October 28th, 2004

smokin'

Bored blogger reviews comics. Alert the friggin' media.

THE KING OF THE WORLD: THE WALLACE WOOD TRILOGY -- THE WIZARD KING (Vanguard Productions)

Now there's a title to reckon with. Sounds pretty epic, eh?

I was looking forward to this reprinting of Wood's Wizard King material from his "prozine", Witzend, because I never saw the 'zine as a kid, and I couldn't afford the issues when I was older. So, there was always an air of mystery about these stories for me. Much like the THUNDER agents material, which I found pretty hokey, when not downright lame, when I finally got to read them. After reading those comics, and other sub-par stuff like Cannon and Heroes Inc (and seeing some of his bizarre porno work), I had pretty low expectations of his elusive master project. So, I have to say I was surprised that I kind of enjoyed the Wizard King book -- it's standard sword and sorcery/fantasy gunk, elves and wee folk and wizards with beards and barbarian-types and all that stuff. But Wood was clearly enjoying himself, the art is really nifty for the most part, his sense of humor works (again, for the most part). It's not a work of genius or vision or scope or daring by any means. I wouldn't use the words "epic" or "sweeping" here. The title of the first chapter of this three-volume "epic" is almost as long as the book, which clocks in at a humble 64 pages, including preface, indicia, title page, table of contents, and a pin-up. There's a ton of cliches here -- both visual and narrative -- and Wood is just not that strong a scripter or editor. Saying that this is better than THUNDER agents isn't saying much, but the central character is given some time to appeal to readers, and Wood is more at home here than with his better-known superheroes. Wood utilizes a collapsed method of storytelling, narrative captions are used throughout, in-between chapter text covers chunks of missing time,. It struck me as a sort of even more compressed Prince Valiant type of storytelling, experimenting with the EC Picto-Fiction format of illustrated text along with standard word balloons. I would have loved this as a kid, as an adult, it's fun hoo-ha and something else to add to your Wally Wood library of nice comic art.

That being said, here's the bitchfest, and it's aimed straight at the publisher, Vanguard Productions, not Wood. First of all, I'm tired of publishers releasing multiple versions of books. I was ignorant of the fact that there are two different hardcover versions of this book (deluxe version at $39.95 -- you get the colorist's signature and extra portfolio material, regular version at $24.95), and a far cheaper paperback ($12.95). I would have bought the paperback, if I had seen it in the shop or knew about its existance before I opened the regular hardcover at home and read the indicia. Even with my discount, I don't have much of a comic budget, and this book (and the contents) are pretty thin, imho, meriting the cheap price tag.

Anyway, forget all that, here's the real transgression: Vanguard altered Wood's art. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, because as I said, I haven't seen much of the Witzend material, biut I've seen enought to know Wood was drawing a lot of nekkid girls at the time. There's no nekkid girls here. Well, there were, but it appears that Vanguard covered up all the nude females with poorly-rendered "bathing suits" and "skins" in the coloring stage. It looks like hell, it's sloppy, obvious, unintentionally funny (and sad, at the same time), and I would assume completely against the intent of the artist. Again, if someone knows different, maybe this was Wood's idea back in the day, I dunno, maybe I'm wrong or just plain ignorant -- but take a look at this book and tell me he intended his bathing elves and slave chicks to have strapped bikini tops (?) and tube tops (!) colored onto them (leaving their asses bare throughout, oddly enough). It's just crummy. Witzend was Wood's own creation and vision, he drew it for himself and his readers at a loss so he could do what he wanted without editorial interference, he was drawing nekkid elves and stuff 'cuz he dug it, and to reprint this material altered without the approval of a deceased creator seems, to me, incredibly wrong. I don't know why this decision was made, maybe Vanguard thought they could pick up sales from young Lord of the Rings fans, or maybe they're ascared of midwestern parents freaking out over some female elf breasts. The chances of young kids buying this stuff are slim. They could have marked it for mature readers. They could have published it as is and taken their chances, anything other than altering the artwork in such a crude, artless, cowardly fashion. Believe me, I don't have a hankering to see naked elf jugs that badly, and there's certainly better wanking material out there -- all I'm saying is don't fuck with the man's art unless he said it was okay. And do a better job of fucking with it, at least.

Speaking of which, on page 46 there are two word balloons that are so thoroughly unprofessional, so embarrassing, and so wrong as to merit someone getting their hands broken. It looks like a child or a drunk (or a drunk child) got into the office one night with white-out and a pen and reworked two balloons. I know, "only two balloons? Get a life!". No, sorry. This work was someone's life. The lettering itself is amateurish and sloppy, the reworked dialogue is incorrect in context (Balloon 1: "My bread bag!", followed by Balloon 2: "...and so is that miserable Zendak!" Huh?!), and even misspelled ("Oh, my good", instead of "god", -- with no punctuation following to boot). Nit-picking? No, not really. It's like seeing a boom mike clearly in a movie, hearing a loud pop in the soundtrack -- it interrupts the flow, takes you out of the reading experience and it just looks plain bad. I think the cover is ugly as hell, but that's the way it goes. Ugly computer fonts, poorly picked and assembled images and blown-up art, okay, that's a matter of aesthetics, I guess. Having your five year-old letter corrections on a dead man's pet project is just pathetic. I was pissed that someone f'd with the hardcover Humanoids Chaland book, but at least that was sabotage and an oversight in the printing process. This was sheer incompetence and poor decision-making re: the swimsuit additions.

Now, here's where it gets well beyond nit-picking: The Wizard King trilogy was never completed. Wood became ill while working on the series. He passed away before finishing the third book, leaving a dialogue script for the letterer along with unfinished art and layouts. Vanguard is apparently going to finish the project. Meaning, they'll oversee finishing the incomplete art and adding new material. Considering the fact that they mucked with Wood's art and botched some lettering, you have to wonder what kind of decisions will be made when they reconstruct and finish that third volume.

Anyway, I suggest the cheap version if you like Wood or are into little elf people stuff.

THE WALKING DEAD trade paperback introduction (Image)

I like zombie stuff. The Walking Dead is zombie stuff. I heard good things about The Walking Dead and picked up the first trade. The introduction drove me up a wall and now I don't want to read the book. I know, that's idiotic. But the intro, by the series' writer, Robert Kirkman, was so irritating it just turned me off. A few unironic passages:

"I'm the guy who created Battle Pope; I hope you guys realize what a stretch this is for me. It's really not that hard to believe when you realize that I'm delving into subject matter that is so utterly serious and dramatic...Zombies."

"To me, the best zombie movies aren't the splatter fests of gore and violence with goofy characters and tongue in cheek antics. Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society...and our society's station in the world"

"Give me "Dawn of the Dead" over "Return of the Living Dead" any day. To me zombie movies are thought provoking, dramatic fiction, on par with any Oscar worthy garbage that's rolled out year after year."

Whatever. I don't know what the fuck Battle Pope is (or care) -- but declaring that writing zombie comics is a creative stretch sounds pretty nuts to me. And I like zombies. The immature nonsense re: zombie movies and the Oscars is also pretty silly (and anti-intellectual). I agree most Oscar-nominated stuff is overrated (or even outright crap -- Gladiator, anyone?) but c'mon, is this guy seriously saying that the zombie film has been overlooked as a source of serious, thought-provoking cinematic drama? Maybe that's because most zombie flicks are giddy, esciting, scary crap at best, worthless exploitative crap at worst, with few real exceptions (White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie, NOTLD, DOTD, ROTLD). And I like zombies, I really do. But other than Dawn of the Dead I can't think of too many zombie films that provoke anything other than a laugh or a groan or a shudder. 28 Days Later? It's good, it's serious, but it's also all three Dead films melded into one movie with the same themes. Yeah, yeah, loss of individualism, mass consumerism (literal and commercial), death, religion, society, yeah, yeah, Dawn of the Dead. it's great, everyone likes it, even a lot of stupid critics who liked Gladiator. Whatever.

And hell, why even choose between DOTD and ROTLD? It's an artificial choice made in order to support the pretentious assertion that the zombie film is a thing akin to Chekov and Dostoevsky in its portrayal of society and the individual. Sorry, but that's crazy talk. No, I'm sorry, it is. And I like zombies. I want to do some more zombie stuff, I respect the horror genre, but I can't convince myself that the zombie subgenre is great art or great drama. Maybe it can be, I don't personally see it as a great vehicle for exploring the human condition. There's good zombie stuff and lousy zombie stuff, and genre can transcend itself, but zombie stuff rarely does, no matter how much ironic imagery or melodrama a particular film may have. Dawn of the Dead is not Rules of the Game, or Citizen Kane, or Ikuru. And it's the best and most sober-minded zombie film we have (imo).

From skimming the book I think I'm going to like The Walking Dead. It looks good and it looks like the kind of zombie jazz I enjoy. But mister, please, keep the pretentious bullshit at home. You don't need to apologize or protest too much or put the genre on a pedestal like the superhero people often do, just relax, do a good job with your zombie book and I'll be a happy customer. But it's zombies, man, not Saul Bellow.

THE ACTION HERO ARCHIVES VOL 1 -- CAPTAIN ATOM (DC Comics)

Fortunately, I didn't pay for this. It was a gift. I still want my money back.

This is DC's first release in a series reprinting the semi-beloved el cheapo Charlton comics of the 60's featuring thrid-rate superheroes like Captain Atom, The Blue Beetle, Nightshade, etc. Steve Ditko did a lot of these comics, and that's pretty much all they have going for them. This first $50 hardcover features Captain Atom. These comics are pretty unloveable. And I love Steve Ditko like zombies. It's just not Ditko's best, even when he's inking himself. The material is just silly and cramped and lacks any crazy, goofy charm like Ditko's monster art for Marvel. The stories are just awful, even for dopey comics, and worse, for the most part, they're not awful in a fun way. Captain Atom as a character is, well, lame. He can fly anywhere super-fast, is super-strong, invincible, can move through solid objects by reconfiguring his molecular structure (don't ask) -- in effect, he's untouchable, and therefore uninvolving even as a pulp comic book superhero. He's not even visually appealing (he's since been redesigned for modern DC books). If you're looking for Spider-Man wonk or Doc Strange trippiness, forget it. It's rough going, expensive to boot.

Some comics deserve to be properly archived. Some comics need to be reprinted on cheap-ass paper for $10.

Okay. No real clear winners here, but to be fair, I reviewed an introduction, so the jury's out on the Walking Dead. What is it with me getting all over introductions, anyway? I bitch for paragraphs about this poor guy's silly little zombie tract, I'm always ranting about all the lousy, self-obsessed DC Archives intros by Roy Thomas and Michael Useless (Dude! Nice Catwoman movie, yo'!)... I dunno what it is about these things that rile me up so. Maybe I'm just a crank. Considering my own stupid blathering here and in my own introductions I really have no patience for other people's stupid blathering. Maybe it's because I'm not trying to convince anyone that walking cannibal corpses and the Justice Society are the stuff of great literature. Maybe I'm just a crank. I dunno. I am cranky, I know that. But a crank? I dunno.

Hey -- speaking of bad entertainment, we just dumped all our premium channels from our cable package. We've been meaning to do it for a while, and yeah, it felt weird, but no more HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, et al in the HOF. We don't watch it, we don't like it, they show the same shit all the time, I could give a crap about their original programming for the most part, and it's just not worth the dough when we have a baby on the way. We still have TCM and the Fox Movie Channel and IFC shows a decent flick once a month, we have our own library and can rent, borrow or order anyhthing modern we might want to see. Which isn't much, and wasn't on HBO anyway.

I know, what ever will we do without Ghost Ship, Orange County, American Wedding, Charlies Angels 2 or the Matrix: Reloaded (and a shitload of nameless, faceless direct-to-cable crap) in constant rotation on my TV? Pray for us!