Welcome weary travellers. Come rest yourselves a while in the basement. Mind that mildewed copy of Razzle and that box of broken Transformers. Sit yourselves down between that crate of warped vinyl (can I interest anyone in some vintage James Galway? Or maybe a copy of Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’?), and that decomposing Garfield, and I’ll delight you with some recent treasures from the Beast’s Bargain Basement…

In order to overcome the trauma of shelling out £2/$3 for a new comic (but wow, ain’t it just worth it with all the time and money they’ve put into that turd-polishing computer colour!?!), I have recently returned to the blessed womb of cheap-as-fuck back issues, and it’s got to be said, found some true gems. And some shite. But it’s cheap shite, and that’s what counts.

First up, a few issues of Keith Giffen’s somewhat notorious revamp of Legion of Superheroes (notorious in as much as it enraged a fair few hardcore Legion-fans, a group second only to the Scientologists in their nefarious influence and dogmatic destruction of non-believers).

First, I have to say that my love of the Legion is completely disproportionate to the amount of actual Legion comics I’ve actually read. Conceptually they rock, and there’s something so enduringly uncool about them. No amount of Aid-rapey-darkness can taint the inherent greatness of a bunch of superteens in the 30th Century with names like Cosmic Boy and Ferro Lad. That said I’ve still only read about twelve Legion comics ever.

So, the post-Levitz Legion: for a while in the eighties Keith Giffen was somewhat the man. He revamped numerous moribund DC properties, created one of the definitive takes on the Justice League, pretty much single-handedly brought humour back to superheroing and basically had some Midas like shit going on right there. Boldly re-starting the Legion ‘Five Years Later’ he (and cohorts) added a post-Watchmen layer of grime and complexity to the happy go lucky superteens. So far so late-eighties. But the Legion fared better than most, and for a while Giffen and Co. created a pretty compelling space opera. The best issues are those drawn by Giffen himself because a) I love his artwork, and dedication to the 9-panel grid structure and b) some of the fill-in artists are well jank. It falls apart a bit as the series progresses, but it’s one of the more interesting revamps, and in light of the recent trend for retroactive storytelling, it’s positively forward thinking.

Next up is Marc Guggenheim and Howard Chaykin’s underrated recent take on Blade. Unfairly cancelled after 12 issues, it’s an enjoyable attempt to move away from the techno-goth fetishism of the movies. It takes a couple of issues to warm up, but by issue 3 it’s found it’s own rhythm and style. Guggenheim gets a lot of flack for his work on Spiderman, but Spider-fans are a notoriously unstable bunch, so let’s ignore them. His take on Blade is relatively light-hearted and well paced, with just the right amount of wham! bam! and stakey-stakey action. The smaller stories work better than the ones involving exploding SHIELD helicarriers (and I never thought I’d find myself saying THAT), and given a longer lifespan this comic would’ve become a bit of a humdinger.

Say what you like about Chaykin he’s a consistently engaging artist, and while his art here isn’t as stylish or groundbreaking as his eighties work, it’s produced with enthusiasm and proficiency. Plus he draws good black characters, something a lot of mainstream artists have surprising difficulty with. Admittedly his Blade looks like he’d be more at home hanging out with Count Basie than slicing up the undead, but that adds to the title’s wonky charms. The Perry Como-style jumper he rocks in the Christmas issue is particularly sweet.

Following this is a title that promises a lot more than it delivers, but at 20p who really gives a shit. Weird War Tales no.100 should be the best comic ever. It features not only the Creature Commandos, but the Creature Commandos versus The War That Time Forgot. That’s right, it’s an elite combat unit composed of a werewolf, a Frankenstein-type, and a vampire versus rampaging dinosaurs. The only thing missing is GI motherfuckin’ Robot. Somehow, unbelievably it manages to be pretty dull. However, just by it’s existence it makes the world a better place. Plus it has this ace Joe Kubert splash page:

which justifies the price of entry on it’s own.

Next up are the first two issues of Michael Fleisher’s gonzo future take on DC’s perennial weirdly-scarred gunslinger Hex. Michael Fleisher tried to sue Harlan Ellison for accusing him of being “bugfuck crazy”, based on readings of his brilliant and very nasty Wrath of the Spectre comic from the 70′s (Harlan meant it in a good way though). He then spent the 80′s writing stuff that ranged from the good-ish (Haywire) to the abysmal (everything he wrote for 2000ad) before seemingly retiring from comics full stop. ‘Hex’ is a desperate attempt to revive a flagging franchise, and catapults ol’ Jonah into a Mad Max 2 style future. Naturally he’s barely out of cryo before he gets busy with the two gun action, offing muties and punks left right and centre. Before you can blink some Vietnam GI’s have appeared from a time loop and…well, by now you’ll be able to tell if it’s your thing or not. Mark Texeira provides some nice early visuals, and the whole thing ticks along in it’s barmy way. If you grew up on 2000ad it all seems a bit tame, but Fleisher’s work always has a fun sadistic streak, and it’s hard not to have at least a little love for a future-cowboy comic.

Hey! I picked up nearly all of Warren Ellis’ Ocean mini from a while back for £1.20! I only missed the first issue and you know what? Didn’t make any difference. It is a Warren Ellis comic after all kids! I swing like a barn door with Ellis, but this was pretty good, helped no end by Chris Sprouse’s lovely clear artwork. It’s one of Ellis’ more sci-fi comics, featuring the usual smart-arse banter, Big! Science! and a bit of ultra violence. Comfortable territory for Ellis. Slick, streamlined and relatively smart, it’s OK stuff. If I’d had to wait three years and shell out over a tenner for it I might be less kind however. It’s way better than Doktor Sleepless, and not as good as NEXTWAVE. Make of that what you will.

Far better, as a sci-fi comic and just as a comic in general, are some tatty copies of Jack Kirby’s wonderful Kamandi. Often overlooked in favour of the (rightly) applauded Fourth World Saga, ‘Kamandi’ remains one of Kirby’s longest running and consistent later works. Although notionally a cash in to the Planet of The Apes fad, Kirby worked his weird magic on it, and created a fantastically enjoyable romp imbued with his trademark idiosyncracies. His art is less dense and design heavy than in Mister Miracle or New Gods, but has a fluidity and energy that propels the story onwards. Perhaps, after the the dust had settled, and freed of the pressures of creating his masterwork, Kirby found a simple joy in creating these relatively straightforward action adventures. Whatever it is, his run of 31 issues on ‘Kamandi’ is fun, energetic, and action packed. And packed to the gills with Dog-men in napoleonic uniforms. I hunger for the upcoming collection, although there’s something awesome about reading them in the original format. And, I’d like to reiterate, 20-fucking-pence each!

Finally we come to Mike Baron’s seminal bezerkoid 80′s kung-fu mash up, Badger. When I first started really getting into comics, my good friend Gary Lactus was the go-to-man for weird independent comics and more off-the-wall stuff than I was used to. Through him I first encountered Flaming Carrot, Savage Henry (which Gary Lactus actually drew a couple of pages for while he was still at school, fact fans!), Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children and other such b+w treasures. Although I didn’t 100% trust these new discoveries (where did they come from..why were they so strange?) it was all part of the continually expanding world of comics I was being exposed too. All very exciting. One way or another I remember coming across some comics published by First Comics – some Nexus reprints I think. This was a range of surprisingly high quality comics, and more importantly they seemed to feature superheroes the likes of which I’d never seen. American Flagg, Whisper, Grimjack, Sable, Nexus, Dreadstar…and Badger. I didn’t read any of them, but they lurked in my consciousness ever since. I always wondered what these strange comics were actually like. So the other day when I stumbled across a few dirt cheap ‘Badger’ comics, finally I could answer that nagging question. So then, what are they like?

Fucking nuts.

Let’s have a look at what wikipedia tells us about Badger, shall we?

The lead character was Norbert Sykes, a Vietnam war veteran suffering from multiple personality disorder. “The Badger”, an urban vigilante who could talk to animals, was just one of his personalities. Bizarrely, he would often call people “Larry”, and it was later revealed that “Larry” was the name of his stepfather. After escaping from a mental institution, Norbert met an 5th century Druid named Ham (Hamaglystwythbrnxaxlotl in full), who had just awakened from an 800 year coma (this was later corrected in dialogue where it was noted that Ham’s coma lasted 1500 years). Ham took the Badger in as a boarder in his castle in return for the Badger’s bodyguard services. Other characters included Norbert’s caseworker Daisy, Vietnamese martial arts expert (and Norbert’s wife) Mavis, and Lord Weterlackus, a demon who empowered Ham until they had a falling out. Prior to his coma, Ham would sacrifice children in his castle in Wales (Ham was placed in a mystical coma for 1500 years by all the other wizards), but after his resurrection he would sacrifice animals (which enraged the Badger) or computer files. Ham would use his power over weather to influence markets and generate wealth for himself; occasionally his supernatural dealings would bring him into conflict with demons, whom the Badger would then be called upon to fight.

Got that? Good. Sometimes people may ask you why you read comics. In future rather than trying to explain the intricate complexities of ‘From Hell’ or ‘Lost Girls’, just direct them to that paragraph. That should settle their hash.
The comic seems to combine three of Mike Baron’s passions: Kung Fu, animal rights, and spandex. It’s weird stuff – not Morrison or Kirby weird, more ‘watching-a Bollywood-action-musical-when you’re-drunk’ weird. But it does feature an inordinate amount of kicks to the face, which will certainly keep Chris Sims happy. It’s view of mental illness seems to be akin to that of a Warner Bros cartoon, and one particular issue is all about Badger beating up some noisy neighbours of an old lady who have been having wild parties and shooting at the ducks she lovingly feeds. It’s like Morrison’s Animal Man crossed with the ouevre of Jean Claude Van ‘Van Damage’ Damme. Yes, that good. Well worth the few shecks I shelled out for them at least.

So then, that’s your lot for now. The Bargain Basement’s doors are closed for today – I have 160 downloaded episodes of ‘Saved by the Bell’ to watch*, including the ‘Holiday in Hawaii’ special. You have your reading list; get digging in those crates…

*not really. i don’t know how to download. I’ll just have to recall them, Rain Man-style, from memory.

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19 Responses to “The Beast’s bargain basement – vol 1”

  1. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Chaykin these days… I dunno, he does all these weird (meaning ‘good’ ) things with textures on his backgrounds and stuff and that’s cool but there’s just never any field depth to the stuff – not sure if this was always the case, but it seems awfully planar. Kinda bothers me.

  2. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    I know what you’re saying – his figures are always in the same ‘mid-shot’. I think he can knock it out in his sleep to be honest, but there’s a pleasing angularity to his work, and he’s till one of the more stylish artists out there.
    I really want to read ‘American Flagg’ – it’s kind of the void in my comics education you know? Always referred too, but seldom seen. His art’s amazing in that. Also want to read ‘Black Kiss’, if only for it’s notoriety…

  3. David C Says:

    Damn, Badger sounds dangerously fantastic.

  4. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    It’s really got that 80′s VHS B-movie action movie vibe, y’know? Like all those weird lurid trailers for brutal films you never actually got to see…

    Definitely a true pulp comic, and as I said, very, very 80′s.

  5. Thrilltone Says:

    More articles like this, please! I’m a sucker for bargain bin review things, they’re one of the main reasons I started reading the ISB and Dave Campbell and that – a ridiculous love of bullshit old 25p comics. Though I recognise pleasing someone like me would not be a good direction to take your blog, you’d end up having to wrote 5000-word articles on “The Merits of the Clone Saga to an Early-Teen on Holiday in Ibiza”.

    Ayw. Anyways: “turd-polishing computer colour”

    Yes. YES. It’s amazing how much comics art would be improved by just NOT being coloured the way it currently is, with the horrible over-rendering, on shitty glossy paper that makes it impossible to comfortably read on the bus as the light keeps reflecting off of it.

    ARGH.

    My stupid rage at this knows no bounds, frankly. It almost puts me off buying ‘pamphlets’ altogether, but you know, I NEED to know what Batman’s up to and that.

    Anyhows, weird west and weird war comics are in theory right up my street, but for some reason I have not read much of those genres. Gonnae have to splork down some money for the Jonah Hex and Haunted Tank DC Essentials at some point.

    Nae shiny paper in them, that’s for sure.

  6. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    One of my major beefs with computer colouring is that it often gives a 3-D sheen to a drawing that’s already had depth and dimension added by the use of shadows. Everything looks totally over-rendered.

  7. Zom Says:

    There’s a post waiting to be written on the joys of less sophisticated colouring tech, and how it impacted on creativity.

    I keep meaning to write it, but I’m not sure I have a well enough developed visual vocab.

  8. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    The recent Kirby omnibus’ have eschewed the option of glossy paper and recolouring, to their credit.

  9. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Speaking of… and I do like the recolours on Killing Joke and Year One, but these are more painterly affairs and ones for which a decent argument about overdignifying the piece could be made, but did anyone see the appalling job in the Iron Fist origin reprint ish that came out this week??

    Re: American Flagg, I’ve got a midperiod trade which I could send you when I’ve money enough to post things, but I do think it’s… it didn’t seem very excellent to me reading it in 2004 or whenever, one of those things that the window for opportunity has maybe passed by. I recognise that it was groundbreaking, but *ennh*. There’s a new, very costly omnibus collection out now or soon I think.

  10. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    They recoloured Year One? Richmond Lewis’ colouring on that was amaaaaaazing! What did they do to it?

  11. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Checking my HC it’s a redo by Richmond (who’s – I think – Mazzuchelli’s partner?) but hand-painted, not the c.60 colour palette of 1986. It’s not so objectionable, in either case, because obviously Bolland also can colour himself how he please.

  12. A Transfer Says:

    Mike Baron was one of the first writers of superhero comics to give my adolescent self the impression that this was an actual adult writing this stuff. Anyone remember his run on Flash where he ‘controversially’ turned Wally West into a shallow lottery-millionaire shag-magnet who lived with his mum? At least I remember it being controversial… but that could have been just a couple of letters from humourless anti-sex comic readers (the same ones who hated on the forbidden love between The Brain and Monsieur Mallah a year or two later). Anyway, the Flash annual ‘Death Touch’ is still one of my favourite superhero-martial arts comics.

  13. Papers Says:

    Some days I feel like I’m the only one who really liked the post-5-year-gap Giffbaum Legion, often in spite of the numerous problems that plagued it– primarily (a) editorial edicts that compromised coherent storylines by reworking continuity “at random” (more for the sake of the Byrne) and (b) absolutely shitty fill-in art. Giffen should have pencilled the entire thing.

    Thing I love about the post-gap Legion is that it absolutely depends upon the built up continuity the Legion had acquired by that point; as much as I’d love to see Giffen take the style he set up with the book and use it somewhere else, all the dark-and-funny depended upon the earlier bright-and-shiny. It felt like an actual maturation of the Legion, in theory; all the bright and shiny was still there, glossy with nostalgia, but they were allowed to grow up into hard-nosed noir cyberpunk futurists at the same time.

    For the first five issues. After that, well, while it was still good in a lot of ways, the tinkering kicked in and started to punch holes into places that didn’t need holes. The Quiet Darkness is where it feels like the new Legion really goes off the rails — by this point we’ve been introduced to so many retconned Legionnaires but it was still a lot of fun — and then things degenerated into the Bierbaums taking over and subjecting everyone to fanfic plot bunnies rather than actual storytelling (for example, they can’t just express that Jan Arrah could — you know, being from the future and even an alien society! — turn out to be bisexual and have that be okay, no, they have to have awkward gender-fucking with Schvaughn that doesn’t really parse).

    But, when it comes down to it, we had the gritty built up future following a collapsed utopia, we had Legionnaires who got to grow up in ways a lot of super-people couldn’t. We got a Legion that mixed noir, cyberpunk, Watchmen pastiche, and its own Silver Age forebears together. And it could be *silly*.

    Too bad about all the shitty edicts and terrible fill-in art. Blah.

  14. Tucker Stone Says:

    I’ve never read the Chaykin Blade, definitely looking forward to tracking that down.

    But the 5 Year Legion–oh man, I really dug that. All the same complaints–fill-in art wasn’t as good, it goes off the rails, so on, Agreed. I will say that, to disagree with Papers, I went into that series knowing dick-nothing ’bout the characters, the Legion, anything. I learned a bit in something like Who’s Who a little bit later, but god, I loved that series when I was a kid. Didn’t totally keep up with it, but then again, I didn’t keep up with anything back then.

  15. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Part of the appeal when you’re getting into comics, in my opinion, is not knowing what the fuck is going on most of the time. It’s what makes it all the more intriguing and compelling. I remember buying totally random fucking comics in random British newsagents, like an issue of Starlin’s (lame) New Gods, or a copy of Dr Fate, and being sucked into this world of weirdness. These dudes weren’t Batman or Superman but I was desperate to find out who they were.

  16. Zom Says:

    I don’t know whether the Legion issues you guys are blathering on about include the one or two issues I read as a lambkin, but if so I also felt the goodness.

    There was a DARKNESS, I remember that.

  17. Dave Says:

    The Badger was one of my favorites back in the day. I have particularly fond memories of #2, which was back when it was a Captial Comics book. It featured the Badge having a lucid moment with a leftist lesbian of color and explaining the virtues of violence to a skeptical by-stander. What could have been an embarrassing bit of genre-justifying twaddle was redeemed by a surprisingly balanced interplay between the characters — a bit of fourth wall humping that managed to be an insightful bit of genre deconstruction.

  18. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    I just read an issue where he throws a guy through a window for claiming that Barry Manilow is better than Fats Waller.

  19. Papers Says:

    Tucker– I don’t mean to suggest you can’t or shouldn’t go into that era without foreknowledge, but there was massive backstory available, which really gave them a lot to draw on to build things up, make it feel really full and dynamic (something the more recent reboots have failed on — threeboot has its moments but Waid and Shooter have not and did not really get me with their attempts at world building — they feel really hollow, and they seem to focus on one-note characterizations).

    I suppose what I mean is that there *is* lots to learn about once you’ve gone into that world, it feels really well-developed even before you know everything, which is a great feeling.

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