Friday, May 30, 2008

Classics Edition with Dan Dare and The Spirit

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of Dan Dare: Voyage to Venus (Titan, 2004) and Will Eisner's The Spirit Volume One (DC, 2007).

I featured Dan Dare on my old Weekly Comics Hype a couple of times in the past (see here), and so I hope even the non-comic readers among you should be familiar with it. If not, this is a wonderful science-fiction adventure from the pen of Frank Hampson, originally published in the pages of the Eagle, a much-loved anthology comic, in the 1950s and 1960s. Titan has been collecting the series in very nice hardback collections for a little while now, and they're packed with additional material, including interviews and bonus strips from the pages of the old Annuals.

"Voyage to Venus" is a very long story - originally told over 18 months (April 1950 to September 1951) - but the thrill with Dan Dare is the complex plots, which pile on additional complications in almost every episode. Dare himself, square-jawed and British to the core, is a fantastic hero. He meets his immortal enemy the Mekon for the first time in this story and there's a brilliant scene where he realizes a way out of his cunning trap and asks the simple question of his captor, "Can you swim?" It's years ahead of its time.

The downside is that I'm not completely satisfied with all the reproduction. I sympathize that Titan had a lot of reconstruction and repair to do, but there are places where new lettering would have been appreciated. Despite its length, a single, larger-sized hardback would have been nice, too. I certainly recommend everybody give Dan Dare a try, but perhaps new readers might be better off sampling one of the volumes like "The Red Moon Mystery" which tells a complete story between its covers.

I gave DC Comics a bit of a thrashing earlier in the week, so, fair's fair, I should point out that for a couple of years now, they've been publishing the most consistently entertaining comic in America. It's The Spirit, a revamp of the classic put-upon detective hero of the 1940s. Created by Will Eisner, the original series ran in weekly installments for about twelve years and has been reprinted by various companies ever since. DC's had the rights to most of Eisner's many stories and creations for some time now, and almost all of the Spirit's original run is available in a nice, albeit expensive, series of thick hardbacks.

In late 2006, they began publishing a new series of Spirit comics written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, assisted by J. Bone and David Stewart. The team handled twelve issues, each a self-contained, incredibly clever little hard-boiled mystery with femmes fatale, ugly villains and lots of broken bones. The collection here reprints the first six issues of the series along with a team-up with Batman which preceded the run by a month, and which conspires to be one of the best Batman stories I've ever read, an incredibly entertaining, funny and inventive story. Mercifully, this is the only intrusion by the DC Universe into the world of the Spirit. Since taking on this title, I've lived in fear that Geoff Johns is going to have him join the Justice Society or something, but that hasn't happened yet.

Cooke's run ended earlier this year, but the series continues, scripted by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragonés, with art by Paul Smith. It's still the best darn book any American company is publishing. Right now, this hardback collection is pretty hard to find, and not available from online retailers. I know that a paperback edition is planned for later in the year, but better bookshops may still have this one on the shelves. It comes with a very high recommendation from me, so check it out.

(Originally posted May 30, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nightmare Edition with the Addams Family and Justice League

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of My Crowd (Fireside, 1970) and Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga (DC, 2008).

I found a new copy of this great book, an edition issued in 1993 with oddly revised artwork to tie-in to the Raul Julia/Anjelica Huston film, and happily found it a new place on my shelves. My previous edition was lost in some move or divorce or something. Anyway, the Amazon listing erroneously says this only has 96 pages. There are actually twice that number, and around 100 have the gleefully macabre bunch that became known as The Addams Family and were turned into the best comedy of the 1960s. But the whole book's a treat of dark humor and things you probably shouldn't chuckle at. Recommended, but, in all honesty, The World of Charles Addams is certainly the superior choice.

"What manner of diseased beast died to produce this thing, I wonder?" That's not my line. I don't recall the writer, the periodical where it first appeared, nor the album it described, but it was in one of those Rock Yearbooks you used to see in the '80s and it stuck with me. And boy, is it ever apt.

I must explain to newer readers that I have a stupid weak place for the Justice League. JLA was my first "favorite comic," back in 1975 or so, and like a weakling, I occasionally go back to this stupid, stupid thing even after it's stabbed me in the back too often. I finally thought I swore off the damn thing and removed it from my pull list, but the combination of the classic Legion of Super-Heroes and a 40% off coupon from Borders sucked me back in for some agonizingly bad comics.

This is the second of two JLA books written by some novelist called Brad Meltzer, who's written some political thrillers of the sort I never read, and who DC would have us believe brings some industry cred to funnybooks. He wrote six of the eight issues reprinted here, and the inexplicably popular Geoff Johns wrote the others. I believe it was Alan David Doane who noted that Johns' approach to comic book writing is akin to a small child playing in the bathtub with action figures, and so with Meltzer and Johns collaborating on a three-superteam-get-together, readers can expect some very bland comics, with the only dramatic notes being sounded by the arrival of a new character to the narrative.

The result of their collaboration is an overlong, repellent mess of tangled continuity, half-remembered references and subplots that don't go anywhere. The principle deal of the Legion of Super-Heroes' presence in the present is to facilitate the resurrection of the Flash, a character who was killed off about two years prior to these stories. Now, admittedly, it's been several years since I reread the old Paul Levitz run on LSH, but I'm pretty certain that Jeckie didn't adopt the Sensor Girl costume until after Karate Kid was killed. Maybe they brought him back, too. Or maybe Geoff Johns and his ilk just don't care; these are the action figures they assembled for the evening's bathtub play. I mean, among the characters assembled in this story is a girl with wind powers who is Ma Hunkle's granddaughter. Either you have no idea what that means, or you know that it's retarded, or you're Geoff Johns and think that's super-wicked-awesome-cool that DC has such a proud history of tradition and lineage and then you shit on other people's stories anyway.

Then there's another issue, by Meltzer, where two characters that nobody has ever cared about are trapped in a hole under a collapsed building. Twenty-two pages of that. I suppose that's what passes for character development. I'll accept that in M*A*S*H because we cared about Pierce and Houlihan, and this was a show where characters genuinely might die. But Meltzer, nobody gives a shit about Red Arrow and Vixen apart from Nightwing fanfic writers, and if they did get killed, Johns would just resurrect them in nine months so he can play with them in the bathtub with Kingdom Come Hawkman and the great-nephew of the Anti-Matter Universe's Sinestro-Prime of Earth-2.

Then there are the glimpses of the future shown in JLA issue 0, which preceded Meltzer's run and which is appended to the back of this volume. Apparently at some point in the future - it's been two years and I don't think they've written this story - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman kill Lex Luthor's son, and he puts on a kryptonite ring and beats the shit out of them. Well, get back to me when that story does appear. Like eight or nine other "flashforwards" arranged around the flashbacks, they're hints at subplots that Meltzer personally has no plans to write. This point isn't a complaint about the material, but honestly, how the heck far forward do they plan these things, I wonder.

At any rate, I know better than to buy JLA comics, and I want my 40% off coupon back to buy something good. For more than twenty years, Justice League of America has only been a worthwhile purchase when the editors and publishers have allowed proven talent to write the book. In the hands of anybody other than Keith Giffen or Grant Morrison, JLA hasn't been worth the paper it's printed on since the mid-80s. I had my girlfriend dump a giant stack of early 90s JLA comics at a hospital in Athens for kids to read. This, however, is culled from a beast so diseased that it might make kids even sicker, and should be discarded with greater care.

(Originally posted May 27, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

World of Weird and World of Indigo

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of Duke Étrange's World of Weird (Nova-X, 2008) and Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset (America's Best, 2003).

"Hey, Pops - Just 'cause the man hits the stick don't mean that the great green cheese ain't gonna rain down 'pon your knowledge box, you dig?" A comic so cool it comes with its own CD-R soundtrack of cah-razee garage rock, Duke Étrange's World of Weird is a 48-page anthology which pays tribute to 1950s EC horror books, but played through the sensibilities of hyperbolic sixties Marvel Comics. Contributors include Leah Moore, John Reppion and rising 2000 AD stars Al Ewing and Nick Dyer, along with small press vets Ed Berridge, who spearheaded this madness, Omnivistascope's Paul Scott and Richmond Clements.

The book leads with one of its strongest strips, Ewing and Brian Coyle's "Frightening Force," a three-page merry Marvel pastiche which reworks Universal monsters into a misfit, angst-ridden Lee & Kirby superhero team. There's a strong sense of affection for America's B-culture throughout the book, from the bombastic 1950s sci-fi world of "National Socialists from Beyond the Moon" to "One Man and His Dog," which evokes a certain horrible movie with Rosey Grier and Motherfuckin' Ray Milland that I've been known to mention a time or two. There are utterly goofball advertisements and over-the-top editorializing, and great fun from start to finish.

The comic will set you back only £3 and will be available at better cons and shops in the UK. The publishers don't seem to have a web page for ordering yet, but I can put you in touch with one of the groovy hepcats behind the shenanigans if you want to get with the scene, daddio.

A complementary copy of this comic was provided to The Journal of Zarjaz Things for the purpose of review.

You know, I just do not read enough Rick Veitch. This is a completely wonderful book starring one of the supporting characters from Alan Moore's America's Best Comics line. Greyshirt is an homage to Will Eisner's The Spirit, a well-dressed vigilante fighting organized crime in the violent streets of Indigo City.

Veitch, who illustrated Greyshirt's appearances in the pages of Tomorrow Stories, took up both script and art chores for this six-part series. Masterfully, the book suggests to the reader that it's an anthology book with contributions from Dave Gibbons, Frank Cho and others, but gradually all of the disparate elements begin to come together, and the audience realizes that characters and story elements introduced in sections set in other times and places are part of an ongoing "present" narrative, and that the "newspaper" section at the end of each issue provides much more than just local color...

Honestly, I've never been a fan of Veitch's style and his disagreeably ugly people, but his layouts, pacing and storytelling are eye-popping. Indigo Sunset is a deceptively simple book, one which uses the format in an incredibly innovative way and which I recommend highly. Veitch is currently working on a Vertigo series called Army@Love which I intend to look at soon.

(Originally posted May 23, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Supernatural Not-So-Serious Edition with the Phantom Stranger and Bec & Kawl

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of Showcase Presents: The Phantom Stranger vol. 2 (DC, 2008) and Bec & Kawl: Bloody Students (Rebellion, 2006).

I've always had a soft spot for the Phantom Stranger, a pretentious dandy who wanders through the DC Universe offering portentous warnings about impending doom in creepy little occult stories. You'd call them morality tales, but they all have pretty much the same moral: don't be a greedy jerk.

The first volume was weighed down by an overreliance on a the Phantom Stranger's skeptical opposite number, a short-tempered loudmouth named Dr. Thirteen who doesn't believe in the supernatural. Dr. Thirteen doesn't make as many appearances here, mercifully, but there is a small supporting cast who show up from time to time, so it is not quite as episodic and patchy as this might otherwise feel. But speaking of short tempers, so many of the characters in this book are on their last nerve before the Stranger shows up that it's no wonder everybody's shouting all the time. The Stranger also makes an enemy of a "scientist" who's so utterly demented that his illogical, idiot ranting is quite unlike anything else I've seen in comics.

Anyway, it's a good buy, just under 500 pages for $17, and I found it consistently entertaining, and would recommend it to readers of all ages. The same can't be said for the next entry...

I think I like the idea of Bec & Kawl more than the reality. This is a series which appeared in month-long bursts in the pages of 2000 AD periodically from 2002-06, and it's occasionally very funny, but also equally frustrating. It's about a pair of university students who keep having brushes with the uncanny and impossible. Beccy Miller is a goth in the fine arts program who dreams of world domination via demonic assistance, and Jarrod Kawl is a film student who'll probably never amount to anything because he spends most of his time stoned.

Bec & Kawl was the first ongoing series for Simon Spurrier and Steve Roberts, and frankly, it shows. The storytelling, particularly in the first half of the book, is simply awful, with no feeling of flow from panel to panel. Both creators have improved dramatically over time, but even the last two stories here are overwordy, with confusing climaxes. When Bec & Kawl does work, it works very well. I quite liked a mumbling friend of the pair with no self-esteem who spends three episodes being overlooked, finally exploding with so much to say, seconds before she's killed, and there's a hilarious page where Kawl spends an entire day with the same goofball expression of happiness. And then there's Kawl's pothead uncle, who owns some pretty substantial real estate in Hell which a certain former British prime minister wants to privatise. But much as I want to champion this series, great moments like these are few and far between. It's sort of like that great Star Wars essay where it's explained that Star Wars fans actually hate everything about Star Wars, apart from the idea; the promise itself is what they love.

There's an interview with Spurrier in the back where he notes some forthcoming storylines, but Bec & Kawl has been MIA for more than two years at this point, while Spurrier has been spinning his wheels doing trademark protection at Marvel. I'd certainly prefer to see him back at work on his wonderful characters Lobster Random, Jack Point, Harry Kipling and even these two than wasting his time on past-their-prime bores like Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider, who should have been retired thirty years ago. I can't give this a really strong recommendation, but the occult comedy would probably go over well with fans of Lenore and Emily the Strange.

(Originally posted May 21, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Punch and Goth-y

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of The Best Cartoons from Punch (Simon & Schuster, 1952) and xxxHolic vol. 1 (Del Rey, 2004).

One of the neatest finds I ever came across was a stash of boxes full of Punch, the long-running British humor/cultural/political magazine, dumped behind a door in UGA's Park Hall in 1990. I helped myself to one a day until I decided at the end of the year that nobody cared and helped myself to most of the rest of them. Much of it was over my head - oh, you Tories in 1965 and your plans for the Tarminster by-election! - but there was some damn fine cartooning on display throughout the magazines, which covered chunks of a twenty year span from about 1962-82.

A few months ago, I found a rather beaten copy of this book, assembled more than fifty years ago for American readers, in a wonderful secondhand store in Columbus. The humor is sometimes polite and obscure; this is comedy that predates almost all of our modern templates for British humor. So before Galton & Simpson, before Sellers, Seacombe & Milligan, it looked like... well, not entirely unlike The New Yorker, honestly. Some of this is very funny, and I was torn as to which cartoon to use to accompany this. (My copy lacks the dust jacket and the plain red-brown cover is dull enough to make an illustration a little pointless.) Some of it is really more notable in a historical context, however.

The link in the cartoon above takes you to a listing at an antiquarian site I found, where you may purchase what sounds to be a considerably better copy than mine for under $10. I'd certainly recommend you do so! You can also see a few dozen other specially selected Punch cartoons at the company's website.

Sometimes it takes me a while to try something. I spotted some merchandising from this comic, or its accompanying TV adaptation, when I was in Toronto a year ago. Shaindle told me it was from xxxHolic and I told myself I'd have to look into that sometime.

A year later, and it could've waited. In its favor, xxxHolic features some absolutely gorgeous artwork by the Clamp studio. It's sort of an inversion of their usual style from Sakura and Tsubasa, which are bright, ribbony and sunny comics. This is instead dark, lacy and smoky, with long-limbed figures reclining decadently in expensive surroundings.

But the list of strikes against xxxHolic is as long as your arm. I was perversely intrigued by the protagonist Watanuki's non-sexual, but nevertheless kinky, submissive relationship to the witch Yuka, but Yuka herself is as dreary a character as they come, a smug, superior bore with the drama-killing power of knowing everything that's going to happen. There's no sense of urgency or danger; everything just sort of plays out following a cryptic warning from Yuka. I found myself spending more time studying the intricate chapter-opening title page illustrations than the actual chapters, because nothing happens that will have any impact on characters who'll be around for more than two or three episodes.

This was my first Del Rey book, and I was a little appalled by the high price tag of $10.95. If they charged the same retail eight bucks that Viz charges for, say, Death Note, I could possibly justify cashing in a Borders coupon to get more of this gorgeous artwork, but eleven? I won't be bothering again. Your prices stink, Del Rey, and so does this story. Not recommended.

(Originally posted May 15, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Volumes One of The Bumper Book of Solar Wind and Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of The Bumper Book of Solar Wind vol. 1 (Omnivistascope/Lulu, 2008) and Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson vol. 1 (Marvel, 2001).

The British small press scene is a pretty interesting one, with lots of very talented young creators working away in relative obscurity. It's a market that I don't know very much about, and that's entirely my fault: when I was very interested a few years back, I used neither credit cards nor PayPal, and now that I use both, I'm trying to limit the number of single issue comics in the house for cost, space and storage reasons. But when the complete run of Solar Wind and its companion homage anthologies Big War Comic and Sunny for Girls were announced in low-price bookshelf editions, I ran out of excuses.

I'll look at the second collection in a month or so. This first one compiles the first five issues of Solar Wind, with work by the likes of Al Ewing, Matt Timson, Paul Scott, who edited the work, along with several others, and it is a real treat. I read the first third of it over lunch and was laughing so hard that a lady at the next table said "That must be a funny book!" It sure is. Solar Wind is a tribute to British newspaper comics of the 70s, with a smart-aleck editor, awful advertisements for stamp collecting kits, and a whole pile of over-the top comics. So the lunch in question, at the nearby "Loafing Leprechaun" faux-Irish pub, with British soccer on television and Led Zeppelin's "D'yer'maker" in the background, was a good setting!

Even better, after the first issue, each Solar Wind is a "merger" issue, so Solar Wind absorbs some other, non-existant other comics, taking on some girls' comics (Zoe Biddle, Wheelchair Ballerina is the greatest thing ever), war comics, crunching hard-man action comics and horror comics. The humor ranges from playful and loving to mean-spirited and over-the-top, and it all works very well indeed. None of the strips run for more than four pages, so those rare jokes that fall flat don't linger for long, and they're more than matched by the very successful ones. It's triumphantly silly, a real winner from start to finish, and very highly recommended, especially at less than eleven bucks! Don't be stubborn and miss out on this like I did!

Read more about the Omnivistascope small press world, from which Solar Wind emerged, at their web site!

I featured this book on my old Weekly Comics Hype in March of last year. A reread has prompted the following observations:

1. It's so nice to be able to read old comics in a vacuum. There are occasional references to other Marvel comics, but what you get in this book are twelve chapters of absolute awesome, with no backstory needed. If you know that Thor is a superhero take on the Norse god of thunder, then you're good to go.

2. Simonson's pacing is very odd in places. There's a sequence in the early pages where the warrior Volstagg is relating a tale, but several days seem to pass in the "meanwhile" of the main story before he finishes.

3. "The Last Viking" story is just amazing. Much has been written about Simonson's run on Thor, but I think this brilliant story, full to bursting with heart and life, is often overlooked.

4. Is this the best American superhero book of the 1980s? It's certainly close. Unless I'm overlooking one, it's either this or Levitz/Giffen Legion.

5. There are now five volumes of Simonson Thor in Marvel's Visionaries line. The second and third are still pretty hard to come by, but a couple of months ago, the company promised that new editions would be in print soon.

(Originally posted May 13, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Secondhand bookstore edition with Liberty Meadows and Modesty Blaise

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of Liberty Meadows: Eden (Image, 2006) and Modesty Blaise: Bad Suki (Titan, 2005).

I've been curious about Liberty Meadows for a long time, since Frank Cho's art is so wonderful. While he is currently spinning his wheels illustrating turgid Brian Bendis superhero stories for Marvel, he used to draw this newspaper strip about life in an animal sanctuary where the vets are surrounded by a supporting cast of loudmouthed lunatics. The strip eventually evolved into a comic book which Image published, and later repackaged in these handsome, oversized editions. So I found a used copy of Eden in Nashville last month, and my kids adored it, and it's easy to see why it appeals to younger readers. Personally, I didn't see much here that Berke Breathed hadn't already covered. Even the animals' speech patterns reminded me of the critters from Bloom County.

At its best, Liberty Meadows offers some surprises and cultural in-jokes. At its worst, it follows a vet named Frank who can't find the moxie to ask the gorgeous Brandy out, and that tedious subplot gets old instantly. We may call Charlie Brown wishy-washy, but at least he tried to kick that football, you know? On the other hand, if you're a dog lover, you'll probably adore this book. A subplot about a duck named Tyler and his bestest buddy, a non-speaking wiener dog called Oscar is so darn cute I had to brush my teeth afterwards. Recommended if you like children or small dogs.

Of all the Titan reprint series, I get all but two. Modesty Blaise is not on my pull list simply because I find secondhand copies of them practically everywhere. I found this for $10 at Acapella in Little Five Points last month, for instance. Bad Suki is the fifth of the series, and reprints a trio of (about) five-month serials. Of them, the title story is surprisingly the first Modesty Blaise adventure that I have not enjoyed. It's just incredibly dated, and while Peter O'Donnell's incredibly detailed research almost always brings his locations, scenarios and deathtraps to life, this look at Swinging London's drug culture feels as awkward as "Hollywood hippies" from an old Jack Webb show.

The other two stories are very solid and have aged well, and it's always thrilling to see just how well O'Donnell and Holdaway choreographed their fight scenes. A gun battle in "The Galley Slaves" goes on for several utterly absorbing pages and serves as an excellent climax to a great, unpredictable storyline. It's two-thirds' fabulous, at any rate. I certainly recommend Modesty Blaise to anybody looking for classic pulp adventure, but perhaps one of the other editions might be a better introduction to the character than this one.

(Originally posted May 7, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Set-Before-1930-Edition, with Enemy Ace and the Wizard of Oz

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. Today: reviews of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Image, 2006) and Showcase Presents Enemy Ace (DC, 2008).

This has actually been sitting on my nightstand for longer than anything else in that teetering stack, as it's a Christmas present I purchased quite some time ago and may finally get to deliver this month. Well, before it went, I wanted to actually have a look at it. It's a very charming adaptation of the L. Frank Baum novel, created by Enrique Fernandez and David Chauvel, made three years ago for a French publisher and released in this country by Image towards the end of '06.

I've actually never read the original novel, so I can't say whether it's that accurate an adaptation, but I was surprised by how very unlike the film it is, with the Wicked Witch of the West being a much smaller part of the narrative, and sorted before the book was two-thirds complete. It also takes place over the course of several weeks and, without spoiling anything, does not suffer from that awful cop-out ending the movie has. I do like the artwork, but with some reservations. Having finished it, I'm still not completely certain what the Tin Man actually looked like, since he's mostly seen from odd angles and in the shadows. He also sports a deeply bizarre, grisly origin not alluded to in the movie. Man, I'm going to have to track those books down if they're as creepy as this. Recommended, if for no other reason than it will spark your curiosity.

Ah, Robert Kanigher. We meet again.

Readers of "What I Just Read" may recall that I've been deeply disappointed with the comics work of Robert Kanigher, the prolific DC Comics scribe whose work from the 1960s and 1970s is seeing so much reprint in the Showcase Presents series. Fortunately, Enemy Ace is much, much better than some of the other books I've slogged through. It's a series set in World War One and featuring the taciturn Hans von Hammer, a German flying ace with no friends and a grim obsession with honor.

The series was only sporadically published, appearing from time to time in four separate anthology books from 1965-1979, and finally as a backup feature, drawn by John Severin, in some 1981-82 issues of The Unknown Soldier. Much of the other material is drawn by Joe Kubert, who makes up for some sometimes slapdash anatomy with a wonderful depiction of emotion in his characters and detailed reference for all the airplanes roaring over the skies of No Man's Land. Other artists contributing include Russ Heath and Howard Chaykin.

As for the stories, well, at least 400 of the 550 pages on display here are, despite some note of repetition (Von Hammer has a suck-up of an orderly, he takes his leaves in the woods in the company of a black wolf), really first-rate stuff. From time to time, it must be said, Kanigher slips, and his patented "three-beat" formula becomes evident (for example, trapped in France and trying to make it back to his lines, von Hammer meets three women, each of whom know a French airman whom von Hammer has shot down in the last week). There are even a handful of occasions where everything goes to hell and things get completely ridiculous - there's one completely braindead story about an English ace who, as a young boy, was obsessed with the tale of St. George and the Dragon, grew up convinced he was the reincarnation of St. George, and now takes to the air in full plate armor.

But when he wasn't being lazy and he wasn't giving von Hammer some retarded version of a rogues' gallery to fight, Kanigher really delivered on this title, making it by far the best of his work I've read, and streets superior to either Sgt. Rock or The War That Time Forgot. That's not to say that you won't find even better air combat in Johnny Red, or better WWI-set drama in Charley's War, but overall, this has turned out to be among the best of the Showcase books, and recommended for anyone curious in the material.

(Originally posted May 1, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)