Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on comics by publishers other than DC that were released during July (mostly) that I received near the beginning of August. Caution: Spoilers ahead! [Link to previous month] [Link to this month's DC Comics]
They say that a functional definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I may fit the bill. I have never cared for the writing of Howard Chaykin – and yet I have tried various of his comics over the years thinking that if he's as great as everyone thinks he is maybe I'll like this one. His art I actually kind of like, and in fact think it fits very well for something like we have here, the retro-flavored attempted revival of a beloved quasi-pulp character who deserves much more modern exposure. But I find myself invariably put off by the generally politically-charged revisionism that he usually imposes on such projects as he undertakes, which is invariably pretty much diametrically opposite to my own values. Add to that my belief, based on various things I've read and heard about him (seemingly confirmed in an about-the-author blurb appended to a two-page interview here, that “[h]e has a terrible reputation among fans for profanity, limited patience with nonsense, and spite”) as well as from him (see below), that I would not like him very much as a person, and I can't give you a good reason that I keep giving him repeated chances. But I do. Almost invariably with the same result as here – visceral revulsion.
I'm sure there are plenty of readers who will find something great in this series, and even like what is most likely its signature approach to the great, foundational comic-strip science-fiction hero – the imposition onto the character of what may well have been a common reaction among veterans of World War I to the horrors of that experience and various socio-economic developments of the next decade which led to the flourishing of communist workers' movements across the western world. As a historian – albeit not of this period – I recognize the reality of such things. But as a fan of the original source material that Chaykin co-opts here, I recoil. Needless to say, my own political views for which I do not apologize play a strong part in that reaction. When in the aforementioned interview Chaykin compounds his offense with overt disrespect for that source material – and the original creators – my revulsion turns to anger. To dismiss the original art on the daily Buck Rogers strip as “god awful” and the artist, Dick Calkins, as “talent free” is simply rude, and gratuitous given the question Chaykin was answering, “Is there a writer or artist who interests you on this strip?” Calkins' work was not as uniquely crude as Chaykin would seem to allege in the context of other daily strips of the late 1920s (specifically 1929), and apparently garnered enough popularity to the strip to warrant the implementation of the Buck Rogers Sunday page only a year after the dailies' debut (1930). While I agree that the Sundays' art by Russel Keaton is superior, Chaykin's assessment that it is “transcendently [sic] beautiful” goes a bit far, in my opinion. It was early 1930s Sunday comic-strip art – benefiting from the larger format, yes, but ultimately paling next to Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon (debuted 1934) or Hal Foster's Prince Valiant (1937) – again, my opinion. Ultimately, Keaton built – and Chaykin himself builds – on a foundation laid by Calkins, and to treat him with contempt is itself contemptible.
In any case, what we end up with here is a comic that looks at first perusal as if it would be a great rendition of Buck Rogers that was solicited at the perfect time to snare me – right as I was reading the original Philip Nowlan pulp novellae Armageddon 2419 AD and The Airlords of Han [link] and dipping back into the original daily strips that I loved as a child (in collected form, of course [see same link]). I took it hook, line, and sinker. And it looks great – Chaykin's art fits. But my Buck Rogers is not his “Robert Paul Rogers” (that name change from the original “Anthony” itself on one level a minor thing, but for me further signifying by its very insignificance Chaykin's disrespect for the source – and its fans), and he is not a once-enthusiastic veteran of World War I who afterward transformed into a socialist activist “worker among workers” who sees war in the 25th century much as he conceived it in the early 20th, as a product of “plutocrat[ic]” exploitation of the workers. I will not be around for the rest of this series. (Actually, I have issue #2 pre-ordered and will be getting it, but Hermes Press's shipping this first issue several weeks before the originally solicited release date of 28 August got it to me in time to not pre-order #3 – not their intent, I'm sure!)
As I said above, others will, I'm sure, have a very different reaction – as in the single review I found:
This continues to be one of the best comics I'm reading. I'm starting to get a little clearer idea of the plot, which seems to be driven by members of Britt Reid's own Fortune Club manipulating the newspaper magnate to falsely implicate an innocent man, and they manage to have Kato implicate their own butler (“To think. The butler did it. //...// HAHAHAHAHA”) as their patsy, which has the result of discrediting Britt's just announced run for mayor. There's obviously a lot more to find out here – what's their real game? It's obviously not so simple as that, not being revealed this soon. But – and I can't figure out how the Green Hornet fits into their plans – it also leaves Britt Reid believing that Kato has just destroyed his political career and his newspaper. Great, great stuff!
“Savages of Mars, Part 1 of 6: The Green Menace”
I went into this issue thinking it may be the last I'd read and even that I would explore canceling my remaining unfulfilled pre-orders on the basis that Dynamite is so abysmally behind in shipping this series. But this first post-ERB-trilogy issue is actually intriguing. It seems the yellow Okarians are already trying to destroy John Carter's hard-won peace by framing the green Martians and manipulating the other races of Barsoom into a war of extermination against them. Yes, I still do not like the idea of John Carter as the actual Jeddak of Helium (Tardos Mors and Mors Kajak requiescant in pace), but I can accept it in service of a good story. And how much did those two characters actually appear in Burroughs' own later books?
“Savages of Mars, Part 2 of 6: White Lies and Alibis”
John Carter and Tars Tarkas go north to Okar to investigate rumors of Okarian instigation, get shot at in an ambush, and discover that the government that John Carter left in charge is barely functioning. Tars Tarkas suffers mysterious headaches and uncharacteristically irrational hatred toward the yellow men. They do not make much progress in the investigation, but this issue is still intriguing enough that Warlord of Mars gets a reprieve.
Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!