Friday, February 27, 2009

Trade Marks: Johnny Dynamite - Underworld

This 2003 TPB reprints the 1994 Dark Horse miniseries by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty, the demi-gods behind Ms. Tree. Johnny Dynamite, that wonderful Spillaine-inspired Pete Morisi character is in his glory here: inhaling cigarettes by the carton while dishing out the first person narrative, painting a great picture of crime in Chi-town. It starts with a dead dame in Johnny's bed. He seeks vengeance and before you know it, we've got a Faustian deal and a bunch of Romeroesque shamblers causing trouble. There's some good humour here, some tips of the fedora to old school Hollywood and Vegas. The only real catch for me was infusing a crime book with a supernatural element. I got my head around it, but it really didn't fit with the overall tone of a Johnny Dynamite story. It's a novel idea (at least it was back in '94 - not in today's zombie saturated world), but I'd have rather seen a more traditional story. For those of you who like your noir with a dash of the undead; this one's for you. If you prefer it with a couple of fingers of scotch, it may leave you scratching your head just a bit. One last thing, I wish they'd kept this red tones from the original series. This one is straight up black and white. Trade Mark: B+

Thursday, February 26, 2009

You've Been Warned: Green Arrow #8

Let me set the record straight. I love Mike Grell's Green Arrow. I swear that it helped me keep my sanity during high school. I was almost completely out of comics when the Long Bow Hunters hit the racks and I was hooked. With that said, Green Arrow #8 is a mess. Ollie tracks a drug smuggling operation to Alaska. I believe that the only reason this was done was for an excuse to get him involved with the Iditarod race. If I remember correctly, that race used to get a lot more press back in the late 80s than it does today. It just doesn't fit with the tone of the series at this stage. In addition, the artwork is beyond weak. It's at a fanzine level, and I'm guessing this was one of those 5:00 AM inking jobs Dick Giordano used to do before catching the train to Manhattan. The pencillers needed help and all they got was a very thin line. I re-read this series every few years, and this issue always stands out like a sore thumb.

Quick Book Reviews

Yes, sometimes I read books without word balloons. Here's a quick look at some recent reads.

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain. You've seen the movie, now read the book! It won't take you very long, as it is 120 pages of taut storytelling with very crisp dialogue. I wouldn't put Cain up there with Hammet and Chandler, but he's not that far behind. Although first published as a serial - it doesn't have those awkward stops and starts from which many serialized books suffer. It's the cynicism that permeates this book that makes it so engaging. Who knew insurance could be so fascinating?

Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith. Tom Ripley is a wonderful literary character. He's that charming sociopath that we root for and hate ourselves for it later. The is a far more slowly paced story that the first two Ripley adventures - perhaps in keeping with his comfortable middle age existence. The slow build up to the denouement actually allows the reader to forgive Highsmith for some of the gaps in believability (I thought Trevanny was a little too easily convinced to take on his 'project'). Although part of a series, it can truly be enjoyed as a standalone piece.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. This is early Vonnegut and it shows.While his signature characters are all present, the plot meanders and it lacks the warmth that he'd bring to his later work. The our is still there, but it's less subtle and quite cold at times. He tackles too many themes at once here, and while he certainly gives the reader a taste of what will inhabit his later works, it just doesn't add up here. It's a good read, but only after you've finished with his true classics.

The Art of Ray Harryhausen by Tony Dalton and Ray Harryhausen is an absolute must have for any fan of the Harryhausen films. It's a beautifully designed coffee table book with plenty of never before seen documents that show just how much work Harryhausen put into each and everyone one of his projects. I particularly enjoyed the discussions of the various artists that he found inspiring and I'm in awe of the man's drawings and sketches. The photographs of the monster models in varying states of decay were interesting, but a little sad. These things should be in a museum somewhere. I was quite surprised to discover just how many great projects never too flight. So many missed opportunities. Highly recommended

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Tales of the Zombie #8

As I may have previously mentioned, my childhood LCS (the much misses Queen's Comics in Toronto) had an island of bins in the middle of the store. This was where they kept all of the magazines. I always knew that there was something a little taboo about this particular island, as the people flipping through those books were a bit older than the rest of us drooling over the latest Avengers or Brave and Bold. One Saturday afternoon, my curiosity got the best of me, and I started flipping through those bins. It was full of Eeries, Mads, Savage Swords and one particularly disturbing looking title; Tales of the Zombie. Who could resist? I first read this as a 9 year old in 1981, and there are a three images that I haven’t been able to scrape off my brain since then. Two are from the Gerber/Marcos main Zombie story; a rat chewing on Simon Garth’s cheek and Garth smashing a woman’s head into pulp. The final image is by Alfredo Alcala: a man’s bloated and swollen body as he fends off a swarm of killer bees. This year, I'll celebrate 28 years of nightmares from this book.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hidden Gems: Rawhide Kid #84

Hidden behind this rather nifty Herb Trimpe cover is a real treat. Westerns were beginning their long descent into obscurity at Marvel, and reprints abounded. I'm certain that back in 1971, your average Rawhide Kid fan was mighty sore when their favourite title turned to mainly reprints. Any of today's savvy comic book reader, however, knows that no two reprints are alike. This issue features 3 stories originally printed in Rawhide Kid #27 (April, 1962), pencilled by none other than Jack Kirby (with Dick Ayers inking). Those early Kirby Rawhide Kid issues costs a pretty penny these days, but this one can be had for far less. I'm trying to complete a run of Rawhide Kid, and picked up a VF copy on eBay for $1.99. If you've been waiting for the perfect opportunity to slap leather; this is it!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Beyond the Grave #6

Here's an above average mid-70s Ditko cover for Charlton. The first thing that really jumps out at you is the colour scheme. The blues and yellows are much more 'superheroic' than we normally seen at Charlton and bring to mind Marvel or DC. I really love the figures in the foreground, Halloween reveller completely unaware or what lurks behind them. Speaking of 'behind them', I'm not quite as enamored with the figure rising from the grave in the background. It's a bit too cartoonish and the angle really bothers me. Actually, the thing that bothers me the most is the Charlton Publications logo at the bottom right. It sits smack dab in the middle of a character's face. I do like this one, I just wish the 'zombie' was a bit more menacing. For those interested, this is one of those 'No Ditko Inside' Charltons.

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Tales of Suspense #62

This was one of the first Silver Age books I ever bought, and Tales of Suspense #62 still holds up as my favourite of the Cap/Iron Man period. Let's start with the Captain America story. It's fairly derivative, but it save by the spectacular Kirby art (inked by Chic Stone). This is one of the first times I really 'got' Kirby. The crazy fight sequence with the extraordinary fluidity of motion really grabs your attention. According to the GCD, this one has been reprinted 73 times. The Iron Man story, on the other hand, is much more narrative driven. The Mandarin captures Iron Man, and like any good villain worth his salt, selects this as the perfect time to deliver a soliloquy. It's quite well done, and Don Heck's artwork is glorious. It's fairly topical, as Chinese Communists and the impact of the Great Leap Forward plays a role in what makes a Mandarin. All in all, it's a fine issue - a testament to what Lee, Kirby and Heck could crank out with dizzying speed.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Trade Marks: Legion of Super-Heroes - The More Things Change

I'm very happy that the 80s Legion is getting the TPB treatment. I've probably got 80% of the series between 1970 and 1984, but I my collection fizzles out after that. The is the 2nd volume of the Baxter Run collection, collecting issues #7-12. While I've always enjoyed this era, I feel that this Mega Legion suffers from too much of a good thing. At first glance, you'd think there are 75 members, and that's not counting those in training. This leads to a lot of concurrent plot lines which are often handled well, but some items slip through the cracks. At one point, the Invisible Kid accidentally kills a villain (due to some unexplained new power) and it seems that this will be a major plot point (Legion Code and all that stuff), but it's resolved off screen and we simply learned that he's been absolved. That kind of thing is necessary if you're going to try to move 8 or 9 story lines along, but it does beg the question of whether that many story lines are the best course of action. The Steve Lightle artwork is nice and tidy (which is necessary) but I was pretty hot and cold on the Ernie Colon issues. Not many extras here - the covers from the newsstand run don't really add much. Good stuff, but flawed- track down a discounted copy. Trade Mark: B

Quick & Stale DVD Reviews

Some of these may not be as stale as usual, as I saw some flicks during flights recently. There may be spoilers ahead.

RocknRolla (2008)
It's a typical Guy Ritchie British mobster music video, but I think I've decided that I can live with one of those every few years. I'm still not sold on Gerrard Butler as an actor, never mind movie star. I also don't get Thandie Newton's appeal, but that's just me, I guess. Tom Wilkinson chews some nice scenery and Mark Strong continues to be one of the most under appreciated actors in the business. Not bad for some mindless entertainment. Grade: B-

Eagle Eye (2008)
Overly slick thriller that fails to thrill. Certain aspects go way beyond plausibility and wind up looking silly (seriously, power lines?). The age gap between the two leads was distracting and, like Mr. Butler above, I'm still not sold on either of them as actors. The whole concept has comes across as a retread of 70s flicks like Colossus: the Forbin Project and even Demon Seed. Completely forgettable. Grade: C-

The Tall T (1957)
I watched this one recently for the first time in years. Like all Budd Boetticher westerns, it's lean and mean with a wonderful score. Randolph Scott looks as though he's been chipped off Mount Rushmore, as he's forced to become a reluctant hero. The real treat is watching Richard Boone, from Have Gun Will Travel, as the charming villain. Smooth, funny and almost sympathetic. Even if he doesn't get away with the money, he steals the show. Grade: A

Be Kind, Rewind (2008)
I'm still not sure how this one didn't find a bigger audience. It's simultaneously clever and goofy. Jack Black manages to keep his composure and Mos Def is great. I think that Gondry set a really nice atmosphere and the bits of guerrilla filmmaking are a treat to anyone who ever filmed an X-Wing Fighter 'flying' along a fishing line. Far from perfect but a comedy well above average. Grade: B

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pied Piper Covers Pt. 2

I'm back with round 2 of Pied Piper covers. I've just noticed that these 4 covers were all published by DC within a relatively short period of time.

Let's start this one off with a cover that I've always found to be quite chilling. I must have first encountered the cover to Phantom Stranger #30. Although I'm a big fan of Aparo's Phantom Stranger, Luis Dominguez does a very nice job here. I think the reason it's so spooky is that it is a very 'quiet' cover - definitely not the fashion of the day in 1974. The children are in full automaton mode as the cross the bridge. There's also a nice combination of modern and medieval The flames coming out of the demon's bugle is a nice touch. Something is wrong with the Phantom Stranger himself, though. Is it the hat?

Let's move on to Our Army at War #215, featuring another classic Joe Kubert cover. While Neal Adams was producing a lot of CiP covers (Children in Peril), it appears that Joe had a preference for CwP covers (Children with Pipes). It's a nice cover, and the Nazi has a real creepiness to him, but I really prefer my Pied Piper children to form into a nice straight, single file line. I thought the Nazis were all about organization and conformity.The caption box at the bottom left really interferes with the overall impact of the cover.

I guess there were already too many Pied Pipers on Earth, so one had to move to Pluto for Mystery in Space #110. Only the most forgiving (or ironic) comic book reader has much love for Ultra, the Multi-Alien. I love a goofy story and I'm a huge Lee Elias fan, but I just can't get into Ultra. Mystery in Space was such a shining star for DC for so many years and it's a bit sad that the series ended on such flat note. Murphy Anderson produced some wonderful sci-fi covers for DC in the Silver Age. This was not one of them.

I've saved a true classic for the grand finale; Nick Cardy's wonderful cover to Superboy #190. Ok, so he's playing a pan flute, a la Zamfir, but it's still a Pied Piper Cover. Superboy, in classic Superdickery mode, is sending these kids to a watery grave. Again, we're dealing with an 'all boys' brigade, a trend dating all the way back to that Captain Marvel Jr. cover. I've never heard of Camp Bravo, I'm certainly not sending my kids there. How many crazy camps have existedin the DCU? If the cover alone wasn't enough to entice you - there's a great early Cockrum Legion story inside.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pied Piper Covers Pt. 1

I'm back with another look at theme covers that don't seem to warrant a mention in the Overstreet Guide. This time around, I'm featuring Pied Piper covers, which take a cue from the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

I'm going to skip over the Classic Illustrated Junior version and begin with the most famous piper in comics, the on again off again enemy of the Flash. Ok, so this is actually the Golden Age villain who fought Hawkman in the pages of Flash Comics, but I thought this cover to Flash Comics #59 was more of a treat for folks, as it's a rarely seen book. I don't actually know much about this particular villain, but it's obvious that he was an inspiration for the Broome/Infantino creation.

The cover to Captain Marvel Jr. #3 by Mac Raboy shows a theme that we'll see a lot in Pied Piper comics. In these, a hero or villain is playing the pipes and is leading a group of children, rather than rats (although sometimes when my kids are up too early in the morning, I fail to notice the difference). There a nice touch thrown in here, as the boys (I don't actually see any girls in the parade) are clutching copies of Captain Marvel Jr. and Master Comics. This is a truly iconic Fawcett cover.

Let's take a 'trip' down memory lane with Gilbert Shelton's cover to Adventures of Fat Freddy's Cat #7. While FF's Cat (and by that, I don't mean to imply that it lives in the Baxter Building) doesn't seem to think much of the music, the kids are absolutely nuts for it. Perhaps they've discovered a special field of mushrooms in the forest. In any event, this Piper is definitely leading this kids down the path to temptation nowhere. This is really fun stuff, and it's nice to include some underground comix here every now and then.

Replace rats with warships and you've got the cover to House of Mystery #32. This Bill Ely cover from 1954 is a bit ACGish, and maybe that's why I still like it. Green really seems to be the colour of choice for so many of these villains/creatures (especially at ACG). I probably don't need to tell you that this was an Otto Binder concept. It upsets me that the DC Showcase Presents series doesn't reprint some of these series from the very beginning as there are plenty of kooky stories that I'd like to read without spending the big bucks.

This is just the beginning folks, as I've got another handful of Pied Piper Covers lined up for tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reprint This! Space Family Robinson

I imagine this one has got to be stuck in licensing limbo - but I'm not sure that's entirely true as this series pre-dated Lost in Space. Someone with more IP Law know how than me (and that's just about anyone with a pulse), would likely know the details. This series features very creative stories, mostly by Gaylord DuBois, and some of Dan Spiegle's finest work. He excelled at creature design, alien landscapes and spacecraft. It is pure Silver Age sci-fi magic. Dark Horse has done such a fine job on so many classic Gold Key books, that I'm sure they'd produce a top notch Space Family Robinson collection. I'll be first in line to buy it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hidden Gems: Secret Origins #4

This one is soooo good. If you don't own it already, track it down ASAP. DC's first Secret Origins series is a treasure trove for comic book fans, featuring reprints of the origin stories for many Golden and Silver Age heroes. In this world of Archives and Showcase Presents, many of these stories have been reprinted a number of times. As far as I know, there are no Vigilante or Kid Eternity collections in the works, so this is still your best and cheapest way to pick up these rare stories. Let me pause for a moment to mention the lovely Nick Cardy cover - very moody. The Vigilante story is from Action Comics #42 (November, 1941) and it's a real treat to see this early Mort Meskin artwork. Such a master! I find the inclusion of the Kid Eternity story to be interesting. The Quality heroes (save for Blackhawk and Plastic Man) had been in limbo since the 50s. Most were included in the JLA #107 story (published about the same time), but not Kid Eternity. And yet, he shows up here. Definitely one of the quirkiest strips of the 40s. It could only come from the mind of Otto Binder. If you see this one - grab it, as it's a nice little piece of history.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I Loves Me Some Occult Files of Dr. Spektor

Jesse Santos' artwork is an acquired taste, and I will freely admit that it took me a long, long time to acquire a taste for it. When I was very young comic book reader, Gold Key comics were widely available - often in the form of Whitman 3-packs, priced to sell at local discount retailers. I imagine that many of the Gold Key books I purchased and read were actually a couple of years old. So many of these seemed to feature the same scratchy, quasi-abstract artwork that did nothing for me. If I was a more glib blogger - I'd say that they looked as though they were drawn by a drunken Joe Kubert. As I've aged, I have come to appreciate the little things in life, and I can now fully appreciate all of the charm in Santos' work. There's also a raw energy, where the figures seem to be attempting an escape from the panels - or simply flow right into the scenery.

Dr. Adam Spektor fills the post-Kolchak, pre-Mulder void as he travels around the world investigating bizarre occurrences of all shapes and sizes. He has at least two female companions during his short stay in comics; Lakota and Lu-Sai. Don Glut's stories are fast-paced and imaginative, and have Dr. Spektor dealing with everything from Lewtonian zombies to Harryhausenesque living skeletons. I'm particularly fond of Simbar, the man-lion as he's the classic tragic monster, trying to protect his love. There's a lot of fun to be found in these books, and it is fortunate that they continue to reside in dollar bins around the world.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Trade Marks: Starman Omnibus Volume 1

After buying a good chunk of the issues in floppies, I had put off buying any of the Starman trades. When I heard that the series would be published in Omnibus format, I was a little hesitant, wondering if it would be worth all of the extra cash I had to dole out. I found a good deal on-line and bit the bullet. It was a great decision. It was a real treat revisiting Opal City in such a nice format. For me, it took a half-dozen issues or so for the series to find its bearings, but when it shines – it shines brightly. The extras definitely worth the extra investment, as James Robinson has clearly taken great care to share his experience putting together the stellar series. I was particularly intrigued by Robinson’s discussions regarding his activities as a collector and how he incorporated it into Jack’s character. We’ve all been there – and perhaps that’s why we all love Starman so much. I cannot wait for Vol. 2. Trade Mark: A

Cheap Grapes: Argento Malbec 2006

This will be stale news to any of you who long ago discovered the bargains that come in the form of an Argentinian Malbec. I’m highlighting Argento Malbec 2006 here, as it is widely available and priced to impressed (just under $10 here in Ontario). While it’s not a terribly complex wine, there’s enough chutzpah to make it interesting. Fairly dry and medium bodied, I get a nice mixture of dark cherry and plums with just a hint of something peppery. Unlike many New World wines, there no oak overkill here. While it’s not a bottle to impress a date or client, it should be a crowd pleaser and a good way to save some money next time you thrown a party.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Robertson's Robots

I love robots, and I know that you do too. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to have a look a new comic book robot each and every month. I'm starting with some robots pulled from my shortbox marked 'Silver Age Oddities'. ACG's Adventures Into the Unknown #133 (Jun-July, 1962) featured the cover story 'Robertson's Robots'. The nice Ogdgen Whitney cover gives you the impression that these are some sort of rampaging precursor to the Sentinels. That's not entirely accurate, as these robots were the brainchildren of an inventor (coincidentally named Robertson), whose unfortunate death led to the sale of the robots by the estate. Instead of being used for great purposes, the finally wound up perform in a ridiculous vaudeville-style revue. The robots realize that they have a higher calling, and escape to complete Robertson's work. Hunted like the Frankenstein monster, they flee Earth and colonized the moon. Decades later they inform the Earth that any attempts to land on the moon will be met with force. Old grandpa laughs as he remembers the silly onstage antics of Robertson's Robots. It's typical ACG silliness with clean Chic Stone artwork - just great stuff.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Tales of Suspense #2

This is another fine example of what Ditko can do when he really wants to hit the ball out of the park. It's a very strange yet effective combination of atmosphere and detail. At first the main figure doesn't seem menacing, especially since he appears to be slow moving, but then you notice that he's robot (do all robots actually have the word 'robot' on them?). It kind of creeps up on you, like a good assassin. The window in the background is such a 'Ditko window'. My memory fails me, but Blake Bell would be able to tell us from whom Ditko swiped that design. The background is quite extraordinary, and Ditko would eventually abandon this level of detail. That unfortunate, because I think it's all quite important to establishing the setting. Everything from the spaceships to the Pegasus statue really helps create a world. Another one of Sturdy Steve's Strange and Stranger Worlds. Great stuff.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

You've Been Warned: Iron Man #177

It's hard to believe that just a couple of years earlier, the team of David Michelinie, JR Jr. and Bob Layton were producing stellar Iron Man stories. God bless Dennis O'Neil and all of the great stories he's written, but he was just not a good fit for old Shellhead. This particular issue is a prime example of early 80s Marvel superhero tripe. Too many Marvel series rested on their laurels at the time, and I'm still surprised that DC didn't regain the sales crown, as its product was, by and large, much more innovative product. You really couldn't find a more generic super villain than the Flying Tiger. He is beyond lame - a bland mash up of various super villains (did O'Neil create the Bronze Tiger at DC?). Considering this title centred around a replacement hero filling in for an out of control drunk billionaire, it's amazing just how little drama is to be found in these pages. The art team of Luke McDonnell and Steve Mitchell don't do much to stifle the yawning.