Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: Camelot 3000 and Saga

Before my recent blog writing hiatus, I was doing a series of posts under the title DC Comics & Me. Ostensibly, this was to track my time as a Li'l Dave-El just starting out reading comics to the old, bitter Dave-El I've become as I wonder what's up with these young whippersnapper writers and artists and why they can't make comic books like they used to.  

Now all this was to build the foundation of how I became not only a reader of comic books but a reader of those comic books published by DC. And from there, I would show that foundation shattered as DC moves away from me.  

The thing is, this is not necessarily a bad thing and as much as it's easy (so damn easy!) to grumble and gripe about the DC culture under Dan Didio (or sometimes referred to as "Damned Didiot"), let's face it: DC doesn't need to pitch to me. I'm the old guard. Sooner or later I will no longer buy their books because I'll be dead summoned back to my home planet.  DC needs to look to the future, the younger readers and the readers to come. While I may disagree with how DC is doing just that, I understand the need to not target me, at least not with their mainstream super hero stuff. 

The thing is it was time for me to grow up as a comics reader even as I hold on to part of wonder and joy that will hopefully never grow up. When I first began reading comics, the comics I read engaged my imagination. I still have an active imagination but the imagination I have today is significantly differently from the imagination of a 10 year old or a 20 year old. 

So as I've whittled down my pull list, I've opened up to other things. Series in the past that I missed. Current series that are outside the norm of super hero comics. Today I want to talk about an example of each of those. 

Under the heading of "stuff in the past I somehow missed", I recently purchased a trade of the 1980's series, Camelot 3000 by Mike W Barr & Brian Bolland. How I came to not read this series when it was first released, I don't know. But it is one of those seminal events in comics that I kept thinking I should catch up on. So the discovery of both a relatively recent re-release of the trade paperback and a unused Barnes & Nobles gift card in my wallet led me to finally give this series a try. 

Camelot 3000 is a bit of an odd duck. I once described Mike W Barr as "a Cary Bates writer living in a Frank Miller world". There are passages of expository dialogue and plot contrivances that would be at home in the 1960's work of Gardner Fox and John Broome as well as the up and coming Cary Bates. But as the series progress, Barr's writing "matures" as he grapples with themes of love, lust, betrayal and faith. 

Hell, this is a series that had two (count 'em, TWO!) lesbian kiss scenes; of course, one has to expect that when a pair of lovers, male and female, get reincarnated centuries later as two women.

In many ways, the story is a quaint relic that it would almost be a home with a Ed Hamilton or Jerry Siegel byline. But as the story progress, Barr begins to loosen up a little, progressing from the mindset of a writer working in the confines of the Comics Code Authority to a writer who is free to follow plot points to their logical conclusions, the Code be damned. The story is not a perfect work but it is interesting and fun to watch it become a better work from the intriguing but awkward issue #1 to the epic issue #12. 

Brian Bolland's art is a wonder from page 1 but he too develops and grows over the course of the series. Those use to Bolland's work from his covers only may find it a little disconcerting that he does not ink his own pencils in Camelot 3000 but at least he is served by some of the best in the business: Bruce Patterson, Dick Giordano and Terry Austin. Some of the designs are a bit off the mark. Really, modern reincarnated Isolde's poofy green skirt makes it very hard to take her seriously. I guess the character who comes off the best is King Arthur, maybe because he's wearing his original armor and vestments instead of new versions from the year 3000. But Arthur's design is simple, classic yet clearly defines a man in charge. 


All in all, Camelot 3000 is a fun read. If it helps, regard the first of the book as a retro callback to sci-fi stories of DC's Strange Adventures. The 2nd half is that story carried into more modern storytelling. 




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In the area of current series, I've recently turned my attention to Saga by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples.  It's interesting that I decided to look at Camelot 3000 and Saga because of their considerable differences even as both series have something at the core that gives them a common bond. 

Both series employ classic tropes of science fiction and comic book storytelling. The stories told in Saga would be at home in the classic sci-fi library of DC's 1950's cosmic comics. Robot rulers. Spaceships that are also trees. a ghost for a babysitter. These are absurd concepts that John Broome or Gardner Fox could've employed. The designs and layouts of Saga's artwork evokes Mike Sekowsky or Carmine Infantino

Well, if you take away the near ubiquitous use of the word "fuck" and images of naked giant genitalia.  And that's where the comparison of Camelot 3000 and Saga diverges. If Mike W Barr and Brian Bolland were still figuring out what rules they could or could not break, Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples have no such restraints. 

The story narrative is at once complex and yet the pieces flow one into another. Two soldiers on opposite sides fall in love and make a baby. Elements on both sides find this union an affront and considerable efforts are expended to bring these two back and end this relationship. Romeo & Juliet in SPACE! 

And the art? Fiona Staples' work is at once beautiful and brutal, epic and human, romantic and harsh; this makes her the perfect choice to draw a story of impossible love fighting impossible odds in a universe at war, of two people who want only to preserve their love and the child born from it whiles forces all around them want nothing of the sort. 


Kudos to Jermaine at Acme Comics in Greensboro for hooking me with the very low price first trade paperback. I've since devoured the 2nd and I believe the 3rd is waiting for me in my pull box.  I can't wait to see what happens next in Saga

"Can't wait to see what happens next"?

Oh yeah! Comics! I still love 'em! 

Until next time, be good to one another.

Dave-El
I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You 

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