I like these guys' feet. Very nice.
The Mighty Thor #160
By Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Vince Colletta
Published by Marvel Comics, 1969
I had intended to read The Mighty Thor #160 ever since Matt Seneca wrote about it so lovingly, but availability and opportunity didn't coincide until quite recently. I'm happy there was a wait in between, some time to allow Matt's write-up to slip into memory so as to give me the chance to experience the comic as cleanly as one can experience a late-'60s Marvel from Kirby and Lee. I'm also happy it was an old, yellowing issue, stinking of cheap paper and curiously marked down at some point from 12 cents to a nickel. I don't think there's enough time in my world to debate the merits of old paper versus new paper versus digital, and no matter what, I'm as certain I could never convince anyone to change their preference as I am that no one could ever change mine. I like those paperback Marvel Masterworks in a pinch, but my preference will always be this: a comic, hopefully free of dubious liquid stains.
The comic is neither the end of a story nor a beginning, although it has shades of both. Like the best Marvel Comics, it reads in reference to a history that seems to disappear when directly addressed, all the while tugging at your leg, aggressively beckoning you forward, into the action, into that forever present cataclysm that seems to always take place before those shocked eyes that Kirby so often depicts as being as startled by us readers as they are by what the dialog says they're actually looking at. These scene changes roughly every three pages, and most of them conclude with the characters tear-assing their way across the galaxy, always in desperate and dogged pursuit of something, of someone. The major exception is found in the final two pages, when Galactus and Ego the Living Planet direct all of their powers at one another, carelessly unaware of the Thor in their midst. The plot is simple--Thor wishes to find Galactus, while Galactus wishes to find food. Everything else lays in the space between those two, spaces filled with explosions, speed and the word proclaimed. I have no idea where this story will go, when--if ever--I will find the time to trace it, and yet I couldn't have found more satisfaction out of these twenty pages.
By Jim Rugg
Published by Adhouse
It's difficult to point towards anyone who has fully delivered more on the anthology front than Jim Rugg. A 56-page, full-color collection of art ranging from comics, concept art, and cover illustrations to movie posters, concluding with a full-page index documenting a range of interests that, by rights, should make any cartoonist's bullfrog green, Rugg's Adhouse-published Supermag is a ferociously satisfying art object that manages to entertain far more than the first seventeen things that pop into my head when I think of the words "art object." For someone unfamiliar with Rugg, it seems quite possible that there'd be a momentary stutter of disbelief when informed that what one is seeing is the work of one man, so complete is his ability to replicate and fuse the styles of others with that of is own. A personal favorite would have to be one of the pages easy for the Journal's readership to ignore, that being the page where Rugg draws a bevy of female super-heroes backing up his Afrodisiac character on a South Central rooftop in 1992. Someone who didn't burn off those years plowing through Marvel Comics might fail to realize that what looks at first like a Lee/Liefeld pastiche is something even more delectable, even nerdier: it's a homage to all those second-rate scrubs who spent the late-'90s aping that style, lest they choose instead to earn their rent in a different, non-comics, profession. Poking fun at Lee & Liefeld is easy--but picking on Whilce Portacio and Steve Skroce is evidence of ice-watered veins.
Alternative Comics #4
With Sam Alden, James Kochalka, Grant Snider, Noah Van Sciver, Alex Schubert, Andy Ristaino, David Lasky, Robin McConnell, Allison Cole, Sam Henderson, Mike Bertino, Craig Thompson & Theo Ellsworth
Published by Alternative Comics, 2013
It's a common enough observation that reactions towards anthology comics tend to lean too heavily on one's negative feelings towards the anthology's worst installments; in fact, it's become such a common complaint that it's come to cause me more irritation to read someone braying about it than it does to just embrace the behavior being complained about. (In case you're keeping score, I decided I was a huge fan of "comics aren't just for kids anymore" articles as well as headlines that use the words "Bam" or "Pow" right around the time rent-chasing mongoloids started to use the word "curated" while describing their miserable attempts to shoehorn zombies into an American Splendor rip-off--if that's the progressive art form that the Times is supposed to be reporting on, I'll stick to conversations about Tim Truman's Hawkworld that heavily feature synonym-deprived words like "awesome.") In other words, I would have ignored the fact that this anthology had a mediocre comic from James Kochalka, but this fucking comic actually has two mediocre James Kochalka comics, and when one is already too much, two is going to feel like a personal attack.
That being said? Noah Van Sciver quite nearly makes up for it. There's some solid work from others here as well, but it's Van Sciver's two-page "It Can Only Get Better" that stands out the most. Featuring a death-dealing satirical cartoonist with a taste for whores, the Lord, and sweet, sweet Dixie, it's a quick historical glance at a day in the life of an asshole--we see him at work, with a lady, dealing with his adoring fans, and we hear his dreams. It's over far too quickly. One can only hope that there's more to come from our Whig-hating protagonist, preferably stories set before syphilis robs him of his vigor.
Popcorn Muscles #1
By Gabriel Winslow-Yost and Michael Rae-Grant
Self published, 2013
"More like this" is a phrase that could also be used for the first issue of Popcorn Muscles, the latest comic from Gabriel Winslow-Yost & Michael Rae-Grant. Also responsible for the self-published Steel Sterling and the Oily-published Tiger Man, Popcorn Muscles will serve as an ongoing anthology of whatever-they-feel-like comics. It's a nice, offbeat introduction to the duo. There are three stories here, all of which utilize an extremely loose take on old, terrible comic characters form 1939 and the early '40s. It's not totally clear why they choose to use the old characters, as none of what they do would be any less difficult to accomplish with creations of their own, but it's not really hurting them, either, as they don't resort to the teeth-grinding tedium that would ensue from a look-how-dumb-and-by-dumb-i-mean-awesome take on the characters.
The first story is the longest one; it's also the one that serves up the most coherent and traditional narrative, following an old couple with superpowers as they decide to commit suicide. It's funny, and while the third story's color palate is a better showcase for Rae-Grant's artwork--which is sort of like Basil Wolverton crossed with Joost Swarte, Michael DeForge, and an angry dot matrix printer--the first story doesn't feel as fussy as the others, in part because the emotional volume of the characters is cranked to such a high level that it offsets Rae-Grant's unwillingness for his drawings to be anything less than perfect. There's a range to that first story, which follows two men who require gigantic mechanical contraptions to keep their ability to fly under control--without the outfits, they would shoot into the atmosphere like Apollo 7. It's touching, but in a way that doesn't seem very sentimental or even relatable. It's just a sad story, dressed in ridiculous clothes. There's always a place for that.
By Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth
Published by Marvel
Although it's only been out a day, Hawkeye #11 has already been labeled as "the best superhero comic of the year," "the best comic of 2013," and "possibly the best [Hawkeye] issue yet?" and that's in one review alone. I read it, found it a little overly complicated, read it again, spilled coffee on it, and then looked at it again. Having done that legwork, I have to say that I found it relatively entertaining. As is pointed out in the linked review, there's a definite Chris Ware influence at work here, but only because we're talking about a comic book--the visual similarity between Hawkeye and those wordless air-safety cards you can find in the seat back in front of you is a lot stronger than if you were to put this alongside that part in Building Stories where the cat dies.
That being said, Fraction and Aja aren't hitting the streets of the internet right now trying to convince anyone that this comic was ever intended to dethrone the formalist king, or reclaim symbolism for Marvel--they probably just discovered the same thing I did, which is that David Aja is able to capture that odd anthropomorphic effect certain dogs have, that feeling when you enter a room and a loyal retriever's eyes recognize its best friend. If we're pushing dog fiction, there's going to be plenty other comics out there whose dog drawings more accurately reflect what a dog looks like, but if we're talking about the way a dog can make one feel? This accomplishes that pretty well. But man, this comic still reads a lot like a nicotine gum.
And now, Abhay Khosla has an exciting development to share with all of us.
Confession time. I'm sure I wasn't the only person excited--no, thrilled by the announcement--no, proclamation that Amazon Publishing plans to begin publishing official "fan fiction" in partnership with Valiant Comics through its Kindle Worlds platform: "any writer will be able to create and sell fan fiction inspired by the popular Worlds of Valiant superhero comic book series Bloodshot, X-O Manowar, Archer & Armstrong, Harbinger, and Shadowman."
Too many dreams coming true, all at once. This is the closest I've ever come to knowing what Martin Lawrence's character Jamal was feeling at the end of Black Knight. Remember that triumphant look on Jamal's face when he said, "Do you have a thong? Never mind-- we'll just take an old pair of drawers and cut the ass out"? I had that look on my face. Anyone who saw me that day immediately thought, "Oh no, he didn't!"
I started writing my dream novel, Behold the Eye of the Clockwork Man, Dreamt the X-O Manowar, and had spent tens of minutes on it when disaster struck, and I found that Valiant Comics and Amazon had issued "Content Guidelines," i.e. fascism. For example: "X-O Manowar: Despite being a man from another time, Aric does not torture his enemies or engage in violence against children." Also: "Pornography: We don't accept pornography." There goes Chapters 5, 7, 14, and 23, America! Obama...
So it doesn't go completely to waste, here are excerpts of what I'd written before I was forced to give up.
CHAPTER THREE -- RED HARVEST
X-O Manowar sat on the toilet, moaning in agony. What had he eaten? X-O Manowar didn't understand modern Earth cuisine-- before he found some robot suit or whatever the hell, he was a barbarian from the year 400, after all. In his time, when hungry, members of his tribe would steal children from neighboring villages, and roast them over a spit. Dammit, his stomach was used to toddler flesh, not kale!
The pain became excruciating. What was happening? X-O Manowar checked between his legs, and gasped. "I'm-- I'M HAVING A BABY!"
CHAPTER SIX -- THE GLASS KEY
"I always thought I preferred girls, before I met you," X-O Manowar giggled, as his hand gently tousled his own chest hair seductively. "But as soon as I saw you, I felt like my face and mouth were built to be a foyer for your machismo."
Lucas Scott (aka Chad Michael Murray's character from the hit 2003 CW show One Tree Hill) shook his head. "This just isn't the right time. I'm just a high-school basketball player who's struggling with my dad abandoning my as a child, and my tumultuous relationship with my half-brother who's dating my best friend, and also my dad ends up killing his brother who is my mom's love interest at the time, and my sometimes-cheerleader-love interest Peyton is dealing with the dark side of the music business, and--- and you-- you're a ... What are you again?"
"I'm a barbarian who finds a robot suit that--"
"Wow, that sounds incredibly stupid."
X-O Manowar grabbed a nearby kettlebell and started doing kettlebell swings, tears streaming down his face. "I'll show you, Lucas Scott! I'll show the entire town of Tree Hill, and its star-filled high-school basketball team, the Tree Hill Ravens. Believe that dreams come true every day!"
CHAPTER FIFTEEN -- NIGHTMARE TOWN
"Cocaine isn't enough anymore. I need something more powerful," X-O Manowar complained, through his robot-suit's interstellar walkie-talkie. "They say this is the ultimate high."
The walkie-talkie buzzed back immediately. "Don't do it! We can get through this together. It's not worth it," Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth pleaded. This was way worse than all those other times that he'd been sad about bad stuff happening to him.
But it was too late. X-O Manowar turned. Before him lay a Space Walrus the size of a small house. Specifically, its rectum. Taking a deep breath, X-O Manowar plunged his head deep into the Walrus's rectum. The rush was immediate, the addiction permanent.
"Ride or die," whispered Dom Toretto, watching from his father's Dodge Charger. "Ride or die. Who is this guy again, Jimmy Corrigan?"
"He's a barbarian who found a robot suit that--"
"Wow, that sounds incredibly stupid. Oh, well. Ride or die."
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN -- THE DAIN CURSE
He desperately wanted her phone number. "Anybody got a pen?" Jamal the Black Knight yelled.
Victoria the buxom chambermaid was shocked. "You can read and write!"
"Yeah! ... Who you been datin'?"
CHAPTER TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY-FOUR -- THE BIG KNOCKOVER
X-O Manowar nodded, "And that is the story of Northampton, from the beginning of time, to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21, 2004. Thank you for listening. It's profound that you would listen so patiently."
"D-d-oes that mean you want to be b-b-est friends? I've never had a best friend before," Abha-- uh... John Doe asked, while breakdancing.
X-O Manowar nodded eagerly, shooting ice cream from his robot suit. "I definitely want to be best friends with you since you can breakdance so well and know all about breakdancing. Plus, I bet girls like you a lot."
Rodney Dangerfield kicked down a door and rushed into the room. "Hey everybody! We're all going to get laid!"
And then they all high-fived. Forever.