Another month filled mainly with comic books and books about comics … what can I say? Retirement brings out the nostalgia in me.
Billy Summers by Stephen King
This was the book that occupied me for most of August. It’s a fascinating character study by King, devoid (for the most part) of his usual horror and/or supernatural elements. Billy Summers is a hit man, looking for his last big score, the assassination of a fellow criminal about to testify against his employers. But it soon becomes apparent to Billy that he’s next on the hit-list once his assignment is done. This is not the usual King fare, to be sure. It’s a very slow moving story that takes a turn about halfway through when another character is introduced. Along the way, Billy writes a book about his experiences in the military. I wasn’t wild about the book-within-a-book thing, to be honest, although it’s a convenient way to tell the main character’s back-story. It certainly made this book a bit of a slog at times, but by and large, I enjoyed Billy Summers and parts of it are incredibly cinematic. One other thing I didn’t appreciate: the shoehorning-in of a King landmark to seemingly tie into the whole concept of a King Universe.
Origins of Marvel Comics by Stan Lee
I had this—and all its sequels—when It first came out in the 1970s, and found a reasonably priced first edition at a recent small comics show. While Stan takes credit for a lot of the tales contained within (including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, and the Incredible Hulk), he also mentions the artists involved, mainly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Re-reading this, one thing that struck me was how good these pages looked in 1975 or so when Origins was first published. Up until then, there hadn’t been a lot of comic book reprints on higher quality paper, so the colors are super vivid and bright, much better than the original comics—Marvel had crappy printing compounded by lazy and indifferent color separations and the throwaway nature of comics. I also like John Romita’s cover painting (and the subsequent one he did for the sequel books). The Marvel Universe was only about 15 years old when this came out, so the whole thing seemed much fresher and more innocent, but boy … Stan sure can talk, mainly about himself. Excelsior!
Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Trilogy by Les Daniels
I came across a copy of Batman: The Golden Age in a local comic shop in August and bought it, which of course “inspired” me to find it’s companions, Superman: The Golden Age and Wonder Woman: The Golden Age on eBay. All three were written by comics historian Les Daniels, who also did major anniversary books on DC and Marvel. These three books, though, were outgrowths of a series called The Complete History, that he did on these three characters for DC and which were published by Chronicle Books close to their 60th anniversaries. The Golden Age books were done to accompany “Masterpiece Editions” which featured a Superman statue (designed by Chris Ware), and Batman and Wonder Woman action figures (with cloth costumes) in 1999, 2000, and 2001. (I wonder if the statue broke too easily during shipping and was replaced by something a little softer and sturdier? The statue was much cooler.) The real treat of these books focusing solely on the Golden Age iterations of these characters is the Chip Kidd art direction and design. The books themselves are pretty slight; under 100 pages each, but the layout and images (photographed by Kidd’s regular collaborator Geoff Spears) are incredible. Daniels’ writing is also great. You can find these for pretty cheap on eBay … like less than $20.00 each.
Daredevil Vol. 4 by Chip Zdarsky, Marco Checcetto, and Jorge Fornes
(I inadvertently posted this cover last month for July instead of Vol. 3 … so no, I’m not cheating.) Another well-drawn entry in this series, which you have to read from start to (soon-to-be) finish … I think it ends with #36. I also re-read Vol. 5 (which I somehow read first, absolutely killing my usual OCD-infected collecting and reading habits), just to bring me up to date (Vol. 6 comes out at the end of September). This volume covers issues 15-20 and all the threads are really coming together: gang war in Hell’s Kitchen, Kingpin’s mayoral ambitions, Elektra and her strange plan to help Daredevil, and DD’s quest for personal absolution. One thing I hate: Marvel’s annoying habit of having someone like Mephisto or Doctor Strange or the Purple Men making entire planet’s forget that Matt Murdock is Daredevil. It’s a contrived and hackneyed plot device that’s as bad as Bobby Ewing in the shower on Dallas, and I guess now it’s bleeding over into the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home.