AKA: Stories Behind the Comics. DUN DUN DUN!
by KC Carlson
FLEX MENTALLO: MAN OF MUSCLE MYSTERY DELUXE EDITION: Probably more notorious for not being available than because of the actual content itself, DC/Vertigo’s Flex Mentallo has a saga that is long and winding. It’s too detailed to go into here, but for a long time, DC was squeamish about reprinting this miniseries by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. There were perceived problems with the Charles Atlas organization (stemming from a lawsuit) due to Mentallo’s origins being a parody of the classic “sand in the face” Atlas ads, which have been running in comic books since seemingly the beginning of time. My wife Johanna has been covering this story for years over at Comics Worth Reading, and she does a fine job of summarizing the details in a recent article. (Note that it’s packed with links — you could be there for hours! Don’t forget to come back here!)
Originally appearing in the Morrison-written Doom Patrol in 1991, Flex Mentallo was eventually spun out into his own four-part miniseries, illustrated by Quitely. Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery Deluxe Edition reprints this four-issue miniseries, as well as including a “special sketch section and recolored art”. This collection was originally supposed to appear in 1998, but it was put on ice after DC received a cease-and-desist letter from the Charles Atlas folks. I’m guessing there probably won’t be any official discussion about the delay in the book. But yay, it’s finally available!
DEFENDERS DEFEMBLE! (In December!) While it won’t exactly be the same (I really miss ol’ bean-eating Hulk! Stupid girly red Shulky am no fun!), Marvel’s new Defenders series is something that I’m really looking forward to. Spinning out of the finale of Fear Itself #7 (out soon!), the series is said to be dealing with “a mysterious conspiracy deep at the heart of the Marvel Universe!” (Who hid the beans!?! I’m betting it was that elf with a gun!) It’s by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson — which should make it one of Marvel’s best-written and best-looking titles. There’s also an 88-page reprint special of the first classic Defenders issues from 1971 (Defenders: The Coming of the Defenders), plus a Marvel Handbook devoted to the team (Defenders: Strange Heroes), including a special feature of one of the strangest Defenders stories (and there were a lot!): Defenders for a Day! It’s Defenderrific! (Okay, I’ll stop now…)
CAN YOU TOP THIS? In the “most bizarre crossover/team-up ever” stakes, Archie and Marvel Comics’ Archie Meets the Punisher usually takes top honors. Well, there’s a new contender this month, and it’s not who you think it might be. Archie Comics is going for the Repeat with Archie Meets KISS — a four-part story beginning in Archie #627. Written by Alex Segura and drawn by Dan Parent, it’s destined to be the biggest Archie story in recent history (sorry, President Obama and Mrs. Palin). On just another day in Riverdale, monsters overrun the town, and only KISS can save the day! No word yet whether or not the issue will be printed with real Archie blood (ew!), but it looks like all four issues will each feature two different covers for collector bait — one by Dan Parent and the other by Francesco Francavilla.
Comics, schmomics! I’m waiting for the Battle of the Bands on digital download or CD (for fogies like me). C’mon, dueling “Sugar Sugar”s!?! The Archies vs. KISS!?! The Archies’ “Rock and Roll All Night”! Quadruple platinum overnight! It would save the music industry! It would crack iTunes in half! Gene Simmons — a huge comic book fan — must be lovin’ this!
SPIDER-MAN IMPLANT MONTH! (What?!? Continuity implants! What did you think I was talking about?) This month, Marvel collects two of its most famous — and infamous — Spider-Man continuity implant projects of the past. Each takes a different look at the earliest adventures of Spider-Man’s career. First up is the Untold Tales of Spider-Man Omnibus — an 800-page hardcover collection of the entire 25-issue run of the title, plus the Minus One issue, the two Annuals, UToSM: Strange Encounter, Amazing Fantasy #16-18 (1995), and material from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #37. Untold Tales of Spider-Man, primarily written by Kurt Busiek, was a very detailed attempt to tell brand-new Spider-Man stories which fit in exactly around (and occasionally within) the original 1960s Spider-Man stories (from Amazing Spider-Man) produced by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. (Hopefully, the Ominbus will also include the original text pages which outlined exactly how this was done.) The series is much beloved by fans for its unique structure and “authentic” feel, and its latter issues have never been previously reprinted. Plus, you’ll get an example or two of Fred Hembeck’s great “Petey, The Adventures of Peter Parker Looong Before He Became Spider-Man” strip which appeared here and there (mostly in Marvel Age or Annual back-ups). Too bad there isn’t enough room to collect all of those here as well.
Unlike the beloved Untold Tales of Spider-Man, the similar concept of Spider-Man: Chapter One didn’t go over so well with fans. This 13-issue series (#1-12, plus a #0 issue) from 1998-99, written and drawn by John Byrne, ended up being controversial for several reasons. First of all, it changed many of the elements of the original Lee-Ditko stories. The deliberately new interpretation of the character aimed to appeal to new readers, but it was perceived by fans as replacing the recently concluded UToSM series.
Marvel faltered in not supporting Byrne’s attempts to focus the book as a Heroes Reborn-style relaunch at the same time as the other Marvel Reborn titles. Plus, how could they say the book was intended to hook new readers with its limited Direct Sales-only distribution? Marvel further fueled controversy by insisting that the series were indeed supposed to replace the original Lee-Ditko stories, pretty much dooming the title in most long-time readers’ eyes. Looking back, bad timing was probably the biggest problem with Spider-Man: Chapter One. With it coming so closely behind Untold Tales of Spider-Man, unfair comparisons were bound to be made.
There is some irony in the launch — just a year later — of Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Backed by new management, and more properly targeted in the marketplace — as part of a brand-new alternate (Ultimate) Marvel Universe — and given a huge media launch and a widespread, focused distribution, it was everywhere and frequently reprinted. Ultimate Spider-Man was thus a huge success — while fundamentally similar to the original (but not fully executed) intent of Spider-Man: Chapter One. It appears that SM:C1 was abandoned to make way for the new version by a different creative team (including a new officer of the company in Bill Jemas).
Still, Spider-Man: Chapter One was a solid, well-told story, if not accepted by long-term fans at the time. Now that alterna-versions of familiar comic book properties are old hat, perhaps it will finally garner a new generation of fans. The 328-page Spider-Man: Chapter One trade paperback reprints the complete run for what I believe to be the first time. It, along with its contemporary — and also still not reprinted/collected — Byrne series X-Men: The Hidden Years and Marvel: The Lost Generation (with Roger Stern), were front and center in my mind as candidates for my just-begun series of columns on Comics That Time Forgot. I’m glad that Marvel hasn’t forgotten Spider-Man: Chapter One after all.
While they aren’t exactly alterna-Spidey stories, I think that Spider-Man: The PSAs is a fun collection of often-hard-to-find, non-continuity stories featuring Spidey either explaining important social issues to kids — bullying, reading skills, and plaque, to name just a few — or selling out to “the man” and adventuring in the name of corporate sponsorship (but mostly the former). This 456-page trade paperback also features guest appearances from other Marvel favorites including Storm, Luke Cage, Power Pack, and the Fantastic Four. It also features a Spider-Man cover by Todd McFarlane. Y’know, if Marvel is finally collecting these, a Hostess ads collection can’t be too far behind…
ALSO AT MARVEL: There’s a real revolution in Marvel’s mutant books lately, and it’s been a long time coming. I’m a long-fallen X-reader (MIA since X-Men #1 way back in 1991, except for following certain key creators or storylines affecting the larger Marvel Universe — like House of M and its aftermath), but I’m really enjoying what I’m reading in the Jason Aaron-written Schism and the Kieron Gillian-written Uncanny X-Men: Fear Itself tie-ins. I’m also strongly anticipating Wolverine and the X-Men (art by Chris Bachalo) and the relaunch of Uncanny (art by Carlos Pacheco), written by the pair. Also of note this month is Avengers: X-Sanction by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, which should excite a lot of folks — but maybe not me, as the returning Cable is my least favorite X-Man ever. If I had to pick my current favorite Avengers/X-Men title, it would have to be Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, which had my attention all year and is wrapping up soon — although I don’t think I’m going to enjoy how the story is going to end — but the ride has been exciting.
MORE DC COLLECTIONS: Batman: Dark Victory, the 13-issue (plus #0) sequel to The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, is getting the Absolute treatment in an advance solicitation. The book itself is out next May. 408 big pages! . . . DC’s also collecting all of the Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke Catwoman material, including Selina’s Big Score, Detective Comics #759-762, and Catwoman #1-9 in a purrrr-fect 336-page collection . . . Finally, old-school DC fans will love the DC Universe: Secret Origins hardcover, which reprints the two most beloved DC collections of the early 1960s (Secret Origins #1 and More Secret Origins #1) with the facsimile collections (Even More Secret Origins #1 and Weird Secret Origins #1) from the 90s. 320 pages of Silver Age origin goodness, by an amazing collection of comics’ greatest artists and writers. If you were to to buy the original issues of where these now-legendary origins first appeared, it would cost you a bazillion-gazillion dollars (give or take, depending on condition).
MEANWHILE, IN OTHER DC NEWS: DC’s publishing 52 #4 issues this month! Plus a few #3s and a couple of #2s! Plus, there’s even a couple of #1 books! First up is an 80-page collection of Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1, collecting a bunch of Batman Incorporated stories that weren’t done in time to publish before the New 52 started — all written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Chris Burnham and Cameron Stewart . . . Plus, it’s a brand new Ray! Check out The Ray #1 by Justin and Jimmy (that’s Gray and Palmiotti to the law) and exciting art by Jamal Igle (Supergirl, Firestorm) and Rich Perrotta! . . . Finally, Hawk’s head is still tiny! No wonder he’s so angry all the time!
QUICK LIST: OTHER THINGS I’M CHECKING OUT THIS MONTH
ART OF HOWARD CHAYKIN: 300+ page hardcover written by Westfield’s own Bob Greenberger (who will soon tell you more)! Tons of Chaykin art, including many never-before-published pieces! His complete history in text! Forward by Bendis! Afterword by Uncle Walt (Simonson)! Already read — by me! (It’s GREAT!) (Dynamic Forces)
YOUNG ROMANCE: THE BEST OF SIMON & KIRBY’S 1940s-1950s ROMANCE COMICS: Great collection if you’re looking for a “greatest hits” style collection of S&K sobfests — but I think I might hold out for the “complete waterworks” in the previously announced (and coming soon) Titan Books collection. (Fantagraphics)
SMOKEY STOVER AND SPOOKY THE CAT: THE COLLECTED SUNDAYS: Love the classic Warner Bros. Porky Pig cartoon “Porky in Wackyland”? You’ll love this too — same kind of humor and bad puns. Bill Holman’s surreal classic strip (1935-1973) is now collected (selected strips). Learn the origins of “Foo Fighter”! Ponder “Notary Sojac”! 224 pages full of Foo. (Hermes Press)
IRREDEEMABLE/INCORRUPTIBLE CROSSOVER: Inconceivable! (BOOM!)
BUGF#CK: THE WORTHLESS WIT & WISDOM OF HARLAN ELLISON: Exactly what it says. And because I wanted to type Bugf#uck. And, hey, it’s cheap. Mature themes. (You think?)
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA 100 PROJECT: The Hero Initiative commissioned 100+ covers for Justice League of America #50 by people with funny names like Bagley, Garcia-Lopez, Quietly, Perez, A. Davis, Romita (Sr.), Ross, and obviously many more. What a silly idea. But you can see them all and also help people by buying it. So you should. Intro by Bob Greenberger — that guy never sleeps. Explains a lot… (Hero Initiative)
JOHN ROMITA’S THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: ARTIST EDITION: Speaking of Romita (Sr.), this is the latest in IDW’s Artist’s Edition series, which reprints original comics pages at their original size and AS IS. So, unless you’re filthy rich, this is the closest you’re ever going to get to owning original John Romita Spider-Man art. Reprinting Amazing Spider-Man #67, 68, 71, 75, 84, and more. This book will most likely sell out upon publication (as previous versions have) and there’s no guarantee that it will be reprinted. so if you want it — DON’T WAIT! Order now.
MUSE: Like Josh, I know very little about this, but Terry Dodson drew this as a warm-up to The Defenders. And it looks very nice. (Humanoids)
RALPH BAKSHI’S STREET FIGHT DVD: Long out of print and commercially unavailable, this 1975 animated feature (also released as Coonskin, Harlem Nights, Bustin’ Out, and Coonskin No More…) is a “lost” Bakshi classic about a group of African-American animals who rise to the top of the Harlem crime scene. (Editor’s note: It’s an updating of sorts of the Uncle Remus stories.) Features both animated and live-action footage. Once highly controversial, it has since been reevaluated, with many animation scholars considering it to be among Bakshi’s finest works, alongside Wizards, Fritz the Cat, and Lord of the Rings. Mature themes.
KC CARLSON: Feeling pretty old. They’re now selling Superman pint glasses which include “Powerful Pick-Up Lines” for “getting the object of your attraction back to your Fortress of Solitude!” Sample line: “I may be more powerful than a locomotive, but only you can stop me in my tracks!” Yeah, that’s gonna work…