Nightmares Illustrated 002
I am running a little late this month. Thanks for waiting. My excuse is I was traveling all of December and therefore got behind for January. Cry me a river, right? The upside is, since I was on the jog, I had to make use of a portable form of illustrated fiction which gave me the idea for this month’s editorial.
As usual, I have far too much good material to cover so I can only sort through and see what is most interesting. Let’s get to it.
I. Always On My Mind…
As far as comics go, I am much more a reader than a collector. There are a couple of series I do collect (it is a secret which ones) but none of them are expensive and I don’t care if they go up or down in value. I just like having them around because I like to read them. Sometimes I don’t even read them, I just look at the artwork. So it boarders on the tragic for me that older comics I like are prohibitively expensive. Suppose you want to read the first 50 issues or so of The Incredible Hulk. You better have a big bank account. Sometimes the issues are collected in books but you are still looking at big bucks if you want to read very much because the per issue cost is between two and three dollars. The bigger problem with reprint editions is availability. As many books as are available, hundreds and thousands of comics have not been reprinted. One inexpensive alternative is black and white only reprints. Both major comics publisher have reprint book series collecting long runs of many titles printed on cheap paper. These cost between fifteen and twenty dollars usually and are about five hundred pages long. But they are in black and white and most of the collected comics were originally published in color. It is a bit of a bummer reading comics that way. I do buy them when there is no other reasonable choice but I don’t like them much. The line art is there and to some extent the shading, and of course you get the story. It is better than nothing.
A format that has a great deal of potential to solve the availability and expensiveness problems is digital comics. A few years ago Marvel licensed about a dozen of its properties for release on DVD in digital format. They were only available for a year or so before Marvel decided to try another form of delivery [more on that in a second] but while they lasted they offered an amazing opportunity. For fifty dollars or less, you could buy the entire run of The Amazing Spider-man or The Incredible Hulk or The Fantastic Four on DVD. We’re talking 500+ issues for fifty bucks. And the comics were reproduced in Adobe PDF format so you could copy them right on to any computer and read them at you leisure. I’d rather have a book in my hand in most cases but the portability of digital comics delivered this way was an enormous advantage. The resolution was not stunning but not bad either and on my computer screen viewed two pages at a time was approximately the same size as the original comic, and they were in color. I thought to myself at the time (as I was buying every single DVD released whether I was a big fan of the particular comic or not) that Marvel is crazy for doing this because people are just going to copy these and pass them around. Maybe Marvel realized the risk to its intellectual property and that is why the distribution licenses were not renewed. I don’t know about that. But I will say this: if you see them used somewhere buy ’em quick. I am sitting in Mysore, India writing this and I have with me on my laptop about 6,000 comics I can call up any time and read. It is great. I love digital comics on DVD. They are cheap, in full color, and they are very portable. But that party is over.
A slightly less accessible version of digital delivery is in place right now from several publishers is internet streaming of comics. Let’s use the Marvel example again. For a flat fee of $59.88 you can buy a year’s worth of unlimited access to thousands of Marvel comics. Depending on how much you can read in a year, this is a very good deal. Of course, there are a couple of drawbacks. You have to have a live internet connection because the content is streamed (read using a special viewer from Marvel’s website) and you cannot save the files to view later. If you are on an airplane, this doesn’t work. Even at home it is a bit of a pain, especially compared to the PDF version. A bigger problem is that, while Marvel has made thousands of comics available and ads more every day, there are still huge omissions and very few complete runs. In the limit of time this situation will be (theoretically) resolved, but right now it is a buzz kill if the comic you have been looking for has not yet been digitized. Also, Marvel embargoes content for a year or more in some cases so you cannot read current comics (although there are a few digital-only comics you cannot read anywhere else). Even with all these issues, it is nevertheless worth giving the program a try. If the price is too high, there is a month-by month plan. For my part, there are at least a year’s worth of comics posted now that I have not read so I fell like I am getting my money’s worth. And there are new ones posted all the time.
Marvel definitely has the biggest program going but many other publishers offer digital comics. DC Comics offers free digital samples you can download, and Image streams first issues for free. IDW sells digital comics one at a time for reasonable prices. And there are many other outlets that a quick net search will reveal. For example, both IDW and Darkhorse have content for iTunes/iPhone.
All these developments I see as promising. The prices aren’t bad. What I want is easier access, greater availability, and higher resolution. If publishers can work these issues out then I am on board all the way.
II. This Just In…
Vampirella Second Coming. Vampirism has always been a sexually charged concept. You don’t have to look at it that way, but it is awfully easy to. Biting, blood, consuming and exchanging fluids. Yes indeed. It can be very sexual. Presentations of vampirism, however, vary enormously in their sexiness. For example, I was watching the second season of HBO’s True Blood last night (forget about the Charlaine Harris source material for the time being and think about the TV show). There is a scene where Bill [vampire] is having sex with Sookie [mortal, mostly] and he bites her neck. She is clearly in pain and aroused at the same time. Then, Bill kisses her and her blood pours from his mouth into hers. Sookie really seems to be into this, I can tell you. Thing is, to me it is not sexy at all. It was for Sookie, but watching it was kind of gross. It is probably just a personal thing, right? Different people like different things. Not all things vampire are sexy to all people. Which brings me to Vampirella who is, bar none, the sexiest character in all of comics. Let the argument begin.
Meanwhile, I will continue.
The newest four-issue mini-series from the sexiest character in all of comics is Vampirella The Second Coming: Book 1 The Curse of Vampirella. Written by Phil Hester and illustrated Daniel Sampere, Al Rio, and Romulo Fajardo, this new adventure is a little slow getting going but ultimately it is delightfully grisly and hyper-violent. There is a virus going around that makes people zombie-like killers. Vampirella’s crew carry an immunity in their blood and, in typical heroic fashion, set out to inoculate the population. Can you guess how? Mmmhmm. The plot is bigger than this, but I will leave that to your reading. The concept is consistent with the history and the legacy of the comic, and the artwork is outstanding, including all the various covers.
Second Coming is a fine entry in the Vampirella canon. Priced at a modest $1.99, you don’t really save much money if you buy all the eye-catching cover variants, but they are hard to pass up. This one is worth a look.
Legion: Prophets. Comic book tie-ins to movies are becoming more and more common. Think of Trick ’r Treat, for example. In that case, the comic was essentially the same material as the movie. An adaptation, in other words. Something a little different is Legion: Prophets which is labeled as a prelude to the movie Legion. Now, see, when you use the word “prelude” I am thinking it is the story that leads up to the story of the movie. Or maybe it is a separate little tale that gets you ready for the movie; a background piece. So I read the four-issue mini-series and then went to see the film. Color me confused.
The comic is written by Scott Stewart (who co-wrote and directed the film) and Tom Waltz. Each issue has a different principal artist which offers a nice visual variety to the series while maintaining a reasonable range of stylistic continuity. Each issue presents a person (prophet) who, in the face of the crisis of widespread demonic possession feels an inexplicable compulsion to head toward the desert to protect a child who will soon be born. Good enough. There is a lot going on in each issue, and the story is a nice horror/action combo that is quite entertaining. Can’t wait to go see the film and check out what happens next.
Thing is, the movie doesn’t follow the comic. Rather, it seems to travel in a parallel timeline. You see a pregnant woman in a desert café give birth to this child everyone was so concerned about in the comic series, but the prophets themselves don’t seem to have anything to do in the film. In fact, they comic series seems to better set up the sequel to Legion than Legion itself. Near the end of the film, the survivors are told to seek the prophets. But I thought the prophets were supposed to … never mind.
The movie left a lot to be desired. The comic, while better than the movie, is just kind of hanging out there waiting to be attached to something. The sequel to the film, I suppose. I would have been a lot happier with this if it wasn’t tied to the film at all. As it is, I would say see the movie first then read the comic (which has also been collected in a trade paperback) to get ready for the inevitable sequel.
Complete Count Dracula. There have been a lot of comics in the past sixty years to make use of the Dracula character. A few of them have even tried to work a faithful representation of Bram Stoker’s seminal novel. One that comes immediately to mind is Stoker’s Dracula written by Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano. That book was very effectively presented and stands as a genuine accomplishment in terms of its faithfulness to the source material and its entertainment value to the modern reader. Now comes The Complete Dracula written by Leah Moore and John Reppion. This newest adaptation is, if anything, even more faithful to Stoker’s novel, especially with respect to the narrative structure of the original work. The artwork, alternately by and in combination with Colton Worley, Dheeraj Verma, and Aaron Campbell, is rendered mainly in soft focus. The frames seem to stand back and offer a misty feeling that mingles well with the narration. In all, the work is a respectful treatment of the classic story that is a new achievement in its own right. It is available now in a collected edition which is a nice way to house the work beside Stoker’s great novel.
Locke & Key. Joe Hill has had great success in his writing career, publishing New York Times bestsellers one after another. He also writes the Locke & Key comic. Now, I have complained elsewhere about fiction writers working in comics to ill effect. The two literary forms are entirely different and, typically, good writers of one are not so smooth in the other. Hill is a rarity in that he has a natural talent for both narrative fiction and comics writing. Part of it is that he is endlessly creative and clever in the way he creates situations and mythology – you see things in Locke & Key you have never seen anywhere before, and that is extremely difficult to accomplish. But it is more than that. A lot of people can think up crazy and outlandish situations just to be different. Hill’s work in this comic is so well thought out and presented that rather than being jarring (like crazy stuff existing only for its own craziness) it reads easily and naturally. You are instantly drawn in by the characterization and the mystery. The suspense challenges Hitchcock in the way that the characters walk casually into situations you know are perilous. You are with them all the way, telling them not to trust that guy, not to go that way, just like when you watch a Hitchcock movie and Hitch shows you the bomb under the desk that the characters in the movie don’t see. Visual, careful, natural, and smooth. The artwork of Gabriel Rodriguez is the perfect complement to Hill’s writing. A better team is hard to imagine. If you haven’t read Locke & Key yet you need to get on it.
There are three series in the comic so far. The first, Welcome to Lovecraft (collected in a nice hardcover) establishes the characters and brings them to Keyhouse which is the center of the rich mythology of the series. You also get your first glimpse of the versatility of the keys that open doors to, well, all sorts of things. In the second series, Head Games (also collected in a nice hardcover), Hill expands the concept of what the keys can do … turns out there are keys that open things other than what we usually think of as doors. At this writing, the third series, Crown of Shadows, is in its third issue. The big conflict is being established now as well as possible solutions to it. Waiting for the next issue is getting harder all the time.
So here is what you need to do: go buy the first book and read it right away. As soon as you finish, my prediction is you’ll be making another trip to the bookstore to get the second one. After that, comic book shop time because you won’t want to wait for series three to be collected to start reading it.
Locke & Key is exceptional. My highest recommendation.
III. Swamp Report…
Swamp business this time centers on Man-thing, Marvel’s main swamp monster. From the below-cited issue, Man-thing is “…scientist Ted Sallis…whose own super soldier formula conspired with the mystic swamp waters to turn him into this Man-thing. An empath, Man-thing is driven by other beings’ emotions.” So, the creature is a great hulking mass wandering around the swamp drawn by strong emotions. When he/it gets there (to the “being” with the strong emotions), mayhem often ensues.
The new collection Hulk Visionaries: Peter David Volume 7 includes The Incredible Hulk 389 which features Man-thing. It is not the brightest moment for the Hulk, and it is essentially a walk-on for Man-thing, but you have to take swamp creatures wherever you can get them. The paperback is out in February. Take a peek.
IV. Parting Shots…
Orc Stain. I haven’t had so much fun reading a comic since I first picked up Elephantmen. Created, written, drawn, and colored by James Stokoe, Orc Stain is a goopy adult romp through the fractious world of orcs where the Orctzar is trying to rule all he surveys. Great fun dynamically rendered.
Blackest Night. When this is all over I plan to write up a little readers’ guide for the non-immersed to help pick through the dozen (or more) trade paperback collections that will emerge. This month I want to point out that DC is releasing a few special tie-in issues for the event from unlikely and largely forgotten series. Look for Blackest Night seepage into titles like Starman 81, The Phantom Stranger 42, The Atom and Hawkman 46, and The Power of Shazam 48. Essentially one-shots, these are wonderful and curious evil resurrection dances.
Siege. The latest giant Marvel event is in full swing. The prologue (#0) tells us Thor has recently returned to earth and brought Asgard with him. The city Asgard. It is floating a couple feet above the ground over Oklahoma. Norman Osborn, who has become the arch-enemy of long-standing fan-favorite Marvel characters, has teamed up with Loki to overthrow Asgard and redefine order on Earth. It is all too much to cover in my two sentence parting shots review (which is running quadruple length anyway). I will say this: so far, here at the beginning, writer Brian Michael Bendis is working expertly with the mythology and continuity surrounding the story and Lucio Parrillo’s artwork (in the prologue) is absolutely beautiful. Even if you don’t read the book, you can just page through and admire the absorbing lines and colors. The artists in issue #1 (Olivier Coipel, Mark Morales, and Laura Martin) continue the feel of the prologue if not the depth. So far Siege is much more mystical than horrorish, but there is great potential for savagery here.
Hellblazer. John Constantine is on a trip to India. The four issue arc ends next month so I’ll have more to say about it then. Right now I can only give a blind recommendation. It is worth reading.
Ghoul. The first two issues of this title have nice artwork (Bernie Wrightson, no less!) but are a bit on the short side. There is a continuing unillustrated narrative companion in each issue that makes you feel a little better about the $3.99 cover price. It is one to watch.
Dark Reign The List. Out now in hardcover are all eight issues of the Dark Reign mini series The List wherein Norman Osborn creates a hit list for personalities who have given him trouble in the past. The series is a little uneven, with a few great issues (Punisher, Hulk, Avengers) and many not-so-great. You are probably better off choosing a couple of the comics from the series (Punisher, Hulk, Avengers) instead of plunking down $30.00 for the whole collection.
Stolen Blood. This comic mini is six black and white pages of possession, rage, and violence. When you buy the print version, you get a free digital copy to go with it. The digital version has red highlights that ad a lot to the experience. Importantly, the publisher, Black Snake Studios, is donating all profits to the fight against cancer.
V. Next time…
Winterworld returns in black and white, Alan Moore’s sequel to The Courtyard, Neonomicon, hits the stands, Constantine goes to India (this time I mean it), Grim Jack, and much more.
VI. Technical points…
If you have review material or suggestions you can contact me by clicking here.
The publishers are as follows.
The Amazing Spider-man, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Siege, and Dark Reign: The List are published by Marvel Comics.
Orc Stain is published by Image.
Stolen Blood is published by Black Snake Studios.
Legion Prophets, Ghoul, and Locke & Key are published by IDW.
Complete Count Dracula is published by Dynamite.
All Blackest Night titles, tie-ins, and minis are published by DC Comics.
Hellblazer is published by Vertigo.
Vampirella The Second Coming is published by Harris Comics.
Wayne Edwards has been quietly writing, editing, and publishing for the past three decades. He divides his time between Anchorage [Alaska], Burlington [Vermont], and Mysore [India].