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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, Chapter 5 - a Review

Maus: A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History (1986)
"Mouse Holes" - Volume 1, Chapter 5

Art Spiegelman

We are nearing the climax of volume one of Art Spiegelman's biographical/autobiographical classic. In today's review, we'll see events that will eventually lead to the fate of the Spiegelmans as the Holocaust deepens. But prior to that, through a lot of luck, Vladek's ingenuity, and several opportunistic allies, the Spiegelmans will stave off that which seems inevitable.

100-Word Review: 
Art and his wife, Francoise, are awakened by a call from Art's stepmother, Mala. She is alarmed that Vladek has been on the roof to make a repair. Art puts off helping his dad, but in doing so relates to Francoise some of the animosity he's felt toward his dad. Later, he finds that some of his true feelings of yore have been exposed to Vladek. But as they talk later on a walk to the bank, Vladek relates more of the events that have made him the person he is in the present: resourceful, miserly, mistrusting, and often obsessive-compulsive - consequences of survival, schemes, and deceit.
On straightaway to my thoughts on this chapter...

The Good: This block of 30+ pages seems to me to explore relationships -- Art to Mala, Art to Vladek, Vladek to Mala, Art to Anja, Vladek to Anja, Art to Anja's memory (and Mala and Vladek in this regard, too), Vladek to his family during the war, and so on. From the opening page, we find Art agitated with Vladek seemingly disrespecting Art's and Francoise's schedule/sleeping habits. At the same time, Vladek could be said to disrespect his own shortcomings and also Mala's feelings for his well-being. As I've mentioned in previous reviews, there is always tension when Vladek is "on screen", and this chapter is certainly no exception. I felt that the power in this section was Art's decision to reprint in full a 4-page "underground" comic he'd created in 1972. "The Prisoner on Hell Planet" was autobiographical, detailing Art's memories and reactions to his mother's suicide in 1968 when he was 20-years old. Vladek later found a copy of the story and read it. This created emotional stress between and among Art, Vladek, and Mala, and was a pretty uncomfortable scene.


Another source of weight that appears here are two diagrams that show hiding places that people used to preserve their lives another day. We'd seen this used in the previous chapter, when the Zylberberg grandparents were hidden in an outside bunker. Here Vladek tells about two bunkers - one in a cellar beneath a coal bin and another in a ceiling - with access through a chandelier. From the time I first read this, hot off the bookshelves at the student center on the campus of Illinois State University, I've felt his was incredibly important information. Steven Spielberg also showed viewers of Schindler's List several innovative ways people went into hiding. There can be no value placed on skill and knowledge, opportunity and execution. Some might argue that hiding generally only delayed what many consider certainty. To my understanding, any form of resistance is worthwhile.

Although I'd largely consider it a negative element of this section of the book, the depiction of self-preservation in terms of family bribing family, friends taking payment and then not following through and so on. I think we as readers, living under whatever passes for "normal" in our own day-to-day lives, leap to judgement on the choices and deeds of people in Vladek's sphere of influence. The reality is that we (thankfully) cannot begin to grasp the enormity of the pressures faced by victims of the Holocaust. Our values could not possibly be their values. Might they have been in the years before the German invasion? Highly likely. But by 1943 there was no rule in society that could be counted upon to play out as expected.

It's almost a throwaway vignette, but there is a scene in which Vladek mentions the ghetto residents eating the bad cake - I felt it was important. Treats like desserts are something so many of us take for granted. But Vladek tells that it had been a long time since anyone had had such a thing, so consequently the seller was able to charge a handsome price for each slice. And people paid it. Think about that...

The Bad: As has been my position in prior reviews, I have absolutely no quibble with anything Art Spiegelman has presented. I do, however, find myself impacted by elements of the story. As mentioned above, the various dynamics within Art's family in the "present" are difficult to watch. This is dysfunction night and day. But we can see the whys and wherefores of it all - we are witness to Vladek's life unfolding and the things that were done to him and around him. We watch as decisions he makes, or choices that are forced upon him, groom the man he will go on to be. And Art? Seeing the path upon which Vladek and Anja were forced to walk, it's no wonder that Art felt so much pressure as a child. He wasn't their first, but he had become their only. Art will make a comment to Francoise near the beginning of volume two that gets to me every time I read it. I'll highlight that when we get to it later.

The Ugly: As a parent, it's difficult to watch the scene where the German soldiers murder children, and also the fate of Richieu. From near the beginning of Maus, we know where it's headed. There's a reprieve, if only temporary, earlier in the story when Anja refuses a deal to hide their baby boy. But as the Germans close in and the war goes on, the Spiegelmans decide their only recourse is to give Richieu away. It's heartbreaking as Vladek tells Art his impressions of finding out about his firstborn's demise.

Come back at the end of June for the closing chapter of volume 1 of Maus. If you've not read it, I can attest to the presence of not one, but two climactic scenes. Both are quite powerful.

Monday, May 27, 2019

That Cape... An Appreciation of Marshall Rogers

Love, love, love Marshall Rogers's rendition of The Batman. I was in on the legendary Englehart/Rogers/Austin Detective Comics run. Although I did not have the entirety of that masterpiece, I did have the "Joker fish" issue, and maybe two others. Fabulous!

Rogers is of course best known for the seemingly-endless cape sported by our hero. "No capes!" was not a slice of advice toward which Rogers's Bruce Wayne adhered. Instead, he seemed to have a garment that flowed (sometimes endlessly) in its own way, depending on how much room was in the panel.

I am happy to own the Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers hardcover. In addition to the aforementioned 'tec run, it also reprints the Batman: Dark Detective mini-series and some other goodies. There is a newly-issued version of this material; I'd recommend any collection you can get yer mitts on!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Pablo Marcos, Penciler, Inker... Artist

Pablo Marcos is one of those inkers whose work I can spot a mile away. Similar to Joe Sinnott, Vince Colletta, or Tony DeZuniga, there are just aspects of Marcos's style that speak loudly to me. And I'll admit... as a kid I didn't appreciate Marcos's influence over several pencilers. My apprehension generally centers around the Avengers in the mid-1970s. Spanning penciling runs by Sal Buscema, George Perez, and John Byrne, Marcos did serve to unify the look of the title. However, I found his faces somewhat distinct, and not as pleasing to my young eyes as other inkers might have been over those same pencilers. Now much older and wiser, my appreciation for Marcos and his work has grown. It's still distinct to me, but I've embraced it as uniquely his own style.

Thank you in advance to the collectors and purveyors of comic book art who have been kind enough to post the following images on the Internet so that we can all enjoy.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Vampirella, in "What Price Love?" - a Review

Vampirella #25 (June 1973)
"What Price Love?"
William B. DuBay-Jose Gonzalez

Five months ago I reviewed the inaugural adventure of our heroine, from the pages of Vampirella #1. That story was created by Forrest Ackerman and Tom Sutton. Today we'll pop back in, some four years later, and see Drakulon's favorite daughter as rendered by Jose Gonzalez - the artist perhaps most associated with Vampirella. I am loving the art throughout the Vampirella: The Essential Warren Years trade, and although it looks great, I'll testify to not having read much from it. In fact, today's material comes from a simple flip-and-choose process for a story. I wanted Gonzales, so as long as he was the penciler, my major criteria was met. But... did I choose wisely? Let's investigate...

100-Word Review:
We're dropped into the middle of a story, but the narrative soon catches us up to previous happenings. Vampirella, allied with an older gentleman named Pendragon, has landed in New Orleans - 20 years after Pendragon vacated his life with his wife and daughter. He is unaware that his daughter has married gangster Richard Granville, and that they have a son. But he and Vampirella find themselves in the clutches of Granville's toughs, and when a mind-altering drug is administered to our Drakulonian beauty, can anyone be responsible for the results?
 No sense wasting time, as this one is pretty fast-paced. May as well write my thoughts the same way!

The Good: Hokey Smokes, Bullwinkle! This Pepe Gonzalez fellow can sure draw! Wow... I've always felt that Neal Adams's late Silver Age work was about as close to photo-realistic as one can get. But Gonzalez is simply incredible. I featured his work on the BWBC several weeks ago, but I'd not read any of his narrative pencils before this story. To say I'm blown away would be an understatement. Breathtaking to behold.

I'm going to insert right here that I continue to pat myself on the back for coming to the conclusion a few years ago that I need to check out more black & white work from the Bronze Age. On one hand, I continue to regret the time missed. On the other hand, catching up has been a blast - so better late than never!

Back to the story, there was a good and sort of not-so-good right from the start of the tale. Granville's goons decide that rather than kill Vampirella, they are going to make Pendragon suffer by injecting Vampi with pure cocaine and making "Pen" watch her reactions. Now it's good, because it drives the plot of this 12-page story. It's, in a way, bad as it seems a trope fully grounded in the era this was written - this plot could have been plucked from any number of films of the same period. It's seemingly too easy a device. But back to good - it becomes part of the morality play that is this episode.

I will need to read the issues that come before and after this, as I am intrigued concerning how the characters got to this place and where it goes afterward. While I don't think this is high (haha...) literature by any stretch, it has me curious.

One of the character traits you can glean from the art samples is Vampirella's need to have a special serum on 24-hour intervals to stop her from the desire to slake her bloodthirst on actual human blood. We're told that Vampi has pledged to never murder a human; it's fitting, then, that Granville's orders will prove his undoing. So while we as readers are pushed into a similar space as when we read Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, we find ourselves somewhat repulsed at the very nature of the lead character and unclear just where our rooting interests should lay. That is solid character development and plotting.

The Bad: Which brings us right to this section. While not bad, I'd say effective - it was tough to watch as Vampirella succumbed to the effects of the cocaine injection and her own serum withdrawal. Once Granville's child was introduced, it was not difficult to deduce where this was headed. And when it landed where it was going to, I found myself wishing that Vampirella would catch herself and pull back as she had earlier when she attacked her friend Pendragon. It was not to be. Upon reflection, the ending of the story probably goes with my impressions of the previous section - it was jarring, and left this reader feeling a bit weak. Good and bad, all wrapped up.

I'm not familiar with William DuBay's work outside this initial encounter. While his writing was light years ahead of Forrest J. Ackerman's (as seen in my review of Vampirella #1), it left a little to be desired. I did not find it as polished or mature (I use that term from an experience standpoint) as other Bronze Age writers I've encountered. Sure, it was ahead of what a novice would have written, but it didn't strike me as coming from someone who has mastered their craft.

The Ugly: Ah, not much here. I'm sort of struck by the death of the Granville child, but it was a necessary plot point even if predictable.

I'll look forward to some leisurely reading from my Vampirella trade. After two forays between the covers (so to speak), I have become curious enough to return and enjoy an extended reading. I'll also look forward to encountering a few other artists' work on the title. Warren certainly had a stable of solid creators, many perhaps unknown to readers such as I who might be characterized as Marvel/DC Zombies.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Carl Barks and Don Rosa - Duck You Duck!

How do you like your ducks? I'll admit to never having many comics with anthropomorphic animals. Big lover of Disney cartoons, however... and since we got away from the heroes and barbarians a few weeks ago with our tour of Bone #1, why not soften things again today? Thanks to the owners of the various pieces on display today - I appreciate their willingness to make their treasures available on the World Wide Web.

These first five samples are from Carl Barks:

And the final five images are by another artist forever linked to the Ducks - Don Rosa:

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