UNDERGROUND CLASSICS: THE TRANSFORMATION OF COMICS INTO COMIX
Since discovering them at an admittedly too-young-to-be-reading-such-stuff age, I have adored underground comics, a genre and term rendered more or less superfluous since the indie comics boom of the 1980's and the wider acceptance of what kind of material creators can openly get away with nowadays. Those generally-better-drawn descendants of the Tijuana Bibles were filled with graphic depictions of sex, violence and the doing of illicit drugs, to say nothing of political statements such as anti-war sentiments and the first real unfettered expression to be had by female cartoonists, and from their pages sprang such now-legendary artists as Trina Robbins, Frank Stack (aka "Foolbert Sturgeon"), S. Clay Wilson, Shary Flenniken, Richard Corben (my vote for one of the five greatest American cartoonists of all time), Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, the late Dori Seda, and of course Robert Crumb, just to name a very few. The works found in those heady pages crisscrossed every imaginable genre and allowed the creators' (and the readers') imaginations to run rampant, displaying a freedom unseen in comics up to their inception. This hardcover book features an introduction by Jay Lynch and four essays on the genre and its turbulent history by James Danky and Denis Kitchen, Patrick Rosenkranz, the aforementioned Trina Robbins, and Paul Buhrle, but the bulk of the edition is taken up by a fantastic gallery of plates shot from original underground comics art pages, with no retouching to hide any imperfections such as the paper yellowing with age, registration marks, Wite-Out and bits of tape. The unvarnished blemishes on display are wholly appropriate to the once-scurrilous works on exhibit, and seeing the pages as they really look drives home the fact that the reader is beholding genuine artifacts from a storied time that grows ever more distant with each passing year. RECOMMENDED.
Part 1 of "Deathtrap" follows the prelude found in TEEN TITANS ANNUAL #1 and immediately reveals the "big bad" to be none other than Jericho, the son of Deathstroke, a character I couldn't stand even during the halcyon days of Wolfman and Perez. Gifted with the ability to possess and control the bodies of others, Jericho is now apparently insane and quite neurotic over been deemed a pussy and a failure by his father, so now he seeks to kill anyone who was ever a Titan, Teen or otherwise, and in this chapter he murders an unidentified redhead whom I think is Lilith, a Seventies-era Titan with precognitive and other mental abilities. Meanwhile, the Titans, realizing Cyborg had been possessed by Jericho and forced to try to kill the Teen Titans, set out to capture Jericho and get him some deeply-needed psychological help, and for some reason they figure they need the help of Vigilante, who is also on Jericho's trail. But first they must lure Vigilante, a known killer, into showing himself, so they use Cyborg as bait (as far as Vigilante knows, Cyborg is still possessed by Jericho). The issue ends with Vigilante blowing Cyborg's brains out at point blank range, but no drama is generated since we've seen Vic seemingly get killed before, only to be repaired and upgraded within an issue or two, so who cares?
SOLOMON GRUNDY #1 (of 7)
I have no idea who felt there needed to be a Solomon Grundy mini-series, but here it is and as near as I can tell thus far, it's meant to be a "monster of the month" slugfest. Undead DCU Hulk analog Solomon Grundy is once more reborn and this time he changes back and forth from a human form, just like the Hulk. The mostly-uninvolving first issue features guest appearances of the Phantom Stranger and Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern, but neither of them do anything of much interest. The real action here is a too-brief battle with the demon Etrigan that serves a a direct segue into the next issue's fight with Bizarro. As all of this goes on, there's a flashback thread illustrating the origins of Grundy, but those details kind of derail the rest of the proceedings, leaving what remains as a mediocre mess.
SOLOMON GRUNDY #2 (of 7)
A slight improvement over the previous chapter, this one continues the Etrigan fight only to have it interrupted by Alan Scott, causing Etrigan to leave with a promise to have his revenge on the codger Green Lantern for ruining his fun; let's face it, I don't care how fucking bad Grundy may be, he's no match for one of Hell's toughest and meanest combatants. Plus, Etrigan can breathe fire, ferfucksake! Anyway, Bizarro shows up — impressively drawn by Scott Kolins, whose work on THE FLASH I never liked — and the expected fight ensues, only with an unexpected and kinda fun denouement... Looks like Poison Ivy's in the next issue, so we'll see where this goes.
I hate, hate, HATE multi-part crossover stories that force me to read comics I have intentionally not been reading, and now FABLES launches "The Great FABLES Crossover" with this first of nine (!!!) parts spread over three series. I would be unwilling to bother with this if it weren't being written by Bill Willingham, but even with that in mind I still object to being roped into reading JACK OF FABLES for any reason, the monthly FABLES spinoff that started out okay but swiftly proved to be an annoying one-trick pony. But anyway, this first chapter starts off well with a bloody battle between Bigby Wolf and the Beast (as in "Beauty and the...") that appears to have been provoked by the influence of the evil Mister Dark, whose baleful emanations reach from the ruins of Fabletown all the way to the upstate location of the Farm. Dark's presence also has a direct and deadly effect on the populace of New York City, causing the city to quite literally "turn bad," meaning murders, assaults and instances of people disappearing have gone through the roof. Realizing his primal and supernaturally-animalistic nature could loom totally out of control, King Cole dispatches Bigby and Snow White on a mission to discover if the threat of the Literals — beings who can apparently rewrite the existence of the Fables — is indeed real and not just a scam concocted by the frequently untrustworthy Jack, he of the spinoff book. The last time Jack warned his people of a threat, specifically the invasion of Gepetto's wooden soldiers, the Fables didn't believe him and consequently paid a terrible price, so we'll have to see where this goes when it continues in JACK OF FABLES # 33. Jesus H. Christ, I can't believe that book has lasted so long!
THE FLASH: REBIRTH #1 (of 6)
When Barry Allen was supposedly killed waaaaaay back in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS (back in 1986 or thereabouts), I was one of the very few hardcore comics fans who was actually glad to see the Silver Age Flash go. Many of the revamped DC heroes who were resurrected during the 1950's and early Sixties were a bland and interchangeable group of whitebread defenders of the status quo, distinguishable only by their costumes and super-powers, so I had little fondness for any of them and genuinely felt their time was pretty much over by the mid-Eighties. Marvel's neurotic breed of heroes pretty much rendered DC's staid stable a bunch of crew-cut dinosaurs, and when DC's universe of multiple Earths was deemed too unwieldy and in desperate need of paring down, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS was brought into being. That series cut a huge swath through just shy of fifty years of continuity, killing off characters by the score, most notably taking Supergirl and the Flash. I won't go into all the changes and redefinings the events of that series wrought, but it supposedly killed of Barry Allen and I, like every comics fan worth their salt, naturally assumed he'd be back within six months since death in the comics is notoriously impermanent. Well, to the surprise of everyone, Barry Allen stayed dead as Wally West, his former protegee — and hero in his own right as Kid Flash — assumed the mantle of the Flash and held onto it for the next twenty-three years. Now, in the wake of the events of the alleged FINAL CRISIS, Barry is back and in the hands of the creative team that made the relaunch of GREEN LANTERN so much fun and a damned good read on a monthly basis. As previously stated, I never cared for Barry Allen (my Flash of choice was Jay Garrick, with Wally West coming in a close second), but with Geoff Johns writing and Ethan Van Sciver doing the scribblin', I'm all over this like ugly on Gorilla Grodd! When Barry Allen returns from his years-long marathon within the Speed Force (if you don't know about the Flash and other speedsters, just bear with me on this), he finds himself a man in a world much faster than the one he left behind, and his clear-cut sense of black & white right and wrong with no shades of gray makes him something of a living anachronism. To say more would spoil the fun, but I will say I was quite pleased with the initial chapter and can't wait to see where this goes and what it will mean for both Barry and Wally. My only complaint is that if ever there was a first issue that needed to be 48-pages long, this is it. RECOMMENDED.
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #35
The prelude to the "Blackest Night" arc continues with part three of "Emerald Eclipse," and as interim chapters go it's pretty good. Mongul's takeover of the planet Daxam continues, aided by members of the Sinestro Corps working as his enforcers, and Green Lanterns Arisia and Sodam Yat face the daunting task of figuring out just how they can save the planet (good luck with that one!). Meanwhile, Soranik Natu and Iolande attempt to institute a "new dawn" on Natu's home planet, Korugar, following the defeat of Sinestro, but that plan hits a major snag when the supposedly incarcerated former "greatest of the Green Lanterns" arrives for a heart-to-heart with his daughter (meaning Natu). Unlike a lot of comics out there, things happen in GREEN LANTERN CORPS that serve to keep the multi-character stories moving at a brisk and entertaining pace, so when you give me a fun soap opera involving extraterrestrial heroes and their personal and professional trials and tribulations, you can count on me being around for the duration. And one thing I've meant to mention for some time: since this book got off the ground I've become a staunch supporter of artist Patrick Gleasons' work, enjoying it very much thanks to his characters all having very individual looks and a certain fleshy weight that makes them seem more alive than many of their four-color contemporaries. I particularly like his handling of Kilowog, Sodam Yat and Soranik Natu, and I hope his tenure on this book is a long and successful one. Patrick, I think you rock, and I am one hard-to-please motherfucker. Marvel could have used you on a reboot of one of their "cosmic" books, like WARLOCK or CAPTAIN MARVEL.
My girl Soranik Natu: surgeon, newbie Green Lantern, daughter of Sinestro, terrific character. (Art by Patrick Gleason, from GREEN LANTER: RECHARGE #5)
SHOWCASE PRESENTS: THE DOOM PATROL
The cheaply-produced phone book-sized B&W reprint volumes keep on coming, and this one is a real treat for those who've never been exposed to the Silver Age run of the Doom Patrol. By far the weirdest heroes in the mainstream DCU, the Doom Patrol were a quartet of misfits with great abilities, but each was hampered by some form of physical infirmity or perceived "horribleness" of self that prevented them from fitting in and being accepted by the world at large. Led by a genius named Niles Caulder, aka the wheelchair-confined "Chief," the Doom Patrol consisted of Robotman (formerly race car driver Cliff Steele, whose body was destroyed in a terrible racetrack accident, only to have his brain transplanted into a super-strong robotic body), Negative Man (pilot Larry Trainor, who met with a bizarre radioactive phenomenon and gained the ability to project a super-powered radioactive shadow-self from his body for limited amounts of time, but must stay forever swathed in special bandages to prevent his radioactivity from contaminating everything around him), and Elasti-Girl (actress Rita Farr, who could shrink or grow at will), a group who saved the world over and over again, all while neurotically considering themselves pitiful "freaks." Their adventures and opponents were every bit as bizarre as the Doom Patrol themselves, and these old school stories possess a quaint sense of charm and fun that's quite in fictious, plus how can you not love one of the greatest and most underrated villainous duos of all time, namely the Brain (literally a megalomaniacal brain in a container) and the machine gun-wielding, French-accented gorilla, Monsieur Mallah? If you've experienced Grant Morrison's legendary Vertigo take on the Doom Patrol, you owe it to yourself to check out the building blocks from which that lysergic tapestry grew. RECOMMENDED.