I’ve only recently returned from a trip to New York, which meant that I’ve been spending time with my parents, visiting friends, stomping around the old stomping grounds (always stomping this way and that, waking up the neighbors with all that noisy stomping) and of course…
Going through my old comic collection that my parents have generously not tossed into the trash.
It’s not too big as real life comic collections go (peaking probably at about 8-9 long-boxes, probably in the range of 2500 or so books), though I know that sounds insanely large to any non-comic reader.
My main reasons for going through it were to find the issues that I wanted to take to Australia (my collection has been very slowly migrating to my permanent home in Australia for a long time now), and more importantly, to cull out books that I wanted to put in the “to be sold” pile.
Frankly, I’d like to get rid of most of my comics. They just take up too much space and create too much of a weight on my mind. And my parents’ house won’t be available to me forever to store them. But selling comics, as anyone who has ever tried knows, is a tiresome chore. Mine aren’t worth very much, but it’d be nice if I could something for them, even that money just goes into other, less spacious comics (as it normally does). I have found a website that makes it fairly easy to sell your comics – at least the comics that they want at that given moment – for a small amount of money or for slightly less small amount of store credit. So when I’m home I go through my books and sort out the ones that I will reserve to sell on that site, at least when they want them.
But the reality is that I’m still attached to my books and find it hard to really contemplate selling many of them. For example, I’m still holding onto most of my Superman collection, most of my Legion of Super-Heroes issues, and my Wally West as the Flash comics. I also found myself unable to part with the some Green Lantern from the ’90’s, John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, and L.E.G.I.O.N. by Alan Grant, Barry Kitson, and co.
But there are those books that are going: some Batman book, most of my Justice League’s, a lot of books that I also own in some trade paperback, etc. But there are also a bunch of them I wanted to look at one more time before I got rid of them. And so rereading some of these ended taking up part of my vacation time (usually the late at night, before I turn off the lights part).
First up was the one-shot Superman: The Earth Stealers by John Byrne and Curt Swan.
This came out not long after the Man of Steel reboot of the 1980’s, and at the time the big draw card of the book was a chance to see Curt Swan penciling Superman again. The guy had pretty much defined Superman for decades, but was no longer someone who could be seen regularly on the book after John Byrne took over the creative direction of the title. So here was a chance to see a John Byrne story illustrated by the classic artist. The results, sadly, are a little underwhelming.
I have always appreciated and respected Curt Swan, but I was never a particular fan of his, especially his later work. And Byrne’s story is a bit pedestrian, and the plot about Superman having to fight an alien champion for the sake of the earth can’t help but be a bit reminiscent of the superior and earlier Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Nothing of particular import happens in the Superman-world in this book (aside from what I think might be post-Crisis Supes’ & Lois’ first kiss – but even that is fluffed off with a line about “We’ll have to talk about this later,” so it all ends up feeling a bit irrelevant.
After The Earth Stealers, the next book to get the re-read treatment was Sun Devils – a 12 issues maxi series (back when these sort of distinctions mattered) about a ragtag group of misfits who are brought together to fight an evil alien war mongering force in the nebulous future.
The series was conceived by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, and written primarily by Conway, and makes every effort to be classic space opera, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” in the classic space opera trope handbook. The cast includes a ruggedly handsome but troubled leading man, a alien cat girl love interest, a really tall woman who smokes cigars, three identical clones who are searching for individuality, a lizard man, and a super-powered ghost-like woman with a mysterious backstory. It’s entertaining for what it is, but one doesn’t feel like there’s anything new added to the genre – rather it feels like the book is trying to cash in on the success that Guardians of the Galaxy will some day be enjoying. Penciller (and later comic superstar) Dan Jurgens takes over the writing for the final arc of three issues and takes the characters into some slightly different directions, but provides far too easy a resolution for a betrayal/redemption subplot.
Still, it’s a nicely presented series that looks good, and who know, if DC had been able to get its cinematic universe together before Marvel did, maybe we’d all be talking about how good the Sun Devils movie was.
After Sun Devils, came Timber Wolf, a 5 issue spin-off of the Legion of Super-Heroes from it’s “Five Years Later” period, written by regular Legion-inker of the time, Al Gordon.
The status quo of the Legion of the day has since been eliminated via multiple reboots, so I can’t really remember what it was anymore. The story takes place in modern times (like all Legion spin-offs), and involves Timber Wolf running around, fighting some bad guys, being connected to a young girl who represents innocence and purity, and trying to control his animalistic nature. (A more cynical view could read that as, “Trying to be as much like Wolverine as legalities will allow.”) I have to admit I only re-skimmed this on, and though it might have been diverting enough at the time it came out, nowadays I it has little to recommend to anyone who isn’t an absolute Legion-completist (which I’m trying to break myself away from being).
Then came Final Night, the big summer crossover of some year in the mid 90’s or another, written by Karl Kesel and drawn by Stuart Immomen, both of whom I have met at conventions, but neither of which did I get my Final Night’s signed by. Final Night was pretty decent, having just four issues to tell the core story (because, you know, it’s a cross over) of what happens when the earth’s sun is dying. The story is essentially the post-crisis version of the classic Legion story about the sun-eater, except set in the 20th Century. A group of Legionnaires who were stranded in modern times feature heavily, and the book basically introduces the post-Crisis Ferro (whose prior version died in the original Sun-Eater tale).
The biggest impact upon the DC universe of Final Night was that the company was able to shed itself of Parallax (eg. Hal Jordan)– the near-omnipotent villain that the former Green Lantern had turned into a few years earlier in a story of tremendous tragedy and increased sales. The rest of the DCU had spent a few years fighting Hal periodically (in encounters that generally read something like, “Oh, angst, angst, angst,”) but it was getting a little stale, so they decided enough was enough. Parallax turned out to be just omnipotent enough to defeat the Sun-Eater, but not so omnipotent to avoid dying in the process, and that was the end of that, until Geoff Johns came along and turned Hal Jordan first into the Spectre, and then back into Green Lantern again.
Final Night actually pretty readable as this sort of series goes, but even heavy ties into the mythos of the Legion of Super-Heroes couldn’t keep me from putting it into the “to be sold” pile.
However, there was one series that I had a look at which did avoid going in that pile, on nothing more than its own merits as a story, and that’s a little something called Batman: Gotham Nights. This was another four issue miniseries, written by the exceedingly great John Ostrander. The covers boast that it’s a story which features “Batman…and the people of Gotham City.”
Indeed, though Batman makes an appearance in each of the four issues in some fashion or another, he actually does not feature heavily in the story. You wouldn’t call him a minor character or anything like that – rather, he is sort of the backdrop of the world in which the story is taking place. Actually, I guess Gotham City itself is the backdrop, and Batman is the looming figure whose shadow is cast across all of the book’s protagonists.
The series follows four interweaving stories, each about ordinary citizens of Gotham: an elderly couple whose health is failing them, a small-time criminal and father who struggles to trust his young wife, a man and a woman who meet on the train each day but are failing to connect to each other emotionally, and a reclusive loner who fantasizes that her regular customer at the doughnut shop is really Gotham City’s Caped Crusader. Over the four issues, these very normal characters living in a fantastic universe become very real to the reader, and we are drawn into their ordinary dramas just as strongly as we might be by the latest schemes of Brainiac or Captain Cold.
In a lot of ways, the series is reminiscent of Astro City, in that its taking the fantastic concepts of super-hero comics and not setting them in the real world, as some have tried, but rather telling us the stories of what else is going on in the world of the fantastic than what we normally get to read. Perhaps the most touching part is when you learn the back-story of one of the characters, finding out that his wife died when she was unlucky enough to be a random victim of one of the Joker’s lethal attacks on the city. This tragedy hasn’t turned the grieving husband into a hero or a villain or anything else we might normally read in a comic. It’s simply something he has to live with, because in the world of Batman, there would be a whole lot of people who simply have to live with stuff like that.
The art in the series is by Mary Mitchell, who I am completely unfamiliar with outside of Gotham Nights. John Ostrander describes meeting her at a convention in one of the text pages of the book, and being immediately impressed with her work. Certainly, it’s very strong in Gotham Nights. The story is clear and well told, but her real strength is the ability to give her characters, even the one-off ones in the background, lots of life, personality, and individuality. I don’t know what she’s done since then or how her work would flow in a book not so obviously playing to her talents, but here it’s a real asset.
There was a sequel to Gotham Nights, (called Gotham Nights II) by Ostrander and Mitchell again. I only bought one issue of it, and I have no memory of the story. It was been sitting in my “To Be Sold” pile for years (waiting for that website to want it).
But now, I’ve gone ahead and dug it out of there, and have already purchased the rest of the series and I’m waiting for it to arriving in the mail. I’m interested to see if it’s any good. Because the original book just graduated to my “Take to Australia” pile, which might be about the highest praise I can give to something these days.