Thursday, July 29, 2010

You've Been Warned: Secrets of the Haunted House #39

I’m normally quite forgiving when it comes to Bronze Age horror anthologies, as I know that I can usually just count on each issue containing at least one decent story. This one is weak from cover to cover. First, let me say that I find the ‘host’ of this series, Destiny, to be too intrusive and lacks the black humour that gives Cain and Abel their charm. The first story is a slow moving tale about an amnesiac vampire, it feels like a Charlton romance for the first 5 pages or so before ramping far too quickly for the climax. The middle tale has promise, with nice Dan Spiegle art – but the Mr. E story about evil wolves haunting a town is far too tame. Finally, we get a morality tale that is a fresh take on the Midas touch. This one ain’t bad, as it has a pretty gruesome conclusion but it is completely ruined by an unnecessary framing sequence on the opening page. It does not tie into the story at all – very weird. Reading this, I got the sense that this was a series simply spinning its wheels towards cancellation. Uninspired on every level.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Trade Marks: Sweet Tooth - Out of the Woods

Jeff Lemire has had the Midas touch over the past few years, and it continues with sweet tooth. I picked up the first issue for a buck last year, but didn't have the time or energy to keep up with it as a monthly. A local store had a copy of this trade for five bucks, so I scooped it up. One of Lemire's greatest talents is his ability to create a very convincing reality. We are introduced to Sweet Tooth and his world in a manner that leaves many unanswered questions. The real joy is the process of piecing together the puzzle. We are immediately drawn to the innocent protagonist, and fear for his well being due to the sense of impending doom that Lemire infuses into the atmosphere. Certain elements seem to be a bit derivative of Walking Dead, but the questions surrounding the mutant children will keep me coming back for more. Trade Mark: B+

Friday, July 23, 2010

Yankee Doodle Covers

There are plenty of covers paying tribute to Archibald MacNeal Willard's Spirit of '76 (aka Yankee Doodle) painting. Here's a look at a few of my favourite funnybook fife and drum trios:

One of my favourite covers from this subgenre is Irv Novick's wonderfully realized cover to Shield-Wizard Comics #1 (Summer, 1940). I like how Novick makes a connection between the superheroes and the Spirit of 1776. The fife and drum trio is placed in the foreground with great subtlety, that you almost don't notice them at first. Of course, the US was still a year and a half from entering the war but at least one of these stories involves Nazi spies. This is certainly one of the most iconic MLJ covers.

The cover to Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #58 (July, 1945) was drawn by the great Walt Kelly of Pogo fame. This one is a nice historical artifact, as it features a letter asking for support via war bonds signed by the likes of Eisenhower and MacArthur. I like the fact that Dopey was included in this particular trio as he looks delighted to be marching along with Donald and Mickey. I wonder who else was a candidate for inclusion. It is also the rare tribute cover that features the flutist (or is it a piccolo?) in the middle.

At first glance, the cover to The Funnies #64 from 1942 seems to feature good clean fun with characters such as Oswald the Rabbit and Peter Panda. Upon closer inspection, you will notice the black face character Lil' Eight Ball. Not exactly the most politically correct character in comic book history. There also something a bit odd about bombers flying over a bunch of funny animal characters. This was actually the final issue of this series. I find that rather odd as I assume it was selling as well as any other Dell book. I noticed that a G/VG copy had sold for more than $400, and I was shocked until I discovered that it features the first appearance of Wood Woodpecker.

I'm not exactly a Three Stooges expert, but I imagine that the Curly Joe years are not seen as a highlight in Stooge history. One this photo cover from Gold Key's Three Stooges #36 (September, 1967), Moe, Larry and Curly Joe try their best to parody the Spirit of 1776 as the Yankee Doodle Dummies. While Moe and Curly Joe seem up to the challenge, Larry Fine seems terribly dazed and out of breath from trying to play his flute. He was just too old to be doing this stuff. All of those smacks to the head might have taken their toll. Instead of giggling at this cover, I'm filled with pathos. Weird.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Exit Stage Left: Kid Eternity #18

This was the final issue of the Kid Eternity series, and the final appearance of the charater during the Golden Age. The first story involves an escaped criminal arranges to have a lookalike arrested in his place. When his new employer gets suspicious, he is tossed down an elevator shaft. Kid Eternity called on Friar Tuck and John Sevier (I'm glad they provided some background on him) to help take out the gangster. It's fun stuff with some nice Crime genre violence. The middle story is Peachy, a humour strip. This one is pretty good, as it features one of those Three's Company type misunderstanding. Peachy is concerned that her Dad is always beating her Mom - turns out it was only at bridge.

The final tale is about a ship that was sabotage by its owner to collect insurance. Kid Eternity rescues the Captain and brings the owner to justice with the help of Captain Ahab (apparently he could be used because Melville's writing 'brought him to life), the Greek God of the Northerly Wind and Napoleon's top swordsman. Obviously, the were reaching to come up with interesting dead people at this point. The brilliant move at the end of the story was bringing all of the drowned sailors back to seek revenge. Between Hit Comics and his eponymous series, Kid Eternity appeared in over 100 stories during the 1940s. After this issue, he would not be seen again until 1972, as a reprint. It was a clever idea that apparently outstayed its welcome, but at least Kid Eternity went out on a solid note.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Highlighting House Ads: 1942 Lev Gleason Ad

Here's a fun house ad from 1942. The use of the 'film strip' technique for the Boy Comics is pretty novel here, and has a real Showcase #4 vibe. When that was used for the first time? The copy is quite terribly lettered as the spacing makes it difficult to read. The Daredevil Comics ad is interesting, as it is pre-Little Wise Guys by just a few months. I also really like how they proclaim that the editors have signed the Pirate Prince and Dickie Dean to 'lifetime contracts'. Those strips were terminated in 1945 and 1947, respectively.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Limited Collectors' Edition C-49

I read this one when I was very, very young. The GCD tells me that this was cover dated October-November, 1976, around the time of my 4th birthday. That makes sense to me, as I read this on a play date with my friend Francis. He was only in my class for Junior Kindergarten, and I think that was the only time I went to his house. I have very few memories from that year, so it's funny how this one stuck. It's not like I fell in love with the Legion (that would happen much later), as I think I found them very confusing as my young brain could hardly keep the Super Friends sorted out. For years, I was intimidated by the sheer volume of Legionnaires. In fact, I don't think I read another Legion story until they showed up in Brave and the Bold and the first issue of their own series I bought was #300. I have since made amends. I'd love to find a cheap copy of this one.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Add It To My Want List: Flash Gordon (1995)

I just found out about this two issue series last week. How did this slip by me back in 1995. I was a student at the time finishing up my final semester as an undergrad. I had all of the time in the world, but somehow I never saw these on the shelves. Actually, I don't remember this 'Marvel Select' imprint at all. I was pretty Sandman Mystery Theatre and Spectre obsessed at the time, so perhaps I suffered from tunnel vision. Also, I wasn't exactly rolling around in money, so my comic budget was very limited. Here we have two books with stories by Mark Schultz pencilled and inked by the late, great Al Williamson. How are these not in my collection already? Just how quickly can I get my hands on them? I'm off to do some on-line purchasing!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

I just heard that Harvey Pekar passed away. This news should not come as too much of a shock, as he was very public about his battle with cancer, but I can't help but be surprised. Pekar snuck up on me, as he did the world. He was a man who needed to tell stories about his life, and luckily for us found a way to get those stories produced. When people think of comics, they don't tend to think of stories starring a cynical Cleveland file clerk, but Harvey changed all of that. He was able to turn minutiae into entertainment, and became the grumpy old uncle that we all want to hang out with - at least every now and then. I'm glad that the film American Splendor gave him a broader audience, as it inspired numerous discussions about what can be achieved via comic books. I thank Harvey for his contributions to the medium. We are all richer for having been exposed to his work. Rest in Peace, Harv.

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Unusual Tales #6

While many of Steve Ditko's covers for Charlton in the 50s were quite sinister, some were downright goofy. This 'we're gonna need a bigger boat' cover falls into the latter category. It's still a lot of fun, though, and Ditko's creature design is quite unique. It is also a relatively early example of 'Ditko water', something we'd become more familiar with during the 60s. I find it interesting that Ditko did not sign this work, as he had often done so on Charlton covers of the era. One of the aspects of Ditko's covers that really stands out is the coloring. The nearly fluorescent orange used here serves as a stark contrast to the grey background. You see some really interesting color choices on many Charlton covers. It was a very different approach than those taken by DC and Atlas/Marvel at the time, and we really would not see these colors again until the Myron Fass magazines.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Quick DVD Reviews

Up In the Air
I had pretty high hopes for this one, as it had a ton of buzz. My wife’s a huge Clooney fan (I have been as well, since Out of Sight), so it seemed like a great fit for us. I must admit that it fell a bit short of my expectations – but perhaps they were a bit too high. As with Reitman’s other two films, the dialogue is sharp and the characters are quite nicely fleshed out, but was lacking in direction a bit. U was not completely satisfied, but I appreciate an attempt to make a movie aimed at adults that was daring enough to end on a bittersweet note. Grade: B+

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971)
After enjoying Torso so much, I rented another Sergio Martino directed Giallo. It’s a lot of fun, with some pretty gruesome kills and some nice locales. George Hilton makes for a terrific lead and his charm is at the core of the film. It was very nicely direct by Martino – the sequences at sea were particularly strong, especially the bit where Anita Strinberg enters the grotto. Martino certainly knows how to build suspense. The dubbing is good, and the print put out by No Shame is very clean. It’s not for everyone, but a decent choice for those looking to dip their toes in the Gialli waters. Grade: B+

The Invention of Lying
High concept comedy can be very tricky, and is usually more miss than hit. Unfortunately, this is another miss. I am really pulling for Ricky Gervais as a movie star, as he is always entertaining, but he hasn’t been able to find the right vehicle. This one was a step down from Ghost Town, and that one was deeply flawed. This film lumbers along, never really finding its footing and is ultimately bogged down by some religious themes it should have avoided. Louis C.K. was also woefully underused. A real disappointment considering the comedic talent assembled here. Immediately forgettable. Grade: C

The Damned United
Between his Wesley Snipes role on 30 Rock, his impeccable turns as Tony Blair and David Frost and this little gem of a performance, I’m beginning to wonder if Michael Sheen can do anything wrong. I’m not exactly a huge Premiership fan, and have found myself somewhat detached from other works with a focus on it (see Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch), but I was completely mesmerized by this film. As portrayed by Sheen, Brian Clough had some rather ugly traits, but it is impossible not to root for him. This is a a crisply paced film that manages to linger at all the right moments. Kudos also must go to David Spall, for his work in the role of Clough’s long suffering right hand man. I understand that there might be a bit of loose history at work here, but it’s an endearing film that demonstrates that the battles off the pitch are often more intense than those on the pitch. Grade: A

Charlton Notebook: Texas Rangers in Action #65

I really like this Rocke cover. His cover designs are underappreciated in my not so humble opinion. In the opening story (Shadow of Glory) Ranger Dave Tobin is injured by a Comanche spear. He refuses to quit active duty and brings in a wanted man. Next up is an early (the first?) Man Called Loco story. I love this strip; Denny O'Neil's story are a step above normal Charlton fare, and Pete Morisi's artwork really stands out. Finally, we have another story with Nicholas/Alascia artwork. It's Riley's Ranger feature about an outlaw named Lobo Jones who rules with an iron fist (backed by a pack of wolves). The Rangers are captured, but escape and manage to defeat the wolves. Some lame humour is thrown in at the end, when it is revealed that one Ranger is more afraid of bats than wolves. It a typical Charlton book with some good stuff (the Loco story) and some other stuff that seems about 10 years behind the times.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Reprint This! Electric Warrior

Ok, I know absolutely nothing about this mid-80s series, but the blokes at the Slings & Arrows Guide raved about it. They don't do that very often, so I am officially intrigued. The concept sounds good, as it seems to share some concepts with Fritz Langs' Metropolis. I like Doug Moench's stories more often than not. I am not familiar with Jim Baikie's artwork, but if he knows how to move the story along - I'm a fan! Sure, I could probably down individual issues via bargain bins, but I am getting lazy in my old age and a bare bones TPB has become my preferred method of funnybook consumption. That way, I've only got one book gather dust under my side of the bed, rather than 18 floppies. You'll probably lost money on this one DC, but do it for me anyway!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Hidden Gems: T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents #5

I have been slowly picking all 1980s appearances of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. It has been a slog, but at least it hasn't done much damage to the wallet. This is a particularly fun issue because of some rather interesting cameos in one story. For some reason the agents throw a New Years costume party. It provides an opportunity for the creators to have some meta-fun. You will see appearances from over a dozen characters including Wolverine, Black Canary and Daffy Duck. It's not every day that Bill the Cat and American Flagg get to hang out. It climaxes Dynamo also gets the chance to fight crime as Superman, although the editors repeatedly point out, to humourous effect, that this isn't actually Superman. The rest of the book is quite solid, with one story featuring a Codename: Danger crossover. It's great stuff, and it is a real shame that it didn't catch on. I know that I was completely unaware of it at the time, but I wasn't reading many, if any comics, back in 1985. My loss.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Kull the Conqeror #2 (1982)

I'm far from a Robert E. Howard expert, and have had very little exposure to the world of Kull over the years, but this book (which was a recent dollar bin find) completely blew me away. This 48 page epic begins with a bang, as Kull asserts himself against some thieves. For the rest of the issue, he wears a heavy crown as diplomatic problems are not dispatched so easily. Ultimately, he arranges for a politically advantageous wedding, but things do not go according to plan. In the end, Kull convinces his two political rival to join him in an exciting werewolf hunt. Doug Moench's writing is efficient and strong, and John Bolton's artwork is nothing short of gorgeous. His work reminds me of Gray Morrow. This is top notch stuff all around; a superb standalone book that has me searching for the first issue.