Look, I know this one-shot about a “bad girl” who was designed for adolescent boys to get a titallating thrill from tales of utterly violent and satanic nonsense isn’t Eisner-award-winning material, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I was going to buy it just for the absolutely glorious wraparound cover by Juan Jose Ryp, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the story inside is a worthy addition to my collection of books and comics about pirates.
At first, I thought, “This is just a silly yarn full of well-worn pirate fantasy tropes.” But about halfway through this gorgeously illustrated issue, I was all aboard. I’ve never been a fan of Lady Death stories, even though I love the Lady Death aesthetic. She was always one of those characters who I felt had never lived up to their potential, maybe even a character I would like to try writing someday to do her justice.
Pirate Queen proves she doesn’t need my help. Our leading lady lures her enemies to be devoured by some demonic sea reptiles and is rewarded by regaining her super-awesome sword of death. She uses it to re-animate an entire town full of slaughtered pirate corpses to take vengeance on those who betrayed her. She coldly celebrates her return to power and sets off on a quest that bodes ill for every living thing on Earth.
Welcome back to another installment of theBig Box of Comics, where I share the treasures I’ve acquired thanks to this blog’s readers. Today we’ll look at a series of comics I picked up just for the covers—but oh, what covers they are!
In the summer of 1990, just before my final year of high school, Robocop 2 hit the big screen. A huge fan of the original movie, I had to see the sequel. This was before we had year-long lead-ups to summer blockbusters with so many trailers and leaks and hundreds of YouTubers making videos about the damn trailers and everything being over-hyped online until there’s no way any movie can live up to all that.
No, I just walked into the theater without knowing much of anything other than “Robocop is awesome,” and I took an unexpected journey. It was one of the first—if not the first—movie with an R rating I got to see on my own since I had turned seventeen that year, and my teenage mind was blown away. But what really caught me by surprise was when the end credits announced the movie was written by a comic-book creator whose work I knew: Frank Miller.
The stunning revelation made instant sense to me. Movies based on comic books are a dime a dozen now, but Robocop 2 was one of the first live-action films that really captured the essence of the over-the-top action, humorous parody, pointed social commentary, insane violence, and grim-and-gritty protagonists that characterized the tonal shift in many mainstream comics in the mid-to-late 1980s. Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was a big part of that change, and his Robocop film had a lot in common with it.
But while the movie was so much fun in a “Rule of Cool” way, the comics adaptation based on Miller’s original script is a mean-spirited mess that lacks the movie’s focus and hilarity, and it will probably make you grateful for all the changes made for the film. Its best feature is the artwork by Juan Jose Ryp, a non-stop visual feast of intricately detailed hyper-violence that is gloriously exemplified by Ryp’s covers for the series—especially the wraparound covers.
Ryp drew my all-time favorite covers, and he is in fine form on Robocop where he renders cyborgs, cops, and criminals in chaotic combat scenes that completely destroy their urban environments. Although the series itself isn’t so great, I indulged in these works of art for my small collection of Ryp’s work for Avatar Press. Along the way, I also picked up some ripping Ryp wraps that were missing from my Anna Mercury and Wolfskin collections.
You could probably stuff a short box full of nothing but Ryp’s prolific output for Avatar. And who knows? Maybe one day I will. As Robocop says at the end of the movie version, “Patience, Lewis. We’re only human.”
Collector’s Guide: These covers appear on the original single issues of Frank Miller Robocop by Avatar Press (2003). If you lack the patience to track them all down in print, you can get the entire digital collection for about $20.
I recently got a great eBay deal on the comic book with my all-time favorite cover: Anna Mercury #2, the WizardWorld Chicago Convention variant, of which only 1500 were printed.
Anna Mercury is one of many short series Warren Ellis wrote for Avatar, including Black Summer, a brutal sci-fi adventure featuring my other all-time favorite cover: a wraparound by the same artist, Juan Jose Ryp.
The Anna Mercury story itself is just okay. It works best when it gives us every excuse to watch the leading lady kick all kinds of ass and do amazing stunts. With art pages like the following action sequence by Facundo Percio, I could be on board for just about any plot.
Anna seems to have it all: mega powers, mega weapons, mega awesome hair, and superb stunt skills. But although she has all these things in the alternate reality she struggles to rescue from oblivion, they are revealed to be an artifice when she returns to her own reality, where she is just a regular gal. Maybe Warren Ellis was making a comment on gamers and virtual world users, and the difference between our hyper-awesome cartoon identities and the hum-drum of everyday life.
As a writer of over-the-top adventures featuring an ass-kicking leading lady who also has huge hair, big guns, and major attitude problems, I absolutely love Anna’s aesthetic. When I hired an artist to do an illustration for the cover of The Second Omnibus, I sent him another brilliant Anna Mercury cover as a reference for the type of bodysuit Meteor Mags might wear, but embellished with stars and skulls.
Only a thousand of those were printed, and one of them arrived in my mailbox today. Stylistically, Anna’s been a big influence, and all I can say is that I hope Mags gets a movie deal before Anna does. May the best woman win.
Wolfskin is one of a couple dozen miniseries written by Warren Ellis for Avatar Press, a company founded in 1996 and which does not shy away from graphic violence, gore, vulgarity, nudity, and countless variant covers. You’ll find all five in Wolfskin, brought to life by artist Juan Jose Ryp, who collaborated with Ellis on several titles such as No Hero and my personal favorite, Black Summer.
The titular, barbaric character hacks and slashes his way through a hell of a lot of people, occasionally pausing to rage against what he calls “machines”, which includes firearms and apparently anything mechanical. Wolfskin resembles Conan in his brute force and (questionably) superior moral code compared to the people around him, although Conan’s big gripe was not with machines but with sorcerers. And where Conan felt his god Crom was more or less disinterested in human affairs, Wolfskin’s god Wrod is available to assist with a lifeforce and power boost when Wolfie eats some magic mushrooms.
Wolfskin’s first three-issue series is a straightforward tale that revels in its own savagery. One of the things I find most amusing is Ellis’ take on the gratuitous shower scenes for women in basically every science fiction movie and plenty of superhero comics written by guys to indulge other guys in the “male gaze”. The better part of one issue consists of conversations Wolfskin has with a series of visitors while he bathes naked in a woodland river. He eventually steps out of the water for some full-frontal nudity featuring his uncircumcised dong that dwarfs even Dr. Manhattan’s bright blue wang.
I can’t help but feel Ellis and Ryp are satirizing pointless female bathing scenes, but it’s also funny because the poor guy can’t even wash up in peace without weirdos dropping by to pester him with their messed-up schemes and dubious stories—which is exactly how I feel as a bachelor who has his showers interrupted by everyone from landlords and maintenance people to neighbors and delivery drivers who can’t find someone else’s apartment without help.
Anyway, Wolfie gets so irate that he can’t even monologue, exposit, or make sound effects.
Wolfskin is the kind of bad-ass I love to read about, whether male or female, and he has a follow-up miniseries called Hundredth Dream in which he once again totally rages against the machines by destroying the hell out of them. Ryp didn’t draw that one, but the art still kicks ass.
Hundredth Dream is also a straightforward tale of battle and bravery, but with a steampunk vibe thanks to technology that is at once futuristic and primitive.
Despite a few dialogue-heavy scenes, Ellis avoids the traditional narrative captions and expositional thought balloons of your typical superhero comic. Many pages are wordless, and sometimes Wolfskin goes several pages without saying much more than “Fuck!” I find it not only hilarious that Ellis got paid to write that dialogue, but also how much more realistic it feels compared to, for example, Chris Claremont’s X-Men characters who couldn’t walk down a simple flight of stairs without hundreds of words of self-examination, existential pondering, and plot summary floating around their heads.
I’m not putting Claremont down; it’s just a totally different approach to scripting. Ellis scripts in a way that doesn’t so much direct his artists as it does unleash them. With a draftsman like Ryp, it’s probably best to just throw a couple scraps of raw meat at him and let him off the chain. Bryan Hitch, a longtime Ellis collaborator, once joked in an interview about how Ellis scripts have incredibly simple statements to cue the artist for massively complex splash panels, such as “The fleets engage.”
If I had collaborators like Hitch and Ryp, I’d have them engage the fleets all day long. Their visual sensibilities are far beyond mine. The Ellis approach has undoubtedly infected my fiction. But instead of putting the descriptive burden on a penciller, I delegate that work to my third-person narrator, allowing him to paint a picture even if the dialogue is only a few profanities.
It just feels more real to me that way. When was the last time you injured yourself and launched into a longwinded exposition about your problems and what led up to them? Probably never. Like Wolfskin, you most likely exploded into some convenient curse words without much forethought. Maybe later, while talking to a friend, you explained for a couple hours about how your entire life story revolved around that injury. But in that case, you had crossed over into a Brian Michael Bendis comic! It certainly wasn’t Wolfskin!
Wolfskin and its Hundredth Dream sequel are like fun popcorn movies, just as long as you don’t mind getting blood all over your snacks. You won’t need to ponder the cosmic or bleeding-edge tech concepts Ellis employs in many other works. Just sit back, enjoy the mayhem, and savor every line of the ultra-detailed art. May Wrod have mercy on your soul!
Collector’s Guide:Wolfskin appears in single issues with variant covers to choose from. I especially enjoy Ryp’s wraparound covers. The standalone Annual also appears in a two-volume TPB that collects the first series plus all the single issues of Wolfskin: Hundredth Dream. Amazon has digital versions that collect the first series (including the Annual) and the second series.
Black Summer is one of my favorite Warren Ellis takes on the idea of superheroes, and maybe the best one since the first twelve issues of The Authority. It doesn’t hurt that he has detail-obsessed artistic powerhouse Juan Jose Ryp rendering every scene to perfection! That guy is something else!
When a super-powered protector of society decides the President of the USA is a criminal, the result is murder, mayhem, revolution, and sci-fi action and insanity. It’s a gore fest, a slug fest, and basically a fest to end all fests! Behold one of the lovely wraparound covers and some bold action pages from inside!
Daddy, where do superpowers come from? Well, son, if you have a sick mind like Warren Ellis, superpowers come from tripping your testes off in the scariest room on Earth! With Juan Jose Ryp drawing the worst nightmare of your life in painfully exacting detail, No Hero asks, how badly do you do want to be a superhero?