Saturday, October 28, 2006

Flashback Sequence: UFO Encounters

As you may be able to tell, I haven't been to the local comic shop in a few weeks, which is tolerable since I've discovered a lot of old comics I had stashed away over the years and had forgotten about. Today, I bring you UFO Encounters

This is my first graphic novel, I guess you could say. Published by The Western Publishing Company through their Golden Press line in 1978, UFO Encounters is 224 pages of reprinted material from god-knows-where. There are no writer or artist credits throughout, and the 68 stories run about 2 to 5 pages in length. Near as I can tell, these are a collection of back-up stories from some other Western book. The copyright dates stretch back to 1968.

You may be able to tell from the scan, I carried this comic everywhere. To my younger self, it was an endless source of entertainment and vital information. The cover says it all; these are illustrated stories of UFO encounters, man. I couldn't let this tome get too far out of my sight, you know, just in case.

Mostly, the stories are brief, near-nonsensical brushes with "extraterrestrial" life, told in a confessional "I was walking through the woods when...". A few stories pre-date X-Files by a few decades in their speculation that aliens live among us, or aliens has some sinister influence on real-life events. There a even a string of shorts that are hosted by the "Hoaxmaster", who resembles a dark version of Willy Wonka, that threatens to dubunk UFO stories, but always leaves the door open for the unknown.

The stories, while similar, range greatly in their depiction of the aliens and their modus operandi. My young brain struggled to make sense of everything, looking for the thread that tied it all together. As I write this, I realize this may have been the birth of my awareness of continuity in comics. Ironic that it was a fruitless search for meaning between stories that weren't meant for that (insert crossover event of your choice here for joke).

Here are some scans from a 2-page spread titled Who Flies the Saucers?

This one kind of goes against the modern conventional "hairless" E.T. so popularized by, um, E.T....

This would be around the time David Bowie fell to Earth...


Alright, now you're just ripping off old 50's sci-fi movies...

Ah, that's just Montgomery Burns, all hopped up on ether...

I'd like to scan more, but this thing looks like I might have dropped it in the tub at some point. The newsprint is downright brittle. This is important information I need to share, yet it looks like the aliens have won.



Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Oldies: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe

A few months ago, I picked up my first Marvels Essentials: The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. This series, originally published in 1982, is probably what pulled me into comics for the long haul. It formally introduced me to the universe of Marvel comics.

I had read comics for years before, but not in any kind of conscious or organized way. Comics, as far as I can remember, had always been around the house. For the most part, they came from the 7-11 as kind of an impulse buy. It was a passive form of reading, but it grew more active as time went on.

Around the time OHOTMU was released, I had hit that magic age where I was starting to actively seek out comics. A little Spider-Man, a little Uncanny X-Men, even some Swamp Thing. I was starting to see differences in artwork and story, and I was starting to sort out my preferences and seek them out.

OHOTMU (I love that acronym) came at exactly the right moment. It was filled with the "hard facts" about a fictional universe, just as I was starting to develop some sense of mastery, some sense of control over my world. Better writers than me have written about the appeal of comics to a specific kind of kid, a kid who feels that the world is far too choatic, and how comics (or sports, even) provide an armature to build confidence on. I may not be able to understand or influence my world around me, but I know who would win in a fight between the Hulk and the Thing.

In an historical context, OHOTMU may be a kind of pinnacle in Marvel's history. There was a kind of legitimacy it conveyed. Marvel beat its Distinguished Competitor to the punch (Who's Who wasn't published until 1985), even though DC had been around for far longer, had a far more complex history. It was a coup, in a sense, proving that Marvel cared more about the fan, about giving the fan much needed clarification.

Looking back, I can see what a gift it was. Sure, it was a promotional tool, but it was also a labor of love. Mark Gruenwald clearly loved what he was doing by putting this together. Subsequent Handbooks without his guiding hand have lacked that enthusiasm, that care (I picked up the recent 70's Handbook, and the text often felt perfunctory, the product of a lot of cut-and-paste).

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

If You'd Like to Read More About Big Barda...

After writing the last post, I got to thinking how Big Barda is probably one of my all-time favorite characters in comics.

Michael Chabon is far more eloquent in his essay for Allure, as befitting a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. I remember reading this essay a few years ago and marveling at his ability to unravel why certain characters work and some don't.

For myself, the character has always felt genuine, real. Taken on her own or within the context of her relationship with Scott Free. It's no surprise that that Kirby based her off of a real person (his wife no less). That real-world connection lends a tremendous gravity and grace to her character.

Plus, she's, you know, badass.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Flashback Sequence: 1980

Through our recent move, I discovered some comics that I thought I might have gotten rid of a while ago. They're a short stack, well-loved (read: not mint) and bought for me at a time before I started consciously seeking out particular comics. This stack represents some of my earliest exposures to the medium of comics.

JLA #185 (1980) Written by Gerry Conway and drawn by George Perez and Frank McLaughlin. "Crisis on Apokolips"

That's a well-loved cover right there. This comic is probably my first exposure to Jack Kirby's New Gods. As far as I can tell, this comic is part two of a yearly JLA/JSA crossover. The twist is that the New Gods are also added for a three-way crossover.

The plot involves Darkseid coming back fom the dead, teaming up with some JSA villains, and attempting to teleport Apokolips into the Earth-2 universe (destroying E-2 in the process). The heroes have made their way to Apokolips, and have split into three teams to defeat Darkseid.

Now, my favorite sequence from this issue: At one point, Superman (JLA) and Wonder Woman (JSA) bust in on Granny Goodness to break up her gig. Granny narrowly escapes through a secret passage:

I like that Granny, an alien for all intents and purposes, uses the phrase "bold hussy". It goes to show that some things are universal, I guess.

Granny's escape is short-lived, however:

Even 26 years later, that last panel is awesome. It's the kind of thing you didn't see much of back then... a totally caption-free panel. It's hightened even more by the talkiness of the rest of the issue. It says: "I'm Big Barda, and I've come to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum."

This sequence is followed by a cut to somewhere else, and the reader never really finds out what happens between these two... which is kind of scary, and nicely handled in a comic for kids. The fate of Granny is left to the reader.

Darkseid is defeated (and killed again?) four pages later. Conway gives his own creation, Firestorm, the honor of getting lucky and turning Darseid's own Omega Beam against him.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Still Around

The last few weeks I've been caught in a move from one apartment to another, so I haven't had time to trek down to the LCS and keep up to date on all the goings-on.

Looking to lighten the load for our impending move, I elected to thin out some of the comics I had in a garage sale. Nothing major, really. A lot of 90's stuff that I wasn't that interested in keeping around, but couldn't bear to simply throw away.

The sale was going slow, as garage sales do. You never sell quite what you expect to sell. One of the neighbor kids came down, saw that there were comics and asked if I had any Batman. There wasn't any in the box, so I ran up and grabbed up my Batman Adventures. It was all-ages and I hadn't even looked at them in years. He took all of those off my hands, plus all of my Batman: TAS home-taped VHS copies.

I didn't make any money, but it felt good to find a home for some old comics. This kid loved Batman. He ended up hanging out with us for the rest of the day, which came in handy. My Spanish is terrible, but he spoke it fluently and helped negotiate with a few Spanish-speaking customers. I ended up giving him a bunch more of the comics for free, plus a couple of board games.