Let me begin by saying that I have a lot of love for the Silver Age. Even though I absolutely worship at the altar of the Frank Miller version of DD, I still have a soft spot in my heart for all sorts of Mike Murdock related lunacy. With issue #59, however, Roy Thomas and Gene Colan ensure that DD ends the 60s with a whimper. With Foggy, Karen and Willie, there are simply too many supporting characters to follow, and the master criminal Crime Wave isn't really anything new. All of that looks pretty good when compared to the super lame Torpedo (just how many Torpedoes have there been anyway?). He may be the only super villain I've ever seen accentuate his costume with a fedora (oddly missing from the cover). The script is a bit of a mess, and the artwork is subpar. I love Gene Colan, I really do - but the scene where Willie discovers Crime Wave's secret headquarters is really awkward, rushed looking stuff. For completists only.
If you're like me, you find the landscape of Italian wine to be extremely confusing. To make matters worse, much of the good stuff (Barolo, Super Tuscans) is extremely pricey. Don't fret, because I've found a great red that has plenty of depth for a fraction of the price. Copertino is an interesting blend from Italy's Puglia region (the boot heel), made of primarily (70%) of a grape called Negroamaro. For those of you who love dark, earthy grapes - you'll love these devils. It is really ballsy, with a bit of coffee and cherry coming through. It's not super cheap ($17.95 in Ontario), but I'll bet it can be found for $12 in the US, and it's well worth the effort tracking it down. You're friends and family will be very impressed with your new 'discovery'.
Here's a new category I'm adding to the blog. Hidden Gems are not books you've got to rush out and grab, nor spend hours on Ebay tracking down. They are books that are worth picking up if you stumble upon them at the right price.
My first pick is Secrets of the Haunted House #9. In the late 70s, DC was cranking out a ton of horror books. Often, the covers were absolutely wonderful, but the stories within were uninspired. For the most part, I've found Secrets of the Haunted House to be a pretty tepid series, but this issue is a lot of fun. It features a dull Luis Dominguez cover that belies the contents. Open up this baby and the first pleasant surprise is a Steve Ditko 5 pager. It's an ok Arnold Drake story about a ghost seeking revenge, but it's always fun to find Ditko where you least expect him. The final two stories didn't do much for me art wise, but they are both written by Jack Oleck. Several years ago, I noticed that most of my favourite DC horror stories were written by Oleck. They just seemed a bit darker, a bit creepier and a lot more fund. I guess I wasn't surprised when I discovered that Oleck had cut his teeth at EC in the 50s. These two stories both feature those great EC-style 'shocking twist' endings. If you see this book on the cheap, grab it and thank me later.
The early 70s was a great time for loose, crunchy rock 'n roll. Over the past decades a few bands have attempted to channel all of that early 70s greatness. Here are some examples of fine neo-Honky Tonk Rockers that you should give a try.
Why I Lie - Liz Phair Ironically, not from her "Exile in Guyville" album, which was crafted in a way to mirror the early 70s Stones. This song, from the sadly ignored Somebody's Miracle album, would fit right in with Mick and Keef's catalog. Crank it, and enjoy.
Rum & Whatever - She Stole My Beer This is a great, fun song from a Canadian bar band that never quite made it big. It's a fun romp as the song's protagonist tries to make it through rehab without ever sobering up. Imagine Jimmy Buffet fronting Grand Funk Railroad and you'll get the picture.
Minnesoter - Dandy Warhols This is just a fantastically fantastic song that always pumps me up. It's as if a long lost Faces song had been discovered and remastered with bit of a late 90s sensibility. It's raunchy, rude and very endearing.
God bless Bill Black and AC Comics. Now, I never really got the whole Femforce thing, but I can certainly respect and admire a publisher who loves old westerns and is happy to put them out in the marketplace knowing full well that the enterprise might be futile. Not too long ago I stumbled upon a ton of AC westerns in a dollar box. I scooped up as many as I could carry, knowing that I'd be in for a treat. Here's a look at a few of the books.
Durango Kid #2 is a good place to start. From what I can tell, Bill Black absolutely loves the Durango Kid as a character. The text pieces in this book, discussing many of the movies as well as the comic's history is probably more interesting that the comic itself. This strip was drawn by Fred Guardineer. I'm not quite sure what to make of Guardineer's art. Based on some of his early covers for DC books, I thought he was a Golden Age genius, but his interior work comes off as stiff and flat and has none of the panache of those classic covers. A Frank Frazetta drawn story serves as a counterbalance.
Latigo Kid #1 is a very novel idea for a comic. Black has taken a bunch of old John Severin artwork from Charlton's Billy the Kid and reworked it into a new story featuring a brand new character. Does this Frankenstein Monster work? Well, it's not bad at all, and John Severin is John Severin. The story is a bit kooky because the LK has some ill-defined paranormal powers. There is a fun Steve McQueen cameo, though. It also features a good text piece on how Black put this all together. This cover pose is a swipe from a Bill Black cover for an 80s Charlton western, which is itself a swipe of an old Atlas cover - but that's a story for another day.
Raise your hand if you've never heard of the Lemonade Kid. OK, that makes all of us. I love old westerns, but I've never owned an issue from Bobby Benson's B-Bar-B Riders, which featured this character. The good news is that we get 100% artwork from Bob Powell and Associates. It's awesome stuff, and finding a hidden gem like Lemonade Kid #1 is what makes bargain bin hunting worth the effort. Really great stories and another fine text piece on the history of the radio show and the Magazine Enterprises' title.
Finally, we get a real classic: a reprinting of the Black Phantom one-shot. The Black Phantom stories are drawn by Frank Bolle, and anyone who thinks that the man's artwork is dull should check this out. It's dynamic, layered and even a bit sexy. He is definitely on my under appreciated shortlist. I always looks for the initial 'FWB' when reading stuff from the 50s - you never know where his work will turn up. To top things off, we get a Dick Ayers' Ghost Rider story (sorry - Haunted Horseman) from the 50s. This is the best stuff Ayers ever produced.
Think about it: I was able to get all of the above into my collection for $4. Isn't it time you hit the bargain bins?
When I got to thinking about Magic Carpet covers, I was shocked by the sheer number of them. Superman alone has been involved in a handful. I guess people have always been interested in the idea of a small prayer rug flying through the air, and this is reflect in the world of comic book covers. Here are a few good examples from a wide range of genres:
I'll start with Action Comics #102, because it's a title that is first in our hearts (as well as first alphabetically). I'm also a sucker for the Golden Age Mr. Mxyztplk. The cover actually touches on a couple of concepts from One Thousand And One Nights: the magic carpet and the genie in a bottle. Many of my favourite Superman covers come from the stretch of Action Comics #100 through #125 - further evidence that Wayne Boring is anything but.
I'll admit that I don't know much about Felix the Cat as a character. I've had next to no exposure to him except for those ubiquitous wall clocks. What's he all about anyway? Is he lazy like Garfield, scheming like Sylvester or randy like Fritz? I do, however, really dig this cover to Felix the Cat #8 from his Dell series (like many cats, he moved around a lot). At first, I couldn't suspend my disbelief regarding the vacuum's lack of power source. Once I realized that we were in a world of biped felines and flying carpets, I realized that a cordless vacuum wasn't really all that crazy.
Have you ever noticed how many ACG covers I end up using for this sort of topic. For a small company with only a handful of titles, they really seemed to hit most of the major cover themes (I can't believe I forget that Herbie cover for my initial Dr. Strangelove entry!). In my mind, Ogden Whitney remains the most under appreciated cover artist. He is responsible for so many gems that no one has ever seen. This cover to Unknown Worlds #3 is just fantastic. It is so simple, and yet the detail and texture in the carpet and the man's face just blow me away.
Finally, I can't resist using this one. Like the Superman cover featuring the Supermobile, the cover to Whiz Comics #88 begs the question of why the BRC need assistance in the flying department? Also, can't he just relax and sit down like Hassan above? I love these mixed media covers from Fawcett, and I thought that it was really cool that DC kept it up when they brought the Marvel Family back in the 70s. As an aside, this one also features the Chrysler Building, which gives me a very good idea . . .
Here it is; Ditko's final Creeper cover (Gil Kane would produce a very similar cover for #6). So much to love here. For fans of Ditko water (first made famous by Spider-Man #32), it is here by the gallon. What I really love about this one, though is the Creeper's face and head. There is something about the deep set eyes and full lips are really something we don't see too often with a Ditko face. There is real depth and texture here. The hair is also phenomenal - I love the way he's portrayed Proteus grabbing a handful of the Creeper's hair. There is just so much drama in that small portion of the cover. Great, great stuff.
Full disclosure here - let me start by stating that I am a big Silver Surfer fan. That being said, I was starting high school and was pretty much out of comics when this series was launched in 1987. I hopped aboard with issue #29, and would ride with it religiously until just after the 100th issue (even had a letter published in #49). I just loved this stuff - totally ate it up. Some time around 1990, I went back to pick up some back issues from the beginning of the run. The thing is, it just didn't work for me. It just seemed so flat. The stories seemed too dense with page after page of talking heads and the artwork seemed a bit too spare and almost slight for a interstellar adventures. I just didn't enjoy them as much as the later stuff - especially the Starlin/Lim epics.
Don't get me wrong, I've always enjoyed Steve Engelhart's stories as well as the artwork of Marshall Rogers, but my gut reaction to this stuff was negative. I recently picked up a copy of the second volume of the Essential Silver Surfer and were my eyes ever opened! My relatively juvenile mind had missed Engelhart's master plan. He was establishing a new mythos for the Marvel Universe (literally, the whole universe), essentially reintroducing the Elders, the Kree, the Skrulls and exploring as many facets of life off Earth as possible. It's exciting, it's suspenseful, it's funny and even a bit romantic.
Readers are finally rewarded with an actual war between the Kree and the Skrulls, and the relationship between the Elders and Galactus is revealed in a fascinating way. Freed of entrapment on Earth and the ball and chain on Zenn-La, the Surfer is able to become a major player in the universe. I still have few minor issues with the storyline, though. First, it can be a bit too talky at times. Second, Rogers' art is all over the place - at times gorgeous and brilliant, and at other times it comes across as rushed and lacking in detail. Finally, the Mantis/Surfer relationship needed to be fleshed out more, if we are going to feel for the big guy after she's gone. He keeps alluding to their 'hot and heavy' time together, but we didn't get to see it. Let this be a lesson - just because something didn't sit right with you at one point in your life, doesn't mean that you should right it off for good.
This is movie adaptation perfection! Paul S. Newman does a wonderful job distilling this kooky Roger Corman movie into a wonderfully paced 36 pages. This is the story of a scientist willing to risk everything to increase the light spectrum visible to the human, or something like that (I'm no scientician!). The real treat here is the Frank Thorne art. He does a wonderful job at portraying the 'x-ray effect'. My favourite panel is the 'worm's eye view' of the multiple-level apartment building as seen by Xavier while he is trying to sleep. If you ever see this one for sale on the cheap, I strongly recommend that you pick it up. My thanks for my good friend and fellow lover of all things strange and obscure, Mickey C. for the care package that included this fine book.
Dollar Comics! Weren't they just the best thing ever? I have no idea how I got my hands on so many of these, because they did cost a lot more money than regular books back then. Of course, World's Finest and Detective Comics were two of my favourite titles, so I probably just bugged my parents incessantly until they forked over the extra cash. How could you possible pass up on this book? Jim Aparo's cover is beyond awesome (it's actually a wraparound, but I can't find a full image online anywhere). On the back, Captain Marvel, the Creeper, Green Arrow and Black Canary are all making their way through the swamp. The original art for this must look fantastic as it is truly Aparo at his finest.
As is so often the case, the Superman/Batman story doesn't quite live up to the promise of the cover (how could it?). It does have nice JG Lopez art, so that's a real bonus, but I still felt a bit ripped off as a kid - it's a silly Bob Haney story about cults and good and bad Native American magic. The Green Arrow story is much better; one of those serious stories where Ollie ends up in tears. I realized that the main reason I felt so comfortable with Mike Grell's Green Arrow series in the late 80s, is that I'd been reading melodramatic Ollie Queen story my whole life. Ditko's Creeper seems pretty out of place here - as it feels very 1968. I'm certain I didn't like it at the time, but it's all kooky fun today. Finally, we have one of those Don Newton drawn Shazam stories. I'm of a weird generation that knew the Newton-look first, and discovered that the CC Beck look was actually the standard much later on. This story looks good, but it's a really lame story about a hypnotic dancer who puts a spell on the male half of Fawcett City. This would have been my first exposure to the Bullet Family, too. That's a lot for a buck!
Today's reprint market is incredible when compared to what we had 20 years ago ago. We are able to pick up collections in a variety of formats, in a variety of genres from a variety of publishers. One genre that has been overlooked for far too long are 'jungle books'. In the late 40s and 50s, there were a plethora of jungle titles, many of which featured female leads such as Sheena, Nyoka and Rulah. The early 70s saw a small comeback in the jungle genre (spurred by Ka-Zar?) as Marvel, DC and even Skywald all got in on the (jungle) action, with some wonderful reprints thrown into the mix. Sadly, the trend was short-lived and we haven't seen any real signs that they'll be coming back any time soon.
It was in the pages of Jungle Action that I first encountered the Jann of the Jungle strip. It's fairly standard fare - jungle girl works hard to help 'savages' while still striving to appear feminine to any handsome American that might show up. It's a lot of fun, though - with a some humorous chauvinism in the form of 'the jungle is no place for a girl' type lines. Why choose Jann, when there are so many Jungle Queens from which to choose? Well, first - between her stories in Jungle Tales and her own title, we'd have enough pages to fill a nice volume. Second, the Jay Scott Pike provides the majority of the artwork and his fine work needs to be seen by more people. Al Williamson takes over from Pike towards the end, so that a pretty nice replacement. Finally, Jann #16 features one of my favourite covers of all-time, and if I can track down an original copy - I'd at least like one in a TPB.
There are actually plenty of candidates for this feature during the Denny O'Neil and Mike Friedrich runs, but nothing is kind as insanely insane as this Robert Kanigher penned story that fill the gap between those two eras. I probably needn't tell you more than the fact that the central character is a professor who has developed some sort of super serum that can pacify savages. What? Savages? This is 1970, right? Unless Kanigher is somehow channeling ERB, this is just wrong, especially when compared to all of the 'relevant' stuff from O'Neil and Friedrich. Anyhow, - somehow this guy is also about the win the Nobel Prize (for 'Most Paternalistic Invention'?).
With me so far? Unfortunately, as happens to so many of the top scientists, he's not 100% right in the head and his 'peace' serum is actually more of a 'war mongering' serum. He's hoping that everyone in the world will die and he can start over with his unlucky lady friend as the new Adam and Eve. She's not thrilled with the plan assist the JLA. In the end, however, it's not the JLA who defeats the madman, but rather his Franksteinesque creation. Wait, didn't I mention him before? I guess that's because he kind of appears out of nowhere. If you're head isn't hurting enough at this stage, let me add that Kanigher decides to bring in a little bit of his famous disregard for continuity by shaking up a boring monitor duty session with a smooch between Batman and Black Canary. I'd like to say that this is all so bad that it's good, buy even my uber-ironic mind can't go that far.
The Gothic Romance mini-trend of the early 70s left us with perhaps the most obscure subgenre of all-time. Only a handful of titles were produced by DC, Atlas-Seaboard and yes, our good friends at Charlton. Haunted Love is a wonderful little series with some entertaining stories and artwork by Charlton mainstays like Morisi, Ditko and Staton. It is a really treasure trove for Tom Sutton fans, however, as this is the stuff he was born to draw. This issue features a nice painted cover by Sutton, representing the final tale, drawn quite nicely by Enrique Nieto, in this book where nothing can come between the love of a sculptor and his muse except for a wee bit of consumption. The first story, "A New Life" also features Nieto art. It's a decent story about a ghost writer (literally) who finds success and love 100 years too late. Sandwiched between those stories is "Beware: Do Not Love Him" a great tale full of Gothic goodness drawn by Sutton. A family secret is locked away high in a tower at a creaky old manor. A nice dramatic ending concludes this fine tale. This is definitely interesting and fairly unique stuff - it's well worth picking up an issues from this series if you can find one.