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53 Wednesdays: Column Two

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"Nostalgia is a state of inarticulate contempt to the present and a fear of the future." - Daredevil #41

"Welcome to the past, Cir-El"
"Cir-El is your Kryptonian name, Supergirl." - Superman: The 10¢ Adventure


Jan. 8-14: Cheap-Ass Comics

Since Marvel and DC both released low-priced books this week (and since I'm still broke and unemployed), this seemed like a good time to search the 50¢ bins at a comic shop. I went down to the Phantom of the Attic in Greentree, a.k.a. the Mall Shop, and started digging. This required me to get down on the shop's floor, a surface I felt wasn't quite as clean as, say, the tile floor of a porn shop. I'm reasonably sure a porn store is mopped on a regular basis. Maybe it was just me, but I don't associate the concept "clean" with "comic shop floor".

After searching through the shop's boxes, I've concluded that cheap comics can be placed in at least one of the following categories:

· Cancelled series and/or bankrupt publishers
· Poor selling mini-series
· Rob Liefeld comics

I'm not kidding about that last one. About a third of the comics I saw came from Rob's Maximum Press, Awesome Studios, or just had a cover he drew. There's enough to build a case on why he should never be allowed to work again. But that's a topic for another column.

I was actually surprised by what I found in those boxes. Sure, there were plenty of bad comics, fallout from the Glut of '93, small-press books that never took off, etc. But there were a surprising number of good comics. I don't just mean entertaining, but well-written, well-drawn books that would be worth buying at their original cover price. Which makes me think about how a shop chooses which books to mark down.

Remember, the shop buys comics in bulk, and thus pays significantly less than cover price. Space is at a premium, and he has to use it to his best advantage. That's why some stores automatically mark up a comic when it becomes a back issue; to turn an extra profit while taking up space. But to take a comic from the back issue bins, and mark it down to less than a dollar, means a substantial loss for the owner. He's admitting that this book will not sell. So he prices it at almost nothing and sticks it in a corner. Maybe he goes through the boxes once in a while, and throws some of them away.

Ask your shop owner what they do with their cheap books. Maybe he'll cut you a deal.

So this week I flipped through hundreds of books dating back over 20 years to see what I could get for less than a dollar. All told, I bought 16 books for $8.00, and came out ahead. Like Calvin said, "There's treasure everywhere!" Let's not forget what Mathew Modine taught us: "I am in a world of shit." This time, both statements were true.

I was most excited to find DC's Brave and the Bold mini-series from 1992. Written by Mike Grell and Mike Baron, it featured The Question, Green Arrow, and The Butcher putting down a militant American Indian group in Canada. Now I've never heard of this "Butcher" character, and while I'm intrigued by Green Arrow's time as an eco-warrior, I could take it or leave it. But The Question has been one of my all-time favorite characters since buying the Dennis O'Neil series. It's a complex, character-driven comic with all the grime and violence of a pre-Vertigo Mature Readers series. I highly recommend it.

I cannot recommend this Brave and the Bold series. The Sienkiewicz-wannabe art of Shea Anton Pensa makes every person look distorted and inhuman. (Though the backgrounds and nature scenes are nice.) And while the dialogue between the lead heroes is sharp and natural, the supporting cast is cliché and dull. Overall, this is a by-the-numbers adventure story that wasn't worth its original $1.75 cover price. I don't have the conclusion to this story, and I'm not anxious to find it.

Since Vertigo is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, it seemed appropriate to get some of their books. Kid Eternity was one of Vertigo's inaugural books back in 1993, written by Ann Nocenti and drawn by Sean Phillips. Nocenti used to write and edit at Marvel in the 80s. Her most famous work is her run on 'Daredevil'. Most fans didn't like it for its endless contemplations of life and general navel gazing. Sean Phillips, of course, is now a comics superstar. His heavily inked, abstract style has been seen in 'Uncanny X-Men' and 'Wildcats'. And Kid Eternity was a teenager of incredible power working for the cosmic good of all, but never quite succeeding.

I have GOT to get the rest of this series! Just look at the first issue alone! We have two people back form hell, a man returned in the body of a serial killer, and the woman the killer killed. Kid tells them they're candidates to give birth to the new messiah. Naturally, they hate each other. Kid tries to summon Cupid to make them fall in love, but Hermes switched Cupid's love arrows with Ares' hate arrows. So Cupid puts this couple into a state of perpetual argument! Plus, there's a pack of angel/demon children killing everyone else the Kid marked as possible messiah parents, the return of psychic Madame Blavatsky, a computer virus impregnating PC's, and a man who lives by a dog's philosophy: "Do I eat it, screw it, or piss on it?" All this, plus Beelzebub's coming to Earth with his lover, Judas Priest.

Treasure indeed.

[Ed's note - you can actually find the entire series on EBAY at a very cheap price, check out these three links for details:-

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2154697727&category=903

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2154697970&category=903

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=2155220225&category=3983

-- end note]

Back around 1996, Vertigo began publishing a line of books called Vertigo Vertie. I think these were supposed to be cutting edge works from independent and self-published creators. The line didn't last long, but it left behind at least one good comic: The System by Peter Kuper. This dialogue-free, yet far from silent 3-issue mini-series chronicles the lives of a handful of New Yorkers. It shows these people's lives being connected by the strange threads of coincidence and fate. The layered story involves a series of stripper murders, an insider trading scam, and a terrorist planning to detonate a homemade nuclear device. I am definitely getting the conclusion of this series! It is one of the finest examples of visual storytelling I've ever seen. I whole-heartily recommend this book. If you can find it cheap, great. If not, buy it anyway. And while you're reading this complex tale of urban madness, remember that Kuper is now drawing "Spy vs. Spy" in Mad magazine.

That should blow your mind.

You know how some movies will say "Wes Craven Presents", or "From the producers of. . . "? Well there's a big difference between having your name on a story and actually writing it. Case in point: Ambush Bug vs. Lunatik. Ambush Bug is the ever-popular, tongue-in-cheek DC comedy character who's stories are always good superhero satire. I got the first issue of the old Ambush Bug mini-series from '85. Written by Keith Giffen, the character's creator, it's a high energy work of outright silliness moving at a frantic pace. The Bug is the ultimate DC comics fan, and he knows he's in a DC comics. That's the basis for a seemingly endless series of one-liners and gags. From Cheeks, the Bug's toy doll sidekick, to pro-Reagan terrorists, the book is chock full of outright weirdness. I want to see Ambush Bug TPBs right now!

In stark contrast lies Lunatik. I mean, "contrast" like the Moan Lisa next to a Maplethrope photo, and "lies" like a soft dog turd. Lunatik was also created by Giffen, though the three-issue mini-series was written by co-creator Lovern Kindzierski, penciled by Duncan Rouleau, and inked by five different guys I've never heard of. If anyone knows the whereabouts of the writer and penciller, report them to the Cultural Police immediately. They must be stopped before they create again. (Coincidentally, John Costanza lettered both this and Ambush Bug. Huh.) Lunatik was Marvel's attempt at a character similar to Lobo. Well, Lunatik's violent, filthy, and hates superheroes, but he lacks that sense of fun-loving reckless anarchy that makes Lobo, Tank Girl, and even Ambush Bug so much fun.

For all you Bill Sienkiewicz fans, he did the covers for issues #2 and #3. If you want, I can tear off the covers and mail them to you. They're the best parts of the book.

I'd hears a lot about American Flagg!, the '80s cult comic by Howard Chaykin, but I never thought much about reading it. Now I find about a dozen issues in the 50¢ bin. I pick up #6 and was impressed! Flagg! takes place in a future controlled by a fascist multinational corporation. Officer Reuben Flagg, of a military police force called the Rangers, has been framed for murder by an extremist right-wing group. This issue sees Flagg find the real killer and expose a spy on the force.

There was a lot thrown at me in one issue, but I get the feeling that if I'd read the first five issues, it would have made more sense. Aside from that, this was a great comic. Lots of action, politics, and strange sex; shocking, even 20 years after it was first published. In fact, the current political climate is just right for a reprint or even return of Flagg!. Someone call Chaykin and give him lots of money for this.

I'm a fan of Steve Gerber's work, and I was always curious about Foolkiller, the mini-series even he wasn't proud of. I got issues #3 and #10 (the conclusion), and I have to agree with Gerber. They're not his best work. It seemed to be the story of an ordinary, down-on-his luck guy who finds a disintegrating pistol once used by the vigilante Foolkiller. He becomes the new Foolkiller, and grows more hardened and violent as the story progresses. I think the idea was to show how a regular person becomes a killer. But by the end, he's just another Punisher clone.

We end with Alan Moore. Now, let me say that I'm not into Moore as much as other people. In fact, I haven't been really impressed with anything he's written since the '80s ended. I have read 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', 'Promethea', and 'Top 10'. I liked them, but I didn't think they were as brilliant and amazing as everyone says they are.

I feel the same way about Fire From Heaven, the bookend to the Wildstorm comics crossover of 1996. The story takes place on Gamorra Island, whose terrorist leader, Kaizen Gamorra, is working with an other dimensional alien, Damocles, to clone the super-being Sigma, also from Damocles' world. This experiment somehow involved stealing the Gen-factor from Team 7, putting their lives at stake. The surviving Team 7 members join forces with Gen 13 and Wetworks to infiltrate the island. Opposing them is Stormwatch, who's been called upon to protect Gamorra. Also involved is Wild C.A.T.S., since Grifter is a former Team 7 member, and Cybernary, for no explained reason.

I'll admit I'm a sucker for crossovers. I see them as core samples of a comic book universe's history; Blockbuster movies told on paper. I fell like looking for the other 19 parts of this story. But I'd feel that way even if Moore didn't write any part of the story.

Well, that went long, but I wanted to be thorough. My point is, there are a lot of great comics lying around the cheap bins at your local shop. Give them a look once in a while. Take them home, read them, maybe keep them around. If you hate them, throw them out. Yep, just trash the sucker. Exercise your power over an inanimate object by destroying it. Don't let possessions possess you.

Hey, two weeks in, and I've already given you Zen advice.

Wonder what I'll do next week?

And now, for the books I paid cover price for:

Forge #10 - Various writers and artists/CrossGen -
7 comics for 8 bucks. You get samurai, trolls, cowboys, love, a serial killer, and several hundred pissed-off Australians with super powers. That last one is REALLY scary! This is the future of comics, people, better jump on now!

Futurama/Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis #2 - Boothby/Lloyd/Steere/Bongo -
The Futurama/Simpsons crossover concludes after a promising beginning, with several twist endings, predictable jokes, a life lesson, and al the good lines going to Bender and Homer. So it's just like a episode of either series. The two-page finale of characters from both series is a nice treat though.

Gen13 #5 - Claremont/Garza/DC Wildstorm -
Ethan, Dylan, and Gwen visit Preston Kills, the tattoo artist from '21 Down'. He wants to tell them about Herod, but Caitlin stops him. Later, Ja'nelle finds another use for her power, and is consumed by a black gooey thing. It's still better than the first series.

X-treme X-Men #20 - Claremont/Larroca/Marvel -
Sage restates the X-Treme team's purpose: To protect humans from rogue mutants. (Which is what the X-Men USED to do, before they got all "cool".) She and Bishop then investigate a murder that may have been committed by a mutant with teleporting powers. Said mutant is found hiding at Xavier's. Let the battle begin. I don't care what you all say about Claremont using too many words. I like that! I like reading his work. Yes, he does tend to repeat himself, but he's still following the old, "every comic is somebody's first comic" rule, which does come in handy. At his best, Claremont describes the feelings that cannot be clearly shown in the art, and infuses his characters with genuine heart and passion. At his worst, you spend an extra 5 minutes reading a comic that still better than half the stuff out there. Call me a fanboy, an apologist, whatever. I like reading Claremont. You put his name on a book, I buy it. And if this gets back to Chris, tell him this: Keep it up.

Superman: the 10¢ Adventure - Seagle/McDaniel/Owens/DC -
Superman fights a supervillain given powers by the mysterious Futuresmiths. Along the way, we learn who Superman is, why he does what he does, and his relationships with his friends. It's a pretty good, straightforward adventure story. Problem is, Scott McDaniel stilldraws everyone like a damn monkey! Seriously, Superman looks like a dumb ape half the time. And is that new Supergirl supposed to look sexy? Sexy women have curves Scott! CURVES! You know. like those lines you draw EVERYWHERE? I'm sorry. I'm getting writer's cramp. Let's move on.

Daredevil #41 - Bendis/Maleev/Marvel -
Daredevil saves a blind woman's life, then learns that the Owl is taking control of the Kingpin's old territory. Easily, the best comics value of the year. And some books I read, but didn't buy, so I don't have the credits:

Powers #27 - Bendis/Avon Oeming/Image -
Det. Pilgrim and Deanna interview a former member of the super team Unity about the murder of his ex-teammate. They're about to question another suspect when someone reenacts Captain Atom's death scene from 'Kingdom Come'. Granted, this is a good book, probably one of the best I've ever read. But it's still a very people-oriented book, and thus doesn't hook me.

Marville #4 - Jemas/Marvel -
OK, what-what the hell is Bill Jemas doing with this thing? First we get bad humor, then bad satire, then that meeting with God with the painted pictures, with the words printed on them, and we get an origin of the universe that sounds a lot like this "Intelligent Design" bullshit that the creationists are using to try and trick us into joining them, and now, NOW, we get talking dinosaurs. Jesus, tap-dancing, Christ. Somebody better give Billy a urine test, because this, this is just so unbelievable, I'm sounding like a Bendis character. And that's-that's just wrong.

Paradise X #6 - Marvel -
The X trilogy about the future Marvel universe continues circling the drain, as Jude, the Entropic Man escapes and brings death to everyone on Earth. Meanwhile, Thor and Loki think of using X-51 in their plan to free the Asgardians, while X-51 determines humanity's mutation took place on a continuous curve. Y'know, I would have been happy with just 'Earth X'. Even 'Universe X' had its good points. But I'm finding less and less reason to justify another 14-part maxi-series based on outdated Marvel continuity. Maybe it'll all make sense in the trade book.

Exiles #21 - Winick/Marvel - 4BULETS
The team finds an Earth almost completely controlled by the techno-organic virus of the Phalanx. Their attempt to capture Warlock, the creator of the virus, results in his destruction. Now they have to destroy this Earth. Good character moments, original, yet natural takes on these alternate Marvel characters, and an ending so desperate you have to read the next issue. Well done.


And finally, everything else I've read:

Stormwatch TPB Vol. 1; Cartoon History of the Universe Vol. 3, Chap. 1; Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.1; Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told: Mystery in Space #90; Essential Howard the Duck: Howard the Duck #5; Daredevil: Parts of a Hole; and Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 1-6

And if you're still awake after reading all that, I must inform you taking crystal meth is a crime.

'Night folks. See you on Wednesday.

QED


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