Special Note: It is my sad duty to dedicate this week’s edition to the memory of Fantagraphics co-publisher/editor/Eurocomics translator extraordinaire Kim Thompson, who passed away this week at age 56. Without Thompson, there’d be a hell of a lot fewer European comics in a language I can read–hell, it’s quite possible I’d never have heard of Jason or Jacques Tardi were it not for him. This by itself would have earned my respect; however, Thompson’s contributions to the indie/alternative comics scene as a whole should never be overlooked. RIP.
Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster, edited by Craig Yoe
This is, hands down, the most astonishing thing I read all week. It’s genuinely sad that Shuster fell on hard times after getting gracelessly fucked out of a fortune by DC, ending up reduced to drawing porn at a time when American culture was even more sex-negative than it is now. Even this career would prove short-lived, as a string of purportedly pulp-inspired murders saw the publication he was working for target for prosecution more or less at random. Some guys just have no luck.
The amazing upside of all this is, Shuster was amazingly good at this sort of thing. The world’s first superhero artist also proved one of the best through his clean, economical style, which serves him shockingly well when it comes to topless women getting their asses whipped. Most amusingly of all, quite a few characters look bang-on identical to assorted Superman characters, with “stoner Jimmy Olsen” being my personal favorite.
As for the content itself, it’s pretty stuff by today’s standards, being preoccupied largely with BDSM, with hints of lesbianism tossed in for good measure. It’s strictly softcore stuff too, with no anatomy more lurid than a nipple on display. Just about my only bone of contention is that, if the included text excerpts are anything to go by (no complete stories are included, so as to focus on the art–not that I get the impression we’re missing anything), very few of the women in these pictures appear to be willing participants. What’s interesting about this is that the introduction provides quotes from several of the moral guardians responsible for putting this publication out of business, and out of all the stuff they railed against…nary a one of them mentioned the rape. Just sayin’.
Supergirl (New 52) vol. 1: Last Daughter of Krypton, written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson, art by Mahmud Asrar
Well, this was always gonna come up–with 52 books to fill, DC wasn’t not going to devote one of them to the Super-family member with the most convoluted history (seriously, she gives Hawkman a run for her money when it comes to confusing backstories). I’ve never had all that much opinion on Supergirl one way or another–pretty much my personal favorite of her storylines is that one in Waid’s The Brave and the Bold where Hal Jordan has to keep reminding himself she’s underage. Oh, you.
Much to my surprise, I found myself liking this book quite a bit, despite at least one of the writers having worked on Heroes. Supergirl is a believable character, reacting pretty much the way you’d expect of someone in her bizarre, ridiculously high-stress situation. She’s clearly a person with strong coping skills, which are pushed to the bleeding edge here. She doesn’t have a lot of trust in her (not even for Superman, whose claims she has no reason to believe as of yet), not because she’s paranoid or broken, but just because all these amoral scientists and Kryptonian superweapons refuse to give her the ten minutes she needs to stop and figure things out. This might be the most well-thought-out Supergirl comic I’ve ever read–at the very least, she doesn’t have a pet horse who wants to have sex with her. Yet.
Asrar’s art is pretty nice, giving us a Supergirl who’s easy to empathize with–just look at the “aww, crap” face she pulls on the back cover. I don’t even mind the goofy costume so much, as it’s far from the goofiest Supergirl costume and she’s at least not striking a pose in every panel. I’m genuinely impressed with this series, at least from what I see of it in this collection–it shows levels of care and respect for the material–scanty though it may be–not often seen since the relaunch.
Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01, various writers/artists
This collection shows how the greatest British comics character got his start. Things turn out to have been a bit rough out the gate, with Dredd’s various creators opting to work things out as they go. As a result, much of the stuff in this collection will seem odd to those familiar with the more firmly-established series, with many aspects of Mega-City One, the judge system, and Dredd’s personality (he’s actually nice on a couple occasions) still undeveloped. Much of this is forgivable under the circumstances, especially when you take the artwork into account, this book featuring many nice examples of Bolland’s and Ezquerra’s stuff. Hardcore Dredd fans will find much of interest here, though it’s hardly the volume for first-timers.
Sergio Aragones Funnies #8, by Sergio Aragones
I end this week with the book I’ve been waiting for the longest. Nearly a year and a half passed between the publication of issues 7 and 8, due to some health issues on Aragones’ part. Those same issues, apparently, keep him away from the drawing table enough that Funnies will be a bimonthly publication from here on out. Not that I’m bothered–I’m just so unutterably pleased to have this series back.
This issue jumps back in feet-first, providing the usual mix of one-page gags and funny stories both fictional and autobiographical. What we see here is Aragones enjoying himself for 22 pages, and when the greatest gag cartoonist of our time enjoys himself the results can’t be anything short of magical. Aragones’ endearingly scribbly-yet-compressed style ensures the joke stuff is as great as ever, but for me the main draw has always been the autobiography. And this issue’s example is particularly heartwarming, concerning itself as it does with the time Sergio organized one of Bill Gaines’ famous company field trips, on this occasion to Aragones’ adopted homeland of Mexico.
This is definitely a series worth checking out, if you haven’t already–along with being easily the single best thing Bongo publishes, it’s also the single most indispensable title on my pull list. I am a creature of whim, prone to dropping titles the instant their creator or publisher displeases me, but even I, paranoid as I am, can’t conceive of a scenario short of the book ceasing publication entirely that would move me to stop buying it.