Once upon a time, an Eisner-winning cartoonist got offered a gig drawing comics. Now, this fellow—one Darwyn Cooke—had been doing animation work for some fairly stylized TV shows, and the comic book company who approached him wanted him to bring that same sort of iconic line work to their characters. Darwyn said yes, and the result was DC’s The New Frontier, a six-issue mini-series that was a bridge between the Golden Age of comics and the Silver Age.
The distinction is sort of like a historian with a deep background in metallurgy trying to explain the difference between the Copper Age and the Bronze Age in the development of civilization.
Anyway, Darwyn went on to adapt some of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, and then he passed away. We’re still not okay about this, because we were really enjoying Darwyn’s take on Stark’s famous anti-hero, but we’re going to focus on the good stuff here, which is that DC has just reissued The New Frontier under their Black Label imprint. And not only does this edition hold all six issues of the original miniseries, but it also includes a JusticeLeague tie-in special and over fifty pages of sketchbook work.
These sorts of omnibus editions are catnip, you know. Just look at the recently released Conan the Barbarian: The Original Marvel Years Omnibus Volume 1. Oh, yes, not only do you get twenty-six of the original Roy Thomas / Barry Windsor-Smith Conan stories, but you also get an extensive historical introduction from Thomas and over a hundred pages of Squeeee!-worthy behind-the-scenes scripts and sketches and oh my goodness!
Which more than make up for that terrible cover, by the way. What's going on there? Is Conan air-drying over an active volcano? Is that the moon behind him, or is that the remnants of a '70s-era Dracula-style cape that hasn't been burned off by the lava spurting from the volcano he is straddling.
Yes, "straddling a volcano." Imagine that phrase showing up in the editorial precis for the cover design. Not that we want to sound like old farts shaking our canes at you from the front porch, but back in our day, loin clothes went ALL the way down the knee, thank you very much.
Hello. This is A Good Book Newsletter. We’re going to talk about comics this week.
And speaking of this week, if you wander in during the early hours of the day (before all the boxes start arriving and books start overflowing the counter), you’ll catch the lads at the front counter deconstructing The Umbrella Academy. Written by Gerald Way (who moonlights as the lead singer of an emu-punk band your kids may have already grown out of) and drawn with a zeal for tentacles and cubist architecture by Gabriel Ba, The Umbrella Academy is, according to Booklist, “the shrewdest, wildest superhero thing going in mainstream comics.” It also happens to be a Netflix original series, the first season of which dropped last Friday. So, get in on the ground floor of this thing and make sure to have an opinion about Pogo, the beloved monkey butler mentor of this wacky dysfunctional family of superheroes who were all born at the same minute of the same day.
And speaking of things worth watching, did you all catch Into the Spider-Verse in the theaters? Oh, well, you should, because it is like nothing you’ve ever seen (unless you grew up on a steady diet of Bill Sienkiewicz art like we did). And then you should come in and let us set you up with a handful of Spider-People comics.
Spider-People? you say. Why yes, we say. It’s not just Spider-Man anymore. In fact, there’s at least two Spider-Mans (Spidermen?). There’s Peter Parker, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, back in the day (and you can read more about that creative moment in comic book history in Sean Howe’s deep-in-the-weeds Marvel Comics: The Untold Story).
However, during the Ultimates rebook in the late aughts, the fellow wearing the Spider-Man mask was Miles Morales, an African-American boy who lived in Brooklyn and had an aptitude for science (items two and three of the iconic aspects of the character, right?). Miles is the protagonist of the latest film, Into the Spider-Verse, where we also meet Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, and Spider-Gwen.
Spider-Gwen. She’s an alternate universe version who has a rad black and white and rainbows suit, and she’s actually Gwen Stacy, who was Peter Parker’s love interest back in the day until she died—oh dear, we can see everyone’s eyes have completely glazed over.
Anyway, Spider-Gwen. Spider-Verse. Spider-Geddon, which attempts to undo all the Spider-Peoples who came together for—you know what? Just have Rich explain it all to you as he loads you up with a bunch of comics to read.
Additionally, Dark Horse has released an omnibus edition of P. Craig Russell’s lavish The Ring of the Nibelung. That’s right. Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, in graphic novel format. Not the whole cycle, of course, just the parts with giants and dragons and magic swords. All the good stuff, naturally.
And speaking of gods and good stuff, we also have Tom King’s and Mitch Gerads’s take on Mister Miracle. Mister Miracle, the world’s greatest escape artist, is part of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World—albeit around the edges. In the hands of King and Gerads, Mister Miracle is doing his best to live as a normal human being (under the name “Scott Free”—geddit?), but naturally, the strange gods of New Genesis and Apokolips come to claim all sorts of heritage they think they’re due. Hijinks ensue, reality warps, and, well, you’ll have to read it to find out if Scott goes free . . .
And finally, while we don’t want to be remiss about mentioning books without pictures that have come out this week, we have to admit a wee bit of existential exhaustion about the whole state of the world, and so we’ll just hit some highlights.
Daniel Immerwahr talks about all the places where the US has more presence than it should in How to Hide an Empire, a book that strives to talk about some less than honorable ways that the US extends its influence. Immerwahr, however, understands that his subject material could easily be a terribly morose read, and so he approaches it with a lively sense of humor and an intent to tell the stories of the people involved versus the policies.
Andrew McCabe, ex-Deputy Director of the FBI, writes a well-crafted narrative tale that is part-memoir, part-continuing reminder that terrorism starts at home these days. You can hear the numb weariness in our voice when we say: “Is it fiction? Is it true? Does it matter if it reads well?”
David Wallace-Wells gives us The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, which isn’t science fiction-y enough. There’s just too much of a “What’s going to happen next Thursday” vibe about it.
And Vani Hari’s Feeding You Lies: How to Unravel the Food Industry’s Playbook and Reclaim Your Health starts with the fact that everything you eat is killing you and tries to claw its way back to an upbeat ending.
Upbeat endings are tough these days, aren’t they? Don’t mind us. We’re going to shake off this ennui with one of Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder novels.