Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Vintage Collections

Another day, another year end “Top 10” list! This time around we look at my favorite collected editions of vintage material published in the past year, “vintage” in this case being work originally produced prior to the year 2000. Eurocomics and Manga are both eligible here, as well, as long as they first saw print prior to all our computers failing, the electrical grid going dark, the food supply collapsing, and civilization falling apart on December 31st, 1999. Remember those crazy times?

10. Brat Pack By Rick Veitch (IDW) – Arguably the last great work of super-hero revisionism prior to Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s Black Hammer, Veitch’s bleak and unforgiving look at the teen sidekicks of Slumburg is as shocking, ugly, and mean-spirited as ever — not to mention gorgeously illustrated. IDW pulled out all the stops with this one, loading it up with “behind-the-scenes” bonus material that all crusty aficionados of this rank, but spot-on, unpleasantness will surely find illuminating and engrossing. I still feel like I need to take a shower after reading this book to get the stain off — and yes, I mean that as a compliment.

9. Death Stand And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 22) By Jack Davis And Harvey Kurtzman (Fantagraphics) – The harrowing reality of combat stress has arguably never been rendered in comics with more authenticity than in these classic EC strips illustrated by Davis and (largely) written by Kurtzman. Even people who think they probably don’t like war comics owe it to themselves to give this collection a shot and see what they’ve been missing out on all these years.

8. New Gods By Jack Kirby (DC) – This one probably deserves to be ranked higher purely on its merits, as many of the very best of Kirby’s Fourth World stories are in here, but considering that all of it was included in last year’s Fourth World Omnibus, this really just represents an essential purchase for absolute completists, or anyone who took a pass on the omnibus for budgetary or storage space (hey, it really is a beast!) reasons. Some of the finest comics ever made by anyone are found on these pages, though, so it earns a spot on the list even though it comes hot on the heels of a larger, more comprehensive collection.

7. Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground Edited By Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Underground) – Far and away the most disturbing book on this list, Osborne was probably the most grotesque and unsavory of the “first wave” of underground cartoonists — as well as one of the most talented, producing work so rich in detail and meticulous in its execution that it still literally boggles the mind. Editor Rosenkranz deserves tremendous credit for collecting all of this less-than-prolific artist’s work between two covers, and Dennis Dread’s detailed biographical sketch of Osborne’s troubled life is a terrific piece of comics scholarship. Not for all tastes and sensibilities to be sure — but if your “wiring” is as off-kilter as mine, this is an essential purchase.

6. Corto Maltese : The Golden House Of Samarkand By Hugo Pratt (IDW/Euro Comics) – One of Pratt’s finest and most ambitious Corto stories finally gets the deluxe treatment that has been lavished on the character’s previous adventures. If you’re a fan, that’s cause for celebration, and if you’re not — well, now’s the perfect time to become one! European genre comics simply don’t get any better than this.

5. best of witzend Edited By Bill Pearson And J. Michael Catron (Fantagraphics) – Anyone who couldn’t fork over the cash for the complete witzend slipcase collection a few years back will be overjoyed to find this well-curated collection of the finest strips to appear in Wally Wood’s legendary “pro-‘zine,” as editors Pearson and Catron present groundbreaking cartooning from artists that truly “run the gamut,” including Bernie Wrightson, Reed Crandall, Gray Morrow, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, Jim Steranko, P. Craig Russell, Art Spiegelman, Steve Ditko, Vaughn Bode — and, of course, Wood himself. A superb selection that will leave your head spinning and that, crucially, “ports over” the exhaustive historical essay work presented in the earlier, larger publication.

4. Master Race And Other Stories (The EC Artists’ Library Vol. 21) By Bernard Krigstein (Fantagraphics) – The premier visual innovator in comics history, Krigstein’s astonishing work finally gets a truly deluxe presentation in this painstakingly-restored collection. The scope and grandeur of Krigstein’s imagination still positively boggles the mind, and its fruits have never looked better than they do in this sumptuous volume.

3. Love That Bunch By Aline Kominsky-Crumb (Drawn+Quarterly) – Okay, yeah, some of the material in this comprehensive retrospective came along after the year 2000, but the vast majority predates it, and it would be absolutely criminal not to find a list to include this on. I’ve always preferred Aline’s work to that of her more-famous husband, and these largely-autobiographical strips will probably go some way toward winning over even the most understandably reactionary fans who reflexively eschew anything with the “Crumb” name attached to it. I’m not here to judge how and why she can survive a marriage to one of the most talented-but-unsavory people in comics, only to state that her own work stands on its own merits and communicates a positive, empowering message in endearingly neurotic and self-deprecating fashion. I do, indeed, love that — meh, too obvious, right? Just buy the book, you’ll never regret it.

2. Kamandi Omnibus By Jack Kirby (DC) – Finally! The amazing adventures of the last boy on earth get the “omnibus treatment,” and the result — while hefty both physically and financially — is nothing less than magic. One of Kirby’s absolute best comics ever, this is also one of the most imaginative, rip-roaring, and just plain fun works in the entire history of the medium. Nothing short of comic book perfection.

1. Dirty Plotte : The Complete Julie Doucet By Julie Doucet (Drawn+Quarterly) – Pioneering feminist auteur Doucet finally gets her due with this beautiful, two-volume hardcover slipcase collection that features all of her work from her legendary Dirty Plotte series, as well as a good chunk of material that was published before and since, a wide-ranging interview with the artist, and essays of appreciation from top cartooning talents. This was one of the formative works of the 1990s that helped blaze a trail for any number of women cartoonists, and is every bit as powerful, authentic, idiosyncratic, and funny now as it ever was. Doucet is, simply put, one of the most outstanding talents to ever draw breath. Here’s all the evidence would could possibly need to buttress that assertion.

And that’s four lists down, with two yet to come! Next up : the top 10 “special mentions” of the year, an eclectic category of “comics-adjacent” work that includes no actual comics per se, but narrative works (illustrated or otherwise) either by cartoonists, or about comics. It’ll make much more sense when I post it (probably tomorrow), I promise!

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Ongoing Series

The 2018 ” Top 10″ train keeps rolling! This time out : my ten favorite ongoing series of the year. Open-ended or limited runs are fine, as long as the books in question adhere (however tenuously, in some cases) to a production schedule of some sort. Ongoings that release one issue a year (or less) are not eligible in this category, although many such series — like Sean Knickerbocker’s Rust Belt and Anders Nilsen’s Tongues, to name just a couple — were represented in my previously-posted “Top 10 Single Issues” list. And so, with all that out of the way —

10. Exit Stage Left : The Snagglepuss Chronicles By Mark Russell And Mike Feehan (DC) – While never quite reaching the same heights as Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintsones, this re-imagining of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon cat as, essentially, Tennessee Williams was still a superb take-down of McCarthyism, and was a topical, poignant, and fun read with obvious parallels to the Trump era. Feehan’s crisp art looks like a million bucks, and the flat-out superb coloring of Paul Mounts makes it look like two million.

9. Abbott By Saladin Ahmed And Sami Kivela (Boom! Studios) – Not since Sugar Hill have blaxploitation and the occult been paired this successfully, and besides featuring the breakout protagonist of the year, this 1970s-set series touched on a boatload of social problems that, you guessed it, still haven’t gone away. Both story and art were pitch-perfect for the material, and my sincere hope is that Ahmed and Kivela will be getting to work on a sequel sometime in the not-too-distant future.

8. Shanghai Red By Christopher Sebela And Joshua Hixson (Image) – A thoroughly engrossing historical fable of crimping, piracy, and gender-bending that flew well below most folks’ collective radar for some reason, this five-parter made damn sure you’ll never look at the history of Portland, Oregon the same way again. Lavishly illustrated and sharply written, this is one you absolutely need to seek out in trade if you took a pass on it in singles.

7. Daygloayhole Quarterly By Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket) – I’ll just come right out and say it : Passmore’s hilarious, absurd, and eminently relevant take on post-apocalyptic “life” probably deserves to be ranked as highly as second or third on this list, but — it’s a reprint series, and therefore I’m skirting my self-imposed ruled by even allowing it “through the door” in the first place. Still, it’s so damn good that I had to find a way to include it, even if it meant fudging things on the margins a bit. If you’re not reading this/haven’t already it, you’re missing out on something well and truly extarordinary. And yes, I use that term with precise intent.

6. Prism Stalker By Sloane Leong (Image) – Feminist sci-fi of the highest order and one of the most visually captivating comics of the year, Leong has created a work for the ages here, as well as a marvel simply to look at. An intoxicatingly beautiful marriage of form and function that defies easy categorization every bit as much as it defied the odds by getting published by one of the “major indie” outfits in the first place, this title knocks you back and leaves you reeling.

5. Black Hammer : Age Of Doom By Jeff Lemire And Dean Ormston (Dark Horse) – The second “season” of the last word in super-hero revisionism may not break new ground in the same way the first did, but even at 75% (roughly) of its initial glory, this is still absorbing, compelling stuff, that both creators are quite clearly pouring all kinds of heart and soul into. And when one of ’em needs a break, who the hell in their right mind is gonna argue about Rich Tommaso filling in on art for a couple of issues?

4. Hey Kids! Comics! By Howard Chaykin (Image) – Leave it to the biggest contrarian in comics to hit us from out of nowhere with his strongest work in decades hot on the heels of the most reviled book of his career. Chaykin pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in this warts-and-all look at comics’ decidedly sleazy ethical history, yet it’s all quite obviously coming from a place of absolute reverence for many of the masters of the medium that it’s taking entirely non-gratuitous “pot-shots” at. New Chaykin regular colorist Wil Quintana does a bang-up job providing stirring hues that make these pages absolutely sing, and goddamn if Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and “effects” still don’t look 20 years ahead of their time. Fuck all the naysayers — at his best, which this surely is, Chaykin still delivers a comics reading experience like no other.

3. Love And Rockets By Gilbert And Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) – Middle age isn’t something to be endured in the hands of Los Bros., it’s something to be celebrated, and this series’ return to its classic “magazine” format somehow accentuates the point that both brothers are making about “the more things change —.” This book is the reason you love comics. Pray it runs forever.

2. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen : The Tempest By Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill (Top Shelf/Knockabout) – The final comics project (or so we’re told) from both of these legendary creators is both a love letter and middle finger as they head for the exits. The love letter is to the art form itself, while the middle finger is stuck up high, proudly, and entirely justifiably to the industry. A new, all-female iteration of the League is a stroke of genius, as is the decision to up the “humor quotient” considerably after the rather dark turn taken in the last “volume.” How much do we all miss this comic before it’s even over?

1. Now Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – 120-plus pages of the best in contemporary cartooning for ten bucks an issue? How do you beat that? Answer : by infusing the title itself with a distinct sense of purpose that goes beyond such simple and easy anthology premises as specific themes or shared aesthetic sensibilities in favor of selecting work by cartoonists that not only exemplify, but in may ways define where comics is at — errmmm — now. Dash Shaw, Nathan Cowdry, Antoine Cosse, Daria Tessler, Roam Muradov, Al Columbia, Eleanor Davis, Theo Ellsworth — just some of the “murder’s row” of talent to appear in the pages of what is, without question, the quintessential anthology of the decade. Everyone is bringing their “A game” to the party here so far, and the result is my favorite series of the year, as well as the most significant.

And so we reach the end of the second of our six lists! Next up : Top 10 Contemporary Collections, the category devoted to 2018 books that presented material originally serialized as single issues, anthology stories, etc., as well as English-language releases of international material such as Manga, Eurocomics, etc. I’m hoping to have that one ready in the next couple of days here, do stop by and check it out!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 08/05/2018 – 08/11/2018

Our foray into the wonders of Elijah Brubaker’s Reich these past few weeks has put paid to the idea that these Weekly Reading Round-Ups are all about looking at new stuff that was actually released during the seven-day span in question, but I don’t think we missed much. We would, however, be missing out on a smattering of noteworthy first issues this time out if we set our view-finders backwards, so let’s not do that this time, shall we? Stuff worth talking about new on comic book shelves this past Wednesday, then, listed in order of how well I liked ’em —

Who better than a delightfully cantankerous old man to weave a tale of the decidedly un-delightful, but definitely cantankerous, old men, as well as the constantly put-upon young men whose labors they exploited, that built this benighted comic book industry we all know, love, and loathe in probably-equal measure? He pissed off a lot of well-meaning folks I respect about this same time last year with The Divided States Of Hysteria, but fuck it : I still love Howard Chaykin’s work, and Hey Kids! Comics! #1 is a perfect example in microcosm of why — shithead characters with shitty attitudes mired in ethically shitty situations with nowhere to go but down. This issue runs $3.99, like pretty much all Image books these days, but it’s probably worth twice that if you’re as finely attuned to the “Chaykin wavelength” as yours truly. We jump timelines a lot in this opening installment and get to meet a character who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Siegel and Shuster both, another who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Flo Steinberg plus a requisite amount of adolescent male fantasy, several chronologically-appropriate versions of someone who’s pretty clearly a Kirby stand-in, only one chronologically-appropriate version of a guy who’s pretty clearly a stand-in for Chaykin’s mentor, Gil Kane, and at the end of the book the “Big Bad” making everyone’s lives miserable is revealed to be a seedy, smooth-talking huckster who’s pretty clearly a Stan Lee stand-in. It’s all more than a bit obvious, sure, but it’s just as obviously all kinds of fun and I’m truly curious to see whether or not this project turns out to be an homage of sorts to the business its creator has made his living at for getting on five decades now, a giant middle-finger to everyone in said business that said creator never could stand, or a little of both. Throw in some truly eye-catching color work by Chaykin’s regular huesman of recent vintage, Wil Quintana, and the usual superb lettering and effects work of the perpetually-a-couple-decades-ahead-of-his-time Ken Bruzenak and oh yeah, we’ve got a winner here. Let’s just hope releasing this on a monthly basis in the short-term (what is this slated to run? Five or six issues?) doesn’t further delay the long-anticipated third volume of Time Squared  too terribly much longer.

One thing I’m truly baffled by is the fact that comics haven’t tried to do “the Fargo thing” before, but writer Eliot Rahal, artist Jorge Fornes (who also does the coloring), and Aftershock Comics are determined to make up for lost time, at least if the evidence presented by Hot Lunch Special #1 is anything to go by. An Arab-American family that runs a veritable empire centered around those disgusting microwaveable sandwiches you get (assuming you do, in fact, get them — which you shouldn’t) in vending machines and at gas stations from the frozen hinterland of Ely, Minnesota, finds themselves on the receiving end of some fairly typical mafia intimidation schemes when they grow too big for their britches and decide they don’t want to cut the Italians in for a piece of the action. Nothing supremely original or anything, but certainly perversely charming, side-splittingly funny, and even damn dramatic when it needs to be, with killer modern-noir illustration by the astoundingly talented Fornes, this is unquestionably a series worth keeping an eye on. Hell, both eyes. As is ever the case. $3.99 ain’t cheap, but count me in for the duration on this one, barring some unforeseen turn toward the cataclysmic.

The popular and successful team behind the just-concluded Grass Kings is back at Boom! Studios with something entirely different in Black Badge #1, a tale of “Top Tier” Boy Scouts who so impress the old-timers that they’re sent behind enemy lines into North Korea for the purpose of carrying out an entirely-undisclosed assassination.  Kindt keeps things moving along at a very pleasing clip in this one after making all necessary character introductions, Jenkins’ art is just a bit tighter and more formalized than previous efforts, and his colorist/wife, Hilary, adds the final touch by swapping out watercolors for what I take to be some sort of digitally-approximated gouache effect. The final result? A comic that looks and reads really effing well, even if it’s a bit of a mess tonally, unable to decide whether or not it wants to be “appropriate for all ages” or “suggested for mature readers.” I’m cool with that, though, because at least it means I don’t know what to expect on the next page throughout. This one’s getting a bit of a shorter leash than the two previously-mentioned publications, but not by much : I’m more than happy to give Kindt and and Jekins at least two more issue — and eight more dollars — before deciding whether or not I’m on this one for the long haul. Given the track records of the principal creators, both separately and together, it seems a fairly safe bet that this’ll just get better as it goes along, and in point of fact it actually stars out of the gate remarkably well, which is always a good sign.

Lastly, we set out sights on DC/Vertigo’s $4.99 one-shot, The Sandman Universe #1, which basically employs the same conceit as the DC Rebirth Special of using a character that’s been getting pretty dusty to act as our “eyes and ears” as we get ourselves up to snuff on everything that’s been happening in our (or, in a pinch, his) absence. This time it’s Matthew The Raven as opposed to Wally West, but it’s still an effective storytelling technique, if an over-utilized one.  This is sheer set-up material all the way, clearly designed to get readers interested in the forthcoming quartet of Sandman  spin-offs coming out over the next few months (really? Another new Lucifer series?), all “curated” (whatever that even means) by Neil Gaiman himself, who’s credited with same here. I’m not normally a fan of the “committee approach” to crafting comics, but writers Simon Spurrier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters do what they can in the face of a truly cumbersome editorial remit, and ditto for artists Bilquis Evely, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Tom Fowler, Max Fiumana and Sebastian Fiumara, as well as cover artist Jae Lee (although the landscpape is littered with variants), who all have their own unique looks that they bush aside in their pursuit of something akin to a “house style,”  Okay, good enough, as long as it’s done with an eye toward quality as well as unifornity, and colorist Mat Lopes also gives the book more of  a consistent visual ethos, given that he’s aboard for all 40-some pages. This was by no means an Earth-shattering debut, but it was a plenty good for— well, what it was , as is also true of the “writer’s room”-crated story. I’m sufficiently intrigued to give all four of these new books a month, at least, to see where they’re headed, so that’s at least something.

And that’ll do it for the Round-Up this week. Next time out we’ll turn our attention to — whatever we turn it to. Join us here in seven as we reveal what the heck that even means!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/05/2017 – 11/11/2017

A varied and disparate selection of books came my way this week, some easy enough to find, others decidedly less so —

And on the “decidedly less so” front, we’ve got legendary auto-didact Mark Beyer’s Ne’er-Do-Wellers, a limited-as-hell (as in 200 signed and numbered copies) new publication that comes to us by way of Trapset Zines and was issued in conjunction with the opening of a new gallery show of Beyer’s work. Not so much a “comic” per se as a series of illustrations accompanying reports of particularly strange and sometimes brutal crimes that took place in recent years in Beyer’s hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., this is as stark a distillation of absurdity, deadpan humor, and pessimism for humanity as a whole as you’re probably expecting, and certainly Beyer’s unique-unto-himself style of illustration is every bit as much a dark joy for the eyes as it’s always been, but — and it’s a big “but” —

28 bucks for this thing? Seriously? It’s advertised as being 25 pages long, but it’s not, and while the three postcards and greeting card it comes with are definitely terrific, they’re all older illustrations, and the cover is just a colorized version of one of the interior drawings. The economics of scarcity is the only thing that can in any way justify the price of this thing, and by “scarcity” I don’t just mean its low print run, I mean that new Beyer work is (very) few and (very) far between.

For that reason alone, then, I’m pleased to have Ne’er-do-Wellers as part of my library. I really do love it and have spent several hours poring over every detail of every drawing. But that doesn’t mean that the whole package should, in a perfect world, have cost about ten bucks less.

Plastic People is a fascinating little ongoing mini-comic by Brian Canini published by Drunken Cat Comics that just saw its third issue roll off the presses. Set in a future world where plastic surgery has reduced everyone (or, at least, everyone in L.A.) to a kind of bland sameness, this seems to be a bit of a “slow-burn” storyline (we don’t even find out what our protagonists do for a living until the second installment) for a mini-comic, but I dig Canini’s minimalist style and his characters seem more “people” than they do “plastic.” $1.99 for eight tiny pages is a little bit steep, I’ll grant you, but not out of line with what small-press readers are used to paying for similarly-formatted publications, and so I have no qualms about recommending this one to anybody with a little extra spending money who’s looking for an immersive new story to get hooked on.

The Divided States Of Hysteria #6 sees Howard Chaykin wrapping up the first arc of this apparently-now-ongoing series (it’ll be back at some point in 2018), and while this comic has been a strangely-paced-and-plotted affair even by Chaykin standards and he pulls the (temporary, as it turns out) ending out of his ass, I’ll be goddamned if it doesn’t work anyway, and if protagonist Frank Villa doesn’t turn out to be marginally less of an asshole than he’s seemed to be (or, for that matter, than Chaykin’s deeply-flawed “heroes” almost always are). And all the folks leveling (largely sincere, in my view, but nevertheless misplaced) charges of transphobia against this book will certainly be surprised to see who Villa rides off into the sunset with — or rather, they would be if they were still reading. Chaykin’s art on this issue seems a bit crisper and tighter than the last few installments, Ken Bruzenak’s lettering and effects still look a good couple of decades ahead of their time, and there’s something very near to moral redemption offered up by the time all is said and (again, not exactly) done here — but for my money, the best thing of all about this book comes our way via the three-page “house ad” at the very back. I’ll say no more, beyond : it’s about time, Howard. In fact, it’s about time — squared. Anybody else as excited as I am?

Lastly, knowing full well that I risk whatever meager reputation I have by admitting this, I’ll just ‘fess up to the fact that Moon Knight has always been my favorite Marvel super-hero, and the character has been in the midst of something of a creative renaissance since the Warren Ellis/Declan Shalvey re-launch a few years back. Writer Max Bemis (whose work I’m not terribly familiar with, but who apparently fronts a band of some sort) and artist Jacen (CrossedProvidence) Burrows are the latest to take a crack at everyone’s favorite multiple-personality vigilante with Moon Knight #188 (once again, I won’t even attempt to begin to explain Marvel’s new “Legacy” numbering), and while the story’s only a middling affair that centers on a psychologist and her patient (neither of whom, as far as I know, readers have ever been introduced to previously) rather than our ostensible protagonist (who only appears in a brief dream sequence),  Burrows absolutely nails it on the art, and that’s more than enough to keep me around for at least a few issues to see how things progress. His style is remarkably different to that of the other top-flight artists who have worked on the character in the past — from Sienkiewicz to Shalvey to, most recently, Smallwood — but his eye for detail and expression really shines through, and his figure drawing is becoming far more fluid and less “posed” than it sometimes was on previous projects. It’s well past time that wider audiences than Avatar projects (even Alan Moore-scripted Avatar projects) have going for them were exposed to this guy’s work, so here’s your chance.

Okay, that’s enough, I should think, for this week — I’ve got (yet another) package from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half on the way, as well as a bunch of Aaron Lange comics, so there should definitely be some interesting stuff to talk about when we meet here again in seven days.

This Week’s Reading Round-Up : 10/22/2017 – 10/28/2017

Hey! Whatcha reading this week? I’ll tell you what stood out, for good ill, in my book pile —

R. Sikoryak breaks the mold and gets contemporary in The Unquotable Trump, done up in old-school “giant size special” format by Drawn + Quarterly, and man oh man is this a humdinger of unfortunate laughs. Real quotes from our shithead-in-chief transposed onto re-creations of classic comic book covers (ranging from Plop! to 300 to Watchmen to X-Men and everything in between) is one of those things that only seems like a “no-brainer” after someone’s already done it, and if that “someone” is Sikoryak, you know you’re in very good hands. I guess he originally did this as a 16-page b&w mini-comic, but 48 lush, gigantic, full-color pages is definitely a big step up and does the material justice. It’s all got a tinge of gallows humor to it right now, but if and when this verbally-flatulent, syphilitic asshole is finally impeached, hopefully we’ll all be able to laugh at this book with no strings attached. Your “must-buy” item of the week, right here. The $20.00 cover price is admittedly steep, but you can find it for $13.00-$14.00 easily enough with little to no effort — and you should.

Noel Freibert is a cartoonist I’m only vaguely familiar with by way of his strips in the last Kramers Ergot, but his new graphic novel from Koyama Press, Old Ground, is more than enough to ensure that he’s firmly on my radar screen from here on out. Frogs, dogs, bats, demolition crew workers, dead kids talking to each other from six feet under — it’s damn hard to describe this one, folks, and you really do just have to go with Freibert’s ever-shifting flow. Black, inky blotches coalesce into shapes and forms only barely recognizable as people, animals, or objects; actions make little to no concrete “sense,” at least as far as we understand the term; events start, stop, start up again with little if any regard to instantly-outmoded notions of linearity; giant 18-wheel trucks become small enough to be kicked by their drivers without explanation — and it all seems both inherently creepy and perversely funny. This book exists in a category of one, defies comparison, and challenges your comprehension at all times — but never, miraculously, your patience. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting, then read it again. Might just do the same tomorrow.

I was pretty jazzed for Black Crown Quarterly #1, the debut installment of the centerpiece anthology for Shelly Bond’s new IDW imprint, but now I really can’t remember why. The format’s nice — heavy cardstock cover and thick, glossy paper — but $6.99 for 48 pages is pretty steep, especially when about half the book is promo material that you’ll be able to get for free either online or in the back of other Black Crown books soon enough. Of the original strips on offer, Rob Davis’ “Tales From The Black Crown Pub” is probably the best (although Cindy Whitehead and Nicole Goux’s skateboarding-themed little one-pager is pretty fun, too), a rather cute and charming piece of cartooning that makes the pub at the geographical “center” of this fictitious universe seem a place very much worth exploring, but the other two we’re presented with —one written by CUD bandmates Will Potter and Carl Puttnam and illustrated by Bond’s husband Philip, the other written and drawn by Jamie Coe — are decidedly unimpressive and way too self-consciously “cool,” and the same exact criticisms apply to a short article on Leeds, UK and the interviews with Black Crown creators Tini Howard and Peter Milligan.

The biggest problem here though? The overall Black Crown aesthetic is being defined quickly, and it seems very narrow indeed : Bond’s anglophile and late-’70s punk rock sensibilities might make for a successful series or two, but as the guiding ethos of an entire line? I dunno, seems like things could get pretty repetitive (and dull) pretty quickly, and there’s just about nothing here for a person under, say, 40 years old to relate to. I still have every intention of seeing where Kid Lobotomy goes, and Beto’s art alone makes Assassinistas a guaranteed pull-list addition, but I didn’t need an expensive, overly-pleased-with-itself version of Image+ or Marvel’s Foom! to sell me on those. Who’d have thought that Last Gang in Town, one of the last Vertigo series to go out on Bond’s watch, would serve as the template for the entire next phase of her career?

The last thing worth a mention this week is The Ruff And Reddy Show #1, the latest debut from the DC/Hanna-Barbera partnership. There’s more than a bit of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to this book, with flesh-and-blood humans and animated cartoon characters (known as “celimates”) existing side-by-side, but given that this one’s written by Howard Chaykin, you know there’s going to be extra layers of too-real darkness underpinning that premise, and so there is : the “celimates” are clearly second-class citizens, our two protagonists turn out to never have gotten along, off-color jokes have potentially disturbing implications — yeah, innocence lost is the order of the day across the board.

That being said, dull revisionism is hardly the raison d’etre of this six-parter, methinks. In the manner of Mark Russell and Steve Pugh’s The Flintstones (although I’m in no way prepared to say this comic compares to that one in terms of quality — at least not yet), Chaykin seems bound and determined to use the apparently-free reign he’s been given in terms of “re-imagining” these characters as a means for shining a (bright, glaring) light on real-world social ills and inequities. Mac Rey’s animation-cel style artwork couches and even soothes some of the script’s heavier body blows. I think I like where this one is heading.

Okay, I think we’re good for this week. I’ve got a package on the way from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half, so chances are pretty good that there will be at least a couple of items of interest worth talking next time around in there. See you again in seven!

This Week’s Reading Round-Up : 10/8/2017 – 10/14/2017

Once again into the breach, as we take a look at various items that caught my interest from the past week, whether at my LCS or in my mailboxes, physical and electronic —

Baking With Kafka is Tom Gauld’s latest collection from Drawn + Quarterly, and I’m sorry to say that the shtick is wearing a bit thin. I gather that Gauld is viewed as something of a national treasure in the UK, and that’s all fine and dandy, but $19.99 for a collection of strips that have all been published elsewhere (most notably The New Yorker and The Guardian) is a bit much, unless said strips pack in quite a few laughs — and I’m sorry to say these don’t. I really rather enjoy Gauld’s minimalist style, but it works better for me in leisurely, longer-form narratives like Mooncop. Here he “reaches” for too many punchlines (most of which come up flat), and strains to be topical when his illustrations really aren’t all that naturally conducive to real-world “grounding.” A few years back his stuff really worked for me, but his earnest refusal to break from formula has strained my last nerve. If he does more original book-length work (notice how I steadfastly avoid using the term “graphic novel” whenever possible) I’ll probably check it out, and just as probably enjoy it, but as far as the collected stuff goes, this is the end of the line for me.

All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer #2 is the second issue (duh!) featuring this character, but fifth (unless I missed one) overall in the line from Fantagraphics, and while I gather that the somewhat fashionable thing to do is to bag on this comic, taking particular note of its (obvious and apparent) shortcomings  when measured against Michel Fiffe’s Copra, I’m not at all convinced that they’re necessarily trying to do the same thing. Fiffe’s playing by exact self-imposed rules according to an equally exact and equally self-imposed schedule, while the principals behind ATC — most notably Benjamin Marra and Josh Bayer, who uncharacteristically aren’t joined by others on the main story here — seem to be making things up as they go along. Five issues in (again, unless I — ah, fuck it) ATC may have a fairly distinct look, but it still feels very much like a project that’s finding its footing. I can understand why lots of folks find that frustrating, but for me it’s exciting, because you literally never know what the next page holds. Too earnest to be labeled a spoof, yet too tongue-in-cheek to be considered pure homage, maybe we’ve just gotta finally take Bayer, Marra, and Co. at their word here and accept that what they’re doing is a fun, dumb, colorful super-hero line in the vein of late-“Bronze Age” Marvel. It seems to me that too many greater minds than mine are looking under every nook and cranny for signs of intentional irony here and, finding none, walking away a little bit pissed off. Excuse me, but — since when is lack of irony a bad thing? Is it so hard to accept that Bayer and Marra just like this kind of shit and want to try their hand at making some? At the risk of forfeiting every single “cool point” I’ve ever earned, I say this is “must-buy” stuff.

And since I’m busy dragging my reputation into the gutter, I might as well come right out and admit that I’m enjoying the hell out of Howard Chaykin’s latest Image yarn, The Divided States Of Hysteria. I’m sympathetic to every single concern that’s been raised about this book, but I respectfully disagree with all of them. “That cover” for issue number four was never gonna really hit the shelves, and offers no proof whatsoever of racism on Chaykin’s part — but offers plenty of proof that he learned a lot from the “B-“movie hucksters of his youth, most notably William Castle and Herschell Gordon Lewis. And that scene in the first issue? The one that was variously described on twitter by “concerned citizens” who’d never even seen the book as featuring “a trans woman being raped” or even “a trans woman being murdered”? It featured no such thing, and indeed depicted a trans woman (who has since emerged as the only thing even vaguely resembling a “sympathetic” character in this series) fighting off and killing her would-be attackers herself! Other, somewhat less hysterical, complaints said that it was the kind of scene that reinforced the “trap defense” that assailants and/or killers of trans sex workers can apparently (and sadly) still get away with using, but again, these gripes are equally misguided given that Chaykin explicitly takes aim at what an absolute crock of shit the “trap defense” is in his character’s interior monologue during the scene. I’ll absolutely grant you that this comic is every bit as ugly, mean-spirited, amoral, and confrontational as its critics charge — but that’s the whole fucking point! In any case, for my money Chaykin and master letterer/designer Ken Bruzenak are absolutely killing it on this title, and any of my fellow leftists who walked away from it (or, more than likely, never even gave it a shot) are missing a thorough-going critique of the private prison and private security (let’s just call ’em what they are, mercenaries) industries, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, racism, the so-called “War On Terrorism,” macho bullshit in general, and other noxious societal ills. It’s all about as subtle as a kick to the crotch, and it’s incredibly garish to look at, but I love it. The story ran in place a bit last issue, but everything kicks into overdrive here in number five.

On the “Big Two” front, the third issue of Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ much-fawned-over Mister Miracle hit this week, and while I’m on the record as saying I think that a lot of the hype is overblown, it’s still pretty damn good — and “pretty damn good” is worth $3.99 a pop, in my book. Orion’s in full-on “asshole mode” here, Scott Free learns he’s a hero to The Bugs, and Barda is just doing her level best to survive both the biggest goddamn cosmic war ever (this week, at any rate) and her husband’s neuroses. But, of course, the key question remains — how much of this is actually happening, and how much is all in Scott’s head? And speaking of heads, Granny Goodness no longer has one. Apart from Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s criminally-underappreciated take on Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers, this is the best of the Kirby revivals that have become a downright ubiquitous feature at the shops in recent years.

Okay, whew! Lots of heavy-duty opining this time out! Next week we’ve got a couple that showed up too late for me to get around to this time out that I’m really looking forward to, Sophia Foster-Dimino’s Sex Fantasy, and sweet-looking new UK sci-fi anthology Berserker. Plus whatever else strikes my fancy. If this column hasn’t landed me on your “shit list,” then I’ll look forward to seeing you in seven days!