Saturday, August 27, 2005

THINK ABOUT COMICS 3

by Patrick Markfort

Hey, folks. Welcome back to my weekly column here at Comics-And-More. I apologize if this is posted a bit late, as this week I got one of those….whadaya call ‘em…jobs. That’s right…..I’m blaming “The Man.” Anyway, let’s get down to it, shall we?

(Not So) Mini-Reviews (I guess I should mention that possible SPOILERS may lie ahead, although nothing of Hawkeye emerging from Cloak’s cloak level importance)

*Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, by Frederik L. Schodt: Okay, I haven’t actually finished reading this one yet, but I’m close. And it’s really good. This is the sequel to Schodt’s groundbreaking work, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, which I reviewed last week. Between the time of the first book’s publication and the publication of this 1996 sequel, manga (and anime) had gone from having almost no presence in the United States to becoming a real cultural force, although, as I said last week, nowhere near the publishing juggernaut we know today. Dreamland is primarily a survey of the then-current manga scene in Japan. I particularly liked the lengthy section featuring examples of manga magazines (a la Shonen Jump), as well as the section featuring particular artists and their work. Schodt does a really nice job of selecting interesting, mostly avant garde artists to focus on. I would be likely to pick up work by most of these creators based on the descriptions found in this book, although I believe most have still not been widely translated. There is also an entire chapter devoted to the life and career of the late, great Osamu Tezuka, which was very well done and, really, quite touching. I believe the last couple of chapters focus on the manga/anime connection and manga’s presence in the United States. While it may be overshadowed by the undeniable historic significance of its predecessor, Dreamland Japan is an exceptional and exceptionally important book in its own right, and should not be missed by those interested in the subject.

*Daredevil (vol.1) #12-19 by Stan Lee (with Dennis O’Neil on #18), John Romita, Jack Kirby, and Frank Giacoia: Good golly god damn, I enjoyed these comics! Thanks to Marvel’s “Essential” series of black and white reprints, I had the pleasure of reading this great run of issues by Lee and Romita, a duo better known for a collaboration which necessitated the brevity of this run, namely their work on The Amazing Spider-Man. I adore those Spider-Man comics, but this Daredevil run is nearly as good. We start of with a wonderfully loopy three-part adventure, wherein Matt Murdock (that’s Daredevil for those of you playing along at home), having temporarily left behind his life as a lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, embarks on an ocean cruise which is quickly interrupted by pirates. Yep, pirates. But not just any pirates, as these fellows are led by one Lord Parnival Plunder, brother of Tarzan wanabe and perennial B-lister Ka-Zar! The tale goes on to reveal Ka-Zar’s true origins, and involves lost medallions and espionage agents and all manner of high adventure, lovingly rendered by Jazzy John, over layouts by Jack Kirby (on parts one and two…Romita flies solo thereafter). After the Ka-Zar story, Matt returns to New York and to his angst filled supporting cast, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, for a showdown with the Ox, and then an exceptional two-parter co-starring Spider-Man. A funny subplot is introduced here, as Foggy attempts to lead Karen to believe he is Daredevil. This subplot is eventually resolved in the final two issues of the run, featuring the villainy of Gladiator and the Masked Marauder. I think John Romita and Stan Lee were both at their peaks here. They bring just as much game to these issues as they do to the Spider-Man comics, those being more fondly remembered simply for the extended length of that run and the fact that Daredevil really was something of a poor man’s Spider-Man at this point in his career. I really like the fun-loving, happy Daredevil, though. And, oh, the drama! With Matt and Foggy constantly mooning over Karen Page, it’s a wonder the three of them ever got any work done. Perhaps I should let Matt Murdock have the last word on this tortured love triangle, and the honor of closing this review, as your response to the following quotation should be a pretty good indicator of how you’re going to feel about these comics. Bring on the irony:

- “The one emotion my radar-sense can’t define is love! When it comes to Karen, I really am a blind man!”
~ Matt Murdock, Daredevil # 15


*Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1, by Brain Michael Bendis, Mark Brooks, Jaime Mendoza, and Scott Hanna, with colors by Dave Stewart: David already mentioned this, and my feelings pretty much match his, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. I really liked this issue, and I’m glad that Bendis went for it, by that I mean he actually allowed Peter and Kitty to get together, without concocting some lame excuse in order to preserve the status quo. I really like the idea of Kitty Pryde as a girlfriend for Peter Parker, as it makes perfect sense and finally throws a real wrinkle into the Peter/Mary Jane romance. I mean, Bendis writes teen soap opera like nobody’s business, but Peter and M.J. have been utterly devoted to each other since Ultimate Spider-Man #1, despite the on-again/off again nature of their relationship. I’m glad the potential for the kids to explore problems that don’t arrise directly as a result of Peter being Spider-Man now exists. Here’s hoping they don’t drop the ball on this one. I liked the mix of talking heads and superhero butt-kicking on display here, as well. I was a little disappointed with the art, as I felt Mark Brooks drawings were at times a bit stiff, and he drew Peter to “heroic” looking, at least compared to Mark Bagley’s great depiction of the character. I think the artwork mostly suffers in comparison to Bagley, in fact, and I kind of wished they’d gone with a more radical shift in style from the regular series as opposed to the “guy who kinda draws like Bagley but not quite as good” approach. Great colors by Dave Stewart, though. Fans of the regular series or folks who like good teen superhero comics will want to pick this up. That was kind of short, wasn’t it?


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Around the Internet

* I had considered highlighting some interesting items from the new Previews, but there are already plenty of folks doing that sort of thing much better than I could, namely David Ferraro with this month’s selections, and Chris Butcher, walking us through last month’s Previews. I really love reading Chris’ "Previews Review" as looking through the magazine itself often leaves me feeling a bit depressed, given the overwhelming amount of crap displayed therein. Chris’ column reminds me that the comics industry has a lot of really terrific things to offer every single month, and he inevitably catches things that I’ve missed or would otherwise not have considered purchasing. Keep up the good work, Chris!

* Speaking of reminding me about good comics, Tom Spurgeon provides a great service at The Comics Reporter by discussing “Eight Stories For The Rest Of 2005.” A new one each day until August 28th!

* Erik Larsen’s column at Comic Book Resources has been up and running for a few weeks now, and I especially enjoyed his comments this week concerning the great and greatly under appreciated Herb Trimpe, particularly his work on the Incredible Hulk. Reading Erik’s thoughts really made me appreciate Trimpe as an artist, and also really made me want Marvel to publish Essential Hulk vol. 4.
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You know, I was going to tell you all about a great idea I had for a new Marvel Comics anthology, but I think this column is beginning to run a little long, no? I mention it now as a reminder to myself to discuss it with you at a later date.

I have so much good stuff to read!! New Comics Journal!! Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha!!! Complete Dennis the Menace!!!! Two collections of Jack Kirby’s Captain America!! Other things I’m forgetting!! I love comics!!

Sorry about all of those exclamation points, I guess all of those old Stan Lee reprints are starting to affect me more than I’d realized.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back next week, and, as always, I encourage and welcome your comments.

~ Patrick Markfort
patmarkfort@yahoo.com

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