All posts by Don MacPherson

Artful Obsessions: Dollar Dazed

Comics writer and Astro City creator Kurt Busiek recently wrote in a Twitter thread that often, younger readers discovering comics typically choose a thicker one as their first foray into the medium. “Young readers may not know the characters well, or care about creators, but they understand ‘more,’” Busiek posted.

He’s absolutely right. My introduction to comics came in a hospital room, as I recovered from a broken arm as a kid. My brother and friends from across the street visited me and gave me three comics. The one that grabbed my attention was Batman Family #19. It offered more content, more characters, more stories, and I couldn’t get enough of these colorful crusaders and criminals. After that, when my mom would take me to corner stores to buy new comics, I gravitated toward DC titles to its Dollar Comics in particular.

It’s with that context in mind that I reveal a couple of the latest acquisitions in my original comic art collection.

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If This Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right

The Wrong Earth #1
Writers: Tom Peyer, Paul Constant & Grant Morrison
Artists: Jamal Igle & Juan Castro, Frank Cammuso and Rob Steen
Colors: Andy Troy and Frank Cammuso
Letters: Rob Steen and Frank Cammuso
Cover artist: Jamal Igle
Editor: Tom Peyer
Publisher: Ahoy Comics
Price: $3.99 US

When I was a kid first discovering comics through DC titles, I was mesmerized by the parallel earths concept. I couldn’t get enough of it, so much so it should really come as no surprise that Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of my favorite comics stories. With this new title, writer/editor Tom Peyer plays around with the idea of super-heroes and parallel worlds, and he does so to great effect. This isn’t the first time a lighter incarnation of am characters ventures into a darker world and vice versa, but Peyer’s effective collaboration with penciller Jamal Igle packs a particularly strong punch. Their commentary on disparate but iconic visions of the super-hero genre both pays tribute to the source material and takes them to task for their excesses. This is a great debut from a new publisher wise enough to tap experienced talent.

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Flowery Language With No Words

Petals hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Gustavo Borges
Colors: Cris Peter
Editor: Whitney Leopard
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Kaboom imprint
Price: $16.99 US/$20.99 CAN/12.99 UK

Poverty. Illness. Harsh weather. Isolation. These are all conditions that often bring out the worst in people, as fear and desperation can drive some to undertaken awful actions in the name survival. But there’s another path when faced with such hardships, and that’s the one down which writer/artist Gustavo Borges leads his readers in Petals. Published under Boom! Studios’ all-ages imprint, this American edition of a Brazilian comic will take you by surprise, but quietly. It’s an understated celebration of the human spirit, but more than that, it’s an exploration of the importance of community, of connection and of empathy.

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Flea-Market Finds: 1st Issue Special #11

Ist Issue Special #11
“Code Name: Assassin”
Writers: Gerry Conway & Steve Skeates
Pencils: Nestor Redondo & Frank Redondo
Inks: Al Milgrom
Cover artist: Mike Grell
Editors: Gerry Conway & Paul Levitz
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: 25 cents

1st Issue Special was an odd series from DC, featuring a different property — sometimes new, as was the case with this issue, and sometimes established — with every new issue. This particular issue was notably weird, as the execution is so clumsy. This vigilante anti-hero follows a lot of the archetypal elements that one finds in such characters, but this is such a watered-down version of a revenge story that it leaves the reader scratching his or her head by the end of this unfinished 1976 story. I was entertained as I read this issue, mind you, but only for the unintentional amusement of such awkward writing.

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Letter Bugs – Let’s Talk About Hex, Baby…

As I’ve noted in other recent features as of late, I’ve been delighting in deals on Bronze Age comics that have allowed me to flash back into comics history, and one thing I always check out in those decades-old back issues are the letters columns. While we still see the occasional letter-col in modern comics, those missives printed in the backs of pre-Internet publications strike me as being a little more special, given it requires greater effort and even a little expense for readers to offer feedback to comics editors.

Another reason I love perusing those old-school letter-cols is the names one finds occasionally at the bottoms of those letters. Case in point: the letter-col from Jonah Hex #63, published April 1982 (though cover dated August 1982)…

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Monster-al Cycle

Man-Eaters #1
Writer: Chelsea Cain
Artist: Kate Niemczyk
Colors: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Cover artist: Lia Miternique
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Before you venture further into this review, I have to note that my lack of familiarity with the subject matter of this comic book before I read it added immensely to my enjoyment of it. While I endeavor here to steer clear of spoilers whenever possible, my comments will no doubt detract from the writer’s efforts to keep the reader in the dark for the first half of the issue, and they’ll likely offer some hints at the twist later in the story. If you wish to avoid such information, just know that this comic is recommended, and come back and read what I have to say after you’ve had a chance to enjoy the issue for yourself.

Novelist and columnist Chelsea Cain’s brief foray into comics was noteworthy for how strongly her feminist themes resonated, both with a receptive audience and with a small but vocal opposition determined to ostracize women and minorities as lead characters and creators in genre fiction. Cain’s return to comics should generate a fair bit of attention, and for good reason. She delivers a playful bit of social satire here, building on feminist themes and exposing how a male-oriented society has transformed a completely natural and necessary bit of biology into a taboo subject. Women’s periods have long been off limits in many respects, to the point that many men have been completely in the dark about menstruation (including me, truth be told, for far too long). Here, Cain treats the notion of demonizing girls’ first periods quite literally, and the concept offers great potential for social commentary and a much-needed lampooning of outdated thinking.

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Leaving Money on the Table

DC’s move to launch its own streaming service, DC Universe, is both completely logical and rather surprising at the same time. Many corporations are scrambling to catch up with Netflix and other early-out-of-the-gate services, seeking to reap the huge rewards of producing original content and making its older material available online for fees. Furthermore, there’s money to be made from selling its original content later on to other media outfits and on home video. CBS jumped on board with its own effort, CBS All Access, last year, and Disney is reportedly developing its own streaming service. Whether these newer efforts will have staying power remains to be seen.

So when viewed in that context, it’s understandable that DC would embark upon a similar venture. It has a huge library of properties adapted for TV and movies upon which it can draw, and as Hollywood has known for years, its vast array of characters offers significant potential for new programming. Furthermore, DC knows there’s an online audience for its comics, and offering that reading experience as part of DC Universe is a logical extension of the digital content effort.

What’s surprising is that it’s DC, not its parent company Time Warner, that’s taking on such a project. It’s quiet ambitious for a comparatively small branch of the media giant to undertake such an endeavor.

But here’s what’s even more surprising about DC Universe: it doesn’t want my money.

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OK, I Might Have a Problem…

My local comics retailer is having a huge sale on its non-key back issues and bundles on comics, scaling up the discounts from week to week. I started thumbing through those long boxes at 50 per cent and got some great deals, but when the discounts hit 70 and 80 per cent, I was a man on a mission. I got everything you see here at those deep discounts, which means most of those Bronze Age goodies came in at well under a buck apiece.

I joked with the manager that he’s tormenting me and that the sale was merely a ploy to shift storage from the shop to my house. But at those discounts, who could possibly resist?

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Foreign Objectives

The Punisher #1
“World War Frank, Part One”
Writer: Matthew Rosenberg
Artist: Szymon Kudranski
Colors: Antonio Fabela
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Cory Petit
Cover artists: Greg Smallwood (regular)/Clayton Crain, Frank Cho, Mike Zeck & Salvador Larroca (variants)
Editor: Jake Thomas
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter online about how entertaining this latest relaunch of The Punisher is, so I decided to have a look despite a general disinterest in the character. While there’s a novel idea at the heart of the plot, with two super-villains trying to advance their agendas through a facade of legitimacy by way of international politics, writer Matthew Rosenberg’s take on the title character is much like those before it: the implausible single-mindedness of a vigilante who’s impossibly impervious to harm.

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Send in the B Squad

Suicide Squad Annual #1
“For the Wicked, No Rest”
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Ronan Cliquet
Colors: Jason Wright
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Paul Pelletier & Mick Gray
Editors: Katie Kubert & Mike Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

As a longtime fan of the Suicide Squad concept that John Ostrander introduced in the late 1980s, I was absolutely elated with this self-contained story. However, this was far from a perfect Suicide Squad comic, as it was highly inaccessible and featured interpretations of characters that really didn’t stay true to the characters’ histories. I was of two minds about this annual, but ultimately, I came away pleased. I hope that DC takes the same approach with future Suicide Squad annuals, using them to introduce alternate teams and to stay true to the dangerous and fatal appeal that its title would suggest.

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Flea-Market Finds: Avengers #194

Avengers #194
“Interlude”
Writer: David Michelinie
Pencils: George Pérez
Inks: Josef Rubinstein
Colors: Ben Sean
Letters: John Costanza
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: 40 cents

My local comic shop holds the occasional back-issue sale, and lately, it’s been bumping up the discount week by week. I reaped a Bronze Age bonanza at 70 per cent off, and this 1980 Avengers comic was among the treasures I snapped up. This is the first chapter in the storyline that introduced Taskmaster to the Marvel Universe, but he’s not seen here. As the title suggests, not much happens in this issue, but it’s a great spotlight of what sets the Avengers apart from other super-hero teams in the Marvel Universe and how important the interpersonal character dynamics were to the appeal of the property then and even today. It’s a well-balanced issue from a characterization perspective. But hey, it features vintage George Pérez art as his career was just beginning to ramp up — that’s all the reason I need to shell out less than a buck for a fun back issue.

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Trump Cards

Lil’ Donnie Vol. 1 hardcover comic-strip collection
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Mike Norton
Copy editor: Sean McKeever
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US

Man, Image Comics and cartoonist Mike Norton couldn’t have had better timing. While satire and political commentary by way of cartooning is always topical these days, never was such a biting send-up of the 45th President of the United States more relevant than it is the day after two criminals from his inner circle have been deemed guilty by the criminal justice system.

I’ve been following Lil’ Donnie online since Norton launched the strip a year and a half ago, so there wasn’t any material included in this print collection of the strip that I hadn’t seen before. But man, there were a lot of them about which I’d forgotten. Remember Sean Spicer? The glowing Saudi Arabian orb? These oddities don’t face because Norton’s humor and sharp criticisms aren’t memorable, but due to the sheer volume of political and cultural insanity that’s unfolded in the United States since the cartoonist undertook this labor of loathe.

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