Friday, September 30, 2005

All Aboard Atlas-Seaboard

Thrilling Adventure Stories #2

Not many comic book companies get slagged as much as Atlas-Seaboard. Born from Martin Goodman’s spiteful loins (isn’t that a nice image?), the company was an attempt to take a chunk of market share away from those backstabbing bastards at Marvel. The main strategy for accomplishing this goal was to create as many pseudo-Marvel titles as possible. The Atlas-Seaboard tale is a long one, and better told elsewhere. Their comic books were permanent residents of the 10 cent rack at my local shop circa 1980. That being said, there is some quality reading hidden in the Atlas-Seaboard titles – Ditko rehashing Peter Parker for the Destructor, Chaykin’s Scorpion and Ernie Colon’s stylish Grim Ghost.

Let me take a step back and ask this question. Would you buy a comic with a Neal Adams cover, interior artwork by Alex Toth, Russ Heath and John Severin? What if it also had story by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, the team that brought you Manhunter? You’d probably snap it up in a second, wouldn’t you? Thrilling Adventure Stories #2 is probably the greatest comic ever published by Atlas-Seaboard. OK – that’s not saying much, but it’s also one of the finest examples of what made the Bronze Age so great. It’s far from perfect, but there is so much promise here that it’s sad that Atlas-Seaboard folded so soon. I owned this mag years ago, but it was lost somewhere along the way. I recently picked up a nice copy up in a used bookstore for $5 CDN. Not a bad price for such an all-star roster.

The Goodwin/Simonson tale of fortune seeking Samurai is nice and moody, I would have liked to see another chapter. The Severin drawn WW2 story harkens back to EC’s Two-Fisted Tales. The Russ Heath story about the cop killers looks great, but is a bit generic. The same can be said for the Toth drawn story – a nice little morality play, but not great. Even the Jack Sparling drawn caveman story looks great. The shortcoming of this book is the writing – but every single 70s b&w magazine suffered from a real range in quality when it came to writing. As an overall package – this is a good one and certainly worth tracking down.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Moth of the Month

The Moth

The Beguiling has an interesting tactic when it comes to recent back issues – they package a bunch of consecutive issues together and sell them at a discounted price. I find that this is a good way for me to read books from the past few years. One of packages I picked up was The Moth #1-4. I had heard good thing about this, and had always meant to check it out. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by this series – it has a great overall feel to it. I am a sucker for painted covers, and it’s nice to see them in the 21st century. At first, the concept of the superhero bounty hunter who co-owns a traveling circus seems fresh, but the more I read, the more I realize it was more of an amalgam of various older concepts. Hey, I dig the circus as much as anyone, but I half expected Johnny Blaze to show up.

Don’t get me wrong – most of what is going on in here is good. I especially like the focus on supporting characters and building up the Moth’s world. These comics really reminded me of Mike Grell’s early days on Green Arrow – and that is a very big compliment coming from me. I was just struck by certain similarities – just the whole overall ‘feel’ of the book. Steve Rude’s artwork is beautiful (natch) and he really seems to be digging the variety of settings and the mixture of dialogue and action. I do have a couple of complaints about the writing, though. The dialogue for the teenage ‘street urchin’ was terrible. When was the last time a 14-year old girl said ‘Rad’? That stuff was cringe worthy and I hope that Gary Martin starts to ask someone to update his dialogue. Secondly, the character of American Liberty is a bit too quick with the perfect one-liners. This is a problem with a lot of today’s film, television and comic books. The rapid-fire banter is fun for a while, but gets pretty stale. I imagine that she will be less one-dimensional once some of the secrets alluded to throughout the book are revealed. Overall, this is a fun series and I’d certainly pick up future issues. The somewhat old school art and storytelling that give the series a warmth that is lacking from many of today’s comics.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Kyle Baker – Nat Turner


I read about this in EW – and picked it up on Friday during a lunchtime excursion to The Beguiling here in Toronto. This is a very ambitious work by Baker as he takes on a tough story and is working in the shadows of William Styron’s Pulitzer Prize winning, yet highly controversial, novel. From the outset, it is clear that Baker is going to tell Nat Turner’s story in his own way. This first issue (of four) begins in a West African village, and we are forced to witness both the cruelty and desperation of man, as we turn page after page of this lushly penciled dialogue-free book. This is heavy stuff, but Baker somehow makes it appealing. What impressed me the most was the ‘African’ vibe he gave to a lot of the art. There are a couple of panels that are most silhouetted figures, and it brought to mind the drawing of female figures on a batik I purchased in Burkina Faso.

This is as good as comics get, folks. Baker’s work here is as good as any of Will Eisner’s ‘topical’ work. Yes, you read that right. That’s as high as praise gets. In fact, after reading this book – it makes perfect sense to me that Kyle Baker is the natural choice to pick up Eisner’s still burning torch. I look forward to the next 3 issues and see where Baker takes this story. I am inclined to go back a re-read Styron’s book (and some of the criticisms of it) to get a better sense of the unique twists Baker is giving the tale. I probably don’t need to tell you that I highly recommend picking this one up, folks.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Heavenly Heath

Sir Kicks Alot
Ok – I don’t know if Kat and I are having a boy or a girl, but I just couldn’t pass up on this nickname. The kicking and bumping has been getting quite out of control lately – but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I keep picturing the baby pounding on the walls yelling “Let Me Out of Here!” I have no idea how Kat is getting any sleep these days – except that maybe she is growing accustomed to the little earthquake inside of her. Weird stuff – but great.

Russ Heath
I was reading Star Spangled War Stories #122 last night. These are normally fun little stories with some energetic Andru/Esposito art. The lead story in this issue, however, was drawn by Russ Heath, and he (and I can’t believe I am typing this) raises the U.S. Military vs. Dinosaurs genre to a whole new level. Seriously, this is just gorgeous stuff. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Anyone who has read early Sea Devils issues knows that Heath can take a fairly silly premise and turn it into a thing of beauty. This issue is no different – perhaps aided by the fact that half of the action takes places in one of Heath’s favourite places; underwater. As each year passes, I appreciate Russ Heath’s artwork more and more. He has become one of my top 10 favourite artists and will likely crack the top 5 at some point.

Heath has his own style, and it may have been slightly unconventional in the 60s (I can’t see him being successful in the Marvel Bullpen back then), but from today’s perspective his artwork is nothing short of classic. I would have loved for one of the comic book companies to have thrown big money at Heath to do a ‘period piece' book during the 70s. Can you imagine him telling WW2 based Captain America stories, or tackling a long run on the Unknown Soldier? That would have been incredible.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Good? Yes. Incredible? No

Batman Archives Volume 2
I have been picking up Archives here and there (along with Marvel Masterworks) when I can find them for under $20 on eBay. The retail price (especially with the ridiculous currency exchange) is just too much for me to bear. These are fun to read – but the quality of writing and artwork varies a great deal. Obviously, the quality is related to the Robinson:Kane ratio. These stories are mostly interesting from a historical perspective, as I enjoy watching the Canon of the Bat evolve. It’s incredible how long it took for characters like Alfred and Gordon to get fleshed out. They were very one-dimensional back then. Of course, comic book stories had such a straight ahead narrative, that there really wasn’t much room for character development. Another thing that strikes me as interesting is how often the cover is totally disconnected to the contents. We often think of this as a feature of modern comics, but back in the early 40s you might see a cover with Batman fighting a couple of generic thugs not knowing that the Joker or Penguin could be found inside. That’s some weak marketing.

I am only halfway through this volume, but the highlight so far is the introduction of the Penguin – who is a pretty ruthless villain, taking over a Gotham gang by Richard IIIing his way to the top. I also found it interesting the Return of the Penguin occurred in the very next issue. That implies that the two stories were written around the same time and DC was happy to bring back the Penguin without worrying about the sales of the initial appearance. ‘Supervillains’ were a rare thing back then, as most DC heroes were still taking on bank robbers and dognappers – so I have always wondered how the editors decided which characters were successful and how to bring them back.

The Incredibles

Well, I finally got around to watching this and while I enjoyed it a great deal – I was somewhat underwhelmed. The Pixar art is very cool, but some of the effects have too much of a ‘Hey Look at Me!’ vibe (a la Lucas) and ultimately distract from the flow of the movie. The real upside was that the movie still kept some heart (something the Shreks of the world lack). In my opinion, that’s part of the legacy of Iron Giant – a movie that still surpasses all of the other animated stuff being released these days. This movie was very good, but not exceptional – I don’t know how much of it will linger in my mind. I do, however, look forward to following Brad Bird’s future projects as he is obviously one of Hollywood’s better young filmmakers.

I picked up Matt Blackett’s collection Wide Collar Crimes a few years ago, and flipped through it again the other night. He is a 30ish Torontonian who draws a 3-panel comic strip for one of the city’s free weekly papers. I don’t know how to described it – it’s not really funny, but in it own way, it is funny. He basically documents the strange and not so strange things that happen everyday to anyone living in a large city. It’s an enjoyable strip if you accept it at face value. The reader needs to get into the rhythm of things and stop asking ‘where’s the punchline?’ I spoke with the creator a couple of years back at a convention here in Toronto, and he seemed keen on connecting with people – but I haven’t see him at a convention since then. Anyway – anyone interested in checking out something a little different from a local Toronto artist should go to:

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

TV Can Be Good

Back in the office today and not loving it. My head is still a little foggy, but the law does not sleep! Actually, I slept ok last night – first time in a long time. Here’s what I think about stuff:

My Name is Earl
I had high hopes for this show, and they were met for the most part. Pretty funny stuff – I just hope they can keep it fresh. Jason Lee is lots of fun. Kat has developed a bit of a crush on him – and that’s ok with me. Does anyone do trailer trash better than Jamie Pressley? I’ll keep watching.

The Office
Was late getting into the US version – caught in on DVD last month. My local video store, The Film Buff, has a great selection of TV on DVD and it has become my preferred way of watching shows. I am sure that the UK version is even better (I haven’t seen it – which probably helps my view of the US version), but this is funny, funny stuff. I like humour that makes my jaw drop. “It says ‘Bushiest Beaver’” was the highlight of the show. Looks like the best hour of TV for the week.

Seven Soldiers #0
This book came highly recommended by Joe Rice, as well as Alex Cox, the co-owner of Rocketship in Brooklyn. Those two are contributors to an excellent blog , which is included in my links. I am always a little hesitant to get into a series that is stretched out over many titles and will likely extract $100 from my wallet, but I thought I’d give it a try. I have a soft spot for the original Seven Soldiers – and even own a couple issues of the old Leading Comics. I am also a big fan of Vigilante (love the old Gray Morrow back-ups in Adventure and World’s Finest), so I am always happy to read something involving Greg Saunders. The premise is a good one, and there is a depth to the story that encourages the reader to dig a little deeper (this also involves buying more book, but alas). As I understand, this #0 is only a prologue and the characters introduced here will be replaced. That’s good – because I wasn’t too impressed with some of the revamped characters (namely Boy Blue and Dynamite Dan) and felt Williams’ art on The Whip was a bit pneumatic. I did however like the handling of Vig, and Gimmix (formerly the light hearted Merry, Girl of a 1,000 Gimmicks). The whole ‘barely participated in a few superhero scraps, but happy to milk it on the convention circuit’ angle is great. As a writer, Grant Morrison knows his strengths and he plays to them often (sometimes a little too often), but he was able to take some loose ends and tie them up fairly nicely here. I also enjoyed Williams’ artwork – but some of the layouts were a bit over the top. Overall, it was a good read, and I’d probably give it a ‘B’ or ‘B+’. I don’t know if I’d pick up the rest if it weren’t for Alex, who said that the series was one of the best things he’s ever read in comics. That’s a strong statement, so I will be buying the rest of it. I truly hope that it turns into the kind of series I will want to devour time and time again.

Alter Ego #52
This is my final issue of my subscription. Kat got it for my birthday last year, so hopefully she renewed. This was one of the better issues of the past year – and I was very interested to read about two contributors who don’t get much ink – Joe Giella and Jay Scott Pike. Joe Giella’s takes on Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia were illuminating – always interesting to find out that these creators were also people with normal (and abnormal) problem. The Pike interview was of particular interest to me as he is a real enigma in the comic book world. I have been picking up Atlas romance books wherever possible lately – as they have some of the nicest artwork ever. Pike is truly a master, and has somehow remained relatively unknown. I’d love to get my hands on some of his ‘jungle’ work from the 50s. I somehow doubt that we will ever see an Essential Jann of the Jungle. Oh well, one can dream.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Typical Tuesday Rant

All right – feeling a little bit better today. The best part of taking some sick leave from work is the change to flop on the couch with the converter in one hand and a funnybook in the other.

I recently picked up some newer material (a breakthrough for me), and had some fun getting a feel for the current comic book scene. These included:

Plastic Man: On the Lam – Kyle Baker
It’s just like me to jump on the bandwagon after it's a flaming wreck, but I have always been interested in this now cancelled title, but had never gotten around to reading it. Brooklyn based comic guru Joe Rice recommended this title to me in a lukewarm fashion – stating that the series improved as it rolled along. I have got to say, that I liked it a lot. Was it perfect? No – but it was fresh. Much fresher than anything I’d read in a while. As I am a big fan of the Jack Cole version (and will likely post my thoughts on Art Spiegelman’s book on Cole at some point), I have always been disappointed with DC’s treatment of Plas (save for a couple of wonderful Brave and Bold appearances). This collection hit most of the right notes – a good mix of humour and action. Some of the sight gags were a little much, but bonus points were earned for the Nick Charles bit and the jab at the overly dark Dark Knight. Nice job overall – I think I’ll hunt down the rest of the series.

Just read in EW about Baker’s Nat Turner book – sounds unbelievably interesting.

Solo – Darwyn Cooke
Like most sane people, I really dug DC: New Frontier, so I was happy to pick up this recommended book by Toronto native Cooke. It’s an interesting package – basically a series of vignettes playing to the auteur’s strengths. Cooke does a great job infusing new life into old characters (how’s that for clich├ęd writing?) – and I really liked his take on Slam Bradley and The Question. Man, would I ever love a Question series or mini-series by Cooke. The more I think about it, the more Cooke reminds me of a pre-lunacy Ditko.

This Gun For Hire (1942)
I have been really into Film Noir lately (maybe that’s why I enjoyed the Darwyn Cooke comic so much), so I was happy to see that TV Ontario had this playing on their Saturday Night at the Movies a month or so back. I taped it and finally got around to watching it. This movie has a great pedigree – based on Graham Greene story – starting Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, but somehow it doesn’t all add up. Don’t get me wrong – it’s enjoyable from start to finish – but the plot is simply too muddled and the characterization of the anti-hero Raven (Ladd’s character) is straight out of a Ed Wood script (he slaps women around, but feeds stray cats!). Veronica Lake, who is so great in Sullivan’s Travels, is ask simply to stand around and look nice and her musical numbers are cringe inducing. The movie is saved somewhat by the last 30 minutes where much of the action takes place in a darkened Los Angeles rail yard, and the final showdown involved art deco office buildings, scaffolding and gas masks. Not bad, but not great.

Monday, September 19, 2005

I've Got a Virus

No, not a computer virus.

I am sick - maybe it's viral. I dunno, I'm a lawyer not a doctor.

That being said, my general dopiness and housebound status has led me to set up this blog.

My goals?

Like anyone else - talk about stuff they like. For me, that's mainly comics, movies, sports, books, travel, my wife and our upcoming baby.

Today - I am mainly thinking comics. I was just in NYC on a business trip and had the chance to stop by a new comic book store in Brooklyn called Rocketship. It's a great spot and I encourage anyone within striking distance to stop by.

As you will soon learn, I don't really buy new comics. I had a real falling out in the mid to late 90s, and have had a tough time handing over the dough since then. I have generally concentrated on buying back issues on Ebay - building my collection of Golden and Silver Age books. I'll also pick up reprint TPBs here and there, but usually only when I can get it for a good price.

At Rocketship - I picked up some newer material and I hope to share my thoughts on it here at some point in the not too distant future.

With Baby #1 on the way, I have actually been selling some comics in efforts to raise some coin for a nice gift for my wife, Kat. She has been very curious about all of the time I have been spending on the computer scanning comics.

Although I am sad to see some things go, I have reached the point where I have some many comics that there is nowhere to put them. I thought that I would take the books that I don't really love and see what I can get for them.

The whole eBay auction process was a little scary at first. I have always been a buyer - never a seller. I worried about getting burned and people complaining about my grading etc... I am happy to report that so far (touch wood), everything has gone smoothly.

Here's what I have discovered: there is a real market for 40s and 50s horror and crime (that's no huge surprise), but I have had a tougher time getting decent prices on Silver Age superhero titles. Granted, keys and even minor keys have sold (got twice what I was expecting on a Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1), but normal 60s books can just sit there unsold at $4.99 even in high grade. I guess that's to be expected, because I have been buying great book for next to nothing over the past 6 years on eBay.

Even though there has always been a market for pre-Code horror, I always assumed it was for EC, Atlas and maybe Harvey. I was happy to see people snapping up titles from publishers like Ace and Trojan.

It's a pretty labour intensive process - with all of the scanning and trips to the post office, but it will be worth it in the end if I can make enough for a nice gift for Kat.

That's what I am thinking today - more of a comic book marketplace kind of mindset then anything else. I'll be back to talk about actual books, writers and artists before too long.

I am off for some medicine and maybe a nap.

Welcome and feel free to share your thoughts.