Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pullin' Up Stakes

This will be the last post I'll be making here on this version of the Dork Forty. The blog will continue, but it will continue elsewhere. I've been having continuing log-in issues with Blogger, and since I've been wanting to expand the blog's focus anyway, I figured it was just time to move on.

So I hope that you'll join us at our new location,

Things are still a bit... under construction over there as of this writing, but we're whipping it into shape fast. The new version of the nerd farm will feature bigger fields devoted to stuff about movies, books, television, and music in addition to the funnybook coverage you're used to over here. It's the same skewed viewpoint, just applied to more stuff.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Steve Ditko!

That's right! It's Steve Ditko's birthday, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate the birth of Spider-Man's co-creator than with a big ol' gallery of his artwork. But, much as I love his Spider-Man, and much as I'll always be blown away by the surrealist landscapes he created on Dr. Strange...

click to embiggen ... then trip your ass off!
...I honestly don't think those books represent his best work.
click to embiggen
Okay, maybe Dr. Strange. Anything that could inspire such 70s blacklight poster insanity as seen above simply HAS to be among anyone's best work. Just because.

But his early work on 1950s horror comics was often more detailed and imaginative. And in his work for smaller publishers like Charlton, Ditko felt the freedom to experiment more wildly, and the results were often quite stunning. So it's that work I want to salute tonight: the early, the weird, the obscure Ditko. I'll try to keep my comments to a minimum for once, and just let the art speak for itself. Let's start at the beginning, with a few samples of the great man's earliest, pre-Code artwork...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tales of Gods and Spacemen: FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!

Two weeks' worth of funnybooks to cover here, one with a decidedly mythological tone, the other with a decidedly science fictiony one. I have no deep point to make with that statement, mind you; I just think it's interesting that those two seemingly disparate approaches hit in such great numbers in such a short period of time, especially considering that the vast majority of the books I'll be talking about here are super hero books. Just goes to show what a weird genre mish-mash super heroes really are, I guess. At any rate... Without further ado... FUNNYBOOKSINREVIEWAREGO!!
Fear Itself #7 (of 7)
by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen

I'll most likely do a more in-depth look at Fear Itself a bit later, once I've had a chance to sit down and re-read the whole thing. Matt Fraction had a lot of balls in the air here, and this issue was his last chance to catch them all before this whole super-porn juggling act came crashing to its end. I think he managed to snag most of them, if not all, but time will tell. In the meantime, though, I can comment on the merits of this final issue in and of itself...

This series has suffered from an unfortunate lack of emotional immediacy along the way. In fact, I often missed the intended emotional impact of some of the big shocking events in previous issues until I went back over them for review. This final issue alleviates that somewhat, mostly thanks to Captain America. He reaches his point of apotheosis this issue, and it's the emotional tipping point of the series, Marvel's greatest hero rejuvenated by the bravery of his allies, and I'm a big enough sap that I was right there with him. It's a great super hero moment, aided by having this as the exclamation point at the end:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wertham Was Right II: The Horrifying Art of Basil Wolverton

"No small child exposed to his drawings could ever be expected to walk in a straight line again, or vote a party ticket."
- Gahan Wilson

See?! Even so respected a horror cartoonist as Gahan Wilson thinks that Basil Wolverton was bad for children! WERTHAM WAS RIGHT!!

Okay, no. No, he wasn't. To reiterate, in fact, he was dead wrong. Again.

But if you were ever going to make a case that a single artist should never, ever be seen by small children, it would be Basil Wolverton. Or Kevin O'Neill, according to the Comics Code Authority. Or maybe even Simon Bisley, if you're Paul Levitz.

Anyway. Basil Wolverton. The man who drew stuff like this:

Horrifying, isn't it? I mean, my god. To be sure, artwork like that should never be shown to the Children of America. It would terrify them! It terrified me when I was a wee lad! See, Wolverton had been hired by DC Comics to do covers for their new humor series Plop!, and when that book hit the stands and made its way before my tiny little virgin eyes...

Instant Nightmare Fuel!
Why are you laughing?! This cover scared the complete and total bejeezus out of me back before I could read! I lived in fear of this comic! It was traumatizing! I could hardly bear to look at it after I bought it, and... WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?!

Okay... It is pretty funny. And it did get me to buy the comic, even though it freaked me out. I had this kind of love-hate relationship with all kinds of things that scared me back then, and Plop! definitely fit into that category. I was simultaneously repulsed by it, and drawn to it. Let's look at a couple more Wolverton Plop! covers before we move on, shall we?

Friday, October 21, 2011

25 Horror Comics That Prove... DOCTOR WERTHAM WAS RIGHT!!

Okay, not really. In spite of Frederick Wertham's claims in his legendary anti-funnybook screed Seduction of the Innocent, reading lurid comics featuring gruesome images of horror is cathartic, natural, and (most important) fun! For the whole damn family!

But, man. Sometimes, when I'm browsing through pre-Code horror comics, the sheer excesses on display make it a little easier to understand why people lost their shit over this stuff. Take this shy and retiring example from Gilmore Comics' Weird Mysteries #5...

Abby... Normal...
Okay, so that's one of the more notorious examples from the period. But, still. WTF, man?!

I can't promise that any of the rest of the covers I've culled for your Halloweenie enjoyment this evening will match that one, but there's still some real gems waiting... after the jump!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy Bela Lugosi's Birthday!

A national holiday here on the Dork Forty, Bela Lugosi's Birthday is a time for reflection and remembrance, indeed of appreciation, for all the evil brought into our monstrous little hearts by the Patron Saint of Halloween.

Click to embiggen, children of the night!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pearls Amongst Swine: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

The last couple of weeks haven't been great ones at the funnybook store, I'm afraid. There've been a couple of real gems in the batch, but for the most part I've found myself awash in a sea of mediocrity. Lots of books that I like okay, but very few that I love. But since it's always nice to start on a happy note, let's hit one of the high spots first...

Batwoman #2
by JH Williams III and W Haden Blackman

This issue sets aside most of my doubts about Williams and Blackman's ability to write a compelling Batwoman comic. They're continuing the main plot of the missing children and the drowning ghost who's preying upon them while still keeping tabs on the larger picture with Abbott and his were-creature Crime Cult. But they're also doing some very nice character work, and that's what impresses me the most. Not only are they doing a nice job on the damage done to the relationship between Kate Kane and her father, but they also wrote one of the better "first date" scenes I've read in a while for Kate and Maggie Sawyer. It's comfortable, real, and charming, and the fact that it's a lesbian first date doesn't really matter at all. That's nice. I guess we really have come a long way from this:
Say it loud! Say it proud!
Art-wise, the book is of course just as stunning as always, with Williams continuing to innovate on layout and mix styles with aplomb. The high point this time out is this stunning two-page spread in which Maggie Sawyer shows off her detective chops by recreating a crime scene:
Ah, man. That's the stuff.
Click to embiggen the awesomeness.
All in all, an excellent second issue. Looking forward to more.

Grade: A

Animal Man #2
by Jeff Lemire and Travel Foreman

Two issues in, and Jeff Lemire's new horror reboot of Animal Man is picking up speed. He really is drawing on all the best stuff from the Vertigo series here, wedding the charming family drama of the Morrison era with the meaty body-shock horror of the stuff from Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh. Travel Foreman is channeling Pugh in particular on the art, with some genuinely disgusting biological anomalies popping up as we get deeper into things.

The book still feels like it's lacking something to me, though it's hard to put my finger on what, exactly. It may just be my reaction to Lemire's Midwestern stoicism at work. There's always a matter-of-fact coldness to his writing, and while that works for Sweet Tooth, I'm not feeling it as much here. I dunno. I may not be making any sense, even to myself, at this point. There's just something keeping me from loving this book, and I really kinda want to.

Grade: B

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Super-Porn and Other Distractions: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Catch-up reviews part two, coming up... now!

Fear Itself #6 (of 7)
by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen

Most of these big crossover series are, essentially, super hero porn. They're all money shots, big super-fights removed from their normal context of story, of anything with actual emotional resonance. That's why only a few of them in the genre's history really stand up in the long term. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two, in fact: Civil War and Final Crisis. And now, though it's too early to make the call for sure, Fear Itself seems to be shaping up as a third.

Like all super-porn, it's about death and destruction on a grand scale. But unlike most, it's also delivering on the character side. I've discussed the on-going Asgardian family saga before, Odin's grumpy kingly bluster and Thor's noble rage in response. And it's nice to have my reading of Odin confirmed: he's willing to burn a world to the ground just to save his only son from death, but in this issue, Odin's asshole front dissolves in the face of the badly-wounded Thor being brought home for healing. He's still gonna kill us all to stop the Serpent, mind you. But at least he finally explains himself to Thor before the end.

Of course, before that breakdown of kingly resolve happens, we see a chink in the armor. Captain America gets all up in his grill, and Odin (if only for a moment) blinks. Seriously, check this shit out:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ultimate Sci-Fi: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

Funnybooks! Staaaale funnybooks! Get'cher weeks-old funnybook reviews right here!

That's right, folks! It's time to play catch-up with the books we didn't talk about during our coverage of the DC Reboot. We've got a whole bunch of funnybooks to cover, enough that it'll take two posts to deal with them all, and that kind of volume can only mean one thing: brevity. So now, once again... QUICKIESAREGO!!!

The Ultimates #1&2
by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic

Running right alongside DC's reboot is Marvel's uncharacteristically quieter response: rebooting their Ultimate Comics line. The new Ultimate Spider-Man is the big news-grabber here (and we'll get to it in a minute), but far more exciting for me is this reboot of The Ultimates. Ten years ago, this was the most cutting-edge super hero book on the market, a vision of the genre's future. But the series has since become... uninspired (to put it politely), and descended into wretched self-parody (to put it a bit less politely). It ceased to be cutting edge, and simply became neanderthalic crap (to put it truthfully).

Welcome back to the future. Jonathan Hickman's delivering his typical science fiction approach, with a city that encloses itself inside a sphere of accelerated time, emerging only hours later with a thousand years of social and technological growth, and a desire to reshape the rest of the world in its image. It's engaging stuff, and if Hickman's not the type of writer who's likely to deliver a "Hulk straight!" kind of moment, he does give us this great bit with Thor and the new Captain Britain: