Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guest Post - Under the Radar

Doug: Our pal Redartz is your shepherd today, and he's talking comics -- and who doesn't like that? Take it away!

Redartz: Greetings, folks! Today I'm taking a fairly common topic and turning it sideways; sort of (and a special tip-of-the-hat to our friend Humanbelly, for inspiring today's title with one of his recent comments). Everyone has a favorite comic story, probably several (too difficult to choose just one). Many of these favorites are shared by many other readers, and often have achieved legendary status. Think of the Kree/Skrull War, the Galactus Trilogy, Avengers/Defenders war, Korvac saga. Or DC- there are the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Great Darkness Saga, Dark Knight Returns, Flash of Two Worlds. You get the idea; these are all stories which have (quite rightfully) earned their place in four-color history. Whether it's a single issue story or a multi-issue blockbuster, these are all stories which many, if not all, of us (and most comic fans) have read.

We are not talking about these stories today. My question for you: what is your favorite comic story that most folks probably have never read; perhaps never even heard of?  Think of us sitting around in your living room, chatting about the greatest comic stories; surrounded by longboxes.  These boxes are full of  comics we share a love for, but you pull out a particular personal favorite that has flown “under the radar" of most readers. “Say, what is that?" I inquire. "This", you reply, "is the book that I mention when someone asks me to recommend something they've never read before." 

To start off the discussion, I've rooted out three of my personal favorites. One humor, one adventure, and one historical; from three different eras, two of which may familiar to many of you, the other which may not be.

First selection:

An indie comic from our beloved Bronze Age, “I Saw It” - the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima. This comic, by writer/artist Keiji Nakazawa, was published in 1982, and was my first exposure to anything like Manga. Nakazawa, as a small boy, experienced firsthand the bombing that ended WWII,  but survived to adulthood. He became a comic artist, and used the opportunity to tell his tale. No blame or guilt is placed here, he simply describes (quite graphically) the effects of the bombing, and how they affected his later life. Extremely powerful reading, and enlightening.

 Second selection:

Jonny Quest #2, from Comico, 1986. This is a superb story by writer William Messner-Loebs, penciler Wendy Pini and inker Joe Staton. This comic tells the story of Jonny's mother, and of how Race Bannon came to join the Quest group. I'll not go into great detail here (these aren't reviews, merely a tidbit to whet your appetite), but this story is dramatic, touching, and still features the adventure we'd expect from JQ. I've reread this comic again and again, , and it touches me every time. If you're a fan of Jonny Quest, you really should read this...

Third selection:

My humor selection is from the modern era: Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Crisis II, published by Bongo Comics in 2005.  No doubt most are familiar with the Simpsons, and probably Futurama (Matt Groening's sci-fi romp), but perhaps haven't read any of their comics. This is a two-part story, written by Ian Boothby (a greatly talented writer, IMHO) and drawn by James Lloyd and Steve Steere, Jr. Long story short: the Simpsons are drawn into the future with Bender, Fry and the rest. The whole story is absolutely hilarious. 'Easter eggs' abound for fans of comics, literature and pop culture. Just a tiny sample of the references: underground comix, Star Wars, 2001:A Space Odyssey, Conan, the Village People and binary number theory. You will spend hours scouring each page for all the little touches and laughing all the while. I certainly did!

Now, how about you? What obscure gems do you recommend? I can't wait to hear about them...


Anonymous said...

Your mention of Wm. Messner-Loebs prompted my recommendation: Journey, a comic WM-L wrote and drew in the '80s about a man who lived in the wild in the early 1800s. The Will Eisner-esque art looks good, and the humor and drama are even better. The whole series (27 issues) was reprinted in a big "phone book" a few years ago, iirc. It's a favorite of mine, and iI would love to see it find a wider audience.

- Mike Loughlin

Anonymous said...

Interesting choices Redartz - I really enjoyed Bongo's Radioactive Man, so may well try and track down that Simpsons/Futurama crossover.

Obscure gems? To an extent, pretty much anything that isn't Marvel or DC superheroes is under the radar.... but seeing as I mentioned the Black Panther here the other day, Don McGregor's end of the 80s return to the character seems surprisingly obscure. Theres a fair bit of enthusiasm around for the old Panthers Rage stuff, but hardly anyone seems to have read Panthers Quest, which is much better, mainly because the whole series was beautifully drawn by Gene Colan. It was tucked away in small chunks in Marvel Comics Presents and never (so far as I know) reprinted... maybe that will be rectified when the film comes out.

Anthology comics! Why do American readers not like anthologies any more (or so I'm given to believe)? There are loads of fantastic short stories in old US comics that hardly anyone seems to know about these days (I recently got a couple of cheap back issues of DCs Rima the Jungle Girl, and the art on the back-ups by the mighty Alex Nino - wow!)


Anonymous said...

ps As for something that maybe easy to find, fairly recently DC published a collection of Twilight by Chaykin and Garcia-Lopez. That seemed to be widely ignored first time round....


Edo Bosnar said...

Great topic, Redartz! Interesting suggestions, too. I knew about that Jonny Quest series, but was never curious until now, esp. since you note that the art is by Wendy Pini and Joe Staton!

My own suggestions for under the radar include a few Elseworlds stories that aren't as well-known as the really popular ones (like Gotham by Gaslight, JLA: The Nail, Superman: Red Son, etc.) but perhaps should be: JLA: Age of Wonder by a writer/artist team I'd never heard of working anywhere else, Adiskadi Tantimedh and Galen Showman (inked by P. Craig Russell), and set in the late 19th century as the industrial boom in the US was kicking into full swing; Dark Allegiances by Howard Chaykin (story and art), a Batman story set in the late 1930s, in which Bats takes on a Nazi spy ring; and Son of Superman, written by Chaykin and David Tischman, drawn by J.H. Williams and Mick Gray, in which Jon Kent, the teenage son of Lois Lane and Superman (who disappeared mysteriously years before), finds he has his dad's powers, and decides he has to do something about the corrupt and tyrannical US government in a dystopian future.

Also, a creator I think is under the radar for most comics fans in the US is French writer and artist Joann Sfar. I recommend anything he's done, but especially The Rabbi's Cat (2 books, both translated into English) and The Professor's Daughter (drawn by Emmanuel Guibert, also translated into English). The former is about, well, a rabbi's cat that starts talking and - among other things - gets into arguments about theology and philosophy with his master, to whose chagrin the cat is basically an atheist. The latter is set in Victorian England, and involves a mummy held in a museum who comes to life and falls in love with an archeologist's daughter. Both of these are simultaneously funny, cute and thought-provoking. Can't recommend them enough.

Martinex1 said...

What a great topic Redartz. And already so many suggestions I need to add to my Christmas reading list. My suggestions are probably not as under the radar as others’ as these are a bit more mainstream and have been nominated or won awards along the way, but here goes…

THE MAZE AGENCY: In the late 80’s Mike W. Barr and Adam Hughes created a mystery series starring a pair of investigators, a female private detective and a male true crime writer, whose personalities and relationships are vividly complex. The mysteries play fairly with the reader (although some of the riddles along the way are supremely knotty). The art here is wonderful. And it is a shame that the mystery genre has all but disappeared from comic shelves.

ASTRO CITY: For the superhero fan, Kurt Busiek’s series, replete with intricate world building and multifarious heroes, is so enjoyable. I continually read it thinking I know the iconic characters and plot points but am always surprised and entertained. Even the slower issues tend to be heads above the standard hero comic. I recommend starting from the beginning with the first collected trades titled “Life in the Big City” and “Confessor”, but that is just because the early stories are so great. You can pretty much jump in anywhere and find a great stand-alone story or short arc.

FLAMING CARROT: For humor and all out madness, I recommend Flaming Carrot, Bob Burden’s masterpiece. A guy with really no powers and a big flaming carrot mask takes on Limbo, Hitler’s cloned boots, aliens, and so much other idiocy you cannot help but laugh. Ut!

Looking forward to other recommendations. That Jonny Quest book looks fun.

Garett said...

Redartz, I'm curious about the Pini/Staton art on Johnny Quest. Seems to me that would be a good cartoony combo.

I love this topic as it gives me a chance to root through my collection and perhaps reread some of these.
-I'll give another plug here for Femme Noir (2009) by Christopher Mills and Joe Staton. Cartoony noir story that is right up Joe Staton's alley.

-Abraham Stone (1991) by Joe Kubert. Oversized GN published by Platinum. A young fella from Pennsylvania moves to New York in the 1910s, and gets involved with criminals. Great full color art by Kubert, interesting hero. There is a sequel that I haven't read yet.

-Murder Me Dead (2002) by David Lapham. Well-written noir tale by the author of Stray Bullets.

-Fall Guy for Murder (2013) by Johnny Craig. Reprints Craig's 1950s EC stories, written and drawn by him.

I've read all these in the last year, so I can recommend them--can you tell I like noir comics? But there are others that I haven't read for a while, that I liked at the time and now want to check out again. Here they are:
-Hawaiian Dick (2003) by B. Clay Moore and Steven Griffin. Private detective Byrd in 1950s Hawaii, with some supernatural elements. Cool story, with nice art by Griffin and super coloring. There are sequels, but the first was the best.

-Prisoner of the Stars (2008) by Alphonso Font. Futuristic GN in B+W.

-Mighty Love (2003) by Howard Chaykin. My favorite of Chaykin's newer stories.

-Blood: A Tale (1987) by JM DeMatteis and Kent Williams. Expressive painted art by Williams, who has gone on to become an awesome fine art painter. Marvel published it originally, but DC reprinted it! The story was dark and poetic--have to read this one again.

-Baby, You're Really Something! (1990) by Frank Frazetta. Sleazy but beautifully drawn B+W illustrations by Frazetta from the early '60s.

-John Buscema comics from the 1950s, published by Dell. My favorites: Hercules (1959), Spartacus (1960), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), and Luke Short's Top Gun (1958). Great art penciled and inked by Buscema, showing he was already an excellent artist before arriving at Marvel.

Edo Bosnar said...

Martinex, since I'm a fan of Mike Barr, I've been interested in Maze Agency for the longest time.
Garett, I've added Femme Noir to my (long, long) want-list since you mentioned it here recently. And I'll second your recommendations for Mighty Love (really cute story) and the Frazetta book - yes, it's basically about 30 pages of cheesecake pencil sketches, but as you noted, they're done by Frazetta, so they're absolutely gorgeous.

Redartz said...

Thanks for all the great comments and recommendations, everyone! I'm going to have to print off a copy of this column so I can have easy access to all these recommendations when out hunting ...

A few comments:

Mike L.- can't agree more on your endorsement of Journey. Great series!

Sean- I'll have to watch for those Marvel Comics Presents issues; they should be pretty inexpensive...and yes, anthologies are a pleasure, and sadly scarce these days.

Edo and Garrett- the Jonny Quest series , for about the first dozen issues, featured different artists each issue; after which Marc Hempel and Mark Wheatley were the regulars. Some noteworthy artists were among those who participated (with either covers, stories or pinups), including Doug Wildey (Jonny's creator, as it were), Dave Stevens, Bill Sienkewicz, and others. Issue 2, by Pini and Staton, did have a look rather suited to Silver age, actually quite appropriate for capturing the look of the cartoon series.

Martinex1- Flaming Carrot was wonderful- did you by chance catch the 3D FC story published in "AV in 3D"? And I'll add Maze to my purchase list; always heard good things about it.

J.A. Morris said...

Some great suggestions from Redartz.

The Simpsons/Futurama crossover is a good story. I don't read the Simpsons comics on a regular basis. But I recommend their annual Winter Wingding issues that come out every November.

Anonymous said...

Under the radar...that's a tough one. I usually go for the mainstream superhero stuff, but there are a few series (MOKF, Jonah Hex, Warlord) that I love that don't fit that mold.

There are some independent series too...Jon Sable, Grimjack, Ms. Tree...that seem to get overlooked. I always liked Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese--I guess it IS quite popular in Europe, if not over here.

Mike Wilson

Garett said...

Hey Mike, Jon Sable is great. I loved the independent comics boom in the early '80s, and Jon Sable has held up very well. Martinex, I'd like to read Flaming Carrot again. I saw a hardcover recently, but it had a high price tag and didn't have all the issues I'd like. Hey Edo, since you're a Chaykin fan, I'd like to hear your list of Chaykin's best work sometime.

Garett said...

Redartz, sounds like a lineup of artists I'd like. I'll keep my eyes open for Jonny Quest.

The Prowler said...

I had a really cool post where I talked about Masamune Shirow’s Dominion – Conflict – No More Noise, a Dark Horse re-issue from a while back and DC's Birds Of Prey, the early stuff was the best, but I noticed the link to Groovy's page, clicked on it and lost an hour of time. My story is Alien Abduction and I'm sticking to it............ Be Well, My Friends!!!!

(Little drops of rain whisper of the pain, tears of loves lost in the days gone by.
My love is strong, with you there is no wrong,
together we shall go until we die. My, my, my.
An inspiration is what you are to me, inspiration, look... see).

Humanbelly said...

Golly, I'm honored to have served as even an indirect (possibly off-kilter?) muse, Redartz--!

MX1, ASTRO CITY was one of the first things that came to my mind-- although you're right, it really probably couldn't be considered under-the-radar exactly. More like "alternative" to the main stream, yeah?

My own list, which is being composed extemporaneously as I type here, is going to include things that I am SURE I've touted 'round here during other discussions:

TOP 10 (Alan Moore/Gene Ha/Zander Cannon)-- it's the only time I've read an entire series a second time immediately after finishing the first. It's Alan Moore, so there are aspects that are truly, deeply disturbing-- but it is SO FLIPPIN' GOOD! It made me start watching Hill Street Blues (which it was modeled after)-- but I found the comic much more cohesive, strangely enough.

SMAX was a delightful sequel series to TOP 10, focusing on a particular tangential storyline involving two of the main characters of the first series. Different tone, different genre, really-- but also a hoot of an engaging read.

THE TICK-- the original run, from New England Comics? Perpetually and almost hilariously behind schedule? Not even sure if the 12th or 13th issues of that run finally saw print before they expanded wildly into cartoons, more books, etc, etc. But that first run is a great labor of love, and the basis of a lot of what made the animated series so enjoyable.

THE MONKEES-- I only have one issue of Dell's 12(I think?) issue run-- but it captures the madcap and surreal nature of the show just perfectly.

Hmm-- I don't have the issue numbers at hand, but at about the time DisAssembled/Civil War was taking place (and Planet Hulk was in full flower), THOR was officially "ending" its run, and the storyline involved a sort of alternate-future Asgard, w/ Thor as the monarch. The focus was on his son. I. . . wish I remembered more than that offhand, but I distinctly remember that it was such a well-written, well-illustrated bittersweet arc-- one that could never end well, certainly-- and that sadly only about twelve of us may have been reading it at that point.

Sometime in the mid-80's DC did a PLASTIC MAN mini that may have been the truest capturing of the character and his world since Jack Cole's passing.

And for you older NFL fans out there-- Pro-Quarterback magazine, back in the 70's, ran a cartoon feature called "SUPERFAN" by Jack Davis & Nick Meglin that was collected in a mass-market pocket paperback edition. I still have my much-loved copy from our school's Scholastic Books ordering days-- and it remains a vintage hoot-! Pretty darned hard to find now, I think-- but it's a great throwback to the days of Gifford, Meredith, and Cosell (who play a major role in one of the arcs, in fact).

Okay-- gotta pack it in, teammates!


Redartz said...

Again, many thanks to everyone for your responses; I'm stoked to have so many intriguing reading experiences to track down.

J.A.- Yes, I have a few of the "Winter Wingding"s. I also highly recommend the annual "Treehouse of Horror" issues; they are as much fun as the tv episodes that inspired them...

HB- you've really piqued my interest with "Top 10"; was a big Hill Street watcher back in those glorious 80's. I really need to read some more Moore (sorry, couldn't resist).

Martinex1 said...

HB I have to second TOP 10. I forgot about it and will have to dig it out of storage. And Redartz I missed the 3D Flaming Carrot. Ohh so much to read and such little time. HB you mention Thor, and there was also a period during Heroes Reborn (I think) that Thor reverted to Journey into Mystery and starred the Lost Gods. I recall that being a fun run but it may be clouded by time.

I like this "Under the Radar" topic; I am sure more comics will come to mind in the next few days. Perhaps someday we can discuss under the radar music or films.

Edo Bosnar said...

I agree with all of the praise of Top 10, although I'm really uncertain as to whether it can be considered "under the radar." My impression is that it is quite well-known and beloved among comics fans. But yes, I'll third HB's recommendation for the original series and Smax, and would just add the graphic novel Top 10: The Forty-niners, which is a prequel. However, avoid some of the later stuff that Alan Moore didn't write. Mainly I'm thinking of Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct - it's as bad as the material by Moore is good; not even Jerry Ordway's art could save it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Forty-niners - a sort of Top Ten prequel set in the ABC "golden age" - might qualify more as under the radar? Seems less well known.
Its great, of course - Moore and Ha actually manage to pull off an Invaders type book with real style.


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