Friday, November 28, 2008

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Justice League of America #179

It's spring 1980, I'm 7 and a half years old and absolutely nuts for the JLA. This cover was a real shocker for me, as I'd never seen Firestorm before and couldn't understand why Superman seemed to be taking sides with this unknown. At the time, I wasn't away of the long running tradition of having relatively confrontational 'new member' covers. It's a pretty strong cover by Jim Starlin as he's able to squeeze everyone onto the cover without it looking overcrowded. I think the white background was the key to making it work. Firestorm's cocky pose really sets the tone. I didn't know the character, but I already didn't like him. It's weird how a certain pose can make such an impression.

Of course, the cover drama never really popped up in the story. There was a tepid debate and then Ronnie was accepted. He gets giddy and various quips are made about the 'kid' by Green Arrow, but that's about it. Not much of a due diligence procedure. This real story is actually an effective little Firestorm solo tale. He starts to spend some intimate time with the world's top model: Sabrina Sultress (aka the Satan Siren). Honestly, her power over him really creeped me out as a kid and probably screwed up the way I related to women for the next 20 years. It all ends with a nice suspenseful moment, as Firestorm is reach for his JLA signal for help. Does he make it in time? Back then we had to wait - but that was half the fun.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Misfit Toys Covers

Just in time for Christmas, I've been unwrapping some great covers featuring some terrible toys. I only wish the Overstreet Guide would noted whenever these Misfit Toys Covers popped up. It would save me so much time. Here are some highlights featuring toys that will hopefully avoid your stocking.

Let's start with a real classic: Weird Mystery Tales #24. This series is probably the least well remembered of DCs Bronze Age horror anthologies, which is a shame because it is a lot of fun. Have you ever read a tag line that's better than "Death is a Wind Up Bear"? This is the final issue of the series and it can be a tough one to track down. Bill Draut is credited with the cover. He's a solid, if unspectacular journeyman artist who rose to the occasion here. OK, so there's no real indication of why that guy's on the ground in the first place, but there's not fun in sweating the details.

Misfit toys seem like a perfect fit for a Warren magazine. The cover to Creepy #63 by Ken Kelly does a good job of conveying the feeling of helplessness when under attack by army of 'Devil Dolls'. The look of sheer glee on some of the doll faces is particularly disturbing. I'm actually surprised that this theme didn't pop up on more Warren covers. This one really reminds me of an episode of the early 80s show The Darkroom. I'm sure there was one with toys attacking a man. Anyone remember that - or am I just dreaming?

Marvel Two-In-One #74 might be the last place you'd expect to find some misfit toys, but to be honest - some really nutty things happened to The Thing and partner in the pages this series. First of all, he's teamed up with the Puppet Master, and that just ain't right. The always underappreciated Frank Springer creates a very fun and chaotic cover. Say, is that one of those wind up bears from that other cover? How did he crossover into the Marvel Universe? It doesn't look like Ben Grimm is going to have a very fun Christmas. Hopefully, his Hanukkah was better.

Finally, I've picked one with a slight different vibe. Instead of an army of misfit toys, the cover to Ghost Manor #50 features one very tattered and very creepy, teddy bear. Although I'd have to dig through my old Charlton boxes to confirm it, I'd wager a guess that this cover is simply a reworking of the interior art (originally published in Ghost Manor #23) by Tom Sutton. The story is titled "Terrible Teddy". I just love it! If memory serves, Sutton hits a home run with this one. I'm sure the killer teddy has been used somewhere in TV before. Anyone remember?

So that's a quick look a cover from the Misfit Toys genre. If you've got any favourite - don't hesitate to share.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You've Been Warned: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4

There were so many great Spider-Man comic books produced during the 60s. This was not one of them. This is a rushed, nonsensical and lame excuse for a story. For one reason or another - the Wizard and Mysterio decide to lure Spidey and the Human Torch to Hollywood to kill them. While it's not a logical move - at least we could have some Hollywood fun, but they best thing they came up with was a cowboy on a movie lot dressed just like Kid Colt. Kid Colt? If you're going to do a cowboy cameo in a Larry Lieber drawn book, at least make it the Rawhide Kid. Speaking of Larry - I'm as big a Lieber apologist as you're likely to find, but the artwork here is beyond flat. And to think, the artists ID was held off as a big surprise until the very end. Maybe he should have remained anonymous. The story is really just one overly long fight sequence between and among all 4 main characters. For filler, we get a really lame two-page spread of Peter and the gang at the malt shop. Seriously? Even if you're trying to complete a full run of Amazing - you're excused if you want to skip this one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dear Comic Book Marketplace: I Miss You

I finally cleared out my off-site storage locker (nearly 18 months after moving into our new home), and when I cracked open the most back-breaking of boxes, I was delighted to find 50-60 issues of Comic Book Marketplace. When I first discovered this magazine back in 1998, it was love at first and I tracked down as many of the previous issues as I could. Distribution to Toronto comic shops was spotty at best so eventually I got a subscription and eagerly awaited each new issue's arrival at my door. Towards the end of the run, I even had a letter to the editor published. As I recall, I was quite critical of the tone of recent issues and questioned whether CBM was heading in the right direction. As it turned out, my points were moot as the mag ceased publication with but a whimper a couple of issues later. It was sad, and no other comic book related periodical has come close to filling the void left behind.

What was so great about it? Well, it was the perfect mixture of information about the books themselves, and information about the market. Long gone are the days when I followed the 'values' of various book in the Overstreet guide. Still, I always found the Market Reports at the back of CBM to be interesting, as I'm always fascinated by trends and reports of what is selling above and below 'Guide'. In addition, various articles often made reference to the relative scarcity of certain books - and this always assisted me in determining how much to fork over. Michelle Nolan's columns, in particular, were a 'must read' as she always found the hidden gems and send me off in new directions. I always appreciated it when she noted her views of a particular book vis -a-vis its Gerber scarcity ranking. Will Murray's articles and interviews were top notch and every now and then a 'theme' issue would really grab my attention and add a long list of titles to my 'buy' list.

The editorial transition from Gary Carter to Russ Cochran was a bit of a rough one for me, as the focus shifted away from comic books and more towards newspaper strips and collectibles. I felt that the overall tone of the magazine was different and it became more educational and less fun. Cochran's replies to critical letters often came across as slightly patronizing. The relationship with Gemstone/Steve Geppi was evident, and the coverage of a coin collecting event (with a very tenuous connection to comics) was the tipping point. Still, it was the best mag out there and its demise was unfortunate. I'm not sure if there's even a market for this type of periodical today - but I know that I would be fine in line to subscribe.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Hawk and Dove #2

We can start to see a bit of Objectivism creeping into Ditko covers at this stage. Hawk and Dove co-exist as polar opposites, and their constant philosophical debates (aided and abetted by their rather opinionated father) was unlike anything the DCU has seen before. This cover really accentuates the hawkish Hawk, and the compromise-seeking Dove is cowering. It really doesn't seem all that different from some of the stuff that Ditko would be putting out on his own not too long after that. It's a very simple, but nicely designed cover. I've always like the little vignettes of Don and Hank. Overall, it's a nice piece and it's too bad that Ditko's tenure was so short at this stage (am I correct in thinking that he fell ill at this time?). I read Blake Bell's bio last month - but my sleep deprived brain isn't recalling the details.

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Iron Man #14

What a treat! Of all of the early Iron Man stories - this one shines on like a crazy diamond. Like the cover? Well, it's a Johnny Craig cover - so it's bound to be beautifully composed. The story is by Archie Goodwin, and upon re-reading for the 6th or 7th time, and the word that keeps coming to mind is sophisticated. The first three pages, in which a security guard recounts an attach by the Night Phantom is unlike anything else put out by Marvel at that time. Johnny Craig's opening splash page is unbelievably beautiful. What I really love are all of the little nods to Gaston Leroux's 'Phantom' - from the disfigurement to the underground lair, it's all fun. I only wish that we'd seen a Chaneyesque unmasking. This is a true classic folks - mixing Silver Age superhero fun, with a bit more Bronze Age depth. Goodwin really was a master!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Trade Marks: The Question - Zen and Violence

If you're at all like me, you love the Question but missed most the 80s series so you've been waiting/praying for it to be reprinted. Well, you're prayers have been answered - although I'm still not 100% satisfied. O'Neil does a nice job bringing us into the world of Vic Sage/The Question, as it's actually refreshing to see the 'hero' run into some serious trouble so early on in his career. The reintroduction of Richard Dragon was freakin' brilliant, and I think the Question's return was handled quite well. O'Neil struggles at times with Sage's staccato Randspeak, but it's effective. I'm still on the fence about Denys Cowan. At times I've really enjoyed his work (Detective Comics #598-600), but it's really inconsistent here. It works in some of the moodier scenes, but really falls apart in the action sequences. They can be tough to follow, and the anatomy (tiny hand striking giant head) is distracting. These TPBs aren't cheap and I really wished that this series had been given the Showcase treatment. An intro by O'Neil re. bringing Ditko's creation to life would have been appropriate. Trade Mark: B

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hidden Gems: Archie's Super Hero Comics Digest Magazine #2

Now, that's a real mouthful! I'm not even sure that there was ever a #1, but I am far from an expert on the confounding organizational system at Archie during the 70s and early 80s. All I can say is that if you see this strange little item at a low price, pick it up. Sure, it has a few lame mid-60s "Mighty Heroes" stories, but those are fun and harmless. What you really need this for are the reprinted Simon and Kirby Shield stories from 1959. There's also a very nice Black Hood story (the 'balaclava' version) by Gray Morrow and an odd little Wally Wood story 'The Ultimate Power', which I believes comes from an early 70s Red Circle book, but none that I own. Kirby, Morrow & Wood all in one tiny package (yes, it is a bit too teeny tiny)? Yes, miracles can happen. Oops, did I forget to mention the 10 page Neal Adams story?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Make Mine Monsters Unleashed!!

Remember last week, when I was praising those Warren mags. Well in the horror genre, Marvel started to out-Warren Warren. This happened right around 1973 when the Marvel black and white magazines were finding their groove and Jim Warren's stinginess was forcing more reprints and lesser talents to appear in his mags. Monsters Unleashed is a good, if imperfect, example of Marvel's foray into the non-Code sanctioned world of horror. It may be less well know than Tales of the Zombie or the vampire stuff, but it's a consistently strong series. Let's take a look at a few issues.

Monsters Unleashed #4 is a good place to start, with a nice Frank Brunner Wolfman cover. This issue is a solid blend of old and new. The Marvel take on the Frankenstein Monster story pops up here with a decent Gary Frierich story involving a brain transplant gone wrong (don't the always). The art is by Syd Shores and John Buscema. I know that Shores dies around this time, so I'm wondering if he died while working on this project. There are also solid tales from the Gerber/Marcos and Claremont/Perlin teams. For some strange reason, the Gullivar of Mars strip continues here - great news for Dave Cockrum fans. The real highlights for me, however, are the two Atlas reprints - with glorious artwork by Colan and Krigstein. A great all around issue.

Monsters Unleashed #7 is more of the same, but not quite as strong. I'm not in love with the cover - more T&A than terror and a very generic much monster. Doug Moench does much of the scripting here, and while I do like much of his work - he seems to have too much on his plate during his early Marvel mag days and it shows with some dull stories. The Frankenstein story is the better of the two, as Mayerik's looks superb in black and white. Unfortunately, there's only one reprint here, and it's a post-Code story so it's a little tame. It does feature some very nice Al Williamson artwork, though. For some reason, my favourite item here is the 1 pager dedicated to sightings of the 'Burning Man'. He's kind of like a mythical human torch. Does anyone know about this mythical creature? My Google attempts just lead me to desert raves.

By the final issue, Monsters Unleashed #11, we've had a real change of tone to this book. Long gone are the solid, short stories more suited to an anthology book. Also absent are the wonderful Atlas-era reprints. What's left is an overly long Moench written Gabriel story. This brings the mag even more in step with the Marvel universe in general and it feels like an inventory burn. The other two stories aren't much better. Everything seems to be a bit bloated and verbose - I guess that's not surprising on a Don McGregor edited title. The saving grace here is the opening page of Dave Cockrum Creature From the Black Lagoon illustrations. Man, I miss Dave!

While far from perfect, these are still relatively inexpensive and worth checking out as there's a lot of gold in these old Marvel mags!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Trade Marks: Wally Wood's M.A.R.S. Patrol - Total War

I really dig the fact that Dark Horse seems dedicated in their efforts to reprint so many nearly forgotten classics. This volume is slim (only 4 issues), and is therefore quite affordable. Dark Horse is likely banking on Wally Wood's notoriety amongst comic book fans, and that's just fine with me. Overall, it's a fun read - nothing groundbreaking but good, chaotic fun. The chaos is present from the outset - an attack by an unknown enemy on American soil leads to non-stop action. The pace never really let's up, so if you're looking for character development - this is not the book for you. Woody worked with many assistants during the 60s, and it's evident here as some pages have little to no trace of that Wood touch. There are also decent intro pieces by Dan Adkins and Batton Lash - but I was really left wanting two things. First, I had hoped that someone had the full story of how this series was concocted and executed. Secondly, I thought that they should have just run the table and reprinted the non-Wood issues. All of that aside, it's a fireball of fun and decent bang for your buck. Trade Mark: B

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I Loves Me Some Warren Spirit Mags

These days, there are about a million ways to collect old Spirit stories. You can search on eBay for the original newspaper inserts. Those are fun, and they're not actually all that expensive. You can spend the big bucks and find him in the pages of Police Comics, as well as eponymous titles published by Quality and Fiction House, respectively. There's also the long running Kitchen Sink reprints, the short running Harvey series from the 60s. Obsessives (like me) continue to fork over money for the fancy schmancy glossy, hardcover treatment the stories receive in the DC Archives series. There are many more versions as well, but I do have to work at some point.

For my money, however, you just can't beat the Warren magazines from the 70s. Jim Warren worked with Will Eisner and produced 16 issues, mainly in black and white featuring new covers. These are awesome. The strip works so well in black and white - and they've done so many shades of grey that the artwork seems so beautifully texture. Some of this would be lost in the Kitchen Sink magazine reprints, as the reproduction quality was inferior. This is also a great format, as the larger page size is perfect for Eisner's layouts and splash pages.

Most of my copies (I think I've got 14 of the 16) have yellowing pages, but they've got a bit of a pinkish hue to them and it just seems to add to the overall atmosphere. All of this and the great Captain Company ads make for a very pleasurable and nostalgic reading experience. The great news is that they're still cheap - I picked up a nice copy of #16 for $2.99 the other day. So if you need a Spirit fix, but are a bit scared of investing in the Archives, try tracking down a few issues of the Warren run. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Ghostly Tales #121

Yes, this is Ditko at his most spare and it's a world removed from those more detailed covers he produced in the 50s. Ditko proves, however, that a good cover is not the result of the number of pencil scratches, but how those scratches are used. The wonderful the sense of action and movement derived from Steve's choice of perspective that makes this such a compelling cover. You almost get a sense of vertigo looking down at the soon-to-be victim, and it's the exact opposite of the worm's eye view Ditko has used so effectively elsewhere. Simple, but effective - something that has been forgotten by many cover artists. Definitely one of Ditko's best on this title.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Charlton Notebook: Space Adventures #8

This short-lived series was pretty hit or miss, but this is definitely one of the strongest issues. I loooove this Jim Aparo cover. It's too bad he wasn't able to do more sci-fi after his move to DC. I'll start with the so-so. There are two Charles Nicholas drawn stories that feel as though they've emerged from Charlton inventory from 1960. There's not much to them as they are much more stale than most stories produced in '69. Now the good - there's a solid opening story ("A Better World Than Ours" with decent art by Eccio. This one plays out like a Twilight Zone episode and deals much more with psychology than action. The finale ("It's A Small World") is a Ditko tour de force - visually stunning, with a fantastic Goldfinger inspired opening splash page.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Cisco Kid #33

I've always been a sucker for painted covers, but it was until the last couple of years that I've fallen for the charms of the Cisco Kid. Cisco Kid #33 is the best of the handful that I've read. It's a lot of good clean 50s fun from Dell. The first Cisco Kid story involves a wrongly accused snake oil salesman who comes within a few seconds of the gallows. It's actually quite an intense story towards the end. The 'Pedro' story is quite amusing - with a mustache playing a very important role. We end with another Cisco Kid story; this one revolves around money hidden in a schoolhouse and the importance of books.

Like the Lone Ranger series, the stories are light and lively - very inventive with just a touch of humor. The bad guys are truly bad, and the good guys rely on their brains as much as brawn. The art by Bob Jenney is remarkable - it is so subtlety beautiful that you may not notice just how great it is at first. He uses shadows and silhouettes wonderfully. I picked up my VG copy for $5, and it was worth every penny. There are plenty of good, cheap old books out there in the marketplace. I'd love to eventually put together a full run of the series, but my obsessive collecting days seem to be behind me.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hidden Gems: Super Team Family #9

OK - this generic, overly busy Buckler/Abel cover doesn't exactly let you know that you've just picked up gem. The 70s Challengers stories are not really all that great, but this one isn't too bad. It's a silly story, but leave it to Steve Skeates to infuse the story with enough Silver Age charm so that the Challs come across as 'retro' rather than 'dated'. This book saved the best for last, as it's the back-up reprints that make this a true gem. The first is a wonderful Green Arrow story from Jack Kirby's run on that strip. Kirby was struggling to find work at this stage of his career, so he was stuck with second string character but he really made the best of it. I love these Kirby GA stories - and if you've never seen one, here's an inexpensive option. Finally, we have an early Doom Patrol story (albeit an incomplete one). That's another remarkable strip and it's fun to stumble across it here. Now, I'm not saying go out and spend $30 on a CGC 9.8 copy of this book - but if you see it in the dollar bin like I did, do not pass it up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

You've Been Warned: Avengers #210

We all know about stories being based on a cover design, but I get the feeling the Avengers creative team really wanted to turn a Bob Dylan line into a story. It doesn't work. The post #200 era saw a revolving door of creative teams and that turnover rate resulted in comics like this one. The premise isn't too bad - the Avengers discover that crazy weather is being caused by a satellite. Avengers take care of satellite, crisis averted. Typical stuff, but it simply doesn't flow well, the 'villain' is never fully examined and it all wraps up waaaaay too quickly. The team of Gene Colan and Dan Green really does not work here (kind of like Infantino a couple of issues earlier) - far too murky for a team book, as the action sequences lack the necessary 'pop'. It's strange that I was such an Avengers nut as a kid as this was the nadir of 1981, a pretty inconsistent year for Avengers comics.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Reprint This! T-Man

In 1950, Quality Comics decided to boot Plastic Man and the Spirit from its flagship title, Police Comics and insert some more traditional law enforcement types. This group included top Treasury Department operative, Pete Trask. Trask is fairly hard boiled but also has a dashing, Errol Flynn side to him. He is all business - never slowing down and speaking in short staccato outbursts. Quality eventually gave Trask his own series which ran, with some latter issue reprints, until Quality's exit from the funnybook industry. DC took over a number of Quality's titles, but must have felt that Pete Trask's best years were behind him. The art is nice, with contributions from Reed Crandall, Jack Cole and Chuck Cuidera to give it that 'Quality' look.

I'm not entirely familiar with the breadth of the Treasury Department's jurisdiction, but apparently they had carte blanche to travel the world punching communists. Trask is all over the place with a wide variety of assignment ranging from protecting the Panama Canal to infiltrating the underground 'Red Press'. This stuff is unbelievably dated but it is entertaining as hell. Fists are flying, bridges are blowing up and commies are taking their lumps. You could make a good drinking game if you took a swig every time someone said 'Red'. There are alo some great sanctimonious moments as well - such as Trask declaring 'as a free nation we can't use torture' when discussing how to get an informant to talk.

These issues are getting bloody tough to track down and it would be awesome for someone (and by someone, I mean 'Dark Horse') to put together a lovely T-Man Archives. Let's move quick and get this reprinted before the Reds get to it.