Friday, October 29, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

Here's one of the big ones from Ditko's superhero stint at Marvel in the 60s. When I think of Ditko's great Spidey covers, I often forget about the two terrific annual covers he drew prior to his departure. This one is truly iconic, with the introduction of the Sinister Six. We all know that Stan went a bit overboard with the alliteration, but it fits perfectly with this team's name. What I find to be truly remarkable, it how many members of Spidey's Rogues Gallery were created in such a short period of time. The addition of the Lizard, the Green Goblin and the Chameleon could have increased it to the Nefarious Nine, and the Scorpion and Molten Man were just around the corner. Designing this type of cover can be tricky, as each character needs to play a defined role. Ditko does quite a good job, but some of the poses are a bit awkward and but I do feel as though a more dramatic layout was possible. John Romita's cover to the treasury-sized Marvel Special Edition #1 remains the gold standard in my mind.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Walaba, the Giant Robot

I am not exactly the biggest Space Ranger fan, but I like a good interplanetary adventure as much as the next person. In this tale from Tales of the Unexpected #68, Space Ranger is hot on the tail of a villain when he is captured by a powerful giant robot. Space Ranger plays possum for a while, but cannot escape a series of elaborate booby traps. It turns out that the robot, named Walaba, had captured Space Ranger by mistake. The nefarious Drecker was he intended target, as Drecker had stolen weapons from Walaba's master.

Walaba is a terrific robot and I really like Bob Brown's design. He has that slightly bulky early Silver Age look to him, taken straight out of the movies. In the end, we get one of those 'Robots with a Heart of Gold' moments, as Walaba steps in front of a ray gun blast to save Space Ranger. I was kind of hoping for a Farewell to the Master type twist at some point, but it wasn't meant to be. Arnold Drake avoids a tragic ending in this story, as it is discovered that Walaba can be repaired. I don't always love a happy ending, but Walaba is indeed worth saving.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You've Been Warned: Daredevil #222

You know, I love Daredevil. Really, I do but somehow, this is the fourth issue of Daredevil that I've warned you about. What can I say? When the series is good, it's amazing. When it's bad, however, it is pretty brutal. The plot here is quite silly, beginning with a plane crash in the swamps of New Jersey. Daredevil and Natasha bump into each other in said swamp, as they are searching for someone and something, respectively, that that was aboard the plane. That's all fine and dandy, but O'Neil takes this way too far by making New Jersey seems as dangerous as the Amazon rain forest. A snake appears, and it is the size of a python. As far as I know, NJ has two types of venomous snake and both are rare, if not endangered. To make matters worse, it becomes apparent that O'Neil had recently sat through a Deliverance/Hills Have Eyes/Southern Comfort movie marathon. Where Manhattanites really that afraid to take the wrong exit off the turnpike? Even David Mazzucchelli turns in a sub par performance here. It's like an Assistant Editor's Month book, but I think all of the humour was completely unintentional. Ultimately, it's more offensive to New Jersey than anything on Jersey Shore.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

R.I.P. Mike Esposito

I was saddened to hear that we'd lost another classic comic creators. Long-time artist, Mike Esposito passed away at age 83. I feel badly not raving about his work but, for me, he usually fell into the 'solid, dependable but not amazing 'category. The only time I felt that he was truly great was when teamed with his lifelong friend Ross Andru. While I liked his work for Marvel as Mickey Demeo in the 60s was good, and that collaborations with others through the 70s and 80s was professional, it always lacked the magic of the Andru/Esposito team. I really do not like the word synergy, but there really is no better way to described their mixture of talents. They infused each page, and especially covers, with an incredible amount of life. Alongside Andru, Esposito could tackle genres ranging from war to humour. I also have a lot of respect for he and Andru for their trailblazing attempts at self-publishing, both with MikeRoss and Klevart. In case you don't know, the image to the right is from Sea Devils #13, a terrific early 'meta' story. I think that I'll go home and read some Metal Men books tonight. Rest in Peace Mr. Esposito and say "Hi' to Ross for me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Charlton Notebook: Black Fury #54

A few weeks back, I won an auction for a stack of Black Fury comics from the 60s, including this issue from September, 1965. If you've read enough interviews with classic comic artists, you'll have noticed that many of them tried to steer clear of western books due to the relative difficulty of drawing horses. I imagine that drawing a series with a horse as the star would have driven some artists mad. Black Fury is one of a number of classic comic series featuring a horse as protagonist. This is a pretty standard issue, with simple and enjoyable stories of Black Fury fighting other horses to remain King of the Ramada in one story, while protecting a palomino from rustlers in another. The best story here, A Friend in Need, involves Black Fury paying back a family who had earlier rescued him from drowning. Rocco 'Rocke' Mastroserio is a great fit for this series, as he draws horses beautifully. The Nicholas/Alascia stories are a real step down in quality as far as a I am concerned. Overall, it is good fun and avalaible for relative peanuts.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Love and War on eBay

I'm still looking to save up for a new computer one comic book at a time. I just loaded more than 20 auctions onto eBay today. It's an eclectic mix of Romance and War books from a variety of publishers from 1949 to 1968. Although I'm always a bit sad when it comes to letting go of some old friends, I am comforted by the knowledge that they always find good homes. I'm starting to run out of stuff to sell, so this is probably a good time to get some deals. They all have very low starting bids and I'm hoping that you folks might see something you like on there.

Highlighting House Ads: DC's 1975 Adventure Line

Was this DC's greatest house ad of the 70s? It's one of the first one I remember, and it still intrigues me to this day. I don't think I had ever seen so many characters crammed onto a single page. I am not sure how for how long this ad ran, but I it showed up in quite a few of the earliest books I remember owning. I know that it was supposed to be announcing the short-live Adventure Line, but I was just as intrigued by the other image. I had never seen Deadman before, and he really stood out from the other heroes. I was not familiar with the Mystery characters, but they certainly disturb my young mind. I became quite familiar with the Adventure Line characters at a early age because these books were regular habitu├ęs of my local comic shop's 10 cent rack, as well as the comic box in my grade school's rainy day room. This ad made me very curious about the Avenger and the Stalker, and those remain my two favourite titles from this fun line of comics.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Trade Marks: The Walking Dead Book Five

I have a colleague who is kind enough to loan me his Walking Dead hardcovers. I appreciate it, as he has saved me well over a hundred dollars so far. I was very interested to see where Robert Kirkman would take the saga in the post-prison era. For the most part, I was not at all disappointed. We meet some new characters and bump into some old friends. There are plenty of threats in both human and zombie form, and several narrow escapes. It is Kirkman's ability to continually manufacture suspense that impresses me the most. Some of the "How do know I can trust you?" exchanges between survivors get a bit repetitive and I have a theory that the apocalypse was started by a carpeting of F-Bombs. Nonetheless, it's a terrifically engaging story, and Charlie Adlard's artwork is beginning to grow on me. My main complaint is the pacing. It is still too brisk for me. A fast moving plot, mixed with super-compressed storytelling does not allow the reader to fully invest with the characters. I feel detached from everyone but Rick and, by extension, Carl. Maybe that's the way Kirkman wants it, but I'm not so sure. Trade Mark: B+

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kangaroo Covers

This time around, I'm taking a look at covers featuring those lovable marsupials from Down Under. Sadly, the Spidey villain doesn't actually qualify due to his 'pouch free' status:

Possibly the most famous/infamous Kangaroo cover of the Golden Age is from Choice Comics #1 (December, 1941). It cover star goes by the name of Kangaroo Man, and he seems to leave most of the dirty work to his pet kangaroo, Bingo. I really like this cover as it has that great Golden Age 'fresh out of anatomy class' look to it. The artist's name is Chuck Winters. I do not know a thing about him, but I do like how he channels Lou Fine here - as this cover is jam packed with sinewy muscles. Bingo would show up again on the cover to the second issue before fading (hopping?) into obscurity.

I am too young for Mutt & Jeff to really resonate with me, but they a place in pop culture history, as they appeared on the first cover to Famous Funnies #1 and their their comic book strip lasted nearly 80 years. They had a long running comic book series published by DC, Dell and then Harvey. Mutt and Jeff #113 (August, 1959) was the third from last issue of their Dell tenure, and it features a fun Kangaroo gag by artist Al Smith. There would be two additional Kangaroo themed covers during the Harvey years, so as far as I can tell, Mutt and Jeff hold the record for Kangaroo covers.

Disney based comics seem like a good place to find Kangaroo covers, and I can think of at least two. My favourite is Donald Duck #92 (January, 1965) with Donald as the Kangaroo Kid. His nephews look as though they are having a blast hopping along in the kangaroo's pouch. The diligent work of Alberto Becattini informs me that this story has been reprinted like crazy, with the cover being recycled for Donald Duck #188 in 1977. I believe there is at least one Mickey Mouse cover with a kangaroo and, of course, Kanga and Roo show up on quite a few Winnie the Pooh covers.

I have saved my favourite Kangaroo cover for last. Dale Evans #23 ( May-June, 1952) is an absolute riot. Although the series features mainly photo covers, Jim McArdle tackled the art chores for the final 10 issues and somehow fit in an ostrich, an elephant and some tigers to go along with this kangaroo. I can believe anyone would ever accuse DC of being boring in the 50s. This is a fun story, in which Terrific Toby and his kangaroo, Caperin' Kate appear at the County Fair. Toby and Kate help Dale hunt down some outlaws who stole the Fair's prize money. It's a great story with the kangaroo's pouch playing a vital role. Good stuff.

Back to eBay

I don't normally like to pimp my eBay auctions on here, but the SOTI household is in dire need of its first new computer in nearly 8 years. I'm heading back to eBay for the first time in quite a while to unload a wide variety of books. I've got a dozen or so Silver Age books up there now and will be selling everything from low grade Golden Age funny animals stuff to high grade Bronze in a variety of genres. My seller ID is sma12e.

If you're interested, take a look:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Exit Stage Left: Star Trek #61

The final issue of Gold Key's Star Trek series marks the end of an era. It would have hit shelves around Christmastime in 1978. Obviously everyone involved in the upcoming feature film thought it was high time to find a new comic book licensee. Gold Key had been publishing the series for over a decade at this point, and had produced a solid, if unspectacular, collection of stories. The 70s were really the era of the hardcore Trekkie. They were the fans whose insatiable appetite led to various toys, books and cartoons based on the original series. With Motion(less?) Picture on its way, things would never be the same. It is hard to believe that Star Trek comics had such humble roots, and that the series' original artist had never even seen the show. It was a survivor, though, and many fans have a real soft spot for it.

The good is a solid one. Kirk, Spock and McCoy beamed down to investigate a planet and are ambushed by a Klingon. These are still the old-school 99% human-looking Klingons. The Klingons are anxious to get their hands on the planet's dilithium supply and the only thing standing in their way are the three crew members and a face very familiar to fans of the original series. I've always felt that Alden McWilliams was a terribly underappreciated artist. He is a terrific storyteller and there's a certain lushness to his art that I find very appealing. Within a few months, Marvel would have the license and DC would take over a couple of years after that for a long stretch. There's a real charm to these old Gold Key comics and they bring out a real sense of nostalgia in my, as would a Mego Spock or a squirt gun shaped like a phaser.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Secret Origins #50

I was pretty ignorant, and avoided this series when it was on shelves in the 80s. I always assumed it was just a rehashing of origins stories, many of which I knew by heart. The nice things about missing things the first time around, is that they become terrific discoveries later on. The terrific super-sized final issue features wonderful stories by two of my very favourite comic book writers: Grant Morrison and Alan Brennert. Morrison's Flash tale is an instant classic, and Brennert's Black Canary story is a tear jerker. There's also a rather interesting Dolphin story, which helps to fill in many of the blanks surrounding that character. This issue features terrific artwork by Joe Staton, the late, great Mike Parobeck and even Carmine Infantino. I love Ty Templeton's clever cover. I recently found a copy of this in a dollar bin, and it might just be the best dollar I've spent all year.

Friday, October 08, 2010

My Reading Pile - March, 1983 Pt.2

Wow! Looking back at what was for sale that month, it seems that I was moving away from DC just as much as Marvel. I purchased a grand total of 3 DC books on the racks that month, skipping long-time favourites including the penultimate issue of Brave and the Bold and the Atom gone wild issue of Justice League of America.

I very rarely read Legion of Super-Heroes back then. I think I was a bit intimidated by the continuity and the sheer volume of characters. Something about Legion of Super-Heroes #300 appealed to me, though as I bought it and it remained the only Legion book in my collection for years. I was likely just a sucker for these Anniversary Issues that DC published in the 80s, and this cover didn't hurt at all. At the time, I did not realize just how much work went into putting this cove together. I lost my copy somewhere along the way, and I have got to remind myself to keep an eye peeled for a replacement.

I had been with the Flash pretty consistently since 1979, and was a huge fan of storylines involving Professor Zoom, so Flash #322 issue was a natural fit. I hadn't bought a Flash issue since the first issue in the Goldface story. To be quite honest, I was not a big fan of Carimine Infantino's artwork during this time period (I'm still not). I understood that he was the original Flash artist, but it just didn't work for me on the 80s Flash (nor did I like it on Star Wars or Dial H For Hero). I didn't know who they were by name, but I really missed Irv Novick and Don Heck. I did not stick with the series through the whole Trial of the Flash storyline and , to be honest, I don't even recall this one have a Creeper back-up.

As I've likely mentioned on here a few times before, I love Green Arrow. I was also a big fan of the mini-series format which was really taking off at this time. I somehow missed the first issue of this one (since purchased), but the cover to Green Arrow #2 really caught my eye. I thought Vertigo was a pretty interesting villain and the time, and this storyline actually holds up quite well. Sure, we're not quite at the Mike Grell version of Ollie just yet, but we are certainly on our way. I don't think I was enamored with Trevor Von Eeden's artwork at the time, but I have come to appreciate it a bit more over the years.

What did I miss that month? Some really great stuff. How about some awesome Evanier/Spiegle Blackhawk? How about the 500th issue of Adventure Comics? I'd also moved completely away from Charlton at this stage, and was complete ignorant when it came to indie stuff like Nexus.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

My Reading Pile: March, 1983 Pt.1

As winter turned to spring in 1983, I was 10 and a half years old. I must have thought it was time to 'grow up' as my comic book reading seems to have tapered off quite a bit. Here's a look at what I picked up that month (books are cover dated either June or July).

Amazing Spider-Man #242 is a really fun book, but for some reason it was the final Spidey issue I would purchase until I was in high school. I had been reading it quite consistently for years, but had somehow missed the Hobgoblin introduction. The Green Goblin was never my favourite Spidey foe, so this new version had no appeal. Marvel Team-Up was another one of my go-to titles as a kid, but I had given up on it at this point as well. This issue holds up quite well, as I dig the Thinker and you probably know that I like robots. Then again, who doesn't?

I was never a huge Conan fan. I have always liked the character, but have never picked up the issues on a regular basis. I am not sure what made me purchase Conan, the Barbarian #147. I'm guessing that the Conan movie played a role in my renewed interest. When was the initial VHS release? This would have been nearly a year after the theatrical release. As it stand, it was also the last Conan story I would read for years. I don't know whatever happened to my copy, but this cover really reminds me of the 'Garden of Fear' story from Conan #9. Is there any link?

Link any child of my generation, I was nuts about Star Wars and had been reading the series off and on since the very beginning. I had taken a break before buying Star Wars #72, and the next one and I imagine the impending release of Return of the Jedi had stoked my fires. The cover was also very compelling, with Luke and Lando surrounded by the bounty hunters. How could I resist? The next issue would be my final purchase from this series, but I did pick up the Return of the Jedi miniseries over the course of the summer.

What did I miss at Marvel that month? The final issue of Master of Kung Fu, some Byrne Fantastic Four and a Wolverine appearance in Daredevil.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Add It To My Want List: Lois Lane (1986)

I like to think that I know quite a bit about comics, especially those published by DC and Marvel in the 70s and 80s. Every now and then, however, I learn about that I still have a lot to learn about comics. I was flipping through the bins at a LCS not too long ago when I noticed an interesting couple of books filed under Misc 'L'. Did you know that there was a two-part Lois Lane miniseries published in 1986? I sure didn't. I don't know Mindy Newell's writing very well (I think she did some Legion), but I'll jump at the chance to read anything with Gray Morrow artwork. He'd be the perfect fit for a newspaper based, urban story. I don't know where this one fits in the grand scheme of Crisis and/or Man of Steel, but I don't really care. The shop was asking a bit too much for these (all of their back issues are horribly over priced), but you can bet that I will be scouring bargains bins for this series until it's mine!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Best of DC #44

Unless you are an avid digest collector and/or Legion complelist (I'm both), you may not have seen this Gil Kane cover before. I love Kane's work, but I often feel that many of his 80s covers at DC lack the spark and imagination that we see in his earlier work. There's often a bit of a 'rushed' feeling to them, and his inking had become minimalistic to the point of faces looking almost blank. There are some real gems, however, from this period and this is one of them. This book reprints some terrific Legion stories from the 60s, and Kane's cover reflects the charm and whimsy of that series. Its very simplicity is what makes it so appealing to my eyes, and perfectly suited to the smaller format. I'll try to show covers from various eras as this feature progresses, so that we get a good feeling for what Kane was doing over the years.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Outer Space #21

Here's one that you may not have seen before. Outer Space was a very short-lived Charlton title from the late 50s, lasting a mere 9 issues. A single issue series with the same name was launched in 1968. This is the only Ditko cover from the series. While it is certainly a step down from his more iconic covers for Charlton, there are still some interesting things to note. First, the design of the spacecraft is very similar to what we will see him produce for Marvel stories in the early 60s and even those from the cover to Shade, the Changing Man #8, nearly 20 years later. I also really like the domed helmets worn by the two astronauts here - as I they look quite retro, even for 1959. Ditko's cover design is interesting, as it almost plays a trick on the reader. The main figures are so prominent that, at first, they appear to be en route to exploring a new world. It is only upon closer inspection that we see that their hands are bound and that they are, in fact, captives. With the giant caption, Charlton goes out of its way to prove that Marvel is not alone in its ability to ruin a cover.