Wednesday, September 7, 2016


Sounds deliciously post-pubescent.

NIGHT STREETS (Arrow Comics)
7 issues, 1986-1987

There was definitely a time in American comics where a staggering number of comics creators had recently read and had their minds blown by Matt Wagner's Grendel -- particularly the Christine Spar arc (and my apologies to anyone reading this who has no history with the book. Hella worth picking up for Pander Brothers art. Anyway. Where'd I wander off to?).

Oh? What makes you say that?
What I mean by that has, unfortunately, less to do with Wagner's illustrative chops and those of the artists he picked to follow him, and more to do with cherry picking parts of his cast and structure.

The Eighties also seemed surprisingly 'into' the idea of crime stories involving anthropomorphic animal characters. Perhaps it was the instinctive, obvious metaphor of crime portraying, in its decadence and scheming, the base animal urges which drive human beings. Or maybe it's an anime thing. Whatever the case, as Grendel had its, ah, Grendel and its Silverback, so too did Night Streets have its Black Dahlia and its Felonious Katt.

It also had the urban city and its put-upon cops, but those have to be there -- the word "streets" is right in the title! Cities are where streets are, and cops walk them!

Katt is a seven-foot cat-man who also happens to run the largest crime cartel in the region, and is facing off against a rival ganglord pushing in. Black Dahlia is a mysterious, super-powered woman who has her own personal agenda. And also there are several police officers involved in the situation, as well as reporters, gangmembers, punks, molls, strippers and children. And they all get their own story arcs, both independent and intertwined.

If this seems incomprehensible, try reading the whole book.
This gives the book two qualities; slowly-paced and very talky. It's not that the is dialogue is dull or poorly-written, but the scant 22 page interior left little room to move a half-dozen stories more forward than a few inches at a time.

It's also worth mentioning that they received a very positive and encouraging letter from Harlan Ellison, which they ran in their letter column with no thanks, fanfare, or response of any kind. That's bad karma, man, your fate was sealed.

(Night Streets was originally published by Arrow Comics. If you're trying to find copies, you'll be better off looking for the Comico version which collected the original series and added a conclusion to the arc)

STREET WOLF (Blackthorne Publishing/Caliber Comics)
5 issues, 1987 / 2 issues, 1990

Another Blackthorne production, and this one promises "It's HOT, it's FRESH, and it's MATURE." Sounds like a really sexy Cinnabons. Some kind of pornographic bakery. Very smart decision of this erotic Panera Bread to take its advertising business to Wieden+Kennedy.

While Night Streets was heavy on the intersecting plotlines and mixing of genres, Street Wolf kept its title character at its core and built the supporting cast around him. A street-level vigilante book surrounding the police-sanctioned vigilante efforts of Nathan Blackhorse -- a.k.a. Street Wolf -- the book plays out like a television drama. There's continuity between episodes, but each one is effectively self-contained.

Blackhorse leads a fairly diverse cast, although its female characters are a little limited (a pleasant if smothering granny and two attractive younger women whose typical conversation is about Street Wolf, and whose principal actions are trying to get with Street Wolf). There's also an exchange which is absolutely grueling, in which one character announces, apropos of nothing, "And before anyone asks -- yes, I am half black and half Korean." Then another character tells her that she has really exotic-looking eyes and she thanks them gracefully. The back-patting and cultural deafness combine to turn that whole page pretty toxic.

The Mickey Mouse Club has really changed.
Still, it's a dense but linear street-level drama, and stars a hero whose thoughts are turned more to his community and supporting cast than they are his own troubles and angst - . Dropping the "Hot, Fresh and Mature" tagline would probably go a long way towards updating the book for a modern audience. Unless they make it twice as hot, fresh and mature in which case it'd be impossible to deny its hotness, freshness and maturity.

1 comment:

rnigma said...

Arrow Comics was begun by the "Ypsilanti Gang" of Stu Kerr, Ralph Griffith and friends, who published their "Fantastic Fanzine" prior to starting Arrow. Their first success was Guy Davis' "The Realm," a D&D-style fantasy adventure. (I remember at the 1986 Atlanta Fantasy Fair, in the dealers' room, Ward Batty was selling Realm #1 for $50.) Issue #4 had the first appearance of Vince Locke's "DeadWorld," a zombie saga that predated "The Walking Dead," and would get its own book. (Davis and Locke would go on to "Sandman," and Locke would draw the graphic novel "A History of Violence.")
Felonious Katt was one of the "Fantastic Fanzine" characters, originally done in an awkward, cartoony style, then revamped by Mark Bloodworth in a darker, moodier manner.
A schism developed among the Arrow creators, with some of them starting another imprint, Caliber Press.

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