By Aaron Kashtan
EDITOR’S NOTE: In addition to our regular “Review” and “Critical Review” features, comprising reviews takes on recently published titles, The Comics Alternative also offers a “Commentary” feature. Articles under this heading could be brief accounts of items in comics news, such as the recent return of Sergio Aragonés Funnies, or more sustained commentary on older comics and graphic novels. Here the author can reflect on comics they have read in the past and now want revisit, or s/he can comment on older comics that they just now reading for the first time. We have an example of this kind of commentary with Aaron’s contribution below. And we hope to feature of these “Commentary” entries.
Omaha the Can Dancer #1 and #4 (Fantagraphics, 1994 & 1995)
Issue #1 of Omaha the Cat Dancer was one of the last two issues of Omaha that I was missing in my collection. I was talking with Noah Mass the other day and he mentioned how a prominent underground comics creator (who I will not name) was not a fan of this series because of its overly anodyne and positive approach to sex. I think that that’s a valid critique but that it’s a feature, not a bug. Despite its preoccupation with murder, prostitution, and political corruption, Omaha is an upbeat series featuring characters who are both plausible and fundamentally good-intentioned, and that’s what I enjoy about it (besides the fact that it makes me nostalgic for Minneapolis). This particular issue is not necessarily one of Waller and Worley’s strongest, but it’s full of cute character moments. One of the highlights of Comic-Con this year was that I got to hang out with Reed Waller while waiting for my flight home. He is a surprisingly soft-spoken but fascinating man.
Issue #4 was the last Omaha story written by Kate Worley, the last new Omaha story for eleven years, and the last issue of Omaha that I hadn’t already read. This makes it a sort of bittersweet farewell, especially since it includes a next-issue blurb for a #5 that never came out. The highlights of this issue are the lovely, heartwarming interactions between Omaha and Chuck, while the lowlight is a fight between Shelley and Kurt, in which the latter is clearly wrong and behaves in an uncharacteristically mean way. It’s too bad that the series had to end with a full-page splash of Shelley crying in bed alone.
Love and Capes: Ever After #4 (IDW, 2011)
The Love and Capes series is both hilarious and heartwarming. Like Astro City, it successfully uses the tropes of the superhero genre to tell a story that’s not really about superheroes at all, but instead has a more universal appeal. I’m also interested in it because Zahler’s trademark eight-panel format, with a punch line in each fourth panel, was designed with possible web publication in mind, and because it deals explicitly with the topic of the future of the book. Because of this, I intend to write about this series in more detail elsewhere. This specific issue takes place during tax season, which causes Mark and Abby to not see each other for almost a whole month, until their friends conspire to force them to go on a date together. It’s a good example of Zahler’s ability to take a bunch of four-panel mini-stories and make them add up to a coherent narrative. My one problem with Love and Capes is that Zahler typically avoids more controversial and difficult topics, and Mark and Abby seem to have some unexamined privilege; however, as I discussed in my recent Relish review, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to blame Zahler for having modest ambitions.
Flash Gordon #32 (Gold Key/Whitman, 1981)
This issue of Flash Gordon is part two of Bruce Jones and Al Williamson’s three-part adaptation of the Flash Gordon film. Al Williamson is one of the all-time greats of American comics, an incredible draftsman and storyteller whose talents were often underutilized. He became an inker near the end of his career because he couldn’t produce work that met his own standards. From this issue, you can see why. Al’s artwork is just gorgeous, with stunning draftsmanship and thrilling action sequences. Especially beautiful are the establishing shots of Mongo’s capital city and the forest world of Arboria, as well as the mask of the villain Clytus. Bruce Jones’s adaptation of the script is extremely compressed; he often crams entire scenes into one panel, and I had to read some pages several times to figure out what was going on. Still, this issue is a treasure and it makes me want to collect everything Al Williamson drew.
Take a look at collections of some of the titles discussed in this entry: