Funny book five
PLENTY OF SPOILERS!!!!!! Back off, man. I'm a scientist.
I bought five comics this week.
Back in college, my old buddy Slappy once asked me what order I'd read the monumental stacks of comics we each used to return from now sadly long defunct direct sales shop Dream Days with every week. I advised I generally read the ones I liked the most first. Which would mean, as he pointed out, that as I worked my way down the stack, I would inevitably be starting out with the best comics I'd bought and moving down to the worst.
"I do the opposite," he told me with his customary smugness. "That way, when I read my comics, they keep getting better and better."
Well, Slappy often made a lot of sense back then, before he started drinking. So ever since that conversation, I've followed his example, arranging any stack of new comics I may be reading in an order reflective of what I believe will be worst to best. Sometimes I'm wrong, but, the sad thing is, most of the time, I call it pretty accurately.
Another sad thing is, over the course of decades, the stacks have shrunk considerably. Once upon a time I brought home 10, 12 comics a week. These days I average 5... and one of those is a weekly.
Anyway, bearing that in mind, in the order I read them, here's this week's five:
MARVEL MILESTONES reprint of MARVEL PREMIERE #28, featuring the Legion of Monsters, and a couple of other reprints to be named in a paragraph or so.
Normally, I love these reprint things that both DC and Marvel put out there infrequently. The opportunity to revisit favorite moments and stories from the Silver Age usually hits me with a warm rush of nostalgia, and unless I already have the original issue in question, I generally snatch these things up without hesitation.
Sometimes, I should hesitate.
What moved some editor somewhere in Marvel’s food chain to okay this particular story for reprinting I will never know. It has Ghost Rider in it, and the GHOST RIDER movie is supposed to be coming to a theater near us… sometime soon, I don’t know when. So maybe somebody thought it would be a nice little piece of cross promotion. Or maybe some avid fan of Marvel’s infrequent Silver Age monster comics pushed this through as a ‘Halloween special’. Whatever the reasoning, it’s insufficient. I try very hard to convince my readers, especially Modern Age fans, that the Silver Age of comics was several orders of magnitude better than anything produced in the Modern Age, and putting a spotlight on historical turkeys like this one certainly doesn’t help me make that case.
Here’s the haps: written by Bill Mantlo, drawn by Frank Robbins, originally published in February of 1976, which almost certainly means sometime in summer or autumn of 1975. These were the waning days of the apex of Marvel’s Silver Age; Englehart and Gerber were wrapping up their time at the company and about to shove off for DC. Mantlo was the new kid on the block, the one who was paying his dues by taking the crap writing assignments nobody else much wanted – MARVEL TEAM UP, THE CHAMPIONS, and any fill in that came his way. Given that he’d previously written Ghost Rider in THE CHAMPIONS, maybe the whole “Legion of Monsters” concept was his. Or maybe somebody just thought he’d be a good writer for it, or maybe he just needed to make his rent that month.
At this point, Mantlo’s best work was still way ahead of him, and he was basically a very generic, deeply unexciting writer, churning out much the same pap month after month after month. His primary attractiveness to editors was doubtless his ability to get adequately written assignments in on a tight deadline; he certainly wasn’t setting anyone’s world on fire with his pulse pounding prose and if the Internet had existed back in the 1970s, nobody would have been paying much attention to anything Mantlo did. He was a plodder who made people like Len Wein look scintillating and Roy Thomas seem brilliantly innovative by comparison.
Frank Robbins is an enormously talented graphic artist, as anyone who has seen his artwork on the various newspaper adventure strips he drew before moving into superhero comics can amply attest. But his particular style is not well suited to the demands of superheroics, and his attempt to create a new visual vocabulary for the exaggerated physical feats depicted in that particular sub-genre were generally poorly conceived and badly executed. You can enjoy Robbins’ bizarrely unique superhero artwork if you go into it with the right mindset, but still, having him doing a book about putative monsters isn’t going to be the best use of his talents.
Given all that, expectations would have to be low for LEGION OF MONSTERS, and however low they may have been for anyone picking this thing up off a spinner rack back in 1975, they should have been lower.
Essentially, the plot runs as follows – Johnny Blaze is tooling around L.A. on his skull-cycle when suddenly a gigantic mountain rears up out of the ground for no sensible reason. He turns into Ghost Rider because he senses danger near, as was his wont back in those halcyon days. (I don’t know what halcyon means; it’s just a word that those of us who grew up reading Roy Thomas scripts tend to toss around a lot to sound important.) He rides up the mountain. Meanwhile, Morbius the Living Vampire has spotted Werewolf by Night prowling around on the rooftops and decided he’d make a tasty snack, because, you know, if you were Morbius the Living Vampire, you’d much rather try to drink the blood of a supernaturally powerful lycanthrope than some helpless co-ed. The Werewolf also stumbles across this suddenly manifesting mountain peak, so he ambles happily up it to, with Morbius gliding along behind him.
Now, so far this is stupid but not flat out moronic. However, next, the Man-Thing, who lives in a swamp in Florida for the love of jesus, happens to see the mountain too, and he goes slogging up it as well. Now, it’s always possible that Man-Thing happened to wander through a convenient magical portal, because the swamp he lives in is full of them, but then we’re still left to deal with the fact that Man-Thing tends not to voluntarily leave the swamp he lives in, because when he does, he dries up and dies. But never mind all that, let’s move on.
As all the various monsters are trooping up the sides of the mountain, suddenly, this golden guy appears. He’s all dressed in golden Roman armor and riding a glowing golden horse and he’s, like, you know, golden. “Welcome, my friends… I am he who is called The Starseed! I bid you welcome!”
At this point any sane person would have tossed the comic over his or her shoulder and put in a BUFFY DVD, but I am hardly that. Persevering, I discovered that the Starseed was a member of an ancient peaceful offshoot of humanity whose mountain had been stolen off Earth thousands of years before by aliens, and who had…
No, fuck it, you don’t care. It’s terrible. Not my Silver Age, dammit. Never mind.
This particular Marvel Milestone also reprints MARVEL TEAM UP #24, featuring Spider-Man and Brother Voodoo tackling somebody named Moondog, and a story from DRACULA LIVES #3, where Dracula defeats an ancient bloodsucker named Nimrod to become the new Lord of the Vampires. Which you gotta figure is a big relief to all the other Undead in the Marvel Universe, since who would you rather grovel to – Dracula, or some numbnuts named Nimrod?
All right. Casting that resolutely aside, we come to what I figured would the fourth worst comic out of the five I bought this week – The Atom #4.
Readers with a functional long term memory will recollect that I swore I was going to stop buying this title last issue. But then I heard from someone – I think it was Mike Norton – that Byrne would be off the book with issue 4, and since I figured it had to be Byrne who was smothering all of Gail Simone’s writing talent with his gigantic ass, I decided to give it one more shot. I’m happy I did; I sincerely doubt Byrne was equal to the task of turning the Atom’s rather prosaic Ivy Town into the DC Universe equivalent of Miskatonic University. With Byrne off the book, Simone’s dialogue has perked up considerably as well, and of course, the artwork is immeasurably better. Yeah, we’re still apparently mired in the same idiotic plotline regarding Order vs. Chaos with the New Atom caught in the middle, but at least it’s being written and drawn reasonably well.
However, there is a troubling sequence on page 7. The tubby Panda is being held at knifepoint by some nutball with a size change belt, who proceeds to advise said Panda had better do what the nutball wants, or the nutball will “show your pretty little girlfriend what I consider a good time”.
This is unacceptable. Leveling sexual threats against a female character simply because the guy making the threats is evil, and heterosexual? No way. It’s completely unfair. The nutball should be leveling his sexual threats at Panda, or, at least, at the Atom. I am so fucking sick of this shit, where male villains make sexual threats or commit sexual assaults and it’s always against female characters! Goddamn it! I won’t tolerate it any more! And from a female writer, too! I personally feel betrayed. Jesus Christ! From now on, any time a male character anywhere in comics makes a sick sexual reference in regard to a female character, or a female character is sexually assaulted, a male character better suffer exactly the same degrading, demeaning treatment, and it better be drawn exactly the same way, too! I’m keeping track of you bastards! You’ve been warned.
Wait. Here. Let me hit myself in the head with this hammer a few times –
Okay. Much better. Now that I’m at least slightly sane again, let’s move on to the third worst comic I bought this week, although, in point of fact, it was actually considerably worse than The Atom #4 –
Marvel Team Up #25. Yeah, I said I wasn’t buying this title any more either, but, hey, it’s the last issue, so I figured what the hell.
Okay. So there’s some ‘League of Losers’ in the future with Darkhawk and Dagger and Speedball and a robotic Reed Richards and I don’t know what the hell all else, and I don’t care, either. And… um… Titannus is loose and a whole bunch of superheroes show up to fight him. And She-Hulk got yanked in naked by Dr. Strange so she ends up wearing one of his spare smocks, which should by no means fit, but he’s magical, but, still, if he’s using magic to make it fit, he could have just whipped her up some Shulk togs. And Spider-Man is wearing his old red and blue costume, which I like, but is insane, since the new costume has body armor in it and can morph to look like the old one if he wants it to. Which he points out. And Titannus kills everyone, except he doesn’t, because Kirkman is stealing that gimmick Alan Moore used in “For The Man Who Has Everything” where Titannus is actually only having a delusion that he killed everyone. And that Skrull superhero Crusader shows up again, using the power ring that the gay guy got killed using last time, and he totally saves the day, proving that any straight dude, even a frickin’ alien, is worth twenty gay guys who try to be superheroes and then get impaled by an evil Iron Man on a couple dozen phallic surrogates.
So, yeah, it kinda blows, but at least there won’t be any more of it.
So then there’s the second best comic out of the five I bought this week, or at least, that’s what I figured when I sorted them -- 52 #22. Hey, only thirty weeks left!
See, if I weren’t crafty like ze fox, they’d be gettin me all excited with the whole concept that they’re bringing Super-Chief back. But… Super-Chief? Puh-LEEZE. Yeah, I read his origin in a 100 Page Super Spectacular when I was like 11 and thought he was cool and sure, those feelings are still with me, but… SUPER-CHIEF? There’s no way. For one thing they already have a new ethnic superhero with a magical totem. For another… SUPER-CHIEF???? Give me a break. Obviously, somehow or other this mystic totem is going to end up in Lex Luthor’s hands, and he’s going to use it to smack the entire JLA around while screaming “He was my SON!!!” like we saw in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #0. (Because, as this issue of 52 points out, Luthor’s metagene therapy, by cruel irony, won’t work on him.)
While I was reading this, I started to sit down and figure out just how many plotlines they have going on in this title:
There’s the Booster Gold destroying the timeline one. That’s vaguely interesting. No sign of it in this issue.
There’s the “Who Is Supernova” thing. Barely touched on in this issue. Maybe it’s Super-Chief. I dunno.
There’s the Question and Renee Montoya Go to Qurac and Meet Black Adam and Mighty Isis thing. No sign of that here, either.
There’s the ‘Adam Strange and two goobers rip off EARTHQUEST’ plotline, which I was fascinated by until it somehow absorbed Bobo… er, Lobo. Now I don’t care. In fact, I wish they’d all die. Except Adam. I like him okay.
There’s the ‘Lex Luthor is a total dick’ plotline… well, okay, the ‘Lex Luthor offers everyone in the world superpowers if they’ll suck his dick’ plotline. A lot of that in this one.
There’s the ‘Steel hates Lex Luthor and tries to foil his nefarious schemes’ plot, which we got some of in this one, too.
Then there’s this weird thing with Will Magnus being chased around by Men In Black and some killer robots. Don’t have any idea what’s going on there. But if it eventually leads to a regular METAL MEN series again, written by someone I can tolerate, I’m on board.
I can’t imagine we’re going to see Batwoman again. And I hope to god that whole thing where Cassie is trying to resurrect Conner is over. I see she’s regained her senses in the current TEEN T ITANS book, so I guess this was just a thing she had to work through. I’d have a lot more respect for it if Peter David hadn’t done the exact same plot ten years ago with Rick Jones and Marlo in HULK.
Ralph Dibney becomes Dr. Fate – I was kind of interested in that. I hope they get back to it.
I suppose there were more plots, but I can’t remember them right now.
Anyway, I’m still enjoying 52, it’s just that this was one of the more lackluster issues for me.
Finally, my Number 1 comic book that I bought this week --
First, you just gotta deal with the John Romita Jr. art. Someone at Marvel thinks he can draw; I disagree, but I don’t sign any paychecks there. So, you just gotta deal with it. It’s okay; it doesn’t actively obscure what’s going on, or anything…
The Gaiman script… while I’m reading this, I keep thinking “gee, that’s familiar… hmmm, I’ve seen that concept before… say, that’s right out of Zelazney.” You know, it’s like when you’re reading any issue of ASTRO CITY and you know anything at all about superhero comics. But Gaiman, at least, steals his ideas from mythology and literature (much like Zelazney, in fact) and if it all does seem to be treading some well worn paths for him, still, it’s an interesting plotline overall, and he has managed to surprise me on occasion.
With this particular issue, we’re finally seeing some real revelations and I guess the plot is about to actually get exciting, instead of just kinda sorta cool and ‘hey, what the hell is going on here’. I wish Romita wasn’t insisting on putting all the male Eternals in these dopey looking thigh high boots, which I’m pretty sure Kirby didn’t dress them in, but, as I say, the art is very much secondary to the story here.
I do more or less like the idea of Sprite being behind the whole mess with everyone losing their memories and nobody in the world remembering the Eternals, just because he’s pissed off at the fact that he’s going to be a small child until the end of time and nobody will ever take him seriously. Seems like I saw that bit first in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, but Gaiman is doing fun things with it. I’m not sure I’m willing to believe that he did it all so he can be human and age normally; that seems rather too much like all the immortals in the HIGHLANDER movies killing each other for millennia just so the eventual winner can lose his immortality, grow old and die. I mean, that’s always seemed pretty stupid to me. Still, I suppose if I’d been 11 years old for a few million years, I might be a little nuts, too.
Hopefully, next issue, Makkari stops pissing and moaning and we get to see a little asskicking. It would be long overdue.
And that’s the five comics I read THIS week.