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MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
By Sean Howe
488 6x9-inch pages, no pictures
Harper hardcover
$26.99

A history this is not. It is anecdotal rather than documentary. At best, it is a book of gossip; at worst, it is inaccurate. All history is gossip so we can scarcely fault Howe for spreading lots of it in this book. But recognizing that the book is more gossip than ascertainable fact is a good way to prepare for reading it. Despite this debatable shortcoming, The Untold Story has been receiving favorable reviews hither and yon, mostly because (a) Marvel is big in the entertainment biz; no longer merely a simple publisher of funnybooks, (b) many of those doing the reviews don’t know much about Marvel so this tome seems gloriously juicy with insight, and (c) everyone dotes on gossip, the nastier the better.

Marvel Comics, The Untold Story coverHowe is not particularly nasty although he does manage to make Marvel into a sort of simmering stew of fights, feuds, squabbles, power plays and bad feelings fostered by a boss, Stan Lee, who appears increasingly more concerned with promoting himself rather than Marvel Comics. Lee is not a bad man in Howe’s estimation; but he seems oblivious to the effect on artists and writers of his decisions that advance the fortunes of Lee (and, to be fair, also of Marvel) at the expense of creative enterprise. Much of the narrative is a litany of people who were so slighted or put upon by Lee or by corporate preoccupations that they quit the company, leaving behind a crushed and bleeding spor of shattered dreams and broken promises.

In some ways, Howe shows, Lee was as much a victim as any of his cohorts. When Marvel began to be noticed for producing comic books about unusual superheroes, longjohn legions “with problems,” Lee, as the editor of the line, would be interviewed by newspaper reporters and very often his enthusiasms led his interviewer to believe that Lee was the sole creative personality at Marvel. This is an old story. Kirby created the Silver Surfer, Howe says; but Lee has always referred to the character as his creation, not Kirby’s. Ditto with Spider-Man and Ditko. Only in the last 15-20 years has Lee pointedly acknowledged that the creative machinations at Marvel included artists at his elbow.

The relationship between plotter/writer and artist, between Lee and Ditko — and that between Lee and Jack Kirby — epitomizes the “Marvel Method” of creating comic books. Lee conjured up a plot and outlined it to an artist, and the artist then drew the story and then passed the finished pages of visual storytelling, first in pencil then in ink, back to Lee, who then created speeches and captions that knitted the pieces together. (Although sometimes, as gossip has it, Lee couldn’t remember the plot when confronted by the pages it inspired. He made do, though — larding the tale with witticisms and quips, thereby, almost incidently, creating the Marvel mystique.)

Lee Spidey photoThe “Method” served the purpose for which it was devised: by sharing the storytelling load, Lee was able to produce great quantities of comic book stories that he could not have created had he tried to write complete scripts for the artists, the practice followed by DC and most other comic book publishers in the early days. But the “Method” also fostered the notion that Lee was the creative engine at Marvel; artists were secondary. The actuality, however, was quite the reverse. And the artists resented it.

Howe’s narrative, liberally laced with gossip and the dubious testimony of disaffected writers, tumbles along, aiming for the Big Finish when the company is rescued by blockbuster movies based upon Marvel characters. Howe does, however, footnote exhaustively, impressively, and he lists all those he interviewed between 2008 and 2012 (something like 150 persons).

Howe’s sourcing is impressive, but however scholarly the apparatus, he is relying largely upon the testimony of writers and other factotums at Marvel, and very little on artists. On the one hand, this practice is fruitful: writers, in particular, are articulate about their experiences and their views of what was transpiring at the “House of Ideas.” On the other hand, writers, particularly those who create works of fiction, are, by nature, tempted to make things up — or to emphasize selected instances for dramatic effect. In short, since writers make their living by fabricating the best tales they can, isn’t it likely that they’ll deploy their talent during interviews about their, and Stan Lee’s, past? How reliable are they as sources?

Jim Shooter, whose persona in Howe’s book emerges largely from the testimony of the writers he bullied, comes off as a ranting tyrant, demanding substantial changes in books on the day before they are scheduled to go to press. Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart partied all day and dropped acid before plotting their books. How reliable is their testimony?

Still, Howe has cobbled up an engaging narrative. He may not have interviewed many of the artists, but he is astute enough as a reader of comics that he can assess the art and articulate his appreciation of it, thereby filling out portions of his narrative. He alternates plot summaries about the comic book adventures with gossip about writers, artists and editors. Anticipating the Hollywood crescendo that ends his tale, Howe threads throughout the book Stan Lee’s longing for the career of a Tinsel Town mogul.

Building up to his big screen conclusion, Howe details Marvel’s insane appeal to the so-called “collector market” (which turns out to be not as large as everyone imagines) and the company’s equally nutty devotion to marketing tricks (cover enhancements, anniversary issues and other gimmicks) that were detrimental to the future of the company and of the medium itself.

Howe is not convinced that the “Hollywood rescue” (as I call it) is good for Marvel. It performed a financial miracle of sorts, but the comic book universe it rescued has been modified and amplified and glorified out of its previous virtual reality by means of the endless tinkerings and alterations necessitated by the heroes’ appearance in other media, passing, en route, through the hands of a seemingly endless parade of temporary custodians. The comic books still come out, but they appear in the service of larger market considerations. They are commodities, not artistic creations. 

Much of Howe’s “untold story” has actually been told before in biographies of Stan Lee. But the title leads the uninitiated among book reviewers to suppose that the book is full of “inside” information, tantalizing backstage stuff that the public, which seems panting for the next superhero movie, is hungry for. Maybe we are. I am famished enough that I’ve now read this whole book — even though I know much of it is gossip, like most histories that are fed by the prejudices of eye witnesses.

Still, Howe’s is an impressive performance. He demonstrates superior organizational skills in assembling a massive quantity of information and in arranging a cogent order for its presentation. And his tumbling narrative is highly readable, a pleasure to wade through — although splashing might be a better metaphor for the delights of the experience.

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

HAWKEYE

The new Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction as visualized by David Aja is thoroughly engaging. It began by attempting to chronicle the daily life of Clint Barton (Hawkeye) when he’s not working as an Avenger, but by no.4, Barton has been sent off on an Avenger mission, so here we go again. Aja’s art is beautiful — simple, bold-line with a minimum of shadowing. Clean and crisp. Barton is keeping company with Kate SuperHawkeye0001Bishop, who is apparently the female Hawkeye; she goes on missions with him. I think she has the hots for him, but in no.3, he falls in bed with a tall redhead, then rescues her, and, on the last page, kisses her in front of Kate. The issue is packed with movement and violence, all nicely delivered visually.

Superman, as we cn see in the collage above, is being drawn in a wildly different manner by Kenneth Rocafort: lines are thin to non-existant with colors (by Sunny Gho) contributing a stylistic flourish of their own. The Man of Steel’s costume has a suitable (sorry) metallic glow and segmented patterning. Very attractive stuff. Scott Lobdell’s story in no.14, the first issue after Clark Kent quit the Daily Planet because journalism has become entertainment, not information, brings in a Krypton alum named H’El, mostly, I suspect, so the story arc can be entitled “H’El on Earth.” Most of the issue is devoted to depicting these two Kryptonites floating around while they shout boasts to each other in non-functional page layouts. Dull monotonous story; very attractive art.

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

PUNK ROCK JESUS

PunkJesus0001The best comic book of the year is without quibble Sean Murphy’s stunningly conceived and exquisitely drawn Punk Rock Jesus, now up to five of its six-issue limited run. I’ll wait until the series is complete before reviewing it here, but for the nonce, just a glimpse of what it’s all about. If you’ve read the issues of American Vampire that Murphy did — or picked up the graphic novel incarnation of Grant Morrison’s 8-issue Joe the Barbarian, you’ll know that Murphy is a stylist without parallel in comics. In Punk Rock Jesus, he does it all some more, this time, just black and white. And the story concept is magnificent with herculean satiric prowess.

The notion behind Murphy’s story is wildly intriguing: it’s about the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is engineered by a tv producer as a continuing reality program, “J2,” also the name of the island where PunkJesus0002the show originates. Some biological techie arranges to pluck Jesus’ DNA from the Shroud of Turin and inject it into the uterus of a young virgin named Gwen. She gives birth to “Chris” — and, here’s the stunner, a twin sister. But the second birth is kept secret, and a J2 factotum runs off with the girl baby, ostensibly drowning it; but not really. Really, the child is permitted to live and will show up later — to disrupt Christianity, one assumes.

The tale is laced with satirical jabs against the idiocies of our day — opposition to global warming, evolution vs. blind faith, reality tv, religious extremism (the NAC, New American Christians) and Tea Partiers, the NRA, Larry King. And that’s just through no.3 of the run. More to come, but in the meantime, here are some Murphy pages of a sequence in which Chris’s mother Gwen, who has become an alcoholic due to her confinement on the J2 island, bargains with Rick Slate, the mastermind of the project, for a normal life for her son. Murphy’s layouts are varied, but, as we see, he usually works within a grid of different-sized panels; at the end of the sequence, however, he goes beyond the grid for the climax of the negotiating episode.

The entire 6-issue run is being issued as a trade paperback, and I’m getting that, too, so I’ll have it all handy for re- and re-reading.

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

LOBSTER JOHNSON: CAPUT MORTUUM

Lobster Johnson Caput Mortuum coverAnother crisply drawn book is Lobster Johnson in “Caput Mortuum,” a single issue adventure rendered with panache by Tonci Zonjic. With the thirties vintage flyer’s helmet and opaque goggles that prevent us from seeing his eyes, Lobster Johnson is a mystery man (no past, no secret civilian identity that we know of yet) who has intrigued me from the moment he was cast up on these shores, another creation of Mike Mignola. Here Mignola teams with John Arcudi on the story, which has LJ boarding a zeplin infected with Nazi plotters to foil their plot, which he does in his usual barge-ahead-consequences-be-damnned fashion. Zonjic’s style is chiaroscuro, reminiscent of the best of Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff—but simpler. The visuals remind me of David Aja’s work and Chris Samnee’s except that Zonjic deploys a much thinner line, creating a stunning contrast between the deep black shadows and the crisp thin line.

Incidently, Zonjic is back with the latest manifestation of Jake Ellis, Nathan Edmondson’s Where Is Jake Ellis?, a continuation of the symbiotic relationship between a former CIA agent, Jon Moore, and a badly wounded (hospitalized?) Sergeant Jake Ellis, who, joined psychically to Moore,  mysteriously guides him on a hazardous flight from ubiquitous bad guys. Mysterious, as I say—lots of bullet-dodging, as in the inaugural appearance of this saga, but very little explanation of anything. A remarkable storytelling feat to keep us in suspense with so little information.

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

SHEL DORF BY ALLEN SAUNDERS

Here's a rarity. Shel Dorf, founder of the San Diego Comic-Con, sent me several boxes of his files before he died, and the other day, while rummaging in the Rancid Raves Book Grotto, I opened one of those boxes and found the drawing posted hereabouts. Shel routinely asked friends of his in the syndicated comics world (as well as everywhere else) to produce special drawings for the Con souvenir booklet. This is one of those — a self-portrait by Allen Saunders, the writer of Mary Worth and Steve Roper, about whom it was said that he drew only stick figures to guide the artists who worked on his strips; but here we have evidence that he did somewhat better than stick figures. Facebk0032
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

LOVERS' LANE: THE HALL-MILLS MYSTERY

Lovers’ Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery
By Rick Geary
80 6x9-inch pages
b/w
NBM
hardcover
$15.99

Lover's Lane coverThe newspaper sensation of 1922 was the double-murder of the Reverend Edward W. Hall and Mrs. Eleanor Mills, whose bodies were found, lying side-by-side, his arm around her shoulders, her hand on his thigh, in “lovers’ lane” in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She was a singer in Hall’s church; her husband, the church sexton. Most of the congregation knew the preacher and the singer were having an affair, and it was supposed, after a second autopsy revealed that Mrs. Mills’ tongue and larynx had been cut out, that the killings were committed by someone jealous of her musical role in the church. More likely, I would think, the message was: you won’t need these organs if you’re sleeping with the boss because sex is getting you what you want. Hall’s widow was eventually, four years later, brought to trial, but she was acquitted. The murderer has never been found.

Geary performs his usual masterful job of methodically presenting the circumstances surrounding the crime, the personalities of the people involved, and the evidence in the case. I knew about the ostensible “eye witness,” dubbed the Pig Woman by the press because she raised pigs in her farm near Lovers’ Lane; but I’d never heard about Mills’ missing organs. As always, Geary’s manner, both visually and narratively, is rigorously deadpan: his carefully construed pictures, meticulously shaded with a variety of textures, impart to the proceedings a suitable aura of menace with their portraits of the haunted-looking participants. He finishes the book by examining several possible explanations for the murders; none, however, entirely plausible. HallMills0001
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE CREEP

The Creep 0 Cover The Creep 1 CoverJohn Arcudi's tale about a big, ugly, misshapen man is a deliberate slap in the face of the comic book tradition that heroes must always be handsome. Oxel is definitely not. He is afflicted with some sort of disease that is slowly changing him physically: his body is bigger, and his face has become boney and lantern-jawed, massive. But he’s working as an amateur private investigator to find out about the suicides of two teenagers — Mike and Curtis. Maybe a third, Jeff. Hard to say: the pieces fall together slowly as Oxel drags his miserable aching carcase around investigating. Did Curtis commit suicide because Mike did? Is suicide contagious? Oxel talks to Mike’s mother and Curtis’ — to no particular avail; they don’t want him around. And through the pages of the first of two issues an old man wanders; a friend of Curtis’, the old man hallucinates part of his days. Arcudi is taking his time. Jonathan Case is drawing the book in a simple, bold-line manner not unlike Chris Samnee’s or David Aja’s but with virtually no shadowing.

The third issue resolves the suspense, explaining the reason for the angst that ends in suicides. It is an ending of the kind that James Joyce inaugurated with the short stories in The Dubliners—all whimpers and no bangs.

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

RALPH STEADMAN: EXTINCT BOIDS

Extinct Boids coverJust out not long ago, a new book of drawings by the manic gonzo cartoonist Ralph Steadman. Entitled Extinct Boids, the volume includes fanciful portraits of over 100 lost feathered friends rendered in Steadman’s customary splattery style. The story is that he was asked to draw a single picture of an extinct bird, and once he got started, he couldn’t stop — although many of the extinct ones portrayed herein are as fabricated as they are extinct: the needless smut, the blue piddle, the double-banded argus, red-mustached fruit dove. As usual, Steadman didn’t feel restrained by the “straightjacket of reality,” said James Gorman in the New York Times. It’s a $50 tome from Bloomsbury.

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

MORT DRUCKER: FIVE DECADES OF HIS FINEST WORK

Mort Drucker: Five Decades of His Finest Work
By Mort Drucker with a Foreword by Michael J. Fox
272 giant 9x12-inch page
b/w mostly with occasional color
Running Press
hardcover
$30

This is another, perhaps the second, in the Mad’s Greatest Artists series of which, a year or so ago, Sergio Aragones’ book was the first. If the scraps of movie lampoons provided in the 60th Mad anniversary scrapbook have left you panting to see more — the whole parody, not just a page or two — this is the book for you. And it is the book for anyone who admires the finer artistries of caricature, of Drucker0001which Drucker is the past master. His likenesses are uncannily evocative of the actual personages he draws; he even manages to preserve the likeness when changing expressions, and he commits adroit caricatures of good-looking women — preserving their good looks — no easy task (particularly in the case of Margot Kidder in the “Superman” movie spoof). And his manner deploys a much more relaxed drawing technique than, say, Tom Richmond. Drucker’s line is looser, but his pictures are crammed with the sort of background story detail for which Mad (and Drucker) is famous.

“Mad has always allowed me the freedom to fool around,” Drucker says to Nick Meglin in the interview that is the only text piece in the book, “to put my own silly stuff here and there that isn’t an integral part of the story. That freedom makes it a lot more fun for me. I enjoy illustrating a movie satire in a realistic way as much as I enjoy doing a simple, funny gag drawing.”

But it is for his caricatures that Drucker is reknowned. Michael J. Fox did the book’s Foreword probably because of what he said during an appearance on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show in 1985. Carson asked him, “When did you really know you’d made it in show business?” And Fox replied: “When Mort Drucker drew my head.”

Virtually all of the book is devoted to complete reprints of movie and tv show parodies that Drucker drew, beginning with Mad no.32 in April 1957 (a mock ad, not, strangely, a movie) and ending with another one-pager, “The Bailout Hymn of the Republic,” featuring Barack Obama in June 2009's milestone Mad no.500. The spoofs include “Bonanza,” James Bond, “East Side Story” (the cuban missile crisis, staring Khruschev and Castro and numerous other politicians of the day), “True Grit,” “Godfather,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Cheers,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood,” “West Wing,” “House,” to name a few of the 37 herein.

Each is dated with the number of the issue in which it appeared. All are in black and white, but many of Drucker’s color covers and other one-page lampoons are included. A removable poster with 68 of Drucker’s caricatured personalities is tipped in at the end of the book.

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

BAD MEDICINE AND THE SAINT

Lest you think only artwork with simple bold lines grabs me, I’m also high on Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir’s Bad Medicine because it is drawn by Christopher Mitten whose quirky line knows no equal. At the beginning, the book seemed to be about a murder the perpetrator of which manages to keep himself invisible. But after a few issues, the plot turned into a zombie and werewolf extravaganza, BadSaint0001which I normally don’t like much. Still don’t, but Mitten’s drawings keep bringing me back. And I’ll keep every issue.

Mitten is also drawing Steve Niles’ Criminal Macabre series about a zombie do-gooder and his walking dead assistant. I’m not much on any of the variety of the undead, but I enjoy Mitten’s pictures so much that I’m buying the title as long as Mitten lasts..

At my friendly neighborhood comic book store, I chanced one day a month or two ago on The Saint, no.0, a comic book incarnation of Leslie Charteris’s “Robin Hood of modern crime,” Simon Templar. (It’s his initials that give him his moniker.) This book’ll be a one-shot because it is drawn elegantly and inventively by Eduardo Barreto, the Uruguayan master penman who died earlier this year, leaving comics much poorer (see Opus 289 at the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, for our appreciation). His last continuing gig was on the comic strip Judge Parker, where he distinguished himself with imaginative layouts in the cramped space of newspaper comics pages, but I’m guessing he had drawn this Saint story and publisher Moonstone had it in inventory and didn’t know what to do with it after Barreto died. Thankfully, they decided to publish it even at its decidedly brief 12-page length. I’m glad they did even though we’re not likely to see a second issue. On the last page is a note, “To Mel Graff and John Prentice,” doubtless jotted there by Barreto; his visual mannerisms echo Prentice more than Graff (and Alex Raymond above all), and that’s all to Barreto’s credit. I’ll keep this one.

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

DAREDEVIL: 18, 19, 20

Daredevil 18I've been reading Daredevil lately, chiefly because Chris Samnee’s pictures are such a pleasure to behold. Clear, boldly lined, with just the right splashing of black and modeling details. After reading nos.18, 19, and 20 at a single sitting, I begin to wonder where Mark Waid is going: DD falls into the hands of The Spot, who is now calling himself Coyote; and when DD regains consciousness, he notices that his head is no longer attached to his neck. Waid has taken us on a profoundly affecting ride before (in nos.12-16, which we reviewed in the Usual Place, Opus 299), but this is a hallucinatory venture, and the more removed it is from anything remotely possible, the less interesting it is.
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

TOTALLY MAD

Totally Mad: 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity
Edited by John Ficarra with Introductions by Stephen Colbert and Eric Drysdale
256 9x12-inch pages, color
Time Home Entertainment
hardcover
$34.95 (cheap)

Totally Mad coverThis is a giant, luxurious scrapbook. Every page offers fragments of the magazine’s 60-year career—a couple pages of a parody, a fake ad, a smattering of Sergio Aragones’ Mad marginals, a few pages of Spy vs. Spy, and, across the bottom, a parade of Mad covers. Some of the short, one- or two-page features are reprinted entirely, but none of the long features, like the movie parodies, are. In short, a book for the short attention-span generation.

The book is expertly conceived and executed, exactly what we expect from Mad, which has become a master at publishing anthology books of this sort. Don Steinberg at The Wall Street Journal points out that “few periodicals have been so prodigious in pillaging their own archives for resale in book form. There have been close to 300 Mad [reprint] books, produced with more than a dozen publishers. ... This year,” he continues, “there will be six regular issues of Mad and one newsstand special, but there will be 11 Mad books from an assortment of publishing houses.”

Steinberg quotes Mad editor Ficarra, who deftly dodges in his response: “We like to think of it not as pillaging so much as reincarnation. Figuring the jokes have died once on the page, we can bring them back to life. And then they die again.”

This 60th anniversary tome is organized chronologically, by decade. Dates and issue numbers accompany nearly every scrap in the scrapbook; nice for historians albeit still just scraps from the groaning board.

Evolution of MadMad’s comedy became more and more crass as our civilization lost civility, decorum, and inhibition about sex and nudity and nasty words. The chronological arrangement permits us to watch this slow descent into crude ordinary humanity. Annoyingly, the comic book phase of Mad’s history is virtually ignored: just 11 of the 256 pages reprint fragments of the formative material the magazine’s founder shaped in the first 23 issues into the country’s most enduring and infantile satire. Gaines permitted Kurtzman to convert Mad to magazine format with no.24 (July 1955), and Kurtzman stayed with his creation through no.28.

The first issues of Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad comic book were chock full of genre parodies. But it was in the second issue that Kurtzman chanced upon what would become Mad's metier. He did a parody of Tarzan (called “Melvin”) and discovered an axiom: “Satire and parody work best when what you're talking about is accurately targeted,” he decided. “Or, to put it another way, satire and parody work only when you reveal a fundamental flaw or untruth in your subject.” (The whole story of the creation and perpetuation of Mad is recited at the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, in Harv’s Hindsight for August 2002.)           

We leave this commemorative volume, comforted by the words of the immortal Alfred E. Neuman: “Genius is rarely recognized in its lifetime, but fortunately, neither is gross incompetence.”

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

HAPPY!

Happy coverHappy!, a 4-issue mini-series, bubbles over with the word “fuck” and its endlessly unimaginative variations. Written by Grant Morrison, so what else can we expect? We meet Nick Sax, a sloppy, slovenly ex-cop, now a killer for hire. He’s supposed to kill the three Fratelli brothers; to get them all together, he hires them to kill himself. He shoots three but there’s a fourth, Mikey; Sax kills him, too, but the bad guys believe Mikey told him the pass word to the Fratelli fortune, so they go out to get him. Before he checked out, Mikey plugged Sax, sending him to the hospital, where Sax is visited by a flying blue donkey called Happy the Horse, who helps him escape in no.2. If Happy were a pink elephant, we’d know he’s just an alcoholic illusion; and so would Sax. But Happy’s not pink. Nor is he an elephant. So what is he?

Happy wants Nick to come with him to rescue Hailey. Nick, to get the horse to prove he’s not just a hallucination, gets in a high stakes poker game, and the horse tells Nick what hands his opponents have. Nick wins and then kills all the other players, all bad guys. No.2 ends with Santa who’s just tied up two kids and is writing an obscene note.

Darick Robertson’s art is a little too detailed and fussy for me — the every pimple must show school of grit illustration. I like a little cleaner look. But the presence of art like Robertson’s in comics means that “house styles” are no more; and that makes possible such other deviant pleasantries as those practiced by Chris Samnee, David Aja, Tonci Zonjic, and the gloriously eccentric Christopher Mitten.

Adding to my vague discontent with Happy! — Sax is a wholly unattractive character. Why should I be interest in him unless I’m a social worker? Happy on the other hand? I’d like to see where that concept goes, and I’d like to know who Hailey is, so I’ll be back.

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