“The Future Is An Open Mouth” — Or Should That Be An Open Question?

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

The best thing about this gig is that I get exposed to a lot of really personal, unusual, idiosyncratic work — comics and ‘zines that play by no rules other than those laid down by their creators, and even those can be arbitrarily broken if said creators feel like it. I’m talking about stuff that eschews codification, classification, sometimes even rationalization. But absolutely nothing I’ve encountered before could have prepared me for what was waiting in an oversized envelope that arrived in the mail from Denver-based cartoonist Dustin Holland the other day.

To call his self-published, magazine format comic The Future Is An Open Mouth “one of a kind” is to sell it short, because in truth it’s several things at once, none of them exactly new, but all of them coalescing into a singular visual and literary experience that propels the reader into frames of mind previously unknown and…

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Rainbow Bridge To The Hyperverse : William Cardini’s “Reluctant Oracle” #1

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Coming headfirst and headstrong at readers in full, blazing, at times even explosive color, WIlliam Cardini’s latest self-published foray into the extra-dimensional ideascape that is his Hyperverse, Reluctant Oracle #1, not only appears to be the opening salvo in what could very well be a “proper” series, it may also portend the next developmental stage of the concept itself — one where, for lack of a better term, the ‘verse and its denizens might just be on the verge of growing up.

Which is a weird thing to say when we’re talking about a realm populated by ancient wizards, immortal monsters, and giant robots — the latter of which is our protagonist in this latest adventure — but nevertheless, it’s true. When a person thinks of Cardini’s work, phrases like “mind-blowing,” “highly imaginative,” and “far fucking out” come to mind, of course, but “emotionally resonant” and “thematically complex,” maybe…

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The Elwich Horror : Jay Stephens’ “Dwellings”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

At first glance, there’s something inherently “been there, done that” about Jay Stephens’ new ongoing series Dwellings — after all, we’re talking about what would appear to be a send-up/pastiche of old-school Harvey Comics printed on pre-yellowed newsprint complete with fake ads and the like — but no one in their right mind would argue that something having been done before necessarily precludes it from being done well and Stephens, to my knowledge, has never half-assed a project. I go back to the early ’90s with both this cartoonist and his publisher, Black Eye Books, so it’s certainly no stretch to say that there’s a bit of “rooting for the home team” happening here on my part, but even still — two issues into this entirely unexpected return for both, all I can say is that, initial impressions aside, this comic is so far surpassing not just my expectations for…

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Kirby Week : “Black Panther” #1

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

I have to admit that when I first started to haphazardly plan my week-long tribute to The King Of Comics, reviewing Black Panther #1 (cover-dated January, 1977) wasn’t on my radar screen. It’s not that it’s a bad book, mind you — anything but — just that the schedule was already looking a little full, and while I left a few makeshift “slots” open to be filled by whatever struck my fancy, I was thinking those would most likely be a good fit for more obscure entries in the Jack Kirby canon like Dingbats Of  Danger Street or Manhunter.

And yet, it has to be said — while not too many people look back at Jack’s brief run chronicling T’Challa’s exploits in the late ’70s as one of the highlights of his career, in retrospect this was exactly the right direction for Marvel to take the character in at…

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Kirby Week : “Devil Dinosaur” #3

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Sometimes, nothing beats a short, sweet, simple, self-contained comic book adventure story — and the next time you find yourself in the mood for exactly that, you could do a hell of a lot worse than issue number three of Jack Kirby’s last original Marvel Comics series, Devil Dinosaur.

Cover-dated June, 1978 and bearing the story title of “Giant,” about all you need to know about the basic premise going in is that Devil is an unusually large, unusually strong, and unusuallysmartprehistoric beast who took on a sort of bight, “fire-engine red” color due to — well, we won’t go there, since I’m not sure that particular part of his origin story necessarily stands up to even casual, much less anything approaching rigorous, logical scrutiny. It was painful as all hell for the poor creature, though, no doubt about that. His constant friend and companion is one…

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Kirby Week : “The Eternals” #1

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

You’ve gotta hand it to Jack Kirby — if you or I had been toiling away in the comic-book industry for approximately four decades, only to have our major life’s work strangled in the proverbial crib, we would probably give up on the whole notion of the “sprawling cosmic epic” altogether and just stick with simple stand-alone stories, punctuated by the occasional two-or-three-parter, until it came time to hang up our pencils and call it a career. Who needs the disappointment of early cancellation all over again?

And yet, after the editorially-mandated quick demise of his Fourth World opus, The King’s non-stop imagination kept chugging away at the only speed it knew how to operate : full throttle. And while he kept creating new and innovative concepts and characters during the remainder of his tenure at DC (KamandiThe DemonOMAC), these were all essentially self-contained…

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Kirby Week : “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” #133

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

One could argue that I should have started this “Kirby Week” theme I’ve got going with with this, as it marks the beginning of what many of The King’s fans consider to be the best and most important phase of his career, but in truth the October, 1970 cover-dated Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 is such a flat-out transformational comic (not just for the series itself, but for the medium in a more general sense) that even on an umpteenth read-through, it offers a hell of a lot to unpack and analyze.

Oh, sure, there are more important entries in The King’s lengthy C.V. than this one, but I think a person would be hard-pressed to find a single issue that attempts to do more than this story does — after all, this was the very first comic that Kirby produced under his then-new contract with DC, and given…

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Kirby Week : “Captain Victory And The Galactic Rangers” #1

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Good vs. evil — at the end of the day, it’s what most stories boil down to. We live in a time when various age-old evils such as racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and nationalism (among others) have re-branded themselves as QAnon, MAGA, America First, Oath Keepers, etc., but evil is evil is evil, no matter what guise it cloaks itself with. Just ask Jack Kirby (who I’m glad didn’t live long enough to see this sorry age) — he knew better than most.

Kirby’s experiences on the front lines of WWII drove home lessons he’d already learned about prejudice and anti-Semitism in his youth — let it go unchecked, and people are gonna get killed — and he knew exactly how to confront it, both in representation and actuality : when his famous image of Captain America punching out Hitler pissed off Nazi “fifth columnists” here in the US to the…

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Kirby Week : “Super Powers” (Vol.1) #5

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Among the ranks of Jack Kirby devotees and casual fans alike, you likely won’t be able to find many willing to make the claim thatSuper Powers#5 (cover-dated November, 1984 and featuring the story title “Spaceship Earth! We’re All On It!”) ranks among The King’s greatest works — and I’m not here to make that case, either. What Iamhere to do is to advance a (hopefully) convincing argument that this is still a terrific comic well worthy of critical re-appraisal, and that the flaws itdoeshave aren’t Jack’s fault. In fact, he tried his best to save this mess of a series and pretty much pulled it off.

Some quick background info is probably in order at this point :Super Powerswas a mini-series launched by DC to capitalize on a then-popular line of toy “action figures” bearing the same name, which featured all of…

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Kirby Week : “Our Fighting Forces” #s 157&158

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Let’s keep rolling and look at another of my absolute, all-time favorite stories The King ever did. This time up : the two-part saga of “Panama Fattie” from Our Fighting Forces numbers 157 and 158, cover-dated July and August, 1975 respectively.

As our story begins, some shady shit involving hijacked equipment and supplies has necessitated The Losers’ presence in the Panama Canal zone, but that doesn’t mean ultimate hard-luck heroes Captain Storm, Johnny Cloud, Gunner and Sarge don’t have time for a drink, and the bar favored by servicemen in the area is owned by a fellow American — specifically, a larger-than-life (in every respect) gal whose real name is Lil, but who everyone refers to as — well, you can probably already guess. Lil’s a fun-loving lady with a heart of gold (or so it would seem) and an eye for men in uniform, and she takes a special…

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