Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mount Rushmore Covers

Spy Smasher is one of the Golden Age heroes who had a tough time due to the end of WW2. After a brief revamp as Crime Smasher, he checked into the Home for Obscure Golden Age Heroes. There were some lovely covers during this title's short run, and the cover to Spy Smasher #5 (June 24, 1942) is no exception. The GCD suggests that it was by Gus Ricca, and I can't really argue with that but I'm open to hear other suggestions. The brushwork and colouring are sublime. Is this the earliest example of a Mt. Rushmore cover?

Truth be told, I've never owned nor read The Owl #2 (April, 1968) but, after seeing this cover, how can I not add it to my want list. Who are the Terror Twins? What are they doing with Lincoln's head? Where did they get those awesome gyro-bikes? I know that it was failed attempt to bring superhero comics to Gold Key by Jerry Siegel, but beyond that I don't know much else. Is this character even remotely connected to The Owl of the 40s? I see that Tom Gill, one of my all-time faves, provides the artwork so it can't be all bad.

For one reason or another, the TV show ALF never did much for me back in the 80s. I do, however, get a good chuckle at many of the covers from this series. I am not sure what ALF was up to on his vacation featured in ALF Annual #1 (1988), but I'm certain that it is wonderfully rendered as Marvel saw fit to hire two of the greatest humour book artists of all-time (Dave Manak and Marie Severin) to provide the pencils and inks. According to the GCD, the High Evolutionary takes part in ALF's adventures herein. Consider my mind blown.

I've always loved the perspective on the cover to Incredible Hulk #239 (September, 1979). The bird's eye view is very unique, and the Hulk seems to be descending upon Mt. Rushmore at a fantastic rate of speed. One of my favourite things about the Hulk is his leaping ability, but it has been underutilized by many writers and artists. Milgrom does a nice job here, although his Presidents don't look 100% accurate. I do like the concerned look on General Washington's face, though.

Let's finish off with this gorgeous painted cover by Norman Mingo for Mad #31 (February, 1957). I've never been to Mt. Rushmore, but I imagine that it is sufficiently popular that you cannot simply hop out of your car for a picture. It blows my mind to look at the credits for old Mad magazines, as this issue has 10+ pages from both Wally Wood and Jack Davis and even has a couple of Basil Wolverton pages thrown in for good measure. Personally, I think Mr. Neuman looks right at home up there.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Quick DVD Reviews

The 400 Blows (1959)

One of the great things about Netflix is that they've got a decent selection of true classics, and when the movie is waiting for you with just the click of a button, there's not excuse not to expand your horizons. Sure, I knew all about The 400 Blows, and how important it was to the French New Wave and the evolution of film. Rarely have I ever felt the level of empathy as I felt for the character Antoine. Growing up is difficult, and Truffaut was able to capture a moment in a young boy's life that will ultimately be a major turning point, whether or not he realizes it at the time. It's an extremely intimate film, beautifully shot and the ambiguous ending leaves the viewer feeling the same degree of turmoil as Antoine. Grade: A

Nollywood Babylon (2008)

I've seen a lot of movies from a lot of different countries, but I've never seen anything from Nigeria. I'd heard bits and pieces about some of the movies coming out of Nollywood, so I tracked down this Canadian produced documentary on the Nigerian film industry. This film is a case of the subject matter being superior to the film itself, as not enough of the actual product is shown and too much time is spend on a single director. In addition, there's a tangential exploration of the role of the evangelical church in film production. No real conclusions were drawn and that appears to be a topic for another film. Overall, it's a good eye opener into another world of film making but it came up short. Grade: C+

The Big Combo (1955)

I had read about The Big Combo in Eddie Muller's Dark City: The Lost World of Noir and had really enjoyed Cry of the Hunted, another 50s film directed by Joseph H. Lewis. This is a rather bleak film from late in the noir cycle, quite vicious and pessimistic. Richard Conte is particularly strong as the menacing gangster who will kill his own men to keep from being captured. Look for Lee Van Cleef in a small role as one of a pair of purportedly gay hoods. The film is quite groundbreaking on a number of levels and very enjoyable. Grade: A-

Get Low (2010)

I had heard good things about Get this film, but really wasn't sure what it was all about. I thought it was going to be one of those quirky comedies about a small town eccentric. I was only partially right. It is a quirky comedy, but the humour is underscored by some thought provoking and emotional insight into growing old and dealing with our pasts. The cast is strong from top to bottom, and it was terrific to see Sissy Spacek onscreen once again. Duvall's speech at the end of the film is evidence of his masterful acting. It's a shame this one didn't garner much attention during the award season, but I guess that's always the way. Grade: B+

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Add It To My Want List: Secret Origins #21

To be perfectly honest, I'm interesting in adding every issue of Secret Origins that I don't already own to my want list but let's start with this one. When this series was first released, I ignored it completely as I assumed it was just a rehasing of origin stories that I'd heard a million times. Boy, was I wrong! This series includes some of the best stories published by DC in the 1980s. Just this week I learned about this issue with a Jonah Hex origin story. Not only that, but I learned that it is drawn by one of my all-time favourite artists: Gray Morrow. How have I not known this? That's what I love about collecting comic books - there's always some nice surprise around the corner. Oh, and the other story? It's drawn by Murphy Anderson, who is no slouch in the talent department. A book with art by two Hall of Famers and a nice JGL cover? The search begins immediately.

Friday, July 22, 2011

You've Been Warned: Superman #337

This cover looks promising, doesn't it? Well, like so many of the 'bait & switch' covers produced at DC during the 70s, the interior tale comes nowhere near living up to that initial promise. Inside, things are a bit out of sorts in Metropolis. Clark Kent's behaviour is a bit odd, as he suddenly seems to have developed a backbone. One villain after another appears only to suddenly disappear. How can all of this be explained? Well, an inventive writer like Grant Morrison would have a field day with this type of concept. Unfortunately, it was up to Len Wein to hand in this uninspired script. Ready for the ending to be spoiled? It was all Don-El (who?), the head of Kandor's Superman Emergency Squad. Apparently, his subconscious jealousy of Superman led him to develop some form of mental illness wherein he ultimately posed as Superman. The only way to break this spell was for the real Superman to pose as a series of villains (using super speed to move from one to the other) until Don-El ultimately cracked. My head hurts after typing that. The concept of Kandor is fun, but it became such a lazy writing device, helping free anyone who had managed to write themselves into a corner. This is an example of DC shooting itself in the foot.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: DC Comics Presents #62

This series features some of my favourite Gil Kane covers of the 80s, and this one is right up there with the best of them. Sure, it's very 'posed' and nowhere near naturalistic, but I like them like that when they involve Golden Age heroes as it is reminiscent of another era. In fact, this one brings to my one of my all-time favourite covers: Action Comics #52. It's highly symbolic as the entire world seems to be at stake as our heroes take on the Nazis. I find the placement of the heroes to be interesting, as Superman defers to Uncle Sam. For me, Gil Kane's Superman from this period always looks like Superboy (probably has something to do with all those Superboy covers). While this is a grand cover, it's the small touch of Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeve that really sells it for me. The interior artwork by Irv Novick and Dave Hunt is pretty top notch as well.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Exit State Left: Invaders #41

While the various late 70s implosions at DC are pretty well documented, change was also the norm at Marvel. Plenty of titles came to an end during this period, as Marvel was also looking for ways to boost sales. The Invaders was one of those title to face the axe, but at least it was sent off with a double sized issue, allowing certain story arcs to finish. For me, Roy Thomas' attempts to play around in the Golden Age sandbox produced mixed results, whether at DC or Marvel. Don Glut does an admirable job with this finale. While I think that Alan Kupperberg and Chic Stone are competent artists, I really prefer these WW2 set stories to be drawn by Frank Robbins or someone else from the Caniff school. That style of artwork tends to transport me back in time. Kupperberg did a nice job on the double spread pin-up that serves as a coda to this series. It's a shame that the phrase 'Verdammt Invaders' would not be heard again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Singe Issue Hall of Fame: Eerie #7

Sure, there are plenty of Hall of Fame contenders from the early Warren years, but this one is perhaps the cream of the crop (aside from the untouchable Creepy #1). Reading through the credits alone is enough to give a comic book fan chills. We start with a gorgeous Frazetta painting. It's different from much of his work; darker and more subdued. I love it. Inside you'll find story after story written by the late, great Archie Goodwin. They are all strong but highlights for me include Witches' Tide with phenomenal work by the recently deceased Gene Colan. I'm also a fan of the black comedy masterpiece The Fly with superb grey tone work by Steve Ditko. Finally, special attention should be paid to The Defense Rests by Johnny Craig. It's a fine example of dialogue-free funnybook storytelling. A classic.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: All Out War #1

As far as I can piece together, this was the first war comic I ever owned. I was pretty keen on the whole Dollar Comic format and any #1 issue caught my eye as I was excited to get in on the ground floor. Looking back, the whole Viking Commando concept never appealed to me (still doesn't), but there were a few good stories in here. One tale began with a soldier taking a bullet through the head. That certainly got my attention as a 9 year old, and that one had the harshest ending I'd seen up until that point. There's also an interesting tale about African-Americans Air Force pilots, and some questions about the Haunted Tank's confederate flag. I was also very intrigued by Gunner, Sarge & Pooch. I know for a fact that I would not have liked the Force 3 story because of the Jerry Grandenetti artwork. What can I say? I was just a stupid kid.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Highlighting House Ads: Power Records DC Heroes

If you're at all like me, you were completely obsessed with those Books & Records set put out by Power Records in the 1970s. They were ad-free save for some super cool house ads. This one is taken from the back cover of the story entitles Robin Meets Man-Bat. To my eyes, the folks at Power Records had more faith in Metarmopho than did the powers that be at DC/National. Here, he's treated as an equal to DC's triumvirate. In the comic book world, he'd have to wait a few more years to even be considered as an Outsider. I find it very interesting how folks in other media thought Rex and Plas had quite a bit of potential. The same goes for Aquaman - he often seemed more successful on TV than he did in comic books. The design here is quite simple, but the beautifully symmetrical stretchers really catch your eye and help frame the image. Good stuff.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hidden Gems: Logan's Run #6

Hats off to my good friend Mickey for reminding me about this particular hidden gem. The first five issues of the Logan's Run comic book series is a pretty solid adaptation of the film. With the sixth issue, however, an attempt was made to keep the momentum going. With a Paul Gulacy cover and Tom Sutton pencils inside, Marvel was certainly giving it the old college try. Sadly, the series would only last one more issue. There is a real surprise buried in the back of this book. It's a 5 page back-up featuring Thanos and Drax the Destroyer entitled "The Final Flower". You never know where Marvel is going to decide to drop an inventory tale. This one is drawn by Mike Zeck, and I would imagine it was some of his earliest work for Marvel. The story has been reprinted here and there, but having the original in your hands is a bit more satisfying.