Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/12/2019 – 05/18/2019, Recent Underground Collections

As fate would have it, four lengthy collections of old-school underground comics that I’d been slowly but surely working my way through all made it from my “to be read” stack to my “finished” stack (okay, my bookcase) this week, and so, while each of these probably deserves a full-length review of its own, I can’t pass up on the opportunity afforded by fate/coincidence to make a Weekly Reading Round-Up column out of ’em. Note that these are all published by Fantagraphics Books, two under the auspices of their standard imprint, hereafter referred to as FB, and two coming our way courtesy of their “micro-press” Fantagraphics Underground label, hereafter referred to as FU.

Ink & Anguish : A Jay Lynch Anthology (FB) is an exhaustive collection of the late, pioneering cartoonist’s work that showcases the more “cartoony” side of underground cartooning, although there’s still plenty on offer here that’s well out of touch with modern sensibilities when it comes to sexism and misogyny. Lynch was far from the worst offender among his ilk in that regard, though, and mostly this is pretty sharp, satirical, and reasonably thought-provoking stuff with a fairly generous dose of metaphysics and spirituality thrown in for, as it turns out, quite good measure. All of Lynch’s popular Nard n’ Pat strips from over the years are presented herein, as well as a number of stories from Bijou Funnies and, more recently, Mineshaft, as well as mind-bogglingly cool art that Lynch produced for Bazooka JoeWacky Packages, and Garbage Pail Kids. Some solid collaborations with the likes of Ed Piskor, Art Spiegelman, and Robert Crumb, along with superb and highly-accessible text pieces assembled by underground scholar extraordinaire Patrick Rosenkranz, round out what can only be considered a very impressive package that provides great value for its $34.99 asking price.

Warrior Women : Spain Vol. 2 (FB) continues the Rosenkranz-edited ongoing — and sure to be massive — retrospective series dedicated to the late Spain Rodriguez and, perhaps as an intentional counter-point to the near-rampant misogyny on display in the first volume, the focus this time is on his so-called “strong female protagonists,” from Nasty Elaine to the Leather Nun to Mara Mistress of the Void to Granny McGurk to Rita Velveeta to Sangrella to, of course, the legendary Big Bitch. Not all of these women are the well-rounded figures of female emancipation the collection bills them as, and slapping the title “Spain Loved The Ladies (And They Loved Him)” on the actually-quite-nuanced-and-even-touching text essay that accompanies the strips certainly wasn’t the smartest move — I’d even go so far as to call it “tone-deaf” — but on the whole this is, of course, a breathtakingly well-illustrated volume that showcases its subject at the very height of his considerable creative powers. Yeah, it still betrays some regrettable attitudes that were rampant throughout the underground, but in many ways the majority of these strips really were well ahead of their time. Spain’s body of work is a complex and contradictory one, but one that is compelling as hell and very well worth exploring (or re-exploring) — and you get more than your money’s worth for your $34.99 with this one, as well.

Dave Sheridan : Life With Dealer McDope, The Leather Nun, And The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (FU) is a handsome over-sized hardcover edited  by Mark Burstein that presents not only a generous selection of the gone-too-soon cartoonist’s solo work (mostly featuring the characters referenced in the book’s title), but a number of his collaborations with Fred Schrier and Gilbert Shelton, as well. Sheridan’s illustration work for beer companies, album covers, and sex products is also well-represented, and the biographical text segments are just plain out of this world. Sheridan was one of the best pure artists the underground ever produced, and this book is both long overdue, and a fitting tribute to his life and career. At $35 it’s an absolute steal — something you can’t usually say for the small-print-run FU titles — so if you pass on this, you’re just plain crazy.

Doll (FU) by the great Guy Colwell may have originally seen print in the late-’80s and early-’90s, but Colwell himself was an underground veteran, and it first came out by way of Rip Off Press, so — this is an underground collection, in my book, as well. And it’s an essential one at that, telling a long-form story focused on the basest and sorriest instincts of man (okay, of men, specifically) that are triggered when an artist constructs a realistic animatronic sex doll for a deformed “40 Year-Old Virgin” who serves as a precursor to the pathetic “incel” demographic of today every bit as much as the titular doll accidentally predicts the infamous “Real Doll” that, I believe, is still very much a popular item among the sexually deprived. Colwell’s linework is gorgeous, his writing incisive, and frankly the narrative itself is far more subtle than one would expect given the ease with which it could have become a heavy-handed morality play in less-talented hands. An interview with Colwell conducted by feminist cartoonist Katie Skelly appends the volume and puts a nice finishing touch on what is well and truly a timeless and prescient work. Possibly the best $30 you’ll spend on comics this year.

And that, friends, is another week’s reading in the rear-view mirror — although it took me a lot longer than a week to read ’em, and I fully expect that none of these books are really anything I could truly say I’m “done” with, as they are sure to be re-visited frequently in the years to come. Nothing left to do then but remind you all that I’d sure appreciate your support on my Patreon site, where for as little as a dollar a month you can get thrice-weekly updates from yours truly on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. There’s a bunch of content up on there already, so you’re sure to get plenty in return for your pledge, and your patronage also ensures a steady supply of free stuff both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. Please take a moment to have a look and consider joining up by directing your attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

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!

 

“Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground” Proves It Wasn’t All Peace And Love With The “Flower Power” Generation

If you’re going to San Francisco —

Fuck the “flowers in your hair” stuff and forget the “gentle people” — you’d do better to keep an eye out for the speed freaks, junkies, pickpockets, gutter-dwelling lowlifes, psychotic serial killers, devil-worshipers, and predators of every stripe. The Mamas And The Papas may not know about these folks, but former underground enfant terrible Jim Osborne was very familiar with them, given that he drew them. He wrote about them. He got right inside their heads. And, as the years progressed, he became one of them.

Okay, sure, Osborne didn’t kill anyone (other than, over time, himself), but he was arguably the most complex figure to emerge from the underground comix scene, an incomparable illustrator with talent to spare and a meticulous eye for detail, his work never less than desperately, harrowingly, soul-deep ugly — so much so that even people who cut their teeth on the likes of S. Clay Wilson are often shocked and disturbed by our guy Jim’s hopelessly depraved visions of a fallen world. Wilson, you see, almost always gave readers a safe “out” by being so outlandish, so beyond the pale, that the utter absurdity of even his most extreme strips rendered them “unrealistic” by default. Osborne, by contrast (in a manner not unlike the closest thing he probably has to a “spiritual successor,” Joe Coleman) offered up fever-dream scenarios that were all too plausible, at the least, often just plain all too real. You could see this shit happening if the thin veneer of civilization ever slipped, on either a collective or an individual level. “Visceral” was the starting point for Osborne’s comix, and where they went from there — well, let’s just say that if the abyss gazes back, Osborne not only meets its icy and dispassionate glare, he stares it down and says “is that all you’ve got”?

But let’s talk about where we are right now : it’s probably well past time for a reasonably comprehensive collection of Osborne’s work, but editor/compiler Patrick Rosenkranz (who has my eternal thanks for not referring to himself as a “curator”), the pre-eminent historian/scholar of the underground in this day and age, has gone well above and beyond with his just-released Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground, published under the auspices of Gary Groth’s “street cred” Fantagarphics Underground label and loaded with 120-plus pages of Osborne’s most eyeball-raping stuff, which is to say — bad dreams, here we come. There is no “unseeing” what’s in these pages.

To that end, small doses might be the preferred method for the average reader when confronted with something this mentally and spiritually toxic, but me? I devoured the book’s entire contents in one sleep-deprived evening, my jaw literally agape as I took in these ecstatic (in the truest sense of the word) hell-scapes originally created for publications ranging from the notorious Yellow Dog and Bijou Funnies all the way “up” to National Lampoon. I felt like I needed a brain-scaldingly hot shower afterwards, it’s true, but it’s testament to how immersive a collection this chronologically-presented assemblage of nightmarish id-explosions is that not only did I not want to put it down, I didn’t want it to be over. I know, I know — I need some serious help.

Roll call : murder! Sacrilege! Debauchery! Demonology! Conspiracy! Like a modern-day William Blake by way of the aforementioned Messrs. Wilson and Coleman, with a dash of Mack White at the margins, Osborne didn’t so much draw as he used his pencils, pens, and brushes as implements of exorcism, emptying the darkest corners of both conscious and subconscious mind onto the page with an exacting eye, a furiously-moving hand, and an utter lack of fucks to give. He’s not opposed to seeing the “funny side” when it presents itself, but more often than not the humor is as black and twisted as everything else on the metaphorical menu, and cuts just as deeply. This is art fully weaponized, with a goal of leaving no surviving comfortable delusions.

Providing absolutely invaluable context to these black-as-the-worst-night-of-your-life proceedings is Dennis Dread’s introductory essay/retrospective focusing on the totality of Osborne’s life and work, charting his trajectory from raw-but-talented Texas wannabe-illustrator to something approaching underground “superstar” in San Francisco to his long descent into the role of creatively dead alcoholic and drug addict wasting away on the streets (and in the bars) of the notorious “Tenderloin” district, finally ending as a tragic early victim of his own excess — along the way somehow finding time to embark upon a doomed marriage, out-live a younger brother he loved dearly, date an influential early-days female punk singer, even befriend notorious iconoclast/heretic Anton LaVey and rise to the level of “High Priest” in his Church of Satan. What a long, strange trip it’s been? You’d better believe it.

Even just a few short years ago, the idea that the man who created such memorable works that you wish you could forget such as Body And Soul and Men’s Lounge, The Tampico Hotel – 3 A.M. would have a lavishly-produced compendium such as this one dedicated to preserving his legacy of artistic nihilism would have been unthinkable, even if he was one of the foremost cartoonists of his generation in terms of sheer, unbridled talent (perhaps rivaled in the underground only by Guy Colwell, who likewise exhibited a breathtaking stylistic range), but the dogged determination of the indefatigable Rosenkranz, combined with the small-print-run economic model of FU (we get it, Gary, I promise you!) have made possible what once was anything but — and unlike other books carrying the imprimatur of this particular “micropress,” this one even offers nice value for money, boasting an entirely-reasonable $24.99 cover price. Certainly Jim Osborne : The Black Prince Of The Underground will only appeal to a very narrow readership, but for those who fit into that small sliver, it’s something beyond an “essential” purchase and very near to a revelatory one. One of the most important, and defiantly repulsive, historical releases of the year.

 

2017 Year In Review : Top 10 Collected Editions (Vintage)

We’re getting there, I promise! Next up in our 2017 year in review we come to the top 10 vintage collections of the year, a list which comprises reprint collections released over the past 12 months of material originally published prior to the year 2000. Not much preamble apart from that necessary other than the standard reminder that these selections won’t be accompanied by anything like “reviews,” just quick summations of why you, dear reader, should buy them :

10. Belgian Lace From Hell : The Mythology Of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 3, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics) – The final volume of Fantagraphics’ exhaustive half-biography, half-comics retrospective of the career of underground trailblazer S. Clay Wilson presents a terrific selection of strips that don’t just transgress, but utterly annihilate, any and all notions of good taste with recklessly gleeful abandon — but a handful of very noticeable production glitches (missing text paragraphs, etc.) hold this back from being ranked as highly as, frankly, it probably deserves to be.

9. Doom Patrol : The Silver Age Omnibus by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani (DC) – Who can argue with having the entire, and justly legendary, Drake/Premiani DP run collected between two covers? Not me, that’s for sure — and as a longtime fan, seeing the original “team of outcasts” finally getting their due in a deluxe volume such as this is cause for pure joy.

8. Soft City : The Lost Graphic Novel by Hariton Pushwagner (New York Review Comics) – Visionary Norwegian cartoonist Pushwagner’s dystopian sci-fi magnum opus, a labor of love undertaken from 1969 to 1975, was thought lost to the ages until its rediscovery in Oslo in 2002, and here finally receives the exhaustive and meticulous presentation so long overdue it. A visually and thematically insular world of its own, ready and waiting for you to get lost in.

7. The Complete Skizz by Alan Moore and Jim Baikie (2000 A.D.) – A largely-overlooked early entry in the Alan Moore canon that’s aged incredibly well, this decidedly Thatcherite take on E.T. is funny, fascinating, heartbreaking, heartwarming, and sharp as hell — and is here collected alongside its very worthy sequel that sees artist Jim Baikie (successfully, I might add) assume writing duties, as well.

6. Challengers Of The Unknown by Jack Kirby (DC) – 100 years after the birth of the undisputed King of Comics, fans were presented with an embarrassment of reprint riches in 2017 — and this list will, to no one’s surprise, reflect that fact. For too long the Challengers have largely been viewed as a historical curiosity above all else, given that they were an obvious Fantastic Four prototype, but now that their original run has finally been collected in a reasonably-priced trade paperback, a new generation of fans has the chance to appreciate the fact that these are well and truly outstanding adventure stories overflowing with heart and imagination. And where else are you going to get to see Jack Kirby inked by Wally Wood? The art in this book is flat-out gorgeous.

5. The Collected Neil The Horse by Katherine T. Collins (Conundrum Press) – The best thing to emerge from the 1980s black-and-white boom, having every issue of this smart, sprawling, richly-illustrated, witty musical comedy together in one volume feels like a little bit of a miracle, especially given the numerous starts and stops creator Collins’ career has taken over the years. Loaded with indispensable behind-the-scenes material, including a harrowing-but-ultimately-triumphant account of the author’s own life after she transitioned from her earlier identity as Arn Saba (resulting in a de facto blacklisting in the comics industry for decades), this book is more than everything the small-but-loyal legion of Neil fans could have ever asked for.

4. Street Fighting Men : Spain Vol. 1, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics) – Collecting all the “Trashman” strips ever produced is reason enough to buy this book, but this opening salvo in the long-awaited Spain Rodriguez career retrospective offers a whole lot more than that — the police-corruption strip “Manning” is absolutely superb, and underground historian Patrick Rosenkranz’ text material is detailed and exhaustive. If future volumes are produced with as much care and consideration as this one, we’re in for something really special with this series.

3. The Demon by Jack Kirby (DC) – A personal favorite of yours truly, the saga of Jason Blood and his demonic alter-ego, Etrigan, is one of Kirby’s most powerful and imaginative, and is here presented in its entirety. The King didn’t delve into the realms of the mystical and supernatural all that often, but when he did — the results were spectacular.

2. The Green Hand And Other Stories by Nicole Claveloux (New York Review Comics) – This outstanding volume presents the pinnacle 1970s works of one of France’s most singular cartooning talents (most from the pages of Metal Hurlant) to English-speaking audiences for the first time, and if you’re looking for a visually unforgettable book for someone on your holiday gift list, then this is the way to go.  Claveloux delineates worlds of unspeakable beauty and oddity, and whether her stories are in vibrant, hallucinatory color (as is the case with the title strip here) or black and white, they leave an indelible impression on your eyeballs and your mind. Talking shrubs, duplicitous genies, and morose birds are just some of the wonders to be found in the surreal, enchanted realms Claveloux guides us through in these exquisitely vivid pages.

1. The Fourth World Omnibus by Jack Kirby (DC) – Full disclosure : this book just came out and I don’t even have it yet — but I don’t need to in order to give its contents a full-throated endorsement. The Fourth World saga is arguably the greatest the comics medium has ever produced, and having all 1500-plus pages of it in your hands for under a hundred bucks (depending on where you get it)? Come on, you’re not gonna do any better than that.

Okay, one more list down — and only one more to go! Next up we’ll look at the top 10 original graphic novels of 2017  — and then, I think, a (short, I promise) holiday break is in order!

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 11/26/2017 – 12/02/2017

More often than not, a fifth Wednesday in any given month means a “slow week” for comic book readers. Not so this time around, though, so let’s take a look and see what the LCS and the US Mail had in store for yours truly —

Spain Volume 1 : Street Fighting Men is the first in a multi-volume retrospective from Fantagraphics of the career of legendary, trailblazing underground master (and Zap Comix co-founder) Spain Rodriguez. His famous allegorical “stand-in” character Trashman takes center stage (and rightly so) in this book, and you already know all these strips (presented here in their entirety) are beyond fucking awesome, but also worthy of note here is the inclusion of “Manning,” a superb 1969 story about police corruption that originally ran in The East Village Other, as is the richly-detailed text history of the artist’s life and times authored by underground scholar par excellence Patrick Rosenkranz. $29.99 cover price, but you know you can find it for less than that easily enough. Buy this or die.

“Thems” is an intriguing and typically idiosyncratic one-shot written, drawn, and self-published (in magazine-sized format, no less) by Denver-based cartoonist Alex Graham (she of Cosmic BE-ING renown) featuring three of her extra-terrestrial (or should that be extra-dimensional?) characters who have a long history together going back multiple lifetimes and are re-united here on Earth. How best to consummate this rekindled eternal bond? How about a menage-a-trois? Drawn in somewhat-thicker-than-is-her-norm black ink and printed on yellow paper, to call this a “sex comic the likes of which you’ve never seen before” is to give it short shrift. I can’t claim to entirely understand everything Graham is depicting here, but I do know that I like it — and I think you will, too. Seven bucks very well spent, available from Porcellino’s outfit at http://www.spitandahalf.com/

Batman Annual #2 might be something you’d be surprised to see me drop five bucks on given my frequently-stated antipathy toward Tom King’s run on this series in general (there have been a couple notable highs, but far too many lows), but here he’s re-teamed with artist Lee Weeks (for the most part, at any rate — Michael Lark does the final seven pages), and their collaboration on Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 was terrific, so what the hell, am I right?

This one’s an Earth-2 story focused on an early meeting meeting between Batman and Catwoman, then it jumps to the future and shows their life as an  elderly married couple, complete with tear-jerker ending. On first reading I was damn impressed with this yarn, I admit, but on second (hey, it only takes 10 minutes or so) its calculated and contrived cynicism is easy to spot. The “flashback” segment that forms the bulk of the book basically only exists to add emotional “punch” to the epilogue and isn’t much on its own (apart from a gorgeous two-page center spread by Weeks), and conversely said epilogue only serves to remind us of what we’re never gonna get from the Bruce-Selina relationship in the “main” Bat-book, because who are we kidding? Editorial simply can’t or won’t allow it to  develop into the warm, loving, long-term marriage we see here. If I pick this thing up again six months or a year from now, who knows? I may like it all over again. But right now it basically looks like a one-trick-pony “Elseworlds” kinda thing — albeit a gorgeously-illustrated one. Extra props to colorists Elizabeth Breitweiser (on Weeks) and June Chung (on Lark) who give the book a lavish, moody look.

I’m thinking that the genesis of Batman : Creature Of The Night (the first issue of which just hit shelves in the old “Dark Knight Format,” priced at $5.99) went as follows:

“Yeah, Kurt Busiek here.”

“Hey, Kurt, it’s Dan DiDio (or Jim Lee, take your pick — doesn’t really matter either way). Remember that Superman : Secret Identity thing you did maybe 10,12 years ago? That “real world” story about that kid whose life was kinda like Superman’s? People liked that, so I was thinking — you wanna do it again? This time with Batman?”

“Uhhhhmmmm — what’s it pay?”

“$(redacted). And we’re gonna get John Paul Leon to draw it, so you know it’ll look great.”

“Sure, what the fuck — I’m in.”

And thus is a self-described “spiritual companion” born. And yeah, it does look good — great, even. But the whole thing has the stench of “been there, done that” about it — you know, like pretty much everything else coming out of DC these days.

This, of course, is the point at which I’d normally launch into a “what’s it gonna take until we get something new and genuinely innovative”-style diatribe, but I dunno. I think the “Big Two” have been so successful at narrowing down their audience to nothing but the crustiest, most developmentally-stunted nostalgia addicts that a creative dead end like this will probably get great reviews, win Eisners, and sell reasonably well (by today’s standards, at any rate). The “target audience” for this thing is clearly 40-60-year-olds who want to feel good about the fact that they still read superhero comics and occasionally even need to be flat-out congratulated for it. “No, you haven’t wasted thousands of dollars and years of your life — here’s a reminder of why you love this stuff that hits every emotional and story ‘beat’ you could ever ask for. That’ll be six bucks — you’re welcome. Oh, and you’re cool with us, no matter what anyone else might think.” Needless to say, I won’t be back for the second issue. in fact, I feel pretty damn stupid for buying this one.

And on that snide and derisive note, I think I’ll call it a wrap before I piss off every single reader out there. Next week we’ve got — shit, I don’t even know. Haven’t checked the advance solicits yet. But I’m sure there’ll be at least a few things worth talking about, so hopefully I’ll see you back here then.