Daniel's Comic Book Column
November 2002 by Daniel P. Dern (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ever since Daniel started doing the comics column I've been after him to add more Sciffy Content to it. I remember lots of SF comics from way back when...Magnus the Robot Fighter, Lost In Space (no really, it was a comic before it was a TV series. What? You didn't know it was a TV series before it was a movie? Anyway, this month Daniel gets even with a radioactive bunch of titles he's sure will satisfy my SF Habit. - Thanks DD. - Editor Ern
This Month: SCIENCE FICTION and COMIC BOOKS!
Before I get to the main topic...In the process of reading some of the Usenet comic-related newsgroups (e.g., rec.arts.comics.dc.universe, rec.arts.comics.dc.vertigo and rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe), I've come across some good comic-related sites worth mentioning:
For Supergirl fans, people curious what the heck's up, or who want an industrial-strength tour down Supergirl memory lane, check out Earth Angel: The Legend of Supergirl. For more (and probably more informed) comics advice, see Johanna Draper Carlson Reviews of Comics Worth Reading. For an interesting look at the kind of online previews of paper comic books now available, see First Looks. And for possibly far too much news about comic books and the comic book scene, see Newsarama.
Some Actual Science Fiction Comics (Finally, Sez Ernest, No Doubt...)
SFRevu.com being a Science Fiction fanzine, as Ernest reminds me periodically, it behooves me to mention more Science Fictiony comics (as he also reminds me), or at least be more explicit about how the comics I'm talking about anyway are (or could be justified as) Science Fiction. So, starting with this column, I'll include at least one or two inarguably, or at least harder to dispute, SF-type comics, probably one current and one old. First, a paragraph or two of the quasi-obligatory "what (the heck) is Science Fiction, or what makes a comic book 'Science Fiction'?" discussion.
In principle, all the "superhero" (guys'n'gals with strange powers, not to mention usually even stranger duds and unlikely anatomies) comics qualify, e.g. Superman, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Fantastic Four, the Flash, Tom Strong, Justice League, Avengers, Doom Patrol, and so on, because, well, they couldn't (easily) happen in our real world, so they require some of that old industrial-strength Willing Suspension of Disbelief ($5.95/pint, $35/gallon).
One might separate out the costumed (or uncostumed) heroes that do not have extraordinary powers (or overly marvellous toys), e.g., for the most part, Batman, Green Arrow, maybe Daredevil, and so on. However, for the most part, I wouldn't lump any of these into the "SF" category, exceptions being the ones in the future, e.g., Legion of Super-Heroes, Tommy Tomorrow, and some of the more science-fictionary settings and story arcs, like Walt Simenson's Fantastic Four space-time multiverse issues. My gut feel -- opinion, if you prefer -- is that "true" SF comics (ignoring comic adaptations of existing SF stories) are identifiable by some "I know it when I see/read it" mix of theme, setting, trappings, approach, and/or attitude. I'd put Alan Moore's TOP TEN straddling the fence here. Ditto, often, his TOM STRONG. Howard Chaykin's brief-lived IRONWOLF from a bunch of years back was pretty hard to argue with; ditto his more recent AMERICAN FLAGG!
Rockets and robots help, in other words, but a lot of it's in the eyes of the reader.
Sonic Disruptors - Take SONIC DISRUPTORS, for example. This was a DC Comics mini-series back in the late 1980's, very John Brunner-ish -- rock'n'roll rebels in space, versus the establishment. Written by Mike Baron, with art by Barry Crain & John Nyberg, this puppy was slated for twelve issues but only made it to seven -- leaving many unhappy readers, of course. I recall enjoying it a lot, or certainly enough, but the few Google hits I could find for this that weren't issues-for-sale listings (cheap, too -- a buck each or less, as a rule) were lukewarm at best, or more often than not much more deprecatory. No accounting for taste, I guess. But it sure was sci-fi, IMHO. (Oddly, I could find no pages or site devoted to this title, not even a paragraph or two of reasonable background. Go figure.) Other older SF-ish comics that come to mind include THE HACKER FILES, by Lew Shiner, and CYBERELLA (Howard Chaykin again). I'll talk about these in coming months. Peter David's Tailgunner Jo also comes to mind (having run across a mention while googling for something else.) In terms of current SF comic titles, probably TRANSMETROPOLITAN qualifies, but I need to go back and read a few to be sure.
Y - The Last Man - Meanwhile, DC's got Y - THE LAST MAN. According to DC's Y Mini-Site (a good idea, they should do this more often) "In the summer of 2002, a plague of unknown origin destroys every last sperm, fetus, and fully developed mammal with a Y chromosome - with the exception of amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his surly male helper monkey Ampersand." Shades of Philip Wylie's mainstream-SF novel (i.e., it's SF, but reads like mainstream), THE DISAPPEARANCE. See some of Issue# 1 in the preview. and for more info. Y's up to issue four as of October. This is where I came in, having decided that while it sounded good, there's a limit to how many comics I'm willing to buy. DC already did a combo reprint of Issues 1 and 2 ($5.95, no bargain -- same price as getting the original issues, but you can't do that any more, so at least you can get and read what you've missed -- this is where being a reader is easier than being a collector). I thought I read that DC is doing a issues 1-3 reprint, for $2.95, but my comic store doesn't confirm that, so use your judgement re the 1-2 reprint. Recommended.
Forever Maelstrom - Here's an upcoming SF six-issue minies worth watching for (due late November, I think) -- Forever Maelstrom, written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman; art by John Lucas and Eduardo Barreto. Descriptions I've read include "Indiana Jones/Doc Savage does time travel." DC's own site sez: A time-jumping ladies' man is reality's only hope in an outlandish miniseries from the creators of AMERICAN CENTURY! His name is Forever Maelstrom. His expertise in world history — honed by traveling through centuries to befriend the world's most historic figures — may be all that stands between order and anarchy when an evil madman derails time itself! With alternate timelines running roughshod over each other, only Forever and a motley crew of miSFits can gather the devices necessary to restoring the world he once knew. But time, as ever, is fleeting... And here's DC's Sneak Peek. This is a mainstream DC comic, so it'll be comparatively tame by Chaykin standards. But definitely SF. And I'm sure there are other comics that fall within the Science Fiction category/genre. (What's your favorite?)
Happy, Ernest? :-)