ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Blind Justice” #2

And so here, at the end, it all comes together : everything Josh and Samuel Bayer have been aiming for throughout the course of the first “season” of their sprawling, multi-faceted project “clicks” into place with All-Time Comics : Blind Justice #2. Is it flawless? No. The highs and lows aren’t so much smoothed out as they are — assigned to their proper positions. And the end result is, finally, a comic that filters “Bronze Age” sensibilities through a modern “alt-comics” lens, and vice-versa — simultaneously.

It’s a tough balancing act, to be sure, but Josh B. has a much more firm handle on his character (who I still don’t think is blind) this time out, and so when he sends him out of Optic City and into the hills to track down his villainous prey, readers feel as our protagonist does : a stranger in an even stranger land, pursuing a foe who might just be able to beat him.

You want “old meets new” done right? How about Noah Van Sciver inked by Al Milgom? Distinctive cartooning meets workmanlike finishes that in no way negate the personality of the art, with colorist Matt Rota applying superb finishing touches by means of a broader-than-“Bronze Age” palette applied within distinct “Bronze Age” parameters. This comic is a legit treat for the eyes, and the stripped-down wilderness survival storyline reads as smooth as the pictures look. As a final “kicker,” Rick Parker’s letters complete the holistic aesthetic package, modified from his usual fonts just enough to straddle the line between then and now without either coming into conflict with the other.

It took some doing, but in the bottom of the ninth, everybody comes through here and the potential the Bayers saw in their concept from the outset is confidently, and fully, on display. From Das Pastoras’ well-executed cover to the “fake ads” (more on which momentarily), everything about this comic works. It won’t be of any interest to readers who have no time or patience for works heavily imbued with nostalgia, true, but the nostalgic influences here are just part of the “sizzle,” they’re not the “steak.” Not every creator who participated in this initial six-issue run got that right, but these guys all do this time around, and you know what? It leaves me feeling very optimistic indeed about ATC’s  future.

Speaking of which —

At $24.99, the All-Time Comics “season one” trade paperback recently released from Floating World Comics (thus freeing this line from being referred to, and saddled with the title of, “the Fantagraphics super-hero comics”) offers absolutely terrific value for money, and comes complete with all those fake ads we just mentioned, as well as the “Bullpen Bulletins”-style text pages and pin-ups (by a murderer’s row of cartooning talent) that rounded out each single issue. Yeah, it’s an uneven read, but as mentioned at the outset of this week, the stories read much better together than they do piecemeal, and you can see the various and disparate parts slowly coming together to form, at the very end, a nicely cohesive whole. Bring on Zerosis Deathscape, Josh Simmons, and Trever Von Eeden! I’m ready for anything, and together with Josh Bayer, Ken Landgraf, Gabrielle Bell, and the others involved in “season two,” who knows? We might just get it!

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. You can join up for as little as a dollar a month, so seriously — what have you got to lose? There’s tons of content up on there are already, and needless to say, I’d be very gratified to have your support.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Blind Justice” #1

I’m just gonna call it : Victor Martinez’s cover for All-Time Comics : Blind Justice #1 (the fourth release in this Josh and Samuel Bayer-helmed project) is the coolest thing to date about this entire enterprise. Rendered in a style highly reminiscent of old-school airbrushing (hell, it may even be a piece of old-school airbrushing for all I know), it’s atmospheric, evocative, and just plain bad-ass.

Too bad the interior contents can’t live up to the dramatic standard it sets.

Not that it’s a bad comic, mind you — more just another very mixed bag from a series that excels at creating them. The premise is agreeably absurd : a patient at an Optic City psychiatric facility who appears to be more or less comatose is actually the bandaged, club-wielding vigilante known as Blind Justice (or maybe it’s simply “Justice,” since that’s what most folks seem to call him, and there’s no indication that he’s actually, ya know, blind), a kind of unstoppable, and probably un-killable, force of righteous vengeance who has a habit of leaping into action whenever the fetching female assistant director of the hospital’s life is in danger. Which it is, this time, when she and her boss head off for some isolated island to help the poor and downtrodden locals only to find themselves set upon by a cult-like band of modern-day pirates with a vaguely martial and militaristic bent.

The script’s up and down in the extreme, with plot holes large enough to drive a truck through (not the least of which being how our “hero” manages to stow away aboard his lady-love’s ship), but that’s in line with the overall aesthetic here since the art’s all over the place, as well — inconsistent creative teams and “fill-in issues” were a mainstay of the “Bronze Age” these comics are meant to invoke, of course, but this book takes that notion to absurd heights by having scion of comics sub-royalty Rick Buckler Jr. doing most of the pencils, with late-game contributions from Bayer himself and Jason T. Miles, while Al Milgrom handles the bulk of the inks with Sabin Cauldron chipping in here and there in “deadline-crunch” fashion.

And if deliberately channeling the “deadline crunch” ethos is what the goal here was (hell, even the coloring chores are split between Alessandro Echevarria and Matt Rota — you can tell who did what due to Rota’s facility with Ben Day dots), then congratulations on a job well done are certainly due, but not being privy to such “inside baseball” knowledge, all I can say is — it looks and feels rushed and slopped-together at the last minute regardless of intent. There’s a cool double-page splash fight scene, it’s true, but some the figure drawings throughout are wildly inconsistent, and the same is true of a lot of the composition work and the comic’s overall sense, and use, of perspective — the only absolute “stand-by” from start to finish, in fact, is Rick Parker’s definition-of-solid lettering.

And ya know what? Even there we’ve got a wrinkle in the form of the “A. Machine” Charlton-style credits, which certainly give off the look of having been thrown in there right before the whole thing went to press. Which probably lends some weight to the idea that the “rush job” vibe here was intentional. If you choose to buy into that, then this comic’s a successful invocation of a very particular sort of dated industry mainstay and pretty fun, to boot. If you don’t, then the whole thing will likely just come off as a total mess.

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics — but there’s a new piece up on there that further explores the ATC themes on the blog here this week that folks who are enjoying these reviews will probably dig, as well. You can join up for as little as a buck a month, so seriously — what have you got to lose? Needless to say, I’ve be very gratified to have your support.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Bullwhip” #1

If there’s one thing “Bronze Age” comics didn’t do, it was subtlety. It was alien to their very DNA. And your ability to accept this as fact will go a long way toward determining how much you enjoy — or don’t — All-Time Comics : Bullwhip #1, the second installment in Josh and Samuel Bayer’s post-modern take on 1970s super-hero comics.

Josh Bayer’s script is a mess (as is the Das Pastoras cover, if we’re being totally honest), but I don’t necessarily mean that in the pejorative sense — at times it’s a rather delightful mess, as nominally “feminist” (but really much more of a stereotypical male-fantasy take on an equally stereotypical dominatrix figure — entirely, I would contend, by design and not accident, since flubbing every lame attempt at portraying empowered women was a staple of comics “back in the day” — and, all too often, remains one to this day) protagonist Bullwhip rips her way through one villain after another, starting with (speaking of obvious) The Misogynist, landing for the most part on The Time Vampire, and ending with the mysterious Raingod. Do try to keep up.

Or don’t, since it really doesn’t make that much difference. The flavor matters more than the ingredients here, and if cringe-worthy dialogue and a non-sensical series of battles (in Metro City this time out) bothers you that much, you’re in the wrong place. Penciller Benjamin Marra helped out with the plot here, and it shows : his penchant for wink-and-nod exaggeration is on full display in the storytelling, but curiously — and thankfully — toned down in the art, thanks to the always-leveling effect of Al Milgrom’s inks.

Confession time : Milgrom was probably my least favorite of all Marvel artists when I was a young reader (that would be the mid-’80s, in case you were wondering), but his presence here is a welcome one, necessarily toning down Marra’s ever-present “edgelord” sensibilities. For that alone, I’m willing to pin the MVP award for this issue front and center on Milgrom’s lapel. He may bow if he wishes to do so.

Of course, the not-even-near-miss attempt at feminism culminates in a barely-sublimated (if that) lesbian embrace, a trope as old (and as geared toward pubescent male readers) as Wonder Woman herself, but by and large the nods here are cast more in the direction of “B-list” Marvel heroines like Hellcat or Valkyrie, as the comic clumsily attempts to hide its inherent sexism under layers of bombastic dialogue and OTT action. Again, if you take this as being intentional — which to me it clearly is — you’re going to dig the whole thing a lot more.

Matt Rota’s colors are solidly “retro” here, and generally work, while Rick Parker’s letters are straight-up delightful. Their efforts help position the comic squarely within the stylistic continuum being aimed for, and are as valuable to the proceedings as the contributions of the “main” creators themselves. The end result is more of an overt nostalgia-fest than anything else this series produced (or at least has produced to date), and probably the working definition of a “your mileage may vary” comic. I understand and respect the arguments put forth by people who were offended by it, absolutely — but for my part, I don’t think it was ever trying to be a serious enough work to cause offense in the first place.

Yes, that’s me damning the comic with faint praise — but it’s also me admitting that I kinda liked it, maybe even more than it deserved to be liked.

Which, again, amounts to a pretty qualified endorsement, I freely admit.

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This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics — but hey, there’s a new piece up on there that delves deeper into, and builds upon, the ATC-related themes we’re exploring here on the blog this week. You can join up for as little as a dollar a month, so seriously — what have you got to lose? Needless to say, I’d be very gratified indeed to have your support.

Oh, and I suppose a link would come in handy. Here you go :https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 01/28/2018 – 02/03/2018

Would’ja believe — there wasn’t too much that came in my mailbox this week and it was my LCS that kept me busy with new stuff to read? I swear, it’s true, so let’s have a look at some items of note that I picked up —

For a series/line that prides itself on being “old-school,” Josh Bayer’s All-Time Comics seems in some ways to hew pretty closely to modern publishing norms. Issues frequently ship late, for instance, and their latest release, the bumper-sized (and subsequently more expensive than usual) All-Time Comics : Blind Justice #2, marks the end of the first “season” of the range, with an Image-style gap of three or four months now on deck as they get their ducks in a row for their next not-exactly-an-arc. The script this time out is a Bayer solo endeavor, and frankly not the greatest — the last half of the comic essentially being an extended “bad guy rant” — but it’s still kinda “warts and all”-style fun that will appeal to most Bronze Age babies like myself by hitting all the right nostalgic notes. It’s really down to the art to essentially carry most of the weight here, though, and weird as it sounds to even say things like “Noah Van Sciver inked by Al Milgrom” and “Sammy Harkham variant cover,” that’s precisely what you get here, and it’s every bit as awesome to look at as said phrases would lead you to expect. I have no doubt that the overall ATC project will continue to confound readers looking for some over-arching unifying grand purpose, as it appears that Bayer and co. really don’t seem to have one, but for my money that’s a large part of the appeal of what they’re doing, and even though I’m sure admitting as much will brand me an intellectual simpleton in the minds of many in the critical community, I’m seriously looking forward to seeing where this whole thing goes next, as regulars like Benjamin Marra return to the fold and newcomers like Gabrielle Bell (yes, you read that right!) join in the four-color carnage. Operating in a previously-unexplored middle ground that exists between the polarities of “homage” and “spoof,” these comics are hitting a “sweet spot” for me — even when they run six bucks, as this one did.

It’ll cost you seven, though, to pick up the second issue of Shelly Bond’s Black Crown Quarterly, and to be honest, I think I’ve seen enough at this point. The format’s nice, with heavy cardstock covers and high-quality glossy paper, and to be honest, most of the individual strips range in quality from “pretty decent” (Rob Davis’ “Tales From The Black Crown Pub,” Jamie Coe’s “Bandtwits,” Leah Moore and Nanna Venter’s “Hey, Amateur! How To Be A Badass Goth In Nine Panels”) to “actually quite good” (“Cannonball Comics” by Christopher Sebela and Shawn McManus, who illustrates in a very engaging and eye-popping style quite unlike anything he’s ever done), but the “Cud : Rich and Strange” ongoing by Will Potter, Carl Puttnam and Philip Bond continues to be a dud, the inclusion of more preview pages for David Barnett and Martin Simmonds’ forthcoming Punks Not Dead make me wonder if we’re not going to end up seeing the entire first issue before it even comes out, and the text pieces are either essentially extended promo blurbs for other Black Crown titles like Kid Lobotomy, or else self-consciously “hip” music and travel recommendations. What frustrates most about BCQ, though, is that Bond’s hopelessly dated tastes and aesthetic sensibilities end up making the overall package less than the sum of its parts, and at the end of the day it almost feels like she’s assembling a comic for an audience of one — herself. Unless you, too, are an anglophile whose musical knowledge doesn’t extend beyond the borders of late-’70s UK punk, it’s hard to see the appeal in an anthology this specifically — and rigidly — constructed. Gotta love the pull-out poster featuring the Bill Sienkiewicz cover variant for Punks Not Dead #1, though.

In what passes for a “bargain” this week, five bucks will get you in the door of Justice League Of America/Doom Patrol Special #1, and while it’s not a spectacular read or anything of the sort, I did have fun with this first part of “Milk Wars,” a five-part weekly crossover that sees Gerard Way’s Young Animal line clashing head-on with the “proper” DC Universe. Way and Steve Orlando wrote the script for this book, and thematically and tonally it seems pretty well right in line with what the My Chemical Romance lead singer is doing with his main Doom Patrol series, in that it borrows equally from Grant Morrison’s run on the book and Larry Cohen’s cult-favorite horror/comedy hybrid The Stuff. I don’t know much about the current Justice League Of America line-up, but it appears to be a bunch of B-and C-list characters like Lobo and Vixen, so I guess re-casting them all as a 1950s neighborhood decency brigade is no particular skin off DC editorial’s back, and for the purposes of this story the conceit works — as does ACO’s frenetic, mildly psychedelic art. Perhaps even better than the main feature, though, is the two-page backup strip, which begins what I’m assuming will be an extended introduction to the character of Eternity Girl, who will soon be featuring in her own series courtesy of this story’s creators, Magdalene Visaggio and Sonny Liew. I’m as shocked as anyone to see a cartoonist of Liew’s caliber taking on an assignment for DC, and equally shocked that he wouldn’t just write it himself since that’s how he’s made his bread and butter previously, but if this brief Silver Age-style yarn is any indication, he and Visaggio should make a good team. Anyway, all in all, this comic stood head, shoulders, and udders (read it and you’ll get what that reference is all about) above most “Big Two” fare.

Lastly, we come to Motehrlands #1, the first of a new Vertigo six-parter from writer Simon Spurrier and artist Rachael Stott that proudly wears its 2000AD influence on its sleeve and isn’t afraid to plunge you in at the deep end from the get-go and trust that you’ll catch up — at some point. The action’s pretty breakneck in this one, though, and absolutely absurd, so don’t expect much hand-holding in this wild mash-up of badass-bounty-hunter, “reality” TV, and dysfunctional family tropes, our main protagonist being an inter-dimensional mercenary skip-tracer who lures her mother, a sort of washed-up female version of that “Dawg” guy, out of retirement in order to help track down the third member of the clan, the good-for-nothing brother/son. It’s a fast-paced and — here’s that word again — fun read, and Stott’s art is a nice mix of the conventional and the far-out, so I’m probably gonna stick it out in single issues, but if you missed the first installment, “trade-waiting” probably wouldn’t do you any harm, and will more than likely save you a few dollars.

Okay, I think that’s good enough for now — the small-press stuff was in short supply this week, which is kind of a bummer, but I’ve got a box on the way from Retrofit any day now of some comics I missed out on from the tail end of 2017, so hopefully I’ll have read enough of those books by this time next week to talk about at least some of them in my next round-up column. Hope to see you again in seven short days!