Ridiculous Power Fantasies

Haha, remember when I was trying to add a new post every day here? It was hilarious, how soon that ran aground on my policy of “If you have nothing to say, don’t say it.” I talked about comic books quite a bit in those days. It being the Internet, I was of course told that such  posts were not very interesting, so would I please go back to making fun  of bad movies or bitching endlessly about my Hated Job. Well, I lost the Hated Job, blogging time was mostly taken up by job searching, and at least Bad Movies, like The Poor, will be with us always.

The new WordPressy version of the blog didn’t fare too much better. There was an “Okay, I can do this weekly” ethic for a while there, but honestly: I work hard to make my life as seamlessly uneventful as possible. I get my excitement from movies and literature, thank you. The idea of Real Life Adventure gives me hives. I do not travel well. I could go political – God knows there’s enough grist for that mill, particularly these days – but there are lots and lots of people doing that, and doing it well. Don’t want to be a part of that particular wall of noise.

Ideally, I should be talking about stuff that I know something about, and at this point, that’s a) bad movies; b) comics; c) the workings of city-level politics. The last would mean nothing to anyone not living in this burg; I do, and it’s boring as hell to me. I’m going to a small bad movie festival next weekend, so there will be some reportage about that. But right now, dammit, we are going to talk about funnybooks.

The latest thing causing nerd dismay is the reboot of most of DC’s title to #1 in September, a reboot that involves dropping years of continuity and skewing the characters to a younger, apparently grittier and meaner venue (I don’t think I’ve seen one smile on any of the preview art). All this seems to be tied in with the alternate-universe FLASHPOINT event, which is something I grew bored with and stopped reading one issue in. That the reboot does not seem universe-wide makes my head hurt. Sorting the signal from noise is daunting, and I suppose that, eventually, all my questions will be answered (like, what does this mean for Batman Inc?); but in my usual, selfish way, this reboot sucks if only for two reasons: It has meant the cancellation of Birds of Prey and Secret Six.

I believe Birds of Prey will be continuing, but without the guiding light of either writer Gail Simone or leader Oracle; in fact, a somehow-healed Barbara Gordon is returning to the role of Batgirl (and Simone is writing that), so… nah. Not excited.

Add to this the fact that I checked out a Gotham Central  trade from my library this week and am once again being blown away by the quality… and we have (finally) the subject of this week’s mental perambulations. Were I Straw Boss of the Universe, there are certain comic book series that would go on forever.

Firstly, you should know that, under this scenario, there would have been no more Superman comics published after All-Star Superman.

(Even if one of the reboot titles I’m actually looking forward to is Grant Morrison’s return to the character)

1) & 2) Birds of Prey and Secret Six – Oh, what a surprise, am I right? You have your typical comic book plots in both these titles, but the stories are, themselves, astoundingly character-driven. Team books live and die on the social dynamics of their members, and the nuances each individual brings to that dynamic. There was never any doubt that each character in these books was a different person, with different goals, strengths, and weaknesses. The books largely deal with legacy characters, and damned if Simone didn’t take a bunch of B and even C-listers and turn them into vital, engaging individuals. Secret Six is going to be especially missed, with its cast of misfits finding itself – much to its dismay – becoming a (somewhat still dysfunctional) family. The character of Bane, largely a joke since he snapped Batman’s spine in Knightfall, was revitalized as a major player in the book’s final arc. Birds of Prey was very much a rumination on friendship and camaraderie. Both of these titles deserved to go on forever.

3) Gotham Central – one of the poster children for This is why we can’t have nice things. Written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, this was a police procedural comic set in – obviously – Gotham City. The concept of everyday police work in a city with a metahuman population is a strong one – Powers remains one of my favorite books – and this series hits all the right notes. Batman is a fleetingly-seen figure, befitting his status as a near-urban legend, but his very existence casts a very large shadow over all proceedings. A large cast is well-handled, and the stories drive with all the power of a really good Law & Order episode. It was a major critical hit, but sales were never really there, and the Major Crimes Unit was dismantled during Infinite Crisis. This series deserved to go on forever.

4) Grimjack – I will brook no argument here. Grimjack was the finest comic book ever made by the hands of man. Imagine Raymond Chandler in a city where magic and science work (but not necessarily in the same time and place), where time and space travel are possible, and your protagonist – a world-weary, aging soldier of fortune – can find himself involved in any genre – including, memorably, a funny animal cartoon – and you have Grimjack. Writer John Ostrander seemed to make it a point to piss off readers every ten issues or so, but damn, the man can tell a story. Read it from the beginning and you find yourself enjoying a well-plotted novel that was cut off way too soon when publisher First Comics went under. Ostrander managed to bring it to an end of sorts, but he had plans far beyond we got. There have been a few new issues of Grimjack over the years, but these were all in prequel territory; I doubt we’re ever going to get to see Grimjack in Hell, or the Grimjack twins. This makes me sad, because Grimjack deserved to go on forever.

5) & 6) Nexus and The Badger – Two more casualties of First Comics’ implosion. Nexus, by writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rudewas Space Opera writ large; Space Ghost without the annoying teen-agers and space monkey. The title character, aka Horatio Hellpop, is granted almost unlimited power, but must – driven by life-threatening dreams – seek out and execute mass murderers and tyrants in the galaxy. Nexus’ origin was a mystery slowly teased out over the early series, then Hellpop abdicated his role and powers, leading to a series of substitute Nexuses (Nexii?) that drove the story. The cover pictured here is to the magazine-sized black-and-white premiere issue. I bought that first issue because of the Paul Gulacy cover, but was immediately won over by the script and Rude’s simply phenomenal use of zip-a-tone screens. I’m not kidding here, the man’s use of different layers of dots and dashes made the B&W art gorgeous. I was sad to see it turn to a color comic after three issues. The second or third issue of the magazine-sized series had a flexi-disc with an audio dramatization of the story, which was a pretty gutsy move.

The Badger, also written by Baron, took it’s ad slogan quite literally: “Put on a costume and fight crime? You’d have to be nuts!” Norbert Sykes is a martial artist and Viet Nam vet who suffers from multiple personality disorder. His dominant personality is The Badger, a costumed avenger who really likes beating up street thugs and people who mistreat animals (he can also talk to animals, it seems). The Badger stories were a lot more free-form and fun than the strait-laced Nexus stories, and both series had a large cast of interesting and engaging characters. Both series had limited series released about 2008-2009, but hey. They deserved to go on forever.

7) Savage Henry and 8 ) Those Annoying Post Brothers – The order of those two should be reversed, since Henry is a spin-off of Post Brothers, but I profess a greater love of Savage Henry, which actually rather surprises me. I first encountered Matt Howarth and his creations in Heavy Metal  magazine in the late 70s, during a period when I found the magazine actually readable, as opposed to “Gee, these are nice drawings of tits.” This was the serial Changes, which introduced Howarth’s world of reality-level-hopping denizens of Bugtown: the extremely formidable Ron and Russ Post, and their experimental rock group the Bulldaggers, which included in their line-up the real-life synthesist Conrad Schnitzler, and the Lord Cthulhu. Savage Henry was their guitarist, and had a series of his own, which guest-starred more actual musicians from our limited reality, like Wire, Moby, Clint Ruin and The Residents. These books were full of heady stuff, madman riffs, and actual, honest-to-god science fiction, which spun off into other Howarth series like Particle Dreams, Konny and Czu and Keif Llama, Xenotech. One of my prized possessions is a mini Howarth did in the day called The Mighty Virus, which is an alien comic book, translated into InterLac and as I recall, three other alien languages (none of which is English). Hell, go to Howarth’s site and give him money for stuff. It will be worth it. Needless to say, both series deserved to go on forever.

There are others – limited series that I loved but came to a planned end. I realize that in many of these cases, the creators have grown and gone on with their lives, and in some cases might not even want to go back to their babies. At least one other favorite from my old days – American Flagg, by Howard Chaykin? I looked in on it a few months ago. It has not aged well, with me. Could Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen have kept Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. going beyond its ten issues? I would have loved to find out.

A bright spot in all these ruminations is Starstruck, The Series That Will Not Go Away. Writer Elaine Lee and artist Michael Kaluta keep bringing it back,over and over again, expanding its universe a bit more every time, and thank God for that. Its wry science-fiction universe universe is a breath of fresh air every time. Dense, funny and literate, and I have loved Kaluta’s art forever.

Well, here we are, over 1700 words later. I have changed nothing, and now I need to go to lunch. Likely a good thing that I am not Straw Boss of the Universe.

1 Comment

  1. For what it’s worth Doc, I love the rambling about funny books. Bad movies of course we all love, and if politics are minimized, even better.
    (For example, I was trying to read the Batman Begins post at Comics Alliance before it degraded into calling the actors “Tory bastards”). Even when you fall on the same side as the writer, it’s distracting as hell.

    I remember the Post Brothers from an old Ninja Turtles crossover, good stuff.

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