drive

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Drive is a song by The Cars, and I recorded this instrumental version in the living room at my old place, on a sunny afternoon with heavy traffic outside. The car noise seemed to fit the theme.

Listen or Download the MP3: https://app.box.com/s/gv0bl75qgvooosetgaolgnosxh5gjs9q

About ten years ago, this track appeared on a limited edition CD of maybe 100 copies, an album recorded with friends and sold at a CD release party. I haven’t made it available anywhere since.

indie box: This Is Sold-Out

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This is Sold-Out lampoons the comic book industry of the 1980s, and no one walks away without a few lumps. It’s too bad the creators never did a sequel satirizing the 1990s speculator craze. Long-time comic book fans will enjoy picking out the altered comic book titles on the racks and the ridiculous hyperbole about the medium we know and love.

My favorite moment might be when a rodent and a turtle use random words from the dictionary to come up with the title of the latest black-and-white indie sensation: The Catastrophic Obsequious Belgian Hibernation Retrieval. Someone must create that book!

This Is Sold Out has an outrageous second issue that concludes the story as the “Color Police” get together to eradicate all competition for the black-and-white madness. Absolute lunacy!

Collector’s Guide:
-From Sold Out; 1986, FantaCo.
Last we checked, FantaCo was defunct and this title is out of print.

 

 

 

indie box: Teknophage

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Inside the indie comics box today, it’s Teknophage: a walking, talking, totally evil dinosaur who rules a world much like ours, only infinitely more terrible. Teknophage feeds on souls, which he extracts from helpless humans in the horrifying vats of his mobile city. He cruises his planet spreading misery every where he goes. Many have tried to overthrow him, only to have their souls ripped from their tortured bodies and consumed.

Rick Veitch created this evil bastard reptile for Tekno Comix, a Neil Gaiman venture. With artist Bryan Talbot, Veitch blends horror, science fiction, and a cynically hilarious social satire to make Teknophage a story you will never forget – assuming you survive!

Here is a preview of the pages where Teknophage recounts his earliest days as just another evil telepathic dinosaur, and how he discovered the multi-dimensional technology that made him master of the planet.

Collector’s Guide:
– From Teknophage #4-5; Tekno Comix, 1995.

indie box: Salvador

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Today we open the indie short-box to find the first and only issue of a series that never happened: Salvador!

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The ultimate intent of the lavish, wordless art remains a mystery to me. I felt like I followed the central character’s journey, even though the world was unfamiliar to me, and I could draw some conclusions about what it was all about. But did this episode set up a longer storyline, or is this issue a self-contained story? What did the creators think was coming next?

The blurb in the back of the book, which you can see in the scans below, says Salvador was to be a five-issue series, and the main character was a “savior for DNA discards” in a world of genetic engineering gone awry. He can fly, but he was born brittle, so he is easily broken. I don’t know if that will help you make more sense of this unfinished work, but have a look at these gorgeous pages anyway.

Collector’s Guide:
Salvador #1; Boom Studios, 2007.

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indie box: Thrasher Comics

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The short-box of indie and small-press comics this week crawls right out of the gutter to bring you the underground skateboard glory of Thrasher!

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Thrasher Comics came from High Speed, the publishers of Thrasher Magazine, who also produced the art magazine Juxtapoz. You don’t need to be a skater to dig the artwork in Thrasher Comics, however. Here is a sample: L. E. Coleman’s “Skate Greats of History,” featuring Elvis Presley skating on a guitar, and Julius Caesar skating the Colossuem.

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Though it’s unsigned, Thrasher contributor Ken Jones informed us the cover was created by Kevin Ancell. The style brings to mind the work of Rick Griffin. Griffin did freelance work for Thrasher Magazine and even designed several Vans shoes, a brand loved by skaters everywhere.

Collector’s Guide:
– From Thrasher #2; 1988, High Speed.

indie box: Rare Bit Fiends

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What’s in the short-box of indie and small-press comics this week? It’s Rare Bit Fiends by Rick Veitch!

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Here to introduce the descent into the dreamworld is a strange and nameless beast who begins every issue of this unique series.

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In Rare Bit Fiends, Rick Veitch made his dreams into pages of comic book art. Don’t look for traditional stories in Rare Bit Fiends. You’ll only find the psychedelic language of dreams and the weird workings of the inner mind. Veitch’s artwork is in top form.

Below is a sample of an illustrated dream whose narrative comes from a special-guest dreamer Neil Gaiman and rendered by Roarin’ Rick in ultra-cosmic perfection!

Collector’s Guide:
– From Rare Bit Fiends.
– Collections include Crypto Zoo, Pocket Universe, and Rabid EyeKing Hell Press.

The title Rare Bit Fiends is a nod to the early 20th Century comic strip Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend by Winsor McCay, who created Little Nemo in Slumberland.

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indie box: Zero Killer

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What’s inside the short-box of indie comics this week? Dystopic, post-apocalyptic future? Check. Girls kissing in punk-rock gear? Check. Ass kickings? Check. Tattooed mutant brothers living in a vandalized World Trade Center with a massive stockpile of weed? Check.

How about a guy eating cockroaches? Dudes hacking off a dude’s limbs and feeding them to rats? One totally stacked mama running a vicious gang of leather-clad boy-toys who kill on command? Check, Check, Check!

What’s there NOT to like about Zero Killer?!? Arvid Nelson put together a monumental adventure story with complex characters in this six-issue series published by Dark Horse. Illustrator Matt Camp made the story come to life perfectly, including a rockin’ wraparound cover featuring dinosaur skulls! It’s like they made this one just for me.

Collector’s Guide:
– From Zero Killer; Dark Horse, 2007.
– Reprinted in the Zero Killer TPB.

indie box: Elephantmen

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What’s inside the short-box of independent and small-press comic books this week? It’s Elephantmen from Image Comics! Now, you might argue that Image Comics is too big to be considered “indie” or “small press” anymore, and maybe you’re right. But I remember when it was a start-up company with only a handful of titles, and one important thing remains the same: a focus on creator-owned projects.

Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen is one of several books that made me pay attention to Image Comics after having written them off years before as having better art than story, and too much focus on spandex-clad super-types. While that judgment might seem more accurate if you consider the quality I encountered in the earliest issues of WildC.A.T.s and StormWatch when Image began, even those titles became pretty awesome a few years later. So, Image can thank Richard Starkings for getting my damned attention, and I also thank Richard for the amazing tutorial he created that taught me how to letter comic books using Adobe Illustrator. See the Comicraft company website for awesome fonts, and that tutorial which is well worth the $10 if you want to learn how to letter digitally.

In the Unnatural Selection story–one of my favorites–Joe Casey and Ladronn created a gruesome future history for Richard Starking’s Elephantmen. A future where soldiers are bred from men and beasts, incubated in horrific labs, and indoctrinated as murderous slaves. Dig the following sample pages from Elephantmen: Unnatural Selection. We witness the birth of the starring character Hip Flask and the strange brand that gave him his name. Also, we encounter the brutal training and combat our hybrid heroes endured before they gained their freedom. One thing is for sure: mad scientists are jerks!

Collector’s Guide to Awesome Elephantmen Stories:
– From Elephantmen #0: Unnatural Selection; Image Comics.
Elephantmen TPB
Damaged Goods TPB
War Toys TPB
Unhuman: The Elephantmen Art of Ladronn.

more mixes added

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I added a few more music mixes to the archive page for my streaming sets. Simmer (Mix 56) is from last month featuring a blend of ska, reggae, vocal jazz, latin jazz, and rock. Rock1 and Rock2 (Mixes 5 and 6) are two hard-rocking sets from 2016 featuring punk, metal, psych, garage, doom, and more — with a few other things to spice them up. Enjoy!

indie box: Pounded

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What’s inside the short-box of indie comic books this week? The punk-rock mini-series that glorifies juvenile debauchery and ill-advised life choices as only Brian Wood and Steve Rolston could bring you: Pounded!

Did you ever have one of those mornings when only the F word will do? Heavy Parker has, too! In the third and final issue of Pounded, after getting his ass beat, Heavy makes it through four whole pages of a lousy morning with just one word to describe his feelings.

Pounded from Brian “DMZ” Wood and Steve Rolston is a quick read but a fun one. It’s much more guy-oriented than Wood’s work on New York Four and New York Five. I got the impression those were written for a young female audience who finds drama in texting and… texting… and more texting about texting… PLEASE KILL ME! But in Pounded, we get rock and roll, tough talk, sex and drugs in the bathrooms of concert venues, brutal fist fights in the street, and plenty of profanity! Man out with Heavy Parker today. Guaranteed to improve your fucking morning!

Collector’s Guide:
– From Pounded #3; Oni Press, 2002.
– Reprinted in the Pounded TPB (which is more often in stock.)

indie box: Nemesis

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What’s inside the short-box of indie comic books this week? Nemesis, published by the UK-based Eagle Comics, and originating in the pages of 2000AD. Thanks to my high-school buddy Brian and his older brother Michael, the insanity of British comic books was percolating into my awareness by the mid-1980s, and by the time creators such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis (to name just a few) were working on mainstream franchises at Marvel and DC (or their subsidiaries), I was primed for a ‘British Invasion’ of American comics that rivaled that of blues-based rock music in the 1960s.

For me, it began with Nemesis. When Brian saw this creative team sparked my interest, he also shared with me Marshall Law and Metalzoic. Since then, I’ve dug O’Neill’s art on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Mills’ work on Flesh, which I only discovered decades after its original publication.

The following self-contained short story about Nemesis begins in a dungeon where alien species are imprisoned, along with humans suspected of harboring or assisting aliens. Though they suffer, their spirits are lifted by memories of the revolutionary alien warrior, Nemesis!

Nemesis the Warlock! His name strikes fear into the hearts of humans everywhere. Humans living in a religious monarchy that persecutes and exterminates all aliens. Just look at this glorious propaganda poster for Torquemada, the arch-nemesis of Nemesis and totally disgusting scumbag.

That’s right. This evil freak is everywhere, spearheading an inquisition across the galaxy to torture and murder peace-loving aliens! It’s almost like living in the United States in 2019!

But take heart, species of the universe. Nemesis the Warlock has an even freakier face than Torquemada, and his sword is way more huge! So huge that it has its own origin story — a violent, grotesque space epic of suffering and sacrifice for all the wrong reasons. Suck it, humans!

Collector’s Guide:
– From Nemesis the Warlock; Eagle Comics, 1984. By Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill.

a new page for music mixes

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If you’ve enjoyed the virtual “mix tapes” I’ve been posting here since late last year, then visit the new page that collects them all for your listening pleasure:

https://marswillsendnomore.wordpress.com/pbn/

I once thought I would end this mix series after the fiftieth recorded set. But thanks to other DJs, I kept discovering new music. That’s the beauty of hanging out with other music maniacs. Plus, I now realize that several styles I love are grossly under-represented, from modern jazz to classical music of India. So you know what? The PBN will live on and explore more sonic territory.

Thank you for supporting the Puma Broadcasting Network, a division of the Feline Liberation Front. Long live the resistance.

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indie box: Alexis

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This week, the indie short-box holds the only issue of Alexis I’ve ever seen. This book is so small-press that it might as well be extinct — which is a shame for a book with bold and exciting black-and-white artwork, boobs, and tentacles.

Individual issues appear sometimes on eBay and Amazon, but with little agreement on the market value. I’ve never seen a listing for a full set of either Volume 1 or Volume 2, and certainly not both together. [This is no longer true! See my update in the Collector’s Guide below.] Each volume was five issues long. Below are my scans of issue #5 of the second volume. It seems like a grand climax to a fun story with awesome art that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I’d love to see the other nine issues.

Art & Story by Adam Kelly. Published March, 1996 by Kim Thompson and Gary Groth of Eros Comix, a defunct imprint of Fantagraphics. The inside cover contains this text: “RETAILERS ARE INSTRUCTED NOT TO SELL THIS PUBLICATION TO MINORS.” Compared to some of the publisher’s outright porn comics advertised in the back of this issue, Alexis #5 seems pretty mild.

Collector’s Guide: I have no idea where to find this series. Do you? Leave a comment and enlighten me. UPDATE: I found a store that currently has all issues of Volume 2, and a package deal containing all ten issues of Volumes 1 and 2. Prices are about $10 per issue. See the listings at AbeBooks.com.

dinosaurs of the tellus science museum

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This month, my mom and sister took me to the Tellus Science Museum in Georgia, and I was spoiled with an afternoon of prehistoric life and outer space! The museum lobby showcases a huge apatosaurus skeleton, and my sister snapped a photo for me to share with all the dino geeks who frequent this blog.

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The camera on my phone isn’t as nice as hers, but I snapped a few pics, too. Here is the apatosaur’s head in a position where he might be eating a planet.

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The planets in the pic appear over the entrance to the planetarium where we enjoyed a presentation about how Earth was formed. This was fortuitous timing, because the film showed something I was reading about that very day: how an ancient proto-planet named Theia crashed into an early version of Earth, a cataclysmic collision that enlarged Earth and resulted in the formation of our Moon, our tilted axis of rotation, and eventually our ocean tides.

The film presented this event as a known fact, but it’s a hypothesis that best explains how things got the way they are now. The Theia hypothesis is explored in more detail in the book I took on my trip, an amazing and often poetic exploration of geology, chemistry, and cosmic history that begins with examining a single pebble found on a Welsh beach.

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The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey into Earth’s Deep History by Jan Zalasiewicz is a bit wordy at times, being written by a lecturing professor. What it lacks in concision, it makes up for in its flowing language that links many scientific disciplines to each other and gives insights into how big-picture events like the origin of Earth relate to small-picture events at the atomic level, all to create the rocks we sometimes ignore beneath our feet but which, upon examination, reveal so much about our world.

The prehistoric exhibit at Tellus Science Museum showcases specimens found in Georgia, and it features some fossils visitors are invited to touch (including Megalodon teeth and Triceratops poop). The Appalachiosaurus pictured below was new to me.

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This fearsome beast shares exhibit space with a pair of Dromeosaurs whose informational plaque needs a bit of an update. The plaque mentions feathers and the relation of dinos to modern birds as a kind of hypothesis, but these things are now known with about as much certainty as we can get. After all, we’ve found the feathers, and paleo-artist William Stout was among the first to depict them in his mural paintings for the San Diego Natural History Museum. You can read more about that in Prehistoric Life Murals by William Stout, which includes amazing reproductions of his paintings in a glorious hardcover volume.

Tellus also has aquatic beasts, including a Mosasaur and a sea turtle, the two main characters in one of my favorite stories, Archelon and the Sea Dragon by Francis K. Pavel. You might enjoy the short essay I wrote about the book for an undergraduate project a few years ago.

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For flying reptiles, Tellus has a trio of Pterosaurs. Here’s one of them.

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Tellus has prehistoric mammals, too, including this Smilodon.

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These are just a few of the wonders in the prehistoric life exhibit. And I didn’t even photograph any of the awesome space exploration stuff. Tellus Science Museum has a bunch of other exhibits, too. I didn’t see them all, but I loved what I saw. If you go, you might call ahead to find out the showtimes in the planetarium, because several shows play at different times throughout the day. The Birth of Planet Earth is well worth seeing, and I’d have liked to see the other features if we had more time.

On your way out, you can visit the gift shop and get a cuddly ammonite and a few of his stuffed trilobite friends!

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If you can’t make it to Georgia any time soon, Amazon also carries critters from this plush toy line called Paleozoic Pals.

more free comics

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Just when I’d wrapped up a series of posts about the big box of free comics I got thanks to readers who used my affiliate links to find books at MyComicShop.com, another note from the retailer arrived to say I’d earned an additional $80 in store credit. That same week, I’d found a good deal on eBay to replace one of my favorite (and previously sold) action/crime series, DC/Vertigo’s The Losers, so I was left with very few holes in my collection. The Dark Horse Conan stories I’d like to read again were either too pricey or currently out of stock, so I dug around in my short boxes until it hit me: I still don’t have the complete original Miracleman series!

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Over the years, I’d tracked down affordable copies in respectable condition of issues #1–20, and this quest was aided near the end by Marvel’s reprints of the original series. As Marvel made new, high-quality reprints available, the ridiculous prices for the original books decreased. Issue #15, one of the last gems to enter my collection, used to run from $150 up to several hundred bucks, for example. Now I have a copy in wonderful, though not perfect, condition, and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg.

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I didn’t worry too much about collecting issues #21–24 because Marvel reprinted #21 and 22 in their repackaging of Neil Gaiman’s Golden Age storyline, and it seemed that Gaiman was slated to finish the Silver Age story that ended with a cliffhanger and was never completed due to Eclipse Comics’ demise. But here we are, years later, and we still haven’t seen the end of that story. I’m glad for Gaiman’s recent success with American Gods, but it isn’t a project that interests me. The gods I want to read about have “Miracle” in their names!

So, armed with some store credit, I picked up issues #21-23 of the original series, leaving me with only the rare (and still a bit pricey) #24 on my wish list. I’ve read them all before, thanks to scans posted online, but it’s just a different and more satisfying experience to read the physical copies. (You can find scans of the original series at https://readcomiconline.to/Comic/Miracleman-1985)

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Those three books ate up most of my store credit, but I had just enough left over to pick up another story I’ve read before but was partially incomplete in my collection: The Price by Jim Starlin. Sure, I have the color “remastered” version that was the Dreadstar Annual, but I have never seen nor owned the original magazine-sized black-and-white edition, and I just love the black-and-white painted art of the original Metamorphosis Odyssey that appeared in Epic Illustrated and started the whole Dreadstar saga.

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The original art reveals just how much the coloring/painting process enhanced the artwork’s mood and the story’s vibrancy. The original feels cold compared to the color version. It lacks the brilliant reds of the robes worn by members of the Church of the Instrumentality, the eye-popping colors that bring various cosmic and mystical energies to life on the page, and the powerful emotions suggested by the reprint’s color artwork.

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However, the front and back-cover paintings are rendered in their original full-color and full-size glory, unlike in the reprint where they are shrunk and surrounded by additional cover elements that distract from their beauty—a complaint that at least one reader expressed in the original letters column of Dreadstar when the Annual was discussed.

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I’m pleased to now have both versions of The Price in my Dreadstar collection, and the original was the one piece I’ve felt was missing over the years. How I assembled, lost, and re-assembled the entire original series four times is a saga of collector triumph and tragedy, but I’m happy to now have every issue I ever wanted from one of my all-time favorite stories in any medium.

Now if we could just see the end of Miracleman, all would be right with the universe.

Thank you, readers and fans of sequential art for visiting this site and using it to find the books you want!

Collectors’ Guide:

Miracleman #1-24 (original 1985 series, Eclipse Comics)

Miracleman (reprint series by Marvel Comics, includes original issues #1-16)

Miracleman Golden Age (reprint series by Marvel, includes original issues #17-22 )

The Price (original magazine-sized b&w edition, Eclipse Comics)

Dreadstar Annual #1 (full-color reprint of the original, Epic/Marvel comics)

 

July Ebook Giveaway!

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From now through July 31, you can get the following ebooks absolutely free on Smashwords:

Meteor Mags: The Battle of Vesta 4 and Other Tales

Meteor Mags: Omnibus Edition

Never See the Night

The Baby and the Crystal Cube

Three Years Dreaming: A Memoir

Anything Sounds Like a Symphony: Poetry at Maximum Volume

Animal Inside You: Poems of Chaos and Euphoria

Big Box of Comics Part 4: Planetary Omnibus

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This post is part of a series about what was inside this month’s big box of free comics.

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What can I say about Planetary that hasn’t already been said in the 20 years since its first issue? From the series’ chronic delays of up to years between issues, to the Eisner-award-winning artwork, Planetary has been documented about as thoroughly as the weird events in Elijah Snow’s annual “Planetary Guides”.

The 864-page hardcover Omnibus edition looks like one of those Guides when you remove the slipcover, and that’s just one example of the high-quality design that was a hallmark of the series. People might have waited months or years for the original issues, but when each one finally came out, it looked damn good. So does the Omnibus.

Reading the Omnibus cover-to-cover puts Planetary in a fresh light. I gained a greater sense of the series’ continuity and complexity since I could read each chapter with the previous one still fresh in my mind. I got an even stronger impression of the amazing work by colorist Laura Martin (with assistance from Wildstorm FX). Although writer Warren Ellis and artist John Cassaday usually get the credit for the series, Martin’s contribution is integral to its visual splendor and the emotional effect of every page and panel. Maybe Planetary could have been good without Martin, but I doubt it would have been legendary.

The Omnibus also dissipates the major annoyance I had when I was originally piecing the series together from single issues; namely, a feeling that every installment consisted only of the three main characters visiting a random location where they met a random person who delivered lengthy exposition about a scenario based on pulp fiction or vintage superheroes, and that this exposition filled most of the pages before reaching a vague and hasty conclusion tacked on as an afterthought to the “cool concept” of the issue.

While several chapters do this, they are not as numerous as I remember, and they mostly take place in the beginning of the series. Reading the Omnibus makes it clear how the individual chapters fit into the big picture; it was just difficult to sort all that out with a series that took ten years to publish 27 issues, and because it was challenging to find affordable copies in complete chronological order if you came to the series late like I did.

Though I’ve thought highly of Planetary since the day I discovered a beat-up copy of #5 at a used bookstore, the Omnibus made me enjoy and appreciate it even more.

Buyer’s Guide:

The Planetary Omnibus is sometimes out of stock at MyComicShop.com, but usually available on Amazon.

 

Big Box of Comics Part 3: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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This post is part of a series about what was inside this month’s big box of free comics.

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The Return to New York story in the original TMNT series #19–21 is even better than I remember. I think I was in turtle overload when I read it years ago, and I’d forgotten much of it. Visually, it’s one of the greatest TMNT stories of all time, with stunningly detailed artwork, creative layouts, extensively choreographed fight scenes, and incredible double-splash pages.

The black & white artwork creatively uses both black and white ink in addition to detailed screentone shading (sometimes called by the brand name Zip-A-Tone). The result is some of my favorite artwork in any TMNT story, and it’s a joy to watch the Turtles hack and slash their way through sewers full of enemies while their new Triceraton friend destroys everything in sight with his blaster.

But I was in for a shock when I read issue #6. It wasn’t just the wraparound cover that’s even more awesome than I remember. It wasn’t just the visual splendor of Turtles and Triceratons in combat. No, the shock was the discovery of just how many ideas I apparently stole from this single issue for my fiction series, The Adventures of Meteor Mags and Patches.

Issue #6 has asteroids, dinosaur-type aliens in a combat ring fighting to the death, a ruling body referred to only as the High Council, silly satire, aliens who dislike mammals (“Shut your face, you puny piece of mammal droppings!”), heroes who insult the dino-aliens (“Where I come from, bozos like you know their place—in museums, displayed as skeletons of long-dead ancient freaks!”), fight scenes that last for several pages with scant dialogue, and a shoot-out while attempting to board a spaceship. Somehow, this mid-1980s masterpiece burrowed so deeply into my brain that I was unconsciously drawing on it for inspiration decades later.

I wasn’t planning on picking up the original ten issues of the series, but after reading #6, I want to read the whole storyline again!

Buyers Guide:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6. Reprinted in: Ultimate Collection Hardcover #1.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #19-21, Return to New York. Reprinted in Ultimate Collection Hardcover #3.

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Big Box of Comics Part 2: Conan in Queen of the Black Coast

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This post is part of a series about what was inside this month’s big box of free comics.

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I really wanted to like this story, which is split across the fifth and sixth Conan Omnibuses. I hoped the negative reviews were simply cynical. But I couldn’t even read the whole thing. In the interest of expanding Robert E. Howard’s original tale, this version adds characters I didn’t need, adventures I didn’t care about, and questionable depictions of Conan and his pirate queen. Least believable is how Conan allows himself to be beaten, chained, and imprisoned in a ludicrous subterfuge to plunder a town. This goes against everything we know about Conan’s forceful character. Cloonan, whose artwork I usually love, chose to portray Conan with a slimmer, more realistic anatomy—something more like Steve Rude’s Nexus than your typical comic-book he-man—but that doesn’t fit Conan either. Conan is larger than life, and if there was ever a character who should appear large, intimidating, and insanely muscular, it’s Conan.

Just as troubling was the treatment of Bêlit. She has a crew of strong, skilled sailors who worship her like a goddess, but she lacks the fighting ability we would expect from a battle-hardened pirate. Instead, she gained leadership of the crew by leading them on a somewhat cunning mission in which her main contribution was planning. While I like the idea of Bêlit using her brains and not just her brawn, this approach gives us zero reason to believe her pirate crew would revere her so devoutly. She appears to have a hypnotic sexuality, but it takes more than being sexy to command a pirate crew. She comes across as a horny waif, not a total bad-ass, and that does her a disservice.

The visual depiction of her is even more troubling than that of Conan. Bêlit looks like a raving psycho with madness in her eyes, a slender goth sexpot on the verge of a breakdown instead of a conquering queen of the seas. Though she’s drawn with a nice enough figure, her face could only inspire fear, not love. What exactly does Conan see in her? To make matters worse, the colorists usually make her skin a stark white. She isn’t simply “pale” with “milky skin” as described in the text. She’s been painted bright white like she’s auditioning for Marilyn Manson or the Misfits. (Oddly, her skin is given a normal flesh tone in some scenes or issues, and this just makes the pasty white look seem even more out of place.) The color of Bêlit’s skin is one thing this adaptation should have changed from the original text, because it never made sense to have a sailor with milky white skin. Unless she was a sailor in Arctic seas, she would have been quite tan from exposure to the sun on the deck of her ship. Instead, she is someone’s goth-rock fantasy girl, and Conan is her long-haired boyfriend who listens to Joy Division, and it’s doubtful these two could command a ship, much less conquer many of them.

The story expansion also screws up the final, poignant scene from the original story. Bêlit’s fiery burial at sea is spliced in chunks with an unnecessary scene from after the funeral, where Conan is talking to someone in a tavern, someone who can see what an emotional wreck Conan is. If this scene was entirely cut from the story so we could simply witness the burial, we would know Conan was wrecked because we would be wrecked with him. Instead, we keep getting pulled out of the moment to visit the uninteresting tavern.

That’s just a few of the problems in this adaptation, and despite my enthusiasm about female pirates in general and the original Queen of the Black Coast specifically, I cannot recommend it.

Buyer’s Guide:

Conan Omnibus #5: Piracy and Passion.
Conan Omnibus #6: Savagery and Sorcery.

Big Box of Comics Part 1: Concrete

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This post is part of a series about what was inside this month’s big box of free comics.

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Concrete is just as good as I remember, except for the Fragile Creature series in which Chadwick experimented with a Moebius-influenced line story that is less beautiful than his other artwork on the series and lacks the physical weight suggested by a heavy character like Concrete. Plus, I found the story boring compared to the 10-issue series and the six-issue Think Like a Mountain.

Mountain features one of my favorite scenes: Concrete walks underwater along the Pacific Northwest coast. He encounters a shark swarm, a hidden octopus, and a horrific “ghost net”: a fishing net lost at sea that traps fish, birds, seals, and other animals in its inescapable tangle until they die.

Like Mountain and the story about building a sustainable farm, the six issues of The Human Dilemma focus on Chadwick’s ecological concerns, which he discusses in more detail in supplementary articles and responses to readers’ letters. Chadwick does a remarkable job of giving his characters opposing viewpoints to argue and question, so that even if some characters are preachy, it doesn’t feel like the storyteller is preaching.

Instead, the stories reveal the complexity of taking action or even reaching a solid conclusion about environmental concerns (and everything else in life). Characters reach a decision then find reasons to doubt they made the right choice. They change their minds. Characters make bad decisions and suffer the consequences, or even suffer for their more noble actions. Besides telling a damn good story, Concrete invites readers to question, ponder, and re-evaluate.

Chadwick’s art is a delight. Although I liked the full-color art in Mountain, Concrete shines brightest in black & white printings that show off the compositional beauty of every page. Chadwick uses creative points of view in many panels, such as in Dilemma when we see a character through a wine bottle that distorts his image, which is perfect for a scene in which the character’s emotions are out of control and leading him to make a poor decision.

The first six issues of the original series were collected, in pairs, in three slim paperback volumes. The first two paperbacks are worth getting for the additional pages of story Chadwick had room to include in those editions, pages which are not simply “deleted scenes” but enhance the story. I got all three paperbacks and the original single issues because the reprints do not include the original back covers I am so fond of.

I was surprised to find the final two issues of Dilemma were not in the big box. But this is a mistake that turned out well. When I went to MyComicShop.com to order them, I found my missing ninth issue of the original series had become available. Yes! Into the shopping cart! (I even had just enough store credit remaining to pay for them and their shipping. Bonus!) I did not replace some issues of odds and ends, nor the Killer Smile limited series I don’t recall being thrilled with; but aside from the hard-to-find second volume of collected short stories, I’m happy to once again have a Concrete collection that includes the best of the best.

Buyer’s Guide: 

Concrete #1-10.
–The paperback reprints of the first six issues: Land and Sea. A New LifeOdd Jobs. All ten issues are reprinted in Complete Concrete or the Concrete TPB series.
–Concrete: Think Like a Mountain. Also in TPB.
–Concrete: The Human Dilemma.
–Concrete: The Complete Short Stories.