Many Happy Returns
Licensable Bear segments:
Writer/Greytones/Letters: Nat Gertler
Artists: Rusty Haller & Ryan Estrada
Greytones: Nat Gertler & Ryan Estrada
“Too Rich To Be Guilty – A Crossfire Tale”
Writer/Greytones: Mark Evanier
Artist: Dan Spiegel
Letters: Thom Zahler
“Perry Had a Pimple”
Writer: Haywood Banks
Artist: Rusty Haller
Writer/Artist: Daniel Schneider
“Clawface – A Journey Tale”
Writer/Artist: Bill Messner-Loebs
Cover artists: Dan Spiegle & Bill Messner-Loebs
Publisher: About Comics
Price: $3.99 US
This book derives its title mainly from the fact that it returns a couple of important small-press, creator-owned properties that garnered a fair bit of attention in the industry in the 1980s. I’d read a couple of Crossfire comics in the past, but I’d only ever heard of Bill Messner-Loebs’s Journey, featuring a very different kind of Wolverine as the protagonist. For introducing me to the latter, Many Happy Returns scores a lot of brownie points, and I’m pleased to see we’ll be seeing more of Journey in the form of trade-paperback reprints from IDW Publishing. The other point of this independent comics anthology seems to be a celebration of the diversity of material available in the marketplace. Even though the material here is rather disparate, Nat Gertler and About Comics have assembled an entertaining book that offers great value for the customer’s cash.
The opening story, set in a real comic-book shop in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, of all places, demonstrates the strength of the Licensable Bear concept. Gertler’s unforgiving but cute look at corporate greed, irresponsibility and ignorance is a lot of fun, but I suspect it’s at its most effective in short bursts like the ones in this book. Even more impressive is the cartooning of Rusty Haller. His thick-lined work is expressive and effective, and it boasts a pleasing Hanna-Barbera animation influence. It’s also successful in bringing the scope of Haywood Banks’s pimple epic to life, but the low-brow humor fails to sustain my interest for all that long.
Evanier’s Crossfire plot and script have all the subtlety of an atomic bomb, but the story of a celebrity murder case is nevertheless entertaining. Though purportedly constructed like something of a crime investigation story, it’s really a loud commentary about inequities in justice. Evanier’s points are obvious ones, so the story is diverting but not terribly challenging or enlightening. Dan Spiegle’s art is far too rare a sight these days, though, and it’s a treat to see it again. I remember his work on such 1980s titles as The Brave and the Bold, Action Comics Weekly and Blackhawk, and his distinct style is quite effective at more down-to-earth fare such as this short story.
The only real disappointment in the book is the war-story satire from Daniel Schneider. General Chatters is a parrot commanding soldiers in Vietnam, and rather than amusing, the concept is annoying. Schneider’s amateurish artwork is out of place in this book, which is otherwise crafted by skilled, experienced creators.
Messner-Loebs’s Wolverine McAlister story is the standout of the anthology. It’s interesting to see how he introduces us to his hero by focusing on a villain. The narration is deliciously colorful, and I love how the writer brings out his hero’s thick accent. It’s a really unexpected kind of story. Plenty of humor, a promise of a violent conflict and then an unusual twist of an ending. Messner-Loebs’s art is full of so much personality as well. Sharp, exaggerated character designs grab the eye, and the overall look of the segment embraces a mix of history and fable. The overall style actually reminds me a bit of Mike (The Stardust Kid) Ploog’s recent work. Another welcome aspect of this story, and the Crossfire piece, is its accessibility. One needn’t be up on one’s comics lore to appreciate and enjoy these stories. 7/10