THIS WEEK: A new issue of MAD Magazine is out, and we check in on the new status quo of DC Comics’ venerable humor institution. Plus, a rundown of the superhero comics line, which is inching closer to full strength.
I mentioned to a friend (fellow Round-Up writer, Greg Paul Silber) that there was a new issue of MAD Magazine coming out this week, and his reaction was an immediate, “Wait, I thought they cancelled MAD?” I told him that they did not. That the news around this time last year (was it that recent? feels like a lifetime) was that the venerable humor institution (like comics before it) would no longer be available via newsstands or drugstores, while maintaining its distribution through subscriptions and the direct market. At the same time, the magazine would be reducing (but not eliminating) original content and running more classic MAD bits.
The question itself, however, brought something larger to my attention — that it was, perhaps, time to check-in on MAD, thereby clearing up any other misconceptions that it had been cancelled, which is a thing I’d heard a few times before as well. If you’d like to continue reading MAD, it’s now available at an annual subscription cost of $19.99. So, that’s the business end of things. In terms of the content, this particular issue had a focus on music festivals, which is perhaps thematically perfect for a publication that now has one foot in the past and one foot in the future, given that music festivals are a hip concern with roots that stretch back decades.
This is also indicative of a larger occurrence in the culture — a lot of the current 2020 American zeitgeist is firmly rooted in nostalgia, in making old things new again, and as such, MAD is sort of uniquely positioned to make its transition to mixing new content and classic bits. It certainly works well with this music festival theme issue, which features a decent share of cartooning that is difficult to place in time (thinking here specifically of a multiple page spread skewing Eminem, who has continued to release new music even as the culture has shifted to focus on younger artists). Indeed, much of the throwback material in this issue works just fine, especially when one considers that the audience of 20 and younger readers for any print publication these days is somewhat minimal. For someone like myself, a decade or so past that, the magazine provides an interesting trip through jokes about musicians/festivals of my era, my parents era, and the younger modern era as well.
There are up-to-the-moment pieces in here about Kanye West and the Kardashians, Billie Eilish, and Lizzo. There are also jokes about the original Woodstock and Madonna. It all has the effect of feeling at once new and nostalgic, which as I wrote earlier is very much an idealized thing in 2020. All of the Sergio Aragonés material — old and new — is as vibrant and interesting as ever, laden with wit and detail that will give readers pause and have them pouring over his intricate work in search of every last gag. Really, Aragonés cartooning is worth the price of admission alone.
I do have to point out, however, that not all of the recycled material is equal, and that some of it has not aged so well. There are a series of bits in there that use low-res photographs of music videos with pop-up video style jokes transposed over them about bands like Hanson. This, to be generous, was ill-advised and easy to skip over.
Overall, I enjoyed checking-in with MAD this week. So much of our media in 2020 is meant to be consumed quickly and leave the mind in an instant. Social media is an invincible stream of real-time humor about current events. MAD will never again be able to match the hordes of comedians (many amateur) throwing everything at the wall on Twitter. It can, however, still deal out laughs of a more complex and thoughtful nature. It can remind us of how intellectually dense the standard-bearer for counter-culture humor once was…even if the subject matter was at times totally irreverent (this issue, for example, had actual functioning sheet music…about a disco STD). And there’s real value in that.
MAD in 2020 is like an aging athlete tailoring his game and taking up a position as a contributing role player. It’s no longer the superstar of the American humor scene, but it can still make us laugh, sometimes by culling jokes from the past but just as often by making fun of the future.
- I want to yet again remind everyone that the current run of Aquaman — written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and illustrated primarily by Robson Rocha — is a very good superhero comic. This week’s issue — Aquaman #59 — is another great installment. In general, this run has used the franchise’s wide net (heh) of characters really well. It’s good to the point that I wonder why it’s not getting more attention, other than Aquaman is maybe a tough property to generate buzz with.
- Between Terrifics #27 and Suicide Squad #5, this was a banner week for Ted Kord content…even if his two appearances seemed to be a bit at odds with each other. I won’t give away the twist, but I will say I’m interested to see what Suicide Squad has in store for the character.
- So, it looks like this Teen Titans run is winding down…which is just fine with me. I lost quite a bit of interest when artist Bernard Chang left the book at what was essentially the end of the series’ main storyline.
- The Hill House horror comics imprint remains strong. Low Low Woods #5 drops a whole lot of background info, shedding light on the book’s intriguing central mysteries as it heads toward its conclusion. This issue was definitely at risk of feeling like a giant info dump, but writer Carmen Maria Machado’s prose narration was so poetic and artist Dani’s visuals were so engaging that the issue still felt artful. This book is a real gem, ranking quite possibly as the series that will read best in collected trade.
- Finally, in other Hill House news, the imprint’s lead title — Basketful of Heads — wrapped up with a decent end. If you’d enjoyed the series to this point (as I had), you’ll come away satisfied here.
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