An approximate milestone

Well, it's been 370 days and 71 posts since The Recreation Annex, formerly known as Troll Dwarfs with Tommy Guns, nee The Last Shortbox, opened its doors for business (or pleasure). While that's not exactly a precise milestone, I'll take it, seeing as it's New Year's Eve and all.

Although - or perhaps because - I have had a ball participating in the comicsweblogosphere (as Mike Sterling would have it), the mission of this site has drifted a bit in a year. I have become less concerned with reviewing just the contents of that actually-exists shortbox full of memories, and have gotten more involved with newer comics and graphic books than I have been in a while. I don't expect to be giving that up, but I'll try to dip into the old gems a bit more frequently.

Mostly I am enjoying being part of a community of people who have impressed me with their generosity of spirit and their material generosity, as well as their enthusiasm and talent. I enjoy reading, sharing, remembering, and reflecting with all of you. While this community has had its share of conflict and snark, overall I have found it a very pleasant place to linger. Thanks to all of you out there for helping me keep the fun in a lifelong hobby.

Happy New Year!


The Fortress Keeper has (once again) delivered a fine essay that sums up how if feel about certain issues in comics. The Keeper uses The Ray as clear example of how modern comics differ from the gold and silver days in the treatment of superhero characters. The retconning of Happy Terrill's "ballooning accident" into part of a government conspiracy is typical of the grim-n-grittifying of superhero comics. And I'm sorry, but I just don't see it working. Superheroes are inherently a least little silly and require a lot of suspension of disbelief to work at all. When they do work, they can deliver gripping adventure, human interest, and even morality tales; but mix them with "real world" drama, and the result often seems to me like what I imagine watching Wiley Coyote kill and eat the Roadrunner in a naturalistic manner would be like. It's cognitive dissonance.

Birds of Prey appears to have this flaw. I jumped on at issue 100, because I heard a Spy Smasher was coming back. The story in #100 and #101 concerns Lady Blackhawk, Big Barda, Judomaster, Huntress, and Manhunter infiltrating a Mexican prison to free a mobster's daughter in return for his testimony. With very little rewriting, the story could have been a straight action-adventure script, no superheroes required: there's the attorney getting inside, the fake fight for a distraction, the taking over the guard tower, the explosions in the parking lot for further distraction, and so on. All the fireworks are set in a world of corrupt officials, ruthless government agents, and cynical deal-making.

And in the middle of all of it, we get this:

Is it just me, or does the whole changing-into-costume bit seem a bit out-of-place? Do we really need superheroes to take on crooked corrections officers? This seems more like a Mission: Impossible episode than anything else. I could practically hear the crash as the two idioms smashed into each other.

I dunno. It was great fun watching the Birds go through their paces. Zinda is a hoot, and it was cool to see Barda take on a fighter jet. But the juxtaposition of that kind of action with the nasty agent stuff just doesn't gel.

Oh, and this set me off, too:

Spy is not equal to terrorist.

In the real world, spies are professionals for the most part, usually regular combatants, and there exists international law regarding their treatment. In fiction as well as fact, spies are the focus of some ripping yarns. Nathan Hale was a spy. Mata Hari was a spy. Moe Berg was a spy. George Smiley was a spy. Spies and spying can serve as useful devices in adventure stories.

Terrorists are not spies. Terror is an awful and problematic feature of contemporary geopolitics, and does not lend itself well to simple action tales, particularly those featuring superheroics.

So why don't they call Katarina Terrorist-Smasher?


So as not to leave this milestone post on a complaining note, I want to spin off this quote from the Fortress of Fortitude post I mentioned at the start:

Back in the day, “Happy” Terrill was simply a good-hearted guy who attained crazy powers in a ballooning accident.

(’Cuz that happened a lot back then … )

I had forgotten this aspect of The Ray's origin, and I was so tickled by the idea of a ballooning accident (BA) as a plot device, that I did extensive research on Googled the phrase, and here's what I came up with:

Commissioner Gordon's son Tony used a BA as a way to fake his death so he could spy on/in Red China. (I am Batgirl's Brother; scroll down about halfway).

A BA is the fulcrum on which the plot of Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love (and the Daniel Craig movie that was based on it) swings.

A Harvard alum chose a BA as his fake death, this time to avoid solicitation of donations, when the university mistakenly thought him deceased. (Death by Junk Mail; scoll down to July 11, 2003).

Apparently, one of the characters on the television show Lost is on the island because of a BA (Re: Will the 'Others' get angry now?, scroll down to 02-16-2006, 07:20 PM).

The hero of this mystery novel is almost killed in a BA.

Coe College offers a science class that investigates the mystery of an alchemist's BA. (FS-110-18 STEALTH SCIENCE , about halfway down).

And finally, an Air Force pilot injured in a BA may be the source of the first "live alien" sighting. (Injured Air Force Pilot, the very last entry).

Huh, maybe it's time for another name-change to the blog...

Happy holidays

It ended yesterday, but Menorah Man (along with the rest of the Jewish Hero Corps) hopes you had a Happy Hannukkah!

And here is the best Superhero Holiday Special story I have ever read, bar none. Although it came from a LiveJournal community as part of a spoof of such comics, if DC editorial doesn't commission it for next year, they have neither heart nor brains.

The Big S Christmas Story.

Hit and miss

So, I did go to the LCS to look for Birds of Prey. They were out of #100, which I am presuming is a good jumping-on point; I did look through #101, in which the new Spy Smasher presents herself as a unlikable bully. I dunno. Keeper says he has hopes for the character; I guess I will find that #100 and make another run at it.

I did take Loren's advice and get Darwyn Cooke's Spirit #1. It was a great romp, one that I enjoyed even more than the crossover teaser issue. I still felt a bit unstasified at the end, though: $2.99 for 22 pages still seems like too much to me, even if the paper and production values are so much better. (Based on inflation alone, an 80-page Giant from 1967 should only cost $1.42 today.) Somehow the TPBs just seem like a better buy.

I also picked up the DC Infinite Holiday Special, because as I was flipping though it, it looked kind of funny. My overall rating: meh. It brought the funny and some sweetness, but the book would have been more successful in both aspects if the individual stories had been a little shorter and tighter.

Not really so grumpy as all that

This isn't exactly in the Last Shortbox, but it's at probably as old as the oldest comic in there:

This is a lobby card for the 1944 Republic serial Spy Smasher. It may well be an original, since I got it in about 1973 or so, when I was in high school.

I was nutsy for Spy Smasher. I think first read about him in a book called The Great Movie Serials by Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut, under a section subtitled The Subversives' Dread and with a pretty good photo. I read all about the comics version in The Steranko History of the Comics (Volume 2), which chronicled Spy Smasher's career and his cross-over with Captain Midnight, whose popularity eventually exceeded his. One of the best pieces of my juvenile art was a swipe of that sketch in the lower left corner of the photo. I wrote what would now be called fanfic about Spy Smasher. I learned to translate "Death to Spies in America!" in French class. I even - and I'm not kidding - had "Spy Smasher Lives!" engraved on my high school graduation ring instead of my name. (The guy taking the orders in the auditorium thought I was crazy.)

Spy Smasher never got the comeback I thought he deserved. I understand he made some appearances that I missed, and I guess he even actually appeared in the JLU aimated series once, but it looked like he was more-or-less consigned to the dustbin of comics history.

Which was why I got excited when I heard about this:

A new Spy Smasher! She has the same last name as the original, which bodes well for some sort of flashback, at least. I'm not sure I like that she's a government agent (I usually prefer my mystery men and women to be independent vigilantes) but I like the goofy way she's presenting her I.D. She has a great outfit and she looks pretty tough, too.

So, although I couldn't make it today, I guess I will be off to the LCS tomorrow to pick up Birds of Prey #100. Because sometimes I still wish I could find that ring.

Meme time

From Sleestak via Bully.

Who's reading?

Item: The Fortress Keeper writes a very thoughtful post regarding the quality (or more precisely, the lack thereof) of current comics (from DC in particular). He follows it up with another on Marvel offerings, which is slightly more hopeful, but still pretty pessimistic.

Item: I read those posts on the heels of finishing Comic Book Nation, Bradford Wright's solid examination of American comics as cultural artifacts. One element of his broad and deep survey of the history of comic books stays with me, chapter after chapter: just how many comics used to be sold in this country, month in and month out, when they were just disposable entertainment, and how few are sold these days, now that they achieved some "respectability."

Item: I am in my LCS, looking for something to buy. On the "new" rack, a see a leftover Birds of Prey:

I immediately recall the source of this hommage cover; I can picture it quite accurately even before I locate an image on the internet:

I smile a little in my nostalgia, and then I think, as I look at the cover, that the source for this pastiche has got to be almost forty years old. Why would anyone who is not in my demographic care about this? As cool as I may think this is, does it sell any comics to new readers? I flip though the book. It doesn't even sell the comic to me.

Item: I am in a Barnes & Noble, looking at a spinner rack of current comics. A woman comes up with a four- or five-year-old boy, and encourages him to take a new comic. I look at the titles displayed and, knowing a little bit about their content, blanch at the thought of a young child looking at them. The kid selects something based on Sonic, the video game hedgehog; I try to recommend a Krypto to the woman as an additional choice. I leave the spinner rack and head over the the TPBs and graphic novels.

Item: I am back in my LCS and spy Darwin Cooke's Spirit #1. I am sorely tempted, since I liked his one-shot crossover with Batman so much. I put the $2.99 single back on the shelf, and decide to wait for the trade.

I love comics; I can't seem to let them go. I keep reading them, reading about them, writing about them, and using them in my classes. I don't think I'll ever stop reading graphic books.

I also think I'll live to see the end of comics books as I knew them. The seeds of this demise were sown with the rise of the direct market; the paradigm shift from comics as a broad entertainment channel to comics as a fan-priority enterprise followed and further limited the growth of the industry. The perceived need for and almost sole focus on darker or "mature" themes excludes many potential new readers; the increasing "sophistication" of story arcs and crossover events has left in the dust the old axiom (Jim Shooter's?) that every issue is some reader's first. The advent of classier formats and the new alliance with legitimate booksellers scores with the base and introduces prestige work to a new readership, but does nothing to promote the bulk of the production or pull in new entry-level readers. In fact, collections and big volumes draw even some of the converted away from the monthlies, continuing the shrinkage.

I don't believe that comics will go away; I do believe the face of comics will change. Singles will continue to lose ground; I imagine a lot of them will disappear. Perhaps we'll see more of the European model, with original material presented only in hardcovers or paperbacks, even in the genres.

I don't worry about my not having comics to read. But I fear that someday, the kid carrying around a folded eighty-page giant, being exposed to wonder and science and morality and history and adventure and yes, literacy, all while just thinking it was great fun, will be nothing but a quaint image from an almost forgotten past.

Not much

I am in the middle of an end-of-quarter grading jag, so just a few comments to follow my spontaneous joy at the return of Lady Cop.

Agents of Atlas is the most fun comic right now. Even though it spends a lot of time filling in continuity details, it's just a kick. I wonder if (when?) issues one through six will be a TPB - and should I have just waited, or has the monthly schedule added to the fun? I'll buy the collection anyway.

I haven't seen Absolute New Frontier out yet - is it?

Is it just me, or does anyone else think Batman Confidential is going to be as pedestrian as Superman Confidential is sparkling?

It's not superheroes, but it's sure super: is anyone else dialed into Planet Karen over at It is simply the best webcomic on all the internets.

Click the pic for web-comicky goodness!

This just in!

She's back!

And she hasn't changed a bit!

I read the rumors. I waited for the day. And today, I actually bought The All New Atom #6, featuring the spectacular return to the DCU, after more than thirty years, of Liza Warner, Lady Cop. There she was, on the very first page! It's only a cameo, really, but her wattage is still there.

And, of course, she actually has changed a little bit: She is now Chief of the Ivy Town Police Department, rather than a rookie officer for NYPD, and the position seems to come with slacks instead of a skirt. She still has the blonde hair, but is wearing it a little longer now, and has given up on the home permanents. She still looks quite fetching in her uniform, and she still radiates that same aura of command and competence that she has always displayed.

Oh, and she still sticks her head out of the tops of panels.

If anyone is cop enough to keep the lid on in wacky Ivy Town, it's this judo-throwing, grenade-tossing, head-butting, ice-cream-buying, hat-thrashing, VD-lecturing queen of the beat.

Let me be the first to welcome - Lady Chief!

That's the spirit

For all the reasons this is so wrong

this is so right.

Batman/The Spirit #1

Darwyn Cooke is clearly the master of depicting old-school superheroics. His renditions of Batman and The Spirit, as well as supporting characters such as Commissioners Dolan and Gordon and Classic Babs Gordon, not to mention the villians (too many to name!), are all spot-on, capturing just the right combination of adventure, silliness, menace, and whimsy that makes up a ripping yarn.

Jeph Loeb's script has its shining moments, usually in dialogue and characterization. The plot is workable, but the action, after the stunning opening sequence with Denny Colt, relies perhaps too often on ellipsis: several scenes are set up but never played out, including (presumably) dramatic rescues and action-packed fights. Nonetheless, it was a fun read.

Favorite lines:

Robin (being told to drive): What? But I'm only thir--!

Batman (to The Spirit): Hush.

If the new movie is half as good as this one-shot was, it'll be ten times as good as the poster makes it out to be, and probably worth watching.

Because Ragnell asked for it...

and because Ragnell must be obeyed.

Bad news and good news and more good news

Between holiday visitors and visiting and a boatload of student papers to read, there is no post this weekend.

On the bright side, Wonder Woman #3 finally came out, and they are still saying people's names with logo-lettering! Wonder Man indeed!

Best of all, it snowed in my part of the world!


A rumination on rumination

This week, I have been making by way through Locas and Luba: The Book of Ophelia (both graciously provided by a Generous Benefactor). I was comparing the work of each hermano Hernandez in my mind; I am a little partial to Jaime over Gilbert, although I think they are both masterful. I noticed a difference in their narrative style, and thought that it might be that Gilbert used more unmarked scene-to-scene panel transitions (type 4 in Scott McCloud's closure schema). Here, take a look:

The first transition is type 4, from the ex-girlfriend to a meteor in space (that had been a constant metaphor in the story); this transitions to the next sequence of three panels, which have close to action-to-action (type 2) transitions as the new girlfriend (in drag) beats up the ex and changes back to regular clothes; then there's a type 4 transition to an explanatory scene; then a type 4 transition to a denouement scene.

What is interesting to me is than none of these transitions are assisted by captions; there's no "The next day" or "Later..." to help the reader out. There's sometimes visual help - you can see the disguised assailant in the background of the first panel - but overall, Gilbert's style requires a lot of engagement and attention to detail on the part of the reader, who must note clothing changes, background changes, subtleties of dialogue, and other specifics to determine the movement through time and place in the story, and to make sense of the plot. McCloud would say that the reader is required to add a lot of closure.

I'm not sure where I will be going with this analysis; I suppose with both Locas and Palomar at hand I could do a substantial quantitative analysis of panel transitions for each brother, and see if that makes meaning happen. What I thought was more interesting, perhaps, was that I couldn't remember the numbering in McCloud's scheme, so I pulled out my copy of Understanding Comics. While I found the information in a heartbeat, it took me about a half-hour to finally pull myself out of the book: I was re-reading it yet again. Of course, I then dipped into Locas and Luba to look for a sample page or two. There went another half-hour, as I read a story I hadn't yet gotten to. So I guess the upshot is that if I am going to do a formal analysis of this stuff, I had better block out a lot of time.


With all the obscure characters showing up in 52 (not that I'm buying it, mind you, just reading blogs), I just wanted to throw in my nominations for resurrection, The Protectors of Starzl:

Terrane, Ocana, and Etheran originally appeared in Justice League of America #18 (March, 1963); their story was reprinted in Giant JLA #93 in October 1971. After neutralizing the League, these dudes were eventually beaten by Snapper Carr, because their invincibility was based on hyped-up autosuggestion rather than the actual magnitude of their powers. I still always thought they were pretty cool, even if they were androids*.

Here they are calling out the League, and calling for a revival:

*The original story actually included a footnote to the word android and explained that it referred to "an artificial human being, made in a laboratory."

A short wait for a long "Waiting"

Castle Waiting
Linda Medley
Fantagraphics Books, 2006

A few weeks ago, as I was browsing the graphic books section of my local excellent new-and-used bookstore, I came across an item of which I had heard nothing: a smallish (5.5 x 8 in) hardcover volume by Linda Medley called Castle Waiting. It appeared to be a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story in beautiful clear-line comics format.

I got lost in the book for a good twenty minutes before being roused by my companion. I didn't pick the book up then, but put it on my buy-list. Not long ago, I was given a copy (along with numerous other Neat Stuff) by a Generous Benefactor, and now, having read the whole book, I can say that it is both more and less than I had anticipated.

The qualities that attracted me to the book in the first place did not disappoint. The art is attractive, with a direct and straightforward storytelling style using beautiful images; the comics equivalent of a Clint Eastwood-directed movie. For the most part, the writing matches the excellence of the art; the dialogue is natural without being anachronistic, the characters are well-realized and consistent, and even the throwaway bits are amusing (such as a background song about Queen Dinah Saurus).

The Sleeping Beauty story turns out just to be the set-up; after introducing all the familiar elements - the curse, the ban on spinning in the Kingdom, the pricked finger, the deep sleep, the barrier of thorns - Castle Waiting dispenses with the rest of the story - the 100-year coma, rescue, and departure of the princess - in about six pages. What the book is really about is the castle itself, which becomes a sort of refuge for a collection of oddball characters unable to fit in with the outside world.

The world in which Medley situates the castle is an odd but beguiling one. It is that sort of vaguely European, vaguely medieval world that is the favorite of many fantasy writers. This particular version is peopled not only with fairy tale types, like Beauty and Ruplestilskin, but with some anthropomorphic animals, as well - usually innkeepers and tradesmen are humans, but sometimes they are cats or bears, with no explanation given. The steward of the castle is a stork and one of the guests is a knight who is a horse - but they ride together in an ox cart.

The end result is a bit jarring at times; since characters hunt and fish, I wonder how they distinguish between people-animals and animal-animals, but maybe that's just me.

Worlds blend in other ways. In an early adventure, the nominal protagonist Jain gets involved with both some Gypsies and what appear to be some Hobbits, and despite the unspecified setting of the story, references are made to Saint Wilgefortis, a historical (although fictional) Catholic martyr from the 15th century. There are also references to characters I feel I should know (or might have known) from other traditions, but I couldn't quite place them.

Most of the time, the "continuity" issues aren't a concern, since the characters are so compelling. Castle Waiting is peopled by men and women and animals (but mostly women) who are intelligent and aware and well-intentioned and flawed and noble and real. There's conflict in the story, but violence is not the solution of first resort, and many problems are solved by reason and creativity rather than fighting (although the horse-knight, Sir Chess, does knock some blackguards around). This book is full of good role models for children, young girls in particular.

As much as I enjoyed the story, which follows the arrival of Jain at the castle, the birth of her child, and her initial interactions with the rest of the residents, I have the same quibble with the book as some other reviewers did: about halfway through, just when the reader is getting comfortable with the characters, one of them begins to tell a story in an extended flashback - which has another extended flashback story in it - for just about the rest of the book. This complete shift away from the cast of characters, who all but disappear except for vignettes setting up the storytelling, is at best confusing and more than a little disappointing. Since the book is a collection of an ongoing series, it might have been a better to break it into two volumes, with a framing sequence for each.

In the end, it's really a rather small problem with the book; Castle Waiting is well worth a place in your collection.

A meme from Bully

Check it out!

My cup runneth over

So, a bunch of stuff happened this week, providing me with lots of comics-related material; lots more, in fact, than I will be able to read for some time. And it was all at no cost to me! Sometimes you trip over a pot of gold, and there isn't even a rainbow around.

First of all, Big Brown delivered a neat and tidy box the other day. Beneath all the packing peanuts was this treasure trove:

LOCAS hardcover by Jaime Hernandez
Palomar hard cover by Gilbert Hernandez
Luba: Book of Ofelia softcover by Gilbert Hernandez
The Plot softcover by Will Eisner
Castle Waiting hardcover by Linda Medley
(this one was a particular surprise, since I had just discovered it at a bookstore,
moving it to the top of my buy list after being lost in it for a half-hour)


The slipcased, hardcover, first two volumes of The Complete Peanuts
(covering 1959 to 1962)

I will not announce whence came this munificence, to protect the modesty of my benefactor; I did want to offer a hearty and public thank-you nonetheless. I hope to have a chance to discuss some of these works here soon, but I'm afraid I'll be lost with Maggie and Hopey for some time.

But, as Ron Popeil would say - that's not all! Check this out:

I was discussing my upcoming composition class with some teaching colleagues, and describing how our source readings would all be graphic books. One instructor told me that she had some Indian comics, and offered to share them with me. I have read some about the Indian comics market, particularly recent deals with Richard Branson's Virgin conglomerate and the Spider-man India project from a couple years back, but I had never encountered homegrown Indian comics before. This stash comprises four issues of Amar Chitka Katha, which chronicles mythological, historical, and fictional adventure stories, and one copy of Twinkle Digest, aimed at younger children. I'll try to have interior scans of this stuff up soon.

But there is yet more! Look at this blast from the past:

On Halloween, a great and good friend (and the spiritual heir to Harry Houdini) came over and graced me with a copy of Limited Collector's Edition #3 from 1974, featuring a whole bundle of Superman stuff (for a buck!). Aside from being a big (14" x 10"), fun book, this looks to be a great primer to the development of the pre-CoIE Superman: it starts with a couple stories of the early Siegel and Schuster tough-guy Superman running and jumping and generally rushing all around to fight fascists and crooked politicians; continues with a Wayne Boring car-juggling Supes; gives us a Kurt Schaffenberger Krypto-and-Lois comedy and an Andru-Esposito "L.L." caper; and ends with a Curt Swan re-telling of the origin (complete with Kryptonian headbands). There's lots of extra features as well; I'll try to get some interior stuff, but it's almost too big to scan!

So, thanks to random generosity, my comics reading is stockpiled! Thanks to everyone (you know who you are) for sharing.

I must also admit that I added to my own pile as well, picking up all the issues of 52 that had come out since I had forsworn the series a couple of months ago. I fell off the wagon because I was enticed by all the talk on the internets of Will Magnus and mad scientists and the Metal Men. Well, it really wasn't worth it. The throwaway bits are great fun, and some of them are genius; the puzzle aspect of the series is pretty cool; but overall, it's just not engaging as story. It's still a big ol' mess, the plots are moving along way too slowly, some of the guest shots look like pure promotion rather than story elements, and I have no confidence that I will understand any eventual denouement anyway. I'm done, for real this time.

Now, I heard a rumor that Lady Cop is coming back in the pages of The Atom...

Things schoolish

Offrred without (much) commentary:

As a high school junior in the early seventies, I wrote a short play called I'm The Gun. It was produced by the school's drama society as part of their one-act play night, which was generally reserved for works by seniors. The plot revolved around the meeting of Lieutenant Steven Savage

and Rittmeister Baron Hans Von Hammer

when they find themselves whisked from the battlefields of the First World War to a fantastical, unknown place. They are greeted by a Swiss waiter named Jean-Paul and meet a mysterious woman, later revealed to be a goddess of war, who wants to use their killing skills to her own ends. The two aviators are faced with a crisis of conscience and come to a momentous decision.


Once in a while I pull it out and cringe, just a little.

In doing research for this post (!?), I found that there apparently were some crossover stories featuring these characters; I can't remember actually reading one. I'll have to track them down.

The actual review

The Best American Comics 2006
Harvey Pekar, Ed.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

I finally had a chance to read most of this, and I have to say that it's a fine collection. Pekar was the "guest editor" for this particular selection in Houghton Mifflin's The Best American series. While I found that I enjoyed his selections, both as individual stories (most of the time) and as a representation of the breadth of work that can be found in American comics, his introduction didn't add anything to the volume: he by turns rants crankily, belabors the obvious, or just bores the reader.

Pekar specifically states in the introduction that "no superhero stuff is included" in the collection; the first piece (and one of my favorites, it turned out) gives lie to that statement. The Amazing Life of Onion Jack is a charming and deceptively simple ten-page strip that is a gentle pastiche of superhero themes and treatments throughout the ages, and it really requires some familiarity with the form to be completely effective. Witness this segment from Jack's "origin":

But, truth to tell, Onion Jack is indeed the only superhero in the book. The rest of the collection comprises mostly black-and-white strips that cover a ranges of genres. The reportage, such as Kim Deitch's Ready to Die, about prisoners on death row, and Joe Sacco's Complacency Kills, about U.S. troops in Iraq, was particularly compelling; Nakedness and Power, a primer on Nigerian oil politics and the protests against it (by Seth Tocoman, Terisa Turner, and Leigh Brownhill) packed nine graphic pages with as much information as a magazine article and was compelling to read.

The autobiographical pieces were less successful. Most of them reminded me of the worst excesses of the black-and-white autobiographical indies of the nineties: they were self-indulgent and interesting only to the authors and perhaps their friends. Johnathan Bennett's Dance with the Ventures (which apparently does have fictional elements) never clicked for me with any universals or common experiences that I could understand or relate to; Jesse Reklaw's Thirteen Cats of My Childhood went on for twenty pages that I found as compelling a scrapbook of pictures of other people's pets. David Lasky's Diary of a Bread Delivery Guy, in comparison, was both clever and short.

Some entries were unclassifiable. Rebecca Dart's Rabbithead has some sort of fantasy narrative to it, but is really just a formalist exercise, albeit a beautifully rendered and intellectually complex one.

There were some sure-fire hits in the mix, and some surprises. You can't go wrong with a Rick Geary one-pager on seduction, and I'll take a Jaime Hernandez locas story (this one centered on Hopey) any length, anywhere, anytime. I was already a bit interested in Alex Robinson; the excerpt from Tricked ratcheted that interest up higher. On the other hand, the excerpt from Jessica Abel's La Perdida just didn't work as an enticement; I'll still get the book, but despite this selection, not because of it. One new-to-me find was Anders Nilsen, whose bleak and moody piece The Gift (sort of Tintin by way of Ingmar Bergman and Sam Peckinpah) made me want to see a lot more of his stuff:

I must admit, there were some pieces I did not read, just from prior bias, particularly Robert Crumb (whom I dislike) and Gilbert Shelton (who just doesn't do anything for me). Truth to tell, Chris Ware falls into this latter category, but I did read (with the help of a bloody magnifying glass) his entry, which was a compilation of short filler-pieces he created for the issue of McSweeney's that he edited. The completed piece is a wonderful short history of comics (if you can see it - why does he make his stuff so damn small?):

There's a lot more in here: a short (color) piece from Ben Katchor, some happy dykes from Alison Bechdel, a post-modern Paul Bunyon from Lili Carre, and, of course, some Lynda Barry are among the other contributions. This is an excellent anthology overall, and one I'll likely work into a classroom someday soon.

The ridiculous and the sublime

First, here's a meme, courtesy the ever-wonderful Ragnell:

Second, some of you may know I teach college English. I'll be teaching a Composition 102 course in Winter Quarter; at this particular institution, each instructor picks his or her own theme for the class. The focus in on rhetoric, i.e., how to write well at the college level; the theme merely provides the subject matter to analyze, talk about, and respond to critically. Recent themes have included Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll; Speculative Fiction: Conscious Evolution; and Beyond Big Brother: Surveillance in the 21st Century. For this go-round, I have chosen Comics and Graphic Books: Crossing the Genres.

My idea is to read McLoud's Understanding Comics to give the class some idea of how to talk about sequential art, and then read a graphic novel or equivalent each week. (Another idea would be to start with Kavalier and Clay to position comics culturally, and not worry about doing any formalist analysis of the works themselves.) I need eight or nine titles, and I'd like them to be as diverse as possible. Here's a first stab at what I'm thinking:

Watchmen (post-modern superheroes)
Why I Hate Saturn (contemporary fiction)
Maus (memoir)
Something from Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe or Action Philosophers (non-fiction)
Sacco's Palestine or Safe Area Gorazde (reportage)
Something from Age of Bronze (classics)
A Contract with God (short stories)
Enemy Ace: War in Heaven (adventure)

Remember, this isn't a class in comics; it's a writing class that will use comics as its readings. This list doesn't have to be historically important or comprehensive; the books merely need to be good. And, of course, I want to cross genres.

So, any comments or suggestions?

Why we love Bob Kanigher

Better than a quarter bin: I stopped by the comic book store today, and while I didn't buy anything, I did pick up some singles: the store had a Free! box right up front, filled with coverless or otherwise incomplete mags. I didn't really look through it, but just grabbed a couple random issues for my partner, a collage artist; then I sighted some Andru-Esposito art in the stack and fished out a tattered copy of Metal Men #16 from 1965. Here, as objectively as I can relate it, is the story this issue contains.


The Metal Men and Doc Magnus are looking at animated toys that Doc has invented: talking, moving action figures of Capt. Storm, Enemy Ace, Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank, Capt. Cloud, and Wonder Woman. (one panel)

“Later that afternoon,” the group is entertaining at a picnic for brain-injured children. (one panel)

“Later,” Gold and Tina observe Doc taking his girlfriend Cleo out dancing. Tina gripes about it while Gold thinks it’s reasonable. (one panel)

“On the beach at Fire Island that weekend,” the story starts to take off. The Metal Men are hanging out on the beach while Doc takes Cleo put into open water so they can neck in private. (He takes his robots on a date with him?). A jealous Tina confronts them and attempts to drown Cleo.

Doc speaks harshly to her and she zzzzinnggs off crying. Doc is worried about how he hurt Tina’s feelings, which really pisses Cleo off (this seems sort of reasonable, considering she was just nearly drowned and all). Tina has headed back to the beach and flies off in the Jetaway (the flying platform thing the MM cruised around in) all huffy and stuff. The gang forms a boomerang and hurl themselves after her, catching her at what looks to be about a third of the way to the moon. (three and a half pages)

“Suddenly,” the gang pick us an SOS on their IGU. (WTF? There's no note explaining what this is.). They can't quite make contact with the sending party, so Tina and Gold form a giant antenna until the robots are hit by a beam that shrinks all of them down to toy size (ah, so that first panel was foreshadowing, not just nutty randomness). Gold forms into a stack of coins (?!) so the robots can reach the Jetaway controls; they talk to aliens Loof and Fpok-Bmud (read them backwards), who were actually trying to hit them with a homing beam. The toy-sized Metal Men fly to the aliens’ planetoid, only to be attacked by toy-sized rockets as they approach; they get knocked around pretty good. (five pages)

Then the comic is missing four pages and I can't even being to imagine what happens, because the story picks up “As the robot termites depart…” and the aliens, who look like robots made out of wooden barrels, are thanking the Metal Men, who are still little. Loof and Fpok-Bmud, whose primary characteristic is that they are incredibly stupid and know it, try to enlarge the Metal Men but only manage to twist them into pretzel shapes. They give up, dump the robots back into the Jetaway and wave a happy goodbye as the team heads back to Doc for help, now little and twisted. (two and a half pages, end part one)


Back in their headquarters, the robots decide to fix themselves with some machine. They get untwisted, but remain small and wind up paralyzed as well. Almost immediately, some uniformed security officers (?) come and take them away to the charity bazaar for the New York Association of Brain-Injured Children (aha!), thinking they are toys like Sgt. Rock et al. They don't sell (because they don't talk or move like the others) until a blind kid takes them at the very end of the auction. (two pages)

“That night,” the Little Blind Boy (he never gets a name) hears a radio broadcast that robot termites have eaten the Skytop Bridge. This affects him so greatly that he cries a whole lot, but not so much that he doesn't fall asleep in the middle of crying. Good thing, too: the saline content of the boy’s tears has de-paralyzed the Metal Men, and returned them to normal size!

They form a kind of helicopter-thing and head to what remains of the bridge. They’re having a hard time smooshing the robo-termites, so Gold turns into a heating coil and makes Mercury explode, blowing up the termites, the remains of the bridge, and the rest of the Metal Men. (two pages)

“Later,” Doc vacuums up the area, apparently on some sort of pre-FEMA general disaster investigation duty, and is surprised to find the remains of the Metal Men mised in with the schmutz.

Doc reconstitutes them, and Tina nags him into making some Metal Men toys and bringing them to Little Blind Boy, and everyone has a good smile at the end, except Iron, whose face is obscured by a word balloon. (six panels, the end)

Let’s review, shall we?

--Kanigher’s editorial line-up appearing as toys.
--The New York Association for Brain-Injured Children, which actually existed and was an early support system for LD kids. (Not so much for blind kids, though.)
--Doc out of his checkered coat (and most of the rest of his clothes!).
--“Toss Tin at the the Jetaway without letting go yourself, Iron!”
--Moronic but good-natured barrel-robot aliens.
--Robot termites.
--The MM sacrifing their "lives" for humanity (again).
--Doc Magnus has his own street sweeper.

God bless Bob Kanigher. God bless America. God bless us, every one!

PS: I always thought Tina was hot.

Well, that was unexpected

So I stop by the local comics shop just to see if there are any singles that pique my curiosity. Given my recent prediliction for collections and GNs, I'm not expecting much. I'm right -- I only grab three pamphlets -- but surprisingly, two of the three are Marvels, and those are the ones I liked. I can't remember ever purchasing a 2:1 ratio of Marvel-DC in all my days of regular buying, and I have always leaned DC-ward, so this incident seems important. Especially since I liked the comics becasue they were fun.

Agents of Atlas No. 3: Lots of folks have been digging the gorilla and robot action going on in this series, but does anyone else love that it has a spaceman called Bob? The series continues with its alternately whimsical and action-packed story, and although there was a fairly extensive expository sequence filling in Bob's past (damn those continuity issues), the story wasn't slowed down very much. Cool stuff this time around:

A text page!
Jimmy Woo kung-fu in a skinny tie and shoulder holster!
Venus says "Whee!"
An Edsel!
M-11 shows "personality"!
Dumn-Dum Dugan, if only in text form!

And Gorilla-man is rapidly turning into Marvel's Sam Simeon:

This was just fun all the way around.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man No. 1: I remember an extended trip through Europe I took some years back. Whenever we chanced upon an English-language bookstore, I would buy the book that had the most words in it, since the prices were the same whether a book was short or long -- that way I got the most for my pesos or francs. I read a lot of Dickens and Thackeray that summer.

My first response to Ant-Man was similar: it has lots of panels. Aside from a two-page spread of the SHIELD helicarrier (that contains a Steranko hommage) and a pin-up of Wolverine, most of the pages in this comic are filled with lots and lots of little panels, which, I figured, would give me lots and lots of story and character interaction. I wasn't wrong.

Kirkman, Hester, and Parks bring to mind the best of Keith Giffen, both in the art, which is absolutely engaging and energetic, and which stylistically works well in the small-panel format, and in the story, which by turns presents the quotidian, the silly, and the fantastic elements of life within SHIELD equally well.

And the new Ant-Man suit is pretty boss, although it might need a user's manual:

The only issue I have - and this has been brought up by others - is that the lead is truly not very likable. I don't know how a series can be sustained without a lead that the readers will care about, but I'm interested enough to hang around for a while to find out. Besides, it had Dum-Dum, too!

Teen Titans No. 39: Okay, so I haven't read a Titans comic in about fifteen years. I picked this up only because I read that someone called Miss Martian or Martian Maid or Sailor Mars was in it, and I was curious to see how this related to the new J'onn J'onnz stuff.

I have to say, I was completely lost. I could figure out Zatara (talk about your unpleasant characters), and I'd heard of Kid Devil, but had no idea who that Bombshell metal woman was or where the girl-Deathstroke came from. And when did Vic Stone become eight feet tall? And isn't Tim Drake shorter and more compact, rather than looking like an Olympic swimmer? And for that matter, when did Robin go to an all-red suit? Man, I am out of the loop.

Anyway, it seems the Titans are taking a trip around the world to uncover a traitor or something, giving the reader a chance to meet some of the characters, I suppose. It didn't work for me. Most of the people I met in this story were unappealing, without any compensating sense of irony or fun; they really didn't seem to like each other much at all, and I wondered why I was hanging around with them.

The convoluted continuity was actually a barrier as well. I thought this Martian girl was a new character, but she's apparently an old roommate of Ravager, so now I'm not sure. I'm also not sure how to respond to her origin, which seems to make her a Martian version of Supergirl. The existence of a free fellow Martian should be pretty meaningful to J'onn and would be at cross-purposes to his latest series, wouldn't it? So what up?

And while the character herself (M'gann M'orzz, very cute) has some retro visual appeal, she's presented as a cutesy-pie teen, and then transforms into a grim, taloned, martiany monster with boobs. Neither characterization does much for me. As much as I'd like to see J'onn have his own spin-off, I don't think I'll be back for more Martian Girlhunter (as the ad for next month calls her).

So, has Marvel cornered the market on fun these days? Who'd'a thunk it? Maybe I'll look for that Ben Grimm series I've been hearing people talk about...


Wow, two of my favorite bloggers, Bully and The Fortress Keeper, are both hiatusizing at the same time! Whatever will we do?

I missed my weekend update, but that's not even news anymore, eh?

It's been a little busy. I wanted to post a review of an old comics-related movie, and that will come soon, but I wanted to share this first:

This The Best American Comics 2006, part of The Best American series from Houghton Mifflin (a la TBA Short Stories, TBA Mystery Stories, TBA Essays, &c.). It contains 30 selections, although the endnotes are titled 100 Distinguished Comics from January 2004 to August 2005, so I'll be interested in seeing exactly how it's structured.

I haven't had a chance to go through it yet, having just received it as a gift today. I read the part of the somewhat cranky introduction by world-class crank Harvey Pekar (who also selected the comics included) explaining why there's no superhero stuff in the book - it all sucks. Okay.

The creators included that I recognized immediately were Alison Bechdel, Joe Sacco, Chris Ware, Gilbert Shelton, Jessica Abel, Rick Geary, Lynda Barry, and Robert Crumb. Good company to be in.

When I have a chance, I'll scan some samples and provide more information, but I am looking forward to seeing how a mainstream anthology series will handle a project of this nature.

Best buys

In an attempt to focus a little bit, I thought I'd go over my recent purchases. I'm still figuring out what I want to spend my resources on; I think that the collections and paperbacks are winning... Anyway, I had a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble, and this is what it got me:

Making Comics: Scott's McLoud's latest does not disappoint. More how-to than the seminal Understanding Comics, it is nonetheless an engaging read for anyone interested in a formalist approach to comics. I'm already figuring out ways to incorporate it into a class. I teach rhetoric, and I'm all about the analysis of texts, both as an end in itself and and as a means to improving a creator's own texts. (I say texts instead of writing because although most of my teaching concerns traditional writing, many of the same methods can be used on visual and well as verbal artifacts.) This books provides a framework for developing an analytic framework and a useful vocabulary for understanding and explaining why some comics work, some don't, and some seem more successful than others. I am sure that this book will get as dog-eared and worn as any of my reference books.

The 9/11 Report- A Graphic Adaptation
: This would be a perfect artifact to study in the manner that I just addressed. This is an ambitious work: the translation of a formal government document, the official record of one of the most significant events in American history, into comics. I'll be looking forward to the studies of who reads it and how they respond and what difference the presentation makes in that response; I'm interested in taking the book apart to see how the authors did it: what choices Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon made in layout and transition, how they balanced the words and the pictures, and how (and if) they managed to maintain an appropriate tone.

So far, I have only given it a cursory read, and it seems pretty effective to me. Of course, this is an idiom with which I am familiar; it will be interesting to see how my non-comics-fan friends and colleagues respond. I haven't even begun to do a close reading and analysis yet, much less a side-by-side comparison of the prose version.

Daisy Cutter- The Last Train: I had a few bucks left on the card after those two purchases, so I picked this up:

The cover caught my attention, so I flipped through it for a minute just to make sure the interior art didn't hurt my eyes and then bought it without knowing anything about it at all. It turned out to be a steampunk western concerning the last job of the eponymous heroine, a semi-retired outlaw, and her ex-partner, now a lawman. Daisy takes an assignment to rob a train guarded by state-of-the-art security robots, and gets drawn into double-crosses and shoot-outs. The story is decent, with a few plot holes here and there; the main characters aren't quite as likable as they might have been, but overall that's a minor quibble; the world they move through is intriguing and well-crafted, and made me want to see more. Overall, it was a mighty satisfyin' ride, and I'll be looking for work from Kazu Kinuishi.

That last purchase taught me two things: The buy-without-knowledge game can really work sometimes, opening me up to books I might not have picked up if i thought about them. The second lesson is a confirmation: my decision to focus on TPBs and collections rather than singles might actually work for me. The $10.95 price on this "graphic novel" seemed about right; the chapters flowed and the piece felt like a unified whole. I'm not sure I would have been quite as satisfied with four $4 singles spaced out.

As far as singles go, I think I'm down to Agents of Atlas (#2 wasn't as much fun as #1, but I'll stick with it) and The Escapists (as long as Vaughn et al stay as experimentally clever with the art/story techniques as they have so far, and as long as "Omnigrip International" comes off less hokey and cliched than its name). Oh yeah, there's Wonder Woman, too, but that's coming out only every nine-and-a-half weeks or so, so it hardly counts as a regular purchase, eh?

So, on the shopping list for graphic books:

Alison Bechtel's Fun Home
Jessica Abel's La Perdita
Jaime Hernandez's Locas
Something called Byrd of Paradise
Something called The Venus Interface

And just so we haven't forsake all super-heroes, here the back-issue singles list:

All appearances of Orca
All appearances of Cir-El
All appearances of Squirrel Girl
Freedom Fighters 8 & 9 and Invaders 14 & 15 (see the last entry in this post for why)

More on this obscuriana to come.

Aarrrr, me hearties!

I wanted to post something for Talk-like-a-Pirate Day, especially since I didn't make my usual posting over the weekend (too busy teaching). It was hard digging out, but here's a picture of my favorite pirate, the Carib buccaneer from Adventure Comics in the seventies, Captain Fear:

Does anybody else remember him, fondly or otherwise? I imagine if I read the stuff again, it wouldn't be very good, but in 1972 or whatever I welcomed the change from the usual men-in-spandex (Adventure was trying out different kinds of series then, if I recall), and I just loves me some Walt Simonson art, so there it is.

This Simonson original art is on offer on e-Bay here. (I bid on it, but got outbid immediately.)

Bonus factoid: While looking around for stuff for this post, I found some evidence that Captain Fear might be the source of the pirates vs. ninjas trope! Check this out (scroll down a bit to Unknown Soldier #254). The year - 1981 - is certainly pre-internet, anyway. I may have to launch an investigation.

What's distracting Patricia?



Dave (originator)

Purchasing power

Okay, so I'm giving up on 52. I guess I'm just not interested enough in the latest reboot of the DCU to continue slogging through this uneven production. I'm sure there will be a few bits that I would have liked to have seen, but overall it's not really worth it to me. (There was a time when my completist tendencies would have overridden by boredom, but no more.)

So, what am I buying? Agents of Atlas, for the nostalgia factor. Wonder Woman, because I am resonating so much with it, because I think it is well-written in any case, and because it's absolutely gorgeous. The Escapists, for at least one more issue. That's about it.

Of course, I have a little notebook with TPBs and collections and new hardcovers that I want to pick up, and I think that's where I will be focusing my attention and resources more and more.

Which brings me to a question: Absolute New Frontier is coming out soon, and I am seriously debating with myself about buying it from Amazon at a good discount, or buying it from my local shop because they are so supportive and service-oriented, even if it costs more. Does anyone else find this a quandary, or is it just me?

Tangentially related

Good pal Ms. Macha just returned from living in Japan for a while and brought over some menko that she picked up at a flea market over there. I had never heard of these before; they are like baseball cards or pogs, but were apparently designed expressly for the purpose of playing the flip-and-keep type games that kids play with this stuff. These particular cards are supposedly pretty old and rare:

I don't know if there was much cross-pollination between menko and manga; looking at Wikipedia and a few other sites, it doesn't appear so. There is interesting art on some of the cards, but just as many display photographs, and it seems that all sorts of genres are represented.

These got me to thinking about collectible cards and comics. Other than the cards that came out during the Batman TV show in the sixties, I've never had any of those superhero cards (or any other comics-realted cards), and I wondered what kids did with them. Were there flip games with superhero cards, or were the cards so integral to the collector/speculator mentality that they were only put in little plastic cases and kept locked away forever? Was the interest in the cards really limited to acquisition only? (There's something called a chaser card, isn't there - and you have to buy lots of packs to get one?) I'm sure that no one ever attached these cards to the fork of their bike with a clothespin to get the br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-k noise as it flapped against the spokes, but did anyone ever do anything with them?

Potpourri for 300, Art

Hi! Welcome to the new Recreation Annex! I received an invitation to Blogger Beta, so the joint has been classed up a bit. You can see there's a new list in the sidebar - this new Blogger interface allows for labels on each post, so I have backfilled those. Now my hundreds scores dozens of loyal readers can sort prior posts by category. Yay, technology!

I also took this opportunity to add some more comix blog links. I figure that I should have just about everything from my Bloglines here, too, right? Thanks to all of you for providing me with so much entertainment and information. And an especial shout-out today to the Keeper over at Fortress of Fortitude, who I have found thinks a lot like I do, but posts a whole lot more.

There's some actual new content this week as well, so go ahead and scroll down.

I guess I'm a Wonder Woman fan now

Way back in the day, I think pre-COIE, a buddy and I were talking about Wonder Woman. Her magazine was pretty lackluster (I know that doesn't narrow down the timeframe much) and we were trying to figure out how to jumpstart the character a bit. I had this idea:

Diana quits being Wonder Woman. They have another contest or some other selection process on Paradise Island to find a replacement representative to Man's World. Another Amazon is picked (who looks enough like Diana that no licensing/merchandising opportunities are affected); she comes to the U.S., and before she assumes the star-spangled swimsuit, she does a bit of research/recon of her new country. She discovers that while it has a lot of problems, the principles for which it stands and the values upon which it was created resonate with her. So she dons the traditional costume to remind Americans of what they could -- and should -- be. This reconciled WW's patriotic affect with my own progressive attitudes and provided what I thought would be a fresh approach to the character

Okay, but what about the original? Well, taking a page from hew own past, Diana Prince would shuck the costume and become a freelance adventurer, maybe a P.I.; she travels around the world, trying to figure out her place in it after so many years of being a superhero. Still possessing Amazonian strength and skill, she would be a formidable character, but she would be hanging more with the non-powered types in the DCU - Johnny Double, Jason Bard, those guys. Maybe I Ching would even have a little comeback. I pictured Diana wearing mostly black: workout clothes, weightlifting gloves, running shoes, maybe with a grey sweatshirt over the top. I dug through my files and found what I think is a little sketch I made of her:

Maybe that little backstory will help explain why I loved Wonder Woman #2 and this panel in particular:

It's like my idea is coalescing, twenty years later, only with really good art and writing! Diana has given up being Wonder Woman, another woman has taken up that role, Diana is still adventuring but is teamed with a non-powered character (Nemesis), and I Ching makes a cameo (however ambiguous). She's even wearing black at the start of the comic. What a fanboy dream!

Actually, notwithstanding the tenuous connection I am trying to draw here, this is just a really good book. It hits just the right balance between seriousness and fun, is beautiful to look at, and is full of wonderful touches (like Giganta's necklace), and has a great last-page reveal (again!).

Yep, I'm a fan. I just hope I don't have to wait so long for #3.