Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You've Been Warned: DC Comics Presents #56

I think the main difference between the Brave and the Bold and DC Comics Presents is that when B&B stories go off the deep end; it's charming. When a DCCP story does the same, it's just annoying. This generic inter dimensional car wreck was written by Paul Kupperberg, who obviously dreamt up the villain, Maaldor the Darklord, by combining all of those lame 'warrior' villains that popped up in Superman stories throughout the 70s. Here, our Parallel Earths cousins have been transported into innerspace to serve as sport for Maaldor (who would look a lot more menacing if he didn't have Little Orphan Annie hair), but they ultimately triumph by... well, to be quite honest, I kind of dozed off towards the end. Kara is totally wasted here, saying little more than 'Hey, don't underestimate me - I'm in the JSA'. to ever appear in a 70 Superman story.
That's it until the new year folks! I'm computer-free for the holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reprint This! I... Vampire!

Given the success Marvel has had with its Tomb of Dracula reprints, I'm shocked that DC hasn't seen fit to reprint this fine series from the early 80s. Created by J.M. DeMatteis and Tom Sutton, I... Vampire ran as an ongoing series in the pages of House of Mystery during that title's final days. The story follows Andrew Bennett and his quest to right past wrongs by tracking down his former lover and her band of vampires. There's a nice little dash of Gothic romance thrown into the mix, and everything is smaller in scale than we've seen in Tomb of Dracula. It's a very engaging tale and many mature themes are touched upon. The always great Tom Sutton is really in his element here, and Mike Kaluta provided some fine covers. I'm not sure if there are enough pages here for a Showcase Presents volume, but one way or the other, DC has got to get this back on the shelves.

Spend an Evening with Karloff's Night Key

As you may have gathered somewhere along the way, I'm a pretty big Boris Karloff fan (who isn't?). As the man has 100+ credits to his name, there are always new movies ripe for rediscovery. Night Key is minor 1937 film that is inappropriately packaged in a bare-bones collection of Karloff 'Horror Classics' that is widely available. I say inappropriate, as this is anything but a horror movie. Karloff's ageing, timid inventor is about as far from the Frankenstein Monster or Im-Ho-Tep as you can get. It's a fairly simple crime drama, with some noirish tones but enough humor to keep it fairly light and lively.

This imperfect little B-movies held my interest because of the interested conceit (a wrong inventor playing a fun game of cat and mouse with his enemies) and the strength of the supporting characters, notably Glen Baxter as the quiet menacing crime boss "The Kid" and Hobart Cavanaugh as the luckless Petty Louie. Of course, there's a tacked-on romance that fits about as well as Petty Louie's overcoat, but the real reason to watch is Karloff's performance. He goes from joy to heartbreak and back, as his life is turned upside down by events well out of his control. The smile on Karloff's face as he plays a prank in an umbrella shop is worth the price of admission. That is one of a few moments that feel as though they are straight out of a Coen Brothers movie. If you're looking for a change of pace and would like to see Karloff's range, be sure to check this one out.

Hidden Gems: Sgt Rock Special #2

What a wonderful book! I found this one in a dollar bin not too long ago. I was unaware that DC had put out a bunch of these 'Specials' in the late 80s and early 90s, reprinting some great and tough to find stories from its endless archives of superb war stories. The lead story 'Suicide Mission' from Brave and the Bold #52, was previously reprinted in Battle Classics #1 from 1978, it's great story featuring most DC's big war heroes and a great entry point to get a feel for Silver Age war stories at DC. The second tale is an interesting Len Wein story from an early issue of Weird War Tales, with art by a very young Walt Simonson - a lot of the cool Manhunter-era visuals. Finally, we've got a nice WW1 dogfight story drawn by Alex Toth from 1973. Can you really ask for anything more?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Black Cat #63

In the summer of 1962, Leon Harvey decided to jump aboard the superhero bandwagon by relaunching Black Cat, which was last seen as Black Cat Mystic four years earlier. For some reason (perhaps because it was the summer reading season), they went with the 25 cent 'giant' format. I'd imagine that some children at the time found the stories to be a bit dated, but it's a real treasure trove for today's readers looking to read some Golden Age goodness for a lot less money. This issue (along with issues 63 and 65) are comprised of classic Black Cat stories from the earliest incarnation of the title. Most of these are from the Bob Haney/Lee Elias team and are very entertaining. Our heroine's alter ego, Linda Turner, is a movie star - so Hollywood or movie sets often serve as the backdrop. This is a lot of good, clean late 40s fun with very stylish art. The real highlights are this issue are the one-page 'Judo Tricks' that were featured in the original issues. Now, you too will be able to fend off muggers etc... Although this isn't the cheapest book out there, if you can find one for $10-$15, it's well worth picking up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I Loves Me Some Horror Etc Podcast !!

I didn't get my own iPod until earlier this year, so I've been a bit slow jumping on the podcast bandwagon. For months, I listened mainly to comic book podcasts but have yet to find one that hits all the right notes for me. It was a happy accident that that I stumble upon the Horror Etc podcast, hosted by Ted and Anthony, who happen to live just a two hour drive to the east of me. Their podcast, which is released weekly, focuses mainly on horror movies - but they are happy talking about almost any type of film. It's a wonderful podcast, buoyed by the terrific rapport between the two hosts. It's intelligent without getting too esoteric, as they delve into a wide range of films from Son of Dracula to Shawn of the Dead. They don't take things too seriously and thankfully everything is 'snark free' and proudly Canadian. If you're up for something new to help pass the time - check it out.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: This Magazine is Haunted #16

This magazine is near the very top of my 'want list'. One of the things I like about Ditko's early covers for Charlton is that he was able to mimic much of what he was seeing out there on newsstands, while maintain his unique vision. Perhaps borrowing from Ingels or Davis, you see much more detail here than you'll see in his 70s covers, but the details don't get in the way of the feeling of movement that is key to a good Ditko cover. His inking is also spectacular here, especially on the three main figures. That giant chain splitting the middle of the cover is an odd touch, as one could argue that it breaks up the image - but I feel as though it helps turn the reader into a voyeur. I'm not sure if Steve did his own coloring here, or if it was done by someone in Charlton's production department, but it is phenomenal. A wonderfully creepy cover.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Amazing Spider-Man #233

I was 10 years old when this one came out. Looking back, I realize just how lucky I was to be coming of age during Roger Stern's tenure on the book. This one opens with an awesome splash page of a furious JJJ asking ""Where the @¢%# Is Nose Norton?". I think that was the first time I'd ever encountered profanity of any kind in the funnybooks. A cash bonus is offered for anyone who can tracked down the missing underworld informant. Peter, being strap for cash as always, if quite interested. Ultimately, Peter and Ben Urich partner up, which is great because I loves me some Ben Urich. Meanwhile, the Tarantula (hanging out in Miami Beach, Scarface-style) is offered an even larger sum to take care of Norton. There's a lot of action at the end, and it all leads to a nice little mystery that runs for a few issues. Even as a 10 year old, I loved the disdain that Spidey has for Tarantula - he always treats him as nothing more than a mild nuisance. This was great stuff, which makes it even more puzzling as to why I left comics for a while within a couple of years of this one.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Trade Marks: MW

First, let me beg forgiveness regarding my poorly informed opinions below. Aside from reading a handful of Lone Wolf & Cubs and playing with Shogun Warriors in the late 70s, I have had next to no exposure to Japanese popular culture. Someone recommended MW as a good place to start. I was told that while it may not be the best example of typical Tezuka work, it has a straightforward narrative and is very manga-virgin friendly. He was right - it turned out to be quite the page turner. It is very stylish (in a sleek, 70s way) but also very dark with a razor thin line existing between sex and violence.

Somewhere on the dust jacket, the book it described as picaresque - but I think that may be a wee bit of an understatement. Yuki is not your average lovable rogue, but rather a calculating agent of death devoid of morals. The only thing in his way is his tormented former lover, Garai - who still thinks there is some good to be found in Yuki. He is wrong. Very wrong. This is a big book (nearly 600 pages) but you will fly through it at breakneck speed. I truly appreciate the relatively low cost of such a large book - but I do wish that there was some soft of introduction for us newbies - letting us in on Tezuka's world and the origins of this work. That's really the only flaw I can find. Trade Mark: A-

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You've Been Warned: The Comet #1

It's not a good sign when an announced 6 issue miniseries only lasts two issues. In the early 80s, Archie tried to relaunch many of their superhero titles via the Red Circle imprint. Some were quite good (I thinking of The Fly), but this one was an utter disaster. The concept isn't bad - the Comet is struggling with the fact that he killed so many villains early in his career (with flashbacks to early issues of Pep Comics - showing just how brutal heroes could be back then), but all of the non-flashback action is simply the Comet and Shield talking nonstop while shirtless (huh?). Carmine Infantino's artwork is the real villain here: very loose, next to no detail and many panels are missing even the most basic of backgrounds. The second story is a nonsensical modern day Hangman story in which our reluctant hero is beat up by hoodlums in under a minute. I'm really not sure what the Archie folks were trying to accomplish with this title - but they obviously saw that it was crap immediately and pull the plug before wasting any more ink.

Cheap Grapes: Castello di Gabbiano Chianti 2006

Any wine lover knows full well that the days of cheap Chianti are long gone. At some point in the last 10-20 years, the world began to fall in love with all things Tuscan, and that pushed the prices of this once bargain wine higher and higher. Fear not, as I've found a good choice for those looking for a Chianti fix on the cheap. Castello di Gabbiano Chianti 2006 is a widely available, basic and yet very enjoyable wine that retails here in Ontario for $13.95, so I'd imagine that it is in the $10 range throughout much of the U.S. It's comprised mostly (90%, I think) of Sangiovese and therefore has that nice mixture of earthiness and fruitiness that you come to expect from that grape. I'm not big on too much fruit, so I really appreciate the dark cherry, blackberry and maybe even plum flavours that are found here. It's also got a nice little peppery kick and finishes fairly dry. All in all, I think it would be a crowd pleaser. It's quite drinkable now, but would benefit from a couple more years in your cellar.

Hidden Gems: Haunted #49

Have you ever dreamed up picking up an old 50s Ditko mystery book for a dollar? Well, sometimes dreams do come true. Dotted throughout various Charlton titles during that company's Reprint Era (late 70s), you will find some books that contain stories dating back 20+ years. Haunted #49 is a great example of this phenomenon. It reprints Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #4 from 1957. A nice copy of the original could set you back $100, and that's if you can find it. I've found that bidding on old Ditko books to be a full time profession for many comic book fans out there. If you have less money, but perhaps the same level of patience, I highly recommend that you keep your eyes peeled for an issue of Haunted #49. I'll keep mine peeled for more hidden gems to recommend. Happy Hunting!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Reprint This! The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog

It seems like every single comic ever produced has been reprinted in the last decade, but there are still a lot of great books out there that are unavailable to the masses. Today, I'm featuring one that is just begging to be given the Showcase Presents treatment. Over the years, The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog has become somewhat of a punchline to a joke - as the snarksters of fandom like to point and laugh at most Atom Age books. They are dead wrong - a need to open their minds to appreciate that a good comic doesn't necessarily have to be a giant Crossover Event or an ironic slice of life indie. Comics can just be good, clean fun.

From the few issues I've managed to get my hands on, I'm happy to say that these are wonderfully entertaining books. Sure, they are a bit silly but is that such a bad thing? Although Alex Toth was the initial artist on the strip, it's really Gil Kane's baby - and he does a wonderful job of adapting Robert Kanigher's and John Broome's inventive strips for the four color world. In the 1950s, DC was struggling to find its identity and experimenting with many different genres, and I think they were very successful with this fun series that lasted until the end of the decade. I want my two kids to start reading comics in a few years, and I couldn't think of a better family book than a Showcase Presents: Rex the Wonder Dog. Think about it, DC.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Charlton Notebook: Vengeance Squad #6

This is the final issue to this interesting little series, which was part of the Charlton Explosion (ok, that may be overstating things) circa 1975. It's an decent, if unoriginal, concept (private investigators + martial arts) and it's executed fairly well. The real problem for me has always been the members of the V-Squad. We've got the leader with a chip on his shoulder because he serve time without doing a crime, the jaded female cop and the rough and tumble Vietnam vet. Stereotypes can be ok if the characters are likable - but these people don't even seem to like each other. That being said, there is a lot to like here. All but one of the issues features great art by Pete 'PAM' Morisi in full photo-realism mode here. I've read somewhere that Morisi wrote some of these stories, but I would have thought that the scripts were by Joe Gill. This issue is fairly standard for the series - lots of action, some stilted dialogue and a nice Staton/Cuti Michael Mauser back-up. It's nothing brilliant, but a must-have for any Morisi fan (like me).

Friday, December 05, 2008

Neil Young

No funnybook talk today, folks. I'm still coming down from last night's show at the ACC. This is probably the 10th time I've seen Neil over the last 20 years and he is still so unbelievably amazing. I just cannot get over his intensity at age 63. So many selections seems handpicked just for me. I got my Everybody Knows, Powderfinger and Cowgirl (still waiting on Revolution Blues and Don't Be Denied - but I'm not holding my breath). These songs are part of my DNA and hearing them again makes my mind race all over the place to various parts of my life. The whole thing was almost like an out of body experience. Oh yeah - Wilco opened and they were good but Neil is Neil. I just love the guy and I'm dreading the day he stops touring.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Detective Comics #500

This may seem like an obvious choice, but I'll bet that many of you don't have this book in your collection. If that's the case - you're crazy! Detective Comics #500 is a giant sized piece of comic book perfection. I was an absolute Batman nut as a kid (still am) and this book just had so much to give. To start off, the wraparound cover is just soooo great. There is a wonderful history of cool covers for various Batman anniversaries, and this is no exception. It's great seeing all of the creators signatures right there on the cover. The main story here is 'To Kill a Legend' by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano. It's amazing how few stories Brennert wrote, and how many have become classics. Giordano's artwork reminds you just how talented an artist he can be. This one has been reprinted a million times, but it's nice to see it in its original home.

Most of all, this book is a real treat for anyone feeling nostalgic. You've got a pulpy text story from Walter Gibson ("The Shadow"), a Wein/Aparo Slam Bradley story incorporating many nearly forgotten detectives, Joe Kubert back on Hawkman, Infantino drawing a decent Batman/Deadman team-up by Cary Bates and the always great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez drawing a very fun detective tale by Mike Barr starring Elongated Man. This must have taken a lot of planning and it certainly shows. The real highlight for me, however, is the very simple yet very dramatic two-pager by Len Wein and Walter Simonson. 'Once Upon a Time' sums up everything that I love about Batman in a mere 12 panels - it's a sight to behold. All in all, this is just a phenomenal comic.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Tales to Astonish #2

First, let me say just how much I love this UFO. I think that if the 60s Batman were to design a flying saucer, it would look just like this one - but a bit more black. I also love how the bright yellow glow is contrasted with the dreary 'Atlas grey' of the skyline in the background. The main figure's pose is great - just a typical Ditko everyman startled, yet intrigued by what he sees before him. The fact that the alien is left as a shadowy figure makes it even more compelling - no BEM here. This truly is a beautifully designed cover.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lee Elias: Playing With Light

While browsing some old Harvey covers recently, I noticed how many covers by the wonderful Lee Elias feature very interesting lighting effects using glass or water. Elias designs wonderful covers, and this was a neat trick to help them jump of the crowded newsstands. The cover to Chamber of Chills #19 is one of the greatest horror covers of all-time. I just love the way that Elias has constructed this image. The face seen through the brandy snifter is perfectly juxtaposed against the woman's beautiful face. It's a really elegant and yet totally eerie visual. Bonus points for those awesome cuff links!

I love covers that show both above and below the water's surface. It's an opportunity for the artist to draw two separate worlds. The cover to Tomb of Terror #16 has it all - a beautiful woman, an old grotto filled with bones and a zombie with a kung fu grip. The color job here is wonderful - with reds and pinks above the surface and greens and blacks below. Elias uses the different colors and lighting effects to portray the difference between life and death. This was the final issue to this excellent series - just a brilliant finish!

We get a much more cartoony cover with Witches Tales #13, as seems to happen with that title for some reason. It's still very cool and a lot of fun. A group of victims have been miniaturized and are no residents of the "Terror Jar". The really great lighting effect here is the slightly altered images we see as we look through the the other side of the jar. The 'Igor' type character's face is made even uglier when seen through the glass. Also, the skin tones are change from somewhat flesh colored to a strange glowing orange. A very fun effect put to good use. Lee Elias was a true master, and I'll certainly be taking a look at more of his work in the not too distant future.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Trade Marks: Adam Strange Archives, Vol. 1

There aren't many times that I will advocate that you track down a hardcover version of reprinted material, but this is one of them. For this great collection of colourful, glossy space opera action, I fully advocate for the premium version. Adam Strange is cut from the same cloth as Buck Rogers and John Carter, which isn't a huge surprise as Gardner Fox wrote countless stories for the pulps. If you've read enough Fox stories (both in pulps and funnybooks), you know that he's got great ideas, but the execution can come up a bit short at times. He brings it all together as Adam's adventures on Rann are great stories, filled with fully formed imaginative ideas. What struck me most, however, was just how great the artwork by Mike Sekowsky was on the first few issues. I always associated the character with Carmine Infantino, but it's apparent that Sekowsky played a crucial role in establishing the strip's visual tone. Sure, the stories get a bit formulaic after a while, but that's to be expected. I think that Jim Amash is a fine comic book historian, and his intro here is a joy to read. Far superior to many of the overviews inserted into these volumes. Trade Mark: A

Friday, November 28, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Justice League of America #179

It's spring 1980, I'm 7 and a half years old and absolutely nuts for the JLA. This cover was a real shocker for me, as I'd never seen Firestorm before and couldn't understand why Superman seemed to be taking sides with this unknown. At the time, I wasn't away of the long running tradition of having relatively confrontational 'new member' covers. It's a pretty strong cover by Jim Starlin as he's able to squeeze everyone onto the cover without it looking overcrowded. I think the white background was the key to making it work. Firestorm's cocky pose really sets the tone. I didn't know the character, but I already didn't like him. It's weird how a certain pose can make such an impression.

Of course, the cover drama never really popped up in the story. There was a tepid debate and then Ronnie was accepted. He gets giddy and various quips are made about the 'kid' by Green Arrow, but that's about it. Not much of a due diligence procedure. This real story is actually an effective little Firestorm solo tale. He starts to spend some intimate time with the world's top model: Sabrina Sultress (aka the Satan Siren). Honestly, her power over him really creeped me out as a kid and probably screwed up the way I related to women for the next 20 years. It all ends with a nice suspenseful moment, as Firestorm is reach for his JLA signal for help. Does he make it in time? Back then we had to wait - but that was half the fun.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Misfit Toys Covers

Just in time for Christmas, I've been unwrapping some great covers featuring some terrible toys. I only wish the Overstreet Guide would noted whenever these Misfit Toys Covers popped up. It would save me so much time. Here are some highlights featuring toys that will hopefully avoid your stocking.

Let's start with a real classic: Weird Mystery Tales #24. This series is probably the least well remembered of DCs Bronze Age horror anthologies, which is a shame because it is a lot of fun. Have you ever read a tag line that's better than "Death is a Wind Up Bear"? This is the final issue of the series and it can be a tough one to track down. Bill Draut is credited with the cover. He's a solid, if unspectacular journeyman artist who rose to the occasion here. OK, so there's no real indication of why that guy's on the ground in the first place, but there's not fun in sweating the details.

Misfit toys seem like a perfect fit for a Warren magazine. The cover to Creepy #63 by Ken Kelly does a good job of conveying the feeling of helplessness when under attack by army of 'Devil Dolls'. The look of sheer glee on some of the doll faces is particularly disturbing. I'm actually surprised that this theme didn't pop up on more Warren covers. This one really reminds me of an episode of the early 80s show The Darkroom. I'm sure there was one with toys attacking a man. Anyone remember that - or am I just dreaming?

Marvel Two-In-One #74 might be the last place you'd expect to find some misfit toys, but to be honest - some really nutty things happened to The Thing and partner in the pages this series. First of all, he's teamed up with the Puppet Master, and that just ain't right. The always underappreciated Frank Springer creates a very fun and chaotic cover. Say, is that one of those wind up bears from that other cover? How did he crossover into the Marvel Universe? It doesn't look like Ben Grimm is going to have a very fun Christmas. Hopefully, his Hanukkah was better.

Finally, I've picked one with a slight different vibe. Instead of an army of misfit toys, the cover to Ghost Manor #50 features one very tattered and very creepy, teddy bear. Although I'd have to dig through my old Charlton boxes to confirm it, I'd wager a guess that this cover is simply a reworking of the interior art (originally published in Ghost Manor #23) by Tom Sutton. The story is titled "Terrible Teddy". I just love it! If memory serves, Sutton hits a home run with this one. I'm sure the killer teddy has been used somewhere in TV before. Anyone remember?

So that's a quick look a cover from the Misfit Toys genre. If you've got any favourite - don't hesitate to share.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You've Been Warned: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4

There were so many great Spider-Man comic books produced during the 60s. This was not one of them. This is a rushed, nonsensical and lame excuse for a story. For one reason or another - the Wizard and Mysterio decide to lure Spidey and the Human Torch to Hollywood to kill them. While it's not a logical move - at least we could have some Hollywood fun, but they best thing they came up with was a cowboy on a movie lot dressed just like Kid Colt. Kid Colt? If you're going to do a cowboy cameo in a Larry Lieber drawn book, at least make it the Rawhide Kid. Speaking of Larry - I'm as big a Lieber apologist as you're likely to find, but the artwork here is beyond flat. And to think, the artists ID was held off as a big surprise until the very end. Maybe he should have remained anonymous. The story is really just one overly long fight sequence between and among all 4 main characters. For filler, we get a really lame two-page spread of Peter and the gang at the malt shop. Seriously? Even if you're trying to complete a full run of Amazing - you're excused if you want to skip this one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dear Comic Book Marketplace: I Miss You

I finally cleared out my off-site storage locker (nearly 18 months after moving into our new home), and when I cracked open the most back-breaking of boxes, I was delighted to find 50-60 issues of Comic Book Marketplace. When I first discovered this magazine back in 1998, it was love at first and I tracked down as many of the previous issues as I could. Distribution to Toronto comic shops was spotty at best so eventually I got a subscription and eagerly awaited each new issue's arrival at my door. Towards the end of the run, I even had a letter to the editor published. As I recall, I was quite critical of the tone of recent issues and questioned whether CBM was heading in the right direction. As it turned out, my points were moot as the mag ceased publication with but a whimper a couple of issues later. It was sad, and no other comic book related periodical has come close to filling the void left behind.

What was so great about it? Well, it was the perfect mixture of information about the books themselves, and information about the market. Long gone are the days when I followed the 'values' of various book in the Overstreet guide. Still, I always found the Market Reports at the back of CBM to be interesting, as I'm always fascinated by trends and reports of what is selling above and below 'Guide'. In addition, various articles often made reference to the relative scarcity of certain books - and this always assisted me in determining how much to fork over. Michelle Nolan's columns, in particular, were a 'must read' as she always found the hidden gems and send me off in new directions. I always appreciated it when she noted her views of a particular book vis -a-vis its Gerber scarcity ranking. Will Murray's articles and interviews were top notch and every now and then a 'theme' issue would really grab my attention and add a long list of titles to my 'buy' list.

The editorial transition from Gary Carter to Russ Cochran was a bit of a rough one for me, as the focus shifted away from comic books and more towards newspaper strips and collectibles. I felt that the overall tone of the magazine was different and it became more educational and less fun. Cochran's replies to critical letters often came across as slightly patronizing. The relationship with Gemstone/Steve Geppi was evident, and the coverage of a coin collecting event (with a very tenuous connection to comics) was the tipping point. Still, it was the best mag out there and its demise was unfortunate. I'm not sure if there's even a market for this type of periodical today - but I know that I would be fine in line to subscribe.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Hawk and Dove #2

We can start to see a bit of Objectivism creeping into Ditko covers at this stage. Hawk and Dove co-exist as polar opposites, and their constant philosophical debates (aided and abetted by their rather opinionated father) was unlike anything the DCU has seen before. This cover really accentuates the hawkish Hawk, and the compromise-seeking Dove is cowering. It really doesn't seem all that different from some of the stuff that Ditko would be putting out on his own not too long after that. It's a very simple, but nicely designed cover. I've always like the little vignettes of Don and Hank. Overall, it's a nice piece and it's too bad that Ditko's tenure was so short at this stage (am I correct in thinking that he fell ill at this time?). I read Blake Bell's bio last month - but my sleep deprived brain isn't recalling the details.

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Iron Man #14

What a treat! Of all of the early Iron Man stories - this one shines on like a crazy diamond. Like the cover? Well, it's a Johnny Craig cover - so it's bound to be beautifully composed. The story is by Archie Goodwin, and upon re-reading for the 6th or 7th time, and the word that keeps coming to mind is sophisticated. The first three pages, in which a security guard recounts an attach by the Night Phantom is unlike anything else put out by Marvel at that time. Johnny Craig's opening splash page is unbelievably beautiful. What I really love are all of the little nods to Gaston Leroux's 'Phantom' - from the disfigurement to the underground lair, it's all fun. I only wish that we'd seen a Chaneyesque unmasking. This is a true classic folks - mixing Silver Age superhero fun, with a bit more Bronze Age depth. Goodwin really was a master!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trade Marks: The Question - Zen and Violence

If you're at all like me, you love the Question but missed most the 80s series so you've been waiting/praying for it to be reprinted. Well, you're prayers have been answered - although I'm still not 100% satisfied. O'Neil does a nice job bringing us into the world of Vic Sage/The Question, as it's actually refreshing to see the 'hero' run into some serious trouble so early on in his career. The reintroduction of Richard Dragon was freakin' brilliant, and I think the Question's return was handled quite well. O'Neil struggles at times with Sage's staccato Randspeak, but it's effective. I'm still on the fence about Denys Cowan. At times I've really enjoyed his work (Detective Comics #598-600), but it's really inconsistent here. It works in some of the moodier scenes, but really falls apart in the action sequences. They can be tough to follow, and the anatomy (tiny hand striking giant head) is distracting. These TPBs aren't cheap and I really wished that this series had been given the Showcase treatment. An intro by O'Neil re. bringing Ditko's creation to life would have been appropriate. Trade Mark: B

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hidden Gems: Archie's Super Hero Comics Digest Magazine #2

Now, that's a real mouthful! I'm not even sure that there was ever a #1, but I am far from an expert on the confounding organizational system at Archie during the 70s and early 80s. All I can say is that if you see this strange little item at a low price, pick it up. Sure, it has a few lame mid-60s "Mighty Heroes" stories, but those are fun and harmless. What you really need this for are the reprinted Simon and Kirby Shield stories from 1959. There's also a very nice Black Hood story (the 'balaclava' version) by Gray Morrow and an odd little Wally Wood story 'The Ultimate Power', which I believes comes from an early 70s Red Circle book, but none that I own. Kirby, Morrow & Wood all in one tiny package (yes, it is a bit too teeny tiny)? Yes, miracles can happen. Oops, did I forget to mention the 10 page Neal Adams story?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Make Mine Monsters Unleashed!!

Remember last week, when I was praising those Warren mags. Well in the horror genre, Marvel started to out-Warren Warren. This happened right around 1973 when the Marvel black and white magazines were finding their groove and Jim Warren's stinginess was forcing more reprints and lesser talents to appear in his mags. Monsters Unleashed is a good, if imperfect, example of Marvel's foray into the non-Code sanctioned world of horror. It may be less well know than Tales of the Zombie or the vampire stuff, but it's a consistently strong series. Let's take a look at a few issues.

Monsters Unleashed #4 is a good place to start, with a nice Frank Brunner Wolfman cover. This issue is a solid blend of old and new. The Marvel take on the Frankenstein Monster story pops up here with a decent Gary Frierich story involving a brain transplant gone wrong (don't the always). The art is by Syd Shores and John Buscema. I know that Shores dies around this time, so I'm wondering if he died while working on this project. There are also solid tales from the Gerber/Marcos and Claremont/Perlin teams. For some strange reason, the Gullivar of Mars strip continues here - great news for Dave Cockrum fans. The real highlights for me, however, are the two Atlas reprints - with glorious artwork by Colan and Krigstein. A great all around issue.

Monsters Unleashed #7 is more of the same, but not quite as strong. I'm not in love with the cover - more T&A than terror and a very generic much monster. Doug Moench does much of the scripting here, and while I do like much of his work - he seems to have too much on his plate during his early Marvel mag days and it shows with some dull stories. The Frankenstein story is the better of the two, as Mayerik's looks superb in black and white. Unfortunately, there's only one reprint here, and it's a post-Code story so it's a little tame. It does feature some very nice Al Williamson artwork, though. For some reason, my favourite item here is the 1 pager dedicated to sightings of the 'Burning Man'. He's kind of like a mythical human torch. Does anyone know about this mythical creature? My Google attempts just lead me to desert raves.

By the final issue, Monsters Unleashed #11, we've had a real change of tone to this book. Long gone are the solid, short stories more suited to an anthology book. Also absent are the wonderful Atlas-era reprints. What's left is an overly long Moench written Gabriel story. This brings the mag even more in step with the Marvel universe in general and it feels like an inventory burn. The other two stories aren't much better. Everything seems to be a bit bloated and verbose - I guess that's not surprising on a Don McGregor edited title. The saving grace here is the opening page of Dave Cockrum Creature From the Black Lagoon illustrations. Man, I miss Dave!

While far from perfect, these are still relatively inexpensive and worth checking out as there's a lot of gold in these old Marvel mags!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Trade Marks: Wally Wood's M.A.R.S. Patrol - Total War

I really dig the fact that Dark Horse seems dedicated in their efforts to reprint so many nearly forgotten classics. This volume is slim (only 4 issues), and is therefore quite affordable. Dark Horse is likely banking on Wally Wood's notoriety amongst comic book fans, and that's just fine with me. Overall, it's a fun read - nothing groundbreaking but good, chaotic fun. The chaos is present from the outset - an attack by an unknown enemy on American soil leads to non-stop action. The pace never really let's up, so if you're looking for character development - this is not the book for you. Woody worked with many assistants during the 60s, and it's evident here as some pages have little to no trace of that Wood touch. There are also decent intro pieces by Dan Adkins and Batton Lash - but I was really left wanting two things. First, I had hoped that someone had the full story of how this series was concocted and executed. Secondly, I thought that they should have just run the table and reprinted the non-Wood issues. All of that aside, it's a fireball of fun and decent bang for your buck. Trade Mark: B

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Loves Me Some Warren Spirit Mags

These days, there are about a million ways to collect old Spirit stories. You can search on eBay for the original newspaper inserts. Those are fun, and they're not actually all that expensive. You can spend the big bucks and find him in the pages of Police Comics, as well as eponymous titles published by Quality and Fiction House, respectively. There's also the long running Kitchen Sink reprints, the short running Harvey series from the 60s. Obsessives (like me) continue to fork over money for the fancy schmancy glossy, hardcover treatment the stories receive in the DC Archives series. There are many more versions as well, but I do have to work at some point.

For my money, however, you just can't beat the Warren magazines from the 70s. Jim Warren worked with Will Eisner and produced 16 issues, mainly in black and white featuring new covers. These are awesome. The strip works so well in black and white - and they've done so many shades of grey that the artwork seems so beautifully texture. Some of this would be lost in the Kitchen Sink magazine reprints, as the reproduction quality was inferior. This is also a great format, as the larger page size is perfect for Eisner's layouts and splash pages.

Most of my copies (I think I've got 14 of the 16) have yellowing pages, but they've got a bit of a pinkish hue to them and it just seems to add to the overall atmosphere. All of this and the great Captain Company ads make for a very pleasurable and nostalgic reading experience. The great news is that they're still cheap - I picked up a nice copy of #16 for $2.99 the other day. So if you need a Spirit fix, but are a bit scared of investing in the Archives, try tracking down a few issues of the Warren run. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Ghostly Tales #121

Yes, this is Ditko at his most spare and it's a world removed from those more detailed covers he produced in the 50s. Ditko proves, however, that a good cover is not the result of the number of pencil scratches, but how those scratches are used. The wonderful the sense of action and movement derived from Steve's choice of perspective that makes this such a compelling cover. You almost get a sense of vertigo looking down at the soon-to-be victim, and it's the exact opposite of the worm's eye view Ditko has used so effectively elsewhere. Simple, but effective - something that has been forgotten by many cover artists. Definitely one of Ditko's best on this title.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Charlton Notebook: Space Adventures #8

This short-lived series was pretty hit or miss, but this is definitely one of the strongest issues. I loooove this Jim Aparo cover. It's too bad he wasn't able to do more sci-fi after his move to DC. I'll start with the so-so. There are two Charles Nicholas drawn stories that feel as though they've emerged from Charlton inventory from 1960. There's not much to them as they are much more stale than most stories produced in '69. Now the good - there's a solid opening story ("A Better World Than Ours" with decent art by Eccio. This one plays out like a Twilight Zone episode and deals much more with psychology than action. The finale ("It's A Small World") is a Ditko tour de force - visually stunning, with a fantastic Goldfinger inspired opening splash page.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Cisco Kid #33

I've always been a sucker for painted covers, but it was until the last couple of years that I've fallen for the charms of the Cisco Kid. Cisco Kid #33 is the best of the handful that I've read. It's a lot of good clean 50s fun from Dell. The first Cisco Kid story involves a wrongly accused snake oil salesman who comes within a few seconds of the gallows. It's actually quite an intense story towards the end. The 'Pedro' story is quite amusing - with a mustache playing a very important role. We end with another Cisco Kid story; this one revolves around money hidden in a schoolhouse and the importance of books.

Like the Lone Ranger series, the stories are light and lively - very inventive with just a touch of humor. The bad guys are truly bad, and the good guys rely on their brains as much as brawn. The art by Bob Jenney is remarkable - it is so subtlety beautiful that you may not notice just how great it is at first. He uses shadows and silhouettes wonderfully. I picked up my VG copy for $5, and it was worth every penny. There are plenty of good, cheap old books out there in the marketplace. I'd love to eventually put together a full run of the series, but my obsessive collecting days seem to be behind me.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hidden Gems: Super Team Family #9

OK - this generic, overly busy Buckler/Abel cover doesn't exactly let you know that you've just picked up gem. The 70s Challengers stories are not really all that great, but this one isn't too bad. It's a silly story, but leave it to Steve Skeates to infuse the story with enough Silver Age charm so that the Challs come across as 'retro' rather than 'dated'. This book saved the best for last, as it's the back-up reprints that make this a true gem. The first is a wonderful Green Arrow story from Jack Kirby's run on that strip. Kirby was struggling to find work at this stage of his career, so he was stuck with second string character but he really made the best of it. I love these Kirby GA stories - and if you've never seen one, here's an inexpensive option. Finally, we have an early Doom Patrol story (albeit an incomplete one). That's another remarkable strip and it's fun to stumble across it here. Now, I'm not saying go out and spend $30 on a CGC 9.8 copy of this book - but if you see it in the dollar bin like I did, do not pass it up.