Comics In Context

What's so great about comics? Well, a BUNCH of things, pilgrim, and that's what this blog aims to tell you about. So just sit tight. And maybe buy some of the merchandise over at my eBay store. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Alpha Flight (1983 – Marvel Comics – Iss. 1-28 of continuing series)

G’day, and welcome to Alpha Flight, the Canadian superteam.

It all started within the pages of X-Men #120, when the maple-leaf-themed WEAPON ALPHA (later known as Vindicator, later known as Guardian) was sent to recapture the escaped WEAPON X (almost entirely known as Wolverine, the most popular X-Man), presumably to subject him to more horrendous governmental experimentation. And those Mounties seem so nice, too.

This was during the early days of the X-plosion of interest in mutant-based titles, so anything remotely related to any X-Men titles (especially Wolverine) was quickly given its own book. Alpha Flight (named for the superhero team led by newly-humbled Guardian) would almost certainly have just been a forgettable flash-in-the-X-pan … except that the writing and art duties fell to John Byrne.

Byrne was already breaking new narrative ground in his run of Fantastic Four, and he didn’t want Alpha Flight to just be more of brand X. The book was structurally different than most comics of its day. While nominally a “team book”, Alpha Flight rarely featured more than 2 or 3 members in a given issue. Stories revolved around such dark themes as schizophrenia, addiction, sex and betrayal and frequently seemed more like a soap opera than a superhero book. Some truly imaginative plot twists kept readers on their toes, and even angered them once or twice by breaking some of the unspoken rules of the medium.

For all its eccentricities, Alpha Flight wasn’t exactly revolutionary. It still retained that overblown, campy Marvel sensibility in its scenarios and dialogue. John Byrne left the title after issue 28, and all traces of quirk immediately vanished from its pages. Still, the book is remembered fondly and there is a new Alpha Flight revival currently on store shelves.

The entire John Byrne run of Alpha Flight (Issues 1-28) is available for sale at the Comics In Context eBay Store. Quality runs from Near Mint down to Fine, but it’s all fully intact, very readable and quite collectible.

And if you care, Wolverine does appear in issue number 17.

There are no graphic novel collections of Alpha Flight available. However, there are several collections of John Byrne's very fine work on Fantastic Four available at Amazon.

Wanna learn more?

Here's the Wikipedia entry ...
Here's a Toonopedia article ...
And here's John Byrne's official website.

Akira (1988 – Epic Comics – Iss. 1-10 of continuing series)

The 1988 animated film Akira marked the first major assault of Japanese cartoon culture on American soil. Sure, TV shows like Speed Racer and Star Blazers had left psychic scars on the kiddies in the previous decade, but nobody had seen anything like Akira. It’s an ultra-noir, a cross between Blade Runner and Altered States, a complete mindblower of a movie.

It’s also a brutal truncation of the long-running manga by Katsuhiro Otomo.

Akira ran for eight years in Young magazine in Japan. It features the continuing bizarre adventures of the ultimate juvenile delinquent, Tetsuo Shima, in post-disaster Neo-Tokyo. A near-collision on his motorcycle with a mysterious, deformed child brings him to the attention of a secret government program that awakens uncontrollable psychic powers within him. Testuo’s bike-gang buddy, Shotaro Kaneda, is determined to either save or kill his lifelong friend.

Epic Comics released a “colorized” version of the black-and-white manga, and it sold tremendously well. The books were compiled into ten graphic novels by Epic, but were criticized by the hardcore fans for “dumbing down” the translation a bit. Dark Horse released a more faithful six-volume set in 2000.

Issues 1-10 of the Epic Series are available for sale at the Comics In Context eBay store. They are all near-mint to very fine and highly collectible.

You can also get both versions of the graphic novel and the very fine DVD at Amazon.

Wanna learn more?
Here's the Wikipedia entry ...
Here's a good article over at ...
And here's a pretty rockin' fansite.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

1963 (6 issue mini, Image Comics, 1993)

In 1963, Alan Moore was 10 years old.

By 1993, he had become a legend in the comic industry, thanks to his subversive work on DC’s Swamp Thing and his highly original and inflammatory titles, V For Vendetta and Watchmen.

He had also become thoroughly disenchanted with his employer, DC Comics, and with the comic-book world as a whole. He feared that his influence would amount to nothing more than a general increase in violence and coarseness in what used to be a medium intended primarily for children.

To atone for what he considered to be his “crimes” against the superheroic sphere, Moore reached back to his pre-teen days and distilled his memories of the Marvel Bullpen into this charming, funny miniseries. It’s light and frothy, and full of in-jokes for any fellow fogies who might remember the days when comics sold for less than a quarter.

Every issue of 1963 bears a different title emblazoned across the cover (Mystery Incorporated, Tales of the Uncanny, etc.), but it’s all a ruse. The real title sits in the upper left corner, superimposed over Image Comics’ lowercase “i”. The characters are blatant and direct ripoffs of Marvel heroes from back in the day, and the panels are filled with footnotes to inform readers of which issues they have to pick up to get the all-important backstory on Horus’ battle with The Fury … or whatever.

There are fake letters to the editor and fake ads on the back cover (“Shamed By You English?”) and lots of Moore’s friends along for the ride (Roarin’ Rick Veitch! Dashin’ Dave Gibbons!) It’s all a tremendous hoot, and might even be considered a dry run for his ABC (America’s Best Comics) titles, which debuted in 1999.

All 6 issues of Alan Moore's 1969 are available for sale in a reasonably priced package at the Comics In Context eBay Store.

Sorry, folks, but the only copies of these issues I had in stock were sold this afternoon. But you can buy some more great Alan Moore graphic novels at Amazon.

Wanna learn more?
Here's the Wikipedia entry ...
Here's some honest-to-goodness annotations for the books ...
And here's a bunch of fanboys complaining about the unresolved cliffhanger.

Mixed Motives

Hi. I'm trying to sell my comic book collection.

That's really what all of this is about. A couple of weeks ago, I was cleaning out my garage (at least a little bit) and I found that my beloved comics were really in quite good and saleable condition. I felt that they would probably do me more good liquidated into currency than sitting untouched in banker's boxes.

My brain tends to go to strange and faroff lands after a glass of wine or two, and that evening I found myself wondering, snifter in hand, why more folks aren't "into" comics. The movies do well, after all. Most people know what "kryptonite" is, and what happens when you say "Shazam!" They may even be able to tell you what great fourteen-letter "R" word comes with "great power."

There's more respect for the four-color universe now than there was when I started collecting in the early 80's. But for the most part, comic books are not really mainstream American culture.

And you know what? A lot of that is their own damn fault.

Comic stores don't try to reach out to new customers very much. They cling to their insular ways as though the unwashed masses were not really worthy of the greatness in those skinny magazines. Yet many of the stories are truly excellent, the art can be spellbinding, and every now and then the combination of those elements would win over the most hard-nosed skeptics ... if they knew it was there.

While most comic books feature long-running stories, they are sold in discreet monthly units, and most folks would probably like to know what's going on before plunking down hard-earned coin on issue 145, even if it does have a foil cover.

So I thought it might be a good idea to explain what's so great about these books as I put them up for sale.

Comics In Context gives me an opportunity to wax poetic about my collection, and it gives you a chance to buy some great entertainment on eBay. I'll be delving into real-world stuff, too, not just a rote list of issues featuring Wolverine. I'm going to talk about writers and comic publishers the same way one might talk about directors and film companies.

And of course, there's always the story.

So I invite you to reconsider the comic book and it's place in your cultural world. Pictures and words are a potent combination, much too moving a mixture to be abandoned to the white teenage males.

Remember, it's all about context.