I've written about my life here as a middle-aged single dad. Your tolerance for the use of
that "material" in my comics column is appreciated, by the way, but increasingly, I've become
aware of how this affects my life as a comics-reader -- and an ostensible reviewer. With
a sudden job furlough, an empty bank account, no clear way to get this month's rent
together -- economy, is that you? -- it becomes "interesting" of course. In the manner
of the ancient Chinese admonition.
Do I still have time to read comics, when I should be proofing the eBooks for reissue,
revising a new book for ostensible sale, or looking for tutoring/teaching gigs on the
side? For example, there are only two sidebar reviews here, as opposed to our usual 3 or 4.
But it turns out, that's because reading comics or thinking about them "separately" for
this column doesn't happen as much anymore because "comics talk" has moved fully into
the Williams household, in terms of ongoing conversation -- with my eldest son.
The "sons theme" may be keep reasserting itself: as a "middle-aged" son, part of the
delay in this month's column was occasioned by my travelling to see my 80-year-old dad,
who is chronically ailing in a resolute/cheerful way, with occasional grumpiness thrown
in. Sometime before I'd left, I asked my own son if he wanted to "guest write" this
particular column, since he's taken to reviewing comics online too, under one of his
avatar-like noms de guerre, but he became a little irascible -- somewhat like his
grandfather! -- at that suggestion. Perhaps the looming college admissions essays are enough.
Eldest son is now more or less the age I was when I stopped reading or actively
collecting comics, the first time round. I was heading into early adulthood, and while
I still liked the ideas of superheroes -- Batman's darkness, the Thing's cigar-chomping
sometimes bathetic self-reflection, et al. -- none of that stuff was being looked at in
an engaging enough way in the medium as sex and politics increasingly informed my ideas
of what stories should take in.
Then, of course, some years later 1986 happened. On which note, copies of
Art Spiegelman's MetaMaus have arrived at both the L.A. and Austin headquarters
of Nexus Graphica. Nearly too late for my deadline, but I believe Rick will have one of our
more "traditional" reviews of this incredibly handsome volume in our next column. It marks
the 25th anniversary of Maus' arrival on the comics scene (just as, of
course, Watchmen, The Dark Knight, and oh-so-many-more were
arriving), and when my son was required to read the now-canonical Maus for a high school
class, he took my somewhat rickety 80s era paperback from the shelf, and brought it in. Everyone
was impressed with how old his edition was, and increasingly, son himself is surprised by
what I actually bought, way back when. (Yup, sweetie, I really do have all
of Brat Pack, MaxiMortal, Alan Moore's 1963,
and even, somewhere, a complete run of Miracle Man. None of it catalogued
very well.) Yes, those early comics there are all from the Silver Age. Yup, those are
the first Batmans I bought. Yes, I know I haven't bagged them all yet. For some strange reason.
Son hears about various "oldies" on his comics podcasts (!), then proceeds to ask if I
might own an issue or two of said oldie. Often, I do. So while I'm fretting about bills,
imminent economic and environmental collapse, and getting gas to run his little brother to
his football game, the deadline for these columns recurringly draw near, and if nothing
much has shown up in my PO Box from the publishers, I think "I haven't read anything yet!"
Anything, it occurred to me this month, aside from the four issues of DC's New 52
relaunch (and the two sidebar reviews, and the parts of MetaMaus that were so
compelling) which I hadn't planned on reading/writing about for awhile yet, since the
comics press is otherwise abuzz with ink and pixels on 'em. Plus, I seem to have lost
contact -- or my touch -- with DC's promo folks, and little shows up from them anymore.
But digitally, that doesn't matter so much. Eldest keeps downloading single issues over at
Comixology, then texting me about things I "have" to read, so he can get my opinion on them
(which, astonishingly, he still somewhat values). The advantages of growing up in second
(and third!) wave "fan" households, I guess. The conversations about back story can become elaborate.
But of course DC is working on new back stories now,and so it was I've read the new
Animal Man, the Demon relaunch, the new Swamp Thing (eldest
became a huge fan after reading my collected Alan Moore editions) and the surprising Aquaman.
I had the original Demon from Jack Kirby, back when he was doing his 70s titles
for DC, like New Gods, the Forever People (where are they now?)
Mister Miracle, et al. I guess Darkseid, as a prime DC villain, is the real
legacy of those titles, but hell-born Etrigan persevered as a recurring "guest star," including
a notable one in those Moore-era Swamp Things, where his penchant for conversing in
rhyming couplets was put to good use.
The relaunch, Demon Knights, starts out like, well, like the opening to the Dragon Sword
installment of my own Danger Boy series, if I may be permitted -- with Excalibur being
returned to the Lady of the Lake, in the waning light of Camelot. But the similarities end immediately,
even though a kind of time travel is involved, considering that writer Paul Cornell introduces other
characters from the DC Universe in the new title, like Madame Xanadu, Vandal Savage, and more,
and the action jumps ahead -- these are immortals, after all -- several hundred years. There's
a dark king and queen afoot now, but the nicest touch is that Xanadau -- nicely rendered by
artist Diogenes Neves -- appears to love each of the Demon's alternate halves -- Etrigan,
and former knight Jason Blood, to whom he's bound -- more than the other. She seems to be
cheating on one with the other, in other words, and it should make for some good
subtext. But then, doesn't it always?
I liked the other three too, though in the nature of "first issues," I was left wondering
about the set-ups. Moore's run on Swamp Thing is still definitive for me -- the plant who
thinks he's a man! -- but the relaunch already assumes you know the pre-#1 backstory, as
Dr. Alec Holland has been revived, evidently struggling with memories of having
been Swamp Thing, though a "Thing" separate from the Doc now lurks in brackish brine, so the
set up may start to run along more classic "alter ego" lines in this go-round. Hard to say,
but Yanick Paquette's art is pretty terrific (this new crop of DC artists seem to sport
great monikers, too), and writer Scott Snyder (whom we last encountered here
with Vertigo's American Vampire, and who is handling the
Detective Comics reboot, too) has certainly given himself lots of interesting
ingredients to work with. Even Supes makes an appearance.
Animal Man and Aquaman share a kind of aesthetic, though I doubt
writers Jeff Lemire (of the former) and Geoff Johns (of the latter) deliberately intended
it that way (since I'm not sure, in spite of the affinity for members of the animal/aquatic
kingdoms, any crossovers are planned): Both initially deal with the quotidian, day-to-day
aspects of a superhero's life. For San Diego-based animal dude Buddy Baker, it's about being
a middle-class suburban-y dad, still trying to "hang ten," do good, and raise a family (and
stop a few crimes) while for Arthur Curry's Aquaman, well -- it's about not being taken
seriously enough as Aquaman.
The "meta" narrative aspects of the seaborne title are the best -- Aquaman's own mid-tier
perch in the DC Universe becomes an existential plight when he's held in lighter regard
by thieves than say Batman is. On the other hand, while eating in a seafood
restaurant(!), he can still make waitresses' swoon.
Travel Foreman's art (see what I meant about DC artist names?) on Animal Man
lends itself well to the fantasy elements which kick in toward the end -- interesting ephemeral
tones that are at once Sandman and Swamp Thing-like, when the
titular hero's daughter seems to be in trouble with "the red" -- seemingly like a "viscera
version" of DC's floral universe, "the green," -- according to her dreams. The Ivan Reis
and Joe Prado art for Aquaman works well enough, but, as in Blackest Night,
they like that heavily-lined, angular Image Comics/Jim Lee style of "modern" comic art,
which is always a bit distancing for me.
But that might just be me.
In any case, in order to keep up with the conversation in my own house (the one I may or
may not come up with the rent for), the "New 52" showed up ahead of schedule. And as
someone who is "52," all I can say is, thank God our kids are there to keep us on our
toes. And scrambling toward our virtual newsstands, to keep up.