This is the second time a book published by DC Comics has broken the rules and earned a place in my indie short box. This time, it’s Metalzoic by the legendary team of Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, and there’s not much about it you can call “mainstream”. Metalzoic takes place in a future where the Earth is ruled by intelligent, mechanical beasts patterned after modern and prehistoric animals — and boy, do they love to fight!
Yes, you just witnessed a brutal showdown between a gorilla with a saw blade on his head, and a lion with a chainsaw for a tongue and metal skis for feet. Do I really need to say anything about the story’s plot, or is that cool enough for you? Two of my favorite pages show a shark attacking a caravan of wooly mammoths during a trek across the ice.
It’s like some sort of psychotic nature special! I can almost hear David Attenborough narrating it for a BBC documentary.
O’Neill always delivers wonderfully twisted artwork, but he pulls out all the stops to illustrate Metalzoic‘s endless mecha-menagerie.
The story is interesting, especially since the main character — the saw-blade gorilla — is a brutal, amoral hell-raiser whose brawn and ferocity might be the only thing standing between the Earth and total destruction.
And just look at him go!
When all this takes place and how it came to be are slowly revealed throughout the story. We don’t get a clear timeline until about 50 pages in. It might have been helpful to see a historic summary earlier in the story, so here it is.
If you’re like me, and you wish Godzilla movies would cut out most of the human-related nonsense and just show more monster fights, then this 64-page epic adventure is the book for you!
Collector’s Guide:Metalzoic; DC Comics Graphic Novel #6, 1986. Though it’s often out of stock at MyComicShop, you can usually find it on Amazon for between $15 and $30.
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.
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
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
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!
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 fourtimes 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.