The Hopefully Almost Daily Comic Book Coffee, Part Three

The challenge by Comic Book Historians group moderator Jim Thompson: Pick a subject and find a different artist every day for that subject until May 1st (if not longer).

I chose “coffee” for my subject.  From the work of how many different artists can I find examples of people drinking coffee?  I guess we will just have to see.  I posted these daily on Facebook, and I’m now collecting them together here on my blog.  Click here to read Part One and Part Two.

Java 1 pg 10 top panel

11) Kensuke Okabayashi & Peter Palmiotti

Java! is a post-apocalyptic satire written & penciled by Kensuke Okabayashi, inked by Peter Palmiotti and colored by Lee Stacy.  The three issue miniseries was published by Committed Comics in 2004.

The year is 2073, and humanity has found itself faced with a devastating new emergency: a worldwide coffee shortage!  As the first issue explains:

“A mysterious plague has contaminated the caffeine structure of found in coffee by increasing its strength to lethal levels. Infected victims must now be consumed by their fatal addiction or face a painful death. The Supreme Justice has ordered the destruction of the contaminated resources, which has left the citizens with less than four percent of ‘pure’ beans.

“With limited resources, citizens are now restricted to a meager two cups per day.”

The price of uncontaminated coffee skyrockets.  Coffee-producing nations have now become global super-powers.  Convoys delivering precious coffee beans become prime targets for caffeine-addicted raiders looking to horde this now-precious commodity.

To combat the Bean Bandits and make sure the coffee supply is not cut off, the city of Neo Seattle assembles B.E.A.N. Force, “a new coffee law enforcement division.” The five-member B.E.A.N. Force’s top operative is the hyperactive, trigger-happy Java who takes her coffee intravenously.  Team strategist and close friend La-Te often finds herself having to reign in the unpredictable blonde firecracker.  The remaining three members of B.E.A.N. Force are “coffee expert” Doctor D, team mechanic Modean, and team leader Kinkaid.

Kensuke Okabayashi’s writing on Java! was ridiculously fun and off-the-wall, an entertaining blend of sci-fi, action and comedy.  Okabayashi, paired with inker Peter Palmiotti, created some dynamic artwork for the miniseries.

In 2010 Okabayashi followed up the miniseries with the one-shot special Java! Recaffinated released through Piggyback Studios.  In the last several years he has been working on the fantasy graphic novel The Foreigner, the first volume of which was published in 2018.

Java 1 pg 14

12) Curt Swan & George Klein

Thank you to Michael Powell for suggesting this one on the Why I Love Comics group.  “The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!” from World’s Finest #173 was penciled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein.  The writer was a young Jim Shooter.  This issue was released by DC Comics with a February 1968 cover date.

This one is a real doozy… but you could say that about many of the stories published under the auspices of editor Mort Weisinger during the Silver Age.  Mad scientist Dr. Aaron seeks revenge on Superman and Batman, who recently put a stop to his illegal experiments.  Aaron manages to secretly drug both of them, via bottles of soda pop no less, with “Psyche-Distorter chemicals” that he has developed.  This chemical causes both heroes to take on the evil identities & personalities of the enemies they fear the most.

In the case of Batman that is Two-Face, aka former District Attorney Harvey Dent, who the Dark Knight fears because “I can never predict whether he’ll act good or evil… because he always lets a flip of a coin decide!”  For Superman, the enemy he fears more than any other is Kralik the Conqueror, a powerful, ruthless alien criminal who nearly defeated the Man of Steel in hand to hand combat.

Wait a second… Kralik the Conqueror?  Who the hell is that?!?  According to the Grand Comics Database and other sources, it turns out that Superman’s “most dangerous foe” never appeared before this issue, and hasn’t been seen since.  Yeah, they just pulled this Kralik the Conqueror guy out of thin air… or maybe somewhere else I won’t mention!

To ensure maximum mayhem, Dr. Aaron drugs the heroes a second time.  This he accomplishes by… discovering the location of the Batcave and spiking its water supply.  Yes, really.  This time Batman and Superman unwittingly ingest the drug via the coffee that Alfred brewed for them in the Batcave.

This story somehow even manages to get even more ridiculous after this, ending in a genuine WTF moment that left me totally boggled.  I recommend reading World’s Finest #173 simply for the sheer nuttiness of this story.

So, what about the art?  Curt Swan worked regularly on various Superman-related titles for three and a half decades, from the early 1950s to the mid 1980s.  I’ve always found Swan to be a solid, reliable penciler.  My appreciation for his work has often varied greatly depending on who happened to be inking him, though.  At certain points in his career I feel Swan was paired with inkers who were not a good fit for him, and I disliked the finished artwork.

On the other hand, I have stated before that I regard George Klein as one of the absolute best inkers to have ever worked with Swan.  Klein inked Swan’s pencils regularly in the 1950s and 60s, always to wonderful effect.  The art by the Swan & Klein team in World’s Finest #173 is definitely high quality, and that plays a major part in this crazy story working as well as it does.

Worlds Finest 173 pg 13

13) David Mazzucchelli

This entry is from the graphic novel Asterios Polyp, written & drawn by David Mazzucchelli, published in 2009 by Pantheon Books.

Asterios Polyp is a brilliant yet arrogant and flawed architect.  When his Manhattan apartment building is struck by lightning and burns to the ground in the middle of the night, Asterios sets out on a journey of discovery, both physical and emotional.  Hopping a bus to the middle of nowhere, the architect begins a new career as an auto mechanic in a small Southwestern town, a life very different from the one he has left behind.  Intercutting through Asterios’ present-day experiences are flashbacks to his troubled past.

Having collaborated with Frank Miller on two of the most iconic super-hero stories of the 1980s, Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One, David Mazzucchelli subsequently made the decision to focus on more personal and experimental works.  In stories for the Drawn & Quarterly anthology, his own self-published magazine-sized anthology Rubber Blanket, and his adaptation of the Paul Auster novel City of Glass, Mazzucchelli sought to grow as both a writer and artist.

Clocking in at 344 pages, Asterios Polyp appears to see Mazzucchelli pulling together all of his narrative & artistic techniques to craft a very philosophical & introspective work.

The diversity of style & storytelling can be witnessed on this page from early on in the graphic novel.  The top third is drawn in a straightforward fashion, flashing back to the various young female students who Asterios slept with during his time as a college professor bringing him his morning cup of coffee.  In the middle are Asterios and his wife Hanna in their apartment.  On the left Hannah, an emotional and passionate individual, is rendered in rich detail with thin, naturalistic red lines.  On the right, the logical, cerebral Asterios is drawn with sparse blue lines, a precise, minimalist geometric figure.  The bottom third of the page is an otherwise blank white space with just one short sentence, “Wouldn’t that be nice?” a response to the question that had been posed at the very beginning of this sequence several pages earlier: “What if reality (as perceived) were simply an extension of the self?”

Asterios Polyp is a very complex & dense story.  I read it soon after it came out, and I could immediately tell it would benefit from re-readings.  Having skimmed through it again earlier this week, a number of things stood out for me that I had not previously noticed, things that became clearer now that I knew where Mazzucchelli’s narrative was heading.  I look forward to sitting down with the book again and taking my time to explore it.

Asterios Polyp coffee

 

14) Howard Chaykin

Midnight of the Soul #3 written & drawn by Howard Chaykin, lettered by Ken Bruzenak, and colored by Jesus Aburtov, published by Image Comics, cover-dated August 2016.

Howard Chaykin possesses a great love for mid-20th century American music, fashion & culture, and has set a number of his stories in the post-World War II era.  At the same time, Chaykin will be the first to acknowledge that this was a period plagued by racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Communist paranoia, a time when clean-cut white conservative middle class values & prosperity often served to hide dark secrets.  The five issue noir miniseries Midnight of the Soul is set in this post-War society, one seemingly on top of the world, yet containing numerous tensions and corruptions simmering just below the surface.

Five years after the War, army veteran Joel Breakstone suffers from both post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.  Shutting himself up in his Long Island home, Joel unsuccessfully attempts to launch a career as a fiction writer.  Things have reached the breaking point between Joel and his wife Patricia, who is disgusted at both his inebriation and his failure to make a single sale.

One night, alone while Patricia is at work, Joel is rummaging through the house, desperately hoping to find a bottle he might have stashed away.  Instead he discovers evidence that Patricia, rather than working as a night court stenographer, is actually a prostitute.  An apoplectic Joel grabs his pistol and hops on his motorcycle, riding into New York City, determined to locate and confront his wife.  Patricia is already on the run, though, having fled from her Greenwich Village apartment after her client for the night was murdered in front of her.  Joel makes his way up and down Manhattan Island, searching for his wife, running into various unsavory figures who are also seeking her out.  Throughout the night Joel finds himself repeatedly crossing paths with the lovely Dierdre O’Shaughnessy, a stripper who is acquainted with Patricia.

In this scene Joel’s search has taken him to Times Square, where he encounters Dierdre on her way to work stopping for a cup of coffee at the Chock full’o Nuts.  The strung-out Joel joins her for a badly needed caffeine fix, although Deirdre is quick to warn him “that doughnut’ll punch through you like all-bran never could.”

For additional thoughts on Midnight of the Soul, I blogged about it in early 2017.

Midnight of the Soul 3 pg 2

15) Rik Levins & Kevin Dzuban

Americomics #4 written & penciled by Rik Levins, inked by Kevin Dzuban, lettered by Bob Pinaha, colored by Rebekah Black, and edited by Bill Black, published by AC Comics, cover-dated October 1983.

Ken Burton was obsessed with the dead super-hero Dragonfly, an obsession that led him to neglect both his engineering company and his fiancée Nancy Arazello.  Ken was convinced he could summon supernatural forces to gain the Dragonfly’s powers, and his quest left Nancy running Burton Engineering on her own.  Inevitably this led to a huge fight between the couple.  That night Ken was conducting the mystic ritual to become the new Dragonfly when Nancy, hoping to work out their problems, walked into the room.  The inadvertent result was that Nancy became Dragonfly instead.

Rebuffed by a bitter Ken (who, truthfully, came across as a selfish jerk even before this), a broken-hearted Nancy is left wondering what she should do with these powers she never even wanted.  When a ruthless drug dealer uses an experimental drug to create a giant warrior and unleashes it on the city as a test run, Nancy transforms into Dragonfly to save innocent bystanders.  At first seemingly outmatched, Nancy soon defeats the goliath, angrily pounding him to a pulp.  Police Detective Richard Trent pulls Nancy aside, taking her to a nearby diner for a cup of coffee to discuss what just happened.  Trent appears to be reassured by Nancy’s earnest manner, but she is secretly frightened that she was taking out her frustrations at Ken on her immense opponent.

Dragonfly was created by Rik Levins.  Following this debut story, Levins went out to write & pencil an ongoing Dragonfly series that lasted eight issues.  Dragonfly also became an occasional member of Femforce, the female superhero team created by AC publisher Bill Black.

I got into Femforce about 20 years ago.  Fortunately a local comic book store had a number of back issues from the 1980s and 90s available, as well as several other AC books, among them the first five issues of the Americomics anthology series.

Americomics #3 was one of the issues from that haul that really stood out.  A young, up-and-coming Jerry Ordway drew a stunning cover featuring Dragonfly.  The interior work by Levins & Kevin Dzuban was also impressive.  Levins’ design for the character was certainly distinctive.

I had known of Levins’ work from his early 1990s stint drawing Captain America, and I believe he actually holds the record for penciling the most consecutive issues of that title, 36 to be exact.  I actually enjoyed Levins’ art for the various AC titles more than I did his run on Captain America.  Levins wrote many of the stories he drew AC, so perhaps he felt more personally invested in the material?

Americomics 4 pg 14

Rik Levins regrettably passed away on June 12, 2010 at the age of 59.  Due to the fact that he was working in comic books during a time when flashy, dynamic artists were very much in the spotlight, Levins’ work is often overlooked.  While I would not say that I was a huge fan I did find him to be a solid, consistent artist.  Thinking about it now, I find Levins’ style somewhat reminiscent of Curt Swan, another penciler who could be counted on to turn in professional work on schedule.  That’s a frequently underappreciated ability.

Comic books I’m reading, part four: graphic novels

As I mentioned in Part Three of this series, I’ve increasingly been picking up more and more “independent” comic books.  And that includes graphic novels.  I recently read a very good graphic novel, The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City, published by Tor.  There are also several other books that I purchased in the last few years that I never had an opportunity to read until now.

The Battle of Blood and Ink is written by Jared Axelrod and illustrated by Steve Walker.  I met Walker at the New York Comic Con a few years ago.  At the time, he had just illustrated another book, The Sons of Liberty, which had been written by Alexander & Joseph Lagos.  I thought it was a pretty good read with some nice art.  So when I heard that Walker had a new book out this year, I picked it up.

I guess The Battle of Blood and Ink would be described as a steampunk adventure.  It is set in Amperstam, a flying city.  The protagonist Ashe is the publisher of The Lurker’s Guide, the city’s newspaper.  Ashe uses The Lurkers’ Guide to attempt to expose what she sees as the oppressive activities of Amperstam’s government, embodied in the form of the icy Provost.  Ashe also has a case of amnesia concerning her childhood, as well as a set of mysterious tattoos on her arms.  These are things she has brushed to the back of her mind, but she soon finds that they have great significance, both for herself and Amperstam.

The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City
The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City

Jared Axelrod’s writing very much reminded me very much of the work of one of my favorite authors, Chris Claremont.  Like Claremont, Axelrod has two strong, independent female characters in the lead, in this case Ashe and her adversary, the Provost.

Axelrod also utilized one of Claremont’s favorite tropes, the examination of identity.  Are we who we really are, or are we living the roles that society has shaped us into?  Ashe comes from Amperstam’s underclass, and her fiery independence & fighting spirit are in many ways a direct response to this, a rebellion against her social station, an act of defiance against the city’s elite.  However, when Ashe is offered the opportunity to join that social stratum, to live a comfortable life with her friend & admirer Cardor, she hesitates.  Would she still be Ashe?  Or instead would she be someone who had been molded into being by Cardor, transformed into the woman he wants her to be?  Likewise, the at-first seemingly villainous Provost is a much more complicated being once examined.  The city’s ruler perceives herself as a servant of duty.  Every choice the Provost has made has been, she claims, for the good of Amperstam.  She sees it as her responsibility to make the difficult choices that others are unwilling to make, no matter how heavily they may weigh on her conscience.  Obviously her motivations do not make some of the Provost’s decisions any less iniquitous, but Axelrod explains why she does what she does, and how she feels an obligation to pursue the course of action that she has.

In regards to Steve Walker’s work on The Battle of Blood and Ink, he has really grown as an artist since The Sons of Liberty.  He has a style that could be described as Charlie Adlard crossed with Jamal Igle.  Walker obviously put a tremendous amount of time & thought into designing Amperstam, its inhabitants, geography, architecture, and technology.  A few of his preliminary sketches are on display in the back of the book.  The upshot is that Amperstam is in many ways a fully realized city, with different neighborhoods and socioeconomic groups.  Walker also renders very exciting action sequences, both on the streets of Amperstam, and in the skies above the city.  There are a few instances where the action could have used somewhat more clarity.  But on the whole Walker is very good at storytelling.

So I would definitely recommend purchasing a copy of The Battle of Blood and Ink.  It’s an exciting read with superb artwork.

Anyway, delving into that big pile of previous unread graphic novels that were starting to stack up in my apartment, what else has been occupying my time?  There was a trio of intriguing, original works that I finally took the time to sit down and read.  Here are a few brief thoughts on them.

World War 3 Illustrated editor & contributor Sabrina Jones created Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography.  Duncan was, to quote the foreword by Lori Belilove, “the mother of modern dance and the muse of modernism.”  I had what might be considered a very passing knowledge of Duncan before having picked up this volume, but from I knew she was an interesting figure.  Indeed, reading it, Jones tells the story of a very talented, free-spirited, revolutionary, eccentric woman, one who had a tremendous impact upon the world of dance throughout the globe in the early 20th Century.  Jones’ biography is a cursory look at Duncan’s life & achievements.  But she provides a detailed bibliography for anyone seeking further information on the legendary performer.  Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography stands out for Jones lovely, flowing line work, which really brings across in still images a feeling of fluid motion & grace.

Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography
Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge is a book by Josh Neufeld that was inspired by his work volunteering for the American Red Cross in Biloxi, MS.  Neufeld became acquainted with a number of individuals whose lives were affected by Hurricane Katrina.  He kept in touch with them, and recounted their stories.  A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge is a very sobering look at what happened during one of the worst natural disasters of the last decade, told from the points of view of the people on the ground.

I really enjoyed this book, because it really cut through the inaccurate sensationalism that often plagued the reporting of events in New Orleans, and told it as it really was.  This was a very eye-opening read.  It was a great look at how humanity, under the worst circumstances, is sometimes able to rise to the occasion and be the best it can, with unlikely true-life heroes materializing where you least expected them.  Neufeld’s artwork really captures the grim devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent flooding.  His people, with their expressions & body language, have very palpable emotions.  It was a really engaging read.  Hurricane Katrina is definitely a weighty topic to explore, but Neufeld does it in a thoughtful, respectful manner, letting his subjects’ lives unfold on their own, telling their own stories.

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge
A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge

The final book I read recently was Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli.  I will be up front on this one: it is not a casual read.  There is a tremendous amount of depth, symbolism, and philosophy to Mazzucchelli’s work.  On the surface, the book looks at the disintegration and rebuilding of the life of an architect.  Asterios Polyp is an acclaimed university professor who has designed numerous revolutionary buildings.  Actually, that is to say, Polyp has drawn them on paper, but none of them have been physically constructed.

The book is very much concerned with questions of identity and reality.  If a building has not been built, can it be said to really exist?  Likewise, there is much about Polyp that seems abstract and theoretical, that he is an idea for a person, that he is not really living a life so much as going through the motions of what he thinks his life should be.  Polyp is obsessed with the fact that he had a twin brother who died at birth, and he contemplates that perhaps he is living the life his brother might have if he’d survived.  Polyp goes so far as to videotape all of his activities at home to create a “video doppelganger” to stand in for his missing twin.

Asterios Polyp
Asterios Polyp

I am not going to pretend to understand much of what Mazzucchelli explored with this graphic novel.  It is very apparent that Asterios Polyp is intended to be re-read and contemplated.  What I do know is that Mazzucchelli spent some amount of time on creating this book.  No choice of line work, layout, color shade, or font appears to have been left to chance.  Even the unusual dust jacket size was a deliberate decision on Mazzucchelli’s part.  In a way, he can be regarded as the architect of this book, his designs as meticulous as those he assigned to the works of Polyp within the book.  Did Mazzucchelli intend that, as well?  Is he, in the creation of this work, mirroring his fictional protagonist?  By even creating this book, is Mazzucchelli blurring the line between reality and fiction?  Once again, I cannot say.  But it really does make you think.