Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Vertigo

DC Quick Reads: Punk Rock Jesus, Dial H, He-Man

I get review copies, sometimes. Here’s three from DC I read recently:

Punk Rock Jesus #1 (DC/Vertigo)



Punk Rock Jesus #1 is the best new comic I’ve read from DC/Vertigo in ages. It’s an old-fashioned, black-and-white indie comic about a reality show that’s going to take DNA from the shroud of Turin, clone it and “bring back” Jesus Christ. Written and drawn by Sean Murphy, it’s full of that good ol’ punk-rock indie spirit of the early 1980s and comes off as a mad little bit of all right.

Dial H #1 (DC Comics)

Dial H #1 is written by acclaimed sci-fi novelist China Mieville, and proves that it’s not always easy to transition successfully from one medium to another. Honestly, I was completely lost in this story — I don’t think I understood anything that was happening in this story, so I won’t be picking up any further issues. The Brian Bolland cover, however, is quite nice — though that’s not saying anything new.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1 is another book that confounds me. I was never a fan as a kid, being just old enough to have stopped playing with toys or watching cartoons by the time this one came along. I know next to nothing about He-Man or the story, so I’m definitely not the target audience for this book. This appears to be a complete reboot, starting over at the beginning and showing how blond woodsman Adam begins the journey that will transform him into He-Man. We only get foreshadowing of this, so He-Man isn’t even really in this comic. It’s pretty standard stuff for DC these days, and I do give the book props for looking better than a He-Man comic has a right be, thanks to Philip Tan and Ruy Jose. What’s most disappointing to me is that this is written by James Robinson. Yes, James Robinson, the guy who wrote such great comics as The Golden Age, Starman, Leave it to Chance, Bluebeard, etc. And he’s writing a toy comic for DC. Maybe he’s a big fan of the character and wants to do it, but it seems like a big problem for the industry if a guy as talented and established as Robinson is reduced to doing a toy revival comic instead of something original that could reach a wider audience than adults who once played with He-Man toys.

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe #1
(DC Comics)

Off the Shelf: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 2

It was more than two years ago that I read the first volume in this new hardcover series collecting the influential mid-1980s series by Alan Moore et al. and wrote about it here. I finally bought the second volume a few months back while visiting Santa Barbara and just got around to reading it now.

Pretty much everything I said about the first volume stands for the second. This collection deals largely with the relationship between Swamp Thing, his former life as Alec Holland and with Abby. It is Abby at the heart of these stories, as the meat of this book is the confrontation between Swamp Thing and Abby’s husband Matt Cable.

Moore’s handle on the craft is still improving here, leaping by bounds per issue, and he avoids the kind of obvious superhero confrontation that would have been very easy and pleasing for fans in favor of a story and a resolution that is much more thoughtful, mature and will resonate for years to come still.

There’s also some fun in here — with “Pog,” an issue in which Swamp Thing meets some aliens that are surrogates for the cast of Walt Kelly’s Pogo.  This sounds like a disaster, but Moore manages to pull this off and make it work within the series and without being so incongruous, goofy or in love with itself that it breaks the spell.

The series concludes with a stunning issue in which Swamp Thing and Abby admit their love for each other and he allows her to see the world as he does. The techniques used here foreshadow the bulk of what Moore did with Promethea, and works completely and beautifully. The excellent art by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben make it completely natural to slowly turn the book in your hands until it’s sideways and then back again.

It’s amazing to look at these stories and realize how much DC and Vertigo built on the ideas and techniques Moore pioneered even in the first year and a half of his work on Saga of the Swamp Thing. It also is hard, if not impossible, to imagine that any comic produced in 2011 could have even half the impact that this series had in 1984 and 1985.

I hope I get around to reading Vol. 3 sometime before 2013.

Off the Shelf: Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 1

This is the first in a series of hardcover books reprinting Alan Moore’s seminal run on the title. Amazingly, Moore also wrote Watchmen, which is coming to movie screens in just a couple weeks now! Coincidence, surely. I have to confess to never having read any of Moore’s Swamp Thing until now. And in some ways I’m glad I waited, because it’s always great to find a great comic that you’ve never read before even when it’s 25 years old. The book reprints Saga #20-27, and features a bunch of very cool bits. The coolest is the way Moore completely transforms the hero by revealing Swamp Thing to not be the transformed body of Alec Holland, but the transferred consciousness — meaning there is no chance Swamp Thing can ever become human again. This throws the series’ very premise into doubt and runs counter to the conventions that ruled comic book storytelling and character motivation for the previous, say, two decades. That opens the door for this book to go somewhere completely different, and made for a tremendously interesting read. That not much is immediately done with it is OK — we know there’s more volumes to come. But there’s also a lot of craft in this book, from Moore and artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. For one, everything is deliberate and with purpose — every caption and every panel seems to have been thought through rather well and there’s little if any fat in the story telling. The things that for me didn’t work quite as well were the introduction of various DC Universe characters. The Justice League cameo was strange and thankfully short. The appearance of The Demon, however, was more annoying and seemed more gratuitous. Maybe some of that is every horror/mature reader series DC launched in these pre-Vertigo days seemed to have The Demon show up. (Even Neil Gaiman’s Sandman had both the Justice League and The Demon show up in its early issues.) Plus, the only Demon comics I’ve ever read that I liked were the first few by Jack Kirby. Pretty much everything since has seemed contrived or just plain silly, so that part fell short. These are minor complaints, however, since the overall experience of reading the book is a very pleasurable and intimate one. It’s also a good reminder of what you can do with a comic book when you’ve got a writer with a vision and they’re left largely to their own devices — no crossovers, no mega events, no storytelling by committee. As a latecomer to these stories, I think I like them more than I would have had I read them 10 or 20 years ago. Grade: A-

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