Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jack Kirby's The Forever People

Jack Kirby's Forever People
DC Comics, 1999

After two years of 'secret' negotiations with the DC Comics editorial staff, in 1970 Jack Kirby left Marvel and joined DC, where he was allowed to create several new series of his own. One of these was The Forever People, which debuted in March, 1971. The series lasted for 11 issues, until November 1972, when it was canceled.

This 1999 trade paperback compiles all 11 issues of the series, rendered in graytone; some four-page shorts Kirby produced as fillers; and a cover gallery.

In his Introduction, former Kirby aide Mark Evanier relates that, although he was 53 years old at the time he joined DC and began composing his 'Fourth World' franchise, Kirby was well aware of the so-called 'Generation Gap' then roiling American society. The Forever People was Kirby's way of portraying younger people in a sympathetic light, as well as promoting a subtle social commentary that touched on the presence of corruption and vice in the 'older' generation ruling society. 

The Forever People were a team of five superpowered denizens of New Genesis who came to Earth for adventure and to right wrongs. They consisted of Big Bear, the quintessential 'hippy'; Vykin the Black; Mark Moonrider; Serafin, a kind of updated version of the Kid Colt character Kirby had illustrated in his old Atlas / Timely days; and Beautiful Dreamer, the 'token' girl member. The team traveled using their unique 'super cycle' and a portable computer called 'Mother Box'.

The main adversary for the Forever People was Darkseid, the nihilistic ruler of Apokalips who sought to turn the Earth's population into his slaves.

After a lengthy arc involving Darkseid, the series changed course with issue 9, one in which DC's management had asked Kirby to involve Deadman in an effort to spark some commercial interest in that character. According to Mark Evanier's Introduction, Kirby was less than happy with being asked to portray Deadman in 'The Forever People', and his script keeps the character in the background.

How does The Forever People hold up, some 46 years later ? To be fair, it was released in the Silver Age of comics, and like many of the comics of that era, particularly those which adhered to the Comics Code, its plot will seem rather tame to modern-day readers. 

It doesn't help matters much that Kirby, as a middle-aged man, was not entirely in synch with the youth culture of the day - his use of phrases like 'she's a groove !', and words like 'uncool', however sincere in their effort to capture the youth culture of the early 70s, were unconvincing at the time, and are even more so today.

Where The Forever People does still shine is in Kirby's artwork, ably inked by Mike Royer. The comic represented a chance for Kirby to show what he could do when he was allowed to work on his own intellectual property, and the panels in The Forever People have an energy and verve that takes the 'classic' Kirby style and does a little bit more with it. It's all the more impressive to realize that Kirby was drawing several different titles for DC at this time, and his workload was significant.

So, who will want to pick up this compilation of The Forever People ? Kirby fans will of course want a copy, although I suspect that they also will wish that DC releases a color version printed on quality stock paper. Until such a time as this happens, used copies of The Forever People are creeping up in price with each passing year......I might suggest getting a copy sooner, rather than later, if you are interested.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: October the First is Too Late

Book Review: 'October the First is Too Late', by Fred Hoyle

2 / 5 Stars

‘October the First is Too Late’ first was published in hardcover in 1966; this Fawcett Crest paperback (160 pp) was published in July, 1970. The cover artist is uncredited, but probably is Paul Lehr.

The novel has an intriguing premise: through the action of an entity or entities unknown, in August of 1966, Earth is subjected to a ‘Timequake’ which places different geographic areas in different ears in the planet’s history.

In England, it’s still 1966, but in Western Europe, it’s 1917, and World War I is raging. In Greece, it’s 425 B.C. And ominously, in Russia and China, the entire landscape is a featureless sheet of glass – suggesting the far, far future.

The first-person narrator, referred to as Richard or Dick, is a skilled pianist and composer of avant-garde works. By virtue of being a friend of the talented mathematician John Sinclair, Dick is invited along on exploratory trips made by a bewildered UK government to see the extent and breadth of the Timequake’s effects on the planet.

But as the intrepid British explorers are to discover, the likelihood of reversing the altered state of the Earth may not just be impossible, but unadvisable……….

I found ‘October’ to be a disappointment. Despite having one of the more interesting premises in sf, it really does very little with it.

At the time he wrote the novel, Fred Hoyle must have been obsessed with music and musical creativity, because large segments of ‘October’ are devoted to expositions on playing music; composing music; the effects of music on the emotional and psychological state of the listener; how music is transformed, but remains the same, over the passage of the centuries; etc., etc. And this is all classical music that is being dealt with, of course. I was thankful ‘October’ didn’t revolve around a reverential treatment of Jazz, an exasperating affectation on the part of so many novels, but still………..

I won’t disclose any spoilers about the novel’s denouement, save to say that I found it underwhelming and contrived – as if Hoyle, in setting up his premise of a Timequake, was indifferent as far as resolving it.

The novel’s prose style, like those of Hoyle’s other novels, is clean and fast-moving, which helps to some extent in mediating the overemphasis on Music Theory and Practice. But when all is said and done, I can’t give ‘October the First is Too Late’ more than two stars.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Harry 20 on the High Rock

Harry 20 on the High Rock
Alan Davis (art) and Gerry Finley-Day (story)
2000 AD / Rebellion, August 2010

'Harry 20 on the High Rock' first appeared in the 23 October, 1982 issue ('Prog') 287 of 2000 AD. It ran in periodic fashion, sharing space with features like Judge Dredd, Robo Hunter, Time Twisters, Ace Trucking Co., and Rogue Trooper, untill Prog 307 (12 March 1983)

This trade paperback compiles all of the episodes, along with a sketch section.

The story takes place in the near future, when all criminals are housed in a massive orbiting prison, known as the High Rock. Every one of the 10,000 inmates are known by their first name and the number of years in their sentence. After getting convicted of smuggling food to a humanitarian group in the Equatorial Zone of Earth, Harry Thompson is sentenced to 20 years on the High Rock, hence the 'Harry 20' moniker.

The High Rock is run by the feared Warden Worldwise, who has the freedom to impose any policy he so desires. Discipline is strict, with infractions earning a prompt beatdown from the sadistic guards. Inmates who cross the line can find themselves dispatched to the 'gravy train', a work detail in which inmates are given thin spacesuits and tasked with chipping ice off of the vents on the exterior of the Rock.

Needless to say, Harry 20 has every intention of escaping the High Rock, and he's willing to take his share of beatings if it brings him closer to his goal. But Warden Worldwise and the prison guards aren't the only obstacles Harry must overcome if he is to have any hope of succeeding. Other inmates - notably Big Red, the most dangerous and homicidal of all the Rock's prisoners - have it in for Harry 20.

Needless to say, if Harry 20 is going to escape the High Rock, a high body count is definitely in the offing...............

'Harry 20 on the High Rock' is one of the best series to appear in the early years of 2000 AD. This is due to Gerry Finley-Day's script, which keeps the narrative simple and straightforward, while also working in various twists and surprises that keep the reader in suspense till the very last page. It's never entirely clear if Harry will experience a happy ending, and this keeps the story from becoming too formulaic.

'Harry 20' relies on sharp little episodes of violence to remind the reader why the High Rock is a hellhole, and why Harry needs to escape. These scenes of violence - men being hit in the face with pickaxes, guards gunning down inmates, or kicking inmates in the groin -  may not be all that remarkable to modern-day readers, but back in the early 80s, when the Comics Code still restricted content in many US comic books, it was another reminder of how edgy and gritty the 2000 AD lineup was.

It's also noteworthy that Gerry Finley-Day avoids imbuing his story with the sort of glib moralizing that an American comics writer would almost certainly have larded the script with. There are no extended soliloquies and musings about Injustice, or the Dehumanization of the Imprisoned, just Harry trying to stay alive long enough to make his do-or-die break for freedom.

Another factor that makes 'Harry 20' one of the best strips to appear in 2000 AD is the artwork of Alan Davis. Davis nowadays is of course a well-regarded artist for both DC and Marvel, but back in 1982, 'Harry 20' was his first major assignment, given to him when John Watkiss proved unable to come through. While a little awkward at times, his artwork does a great job of rendering the grim confines of the High Rock and the various battles and confrontations that Harry must deal with in his day-to-day life.

Summing up, 'Harry 20' stands the test of time quite well, and compares favorably to many of the comics on store shelves nowadays. Whether you're a fan who remembers those early days of 2000 AD, or someone to whom the 2000 AD lineup is new and novel, this compilation is well worth getting.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: City Come A Walkin'

Book Review: 'City Come A Walkin'' by John Shirley

2 / 5 Stars

‘City Come A Walkin’’ (204 pp) was published by Dell in July 1980. The cover art is by Catherine Huerta.

The novel is set in the near future; i.e., 1991.

Stu Cole is the middle-aged owner of Club Anesthesia, a rock club located in a down-and-out San Francisco neighborhood. The main attraction at the Club Anesthesia is punk rock chick Catz Wailen, backed by her band 'The Catz Report'. Stu is content with his life as a moderately successful club owner, but he looks to Catz to provide him with hipster credibility.

One Saturday night at the Club Anesthesia Stu witnesses something disturbing: a strange man has entered the club….a man who is not really a man, but in fact, the City of San Francisco, taking human form. City has come to Stu with a mission: Stu is to be City’s agent in a revolt against of the forces of corporate control and right-wing oppression that are massing to suck the soul from the city, and turn it into a sterile wasteland of conformity.

With bewildering speed, Stu finds himself trading gunfire and car chases with thugs from San Fran's organized crime families……gangs of homicidal fascist vigilantes…..and the increasingly angry metropolitan police force. The odds seem overwhelming. But Stu has the aid of City, and City can take control of cars, send water pipes erupting from the streets, open closed doors, and direct electricity through the city’s conduits and circuits.

As the confrontation between City, Stu, and the corporations comes to a violent climax, it’s anyone’s guess who will be left to pick up the pieces……

Back in 1980, when ‘City Come A Walkin’’ was published, the genre of Urban Fantasy really didn’t exist, and the idea that entire series of books in the genre – like The Dresden Files – would emerge as bestsellers would have seemed highly unlikely. So with 'City', John Shirley certainly deserves credit as a founder, or co-founder, of Urban Fantasy.

Of all the first-generation cyberpunk authors, Shirley was the one who most associated with the ‘punk’ component of the label, and ‘City’ is heavily flavored with praise of punk rock and rebellion....... too much so, in fact. The book’s rather thin plot often gets abandoned while Shirley expounds, in bursts of New Wave-inspired figurative prose, on the saving grace of rock and roll and Oppositional Culture. Here’s one example:

The tape was a compendium of various artists, popular and obscure, old and new. The music was a sentient presence that brought new living resonance to the walls. The beat, the tireless eternal beat. Just then a late Eighties tune by The Odds, ‘Sex-Changed Bitch’ –

Doesn’t matter if it makes you sick
it’s all the same, to her tricks
I met her in a leather bar
she took me home to show me her scars

Shirley's enthusiasm for overloading his narrative with these exuberant prose paeans drains momentum from ‘City’, and keeps it from being as entertaining as it could have been. 

My recommendation ? Readers are recommended to skip ‘City Come A Walkin’’ and go straight to Shirley’s ‘A Song Called Youth’ cyberpunk trilogy.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Gallery of Doc Savage Covers by James Bama

A Gallery of Doc Savage covers by James Bama
from the book James Bama: American Realist by Brian M. Kane (Flesk Publications, 2006)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Hawkmoon: The Jewel in the Skull issue 3

Hawkmoon: The Jewel in the Skull
First Comics, 1986
Issue 3 (September 1986)
art: Rafael Kayanan and Rico Rival, story: Gerry Conway

(Scans of issue one and issue two)

Artist Rafael Kayanan renders some outstanding battle sequences in this issue.......