Spring Break Reading, Part 3 - Oldies

by Brandon

Two days late and many, many dollars short, the third and final installment of Spring Break Reading comes to a grinding halt. I read over one hundred issues during my spring break last week. It definitely put a dent in my reading stack, but I still have a log way to go. In this final installment, I'll astonish and astound you with reviews of Doom patrol, Queen & Country, Justice League, Suicide Squad, The Spirit, and Grendel. And guess what? I think I loved nearly everything I read while I was camping. That was awesome!

Doom Patrol #'s 26-50
Ever since DC announced Kieth Giffen would be starting a new Doom Patrol series, I got the urge to go back an re-read Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, probably the undisputed high point for this property. In fact, every time a new reboot of this title has been announced since the Vertigo run, I have gone back to these original issues. What can I say? Part of me lives in the past. When you read these issues, you really do get a sense of how gutsy DC was when they let Morrison go off the deep end with these characters. Doom Patrol had always been billed as being the world's strangest heroes, but they had often come off as being the most mundane, especially in the 1980s. Morrison gave the Doom Patrol a purpose by embracing the weird. The characters were so great, especially Crazy Jane and Danny the Street. Cliff Steele always remains the emotional heart for the team, but Morrison was able to give the character a voice beyond being good ol' stable Cliff. This comic book is not for the passive reader. Morrison challenges you with each absurd turn. There is more psychedelic super-heroics in these pages than you could probably shake some LSD at. The art was just as appropriately trippy as the writing was. If you haven't given this title a spin, what are you waiting for? Just think of the X-Men on mind boggling drugs and you'll be getting close. Chin-chin.

Queen & Country Definitive Edition Volume 1
I'm a huge fan of the television show 24. Or should I say I was a huge fan? While the past two seasons have been less than entertaining, many Q&C fans have told me I should try this book out to scratch my counter-terrorism itch. I found a copy of this definitive edition dirt cheap on Amazon a couple of months ago and it was worth every penny. I sat down under a tree Friday afternoon with a few beers and this book. The afternoon just breezed away. Everything just seemed to meld together perfectly. I'm not terribly familiar with Greg Rucka, but this book just blew me away. He was able to mix savvy dialogue with great action without all the clumsiness that plagues many counter-terrorism shows and books. The language never gets bogged down in procedural or technical matters, but it never once feels dumbed down or trite.

Justice League International #'s 7-25
I've expressed my childhood (and adulthood, for that matter) love of the Giffen and DeMatteis Justice League era books. They just mix action and comedy so well. These comic books were fun. As a kid, I probably never owned more than five issues at a time due to my restrictive $2 a week allowance. I traded these issues out like hotcakes for new issues every chance I got. Now that I'm an adult who can actually afford to buy and keep these issues, I've made it my goal to go back and get some of the issues I traded away back in those fabled days of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Justice League just happens to be one of those titles. These titles are just fun to read. I can guarantee at least a couple laugh out loud moments in every issue, and many more chuckles. These guys knew how to keep a joke rolling without it becoming forced or overdrawn. The interaction between the characters is just golden and definitely make the book. The bad guys are pathetic, but in a lovable way. God, I hate the term bromance, but I'll be damned if it doesn't aptly describe the unique and hilarious friendship between Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. It makes you wonder what the hell crawled up Dan Didio's ass to make him dislike these characters so much. I know many people love the buff, flawless, iconic heroes to populate their Justice League books, but give me Beetle and Booster nyuk-nyuking it up while Martian Manhunter just sighs any day of the week.

Suicide Squad #'s 11-15
This was another book from the same era in DC history as Justice League and it is equally as good. I believe Doug recommended this series to me and I am eternally grateful to him for doing so. Unlike Justice League, there's only a smidgen of humor here, but the real story with this comic book is villains doing bad things. Sure, Captain Boomerang's costume is less than stellar, but the book reads like a frantic action movie. As a reader, you find yourself rooting for the bad guys to kill people. You don't often see that in comic books. Heroes are supposed to kick the crap out of the bad guys before they get too carried away. Just ask a Superman fan. B-O-R-I-N-G! The amoral area of the DC universe is so much more interesting than the white bread, might-makes-right side of that company. Ostrander is one of those writers who is never lauded as being a superstar comic book writer, but he has quietly become one of my favorite writers. Like Justice League of the same era, this book doesn't have to use the best and brightest of the DC Universe to pack some punch. I look forward to completing my collection and reading the remaining issues.

The Spirit #'s 6-10
I've been trying to purge the memory of the awful Spirit movie by going to the source, the original Eisner comics. After reading the first ten issues of the Kitchen Sink reprints from the 1980s, I have to confess that my mission has been accomplished. I started reading some of the older Spirit strips back in June when I picked up the Best Of collection from DC. I never thought in a million years that I would enjoy a golden age comic book. I always assumed golden books were all cheesy and lacked any depth. And guess what? The Spirit is cheesy. However, reading these issues just proves what treasure Will Eisner was to comic books. Eisner manages to capture the gritty side of life with glee. There are so many great characters that populate these issues that it's hard to pick a favorite. Commissioner Dolan stands out as a solid funny man, his Barney Fife to the Spirit's Andy Griffith. The art is crisp and clean, but always evocative. Eisner tried some pretty wild styles out, especially the dream sequence from the "Pool's Toadstool Facial Cream" story where Spirit imagines a future where he has to marry Ellen. Put through the modern viewing lens, Ebony White stands out like sore thumb throughout every story. But outside of the exaggerated minstrel art and dialogue, he actually is treated with respect by all the characters in the story. Just be advised of the existence of this character if you decide to go poking around in the Spirit's past. Kitchen Sink did such a wonderful job with these reprints and they are definitely worth seeking out if you don't feeling paying the exaggerated price for the hardcovers DC offers.

Grendel: Black, White, & Red TPB
Though I like all the Grendel books I've read thus far and the various takes on the character, my favorite version of the character is still the first devil, Hunter Rose. I found this trade at a used bookstore for a reasonable price and picked up for some nice, bloody reading last week. The stories were all solid, but what really amazed me about this book wasn't the writing, but the artists. Represented in the pages are some of comic book's finest artists. Off the top of my head, I remember seeing art from Tim Sale, Mike Allred, Guy Davis, Tim Bradstreet, David Mack, Duncan Fegredo, and Chris Sprouse. The simple color pallet works well for this character. Matt Wagner knows how to write a good tale of criminal minds. Probably my favorite story here was "Devil's Vagary" with art from Dean Motter. The idea of having Grendel lead a type of criminal board meeting was simply delicious and creepy to read. The stories in this book are short. They are also very powerful. I think I got a better sense for Hunter Rose out of these short stories than I have from anything else I have read. Grendel remains one of the better indie character in comic books and I hope Mr. Wagner stays true to his word and brings more tales of the devil quite soon.


Matt said...

I have always wanted to try Grendel. What would you recommend me starting out with?

Brandon said...

Start at the beginning with Grendel Archives (the first three issues now in hardcover) and Devil by the Deed. Then hit the regular series from Comico, which continues the story from Devil by the Deed. I believe the regular series ran for 40 issues.