STOP! OR MY SANTA WILL SHOOT!
It's conventional wisdom in the comics community that Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and Alan Moore/David Gibbbons' WATCHMEN started a grim and gritty trend in comics. I'm not going to argue with that, but I did find a comic book almost a year younger than those two evergreen titles that tilted in the same direction.
Take a look at the March 1986 cover-dated PETER PARKER SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #112. It came out nearly a year earlier than those two influential works, but it still bears the marks of a post-WATCHMEN world. Santa is brandishing a firearm that I can't identify, but appears to have one barrel loaded atop the other. A cigarette dangles from his lips. And the sunglasses keep you from knowing when he's aiming at you. All you need is a leather jacket and an eyepatch, and you'd have a prototypical character about five years ahead of his time.
The cover is from Kyle Baker, but the interiors belong to writer Peter David, fresh off killing Jean DeWolff, and artist Mark Beachum. In several ways, this book is a product of its time. It's complete in one issue. Panels are crammed onto the page with as many dialogue balloons, thought balloons, and caption boxes as would possibly fit. The lettering is wonderfully uneven, from the ink pen of Rick Parker. George Roussos and Nel Yomtov handle the colors, which means a 1985 Crayola box of something close to 32 or 48 colors, all of them flat on the page. Gradients were still a thing of the future. Background characters still blended in with a monochromatic blue-ish hue.
From this comic, I learned about fashion in 1985. All women were lengthy supermodel types, usually wearing high heels and tall pants which fit their bums without an inch to spare. They show up so often in comics drawn by Beachum that I can only refer to them as "Beachum Butts," and you'll see a small sampling with this column.
Those women will often dress down at home, which requires the standard Jane Fonda gear of leotards and whatnot. The Black Cat, specifically, favors a low cut nightgown with heels. It's the kind of style nobody would dare draw today, unless -- oh, yeah, Vikki Vale in ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN #1. Nevermind.
Even the burglar running through a crowd on the second page of the issue makes note that all the women on the street (or should that really be "streetwalkers?") look like model. That's the glory of the Marvel method; I imagine that robber spoke for Peter David, once he got hold of the pages and realized what he had to script over.
In any case, the point of the story is that poor Peter Parker has nowhere to go for Christmas. He's so down on his luck that he doesn't even give anyone the chance to invite him over, although they all would, from Mark Jane Watson to Robbie Robertson to his own Aunt May.
Did I mention yet that the book was ahead of its time? Sure, I did. Why, it even sounds like a Warren Ellis comic at one point, where J. Jonah Jameson's assistant chides Robbie with, "That pipe will kill you, by the way." Completely off-topic it was, but Robbie fires back with, "Maybe. But it makes living more bearable." This is just two panels after the character lights up, on panel, inside the office. Tell me that didn't inspire TRANSMETROPOLITAN.
(Yes, I'm joking. Please save the e-mails.)
Twenty years later, Marvel doesn't like its characters to smoke, and lighting up inside an office is verboten.
And what does Santa have to do with all of this? Very little. There's an almost inconsequential scene near the end where Santa attempts to break into the apartment next door to Peter Parker. It's four pages. Cute, but quick and pointless. It's just there to have Spider-Man in costume throwing punches for a second time in the comic.
The whole shebang closes on that old holiday nugget, "Was that the real Santa Claus we just saw?"
Other random thoughts:
- Whatever happened to the trio of Bambi, Randi, and Candi? One time running gag hot airhead neighbors next door, have we seen much of them lately? If they were mutants, they would have had a mini-series by now, I'm sure of it. Paul Jenkins used one in his SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN run, didn't he? In that case, where are the other two?
- Madonna appears lost in an airport in Pittsburgh (where a sign points towards now-defunct TWA) looking for then-husband Sean Penn. At least the fishnets she was wearing in that panel have come moderately back in style. And, oh look! Over there to the left is another woman in tight jeans and high heels, this time with thigh high boots.
- Marvel may be high on the hog in Hollywood now, but it was Broadway that caught their eye in the mid-1980s. They went so far as to cast the Broadway play partially through the pages of Marvel Comics. Imagine Captain American soft-shoeing his way through a number devoted to Bucky Barnes' early demise, in a theater filled with children. Delightful!
- The comic closes with two pages of letters column, awarding no less than three No-Prizes, with a close call for a fourth. Nowadays, you're lucky to get a single page of letters, and No-Prizes are considered a relic.
Look, it's not a bad comic. Don't get me wrong. It's a perfectly suitable and in-character Spider-Man story. I just find delight in picking up these random comics from decades past and seeing how much times have changed, is all.
I'll be back next week with a different Christmas comic from the 1990s. Maybe we'll see someone with a leather jacket and eyepatch in there, at least!
PIPELINE PREVIEWS -- PART DEUX
Aardvark/Vanaheim presents a special "TV Issue" of FOLLOWING CEREBUS #7, with an article by TV iron man J. Michael Straczynski called "Marathon Man." That one is a 40 page black and white comic-sized magazine for $4.
Cinebook is the most interesting new publisher for me this month. They are solicitipipeng two new books in the States, both of which are translated EuroComics works. They'll be printed at 8 x 11 inch size in full color for $10. Each is 48 pages long.
The first is CLIFTON VOLUME 1: MY DEAR WILKINSON. It's a lighthearted look at a private detective, late of the Secret Service. In the premiere album, Colonel Clifton investigates his own haunted house. Two volumes have come out in Britain so far, so we know there's a possibility of a second release in America if the first sells well. You can see a preview of the book at Cinebook's website. It's not the cutest or slickest looking stuff in the world, but there's promise there.
The second book is YAKARI VOLUME 1: YAKARI & GREAT EAGLE. This is the story of a Sioux child. Isn't it funny how more westerns and stories of America's history are told in Europe than here in the States? This one is aimed at a slightly younger readership, and the preview pages show a less densely packed page for it. The art, though, appeals to me slightly more than CLIFTON's.
It may not be exactly what I'm looking for yet in the way of translated EuroComics, but I'll take every little baby step I can get on the way there.
Devil's Due is offering up something different starting in February. HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH COMICS (Not Just Create Them) is a four issue mini-series written by Josh Blaylock. It looks like it's a series of articles describing the start-up process, along with spot illustrations. Each part is 32 pages for $5.
Fantagraphics must be the busiest publishing house in comics. They've solicited for two new issues of THE COMICS JOURNAL in the same PREVIEWS. That can't possibly be right. Issue #273 pairs interviewer Dirk Deppey with FROM HELL's Eddie Campbell for a "freewheeling" interview about the comics biz, Hollywood, and more.
Issue #274 features Michael Dean interviewing Mike Ploog, discussing comics and Hollywood, amongst other things. Hmm, I sense a theme. I suspect, though, that this one won't be showing up until at least March. Or maybe the previous one missed the last PREVIEWS or something.
I'll update you next week with whatever I uncover.
HK Comics is bringing us more translated EuroComics with THE THIRD TESTAMENT Volume 1: MARK THE LION AWAKENS. It's a 48 page hardcover book for just $8. Plus, it's slightly larger than the Cinebook titles, at 9 x 11 inches. It's very tough to find any information on the publisher, aside from an ICv2 article pointing out that they're a split-out group from ComicsOne.
Kyle Baker is churning out more books. This month, we have the first trade paperback collecting his NAT TURNER series. This one will reprint the first two issues with plenty of school-friendly information inside it.
THE BAKERS is his new hardcover collecting the gags about his family from the CARTOONIST books, along with 30 new pages of stuff. It's all in full color this time, too. 96 pages (6" x 9"format) total go for $19.
NBM's newest original graphic novel is Neil Kleid's BROWNSVILLE. It's a story of the Jewish mafia of the 1930s in Brooklyn. It's an impressively weighted book, at 200 pages for only $19, hardcover.
Rebellion is offering up a complete edition of Alan Moore and Alan Davis' D.R. & QUINCH works, on the off chance you missed DC's brief dalliance with producing British titles a couple of years back. It's $17 for 112 black and white pages.
TokyoPop serves up the second edition of I LUV HALLOWEEN from Keith Giffen and Benjamin Roman. It's a TokyoPop book, so I won't insult your intelligence with the price and format.
TwoMorrows officially announces the sixth volume of their fantastic MODERN MASTERS series will feature Art Adams. They also have a seventh volume featuring John Byrne due out in the spring. Art Adams' book will run you $15 for 128 pages in February.
Finally, in the book section at the back of the catalog, you can find CREATING CHARACTERS WITH PERSONALITY. It's a new instructive trade paperback written and drawn by Tom Bancroft, whose credits range from Disney to Big Idea, but who's best known around these part for his fun comic, OPPOSITE FORCES.
Next week: Another Christmas comic book, more reviews, another podcast, and this boilerplate at the bottom. Who could ask for anything more?
Check the Pipeline message board for updates on the Pipeline Comic Book Podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes now, too! This week's podcast will show up over here this week. Last week's is forever posted over here.
Don't forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you're at it.
Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, DVD talk, and more.
More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.