You'll all be pleased to know that I did a good deed the other day. This used/remaindered goods outlet (2nd & Charles) moved into town recently - they stock a lot of manga and comics, with $1 back issues sorted in bright white rows. I don't know if every location has dollar bins -- this one may have acquired the stock of a previous local comics retailer (hence the eight or nine polybagged copies of every Valiant trade paperback released in the early 1990s) -- but my lunch hour attention was undoubtedly captured.
I guess I look pretty officious sorting through back issues, because a young woman walked up to me without much hesitation and began inquiring as to the 2nd & Charles stock of Harley Quinn comics. I directed her to the Marvel/DC bins, and advised she consult both 'H' for Harley and 'B' for Batman. Having paid due penance for several of the murders I've committed, I then returned to my prize find of the Misc. bins: motherfucking Al Hartley's Crossfire, from the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Six.
Hartley was a prolific contributor to publishers like the pre-Marvel Atlas/Timely and Archie, though he is best known today for the famous '70s Spire Christian Comics, which licensed Archie characters for evangelical purposes, among various biographical pieces and adaptations of Christian-themed literature, such as The Cross and the Switchblade. There was even a trade paperback collection of some of this stuff released to sympathetic bookstores: True Stories from Spire Christian Comics, though I've never run across a copy myself.
A lot of people read these comics as camp, I guess, but I like Hartley's super-clean style, and Crossfire allows him some special latitude as it was one of the very few Spire releases intended for general audiences (i.e. not little kids) without any Archie-related, biographical or adaptation-minded constraints. Notice how the conversation in the pages displayed above adheres both to 'real time' continuity -- insofar as we *could* be getting snatches of a conversation frozen in the individual moments of each panel -- as well as a sort of montage, the excerpts forming a cohesive dialogue that transitions across the entire trip to the police station.
Huge portions of Crossfire proceed in just that manner, monologues and speeches pitting the rot 'n ruin of fallen life -- always portrayed in the form of shaggy-headed post-counterculture types -- against the shaved, showered, squeaky-clean voice of blue authority. Through such devices, Hartley expertly maneuvers his sermon past the readers defenses by blasting his words across time and geography; this is a very fast-moving comic, almost manga-fast, covering topics ranging from foster care to alcoholism to the media objectification of women.
Yes! It is helpful to remember the role Christian groups played for a long time in opposing leering depictions of the female form, a duty now largely decoupled from religious specificity. It makes for especially interesting reading here, given that Hartley misses no opportunity to plunge the necklines of his hippie-ish lost girls; clearly there is a fine line between the sin of lust and appreciating God's creation! There's no time to dawdle, though - it's all movement, movement, movement, onward toward a climactic shootout with a man we're told is... *gasp*... out on bail! Damn this liberal society and it's tolerance of evil!! No - save it.
But these weren't the only politics in play at 2nd & Charles.
It is not well-remembered by today's Batman Odyssey-loving superhero specialists, but Neal Adams once had an entirely line of absolutely weird, barely-together cape comics to play with: Continuity Comics, they of unbearably poignant promotional taglines such as "The Other Superhero Company" and "It's Our Year," typically surrounded by house ads for projects that sometimes wouldn't actually show up for the better part of half a decade. Nonetheless, the early Continuity did exhibit a worthwhile interest in Spanish-language comics, publishing early work by Juan Giménez (later of The Metabarons) in its above-average house anthology Echo of Futurepast, and devoting five whole issues of comics to old work by Esteban Maroto - work that Adams, no doubt trusting in his own commercial instincts above all else, partially re-drew and re-titled after a comic he created himself as a teenager: Zero Patrol.
He would also throw in little bonuses, like the story excerpted above, from Zero Patrol #2 (1985). It's a four-page, comics-format harangue as to Adams' utopian ideal of the ultimate rehabilitative prison system. No fire and brimstone here - it's all jobs, exercise and edification, with the support of an enlightened society prone to dressing in karate uniforms. And that's nothing compared to what awaited the reader in Zero Patrol #3 (1988... yes, three years later):
The mohawk guy is Shaman, a mystic hero ("Master of Light") who, like many of the early Continuity characters, dated back to a 1970s portfolio Adams had self-published and subsequently brought to Pacific Comics, where two very slow-releasing issues of Ms. Mystic were published (along with the immortal Skateman, not of the portfolio gang) before Adams focused his energies on Continuity itself. I don't think Shaman headlined his own comic until 1994, though, at which time Continuity had made the very '90s decision to devote virtually every issue of every comic in their entire line to a pair of sprawling crossovers: Deathwatch 2,000 and The Rise of Magic.
This led to unique problems. The Deathwatch 2,000 crossover, for instance, kicked off with a retailer incentive comic with no cover price: Valeria the She-Bat #1, which was then meant to segue into a lucrative crossover with Todd McFarlane's Spawn. However, the crossover never actually came together, so Valeria, months later, simply skipped itself directly to issue #5, which was pieced together from usable (and otherwise re-drawn) crossover art in the manner of those Ralph Bakshi Spider-Man cartoons where they'd form new episodes from re-dubbed and overpainted episodes of old ones. This will not prove an unfamiliar sensation to fans of Batman: Odyssey, which reads like it's pieced together from two or three potential series itself.
Also, the stories never quite ended when Continuity halted comic book production at the close of '93. The dollar bins, however, hide the rest of the tale:
Valeria the She-Bat, you see, eventually moved to Windjammer, the short-lived creator-owned division of Acclaim Comics, which had acquired Valiant in 1994. There, in '95, Adams wrote and drew (with much inking help) two additional issues, which served as a sort of belated farewell to the Continuity heroes. In the detail above, you can spot Shaman looking understandably worried; he and his compatriots are depicted as stranded in Hell itself, preparing to act on the climax to an adventure that doesn't arrive... I don't recall myself, but the Rise of Magic crossover might not even have finished, so it's fitting that everyone is left just past the traditional Limbo.
The clerk checking me out didn't seem to care about these stories, inside or outside of the comic. Her well-cultivated mask of bemused dispassion only cracked a little when she saw Valeria the She-Bat, because... really, sir. My eyes fell from her face to her I LOVE UNICORNS accessory tag, which may or may not have been a Beavis and Butthead vintage reference. Forget about you, 2nd & Charles. As Bart Beaty once remarked in Unpopular Culture, the deliberation behind the 'unfinished' status of Sfar's & Trondheim's Dungeon "puts the lie to the idea of the open-ended, eternally developing comic book series" in an overtly postmodern manner that forces some consideration of the very notion of what a 'series' of comics is.
Continuity, meanwhile, did not problematize anything so much as it simply had problems, but they were the ultimate expression of problems that would bring an industry low not so long after. It *was* their year then. I consider that BEAUTIFUL and REAL, especially when I am only charged one dollar per issue. On official business.
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.
Failure: Clearly by now you've heard that Alternative Comics is back after a long hiatus, having been acquired by longtime no-caps alternative comics presence Marc Arsenault from founder Jeff Mason. I'm not entirely sure if this is the first full-blown example of their new wares to go out through Diamond (Ted May's Injury Comics #4 has been around for a while in comic book form, though it was a co-publication with the artist, funded via Kickstarter), but we'll nonetheless make a note of 160 color pages of Karl Stevens art, collecting weekly strips from the Boston Phoenix. I think Stevens' last strip collection, Whatever, was the final release of the prior iteration of Alternative back in '08, so this is a nice bit of symmetry; $21.95.
Children of the Sea Vol. 5 (of 5): Ah, seinen manga - the wheels turn slowly, anymore. Daisuke Igarashi finished off this fantasy series in the pages of Ikki sometime in late 2011, if I'm not mistaken, and the Japanese collected edition dropped about 11 months ago... but at least we're getting a 336-page denouement to this tale of an oceanographer's surly young daughter and the strange water-logged boys who fascinate her. It's almost a children's movie in execution -- making friends with nature! -- except there's a streak of sinister mysticism at work that defies sentimentality. At the very least, you won't find another comic quite this beguilingly wispy this week - it'd be a shame to lose Igarashi's intermittent presence on our shores, however rare; $14.99.
XIII Vol. 17: The Irish Version: In which Cinebook releases one of the later works drawn by Jean Giraud (foregoing his "Moebius" pseudonym, as he would for a cowboy comic), a 2007 special album that marked the penultimate installment of Jean Van Hamme's & William Vance's original long-running Belgian espionage thriller, since continued in different forms under separate creative teams. Available for quite a while in the UK, but just hitting North American comics stores via Diamond now. Be aware, however, that the publisher does tend to edit these books for content (i.e. 'cover the nudity'), so this 7.25" x 10" softcover may not be an unaltered edition. Samples; $11.95.
Gabba Gabba Hey: The Graphic Story of the Ramones: HEY, it's Jim McCarthy, Peter Milligan collaborator and irregular 2000 AD art droid (he's Brendan's brother), teaming up with artist Brian Williamson for a 176-page Omnibus Press biography of the titular music outfit; $24.95.
Crater XV & Heck: These are two separate adventuresome hardcover books arriving from Top Shelf, both of them culled from Kevin & Zander Cannon's Double Barrel digital comics anthology. Crater XV (5" x 6.5", 496 pages) is a follow-up to K. Cannon's 2009 Far Arden, promising madcap adventure in a similarly breathless manner. Heck (8.5" x 5.5", 284 pages) is a Z. Cannon original about a fellow who settles life-and-death controversies through the portal to perdition in his late father's home. It's kind of amazing how many pages this effort has amassed. Note that both books are also available in deluxe limited editions packaged with bonus minicomics and premium gifts, available only from the publisher at the link above. Samples here; $19.95 (each).
Burning Building Comix: Also distributed by Top Shelf this week, here's a curious self-published Jeff Zwirek project - a hardcover book (collected from various minicomics via a successful Kickstarter campaign) that folds out to 6.25" x 24.5", allowing the reader to access a series of ten 20-page wordless strips, each one representing the activities on one floor of an apartment building getting itself consumed by flames. Lots of antics, gags, emotions, etc. Handy demonstration; $19.95.
Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas: Being the latest among Jim Ottaviani's educational comics, a 144-page First Second hardcover profiling three pioneers in primate research. Art by Maris Wicks; $19.99.
100 Bullets: Brother Lono #1 (of 8): Well, if Fables can aim for issue #10,000, Vertigo is hardly going to turn Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso away from the well, and thus we have this short sequel to the much-admired crime series. Preview; $3.99.
Extinction Parade #1: And moving from crime to horror, here is World War Z author Max Brooks writing an Avatar series, no doubt in what they used to call the splatterpunk idiom, if publisher expectations hold firm. Vampires will fight zombies in what was initially announced as an 11-issue series, although it seems to have become an ongoing concern. Art by Raulo Cáceres, of many Avatar projects, and a few Eros Comix treats from years ago; $3.99.
Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher #2 (of 2): Richard Corben also has a (Dark Horse) horror comic this week, which is always worth noting. Preview; $3.99.
Sergio Aragonés Funnies #8: And if we're into short reminders, I'll also draw attention to this one-man anthology by the humor comics veteran, published by Bongo, which I don't think has seen a new issue since early 2012; $3.50.
SpongeBob Comics Annual Size Super-Giant Swimtacular #1: There's usually a sprinkling of interesting names in these United Plankton licensed comics, and it looks like this 48-page superhero-themed Annual will feature genre veterans like Ramona Fradon, Jerry Ordway and Chuck Dixon in various capacities; $4.99.
Don't Pigeonhole Me!: Two Decades of the Mo Willems Sketchbook: And we'll close out now with your not-a-comic of the week, from a figure well-regarded among comics people - children's book author and animator Mo Willems, whom Disney Editions now honors with a 12" x 9", 288-page hardcover selection of sketchbook drawings, selected from across 20 years of production; $40.00.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: After a long wait indeed, one of the key missing works from our Golden Age of Reprints finally manifests in Barnaby Vol. 1, the 320-page kickoff to a five-book, 11" x 6.75" hardcover series compiling all of Crockett Johnson's creation, a 1942-52 newspaper strip about a boy and his dubious fairy godfather. Edited by Eric Reynolds & Philip Nel, with art direction by Dan Clowes and an introduction by Chris Ware; $35.00.
I hope this week's column pleased you, body and soul. Here now is your President Shima Kōsaku panel of the week: