Unknown Soldier: Dry Season by Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli: Boy, I love this comic series, and you should too. In one way, it’s the most exciting educational comic ever. The action takes place, for the most part, in the various parts of Africa thrown into horrifying confusion and strife by the ongoing disintegration of Uganda in the early oughts. Dysart leaves most of the heavy historical lifting to his text pages, though I sometimes wish he and Ponticelli would work up an issue depicting these histories in comic-book form. Why? Moby Dick, baby, which interpolates chapters devoted to rope-making, the history of whaling and what-have-you directly into the narrative. OK, maybe only I and a few other people would find such a narrative homage interesting.
The Unknown Soldier was a well-meaning, Westernized M.D. returned to the Africa of his youth to try to help refugees and the assorted victims of war, pestilence and famine. But something happened. His disfigured face now covered by bandages, he also now shares his mind with…something. A viral personality? A split personality? A soldier, in any case, capable of great cunning and great violence. The CIA wants him. His wife wants him back. And he’s not sure what he wants. The violence in the book horrifies even when it, rarely, also thrills. I think this is the best war comic with a continuing character ever published, and one of the three or four best comic books on the stands today. Highest recommendation.
The Chronicles of Solomon Kane by Roy Thomas, Ralph Macchio, Howard Chaykin, Bret Blevins and others: This Dark Horse volume collects Marvel’s 1970’s and 1980’s colour-comic-book adventures of Robert E. ‘Conan’ Howard’s 16th-century Puritan ghost-buster. The Chaykin art is especially inspired (why couldn’t someone get him to illustrate an adaptation of Moby Dick?). No one draws more interesting clothing than Chaykin, and I mean that as a compliment. Bret Blevins and other artists, including Mike Mignola and John Ridgway, also do fairly inspired work on the art. And like the Unknown Soldier, Kane spends a lot of time in Africa, albeit an Africa found in no history book.
As always, Roy Thomas is a bit verbose when adapting someone else’s work. Writer Macchio does a nice job on the 1980’s six-issue miniseries collected here, though events are curiously flat sometimes — the final adaptation, of Howard’s “Wings in the Night”, simply needs more room to be effective, as 20 or so pages makes the whole thing seem more like a plot synopsis than an adaptation. Still enjoyable, though. Recommended.
Essential Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-man Volume 3 by Bill Mantlo, Roger Stern, Jim Mooney, Ed Hannigan, John Byrne and others: I really enjoyed this collection of early 1980’s Spider-man stories from the “other” Spider-man title of the time. Bill Mantlo was always a capable writer, and Ed Hannigan — who does the art and covers fior a number of issues — was doing some really interesting things with layouts at the time. Indeed, his covers for PPTSS became semi-legendary throughout the industry for their difference from other super-hero covers. Hannigan was really channeling the sort of striking approach to covers and splash pages that made Will Eisner’s The Spirit so innovative back in the 1940’s.
Here, Peter Parker — now a graduate student and a teaching assistant! — has the usual personal problems associated with being a swinging superhero with an ailing aunt, an ailing love-life, and an ailing bank account. One of the truly major differences between the recent Spider-man movies and the Spider-man comics is herein exposed — being Spider-man gives Peter Parker an immense kick. In a way, it’s the one thing that makes his life joyful, regardless of the problems it causes. If there’s a curse of Spider-man, it’s not being a superhero — it’s being the person the super-hero is when he takes off his costume. Heavy!
These collected issues introduced characters both one-shot (The Ringer!) and soon-to-be surprisingly popular (Cloak and Dagger) to the Spider-man Mythos. while also bringing back villains ridiculous (The Gibbon!), popular (Kingpin!) and mostly forgotten (Robot-master, Boomerang and The Will-O-Wisp, to name three). Frank Miller supplies some nice reprinted covers, too. Recommended.