Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Having talked about my deep dissatisfaction with DC’s Infinite Crisis, I thought I ought to talk a little about comics that I am enjoying.

I should also point out that, following my stay in the hospital last month, I found that I just wasn’t enjoying a lot of the things I had been enjoying. And it isn’t as simple as just cutting out all the frivolous things, although a lot of the comics I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for happened to be company-owned superhero ones, like Marvel’s Thing and Hulk. No, I stopped watching a number of TV shows I had previously been enjoying, like The Shield, Ghost Whisperer, One Tree Hill, Close to Home, and NUMB3RS.

So, when I say I’m not interested in a lot of the stuff Marvel and DC are putting out, it’s as much my own changing tastes, if not more, than it is a lack of quality on their part. Unless it’s a comic being written by Geoff Johns these days, in which case it probably is his fault.

Having said that, my favorite of DC’s “One Year Later” comics is probably the new issue of Birds of Prey. Writer Gail Simone, since taking over the title, has really made it feel like a comic about a group of female friends who fight crime. Not to say that series creator Chuck Dixon didn’t do a fine job on his long run, but it was always more of a straight adventure book that happened to feature female protagonists. Under Gail Simone, the character interaction has been about friendship and emotion and support and bonding, and not about romance, the traditional default character development mode when dealing with female characters.

And it’s still a great action series, and good at dealing with the whole superhero/supervillain conflict thing. Mainly because it doesn’t rely on the crutch of bringing back characters and conflicts from 20 years ago, instead creating its own drama and suspense from within its own stories. Cliffhangers aren’t dependent on the shock value of making the reader go, “Oh my God, it’s Doctor Doom!” (Or whoever.) It’s genuinely exciting in its own right, and thanks to the changes that occurred in the unseen past year of story-time, it’s got me even more curious than before.

And I’m really glad to hear that Gail has a creator-owned series, Tranquility, coming from Wildstorm later this year.

Over the weekend, I read the first Rocketo trade paperback, Journey to the Hidden Sea by Frank Espinosa. I had heard about this series when it was published by now-defunct publisher Speakeasy, but--indicative of Speakeasy’s shortcomings as a publisher--didn’t get a real sense of it until several issues were out, and then I couldn’t find any of them at the store. But it’s great. The art is fantastic, in a sort of mix between Alex Raymond and Darwyn Cooke, showing a huge European influence (no coincidence that a major character is named Spirou). And the story lives up to the art. It’s very much in the spirit of old pulp science fiction, all sorts of weird stuff going on, but without trying to ape the style of those old stories or comics. Definitely looking forward to future issues.

In a similar “Pulp Science Fiction” vein, I also bought and read the three existing issues of Hip Flask by Richard Starkings (with dialogue help in the first two by Joe Casey) and Ladronn. I had heard of the series, knew it was somehow about a talking hippo in a trench coat, and that the art seemed really nice in a Heavy Metal sort of way, but that was about it. Then I read an article about a new monthly series, Elephantmen, tying in with the series, and I was intrigued. So I ordered the Hip Flask issues to see if I liked them enough to want to read the monthly series.

And I did. Again, there’s a pulp influence (very noir, investigators in trench coats, talking animals living side by side with humans) but filtered through a contemporary storytelling lens. The setting is much more Blade Runner than Isaac Asimov or CM Kornbluth or whoever (like I know). And it is gorgeous, but the story is pretty gripping and involving, too. Definitely planning on checking out the monthly series.

I recently stumbled across the web site of Ron Fortier, a friend of a friend, and someone whose work I used to really enjoy in comics. On it, he claims:

“A devoted grandfather of six, at 59, I am thrilled to be part of the new web-comic evolution. Part of this joy is in the realization of a life long dream, that of becoming a pulp writer...”

And I can’t help wondering, who wants to become a pulp writer, in this day and age? I mean, I used to read reprints of The Shadow and Doc Savage (Google ‘em) and if I want to read more stories like that, I can track down more reprints. But, just like I don’t want to read new comics by young creators that are just like the ones I read 20 years ago, I don’t want to read a new book that reads just like some pulp adventure that someone churned out in a week back in 1932 at a penny a word. I’d much rather read something like Rocketo or Hip Flask or Fear Agent, something that takes those old stories as a starting point, but uses those influences to create something that feels very contemporary.

No comments: