Friday, February 26, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Amazing Spider-Man #28

To borrow a phrase from Nigel Tufnel: how much more black could this cover be? The answer is, indeed, none. None more black. I know that the search for a high grade copy of this book sends some collectors into a tizzy, but I'd like simply focus on the subtle brilliance of this cover. It must have blown people away when it hit the spinner racks back in '65. I just love the tone of gold chosen for Molten Man, and I really like how Spidey looks as though he belongs in a black light poster. The only real problem with this cover is the caption at the bottom as it is intrusive and does not fit with the otherwise elegant colour scheme. This is my 50th Ditko cover and I find myself at a crossroads. Do I move onto a new artist? Stick with Ditko? Switch to a monthly Ditko cover and also spotlight one or more more cover artists? Who? Kirby has been done a million times. I'd prefer someone with 30+ years of output. Gene Colan? Gil Kane? Ross Andru? I'd love to hear what you folks think.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sphinx Covers Pt. 3

Here's a third and final look at some fun Sphinx covers. I find it interesting just how many of these turned out to be DC covers:

The cover to Mystery in Space is one of those real head scratchers that DC produced in the 50s. At least they acknowledge the overall weirdness to Mystery in Space #26 (February March, 1957) by challenging the reader to solve the 'Secret of the Space Sphinx'. It is a well designed Gil Kane cover, given a light wash treatment by Jack Adler. The spacesuits are very reminiscent of Space Ranger's costume. There a lot of black here, so I imagine that this one is tough to track down in nice shape. This one does not quite fit into the category of 'Iconic DC Sci-Fi Covers of the 50s', but it sure is close.

The second Wonder Woman related entry is a real stunner. Wonder Woman #113 (April, 1960) is a great example of Ross Andru's masterful design. Even though it features a Sphinx shooting lasers out of its eyes, this one is actually fairly subtle as compared to other Wonder Woman covers from the 60s. I really like the shade of grey chosen for the Sphinx, as well as Wonder Woman's posture as she flees. This particular Sphinx is lucky to have its nose still intact. All of this lunacy and 'Wonder Girl's Birthday Party'? Who could ask for more in a comic book?

It's Joe Kubert turn at the plate, with the cover to Tarzan #237 (May, 1975). I'm no ERB expert, but my understand is that Tarzan's main domain was the jungles off the west coast of Africa. I have travelled through a handful of West African countries and don't recall seeing any Sphinxes or anything with an Egyptian vibe. I have not read this one, so let's assume the story (which is a cobbling together of Russ Manning newspaper strips) takes place in Egypt. This 'Stone Sphinx' looks like some sort of Golem-type creature, much smaller in stature than most of the Sphinxes we've seen on most of these covers. Something here just doesn't work for me. I think that it's the coloring job, as the Sphinx gets a bit lost in the blue-green background.

Recognize this cover to Strange Adventures #230 (May-June, 1971)? You should, because it is a reworking of the cover to Mystery in Space #36. Fans of DC sci-fi will be very familiar will the 're-imagining' of classic covers in this series, as well as From Beyond the Unknown. The great Murphy Anderson was handed this assignment more often than not, and he succeeded with flying colours here. The basic design is a xerox, but there are some nice tweaks. The rocket itself has been updated, and the spacesuits are much more in line with what NASA was issuing to the crew of the Apollo missions. The downside to many of these covers is that the art is squeezed out by the titles and side captions, but that was life in the early Bronze Age.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Comic Robot of the Month: The Cannibal Robot

I don't even know where to begin with this one. I can tell you that this issue begins with a rather unsubtle scene were the Metal Men are watching the Batman TV show. The Cannibal Robot is the creation of Dr. Yes, who just so happens to be (according to the caption on the splash page) the robot twin of Wonder Woman's enemy Egg Fu. Are you with me so far? I guess Robert Kanigher just could not leave well enough alone. In this one, Doc Magus reassembles a destroyed robot while simultaneously trashing Tina's self esteem. He runs into some snags, as the 'lobot' is still under the 'lemote control' of Dr. Yes. I kid you not - this racist phonetic spelling runs rampant through this book (to the point where Kanigher even translates at one point).

Doc is missing (he's trapped in the robot's mouth), so the Metal Men finish the job and have the giant robot take them out on the town. This sequence involves a nightclub with female dancers dressed as monkeys (I am not making this up). Eventually, they order the robot to take them to their leader. They arrive just in time for Dr. Yes' birthday celebration and wind up as candles in his cake. Dr. Yes 'blain washes' them and sends them back stateside to disrupt the I Am An American Day celebrations (is that still a holiday?). It turns out that the Metal Men's love for America is more powerful that Dr. Yes' programming and then take down the Cannibal Robot before his can cause any 'destluction'. This would be funny, if the racism were so brutal. It's tough to believe that this was approved by DC's editors in 1966, as I am pretty sure that even Chop Chop had been mostly updated by this point.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: 100-Page Super Spectacular #DC-14

Sure, that title may be a bit tough to remember, but jot it down because if you don't already own this book, you should track it down as soon as humanly possible. I bought this 100 pager from the back issue bins as a kid (circa 1980) and read it to pieces. I eventually had to buy a second copy. Why is this one so great? For, starters it features reprint of the Monk storyline from Detective Comics #31 and #32. It also reprints the first Atom story from Showcase #34, for those of you who don't have a few hundred dollars to spare. My favourite story in this issue? Truth be told, it's the Stretch Skinner origin story from the Wildcat entry - one of the most charming Golden Age tales I've ever read. Reed Crandall fans should not that this issue not only has a Crandall/Cudeira Blackhawk story, but also a Crandall drawn Doll Man story. There's also a very early (1942) Wonder Woman story, and a superb Dick Sprang drawn story from 1950 in which a new Batmobile is introduced. This book is a treasure trove for fans of classic comics. Did I mention the awesome Nick Cardy cover? It's a wraparound (with the remaining characters on the back). Perhaps someone can correct me if I'm wrong - but I believe the original version of this cover had Wonder Woman on the cover, but DC made a last minute change and went with Wildcat. I just love this book!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hidden Gems: Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #4

I had always been aware of the existence at this mid-80s take on the Tower Comics heroes, but I never really put any effort into tracking down any issues, as I assumed it would simply suffer by comparison to the original. How wrong I was! I picked up issue #4 from a dollar bin, captivate by the terrific George Perez cover. It reads like a true Tower Comics homage, with a variety of stories by a impressive collection of writer and artists. For starters, I had no clue that Ditko contributed to this series. He's a good fit for NoMan. Dann Thomas' take on Raven was a change in gears from the 60s, but I liked it - and as much as I love Manny Stallman, I must admit that Perez and Adkins make a pretty nice team. The most pleasant surprise for me was the Bierbaum's Lightning story, drawn with a nice abstract vibe by Keith Giffen. Superb stuff all around. I look forward to stumbling upon the rest of the series.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sphinx Covers Pt. 2

Here's another batch of Sphinx themed covers:

Let's start off with this rather dynamic cover to Action Comics #240 (May, 1958) . I love the fact that this Sphinx shoots krytonite lasers out of his eyes. The real downside to eradicating kryptonite from the Earth is eliminating stories such as this from Superman's repertoire. The real riddle here is how exactly did this Sphinx get Superman's face? Did Curt Swan travel back in time with chisel in hand? I assume this story was in the first Showcase Presents volume, but I don't remember it at all. I should track down my copy.

Here's a fantastic cover to Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery #44 (December, 1972). We've got a flesh and blood Sphinx here, rather than a mere statue, and it seems to be carrying this rather unfortunate fellow to his doom. After reading the cover blurb, I must admit that committing a murder and blaming it all on the Curse of Bashava does not actually seem all that easy, at least to me. I'll assume that this one is by Gold Key mainstay George Wilson. As a bonus, this issue has one of those toy catalog inserts. I love those!

I've always been a bit of a Larry Lieber apologist, so I point to this cover to Crypt of Shadows #14 (November, 1974) as evidence that the man could really draw. I'm actually not in love with the Sphinx itself, as it's merely so-so. What I really dig are the characters in the foreground, particular the guy on the ground. From his posture, you know with certainty that the dude is dead. This issue reprints a 1950 story from Marvel Tales #96, which sadly did not feature a sphinx on its cover. I also really love the pyramid and palm tree in the background.

The last one for today is this rather atmospheric (and yet still quite ridiculous) cover from Detective Comics #508 (November, 1981). It is a beautifully designed cover by Jim Aparo, that would also qualify as a Wolf Pack cover. These are some particularly menancing looking wolves. The face that he has drawn for the Sphinx is remarkable. I was buying a ton of Batman related books in 1981, but I have absolutely no memory of this particular book. The Pharaoh brings to mind the Aparo-drawn Phantom story from his Charlton days.

Next Up: More Wonder Woman, the Lord of the Apes, an

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Black History Month: Pre-Code Horror

Alvin (A.C.) Hollingsworth is a relatively unknown comic book artist, who worked steadily from 1945 to 1955. He was one of a handful of African American artists working in the comic book field during that period. I just did a short piece on his work at Comics Should Be Good, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to share one of my favourite stories, Green Grows the Grass from Eerie #10 (January, 1953). Stephen King fans may note similarities to the story Weeds, which was adapted for the Creepshow movie as The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.

I have always found this this tale to be particularly disturbing and gruesome.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sphinx Covers Pt. 1

Sphinx covers are so common that I am convinced that most cover artists are also amateur Egyptologists. Let's take a look at my initial batch:

For my money, this is the grandaddy of them all. The cover to House of Secrets #1 (Nov-Dec, 1956). It is an astonishing image; a giant head tearing the head off the Great Sphinx of Giza (great attention to detail!). This one was drawn by the talented Ruben Moreira, one of DC's great artists of the era. I really like how he used the figures in the foreground to provide a sense of scale. I've also always admired the colour choices on this cover. I really wish that the Showcase Presents volumes went back this far. A great one, all around.

A few years later, Marvel published Strange Tales #70 (August, 1959) featuring this terrific Sphink cover by Jack Kirby. It's another gem from the pre-hero era at Atlas/Marvel. That wonderful 'Atlas grey' tone is used to great effect here. I just love the way Kirby draws people fleeing from a monster. I do find the 'Strange Tales of Suspense' tag line to be a bit confusing, considering Tales of Suspense made its debut earlier in the year. Like many covers from this time period, I find the text on the cover to be quite intrusive, but that's life. I absolutely love the Kirby face on the Sphinx. Who inked this one? Dick Ayers?

Wonder Woman covers hit just about ever genre and sub genre, and this one is not exception. I find the cover to Sensation Comics #90 (June, 1949) to be particular amusing. Robert Kanigher kept up with a lot of nutty concepts over the years, but this one is ridiculous. Who put that giant padlock on the Human Sphinx? Where did Wonder Woman find that giant key? So many questions, so little time. I am certainly intrigued. The good news, is that this is not the only Sphinx cover in the Wonder Woman oeuvre. We'll see another one next time out.

The last one for today is this rather striking cover from Weird War Tales #98 (April, 1981) by Ross Andru and Romeo Tanghal. This one has a lot in common with the Kirby cover. There are a couple of things that I really love about this cover. First, I dig the way the word 'Sphinx' is letter so that it look as thought it was built of brick. Second, I like how the Nazi with the binoculars is just starting to notice the giant behind him. The story is your typically crazy WWT tale set in the desert during Word War Two. I like this one quite a bit, but I wish they'd pulled the 'camera' back a little bit so that we got more Sphinx and less of the sole of his foot.

We're heading into a long weekend here, but I'll be back next week with more Sphinx covers.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

You've Been Warned: Catwoman #15

This will likely piss off those of you who have Ed Brubaker on a pedestal, but I really, really did not like this book. Granted, I don't really know much about this series and only got this by virtue of a '5 for $1' grab bag, but it has not inspired me to track down the rest of the series. I like lots of Brubaker's work and Cameron Stewart is a talented artist and I find his overall aesthetic to be quite appealing. The thing is, there was a overarching sense of cruelty and vileness in this story. I like my 'grim and gritty' just fine thank you, but some of the sequences herein bordered on torture porn. I appreciate someone who can hold back a bit while telling a tough and disturbing story. I've seen that type of subtlety in Brubaker's work elsewhere, but it was complete absent in this one. I almost felt like re-reading Selina's Big Score to cleanse the palate.

Friday, February 05, 2010

For Zombie Lovers: Sword of the Atom Special #3

This is a strange, strange book. It was released years after the Sword of the Atom miniseries and Specials, and it features Pat Broderick pencils rather than Atom mainstay Gil Kane. It is also standalone story with only a tenuous connection to what has gone on before. All of that being said, this is a very entertaining book that should be of particular interests to fans of the zombie genre. This story involves a village suffering from a mysterious ailment. Citizens are dying of a horrible fever. The problem is that they don't exactly stay dead. I know that zombie stories are everywhere these days, but they were relatively few and far between in 1988. There is some truly creepy gore here and some nice suspense as Ray and his lady friend, Princess Laetwen attempt to escape. One scene in particular got deep under my skin. It involves a couple mourning their dead child, and it really brought to mind that little girl from Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Good, ghoulish stuff.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Charlton Notebook: Haunted #18

This is a great, great comic that serves as an example of what Charlton could be when it was firing on all cylinders. We start off with a cool sci-fi monster cover by Joe Staton. This segues nicely to The Survivor, a space-based morality play by Steve Ditko. This is one of the best space stories I've read, from any company. So good, in fact, that I would not be surprised if it was swiped from EC. This middle story is another cautionary tale, this one with lovely Wayne Howard artwork. It involved a man seeking eternal life by constantly upgrading his body with artificial parts. Apparently, that's not a great idea. Finally, we sign off with Film Freak, a strange a superb story by the Staton/Cuti team. Imagine a mirror image of Purple Rose of Cairo, replace Jeff Daniels with a space monster and you've got a sense of what this one's all about. All in all, this issue featured entertaining tales and fantastic artwork, and it should please just about anyone.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Trade Marks: Showcase Presents Bat Lash

If you go waaaay back through my 'Reprint This!' archives, you'll note that this was one of the very first titles I asked to be collected. A very, very fine gentleman from Kansas City was kind enough to send me this book as part of a spectacular care package (Thanks Mickey!). I dove right in, as I had sold my original copies a while back and had missed Mr. Lash a great deal. The good news is that the stories are as entertaining as ever, and artwork holds up very well in black and white, especially the early Cardy stuff and the Dan Spiegle drawn stories. I am delighted that they chose to include some stories from the 70s and early 80s, but I feel as though DC really missed an opportunity to for a perfect grade by omitting the two-part story arc with Scalphunter from Weird Western Tales (#45 and #46, to be specific). Still, this volume is a bargain to behold as you will have a difficult time finding a book with a higher 'Fun per Page' ratio. A true classic. Trade Mark: A-