Penciller: Fernando Ruiz
Inker: Rich Koslowski
Colorist: Jason Millet
Archie et al. created by Bob Montana
Predator created by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Stan Winston
Archie Comics may have a history of venturing into some really odd territory, but even by its standards a crossover with the Predator seems quite unexpected. The simple appeal of that character arises from the idea of an alien hunter searching for big game by traveling to Earth and deciding to go after humans. In the original movie, this well-armed extraterrestrial easily takes down a Delta Force unit. Much of its entertainment value comes from watching this group of he-men played by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura reduced to screaming like little girls while trying to escape an invisible bogeyman who's more testosterone-addled than all of them put together. Since then Dark Horse has paired the Predator against everything from the xenomorphs of the Aliens franchise to the iconic Justice League America. With a track record of such formidable opponents, what exactly does the cast from Riverdale High offer as potential prey?
Apparently, they have a lot to offer our would-be killer. The comic is drawn in the traditional house style and presented in the publisher's classic humor format. Archie Andrews and what feels like the entire Riverdale student body are spending spring break at an exotic beach resort. But while the usual teenage hijinks occur, they're being stalked unseen by the Predator. If it weren't for this disturbing presence and one rather gory scene, the story would look like a conventional Archie comic. The beach vacation-inspired plot elements are fairly unoriginal, the humor is rather forced, and the cast's behaviour is pretty over-the-top. The boys talk and act like horny twelve year olds. And the rivalry between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge spills over into physical violence, which is what actually draws the Predator to them.
What exactly is it that he sees and approves of? Does he admire their fighting style? Is he attracted to their taste in clothes or horrified by it? Is he some kind of peeping tom? Does he believe targeting the two is some form of public service? Is he fed up with the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle? Or is he seeking a change in pace? And what's up with the emojis? Whatever the reason, it looks like a lot more people are going to die, preferably in ways both funny and appropriate for each character.
Art: Russell Dauterman, Mike Mayhew
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Joe Sabino
Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.
After seven issues chasing down what are now obviously a bunch of false leads, we finally arrive at our destination - the big reveal as to who is the new Thor. That is unless you already know her identity from reading various online leaks. Given how definitively she was ruled out very early in the series, this might prove to be a sticking point for some readers. But there is a certain fannish logic to her assuming the mantle of the Thunder God considering her early and long association with the lead character. The reveal itself is a perfect mirror of the final pages of the first issue, a slow transformation obscured by tightly composed panels, only to pull back for the final one page spread.
Otherwise, the primary action is the massive battle between the unstoppable Destroyer armor being possessed by one of Odin's more reprehensible lackeys, and new Thor backed up by the heroines called on by original Thor (who now goes by the name Odinson) because they were on his shortlist of possible new Thor suspects. It's a fun set piece that demonstrates how the series' art team has come a long way in portraying the requisite over-the-top action. Unlike most of his predecessors, Russell Dauterman draws his figures with a certain studied elegance eschewing the usual exaggerated anatomy, kinetic poses, and dramatic perspective of a traditional Thor comic. He carefully composes the action so that his characters have room to breathe and smashes the grid layout in order to create dynamism, tilting the panels to better reflect the chaos within them. But much of the action would still be incomprehensible if it weren't for the efforts of Matthew Wilson, who Dauterman heavily leans on to differentiate the large and colorful cast. Wilson seems to summon every tone possible in offset printing and employ every technique in the digital coloring process to render every bolt of lightning, every magical hex, and every Kirby crackle. It's a virtuoso display of what modern comics technology can achieve with the right talent.
Unfortunately, the battle ends a little prematurely to build up to the big reveal, leaving this issue without a truly satisfactory conclusion. The reader might know Thor's true identity, but that just raises more questions. Even more troubling are all the various plot threads left dangling, such as the machinations of the series' two arch villains seemingly about to pay off. This frustration is due to the fact that Thor is being forced to wrap up for now as the entire Marvel Universe is being caught up in the crossover event called Secret Wars. It's an unfortunate reminder of the corporate nature of these properties. And just as the series' creative team was hitting their stride.
Art: Takeshi Miyazawa, Jake Wyatt, Jenny Frison
Colors: Ian Herring
Letters: Joe Caramagna
Kamala Khan created by Sana Amanat, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona
Ever since a young Kamala Khan took ownership of the longstanding mantle of "Ms. Marvel" she's had to navigate a complex web of paradoxical identities from the mundane to the fantastical. But this cultural melange has made her one of the most compelling new characters to come out of Marvel. The comic's blend of measured optimism and good humor has also kept Kamala from becoming just another dour attempt to replicate the historic success of Spider-Man. But has she finally met someone who's going through the exact same thing as her in this latest chapter? "All this time, I thought I was alone... that I was the only nerdy Pakistani-American-slash-Inhuman-in the entire universe. And then suddenly I wasn't." Oh Kamala, if only life were that fair.
Artist Takeshi Miyazawa joined the series in the last issue when this particular story arc began, and he's proven to be an apt choice. His manga-influenced style is particularly adept at capturing the varied moods of the book's youthful cast and the story's melodramatic milieu. What can be more romantic for two love-struck and rebellious teenagers (super-powered or otherwise) living in Jersey City than breaking curfew to sneak out and and gaze upon the glorious New York skyline?
But this issue's emotional heart is a short conversation between Kamala's pious older brother Aamir and her best friend/wannabe beau Bruno. As the former explains to the latter why Kamala could never date, let alone marry a non-Pakistani/Muslim, Bruno's face shifts from registering shock, defiance, and finally to crushing disappointment. His gradually slumping body contrasts next to Aamir's upright posture and his helpful but overall placid expression. It's all drawn with the right amount of understatement. The scene unveils a new layer about the two characters, particularly Aamir, who was in danger of becoming a caricature of the narrow-minded ethnic figure. More significantly it humanizes two divergent paths faced by immigrants: Bruno's integrationist philosophy which is often taken for granted by mainstream pundits in the U.S. as the correct course of action, and Aamir's often villainized but perfectly understandable desire to preserve what's left of his cultural legacy in the face of an aggressively bland conformity.
Given such ground-level concerns, Kamala dealing with the ugly side of her Inhuman heritage actually feels like an escape, or at least a diversion, as the superhero conflict provides a far more clear cut version of those problems while also handing her something convenient to punch. Now, Marvel's Mutants have generally played the role of less than convincing underdogs, the not as well-known but no less potent Inhumans behave more like members of the upper-crust. They're essentially a magical race of elves and wizards who would rather conceal themselves within their enchanted communities far from the reach of mere mortals. But occasionally, one of these snobs resorts to more drastic measures. As an acolyte of this issue's would-be Voldemort proclaims what every fascist has basically ever preached: "Why should we hide what we are and play by the rules of a society that wasn't built for us. We're better than all these people..."
It's a cliched idea for anyone who's been following the X-Men or any Marvel superhero comic for the last 60 years. But it makes for a sudden if somewhat obnoxious presence coming right after the preceding low-key conversation touching on the nature of multiculturalism.
Pencils and Colors by Terry Dodson
Inks by Rachel Dodson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Red One starts from the conceit that America's neighbors from across The Pond are a far more enlightened and liberated lot. Or maybe that was just the 70s. At any rate those silly but highly dangerous Yanks are kind of childish for still believing in superheroes. Why, they even make movies about them. Something has to be done about that for the sake of world peace. The central premise of the series is absurd and over-the-top, but I'm not entirely sure from this debut if it's meant to work as a parody or a homage, or some clumsy marriage of both.
The art team of Terry and Rachel Dodson seem to be playing it straight, effortlessly capturing the kitschy atmosphere and cheesecake aspects of the decade like this comic was the script of one more exploitative action adventure film. The colors acquire a washed out, nostalgic glow when the setting moves to 1977 Southern California, imbuing the place with a certain dated glamour.
Where the comic disappoints is in the dialogue, which is clunky and unrealistic. This may have something to do with translating from the script of writer Xavier Dorison, but it sometimes feels like an over-earnest imitation of the informal speech patterns of most Americans. What Hollywood starlet vents her frustration at her critics by screaming "I'm going to smash their peasant heads in!"? This is exacerbated by half the word balloons being crowded by too much text. This again may be a translation issue, but it results in some very slapdash lettering which could have been solved by resizing or rearranging the balloons.
The comic's protagonist Vera Yelnikov could be described as a Rule 63-inspired, Soviet-era version of James Bond meets Captain America. She's a bombshell drawn by the very people who used to draw Wonder Woman during Allan Heinberg's run. Which is to say that Vera's clearly meant to be ogled by the reader. But she's no vacuous sex symbol, she's the country's top operative. Smart, capable, and supremely athletic to the point of being possibly a super soldier. Vera's a free spirit involved in a polyamorous relationship with an expecting couple, plus a few other hanger-ons. She has no problem inducting complete strangers into the Mile High Club, but stops at sleeping with her co-workers and superiors at the Kremlin.
For all of these reasons, Vera is sent to infiltrate American Society in order to play the part of a superhero. A costumed vigilante called The Carpenter has been murdering disreputable Hollywood types. This has the party bosses worried that such criminal behavior might inspire a new wave of puritanism, which in turn could reignite the Cold War. So they assign Vera to masquerade as another local do-gooder so she can provide a more rational counterpoint.
Needless to say, the story is a not-so-subtle commentary on the connection between violence, sexual repression, and religious extremism, not to mention the rising tide of social and political conservatism that would come to dominate Reagan-era America in the 80s. And it panders to the view that Americans on the whole are somewhat naive in their idealism, making them a tad suggestible to things like men and women in tights. At the same time, there's an admiration for that very naïveté that comes across in Dodsons' love for recreating the seductive Californian milieu and in their portrayal of a fresh-faced Vera as an innocent abroad.
Batman & Robin created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson
Originally serialised from 1966-1967 in Shonen King magazine to capitalise on the popularity of the Batman television series, the Batman manga would be rediscovered in 2008 by Chip Kidd, who would make it the centerpiece of his book Bat-Manga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan. Despite being well-received, Kidd was criticised for failing to credit the manga’s creator Jiro Kuwata. So for comic fans, it’s a little more gratifying to see DC release the first volume of a planned complete run for the manga in a format that more closely preserves the content of the original. But fans of the current incarnation of Batman or of today’s manga are probably going to find this comic slightly strange. This isn’t the brooding protagonist cloaked in black. Nor is the art going to remind anyone of today’s manga populated by delicately drawn bishonen and bishojo types. This is a solidly-executed boy’s action adventure of the period. But for someone like me, there’s something familiar and comforting about its simplicity.
To begin, this is a superhero comic that still displays the genre’s early circus roots. Batman and Robin don a variation of the traditional tights that they wore for decades before the duo started bulking themselves up with body armour. Long before superheroes were granted bodybuilder physiques, Batman and Robin were portrayed as lithe athletes. And this works for the kind of storytelling Kuwata employs. The duo are usually shown leaping off buildings, swinging on ropes, running at top speed, tossing and kicking their enemies, dodging bullets. This classic staging of fight choreography really helps to ground the characters in real physical exertion. By today’s standards Kuwata’s style is rather minimal. But it’s primary virtue is in how it captures the dynamism of its protagonists. The clarity and pacing of the action keeps what are sometimes wordy panels from slowing down the story.
The stories themselves, which mimic the 3-act structure of a television episode, are also fairly episodic, with Batman and Robin battling a succession of villains-of-the-week. Two of them (Lord Death Man and Doctor Faceless) were lifted from the manga’s American counterparts, but none of them could be described as an essential member of Batman’s rogues gallery. The plots and characterisations are now fairly predictable, with many of the tropes seen here having been used many times since the 60s. What I found surprising was the science-based nature of the antagonists. Like many readers, I’ve become accustomed to the horror/crime themed interpretation of Batman’s more popular arch-foes as well as Batman himself being portrayed as a psychologically scarred individual. But Kuwata’s stories reflect the post-War fascination with science and technology gone amuck. So the manga's always flamboyant villains tend to be hucksters, mad inventors, or freaks of nature rather than the more familiar assortment of mobsters, assassins, mass murderers, or serial killers. The only thing missing here are angst-ridden individuals transmogrified after being bathed in radiation.
This results in a very different kind of Batman. Rather than the urban avenger waging a one-man-war against crime in Gotham or the control freak who plans for every outcome, we have a Batman who initially stumbles when confronting a new villain’s MO for the first time. He starts out at a clear disadvantage dealing with their unfamiliar technology since he has no way to counter it. And while he eventually finds a way to win, he's far from infallible. This isn’t Batman the Dark Knight, but closer to Batman the problem-solving Science Hero. Admittedly, this plays to some of my more nostalgic instincts.
Panel from Push Man and Other Stories
(Yoshihiro Tatsumi: June 10, 1935 - March 7, 2015)
When you move to the metropolis, and you don’t know where you are, and you don’t have any work, I think that that can be a very alienating experience. Furthermore, I think that, when you’re living in those conditions, you start to envy other people that are around you, you start to imagine that everyone around you is living a better life than you are. I think that that’s a basic condition of living in the city. And when you’re with just one other person, and you envy them, you can just not see them. That’s fine. But that becomes very difficult when you are living in the city.
- From The Comics Journal
I tend to write about everything that’s happening in Japan. Socially, I’m inspired by that. Even if they’re good or bad incidents, I find myself interested in them, and then create stories. So before I write something, I’m always determined to include the things that are happening in society at the time.
So after the war, American troops came in, and got things settled in Japan. I drew this image of a Japanese man pulling a rickshaw – and there‘s a drunk American soldier waving around a bottle of alcohol around, getting kind of crazy. So just in that one panel, it sums up the exact situation of Japan after the war in that one panel.
- From About Manga
In Japan they weren't really making a lot of films at that time, so I watched a lot of European and American films. I pretty much watched everything from overseas. In American films, the bad guy always gets it in the end and justice wins. It was fun to watch American films, but everything was just so good, though. I thought there weren't very many people that could actually live like that.
In European films, the bad guy wins and justice loses out. That's when I started creating manga, where sometimes the bad wins and the good loses.
- From The Star
Photo courtesy of NASA
From Star Trek/X-Men
Photo Courtesy of R. Michelson Galleries
Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most human.In an era when nerd heroes were still in short supply, Mr. Spock was already there. Bon voyage Leonard Nimoy. You lived and prospered.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
I’ve never been more than a casual viewer of pro wrestling, but even as a kid I was aware of André René Roussimoff, more famously known by his wrestling handle André the Giant. Officially billed at a height of 7 ft. 4 in. and weighing in at 520 pounds, he was the image of what a wrestler should look like - a true giant of a man. Roussimoff’s manufactured rivalry as the heel to babyface wrestler Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea would culminate in their 1987 match at Wrestlemania III. The event would bring an unprecedented level of mainstream media attention to the World Wrestling Federation (now called World Wrestling Entertainment), the last pro wrestling promotion left in the United States after having absorbed all its rivals. Roussimoff’s iconic status was further enhanced by a few memorable film and television appearances, his early death at the age of 46 due to heart failure, and a viral street art campaign created by Shepard Fairey. If there’s any professional entertainer who’s identity has been completely subsumed by his own legend, it’s André the Giant.
As Box Brown tells it in André The Giant: Life and Legend, there’s a certain inevitable quality to Roussimoff’s involvement with pro wrestling. Born and raised in southern France, Rousimoff was neither brilliant, athletic, handsome or charismatic. But he was unusually large for his age. So large that the local school bus refused to take him as a passenger. The young Rousimoff had to be driven to class by riding on the back of the truck of his neighbour, Nobel Prize-winning playwright Samuel Beckett. After leaving school, he employed his tremendous strength while drifting between various odd jobs. So the choice to become a wrestler seems to have been arrived at by default. Where else could Rousimoff exploit his size to achieve a modicum of wealth and fame?
But once he fell into pro wrestling, Roussimoff became fully committed to its itinerant lifestyle. Much of the graphic novel portrays life outside the ring being spent hanging out at restaurants, airport and hotel lobbies, or squeezing into the cramped seats of airplanes and buses. This would be a lonely and difficult existence for anyone, let alone someone suffering from acromegaly. Brown’s art is particularly effective here because his representation of Roussimoff is both archetypical and humanizing. He’s drawn a bit larger than he was in reality, but this only heightens the character’s discomfort. He looks awkward in every panel trying to navigate a world not built to accommodate his size. His impressive bulk belying the physical fragility that would eventually contribute to his death.
Unsurprisingly, Rousimoff would inspire numerous anecdotes during his lifetime conveying contradictory impressions about him. Some would exaggerate his freakish power while others would portray him as a gentle spirit. Brown’s remarkable achievement is that he manages to pull together these disparate sources into a cohesive biography. Brown’s aesthetic is similar to that of Seth or James Kochalka. Minimally designed figures outlined with thick strokes and soft contours. This imbues not just Roussimoff, but all the other heavyset wrestlers with an oddly endearing appearance. I’ll assume that most of these stories are already familiar to hardcore fans, but Brown organizes them in such a way that doesn’t require much prior knowledge from the reader.
There’s indeed a great deal of fondness for the subject-matter that comes across the entire book. Brown patiently guides the uninitiated through the world of wrestling kayfabe. Roussimoof’s career spanned an era when the WWF and other promotions still insisted that its matches, and even its wrestlers' ludicrous personas were 100% genuine. Of course any savvy viewer, or anyone who’d been in a real scrap, could tell that the televised fights were staged (or a work, to use pro wrestling parlance), but the promotions had tasked their wrestlers to maintain the act whenever in public. As far as Brown can tell after examining his taped appearances, Roussimoff never broke character, even if it meant flipping someone’s car over when responding to a skeptical fan’s challenge (though Brown admits he’s unsure about the veracity of the story). As Hogan stated in an interview “He loved this business and he protected it.” Some of Brown’s best set pieces are his blow-by-blow analysis of Roussimoff’s more famous matches. They illuminate how wrestlers will sometimes put themselves into real danger in order to sustain the illusion of a true brawl.
Though Brown’s research is extensive, his book is far from the last word on André the Giant. Brown was mostly limited to examining 2nd and 3rd-hand sources, and the resulting biography’s emotional distance reflects his dependence on those sources. While Brown’s willing to streamline some events in order to smooth over conflicting testimonies and better fit the dramatic needs of the narrative, he isn’t able to penetrate far past Roussimoff’s tough exterior. Whatever private struggles he must have had with acromegaly and the rigorous demands of his profession are left off the page. And the reader is only vaguely informed about his soured domestic life. Ultimately, Bown’s André Roussimoff remains an enigmatic presence.
Brown adopts the same circumspect attitude towards the wrestling industry as a whole. When the WWF’s Vince McMahon admitted in 1989 that wrestling matches were artifice, he did so in order to keep state athletic commissions from imposing stricter standards (like conducting proper medical exams or hiring ringside doctors) or from more properly supervising the promotion’s events. The tactic worked to some degree. While some in the wrestling community bemoaned the death of kayfabe, the uncovering of one form of artifice simply allowed the promotion to continue kayfabe on a more subtle plane. What remains largely hidden from the public are the exploitive practices that take a huge toll on the wrestlers they market. Roussimoff cycles from the squared circle to heavy drinking sessions at hotel bars to the surgery table. But Brown's unvarnished account never calls into question the promotion’s ethical responsibility towards its employees. While he mentions that Roussimoff was the highest paid wrestler of the era, he leaves out how the WWF would build a massive "sports entertainment" empire based on his infamous reputation, even long after his death.
Brown does include one scene were a younger Roussimoff meets with Vince McMahon Sr. in New York, who outlines how he’ll turn the burgeoning talent into a legend. “You’re an unstoppable force!! No running dropkicks or leg scissors. You don’t move for nobody.” he commands. McMahon then decides to take Roussimoff on the road. “We keep moving him from town to town so he never gets overexposed… And we let the legend grow. By the time you get back to town you’re ten feet tall!!” However this might have impacted Roussimoff personally whether for better or worse, it certainly proved to be a most profitable strategy for the company.
Go to: Medium, by Tom Tomorrow
A small sampling of online reactions from: Heidi MacDonald, miscellaneous cartoonists, Brigid Alverson, Jacob Canfield, Andrew O'Hehir, Ruben Bolling, Tim Kreider, John Stewart, Laura Miller, David Palumbo-Liu, Tim Holder, The Simpsons, Robert and Aline Kominsky-Crumb et al, Brittney Cooper, Zunar, Asghar Bukhari, Noah Berlatsky, Janell Hobson,
Marguerite Dabaie on the challenges faced by Middle Eastern Cartoonists.
Michael Dean and R.C. Harvey reprint an old essay about the controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad from several years ago.
Jeet Heer on the history of French satire.
Michael Kupperman on his time working as a cartoonist for the New York Times.
Jeff Trexler on defunct satirical magazine The Mascot.
Mona Chalabi on the history of religious intolerance in France.
I myself was initially distressed, angry, and sorrowful over the Charlie Hebdo murders, though I've grown to question the overall merits of efforts to rally around the "Je Suis Charlie" hashtag. This is par for the course in this Social Media age. And it's hard to ignore the cathartic effect is has on a considerable number of people, particularly those in the comics and cartooning community. But such attempts to engender unity almost always seem to end up fanning broader societal tensions, leading to expressions of tribalism accompanied by reactions steeped in apologia. I also suspect that said sloganeering might have the ironic effect of quashing debate and suppressing a more nuanced take of the events. Playing into the hands of those fanning hate.