Suspended Animation

Michael Vance   Mark Allen   Michael Vance Books
The longest-running comics review column in America perhaps the World!

 
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Great American Comic Books  

     Ron Goulart is the author of an incredibly informative and fun (that's right, FUN) history book published in 2001 called Great American Comic Books.

     What, you never considered the world of comics having a history? You'd be shocked, my friend, at what an interesting, and colorful (pun intended) history it is. You see, Goulart doesn't just cover the progression of the genre, from collections of comic strip reprints, to the first comics containing original stories containing pulp heroes, the emergence of super heroes, the age of crime comics, horror comics, etc., etc. He also includes details of many creators, themselves. People like Major Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson, a retired cavalry officer who founded the company today known as D.C. Comics.

     Stories such as his prove the point that reality is sometimes as interesting as fiction.

     Goulart also sheds light on important events in the history of comics, such as the flames of the "anti-comic hysteria" of the '50's, which were fanned by injurious articles in magazines such as Collier's, Saturday Review, Newsweek and Time, as well as blunt criticism from psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, in his book Seduction of The Innocent. Not to mention the Senate hearings to which it all eventually led.

     Perhaps even more entertaining, however, are the hundreds of color illustrations of strips, panels and covers Goulart includes in his book. A fan can easily get caught up in them, alone. This is far more, however, than reference material. It is to be read and enjoyed, that one may, hopefully, better appreciate the progression of comics themselves.

     Great American Comic Books is recommended for anyone interested, not just in the history of the genre, but the genre in general. I can sum it up no better than a blurb from the description on the dust jacket: "It's as much fun as comic books themselves!" Now out of print, shop bookstores and online retailers and auctions for the best deals.

     Great American Comic Books, published by Publications International, Ltd., 344 pages, prices vary.

     Review by Mark Allen

   
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Graphic Classics: Arthur Conan Doyle  
     It's elementary, my dear Watson, that Sherlock Holmes was the greatest accomplishment of author Arthur Conan Doyle. But this world-renown sleuth was not Doyle's only successful creation.

     Graphic Classics: Arthur Conan Doyle (GCACD) is an anthology of his short stories adapted into comics, and, as is true with all anthologies, with varied results. At the least, it again brings attention to an ongoing debate among comics fans. What is more important in this art form, art or story?

     GCACD is loaded with dialogue and caption. The adaptations are written for "adults, yet [are] accessible to children ages twelve and up". That means that instead of it taking the ten minutes needed to read most comics, you will enjoy a long and satisfying experience with this collection.

     As is true with all anthologies, the quality of art varies as well. Almost all of the styles represented here lean to abstraction and minimalism, but that isn't a bad thing in and of itself. Indeed, most readers will find an entertaining mix of art that will tweak their interest.

     Artists Rick Geary, John W. Pierard and Nick Miller are standouts among a crowd of accomplished peers in this collection.

     Particularly fun is a story of romance war as told by Brigadier Gerard, one of Doyle's memorable characters. Gerard is an old windbag whose exaggerated stories are accepted and enjoyed by listeners who wink as he speaks. One suspects that, despite his words, Gerard never fired a shot.

     (Before it's forgotten, the answer to the earlier question is neither. Great comics are a seamless marriage of art and story in which neither is conspicuous to a reader.)

     This anthology is recommended for people who like to read and look.

     Graphic Classics: Arthur Conan Doyle/$11.95 & 144 pgs. from Eureka Productions/Arthur Conan Doyle; various artists/available at comics shops & www.graphicclassics.com.

     Review by Michael Vance

 
   
Mr. T #1  

     His strained expression and balled fists are mirrored by his companions on the cover of his first issue.

     The "his" referred to is Mr. T., a character from the old television show The A Team and from one of the Rocky movies. The character has so swallow-ed the actor that most folks don't know the actor's real name. Strained expressions and clenched fists are so common in comic books that they have become clichés. But have no fear; Mr. T. is not the star of Cliche Comics. Mr. T. is the star of Mr. T. from AC Comics.

     The distinction is partially, but only partially, academic.

     The first issue of this reality-based title is standard fair for the adventure genre, and there is nothing wrong with that label. Many of the best comics titles published today are 95% standard fare. It is the 5% representing the personal worldview (i.e., style) of its creators that makes any work of art rise above the herd.

     Mr. T. is 5% short of exceptional in both its words and art.

     For an adventure hero, the first issue of Mr. T. is too sedate. There are too many 'talking heads' (panels in which people just talk) and not enough action. Granted, the dialog is believable, there is a story, pacing and characterizations are solid, and this issue is worth reading. But…

     For a reality-based style of art, the artist needs to pay more attention to anatomy, and he bears at least equal responsibility to visually punch up scenes of folk talking by giving his readers, for example,  birds-eye or worm's eye views of otherwise static scenes. To the artists credit, his style is interesting, his visual pacing and storytelling is as solid as the writing, and Mr. T. looks like Mr. T.! 

     So, despite the criticisms, Mr. T. is 95% recommended.

     Mr.T. #1/22pgs. & $3.50/writeen by Chris Bunting, pencils by Neil Edwards/available at comics shops & www.apcomics.com.

     Review by Michael Vance

 
   
All Star Batman and Robin  

     One of the most highly-anticipated Batman projects to come along in years is here. Hip, hip....hooray..?

     In case you can't tell, the first two issues of All-Star Batman and Robin have left me cold. Despite being helmed by two of the most talented and popular professionals in comics, there is, quite frankly, nothing inspired, nothing new in the first two issues.

     Upon hearing that, some may decry, "You have to give it more than two issues!"  To which I say, at three bucks a pop, I want to be dazzled. Or, at least interested. This book fails in both counts.

     Writer Frank Miller created arguably one of the best Batman stories of all time with his Dark Knight miniseries in the '80's. His current Batman, however, simply isn't up to snuff. In his initial contact with Dick Grayson, the boy who will be Robin, the caped crusader proceeds to curse at him and smack him around.

     Am I the only one who thinks Batman can be scary without abusing a minor?

     The gruff, grizzled Batman of the Dark Knight series, one would assume, was the product of years of crime-fighting. Yet, Miller's young Knight would seem to be the same character; where's the progression? I'm not sure what Miller's going for here, but it doesn't look good.

     The lagging story is wrapped in beautiful art work by Jim Lee; work which may be the best of his career. Dynamic, realistic, dramatic....a flash-bang action flick come to the comic book page. Then again, do you know how many action movies I've bailed on due to lack of story?

     The problem of lack of imagination in the storyline succeeds in poking it's ugly head up, even in the midst of a bunch of pretty pictures.

     All Star is not recommended, despite the artwork. If you are so inclined, however, find it at your local comics shop and online retailers or auctions.

     All Star Batman and Robin, published by D.C. Comics, 40 pages, $2.99.

     Review by Mark Allen

 
   

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