Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Comic Book Robot of the Month: The Sleeper

Remember that scene in the Infinity Gauntlet where Captain American takes on Thanos? Well, one of Cap's earliest 'David vs. Goliath' moments came on the cover to Tales of Suspense #72. The image of Captain America clinging to one of the Sleeper's cleats really caught my attention as a child, and this was one of the first Silver Age books I ever bought. How could any 9 year old boy, regardless of whether it is 1965, 1980 or 2010, possibly pass up on this cover? It introduces one of the all-time greatest robots in comicdom, the Sleeper.

What exactly is a Sleeper? Well, it's a giant Nazi robot that smashes its way out of a mountainside on 'Der Tag', programmed to wreak havoc and bring Hitler's dream to reality. This is one of the issues with George Tuska pencilling over Kirby layouts. I really think they worked well together as a team. The design is all kinds of retro-awesome, with a dome top, spiked ski boots and energy-blast shooting lobster claws for hands. Despite Cap's best efforts, the Sleeper wins Round One and the story continues in the new issue. It's definitely one of the best robots of the Marvel Age of Comics. 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

You've Been Warned: Avengers #180

This was a terrific era in Avengers history. This particular issue, however, stands out like a sore thumb. This is the finale to the two-part 'Bloodhawk saga', or whatever you want to call it. We've got a rather lame villain named the Stinger and a very convoluted storyline about Bloodhawk, a strange bird man who is obsessed with return a relic to a certain island in the South Pacific. Most of this issue takes place around the aforementioned island. We do learn a few things: 1) Bloodhawk has some crazy mood swings, 2) The Beast is Mjolnir-worthy and 3) There are still some Atlas-era giant statues in the South Pacific. In the end, Bloodhawks meets a tragic fate just as he was about to turn his life around. Isn't that always the way? This story is not particularly cohesive, nor coherent especially when compared to the other issues between #150 and #200. It feels like a filler story - perhaps some old script submitted by Tom DeFalco. The art team of Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito is mediocre at best, and it's a major improvement when John Byrne and Gene Day take over the very next issue (one of my all-time faves). Avoid.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Trade Marks: Hellboy Vol. 6 Strange Places

I am a relative latecomer to the Hellboy Universe, but I've been catching up whenever I can find the trades at a discounted price. Up to this point, I've been very impressed by Mignola's skills as a storyteller. For the most part, he lets his pictures do the talking, and keeps his artwork simple, encouraging the reader to fill in many of the details. This is actually quite a rewarding experience, as the Hellboy's world unfolds at a deliberate pace. This collection, however, left me feeling a bit cold. Hellboy is away from the BPRD and these tales lean more toward the magical/mystical. Those themes often don't sit well with me, because I don't understand the basic ground rules. I know that kryptonite can kill Superman, but I've never really understood what kills Dr. Strange. For me, those types of stories require a bit more exposition, so that the reader gets a sense of parameters. Mignola's minimalism does not work as well here, as it is difficult to tell if Hellboy is ever truly in peril. Of the story arcs here, I prefer the "Three Wishes" as it was infused with a real sense of pathos. I think the Sargasso Sea provides an incredible springboard for ideas, but Mignola missed an opportunity and fell short. After putting it down, I realized that I hadn't laughed once. That hadn't happened before with Hellboy. It was good, not great. Some important character and mythology building, but lacklustre stories. Grade: B

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reprint This! Caught

There are many lot of superb titles published by Atlas during the 1950s, many of which are not likely to be seen in a nice, shiny trade paperback. One of those series is Caught, a fun crime-themed book that ran for a mere 5 issues from August, 1956 to April, 1957. Some people focus only on pre-Code crime, and that's a shame as there were still plenty of fun, albeit less violent, stories to be told. These pages are filled with inventive 4 or 5 page morality plays featuring all kinds of low-lifes and shady characters. In my opinion, many of these have a noirish feel that was absent from a lot of the 'rob a bank/hideout/shootout with police' stories that populate so many crime comics.

A collection of these stories would evidence the fact that, during this period, Atlas had as good a bullpen as any company at any point in four color history. Each and every issue of Caught featured a terrific cover by John Severin. On the inside, you will find stories drawn by the likes of Berni Krigstein, Don Heck, Reed Crandall and Joe Maneely. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think a single story from this series has ever been reprinted. This would, of course, be a fairly slim volume coming in somewhere around 125 pages, but that would be 125 pages of pure bliss. Come on, Marvel - I'll be willing to bet that there are tens, if not dozens, of people out there who'd buy this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

5 Years of Seduction of the Indifferent

Folks, it occurred to me this morning that this blog has just celebrated its 5th Birthday. In many ways it seems that I started this just yesterday. We're still very low-tech and my content has not really changed too much since day one. That being said, I still enjoy doing it and it has become a very good outlet for me in terms of sharing thoughts and opinions. It's not the world's most popular blog, but that's just fine with me. There seems to be a steady stream of regular, like-minded readers who enjoy many of the same things as me. What I have enjoyed most, over the years, are the comments posted by visitors. Whether or not you agree with me doesn't matter - I really appreciate you taking the time to join the conversation. With that, I will simply say 'Thank You' and steal a line from Neel Nats: Excelsior!

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Justice League of America #184

This comic, released at the tail end of the Summer of 1980, was my introduction to Jack Kirby's Fourth World. I was just about to turn 8 years old and still had a lot to learn about the DC Universe. I was somewhat familiar with the Mister Miracle character, as a friend of mine had an issue of two from the Marshall Rogers era. I had somehow missed the first installment of this 'Crisis', and felt a little bit lost reading this one the first time around. I also registered that the art looked different, but was not yet really reading credits at this time. I had no idea it was George Perez' first issue, and it would be years before I became aware that the change had been triggered by Dick Dillin's untimely death. It is a phenomenal issue and I've re-read it so many times that several images are etched in my brain: the child with the glowing eyes, Darkseid rising through the ground and Green Lantern trying to free High Father from his bondage. This was comics on a grand scope, and it was because of books such as this one that I am hooked for life.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: The F.B.I.

What? You've never heard of this one? Well, I hadn't either until not too long ago, but that shouldn't keep it out of the Hall of Fame. It falls into that rather odd 'real fact' category of comics books, as it tells the story of how the FBI came to be and some of the Bureau's highlights up until that point. If you've ever read an issue of True Comics, Real Fact Comics or Heroic Comics, you know that purely historical or biographical comics can be a bit dry. I am happy to report, however, that this one is well paced and full of action. Mixed in with the various bit of legislative history are some of the biggest busts of the 20th century. It certainly helps that all of this is drawn by Joe Sinnott. If you're like me, you are much more familiar with Joe's inks than you are his pencils. Well, they are a sight to behold - he adds great depth to the human face and really know how to lay out an action sequence. I also like the fact that if you squint your eyes a bit, the G-Men on the cover looks like Henry Silva. That seals the deal for me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hidden Gems: Weird Wonder Tales #7

Over the years, the bizarre Headmen have achievement something of a cult following. What fans of Steve Gerber's less than photogenic group of super villains is that they have roots that go waaaay back in time. Fans of the Headmen may want to scoop up this reprint book, as it features the initial 'appearances' of the various Headmen. Dr. Arthur Nagan (Gorilla Man) is seen in a 1954 story drawn by Bob Powell. Shrunken Bones appears in Angelo Torres drawn tale from 1958 and Chondu shows up in a 1960 story drawn by Doug Wildey. How did they get from the 50s to a early 70s reprint title to being reintroduced to the Marvel Universe? Well, I can't say for sure, but I can only imagine Steve Gerber sat back on his couch one day with this issue in hand, consumed a couple of beers (or other toxins) and had a four color epiphany.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quick Book Reviews

God Save the Mark - Donald E. Westlake
This was my first visit into the world of Donald Westlake (aside from Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel). It is a very engaging romp through the streets of New York City. I love a good con, and it was particularly entertaining to see so many from the victim's perspective. The mark in question, Fred Fitch, is one of the most entertaining characters I've come across in years. Westlake's NYC of the 60s is full of dames, goons and grifters and it is fun to go along for the ride. I'm surprised this one was never optioned by a movie studio, as it would have made for a helluva movie circa 1968.

The Postman Always Rings Twice - James Cain
This was my second Cain book (after Double Indemnity) and I think I liked this one even better. It’s full of sweat, lust and dust and Cain’s prose is wonderfully economical. His California is a seedy place, unlike anything we’d imagine today. He does a very good job of building suspense, especially in the first, flubbed attempted murder. It’s a solid piece of crime fiction, and I can understand why the subtle mixture of sex and violence might have ruffled a few feathers back in the 30s.

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said - Philip K. Dick
I am making my way through the Philip K. Dick catalogue and felt as though I was spinning my wheels until I got into this one. There are definitely two groups of Dick books. The first have good ideas, but are lacking both in terms of execution and characterization (Eye in the Sky, Counter Clock World). The second group is much smaller, and I would place this one in it along side Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Man in the High Castle. It is an engaging tale of lost identity, past sins and the role of both celebrity and authority. It is thought provoking and intelligent but completely accessible.

Paris: The Secret History - Andrew Hussey
Andrew Hussey’s street level history of the City of Lights through the ages shines a light on some of the city’s darker alleyways. It moves along at a breakneck clip, but never feels rushed. From revolution to disease, it is impressive to see how a sense of civic identity can allow a city to thrive under terrible conditions. I do wish he’d spent a bit more time focused on the post-WW2 years, especially how the city came to terms with its collaborationist element, but at least he touched on it. I highly recommend this one to fans of social history.

Consolation - Michael Redhill
As a Torontonian, it was wonderful to see the city come to life as a character in this novel. The downtown streets I walk on a daily basis were alive with the struggles of people trying to make it in this fledgling town more than 150 years ago. The problem is that Redhill is not able to infuse the human characters with the same degree of life. The story flips between the present day and the 1850s, and the Victorian portion is much more interesting. The present day characters are not sufficiently fleshed out, and their sequences seem to interrupt the narrative rather than enhance it. The descriptions of old Toronto are fascinating, but I can’t imagine they would be of interest to anyone outside the 416 area code.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Marvel Spotlight #9

Were it not for the cover to House of Mystery #277, this one would easily be my favourite Ditko cover of the 1980s. Captain Universe was a fairly interesting concept and I really got into it for a brief period at the time. I think Ditko was the perfect fit for the strip, as the fluidity he brings to the page really works with the character. This cover was a terrific way to introduce Captain Universe, as he seems to be jumping off the page. It is very intelligently designed, with enough space given to each figure. It is full of people without ever seeming crowded. It is very rare to find a Marvel cover of this era with so little text. I truly appreciate the restraint, at the image is allowed to speak for itself. The writing on the building has a nice Steranko vibe to it. What I like most about this one is the character design for the crowd. They look truly menacing. It's a great one. It caught my attention as an 8 year old, and it sill does today.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Toppling Statue Covers

Statues are normally erected to honour an important person, and to inspire each and every person passing by. Sometimes, however, gravity takes over and they become deadly. Let's take a look at some covers with toppling statues.

In the Apeverse, the Lawgiver is a type of deity who has laid our the basic teachings for Ape society. His writings also point to him being somewhat of a humaphobe. Apes have erected statues of the Lawgiver everywhere. That probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but at least one of them (the one featured here on the cover to Adventures of the Planet of the Apes #10 turned out to be bit top heavy. The cover is signed Paty Anderson and Klaus Janson. Am I right in thinking that this penciller went on to become Paty Cockrum?

I've said it before, and I'll certainly say it again: the Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog has a cover to fit almost every theme. The cover to Rex #10 is a real beauty - a perfect example of the stunning covers being produced at DC during the 1950s. Danny does not seem to understand that toppling statues are bad for your health, so Rex takes matters into his own hands... er teeth. Beautifully coloured and inked (Sachs?), this Gil Kane cover really grabs the reader's attention.

Even though he played a big role in my childhood, I don't think about Ghost Rider much these days. These theme, however, did stir up my memories about the cover to Ghost Rider #71, which would have been published during the peak of my Ghost Rider reading. If memory serves, this story takes places in Illinois, and the statue is holding a stovepipe hat, so I assume that's Lincoln (haven't read this in 25+ years). To my eyes, however, it actually look a bit more like Jefferson Davis. How ironic.

Ok, so the statue on the cover to Superman #305 isn't exactly toppling, but I'll allow it because it is such a kooky story. Supes has his hands full with the Toyman (and later Bizarro) as the Toyman has developed a giant mechanical version of himself. For one reason or another, Superman decides to grab the statue from outside Metropolis' Superman museum to use as a baseball bat against the Toyman robot. It seems a bit unnecessary, as I am not sure why Supes can't just throw the robot into outer space. Is it just me, or has the 'pose' of the Superman statue outside the museum changed over the years? I'm sure that someone really into Superman continuity can answer that one.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Highlighting House Ads: Shogun Warriors

Marvel was already knee deep into licensed properties by the time they started the Shogun Warriors series, but for some reason this one really click with me. I had a few of the toys (Dragun, Great Mazinga and Godzilla) and I absolutely adored them. Whatever happened to them? Mom? Anyway, I was pretty stoked about the comic series, as I was enjoying the Godzilla one. This ad certainly added fuel to the fire. While Herb Trimpe may never be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Kirby or Joe Kubert, he was certainly a very capable and versatile artist. I'm guessing that's why he was the go-to guy for Marvel on so many of its licensed property titles. How could any 7 year old have passed on this one? It's a very nicely designed full-pager, but I must admit that it is a bit text heavy. A nice, simple "They're Here!" would have sufficed.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Add It To My Want List: Weird War Tales #36

I knew that this series never had a 100-pager, but I hadn't realized that it had one of these 64 page Giants from 1975. This was a terrific mini-era at DC and these thick books are terrific value. I have many of them from various superhero titles and a Tarzan book, but this one was never on my radar screen. It appears to be a mixture of new and old stories. The great news is that the reprints are taken from the very earliest issues of Weird War Tales, and those are pretty pricey on the back issue market. We get stories by Kanigher, Oleck and Drake with artwork by the likes of Crandall, Kubert and Thorne. Sure, anthologies are pretty hit and miss, but even if this one is only half decent, that's still 32 pages of weird fun. The search begins!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Strange Adventures #17

Here's an early Kane sci-fi cover. This was the last of six consecutive covers Kane did for Strange Adventures. From what I can tell, Kane inked it himself. That normally works for me, but there is a thinness to the line that detracts from the overall impact of this cover. It is an interesting perspective, as readers feel as though they are on the ground with the synthetic man - almost as if we are part of the chemical soup. I really love the aliens, too as these two seems to be prototypes for aliens Kane would use for the remainder of his career. With all the action in the foreground, however, we're left with some real dead space around Captain Comet. To my eyes, this is the cover's greatest weakness as the yellow becoming overwhelming. I like simple, but parts of this are just too simple.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Exit Stage Left: Jonah Hex #92

Although this was the final issue of the initial Jonah Hex series, it really wasn't the end for everybody's favourite western anti-hero. First of all, the 'last' Jonah Hex story was told years earlier and the final page of this issue propels our storyline into the distant future. In another sense, it really is the end of an era as DC and Marvel had been hammer nails into the coffin of the western genre for over a decade at this point. In some ways, it's quite shocking that Jonah Hex lasted until 1985. I guess I can understand why readers might have felt this type of book was anachronistic, as both Michael Fleisher's script and Gray Morrow's artwork seem to be from a different era. From where I'm sitting, however, it works just fine.

The story here is another strong 'one and done' story with Hex protecting a young girl who has witnessed a murder. Hex tries to keep her safe, while hunting down the outlaws. Inter cut with this is the story of Emmy's flight from a killer. Hex isn't a particularly attractive man, but he really is some sort of chick magnet. As I've stated before, I'm a huge fan of Morrow's artwork and he is in fine form here. The storytelling is superb, with some terrific action sequences. Although the futuristic Hex series has become quite infamous over the years, I appreciate the fact that this was not really a Jonah's final goodbye, but more of an 'until we meet again'.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

You've Been Warned: Jonny Double (1998)

I'm a big fan of Jonny Double from his appearance in Showcase, and have always heard great things about Brian Azzarello. I picked up this miniseries for a buck a pop at a local shop yesterday. I know Azzarello more by his reputation than by his work itself. I would imagine that he can do a lot better than this stylish, yet very sloppy story about a heist gone wrong. There is next to no characterization regarding the supporting characters (of which there are at least 2 or 3 too many), and Jonny runs the gamut from softie to mercenary. The plot is far too complex for a mere 4 issues, and it all wraps up far too quickly at the end. Eduardo Risso's artwork is nicely atmospheric in parts, but his storytelling is far from coherent in parts. There are some good ideas here, but it is poorly assembled.