Mar 202014
Up until now I've known Andrez Bergen primarily as a novelist with a distinctive, entertaining voice, as is evident in TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT, WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA?, and DEPTH CHARGING ICE PLANET GOTH, among others. But he also writes comics, and BLACK/WHITE, a new anthology title he's produced with several different artists, is just out. Most of the stories in this
Mar 172014


So, here’s Seth Meyers’ show from Tuesday night, March 11. He’s doing the funny, and then around minute 20, first guest Rachel Maddow comes out. And around minute 23 and 30 seconds, they start talking comics.

I’m still in geek-fugue about this. It’s always flattering to get a shout out, but to get a shout out from not one, but two people I hold in such high esteem…

…yeah, I’ll be over here in the corner, grinning and giggling.

Rachel Maddow admits to Seth Meyers that she gives copies of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country to members of Congress, saying “It’ll give them helpful insight for their jobs.”

I wonder how Greg Rucka’s forthcoming novel, Bravo, would go over!

Nov 142013
Normally I don't blog about single issues of a comic book, preferring to wait until there's a collected edition available, but I'm going to make an exception for VELVET #1, the first issue of a new spy series written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Steve Epting, the team responsible for some of the best Captain America stories in the past twenty or thirty years.

According to Brubaker, he wants VELVET to be a cross between the more over-the-top secret agent stuff like James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the grittier espionage fiction of authors such as John Le Carre. I think he's succeeded admirably in this first issue.

Set in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the story centers around the activities of Arc-7, a top secret, ultra-hush-hush spy agency with headquarters in London. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a British agency or an international one like U.N.C.L.E., but that doesn't really matter. One of their agents is murdered while on a mission, and the leaders of the agency quickly decide that there's a traitor in their ranks, a former top field agent who now trains other agents.

But Velvet Templeton, the secretary to the agency's director, believes that the man being blamed for the leak (who happens to be a former lover of hers) is actually being framed, so she sets out to do some investigating of her own. And Velvet has some secrets in her past that make things even more interesting, so that by the end of this issue Brubaker has thrown in some very intriguing twists along with plenty of action.

Since I was a huge fan of all the espionage novels, movies, and TV shows from the Sixties, VELVET is right in my wheelhouse. Brubaker is one of the best writers in the comics business, and I've always enjoyed Epting's stylish artwork and top-notch storytelling. This first issue also includes a fine essay by Jess Nevins, "A History of Spy Fiction Through the Cold War". I really enjoyed this one and look forward to the next issue. Whether you read it as it goes along or wait for the hardback or trade paperback, VELVET gets a high recommendation from me.

Nov 062013

In 1975, writer/artist Howard Chaykin created a character for the short-lived Atlas/Seaboard comics company called The Scorpion. In the two issues under that title produced by Chaykin, The Scorpion was a mysterious, swashbuckling adventurer named Moro Frost who operated in 1930s Hollywood. Due to creative differences, Chaykin left the title after those two issues, and a third issue of THE SCORPION by different creators and featuring a different character was published before Atlas/Seaboard collapsed. The company put out some pretty good comic books during its short life (I read most of them), but my favorite was probably Chaykin's version of THE SCORPION.

A short time later, the second issue of Marvel's black-and-white magazine MARVEL PREVIEW featured a story called "The Power Broker Resolution" that starred a mysterious, swashbuckling adventurer in 1930s Hollywood named Dominic Fortune. The writer/artist who produced that story? None other than Howard Chaykin. Yep, Dominic Fortune was a reworked version of The Scorpion, with little changed except the character's name. I enjoyed it as much as I had the two earlier issues.

The story didn't lead to much, though. A few years later in one of Marvel's color comics, MARVEL PREMIERE #56, Dominic Fortune surfaced again in a story called "The Big Top Barter Resolution", with art by Chaykin and Terry Austin and script by David Michelinie. This is a fun story that features a pre-Howling Commandos appearance by Dum Dum Dugan. But again it didn't lead to an ongoing Dominic Fortune series.

Over the years other writers and artists used Fortune as a guest star in various stories, filling in his back-story as they went along, something with which I'm not totally in agreement. (The urge to produce "origin" stories is a plague that afflicts mainly Hollywood—the movie version of SOLOMON KANE, anyone?—but it crops up in the comics industry, too. As far as I'm concerned the worst thing that Marvel ever did with Wolverine was to give him a detailed origin. I much preferred the mystery that surrounded his early appearances.)

But back to Dominic Fortune. A few years ago, Chaykin wrote and drew a Fortune mini-series for Marvel's MAX imprint, which means it has a lot of cussin' and nekkid women in it, two things to which I'm not opposed in principle, but it's easy to go overboard on them and that's almost the case here. Not quite. "It Can Happen Here and Now" finds Fortune being hired by a movie executive to ride herd on three drunken, washed-up ham actors who are still valuable to the studio. In trying to keep them out of trouble, Fortune winds up in the middle of a Fifth Columnist plot to assassinate FDR. This story aspires to be a fun romp, and most of the time it is. It's a little too heavy-handed in its politics for my taste, but overall I enjoyed it.

The trade paperback DOMINIC FORTUNE: IT CAN HAPPEN HERE AND NOW reprints the MAX mini-series, the two early Dominic Fortune stories from MARVEL PREVIEW and MARVEL PREMIERE, and a six-part Fortune serial that previously was available only on-line. This story, written by Dean Motter and drawn by Greg Scott, is excellent, a globe-trotting adventure in which Fortune is hired by a young woman who wants him to prove that her sister's deadly leap from the top of the Hollywood sign was murder, not suicide. In the course of the story, Fortune visits Berlin, where he encounters Barons Strucker and Zemo and the young S.S. officer who will become the Red Skull; Latveria, where he meets gypsy healer Werner von Doom and his pregnant wife (no points for guessing who that kid turns out to be); and a tiny country in Africa called Wakanda. There's also a cameo by Howard Stark. The story is a lot of fun for a long-time Marvel fan like me.

Dominic Fortune certainly isn't one of Marvel's top-tier characters, but I like him and I enjoyed this collection. If you're a fan of the character or of Howard Chaykin's work, it's well worth reading.

Oct 302013
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What coulda/shoulda been: Back in the late 1990s, my pal James Chambers and I briefly had our own comics company called Shadow House Press. We published five issues of our horror anthology title Shadow House ('natch!) before we ran out of money and had to call it quits.

This gorgeous wrap-around cover by Kirk Van Wormer and Kevin Nowlan was intended to grace our (ultimately unpublished) Shadow House Halloween Special and features our horror hostess character, Autumn, offering some tricky treats to Jim's creation, the Lil' Ghoul Gang....
Oct 232013
I'm a longtime Jonah Hex fan, so naturally I'd have some interest in the current comic book series featuring him, ALL STAR WESTERN. I picked up a trade paperback reprinting the first six issues of that title, even though I'd heard mostly negative things about it, most of them centering around the fact that the stories are set in Gotham City in the 1880s, rather than out west.

Actually, that doesn't bother me too much. There's a long tradition in fiction of sending Western heroes back east. Longarm and The Trailsman have both gone to big eastern cities to have adventures. In one of the books I ghosted I sent the hero to both Chicago and Boston before having him go back out west to wrap up the story. So as far as I'm concerned, sending Jonah Hex to Gotham City on the trail of some fugitive outlaws is fine. So is teaming him up with Dr. Amadeus Arkham, who sometime in the future will build a certain asylum. It's nice to see some of the ancestors of other famous Gotham citizens, as well.

The stories in this collection were written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, who chronicled Hex's adventures in his previous title for quite a while. They send Hex and Arkham after a serial killer known as the Gotham Butcher and then get them involved in a case in which hundreds of children from the poor part of town have disappeared. Both are decent yarns. Unfortunately, the art by a single-named artist billed as Moritat doesn't appeal to me at all. Hex looks good here and there and there are some impressive full-page action scenes, but overall it's just not to my taste.

This collection also includes a couple of back-up stories featuring El Diablo (who originally appeared with Hex in the old WEIRD WESTERN TALES comic book many, many years ago) and a new character known as The Barbary Ghost. These stories do take place in the West, and they're pretty good ones, although the Indian curse/zombie plot in the El Diablo yarn strikes me as a little overdone. I like the art in these stories—Jordi Bernet on El Diablo and Phil Winslade on The Barbary Ghost—much better.

Overall, I found enough to like in ALL STAR WESTERN: GUNS AND GOTHAM that I'll probably read the next volume. I still prefer the original Jonah Hex stories by John Albano and Tony deZuniga, but those days aren't ever coming back, are they?

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