Saturday, July 12, 2008

Separated at Birth: After All, You're My Wonderwall

Avengers #16/A-Next #4
L: Avengers #16 (May 1965), art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers or Sol Brodsky
R: A-Next #4 (May 1993), art by Ron Frenz, Brett Breeding, and Bob Sharen
(Click picture to Assemble-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: The Man Who Yelled

"The Man Who Yelled" by Mo Willems (1990)
Cartoon suggested by the ever-delightful Lucy-Anne

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday Night Fights: Self-destroyer, wreck your health/Destroy friends, destroy yourself

This is the final week of Friday Night Fights—Classic Edition!!! presented, as always, by the Inimitable Bahlactus. The past eleven rounds of FNF have been all in black-and-white, and in the spirit of stepping into the monochrome ring with the fightin'est, black-and-whiten'est, righten'est comic there is, I've pulled out the 1986 Scott McCloud classic aptly titled


Now I know how those monkeys in '2001' felt!


(it says on the front)

This comic book is exactly what you think it is: 32 pages of meaningless, overblown violence, mayhem and destruction! (Plus one Naughty Word)

And, up below the bombastically immense title on the cover:


It only cost $4.95 in 1986, but this comic book is huge. How huge is it? It's fourteen inches tall and eleven inches wide...twenty-two inches across when you open it up. It is so huge I can sit entirely inside it.

So big I can sit in it!

It is so large I couldn't fit it into my scanner. So yes, you are looking at photographs of the comic book here, not scans. Don't sue me, Mister Understanding Comics McCloud!

The plot? Well, such as it is: The Red Basher has gone berserk in Manhattan, destroying everything in sight, and only Captain Maximum can stop him. So, you're likely to get several pages of angsty discussion and conversation over what's eating the Red Basher, huh? Not in a comic book called DESTROY!!, baby!:


The mega-sized pages and McCloud's crisp distinct inkwork are perfect for displaying the most intense and violent fistfight in the history of comics. Well, at least the most destructive:

He's still going!

Remember that Justice League issue where Batman laid out Guy Gardner with the famous "one punch"? That's child's play. With one punch, the Basher sends Captain Maximum flying from the Wall Street district on Manhattan's south end straight uptown to Rockefeller Center: as a character screams, "a total of more than four miles!" And, right into the Time-Warner Building, too!


Say goodbye ("Bye bye!") to most of New York's most famous architectural wonders, as the Flatiron Building, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, and Chrysler Building get smashed into rubble during the mighty brawl!

There goes the Chrysler Building!

Because once big superpowered guys start hitting each other with buildings, it's sorta like potato's hard to stop!

Give me your tired, your poor...DESTROY!!

From there on the fussin', the feudin', and the fightin' (not to mention the SHOUTIN') start to get a little outta control:

A whole lotta fightin' goin' on

My goodness. It's getting mighty violent in here.

Two pages of DESTROY!!

All good things must of course come to an end:


(Granted, that's a pretty macabre panel, but hey, it was published in 1986, when we still could think blowing up New York was fun to look at.)

Anyway, the punchline, in the final two panels?

Well, at least no one was hurt.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The ultimate black-and-white Friday Night Fightin' comic book. Graphic novel literature at its finest, and a masterwork of visual narrative fiction that simply must be experienced in the original big-ass format to be appreciated. That, my dear friends, is the magic of...DESTROY!!

(Buy your own:

...and read about DESTROY!! on Scott McCloud's website.)

Bahlactus is big, yeah yeah yeah. He's not small, no no no.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #53: Uncle Fred in the Springtime

A Wodehouse a Week banner

If you're a comic book fan like me, you're incredibly familiar with the concept of a team-up story, where characters from different titles join together to a common victory. Both DC and Marvel have had entire titles devoted to the team-up (Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-in-One, DC Comics Presents, The Brave and the Bold, World's Finest, Green Lantern Hangs Out Down on the Corner Pickin' Up Chicks). Occasionally there's even some team-ups on a broader, bigger, grander scale: Batman vs. The Hulk! The Teen Titans and the X-Men! Jerry Lewis meets Batman! Superman vs. Popeye!


This sort of powerhouse crossover adventure only happens once in a blue moon (or, if it's crossing over with Witchblade and Tomb Raider, once every month and a half). But it's not restricted to superheroes, or Sherlock Holmes meeting Tarzan, or Sean Connery makin' whoopee with that girl from La Femme Nikita. No, you can fine amazing world-shattering team-ups just around the bend, almost everywhere you look. Like, in a Wodehouse book? But of course!

Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939), besides being the first of the delightful Uncle Fred, Lord Ickenham novels (he's my favorite Wodehouse character, in part because he reminds me in so many ways of my own Uncle Fred), besides being a crossover between the Uncle Fred stories, the Drones Club stories, and the Blandings Castle saga...besides all that, it's a really spiffing yarn, one of my favorites. Wodehouse's prose is at his best during these years: sharp, detailed, funny, elaborate but never overwritten. You can see the care and detail he brings in writing and rewriting every chapter, and it's an elaborate plot that you can either scratch your head over and try to keep track of who knows what when and where, or you can just dive in and enjoy the fun.

Uncle Fred starts out with one of the finest and most Wodehousean of openings:
The door of the Drones Club swung open, and a young man in form-fitting tweeds came down the steps and started to walk westwards. An observant passer-by, scanning his face, would have fancied that he discerned on it a keen, tense look, like that of an African hunter stalking a hippopotamus. And he would have been right. Pongo Twistleton—for it was he—was on his way to try to touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport for two hundred pounds.

To touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport, if you are coming from the Drones, you go down Hay Hill;, through Berkeley Square, along Mount Street and up Park Lane to the new block of luxury flats which they have built where Bloxham House use to be: and it did not take Pongo long to reach journey's end.
In other words:

Touching Horace map

Although possibly with more twirling of the umbrella.

One of those Wodehouse books where you might need a scorecard to keep track of the players, Uncle Fred in the Springtime piles on a lot of info right from the get-go: Pongo needs a spot of ready cash to pay off his gambling debts following a particular disaster round of "Clothes Stakes" at the Drones, Horace is in double-dutch with his girlfriend, Pongo's cousin Valerie, and there's much trouble afoot at Blandings Castle: barmy, the egg-flinging Duke of Dunstable has come to stay and is plotting to steal the Empress of Blandings, that paragon among porkers, the swine standard. Lady Constance is on the warpath to invite the noted brain-care specialist (e.g.: loony doctor) Sir Roderick Glossop to spy on the Duke. What's a beleaguered Lord Emsworth to do? Or, more accurately, who you gonna call?
There was a strange look on Lord Emsworth's face as the door closed. It was the look of a man who has just found himself on the receiving end of a miracle. His knees were trembling a little as he rose and walked to the book-case, where the red and gold of Debrett's Peerage gleamed like the ray of a lighthouse guiding a storm-tossed mariner.

Beach, the butler, hearing the bell, presented himself at the library.


'Oh, beach, I want you to put in a trunk telephone call for me. I don't know the number, but the address is Ickenham Hall, Ickenham, Hampshire. I want a personal call to Lord Ickenham.'

'Very good, m'lord.'
Uncle Fred, like his old pal Galahad Threepwood (Emsworth's brother), is an elder and spry gentleman, fond of the good life and sneaking out under the nose of his firm-handed wife, so with a tip of his hat he's off to join forces with the crew at Blandings. This isn't the first major Wodehouse Blandings crossover, of course: Psmith visited and served a vital role in sorting out the affairs of all concerned in 1923's Leave It To Psmith, but Uncle Fred is a richer, fuller, funnier novel than the (admittedly wonderful) Psmith. A Blandings novel often gives us one or two imposters at the castle: Uncle Fred in the Springtime gives us three, as Uncle Fred, Pongo, and Polly Potts (Horace's cousin's fianceé—yes, see how complicated it is?) pose as Sir Roderick Glossop, his secretary, and niece. Like Jeeves, Uncle Fred is skilled in untangling complications—he's got a brain as sharp and brilliant as Jeeves but with a much more definite air of confidence trickster about him. He can't be flapped, he can't be confused, and best of all, he thinks on his feet, even when his plans are crumbling around him. Witness:
'It is unfortunate for you that I should have met the real Sir Roderick. When I saw him on the train, he had not forgotten me, of course, but I know him immediately. He has altered very little!'

Lord Ickenham raised his eyebrows.

'Are you insinuating that I am not Sir Roderick Glossop?'

'I am.'

'I see. You accuse me of assuming another man's identity, do you, of abusing Lady Constance's hospitality by entering her house under false pretences? You deliberately assert that I am a fraud and an imposter?'

'I do.'

'And how right you are, my dear fellow!' said Lord Ickenham. 'How right you are.'
Any other novel...well, to be fair, any other author...and the next page would be our pal Uncle Fred carted away to Wormwood Scrubs in handcuffs, which might be an interesting adventure, but it's not really Wodehouse, now, is it? (He's much more the manor house type than Dartmoor Prison.) No, as he always does, Uncle Fred eludes the long arm of the local constabulary quite neatly through a combination of smooth talking and blackmail.

In fact, one of the delights of Uncle Fred in the Springtime is that, unlike many Wodehouse novels where the true identities of the ubiquitous imposters are unveiled to much consternation and uproar, most of this book is spent with exactly everyone knowing that Fred is an imposter: Lady Constance, the efficient Baxter, Lord Emsworth's son Lord fact he manages to hornswoggle and perplex just about every great mind placed before him with the possible exception of the Empress of Blandings.

Empress of BlandingsAh, yes, the Empress. The porcine princess, the highest hog, the best of the boarettes. After Uncle Fred, she's probably my second favorite Wodehouse character, so it's fitting the plot revolves around an plot to steal her away. There's some discussion of Pongo ferrying her out of the country in an automobile, quickly dismissed as unfeasible...
Pongo had listened to this exposition with mixed feelings. On the whole, relief prevailed. A purse of gold would undoubtedly have some in uncommonly handy, but better, he felt, to give it a miss than to pass a night of terror in a car with a pig. Like so many sensitive young men, he shrank from making himself conspicuous, and only a person wilfully blind to the realities of life could deny that you made yourself dashed conspicuous, driving pigs across England in cars.
Still, what a remake of Rain Man it would have made!

The Empress is sadly not on stage much in Uncle Fred, but when she does appear, it's with a splash: ferreted away and hidden in the Duke of Dunstable's bathroom, she, like all great actresses with an impeccable sense of comic timing, makes an abrupt appearance at just the proper moment:
The Empress of Blandings was a pig who took things as they came. Her motto, like Horace's, was nil admirari. But, cool and even aloof as she was as a general rule, she had been a little puzzled by the events of the day. In particular, she had found the bathroom odd. It was the only place she had ever been in where there appeared to be a shortage of food. The best it had to offer was a cake of shaving-soap, and she had been eating this with a thoughtful frown when Mr Pott joined her. As she emerged now, she was still foaming at the mouth a little and it was perhaps this that set the seal on Lord Bosham's astonishment and caused him not only to recoil a yard or two with his eyes popping but also to pull the trigger of his gun.
In the works of a different writer...say, Ernest Hemingway or Irvine Welsh...the next chapter would have been titled "Pork Is a Nice Sweet Meat." Fear not then, Empress enthusiasts—she escapes the bang with aplomb and nary a curl of her tail scathed. She lives, to scarf down potatoes another day.

If there's anything that keeps Uncle Fred in the Springtime from being theperfect Wodehouse novel, it is that Lord Emsworth is sadly too often off stage. He disappears from the narrative for long stretches at a time, and even when Uncle Fred ropes him into a card game in his plot to fund the long-planned marriage with the winnings, the events of the game are told after the fact. Perhaps there's not room on the grand Wodehouse stage for two such magnificent hereditary peers, and anyway, Uncle Fred captures (or cons his way into) the spotlight of nearly every scene. But while he's missed, there's still plenty to amuse and delight. Let me share with you one short exchange of dialogue that had yours little stuffed truly guffawing out loud on the F train as I read this book:
'Well, dash it, I want to tell her to go and explain to Ricky that my behaviour towards her throughout was scrupulously correct. At present, he's got the idea that I'm a kind of...Who was the chap who was such a devil with the other sex? Donald something?'

'Donald Duck?'

'Don Juan. That's the fellow I mean.'
...and one other passage, in which the wisdom and prescience of Uncle Fred is shown, as he predicts, forty-four years ahead of his time, the single greatest music video in history:
Polly frowned. In a world scented with flowers and full of soft music, these sentiments jarred upon her.

'I don't see why it's got to be a sort of fight.'

'Well, it has. Marriage is a battlefield, not a bed of roses. Who said that? It sounds too good to be my own. Not that I don't think of some extraordinarily good things, generally in my bath.'

A Wodehouse a Week #63: Uncle Fred in the Springtime
Hey, lookit all the copies of Uncle Fred in the Springtime I've got: one for every season! I'm 'specially fond of the Penguin paperback edition, illustrated with an Ionicus watercolor of Uncle Fred greeting Lord Emsworth: a meeting of the two literary lords that certainly is a summit of Asgardian proportions. And if you're puzzled by the African warrior on the jacket of the hardcover Everyman/Overlook edition, worry not—this book does not take place among the Zulu tribes, but rather illustrates the scene in which Pongo loses his shirt (figuratively) when Horace Davenport upsets the Drones Club Clothes Stakes by entering the room straight from a costume ball. Don't you lose your shirt—you can pick up an inexpensive copy of Uncle Fred in the Springtime by clicking on the link to your right. I highly recommend it as one of the finest, and funnest, of Wodehouse's comic novels. Lie out in the backyard in a hammock with a cold glass of lemon fizz and dip into it (the book, not the lemon fizz): it needn't be springtime for you to enjoy it, but while reading it, it'll be spring in your heart.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Please place your Jean Grey in the fully locked and upright position

Consider the Uncanny X-Men and what do you think of? No, not endless labyrinthine plots and needlessly complicated backstories... you think of action, adventure, and jet-setting thrills! Lucky, therefore, that the X-Men have their own personal supersonic experimental plane to zip around the world hunting down peril, danger, and cyborg ninjas! Of course, we all remember seeing the X-Men receive plenty of Danger Room training, so it's certain that Professor X also trained and certified each member of the X-Men in jet piloting. Why wouldn't he? Surely if he hadn't, it would be absolutely foolhardy for the X-Men to fly a plane halfway around the world, wouldn't it?

X-Men panel

Yikes, that's bad luck for a first mission. Well, with the Blackbird out of service, maybe they'll have better luck on a commercial airliner...whoops!

X-Men panel

In the words of Bullwinkle: "Looks like I need a new hat!" Or maybe, just maybe, a little more runway. Try backing that plane up to get a little more maneuvering room, X-Men! I'm sure that will solve all the...look out!

X-Men panel

Well, how about a space shuttle, X-Men? As the Rocket Man himself once sang, it's lonely out in space, but at least there are fewer things to crash into when you're...uh oh!

X-Men panel

Okay, let's face it: crashing into a space station? It could happen to anybody. Why, Starbuck used to do it on a weekly basis back in the 1970s. Maybe it would just be easier if the X-Men brought that shuttle in for a nice, soft, safe water landing...whoa, look out!

X-Men panel
Click image to 'blow up'

Okay, okay, we get the hint: you don't let Deanna Troi steer the Enterprise, and you don't let the X-Men pilot a flying machine. So, let's take them on board a nice, safe watercraft, shall we? There's no chance of danger aboard a modern, safety-tested hovercraft, surely. Why, anyone could...aieeeeeee!

X-Men panel
This one blows up real good too if'n ya click it!

For over two galactic millennium the Sh'iar personal aircruiser has been rated the safest flying craft in known space. So safe they can be flown by a Skrull in the shape of Lindsay Lohan, this paragon of cosmic security cannot be crashed-landed, wrecked or smashed up. So of course it was a good bet when Lilandra let the X-Men borrow hers. After all, what could happen in the safest space cruiser in the universe?

X-Men panel

Okay, okay. I get the picture. Maybe it would be safest if you just left the thing parked in the X-Garage and...

X-Men panel

Still, practice makes perfect. Ease the Blackbird in for a soft, restful landing...ah, yes, that's it. See? No crash, no runway!

X-Men panel

Upon careful examination of the aptly named "Black Box," however, we've finally discovered the reason for so many X-Crashes: the pesky kid who sits in the back seat and riles up the driver. "Are we there yet, bub? Are we there yet, bub?" Why, wouldn't you crash a plane to get him to shut the heck up? I know I would:

X-Men panel
Click image, you know the drill.

So, with most X-outings ending in a bang and not a whimper, is it any wonder that Kurt Wagner has the final, Deustch-accented word?:

X-Men panel

The X-Men. Heckuva nice group of genetically-challenged people. But don't give 'em your car keys.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Oompa loompa doompadee doo/Don't open that file, if you know what's good for you (Department of Weirdness, Photoshop Elements Division)

I like candy! Who doesn't? And one of the most fun things about travelin' around the country hither and thither (but mostly hither) with my good pal John is the joys of discovering regional candy. Whether it's the creamy crunchy joy of a southern GooGoo Cluster; that New England buffet of a treat, the four-flavored Sky Bar; wonderful crumbly British Cadbury Flake; the sweet 'n' sassy Australian Violet Crumble; or my favorite, Minnesota's Pearson's Nut Goodie (the Garrison Keillor of chocolate-coated treats)...if you find a local shop that carries 'em or order them online, you can travel the world in a mouthful of chocolate and never leave home.

Idaho SpudOne of my favorite regional candies is the Idaho Spud, a delicious mound of chocolate dipped marshmallow and coconut that's shaped like guessed a potato. Mmm, that's good eatin', and you don't even need to cover it with sour cream and chives to enjoy it. They play up the potato connection by calling it "the candy bar that makes Idaho famous" and the package is brown with a lot of little red eyes all over it. Looks like a potato, but we know better, right?

Last time I was in Seattle I went to a drug store that featured a lot of regional candies from the Pacific Northwest and brought home a big sack of chocolate for myself...and because sharing is fun, for my good pal John and the delightful Randi, too. Among 'em, of course, were several yummy Idaho Spuds. When the chocolate was all too quickly gone, we still had an assortment of delightful candy wrappers, colorful and exotic. I told Randi I would scan all the candy wrapped so she could do a LiveJournal post about them. So yes, I scanned 'em all. I opened the files in Photoshop Elements—it's easy, even with hooves—and sized 'em down to posting side.

Except: Every. Single. Time. I open the Idaho Spud file Photoshop Elements runs and runs and run and runs and the li'l colored Mac pinwheel spins round and round and round and round for minutes and minutes at a time...and then...boom, it crashes. Why's it doing that? Well, I get a progress bar just before it does so. It tells me...

(Wait for it, folks)

...that it's looking for and trying to fix...

(I absolutely swear this is true)

red eyes in the image.

Error message

Now that's a literal Photoshop. I imagine if I asked it to process an image of the movie poster from this film, it would blow up my computer. Don't worry, I ain't gonna risk it. But why not try it out for yourself? An Idaho Spud, that is—not trying to break your Photoshop software. Order up a box and see for yourself: no melted butter necessary. Idaho Spuds: them's good eatin'. Just not very good scanning.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Reviews: Bat-Craziness, Dead Gil, and Billy, Do Be a Hero

FABLES #74: This comic is fun. Well, about this point in a fantasy Vertigo series, you begin to wonder if the series is running down. Not that I've read, but we certainly seem to be moving into Act V here, aren't we? Bill Willingham has thrown us a curveball in the past dozen or so issues with "The Good King" and now halfway through "War and Pieces": the war against the Adversary is going very, very well indeed. There's some nice character work in here and some clever plot devices: using Sleeping Beauty's magical curse as biological warfare is a lovely touch, and who can resist the sight of a rabbit riding a tortoise-mounted machine gun into battle! But the Fables battle has been so relatively easy that I keep on waiting for things to go wrong, for the other glass slipper to drop. Looks like it's coming soon, with the next issue blurb in this one hinting at dark days ahead. Fables is still one of the best and cleverest fantasy comics on the market today, and it's a credit to Willingham and company that the concept is still fresh and a delight six years in. May it never outstay its welcome.

SIMPSONS SUPER SPECTACULAR #7: This comic is fun. I'm hardly ever disappointed by a Bongo Simpsons comic, but I hold Simpsons Super Spectacular to a higher standard: as the Simpson "comic book that parodies comic books," it's got to be both funny on the Simpsons-TV level as well as introducing clever references (without being too obscure) to various comic book series and characters inside the stories. Like most of the issues in this series, it's a fine balance but this one hits it cleanly out of the Springfield Isotopes ball park. There's two stories here: the first is a Bartman tale that places lovable loser Gil in the role of Deadman, trying to help Bart and Milhouse fight crime after his until demise. It hadn't hit me until this issue that the Bartman tales are essentially the Bongo version of Alan Moore's Top Ten series: a town where everyone is a superhero or villain, from Grandpa to Apu, but with larfs: there's at least a couple giggles on each page, and it's a dense read; this isn't a comic you're going to zip through in five minutes. Story number two is my favorite, tho': a Radioactive Man tale that's a loving pastiche of the Mort Weisinger Superman stories, right down to the strange transformations, including a brilliant disturbing-looking version of Radioactive Man drawn in the Swanderson style. My favorite part of this series is that the writers and artists both know and love their source material, but it's not so dense that you must know it inside and out to "get" the story. And say, speaking of dense stories relying on source material...

BATMAN #678: This comic is fun. I'd like to say "Whatever Grant Morrison's on, Mama Bull won't let me take that," but with the newest issue in the "Batman: RIP" storyline, it looks like what Mister Morrison is on is old comics. It's almost impossible to know all the Silver Age references in RIP by itself (Timothy Callahan's annotations are a big help and well-worth checking out), but you can appreciate this story arc just by diving into the bat-craziness of the Bat-Radia, the Club of Villains, and the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh. (Not to mention Bat-Mite!) In other words, the ride itself is a hoot.

Incidentally, I kinda suspect Batman isn't actually gonna die at the end of this story, because I think Grant M. might mean something Completely diff'rent than "rest in Peace" when he uses "R.I.P." So here, from the home office in Blüdhaven, are The Top Ten Possible True Meanings of "Batman: R.I.P.":
  • 10. Batman: Resting in Public
  • 9. Batman: Ruining Ivy's Plans
  • 8. Batman: Rhoda's Internet Penpal
  • 7. Batman: Romping in Playgrounds
  • 6. Batman: Ra's is Pretty
  • 5. Batman: Robin's Interesting Parent
  • 4. Batman: Raspberries in Pancakes
  • 3. Batman: Rubbing in Pharmaceuticals
  • 2. Batman: Running into Penguin
  • 1. Batman: Really Into Pantera

ASTONISHING X-MEN #25: This comic is sorta fun. The comic book known as Joss Whedon's X-Men has come to an end with a big-ass bullet and the departure of Kitty Pryde (for a story cycle or two, at least), so ring up the curtain for Warren Ellis's premiere on the title. There's a lot of clever and fun ideas going on here: a killer who's an artificial mutant (with a nice, Phineas-J.-Whoopee-style lecture by Hank McCoy on what makes a mutant a mutant), the return of Queen Storm to the X-Men, and the lightly humored search by newest Kitty/Jubilee archetype Hisako Ichiki for her codename. The dialogue is fast, clever, and often funny (including The Best Line of the Week: "[Logan] says that if my name's 'Armor' then his name is 'Claws' and Ms. Frost's name is 'Brain' and Rogue's name is 'Suck.'"), and this, even more than the other "reinvented" X-Titles, feels like primal X-Men. So what's the problem—why not full-fledged fun? Main problem: nothing really happens. There's a mystery set up, but there's little to no action in this first chapter, meaning precious little reason for me to pick up issue #26. Sure, it'll probably be better paced in the trade, but give me a reason to buy the book each month, woncha? That and the reversal, yet again, on the X-Men's thinking on costumes and uniforms, leads me to believe that Astonishing's new arc has some promise, but I have to grade this "I" for incomplete.

BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM #1: This comic is fun. In the words of Mark Knopfler: "That's the way you do it." I've been a fan of some of DC's all-ages comics, especially Batman Adventures and Justice League Unlimited, but even tho' I'm only six, more recent offerings like Tiny Titans and Superfriends are definitely written for kids and rely just on charm and cuteness to appeal to adults. This new series of Captain Marvel (the real Big Red Cheese) adventures doesn't rely on simple grammar or learning lessons at the end of the story, but instead takes its cue from jeff Smith's Monster Society of Evil comic of last year: with its cute little Mary Marvel, this is a direct sequel. Written and drawn with charm and energy by Mike Kunkel (Herobear and the Kid) in a beautifully colored and shaded style that is absolutely unlike any other superhero comic on the stands. It's funny: Cap learns a lesson from his sister in doing things the easy way when he tries to save a train from disaster, and he takes brotherly revenge by sneakily getting Mary into trouble during a parent/teacher conference in which Captain Marvel is posing as Billy's dad. It's interesting to think about how Captain Marvel has in many ways evolved into a character with intentional kid-appeal—the 1940s version of the character often handled themes and ideas that were more complicated than their competition. Maybe it's the wish-fulfillment of being young and able to turn into a mighty adult hero. Whatever the reason, Kunkel captures it well. His Billy Batson is beautifully drawn, cleverly dialogued, very well-paced (any one of these pages is an excellent textbook for understanding motion and movement from panel to panel), and, like Simpsons Super Spectacular, it's dense: this is no swift five minute read; both adults and kids can read and re-read this again and again. Any quibbles? Well, a reliance on dialogue in the cryptic Monster Society Code in the first few pages might frighten off a newcomer (a handy guide is provided on page one), and no doubt some purists might complain about the new Black Adam (a kid bully, in the not-nice useage of the word). But any comic book that brings such great grins to my little stuffed face—and where Shazam the Wizard reminds me of Asterix's druid Getafix—is a comic book I loudly declare the most fun comic of the week.

Sunday, July 06, 2008