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COMICS ABOUT CARTOONISTS

Comics About Cartoonists: Stories About the World's Oddest Profession
Edited and designed by Craig Yoe
232 8.5 x 11 pages
color
IDW Yoe Book harrdcove
$39.99

Comics About Cartoonists coverThis tome is another in what is becoming a long shelf of delightful and superior Yoe Books, volumes distinguished by the obvious affection their editor/author, himself a cartoonist, has for the medium. That applies not only to the selection of content but to the design of the book that showcases the material. Take, f’instance, this volume’s endpapers.

Why bother with endpapers? Who looks at endpapers? Craig Yoe (with whom I sometimes share a hotel room at the San Diego Comic-Con) evidently does. And he thinks others who admire cartooning and its history might also look at endpapers if they have something to do with cartooning.

So the endpapers of this book display numerous of the ads that appeared during the first 70 years or so of the last century in sundry sorts of magazines, each ad offering training in cartooning via mail order courses. Dozens of the profession’s practitioners took correspondence courses in their youth — Milton Caniff, Elzie Segar, Jack Cole, and so on. And here we see the come-on ads that seduced young people to part with their allowances: “How To Make Money with Simple Cartoons,” says one; another, “Cartoon Your Way to Popularity and Profit” (illustrated with a picture of a young cartoonist surrounded by pretty girls); “Do You Like to Draw?”; “Your Future Depends on You!”

In the same spirit of informing and entertaining, the first seven pages are devoted to spot drawings of cartoonists by the great Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman, the first big-foot cartoonist of any eminence in the profession. And, yes, he also ran a correspondence school.

As you can tell from its title, the book is devoted to reprinting comic book stories about cartoonists — almost 40 stories, drawn by nearly three dozen cartoonists (some, H.T. Webster, Milt Gross and Winsor McCay, represented by more than one story). With few exceptions (like those just named, plus Elzie Segar and Al Capp), the cartoonists labored in our favorite four-color pulps rather than in newspapers. The content is punctuated by fifteen comic book covers depicting comic book characters working as cartoonists (Bugs Bunny, Wacky Duck, even Superman and Batman).

The longest story in the book is by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon: their cartoonist is the protagonist in a love story from the romance title, In Love, but the tale also traces the guy’s progress from novice to full professional, supplying en route glimpses into the intricacies of syndicated comic strip cartooning. The shortest stories are one-pagers — Hey Look! by Harvey Kurtzman, a couple of Grossly Xaggerated by Milton Gross, and four of the eight or so one-page autobiographical comics Collier’s published in 1948 (Milton Caniff, Ham Fisher, Chester Gould, and Ernie Bushmiller).

Some of the works represented are classics — a Spirit story by Will Eisner, a six-page Scribbly continuity by Sheldon Mayer, an adventure with Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s manic  Funnyman and another with Basil Wolverton’s zany-off-the-wall Scoop Scuttle — all particular favorites of mine. 

And in an Inky story, Jack Cole supplies his usual dose of wacky visuals coupled to routine insanities. One character threatens the cartoonist with a bottle of camel poison, saying: “We’ll poison all da camels, den dere’ll be no camel’s hair fer brushes an’ all da artists’ll starve.”

“You fiend!” exclaims the cartoonist. “You have me in your power!”

And there are some rarities like a cartoon done by Jack Chick before he took up salvation as a subject matter, “Kar Toon and His Copy Cat” by Martin Filchock, and a 1953 horror story by Jay Disbrow, who draws, here, better than I remember his doing. “Suzie,” attributed to Harry Sahle, is a spritely leggy-sexy funny romp with the title character modeling superheroine garb for a cartoonist.  The collection ends with another classic, Wally Wood’s legendary “My World.”

The reprinted pages are reproduced directly from their initial incarnation in the funnybooks, complete with out-of-register color sometimes (not often), but lacking altogether (thankfully) any recoloring with garish hues in a misguided attempt to refurbish the art to make it look “new.” On the first page of every item, Yoe supplies the source (comic book title, number, and date) and the name of the cartoonist — invaluable.

Yoe’s Introduction, laced with some rare one-panel cartoons (many from his stupendous stash of originals), explains obscure references and reminds us of who some of the cartoonists are (Frank Frazetta worked for Al Capp on Li’l Abner for a time before catapulting himself into fantasy illustration). This is his favorite book, Yoe says; and it may be mine, too.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

STRIPPERELLA

Stripperella coverThe Might Seven and Stan Lee’s preoccupation with the skimpy costuming of his heroines may, or not, explain why we turn next to another Stan Lee creation (this time, a solo writing effort), the ravishingly concupiscent Stripperella, staring the eponymous “exotic dancer” (i.e., stripper) named Exotica Jones, who dances at the T&A Gentleman’s Club but who, secretly, works for L.U.S.T. (Legion of United Super Terminators), “fending off villains and defending the defenseless” (as the back cover blurb so eloquently puts it).

Her weapons are her 38s, which she unveils to vanquish her foes. (Sorry: the humor in this title is contagious: bad puns and worn-out inuendo — throughout, nearly every page. It reminds me that Stan’s early life in comics included writing the pun-laden My Friend Irma for Dan DeCarlo to draw in his usual superlative manner.) Modesty Blaise deployed the same weapons: she called it “the nailer” — appearing before menacing thugs in just her birthday bounties, she rendered them immobile in their unabashed admiration.

This is all for fun, kimo sabe, even if it is more than a little adolescent. The story is enriched somewhat by echoes of the Lois Lane/Superman/Clark Kent triangle: Exotica is in love with Nick, the T&A Club manager, but he has eyes only for Stripperella, not seeing, though, that the two are one and the same. Another subplot concerns the rivalry among the dancers, and one’s persistent jealousy of Exotica, who is billed as the best of the bump and grinders.

The square-spined volume at hand from DeepCut Productions reprints at least two issues of the comic book, which, apparently, sank without a ripple. The character also had a short life on late-night adult tv.

The success of the title depends entirely upon Anthony Winn’s drawings. Clearly, Stan Lee’s corny double entendre, while sometimes amusing in an obvious arrested development way, is much too tedious to hold our attention long. It’s up to Winn to save the title. And with his somewhat cartoony (albeit appealingly sexy) pictures, he almost does.

Despite the sex in the dialogue and in the concept, the pictures are remarkably discrete. No frontal nudity. And while some breasts are bared, we see them only from the side-rear so nipples don’t show (thereby avoiding the cardinal sin of pornography, which is determined entirely by whether nipples show or not; don’t believe me? Ask any manager of a comic-con.) In every other instance, the ladies are covering their bosom with both arms. Very proper, these strippers and pole dancers.

 

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

STAN LEE'S THE MIGHTY 7

Mighty 7 1 coverStan Lee is not Jack Cole, but at least he can write comedy as is amply demonstrated in his Mighty 7 series, now up to No.3. Corny comedy but comedy nonetheless. The Mighty 7 consists of two “star marshals” and the five criminals they are escorting through space when, in No.1 of this title, their rocket ship crashes into Earth, landing in a desert where Stan Lee is pondering his future as a comic book writer.

In No.2, Stan, taken captive by the aliens, realizes almost immediately this intergalactic ensemble could provide him with a new comic book series, and so, to protect his future fortune, he offers to hide them from local gendarmes. When the alien entourage scoffs at Stan because he’s old, he quips: “I’m not old — I’m legendary.”

That’ll give you an idea of the heights to which risibility rises in this series.

Protecting the space fugitives turns out not to be an easy task. The Mighty 7 attract a certain amount of attention amongst the indigenous population, and the 7 often react in extreme ways, making their dilemma worse. Stan blunders on, nothing wroth, blurting out, repeatedly, “What have I got myself into?”

Meanwhile, the title’s obligatory mad scientist, Silas Zorbo, miffed at his failures in the institutional lab of the first issue, sets off an explosion in his private (personal) lab, irradiating himself and turning, perforce, into a monster. In No.3, he goes to a mask-maker and demands he make a mask like his former face so he can continue to court Emily, the toothsome lab assistant. He christens himself Fright Mask and dashes off to frighten people.

When Stan hears about the crime wave Fright Mask is wreaking, he decides to loose the Mighty 7 on the scene thereby making them all rich and famous — “unless he destroys you first,” he finishes his pep talk to the 7.

In case it isn’t obvious, the protagonist (if not the hero) of this title is Stan Lee, and he gets all the good lines. (Why not? He’s the writer.) The persona he adopts for the purpose is that of a schlep hack writer who professes a good opinion of himself with his tongue firmly in his cheek. When he’s first apprehended by the Mighty 7, Asoara, the female of the two star marshals, yanks him out of the car he’s fleeing in, to which Stan says: “Whoa — go easy: I’m an icon!” And: “Don’t drop me: I’m brittle.”

Later, Vallor, the other space copy, says: “Earthling, you are a professional liar.” And Stan reposits: “Thanks. One learns that skill in Hollywood.”

Mighty 7 artStan’s self-deprecating comedy is the title’s saving grace. Written by Tony Blake and Paul Jackson (with, one assumes, occasional injections of levity by Stan), the story tumbles along in the Marvel fashion of yore. There are occasional lapses. Once, when Stan returns to his garage where he’s hiding the Mighty 7, he bursts into the place and yells: “What happened?”

Hard to say. The space aliens seem to be simply relaxing, or maybe tinkering with the tv. Vallor has Mercuria in a headlock although, considering her statuesqueness, he may be just groping her. But none of this looks disruptive enough to justify Stan’s yelling “What happened?”

The art, Alex Saviuk’s pencils inked by Bob Smith, is thoroughly professional — slick but stylistically bland. But when Stan orders up new costumes for the gang, the girls’ outfits leave very little of their anatomy to the imagination (because the costumes are so very little) — one of Stan’s libidinous quirks that Saviuk’s visuals adroitly dramatize.
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE TUX?

I picked up the first two issues of DC’s Penguin, “Pain and Prejudice,” but reading them was an unalloyed downer. I’ve always liked the Penguin, who, in the beginning (way back then) was a comic character. His physical appearance was the stuff of comedy, not tragedy; but it worked in the Batman books because there was, then, room for an occasional smile. Alas, no more. Ever since the first Batman movie, the Penguin as been a grotesque caricature of humanity gone bad, and in this title, it’s more so. (And Batman, ever since Frank Miller’s Dark Knight book, has been another of the same grotesque breed, alas.)

The Penguin Pain and Prejudice panelSzymon Kudranski and his colorist John Kalisz plunge the visual proceedings into the dark, drenching the drawings in black and dark gray, obscuring more than illuminating the tale. Probably if we could see better, we’d be even more horrified and disgusted with Gregg Hurwitz’s story. The Penguin, see, was born with his beak of a proboscis, and as a freak, he endured all sorts of ridicule and derision — enough, one supposes, to turn him into a truly vicious hater of his fellow beings. But he loves his mother. And with apparently good reason: she was the only creature who gave him any comfort at all.

Depressed yet? Enough sickness and insanity for me.

Batman himself, as presently configured psychologically, is pretty depressing; ditto the Joker. In fact, the entire Batman oeuvre seems severely out of joint.

Maybe all superhero tales.

Are there any of the longjohn legions that go about their work with a modicum of joy? Oh, yes — Catwoman.

Where’s Jack Cole and his Plastic Man when we need him?

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

AFTER THE BEGINNING OF THE BEFORE WATCHMEN PREQUEL: A TEMPORARY SUMMARY

The Before Watchmen series is turning out to be provocative and well-written. It’s not Alan Moore’s masterpiece yet, but it is at least a worthy prequel.

I confess, though, that I’m having a little trouble sorting out all the timelines that are threaded through these books. The Minutemen was formed in 1939, and some of the action takes place then. Some of it takes place in the 1960s: that’s when Daniel Dreiberg becomes the new Nite Owl, and Sally Jupiter’s daughter Laurel Jane takes up crime-fighting. Then it’s 1985 (the year the Comedian is killed in Watchmen) when we meet Ozymandias in a nostalgic reverie, remembering his own beginnings and the 1939 Minutemen. His search for Hooded Justice apparently takes place in the 1960s. That’s when we first see the Comedian in action with the Kennedys.

And are the Minutemen the Crimebusters, as Captain Metropolis calls them? Maybe the Crimebusters morph out of the Minutemen. And then the Watchmen out of the Minutemen. Dunno. But to learn the answer, I’ll keep coming back.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BEFORE WATCHMEN: SILK SPECTRE 1 & 2

The piece de resistance of the Before Watchmen crop is Silk Spectre. Written by Darwyn Cooke and deliciously rendered by Amanda Conner, this title simply sings with all the tunes and tropes of which comics artistry is capable. We meet Laurel Jane when she’s just a little girl, clutching her stuffed rabbit, but after three pages of this, acquainting us with her young perception of the heartbreak of her family life, we leap to 1966 when Laurie is a teenager, excelling at sports. Her would-be boyfriend is Greg, and her mother, Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, is training Laurie to take her place.

Silk Spectre 1 coverSo rigorous is the training (which includes a mock attack by Jupiter, wearing a hood and second-story black) that Laurie isn’t given time to canoodle with Greg. After an encounter with a taunting classmate named Betsy (whom Laurie decks), Laurie and Greg run off together: they’re picked up by a van load of twenty-somethings heading to San Francisco with flowers in their hair.

In No.2, Laurie and Greg have moved in with the twenty-somethings (Chappie and Gigi and Eagle) and girl and boy are sharing the same room and bed—except when Laurie is prowling the night, righting wrongs and doing goods. She’s had a costume made, and she’s assuming her mother’s mantle. Life in the one-house commune is otherwise idyllic.

Laurie is trying to find a local drug lord whose ministrations have seriously damaged a friend of hers, and by the end of this issue, she and Greg are deeply into the Haight scene, imbibing atmosphere and various kinds of intoxicants and hallucinogens.

Cooke’s story is fairly straightforward, but Conner brings to it her usual comedic touches — funny facial expressions on beautiful women, sight gags, and inventive panel compositions. Sometimes she breaks the visual narrative flow with a panel that illustrates a character’s state of mind in exaggerative cartoony style. She’s a master at staging action and in timing passages to reveal emotions and drama. In short, she repeatedly plumbs the possibilities for enriching narrative with pictorial devices. If you want to know what comics can do, read Conner.

Incidentally, her book, The Art of Amanda Conner serves up a generous helping of Conner. More of that anon.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BEFORE WATCHMEN: DR. MANHATTAN 1

DrAdam Hughes was presumably chosen to draw Dr. Manhattan because the big atomic blue nude guy falls for Silk Spectre, which will give Hughes ample opportunity to draw his speciality, a beautiful woman. He doesn’t get much chance to do it in No.1 of the title, though, because this issue is mostly about how in 1959 physicist Jon Osterman wanders into a test chamber in the intrinsic field center where an explosion accidently destroys Osterman and creates Dr. Manhattan. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did this much better in the original Watchmen, it seems to me, but they weren’t preoccupied with concepts of time and quantum physics like writer J. Michael Straczynski is herein; Moore and Gibbons were concerned with drama and the human predicament.

This title rehearses the organizational meeting of the Crimebusters (again) but dwells on Manhattan’s puzzling about time and how he moves through it. I’m not enough of an sf guy to appreciate the wilder nuances of time travel problems, so most of this issue does not much engage me.

Moore’s Dr. Manhattan was much more hauntingly mysterious and powerful.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BEFORE WATCHMEN: OZYMANDIAS 1 & 2

Ozymandias coverOzymandias is, he says, the smartest man in the world. In No.1 of the title, we meet Adrian Alexander Veidt, Ozy, as he’s reflecting on his past from the perspective of 1985. He was a brilliant kid but bullied in school; he learns dojo and cripples the lead bully. He studies constantly, learns much, acquires extensive knowledge of the mysteries of the Far East. He meets the beauteous Miranda, gets wealthy, and ignores her; she looks for fun elsewhere, finds it in drugs, and dies of an overdose; end of completed episode. Adrian vows vengeance and dresses in Oriental robes, a costume, in order to avenge her death without giving away his civilian identity thereby threatening his corporation’s “swelling fortunes.”

In No.2, the vainglorious Adrian goes after the drug lord, and on the way, he disarms a thug with lightning speed — taking his .45 apart with a few gestures. This act tests credulity, and I’m not convinced. Adrian may be the smartest man in the world, but he’s not superpowered. Still, he moves faster than the speed of light. A secret he acquired, no doubt, by studying the mysteries of the Far East.

After vanquishing the drug lord, Adrian convinces himself that his city needs his services, and he spends hours in “the bowels of the New York Public Library” (he frequently visits the bowels of one edifice or another, a verbal mannerism writer Len Wein overindulges), learning about a 1939 bunch of do-gooders called the Minutemen. They’ve all disappeared, he decides, except Hooded Justice. Adrian goes looking for the missing Minuteman and encounters the Comedian, the cigar-smoking menace in a mask, who promptly threatens Adrian. (Later, they’ll both be Crimebusters.)

Ozymandias 2 coverThe story is narrated by Adrian, and Wein makes him speak in what we are supposed to believe is upper-class professorial patois. Lots of fancy words and locutions. Adrian, however, sounds more like Philo Vance, the effete and snobbish 1920s private detective invention of S. S. Van Dine (who was actually Willard Huntington Wright, whom H.L. Mencken once called “probably the biggest liar in Christendom ... but nevertheless an amusing fellow”).

Here’s Adrian on the cusp of some violent action: “My eyes, while appearing barely to move, instead scanned the room scrupulously, looking for anything out of the ordinary ... and swiftly finding it.”

Jae Lee’s artwork, an symphony of fine lines in page layouts deploying circular panels like stained glass windows, is as effete as Adrian’s discourse. Effete art for an effete character.

After his first triumph, Adrian gives himself the name Ozymandias, taking it from a Shelley poem, Ozymandias, and he quotes a few lines: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

I can’t believe that Wein doesn’t see Ozymandias’ utterance for the hollow braggadocio that it is. In the rest of the poem, we see that Ozymandias’ “works” lie strewn around his decaying tomb, smashed and ruined, to wit:

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stoneStand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” 

Probably Wein knows exactly what he’s implying — that “the smartest man in the world,” like Shelley’s king of kings, is but a creature of the moment, doomed to extinction and utter oblivion.

In No.3 of his title, Ozy fights the Comedian, murmuring fatuous assertions about his self-vaunted abilities as he goes. Not an attractive guy.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BEFORE WATCHMEN: NITE OWL 2 & 3

Nite Owl 2 coverThe Crimebusters, a group of costumed crime-fighters formed in No.1, fade into the distance with No.2 of Nite Owl, which opens with Nite Owl and Rorschach chasing some bad guys, one of whom darts into a building. When Nite Owl chases after him, he busts into a room outfitted with chains and whips over which a naked woman presides, applying a wooden paddle to the posterior of a naked bound and gagged fat man. A den of fetishism. A few minutes later, Rorschach, following his partner, comes in, stops in his tracks, stares at the woman, and calls her a whore, to which she responds: “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Rorschach attacks the women, and Nite Owl subdues him. Rorschach goes off, sulking. We see him in his room, remembering his mother, who, it seems, was a whore. He rejoins Nite Owl later to help the police who’ve discovered the body of a prostitute in her room, dead.

Nite Owl 3 coverRorschach remembers the notorious case of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was attacked for half-an-hour in the lobby of her apartment building, screaming for help the whole time—and 38 of her neighbors heard it all, but no one called the police. Says Rorschach, rehearsing a portion of the same origin story that we read in Alan Moore’s Watchmen: “No one saw. No one cared. Whores die every day. No one sees. This isn’t the first.”

The night Rorschach heard about Kitty Genovese, he tells Nite Owl, was the night he put on his mask: “Never wanted to see face in mirror again,” he says, “—ashamed to be part of human race. So I’m not. Not any more. Enough talk,” he finishes. “Let’s go hit something.”

Rorschach’s revelation makes Nite Owl think of his own childhood—his father routinely beating his mother, his classmates beating him, and how he learned from his mother the way to survive: find someplace deep inside, she tells him, something you can remember as you’re being beaten, “something happy, something that makes you angry.” And as he watches the first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, fighting crime—being beaten but always getting up to continue the fight—he identifies with the crime fighter.

Nite Owl wonders about Rorschach, who, he thinks, seems to be two personalities, fighting each other. He wonders what will happen if one of them wins—“and what if it’s the wrong one?”

Both of the partners, Nite Owl and Rorschach, have terrible childhoods; each comes from perverted family life. Are they aspects of the same person?

At the book’s end, Nite Owl returns to the lair of the fetish queen, who says: “I knew you’d be back.”

His return seems more in character for Rorschach.

But maybe not.

The third issue of the title is devoted partly to the time Nite Owl spends with the woman, whereupon she persuades him to take his mask off (as well as the rest of this costume). Scandalous.

Elsewhere in the same issue, the Nite Owl, somewhat incongruously, goes on a crusade against sex merchants. Rorsach, meanwhile, works as a janitor in a church and discovers heaps of naked bodies, men and women, in the basement.

The fourth issue of Nite Owl has been somewhat delayed due to the death of the inker, Joe Kubert.

 

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BEFORE WATCHMEN: NITE OWL 1

Nite Owl 1 coverWe meet Rorschach again in the Nite Owl title, and we learn more about him than we learn in his own book. In Nite Owl No.1, Hollis Mason, the Nite Owl of the 1930s’ Minutemen (and narrator in that title), takes on a sidekick, a kid named Daniel Dreiberg, who is a genius with gadgets. The kid worships Nite Owl and uses a tracking gizmo to follow the costumed do-gooder to his lair, where he learns Nite Owl is Mason; end of the first completed episode.

Impressed with the kid’s technical skills, Mason takes him under his wing. Then Mason retires, conferring his Nite Owl persona on Daniel, who re-designs the costume, adding a cape and a owlish cowl. After completing a couple years of college, he goes on patrol, flying above the city in the “owl hovercraft” (which he calls Archimedes, a nice Moore-ish touch) and swooping down to fight crime. After his debut swoop, he’s joined by Rorschach, who becomes his partner; end of the second completed episode.

This new team then goes to a meeting called in 1966 by Captain Metropolis, who wants to band together all the city’s costumed crime fighters as Crimebusters — Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre, the Comedian, Silhouette, and Ozymandias, plus Nite Owl and Rorschach — believing that they’ll more effectively fight crime if they can work as a group. (Unless I’m misreading something, Metropolis was also founder of the Minutemen in 1939, offering the same rationale for banding together. So in 1966, he’s trying agan?)

The story is J. Michael Straczynski’s with pencils by Andy Kubert and inks by his late father, Joe. It’s a powerful combination. They handle wordless sequences expertly, using a succession of pictures to enhance the drama inherent in certain passages. The rendering style reminds me a little of Jordi Bernet (or maybe that should be the other way around, Bernet having credited Joe Kubert as an influence)  — muscular, loose linework — but anatomy not quite as laconic as Joe’s manner; the inks are undeniably Joe’s, though — distinctive modeling strokes of the pen.
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BEFORE WATCHMEN: RORSCHACH

Rorschach 1 coverOf Alan Moore's original gang of Watchmen, Rorschach was the most provocative to me. A brutal, driven man — crazed even. And he lurked a lot around the edges, it seemed, menacing things, a wholly remorseless (and therefore heartless) crusader. At the end of the first issue of his Before book, we see him without his mask, and he’s pretty beat-up looking. In the opening episode, he disturbs a pervert in one of those private “booths” (little rooms) in a porn shop (an aspect of the porn industry that has probably all but disappeared as the Web replaces some of the old porn shop functions; here, though, the guy uses his privacy to shoot up) and beats the guy up, trying to find out where “the shit” (dope) is. “The sewer,” the guy gasps as Rorschach twists his arm off.

So Rorschach goes down into the sewer, assaults a couple of unsavory thugs — but then, a whole gang of unsavory thugs shows up and beats the crap out of Rorschach. Later in the book’s second completed episode, he shows up at a diner for breakfast, no mask, bruised and bandaided, and he explains that he was mugged. “The muggers, they made a mistake,” he mutters to the waitress, “ — I’m not dead.” A fairly gruesome prediction of a campaign of vengeance to come.

So far, Brian Azzarello’s story hasn’t explained Rorschach’s origin, which I was looking forward to (and which I thought was the rationale for these prequels), but he gives us two completed episodes and a cliffhanger ending. And then there’s the naked woman’s corpse that provides the book’s opening scene and shows up again halfway through in a dumpster; so far, unexplained. The pictures by Lee Bermejo with colors by Barbara Ciardo are too realistic for my taste — excellent, mind you, but Ciardo’s colors have turned Bermejo’s drawings into paintings so photographic that we might be looking at stills from a motion picture.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

BEFORE WATCHMEN: THE COMEDIAN 1 & 2

Comedian cover 1Comedian Nos.1 and 2 arrive as something of a disappointment. Writer Brian Azzarello has elected to set the action in the Kennedy years—at least, the last of them, JFK’s assassination and Bobby’s bid for political power on his own; and Azzarello’s preoccupation with fitting the Comedian into that milieu as an intimate of the Kennedys prevents anything like a plot from surfacing. Moreover, Azzarello infects all the Kennedy family verbal exchanges with unseemly and therefore wholly unexpected gutter talk, continuing the penchant he so ably indulged in 100 Bullets; but here, it’s too jarring to be effective. The Comedian can swear like a sailor, but when Jackie Kennedy does, it is disturbing rather than realistic.

Finally, Azzarello’s penchant for elliptical dialogue — speeches that allude to things otherwise not specified, say — while markedly effective in most of the settings he’s chosen to work in, in these books exacerbate the problem that no discernible plot poses.

The first issue includes a couple of complete episodes: the Comedian conversing with Jackie (suggesting, but just barely, that their relationship may be more than merely friendly), and the Comedian accompanying the FBI on a raid and, in his bloodthirsty eagerness to slaughter the bad guys, nearly getting everyone killed, including the FBI guys.

Comedian cover 2The two episodes together do what they’re supposed to do — supply details of the character’s personality. In this case, a conflicted personality, both thoughtful and brutal. And when the FBI raid is over, the Comedian hears that JFK has been assassinated, and the man of violence seems likely to shed a tear.

But through it all, the Comedian is a thoroughly unsavory personality, not the sort of fellow you’d want to meet again. We’ll keep buying the books, though, out of morbid fascination.

History continues to unfold in No.2 as the Comedian goes to Vietnam just as LBJ declares war on the northern sector of the country. Here we see the Comedian as a crude, ruthless killer—useful on the battlefield but of dubious value on the streets of Hometown, USA. We might be persuaded that his preference for violence is caused by his sense of loss at the death of Kennedy, but he displays a violent tendency before JFK is killed. So we are left to conclude that the Comedian’s brutality is genetic.

J.G. Jones’ art is more than able: he deploys the resources of a visual medium with aplomb and command. And his cover for No.2 may be the most provocative comment on our stupid involvement in Vietnam I’ve seen yet: the bloodstain in the water is in the shape of the country.
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

MINUTEMEN TWO AND THREE

Minutemen 2 coverIn Minutemen No. 2 we learn a little more about the crime-fighting ensemble’s history. F’instance, Larry Schexnayder, an agent “and huckster” (who eventually married Sally Jupiter, the Silk Spectre, and fathers her daughter), was intimately involved in the formation of the group, and its exploits were chosen with a cynical eye to the publicity they would engender. The do-gooders wanted to be well-known. 

But their first effort was a mistake: the Nazi weapons smuggling operation they thought they were attacking turned out to be merely a fireworks warehouse. This issue closes on the Hooded Justice mystery that will intrigue Ozymandias. Nite Owl and Ursula, the Silhouette, go looking for a missing kid in what is apparently a temporarily deserted fairground, and in one of the buildings they hear someone crying. In a parallel series of panels, we see someone being tied up and abused. Then Nite Owl and the Silhouette come upon ropes and a bloodstained wall and—horrors!—a corpse hanging from the rafters. The implication is that Hooded Justice is somehow involved.

 Darwyn Cooke, writer and drawer, handles all of this with his usual aplomb, expertly staging the action and letting the pictures tell as much of the story as possible. The concluding sequence with Nite Owl and the Silhouette making their Minutemen 3 coverway through the gloom of the deserted building deftly entwines three storylines: Hooded Justice’s apparent assault on a bound and gagged man, the Nite Owl and the Silhouette’s progress through the building, and, as an overlaying chorus, the recitation of one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s verses, “The Unseen Playmate,” accompanying pictures of a child wandering the empty fairgrounds. The effect is chilling, and it concludes with a shudder — that body dangling from the ceiling.

 

 

 

 

In No.3, the mystery of the body and Hooded Justice is discarded. The episode isn’t continued. Instead, we watch a flashback to when the Minutemen excommunicate the Comedian because he sexually assaulted Silk Spectre (as detailed in Alan Moore’s Watchmen), and from his angry response, we learn that Hooded Justice is gay. Later in the book, we find that Silhouette is also gay and has taken the rescuing of children as her special province.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com