Friday, January 30, 2009

Charlton Notebook: Haunted #56

This is a solid early 80s reprint collection. The first one is quite entertaining with nice Frank Bolle artwork. It features a town recluse who survives by offering sacrifices to the creatures in his basement. There's a nice 'just deserts' ending. The second story 'Subway Stop' might be Tom Sutton's Charlton masterpiece. It's a hallucinogenic trip through Edgar Allen Poe's mind with the Universal Movie Monsters along for the ride. It is simply fantastic - a feast for the eyes and fun for any horror buff. Finally, we conclude with a decent, but not great, Ditko drawn story about a vengeful Indian spirit.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Master of Kung Fu #98

I've read this book 15-20 times since I bought it off the racks and it still holds up beautifully. The story begins with Shadow Slasher's arrival in New York city to challenge Shang-Chi to a showdown. There is a very nice cat and house game begins as we slowly build towards the pending battle. Now, I'm not normally a big fan of 'fight' issues, but this one is so well executed by the Moench/Zeck/Day team, that you cannot help but cheer for the victor and feel pity for the defeated. This is a superb standalone story and should appeal to all readers. It's a great one to check out if you've been curious as to what this series is all about. For me, this is the standout issue of a standout series (I'd include in as a Reprint This! candidate - but that topic gets my blood boiling).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Trade Marks: Jonah Hex Two-Gun Mojo

I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this one. Overall, it's quite solid - sort of a Gothic western. Like and good Hex story, we start right in the middle of the action (how many Hex stories have a 'Hang Em High' beginning?). We eventually meet Doc 'Cross' Williams and a Romeroesque Wild Bill Hickock. Things move along nicely and I was that I could read it in a single sitting, as I think it would seem disjointed spread out over half a year. Some highlights include the jailhouse escape and Hex's conversation with a fellow veteran. The final chapter didn't sit all that well with me, as the Apache assault seemed out of sync with the tone of the story. I loooooved Glanzman inking Truman. Trade Mark: B+

Monday, January 26, 2009

Reprint This! Space Cabbie

I was about halfway through the Space Cabbie story reprinted in DC Super Stars #6, when it dawned on me that of all of the silly sci-fi premises cooked up at DC during the 50s and 60s - Space Cabbie is definitely heads and shoulders above all other contenders. He makes Star Hawkins seem like Rorschach. But who ever said that silly can't be awesome? It's apparent right from the start that Space Cabbie could have only be borne of the fertile mind of Otto Binder. In case you've never read this strip (which was part of Mystery in Space for 4 years), it stars a unnamed Cabbie who dresses as if it's 1955 but gets involved in all sorts of futuristic, interstellar adventures. It's 100% nutty, but it's also charming as all get out. I really wish that DC would put this out in an inexpensive, no-frills reprint volume, much like they did with the Jack Kirby Green Arrow stories.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hidden Gems: Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #84

So, you've always wanted to check out Boris Karloff Thriller #1, but are reluctant to shell out over $100 for a nice looking further. Well, look no further than BKTOM #84 to satisfy (or at least partially satisfy) your curiosity. This issue features two wonderful stories ("Past and Present Danger" and "The Plague of Gornau") from Thriller #1. They are both beautifully drawn by the supremely talented Alberto Giolitti. I'm particularly blown away by the moody art on the Gornau tale, in which Giolitti does a great job establishing the paranoid atmosphere of a witch hunt. The cover story to this book is reprinted from BKTOM #22, and it centres on the spirit of Dante Alighieri seeking revenge on the city of Florence. There is very nice Luis Dominguez artwork on that one. So, it's not a complete reprint of that first Thriller issue, but if you're looking through the dollar bins, keep an eye out for this one - if only for the wonderful the Giolitti artwork.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Speedball #10

I'm of pretty mixed emotions when it comes to this cover in particular, and Speedball in general. While it was great to see Ditko helping to launch a new superhero title at Marvel, it became apparent that lightning doesn't often strike twice. I like the character, and I feel that there's always room for good, clean superhero fun - but I don't think it could have been released at a worse time. Ditko's more minimalist approach is apparent on this cover - the overall impact is that it feels static (no pun intended) and rushed. We don't quite get the fluidity that we've come to expect, and while the lack of background detail or secondary figures often worked on Charlton covers (I'm thinking of Ghostly Tales #121 as a comparison), it doesn't work at all here. I'm also fairly sure that I've seen Speedball's pose somewhere before - does anyone recognize this as a swipe. All in all, a pretty weak effort.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Loves Me Some Peter Cannon... Thunderbolt

I've been spending a lot of time with a certain Amazing Man/Gleason Daredevil mash up lately and it's been a lot of fun. Pete Morisi (aka. P.A.M) created this character as part of Charlton's line of action heroes, but it's pretty clear that he doesn't fit well within the Derbyverse (If that phrase has yet to be coined, I'm happy to take credit for it!), as he's a reluctant hero, dabbling in Eastern philosophy and only engaging in crime fighting when there are no alternatives. It seems that every issue begins with Cannon and his friend Tabu politely trash talking which fencing, boxing or shooting hoops. This serves as the calm before the storm that always seems to be on the horizon.

The plots can be repetitive and the pacing can be a bit slow - but there's an undeniable charm here. Morisi's artwork 100% original, and it's a lot of fun reading the letter column where fans are trying to identify the mysterious P.A.M. I love everything - from his slightly awkward use of profiles to the occasional circular panel. It's immediately apparent that a lot of thought and effort went into this strip and kudos to Charlton for giving full credits to Morisi, while not identifying him. I love everything about these stories from the crazy Man-Ape villain to the search for a rare flower in the Dinosaur/Mongol/Pygmy filled mountains of Tibet to cure an ailing Tabu. My first exposure to Thunderbolt was through a Modern reprint in the late 70s. I don't think I knew what to make of him back then, but Mr. Cannon has patiently waited for me to acquire the taste for his singular adventures and I'm hooked.

If I sound too much like a lovestruck schoolgirl, let me offer some snark. I just don't get the Friedrich/Grainger Sentinels strip - it's like something out of a bad fanzine. Even a Charlton apologist like can't find anything nice to say about it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Trade Marks: Will Eisner's The Spirit

With all of the negative energy surrounding Denny Colt these days, I thought it would be nice to remind people of some of the good stuff. Even though I'm a big Darwyn Cooke fan, I must admit to being apprehensive about himlaunching this new Spirit series. I didn't buy any of the floppies, but waited for the hardcover to hit shelves. Sometimes, I'm soooo happy to be wrong. Cooke and J. Bone manage to breath new life into a still fresh concept. The stories have the perfect mixture of action and humour and the artwork manages to look both modern and retro at the same time. I was recently organizing some books and sat down and re-read this volume and I am happy to report that it's just as much fun the second time around. It's pretty darn close to comic book perfection. I understand from Chris at Collected Comics Library that a softcover TPB has been released and I urge any of you that haven't yet, to add this one to your collection. Trade Mark: A

Thursday, January 15, 2009

You've Been Warned: America vs. the Justice Society

As a kid raised on JLA/JSA crossovers and the revamped All-Star Comics, Earth-2 holds a special place in my heart. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the America vs. the Justice Society miniseries stomped all over that special place. For someone who holds the JSA in such high esteem, I don't understand how Roy Thomas could concoct such a dreary story that manages to suck all of the fun out of Earth-2. The script is heavy-handed (witch hunts suck; we get it!) and very dialogue heavy, as it tries to advance this treason trial while recapping the JSA's history in its entirety. The revolving door of pencillers certainly doesn't help this come across as a cohesive work. It is just so fundamentally unentertaining (if that's not a word, it should be) that I really can't advise anyone but JSA completists to spend money on these books.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reprint This! Golden Lad

Now that Dark Horse gave Mac Raboy's Green Lama the Archives treatment, I only think it's fair that someone step up to the plate and reprint Spark Publications other great hero: Mort Meskin's Golden Lad. Except for an appearance in an AC Comics reprint, I don't think Golden Lad has seen light of day since the mid-40s. This series showcased the adventures of Tommy Preston and his 'Heart of Gold' taking on all sorts of Golden Age threats from Nazis to his archenemy (if one can have an archenemy if one's title only lasts 5 issues), the Dreamer. It's good, simple Golden Age fun with superior artwork by Mort Meskin. It would be a pretty slim volume, so I'm hoping that perhaps Dark Horse could give it the M.A.R.S. Patrol: Total War treatment. I'm sure there are enough Meskin fans out there to make it commercially viable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Time to Find a New HMO Covers

No one likes surgery, but imagine if the team in the OR consisted of skeletons, zombies and assorted ghouls. Well, it seems that many, many editors thought that this would make a great cover theme. I was quite surprised by how many covers feature this set-up. Let's take a look at a handful of them.

The cover to Mysterious Adventures #16 is one of my favourites. I love how the 'Doctor' is pleading with them to stop the operation, explaining that he 'doesn't need an operation', rather than 'you're just a bunch of skeletons. I'm often not a fan of a ton of cover dialogue, but it works well here - as we know these skeletons are seeking revenge. This series from Story Comics is pretty tough to find, which is a shame as it features a ton of great covers - the majority of which feature a skeleton.

Jerry Grandenetti and Creig Flessel team up for the cover to Black Magic #3, a series that reprints old Simon and Kirby stories from the 50s series of the same name. I'll never quite realize how these patients manage to get all the way to the operating room before they realize that something is not quite right. This team of Satanic ghouls at least appeared to be somewhat competent. I meant to flip through this issue last night to confirm, but I've got a feeling that this story doesn't appear in the issue.

Let's travel back to pre-Code days with this cover from Strange Fantasy #2 from third tier publisher, Ajax-Farrel. This one features a slight twist on the theme, as the team of undead 'doctors' are simply attempting to revive one of their own. A zombie rebellion might take a while to gather steam if every single zombie requires surgery before hitting the mall. I'm not sure who drew this cover (as I have trouble IDing most of that company's output) -but the one zombie in centre background has the sunken eyes that Don Heck was doing at the time. I've only ever owned on book from this series, and I can't really say that it was the highlight of my pre-Code horror collection.

As I've said on here before, DC's Secrets of the Haunted House is a fun little title that is sometimes overlook when 70s horror is discussed. The cover to issue #21 is particularly strong. I am a bit confused, though. While the 'Doctors of the Devil' appear to be ghouls or zombies, they decided to turn their patient into some sort of Lion Man, kind of like Simbar from the Doctor Spektor series (if you know who I'm talking about, you read waaaay too many comics). While Wrightson, Adams, Cardy and Kubert are often, and justly, praised for their fine cover work for DC in the 70s - I feel that Luis Dominguez should be included in those discussions are he cranked out a ton of great covers, such as this one.

By now, we're familiar with the scene portrayed on the cover of Crypt of Shadows #16. The GCD notes that this cover was pencilled by either Ron Wilson or Ed Hannigan. It further states that Nick Caputo provided the info. As Nick visits this blog from time to time, perhaps his can clarify. I really don't know myself - my initial thought after glancing at it was actually Larry Lieber. This is one of the many reprint titles published by Marvel in the 70s that are a great source for affordable Atlas-era horror stories. Sadly, the secret is out, as I've noticed that prices on this creeping steadily upward over the past few years.
Well folks, that a quick look at "Time to Find a New HMO Covers". As I'm in Canada, I can assure my American readers that while universal health care has it flaws, it never gets quite this bad.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: The Question #14

This series really raced along up to this point. The only thing that got Vic Sage to slow down and contemplate life, was the fact that he'd been buried up to his neck by a bunch of paramilitary nut jobs. This is a fairly philosophical issue, and those can be very hit or miss - but it works quite well here. O'Neill takes it right to the edge of believability but manages to use just enough restraint to prevent it from falling into the realm of the ridiculous. That's tricky to pull off when your main storytelling devices are flashbacks and hallucinations. Ultimately, Vic is able to stir up some infighting among Col. DeBeck's men. I just loved the good Sergeant's final line as he starts to dig out Sage; "I've lost a lot of blood, but I'll do my best". It's one final act of redemption from a man who has come to learn the error of his ways. Keeping the soap opera side of things rolling, Myra announces her candidacy to be the next mayor of Hub City. A real 'be careful what you wish for' scenario. Overall a great standalone issue.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Charlton Notebook: Ghost Manor #70

The early 80s was a very interesting time in the life of Charlton Comics. They had emerged from the reprint-only era and were trying to bring new ideas and new creators into the industry, much as they did in the mid-70s. I love the way this covers tries to fool you into thinking that a Stormtrooper shows up in this issue. Inside, the armour is actually yellow. This book leads off with Ditko reprint from 1975. It's a so-so story about rats - nothing inspired but good for a quick Ditko fix. The next story is a pretty cool wordless tales (hence the 'make up your own dialogue' blurb on the cover). It actually work quite well as a silent feature. I've never heard of Daniel E. Carroll but he had promise. I'm thinking that this was left over inventory from the cancelled Charlton Bullseye series. Same goes for the final story - another fun tale, this one involving mistreated androids who finally see the light. Not many 'ghosts' in this issue - but it ended up being a very entertaining read.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Incredible Hulk #262

I was just shy of turning 10 when I bought this one off the racks. It haunted me the entire summer of '82. Bruce Banner washes up on a beach in Malibu and is taken in by a benefactor with a sinister secret. This one plays out like a really good Twilight Zone episode. I found the whole concept to be truly horrifying. Sal B did am amazing job of conveying the look of terror on the faces of the 'statues'. The one in the pool really freaks me out. I think this one messed up my ability to trust beautiful women. As a bonus, there's a second great story featuring the Dire Wraiths and a nice twist on the 'Ma & Pa Kent find a space capsule' story. This one really made a lasting impression.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Quick and Stale DVD Reviews

Yup - been catching up on movies that people saw ages ago so these will likely only be of use to those with even less free time than me.

Sex and the City: The Movie
"This is sooo long", "I can't believe how bad this is" and "How can this not be over yet?". Those were all phrases uttered by my wife while we watched this piece of shit. Neither of us are fans of the show but rented it for a bit of light fun only to feel as though SJP & Co. owe us two hours of our lives. I pity all women who identify with this garbage. Grade: F

Incredible Hulk
I was given this for Christmas because I like comics. I wasn't even interested in renting it until I became more desperate. I actually didn't mind Norton as Banner, and I do prefer the whole "Banner as Dr.Kimble" type of stories but things went south when they landed in Toronto and Liv Tyler show up. I do like the Hurt for Nolte trade, though. If this is as good as they can do, I think this franchise should be laid to rest. Grade: C

In Bruges
Holy crap did I love this movie. So small, and yet so wonderfully entertaining. Tons of good old black humour (something that is quite rare these days). Colin Farrell didn't bug me at all here, and he and Brendan Gleeson have a great Felix & Oscar vibe. Ralph Fiennes is simultaneously hilarious and menacing. It was just brilliant - and not in the British sense (where they say 'brilliant' about everything) but actual brilliance. I'm really surprised that this didn't land on more year end top 10 lists. Grade: A

The Invisible Agent
Buried on Side B of Disc 2 of the Invisible Man: Legacy Collection is this fun 1942 gem mixing slapstick humour and espionage. Our hero is deep in German territory trying to find the details of a German attack on New York. It's a little matinee film that doesn't waste a moment of its 75 minute running time. Any film with Peter Lorre is worth watching, in my not so humble opinion, although I didn't realize that he was supposed to be Japanese until halfway through the movie. Grade: B+

Hidden Gems: Adventure Comics #459

I'm sure that kids complained about paying a buck for a comic book back in the late 70s, but these beauties really do pack quite a punch. This is the first issue of the 'new look' Adventure Comics (how many times did we see that with this title?), and imports a number of DC's heavy hitters. Green Lantern was in the midst of one of his many hiatuses, so it's nice to get a solid Staton drawn story here. The Flash story reminded me of how much I like Frank McLaughlin's inks over Irv Novick's pencils. An Aparo drawn Deadman story? Yes, please! We also see the return of the New Gods with artwork by the always great Don Newton. Are we still talking a single comic book? Rounding out the title are a so-so Wonder Woman story featuring the Killer Shark and a fairly entertaining Elongated Man tale. Overall, the book doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts, but if you see this one on the cheap (I got mine for $2), don't pass it up.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Trade Marks: Animal Man: Book 2 - Origin of the Species

When Animal Man was first on the shelves, I saw it as just another one of the relatively forward thinking and unique titles being published by DC at the time (Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, The Question etc... all fit into that category). I only picked up the odd issue here and there and was never really fully sold on the concept. Tackling the trades years later, I can really appreciate what Grant Morrison was trying to do - channelling his feelings as an angry young man into the Four Color world in a viable and entertaining way. I think that, for the most part, he succeeded and this second volume builds nicely on the momentum created in the first volume. With the back story out of the way, Morrison can focus on certain themes, such as Animal Rights and Apartheid. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these stories have actually dated quite well, and Buddy Baker remains a great everyman-type characters. Morrison uses guest stars such as Vixen and Bwana Beast to great effect, as he's able to put together a seemingly independent world here that manages to keep one foot in the larger DCU. All in all - it's a very entertaining and thought provoking read that manages to avoid being preachy. Trade Mark: A-

Monday, January 05, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Stalker #3

Stalker is a funny little series - it's kind of interesting but never really did all that much for me. Perhaps it was cancelled (imploded?) before truly hitting its stride. The real highlight is the collaboration between Steve Ditko and Wally Wood. Wood bring a bit of structure to Ditko's figures and background without stripping it of that Ditko charm (as I felt Ralph Reese did with the early 90s Magnus stories). This is my favourite cover of the series - as the battle between the two main figures has a nice three dimensional feel. I could have lived without the female at the bottom right corner, as she really breaks up the flow of the image. The caption is also very intrusive, but we're talking the 70s here so I guess that it can't really be avoided. A solid effort for Ditko & Wood, but I really wonder if that woman was the result of some editorial interference. It has that 'Make it look more Marvel' vibe that hurt so many Atlas-Seaboard covers.