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“…A Cascade Of Wasps Attacked the Furry Monster!” COMICS! Sometimes You Worry About The Men Who Made Them!

John Kane

That’s right I read some comics. Some of them were old and some of them were new and one of them wasn’t really a comic at all. But only one of them made me think it was a miracle anyone was actually conceived in the ’50s.

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Yes, paging Dr. Subtext! Outbreak of ’50s gynophobia! But then to nostalgic old fools like me ’50s gynophobia is arguably the finest gynophobia of all! Anyway, this…

THE SHAOLIN COWBOY ADVENTURE MAGAZINE #1
The Shaolin Cowboy in “The Way of No Way!” by Andrew Vachss and Geoff Darrow
Time Factor by Michael A. Black
Illustrations by Geoff Darrow and Gary Gianni
Designed by Peter Doherty
Cover by Scott Gustafson
Dark Horse Books, $15.99 (2012)
Shaolin Cowboy created by Geoff Darrow

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This isn’t a comic book, best get that straight right from the off. What it is is a loving evocation of the pulp magazines of the past. Peter Doherty has designed the book, and every page within it, to wilfully evoke those deceased progenitors of the super hero comic. He draws short at leaving the page edges untrimmed but other than that it’s a splendid piece of design work. The contents are very reminiscent of the old pulps too. I haven’t read a lot of those but what I have read of them they were largely shaggy dog stories told in very wordy way with the main draw being the charisma of the central character and the outlandish inventions deployed by the (often uncredited) authors to delay the ending.  Pulps were largely exercises in covering as much ground with as little material as possible (very much like certain comics from The Big Two. Ha ha! You Crazy!) but fought hard to be entertaining while doing so (unlike certain…Ha ha! Me passive aggressive!).

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So what you get here consists of pages of words punctuated by  a plenitude of Darrow’s hypnotically precise spot illustrations and a smattering of full page “Helpful Hints” where Shaolin Cowboy helpfully shows you how to switch on a toaster before e.g. tearing off someone’s nutsack with it. That’s the joke there and it’s the same joke every time but as with certain jokes the accumulative repetition somehow keeps it funny. Because that’s the thing about Shaolin Cowboy isn’t it? There aren’t a lot of jokes but what there are are good jokes. The best joke in the comics is appreciating the density of illustration used to enliven such meagre plots. The trick here is that Vachss and Darrow make the language serve the illustrative function but the joke remains, in essence because whole pages dense with text  are spent describing a scene only to have the scene change suddenly. More space is spent describing how the people Shaolin Cowboy is about to dispatch look than there is spent describing how they are dispatched. As with the comic the emphasis is on appearance rather than action. You will have to like words to like this one.

Darrow and Vachss have worked together before (Darrow did the covers for Vachss’ 1995 CROSS series at Dark Horse and worked on the 1993 ANOTHER CHANCE TO GET THINGS RIGHT g/n along with many other artists) but it’s surprising how well it works here given that change of emphasis from art to text. Vachss is a perfect choice for a pulp project like this. He’s an accomplished writer of fiction whose work tends to read like nothing so much as pulp filtered through a dark adapted eye. His Burke novels are pretty much What If  Doc Savage and his crew had all had terrible childhoods and now hunted sexual predators with absolutely no intention of rehabilitating them. Vachss is an imposing figure what with his designer suits, eye-patch and general stance that seems to declare that he has just dealt with something and it will never hurt anyone else again. He isn’t a dilettante either, just paddling in the waters of human atrocity for profit. This is from his bio in the back:

Andrew Vachss has been a federal investigator in sexually transmitted diseases, a social-services caseworker, and a labour organiser, and has directed a maximum-security prison for “aggressive-violent youth”. Now a lawyer in private practice, he represents children and youth exclusively.

This explains the references to the organisation PROTECT which crop up in the book and the no-nonsense message about kids and violence. Andrew Vachss makes Steve Ditko look indecisive is what I’m saying. I’m glad there is someone out there like Andrew Vachss, almost as glad as I am sorry that there is a need for people like him. But I can assure you that my rating is based entirely on the fact that I really enjoyed the book. It certainly isn’t fear of having my legs broken that makes me say it was VERY GOOD! Also, the Michael A. Black time travelling/dinosaurs short that brings up the rear of the book is pretty neat and will take you back to Sundays reading Ray Bradbury on the rug in front of the fire before you even knew the world contained kids less fortunate than you who needed things like PROTECT.

 

ALL STAR WESTERN#13
Jonah Hex: Art by Moritat, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, coloured by Mike Atiyeh and lettered by Rob Leigh.
Tomahawk!: Art and colour by Phil Winslade, written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and lettered by Rob Leigh.
DC Comics, $3.99 (2012)
Jonah Hex created by Tony DeZuniga and John Albano
Tomahawk created by Edmund Good and Joe Samachson

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This book gets worse and worse and it still sells more than it did when it was called JONAH HEX. But then it isn’t about Jonah Hex anymore is it? No,  it’s more like Jonah Hex And His Amazing Friends. Except they are far from amazing and, as he’s Jonah, they aren’t really his friends, so it’s more Jonah Hex And Some People Tolerating Each Other. Whatever I say about this book (and I’ll be saying some stuff alright) all that needs be done to refute me is to chuck back its sales figures in my angry biased jealous fan boy face. The guy doing the most work here is clearly Moritat and he does a far better job than the material requires. Look, this isn’t about Jonah Hex being “my” character and how I don’t like what they’ve done to him. It’s about bad comics. This one starts off with a clown killing a priest. He is killing the priest because he does not like priests because they fiddled with him when he was a kid. Jonah and his crew show up and notice the dead priest has had his face painted like a clown and someone says there’s a circus in town and, oh God, oh Jesus….it’s not exactly a fucking “two pipe problem” is it, Watson?

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And I’ve gone Holmes on you there because what this comic is also doing is bringing in fictional literary characters from the period the book is set in (at the minute we have Edward Hyde, y’know, from Little Dorrit.) I can only guess they are doing this because the constant shout-outs to DC super hero continuity aren’t stupid enough. I’ve got no beef with either man (I’m certainly not jealous(!)) but Palmiotti and Gray’s work comes down heavily on the commercial rather than the creative end of the see-saw. It beggars my mind why on earth they would seek to go toe to toe in the shared-world arena with Kim Newman, Philip Jose Farmer and that elderly Englishman we’ve all decided we hate (because although less than he was he still makes everyone else look bad).  In comparison this is just pantomime and Palmiotti and Gray look like they’be both not only turned up as the horse, but they’ve miscalculated further and they both came as the horses’ ass.  C’mon, the clock is ticking until Spring Heeled Jack shows up. After all some claim the murders ended because he sailed to The New World, how can they resist. Look forward to “It’s Saucy Jack, sir! He’s struck agin! Right under our very noses!” That should show FROM HELL up good and proper. Yeah, I know; but it sells more than ever – so I lose. I looOOooooOOOOOOooOOse! Look, something can be successful but still CRAP! It isn’t a critic’s job to tell you what’s selling – it’s their task to tell you whether something is any good or not and why. Sometimes elliptically. Sometimes irritatingly.

 

UNTOLD TALES OF THE PUNISHER MAX#5
Art by Mirko Colak (p) and Norman Lee & Rick Ketcham (i)
Written by Skottie Young
Coloured by Michele Rosenberg
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Marvel, $3.99 (2012)
The Punisher created by John romita Snr, Ross Andru and Gerry Conway

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There are many audacious things aout this comic written by the man who will, on this evidence, remain better known for his art on Marvel’s wonderful Oz books. First up is the fact that Young attempts to position FrankMax as some kind of homicidal homilist dispensing murder and maxims. That would be okay(ish) if this were FrankNorm but in the MAX (So uncompromising! So complex! (i.e. violent and cruel)) world it seems a bit…off. Like FrankMax’s taken one too many blows to the head and suddenly become simple minded or something. Don’t get me wrong it’s a good moral but I don’t know if the guy who (spoiler!) killed your Dad is the guy you’re going to listen to. No, put the phone down! Not your Dad; the Dad in the book. The Punisher didn’t kill your Dad! He isn’t real! No, The Punisher isn’t real, your Dad is. Look, you’re just doing it on purpose now.

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The other bold move is to have the issue basically centre around a high-stakes cat and mouse game revolving entirely around the making of cheese macaroni and, specifically, whether there is some cheese in the fridge! I won’t spoil it for you. No, not the cheese that’s okay it’s in the fridge. Or! Is! It!? I kind of liked that actually; it amused me. Young really stretches my credence to cracking point though when he suggests someone’s favourite movie could be Appollo 13. Hey, it’s a decent movie and it documents a thoroughly remarkable instance of insanely laudable human bravery and ingenuity no doubt, no doubt. But…favourite movie? Ever? Of all the movies you have ever seen? Okay, it might be crew members Lovell and Hise’s favourite movie (Swigert died before it was made but he’d probably have been mad keen on it too.) but this comic isn’t about them. I know all kids think their Dad’s taste in movies suck but c’mon. Even my Dad likes Reservoir Dogs (altho’, “There’s no real need for all that language, John.“, so spaketh he.) All this together with the unspectacular art makes the comic EH! And in the end the brassiest thing about the comic is that Marvel charged $3.99 for it. (You don’t even get a Free Digital Code!)

HAUNTED HORROR #1
Art by C.A. Winter, Bernard Baily, Mike Sekowsky & Bill Walton (attrib.), Jack Kirby & Joe Simon, Jack Cole and Jay Disbrow.
Reprints tales from WEIRD TERROR#1 (1952), THIS MAGAZINE IS HAUNTED#4 (1952), BAFFLING MYSTERIES#6 (1952), BLACK MAGIC#31 (1954), INTRIGUE #1 (1955) and CRIME DETECTOR #5 (1954)
Cover by Warren Kramer and Lee Elias
IDW/YOE Comics, $3.99 (2012)

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If you don’t think that that fine as wine cover is some kind of awesome then you best look away now because that’s the smoothest thing in this package. And what a package this is! A splatter of pre-Code horror comics from various sources and various artists that shores up the case for art being the decisive factor in a comic’s appeal. Because these sure ain’t some well written comics. Apart from the Simon & Kirby (S&K) tale none of the other contents even get a writer credit. I’m not really surprised either. These things are entertaining allright but probably not in the way the authors intended. If the authors even intended anything because back then people just wrote this stuff to eat and they had to write a lot of it and they had to write it fast. Intentions are a very modern affectation for comics writers, tha ken. The more sedate of these tales are written like the writer’s got his cock in a mangle and he’s just learned he’s late for a plane.They aren’t exactly coherent is what I’m saying there. But the best one is “Black Magic In A Slinky Gown” because it has an almost palpable revulsion for women and the dirty, dirty things they make men do with them. The author of this one is only saved from almost certain Sectioning by the addled and unfocused nature of the storytelling. Or maybe it makes it seem worse than it is; either way it’s hilarious. The kind of story you imagine being written by the kind of man who silently props up the bar surrounded by a circle of silence and goes home and the next time you hear about him it’s in the paper and it isn’t for winning the lottery.

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In a more commonly accepted sense of “best” it’s “Slaughter-House” which takes the prize. This is by S&K and is a real shocker. It’s f-in’ brutal!  A couple of battered Joes resist after the Earth has been conquered by ’50s style aliens and it’s all really unsettling. It’s as though limited as to what they could depict visually S&K snuck through the real horror in the text. Seriously, it’s basically got humanity being herded into killing pens and “…SLAUGHTERED like beef on the hoof!” With the wire and the guards and the mechanised death and the resistance and the Quislings and…you don’t need letters after your name to know what S&K are on about (World War 2, darlings. World War 2). It also contains the word “noggin” which automatically makes my day. The ending is uncharacteristically downbeat for Kirby (maybe it’s more Simon) but it’s weird to reflect that The King’s work appears more pessimistic before Marvel fucked him over than it does after. Because while this story apparently refutes it Jack Kirby, and I may have mentioned this before, never gave up on us.

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This is a VERY GOOD! package overall. Not just for nostalgia (because don’t you have to have experienced them first time round for that?) but also out of interest in what comics used to be like. Turns out they were the kind of thing that, had it been produced yesterday by people under thirty, would tickle the ‘nads of VICE readers as much as the sight of a pretty girl reading Infinite Jest opposite them on the subway. (Honestly, there’s some real Charles Burns/Dan Clowes look-a-likey stuff in here.) Also, for people who like their reprints just the way they were this book is for you, Brian Hibbs! It looks like someone just scanned the comics in and adjusted the contrast and so all you need is a Police Action in Korea, a corn dog and a cop on every corner for it be just like the good old days again!

Make Brian Hibbs smile like a child again by buying HAUNTED HORROR #1 from HERE.

And like the good old days – I’m gone!

Hope y’all had a good Thanksgiving and remembered to give thanks for COMICS!!!

11 Responses to “ “…A Cascade Of Wasps Attacked the Furry Monster!” COMICS! Sometimes You Worry About The Men Who Made Them! ”

  1. Not everything is about sales, John. The previous version of Jonah Hex may have been of the same quality and written by the same people, but it didn’t matter. Now that Hex is firmly in the DC Universe, their stories suddenly matter! This was also the problem with Hellblazer: it didn’t matter. And once the cast of Fables finally get with the program and join the shared universe, they can matter too! Good news Sonic Disruptors: there’s still hope for you!

    In my own life, I had little regard for Edward Hyde until the bearded fellow showed me he mattered by placing him in the same universe as Dr. Moreau and Captain Nemo. As in all things, I hate him for this.

  2. @Michael Hoskins: Firstly, thanks for suffering through those Archie SHADOW comics on your site. Now I will never want to. Cheers!

    Hey, that’s right! I always forget about the “mattering” thing. You’re spot on in that that’s actually really important to a lot of folk isn’t it? Good point, well made. (I didn’t mention it but the clown is from Haly’s Circus and guess which Circus The Flying Grayson’s performed in? That’s right.Oh. Dear. God.)

    Yeah, for myself I only read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyl & Mr Hyde because the wizardy one made Hyde so interesting in LOEG. What I found was a really tightly written novella I wouldn’t otherwise have bothered with. Broadening my horizons in this and many other areas is yet another reason to hate The Affable One! There can never be enough Hate for one who has given comics and its audience so much. Redouble your efforts, Michael Hoskins! We must not falter in our Hate!

    Cheers!

  3. Does it still matter if All-Star Western is the only DC universe comic you still get every month? It took me a while to realise the charms of Gray/Palmiotti’s Jonah Hex title, and All-Star was a great jumping-on point.

    I haven’t understood a lot of the tie-in things – like the owls or the crime bible or any of that crap – but I still think it’s a bloody entertaining comic, with some lovely art, and sharp little back-up stories.

    Mind you, I haven’t read number 13 yet.

  4. @Bob Temuka: Hey, if it’s working for ya, that’s a beautiful thing. I liked the solo book just fine (even if it went to the rape-well a bit too often for comfort) but this one…I dunno it’s like most of the Nu52; they feel more like sketches of stories rather than actual stories. Nothing has any weight and there’s a premium on sensationalism with a lack of care on the execution.

    I like all the things in ALL STAR WESTERN, I’m no humourless prune face in a buckle hat by any means, but I don’t like how they are done, I guess. Killer clowns, sure but (actual text on page:) “Stabby! Stabby! Stabiieeee!”, no.

    I hear ya about the back ups but I kind of want to like them more than I end up doing; they just kind of sit there and only the art really stands out. I mean it is super-nice to see an artist so difficult to place in the tights’n’fights genre as Phil Winslade get a regular gig. Maybe you’ll enjoy #13 more than me; I’m pretty sure you’ll like Winslade’s work on the back up, it’s pretty good stuff.

    Cheers, sir!

  5. Was there not a period in which “stabby’ was Warren Ellis’ favorite adjective on his blog and suchplaces, because it’s funny and because Ellis is Dark and Grumpy? Maybe that period is still now, I dunno. Regardless, if I hadn’t jumped off the A*W train a month or so back (after hanging on so long over that Moritat art), I believe I’d surely hate myself for having bought this issue.

  6. @BriamMc: That period is Forever! (I don’t actualy know; I’m not the biggest Warren Ellis fan by any stretch.) Well A*W (I see what you did there!) isn’t bad enough to hate yourself for buying it. But it is a bad enough comic to hate the Northampton Necromancer for! But then again…aren’t they all!

    Cheers, sir!

  7. @John

    I was writing this big comment earlier, but then my laptop totally went blue screen and I weeped….The Northhampton Necromancer nickname made me laugh, though. So, it was kinda karmic balance.

    The line about Moriart doing a far better job than the work required is very easy to believe. It’s a shame he’s doing great work on a book that doesn’t sell too well. But whatever, Palmioti is slimy, so it’s hard for me to cry too hard.

    Oh, and as for Jonah Hex running into Jack the Ripper eventually, I don’t blame Moore for being paranoid about DC reusing all his ideas. I mean, there’s a Before Watchmen book about the guy who died getting his cape stuck in a door. But, this could be DC looking at the recent trend of mashing real people with fantasy stories a la Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. DC…they’re what happens when your creepy uncle tries to be cool with the kids.

    I was too depressed to read your review of Young’s Punnisher book. I love the Oz books! Don’t take that away from me!

    I’m sure I had some other very boring things to say, but they don’t come to mind.

  8. Frankly I think Hex vs the Ripper in the west would be more interesting then Hex firmly entrenched in the New52. There are some horror novels who did this already, what is another version?

    Of course John is right, you can´t argue against sales. For every reader not buying this book any longer like me there seem to be a couple of new ones now that the book “matters” because it is firmly connected to the DCU. Good for DC. So who cares if the book is met with – I guess – well grounded criticism?

    I also am convinced that new and “improved” Hellblazer will sell 4 times the numbers he did at Vertigo. If a truly terrible book like Phantom Stranger did this, he will too.

    Contentwise this has become the age of sameness at the Big Two, there is no longer a place for books doing their own things. Personally this marketing philosophy doesn´t interest me as a reader and for the first time in ages I don´t buy Marvel or DC any longer. The only sad thing – for me – is that one could sit out such periods where the perceived quality dipped or there came artist/writers-teams on board one didn´t like. Chances were that this would change. This is no longer the case in the perpetual crossover or universe driven age of constant rebooting. Indeed different times.

  9. @Chris Hero: Laptop? Blue screen? I had you pegged as an iPad guy! Tsk! Jimmy The P’ll get you back for that in The Beat’s comments you know! Y’know, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that a good Dollar Bill comic could be done (the Hairy Hate Magnet for one has done more with less) but I don’t think this’ll be it. Darwyn Cooke, Eduardo Risso and now Steve Rude! And yet I STILL pour scorn on your money grubbing antics, DC Comics! Scorn!

    I forgot about the current trend for mash-up as I am old and tired, so the zeitgeist can get along without me – I appreciate you pointing that out as it makes more sense. If I have depressed you then my work here is done! Those Oz books are great – just ignore UTOTPUNMAX. Give over on the boring!

    Always a pleasure and never a chore, sir.

    @AndyD: Oh, I’m not advocating a moratorium on Ripper-fic! Ellison, Bloch, Newman and Eddie Campbell (with that sorcerous scapegrace!)to name but a few have all done good stuff with it. It’s just the tedious inevitability of the mashing uppery and the flat delivery of it all. I think Edward Hyde’s in DARK AVENGERS at the moment but I also think Jeff Parker will be making that work far better. Because (he segued silkily) there are still good writers at The Big Two (Parker, Gillen, Fisch, Giffen, er, um, ah… ) they just don’t get the play they deserve.

    To be fair though, the companies and I (Oooo! Formal!) are working at cross purposes. There’s a fundamental incompatibility in the requirements I and comic creators have. I want good comics but they aren’t actually employed to create good comics; their job is to make comics that sell. In interviews they’ll always stress the creative aspects of their work while almost completely ignoring the commercial requirements it must fulfil. In the “mainstream” they act as short order cooks but present themselves as chefs because that flatters both themselves and their audience. I understand that but this confuses the issue no end. Its apples and oranges, mateys.

    In case anyone thinks I am being unnecessarily hard on the creative wallahs let me just say this: “My job is to sell comics.” is pretty much the standard answer given to the question “What do you do?” by…Howard Victor Chaykin. And you know how I am about HVC (I think he’s okay). So, in closing; the commercial doesn’t have to preclude the creative but, understandably, it usually does and largely to the detriment of my satisfaction. A lack of satisfaction I then communicate. Badly.

    Sorry, got a bit off track there. I’m sure you are correctaroonie and HELLBLAZER in the DCU will sell more but, no, it’ll have nothing to do with quality. Did Phantom Stranger sell well? Holy socks! I blame Brian Hibbs for being so equivocal in his reviews of it! I agree with your splendid point that at the Big 2 it’s now deeper than not just liking certain creators anymore; there’s a deep seated corporate attitude/editorial direction that is just of no interest to me. Hey ho!

    Cheers, sir!

  10. I’m praying for a Sonic Disrupters/Hackers/Hammerlocke crossover.

    – Gary

  11. Like they said in Left4Dead2, Gary:

    “Pray Harder. PRAY HARDER!”

    (Also, I had to look Hammerlocke up.)

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