Above we see the ’80s swordplay fantasy ninja that make up the best I know of Christy Marx in comics; it was announced late last week that she would be scripting a new DC series, Sword of Sorcery, an Aaron Lopresti-drawn revival of the old Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld concept created by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn & Ernie Colón. Marx had been a specialist in that kind of fantasy comic; in 1984, at the same time the original Amethyst was running its course, she was working with artist Mike Vosburg on an Epic comic book series titled Sisterhood of Steel, a detailed work of clanging metal and political intrigue set in a matriarchal warrior settlement that sits in my head as a counterpart to writer Elaine Lee’s similarly female-driven sci-fi series Starstruck, which ran around the same time with the same publisher.
Probably, Marx is better known as creator of a later work, the 1986-88 animated television series Jem and the Holograms, a kid-targeted show about an adventurous music group. I first encountered her work in a more niche forum: the 1992 PC graphic adventure game Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood, which Marx designed for genre godhead Sierra On-Line. Graphic adventure games were the sort of thing where you’d proceed through a story by overcoming ‘puzzles’ that would inhibit your progress, usually involving the use of some item you’d need to find somewhere else in the game. The genre still survives today, but Sierra is gone; like the old conflict between the Marcinelle and Brussels schools of cartooning in the golden age of Belgian comics, Sierra formed one half of a dichotomy with fellow adventure game luminary LucasArts, representing a ‘hardcore’ style of game design loaded with tricks and traps and many occasions for sudden death, doomed to eventually be absorbed by the more accessible LucasArts emphasis on storytelling and humor.
Perhaps it was due to the presence of founding designer Roberta Williams — the notoriously counter-intuitive mind behind the King’s Quest series of games — but Sierra boasted an unusually large number of female designers during its glory days; Marx was joined by Jane Jensen, a luminary of the form, and Lorelei Shannon, of the famously insane Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh. These names likely mean nothing to you, patient comics-focused reader, but they are all icons of my indoorsy adolescence, and together they seem increasingly like a vital point of resistance to the wildly male-dominated gaming industry, which nonetheless accesses a great number of female players – far more than today’s front-of-Previews genre comics can boast, though their creative ranks are similarly male.
I wonder if Marx’s return to comics — and I can’t find anything she’s done comics-wise since some ElfQuest stuff in the ’90s, though her and fellow comics veteran Paul Chadwick were among the writers for The Matrix Online in the ’00s — will look anything like Sisterhood of Steel, particularly the iteration pictured above, which is not from the Epic series but a 1987 continuation drawn by the late Peter Ledger and published by Eclipse as a graphic novel. It’s a strange, lively blend of ’80s interests, seeing the swordplay of Conan and the like transition into stealth-based ninja stuff as heroine Boronwë finds herself inducted into the Daughters of Death, an assassination squad whose training involves a rather psychedelic potion experience that alerts the heroine to a parallel narrative thread – the capture and acutely sexualized imprisonment of a proud warrior colleague, complete with blood licked from open wounds by a deranged male king.
Marx had left Epic apparently over content disputes, and the Eclipse iteration of the project certainly expands to accommodate more visceral stuff. Still, what’s unique about it is the unsparing nature of the Sisterhood of the title – there is not one male character in this comic that is not wicked or in the hapless thrall of wickedness (among several unkind women as well), and from that we can maybe divine a meta-fantasy of female resistance in the midst of one of the several male-dominated media in which Marx has participated: ’80s television cartoons, various species of gaming, and now the 90-something percent male readership and creator base of DC comics in 2012. It is reductive to suggest this is all, I know, so I will conclude in hoping the new work is good in ways I cannot anticipate any more than the very presence of its elusive writer.
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 Sunday Funnies Collected Vol. 2: NOT a comic book and NOT an oversized hardcover – no, this Golden Age of Reprints artifact from Russ Cochran takes it all just a little bit further by reprinting assorted Sunday comics from the Ohio State University archives as an actual 22″ x 16″ newsprint funnies section, 32 pages in length on “60lb offset stock.” These Collected packages actually bag three different editions together; I’m not sure if they’re sold separately, so think of it as a 96-page book with pages that fall out a lot. If it’s anything like the first bundle — which I saw sitting around my local shop the other month, having no idea what it was — expect well-known favorites like Krazy Kat and Gasoline Alley to mingle with obscurities from all over the place. Review of the first one by Milo George; $30.00.
Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt: Joe Sacco – he sneaks up. In a way so that, having read several full reviews of this new 320-page Nation Books hardcover, I’m still not entirely sure what Sacco’s contribution exactly entails; I think he’s doing freestanding illustrations/cartoons to supplement (if not visualize) reportage by Chris Hedges on the economic plight of the U.S. working and middle class. Nonetheless, new Joe Sacco is eminently worth a flip; $28.00.
The Boy Who Made Silence Vol. 1 (of 2): I will readily confess that I still remember artist Joshua Hagler most clearly as one of the assisting artists on Sam Kieth’s My Inner Bimbo back in the mid-’00s at Oni, though he’s apparently picked up a fair amount of steam in the ‘fine’ art world. Before all that, however, he was a 2006 Xeric Grant recipient for this project, the surreal story of a boy with an odd power, which was eventually expanded into six magazine-sized comic books by the UK-based AAM/Markosia. The publisher now releases a 160-page color compilation, for those like me who couldn’t keep up with imported comic magazines (as you might have guessed from my very detailed plot synopsis). The artist asserts that a second volume will eventually complete the story. Official site; $22.99.
The Loxleys and the War Of 1812: UK comics watchers will also note the availability of Judge Dredd Megazine #323, featuring the conclusion of the Strange & Darke serial I discussed last week, but those eager for new work by 2000 AD veterans can also examine Alan Grant’s latest project, a 175-page Renegade Arts Entertainment release of comics about a Canadian family in the conflict of the title, visualized by Claude St. Aubin & (colorist) Lovern Kindzierski, although note that 64 pages of it is apparently historical text by one Mark Zuehlke; $19.99.
Dracula World Order: Those enthused for artist Tonci Zonjic (Who is Jake Ellis?, Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand) will note his participation in this very small-run comic book project, a 300 copy deal bolstering a simultaneous digital release via comiXology. See how this column can’t cope with the future? Sierra On-Line! Zonjic is one of several artists — Rahsan Ekedal, Declan Shalvey and Gabriel Hardman are the others — illustrating a tale of Dracula’s plans for a world in financial turmoil. Scripted and published by former Journal news writer Ian Brill, who recently concluded a long editorial association with Boom! Samples; $3.99.
The Secret History #20: In that I sometimes like to keep track of irregular comic books — even perfect-bound ones like this — be aware that your Eurocomics choice for the week is Archaia’s latest from Jean-Pierre Pécau & Igor Kordey, now concerning the Secret History of the Vietnam War and the immortals somehow involved in it. Note that the series is up to T.25 and 1992 in France; $5.95.
The Shade #9 (of 12): Also of note – art changes on a long series built to accommodate such things. Writer James Robinson is approaching the end of this Starman-related project, and the always-worthwhile Frazer Irving is now behind the visuals; $2.99.
The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #5 (of 6): Or, you know, format changes can do the trick. This Image-published David Hine/Shaky Kane joint remains my current favorite superhero comic, and here it adopts the form of gory bubblegum cards a la Mars Attacks, if still presented as a comic book; $3.99.
DC Comics Presents: Superman Adventures #1: It’s easy to forget anything that happened in superhero comics in the late ’90s, but one of the more interesting-in-retrospect occurrences was the gradual emergence of writer Mark Millar — at the time a Grant Morrison protégé freshly transitioned from 2000 AD to Morrison-started runs on Swamp Thing and The Flash — as a solo fan-favorite through his tenure on a kid-targeted Superman book spun off from a WB animated series. This is a 96-page comic book-format collection of that material, featuring the writer’s first four issues (#16, 19, 22 & 23) out of 20 in total, with art by Aluir Amancio & Terry Austin; $7.99.
Spider-Man: The Graphic Novels: Finally, among the 10,000 or so items Marvel is releasing this week is a huge block of vintage reprints, and while Michel Fiffe’s recent Tony Salmons interview highlights his name in Cloak & Dagger: Crime and Punishment — and certain readers of this column will secretly (or not so secretly) be sizing up a new hardcover for Todd McFarlane’s 1991 Spider-Man: Perceptions storyline, featuring inks by nearly half the Image founders — I’d mostly be interested in this 280-page compilation of ’80s/’90s Marvel Graphic Novel releases to feature Spider-Man, anchored by a pair of Gerry Conway-written specials (Parallel Lives and Fear Itself), but also featuring the Bernie Wrightson-drawn Hooky and Charles Vess’ Spirits of the Earth; $34.99.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Essays by P. Craig Russell and Brian M. Kane accompany the title character’s marriage in Prince Valiant Vol. 5: 1945-1946, by Mr. Hal Foster; $29.99. And while Diamond isn’t actually listing it for release, keep your eyes peeled for New York Mon Amour, a new collection of Jacques Tardi’s bleak city stories previously translated in the pages of RAW, Cheval Noir and The New Comics Anthology (and, in one case, never before seen in English), including the part-color, Benjamin Legrand-written classic Cockroach Killer (aka Roach Killer); $19.99.