Tuesday, March 31, 2009

You've Been Warned: Marvel Two-In-One #31

Ben Grimm spent a good chunk of 1977 in London. Like many vacations, it started off fairly strong but readers were likely getting homesick by this point. You've got to check your brain at the door when reading Marvel Two-In-One, and I'm okay with that - but this Spider-Monster arc will test the patience of even the most die hard FOOMer. Since leaving U.S. shores, Ben has helped Namor in he mid-Atlantic, Shang-Shi in London and even assisted the fledgling Spider-Woman deal with some Stonehenge-related mystical mumbo jumbo. For some reason, Marv Wolfman decides to end this English sojourn with something even more ludicrous. For some reason, HYDRA has decided that the best way to deal with the Thing is to turn Alicia Masters into some sort of Spider-Monster. The only 'Mystery Menace' here is the odour that emanates from this book. To paraphrase Mr. Grimm - 'It's Shreddin' Time'.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Charlton Notebook: The Fightin' 5 #38

The obvious question here is 'Can this comic be anywhere near as awesome as its cover?'. Unfortunately, the answer is 'no', but that speaks more to the cover than the story. Once again, Rocco 'Rocke' Mastroserio demonstrates his talent for cover design. He is a very underrated artist, in my sometimes humble opinion. Things ain't all that bad inside either - as we're seeing the James Bond influence trickle into the Derbyverse. How can you go wrong with an organization called S.A.T.A.N. whose leader dresses up in a devil costume? It's a pretty entertaining story. I tend to be of two minds when it comes to the Montes/Bache art team.Sometimes, they can be inspired, using interesting layouts and drawing characters and scenes with a real depth. Other times, especially in action sequences, it can come across as rushed. Here, I like 50% of the panels, but I'm 'meh' on the other half. Peter Cannon won't show up for another couple of issues, so the back-up a second F5 tales - not quite as fun as the first.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sneak a Peek Covers Pt. 2

I promised Jack Cole, and here he is with the very busy cover to Silver Streak Comics #5 from July, 1940 making this the front runner for the earliest Sneak a Peek Cover. There is so much going on here that you almost don't notice the Sneak a Peek aspect. It's nicely done, with Dickie Dean teasing the kids, promising plans to some fantastical invention (I wonder what it was). No interior narrative here, but at least a hint of panels. Both Ace Powers and Lance Hale (love those names!) seem to have their hands full. Perhaps Dickie could invent something to help them.

Next up is a personal favourite of mine, the cover to Frisky Fables Vol 1 #1 (Spring, 1945). As far as quirky funny animal covers go, I'd put Al Fago right up there with LB Cole. OK, maybe not right there, but he gets the silver medal. I really like they when this one is constructed, right down to the rather elastic nature of the corner being pulled. We get just a hint of the inside narrative. If the indica had been included it would have been perfect. This series has so many great 'theme covers' including an including two infinity covers published in the same year. I've got them both.

Finally, we come to Jack Burnley 's wonderful cover to Batman #42 (Aug-Sept, 1947. Burnley really was a master at cover design, and his Sneak a Peek cover here is perfect for Catwoman's second cover appearance. I think that one of the reasons Catwoman became so popular (aside from the awesome costume) is that so many of her cover appearances are truly iconic. This one is great, as Selina is trying to hide out inside the pages of the books. It's very clever and one that I've been trying to track down at a reasonable price for a long, long time.

Cheap Grapes: Terrasses de la Mouline Saint Chinian 2007

We're heading back to the Languedoc, folks. No matter how hard I try to look elsewhere, my favourite value wines still come from the Sud-Ouest. Saint Chinian is a smallish Appellation, just north of Minervois and to the west of Coteaux de Languedoc. It's a nice blend, grounded by equal parts Carignan and Grenache. It's got a very spicy nose, and very delicate mixture of dark cherry, blackberry and even chocolate. It's an unbelievably complex wine for the price ($13.95 here in Ontario) with very impressive length. I don't think that 2007 is regarded as a terribly great vintage, but this wine is really quite pleasing and I imagine it will cellar until 2013 or so. It would be a great crowd pleaser for a party - a good hybrid of Old and New World. If my wallet and liver would permit it, I'd drink this one every night.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sneak a Peek Covers Pt. 1

You know that feeling, when you buy a new comic and you cannot wait to get home to read it. Well, sometimes characters on the front cover feel the same way and they try to sneak a peek. Here's the a look at some great Sneak a Peek Covers .

Let's start with one of the most famous Sneek a Peek Covers, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #1. I like the use of this cover gimmick to launch a series (we'll see it again), as we get the sense that we are starting a new journey. And what a journey it was - this series just kept going and going. You'll note that there is no 'interior' artwork. This will change as the Sneak a Peek Cover evolves. This book highlights the chief problem with trying to put together a Sneak a Peek Cover collection: most of them are insanely pricey Golden Age books.

Next up is the other contender for most famous Sneak a Peek Cover; Superboy #1. The Sneak a Peek concept is absolutely perfect for the narrative on the cover. This is one of the more iconic DC covers from the 1940s, and I always think that breaking down that pesky 4th wall is fun. I not often that a debut issue does not feature the lead character (but this one does in a way I guess). Wayne Boring's cover is beautifully constructed, but the only real nitpick I have is that it looks like part of the Superboy story is on the interior cover. What is this, a Fox book?

Just one more for today (I'll be back tomorrow or next day with a few more). C.C. Beck's cover to Whiz Comics #38 from 1942 is notable for two reasons. First, it's the earliest version I could find that features some of the interior narrative on the cover (although I can't say for sure whether that's actually part of the story). Second, if you look real close, you will discover that this comic features a very rare cover appearance by Steamboat. I've always found it odd that comic book companies were supposedly comfortable using characters like Steamboat, and yet they very rarely put them on the cover. Stayed tuned for the next installment featuring some great covers including one by Jack Cole.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: This Magazine is Haunted #21

We're back to pre-code Charlton this week, folks - and I've picked a true classic. Ditko did many fantastic covers for this title, but this one is definitely among my favourites. We get the feeling that we're acting as voyeurs, witnessing some secret ceremony. The two voodoo dolls in the foreground help to keep us concealed. You actually feel as though you're in a cave, waiting for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. After a while, you notice the shrunken heads peeking out of the box. It is superbly designed, and I only wish that the colorist had chosen a less garish shade of yellow for the main figure. This was the final issue of this series (which was brought over from Fawcett), until a post-Code version was launched in 1957.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reprint This! Marvel's Planet of the Apes

When I was picking up back issues of this black and white magazine series, I was mostly interested in the movie adaptations. In the end, I don't think I ever owned more than 5 or 6 issues of this series. More recently, I've been very intrigued by two series that I ignored as a youngster, but now realize are far superior to the relatively bland movie recaps. Doug Moench wrote both the 'Terror on the Planet of the Apes' and 'Future History Chronicles' strips, wonderfully drawn by Mike Ploog and Tom Sutton, respectively (although I think Trimpe got involved towards the end). These stories are much darker and more engaging than the main storylines, and must have developed a bit of a cult following, as these magazines are getting more and more expensive on the back issue market. While I'd be thrilled if Marvel or Dark Horse could get the rights to reprint the entire series, I'd settle for the reprints of these other stories put together by Moench & Co. I know that Malibu/Adventure did bits and pieces of it back in the early 90s, but I truly think that these stories deserve to be given the red carpet reprint treatment.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trade Marks: From Hell

Since everyone seems to be reading Watchmen these days, I thought I put one foot outside of the box and revisit From Hell. I should admit that I saw the movie years before buying this GN, and I actually really liked flick. I know that a lot of people trashed the movie, but I really dug it, but fully recognize that it only scratched the surface of Moore's work. I have the softcover edition put out by Top Shelf and if is certainly a hefty tome, nicely put together. The story of Jack the Ripper is well know, but the real treat here is the snapshot of 19th century London and all of its class dynamics. The historical overview of London's urban planning and architecture is also a real treat and allows the reader to get lost in that great city's back alleys.

I remain unbelievably impressed by the depth of research undertaken by Moore. I found myself flipping back and forth between the story pages and the annotations. Perhaps this process interferes with the overall flow of the story, but I've never had a comic book experience quite like this. I wanted to know everything. Eddie Campbell's artwork is absolutely perfect here, as his heavy inking and 'scratchy' effects perfectly established the atmosphere of a dirty London, both literally and figuratively. The cover price is a little steep - but my guess is that you could pick this up from an on-line retailer at a fairly deep discount. It will also take you a good chunk of time to read it cover to cover, so there's some good value here. Trade Mark: A+

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Batman #316

This is definitely one of the first 10 or so Batman comic books I remember owning, as it would have hit the stands just before my 7th Birthday. I've likely read more than 1,000 Batman-related comics during my lifetime, so those early issues hold a special place in my heart. As much as I say that Aparo's Batman is 'My Batman', the Novick/McLaughlin version is likely #2. I think that Frank McLaughlin was the perfect inker for Irv Novick, adding a lot of depth and atmosphere to Novick's solid pencils. As a kid, I didn't realize that Crazy Quilt was one of those bottom of the Bat-barrell villains. As far as I knew, he was as important as the Joker or Catwoman (I also felt the same way about Killer Moth back in the day). I actually found his back story to be quite engaging. Len Wein's script helps to make CQ a relatively sympathetic character, which my young mind had a hard time reconciling with his overall craziness. It's certainly not Dark Knight Returns, but looking back this really was a pretty solid outing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Treat for Aparo Fans

Once upon a time, I thought that I was pretty much the biggest Jim Aparo fan in the world. That was until 5 or 6 years ago, when I (inter)met my good friend Michael from Alabama. He once ran an old school Jim Aparo Fan Club and published a newsletter. He was lucky enough to correspond (and even meet) with Jim several times over the years. This, combined with his passion for all things Aparo, gives Michael an incredible wealth of knowledge and material for his newish blog: http://jimaparofanclub.blogspot.com/ . Michael speaks to every subject, right down to the quality of Aparo's lettering, and is not afraid to showcase a lot of his lesser known Charlton work. It makes for a great read, and it shines a much deserved spotlight on this fine creator who is dearly missed. Great work, MWG!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hidden Gems: Tarzan #238

Sadly, the era of the 100 Pagers had ended by this point. Those are a lot of fun, but they can also be a bit pricey. In 1975, however, DC introduced the 50 Cent Giant in some of its titles. This size and price point only lasted for one issue in Tarzan, but what an issue! This is a 48-page collection of the daily United Features strip written and drawn by Russ Manning. As I understand, this is a re-working (color added, panels removed and some new dialogue) of approximately 6 months' worth of daily strips. Being derived from the daily format, the "Return to Pellucidar" story has a different feel and pacing than we'd seen from the DC adaptations to this point. It's really refreshing to see the Manning version again, and it recalls back to those glory days at Gold Key. This issue can be found for much less than the 100-Pagers and has a more bang for your buck than its 25 cent contemporaries. As a curiosity piece alone, this one is worth hunting down.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You've Been Warned: Freedom Fighters #11

Picking the weakest issue of Freedom Fighters is like trying to pick the worst Pauly Shore movie; too many serious contenders. This series is very disappointing, as convoluted plots and dull artwork really hamper the development of some potentially interesting characters. This particular story revolves around four disgruntled Native Americans who are struck by lightning and develop powers and rob a bank. I'd say that the way things are presented is offensive to Native Americans, but really it's offensive to just about anyone. One of the bad guys (Tall Tree) is definitely an Apache Chief prototype, so that's cool, I guess. Bob Rozakis' story is all over the place, and the only potentially interesting bit, and argument between Uncle Sam and the Human Bomb, just dies. For me, Dick Ayers is someone who needs a very, very strong inker. Jack Abel does little more than trace here, and the artwork's flatness doesn't do anything to help with the ridiculous story. I'm shocked that this series lasted as long as it did during a time when far superior DC books were cancelled after 3 or 4 issues. Avoid with extreme prejudice.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Loves Me Some Atlas Era Infantino

I've been making my way through the Essential Man Called Nova (more on that when I get through it), and I must say that I found the transition from Sal Buscema to Carmine Infantino to be incredibly jarring. Infatino's artwork in the late 70s and early 80s was a far cry from what his glory days at DC. Whether its his stylish work on strips like Phantom Stranger or Danger Trail (the Sy Barry inks helped a lot) or his lean and mean superhero work in the 60s, Infantino delivered artwork with an interesting mixture of power and finesse. By the time he was just a penciller for pay, the tight pencils and creative layouts were long gone.

Instead of praising his Golden and Silver Age DC work, I thought it was time to declare my love for his work for Atlas in the 50s. Here's an example of his artwork from Adventures Into Weird Worlds #9 from August, 1952. I've included a few panels to show you just how fantastic his artwork was back then. The one above indicates that both Alex Toth and Mort Meskin were major influences on his work. This is a shift from his late 40s work at DC, which was pure Caniff school. There is a much greater sense of texture, more variety in the facial expressions and an infusion of energy and atmosphere. By the way, does that handsome ape to the left look familiar to anyone? In particular, I really love his use of shadows and silhouettes (something he'd nail on the Strange Sports Stories books). Just check out the three panel strip below and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's hard to imagine this is the same guy who doodled his way through Nova and Star Wars when I was a kid.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Atom #6

As I've said on here before, The Atom is one of my favourite series of all-time. There are, however, some individual issues that stand out like a shining star. Atom #6 is not a particularly important issue - no major guest stars or villain introductions. It's just good old fashioned Silver Age storytelling courtesy of Messrs. Fox, Kane and Anderson. The first story is a nice little detective story, as the Atom helps to clear the name of a magician's assistant who has been framed a for a robbery. That's a plot you just don't see anymore. The second story is the real highlight as it features the Time Pool. I'm a big Time Pool nut, as I think it was a superb device for generating some very imaginary plots. In this one, the Atom travels to the 18th Century and helps capture Dick Turpin, the Highwayman (he also discovers that he may be related - Yikes!). It's just a lot of Silver Age fun and a standout issue in a fine, fine series.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Marvel Triple Action #47

You may not have seen this one before, as I know that I was certainly surprised when I stumbled upon it. Here was a Marvel reprint title on its last legs in 1980 and, rather than simply reprint the original John Buscema cover from Avengers #54, Marvel decided to commission a brand new cover. It was actually a fairly interesting experiment, as Ditko flipped the cover's perspective 180 degrees. The camera is now behind the Black Knight, rather than behind the heroes in bondage (I use that phrase just to get a few more hits from perverted Googlers). I like the concept a lot more than the execution. I find that most 'multiple character' Ditko covers from this era suffer from severe stiffness. Squeezing this many figures onto a page leads to very awkward poses and removes all of the fluidity that makes Ditko's artwork so appealing in the first place. Compare this cover to a simply constructed Stalker or Ghost Manor cover from from a few years earlier and you'll see what I mean. Still, it's fun to find these relative oddities out there.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: The Earth-Shaker

The Earth-Shaker first appeared in Nova #5 (January, 1977) and immediately brings to mind the old Nazi Sleeper robot from the Cap stories in Tales of Suspense. For some reason, Tyrannus (why does he repeatedly come back for more punishment?) has taken control of the Mole Man's mole people. Using slave labor and parts acquired through unexplained means, he has built this massive robot designed to destroy the surface world by burying it under rubble, leaving Tyrannus in charge of a fully subterranean world (or at least, I think that was the plan). While there is a bit of a battle, it really doesn't take Nova very long to put the Earth-Shaker out of its misery. He has a much tougher time with the Marvel Comics bullpen, as Marv Wolfman and Sal Buscema meet with Nova in an effort to pitch a new series to Stan Lee. Ultimately, Stan shoots down the idea with some cornball jokes that were stale in the 50s. The Earth-Shaker was a pretty lame robot, but at least he got Jack Kirby to draw him on the cover. I believe this image was even used for a Slurpee cup.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Charlton Notebook: Hot Rods and Racing Cars #117

The whole 'hot rod' genre was running on fumes and bald tires by this point, but this is still a very entertaining read. I'm about as far from a gear head as you can get, but I really dig these stories that seem to pin the world's future on the outcome of some backwoods race. The folks at Charlton have tried their very best to use racing as an analogy for life's challenges. The first story "Born Loser", has some good oval racing action mixed in with a dysfunctional father/son relationship. There a rather charming story (which I actually found to be quite educational) about restoring a Model T. The finale "Magic Gloves" is a morality play about having too much faith in superstition. It's all pretty silly, but these pages demonstrate that Jack Keller is a master storyteller.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reprint This: DC's The Shadow

Why oh why hasn't someone thrown enough money at whoever owns the rights to The Shadow to put this series into a nice TPB? Years ago, I was fortunate enough to buy the entire run for a low price, but I would absolutely love to place a hardcover collection on my shelf. Not only is the Shadow one of the greatest characters (in any genre) of the 20th century, but this series is arguably the high watermark of the Bronze Age. Denny O'Neil scripts are sharp and mature and Mike Kaluta's artwork on the first few issues is breathtaking. Now, I'm a Frank Robbins fan, but I'd imagine even his most ardent detractors would concede that was a pretty good fit for his style. My fingers are crossed that this will someday be released from licensing purgatory.