Thursday, May 29, 2008

Dear Showcase Presents Batman & the Outsiders

It was great to bump into you the other day, I'm glad that we got the chance to spend some time together. You're looking really great! I can't believe that it's been... what, 25 years or so? Wow, time flies. I've glanced at so many others books since we first met, but none really compare to you. You always started off with such a dramatic bang and elegantly led me through those first stories panel by panel. I've got to give a lot of credit to your parents - Mike Barr and Jim Aparo, who blessed you with wonderful genes. Never have I seen Batman's cape draped so elegantly. Rarely do I get to see Metamorpho drawn with so much love. Sure, we had some bumps in our relationship along the way. You know the whole 'Olympics' thing was a turn-off fo me, and this time around I found a bit jarring to see George Perez breaking up all of the lovely Aparo work (why I had that fling with Perez, I'll never understand!). I know that we've both moved on with our lives, but I'd love it if we could get together every now and then.

Forever Yours,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reprint This! Joe Orlando's Adam Link

The early years of Warren Publishing must have been pure bliss for comic book fans. Titles like Creepy, Eerie and Blazing Combat featured an all-star collection of creators. Of course, all good things must come to an end and eventually these mags moved into a mixture of reprints and second-tier creators. One of the real gems from those early years was the collaboration between Joe Orlando and Otto Binder, bringing Binder's Adam Link stories to life in beautiful black and white. It may have seemed a bit of of place in a horror anthology, as this strip had more of serial quality to it, but it is very engaging and a real joy to read. There's a whole lot crammed into each story - so things move along quickly, perhaps a bit too quickly but it reminds me of the Manning adaptations of the Tarzan books for Gold Key. You don't get all of the detail, but all of the meat is there. By my count, there were a total of 8 chapters in the Adam Link saga clocking in at 8 pages apiece. That would make for a wonderful little 64-page package that a ton of people would scoop up for $7.95 or so. Please, please, please - somebody do it!

Monday, May 26, 2008

3 Songs to Download for May

I hope that this will be an ongoing series of entries to help all of you suffering from iPod malaise. There are a lot of great songs out there that we've all forgotten to add to our libraries. Here are a few initial gems that are perfect for this time of year:

Revolution Blues: Neil Young
The best Neil Young song you may have never heard. Some of us suffered for years, listening to out scratchy LPs, waiting for On the Beach to be released on CD. In this day of instant gratification however, you don't have to feel the pain. Within seconds, you can be listening to this bleak and beautiful song that is the best love song Charles Manson never wrote. It may seem a bit dated at times, but change there will never again be a lyric as cool as '10 million dune buggies coming down the mountain'. Play it loud!

Love --> Building on Fire: Talking Heads
You've always wanted to like the Talking Heads, haven't you? You know they're cool, you know that you'd love them if you just gave them a chance. Here's the perfect entry point - not as iconic as either Psycho Killer or Once in Lifetime, but a great little gem for a stroll down a sunny sidewalk. It's silly and earnest, campy and compelling. Only David Byrne can demonstrate putting his heart on his sleeze with line like "It goes, tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet like little birds'. A perfect example of the crazy thoughts that flow from our brains when we're in love.

Start Choppin': Dinosaur Jr.
An early 90s classic that should never be forgotten. It's got all of the various ingredients of a great grunge song, but is so much more than that. It's sad, high speed car crash of a song pushed along by the crunch Crazy Horsey guitars and J. Mascis' singing which runs the gamut between Lenonard Cohen-lite to pure chalkboard scratch. On one listen, it can be very relaxing and yet 10 minutes later, it's totally jarring. Download it and pretty that you're hanging out with me at McGill in 1993.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Free Fallin' Covers

'She's a good girl, crazy about Elvis...' No, I'm not going to feature covers with Tom Petty lookalikes (although that idea is just crazy enough to work). This particular theme jumped out at me (or perhaps fell on me) when browsing pre-Code crime comics. There are lots of comics where someone is falling, but I started looking for covers where the main figure is in an absolute free fall - bonus points if the cover gives the reader a case of vertigo. Let's have a look at a few.

This is the one that made it all click in my head, Uncle Charlie's cover to Crime Does Not Pay #34. We all know that Gleason came under a lot of fire thanks to Dr. Wertham et al., but this cover manages to convey a real sense of dread without showing violence or gore. Like a good horror movie, this cover is really about the anticipation of violence. Unlike many Gleason covers, this one has no dialogue, no captions - just a real lump in the throat as the victim gets the (elevator) shaft. Can you dig it? It's a great, great perspective and I'd love to get my hands on a copy. It's probably full of great stories too with art by the likes of George Tuska and Rudy Palais.

Here's a more modern take on the Biro cover from one of my all-time favourite comic books, Daredevil #186. For the very small number of you who may not be familiar with the Miller/Jansen run, this issue is part of a storyline in which Matt's powers have gone absolute haywire. He finds it very difficult leaping from rooftop to rooftop when he can no longer see where he's going. It's great, great stuff and this cover certainly invokes the feeling of helplessness that defines the issue. Oh yeah - we get Turk as Stilt Man in here too - another guy who runs into some difficulties at high altitude.

First Biro, then Miller and now here's Neal Adams. Wow, some real legends liked to play around with Free Fallin' covers. This cover to Superboy #143 is a classic example of DC in the 60s - really trying to hook it's readers with a compelling cover. I don't want to accuse them of bait and switch - but even though I've never read this book, I'm pretty sure that the story doesn't live up to the cover. Personally, I think this cover would have been much, much more effective had they left off the cheesy caption and let the image tell the story. My guess is that Adams had words with Mort Weisinger about it. Still, it's a pretty gorgeous cover and a great example of what Adams was bringing to DC's table in the late 60s.

I've saved the best for last. As some of you may know, I'm a real sucker for painted covers and that's the main reason I have so many Gold Key comics in my collection. This cover to Twilight Zone #43 is just superb - giving a real sense of falling. Perhaps this bellhop hung around the room waiting for a tip for a little too long. Is that a window washer halfway down the building? What a great little detail to add! I'm not sure about what the 'performance of a lifetime' stuff is all about - but this cover is certainly enough to convince any comic book fan to pay to find out. I'll assume this cover is by George Wilson, as he did so many wonderful paintings for Gold Key.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cheap Grapes: Château Planères Cuvée Prestige 2005

You may have never had wine from the Roussillon appellation before, but don't let that scare you. It's not exactly Bordeaux or Burgundy, but I've enjoyed most of the wines that I've sampled from this sunny little region in southwestern France. 2005 was a stellar year throughout France, so even the wines from the 2nd and 3rd tier appellations are likely to be at their best. Carignan is the real go-to grape in the region, but this wine is a nice blend of Mourvédre, Syrah, Black Grenache and Carignan. The result is a good mixture of dark berries and earthiness with enough acidity to keep it out of 'jam' territory; making it a good match for most foods. It could hold its own against spicy food, but is gentle enough to go with seafood. My wife and I matched it with grilled rainbow trout, and loved it. It hit LCBO shelves a couple of weeks ago at $14.95 - a great deal IMHO as it kicks the ass of all of the New World competition at that price point. It's not one to let gather dust in the cellar, but my guess is that it will be great to drink from now until 2012. This is a good one - hunt it down.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Shade, the Changing Man #8

DC gave Steve Ditko the keys to the car in 1977, and it really paid off huge dividends. Like many newly launched titles from that period, Shade was been a short-lived series but it must have made DC seem pretty cutting edge. Ditko's abstract-psychedelic covers for this series are all quite strong, but this is my favourite, as it juxtaposes Shade in all of his trippy glory with the with the sobering reality of a military fleet. It's a wonderful effect and it may be the 'cleanest' looking of all of the Shade covers, some of which are guilty of being messy as a result of their trippiness. The only thing I'd change are the 3 figures at the window. They seem stiff and out of sync with the rest of the cover. I understand their presence as part of the narrative, but it just comes across as awkward.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Recent Review: Project Superpowers

What an ungodly mess! I've read #0, #1 and #2 and I'm still not sure I can explain the basic premise. Ok, I can - but it'll be painful. You see, near the end of WW2 all of the heroes from 2nd and 3rd tier publishers gathered to give speeches and alienate Fighting Yank. In the end, the Tricorned One makes a bad judgment call and needs to rectify things 60 years later. The problem is he has an annoying ghost whispering in one ear and Black Terror screaming in the other. Now, I love many of these characters and consider BT's costume to be one of the best ever designed, but there is no reason we need to bring back 50 characters at once. I wish it were just the case of too much of a good thing, but it's not.

This is an overly ambitious, ill-conceived and poorly executed project that fails to resonate with the reader. The writing is weak, as too many details are glossed over. I know that exposition is a dirty word in today's comic book vernacular, but a little bit is ok if we're going to be shifting locales (and time periods) every other page. The artwork is pure Ross-clone - lots of puffed up chests and yelling. In the end if feels like we're watching the birth of some sort of 'Watchmen meets Last Days of the JSA' Frankenstein Monster, with none of Moore's storytelling and all of Roy Thomas' excesses - right down to focusing on Hitler's obsession with the occult. This is just a bloated disaster, and a better master plan should have been discussed at Dynamite so that these characters could have returned with a shred of dignity.

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Dazzler #1

Dazzler #1 hit the racks a few months after my 8th birthday. I don't think I had ever seen a book with so much hype (this was long before I was relatively media savvy), and I just had to buy a copy. The painted cover immediately grabs your attention and lets you know that you're stepping into a work that will try to fuse the New York disco scene with the Marvel Universe. I love the blatant appeal to superhero fans by throwing in head shots of Iron Man, Spidey, Nightcrawler and the Enchantress (ok - that ones doesn't make much sense, but I guess it's cause she actually plays a major role). I've always been interested in finding out why Larkin's painting is signed '79 and this issue is cover dated March, 1981. Did Dazzler sit in disco limbo for over a year. Wasn't that the key year in which disco died, making this projected dated before it even launched?

Does it all work out in the end? I really don't know - like many people I bought #1 and never touched Dazzler again. It sat in a short box as a guilty pleasure of sorts. What kind of Batman-worshipping kid could admit to the world that he owned this book? It would still be a few years before I noticed the Wally Wood inspired aspects of Bob Larkin's anatomy work. The story follows the typical Shooter-era formula 1) show dingy New York apartment 2) showcase New York rapists 3) have Spidey swing by 4) flashback to stern father 5) cram as many X-Men and Avengers into a few panels as possible and 6) have an American Idol style showdown between the hero and villain. Ok, at least the last one is a bit novel, but boy does it come across as lame today. As I understand, Dazzler got better as the years rolled along but I just couldn't bring myself to care.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You've Been Warned: Space Adventures #3

If you've ever chatted with me about funnybooks, you know very well that I'm a huge Charlton apologist. I find something to love in just about ever book put out my the Little Publisher that Could. All of that being said, even I cannot find the silver lining in this one. I've actually been on the look out for a copy for quite some time, because I've always thought the Rocke cover looked cool. There was a good chance of solid comic book fun as this was the period in which you were likely to find Aparo and Ditko in the same book, and maybe a Denny O'Neill or Steve Skeates story.
Well, now I feel like a bait and switch victim. This is about as bad a Charlton book as I've ever read, and certainly well below the late 60s standards. I like Pay Boyette, but his art on the lead story has none of the charm I've come to expect and comes across as just plain ugly. The next two tales are pretty much 'scripts by numbers' featuring poorly designed robots and fascist angels. I'm guessing Joe Gill wrote them, but I can't say for sure. The Nicholas/Alascia team never does much for me personally, and these stories are now exception. in conclusion, the idiom 'Never judge a book by its cover' has never been more apropos.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Cheap Grapes: Chivite Gran Feudo Reserva

This is the ultimate crowd pleaser, and yet I don't think I've ever seen it served at a dinner party. If this wine had a profession, it would be a diplomat. I can't see it offending anyone. Temparanillo makes up most of the bottle, with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot thrown in for good measure. This nice blend gives it enough earthiness to please the most pretentious Bordeaux snob, and yet it's balanced by just enough fruit for those looking for a New World glugger. It sells for $15.95 at the LCBO and seems to readily available year round. It has become the 'go to' wine in my house as it has never disappointed (we're through the 2003s and into the 2005s now), and I try to make sure that we've always got a couple of bottles on hand.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Amazing Spider-Man #80

If you been reading this blog, you've figured out that I'm a pretty big Steve Ditko fan. It may surprise you to discover that my favourite Spider-Man story is one that may not be considered to be much of a classic by the Spidey cognoscenti. What's so great about Spidey #80? Well, it really begins and ends with the Chameleon. He was Spidey's first real super-villain (although, he has not super-powers per se), but IMHO he's been brutally underused throughout Spider-Man history. Spider-Man was a revolutionary book in the sense that much of the storyline line flowed from issue to issue and there were several multi-issue arcs, a real rarity in the 60s. This one, however, accomplishes a great deal in one issue, and is a real treat for those who miss crisp and concise storytelling. The artwork is by the three-headed BuscemaRomitaMooney Monster, and it's quite strong.

The story here is a lot of fun, as Spider-Man tries to set a trap to catch the Chameleon. The plan almost backfires, though but a great twist ending enables Spidey to triumph. The 'master of disguise' premise is a really good one, as it forces Spidey to fight with brain rather than brawn. That being said, I guess it's a well you don't want to go back to all that often for fear of losing the impact. Perhaps the Chameleon is better suited as a nemesis for another Marvel hero, but who? Wouldn't work at all with Daredevil, too small potatoes for the Fantastic Four, perhaps as an ongoing thorn in the side of Tony Stark/Iron Man? I could see him as the source of some industrial espionage problems for Stark Industries. That could work. For the time being, have a look at ASM #80, as it is a great little mystery.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Restaurant Review: Fat Cat Wine Bar, Far From Purrfect

My wife and I hadn't been out in ages, so I asked my Dad to come over to look after the kids while we stepped out for a Date Night. We were really excited to try a wine bar that had opened a year or two ago in our 'hood, Fat Cat Wine Bar. Well, from the lost reservation to the screwed up bill, this was nothing short of a comedy of errors. We still had a nice night, but we hadn't been out in so long, a date a Popeye's Chicken probably would have worked for us. I had made a reservation two days earlier, but that had apparently been lost somewhere along the way. That's fine - we sat at the bar, sipping a glass of 2005 Burgundy (Frederic Magnien). It was very nice - 2005 is looking like a stellar year right across France, so stock up folks. I believe that a wine bar, should use Riedel glasses or something similar, but the glasses at Fat Cat had more of an Ikea feel to them.

Eventually, we got a table and manage to get an order for food in somehow (it was unclear who was our server, and most of the attention was being paid to larger groups). I must admit that each of our four selections from the Tapas menu were good, if a little small. The Baked Shrimp was done perfectly and the Escargot baked in Gruyere and White Wine was divine. What really pissed me off is that our bottle of wine (something from Midi - with a Carginan/Syrah based) came well after our food and was unbelievably warm. A request for a ice bucket was accommodated, but it took them by surprise. What kind of wine bar serves piping hot wine? Anyway, eventually a decent cheese plate was ordered to end the meal. The crackers provided were woefully stale, so more baguette was requested (each basket after the first is $2). Luckily, I love my wife and we have a nice time anywhere, if I had been really trying to impress anyone, I would have crashed and burned. The best part definitely came at the end when I was presented with a bill that excluded all of our wine, as well as the cheese plate. Know, I like to save $100 as much as anyone, but I had to point out the slight miscalculation to our server. We got 2 free cheeses as a reward. I guess I've got to be happy with the small victories in life.

All in all - avoid. If you want a real wine bar experience, grab a bottle of 2005 Corbieres and drop $40 on cheese at the Thin Blue Line further south on Roncesvalles head home a light a few candles. For the record:

Friday, May 02, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Ghost Manor #7

Monster Mash. Mad Monster Party. Monster's Ball. Any of those nicely sums up this awesome cover from 1972. The design here is just brilliant, and would attract any monster obsessed child. If memory serves, the story is actually about a bunch of costumed hooligans rather than actual monsters, but by the time most readers figure that out, they would have already parted company with two dimes. This cover was re-used in the early 80s, with one major change. The cloaked character was redrawn in the blank space, with the monsters serving to almost frame his face. It's also quite effective. There are a couple of really, really great features here. First, I love the werewolf. He has a very Atlas monster look to him. The idea for yellow clothing is also a good one, and would be borrowed less than a year later by a certain lycanthropic astronaut. What I really, really love about this cover, though, is the mummy. Mummys and comic book covers are a perfect match (keep an eye out for a future feature here), and this particular mummy is tops. Why? Because he has those awesome Iron Man eye slots. I just love that! All in all, one of Ditko's greatest Charlton horror covers.