Friday, October 31, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Jack Kirby's Secret City Saga #1

Wow, that really is a mouthful. I've been doing a lot of older Ditko covers lately and I thought that the time had come for something more recent. It quite interesting to study the four JKSCS covers. Each one is pencilled by Ditko, but inked by a different artist. This cover has Arthur Adams inks and the others (if memory serves) are inked by Sienkiewicz, Byrne and Perez. It's interesting to see how each one deals with Ditko. Although we've seen this post before (or one quite like it), there's a lot to love here. The trademark fluidity of motion, the hands, the flames. What I really dig the most, though, is the perspective. So many times, Ditko has successfully used this ground level P.O.V. - looking up at the action, surrounded by trash - it really takes us right into the middle of this melee. A nice later work by the master.

Quick Book Reviews

Yup - every now and then I read stuff that isn't in comic book format. Here are a few recent reads:

The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America - Walter Borneman
This is an excellent example of what I'll call 'popular history'. It manages to be informative but doesn't get too tied down in certain trappings that make so many academic works inaccessible to many. Borneman's writing style is lively with a very light but enlightening editorial voice. This is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in this fascinating period in North American history.

A Long Way Down - Nick Hornby
For my money, there are not many writers as consistently entertaining as Nick Hornby. This, however, stands as one of his lesser works as it does not come close to engage the reader in the same was a About a Boy or High Fidelity. This may be partially due to the multi-narrator structure, as that only really allowed for a superficial look at the characters. Personally, I could have lived with 300 pages of pure Martin. It's ok - but I just the story was spinning it's wheels in the second half.

The Road - Cormac McCarthy
This is the book that nearly killed me. I'd been putting off reading it for months as so many people told me about the sheer intensity. As a father of two kids under 3, I had totally psyched myself out. I finally worked up the courage and cracked it open. It's a brilliant book but I don't think I can recommend it to the majority of people in my life because of that intensity, the never ending sense of dread and horror. I plowed through it in 3 hours - the literary equivalent to ripping off an bandage. It is great, but I don't think I'll ever read it again.

Trade Marks: Marvel Visionaries - Gil Kane

OK, I know that this one is far from new, but I kept seeing remaindered copies of it at various stores so I picked it up for a pittance and thought I'd share my thoughts. Let me begin by saying that I am a huge Gil Kane fan. I'll counter that by saying that I'm not such a big fan of this book. It's a real mishmash collection of stories and it made me realize how much of Kane's best work was at DC. The early Cap stories in Tales of Suspense are ok, but Kane's is really holding back and his pencils lack his normal drama - line line is far too fine. The random story selection drove me - a poor Jim Shooter Daredevil story and the date Amazing Spidey #99. It really highlighting what Marvel didn't (or couldn't reprint). No Death of Gwen Stacy. No Conan. No John Carter of Mars. Between all the superhero, sci-fi and western work, I'd say that Gil Kane was a visionary at DC. At Marvel, he was just an artist for hire. The Roy Thomas intro was pretty good - but I'd really like to hear from someone else (at least it wasn't by Stan Lee). The coloring also seemed a bit over the top in places. Boy, I'm full of complaints today! Trade Mark: C+

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Split-Face Covers

Last week's Time Magazine cover featuring Barack Obama made me think of similar comic book covers. I'll call them Split-Face Covers - any cover featuring a close up of a face with two sides to it. You know, just like those creepy NBA Playoff ads from last year. There are also covers where a body has been split - but that's another subgenre that I'll save those for later. Let's take a look at a few of my favourites.

Let's start with the Incredible Hulk #241.The Hulk is a natural choice for a Split-Face Cover because of the whole Jekyll & Hyde nature of the Banner/Hulk relationship. I'm actually surprised that they waited until 1979 to do one. They must have been spurred on by the Hulk TV show, which featured the Bixby/Ferrigno split. Overall, this is a pretty weak effect by Al Milgrom - as it is absent of any 'mood'. That's too bad, because while Milgrom isn't exactly my favourite cover artist, he did some nice work during this era.

Next up is House of Mystery #173, a cover from the height of DC's Silver Age lunacy. Keep in mind that the 'Dial H for Hero' era at House of Mystery was about as far from the horror/mystery genre as you could get, but this cover actually tries to be a little creepy, or perhaps even eerie. It the last issue before it fully reverts back to horror with issue #174. Hmmm.... that has me thinking. Maybe this book is the true end to the Silver Age. I'll have to revise my rants over at Comics Should Be Good. Anyhow, back to the Jack Sparling cover. Personally, I still think that the 'G'ood side still looks a little evil.

Ok, back to Marvel with the cover to Captain America #298. I must admit that I've never read this book so I really can't tell you anything about the story (although I take it that's it has a Red Skull origin), but it is sooooo much better than the Milgrom Hulk cover. The dark background and the various vignettes really infuse it with some serious atmosphere. I love how Paul Neary pays loving tribute to the Kirby/Heck cover to Tales of Suspense #80, one of may favourite Marvel covers from the 60s. This is how to do an effective Split-Face cover!

Finally, we arrive with the grandaddy of them all, Justice League of America #61. OK, this is a bit different from the others as there are several faces, but how can you possibly not love this Mike Sekowsky classic. The choice of villains is always what makes me laugh here. Batman and the Penguin makes perfect sense, as do the Superman/Luthor and Flash/Captain Boomerang pairings. What is up with J'onn and Doctor Light? I guess the green guy didn't have an arch-enemy and had to take on a JLA villain, but isn't he even more of an Atom villain? It also shows you the real gap in quality villains at DC at the time - Cutlass Charlie and Mr. IQ? Come on, couldn't they have borrowed from the Flash or Batman? I don't use the word classic very often (ok, that's not true - I use it incessantly), but this one is a true classic.
Do you have any favourite Split-Face Covers?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Essex County Trilogy: Poetry in the Panels

I finally got around to reading Jeff Lemire's Essex County Trilogy. I wanted the opportunity to read it in an interruption-free environment (that's tough with two kids under 3). To put it mildly, I was blown away. Lemire is able to infuse these pages with a sense of bleakness that wrenches your heart. At the same time, however, there is a bit of hope - and the sense that each life has meaning.

Volume 1: Tales From the Farm introduces us to the southwestern Ontario landscape, and a young orphan named Lester living with his Uncle. The Maple Leafs represent the only common ground between these two lonely souls, but even that is not enough to stave off the feeling of sadness. Lester befriends a local legend with whom he shares a love of comics. Lemire slowly begins to peel away at the onion through some flashbacks and confrontations. It you don't shed a tear during the hospital scenes, you may not be human.

Volume 2: Ghost Stories is really the core of the story as the historical roots of the family are slowly revealed. The chapter is told mainly via flashbacks. That can be a tough trick to pull off, but Lemire handles it deftly. The sense of isolation is palpable - on the farm, in the nursing home and even as a young man in the big city. The hockey sequences are a joy, and I personally got a lot out of the 'Toronto' parts, as I ride that streetcar and live very close to the old Edgewater Hotel (now a Days Inn) portrayed on one splash page. When I used the word poetry in the title to this entry, I'm talking about the beautiful sense of dreaming that we feel when viewing Lou's memories. Lemire is able to convey such emotion with a simple landscape or one small black pupil.

Volume 3: The Country Nurse provides us with the necessary glues to put all of the pieces together. We follow a dedicated nurse (who also happens to be a widow and single mother) as she travels the back roads of Essex County. As one life's chapter is about to close, we also see the genesis of it all as Lemire takes us back nearly 100 years to an isolated orphanage. A terrible tragedy is eventually countered by a new life and the foundation is laid for all of the characters portrayed in the fascinating world. It is really only when we see the family tree that we realize just how invested we've become in these lives.

This is a must read. Lemire's unique style is amazing, as he somehow paints 'real' faces using an expressionistic approach. One reviewer on the back of Volume 3 mentioned Willa Cather, and I had the exact same thought by the time I'd finish the volume. People will still be talking about these books 20 years from now.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Charlie Droople Lives!

I'm probably all alone in this - but I'm just so thrilled about this news that I want to dance (or at least smile). The great Fred Hembeck has posted on his website the entire 'Best of All Possible Worlds' story featuring Charlie Droople. One of my favourite comic book characters of all-time (although he only made a single appearance in a relatively obscure Charlton back-up). This means that I don't have to dig up my well-worn copy of Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #5 every time I wanted to re-read this wonderful story by Skeates and Aparo. It is novel, it is witty and it breaks just about every comic book convention that exists. Since I've been married, I've come to better appreciate Skeates' message about how comic book addiction just might have an impact on real life. Haven't we all felt like Mr. Droople at one time or another?

Just follow the link and then click on the page numbers to follow the story. There's also a great Hembeck cartoon that appeared in one of the Charlton issues of the late, great Comic Book Artist magazine.

I Loves Me Some Weird War Tales

I'm not talking about those early 52-pagers that now seems to cost an arm and a leg in high grade, I'm talking about the latter part of the title's run. I'm a bit of a later comer to this crazy titles, but for the past several years, I've been picking this up whenever I see issues for a buck or less (and that's fairly often). You never know what you'll find inside - here a random sampling.

My most recent purchase was Weird War Tales #76, which earned my dollar based on the Kubert cover alone. I'm certain that I've seen this pose elsewhere - it reminds me of the cover to Where Monsters Dwell #36, but that's not quite it. There's a bit of a mind-bending tale about a devious Nazi (some are worse than others, I guess) drawn by Howard Chaykin is his more abstract style - quite effective. The real highlight for me, though, was 'The Wreck of the Ophelie' in which a French soldier wishes he'd been a bit nicer to a lycanthropic Huguenot. Wonderful Gerry Talaoc art on this one - I may be in the minority, but I just love his 'look'.

If you see a copy of Weird War Tales #108 for sale, do not pass it up. First, it's got a crazy Joe Staton 'Creature Commandos vs. Hitler' cover. If you have to ask who are the Creature Commandos, I'm sorry but I don't have the adequate words to describe them. It's such nutty concept, that you must simply experience it for yourself. Secondly, this ish is a treat because you get both a Creature Commandos story as well as GI Robot story. Not every issue features both of this fun strips. GI Robot is exactly what it sounds like - a robot soldier dealing with so many of the same 'I wish I were human' issues that have plague robots through the ages. Very nice Pat Broderick art on that one. There also a really trippy sci-fi story that Mike Barr salvage from the cancelled Mystery in Space with lovely JL Garcia-Lopez artwork.

My final selection is perhaps the craziest and yet most eloquent. It's the final issue of the series and may be a bit tougher to find if print runs were low. Weird War Tales #124 comes across as Robert Kanigher's swan song to war comics. The narrative is very unique as it is more of an epic poem about the role of war in human history. Numerous battles through the ages are visited and it feels like a skipping record as the combat never ends - just goes on and on and on. A fairly contemplative work, decently executed. It also takes up the vast majority of the issue - which was rare for this title. All in all - an appropriately 'weird' send off.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trade Marks: Daredevil : Ninja

A few weeks ago, I picked up a stack of fairly recent Daredevil TPBs on the cheap. By and large, I've been a pretty big fan of the Daredevil storyline ever since Kevin Smith rebooted it. When I first picked this up, I did not realize that it was a standalone story. It was actually a relief as I've been ready the Matt Murdock saga out of order, and it gets a bit tough to follow. You'd think that a story about Daredevil travelling to Japan to take on The Hand would be foolproof, but it just didn't work for me. Bendis' story seems ill-conceived and rushed, and the artwork by Haynes & Self is great in spots, but is too often awkward and difficult to follow. I had to re-read the airport showdown finale a few times and I'm still not sure I understand what happened. This was a good idea poorly executed (do I say that a lot?). Trade Mark: C+

Dear Comic Book Podcasters,

Let me begin by saying that I love you (well, some of you) - you help make the streetcar ride more tolerable, you keep me distracted while at the gym, but we need to talk. You need to cut down on the jokes about old comics. I get it: having a mermaid girlfriend is ridiculous, super pets are ridiculous, egg shaped villains are ridiculous. That stuff is indeed very funny. Or at least it was 20 years ago, when people started cracking those kind of jokes. I may go insance it I download one more podcast where two guys sip Coke and say 'Huh, huh - Luke Cage talks like a pimp... huh, huh'. That stopped being funny in 1992. Here's an idea - try to see what's good in those old books. Look at the mastery in the artwork of some of the old pros who got their start back at the dawn of the industry and worked right up to the 80s. Try to see why 'charming' can be as entertaining as 'grim and gritty'. Believe me, Frank Miller and Otto Binder can co-exist. They do everyday in my collection.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hidden Gems: John Carter, Warlord of Mars Annual #1

If you're anything like me, you go nuts for all things ERB. There have always been great Tarzan comic books - but our good friend, and Civil War vet, John Carter hasn't had the same luck. Although I did enjoy the DC version that appeared in Weird Worlds - Murphy Anderson's artwork lacked a bit of the dynamic energy that I feel is required for these stories. Also - those tales were chopped up so much that I found it difficult to get into the flow of things. The Jesse Marsh drawn Dell stories do even less for me - really nothing close to what I imagined when I read the novels. Marvel's John Carter, Warlord of Mars series bucked that trend - finally delivering us a strong comic book adaptation of the Mars books.

While the ERBverse may seem daunting at first, this is a great standalone story and the reader needn't to be familiar with all things Barsoomian to dive right in. There's a lot to love about this book. Marv Wolfman really packs a lot into this one issue - giant rats, crazy undertakers and draconian jurisprudence. You've got a very strong cover by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres (the art team for the early part of the ongoing series), but it's the interior work that really blew me away. Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan collaborate for what may be the most attractive John Carter story I've ever seen (and I'm a big Gil Kane fan) - the fight scenes are dynamic and everything from the creatures to the vast Martian landscapes are beautifully rendered. The 34 page format really allows for the story to be told at an appropriate pace (although it does wrap up a bit quickly). This one can still be found in bargain bins at cons - I got a beautiful copy for $1. Happy hunting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Strange Suspense Stories #35

For some reason, this Code approved cover creeps me out more than 99% of pre-Code horror covers. As always, Ditko engages the reader by setting the perfect mood. The moths are both beautiful and disgusting and I just love the main figure's pose. Ditko was the king of unique poses - very different from anything others were doing at the time. Really awkward, but quite natural. I really like how Ditko signed his name back in the 50s, and really wished he'd been able to keep up with it. Hmmm.... now I'm getting an idea about Trapped in Lightbulb covers - I can think of a few.

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Marvel Comics Super Special #16

The other night, I was flipping through a shortbox filled with all sorts of Marvel magazines (everything from Doc Savage to Savage Tales (the 80s versions). When I was young, these were one the pricey side but always promised so much more than a standard comic book. The one that really caught my eye, and helped me lose nearly an hour of my evening was Marvel Super Special #16: The Empire Strikes Back. As I've stated before, I was a Star Wars nut and had read my treasury edition books adapting the first movie to near pulp (I still have them, though). Initially I would have read these as part of the ongoing series (issues #39-44, I believe), but also picked up this mag when I saw it at my LCS. OK - I was 8, so I 'm sure that I just pointed and whined until my parents picked it up for me.

While the Goodwin/Chaykin stuff was good - this one is peerless. So many of the images contained herein are permanently etched in my memory. For that, I can thank the great Al Williamson. His work is more minimalist here than the lush stuff we're used to, but it's perfect for this story. His use of shadows and other lighting effects really captures the atmosphere of this, the darkest of Star Wars films. I can see all of that now - but back then all I knew was that he gave me something to do while waiting to see the film again. Archie Goodwin makes sure that every juicy detail and dramatic moment is given the attention that it deserves. It holds up remarkably well. Goodwin/Williamson - what I wouldn't give to see those guys working together again. RIP Archie - we still miss you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reprint This! Witches Tales

Sure, the EC horror books are great but I'm getting a bit bored with each new tranche of reprints I see released. Instead of releasing those for the umpteenth time, why doesn't someone work out a deal with Harvey Comics and do a Witches Tales Omnibus? The Harvey line of horror books may not be as famous (or infamous?) as the EC books, but I think they (being Witches Tales, Tomb of Terror, Chamber of Chills and Black Cat Mystery) hold up quite well. As far as I know, there has never been an attempt to put together a package of Harvey Horror and that's a real shame. I'm suggesting Witches Tales as a starting point as that's the series I know best (I've got probably 10 issues), and you've got 26 issues of material (the last two were reprints) so you could go the phonebook route or have plenty of good stuff for a 'Best of'.

Witches Tales is a bit different from the EC books (as well as the Atlas horror lines) as there is a real variety of feel to the stories and looks to the artwork. Some of covers don't really do justice to the stories inside as they are anything but menacing, much as you'd see from DC during that period. When the covers are good, they're fantastic! This series is full of great artwork by creators who have never full got the proper accolades. Rudy Palais, Bob Powell, Manny Stallman, Vic Donahue, Howard Nostrand and Lee Elias are all in top form here. All of these creators deserve to be bigger names in the fanboy world but it is Rudy Palais' work, in particular, that is a true marvel to behold in these pages. It really is a shame that more comic book fans don't have the opportunity to see these artists having a little horrific fun. I know that some of these stories have popped up in reprints (mostly unauthorized) here and there, but these books really deserve a proper reprint volume. I'll be first in line to buy it!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Trade Marks: Sandman Mystery Theatre - Sleep of Reason

I totally got 'bait & switched' on this one. I don't exactly follow all the latest comic book news, so when I stumbled upon this in an LCS, my circa-1994 fanboy radar went haywire and I picked it up without even flipping through. I later found out that there is only the most tenuous of connections to the 90s series. The story begins by bouncing back in forth between present day Afghanistan and Afghanistan in the 90s. The story is pretty convoluted, as the main character's motivations are not entirely clear. This is not helped by Nguyen's artwork, which can be difficult to follow at times (and some of his anatomy is crazy - especially when someone is punching or kicking). All in all, this was a major disappointment to me and really sullies the reputation of the franchise. If this is the last we see of Wesley and Dian (who are treated with very little respect here), Jeanette Khan will be receiving a missing from this grumpy old man. She's still running things, right? Trade Mark: C

Wrap Around Snake Covers

Snakes have been portrayed as villains ever since the Garden of Eve. These woefully misunderstood creatures have often been use on comic book covers as a cheap sales gimmick. Often they are shown trying to squeeze the life out of the title's hero. What poor, helpless serpent would ever do that? So, in an effort to raise awareness of the poor treatment of our serpentine friends, let me present some of the more exploitative examples of Wrap Around Snake Covers.

Wrap Around Snake Covers are almost as old as the comic book industry itself. The cover to Adventure Comics #36 from 1939 was once attributed to industry legend Creig Flessel, but that has since be revised and John Richard Flanagan has been credited for this fine cover. If you are planning on jumping on the bandwagon to assemble a complete collection of these cover, get ready to take out a second mortgage to buy this one. The Edgar Church copy sold in 2002 for $5,500 at Heritage Auctions. How much would that go for today? The fact that they haven't sold one since then speaks to its scarcity.

Although I had never heard of John Richard Flanagan, the folks at Victor Fox's studio were certainly big fans for this cover to Frank Buck #3. Or perhaps Mr. Buck, of Bring 'Em Back Alive fame, simply said "You know that cover from Adventure Comics #36? Well, the exact same thing happened to me once, except their was a local woman looking for my autograph in the background and a series of Wally Wood drawing below me". Considering the close range shot he's taking, I'm wondering if Frank Buck wouldn't have been better off simply cramming the gun into the snake's mouth. Obviously, he didn't bring this one back alive.

Conan and big snakes go hand in hand, but he hasn't actually been wrapped up that many times. Earl Norem produced so many gorgeous painted covers for Marvel during the Bronze Age. The cover to Savage Sword of Conan #46 has got everything you need to sell a book to a 13 year old geek. Busty Babe? Check. Skulls on posts? Check? Giant snake? Strange druidy wizard guy? Check. Incredibly muscular hunk who sends mixed messages to you loins? Check. You simply can't go wrong with an Earl Norem cover.

I've saved my favourite for last. Whenever I come up with a new comic book cover sub genre, I always check in with Kamandi because like Wonder Woman and the ACG titles, he is usually ready to represent. Kamandi #48 is from the post-Kirby era, and while many people feels that Kamandi is a ship worth abandoning after Jack's departure, I think that there is some great stuff in there. Ernie Chan was the 'go to' guy at DC for covers during this period, and while I'm not the biggest fan, I'll admit that this is a very dynamic cover. The more I think about it, the more similarities I see between Kamandi and Jack Bauer from 24. They both live in these worlds where each passing hour brings a new calamity. I haven't watch the past few seasons - has Jack taken on a big snake?

Anyone else have any favourite Wrap Around Snake Covers?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

You've Been Warned: The Phantom #32

Once again, let me start with a disclaimer: I love, love, love Charlton's version of the Phantom. The stories by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo during the late 60s were as good as anything else on the spinner rack at that time. The stories scripted by golden oldie Dick Wood, however, are hit and miss. The Phantom #32 misses, badly. The story has something to do with a supposedly resurrected Egyptian mummy who happens to wear the same garb as the Phantom. The Phantom (of the 'Walker Phantoms') hits the Nile to investigate. A power play ensues and the Pharaoh Phantom is triumphant, throwing the entire raison d'êtreof the actual Phantom into question. In the end, the Ghost Who Walks discovers the lame sneakiness of the Pharaoh Phantom and exposes him as a fraud. The ending is supposed to be 'electric' but is more fizzle than sizzle. Not even Aparo can save this one. For Phantom completists only (that's me, I guess).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Strange Worlds #2

How gorgeous is this cover? Having look at some many of the loose, frenetic Ditko covers of the late 60s through to the present, it's easy to forget that the man design a relatively subdued, and yet insanely beautiful, comic book cover. There are so many great, and nearly forgotten, covers from this pre-Hero (Don Heck's Tales of Suspense #1 is a personal favourite). Strange Worlds is a very short-lived title that I would love to see collected. Anyone who has read Charlton books from the 50s (many stories reprinted in the 70s) knows that Ditko excelled at sci-fi during this period. I just love the main figure's pose, as well as the line of human figure that get increasingly smaller. With that small moon in front, the Planet of Plunder sure looks like the Death Star. One of Ditko's best for Altas/Marvel.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hidden Gems: Creepy #91

Warren Publishing was rather notorious for reprinting stories not too long after their initial appearance. That surely would have bugged the crap out of me as a monthly reader, but as a back issue bargain hunter, I've got no problem with it at all. Creepy #91 is such a wonderful issue, it collects some of the best mid-70s horror stories by a who's who of talent and it can be found for next to nothing. If you like a good sniper story (and who doesn't), this mag has two. The infamous "ThrillKill" with luscious Neal Adams artwork is partnered with the Phantom of Pleasure Island with Toth in top form. For the same low price, you also get Wrightson, Severin, Wood and Heath. Can you even try to beat that team. Creepy, like Eerie, can be pretty hit or miss, but this is a very strong issue. One story that I found to be particularly compelling is 'Cold Cuts' written by Wrightson with Jeff Jones art. It's very atmospheric and really stands out from your typical Bronze Age horror tale. If you see this one - do not pass it up.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #52

I have so much love for this book. This series has a ton of great issues, but I really think that this is the best of them. If you're like me, you like Spectacular because it's much more quiet than 'Amazing'. Perhaps it is because the supporting cast seemed to play more of a significant role, I'm not sure. I'm not normally a fan of the 'crazy ex-military' villain, but Gideon Mace is actually quite an effective character. His assault on White Tiger ultimately forces Hector to confront his addiction to the amulets and give up superheroing. Blackbyrd is also a great character, the kind or smart-assed NYC detective that only seems to exist in fiction. This story had a big impact on me as a child, and it still packs a punch today. Plus, one of Frank Miller's best covers. Ever.

Trade Marks: Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book Vol. 1

Back in the mid-90s, I read maybe a 8-10 issues of SiP, so I had been through a decent chunk of this stuff before, but it has been at least 10 years and I was very pleased by how well it has aged (as opposed to me). At some point, all of the flip flopping from publisher to publisher made me loose track of this title, so I am very happy that Terry Moore has published it in this very affordable format. Some may argue that it's difficult to read, but I'm really finding these smaller sized books to be perfect. I took this one away with me on a business trip and plowed right through it. Francine, Katchoo and David are great comic book characters because they are simultaneously believable (short fuses, awkward conversations) and unbelievable (shooting alarm clocks, obscene weight gain). The actual 'plot' in this volume works quite well, as Moore is able to keep the action from getting too far out of hand. I must admit that I've never been a big fan of prose or poetry thrown into comics - really disrupts the flow of this for me. The only real flaw here. Trade Mark: A-

Monday, October 06, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Black Lightning #10

This one was not a spinner rack find. If memory serves, I stole it from the lunch room at my grade school. For all I know, there was a copy of Incredible Hulk #181 lying there, but I decided that I couldn't live without Black Lightning #10. Actually, it was a pretty good decision on my part. This comics book has provided me with years of entertainment. There's nothing particularly special about this book - just a fun story involving the Trickster, a fake Black Lightning and an elephant (there's a joke in there somewhere). As a 6 year old, I assumed Black Lightning was a big as Superman or Batman. As an 'ironic' 20 year old, I love the sheer 70sness of it all. I would always point out to friends that BL was the ultimate 70s superhero because he had extra afro as part of his costume. This is definitely one of the beat up books I own, as it has travelled with me for 30 years.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Reprint This! Flash Gordon of the 60s

If you were offered a collection that featured artwork by Al Williamson and Reed Crandall, you'd pretty much pick it up sight unseen, right? Well, you needn't worry about it - I've read a bunch of the Flash Gordon Books from the 60s, and they're great - the perfect candidate for a nice, shiny TPB. Of course, we're in licensing hell here, and we are also dealing with 18 issues divided between two publishers. It may be tough to get done, but where there is a will, there's a way. In other words; please Dark Horse - let's make this happen.

In the mid 1960s, the King syndicate decided to jump into the already over saturated comic book industry head first, showcasing some of their best known properties such as Popeye, the Phantom and Flash Gordon. The Flash Gordon series is quite strong, lot of fun adventures beautifully drawn by Williamson, Crandall, Frank Bolle and Jeff Jones. This stuff is gorgeous folks! When King fled back to newspapers, Charlton picked up the baton and ran for a little while. Pat Boyette drew most of the latter issues. He may be an acquired taste, but if you are a fan of his artwork (like me!), you are in for a treat. This is some of his strongest work ever. The back issues aren't too pricey, but I've had a heck of a time tracking them all down. Please, please, please - someone put me out of my misery and reprint this!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Trade Marks: Indiana Jones Omnibus Vol. 1

Another new feature on here - I'll chat about TPBs I've read recently. As always, I'll try to hit a variety of publishers, genres and eras.

A few weeks ago, I picked up the two Indy Omnibus volumes on the cheap at a local shop. I was completely unaware of the various miniseries put out by Dark Horse in the 90s, but these looked pretty good and I was in the mood for some old fashioned fun. The first volume collects three miniseries, totalling 16 issues - so it's not bad value even at full price. For the most part, the stories are fun but do lose their focus from time to time with all of the jet setting around. The first two stories are pencilled by the late Dan Barry, so it has a good clean, comic strip look to it. Dan Spiegle pitched in for one issue, so that really made me happy.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the final story, "Indiana Jones and the Arms of Gold", written by Lee Mars. Her script was loads of fun, and the artwork by Leo Durano├▒a really fit nicely with the time period - a bit of a Guy Davis vibe. I should note that I really like this size of book - easy to transport and store on a shelf, and the reproduction is top notch. I do wish that there were a few extras thrown in such as a full cover gallery, and text piece on the genesis of the series or the collaboration, but I imagine that it would bump up the price. Trade Mark: B+

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Ghost Manor #31

Truth be told, I don't love all of Ditko's cover for Ghost Manor. Some are inspired and nicely designed but some are just too loose and messy. This cover to Ghost Manor #31 falls into the former category. I just love these tree creatures - somewhat cartoony and yet totally menacing. The whole scene has a 'Lovecraft meets Baum meets Tolkien' vibe to it. If only Charlton had been able to give it the colour treatment it deserves. Obviously, the fine folks in Derby like it, as they recycled it a mere 16 issues later. The cover story "Werewoods" ain't half bad, either.