Sunday, March 25, 2007

Comix in paradise

In between relaxing on the beach and, well, doing even less than that, I decided to stop in at a comic book store here on Maui, just for curiosity's sake. The only place I could find was Compleat Comics in Kahului, the area near the main airport in the center of the island (right where the two big masses meet). The website seemed to indicate it was a pretty elaborate shop, so one day, after coming back from watching the windsurfers near Pa'ia, we stopped by.

I was surprised to find that the store is no more than a kiosk, the kind you can find in a mall selling cell phone covers or sunglasses or Hummel figurines; of course, since this is Maui, the kiosk is at a mostly-outdoor shopping center.

I found that most of the stock did not seem to be comics: there were lots of card sets, like Magic, and a lot of manga (which I guess makes sense), and a few action figures, and not many comics on display at all. In fact, one of the most prominent display spots was given over to a DC superheroes sticker book, and all of the new comics are sold from four short boxes:

I talked to the fellow a little bit, and he said that he had had a much larger space for over twenty years, but lost his lease and had to move. This place was temporary, and had been for about two years now. (That must be island time perspective.) He didn't seem too concerned about finding more room and even joked about being the world's smallest comic book store. I guess a lot of his trade is by mail; it would have to be for any back issues - there was none in the store.

So, if you're ever in Maui, check it out; it's right next door to a great organic foods grocery store and deli - stop in and try the veat loaf!


Compleat Comics

Down to Earth

Oh, and I bought two singles just to be polite: Ant-Man #6 and Wonder Woman #5. Ant-Man made me feel like narrator-ant who opened the book: I am bored and falling asleep. This title is starting to feel like a SNL skit that has gone on too long. Wonder Woman wasn't bad, although it felt a bit like a book-length PSA. There was nothing in it to make me want to continue buying the title, however.

I was going to leave the comics in the condo rec room for another guest to read, and then I had this thought: The WW cover calls to mind the sense of wonder as well as the innocence that most people would associate with Superfriends or some such interpretation of the character. The issue, however, deals seriously and authentically with aspects of domestic violence, and ends with a scene of carnage that is not for the squeamish. In the end, I will take the issue home rather than leave it around for some unsuspecting parent to give a child.

Geez, when did superhero comics get so complicated?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Back to the Shortbox: It's about time

The original conceit (and name) of this blog involved a tour through the one shortbox of comics that I had kept after more-or-less disassociating myself from collecting accumulating. That concept as a driving force has gone by the wayside, since I discovered all sorts of other things to talk about and because participating in the interblogwebosphere actually enticed me (for a while) to buy more singles. But I've been meaning to dip back in, and here's a great title to break the dry spell:

Metacops #1 - #3, February - July 1991
Link Yaco & John Heebink, Monster Comics

This oddball title chronicles the adventures of the Metaphysical Police (the titular Metacops) as they travel the time stream to prevent those who would manipulate time for their own ends from changing history. This is a pretty common concept in science fiction and comics (cf. Van Damme and Jughead Jones), but this series puts a particularly anarchic spin on the idea: these guys turned the weird up to eleven. Take a look:

In the first story, Captain Jayne Mansfield, and Officers Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein, and Delmore Schwartz discover that some BEMs (Bug-Eyed Monsters) have made a deal with LBJ (President Lyndon Baines Johnson) to help him win the Vietnam War by reversing the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The BEMs send female Foreign Legionnaires on Stone-Age moas into the battle to defend the city; they are countered by the Metacops and their AK-47-wielding were-centurions, who help the attacking Ottomans. After some reverses, Captain Mansfield leads her troops to victory, although the BEMs in their flying saucer escape the Metacop zeppelin.

In the backup story, Officers Jimi Henrix and Nicola Tesla accidentally broadcast Purple Haze through an experimental amplifier, destroying the asteroid Ceres and disturbing Queen Boadicea, a renegade Metacop in exile in a suburban Mars community of 3,000 A.D. Boadiciea steals a time machine and goes on a rampage, trying to kill the human ancestor of her Martian neighbor (who looks a lot like Tars Tarkus), whom she believes was responsible for the noise. Captain Mansfield, Hendrix, Tesla, and Amelia Earhart chase her through time as she sinks the Titanic and the Lusitania and destroys the Hindenburg in futile attempts to kill her hapless victim before being caught.

Issue two contains what the Silver-Age considered a "novel-length" story. Commander Makeda (The Queen of Sheba) and Delmore Schwartz are stranded in 19th century North America while returning from a triceratops hunt with Hendrix and Einstein; history seems to have been changed, however: bison-riding Chinese are in a war with forces from higher-tech New Rome. The Metacops intervene on the side of the Chinese in order to obtain kerosene from New Rome to fuel their time scooters; they discover that this version of reality is the "true" one, and that the one they (and we) knew was an illusion. They decide to change things back anyway, tinkering with Chinese fishing ships and Christopher Columbus's diet to put things back to "normal" before returning home.

Issue three shows how Ada Lovelace, Hannibal of Carthage, Tesla, and Earhart, with the aid of Agent-in-Place Queen Kristina of Sweden, pit T-Rex-riding Aztec mercenaries against World War I-era fighter planes to keep Pan-galactic Weasels from preventing the concept of zero from moving from India to the west; the forces fight to a stalemate, but the Metacops successfully mitigate the damage to history.

The final back-up story in the series starts with the recruitment of Boadicea into the Metaphysical Police by Marie Antoinette, Sigmund Freud, and Leonardo. While accompanying Captain Bourbon to visit Agent-in-Place Kleopatra, the druid queen is tempted by access to Atlantean technology to seize power, and recruits three stewardesses in a plot destroy Tesla's lab in 1936 in order to prevent the Metacops from ever coming into existence (Tesla invented the Time Engine.) The incompetence of her associates sends her back to ancient Sumeria, where (when?) she is captured after a brief struggle and exiled to the 31st century Mars, winding up exactly where we met her in issue one, right down to Hendrix playing on the neighbor's radio.


That little bit of chaotic plot summary doesn't even begin to get across the psychedelic nature of the series. Did I mention that the elephant Mansfield and Schwartz ride on at Constantinople talks, for no particular reason? Or that Amelia Earhart, for all her presence as a supporting character, never speaks and has blank thought balloons?

Or that all the time-displaced warriors keep up a constant stream of background chatter?

Or that we get a throwaway scene of Gilgamesh and Jesus Christ having a chat?

And one of Albert Einstein on mushrooms?

Or that the interstitials make Stan Lee's hyperbole sound shy and retiring?

None of this quirkiness is ever explained; neither is most of the history. While early issues held some biographic information on the main cops, the creators seems to expect the readers to have some familiarity with major figures, events, and tends in world history; I had to look some stuff up just to do the summaries. I like stories that presume some intelligence on the part of the audience.

I also like that most of the leads are strong women who are portrayed realistically - well, as realistically as anyone in this strange universe is. But the creators generally eschew the usual "good girl art" tropes: there are no gratuitous costumes and no pin-up posing, no "women in peril" stereotypes, and the main protagonists (and apparently all the commanding cops) are women. Somehow within this sensibility of anarchic fun, there's a more balanced treatment of gender roles than in is found most current mainstream comics.

But don't let that all good sense and intelligence stop you from just joining the party and enjoying a wild time! These books are not history lessons or social tracts; they are ripping yarns, full of action, adventure, puns, slapstick, and fun!

From my favorite panel: an exasperated Captain Mansfield.

PS: There is a fourth issue, that was put out by a different publisher, but I prefer to consider it non-canonical, because it pretty much sucks. Same creators, but the story seems rushed and feeble, and they went for some cheap T&A stuff, and there was a lot of filler included - not to mention that the cover has the crappiest registration ever seen on a "real" comic. So let's just pretend it doesn't exist, okay?

PPS: Sorry this post is late (although what else is new?) - I started it Saturday night back in Seattle and am finishing it Monday morning on the beach in Maui. Yowza!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Nuff Too much said!

I wanted to express just how much I care about the Startling Development in the Marvel Universe over the recent "death" of one S. Rogers, so I have enlisted the aid of the Badly-Drawn Atom of Earth-Filmation to help me.

As you can see, Earth-F Ray has shrunk down to submicroscopic size and found a tiny piece of dust mite dung, which represents both the degree and tenor of my response. But then, I haven't read any of Civil War, so maybe this event actually was a key moment and a useful dramatic device that rose naturally from a compelling story; who am I to say?

All I know is that today was the first day since... well, ever that my sister actually mentioned comics news to me.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The last floppy? (and cartoon tales)

I was in my LCS the other day, buying a copy of the Huntress: Dark Knight Daughter trade paperback as a birthday present for my former wife. Way back when, more than 25 years ago, she used to love to read the Huntress back-ups that ran in Wonder Woman starting with #271, pictured below. It was really the only super-hero comic that she ever followed regularly; I don't know why she got a kick out of that particular character or series, but she did, and I hope the book brings back fond memories.

My wife got to read the Huntress stories because I was buying Wonder Woman regularly. There was a bit of a re-launch about this time, and the big costume re-design was about a year or so off, so I guess it was about as exciting as Wonder Woman ever got back in those dark days.

Coincidentally, when I picked up the trade, I also got a copy of Wonder Woman #4, the last issue of the truncated Heinberg-Dodson-Dodson Who is Wonder Woman? saga that is the latest attempt to revitalize the star-spangled franchise. I had been a believer in this comic from the get-go; the art was beautiful, the white-jumpsuited Agent Prince business was cool nostalgia, the Wonder Woman "tryouts" hooked me: I felt it was the most interesting version of the title in twenty years.

Then the delays, which have been documented minutely elsewhere, started. Then DC announced that the five-issue arc wouldn't even be completed. And then came issue 4, which was a disappointment in and of itself.

Aside from Circe's dragon-motif Wonder Woman outfit, this episode was just blah. A bunch of JSA-types stand around and give exposition, Nemesis just goes poof and drops out of the storyline, there's rehashing of the Hercules story, a little decent action, and some double-crossing, all of which lead up to two spectacularly unimpressive two-page spreads. Meh.

Maybe someday the trade will come out; I might even buy it if the lost issue manages to redeem the package. But I believe this disappointment was the final nail in the floppy coffin: it's all graphic books for me from here on in.


Yesterday I varied my morning schedule a bit: I skipped listening to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! on NPR so I could watch the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon on the local CW station. A lot of people had been talking about, so I figured I should give it a look. Other than wondering why everyone had such funky eyes, I thought it was okay; not great, not terribly ground-breaking, but okay. The episode I saw had Bouncing Boy, Triplicate Girl, Colossal Boy (in his Cockrum uniform instead of his cool space cowboy outfit), and Ferro Lad in addition to the Big Three and Superboyman, so that part was pretty sweet. But what's up with Brainiac 5? He's like a little robot Garth Logan.

In an ironic twist of fate, I also watched a DVD that night that contained, among other cartoons, two Fleischer Studio Superman stories from the forties: Underground World and Electric Earthquake. I just have to say that no finer superhero cartoons have ever been made, before or since.