Young Alex Power of Power Pack fame offers up an inclusive blessing for dinner with the Fantastic Four and crew in FF #1 (Marvel, 2011). Try it at your next family gathering!
The Runaways Omnibus is the latest treasure I got thanks to this blog’s readers who help me earn store credit at MyComicShop.com when they click through my affiliate links to find the books they want. My big box of comics series aims to bring the love full circle by sharing those treasures with you.
Once upon a time, I had all the single issues of the first and second Runaways volumes. But they took me a few years to collect, and I read a bunch of them out of order at different times. So, it was great fun to finally kick back and read the entire Brian K. Vaughan run in its original reading order with this Omnibus.
Teenagers are the stars of this series and, it’s fair to say, the target audience. I don’t read many books like that anymore, and most of the “young adult” category of fiction is lost on me. If I never hear another thing about Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter, it will be too soon. But author Brian K. Vaughan lists Harry Potter as one of the influences on this series, according to the original proposal included in the Omnibus. So, what about this foray into overtly young adult superhero fiction appeals to me?
My favorite thing is the character interaction. The dialogue is PG in terms of cursing, but our teenage heroes fling savage insults at each other when they aren’t getting along. Their reckless insensitivity seems authentically adolescent, and it acts as a foil to the intentional diversity of Vaughan’s cast. One of the characters, for example, uses the word “gay” as an insult—as in “superhero costumes are gay”—which creates tension because one of the characters is a girl who likes girls. One character is repeatedly ridiculed for being chubby, and one endures transphobic insults for being a gender-switching alien. One encounters casual racism for being Asian, and a cyborg is constantly reminded that machines are soulless, unfeeling, and less than human.
I love a diverse cast of characters, but sometimes authors shy away from the conflict that naturally arises when you put wildly different people together on the same team. And when I say “natural,” I mean it is so prevalent that we even studied this conflict in my graduate-level management classes. Globalization means we often work on teams of people with a vast array of cultural, ethnic, and gender identities, and Vaughan mines that situation for dramatic conflict. But along the way, Vaughan imbues each character with depth and humanity, contrasts that with the way people flippantly dehumanize each other for being different, and ultimately makes the experience rewarding by showing how these characters grow to accept their differences, work together, and form bonds of true friendship—even love.
Another thing I love about Runaways is that while it isn’t about a dystopia like Hunger Games and a zillion other young adult novels, you could say that the real dystopia for these characters is adulthood. The kids become disillusioned and distraught about grown-ups when they find out their parents are all child murderers who are sacrificing the souls of other kids in a weird pact to bring about the end of all humanity (except for six survivors). If that doesn’t breed a severe distrust of adults, I don’t know what would. The other adults in this series—from Marvel’s Avengers to two warring alien races who cannot make peace, from parents to the police—continually reinforce the Runaways’ conviction that adults suck.
Even as the characters grow up and mature throughout the series, they express disgust at the idea of adulthood. One of the worst ways one Runaway can insult another is to say, “Now you sound like our parents.” And when one character turns eighteen, someone asks if he should even be included in the group anymore. That same eighteen-year-old, now legally an adult, embarks upon a mission that tempts him to become a killer just like his parents, driving home the point that adults can’t be trusted.
That story arc expresses a major concern shared by many young people. We all tend to become more like our parents when we age, but does that mean we are doomed to make the same mistakes as them? How many people in their thirties or forties have had a moment where they realized they sounded or acted just like their mother or father, despite their youthful determination to never let that happen?
I like how Vaughan explores this tension, and I love the way the artwork brings the characters to life. The Omnibus is an excellent reproduction of the original issues and their gorgeous covers. Upon re-reading the forty-two issues collected here, only a few flaws nagged at me.
First, the dialogue relies heavily on pop culture references—even ones that seem oddly out of place, like kids born circa 1990 quoting lines from “classic” rock songs from the 1960s and 70s. Similarly, much of the slang might have been relevant to teenagers at the time but is already beginning to feel dated. I see it all the time in novels and comics that are trying to be “relatable” to today’s young audiences by trying to sound current or hip. Maybe that helps sell more books at the time, but it tends to distract from the quality of being timeless.
The other flawed aspect of these stories is the mystical evil beings called the Gibborim. They have a stupid, nonsensical plan for world domination, and their power levels and abilities make no sense either. They say they need a sacrifice of one innocent soul for twenty-five consecutive years to bring about the end of the world. What? Why not get all twenty-five souls at once then, and get on with the apocalypse? Or, if they can appear on Earth, why not kill the kids themselves instead of hiring six married couples to do it? Evil plans should at least make some sort of strategic sense.
Later in the series, the Gibborim have been banished to a kind of limbo where they need to eat another innocent soul to escape. But they didn’t seem to be doing anything about that until the plot allowed one of the Runaways to find them in limbo. So, these beings who are powerful enough to end humanity are… totally impotent? Pick one!
The only way I can see to resolve this problem is to assume the Gibborim were lying to the Runaways’ parents from the beginning, that they never had the power they claimed to have, and that the parents bought into a total scam due to their own greed and stupidity. I doubt that is what Vaughan had in mind, but it’s the only explanation I can think of that is consistent with the plot and fits with the theme that adults are bad.
Finally, I would gladly trade the “bonus material” in the Omnibus in exchange for the six-issue story by Joss Whedon that finished the 2005 series. I recall it as a good coda to Vaughan’s run.
Despite these minor problems, the Runaways Omnibus is a terrific read with great characters who have some wild adventures while dealing with the conflicting emotions and traumas of adolescence, struggling to create new identities for themselves after all that was familiar and secure about their childhood has been torn away.
Collector’s Guide: Runaways Omnibus, Marvel, 2018. Collects #1-18 of the original Runaways (2003) and #1-24 of Runaways (2005). The Omnibus is also on Amazon. For a less expensive digital version, you can now get a $55 edition for Kindle/Comixology called Runaways: The Complete Collection, a four-volume set with everything in the Omnibus plus the continuation of the Runaways series after Vaughan left.
When I was a kid, Dad had a term for people who looked disheveled and messy: Rag-picker Joe. Eventually, I discovered it was a mild version of “Joe Shit the Rag Man”. Maybe Dad picked it up in the Marine Corps. It’s listed on a site of Marine slang, and Dad was a Drill Instructor in the early 1970s, when this phrase seems to have been at the peak of its popularity.
Rag-picker Joe made regular appearances in my childhood: sometimes as me when I couldn’t get my shirt tucked in or my cowlick to lie down, and sometimes as random people on the street seen from a car window, or someone in a retail store. Rag-picker Joe was everywhere.
In the summer of 2019, while looking through my late father’s personal effects, I found papers about a family tree that seemed to be the work of Dad’s mom—my grammy, who died in 2005. I’m sure it was her distinctive handwriting.
Back in the mid-1980s, I asked both sets of my grandparents for any information they could contribute to my junior-high genealogy project. They gave me next to nothing to go on, so I suspect Grammy gained additional information over the years.
Reviewing her notes was how I learned that Rag-picker Joe was not just a bit of slang. He was one of my ancestors.
I forget his last name, but his first name was Joseph, and he was from enough generations ago that I didn’t even bother to figure out the great-great-great or however many greats it was. His occupation of record? Ragman.
If you don’t know what a ragman is, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know either, and I had to look it up. A ragman collected what we might think of now as junk or scrap, and even bones. I don’t know why people would buy bones, but I assume it was either for their nutritious value (soup stock, perhaps?) or for their household utility as material for buttons and knife handles.
The cousin of Joe Shit the Ragman was the Bone man, and these nearly extinct characters from more than a century ago went from town to town, supporting themselves on what meager coin they could make from selling other people’s cast-offs and throwaways.
Bleak as it sounds, the rag-and-bone man was a mobile thrift store and scrap yard, and he was “upcycling” before any of us invented hipster words for re-using old garbage. I imagine that being a ragman required Joe Shit to be a salesman, and no song expresses that rag-selling energy as well as Rag and Bones by the White Stripes.
Sell me that old junk, baby. Come on and give it to me!
In the fifteen months that passed since discovering the ragman of my childhood was part of my family, I have often wondered if Dad ever put that connection together. I wonder if he knew Rag-picker Joe was his great-grand-uncle or whatever it was. Did he know this bit of information when I was a kid, when he used Joe as an insult on a regular basis? Or did he, like me, have an epiphany about Joe when he saw Grammy’s research?
I also wonder about things the genealogy documents didn’t tell me but seem apparent from reading between the lines. If you go back just a generation or two beyond my grandparents, my family tree is full of immigrants who came to this country and survived in abject poverty, somehow, even if it meant carrying bones and rags from town to town in a fucking wheelbarrow.
It upsets me to see our national attitude and policies becoming so obviously anti-immigrant and anti-poor. But this isn’t the first time. This always happens in our country whenever our economy is disastrous or when people feel threatened. Anti-immigrant and overtly racist attitudes flourish in times of economic trouble. The rich pit the middle-class against the poor as enemies, and the rich get richer. These aren’t mysterious ideas any longer; they are statistical conclusions verified with data from more than two centuries of U.S. history.
I only bring it up because I think of Joseph, my distant relative, a man who died long before I was born. A man who died before he became a piece of slang in the urban dictionary. A man whose station in life was used as an insult, even though he was family. A man who must have lived at the absolute ass-end of society, but somehow survived to be listed in my family tree.
In memory of Rag-picker Joe and Joe Shit the Ragman, I’ll share with you the complete issue of The Brave and the Bold #196, where Batman teams up with Ragman.
I had this comic when I was around seven years old. Coming back to it forty years later reveals why I loved it so much. The prose from Bob Kanigher could use a little editing for adult readers, but his captions are more fun than most prose I see in novels these days, and Jim Aparo’s artwork is in fine form here.
This is obviously a comic for boys and, though I was a boy once, I would not recommend it to adult women due to the short shrift the women characters get here. None of them pass the Bechdel Test. They only exist as motivating plot points for male action.
This issue also has some too-convenient plotting in the way that serious injuries take exactly as much time to heal as the plot requires. Is that how it works when falling out of a window? I should fall out of the motherfuckers more often. In spandex.
Also, the re-cap of Ragman’s origin is pointless filler and stupid. Getting electrocuted with other people does not give you their traits. That’s the lowest rung of idiocy on the ladder of superhero origins, right below “Holy shit, gamma-ray exposure makes me bad-ass!”
Actually, gamma rays kill you. I’d prefer that authors stop insulting me with bogus reasons for powers, and instead tell me a story about an awesome character who has powers.
For these reasons, I wouldn’t put this issue in my list of all-time favorite comics, but it’s a cool time capsule from the late 1970s at DC, and it stars one of my ancestors.
Now let’s see how my great-great-grand-uncle Joe Shit the Ragman teams up with Batman to kick all kinds of ass.
Collector’s Guide: The Brave and the Bold #196; DC Comics, 1983.
DC’s New 52 is now old news, and it came and went without my paying any attention to it. But the one thing I missed that I really wanted see was Greg Capullo drawing Batman, beginning with Bat’s first New 52 adventure The Court of Owls. So, last year, with some of the store credit I earned thanks to this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to find books, I got the first paperback collection.
It’s a wild ride, and I’ve since read a digital version of the rest of the Snyder/Capullo run just to see what happened next. I plan to get the second TPB, but after that one, the series began to lose my interest. The second TPB features an amazing Mr. Freeze story, and if you’re expecting the cartoon silliness of Arnold Freezinator from the movies, you won’t find any of that. Snyder writes Freeze as a mentally and emotionally disturbed villain, playing up the sympathetic tragedy and ultimate self-delusion that drive his maniacal actions.
After that, the series goes into a Joker story that starts off well and is exquisitely drawn but eventually collapses under its own weight. It asks us to believe that everything that happens is all a part of a wildly complicated “evil genius” plot, kind of like the Saw movies or virtually any of the “serial killer” thriller films, except there’s no way anyone could plan for all the eventualities, and much of it is downright implausible. Then the series goes into a lengthy plot involving Commissioner Gordon becoming Batman, and a whole lot of “Batman’s early days”. I didn’t care for either development.
The first two story arcs for Court of Owls feature an inventive mix of crime, horror, and superheroics, and it’s a perfect blend of genres for a “world’s greatest detective” who dresses like a frickin’ bat. I can’t even describe how glorious it is to see Capullo drawing Batman in action, and the first arc does an inventive thing with page layouts when Batman is caught in a maze and hallucinating his ass off. I won’t spoil it for new readers, but I will say that I got just as turned around as Bats did at that point in the story, and I thought that was brilliant.
While Court of Owls and its follow-up arc are dramatic and gripping, it soon becomes apparent that they lack any consequence. For example, Bats is subjected to unimaginable beatings and torture, but then a few pages later, he’s totally fine. No bruises on his face. No long-term disability from being stabbed almost to death and drowned. He just sort of gets back to business. I was worried he was going to die, but then he’s okay because the plot demands it?
Plus, the Owls succeed in killing off many prominent local politicians and governmental figures, but all this does is give the rest of the Bat-family an excuse to jump into the story to protect whoever is still alive. If you killed most of the public officials in a city, there would be ramifications, but Court of Owls never deals with them. I didn’t want a series exploring the politics of Gotham—although I loved Brian K. Vaughn’s politically themed Ex Machina—but I did want some sense that what happened in the story mattered. Instead, it’s glossed over as quickly as Batman’s mortal wounds.
There are a few other details like this. The Owls figure out where the Batcave is, but after Bats defeats the cave invaders, that knowledge is never used again. That’s powerful information! They wouldn’t—I don’t know—send an email to Lex Luthor with the GPS coordinates? Or spam every person on the planet? Or announce it on Twitter? Are they serious about Bat-termination or not?!
Also, in the first issue, Bats uses an amazing facial recognition technology that is never mentioned again. It only serves as a plot device to give us information dumps about characters—apparently to get new readers on board with the cast by disguising the info dumps as Bat-science. It’s a cool trick, but it’s a tech without any lasting consequences.
Despite those flaws, Snyder gave Capullo some amazing, moody material to work with visually, and the first couple of Snyder/Capullo TPB volumes deserve a place in a “best of Batman” collection. And, if you don’t mind implausible “serial killer movie” plotting, the third volume with the Joker is also visual feast.
Once upon a time, I had the complete Next Men series, except for the Hellboy issue. Though I read the series three or four times, I’ve missed having it around ever since I sold it. This month, thanks to this blog’s readers who use my affiliate links to find books, I earned enough store credit to get all six of the 1993 trade paperback collections. Reading the series again reminds how much the series blew my mind the first time through, and as a bonus, it includes the Hellboy issue with pages drawn by Mike Mignola.
Hellboy’s appearance in issue #17 makes it the most expensive one to collect. It’s easy to collect all the other original, single issues for less than $3 each, but #17 will cost as much or more than all the other thirty issues combined. That’s not a problem with the collected paperback.
Hellboy might be part demon, but he is a far cry from the absolute evil of the series’ main villain. Sathanas is the remnants of a mutated energy vampire who kills people by draining their lifeforce, and since so much of him got blown up, he survives in a mechanical suit. Despite his silly name, he’s among my favorite John Byrne villains.
Despite the fun of the paperbacks, they have three disappointments, possibly because they were made more than a quarter-century ago before TPBs became so popular. These days, we expect the TPB to include all the original covers and, if any, all the variant covers. But the Next Men covers get treated terribly, reduced to about 1/6 of the page size and combined in a “gallery”. It’s an odd design choice, considering that there’s a useless page between each “issue” that just splits the words “Next Men” across its front and back. That would be a lovely place for a cover!
Second, the story is so intertwined with the short graphic novel 2112 that the original Next Men series isn’t complete without it. This oversight is forgivable, since the events of 2112 get summarized by one of the characters.
What’s unforgivable is the omission of the entire series of “back-up” stories, M4. These were short episodes with characters who, at first, seemed only tangentially related to the main series. But the stories intersected eventually, and the M4 characters were essential to the finale and resolution. Leaving out the M4 pages makes these characters appear to pop out of nowhere in the main storyline, which makes for utterly confusing plot developments for unfamiliar readers. Plus, M4 had its own covers, featured on the back of the single issues where it ran, and the TPBs have none of them.
For the completists: When IDW reprinted the series in color in 2009, they included M4 but not 2112. IDW’s 2011 reprint series (“Classic Next Men”, in three TPBs) includes both M4 and 2112, and it’s also in full color. I’ve only ever seen it in stock on Amazon for around $40 per volume in paperback, but you can get them for $10.99 each for Kindle and Comixology, and as a set with the sequel for a total of $43.
Even with these omissions, I loved re-reading this imaginative and intricately plotted series that features some of Byrne’s most humanized and fully realized characters. Consider what he does with three wordless pages to show Jasmine’s emotional state as she flees from an attack in underground tunnels. Her old, perfect life was taken from her, and she’s not adjusting well to reality, where trauma awaits her at every turn. Without a single line of expositional captions or thought balloons, Byrne portrays her fragile condition in these pages.
One of my favorite Avengers stories features the time-traveling psychopath known as Kang The Conqueror. He sports a ridiculous outfit that only John Buscema and Tom Palmer could make cool.
What kind of evil plan can a person hatch in striped purple thigh-high boots? Stripping to pay his way through college? But don’t judge Kang by his fashion sense, because he rocks hard in this minor masterpiece.
I was 13 when this issue appeared on the comic book rack at the Walgreens on Manchester Road in Ballwin, Missouri. The opening sequence blew my mind, and I still get a thrill reading it years later. The complete three-issue story is one of the few mid-80s superhero yarns that still holds up for me as an adult reader, and though I no longer have the complete Stern/Buscema run, I’ve read it a bunch of times. These days, I just reserve a little space for my absolutely favorite Avengers stories, including this one.
It begins the day Colossus joins the Avengers, and opens with Storm descending from the sky like the weather goddess she is. Goddess and, as we discover, an Avenger.
I love the mood and tone of Stern’s captions on that page and generally for the entire run. Despite some typical comic-book clunkers such as expositional thought balloons, his prose always made me feel like I was reading a book for adults, not children. But back to our story.
The President of the USA escorts Colossus onto the scene to induct him into the Avengers and become an American citizen.
What’s that? You don’t remember Storm and Colossus being Avengers in the 1980s? Pay attention!
Iron Man flies onto the scene to give a gift to the POTUS on this momentous occasion. And gosh, isn’t Tony Stark such a great guy?
Just tug a little harder, sir! But suddenly…
Wait, what? The whole team just got nuked into oblivion? Is the series cancelled? What do you do after THAT?!
If you’re a super-villain, you gloat.
The nuke was just a warm-up. Now, it really starts to hit the fan. It turns out that Kang’s time-traveling adventures are creating all kinds of alternate timelines, and each has its own Kang. A mysterious council has summoned our nuke-loving Kang to their secret chamber in a limbo outside of time. When Kang questions the council’s authority to tell him what a massive screw-up he is for getting his entire planet destroyed, they reveal themselves to be a trio of alternate Kangs!
They kill him then adjourn and vanish. But one Kang comes back to snoop around the building, and who does he run into? One of the other Kangs! John Buscema gives the Jack Kirby treatment to the wonders inside the secret chambers inside the secret chamber, and Kang gives Kang a tour of his time-monitoring operations.
In fewer than ten pages, Stern gave the Avengers new members, nuked an entire planet, discovered alternate realities, hatched a nefarious plot of betrayal and murder spanning centuries and multiple universes, and plumbed the depths of grief, greed, and evil in the human soul. And the real Avengers, the stars of the series, haven’t even appeared yet!
The heroes show up soon enough, and the adventure is a solid one with plenty of twists and turns and mysteries to solve. Despite his goofy outfit, Kang is a strong villain with a plan he seems entirely capable of pulling off, and he steals the show in a way usually reserved for Dr. Doom. Fitting, I suppose, since Kang originally came from the future using Doom’s time-machine and, after becoming an Egyptian Pharaoh in the past, patterned himself after Doom. As far as alternate timeline stories go, I’d rather re-read this classic than re-watch Avengers Endgame any day.
A big “thank you” to this blog’s readers for making it possible to get these issues as part of my ongoing big box of free comics series.
The big box of comics series is a tribute to the fun things I wouldn’t have in my life without the readers of this blog who help me earn store credit at MyComicShop.com or Amazon.com every time they use my handy “Collector’s Guides” links to make a purchase.
It’s a symbiotic relationship — much like when an alien symbiote bonds to your nervous system and drinks your adrenaline for survival.
Actually, it’s nothing like that, but you could read that story in the Spectacular Spider-man TPB #1 by Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos.
This month, thanks to readers’ generosity, I put together a run of inexpensive reprints of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2–5, courtesy of IDW’s “Color Classics” versions of early TMNT. A few months ago, readers helped me reunite with the ridiculous majesty of TMNT #6, and I couldn’t go on without reading the preceding issues at least one more time!
Was it fun? Oh, hell yes. But maybe not as great as I remember from my black and white collections or the original colorized graphic novels from First. IDW’s coloring is part of that, since they put dark colors over the original Zip-a-Tone midtones, and obscuring the mid-range tends to flatten the artwork and make it less dynamic. Also, one of the pages in one issue seems to be a misprint that duplicates a page from earlier in the story.
But in terms of being an affordable way to read the Turtles’ earliest adventures, these reprints did the job admirably. Because #6 is one of my all-time favorite comics, I enjoyed reliving the outrageous plot that led up to it, and seeing how the storytelling evolved and improved in the early days. As a bonus, I got a few issues from the second volume of Color Classics, including a solo Michelangelo adventure in a kind of Lone Wolf & Cub fantasy of feudal Japan mixed with mystic lizard demons from hell. That issue includes one of my favorite Turtles pages:
Also from the second volume, a color version of an issue of the Return to New York story that’s a favorite of mine.
Along with the batch of ninja nostalgia, I picked up some bargain-priced Fine copies of Paul Chadwick’s The World Below. It’s no secret I love Chadwick’s Concrete series. World Below and its sequel, the four-issue Deeper and Stranger, don’t have the same depth of storytelling and lush rendering as Concrete, but they are a fun romp through Chadwick’s science-fiction imagination.
I like the sequel better than the first series. The sequel uses black and white art with no color, which is almost always how I prefer to see Chadwick’s art. And, the first series suffered from too many flashbacks trying to make me care about characters I never properly met, since the story started right in the middle of the action. Each time a character faced a crisis I wasn’t invested in, the character flashed back to a similar situation in their early life to beat me over the head with how huge an emotional deal it all was. That didn’t work for me.
Also, I could have lived without seeing the characters say, “eff this” and “eff you, you effing effer” instead of using the actual profanity. Those pages in World Below #3 were physically painful to read, and even old-school characters like F@%$ would have been preferable.
It seems to me that if your dialogue depends on using the word “fuck”, then you should probably just say “fuck”.
The narrative problems (mostly) smooth out in the sequel, which has my favorite issue of the series and an unexpected ending that blew my mind. Deeper and Stranger fulfills the promise of the first World Below and the tagline on those covers: the deeper you go, the stranger it gets!
Finally, this month’s box of comics included a favorite from my Avengers collection that I sold off a few years ago. Recently, someone commented on my old post about the Stern/Buscema/Palmer run on Avengers in the 1980s. It reminded me that while I basically memorized those issues after reading them so many times, Avengers #266 featuring the Silver Surfer really needed to come back to my modest “Avengers favorites” collection.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: the issue is a post-script to one of the most god-awful, tragic dumpster fires Marvel produced in the 1980s: Secret Wars II. Don’t even get me started.
But this issue focuses on two powerful beings—one a respected hero, and one a reviled villain—who need to work together to heal a cataclysmic wound in the Earth before the planet falls apart and kills everyone. All in 32 ad-free pages, in which the fate of the world might depend on one total nerd’s desire to watch sitcom re-runs with his girlfriend instead of letting the disaster take its fatal course. It’s so insane!
This issue has many examples of Stern’s dialogue that endeared me to his Avengers. Namor and Hercules bust each other’s balls like only gods can do, but below their arguing I sense a mutual respect born of the knowledge that they are both beings of power, and maybe they need each other to call each other out sometimes to help keep their rages in check.
She-Hulk isn’t turned off at all by Hercules’ temper tantrums; she flatters him and straight-up asks him to dinner, which is almost as awesome as that time she hooked up with Juggernaut. Jennifer’s a being of great power, too, and she seems perfectly comfortable and relaxed about it.
Hercules’ thoughts on nobility and heroism after the villain supposedly “loses his powers” while saving the Earth — also a lovely piece of internal dialogue.
But my favorite part is the final scene where the villain reveals he never lost his powers at all, and that the hero was complicit in this deception.
The Silver Surfer’s comment on courage and vulnerability really sums up what I love about this Avengers run. Sure, it’s all fun and games in spandex with lots of punching and the fate of the universe at stake, and there’s no shortage of expositional thought balloons. But every now and then, Stern’s humanistic and thoughtful depictions of his characters meld with John Buscema’s and Tom Palmer’s artwork to create high points of visual literature.
You know what? I might need to reclaim a few more of my favorite story arcs from this run — especially the Kang saga and the assault on Avengers Mansion.
That’s it for September’s big box of free comics, and I am excited to tell you about the October box that is on its way!
The other day, I found an unexpected appearance of Mars Will Send No More in another medium: a YouTube video about comic books by WhatCulture. In the segment about Jack Kirby, an image of Galactus appears from 3:16 to 3:19. What words does the mighty Galactus utter in his speech balloons? That’s right: Mars Will Send No More. I’m guessing WhatCulture searched the web for images of the devourer of worlds and decided to go with one I’d altered for fun in the earliest days of this blog.
Now that films based on comic books and superheroes have firmly entered the mainstream of popular culture, characters and storylines we comics readers have enjoyed for years regularly come to life on the big screen for a wider audience than comics ever reached. Long-time readers are often thrilled to see their favorite heroes in live-action movies, but some feel a bit of regret. After all, it can be disheartening to hear people discussing characters as if the movies tell the entire story, when many readers have followed the characters in-depth for years or even decades.
Compressing years of story into a two-hour theater experience means a lot gets left out, as anyone who read the Planet Hulk stories can tell you about the movie Thor: Ragnarok, or anyone who read Marvel’s Civil War comics can tell you about the Captain America movie of the same name. Plus, the big screen and the printed page are two distinctly different mediums, each with its own storytelling conventions, so they deliver distinctly different stories.
Movies usually follow a formulaic narrative structure. From the inciting incident to the hero’s crisis, predicting the next story beat in a movie is pretty easy. Comic books often employ more flexible and unusual structures—a point in their favor in my opinion. This is true despite a trend toward making modern mainstream comic books more cinematic in their approach to storytelling.
Near the turn of the century, Warren Ellis used the term widescreen comics to describe the blockbuster-movie style he was creating in The Authority with artists Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary. After 12 issues, writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quitely came on board and kept up the cinematic approach. Millar, Hitch, and Neary soon combined forces to reinvent the Avengers as The Ultimates—the forerunner of the current film versions of the Avengers. For a more in-depth look at widescreen comics, and how they influenced movies as much as movies influenced them, see Peter Suderman’s article for Vox.
As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been a movie yet that equals those first 29 issues of The Authority. But it’s more than just the awesome stories, vicious dialogue, and stunning artwork. What makes the printed page most enjoyable for me can be summed up in two words: time control.
In a film, time passes at a fixed speed determined by the flow of film through a projector, or its digital equivalent these days. Yes, a movie can use slow motion or speed up time, but all of that is determined by the movie itself. Moviegoers have no control of it in a theater. Time passes at a pace determined exclusively by the filmmakers.
With printed pages, the reader controls time. The reader determines how long to spend on a panel or page. Readers can turn back the pages to see something again if they did not absorb it on the first read. The reader can set the book down and walk away, then come back to it and pick up again from any point in the narrative. Movies only provide this convenience if you own or stream a copy at home and can rewind it or freeze the frames.
While I enjoy movies, I tend to enjoy their comic-book source material far more due to time control. An awesome action scene might be over in seconds or minutes on the big screen, but I can linger on it for as long as I like with a printed page. A stunning visual appears on the screen for fleeting moments, then moves on to the next one. It leaves me feeling unsatisfied when I want to spend more time taking in all its detail and beauty. With a comic book, I can pore over the artists’ rendering and take time to appreciate every line and shape, every bit of hard work that went into inking and coloring the picture. Instead of having it all fade away as I leave a theater, I can come back to it again and again with a book.
While many recent comic-book movies do look great, the awesomeness always go by too quickly for me. I never have a chance to fully appreciate it before its gone. And when the theater lights come on, fun time is over unless I want to buy another ticket. The experience is transient and ephemeral compared to a physical book I can keep for years.
None of this should be taken as an argument over which medium is “better”. Enjoy what you enjoy. This is only an attempt to articulate a feeling I’ve had for years but never explained very well to people who expect me to be super excited about recent superhero movies. It isn’t that the movies are bad; they simply lack one of the biggest things that gives me enjoyment with comic books: time control.
On a less serious note: a video.
We posted these pages in serialized form in the early days of this blog, but that’s proven inconvenient for people searching for this entire epic. Here they are, all in one spot for those legions of internet users who want to know the answer to the most burning question in the universe: Where the heck did Galactus come from?!
Super Villain Classics #1 (1983) compiled pages from even older Thor comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Some supplemental art and dialogue was added to streamline the story into one coherent narrative. Are you interested in those original Thor issues? Check our archives for samples of Thor #162 here and here! Super Villain Classics #1 was reprinted in 1996 as Galactus the Origin.
As a guy, I can tell you that writing female characters presents some unique challenges—not the least of which is trying to sort out their clothes and hair! Back in 1969, Supergirl’s creative team rose to the challenge by engaging readers to come up with costume and hairstyle ideas. Both Action Comics #273 and Adventure #387 ran the following page about her hair:
By the time Action Comics #281 hit the presses, reader votes determined the winner by a huge margin. With nearly as many votes as all other hairstyles combined, the “Campus Cuddle-Bun” style won by a landslide. I would have preferred the “Contempo Cut” perhaps, but the “Pony Tail Sophisticate” really makes the most sense when half of your superhero time is spent flying through the air! As a hairstyle for Supergirl’s secret identity, any of these would work, but if I was flying faster than the speed of sound I would definitely want my hair tied back. And don’t ask me how the “Kitten Cut” would even work. How do you cut invulnerable hair? Maybe her stylist has a machine that pumps out red sun rays.
That settled her secret-identity hair. But as you can see from the fan letters below, Supergirl’s costume was the subject of much discussion. These letters appeared in Adventure #384-395.
Both male and female readers had pretty strong opinions about her costume. Who says guys don’t think about these things?
Here is the panel from Adventure #397 which reveals the winning design.
The next issue, Adventure #398, added to the costume saga by showcasing some of the different designs submitted for consideration. Supergirl speaks to the reader directly, explaining that the winning design was actually a combination of two designs submitted by two different readers. She even asks one to write in because the address got lost!
The final design looks pretty cool to me, but no sooner did it debut than it got drawn wrong! Look closely at the middle panel on the following page and see if you can spot what went missing.
If you said, “The dang S logo on her chest,” then give yourself today’s SuperVision Award!
Supergirl wraps it up in Adventure #398 by speaking directly to the readers again, naming even more contributors and suggesting she might adorn herself in different costumes now and then just to give all the great ideas a chance. How hard would you have geeked out if you got your name mentioned by your favorite heroine?!
This is a really good example of collaborating with readers to get ideas, and honoring them in print for those ideas. Heck, I’m tempted to try my hand at a Supergirl design after this! And if that isn’t enough Supergirl nostalgia for you, head over to The Supergirl Project and go nuts!
Now, now. Don’t really go burning comic books… unless you post a video of it on YouTube, and then I’d like a hyperlink. Here is a quick rundown of goodies I recently listed for sale on eBay.
New Gods #9 has seen better days. It’s the issue that got me into this series, and the Bug’s pathos-drenched speech is a favorite comic book monologue of mine.
Issues of the Elektra limited series used to be priced higher, but they’ve come way, way down since they got reprinted in TPB editions. Miller and Sienkiewicz offer up a mix of action-movie firepower and hallucinogenic sequences of mental illness, medication, and demons from hell. It’s a wild story.
The Essential Iron Fist Vol. 1 “phone book” style reprint includes all the legendary Claremont/Byrne issues. They don’t rock my world as much as they did when I was a teenager, but I got this just to sit down and read them all in order in one go for once in my life! Mission accomplished.
Turtle Soup is a cool one-shot that belongs in any true Ninja Turtles fan’s collection. It has a cool dream sequence by Steve Bissette, which we’ve posted scans of before.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #9 and #10 have a few spine creases, but the three-page splash fold-out in #10 is a thing of wonder. I’ve posted scans from it before.
This first issue of Punisher War Journal features some of the earliest work Jim Lee produced for Marvel Comics, along with Carl “Alien Legion” Potts. It’s pretty good, but I think a true Punisher afficionado will appreciate it more than me.
Gobbledygook is another Ninja Turtles-related treasure from Mirage Studios in the late 1980s. It’s a sprawling affair with “pin-up” Turtle art, stories from various artists, and lots of non-turtle weirdness.
Last but not least, a 7-issue Avengers run that includes the complete Red Zone storyline. The art is super cool, and the story of a red cloud of infectious agents released from a lab under Mount Rushmore is pretty compelling. Plus, She-Hulk totally rages out of control, and Black Panther gets fed up with Red Skull’s racist nonsense and punches his bloody jaw right off his face.
If you really want to make this a viking funeral, take your monitor or mobile device and set it on fire. Otherwise, let’s just take a nostalgically informal tour through my recent eBay sales.
Clutch is one of my favorite rock bands, and this album has some great jams on it. (My favorite album of theirs is Blast Tyrant.) The buyer turned out to be a huge Static-X fan, and was very excited about the Wayne Static postcard included in this shipment.
I got lucky and found these two issues of Freak Brothers years ago for 50 cents each, so I made a few bucks on these in the auction. This stuff cracks me up.
I got this historic appearance of Wolverine for free from MyComicShop thanks to the affiliate program on this blog and my angelic readers who click through links to buy comics. I thought I’d make $10 or so in auction, but someone walked away with a sweet deal on this at 99 cents final bid. Plus, I packed a few extra 90s-era X-men goodies with shiny silvery covers. The buyer called it the best eBay transaction ever and effusively praised me and my ability to totally rock. Even if I made zero dollars, it was fun to spread the joy of comics across the globe.
I’ve posted scans of Michael Zulli’s work on these three issues of Ninja Turtles, and they get a stupid amount of page views sometimes. Why? Because they’re friggin’ awesome, that’s why. These would have a higher resale value if the covers didn’t have visible wear, and the buyer again walked away with a steal of a deal getting them for less than $2.
These babies retail for $10-15 a piece in this condition, but they don’t sell very fast. So I opened the auction at 99 cents, and someone got a murderous deal at less than $5 for the set. Rick Veitch did the story in these three issues, and it has some of my favorite pages from the original Mirage Studios series.
This 2009 edition of The Arabian Nights is a gorgeous hardcover production complete with gilded page edges, a cloth bookmark, and full-color illustrations. I read a few, and felt the repeated abuse and sexual enslavement of women did not make for entertaining reading. Even the consensual sex in here is described using the language of violence. It’s neat to look at this as a reference on an ancient culture, but it just made me think the culture in question was full of assholes. Sold for 99 cents!
I was excited about IDW bringing the Turtles back, until these first issues turned out to be a kind of rehashed origin story with changes that seemed utterly pointless. I love these covers, but honestly I’d rather have them as posters than be reading the series. Fortunately, they’ve retained their resale value, and someone overseas will be enjoying them for what I paid for them brand new a few years ago.
Like Arabian Nights, Jules Verne’s story Tigers and Traitors (which you might also see referred to as The Steam House) kind of convinced me that people of history were total assholes. On the other hand, by being everything I did NOT want in a story, it helped me define my own kind of ultimate story. A story where the women kick ass, the cats totally destroy and reign supreme, and imperialists are crushed beneath the bloody heels of the rebellion. You know, a happy story!
I expected that everyone who wants a copy of Old Man Logan already has it, considering how popular it was and how many printings the issues went through. But, even though my collection of the complete story included some well-worn early issues, it turns out most of the Old Man Logan issues are worth more than their original sales price in VF+ or better. I got nearly $40 for the set on a 99-cent auction, and stuffed the envelope full of all the Wolverine-related items it could hold.
Last but not least, I sold four individual issues from the original New Gods series by Jack Kirby. I had assembled a nice but affordable set of these in VG+ to FN condition over the years, but the glossy five-issue reprint is good enough for me. My favorite issues are #6, #7 and #9, so I put the rest of them up at 99 cents each. #1 still has a decent street value even in a somewhat battered VG condition, with a final bid of about $14.
In this 1970s story from DC’s Adventure Comics #415, Supergirl gets abducted by evil space pirates to serve as their captain’s unwilling wife while the rest of Earth is destroyed. These creeps find out soon enough that they picked the wrong woman to mess with!
The Saturday-morning-cartoon tenor of Supergirl’s 1970s adventures makes them somewhat dull for an adult reader, but they are occasionally impressive in their portrayal of her character. This story shows of a range of heroic qualities besides her super-cute costume and classic beauty. Supergirl is powerful enough to hand out beat-downs to the pirates, but compassionate enough to try and reason with a misguided member of the crew. She uses her intelligence to deduce their plans, and her might to unravel them. Even the male-dominated Planetary Galaxy Patrol shows her respect, and suggests that word of her “innumerable accomplishments” has spread far beyond Earth. Supergirl is the only female in this story (other than in a panel on page 3), so you won’t find it passing the Bechdel Test. But she certainly commands the stage!
If you would like to see more scans of vintage Supergirl tales from the 1960s and 70s (including Action Comics, Adventure Comics, and her short-lived self-titled series from 1972), then head over to The Supergirl Project!
Anyone… Anything… can be smashed!
Originally, we meant to tell you all about how we discovered this book, which features a rare collaboration between two of our favorite artists: Jim Starlin + Alex Niño. But as we prepared our lovingly hand-crafted scans for you, we realized we scanned the exact same hair onto at least half a dozen pages. That’s a pretty big scanning fail, especially when you already shipped the dang book. OOPS.
Nevertheless, we went through too much to give up now! We must move ever forward! And so here they are, the complete pages of the awesome Starlin/Niño team-up in Rampaging Hulk #4; Marvel Comics, 1977. “The Other Side of Night.”
Nexus #3, a magazine-sized publication by Capital. This was the last of the magazine-sized Nexus books. Numbering would restart at #1 when Capital made Nexus a regular-sized book in full color. Despite having a playable record in it, the retail price of this comic book is under $10 most of the time. The interior has been reprinted more than once, but the original comes with a dramatic back cover by Frank Brunner and an editorial on the inside cover.
Want one? Well, we just sold ours on eBay. But, you can buy your own copy of Nexus #1-3 (Capital, 1981-82).
We bought this at a used bookstore for one reason and one reason only: the Steve Bissette portrait of Swamp Thing. But in all fairness, the portfolio has several stunning renditions of DC characters. It rarely appears in stock at MyComicShop, but you can find it on eBay for less than its original price of $15.
This is one of two Marvel Treasury Editions featuring the Hulk. (Behold the Rampaging Hulk treasury edition in our archives.) Each one has a story about the alternate earth on the opposite side of our sun, a world full of man/beast hybrids where Hulk meets an early incarnation of Adam Warlock. In this volume, he meets a version of Bruce Banner.
This volume also holds an underrated but iconic Hulk story where he meets the legendary golem, a protector of the people. The murky swamps and military attacks on Hulk, combined with dramatic panel narration, make this a very representative (and perhaps our favorite) Hulk story of the 1970s. A showdown with Havok, of X-men fame, really shines in the enlarged treasury size. The massive rocks and Hulk’s feats of strength seem appropriately enormous here. Havok was easily our favorite mutant for years after reading this in the late 70s or early 80s.
Buy your own copy of Marvel Treasury Edition 17: The Incredible Hulk; Marvel Comics, 1974.
This titanic tome is one of the books we have covered most often here at MWSNM, and the madness rippling through its gigantic pages inspired more than a little of our aesthetic sense. So, if you would like full scans of some of the stories inside, behold our archives:
Spider-man + Dr. Strange team up
Spider-man + Ka-Zar team up
Spider-man + Black Panther team up
The pics below, from our super secret spy camera (a/k/a iPhone5), feature a nice shot of the back cover, a truly sensational masterpiece from Bob Budiansky and Joe Sinnott. If you like Marvel Treasury Editions, more photos and scans await inside our Marvel Treasury Edition archive.
Buy your own copy of Marvel Treasury Edition #22; Marvel Comics, 1974.
Even though retail prices have come down from their 1990s peaks on Amazing Spider-man issues by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane, collecting them all could still put a big dent in your wallet. Those readers on a sacred mission to collect every issue of Amazing Spider-man will overcome this challenge. The rest of us wouldn’t mind having them collected in three trade paperbacks.
Marvel complicated things by publishing the three paperbacks under two different banners. Readers searching in databases at retailers or libraries might find one, but not the other. Let us clear things up for you.
The first of the three is under the “Visionaries” banner. You can find many good stories from Marvel’s flagship characters in various Visionaries collections. The Todd MacFarlane one includes Amazing Spider-man #298-305, notable for taking Spidey’s black suit from the first Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars and bonding it to Eddie Brock to create Venom. Spider-man Visionaries Todd McFarlane #1 is listed at MyComicShop and Amazon.
Marvel then moved the series over to “Marvel Legends” banner. The first of the two Marvel Legends collects Amazing Spider-man #306-314, plus a story from Spectacular Spider-man Annual #10 with McFarlane art. This one may be our favorite of the series. We can’t find it at MyComicShop, but it is listed correctly on Amazon despite not having the right cover currently.
Marvel wraps it up with a second Legends collection that includes Amazing Spider-man #315-323, #325, and #328. Although the listing on Amazon doesn’t have the right cover at the time of this post, it is the right book.
As much as we love McFarlane’s rendering of Spidey’s world, these stories succeed in large part due to Michelinie’s writing. It’s a shame these collections dont say “Michelinie and McFarlane” on them. Marvel remedied that bit of rudeness in 2011 by printing the Amazing Spider-man Omnibus by David Micheline and Todd McFarlane. Last time we checked, you could get one for about $100.
The collections are an enjoyable romp through the Spider-man rogues’ gallery with drama, humor, and interesting developments in the lives of newlyweds Mary Jane Watson Parker and her wall-crawling hubby. Michelinie breaks with the “hard luck hero” tradition of Spidey. Peter Parker marries an incredibly fun, smart super-model. He gets famous for his Spider-man photos in the Daily Bugle and goes on a book-signing tour. Peter and Mary Jane move into a nice place. They have some money for a change, and even Aunt May has a cool boyfriend now. This was a fresh approach to the character at the time. It reminded us that even though Parker has lots of bad luck, he still totally kicks ass.
Despite our defense of Michelinie, Spidey just looks great zipping through these books in a mass of webs with a look McFarlane seems to have invented. They have since been copied, but we don’t recall ever seeing anyone draw Spidey’s webs like McFarlane before these books.
The creative team brings back one of our favorite Spidey supporting characters: the Prowler. In the Prowler’s claws, mask, and swirling cape, you might be witnessing McFarlane get the ideas for his Spawn character worked out on the page in these Spidey stories.
The bonus “pin-up” was also printed as a postcard by Marvel, and we’ve always loved this image.
Venom’s gleeful sadism and obvious mental illness are good signs he might be a keeper as a Spidey villain.
Another nut job and total loser from Spidey’s gallery of bad guys shows up: the Scorpion. The Scorpion never looked so awesome as he did in this story. Spidey must rescue J. Jonah Jameson from the guy in green armored tights with a fatal tail. It’s a hoot.
McFarlane made his mark on The Lizard, too. Just a hideous rage ball of claws and teeth. McFarlane would again draw our favorite evil reptile in a lab coat when he started his own Spider-man series.
Spidey looks pretty awesome crouching in the snow in a graveyard.
And that’s all the photos we had time to snap before selling these wonderful books on eBay. We read them not long after they first came out, in their original single issue form. It was fun to read through them again and enjoy them in these collections. It’s a good chunk of Spidey stories that deserves a place on even a casual Spidey collector’s shelf.