Opus Five:

1. Another One (7/20)

2. Quips and Crochets (7/20)

1. Another One. The several issues of Tom Strong from America's
Best Comics have landed, and it looks like a pretty nifty title.
Created by Alan Moore (words) and Chris Sprouse (pictures), it's
another of Moore's assaults on received history.  In this case, he
starts the 20th Century all over again but this time with Tom Strong
playing the part we gave to Clark Kent/Superman for the past 60-odd
      As usual, Moore's reconstruction is imaginative and titillating.  He
combines the Tarzan myth with the Superman myth (with a little of Lee
Falk's Phantom thrown in for good measure), and in No. 1 we get Mr.
and Mrs. Sinclair Strong shipwrecked in 1899 on the West Indies isle
of Attabar Teru.  They set up housekeeping in a supposedly extinct
volcano with the help of a steam-powered robot, Pneumatic Man
(called, with Moore's canny gift for names, Pneuman).  Then they
copulate with the purpose of conducting Sinclair's
experiment--namely, producing and rearing a child by pure reason
"away from society's influence."  The child, Tom, is also incubated
in some sort of pressure-cooker, a precaution that makes him pretty
      When young Tom's parents are killed in an earthquake, Tom is raised
by the local native population, and he eventually leaves home and
journeys to Millennium City, where, in the usual superbeing fashion,
he begins saving people and keeps it up for the rest of the century.
      Moore tells us all this within the ingenious contrivance of a frame
story that takes place "today" (Tom Strong is now 99 years old and
still rescuing people).  The frame story chuckles with an ironic
sense of humor and moves to its own conclusion while the history of
Tom Strong runs alongside, chapter by chapter.  By the end of the
book, both tales have reached a temporary conclusion at about the
same moment.  A tidy maneuver.
      The frame story is rendered in somewhat the same simple, cartoony
style as the Batman Adventures, and the history of Tom Strong is
illustrated realistically.  Sprouse inked by Alan Gordon results in
one of the cleanest, most uncluttered illustrative styles going.
It's actually a little bit too clean--for life in a jungle.  In the
realistically drawn segments, Tom's mother's Victorian dress shows no
wrinkle or rip after the shipwreck, and his father is still wearing
his vest, buttoned neck to navel; although Mom does get a bruise or
two during the earthquake, everything still looks much too crisp and
neat.  Pleasing to the eye, though, and by the time man-mountain Tom
Strong comes on the scene, it seems to fit together, the style
complementing the subject.  Meanwhile, the frame story's highly
simplified style seems perfectly attuned to the antiseptic environs
of the futuristic world of Millennium City.
      Moore and Sprouse don't continue this binocular view of their
universe in subsequent issues (though it's fun to imagine how they
might have done it).
      A two-page text essay concludes the inaugural issue.  In it (in
somewhat the manner of the Watchmen essays), Moore fills in some gaps
in the history of his alternative universe by way of acquainting us
with this new world.  The text is littered with delicious
names--Quinta Desrault, the operatic diva; Lazlo Camphor, noted
artist; Johnny Nectarine, heavy-weight boxer; Denby Jilks, confidence
man; and Vanilla Tuesday, contract murderer.  Not to mention the
architect who designed Millennium City, Winsor McCay (who, we are
told, after designing the city, "dabbled in experiments in cartoon
animation before settling to the career he would become more famous
for").  This is one to watch.

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2.  Quips and Crochets.  Michael Brennan's black-and-white comic
Electric Girl is up to a second issue.  Young Virginia is the
"electric girl": somehow, she got all charged up and can now activate
household appliances by pointing a finger at them.  It's an charming
talent but not essential to any of the stories herein.  Drawing in a
simple, cartoony style, Brennan displays a firm grasp of the
storytelling mechanisms of comics--pacing, verbal-visual blending,
and the like.  One of the three stories is a 5-page wordless escapade
and very well managed.  The main event bubbles with off-beat humor.
Virginia meets a somewhat decaying corpse who died of food poisoning
and comes back to get revenge on the fast-food outlet that did him
in.  "Okay," he blurts out one time, "I look awful!  I smell worse!
Excuse me for being dead!"  His hand falls off, and he spends the
rest of the story gesticulating with a stump.  One of his eyes drops
out, too.  But it's still hilarious.
      What the heck is "flow"?  A critic elsewhere on these pages said a
book's story "flowed" well.  Static pictures aren't liquid so they
can't "flow," tovarich.  But what is "good flow"?  Does that mean
that the pictures come one after the other?  That'll happen in
sequential art, you know.  Or does it mean the composition of one
panel--the arrangement of its graphic elements--somehow points the
reader's eye to the next panel?  And so on, panel after panel, ad
infinitum?  Or does it mean that the action depicted in a sequential
series can be followed by the reader because each panel contains some
visual element from the preceding panel that is quickly recognizable
by the reader--the same characters, same colors for clothing, etc.?
This last might actually constitute a useful critical criterion, but
to blather words like "flow" without indicating what the heck they
mean is a pointless exercise in vacuous attitudinizing.
      Batman: Gotham Adventures No. 13 is about Archie Goodwin.  And if
you don't realize that (and you probably can't until the end), the
story makes very little sense.  As I say, the tip-off comes on the
last page, so you are obliged to go back and read the whole thing
again--at least one more time--to see what you may have missed the
first time through.  It seems to be about two sets of thieves bent on
stealing three vials of plague serum.  But it's really about
storytellers and how their stories go on forever.  The cover is a
homage to Harvey Kurtzman's first cover for Mad comic book (and it's
so nicely done you should have this book for the cover alone).  And
the child who comes to take Archie away is--well, it's not Alfred
Neuman.  Or, even, the famed Melvin.  Someone not pretty steeped in
comics history and lore will probably miss most of this.  I probably
have, too.  But I wouldn't miss owning this issue.
      FoxTrot is taking off.  Bill Amend's strip about a slightly hip
young family is the first comic strip in three years to reach a
circulation of 1,000 newspapers.  Said Amend: "I was excited for 15
minutes and then went back to work.  It's a nice round number, but it
doesn't change what I do.  I do the same thing now as when I was in
50 papers--although the checks are bigger."  The strip is one of the
few to appeal overtly to younger readers as well as the parents of
young people.  Only 16 other strips are in a thousand or more papers:
 Peanuts and Garfield (each with 2,600 worldwide), For Better or For
Worse and Blondie (2,000 each), Dilbert and Hagar (1,900 each),
Beetle Bailey (1,800), Cathy and The Family Circus (1,500 each),
Doonesbury (1,400), B.C., The Wizard of Id, Frank & Ernest, The Born
Loser (each with 1,300), Dennis the Menace (1,200), and Hi and Lois
      What does it mean when a syndicated comic strip is in 1,000 or more
papers?  If you're in over 1,457, it means you have newspapers in
countries other than the U.S.  Editor & Publisher says there are
1,509 daily papers in this country, and 52 cities have more than one
daily newspaper.  Assuming each of the latter has only two papers,
then a comic strip can appear in only one of them.  So if a comic
strip is in every daily newspaper in this country that it can be in,
it's in no more than 1,457.  Bill Amend's FoxTrot, the newest member
of the 1,000-plus club, has 457 to go.
      Messing with history can be tricky.  In Alan Moore's version of Wild
Bill Hickok's life and death (ably illustrated in part by Gil Kane)
in Supreme no. 55, he has Wild Bill killed in the man's "beloved
Abilene," Kansas; but Bill turned his back to the door at a poker
table in Deadwood, South Dakota, and his killer came up behind him
there.  South Dakota is a couple states away from Kansas, Toto.
      Here's Robin Hood in one of ACG's nostalgia trip books.  A good
black-and-white reprint, but why--why oh why--can't the publisher
identify the artists?  The publisher has the original books, right?
But if the artists are beyond identification, at least the good folks
at ACG should be able to tell us where these stories they're
reprinting first appeared--comic book title, issue, date.  That much
should be easy.
      Quicken Forbidden finished its first story arc in No. 5 a few months
ago, and since that's the only issue I've seen, it provides an
opportunity to answer the ever-present question: Can a reader make
sense of the story coming in at the middle--or, in this case, at the
end?  Well, yes and no but mostly yes.  The story of Jax's escape
really need to know how she got there or what she's done before in
order to understand the story in issue No. 5.  Some passing
references to "the portal" suffice.  Dave Roman and his illustrator,
John Green, understand the storytelling capacities of the medium and
tell their story adroitly, pacing events and even breaking up the
grim moments with well-placed humor.  Green employs a bold flexing
line and uses blacks well.  Some of his faces, however, don't stay
the same from page to page, and his anatomy is pretty clunky.  Still,
it's an engaging story, and Jax, the heroine, is likeable.  But
what's "the Quicken"?
      It's a time for searching souls, no doubt, and Peter David and
company provide a certain manic insight in Soulsearchers No. 29, the
most recent issue I've read.  (Sorry.)  Let's count up the
off-the-walleries: 'Nique's life is saved when Arnold the gopher
tosses his hat into the ring but she gets an arrow right in the tush;
everyone escapes when David commits one of his most outlandish puns
("Seize her!" becomes "Caesar," and the very same fella who yells it
pays the price); Circe falls on her, er, donkey; and Daffy Duck shows
up, and so does a creature that sure looks like a furry with a singe
on top to me.  Talk about visual-verbal blending.  How many bad jokes
can a team of would-be superheroes survive?  Lots, thank goodness.
I'm sure this is what comics are meant to be.
      Stay 'tooned.

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