A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Rob Liefeld

Comic-Shop Memories: Fantasy Comics, 1989-90, Tucson, Ariz., Part 1

I don’t remember why I stopped shopping at AAA Best when I started my junior year at the University of Arizona. Instead, I starting shopping weekly in Tucson at Fantasy Comics, which is located at 2745 N. Campbell Ave.

Fantasy was in an unremarkable one-story building, with a glass case at the front full of its more expensive comics. New releases were racked to the immediate right. The rest of the current comics were stocked in alphabetical order in racks that stretched to the back of the shop. The main floor featured lots of back issues. Charlie Harris, a frequent DC “letter hack,” either owned the store or worked there.

One of the most memorable things for me about shopping at Fantasy was that back issues were in heat-sealed bags. To get them open, you needed scissors, so there were lots of discarded comic bags in my trash.

Into the Trek comics wormhole

I fell deep into Star Trek at the time. DC published in August new Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation series that I really enjoyed. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier had done poorly at the box office and with critics, but Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s third series debuted in September and was by far its best to date.

But it was the classic Star Trek comic that really caught my eye. It had clever scripts by Peter David and slick art printed on good paper from the team of James Fry and Arne Starr. And nothing beat those covers by Jerome K. Moore. They are spectacular and I never tire of looking at them or admiring the skill Moore brought to those illustrations.

My Star Trek obsession led me to a Star Trek convention experience that cemented my fandom for that franchise. It was a weekend Creation Convention at the Tucson Convention Center, with special guest Patrick Stewart.

Prior to Stewart’s entrance, Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, Richard Arnold, previewed upcoming episodes of The Next Generation. These were sneak peeks at some of the best in the series’ run: “Deja Q,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Sins of the Father” and “Captain’s Holiday.”

Stewart appeared for a charming Q&A session at the end of the day. Among the secrets he revealed: He had accepted a teaching job at the University of Arizona. But the offer slipped through through the cracks and after landing the role of Captain Picard, he never looked back. What might have been!

Marvel’s X-Men on the rise

The other hot franchise was X-Men. It had been a best-seller for years at this point, but new artists raised the excitement to a new level. Jim Lee’s arrival on X-Men seemed inevitable after lengthy runs on Alpha Flight and Punisher War Journal. He did a few issues here and there at first, before taking the full reins in the summer of 1990. At the same time, Rob Liefeld also was pitching in on X-Men titles and getting some heat. He took over the penciling chores on The New Mutants in 1990 and introduced Cable, another high point. Erik Larsen took over penciling The Amazing Spider-Man from Todd McFarlane, who was set to launch a new Marvel title. With Marc Silvestri jumping from X-Men to Wolverine, the seeds of the Image revolution were taking root.

But Star Trek had sort of taken over my mind. I collected the first DC series, re-watched the movies and original TV shows, and even enjoyed some of the Star Trek novels. “Writer of Stuff” Peter David was the creator whose work I most enjoyed, leading me inevitably to The Incredible Hulk.

Lost in the aisles of Bookman’s

Fantasy was but one of the shops I frequented that year. Another mainstay was Bookman’s, a used-book store that filled a former grocery store space with tons of fascinating objects. Each visit took hours, it seems. I’d start with out-of-town newspapers and move on to a newsstand section full of old and new magazines. Then there were aisles full of used books, cassettes, CDs, and bargain low-grade comics. I always flipped through Comics Scene and the Comics Buyers Guide, catching in the latter news of a Peter David signing at All About Books and Comics in Phoenix. I skipped out on school to drive up from Tucson in time to hit the Thursday evening event.

The Hulk tour hits Phoenix

The signing was part of a tour promoting David and artist Dale Keown’s work on The Incredible Hulk. Keown had only drawn two issues of Hulk at this point, and the signing was sparsely attended. That gave everyone a chance to hang out with David and Keown and chat about a lot of things. David signed several Star Trek issues for me, a Next Generation novel he’d written, and some Hulks. He joked about calling his editor back in New York to rave about the warm Arizona weather.

To my surprise, Keown hailed from Alberta, so we talked about Canada and Arizona, as well as comics. I remember he sold the splash page to The Incredible Hulk #367, his first issue, for about $150. A few years later, I saw the same page for sale in another Phoenix-area store for many multiples of that.

The signing was part of a mini-tour that continued that weekend to comic shops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. All About produced a poster for the signing similar to the McFarlane one I wrote about previously. Mine is framed but in storage.

Hunting for back issues in Tucson

After that, I started seriously looking for back issues of The Incredible Hulk. David had been writer on Hulk for about three years, and I began by tracking down his back issues. I often visited a Tucson shop called Comics and Things, located in a strip mall at 3934 E. Grant Road, in search of Hulk and Star Trek back issues. It had a good selection of recent back issues but soon vanished into the ether.

The writing and art on Hulk surprised me. David started with a fairly conventional Hulk story with McFarlane on art. Their collaboration ended with a satisfying climax that completely changed the series’ premise. David next turned the Hulk gray and got him a job as a high-end Las Vegas bouncer named Joe Fixit. Jeff Purves drew this run and did a fabulous job before disappearing from the world of comics.

Hulk was so good that Sam Kieth drew the fill-ins — if you could call them that.

Keown drew Hulk for the next three years, and it became was a huge hit. David stuck with the title for years after, and still writes new Hulk stories from time to time. Great stuff.

How much is too much Batman?

This also was a time when Batman was still riding high on the popularity of the Tim Burton movie. So Batman was super-hot and DC released in the autumn of 1989 Legends of the Dark Knight #1. Promoted as the first new solo Batman book since 1940, this series set free top talent to do their ultimate Batman story.

The first issue also marked the first time I remember variant covers from a major publisher, as DC promoted the book with a second cover that came in four different colors. They said in the book that it was “just for fun,” but the result surely made DC’s accountants happy as fans decided they needed to have a copy of each color — and therefore bought four copies of that first issue.

Pointing out the differences between Tucson and Phoenix, that first Legends of the Dark Knight sold out immediately down south. The same was true of The New Titans #60 and 61, which were key parts of the current Batman storyline, “A Lonely Place of Dying.” I easily found both on my first comic shop stop on my next trip to Phoenix.

Next: My short career as a “letter hack.”

First Batch of New 52 Releases Delivers Solid Comic-Book Entertainment

Sometimes, life is great. Yesterday afternoon, FedEx rang my door and had me sign for a package from the publicity folks at DC Comics. Quickly tearing open the package, I found inside all 13 of this week’s releases of The New 52.

It was tough to not just stop working and dig right into the big pile. I took a little break and read Hawk & Dove #1 followed by Action Comics #1. I read the rest of the books last night and now will delve into them for your reading pleasure.

The good news is these books are overall quite good. After the mild letdown of Justice League #1, I found every one of the 13 new books to deliver a satisfying and entertaining story. These read a lot like comics from the late 1980s or 1990s, with more story, more action and fewer talking heads than superhero comics have delivered of late. They also have some sharp art and, thankfully, overall good coloring. The books look quite sharp. I still wish there was some kind of introductory text page and maybe a house ad promoting comic shops, explaining digital availability and an ad offering subscription info.

I don’t know how truly new readers will receive these books, but I give DC great credit for doing a pretty good job delivering on material that I think has a wider appeal than superhero comics have delivered in a while.

So, let’s go through them, one by one. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but if you’re a stickler you might want to wait until you’ve read the books to proceed. Also, this may take multiple posts.

I started with Hawk & Dove #1 just because a comic by Rob Liefeld always evokes some kind of interesting reaction. Yes, the anatomy on the cover is awful, but the image still has that unique energy Liefeld brings to his projects. Inside, the story by Sterling Gates was better than I expected, though in a crazy, comic-book kind of way. It at least delivers on action, complete with monsters, zombies (or maybe monster/zombies) and a close call between a plane and a national monument. The books keeps it simple, though some of the ideas in here are a bit puzzling (what is a “science terrorist”?) if you think about it too hard. The dialog is a bit hammy, especially from the slightly one-note characterization of Hank Hall as a hothead. Still, this works in a very basic way thanks to lots of action and a couple of good twists toward the end.

Action Comics #1 is THE high-profile book of the week, featuring Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ anticipated revamp of the Man of Steel. And boy, does this get the blood pumping. If you go back and read my take a few months back on how to fix Superman, it looks like Morrison had a lot of the same ideas. This issue is all about the action, and features some great, gritty sequences. Morrison takes Superman back to the beginning — this version of the character is surprisingly similar to the original concept by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This Superman is a crusader, tackling the powerful interests of Metropolis that are otherwise above the law. His power levels also are scaled back and he leaps more than flies, and has the potential to be hurt. This Superman also is young, but not mopey — he’s out there acting on his convictions and doing what he sees as right. This is a great first issue and it succeeds at being an exciting and fun take on the Man of Steel.


Stormwatch #1 was a slightly more confusing read for me. The plot centers on the new Stormwatch, which includes as members the Martian Manhunter from Justice League and most of the cast of the Authority, as they are faced with no less than three interesting challenges: Finding the superhuman known as Apollo, dealing with something very strange on the moon, and a third mystery involving a horny mystery in the Himalayas. There’s definitely a different vibe to this book that recalls in ways the spirit of the best Stormwatch/Authority stories (most of them written by Warren Ellis).

Animal Man #1 was a true standout for me, with a terrific story by Jeff Lemire and equally good art by Travel Foreman. This one really is the best of all worlds, as it recasts the lead character into a new role, makes him and his family interesting characters in their own right and features some unique action and promise of more to come. I know I’ve read comics drawn by Foreman before, but he’s obviously raised his game significantly because I was never blown away like I was with this issue.The colors by Lovern Kindzierski are also outstanding. I have to put this up there with Action Comics as the best of this week’s bunch.

Men of War #1 surprised me. War comics have never been my favorite — Marvel’s 1980s series The ‘Nam being the lone exception — because I usually find them either unrealistic or too chaotic, confusing and repetitive to follow. This book, however, avoided all those issues while at the same time recasting the venerabel Sgt. Rock into contemporary times. In the lead story, Ivan Brandon delivers a story full of soldi war action (with a tantalizing hint of the superheroic) and good character development. The second story, Navy Seals: Human Shield, by Jon Vankin and Phil Winslde, is even more compelling than the Rock story. It’s a bit more procedural, but it’s done clearly and vigorously, leading to a compelling cliffhanger.

More in the next post.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: