Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Add It To My Want List: Shocking Tales Digest #1

Harvey published this little oddity in 1981. I don't think that I've ever seen a copy of it - and I'm pretty sure that I would remember that cover. Seemingly out of nowhere, Harvey decided that this would be a good time to reprint a bunch of old Jack Kirby stories from the late 50s (Marvel and DC had the same epiphany, only a decade earlier). From what I can tell, it's got a mixture of pre-Code and post-Code horror stories from titles such as Witches Tales (one of my favourites), Alarming Tales and even Race for the Moon, so there's probably Bob Powell and Howard Nostrand in there too - maybe even Rudy Palais if we're lucky. The cover is pure kookiness (I definitely recognize that flying chair from Alarming Tales #1). I know that Kirby's artwork likely doesn't translate well to the digest page, but I really love Harvey horror, and we're not likely see it reprinted elsewhere. Lone Star has a FN copy for $8.40 right now. That's a bit steep for me, especially since I'm trying to cut back but it's soooooo tempting. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for a better deal.

You've Been Warned: Batman Family #1

Sometimes nostalgia can play tricks on you. I have very fond memories of this series from my childhood. Truth be told, most of the books I read back then were from later in the series and those are much, much better. At one point in my collecting career, I decided that I'd like a complete run of the series. There are some real stinker in that run, but this one is the worse. Right off the back, we get one of those bad 'Introduction' covers that DC used in the 70s, mostly in the Wonder Woman title. The main image by Mike Grell is quite stiff and awkward, and I'd say that about many of his covers from this period. The sight of Benedict Arnold holding a flaming sword is pretty much all you need to know about this story. It might have work in the 50s or 60s, but this was the camp-free 70s and the story is just lame. I like how the GCD notes that both Arnold and the Devil are villains - just in case you might think otherwise. For the most part, the reprint selections are weak (one from the 40s and one from the 60s). The only saving grace is that this is a slightly cheaper way of getting your hands on the "Challenge of the Man-Bat" story, but I'm sure that story appears in a least a half dozen other books since then. Avoid - and that's coming from a big Bat-Fan.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Highlighting House Ads: Leading Comics #8 Back Cover

Wow! Here is an amazing ad from the fall of 1943. This scan is from the back cover of Leading Comics #8, and it's interesting as it features both DC/National and All-American titles. Prior to this (I'm not sure when the change occurred), you'd see ads for one line of titles and a separate ad for the other line of titles. I guess that they decided to focus on branding the "Big Eight of Monthly Comic Magazines". Fiction House would later use similar marketing for their line of comics - I'll see if I can dig up one of those late 40s ads. Keep in mind, Batman, Superman, World's Finest and Wonder Woman were all still quarterly titles at this stage. I love this kind of ad, because it is a true snapshot in time, giving you a real sense of what was happening at DC at that time. Could you imagine owning all 8 books? I'm guessing Edgar Church did.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hidden Gems: Mystery in Space #115

This issue comes from the short-lived revival of DC's flagship sci-fi title. Like any anthology book, there varying degrees of quality throughout the series. This issue, however, is worth checking out for a couple of reason. First, there is a wonderfully subversive Steve Ditko-drawn story, in which a justifiably disgruntled man chooses not to bring peace to Earth when given the chance. It packs a whole lot of punch for a mere 3-pager. Secondly, this issue feature one of the very first American comic book stories drawn by Brian Bolland. His entry, 'Certified Safe' is an intriguing tale written by Arnold Drake, who adds just the right amount of black humour. It's just gorgeous work by Bolland, and it's a shame that this tale isn't better known. If you see this one in a dollar bin - don't pass it up.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trade Marks: Crisis on Multiple Earths Vol. 3

When I was a kid, I saw the JLA-JSA crossovers as the greatest comic achievement of all time. With a bit more mileage, I can now see that they were pretty hit and miss. The third volume of the Crisis on Multiple Earths collection is a great example of this varying quality. The initial crossover story by Mike Friedrich is everything that was wrong with the JLA series of that era - it's just a lot of silly interplanetary nonsense. The next crossover re-introduces the Seven Soldiers of Victory and Len Wein has the herculean task of bringing them back within DCU continuity. It's actually a pretty gimmicky story, with some nice Dick Dillin splash pages that could be better if Joe Giella weren't inking them. The artwork comes across as stiff and flat. I much prefer the next storyline, which brings the Quality Comics characters back from comic book purgatory and introduces the Nazi-ruled Earth-X. Dick Giordano is on inks here, and it's a vast improvement as he adds a good deal of depth and texture. Wein does a good job giving each of the Quality characters a personality (it's a shame this tone wasn't carried into the Freedom Fighters series), while keeping it all to 2 issues. final entry is a bit convoluted, but the final few pages are quite touching (and a bit disturbing) as Wesley Dodds realizes that he's made a grave mistake. Overall, it's a nice package with an entertaining Len Wein introduction and a very striking Alex Ross cover, and I'm not always a fan of his stuff. Trade Mark: B

Friday, June 19, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Battle-Rob Van Winkle

Obviously, there are a lot of cool robots in the Magnus, Robot Fighter series, but this old Battle-Rob from Magnus, Robot Fighter #8 is certainly one of my favourites. Awakened by a bunch of meddlesome kids known as the 'Outsiders', the Battle-Rob is still programmed to kill all humans. He's a bit like those Japanese soldiers that didn't know WW2 had ended. The Battle-Rob takes over the weather station, and North Am's perfect climate isn't quite so perfect any more. There a particular great moment where Magnus states that he's having such a tough time taking out this Battle-Rob because it doesn't have neck. Sadly, our time lost Rob is destroyed, but it may be for the best, as his friends and family had been dead an buried for a thousand years.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Incredible Hulk Annual #9

Steve Ditko got a lot of very random assignments during Jim Shooter's during as Editor-in-Chief. Many of these assignments were for random covers for series to which Ditko had little or no real connection. These assignments included a handful of annuals, and these can be quite interesting as we get to enjoy 30+ pages of Ditko storytelling. Ditko has some roots with the Hulk, so seeing his artwork on the cover to Annual #9 isn't really all that jarring. It's been Marvelized a bit by the ink job. I've seen it credited to Al Milgrom and I can't really argue with that. It's a pretty typical overly busy Ditko cover from the 80s. Long gone is the spare design he used at Charlton in the 70s, or even the thoughtful concept used for Shade and Captain Universe. This is a pure brawl - but I do actually like the figures. There's a real sense of power - it's just a tad claustrophobic. Not the best - but I like Ditko drawing the Hulk.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Highlighting House Ads

I love house ads, as they serves as a nostalgic snapshot; providing a window into the publisher's world at that point in time. This ad from Beware Terror Tales #6 is a great example of a Fawcett pre-code horror house ad. The designer was wise enough to keep the focus on the superb Norman Saunders cover to Strange Stories From Another World #3, but added the right amount of framing detail. I really the zombie and the ghoul on either side of Saunders' cover and I'd be interested to know if these were drawn for this ad (and by whom) or if they were just taken from some interior art. The person writing the copy for this ad had a real flair for the dramatic - "is to pry loose the musty coffins" - I love it! Can you imagine how awesome it world it must have been when this type of book was actually on sale at your favorite newsstand?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trade Marks: Essential Tales of the Zombie

4 or 5 years ago, whenever someone would ask "What TPBs are you waiting for?", Tales of the Zombie was always in my top 10. It was a fun series back in the 70s, and I managed to pick up most of the mags over the years. Ever since I was a kid, I was simultaneously intrigued/repelled by Pablo Marcos' Simon Garth. I felt a good deal of empathy for him, but he was also very creepy. The Essential format is absolutely perfect for this kind of collection, as the Bang:Buck ratio is very strong and the black and white art still looks great. Steve Gerber reminds us why we miss him so much, and Marcos has never looked better. The stories get a bit repetitive - so it might best be enjoyed in small doses. The modern back-ups are rarely as strong as the lead story, but the selection of 50s horror is quite good. What I really love about this volume, is that someone made the brilliant editorial decision to reprint all of the feature pieces on movies and zombie lore. These articles were half the charm of the old Marvel mags. Trade Mark: A-

Friday, June 12, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Space Family Robinson #42

I have no recollection of how this book came into my life. It was certainly one of the first comic books that I ever recall reading, but there's no way my parents bought it for me off the racks, as I would have just turned 2 years old. I have these vague memories of owning certain books at certain times that don't seem to mesh with the actual publication dates, so I can only assume that they were either gathering dust in some corner store or perhaps assembled into some sort of 3-Pack. These poisonous butterflies always creeped me out as a kid, but nowhere near as much as Baby Alive (one of the ads in the 16-page insert). I really love this particular insert as it's got the very cool Duke the Dog and a fondue kit for kids. I was exposed to Dan Spiegle's artwork at a very young age, but for some reason it took me a while to piece together that this was also the guy that drew the Nemesis back-up in Brave and the Bold. Looking at it today - it's not a groundbreaking story - but it's pleasant fun and the toy ads really bring back the memories. My sister actually had a Baby Alive, and I never got over the fact that her food came from sugar packs.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Charlton Notebook: Space: 1999 #1

I've had this book for quite a while and wasn't very impressed when I first read it. I revisited it last night, as I was in the mood for something different, and mid-70s Charlton is always a little different. I liked it much more the second time around. The main weakness is that Nicola Cuti crammed so much into a single issue - the whole lunar explosion is covered in a handful of pages and that kind of underplays the drama of the 311 survivors on Moonbase Alpha. There's a ton of heavy dialogue that takes a while to process. We quickly move to the search for a new world and the first candidate is an odd one, populate by Neanderthalish humanoids and Cthulu-inspired slug masters. It ends on a strange pseudo-cliffhanger that seems to lack drama - as I got the feelings the slugs were trying to trap the Earthlings - but I guess they were just playing host. Don't get me wrong - it's actually a very entertaining read as Joe Staton's lively layouts keep things hopping along. His character and creature designs are also strong - giving the strip a lot more life than existed on the TV screen.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Dreamy Splash Pages Pt. 3

Here's another splash page (partial splash, to be more precise) by Mort Meskin. There is so much power in those two hulking hands that it is no surprise that the boy looks scared. Meskin establishes a terrific atmosphere by cramming in a craggy tree, dark sky, old house etc... I also love the thick, wind swept hair. Kirby did hair like this from time to time, and I'm not sure who influenced whom. 'Edge of Madness' is a fairly good yarn about a man tortured by a recurring dream in which he's witnesses his father disposing of a coffin. Luckily, Dr. Temple is able to translate the dream and we have a happy ending by page 8. I miss 8-pagers. I miss Mort Meskin.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Creepy #8

The superb Gray Morrow cover informs the reader that they are in for a real treat with Creepy #8 (April, 1966). There's a full lineup of all-star artists on board for this one - one of the best collection of artists ever to work on a Warren Mag. Leading off, Read Crandall is a good fit for the Victorian setting of "The Coffin of Dracula" - an entertaining tale by Archie Goodwin that starts where Stoker left off. I was also very impressed by the George Evans drawn "Death Plane" as well as "The Mountain", done in a very atmospheric wash by Johnny Craig (as Jay Taycee). Joe Orlando joins the EC reunion with an Adam Link story and the rest of the book is filled out with strong stories drawn by Manny Stallman (love that guy!), Gene Colan and George Tuska. I'm still amazed by the talent that worked on these early issues. I know that most of these stories have been reprinted elsewhere - but it's worth tracking this one down and paying a few extra buck for it. A true Hall of Famer.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Add It To My Want List: Captain Savage #16

I've only read a few of the early issues of Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders and was not particularly impressed. I thought Gary Friedrich's stories were pretty derivative and the art team of Dick Ayers and Syd Shores left a lot to be desired. This was a time when artwork was exploding off the page, and these stories were incredibly flat. So, having been less than thrilled by what I'd seen of the series - I never bothered keeping and eye out for later issues. That was potentially a big mistake. I recently learned that the creative teams shifted slightly over the 19 issues. Towards the end, Arnold Drake wrote a few scripts and Don Heck pencilled a few issues. John Severin also came aboard as inker and cover artist. Now, I'm a big Heck fan and for the life of me, I cannot recall a time when I saw him inked by John Severin. That combination really intrigues me so I really want to track down this book. The next issue also features the Heck/Severin team, but Gary Friendrich is back as scripter. From Doom Patrol to Little Lulu, Arnold Drake never fails to entertain - so this is the one that I want.

Quick DVD Reviews

Slumdog Millionaire
This one didn’t quite live up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong – I found it to be immensely enjoyable, and really appreciated the opportunity to peek behind the curtain at the ‘real India’ (I’ve been there – but on a fairly sanitary vacation). As a whole – it just didn’t resonate with me – perhaps it’s because it all came together a bit too neatly at the end. Aside from Boyle’s rather energetic direction – I found it to be a typical by the number Hollywood movie that just happened to take place in India. Very good, but not Best Picture material, in my humble opinion. Grade: B+

About halfway through this movie, my wife turned to me and said ‘I completely forgot that was Sean Penn’. I guess that’s the whole point of good acting. I’ve yet to see The Wrestler, so I’m not really sure who will win my personal Penn vs. Rourke showdown, but I will say that Penn was amazing. It’s a role that both loud and quiet. These dramatized biographies can sometimes get a bit stale – as we simply follow the bouncing ball. This one gets stuck in a bit of a rut, as Gus Van Sandt focuses a bit too much on the various mid-70s elections and not on the ‘boiling just below the surface’ Dan Brown, as played by Josh Brolin. I would have loved to see a bit more of his home life, as an exploration the weight he carried around on his shoulders. Still, it’s a very solid biopic with strong writing and strong performances from top to bottom. Grade: A-

Role Models
Sometimes you just need a dumb movie, and this one is dumb done well. Paul Rudd has become a wonderful straight man – a role that is missing from so many of today’s films. Two very strong performances from the younger actors, LARPing and a nice dose of Kiss all add up for some fun. I’m not a big LOL kind of guy, but there were a few spit take moments for me in this one. Rudd’s deliver on the Quidditch line is enough to warrant praise from me. Grade: B+

Rachel Getting Married
I’m not so sure how I felt about this one. Anne Hathaway was indeed very good, and I was very happy to see Debra Winger again (boy, can she do cold & cruel). What didn’t sit well with me was the setting and all of the supporting players at the wedding. The overt artsy-fartsiness really undercut the raw emotions that I was feeling as I learned about the family tragedy. As a Neil Young fan, I was mildly offended by the truly bizarre use of ‘Unknown Legend’. It was that kind of thing that reminded me that I was watching a movie – and only a so-so one at than. Grade: B

Journey Into Fear
I caught this minor entry from the Mercury Theatre gang on TCM last month. Joseph Cotton wrote the script and stars as an American roped into some cloak and dagger adventure in wartime Turkey. Orson Welles is a looming presence as the head of the Turkish secret service, but manages to stay nicely understated. I just never got caught up in the drama and there was a true lack of suspense. If you’re looking for another Third Man, you’d best keep looking. I haven’t read the novel upon which it was based, but I was left with the feeling that this is a severely truncated adaptation. The running time is very short, and I’ve got to think that some important stuff was left on the cutting room floor. The voice over leads me to believe that someone besides me decided at the last minute that the film’s narrative was weak. Grade: C+

Thursday, June 04, 2009

You've Been Warned: Daredevil #112

I was raised on Frank Miller's Daredevil, so I've also had that version of old Hornhead in my mind as the definitive version. This can make some of these earlier issues a bit difficult to swallow. Don't get me wrong - I'm not obsessed with 'grim & gritty'. In fact, the Mike Murdock Saga is one of my favourite arcs. This issue, however, is not a favourite. I love Steve Gerber's work, but for me he was a bad fit for Daredevil. Gerry Conway was pretty hit and miss (I thought the move to San Francisco was a mistake), and Gerber just sort of kept all of the rudderless lunacy rolling along. Seriously? I know that Gerber is often at his best when he's working outside of the box, but I just don't see the synergies between Daredevil and Shanna the She-Devil. This is a 'taking over the US government' plot that seemed very fashionable at Marvel in the 70s - and we get a handful of nutty villains, a brainwashed Black Widow and some of the worst action sequence I've ever seen Gene Colan draw. It's even a sub-par Gil Kane cover. Reading this, you get the sense that everyone involved was overextended, and they were just trying to meet the deadline. What a mess.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Ace Comics Presents #1

Back in the 80s, Ditko was commissioned to contribute the cover to this book featuring Daredevil reprints. Apparently, this cover was nearly lost to water damage. That would have been truly unfortunate, as it is a very nicely conceived and executed piece. It's got a nice bit of Jack Cole cartoonyness (word?) and a perfect retro vibe. I'm not in love with the way Ditko drew the faces, but both Daredevil and the Claw look fantastic and I really dig those flames. This was the only cover drawn by Ditko in 1987. Isn't that just crazy? It's quite a strong cover - and Ditko was a solid fit for this assignment. The story of how this cover came to be is quite interesting and can be found here:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Dreamy Splash Pages Pt. 2

It's unfortunate that Mort Meskin wasn't give more cover assignments in the late 40s and early 50s because he was on top of his game. I'm certain that he would have excelled as a cover artist as he was the master of the splash page. This splash page, from the final story in Strange World of Your Dreams #3, shows just how talented he was at laying out a page. The tilt he gives to the tower, creates a sense of vertigo in the reader. The figures in the foreground are dwarfed by the tower, and yet still seem dynamic. You can really see the influence he had on Ditko - as this page has both Dr. Strange and a Charlton horror vibe to it. The premise behind many of the stories in this series is that they are based on actual reader submissions. I've never understood how that work for a first issue - but I'm not one to questions the likes of Simon & Kirby. Meskin is amazing - 'nuff said.

Hidden Gems: Giant-Size Werewolf #5

There's plenty of treasure to be found in many of these Giant-Size books from the 70s, and if you're not too picky about condition, they can still be had for a couple of dollars. Each of the 5 Giant-Size Werewolf volumes (how did Jack Russell get such a red carpet treatment in the Giant-Size world?) have a handful of Atlas era horror stories. Some are pre-Code, some are post-Code. There are 3 fine stories included here. The first is a rather entertaining tale entitled "The Most Miserable Man in the World". The GCD has yet to establish credits - but I've got a hunch that it was drawn by Carl Hubbell. The next is "He's Coming to Get Me" a stylishly drawn tale. The GCD says it was by Don Heck, but I'm not buying that. I can't quite put my finger on the artist, though. Finally, we've got "The Unsolid Man" - here the GCD suggests Gene Colan, but my vote is with Joe Orlando. It can be frustrating trying to sort out credits in the reprints, but it doesn't take away from the fun. In this one ish, you've got a decent lupine tale followed by 3 tough to find 50s tales. A true hidden gem.