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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