Friday, October 30, 2009

I Loves Me Some: Worlds Unknown

I'm not exactly a sci-fi geek, and I'm far too young to have been influenced by the pulps so perhaps I am not the target audience for this Marvel series. That being said, I still enjoy the balance of it and appreciate what they were trying to accomplish. It's almost a Classics Illustrated for sci-fi nuts. Obviously, both Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway have a lot of love for the great science fiction writers of the 20th century and seem thrilled to be able to adapt many of their favourite tales for the Four Color world. I find myself particularly interested in the accompanying text articles, where the authors discuss issues such as their relationship to the source material or how they went about securing the rights. Many of these issues also feature 3 to 5 page back-ups from the Atlas era; a real added bonus.

I particularly enjoyed Roy Thomas' take on Farewell to the Master, the story that became The Day the Earth Stood Still. Thomas explains that he wanted to stick close to the original story to the point of assigning Ross Andru the pencilling chores as he'd never seen the movie. Another interesting issue is Conway's take on Arena by Frederic Brown. It is much more sophisticated than most of what was coming out from DC and Marvel at time. Some of the weaker entries, such as The Black Destroyer in issue #5, still have their moments. Even the Golden Voyage of Sinbad adaptation that runs through the final two issues is a fun read. Sadly, there are no Atlas back-ups in those issues. Since licensing headaches will prevent these books from ever being reprinted, I suggest you try to find some cheap copies and give them a try. They aren't perfect, but they are certainly offbeat and serve as a link to the heyday of sci-fi pulps.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Aquaman #49

This one starts off with two of my favourite pages in comics. A scuba diving saboteur breaks into an Alaska factory, plants an explosive device and escapes. It is beautifully rendered by Jim Aparo, with the action moving crisply from panel to panel with nary a caption nor a single word of dialogue. It is a lesson in comic book storytelling. The rest of the story is also quite sharp. Aquaman and Aqualad try to track down the saboteur in a great self contained mystery with environmental undertones. The thing I love about Steve Skeates is that he knows how to be topical without being preachy. There's a rather bittersweet ending to the whole mess, which was a novel way to leave a reader in 1970. There is even a neat Atlantis-based interlude, hinting at some of the drama to come. Aparo draws an awesome Ocean Master. Did I mention the explosive Nick Cardy cover? A first ballot Hall of Famer.

Charlton Notebok: War #8

I don't own many Charlton war comic books, but I found this on in a dollar bin and could not pass up the opportunity to give it a test drive, as I was intrigued by the Pat Boyette cover. This series was launched in 1975, as part of a strange little mini-explosion at Charlton. I don't know that the marketplace was screaming for a new middle of the road war title, but this one did last until '84. The lead story is actually very impressive, focusing on a ambulance driver who became a pilot with a group of American volunteers during the early days of WW1. The GCD suggests that the art might be from someone name Colmeiro. If they mean Antonio Colmeiro, that would make sense as it has a very classic look and he worked with agencies sending stuff to Derby. The second story recounts how a young and inexperienced officer gained the respect of his troops during the march from Ohio to Manassas (Bull Run). Finally, we get a rather interesting tale about the start of the Mexican war. I'm not sure who drew this one, but I imagine it's also one of the many Spanish artists sending work to Charlton at the time. Overall, it was a very enjoyable read and a pleasant surprise. Low expectations will do that to you, though.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Monster Menance #2

Here's a great cover from the short-lived pre-FF #1 monster reprint series from the 90s. Ditko did some of his only work for Marvel in the 90s for this title, and this cover is a knockout. It is a such and treat to see Stan and Steve's collaboration come to life. The monsters look perfectly retro. I have no memory of these books ever being on the shelves, but they must have looked totally out of place among the other Marvel crap of the day. I don't think Marvel had used the word 'Amok' on a cover since the mid-70s. How can you not love a parade of Ditko monsters? This is also another one to add to the list of his 'floating head' covers. If you are at all like me, you can never keep all of these monster straight. Luckily for us, there's a legend inside. At least I think there is. Am I imagining that? I got very little sleep last night.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Highlighting House Ads: Ajax-Farrell Horror Ad

Here's an interesting ad from Strange Fantasy #2 (Oct, 1952), announcing the full family of horror titles produced by Ajax-Farrell. While Voodoo, Fantastic Fears and Haunted Thrills were certainly pre-Code mainstays, many of these titles were not. The first issue of Strange was cover dated May, 1957. Strange Journey and Dark Shadows were also post-Code titles first appearing in 1957, but they were published by America's Best, a separate imprint of Ajax-Farrell, under the Steinway banner. There was no Bewitched until Dell adapted the TV series in 1965; 7 years after Ajax-Farrell ceased operations. Finally, I am sad to say that there has never been a comic book series entitled Suspooks. That's a shame.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Trade Marks: My Conan Weekend

I've always liked Conan, but I would never described myself as a Conan-phile. A few years ago, I picked up the first three volumes of Dark Horse's Chronicles of Conan series at a deep discount. For one reason or another, I had put off reading them - never really in the mood, I guess. One recent weekend, I had a large chunk of free time so I decided it was high time I got a good dose of Cimmerian related action. I cruised through all three books over the course of a couple of days and here are my thoughts.

Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories collects the first 8 issues of the Conan the Barbarian series. When I was a child, these back issues were far too expensive to pick up so I never read the earliest stuff. What a way to kick off a series! Thomas' scripts are much better paced than his superhero stuff from that era, and Barry Smith's work is full of energy (both Dan Adkins and Sal Buscema do a nice job on inks). The highlight for me is the second story; Lair of the Beast Men, as we get a strong sense of Conan's principles. The Tower of the Elephant is a very strange and sad story - unlike anything else coming from Marvel in '71. Thomas' essay on bringing Conan to Marvel is a great read.

For the most part, the high quality continues with Rogues in the House and Other Stories. I've qualified my love for this volume because, much like Conan, I'd prefer to steer clear of magic. Some of these stories focus less on the sword and more on the sorcery - and that's not really my cup of tea. What I do like, however, is the growing relationship with Jenna, as her presence allows for some added layers to the stories. My favourite here is Garden of Fear, which I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog. Smith's work on Web of the Spider God is very strong, especially the scenes with Conan nearing death in the desert. This volume concludes with another interesting article by Thomas, and I particularly enjoy the bits about circumventing the Code.

The Monster of the Monoliths and Other Stories leads off with a big dose of mysticism, but for me it's anything but magic. I've never really understood the appeal of Elric. My Dad loved the books, and tried to get me to read them as a teen - but they really did nothing for me. The Elric appearances here really drag down the volume, as there's too much magical mumbo jumbo for me. That's not much of a critique, but it just doesn't fit my personal tastes and I don't think the two characters interacted very well. I much prefer the relationship with Fafnir as their travels together lead to some interesting adventures. Hawks From the Sea and the Black Hound of Vengeance are the highlights of the Fafnir arc with loads of great action sequences. There's another fascinating article, with Thomas discussing his dealings with Michael Moorcock, as well as getting Gil Kane on board for an issue.

All in all, these are great stories that haven't dated a day. It is wonderful that Dark Horse has seen fit to put them out in a high quality, yet affordable package. I'll likely pick up more of these as I go along - but after so much Conan in such a short period of time, I'm ready for a breather. A Little Lulu marathon, perhaps?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Giant Squid Covers

I'm no marine biologist - so I'm not going to even bother stating which one is an octopus and which one is a squid. It doesn't matter, as they are tentacled, underwater behemoths and they make for great covers.

Let's start with a great one. Norman Saunders cover for Weird Thrillers #4 (Summer, 1952) is beautiful on so many levels. I really love the colour scheme, and the attention to details is amazing. Look at the first swimming in the background. Check out the squid's bloodshot eyes. For me, it's the little things that make Saunders covers stand out from the crowd. This "Monster of the Caverns" looks at his prey as if to say "You call that a knife"? I have a a dream of one day stumbling upon a yard sale with an unmarked book full of Ziff-Davis books with Norman Saunders covers. The sad reality is I'm more likely to a yard sale with a box of Spawns.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, we find ourselves with the cover to Star Spangled Comics #68 (May, 1947). This one features a solo Robin, attempting to rescue a diver from the least threatening looking octopus I've ever seen. This particular looks like he'd be more comfortable fighting Unca Donald and the boys than the Teen Wonder. I think that Jim Mooney drew most of the covers from this era of the long running title, and while the layout is ok - it's just far too cartoony to have any impact. In addition, the colors are very drab, and the lack of detail in the background really makes it seem amateurish. All told, this one just doesn't 'grab' me.

Much better is Joe Kubert's striking cover for Korak, Son of Tarzan #54 (November, 1973). 'Striking' is a word that can be used to describe just about every Kubert cover, but this one really stands out for me. I really like how DC chose to keep the art separate from the title during this era. Many of these covers were caption-free, and that add to their impact, IMHO. I don't actually own this issue, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the story were 100% Coleoidea free. I can't say that for sure, but fallen for the old 70s DC bait and switch with various Joe Kubert covers (Unknown Soldier #245 comes to mind). All in all, it's a great cover from a superb artist.

Getting points in the 'fun' department is the cover to ACG's Adventures Into the Unknown #157 (June-July, 1965). This was during ACG's short-lived super hero experiment when Nemesis was the headlining for this long running horror anthology. This one is by Jay Kafka, another nom de plume for the always underappreciated Kurt Schaffenberger. I love the colours here - the purple octopus looks great against the green background. Even though there isn't much detail in the background, the use of colour here shows how a little effort can go a long way. Although I often rave about Ogden Whitney's covers for ACG, I really love Schaffenberger's too.

I'll end with Whiz Comics #155 (June, 1953) as it marks the end of such a wonderful series. There's a lot going on here with all sorts of caption, along the the insets of Doctor Death and some war story. Unfortunately, it all detracts from the awesome image of the Big Red Cheese taking on the giant octopus. It's a gorgeous shot, with a very nice shade of green on the creature. The interior was drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, who we know can draw a tentacled monster like no one else. The Marvels faced a lot of very goofy monsters over the years, so it comes almost as a sign of respect that the finale showcases one that is actually slightly menacing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Marvel Treasury Edition #17

First of all, let me make it perfectly clear that Treasury sized comics are awesome. Sure, they can be tough to store and all that, but they are awesome so let's just move on. This particular gem features a very impressive and powerful cover (I think the original art sold a while back for $8,000 or so), and a very nice back cover as well. Fans of Herb Trimpe's Hulk will love this one. It leads off with the the Glob story from Incredible Hulk #121, which is a must have for any muck monster fan. Following that are some of the best early 70s tales with appearances by Havok, Rhino and the Leader. It even includes the Golem story from Incredible Hulk #134. Sure, all of these stories have now been reprinted in the 'Essentials' line, but there is something to be said for experiencing them in this format - as it takes a pretty big page to contain the Hulk.

Friday, October 16, 2009

R.I.P. George Tuska (1916-2009)

George Tuska was not Jack Kirby. George Tuska was not Will Eisner. George Tuska was not Siegel & Shuster. George Tuska was George Tuska. He was simply a talented artist who worked in comic books almost since its infancy. He contributed artwork for countless publishers on countless titles for decades. I'd be surprised if there were more than a small handful of artists who pencilled as many comic book pages as Tuska. His art was easily identifiable - very vibrant and subtlety powerful. Although many people I know who grew up in the 70s and 80s felt that his work was substandard - I've always thought the he was a very engaging storyteller who drew handsome men and lovely women. There was something very 'classic' about his artwork, and I probably could have (or should have) guessed that he was from a different generation than many of the artists I was raised on in the late 70s and early 80s.

It's not a crime not to be Jack Kirby, but many people tend to be overly critical of the non-Kirbys in funnybook land. This is unfair to those who served in the trenches, producing quality work in a timely manner year after year. I'll lump Tuska in with Dick Dillin, Don Heck and Mike Sekowsky here: artists that never really get their due, even though they helped to form the backbone of the industry. Tuska designed wonderful covers, he knew how to lay out a page, he kept the reader's eye moving and could tackle any and every genre. These are the things that we tend to forget as being the real artistry of comic book art. He was a handsome man who live and full and long life and, from everything I've heard, he was a true gentleman. From the jungles of Fiction House to the newspaper strip action of World's Greatest Super Heroes, George Tuska made a lasting contribution to the world of comic books. He should be celebrated and remembered fondly for that. In addition, the man drew my favourite cover of all-time (at left). Thanks for everything, Mr. Tuska.

You've Been Warned: Daredevil #99

I love Daredevil and I love Steve Gerber, but I'll bet I could do at least a dozen 'You've Been Warned' posts featuring issues from Gerber's Daredevil run. I'll start here, as it's a perfect example of a Marvel book spinning its wheels while resting on its laurels during the 70s. By this point, we've seen about 200 'hero vs. hero' fights in the Marvel universe, and it's getting pretty annoying. At least with this fight, Hawkeye and DD are ostensibly fighting over a women, but it's still ridiculous as, if memory serves, there are no less than 3 separate small skirmishes over a mere 20 pages. None of this is helped by Sam Kweskin's artwork, which ranks among the very worst from the 'pencils by committee' era that would haunt this book until the end of the decade.

At some point, the Avengers show up in order to pimp the crossover with their fight against Magneto. Did I mention the biker gang (the Hell Birds), whose leader didn't feel it necessary to wear a shirt under his leather vest? How about Natasha, who has nothing better to say throughout this issue other than "Stop it boys!"? I've always thought that Gerber was a master of characterization, but it is very weak here and the dialogue seems to be from a Marvel Cliché Handbook. I can't believe a Russian super spy would really care about the state of her home when her two beaus are threatening to kill each other. I kind of wish that I mimicked her, though, and kept my eyes closed for this one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Brave and the Bold #145

I've likely mentioned on here that the Brave andCheck Spelling the Bold is my all-time favourite comic book series. I have a run from #50 right through to #200, This was the first copy of Brave and the Bold I ever got off the racks. The idea of my favourite character (Batman) teaming up with new heroes each month, was pure bliss for this fledgling fanboy. My copy, however, is a Whitman, and I'm 95% sure that it came as part of a 3-pack. I would have been nearly 6 when this book hit stores - but maybe my copy was acquired a while later as I'm certain those '3-Packs' lagged behind the regularly published versions of the book. I must admit that the subject matter might have been a bit intense for me at the time - but I found the Phantom Stranger to be particularly intriguing. This was also my first exposure to Jim Aparo's artwork and I was sold from day one. This book features plenty of panels where the character are standing on the 'Aparo tilt'. That single technique gave so much life to otherwise static panels. Perhaps not the greatest issue of B&B, but you never forget your first.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Jack Kirby's FABIAC

The story I Want to Be a Man from Harvey's Alarming Tales #2 (November, 1957) contains some great science fiction themes and may be one of the finest robot stories produced in the 50s. It all begins with a giant supercomputer named FABIAC who has developed artificial intelligence and communicates with the scientists, especially his creator David Randolph. I don't know the first time AI was used in comics, but it is handled very well here, and FABIAC ultimately requests that he be made into a man. Initially, his request is rejected but FABIAC claims that it is his right. It's a rather daunting task, compared to putting 'and elephant in a briefcase'. The supercomputer is retrofitted into a rather hulking robot, but FABIAC is delighted - thinking that he is now a real man.

FABIAC dreams of leaving the compound, but he is told to never go beyond the wall. Randolph receives an emergency call and returns to discover that FABIAC has destroyed himself after learning that he was not, in fact, a 'real man' after seeing himself in a mirror. Most of this is handled off screen, and we only are only shown the now dead FABIAC, lying face down with Randolph wishing that he'd been able to grant the robot his wish. It's a very effective tale, with some real emotional impact arising from both the notion of the right of a free thinking robot, and his inability to have a wish fully granted. I've got to think that this was the first robot suicide in comics. Kirby's design of both the computer giving a hint of what he'd produce in the years to come. FABIAC is as good as robots get.

Jaws Still Works

I picked up a cheap copy of the 30th Anniversary DVD in a dump bin last week. I hadn't seen it in ages, and I'd always heard good things about the 'Making of Jaws' documentary and I hadn't seen the movie in at least 15 years, so I thought it would be a good one to add to the collection, even though I've had a DVD purchasing moratorium in place for over a year. Still haven't watched the documentary, but my wife and I sat down to watch it the other night. It still works. I love the characters, and my wife got blindsided by two good jump scares. First, the head in the fishing boat resulted in some red wine spillage. She switched to water at the halfway mark, but spilled that after the shark cage got bumped from behind. I can't remember the last time I saw her jump like that. This really might be the perfect movie as everything works, from the score to Robert Shaw's amazing speech.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gold Keys, Charlton and other Oddities This Week

I've been having pretty good success with my recent auctions - so I decided to sell some of my more esoteric stuff this week. I'll like have 20+ auctions with some multiple issue Gold Key lots and some interesting Charlton stuff and who knows what else. They will all feature low starting bids, and hopefully there's something for everyone.

Add It To My Want List: Battlefield Action #84

Weaving your way through the maze of Charlton reprints from the late 70s and early 80s can be exhausting. More than once, I've picked up a cheap book with the hopes that some forgotten Ditko or Aparo drawn gem was inside, only to be disappointed by stories produced by 3rd tier creators. Battlefield Action 84 (December, 1983), however, holds a great deal of promise. The Overstreet Guide notes that this book contains three reprinted reprints with Jack Kirby artwork. The GCD notes that one is certainly Kirby, while two have a (?) following his name, as well as the comment that the stories come from Foxhole. Well, even if there's only a single Kirby story inside (and my bet that that they are all Kirby), this one is worth tracking down as I'm sure there's a copy sitting in a dollar bin somewhere just waiting for me to find it and give it a good home.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Exit Stage Left: Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom #31

This is a very strange final issue. Doctor Solar was initially cancelled back in 1969, when Gold Key decided to wrap up the series with issue #27. For one reason or another, the powers that be decided to reboot the good Doctor a dozen years later under the Whitman imprint. While I believe the first issue of this new title was unused inventory, the remaining three issue featured all-new Doctor Solar stories written by Roger McKenzie and drawn by Dan Spiegle. Also included are stylish Magnus back-ups, written by McKenzie with Frank Bolle on the art chores. The lead story in this one features a pretty 'out there' store involving a struggling actor and an electrical accident. It has a Hollywood setting, and really brought to mind Crossfire. the Magnus story is fairly uneventful, except that the reader is promised an upcoming Magnus title that never materialized. Unlike those great Silver Age covers, this one is simply made from recoloured interior artwork. Yawn. All in all, it's a strange last gasp for some great 60s characters.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Trade Marks: Black Diamond Detective Agency

I picked up a copy of this book a few months ago and really anticipated reading it. I love everything I've seen Eddie Campbell do - especially From Hell. The premise here is very intriguing - a massive explosion creates a manhunt conducted by the titular agency. The script is spare, and where it works, it really works - the opening sequence is well orchestrated chaos, When it fails, however, it fails badly. The later action sequences are tough to follow (especially the climatic scene) and too many of the detectives look like twins. This mucks up the whole conspiracy at the end, as the reader (unless he or she is much more astute than yours truly), is still trying to sort out all of the players. It might all become a bit more clear upon a second reading, but I don't feel terribly inspired to do so at present. It is a wonderful little package, and loved the look and feel of the book. Campbell is an amazing talent, but this one needed to be executed a bit better. Trade Mark: B-

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #33

Steve Ditko certainly produced many, many weird covers for Charlton during the 70s, but this one has to rank right up there among the weirdest. I love a good voodoo doll motif, and this one is spectacular. The dolls are unbelievably creepy, and don't actually look anything like the truly Ditkoesque man doubled over in pain. Their black eyes really creep me out, and that expressionless doll in the foreground is a very nice touch. Ditko didn't draw any of the interiors for this book, and the 'Doll Makers' story iteself was drawn by Pat Boyette. Those dolls have the Boyette touch to them, so I have a feeling that Ditko drew these, trying to keep true to Boyette's designs. I don't actually own this one - so I can't confirm how much they look like the dollars in the interior. A true Charlton oddity.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Reprint This! Green Arrow : The Wonder Year

As I've likely mentioned one or twice or a dozen times, I was a huge fan of Mike Grell's Green Arrow series. In 1993, a little miniseries was released that nearly slipped below my radar. Sure, Green Arrow's origin tale had been told many, many times - but I guess that Grell wanted a shot at it. Everyone in the DCU deserved their own Year One, don't they? Now there are countless miniseries from the 90s, so why does this one deserve a reprint? Two words: Gray Morrow. This is one of the last comic books works of Morrow's that I bought off the racks. He inks his own pencils here (over Grell's layouts), and it looks exquisite. For some reason, Gray Morrow is not a name I hear people mentioned very often when the all-time greats are discussed. That's a shame as the man could draw anything. I'd love to see the late artist's talent showcased for a new generation by putting this one back into circulation. Even if this story is no longer a part of the Arrow Family canon, it still deserves to be seen. Failing that, I hope that the Grell stuff will eventually gets the Showcase Presents treatment, and it would be wise if DC puts included this one.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Action Comics #719

I'm as surprised as your are that I've nominated a 'mullet-era' Superman story for the Hall of Fame, but trust me on this one. I wasn't reading many Superman books in the mid-90s as the multiples titles with those little triangles were a bit too taxing for both my brain and wallet. It was a real treat to find a 'one and done' issue reuniting the 'World's Finest' team as they take on the Joker. The cover sold me on this one, but the story is why I love it. Lois has been poisoned by the Joker, and Superman and Batman learn that the only way to save Lois is to take the Joker's life. Superman is frustrated by the fact that his powers are of no use. I'm sure there are a million plot holes in this story, and that a true fanboy would point out that he should have gone back in time or something - but that misses the whole point. I loved this one when I read it back in the 90s, and was not surprised to see that it was written by David Michelinie, as he loves to play around with moral and/or ethical dilemmas. It's quite refreshing to see Superman trying to retain his Silver Age morals in the world of the Punisher and Spawn. Spoiler Alert: Everyone lives, but Lois is pissed.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hidden Gems: Sea Devils #13

This one may have slipped below your radar, but it's time to rectify that. I'm a bit surprised that it hasn't become more notorious amongst collectors as it is both an artistic triumph and a Fourth Wall breaking hidden gem. The premise is terrific; different artists are auditioning to become the new chronicler of the Sea Devils' adventures. Are you with we? Are you having an Earth-Prime moment or are these the Earth-One versions of the artists? It starts of with none other than Joe Kubert, who pencils the first chapter, followed by Gene Colan with the Andru/Esposito team concluding things. It's a pretty neat gimmick, with the artists getting involved in the story, and was certainly something quite novel for the time. Readers were asked to vote on their favourite. I'm not sure what accounting firm DC used to tally the votes, but something might have gone awry, as none of these folks landed the gig. Irv Novick did the next issue, and Howard Purcell would eventually come aboard for a long run. It's worth tracking this one down, as it's a wonderful curio and features an all-star lineup of artists.