Cover Versions: THE SHADOW

March 11th, 2013

Being an irregular series wherein I spotlight some particularly beautiful cover runs, from some comics you might have forgotten about, or never seen before. This time it’s Andy Helfer and Bill Sienkiewicz / Kyle Baker’s wonderfully gonzo and short lived 80′s version of The Shadow.

Of all the radical character reinventions of the mid-80′s ‘mature’ boom, the Andy Helfer helmed Shadow series was one of the most brazenly strange; quirky, black-hearted and surreal, with gorgeous art from Bill Sienkiewicz and a young Kyle Baker. Following Howard Chaykin’s controversial mini-series Blood & Judgement, that reimagined the steely eyed pulp vigilante for the smart and cynical 1980′s, Helfer took the set up and ran with it.  He also stripped out some of the weird misogyny and nihilism from the title, bringing in a healthy sense of surrealism to the revisionism. This was a black hearted, New York art school comic, masquerading as a superhero comic, and it was thrillingly unusual as a monthly read. It lasted 24 issues, before DC pulled the plug on it, after facing severe backlash from ardent fans, and pressure from the owners of the trademark. It’s possibly my favourite of the slew of character reinventions from the late 1980s; it’s wild, creepily unsettling and beautifully drawn throughout.

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by Peter Milligan & George PerezDC Comics

(reviewed by The Beast Must Die)

Having danced the tango with Shade over in Hellblazer not so long ago, Peter Milligan takes the floor with his old flame again…but what’s this? It’s happening in the Jeansverse?!?! So I assume no menage-a-trois comedy of manners, and psychedelic sex/death ruminations are on the cards here? You’re in the Jeansverse now boy – we expect decapitation, mutilation and mind-rape. ALL THE TIME. You best not bring any of that late 80′s shoegazey, English faggotry with you here Milligan! Otherwise you’ll be hauled into DiDio’s office for some Jordan 101 classes:

“LOVE IS THE PREDATOR!
LOVE IS THE PREDATOR!
SAY IT! SAY LOVE IS THE PREDATOR!!”

So.

I guess there has *maybe* been a bit of hand-wringing about the fact that Swamp Thing, Shade and John Farkin’ Constantine have been dragged into the Jeansverse (wasn’t that whole ‘Nicest Day’ thing basically a way of bringing Sprout Bollocks back into the DCU? Wow. Wish I’d read that.) But you won’t find any of that angst here in Mindless HQ. No sir – I couldn’t give a fuck. The fact is, that ever since Alan Moore left Swamp Thing, the character has been treated like some sort of sacred pot-plant – no writer can use him unless the story is a load of wooly, tepid hippy bullshit about Elemental Quests and Cajun domestic disputes. It was like Gentle Ben with less bear. What people seemed to forget was that

a) the Bearded One set Swamp Thing firmly in the DCU, and had a lot of fun playing with the toys there

and

b) he could write an entertaining story.

Bringing Swamp Thing back to the DCU is not a problem. Making good use of him – well that’s a different issue. (James Robinson, for example, made particularly elegant use of parts of Moore’s Swamp Thing mythos in Starman, back when he could write and wasn’t trapped in the Jeansverse).

Ergo, there’s no problem with Shade being used in a similar way, especially if chaperoned by Milligan. There’s absolutely no reason that Shade superhero comics couldn’t be a lot of fun – Meta, the Madness Vest, the fact that he’s a temperamental little shit, the utterly psychedelic nature of his powers all could = heap big fun. In fact the DCU is in theory the perfect looniverse for such a character to work. But this ain’t the DCU as you remember it Grandad. It’s the Jeansverse.

But suffice to say I came to Flashpoint: Secret Seven with relatively high expectations. Milligan’s run on Shade holds a very special place in my heart. At it’s best (the ‘Hotel Shade’ arc, culminating in the genuinely devastating ‘Season in Hell’) it was a brilliant soap opera – surreal, literate, frightening rude and raucous. The art by Chris Bachalo was career best, and the fill in art by the likes of Glynn Dillon and Philip Bond was sublime. Shorn of the fairyland bollocks of most of his Vertigo peers, Milligan wrote comics that felt personal without being trite. Shade was the work of a man who loved comics, but wasn’t a slave to them. It was ace stuff. So any opportunity for him to return to Shade is going to be worth nosing out. His recent brilliantly self-pitying, pathetic cameo in Hellblazer was a joy. Troy Grenzer was back in all his narcissistic insane glory, ready to receive a spiritual kick to the balls from John ‘job’s a good ‘un‘ Constantine. How, then, would he shape up in the confusing splatter of Geoff Jeans’ not very good at all Flashpoint world?

George ‘suck my disco, bitch’ Perez drawing it too. Interesting. Perez’ hyper-detailed realism is a long way from Ditko’s confident psych swirls and Bachalo’s queasy distortion, but the motherfucker can draw. Out of all the Flashpoint bullshit, this was the only comic that was ever going to get my money.

Shame then, that it just wasn’t all that good.

There are definitely two Milligans. The one who writes shit that’s funny, weird and engaging, utterly unique. And the one who writes shit. I don’t want to sound harsh – I could never, never write off the man who gave me Strange Days, Bad Company, Shade or X-Statix. And it’s not that superheroes are a problem for him – on the contrary, the elastic, silly spandex world offers endless opportunity for a writer as idiosyncratic as him. Nor is he incapable of turning in serious superhero work – his deeply under-appreciated run on Detective Comics and the Enigma are testament to this. But there’s the inescapable feeling that sometimes he’s treading water, that his heart’s not in it. And it genuinely surprised me that Secret Seven fell into the latter camp. Sadly though, I simply couldn’t locate Milligan’s voice in this comic. If someone had handed me it uncredited, I think I would have felt it could have been written by any of the Tonys or Judds that currently fill up the DC litter tray. Notionally it looks fun enough – Perez draws pretty, garish but ultimately contained looking craziness and does a decent enough job of storytelling (I mean seriously, what the fuck would this read like if Ed Benes or someone got their claws on it? Jesus Murphy!) but it’s hardly inspiring. And the sad fact is that he doesn’t draw the whole thing which bodes badly for the rest of the mini. I’m not going to rag on Perez for this – I think he has issues with his eyesight – but it does once again indicate the clusterfuck incompetence of the overall DC editorial.

The only genuinely Milliganesque aspect of the comic was Enchantress’ name – June Moone. And he didn’t even invent that.

It’s not as though it was terrible, rather that it was perfunctory. And as I unfortunately currently have no time for 98% of mainstream supercomics, perfunctory makes me want to throw the fucking thing down the shitter. It’s just a lot of wooden dialogue, shouting and whizz-bang. Like every other bloody thing. There’s none of the real weirdness that I expected. Maybe it’s those Didio correction sessions? Maybe Milligan has had his brain Jeansified to the point where Secret Seven will culminate in Shade punching his fist through Kathy’s resurrected face, screeching ‘SEXUAL AMBIGUITY IS PAIN!‘ I don’t know. I won’t be around to find out I’m afraid.

————————————————————————————

(reviewed by the Botswana Beast)

Well, that’s one view. However, the M-Vest allows Mindless Ones “to occupy more than one reality simultaneously.” This is my truth, tell me yours; alternatively, skip the second clause, likelihood is I’ll not give a fat one.

I’ve been through a lot this week – with DC, with the Jeansverse, oh the Jeansverse; a lot of pubescent rage, we all have. We all have. It’s been exhausting. Not a day ago, Amy Poodle, who – lest it be forgot – is the Zoo Crew of Earth-26′s Wonder woman, and presumably therefore as dedicated to pacifism as the Themysciran Amazon of clay wanted to “punch Didio in his face”. I kind of wanted the publisher to die and/or disappear up its own fundament. It may yet.

But then they said Batman Inc. was coming back, then they announced some magic or “dark” is it(?) titles that sound pretty alright – that sound like you’d maybe rather have a swatch of than gouge out your own eyes, anyway. Which is more than can be said for, etc. And now, we’re – you know, sorry, I don’t think the reviews here, either of them are really going to concentrate terribly much on this particular comic, on the technical aspects, so much as a… I don’t know, a battlefront, in which one periodical publisher may be about to do reasonably well in against their main competitor. Which is the occult. DC is winning the occult war, as of today. I’m as surprised as you are.

Plok was talking to me on twitter this week, you know, just sometime superhero readers, shooting the shit, and he was like “OK, you can publish 15 titles between the big two, they have to sell reasonably well, be plausible teams – so no Alan Moore – what are they?” and I got so far as 6-7 or so (Miller on Batman, Millar/Hitch on Superman, Morrison/Jimenez on Wonder Woman, Adam Warren on X-Men, Morrison/Marcos Martin on Spider-Man, Milligan and his best artistic partners – Allred, McCarthy, Fegredo, Ewins – on some tangential X-book where he does what he likes…) and then you’re kinda running out of space, so you go “Oh! Anthologies!” Immediately I wanted a magic one for both publishers, because those characters have been utterly ghettoised – or written by Bill “I ♥ Israeli Apartheid” Willingham, which is a damnsight worse – at DC and Marvel still can’t fucking do a good

Doctor Strange book, which is perhaps the sorest indictment of their evermore tedious “socially relevant, urban” editorial direction. Can’t do it. I’d prefer China Miéville or John ‘generic name, wrote some of the best 2000AD strips, Karen Berger does not like’ Smith to write them, but yeah, Milligan, a man who seems thoroughly capable of processing a metaphor. On this Justice League Dark; shit name, probably a stupid way to try and franchise the JL like Marvel have the Avengers, I’m not sure about the artist and the above-reviewing Beast has a billion times better title in Justice League Nowhere, but it’s something the continuity-obsessive, rulebound comics that have pretty much dominated superhero publishing from since I was born, in 1979, have been apparently terrified to foreground.

Milligan, though, it’s hard to place him – TBMD gives a rundown of his highlights above, which are pretty imperious, something you could stand against any one other writer of Western serial comics’ best – my own collection and taste is heavily accented toward him, behind the other two Ms, the mages Moore and Morrison, but he himself remains literally an enigma, and certainly one with an equally great amount of lowlights; moreso in the latter days of his career, too. I own the Toxin trade collection. I take ownership of my Venom/Carnage miniseries. Part of the pleasure of peripheral big publisher work, to me, is how it can work through, or around, or even transformatively with terrible banner events – Andrew Hickey details this with Morrison’s Animal Man doing so with Invasion, and the afore-cited Moore Swamp Thing with Crisis on Infinite Earths; this, and probably even simpler editorial dictat, has proven one stumbling block in Milligan’s career, his apparent inability to really do so. The other, and when you look at the British Invasion school and their progenitor, Moore (who, interestingly, is to my mind a massive and telling influence on all of except Milligan) is an inability to really develop a cult-of-personality, a persona; this is not because he’s necessarily almost invisibly craftless, like Ed Brubaker is, but likely because his central and continuing thema is the Shiftlessness of Identity, which is more exciting than it sounds in action, typically. It’s even in Toxin; it’s certainly here – a lead whose friends and loves are dead seeks to redefine himself again (Shade was always the perfect Milligan protagonist) with the aid of a woman who is two women. Whilst he is extant simultaneously in several realities. This is quite certainly a Milligan comic, despite its having a quote from Shakespeare instead of James Joyce. The only palpable difference is – and we could debate, is it witty enough, is it wry or playful enough? It kind of is, I think, without ever reaching the social satire zenith of his X-Force and even moreso, now knowing it’s leading up into something more than two disposable tie-in to an event I don’t give a stone damn about, I’m interested to see where it’s going – the only difference is, he seems to have demarcated a corner to do his own thing, to reconcile with whatever it is this month, God knows. If there’s anyone… apart from John Smith – if there’s anyone working in US serial comics meriting a breakout success or whatever the terminology they use is, a “game-changer”, it is Peter Milligan; this is a relatively humble beginning, but I hope it’s it.

img_8706

..IS OVER!

He was spotted in Nunhead Cemetery in South London at the weekend.

demon_kirby3

 

Jack Kirby’s much lauded return to DC comics is best remembered now for his monumental 4th World proto-epic. Its fate and subsequent rescue as a lost classic are now extremely well documented, and Grant Morrison’s recent Final Crisis was pretty much a love letter to Kirby’s grandiose and complex vision. But Kirby’s other later works often get lost in the mix, viewed by many as lacklustre work for hire; contract-fulfilment by a man crushed by the general apathy that greeted his masterwork. Simply not true. Whilst they may have not stemmed from the same visionary core that Darkseid and Co sprung from, it was virtually impossible for Kirby not to infuse even his most meagre creations with a manic, creative energy that still read like nothing else.

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October 4th, 2008

SPREAD THE WORD

Ambush Bug: Year None #1
Written by keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming
Art by Keith Giffen & Al Milgrom
Published by DC Comics

I can’t actually believe it’s been 15 years since we last had an actual Ambush Comic on the shelves. Barring a few minor cameos the last comic fully dedicated to Irwin Schwab was 1992′s Ambush Bug: Nothing Special. The best thing about this new mini, is that Giffen & co. have picked up exactly where things were left. Same supporting cast (Cheeks! Argh!yle! Jonni DC), same relentless punning and bad gags, same irreverence for the DCU at large (the best joke involves literal women-in-refidgerators, and gives DC editorial a rightly deserved kick to the balls).

Giffen’s art is relatively unchanged – slightly looser perhaps, which might in part be due to the fact that he’s spent the last decade doing breakdowns for other artists. But it’s a joy to see him on full art duties, and the Bug brings out the best in him. Also Robert Loren Fleming is back on dialogue. Where did he go? Do you think he left comics in pursuit of *shudder* artistic credibility? Well this should put the kibosh on that…

More after the jump