Monday, August 13, 2012
My Friend Dahmer [Abrams ComicArts; $17.95] is a punch-to-the gut
graphic novel by Derf Backderf, who went to middle and high school
with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Derf’s much shorter comic-book
version of this story landed a spot in my 1001 Comic Books You Must
Read. If I ever write a sequel, this longer and even more intense
version will be one of the first comics included.
Dahmer went to school not far from my own Medina County. In fact,
another of his classmates was one of my son’s baseball coaches in
Medina’s summer league. So the area where Dahmer lived and where
his terrible urges led to his first murder is very familiar to me,
making his story all the more chilling.
Derf brings incredible storytelling skill and impeccable research
to this story. Told from the distance of time, Dahmer’s fate seems
almost predetermined and the reader has to wonder how it could have
been possible that no one saw it then. Hindsight is always clear,
of course, but Derf asks tough questions about the adults in Jeff
Dahmer’s life and of himself. I fear these are questions we will
all be asking ourselves for many years to come. We’d be naive to
think there are no more Jeffrey Dahmers out there or that parents
and teachers have gotten that much better at spotting the signs of
a murderously disturbed youth.
My Friend Dahmer is a superb work, worthy of the comics industry’s
highest awards. With each new effort topping the previous work, I
think Derf Backderf is a creator well worth watching. Whatever he
does next, I’m there.
From the publishers of my 1000 Comic Books You Must Read - consider
that my full disclosure - comes A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’
Comics by Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith [Krause; $16.99] with a
hundred reviews of age-appropriate books and several hundred more
recommendations. Hah, I still beat them by 50!
The authors are library professionals and experts in the field of
children’s literature. Dividing their reviews into grade levels -
Pre-K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, Robins and Wildsmith present a wide range
of excellent choices with attention given to the books’ educational
value, heads up for the possible problems some parents might have
with content, and pointers to other books a child who enjoys these
books might enjoy as well.
Besides parents, comics professionals and readers can also benefit
from this book. By the time I reached the long “title information”
section, I had ideas for a couple children’s books I want to write.
Plus a whole lot more I want to read.
A Parent’s Guide to the Best Kids’ Comics is one of those books you
can read over an extended period of time, reading a few entries as
you have the time and inclination. It’s a book that should be part
of your personal comics library.
When Barbara Slate, that most exceptional cartoonist, told me about
her new book, I opined that, as a happily married man for the past
28 years, I might not be precisely the target audience for Getting
Married and Other Mistakes [Other Press; $14.95]. You would think
after 28 years of wedded bliss with my Sainted Wife Barb, that I’d
have learned to realize women named Barbara are smarter than I am.
Work in progress, I am.
Getting Married is a sometimes heartbreaking but uplifting tale of
a woman not unlike the talented Ms. Slate whose Mr. Right is really
Mr. Wrong. That “Jo” is a wedding photographer makes her “plight”
and self-reflection all the more intense. She is as fully-realized
a character as I’ve seen in recent comics and graphic novels. You
can’t help but root for her.
Getting Married doesn’t shy away from either the heartbreak or the
humor of Jo’s life. It’s a wonderfully told tale with one of those
just-right endings that elude many comics works. I recommend it to
my readers...and now I’m going to ever so slyly put my copy of the
book on my wife’s bedstand. I think she’ll enjoy it.
Inspired by the new movie and, of course, by hundreds of previous
appearances of Curly, Larry and Moe, Papercutz’s The Three Stooges
#1: Bed-Bugged and Other Stories [$6.99] will delight new and old
fans of the comedy trio. Written by George Gladir and Jim Salicrup
with art by the superlative Stan Goldberg, these adventures combine
the classic riffs of the Stooges’ comics, movies and shorts with a
very modern sensibility. The boys train as sumo wrestlers, star in
a sci-fi western, buy a haunted house, and do battle with bedbugs.
It’s a fun book and definitely worthy of the Three Stooges legacy.
The next book in the series can’t come soon enough for me.
If it seems like I’ve reviewed near every volume of Marvel Firsts,
it’s because I have. In my defense, if defense be needed, I just
love the heck out of these books. The 1960s volume and the first
of the 1970s volumes reminded me why the Marvel comics of Stan Lee,
Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others were such a game-changer for the
comics industry and for me personally. With the second 1970s book,
I was right in the thick of things, so I relived the excitement of
my time in the Marvel offices.
With Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Vol. 3 [$29.99], I was around for the
earliest debuts - the book reprints the first issues of Champions
Black Goliath, both written and conceived by me - but I wasn’t on
staff by that time. Still, I was connected enough to be well aware
of the throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks state
of mind of the post-Roy Thomas editorial department. I recall with
amusement how I got the green light to start work on the Champions,
Black Goliath, and Tigra within days of one another, and then told
a day or so later that I was already three weeks behind on the new
assignments. Suffering spider-webs!
My life was as chaotic as any Marvel madman’s back then, so it was
nice to sit back and enjoy these new characters and concepts that
hit the newsstands while I was trying to remain sane. I never got
the point of Skull the Slayer, Bloodstone, or Starlord, but Steve
Gerber knocked me out with Guardians of the Galaxy and Omega the
Unknown, the latter with the added genius of Mary Skrenes.
Jack Kirby’s Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, and Machine Man were 100%,
unadulterated Kirby. My initial reaction was confusion, but that
was typical of that decade for me. On rereading them, I appreciate
their fun and imagination.
Then there was Nova and Ms. Marvel. I can’t think of Nova without
recalling Marv Wolfman’s ire at my calling it Green Nova. And Ms.
Marvel was a mess, an intriguing mess, but a mess nonetheless. On
the other hand, they were entertaining.
Roy Thomas, friend and mentor, delivered What If? and the 3-D Man
unto the Marvel Universe. I loved both, but only the former stayed
around for long. Also included in this volume: Spider-Woman, Moon
Knight, and She-Hulk.
Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Vol. 3 is a thick chunk of Marvel history
and another of those must-have books for your home comics library.
I hope the series continues into the 1980s because I don’t remember
what the heck I was doing in that decade.
The magazine-size Life With Archie [$3.99 per issue] remains one of
my favorites among current comics titles. One of its two ongoing
serials follows a world in which Archie married Betty, the other a
world in which he married Veronica. Though the stories got a touch
too sci-fi for me when the two worlds crossed over briefly, writer
Paul Kupperberg has brought them back to their true strength in the
most recent issues. These are true-to-life stories of people we’ve
grown up with, living through some of the same stuff we have lived
through, and building good lives for themselves. Oh, sure, these
characters have a leg-up on us because they live in Riverdale -“The
Small Town with the Big Heart!” - but I only envy them because I’m
not living there.
Life With Archie got some press recently when Kevin Keller married
the love of his life. There was some organized hate-mongering in
the real world as a result of this, but, in Riverdale, it was the
reflection of the attitudes of most young people in the real world.
Even so, Kupperberg hasn’t forgotten that there are people who are
still mired in old attitudes. An older woman, for example, doesn’t
want to be treated by Kevin’s doctor husband. More than ever, my
hope for the future lies with my children and yours.
Hot-button issues aside, visiting near-future Riverdale isn’t that
different from visiting with my own friends and neighbors. There
are marriages going through rough patches and coming through better
than ever. There are dreams and romances that don’t work out, and
others that do. Tragic illness isn’t absent from Life With Archie.
It’s claimed one beloved character and another is fighting for her
life in the current issue.
Kupperberg gives us great characters, honest emotions, and a dollop
of humor. Artists Fernando Ruiz, Bob Smith, Pat and Tim Kennedy,
Al Milgrom and others portray all the above with skill that looks
effortless, so you know they’re busting their humps to make it look
that way. Each new issue is a delight.
Life With Archie is further proof that I’m just never going to run
out of great comics to read and write about.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella