I didn’t go to America recently to buy comic books. I went to gather with my family and do another layer of saying goodbye to my father.
But…even though it was not my purpose, I did in fact buy some comic books while I was there, because generally in America it’s easier to get such things a bit more cheaply than in Australia, where I normally live.
One of my go-to places for this is Barnes & Noble, the huge and apparently successful book store chain that is a big part of my American vacation experience. Really, whoever first thought of putting a coffee shop into a bookstore was a genius. Because of the steady stream of failures of many large retail chains, I’m always a bit nervous about Barnes & Noble going the way of Borders, FAO Schwarz and the dodo, disappearing completely and leaving a big whole in my activity on my next trip home…but so far, so good.
On this occasion, I bought a few games which I have yet to try out, but I also picked up three comic book graphic novels.
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Comics
“I didn’t know they had Mystery Science Theatre comic books,” said the guy behind the counter when I picked this up. Well, they do, as of just recently. And it’s a bit of a strange animal.
First of all, you have know Mystery Science Theatre itself–a cult comedy TV show created by Joel Hodgson about an everyman who is sent into space by mad scientists and forced to watch bad movies as a sort of experiment. To combat insanity, he and his robot friends watch the films and make fun of them (“riff” them) as they do. Over the many year’s of the show’s existence (which recently has continued with some revived seasons airing on Netflix) there have been several generations of that everyman, and several generations of the villainous mad scientist and his or her assistants.
The comic book is something that has only recently arisen. In it, the current mad scientist, Kinga Forrester, has decided she wants to be the Queen of all media, and has decided to break into comic books. She develops a technology which sends her prisoners into old, public domain comic books, where replace certain characters and become part of the stories, with new dialogue layered onto the existing word balloons to contain all the jokes.
As such, we get to see Jonah becoming the assistant to a costumed vigilante known as the Black Cat; Crow takes the place of a horror comic host in a series called Horrific; and Tom Servo finds himself in a teen adventure as Jonny Jason, Teen Reporter, which lead to the series’ most bizarre images by far.
The trade paperback collects all six issues of the mini-series that was released in this format. It’s an odd experiment of a comic book which I enjoyed but its hard to imagine it becoming a long-term thing. But then, who would have guessed that the TV MST3K would still be going after all these years? And if they could somehow work past the “public domain” requirement of it all, I’d love to see them take on Silver-Age Legion of Super-Heroes.
We’ve been enjoying trade paperbacks from the library of Mark Waid’s Archie comics run recently, and so when I saw his Archie 1941 on the shelf of the bookstore, it quickly found its way into my shopping bag (metaphorically speaking).
Archie Andrews as a character made his debut back in 1941 in the real world, and so the premise here was to set a story in that same year and to show the impact that the onset of World War II has upon the classic gang of youngsters from Riverdale. It’s still funny, as you’d expect a good Archie story to be, but there’s a strong dramatic edge to it as well (not surprising, given the subject matter).
The story, by Waid and Brian Augustyn is touching and heartfelt with lots of good character moments, and the art, mainly by Peter Krause, has got a beautiful feel which evokes the era.
The Green Lantern: Intergalactic Lawman
My third Barnes & Noble purchase, all of which were based on just what happened to 1) be available and 2) catch my eye was the first hardcover collection of The Green Lantern, as written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Liam Sharp.
This version of Hal Jordan’s adventures is arguably the first real departure that the book has had from the general template that Geoff Johns helped to create back in 2004 with Green Lantern Rebirth (even though it is still built on its foundation). I haven’t read everything that has followed since then, but Morrison’s version really feels like a new take on the character, even though I don’t think it explicitly contradicts any of the prior continuity.
But where the work of Johns, Pete Tomasi and others felt like a sprawling space opera, Morrison’s version has more of the vibe of a cosmically weird police procedural. The emphasis is more on Green Lantern the law enforcement officer, rather than Hal Jordan the man, and the galaxy that he patrols is full of the sort of bizarre high-concept extremes that Morrison is known for. We are told there are Green Lanterns, for example, that are made entirely out of electromagnetic energy, and one of the supporting characters is a guy with an exploding volcano for a head.
The plot is engaging–gripping while still oblique enough to feel like Morrison–and Liam Sharp is not an artist I’m familiar with but has certainly got a distinct style which gives the book a very clear flavor.
Overall, I can’t say it’s my favorite take on Green Lantern, and I doubt I’ll go out of my way to buy another hard cover collection (I’d much prefer to find this in the library) but I enjoyed reading it.
Anyway, that exhausted what I bought at Barnes & Noble, but toward the end of my time I decided to get a bit more daring with my comic book shopping, and I did a quick drive-by to Mile High Comics, which is a pretty world famous comic shop in the world of comic shops.
I snuck this visit in between other things, so it was a very quick trip. My main goal was to see if there were either issues of Legion of Super-Heroes Millennium that were available to be bought. If you don’t know, this is a two issue “warm up” series for a new ongoing version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, my favorite super-hero property, and one that has been popular in the past but has gone unpublished for several years now. So anticipation is high…high enough that it actually brought me to my local comic shop in Perth to look for new, single issues (something that almost never happens anymore). Sadly for me but good for the title, the book was sold out, so I was hoping that I might have more luck at Mile High Comics. A quick run in, a quick run out, and nobody gets hurt.
Well, the first thing I noticed was how big the sign was for this place. It’s in Denver, but in a more industrial sector, so this thing is visible from way down the street.
Then I saw this huge banners that adorn the outside of the building, making it clear what sort of business is inside.
And then…inside. Whoa.
Mile High Comics feels about the size of the showroom of a small comic convention.
It’s full of comics magazines, graphic novels, toys and geek memorabilia of all sorts.
Seriously, all the most popular of pop-culture references…
Plus lots of skulls and big spiders and stuff, I assume because Halloween was coming up.
What they didn’t have, sadly, was the Legion of Super-Heroes comics I was after.
So with that part of my mission a failure, and with only minutes to spare, I had a look around at the rest of the place to find a purchase that would make my trip worthwhile, and quickly found myself in the graphic novel section.
The contrast between this place and the other large comic shop I’ve been to most recently–Midtown Comics in New York City–is extreme. In New York, all the books are tightly packed into the shelves, with every inch a premium.
Here, it’s all loosely spread out, which I guess is a product of its more spatially-relaxed and wide open Colorado setting.
Anyway, I found some cool stuff here. First off…
Legion of Super-Heroes Secret Origin
This isn’t the best Legion stuff out there, but it is something I hadn’t read in a collected form before.
The book was originally a six issue mini-series by Paul Levitz during what is usually known as the Retroboot–the sort-of-similar-to-the-1980’s take on the Legion that came about just before and after DC’s Flashpoint event.
Secret Origin is a reasonably fun take on that Legion’s early years, mixing in super-action with retro-active continuity and a dose of secret political intrigue. The series didn’t really work for me when I read it as monthly issues, but I found it was clearer and more focused reading it all at once. It’s got a really great take on some of the characters, including one of my favorites, Phantom Girl.
Anyway, Secret Origin was cool to get, but nothing to extraordinary–there are lots of times I could have bought it from Amazon or other online dealers. My other purchase that day was something a little harder to come by…
Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Krytonite
This out of print trade paperback collects a short but significant Superman arc from the 1980’s, by writers Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway and Roger Stern, and with art by Ordway, Jurgens, Bob McLeod, and others.
The story features Mr. Mxyzptlk making his regular visit to the DC Universe (coming, it’s implied, from the Marvel universe, where he’s hassling the Fantastic Four in the guise of the Impossible Man). Because he’s in a hurry, he skips seeing Superman himself and instead pays a visit to Lex Luthor–at the time, a successful businessman who is dying of cancer that he contracted due to exposure to kryptonite. Mr. Mxyzptlk gives Lex some red kryptonite which will make him the physical equal of Superman. But in true trickster fashion, what this does is remove Superman’s powers.
So most of the story features Superman dealing with his sudden and unexplained power loss, and Luthor gloating over him when he realizes what’s happened. Meanwhile, the story also provides a major advancement in the life of Clark Kent, when finally, after all this time, he and Lois Lane get engaged.
At the time, this was a BIG DEAL.
The book is a bit of an exercise in nostalgia, for me, as it comes from a time when I was following all three Superman titles quite closely. It was a fantastic time to be a fan of the character, as his life and status quo were moving forward in a way I had never seen before, with advancement that was both meaningful and steady.
DC published an omnibus of this run a little while ago, but it didn’t go far enough to get to this story, and there’s no sign of a follow-up on the horizon, so investing in this collection when it was sitting there in front of me was a bit of a no-brainer. I may not be able to completely replicate the collection of post-crisis Superman comics I once had, but I can at least pick up the highlights.
And that’s the summary of the this American trip’s comic book intake. Only five books, but I was only there for about eight, so it’s a pretty high ratio.
Again, not the most important thing, but a nice benefit.