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posted March 12, 2014
Wally Wood, Steve Ditko
Fantagraphics, hardcover, 296 pages, Spring 2014, $35.
I thought this collection of Wally Wood's Cannon
strip an exceedingly high-quality treatment of material that is historical in ways that make it difficult to read. The production standards are to my limited eye very high. The support material is fun to read and enlightening; the strip is presented with such completeness as to include pages and material that I'm not sure I all the way knew existed. It seems authoritative to me, and comes with the estate's stamp of approval as well as the weight of Fantagraphics' recent archival work. And it's important history, too. It is certainly a work of its time. Everything Wally Wood did should be of at least some interest to fans of and those that otherwise might pay attention to action-adventure comics. A lot of the work is sublimely handsome, as is befitting a Wally Wood comic, and has the authority that a well-drawn work brings that we tend not to question but is such a remarkable gift to tone and feel. You get to see Wood work through some partnerships and even employ variations of his basic style in a way that I think should prove very enlightening for a lot of people. It's also worth revisiting a time when people like Wood were almost without exception completely thwarted of an economically viable way to do anything that was of personal interest -- in some ways, this is still an issue -- and what kind of art was the result. I even like the concept: a special agent flushed of any and all human feelings by overexposure to deep and pernicious brainwashing: the Jason Bourne of repurposing. It can also be very funny.
I have to admit, though, reading a bunch of these comics at once is a little much. It's very dirty-paperback and cigarettes in the sleeve macho, there's a ton of violence presented for pleasure, there are racial stereotypes that at times run ahead the worst of the time period but at other times are plopped right in the middle of slightly-better-than-brutal stereotypes, and the overall depction of human nature borders on nihilism. The women when not naked are about to get naked, or may be pining for a time when they will be naked. The women also tend to display a wide array of negative non-flesh-involved characteristics almost like there's a prize for them doing so: they are evocative of being weak, conniving, overbearing, incompetent, money-hungry and duplicitous far more than they embody a similar set of positive qualities. While there's a satirical element throughout Cannon
, a kind of underlying voice that suggests this is all to be taken for the slightly gonzo fun being offered and not too seriously, it does get tiring to read in one's home in a chair, bound in hardcover. I never stopped appreciating it; I'm just not sure I ever liked it. If it best read as parody, it's one of those that can easily be taken as straight, and there's nothing to discourage you from doing so: I think the work counts on it. Ironically, the fact that most comics of this period -- heck, most comics up through today are the same way -- didn't allow for people to be sexually motivated in any way makes even this overheated version of it seem slightly more considerable and the characters a bit more interesting and thus disappointing than it would were Cannon
to appear against a backdrop of a wide variety of works that engaged with that side of human nature. Ditto the consequences of the violence. I think Cannon and I said "I quit" on the same page. By that time, I'd read the whole thing.