I had a whole other article written out about Unstoppable Wasp #5 and mental health. I’m told it was good, but I scrapped it on account of it requiring an as-needed anti-anxiety medication to edit. Or look at. Or think about. So now I’m writing this instead! On the plus side, Kay and I wrote a review of the issue in a more general sense that you can read here.
I had recently removed a number of books from my shelves for being series that would never find a full print run (sorry, Superboy, but DC canceling your second volume after printing Hawaiians green like Martians isn’t my fault), where the editions made for an incomplete reading experience, or where I just didn’t enjoy them as much as I thought I would. Those books frustrated me, and because of it I wasn’t enjoying looking at pieces of my collection. All told I removed something like 70 books, which was so difficult that I quite honestly nearly cried. But I felt better afterward. I’ll find some way to sell them to people who really do want them, and it will help me pay for an inevitable cross-country move. And besides, with 833 trade paperbacks on my shelf, I wouldn’t be hurting for something to read.
But with that recent cleaning in mind, I decided to examine my haul for February. It was an unusually busy time for me, comics-wise. I was checking what I needed to enter into my inventory spreadsheet and asked, “Why exactly did I get these?”
You can look at what I got this month and go “Wow, that’s impressive,” and frankly, I’ll take it. I’m proud of my collection and the way that I collect things. But I’m also going to go through February’s purchases alphabetically and I’ll tell you why I got them. Maybe you’ll see something you’ll like. Maybe I’ll learn something about myself. Maybe this will teach me to be a more mindful consumer. And maybe you’ll recommend something to me based on what I got here.
Aquaman by Peter David Book Two
I am a big fan of Peter David’s work. I think he’s a very insightful, funny, interesting writer who has a level of imagination that I rarely see in any writer of any medium. Now… that said, the only Aquaman work I’ve ever read was some stuff in JLA. That’s it. Even his fantastic portrayal in the DCAU’s Justice League, which is obviously inspired in part by David’s approach, didn’t make me seek it out.
What eventually hooked me was finding out that he considered the Aquaman prequel miniseries The Atlantis Chronicles his best/favorite work, and that the lack of a collection bothered him for quite some time. Upon reading it and enjoying what I found, I felt it was worth supporting by getting Aquaman Book One, to make sure I could experience the entirety of the story he was able to tell. I snagged Book Two for the same reason, even if I’m not done with Book One, and pre-ordered Book Three to make sure they see the reprint through to completion.
The pre-order system sucks, but sometimes you just gotta take the medicine so you don’t die a horrible death where all your skin falls off, exposing the raw tissue and nerve endings and forcing you to experience an unending torrent of salt.
… man, I really AM bothered about selling my comics.
That said, I’d spent a few months with it being my second choice in my cart (like being the fourth wheel in a three-for-two sale), until finally when given a similar choice, Kay
begged asked me to just buy it already.
Aquaman – Tempest
Hi, I’m late to this party, but along the same news as “water is wet”, Phil Jimenez is pretty ridiculously awesome as a writer and artist. A few months ago I managed to get a copy of JLA/Titans – The Technis Imperative and experience his work for the first time. Holy crap. I don’t understand how this guy hasn’t been getting superstar level work from Marvel and DC for the entirety of his natural life.
I wanted to get more of his work, but that’s more difficult than you might think (especially if you have no time for Infinite Crisis). Since I was getting his Wonder Woman Omnibus, I thought it was worth taking a look at where he started as well. Tempest was the first thing he wrote on his own, and he handled art duties as well. That’s a great way to get to know a creator.
Also, there was an essay he wrote in 1994 where he publicly came out in the comics community as gay and gave a moving tribute to his boyfriend (DC editor Neal Pozner, who died of AIDS). I really wanted to read it, but to my shock and a fair bit of horror, they didn’t include it. It was the strangest thing. I knew if it wasn’t there, I’d be upset, but instead, I felt numb. I just kept saying “It’s not here,” trying desperately to look over the book in case I’d missed it. It took a bit of doing, but I found a copy online. In the process, I found out that Pozner was responsible for an AIDS awareness campaign within DC, with the “You may think it’s not your problem…” ads. Not an easy thing to do in the early ’90s, when even talking about it was taboo. Believe me when I say the Robin one speaks to me now, not just regarding HIV and AIDS. Because these promotional materials are spread across numerous issues and will almost certainly not be reprinted, I’m including the ones I could find here. Weirdly, there are some alternate versions of the same ads, mostly reflecting changes in the DC Universe at the time.
The numbness subsided once I’d read it, but not wholly. It’s never going to stop bothering me that it was excluded. And it’s why I’m going to advocate for thorough preservation of media in the most vehement way possible. Along with the pictures above, because DC hasn’t included the essay, I’m posting it here.
Batman The Killing Joke – The Absolute Edition
The Killing Joke is a comic which has had its discourse go totally off the rails—I have a whole spiel about it that I ought to write down sometime—and I say that as not even the world’s biggest fan of the comic. But it does have real artistic value to its storytelling, and is a reminder that simplifying a character to a single moment, a single bad day, is reductive and leads to less complex, less well-rounded stories. That’s worth remembering as I continue with my own fiction.
A big reason I got this is because Brian Bolland, the original artist who ended up recoloring the book for almost every edition, is dead wrong about the colors. Fortunately, the original colors by John Higgins are included here as well (though on newsprint, of all things). I found this Absolute Edition, DC’s Rolls Royce of trade paperbacks, for $25 at a used bookstore. It was a great price for a story that I think is worth reading and discussing. I wasn’t ever going to purchase it with the new coloring, so Higgins’ colors and the price were the perfect excuse. (Also, Bolland changed the line art in the new version because he felt like it, and I’m offended by that on principle. Don’t bother with the recolored versions, trust me. The original printing or the Absolute Edition is the only way to go.)
Captain Marvel Carol Danvers – The Ms. Marvel Years Volumes 2-3
I got into Ms. Marvel sideways—Kay loves Carol Danvers. I tried looking at the first issue of Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Captain Marvel (I promised her I wouldn’t call Carol Danvers “Captain Copyright” anymore, but I still think Marvel’s a real piece of sh*t for the move they pulled just to screw over DC’s OG Captain Marvel), hated the art, but wanted to see more of the character. She got the Ms. Marvel Masterworks and loved them so much that I had to look a little more thoroughly to see what else she was in. And I’m fairly certain that it’s when I was reading up on the amount and length of female-led titles over at DC and Marvel (holy CRAP guys, that’s a whole other article because it involves a whole lot of math and jaw-dropping) that I discovered this weird, 50-issue series I’ve never heard anyone talk about. Since it was by a guy named Brian writing about a blonde superheroine (Stephanie Brown forever), I figured I’d give it a try.
The initial premise of this series spawns from House of M and Carol Danvers realizing that, in another world, she was basically the Superman of the Marvel Universe. She realizes she could be more, be not just better, but the best. So she decides to try. I’m a sucker for that kind of story because Rocky is one of the best movies ever made, so I went for it. I originally tried getting the earlier 9-volume collection of the series, but they’re out of print and not quite as complete as these, so I ended up taking the scattered ones I had off the shelves to replace them with these. With Volumes 1-3, I have the complete run. God that feels good.
The reason I got Volumes 2 and 3 this month was because Amazon screwed up my order for Volume 2 to the point where they allowed me to keep a copy and refunded my money, so I promptly bought Volume 3. I got two books I love and Amazon ultimately paid me something like $1.47 for it.
The Incredible Hulk Epic Collection Volume 22 – Ghosts of the Future
I literally wrote an entire article about why I like Peter David’s Hulk and how to collect it. It’s right here. This is more of that.
Pogo by Walt Kelly Volume 5 – Out of This World at Home
Pogo is one of the most important comic strips in comics history, and arguably one of the most important comic strips you’ll find in US history. A funny animal comic written and drawn by former Disney animator Walt Kelly, the series uses color in this gently abstract way that I adore, it has a real poetic, unique use of phonetic and regional language, and often biting satire. McCarthy was a popular target, appearing in the comic as a character named Simple Malarkey. He even wrote a story about the KKK, and the insidious indoctrination of children by family members to racist viewpoints, the ones that they don’t think to question because mom and dad said it was okay, and if you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust?
I bought the first two volumes out of intrigue, as I’d heard that Bill Watterson made other newspaper comics creators nervous when he released Calvin and Hobbes because it was of an artistic quality they hadn’t seen since Kelly had been in the papers. I bought the others to support the series coming out to completion. I even bought the first two Dell Comics compilations (by Hermes Press), and intend to get the other four, so that I can one day say that I have the complete Pogo and truly observe Kelly’s growth as a writer and artist.
It is my hope that strong sales of the Pogo series will allow the non-Walt Kelly strips to be reprinted. Normally I don’t much care for zombie strips. But his wife Selby, who assisted him, worked on the strip for a year and a half with new material. A revival (the last year or so of which was written and drawn by Peter and Carolyn Kelly) began fourteen years after the strip was discontinued. I’ve never seen any of the post-Kelly strips, but considering Carolyn’s involvement in the collection (having produced four covers that I can scarcely believe aren’t lost Walt Kelly pieces) and that Selby was working with him on another Pogo-related project (the animated special “We Have Met the Enemy And He Is Us”), I see no reason why they should not be shared with the world.
Preserve the wonders, the oddities, the mundanities, even the garbage of the present. You can’t know what will rise to be in the eyes of the future. But much like Pogo‘s earliest strips nearly did, without some form of preservation, there is a very real chance they will fade away forever.
Also, I got $15 promotional credit and a $10 refund because Amazon damaged my Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strips Volume 3. Ultimately, this cost me about a dollar and a half. This made it a lot easier to get something beautiful.
Ragnarok Volumes 1-2
This is how a collection grows—I found Ragnarok Volume 2 cheap, and I bought Volume 1 so I could read Volume 2. Walter Simonson wrote and drew this, and he’s just incredible. I’m pretty sure his forty-year career and seminal run on Thor are proof enough of this, but seeing something he’s clearly doing as a passion project was a reason to try this out. Sometimes that’s how it works, taking a chance and finding something beautiful as a result. Plus, it’s printed big and oversized. Who doesn’t want to look at Walt Simonson’s art when it’s oversized?
Raven the Pirate Princess Book Six: Assault on the Golden Rock
Raven the Pirate Princess has a lot of things that I love. Swashbuckling pirates, female protagonists who have wit, guile, and leadership, a strong cast, art that has a lot of character acting… and it reads better as a trade, I think. I don’t pick up single issues anyway, but it really does help.
I’m mad that I didn’t find out about this spin-off of Princeless until Jeremy Whitley was making quite a lot of noise about the potential cancellation of the series, but he did gain a loyal reader. This last volume finishes off “Year Two,” which is perfect for me because it completes a set, and perfect for everyone else because the first issue of Year Three is out right now. I’ve already pre-ordered the trade, and for anyone who likes comics with a lot of queer lady-types, this is tailor-made for you.
Secret Agent Deadpool
So much like the theory of the three Glees (those first 13 episodes were gold, fight me), I have a theory of my own: the three Deadpools.
1 – Liefeld
Rob Liefeld originated the character by ripping off Deathstroke in a way which seems legally actionable, but his original appearance was dour, serious, and EXTREME… ly boring. You’ll rarely see this Deadpool, but he occasionally pops up in pieces like in… well, Liefeld’s work, such as Deadpool – Bad Blood. I haven’t read it, but only because I saw the previews and literally every part of it looked terrible. It’s getting a sequel though: Deadpool – Badder Blood. It would be nice to think the title was ironic in some way. We all know it isn’t.
2 – Chimichanga
Deadpool is wacky and zany and crazy fourth wall-breaking chimichanga teleporting gun dinosaur sword guy! … I hate Chimichanga Deadpool. Deadpool is an incredibly funny character, but a lot of writers tend to treat him as a comedic character, and it’s usually a mark of laziness. You can do well-written Chimichanga Deadpool, and I think the best example of that was probably the two Death Battle videos he starred in. But the fact that the best-written Chimichanga Deadpool that I could find isn’t written by Marvel is worrying.
3 – Good Deadpool (no bias here, folks, just keep reading)
I’m pretty sure that Deadpool is the first Marvel comic I ever read, specifically, the original series by Joe Kelly. The character was portrayed brilliantly. Funny, over the top, and utterly, utterly terrifying. Good Deadpool isn’t crazy zany random, he’s mentally unstable and portrayed in a way which is examined as part and parcel with the wisecracks and action. That examination is generally what’s missing from Chimichanga Deadpool. The author and character really examining his cruelty, his self-hatred, his desire to be a hero, his need to find meaning—that’s what makes for a well-rounded character. Someone who can be incredibly funny, and two pages later, have the first depiction of a PTSD flashback I’ve ever seen portrayed realistically in fiction.
I think you know which of these Deadpools I like. Which is why it’s so frustrating that it’s rare to find Good Deadpool. But it’s understandable because Good Deadpool is difficult to write. Even Christopher Priest (the writer who followed Joe Kelly, the original writer of Deadpool’s first series), a writer who is no stranger to incredibly complex narratives, admitted that he didn’t feel comfortable trying to write the way Kelly had. His workaround was to make him the butt of the joke a little more. He was a good enough writer to pull it off, but most aren’t.
Enter Christopher Hastings, creator of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja and The Unbelievable Gwenpool, the latter of which had Deadpool in a guest appearance. A guest appearance where for the first time since reading Kelly’s work, I felt like I was reading Good Deadpool at his finest.
I didn’t even bother reading the synopsis for this trade paperback before I decided to buy it.
The Amazing Spider-Man Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection! Newspaper Volume 3 – 1981-1982
You know that thing that happens when you find cheap copies of early volumes and later ones, but can’t get a hold of that pesky middle volume? It happens to me all the time. I had Volumes 1, 2, and 4 of the Spider-Man newspaper strip, and had been trying to find Volume 3 for a long, long time. So rather than wait yet another year to find Volume 3 at a used price, I just bought it new. Besides, I bought it on a terrible day and needed a pick-me-up. Because I got it from Amazon, it was damaged. Because I’m a guy, I got a 30% discount and was allowed to keep it, and $15 promotional credit for my trouble. Believe me, this and Ms. Marvel aren’t the only times something like this happened, and I’ve got an article in the works discussing why. It involves Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, over $200, and Kay gawking at me a little bit like a fish.
Spider-Man’s newspaper comics are fascinating stuff, and while John Romita’s work on it is quite obviously the best, the other artists who worked on it are all capable or great. And Stan Lee, a man who at heart wanted to helm a newspaper comic, wrote the character until he died. (Yes, the newspaper authorship is a murky subject. But based on his interactions with Jim Shooter, I can’t believe he wasn’t involved somehow.) Seeing how the character evolved over forty years is going to be a pleasure.
Teen Titans by Geoff Johns Book Two
Geoff Johns has a very different understanding of the DC Universe than I do—hell, he has a very different understanding of some of the characters he is best known for writing than I do—best exemplified by the fact that, as I said earlier, I have no time for Infinite Crisis. But his run on Teen Titans is the only one that people really talk about outside of The New Teen Titans as having a level of lasting artistic impact. The art is pretty, the dialogue is strong, and I’ve had enough time to get used to the non-leather jacket version of Conner Kent (hey, you know what I REALLY hope gets collected to completion? Young Justice by Peter David, which I like significantly more) that I can enjoy with him when he’s well-written. And I managed to pick up this and the first volume on the cheap in great condition. It should be two, possibly three more volumes until the whole thing is reprinted outside of the expensive and ungainly omnibus. That thing is 1,400 pages, and I was never going to read the series unless it was split up like this.
So I wrote a whole thing about Ultimate Spider-Man being hard to collect. I considered rewriting the article to deal with some stuff I found out after I’d finished, but I’ll save you the trouble: the paperback Ultimate Collections, 1-5, are the way to go to make sure you read all the truly necessary tie-ins. After that, just read the paperbacks. The hardcovers don’t include the covers between issues, and if given the chance between covers and no covers, the choice is ALWAYS to have the covers. I had to do some shuffling to make sure I had the right Ultimate Spider-Man collections, and now I do. There are more volumes, but I don’t feel any need to collect them. After that point, Ultimatum (a horrible event comic that I think everyone agreed was a mistake) takes place, and the story of Ultimate Spider-Man went largely off the rails as a result. Peter Parker’s story comes to a comfortable end at Annual #3. But if you absolutely insist on reading past that point, please pick up Ultimatum: Requiem, as it contains two issues so critical that they should have been included in the main comic. They’re meant to be read immediately after Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 22 – Ultimatum, and lead into the relaunch of Ultimate Spider-Man, which begins in Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1 – The World According To Peter Parker.
If you’re curious why I know this in detail when I have no intention of ever reading them again, it’s pretty simple. In order to find out what I need to get the story that I want, I have to find out what in the story I don’t want. That’s why I can write the “How to Collect” columns to begin with. But if you’re curious about what happens after that annual, you’ll need Volumes 1-2 of the relaunched Ultimate Spider-Man (The World According to Peter Parker and Chameleons, respectively), followed the Death of Spider-Man Omnibus.
But I digress. Most of my new Ultimate Spider-Man books were scarcer volumes, particularly Volume 16, which I take offense to because the story arc, Deadpool, is Liefeld Deadpool at his worst. Paying a little extra ($20, compared to the $10-15 I managed to get others for) for something bad, just to make sure I’ve got the complete series, is almost morally offensive… but damn if it’s not satisfying to see the whole thing there on my shelf, misaligned spines and all, for me to read and enjoy.
Wonder Woman by Phil Jimenez Omnibus
So up there in the A-section, I mentioned how Phil Jimenez is amazing. Turns out, even now that we’re down to the Ws, that’s still true! I didn’t know Jimenez’s writing, but with what I had seen of his art and the fact that George Perez was willing to collaborate with him on two issues, I was willing to take the plunge.
Honest truth time, part of why I got this is because I really want to have a complete collection of the post-Crisis Wonder Woman. And part of that is dependent on DC actually publishing the rest of it after they finish Volume 3 of the John Byrne and Greg Rucka collections later this year, but part of it is making sure I have the omnibus before it’s selling for double cover price (or clearance). Lookin’ at you, every Marvel omnibus ever.
A heads up: The omnibus also includes a bunch of his other Wonder Woman material, including a miniseries about a favorite character of his, Donna Troy. I didn’t know that when I bought it because DC can’t solicit things to save their lives, but hey, it’s there, and it’s probably great too.
Wonder Woman by Walt Simonson and Jerry Ordway
It’s a six-issue fill-in between Jimenez and Rucka’s time on the title, and its collection in trade form actually surprised Simonson. Will the story be good? I have no idea. But it was cheap, filled in the gap between Jimenez and Rucka, and it’s by creators I trust. I figured at worst, it would be interesting, and that it for sure would create a contiguous stream of issues. I really need that sometimes. Plus it seems to tie up a plotline from Jimenez’s run that Rucka didn’t bother picking up on.
Since I’ve got your attention and we’re on the subject of Wonder Woman, can we stop and take a moment to tell whoever is designing the covers over at DC that they could coordinate, even a little, to try and make things fit together on a shelf just a bit? Because this is ridiculous.
Those were my February purchases. I’d like to say I have a greater insight into my own mind as a result of writing this, but the same way you don’t get your emotional breakthrough your first session of therapy, self-examination comes in fits and spurts and with a lot of shrugging. I suspect this will tell other people more about me than anything else, but it does get me in the habit of articulating my reasons for purchasing something.
Throughout this article, I’ve kept in mind some of the rules for my collection: work to buy things that are good, to never get things just because they fill in a gap, to never settle for the tolerable version, and to be able to look at my shelves and be happy with what I own. I don’t want to regret or merely tolerate anything on my shelves, now or ever. I want to love them.
I think I’m doing alright by that.
I’d love to hear your recommendations. You can reach me on twitter at @ReviewOrDie. And if you’re interested in even more graphic novel or trade paperback reviews, check out Luke Fomey’s Graphic Novel Weekly.