Good evening, dear readers, and welcome back to the weekly haul. We’re late by a week, but I’ve been busy. Busy I tells ya! I’m writing to you today from the back house, our cozy little guest cabin, as Kittycat Jackson, the Widow Sunday and I warm up by the fireplace while outside, the snow falls in a patternless slow motion waltz. Reminds me of my old neighbor Delbert Grady, former winter caretaker of a long gone Colorado hotel. We’ve got some comics to talk about, and I have some reading recommendations for you if you are also snowed in to your luxurious cabin this week. Mr. Jackson is getting rather antsy, so let’s see what’s in the stash this week, shall we?
Stopping off last week in that old trading post of the northern swamps, I picked up a few new books. Baltimore: The Red Kingdom #2 by Mike Mignola, Michael Golden, and Ben Steinbeck, continues this utterly gorgeous action-tragedy epic toward what promises to be a grim and satisfying conclusion. If you aren’t familiar with the world of Lord Baltimore, or are curious why the first world war was cut short by the emergence of vampires, giant spiders, and prehistoric doomsday cults, I highly suggest you pick up either the novel Batlimore,: or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire or skip ahead to the first volume of the comic Baltimore: The Plague Ships, by the same authors. Next we have Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. : Ghost Moon #1 by Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, and Brian Churilla, which was incredible. Churilla’s best work by far, and that sword-weilding space-horse-man on the cover speaks for itself. Rounding out the new books was Man-Thing #1 by R.L. Stine and German Peralta, with a cover by Harrow County artist Tyler Crook. As a swamp ghoul, swamp monsters are close to my heart, and this was a fun surprise. And lastly, hiding in a dusty bottom shelf bin at the trading post I rescued this collection of Tales from the Crypt issues 11-15. Classic 50’s EC comics are fantastically brutal little stories, and their unholy trinity of nefarious narrators, the Crypt Keeper, The Vault Keeper, and the Old Witch, gave me my voice for hosting this fiendish feature. This, is a most excellent find.
Winding back the clock about two weeks, I was visiting an old haunt of mine down south when I spied this copy of Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Vol.3. As I’ve mentioned recently, I’ve been on something of a 70’s Batman kick, and especially after our co-contributor Max’s write up of his visit to Neal Adams’ studio, I couldn’t resist this rare and out of print collection. This volume reprints the last handful of the artists’ Batman stories and covers before his return to comics in the 2000’s, as well as some Batman-related promotional work he did in the intervening years. It has the first appearance of Ra’s Al Ghul, Batman vs. a Werewolf, Pirate ships, and a favorite story of mine Night of the Reaper. This collection is fantastic, and if you can find any of the volumes of this collection at cover price, you should snatch them up immediately, because they are really great and really out of print.
There is a tavern a few miles walk from our home in the swamp. A dark, cozy little public house where more often than not one can drink in peace and take in the dank in a window-adjacent armchair. It was here that I sat on a stark and stormy tuesday last week, working away on some projects, and taking the occasional break to read the DC Archive Edition of Justice League of America vol. 1. At a time when democracy has a gun to it’s head, the silver age notion of superheroes who can punch such problems away is incredibly comforting to me, and the first three issues of the JLA by Gardener Fox and Mike Sekowsky make for some damn good reading. From the five-pointed menace of Starro to the Weapons Master’s giant robot from the future, the all-star team up of DC’s greatest heroes really knew how to hold shit down in 1960. Getting up for another mug of grog, I met a one eyed mariner named Kenji, who was reading an issue of Saga in another corner. We talked briefly about comics and off shore knife fight gambling rings for a few minutes before retreating to our separate corners of blessed isolation to read more. As the bar was closing, Kenji passed me on the way out and handed me a copy of Justice League of America (2017) #1, stating that he had stolen it with a pile of other books from a newsstand, and thought I might enjoy it more than he did. Thank you, Kenji, you eyepatch-wearing seafaring thief, free comics, is free comics. And you could do worse than this new JLA title, especially for free. Ivan Reis (DC’s current golden boy) provides the fantastic art, and the story involving invading bad guys from a parallel universe (Lord Chaos, an analogue Doctor Doom leading a team of more analogue Marvel villains coming from Grant Morrison’s Multiversity miniseries) is less interesting to me than the fact that Batman leads this new team which is based out of a cool light house on Rhode Island. And it was drawn by Ivan Reis, and it was free.
That brings a close to our recent comic book acquisitions, but before you leave our cozy winter cabin, let me leave you with some reading suggestions. I am a busy, busy ghoul, and contrary to what this blog may lead you to believe, I barely ever have time to read. My crushing guilt and fear of deadlines make it very hard for me to get through a single chapter without fretting over what I work I should be doing instead. It is for this exact reason that I cherish long train rides and crazy God damn storms like this for giving me an excuse to read, guilt-free. So if you’re anything like me, and God help you if you are, let me suggest some good stormy day reading.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman just arrived by mail, appropriately just ahead of the storm. It is a collection of retellings of the Teutonic myth by the frilly-cuffed author of American Gods and a bunch of fantastic comic books. Gaiman is a writer who seems to take into account readers who like to sequester themselves under a favorite tree, or in a beloved armchair, or attic hideaway. He writes stories that one can be utterly lost in for hours at a time. I met Neil once, years ago in a New Hampshire Deli during a hurricane, and aside from being the nicest person I’ve ever met, God damned if he can’t tell an engrossing story in person as well as he does on paper. The Norse myths have always been a favorite of mine, and since I lost my copy of the poetic Edda, I can’t wait to revisit the cold wastes of Jötunheimr, or the blazing rivers of Muspelheim. Did you know that Odin created beer by crushing the body of his favorite human (murdered by the dwarves because Odin favored his mead over their’s) into the last of his mead stores? Yeah, welcome to the land of the ice and snow.
In keeping with the savage tales of the Cold Gods of the North, I’ve been revisiting the work of Robert E. Howard. Two Gun Bob shared my
nostalgia affinity for prehistory, and so invented the sword and sorcery genre. Kull, exile of Atlantis, represents his first stab at the genre. The Axe-weilding Warrior King of Valusia ruled a wild landscape in a forgotten age of civilization, defending his kingdom from Sorcerers and the ancient serpent men. Now I can’t find my copy of Kull, so I’ve been reading the 70’s Marvel comics adaptations of Kull in the mean time. Following his cycle of Kull stories, Howard fast forwarded a few thousand years from the Thurian age, in which civilization was erased and we began again from scratch, following ‘the great cataclysm’.
“Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars – Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west.Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.”
Conan, the blue collar wandering barbarian descendant of Kull ventured all over the known world of the Hyborian age across dozens of stories that are well worth reading. It is with Conan that we cross over into The Big Book of Adventure Stories which contains Robert E. Howards’ Conan yarn The Devil in Iron, along with stories from H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack London, and a dozen more. If you are stuck indoors, what else could you possibly want to read than some globe trotting, monster fighting, treasure hunting adventure stories. There is some crap in there, and some marvelous pulp tales as well.
And that concludes our list of recommendations. If you are even a casual fan of this blog, I guarantee you will find any one of those books extremely satisfying on a stormy night like this. In fact, if you have some form of tablet device or e reader, you can download them from the comfort of your own home right now. Do it through Amazon Smile and donate a chunk of that change at no extra cost to a charity of your choice, I wish I got paid for that plug, but that advice is on the house. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to getting drunk with my wife and cat and reading by the fire. Stay warm, boils and ghouls, and stay away from the hedge maze.