Thursday, June 26, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: The Unexpected #220

Although I loved monster movies, horror comics and all things that go bump in the night as a kid, I think that deep down, I was a bit of a scaredy cat. I liked all of those things, but i always approached them with some trepidation. The fact that I had terrible recurring nightmares involving werewolves and King Kong probably didn't help, but I soldiered on. I would have been 9 years old when this issue came out (right around Christmas, 1981). It was definitely the Joe Kubert cover that sold me on it, as I don't think that I'd bought a copy of the Unexpected before this one. What a Cover! So innovative, so eye catching, so... well, unexpected.

Looking back, the DC anthologies from 1973 suffered greatly from inconsistency, but this one is rally quite good. I re-read it the other day, and I was surprised at how many of the images had stuck in my mind. The lead story is a partial rip-off of EC's "All Through the House"story about a less than jolly Santa Claus. Nothing original, but well done - very suspenseful. The next story is a rather haunting tale of aliens and love. The third story is probably my favourite, as it involves the some young tourists getting their comeuppance. Having seen the trailer for 'The Ruins', I get the feeling that those producers owned this comic as well. The final story is a very original and charming story about a troll who ultimately ends up under the Brooklyn Bridge with very nice Paris Cullins art. I read this one repeatedly as a kid, and I am so happy to say that it still holds up quite well. Just seeing that Kubert cover makes me fell warm all over.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cheap Grapes: Château de Treviac Corbières 2005

Yes, another wine from the southwest of France. You are going to have to get used to that, as I have a huge bias for wines from that region. For my money, many of the most interesting and complex budget wines come from that neck of the woods, especially with the ever increasing price of wines from Australia and Chile. Many of you may be turned off by the price of French wine or even the confusing appellation system - but trust me, if you seen words like Minervois, Corbières or Rousillon on a bottle - give it a shot. This one should please fans of New World wines, as it's mostly Syrah with some Grenache thrown in to help provide a nice balance. It's fruity, but not overwhelmingly so - just a bit of a tangy zip. I often feel like Corbières wines are the black sheep cousin of Bordeaux. What attracts me to it is a real earthy boldness, but this one isn't too rough around the edges and should go nicely with just about anything off the grill. 2005 was a stellar year in most of France, so buy a case and enjoy it over the next few years, as it's a steal at $14.95 in Ontario.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Reprint This! Bat Lash

How in the hell did we get to 2008 without seeing a collection of the original Bat Lash series? I feel like I'm living on Bizarro world when I can buy a Ghost Rider Team-Up collection but no Bat Lash. The original series is sooooo good - funny, charming and totally engaging. Some of the stories were reprinted piecemeal in the early 70s, but they deserve a full blown gorgeous collection. I don't need an Archives volume, but just an attractive TPB to proudly place on my bookshelf. If DC needs a bit more material, I'd include Bat Lash's guest appearance along side Scalphunter for a couple of entertaining issues of Weird Western, as well as the two Dan Spiegle drawn back-ups from Jonah Hex in the early 80s. Probably best to leave out the JLA appearances and Showcase #100 as those are a bit too far off the beaten path. I don't know much about marketing, but wouldn't the fact that DC has a new Bat Lash series make this the perfect time for a Bat Lash collection? Perhaps it's just too obvious for those brainiacs at DC to see.

Friday, June 20, 2008

3 Songs to Dowload for June

The other day I was listening to one of the songs on this list and I got to thinking about great duets that might have slipped under the radar, but would please your iPod a great deal. I'm talking one-offs here, otherwise the list would be full of Otis Redding/Carla Thomas stuff. Here are a few you might not have heard before - or at least in a little while:

Sometimes Always: Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Hope Sandoval
When I was an undergrad student living in Montreal, I listened to Mazzy Star all the time and was 99% convinced I'd marry Hope Sandoval one day. My life headed in a different direction, but I'll bet I still listen to this lovely song at least once a month. It's a mid-tempo heart breaker. One of the best songs of the 90s

4% Pantomime - The Band with Van Morrison
For my money, Richard Manuel has just about the best 'white soul' voice ever, and Van the Man ain't far behind. This is a great, raunchy collaboration likely recorded in the wee hours of the morning. How can you not love a song that gives a shout out to 'Johnny Walker Red'?

This is the Picture (Excellent Birds) - Peter Gabriel & Laurie Anderson
I'm talking about the version that was included as the last song on the So cassette (it wasn't on the vinyl). It's a great little bit of accessible performance art rock; quirky without being nauseating. A true collaboration by two innovative artists. It's artsy but not humourless.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Incredible Hulk #249

If you're anything like me, your initial reaction to this cover is "When did the Hulk appear in a Charlton comic?". This one might as well be called Ghost Banner (I got a million of 'em, folks). It is so Charltonesque and so unlike any other Hulk cover of that era that it's easy to forget that Ditko was one of the first artists ever to draw the Green Smasher . While I often enjoy the organic/minimalist look on Charlton books, it just doesn't work for me here. There is just too little to look at, and all of the figures appear clunky and rushed. The various bits of ice flying around confuse me - are they falling from the ceiling, or are they the result of the Hulk's punch? This is definitely one of Ditko's weaker efforts for the Big Two during that era as he bounced around from title to title.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Quick DVD Reviews

Dan in Real Life
I liked it quite a bit, but Steve Carrell carried the entire thing on his back. The fact that his sadness from his wife’s death is so skipped over really minimized the dramatic impact of him finding love once again. It’s all a bit clichéd – does every American family play touch football on Sunday mornings? Does the reformed lotahrio always revert to his old ways within 12 hours of a broken heart? Still, there’s enough humanity here for me to recommend it. Grade: B

Yes – I’m the last person on Earth to see it, but I was trying to let all the hype die down a bit. The script is a bit too perfect in the ‘no one really talks like that’ kind of way, but how can I not fall in love with something featuring Michael and George Michael. Seriously, it’s solid stuff – quite touching in parts and I’m surprised more of the supporting cast (Simmons, Janney and Garner in particular) did get more notice at awards time. Olivia Thurley should become a big star, as she really turned the role of BFF on its head. Grade: A-

Becoming Jane
Don’t watch this one if you’ve seen Price and Prejudice within the past year or so, as it all starts to blend together a bit. It’s a film with potential as anything about impossible love should be dripping with drama and passion, but it is all weighed done by its proper manners and Queen’s English. I was quite surprised by Anne Hathaway, she didn’t do a bad job at all. I love James McAvoy, but it’s tough to buy him as a Tom Jones clone. All in all, it’s one of those standard period pieces that does not offend, but fails to inspire. I also deducted a few points for the lame flash forward. Grade: C+

The Darjeeling Limited
I’m experiencing a bit of a ‘Law of Diminishing Returns’ thing with Wes Anderson movies, although I do think this one did more for me than Life Aquatic. It’s a bit unfair, as I don’t think any movie has even won me over so completely the way Rushmore did. It was a perfect storm of writing, acting, and music for me. Since then, all the pieces have been present, but they just haven’t fit together all that well. The Tenenbaums, Aquatic and Darjeeling all have wonderful moments, but I don’t know that any of them add up as a great film (Tenenbaums is close, though). The three leads do a fine job, and it’s lovely to see a Road movie take place on the rails. The final 20 minutes should have been shorn like Angelica Huston’s hair. Grade: B-

Friday, June 13, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Black Cat Mystic #59

This is one of the best issues of Strange Tales never produced by Marvel. Black Cat (a.k.a Black Cat Mystery, Black Cat Western etc...) is definitely one of the most schizophrenic series in comic book history, but for a few brief moments in the late 50s it found a great identity and was chock full of Simon & Kirby goodness. Black Cat #59 is cover dated September, 1957 and would hold its own against the very best issues of Tales of Suspense or Amazing Adult Fantasy. The lead story focuses on a sad, gifted child who has been abducted by the government for study. Shades of government paranoia in the X-Men books for sure. Fans of the original Eternals series will likely note similarities of the subterranean giant statue in 'The Great Stone Face'. 'A Weemer is Best of All' is one of those great 'be careful what you wish for' stories that Stan Lee & Co. published so often, but this one has a fun and happy ending. The finale is the weakest, but it's still enjoyable - a light hearted ghost story. I love this era of Kirby, as he's just starting to finalize the 'look' that he'd bring to Challengers of the Unknown. I picked this up at a show a while back for under $10 (it was as low grade it you get) and it was worth every cent. It would be great to see this Harvey Comics S&K collected in a trade, but that's a rant I'll save for another entry.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Iwo Jima Covers

The flag raising on Iwo Jima is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. It has been the focus of books, movies and yes, even some funnybook covers. As far as I can tell, there aren't that many Iwo Jima covers but I am certain that I've missed some. Here are a few good examples.

I'll start with the newest. While reading a copy of The Spirit and I noticed a house ad for a Countdown #37. I haven't the foggiest idea what Countdown is all about, but this image made me think of another Iwo Jima cover and before I knew it, I had a whole new cover theme. This one is ok, but it suffers from much of the blandness that haunts many modern covers. I can recognize GL and the Atom (although I'm sure that neither Hal Jordan nor Ray Palmer) and I'm guess that's Donna Troy. Not sure about the dude in the pleather jacket - Ultimate Snapper Carr? Anyhow - this cover is lame (the background colouring is really unappealing) but it serves as proof of the enduring appeal of the Iwo Jima cover.

Let's cleanse the palate with this lovely cover to Speed Comics #38, which was published mere months after the flag raising. This is the earliest example of a flag waving cover that I could find. The GCD indicates that it might be Bob Powell artwork but it's a bit tough to say for sure without seeing the faces of Black Cat, Captain Freedom or Shock Gibson. Based on the figures in the background, I'd be tempted to say it was Al Avison. Rudy Palais was doing a bunch of Speed covers at the time, but he was signing them. It is just a gorgeous cover - the figures are wonderfully posed and really convey a sense of motion.

It is no surprise that an Iwo Jima cover would pop up in a war title. What I do find a bit surprising is that more companies and artists didn't take advantage of the pose (I can only think of 2 others). Charlton rarely passed on any opportunity and chose the image to help make Fightin' Marines #26 fly off the stands. The image was already more than a dozen years old by the time this was published and had likely achieved full 'icon' status. This is one of those 100 pagers that you rarely see for sale. The Rocke/Alascia cover is quite good, but the impact is certainly lessened by the panel down the left hand side.

My final selection is an Iwo Jima cover with a twist. Mike Kaluta's cover to Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction #2 is simply stunning. If I recall correctly from the magazine's editor's column, the cover may have come first and inspired the War Toy story. I may be wrong, and perhaps someone who has read it more recently can correct me. There are two things I love about this cover. The first is that we don't know where the flag is being raised, only that it's not Earth and not Saturn. The second detail I really dig is the stars on the flag. Just how many countries has the U.S. turned into states by this point? 70s Black and white magazines really allowed artists to let their freak flags fly, and Kaluta did it quite literally.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Charlton Notebook: All-American Sports #1

Sports comic books are a pretty minor genre, so you can imagine how lonely this book is, sitting all alone in my short box labelled "Comics About High School Coaches". Editorial meetings at Charlton must have lasted about 30 seconds back in 1967, as it appears that every idea was given the green light. The hero of this comic (designed as a one-shot?) is high school coach Chat Chatfield (was Stan Lee responsible for that name?) who takes his job very seriously. Actually, it's all kind of charming in a Norman Rockwell kind of way, and Tony Tallarico artwork is handsome and strangely appropriate. The first story has Chat taking care of the gangsters trying to force his starting pitcher to throw the big game. The second story has Chat trying to get his star decathlete to get more sleep (seriously, he's out with his girlfriend too much). Finally, Chat tracks down a runaway football player who ends up winning the championship and reconnecting with his father. Seriously, if this was a TV show, it would star Michael Landon. Sure, lots comic book companies were experimenting in the late 60s, but did any of them ever take things this far?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Cheap Grapes: Mother Cluckers 2005 Chardonnay

If you live in Ontario, you'd better get moving as this product has been discontinued and the price has been slashed from $15.20 to $7.95 (so, we are really talking 'cheap' here). I was given the heads-up by a colleague and picked up a case at the Queen's Quay LCBO. Yes, I was more than a little skeptical (especially because I can't stand 'cute' labels) but I figured that I didn't have much to lose. At the very least I'd bring it along to various BBQs and parties throughout the summer, and at $95 a case, I'm not too picky. It turns out that it is very, very pleasant wine. One of my favourite New World whites is Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc and, although this is a Chard, there are certain similarities. This is unoaked (yay!) so you don't feel like you're about to enjoy a bottle of vanilla perfume. It also has some of those mineral/metallic qualities that I enjoy with the Oyster Bay SB. That is something I always look for in whites, as it speaks to greater complexity and you'll never find it in anything under $10. I'm not sure of the whole story of how it's been discontinued, or if it's available at a discount in other provinces and states. In Ontario, it is LCBO product #620088, and by my quick count of the availability on the LCBO website they are fewer than 300 bottles left in Ontario (179 at the Queen's Quay store). Run like a chicken with it's head cut off!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

You've Been Warned: Secret Society of Super Villains #4

What a complete and utter disaster! Conceptually, there is so much that I want to like about the SSOSV, but the execution is so brutal than it just makes me cringe. This issue is a prime example of of why more is not necessarily better. If this society was so secret, how come it seems as though every villain in the DCU short of Egg Fu is a member? My real problem with this whole issue is that we've got 20 pages of bickering amongst the villains. Now, it was all very cute when Stan Lee introduced dysfunctionalism to comics in 1961, but 15 years later we're stuck with overkill. The art is beyond brutal - I'm not sure what's going on here. The team of Pablo Marcos, Ernie Chan and Vinnie C. somehow gives Gorilla Grodd two completely different faces, and this has got to be the least imposing Darkseid I've ever seen. The anatomy in the never ending Grodd/Kalibak punch-up is a lesson in how not to draw. I'm as nostalgic as the next nerd, but I cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of this book. I can't even spoil anything about the Black Racer's appearance - he doesn't show up until the final appeal. How did Manhunter go from Detective Comics to this crap?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: This Magazine Is Haunted #19

Check out this beauty! How on earth did Ditko hit so many out of the park so early in his career? This is just a gorgeous example of what he could do in terms of design. Sure, the main figure borrows heavily from the Gentleman Ghost, but the details in the clothing is spectacular. The details in the background are also incredible. Many of us are much more used to seeing Ditko take a more economical approach and leave out many details, but this proves he could include the kitchen sink if it was warranted. The weather vane and bats are not things that would show up on a 70s Charlton cover. I'm not sure who the 'Gentleman Ghost' is, as Doctor Death (at bottom left) is the host of the book - but he surely is a captivating figure. I've only ever owned a couple of issues from this title - which migrated to Charlton from Fawcett, as they're extremely tough to find. Oh, and I love any cover were someone is busting through the 4th wall.