I’m on a personal quest to discover which comics are still relevant to me today. I’ve loved the form my entire life–particularly the super-hero genre. Over the years, I’ve fallen away from the super-heroes; barbarian phase, independent phase, Vertigo phase, adult phase, and back around to super-heroes again. DC’s New 52 pulled me strongly back into the colorful tights, but every month, I tend to drop a couple more–replacing them with something a bit different.

So, gentle readers, today I’m going to chat with you about a little bit of this and a little bit of that. A little bit of this was The New Deadwardians, a book I really hoped to like–Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have provided me with some fine entertainment with Marvel’s cosmic books, and this one was written by the former. As an alternate universe period piece (along the lines of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies), this is a successful read. However, it’s not for me. As much as I enjoy a good undead yarn, this one reads a little dry for my tastes. For a book that borrows from multiple sources, it’s an original take–I just prefer my monsters a little less cultured.

Now for a little bit of that. I’ve always had a fondness for the Teen Titans–some of the earliest comics I ever read were Nick Cardy reprints in Brave And The Bold. The Marv Wolfman/George Perez ’80s update was one of my favorite books for years (mullets and disco Nightwing notwithstanding). I’ve even enjoyed some of the darker takes on the sidekick genre. For example, Rick Veitch’s Bratpack was an incredible bit of deconstructionist writing. Well, Image comics just published a great new take on the sidekick super-team called Danger Club. It feels kind of like a dark DC universe, where all the adult supers are gone, and Robin and Superboy are duking it out in the mother of all slugfests. You thought Batman laid the royal beat-down on Superman in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns? Man, this Kid Vigilante (Robin) tops him in sheer brutality… Big fun, but I wouldn’t hand this teen sidekick book to your kids!

Love it or hate it, the new John Carter movie has spawned a lot of contemporary conversation about the books, comics, illustrations, fanzines–everyone has an opinion!

My first exposure to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian tales was in the third or fourth grade. My parents got me one of the editions with the wicked cool Michael Whelan covers. I was hooked from the first page. Burroughs is best known for creating Tarzan of the Apes–another fantastic work–but I’ve always been partial to John Carter of Mars.

My first comics exposure to the property was Marvel’s adaptation. Written by Marv Wolfman in 1977, it sported artwork from Gil Kane, Dave Cockrum, Frank Miller, Rudy Nebres, and a bunch of others that I misremember. I didn’t discover it until years later, and I obsessively tracked down all 28 issues and the annuals. So obsessive was my hunt that I think I’ve purchased the entire series a couple of times over (thank the gods of Mars for dollar bins at most conventions). I’ve been tempted to pick up Marvel’s trade paperback collection, but I love the old comics so much that I don’t think I need yet another copy just ‘cuz it’s in a new format. Now you, gentle readers, you need this book. If you haven’t read this, you’re in for a treat. It’s soooo friggin’ much fun!

Years later, I would discover that DC Comics had done it’s won John Carter adaptations. Yes, I had to chase down all the Weird Worlds issues as well as the Tarzan Family issues (if memory serves, that’s where most, if not all, of DC’s John Carter comics were presented). Other comic publishers took a hand at the hero before DC, but I’ve only seen a smattering of them, and they don’t immediately appeal to me, so I haven’t been motivated to pick them up.

What’s this have to do with today? Well, Dynamite Entertainment is doing new John Carter adaptations, as is Marvel. I’m not sure how they’re able to do this–it’s rare for 2 competing companies to have the rights to the trademark at the same time. As I understand it, the books are now in the public domain (therefore copyright free), but the characters and the universe are trademarked and controlled by the Burroughs estate. So I really enjoyed Dynamite’s adaptation of the first book, even though it felt a bit fetishistic. I’m all about hot nekkid wimmens, but the art just seemed too, ummmm, nude for what could be considered juvenile fiction. I keep buying the books, as they really are well-presented and well-written. The art isn’t consistent across the books, but it’s serviceable. I’m not sure I like the updated contemporary jargon being written into recent issues, but I can occasionally be accused of being “that crotchety old guy” when it comes to my comics. I won’t go overmuch into the Dejah Thoris series from Dynamite. The artwork was actually a bit too reminiscent of Frank Cho’s work, but without the painstaking attention to anatomy–so it felt a bit derivative, but still pretty to look at. My biggest problem was actually that Dejah Thoris was running around the friggin’ arctic circle of Mars in teeny-tiny breastplates and a loincloth. Occasionally she had a fur around her shoulders, but it was pretty ridic.

The breakout for me has been Marvel’s latest incarnation of the comics. The movie prequel was a little lame, but the two series are fantastic! The artwork on A Princess Of Mars was downright cool! I just finished book one of the more recent series, and I loved it! I hope they’re selling well enough to continue.

And, for the record, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I’m not going to try to tell you that it’s technically a “good” film–it’s not going to win any awards for the script or dialog–but it’s awesome big fun. I think it suffered from the Disney label. It was neither light enough to be an all-ages film, nor dark enough to be a grown-up film. I hope it does well enough in DVD sales/rentals to spawn a sequel–or at least some more Edgar Rice Burroughs movie adaptations…

Ka-Zar Meets Calvin

What does this drawing communicate to you? Do you find it overly concerned with the geo-eco-political ramifications of humanity’s obsession with plundering and squandering the natural resources of the world? Does it evoke feelings of despair and disgust at the exploitation of the 3rd world?

What I hoped to accomplish with this mashup is a sense of pure, unadulterated fun. This is what the characters of Calvin and Hobbes have been for me. This is also pretty much what the characters of Ka-Zar and Zabu have been for me. C’mon, he’s pretty much Tarzan with a pet Sabre-Tooth who fights dinosaurs with an uber-hot, furkini-clad girlfriend! I won’t belabor the history of Ka-zar–you have Wikipedia for that. Suffice it to say you’ll find such artists as John Buscema, Brent Anderson, and Andy Kubert associated with the book. A couple of my favorite writers have also worked on these romping jungle adventures as well–Mark Waid and Roy Thomas.

Which brings us to the point of this rambling article… the latest incarnation of the Ka-Zar in the Savage Land. Paul Jenkins is a capable writer, and puts together a well-crafted story, with great sensitivity and nicely observed characters. I’ve never seen Pascal Alixe’s pencils before, but he’s a fantastic artist, capable of rendering jungle goodness along with real human emotion.

Sigh, but how was Marvel able to suck every ounce of fun out of this character? Roxxon Oil, along with a variety of multi-national corporate entities, is poised on the brink of bringing total ecological apocalypse to the Savage Land. Are you yawning yet? Not to mention, with an artist so well-versed with human anatomy, there isn’t a single bit of gratuitous pinup imagery of Shanna, the She-Devil. She’s a dutiful mother and dedicated partner in this fight agains the evils of corporate America.

I won’t go much further into it, as I prefer to let folks enjoy their own emotional and intellectual reactions to the comics they read each week. Plus, I think it’s easy to be negative in the online world, and I’m striving for some kind of balance in these reviews…

So, in my humble opinion, this series is well-written, sensitive, well-drawn (sometimes beautifully drawn), and dare I say “important” in today’s world of dwindling resources and rampant greed and consumerism. However, I don’t personally like to read about how crappy the world has gotten. Comics are about escapism to me–I prefer to be whisked away to a wonderland of super-heroes and jungle gods, where women are beautiful and powerful, and men beat the crap out of the bad guys by the end of the book. If you gentle readers have given this series a chance, let me know what you thought.

I thought I’d take a moment to take about Mike Allred, master cartoonist and all-around jazzy guy. He’s working on I, Zombie over at DC/Vertigo these days–probably the niftiest zombie comic ever.

I was first exposed to his work many years ago, on a book called Dead Air–crudely drawn (as compared to what he’s capable of these days). He did a few other projects for Slave Labor and Tundra, if memory serves me, but I became a huge fan of his on Madman–a book that taught me a lot about cartooning and comics–well-written, wonderfully paced, and just wicked cool. If you haven’t read it, go get yourself a few of the collections today. He did some gorgeous work on X-Force and X-Statix for Marvel–bringing a quirky sensibility to mutant franchise.

He lost me for awhile, when he followed his passion to The Golden Plate (a comic adaptation of the Book of Mormon). I don’t have anything against the Mormons–I just strongly dislike any kind of religion in my comics (unless it’s treated as part of the fiction of the form). I should momentarily digress to say that my one exception to that rule was the amazing Nestor Redondo adaptation of the Old Testament published in Treasury format from DC comics in the 70s. I’m not a fan of the subject matter, but Redondo was such a master, that I was stunned by the book.

Anyway, so Allred has regained my support with I, Zombie. It’s well-written, groovy, nifty, ginchy, and an all-around fun read. You won’t be disappointed. And if you’re still in the mood for stories of living dead girls, I recommend Rachel Rising from Terry Moore–the pacing and dialog of Strangers In Paradise, but with a great sci-fi/horror feel. But, I’ll save that discussion for another day…

So I keep vacillating between love and lovenot for the new 52 titles. I love the fact that DC is revamping their entire universe–well as long as it’s permanent, that is. I’m a little concerned that in Legion of Super Heroes, they refer to this as the “52 Event” in the timestream. Is the new 52 a sales ploy? Of course. But I really WANT it to be more than that.

You know what I love about the new 52? Pretty much all the dark, Vertigo-like titles and tie-ins. Loving Justice League Dark (go Shade), Digging Demon Knights, groovin’ on Deadman (with some caveats that I’ll get into in a later post), and think that the new I Vampire is the shiznit.

I have some small bit of nostalgia for the old I Vampire stories in the 80s, even though none of them really stood out to me. This is a fantastic update of the character–and really has the feel of a Vertigo title, but in the mainstream universe. Like all the classics, this one’s a love story–a dark, twisted, obsessive, painful, blood-filled, vengeful love story–y’know, the best kind. Our “hero” turned the woman he loves into a fellow vampire some centuries back, but when she goes vamp, she doesn’t maintain the same good intentions he seems to appreciate. Hilarity ensues. Wait, that’s a different book. I mean, honking insane body count ensues. Good stuff.

My only real gripe with the comic is a gripe that I have with a lot of contemporary comics. At times, the art is so slavishly dependent on photo reference that it looks traced. However, the storytelling is tight and appropriate–and serves the plot well. It’s a groovy book–go get one.

Moving on to some quick reviews. I’ve heard some complaints about Savage Hawkman. Other than a rather odd handling of the “science” of Nth Metal, I was pretty entertained by the book–particularly the savage artwork–which feels both traditional and digital. Kind of a dumb name for a super villain, though…

Dark Knight #1 was fun and nicely showcases David Finch’s always aesthetically pleasing artwork. I continue to be somewhat offended by the rampant sexism in today’s 52–a proud contemporary tradition in the new DC universe. Bruce Wayne seems to be surrounded by oversexed pining 20-somethings whenever he’s out of the bat-suit–and his new girlfriend shops at the same stores as Paris Hilton. Sigh, at least it’s well-drawn.

Stay tuned, gentle readers-more review happiness to come…