I think we often lose track of comics that came out in the early 1950s. It wasn’t a great time for superheroes, the medium’s most enduring genre, and historically the publications themselves get drowned out in the story of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent and the firestorm it provoked. At the center of that fascinating story – the controversies and hearings that gave way to the Comics Code – was Bill Gaines and EC Comics, a highly successful publisher of (at the time) horror and crime stories, in particular. Gaines fought against the censorship ultimately imposed by the Comics Code, not just because it meant that many of the books EC published would have to be scrapped – though that was true – but because the censorship was bad for the medium and the goal of telling more mature, involved stories. Gaines lost that fight, and in 1955, the year after the Comics Code Authority banished horror and crime comics (and, really, anything remotely objectionable) to the ether, EC tried to rebound with its New Direction line.
I want to be able to tell you that you should just read this series. Trying to describe what makes it so fantastic frequently feels like revealing too many of its secrets. But, I suppose, this wouldn’t be much of a review if I didn’t talk about it a little.
The first volume of Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger’s Southern Cross left me wanting more despite a shaky start, and if anything, this volume leaves me with a similar feeling. Somewhere near the middle, I wasn’t sure where the story was headed and wasn’t even sure if I cared, but by the end, I found myself wishing I could pick up the third volume and keep reading. Such are the perils of reading a series before it is complete, I suppose!
I really got into comics, in earnest, back in 2011. It was DC’s launch of the New 52 that gave me the “in” I’d been looking for. Sure, I’d read graphic novels and trade paperbacks for years, but I was always catching up, always years behind; I wanted to be current. I wanted to be able to experience tension of waiting with the rest of a readership to discover what shadowy force was behind Batman’s latest case. I sampled a lot of DC’s titles during this launch, especially some of the weirder ones that no one can remember having happened, and I learned a few things: One, I like some of the dark corners of the DC Universe I’d previously written off as relics of the 1970s and 1980s, and two, that I wanted to read more of Scott Snyder (who was writing Batman and Swamp Thing) and Jeff Lemire (writing Animal Man and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.). Discovering the work of up-and-coming creators was a big part of why I’d wanted to get current on comics in the first place, and I always made it a point to follow what they were doing through that period at DC and into their own, creator-owned work elsewhere.
Star Trek has done many variations on the time-travel story, even as far back as the original series, where Kirk, Spock, and sometimes the Enterprise herself would wind up in the past with some regularity. Time travel has become something of a Trek tradition. The main story in New Visions #16, “Time Out of Joint,” offers an original series take on a premise that some of the later series – blessed with a bigger budget or, at least, more affordable techniques for varied sets, costumes, and effects – used a few times: the tale of a single crew member jumping through time at apparent random, with the fate of the ship hanging in the balance.
One of the fun things about Star Trek fiction is that, over time, it has brushed up against other fictional universes – sometimes very overtly, as in the Star Trek/Green Lantern or Star Trek/Planet of the Apes comics of recent years, and going at least as far back as some peculiar crossovers with the X-Men in the 1990s. Sometimes, though, these cross-dimensional encounters have to be more referential than that, for one reason or other, and that is where New Visions #15 exists. At least, I think so.
Romain Baudy and Martin Trystram’s Pacific left me with the uncanny feeling that there’s something I missed. The graphic novel is a tale of the crew of a U-boat near the end of the Second World War, and one that begins in a mundane enough manner: a new crew member comes aboard, learning the ropes, being hazed by his crewmates as he’s introduced to the tight, unprivate quarters he’ll be restricted to in the coming weeks. One of his crewmates – though each is rendered as a recognizable individual, names are hard to come by – discovers a banned book amongst the newcomer’s belongings. Nazis were serious about their book banning, you know.
I like The Spire a lot. It feels big, dense, and lived-in. I’ve been reading a lot of comics that fit into the same broad techno-fantasy genre (It seems like we’re getting a lot these days.), but relatively few produce a world that seems quite so complex as The Spire. This is the kind of world where, though the story wraps up by the end of the book, there’s a real sense that the world goes on. That it existed before this story began and will continue to exist now that it’s over, even if we don’t get to peek into it anymore.
There are a few questions fans ask about Star Trek repeatedly. “Who’s the best captain?” “Why do some Klingons look like Eurasian stereotypes and others have a ton of ridges on their foreheads?” “Why would you ever build a holodeck that could, in theory, kill someone?” These questions are timeless. “What would Captain Kirk’s Iron Man cosplay look like?” is not one of these questions for most people, but if you are one of the happy few, New Visions has you covered.
My grandparents were always big readers. Their house was, among other things, a paperback lover’s wonderland - bookshelves at every turn, laden with volumes from the most recent bestsellers to old, worn copies of long-forgotten masterpieces. My grandfather, in particular, shaped many of my own tastes. The book I most remember receiving, reading, and loving was Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot. I recommend it. The only thing it shares with the Will Smith movie is a name (and, I guess, that there are robots in it).