Friday, May 29, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Flash #289

I've always considered myself to be a pretty big Flash fan, and that's why I was surprised to discover (after scanning through an on-line cover gallery) that this was the first solo Flash book I ever owned. I would have been nearly 8 years old when this hit the spinner racks, and I was likely in my 2nd or 3rd year of fairly active comic book reading. I likely knew the Flash through various JLA/Super Friends appearances and perhaps a B&B or two. I was also very aware of him through DC house ads, as many Flash covers from 1978 and 1979 were featured - some great, attention grabbing stuff from the likes of Rich Buckler, Ross Andru and Dick Giordano. This issue was a pretty good way to start as the Dr. Alchemy/Mr. Element chaos comes to a head. I was likely quite confused by all of this as a child, but I really dug it later on - some much so that I waaaay overspent on a high grade copy of Flash #147 (Reverse Flash and Mr. Element - how can you go wrong?). I really think Don Heck was a nice fit as a flash artist - underappreciated as always. There's also a decent Firestorm back-up with George Perez art - so all in all, it was a pretty nice way to be introduced to the Flash series.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dreamy Splash Pages Pt. 1

The Prize Comics series Strange World of Your Dreams was the perfect fit Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin and Bill Draut. The them of the series allowed these artists to stretch their collective imaginations to the limit. Starting with Windsor Mackay's Little Nemo, it was clear that dreams made for wonderful comic book fodder. This short-lived series starred Richard Temple, some sort of doctor/therapist who helped people analyze their dreams. This particular tale involves a deceased mother communicating with the living through their dreams in order to assist her sick child. It's pretty creepy and very atmospheric. All of the feature stories in this series have amazing splash pages by the aforementioned artists. This was the first one in issue #1, and they certainly started with a bang. I'll feature a few more of these over the next week or so.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Star Spangled War Stories #183

This is a book that should be in every one's collection. This isn't simply one of the finest war stories of the 70s, it is one of the finest stories of the 70s. This issue marks the beginning of the Dave Michelinie/Gerry Talaoc run on the Unknown Solider, one of the most underappreciated collaborations of the Bronze Age. They managed to breath new life into a character whose adventures were getting a bit stale, which is odd because he was still fairly new and the possibilities for a 'Man of a Thousand Faces' characters are endless. Michelinie focused on the moral and ethical murkiness of war and the tough choices that sometimes must be faced. This issue features '8,000 to 1', in which the bandaged one must allow one person to be sacrificed for the greater good. The way Talaoc tells the story panel by panel, you really get the feeling that the war is eating away at the Soldier's soul. Oh, by the way - you also get a short Enemy Ace/Balloon Buster dust up with Frank Thorne art. A Hall of Famer, if I've ever seen one.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Trade Marks: Stoker's Dracula

I was fortunate enough to pick up this handsome hardcover at a 50% off sale quite some time ago. I never got around to reading it for one reason or another, and I'm quite happy that I waited until I could sit down and really focus on the material. The origins of this volume is somewhat legendary, as two creators were invited to finish a half-completed project begun nearly 30 years earlier. I've got mostly positive things to say about it. Thomas does a commendable job of extracting the salient aspects of Stoker's sometimes clunky narrative. I find the character development a bit weak - but that's the way it is in the source material. Giordano was and still is a good fit for this story. His art lacks the drama of a Gene Colan - but that's not a bad thing here as it is a fairly quiet story. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no discernible shift in quality after the 30-year intermission. If anything - the book improves slightly in the second half. I'm not normally one to go nuts for a hardcover volume - but this one is worth the extra cash. It's very attractive, has some great background pieces and a wonderful red bookmark. I'd love to see that in more hardcovers. Overall Grade: A-

Friday, May 22, 2009

You've Been Warned: Silver Surfer Annual #5

Good grief! If this isn't the nadir of early 90s comic books, I don't know what is. I don't mean to pick on that particular decade, as there were many fine comics produced at the time (and I was actually a pretty big fan of the Surfer's series), but this one is beyond terrible. I'll admit that I haven't read the other chapter in the 'Return of the Defenders' saga, so maybe it all ties together beautifully - but I'm doubtful. It's a fairly typical convoluted Marvel crossover storyline that my 36-year old brain has trouble follow. I don't mean to complain too much about the story, as I wanted to reserve the balance of my venom for the artwork. Lots of artists doing the neo-Image through came through Marvel's revolving doors at the time, but I can't think of a worse effort than the one by Tom Morgan in these pages. In particular, there is one sequence involving Namor, sunglasses and a convertible that would be rejected by a fanzine. I don't want to get one of those Internet jerks who just bitches about everything - but this was a pricey book back in the day, and it's just ugly. Some nice pin-ups at the back manage to act as a salve. Avoid.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Willard Covers

If you've been tracking my likes and dislikes over the years, you'll know that I'm of Lee Elias' "Clean as a Whistle" cover to Black Cat #49. It got me thinking about other covers that feature a group of ravenous rats swarming and unsuspecting victim. As a tip of the hat to the 1971 cult classic of the same name, I've decided to call these Willard Cover.

I must was surprised that Elias had already used this theme for a Harvey horror cover a year prior with Chamber of Chills #16 (May, 1953). This one doesn't work nearly as well, as the rats are a bit cartoonish and therefore don't see quite as menacing as the 'Clean as a Whistle' critters. I'm actually a bit more grossed out by the foot than the vermin. Still, it's one of those effect pre-Code horror covers that manages to disturb without resorting to gore, as it leaves most of the horror up to the readers' imagination. A solid, yet unspectacular effort by the master.

As it turns out, Elias may have been inspired by the cover from Youthful's Beware #11 from August, 1952. The GCD tells me that this cover was drawn by Ed Goldfarb, and I'm not really in a position to argue with them. It's quite a cool cover - with interesting lighting effects and a few rather large rats. For some reason, I really love the use of yellow in 50s horror covers. I'm almost inclined to use the word Ditkoesque. I'm quite inspired to track down a copy of this book, if only because on of the stories is entitled 'The Middle Toe'.

Jumping ahead nearly 30 years we find one of my favourite covers of the 80s. I bought Captain America #272 off the racks back in 1982. How could anyone resist this amazing Mike Zeck cover? It was often that we saw the horror and superhero genres mash up, and it was truly rare to see it done so effectively. You didn't see blood all that often on comic book covers back then - so it was quite a shock. It still creeps me out today. Inside, we've also got a truly great issue from by DeMatteis, Zeck and Beatty - with the Vermin making a very memorable first appearance. This is one of the all-time greats.

A few years later, we got a similar cover for Detective Comics #585 from Jerry Bingham. This book features the introduction of the Rat Catcher, a fairly interesting villain - but I really can't help but see a connection to the Vermin's first appearance in the Cap issue above, right down the cover. The Rat Catcher does actually share a lot in common with Willard Stiles, and he's been used quite effectively over the years. I like a villain who brings Batman into Gotham's sewer system. It's a decent, moody cover - but I would have loved to see what Norm Breyfogle would have done with it. It could have used a little blood.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Ghostly Tales #87

Beginning with issue #82, Steve Ditko would produce a number of eye catching covers for this Charlton title throughout the early 70s. This one is perhaps the trippiest of the lot (and that's saying quite a bit). It's a neat design, as it takes the eye quite a while to determine that the chalk outline is, in fact, Mr. Dredd. The main figure seems familiar, as he bears a resemblance to Ditko creation of a few years later, Shade the Changing Man. I've always been particularly intrigued by the woman peering into the mirror. Ditko has caught her in a moment, as she's only just noticed the chaos unfolding behind her. It's quite the trick to have such a piece of quiet drama juxtaposed against such a monstrous image. I love this one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hidden Gems: Captain America Special Edition #2

Back in 1984, Marvel decided to reprint some of Jim Steranko's best work. This was the second and final issue to this short-lived project. Both books are worthy additions to your collection, but I'd snap this one up first. Why? Is it because of the great Cap reprint? No. Is it because of the Not Brand Echh strip? Nope. How about the Nick Fury tale? Sorry. The reason you need to grab this one is because it includes a reprint of 'My Heart Broke in Hollywood' from the nearly impossible to find Our Love Story #5. When they do pop up for sale, any Romance book containing a Steranko story commands top dollar, so this is truly the most affordable way to get your fix of Steranko in all genres. Happy Hunting!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Add It To My Want List: Flash Gordon: The Movie

Ok, so the movie is a turkey - a guilty pleasure, at best. That's a movie - and I'm here to talk about Flash Gordon comics. We're talking 72 pages of oversized Al Williamson here - that alone is enough to convince me. I knew that Gold Key/Whitman had adapted the movie as part of the ongoing Flash Gordon series, but I only recently became aware of the fact that it had been collected into one nice package. You know, the actual story to the movie really ain't all that bad - it's just the execution... and the acting. Bruce Jones and Al Williamson seem like a pretty capable team, and from what I've seen - Williamson's lush pencils are absoultely perfect for a Flash Gordon story. The only real question remaining is why don't I already own this one?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I Loves me Some Hawkworld

I'm not just talking about the original miniseries here folks, but the ongoing series as well. The whole concept of Hawkworld is crazy, a lot of dense sci-fi, some intense themes of religion and moral philosophy. With all of that, it's not exactly surprising that it never really caught fire during the age of Spawn. John Ostrander and Tim Truman packed so much into this series that it's a bit tough to appreciate on a first read through. If you don't get all caught up in Hawk-continuity, this series ages well and a reader can really get a lot from coming back to it every few years. I'll admit that I totally missed it the first time around. I got quite lucky in 1995, during my first year of law school. I stumble upon 80% or so of the series in a quarter bind and scooped them all up - just looking for something to help me procrastinate. I loved it. I shouldn't have been surprised, as I was a big fan of the Spectre series, so I already knew what kind of things came from Ostrander's fertile imagination.

Like many people, I've always thought that the Hawks looked great, but never got into their adventures. The Hawkworld team really focused on humanizing them here, and made the characters much more appealing. The supporting cast (both on Earth and on Thanagar) was also impressive. Katar and Shayera's relationship is all over the place, Byth's made for a menacing foil and Jonesy's death was a real punch to the gut. Graham Nolan is simply amazing - he can drawn anything, from alleyways to alien costumes. In particular, I really loved the designed of the 'Raven'. Some people look back at the 90s with disdain, but DC was putting out some truly innovative books and both the Hawkworld miniseries and the ongoing series are proof that good things can happen when a company gives the key to thoughtful creators.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Charlton Notebook: Sarge Steel #5

A little bit of a bait and switch here folks, as this was the first non-Giordano issue of the series - but he was still providing the cover. Bill Montes takes over as penciller and he's adequate, but is much more rough around the edges than Mr. Giordano. We've got a decent little story here, in which Steel heads to communist China to free an imprisoned scientist. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but Joe Gill's script keeps things moving and Steel's 'tough guy' talk is very entertaining. The series was in the process of transitioning from 'Private Detective' to 'Secret Agent' at this stage. This was also one of the only places to find a true femme fatale in comic books during the 60s. Even with the international intrigue, Sarge Steel borrows as much, if not more, from the likes of Sam Spade as he does from James Bond. It's a fun book, and the terribly dated terribly dated villains only add to the entertainment value. The series can still be had for peanuts in lower grades.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Trade Marks: Batman - Scarecrow Tales

This collection of Scarecrow-centric stories was released in the Spring of 2005, in an attempt to cash in on the Scarecrow's appearance in Batman Begins. With such a long and stories career as a Batvillain, I must say that I was very disappointed in the story selection for this slim volume. Why not include the fine early appearance from Detective Comics #73? For a Bronze Age example. Instead of the very silly story from Joker #8, why not include "Sinister Straws of the Scarecrow" from Batman #296? For my money, the post-DKR stories are quite weak. There are far better options than "Fear for Sale" (Detective #570), "Mistress of Fear" (Scarecrow Villains #1) and "Fear of Success" (Gotham Knights #23). Personally, I would have gone with with the Year One story from Batman Annual #19 (even at the expense of removing that 60s story) and if I had room, I'd included Master of Fear from Batman #457. At least they got it right when they included "6 Days of the Scarecrow" from Detective #503. Overall, this comes across as a cash grab and a badly missed opportunity. Can you tell that it rubbed me the wrong way? Trade Mark: C+

Friday, May 08, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Rufus the Robot

I must admit that I've never owned nor read The Beverly Hillbillies #10, but I'm certain that once I get my hands on it, it will be a strong candidate for the Single Issue Hall of Fame. The GCD synopsis states "Granny takes Rufus the Robot shopping". That's really all we need to know. There is so much right (and at the same time, wrong) about this cover. There are about a thousand jokes that go rushing through my mind, and at least half of them involve the movie Demon Seed. Every other cover for this 21 issue series features a photo cover, so I'm guessing that there was no way Dell could figure out how to superimpose a robot into a photo of the cast. The GCD suggests that series artist Henry Scarpelli drew this cover - but it sure looks like Mike Sekowsky to me. The man obviously had a great sense of humour.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Buy This Book: Was Superman a Spy?

Full disclosure here folks. I 'intermet' Brian Cronin years ago and dined with him last Saturday. He's a wonderful guy, so I'm thrilled to say that I absolutely loved his recently published book. For years, Brian has been debunking and bunking(?) various myths and legends of the comic book world for years at his fantastic blog Comics Should Be Good (more disclosure - I also contribute there). With Was Superman A Spy... And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed, Cronin has been able to move his work from the web to bookstore shelves. It is a wonderfully designed paperback. Cronin hasn't just rehash his various blog pieces here, but smoothly linked them together, organizing by company and character. He's provided additional background, making it much more readable for people new to the comic book world. Inside these pages, Cronin investigates everything from Batman's initial color scheme to the reason you've never seen Black Lightning in a JLA cartoon. I consider myself to be pretty up on most comic book stuff - but I must admit that I never knew that the Fantastic Four almost work masks. This is a must have for any comic book fan - a wonderfully entertaining read.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Reprint This! Marvel's Doc Savage Magazine

OK, ok - I know that this one is tied up in licensing purgatory, but a fella can still have his dreams, right? Doc Savage has certainly bounced around from publisher to publisher, but from what I can tell, this 8 issue stint in the world of Marvel black and white magazines was likely his finest hour. The longer format allows for more depth to the stories, and the lack of Code enables the writers to push the envelope in certain places. Doug Moench wrote nearly all of the stories - and he was able to convey the pulpiness that helps to make this a great character. Superb artwork throughout - led by Tony DeZuniga. It's a shame that someone (I'm looking at you, Dark Horse) hasn't worked on getting a collection of these issues out onto the shelves. It would be awesome - and it's already in black and white, so it's a perfect fit for an inexpensive phonebook collection.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Detective Comics Annual #4

The whole Armageddon 2001 thing at DC really caught my attention back in 1991. I was between my last year of high school and first year of university so I had a lot of time on my hands to read comics. In the end, it was a pretty big letdown - but I must admit to having been swept away during the build up. As a kid, I loved 'What If?', so it was nice to see some great imaginary stories in these Annuals. This one is superb - the kind of epic story that can only be told in an over sized Annual. It begins with Batman sustaining permanent injuries during an escape from Ra's Al Ghul's henchmen (essentially - he breaks his back). Tim Drake has a some really bad luck while replacing him, and Bruce is forced to don the cape and cowl after doing some cybernetic adjustments. Like many of these Armageddon 2001 stories - it doesn't end well, but that's the beauty of this non-canon stories. It's certainly grim and gritty - but Louise Simonson's script has a lot of heart. To this day, I am still supremely impressed by Tom Grindberg's artwork on this Annual. It is 50+ pages of near perfection. At times I feel that he is intentionally channeling Neal Adams, while at other times (especially some of the fights), I feel like he's trying to recreate the fluidity of Marshall Rogers. This one is a keeper and worth tracking down as a stand alone Batman Elseworlds story.