11th Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #8 : Superman/Gen13

by Will

Adventures West Coast #8 : Superman/Gen13

Superman/Gen13 was a 3-issue miniseries by Adam Hughes and Lee Bermejo that I’d always known about, but never got around to actually reading. It was released near the end of Gen13‘s first heyday, at a point when I felt Wildstorm had told all of the stories about them that could be told.

For those unfamiliar with Gen13, it was originally launched as a part of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Universe that he founded under Image. All of the titles were interconnected, as most of the heroes in WildC.A.T.S. Stormwatch, and the other teams all had ties to a Cold War era group called Team 7. Well, Gen13 were the teenage kids of the old Team 7 members. Based on experiments that Team 7 had undergone, their kids ended up with powers, and the shadowy organization behind all of it, International Operations (I/O), were desperate to get their hands on the teens.

The main Gen13 series followed Fairchild, Freefall, Burnout, Grunge, and Rainmaker as they were on the run from I/O. To say that Gen13 was quite entrenched in the culture of the 90s would be an understatement. For God’s sake, they had characters named “Grunge” and “Burnout”! Once the decade ended, it seemed that the team’s relevance went along with it. At its height, the team boasted 2 ongoings and several one-shots and minis. At the end of the ’90s, Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics, where the team was “retired” around 2002.

In any case, as Superman/Gen13 begins, the Gen13 team is about to set out on a “field trip”. In the original series, they have a chaperone in the form of John Lynch, a former agent of I/O who learns the error of his ways and helps the kids escape from the I/O compound. They all set up shop in La Jolla, CA (conveniently, the actual homebase for Wildstorm Studios), but he allows them to go on occasional trips to “see America”. This time, team leader Fairchild has decided that they’re going to Metropolis, much to the chagrin of the rest of the team. They gripe the entire trip, not realizing that Fairchild chose Metropolis mainly because she’s got a crush on Superman. The moment they set foot in town, they find themselves at the scene of a fight between Superman and a giant cyber ape. Fairchild runs to get a closer look, and ends up in the middle of the fight, getting knocked unconscious in the process. When she comes to, she has amnesia, her teammates are nowhere in sight, and she’s clutching Superman’s cape as a blanket. She wanders into the street, where she’s hit by an oncoming fire truck. Forgetting her own super strength, the fact that she survives, combined with the fact that she has Superman’s cape, leads her to believe she’s actually Supergirl. The next time we se her, she’s fighting crime in a Supergirl costume that she’s gotten from somewhere.

In the meantime, the other Gen13 kids have been searching for Fairchild since she got lost during the ape fight. They briefly speak to Superman, who tells them that he can be reached through his friends, in case they need any help finding her. So, the team ends up at the Daily Planet, where they meet Lois and Jimmy. Clark shows up, and everyone listens to Gen13’s account of how they lost Fairchild. While they’re doing this, they also take a few swipes at Superman, saying how they don’t want to go to him for help because they don’t want to be seen in public with him. Mainly, Superman would harsh their cool factor (they’re a ’90s concept – of course they’d say some shit like that). It’s funny because the more shit they talk, the more offended Clark is getting, but it’s not like he can say anything. Their words do seem to hit home, as he finds himself doubting his own cool factor. It wouldn’t be a ’90s Superman comic if he weren’t doubting himself. Ugh…

As the story progresses, Superman and Gen13 search for Fairchild, while she realizes that she makes a pretty shitty member of the Superman Family. Each time she tries to stop a crime or save a life, she unwittingly ends up making things worse. She shakes a kitten down from a tree, but the tree ends up falling on a townhouse. As she continues to sully Supergirl’s reputation, the real Supergirl gets fed up and decides to track her down. As Gen13 accompany Superman, they end up taking random detours to help him avert some sort of disaster. Each time they actually see him in action, another member of the team comes to truly respect him and what he does.

They end up tracking down Fairchild by visiting local costume shops. It’s a running gag in Gen13 that Fairchild’s clothes seem to rip any time she gets in a fight (see images above), so her Supergirl costumes have been getting destroyed rather frequently. Since they’re not the real deal, she’s had to replace them at the various costume shops in town. At this time, a psycho armed with a nuke comes after Superman. Once Metroplis gets wind of this, it causes mass hysteria downtown. Not only does Superman calm down the crowd, with the help of Gen13, but he also takes the nuke into space to detonate it safely. It’s this moment when the Gen13 kids realize just how badass Superman can be, and that they had been wrong about him. Supergirl finally shows up, and pissed off at Fairchild, she suckerpunches her, which results in the return of Fairchild’s memory. Before Fairchild can realize she’s in the presence of her crush, Superman flies off. On the trip home, all of the Gen13ers are comparing stories about how awesome Superman is – except Fairchild, who’s depressed that she can’t remember her time in Metroplis. When they get home, Fairchild’s mood changes, as she finds that Superman has sent her an official S cape along with a personalized note.

Superman/Gen13 is a funny story, as the primary gist of the book is to show that Superman is a timeless hero who still has a thing or two to teach the new generation of heroes. It was successful in that regard, as I’ve always seen Superman as outdated as the milkman and war bonds. The entire book, the Gen13 kids see Superman as some old-fashioned, out of touch hero, but they come to respect him in the end, as did I. What I found more glaring, however, was how much the book serves to show Gen13 as the out of touch characters. This book was written while their original series was being published, so DC apparently thought the property still had legs. To read it now, however, after countless reboots, revamps, and retcons, I realize just how much of a “flash in the pan” concept Gen13 was. The miniseries contains some of the best characterizations of the characters, but that’s the problem – even at their best, they’re still just the Best Comic of 1994. They come from the era before the bottom fell out of the market, so it’s not like there was a ton of quality there. It was a fun tongue-in-cheek series, reminiscent of the original X-Men, but with a lot more T&A and fart jokes. It made a household name (fanboy households, at least) of artist J. Scott Campbell, but can you name a more ’90s artist than Campbell or Rob Liefeld? After reading this, I feel that Gen13 currently works best in a miniseries capacity where you play them off other characters. I’d be all for Batman/Gen13, Flash/Gen13, etc. I just don’t feel there’s enough to warrant DC trying to continue them in some ongoing capacity that doesn’t work. They are just as 90s as slap bracelets and Hypercolor, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. There’s a time and place for everything. I just feel that this mini marks the last time that a good Gen13 story was told.

06th Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #7: NBM Spotlight

by Will

Adventures West Coast #7: NBM Spotlight

Back when I worked in the comic industry, I was the Diamond contact for any publisher whose name began with a letter between “E” and “R”. This exact range would change over my tenure, but one publisher that I never lost was Nantier Beall and Minoustchine Publishing, AKA NBM Publishing. Now, NBM had a respected reputation in the industry, yet they weren’t putting out the books with the big name creators. There was no Moore or Gaiman coming from their corner of the market, so some of their best books sort of got lost in the shuffle. On numerous occasions, I would get calls from Terry Nantier, telling me that he felt they deserved more of a push for their titles. These phone pleas would be followed up by meetings at conventions, where he would again tell me that he wanted more promotion. At times, it was less of a request, and more of a demand. I’d tell him that I would do what I could, but I never really got any cooperation from the Diamond side of things. In any case, a few books would come across my desk, and I’d put them aside for when I was done reading Ultimate Final Invasion, or whatever was going on with the Big 2 at the time. Well, since I’ve got nothing but time on my hands, I finally got around to some of those NBM books, and all I can say is, “I’m really sorry, Terry!” NBM really has some great stuff in their library, and I only hope that he’s now getting the promotional attention that he always wanted.

Since these books were by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo, plus the fact that I read them together, I figured it was only natural that I review them together.

The Castaways HC

Though it was actually the more recent of the two books, I actually read The Castaways first.
The Castways is the Great Depression-era tale of Tucker Freeman, a young boy who finds himself trying to emulate his estranged father, by riding the rails in the hope of a better life for himself. As the book starts, we find Tucker peeking at the collection of postcards that his father has sent home over the years. It seems that Mr. Freeman used to regularly leave home for long periods at a time. One day, he simply never came home. As a result, Tucker, along with his mother and siblings, were forced to move in with his father’s sister. A devout Christian woman, Tucker’s aunt was also a raging disciplinarian bitch. One day, she tells Tucker that he’s not pulling his weight, and that he’s at the age when he should strike out on his own, so that she would have one less mouth to feed. She gives him a few dollars, and tells him to leave immediately. Tucker hops the next boxcar out of town, and begins his journey to the unknown. Along his journey, Tucker meets Elijah Hopkins, a kindly old black man who’s also living the hobo’s life. Elijah takes Tucker under his wing, and teaches him the rules of the vagabond lifestyle. Tucker and Elijah bond during their time on the road, and when Elijah discovers that Tucker didn’t exactly want to leave home, he’s forced to make a decision on what path he feels would be best for the boy.

I found this to be such a touching story in short package. When the book started out, I found Callejo’s art style to be a bit jarring, as he tends to express every crease and wrinkle on the characters’ faces. The fact that it’s a two-tone book just exacerbated the fact that many of the old characters had a California Raisins-esque quality to them. His approach is quite European, which is understandable since most of his work tends to be for European publishers. By the end, however, I felt that his style was exactly what the story needed. Vollmar is great at expressing emotion, and he is quite gifted at writing significant moments between characters. I enjoyed every second of this book, and my only regret is that it took me 3 years to finally read it.

Bluesman HC

Next, I tackled Bluesman, which was actually the first collaboration between Vollmar and Callejo. Originally published as a 3-part, pseudo-prestige format series, Bluesman follows traveling guitarist, Lem Taylor, as he makes his way through rural Arkansas in pursuit of his next gig and next meal. Joining Lem on the journey is piano player, “Ironwood” Malcott.

The most significant aspect of Bluesman, from the get-go, is that Vollmar has done his research on the period. There are several historical references cited which serve to explain the lifestyle of a traveling musician in that era, as well as how he would be received by the rest of society. This background really helps to set the mood and boundaries of the tale. In early ’20s America, there was a class of man that simply traveled the rural south, relying upon the kindness of strangers. They would pay for their room and board with a song, and then set out for the next town. This was a complicated “occupation”, as many felt that these people should get “real” jobs so that they could make a real contribution to society. They looked down on these layabouts, as they “weren’t about nothin’.” At the same time, these people also enjoyed the entertainment provided by the traveling bluesmen. The best venues to play were, of course, speakeasies and juke joints, the locations of which weren’t exactly common knowledge during the days of Prohibition.

We first meet Lem and ‘Wood, as they wake up on the wrong end of a gun, due to the fact that they’ve been caught by the farmer in whose barn they were sleeping. Before the farmer is about to shoot them, Lem begins to preach and tells the farmer that he was a traveling holy man. This allows Lem and ‘Wood to escape, but only after they sing a few hymns for the farmer’s wife. They hit the road, and end up in a town called “Hope”. It’s here that we first see how society feels about traveling bluesmen, as they walk into a restaurant, and are ejected the minute the woman in charge notices Lem’s guitar case. She knows that they’re going to rely upon her charity, as they clearly don’t have any money. Again, Lem revs up a sermon so powerful that it leaves the woman in tears. Not only do they end up with their supper, but they also get a tip about a juke out in the woods that might provide them with their next gig.

The men soon find themselves at Shug’s joint, where an impromtu performance earns them a 2-night engagement. Shug is impressed enough with them that he allows them to sleep in his shed, and promises them a bigger take the next night. Well, on the second night, a local talent scout catches their act, and tells them that he wants them in the studio to record their songs. He tells them to be in Memphis within a week, and he’ll take care of the rest. It all sounds so promising, and that’s when Vollmar cites a passage which points out that a traveling bluesman’s success was always fleeting, no matter how close at hand it may seem. This is the part of the Behind The Music where the shit would hit the fan.

Lem was the responsible son-of-a-preacher-man, who grew up in a devout Christian household, and was never allowed to play his guitar in the presence of his father. Despite the rift that it caused in his family, he knew that his life had been changed the first time he heard the blues. Ironwood, while a bit older than Lem, was a LOT less responsible. Lem lived off strangers out of necessity, but you could tell that ‘Wood enjoyed it. He was simply a layabout, and the two men weren’t on the same page, as far as their goals were concerned. Plainly put, ‘Wood was trouble, as Lem found out on the second night. After their gig, ‘Wood convinced Lem to accompany him home with Tarene, one of the waitresses at the juke, despite Shug warning them against it. They get back to the cottage, and if Barry White had lived that long ago, they’d have put on one of his albums. Everybody was about to get some ass, when a truck rolls up out of the blue. In bursts Wyatt, the white owner of the house and, apparently, the waitress. Everyone scrambles to hide, but it’s no use, as he has noticed ‘Wood’s hat on the floor, signaling that his woman’s cheatin’ on him. At that point, action happens pretty fast, as Wyatt starts to beat the shit out of Tarene. Tarene chokes Wyatt in self defense, but he kills her by smashing a lamp against her head. He’s about to shoot her, as ‘Wood comes out of hiding and charges him with a knife. ‘Wood gets half of his head blown off, as Wyatt ends up with ‘Wood’s knife in his chest. With his remaining strength, Wyatt tries to shoot Lem, but the gun’s out of bullets. Lem’s in shock regarding ‘Wood’s death, and Tarene’s cousin, Maisy, tells him that he needs to leave before people show up, asking questions. When Lem leaves, Maisy finishes off Wyatt with the butt of his own gun.

Lem sets on the the run, and the book almost becomes a companion book to The Castways, as Lem embarks on a hobo’s life similar to that depicted there. While Lem’s on the run, Maisy hangs herself, and Wyatt’s father brings a lynch mob to town, demaning justice for his dead son. As far as he’s concerned, any black person could be punished for the crime, as the true injustice was that a white man had been killed, and he was convinced that one of the “town niggers” had done it. Luckily, the town has a fair sheriff, who won’t bend to the mob mentality. At this point, the book splits between the story of Lem on the run, as well as the sheriff’s investigation.

By the third act, everyone’s on stage, as the confrontation takes place in the middle of the woods, just before a tornado is about to hit. This section of the book is not only powerful, but it also lends a bit of the supernatural to the book. When we last see Lem, we’re pretty sure that he’ll never make it to Memphis to record that record. The epilogue, however, leads you to believe that may not have been the case, providing an ending so emotional that I defy you to finish the book with a dry eye.

As I said before, I’m sorry that it took me so long to discover the work of Vollmar and Callejo, but their work is a true example of “comics as literature” and I truly feel that it raises the bar on the medium to a new level. Definitely check these out!

02nd Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #6: Image Foursquare

by Will

Adventures West Coast #6: Image Foursquare

I just became the mayor of this website! That’s a little foursquare humor for you nerds out there. One of these days, that’s gonna be a pretty dated reference, like whenever someone says “MySpace” now. In any case, today we’ve got four books from Image Comics that I read recently. These books run the gamut, from early work from newly-minted Image partner, Robert Kirkman, to niche work by indie creators, like Street Angel‘s Jim Rugg.

Tech Jacket Vol. 1: The Boy From Earth

Robert Kirkman’s Tech Jacket was launched back during the shortlived Image Central superhero line, which included Firebreather, Venture, and Noble Causes. Bet you haven’t heard of most of them, huh? Anyway, you can certainly see the origins of some of the ideas that would come to define Kirkman’s most well-known superhero creation, Invincible. Tech Jacket is the story of Zack Thompson, a teenager who’s got a lot on his plate. His crush doesn’t notice him, and it seems that his dad may have entered into a deal with the mob to keep the family business afloat. In the meantime, a galactic war is waging between the Geldarians and The Kresh. The Geldarians, a somewhat weak species, are equipped at birth with Tech Jackets, a pseudo-permanent body armor that acts in a defensive capability. As fate would have it, an intense battle occurs within Earth’s orbit, and a surviving Tech Jacket finds its way to Earth, bonding with Zack. This triggers an alarm on the Geldarian homeworld, who believe that Zack has actually stolen the suit. They show up to put him on trial, but he ends up becoming their greatest champion.

Like his contemporary, Marvel’s Brian Michael Bendis, Kirkman just gets dialogue. His scenes between Zack and his dad really capture a special father-son dynamic that you don’t often see in these books. Instead of Zack keeping the powers a secret, he’s forced to reveal them to his dad in order to save him from mob enforcers. On top of that, instead of the dad taking the typical “this is dangerous” approach, he instead admits that the tech jacket is pretty cool. The parents are also reminiscent of Michael Bay’s Transformers, as they are only present due to the fact that a teenager is expected to have parents, however they’re far from the most responsible characters in the book. His mom is shown as a bumbling shopaholic, while his father is clearly a pretty sad business owner, based on his prior dealings. All of this, coupled with the fact that they went on the run to save their own hides, without truly dedicating any resources to finding Zack when he had gone missing (he was in space, aiding the Geldarian war effort). Their excuse is that they couldn’t go to the police because then they’d have to reveal their involvement with the mob, but I’m not buying it. I think most parents would say “fuck it”, and try to get any help they could. After all, he’d been gone for SIX MONTHS! It genuinely seems like they were acting on instinct, rather than thinking it out, so I don’t think it was meant as a malicious act. It’s clear that it was an act of desperation, but that only serves to support their irresponsible depiction.

The series only lasted for 6 issues, despite the fact that Kirkman has commissioned the artist, E.J. Su, to get started on issues 7 and 8. Based on prior sales, he felt that #6 was a natural stopping point, as it allowed him to tell his intitial story, while providing the possibility to return to the hero at a later time. It’s unfortunate that the book was so shortlived, but it also allowed us to get Invincible, Marvel Zombies, and The Walking Dead – the three books that made his career in mainstream comics. I’d certainly be onboard if he decided to return to the character at any point, and I’m somewhat surprised that he hasn’t fully integrated the character into the Invincible book, as I feel like Zack might find a kindred spirit in Mark Grayson.

I Hate Gallant Girl TPB

Next up, we have I Hate Gallant Girl, by former Image Publisher Jim Valentino, Kat Cahill, and Seth Damoose. This book takes place in a fun little universe where the role of top hero, Gallant Girl, is decided by the results of a pageant. Just as in standard beauty contests, looks seem to matter more than actual talent. Enter Rene Tempete, a capable woman who has always dreamed of one day becoming Gallant Girl. Unfortunately, Rene just doesn’t have The Look. She’s not blonde, she’s got a stockier build, and she’s not a media darling. After being rejected by the Fellowship of Freedom, Rene finds herself fending off an attack at a local airport. While recuperating in the hospital, the Fellowship of Freedom decide to make her an offer. Since the elected Gallant Girl is pretty worthless, they decide that she should only do PR, while Rene could handle the actual threats…as her stunt double. Of course Rene is insulted, but she’s also torn, as she HAS always wanted a chance to be a real hero. Veteran hero Blue Thunder sees this as an opportunity, as he has lost his daughter, and sees real potential in Rene. So, unbeknownst to the rest of the Fellowship, he sets Rene up in a secret base, and trains her to be her own hero, called Tempest. Eventually, she outshines Gallant Girl, gaining the ire of the Fellowship. It turns out that Gallant Girl wasn’t as ditzy as she appeared, and she’s actually been plotting to become the newest supervillain in town. This leads to the inevitable confrontation between Tempest and GG, with Gallant Girl escaping to fight aother day. The book is rounded off by a reprint of Bomb Queen Presents: All Girl Comics, featuring the heroines of Valentino’s Shadowline imprint, such as Black Light, Editor Girl, Tempest, and Bomb Queen.

The story was originally a 3-issue mini, so this collection is a pretty quick read. The backup story is a bit interesting, as it does feature Tempest, but it also drives home the point that Bomb Queen is pretty much the only notable character to have come from the Shadowline imprint. While some people can’t stand that character, the fact that she’s currently on her 6th miniseries proves that she does have a dedicated fan base. I’ll write more on Bomb Queen another time. I Hate Gallant Girl is a fun read, and I hope the character comes back one day, as there are certainly more stories that can be told with her.

Jersey Gods Vol 1: I’d Live And I’d Die For You

After Gallant Girl, we’ve got Jersey Gods, by Glen Brunswick and Dan McDaid. Plainly put, Jersey Gods is a love letter to the cosmic work of legendary creator, Jack Kirby. The visuals and characters are analogous to Kirby’s Fourth World/New Gods universe, which actually caused me to hold off on reading the book for a bit. You see, unlike old school purists, I’m not the biggest Kirby fan. Yes, that’s considered sacrilege by some, but I grew up in a Jim Lee world. Those styles are diametrically opposed, as Lee and the other Image creators ushered in the era of the big-boobed “brokeback” pose, while Kirby’s art tended to look like stocky cavemen at times. Before I start getting hate mail, understand that I do understand Kirby’s important influence on the industry – his art just wasn’t my cup of tea.

In any case, Jersey Gods revolves around Zoe, a Cherry Hill, NJ, daddy’s girl who just doesn’t seem to have luck with men. All she wants is a successful relationship, but she seems to drive men away. In the meantime, her well-to-do parents are worried that she might be a lesbian, as they don’t understand why she’s single. Leading up to the Christmas season, Zoe finds herself in the middle of a battle between feuding intergalactic gods…at the local mall. Somehow, their conflict has brought them to Earth, and that’s where she meets Barock (timely, huh?). When he falls in battle, she gives him the motivation to finish the fight. Completely taken by Barock, Zoe invites him to her family’s upcoming Christmas party. Barock returns to his galaxy, but can only think of Zoe. In the meantime, Zoe’s thoughts are constantly with Barock. Eventually, she gets tangled up in his world of intergalatic intrigue, as she becomes involved with a counterfeit jeans scandal (yeah – the kind you wear). With Barock torn between protecting his people and protecting Zoe on Earth, he decides to follow his heart, and proposes to her.

I found this to be a cute story, but I don’t quite understand how it’s an ongoing. I felt that it was nicely contained enough to be a miniseries, but there are more Jersey Gods adventures following this. I can see how that would be possible, as all one has to do is express the sitcom nature of the plot: “Oh, no! What happens when the bumbling landlord finds out Barock’s a god?!” That said, I just feel like it would become pandering. Also, the main draw is the fact that it is so much of a Kirby homage, as the plot isn’t all that revolutionary. I felt that I had read this before, which was further driven home when Image mainstay Michael Avon-Oeming later released God Complex, which is quite similar, only it uses the pantheon of Greek gods rather than some vague intergalactic equivalent. There’s a part of me that’s curious to see where Jersey Gods goes. I mean, they’re just begging to have that wedding crashed! That said, I’m not sure I care enough to spend money in order to find out.

One Model Nation GN

One Model Nation is an Image GN by C. Allbritton Taylor and Jim Rugg. This is one of those books where I’m afraid I may not do it justice by trying to fully explain the plot. As a framing device, a documentarian has traveled to Germany to gather information on ’60s band known as One Model Nation. The main story, told against the backdrop of the actions of the left-wing Red Faction Army, documents what happened in the final days of the group. Now, considering how the books starts off, you’re expecting a lot of political intrigue and perhaps a mysterious disappearance. Not so, true believers.

The book assumes that the reader already has some knowledge of the events of post-World War II Germany, which is not the case. Sorry, Kaiser, but we were too busy fucking and cashing in those war bonds. Apparently, by the 1960s, the youth of Germany began to publically question their leadership, as those in power had been the same in power during the Nazi years. Instead of peaceful discourse, however, their protests took the shape of guerilla warfare, as they specialized in terrorist attacks against authority, like bombs and shootings. One of the more notable figurehead groups of the time was the Baader-Meinhof Gang. Now, for the fictional stuff: the Baader-Meinhof members, as well as other followers of the movement, were really big fans of One Model Nation, who were essentially a low-rent German Beatles. The band members, themselves, didn’t really have any political leanings. They were all about the music, man. It just seems like everyone around them was batshit crazy about shooting cops and blowing shit up; the OMN boys were too busy playing with their new keyboards.

I’ve got to say, One Model Nation‘s certainly not your “standard” Image book. It makes me wonder why they published it. Maybe they decided to “diversify yo’ bonds, nigga!”, but it’s the kind of book that you would get from a more…literary publisher. I also didn’t really understand what kind of story was trying to being told, as the thesis gets a bit lost. The band is used as a vehicle to explain the plight of Germany youth, but the band has and wants nothing to do with all of that. When focusing on the band members, the writing is a bit…whimsical, for lack of a better term. Things happen that just don’t make sense. For example, the cops bust up One Model Nation’s recording studio, and group member Sebastian decides that he can’t take anymore. His father’s old and sick, so he decides to leave the group to take care of his father. Fine. He makes the trip to the Bavarian Alps, where he and his father have a really disjointed conversation about life. It’s one of those where the father seems to impart some kind of wisdom akin to “You kids today don’t have it like we did. We HAD to be Nazis.” I guess this changed Sebastian’s mind, as he’s next seen riding up to the new One Model Nation recording studio on his bike. The guys don’t say anything about him leaving. Either there was soething missing in the writing, or that was just something he did a lot. In any case, it’s a scene that makes it glaringly obvious that the book lacks any real character moments. Most of the dialogue reads like, “Where is Gunnar?” and “I will be at the store”. It was like an ESL course! In fact, the book reads like it has been translated into English – almost like certain quirks and colloquiolisms may have been lost in the translation.

The band ends up playing a huge unlicensed gig in Frankfurt, which seems to be their last gig. While it takes place, the Baader-Meinhof Gang launch a pretty big attack, which lands EVERYONE in jail. The Kultureminister comes to visit the band while in jail, and decides to let them go, as he realizes they had nothing to do with the attacks. Now, here’s where I had to use my detective hat. While the band didn’t really involve themselves in the whole movement, it becomes obvious that they get off on the fact that the followers of the movement are their most devoted fans. It gives them a bit of street cred. So, when the Kultureminister basically says that One Model Nation are harmless, it makes them feel as if it had been all for naught. While people were actually out there doing things, here was a group that had merely profited off their association. The Kultureminister essentially blew the wind out of their sails. I believe THAT was the reason for the demise of the band. Without an introduction, foreword, or afterword, the story lacks a bit of context. Again, what is the reader supposed to take away from the story? I feel that I was supposed to get a better understanding of the Red Faction Army movement than I did, and it might have been more of a success had they omitted the angle of the group entirely, and just focused on the actions of the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

I will say this: the most memorable part of the book is when the band travels to London and they get to meet David Bowie. Bowie, however, is the only character in the book drawn by Mike Allred, one of the book’s “producers” (I’ve never known a graphic novel to have “producers”, so i’m not sure what that role entails. I figure he’s the guy with clout, who begged Image to do his friend a solid by publishing this thing). Not only is Bowie CLEARLY a work of Allred, but it also makes it apparent that everyone Allred draws is basically Bowie. All these years, Madman, X-Statix, Red Rocket 7, and everything else were ALL Bowie, with certain tweaks made here and there. It just took this book for me to finally realize that. Anyway, if you want some weird-ass German history lesson, pick this up. Otherwise, this feels like the kind of book that you’d be assigned in college, where you’re all like, “Wow, my professor’s kinda cool ’cause he’s having us read a graphic novel”, and once you read it, you think, “That tweed wearing bastard!”

19th Mar2010

Adventures West Coast #5: The Dirty 3-Way Edition

by Will

Adventures West Coast #5: The Dirty 3-Way Edition

OK, when I first started on this project, I knew that I would have more to say about some books than others. Usually, if it just didn’t resonate with me, I’m going to have less to say. Well, welcome to that installment, as the following 3 books don’t even warrant individual entries. This isn’t to say, however, anything about their quality; unlike most fanboys, I’m going to take the high road, and say that they just weren’t my cup of tea.

First up, we’ve got You Have Killed Me, which is an Oni Press book by Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jone. Full disclosure: I LOVE Oni Press. I was their account manager when I was with Diamond, and they’re some of the nicest guys in comics. At this point, I’ve read quite a few Oni books, so I’m familiar with their usual creators, as well as the general style of their books. Not to generalize too much, but a lot of Oni books revolve around mid-twenties slackers who get tangled up in some sort of high-jinks. Their most popular example of this genre is the Scott Pilgrim franchise, but it can be seen in other books, like Pounded! and Labor Days. Jamie S. Rich has come to be a master at this genre, and You Have Killed Me is, pretty much, the same thing, only set in an early 20th century, film noir universe.

I’m not even going to go through all of the twists and turns of the plot. If you’ve ever experienced ANYTHING noir, then you already know where this is going: murder, mob, jazz, and a double-crossing dame. That’s it. I felt that it zigzagged more than it needed to, which served to confuse the plot. Another impediment was the artwork of Joelle Jones. It seemed that she was only working with about 5 different character models, so it was difficult to figure out who the characters were at times. Was this the femme fatale in this panel, or was it her dead sister? I know that kind of misdirect was integral to the plot, but it got worse in other places. There was a skinny black character model and a fat black character model. If there were 2 skinnies in the room, you didn’t really know which was which. “They all look the same!” I know Joelle’s a talented artist, as she was responsible for the recent Dr. Horrible one-shot from Dark Horse, as well as some work on Fables. I had been hearing a LOT about this book quite a while before it came out, and I feel that the delays may have been due to the art side of things. In order to get the book finished, I fear she may have cut some corners.

In the long run, I didn’t feel this book lived up to the emo library that Oni has built over the years. If you’re an indie completist, go ahead and give it a try, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Next up, we have Olympus, an Image series by Nathan Edmondson and Christian Ward. Going into this, I knew nothing about the creators or the subject matter. I think I may have said this before, but I know next to nothing about mythology. Yes, I realize they’re the classics, and the learned folks would look down on me for my ignorance. That said, most of the mythology I know is stuff that I picked up from watching Xena and Hercules.

As far as the plot of Olympus, I don’t really wish to get into the details, as I’m afraid I wouldn’t do it justice, given my ignorance of the source material. Over the course of the story, there were points that I could tell would be meaningful to those familiar with the duo, but I was not one of those people. Ultimately, the series followed immortal brothers Castor and Pollux as they alternated between Earth and Hades. It seems that they die every year, only to come back and do it all over again 12 months later. A threat gets loose from the underworld that threatens the immortal realm. So, Castor and Pollux set out to preserve themselves, as well as the rest of their ilk. That’s pretty much what I got out of it.

I will say that the art is the driving force of Olympus. It’s the sort of thing where, even if you don’t wish to read it, you would still get a kick out of “looking at the pretty pictures”. Christian Ward brings a trippy, almost watercolor quality to the book. It can, at times, be a bit hard to follow, but I certainly think it fits the otherworldly nature of the book. I wanted to like this book, as I knew there was good stuff there that I just didn’t understand. There is certainly an audience out there for this book, and I’m just sorry that I’m not it.

Finally, we’ve got Dark Minds, an Image series by Pat Lee. That pretty much says it all right there. If you’re familiar with comics, you know why. If you’re not, here’s the CliffsNotes version: Pat Lee is a bit of a snake oil salesmen in the comic industry. He loves drawing robots, but he ruined his reputation by stealing the work of others – either through outright infringement or lack of payment to artists in his stable (for more, just check his wiki Talk page ),

Well, it seems ol’ Pat’s at it again! I’m gonna make this quick for ya. Have you ever seen Ghost In The Shell? Have you ever seen, pretty much, any anime concerning cyborgs or clones? Then, you already know this story. Hackneyed notions of “I’m a clone, so why do I have these memories?” or the popular “Why is this giant, multinational conglomerate trying to kill me? They created me, after all!”

The most jarring aspect of the book is that it’s almost like it had no editor. It did, however, have an editor: Pat’s brother, Roger Lee. I hope he wasn’t paid. They really could’ve used a crash course with a Scott McCloud book because they don’t seem to understand how to lay out a comic page. The speech bubbles don’t flow correctly, seriously disrupting the flow of dialogue between characters. That same dialogue also sounds like it was written by someone whose native language is NOT English (the Lees are Canadian, so don’t go there with me). The art, too, is flawed, as there are scenes with anatomically atrocious characters posed around immaculately drawn sports cars. Lightbox, anyone?

Dark Minds is an earlier Pat Lee “masterpiece”, and he went on to have a pretty successful career after acquiring the Transformers license for his company, Dreamwave. His financial dealings eventually led to the company’s demise, and he hasn’t worked much in recent years. When this book was published, it was at the dawn of the manga craze. You could shit in a bag and call it “Neo Tokyo”, and fandom would think you were a fucking rock star. Well, Pat Lee was the Elvis of that movement. The King is dead, folks, and it’s about time.

07th Mar2010

Adventures West Coast #4: The Lone Ranger Vol 1: Now And Forever

by Will

Adventures West Coast #4: The Lone Ranger Vol 1: Now And Forever

Look, I don’t do much preliminary research for these things. Sure, we live in a world where Wikipedia is just a mouseclick away, but I’m not on wiki when I’m reading these books. If something stands out to me, I might research it further, but I don’t check to see what has come before as I’m writing these. That said, I know next to nothing about the Lone Ranger. I know he’s a hero on a horse named Silver. I know he’s masked, and I also know he has a sidekick, named Tonto. That’s where it ends. So, that’s what I took with me into reading this book.

Dynamite Entertainment presents The Lone Ranger, a pretty solid story by Brett Matthews & Sergio Cariello. I feel the need, however, to explain an oddity of the “Dynamite process”. You see, they hire “name” artists to do character desgins, then pass the actual books on to somewhat lesser known artists. In the case of The Lone Ranger, the character designs are by John Cassaday, whom most know by his work on Astonishing X-Men and Planetary. Now, I’m sure that John brought something to the table, in terms of visualizing the characters, but I don’t really know why he gets a credit. I mean, he listed in the credits just like he was there for the whole process, but it’s almost like he wrote the screenplay, but not the final script. It’s clearly a marketing ploy, so that his name will attract interest on shelves. I understand this, but I’m still bothered by it for some reason. I feel that it takes away from the work and time that Cariello’s putting into the book, month in and month out.

So, The Lone Ranger wasn’t always alone. You see, he was a Texas Ranger, along with his father and brothers. One day, out on patrol, all but one of them are killed in an ambush. Left for dead, the Lone Ranger wakes up in the desert, only to find that he’s about to be killed by a masked assailant. At that moment, he’s saved by a well-timed arrow from a mysterious man on a horse. We find out that this man is a Native American, named Tonto, who proceeds to nurse The Ranger back to health.

Meanwhile, Black Bart, a mysterious black man travels the frontier, killing all rangers and relatives of rangers. He was the one who had ordered the original hit, and when he finds out that a ranger survived, he sets out to finish the job. After some back and forth, The Ranger and Tonto form an uneasy alliance, as Tonto agrees to help him get his revenge on those who murdered his family.

It turns out that one of The Ranger’s brothers was married, but had kept the wife and child a secret, so as to protect them. The Ranger knew about this secret family, and sets out to protect them before Black Bart reaches them. Tonto uses himself as bait to distract Bart, while The Ranger continues on. In the end, The Ranger manages to save his remaining family, returns to save Tonto, and leaves an incapacitated Bart with a knife. You see, over the course of the adventure, The Ranger remembers a lesson that his father had taught him: sometimes the job calls for killing, but once you start killing, it changes you. The Ranger knows that Bart’s evil, but he won’t allow him to change him. Bart’s trapped in a derailed train, with little hope of survival. The Ranger won’t finish him, but he leaves him with the means to finish himself, should he choose to do so. With everything wrapped up, The Ranger and Tonto make their partnership official, and Tonto first calls his friend “Kemosabe” as they race to the horizon.

In all, it was a solid read. It was a great origin story, which left the door open for many more stories to tell. There was a b-story involving the railroad as it moved west. It’s clear that it’s development would be important or the development of the nation, but it’s also a political goldmine. We meet a character, Butch Cavendish, who seems ready to take advantage of that expansion. It’s clear that he hired Bart to round up a gang to take out the rangers, but his full intentions aren’t known at this point. The story felt somewhat decompressed, as the whole thing took place over 6 issues, when it probably could’ve been done in 4. That said, I’m putting the book in my “to keep” pile. For now.

03rd Mar2010

Adventures West Coast #3: Scarface: Devil In Disguise

by Will

Adventures West Coast #3: Scarface: Devil In Disguise

Scarface: Devil In Disguise was published by IDW during the pseudo-Scarface revival when the video game, Scarface: The World Is Yours, was released. IDW, like a lot of comic companies, LOVES them some licenses. Just as with other companies, some of these licenses make more sense than others. IDW, however, tends to gravitate to prequels and sequels more than direct adaptations.They first released Scarface: The Movie Scriptbook, which was a move that I didn’t really understand. Next, they released Scarface: Scarred For Life, which was considered the sequel to the movie. Basically stealing the same premise as the video game, Scarred For Life assumed that Tony Montana didn’t die at the end of the movie, and had been in a coma under federal protection for several years. I’m not sure where the game took things, but Scarred For Life had Tony at the bottom of the totem pole, trying to work his way back to the top, while learning how much times had changed. The writing was juvenile at times, as it featured Tony killing people with his colostomy bag. It also didn’t help that the art could best be described as “seizured cartoony”. This book didn’t do much, pro or con, for IDW’s profile, but it seemed like the contract called for one more series, which led to Scarface: Devil In Disguise.

Written by Joshua Jabcuga, with art by Alberto Dose, Devil In Disguise was a prequel designed to show us Tony Montana, AKA Scarface,’s childhood, and explain how he earned that infamous scar. What they ended up with was a story that might’ve stood alright on its own, but makes me wonder if anyone involved had EVER watched Scarface.

Where to begin….well, the American mafia decide to take out Castro. They’re upset that he ran them out of Cuba, where they had been running casinos. They decide to cover the assasination under the guise of “patriotism”, but they need a fall guy. Enter Tony Montana. The hit needs to be an inside job, and he’s been promised a green card and transportation to the US, so that he can join Mama and his sister, Gina.

Flashback! You see, Tony had been a bad little kid for some time, so when the first boats left for America, Mama and Gina were on ’em, but they left him behind. He ended up growing up on the streets, but was eventually taken in by members of Fidel’s Revolucion. This is where he mets his partner, Manolo, whom he saves from a gang of bullies. Anyway, the two grow up and Tony eventually joins one of the mercenary armies. Trudging through the jungles, terrorizing peaceful villagers. Eventually, Tony gets fed up and kills his commanding officer, signalling that he’s finally had enough of Castro and his regime. This makes him ripe for the pickings when the mafia comes calling.

Back to normal time! The cries for revolution grow louder, and the people begin to arm themselves for protection. This is how Tony makes a name for himself, as he takes over the gunrunning. It’s at this time that he falls in love with a whore. No, I’m not being disrepectful – she was a prostitute who worked in one of Tony’s brothels. Well, Tony got sloppy when hiring the help because, unbeknownst to him, he hired the brother of the commanding officer that he’d killed in the jungles. The guy kills Tony’s whorefriend, and slashes him in the face, giving him THE SCAR!!! Dun Dun DUNNNNN! It’s really anticlimactic, especially since Tony just cuts off the dude’s hand instead of killing him. Of course, the guy comes back later, but with a hook hand! A fucking HOOK HAND. Don’t worry, another whore, in some kind of act of whorely sisterhood, blows him away with a shotgun.

Man, I’m tired of writing about this book…So, Tony realizes that shit’s getting too hot in Cuba, so he and Manny start plotting to get to the US. They, along with some other Cubans, grab some inner tubes and float away. A couple days later, they wash up on shore in Miami. I shit you not. All of that, spread over 5 issues, at $3.99 each ($17.99 trade). All of that, just to end with Tony washing up on shore, just like every Fox News myth of immigrants:”See? They all just float over here, stealing our jobs. I’ll bet some of them were even criminals back in their countries!”

Like I said before, this story would’ve been fine as an OGN, called “Havana!” or something, but it didn’t really include much to place it in the Scarface canon. Also, it’s timeline is a bitch, because it bounces around between 3 different periods of his life: childhood and criminal rise, with interstitials of a stint as a political prisoner. Like every black man in America, I LOVE Scarface, but I did not like this. A good prequel helps support what you already know about a franchise. This did not do that; this was simply a money grab.

31st Jan2010

Adventures West Coast #2: Iron Man: War Machine

by Will

Adventures West Coast #2: Iron Man: War Machine

Welcome back to AWC, as I take on the classic story, Iron Man: War Machine.

Last time, I discussed Demon In A Bottle, the story where Tony Stark had to hit rock bottom in order to build himself back up. This story’s slightly different, however, as this is the story of Tony’s DEATH (*cue spooky minor chord*). Don’t get your Underoos in a knot! The story’s 15 years old, and they’re still publishing Iron Man, so you know he survives. The importance of the story lies in the fact that it introduces us to the War Machine armor, which has come to be known as the badass, heavy artillery armor worn by Tony’s pilot, Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard’s character, for y’all who saw the movie). What I found to be most interesting about this storyline, though, was the fact that many of the ideas presented are actually being used in the current Iron Man Storyline, “Stark: Disassembled” (more on that later).

As the collection opens, Tony has just returned from the latest Avengers mega battle, “Operation: Galactic Storm”. The fight took a lot out of him, and he’s suffering from the fact that his central nervous system is failing due to a techno-organic virus he has contracted. Man, does Marvel love them some techno-organic viruses! I’ll bet that sounded real cutting edge back in 1993, as all of their books seemed to have a major T-O threat. Long story short, Tony’s dying, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure. He knows he’s in his final days, but just as he’s wallowing in his pity party, he finds himself zapped to the 28th century. There, he meets The Stark: a race of aliens who worship Tony Stark as a god, due to the fact that one of his spaceships will eventually crash on their world (which is their past; stupid time travel!). In any case, the Stark’s world is on the brink of collapse, as they didn’t take good care of it. Basically, it’s an eco parable. Since Tony’s their god, they brought him to their time to solve their problems. He doesn’t want their destruction to be his legacy, he uses the rest of his days to solve their problems. There’s a final attack, and he’s sent back to his time, with no memory of the trip, plus he’s now closer to death.

Next, we see a shadowy cabinet doing what shadowy cabinets always do in this book: plotting a takeover of Stark Enterprises. They create a Chernobyl-like event, and then frame Stark Enterprises for the accident. Again, dying Tony doesn’t want this as his legacy, so he uses a remote-controlled Iron Man suit to go clear his name. He ends up fighting the Masters of Silence, a trio of techno samurai, who’ve been hired by the Yakuza to kill Stark for causing the nuclear accident. Tony convinces them that the Yakuza lied, and he and the Masters take the fight back to the Yakuza. It’s at this point that he unveils the War Machine armor: sleek and silver, with more firepower than any prior Iron Man suit.

While Tony’s fighting, he makes a very important operational change: he needs info on who may have framed him, so he charges Rhodes with using their intelligence connections to get information. When Rhodes reminds him that nobody’s gonna share secrets with a helicopter pilot, Tony promotes him to VP of Operations. With his new position, Rhodes finds out that the person behind all of this is Justin Hammer (from Demon In A Bottle) DUN DUN DUNNNN! Turns out Hammer was trying to defraud Stark Enterprises so that he, along with 5 other organizations, could split up the company for themselves. Anyway, Tony and the Masters of Silence strong-arm him into surrendering, at which point Tony gets back Stane Industries (formerly known as Stark Industries, his old company). So, it’s like Tony put right a very big wrong from his past. And then he dies.

Rhodes grieves along with the rest of the world, as word breaks that Tony Stark has passed away. As an interesting aside, the news even reports a rumor that Tony may have succumbed to the AIDS virus. Yeah, really. Anyway, remember that seemingly impulsive promotion that Tony gave Rhodes? Well, guess who’s now the head of Stark Enterprises! Yeah, Tony left a holo-will (SO futuristic!), leaving Rhodey as the head of the company but, more importantly, asking him to take over for him as War Machine. It seems that the armor was actually developed with Rhodey’s specs in mind, and the world still needs an Iron Man. Rhodey’s pissed that Tony put him in that position, but he eventually agrees. But what’s this we see, as the issue ends? Turns out Tony’s not DEAD dead. Sure, he’s got no vitals, but he’s been cryogenically frozen by his med team, for reasons unknown.

Next, a gang of villains attacks Tony’s memorial service, slamming an exploding chopper into Stark HQ. Rhodey makes his debut as War Machine and saves the day. However, the Avengers West Coast (of which Tony was a member at the time of his death) end up returning to Earth at just that moment, and they realize the Iron Man they see isn’t any Iron Man they know about. So, a fight breaks out between War Machine and the AWC, as these misunderstandings are prone to occur. Both sides iron things out (hey, that’s a pun!) and realize they’re both on the side of angels. It’s at this point that we start to learn more about Rhodey.

The most interesting part about Rhodes is the focus on his interpersonal relationships. I think it’s always hard writing a romantic interest for a black character in comics. Do you give him a black girlfriend, or do you go off the grid with something “kooky”? God forbid you make her white! On twitter today, I was comparing the token blacks of the Big 2: Rhodey vs. GL John Stewart. When it came to relationships for Stewart, DC took the easy way out: he got to marry an alien. A pink alien, at that, so she’s still “colored”. Oh, and the Justice League cartoon? Another alien: Hawkgirl. She’s white, but she’s got wings; it’s like dating a sexy can of Red Bull. Rhodey, however, hasn’t had it easy, and it shows. I think, due to his position as Tony’s pilot, he felt that people may have seen him as a bit of an Uncle Tom. The character, himself, is cool as a cucumber, but whenever another black character shows up, it’s like they make a point of making him feel uncomfortable about his subservience to Tony. Even when he had his black girlfriend, Marcy, she kinda made him feel like shit ’cause she was a cutthroat executive at Stark, while he was an air chauffeur. During this storyline, he cuts her loose, due to the fact that she wants his job, but he quickly rebounds with Tony’s blond friend, Rae LaCoste. To say that Ms. LaCoste is “aggressive” would be an understatement, but let’s just say that he’s fucking her within an issue. In fact, she gets so close to him so quickly that I was SURE she’d turn out to be working for Justin Hammer or something (if that was the case, it’s not revealed in this collection). You can tell he’s uneasy about this, though, as he reminds her “this complexion doesn’t come from Coppertone”. She tells him she likes it and doesn’t care, and Mandingo Fuck Party 23 resumes where it left off.

In any case, Rhodey does a great job both running Stark and as War Machine, but something’s going on in the background that he doesn’t know about. You see, Tony’s not dead, and only his med team knows. He’s been in cryogenic stasis, and sort of reliving old memories. His central nervous system is gone, but they think they can reprogram the T-O virus to replicate his CNS into something even better than what he had before. Then, his body will reboot itself just like an operating system. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve been reading Marvel for the past year. If not, here’s the long and short of it: Tony Stark hid the identities of most of the Marvel heroes in his head (longer story), and Norman Osborn became the most powerful man in Homeland Security (even longer story) and wanted that information. To keep it out of enemy hands, Tony wiped his mind, like a hard drive. He was near death, but left a plan for his friends to reboot him like an operating system. In the meantime, he’s kinda reliving his life in his subconscious. Oh, and he asked Rhodes to carry on the fight for him, as War Machine. Yup, “everything old is new again”. Anyway, back to War Machine.

Once Rhodes finds out about Tony, he feels betrayed and quits angrily. Tony kinda feels bad, but feels justified because he thought that the ignorance would serve to protect Rhodey in the long run. He, then, debuts his NEW armor (back in this day, Tony seemed to go through armor like clean underwear. There were only subtle changes each time), which resembled his classic red & gold suit, but allowed him to control it remotely from his hospital bed, as he hadn’t regained motor functions. Tony, again, apologizes to Rhodes and tells him that he wants him to keep the War Machine suit. As the storyline ends, Rhodey’s making a call to the Avengers West Coast, implying that he’s going to join up.

Unlike Demon In A Bottle, I felt that this collection provided a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. For a book called War Machine, the armor was appropriately featured in most issues, and not just at the end. In some ways, I feel that I missed out by reading this in collected form. I can only imagine how big of a deal it was to read this back when it was originally published in sequential form. This was the early 90s, and everyone was trying to one-up the next guy. If comics weren’t featuring deaths, they were featuring new armor and trading card inserts. Tony had been in deep shit before, but he hadn’t quite DIED. For a full year, Rhodes took his place. In a pre-Internet society, this must’ve driven fandom apeshit! I remember how I felt when the “Age of Apocalypse” replaced the X books, and I’ll bet this was the same for Iron Man loyalists. In all, it’s a good read, and a great resource for anyone looking to get some insight on the only man Tony Stark trusts to carry on his legacy.

31st Jan2010

Adventures West Coast #1: Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle

by Will

Adventures West Coast #1: Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle

Welcome to the first installment of Adventures West Coast! I won’t really be covering the books in any particular order, so this seemed to be as good a place to start as any. This time around, we’re looking at Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle, a 1979 storyline written by Dave Michelinie, with art by Bob Layton and John Romita Jr.

Before we get to the book, let’s lay a little groundwork. I was telling a friend today that Marvel is the comic universe where a character is defined by ONE action, and can’t ever seem to shake that reputation. A lot of this might have to do with the fact that DC reboots their universe every 10 years, so they can just retcon any action they, in hindsight, feel was a mistake. Sure, Superman died, but that’s only part of his story. That’s pretty much been forgotten at this point. A quake ravaged Gotham City to the point where martial law was declared, and the city was no longer recognized as a part of the United States, but you’d never know it to see it now. Marvel, unfortunately, can’t seem to afford that luxury. Hank Pym hit his wife ONCE, and now he’s the official wife beater of comics (I’m not excusing the action; I’m just saying that there’s not much of a domestic abuse history to the character besides that one time). Tony Stark leads a playboy lifestyle, and all of a sudden, he’s an alcoholic. Demon In A Bottle documents the moment at which Tony realized he had a problem, characterizing him as “the character with a drinking problem”, a reputation that he holds to this day. The problem with this, however, is that there isn’t much of a history of him having this problem prior to the storyline. If anything, it feels like a poor attempt at forcing a “very special issue”, which was the goal in that day and age.

Considering that Demon In A Bottle is supposed to be all about Tony’s descent into the alcoholism, you really wouldn’t get that impression by reading the collected edition. The collection starts off, conveniently enough, with an impromptu team-up with Namor, the Submariner. Tony’s a bit worse for wear, as he’s dealing with the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to usurp control of Stark International via a hostile takeover. To make matters worse, the Iron Man armor has been malfunctioning, so it’s a bit unpredictable. Despite all of this, Tony and Namor defeat a bunch of Roxxon mercenaries who are trying to mine the vibranium located on an uncharted island. This team-up takes place over the course of 2 issues, followed by a flashback issue recounting Iron Man’s origin story. If you’ve seen the movie, then you pretty much know how this plays out (except, in the comic, Iron Man challenges the head of the prison camp to a wrestling match, rather than using the armor to blow everyone up).

By the fourth issue, Tony’s back in New York, running tests on the armor in order to figure out why it has been acting up. Now, let me say that there are brief moments where Tony’ll pour himself a drink, and whoever’s around will make a remark like “Isn’t it a little early?” Or “Don’t you think you’ve had enough?” He’s still high functioning, and he manages to take care of business, while also taking a trip to Atlantic City with his girl-of-the-moment, Bethany Cabe. Of course, the casino gets attacked, and Iron Man has to hold his own against a group of villains working for a mysterious benefactor. This all comes to a head in issue five, where Iron Man’s suit malfunctions at the worst time, causing him to kill a visiting ambassador on live television. Because cops in comics are so cooperative, they allow Iron Man to pull “an OJ”, so that he can “go search for the real killers”. Due to the shock of recent events, Tony goes on a bit of a whiskey bender, and finds himself on the Avengers’ doorstep.

Here’s where things get interesting: in today’s comic world, we take secret identities for granted. We tend to think everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man, just as everyone knows Steve Rogers is Captain America. These revelations, however, are recent events. At this time in the comics, Tony Stark is just the Avengers’ financier. They live in his mansion, and his “bodyguard”, Iron Man, is a member of their team. So, Tony shows up to the mansion, to inform the team that his “bodyguard” will no longer be effective as their team leader. He also takes the time to get Cap to teach him some hand-to-hand combat skills, since he’s going to have to go after his enemies as plain ol’ Tony Stark.

Next, Tony, and his pilot, Jim Rhodes, find themselves in Monaco, on the trail of Justin Hammer, the man behind the casino attack. Once they track him down, they find out that Hammer’s a Stark competitor in the industrial sector, and he sabotaged the Iron Man suit because he was upset that the ambassador’s country had granted Stark an important contract. Anyway, long story short, Tony’s got a spare suit, he kicks some ass, and Hammer’s believed to be dead, as his island estate sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Once Tony gets back home, he finds that the public still fears him, seeing as how they watched him kill a guy on TV. With his company’s reputation in shambles, combined with the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s still trying to buy controlling interest in his company, Tony goes on another bit of a bender. This time, he brings some floozy back to Avengers Mansion, and berates trusty butler, Jarvis, in the process. He passes out on his desk, only to be awakened by Jarvis tendering his resignation. “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so…scared.”

The final issue is where Tony actually faces the titular demon. A drunken Iron Man ends up making a bad situation worse, when he botches a rescue concerning a derailed chemical train. Finally, Bethany (remember her?) decides that it’s intervention time, ’cause she apparently had an ex-husband who was a pill popper; he ended up driving over a cliff. She tells Tony that she’s there to help him, and Tony proceeds to go cold turkey, kicking his alcoholism in 1 week. ONE WEEK. Sign me up for THAT rehab! That’s almost as impressive as the time that Jack Bauer kicked heroin in ONE DAY.

Anyway, Tony gets his shit together and goes to apologize to Jarvis. Oh, and remember how S.H.I.E.L.D. was after Stark Industries? It appears the only thing stopping them was the fact that Jarvis owned 2 shares, which had been a gift to commemorate his years of service. Well, guess who just sold his 2 shares of stock? So, Tony throws on the armor, tries to shakedown the loan shark, but it’s too late. The shares were already sold to a government rep that morning. So, it looks like S.H.I.E.L.D. is gonna end up with Stark Industries. That’s enough to drive a guy back to the bottle! Tony, however, doesn’t need that. He realizes that he’s got the power of…friendship, and that he’ll win in the end. Meh.

So, there you have it. That’s the whole reason we think of Tony Stark as this raging alcoholic. The Man was trying to stick him for his papers, and he resorted to some liquid medication. I get that he was on the highway to the danger zone, but I don’t think there was enough evidence that he was an alcoholic, per se. You’ve got to understand the era. The character was created in the 60s. Now, I don’t know if Mad Men‘s lying to me, but that’s what men did back then: they drank. All of a sudden, we get to the 70s, and everyone’s expectations are changing. Too many drinks, and you’re an alcoholic. Comics in that day were always preaching about the dangers of smoking, shootin’ up, and, apparently, drinking.

If this storyline highlighted a one-time thing, I’d say “That was a good story”. Unfortunately, this 9-part storyline only contains 1 issue of pseudo-alcoholism, and has been responsible for the past 30 years of Tony Stark’s characterization. If you’re going to introduce something that major, you can’t just have him kick the habit in one issue. It’s like they changed their minds once the story was approved. It’s still that elephant in the room, when writers run out of stories. “Uh-oh, Tony’s kinda stressed. Wonder if he’s gonna hit the bottle.” Ya know what, considering all the stuff Tony Stark has to deal with, he DESERVES to hit the bottle. Most of the villains he fights are either created by his own stolen tech, or are the direct result of some mistake he made in the past. I think that’s enough to drive a person to alcoholism, but I don’t feel that this storyline realistically portrayed that happening. Yes, I just used “realistically” to describe a comic book, but we’re talking about something that’s had a lasting impact for the past 30 years! For that, I feel this book’s bark is a lot worse than its bite.

12th Jan2010

Introducing “Adventures West Coast”

by Will

“I might jump an open drawbridge, or ‘Tarzan’ from a vine…”

So, I haven’t written about this in some time, but I used to work in the comic industry. More precisely, I was a buyer for Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest comic distributor in North America. Basically, I looked for new talent in the industry, while helping to compile Previews, the monthly catalog that was sent out to retailers. The bottom line of it, though, is that I acquired a LOT of comics. I mean, more comics than a person would probably be able to read in a lifetime. Some of these were from new creators, while the majority are from the major publishers. In any case, I have about 2 IKEA Buddy Bookcases worth of graphic novels and trade paperbacks that need to be read. I figure, now that I’ve got some time on my hands, it would be a good chance for me to get through a good deal of them. Since I love attention, and need to further my goal of more regular posts, I figured I’d half-assedly review them here.

It’s my belief that there’s too much highbrow journalism these days when it comes to comics. Sure, everyone’s tired of the hamfisted “Bif, Bam, Pow!” articles from the mainstream press, but I’m going to kill a hobo if I read one more thing about Dash Shaw or Paul Pope. There’s just not enough fanboy journalism. If you like Rob Liefeld, despite his inability to draw realistic anatomy, good on you! If you’re a sucker, like me, who buys everything put out by The Big 2 just so you can understand the lastest Big Event, welcome aboard! I don’t claim to know everything there is about the medium. I was honest about that when I worked in comics, and I’m honest about it now. I just know what I like. I also know what I don’t like. You’ll get doses of all of that here.

But wait, there’s more! I didn’t want to just treat these like any old posts. My friend, Marcus, has taught me the importance of columns and titles. So, these posts will carry the banner:

Any old school Marvel fans will get the reference. Yeah, my design skills suck, but I don’t have Photoshop for this computer, so I used what I could get!

So, come back next time for the 1st installment, and your input is always welcome!