Overlooked amongst a sea of recent and successful miniseries through Image Comics, "Reed Gunther" is now available in a trade paperback collecting the first five issues for $14.99. I'm in love with this book, and it has some pretty high profile fans, too, if the pin-ups from Stan Sakai and Guy Davis tell us anything. The brothers Houghton, Shane and Chris, tell a fun, silly, adventurous, madcap, insane, historically-most-likely-inaccurate and colorful story that I fear not enough people know about, or too many dismiss as "kiddy fare" when they first see it. The book is all-ages friendly, to be sure, but it's just as entertaining for the adults as the kids. The strength lies in the characters and their comedic timing.
Reed Gunther is a bear-riding cowboy, slightly inept and slightly cocksure. He's not just riding a bear; the bear (Sterling) is also his best friend with a backstory all his own that we're teased with. A chance meeting with a cowgirl, Starla, leads Reed to a cross-country race to save the world from a dangerous idol leaving a trail of destructive monsters in its wake. Normally, I'm put off by the number of westerns that need to have supernatural elements. (The original "Desperadoes" miniseries by Jeff Mariotte and John Cassaday filled that need in my life, thanks.) Here, though, I found it charming and fitting. The Houghton Brothers present the supernatural elements in a way that fits the time period, by making the bad guy a freak show owner, looking to lock up all the monsters to use in his show. And they don't play it up so seriously that it becomes a horror book. Instead, it's a funny adventure book that happens to feature some bizarre monsters who chase them around a lot.
When the action moves into New York City, as it does for the last two issues, Reed is the prototypical fish out of water and it's hilarious. Also by that time, you can tell artist Chris Houghton feels more comfortable with his character designs. While the storytelling was always there, it's in the second half of the book where the characters start looking comfortable in their own skin. The proportions are more consistent and more "normal," with gestures that sell the story without looking stiff. It's a slick book, by the end.
I like the designs, which dance a fine line between gestural and "designy," if you know what I mean. Too many animated series rely on crazy graphic designs on their characters to have a memorable look, because they don't have the budget to actually animate anything. When those artists come to comics and emphasize the design over the action, I have to wonder if they're being held back in their creativity by the budgets of their day jobs. Houghton has none of that here, drawing characters caroming from one end of the city to the next, climbing tall scaffolding, and swinging across Vaudeville theaters. They're very emotive in their dialogue, which is short and to the point. This story moves, and the characters run along with it.
The coloring matches the art. It's bright and lively, not hiding any of the art, and never clashing with the story that's going on.
"Reed Gunther" is one of those books that comics needs more of. Yes, it has a high concept, but more importantly it also has enjoyable characters. They might not run terribly deep, but they're easy to latch onto, and a joy to watch in action. And now you can catch up with the whole thing under one cover. Consider this a high recommendation for something to cleanse your palate before the next superhero crossover event, or Hollywood movie pitch turned comic complete with heavily photoreferenced casting suggestions.
If you need more persuasion, check out >ReedGunther.com.
DEAR COMICS READERS: IT'S YOUR FAULT
Assumptions can so easily lead you astray.
When Marvel announced "Avenging Spider-Man, a new ongoing series coming this November from Zeb Wells & Joe Madureira," you assumed Madureira would be drawing most, if not all, of the issues.
When Joe Madureira talked about the first three issue story arc and ideas he has for stories beyond that, you assumed he meant to use those ideas immediately following the first three issues.
When you read that Madureira had been "begging to do a solo book as opposed to a team book" and that Spider-Man "has been Joe Mad's favorite character since he was a kid," you thought that enthusiasm equaled productivity.
When Madureira said, "If I finally get my crack at Spider-Man and then blow it, ugh, I will happily walk in front of a bus to sell more copies after I finish," you assumed "blow it" meant "not making his schedule" instead of "selling not enough copies."
When Steve Wacker said, "Joe gets to draw whoever he wants to draw," you immediately flashed back to Todd McFarlane's "Spider-Man" series, which McFarlane drew 14 out of 15 issues for, albeit with some guest inkers when he broke his hand playing baseball. (Amazing, it's taken Marvel twenty years to collect anything from "Spider-Man" past the first arc, "Torment.")
When story arcs were discussed as being variable, with the first being three issues and others varying between two and five, you didn't see the obvious: Multiple arcs were being written at the same time to accommodate the multiple artists it would take to keep this book on schedule.
When the big announcement was made that the book would emphatically be a monthly series, nobody asked how that could happen, given Madureira's history. Comics Journalism failed us all.
So it's not Marvel's fault. It's yours. You weren't nearly cynical enough. You didn't read between enough lines. When the first issue launched and Steve Wacker's text page mentions "occasional" fill-in artists, why were any of us surprised?
The only question left to be answered now is "What does occasional mean?"
Also, do you want to buy a hardcover "Avenging Spider-Man" collection with anyone's art in it other than Madureira's? Maybe the series' regular artist can have his self-contained story arcs collected separately from his "occasional" fill-in artists, of which we know there will be two in the first five issues already.
Shame on us all. We'll all read into these announcements much more carefully in the future.
WHY I'M A TRADE WAITER
For the most part, my transition into "waiting for the trade" came out of the necessities of life. I couldn't make it to the comic shop every week anymore, particularly with a child in the house. But I discovered that the more I stayed away, the easier it became. I still read single issues of things that publishers are kind enough to send over, or when there's sufficient curiosity about it to warrant a digital purchase. But, for the most part, my purchasing options are two-fold: Buy it on-line in a collected edition, or buy it digitally.
I prefer to skip the digital stuff as much as possible, until I can own the comic I pay for, and until the price comes down to within reason. But from a less consumerist point of view, I don't like monthly comics anymore because there's no consistency. Creative teams don't stay together on books for very long anymore. Why do I want to get into a habit of reading a comic every month when it's practically a new book every three to six months with the changing of the creative team? One book I still read, without fail, every month is "The Walking Dead." It's had the same team on it for 85 issues or so. Ditto "Savage Dragon" which is a habit I've had since, when, 1993? Yikes. I fell off from "Ultimate Spider-Man" when it was renumbering itself, hiking the price, and switching artists every few months. Things seem to have settled down there now, but I have some catching up to do.
This is why collected editions are the way to go. They're neatly contained stories told with one cohesive vision. It's a writer and an artist together for the length of the book, generally speaking. It's not a random assortment of "Who's Available To Draw This Month?" It's a consistent vision complete in one book. The artist might be replaced in the very next issue, but that will result in a new collected edition that will stand on its own.
I know that most people say trades are the way to go because of drawn out storylines that take six issues to finish. That's not my problem. I'll let the story breathe in whatever way it wants to, but I want to see the same creators handling it. When I sit down for that longer read, I want to see some form of consistency in there. There's nothing worse than a fill-in issue in the middle of a six issue trade paperback.
As far as I'm concerned, all series might as well be canceled and replaced with miniseries. It would be more honest, and it would result in lots more #1 issues that publishers like to announce.
DIGITAL QUESTIONS DU JOUR
Would it blow your mind to buy "Cerebus" from a digital storefront?
Would people complain about paying 99 cents an issue there, instead of $2.99 for a phone book?
Does Dave Sim look like a visionary to DC since "Cerebus" was only 20 pages an issue?
Would Dave Sim just use Google's Sketch-Up in lieu of Gerhard, if he started today?
If Dave Sim was just starting today, what would Paul Grist's lettering look like?
If Dave Sim was starting fifteen years ago, would he have been lettering in Whizbang font?
I promised a review of "Cow Boy" this week, and I'm afraid we'll have to push that out to next week. I'm sorry about that, but we'll get there. It's worth the wait.
Meanwhile, I spent a ridiculous amount of money on Thwipster's 90s Comics Weekend. Don't be surprised if I'm talking about Rob Liefeld's "X-Force" or "New Mutants" by the end of the year, too. I'm unusually excited to see those comics again.