Tuesday, April 23

Quick Hits

Since for one reason or another, I've been negligent in blogging some of my various readings of late, here's a quick catch-up post, in no particular order.

The Power of Shazam (DC, 1994-1999)

I actually mentioned this a while back, that I took back up reading my two library-bound volumes of this great 1990s series starring the original Captain Marvel (and the entire Marvel Family, plus various other Fawcett characters and cross-overs with contemporary DC characters) about halfway through the first volume back when I was down for a week with what I'm calling The Flu. It's wonderful. While I could quibble with certain decisions that were made in the updating (e.g., “CM3,” Mary Marvel as another “Captain Marvel,” her white costume rather than red, the concept of the Power being divided between however many of the three that have invoked it, to name the most important “quibbles”), as far as I'm concerned this is the best-ever “modernization” of the characters that DC has ever managed to accomplish, largely due to the efforts of Jerry Ordway. It certainly puts the current abomination appearing in Justice League to shame. It captures rather than turns-on-its-head the simple charm of the original, albeit in a way that easily satisfies the modern comics reader.

One of these days, I hope that Jerry Ordway comes to a convention that I can make, and that I can ask him to sketch Cap as a frontispiece to volume one, and Mary and Junior in volume two. As it is, this series is graced with Ordway's painted covers (in fact, the opening graphic novel that began the series is fully painted) that are themselves worth the price of admission – absolutely stunning.

New Crusaders: Rise of the Heroes (Red Circle Comics, 2013)

I had virtually no history with the super-heroes of the Archie Comics group in any of their iterations, whether the original 1940s characters or the 1960s or 1980s attempted revivals, or DC's licensed attempts in the 1990s and the 2000s. Well, maybe I picked up a few of the 1980s Mighty Crusaders, given how well I remember the cover, at least, of issue #1. I was dipping into various of the new “independent” comics publishers rising and falling during that period.

But somehow or another last year I came across this most recent attempt, by Archie themselves, under the “Red Circle” imprint as a digital comic and was immediately hooked. I purchased the first several issues digitally, and liked it so much that I immediately preordered the softcover collection when it was offered. I really like the angle that they're taking here, that basically all of the old adventures happened, but that this new series focuses on a new generation of heroes, the heirs of the original Crusaders, led by the sole survivor of their parents' generation, the Shield, who is training them to take their parents' place in a world that unexpectedly does still contain the evil which their parents were believed to have defeated. Along with a talking alien space-monkey. The stories are at once engaging and accessible, I think, for all ages, with a clean artistic style that reminds me greatly of such things as the animated Justice League and Young Justice. Moreso than just about anything currently being published by DC or anybody else, this is what I would immediately and unhesitatingly hand over to a youngster interested in comics.

Three More By Valiant – X-O Manowar, Harbinger, and Bloodshot (2012-13)
I gave a full write-up to volume one of Archer and Armstrong a while back. I liked that so much that I immediately ordered the other three volume ones that were available, and am now preordering any Valiant collections that are offered. I'm not going to get into individual detail, but I find them uniformly well-written and -drawn. I really think Valiant could be the next big success story in new comics companies. I highly recommend them.

Green Lantern Corps, vol. 1: Fearsome (2012)

The Flash, vol. 1: Move Forward (2012)

Green Lantern vol. 2: The Revenge of Black Hand (2013)

Last summer, after initially holding off on the Green Lantern franchise within the New 52, I picked up the first collection of the main title, Green Lantern vol. 1: Sinestroand thoroughly enjoyed it. So I added that title back into my monthly pull list. Well, for whatever reason (and I'm at least partially attributing it to Geoff Johns' deteriorating skills as a writer of issues as opposed to long story arcs), I did not care for the individual issues and dropped them after only a couple of months. Green Lantern is just so much more satisfying a read in collected format. Granted, the stories are so decompressed that there's really not much here, but six or seven issues do make for a good enough story, and with my on-line vendor's typical initial-solicit discount of often fifty percent, I don't feel like I'm not getting my money's worth. That's less of a consideration with Green Lantern Corps, I find – I really like Tomasi's writing both here and on Batman and Robin, but the Green Lantern franchise titles are so intertwined periodically (the various and inevitable cross-overs), that it would make no sense to read what is frankly a subsidiary title month-to-month while reading the main title only in periodic collections. On its own merits, however, I'd be hard pressed to say that I didn't enjoy Fearsome more than I did Revenge of the Black Hand. Both are quite good, especially when read in collected form.

I'm pretty sure the same would be true of Flash. In this case, I'm just not enough of a fan of the character that I have hardly ever, since I was a kid, bought it monthly. Most recently, it was knowing that the upcoming Flashpoint event was going to springboard out of the then newest series of Flash that got me on board. But I have been hearing good things about this New 52 series that sprang out of Flashpoint, and I do like Francis Manapul's art (he's pulling double duty here, sharing in the writing duties with his inker Brian Buccellato). This is a quite enjoyable, if ultimately somewhat forgettable, volume. I mean that literally – I read it a few weeks ago, and frankly can't remember that much about the story other than something about the Speed Force is proving to be dangerous to the fabric of the universe (which I'm sure is going to lead to some kind of Major Event sooner or later), which is somewhat limiting the Flash's speed. But Manapul's distinctive style does make this (as the blurb from The New York Times puts it, right on the cover) “a visual treat.” I'll be back for volume two – and probably reread volume one going into it....

Anyway, I'm sure there's some other stuff, especially in the digital realm, that I've been reading –

Oh – how could I forget –

Miss Fury: Sensational Sundays, 1944-1949 (IDW, The Library of American Comics, 2011)

I – and doubtless many others – discovered this great character in the pages of Dynamite's Masks. Although frankly given the nature of that story she hasn't done that much in those pages, I was intrigued enough that I did some browsing on the Internet and a few weeks ago came across this post on Mike Kooiman's Quality Companion Companion blog. Not that Miss Fury was part of the Quality Comics stable, but Kooiman was similarly taken with the character in Masks and had come across this book, which he reviewed in glowing terms. I would perhaps – if I could – exceed him in his praise. As I declared in a “Thank you” comment to his blog, this book is “GORGEOUS. Great art, engaging story. [It] has quickly – in less than a week – made me a huge Tarpé Mills fan.” June Tarpé Mills was herself a very significant figure in comics history, being one of the few female comic creators during the Golden Age, and Miss Fury is often noted as being the first female super-hero written and drawn by a woman. This volume is a little on the pricey side, but have no doubt that it's worth every penny. Appropriately since Miss Fury was originally published not as a comic but as a full-page Sunday newspaper feature, it's a big, coffee-table sized book – complete with a ribbon marker. I'm only about a quarter of the way through reading it at this point. I'm taking it slow, wanting to savor it.

The cover is also appropriate, in several ways. Marla Drake's costumed identity as Miss Fury is not the real focus of the story, but rather Miss Drake herself. There are long stretches of story where the enchanted black panther-skin suit does not appear. And, for the time, Ms. Mills' sometimes scantily dressed very attractive female figures pushed the limits of risqué. The editor of this volume, Trina Robbins, notes at least one instance that I immediately recall from a very extensive introductory essay where local papers “edited” the art to tone it down a bit. Of course, by modern comic art “standards,” Mills' art is pretty tame. Personally, I find her more anatomically realistic figures preferable to the often distorted and contorted “Escher Girls” of today.

And now I think I've caught everything noteworthy. I am still engaged in what will be a long-term slow, periodic, reading of Roy Thomas' 1980s DC Earth-Two World War Two epic All-Star Squadron, which I intend to follow up in its time with Young All-Stars, to which I've added his medieval American Indian in Charlemagne's Europe saga Arak, Son of Thunder. In both those cases, I'm focusing on putting together some historical annotations since Thomas uses quite a bit of real history in his writing. In fact, it has occurred to me that maybe I can work up some kind of light-hearted (semi-)scholarly conference paper out of Arak – I do call myself a medieval historian, after all, and part of the job is supposed to be producing some kind of “original research.”

In any case, Cheers, and Thanks for reading!

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