Saturday, November 28, 2015

Old Heroes in New Gardens

Transmetropolitan Volume 3: Year of the Bastard: written by Warren Ellis; illustrated by Darick Robertson and Rodney Ramos (1998-99; collected 1999): The third collection of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's searing science-fiction satire/jeremiad follows TechnoGonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem as he finally begins to cover a presidential campaign in a dystopic mid-21st-century America. Robertson's art is clean as it details very dirty goings-on, while Ellis' writing is furious and sarcastic, hopeful and cynical, as embodied in the often grotesque and occasionally substance-abuse-addled Jerusalem, who's like a cyberpunk version of Hunter S. Thompson.  

There's a certain amount of pulp/superhero in Transmetropolitan's DNA that can occasionally make it seem less like satire than wish fulfillment -- Spider is as hyper-competent and well-connected as Batman or Doc Savage when he needs to be. Great, scabrous fun that occasionally mirrors America's present-day political situation. Highly recommended.


Transmetropolitan Volume 4: The New Scum: written by Warren Ellis; illustrated by Darick Robertson and Rodney Ramos (1999; collected 2000): Gonzo journalist/hero of the future Spider Jerusalem continues to prowl the East Coast urban sprawl known only as The City, trying to decide which presidential candidate is worse. It really seems like a draw. Or does it? 

As Election Night some time in the mid-21st century approaches, Jerusalem digs for conspiracies and tries to change the way things are by writing.  It's probably a doomed effort. Bleak and often hilarious, scatological and profane -- The New Scum takes us places that sometimes seem like the places we've been, or are just in the process of going now. Ellis and artist Darick Robertson continue to make a hell of a team. Highly recommended.


Tarzan: Love, Lies, and the Lost City: written by Henning Kure, Matt Wagner, and Walt Simonson; illustrated by Peter Snejberg and Teddy Kristiansen (1992): Enjoyable revisionist, modern-day take on Tarzan is compromised by some really unfortunate choices in the lettering and colouring departments. The entire story comes to us via several different bits of first-person narration. That first-person narration is rendered as writing, not type, which becomes a bit of a problem once the decision was made to give Tarzan an almost illegible scrawl. 

Then some genius decided to colour the caption blocks differently to differentiate the speaker. But no one seems to have checked to see whether the dark green of one of the speakers was so dark that it made the black writing unreadable. On the production end, it's a mess. 

On the creative end, the main story is awfully low-key for what was Malibu's second Tarzan miniseries. The two back-up stories, written by Matt Wagner and Walt Simonson, adapt a couple of Edgar Rice Burroughs tales of the early life of Tarzan to very good effect. I really like the artwork of Peter Snejberg and Teddy Kristiansen throughout the stories. 

But Jesus, the colouring almost sabotages that as well, going too often several shades too dark. Infuriatingly incompetent on the production end though it may be, you can probably pick it up for a dollar or so complete at your local comic shop. So I don't feel financially ripped off or anything. And Snejberg does do a lovely job of drawing La of Opar and Tarzan's hyper-competent Jane. Lightly recommended.


Fighting American: Rules of the Game: written by Jeph Loeb; illustrated by Ed McGuinness, Nathan Massengill, Rob Liefeld, Larry Stucker, and Mario Alquiza (1997-98): Fun, breezy take on Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's loopy 1950's patriotic superhero. The original Fighting American started off fighting Communists in what was supposed to be a serious comic that nonetheless comes off as insane camp paranoia now. About an issue-and-a-half in, Simon and Kirby started shifting the tone to complete, intentional lunacy. Thus, Fighting American fought increasingly loopy Commies with names like Hotsky Trotsky and Double Header. It's brilliant, almost absurdist superheroics. 

Rob Liefeld, Jeph Loeb, and Ed McGuinness play Fighting American mostly straight here -- he's another retired patriotic superhero called back to the fold. McGuinness' art is just cartoony enough to keep the return of some of FA's absurd foes light-hearted. However, the take on these things needed to be a lot lighter and a lot more absurd. This could almost be a 1990's Captain America miniseries. Lightly recommended.

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