Oct 30, 2013

Eight Great Follow-Ups

Eight Great Follow-Ups
Travis Hedge Coke

With Kazuo Koike doing a sequel to Lone Wolf and Cub soon (thank you, Dark Horse for facilitating that!), I’m feeling reenergized in my displeasure with the myth that follow-ups by nature are crap. Some do, sure, but many projects that have no follow-ups of any kind also suck. Being a continuation (forward or backward in that ficto-history) is not the deciding factor of quality, and the best follow-ups are great on their own and improve their source material that, hopefully, was pretty good to begin with.

(Since Travis is recommending stuff, I'm gonna place the Amazon link, if there is one, for each recommendation right under it, in case you folks're interested. -Duy)

Flex Mentallo

The reputation of Flex Mentallo has pretty much nothing to do with the fact it’s a Doom Patrol spinoff. That’s how good it is, because it is a sequel, it is a follow-up by the same writer of a character and concepts used in the Doom Patrol series, but it’s strong enough, tight enough on its own, that this status does not matter.

Only recently made available again, Flex is beautifully and explosively drawn, and Grant Morrison was really coming into his own just then, breaking out of the emotionally-restrained theatre-influenced collage guy he’d been for much of the 80s early 90s. Symbols and hints are hung brashly naked all over the comic, with the universalistic happy Hollywood ending and the tug at the heartstrings styles of depression and angst that makes us rejoice in that kind of happy ending.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface

There are three lights like stars, two of which are close together, but as you approach those, the third is always distant. All three must be reached at once to progress. And, in the middle of trying to do that, the protagonist of Ghost in the Shell 2 is caught up in forty page distractions, the vaguest ancient prophecies, weird psychic traumas, and colleagues who get colds, forget to send emails, and put up a cheery avatar of working hard to disguise the fact they’re chatting with you while on the toilet.

Ghost in the Shell and the immediate follow-up shorts (collected as Ghost in the Shell 1.5) are complex political intrigue with cool fight scenes, chases, and the occasional assassination. Good stuff. When they adapted the first comic to a movie, they had to strip 87% of the narrative, characterization, and artistic flourishes to to what’s otherwise a pretty decent minimalist action flick. But, GitS 2 takes all the unpredictable intensity of its predecessor and explodes it like a cross between the flash on the ceiling of a disco ball and a planetarium with black lights.

Ben Grimm & Logan

Ben Grimm & Logan was part of a series of prequels to the Fantastic Four ongoing, all of which had decent talent on them, but the other two comics just aren’t that hot. This one, however, is on fire. Featuring pre-“Marvel Age” versions of the Nicky Fury, Black Widow, and pre-superheroing Wolverine, Thing, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel, it’s a taut actioner about stealing and transporting top secret goods behind enemy lines, filled with aerial shoot outs, drop of the hat fistfights, heroism, patriotism, and honor amongst soldiers. Short, fast, and cool. The references and prior-versions are interesting if you know the current-day characters but everything works on its own as a cold war period thriller without having ever touched a comic where Wolverine wears a mask in the shape of his hair or Tony wears a suit of armor to fight the Melter.

Just Another Saturday Night

A short Sin City comic that revisits the final night of That Yellow Bastard from Marv’s perspective, that really opens up Marv by de-heroing him in the extreme while still making him interesting as a character study. It simultaneously changes a lot of implication from the first Sin City comic, now called The Hard Goodbye, but reads great on its own, as well, as Marv hunts down a guy he vaguely cares about with aggressive ferocity, because that’s how Marv does things, by having less than half the information and way too much drive.

Dark Knight Strikes Again

Big, loud, colorful, DKSA is definitely not just a retread of its more famous predecessor, The Dark Knight Returns. In a world run by an asshole alien and a thuggish businessman (Braniac and Lex Luthor), and the American President is a digital simulacra, where superheroes work like slaves under constant threat or get imprisoned in isolation, Batman has come out of retirement to put together a team and free the planet. It’s funnier and cooler if you’ve read DKR or are familiar with the Atom, but no foreknowledge is necessary and if you’re afraid of radically cartooned characterization, it might be best if you don’t have expectations.

The art, the coloring, and the pacing all change at a moment’s notice, and occasionally multiple styles will be noticeable on the same page, in the same panels. Miller seems mostly to have drawn straight from passion, and is laying down on the pages what won’t make him bored. 9/11 happened partway through production and the comic takes a heavy swing to address it head on. For half a page, there are rampaging triceratops and Flash announces “We’ve got dinosaurs” before they’re not addressed again. Cartoon types of news commentators and politicians are slowly replaced by caricatures of actual personalities and politicos. And, Miller fighting the comic to keep himself from boredom keeps us from getting bored as there’s always another bang, each page a new surprise, a new punch, a new derailment in life.

The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix is alright. It’s a bit po-faced, a story that by necessity will be quickly forgotten (as it gives the title characters decades of life experience they cannot have in later stories), and it’s ultimately just about filling gaps between other stories anyway. It’s sequel has two things the first one did not, and those make worlds of difference: John Paul Leon and Peter Milligan. Milligan and Leon, along with Kevin Somers’ grand colors, really up the ante, heading straight out of deadly-serious and understated and playing as mad pantomime melodrama, dropping a couple naked superheroes into 1859, one in a sewer, the other, a church.

The Further Adventures…
knows it’s absurd and goofy and just runs with it, everything blown up and monstrous, opening with a woman in the rain, in the night, unearthing a child’s coffin that turns out empty as she suspects her husband of foul-doing and is haunted in the dark by a gigantic creature she does not notice. It ends with the funeral of Charles Darwin and that same husband, his crimes made evident to many but hidden from history, evolved and changed, arrested in a kind of sick immortality, his skin white, his face scarred with a perfect red diamond, the future before him.

Galaxy Express 999

With the same title as the first work, Galaxy Express 999 is both sequel and continuation, and it acts accordingly, throwing us straight into new adventures, a new journey, without taking any kind of “catching up” or “getting the band back together” routes. Maetel, that beautiful and tragic mother figure with her iconic fur cap and long blonde hair, busts her young charge out of prison on an Earth overtaken by mindless entertainment and aggressively wiping out any pesky flowers or cats that might disrupt the orderliness, and they immediately take off for a train trip through space just like before. Tetsuro, despite being imprisoned for several years, as neither appreciatively aged physically nor matured socially, overmuch, which means rarely having the feeling that you missed out if you have not read the older comics (none of which are in print in English, anyway).

Galaxy Express is out of print in English and it looks like replacing copies is pricey, but it’s worth it. It’s so worth it, that when I moved, I gave mine to my nieces, who’ve read it more times than I have. Leiji Matsumoto has been doing comics a long time, and they just get stronger and purer, so this one really is full of relevance, artistry, characterization and ethics, but it always appears casual and almost slapdash in a very welcoming way. Its just-so nature might annoy me if I didn’t agree with the ethics and moral structures, but in a general way, I do, and my nieces do, so it plays to us fine. It is just-so.

The Kingdom

Never before has a sequel corrected so many things I disliked about the first thing than with this comic, where Mark Waid just fixed everything. That alone is goddammed awesome. But The Kingdom steps up higher than even that by being really cool and having a great range of stories with strong characterizations, excellent fights, goofy sweet bits, and more novelty than you can shake a whack-a-mole hammer at.

A sequence of interrelated short stories sandwiched between a time travel two-parter in which a man decides to murder Superman repeatedly, every day, one day at a time, but working backwards, so he kills Superman tomorrow, then today, then yesterday, and after awhile, last year’s Superman, and so on. In between we see great men became terrible dads, a screw up might be an awesome father, and Batman kicks ass with a waitress in a novelty restaurant while witnessing the ghost of Kathy Kane, all drawn by some brilliant artists.

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