Category: Featured

With Further Ado #78: The Uphill Battle of Harken’s Raiders

With Further Ado #78: The Uphill Battle of Harken’s Raiders

As a kid, I wasn’t into war comics, but I sure did love the “war comic for people who hate comics”: Marvel’s Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.  That was the tagline that Marvel  developed for this offbeat war comic.  (I assume Stan Lee, as both writer and in-house ad agency, wrote that line.)

This series quickly became the print version of a WWII buddy movie.  The Howling Commandos were a special task force, more like Army Rangers than the British commandos, who were dispatched on fantastic, all-odds-against-them missions. The Howling Commandos joked and kidded their way through every adventure.  It all seemed like great fun, and in contrast to real war, downright happy and hilarious.

As we all got older, it was harder to choke down Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.  We learned about the horrors and atrocities of war, and the meandering silliness of  this comic seemed to trivialize an admittedly awful subject. We could draw the line at glamorizing war, especially when used for macho adventure, but before long, treating it too lightheartedly was verboten.  In fact, in the waning days of the Sgt. Fury series, Marvel began swinging the pendulum in the other direction, most notably with titles like War Is Hell.

Still, there was so much to love about that series. Especially when it really hit its stride with Gary Friedrich scripts, Dick Ayers pencils, and John Severin inks.  Those were gripping, dense and clever comics.  One of my all-time favorite covers depicted on character on his way to a court-martial. Not the standard stuff of war comics.

That was then, and this is now. And I have some good news!  Ron Marz and Darryl Banks have reunited (You will remember them from their groundbreaking Green Lantern series.) to collaborate on a new “war comic”: Harken’s Raiders.

Continue reading “With Further Ado #78: The Uphill Battle of Harken’s Raiders”

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #075: Fake History, Real Heroes

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #075: Fake History, Real Heroes

Last Saturday saw the fourth annual Women’s Rights Day with demonstrations all over the nation, many in very inclement weather. This year’s march was fueled in part by the calendar: 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, expanding the ability to vote to those without that icky Y chromosome.

I have slightly mixed feeling about that. Every egalitarian victory should be celebrated, but, damn, why should we get all enthused over 144 years of denying half of our population the right to participate in our vaunted democracy? Whereas I can hold a grudge until it screams, we should be educating citizens current and future to all the limitations we have placed on women, including those many that have not been sliced from our massive national discrimination pie.

However, the National Archives celebrates that victory by layering it with a purposely misleading patina of truthiness. They maliciously chose to alter it, and in complete contradiction to their mission, they celebrated women’s suffrage under a veil of lies. Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #075: Fake History, Real Heroes”

Brainiac On Banjo #070: When In Space, Dress For Success!

Brainiac On Banjo #070: When In Space, Dress For Success!

Before I start, I want to point out that I know today is Monday and it’s time for “Brainiac On Banjo,” where I wax on and on about comics and pop culture. I realize it is not Thursday, where, in “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind,” I do my seditious and sometimes salacious political rants. So, given today’s location, I’m going to do something I rarely do in “Weird Scenes.” I am going to let Donald Trump off the hook.

For a week now, the wires and tubes have been buzzing about the new, official costume of the new, official U.S. Space Force. Allegedly our sixth branch of the armed forces, it’s merely a part of the U.S. Air Force, the way the Air Force – then called the Air Corps – used to be part of the U.S. Army. But don’t bother Mr. Trump with that. Right now, he’s busy.

Yes, I know that some people call them uniforms but my pal, writer, former DC Comics editor and New Jersey bon vivant Jack C. Harris called ‘em costumes when he was in the Air Force, and so, I’ve absconded with it. If that pisses you off, well, no disrespect is meant… to you. Unless your last name is Westmoreland or Schwarzkopf. Damn, I am getting political. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #070: When In Space, Dress For Success!”

So Long And Thanks For the Fish, Man #58: Comics, No More.

So Long And Thanks For the Fish, Man #58: Comics, No More.

The other morning, my bff in comic books, Jim McClain (who is not part of Unshaven Comics, but exists perhaps as our ”big brother” in comic bookery), met me for brunch. As we’ve done in the past… we kibitzed about life, love, kids, and all things nerd. We dished and gossiped about Alley Folks we’ve rubbed shoulders with. We waxed poetic about what we liked, loved, and loathed across the Star Wars galaxy. Fun was had by all. Great conversation and amazing egg dishes aside, Jim was meeting me so that he might rid me of my comic book collection.

You read that right.

Every book I’d amassed since college had been piling up — some bagged and boarded, others less so — and I recognized that I’d not needed a single floppy copy for the better part of nine and a half years (the time in our home, which the wife and I are cleaning up a bit at a time to contemplate a springtime move). In the interest of no longer keeping treasure that could otherwise be of value back in the marketplace, I gifted to Jim two long boxes, seven or eight short boxes, and a tote-bag of comics.

Jim has already started sorting and valuing them. I wish him, and those who purchase from him, the best. There are a few real gems to mine there, too.

So, the real question then is why. Why was I so cavalier in gifting a collection away at a whim (for what added up to a delightful breakfast)? The answer is fairly straight-forward:

I’m still not over feeling played by the big two.  Continue reading “So Long And Thanks For the Fish, Man #58: Comics, No More.”

With Further Ado #077: Descendent by Stephanie Phillips and Bornyakov

With Further Ado #077: Descendent by Stephanie Phillips and Bornyakov

Aftershock is on a roll. They are publishing so many top-notch series.  While there’s no uniform house style or shared universe, they have definitely carved out their own niche. Aftershock titles tend to be a little more adult, a little more edgy. There’s a thriller aspect to many of the series, often mixed in with a sense of dread and of foreboding.

I just read a Ray Bradbury short story, The Playground, this weekend. It had been years since I read Bradbury, and I kind of forgot how much I enjoyed his work.  It’s a bit of a stretch, but one could argue that many of the Aftershock series have Bradbury baked into their DNA.

Descendent by Stephanie Phillips is another winner, but I might argue it owes more to Brad Meltzer than to Bradbury.  Comics fans might remember him from his DC work on Identity Crisis a few years ago, but the rest of the world knows him as a thriller author.  My favorite books of his entwine a mix of political intrigue and unsolved mysteries.

(There’s a bit of Harlan Coben in this comic too -and that’s high praise indeed from me. I think Coben is just fantastic.)

Descendent tells of a sinister conspiracy, dating back to the Lindbergh kidnapping, and then reveals a tale that is even creepier and more complicated.  The gradual peeling of the onion follows the characters  as they get in deeper and deeper. And as the reader, we’re always either just one step ahead or one step behind.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #077: Descendent by Stephanie Phillips and Bornyakov”

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #074: Let’s Work Together?

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #074: Let’s Work Together?

Together we’ll stand / Divided we’ll fall / Come on now, people / Let’s get on the ball / And work together / Come on, come on / Let’s work together / Now, now people / Because together we will stand / Every boy, girl, woman and man – Wilbert Harrison, “Future Blues”

As I was watching the seven House managers march across the Capitol Building to deliver the impeachment papers to the Senate, I was wondering how many people felt this was just the latest parade before End Times. Not the biblical End Times where Putin and Netanyahu paint “666” on Trump’s forehead, but an indication of America, as we know it, coming to an end.

The best way, in my opinion (shared by several others) to prevent America’s End Time is to be rid of the aforementioned Great Evil, Mr. Trump – if not in the highly unlikely event of a guilty verdict in the impeachment trial that begins Tuesday, then at the polls this November. That will be tough as well, because already several hundred thousand likely Democratic voters already have been tossed off the rolls. The Republicans firmly believe they can do what the Russians can do, but without all those tubes and wires. Maybe so. Probably so, unless, as Wilbert Harrison wrote decades ago, we work together to make our stand against the greatest evil America has ever faced on its own shores. Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #074: Let’s Work Together?”

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

Brainiac On Banjo #069: Breathtaker – Now It Can Be Told!

In my career as a comic book editor-provocateur, I have had the privilege of assisting the birth of several remarkable projects. Two such projects were offered to me by the same team: writer/artists Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel. Oh, sure, they went on individually to do brilliant stuff such as Blood of the Innocent, Tarzan, The Sandman, Gregory, Frankenstein’s Mobster and The Escapist, but all that happened after I received their pitch for Mars.

I was editor-in-chief at First Comics, and I was specifically looking for a project that was completely original and produced by “newcomers” (quotes are due to that “overnight sensation” thing). Joe Staton and Bruce Patterson, our art director and production manager respectively, tossed the Mars proposal onto my lap and said “read this.” Not “read this, please” or “I think this is what you’re looking for;” nope, just read this.

I did, and then I called Wheatley and Hempel. As I recall, their agent was noted comics writer, marketer, publisher, and all-around swell guy Mike Friedrich. Quite rapidly, we had a deal.

After the first issues were finished and we started our promotion work, one of the major comics distributors – there actually used to be over a dozen! – told me I was making a big mistake. Nobody heard of these guys. I pointed out that nobody had heard of Mark Twain until he got published. I was told the story lacked commercial appeal. I responded, “how do you know they aren’t mutants?” Yeah, back in those days I could be quite stubborn or, as I prefer to think of it, an asshole for the cause of good.

We published the series and it became a cult classic. My definition of a cult classic was a highly regarded comic book whose sales were outflanked by the comp list. Mars did well enough and if it sold in those same volume today it would be a twice-weekly book, but the numbers weren’t likely to confound Alan Turing. It had enormous word-of-mouth going for it as well, and that inured to the benefit of the First Comics legend.

Flash forward six years to 1990. Despite the fact that Hempel was hospitalized during his time on Mars, they pitched me another project. By this time, I was a group editor and director of editorial development at DC Comics, and my job was to boldly acquire weird shit that no one had acquired before. I heard their pitch for Breathtaker in a backroom at some huge comics convention. I went for it in a heartbeat, my boss Dick Giordano was ecstatic about it (Dick had a great eye for weird shit), and we produced and published Breathtaker… Despite Hempel’s return to the hospital.

But that’s when things got dicey. Our publisher, Jenette Kahn, a fine person who had earned my respect several years before she got into comics, took one look at the cover and said it seemed like we were mocking concentration camp victims. It’s 30 years later, and I still don’t get that. But word got out that Jenette didn’t like the book. Well, that’s not true. She didn’t like the cover, and she could have called for a new one, or she could have canned the book outright. She did not, but our crack marketing department saw the onus as clear as day.

DC’s marketing director had a reputation for not putting much muscle behind comics that didn’t have a batcape and didn’t kill off anybody important. When Breathtaker was released the only people who knew about it were Wheatley and Hempel’s relatives and those friends of mine who remained amused by my incessant bitching. Despite this, the books sold well, and it got itself a trade paperback collection, which I believe went through a few printings.

Still onus-laden, Mark and Marc got the rights back – eventually. We reprinted it over at IDW in 2005, which was about the time something really interesting happened. The Normal Rockwell Museum was putting on an exhibition of some two dozen graphic novels, and Breathtaker was among those selected. We had an entire wall in their truly breathtaking museum. We were invited to the opening and they even threw us all a wonderful feast – after which many of the museum curators brought out their personal comics for us to sign.

From time to time, the museum put together a travelling version of the exhibit, and it’s still going on. According to the press release,

“Wheatley and Hempel’s Insight Studios Group will mount the “Breathtaker Exhibition,” which was created by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and will appear at McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. With more than 90 original works of art, the exhibition explores the creative and physical processes that were undertaken during the original production … The exhibition will be on view August 24, 2020 through October 30, 2020.”

I should point out that McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland is just outside of Baltimore, near the abodes of the Breathtaker creators. That is sweet.

I should also point out that Breathtaker is being rereleased in collected edition by my old, old buddy Nick Landau (thanks for the sexy Hitler comic, Nick!) and his Titan Books imprimatur. Oh, and while I’m at it, I will point out that Titan is issuing an all-new companion comic, I guess for those of us who have all-new companions.

For me, this is seriously cool. Mark and Marc have been two of my closest friends, and I remain in awe of their work. If you haven’t read Breathtaker, Landau is about to make it easy for you to correct that.

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #073: Holiday In Tehran

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #073: Holiday In Tehran

It’s time to taste what you most fear / Right Guard will not help you here / Brace yourself, my dear / Brace yourself, my dear – Holiday In Cambodia by the Dead Kennedys, 1980.

It was great fun watching Donald Trump and his Stooges run their victory lap yesterday. Let me paraphrase their comments: “Iran blinked.” Trump may very well be as stupid as his dangerous, but even I have a hard time believing the Great Orange Turd wasn’t knowingly lying through his teeth.

After Iran’s massive missile attacks that served as warning shots, followed by statements from Iranian leaders blatantly saying their response was just that, Trump says Iran blinked. If he really believes that, then he will continue to keep in jeopardy the lives of over 100,000 American troops – as well as that of his alleged best-bud Benji Netanyahu. Maybe Trump thinks that, since the Jews are the ones responsible for his impeachment (source: statement made January 6 by Delaware Republican Party official Nelly Jordan), he can get back to his family’s legacy of hating the Hebes so, hey, screw Benji.

Iran bombed the shit out of two of our bases in Iraq Tuesday night. They were meticulous in not killing Americans, Iranians, or (I take it) Iraqis. Then they said, and again I paraphrase, this town isn’t big enough for the two of us, and if we don’t get out or if we assassinate any more Iranian leaders, they will move their bombsites a little bit to the right and blow our troops to kingdom come. That is the textbook definition of a warning shot. Stop listening to the babblings of Trump’s lying toadies: the absolute truth is that, Wednesday night, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made Donald Trump dance in a hail of missile fire. Continue reading “Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #073: Holiday In Tehran”

With Further Ado #076: Comics in Vogue – Literally

With Further Ado #076: Comics in Vogue – Literally

It’s so nice to see some comics popping up in unusual places.

The Italian edition of the fashion magazine, Vogue, features the work of a comic artist on its latest cover instead of the traditional photograph of a model or celebrity.  This January they have several variant covers, and one features a wonderful Milo Manara illustration. (Don’t worry, it’s G-rated.)

Milo Manara may be better known overseas than domestically, but he’s still a giant in the comics industry. Many of his works are a bit risqué for most Americans, but there’s no denying that he’s a fantastic illustrator and excels at drawing beautiful women.  This cover is another stunner.  Kudos to Vogue for also giving credit to his model, Olivia Vinton.

One could argue that Vogue borrowed this idea from Marvel, as they featured several Manara covers a few years ago. Infamously, his Spider-Woman cover was deemed too provocative by some folks.  Continue reading “With Further Ado #076: Comics in Vogue – Literally”

“So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #057: “The Mandolorian” Broke Me of My Star Wars Malaise

“So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #057: “The Mandolorian” Broke Me of My Star Wars Malaise

A long time ago in a galaxy far away… a nerd convinced a studio to give him money to make a visual effects masterpiece with significant merchandizing appeal. He mashed together the tropes of the science fiction and fantasy serials he loved growing up, and put together a wonderful homage to the hero’s journey. It made a lot of money, and soon thereafter, Star Wars became an empire. But you already knew that.

As I’ve detailed before: my personal Star Wars fandom was mild to possibly salsa verde at any given point. As an only child of parents not into pop culture, I didn’t actually sit down to enjoy the original trilogy in earnest until the late 90’s special edition releases. And while I’d been inundated to all the significant moments through delightful pastiches abroad, as well as avidly played through any number of Star Wars licensed video games (Tie Fighter, Rebel Assault, and Dark Forces)… in the battle between the light and dark side, I was quite the mercenary. That’s to say that I was a fan only when it suited me to be. Continue reading ““So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man” #057: “The Mandolorian” Broke Me of My Star Wars Malaise”