Tales From The Dollar Bin

So, a guy walks into a used book store… And then he spends an hour sifting through the dusty bins and long boxes underneath the shelf of premium comic books. This is the story of what he finds.


Today’s buried treasure is Sergio Aragones Destroys DC, a comic, which I had no idea existed until I came across it in the third of five long boxes in the “S” section of the discount bins at Book Nook on Lawrenceville Highway in Lilburn, GA. I went into the place looking specifically for some Spider-Man: Clone Saga comics and when my thumb passed over this cover I was given pause. Sergio Aragones’ Groo was one of the first comics I ever owned as a kid and, like many 80s children, I grew up reading Mad Magazine specifically for Aragones’ cartoons. I especially loved the ones he would do in the margins of random pages. So a comic in which Sergio Aragones destroys anything at all is something I’m seriously interested in.


First of all, it’s called Sergio Aragones Destroys DC. Right off the bat that lets me know two things: 1) It’s going to be an exceptionally terrible, pun-riddled 90s “humor” comic in which the mainstays of the DC Universe will be lampooned by some writer turning in a half-assed script (in this case it’s Mark Evanier) as an excuse to allow the good Mr. Aragones draw some funny pictures, and 2) it’s going to be amazing.


Indeed, it is all of those things.


It starts out with Martian Manhunter responding to a cry for help, which turns out to be Hawkman foretelling the doom of the entire DCU by saying doom so many times that it’s just got to be funny, right? This sequence introduces the plot of the book.


The next scene shows Aragones at a drafting table with Evanier lamenting the fact that his career has ebbed so low that he has to write this comic (it’s meta!). Then it becomes an anthology comic showcasing really terribly unfunny retellings of Superman’s and Batman’s origins, a unabashedly misogynistic Wonder Woman story, and an actually really fun and charming Legion story.


At the end of each of these short sections Hawkman flies into the scene to shout “doom” some more, which marks the end of each story as the spotlighted character then joins Hawkman to fight some vague threat.


It’s a really, really terrible comic book even though Aragones’ art is just absolutely terrific and rich with all the little intricacies for which his fans love him. There’s about seven other little background things like this happening on this one page from the Superman story, and this one is my favorite. Only Sergio Aragones could transform the horror of deadly ricocheting bullets into something fun.


And here’s Wonder Woman rescuing a pervert from a mugger. What you don’t see is the panel in which a hundred other men run up to her asking to be tied up and beat also. And then the pervert she rescues offers her money to do it to him next time. The 90s! (Interesting side note: The Wonder Woman story was inked by John Byrne.)


This right here is my favorite page of the Legion story. In it, a bunch of would be Legionnaires audition for membership. Since they’re all sucky heroes with sucky powers they don’t get in. I don’t know a whole lot about the Legion of Superheroes, but from what I do know this is totally a scene that could have been in the regular, non “humor” version of the comic.


After the stars of the DCU get their time in the spotlight Hawkman gathers the Justice League on a random uninhabited planet to face the vague threat he was shouting about earlier. I have to admit, I was expecting the villain to actually be Aragones and Evanier since the book is calledSergio Aragones Destroys DC written by Mark Evanier and they would all jump out of the page on the drafting table and fight Aragones’ and Evanier’s cartoon selves. But no. The actual villain is…


… Johnny DC. So, pretty much this comic is the basis of the video game Epic Mickey.


Johnny DC goes on to describe his fall from grace and why he became evil and there’s an actually funny bit in which he’s about to bed a woman and he opens his robe to reveal his logo and the woman laughs at him for being a “comic book fan.” If I had a nickel…


Then something magical happens. Johnny DC all of a sudden “updates for the 90s” before the Justice Leaguers’ eyes in what is maybe the most get-off-my-lawn-you-whippersnappers moment in all of comics history.


It turns out this entire comic book was written as a jab at the state of comics in the 90s, which, looking back, we can all recognize as objectively awful, but it takes a special kind of crankiness to bemoan the state of 90s comics within the pages of an extremely 90s comic. To be fair, if anybody had the right to do such a thing it was friend of Jack Kirby and frequent collaborator Mark Evanier. And in the end, Extreme 90s Johnny DC is tricked into saying his name backwards (um, what?) sending him back to the 5th Dimension, I guess, and the Justice League walks off into the sunset after resolving to be more like they were when Johnny DC first knew them.


I did a little bit of research and discovered that this comic (along with it’s companion book Sergio Aragones Massacres Marvel) actually won the Eisner Award for “Best Humor Publication” in 1997. It also won the book’s editor, Don Raspler, the Eisner Award for “Best Editor” that year.


Cover Price: $3.50

Price I paid: $3.50 divided by two then divided again by three. Book Nook’s price structures are weird.


Thanks for reading, everyone!

The Gray Area Reborn: Freeing Ben Reilly

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently signing up to test the super-soldier serum he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online June 2, 2011 at Socialfist as “The Liberation Of Ben Reilly.”
(Running this late since we didn’t update Saturday)

I went back home to Tucson this past weekend to see my baby sister graduate from high school and I took that opportunity to “liberate” some of my old comics from when I was in middle school. Like many comics readers in the 90s, I had mostly awful taste in comics. I’m completely guilty of buying several titles just because they were first issues (because everyone knows they’re worth more). I have two variant covers of the Mortal Kombat series by some now-defunct publisher, the first issue of Cyber Force, and first issues of Night Thrasher (both the mini series and the ongoing) to name a few. Some of the comics even had little price stickers on the bags that I handwrote after pricing them in Wizard magazine. I was investing for the future!

But all those books stayed in box. The ones that came home–aside from a few that were too terrible not to bring back (I’m looking at you, Slapstick #s 1-3!)–are the comics I really, genuinely loved as a young reader. I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose some credibility when I tell you what they were, so I’m going to hold off for a bit and tell you what my two favorite comic book stories of all time are.

My all time favorite is Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga in Uncanny X-Men. I can’t remember if I owned comics before a friend gave me the trade for my 10th birthday (maybe some Archie digests from the grocery store), but I do know that none of them mattered after I read this. I won’t go into detail here about why it’s great because so many have already done it better than I ever could, but I will say that Dark Phoenix is what I compare any and every comic book story to.

My second favorite comic story of all time is the Age of Apocalypse, because if anybody who read comics in the 90s says that Age of Apocalypse is not their favorite of the decade they are either a bad person or lying (which also makes them a bad person). Again, I won’t go into detail except to say that this is what every other comic book event is trying to live up to, both sales-wise and from a storytelling standpoint.

Ok, so now that you know what my favorites are you have to admit I have decent if not impeccable taste in comics, right? Ok. So when I tell you that my third favorite comic book story of all time–the comics I rescued from a warped copy paper box in Tucson–is the Spider-Man Clone Saga, I fully expect you to lose at least a little respect for anything I have to say hence.

Maybe there are those among you who share my love of Ben Reilly and the Scarlet Spider and Kaine’s misguided though ultimately good intentions, but I suspect we are outnumbered. To be completely honest, I haven’t read these comics since I bought them in 1995 (or so) but I the way I remember them is being a whole bunch of really great ideas bundled with a whole bunch of really bad ideas. There were some super creative covers (the Peter Parker in jail for Spider-Man #57 one is one of my all time favorites), fantastic art by Sal Buscema in Spectacular and John Romita, Jr.’s guest art in adjectiveless (you may not like the Scarlet Spider as an idea, but god damn if he doesn’t look amazing when JRJR draws him). There was also Amazing Spider-Man #400 with the engraved tombstone cover in which Aunt May dies. It’s a beautifully done, emotionally resonant issue and while I’m not the biggest fan of Mark Bagley (despite my undying love of Ultimate Spider-Man) he absolutely does an outstanding job with the art.

It would later be revealed that the “Aunt May” who died was actually an actress hired by Norman Osborn to play her just to mess with Peter because, you know… comics. That’s even more disappointing because I can’t think of another issue of any comic book in which a character–any character; major, minor, bystander–dies on panel of natural causes, let alone one done so well. And there’s clones all over that sumbitch. That’s right. Aunt May dies surrounded by clones of her nephew.

Let us never forget.

I mean, there’s got to be a reason Marvel is republishing the entire thing in six Ultimate Collection style trades this year. And it’s going to be followed by another trade republishing the Original Clone Saga from way back around when Gwen Stacy died. Personally, I plan to troll the depths of as many dollar and fifty-cent bins as I can find for the issues I’m missing. It’s the journey, not the destination, after all. Any way you slice it, however, there’s never been a better time to love clones.

If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to see why everybody hates it so much. If you have read it, I encourage you to go back through it and try to find the good in it. It’s in there, I promise.

The Gray Area Reborn: Thor The Mighty Avenger And Deadpool Max

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently signing up to test the super-soldier serum he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online May 24, 2011 at Socialfist as “On Continuity: Deadpool and Thor Remembered.”

I am a bitter and grizzled old man. I’m set in my ways and stubborn and I want things the way I want them and the way they’ve always been. Change doesn’t just scare me; change enrages me and causes me to post nasty comments in forums and cancel subscriptions to comics I’ve bought for years. Or worse: change makes me completely ignore a really really good comic book that I might enjoy, causing it to languish in poor-sales-purgatory until it is eventually cancelled. Can you guess my name? My name is…… ALL OF US!!!!!


(Thunder crashes and lightning casts ominous shadows!)

Seriously, guys. What’s the deal? Why do we uniformly ignore new takes on our favorite characters even when they’re really really good? I’m seriously asking you this question because I don’t know the answer. Is it because they’re “out of continuity?” Is continuity that important? Does the idea that things that happen in comic books “matter” to future issues mean anything? At all? Really?

It’s become cliche to talk about now, but let’s take a moment to consider that there is a thing called “event fatigue.” There is a coined phrase currently in use in popular culture that describes how sick and tired we all are of comic books that exist solely to affect the continuity of a shared universe of comic book titles. And when a comic book comes out that does the exact opposite they are straight up ignored. Yes. I am still bitter about Thor: The Mighty Avenger being cancelled. And now Deadpool Max is ending at issue 12 instead of being an ongoing series. Are you kidding me, guys?! I’m so mad at us right now.

Deadpool Max is seriously one of the most inventive takes on the Marvel Universe that I’ve ever seen. It basically takes the idea of the superhero and turns it into Spy vs Spy and if that doesn’t sound awesome to you then we can never be friends. It’s ingenious and the world will be a worse place when they stop publishing it. And Thor: The Mighty Avenger is my favorite comic book of 2009 and 2010. I gave my 8 year old brother both trades and my 26 year old brother all the single issues for Christmas last year and they both loved it. It is the perfect comic book. Except that it doesn’t exist anymore.

It’s crazy to me that the reason these books and books like them fail is because they exist outside of the established canon. They “aren’t real.” That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard ever. “This story about a Viking god who comes to Earth to hit things with a hammer isn’t as real as this other story about a Viking god who comes to Earth to hit things with a hammer.” Do you hear that? That’s the sound of every cell in my body facepalming.

I even saw comments in some forums that said Kyle Baker’s art in Deadpool Max is what kept them from enjoying the book. One comment said Kyle Baker’s Deadpool doesn’t look like Deadpool. That’s the second stupidest thing I’ve ever heard ever. The only logical explanation I can muster is Rob Liefeld himself is covertly infiltrating message boards to sully the reputations of every other Deadpool artist. Kyle Baker is an angel from heaven and has never done art that was not objectively amazing and if you disagree with me you are wrong. This is not a matter of opinion. You cannot argue this point and if you try I will push you down the nearest set of stairs. Not really. But seriously, find me an example of Kyle Baker art that isn’t amazing and I’ll give you five dollars. Straight up. I’m not joking.

The exception that proves the rule is, of course, Ultimate Spider-Man. But keep in mind, Ultimate Spider-Man came fully packaged with a whole other universe of continuity and crossovers and has had several event comic tie-ins over the course of its undeniably great and successful run. Also keep in mind that the absolute worst issues of that series (while not even remotely approaching “bad”) were the ones that were bogged down with continuity and event tie-ins.

Look, I think we can all agree that none of us wants to buy a bad comic book (unless it’s hilariously bad, a la Batman: Odyssey or The Rise of Arsenal #3) but can we also agree that we’ll give chances to good ones? Even if they have absolutely no bearing on the larger picture of the universes the main books occupy? Because even though they may not affect the picture, they still benefit from ALL of the history and remain free to tell stories that matter to us.

The Gray Area Reborn: Ultimate Spider-man

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently on tour with Adam WarRock, MC Lars and MC Chris he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online May 20, 2011 at Socialfist as “Ultimate Spider Man: A Brief Retrospective.”

I have read every page of every comic of the series Ultimate Spider Man. I have read every word in every word balloon. And Brian Bendis wrote every issue, so the savvy among you know that means a whole lot of word balloons. So, what am I getting at? Am I trying to impress you? Only kind of. What I really want to get across is that it is totally possible–and entirely worthwhile–to read every issue of Ultimate Spider Man.

I read the first 110 issues in trade (I think that’s volumes 1-18 or 19) for free at my local library. Every library with a halfway decent collection of comics will have it, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find without dropping the $1000+ 25 volumes of trades would cost. I happened to catch up to the series just as the original artist, Mark Bagley, was ending his record-breaking run on the series and Stuart Immonen was just beginning his run with issue 111, an issue they both drew. I’ve been buying the single issues since then.

Looking back on the series, the thing that strikes me most is just how good all of it is. It’s pretty astonishing to think that after 160 issues you can consider the whole and not find a single weak point. There’s arcs that are better than others, of course, but there wasn’t a single issue that I wasn’t completely engaged in. I have to believe that is one hundred percent a result of giving one man (Bendis) the series and the freedom to tell 160 issues’ worth of comics stories.

Another interesting thing about this series is that despite beginning in the early 2000’s and it now being 2011, only about a year has passed in-story. It makes perfect sense, but it’s weird to think about. It also shows just how skillfully paced the series is, with entire six issue arcs taking place all within a couple of hours or so in the story. What it boils down to, ultimately, is that Bendis has figured out the perfect formula for storytelling. Make no mistake, this series is formulaic as hell, but it’s so natural to the Spider Man mythos (I feel like such an asshole having typed that seriously) that it works to the utmost benefit of the story. Here is the formula: for every five bad things that happen to Peter Parker one good thing happens.

It’s genius. That one good thing makes all the difference in the world. It’s what makes Peter Parker not Matt Murdock.

Also, the series is more about Peter Parker than Spider Man. Yeah, Peter Parker is Spider Man, but you know what I mean. The most interesting parts of the story are the ones where Peter is interacting with the people around him out of costume and trying to live a normal life. He never can, which goes back to the five bad things, but it’s the attempt that makes the character seem real. He wants the same things we want. He does what we would do in his situation. No, that’s not quite right. He does what we hope we would do in his situation. That’s what makes Peter Parker the perfect comic book character.

And Brian Bendis does such a great job over these 160 issues of retelling classic stories or mashing up new ones and old ones or just completely creating new situations that this version of Spider Man, for me, is the definitive one. Of course, it’s not the real Spider Man. But if someone were to ask me what my favorite Spider Man story is, I guarantee it’s going to be something from out of Ultimate Spider Man.

The Gray Area Reborn: Scalped

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently on tour with Adam WarRock, MC Lars and MC Chris he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online May 3, 2011 at Socialfist as “It’s Late and I’m Tired and You Should Read Scalped. Ignore the Rest of This. It Doesn’t Make Any Sense.”

So, my main man Luke asked me to write up some comics reviews for his site to post today (Monday). Instead I’m going to be talking a bit about the nature of fiction and sequential storytelling and it probably won’t be going up until Monday night at the very earliest (Sorry, Luke). I guess this could be considered a review of the latest issue of Jason Aaron’s Scalped, issue number 48, but if I’m being completely honest “review” is going to be a bit of a stretch.
Comic books really are a unique form of fiction, not only because of the fanaticism they inspire in their fans (although other genres like SF and fantasy fiction do as well) but because the progressive nature inherent in serialized storytelling. Only recently, it seems, have other genres really begun to take advantage of the idea of telling a whole story in multiple pieces. There have been notable multivolume books (Lord of the Rings, Dune, etc) but in recent years it seems as though every fantasy/SF book is part of a trilogy. Even so, this still does not put them on the same scale as comic books, in which stories evolve and adapt and take place over decades and multiple creative teams and visions. Man, this is sounding really pretentious. Sorry, guys. I’m a librarian who was an English major.

Anyways, I read the latest issue of Scalped, which came out this week and it raised a couple of questions in my mind about character progression, story progression and how they interact both because of and in spite of each other. Specifically, it made me think about what the reader wants to happen and what actually happens in a story.

Scalped, for those unwashed non-readers among you, is a comic book series that follows the lives of certain residents of the Prairie Rose Native American Reservation. There are no happy endings–nor beginnings or middles, for that matter–to be read here. It’s a story of unhappy people finding new and more complicated and ingenious ways to make each other even more unhappy. And sometimes dead.

It is amazing and you should be reading it.

Scalped’s main character (maybe protagonist, though the series seems to only have antagonists) is Dashiell Bad Horse of the Prairie Rose Lakota Tribe Native American Reservation in South Dakota. He is a bad person. He kills people. He does hard drugs. He is in the process of betraying the people who believe in him. What makes this book both fascinating and frustrating is that Dash is supposed to be becoming a better person. He’s back on the reservation under some false pretenses after several years away and since he’s been back he’s seen and done some things that should have changed him. I thought he had changed until the moment he was given a choice in this latest issue and he made the choice he would have made on page one, panel one of the first issue.

I was heartbroken.

Looking back, however, I realize that it couldn’t have gone any other way. Dash’s defining characteristic is that he is incapable of choosing the right thing to do. Because the narrative is so agile in moving from perspective to perspective and character to character, as readers, we are privy to things to which none of the characters in the story have access. So we already know what the consequences of each of Dash’s choices will be. That’s a testament to Aaron’s ability to weave this story. As such, we know what Dash is supposed to choose. But we also know what he is going to choose, as much as it hurts us to watch him make that choice.

It’s almost like sleight of hand, the way Aaron is able to make us believe that Dash has undergone these profound, life-changing experiences only to lift the veil and show that he hasn’t changed at all. He’s been undercover the whole time, putting on a front as much to us as to Red Crow.

And here is where I make the case that this is only something comics can achieve. Is it possible for a well written book to pull the rug out from under us? Of course. Now that I think about it, Scalped is more of an argument for comics as literature than anything else. Scalped and books like The Walking Dead (which also had a new issue this week) are books that eschew the mainstream (read: big two) comics convention called “the status quo.”

The status quo is the bane of comics’ existence. It is, it could be argued, the dividing line between acceptance into the annals of American Literature and the junkyard of disposable pop art; pulp. Fuck Literature, I say. If Literature is too good to be associated with Norse gods smashing the shit out of impossibly advanced robotics in the name of American Freedom, then I want no part of it. No thank you, sir.

There are only two examples of Big Two comic books I can think of that ignore the idea of a status quo and are currently being published. These are Captain America and Batman. And Captain America is in the process of reestablishing its status quo (just in time for the movie! *gasp*). That leaves only Batman. Already a symbol of the one-man pursuit of change, Batman is one of the oldest superheroes in existence. How funny that Captain America is nearly as old and also currently in the midst undergoing a major upheaval. Things that make you go “hmmmm” (or not).

Let’s look at the major factor shared by the four titles named thus far: Batman, Captain America, Scalped, The Walking Dead. They are all written by one person over a years-long stretch. Captain America: Ed Brubaker, issues 1-50, 600-617. Scalped: Jason Aaron, issues 1-48. The Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman, issues 1-84. Batman: Grant Morrison: A whole bunch over several titles. We all know that Steve Rogers is going to be taking up the mantle of Captain America again and James Buchanan is going to be Bucky again (just look at the solicits for the title’s name change to Captain America & Bucky), but Batman is another story altogether.

The recent change in Batman’s status quo seems like it’s going to stick. No take backs. From now on there’s going to be a whole lot of guys called Batman. That’s just how it’s going to be. Of course, there can only be one Bruce Wayne, but the management at DC would have to be really dense and pretty goddamn stubborn to take the cape and cowl away from Dick Grayson. That’s a huge goddamn deal, you guys. It’s something that only “indie” comics have been able to get away with since pretty much ever. This is a real change in a comic that’s been the exact same since the 1930’s. This is the first ever Batman story ever told that couldn’t have been told by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

I’m going to go ahead and wrap this thing up now since it’s become something I never intended it to be and also because it’s now past midnight and this was supposed to be up on Monday. Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: Think of a comic book that has changed significantly since you first started reading it. You can probably count the number of titles on one hand. That’s totally ok though because comics about men who dress up like robots don’t have to change. They’re already awesome. They’ve already outlived their creators and they’ll outlive this generation of creators as well.

The real revolution in comics is happening on the other side of the mainstream. It’s happening despite Captain America getting shot and Superman renouncing his American citizenship. It’s happening whether you’re reading it or not, and more often than not, you’re totally missing it. I don’t even know if I’m making sense anymore. I know I’ve lost track of my original point. Oh well. See you next week. Good night.