Friday, October 28, 2005

COMICS: Going 'Solo' with Mike Allred

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled blogging to tell you about the best $5 you can spend on comics this week: Michael Allred's SOLO #7 from DC Comics. Holy smokes, this is great fun. "Solo" is a bi-monthly book from DC that features one artist's work every issue, doing whatever they feel like doing. This is the first issue of the book I've picked up, because I'm a big fan of Allred's work, from his "X-Statix" for Marvel to his great classic "Madman" and "Atomics." He's got a crisp, retro style that's sharp and writes witty, quirky scripts full of pop culture love. With his brother Lee, Allred spins this "Solo" issue into one of the best comics of the year.

And here's something about Allred you probably didn't know - he's actually from right here in Roseburg, Oregon, of all places. He grew up here and still lives in the area, over on the Oregon Coast. There's a few nice little tributes to "Robu" that my comic shop guy Brett pointed out to me yesterday. The short wordless story "Comic Book Clubhouse" features Allred's reminiscences of growing up here back in the '70s and many familiar local locations, as well as a nice tribute to the power of comic books as an imaginative spark in a young fella's life.

There's also several other fine tales in this packed 48-page comic — a kooky 2-page "Mister Miracle" tale, an utterly hilarious story reimagining Golden Age hero Hourman (who pops a pill to get superpowers for an hour) as a kind of do-gooding speed freak, and "Doom Patrol Vs. Teen Titans," which is a warped comic blast as the Teen Titans have a wacky party at Bruce Wayne's penthouse, only to draw the ire of the Doom Patrol who happen to be staying downstairs. This free-wheeling story is funny as heck, a parody and a winking tribute ("Queen Arrow"?).

But the issue's highlight is "Batman A-Go-Go," which is utterly insane, psychedelic journey with the Caped Crusader that's unlike any Batman story you'll read this year. Set in the Batman era of the 1960s, loosely based on the TV show, Allred sends the "bam pow sock" Bats on a strange journey as he sees himself viewed as an irrelevant oddball relic in the face of grim real crimes, Robin gets involved with a crazed cult, and The Riddler becomes a kind of shaman. It's a hard story to describe, and it evokes a lot of Allred's best work by being set in a light-hearted, candy-colored world, yet with a dark edge. (Batman quotes Nietzsche?!) It's ultimately optimistic, and it also says more real about the Batman character than nearly any of the recent comics featuring Batman as ultra-grim, dark nearly psychotic madman.

"Solo" #7 just a dizzy blast, a must for anyone who loves Silver Age comics and any fan of Allred's. Check it out. Grade: A

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