Monday, July 31, 2006

Big Old Pile of Books (Comics Annex)

What's that I see on my floor. Could it be . . . carpeting? It IS. I honestly have carpeting in my office.

Who woulda thunkit?

This one is about comics I've been meaning to talk about:

Showcase Presents: Justice League of America by Gardner Fox, pencils by Mike Sekosky and Carmine Infantino.
So how can you pass up 500 pages of comics from the 60s? Black and white versions of those comics, mind you, but 500 pages nonetheless!

There's a reason for it being black and white, by the way. Back in those days, before computer coloring, the coloring would would be done by hand. Kinda. You'd have a stat of a complete comic book, words and pictures, and then the colorist would come in and say what was in the various areas, in terms of three colors - cyan, magenta, and yellow. You would also be able to define by percentages of those colors - 25, 50 and 75, usually. This is why the comic heroes of my childhood were made up of large, bright colors - they were easier to color them that way (they were called four-color because the fourth color was - black!).

So after the colors were assigned, they would go off (I was told) to a bunch of little old ladies working for the printer, who would then cut stencils for the various shapes, which then go to the printer and be shot, the stencils showing what inks went where. Mistakes were made, which was why you would sometimes see a hero mis-colored, or, more commonly a triangular "floater" of color would appear where it wasn't supposed to.

So the original black-and-whites, with the (hand-drawn) lettering on them? They would go into a warehouse in Jersey in case they needed to reprint the story later (another common practice). So they have these resources that have been sitting around forever, and these 500-page giants (the Marvel version is called "Marvel Essentials") are now excavating and presenting them because it is easier to scan in the old B&W versions and store THEM.

(And as a personal note, all the above was why it was so easy back in the mid-80s to get pickup art for the Marvel Super Heroes game out of Marvel - they just went down to the warehouse, pulled a stat, and charged us ten bucks for it. So this was a practice that made MY job easier as well).

So what about the book itself, a trip down my childhood? Well, in a modern, comic-book clogged world, it is astounding to see how repetitive the plots were. There's this menace, see, and the JLA finds out about it. Sometimes its a mystery, but usually its a menace. The menace or mystery has several parts, so they split into teams to do something about it. Batman and/or Superman show up briefly to say that they're not going on the adventure (sort of like Wolverine in the current New Avengers book). The JLA are nearly overcome by the challenges. Green Lantern will inevitably face something yellow. Martian Manhunter will be confronted by fire. Bad science will be presented. The heroes will overcome their challenges, and get back to their cave, where they will tell Snapper Carr how they did it.

And that's it. Every darn time. Mind you, a bimonthly publishing schedule and a market that was supposed to grow up through these in a couple years should allow some repeating. The other thing I come out of are these long horizontal panels to show all the members of the team.

Still, its amusing, and a nice bit of history, and we should wave these things at the young whipper-snappers to show them that they have it easy as comic fans, and this is the Golden Age.

The Elephantmen #1 by Starkings, Moritat, Comicraft, and Ladronn
And as Exhibit A for these being a Golden Age, I give you this little number, a tale of humanoid animals in the future. The Elephantment, munts, or Unhumans are genetic creations melding animal with man as warriors, so we have an elephant-headed ex-soldier and a hippo-headed detective.

Anyone who knows Spelljammer knows I am a big fan of animal-headed humanoid avatars (the Giff, and the Yak Men of Al-Qadim), and I've seen ads over the years for an earlier, related title called Hip Flask. However, I never SAW an issue of Hip Flask for some reason, and always put it in the 'promised but never delivered' category. Now, however, I have an issue in hand from this world, and will recommend it for those looking for good storytelling and interesting concepts. The tales themselves are very simple (a young girl talks to an elephant, an ordinary human is freaked by the strange new world that has such creatures in it), but they are told elegantly and beautifully. Thisone joins my pull list.

The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders.
Here's Exhibit B, also published by Image. A teamup between Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla (Patron saint of geeks) and Telsa's one-handed assistant (the five fists), who build a battlemech to fight the evil sorcery of Morgan, Edison, Marconi, and Carnegie. Yeah, its a weird alt-history bit that has Tesla playing Batman at one point and Twain coming off very much like J.J.Jameson.

It's a one-shot, and a very nicely done one. If anything, it has the feel that this was a screenplay that was started when League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out, and failed to get optioned in the wake of the movie version of the same. A lot of it makes more sense on the big screen than in comic story-telling, and could use a bit more exposition about the black magic the evil industrialists are using, but it is still a nifty little book.

Godland by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli.
I should mention that both this one and Five Fists were recommended to me by various comic blogs, at a time when I was tossing mainstream books aside for a while. Such is the power of the 'Net. Anyway, Godland is another nostalgia trip, though this one is into the Realm of Jack Kirby, who between Eternals and New Gods and Jimmy Olson clones was one of the trippiest artists of my youth. Godland embraces that trippiness with Adam Archer, an astronaut invested with cosmic power after a failed Mars mission, who is the next step in evolution. And it has Kirbiesque weirdnesses of giant green alien dogs, chrome-plated assasins, Archer's three younger sisters as a support team, and my favorite, a drug-tripping green skull floating in an aquarium-shaped helmet named Basil Cronus. Add solid writing and Stan Lee-era philosophizing and stir.

Action Philosophers! by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey.
This is a compilation of the first three issues of this series, which cover a total of nine philosophers - Plato (presented as the Hulk), Nietzche, Bodhidharma, Ayn Rand, Jefferson, St. Augustine, Freud, Jung, and Joe Campbell. As a teaching tool for philosophy, these make a good introduction, though lighter fare than Cartoon History of the Universe. TVan Lewnte and Dunlavey capture some of the history of the figures, the nature of their philosophy, and where those philosophies tend to hit a rock - Jefferson's natural philosophy colliding with his slaveholding, Rand's rational equality imploding when her intellectual equal took a younger lover, Nietzche spinning in grave over the Nazis mis-using his thinking as philisophical cover for their evils. And in addition to all that, it has the best explanation of St. Augustine I've seen, explaining it with a Jack Kirbyesque universe (which Joe Campbell would point out as part of the Monomyth). Worth looking at.

More later,