Weekly Reading Round-Up : 04/15/2018 – 04/21/2018

One book understandably sucked all the oxygen out of the room this week, and we’ll dive right into it first, but fear not, there are a few others worth talking about, as well —

So, look, let’s just call it like it is : Action Comics  #1000 is an eight-dollar victory lap. A “double milestone” book celebrating both the fact that it’s the first American comic to hit the four-digit-issue-number mark, as well as the 80th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance, you go in figuring you’re in for plenty of self-congratulation here, and yeah, it’s essentially 80 pages of DC’s top creators, past and present, paying tribute to the company’s number one character (sorry, Bat-fans). Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster get the “80-Page Giant” dedicated to them, as well they should, but don’t come in for much mention anywhere else within its pages, which feels like a bit of a slight — although not nearly as big a one as when they were swindled out of any claim of ownership to their creation in exchange for the princely sum of $130. And yeah, as DC’s defenders are always quick to point out, the company did attempt to “make good” with the two guys from Cleveland in their dotage , but they were certainly owed a lot more than they ever got. Hell, their heirs are probably still owed a lot more than they ever got. But we’re not here to focus on that issue too specifically, we’re here talk about what we got in this comic —

“What Superman Means To Us All” is the connective tissue holding all the short-form strips in here together, and some address the subject more successfully than others — there’s a veritable “murder’s row” of talent on hand, with Dan Jurgens, Peter J. Tomasi, Paul Levitz, Marv Wolfman, Tom King, Brad Meltzer, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Louise Simonson, and Brian Michael Bendis on script duties and Jurgens, Patrick Gleason, Neal Adams, Curt Swan, Butch Guice, Jim Lee, Clay Mann, Rafael Albuquerque, John Cassaday, Olivier Coipel, John Romita Jr., Jerry Ordway, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on art, and while it’s nice to see that Jurgens, Tomasi, and Gleason were all allowed to say good-bye to the character before Bendis’ much-ballyhooed arrival next month (the Tomasi/Gleason story being a particularly effective “Superman Through The Years” yarn told entirely in single-panel “splash” pages), it’s really the “guest” creators who do the best job here, particularly Tom King and Clay Mann, who capture the essence of all that is special about the Man of Steel in just a handful of gorgeously-drawn, sparsely-worded pages.

Of the other offerings, I had a lot of fun with the “retro”-style Supes/Luthor confrontation by Levitz and Adams (available only in the digital preview copy I got and not the print edition, fair warning), and the Johns/Donner/Coipel “Golden Age” story is a blast, as well, but really the overall quality of everything is pretty consistent, barring one curious misfire, that being the Wolfman/Swan/Guice strip that takes a previously-extant story originally written by Cindy Goff and simply swaps out her original dialogue and captions for new stuff. Not sure what the point of that was, other than to make sure the greatest Superman artist of all time was represented in the book.

As for covers — there were nine to choose from, one for each decade Action Comics has been around in addition to the “main” one,  and I opted for the Dave Gibbons/Angus McKie 1950s variant, so that’s what’s atop the column here. All in all I felt like I got my money’s worth and then some out of this book, and while the intro to the new Bendis “era” that wraps things up was nowhere near interesting enough to convince me to give his forthcoming Man Of Steel mini-series a try (much less to continue on into the two monthly titles after that’s done), I’m glad to have bought this comic and recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in Superman —whether as a character, as a cultural icon, or both — do the same.

Sticking with DC, this week saw the release of the sixth and I-thought-final issue of Neal Adams’ Deadman mini-series, and if you thought things were incoherent before — you ain’t seen nothing yet. I swear that Adams is just making this shit up as he goes along and that no one’s really bothering to edit what he turns in — and that’s what makes his latter-period work so jaw-droppingly, singularly bizarre and interesting. Batman is on the cover here but isn’t in the book — the multitude of supernatural guest stars who are in the book aren’t on the cover — and everyone is shouting all the damn time, even when there’s no reason to. I’m certainly game for more of this kind of utterly alien type of storytelling, where the normal rules of what’s “good” and “bad,” what “works” and what “doesn’t,” simply do not apply — and whaddya know, as this issue comes to an end the story doesn’t, and it looks like a second six-part “arc” is in the offing for later this year. Yeah, at four bucks a pop buying all twelve is going to get pricey, but I have no complaints. Adams’ work may be an acquired taste at this point —but once you have acquired it, there’s nothing else remotely like it.

I was a little rough on Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson’s Come Into Me #1 a few weeks back (although I gave well-deserved “props” to artist Piotr Kowalsi), but I’m still down to give any of their creator-owned stuff a try, and the first issue of their new Aftershock series Her Infernal Descent is all the proof I need that sticking with these guys was the right call. An elderly woman who’s lost her family in an apparent (though, as yet, undefined) tragedy is escorted through Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell — by William Blake? This is the sort of brash, ballsy mash-up that’s either going to really work or really miss the mark, and so far it’s really working.

I’ll grant you that some of Blake’s rhyming iambic pentameter dialogue seems both forced and far less intelligent than anything you’d expect him to actually say, but the overwhelming majority of it is highly successful, the sheer bravado of the imagination on display here is a sight to behold — and speaking of sights to behold, Kyle Charles’ rich, sumptuous, evocative artwork is worth the $3.99 price of admission on its own, and his page layouts are astonishingly imaginative. I think this one is slated to run six issues, although I could be wrong about that — one thing I’m not wrong about, though, is that you need to jump on this book now.

One more debut issue to wrap things up, even if it’s not a real debut issue, so to speak : Black Hammer : Age Of Doom #1 kicks off the second “arc” of Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston’s revisionist super-hero series, and shows that my concerns about this “universe” being spread kinda thin through franchising and whatnot (see Sherlock Frankenstein And The Legion Of Evil and Doctor Star And The Kingdom Of Lost Tomorrows — with, apparently, more on the way) were ill-founded indeed. I know, I know — Dark Horse has always milked Hellboy for everything it’s worth and then some, and they seem to think they have a big enough hit on their hands to do the same here, but who can argue with results? I’ve enjoyed both spin-off series to date, and Lemire and Ormston haven’t missed a beat during the brief hiatus on the “main” title, either — this issue sees the new Black Hammer promise to reveal all, only to be whisked away to another kind of limbo that causes her to re-think all that she thought she had figured out, while the rest of our cast finally manage to get all their ships sailing in the same direction, and that direction is right the hell out of their own private Idaho and back to the “real” world. Somehow. Lemire’s script is fast-paced and bursting at the seams with energy and ideas, Ormston’s art is atmospheric, emotive, and creepy when it needs to be — and no less than the goddamn fucking Ramones themselves put in a guest appearance. What’s not to love? You need this comic more than you need four dollars.

Okay, that’s good enough for another column. I don’t see a whole lot in next week’s solicits that turns my crank, but I’m really looking forward to Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell’s The Pervert, so we’ll have that to talk about, plus whatever else strikes my fancy, when next we meet here in seven days.

“Deadman” Walking

“But he SUCCEEDED, you fools! I’m DEAD! THAT’S why he must be punished! BECAUSE HE SUCCEEDED!”

“THIS — it’s ALMOST funny — when you think of it — HA HA — it’s silly — really.”

“GORDON? How did you survive the fall? ” “Good nutrition. Regular bowel movements. What do you use?”

“So — the sensei killed you not, swine. I knew it!”

Oh, yeah — dialogue that cringe-worthy can only mean one thing : Neal Adams is back!

Not content that his brand of narrative insanity has been well-represented enough in recent years with the flat-out indescribable Batman Odyssey and Superman : The Coming Of The Supermen, the one-time master is back, and back on one of his signature characters no less, in the new six-part Deadman mini-series from DC. You know what that means, right? Buckle in, because this shit is gonna get nuts.

Heck, truth be told it’s nuts from the outset and never lets up — Commissioner Gordon as temporary ambassador to Japan? Attempted sabotage of a nuclear reactor for the sheer hell of it? Deadman watching over the whole scene for reasons that are never really specified? The sensei from Batman Odyssey back on the scene seemingly out of nowhere? The motivation of Boston Brand’s assassin, Hook, finally revealed after all these years — and it’s bullshit? Boston’s twin brother Cleveland is still around? Jim Gordon was Bruce Wayne in disguise all along? DOES ANY OF THIS MAKE SENSE?

Of course not, and that’s the beauty of the whole thing. You don’t read a latter-day Neal Adams comic for the same reasons you read any other comic — you read it for the same reasons you watch an Ed Wood or Larry Buchanan or Andy Milligan or Todd Sheets movie, namely because you want an up-close-and-personal look inside a mind you can never possibly hope to fathom.

As bizarre as it sounds at first, Adams can also be compared to those legendary/notorious filmmakers in that his imagination far outstrips his actual ability. I know that borders on blasphemy because Neal just plain revolutionized everything we thought we knew about visual storytelling in the 1970s, but seriously — that was four decades ago. Now just about every Adams character has a bad case of “horse-face,” his once-visionary page layouts are confused and disjointed, his vaunted action sequences have crossed the line into the unintentionally hilarious due to their propensity for sheer and overwrought melodrama.  Seriously, every person in every panel looks like they’re on the verge of a complete mental breakdown — even when nothing is happening. It’s a whirlwind of complete and utter insanity the likes of which you simply can’t find anywhere else.

Largely, of course, because no one else wants to make comics like this. But Neal’s not burdened with the baggage that other “Big Two” (or even independent) creators are — his place in comics history secure, he’s free to do whatever he wants. His editors plainly just receive his pages, throw their hands up in despair, and say “what the fuck — just publish it as is.” And who can blame them? If you wanted to whip a book like this into shape, it would be impossible to even know where to begin. Life’s just too short to subject yourself to a series of headaches that profound. I’d leave it alone if I were in their shoes, too, and so would you.

Undoubtedly long-time fans of the character must wonder what Deadman could possibly have done to deserve the one-two punch of ignominy he’s been served up in 2017 between this and the year’s earlier Deadman : Dark Mansion Of Forbidden Love three-parter (which, in fairness, was at least gorgeously illustrated), but come on — if you were expecting anything “better” from Adams than what’s on offer here, you’ve clearly been living under a rock for the past twenty-plus years. The Neal Adams who gave us all those dark and rainy Gotham City streets and took our breath away with his dynamic realism gave way to the Neal Adams who opened up an issue of Ms. Mystic (remember that one?) with a picture of a deer vomiting in a forest a long time ago.

And while it would be a reach to append that last sentence with an ” — and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I’d also be lying if I said that I didn’t think Deadman #1 was worth a buy (although I certainly wouldn’t recommend shelling out an extra buck for the glow-in-the-dark variant cover). This comic’s sheer incompetence across the board guarantees that you literally have no idea what’s going to happen on the next page — and that you usually don’t know what happened on it after you’ve read it, either.  That doesn’t make it a “good” reading experience by any stretch of the imagination — but it does make it an absolutely singular one. And while I’m clearly rationalizing the irrational here, I could honestly care less :  the first issue of Deadman was one big, fat, ugly trainwreck — and I can’t wait to read the next five.