Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Baggage Check: Grimjack, Escapists and Crazy Papers

It’s amazing the comics I own which I didn’t even know I had.

For example, apparently somewhere along the way I picked up a run of the first twenty issues of First Comics’ Grimjack. You would think I would remember that, but I didn’t. Nor did I ever read them. So this weekend I read the first four issues, and you know, they were actually pretty good for ‘80s mainstream comics. Writer John Ostrander really captured a strong voice for his lead character, who narrates his own adventures, and Timothy Truman’s artwork is reminiscent of Todd McFarlane’s with a touch of Wally Wood thrown in. His figures are occasionally spotty, in that they sometimes look out of proportion, but this is mostly in the background characters and not a deterrent to the stories themselves. Grimjack, aka John Gaunt, is the classic anti-hero. Part cowboy loner, part detective and part gun-for-hire, he operates in a city, known as Cynosure, where all realities meet - a shrewd concept which allows the creators to employ any and all comic book genre elements. I don’t know that I’d say, based on these first four issues at least, that Grimjack is any kind of classic of the artform, but if you’re looking for solid, above average mainstream work, these are a pretty good place to look. And who knows? Maybe the series gets even better later in the run. I may actually continue reading since, you know, I own them.

I also discovered my run of the first 18 issues of the Untold Tales of Spider-Man by Kurt Busiek and Pat Oliffe. Remember this one? This was basically the ‘90s version of Ultimate Spider-Man, retelling origins and classic stories with a modern twist. Actually, that's not fair. They weren't straight re-interpretations like Ultimate is, but rather stories that fit into the early continuity, and tried to explain some of the inconsistencies or just add to the originals in some way. I remember LOVING this series when it first came out, and thinking how Oliffe did a better McFarlane Spider-Man than McFarlane himself. I don't think I'll keep these, though.

It’s strange rediscovering all these super-hero comics of my past. I mean, I still appreciate good super-hero comics, though clearly not as often as I used to. But I was SO into this stuff back then. Like many, I just followed certain creators from one title to the next, and any time a certain creator or book got “hot” (which I probably discovered in either Wizard Magazine, Hero’s Illustrated or Comic Shop News, since there was no Internet back then), I was certain to get it. This celebrity mentality still exists today in comics, perhaps even moreso, so I’m not saying I’ve outgrown this at all, but it’s fascinating how my tastes have shifted over the years.

I have been reading some recent stuff as well. I loved the first issue of the new Escapists series from Dark Horse. If you haven’t checked this out, I highly recommend it, especially since the first issue is only $1.00. Brian K. Vaughan may be the best writer working in mainstream corporate comics today. Just a couple weeks ago, I caught up on almost a full year of Ex Machina (though I’m still way behind on Y: The Last Man) and I have to say that is a damn fine book as well. The “Fact or Fiction” storyline about Mayor Hundred’s jury duty experience was particularly outstanding, though really they’re all very good.

Anyway, the Escapists is a six-issue limited series with a rotating cast of artists. The first issue is superbly illustrated by Phillip Bond (with an awesome 3 page scene illustrated by Eduardo Baretto and colored by Paul Hornschemeir), and reprints the story which first appeared in the Eisner-winning anthology, Amazing Adventures of the Escapist #8. The story centers around Max Roth, a young man whose father was obsessed with the Escapist, the fictional comic superhero first introduced in Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-prize winner, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (no knowledge of the novel is required). Deciding to pursue his father’s dream, the young man purchases the rights to the character and prepares to resurrect the comic for a modern audience. What makes this such a strong first issue is the honesty in Vaughan’s writing. Creating a protagonist who is a comics writer makes it easy for Vaughan to pour much of his personal experience into the character, and the result is a very authentic, well-developed lead. I am very excited to see this story unfold, and what the other artists bring to it. The book closes with an interesting speculative essay placing the fictional Escapist comics into a semi-factual history of other Golden Age comics.

I also read Crazy Papers by Jim Dougan and Danielle Corsetto. The book is published by Chatterbox Comix and it’s a pretty nice-looking, 50-page one-shot romantic comedy about a group of three young women in Washington D.C. When they go out on the town for a crazy night, Amanda ends up falling in love with a guy she knows very little about. Her other two friends are dragged into the whirlwind affair and the whole story devolves into a sitcom-style comedy of errors. On the back cover, Dean Haspiel describes the book as “a lost episode of Sex in the City” which is a pretty accurate description though I would take it one step further and say it feels more like a Sex in the City episode as if written and illustrated by Brian Michael Bendis. The tone and style of the book really reminded me of Fortune and Glory. Corsetto's style is almost that of one of those street caricaturists you see in Times Square or Central Park, where many of the characters features are exaggerated for comedic effect, and it works well here, enhanced greatly by some well placed background imagery, including some limited Photoshop effects, and gray-scaling, which gives the art depth and texture. Overall, it’s a solid entertaining little book, with enough wit and charm to make it worth seeking out.

I’ve read tons of other books lately, but it seems like my time and motivation to write reviews has been pretty limited recently. I definitely plan to review Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home at some point. Not only is it THE graphic novel of the year, but I also had a surprisingly strong emotional reaction to the book, given my own dysfunctional family history. I think that’s part of why I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. I also read Daniel Clowes newest collection, Pussey! which was interesting and kind of funny in its parody of the comics industry, but not really his strongest work and more than a little dated. Some of the satire about the industry is still relevant, but for the most part, it’s more of a curious period piece from early in the artist’s career.


Blair Corbett said...

Will you be getting rid of Untold Tales of Spider-man on eBay? I'm a sucker for Busiek stuff, and I don't think his run on that has ever been collected, so I'd be tempted to bid on it if you do put it up.

Marc said...

Yeah, hopefully I'll get them listed in the next week or so. I'll post a link on the blog to all of my Ebay auctions, so keep an eye out.

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