Ambidextrous: Remembering Solo

Ambidextrous: Remembering Solo

So yeah, I’m one of the reasons we only got twelve issues of DC’s SOLO

I really thought I’d bought a lot more of the original issues, so when I finally had the chance to dig out my older long boxes (that also contained the end of the Wildcats Version 3.0 run) and found just three in there, it was a little disappointing. Don’t know what the hell I was thinking about at the time, but SOLO was the kind of book I’d usually lose my mind over, and in the blinding glare of hindsight, I feel really bad for not supporting it when it actually mattered. The project was unconventional and daring in many ways, and produced some exceptional work from some exceptional talent. Which I now know because I’ve spent the last few weeks tracking down every issue and building a complete set of the series. The really unfortunate thing is that it’s obvious there was much more where that came from, and the list of rumored artists was just as impressive.

But with Wednesday Comics hitting comic shops this very week, and considering that both projects are spearheaded by Mark Chiarello, I’d like to take a look back and appreciate SOLO far more than I did originally. Doesn’t seem like DC has any plans to collect any of the material, but if anyone ever asked me for the stories that would create a really exciting Best of SOLO, these are the things I’d pick. Was extremely hard in certain cases, but I tried to limit myself to one story or section from each issue, and I’m sure many of you have a few ideas about how this could be accomplished. Listings appear in alphabetical order, and just like the This is Why series, commentary is more than welcome below.

SOLO: Michael Allred (Batman A-Go-Go!)

An episode of the sixties Batman show if the writers were completely high on drugs when they wrote it. It starts out fairly normally, but it’s not too long before Commissioner Gordon begins talking to Batman like he’s lost his mind, declaring that Dick Grayson is more important to Gotham than Batman is. Which is a pretty stupid thing for him to say, especially considering that Dick has fallen in love with a pretty girl criminal, and is only days away from tossing Aunt Harriet into a meat grinder. And to find his love struck partner, Batman teams up with The Riddler, and is almost too late to stop Robin’s suicide attempt, once he realizes the girl was using him all along. Then Batman lets The Riddler fall to his death without even trying to stop him. Obviously, the whole thing was only a dream, but a well-illustrated, well orchestrated one that took the constraints, language, and feel of the old show and turned it into something decidedly modern. And that title is just awesome.

SOLO: Sergio Aragones (It’s Always Hard At The Beginning!)

File this under something else I shouldn’t be admitting in public--- I’ve never read anything by Aragones. So I had no idea what to expect from this one, but it ended up one of my favorites, as it was packed cover to cover with goodness. The unique blend of autobiography, humor, and world history worked great together, but for highly personal reasons I’m picking It’s Always Hard At The Beginning! for my representative here. Since the moment I finished that 300th column a few weeks back, the Miranda Mercury book has been getting kicked in the balls over and over again. Only two things made me feel a little bit better about the situation, and our ability to once more clear another set of hurdles---those incredibly well done Bendis interviews that appeared onsite recently, and this story, which details some of the incredible things that happened to Sergio before his career began flourishing. Really makes what we’re going through feel like a cakewalk honestly, but that’s a story for another day. Today, Sergio Aragones is a great storyteller, and this issue of SOLO conveyed that as strongly as possible.

SOLO: Jordi Bernet (Drive)

It’s depressing how underrated Joe Kelly is, but you’ve heard that from me before. Bears mentioning again because it’s his collaboration here with the incredible Jordi Bernet that pulls ahead of the other great stories featured in the book. Drive makes the final cut not so much because of the story itself, but because of how it’s told---a conversation between a man and his wife is grafted directly onto the artwork, which relates in graphic detail what the guy got up to on a recent business trip. It provides an almost omniscient narration, and the really cool part is the obvious juxtaposition between who the wife thinks her husband is, versus who he actually is. Let’s just say it’s…different and leave it at that. The central question is that if she truly knew her husband, would she be terrified and disgusted about the things he’s done, or would she be strangely attracted to him? Great story that works on several layers.

SOLO: Howard Chaykin (The Last Time I Saw Paris)

Also really enjoyed Chaykin’s entire issue just from a versatility standpoint. Every story takes place in a radically different time period and locale, and this approach really takes advantage of the format and overall mission statement of the book. I’m not the biggest Chaykin fan normally, but I appreciated his ability and willingness to switch gears every few pages and give us brand new characters and set-ups to follow. The only thing most of them have in common are little twist endings that allow the stories to end on the strongest possible note before we’re thrown headfirst into the next one. My favorite was the very first tale, set on the first day of the Nazi occupation of France, which followed a black jazzman named Firestone Cooley as he makes a mad sprint out of town for pretty obvious reasons. How he actually accomplishes this lies within one of the aforementioned twists, and is a fine example of the universal power of music. Bad Blood plays with similar themes, but The Last Time I Saw Paris just barely edges past it.

SOLO: Darwyn Cooke (King of America)

There’s a good reason this comic won an Eisner award, because everything about it is fantastic, even when directly compared to other things that deserve such lofty praise. Much of Cooke’s work is firmly entrenched on my “to-read list,” and has been that way for months, but as of right now, anything with his name on it has rocketed to the top of my buy pile. The art design, the continuous change in styles, the pinups, the funny pages, the connecting story, the vibe, it’s all overwhelmingly impressive, and I suppose inspiring this kind of sentiment was one of the points of doing the book. Forced to choose, I’d say King of America is my pick, for its artwork and its use of color, the cool spies it follows, the cool twist that binds them together, and the cool ending which is wonderfully ambiguous. Personally, I think he makes it out in the end, but taken all together, the work here from Cooke is just a blueprint for how to tell effective stories, and the second I was done digesting it all, I’m thinking---Wow…is all of his work this good? Sound be fun finding out.

SOLO: Richard Corben (The Spectre: A Missing Life)

Gotta go with a Richard Corben horror story, right? The Spectre always makes for good ghost stories and this is no exception, with his human host Jim Corrigan hot on the trail of a missing girl he doesn’t expect to find alive. Unfortunately, he doesn’t, but how he gets there is pretty cool---a spirit still trapped on the earthly plane snitches on the child killer to earn an opportunity to finally cross over. And after he tells Corrigan, he turns into his alter ego The Spectre and dispenses some holy and painful vengeance. Nice little story with some great imagery that Corben’s style is perfect for.

SOLO: Scott Hampton (Another Success Story)

A pissed-off comic book artist holding his editor out the window of his own office and screaming at him that he shouldn’t be telling him of all people how to draw? That’s a great hook no matter where it shows up, and Hampton uses it as the first major image of a story that becomes even more interesting after this first scene. Following the veteran comics artist (who has effectively been blackballed after his incident with Editor Ben Dover), it leads to a mutually beneficial partnership that’s great for everyone involved, and a small detail that becomes really important for the ending. The clever ruse is eventually uncovered though, and someone gets murdered shortly after that. I don’t know if Hampton is saying that comics is a dangerous business, or that fans and editors are easily deceived, but I suspect it’s a little of both. Crime and comics go well together, especially when such a talented painter is involved.

SOLO: Teddy Kristiansen (On The Stairs)

This one (written by Neil Gaiman) reminded me a little of The Sixth Sense, which is never a bad thing in my book. Same as there, not really sure if the point is the actual twist, or just being able to watch the character slowly realize it, but it’s a sweet and tragic tale that makes the character of Deadman seem incredibly interesting. His detailed explanation of hopping from person to person, and even an animal in one case, briefly experiencing their lives before moving on to the next, had me thinking---I would so buy that book. And if Teddy Kristiansen drew it, then all the better, because his style really fits the character. Had the feeling of a trailer to a movie that I’d definitely be seeing when it was released.

SOLO: Brendan McCarthy (Batman)

Might be a cop-out to pick McCarthy’s least abstract story for my personal hit list, but I’m doing it anyway, and hoping that a few things about this particular story will preserve my street cred. Obviously, there’s the fact this story is one where the Caped Crusader comes under vicious attack from dozens of disembodied hands. And the fact the story was “created” by a man who commissioned an artist to illustrate a Batman story he kept seeing in a dream. Which later was damaged in a house fire that actually killed the artist. You can tell that because the pages are burnt, you see. Thankfully, most of the strange narrative is preserved and we’re able to witness the grand confrontation between Batman (armed with the awesome Bat Hand) and the terrible Big Hand, who is naturally immune to the effects of the aforementioned awesome Bat Hand. How does it all end? Frostbite and a standing ovation. How else?

SOLO: Paul Pope (Teenage Sidekick)

Very hard to choose here as well, because this entire issue is fantastic, but I’d have to side with the Eisner committee and say that Teenage Sidekick is the standout, just barely nudging past Are You Ready For The World That’s Coming. On the surface, it’s a very simple story---Robin, the Boy Wonder, has been captured by a couple of the Joker’s thugs, and is being dragged back to the secret hideout, where their boss will no doubt think of some manner of horrible death for him to experience. All the while he’s trying to escape at every opportunity, unknowingly leaving a trail that Batman is following to rescue him. The thing that elevates the story is the artwork of Pope, which is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. The look of Robin (and everything really) has an edge to it that makes for some great moments of suspense, some incredibly fluid and visceral action sequences, and some nice color work. Also props for the Read More Comics! advert at the story’s close.

SOLO: Tim Sale (Prom Night)

Seems a tad obvious to pick Sale’s collaboration with Jeph Loeb as my favorite, but hey, there’s a reason these two work together so frequently. This tale of Clark Kent’s prom night effectively recreates the look and feel of their award-winning Superman For All Seasons mini, and is anchored by a really nice monologue from Martha Kent. Like before, Sale’s huge and lumbering version of Clark is nicely contrasted with a sense of majesty and grandeur whenever he uses his powers, which happens here after his tux gets muddied doing a good deed for someone that doesn’t deserve it. But it’s a nice little epilogue or side-story to the main mini, and proof that once again the Loeb/Sale partnership brings out the best in both of them.

SOLO: Damion Scott (Superman Is…)

Remember some fan grumblings about this one---something along the lines of “Damion Scott doesn’t deserve an issue of SOLO because of (insert reason here)”. I had no problems with it, as I just loved his work on Batgirl and his small arc on Spectacular Spider-Man with Paul Jenkins. I even have a shirt featuring some of his Spidey artwork, so I’m a pretty big fan already, but I think folks that aren’t as enamored with his work will be able to appreciate the Superman pin-ups in this issue, working under the title Superman Is… Basically, he uses the letters in the word “superman” as a thematic starting point in rendering a series of poster quality depictions of the Man of Steel, tinged his own unique graffiti influenced art style. The results are very impressive and make the entire book worth checking out. Definitely wouldn’t mind seeing him draw the character again.

Okay folks, feel free to leave your own thoughts on SOLO down below and next week I’ll likely be devoting a large chunk of the column (if not all of it) to Wednesday Comics. Also, thanks to everyone that offered kind words about my recent marriage. Much appreciated and it was a great time. Probably a little more about that next week, too.

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