Nightmares Illustrated 003
By Wayne Edwards
I. Always On My Mind…
Is it only me or do comics seem expensive? Most of the titles from DC and Marvel cost $2.99 or $3.99 (Marvel tends to be more expensive on average as it has more titles at the higher price than DC). Dark Horse, IDW, and Image are in this range. Other publishers sometimes charge a little less and sometimes charge a little more. The typical comic is three or four bucks.
Back in 1965, most Marvel-brand comics were 12¢ and DC-brand comics were 10-12¢. So, if we go from 12¢ to $3.99, comics are 33 times more expensive now than then. The prices of other things have increased quite a lot less. From 1965 to now, other stuff is about seven times more expensive. Yikes, huh. A lot of the price increase has occurred in the past decade. Hulk, for instance, cost $1.99 in 1999 and in 2009 it was $3.99. So in the 35 years from 1965 to 1999 the cost of reading about the Hulk went from 12¢ to $2, and in the ten years since then it has gone another $2. There are a lot of ways to slice this price inflation. However you want to look at it, most of us will probably agree that the cost of comics has become a bit of a challenge. We can’t afford to buy as many as we used to. To put it succinctly: even though the price of comics has doubled in the past ten years, my income certainly hasn’t.
How many comics can you read in a month? A lot, I am guessing. It only takes five or ten minutes to read one, and I usually read them twice. Even with fairly little free time, you can get through quite a stack in a lunar cycle. But how many can you afford? I do get review copies of some things, but I also buy quite a few, too. I hadn’t really been paying very close attention to what I was spending on books until last month when my credit card billed seemed pretty high. Looking through the statement at the careful delineation of my indiscretions, I noticed that every week I spent about $50 just on comics. $200 a month. Now that’s just ridiculous. Who can do that? I don’t even spend that much on liquor. Well, not any more, anyway. This does not seem sustainable.
What is the right amount, then? It depends on what you get out of it compared to what you could get from spending the money on something else. In terms of recreation, I buy three things: music, movies, and books. Alcohol comes out of the grocery budget so that doesn’t count. Since I am pretty old, I buy less and less music with each passing year and instead rely on my collection to sustain me when I want a melody. In the case of movies, I have become more patient and watch them on cable or via Netflix instead of buying them. Books, though, that’s a habit I can’t break. I still buy a lot of books, and a lot of comics. For me, literature, in all its myriad forms, holds the greatest entertainment value. If I have to choose between going to see a new movie or buying three new comics, the comics almost always win.
I still wish they were a little cheaper…
There are a couple things you can do to get more bang for you buck. I mentioned digital comics last time. The selection is limited, but if the vendor has what you are looking for you can save some cash.
You can subscribe to the comic through the publisher. Both Marvel and DC offer discounted subscriptions, so if there is a book you always read, subscribing is cheaper than buying it at a store. Here again, not every title is available for subscription, but maybe you’ll get lucky.
The collected editions are often cheaper than buying the individual comics. Sometimes the book is almost exactly the same price as buying the individual comics (like the Marvel Max four-arc titles) and sometimes the books are substantially cheaper (like Top Cow/Image’s full-color Compendium series). Of course, if you are impatient, then waiting for the collection to come out might be too much to bear.
In the end, I guess if they weren’t worth it to us then we wouldn’t buy them, right?
Sure, but, I still wish they were a little cheaper…
II. This Just In…
The Chill. Jason Starr and Mick Bertilorenzi have teamed up to create a new entry in the Vertigo Crime series. The spine categorizes this graphic novel as “A Graphic Mystery,” and the press material tells us it is “Crime/Mystery/Graphic Novel.” This is interesting to me because what you really have here is a supernatural thriller loaded with graphic violence, nudity, and sex. Sure, there is a criminal mystery plot, but the Celtic lore and the brutal sex murders override the Ellery Queen content. This is a horror book.
The story opens in 1967 Ireland where a young woman sees her lover convulse and keel over at the worst possible moment. She runs back home, tells her father, and finds out the terrible secret: the power of the chill and the need for sacrifice. After that, there is considerable repetition in plot but also a refinement of the historic details and motives of the obligation. But never mind that because the action is the strong point, here, not the story.
Bertilorenzi’s artwork, rendered in uncluttered black and white, fits the aim of Starr’s prose. Overall it is not a bad read although it is a curious choice for a crime series.
WinterWorld. Back in 1987-1988, Eclipse Comics published a three issue mini-series called WinterWorld. The story was set in the future on Earth when everything has frozen over. There are still buildings left intact so it can’t be very far in the future. Must have been a mighty wallop of sudden ice age smackdown. In any case, there aren’t very many people left and they are barely surviving. Scully, a trader in a tank, comes across a youngish girl named Wynn with her pet badger (or maybe it is a wolverine) Rah Rah. Shortly thereafter, they are captured and enslaved by a collection of unsavory types. Scully escapes in issue one and the rest of the series is about Scully trying to rescue Wynn. It is an entertaining story in an unusual frozen post-civilization setting. At the end of issue three, the writer, Chuck Dixon, says in an editorial that he and artist Jorge Zaffino are planning a sequel, but that sequel never materialized.
Now, twenty years later, IDW has published a book collecting the three original issues along with the never-before-published comic WinterSea, that sequel Dixon mentioned in 1988. The three main characters are back, and Rah Rah is confirmed to be a badger. Good to know. That was weighing on my mind. This time around the trio is trying to find Wynn’s homeland to the south. After many hardships, they do find it, and then things get worse. The writing in the second series speaks in the same voice as the first series, but the artwork is rougher and in some places looks unfinished. The story itself is shorter and at the end the heroes are standing around available for another adventure. I don’t know if this motley crew has the legs for another mini.
It is good to have WinterWorld together with its sequel in a nicely printed book. I do wonder why IDW decided to print this edition only in black and white. In the original comic, the colors (by Julie Michel) were painted in layers, not simply blocked in. So, the skies, for example, have depth to them because of the coloring. In the black and white version, whenever there is a scene outside the sky is a blank white and it seems very empty and stark. Maybe that was the idea of a black and white version, but it doesn’t play well against the original. The collection is still worth getting in order to read WinterSea, but you might also consider looking up the WinterWorld comics themselves, which are not hard to find. I was able to locate all three issues in the past month for less than three dollars, total.
Hellblazer Pandemonium. Has it really been twenty five years? I guess so. Pandemonium is being issued in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first appearance of that character John Constantine. To mark the occasion, Jamie Delano, the writer of the first Hellblazer comics, returns with a 126-page graphic novel set mainly in Iraq. The story has Constantine being forced by the military to solve the puzzle of a particularly difficult detainee. Turns out the fellow is a djinn, so it was a good idea to bring in the magical specialist after all. Constantine follows the elemental back to its source and ends up playing a card game for his life. It is probably not much of a spoiler to tell you who wins. Still, I hesitate.
The story is a little slow moving. When the action does kick in it is certainly rewarding. The worst of it is the plodding commentary on politics. I definitely agree with the drift of the political and humanist sentiment but this platform for that war has aged to creaking by now. The artwork by Jock starts to wear a little thin by page eighty or so as well. The sharp lines and blocky coloring work better in smaller doses. Still, Pandemonium is a more than serviceable Hellblazer story I heartily recommend.
Dark Tower Fall of Gilead. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is one of my favorite fantasy stories of all time. I am old enough to have started reading it when the first book, The Gunslinger, came out in 1982 all the way through to the last book, The Dark Tower, twenty two years later. Well, last book so far as there are rumblings now another story coming down the pike. But I digress. It was a sincere sensation to read the books over two decades as the story poured out and to delight in the revelations. I was glad to hear about the comics series that were to come out, too, because they were not going to be adaptations of the previous books but instead were to be new stories set in the world of the Dark Tower. More Dark Tower is better than less. Comes now the fourth series, Fall of Gilead, collected in a nice hardcover edition gathering all six issues in the mini-series and Dark Tower: The Sorcerer.
This time, Roland, the central character, shoots his mother in Act I while possessed by the influence of an evil grapefruit. Yeah, I know that sounds stupid out of context, but most readers are not going to come into this story right here near the end. A lot of plot has come before this and now, with Roland in jail, the wicked Marten Broadcloak wanders the landscape chipping away at the order of things. In many ways this series serves as a set-up piece for the next one, Battle of Jericho Hill, which is being serialized now. As such, Fall of Gilead does suffer when read in isolation. You will like this a lot better if you read the earlier ones first and the next, after.
There are a couple of characteristics of this series that, after a while, weigh down your enjoyment of the story. One is the language, which is at times psuedo-archaic (as in “Doest thou remember, Roland, thy pleasure of lying with thy jilly?” and then “Know, then, thy mother’s joy in cuckolding thy father!”) and at times B-movie prospector (as in “More’n likely, even if he did know it, some part of ’im would be denying it, like as not.”). Sure, the voice of the narrator is different depending on which character is narrating, but over all, after thirty or forty pages of either of these stylized patterns, it all becomes a bit tedious. Similarly, the artwork with its constant deep and dark tones, shaded to give the illusion of depth, is at first appealing, but ultimately the effect is numbing over the course of the entire series. These two agents of attention erosion are surely worse reading the collected series than they would be if you had a month off between issues to recover. There is always an upside and a downside, isn’t there?
For the continuing story and for the legacy of the world of the Dark Tower, Fall of Gilead is worth reading. Just be prepared to put in some effort.
Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House Volume 1. DC’s Showcase series, like Marvel’s Essential series, gathers 500 or so pages of older comics in a single volume of black-and-white only reprints. They are great if you just want to read the stories, and they are better when the line art is good. Just don’t ever set them beside the original color comics because the contrast is stunning. This collection holds issues 1-18, which is the entire run of the anthology series.
Actually, it was really two series, the way I see it. The first four issues were titled The Sinister House of Secret Love and the stories were gothic romances. Starting with issue number five, the title changed to Secrets of Sinister House and the stories became increasingly macabre and fantastic. Beginning with issue six, the character of Eve (along with Cain and Abel) began introducing the individual stories in the achingly familiar format for horror anthology comics. As with any anthology, comics or otherwise, the stories are a little uneven. Having come out originally in the first half of the 1970s, they are a little dated by now, too, but I am a fan of the past so for me this is a great collection. Recommended for rainy days.
III. Swamp Report…
Slim pickings in the swamp this month. Things are drowsier than usual here in the dead of winter. There is one thing to report: Vertigo has announced volume three of its reissues of Alan Moore’s run on The Saga of the Swamp Thing. Due out in June, this collection gathers issues 35-42, notable especially for the first appearance of John Constantine. The information available so far indicates this will be a trade paperback, but I suspect it is more likely to be a hardcover to match the two recent hardcover reissues.
IV. Parting Shots…
Aliens vs. Predator: Three World War #1. Aliens vs. Predator is a great set-up, no matter what the story. The movies grow increasingly idiotic but this new comic series has real potential. This time, a rogue group of Predators called Killers (because they are not interested in hunting, just in killing) has learned to control the bugs (the Aliens) and is using them as weapons. The Colonial Marines must stop them. Here we go. I can’t say if the series will hold up throughout its run but it is off to a good start.
Grim Jack the Manx Cat #1-5. This Grim Jack title was originally serialized on line at www.comicmix.com. This is one of the titles IDW is pushing as content for the iPad platform and is part of the leading edge in the new wave of digital comics. About the content … Timothy Truman’s art is thick and vibrant throughout the series and John Ostrander’s narrative is swashbuckling with many decapitations, strange creatures, and exotic locations like the Slippery Pussy Club. If you have never read a Grim Jack story before, you can start here. This is a good one.
Neonomicon. Alan Moore is writing a new horror comic that follows his short story “The Courtyard,” which as adapted into a comic in 2003 by Jacen Burrows and Antony Johnston. It is nice to have a sequel because that original comic was a real cliffhanger. Neonomicon does not actually begin until the Fall but there is a preview issue available now. The artwork, by Burrows from the Courtyard comic, is good and the writing has all the hallmarks of Moore. This is could be one to covet.
Zombies vs. Robots: Aventure #1. This is a pretty cool idea – each issue has about eight pages of three different series in the ZvR omniverse: “Kampf,” “Masques,” and “Zuvembies vs. Robots.” Written by Chris Ryall, the three story lines are illustrated by artists demonstrating completely different styles that somehow, against all odds, come together to form a unified whole. Covers by Ashley Wood. You cannot possibly go wrong.
Heavy Metal V34N2: Mythical Special. Let’s not forget, everyone, that Heavy Metal is still being published. The Spring 2010 issue has three stories that are PG tales with mythological settings. If you don’t subscribe, every once in a while you should pick up a copy and take a look at it. Each issue usually has something worth reading.
Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows #3. The coolness rolls on. A new key is discovered in an oddly labeled jelly jar and this key packs a punch. Buy it, read it. My highest recommendation.
Hellblazer #261-264: India. John Constantine goes to India seeking purity so he can raise his lover from the dead. The purity thing didn’t work out, but he did get a word with his dearly departed. The story structure is very familiar to the series (demon on the loose causing increasingly widespread havoc) but not too old hat to be entertaining. The background pieces offer many authentic touches from India that surprised me pleasantly. In all, I highly recommend this medium-quality arc.
V. Next time…
I am off to Florida for the annual International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts conference so I’ll tell you all about that. Plus Deadworld Frozen Over finally wraps up, American Vampire gets started, and maybe there will be a preview of the Blackest Night feature that I’ll have for you in column 005.
VI. Technical points…
If you have review material or suggestions you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The publishers are as follows.
The Dark Tower Fall of Gilead and Hulk are published by Marvel Comics.
Zombies vs. Robots, Locke & Key, Grim Jack, Ghoul, and Winterworld [collection]are published by IDW.
Winterworld [original comic] is published by Eclipse Comics.
Secrets of Sinister House and Blackest Night are published by DC Comics.
The Chill and Hellblazer are published by Vertigo.
Aliens vs. Predator: Three World War is published by Dark Horse Comics.
Heavy Metal is published by Metal Mammoth, Inc.
Neonomicon and The Courtyard are published by Avatar.
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].