Thursday, March 05, 2015

Hidden Gem: Wonder Woman 80 Page Giant Annual (2003)

Just over a decade ago, DC published a bunch of this sweet retro-comics filled with Golden and Silver Age goodness. I will admit that I was put off by the price tag at the time and admired them from a distance. The beauty of the back issue market is that, for most recent books, the prices will eventually come down. I picked this up for $1.99 and was delighted with it. It gives the reader a great sampling of two eras in Wonder Woman history: the lunacy of the Golden Age stuff from the minds of Martson and Peter and the charm of the Silver Age, featuring the inventive storytelling of Robert Kanigher and beautiful artwork from the Andru/Esposito team. This is a great way to get a sense of early Wonder Woman stories without having to spend a ton of money on Archive collections. I am now wondering if the all-star team of villains in the Villainy Incorporated story from 1948 represents one of the first super-villain team ups in DC history. If you ever stumble upon this while flipping through back issue bins, I recommend picking it up.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Happy Birthday Karen Berger!

Happy Birthday to the woman who saved comics! Ok, ok, that may be Stan Lee-level hyperbole, but there's certainly a kernel of truth to it. Think for a moment how much Karen Berger did to steer comics through the 1980s and into the 1990s. The bar was raised substantially during her tenure at DC, to the point where she was given the keys to the Vertigo kingdom. It's impossible to overstate the role she played in shaping comics into the sophisticated medium they have become. How many titles that are now regarded as classics may have never existed had she not been in the editor's chair? It's impossible to say, but I would not want to live in a world without Sandman Mystery Theatre.

Single Issue Hall of Fame: World's Finest #113

Back when I was actively collecting Golden and Silver Age books, this one became somewhat of a holy grail. For a long time, I had owned a beautiful copy of World's Finest #123, featuring the second team-up of Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk and I became obsessed with getting my hands on this particular issue. This was long before everything was available via reprint and it actually took me quite a while to find a nice, yet affordable copy. Was it worth the effort? I certainly think so. To see the two imps interact for the first time is a real treat. The come across as a bickering old couple, nad it's a hoot. That said, if you don't think the Silver Age can be charming, it may not be for you. The Swan penciled cover is pretty great, and Dick Sprang penciled the story itself. The real bonus here are the two back-up stories. The Green Arrow tale features the introduction of Miss Arrowette. She was always just an interesting footnote in Silver Age history but has become more important in recent years. I'm not much of a Tommy Tomorrow fan, but this particular tale is fun as he encounters his younger self. I think that all of these stories have been reprinted elsewhere, but it is still nice to have them all in one spot.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Exit Stage Left: Sea Devils #35

As a concept, the Sea Devils made a lot of sense circa 1960. Other scuba-related books were on spinner racks such as Dell's The Frogmen and the tie-in to the Sea Hunt series. As the decade progressed, the comic book landscape shifted. Superheroes were back in a big way and universe-building was underway at both DC and Marvel. Dane Dorrance and his team never really fit into the DCU all that well. They still managed to chug along, with Bob Haney telling self-contained underwater (pun intended) tales in typical loopy yet entertaining Bob Haney fashion. This issue was par for the course, with alien creatures arriving via an inter-dimensional portal in the ocean. In this case, however, after winning the battle, the good guys simply swam off into the sunset, not to be seen again until Showcase #100.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Ghostly Haunts #25

Here's a pretty cool Ditko cover that is absolutely ruined by the coloring job. I understand that Charlton wanted its books to stand out of the racks, but this garish green was a bad decision. Ditko has never been one for highly detailed artwork but we still want to be able to see what he has drawn. I'm not sure whether or not this is a paste job based on interior images, but I actually really like the layout. There is a lot to absorb, much of it quite sinister. I've written about my love for Ditko Water before, but now I feel as though I should focus on Ditko Flowers. They are so simple and yet so effective. Overall, this is a subpar Charlton cover due to the color work. Too bad.

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Wulf the Barbarian #1

I have likely mentioned the 10 cent rack at my local comic book store when I was a kid. Circa 1979 or 1980, my LCS had a rack at its front door that featured comics that had obviously not been great sellers. This included titles such as Devil Dinosaur and Yang. The  rack was also packed with Atlas-Seaboard books. I was far too young to understand the differences between various publishers and certainly did not know the sordid history of Atlas Seaboard. I let covers inform my purchases, and what a cover this was! I still think it looks great to this day and I understand why my 7 year old self slapped down a dime for it. As far as Atlas-Seaboard books go, this one is very solid. There's nothing terribly original considering it was a common genre at the time, but the origin story is engaging and the art by the team of Larry Hama and Klaus Janson is often spectacular. Over the years, I've picked up nearly every Atlas-Seaboard book published and this remains in the top tier.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: The Atom #24

Here's a body horror cover that the likes of David Cronenberg would love. Gardner Fox had a background in science-fiction and it showed in so many of the stories he wrote for DC. Sometimes the concept was better than the final product and the cover is a great way of conveying the concept. This one is fantastic as we get all sorts of texture - from the leaves to the colours above and below the water level. Murphy Anderson was the right inker for this jump as Kane's inking was a bit too fine for a job like this and Sid Greene might have made it look a bit flat. All in all, it's a good as it got for Kane on this title. Shear genius!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Happy Birthday Curt Swan!

Today would have been Curt Swan's 95th Birthday. Like anyone of my generation or the generation before me, Curt Swan was THE Superman artist. Long before I looked at creator credits, I knew that this was precisely how Superman was supposed to look. He was square jawed and impossibly handsome and yet still somewhat human and approachable. Coincidentally, Swan was shared all of those attributes with his Man of Steel. His artwork was never flashy as his strengths were as a storyteller, helping to sell some unbelievable yarns through the decades. Swan made Superman likable and, as a result, most people liked Swan. His ability to convey emotion, through both facial expression and posture, was without peer. There is a reason so many people see Swan as THE Superman artist. He took what Shuster and Boring had done, refined it and created a brand new template. He is missed.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

You've Been Warned: Rocket Raccoon Mini-Series (1985)

I can already imagine the boos and hisses as I type. I know that this is likely a much beloved project, but hear me out. Like everyone else on the planet, I dig Rocket Raccoon. I also happen to love the work of Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola. As such, it seemed as though this would be a good fit for me. What went wrong? It is difficult for me to put a finger on it, but I think that there was simply too much going on. Too many visual gags, too many characters, too convoluted a plot and too many literary and cinematic references. As such, it comes across as more of an experiment than a comic book story. I get what Mantlo was trying to do here and I picked up on most, if not all, of what he was referencing but the strange brew of Lewis Carroll, Walt Kelly and Steve Gerber playing in a sandbox filled with toys from Dune, Star Wars and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest left me with a bitter aftertaste. Abstract satirical humour can work great but, for me, it is better in smaller doses. I love most of Steve Gerber's work, but I feel as though he helped create a shift in funnybook writing that could really go off the rails. Full accolades to Mr. Mignola, though - this stuff looks great. Overall, not for me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Add It To My Want List: Secret Origins #14

I've been re-reading my stack of Suicide Squad comics in recent days. I'm loving it, of course as Ostrander and company fused a great concept with a superb cast of characters. Many of those early issues reference both Legends and Secret Origins #14. Legends, I've read. Secret Origins #14? Nope. Now, I feel as though there's a gaping hole in my funnybook collection. I thought I had the Suicide Squad covered, but I'm missing a vital link in the chain. Now, it's a matter of haunting various comic shops until I get my hands on a copy. There are certainly worse ways to spend my time!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Charlton Notebook: The Phantom #36

I have written about this era of The Phantom on here before and have declared myself to be a fan. I re-read this particular issue and found myself transformed back to the dangerous jungles where ivory smugglers and diamond thieves lurk around every corner. This particular issue features two strong Phantom stories. I would have initially assumed these were scripted by Steve Skeates, who often collaborated with Jim Aparo, but the GCD states that Skeates has informed them that he was not involved with this one. I really love Aparo's artwork on this series, in particular the way he manages to give Devil such a strong personality. I wish he'd had the chance to work on Dell's
Lassie series. As an added bonus, there's a 4-page non-Phantom Ditko story in here. Not amazing Ditko, but Ditko all the same.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Trade Marks: I... Vampire!

Back in 2008, I wrote a 'Reprint This!' feature suggesting to the brain trust at DC that the I... Vampire story arc from House of Mystery would make for a fine TPB. A few years later, my prayers were answered and this handsome volume popped up in comic book shops. It's terrific to have all of these stories in one place, as it helps the reader get a better sense of the common thread linking the chapters. That said, some tales within the larger structure are stronger than others and they can come across as a bit repetitive when read altogether. I am a huge fan of Tom Sutton's artwork and it is very nicely reproduced here. I was very happy to see that they chose to included the story from The Brave and Bold #195. It may not fit perfectly with the other Andrew Bennett tales, but I am not going to complain about some nice Aparo artwork. I do wish that some additional materials were included, perhaps some sketches, rejected covers or even a Who's Who entry. Overall, it is a solid collection but falls short of upper tier material. Trade Mark: B+

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Mordillo's Assassin

Some people love a man in uniform. Me? I love a robot in a trench coat. It is truly an iconic look. Bynocki may be a more infamous robo-foe for Shang-Chi, but this assassin robot sent to London to take out Reston while repeating the phrased "Mr. Reston, I presume" is pretty cool. The Kane cover may be a bit misleading as the robo-action is wrapped up in the first few pages. That said, it is a pretty good fight as Shang-Chi ultimately turns the robot's weapons against itself. Ultimately, the issue is much more focused on espionage and detective work but a great cold opening with a neat looking robot is a smart way to kick off a storyline.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Reprint This! Bobby Benson B-Bar-B Riders

First, let's acknowledge the fact that Stan Lee was not the only person in love with alliteration. This name of this series has never easily rolled off my tongue (nor my keyboard). This is a terrific series. I was getting close to a full run until I needed some money and changed gears and sold them all. The Riders are based on a radio serial and their adventures are pretty typical for the era - think post-WW2 Boy Commandos on the frontier. For lovers of Bob Powell artwork, this is heaven. His stuff looks amazing here, serving as evidence that he is a true master. You also get terrific features such as The Lemonade Kid and Ghost Rider, with some early Dick Ayers art. I know that many of these stories have been reprinted a various points by AC Comics but it would be tremendous to see them all collected in a single volume.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Frank Miller

Today is Frank Miller's Birthday. I don't want to get into his health, his politics, his opinions or his Spirit movie. If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I'm a huge fan of Miller's run on Daredevil as well as much of his 80s work. Not so much the later stuff like 300 and Sin City, but let's stay positive. What I want to remind everyone about today is that Frank Miller was an amazing cover artist. He has a wonderful sense of design and drama as evidenced by two of my favourite covers from childhood: Spectacular Spider-Man #52 and Power Man and Iron Fist #67, both of which have been featured here before. Here's a cool and unique cover that you may never have seen. It is from one of the final issues of the early 80s Superboy series that never really seemed to find its groove.