Thursday, April 30, 2009

You've Been Warned: Justice League America #94

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Remember how great this series was when it was first launched? It broke all conventions and was a real breath of fresh air in the DCU. Well, I guess that couldn't be sustained as the quality on this series plummeted through the years, hitting rock bottom at the end of 1994 with this issue. Gerard Jones' story about Kara's strange little 'immaculate conception' child is hard enough to understand without being further impeded by Chuck Wojtkiewicz's artwork. It is a lesson in everything that was bad about a lot of 90s comic book art - bloated, indulgent and very, very difficult to follow. I'm not one of those 'look at the screwed up anatomy' kind of guys - but this is a disaster. As further proof of how little care was put into this book - there's a fairly obvious error on the letters page, and the cover shown in the 'Next Month' blurb is this cover. I can't believe I stuck with this series for such a long time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Do You Believe in Nightmares #1

This was one of the last series launched by St. John. Ditko did not have much of a history with St. John, as this was his only work for them, but they certainly wanted to go out with a bang - assigning him the cover and 5 stories. What a beautifully composed cover! I'm certain that it was quite unlike anything else on spinner racks back in 1957. It has the look of something from a children's book, perhaps even hearkening back to Windsor Mackay's Little Nemo. Ditko establishes a dream-like atmosphere perfectly in line with the subject matter of the series. What I find interesting, however, is how much this looks like a Charlton cover, right down to the color scheme. If it didn't have that little St. John pennant, I'd assume it was printed in Derby, CT. All in all, it's a wonderful late 50s masterpiece from our good friend, Mr. Ditko.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hidden Gems: Spectre #7

Every now and then, you'll find a random DC book from the Silver Age that has a nice little surprise between the covers. This issue of the short-lived Spectre series features a fairly entertaining Gardner Fox story with art by the always under appreciated Jerry Grandenetti, who really shines when inked by Murphy Anderson (who doesn't?). The real treat here, however, is the solo Hourman story. Even with all of the Earth-Two mania that swept through DC in the 60s (ok, that may be overstating things a bit), you don't find many solo stories featuring JSAers. This is a fine little story, also by Fox with artwork by the talented, and apparently workaholic, Dick Dillin with nice Sid Greene inks. This is the kind of book you can pick up for next to nothing in low to mid-grade condition, and it's always a treat to discover these added bonuses.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Woolly Mammoth Covers

We all know that there are plenty of dinosaur covers out there, and putting together a collection of those will likely lead to divorce and/or bankruptcy. A slightly more realistic challenge is to collect Woolly Mammoth covers, featuring those great shaggy beasts of the Pleistocene Age.

Airboy Comics Vol. 5 #7 is a typical crazy post-WW2 issue of Airboy. Instead of enemy aviators, Airboy has to take on another kooky threat. I used to own this issue, but I cannot recall why this mammoth has green fur. Nor can I recall why Airboy has traded in his plane for a bulldozer. I also can't recall why the bulldozer is pink. Some interesting color choice at Hillman - but they do certain get the reader's attention. I do remember, however, that this issue features an origin story of the Heap. It's a nicely designed cover, and I can only assume that it was done by Ernest Shroeder.

The cover to My Greatest Adventure #44 is pretty representative of the pre-Doom Patrol era of that title. In fact, a woolly mammoth had been used on a cover just four issues prior. I'm a big Dick Dillin fan, but sometimes his cover design for these DC sci-fi/fantasy books left a little to be desired. There a funny perspective here, and it forces a very awkward pose for the human figures. Nick Cardy drew the story, so it would have been great to see how he would have designed this cover.

It seems like no matter what nutty theme I choose to track down, the fine folks at ACG always have something to contribute. Kurt Shaffenberger's cover to Midnight Mystery #6 is superb. He has squeezed a lot of action onto the cover, and it is beautifully laid out. Correct me if I'm wrong - but isn't there a scene like this from Crisis on Infinite Earths, or some other DC 'crisis in time' type book? I guess ACG decided that it had launched one mystery title too many, as this series would only last one more issue. It strikes me that Schaffenberger often drew men wearing hunting caps - is that true, or am I just imagining it?

Although people may assume that Joe Kubert did all of the covers to Weird War Tales during the late 70s and early 80s, some other artists did contribute. Among those artists is EC Legend George Evans, who drew this fantastic cover to Weird War Tales #74. I must admit that I am typically underwhelmed by much of Evans' DC output during this period - but I really, really love this cover. It's a nice tip of the hat to the War That Time Forgot era of DC war books. Perhaps these troops have landed on Rengel Island and discovered that a few of those straggler mammoths are still alive and kicking. This one is simply gorgeous.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Couple of Sad Fawcett House Ads from 1954

Final issues of long-running series have always intrigued me. I tend to have bittersweet emotions while reading them, but it's obvious that the publishers weren't always feeling as sentimental. Look at these two ads found in Marvel Family #89 (January, 1954), the final comic book to feature any of the 'Marvels' until the 70s. The first one is a typical company ad, highlighting all of the fine Fawcett titles available. That's great, but the curtain fell on Captain Marvel Adventures in November, 1953 - two months earlier. Next up is an ad from the back of the book, inviting readers to join the Captain Marvel Fan Club. I'd love to know when the final 'Magic Membership Card' was sent out. End of an era, folks.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Trade Marks: The Spirit Archives Volume 19

We're in the second half of 1949 here folks, prime time as far as Eisner's The Spirit goes. There are many classic tales included in this volume, as we see the Spirit's South Seas adventures and the introduction of Sammy to the Central City gang (and Ebony begins to fade into the background). There is a very consistent quality to these stories, and the rotating cast of characters and locales helps keep things quite fresh. Some of my personal favourites include Surgery, Ten Minutes, and The Thanksgiving Spirit of 1949. I don't think you'll ever find a more quietly engaging and rewarding Spirit story than The Embezzler, and Eisner's skiing panels in Winter Haven are great retro fun - very stylish. Stephen Weiner's essay on Eisner's post-Spirit work serves as a good introduction to those looking to learn more about the man's work. As far as reproduction, this is about as good as any of the DC volumes - as the colors are not as garish as they've been from time to time. I still find the cover prices a bit high for these books - but if you're ever going to pay full retail for a volume of the Spirit Archives, make it this one. Trade Mark: A

Monday, April 20, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Brave and the Bold #165

This one ranks right up there as one of my all-time favourite comic books. First of all, you get a double dose of classic Batman artists. On the cover, Jim Aparo delivers a very dramatic scene that simply dares the reader not to pick it up. On the inside, we get wonderful work by Don Newton. His atmospheric work really lends itself to a Man-Bat story. Man-Bat has always appealed to me, even as a young child. He could have been just another gimmicky DC super-villain, but the editors of the various Bat-titles ensured that he was injected with just the right mixture of danger and pathos to make him stand out from the rest. He is a tragic figure, in the mold of the Frankenstein monster - although he is also the creator. This is a great, great tale - written by Martin Pasko. It delves into medical ethics and the lengths to which parents will go for their child (something I am just beginning to appreciate). Batman is once again forced to walk to fine line of helping the Langstrom family while protecting Gotham from Man-Bat. From the opening sequence featuring a truck chase to the highly poignant and ironic closing frames - this story flows beautifully and holds up well 30 years later.

Friday, April 17, 2009

You've Been Warned: Superman #379

I wanted to love this comic. I really, really did. I mean, who doesn't love a Bizarro story? And if you heard that Bizarro Aquaman, Bizarro Hawkman, Bizarro Flash and Bizarro Yellow Lantern were all to be introduced, you'd be pretty stoked, right? The problem is that from the awkward Andru/Giordano cover to the very final panel, this books fails to live up to its potential. The concept is fine - Bizarro #1 enlists Superman's help to save Bizarro World. The problems are twofold. First, Cary Bates' script is lacking the humour that makes a Bizarro story to work in the first place. I hear the words 'Bizarro Aquaman' and a thousand good gags spring to mind. Instead of milking that material, Bates decides to kill them all off right away to advance the plot. I'm still scratching my head over that one. Secondly, I really didn't like the Swan/Hunt art in here. Sure, Supes looks super but the Bizarro was simply too human looking - he simply looked like a pale faced Superman in a wig. There was so much potential here, and yet it left me feeling utterly disappointed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Marvel Movie Spotlight Featuring Raiders of the Lost Ark

Remember the good old days, when movies were in theatres for a long, long time? I'm not sure when this book hit the spinner racks, but I read it (not the 3 individual issues) prior to my parents taking me and my sister to see Indy's first adventure. I would have been 8 turning 9 that summer, and I've got to admit that this comic really freaked me out. I was one of those kids who liked scary movies, but always watched them with one foot pointing towards the door. Seeing some of the more gruesome scenes (like Satipo's skewering and the melting heads in the final act) prior to the movie really increased my anxiety to the point where I was pretty damned freaked out heading off to the theatre. I survived and the movie became one of my all-time faves. I'm not sure whatever happened to my copy of the comic (probably lent it to someone), but it certainly played a big part of my childhood.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Comic Book Robot of the Month: The Robot Cop of Gotham City

Here he is, the original Robocop. The Robot Cop of Gotham City was the cover story to Batman #70 (April-May, 1952) and has really stood the test of time as one of the most entertaining Batman adventures from that wacky decade known as the 50s. The is a wonderfully designed cover by Win Mortimer. One of these days, either here or at Comics Should Be Good, I'll do a feature on Win Mortimer covers. He really was the go to buy at DC in the late 40s and early 50s. But I digress... In 1952, automation was the wave of the future and the Robot Cop (who shares more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Thompson's Robotman, especially the skirt) serves as a symbol of both of Batman's impending obsolescence and of his mortality. Luckily, this was the 50s - so everything worked out in the end. Batman and Robin asserted their relevance by proving that nothing fights crime like a mixture of brains, brawn with a 'Can Do' attitude. Still, that hat looks great on the Robot Cop.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Jungle Jim #22

When you think of Steve Ditko, Jungle Jim isn't necessarily the first strip that comes to mind. I, for one, always like seeing sturdy Steve working in different genres and locales - so I was thrilled to discover that he'd worked on this short-lived Charlton series. Although many of the 'first' Charlton issues of King Syndicated characters during this period were actually leftover King Comics inventory, I do not believe that to be the case here - although some of the stories may have been inventory. The cover is just a reprint of a panel drawing (a trick Charlton used more than anyone else), but it's wonderfully composed and I'll bet you can guess immediately who inked it. Need a hint? It rhymes with Hollywood. Those two gents go together so nicely that it's a shame they didn't collaborate more often. This is is definitely a must have for fans of both Mr. Ditko and Mr. Wood.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Happy Easter Everyone!

I hope that everyone has a peaceful and enjoyable holiday weekend, regardless of which occasion they are marking.

A warning to people of all faiths. Don't trust every bunny you meet. They don't all have candy.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Add It To My Want List: Blue Ribbon Digest #14

While browsing some on-line covers, I noticed this absolutely awesome Joe Kubert cover. Now, digests were pretty widely available when I was a kid but I don't think I ever saw half the digests that DC put out in the early 80s. This is certainly one I missed, as there is no way I would have passed up on a book about UFOs. I thought that was purely Gold Key's domain. It also isn't every day (or at least it wasn't back then) that you'd see a cover featuring someone burning to death. It's all reprints from the 50s and 60s, featuring stories by Fox, Binder and Broome and art by Infantino, Kane and Heath. I've seen a few of these stories in Super DC Giant #27, but I simply cannot pass up on the gorgeous little package. The hunt begins.

Trade Marks: The Golem's Mighty Swing

I thought that I'd absolutely love this book. I enjoyed it but it certainly didn't 'Wow' me the way I had expected. Perhaps I went in with overly high expectations, but I was underwhelmed. I love baseball, I love history and I love underdog stories - so this tale of a barnstorming Jewish baseball team seemed to be a perfect fit for me. I'm not sure what didn't work here. Sturm has a knack for dialogue and his art is clean and clutter free. Overall, I think that the story lacked cohesion - as it came across more as a series of vignettes than a single story. Character development was rushed to the degree that my heart just wasn't in it with them. It is by no means a bad book, and I'd certainly recommend it - especially to non-comic readers as it moves along nicely and is easy to follow. It simply came up a bit short for me. Trade Mark: B

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Reprint This! Charlton's Billy the Kid

Ok, maybe you don't need to reprint all 100+ issues, but let's at least get the issues with John Severin art back into circulation. Severin is a master of western storytelling, and these original issues can be a real pain to track down. Once we've reprinted all of the Severin stuff, we can move onto the cool looking Pete 'PAM' Morisi stories, as well as the Rocke stuff. This series featured some truly excellent artwork, and it's a shame that it has not been give the attention it deserves. If memory serves, I've seen at least one Dick Giordano drawn story inked by Al Williamson. Very nice. I think that an inexpensive black & white volume would work just fine, as Severin and Morisi would look just great (especially if some grey tones were added). Please reprint this, so I can stop searching for these books!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Hidden Gems: Masterworks Series of Great American Comic Book Artists #3

Another great dollar bin find. I don't know the entire back story to this series. These were nice, glossy Mando paper books published in 1983. I'm running on the assumption that Sea Gate was the distributor, perhaps undertaking to get these books into mainstream bookstores. The other two volumes from this series feature Frank Frazetta, so Berni's in very good company. I remember an advertisement for the Frazetta books stating that volumes by both Wrightson and Neal Adams were on the horizon - but obviously this whole enterprise fizzled out before too long. That's too bad, because I'm a sucker for inexpensive, high quality reprint books. This book features an interesting selection of early 70s horror work. As much as I love the Swamp Thing, it's nice to see something else reprinted. Two of the stories are from House of Mystery, and the other two are from Plop!, of all places. The Highlight for me is 'The Gourmet' from Plop! #1. The fine tale (featured on the cover) was written by Steve Skeates, and may be the best EC story published by a company other than EC. This is a great little book, and I highly recommend keeping an eye out for it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Turok, Son of Stone #121

This book was my first exposure to the world of Turok and Andar. I would have been about 6 and a half years old when it hit spinner racks, but I have a feeling it was purchased by my parents as part of a 3-Pack (Whitman?) during a camping trip near Lake Placid during the summer of '79. I think that I'd recently seen a Saturday matinee of Valley of the Gwangi at the local rep theatre, so I was totally cool with the whole 'Humans and Dinosaurs, Together At Last!' vibe. Of course, I didn't realize that this was a reprint from 1971. Nor did I realize just how difficult a time I would have finding other issues of Turok. Distribution of non-funny animal Gold Key books was very spotty in my neighbourhood. None of that matter much to me, as I was completely enthralled with this comic. From the gorgeous and dynamic cover to the fantastic Giolitti artwork inside. I was completely sold on Turok and Andar's quest to escape this crazy valley. My copy went missing years ago, but I'm sure it's at the bottom of a box somewhere and I look forward to the day that I stumble upon it.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Green Lantern/Green Arrow #87

Issues #76, 85 and 86 may be the most famous and infamous books from the legendary O'Neil/Adams/Giordano run on GL/GA, but for my money #87 is the best of the bunch. I re-read my copy last night, and I'm still very impressed by just how much they managed to pack into a single book. The introduction of John Stewart is handled very well. It's a bit ham-fisted at times, but I'm pretty impressed by how well they fleshed out his character in so few pages, and it was great to see a crime solved by mental power and not ring power. Ollie's classic 'What Can One Man Do?' story is truly one of the best stories of the 'relevant' era. It's a very impressive debut for Elliot S! Maggin. Finally, the reprint is a neat one - focusing on Abin Sur with a story from GL #16. The real treat that is lost when reading this book via reprint is the letters page. Letters re. issue #85 are starting to pour in, and it's fascinating to see the reaction to that book at the time. Perhaps DC should do one final Omnibus of the entire run with all letter included. I'd buy that, but for now his book has earned its place in the HOF.