Wednesday, December 26

Dynamite Comics – Jan 2013

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on the Dynamite Entertainment comics that were released during November that I received near the beginning of December. Caution: Spoilers ahead!

Well, it looks like even though I'm dropping Dynamite's Shadow title per se, I'm still going to be reading about him from Dynamite, at least for a while. In addition to the first comic I'm reviewing below, this month's pre-order solicitations has the first of an eight-issue Shadow: Year One series written by Matt Wagner. I really liked Wagner's pulpish take on DC's original gas-masked Sandman in the 1990s series Sandman Mystery Theatre, and hope for good things here even if I don't particularly care for the more supernatural take on the Shadow that appears in Dynamite comics. I will be getting it.

Cover A by Alex Ross (25%)
Masks #1 of 8

It's 1938. The “Justice Party” has just effected its takeover of New York City but is proving to be basically a criminal enterprise under the guise of fascist totalitarianism that only masked vigilantes can possibly oppose....

Ad for Norvell Page, The Spider vs.
the Empire State
If that sounds familiar, check out my reviews of the 1938 trilogy of pulp tales that appear here, here, and here as republished a while back under the title, The Spider vs. the Empire State. I was a bit disappointed, given the relative fame (or infamy) those original Spider stories, sometimes called the “Black Police Trilogy,” enjoy among pulp fans as well as their recognized historical importance as a contemporary “pop culture” view of the threat posed by fascism, that none of the advertising material I ever saw leading up to the release of this first issue made note of that source for this story, but I was gratified at least to see within its pages a full-page ad for The Spider vs. the Empire State from Age of Aces Publishing. Of course, in the original, the Spider must contend alone (well, aided by his normal allies Kirkpatrick, Nita, Ram Singh, et al.!) against an allegorical Nazi juggernaut in New York state. Here we will be treated to a veritable “Justice League of Pulp Heroes” that includes the Shadow, the Green Hornet and Kato, and others who have yet to appear. If that weren't enough to have me practically salivating ever since the pre-order solicitations appeared several months back, then the fact that the Alex Ross was slated to do the interior art as well as the main cover (shown) had me from the word “go.” And we were promised a decent writer, Chris Roberson, who in the past couple of years managed to pick up the pieces left by J. M. Straczynski halfway through the year-long “Grounded” arc in Superman immediately pre-Flashpoint and bring that mess to a satisfying conclusion, and turn in a fairly good crossover between Star Trek and the Legion of Super-Heroes for IDW.

In any case, it being a year and a half since I read Empire State, I don't remember the scene by scene detail well enough to do a direct comparison, but obviously the broad strokes of the story are here, likely told more quickly. This time the story begins with Green Hornet and Kato, having pursued a criminal from their own locale of Chicago to New York, encountering the Shadow in a not-entirely friendly way. Soon thereafter, Britt Reid meets with Lamont Cranston in an exclusive men's club. Kato, waiting for his master outside, witnesses the arbitrary nature of “justice” in the new order that prevails in the streets of New York City, as a young out-of-work artist of color is accosted as a “vagrant.” We are treated to glimpses of his portfolio, and I predict this character will become this series' version of the early-19th-century Zorro. Kato is stopped from what could only turn out to be a futile interference by Britt's steadying hand. The case of the “vagrant” artist plays out in a corrupt court, and our glimpse of the workings of the new criminous legislature passing a new “Poor Tax” is followed by a stark image straight from the original prose pulp novel, that of the “Poor Tax Wagons” bearing those who could not cough up the extortionate levies. Determined to fight against the new injustice, the Green Hornet, Kato, and the Shadow are joined by the Spider – in his more typical webbed mask and cape as in the 1930s serials and in most comics (including Dynamite's) but never in the pulps themselves – on the last page. Dialogue between the various characters throughout hammers home the theme that will underlie this series, that of the sometimes difficult intersection between law and justice.

As you can doubtless tell, I'm excited by this. The idea of adapting one of the more monumental pulp stories into a modern telling (without succumbing to the temptation of pulling it out of its proper 1930s milieu as has kept me off the new Dynamite version of The Spider after the first issue), expanding its inherent appeal by creating what I called above a “Justice League of Pulp Heroes” – I hope this is a smashing success. I like what I see so far. Dynamite has pulled out all the marketing stops, it seems, save one. I would have expected the first issue to be put out there for a cheaper “hook” price of 99 cents as has been done on other high-profile series such as Warlord of Mars. But there is a muliplicity of variant and incentive covers, including various dealers' exclusives. Unfortunately, the painted art by Alex Ross that graces the interior of this issue #1 is for this issue only – something I knew but that I hope others keyed in on from the beginning and are not headed for a big disappointment when the second and subsequent issues come with art by Dennis Calero.

Cover A by Lucio Parrillo (50%)
Lord of the Jungle #9 [ link to previous issue ]
The Return of the Jungle Lord 1 of 6: The Affair on the Liner”

Here begins Dynamite's “expandaptation” (my word) of The Return of Tarzan. This seems to be starting off to be a looser version of the original story than the first arc was of Tarzan of the Apes. For instance, if I recall correctly Rokoff in the original was pretty much just a con man, a common criminal. Here he is an agent of the Russian Empire, on a mission to find the legendary city of Opar as mentioned in one ancient manuscript recounting the voyage of Hanno the Phoenician. Tarzan, on the other hand, is working more closely with French Intelligence and his friend Paul D'Arnot to foil Rokoff's mission, although he's increasingly disgusted by the attitudes of “civilized” men, as they are at best dismissive of him as a “savage.” Meanwhile, Cecil Clayton is obviously deteriorating, being driven to drink by the knowledge that he's not the true Lord Greystoke, further driving a wedge between himself and Jane. Professor Porter hopes that another upcoming Africa expedition will bring the two back together.

Cover A by Lucio Parrillo (50%)
Lord of the Jungle #10
The Return of the Jungle Lord 2 of 6: Back to the Primitive”

Tarzan and D'Arnot confront Rokoff in the execution of his crime, but the Russian agent gets away with Hanno's map to Opar. Tarzan follows his trail to Africa, not to secure gold for the French, but to validate his friend D'Arnot's faith in him against the derision of D'Arnot's countrymen. Meanwhile, Jane and Clayton have unwittingly taken Rokoff, who is now going by the name Thuran, into their Africa expedition. In Africa, Tarzan befriends the Waziri by taking their part in a confrontation with the Belgians.

Overall, again, this seems more significantly different from the book, especially in the characterization of Rokoff – who if I recall correctly is in the original really the Count de Coude's wife Olga's brother. Which reminds me of another notable deviation, that Tarzan did not have the duel with the Count over his supposed affair with the Countess.

But it's all good, and as MCR of Jcomreader posits, tightening the very episodic nature of The Return of Tarzan into a more driving plot could well improve the overall story as told here.

Cover A by Joe Jusko (50%)
Warlord of Mars #22 [ link to previous issue ]
A Hero in Kaol, Part 2 of 5”

Well, right there is the answer to a question I raised last issue – these are issue titles, each part of an overall five-part adaptation of Burroughs' third Mars book. Ambiguity inevitably resulted from Warlord of Mars being both the name of that third novel and this Dynamite comic book series overall. So, properly I guess, the title line should read “Warlord of Mars, Part 2 of 5: A Hero in Kaol.” Eh, whatever.

John Carter continues to trail Matai Shang and the captive Dejah Thoris to the isolated city-state of Kaol, where he thwarts a plot by the Therns to break the alliance between Kaol and Ptarth as part of their covert war against Helium. Of course, the villain manages to get away just ahead of John Carter, who is now accompanied by Thuvan Dinh, Jeddak of Ptarth, into the far reaches of the north – where they crash on the near side of the massive ice cliffs.

This continues to be solid, both story and art-wise, quite faithful to the original – moreso than the same writer's Lord of the Jungle. As with Burroughs' originals, Mars is my favorite of the two series.

One notable dissonance, however, seemingly an inevitability when the companion series purports to tell apocryphal tales of Dejah Thoris' past, it's amazing that after ten years living in Helium with his princess at the end of the first novel – faithfully reflected in this expandaptation series (I like that word, right up there with my other word coined for this blog, “inner'logue”) – John Carter seems to regard rumors of the existence of the Yellow Men of the North. I guess Dejah Thoris never got around to relating to him the events recounted in her own series, issue #16.

Cover  B by Fabiano Neves (50%)
Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #19 [ link to previous issue ]
[“The Vampire Men of Saturn, Part 3 of 3”]

I can't bring myself to do a full write-up of this issue. I did not care for it at all. Dejah Thoris ends up on Saturn itself, but her vampire captor ultimately falls for her and turns against his own people, helping her thwart their invasion of Barsoom.


Cheers, and Thanks for reading!

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