Frankenstorm Reading: Weathering the Evacuation Blues

On Sunday, I went out and got groceries from the already Walking Dead-like store with its empty shelves and zombie walkers and then I stashed everything that could be blown around outside my house, causing damage. Then I settled in for some 30 Rock on demand and snatched some Halloween candy from the pile, getting cozy for whatever this stormpocalypse would bring. I lounged until 6PM, and then I heard the bullhorns sounding as police and emergency vehicles moved through the neighborhood: mandatory evacuation of my coastal town. I had dismissed the idea from my mind because they’ve never waited until so late in the day to evacuate before, with the sensible idea in mind that it’s not wise to try to evacuate people at night. But there it was. And I had two hours to get out with four pets in tow. An hour and a half later the pets and supplies were packaged, and just before I left, it occurred to me to grab a few books. It wasn’t an intellectual decision, just a matter of what was nearest to the door of the study, which meant recent purchases in disorderly stacks. But when I arrived and settled into a new storm location, and dumped out my bag, I found I hadn’t done half bad. This is what I found.

MARVEL: FIVE FABULOUS DECADES OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMICS, by Les Daniels, from Abrams in 1991

Everyone seems to know about this book except me. When I found it second hand in mint condition for only a few dollars last week, it seemed like a no-brainer, but opening it sealed the deal. While it’s a good, general history of Marvel that takes you up to 1990 or so, and it also has some intriguing quotes from the likes of former Marvel editor Jim Salicrup, the real selling point are the lavish full-color reproductions and illustrations. Nearly every page is twice as vibrant as you expect it to be and it starts with the early days of Marvel. This means you can view whole pages of romance comic covers you might otherwise have never gotten to peruse, wartime comic covers, and of course, highlights of the Marvel Age. It’s a different kind of book than Sean Howe’s gripping MARVEL: THE UNTOLD STORY, more of an art book with historical context and some Marvel insider perspectives provided, but for a few dollars, there’s definitely a place for it in my archive.

THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT, by Will Eisner, from DC

Many of us probably can’t afford the attractive hardback volumes that archive THE SPIRIT, but if you’ve seen THE SPIRIT, you almost certainly want to read it, and DC have put out a couple of paperback volumes collecting stories of femme fatales, and this one, “the best of”. The original SPIRIT series is a lot kookier and more whimsical than many people realize, and sometimes remarkably dark and thoughtful by contrast. It makes for an unpredictable and therefore compelling ride. Needless to say, every panel of the artwork is gorgeous, and the restored coloring is pretty eye-popping too. I’m greatly relieved that DC didn’t go with shiny pages that would have seriously impacted the authentic feel of reading THE SPIRIT when you’re getting it via trades. The arc “Life Below” opens with a quote that seems appropriate to the rising tides threatening Manhattan: “A City is a living thing…It is a pulsating, man-made phenomenon whose foundations go deep into the earth…There, in the wet catacombs of its roots, teems a life quite unknown to us in the forest of towers above…”. If you need a good story on a stormy night, THE SPIRIT is it.

MEN OF TOMORROW: GEEKS, GANGSTERS, AND THE BIRTH OF THE COMIC BOOK, by Gerard Jones, from Basic Books in 2004

Here’s another book that forms a lively dialogue with Howe’s MARVEL: THE UNTOLD STORY if you’ve already pillaged the contents of Howe’s book and are looking for more. MEN OF TOMORROW takes us back to the early days of comics in a similar, investigative way and seeks to humanize the mythical men behind comics. And a lot of the story of the early days of comics is surprising in its gritty detail, as well as heavily intertwined with the history and culture of New York City. Though I’ve only just started reading it, I don’t regret the second hand price I paid for it a bit. There’s even a black and white photo insert that gives you the feel of the people and the times. Though the book takes on comics history as a whole, fans of DC will particularly get their money’s worth and take away a broader view of how the different comics companies are related and interrelated. Get ready for some gangsters and molls along the way!

DAREDEVIL, THE MAN WITH NO FEAR!, Volume 11, by Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev

Now this one I might have intended to snatch and stuff into my bag by some kind of instinctual gravitation. I had already read half of it, and was past the point of turning back on the volume. Before anyone gets irate that it wasn’t top of my list, I’ll explain. I’m entirely new to DAREDEVIL. This is it. This is the first thing I’ve read. And it’s fair to say I may not have made the best choice in picking this volume, which collects issues 66-70 of the Marvel Knights imprint. I picked this one up in the store because I’m an avid fan of Brian Bendis’ work and when I opened the book, the art work by Maleev was very appealing to me in it’s messy, noirish sensibilities. What I didn’t realize when I bought the volume was that it alternated between several points in time, all dealing with Daredevil history, which I knew nothing about. Reading the first two issues collected in the volume was agonizingly slow for me, but at the same time doubly frustrating because the artwork was so beautiful. Somewhere about half-way through reading it, I picked up steam, and began to realize that the story of former Kingpin Alexander Bont’s revenge against Matt Murdock in a very public forum of street-shaming was essentially being told backward. But, as a new reader, I was just pleading for a single panel that had a clear shot of what Murdock even looked like, or Daredevil for that matter. It came together eventually, and was worth the effort. Within an hour of arriving in my storm-bunker I had read the rest. It’s a great book and actually particularly appealing to someone like me who enjoys metatext on the different historical eras of superheroes.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS, Issue 17, by various, including: Carla Speed McNeil, Jimmy Palmiotti, Sam Kieth, Richard Corben, Michael Avon Oeming

Last, but not least, a RECENT publication. I collected quite a few DHP when they started coming out again, and I love the magazine and anthology format. I can’t help but pick them up in a shop. But I had gotten a little behind in my reading, so on Sunday morning, I stopped by my local comic book shop to see how the guys were doing, and what their plans were for the storm. Meanwhile, I stared longingly at a stack of DHP that I didn’t have yet. I knew I had several at home I hadn’t read yet, but it didn’t stop me wanting to buy them. I’d buy one, I decided. I let my comics guy pick which one. It turned into a half-hour discussion, looking at the lists of contributors. If you had to only buy one from recent months, which one would it be? It was like playing poker, dropping cards, and picking up new ones. There had to be an algorithm for this. He picked the most recent issue, not because it was most recent, but because of the overwhelming combination of long-time greats. I was satisfied because Sam Kieth’s artwork always keeps me staring at the page way longer than I need to in order to read the panels and Corben’s Poe story seemed especially appropriate for Halloween week. I don’t know what it is about magazine format that always makes me feel like I got a good deal, but it does. When I found DHP #17 last in the bottom of my bag, I had a sudden sense that all was right with the world even if the world was falling apart under the howling blasts of Frankenstorm. I haven’t read it yet, unfortunately, because I’m saving it for when the lights go out. Everyone should keep at least one particular book in reserve for when the lights go out.

Hang in there everyone! Hope you have some Frankenstorm reading to keep you company.

Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.

 

 

Comments

  1. I wish I could find my copy of MARVEL: FIVE FABULOUS DECADES OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMICS. I remember reading that hundreds of times when I was a lad. That was my favorite text book to read about the history of Marvel, I’m pretty sure I knew more about about the history comic books before I knew any US history.

  2. Chris Hero says:

    I’m really happy to hear you evacuated. The news is full of reports of people who didn’t evacuate and the grim results of their decision.

    You did well with your book choices, but I think the highlight is you’re safe! But nice way of having some fun with a catastrophe. I admire your optimism!

  3. Ed Fuqua says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed Les Daniels book on Marvel. He was a customer in my comic book store at the time he wrote it, and I take a lot of pride in the book since I did some resesrch for him and most of the comics from the 60′s and 70′s that were photographed came from my collection. At the time it came out it was meant to be Marvel’s “official” history, so there were a lot of topics Les wasn’t allowed to write about. Of course it turned out to be the start of a flood of big coffee table books on comics.
    Les passed away not too long ago, but I remeber vividly the stories he told about writing it. He talked to Steve Ditko on the phone and begged him to say something, anything on record, but Ditko said he had nothing to say. Les had one of the last interviews with Jack Kirby. When it was done Kirby asked when the book was coming out. When Les told him the publishing date Kirby said, “If I lay off the danish I might make it.” As I recall Kirby passed away just before the book was printed.
    Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    Glad to hear you survived! Hope your home is okay… I know the heartbreak of sodden cardboard and wilted comicbooks.

    I discovered quite a bit of stuff to read, and spent last night (after I could relax) reading Times (Squared), lots of mini-comics, and the final issue of Will Eisner’s Quarterly (ironically, the “Winners” issue).

    That Marvel book is lots of fun… I got mine on remainder a decade ago. The DC volume has even more craziness (Super Pup television pilot!), and the hero-specific books on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are nice diversions.

    If I remember correctly, this was Abrams’ number one seller that year, and caused some internal embarrassment at a publisher known for serious art books. But it also convinced them (along with their backlist classic on the Art of Disney) to try more books about graphic novels.

  5. Cerebro says:

    Ed Fuqua says:
    10/30/2012 at 10:08 am
    “When it was done Kirby asked when the book was coming out. When Les told him the publishing date Kirby said, “If I lay off the danish I might make it.” As I recall Kirby passed away just before the book was printed.”

    Err…the book came out in ’91. Kirby passed away in ’94. I’m pretty sure he made it. :)

    Just a couple of months back, as coincidence would have it, I dusted off and reread my copy of MARVEL: FIVE FABULOUS DECADES OF THE WORLD’S GREATEST COMICS (got it as a Christmas gift when it first came out). If you’re a Marvel nut, the book is a fun read. It’s worth checking out if you happen across a copy.

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