Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #48

The big item on the agenda for today is IDW's recent release of Walter Simonson's Lawnmower Man: Artist's Edition Portfolio, which will set you back about $60 and is almost guaranteed to thwart any and all attempts to stand it up straight on a bookshelf.  If you've got a shelf that can accommodate this thing, then you may be one of those giants from Game of Thrones.
  
What we're talking about here is a hardcover binder which holds frameable individual pages.  The binder is about 18.5" tall and 13.25" wide, and the pages themselves are 18" X 13".  So, needless to say, this sucker is huge.
 
 
 
  
I've got some size-comparison photos I'll share with you in a bit, but before we get to that, let's take a look at the history of this comic.
  
Its first appearance was in the December 1981 issue of Bizarre Adventures, which was a magazine-sized anthology series published by Marvel.  Here's the cover:
  
  
  
  
That's a terrific cover, and if you like the art, then I've got good news about the rest of the adaptation (which runs 21 pages), and I've got bad news about it.  Which do you want first?
  

The bad news, you say?  Alrighty, then: the bad news is that the story itself is in black and white, not color.  So those appallingly lovely colors are to be found only on the cover.  
  
The good news is that the cover art is by Walt Simonson, the artist who drew the adaptation, and if you like what you see there, then you're bound to love the rest of the adaptation, too.  It's great stuff, and it makes me wish there had at some point been a top-notch anthology series that did nothing but adapt all of King's best short stories.  I suppose such a thing could still happen one of these days, and when/if it does, that's a title they'll sell to me on a monthly basis.
  
Simonson recently spoke with CBR (that's Comic Book Resources to you acronymophobes) and answered some questions about the level of involvement King had with the project back in '81.  The full interview can be found here, but for the benefit of those of you loath to click that link, here's the relevant section:

Did King write the script or did you adapt it to a graphic novel format yourself?
  
He wrote it.  We did the story Marvel style.  I say "we" but I never had any direct contact with King.  We did it Marvel style though, which means I took the story, broke it down into pages, drew it and then this being the old days before we had computers and the internet, Denny sent the original pages to King.  King then wrote the script from the drawings and panel breakdowns I had done.  The funny part about that is that no one talked to him about it so he wrote it by actually writing the entire script in pencil all around the artwork.  Right on the art.  It totally killed me to have to erase all the stuff!  The pages had to be cleaned up to be printed.  It just killed me!  [Laughs]
  
I thought King did a really nice job at his adaptation.  You might say, "Oh, it's Stephen King, of course he would!" but I have seen some writers who don't do comics, but are still professional writers, do things in comic scripts that don't always work.  If you go back and compare what King did in this with the short story, he personalized the comic story.  He acknowledged that you're taking in information differently so by personalizing it he did an adaptation of the story in a visual way.  It worked really well.  I was delighted.  I thought, "This guy gets it."  It was really cool.
  
I've seen the pages and you can see writing around the edges of some of them.  Is that King's original handwritten script?
  
Anything that's writing is King's.  I had to erase most of it though to print cleanly.  There's definitely a page or two, though, where you can see writing partially erased near panels and that is King's actual writing.  He wrote it in pencil, which was good because I can erase it, but it still did kill me to do it.


To answer a question you might have based on that, I would say this: yes, the pages as they appear in the Portfolio do indeed contain those stray bits of writing from King that managed not to get erased.  Let's have a look at three sample pages, courtesy of CBR:






All of that stuff is much more visible when you're looking at these massive pages, and it's very cool to have that tangible an artifact of King's first foray into comics work.  ("First," yes; but he's written very few comics, so not only is it the first, it's one of a decidedly rare breed.)

The portfolio does include a page that is a replica of the full art for the cover ("full art" in this case meaning that it doesn't have any of the magazine-titling or other info, just the art and nothing else), and it's certainly beautiful enough to frame, although visitors to your home may wonder why you have a framed painting of an obese nude man pushing a lawnmower over a bunch of tiny people.  If they don't wonder why, then you may be well-served to reconsider the sorts of people you are inviting over.  Still, that thing would look great framed, and I may end up doing so with mine.
  
  
 

Two other things deserve mentioning:

First, the pages inside the portfolio are housed inside a sort of pocket thing that is attached to the inside back cover.  The pages fit in there quite snugly, which means that once you've removed the pages, they kind of don't want to go back in.  The cover painting is included as the last page, and when I was attempting to put it back in, it really did not want to go back at all.  I was a little bit terrified that I was going to fuck up and bend it in half or something.  I didn't, though, because I had a rare good idea: I pulled all of the pages out, sorted them together, put them halfway into the pocket, and then turned the book over.  From there, the pull of gravity was enough to get the last page over whatever resistance it was encountering, and I was able to slide the pages the rest of the way home with nary a problem.  So if you buy the portfolio and encounter the same problem, use that trick and hopefully it will help.

Second, the portfolio does not have the word "Marvel" on it anywhere.  There is a credit saying that the adaptation originally appeared in Bizarre Adventures No. 29, but Marvel received no credit.  I believe IDW has published other Artist's Edition titles from Marvel, and maybe from other publishers as well, and I find that to be a bit odd.  Has IDW licensed the artwork from Marvel?  Do the artists somehow retain the rights to the artwork?  Does Marvel simply have no desire to publish portfolios of this nature?  It's a mystery to me, but I'm sure there is a perfectly valid series of explanations.

In any case, now you know that there is such a thing as this beautiful portfolio edition of The Lawnmower Man.  I'm thrilled to have mine, and you'd probably be thrilled with yours, too, so go speak to a comics-shop professional about one today, won't you?
 
Almost forgot those size-comparison photos:

 
That's the original comic, obviously; the portfolio is over twice as large.
Mr. Mercedes looks downright puny next to this portfolio.
Also looking a bit meek: the portfolio of Gabriel Rodriguez Locke & Key art from earlier this year.  But that one is great, too, as we covered back in Bryant Has Issues #46.


For our next title, we move only a short step, genetically-speaking: to Joe Hill, whose miniseries Wraith has now received a hardcover collection:





Anyone who read and liked NOS4A2 is likely to enjoy this spinoff comic, which I suppose you'd call a prequel to the novel.  No knowledge of the novel is needed for the comic, though, so if you haven't read the novel and wish to dive into Christmasland via graphic narrative, then Wraith will fit that bill quite nicely.

For those of you who may have read the miniseries in single-issue format, the hardcover doesn't necessarily have anything you haven't seen before.  IDW does really high-quality, durable hardcovers, though, so just having the whole thing in one edition is pretty cool.  There are some groovy endpapers, too, which I tried to scan and present to you now in chopped-in-half format:




Not exactly top-notch scanning there, but I didn't want to bend the book, so that's the best I could do under the circumstances.

Also out recently: a "Director's Cut" edition of Wraith #1:




I've mentioned before that I think the notion of a "director's cut" of a comic book is dumb, and I stand by that assessment.  Especially since the ones I've seen do none of the things that a director's cut of a movie typically does: add scenes, remove scenes, replace scenes with alternative takes, etc.  What a "director's cut" of a comic appears to actually be equivalent to is the Bonus Features section of a Blu-ray or DVD.  So, why not call these comics "Bonus Features" editions?  Beats me.  Idiocy or obstinance, perhaps.

In any case, my misgivings about the branding do not prevent me from purchasing such a comic when one interests me, as did this one.  It only has one "bonus feature": the full 26-page script for Wraith #1, written by Joe Hill.  And as bonus features go, that's a damn good one.  I haven't read the entire script yet, but I skimmed it a bit, and my sense of things is that Hill writes his scripts in a very personable, readable manner.  I could tell right off the bat that the reader would also get more insight into the story from reading the script, as Hill includes little details that can't entirely be presented via art.  In this sense, he is very much a writer of prose, but one who is certainly very mindful of the fact that he's writing not for prose, but for a graphic medium.

I'm already kind of bummed that I won;t be able to read the scripts for #s2-7.  Ah, well, maybe IDW will do an oversized hardcover one of these days like they've been doing for Locke & Key.  (Speaking of which, the third volume, Crown of Shadows, came out in late June.  I haven't been able to scrape up funds for that one yet, but it's a top priority.)
  
We will now dive into the Scott Snyder portion of our program, beginning with:




Ever wondered what a tornado made of vampires might be like?  Well, if so, you've got problems.  But you're also in luck, because this issue of American Vampire will more or less answer that question.

There are some really gnarly monsters in this issue, and some quality Skinner Sweet action, too.

Solid issue overall.  I'm digging Second Cycle so far.




Snyder's miniseries The Wake recently concluded.  I've been a big fan of this series, and I regret to inform that the final issue landed, for me, with a near-complete thud.  I fretted a bit in previous reviews that it felt like the denouement was going to feel too rushed to be satisfying, and I would say that my fears came true in that regard.  I would also say that much of the final issue is composed of exposition, and I would say further that I couldn't follow most of it.

Now, with that all said, I ought to confess that I also got a similar feeling to the one I got from the final issue of Jeff Lemire's Trillium: that sneaking suspicion that the fault was less with the writer than with the reader (in this case, me).  I've read a few reviews of the final issue of The Wake that sort of preemptively defend the series against complainants like myself by pointing out that if you read the whole series together, it makes a lot more sense and is much more satisfying.

I'd like to believe that those reviewers are 100% correct, and maybe they are.  Maybe I'll even revisit The Wake (and, for that matter, Trillium) one of these days and find out for sure.  If so, I'll be more than happy to report it here.

But, I have to say, The Wake #10 left me more than a bit cold, and I do not currently feel all that much desire to revisit the series.  So, someday?  Maybe.  Soon?

Unlikely.

Moving on, we've got two issues of Snyder's Batman to cover:



 

I don't have to say about them.  I will say this: if you are expecting Batman to go into battle with the aid of two ferocious lions, then understand that, kind friend, have been lied to by a comic-book cover.  There are no lions in these two issues.  There were some lions a few issues back; not in these.
  
The cover is more truthful on the subject of #33 being the finale to the Zero Year arc.  I, for one, am glad to see it end.  I just don't care about The Riddler, and most of Zero Year bored me.  These issues bored me more often than not/
  
There were, however, good moments here and there, including a segment toward the end of #33 in which Alfred tries to set Bruce up with an old flame.  Snyder is quite good at that stuff.
  
By the way, didja notice that $4.99 cover price on #33?  I sure did.  I've got my eye on you, DC.
  
  
  
  
I enjoyed the first issue of Big Trouble in Little China quite a bit.  So, how's the second one?
  
Pretty solid, as it turns out.
  
Here are hints as to what transpires: six-demon bag; graffiti portal; "nice terrapin"; vampire sex; "I have all of their pickled eggs!"; and demon crotch-sniffing.
  
Staying in that vein for a bit:

  
  
  
In this issue: anus-scratching; aborted territorial markings; psychic manipulations; Tasticake McSugar; "it was a fool's errand; only a fool could fulfill it."
  
I'm enjoying this series, but not without reservations.  Big Trouble in Little China is either a masterpiece or utter junk, depending on your point of view, and if you lean closer toward the "masterpiece" assessment, then you must realize something: Carpenter, Russell, etc. are walking an incredibly fine line in that movie.  It verges on parody without ever quite managing to tip over all the way to that side of the equation; it retains just enough self-seriousness to, at times, simulate something that actually is serious.  Not in the Platoon sense of seriousness, but in the sense of early Sean Connery 007 movies?  Sure.
  
My problem with the comic is that it's got both feet firmly planted in the land of parody.  You could even argue that it is on the verge of falling from parody into camp.  And you could argue that the movie supports that take on things.  I'm not sure I would, though, so for me, some of what's going on in the comics so far is absent the peculiar appeal of the movie.  That's the bad news.
  
The good news is that the artwork continues to support what Eric Powell is doing here.  Object to it if you like; you won't be able to say that it isn't accompanied by art that is wholly appropriate to the tone.  For me, that helps the pill go down smooth.
  
Lest I sound down on the series, let me insist that I am enjoying it.  It ain't quite the same without Kurt Russell reading the dialogue, though.  Somebody should hire him and Carpenter to turn these comics into radio dramas.
  
  
  
  
Up next, Saga, which remains something I just don't want to say much about.  So, more hints.  This time, though, I'm going to present out-of-context panels:
  
  


I swear to God, I nearly got hypnotized by that image of D. Oswald Heist.


  
  
And why don't we just carry that approach over to the next issue, as well?
  
  
  
  
That's an awesome cover, man.  Especially if you've read the previous issue.
  
  




That splash page above is probably one of the best things I've seen all year.  Saga is always prone to have a great splash page or two in each issue, and this might be one of the best in the whole series so far.
  
  
  
  
Almost as good is The Private Eye, which continues to be available as a digital-only comic available for download at a pay-what-you-will rate at Panel Syndicate.
  
There is some great stuff this issue, including a flashback showing how P.I. got himself an assistant.  The highlight is arguably a chase scene, of which I now present a snippet:
  
  



  
  
Great stuff, no doubt about it.  There are only three issues left in the series, and if they measure up, then Bryant Has Issues will be mightily pleased.
  
That's all we've got for this time, folks!  I have a feeling it won't be a very long wait until #49, though...

12 comments:

  1. I'd heard about the Lawnmower Man comic (and the name almost sounds like it belongs to a superhero) however this is the first time I've really seen anything from inside the comic itself.

    It makes me wonder, did Marvel ever have it's equivalent to DC's classic Vertigo line? The LM comic just looks like something that would fit right in as a Vertigo one-off, such as Death: The High Cost of Living. I don't know, either way, it was just an interesting thought.

    I've recently run across a copy of Hill's Wraith. The writing itself is pretty much in the same style as N0S402. The artwork raises some interesting, though not very great issues between the novel and the comic. The novel was written in a basically more realist style, even in it's description of Manx's "kids". The artwork for the comic is more stylized, sort of a cross between EC Comics and a 17th century woodcut engraving.

    That's not an issue, really, it just highlights a contrast between Hill's novel (and I'm guessing the director's cut script? I don't have that issue I'm afraid.) and it's depiction in the comic. I don't mind, though, in a way it makes sense to view the whole comic as one big flashback sequence that can be cast in a haze of animated nostalgia, and that just cut out for questions of length.

    The only downside is the comic makes me wish all the more that the showdown in the novel had been a bit more bigger (it was good, but just think of what it could have been!). One final thing the comic raises is where Hill may perhaps go with his Dad's legacy? It almost seems like he could be both a literary and pulp writer at the same time, if that makes any sense.

    ChrisC

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    1. Makes perfect sense, and I think that's a good assessment of Hill's talent.

      The art in "Wraith" sorta threw me for a loop initially, but I came to love it before long. Wilson has an intriguing style, no doubt about it.

      As far as I know, Marvel never did have anything similar to Vertigo. But then again, I know they published "Howard the Duck," which is supposedly a little edgier than your average issue of Spider-Man. Maybe that's what their magazine-size format was? I dunno.

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    2. Now that I think about it, in the opening pages, Manx says he was born in the 1800s. That would kind of offer some explanation for the woodcut style of the comic, sort of.

      As for the Big Trouble comic, I haven't found either issues anywhere yet I'm afraid. So on the comic itself, I don't have much to offer. As to the movie, I'll admit, saying that it treads a fine line is I think accurate in more ways than just parody. I heard from this one reviewer that in an early draft (before Carpenter signed on) script changes were made to remove material deemed offensive toward Asians or Asian Americans.

      That sort of raises a whole other question in terms of line treading, however (I don't THINK, I HOPE) there seems to be little to complain about on that score.

      I found out about those script changes from this review by Oliver Harper:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5S2l9_nZTPY

      For me, what's interesting to note about the movie are two other things, one is what happens when you walk into it with a knowledge of Kurt Russell's early career. It seems the House of Mouse gave him (along with John Ritter) his first few gigs in a series of screwball comedies. Russell even once acted as host for a guided tour of Disneyland show! This can be quite a shock to those who come to Russell from his action and Drama star phase, and it makes for the interesting question of whether or not Russell, at least in part, going back to his roots with a film like China.

      The final thing is how China holds up with a similar themed film. I first saw this one back in, I think, early 2000 (BC) and my thought was: Uh. whoa, cool!. The thing is, the film I'm talking about often gets compared to Big Trouble a lot, sometimes unfavorably. Personally, I actually see them as equally okay films. Here's the other one I'm talking about:

      http://blip.tv/guiltypleasurescinema/gpc-episode-28-the-golden-child-1986-6551605

      ChrisC

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    3. I've never seen "The Golden Child," but I'm led to believe I would probably enjoy it.

      Kurt Russell, man . . . the dude is a legend as far as I'm concerned. I keep hoping something will come along and really take advantage of his (many) talents, and it keeps not happening. Maybe "The Hateful Eight" will do the trick.

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  2. Marvel did indeed have its equivalent of Vertigo, which was Epic. It's not a perfect one-to-one relationship, but close enough for government work. I had to look up Bizarre Adventures to see if it was an Epic title, but apparently it wasn't. I figured that would be the most sensible explanation as to some of the anomalies, but I was barking up the wrong tree.

    Walt's art looks a lot more Sienkiewicz-like here than he usually does. Fantastic stuff, though. That oversized hardcover is some serious business.

    I haven't seen The Golden Child in decades, but I never really thought of it and Big Trouble in Little China to be all that alike. Which actually surprises me, as now that I consider it, I see an awful lot of similarities, at least conceptually (not so much in execution.) But it's been so long since I've seen TGC I might be surprised.

    That ultraviolent splash from Saga is pretty wild.

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    1. I wondered about that. Being more a DC than Marvel reader, I can't say I know anything about Epic. However it's interesting to know Marvel tried to through it's hat into the more adult ring of comics.

      As for which is the chicken and which the egg, I think it's fair to say Moore, Morrison, McKean and Gaiman all set the standard, and they all work or have worked for DC.

      Was Lawnmower Comic part of the Epic line?

      ChrisC

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    2. No chicken or the egg involved from where I'm sitting - the gents you mention made a revolution of the entire medium.

      I think it's what Epic truly wanted to do, but Marvel / Cadence's finances and internal what-not were just too chaotic at the time. (Also, not insignificantly, as you imply, they sure didn't have Moore, Morrison et al writing for them!)

      As for Lawnmower, perhaps I was unclear, my bad - I can find no indication it was Epic, only that Bizarre Adventures was published under the aegis of one of Marvel's non-main-comics lines (Marvel Magazines.)

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    3. * re: what Epic truly wanted to do: I just mean, I think what they really wanted to be was Vertigo, or even better, but circumstances and a key lack of specific personnel worked against them.

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  3. Thanks for posting the lawnmower man stuff Bryant. I wanted to know what that was all about. I might buy it.
    The Wraith comic looked different from the Wraith novella so I might check that out as well.
    After fighting myself for almost a year I finally bought The Cape the other day. Although definitely not worth $25 it was really awesome. I like how all his comic adaptations are slightly different.
    I can't wait for the Shadow Show adaptations. That book is incredible.
    -mike

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    1. Yep, "Shadow Show" should be good stuff.

      You know, I still owe this blog a review of that "Wraith" novella, don't I? I've been waiting to determine whether I should package it with a deeper discussion of the graphic novel or not, and still haven't made up my mind. It hasn't been forgotten, though!

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  4. I started reading the Clean Room and that is a great comic, I just bought vol2 and Paper Girls vol2, which the first one was awesome, although I hate cliff hangers.
    I still haven't finished the last Saga (meaning I havent started it bc I read Saga like a fat man eats pringles) volume. Man that books is so good.
    -mikeC

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