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On the Comics Shelf

December 18th, 2008

There is a lot of terrific comic book work being published these days. Last month I spent a lengthy post discussing Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. Allow me, today, to bring a few other high-quality series to your attention:

All Star Superman, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely – The idea behind DC Comics’s All-Star line was to allow today’s top creators to tell stories with the big DC heroes without worrying about current continuity issues. And so we have been blessed by this twelve-issue take on Superman (currently collected in two volumes) which manages to be retro (capturing a lot of the weirdness and silliness of Superman comics from the 50’s) and also very modern (in terms of the sophistication of the narrative). As a reader, you know you’re in for something special on the very first page of the very first issue, in which Morrison and Quitely manage to capture everything you need to know about Superman in four simple panels. As for the series’ story: Lex Luthor realizes that he’s getting older and so had better get serious about finally killing Superman. You’re best-off if I don’t tell you anything other than that, except that you should feel safe in the knowledge that, freed from the regular comics’ continuity and the need to leave all the toys in the same place that they found them, Morrison and Quitely are able to tell a story that involves real change for all the characters (no super-amnesia kiss to be found here) and that does not back away from the end that the first issue seems to be suggesting. In so doing, they are able to, at least for me, really get to the heart of the character of Superman. Brilliant work.

1985, by Mark Millar and Tommy Lee Edwards – 1985 was a big year for Marvel Comics, with the publication of their huge inter-company cross-over, Secret Wars. I began collecting comics right around that time, and I was a Marvel zombie, so the feel and tone of the Marvel Comics adventure stories from those years really holds a powerful nostalgic allure for me. What does that have to do with this six-issue mini-series? That sensation of immersing oneself in the magical world of Marvel Comics in 1985 is something that Millar and Edwards really channel in this work, but I won’t spoil it by telling you exactly how. I will tell you that 1985 is set in the “real world.”

We are introduced to young Toby, a boy who hasn’t had the easiest childhood (parents divorced, etc.). Things start getting much worse for him when he sees a Marvel comics super-villain, The Red Skull, standing in the attic window of a mysterious neighbor’s house. Now, despite what that very short synopsis might lead you to believe, this is NOT the story of a young boy imagining things to escape from his sad life. No, it’s a tale about wonder, about heroism, and also about the love of comic books. It is a transporting, magical story, and I loved every page. (A snazzy collection of this series will be available soon.)

The ClanDestine, by Alan Davis – When I was in high school, one of my favorite comic book writer/artists, Alan Davis, launched a new title for Marvel Comics. It was called The ClanDestine, and it was about a family of extremely long-lived, super-powered individuals. There was an element of the “super-hero” to this tale, and it was set firmly within the Marvel universe (featuring guest appearances from Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, etc. etc.). But right away from those first few issues I could tell that there was something special about the series. Although no-one draws a super-hero punch-up better than Alan Davis — and there certainly was a lot of great action on display in the series — Davis’ ClanDestine seemed to focus more on the characters. Through the stories, readers were able to enter the world of this weird, argumentative, mysterious group. I enjoyed all of the mysteries seeded in to the series: questions about exactly who these people were, where they’d come from, and what they’d been up to over the decades and centuries. Unfortunately, after only eight issues, the title was cancelled. (Well, actually, Alan Davis had a falling-out with Marvel editorial and left the series. Marvel attempted to continue his series without him, but even as a kid I was wise to that and so avoided picking up issue #9 written and drawn by other people. I guess most everyone else did, too, as Marvel ended the series only a few issues later.) The ClanDestine popped up about 2 years later in a two-issue cross-over with The X-Men, written and drawn by Mr. Davis, but if that was an attempt to reignite interest in the series I guess it failed because that was that for the ClanDestine.

And so I was shocked, but quite delighted, when this past year Marvel and Alan Davis released a new 5-issue ClanDestine mini-series, picking up right where the original issue #8 had left off all those years ago. There is some exposition added in for new fans, although I would imagine anyone reading the new mini-series without having read the older work (which Marvel has recently collected in a nice new edition) would be rather lost. But who cares about them! I was just thrilled to be able to enjoy a new ClanDestine adventure, continuing the story I had thought was over for good. (A collection of this new mini-series, subtitled Blood Relative, was just released last month.) It is a fun tale, not overly serious but still a real page-turner. Some lingering questions from the original issues are addressed, although when I got to the last page it was clear that there was still a lot more story yet to be told. The solicitation for this new mini-series advertised it as the first of a SERIES of mini-series. I hope that is the case, and that Mr. Davis is hard at work on the further adventures of the ClanDestine was I write this now… I’d really prefer to not have to wait another decade and a half before the next installment.

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