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.

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ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer” #2

Andrew Buck pulls out all the stops to deliver an eyeball-melting cover for All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer  #2, the fifth (I know, at this point things are getting a bit confusing) installment in the first “season” of Josh and Samuel Bayer’s resurrection of “Bronze Age” aesthetics through a post-modern (or, if you prefer Kim O’Connor’s designation for many of the creators involved, “Post-Dumb”) lens, and certainly the ultra-violence in depicts is thematically in line with the book’s contents — but the comic itself is relatively free of the gruesome and gory, truth be told. You should not, however, take that to mean the story isn’t kinda, well, sick.

As was the case with All-Time Comics : Atlas #1, the issues that find Benjamin Marra in the creative driver’s seat (he pencilled and inked this one, and co-wrote it with Josh Bayer) are decidedly more vicious and morally questionable than the rest, and with the villain taking on our Vietnam-vet-turned-vigilante (back in his hometown of Swan City) this time out being a Joker-esque “dandy highwayman” (apologies to Adam Ant) known as The P.S.Y.C.H.O. (Personality Symbolizing a Yawning Chasm of Oblivion, if you must know), the twisted (a)moralizing he offers in defense of his sociopathic “philosophy” is basically a green-light for Marra to indulge in a sanitized version of his Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. excesses.

If you can stomach Marra, then, you can probably stomach this comic — and may even find it kinda tame. If you can’t, then stay away. His only other helpers here are Matt Rota on colors and Rick Parker on letters, largely charged with (successfully) stream-ling the aesthetics of this entire enterprise at their respective margins, and as such, they don’t do much to either alleviate or accentuate the distinct feeling that this is a Ben Marra comic through and through.

No claiming you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for here, then, and the idea that this “chapter” is one (more) giant Marra “piss-take” is rather inescapable and frankly kind of undercuts the attempts that everyone else makes in previous and subsequent issues to stay just shy of “pastiche” or “spoof” territory. But in many ways this is typical of ATC on the whole — one step forward, two steps back. Sometimes, thankfully, the other way around.

But not, unfortunately, this time. The blunt-force examinations of Crime Destroyer’s own methods and motivations — you know, the old “am I really any better than the criminals I’m fighting?” stuff — is even more obvious and heavy-handed than you’d expect it to be in one of these books, the psychological ugliness of everyone involved is more alienating than it is intriguing, and the last-ditch effort to save the issue by ending things on an ultra-shocking cliffhanger (that we’re never likely to get any sort of resolution to) feels like the desperate “Hail Mary” pass that it is.

So, yeah — if you’re getting the distinct impression that this is my least favorite ATC comic, then you’re a perceptive reader, and I’m doing my job right. A failure both on its own and within the larger scope of the project itself, the second Crime Destroyer “adventure” is an empty-headed regurgitation of ideas done earlier — and far better — by far too many comics creators to count.

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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. Join up! Please! It only costs a dollar and there’s a ton of content up on there already, which means — great value for almost no money!

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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 : Atlas” #1

It’s hard to know where to even begin with this, the third comic released as part of Josh and Samuel Bayer’s All-Time Comics project, but if I had to describe All-Time Comics : Atlas #1 in just one word, that word would be — nuts.

Seriously, this is one of the most batshit-crazy comics I’ve read in a long time. On the one hand, it would be easy enough — and probably accurate — to view it as a particularly amoral and mean-spirited approximation of the “internal struggle” narratives churned out with regularity by “Bronze Age” scribes like Steve Gerber and Don McGregor, emptied of any degree of charm (however accidental, and perhaps visible only in retrospect) those authors imbued their work with. On the other, though, it’s not hard to see it as the kind of comic those guys would have loved to write. At this point, I’m sure an explanation is in order, so we’ll kill two birds with one stone by delving into that concurrently with a discussion of the “bare bones” elements of the plot —

The issue starts with our ostensible “hero,” Atlas — the closest thing ATC offers to a Superman analogue — decking a crooked congressman right in front of God, country, and a big crowd. A crowd that includes his fiancee’s kid, who turns on his “hero” instantly. Atlas is in the right, of course, but no one knows this, and he’s hauled off to prison — fortunately, his Jimmy Olsen-esque sidekick still believes in him, and he goes out and commits some petty crimes until he, too, is locked up, and can give his buddy a hand. Unfortunately, any help he might offer is bound to fall on deaf ears because Atlas himself is — a complete chickenshit?

Yup, our “hero” is actually anything but. In truth, he’s a yellow-bellied coward whose anti-matter-based powers make him extra-susceptible to fear over and above all other emotions, so he’s busy having an existential crisis (largely communicated by means of “purple” pose-laden thought bubbles where he just “talks” about how fucking sorry for himself he feels) while his buddy finds himself on the wrong side of the other inmates and his own personal Lois Lane reporter/fiancee places herself in mortal danger by getting too close to the congressman her man clocked. And what do the two people he’s closest to in the world get for their trouble? Would you believe — each burned to a crisp and left barely clinging to life after two separate, and highly flammable, attacks?

Their victimization is enough to snap Atlas out of his reverie and into action, but whether or not this is a case of “too little, too late” is left unresolved by issue’s end. All we know for sure is that this guy isn’t much of a super-hero and that getting close to him is going to get your body seared from head to toe with third-degree burns. In point of fact, between their brutalization and Atlas’s own pathetic cowardice, it sure seems like co-writers Bayer and Benjamin Marra (who also does both pencils and inks for this one, and shows a great deal more restraint than in his more overtly “spoofy” work) actively hate all of these characters.

Which probably isn’t too far removed from how a great number of “Bronze Age” writers felt about the properties placed under their charge after awhile. Cranking out story after story starring forgettable, even interchangeable, costumed do-gooders on a month-in, month-out basis for near-minimum-wage page rates has to fry your last nerve at some point, and for my part, I had absolutely no trouble envisioning a Steve Englehart or a David Anthony Kraft cranking out a script like this for their own personal edification just as a way of blowing off steam.

What we’ve got here, then, is the sort of ugly and overtly cynical comic that a number of 1970s “floppies” probably wanted to be, if only the authors could have expressed how they really felt about their jobs while still being able to, ya know, keep them.

Certainly Matt Rota’s Ben Day-dot colors, Rick Parker’s easy-on-the-eyes lettering, and Das Pastoras’ agreeably-cluttered cover all could/would have made it past editorial, and this deliberately toned-down iteration of Marra art wouldn’t have ruffled too many feathers, but the story? It’s way too spiteful — and way too honest — to have ever seen print back in the day.

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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 expands upon our ATC-related themes quite a bit that folks who are enjoying these reviews will probably dig, as well. Joining up only costs a buck, so seriously — what have you got to lose? 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 : 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.

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ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer” #1

With the recent release of All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #0, the opening salvo of the second “season” of this ongoing, idiosyncratic project — as well as the All-Time Comics trade paperback collection of “season” one (both published under the auspices of new “home” Floating World Comics) — now seems like a good time to look back to 2014/2015 and examine where the brothers Bayer have been in order to possibly limn out the parameters of where they’re going. A few general observations here, and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of each issue as the week progresses —

First up, it’s gotta be said that this whole thing reads much better in trade than it did in single issues, even if I miss the cheap newsprint. The aims of creators Josh and Samuel Bayer with this concept are multi-faceted — and yeah, maybe even more than a bit muddled — but what they’re “going for” becomes much more clear when absorbed in its totality than it did over the course of six sporadically-released installments. As to what those aims are

Simply put, I think the two major artistic goals are the exact inverse of each other : on the one hand, ATC is about transposing the aesthetic and storytelling ethos of “Bronze Age” comics into present-day comics; on the other, it’s using the sensibilities of said present-day comics to re-examine the past. There’s an inherent tension between those two metaphorical tributaries that causes them to run independently and without merging at times, to diverge entirely at others, but when they do flow together, or at least parallel to each other, the results can be quite interesting indeed — which is all my long-winded way of saying to expect almost as many “misses” as “hits” here. We’ll get into those with more specificity as we go along —

The de facto “line” made its debut with All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer #1, sporting a cartoony ultra-violent cover by Jim Rugg (each issue also featured a variant or two, but for purposes of time we’re just not even gonna go there) that, along with the participation of Benjamin Marra (on board for this one as inker), probably led readers to believe this was an exercise in pastiche at best, spoof at worst, but in truth the script here by the younger Bayer brother (that would be Josh) plays it pretty straight — yeah, it’s absurd, but not to the point of being what the Brits would call a “piss-take.” In point of fact, most “Bronze Age” comics were absurd, and cleaving to their temperament necessitates channeling a fair degree of that absurdity, for good or ill.

Hence the “purple fist” shoulder-pads of our protagonist, a Vietnam-vet-turned-vigilante (but otherwise a fairly obvious Batman stand-in) bound and determined to fulfill a promise to a fellow soldier who’s landed behind bars by checking on the well-being of the man’s daughter, a task which takes him from his “home turf” of Swan City to the mean streets of Optic City, generally considered to be under the protection of Atlas, purportedly the mightiest hero of the ATC “universe.”

Not that he appears to be doing a very good job of it — the place looks like a shithole, and that comes across pretty damn well thanks to the pencils of the now-late Herb Trimpe, who turns in solid work throughout and may just be the unsung “star” of the book. His art gets you to “buy into” the idea of a sewer-dwelling cult that wears pilgrim costumes and worships some kind of snake-god (for reasons that become apparent later), and lends just the right air of near-plausibility to Bayer’s admittedly scatter-shot script, which goes from stage-setting at the penitentiary to obligatory Crime Destroyer/Atlas team-up to sewer battle to a typical serialized non-resolution “ending.” It’s a bumpy ride smoothed out by solid, workmanlike illustration that manages to retain a nice bit of personality even under a thick layer of Marra inks.

I was less sold on Alessandro Echevarria’s colors, which were a bit too self-consciously saturated and syrupy for my tastes, but the decidedly un-self-conscious lettering of the great Rick Parker balances out the efforts of the book’s “rhythm section” nicely. “Tonally uneven” is a constant theme in these comics, but insofar as this debut installment goes, it’s not a “deal-breaker.”

It would be a reach to say this comic marked an auspicious beginning to the line, it’s true, but it provides enough — even if just barely — to keep folks marginally “hooked.” Whether or not that there’s an ultimate pay-off for readers who remain interested is a question that is, frankly, still being answered, but we’re going to do our best to puzzle out what those answers might be as our “theme week”  continues.

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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 piece up this week that directly ties into, and fleshes out, our ongoing ATC theme here. You can join up for as little as a buck a month, so seriously — what have you got to lose? Needless to say, I’d certainly be very grateful to have your support.

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