Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reprint This! The Frogmen

Yeah, I said Frogmen. Deal with it. You may think I'm nuts for wanted a TPB collecting this Dell series, but you're nuts for thinking I'm nuts. This is a fun, fun series from back in the 60s and still holds up quite well today. Non-superhero adventure strips were fairly common back then, and many had an underwater theme (Sea Devils, UNDERSEA Agent), and this one is my favourite of the genre. In fact, I truly think that this series is as good as any adventure series from that decade. Don Segall's stories are fun and inventive, featuring interesting plots, lots of action and interesting locales. Things get better when a villainous mad scientist shows up. Dr. Vogar is some sort of crazy Sivana/Blofeld hybrid.

OK fine - I see that you still needs some convincing. I've only ever owned a couple of these, so I can't speak to the whole series but I will say that from what I've seen, you'll have a tougher time finding a book with as much artistic talent as Frogmen. First, the covers are fantastic. I like to consider myself to be a connoisseur of painted covers, and I must say that there are some really fantastic examples here. I really wish I knew who painted them - George Wilson, perhaps? Second, the list of artists who work on Frogmen is like a who's who of funnybook legends. George Evans, Alex Toth, Mike Sekowsky, Don Heck, George Tuska, Gil Kane. Hell, Frank Frazetta even inked a handful of pages. How can you possibly go wrong. I don't know who owns the rights to this series, but please reprint it ASAP!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Charlton Notebook: Scary Tales #38

We all know that Charlton books are full of surprises, but some are far more surprisey than others. This is a prime example of why I love Charlton. First, you'll notice that the cover feature "Mr. Jigsaw, Man of a Thousand Parts" may seem a bit out of place in a horror book. It seems that fine folks in Derby decided to have a handful of superhero try-outs mixed in with some horror reprints during this era (see issues #37 and #40 as well). While it may not mesh together all that well, the sum of its (thousand) parts is just fine. Let's start with our friend Mr. Jigsaw - a rather fun character with a fun origin. The mix of humour and action owes a debt to E-Man, but is also ahead of its time in some ways. In addition, I imagine that he's likely the first and only Maine-based supehero. I get the sense that this is left over inventory from the Charlton Bullseye series. I think that Mr. Jigsaw had a future - it's too bad he wasn't given much of a chance. Keeping more in line with the book's theme is a good Joe Molloy story drawn by Ditko about a Mummy's curse. The other story is a somewhat disjointed Gill/Boyette effort that didn't do much for me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Mystery in Space #111

What if I told you there was a comic book with art by the likes of Jim Aparo and Steve Ditko? How much do you think you'd be willing to pay? Wait! Don't answer yet, because there's more. How much would you pay if I threw in some Marshall Rogers artwork? Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? But that's not all. How about if we include Dan Spiegle channeling the very best of his Space Family Robinson work. Now, how much would you pay? $50?, $100? What if I told you that for no extra charge, we'll wrap it up in a very attractive Joe Kubert cover. Now how much would pay for this book? $200? How does a couple of quarters sound?

Astonishing, I know, but this is what DC offered to the general public back in 1980. Not many people took them up on this amazing offer, as the relaunched flagship sci-fi title didn't last a year. It's too bad - as there's a lot of quality work here. Highlights include the Spiegle drawn lead story about an intergalactic ambassador in peril, as well as the wordless space invasion story beautifully drawn by Aparo. I'm not sure who Gerald Brown was, but his stories showed some real promise. This one is still widely available for next to nothing. I highly recommend it as a true all-star collection of talent.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Don't Tread On Me Covers

In my continuing search to find obscure cover themes, I've tripped over a wonderfully fun theme (or was that the Atom?). 'Don't Tread On Me Covers' (as I've christened them) tend to feature a main character moments from becoming intimate with the sole of someone's shoe. It's a great design, and a real attention grabber. Let's take a look at a few.

We expect the likes of Atom and Ant-Man to be in this predicament on a fairly regular basis, so I'm not going to go on and on about those little guys, but I couldn't resist include this one from Marvel Team-Up #102, as it is the cover to one of my favourite comics from childhood. This is the Scott Lang Ant-Man, and he and Spidey have discovered the Taskmaster's secret training facility. Lang is still learning to fill Hank Pym's shoes at this stage in his career, but he should really be more concerned with Taskmaster's shoe at this stage.

Old Greenskin isn't exactly the first guy you'd think of getting caught underfoot, but here he is being threatened by Modok's size 55s on the cover of Incredible Hulk #167. Modok totally looks like the Spider Slayer here - did he hook up with Alistair Smythe? I like the whole juxtaposition of the big bad Hulk suddenly looking tiny. This cover is Herb Trimpes at his Trimpiest. Nice job all around (although taht red background is a bit garish for my tastes). I haven't read too many Hulk stories from this era, but boy did he ever get himself into some strange situations.

John Byrne must have liked the overall effect of Don't Tread On Me Covers, as he designed one for the cover to Superman Annual #1 from 1987. I'm not sure how I feel about this one, as I have difficulty taking Titano seriously at times. It almost seems like he's playing footsie with Supes. Also, the combination of Superman's pose and facial expression makes him look more constipated than threatened. A lesser example of the subgenre, but I wouldn't be earning my salary if I only dug up Atom and Ant-Man covers.

A much better example is Mike Allred's cover to Madman #9. It's got a bit of a Land of the Giants feel to it (I looked through the Gold Key Land of the Giants cover gallery, but sadly no examples), complete with a giant toothbrush. I can't remember how that toy robot fits into the story (except for that its owner is a geek), but it looks pretty cool. I did always find that Easter Island head at the bottom right to be a real distraction - and I won't be mentioning them when I do Easter Island covers. Madman has one of the few books I picked up religiously back in the mid-90s, but the wonky publishing schedule became a pretty big turn off. I wonder whatever happened to old Madman?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Where Monsters Dwell #36

As I've likely mentioned before, my childhood LCS (Queen's Comics in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood) always had a rack outside on the sidewalk with 10 cent books. This was circa 1980, so it was crammed with Atlas Seaboards and Devil Dinosaurs. This is how I came to purchase my first 'monster' book. As a young child, I never really read the creator credits, but I always knew that I had seen the artistic styles in this book somewhere before. Of course I had - we're talking Kirby and Ditko here, folks. I read and re-read this one to bits as a kid, but it was lost somwhere along the way. It took quite a while, but I finally tracked down another copy and I enjoy it just as much today as I did 25 years ago.

The lead story is one of those great Lee/Ditko morality plays that feeds on Cold War fear. The next tale is the classic 'perils of trying to catch a mermaid' story. Looking at the Atlas Tales site - Andru & Esposito are credited (from the original Astonishg #46 enty), but I've always thought it was Don Heck. I'll have to dig out my copy and take another look. The next one is about a man who invents a duplicator ray and learns that it pays to be careful what you wish for - very, very nice John Tartaglione art. Finally, we have a Kirby masterpiece involving a Transatlantic Tunnel and the importance of not disturbing paradise. It's just great, great stuff. I'm trying to pick up as many of these 70s reprint books as I can because the original Atlas books are getting priced out of reach. The sad thing is, the 70s books certainly aren't going for a dime anymore!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Racket Squad in Action #12

Here's a Ditko cover from the 50s that you might not have seen. One doesn't normally think of crime comics when Ditko's name is mention, but he does a pretty good job nice job here. We've got a explosion in a Mom & Pop-owned corner store. I'm not in love with all aspects of this explosion (the positioning of the main figures, for example), but it's no bomb. I love how the explosion apparently has such incredible impact, and yet only one apple has been disturbed - a great little touch. Racket Squad is actually a very fun little title. It is procedural in tone, revealing how many scams and frauds are perpetrated. I've only ever owned a couple of them, but I keep my eye out for a cheap copies because it's always been a fun read. Not much Ditko to be found, though. He only contributed two covers, as far as I can tell. Ditko signed these covers in a very unique way - I'm not sure when this practice ended but it's too bad he went with a more linear signature.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reprint This! Johnny Dynamite

Dear Max Allan Collins

I am a fan of your work – love Ms. Tree. She rocks. I’d like to see her stuff reprinted in its entirety, but that’s an entry for another day. I’m here to talk about Johnny Dynamite. This nearly mythical Comics Media/Charlton character has intrigued me for ages. He is just so freakin' cool and Pete Moris simply cannot be beat. Once upon a time, I had some money. I chose to spend it on other comics, where I should have been tracking down old issues of Johnny Dynamite. Now I am broke – I won’t be able to buy those for a long, long time. It's a real heartbreaker.

I understand that you acquired the right to the Johnny Dynamite character in the 1980s as part of the demise of Charlton. I further understand that some of the original Johnny Dynamite stories were reprinted has been sporadically reprinted. That was very nice of you but what the world is really crying out for (ok - maybe not the 'world' per se, but I can't be the only one) is a comprehensive collection of Johnny Dynamite stories from the 50s. That way I can get a Pete Morisi fix whenever I need one. My hardboiled heart won't mend until I see it on my bookshelf. Please.

Thanks in advance,

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Quick & Stale DVD Reviews

3:10 to Yuma
I love westerns, and have been dying for something new so this may not be the most balanced review. What we have here is a remake of a mid-50s classic, that was a pretty unique western for its time. Crowe does a good job of working the charming villain angle – making the audience relax just enough to lose its cool. Bale does a nice slow burn, and I think he does vulnerable quite well. A couple of small quips. Ben Foster’s characters was at times frightening, but veered into ‘over the top’ territory at times. The back and forth of the Bale/Crowe relationship was a bit much and tough to swallow at times. All in all a solid outing, and it’s great to see a new western. Grade: B+

The Simpsons Movie
Hi – long time viewer, first time reviewer. I’ve been a huge fan of the Simpsons since Day One (okay – maybe Day Two) and have always found something to like even in the weakest episodes. The film could not have disappointed me more (I actually had low expectations initially, but read so many decent reviews that I had some hope). I was as if they took a very lame 30 minute show and stretched it into a full length film. Too much plot – way too much plot. The laughs were few and far between and the sight gags and clever one-liners were noticeably absent. I would buy into a sequel, only if it features the return of either Lyle Lanley or John Waters. Grade: C

What a wonderful movie. Who would have thought that I’d but into some movie about a pie-making Felicity dealing with a surprise pregnancy? Everyone involved in this film, from top to bottom, obviously bought into Adrienne Shelley’s vision. The back and forth between Russell and Captain Mal was great – some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen in ages. It’s hard to watch this film in a vacuum and not be impacted by Shelley’s murder, but if you ever really need a movie to tell you to stop complaining and appreciate all that you have – this might be a good choice. Grade: A-

Battlestar Galactica: Season One
Yup – I know the bandwagon is long gone, but I’m chasing after it. This is the shit. My wife was very skeptical when I brought this home from our local video store – but she was sold on it in a hurry. The casting is superb and the cinematography infuses everything with a intense claustrophobia. Frackin’ brilliant. Grade: A

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

You've Been Warned: Six From Sirius

I didn't understand a word, and there were plenty of words from which to choose.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

My Own Worst Enemy Covers

This is a theme we used to see all the time in superhero books - a real hook to grab the browser's attention. Of course, it normally turned out to a crook in disguise or a dream but they're still a lot of fun. Let's take a peak at a few of them:

I been reading the Adam Strange Archives, and this cover from Mystery in Space #59 jumped out at me. I don't think that I'd ever taken note of it before. It's another stylish Adam Strange cover (there are so many beautifully designed covers from that series) and the Giant Adam vs. Mini Adam battle looks to be a good one. I haven't read the "Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" yet, but I imagine a rogue hypernuclear Zeta beam is involved. I've really been enjoying these early Silver Age stories - Gardner Fox wasn't perfect by any means, but he certainly had a vivid imagination.

Captain America's backstory is enough to give anyone a headache as he's been frozen in ice, lost a sidekick, hooked up with a daugher of one of his contemporaries and had some weird 50s replacement retconned into the system. It only makes sense, then, that he should eventually have to duke it out with himself at some point, as shown on the cover to Captain America #156. I can't recall ever having read this book, but I imagine that it really comes down to sidekick vs. sidekick. My money's on the Falcon, especially if Red Wing gets involved.

Ok, ok - I know this isn't really a second Wonder Woman, as the cover clearly states that it's a robot (I wish they had spoiler alerts back then), but it's still a very, very stylish cover. I think that the cover to Wonder Woman#48 was drawn by Irv Novick - who contributed some very nice Wonder Woman covers in the early 50s, while HG Peter was still doing interior work. This cover acted as a nice springboard for a lot of the kooky WW vs. WW covers later produced by Andru and Esposito (see #84, #98, #111 among others - and there are plenty!). When did they stop making explosive in that format?

Gene Colan got in the act in the late 70s with this cover to Daredevil #156. If memory serves, this one falls into the 'hallucination' category, as DD's in a coma or something rather. What I like about this one is that not only is Red DD fighting Yellow DD in the ring, but Matt Murdock is there too, acting as someone's trainer - or perhaps for both of them. I cannot remember how this one ends, but I imagine that DD wakes up from the coma and feels a deep sense of satisfaction that he changed to the red costume so early in his career.