Yeah. But after that Bachalo came on board for a great little run with Seagle, before Marvel editorial gutted it all. #353 was their first issue.
AARGH! (or to give it its full title, Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) is a pretty special comic. Collecting a series of short strips or single-page cartoons by a host of excellent creators (I won’t list them all for space reasons, but you can see all the names here), this 1988 book was a protest against UK government actions - most notably the infamous ‘Clause 28’ - that saw the Tory administration prevent the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by UK local authorities, including as part of sex education in schools.
It was something that was seen by many as somewhat absurd even at the time, and feels almost unthinkable now - even though it was only finally repealed under Labour in 2003 - but reading this book brings home what a horribly real impact it had on society.
Often, these kinds of short political protest comics bring out the best in creators, and there’s no shortage of great strips here.
Some - like Alan Moore, who spearheaded the book and formed his own publishing company, Mad Love, to release it - choose to make their point through elegant, poetic pieces, with Moore writing a beautiful poem about the history of same-sex love that’s illustrated by his Swamp Thing collaborators Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch and which opens the anthology.
Others take a slightly more arch angle, like the strip by Neil Gaiman, Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham that cleverly explores the nonsensical logical conclusion of a quest to erase all homosexual influences from society.
Some of them are simple warnings about the UK slipping into the trappings of a fascist state, like this piece from Dave Gibbons:
Or this from Kevin O’Neill.
Bill Sienkiewicz produces a single, chilling double-page spread:
And then there’s Frank Miller… well, being Frank Miller.
But it was the strip towards the end by Jamie Delano and Shane Oakley (based on an account by Mark Vicars) that had the biggest impact on me. A grounded and honest story that details the realities of growing up gay in the UK of the '70s and '80s, it was full of true-to-life detail that rang true and made it clear what an isolating and harmful experience that could be for someone who had nowhere to turn for help, support or information, and who was constantly faced with prevalent (and state-endorsed) homophobia.
Maybe it’s the personal nature of the story or maybe it was just the cumulative effect of the entire anthology, but I was quite choked up and almost tearful by the end. It brought home in a very human way what a damaging and unpleasant piece of legislation this was, and showed that sometimes art can be the best way to make a pointed political argument.
Of course, AARGH wasn’t part of a successful movement in the end - Clause 28 wasn’t blocked, came in halfway through 1988, and lasted a shamefully long time (including being defended as late as the early 2000s by the likes of David Cameron). And arguably it came at the worst possible time, at the height of the AIDS hysteria and at a time when misinformation and prejudice around homosexuality was rife. But it’s still a very worthy book - both in its intentions and for the work in its own right - and well worth checking out, even if only as a historical curiosity.
Reading both 52 and The Infinity Saga Trilogy. The former has not aged well, given the name of a character introduced, but is still awesome. After finishing the latter, I will read Abnett and Lanning’s GotG, which should make @Jim happy.
Proper old comics.
My pal over here in the south of Scotland runs US Historic newspapers.
Times are tough for him and I suggested he focus on some of the original cartoons he has in his vast collection
Here’s a link to some framed original prints which are quite spectacular and a bargain if I do say so myself
Superboy and the Five Legion Traitors
By Jerry Siegel & Curt Swan
The issue opens with Superboy performing one of his astounding feats of power, in this instance moving an entire planet to another star system before its sun goes nova. Disregard the number of laws of physics this demolishes, and just let your imagination dwell on this for a minute. Those people who say that Superboy/man is ‘too powerful’ would deny us awesome spectacle like this.
Anyway, that entire incident over in two panels (two panels! Modern writers really don’t have a clue…) and Superboy is soon facing a much more down-to-Earth dilemma. See, the way to challenge ‘too powerful’ Superboy isn’t to find somebody more powerful, but to give him a problem he has to think his way out of, and this story does that beautifully, as we shall see.
Back home, Clark Kent is surprised by the arrival of five members of the Legion (which everybody in 20th-century Smallville somehow knows about and isn’t at all freaked out about). After the obligatory demonstration of their powers, things start going a bit pear-shaped for Clark, as was foreshadowed on the cover. He has a fraction of a second to figure out what’s going on and come up with a way of shutting up Ultra Boy before his secret identity is revealed to the world!
So, in the breath it takes for Ultra Boy to complete one sentence and begin the next, Superboy:
- Spots the vital clue:
- Figures out the mystery:
- Searches for and locates this world’s Superboy:
- Puts the lights out:
- Writes a message:
- Throws the message with unerring accuracy at this world’s Superboy, who is currently flying home at super-speed:
All in time for the other Superboy to save the day (after first detouring home to get the device he’s going to need to imprison the evil legionnaires:
Come on, how awesome is all that? ‘Too powerful’? Bah, those people don’t know what they’re missing with their wimpy modern version of Superman.
The whole story is done in seven and a half pages, including denouements and explanations of such concepts as the multiverse and various astronomical phenomena.
I have to admit, when Jerry Siegel’s good, he’s very, very good.
Don’t you just love it when you discover a great comic you didn’t know existed?
A smart squarebound 64-page Elseworlds book by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips that positions Jim Gordon as the protagonist of a 1940s pulp crime tale, Gotham Noir is everything you could want it to be.
Mixing the vibe of Criminal with the world of Batman works as well as you’d expect, and putting Gordon at the heart of the story (with Batman as just an occasional bogeyman presence) makes for a good balance of grounded pulp noir and light superheroics.
(It’s the same sort of balance that Brubaker would strike on Gotham Central shortly afterwards - this book came out in 2001 and that series started a little over a year later in 2002, so this can almost be seen as a sort of dry-run for that series.)
Despite having 64 pages to play with, the plot still feels quite dense and compressed, especially as things get towards the end.
It’s full of the noir tropes you’d expect - mysterious femmes fatales, unwitting fall guys, gangsters and politicians, and corrupted young innocents - and Brubaker has fun playing with transformed versions of familiar Batman characters like Selina Kyle, Harvey Dent, the Joker, and of course Bruce Wayne himself.
Phillips’ art is excellent too - drenched in shadows, with a certain roughness and grittiness that somewhat disguises some very well-planned layouts and painstaking background detail.
This early page in particular is exactly the kind of thing you’d hope for in a Batman book that’s filtered through the same kind of approach that Brubaker and Phillips would later adopt on Criminal.
I only found out about this book’s existence after Brubaker mentioned it in the backmatter for the latest issue of Criminal, but I’m glad I tracked it down as it was a great read.
Legion of Super-Heroes v3 #37
Superman v2 #8
Action Comics #591
Legion of Super-Heroes v3 #38
When it comes to Legionnaire deaths, there’s one clear stand-out for me.
I never read DC comics as a youngster, so when I began discovering them (including the Legion of Super-Heroes) in the 80s, all the characters were new to me, other than those I knew from films and television. Such as Superman. So I didn’t know who Superboy was, or his place in history, but I knew the costume, and I knew who Superman was and what he stood for. And in my very early DC reading, I found this little crossover story by John Byrne and Paul Levitz which basically killed him off (and along the way did a lot to explain to me what the Legion was, how the DC universe worked, and so forth). The story itself spanned multiple worlds and time periods and was epic in nature, exactly the kind of cosmic story I loved from Marvel.
Even though I didn’t know anything about the pre-Crisis DC multiverse, I understood the concept and could immediately grasp the idea of the Pocket Universe. And I know its existence is controversial for a lot of fans, but I loved the concept. Without any pre-existing emotional attachment to the ‘real’ Superboy and ‘real’ Smallville to colour my opinion, I just found these concepts incredibly clever.
And so as the story unfolded across four different comics, I learned the origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes for the first time, and I met Silver-Age Superboy and his supporting cast for the first time. Including one special character I had no idea existed, but one I fell in love with even as he was taken away.
Despite bouncing between two writers, the story is so well told, the concepts and characters and stakes involved are so clearly conveyed, that the emotional moments work even when you haven’t grown up with these characters, because these themes are universal.
And by the end, even when you don’t already love the characters, these moments are heartbreaking, yet still uplifting. These scenes sum up the reason I have always loved super-hero comics.
And Superboy saves everybody, of course. Not just an entire planet, but everybody he loves. Because that’s what Superboy always does. Even without knowing the character, I knew that.
No matter what it takes.
I didn’t need 30 years of reading about these characters, I only needed this story to tell me who was the greatest hero of them all.
And thirty years after reading it, I still believe that.
That review deserves a record number of likes…
Big contrast between the excellent Byrne art there and whoever drew the panels at the bottom. Everyone looks stoned.
Credited to Greg LaRocque and Mike DeCarlo. I usually like LaRocque, so I’m going to blame DeCarlo.
Adventure Comics #327
The Lone Wolf Legionnaire
By Edmond Hamilton & John Forte
This is one of my favourite Legion stories so far. It introduces a great new character with an inventive and unusual background, has several unexpected plot twists, shows the Legion doing some intelligent detective work, and still has plenty of wild action.
As usual with these stories, we get some kind of background details of the Legion’s activities before the main story starts. Here, we learn just how important and serious the Legion’s work is by listening on the conversation between a prisoner and his guards:
Then we are reminded that the Legion is big, and that there are always multiple missions going on at the same time. This mission also has nothing to do with the main story, but it does serve the useful purpose of getting Superboy and Mon-El out of the way:
The actual story starts at the Interplanetary Circus in Metropolis (because for some reason DC’s writers all seem to love the circus). During a dangerous stampede of alien creatures, a mysterious figure swings in and saves the day. So impressive is his feat that the Legion (well, unilaterally Light Lass) forgets their usual membership process and offers him a job on the spot. But the answer surprises everyone:
The mystery thickens when Light Lass lets slip that two Legionnaires are investigating some robberies, and the ‘Lone Wolf’ hero shows a suddenly suspicious interest.
She tactfully didn’t say, ‘We had to send Lightning Lad and Ultra Boy and they’re both as dumb as a box of spanners.’ And yet, Garth and Jo actually seem to be making progress on Zoon. I mean, ok, Jo’s no Batman, but he knows a clue when he sees it:
Meanwhile the Legion (well, mainly Brainiac 5, Light Lass is still besotted by him) suspect Lone Wolf, and decide to trail him … to the planet Zoon! The plot thickens even further!
As they approach Zoon, a mysterious force attacks. Lone Wolf pilots his ship to safety, and then selfless ricks his life to save the Legion cruiser from destruction. Light Lass rushes to see if he’s ok (spoiler: he is) but:
But why? Why?
That’s exactly what I was wondering!
It turns out that Lone Wolf is ‘…a synthetic man made of artificial flesh, an android.’ This seems to be a big deal, as we then get several panels of Lone Wolf feeling sorry for himself:
Look, Wolf, pull yourself together! Have you actually experienced any anti-android prejudice? It’s you that’s made yourself an outsider. You moved on before they found out you’re not human, so how do you know how they would react? You ran off before Light Lass could tell you what she thought, so maybe she likes kissing androids? Geez, man, don’t you think you’re playing the victim card a bit prematurely here?
Anyway, on with the mystery. Brainiac 5 figures out that the key to solving it is to work out who on Zoon knows anything about androids, and the answer comes pretty soon:
We soon learn that the late Mar Londo created an army of androids to, effectively, work as slaves in his Zuunium mine (why is it Zuunium and not Zoonium, after the planet? No idea…). Literally, he sends an army of blindly loyal artificial men (who are obviously intelligent and have human-like feelings) down to die in numerous horrific ways.
What a horrible man. If that’s an example of a human on Zoon, give me an android any day.
And finally we learn the real secret of Lone Wolf:
That is pretty heartbreaking. But there’s something not adding up … Lone Wolf wasn’t on Zoon when the robberies occurred, and who or what was trying to kill him earlier on? And why would he return to Zoon after hearing about the robberies from Light Lass? I’m suspecting a twist coming up …
I knew it!
Well, you can sort of sympathise with the android, because the way he was treated by Dr. Londo was pretty appalling. Really, Dr. Londo is the true villain of this story.
Still, all’s well that ends well. Lone Wolf knows he’s human again (and hopefully he’s completely over the self pity), the job offer from the Legion still stands, and Light Lass doesn’t have to feel all icky about having kissed an android.
I love a happy ending.
And I think Lone Wolf—or whatever he ends up calling himself—will be an interesting addition to the Legion’s roster.
Overall, it’s a great story.
I’ve had the Arkwright Integral omnibus sitting on my shelf for a couple of years without ever making the time to read it. I read the stories before (20+ years ago) so I guess the urgency wasn’t there.
I’ve just finished reading the first half of the book, which is the original 9-issue Luthor Arkwright series and it is…
I don’t know, I am utterly stunned by how good it is. I mean, I knew it was good, but re-reading it in a single chunk (instread of piecemeal when I could find the individual issues) has highlighted just how good it is. The story is so dense, so detailed, so layered, so clever, I felt shell-shocked by the time I turned the last page.
If you don’t know the story already: there’s a multiverse where alien powers are attempting to wrest control (it’s more complex than that) by influencing human destiny. One high-tech Earth opposes them, through their agent Luthor Arkwright, the only man with the psionic ability to move unaided between different Earths (it’s more complex than that). The bulk of the action takes place in an alternate, dystopian, 1980s Britain where the Puritan Commonwealth was never overthrown, and Arkwright is fighting with Charles III and his sister Anne to restore the monarchy (it’s more complex than that).
And I can’t say a lot more without giving away all the unexpected twists.
The art is black and white, but all the better for it. I don’t think that coloured art could contain this insane level of detail. It’s easy to see why Talbot switched to coloured art in later years, though. Some of these pages look like they must take about six years to draw.
But it’s not just fine detail that draws you into the art, Talbot is an absolute master of layout and telling the story through art alone (often literally, there will be streches of several pages without dialogue). There are any number of pages I could show to illustrate this, though I’m not sure how good it’s going to look at a reduced size. Here’s just one splash age and one action scene:
Every page is consistently among the best art I’ve ever seen in a comic.
And the writing is stunning on many levels. It works intellectually, emotionally, and
Well. It’s as good as the best I’ve ever read from Alan Moore. I can’t think of any other way to convey how good this is.
Wolverine: Weapon X #1 - 10 - I’m not much of a Wolverine fan, to be honest. He’s alright in small doses, but gets boring pretty quickly I find. I picked these issues up because of Jason Aaron; the series launches back in 2009, and if I remember correctly was one of his first regular series.
#1 - 5 “The Adamentium Men” is a fantastic, action packed epic, with great art from Ron Garney. There are some classic moments in this, as Logan takes on a corrupt corporate security firm, equipped with many secrets from the Weapon X program.
#6-9 “Insane In The Brain” was quite unpleasant, on the other hand. A particularly gruesome storyline, set in an asylum. It was effective for what it was - a horror story, to all intents and purposes - but I don’t like “torture porn” movies either, so this didn’t do much for me.
#10 was a nice little one shot where Logan meets up with a number of the important women in his life, on the verge of his new relationship. Inconsequential mostly, but a nice pallet cleanser from the sour taste of the previous arc. Nicely illustrated by C. P. Smith.
The book ran for 16 issues in total. I have the final 6 in my “to read” pile, but I’m not in a rush to get to them. I’m all Wolverined out right now.
I finished up Wolverine: Weapon X #11-16, and they were a welcome return to earlier form.
#11-15 “Tomorrow Dies Today” was a lot of fun. Dare I say it, the best Wolverine in the Avengers story ever written. Great use of Captain America (both of them), Spider-man, Iron Fist, Thing, and so on. It is a blatant Terminator rip off, but very well done. With some very nice Ron Garney artwork.
Not sure what the point of #16 was. A muddled, confusing story to end the series on.
Adventure Comics #328
The Lad Who Wrecked the Legion
By Jerry Siegel & Jim Mooney
Sometimes you have to wonder if the Legion’s naivety may have gone a bit too far.
Oh, now you’re asking yourself that, Superboy? Maybe you should have considered it when you let a completely random stranger join with no kind of background check?
But that’s just the tease on the splash page. Let’s give the story a fair chance before we dismiss it. It starts as a typical day for the Legion. Which for them of course means tormenting someone.
Yeah, so long Bouncing Boy. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
As if dangling this carrot in front of the de-powered Chuck and then snatching it away isn’t bad enough, still calling him Bouncing Boy is just the icing on the cake. Way to go, Clark.
Moving on to the main plot, the Legion observe a super-powered stranger and naturally immediately invite him to join. I think the rule of one new member a year is completely out of the window now, it’s only last month that they let Lone Wolf (‘don’t call me Lone Wolf’) in.
Still, at least they don’t need to go through the effort of a formal try-out, because they’ve already seen his power in action. All they need is for him to answer one simple question.
Ok, not at all suspicious there. Let him in! But as we don’t know anything about him, let’s not do anything stupid like let him put us into a coma while he performs unspecified experiments on us.
Well, at least it’s only Sta—
Ok, I can’t cope with this any more. Thank sprock Element Lad and Saturn Girl return from their mission in time to stop the insanity (and the villain) and save the Legion from total embarrassment. (Defeating him in a way that was actually nicely foreshadowed earlier in the story, the only redeemable point in this whole sorry story.)
I’m sorry, but looked at objectively this story is really, really dire. And even looked at through the rosy-tinted glasses of Silver-Age fandom, there’s none of the charm or inventiveness which would normally allow us to overlook and forgive creaky Silver-Age plotting.
After the terrific Lone Wolf story last month, this is so much of a let down.
A word about the artist: I’m a fan of Jim Mooney, but I don’t feel that he’s completely suited to the Legion. Maybe it’s because I’ve got used to the stiff-yet-expressive style of John Forte, but Mooney’s more cartoony approach doesn’t quite work for me. If he stays on the title I’m sure he will grow into it, but I’m hoping this is just a filler and Forte is back next month. Just as I hope Edmond Hamilton gets back on writing duties, and stays there.