(and some things I don’t)
by KC Carlson
BUT BEFORE WE BEGIN: I don’t know about you guys, but I’m getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of solid information being provided by the publishers at the point of solicitation. This month’s redesign of Marvel Previews to spotlight covers even more prominently (by eliminating most of the descriptive copy) is a giant step backwards. Granted, the best thing to sell a comic book is always the cover (assuming that it’s done in time), but not while sacrificing important plot and creator info. Marvel’s new style uses bullet points, which inadvertently makes it easier to figure out which of their books NOT to buy this month. Three bullet points, buy; one bullet point, don’t buy.
Having lengthy sell copy isn’t always great, either, especially if it doesn’t actually say anything useful — which is DC’s ongoing problem. Both companies require internet searching if you want any useful information about the actual content in their comics (such as whether a new project is ongoing or a limited series). That seems to me like a sad attempt to get more “hits” for their various internet sites. I barely have time to read the comics themselves these days, leaving no time for surfing the ‘net just to get information that should be included in the solicitation material.
The solicitation for an ongoing comic book should make the reader/potential purchaser excited about the upcoming comic, not angry and frustrated. I’m not asking for more plot revelations and “scoops” — I like being surprised by reading the actual comic. But I won’t ever read the comic if the solicitation info doesn’t excite me — because I won’t buy the comic. I can’t even imagine how a retailer, who’s trying to run a business based on ordering from these small nuggets of info, copes these days.
Maybe the real problem here is that the marketing copywriting folks are just as bored as we are about Part 2 (or Part 3. Or Part 4. Or Part 5 of the inevitable story-that-goes-on-too-long) that they can’t be bothered anymore. It’s hard to get excited (or get others excited) if there’s nothing to get excited about. Solicitation copywriters — welcome to our world!
Publishers: Forget the hype! Give us content!
And now we return to our regular column…
THE SINCEREST FORM OF PARODY: When the Harvey Kurtzman-written and edited (and occasionally illustrated) Mad comic book finally became a hit in 1953 (the early issues lost money!), it inspired a feeding frenzy of comic book imitations by other publishers quick to jump on the bandwagon. The result was some of the weirdest comic book titles ever — like Flip, Whack, Nuts, Crazy, Wild, Riot, Unsane, Bughouse, Get Lost, and (my favorite), Eh!. Over 200 pages of the best these comics had to offer, over 30 stories in all, are included in The Sincerest Form of Parody (subtitled The Best 1950s Mad-Inspired Satirical Comics). You may be familiar with the later Mad magazine imitators, like Cracked, Sick, or Crazy, but these are the largely unsung (insung?) comic book imitations, most of which disappeared in a flash. The book features work from some of comics’ greatest creators, including Jack Davis, Will Elder, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bill Everett, Al Hartley, Bob Powell, and Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, just to name a few. It’s edited and profusely annotated by historian John Benson. (Longtime fans will recall he annotated the first complete Mad reprints and extensively interviewed Kurtzman over the years.) All of these comics are in full color (as they should be)! Another important slice of comics history from Fantagraphics Books.
SHOWCASE PRESENTS YOUNG LOVE: Young Love was one of the very first romance comic books. A spin-off of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s 1947 Young Romance (generally considered the first of the genre), Young Love was created by the duo due to the former’s tremendous success. Both of these titles were initially published by Crestwood/Prize. Young Love then had a confusing publication history, including title changes (to All For Love, before returning to Young Love) and multiple volumes, before both it and Young Romance were sold to DC Comics in 1963. DC continued the numbering from the previous (Volume 2) run, so the first DC issue of Young Love was (Vol. 2) #39 (Sept/Oct. 1963) — and that’s where Showcase Presents Young Love begins. The DC series eventually ran to #126 in 1977, 88 issues in all.
This 544-page collection reprints (in black & white) issues #39-56. I hope they include all the various text features (advice columns, fashion and beauty tips, etc.) as well, because they were a large part of what made romance comics unique. The first DC issue is notable for introducing the recurring character/feature “Mary Robin: R.N.” Ongoing characters were a rarity for romance comics, but a DC innovation. Should this volume sell well enough, a future Volume Two should feature the ongoing “The Life and Loves of Lisa St. Claire”, a great romance series instigated by famed DC editor Dick Giordano, written by Jack Miller, and illustrated by Jay Scot Pike that began in Young Love #68.
One of the big factors driving interest in romance comics today is discovering the work of many favorite Golden and Silver Age artists. They are better known for their superhero work, but their style was often more suited for the human subtlety of romance comics stories. Among the superstars contributing to Young Love in this era were John Romita, Sr. (Amazing Spider-Man), Don Heck (Iron Man), Gene Colan (Daredevil), Mike Sekowsky (Justice League of America), Jay Scott Pike (Dolphin), and others. Additionally, a lot of romance fans/comic historians will be very interested in the contents pages of this book, where (hopefully) complete creator credits for these stories may be revealed in a DC publication for the very first time.
While romance comics may not be for everyone, it’s an amazing step forward for DC to be collecting this material at all. Good, authentic (i.e. not making fun of or deconstructing) romance comics collections can currently be counted on the fingers of one hand. To learn more about romance comics, one terrific website is Sequential Crush, which includes cover reprints, story descriptions, and a general love of the genre.
ARCHIE COMICS: It’s Kevin Keller month at Archie in January, as the company recently announced that Riverdale’s first openly gay character is finally getting his own solo comic book (after co-opting the Veronica title for the last several issues). Kevin Keller #1 is written and pencilled by Dan Parent with Rich Koslowski inking. The first story is all about something that we haven’t actually seen Kevin do yet — dating. Turns out he’s pretty bad at it, but his family and his Riverdale gang of friends are there to help him get through his first real date! There are two covers for the issue, both by Dan Parent. The first features a new cover design for an Archie character, while the variant is a nostalgic take on a classic 70’s Archie title — Everything’s Kevin Keller! . . . For even more Kevin, all his previous appearances are being collected in a 160-page hardcover. The book includes his recent four-issue miniseries, plus his first two appearances in Veronica #202 (the first Archie comic ever to go back to press) and #205 . . . There’s another Archie first this month with the publication of Jinx — a 112-page collection of material that was originally scheduled to be in the Life With Archie magazine before that publication changed formats. Only a preview ever appeared in print there, while the rest was serialized as digital downloads through the Archie app — so Jinx is making its print debut now. If that name sounds familiar to longtime Archie fans, you are correct. Jinx is longtime Archie feature character Li’l Jinx all grown up and now a high school freshman. She’s still a determined tomboy, causing all kinds of trouble when she still wants to play sports with the boys. Now, she’s in high school and rules (and relationships) are more complicated! I disliked the old Li’l Jinx, but I really liked what I saw of this new charming and funny take on the character by J. Torres and Rick Burchett. The collection is available in both softcover and hardcover formats.
GIRL GENIUS OMNIBUS VOLUME 1: AGATHA AWAKENS: Collecting the acclaimed webcomic (previously reprinted in self-published volumes) in one 320-page full-color hardcover from Tor Books. Created and produced by Phil (art: MythAdventures) and Kaja (art: Magic: The Gathering) Foglio, Girl Genius is a Hugo Award-winning and Eagle and Eisner Award-nominated steampunk (or more correctly “gaslamp fantasy”) comic. And if that’s not enough to tell you how amazingly unique and wonderful this series is, you haven’t been paying enough attention. Girl Genius stars Agatha Clay, maybe the most brilliant mind of her generation, if not for her amazing lack of concentration. She lives in a world of mad scientists who unleash insane inventions on an unsuspecting Industrial Revolution-ary Europe. For generations, the Heterodyne family kept the peace, but they haven’t been seen for over a score of years, leaving an army of unstoppable — but not very bright — Jaeger Monsters, under the command of Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, to keep the peace.
While studying at Transylvania Polygnostic University, Agatha — the last Heterodyne — shows a Spark of genius, attracting the attention of the Baron and his handsome young son Gilgamesh. Soon, she’s swept into the midst of palace intrigue, dashing heroes, and an imperial cat. Beautifully written, fantastically illustrated, and amazingly detailed, Girl Genius is for everyone with Spark, whether they know it or not.
CRIME DOES NOT PAY ARCHIVES: Springing out of their recent Best of volume, Dark Horse has announced an ongoing Crime Does Not Pay Archives, the first book of which will include the first four hard-to-find issues, featuring some of the most brutal and grisly crime comics ever produced. A favorite target of Dr Fredric Wertham (Seduction of the Innocent) and partially responsible for the creation of the Comics Code, Crime Does Not Pay has become near-mythic in comic book circles. Now you can read them all! Matt Fraction provides an all-new introduction to this 272-page full-color hardcover. Please check your weapons at the door.
STEED AND MRS. PEEL: Otherwise known as the other Avengers — this one from the acclaimed fan-favorite British TV show (imported into America beginning in the mid-1960s). One of the greatest (and longest) espionage/spy series ever created, The Avengers originally ran in England from 1961-1969 and went through many changes during its run, most notably, its female lead. The Steed (played by Patrick Macnee for the entire run of the series) and Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg from 1965-1967) era was probably the most popular. The show is particularly notable for incorporating science fiction and fantasy elements among its peculiar mix of parody and British eccentricity.
The TV show was also very popular in comics format, appearing in many UK comics publications from 1963 to 1972. In 1990, Eclipse Comics reformatted and recolored some of these stories in a three-issue 48-page series called Steed and Mrs. Peel. (It couldn’t be called The Avengers in America for obvious trademark reasons.) It was notable for showcasing an early story (“The Golden Game”) by Grant Morrison (Batman, Superman) with the gorgeous artwork of Ian Gibson (Ballad of Halo Jones). An additional story, “A Deadly Rainbow”, written by Anne Caufield and illustrated by Gibson was also reprinted in the series.
Long out of print, Steed and Mrs. Peel is being reprinted beginning in January by BOOM! Studios as a six-part, 32-page miniseries. Set in the Tara King era, “The Golden Game” features Steed and Emma Peel reuniting to rescue King after she is kidnapped by a mysterious organization. So here’s your chance to read a “lost” Morrison story from early in his career!
OTHER STUFF: Because it worked so well the first time, IDW has introduced Infestation 2, a new multi-licensed series crossover anchored around the G.I. Joe and Transformers universes. But now, new universes have been infested, including Teenage Mutant Turtles, Danger Girl, 30 Days of Night, and Dungeons and Dragons. Apparently all because they weren’t using the right “disinfestant” the last time. More turtles this time should clear that right up. Turtle Wax is magic! . . . I don’t know much about it, but Fatale #1 by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Dave Stewart looks interesting. All noir-ish, from Image. . . No doubt in my mind that IDW’s version will wind up the definitive edition of the oft-reprinted Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff. Volume One is offered this month, reprinted from Caniff’s personal set of syndicate proofs and featuring the original, uncropped versions, as well as new historical stuff (like essays, etc.). But man, the Library of American Comics does such a great job on all their projects, it’s getting very difficult to pick and choose (much less afford) them all (Editor’s Note: Come back tomorrow for my interview with the Library of American Comics’ Bruce Canwell to learn more about this collection.) . . . Wolverine hits the magic #300 this month, and I say “magic” because none of his three previous regular series have ever gotten close to that amount (so I’m gonna have to see the math on that). In other mutant news, apparently Storm is joining the Avengers, because there just aren’t enough X-teams for her to be in . . . You also may note that a number of Marvel titles seem to be missing from the current Previews. That’s because Marvel has been doing some housecleaning lately, unexpectedly cancelling some titles — some in the middle of storylines, like All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes. Also gone are Iron Man 2.0 and Alpha Flight. Plus, we’ve just learned that the previously solicited Victor Von Doom miniseries will not be published at all. Many of these cancellations are apparently related to recent downsizing at Marvel, and there are rumors that other low-selling titles may also end. It’s not much of a surprise that low-selling comics get cancelled — that happens all the time. What’s making this a hot topic is the suddenness of the action, killing things before they have a chance to wrap up or even get started. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that sort of thing happening, and that’s why people are talking about it. Hope it’s not a (backwards) trend . . . Look for detailed reviews of the new Mark Waid & Co. Daredevil collection and DC’s previous I… Vampire series/collection — coming soon from the very melty keyboard of Bob Greenberger. (He types really fast!)
AND FINALLY: Long-time comic fans know that the early months of a year generally don’t offer many blockbuster new projects. Most publishers time their releases either to convention premieres or traditional gift-giving holidays. That seems to be the case again this year. So why not do what I’m doing? I’m catching up on all the great items that I had to pass up last year because they were originally released in a month already overloaded with other wonderful projects. If you haven’t already picked these up, may I recommend taking another look at some of these deserving projects:
* Fantagraphics’ Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse collections (two now available, I’ve reviewed Volume 1 at CWR)
There’s even still a chance to get a couple of things that have just recently appeared or are due soon like
* Mail-Order Mysteries: Treasures From Vintage Comic Book Ads (check out my review at CWR)
* Simon & Kirby: Crime (review here)
* Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol. 1
* Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes HC (I just got a review copy of this in the mail and the production and presentation is even better than I expected.)
This has been an overwhelmingly good year for collections — so don’t miss out on any of your favorites.
KC CARLSON: Currently being SMiLEd to death, joyfully. (Music fans know what I’m talking about).
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.