts the existential dilemma (the striving of life against death) into a moral/political choice (the old theme of the betrayal of the just cause), and thereby reassures my five-year-old self that we really can cheat death—so long as we are good!

But the Hulk knows a story-cheat when he smells one.  And this one stinks:

Who wouldn’t turn away in disgust? Such lies! Outrageous! “Mad world” indeed!

So, how wonderful is it, then, that Stan recants on the final page?  No more fairy tales!  The issue ends with the Hulk turning back into helpless, human Bruce Banner to be pinned by the crushing cabin pressure of the space vessel on which he is packed away by the alien princess to travel “back from whence he came.”

Now this is a story.  This “cliffhanger” of the Hulk’s transformation back into Bruce Banner is what epiphany looks like.  In other words: Oh, shit.  There is no NEXT ISSUE.  And for those of us who bought comics from spinner racks for 30 cents or from garage sales for a nickel, there literally wasn’t.  This was the end of the story.

Last panel:

Magnificent, isn’t it?

The Brute Battles On!

In The Incredible Hulk on March 14, 2010 at 11:20 am

I had the nicest surprise last week: I rediscovered a lost memory of reading.

For the past month or so, Marvel’s Fall of the Hulks event (which I’ve been enjoying immensely, certainly more than is reasonable) has had me feeling nostalgic for the classic Hulk stories of the 1960s and 70s–though “nostalgia” is something of a misnomer since I’ve barely read any of those stories!  My “nostalgia” is really for the more general Marvel aesthetic of the 60s and 70s, an aesthetic that, in the current Bendis-era (which I do not completely hate, incidentally), I have come increasingly to identify with the Hulk as a character, so much so that the Hulk (the “dumb” one, the melancholy brute, the real one) personifies for me the neo-primitivist poetry of that earlier Marvel age.

I’ve written before about that Marvel Treasury Edition that (so I imagined) introduced me to the Hulk at the tender age of six.  Published in 1978, it reprinted, among other things, Incredible Hulk #136 (“”Klaatu! The Behemoth from Beyond Space”) and Incredible Hulk #137 (“The Stars, Mine Enemy”), a fabulous Hulk-in-space yarn by Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and Mike Esposito that originally appeared in 1971.  Seeking out more stories from that era, I bought a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk vol. 5 last week, which reprints The Incredible Hulk 111-121 from 1969, featuring stories mainly by Stan Lee and Herb Trimpe, as well as the first two issues of Roy Thomas’s run.

I sat down to read.

Something about the first story, “Shanghaied in Space!” from The Incredible Hulk #111, seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.  It was the beginning of a two-parter in which Bruce Banner is kidnapped by a generic alien spaceman who serves the “Galaxy Master,” a low-rent Galactus who manifests as a giant floating Tim Curry mouth suspended in Kirby dots and snarls Stan Lee-isms.  Where had I seen this before?

And then I turned to part two, “The Brute Battles On!” from The Incredible Hulk #112, in which the Hulk and the Galaxy Master throw down.  From the very first page I felt that uncanny prickling on the back of my neck, that certain quiver in the chest one feels upon opening an attic box to discover a stash of crinkled valentines, long forgotten.  It took several pages for me to be sure.  It was the image of the blue cyclops with sledgehammer fists on page four that clinched it.

This was my first Hulk comic.  And it was a Hulk-in-space story, too!  No wonder I was so taken by the Roy Thomas/Herb Trimpe “Klaatu” saga that I found, the following year, in Marvel Treasury Edition #20.

Of course, I had not read the original Stan Lee/Herb Trimpe “The Brute Battles On!” issue from 1969.  I don’t think I ever actually owned a 12-cent Marvel comic back then!  I must have read the reprint of that comic, which appeared in Marvel-Superheroes #66 in September of 1977.

This was, of course, also the golden year of Star Wars, which had hit theatres in May and which I had seen in an Edmonton theatre that summer.  Even allowing for the strange gap between cover dates and actual dates on Marvel and DC comics, it seems likely to me that my six-and seven-year-old attraction to these Hulk-in-space tales owed a great deal to George Lucas.  What a wonderfully knotted formative moment in time this was: 1977.  So many of my later obsessions intertwine here in nascent form, awaiting my adolescent and even adult discovery of those writers (Vance! Davies! Lovecraft! Kristeva! Deleuze!) who would articulate them, spin them out, be adequate to their strangeness and implication, make them visible as forms, as jewels snared in the spider’s web of representation.

I’m planning to revisit The Incredible Hulk #112 more than once in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I’d be grateful for any suggestions you might have for further reading.  What ARE the greatest Hulk stories of the 1960s and 70s?  What should I read next?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Zen Bones

In The Question on March 7, 2010 at 3:13 pm

One of the many pleasant character pieces to come out of Blackest Night is Denny O’Neil & Greg Rucka’s The Question #37, a revisiting of O’Neil’s Zen-themed The Question series from the late ’80s.  Like that eariler series, this issue is drawn by Denys Cowan, whose wonderfully scratchy pencils are inked by The Question‘s old cover artist, Bill Sienkiewicz.

Although nominally part of the longer Blackest Night tapestry, this story is a genuine bookend to both the original series and Rucka’s sections of 52, while at the same time reading smoothly as a stand-alone issue.  It is one of my favourite single issues of the past few years.  I’ve read and reread it several times over the past couple of weeks, and I will read it many more times I’m sure.

At its core, it is a marvelously simple idea, deftly executed. The story unfolds on a dark and stormy night.  (Don’t be put off by the cliche; in a move that can only be called elegant, O’Neil and Rucka refashion the compulsory “Blackest Night” framework into a metaphor for the “long dark night of the soul” that follows for at least one of the main characters.)  Charlie’s old friend ‘Tot awaits the Question’s resurrection as a Black Lantern, hoping that an undead Charlie will help him unlock the mysteries of death.  Meanwhile, Lady Shiva appears at ‘Tot’s lighthouse to test new Question, Renee Montoya, in a martial arts throwdown on the beach.  As expected, Charlie returns as a puppet of the Black ring to attack his successor and Lady Shiva.  The crux of the battle [spoilers ahead] is that since Black Lanterns can only “see” auras comprised of their objects’ emotions, the solution to evading them (though perhaps not to beating them) is simply to “feel nothing,” Zen-master-style.

Thus does Lady Shiva will herself to “disappear.”  And so, too, Renee Montoya.  But the real disappearing act–the one that matters here–is ‘Tot’s.  For it is ‘Tot who has–so the narrative might be taken to imply–garrisoned himself against the pain of mourning by reducing the emotional significance of Charlie’s “resurrection” to a scientific opportuinity.  “Say goodbye to him,” Montoya councels ‘Tot, as she disappears into meditative invisibility and the Black-ringed Question turns on his former partner.  The story is thus primarily about the necessity of mourning, of overcoming the fear of facing loss (‘Tot’s aura is yellow as he fades and says “…goodbye…”).  It is a moving scene in a comic whose visual tonality is, so to speak, pitch-perfect.

Needless to say, I have started rereading the original series, which I haven’t picked up for many years.  Too long.

Art Deco X-Men

In X-Men on March 6, 2010 at 6:36 pm

via VNovember [from Eric Tan’s blog]

Well, I pretty much love this.  As do you, if you have eyes and a pulse.  Just…wow.  Quite wonderful how the Sentinels fit so snugly into the whole Mister X / Terminal City / Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow vibe Eric Tan has going on here.