Sunday, December 09, 2007

Four books, two of them superhero-related, none from the big two

Since the other six days of the week are taken up with Jim Starlin and Joe Casey currently, I figure Sunday is a good day to look at whatever is on my mind comic-wise. This week, I bought a couple of books: I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! and Acme Novelty Library #18.

The first is a collection of Golden Age comics by Fletcher Hanks that are pretty damn weird. While I've since proven (to myself) that Hanks actually existed, I still can't shake the feeling that this book is really just a hoax. I don't know why, but something about it just has the feeling of a modern cartoonist doing a book that is seemingly a collection of comics by an unheard of cartoonist from the late '30s. Maybe I'm just distrustful and afraid of not being in on the joke.

The comics contained the volume are strangely what you would expect as they tell stories about bad men with little motivation trying to destroy civilisation and the good people with equally little motivation stopping them. The interest lies in the sheer odd ways Hanks goes about telling these stories. The "main" character (or the one with the most stories) is Stardust, a human-looking alien wizard that stops crime on various planets--but we only see him do it on Earth. He usually does it in a pretty stupid way where he knows ahead of time what the criminals will do, let's them do part of it and then fucks them up with oddly ironic and cruel punishments.

Fantomah is a blonde, white woman who protects the jungle. What jungle I can't say, but she turns blue and has a skull-like face when she does her thing. There's also a story about a lumberjack beating up other lumberjacks and another about space secret service agents.

The volume is edited by Paul Karasik who also writes and draws an epilogue about his search for information on Fletcher Hanks where he meets Hanks' now elderly son and learns this great cartoonist was a world-class scumbag.


I didn't even know Acme Novelty Library #18 was out until I saw it in the bookstore. I know #18 1/2 came out a few weeks ago, but when it did, I remember reading that 18 hadn't yet. I've yet to see much said about it online, but maybe a new volume by Chris Ware doesn't get much notice--if you like his work, it's assumed that it's great, what else need be said; if you don't, why pick it up?

Volume 18 breaks from the "Rusty Brown" story the two previous volumes told and begins another story about a one-legged woman who is very, very lonely. She has a job at a flower shop that she doesn't seem to mind, but doesn't seem to like either. She has a cat. She's only ever had one boyfriend. We get the story of that relationship and a job she once had as a nanny. It's a really depressing story in many ways.

But, I also found it rather engaging. Sometimes, Ware's style can be a little off-putting, especially with his intricately crafted layouts, but the story here is engaging. It's a lovely little character study and I liked it a lot. The fact that I was listening to a lot of Lou Reed while reading it seemed to help, somehow.

I'm a little disappointed that the wait for more "Rusty Brown" is even longer, but I'm also looking forward to more of this story.


This week, I also spent an hour during my time in the department writing centre rereading Eightball #23, or, "The Death-Ray" issue. I bought this a couple of years ago and this was my first time rereading. It's basically the story of Andy, a guy whose father messed with his genes, so he gets super-strength when he smokes and also has a gun that can make anything disappear (but only works for him). Most of the story is him as a teenager, hanging out with his friend Louie, the one who pushes him to be a superhero and get revenge of the people who pick on them.

There's obvious parallelisms to Peter Parker, right down to a costume that echos that of Spider-Man. The idea of power and responsibility is big, as well. Especially in the framing events that take place now where Andy sees his role as one benefiting society by eliminating assholes from the world. It raises the question of where the line is drawn for superheroes "protecting society." There's also a lot of teenage angst and difficulties--it almost reads as a what if Peter Parker grew up in the late '70s rather than the early '60s.

Something that's always bothered me is that in a year-end edition of "The Basement Tapes," Joe Casey and Matt Fraction discussed the issue and Fraction mentioned a panel near the end of the issue that can be read two ways, each that give the story very different meanings--and I don't know what panel or the two ways to read it. Damn you, Fraction, explain it. I've looked and looked and looked and I don't see it. Dammit.


Last Saturday, I bought the first issue of Dan Dare and it's a decent read. Nothing much to say beyond that. I have no experience with the character, so I can't compare it to other versions. Seems simple enough. It's a solid read and it's Ennis flexing muscles we don't often see used.

I also purchased the year-end issue of Wizard, but it really isn't worth discussing.

Until next Saturday.