Jul 27, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 883: Johnny Raygun Quarterly #1, 2004

https://www.comics.org/issue/956122/

As I read through today's comic, I couldn't help but think that it would make great sense if Johnny Raygun and the Raygun Agency existed in the same universe as Spacepig Hamadeus, whose adventures we looked a couple of months ago. There's the same feeling to the Raygun comics, mostly due to the pulp science fiction genre both inhabit, but also the style of art and the obviously love for old-school sci-fi comics of the 1950s.

As this issue is the beginning of what was an ongoing series, we're introduced to more characters and given more background than in the previous, inaugural issue. More Raygun agents show up to quell the threat of Moog(!), as do others who oppose the methods of the Raygun Agency. We're also given some context for this team of adventurers, given that the series is ostensibly set in the present but it seems that the world at large is not aware of the sorts of threats and challenges the agency deals with. Though today's issue seems to fly in the face of it, the agency seems to be a clandestine one, keeping ties with alien lifeforms and threats secret from the general population.

Or, at least, that's how it seems after two issues.

Unfortunately, I don't have the next five issues of this series, but I do have a couple of FCBD releases that have a bit more of Johnny's adventures. We'll have a look at those over the next couple of days. What I'll say about them now is that, unlike many FCBD offerings, these ones did their job well, at least in the case of yours truly. I'm sure that the issue we'll look at tomorrow, the 2004 FCBD comic, was the first Johnny Raygun I read, and if the price tags still on the bags for today's and yesterday's comics are any indication, I was moved to track down some more issues after reading the free one.

To be continued.

Jul 26, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 882: Johnny Raygun Special Edition #1, 2003

https://www.comics.org/issue/354632/

I don't remember where I first read Johnny Raygun. I'm thinking it was a FCBD some time, and the character and concept just grabbed me. I have a soft spot for this kind of pulp science fiction that draws on things like the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon film serials. Couple this with a healthy dose of Kirby-esque graphics, and you've got a winner. I've always meant to track down the rest of the series (5 other issues of the Johnny Raygun Quarterly), but, as with many small press comics, they're not the most ubiquitous things in the world. So we'll just read through what I've got, and be happy about it, right?

I think the best way for me to describe the series is Hellboy in space. The main characters are Raygun agents who are sent in to sensitive situations in order to defuse them. Johnny is very good at his job, though his social skills are occasionally lacking - perfect fodder for a protagonist, really. With H2Olaf and Waaage at his side, Johnny protects the innocent, sometimes from situations of his own making. Matt Talbot does a really nice job of incorporating Kirby's science fiction aesthetic, cultivated in comics from 2001 to Captain Victory to give us a retro-future comic that is equal parts exciting and amusing.

More Raygun mayhem tomorrow. To be continued.

Jul 25, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 881: Weird Mystery Tales #4, January-February 1973

https://www.comics.org/issue/25810/

Though I don't remember exactly, there's an excellent chance that I bought this comic purely for it's Cthulhu-esque front cover. As I read through my collection, I'm both surprised and unsurprised at the amount of writers who dip into the Lovecraftian well in these kinds of anthology titles. I mean, it makes sense, and speaks to that idea that we all feel like we're the first to discover a thing, but of course we're not. And in the Seventies, there were quite a few writers, both at Marvel and at DC, that obviously had a pretty good knowledge of old HPL.

The other cool thing about this comic is that Destiny, eventually of Neil Gaiman's Endless, is the host of the series. I hadn't realized that he was one of the pre-existing characters Gaiman had folded into The Sandman, though with Cain and Abel, hosts of House of Mystery and House of Secrets respectively, it makes sense. And Mike Kaluta's opening page for today's comic really establishes the look of the character that would continue into Gaiman's acclaimed work.

There is something to be said for the very different artistic and narrative styles of the mystery/horror comics of the 70s. As both of the big two start pushing back against the restrictions of the Comics Code, we can see creators really trying to figure their way around the draconian measures in place on comics at the time. There's not much blood in these comics, but there is some real darkness, tales of immortal imprisonment and of astral battles unresolved. Rather than stories of being killed or of the traditional monsters, we have more existential horror occurring, which, really, is the kind of horror that sticks with one after a reading. The monsters are amusing, to be sure, but when we're faced with articulations of real fear or circumstance, the horror comic does its job (scaring us, that is) much more efficiently.

This was a good one. I enjoyed it. To be continued.

The Earth-H Files - Iron Man in "Brains Over Brawn!"

From Incredible Hulk #235, May 1979.


Jul 24, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 880: Droids #6, February 1987

https://www.comics.org/issue/210537/

One of my favourite Star Wars comics is called Tag and Bink are Dead, written by Kevin Rubio, and styled after Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It follows the adventures of two rebel soldiers who pop in and out of the backgrounds of many of the famous scenes in the original Star Wars trilogy. It's very clever, and trades on the ubiquity of knowledge of the events of Star Wars to increase its humour.

I'd kind of hoped that today's comic would be similar in execution, and it is to a certain extent. What keeps this comic from achieving the same level of metatext and commentary as Tag and Bink, though, is that this comic is explicitly linked to a children's cartoon. Droids was relatively successful when it came out, as was it's companion show Ewoks. But they were both definitely designed for younger audiences, and the comics versions are too. Instead of humorous entrances and exits into familiar action, which does happen a little bit, we instead get pretty much a retelling of the first half of Episode 4, interspersed with strange little side adventures (like with a weird race of mole creatures that live under the desert on Tatooine and worship an "acid lizard." Had the comic not been linked to the cartoon, I imagine we might have seen amusing commentary on the actions we've come to know and love, and different perspectives on how the events progress. What is C-3P0's take on the Rebellion, and the frankly haphazard way that Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia go about their business of overthrowing a dictatorship? Would he even want that to happen?

Were the retelling a bit more self-aware, I'd likely track it down. But it's not, so we get a little taste of what the Droids comic and cartoon were like, how Star Wars (episode 4, that is) might have played out as a children's cartoon, and of Marvel's second (?) attempt to adapt this story. The first one, I think, was more successful.

To be continued.

Jul 23, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 879: The Defenders #77, November 1979

https://www.comics.org/issue/928569/

This is the way the world ends...in the story, with a bang. But for Omega the Unknown, it's more a whimper, I'm afraid.

Now, don't get me wrong. The way that Steven Grant finishes off this tale is a wonderfully epic superhero tale. It's just that, in a lot of ways, Omega wasn't a superhero story. When I went to pick this up at Purple Gorilla Comics, Michael, the proprietor and THE guy to go to to find the comics you're looking for, told me it wasn't the ending I was hoping for. We chatted about the weird vibe of the Gerber series, and I fell back on my oft-repeated thought that Gerber would have fit late-80s DC so very, very well. He was simply writing 15 years ahead of his time.

SPOILERS AHEAD

While we'll never really know what Mr. Gerber, Ms. Skrenes, and Mr. Mooney had up their sleeves, the revelation that this entire time Omega and James-Michael have been the danger was actually a very cool way to finish up their tale. Thinking about it a bit, it's really the sort of thing that one could have wrapped a pretty epic Summer event around - run the Omega series for a bit, build things up, and then have the finale be a Summer event revealing that James-Michael has the power to destroy the world. Imagine the epic moral struggles of people like Captain America and Mr. Fantastic. Maybe I'll pitch it to Marvel.

So the Grant/Trimpe ending was a pretty great superhero story, with a nice twist, and some interesting moments. What's really great about these issues is that the Defenders are all women. Moondragon, Hellcat, Valkyrie, and guest-Avenger The Wasp. It was cool to see this configuration of the team, and gets me thinking about the Fearless Defenders series, which I really want to track down.

I know I've missed a couple of magazines and graphic novels, but I'm trying to catch up. Eventually I'll read the rebooted Omega by Farel Dalrymple and Jonathan Lethem, and have another think about the enigmatic man in blue.

To be continued.

Jul 22, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 878: The Defenders #76, October 1979

https://www.comics.org/issue/928564/

Grabbed the two issues of Defenders that finish Omega, so I'm gonna get into them.

But got a horrendous sunburn today, so I think I'll talk about them both tomorrow. It'll work better as an ending of the Omega series that way anyway.

To be continued.