Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Satan's Six!

Satan's Six: written by Tony Isabella, Batton Lash, and Kurt Busiek; illustrated by Jack Kirby, John Cleary, Armando Gil, Steve Ditko, and others (1993): From the dark days of the 1990's collector's boom in American comic books comes this oddity. Topps, the sports card people, published comic books for a time in the 1990's because everyone else was doing it. They also created collector's card series tied into the comic books they published. 

And round it went until the industry collapsed into a black hole.

Satan's Six comes from the Topps Kirbyverse line, which consisted of titles and characters created and owned by comics legend Jack Kirby. Kirby wasn't drawing or writing anything at the time, only a few years before his death, mainly because of problems with his eyesight. However, other creators extrapolated entire series from various sketches, uncompleted stories, and the occasional Kirby-owned character who'd actually been published (Silver Star, for one). The results were uneven but generally fun. The Kirbyverse wasn't the grim and gritty place that much of mainstream American comics had become in the early 1990's.

Kirby supplies eight pages and a cover in the course of this four-issue miniseries, with a Who's Who of comic-book artists inking his work, including Todd "Spawn" Macfarlane and Frank "Dark Knight" Miller. I always love seeing Kirby's art regardless of its provenance, so these nine total pages make me happy. Satan's Six are six souls confined to Limbo who've been tapped by Satan to round up souls on Earth who should be in Hell. However, none of this is played seriously -- Satan's Six: The super-team is tremendously incompetent.

The rest of the comic book, all of it written by veteran scribe Tony "Black Lightning" Isabella, is a bit more uneven. Isabella's writing is fine, surprisingly funny, and maybe a bit too Meta at points. Penciller John Cleary strives for jagged, grotesque, cartoony style that seems to be heavily influenced by Todd Macfarlane's distorted grotesques in Spawn, though Macfarlane always set those grotesques off against his more conventionally, quasi-realistically rendered characters. Cleary's pretty much all-cartoony here. One gets used to it after awhile, though his story-telling sense in terms of coherent panel-to-panel flow is still clearly a work in progress. Still and all, I've read a tonne of early 1990's comic books I didn't enjoy as much as this one. Recommended.

Nexus: Space Opera: written by Mike Baron; illustrated by Steve Rude, Gary Martin, Al Milgrom, and Bob Wiacek (2008-2009; collected 2009): For more than 30 years, Nexus has been the crown jewel of its creators' careers -- those being the estimable comic-book careers of writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude. 

The bulk of Nexus came out in the 1980's. This was a time when science fiction and space opera flourished in American comics, mainly thanks to the rise of a number of new comics publishers that included Capital, First, Eclipse, Comico, and Dark Horse. Nexus stood at the top of the great science fiction titles that graced the comics world thanks to this explosion in publishing, perhaps only equaled at the time by Howard Chaykin's terrific American Flagg! and John Ostrander and Tim Truman's Grimjack.

Since the second on-going Nexus series ended in the early 1990's, getting a Nexus fix has involved long waits and at least two different publishers (Dark Horse and a brief time as the only publication of artist Steve Rude's creator-owned RudeDude Comics). Space Opera came out from RudeDude Comics in 2008-2009 and was collected in 2009. 

Rude and Baron are in vintage form for much of the miniseries. Is it worth reading for someone new to Nexus? Maybe. I can't really judge that. But it's great to see most of the major characters of the Nexus universe back in action. Nexus himself, born Horatio Hellpop, still tries to act as the conscience of humanity by executing murderers and tyrants with the help of his telekinetic FuskionKasting powers. He's still married to Sundra Peale, former spy for EarthGov. The imminent arrival of their first child drives the plot of Space Opera.

That's because the homicidal, genocidal, and extremely rapey Elvonics, religious fanatics with an Elvis obsession, have a prophecy that the Son of Nexus will destroy their god Elvon. So they launch a series of escalating attacks on Nexus's home planet of Ylum, a libertarian-democratic haven for refugees from across the galaxy. But there are assassins hired by someone else as well. And Ylum also continues to seek full recognition from the United Worlds.

So things are complicated, wiggy, action-packed, and occasionally satiric. Perhaps one long-time character or two will die. Perhaps a long-dead character or two will return from the dead. Perhaps not. It's all great fun, marred only by an insufficient number of pages over the course of the concluding chapter. A massive space battle involving Nexus and the Elvonic Warfleet ends almost perfunctorily, which is a shame. But there are enough good things for the series to be Recommended.

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom Archives Volume 3: written by Paul S. Newman; illustrated by Frank Bolle; covers by George Wilson; Introduction by Mike Baron (1966-68/ Collected 2014): The strange 1960's adventures of Western Publishing's Doctor Solar, a one-man race of atomic supermen, continue here. Capable of a whole host of energy-based feats, Solar has to deal with arch-nemesis Nuro and his hilariously named henchman Uzbek (!!! -- is a crossover with SCTV's Hey Giorgi imminent?) on several occasions. 

Solar also splits into millions of microscopic selves to battle bacterial space invaders, takes on an evil robot doppelganger, threatens the world with his own terrible nightmares that become real because his radiation is 'out of balance,' and fights a giant lava monster from the Earth's core. 

The interior art by Frank Bolle isn't flashy, but his characters are indeed full of character and his matter-of-fact, low-key, realistic cartooning makes many of the weird events seem even weirder. Writer Paul S. Newman, who literally wrote thousands of comic-book stories, keeps things moving along and often shows a flair for super-scientific strangeness that's the equal of anything DC Comics writers invented during their Silver Age of the 1950's and 1960's. And boy, cover artist George Wilson is swell -- his paintings are an artistic delight from issue to issue. Recommended.

Batman Incorporated Volume 2: written by Grant Morrison and others; illustrated by Chris Burnham and others (2013/Collected 2014): Writer Grant Morrison concludes a Batman epic that spanned seven years, several Bat-titles, dozens of artist (including the excellent Chris Burnham on most of the art herein)  and at least one company-wide DC Comics reboot. 

Batman's Batman Incorporated (a Bruce Wayne company!) brings together masked crime-fighters from around the globe to defeat the equally globe-spanning Leviathan organization. The climax is crowded and occasionally hyperviolent and features at least one endless combat sequence too many. Maybe two. 

The tangential stories included after the main narrative are quite a bit jollier, as writers mostly other than Morrison tell stand-alone tales of such Batman Incorporated agents as El Gaucho, Red Raven, The Knight, and the Japanese Bat-man. And Bat-cow! 

There's absolutely no point to reading this compilation unless you've at least read the earlier Batman Incorporated volumes. Even then, a number of plot developments cast all the way back to the beginning of Morrison's tenure on Batman in 2006. The whole run is one seven-year, 100-issue story. The whole is superior to this part, though not to some of the arcs contained within it. Recommended, but not on its own.

Grimjack: The Manx Cat: written by John Ostrander; illustrated by Tim Truman (2011): This prequel to the 1980's science-fiction comic book Grimjack explains the significance of several elements in that series. John Ostrander's writes as pungent a science-fantasy swashbucker as ever, and original artist Tim Truman is in fine, grim, and occasionally grotesque form. This would certainly work as a gateway to the original series. 

This time around, there's more than a hint of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion to protagonist John 'Grimjack' Gaunt as he tries to stop an invasion of alien gods that he himself has inadvertently set in motion by stealing the 'Manx Cat' of the title. Like the Maltese Falcon, the statue of the Manx Cat is something that dreams are made on. Only literally and to increasingly dire consequence. 

Very solid science fiction/ science fantasy. Truman's art only disappoints on the way, way too digitally composed cover of the compilation -- thankfully, it's all pen and ink inside, or at least looks that way. Recommended.

Global Frequency Volume 2: Detonation Radio: written by Warren Ellis; illustrated by Lee Bermejo, Gene Ha, Simon Bisley, Chris Sprouse, Tomm Coker, and Jason Pearson; covers by Brian Wood. (2003-2004/ Collected 2004): The second half of Global Frequency by Warren Ellis and a relay team of 13 artists isn't quite as weird and wonderful as the first, but it's still both an enjoyable read and a great concept. 1001 operatives across the planet work for Global Frequency, a massive, private organization that rescues the Earth from problems the normal authorities can't handle. The threats are a bit more prosaic this time around and the artists a bit more uneven. Still, this is a nifty Mission: Impossible for a crowd-sourced age. Recommended.

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