Monday, March 05, 2007

Eclipse Monthly #1

Eclipse Monthly #1, August 1983, Eclipse Comics
various contributors

If you think it’s hard to create an original idea for a comic book, imagine the challenge of founding and running a successful comic book company, a veritable stable of fresh ideas that each retains a uniqueness while simultaneously promoting a continuity the publisher can market as their mark on the industry. Whew. Of the hundreds of comic book publishers that have made a blip on the “nerdar” (nerd + radar . . . I’m copyrighting that one), only a few have survived, and even then, many have adapted to trends in pop culture to maintain a vitality old and potential readers alike could embrace. For example, when I say DC Comics, the average reader thinks of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman . . . when I say Marvel, Spidey, the Hulk, and Captain America come to mind. These beloved characters are corporate brands, their likenesses practical logos for multimedia conglomerates. When I say Dark Horse, what would the average reader conjure? Hellboy and the Goon? Star Wars? Propeller Man? The breadth of their material is understandably diverse to reach as wide an audience as possible; with the arguable exception of the Star Wars franchise, Dark Horse doesn’t have the historical appeal of Superman or Spider-man. By no fault of its own, it simply isn’t grounded in Americana yet.

What if I said Image Comics? The titles many older fans may think of aren’t even in publication anymore. Those creators have returned to the corporations they fled from, and meanwhile, Image has truly and ironically become a source for the independent material we thought those Wolverine clones represented in the first place. But I digress.

What if I said Eclipse Comics? Anything? Hello? Exactly? Unfortunately, Eclipse is one of those comic book companies that didn’t make it, and if this first issue of Eclipse Monthly is any indication, it’s really our loss. Now, honestly, none of the five stories in this anthology completely gripped me; however, the spirit of the book was practically palpable. From the editors’ introductory essay to the very short stories that made up this issue, I bought into hype – that Eclipse as a publisher was genuinely interested in providing a variety of graphic material by an equally diverse array of established and up-and-coming artists. I’ve only reviewed a handful of Eclipse comics for the A Comic A Day challenge, but with this one issue I feel like I’ve doubled that number. The eclipse may have passed, but some of us are still looking skyward.

The first of the five stories in Eclipse Monthly #1 is called Cap’n Quick and a Foozle, by legendary Batman artist Marshall Rogers. In this tale, Rogers abandons capes and cityscapes for childish fantasy – yes, I know superheroes are by nature childish fantasy, but in this case, Rogers pursues the genre literally. In his attempt to construct shoes that will enable him to travel into his video games, an apparently genius little boy somewhat succeeds, entering the foozle dimension where he meets a Santa Claus-looking dude and his odd bird-like creature (a foozle) on the run from ruthless mutants. When the old guy gets captured, the foozle and the little genius are on their own, which is I presume where the adventure begins. Rogers is bordering on the surreal with this escapist fantasy, but his art is as solid and detailed as ever. Obviously, I’m familiar with his more mainstream Detective Comics stuff, so Cap’n Quick is an interesting and engrossing departure. Unfortunately, I don’t know if these pages are enough to fully sink the hook through my mouth. I have a taste, but do I want to take a seat at the table?

The Masked Man by B.C. Boyer is a little more tantalizing. I thought I had read an issue of The Masked Man for A Comic A Day before, but a search of my past posts was fruitless. I know I have an issue of it laying around here somewhere, and after this short story, I’m interested in finding it. Now, The Bank Robbery is a rather predictable tale, but Boyer pushes the conventions of this old parable to the limit – in the face of his peers’ rejection, a geeky little boy insists that he helped the hallowed Masked Man prevent a bank robbery the week before, and he recounts the incident to his tormentors’ disbelief. While this innocent fable ends exactly the way you’d expect, the boy’s mother is surprisingly shot in the midst of the initial bank robbery, and though she survives, it’s a touch of brutality I wouldn’t have expected from another escapist childish fantasy. (Yes, in the end, the Masked Man swings by to say “hiya” to his new young friend, and the bullies suddenly clamor for the kid’s attention. Please tell me you saw that coming.) Another shocking revelation: the Masked Man isn’t a superhero, but a rather well known, brave concerned citizen that happens to wear a mask. Again, I’m interested in more, but potentially dissuaded by this short story’s cheesiness. If the other Masked Man memoirs are an odd unbalance of violence and innocence, it’s one ride I might pass up.

Rio is a western by Doug Wildey about an outlaw hired by President U.S. Grant to pursue a railroad baron aimlessly killing wild stock and leaving the Indian population without the natural means to survive. It’s the briefest story of the bunch, if not in page length than in raw material; Wildey’s renditions of the west are classical and elegant, and while his heroes are physically rugged, their old souls exude a warmth of an old America. And by old, I mean young, but I digress again. Rio confronts the baron without firing a bullet but with the tension of those moments right before one hits the bone. When I turned the last page, I actually had to flip back in disbelief that the story was over. It was engrossing, and I had dug in, but alas, I wonder if I’ll ever see Rio again. Eclipse was unintentionally asking, with this lone western tale of its time, I’m sure: Where have all the cowboys gone?

I couldn’t finish Sax Rohmer’s Dope adapted by Trina Robbins. Originally penned as a novel by the creator of Fu Manchu, the story essentially documents a celebrity’s decent into drugs and despair, and while the concept is obviously a timeless one, I couldn’t stomach the manner in which it was told. Consider this line from opium dealer Sin Sin Wa, “Me no hab gotchee wifee.” Honestly, Robbins’ crude illustrations weren’t enough for me to endure this old epic, either. Although I thought it a dud, Dope still betrays a bravado for a variety of work. I mean, adapting a work from 1919? Eclipse wanted readers, right?

Finally, and perhaps most appreciatively, is Steve Ditko’s Static. Yes, the Steve Ditko of Amazing Spider-man fame. In Static, Ditko revisits the scientific superhero shtick when Mac Rey, assistant to Dr. Ed Serch, tests a suit designed to withstand extreme climates, only to have the suit malfunction and form a bond that enables him to uses its energy in various fashions to fight crime. Frankly, it’s standard old Marvel fare, complete with a technological doohickey with an unlikely, derivative name like enego, although Ditko tries his best to infuse a sense of philosophy by pitting scientific theory against moral and social responsibility. What Ditko fails to grasp is, when the science is unfounded fantastic fiction, we readers feel no real connection to it, thus the presumed lesson isn’t worth learning in the first place. I mean, the distinguishing traits of Static’s powers are those famed Kirby dots. Kirby dots. ‘Nuff said, eh?

So, with names and character archetypes both new and old, Eclipse offers a taste of what it, as a publisher, has, er, had to offer. The only consistency between each of these five stories is their creators’ freedom to write and draw anything they want, and while the raw expression of creativity is contagious, it isn’t a fever with widespread potential. At least, not anymore. Still, just as an eclipse is a passing phenomenon, it’s always bounds to happen again. We fans love stuff like this. We’re always looking up for it.

1 comment:

Hal said...

I've been enjoying your "Comic a Day" blog. Appreciate it. Thanks.

I do think that ECLIPSE MONTHLY is the kind of comic that best suits the comic-a-day approach. It's a self-contained, all-in-one opus worthy of your review. If I ever found an ECLIPSE MONTHLY #1 at the local comic store, I'd pick it up. Solely because of your review.

But your reviews really have little revelance for a continuing comic series. When you reviewed NINJA HIGH SCHOOL #6 IN COLOR...or whatever the thing was actually called...you were disappointed to see that it didn't seem to actually involve a high school. That would have disappointed me, too. And the storyline (that you admittedly hadn't been following) seemed to be confusing. These things irritated you. Which is why you shouldn't have been reviewing NHS: It wasn't meant to be a stand-alone comic issue but that's all you've seen of it.

You were also dismissive of Ben Dunn's artwork. I could be wrong but I think the guy's been drawing manga longer than most Japanese artists. I also think he may have been born in Japan. Not that this means you have to love his artwork; only that the guy deserves his props.

I had a similar reaction when I read your review of PRIME #1. (This is poorly worded. What I mean is, comic-a-day does stand-alone comic issue reviews best. Not so much on continuing series.) Like you, I'm a huge Breyfogle fan. Unlike you, I read the entire first year of PRIME and I enjoyed it. (I dropped it when Breyfogle went away. Even George Perez couldn't do what Breyfogle did.) Breyfogle's viewpoint...a thirteen year-old's reakazoid version of a superhero...made the comic work. You weren't going to appreciate that in a single issue. And that's all the time you could give it.

Which is the one unavoidable flaw of your comic-a-day approach. Having read ICON #1, you don't then read ICON #2. That's not the process. Instead, you grab the next 4-color rag from the quarter box. Something from Image, most likely, and utterly disposable -- but part of a continuing series. I understand that. I can even appreciate it. But, because of that, you're gonna appreciate the stand-alone comic issues much more than any continued story.

Thanks again for the blog. Now, when are you going to pick up one of those really nasty underground comics?