Saturday, April 6, 2013

Convolution is Revolution


Editorial conflicts with creators at DC Comics have gotten a lot of exposure in the comic book world lately. In times like these, it's sometimes important to forget about the bad shit and reflect on great books that DC have released in the past. Some are quite obscure, others not so much. Non-readers beware, it's about to get nerdy up in this bitch.

Behold a list of books from my vault that I feel are worth sharing. Most of what I'm recommending can be found on Amazon, while others may take a little bit of searching on your own to locate. Some of these books may have been discussed on my part in the past (either on this blog or in person), but not as in-depth as I'll be getting here.

This list is also a bit heavy on the Jack Kirby, but focuses on his lesser-known works and beyond. If you don't know who Jack Kirby is (seriously?), he's the guy who brought all of Stan Lee's creations to life at Marvel. Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Avengers...you name it, he drew it.

I don't take my recommendations likely, folks. So sit back and relax with some essential DC reads from the vault of the Matt-Cave. Your lack of disappointment is already guaranteed.

Xombi 
by John Rozum and Fraser Irving
DC Comics (2011)

Top 3 reasons why Xombi is awesome and worth reading:

1. Xombi is weird as hell.

2. Badass Nuns.

3. Xombi looks like Bruce Lee.

Xombi was a character first introduced through one of DC's now-defunct imprints, Milestone Comics. Milestone was notable for mainly featuring minority heroes, rather than the standard white guy hero. Milestone stuck around from 1993 to 1996, and since then the characters have been folded into the DC Universe, although they've never been utilized to their full potential.

Debuting in 1994, Xombi is the story of David Kim, a korean/american man who can't die due to a nanotechnological virus that rebuilds any damage to his body. What makes Kim different from more notable characters with healing powers, the nano-virus harvests any living tissue near Kim's body. So if Kim's arm gets blown off...you better stand clear!


The first run of Xombi lasted for 22 issues before all the Milestone books were canceled. DC brought Xombi back in 2011, but only received a 6-issue run before it was unfortunately canceled again. The 6-issue run was fantastically weird, with really strange and outworldly concepts that rival Grant Morrison's writing. The 2011 series is a must-have for any fans of strange and unsettling sci-fi. The original Milestone series might be hard to track down, but you can get the 2011 book here. I suggest whenever you have $10 to burn, check this book out. As for the original Milestone series, it has yet to be reprinted. Your best bet is to look through some dollar or quarter bins at comic book shops nationwide.

OMAC
by Jack Kirby
DC Comics (1974)

Top 3 reasons why OMAC is awesome and worth reading:

1. OMAC proves that mohawks are eternal.


2. OMAC is weird as hell.

3. The world of OMAC is INTENSE.

OMAC was originally created by Jack Kirby in 1974 and lasted for 8 issues before it was canceled. Jack Kirby never finished his OMAC story, as the final issue was left with no real resolution. Playing heavily off notions of post-apocalypse and totalitarianism while at DC Comics, Jack Kirby created the world of OMAC as a mere contractual obligation. Kirby was rumored to have been playing out his quota of 15 pages a week until his contract was up, and OMAC was what he came up with. 

The original OMAC series was a fascinating take on "the world that's coming" in the far future, where corporations rule everything and the general populace are docile, controlled and weak. OMAC is the story of Buddy Blank, a man who is superpowered by a mysterious satellite in the sky called Brother Eye. OMAC basically becomes the mohawked Captain America of a horrific future. OMAC featured a lot of interesting ideas, such as private citizens renting out entire cities for personal enjoyment, faceless "Global Peace Agents" and robotic friends/lovers.

This bitch is MINE!

OMAC was reprinted in 2008, when DC released the original run as a hardcover book to go along with reprints of Kirby's Fourth World and Kamandi books. You can get it here. Do yourself a favor and snag it used if you can find it discounted enough, or be patient and wait for a softcover version. For the Kirby purists, back-issues will run you anywhere between $5-$15 at your local comic shop. 


The Warlord
By Mike Grell
DC Comics
(1975-1983, 1992, 2009)

Top 3 reasons why The Warlord is awesome and worth reading:

1. The women in The Warlord are sexy and dirty.

2. The world of The Warlord is lush and fantastic.

3. Travis Morgan (The Warlord) is a badass barbarian motherfucker.

In my mind, The Warlord succeeds where Conan the Barbarian has always failed me. Sorry Robert E. Howard fans, but to me Arnold Schwarzenegger is Conan and anything beyond the 1982 film doesn't matter to me. I know that's not fair, but I don't care. So when it comes to comics or the original pulp stories and novels, I've never been able to give Conan a fair shake. Good thing DC published The Warlord, or I might not have ever known that excellent barbarian stories exist in the world of comics.


The Warlord is the creation of Mike Grell, who originally wrote and drew the book for DC Comics from 1975 to 1983. The book continued on for another 5 years after Grell's departure with other writers, but that era has little to no impact on the story Grell wanted to tell.

My pants aren't gay, they're comfortable!

The Warlord is the intense tale of Travis Morgan, a U.S. Air Force pilot who crash lands in the lost world of Skartaris (which happens to be a hidden world in the core of Earth). Instantly falling in love with a beautiful barbarian woman and the lifestyle of being a crazy barbarian in general, Morgan decides to leave civilized life behind and forever remain in the barbaric inner-world of Skartaris, where dinosaurs and magic abound. The Warlord is a great sword n' sorcery epic that mixes elements of drama, sci-fi and fantasy. Tales of ritual, espionage, betrayal, adultery, murder, slavery and more can be found within its pages.  If you can put some of that 1970's cheese behind you, The Warlord proves to be one of the best epics around.


Mike Grell came back twice to write The Warlord, once in 1992 with the miniseries Return to the Lost World of The Warlord and again in 2009, where Grell wrapped up his entire story. Unfortunately, the last volume of The Warlord was cancelled with issue #15 due to low sales. The second story caught up with Travis Morgan and everyone else 20 years after Grell's original run ended. For the most part, the 2009 series picked up right where the 1992 series left off and continued to the final conclusion.


The cancellation really pissed me off at the time because I thought Grell had concluded his original tale and was taking the book into an exciting new direction. It's a shame that DC never really promoted the book, due to sword n' sorcery not being a major seller at the time. After all, this was before Game of Thrones hit it big on TV.


Since sword n' sorcery tales weren't hot in 2009, there's very little in the way of reprints that are available for The Warlord. The only ones that are easily accessible are the Showcase edition (seen above) and the first 6 issues of the 2009 story. The Showcase book is definitely worth the purchase, as it packs the first 26 issues into one nice volume.

The Showcase edition is in black and white, so you won't be able to see Mike Grell's artwork really pop out at you, but it's a nice substitute. You can get the Showcase book here. You can also get the 2009 book here if you want, but I'd recommend you not do that until you've read everything else.

Never reprinted, but mandatory to the epic. Good luck!

Lucky for you, I've seen issues of The Warlord for very cheap in most comic book shops that stock back issues. You might be able to find a copy of the Showcase cheaper on eBay as well. It went out of print in 2011, but it should still be available out there.

Wait A Minute...Is That OMAC in The Warlord?

Indeed it is. DC introduced some back-up stories in various comics, and The Warlord wound up getting an OMAC feature by industry legend Jim Starlin in 1980. Running in The Warlord #37-39 and #42-47, Jim Starlin almost completely rebooted the character of OMAC into going against his makers and fighting a bloody war. This new OMAC story didn't discount the original Jack Kirby story, but rather took it into an exciting new direction. And really, that's what comics are all about. Instead of fighting for the Global Peace Agency against threats, OMAC fights a war against his former bosses, the Global Peace Agency. It's a brilliant sci-fi espionage-style story that spins the world of OMAC into a world of utter chaos.


The Jim Starlin run of OMAC has only been reprinted once, and that was in 2008 as a one-shot tie-in to DC's Countdown event. I highly recommend you track this one-shot issue down, as I doubt it will be reprinted again anytime soon. This reprints the Jim Starlin story in its entirety, so its well worth the purchase. You may find it at the occasional comic shop, but you might want to get it here instead. Also check here and here.

Kamandi
by Jack Kirby
DC Comics (1972-1978)

Top 3 reasons why Kamandi is awesome and worth reading:

1. The world of Kamandi is post-apocalyptic goodness.

2. Barbarian animal rulers.

3. Kamandi is weird as hell.

Being one of Jack Kirby's more ambitious books at DC Comics, Kamandi had a healthy run of 59 issues before it was canceled in 1978. Jack Kirby created the character and wrote and drew the book until he left DC in 1976. Kamandi was handed over to Gerry Conway, who wrote the book for the next 2 years.

Kamandi is the story of a youth named Kamandi, who is known in the post-apocalyptic future as "the last boy on Earth." In the far future, a "great disaster" ends our known civilization. In its wake, animals rise to power. The animals have mutated and advanced to their next stage of evolution, which makes them human-like. Finding relics of humanity, the new animal lords of the planet wage wars with each other, much like in early human civilization. Since technology doesn't work, ancient weapons and tactics are utilized in its place.


Kamandi definitely plays with ideas more popularly laid forth in those Planet of the Apes movies, but Kirby took it to the extreme. There's of course a lot of societal allegory throughout the story, as that was Jack Kirby's favorite thing to do while at DC. When Kirby left DC Comics in 1976, he briefly went back to Marvel before moving on to other things. The man was a legend, and a lot of his crazy ideas played out in both OMAC and Kamandi.

Wait a minute, is that OMAC in Kamandi?! Holy Convolution, Batman!

Indeed it is! When it came time for DC to cancel Kamandi in 1978, Gerry Conway did something with the book that was brilliant. Conway bridged the worlds of Kamandi and OMAC into the same "universe," which was something that Jack Kirby didn't even think to do.

In a nutshell, the world of OMAC ends with "the great disaster." The battle that gets waged in Jim Starlin's OMAC story leads directly to this "great disaster" that was mentioned in nearly every single issue of Kirby's Kamandi run. Following this "great disaster" of the OMAC world, the world of Kamandi arises.


Gerry Conway had a simple yet brilliant way of bringing closure to both Kirby creations at DC. Its a shame Jack Kirby had nothing to do with it, but good story is good story. The finality of bringing the OMAC and Kamandi worlds together is still sometimes referred to in some DC books.


So, where can you get Kamandi? There are a few reprints of Kamandi that are still widely available. I'd recommend getting the Omnibus collections. Vol. 1 covers the first half of Kirby's run, and Vol. 2 has the rest. Sadly, the Gerry Conway run has yet to be reprinted. Omnibus collections can be a bit expensive for some, so buyer beware. Check them out here and here. If you want to track down the Conway issues, you're in luck because these are the ones that aren't worth any money. You can probably find them at comic shops around $3 an issue.

Jonah Hex
By John Albano (1971-1974) and Michael Fleisher (1974-1987)
DC Comics

Top 3 reasons why Jonah Hex is awesome and worth reading:

1. Jonah Hex is badass.

2. He's ugly as shit.

3. He beat up Santa.

Those who know me in the comic book world know me to be one of the more hardcore Jonah Hex fans out there. In addition to owning nearly every issue of Jonah Hex ever published,  I also have several pieces of Jonah Hex artwork hanging up in the Matt-Cave. I've got sketches done by several artists. I even have a convention sketch in a book done by Jimmy Palmiotti (the current writer), where he used my brother's head of hair as a visual aid. I even saw the horrible movie (but I do NOT own it!). When it comes to Jonah Hex...he's my dawg. Next to Superman and Batman, Jonah Hex is definitely my favorite DC character.

Yeah, I'm a fan.

Abandoned by his father and sold into slavery for an Indian chief, Jonah Hex is the story of a hard man with a hard life. After being a slave and surviving the Civil War, Jonah Hex bcomes the most feared bounty hunter of the Wild West. His horribly disfigured face strikes fear into anyone who meets him, and those who dare cross him meet the acrid smell of his gunsmoke before death. Jonah Hex is basically the Wild West's equivalent of the Marvel character The Punisher, yet Hex is his own character entirely. 


The crazy thing about Jonah Hex is that he still wears his confederate uniform years after the Civil War ends. If you think about the implications of that for a minute, you'll realize just how fucked up that actually is. Even crazier is that Jonah Hex wears the uniform not as a sign of "southern pride" or for racial reasons. Rather, it's used as sort of another weapon in Hex's arsenal of fear. Can you imagine a guy with a face like Two-Face wearing a confederate uniform coming to KILL you? Did I mention before that Jonah Hex is badass?


Since the film adaptation of Jonah Hex was an embarrassingly bad piece of shit that almost nobody liked (and rightfully so), there's not a whole lot in the way of reprints of the old stuff that are available. While Jonah Hex continues to be published today, and all volumes on his run from 2005 to today are widely available, the old stuff has a lot of legal issues that block its reprinting. There's only 2 books you can get that feature reprints of the original series, the Showcase edition seen above and a smaller collection of stories called "Welcome to Paradise." The "Welcome to Paradise" book might be your best bet, as the Showcase book went out of print in 2011 and might be hard to find at cover price, unless you have a good local comic shop nearby.

Don't worry, there's no Jonah Hex crossover with OMAC...

But speaking of OMAC...

You didn't think I was done with OMAC yet, did you?

Don't worry, this is the last one I want to bring up. In 1991, another industry legend took a crack at the OMAC concept, and that was none other than John Byrne. Released as a 4-issue prestige format series, Byrne's OMAC took what Jack Kirby and Jim Starlin did and flipped it around for yet another mind-twist of awesomeness. While still being influenced by the gritty nature of noir comics in the late 1980's, Byrne's OMAC reads like Blade Runner meets Watchmen

The story revolves around everything OMAC knowing to be a lie (be it the Global Peace Agency, the war that leads to the great disaster, etc.) and throws him into the current day. The more OMAC stumbles through reality, the more his life story unfolds and becomes dissected and reborn. Byrne's OMAC is a ride through reality and space-time, and is in my opinion one of the best sci-fi stories Byrne ever told.


Out of all the OMAC stories I've touched on in this blog installment, I'd have to say that John Byrne's take is my favorite. Its never been reprinted, which is a crying shame. However, since it's only 4 issues to look out for, I highly suggest you keep your eye out. I've seen them in comic shops for fairly cheap, and online as well. you can get this series on the cheap here, here and even here.


So there you have my friends. I hope you've found something here that interests you to look further into. There will be a non-DC installment of independent books that I'll more than likely get out there in the next week or so, so be sure to keep your eye out for that one if interested.

Until next time, keep it Kirby!