Friday Funny Pages: A Woman, A Swamp Monster, And A Wizard Walk Into A Bar . . . .

When taken out of context some comic book panels can really raise the question, “what the fuck?”  I believe this one does just that.

This panel also illustrates what I think is missing from a lot of comic books today which is, pure zaniness.  Not to be confused with silliness.  Silliness is useless.  Zaniness on the other hand, at least how I define it, is a desire to do something new and creative in the most outrageous way possible.  I mean with comic books there are no limitations so why not occasionally build a genuinely good storyline with a zany crescendo?  Often times these days, as with almost every other medium, comic books are rehashing or returning to older concepts.  So on occasion we’ll see some zany in the funny pages, but it’s a return to another creators zany.  Not original, fresh zany.  That’s harder to come by.  Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of great comic books out there now, really quality stuff from all the publishers.  As far as I’m concerned however, comics are taking themselves far too serious.  Sure they’ve matured with the audience, and comics aren’t for kids anymore, etc. etc.  Zaniness doesn’t necessarily have to be for kids either.  Perhaps it’s just me though, perhaps I’m just part of a rapidly shrinking audience who enjoys a zany approach and outlandish characters in my comic books.

If you feel the same way then check out the rest of the book from which this panel comes from Man-Thing #14 written by Steve Gerber, with art by Val Mayerik.  If you want unpredictable adventure and something different around ever swamp soaked corner you’ll want to take a peek at Steve Gerber’s entire run of Man-Thing especially the blockbuster Giant Size Man-Thing #3 where the Man-Thing meets a new special pal.  Go check it out, all of it, right now.

That is all!

Friday Funny Pages: Mother’s Melting Head

 

Imagine that you and your family are out for a drive along a winding coast road.  You are innocently sitting in the backseat talking with your parents.  Father is at the helm as mother talks over the seat with you about school.  It’s a beautiful day, the car windows are open and the sea breeze is wafting across your face.  Suddenly!  Something goes wrong, the automobile careens left, then right, before it completely spins out of control, off the road, and over a tall embankment.  Everything goes black.

The next thing you know you open your eyes and find yourself laying in the grass.  In the distance the smoldering remains of your car.  Beside you is your mother’s severed head, but there’s something else.  You can see that your mother is some kind of android!  What’s this?!?  Your decapitated robot mother is speaking to you?  Using strange cryptic phrases in a way you’ve never heard her speak before your mother’s head gives you some kind of weird warning before it seemingly self-destructs into a melted pile of sparking goo.

Yes, that’s pretty much the first issue of Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes’ Omega the Unknown.

In the story these strange, terrifying, and mysterious events send the young main character, James-Michael, off on an enigmatic dual plot parallel with the equally strange and silent hero Omega.  Somehow the two are linked, and over the course of the 12 issue story arc all is slowly revealed.

Continuing my horror run of comic book panels for Halloween I present this creepy work by Omega the Unknown artist Jim Mooney and once again taking this opportunity to showcase the writing of Steve Gerber whom I talked about in THIS recent Friday Funny Pages a few weeks back.  Gerber is one of my favorites and Omega the Unknown, in my opinion, is one of his best works.  Weird, stylized, unique, and unlike any other superhero story.  The epic of James-Michael and Omega was intended for a much longer run and was supposed to be an unfolding mystery that was gradually developed and fleshed out.  However the series only made it 10 issues and was later wrapped up in Gerber’s Defenders run.  However even in that rushed state there is some deep poignancy to the ultimate conclusion to the Omega saga which fostered a long running cult fandom and appreciation for Gerber and Skrenes’ project.  If you’re looking for a unique comic reading experience with a few familiar Marvel faces I highly suggest investigating the mysterious Omega the Unknown!

That is all!

 

Friday Funny Pages: Wisdom From Howard The Duck

 

 

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to post something from Howard the Duck in Friday Funny Pages.  Steve Gerber is one of my favorite comic book writers of all time, he was a stellar satirist and commentator on American culture from the 1970’s up until his death in 2008.  His humor and wit was subtle, intelligent, and boundless.  Gerber’s style of writing and unique story telling techniques were ahead of their time and often pushed the boundaries of conventional comic book writing, which lead readers at the time to either wholeheartedly embrace it or confusedly reject it.  Steve Gerber often had creative clashes with the heads at Marvel but the success of his work is best illustrated in his run as writer for Man-Thing, the non-vocal swamp creature (created the same month and year as DC’s Swamp Thing) which was once a scientist who was transformed into a walking vegetation monster empowered by the living wet lands and given empathic abilities that allow him to sense and respond to emotions.  Those who are calm, and well mannered are able to befriend the odd creature, but those who know fear, burn at the touch of the Man-Thing!

Steve Gerber had a long and successful run on Man-Thing, a book which would prove difficult for other writers who often couldn’t get past the fact that the main character had absolutely zero dialogue.  Imaginative storytelling and engaging side characters spawned from Gerber’s pen built up and expanded Man-Thing’s mythos and saw the title flourish.  After he left the book, it could never maintain that same momentum and Man-Thing was eventually reduced to one-shots and guest appearances.  It was Man-Thing along with his other various writing odds and ends that built up Steve Gerber’s comic book cred and introduced the world to his best known creation, Howard the Duck.

The above panel comes from the Howard the Duck limited MAX series published by Marvel.  Written by Steve Gerber with art from Phil Winslade and Glenn Fabry.  As far as I’m concerned this series was some of Gerber’s finest work and swept Howard along on one of his craziest and most impactful adventures.  In the series there are a wide range of familiar Howard characters.  His loyal friend Beverly continues her ambiguous relationship with the duck and is ever-present at Howard’s side.  Fans of the 70’s comic will recognize two recurring nemeses, the Crazy Bus Lady and Dr. Bong, Howard’s arch-enemy.  Published in 2001 the series covers a wide range of topics which were quite contentious at the time, and for the most part still are.  At one point Howard and Beverly find themselves staying at an insane limbo-esque hotel that swiftly runs the reader through a bevy of social commentary throughout its dreamlike environment.  There they befriend an odd character who closely resembles Hunter S. Thompson.  Another satirical caricature is Iprah, obviously a take on Oprah.  In the story Iprah is more or less responsible for the near destruction of the Earth.  There are other rebuffs dealing with boy bands and the whole idea of manufactured celebrity.  In the above panel about fundamentalism Howard is referring to an evangelical preacher claiming that the events of 9/11/2001 were the result of God’s punishment for gays and lesbians living in America.  Clearly a reflection of the very real and very inflammatory comments made by Jerry Falwell shortly after the destruction of the twin towers.

I could go on all day about how much I love Howard the Duck and everything Steve Gerber, and just reminiscing about it makes me want to go back and reread some of my favorite issues.  If you haven’t read any Howard, and aren’t familiar with Steve Gerber’s work then you need to get your head out of your tail feathers and remedy that situation immediately!

That is all!

A Requiem For Comic Books OR Enter the Mercury Age

So it has been awhile since I’ve bought comics regularly.  Money is tight these days.  The wife and I recently bought a house, there is a financial crisis lurking around, and when it came to saving my hefty weekly comic book fund was put on the chopping block.  A shame to be sure, but I kept up as best I could by reading a few forums and checking out the publishers official sites and browsing sites like Newsarama and others.  I’ve picked up a few trades now and again but it’s been almost two years now since I’ve stopped reading comic regularly.

Well the other day a few friends and I paid a visit to our once regular comic shop.  We were making the journey to see what was new and to help point out some good X-Men trades for one of our group who was just getting started down the long winding X-Men path.  While we were pointing out trades and suggesting writers from the X Universe that she might enjoy, she made the off-handed comment that Wolverine seemed to be in a lot of these books.  The more veteran comic enthusiasts among us had a good chuckle.  Someone mentioned Wolverine’s apparently unspoken ability to warp time and be in every place at once, and I joked that Marvel should just make a new title that consisted of nothing but Spider-Man and Wolverine and just get it over with.  We chuckled and sighed.

However after I said that, one of the shops other patrons, who just happened to be lurking around nearby, walked up to us and said “You joke, but that’s actually on about issue three now.”  It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about, but then he walked over to the shelf and pointed down to a book entitled “Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #3

Grueling hours of writing must have been put into creating this concept . . .

My only response was “You have got to be shitting me.”  But alas he was indeed not shitting me.  There it was plain as day, selling out incarnate.  Upon further inspection I saw that it is only a 6 issue story arc where Spidey and the runt get caught up in some crazy whirlwind adventure that takes them all over the Marvel universe.  I also realized that the series is written by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert which are some names with some clout.  When it comes to Jason Aaron I could take him or leave him, but Kubert has some pretty impressive artistic credentials.

From the few reviews I’ve parsed through dealing with this series it sounds like fans are enjoying it for the most part, even though many had the same trepidations about its selling out potential.  The only real complaint I’ve been able to gather is that it is constantly late, I guess it’s taken about five months to get the first three issues out, but then again what good Wolverine mini-series doesn’t take years to complete?

Going back to one of my earlier blog posts about the death of Johnny Storm, and the hint at several more main hero deaths to promote book sales, and now this; literally a clichéd joke come to life, it makes me worry about the future of the comic books industry.  I long for the days when creators were creating and building up the comic universes they wrote within.  Writers like Simonson and Gerber introducing crazy characters, that when you try to think of them off the page seem to be insane, but when they laid it out in the panels and ink they brought something new, imaginative, and at the same time tried to make a point and actually speak to the readers.  Today however writers simply struggle to put “hot” characters into some sort of mildly adventurous and entertaining plotline that will sell books. Or barring even that level of creativity writers seem to enjoy tearing apart the history of past creators to make use of the easy concept of “dealing with change” while at the same time being able to avoid the burden of actually coming up with some sort of point. 

Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes created Omega the Unknown, what I consider to be the Pulp Fiction of super hero books.

It’s like building a huge house for a family so that you can see the family grow and evolve and spark all these great events, only to come back later and tear it down just to watch them cry without really thinking beyond how cool it will be when you snap a heart wrenching photo of them in a sobbing embrace.

Perhaps that’s a bit of a melodramatic analogy, but I’m all worked up and pissed.   

With both of the biggest comics companies now under the boot of major corporate control (DC/Time Warner and Marvel/Disney) I have a gradually growing anxiety that the days of the comic industry are in their twilight.  With more and more corporate involvement, mixed media with large-scale Hollywood productions, and the digital revolution at hand I worry that the days of the small, privately owned neighborhood comic shops are on the way out.  Comics are becoming more streamlined, sticking to “popular characters” while letting others fall to the wayside, they’re experimenting less and less and the things we get beyond the printed pages such as DVDs, cartoons, and even movies are often rehashes of old concepts and storylines, despite how well produced they might be.  The comic book industry is like a band in the “Greatest Hits” phase of their career, which of course as we know often signals the end.  When the diversity of a company starts to slide people get bored.  Contrary to popular belief fans do enjoy seeing heroes other than Wolverine and Batman.

Green Lantern Mosaic a series cancelled not due to sales but rather executives not agreeing with the books tone.

Although I was not around during the 70’s I look at the comics from that era and pine for those days.  When heroes were aplenty, the Thing was the hot property of the Marvel universe, and there was at least a pinch of some sort of social, moral, or philosophical commentary mingled with our comic books.  Of course there were a great many shitty comics back then too, but even the shit seemed to have a heart.  Perhaps I have just grown too cynical about the current state of comic books.  There have been several periods in the past when people thought the industry was on its deathbed.  I realize there is still some great stuff out there today.   Green Lantern’s Darkest Night was epic, Marvel brought back some old school sci-fi adventure with Secret Invasion, and there are other great reads among the non-hero comics such as the Walking Dead.  I suppose I am just disheartened by the corporatization of the world at large and the comic book industry in particular.  Back in the day we humble comic fans dreamt of a huge geek revolution, where everyone knew the names of the Avengers and previously second tier heroes like Green Lantern could star on the big screen.  Oh but be careful what you wish for, for how many Mephistos must we bargain with to make our dreams come true?  How many hands will reach to reap the rewards of that popularity?  And how will our heroes change in order to maintain their corporate perceptions?

Thor #337 by Walt Simonson and the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill

I guess one thing I’m getting at is that each era of comic books has its own tone and general spirit, and that I am not a fan of this current up and coming era which I would dub the Mercury Age of comics, for its fast paced mutability that seems to run all over the place without maintaining any real substance.     

It all reminds me of the storyline from Doom 2099 where . . . . ah hell I’m done, I’d just continue rambling forever!

That is all!