Saturday, February 28, 2009

Comics Roundup 28/2/2008

Do you remember me saying that there were no comics worth buying last week? I spoke two soon, because last Sunday, after attending a concert in City Hall, I made my way to Forbidden Planet and bought two issues. Let us see what they were.

Captain America: Theater of War – America First! #1 (of 1), by Howard Chaykin and Edgar Delgado

Howard Chaykin wrote and drew this, with Edgar Delgado providing colours. I always think of Chaykin as one of the Big Names in comics, even if he has never really done that much that was that good. His one really big title was probably American Flagg, which seems to have been out of print almost since the moment it first appeared, if not before. One of the big problems with Chaykin is that he is a sleazebag, or at least the sexual politics his comics propagate are a bit antediluvian. What makes him more repellent is his tendency to cast himself as some kind of arch-liberal. In some ways he is, a leftover of that strand of the Sixties counter-culture that was all about chicks putting out for the guys. He is like some kind of leftist version of Peter Stringfellow.

Why, then, did I buy this? Basically because I like Chaykin art. It typically has a certain pizzazz, a kinetic quality that makes you overlook all the busty ladies and instead focus on the funny facial expressions or the tough guys punching each other out. The art is pretty good in this one, though by Chaykin's standards it seems a bit pedestrian. Or maybe that is the influence of the story, a fairly lame tale of Captain America (or a Captain America) in the 1950s, squaring off a Senator Joe McCarthy analogue who GASP turns out to be a Soviet spy (complete with shrine to Communism in his basement). How very original.

What really makes this book is two olde Captain America strips they include at the end. Neither of them are credited to anyone, but in one of them John Romita has sneaked his name into one of the illustrations, so he may have drawn them both. Anyway, in continuity terms they are both a bit confusing – I had always understood that at the end of the Second World War, while flying back from some important mission, the Captain's young sidekick Bucky had somehow fallen to his death (leading to many "How could I have let Bucky die!!!!" moments of self-doubt over the years) while the Cap himself had been frozen in ice until his re-emergence in the 1960s. These stories, however, have the Captain and Bucky squaring off against Communist spies in the early years of the Cold War. One sees the Red Skull, now an ally of international communism, seize the UN headquarters in New York, holding the delegates as hostages (including the ones from the USSR and its satellitese?). Fortunately Captain America and Bucky are on hand to beat the shite out of him.

The other story is my favourite. The Captain is drawn into helping "loyal Chinese Americans", a "pretty law-abiding group" that he never normally has to trouble with, because spies from Red China are trying to force them into communist spies – by threatening their family members still living behind the iron curtain. The main communist agent is a sinister figure known as The Man Without A Face (because no one ever sees his face), whose true identity is revealed as a terrible twist at the story's end. One thing I liked about this story is that it manages to be high in thrill power yet also presenting the communists as almost akin to real people with something approximating to a valid, if objectively wrong, world-view. That said, the artistic representation of the Chinese characters (particularly in terms of their colouring) suggests that the artists have read descriptions of Asian people but never actually seen any.

Four Eyes #2, by Joe Kelly, Max Fiumara, and Nestor Pereyra

Issue 1 of this came out so long ago that I assumed that subsequent issues must already have appeared but got such bad distribution that they never made it to these shores. But no, it is just that the people who produce this are slow workers. As you will recall, the strangely titled Four Eyes is set in New York during the Great Depression, but one where dragons seem to roam wild for no obvious reason. The main character is a little boy whose father was killed when stealing a dragon's young. At the end of the last issue he learned why his father died – he was stealing dragon babies for the city's secret underworld of dragon fight enthusiasts. In this issue he gets more involved in this twisted sport, hoping that by becoming a dragon hunter like his father he can avenge his father's death. Ultimately, I suppose, this is the usual kind of Depression narrative of desperation, only with dragons, but it has a certain resonance. I particularly like the oddly stylised art.

Madame Xanadu #8, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley, & Richard Friend

This is from this week. You will recall that this title covers the adventures of an immortal sorceress, with each couple of issues moving her on a few centuries. Last time she found herself in Whitechapel during the murders of Jack The Ripper. And like I said last time, the ghost of From Hell hangs heavily over any attempts to do the Ripper in comics, particularly if like that work you are trying to hang a layer of metaphysical bollocks over the brutal killings of a maniac. This particular episode is entertaining enough, but it does look like they are also falling into that other great cliché of Ripperology – did you know that while the Ripper was murdering prostitutes in East London, over in Austria ADOLF HITLER was being conceived? I wonder what other highly original OMG WTF moments this title has to give us.

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