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Daniel's Comic Book Column
by Daniel P. Dern (ddern@world.std.com)
#1, November 2001

SFRevu Editor Ernest Lilley has graciously allowed me to write about comic books for SFRevu (as long as I don't go for the icky horror ones -- no problem!), so welcome to Daniel's Comic Book Column. Let's start some of the traditional/obligatory stage-setting definitions and anecdotage.

Per the name of the column, I'll be talking, for the most part, about comic books, meaning those all-in-color-for-a-dime word-'n'-picture things you find in comic book racks and stores, with titles (names) like SUPERMAN, BATMAN, SPIDERMAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, FANTASTIC FOUR, and so on. (Granted, it's been years -- decades, in fact -- since new comic books sold for a dime -- although I believe that DC Comics is planning a dimer. Current prices are more like $1.95 to $2.95 for regular issues, with larger and special ones ("Prestige," "Annuals," etc.) priced anywhere from five to ten bucks a pop). I'll also be looking at collections and reprints (which range from excellent bargains through pricey) and "graphic novels."

And I'll take the arguably inevitable detours through related stuff like related movies and TV shows; magazines, websites, newsgroups and other resources to stay current; places to get comics, and so on. I'll also talk some about comic strips old and new, and book collections of same. Plus discussions and digressions about comic book characters, history and often-related topics.

But mostly, I plan to talk about comic books I (or others) think are worth reading, that have come out, or are coming out. Previews and reviews, in other words. E.g., Frank Miller's sequel to his THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (yay!).

I don't plan to do serious deep analysis or critiquing; I'm here to help you spend (or save) your money and enjoy the results. My hopes are to convince you to follow maybe half a dozen titles, and sample some others, which translates to a comic jones of ten to twenty bucks a month, if you're restrained. (I've been spending somewhat more than that, but I've been restrained by my standards; if money and storage were no object, I'd get lots more.)

If you're a regular comic reader, you will probably know a lot of, or even more than, what I'll be recommending. (But) if you aren't -- because you never read comics, or have been away for a few years or decades -- I hope to offer you some good starting points to get back into the game as a comic book reader, reading for enjoyment.

Back When Comics Went From a Dime to Twelve Cents...

For context, here's a few paragraphs about where I'm coming from.

I've been reading comics on and off -- mostly on, with a few hiatuses I regret -- for a tad over four decades now, since I was, mmm, seven or eight years old, I'd guess. This puts me close to the start of what's called the Silver Age of DC Comics, e.g., the first issues of Showcase and The Brave and the Bold, the start of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, Ray Palmer as The Atom, the Justice League of America, along with already-in-progress adventures of Superman, Superboy, Batman, and related titles like World Finest, Jimmy Olsen, Action, Adventure, Detective. I remember the price going up from ten cents to a dime, and DC's first twenty-five cent "Annual," as other date data-points.

(I was a DC reader, and completely missed out on Marvel until my college years, when I discovered and ploughed through extensive runs of Fantastic Four, X-Men, Hulk, etc., in a friend's basement.)

I consider myself a reader and a saver, not a collector, meaning I'm not concerned about any "investment" value. I try to take good care of some of my collection, but they're there to be read and enjoyed, and that is their value. I don't have any of those early comic books from my youth. My parents didn't necessarily throw them out (although I did have a volume quota, which I had to work to get around), but we weren't taking good care of them back then, so it's not like any college education money was thrown out.

In all honesty, I was a rather ignorant and uncritical reader of comic books until the early 70's. I didn't really know, or pay attention to, artist and author names, other than recognizing Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson (hard not to) (more on aspects of this in future columns) until I encountered Jack Kirby's New Gods comics. (Not counting "underground" comix.)

Somewhere in the following decade I learned to appreciate more of the art, and to pay more attention to the names. A lot of my knowledge came from following the Usenet Newsgroups rec.arts.comics (after the Great Renaming, before subsequent splits), and I also must thank them for introducing me to Miracleman and other independent titles and publishers, and to a friend for turning me on to Howard Chaykin's American Flagg!

I've got a good memory for what I've read, but I'm far from a comprehensive expert, i.e., I'm no Tom Galloway or Jayembee. I've been on some comic book panels at SF conventions (Arisia and Boskone and possibly a WorldCon), but usually wonder what the heck I'm doing there, since everyone else on the panel knows far more than I do.

I confess that my current buying/reading habits are mostly DC-centric. I have returned to a few Marvel titles -- J. Michael Straczynski, a.k.a. JMS, has been doing a wonderful job on SpiderMan (at least I like it); the Fantastic Four has been lots of fun the last few years (I wish Chris Claremont had stayed on, but the new guys have been doing good too), and I'm intrigued by Grant Morrison's X-Men, for example. More on these next month.

That's probably (more than) enough of the background intro. On to recommended reading!

Comic(s) to Watch for: (Not yet out and I haven't read them yet)

THE DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN #1 DC (Issue 1 of 3), Prestige Format $7.95

In 1986, Frank Miller rocked the comic work with his four-issue "The Dark Knight Returns," a trip to the grim world where an older Batman had hung up his cape, until ... (Go borrow or buy the collected reprint ($14.95 I'm not going to spoil it.) You'll probably need to read it at least twice, it certainly merits it.

Now, finally, Frank Miller's got a sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, which takes place three years later. I believe this is supposed to be somewhat less grim. I know it'll be worth the ride.

Get it for yourself -- or for a teen-aged fan as a present, with the stipulation that you can borrow it. The first issue's out in time to be a holiday present.

This month's Recommended Title: Justice Society of America (DC)

The original Justice Society was one of (possibly the) first super-groups, at least within the DC universe. This current incarnation of the group includes some of the original members (admittedly somewhat older), some new characters carrying on original members' costumed names, and one or two completely new players.

I was lukewarm about the title when in began a few years back, but over the past year or so, JSA has had great story, great dialogue, and great plots. The December issue ($2.50, Written by Geoff Johns and art by Peter Snejbjerg) starts a new story arc ("plotline"), making it a good place to hop on ... and you can catch up easily through the trade paperback collections of previous issues. If nothing else, buy or borrow the issue where WildCat takes on a bushel of villains by himself.

REPRINT/COLLECTION OF THE MONTH: Superman/Gen13 Trade Paperback (($14.95, Written by Adam Hughes, with art by Lee Bermejo and John Nyberg) I wasn't familiar with Gen13 before reading this cross-over, and the lack of any brief "about the players" info didn't help — but none of that stopped me from enjoying this book. Short summary: On a vacation trip to Metropolis, one of the Gen13 crowd gets amnesia and thinks she's Supergirl, and stuff happens.

The art is stand-out fabulous, and the interplay of characters good. There's also a one-shot Fantastic Four/Gen13 cross-over that was a lot of fun. Read it, then look through again to enjoy the art, then read it again. Comics in your future: Avengers/Justice League Cross-over (Marvel/DC) Cross-company cross-over events all too often sound better than they turn out. The long, long-awaited Justice League/Avengers cross-over between DC and Marvel will, I'm hopeful and optimistic, turn out even better than it sounds. It's being done by Kurt Busiek and George Pérez, so the odds are good.

I don't know when this will be out. I know it will be worth the wait.

#

I was going to include some Marvel titles in my current recommendations, but December is Marvel's "'Nuff Said!" month, meaning no words (dialogue, captions or even, I think, sound effects), and I don't think that's a good place for newcomers to jump in. Next month.

Meanwhile, if you've got something you'd like to recommend, let me know, and if you've got any questions, I'll see if I can answer them, or find someone who can. (I probably won't deal with collectible value issues.)

Thanks again to Ernest for indulging me. With any luck, I've convinced you to risk a few bucks of your lunch money on food for the eyes.

Daniel P. Dern ddern@world.std.com (www.dern.com)

(Daniel P. Dern is a free-lance technology writer. He was previously Executive Editor of Byte.com.)