Top of the Stack – “Tokyo Ghost”

Most of the writing here lately, what little there is, has been about comics and while I don’t see many people reading the posts I do enjoy writing them so I am going to continue to do so until I don’t. How’s that for commitment? I like the Key Issues column but I haven’t been able to do anything current and I don’t plan on doing any new releases there anytime soon or maybe ever so I am going to start a second column to deal with more recent releases and thus I give you Top of the Stack! This column will be for recent releases that I have read an enjoyed. Since I am not on any kind of preview list these books will already be out in stores and possibly even sold out but you can always get the digital version on Comixology. Well, maybe not ALWAYS but I expect that most of the books I review here will be there but if not, I am sure you can find it somewhere. If not, just drop a comment and I will figure out where you can find it. Now, on to this week’s book.

Tokyo Ghost Issue 10

Tokyo Ghost #10

It was hard to pick a book to start this column with but I settled on Tokyo Ghost #10, written by Rick Remender, art by Sean Gordon Murphy, and colors by Matt Hollingsworth. “But Jeff, that is the last issue of the series!” you might say and you would be correct but tell me when there is a better time to talk about a series than right after it is complete? Obviously a new reader would not want to run out and pick up this issue without reading the nine that came before it but the end of the series provides a great opportunity to talk about the story as a whole and hopefully inspire someone to seek it out. The whole thing is there for you to enjoy. No lines and no waiting.

Tokyo Ghost takes place in a future where technology has gotten out of hand. Imagine the humans from Wall-E but instead of living in the beautifully clean spaceship they are stuck at the bottom, hellish levels of Los Angeles in Blade Runner. In fact, this is Los Angeles, but this is the L.A. of 2089 where we have given in to the connected world. Everyone is jacked in to multiple forms of entertainment that is beamed directly into their eyes, ears and every other sensory organ in their bodies. Implants and self administered drugs are common and most of the world has checked out of reality which probably isn’t such a bad idea considering how bad the world is around them.

Living within this world are constables Led Dent and Debbie Decay. They take care of things that need taken care of and they are the best at what they do. Led is a beefed up tank who spends all of his time in the digital world while somehow is able to function as a feared patrolman of the L.A. streets. Debbie keeps Led on track while watching him disappear into the technology to which he has become addicted. Debbie, one of the few left not connected to the digital world, cares deeply for Led but can’t stand what he has become. She loves him completely and knows the person she once knew is still inside if only she could get him away from the digital hell L.A. has become. Soon she finds her paradise in the last, unconnected place in the world but keeping Led away from his addiction is more difficult than she can imagine. Debbie is sure if she can get Led to the green lands of Tokyo he might break his addiction and come back to her.

Tokyo Ghost

Page from Tokyo Ghost #10

It is hard to talk about the last issue of a series without giving everything away. The series has been great in both story and art from start to finish and it was always the first book I read when it was in my stack. I am actually very disappointed to read this issue and know that the story is over, at least for now. This is one of those books I looked forward to every month. Sean Murphy is off to DC Comics (this title is published by Image Comics) for a year long Batman project so I have to wonder if the series ended as was originally intended or if they wrapped it up knowing Murphy would be unavailable for some time. However, if this is how it is supposed to end then I am OK with how it wrapped up. It isn’t necessarily a happy ending but it is a good ending.

I often think about how things might be if we got the world Debbie wants and I am torn between wishing for it and hoping never to see it in my lifetime. I think that is about all one can really hope for in a book. If something entertains while making you evaluate your life and your world then it has done a good job and Tokyo Ghost hits all of those notes. I think it can be a little heavy handed at times but then again I don’t know that our society really sees what is happening so maybe what I view as heavy handed is really more subtle to the rest of the audience. Really I think that is my only criticism of the series. The art is fantastic and really suits the subject matter. Murphy’s art is deeply detailed and there are all kinds of little bits in the background worth seeking out. I am honestly a bit sad that I won’t have this world to return to every month.

Tokyo Ghost

Tokyo Ghost

Remender’s new book, Seven to Eternity, comes out tomorrow and it will be a must read. I think Tokyo Ghost is my first Remender but I will be on any independent book he publishers in the future. I am also reading his series Black Science in trade paperback form and it is awesome as well. This guy can really handle some Sci-Fi. I also understand that Deadly Class and Low are excellent but as much as I might want to I just can’t read everything. I am still waiting to hear more about Murphy’s new Batman project and Hollingsworth is working with Remender again on Seven to Eternity. If you check out anything these guys do in the future I suspect it will be worth your time.

Key Issues – “Superman 75”

By the summer of 1992 the comics industry was in a completely frenzy. Image Comics had begun their publishing onslaught with Spawn #1 selling almost 2 million copies. On the back of Image’s success, the entire industry found new life and new opportunities to sell books and make money. In order to catch eyes on the shelves, gimmick covers became big sellers to comic speculators buying multiple copies and hoarding them in closets and safety deposit boxes all over the country. These buyers scooped up every “Collector’s Edition”, foil cover, and artist variant while envisioning the mansions they would buy and the college educations they would fund with their shrewd comic investments. Of course what these “investors” didn’t realize is that the books they were buying would be worthless very soon. It wouldn’t be clear for another couple of years but the damage was done the moment the purchase was complete. Publishers feed the market with variant covers, ALL NEW #1s, poly-bagged books, foil covers, holograms, and various gimmicks of all kinds. It was in the shadow of this exploding market that DC Comics launched what would become the biggest comic book event in history.

The Man of Steel #17 - First Appearance of Doomsday

The Man of Steel #17 – First Appearance of Doomsday (My copy is not pictured)

I had just come back to comics earlier that summer and it was a gimmick cover that caught my eye at the time. I hadn’t yet become a big buyer but my subscription list was growing on a weekly basis. My local shop had a graduated discount structure so the more I bought the bigger my discount became. This encouraged me to continually add to my weekly subscription. As I earned more money I spent more of at the shop. I wasn’t buying Superman but the news that something big was going to happen to the character started to spread and I immediately added all the Superman titles to my pull-list. During this period, there were four different titles with one continuous story line so the only way to have a complete story was to buy them all. It allowed for creators to tell long stories but it also had the potential to sell four times more books. My subscription instantly grew by four titles as I fell for the upcoming major event.

I added the books early enough to get “Superman: The Man of Steel” # 17 which is the first, partial appearance of Doomsday who would go on to kill Superman. Well, maybe he kills him or maybe they both die of exhaustion or maybe they kill each other at the exact same moment or some other nonsense but yeah, Doomsday is the main bad guy of the story and has since become an important part of the Superman legacy. In the Summer of 1992, however, this character was a complete unknown and the first glimpse of him in this book piqued my interest. Still, I wasn’t exactly excited for the the story, i was just glad I jumped on at the right time. I was caught up in the hype as much as anyone else.

The big issue, Superman # 75, came out on November 18, 1992. What I remember most about this event is the actual day Superman 75 went on sale. The buzz had been building for weeks with local and national news covering the “Death of Superman”. Every newscaster and network was trying to put their own spin on what this would mean for the great American icon. Eventually the entire country knew what was happening and it became a major cultural event. Killing a symbol of America was not taken lightly, well, except all of those other times Superman died but didn’t have a big marketing push behind it but hey, THIS TIME it was for real! In the video below you can see some of the national coverage from major entertainment news outlets like E! News and  Entertainment Tonight. Every local news outlet covered it as well, especially if there was a local comic shop in town.

All of this coverage put the book in the public consciousness and a LOT of people that had never bought a comic decided they needed a copy of the death of Superman. Many thought this would be a valuable book in the future and they lined up at shops long before they opened for the day. DC, of course, had printed MILLIONS of the book to satisfy expected demand but many shops sold out almost instantly and many of those that didn’t quickly jacked up the price on every version of the book. I must have been out of school for the Thanksgiving/Christmas break because I remember riding around town all day with a friend and fellow comic book geek stopping at store after store just to see what was going on.

I had already picked up my copy at my favorite store, The Comic Strip. Like every other store they were selling out when I stopped in. I didn’t even get a first edition of the non-bagged version and I wasn’t about to open the black poly-bagged copy which meant I didn’t even get to read the story on the day it was released. I eventually got a 2nd print a week or so later and was able to read the story. There were half a dozen shops in town at the time and we got by all of them before the evening was out. Each store was consistently full of people and almost all of them had never set foot in a comic book store before. We saw prices for the book go from $10 to $25 to $75 to $150 into the evening and stores were staying open late to try and serve the demand. We would make the circuit from store to store and on each stop the advertised price had gone up from our previous visit. I am sure there were people that made a good profit that day. I even considered selling my book to someone but just couldn’t bring myself to let it go. I got caught up in the hype and couldn’t wait until it was worth a few thousand! I should have sold it that evening or the next day when prices got really crazy. Today it is worth about $10.00 if you are lucky. I could have sold my copy for $75-$100 and then bought it back a few weeks later for under $20.00. Opportunity missed I suppose. A few months later I did try and buy up a bunch of copies of the Return of Superman and resell them. That did not turn out as well as I had hoped. The frenzy was long since over by then.

The night ended and over the next few days the mania died and the entire event was eventually forgotten by the general public. Superman came back less than a year later but “The Death of Superman” became an historic even in comic book history for a lot of reasons. It was indicative of a new trend of killing off major characters in big ways. During the same time they broke Batman’s back and while it wasn’t as big of a deal as the Superman event it also got a lot of press. Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, went evil and was dispatched. Aquaman lost his hand. Other characters also saw major revisions to “modernize” them for new audiences. The event also legitimized the gimmick cover trend and it exploded in the months and years after. Every publisher chased the Superman #75 success and the poly-bag is still a big marketing gimmick that comes back every few years. The Superman #75 hysteria also fueled the speculator boom.

The Death of Superman is often considered the beginning of the boom but it also was a signal that the end was coming. The people trying to find good investments in comics eventually realized that this book would never be worth what they hoped. That led them to also begin to understand that no modern book would ever be worth the thousands like “Action Comics” #1 and they began to dump collections for pennies on what they paid.  Shops who hoarded “key books” found their investment worth nothing and with no more speculators buying up their stock they struggled to survive. It wouldn’t be long until all of these customers left the market and shops that sprung up like weeds during the early 90s started to close. There is a good series on the boom and bust at Comicbooked.com if you are interested in further exploring what happened in the wake of “Superman” #75.

As the industry entered collapse, my interest also waned.  My store  moved locations and then sold to the local competitor which I kind of despised. Predictably, they started shorting customers on books and the certainly didn’t do anything to keep me as a customer.  I closed my account in 1996 and the store itself closed sometime after that. I would be gone for about a decade. I still have most of my collection acquired during the 90s. I have sold some stuff including all Marvel books and much of the Image books I purchased during that time but the majority of it is still there, in the closet, waiting to be read again. Shown below are my copies of Superman #75. The black bag edition is still unopened but I have the 2nd print of the standard edition that I can revisit as needed. Maybe one day I will sit down with my grandchildren and open the book like some kind of time capsule. That might be fun or maybe one day my family will sell the entire collection and have a nice dinner after I die. Either way it was a fun time and I have great memories of the day Superman died.

Superman 75 1st and 2nd print from my collection.

Superman 75 1st and 2nd print from my collection.

PokeWalk

Railroad ParkI took this photo Friday morning while walking at Railroad park. I say walking but what I really mean is that I was hunting Pokemon. I started playing the game about 2 weeks ago after the rest of my family and apparently the world just could not stop talking about it. Not one to allow himself to get behind on all of the latest fads and trends, I installed the app just to see what everyone was talking about and soon found myself obsessed with catching up to Cindy and Emily. Since that time I have rocketed past both of them and am a level 17, a full two levels ahead of everyone else in the house.

Playing Pokemon Go isn’t notable. Millions are playing it. I have seen people of all walks of life playing the game with the exception of anyone older than about 50. I do think what is notable is that it really is getting people up and outside during the hottest part of the year. I have walked more since I begrudgingly installed the app than I have in years. I credit it with really getting me out and exercising. Walking and running is just boring to me so I don’t do it even though I really should.  This little game keeps me motivated and that really is something special. I know that when Emily starts school I will have to give up my morning walks but my hope is that I find some kind of replacement. Until then, happy hunting.

Key Issues – “Eclipso: The Darkness Within”

At some point in 1987 I stopped acquiring comics. I can’t remember why exactly but I suspect it was due to lack of access and lack of funds. Plus, I was rocketing toward my teenage years and being “cool” became very important and comics during the 80s were certainly not cool. I don’t know if being a comic nerd is cool now but at least it is a bit more accepted.  In 1987, however, it was certainly not what the “cool kids” were into. It is worth noting that I was never “cool” but I damn sure tried and as I approached 13 I eschewed the passions of my younger years and dove all in to things like the NBA, rap music, and whatever else it seemed like the kids I wanted to emulate were into. I call this The Dark Times. By the time I hit high school the need to be accepted by any clique within my peers was fading but comics still were not something on my geek radar. At least not until I started to drive.

I earned my driver’s license in November 1991. In the summer of 1992 I kind of stumbled into a job as a lifeguard a few miles away from my house. I passed a little strip of stores and a gas station on the way to work every day and generally never paid any attention to them but one day I noticed a sign.  The sign, if my memory is correctly, had a picture of Superman and Batman and said ” The Comic Strip”. I still remembered those days as a kid when I desperately wanted to go to a comic book store but could never talk my parents into taking me. I think during my entire time being into comics during 1985-1987 we went to a store that had comics twice and those stores were more hobby shops and didn’t specialize in comics. Seeing the sign on the store touched something almost forgotten inside of me that always wanted to visit a real comic shop and one random day on the way home from work I pulled into the parking lot and went inside.

Eclipso JewelIt was everything I wanted it to be. Nothing but comics floor to ceiling all around. No baseball cards, or hot rod model kits, just comics. Racks and boxes and boxes of comics. The store was small, hardly larger than the master bedroom of a decent sized house but I didn’t notice it at the time. it was the mecca the tween version of me never got to visit. I don’t know how long I stayed in the store but I remember it kind of like the finding the Holy Grail. The only thing that would have made the experience any better would have been church organ music playing in the background. After browsing for a few moments eventually something strange caught me eye. On the new release rack there was a book featuring a character that I didn’t recognize from DC. It also had a “Special” designation on the cover which reminded me of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” which was so important to me in the 80s. It also had something on the cover I had never seen before. There was a plastic diamond mounted on the cover. It was enough to get my to buy the book. I took my purchase and went on to work not realizing what those few minutes would do to my life for the next few years.

Eclipso: The Darkness WithinThe book was “Eclipso: The Darkness Within” #1. It was the first part of a summer event that went through the DC annuals for that year. The book itself isn’t that notable although I still remember the event being better than other events I would read later. The important part is that it was my gateway back into comics in the 90s. The plastic jewel was indicative of the gimmick covers that would dominate the 90s and considering it got me to buy a comic which I hadn’t done for 5 years I guess the gimmick cover worked. The book and series basically had many heroes and villains getting “eclipsed” and it was up to the rest of the heroes to defeat Eclipso and turn their friends and others back into their normal selves before Eclipso took over everything.

After my initial stop at the comic shop I started going back and eventually I started a pull list with the store. That in itself was kind of amazing to me. The store would pull the books I wanted and all I had to due is come and pick them up AND they gave you a discount on the books! Yep, I signed up and it wasn’t long before I was going every week. I think maybe new comic day was Thursday back them but I can’t be sure about that. I know that my new job gave me disposable income and I found a new way to dispose of it. That single book purchase eventually ended up with me picking up sometimes 15 to 20 books a week. I still remember how I looked forward to hitting the store every week. It was so easy because it was literally on my way to work. I suspect if I never became a lifeguard I would be a very different person today. It is interesting how little things can change the course of one’s life.

The comic book industry would entire a legendary boom during the 90s and I was right in the middle of it. The cover gimmicks would grow and a new publisher would arise to shake up the industry. Shops would pop up all around Birmingham and I visited them all but “The Comic Strip” would remain my favorite until it was bought by its evil nemesis, “Lion and Unicorn” as the boom turned to bust. The 2nd Age of my comic collecting would end soon after but before that there is one more issue that we must discuss.

On the next Key Issues, the death of an American icon.

Key Issues – “Who’s Who #10”

Who's Who WraparoundIf “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is the book that made me a comics reader then “Who’s Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe” is the book that cemented my future as a comic book nerd. I use the term “nerd” affectionately and with pride.  In the past it may have been used as a pejorative but I think it has come to be a compliment and certainly a badge of honor as a term that is earned and not given. Either way, however, I enjoy being a comic nerd and “Who’s Who” is one of the early influences that made me into the person I am today.

“Who’s Who” came out at around the same time as “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and served as an encyclopedia to all the characters in The DC comics universe. Each issue covered a couple of dozen or so characters with full color art, brief histories and statistics on powers and weapons. Already pretty awesome right? Now, imagine a 10 year old boy who just got interested in comics by way of his new friends in a new town. Here was a kid desperate to know more about these characters so he could be part of the conversation (and also because he really loved superheroes) and at that moment he finds this comic or, more precisely, this series.

Who's Who The FlashIt is important to understand that “Who’s Who” wasn’t just a single issue but it was a multi-issue series that spanned several years and 26 initial issues. Once a month a new issue came out and I devoured them as soon as I could get my parents to buy the next installment at the local grocery store. I still had not discovered comic books stores nor could I have gone to one regularly anyway so the ONLY time I could get a comic was if I found it while shopping with my parents. I can still remember the thrill of finding a new “Who’s Who” on the shelf every so often. I would scour the spinner racks at the pharmacy or the magazine rack at FoodMax and then beg my parents for the dollar to get the issue once I found a new one. I didn’t always get it either which was devastating. I invented ways to try and hide issues until the next trip like putting a copy behind the “Home and Garden” magazines in the hope some other kid would not find it back their and snatch it up before I could buy it myself. I don’t know if that worked but it made me feel just a bit better about not getting the issue that day. Sometimes it would be months before I got a new issue but somehow I managed to get every issue that followed my first one, issue #10.

“Who’s Who”Who's Who 10 was great because it was just pages and pages of character back stories and wonderful art that was like getting multiple comics all in one book. You could read it cover to cover or just drop in to read a little about one character. In school kids would bring there issues in and during breaks we would sit around just going through them laughing at the silly characters and having deep discussions, deep for 10 year old buys, about the more serious heroes and villains. It was the kind of pure fun that often doesn’t come around anymore. I learned enough from those books to at least fake my way through comics conversation even when I really didn’t know the complete details. “Who’s Who” helped me make friends and feel accepted at a time when my world had been turned upside down.

The book pictured is my original copy of issue #10 which was my first “Who’s Who”. I didn’t come into the series until halfway through the initial run and it didn’t matter because there was so much material to read. You can tell this book is dog-eared and worn out and that is because I read it over and over. I don’t think the cover is even attached anymore. At any point when I was bored or sent to my room I could pull out my  “Who’s Who” issues and be content studying all the characters for hours on end. As the months went on and my comics collection grew, “Who’s Who” remained the most important of books. Without “Who’s Who” I don’t think I would have found such a passion for the medium. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” was great because it had all the characters in action but it was “Who’s Who” that told me who these characters were, where they came from, and why they were important. “Who’s Who” was the key that unlocked it all.

Looking back on it now I think I can also lay the blame on me being a complete DC Comics fanboy rather than a Marvel fanboy at the feet of “Who’s Who”. I read those issues that I owned so often that talking about those characters became second nature. While Marvel also had a similar series their books were a lot denser and I remember not enjoying them as much. I never connected with Marvel and I think “Who’s Who” has something to do with that. The combination of “Who’s Who” and “Crisis on Infinite Earths” locked me in to DC and I have never been able to develop a taste for Marvel even though I have certainly tried over the years.

I read and collected comics for a few years after this point but it was a hobby that was doomed to end because I was a kid and didn’t have money nor did I really have access to a comic book store on a regular basis. By the late 80s I was done and had turned my focus to fitting in with my peers in a different way. Comics became that thing I loved as a kid and I would occasionally revisit my old issues but I lost my way for a while. I still loved superheroes but I was more interested in thinks like the 1989 “Batman” movie and video games based on the characters. Comics faded from my life. I don’t show that I own a single issue from 1988 so I must have completely stopped in 1987 around the time “Batman: Year One” finished up so I was only really into the hobby for about 2 years but it was a magical 2 years and I saw a lot of seminal work during that time even though I didn’t know how important the period would be as it was happening.

Five years later comics came back into my life in a big way and changed everything forever.