Wondercon and my 401(k)

While the literary world is mourning the passing of one superhero right now (rest in peace,Gabriel Garcia Marquez!) and Christians everywhere are celebrating another this weekend, I've been thinking about comic book heroes after taking my boys to Wondercon in Anaheim, Calif. It was the perfect opportunity to make some acquisitions like these


and also to conduct a little research on what's-selling-for-what in the superhero market these days. I still have a bunch of old comics from my younger days, and they should be worth something, right? I just didn't realize how much.

x-men 30Among the new acquisitions, I absolutely had to have a copy of "The Wedding of Scott Summers and Jean Grey" from X-Men, even though it's disappointing. Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne ripped little kids' hearts apart with "The Dark Phoenix Saga" back in the 1980s, and this issue is an attempt to heal up what's unhealable. I'm glad to have it, but the entire thing is far too sentimental to measure up to what Claremont & Company created. They chose the best, and only way to conclude that story. Nuff said.


kirby-the-demonOn the other hand, nothing that the immortal Jack Kirby ever created can disappoint. While the price tag on his "New Gods" series scared me off (for the time being, at least), I picked up this nifty issue of "The Demon" instead. Switching companies, from Marvel to DC, did nothing to dilute or change his signature style and voice.  Open these pages and you instantly know where you are and whose world you've entered. Kirby was a true comics mythologist, and in this issue he gives us another terrific origins story for the aptly-named demonologist Jason Blood. Beware, faint-hearted readers!

Finally, I spotted the name of "Claremont" on the cover of a series about the heroes known as "The Sovereign Seven":


and when I realized that the name belonged to the same fellow who created the Dark Phoenix tales, and that he wrote this series for DC, not Marvel, I had just one reaction: I'm in!!!

As far as my 401(k) is concerned, my friends, Yours Truly owns several special old editions of certain comics, but I never knew their value. I never bothered to hunt in any comics price guides or surf e-Bay to see what they were worth.

One of these is an early issue of Daredevil, his battle against the Purple Man in #4, before the blind crusader switched to his devil-red costume:


... as well as this early appearance of storyteller Frank Miller ("300," "Sin City," "The Dark Knight Returns") in Daredevil:


Even then, early in his career, Miller had a fully mature, sophisticated touch. This issue is creepy! There's also a later issue of DD's that features Miller's introduction of the assassin Elektra:


In my mind, I can still see that comic book rack in the drugstore -- I can still hear it squeaking as my mother yelled at me and I frantically searched for something to buy. Elektra's silhouette and the look on Daredevil's face closed the deal for me.

And then there's the Dark Phoenix climactic issue (mentioned above) which is nothing short of Greek Tragedy, Marvel-style:


Well, my good friends, I found that these single issues range from $100 to several hundred dollars. I certainly can't quit my job anytime soon, but it was a nice discovery -- sort of like finding some old savings bonds in the attic that once belonged to Granny.

It's also a nice vindication of a childhood obsession, too. See? All that lawn-mowing money didn't go to waste afterall! What kind of stock portfolio gets this kind of return on investment?!

Not to mention that my boys and I have several more boxes of old comics to examine. Who knows what else we'll find?!!

Chwast hits a Homer: new in bookstores

A gift horse: from "Homer: The Odyssey" adapted by Seymour Chwast (Bloomsbury) Can you handle epic poetry only in small doses?

Recent books by renowned graphic designer and illustrator Seymour Chwast may be your answer. In his latest, "Homer: The Odyssey" (Bloomsbury), Chwast has given us a visual sibling to that famous series of classic condensations, "Cliffs Notes."

Ok, that's a bit too reductive and unfair: Chwast does far more here -- he truly achieves an original interpretation of an ancient tale.

On the other hand, he does perform a wonderful service for a great work of epic poetry that's long on praise and short on readers who aren't in 12th -grade English class. He strips away the intimidation factor while preserving the original work's integrity.

chwast-odyssey-cover"Listen, Calypso, you've held me prisoner here too long," says Odysseus, laying on a lounge chair beside the temptress, sipping a cocktail as though they were on the Riviera. At another point -- which I have to highlight, for an obvious reason (see, uh, the name of this blog and the Waterhouse painting in the banner) -- Odysseus stands atop a "Flash Gordon" rocket ship and explains, "I wanted to hear the Siren's song. The crew lashed me to the ship so I could hear it but not go mad." That image also adorns the cover of the book.

Chwast has a deft ability for touching on the key points of the action and the key monologues -- a skill he demonstrates in two previous adaptations of classic epic poetry, Dante's Divine Comedy and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

I've seen other illustrated versions of this story -- you may have, too -- but most seem so static, so flat.  They try to give us a realistic representation of what Odysseus must have looked like, but so much vitality and life drains from the story in the process.

But Chwast follows the lead of other revolutionary versions of this eternal story (James Joyce's "Ulysses," for instance, and the Coen Brother's movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?") to create his energized interpretation.

In Chwast's adaptation, you witness a cast of thousands, like you'd find in a Cecil B. DeMille epic. His black-and-white sketches are clean, bold reinventions of a story first sung by the blind poet of Chios.