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Around the Tubes

Batman: The Detective #1

It was new comic book day yesterday! What did you all get? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Sound off in the comments below. While you decide on that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web.

The Beat – Ed Brubaker gets more residuals from his WINTER SOLDIER cameo than from creating the character – That’s not acceptable.

Japan Today – There has been a shift in sales from comic magazines to comic books, but there is a further shift toward digital comics at an increasing pace. – Interesting…

Reviews

CBR – Batman: The Detective #1
ICv2 – Beast Complex Vol. 1
ICv2 – Call of the Night Vol. 1
Collected Editions – Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey: The Hunt for Harley
The Beat – Home #1
Talking Comics – Magic #1

Friday #3 is available now on Panel Syndicate

The fabulous team of Ed Brubaker, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente are back with Friday #3, the final chapter of the first arc.

Friday tries to make it across town during one of the worst snow storms in Kings Hill’s history as strange things happen and the mystery deepens… In ways we think it’s safe to call life-changing!

So if you haven’t checked out Friday yet, now is the perfect time to give it a try. All three chapters are available in English and Spanish, and in widescreen and single page formats at Panel Syndicate for whatever price you want to pay, including zero!

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2020

2020 definitely felt like a year where I embraced comics in all their different formats and genres from the convenient, satisfying graphic novella to the series of loosely connected and curated one shots and even the door stopper of an omnibus/hardcover or that charming webcomic that comes out one or twice a week on Instagram. This was partially due to the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down comics’ traditional direct market for a bit so I started reviewing webcomics, trade paperbacks, graphic novels and nonfiction even after this supply chain re-opened. I also co-hosted and edited two seasons of a podcast about indie comics where we basically read either a trade every week for discussion, and that definitely meant spending more time with that format. However, floppy fans should still be happy because I do have a traditional ongoing series on my list as well as some minis.

Without further ado, here are my favorite comics of 2020.

Marvels Snapshots: X-Men #1 – But Why Tho? A Geek Community

10. Marvels Snapshots (Marvel)

Curated by original Marvels writer Kurt Busiek and with cover art by original Marvels artist Alex Ross, Marvels Snapshots collects seven perspectives on on the “major” events of the Marvel Universe from the perspectives of ordinary people from The Golden Age of the 1940s to 2006’s Civil War. It’s cool to get a more character-driven and human POV on the ol’ corporate IP toy box from Alan Brennert and Jerry Ordway exploring Namor the Submariner’s PTSD to Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Benjamin Dewey showing the real reason behind Johnny Storm’s airhead celebrity act. There’s also Mark Russell and Ramon Perez’s take on the classic Captain America “Madbomb” storyline, Barbara Kesel’s and Staz Johnson’s sweet, Bronze Age-era romance between two first responders as the Avengers battle a threat against the city, and Saladin Ahmed and Ryan Kelly add nuance to the superhuman Civil War by showing how the Registration Act affects a Cape-Killer agent as well as a young elemental protector of Toledo, Ohio, who just wants to help his community and do things like purify water. However, the main reason Marvels Snapshots made my “favorite” list was Jay Edidin and Tom Reilly‘s character-defining work showing the pre-X-Men life of Cyclops as he struggles with orphan life, is inspired by heroes like Reed Richards, and lays the groundwork for the strategist, leader, and even revolutionary that appears in later comics.

9. Fangs (Tapas)

Fangs is cartoonist Sarah Andersen’s entry into the Gothic romance genre and was a light, funny, and occasionally sexy series that got me through a difficult year. Simply put, it follows the relationship of a vampire named Elsie and a werewolf named Jimmy, both how they met and their life together. Andersen plays with vampire and werewolf fiction tropes and sets up humorous situations like a date night featuring a bloody rare steak and a glass of blood instead of wine, Jimmy having an unspoken animosity against mail carriers, and just generally working around things like lycanthropy every 28 days and an aversion to sunlight. As well as being hilarious and cute, Fangs shows Sarah Andersen leveling up as an artist as she works with deep blacks, different eye shapes and textures, and more detailed backgrounds to match the tone of her story while not skimping on the relatable content that made Sarah’s Scribbles an online phenomenon.

8. Heavy #1-3 (Vault)

I really got into Vault Comics this year. (I retroactively make These Savage Shores my favorite comic of 2019.) As far as prose, I mainly read SF, and Vault nicely fills that niche in the comics landscape and features talented, idiosyncratic creative teams. Heavy is no exception as Max Bemis, Eryk Donovan, and Cris Peter tell the story of Bill, who was gunned down by some mobsters, and now is separated from his wife in a place called “The Wait” where he has to set right enough multiversal wrongs via violence to be reunited with her in Heaven. This series is a glorious grab bag of hyperviolence, psychological examinations of toxic masculinity, and moral philosophy. Heavy also has a filthy and non-heteronormative sense of humor. Donovan and Peter bring a high level of chaotic energy to the book’s visuals and are game for both tenderhearted flashbacks as well as brawls with literal cum monsters. In addition to all this, Bemis and Donovan aren’t afraid to play with and deconstruct their series’ premise, which is what makes Heavy my ongoing monthly comic.

Amazon.com: Maids eBook: Skelly, Katie, Skelly, Katie: Kindle Store

7. Maids (Fantagraphics)

Writer/artist Katie Skelly puts her own spin on the true crime genre in Maids, a highly stylized account of Christine and Lea Papin murdering their employers in France during the 1930s. Skelly’s linework and eye popping colors expertly convey the trauma and isolation that the Papins go through as they are at the beck and call of the family they work almost 24/7. Flashbacks add depth and context to Christine and Lea’s characters and provide fuel to the fire of the class warfare that they end up engaging in. Skelly’s simple, yet iconic approach character design really allowed me to connect with the Papins and empathize with them during the build-up from a new job to murder and mayhem. Maids is truly a showcase for a gifted cartoonist and not just a summary of historical events.

6. Grind Like A Girl (Gumroad/Instagram)

In her webcomic Grind Like A Girl, cartoonist Veronica Casson tells the story of growing up trans in 1990s New Jersey. The memoir recently came to a beautiful conclusion with Casson showing her first forays into New York, meeting other trans women, and finding a sense of community with them that was almost the polar opposite of her experiences in high school. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the evolution of Veronica Casson’s art style during different periods of her life from an almost Peanuts vibe for her childhood to using more flowing lines, bright colors, and ambitious panel layouts as an older teen and finally an adult. She also does a good job using the Instagram platform to give readers a true “guided view” experience and point out certain details before putting it all together in a single page so one can appreciate the comic at both a macro/micro levels. All in all, Grind Like A Girl is a personal and stylish coming of age memoir from Veronica Casson, and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

5. Papaya Salad (Dark Horse)

Thai/Italian cartoonist Elisa Macellari tells an unconventional World War II story in Papaya Salad, a recently translated history comic about her great uncle Sompong, who just wanted to see the world. However, he ended up serving with the Thai diplomatic corps in Italy, Germany, and Austria during World War II. Macellari uses a recipe for her great uncle’s favorite dish, papaya salad, to structure the comic, and her work has a warm, dreamlike quality to go with the reality of the places that Sampong visits and works at. Also, it’s very refreshing to get a non-American or British perspective on this time in history as Sampong grapples with the shifting status of Thailand during the war as well as the racism of American soldiers, who celebrate the atomic bomb and lump him and his colleagues with the Japanese officers, and are not shown in a very positive light. However, deep down, Papaya Salad is a love story filled with small human moments that make life worth living, like appetizing meals, jokes during dark times, and faith in something beyond ourselves. It’s a real showcase of the comics medium’s ability to tell stories from a unique point of view.

4. Pulp (Image)

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (with colorist Jacob Phillips) are two creators whose work has graced my “favorite comics” list many times. And this time they really outdid themselves with the graphic novella Pulp about the final days of Max Winters, a gunslinger-turned-Western dime novelist. It’s a character study peppered with flashbacks as Phillips and Phillips use changes in body posture and color palette to show Max getting older while his passion for resisting those who would exploit others is still intact. Basically, he can shoot and rob fascists just like he shot and robbed cattle barons back in the day. Brubaker and Phillips understand that genre fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is informed by the historical context around it, which is what makes Pulp such a compelling read. If you like your explorations of the banality of evil and creeping specter of fascism with heists, gun battles, and plenty of introspection, then this is the comic for you.

3. My Riot (Oni Press)

Music is my next favorite interest after comics so My Riot was an easy pick for my favorite comics list. The book is a coming of age story filtered through 1990s riot girl music from writer Rick Spears and artist Emmett Helen. It follows the life of Valerie, who goes from doing ballet and living a fairly conservative suburban life to being the frontwoman and songwriter for a cult riot girl band. Much of this transformation happens through Helen’s art and colors as his palette comes to life just as Valerie does when she successfully calls out some audience members/her boyfriend for being sexist and patronizing. The comic itself also takes on a much more DIY quality with its layouts and storytelling design as well as how the characters look and act. My Riot is about the power of music to find one’s identify and true self and build a community like The Proper Ladies do throughout the book. Valerie’s arc is definitely empowering and relatable for any queer kid, who was forced to conform to way of life and thinking that wasn’t their own.

2. Getting It Together #1-3 (Image)

I’ll let you in on a little secret: slice of life is my all-time favorite comic book genre. So, I was overjoyed when writers Sina Grace and Omar Spahi, artist Jenny D. Fine, and colorist Mx. Struble announced that they were doing a monthly slice of life comic about a brother, sister, and their best friend/ex-boyfriend (respectively) set in San Francisco that also touched on the gay and indie music scene. And Getting It Together definitely has lifted up to my pre-release hype as Grace and Spahi have fleshed out a complex web of relationships and drama with gorgeous and occasionally hilarious art by Fine and Struble. There are gay and bisexual characters all over the book with different personalities and approaches to life, dating, and relationships, which is refreshing too. Grace, Spahi, and Fine also take some time away from the drama to let us know about the ensemble cast’s passions and struggles like indie musician Lauren’s lifelong love for songwriting even if her band has a joke name (Nipslip), or her ex-boyfriend Sam’s issues with mental health. I would definitely love to spend more than four issues with these folks.

1. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott (Avery Hill)

My favorite comic of 2020 was The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott , a debut graphic novel by cartoonist Zoe Thorogood. The premise of the comic is that Billie is an artist who is going blind in two weeks, and she must come up with some paintings for her debut gallery show during that time period. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott boasts an adorably idiosyncratic cast of characters that Thorogood lovingly brings to life with warm visuals and naturalistic dialogue as Billie goes from making art alone in her room to making connections with the people around her, especially Rachel, a passionate folk punk musician. The book also acts as a powerful advocate for the inspirational quality of art and the act of creation. Zoe Thorogood even creates “art within the art” and concludes the story with the different portraits that Billie painted throughout her travels. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott was the hopeful comic that I needed in a dark year and one I will cherish for quite some time as I ooh and aah over Thorogood’s skill with everything from drawing different hair styles to crafting horrific dream sequences featuring eyeballs.

Underrated: Incognito

Time got away from me this week, so we’re rerunning an older column from yesteryear.

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Incognito


My local comic shop recently got the hardcover edition of Incognito in, and it last all of ten minutes on the table where it was in line for pricing as I picked it up and read what amounted to half the first issue before scooping it up before it ever actually made it to the shelf.

Written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Sean Phillips and colours by Val Staples, the hardcover collects both Incognito and the sequel Incognito: Bad Influences within its 360-odd pages as well an essay, a series cover gallery and some interesting process pieces. If you’ve read any of Brubaker and Phillips other work together, such as Criminal, Fatale or Kill Or Be Killed, then you probably have an idea what you’re in for. If you don’t… well, let’s just say you’re in for a very compelling story that you’ll probably want to read multiple times.

If you want to read the series’ synopsis, it’s below. If you don’t… well, skip the next paragraph, I guess. Either way, you’ll find the core premise of the comic below.

What if you were an ex-super villain hiding out in Witness Protection… but all you could think about were the days when the rules didn’t apply to you? Could you be a humdrum office clerk after being the best at years of leaving destruction in your wake? And what if you couldn’t stand it? What would you do then? 

This story is steeped in the pulp fiction of the 30’s and 40’s, stories that undeniably inspired the superhero fiction of today. Brubaker takes those early influences and fills out a world that has descended from them; there’s a very clear path in Incognito back to characters like the Shadow and the Spider (or rather Brubaker’s version thereof), and it gives the reader the sense that we’re barely scratching the surface with the characters and history revealed through the course of the hardcover’s 360-odd pages.

I was immediately taken in by the story as we learned more about Zack Overkill and how he went from a heavy hitting super villain to a lowly file clerk barely noticed by his coworkers. We see flashes of his mandated psychiatric appointments, the oh-so-real struggles he’s facing in a life that he’s not accustomed too. If you remove the super powered aspect from the opening part of the story, you can see a man struggling with his mental health amidst an unfulfilling life of boredom and depression. Is it any wonder that he eventually turns to drugs in order to find an escape?

Zach Overkill is an oddly likable guy despite never hiding (at least from us) what kind of man he used to be; whether this story is about his trying to find redemption, or a larger tale about whether a leopard can truly change its spots is one of the best parts about this book. Brubaker asks you not whether you can change for the better after making a horrible series of life choices, but whether others can accept your change. Whether they truly believe it, or if once they’ve labelled you a villain then that’s how they will always see you.

I should have expected good stuff from this book, but I wasn’t quite prepared with just how good it would be.

In a story that can be so much to so many, we’re left asking ourselves who we really are; are you really the person you think you are, or are you just a product of what this world has made you?


Join us next week where there will doubtless be another movie, series, comic or comic related thing discussed that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.

Review: Reckless

A former Sixties radical, Ethan Reckless is a fixer, part detective, part wrecking ball. When a friend from his Weather Underground days returns, he’ll have to face his own past.

Reckless is the first in a new line of graphic novels from Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Jacob Phillips.

It’s a brand new take on the classic pulp style stories.

Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips
Color: Jacob Phillips

Get your copy now! To find a comic shop near you, visit http://www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

Amazon
comiXology
Kindle
Zeus Comics

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Preview: Reckless

Reckless

(W) Ed Brubaker (A) Jacob Phillips (A/CA) Sean Phillips
In Shops: Dec 16, 2020
SRP: $24.99

Sex, drugs, and murder in 1980s Los Angeles… And the best new twist on paperback pulp heroes since The Punisher or Jack Reacher.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, the modern masters of crime noir, bring us the last thing anyone expected from them – a good guy. In a bold new series of original graphic novels, with three books releasing over the next year, each a full-length story that stands on its own.

Meet Ethan Reckless: Your trouble is his business, for the right price. But when a fugitive from his student radical days reaches out for help, Ethan must face the only thing he fears… his own past.

Look for book 2 in the Reckless series in April 2021!

Reckless

Around the Tubes

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious #1

It’s the first new comic book day of the week! What are you all looking to get? What are you excited for? Sound off in the comments below! While you decide on that, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Salon – “We in America have actual fascists marching in the streets”: Ed Brubaker on releasing art right now – Well worth the read.

Sequart Organization – Panther’s Range: The History of the Black Panther Prior to Christopher Priest – For those that want to learn about the character.

Kotaku – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Made A Very Wholesome Appearance On Twitch – Expect a lot more campaigning on Twitch in the coming years.

Reviews

Flickering Myth – Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious #1
CBR – Getting It Together #1
The Beat – Magician A

Workers of the world! Here’s a list of comics to celebrate your Labor Day

Ah, the pleasures of having Labor Day off to celebrate work. It’s a contradiction as old as time, where honoring work means taking a (well-deserved and utterly necessary) break from it. After all, most workers have jobs that go year-round and the daily grind does take a toll. A day off is the least that can be afforded to them.

Recognition is the other thing we should doling out in industrial quantities during this federal holiday. As such, comic books are filled with stories about the fruits of labor, both in a literal and a politically figurative sense. Be it by actually exploring the hardships of being a worker to acknowledging the monumental task that is organizing movements in support of them, labor is central to the motivations behind some of comic’s best stories.

Here’s a short list of comics that either directly or indirectly showcase the roles workers play in keeping life and society functional. These comics dive headfirst into the specifics of what ‘putting in the work’ means, recognizing that everything that’s done in the service of others usually rests on human struggles both painful and exhausting. The comics below give workers their time in the spotlight so we can appreciate just how much it takes to go out and keep the world turning.

Labor Day Comics
Trashed

1. Trashed, written and illustrated by Derf Backderf

This book can best be described as a sobering love letter to one of the most underappreciated and openly repudiated jobs known to humankind: garbage collection. Following Backderf’s critically-acclaimed My Best Friend Dahmer, Trashed is based on the author’s time as a sanitation worker himself, surrounded by other workers just as enthused about collecting trash as he was (which wasn’t a whole lot). The inner workings of sanitation are presented through a combination of autobiographical anecdotes and well-researched facts and data that reveal just how complex, dangerous, and even clumsy picking up and storing trash can be. It’s a funny but scary look at how sanitation can save the world while also turn it into a ticking time bomb.

Damage Control

2. Damage Control, originally created by Dwayne McDuffie (W) and Ernie Colón (A)

A superhero’s job is to save the day, crumbling infrastructure be damned. With them, though, comes a unique concern for property damage, mostly focused on the inevitability of mass destruction. In comes a company solely dedicated to cleaning up after extinction-level battles and then putting the pieces back together called Damage Control. In essence, this Marvel comic is about unsung heroes. It’s about doing essential work knowing there’s no glory waiting at the end of it (much like Trashed, in some respects). McDuffie’s scripts are a masterclass on chaos and property politics, but it’s Colón’s attention to detail amidst the chaos that sets this story apart. The original series (there are a total of 4 series published) takes to a kind of MAD Magazine-style approach to comedy with visual gags and crude humor leading the charge, but it’s all well-orchestrated and it makes for reading that rewards those who scan comics pages whole multiple times.

Labor Day Comics
She-Hulk

3. She-Hulk: Law and Disorder, written by Charles Soule and illustrated by Javier Pulido

At a glance, Soule and Pulido’s She-Hulk gives the impression of being a kind of ‘slice of life’ story about a superhero that chooses law as her preferred battleground. The book, however, is about so much more, and it might have more in common with Damage Control than an actual legal drama. She-Hulk takes the anger-filled superhero and turns her into a working-class woman that’s trying (and struggling) to make her own legal services business work. She puts it all together from the ground up but is immediately confronted with the hardships of balancing work, heroics, and the semblance of a personal life on an even keel. One of the greatest, and most entertaining, aspects of the comic lies in the formation of the character’s legal practice and how at odds it can be being both a superhero and a normal person with other interests. It dives deep into the complications of working multiple jobs, but it shows an appreciation for those who lead their lives under that predicament. Soule and Pulido create a story that supports and applauds those who undertake the task of holding several jobs at once, honoring the sacrifice it requires of one’s self to survive it.

Labor Day Comics
Ex Machina

4. Ex Machina, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Tony Harris

While aggressively political and metaphorical, Ex Machina does something few other stories on governmental responsibility manage to achieve: make the role of an elected official look and feel like a real job. The story follows Mitchel Hundred, a man that renounces his superhero persona to become mayor of New York city. After only managing to save one of the Twin Towers during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hundred realizes he can do more good as an elected official rather than as a superhero. Vaughan and Harris take full advantage of this setup to go beyond political speeches and discourse to get Hundred’s hands dirty with the real act of running a government. Hundred has to address the legality of surveillance in times of crisis, protocols for public demonstrations, controversial content in city museums, infrastructure, and police freedoms all while controlling the urge to use his still functioning superpowers to speed the process up. As is the case in She-Hulk, Hundred also attempts (with few successes) to balance his personal life with the job. Problem is, the job demands too much of his time, hence the temptation to use his powers. Ex Machina is a stark reminder that being an elected official actually means holding down a job with real consequences attached to it, something many politicians seem to have lost sight of.

Gotham Central

5. Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty, written by Ed Brubaker & Greg Rucka and illustrated by Michael Lark

The profession of law enforcement is under serious scrutiny at the present moment, and rightfully so, but it’s still a job certain men and women take on despite the complexities of outdated and dysfunctional practices that are in desperate need of revision. And that’s on top of the racial problems that have shaped its many, many systems. However, there are those who do take the job seriously and work hard to ‘protect and serve’ with the best of intentions under the law. Gotham Central prioritizes this viewpoint, focusing the cops and detectives that work in Batman’s Gotham City. Without the resources or the exceptions afforded to the Dark Knight, the GCPD is still tasked with responding to criminal activity, regardless of whether it’s of the supervillain type or not. Main characters René Montoya, Crispus Allen, Marcus Driver, and “Josie Mac” MacDonald, among others, are divided into day and night shifts in a city that is in a constant flux of crime. The job takes its toll on a personal level and there’s an emphasis on how much one gives in the line of duty, but there’s also an appreciation of honest cops walking the line in the face of overwhelming police corruption and abuse. It’s a complicated and sometimes contradictory read, but it makes no excuses while confronting the damning inconsistencies of the job.

Labor Day comics
Wooblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World

6. Wooblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, edited by Peter Buhle & Nicole Schulman

The Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, has a wild and exuberant history, to say the least, which makes it the ideal subject for comic book storytelling. The IWW was created in Chicago, Illinois in 1905 as a union for marginalized workers led by Marxist principles. Miners, lumber workers, immigrant workers, indigenous workers, non-white workers, severely underrepresented female workers, and workers all over that had no rights or protections saw in the IWW as the means to fight towards better working conditions. Wooblies! (alluding to the nickname given to the members of the union) enlists the talents of cartoonists such as Peter Kuper, Harvey Pekar, Trina Robbins, Sharon Rudahl, Sue Coe, Carlos Cortez, among others to tell the story of how forgotten and underrepresented workers rose up against the odds to gain the rights and respect owed to them. The anthology has a very underground ‘comix’ feel to it, but it’s allegorical and metaphorical inclinations do a better job of capturing labor struggles better than a traditional story ever could. This might be the quintessential Labor Day reading right here.


Workers, laborers, holders of jobs, these comics honor your contributions, your efforts, and the near impossible feats you pull off. Read and relax, but overall, enjoy your hard-earned Labor Day holiday.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Pulp is the anti-Fascist Western We Need Right Now

“Shoot to win can feel so bittersweet. But you can take what you can get ’cause there ain’t no glory in the west.”

-from “No Glory in the West” by Orville Peck
PULP is the next OGN from Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips - The Beat

Thanks to their work on titles like Criminal, The Fade Out, Kill or Be Killed, and many others, writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Philips’ collaborations have been some of my favorite comics to seek out on the stands. And their new Image Comics graphic novella, Pulp, is no exception. Set in New York in 1939 with occasional flashbacks to the turn of the 20th century, Pulp chronicles the last days of Max Winters, an Old West gun fighter and outlaw turned writer of pulp Westerns for the fictional magazine Six Gun Western. Brubaker and Phillips with amazing spot reds from colorist Jacob Phillips blur fact and fiction and show and steadily build up that Winters’ character, the Red River Kid, is a barely fictionalized version of his younger self.

While Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips riff on crime fiction tropes in their usual manner and add a dollop of the “one last job” story, I would consider Pulp to be a straight Western even though it’s predominantly set in New York. This mostly comes from the way Max behaves, especially in crime settings. (Car chases are definitely more stressful than horse ones.) However, Brubaker and Phillips aren’t merely content to do their take on this classic American staple of the Western, but instead recontextualize the genre to be about resistance against those who would exploit others (Basically, class warfare.), especially Nazis and fascists.

Image from Pulp

They lay the breadcrumbs for this early on as Max stands up for a young Jewish man at the subway station even though it leads to him getting his ass kicked, having a heart attack, and being robbed of his entire freelance paycheck that he was squirreling away to buy a house in Queens for him and his partner, Rosa. This scene sets up Max as a champion of the marginalized as Phillips and Phillips’ visuals convey the righteous fury in his soul as he stands up for what’s right even if no one helps him out when he takes a beating. The fury extends to the salty frankness of his dialogue as he tells the young anti-Semite, stating “Everyone here’s had enough of your crap”. Max is like if Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven had a social conscience, and this informs all of his actions in the narrative, especially in the second half of the book when he decides to fall in with an old foe. And not just any old enemy: a Pinkerton.

Even though they had semi-heroic beginnings as bodyguards for President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, Pinkertons become synonymous with strike-breaking and cloak and dagger operations to uphold the status quo. Historically, they tracked down the Jesse James Gang and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid so they’re a good fit for baddies in a Western and are still doing private security to this day as part of the firm, Securitas AB. So, basically, Brubaker and Phillips set up the former Pinkerton, Goldman, who catches Max trying to do a robbery in broad daylight as an untrustworthy fellow with a bit of a bitter edge. Sean Phillips never draws Max and Goldman as buddy buddy arranging them in opposition to each other with Goldman as a savvy operator and Max as a cowboy stuck in city alleys instead of the open plains of Wyoming or another Western state.

This visual depiction extends to Ed Brubaker’s plot as what Max thinks is just good old-fashioned stage coach robbery (But with Nazis instead of cattle barons.) turns into something a little more complex as Goldman wants to hit at the names and accounts of Nazis, not just their cash. Of course, Max thinks this is all nonsense, and his captions the 1939 Old West gun fighter version of ACAB. (“Why would I trust a Pinkerton?”) However, Brubaker and Phillips drop in Goldman’s backstory that he had a good job doing accounting work for Henry and was laid off because he was Jewish, which makes him more of a sympathetic figure, and also sets up Max’s final showdown where he takes guns a-blazing vengeance against the fascists and on behalf of his Jewish partner, who was wrongfully murdered, even though he (and we) know that this will end in his demise. But he has that house in Queens for Rosa so he has nothing left to lose.

Image from Pulp

For better or worse, Max’s actions in both the Western past and New York present of Pulp are consistent. He always fights on behalf of folks that are exploited by those who have the power in society whether that’s settlers and robber barons or Jewish people and Nazis. He even advocates for ownership of his character Red River Kid (Pretty much self-ownership.) and going in a new creative direction with the character instead of retreading the same plots, but as anyone who has read about the history of comics that’s a futile battle. There’s a real Martin Goodman/Stan Lee vibe from Max’s editor Mort and his nephew Sidney, who’s a fan of Max’s Westerns and will do his job for a much cheaper rate. These scenes and Max’s sense of justice lead to more anger and chest pains and is what leads to him to picking up gun again and becoming an outlaw.

Image from Pulp

In Pulp, Brubaker and Phillips create a strong through-line between the exploitation of capitalists and fascists whose actions are insulated by people “just following orders”. Max is very aware of the banality of evil, and that’s why his final showdown is at German Bund beer hall and not against a veiled stand-in for Adolf Hitler atop a zeppelin. He has put his affairs in order, has set up his partner Rosa for life, just wants to avenge the death of his unlikely friend, Goldman, and put some goddamn Nazis six feet under. Sean Phillips and Jacob Phillips up the intensity of the visuals in these final pages with plenty of guns, red, and abstraction while Ed Brubaker’s narration sums up what Max thinks of himself before his death, namely, “We weren’t heroes. We were killers.” Even though Max has good values, it was his quick trigger finger that kept him alive in the Old West, and it’s deteriorating heart that gets him in the end in a bar in New York surrounded by swastikas. But, at least, he went down shooting.

Pulp is a fantastic transposition of the Western to the big, modern city as Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips apply outlaw-turned-pulp-writer code of fighting for the downtrodden to championing Jewish people against fascism even before the United States declared war on Nazi Germany. Max’s actions and ideals strike a chord in 2020 where the President of the United States himself called Nazis and white supremacists “very fine people”, and they run rampant both in the street and online. With his vulnerability, tenacity, soft spot for Rosa, and heart for justice, Max Winters is definitely the character find of 2020, and Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, and Jacob Phillips do a wonderful job making a Western story both exciting and socially relevant.

Comics Deserve Better: Episode 3: Daytripper by Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Dave Stewart, and Sean Konot

In this week’s Comic Deserve Better, Brian, Darci, and Logan discuss Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá‘, and Dave Stewart‘s life and death masterpiece, Daytripper, and get emotional and occasionally personal while breaking down the craft of this great title. They also chat about a plethora of recent indie releases ranging from Singaporean newspaper comics about Covid-19 and self-published comics about going to movie theaters (Remember those!) to Vault ComicsFinger Guns, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips Pulp, and the manga, Yona of the Dawn. There’s something for everyone in this episode! (Episode art by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá.)

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