Saturday, June 18, 2005

Four-colored Phantasmagoriae

The major comic book publishers usually put out some fun books for the summer, and this is no exception. Here's some delightful stuff I've read in the last two weeks (see illustrations above) .

Marvel's GIANT-SIZE X-MEN # 3 is significant for a couple of reasons. First, comics historians may recall that the first Giant-Size X-Men came out in the mid-70's and debuted the "New X-Men" (Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine [who had appeared earlier elsewhere]) -- the characters that would dominate the superhero comics scen from the late 70's onward. Second, the lead (short) story is by writer Joss Whedon (famed both for his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and his recent comic book writing) and artist legend Neal Adams. I believe this marks Adams's first X-Men story since his run on the title nearly 35 years ago. It's also his first story featuring the "new" X-Men (if they can be called new after 30 years of publication). Further, it's a damn good story. When someone in an Adams story gets gut-punched, you can definitely feel the impact.

In an earlier post, I mentioned DC's current comics miniseries Batman: Dark Detective, a biweekly series that reunites the stellar creative team of Englehart, Rogers and Austin. The fourth issue (see cover below) came out this week, and it's the best one yet. It features the sort of experimental panel layouts and storytelling tricks that made the trio's 70's run so exciting. It also features The Scarecrow, who figures prominently in the Batman Begins movie. Coincidence? I think not . . . .

Speaking of movie tie-ins, Marvel has put out a volume reprinting several of the Fantastic Four stories that one of my favorite artists, George Perez, illustrated in the mid-t0-late 70's. They say the "golden age" of comics is 12; and at 12 I was reading these comics. Marvel has done a spiffy job of putting this together, on slick paper with bright colors that far surpass the crappy printing on the originals. The stories are by Roy Thomas and Len Wein, and they are fun too (although they held together better when I was a kid). Perez's art (drawn when he was in his mid-20's) is kind of stiff at this point (it would loosen up in the 80's), but he still loves to put lots of detail in every panel, with the exuberance of someone who loves drawing this stuff. And he's ably supported by the inks of Joe Sinnott. My only criticisms are that the covers by artists other than Perez (including some magnificent ones by the original FF artist, Jack Kirby) are not reprinted full size; and because there are gaps of as much as six issues between Perez stories, there are maddening lacunae in the storytelling. One issue the FF are cursing an alternate world version of Reed Richards; the next they are weeping over his noble sacrifice of his life for the team (off-stage, since it was in a non-Perez, non-reproduced issue).

Finally, DC has put together a trade paperback of the various races between The Flash and Superman over the last 38 (!) years. The sixties and early seventies stories with these races are pure, unadulterated fun. They are like an argument between elementary school kids come to life. Indeed, the first race story was written by Jim Shooter when he was just a teenager, with a child's delight at the absurd twists and turns thrown into the plot. My favorite story is a two-parter from the early seventies written by Denny O'Neil and drawn by Dick Dillon and Joe Giella, in which the two must race across the universe, through a sun, and into a parallel dimension. Further, it climaxes with the two heroes crawling to their destination. The various stories in the volume from the late 70's, 90's, and 2002 attempting to pay homage to the earlier races don't match the originals for sheer delightfulness. If you would like to give a kid a comic that shows how much fun superheroes can be, this is the one. One deficit: The Alex Ross cover is surprisingly bland compared to the original covers for these stories, reprinted inside, drawn by Carmine Infantino and that Neal Adams guy.

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