Thursday, January 28, 2010

Add It To My Want List: Creepy #74

Reed Crandall's story gets a bit sad towards the end, and I may write about it one day either here or over at Comics Should Be Good. I've read that many people are lukewarm on his work in the 60s and into the 70s. Perhaps the booze was impacting his work, I don't know exactly. For the most part, I still love what I've seen and this issue of Creepy collects of of Crandall's Warren work. I know I've seen a bit of it already, but I would absolutely love to have it all in one place. The story that comes to mind immediately is Archie Goodwin's adaptation of Poe's Cask of Amontillado. Crandall's work is very detailed as he builds up the panels brick by brick (literally). I know of one story that is omitted, Mark of the Phoenix from Creepy #47, but hopefully this truly represents the best of his Warren work. That issue (#47) included a bio of Crandall, and I find it a bit off that it was not included in this volume. Still, a half dozen Goodwin/Crandall stories would be pretty sweet to to my black and white magazine collection.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I Loves Me Some Machine Man (1984)

I had heard some praise from people I hold in high regard for the four issue miniseries from 1984. I could not resist picking it up last week when I spotted for $1 an issue. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but the talent involved (Tom DeFalco, Herb Trimpe and Barry Windsor-Smith) was strong - so it was definitely worth a look. Wow, was I ever pleasantly surprised. This was a very engaging read - set a well constructed dystopian near future of 2020. This was the era of Blade Runner, Mad Max and a million cheap Italian post-Apocalyptic movies so everyone had a 'vision' of what the future would hold, and it was usually quite bleak. DeFalco's vision of the future is not revolutionary, but it is well formed and his future feels 'lived in', which is the key to authenticity.

Right off the bat, the concept of Machine Man as relic rather than as a piece of cutting edge technology is very clever. The characters are very colorful without being annoying, and the corporate conspiracy storyline holds up quite well today. That's what struck me the most, actually. The entire thing seems quite fresh. So many books from the Big Two published during the 80s, especially Marvel 'event' books, have aged terribly. This one seems like it could have been published last year. I don't know where this fits into actual Machine Man continuity and I don't really care, as it works great as a standalone piece. The artwork is gorgeous through, and I really love the fact that Trimpe and Winsor-Smith seemed to be paying tribute to Kirby with those flying motorbikes. I see that this was published as a trade a couple of times, but my guess is that it would be easier to track down the actual floppies. Thanks to all who recommended this series to me, I enjoyed it immensely.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Shade, the Changing Man #1

This is probably one of Ditko's top 5 covers of the 70s. I always associate it with that terrific house ad for Shade that ran in DC's books around this time. It is a very intriguing concept, and Ditko's artwork really adds a sense of mystery. The main figure is such a powerful image that it takes a while to note all of the other things going on here. Those vignettes off to the left side are strange, and I wonder if they were added at a later date. The warped buildings are especially terrific and they really bring to mind the Byrne/Austin cover to Uncanny X-Men #128 right down to the use of green. In my opinion, this cover should have been dialogue-free, as the picture truly speaks for itself. A great one.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Captain Midnight #64

Captain Midnight is often overlooked when great Golden Age comics are discussed. Perhaps that is because the Marvels truly ruled Fawcett, or because he never really fit neatly into a specific genre. Whatever the case may be, there are a lot of great Captain Midnight stories and this issue features a couple of true classics. The first tale, Beyond the Sun is a wonderfully fun and funny story involving a trip to Saturn and an encounter with its evil (and ugly) ruler, Xog. Captain Midnight went to outer space a great deal in his later years, allowing for some truly inventive stories. Len Frank's artwork is far from gorgeous, but his creature designs are superb and grotesque. Cap's escape plan is brilliant, but Xog survived and would seek his revenge against Earth in the very next issue.

The second and final story (this was the 36 page era) is also a lot of fun with the evil Dr. Osmosis using a 'Chameleon Oil' to impersonate Captain Midnight. He uses Cap's popularity in an attempt to overthrow the U.S. Government. Again, Frank's art is serviceable at best but the sheer lunacy of the story makes this a terrific story. Captain Midnight is a very affordable title as compared to many of its contemporaries, so I highly recommend tracking down at least one issue. The post-war issues with sci-fi themes are particularly enjoyable. I've read a good number of these books, but none put as big a smile on my face as this fantastically fun issue, making it is a worthy member of the Hall of Fame.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Superman #338

Do you remember the days when 50% of all Superman stories had to do with the imminent destruction of Kandor? I'm very nostalgic for those years. I was never the world's biggest Superman fan, as I always preferred to supporting cast. The good news is that Len Wein manages to squeeze just about everyone into this story and makes it quite entertaining. This must have been one of my earliest exposures to Supergirl, and I remembering thinking that she was Supes' sister. Brainiac is the villain of the piece and he's been a personal favourite since back then. I likely bought this one based on the full pages ads that were omnipresent in DC comics at the time. It really seemed like this issue was going to be momentous. Well, it was a fun story, but not exactly Earth shattering. I do recall a fantastic two-page spread of Kandor. At the time, I was only 7 years old, so there is no way I truly appreciated Curt Swan's artistry. I'm still not a huge Superman fan, but I'd love to stumble upon this book in a dollar bin, as mine was lost a long time ago.

Cheap Grapes: Gerard Bertrand Montpeyroux 2007

This is not a bargain basement wine (it is just under $18 here in Ontario), but I think it tastes like a $30 wine. 2007 seems to be shaping up as a stellar year for French wine, and while while the wealthy can brag about their $500 bottles flown in from Bordeaux, the rest of us can benefit from the trickle down effect. Montpeyroux is a commune within the Coteaux-Languedoc appellation, in southwest France. My wife and I spent some time in Corbieres and Minervois a few years ago and were simply blown away by the quality of the wine, much of which never makes it across the Atlantic. I am happy to report that the same can be said for Montpeyroux. This one is a blench of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan and Grenache, and while it is medium bodied, there is a real depth to it. I got some hints of cherry and blackberry; a nice bittersweet taste that it cemented by a real earthiness in its bones. It is complex enough to be interesting on its own, but I really think it has a high enough 'fruit juice factor' to please a diverse crowd.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hidden Gems: Strange Stories #1

I found this book in a '5 for $1' bundle as an LCS last week. Avalon Communications seems to be the Canadian equivalent of Bill Black's AC Comics. They seem to have published a ton of reprint titles between 1997 and 2002, featuring loads of reprints from publishers such as Charlton and American Comics Group. I am sure someone out there knows the complete history of this company, but I will freely admit that they, and all of their books passed me by completely. To be honest, I don't know that I would have paid $3 for a slim volume of black and white reprints, but it was tough to pass up for a a fraction of a Loonie. This volume includes a fun Magicman tale with a solid appearance by Fidel Castro and a fairly standard story involving a soldier trying to make amends for cowardice. The real treat here is the John Force, Magic Agent tale entitled Cute as a Button, in which the 'Tattooed One' meets a baby while while investigating a series of terrorist bombings. The baby has a rather intriguing secret, with shades of 'The Unholy Three'. Also, there's a brief Hitler cameo. As a sampler of the type of stories ACG was publishing in the 60s, you really can't go wrong if you find a cheap copy of this book.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reprint This! The Outer Limits

I understand that there may not be hundreds of thousands of people clamoring for this series, as I believe it features 100% Jack Sparling art. There are those of us, however, whom see the charm in Mr. Sparling's artwork and feel that there is always room for more sci-fi and UFO books on our shelves. It would be great if someone rescue this title from licensing purgatory and give it a proper TPB treatment. I imagine that Paul S. Newman wrote a good chunk of these stories, so those would be fun and well crafted. The first 11 issues feature a single 32 page story; quite a novel idea for a sci-fi series at the time. The remaining issues took on a more traditional anthology approach. Even if the comic book series pales is comparison to the TV show, it would still make for a very entertaining book to put up on my shelf. I am always ready to accept more monsters and aliens into my world. Dark Horse, I'm looking at you to make this one happen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Exit Stage Left: Superman Family #222

This one really represents the end of an era, as it serves as the swansong of both the Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen titles. In addition, this was one of the last anthology series published by DC. It many ways, it is amazing that Superman Family hung on as long as it did - as it seems to be steeped in Silver Age traditions. On the other hand, it was always a very entertaining titles with artwork by some industry stalwarts, such as Bob Oksner and Win Mortimer, that were not getting much work elsewhere. It is too bad that DC didn't take the opportunity to commission a special cover commemorating this final issue, featuring of of the title's stars. I do like this cover, though, as Frank Giacoia is a decent inker for Gil Kane. Inside, we've got the typical short but sturdy stories. Mr. and Mrs. Superman was always my favourite strip, and I'd be interested in hearing whether it every appeared in any way, shape or form. Supergirl fans would not have to mourn for very long, however, as the Daring Adventures of Supergirl were just around the corner.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Comic Book Robot of the Month: The Iron Brain

You've got to love Richard W. Hughes and the fine folks and American Comics Group. They know how to tell a story you've heard a thousand times and still make it entertaining. The "Iron Brain" from Forbidden Worlds #71 (October, 1958) breaks no new ground as it is another take on the Adam Link story. In true ACG fashion, the design of this particular robot is straight out of a 6 year old's sketchbook. He's bulky and boxy with goofy eyes and superfluous red light atop his head. If mankind is so concerned with its safety, why do they always build such large robots?

In this story, we have a robot who begins to think for himself and the resulting ramifications. I really like the fact that he first shows some artificial intelligence via a sense of humour. After being asked to perform a series of simple tasks, he mocks a man who asks him "What's two plus two?". This worries his creators who begs the robot to behave. Ultimately, he craves more freedom and wishes to interact with mankind on an equal footing. If you've read this type of story before, you know very well that things do not end well. It's great stuff, and a fine example of a fun 50s robot story.

Quick DVD Reviews

The Wind that Shakes the Barley
I am not surprised that this one won the Palm D’Or in 2006, as it is a rather gorgeous piece of historical film making. There’s also a good amount of raw emotion and rather shocking violence that really pulls in the viewer. It also features some very strong performances, anchored by the remarkable Cillian Murphy. All of that being said, it is far from perfect as the narrative tends to meander and one gets the sense that Ken Loach was not sure when and where to wrap things up. Grade: B+

The Station Agent
For one reason or another, I never got around to watching this well regarded 2003 film. It is nice to have movies like this around, for those days when I’m staring blankly at the New Releases shelf at my local video store. It is the tale of three very lonely people, and the three different ways they deal with their loneliness. I hate to use the word ‘bittersweet’, but it is really appropriate here. All of the players are fantastic, but Bobby Cannavale absolutely steals the show as the unbelievably upbeat, Joe. Thomas McCarthy is a writer and director with undeniable talent and I imagine he’s got a dozen more great films in him. Grade: A-

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
This 1974 Sam Peckinpah film recently did the podcast circuit and received nearly universal praise. Perhaps I went in with far too high expectations, but I came away quiet disappointed. The film is very deliberately paced, and I am normally fine with that it is just that the transition from the lulls to the action set pieces is often quite jarring. Warren Oates’ performance is also a bit inconsistent – as he seems to be sleepwalking through much of the middle chapter. The final 10 minutes owes a bit too much to both the Wild Bunch and Bonnie and Clyde for my liking. Again, if I had seen this without the baggage of critical praise, I may feel differently but I was never sufficiently engaged with any of the characters. Grade: B-

Away We Go
The leads and supporting cast are quite strong, and many of the scenes are quite touching and/or funny but this movie is far less than the sum of its parts. I do have a tough time accepting that this couple was in such a state of arrested development. Sure, parenthood can sneak up on us, but it almost seemed like these two were teenagers. The scenes set in Montreal and Miami were particularly strong, but there was far too much filler and I think that Sam Mendes & Co. are still wandering North America trying to determine what type of movie they were try to make. Enjoyable buy disposable. Grade: B-

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Reading Pile: December, 1981 Pt. 2

Here's a rundown of the DC books I bought that month:

Batman #345 was a great book, I still have my copy and it is not in bad shape considering how many times I read and re-read this one. I don't think that I had much exposure to Gene Colan prior to this book (Night Force perhaps?) and I really dug it. This is a very engaging story by Gerry Conway, and Dr. Death comes across as a particularly sinister bad guy. The back-up Catwoman story was also superb. I was nuts for Batman as a kid (still am), and this book was one of the reasons.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #1. This book was definitely unlike anything else on the spinner rack that month, and although I wasn't typically much of a funny animal fan, I could not pass it up. I'm certain that a good number of the jokes and references sailed way over my head, but I really enjoyed it. I even remember taking it away with me on a family vacation. I lost my copy to the sands of time, but have since picked up a good chunk of the series in bargain bins, as I think it will make a great entry point to comics for my kids.

I don't think that I full appreciated the awesomeness of Justice League of America #200 at the time. Sure, I loved anniversary issues because they were, more often than not, giant sized but I really was not tracking creators as a 9 year old so did not realize that a Hall of Fame calibre line-up was at work on this book. Looking back, Gerry Conway's story is not spectacular, but it serves its purpose. Each chapter has its own look as the baton is passed from Aparo to Kane to Bolland etc... I only wish that they'd been able to bring Mike Sekowsky in to contribute. I still have my copy and it's in remarkable shape considering how many times I've read it.

As a child, I only bought horror comics on an intermittent basis. My parents never really censored anything, but they'd likely steer me away from something if they thought it would result in nightmares. Based on the cover alone, there was certainly could no way that I could pass up on Unexpected #220. I wrote about this one a couple of years back as a Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby segment, and it remains one of my favourite Christmas-themed comics. Each of the four stories is entertaining and very charming, each with its own mood and atmosphere. It is too bad that this series wasn't long for the comic book world, because they were still doing great horror work at DC.
Looking back, I find it odd that I did not either Brave and the Bold or New Teen Titans that month, as both were regular purchases for me. I had also apparently turned my back on both Gold Key/Whitman and Charlton at this stage but, then again, do did everyone else.

My Reading Pile: December, 1981 Pt.1

Here's another installment of my semi-regular look at what I was reading at various points of my life. This time, I'll be looking at books that were on spinner racks in December, 1981. I would have just turned 9 years old, and was liking wondering what Star Wars stuff I'd get for Christmas. Here's what I read from Marvel that month:

The Spidey reprint saga was rebooted with Marvel Tales #137, and I remember reading this one over and over again. I don't think it was my first exposure to the Ditko Spider-Man, but I can't quite pinpoint where I would have seen it otherwise. Obviously, it's an awesome story - but this book gets extra points for the unpublished cover to Amazing Fantasy #15 and including Dr. Strange's first appearance from Strange Tales #110. I still have this one.

Ghost Rider #66 is a bit of a weird one. I was reading a lot of Ghost Rider during this period, and a lot of the stories were quite strong and memorable. I do not, however, remember a single thing about this story. When I skimmed over an on-line cover gallery, I recognized it immediately, but I have no recollection of the Wind Witch. She was probably as lame as the Weathermen in the Avengers. I don't remember what happen to this book, but I don't seem to have any of my Ghost Riders from back then.

I missed a lot of great series during their initial publication, but I was definitely on the Daredevil bandwagon from a fairly early stage. Daredevil #181 came out this month, and it was probably the most intense comic book I had read up to that point. I'm not actually a huge Elektra fan, and was not really invested in her relationship with Matt (what can I say? I was 9), but it was still pretty mind blowing to see someone killed. To be honest, I likely a lot of the post-Elektra stuff better than the stuff leading up to this issue. I've still got this one, along with all of the other Miller issues.

In the regular Spideyverse, Felecia Hardy was around and confusing me. I always had trouble with the love/hate relationship with the female villains (same goes for Catwoman). It's really not fair for comic book companies to send such confusing signals to young boys. I still think pretty highly of this stretch of issues, and Amazing Spider-Man #226 is no exception. I recently sold a bunch of mine and surprised by how much interest they generated. I was also surprised that I was able to keep them in such nice shape for 25+ years.

While I was still reading Master of Kung-Fu, Avengers and Power Man and Iron Fist on a fairly regular basis at this time - I did not pick them up this particular month. I also completely missed the boat on Marvel Fanfare and Byrne' Fantastic Four (only read an issue or two) and I think I'd stopped buying X-Men.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Strange Suspense Stories #33

While The Menace of the Maple Leaves may not sound like the most suspenseful premise, it certainly is strage. Steve Ditko manages to make the best of the material and turn in this very nice cover to Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August, 1957). Sure, these look more like oak leaves than maple leaves, but who really cares? The lighting effects are superb, with the shadow and illuminated brick. Ditko was really beginning to master his craft during this stretch, and his covers for Charlton are quite remarkable. I also really like how the leaves wind their way through the title logo. I would really love to see the original art to see if stats of the leaves were simply glued onto the cover. Ditko was signing his cover at this point, and his signature appears on the man's briefcase. This is a nice little gem - very stylish, and not a comic I've seen for sale very often.

Monday, January 11, 2010

You've Been Warned: Detective Comics #673

I love Batman. I can read just about anything Bat-related, but there was a stretch of time during the 90s when my faith wavered. It can be difficult for me to revisit those days. With Detective Comics #673 we are right in the middle of Knightquest. I fully admit thant I am no fan of the Az-Bat, as he looks like some kind of Batman/Shogun Warrior hybrid. The is the final chapter of a very weak Joker story set against a movie set backdrop. Chuck Dixon is playing in Mark Evanier's sandbox here and he is not up to the task. Graham Nolan does his best to bring tired sight gags to life, but it just does not work. The Joker was overused in the years following that first Tim Burton movie, and this overexposure really takes away from the impact of the character. The main problem for me, however, is that Az-Bat is written is such a grim and gritty way that Dixon sets up an unintended paroady. Here's a bit of Jean-Paul's inner monologue: "The Joker is Wayne's intellectual opposite. Chaos in place of order. Nonsense in place of deliberate action. The ardent versus the frivolous. No wonder that they are arch-enemies". Seriously?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Skiing Covers

I love to ski. I spent many years of my life racing or searching out the steep and deep. These days, I spend most of my time on the bunny hill, skiing backwards trying to keep my four year old son upright. Skiing has proven to be quite a popular theme for comic book covers over the years. Here are a few of the more unusual skiing covers that I have come across:

I love this cover from Blue Beetle #28 (December, 1943) because it shows just how much confidence is running through Dan Garrett's veins. One rifle against 3 tanks? I like those odds. I am not sure who drew this particular cover, but it is quite stylish - particularly as compared to some of the other Blue Beetle covers from this period. The bindings on his skis are much more advanced than one normally sees on superhero skis (see Batman's skiing adventures in the early 80s). Assuming there are no chair lifts in sight, this may be the first appearance of heli-skiing in comics.

Here's a pretty dramatic cover from Daredevil #23 (April, 1944) from Charles Biro. Daredevil seems to be in pretty deep trouble, but it looks as though the Little Wise Guys on are their way to rescue him. How did those guys learn to ski? I imagine working class kids did not get many opportunities to hit the slopes in the early 40s, but I could be wrong. Daredevil's bindings are far less advanced than Blue Beetle's, and to tell you the truth, I haven't a clue how someone could carve a turn with those. Sadly, I don't think DD's Marvel counterpart has ever been featured on a skiing cover.

Here is one of my absolute favourites: Lovers #31 (January, 1951). According to Nick Caputo at Atlas Tales, this cover may have been drawn by Christopher Rule, and I am not going to dispute that. I love the action! I love the drama! It is probably not a good idea to get into a lover's spat at the top of a mountain. I imagine that ski poles were seen as a fashion accessory in the early 50s, as neither of these two are gripping their poles. I also cannot believe that Sally isn't wearing goggles, or at least that welding visor that her (ex?) boyfriend is wearing. I also cannot believe that this guy chose to use the word 'precipice' in the middle of a ski chase, rather than simply 'cliff'. Probably an Ivy League stiff; Sally is better off without him.

Say goodbye to your hat, Don! The cover to Don Winslow of the Navy #31 (December, 1946) is a lot of fun. I'm no avalanche expert, but I don't think they typically come in the shape of a perfectly formed giant snowball. At least Don seems to be putting his poles to good use. I don't know who was responsible for the Don Winslow covers during this period, but they are quite stylish. I don't think it's Bud Thompson or Marc Swayze, but they certain have that polished Fawcett house look. It strikes me as odd that so many of Don Winslow's adventures take place on land.

I'll sign off with this rather funny cover from Straight Arrow #47 (July, 1955). I just can't get over the fact that Straight Arrow's plan is to jump the chasm, grab the child at the midway point and land safely on the other side. His confidence rivals that of Blue Beetle. I'm also not sure how he managed to strap on his skis, make it down the hill we see in the distance and jump the chasm in the same amount of time it took this kid to fall out of the tree. I don't know much about Fred Meagher, but he did draw some very entertaining covers. I have only just noticed how Magazine Enterprises had the comic's title running down the spine. I guess this helped readers spot in on the shelves if it was partially blocked by other books.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Trade Marks: Will Eisner's the Spirit Vol. 2

I'm very surprised to be writing the following words: I did not think much of this book. After a terrific launch to this new series, I feel that this second collection represents a significant drop in quality. I think it may be a matter of too many cooks spoiling the brother, as there a lot of guest creators at work here on the various 'Specials'. The Kyle Baker written and drawn Hard Cell just didn't work for me, as I found both the visuals and the narrative far too opaque. I have nothing good to say about Gail Simone's Cold Deaths of the Icicle Heart, especially since it was a waste of the talents of the Hester/Parks team. For the most part, the stories by the team of Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone are strong. I liked the El Morte two-parter quite a bit, but the Death by Television story was a ham-fisted attempt at satire. Overall, it's a pretty hit and miss affair and a big step down from Volume One. I read quite a few of the Aragones/Evanier issues in floppy format so I already know the next volume will be an improvement. Overall Grade: B-

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

500th Post

My 'Dashboard' tells me that this is my 500th post. In some ways, that doesn't seem like a very significant number, as I am sure that some bloggers are onto their 50,000th post (time to log off and go for a walk). In other ways, I started this as a lark - not really knowing what to do or say. Over time, I discovered that sitting down and writing about various issues is a pretty good mental exercise for me. In terms of comics, I have actually been able to look at them with a much more critical eye - since I am forced to put my feelings into actual words. The process of trying to come up with new topics and themes has also given me an even greater appreciate of the scope and depth of the comic book world. In addition, I think I love Steve Ditko even more than I did 500 posts ago.

Sadly, finances have forced me to become a net seller rather than a net purchaser in the past few years, but that's all part of the process. I am still holding onto the things I love the most, and I am lucky to live in a time when so many old stories are being collected on a regular basis. To those of you who stop by here on a regular or semi-regular basis - I thank you. My stat counter tells me that daily readership has increased more than tenfold over the last two years, so that's pretty cool. I had more visits last month than I had in my first year and a half. If you have any tips or suggestions - I'm all ears, as the dialogue/comments are what I enjoy the most about this blog.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Savage Sword of Conan #64

This magazine may have been my very first exposure to Conan, the Barbarian and it completely blew my 9 year old mind. I've read it again several times over the years, and it never fails to satisfy. I sat down last month and tried to look at it with completely new eyes, stripping away all of the nostalgia that I've built up. You know what? It is still awesome. The main story "The Children of Rhan" is fantastic. Written by Bruce Jones and beautifully drawn by the Buscema/Chan team - it is a very engaging and very suspenseful tales. Jones manages to mix some heartwarming moments with shocking horror. The back-up "Devil's Bait", isn't nearly as strong (how could it be?), but it is 100% Gil Kane, and that's never a bad thing. This particular issues is also notable because it features a number of pin-ups drawn by non other than Alex Toth. The more I think about it, I realize that this may have also been my first exposure to Alex Toth (Saturday mornings aside). This is a fantastic issue, and I'm happy to induct it into the Hall of Fame.