Monday, August 31, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: UFO & Outer Space #20

I have a lot of warm fuzzy memories about this book. I remember reading it several times during the early years of my comic book addiction. It was certainly my first exposure to the 'Readers Accounts' sub-genre. This book left my life sometime in the 80s, and I've missed it dearly. Over the last decade or so, I've been slowly collecting a run of this Gold Key series, but for one reason or another, I had no luck in tracking down a cheap copy of #20. I spent a few hours at the FanExpo here in Toronto yesterday and found a vendor with some nice Gold Keys for 50% off (hurray for Sunday afternoons!). So, for $2 I was able to tap into some childhood nostalgia. I cracked open the book after the kids were in bed and was actually a bit surprised by how little of it I remembered. I was actually questioning whether I had indeed read it several times 25+ years ago. Then, I came across the cattle mutilation story and all those memories came flooding back. Oh, those cows! I was always creeped out by the fact that they were drained of their blood and had their ears removed. I love that kind of feeling - tapping into my inner 6 year old.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Water Skiing Covers

I'm off for 10 days or so for summer vacation, but before I go I decided to leave you with a little taste of summer.

World's Finest Comics often featured covers of the terrific trio engaging in good clean fun. Win Mortimer's terrific cover to World's Finest Comics #62 (Sept-Oct 1952) is a great example. Of course, Batman and Robin are using some sort of surfboard or mono-ski, but I don't want to split hairs here as we would be here all day discussing the size of the wake and the difficulties of holding onto a rope with one hand. Although Aquaman could probably also pull water skiers, he's probably too lazy and would just have a couple of beluga's do his dirty work.

Although a majority of the covers feature boxing scenes, Joe Palooka is often an excellent source for various theme covers. Joe Palooka #109 (January, 1960) is from late in the series run, when they began relying more on Humphrey gags. I'm not really sure what is going on here, but at least Joe looks like he's having fun. It's a nice break from all that bear punching and gator wrestling. It looks as though Humphrey is trying to use alpine skis in the water. That would be his first mistake.

The cover to Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies #93 (July, 1949) is fantastic. I love just how dapper Porky Pig looks. I never tried barefooting (heck, I still need to drop a ski in order to slalom), but I bet it helps when you have flippers for feet like Bugs. I do know that you have to be going at a pretty high speed, so Porky is getting quite a ride. Holding with one hand is much easier when there's a handle. Perhaps the Dynamic Duo should take pointers from Porky and Bugs.

Jaws may very well be be the perfect summer movie, but I was far too young for it during its initial release. I was probably still too young for Jaws 2, but I definitely remember having those trading cards with shots of the orca carcass and the boat on fire. The image from the movie poster was spoofed by Jack Rickard on the cover of Mad #204 (Jan, 1979). For the record, Crazy also went with the water skiing scene with a nice Bob Larkin cover, but Cracked went with a fishing gag.

I am positively in love with the cover to Lovelorn #28 (August 1952). I wish that I had a better sense of who drew what at ACG, as I really enjoy their romance books from the 50s and this is a very strong issue. While this couple certainly looks cute, there's really no way they could ever ski that close to each other. They also seem completely oblivious to the fact that they driver is heading towards that ramp. My father-in-law is crazy about old wooden boats, so I should probably start collecting covers with wooden boats.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I Loves Me Some: The Black Hole

No, I'm not talking about Charles Burns' award winning series, although that's also good. I'm talking about the Whitman (Western Publishing) adaptation of the 1979 Disney movie. I am of the generation that was too young to truly spot the difference in quality between Star Wars, Battlestar Gallactica and The Black Hole. I had a Black Hole beach towel,a few of the action figures and various coloring books etc... I haven't seen the movie in nearly 30 year and I can't say that much of it has resonated with me, but when I had the change to pick up the adaptation for $1 per issue recently, I simply could not say no. I realized that I'd never read these as a child, and boy did I miss out.

I don't know who wrote the adaptation (the GCD has been driving me nuts these days), but he did a fantastic job by focusing on the key themes of the film and cutting out a lot of the fat. The script is very efficient; the characters are quickly introduced and we get right into the action (or lack thereof, perhaps). The great Dan Spiegle handles the art chores here, and he does a magnificent job of telling the story. His pacing is fantastic and what I discovered is that this is actually quite an interesting and tense tale. The characters all look quite different than the movie actors, and that's a good thing as they all have that Spiegle touch. His work on Dr. Reinhart is particularly great - with flowing hair and distinctive facial hair really give him the look of a mad scientist. This two-issue adaptation (also published as single volume) demonstrates that there's a lot of good stuff to be found in this story, and it's easier to digest once you've removed the 'funny' robot voices. Great stuff.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Exit Stage Left: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle #29

Tarzan #29 represents the end of an era. I’m not talking about the simple fact that the Marvel series was canned just two years after its much hyped launch, but rather that a monthly Tarzan title would no longer be on US newsstands. Since 1948, four different companies had produced nearly 300 issues full of Tarzan comics. I’m not even including his pre-1948 appearances in various anthology titles or even his brief, and controversial Charlton appearances. Personally, I feel that the decision by the people of ERB Inc. to pull the title from Gold Key and then bounce it around from DC and then to Marvel screwed all of us Tarzan fans in the long run. Sales were going to be poor, as the character’s popularity in North America had waned over the decades. The Burroughs people should have minimized their interference and offered the license for less money, if only to keep the character in funnybooks. It is really too bad as that short-sighted approach has played a role in Tarzan's fading from popular culture. I have a double page spread from this issue – it’s Sal Buscema inked by P. Craig Russell, and features Tarzan clinging to a rope ladder dangling from a bi-plane. It is beyond gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

You've Been Warned: Teen Titans Spotlight #7

This is a classic example of a missed opportunity. The character of Hawk, during this post-Ditko/pre-Armageddon 2001 period is really ripe for a little good natured fun. You've got this totally ridiculous character, who just doesn't fit the superhero mould, as he's more than happy to punch anyone who dares disagree with him. Mike Baron almost gets it - like when he alludes to the fact that the Titans do not endorse Hawk's attendance at an anti-terrorism conference. Of course, Hawk's champing at the bit for terrorist to strike so that he can work out some of his Daddy issues. Unfortunately, Baron isn't able to maintain the theme of having fun at Hawk's expense and the story descends into a typically dull and silly showdown. By the time we meet the enemy, a giant 4-legged insect named Arachnid (I kid you not), it feels like we're trapped in some sort of humourless Bizarro Tick universe. This is very early Jackson Guice, and it's really not my cup of tea. It's got that very poorly proportioned and angular look that haunted so many comics during this period. Avoid.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Captain Atom #79

I love this cover. I think that it's the colours that do it for me. It's a much broader spectrum (forgive me) than one would usually find on a Charlton cover in the 60s. It's a more sophisticated look - in line with what DC and Marvel were publishing. As far as the cover design goes; I think it's very strong. Ditko has blocked the characters nicely, allowing adequate room for Doctor Spectro's crazy rainbow circle of horror. I won't mention the costume design - I imagine a good deal of bandwidth has been wasted on that elsewhere. The background characters are wonderfully posed as if they think they are appearing on the cover for a pre-hero Atlas monster book. I really like Rocco 'Rocke' Mastroserio as an inker for Ditko. There's some nice touches of depth added here, especially to Captain Atom. The only real flaw here is the caption, which takes up far too much room. Copying Marvel is not always a great idea.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Trade Marks: The Nobody

I picked this up yesterday and plowed through it last night. I should really review it next week when I've had some time to digest it, but I want to tap into my giddiness. Let me start off by saying that Jeff Lemire has joined the very, very short list of creators whose work I'll buy without without question and sight unseen. We're in Eisner and Moore territory here, folks. The Nobody proves that the Essex County Trilogy (reviewed by me last October) was no fluke, and confirms that Lemire is one of the strongest voices in the medium today. Sound like a lot of hyperbole? Well, until Lemire makes a misstep I'm keeping him in the upper echelon.

The Nobody uses Welles' The Invisible Man as a springboard to explore issues of loneliness, xenophobia and mob mentality in small town America. While the Griffin (Griffen here) character is certainly the main focus, the teenage narrator (I like the fact that she's female) really serves as the heart and soul of the story. The two develop a bit of an oddball and yet endearing relationship which is disturbed when Griffen's past and the town's collective suspicion collide. The action builds slowly, and Lemire wisely steers clear of the sight gags that make the film so entertaining. Although I do like the fact that the fate of the Kemp character was more in line with the film than the book. It's a terrific little story, made even more poignant by its somewhat ambiguous (at least to me) ending. Trade Mark: A

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Swamp Thing #53

Sure, there are a lot of great issues during Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, but this one deserves early entry into the Hall of Fame. There's a lot of great Man vs. Nature, Government vs. Individual Rights stuff going on here but, for me, much of the excitement of this issue is watching Gotham City's transformation. There's a beautiful lushness to the cityscape, and John Totleben sets a wonderful atmosphere throughout this giant-sized book. As much pathos as we feel for Swamp Thing himself, it's hard not to feel an equal amount for Batman and his desire to protect his city from a threat that is way beyond his skill set. In some many ways, I see this book as a real turning point in the series, as it comes across as a crescendo. At the same time, however, it doesn't seem like a bad starting point at all. A wonderful book, and one that should be in everyone's collection.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Charlton Notebook: Racket Squad in Action #22

I absolutely love this old Charlton series from the 50s. I have maybe a half-dozen issues and always have my eyes peeled for inexpensive copies. Each issue is a collection of short stories involving one old school scam or another, with the bad guys eventually getting their just desserts. This issue's 'rackets' include one about the pitfall of trying to get your hands on 'free' money, a shady mechanic and a supposedly blind street corner bookie. The lead story is incredible fun. It's about a great pickpocketing scam involving a decoy and and an artificial arm. The artwork is nothing to write home about (mostly Charles Nicholas and Bill Molno as far as I can tell), but the stories are nicely told. This series was a genre unto itself, and this issue is a good and inexpensive (I good a VG- copy for $3) place to start.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Highlighting House Ads: Strange Tales Annual #2

Here's a great ad from Fantastic Four Annual #1, letting readers know in full Marvel hyperbole about the Spidey vs. Torch battle beckoning to them from their local spinner rack. Considering that both characters had only been around 18 months or so at this time, just how 'long awaited' was this battle? In addition, just who said that Marvel Comics was 'top ranking' in 1963? Then again, Stan was never really one for empirical date. It's a pretty terrible image - Kirby's worst cover of the 60s? Nick Caputo states that it was likely inked by Syd Shores, and I'm not going to argue with him. The final product had a grey, rather than pink, background - but the spider emblem was still missing from Spidey's costume. Aside from the over the top caption in your typical ad, I don't find much to love in these Marvel house ads from the 60s. DC really outshone them in this department, especially toward the end of the decade.

Quick DVD Reviews

Son of Rambow
This one had the potential to be a bunch of sentimental crap. There’s something about lonely British boys that makes me cringe – too many Freddy Highmore movies, perhaps. The thing is, this one maintain enough intelligence and ironic fun to keep a viewer engaged. Everything from the early 80s setting to the uber cool, and yet strangely androgynous look French exchange student, helps to breathe some life into this funny and sad coming of age story. Sure, there are cloying moments – but they are few and far between. If you’re looking for a strong comedy with enough of a story to maintain your interest, you should check this one out. Grade: B+

Wow. I absolutely loved this movie. I never thought that it would be so well paced. Like many, I’m often guilty of accusing Ron Howard of being merely a competent director, but he does an excellent job of translating the material from stage to screen. Both leads are tremendous, but I really feel that Michael Sheen was robbed at award nomination time. Grade: A-

Weeds – Season 3

I just flew through the season on DVD over the last couple of weeks. It’s got a much darker, more sinister vibe to it than the previous season. I’m not sure I love the More Thugs/Less Nealon math. All in all, I feel like the series is starting to spins its wheels. Andy has become 100% superfluous and I’m not sure if I can take another scene of Mary Louise Parker coming to the realization that she’s actually a drug dealer. The “Whichever Olsen Twin it was” stunt casting was a poor decision. Still, it’s a fun and unique series and I’ll likely stick with it until the end. Grade: B-

Star Trek (2009)
I am by no means much of a Trekkie/Trekker. I watched the original series in reruns here and there as a kid, read some of the Gold Key comics and my parents took me to see the Motionless Picture and Wrath of Khan in theatres when I was 6 and 9 respectively. Still, I think I have feel for the characters and the universe they inhabit. I wasn’t sure what to think of this remake, until I saw the trailer. I was blown away and couldn’t wait to see it. It totally lived up to my expectations. The casting was spot on, the script was updated without being too hip and the mixture of action, comedy and drama was just about perfect. If that that opening sequence doesn’t put a lump in your throat; you may not be human. I anxiously await the sequel. Grade: A

Trade Marks: Elephantmen - Wounded Animals

As you may have guessed by now, I don't read all that many new or newish books. I do try to keep up where time and budget allow. This volume was recommended to me, so I thought I'd check it out not knowing a thing about the series. It involves a collection of Dr. Moreauish animals trying to integrate into society, with varying degrees of success. It's a loose collection of stories and themes. There are moments of film noir as well as some pulpish sci-fi - but I must admit that it just didn't hang together for me. The rotating cast of characters, artists and story lines made this collection seem quite chopped up, and it was difficult to maintain the feeling of pathos that I imagine is supposed to flow throughout. Some of the art is quite nice, especially the issue by Tom Scioli who seemed to be channelling Keith Giffen channelling Jack Kirby, but much of it is a lots of flashy posing covering up weak storytelling. The more I read into this book, the less interested I became and I was complete gone by the time the pirate story rolled around. And I love pirates. It's a decent conceit and there are some good elements present, but all in all it doesn't add up. Trade Mark: C+

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hidden Gems: Our Army at War #201

Ok, so the obvious question is - how is a 1969 comic with a Kanigher/Kubert story a 'hidden' gem? Isn't it simply a 'gem'? Well, the hidden part is one of the back-up stories included in this issue. "Drummer of Waterloo" is notable for two reason. First, it is a wonderful Berni Krigstein-drawn story that first appeared in Our Army At War #14 (September, 1953). Secondly, this was the only time it was reprinted. DC did not give Greg Sadowski permission to reprint this story in his wonderful collection: B Krigstein Comics - even those it was cleaned up with a new colour job by the great Marie Severin. That seems like a shockingly stupid decision on DC's part, as the samples shown by Sadowski look amazing. For now, this is the only way to get the full story at a relatively inexpensive price (believe me - the 1969 version is much, much easier on the wallet than the original). If Kubert and Krigstein aren't quiet enough to convince you, there's also a 1956 Andru/Esposito tale thrown into the mix as well. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Marvel Two-In-One #96

I've always liked the Thing, but I must admit that both the Fantastic Four and Marvel Two in One were waaaaay down on my list of 'must buys' when I first started reading comics. In fact, I think that this was the only issue of this series that I ever bought off the rack. I'm pretty sure that I must have been sold on the cover, as it was pretty funny and promised appearances by Daredevil and Spider-Man, two characters I followed religiously at that point in time. It's a pretty funny book, and holds up just fine as a standalone story. Ben Grimm is nursing some serious injuries and most of the Marvel Universe's also-ran villains have decided to take a shot at his while he is infirm. This leads to a few, quick and funny showdowns with other heroes and culminates in one rather large battle royale. My only real wish is that that splash page with all the heroes and villains had been better executed; but that's splitting hairs. We end with a nice exchange between the Thing and Sandman with a nod to Casablanca. All in all, it's a goofy piece of comic book history and one that makes me smile every time I pick it up.