Thursday, October 27, 2005

It's Miller Time

Dark Knight Strikes Again

I am not a big fan of sequels, and I fought off reading this TPB for a long, long time. The original Dark Knight Returns caught me off-guard at the perfect time in my life (I think I was 13 when it was released) and totally shifted my view of what comics could be. When I heard of the sequel, I cringed. I wasn’t picking up too many new comics at the time and the lack of good buzz and the cover price scared me away. I grew up on Miller’s Daredevil and Wolverine and didn’t want to witness a car crash.

Recently, someone whose opinion I respect a great deal (I’m talking to you, Joe Rice) told me that he really liked DK2, and when I saw a copy of the TPB for $10 at a used bookstore, I decided to give it a try. I was very pleasantly surprised. While the plotline is a little muddled, and I can see where some people were turned off by the artwork – I must admit that I feel like Miller has created a much better sequel than I could have imagined. Miller involves a much wider DC Universe in this one, and we are left with a gritty (there’s that word) Upstairs/Downstairs view of Superheroes. His re-introductions of Ray Palmer and Barry Allen were particularly sharp. The art is energetic – personally I find Miller’s crude pencils to be very appropriate for this near-apocalyptic future. The dialogue is sharp and Miller does a great job at showing the conflicts within the characters as each has a different perspective on ‘doing the right thing’.

I have got to give Miller his due – he is not one to rest on his laurels. This book was so fresh that it’s almost as if Miller hired some 18-year old ghost writer/artist. Is it as good as Dark Knight Returns? No. Does it succeed as a piece of comic book storytelling? Without a doubt.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Secrets in the Shadows: Art & Life of Gene Colan

My wife Kat gave me this nifty biography for my birthday. Colan is one of the truly underappreciated greats of the funnybook business and it’s nice to see him get the bio treatment. The nicely packaged book runs chronologically through Colan’s life and career. Highlights include in depth looks at his Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck days, including interviews with his collaborators. The section I found the most interesting dealt with the highs and lows of Colan’s transition to DC. I had no idea that it was such a controversial move and that fellow creators (mostly John Byrne – what a dick!) were highly critical of his work. The DC experiment ends badly and Dick Giordano has to play the role of executioner.

My main criticism of the book is the layout. While things are organized chronologically, some of the sidebars are badly placed and the examples of artwork are not always relevant to the matters being discussed on the page. In addition, there is often repetition between the articles and the text of interviews – I would have rather those sections of the articles be deleted to remove the redundancies. I would have also like to focus more on Gene’s pre-60s work as well as some of the more minor project in the 70s.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable read and the artwork reproduces very well in black & white. It is good to see Twomorrows putting together these books, but I must say that their shipping rates are out of this world and they do not package books properly. I don’t mind my copy of Alter Ego being a bit dinged up – but not a book I plan on keeping on my bookshelf.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Taking a Chance

Human Target

I had read good thing about this series and was able to get a full run from #1-21 for about a buck a book. As I have mentioned before, and I’ll mention again, I don’t really read too many new comics. The price is really the biggest factor – as well as the lack of bang for your buck. Honestly, I feel like I can breeze through any modern day comic in under 5 minutes. That’s just not good value for your entertainment dollar. I have resigned myself to at least trying to get the highest quality 5 minutes.

This series has a lot of style and enough substance to make a fan out of me. As I am really only familiar with the character from his 70s days, it was nice not too feel too lost not having read the earlier mini-series and graphic novel. I like the 21st Century version of Christopher Chance – a good mix of brains and brawn. The series gets off to a good, but not great start with Chance in Hollywood – we get a look at his background and motivations, but none of it really interferes with the constantly moving storyline. The 9/11 themed ‘Unshredded Man’ arc came up short in my books. The premise was so fantastic that I feel that an opportunity for truly great story was missed. The next arc, which was baseball themed, was even weaker and I got the feeling that Milligan was using one of Bush’s State of the Union addresses (9/11, Corporate Scandal, Steroids). The series then picks up with #6 – a single-issue story involving a priest. There’s nothing I love more than a good story told within 32 pages, and Milligan and Co. pull it off here. It actually shouldn’t be too hard to make a good, short story considering this was a back-up characters for years. The next arc is also good – involving people hiding from their criminal past. We get to see Chance acting a bit human, which is fun – and we get to see him outwitted, which adds some drama.

All in all, this is good stuff. Even the issues I felt were subpar are very readable. At times, Milligan gets a bit too ‘Vertigo’ with the language – too many F bombs spoil the broth. The artwork is excellent and both of the artists used so far give the title a distinct look. Cliff Chiang's art is somewhat Darwynian, and that works well – especially the way he plays with shadows. I think I prefer Javier Pulido, though, as his artwork – which strikes me as a Alex Toth/Dan De Carlo hybrid – infuses the pages with a kinetic energy that moves the narrative along. I really look forward to making my way through the rest of the stack and discussing my thoughts on the later issues.

A Birthday Turkey

The long weekend was spent with nearly the full family at the family hobby farm. We celebrated my 33rd birthday – got some good swag including a couple of back issues of the old Comic Book Artist, Neil Gaiman’s new book and the recent Gene Colan biography. Kat made an awesome carrot cake for me. 33 feels old, but I am feeling fairly energetic these days – so I think that I am doing all right for such an advanced age. Good weather all around – the leaves are changing and the colours were magnificent. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner Sunday and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Long weekends rock!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Buy Low, Sell High

EBay Sales

What a weird experience! As I mentioned before, I am selling off a portion of my collection (stuff I am not totally in love with), to get some bash together for a ‘You had our baby’ gift for Kat. I still can’t make sense of how or why things sell or don’t sell. The one thing that seems to always attract attention is pre-Code horror. I am not talking EC or Timely here – even the second and third tier publishers. Last week I put a handful of Ace books – titles like Hand of Fate and The Beyond – good stuff with lots of Sekowsky art, but nothing spectacular. Overall, I’d say I got 70% of Guide on those books. That’s about as well as I can expect to do. I try to grade very conservatively, and that has helped bring back some repeat business. I’ve notice that once a buyer gets a feel for your grading and service – they are happy to come back for more. I know that’s how I’ve always made my online purchase. I had a repeat buyer pick of all 8 of the Ace horror books I had up, as well as a couple of other cheap Golden Age books.

On the negative side, Silver Age books do not attract the same level of aggressive bidding as the older stuff. I’d say most Silver Age books tend to go for 30-40% of Guide or so. In addition the gap between what you can get for a Fine book and a VF book is much smaller than is reflect in the Guide. It seems that people are happy with mid grade and aren’t willing to pay the premium for the high grade stuff. That’s cool – as that’s the approach I take.

Another strange thing I can’t quite explain is why something won’t attract any business one week and then sell like crazy the next. For example, I had a very nice issue of Our Army at War languish at $5.99 a few weeks ago, I re-listed it and it ended up selling for $11. The same for an old Terry and the Pirates book – no action at $5.99 and sold for $16 two weeks later. I can’t really explain that – just a timing issue, I guess. I have also been able to take a profit on some recent acquisitions. I sold some 50s war book for 3 to 4 times what I paid for them. I can’t explain that either – must just be good timing.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

This Spider is not Amazing

The Spider: Scavengers of the Slaughtered Sacrifices

Boy, did I ever have my hopes up for this one!

Cool Pulp hero? Check.
One of the better scripters of the past few decades? Check.
One of the all-time great pencillers? Check.

So what went wrong? Well, if you think that the title is overly long, wait until you get a look at this script. Don McGregor’s script is absolutely terrible – he uses so many words that every other line has a redundancy that is redundant. I get the sense that Don felt that if a picture says a thousands words, then a picture and a thousand words must say a million words. It’s just too much – there isn’t much of a plot and the dialogue weighs down much of the action. At times, I felt as though I was reading a Ditko script. To be fair, I understand that McGregor was strong-armed by Argosy into placing the Spider in a modern setting. That is tough, and a 30s piece would have been much better. That being said, McGregor’s ludicrous pop culture references dates the books terribly, and the theme of the evils of censorship is handled with all of the subtlety of a Ron Popeil infomercial. The only saving grace is Colan’s artwork. It is perfect. The real treat is that we get to see his ink-free pencils in this well produced black and white book. This was a serious missed opportunity. Sometimes I wish that I was still a 4-year old and could ‘read’ comics without bother with the word balloons. It saddens me that I cannot recommend this book to anyone. Avoid with extreme prejudice.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lucinda Plays it Safe

Lucinda Williams

Went to see Lucinda Williams at Massey Hall last night. It’s still the best place in the city for concerts; the acoustics are phenomenal. This was my 3rd time seeing her and I was totally looking forward to it as the past two shows (one in 1998 and the other in 2002) were awesome. This was another good one – but a certain something was missing.

Lucinda was in fine form – her raspy vocals were perfect and her band was tight (except for a few flubs on ‘Car Wheels’). The show was a good mix of old and new, but my only real complaint was the audience. Way too many people calling out requests (which seemed to throw Lucinda a bit) and even worse the people yelling “Play whatever you want” or “Play What’s in Your Heart”. The latter sounds like the next Mitch Albom book. This was a particular old crowd – made me feel very young for a guy who’s staring down his 33rd birthday. I felt that these were people who couldn’t afford tickets to last week’s Stones tour. I am probably just sounding cynical – but there is a time when an artist has become so popular that you are in danger at running into friends of your parents at the show. Anyhow – it was good, just not as great as the previous shows. It was a fairly sedate set – none of the real gut wrenching rockers like ‘Lost It’ or ‘Changed the Locks’, nor the quieter equally gut wrenching ones like ‘Sundays’ or ‘Side of the Road’. I also would’ve loved a ‘Crescent City’ – but 3 shows down and I haven’t heard it live. Basically, there wasn’t anything from before the ‘Carwheels’ album – that to me says that Lucinda is a little too plugged into her audience. All in all, it was a good night – but just a bit too safe.

Bathroom Destruction

Kat and I are having our main bathroom redone. It will take a few weeks and the first week or so will be the most disastrous in terms of mess to our house (we are also having kitchen ceiling replaced and one bedroom ceiling replaced), so we are living at my parents’ house for the time being. After visiting our house after Day One of tearing out the old walls, I realized that there was no turning back. Hopefully, it will be a heck of a lot better, but it’s hard to see that far down the road. One of the more interesting things about doing any work on our house it to see what’s behind the walls. The house was built in 1888 and some of the old wallpaper back there seems to be original, or at least from the turn of the century. Unfortunately, still no stack of Golden Age books anywhere to be found.