This Week in Comics – September 5, 2019

HOUSE OF X #4

“No more.”

HOX #4 picks up right where things left off in last week’s HOX #3. Together, it’s an X-Men adventure for the ages. An Imaginary Story, perhaps? (aren’t they all, as Mr. Moore reminded us). Doesn’t really matter- it bleeds feeling and character and high-stakes sci-fi impossibilities on every page. Which is exactly why X-Men comic books exist in the first place.

I keep thinking about Chris Claremont when reading these issues. Not that they’re Claremont-esque, or derivative. They’re not. They’re wildly their own thing. But I keep thinking of Claremont picking these issues up and reading them himself, and smiling, whistling, wincing perhaps. Proud, I guess is the word. I keep thinking of Chris Claremont reading this and feeling proud. Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, too, from that great Krakoa in the sky. It’s a strange thing, I know, but at the close of each issue it hits me. This comic, like all the greats, is an act of love.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #3

“Hey. Hat guy. What happened?”

Oddly enough, it’s a Days of Future Past kind of situation in this issue of Doom Patrol. The setting: the future’s own Doom Patrol #172 from March, 2031. Cover price not mentioned. It’s a retro robot murder mystery in a city called Goliath, where the familiar faces of the Doom Patrol are present, but skewed by events unseen in the time between now and this imagined “then.” Jasey, a fusion of Casey and Jane, leads the future-shock way. Cliff dons a fedora and plays hardboiled detective. The Teen Titans own Beast Boy guest stars, joining the Doom Patrol on what fees like the beginning of a big new arc.

I really enjoyed this issue. Doc Shaner’s art is clean an retro cool, and really suits the setting. There’s a sequence toward the end of the issue in the Underground that really stands out, where he captures Casey’s emotions wonderfully and does great work with the shadowy environment.

Writer Gerard Way is joining on the story by Jeremy Lambert and Steve Orlando. These folks worked on the underappreciated Milk Wars crossover and this issue feels like a continuation of that event, if not in direct plot, at least in energy.

For as weird as this issue is on its surface, it struck me how traditionally it all plays out. It feels very much like a monthly superhero DC comic of yore. It has one of those last pages that could have been in a Mark Waid issue of The Flash or in a Dan Jurgens Justice League story circa 1994. I love that. Doom Patrol may be a “comic on the edge”, as the old Vertigo tagline used to announce, but it still has its feet firmly set in the DCU. And that makes it infinitely stranger than it could ever be on its own.

SPAWN #300

“I AM SPAWN!”

The first thing you need to know is that Spawn is awesome. The second thing you need to know is that Spawn being awesome sometimes comes at the cost of things like sensible plotlines or in-depth characterizations. Like, sometimes you just need to fight a cyborg gorilla with a machine gun, OK? Do or do not, there is no why.

I bought Spawn #1 at an Albertson’s grocery story in 1992. Back then, the comic book craze was in full-on nuclear mode, so much so that all the grocery stores around me in Central Florida had massive selections of comic books, essentially micro comic shops setup inside their stores. In retrospect, it was nuts.

I was pretty much the perfect age for Spawn. I was all-in on Todd McFarlane’s time at Marvel, devouring his Spider-Man issues and even things like his Marvel Tales reprint covers. His dynamic art style seemed to reinvent Marvel’s top character for a new generation, to put a dynamic stamp on things that somehow magically matched the time and place.

When Todd broke off to form Image Comics, it was pretty much the most badass thing I had ever heard. It was like Michael Jordan leaving the NBA to start his own basketball league, and bringing along all the other all-stars with him. Again, I was the perfect age for this. I devoured the Wizard magazine articles and absorbed the hype like a sponge. I liked rebels and mavericks. Todd was doing the comic book version of what David Letterman had done around this time in leaving NBC for CBS to start his own late night institution, one he owned and controlled. It was like some cosmic spores in the air at that time that made massive media rebellions seem like the most important thing in the world. I could spill 5,000 words on the Image revolution, but that’s for another time. I’ll succinctly put it this way: Spawn was a really big deal, and carved out an entirely new pocket universe for comic books. In fact, Spawn #1 might be the most important comic book of all time. It’s certainly in the top 10. Spawn was like the original Walking Dead for Image. Folks may not realize or remember, but it was one of the top selling comics for years and years after its debut, long after the original Image founding books either cooled, stalled, or stagnated. Maybe Spawn’s not your cup of tea, but if you’re enjoying the modern golden age of creator owned comics, you owe a debt of gratitude to Todd McFarlane’s heavy metal anti-hero.

Back to Spawn #1: I balked at the cover price. “$1.95?!” I thought, “OK Mr. Prima Dona, fine.” The comic was darker than I expected it to be. I was looking for superheroics and instead got a lead character who seemed tortured by existence. Spawn subverted all expectations right from the start.

For the first 20 issues or so, each entry felt like a comic book event. Todd was SERIOUS, burning up the page with his best artwork ever and packing issues with gore, drama, and an ever-expanding universe of new characters and environments. This was the 1960s Marvel explosion, redone in the white-hot ’90s with the sensibility of the MTV generation. It didn’t always make sense. It was always badass. There were guest stars, top writers like Neil Gaiman, creator-owned crossovers like Cerebus, namedropping of other Image characters- each new issue brought awesome action and adventure, but also delivered an enormous chunk of new lore. It all felt so fresh and new and exciting. This was a new world being constructed, panel by panel.

Things dipped for a bit, the energy of that first salvo impossible to sustain. But then, despite all odds, Spawn came roaring back. Artist Greg Capullo joined the mix, and by the time Spawn hit issue 40 or so, a new kind of routine began to take form. Spawn was a comic rocketed to success on the energy of its bold auteur creator. Yet it became something new entirely with Todd shifting gears to writer and handing the art duties over to Capullo. For something close to 75 issues (maybe more?), the two produced the definitive section of the character’s history. And sure, there are cyborg gorillas, wars between demons and killer clowns, and over the top military action, but those McFarlane/Capullo also turned in some pretty daring stories tackling everything from racism to domestic violence. They had the bravery to strip away everything that had built Spawn up and completely nuked the character- removing his costume, his supporting cast, and his powers, all in order to rebuild him into something more than just a cape. And they did all this under the spotlight of being the #1 selling book for years, stacking up against some of the most well-known fictional characters and global corporations in the world. Ain’t that something?

Spawn #300. A lifetime later. There’s so much going on here. The centerpiece is a reunion between McFarlane and Capullo, where guess what? They do it all over again, ripping Spawn apart and putting him back together as something both old and new. There’s a continuation of the rather excellent recent arc featuring art by Jason Shawn Alexander. If you don’t know, find out- this guy is like the next Bill Sienkiewicz and has been turning in incredible artwork on Spawn month after month. There’s also the introduction of new characters and the metamorphosis of old ones, and some tantalizing hints about what’s coming next. 300 issues later, and it’s Spawn, baby. Still doing its thing- being bold, badass, creative, and independent.