Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Mighty World of Marvel #2

In the summer of 1983, my family took a 3 week vacation to England & Wales. I was nearly 11 years old that summer, and pretty much near the peak of my childhood interest in comic books (although Return of the Jedi was also taking up a lot of the geeky portion of my brain). Somewhere during that trip, my parents bought me this magazine-sized comic. Although I'd seen the Editions Heritage books in Quebec before, this was my first real taste of an international variant. I was an Avengers and Vision nut at the time, so this was a perfect fit. Although the title proclaims Everybody Dies!, I have a feeling this contained the Kitty Fights Alone story - but I can't find any real details about the contents of this mag, and I lost mine over 20 years ago. That trip was also my one and only visit to the legendary Forbidden Planet store in London (I had seen their awesome ad in the Overstreet Guide). I had a bit of money put aside for a special purchase. They had nice copies of both New Teen Titans #1 and Iron Man #1 for the exact same price. I don't want to tell you which one I chose.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Heckling the Heckler

I don't get it. I just don't get it. I know that this series is very well regarded as a piece of superhero satire, but I just don't get it. For starters, I tend to run pretty hot and cold on the Bierbaums. To me, much of their work is too dense. Here, the jokes are often obvious or simply miss their mark. The 3X3 panel approach hampers Keith Giffen's ability to tell a story. Many times, I simply could not tell what was going on. There was next to no character development and I was often simply lost. I first read this nearly 10 years ago, and was quite puzzled. With a bit more comic book mileage under my wheels, I decided to tackle the 6 issues last week and it still did not work for me. Comedy is tough, and satire can be even tougher. I ran into the trap of admiring what Giffen and the Bierbaums were trying to accomplish while never truly enjoying it. Take Heckler #4, for example. The underlying theme here is a tip of the hat to the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote rivalry. It was clever at first, but then got stuck in a loop a became less and less clever as the issue wore on. I'll commend their effort, but the final product left a lot to be desired.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Thank You Mr. Giordano

I woke up Saturday morning to hear that Dick Giordano had passed away. I had a very busy weekend with the family, but kept thinking about Giordano and his vast contributions to the comic book industry. When I got finally a few moments to myself last evening, I sat down with a couple of Sarge Steel, the 'Action Heroes' issue of Comic Book Artist and my copy of the Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. I spent the rest of the evening marvelling at Giordano's skill and, perhaps more importantly, his love of comic books. He was terrific both as penciller and inker, and I've often thought that he was terribly underappreciated as a cover artist (working for Charlton will have that effect). His storytelling in "There Is No Hope in Crime Alley" is phenomenal, as he and Denny O'Neil collaborated on the best one-page Batman origin ever. For all of his artistic talent, his people skills were even greater. He certainly made a profound impact in his editorial role at both Charlton in the 60s and DC in the 80s. His 'Meanwhile...' column served as a looking glass into the inner workings of DC, and his replies to letters while at Charlton showed that he had a tremendous amount of respect for comic book fan. Dick Giordano was one of a kind, and we were fortunate that he chose to work in comic books.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: The Phantom #74

Is this the greatest American Phantom comic book story every published? Probably. I'd even go so far as to say it is one of the best standalone comic books of the 1970s. I know that my good friend Tim in Idaho ranks this as his all-time favourite comic book, as he's read quite a few. It is an incredible story written and beautifully illustrated by the late, great Don Newton. I don't think I've ever seen Newton produce better work and it holds up quite well on Charlton's sub par paper. I think it was pretty cool that Newton decided to do a story with some real guts in the months leading up to the Bicentennial celebrations. In this tale, the Phantom takes his fight against the slave trade all the way to Philadelphia where he has a pretty interesting chat with Benjamin Franklin. Sadly, this was the final issue of the Charlton series, but at least they went out on top. The Newton Phantom issues are consistently great and are, therefore, pretty pricey to track down. I'd love it if someone would acquire a license and put out of trade of the Newton years as well as the Skeates/Aparo years, but that's another entry altogether.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Comic Book Robot of the Month: The World Wrecker

It goes without saying that Murphy Anderson knows how to draw robots. I'm not sure who actually designed the World Wrecker from Strange Adventures #50, but Anderson perfected it with the cover. It's an amazing creation, with 7 person mission control in the skull. I believe that the look of this particular robot was heavily influenced by Lou Fine's Iron Monster from Fantastic Comics #3. Anderson would return to the World Wrecker in 1972 for the cover to issue #16 of the reprint series From Beyond the Unknown. Eagle eyed fans will also noted that Anderson drew similar robots for both the Freedom Fighters and JLA covers to the 28th Overstreet Price Guide. All in all, this is a Hall of Fame robot.

The story itself, written by the great Otto Binder, is nothing too original. A giant robot appears of out nowhere, heading for Tower City leaving a path of destruction in its wake. It is revealed that the robot is on a mission of peace, but it out of control after bullets fired from military planes cracked the robot's dome and Earth's atmosphere knocked out all of those in mission control. The robot has a bit of attitude and blames the earthlings for their knee jerk reactions. Luckily a quick thinking paratrooper appeases the robot by helping him determine the location of his home world. Carmine Infantino's interior artwork does not hold a candle to Anderson's cover, but it's a a fun tale.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I Loves Me Some Justice League Unlimited

Ever since I've been a Dad, I have been plotting a way to get my kids interested in comics. They are only 4 and 2.5 right now, so I really haven't taken them down that road just yet (except for the Classics Illustrated Junior: Wizard of Oz, but that's another entry altogether). I'm one of those guys who constantly complains that 'Comics Just Ain't For Kids Anymore', but I was more than happy to be proven wrong. I had always enjoyed what I'd seen of the JLU cartoon series, so when I discovered there was a monthly book - I made it a habit to pick it up whenever I saw it in bargain bins. I figured that these books, along with the stack of Super Friends and Spidey Super Stories I've got put aside, would be a gateway to superhero comics when my kids are a couple of years older.

As part of my role as a responsible parent, I vetted these comics for content and, in doing so, I absolutely fell in love with this series. While the writers and artists may rotate, there is an underlying consistency throughout the entire series in the design and 'look' as well as the storytelling and pacing. Much like the TV show, the great thing about this series is that the stories are mostly 'one and done' along with some recurring themes in the background. I also love the fact that 2nd and 3rd tier characters are often highlighted as I know that as a child, I was far more intrigued by the Creeper than I was Superman. I've read nearly two-thirds of this series, and I've yet to come across a bad issue. In fact, it's probably one of the better series put out by DC over the last 10 years, regardless of target audience. I cannot wait to share these with my son and daughter, and I only wish that DC had kept it going for at least 100 issues. Good stuff!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Charlton Notebook: Yang #8

Yang was Charlton's response to the Kung-Fu craze of the 70s. Borrowing heavily from the David Carradine TV series, it involves the solitary Yang traversing America while locked into an ongoing battle with his nemesis Chao Ku, and his love-hate relationship with the warlord's daughter Yin. To be perfectly honest, that formula grew quite tiresome and this particular issue is a nice change of pace. Yang travels to an anonymous mining town in the 'northwest' to discover that its inhabitants are being terrorized by a figure dressed in wolf skins who has control over pack of wolves. Warren Stadtler's artwork is pretty polarizing for fans, but I quite like it. There are shades of Toth, Ditko and Kubert in these panels. The combination of super villain, whodunit and small town paranoia all work quite well here and this stands out as one of the strongest issues of this series.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hidden Gems: Justice League of America #206

Ok, so this issue is not strong enough to qualify for the Single Issue Hall of Fame, but I thought it was worth bringing it to the attention of fans of classic DC Silver Age. Gerry Conway pulls off a neat trick here, using the Space Museum as a framing device for the story entitled The Secret That Time Forgot. Thomas Parker uses this visit to the Space Museum to tell his son Gardner about a very odd story from the JLA's past. As such, the story is nothing to write home about but it does involve Abnegazar, Rath and Ghast, also known as the Demons Three. The other nice touch is that the issue was pencilled by Carmine Infantino. Now, I'm not the biggest fan of early 80s Infantino, and Romeo Tanghal is no Murphy Anderson, but it is really nice to see him revisit the Space Museum. As a story, it's on the silly side, but it is a nice curio.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Out Of This World #7

I believe that this rather odd cover represents a significant stepping stone for Ditko. To my eyes, the central figure greatly informs many of his later creations ranging from Static to the Missing Man. I really like the character's design as so many elements are mixed together. The slight tilt that Ditko gave the figure, along with the colorful lines in the background add a sense of motion to an otherwise static image. The newsprint comes from a story about the investigation into the involvement of Johnny Dio in the acid attack on columnist Victor Riesel. Riesel was investigating linkages between the Teamsters and organized crime. Two of the attackers were murdered before trial and charges against Dio were dropped. He ultimately served a short prison sentence on a separate charge but, in essence, no one was ever punished for the attack on Riesel. It makes me wonder whether stories like such as this played a role in pushing Ditko towards Objectivism.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Exit Stage Left: Best of DC #71

If you are somewhere around my age, digests played a big role in your life growing up. I wasn't really reading comics when this one came out, but I can only imagine that its demise was barely noticed by comic book fans at large. Granted, there are certain problems with the digest format but I still think they are pretty neat and grab them whenever I find affordable copies. This particular issue is a great example of DC in the mid-80s as it contains no fewer than 3 Alan Moore stories. It also has a couple of Swan drawn Superman stories and a Colan Batman tale. Just to show the diversity at DC, also included are Atari Force and Ambush Bug tales. I get nostalgic when I see these digests and feel a bit sad that they died when I had my back turned on comics. I think a 'Year's Best' would be tough to pull off these days as self-contained stories are too few and far between. It is a great concept though, and these digest are still a great way to get a nice fix of old stories.

Quick DVD Reviews

Grand Slam (1967)
This is a fun Italian heist movie with a rather interesting cast, an engaging plot and some nice set pieces. Edward G. Robinson puts together a team for a huge diamond heist in Rio. The only thing standing in their way is some very sophisticated security and Janet Leigh, as a mousy secretary who holds the key to the vault. It's decently paced but does lag at time but it holds up quite well, especially given its budget. Klaus Kinski turns in another weird performance - every line delivered with manic intensity. It is nothing groundbreaking but it is a stylish way to spend a couple of hours. Grade B+

(500) Days of Summer
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. Something just didn't add up. The relationship between Deshannel and Gordon-Levitt was never believable for me, so I didn't feel the impact when it started to fall apart. It just seemed quirky for quirky's sake - with every single genre and stunt (from animation to flash cards to a musical number) thrown in for good measure. That sort of thing really prevented it from finding its footing and made it instantly forgettable for me. I think the fact that it got such rave reviews is indicative of the appetite for good relationship films. Grade: B-

Inglorious Basterds
For my money, this was the Best Picture of 2009. I'm someone who likes, but doesn't necessarily love, Quentin Tarantino films. I enjoy what he does, but there's always a sense of detachment. That was all gone from the very first scene in this film as I dove in head first. Tarantino proved that he could be conventional and unconventional at the same time. I was most impressed by what he chose to leave out. Your average director would have included a 10 minute training montage with the Basterds, but Tarantino forgoes that and lets the viewer fill in many of the details. It is terrific fun and wonderfully suspenseful. Grade: A

The 2nd best movie of 2009 - a mini masterpiece. It's too bad that it did not get a wider audience as this type of intelligent science fiction is a real rarity these days. Sam Rockwell is unbelievable and it is a shame he was not recognized during award season. Duncan Jones and his effects and design teams created such an incredible atmosphere that you'd almost swear it was shot on location. A tidy little film running just short of the 90 minute mark. I think it will be well regarded in the years to come. Grade: A

Monday, March 15, 2010

You've Been Warned: Spectre #1

Normally, I'm able to forgive DC for its goofy Silver Age stories, but I cannot bring myself to say anything remotely nice about this one. Even for a DC book from 1967, the issue's premise requires an unprecedented suspension of disbelief. In an attempt to save an Ambassador's life after an assassination attempt, an untested anaesthetic is used. For some reason, he is reincarnated as one of his ancestors, who just so happens to be a notorious pirate. The rest of the story involves assorted attempts by the Spectre and Jim Corrigan to bring this ancestral evil spirit under control. The action includes a car chase, a duel, and a sword that fire cannonballs. The pirate is driven by something called 'megacyclic' energy which gives him a wide variety of powers including the ability to fly and travel through time. You'll be searching for an aspirin by the time the story gets to ancient Sparta and the evil spirit takes over Paris (yet another one of the ambassador's ancestors). I've got a feeling that even ACG would have refused Garner Fox's script - so I find it hard to believe that DC would choose to launch a new series with it. I need to grab a handful of Ostrander/Mandrake books to cleanse the palate afterwards.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Big Town #20

Here's the first entry of this new feature here at SOTI. Gil Kane produced countless covers over the years and I hope to showcase some notable ones from different eras and different genres. Some will be quite familiar, while others may be new to you. I'm pretty enamored with Kane's cover to Big Town #20 (March-April, 1953), one of many terrific covers he did for this series. DC's crime books were much less violent than those produced by the competition, but they made up for it with engaging covers and clever procedural story lines. I love the perspective Kane chose for this cover, as the sudden rush of gravity gives us a lump in our throats. Everything about the Steve Wilson character is beautifully rendered - from his tie flapping in the wind, to each and every fold in his clothing. It's too bad crime comics went out of fashion, because I really enjoy them and these days I'm more intrigued by an invisible foe punching an average joe than one punching the Hulk.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Reading Pile - September, 1995

Big changes were in store for me at this point in time. I was about to turn 23 and and had begun my first month of law school. I was getting to know a brand new city (Halifax) and meet new friends. Luckily, I was a mere 10 minute walk from Strange Adventures, a truly terrific shop. My student loan hadn't gone through so money was tight, but I still managed to buy a good number of books. Here's a look at some that I grabbed that month:

Sandman Mystery Theatre #32 was the closing chapter of the Hourman arc. This was another fine storyline in an excellent series. It was great the way various JSAers were bought into this series. I had come to Sandman Mystery Theatre a year or so late, but had managed to pick up the entire run on the cheap via back issue bins as they were selling for well below cover price. I bought this series religiously until cancellation, and continue to miss it dearly.
Earlier in the decade, I had started delve into the world of non-Big Two publishers (although I never got into the likes of Image, Valiant or Acclaim etc...). By this time, Dark Horse had taken over the Madman title (under the Legend imprint) and it was one of my very favourites series at the time. I couldn't really explain why it worked, but it was certainly unlike anything I had ever see up to that point. It was both new and retro and the character designs were amazing. The publishing schedule drove me crazy and I eventually fell off the bandwagon.

The was the time of the 'Year One' annuals at DC. I recall that these books were very pricey, but that many of them were quite good. The Scarecrow origin in the Batman Annual was very strong, and I retelling of the Green Arrow origin was quite good. I'm not the world's biggest Superman fan, but the outer space adventure from Action Comics Annual #7 struck a chord with me, as I often find the building of the Superman mythos to be more intriguing that the man himself. If memory serves, this was also the only year for a Spectre Annual during the Ostrander run.

Kurt Busiek's Astro City #4 was the 2nd Astro City book that I ever bought, and I was completely hooked. I had grown up on superheroes, but this series made everything new again. I really liked the way he built a universe from the ground up, but at the same time dropped the reader right into the middle of the action. It allowed us to learn about this world as it was happening, allowing for some of the blanks to be filled immediately while we'd have to wait patiently for other details. Over time, frustration over the publishing schedule got the better of me, and I drifted away from Astro City. I still have a lot of fondness for it - mainly because it made me feel like a kid again without insulting my intelligence.
Power of Shazam was also another series I was loving big time. It was a really fresh take on the residents of Fawcett City. I was now at the point in my comic book enjoyment where I didn't really care where characters and stories fit into continuity (Zero Hour burst that bubble for me), and I was only concerned with enjoyable stories. I don't recall issue #9 being a real standout, but I was loving the reintroduction of Captain Nazi and I've always loved the design of Black Adam. Jerry Ordway was obviously having a blast on this series, and it is unfortunate that not enough fans went along for the ride.
So - what did I miss that month? You may have noticed that there wasn't a single Marvel title. Looking at Marvel's schedule that month, I can understand why. The only book I regret not buying was Waid's Captain America - the rest looks like junk. There was plenty of great DC and Vertigo stuff I missed. I was not reading Starman, or the Invisibles or Sandman or Hellblazer... well, you get the point. It would have taken a millionaire to keep up with all of the great stuff DC put out back then. Marvel wasn't even in the same league.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Add It To My Want List: Captain America #144

I've owned at least 75% of the issues of Captain America from #100 to #25o at one time or another, but for some inexplicable reasons I've never owned (or even read) this one. It has recently come to my attention that the Falcon solo story in this book was drawn by none other than Gray Morrow - one of my all-time favourites. I Check Spellinghave often thought that Morrow would have been a perfect artist for some World War Two era Cap stories that were somewhat dark in tone. In my perfect world, there's a 25 issues run of a 70s black and white Captain America magazine at Marvel, and Morrow pencilled ever single one of them. As that is just fantasy land, I'll have to find comfort in this one. I know that it's a Falcon story, but it appears that Cap has at least a cameo in this one so that's fine by me. For my money, Morrow was at the height of his powers in the early 70s so I'm excited to see what he did with this one.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Reprint This! Rip Hunter... Time Master

Most discussions regarding DC's Silver Age seem to skip right over Rip Hunter. That's too bad, as the Time Master has had plenty of colorful adventures. I guess this type of story fell out of favour for a while, but I'm thinking that they are now seem as having enough 'retro charm' to warrant a DC Showcase Presents volume. Between the try-out stories from Showcase and the ongoing series, there should be more than enough material. I've only read a handful of these, and I'd love to get my hands on some more. Alex Toth, Joe Kubert and Mike Sekowsky all contributed to early stories and I actually really like Bill Ely's storytelling in later issues. If I'm not mistaken, Nick Cardy and the Andru/Esposito team chipped in on a cover or two. In general, DC has been pretty good to us fans by thinking a little outside the box with the Showcase Presents series. I only hope that they continue to do so, and give us some 60s time travelling fun.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Trade Marks: Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter

Let me start by saying that I've never read any of the Parker books by Richard Stark (aka. Donald Westlake), so I don't really have the ability to discuss this book in comparison to the source material. What I can say, however, is that it was an immensely enjoyable read, and it has encouraged me to seek out those original books. Darwyn Cooke's style makes his a perfect fit for a noirish tale. I really like the way he represented early 60s New York City - the exteriors are terrific, the interiors are well research and the fashions are precise and consistent. His character designs are good, if perhaps a bit generic. One might argue that the protagonist's single mindedness is a bit implausible, but I think it was makes him interesting as his actions come as a surprise to the mob and the reader alike. It was a bit misogynistic at times, but I can only imagine those are facets of the book. My only real complaint is that Cooke's storytelling gets muddled at times, and some sequences can be a bit tough to follow. I'll admit that I had to re-read the sequence at Rockaway station to sort out precisely what was going on. Overall, it was an entertaining read, beautifully rendered by one of today's great comic book auteurs. Trade Mark: B+

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Highlighting House Ads: DC Summer 1952

Here's a wonderful ad featuring the cover to two rare gems. Perhaps already seeing the Comics Code Authority on the horizon, DC really focused on the words 'Mystery' rather than 'Horror'. was obviously trying to sell it's horror and mystery titles This ad features the cover to the second issue under the Sensation Mystery banner. It's a beautifully designed Murphy Anderson piece with nice inks by Sy Barry. Also highlighted is the debut issue Phantom Stranger, with its very atmospheric cover by Carmine Infantino, inked again by Sy Barry. I'll never understand why these titles never took off. Perhaps it was because they did not focus on the gore of their competitors, or perhaps it was simply because DC/National knew that the horror trend was about to run its course. Either way, this house ad serves as a nice piece of history, hearkening back to a time when these two rarities could be had for 20 cents.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: House of Mysery #298

Sometimes I am quite shocked by what my parents let me read. I would have picked this book up off the spinner racks just before my 9th birthday. I am certain that I was drawn in by the Joe Kubert cover featuring some sort of mysterious vampire robot. It turns out that it was just another 'bait and switch' Kubert cover from this era, as Stalker on a Starless Night is really more about a standard visitor from space and some of the theological questions raised by his appearance. The story holds up very well to this day. This may have been one of my earliest exposures to Tom Sutton's artwork, and it certain stuck with me.

Two of the stories contained herein are particularly brutal and I don't think would have passed my parent's vetting process had they actually flipped through it. The final tale, Fetched includes a particularly nasty scene in which a man clubs his wife over the head with an oar. Of course, he gets his comeuppance, but it is quite disturbing. The tale from this one that still sends a chill down my spine is Creature Comforts, a much more gruesome tale than one would normally expect from George Kashdan. It plays out like Tod Browning's Freaks with a terrific EC twist ending. All in all, this one is great stuff that still resonates nearly 30 years later.