Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Haunted #1

Steve Ditko definitely broke new ground with the cover to Haunted #1. If I had a background in fine arts, I'd be able to say something very profound and academic about his technique of using the smaller vignettes to for the features of the larger face. As I don't, I'll just say one thing: it's freakin' awesome. This comic must have leapt out readers perusing spinner racks back in the day. There was nothing else like it. This cover simply oozes Ditko cool. I don't think I saw Steve experiment with this technique again, which is too bad because it's really cool. Perhaps that's what happens when you hit a home run in your first trip to the plate - you move on to new challenges.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The End of the JLA - A Good Death

Even though I was a Justice League maniac as a child, I was in the midst of an early high school ‘too cool for comics hiatus’ when this series ground to a halt. I’d always heard about how bad these last few years of the JLA were, but I’d never read any of them. As I understand, this storyline all takes place as part of the ‘Legends’ maxi-series. A few years back, I bought a copy of the Legends TPB for $4, and wish I’d spent it at Starbucks.

I saw these 4 issues at a deeply discounted price, and thought I’d pick them up just so that I actually had a clear idea how things ended. You know what? This storyline was much better than I had expected. Sure, it’s obvious that this is a pretty lame JLA (and a lame-duck one considering the re-launch had already been announced), but with the right words and pictures almost anyone can be the subject of a compelling story. If the fans are calling out for Vibe’s head, you can give it to them – but do it in such a way to make them realize a little too late that he may have had a place in the DCU. Steel’s death is handle even more deftly, as it is hard not to feel a mixture of sorrow, pity and relief for him.

This stuff is far from perfect, but it’s a pretty damned good read and seems to be an appropriate way to brings and end to this tile that had enjoyed a 25-year run. My admiration for J.M. DeMatteis continues to grow. He was obviously giving the marching orders to shut down the JLA, and he fought off the temptation to avoid write something too nihilistic or, even worse, too sentimental. In the end, it’s a decent, quiet story and the loss of life serves as an act of cleansing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Wonder Woman #267

If you go back and check out Wonder Woman issues circa 1980, you’ll notice that there are a ton of captivating covers. This one really got my attention, and I plucked in off the newsstand wondering ‘Who is that guy in the orange outfit?’ This was my first exposure to Animal Man, as I most admit to really liking his style right off the bat. DC’s triumvirate was a pretty serious lot back then (still are, I guess. Animal Man appeared to have fun with crime fighting without seeming too clownish (I’m talking to you, Dibney!) – he seemed to be the perfect Yin to Wonder Woman’s Yang.

The story intimated that Animal Man he had a history in the DCU (although no issues were noted) so I set out to find back issues features this rather unique character. It wasn’t long before I tracked down copies of Strange Adventure #195 and #201. If I recall correctly, they would have set me back 30 or 40 cents back then. I was pretty excited, half expecting him to become a major player in the DCU and so I waited. I waited, waited and waited. Where did he go? Aside from appearing in the next Wonder Woman issue, the DCU remained Animal Man-free for the next few years. I guess I was wrong about the A-Man renaissance; that would have to wait. Oh well, it’s still fun to go back and read this one as Gerry Conway must have had a soft spot in his heart for Buddy Baker.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Amazing Spider-Man #29

All right folks, time to steer away from the mildly esoteric and dig out a very mainstream Ditko cover. This one may not be seen as one of the true iconic Spidey covers, but I really do think it's my favourite Ditko cover from the title. The Scorpion was introduced in issue #20 and that one featured a solid cover, but it is a fairly static image when compared to this one. There is such a great fluidity of motion here, as the bodies bend in a very Ditkoesque manner. It's a very simple snapshot, but it tells the reader that a life or death struggle is within the pages. I really did the Scorpion's regulator - a bit of Ditko sci-fi thrown in for fun. Of course, a good dose of Ditko water is always a bonus. Too often I find that the captions on Marvel covers really detract from the art, but the tagline 'Never Step on a Scorpion' is a good one.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

You've Been Warned: Fantastic Four #241

Now, I don’t think much of what emanates from John Byrne these days but I can’t deny the fact the he was producing some awesome stuff in the early 80s. I’ve been re-reading his Fantastic Four run recently and it is pure comic book goodness. Somehow, Byrne manage to lay a big egg in the middle of that run. Normally a meeting between the Fantastic Four and the Black Panther is a reason to celebrate, but this time out I am just left to scratch my head an ask what went wrong.

It’s an unbelievably high concept, grand scale story involving a 2,000-year old Roman civilization living deep within a Wakandan mountain. This is mini-series, possibly max-series stuff but Byrne rushes us through the proceedings (possible because he knew how ludicrous it all is) and wraps this up more than a little too nicely in the last 2 pages. Something to do with an alien helmet keeping the deceased alive, and simultaneously eating away at the self-proclaimed Emperior to the point that when Sue tries to unmask the Phantom of the Opera, she gets the Invisible Man. As an added bonus, we get plenty of Frankie Raye being annoying throughout. A serious bump in an otherwise smooth road.