Clark always was a bit of a wall-flower. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing …
Comics have a grand history of featuring America’s fighting forces, going back to the medium’s earliest days to more recent, rebooted war titles. I read a bunch of these growing up, and still have a soft spot for the genre, particularly DC’s books. Enemy Ace, The Unknown Soldier, Weird War Tales — I ate all that stuff up. My favorite, though — without question — was Sgt. Rock.
Slogging through World War II Europe, Sgt. Rock and Easy Co. had that war-weariness you imagine every soldier reaches after enough time on the front lines. And while they fought heroically, selflessly — like their flashier super-powered cousins in the rest of the DC Universe — they did something else. They died. Most of the core characters would survive from issue to issue, but it was never a sure bet. Reading Sgt. Rock meant knowing that war isn’t fair, and no one was safe. Add to that Joe Kubert’s gritty, you-are-there artwork and you’ve got a compelling, sometimes harrowing, war comic.
Of course, the title would sometimes dip into the superhero silliness of the main DCU. Because how else would Sgt. Rock meet Superman? Heck, it would probably take a bomb hidden in a French award, time travel, amnesia, and some good ol’ fashioned Nazi-fightin’ to make that work. Luckily, writer Cary Bates and penciller Joe Staton put all that (and more) together for DC Comics Presents #10, in a story called “The Miracle Man of Easy Company” — enjoy, and happy Memorial Day!
So I found this in one of the neighborhood thrift shops yesterday.
The box is pretty banged up, with the edges worn down and fuzzy, and one corner flaps open since whatever glue held it down is long gone. Surprinsingly, though, the pieces themselves are in good shape, and the color is astonishingly fresh considering how old this Spider-Man jigsaw puzzle must be. I mean, c’mon, a Whitman puzzle?! And I’m guessing that’s some classic John Romita Spidey art being used for the image. Not bad for a buck.
I did a quick count and most of the pieces seem to be there; could ALL of the pieces still be in this worn-out box? I’ll track the progress as this puzzle comes together, and we’ll find out together. Keep your fingers crossed!
I’m going to be straight with you — I haven’t been reading any current comics lately. Or for a while, actually.
This is for a few reasons, ranging from the vagaries of a freelancer’s income to a distinct lack of enthusiasm for much of what’s being produced. The blame for that lies mostly with DC and Marvel, but the smaller, more interesting publishers suffer for it because, man, the crap just sucks away any energy I have for digging out the good stuff.
Still, it’s not as if I haven’t been reading comics — I’ve just been reading older graphic novels and trades that I manage to find at my fairly excellent library branch. (And by “older” I mean anything from months to years; it just depends on what catches my eye on any given day). With that said, here are some comics I’ve read recently:
Bad Medicine – Vol. 1: New MoonNunzio DeFilippis , Christina Weir (writers); Christopher Mitten (artist); Bill Crabtree (colorist)
Released earlier this year, this volume collects the first five issue of Bad Medicine, a kind of X-Files/Universal Monsters mash-up, but with a team of Scullys and one sorta-Mulder instead of the more familiar lonely conspiracist vibe. Getting into the story took a little effort at first, but once characters are in place and backgrounds start getting filled in, things roll along at a good pace (though the idea of an only partially invisible man is pretty great right from the start). Speaking of characters, most of the supporting cast are only standard archetypes at this point, but solid enough to hold the reader’s interest, especially when anchored by the multi-layered, possibly crazy-but-unflappable lead of Dr. Randal Horne.
The art is scratchy and angular, and while it could easily be annoying and distracting, it works well in the setting and brings a weird kind of realism to stories about unseen madmen and rampaging werewolves. Often, Mitten whips out a great facial expression, too, adding needed characterization to people we’re just getting to know (his use of body language, in general, is natural and expressive).
Overall, I dug it and would like to see more from this title, which is a solid 3/5.
Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis, Vol. 1
Mike W. Barr (writer); Alan Davis (artist)
Look, I wanted to like this. I really did. But whether it was the wooden dialogue or my own trouble seeing Davis’ art on anything that isn’t Excalibur, I just couldn’t get into it. While I appreciated the fact that Barr emphasized the detective part of Batman’s Dark Knight Detective moniker (missing from the collection’s title, you’ll notice), the stories themselves just felt weighed down by a few too many “lads” and “chums” to feel like anything more than some sort of parody. The collection also spans years ranging from 1986 to 1991 (with a genuinely awesome black-and-white one-shot from 2002 thrown in), which some readers might recognize as the Jason Todd years. Personally, I never hated Jason with the fiery scorn some have for the character, but it did bug me that Barr turns him into a patchy hybrid of Dick Grayson and Burt Ward; the puns … my God, the puns.
I’m sure it’s just me, and maybe I just don’t love Batman enough, but this hit me as 2.5/5.
Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score
Darwyn Cooke (adaptation/illustration)
This third installment in Cooke’s Parker adaptations continues to build on what has been a strong series of graphic novels from a couple of masters. Richard Stark was a pen name of Donald E. Westlake, a legendary crime novelist who, almost as an aside, created the iconic Parker — a stoic, all-business thief whose chilling propensity for violence is matched only by the smolderingly dangerous schemes he finds himself running. If you’ve never read a Parker novel — or hell, if you’ve never read any Westlake book — do yourself a favor and get to it; you won’t be sorry. Cooke brings the style and pitch-perfect graphic sensibility that made his DC: The New Frontier such a beauty to these adaptations, and The Score is no different. Done-in-one, the story is quick but muscular, with plenty of meat there for fans of crime, noir and gritty, slow-burn thrillers. In terms of both writing and art, Cooke just nails it. 4/5
Craig Thompson (writer/artist)
Habibi is — and I say this without any hyperbole — a masterpiece. Powerful, heartbreaking, honest, obsessed with the human and the cosmic, truly epic in scope, this book is something that anyone who claims to love comics has to read. It’s something I’d recommend everyone should read. I’ve meant to read it since it was released in 2011, but kept putting it off for one reason or another, and quite frankly was intimidated by its sheer 672-page bulk. It turns out to be a completely immersive 672 pages. The work — from the obviously painstaking research into Islam, to the thoughtful scripting and gorgeously detailed illustrations — is staggering in its ambition and artistry. On the surface, Habibi is about a young girl sold into marriage and the orphan boy she cares for once she finds herself on a path to slavery and a precarious life in hiding. Slavery of one kind or another is a running theme throughout the book, and of course so is its flipside need for freedom. But Thompson also bends and stretches his characters — and his readers — around concepts of faith, culture, storytelling, gender, love and desire, and the story’s setting itself. I was stunned when I finished reading Habibi, and instantly put it in my top 5 Must-Read list of graphic novels. I really don’t know why this book doesn’t come up more often in comics circles. 5/5
Image: Detail from “Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score” — art by Darwyn Cooke