So, how long do you think it’ll take before some enterprising publisher brings this major dude back into action? Witness: Beardsley Bullfeather, a parody Randian space explorer he-man created by Jack Kirby in the early 1970s for editor Michel Choquette’s focus-on-the-’60s anthology The Someday Funnies, which has just recently been published by Abrams. There’s been some complaints about the finished volume, and I agree with the big ones – the new coloring work on display is heavy and sometimes garish, while the structural device of inserting a continuing story directly into the various contributions, often mid-story or mid-panel, distracts and distances the reader from the work, although I suppose the long delay in the book’s release accommodates this conceit in freezing the contents as history. I prefer to take it straight.
But still! The Ballad of Beardsley Bullfeather or Tune In–Cop-Out and Drop-Up! Two pages written and drawn by Kirby, with inks by Joe Sinnott! Rand Hoppe at the Jack Kirby Museum has already commented on this piece, presenting Kirby’s original lettered pencils, which indicate some revisions made to the titula Ballad at some point in the source anthology’s prolonged gestation. Hoppe also notes the inescapable presence of Steve Ditko in the story’s content, as middle-aged driven individual Bullfeather — distinctly unhip and perhaps familiarly bespectacled — hops into a homemade rocket in 1965 and flies away to live alone on the moon:
He moonwalks and skims ‘cross the gritty horizons
And dances by earthlight that shines so serene
In case the uppermost designation of Our Man’s Randian impulse as “emotions” (impliedly irrational) weren’t enough, do note that he’s actually living in a bubble, protected from a harsh environment metaphoric of Kirby’s “blood on the green…”
Yet what strikes me most about this scenario is that stepping outside the bubble really would obliterate poor Bullfeather, though Kirby gives him no happier a fate – eventually the moon landing arrives in ’69, and there’s nothing to be found of this fanciful voyager and his interesting name: Bullfeather. That’s a bit of old slang, I believe in reference to a cuckold. And indeed, Kirby’s Bullfeather suffers an infidelity: the dream of cosmic exploration is realized not by individual volition or a congress of rational actors, but by governmental operation.
Still, this is a gentle parody, and Kirby is generous. He might seem bemused by the philosophy, yet he recognizes a deep romantic appeal to self-starting individuality. All of Kirby’s powers are devoted to portraying Beardsley Bullfeather’s strange trip, rightly krackling with danger and discovery. In this way, the hero embodies a blissful, misguided daydream of ’60s idealism; it’s doubtful Kirby saw Rand’s ideas as carrying much force into the 21st century. No, this is a sci-fi comic, a fiction, and Bullfeather’s disappearance can only come with the decade’s end and the wistful arrival of cold facts, ready for embalming in schoolbooks. Kirby does not draw the Apollo 11 astronauts, because he does not need to. There is only a dull, utilitarian boot, and then a final, permanent stamp.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
The Fracture of the Universal Boy: A 208-page original graphic novel that writer/artist Michael Zulli spend much of the ’00s composing, ultimately publishing it via Eidolon Fine Arts through a Kickstarter campaign, wherein he described the work as “[t]old in a kind of symbolic dream logic,” in which “I have tried to address the ideas and motivations behind the artistic life. What is the nature of belief? Love? The process of making art?” In the interests of full disclosure, I was one of the 523 odd Kickstarter backers, flush with memories of The Puma Blues and those completely berserk issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, probably the two projects closest in tone to the present work, full of bestial natural and nightmare images lurking under apportioned caption narration. It’s now being distributed to Diamond-serviced comic book stores. Samples; $27.99.
Cradlegrave: A Diamond import of a recent 2000 AD collection from Rebellion, concerning a 2009 horror serial about secrets in a council estate and a troubled young man. The writer is Indigo Prime creator John Smith, who’s on my official list of 2000 AD writers who are always worth a look (seriously, if any of you can find the collected edition for his 1988-89 New Statesmen series from Crisis with Jim Baikie, Sean Phillips and Duncan Fegredo, it’s well worth the perusal for students of superhero-ish genre stuff in that blood & thunder period). Art by Edmund Bagwell, with an introduction by Ramsey Campbell (who had a short story adapted to comics by Michael Zulli in Taboo 5, fine stuff); $22.99.
Bob Powell’s Terror: This is the newest Craig Yoe project from IDW (though a softcover edition of his 2010 Felix the Cat’s Greatest Comic Book Tails is also due this week), a 148-page follow-up to last year’s Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein in the editor’s The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics! line. “[A] generous amount of horror comic stories” are promised from Powell’s career, which may or may not mean the gala 1,000,000th printing of Colorama (not that I’m complaining). Introduction by Yoe, with some text and original art images by Powell; $24.99.
Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers: There’s an awful lot of collections and reprints floating around this week, but I’d like to draw some special attention to a project that totally slipped my mind until this very moment – a 496-page(!) hardcover collection of Batman works pencilled by the oft-overlooked Rogers, one of the more interesting stylists of the superhero Bronze Age. Note that this is not apparently an exhaustive collection — some old Batman Family and Detective Comics back-up pieces look to be missing, if the solicitation is correct — but all of the big Steve Englehart-written stories should be included, along with some Dennis O’Neil and Archie Goodwin-related stuff. Collects Detective Comics #468, 471-479 and 481, DC Special Series #15, Secret Origins #6, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #132-136 and the 2005 revival series Batman: Dark Detective #1-6; $49.99.
Archie: The Best of Samm Schwartz: And since it wouldn’t be a week of reprints without a little Riverdale from some damn publisher or another, here’s 152 pages from IDW devoted to a longtime Jughead specialist; $24.99.
Bone 20th Anniversary Full Color One Volume HC: I’ve completely lost track of iterations of Bone. Totally. I think this one comes with a dragon’s soul. Alternatively, it might be a stripped-down version of the Cartoon Books all-in-one color box set from a few months ago, now consisting only of a 1,376-page slipcased hardcover collecting the entirely of the latter-day, Steve Hamaker-colored Scholastic edition of Jeff Smith’s signature work; $150.00.
The Monstrous Collection of Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson: But not all of the week’s collection are even that old. In case you’ve been wondering what popular horror comics artist Wrightson has been doing recently, for example, he’s been working with writer Steve Niles on a bunch of short series for IDW. This 176-page hardcover omnibus collects the noir-flavored Dead She Said (2008), the LA mystery-tinged The Ghoul (2009-10) and the ghostbusting Doc Macabre (2010-11). Note that the 2007 Niles/Wrightson collaboration City of Others was published by Dark Horse, and is not included here; $50.00.
Real Vol. 10: There’s a few potential manga picks from Viz this week — Rumiko Takahashi die-hards will doubtlessly gravitate toward vol. 7 of her RIN-NE series — but my money would go to this newest volume in Takehiko Inoue’s ongoing wheelchair basketball drama, currently caught as far up to the Japanese releases as possible, in that vol. 11 just dropped in Japan last week; $12.99.
Hawken #1 (of 6): At last! Here’s an old-timey comic book-format debut for your New Comics Day, being a new supernatural old west comic by veteran action artist Tim Truman, writing with his son Ben. Interview/samples; $3.99.
Mudman #1: More! A new color Image superhero series from the irreplaceable Paul Grist, supposedly a somewhat autobiographical series honed in on a teenage boy whose body is turning to mud. Preview; $3.50.
Deadpool MAX 2 #2: I can’t imagine why anybody would be thinking about Frank Miller right now, let alone be in the market for a scalding, comprehensive Miller spoof deployed with a good deal more skill, wit and panache than even a thousand 140 character aggregate broadsides, but since I just happen to be thinking of Frank Miller for absolutely no reason, I’d like to highlight Kyle Baker’s 2007-09 Image series Special Forces, an ingenious satire that presents an ostensibly serious tale of Iraq War survival as a flawless deadpan evocation of Miller’s narrative idiom, thus framing the War on Terror as a toxic, ultimately absurd convergence of manly action tropes. It’s maybe not Baker’s best-known work today — and even at the time of its extended serialization it was sometimes misunderstood — but a handy all-in-one softcover is readily available now, and highly recommended. Anyway, this is Baker’s current project, a continuing Marvel superhero comedy written by David Lapham; $3.99.
Overkill: The Art of Tomer Hanuka: Finally, your monograph-somewhat-related-to-comics of the week, a 12.7″ x 9.8″, 104-page Gingko Press collection of works by Meathaüs veteran Hanuka, who created the early ’00s Alternative Comics two-man anthology Bipolar with his brother Asaf. No idea if any comics are in here, but it’s nonetheless worth a peek. Samples; $29.95.