Superman never made any money for saving the world from Solomon Grundy

Friday, October 3, 2008

[4-color ma] A veritable cornucopia

Today was a day off for me, and I spent the day with my honey wandering around in the beautiful Seattle rain having fun and acquiring comics stuff - and I never even went near a comics shop!

The first acquisition is actually not comics, and I didn't get it today (oh, I'm such a liar, amn't I?) but it's still pretty cool. A pal who was visiting London last month came back with this purchase from used book stall:

It looks a lot like a typical mystery paperback, but it's actually a 64-page pamphlet, #520 in the Sexton Blake Library published by Fleetway House and available for one shilling (or 30/- for a one year subscription). Apparently, the series began in the late nineteenth century and was still going strong at least into the early sixties, when this issue came.

It interested me not as comics per se, of course - the entire thing is straight prose - but because of the appearance of the text artifact itself. It's bound just like an old 80-page giant, although it's about the size of a standard pocketbook, and the cover (at least to me) carries more of the sensibility of a periodical than a book. But it was the inside front cover that really rang some bells:

Not only does the subscription pitch remind me of my old comics, but the tower of floating heads on the left looks just like the rosters found on old JLA-JSA crossover covers, doesn't it? I don't know how deeply these similarities can be taken, but it seems at least a little significant.

The actual first acquisition from today also involves the JLA - and the JSA, as a matter of fact. In our wandering, we stopped at a local Half Price Books, one which has an excellent comics section (they even bundle miniseries and runs). I found a couple of old DC Elseworld books that I had never seen, including

Batman: Scar of the Bat (1996): Batman versus Al Capone
Justice Riders (1997): The JLA in the old west
JLA: Age of Wonder (2003) Steampunk superheroes (I could only find #2 of the two-book mini.)
JSA: The Unholy Three (2003) Batman, Hourman, and Superman versus the KGB in a Cold War thriller

(What can I say? I've always been a sucker for alternate histories, and alternate fantasies are sort of the same thing, right?)

I've only had a chance to sample Justice Riders, and I must say that I was mighty pleased. Sheriff Diana Prince goes the Magnificent Seven route to enlist help to confront railroad baron Maxwell Lord, who destroyed her town, Paradise. Her crew comprises Kid Flash, a fast gun (in more ways than one); Katar Johnson, a hawk shaman from the Nations; John Jones, a mysterious bounty-hunter type; Booster Gold, a Maverick-style itinerant gambler; and Beetle, a Vernesian inventor. The party is rounded out by the less-than-willing ally Pinkerton agent Guy Gardner as they take on clockwork gunmen, killer locomotives, and Felix Faust.

Chuck Dixon provides a snappy, albeit formulaic, tale, and JH Williams III and Mick Gray provide compelling graphics that mix solid panel layouts with some catchy graphic design:

I just love when competent creators get a chance to play with characters without the need for everything to be shoehorned into continuity through parallel worlds or hypertime or whatever. Elsewords provided those opportunities; I thought they were a great idea and I'm glad to be discovering some lost gems.

My next acquisition was better than half-price - it was free from a book-sharing shelf, and quite an unusual find it is. You might remember the little kerfuffle about Sharp Teeth, the "graphic novel without the pictures" that was essentially an epic poem. Well, get a load of this:

The Superman Poem by Car-El Waluconis (Robotic Bear Press)

Now, this is a graphic novel without pictures and without a doubt an epic poem - and I do mean old-style epic. Here's an excerpt (click to epic-size):

I haven't had a chance to do more than leaf through it, but it seems to be one long adventure, beginning with the death of Krypton and moving though Clark's years in Smallville, his move to Metropolis, and encounters with Luthor and Lois Lane. And while I'm no expert on classical poetry (it's been over thirty years since I read the Aeneid in high school), "Car-El" does seem to be mimicking the style of most English translations of Homer and Virgil and using iambic pentameter. In any case, it scores lots of points for uniqueness alone. It might be hard to find, but if you come across a copy, take a look.

My last acquisition was also free and much more directly related to comics. My honey gifted me with a copy of The Best American Comics 2008 from Houghton Mifflin. Lynda Barry is the editor this year, and the collection includes some of may favorites, such as Rick Geary, Alison Bechtel, Jaime Hernandez, and Gene Luen Yang. Even more important than the specifics of this edition alone is the news that Jessica Abel and Matt Madden are now the series editors, ensuring a high-quality publication for the foreseeable future. I have the 2006 book; I guess I need to get the 2007 collection to complete my run.

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