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for Friday, January 23, 2009

Jews and American Comics

Much of my recent reading has consisted of comics collections and histories. Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form by Paul Buhle [New Press; $29.95] is an intriguing, scholarly overview of the Jewish contribution to our favorite medium, enlivened by dozens of pages of comic strips, comic books, and illustrations.

Buhle easily makes the case that Jews were the founders of the American comic book industry and the creators of many of the most beloved and iconic characters in those comic books. We wouldn't be here today without those creators and businessmen. But Buhle also has a tendency to gloss over Jewish creators whose works were not, in his reckoning, sufficiently Jewish while simultaneously claiming several Gentile creators for his own. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the medium's history knows the leading and significant roles that Jews played in the creation of the American comic book. There is no need to stack the deck further in their favor. Heck, they created the deck.

Buhle's writing isn't as lively as I might wish, but his book is well worth reading. Coincidentally, at least two other books on Jews and comics have come to my attention. Arie Kaplan's From Krakow to Krypton [Jewish Publication Society; $25] didn't hit the mailbox in time for me to read for this month's column, but I have reviewed it for a future TOT, along with Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero by Danny Fingeroth [Continuum International; $19.95].

As for Jews and American Comics: An Illustrated History of an American Art Form, it earns an impressive four out of five Tonys. I especially recommend it to schools and libraries.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Aliens Omnibus Vol 1

Aliens Omnibus: Volume 1 [Dark Horse; $24.95] came out in 2007, but a friend recommended it to me and I finally got around to reading it. The 6" by 9" full-color trade paperback collects the first three Aliens series, all of them written by Mark Verheiden, and a pair of shorts from Dark Horse Presents #24 and #56, one by Verheiden and the other by John Arcudi. That's almost 400 pages of "no one can hear you scream" thrills for half the cost of equivalent comic books at today's prices.

I'm not a huge fan of the Aliens movies - I'm not even certain I've seen them all - but Verheiden's trilogy is compelling stuff. Set after the first two movies, and, apparently, partially undone by the third, the stories are a sprawling, nigh-operatic tragedy of people traumatized by horrific events and having to face not merely the monstrous aliens, but the inevitable consequences of man's own greed and thirst for power. Each of the three artists - Mark A. Nelson, Den Beauvais, and Sam Keith - put their own mark on the issues they drew and all did terrific jobs, but it was Beauvais who brought the serious scary to the saga.

I'm still not a huge Aliens fan, but, if the other volumes in this format are as good as this, I expect to be catching up on the series in the months to come. Aliens Omnibus: Volume 1 gets four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Romance without Tears

Romance Without Tears [Fantagraphics; $22.95] was first published in 2003, but is available through the publisher and, of course, Amazon. Edited by John Benson, it collects 18 stories and several filler features that were most likely written by Dana Dutch for the St. John romance comics of the 1950s.

Dutch's speciality seems to have been stories of surprisingly liberated - for the era - young women who were determined to find love on their own terms and, if they made mistakes along the way, learn from them and move on. This book's title notwithstanding, there are more than a few tears sprinkled throughout these tales. But, more often that not, Dutch's heroines are assertive, smart, and tough. Most of the stories collected here are drawn by either Matt Baker or Lily Renee, two of the finest romance artists of the 1950s. As is expected from Fantagraphics, this full-color book is handsomely crafted. The company does nice work.

There are several outstanding stories in the book, but none as chilling as "Masquerade Marriage." In this surprisingly shocking tale, predators trick two young woman into having sex with them by hiring a phony minister to perform sham marriages. Though the sex happens between scenes, it clearly does happen. I've seen far more explicit depictions of sexual offense in books, films, and even TV shows, but this story still packs a wallop.

Romance Without Tears illuminates a corner of comics history largely uncovered before this book. It earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

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