What captured my attention this week — for good, ill, or somewhere in-between —
One day before the great Steve Ditko turned 90 years old (and here’s to 90 more!), I received my copy of #26, the latest in the now-decade-long “32-Page Series” published by Ditko and Robin Snyder (and bearing, curiously, a 2018 copyright date, making this the first comic I’ve ever received from the future) and funded via yet another successful Kickstarter campaign. As always it’s a thoroughly intriguing, and at times near-impenetrable, affair that highlights the fascinating creative tension that’s arisen between intention and execution in latter-period Ditko works, to wit —
It seems that Ditko has made a conscious effort to boil everything down to the most pure and distilled iteration of his Objectivist philosophy possible, adopting a decidedly minimalist approach to both scripting and illustration, and yet the end result is a series of strips featuring Ditko’s idiosyncratic characters — Miss Eerie, The Hero, The Outline, etc. — so oblique as to be downright confusing. Every word, every action, every line in every drawing, is pared down to its most bare and essential purpose, a precise exercise in sheer utility that perhaps only the artist himself fully understands — all of which means, of course, that these stories are both absolutely pure and unhindered transmissions from Ditko’s mind, through his hand, onto paper, but that they’re not necessarily easy for anyone else to grasp in their entirety given that, hey, we’re not Ditko.
Final verdict, then? #26 is as hard not to admire as it is sometimes to figure out. There are any number of “hip” young cartoonists out there who would give up half the fingers on their drawing hand to achieve what Ditko does here as a matter of course, and while I’m sure he’d balk at such labels, in my own humble estimation this is as pristine an example of “avant-garde” and/or “outsider” art as you’re likely to find in any medium. A hermetically-sealed vision completely unhindered by any outside artistic influences whatsoever, playing only by rules that it has set for itself. Utterly brilliant, utterly singular, and yeah, utterly perplexing.
Captain America #695 is Marvel’s latest re-launch of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s archetypal patriotic super-hero, and who knows? Maybe this time they got it right. After absolutely bastardizing the character for the past year-plus by turning him into a Hydra/Nazi “sleeper” agent (and, to make matters worse, at the very least implying that’s what he “really” was all along), a “back to basics” approach is probably about the only thing that can save the entire concept, and the fan-favorite Mark Waid/Chris Samnee creative team is probably the best pair in the Marvel “stable” for the task. Waid’s script — a fairly simple series of statements of intent couched around some fisticuffs — captures Cap’s essence in a naturalistic, unforced manner, and Samnee’s “throwback”-style art is crisp, fluid, and elegant in its deceptive “simplicity.” If this keeps up, chances are I’ll be sticking with this series for the foreseeable future.
Don’t look now, but we’re smack-dab in the middle of yet another Elseworlds-style “alternate universe” Batman boom. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Dark Nights : Metal cross-over “event” seems to be leading the charge, with something like a half-dozen “evil” versions of the Dark Knight from “shadow” universes that don’t exist (even though they do — go figure that one out), but Sean Murphy has also gotten in on the act with his so-far-disappointing, and frankly nauseatingly elitist, Batman : White Knight, and now we’ve got book one of Batman : The Dark Prince Charming, a two-part “graphic novel” from Italian writer/artist Enrico Marini that gives Gotham City the Eurocomics treatment, and that I’m sure DC thinks (or at least hopes) will be viewed as something of a “prestigious” project. I suppose it could be interesting, right?
Except it’s not. Marini’s art is lush, cinematic, and highly literate, but the story hinges on one frankly lame “gotcha”-style twist, the dialogue is stiff and wooden, and honestly nothing much happens here except Batman kicks a bunch of ass along the way to trying to pull off a rescue mission that he suddenly finds he has a highly personal stake in. Characterization is both broad-stroked and ill-defined, plotting is contrived and simplistic, and while Marini’s redesigned Bat-costume looks pretty cool, his version of Joker essentially looks like Sid Vicious in clown makeup. It’s a quality hardback presentation on heavy, high-gloss paper, sure, but $12.99 is too much to pay for this gorgeous, but hollow, runaround.
Deadly Class artist Wes Craig moves behind the keyboard as writer on The Gravediggers Union, a new ongoing from Image illustrated by Toby Cypress (apart from the 2001-style wordless opening sequence, which is drawn by Craig) that pretty well knocked my socks off with its inventive premise, smart characterization, fun action sequences, and gallows humor. Unionized monster-hunters as the world’s only defense against zombie plagues, vampire infestations, golems made of garbage, and “ghost storms”? I’m down for that.
Admittedly, genre stuff is enough to put off most of the (largely self-appointed) “sophisticated” crowd, but that’s their loss — this is brisk, eye-catching, smart stuff that’s worth taking seriously, even if it doesn’t take itself overly seriously. Image’s policy of giving creators eight or ten extra pages for their first issues ensures good value for your $3.99 here, and while the complete absence of any female characters seems a curious choice to say the least, apparently next month we’re gonna get some witches added to the story, so we’ll see what that’s all about. This one’s well worth following from the start — and since the start is now, what are you waiting for?
Okay, that should about do it for this week. I got a couple of packages in the mail yesterday that look to contain some interesting items, I’m methodically making my way through The Collected Neil The Horse, and I’ve just discovered the gleefully blasphemous work of cartoonist Aaron Lange, so there’ll be plenty to talk about here in the coming days — and of course, I’ll be back in seven for another “consumer-centric” round of mini-reviews. Hope to see you then!