Monday, June 25, 2007

Shark Wrasslin' Covers

Long before the release of Jaws, sharks held a special place in the hearts of comic book cover artists. There are plenty of well-known covers out there featuring sharks, especially in titles that regularly feature undersea adventures. There is a whole sub genre (at least there is now!) of covers featuring a typically surface dwelling protagonist going Mano e Mano with a hungry shark.

Shark Wrasslin' Covers were particularly popular in the Golden Age, and perhaps the best remembered example is Lou Fine's cover to Hit Comics #5. Now, none of have ever read these early issues of Hit Comics, but we all know these covers through countless reproductions in Comic Book Marketplace, the Gerber Journals and various Ron Goulart books. OK, maybe this isn't a shark, but it sure ain't a marlin with those teeth. All we know is that it is a Killer Fish, but a very threatening pink underbelly. While it sure looks as though the Red Bee knows how to wrestle this shark, I'm a bit more concerned about those shackles around his ankles. This is the gold standard for Shark Wrasslin' covers.

Perhaps a little less well know, but highly desired by an psychotically obsessed corner of the Golden Age collectors market is Catman #33. LB Cole produced some of the greatest covers of the Golden Age, and his Catman covers are certainly among his best. We've got typically eye-catching Cole colour here, and a fish that certain looks more like a shark than the fish threatening the Red Bee. Catman is looking cool and confident and must be thrilled that he packed his the long knife that morning. Kitten (I am not making that up - that's her name) has the body language of someone out for a morning swim. Perhaps she is simply mesmerized by the school of exotic looking fish, who don't seem to even be the least be fazed by the action to their immediate right.

I've never actually had the pleasure (is that the right word?) of reading a copy of Supersnipe Comics, but from what I can gather, it involves the Walter Mittyesque adventures of a young Jerry Bails. If you've ever scanned the GCD or Gerber cover galleries, you'll know that Supersnipe has some of the strangest covers of the Golden Age, and that's saying quite a bit. This seems to be the same shark that attacked Catman and Kitten, and his looking to feast of swimmers. Luckily, Supersnipe and his tiny, tiny head has arrived just in time to make the waters safe once again. While I like the overall vibe of this cover from kitschy perspective, Messrs. Fine and Cole needn't have worried about losing their livelihoods.

When I first saw this next cover, a couple of questions came to mind. Firstly, what is the Shadow doing wrestling a shark? Second, does he always wear just a bright, white shirt under his cape? Finally, did everyone in the 40s walk around with a knife in their pockets? The thing I like most about this particular covers is that this actually looks like a shark - no pink underbelly, no goofy upside-down smile. Again, we've got a school of disinterested fish, but what I really loved about this particular cover is the fact that the Shadow's fedora didn't pop off the minute he hit the water's surface, but somehow has only been loosened once the shark fight got underway. A great cover that loses a few points due to the presence of the floating heads of the pseudo-Newsboy Legion.

I'll leave you with this cover to Wonder Woman #101. I don't have much to say about it except that upon closer inspection, I'm surprised it managed to get a CCA Stamp. First of all, if it weren't for that little bit of blue showing, you'd think that the Amazon was out for a skinny dip (with shoes, of course). Somewhat related to the near nudity, I am also a little concerned that, in a crisis, her facial expression is one of arousal. Very strange. Perhaps is the ultra-rare Vibrating Shark. Wonder Woman has appeared on more oddball comic book covers that any other character, but this one is off the charts. She obviously really enjoys shark wrasslin'. I hope you did too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Justice League of America #14

The original Justice League of America series is probably best remembered for its multi-issue JLA/JSA crossover and the forgettable seemingly never ending JLA Detroit saga. There are some real single issues gems in the series though, and #14 is my favourite as it is pure Fox/Sekowsky goodness. Of course, it’s the Murphy Anderson bowling–motif cover that catches your eye. Bowling covers are a favourite of mine too, but that’s a whole different story.

Open up this book and you’ll soon find that everything that is so lovable about the DC Silver Age (in all of its implausible goofiness) is present. To a certain degree the actual story is almost an afterthought as the entire premise is to set up a scenario wherein the Atom can prove his worthiness to validate his selection into the Justice League. The JLA is on the ropes as the combination of amnesia and a team of second-string villains (Sea Thief? Doctor Davis?) was just too much for them to handle.

Luckily instead of simply killing our heroes; the mystery villain keeps everyone on ‘pins’ and needles, by packing the Atom into an explosive ball to ‘strike’ the JLA. Luckily, he escapes without a second to ‘spare’ and sends the villain’s plans right into the gutter. Yup – it’s corny, but it’s a lot of fun – and as a bonus we get a surprise twist at the end and a one panel appearance from Superman to satisfy contractual obligations, no doubt.

In the end, we have a nice moment in the JLA Meeting Room as the team shows that it’s willing to go above and beyond to accommodate their new diminutive member. It’s great stuff all around. This story can be found in the DC Showcase Presents Justice League collection as well as Volume 2 of the JLA Archives.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Quick DVD Reviews

Little Miss Sunshine
I had pretty high expectations and for the most part, they were met. It’s a fun little film with just enough pathos to make it stick with you for a while. A vanful of misfits is just a little too much to swallow at times, but the likes of Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell and Alan Arkin could make Plan 9 from Outer Space an Oscar nominee. It also reminded me how much beauty pageants for kids give me the creeps.
Grade: B+

Stranger Than Fiction
I thought I knew exactly how this movie would play out. I was a more than a little wrong. I was simply expecting some sort of post-modern Charlie Kaufman-lite type of thing, but it proved to have its own voice and I really liked the way it moved along. A lot of understated performances, which was nice as there was a real opportunity to ham it up here with the likes of Ferrell and Hoffman sharing scenes.
Grade: B+

The Queen
Meh. Nice job all around in terms of the performances, but I felt like the story got stuck in a loop for the entire middle act. The whole ‘Will she or won’t she go to London?’ bit ended up being the focus of the entire movie. Plus, the whole ‘Stalkers & Stag’ metaphor was too ham-fisted for my tastes. The whole thing came across as a bit of a Movie of the Week.
Grade: B-

The Prestige
What I liked most about this film, is it actually feels like a smallish 70s flick (think The Duellists), but there’s also a bit of a Hammer Victorian-era setting B Movie thrown in there too. Bale, Caine and Jackman are superb, and the whole film just oozes with atmosphere. The scenes in the U.S. with Bowie are the weakest point, as it all feels a bit slapped on, to help explain the almost inexplicable plot. I didn’t feel that was necessary – a few little mysteries left to ponder wouldn’t have been the worse thing that could happen. All in all, I admired this film because it was mainstream and yet sufficiently different so as to be unlike anything else I’ve seen in a while.
Grade: A-

The Illusionist
Well, it was a pretty damned fine year for movies about late 19th Century magicians. I was concerned that I had rented this one too soon after The Prestige, but the movies could not be more different (well, I guess that’s not entirely true – I guess and animated musical would have been even more different), but it is smaller in scope and delivery. Norton is in full command here – able to utilize his intensity for the first time in a long time. Giamatti wisely lays low but does a nice job as the conflicted detective. Jessica Biel is fine, but fairly wooden - if she picks more projects such as this, she could have an interesting career.
Grade: B+

Friday, June 01, 2007

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Conan #9

The ability to cram an interesting story, full of fully realized characters into a single comic book has nearly become a lost art. Now, I love a good story arc as much as the next person, but there is something magical about a single comic book that contains all of the elements needed for quality 4 Colour entertainment. Over the next little while, I’d like to focus on what I’ve inducted into my own personal Single Issue Hall of Fame. These are book that have been able to excel on all levels within the confines of two staples and one cover. Here’s my first inductee:

Conan the Barbarian #9

I’ve always liked Conan. I stress liked, because I am not one of those people who absolutely loves Conan, as I was never really into the sword and sorcery stuff as a kid, so I really only read this comic sporadically (we are talking early 80s here) and I actually preferred the black and white magazine.

When I began collecting back issues, however, early Conan books were easy to track down and still not too pricey. One of the earliest ones I got my hands on was issue #9, featuring 'The Garden of Fear'. I probably liked it well enough as a child, but I don’t really remember the story staying with me for too long.

I re-read it more recently in one of the Chronicles of Conan volume and was totally blown away. Of course, Barry Smith’s art is engaging and dynamic, but I was most struck by the sense of atmosphere created by the combination of Smith’s art and Roy Thomas’ words. The whole notion of the black winged demon in a tower surround by carnivorous plants had such a great Gothic, almost Lovecraftian feel to it.

As I understand from the afterword to the volume, Thomas adapted this tale from a non-Conan story written by Howard. If found this to be somewhat ironic as I perceive it to be the perfect Conan story. If you have read it, I urge you to seek it out. This is as fine a comic book story as you were likely to find at Marvel in the early 70s – it is simultaneously beautiful and unsettling.