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The Duke of Oil

Today on the site, Marc Sobel returns with the second installment of his Strip Mine column, in which he takes $20 to a comics shop, then writes about what he's able to buy with it.

It wasn’t the best selection and the condition of most of the books was somewhere between “Very Sad” and “Near Ruined,” but what could I do? I had to look! It’s an obsession, I know, but fortunately I have a very understanding partner. Anyway, an hour later, here’s what I walked out with:

ADVENTURES OF THE OUTSIDERS #44 (April 1987)

I’m sure you’re thinking, why on Earth would I grab this random issue of a D-list super-team? Well, it certainly wasn’t for the cover by Joe Brozowski and Danny Bulandi. 

Let’s take a closer look. Geo Force, whose costume looks like it was designed by an 8-year-old, has a right arm protruding from his neck and a dislocated left shoulder, probably caused by his exploding forearm. Then there’s the awkwardly posed damsel, Dr. Jace, who can’t decide if she’s falling down or not. Maybe she’s just disoriented by the complete lack of any background? It looks like a bluescreen scene that never made it to the effects department. And, of course, there’s the groan-inducing villain, the Duke of Oil (whose real name is Earl J. Dukeston, get it?). 

To be honest, I never read an issue of The Outsiders before.[2] I couldn’t even name the characters (what happened to Ponyboy?). All I knew was that they inexplicably liked to team up with Batman, so obviously the story made little sense. There’s a bunch of soap opera plotlines and the whole thing ends with the old beaker-of-acid-to-the-face-reveals-the-villain-is-really-a-robot twist. If I had a nickel…

So why did I buy this book?

We also have Chris Mautner's review of Rina Ayuyang's Blame This On the Boogie.

What a warm and wonderful book this is, bursting with color and life, wise about the ways of the world and its ugliness, but steadfastly refusing to succumb to despair. I did not realize how much I needed to read a comic like this until I had it in my hands.

Ostensibly a memoir, the first half of the book (and, I suspect, most recent material) recounts Ayuyang’s youth, growing up as a Filipina-American in 1970s-era Pittsburgh. The youngest of four, she chronicles with a keen eye for detail (who here actually remembers the decorations hanging in their seventh grade classroom?) a mostly happy childhood filled with music, noise and love.

But it’s not as through bad times don’t exist, and Ayuyang does not shy away from depicting the struggles of being a first-generation American, trapped between your family’s culture and the one that surrounds you, not to mention having to deal with bullies, racism, bad teachers, and having to give a big presentation to the seventh grade class. Yet young Rina brushes them off like the proverbial dirt off her shoulder, perpetually enthralled by pop music, TV sitcoms and old movie musicals.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. Ivy Noelle Weir and Christina “Steenz” Stewart's Archival has won the fifth annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics.

—Reviews & Commentary. Liza Donnelly writes about the cartoons of Barbara Shermund.

Shermund’s early sales to The New Yorker were paintings for covers, but she was a prolific artist, and soon began contributing cartoons. As far as we know, she wrote her own captions (which is not always the case with a cartoon; sometimes a gag writer comes up with the captions). She kept a pad and pencil under her pillow at night in case an idea struck. Throughout the Roaring Twenties, her cartoons reflected what it was like to be a flapper, a “new woman” navigating Manhattan. Her work represented what Ross was looking for: sophisticated humor that spoke to the urban demimonde of the day. Shermund’s women seemed to be in charge of their lives and talked about their dreams and ideas. Her women did not seem to need men, and some of her captions hinted at homosexuality. Her women were confused, too, because the roles for women were changing, often not fast enough.

John Holbo writes about Wally Wood and Witzend.

Wally Wood drawing chicks and sort of noodling around with half-digested notions of Freud, plus second-hand Tolkien high fantasy tropes is just not great comics. It lacks vision and direction.

I feel that the same is true for a lot of the stuff in witzend. When they were let loose … they didn’t have a lot to say. Graphically, a lot of it is really beautiful, but no one involved seems to be fired with any brilliant idea about what new worlds comics should conquer now. Some of it is very retro. Edgar Rice Burroughs sword&sandals&sorcery stuff. Some of it is random hippie. Some of it is pretty sour in the toxic masculinity department – but not much. Mostly it just kind of drifts.

It’s like Wood and co. got to pretend they were they pent-up geniuses, when the squares at Marvel and DC made ‘em obey the Comics Code. But it turns out that they did better work pent-up. It’s like the final episode of LOST. Wood was so much more magic when you could imagine all the wonderful stuff he could have done if they’d let him.

It’s true that witzend paved the way for RAW and other comix and underground stuff. There’s other stuff coming, and Wood is rightly remembered as godfather to that. I get why everyone involved wanted freedom. But it feels … exhausted.

—RIP. Ken Nordine.


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