Comics of the Weak Comics of the Weak

Let’s Set This Bed On Fire, With Passion and Love

Here's a big surprise: this year hasn't launched itself into the stratosphere with the best comics ever made quite yet, and being a timely column dedicated to surveying things that are fresh with morning dew, that means we're stuck with the same old usual suspects. I was going to dig up this thing I'd had on my desktop where some Marvel editor said something bizarre comparing Magneto murdering starving Africans to not being able to stop at eating one potato chip, but it looks like I deleted it. You're seeing how the sausage is being made, people! Isn't it a delight? I imagine not.

Star Wars #1
By Brian Wood, Carlos D'Anda, Gabe Eltaeb
Published by Dark Horse

The story in this comic is set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, which seems like one of the more unexciting time periods to set a story, but it gives Brian Wood the opportunity to work with the only characters that people probably still like, that being Luke & Leia and the robots and Harrison Ford. I used to think it would be nice to be a fan of these comics, to be only interested in reading Star Wars-based fiction, because there isn't too much of it that it's expensive, and none of it is special enough that you need to keep it. There's also these blurbs at the beginning where they tell the reader where the story takes place in the overall Star Wars timeline, which is really long and stretches essentially into infinity. I don't really like Star Wars enough to be that person, and that's sort of a serial killer way to get into something, but I like the concept of it, of getting your entertainment in an extremely precise, clinical fashion, to only participate in comic books via one extremely specific entry point. My old boss had roughly 25-30 items of clothing, but he had multiples of each respective item. I remember thinking that while that made sense to me on a certain level, it made sense in the same way that measuring food with a ruler does, and I'm pretty sure that when you go down that path you end up losing a lot of relationships. I don't really have a lot of relationships in the first place, so I'm not going to take any chances.

PS: I saw the part of that Star Wars porno where Chewbacca has sex, and while I believe in freedom and stuff, I also believe everybody involved in that scene should get fired into the sun, except for the women, because they have already suffered enough. I've been wanting to tell you that for a long time, Comics Journal.

21st Century Boys Volume 1
By Naoki Urasawa

I found out not too long ago that, like Gantz, a whole lot of the people who had started reading 20th Century Boys alongside me had jumped ship a long time ago, and while I'm way too close to the end to not stick it out, I really wish some of them had been nice enough to grab my shoulder and say "we're leaving," because I would have caught a ride. And instead, here I am, 44 months in to a story where the main bad guy is dead (sort of) for the second or third time (probably) and now there's another big-ass world-changing holocaust-level event right around the corner. This time it's a bomb that will blow Earth in half, Michael Bay style... there's just no way out of a story like this that can satisfy, really, and while 20th Century Boys could probably serve as a great bible for some thesis on the traps of serialized genre fiction, with its allergic reactions to conclusions and deeper meanings, or maybe on Urasawa's unwillingness to let a romantic subplot have some goddamned payoff (44 months!), it's hard to imagine that experience being fun for any of the people who would have to be involved in its creation. Hell, if you're into this deep enough to know why it doesn't work, you're probably too busy enjoying it to care. I guess what I'm trying to say is: I stood around with shit in my teeth for how long? You guys are such assholes.

Secret Service #5
By Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Matthew Vaughn, Andy Lanning, Angus McKie
Published by Icon 

I didn't read that Django Unchained comic or that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comic, so I'm not sure why I read this one--at the end of it all, there's nothing that any of these people can bring to the table that's going to be better than the film version of it would be, the only difference here is that Secret Service the comic came out before Secret Service the movie. That's not to say that movies > comics just 'cuz, but movies certainly are better than comics at doing certain kinds of stories, and Secret Service is as guilty of being one of those kinds as Django must be. (Dragon Tattoo has a lot of rape in it and is also terribly fucking written, so it's actually a perfect fit for DC.) That's not to say that Secret Service is the kind of terrible you can't enjoy--that's obviously not true, as anybody who has read this column's previous "ha ha, Mark Millar hates comics" sentences will know--but it is the kind of terrible that you'd enjoy a lot more if it was delivered in the more intravenous method that a movie theater provides. Look at that page above: how excited are you right now? Do you want to dress in a suit and go learn the Keysi Fighting Method right now? That's what's supposed to happen, pal. But you're not, are you? You're all laid back, thinking about Dave Gibbons and airbrush master Angus McKie, wondering what kind of working relationship Matthew Vaughn has with Mark Millar--does Millar massage the sack? do they have their own kegel balls?--and all that's saying is that the landing was botched. You're supposed to be looking at your body in disgust right now: that's what the power of film brings to the table.

Daredevil #236
By Ann Nocenti & Barry Windsor-Smith
Published by Marvel, 1986

This is a terribly executed comic with dialog that only approaches making sense about half of the time, it's drawn in such a confusing fashion that it seems like Barry Windsor-Smith was angry he had to draw it, so he decided not to fill in the gaps that the script left behind ... and yet it was the beginning of what had to be one of the most difficult transitions in superhero comics of the '80s: following up Frank Miller's Born Again. That doesn't make this comic good, which it isn't, but it does have some charms as an artifact, even more so knowing that it would lead to a solidly received four-and-a-half-year run. It's like Floyd Farland, or Pope Hats 1, or Pineapple Army, or that comic Mazzucchelli did when he was 7 that they reprint in Batman Year One: fertilizer, for the lemon trees that were to come.

Punisher War Zone #3
By Greg Rucka, Matt Hollingsworth & Carmine Di Giandomenico
Published by Marvel Comics

Since this is the issue where the Punisher faces off against Thor, you can bet there was going to be some ready-for-blood Thor fans in the wings, ready to scream like they caught a peeper at the merest hint that Frank was going to get the best of a character who once beat Jesus to death. I'll admit, even as a red-blooded Punisher First supporter, I was kind of curious how Greg Rucka was going to be able to make this comic about a mute female alcoholic into a comic where Punisher fights Thor and it isn't all weird and shit. I should've guessed the solution would be talking, I'm actually disappointed in myself for being surprised by the choice. It sorta works, even if it is somewhat dull. They drink some beer on top of a building, and Thor talks about how awesome killing people is, how its fun to go dark for a few decades and just wear the blood of your victims. I bet Rucka got that from the part in Robert Bly's Iron John where they talk about the ashes period. That book is fucking sick as hell. It's like all the other New Age books about being a man are wagons and wheelchairs, and here comes Robert Bly on a skateboard: you're all living in the kitchen! You gotta go be in the woods now! So good. Last page of this comic: Captain America is wearing leather gloves inside, reading the newspaper? I think I just figured out that Carmine Di Giandomenico has never worn gloves in his life.

The Incredible Hulk #279
By Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald, Greg LaRocque, Bob Sharen
Published by Marvel Comics, 1983

This came free with my purchase of Copra #2, it's not very good, but it's very, very, very "not very good", and I'd highly recommend it to anyone but the most humorless, so basically everybody but that CBR guy who has the face of a young suitcase. This comic apparently features every single Marvel hero that existed and was in continuity back in 1983, all of whom came together to celebrate the new status quo for the Hulk, which was that he had become Bruce Banner's mind in full control of the Hulk's body. The comic features an actual ticker tape parade, a scene where Hulk gets the key to New York City, there's an apology from General Thunderbolt Ross, Thor conjures up a doorway to Asgard so that Hulk can be greeted with huzzahs by the entire population of that realm, and yes, because this was a present from someone who knows what I like, also features a scene where Hulk cries upon receiving a sack of congratulatory letters (written by the wives of then-Marvel employees), which are delivered by that old pervert that lives with the Fantastic Four. This isn't the worst comic ever made, but it is that special kind of stupid, near-incomprehensible absurdity that can make the hunt for worst comics so much fun. Let's be honest: you would rather read this than anything Neil Gaiman has written or will ever write, and you know it.

Thor God of Thunder #4
By Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, Ive Svorcina
Published by Marvel Comics

I missed the issue of this where the God Butcher found the end to Falkor's Neverending Story by butchering him, but I bet it was A) funny and B) violent, because the issues of this series that I have seen are both of those things, quite frequently. It's hard to criticize something that goes about what it does so openly and directly, it sort of seems like yelling at a McDonald's menu for being unhealthy, ignoring the fact that the caloric numbers are posted right there: what else do you want them to do? Patronize you when you try to order? Write apologies on the wrapper? That being said, here's something they could try fixing: Thor should use some type of edged weapon, and he should have sex with the things he kills after he kills them, and he should talk really dirty while he does it. That would make this comic a whole lot better. Nobody cares anyway, it's not like it'll fuck up the movie money. Just have Thor stick his dick in a sword wound while humming vacantly at the reader. "Let thine thistle cleave ther, splice a cubby to taketh Odinson's warmth, taketh it, taketh it, and be taketh-ing. Asgard!" Then more humming. I already think that's what happens in these comics anyway, so does everybody else... so just do it. Get real with it. Show me something honest about America and humanity.

I probably outta take a minute.

45 Responses to Let’s Set This Bed On Fire, With Passion and Love

  1. Rick Vance says:

    As someone who felt the same as you about 20th Century Boys as it reached the home stretch the final volume did a lot to bring the story up when I read it.

  2. joe.distort says:

    ‘Let’s be honest: you would rather read this than anything Neil Gaiman has written or will ever write, and you know it.’

    i freely admit to this fact, it is quite true. give me quarter bin ridiculousness over uptight ‘sentimentality’ every day of the week!

  3. BVS says:

    I’m mostly uninterested in ebooks, but in the case of these manga series like 20th century boys with 20+ volumes I could be converted. does E book manga even exist?
    it’s already black and white and on fairly small pages, these sprawling consequence avoiding suspense epics would be less of a bummer if you weren’t being asked to pay $13 a piece. I’m not saying its anywhere close to as bad as watching Lost was, but shit, at least you didn’t have to pay to watch lost.
    and seriously, who has the space on their book shelves for this stuff?
    that said urasawa’s billy bat sounds right up my alley, but I think at this point publishing urasawa has proven itself to be unprofitable. maybe digital could work?

  4. Joe McCulloch says:

    There’s a lot of eBook manga — Shonen Jump in English is totally digital now, and comixology just recently got a ton of vintage Shotaro Ishinomori titles — but seinen stuff is a little hard to come by. Unless you’re *really* into dubious Takao Saito gekiga; J-manga has a ton of that, along with other assorted oddities. My favorite attempt was IKKI’s release of a standalone iPad app translating the 1000+ page entirety of Taiyo Matsumoto’s No. 5 for $20, but I guess it didn’t sell enough to warrant further releases…

  5. Christopher M says:

    “Captain America is wearing leather gloves inside, reading the newspaper?”

    What, you want him to get smudgy stuff all over his fingers?

  6. BVS says:

    complete NO.5 in English? dang, I didn’t know!! I’ll have to remember that.
    I suppose part of the seinen problem then might be awareness of availability. in addition to that particular, 18-30 male market, probably being viewed as the most likely to spend money buying physical books.

  7. Jeppe says:

    I don’t understand how anyone can back out of Gantz, while still happily (if somewhat masochistically) be reading [insert any title] by Marvel Comics after the first issue.

  8. Rick Vance says:

    Viz and Dark Horse put up whatever manga they can license for it online and the cost is 4.99 a pop most of the time.

    Both do tend to stay away from certain creators for one reason or another.

  9. Jayawh says:

    The part of Gantz where they fight vampires for 10 volumes and then a giant DBZ monster fight where they literally pancake it with satellite pancake machines multiple times over, and then it just gets back up (sans accordian effect that would’ve made it all worth it) and changes to a NEW MORE POWERFUL FORM over and over and over, and everyone is instilled with fighting spirit and they will survive at first they were afraid THEY WERE PUTRIFIED and it simply never ends.

    I only read through all of that because I illegally pirated the comic for free against the law (it was before the American versions came out though, so that makes it legal again). I would not have paid a half of a penny for a single volume of that.

    I’m not sure I can in good faith recommend the current arc where they’re talking to god whose face is constantly shapeshifting between kawaii nekos and Hitler OH THE IRONY.

  10. Jeppe says:

    So you’re saying that what you just described doesn’t beat All-New X-Men #2? I

  11. Jayawh says:

    I would say it’s on par, or sucks the same amount but in a different way from a different culture.

  12. Aw, man, it’s a shame you haven’t enjoyed 20CBoys, Tucker, seriously. Me, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it, even with the massive problems inherent in making a 4000 page comic that has to have Stunning Revelations and Unbelievable Twists every 200 pages or so. (e.g. Why is there always a big WHOOOSH every time we find out that Everything We Thought We Knew About The Friend Is Wrong? Is it really that windy in Japan? Is it really that windy at the exactly right dramatic moment?)

    The most fun I’ve had reading a serial for a long time. Muuuuuuch better than Monster or Pluto, for mine, although some of that’s down to having 100% less Kenzo fucking Tenma.

  13. Thor should use some type of edged weapon, and he should have sex with the things he kills after he kills them, and he should talk really dirty while he does it. That would make this comic a whole lot better. Nobody cares anyway, it’s not like it’ll fuck up the movie money. Just have Thor stick his dick in a sword wound while humming vacantly at the reader.

    Ask, and it shall be given

  14. Paul Houston says:

    Having just started to read 20th Century Boys, it’s good to know to get out now so I don’t have to waste any more money or time.

  15. Lightning Lord says:

    Some people would read a comic about a dude sticking a nail into his dick if it wasn’t published by Marvel or DC.

  16. Lightning Lord says:

    Sounds like I should stick with Monster and Pluto.

  17. ant says:

    That Secret Service page looks super-super stiff. Don’t tell me Dave “Funky” Gibbons has lost his touch!
    Truly a black day for comics…

  18. Briany Najar says:

    “Some people would read a comic about a dude sticking a nail into his dick if it wasn’t published by Marvel or DC.”

    Don’t tease. Where can I get it?

  19. Christopher says:

    That top panel is rather awkward, I mean you get the idea that a man has been hit in the face but it looks like he’s just happened to have turned his face to the side and let out some blood at the same the guy in the suit decided to strike a weird pose while holding a cue.

  20. Briany Najar says:

    It’s like the panels are too cramped – the p.o.v. too close in – so there’s not enough room to swing a cat, or a pool cue either. Like, if I was swinging things in panels that cozy I’d be wary about hitting the borders.
    I dunno though, I’ve not read the comic – maybe it’s supposed to come across as over-before-they-knew-it-was-happening or something, and this suited guy is just doing another boring day’s work dealing with schmoes. The people standing around certainly don’t look like they were expecting mega heavy action.

  21. Christopher says:

    There are some people I’ve known of who read almost only Star Wars comics like the middle-aged woman who would come into a shop I frequented, thumb through their back issues of Dark Horse and Marvel SW comics and have conversations with no one in particular, in a droning monotone, about the Star Wars continuity and go up to the counter to ask if any new Star Wars comics had come in (her response to a negative answer was to let out a huge, dissappointed sigh that you could hear across the store)

  22. Paul Slade says:

    There’s always been a slight stiffness to Gibbons’ work which places it more with good old-fashioned Silver Age cartooning than today’s air-brushed and computer-coloured monstrosities. Those panels look as if someone’s tried to “sophisticate” his art by adding all those nuanced shadows and background effects in the colouring process.

    Unfortunately, that style really doesn’t suit his art at all, and it ends up just accentuating the stiffness they were presumably trying to get away from. They’d have been better off with flat colour and playing to his strength of clear storytelling without any unnecessary flash.

  23. Briany Najar says:

    Yup. I don’t mind the local shadows so much, but those abstract bg effects are definitely not helping the sense of movement one bit. The bottom left one, in particular, seems to be suggesting a kind of frozen-in-a-shaft-of-light, moment-of-revelation kind of stasis.
    Again: so far as I know that could be the intention, this is one isolated page out of context.
    It’s not like I even particularily relish fight scenes in comics anyway. Just show a cloud of dust with some feet and fists sticking out, followed by the combatants sitting against a wall – hatched bruises on their faces and black eyes all purple – smoking cigarettes.

  24. Jog says:

    For what it’s worth, in the context of the story, everyone but the guy in the suit has been frozen in place by a HI-TECH gadget…

  25. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    10 points for the Goodies reference.

  26. Paul Slade says:

    I thought it was an Andy Capp reference?

  27. Guess it speaks poorly of me that I like 20thCB best.

  28. Paul Slade says:

    “Thor talks about how awesome killing people is, how its fun to go dark for a few decades and just wear the blood of your victims.”

    Pretty clearly, then, this is the stuff he’s really been drinking:

    Wikipedia says: “In January 2010 a BBC investigation revealed that Buckfast had been mentioned in 5,638 crime reports in the Strathclyde area of Scotland from 2006–2009, equating to an average of three per day. One in 10 of those offences had been violent and 114 times in that period a Buckfast bottle was used as a weapon.”

  29. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    On second thought, maybe it should be -10 points. I’d forgotten just how stupid this actually was!

  30. Paul Slade says:

    Ah, I see. Ant mentions “Dave ‘Funky’ Gibbons”.

    I didn’t read up any higher than the “dust, feet and fists” sentence in Briany’s second post when I was trying to figure out what you were referring back to – which is why I mentioned Andy Capp.

    It’s been a long day.

  31. DasGeordie says:

    That shit is brewed by monks. BY MONKS. By definition, any violence you “set aboot” whilst under the influence is God’s Work.

    I tried some once. You actually get the hangover as you’re drinking it.

  32. Paul Slade says:

    At 15% ABV, I’m not surprised. Even Carlsberg Special Brew (the English street alcoholic’s equivalent of Buckie) is only 9% ABV.

    I tried Buckie once or twice in my own foolish youth, but unless you’re a complete headbanger you soon learn to avoid it.

  33. Briany Najar says:

    Anyone who’s put as much work into an essay about Andy Capp can be forgiven for seeing his likeness all over the place.
    It is an excellent piece of work that essay, and anyone with an interest in 20th Century cartoonists, their lives and works, and the way social realism filtered into popular culture in the late ’50s, should give it a read.
    I now have a level of respect for Reg Smythe that I never previously suspected him deserving of.

  34. Paul Slade says:

    Thanks, Briany. I’m very glad you enjoyed it. And yes, it is true I’ve had Andy on the brain ever since I finished writing it.

  35. Larry says:

    It’s good reading up to a certain point. I’d recommend the library route. The major problem is that at some point during the series the multiple red herrings become real eye rollers. Readers can forgive and even enjoy having the rug pulled out from under them a few times, but not several dozens of times.

  36. Daniel C. Parmenter says:

    And for the record, I enjoyed the heck out of that Andy Capp article too.

  37. Strangefate says:

    Although it’s easy to laugh at the woman in this anecdote as insane, because…well, that’s insane, almost everything with Star Wars on the label is fucking terrible…don’t you envy her just a little bit? I can’t think of one thing I’m anticipating with that level of dedication. Sometimes I go months before catching up on the yearly Love & Rockets release and that’s actually good. Like a guaranteed will always be good, don’t worry about it kind of a thing. Yet I still only kinda barely care that it’s out there. Then here’s this sad-sack monomaniac waiting fervently for every new issue of SW: Money Grubbing Shit Fest, the Clone Years and maybe even enjoying it as much, if not more, than I like Love & Rockets. See what I mean? What kind of mind wipe does a guy have to go through to feel that kind of enthusiasm over garbage? Because a person who truly deeply enjoys consuming half-assed garbage must live like a king in this country. So I’m with Tucker, sign me for the Star Wars soup kitchen. Or mercy kill me. Whichever.

  38. Paul Slade says:

    The way the Darth Vader page above is cropped on TCJ’s front page makes it look like the “bed on fire” headline is a Vader speechballoon. No wonder the soldier looks worried!

  39. Graham S says:

    20th Century Boys managed to become a bit better in the last few volumes. The worst of it is those volumes right when it becomes the “Friendship Era” but once some of the junk in there is sorted out it’s relatively smooth sailing till the end.

  40. Christopher says:

    Though the SW comics people were nothing compared to the sort of buyers who’d read nothing but Xena: Warrior Princess comics (almost always crazy middle-aged women, who’d probably have bought anything with Lucy Lawless’ face stamped on it at the time, even chunks of asbestos, which they probably would have eaten)

  41. Christopher says:

    Even now, at a store I frequent there’s an older gentleman who shows up and buys only Jim Balent’s ‘Tarot’ (which he has heartily recommened as a read to both fellow customers and whoever’s behind the counter when he’s made a purchase) and these Grimm Fairy Tales titles from Zenescope Comics, which is basically classic fairy tales and stuff like Alice in Wonderland but dark, and gritty and loaded with T&A.

  42. BVS says:

    I concur,those damn xena comics fans, farscape comics fans too. what always killed me is how they showed up every month and asked the same question. long after new xena episodes had stopped airing, and even after it wasn’t on in reruns either. when their beloved show was on the air, it was you could trust that it would be on and watchable in it’s scheduled time. they just didn’t get that comics is a sad world that doesn’t work like that. just because you bought the new issue of the supposedly monthly comic in august doesn’t mean 30 days later in september. maybe the next one might show up in 90 days, then another one will show up a year and a half later years, then never.. you must disegard any claims of “coming soon” that might appears on the publisher’s cryptic and not frequently updated website. “soon” can be interpreted to mean within 3 years. basically if your beloved character has fallen in to the realm only existing in comics form, it’s already too late, they are pretty much gone for good.

  43. Lightning Lord says:

    Yeah, fuck those people who enjoy the things they like!

  44. mateor says:

    I am pretty sure there are multiple dick nailings in Angry Youth.

  45. Would you bring your “A” game to a Mark Millar movie tie-in comic? I mean, you’re going to get paid even if it’s a bunch of stick figures they can use to storyboard…

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