Thursday, July 30, 2009

'Sunglasses' by Norman Saunders

A big 'thank you' to Jacque Nodell for confirming that cover to Young Romance #150 was indeed drawn by Mr. Pike. I also should have mentioned this particular illustration in my post about sunglasses covers. It's an amazing piece by the legendary Norman Saunders. The image was emailed to be by his daughter Blaine a few years ago. I don't know where this was published, or even if it was ever published but it's a real beauty. Blaine told me that the woman in the shades was based on her mother. The face of the attacker reflected in the lenses is truly creepy - borderline Rondo Hatton. This is such a great visual gimmick, but it takes a really talented artist to pull it off. Talent was something Mr. Saunders had oozing from his pores.

If I Were a Rich Man...

Heritage Auctions often has some pretty spectacular comic related items at auction. Their upcoming auction has a piece of original art that has me salivating on my keyboard. There are plenty of much more famous and iconic Berni Wrightson covers, but I've always loved his cover to Secrets of the Haunted House #5 from 1975. It's such a simple concept, but it's so brilliant. Another one of Wrightson's creepy goblins, but this time it's mostly hidden within this rather menacing pumpkin. Like many great horror covers, it leaves a lot to the imagination, and maybe that's why I've always found it to be so intriguing over the decades. The pumpkin's shadow on the floor is also perfectly executed, and seeing Wrightson's work in the original black and white is a real treat. I actually haven't seen that many Wrightston horror covers sold over the years, so I wouldn't be surprised if this one sold in the $7,500 to $10,000 range. That's more than the value of all my original artwork combined so count me out. Follow it here:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You've Been Warned: Amazing Spider-Man #118

There are many great Amazing Spidey story arcs during the 1970s. This is not one of them. Why does everything from the cover to MJ's lame dialogue about a 'politician for the people' seem soooo 60s? Well, it's probably because this issue (and the two issues preceding this one) are re-worked reprints from the Spectacular Spider-Man magazine from 1968. This was a pretty bland story the first time around, and didn't age particularly well. It's quite a bit worse, as Gerry Conway has stretched things out over three issues, and many superfluous scenes are inserted. The plot is quite convoluted. We've got a populist politician, Richard Raleigh, gaining support throughout NYC. At the same time, the Smasher (formerly known as Man Monster, or something along those lines) is tearing apart NYC. In the original, there's no 'Disruptor' and the audiences is given much more info. Even so, the big surprise isn't really all that surprising. I must say, though, that after re-reading this - I was struck by the similarities to Batman's decision re. Harvey Dent/Two-Face's identity at the conclusion of the Dark Knight. Overall, it's a big bore - and shame on Marvel for regurgitating such a lame story just a few years later.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sunglasses at Night Covers

In the world of cover themes, there are a few different sub genres of the reflective lens genres. One of my favourites is using sunglasses to tell the story. Let's take a look at a few.

The first one that came to mind is Irv Novick's cover to Batman #205 (September, 1968). This is a rather odd, multi-issue story written by Frank Robbins involving the Schemer and his army of 'blind' men. It's a very unique looking cover and I like the way the the logo has been tilted. You certainly couldn't have pulled this off during the Go-Go Checks era. I'm not entirely sure of the accuracy here, though. I'm far from an expert on this sort of thing, but wouldn't both lenses reflect exactly the same image? Does anyone know if Novick was inking his own covers during this period?

Next up is the Kevin Maguire/Joe Rubinstein cover for Justice League America #30 (September, 1989). I'm certainly not going to call this an 'attractive' cover, but it certainly is effective. One of the things I loved most about Kevin Maguire is how innovative he tried to be with his covers. This issue's story is entitled "Teenage Biker Mega-Death" so it seems very appropriate that Mister Miracle, Flame et al. are cowering in some punk's shades. A very fun cover from a very fun title. You know, I really, really like Joe Rubinstein as an inker. I don't think I've ever give the man sufficient props.

I love the very stylish cover to Young Romance #150 (October-November, 1967). I've pulled out plenty of hair trying to figure out who drew which DC Romance covers and stories - so I'm not even going to try really over think this one. I'll just say Jay Scott Pike as he's my default answer for that type of question. It's absolutely gorgeous - I love the choice of the colour green for the reflected lovers and I really like how DC's cover artists - working alongside Jack Adler, no less - were really filling up the entire cover. Obviously the question posed on this cover is rhetorical.

Dear people who think that Jack Sparling can't draw. Please check out the cover to Secrets of Sinister House #9 (February, 1973). I love painted covers, and DC had a few really nice ones scattered throughout their horror titles during the early 70s. It's too bad it didn't become a real trend. This is a very creepy image of the screaming victim reflected in the shades of the very calm vampire. The single, shocking white fang is a nice contrast to the greyness of the face. That single scar running down from the left eye adds a ton of mystery. There's so much that I want to know about this character, from this single image.

So, there's a few example of what I'm talking about. There are more out there, so slick your hair back, put on your Wayfarers and keep an eye out for them.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Unusual Tales #9

Here's a rather moody cover from 1957 that many of you may not have seen before. As I've mentioned before, one of the things I love best about this period of Ditko's Charlton covers is his attention to detail. I often rave about his sense of motion and overall design, but when Ditko wants to get all detailed oriented, it can be quite amazing. Just look at the main male figure. He has a button on the cuff of his coat, a button on the cuff of his jacket and a cuff link on his shirt. That's something we wouldn't see in many 70s covers. There's also some wonderful texture to his gloves, from the use of blacks to the seams in the leather. I also like the two smaller figures approach the building - the glowing lights add a good deal of atmosphere. I'm not so sure about the rather dead space at the bottom left corner. It's meant to be the 'red snow', but the colour is quite weak. The 'Ditko' signature in the sign above the building is a really nice touch - I love it when cover artists some fun inserting their names. All in all, it's a very effective cover - I just wish the red snow was a bit more red.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Add It To My Want List: Showcase #104

I've got most of the issues from the brief late 70s Showcase revival, but have somehow never gotten my hands on this one. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen it while scouring through bargain bins. I've been aware of it forever, but never really took much note of it. That's weird, as I dig war books and the Unknown Soldier is one of my all-time favourite characters - so you'd think an espionage book would be right up my alley, and in my collection. It's not, and I need to change that. The great Kubert cover is enough enticement, but I also understand that the interior artwork in by the late, and always underappreciated Ric Estrada as well as Bill Draut. I wonder if DC had bigger plans for this strip, or if it was just to continue as a part of G.I. Combat. Any major changes were put on hold thanks to the DC Implosion. The hunt begins.

Quick DVD Reviews

The Bank Job
I love a good heist movie, and Statham is strangely compelling, but this one never really becomes the sum of its parts. It’s a little less spastic that a Guy Ritchie film, but the cast is still quite charming. Roger Donaldson is one of those very frustrating directors who can make movies that are just short of greatness (Thirteen Days, No Way Out, World’s Fastest Indian) but often throws up regurgitated Hollywood crap (Cocktail, Cadillac Man). This one is somewhere in the middle. It’s worth a rental, and is an enjoyable ride but nothing more. Grade: B

The Black Castle
I think this might be the final film from the Boris Karloff DVD Collection for me to watch. It’s one of those bait and switch Karloff flicks, as he’s only in a supporting role. Still, it’s a fairly entertaining film with Richard ‘Robin Hood’ Greene searching for answers deep in the Black Forest. It’s ably directed by Nathan Juran, who may be better known for working on certain Ray Harryhausen films. Karloff is so-so, and Lon Chaney Jr. never quite sells us on the menace of his character during the short time he appears on screen. Fun, but not essential. Grade: B-

The Wrestler
A couple of months ago, I stated that although I hadn’t seen The Wrestler, I can understand why Sean Penn won the Oscar. After having see Rourke’s amazing performance, it’s still a bit of a coin toss for me. They are just sooooo different that it’s hard to compare. I like the structure of this film and the way the story is told, but there are a few moments (like the freeze frame on the final scene) that actually seem like an 80s TV show (I’m think Miami Vice or A Team here). I found that sort of stuff a bit cartoony and clich├ęd and it really undercut the overall impact. I feel like Aronofsky had such great vision, but wasn’t precisely sure where to pull the plug. Still, it’s a very strong film with an amazing performance. Grade: A-

Eagle vs. Shark
One of those movies that’s well reviewed but you worry about taking a risk on it when peering at the rental shelf. I’m glad I did, because I’ve found good comedies to be few and far between in recent years and this one had my wife and I laughing out loud. Nicely acted, gives a feel for Kiwi life without going overboard like many Aussie movies did in the 90s. There’s a lot of heart in this movie, even though many characters are not immediately likeable, but they all grown on you. The level of pathos is incredible, and I literally squirmed during some of the more awkward exchanges. Great, great little film. Grade: A-

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Exit Stage Left: Spectre #62

I'm starting a new semi-regular feature here, where I'll discuss the final issues - the grande finales, the quick exits and those leaving a million unanswered questions. First up is Spectre #62 from February, 1998. This was a fairly important time for me in comic books. I was wrapping up Law School and Grad School, and was only reading a handful of titles on a regular basis. Within a little over a year, three of my favourite series (Spectre, Green Arrow and Sandman Mystery Theatre) were cancelled, and two others (Madman and Astro City) had very frustrating publishing schedules. The end of the Spectre seemed very symbolic to me. It last far longer than I thought it would, as I really thought it was too dense to find a wide audience. I guess it had enough hardcore fans to stick around, and I'm glad that DC gave Ostrander, Mandrake & Co. and opportunity to wrap things up. Most of this dialogue heavy episode takes place in a cemetery, which is quite fitting, as many people from the Spectre-Corrigan's life come by to pay their respects before his final journey. It's intelligent, moving and quite entertaining - a very appropriate farewell to a great series.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Loves Me Some: Pancakes

Last week, I re-read the Hellboy: Right Hand of Doom collection for the first time in a few years. As many of you know, I've wasted plenty of bandwidth bitching and moaning about the lacking of self-contained short comic book stories. Mike Mignola proves me all kinds of wrong with this collections of Hellboy odds and ends. The one little story that always makes me smile is 'Pancakes'. It is 2 pages of comic book bliss. It combines a simple gag, some modern humour and a real early 50s monster movie vibe. There's so much to take in from these panels that I thought it would worth posting them in their entirety here.

It's breakfast time, and Hellboy isn't too sure about eating pancakes. Luckily he eventually eats them and narrowly averts a potential catastrophe. There are a few elements here that really stick with me. I love the fact that he refers to them as 'Pamcakes'. This lets us know that this demonic-looking creature is still just a little tyke. I also really dig the "Meanwhile in Pandemonium..." caption - it's a truly 'classic' elements. He's also infused the artwork with a Kirby/Meskin at Prize Comics look and it's a perfect fit. Mignola is one of the true comic book geniuses of the last 30 years. I was very slow to hop aboard the Hellboy bandwagon and that's ok, because I still have lots to discover and re-discover.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Reprint This! Captain Flash

Captain Who? I know that's what some of you are asking, but he's actually a pretty important and very fun character. Captain Flash was a short-lived 50s title published by the equally short-lived Sterling Comics. What makes this a notable series? Well certain comic book geeks will argue (just to be difficult, I may add - and I know as I've forwarded this argument when I'm feel like being a pain in the ass) that Captain Flash #1 represents the first Silver Age book. It's all based on it being a new super-hero title predating Showcase #4 etc... etc... Anyway, aside from being a footnote of a footnote in comic book history, it's actually a great little treasure trove of comic book goodness.

Our hero is a great mash up of many classic characters. His alter ego is a college professor who gets some for of atomic power when he claps his hands together. Along with his sidekick Ricky, he takes on foes such as Iron Mask and Black Night. I'm not sure who wrote these stories, but they really have a circa 1962 DC or even Tower vibe to them. The real treat is the Mike Sekowsky artwork. It's amazing to see him doing his Silver Age super hero thing well in advance of Brave and the Bold #28. Many of these stories have been reprinted in various AC Comics collections, but it would be wonderful to see the entire 4 issue series published in one slim, yet entertaining volume.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Spider-Slayer Mark II

As you may have guessed by now, I'm a pretty big fan of Steve Ditko, and I generally fall on the Ditko side of the Ditko/Romita debate when it comes to all things Spider-Man. Perhaps that's why it may be a bit confusing when I declare that the Mark II is my favourite of all the Spider-Slayers. I really dig the Ditko version, but for me the Mark II just seems a bit more menacing. If memory serves, this one was actually programmed to kill Spider-Man, rather than simply capture him. I've always loved the spider web motif on the chest plate. Professor Smythe has certainly created faster and more deadly Spider-Slayers over the past 45 years. I'm sure that some have posed a greater threat to Spidey than the Mark II, but to be quite honest - if it doesn't have J. Jonah Jameson's face in the visor, it's just not the real thing. Marla Madison obviously agreed with me when she designed the Jameson-visaged Mark V in Amazing Spider-Man #167.

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Monsters of the Movies #4

As I may have mentioned before, my childhood LCS had an island in the middle of the shop where they kept off all of black and white magazine back issues. This is where I got my first exposure to the Warren mags, Savage Sword of Conans and other goodies targeted to a slightly older audience. I started spending much of my allowance on these mags back in 1980 or so. Of the the books that really caught my eye was Monsters of the Movies #4. Like any 8 year old boy, I was nuts for monster movies and especially the classic Universal Monsters. This was pre-VCR in my household, so I got my horror fix either through Saturday afternoon TV (that's how I saw classics like Trog and Legend of Boggy Creek) or the myriad of horror movie and monster books at my local library.

I saw this gorgeous Bob Larkin cover, with the 1941 Wolfman staring out at me and handed over my $1.25 (hey, this book was already 6 years old by then!). What a strange treat. It looked like a comic book, but inside were various articles and still photos about both old and current horror movies. This is a werewolf-centric issue and it included articles on both Lon Chaneys , featuring a couple of rather sad looking photos from late in Jr's career. There's also a piece on some lesser known werewolf movies, including some Spanish stuff I still haven't seen. I really dug the piece on a young Rick Baker and all the stills from various nutty Mexican and European movies. I'm still a bit intrigued by the 3-page story "Bello Ordloff is a Monster", written by Jim Harmon with Mike Royer art. Did these strips appear anywhere else? Did every issue of Monsters of the Movies have a comic strip or two. The only other one I owned was #6 (the Mummy cover), but that's been lost to the sands of time.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Charlton Notebook: Haunted #37

We’re in the ‘All-Reprint’ era at Charlton here, folks. The editorial approach seemed to be rotating the stories amongst the titles in an efforts into possibly tricking readers into thinking that there was something new to be read. I’m not sure where this cover comes from. It’s by Tom Sutton, but the images/narrative do not line up with the Sutton story from this issue. They both involve a little blonde girl, but that’s about it. Was this leftover inventory or simply images from other interior art cobbled together for this rather odd cover? While the indica states that these stories all originate from 1973, the lead story “Quest for Linda” is obviously a mid-60s story with Nicholas/Alascia artwork. It’s a fairly dull story about a man who has lost his wife while scuba diving. The middle tale, "Everywhere There's Lisa-Anne", is the finest of the three. Nicola Cuti and Tom Sutton collaborate on this story of a special little girl who can appear more in many places at the same time. It’s actually a very well written script and has a nice Twilight Zone feel to it. The final story, “The Painted Smile” is a Gill/Boyette production. It’s another early 70s reprint, but I can’t quite trace its origins. It’s a decent tale about a cuckold husband who develops a rather odd relationship with one of his wife’s dolls. There’s a nice ‘poetic justice’ ending to the whole thing. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s very entertaining read with nice work by both Sutton and Boyette.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Highlighting House Ads: The Mary Marvel Dress

Here's a really fun ad from Nyoka, the Jungle Girl #6 from 1947. Mary Marvel faces the same problems as any teenage girl in post-war America; trying to get a new dress for Easter for under $3.00. I can hardly imagine solving that problem, as I'm certain I paid twice that amount to have some pants dry cleaned for church this past Easter Sunday. Mary flies off to see Madame Adele for assistance. I was kind of hoping that Madame Adele would turn out to be the Madame Xanadu of the Fawcettverse, but she's only a seamstress. I like how the text explains how the 'cute puff sleeves' will make it perfect for Easter and Sunday School. I also noted that Marvel Marvel Enterprises Inc. seemed to be a fully distinct corporate entity. I'd like to know what else they tried to sell to young readers. They just don't make them like this anymore, folks. Too bad.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Adventure Comics #467

OK, so it's only a Ditko half cover, but you've got to take what you can get when you're talking about Ditko at DC. This was during the era of the Andru/Giordano cover, and it's always bothered me how rarely you get to see the interior artists given a shot to do the cover. This was the only time Ditko got to contribute to the cover during his run on Starman in Adventure Comics. It's not the world's greatest strip - but it's pretty entertaining and it was nice to see Ditko back on a fairly mainstream superhero story. The cover pose itself is a bit stiff - and I don't think Giordano helped Ditko out at all here. Ditko is a singular artists, and his work never looks particularly great when lined up directly beside someone else's work (not sure who pencilled the Plas portion, but it looks like Giordano on inks again). Whereas Ditko looks energetic and loose on his own, it looks a bit amateurish when juxtaposed against the work of a more conventional artist. Not a great cover, but it's a nice conversation piece.

Friday, July 03, 2009

John Carpenter Triple Bill

Inspired by the John Carpenter Retrospective over at Horror Etc, as well as some similar discussion at Mondo Movie, I decided that it was high time I revisited three John Carpenter movies that I had seen in years.

I decided to do this triple bill in chronological order, so I started out with Escape From New York. The last time I watched the movie, it was on a VHS 'taped from TV' copy I'd had for years. The lighting was dark, and the sound was terrible. That had always lessened the impact of the film on me. Seeing it on DVD on a good (still not great) TV made all of the difference in the world. I just love this flick, and the casting was perfect. I've always felt that the likes of Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac Hayes work best in smallish doses (15 minutes or less) and Carpenter's synth music has never been more appropriate. I watched this with my wife, and even she'd admit that it's a ton of fun.

Moving on to The Thing - I decided to watch this while listening to Anthony and Ted's commentary from the Horror Etc podcast: . I'd never done this kind of thing before - and it was a lot of fun synching up my iPod and sitting back with a beer. I felt like I was watching the movie with old friends. What can I say about the actual film? It's amazing - still looks perfect nearly 30 years later. The Horror Etc boys really added a lot to my viewing experience with comments on some possible clues as to the alien's whereabouts, as well as technical aspects such as blocking and visual effects. It was a very enjoyable and educational experience. Love the ending - it's perfect, but I agree that there is room for a prequel.

Feeling in the 'commentary' mood, I decided to rent Big Trouble in Little China and watch it while listening to the Carpenter/Russell commentary. Holy crap, was that ever a lot of fun! I'm run a bit hot and cold on the film itself. It has its moments, and I've always loved some of Russell's lines as the reluctant non-hero but it feels a bit long in the middle act. It's obvious that Carpenter and Russell are just nuts about each other, and their laughter is infectious. You could have a drinking game based on the number of times they are talking about something other than the movie. Lost of fun, and they even manage to give you some insight into the movie making process. Trust me, listen to this commentary and you'll wish you were best friends with both of these guys.

Cheap Grapes: Loios Red 2007

OK, I'm not even going to know the first thing about Portuguese wine. Most of my experience comes from downing ice cold $1 bottle of Vinho Verde (complete with bottle cap) in Lagos in the early 90s. This is a blend of 3 grapes with which I'm unfamiliar, but it's made me take a step back and rethink my perspective on wine from the western end of the Iberian peninsula. It's a nice dense red, perhaps a bit fruity for my tastes, but at least it's more in the realm of dates and plums, so it steers clear of jammy territory. There's a nice smokey earthiness to it that makes it seem like a more expensive wine. It sells for $9.95 here in Ontario - so I'll bet it can be had for $6 or $7 in the U.S. and maybe £5 in England. It may not be one to give to your future in-laws on a first meeting, but it would be great for a barbecue or as a 'second bottle' of the night.

Trade Marks: Deadline

I remember this miniseries getting a decent amount of press back in 2002. It seemed like a rare, novel idea – centering a story around a female journalist with the Marvel Universe serving as backdrop. Of course, we’d seen this a bit with Marvels – but this is a much more quiet and personal story. I picked it up in TPB back then, and re-read it last week. It holds up quite well. Bill Rosemann does an admirable job fleshing out the character of Kat Farrell, and shining a light on Daily Bugle luminaries like Betty Brant and Ben Urich. The storyline is decent, if a bit convoluted – but we get plenty of superb cameos from various super-villains (I can’t recall the last time I saw the Orb). It could have all gone a bit haywire, had Guy Davis not been tasked with putting pencil to paper. He’s a true master – likely one of the finest comic book storyteller of the past quarter-century. His artwork looks even better when compared to the flashy, and yet incredibly stiff and awkward Greg Horn covers. Davis makes Kat Farrell’s look like a woman. Horn makes her look like an anorexic Gillian Anderson. This is far from perfect, but it’s an interesting read, and a refreshing perspective on the Marvel Universe. Trade Mark: B+

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Reprint This! Starr Flagg - Undercover Girl

When looking for gems from the Golden Age that need to be reprinted ASAP, I often fall into the trap of thinking only of books published by the Big Two (DC and Timely/Atlas). Over the past several years, I have become more and more impressed with the variety and quality of titles put out by Magazine Enterprises. They had a very strong stable of writers and artists and published plenty of entertaining books in a variety of genres. One character and title that has always intrigued me is Starr Flagg - Undercover Girl. This strip originated in the crime anthology Manhunt in 1947. As far as I can tell, most stories are written by Gardner Fox with art by the great Ogden Whitney. There's some Bob Powell cover art, but I'm not sure if anyone other than Whitney drew the stories.

The number of female heroines in the 40s with enough stories to fill a TPB can likely be counted on your fingers and toes (and that's including everyone from Mary Marvel to Tony Barrett from Overland Coach). From what I've seen, Starr Flagg is a fun and exciting spy series that just happens to feature a female lead. Many of the early covers suggest that she spent most of her time in bondage, but that couldn't be further from the truth. She comes across as pretty tough and equally wily - sort of a spiritual sister to Sam Spade. She moved from Manhunt to her own eponymous series in 1952. That only lasted a few issues and before long, ME ceased to exist. I believe that there were some reprints scattered throughout the solo title (also part of the A-1 confusion), so I can't say for certain how many pages of original Starr Flagg stories exist, but I'd buy whatever someone could package. I believe at least one story was reprint in one of Bill Black's titles, but we need to give this series the full treatment.

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Avengers #19

How can I possible induct a story that ends on a cliffhanger to the Hall of Fame? Well, it's quite simple, really. I owned this comic book for nearly 20 years before finally reading the follow up. While the ending certainly does leave you on the edge of your seat, there's more than enough in here to keep a reader coming back again and again. That's certainly the effect it had on me. There's some very strong characterization here - as we get the sense that Captain America is champing at the bit to go work for Nick Fury. He seems ready to leave this gang of second generation Avengers behind in his wake. We're also introduced to the rather menacing Swordsman, whose main power seems to be his bravado. A snippet of Hawkeye's origin is told and it certainly adds a layer of depth to the story. Ultimately, Cap is distracted by his career ambitions and is caught in a trap. At the very end, he's falling from a tall building (did he jump or was he pushed?) with the Avengers watching helplessly. Personally, I think this was Don Heck's finest moment on the title as I think he worked much better without Kirby's layouts.