Superman: The Man of Steel Vol 5

Superman: The Man of Steel Vol 5

By various

(DC Comics)  ISBN 1-84576-390-4

This volume reprints Superman #9-11, Action Comics #592-593 and Adventures of Superman #432-435 from 1987 when the post-Crisis revamp was in full swing and a fine team of comics creators was going all-out to prove a dubious public wrong in their belief that nothing could make the Caped Kryptonian exciting again.

John Byrne and Marv Wolfman were responsible for writing these tales and the former was also half the drawing team. In To Laugh and Die in Metropolis Superman meets the Joker for the first time in a murderous battle of wits, before moving on to tackle a Gangwar, courtesy of Wolfman and artists Jerry Ordway and P. Craig Russell.

Byrne, with inks by Keith Williams, then teams the Man of Steel with Big Barda and Mr. Miracle in A Walk on the Darkside and The Suicide Snare and has him battle Luthor again in The Super Menace of Metropolis, aided by the inking of Karl Kesel. Bob Smith joins Ordway on art duties for A Tragedy in Five Acts the second part of Gangwar, and Byrne and Kesel reintroduce the fifth dimensional prankster Mr. Mxyzptlk in The Name Game.

Wolfman, Ordway and José Marzan complete this edition with Shambles and The Circle Turns, two slower tales that build on the strong continuity and character interactions that typified this incarnation of the Man of Tomorrow. Seeing these stories collected in this way illustrates just how much planning went into the three Superman titles. These volumes read much more like books than collections and with the quality of writing and art improving from “chapter” to “chapter” this is a series you should seriously consider seeking out.

© 1987 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Shadowland

ShadowlandBy Kim Deitch

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-771-X

Kim Deitch has been one of the leading lights of America’s Comix Underground since its earliest days, although as with Harvey Pekar and American Splendor, it is only in recent years that he has won wider acclaim: in his case for 2002’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. For the past two decades he has been producing occasional short stories about a down-at-heel carnival and the shabby, eccentric no-hopers that have populated it through-out the 150 years. Shadowland is the first complete collection, and also features a splendid colour gallery of supplemental artwork.

Combining science-fiction, conspiracy theory, urban history and legend, show-biz razzmatazz, Film Noir and a highly developed sense of the absurd, he weaves an irresistible spell that charms, thrills and disturbs whilst his meticulous black and white drawing holds the reader in a deceptively fluffy grip.

Follow the story of clown and Carny Al Ledicker Jr. as he shambles his way through the sleaziest parts of the 20th century in this wonderful compendium and critique of the “Americana Way”.

Text, art & characters © 2006 Kim Deitch. All Rights Reserved

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy 

By Peter David, Bill Mumy, J. Michael Straczynski & others

(Titan Books) ISBN 1-94576- 319-X

Titan’s reprinting (issues #13-18 of the DC series from the 1990s) of the venerable TV phenomenon continues with a sly pastiche of Lost in Space courtesy of Mumy and David, with art from Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr. The maturing crew find the preserved ship of a legendary family of Space Heroes, (complete with a pneumatic-tube-arm waving robot) and must help adapt to a time that has largely left them behind. There are dramas and in-jokes aplenty in this fond romp, balanced in part by Worldsinger, a more traditional Star Fleet tale from J. Michael Straczynski, Purcell and Starr as the crew must convince a poetic alien survivor not to die with his doomed homeworld.

Ken Hooper and Bob Dvorak illustrate Howard Weinstein’s Partners?, a two-parter that fills out the volume. Once again the Enterprise is in a deadly face-off with Klingons after a suspicious border incident threatens to start a shooting war.

As always, these licensed comics are a welcome treat for Trek-deprived fans and in purely strip cartoon terms they are well-written, competently drawn and thoroughly readable. The added fillip of silver screen creators can’t hurt either.

™ & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Masters: The Art of Jim Lee

Marvel Masters: The Art of Jim Lee 

By various & Jim Lee

(Marvel/Panini UK)  ISBN 1-905239-41-6

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Since Jim Lee launched himself into the comics arena a lot has changed – and he’s been responsible for a large part of it. So a retrospective volume makes sense for any publisher which owns a large portion of his output. This thick tome contains some of his earliest work for Marvel (Alpha Flight issues #58-60, written by Bill Mantlo and inked by Al Milgrom) wherein he learned the trick to drawing huge casts of characters, and his first real successes (Punisher War Journal #6-7, written by Carl Potts), a visceral team-up of the Punisher and Wolverine, before concentrating on the X-Men runs that made his name and prompted his bid for independence.

From Uncanny X-Men #256-258 (scripted by Chris Claremont) comes a hi-octane, turbulent and perhaps over-blown battle with arch “Yellow Peril” stereotype The Mandarin, whose part in a super-villain pact has him attempt to destroy the misunderstood mutants as part of the “Acts of Vengeance” comic event. Don’t worry about it. There’s lots of semi-naked, exotic women, ninjas, big guns and shouting and hitting – just what every fan at the end of the 1980s demanded. And there’s plenty more where that came from in the last story-arc, reprinting X-Men #4-7, scripted by John Byrne and Scott Lobdell from Lee’s plots. This one features a glimpse into Wolverine’s past as a spy and the menace of Omega Red, a commie mutant whose touch can kill. Have no fear, though, the levels of angsty, hyper-tense testosterone remain at critical levels through-out.

Jim Lee’s work at Marvel shaped a generation of artists and his popularity directly led to the artist breakaway that resulted in Image Comics and a revolution in the industry. Although the work is a little unrelenting in tone, these stories are important and should be seen by a newer, wider audience. They’re quite well drawn, after all.

© 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Swamp Thing: Infernal Triangles

Swamp Thing: Infernal Triangles

By Rick Veitch, Jamie Delano, Stephen Bissette, Alfredo Alcala & Tom Mandrake

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-395-5

The reprinting of classic Swamp Thing continues as a coterie of guest creators detail the increasingly cosmic adventures of the planet’s Earth Elemental. From issue #77 Jamie Delano scripts and Tom Mandrake and Alfredo Alcala illustrate Infernal Triangles, a reconciliation of sorts with the street wizard John Constantine, used as a semi-witting sperm donor in the creation of the plant creature and his human wife’s baby.

The next issue To Sow One’s Seed in the Wind, written by Steve Bissette, details Abby’s and Swampy’s preparations for that impending happy event, and Veitch returns to write and draw the tale (Waiting for God [Oh!] from # 79) of Superman’s attempts to stop the Bog God’s revenge attempt against Lex Luthor, who almost destroyed him back when Alan Moore was writing the series.

From here things might get a touch confusing, so bear with me.

The Longest Day, from Swamp Thing #80, is a prequel to the Invasion cross-over event that ran through all the DC comics that year. For our purposes suffice it to say a coalition of alien races decide to wipe out humanity, and, as one of them uses plant-based technology, they decide to remove Swamp Thing in a pre-emptive strike. Warned by the Parliament of Trees, our soggy hero nonetheless vanishes from the planet and is presumed dead. Veitch and Alcala handle the creative chores for this and the next part, Widowsweed (issue #81). A frantic and desperate Abby has to deal with an alien bounty-hunter trying to destroy her nigh omnipotent – and missing — husband. The continued tale breaks off at the end of this moving and engrossing chapter as, for no logical reason, the previous year’s Swamp Thing Annual is wedged in to fill up the volume, utterly destroying the mood and the tension that should have carried over to the next volume. These aren’t periodicals, guys! They’re books! Give some thought to narrative flow when you compile these things, or you’ll never expand into the “real” world audience.

That story by the way, Distant Cousins which could have fitted in anywhere before The Longest Day, is a grimly whimsical and dark tribute to DC’s publishing obsession with monkeys and apes over the years and features such luminaries as Angel and the Ape, Monsieur Mallah, Gorilla Boss Dyke, Titano, Janu the Jungle Boy, Gorilla Grodd, Bwana Beast, Roy Raymond, Congo Bill and Congorilla in one attempt to correct evolution’s biggest mistake. Veitch scripts and is joined by a coterie of fun-loving nostalgists including Shawn McManus, Jim Fern, Stan Woch and Tom Yeates on the art.

These are fine stories, provocative and memorable, and deserve to be read – preferably in some semblance of dramatic order

© 1987, 1988, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Mark of the Succubus

Mark of the Succubus 

By Ashly Raiti & Irene Flores

(TokyoPop) ISBN 1-59816-266-7

Coming firmly from Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory, this book introduces us to Maeve, a beautiful if somewhat reluctant trainee succubus, sent from her own demon realm to Earth to hone her seducing and damning skills at Barlow High School. Naturally she feels lost, alone and a little confused at first, but soon sets her sights on the sharp but low-achieving Aiden and tries to live up to expectations. No help at all comes from his peculiar and obnoxious girl-friend who adds extra meaning to the phrase “from Hell”.

As you’d imagine, she quickly realises that the politics, intrigues and machinations of a modern secondary school are far trickier to survive than even the netherworld, but even so, a rival faction at home have a spy dogging her footsteps to make her life even more complicated…

This engaging spin on the school-days genre from two of the finalists in the “Rising Stars of Manga” competition is slick and witty whilst adhering to the expected conventions of a highly successful sub-strait of teen fiction. A word of caution for blokes though, this has a 13+ advisory, so if you’re looking for skin and cheap thrills you’d be better off with Red Sonja or Girls Aloud.

© 2005 Ashly Raiti & Irene Flores and TOKYOPOP Inc. All Rights Reserved

Jack Cole and Plastic Man

Jack Cole and Plastic Man 

By Art Spiegelman and Chip Kidd

(Chronicle Books)  ISBN 0-8118-3179-5

This eccentric tribute to the genius of cartoonist Jack Cole combines all the love and design skills of Spiegelman and Kidd with innovative print and paper techniques, a sharp biography and heart-felt appreciation of this inspired and tragic creator, and a wonderful selection of complete story reprints from Cole’s incredible fund of work.

The comic sections, printed of artificially browned newsprint — for that old comic feel — include The Eyes Have It (Police Comics #22, 1943), Burp the Twerp (Police Comics #29, 1944), Sadly-Sadly (Plastic Man #20, 1949), Plague of the Plastic People and Woozy Winks on Dopi Island (both from Plastic Man #22, 1950) and the legendary, if not infamous, Murder, Morphine and Me from True Crime Comics #1 (1947) cited often and tellingly by Dr. Frederick Wertham in his attacks on comics in the 1950s.

Although he would probably hate it said, Jack Cole is one of the key innovators in the field of comics and strip cartoons and this book is a fine tribute. Let’s get it reprinted right now!

Edition © 2001 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Text © 2001 Art Spiegelman

The Fountain

The Fountain

By Darren Aronofsky & Kent Williams

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-171-5

Lavish companion to the Aronofsky film of the same name, this book tells of a love that challenges time itself and shows how human will is the ultimate force in the universe.

Divided into three vignettes, and interwoven with flashes forward and back along the narrative, The Fountain follows Tomas in 1535 as he ravages Central America for gold and converts, but finds instead The Tree of Life; as a desperate medical researcher in contemporary America, struggling to complete the cancer cure that will save his one, true love; and as a futuristic star-traveller seeking to restore that fabled Tree by catching a super-nova.

Lyrical and metaphysical, this pretty volume wafts along carried by the loose and evocative watercolour illustration of Kent Williams.

Completists should note that although designed as a companion to the film, that production was shut down as the book was being produced. When production was restarted, with an altered script, the Graphic Novel was completed according to the original conception. Think of it as a Directors Cut that you can read in the bathroom.

© 2005 Phineas Gage Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Comanche Moon

Comanche Moon

By Jack Jackson

(Rip Off Press Inc./Last Gasp)  ISBN 0-89620-079-5

One of the earliest Graphic Novels, Comanche Moon was originally published as the comic books White Comanche, Red Raider and Blood on the Moon during the 1970s by Last Gasp, a regular packager of work by underground cartoonists such as Jackson. This reworked and augmented edition appeared in 1979. So far as I know it’s not currently in print, although it really should be.

The book follows the astounding life of Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah and the course of their lives among Texas Comanches and her own – white – people. Whilst the Parkers are eking out a living on the Southern Plains of Texas in 1836, their homestead is attacked by a Comanche raiding party and little Cynthia Ann and her younger brother are carried off. Separated from him she is raised as a squaw, eventually marrying a sub-chief and birthing a son. The folksy, matter of fact story-telling reinforces the powerful truth of this documentary of the final downfall of the Plains Indians under the relentless expansionist pressure of the new Americans.

Quanah grew to be the last chief of the Comanches and as the old ways died he was responsible for all the meagre concessions his people managed to gain from the unstoppable white men. He was a Judge, a Sheriff, a huckster for Teddy Roosevelt and died a loved and respected political figure among both the Comanches and the settlers.

My dry précis does nothing to capture the hypnotic skill of Jackson in making this history come alive. Comanche Moon reads as easily as the best type of fiction but never strays from the heartbreaking truth that underpins it. Jack Jackson’s work is powerful, charming, thoroughly authentic, astoundingly well-researched and totally captivating. If only all history books could be his good.

©1979 Jack Jackson. All Rights Reserved.