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