One of the obvious problems with immersing myself in a certain area of comics for a month is that any... oh, columns I might happen to write about the comics I've responded to in the past week tend to cover the same topics. Nonetheless, I think there's some worthwhile variation visible above in this image by the late John Hicklenton, working with colorist Keith Page. It's from the 2009 Rebellion release of Heavy Metal Dredd, a compilation of especially gross and mean Judge Dredd shorts initially conceived in the early '90s for the European music magazine Rock Power. Douglas Wolk just recently got to it in his weekly chronological reviews of every Dredd collection, an effort I'm glad to be participating in for next week's entry.
But for now, I'm in the mood to post about Hicklenton, one of my absolute favorite 2000 AD artists, if never the most prolific or at any time a consensus choice. Heavy Metal Dredd is a good way to pick up a solid chunk of his work -- much of his output otherwise was in collaboration with writer Pat Mills, on series like Nemesis the Warlock and Third World War, or even the Dark Horse series ZombieWorld -- loaded with tense, writing flesh all but lunging against clothing, seemingly every curved line charged with nasty sex. Rarely has Dredd, embodiment of Law, seemed quite so fetishistic, with seemingly every other mighty splash image somehow honed in on his crotch, his vehicle above like a massive bullet protruding out into a society of righteous targets.
Hicklenton had a sticky, stringy way with gore, with further charges these Dredd strips, one of relatively few areas of the character's history almost entirely attuned to visuals. Simon Bisley was the initial draw to Heavy Metal Dredd, but his approach was heavy on out-and-out comedy: funny faces and weird textures and bodies being knocked away with slapstick velocity. Brendan McCarthy was involved too, employing much the same glowing lacquer as in Rogan Gosh. Hicklenton, in contrast, allowed the very real potential for bodily rupture to serve as comedy by way of 'what the hell is he doing?' See how the exploding heads guide the eye around the table, lit like punks by the phallic guitar neck held by the sweaty, reclining guitar god toward the right. This energy is necessary to supplement the minimal scenarios by John Wagner & Alan Grant, the project's primary writers, prone to throwing together song lyric scripts and goofy power-of-rock fables vs. the grim banality of country music, and other treats for the Rock Power readership.
I agree with Wolk that Hicklenton is at his best here when paired with writer John Smith (yes, him again), an especially sympathetic mind grown from a big tent taste for horror fiction; even the writer's 1987 U.S. comics debut in Eclipse's Tales of Terror #11 was conceived as a grotesque homage to Roger Corman's X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (speaking of visual media). Smith is ultimately working in a comedic, parodic vein too, mind you, but an image of Dredd bursting out of the skin of an obese woman to take down a fattie terrorist cell is distinctly reminiscent of David Cronenberg's 1991 film version of Naked Lunch, just as an image of a man suckled to death by snails can only have occurred on "Peter Greenaway Block." And probably the best piece in the book is its only two-parter, where Dredd takes on a secret society of Mary Whitehouse-ish old lady moral guardians (their top target: "Ennis Potter") and their psychic primate assassins; there Smith specifically ties the crusade against 'indecency' to an implicit war on homosexuality, while Hicklenton indicates some shared, awful sexual potential between the victimized H.G. Lewis character on the left, pants sliding down, and the wriggled bare legs of the attacking old ladies, the page then becoming a panel-free collage of animated violence.
Many of the aritst's other works are scattered around; he had the odd fortune of his first two published comics being early Future Shocks by Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, both tucked away in a Best of volume, while several of his Mills collaborations are available in collected form. More interestingly, his 2010 solo graphic novel, 100 Months -- its final page completed on the day before he died -- is apparently coming back into print from Cutting Edge Press this April, now available on Amazon US and maybe heading to North American comics stores. Just a little something else worth remembering.
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.
Madman 20th Anniversary Monster!: Sure, sure, I know you're upset about maximal collector's editions of current and/or landmark comics. Sammy Harkham? History's monster! Humanoids? Continental thralls to the last! But OH - what will happen when Man of the People Michael D. Allred and the front-of-Previews titans at Image drop an 11" x 17", 264-page monstah with a three-digit tag? History will tell, but those present for the moment will know some new comics by Allred, Jaime Hernandez, Craig Thompson, Gilbert Hernandez, Jeff Smith, Mario Hernandez, Peter Bagge, Frank Hernand...er, Quitely, Paul Pope, Dave Cooper, Darwyn Cooke, David Mack, Kyle Baker, Matt Wagner, Bernie Mireault, Erik Larsen, Jay Stephens, Peter Milligan & Philip Bond, Steven T. Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen, Dean Haspiel, Michael Avon Oeming, Eric Powell, Pat McKeown and Joe Quinones & Maris Wicks. The solicitation also promises "almost every Madman illustration collected over the past 20 years," which makes me suspect about half the book is likely to be a jumbo-sized reprint of the old Madman Picture Exhibition pin-up series from the early '00s, aka the only place to find Chris Ware, Alex Toth and Todd McFarlane all in one place. Samples; $100.00.
John Romita's The Amazing Spider-Man: Artist's Edition: SPIDEY AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN HIM, STRIPPED BARE NAKED - by which I mean this 152-page third installment of IDW's utterly insane Artist's Edition series is devoted to presenting John Sr.'s complete uncolored original art for six vintage issues of The Amazing Spider-Man reproduced in color at their actual size, with all notations and smudges and signs of pre-print life preserved for your goggled pleasure. Hey, if you're dropping one Franklin this week, why stop? I believe Wally Wood's EC stuff(!!) is next in line; $100.00.
Xombi: This was one of the more widely-admired series from a major superhero publisher (DC) last year; indeed, I recall Matt Seneca praising the first issue on this very site. A revival of writer/co-creator John Rozum's Milestone series of the mid-'90s -- concerning a nano-tech semi-immortal caught up in supernatural doings -- it only managed to run for six issues before getting swept away. The artist is the ever-interesting Frazer Irving, and now's your chance to get acquainted; $14.99.
Dark Horse Presents #8: Ha ha, thought you were rid of Duncan Fegredo? No, the most excellent, mostly-departed Hellboy artist is here in Dark Horse's house anthology for a quick victory lap with writers Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, following up on recent plot developments from the B.P.R.D. cast's perspective. Also of note is the conclusion of Howard Chaykin's The Marked Man; I generally like these recent Chaykin solo series, a batch of slightly dense, chatty action pieces that nonetheless cruise on lived-in charm, which is a sensation I can usually only find in seinen manga aimed at older (as in thirty-and-up) readers. It's like a glimpse into an alternate mainstream's aging. The feature's replacement serial also debuts: The Massive by Brian Wood & Kristian Donaldson, a three-part story of environmental disaster. There's also some Tarzan stuff with Thomas Yeates, plus Andi Watson, Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson, Neal Adams and others. Samples; $7.99.
Fatale #2 (of 12): No, I really do try not to list comic book series I happen to be following, but this week's light enough that I'll give a special mention to this Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips horror-crime series from Image, since I enjoyed the first issue a good deal, and it looks to be a regular sight throughout the year; $3.50.
Archie Archives Vol. 4: Golden Age of Reprints/Archie choice of the week, as Dark Horse presents another 232 pages of hardcovered teen comics from way back in the day, covering Pep Comics #51-53 and Archie Comics #11-14. Samples; $49.99.
Cross Game Vol. 6 (of 8): Manga choice of the week, as the great Mitsuru Adachi continues his fine-tuned observations of youth and baseball in another 376-page chunk from Viz; $14.99.
Heavy Metal Vol. 36 No. 1 (Mar. 2012):: And finally - yes, austerity measures have reached even this mighty bulwark of newsstand comics; there's only six issues per year now, with no specials, which places this particular edition in the odd position of serving as de facto 35th anniversary special; the celebrations consist of 13 potentially cost-saving pages of classic cover reprints, unless they've got something planned for April. Still, do recall that Heavy Metal is in the middle of serializing Enki Bilal's 2009 Animal'z, which becomes alternately oblique and chatty enough in excerpted form it reads like the most old school thing the magazine's done in ages. The feature album this month is good too: the 10th and most recent installment of Requiem, an absolutely gonzo Hell-set action comic from aforementioned 2000 AD godhead Pat Mills and frame-crazy painter Olivier Ledroit. This chapter, for example, begins with a disgruntled Japanese soldier wandering the ruins of Hiroshima for two pages before breaking out a samurai sword and slashing his way through America's leadership before reincarnating in the underworld as an Ogami Ittō-type wandering vampire ronin with a baby cart holding his talkative sensei, on a mission to destroy former U.S. President Harry S. Truman who has fused into a three-faced oni representing the military-industrial-political complex. He then gets into a Silver Age superhero fight with Requiem, the title vampire, who also has a baby nosferatu master who taught him the secrets of martial arts on the Moon; they all become friends during feeding and nap time. This is one of about half a dozen plot strands spread among twenty or so named characters, and it delivers such a dizzy whirl of gore and dubious comedy you'll hardly notice that Heavy Metal is still editing out the goddamned frontal nudity until the tears swell. Huge preview; $6.95.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Oh, and Kramers Ergot 8 is also out; $29.95. Meanwhile, Fantagraphics brings Action! Mystery! Thrills!: Comic Book Covers of the Golden Age 1933-1945, the latest Greg Sadowski joint, this time a 208-page collection of vintage comic book covers and historical notes on the various publishers and artists populating the scene; $29.99.