Thursday, 31 May 2007

The Weekly Shop #12

Over the course of the last week I went to a wedding, helped my dad move house, had a couple of nice meals out with the missus and saw The Manic Street Preachers in concert. All of which took up a lot of time, involved drinking large amounts and left me behind on my reading. That means that I'm writing about last week's comics just a day or two before this week's haul starts clogging up my house. Not ideal, but I don't want to skip last week because ALL the books I bought were top drawer.

If I had to pick a favourite I'd probably go for Captain America #26. I don't read all of Marvel's titles, but I'm guessing that very few are catching the bleak post civil war vibe as well as this one. The Marvel Universe is a dark place at the moment and let's face it, mainstream comics don't come much darker than the one in which the title character is dead.

Ironically all the signs suggest that this book is just going to get even stronger now that Steve Rogers is on the slab. Why? Because Ed Brubaker writes the supporting cast so well. Sharon Carter, Bucky and The Falcon have taken centre stage and the dynamic between them and their varied reactions to Cap's death make for a cracking comic.

The Red Skull is of course my all-time favourite Marvel super-villain so it's been a treat to see him stalking the pages of Cap again, but his psychopathic daughter Sin, the hulking Doctor Faustus and the magnificently weird Arnim Zola are a fine supporting cast. All mad as a box of frogs. You get the sense that Brubaker is having a lot of fun writing them.

He's doing a top notch job on Criminal as well. Issue #6 marks the start of a new story "Lawless" which promises to be as gritty as the first arc "Coward". Those five issues come out as a collected trade this week. Definitely worth picking up if you missed the floppies, although personally I'd recommend tracking down the back issues because the superb text pieces which were included in those original issues won't be reprinted in the trade. For me those discussions of noir and neo-noir films are an essential part of what makes this book one of the best on the shelves.

There isn't a text piece in Issue #6, but there is an excellent letters page which is well worth reading for a nice reader review of "The Death of a Chinese Bookie" a film which I'll definitely be looking up. I like a good letters page, the best I ever read was in the back of Grant Morrison's The Invisibles. On occasion it was better than the comic itself.

So anyway, Brubaker gets the number 1 and 2 slots in my best of the week. But on any other week I'd have put both Irredeemable Ant-Man#8 or New Universal #6 right up there. Both brilliant books, both doing something different and, for my money anyway, both succeeding because of the fresh approach they take to the super hero genre. A+ to both books, but A++ to Criminal and A+++ to Cap.

And while I'm handing out marks I give Back Issue #22 a B+. I really like the idea of this magazine and love the fact that as slick and glossy as it looks it still maintains the raw feel of a fanzine. My only real gripe with it is the themed format which each issue takes. I'm not saying that I don't want to read about the history of team-ups in bronze age comics, it's just that I think Back Issue could be even better if it didn't limit each issue to articles on a single theme.

It's still a fascinating read though. Hard to go wrong with an issue which features an article titled "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out: Robin's journey through the counterculture and into self-awareness"

I nabbed yesterday's panel of Cap spying on the Falcon from Back Issue by the way.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

The Fault

You're on the roof spying on the Falcon and his girlfriend. You think that because the Falcon likes girls you can't be partners anymore. You're feeling jealous and this whole tawdry episode is making you nostalgic for the years you spent in the company of a teenage boy during the Second World War.

It's time to stop talking about "The Fault" and admit you've got issues Cap.

What If? #43

While I was getting my week's stash I overheard two of the blokes at Orbital comics talking about some forthcoming Marvel/Dynamite team-up featuring Spider-Man and Red Sonja. They seemed to find the idea depressing, but super-hero/barbarian crossovers needn't necessarily be a bad thing. After all What If #43, which features a meeting between Conan and Captain America, is one of my favourite comics of all time.

Being the all-knowing comic shop staff that they are, the Orbital men were familiar with the tale and, even if they weren't wholly convinced by the sheer excellence of the story itself, they had to acknowledge that this Sienkiewicz cover is a barnstormer.

I reckon it's one of the greatest covers ever. Nevertheless it would be a mistake to think that this comic's appeal ends with the cover, because believe me, whatever anyone else says, the story inside is a beauty.

It's a sequel to What If #13, a comic in which Conan finds himself stranded in 1970's New York by an evil sorcerer. He meets a nice looking female cabbie, bones her and then makes his escape back to the Hyperborean age by waving some ancient artifact or other in front of a bolt of lightning that hits the roof of the Guggenheim museum.

All well and good, but...what if Conan was jumped by a bunch of cops BEFORE the lightning hit him?

That's where What If #43 comes in...

Thus a mere 30 issues after Conan made a Back to the Future style return to Hyperborea, we find ourselves in a world where the Cimmerian swaps his lightning bolt home for a prison cell.

Of course Conan doesn't hang around in police custody for long and, after escaping the fuzz, he does what any barbarian on the run would do and heads straight for the red light district...

where he settles into a life of crime, rising up the underworld ladder in a manner reminiscent of Scarface...

Loaded with money, he turns his mind to the honey. Yes, all that robbing has got our man throbbing. Keen for another ride from the cabbie he made it with in What If #13, he sets out to impress her with the trappings of his new found wealth.

It's at this moment that we are presented with THE most incredible costume change in the HISTORY of Marvel comics...

Yes true believers that is Conan. Conan the pimpbarian to you.

Yes he's got a pink leopard on the end of that lead.

And yes, that does indeed make him the motherfucking BOMB!

Or at least I think so. Sadly his beeatch is less than impressed...

Say what?

Look again Ho...

The man's a player and a slayer.

And he's got a pink leopard.

But she doesn't want him, and in a sad move Conan ditches the threads (and the leopard) to concentrate on building his empire of crime. His first step is to get a crew together. Not just any crew either. He goes straight to the baddest gang leader in NYC.

Being a fair minded man, Conan offers his rival the chance to hand over the keys to his kingdom and take on a role as his number two. It's an offer that doesn't go down well...

"The strength of Africa" is no match for the "Fear from Ymir" though...

and soon Conan is commanding his very own awesome army...

Tough looking gang - apart from the blokes at either end who appear to have modelled their outfits on these two...

But I digress. This phase in Conan's life is almost as cool as his pink leopard period. He steals stuff, beats people up, gets a protection racket going and drinks lots of beer. It's a good living, but Conan wants MORE and sets up a daring raid on a museum.

To cut a long story short, the raid is going fine until a hitherto unseen and frankly rather camp member of Conan's gang accidentally smashes a display case with his scabbard...

...which sets off an alarm wired directly to Avengers Mansion thus alerting none other than...

Dropping his Cup 'o' Cap the Sentinel of Liberty hurries to the scene of the crime. And this is where What If provides the proof that barbarian/super hero crossovers can be cool. How? With a five page fight scene of course! And what a fight it is. A fight where Cap punches

and kicks Conan

until the barbarian's head "rings like an iron bell"


And he punches back, and when the punching doesn't work, he grabs a fucking huge sword and hacks off Cap's arm!

Well OK, he doesn't actually hack it off but he does make a bloody great mess of it. That's enough to end the fight and allow Conan and his gang to escape the museum leaving the wounded Cap to deal with some uncomfortable stirrings.

Conan can't get their testosterone fueled romp out of his head either and is soon sending word that he wants another tussle with the now healed Cap. Everything seems set for round two...

Sadly the cops and Conan's gang both show up unannounced and in the ensuing melee Conan's number two gets shot

The cop pulls the trigger, but...

Wait! Did Captain America just ask Conan to join the Avengers? I think he did. How fantastic would that be?

As far as I know it's a story yet to be told, but The Watcher (who handles these things) says he may tell it one day.

I say Marvel let him tell the tale! If they can do Spidey/Red Sonja then I don't see why they can't get the Avengers and Conan together. If it's half as good as What If #43 it's worth doing.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Help Cap fight spies and traitors

Click image to enlarge

Originally printed in Captain America #9. This scan taken from Captain America the classic years volume #2
Eleven months worth of monkeys punching dinosaurs

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Hanged by the neck: A classic Reed Crandall story

Even taking into account the fact that I bit my lip and refused to get drawn into the amazing "3 Marvel essentials for the price of 2" offer at Gosh!, I could still have spent a LOT of money on comics today. Honestly a bundle of good stuff came out this week and I really had to force myself not to buy it all.

Of course I still dropped a sizable wedge at Orbital, taking home

Fell trade paperback Volume #1
Back Issue #22
2000AD prog#1538
New Universal #6
Irredeemable Ant-Man #8

Captain America #26 (Which features a spiffing Epting cover)
Criminal #6 (Yay! New issue of Criminal!)
and best of all from Orbital's magical 50p boxes: issues #1 through #5 of Eclipse's 1980's pre-code horror reprint series Seduction of the Innocent.

What a treasure this little lot is. Wall to wall chills, 1950's style. Check out the cover of issue #1, it's by Reed Crandall from the story "Hanged by the neck" which originally featured in the 1953 comic Out of the Shadows #9

Hanged by the neck is a classic pre-code horror story beautifully drawn by Crandall and brought to life by some atmospheric inks from an unknown source.

It's a tale about a magician by the name of El Rondo whose ability to hang himself on stage every night without dying proves a big hit. After being taken ill one evening, El Rondo's young apprentice Leonardo (notice the partial anagram of El Rondo there) has to act as his mentor's understudy.

Leonardo isn't ready to do the hanging trick yet, but his good looks and novelty turban wow the audience anyway. Worse still, Leonardo's act also earns him the attention of the girl El Rondo secretly lusts after, Carla.

And so a dastardly plan begins to form in El Rondo's mind. He chums up to Leonardo and much to the young magician's delight teaches him the world famous hanging stunt.

What a fucking fantastic panel that is by the way

yes indeed. El Rondo rigs the knot so that it kills Leonardo.
Problem solved
Or so it seems, for on returning to his dressing room, El Rondo is greeted by this...
And now the story really takes off. The next few panels contain everything I love about pre-code horror comics

Just a sensational panel that one. As good as any I've seen. Great use of shadows and real terror in that scream from El Rondo. I love this shot.

That tips El Rondo over the edge and into this....

Saweeeet pre-code goodness for us, waking nightmare for El Rondo.

Carla takes it all pretty well, but El Rondo just can't come to terms with the fact that Leonardo's burial outfit is now hanging in his wardrobe. Eventually his fragile grip on sanity slips under the pressure....

Clearly he's in no state to perform the hanging trick. But perform it he does...
and of course that's Leonardo's cue to return from beyond the grave and exact his ghastly revenge...
How indeed? A fine ending to a pre-code belter which I had never seen before. I've used a lot more panels than I normally would in one of these posts, but I just think they're all so damn fine that it's worth getting a few extra ones in. I hope someone out there will get as much of a kick out of them as I did.