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Tag: Howard Chaykin

Comics Wandering: From Gold Key Star Trek, to Howard Chaykin and more

Wow, time sure flies when you’re too busy to read comics. What have I been doing? Well, I’ve got a toddler, a new puppy, I did a lot of interviews and wrote a lot of articles for the just-concluded awards season, tried brewing beer, and I’ve been focusing on learning to play the guitar well enough that it doesn’t sound like a chainsaw cutting through a chain-link fence. I also made a guitar from a kit — a Lake Placid Blue Telecaster style that, after much tweaking and adjustment, is at last starting to play well.

And I have been reading comics, when there’s time and comics I want to read. It’s just been very inconsistent reading and a bit of an oddball selection compared to the weekly superhero habit. I am finding the overall comics habit is very hard to break, if not impossible for me to break at this point in my life. I admit to slipping back into some old habits, but I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.

I admit it: My name is Tom and I’m a comic-holic. I especially still love single issue comics. The collecting part of the hobby remains one that I find satisfying in a way that reading a collected edition is not. This isn’t true for everything, but it is for things like superhero comics, which are still written and drawn for the serial comic format, no matter how quickly they got to collected editions.

So, what have I been reading? Lots of Image comics, which for all the variations in the quality of its output, remains the only dependably creative publisher of mainstream superhero, adventure and genre comics.

I’ll just run down some of the cool stuff I’ve read and liked since my last, long-ago post to this blog. I will be unsurprised if no one is reading or still checking this blog, but just in case there’s a few of you out there, thank you! If you’re new, please be sure to check out my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, available in print from Amazon and on Kindle.

Last summer, I had two comic book pursuits, both inspired during a trip to the excellent Queen City Comics in Cincinnati, Ohio. First was completing my collection of Gold Key Star Trek comics, which I now have done. I have been a Star Trek fan ever since I first saw the show in the fall of 1975, when ITV began re-running the series weekdays at the perfect hour for me to catch it after coming home from a hard day in Grade 1. As a kid, I remember buying a few issues of the Gold Key series off the stands, but it never impressed me very much. I thought the stories were silly, such as issue #46 (Aug. 1977), in which aliens gave Spock a giant brain and he became slightly villainous before Kirk talked him down.

I got into Trek comics much more seriously in the late 1980s, when DC started publishing its second ongoing Star Trek series and launched a regular series for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On TV, The Next Generation was really kicking into high gear and I just fell right into being a pretty serious Trek fan for the next seven or eight years. In addition to collecting all of the DC output from that point on, as well as the Malibu Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stuff, I collected all the previous DC series, the Marvel series and made a pretty good start on the Gold Key series. My interest in Star Trek peaked by the mid-1990s, and Marvel’s second round of Trek comics just was not very good, in my opinion. (Remember the Star Trek/X-Men crossovers? Yikes.)

Cut to about 10 years ago, when a friend of my Dad’s had come across a large collection of comics from his parents‘ old book shop and set about sorting them and selling them on eBay. He reached out to me right at the start because he knew nothing about comics, so I helped him with the basics about getting an Overstreet guide, conventions and what to really expect from eBay sales. In thanks, he let me pick out some stuff when I was over visiting and came across a near-complete set of the Gold Key Star Treks. These were easily accessible and time was short, so I took them as compensation and was very pleased. I still had a few holes, though, and would every once in a while fill one in when I came across an issue I needed in a shop or convention.

But this past summer, when I hit Queen City Comics, they had pretty much all but two or three of the issues The prices and conditions where great, so I bit the bullet and bought them. That lead to me heading onto eBay to fill in the last two or three issues I needed, and finally the last issue — #9, with the photo cover of Spock from the episode “Amok Time” — arrived to complete the set. These are cool comics and I really dig them now in a way I did not twenty or so years ago. Yes, they’re goofy and at times completely contradictory to the show itself, but they have a unique energy and the art is often terrific. Plus, I still enjoy the tactile experience of reading an old comic printed on slightly yellowed newsprint.

My second summer comics pursuit involved the works of Howard Chaykin. This pursuit also started at Queen City, where I found mint condition copies of both Time2 graphic novels and the Epic collected edition, The Complete Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, which I had never even heard of before seeing it in the bin. All were cover price, and I scooped them right up. I also found a few other 1970s Chaykin bits, including the Monark Starstalker issue of Marvel Premiere (which I wrote about last summer) and a couple of Dominic Fortune tales. Chaykin’s art has always been a joy, especially when he’s doing painted work printed on high quality paper.

Along with this came The Art of Howard Chaykin, written by Robert Greenberger and published by the nice folks at Dynamite! (As an aside: Greenberger used to edit the DC Star Trek comics and printed a couple of my letters way back when. I always thought, based on his thoughtful letter columns, he was one of the most professional and likable editors in the business.) I worked my way through these books and really enjoyed them, following them up with a few digs into the archives for some other Chaykin stuff from the 1990s, such as Midnight Men and Power and Glory.

The Time2 books were especially fascinating. I found the plot a bit hard to follow on my first read, even though I thoroughly enjoyed everything else about the books. After reading the Greenberger book with Chaykin saying it was heavily influenced by his interest in jazz music of the 1930s, it made a lot more sense and my second reading was even more enjoyable.

During my one convention visit last year, to the Long Beach Comic Con, I stopped by and chatted with Chaykin — who I had met a number of times over the past ten years — and chatted with him about the books. The Stars My Destination is a really interesting adaptation. I had read the novel years and years ago and remembered a bit about it but it hadn’t made the deep impression on me that Frank Herbert’s Dune or Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End had. I enjoyed (and surely understood) much more of the book as an adult, and really dug Chaykin’s interpretation of it. You can’t go wrong with a couple hundred pages of painted Chaykin art from the late 1970s.

And then, there’s Black Kiss 2. I waited until all six issues were out before sitting down to read this and was happily surprised with how great it was. It’s been a long time since I read the original Black Kiss (I have it in single issues and a collected edition — somewhere) but I remembered enough for this to make sense. It’s both a prequel and a sequel to the original, and it jumps around through a lot of different time periods that allow Chaykin to draw all the stuff he likes and/or is good at — cars, cityscapes, men’s fashion, jazz musicians and, of course, lots of dirty, dirty sex. All in crisp, beautiful black and white! I don’t know if the climax of the book was as satisfying as it could have been, but the ride was definitely worth it.

I haven’t read anything in the past year from DC’s The New 52 because it just plain fails to interest me in any way. I liked a few of the series at the start, but the way series suffered sometimes radical, unexplained, and usually arbitrary changes in tone, premise and creative teams debunked any true creative rationale for the relaunch. It made for a great jumping off point, and I’ve not missed any of those comics or characters. I keep hearing how great Batman is these days, and I am sure it is good because they do have some good creators on those books and Batman is far and away DC’s best character. But I still find myself uninterested. Having read so many good (and bad) Batman stories, it’s almost like my brain has no more room for Batman comics unless they’re truly outstanding, i.e. true classics in the making, on a par with Batman: Year One or the great Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams collaborations of the now-distant past.

I was always more of a Marvel fan, so my feelings for Marvel in general and the X-Men in particular are much more complicated and deserving of a post all its own.

A few more comics I’ve read and liked include Saga, Thief of Thieves, Grant Morrison’s Happy!, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service, Harbinger, The Massive, the new Star Wars ongoing from Dark Horse, John Byrne’s new sci-fi series High Ways, The End Times of Bram and Ben, Star Trek: The Next Generation — Hive, and my favorite new comic in the last year, Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo’s Great Pacific. I’ll try to go into more detail on those in another post.

Here’s hoping it won’t be six months until I write it. Cheers!

Comic of the Day: Howard Chaykin’s Marvel Premiere #32 (1976)

Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976)

I’ll be heading down to the comics shop today to pick up Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss II #1, which I’m sure will be worth the effort. I’ve been on a bit of a Chaykin kick lately, so today I’ll offer a quick look at an oldie I picked up on a recent trip: Marvel Premiere #32 (Oct. 1976), featuring Monark Starstalker!

This is an early effort by Chaykin as both writer and artist, and it unfortunately shows. The good stuff is the artwork, which is sleek and well-designed. It’s pretty unusual stuff for Marvel at the time, though the style seen here would become more familiar with both Chaykin’s later work and Frank Miller’s style on his original Daredevil run. The individual panels and pages are well-designed and look decidedly un-comic-book-y for the era. Chakyin goes heavy on the blacks and it looks most like Chaykin’s work on Star Wars #1. (I believe Roy Thomas stated in an issue of Alter-Ego that I don’t have handy to confirm that it was this issue that prompted the Lucasfilm folks to specifically request Chaykin draw the Star Wars comic.)

While this looks great, it’s a complete mess to read. The story nominally involves a guy named Monark Starstalker, who’s a kind of bounty hunter pursuing a target on a remote planet. It’s a simple premise, but it gets bogged down in clunky exposition intended to inject a sense of reality into this world. The character is a prototypical Chaykin hero: hard-boiled, tough and irresistible to the ladies.

This book is also awfully murky looking — the heavy inks just didn’t translate well into the printing processes used for comics at the time. It’d be nice to see this done on better paper that could present the images more sharply and vividly.

The Joy of Anthologies: Why ‘Dark Horse Presents’ Rocks

One of my favorite reads each month is Dark Horse Presents, which was relaunched this past summer after a more than 10 years of being out of print and a few years running as an early digital comics title on MySpace.com. It’s an excellent reminder of the value of anthologies and of the rewards (and perils) of sampling material you most likely never would have tried.

I rarely read the original DHP, which had a long run as the publisher’s flagship title from 1986-2000. The original series was, as I recall, a normal size black-and-white comic book that helped launch everything from Paul Chadwick’s Concrete to Frank Miller’s Sin City and John Byrne’s Next Men. I did, however, enjoy other anthologies, including the occasional issue of Negative Burn and, being a big 1980s Marvel fan, Marvel Comics Presents, of which i own a complete set of all 175 issues. (And before anyone asks, I somehow completely missed Action Comics Weekly and have yet to read an issue. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it or recommend anything in it.)

The new DHP deviates from the comics anthology norm by being in color — the market for black and white these days appears limited to folks well-established in that format such as Jeff Smith and Terry Moore — and being extra thick, with most issues clocking in at 80 pages. That makes each book nice and thick — you could line up a nice run of these on your bookshelf and they would look pretty cool — and continues the prestige format of the 1980s that I still like quite a bit.


The content, though, is the real reason to buy this book, and I say that acknowledging right off the bat that not everything in here is good or even things that I like. But any book that serves up new Concrete short stories as well as new serials from the likes of Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams and Jim Steranko is worth a look. Of those, I like Concrete the best because I think the character works very well in that format and Chadwick always produces thoughtful material. Chaykin’s “Marked Man,” a pulpy tale of a thief hiding in plain sight, also is a good read. Adams’ “Blood” is, however, a mess to read with really nice art — very much like Batman: Odyssey though not as out of place here as it is on that iconic character.

A lot of that stuff I would probably buy and read even if it was published on its own. So when the books also include entertaining series I’m only somewhat familiar with, like Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder,  Michael Gilbert’s Mr. Monster and Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden, it’s a real bonus. And then there’s some completely new stuff that adds even more to the mix, my favorite so far being Eric Powell’s one-off short “Isolation” in issue #5.

Again, not all the features are to my liking, but skipping over a story every now and then is a lot easier when it’s one of 10 or so stories in the book. And getting 10 or so stories, including a few brand-new serials or one-shots each issue, is a much cheaper way to try new material or read up on new creators than buying a couple full issues of just about anything else. The joy of anthologies comes in finding new things you didn’t expect and liking them. I’m having the same experience with prose, working my way through for the first time Harlan Ellison’s original Dangerous Visions volume on my Kindle. I’m enjoying that experience for many of the same reasons. The other thing I like about this kind of anthology is it will get you eventually in on the ground floor of something cool, some new comic that will debut in the pages of DHP and go on to be a hit on its own, either as a comic or something else.

I hope DHP sells well enough to be around for a long time — and that its success prompts more publishers to put some of their weight into projects like this that allow for the kind of experimentation comics desperately needs to stay a vital and interesting medium.

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