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FIRST ISSUE: GRRL SCOUTS

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Jim Mahfood is back, writing and drawing Grrl Scouts No.1, “Magic Socks,” in which he competes with Kaare Kyle Andrews (Renato Jones: Freelancer) for visual daring and panache with the kinky-est cartoony graphic styling in comics. His lines are brittle, his forms angular, and page layout squirms uncomfortably throughout.

In the opening sequence, Jose is discharged from psychiatric ward into the hands of her mother but they encounter “delinquents” hovering by their car. They’re Jose’s friends, and at her bidding, they kill the mother, and they all go off in the car, hunting her cousin Daphne Sanchez, one of the trio of Grrl Scouts. Daphne and her pals Gwen and Rita, the Grrl Scouts, are “bad-ass bitches who live in Freak City and who deal weed disguised in cookie boxes” (hence, we assume, their guise as Grrl Scouts).

While Jose goes hunting, her prey, Daphne, is working in the Weird Hog nightclub, where she apparently dances and, undiscovered until just now, deals weed to the customers.

Just as management attempts to discipline her, Gwen arrives, and the two knock the thugs around a bit. A fight ensues for 5 pages of topsy-turvey panels and border-leaping pictorials, laced with colorful sound effects, ending the completed episode in the book—showing both the fistic and footstic dexterity of Daphne and Gwen as well as Mahfood’s eccentric treatment of anatomy and the medium in which he is working.

Just as Daphne and Gwen exit the premises, Jose and her thugs show up, asking after Daphne, and exterminating the club’s guards and owner. Meanwhie, Daphne and Gwen arrive at Rita’s place, and the three discuss the impending doom that Josie and her millions of Twitter followers threaten.

Daphne wants to know why Gwen came to the Weird Hog, looking for her, and Gwen explains that it’s about the magic socks Gwen’s wearing. End of issue.

What’s magic about the socks? And so what? Cliffhanger enough for the nonce.

By the time you read this, the series has ended with No.6. But you can find back issues at your local comic book shop.

The pleasure in reading — experiencing — this title is in Mahfood’s wild and distinctive style, both in rending his subject and in manipulating the comics form to his purposes, which are not, it seems, entirely narrative. The pictures — just to characterize them not to decipher them — may have been committed while on a high derived from something other than pen and ink. It’s a cartoony pictorial circus, a visual delight, just barely held together by the spastic forward movement of the narrative. You’ll come back until you’ve consumed all six issues.

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

RENATO JONES: FREELANCER

Renato Jones 2-1 coverThe second round of Renato Jones: Freelancer, created, written, drawn and OWNED (right: in caps) by Kaare Kyle Andrews, is the story of love derailed, and it’s told in Andrews’ frenetic, episodic manner. Don’t look for narrative coherence here: watch recurring characters in rapidly changing locales, pacing the tale in starts and feints.

The opening sequence reprises the final scenes of the first series, ending with Renato Jones as Freelancer swearing to destroy Douglas Bladley by taking all his money. Then, in a flashback, we see Renato as a child meeting Bliss, also as a child; and she swears she’s his “for life.” When we next see her, she’s been dating Bladley, and she complains about his being missing; ditto his money.

Bliss is the daughter of Nicola Chambers, a political rich con man, conning the disenfranchised. “Let’s make America hate again,” he says, echoing you-know-who.

Next, we’re in an airplane, piloted (it seems) by Freelancer. All color drains from the pages as the plane invades protected air space and is shot down. Freelancer, however, survives and lands intact. He goes after a armored character with “WA” on his chest. Perhaps Chambers’ retinue?

The airplane crash, it develops — by inference, none of the narrative is straightforward chronology — is seen as a terrorist attack, and Chambers is spirited away by his bodyguards, despite his demanding that they find his daughter and take her with them.

She, however, is somehow in the clutches of WA. Freelancer rescues her, and they run off together, still depicted in stark enigmatic black-and-white, forms and features only partially depicted, the shadowy parts, the rest, vanishing into a sea of white space.

When WA catches up, Renator — minus his Freelancer mask — dispatches him with Freelancer’s slogan, “Choke on this”—usually accompanied by his flashing a monstrous heavy-duty hand-held weapon.

Renato takes Bliss “home.” There, she pleads — no more masks, no more lying. She strips herself naked and approaches Rentao.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she says, stroking his face — and color comes in again to the pages.

Two solid black pages intervene before she can kiss him. Renato muses, “It’s always been you.”

And then — perhaps they make love. Probably not (as you’ll see). Renato’s musing continues, white lettering on a black ground: “We don’t just fall into one another — we explode. Nothing matters. Nothing but you.”

Then a flashback to his youth as a student, studying his fate. Tutored by an old bearded man, Renato sees Bliss’ name on a list of miscreant rich guys.

And then we’re back. They haven’t been making love. Renato stops Bliss before they kiss. “I can’t,” he says and leaves, back to his masked life as Freelancer.

And Nicola Chambers, having survived the deadly terror attack, is sworn in as President of the United States, Bliss at his side.

What will become of Chambers, who is surely one of those the Freelancer has been bred to dispose of. And Bliss? And the supposed love between her and Renato?

That’ll being us back.

But the delight in reading this book — as in the first series of Andrews’ creation—is in encountering and sorting your way through the visual episodic manner of his storytelling. There are no completed episodes in Andrews: every episode is interrupted by another episode. Crammed with close-ups and soaked in black, the pictures barely tell the story. Only in retrospect, looking back over the trail of pictorial episodes, can we discern a storyline.

The story is now up to the fourth issue of this title, with only one more issue to go to finish “the second round.” Even if you can find only one issue of the series, it’ll be worth your time to experience Andrews’ wild manner.

Narrative breakdown and panel composition carry the story even as they interrupt it. And Andrews deploys color and pagination for added effect. If you want to know what comics can be, here’s a place to get a few clues.

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

THE STRANGE WORLD OF YOUR DREAMS

The Strange World of Your Dreams
Edited and designed by Craig Yoe
140 9x11-inch pages, color
2013 Yoe Books/IDW hardcover
$29.99

Reprinting all four issues of The Strange World of Your Dreams from August 1952 through January 1953, this volume begins with an essay by Yoe, who takes us on a short tour of all the comics he can think of that have to do with dreams — beginning, of course, with Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1914, revived 1924-1927) and his less well-known, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, which pictures the nightmares various personages have experienced after eating the infamous cheese pie (which, despite the misleading name, is not about rabbit meat).

As usual, Yoe decorates his essay with rare pictures — in this case, the original art of two unpublished Strange World covers, caricatures of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby by an unknown cartoonist, and the cover of the comic book Justice Traps the Guilty No.56 (November 1953) depicting a police line-up in which all the miscreants are members of the Simon-Kirby shop.

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Strange World was produced by the Simon-Kirby shop, and while Kirby did the covers for all four issues, only a few of the stories are illustrated by the team. Mort Meskin did several of the stories, penciling mostly; other artists were Bill Draut, George Roussos, Al Eadeh, and Bob McCarty.

“Comics are more like dreams than any other medium,” Yoe says. And he concludes his introduction with his analysis of the covers, noting about the last unpublished cover showing a woman falling through the air that “a popular myth [about such dream motifs] is that you will die if you do not wake up before hitting the ground.” Intended for No.7 of the title, it was doubtless the last cover created before the book was dead.

Too bad. As Meskin biographer Steve Brower says, quoted by Yoe, the title “stands as one of the more ambitious and adult projects of the early years of comic books.”

Most of the dreams enacted in the book’s pages are analyzed by a “dream detective” named Richard Temple. A similar character shows up in another Simon-Kirby production, Black Magic, and a story from the second issue of that title, December 1950-January 1951, ends this collection without any explanation. But it’s classic Simon-Kirby drawing, trap-shadow and clots of black for shading, and I like it so much that I’m posting a couple pages from it right here.

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HOMER DAVENPORT: THE ANNOTATED CARTOONS

The Annotated Cartoons By Homer C. Davenport
Researched and compiled by Gus Frederick
200 8x10.5-inch pages, b/w
2013 Liberal University Press paperback
$20

Davenport coverHomer C. Davenport is one of the great names in American editorial cartooning, but almost nothing has been written about him — nothing, at least, approaching the scholarship that Frederick displays in this volume. Born in 1867, Davenport grew up drawing all the time near Silverton, Oregon, and eventually, after numerous false starts, he wound up cartooning in San Francisco for the Chronicle, until William Randolph Hearst finally hired Davenport for his Examiner by tripling his Chronicle salary.

Davenport was part of Hearst’s team that took over the New York Journal in 1895 and helped launch the “yellow journalism” in competition with Pulitzer’s New York World. Davenport became famous during the presidential contest of 1896, depicting candidate William McKinley’s manager, wealthy industrialist Marcus Hanna, wearing “plutocratic plaid” with a tiny dollar sign in each square, accurately pinpointing the real issues and interests of the campaign. The cartoonist’s work was fierce enough on politicians that it inspired a failed anti-cartoon bill in the New York State Assembly. In 1904, one of his cartoons of Uncle Sam with his hand on the shoulder of Teddy Roosevelt is said by many to have enabled TR’s election. Davenport also bred American-born Arabian horses and wrote a book about it.

On April 13, 1912, Davenport was sent to illustrate the sinking of the Titanic. He contracted pneumonia waiting to interview the survivors and died on May 2.

Two volumes of his cartoons were published during his lifetime — Cartoons by Davenport in 1897 and The Dollar or the Man in 1900. He wrote an autobiography, focusing on his youth in beloved Silverton, The Country Boy (1910). The only biography I know of is Home Davenport of Silverton: Life of a Great Cartoonist by Leland Huot and Alfred Powers (West Shore Press, 1973), which is a fairly relaxed and casual anecdotal account of his life, mostly chronological but not entirely. Almost half of its 400-plus pages are pictures — photos of Silverton and elsewhere and Davenport’s cartoons. The quality of reproduction is, however, poor. In Frederick’s book, the pictures are superbly reproduced, the finest lines meticulously captured.

In reprinting the 1897 volume of cartoons with extensive annotation, Frederick has performed a monumental service for all students of editorial cartooning in America. The original book printed only cartoons with no explanation. Herein, each cartoon, all from 1895-1898, gets a full page, and facing it is a page of text, explaining who the victims of Davenport’s pen are and what their significance is at the time. Frederick told me he is at work annotating the 1900 collection.

Only a few of the cartoons consist of metaphorical messages in the modern manner; most are caricatures that exaggerate and distort their victim’s features, making them all seem highly questionable persons. I’m posting only a few hereabouts, including Davenport’s 1996 portrait of his boss, H.R. himself — a friendly, even complimentary, picture that may well be the most familiar of Davenport’s works: it shows up often in histories of journalism.

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Among this selection is a cartoon featuring Uncle Sam. The top-hatted, striped-trousered, goateed old gent had not been long on the scene as the nation’s emblem, and Davenport deployed the figure frequently, if we are to judge from the content of this book.

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

JERRY AND THE JOKER

Jerry and the Joker: Adventures and Comic Art by Jerry Robinson
By Jerry Robinson, edited by Daniel Chabon and Hannah Means-Shannon and Robinson’s son Jens Robinson, who also supplies “notes” (it sez here), a summary of his father’s achievements
151 9x12-inch pages, b/w and color
2017 Dark Horse hardcover
$34.99

Jerry and the Joker coverChiefly a scrapbook of Robinson's art over a long career that included cartooning in many of the medium’s genres, this volume offers samples of his early work on Batman (several pages from original art, displaying a much more flexible line than is usually associated with Batman drawn by other artists), Atoman, and miscellaneous comic book work for westerns, crime, etc., sketches of scenes from his travels, theatrical drawings for Broadway’s Playbill magazine, magazine illustrations, and a couple samples of his political/social commentary feature, Still Life, which ran for over 30 years. But, alas, almost nothing from the period when he collaborated with Mort Meskin on Black Terror, Fighting Yank, Johnny Quick and Vigilante. But the Batman material and Robinson’s Still Life are worth the price of admission alone.

Pages of pictures are punctuated with essays by Robinson, who regales us with his adventures in Cuba and Rome (where he met Clifford Irving, the infamous author of the fraudulent biography of Howard Hughes, and also the son of Jay Irving, who drew the comic strip Pottsy about a comical cop). Two of his other essays cover his introduction to comic book illustration working for Bob Kane, and the invention of the Joker.

The latter has been disputed by various people, but writer Bill Finger, who is sometimes credited as the co-creator of the Joker, is quoted herein saying Robinson created the funnybook medium’s most despicable villain. I explored this topic several years ago and satisfied myself that Robinson’s claim was legitimate. Robinson’s six-page essay in this volume explores not just his invention of the character but villainy generally in comic books (and elsewhere).

The book concludes with a brief two-page biography of Robinson. In it, we learn that he was once president of the National Cartoonists Society and, on another occasion, prez of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists — the only cartoonist to have served in that role in the two principal national organizations for cartooners. He also founded and ran for many years Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate (CWS), affiliated with the New York Times, which syndicated the work of 350 leading cartoonists and graphic artists from 50 countries. And he was one of the prime movers in getting Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster recognition and recompense for their creation of Superman. Robinson was, in short, a giant in his chosen field.

Some of the book’s artwork appeared in Chris Crouch’s excellent 2010 biography, Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics (224 8x11-inch pages, b/w and color; Abrams Comicarts, $35), which, produced while Robinson was still alive (and using original art from Robinson’s inventory — and he hoarded great quantities of his art), is about as authoritative as is possible to be.

From Crouch’s tome, here are some of Robinson’s Still Life and a few of his True Classroom Flubs & Fluffs, a feature that illustrated mistakes in the utterances of school kids. And I’ve also included the sexily charged bodacious splash page he and Meskin did for a Black Terror story and a page from another Black Terror story.

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FOOLISH QUESTIONS & OTHER ODD OBSERVATIONS

Foolish Questions & Other Odd Observations:
Early Comics, 1909-1919
By Rube Goldberg; edited by Peter Maresca and Paul C. Tumey
96 9.5x10-inch pages, mostly b/w but some color
2017 Sunday Press, $35

Foolish Questions coverGoldberg got his name in the dictionary by doing a long series of single-panel cartoons depicting hilarious inventions that deployed complicated mechanisms to accomplish very simple operations, his satire on the dawning modern times. But before he did inventions, he did Foolish Questions. And those made him famous.

Foolish Questions was the title of a single panel cartoon that Goldberg tacked onto an otherwise unrelated comic strip. In common with many newspaper cartoonists in the early years of the 20th Century, Goldberg drew innumerable comic strips and cartoons, most of which were short-lived features that lasted a week or less. But Foolish Questions was a maneuver that could be perpetuated indefinitely by adding it to whatever his comic strip that week was. The best way to tell you about Foolish Questions is to show you Foolish Questions, which we’ve done at the end of the paragraph after the next one.

The volume at hand includes essays by Jennifer George (on “When did you find out you were Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter?”), Tumey (on Goldberg’s career), and Carl Linich (on other Goldberg strips-within-strips features). Some of the other short-lived cartoons include Mike and Ike: The Look-Alike Boys, Telephonies, I’m the Guy (“who put the cast in overcast”), I’m Cured, Old Man Alf of the Alphabet, Boob News, I Never Thought of That, The Boob Family, and Silly Sonnets. To name a few. As always with a Sunday Press book, there’s an extra publication included with the book itself: in this case, four postcards with FQs on them. But who would ever part with them to mail them off to anyone? (A foolish question.)

The first Foolish Question panel appeared October 23, 1908. It was popular enough that the panels were collected in a book published in 1909. Goldberg started numbering the FQs, but the numbers soon became wholly frivolous and altogether nonsequential. Dunno whether the book at hand reprints all of the FQs or only a judicious selection, but there are about 300 of them here, enough to convince you that Goldberg deserved the fame they brought him. Here are some of them.

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FIRST ISSUE: SHEENA, QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

The first issue of Sheena Queen of the Jungle, a revival title, exists mostly to give Moritat a chance to draw the sumptuous Sheena in her scanty leopard-skin costume in as many different poses as he can devise. He is aided and abetted by writers Marguerite Bennett and Christina Trujillo who supply a tale in No.0 so simple that only Mortat’s pictures make it memorable. The plot, so to speak, is that Sheena, sworn protector of her forest, sees a flying saucer (or something like one, but small, not large enough to have passengers) and takes steps to prevent its “invasion” of the region she is protecting. Every step she takes shows her in a different and attractive pose. By the end of the book, she’s destroyed the saucer.

And then we get the last page: no longer in the jungle, we see a young man looking at his computer screen, eating spaghetti and saying, “What did I just record?”

That might bring me back. Moritat’s drawings definitely will.

 

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But in the second issue -- No.1 -- all we have are more pin-ups of Sheena. No outright nudity, though: these pictures could have survived quite well in the repressive 1940s. The story is about as vacuous as the one in No.0. I’ve had enough.

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

FIRST ISSUE: TRUMP'S TITANS

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Trump's Titans NoIn a spoof of our current Prez, Trump’s Titans stars the Trumpet with a much better-looking hair-do. Herein, the Trumpet and Veep Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner — all the president’s men, you might say — get a dose of superpowers. “The President has been given all powers that exist,” Kushner explains, “ — because he’s President. The rest of us each have one power.”

Most of issue No.1 is devoted to Trump bragging and asserting his well-known proclivities and egotism. The Trump Titans band together to defeat the Global Tyranny Organization, which is led by a generously proportioned babe in a scanty costume — exactly the kind of thing that will tempt the Trumpet. But it doesn’t work this time: still, she defeats the all-powered Trumpet. The issue closes with a promise of a next time.

This book is written by John Barron, not a Trump fan, and drawn by Shawn Remulac, who manages workable likenesses of the principal characters in his clean style. Fun stuff that exists solely because our current Prez is such a comic book character.

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

FIRST ISSUE: THE HARD PLACE

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

The Hard Place NoWorking with a somewhat cliché situation, writer Doug Wagner manages a nifty twist and sucks me in with The Hard Place, No.1. A.J. Gurney gets out of prison after five years and vows to go straight hereafter. In one episode complete in a few pages, he visits the local brutal crime boss to make sure he’ll be left alone to pursue a useful civilian life, working with his father in an auto repair shop. We witness several brief but complete episodes that demonstrate the extent of Gurney’s resolve — including one in which he declines a chance to drive a souped-up cop car despite his being the best driver in Detroit.

In the book’s final episode, Gurney dresses up in a suit and tie in order to enhance his chances of getting a loan at the bank — a loan essential to revitalizing his father’s business. The bank’s loan officer is just about to grant Gurney’s request when two robbers enter the bank. Gurney encourages the loan officer to call 911, and when one of the robbers sees what’s going on, he shots and kills the guy.

The robber also recognizes Gurney, “the best wheelman money could buy,” and as the book ends, Gurney is being recruited to unwillingly drive the robbers’ getaway car as depicted on the right.

The story moves inexorably, step by illuminating step, to its inevitable conclusion. Nicely done.

The tale builds to the twist that ends it for now. It begins on the first page by depicting the results of an auto accident, and half-way through the book, we witness the inside of the speeding car that eventually crashes, killing an occupant. When we get to the last page, then, we’re ready to draw a conclusion. The dead guy in the car wreck doesn’t look like Gurney. The next issue, which I’m sure to get, will tell us whether we’re right. (Well, not quite: new mysteries and dilemmas abound in No.2 — enough to keep me going and going and going.)

Nic Rummel’s artwork is distinctive with a capital B. He deploys the boldest line I’ve seen in comics in years. And he decorates some of the space between the lines that outline faces with quirky thinner lines that model the portraits. See the sample page in the illo that accompanies the preceding post, a review of the Moneypenny book.

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

FIRST ISSUE: JAMES BOND

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

James Bond: Moneypenney is a one-shot starring M’s receptionist, with whom Bond often flirts. Written by Jody Houser and cleanly, sparely, drawn by Jacob Edgar, the story is about as flat and empty as 007's tomb. Moneypenny is African American here — ooops, I mean African British — a sop thrown to today’s PC enthusiasts that is otherwise inexplicable. Some of the story is a flashback to Moneypenny’s childhood. Otherwise, the rest involves her chasing wordlessly, gun in hand, after some bad guy. The reason for this chase is ... that he’s a bad guy. Not at all engaging.

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

FIRST ISSUE: HEROKILLERS

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Herokillers coverThe initiating premise in HeroKillers No.1 is that when crime-ridden Libertyville elected a new, fabulously wealthy mayor, hizzoner offered to pay superheroes fabulous amounts of money to rid the town of crime. The heroes soon outnumbered the criminals four-to-one, and crime was busted out of the city. Now the crime-free town has a lot of superheroes trundling around without crime to fight. So they pick fights with robots and compete among themselves for whatever rewards and fame are available.

In other words, the story, by Ryan Browne, mocks the conventions of superheroing, deploying some of yesterday’s unemployed superheroes — Captain Battle and Captain Battle Junior, the Boy King and his Magical Giant, and, most memorable to me, personally, and to the plot of this issue, Black Terror and his youthful sidekick, Tim. In the book’s first completed episode, Black Terror turns out to be an alcoholic egomaniac, eager to collect all the glory himself.

In the next completed episode, the sidekicks manage to crime-bust the evil Dr. Baron Von Physics, and then Black Terror shows up and shoves the youngsters away from the crime scene so he can get all the credit when the news media show up. At the last moment, however, Tim disintegrates his mentor, and he and his two companions, both sidekicks of other superheroes, fabricate a scenario to explain Black Terror’s seeming death.

This is a lot of fun, but I can’t tell where it’s going. Are the sidekicks now going to take over the world? That doesn’t seem sufficiently admirable, but, given the book’s title (“Hero Killers”), it seems entirely likely.

Pete Woods’ art is crisp and uncluttered, so uncluttered that there isn’t much in the way of background. The visuals are nearly antiseptic. But he’s a master of anatomy and facial expression and deploys page layout and panel composition to keep things lively. See the sample page we posted in the previous review. Still, despite my affection for Black Terror (a residual of my misspent youth, whiling away hours with funnybooks), I’m not likely to return to this title.

 

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

FIRST ISSUE: DASTARDLY & MUTTLEY

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

Dastardly & Muttley coverDastardly & Muttley is about a couple of contemporary pilots. The first part of the first issue flaunts entirely too many pictures of aerodynamically superior airplanes; nothing about a picture of an airplane, no matter how superior its aerodynamics, is inherently interesting. Bad comics. The pilots’re flying a reconnaissance mission in the wake of some sort of immense explosion. In the first seat is Richard “Dick” Atcherly, seconded by “Mutt” Muller, who, unaccountably, has brought his pet dog along. Most of their time is spent arguing about the dog. Then they’re approached by a mysterious drone, spewing some sort of orange gas. The plane is disabled, the pilots eject, and the plane crashes.

Next, we’re in a hospital as Atcherly recovers consciousness. He’s being debriefed by a couple of obnoxious FBI types (who refuse to say what agency they are from) whose aggressive questions are matched by Atcherly’s aggressive non-responses. He wants to know where Muller is. He’s somewhere else, they say. They leave, and Atcherly doses off. When he awakens, it’s dark, and Muller is in the room. When he steps out of the shadows, we see that he has the face and head of his dog.

So that’s the cliffhanger.

And the narrative I’ve just rehearsed constitutes two completed episodes during which (1) we learn that Muller is a nice guy and that Atcherly isn’t and (2) is not likely to be bullied, an admirable trait but in this case, exercised by a man with a bad temper, not admirable. Apart from wanting to find out how a man’s head gets replaced by a dog’s head, nothing in this story is provocative or engaging enough to bring me back.

It’s Garth Ennis’s story and it brims with his usual unconventional concepts. Mauricet, who has no first or last name, draws the pictures, and his style is crisp and pleasing, albeit a little sterile. The storytelling makes good use of varied page layouts and panel compositions. Visually speaking, the book is a thoroughly competent work. But the story — apart from the mysterious dog-head thing — doesn’t grip me.

DastardHero

 

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SOMETHING DECENT

Neil Gaiman with book

From Neil Gaiman, quoted by Hayley Campbell in theguardian.com: "I’m convinced if I keep going, one day I will write something decent. On very bad days, I will observe that I must have written good things in the past, which means that I’ve lost it. But normally, I just assume that I don’t have it. The gulf between the thing I set out to make in my head and the sad, lumpy thing that emerges into reality is huge and distant, and I just wish that I could get them closer."

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THE LIFE AND ART OF MORT MESKIN

From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin
By Steven Brower with Peter and Philip Meskin
220 9x12-inch pages, some color but mostly b/w
2010 Fantagraphics hardcover
$39.99

From Shadow To Light coverFittingly, in a book about an artist, pictures predominate. Beginning with Meskin’s teenage art, the book includes youthful pulp illustrations and then on to covers and pages of the Golden Age comic book characters he’s most associated with — Vigilante, Fighting Yank, Black Terror, Golden Lad and Johnny Quick (for whom Meskin innovated the use of multiple figures to show the character’s speed, the so-called “strobe figure motion”) — unpublished art, sometimes whole stories; paintings in color, color roughs, advertising art from his later years, including storyboards for TV commercials, and lots of original art, some comic book pages in pencil.

The narrative relies heavily upon the quoted memories of Meskin’s two sons and of Jerry Robinson, with whom Meskin roomed early in his career and later collaborated with. They were lifelong friends and mutual admirers. I was a fan of Black Terror in my youth, and I once asked Robinson who did what in collaborating on the feature. What he told me astonished me: they alternated penciling and inking — sometimes from panel to panel. Robinson repeats and elaborates upon this fascinating fact in the book.

Even more fascinating is Alex Toth’s tribute to Meskin in a two-page sidebar essay.

“Mort Meskin broke rules, created his own (and years of splendid artistry along the way) — most notably in his Vigilante and Johnny Quick series. ... His invention, daring, and subtlety were unique and exciting to us young Turks and old pros. Mort created surprises, beauty, action, and mystery art through his keen talent for the unusual viewpoint, layout, composition, lighting, massing of forms and solid shapes, rich blacks and line work, in ways deceptively simple, bold, strong (yet subtle, remember), and clearly-stated. ...”

Toth described Meskin’s method of laying out a page. First, he rubbed a soft-lead pencil across the entire surface of a blank piece of paper, and then he took a kneaded eraser and, referring to the script, “proceeded to ‘pick out’/erase panel borders ... and then solid shapes of each panel’s interiors — a caption block, a balloon, a figure, another. Working in reverse, he erased shapes, forms, interlocking compositional elements, to create complete (but negative/white on gray) pictures.” Then he filled the blank white spaces with drawings.

Insightful as the essays and testimonies are, the book’s pictures are its greatest trove of Meskin.

Meskin1

Meskin2

Meskin3

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