Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trade Marks: The Underwater Welder

I have been trying to get my head around writing a review of The Underwater Welder for a couple of weeks now. My reviews tend to be quite short, so how could one puny review present such a problem? Well, it has to do with sorting through the emotions I felt while reading Jeff Lemire's deceptively simple work. Why do I choose to use the word 'deceptively'? As always, Lemire's choice of a small cast of characters and everyday setting belies the complex themes at work here. The Underwater Welder touches on loss, grief, maturation and responsibility, all in this tale of a man-child still emotionally and spiritually tethered to the memory of his long deceased father. A small handful of words or a glint in a character's squiggly eyes is all that Lemire needs to break your heart or fill you with hope. Perhaps I'm the perfect customer for this stuff as I've lived in Nova Scotia and spent half my life on Toronto streetcars, but I truly think that there's a universal appeal to his work. There is a through line from the Essex County Trilogy all the way to this book, and it has to do with Lemire's profound understanding of humanity and the myriad of emotions that can make up a single day. This book is haunting on quite a few levels (I haven't even touched on the spirtual/supernatural aspects) and is a fine candidate for repeat visits down the road. Trade Mark: A+

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Charlton Notebook: The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #43

Although I'm a big fan of Charlton's horror output during the 70s, I'll freely admit that most issues are hit or miss. This one follows that trend, as it has one great story, one good story and one pretty weak story.. The main attraction here is the Nicola Cuti/Joe Station mini-masterpiece "The Things in the Subway". The stylish and stylized Staton artwork is perfectly suited to this Twilight Zonesque tale, featuring a rather grim ending. Ditko fans will likely be intrigued by 'Don't Lose Your Heart' as it features some neat historical art by Ditko, as he travels through the ages. There's one particularly effective panel showing the Battle of Waterloo that jumps right off the page. It's good, not great. The lead story is the weakest. It features a great concept of a weird old man with a rather interesting doll collection. The Joe Gill script is quite poor and it is not help at all by the Murray Postell artwork, which is very stiff and awkward. Worth tracking down, for the Cuti/Staton tale alone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hidden Gems: Walt Disney Showcase #34

There are a number of hidden gems in this Gold Key reprint series, and I'll touch on a few more down the road but I thought that I should begin with this amazing issue. It looks as though the folks at Western Publishing wanted to kick off America's bicentennial year in style, and how better than with the tale of Paul Revere. What makes this one so special is that the story features 32 pages of gorgeous Alex Toth artwork. This story was originally published in 1957 as part of Four Color #822 and, while there are a few extra bits and pieces by Toth that didn't make the cut for the reprint, the main story is here to see in all of its glory. This is my favourite era in terms of Toth's artwork, as it lines up with his run on Zorro. There are several similarities here, including lots of shadowy action - one of Toth's true strengths. Walt Disney Showcases aren't all that easy to find these days, but when you do find them, they are still pretty affordable. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Reprint This! Spy-Hunters

In the 50s, 60s and 70s it seemed as though spy based movies, TV shows and books were everywhere. There were also a number of comic book titles focused on espionage and international intrigue. For some reason, this genre has been poorly served by the reprint market. I'd like to rectify that by lobbying for a volume of ACG's Spy-Hunters. This would make for a wonderful trade paperback, as it ran for 24 issues (when you include the 2-issue predecessor Spy and Counterspy) and features artwork by Golden Age stalwarts such as Ogden Whitney, Charles Sultan and the great Leonard Starr. How can you possibly pass up on reading stories with titles like 'The Spy Who Bluffed a Price' and 'Carribean Counterstroke'? While I would love to see these covers and stories recreated in colour, I would be more than happy to settle for an inexpensive black and white 'Essentials' type volume.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Highlighting House Ads: 1979 JLA/JSA Crossover

I really think that DC ran some of its best ads during the 1977-82 stretch, back when they were pimping Dollar Comics, 8 Page Bonuses etc... This particular ad might win the award for most characters feature in a one-page ad, especially once you include the ones features on the two covers. For those of you in the know, the death at issue hear may not have been all that shocking as it involved a fairly minor character (although, I've got a soft spot in my heart for him), but it was still a death and that was a rarity in the Bronze Age. To be perfectly honest, there's way too much going on here, and the use of stats from other sources creates a certain artistic inconsistency. This ad does make me wonder, however, when the JLA/JSA crossover was mentioned for first time. Also, who wrote the Superman dialogue? He sounds a only a 'thou' or two short of Thor. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Batman #180

When you think classic Batman covers from the 1960s, my guess is that you are likely to think that they were all pencilled by Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino and perhaps Irv Novick. When you look through a cover gallery from either Batman or Detective Comics, you'll note that Gil Kane was actually responsible for a handful of the most memorable covers. This one is a particular favourite of mine, as I spotted it in a house ad during my early years of Silver Age collection (this would have been circa 1981) and decided that I absolutely must have a copy.  What caught my attention back then? Well, the exact same things that catch my attention today. First, check out Death-Man. The character design is awesome, even if the name is a bit generic. Second, I absolutely adore the driving rain. Sure, Eisner and Ditko are the masters of water, but Kane is not far behind. Finally, I just love the layout, as the prone Robin in the foreground, staring helplessly at the reader creates a real sense of panic. Gorgeous stuff.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Add It To My Want List: Four Color #1328

There is a lot of buried treasure hidden in the labyrinth known as Dell's Four Color series. Many terrific books can be found hidden in this rather confusing anthology series. Over the years, I've noticed that a lot of tremendous artists provided work for this series. Four Color #1328 is an adaptation of the film The Underwater City. Now, I haven't seen the film but I love any and all 50s and 60s comics that involve some form of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (Sea Devils, The Frog Men etc...), so the subject matter is right up my alley. What really caught my attention however, is that this particular book is pencilled by Reed Crandall and inked by George Evans. I have only seen scans of a couple of pages, but watching those two masters work below the surface of the waves is more than enough incentive for me to keep my eyes peeled for this one.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Lone Ranger Western Treasury #2

So, why would I nominate the second issue of Lone Ranger's Western Treasury into the Hall of Fame rather than the first volume? Or perhaps I should have considered the follow-up, Lone Ranger's Golden West #3. Well, to be perfectly honest, they all contain a number of excellent Lone Ranger stories (some even have solo Tonto and Silver stories) and have pages of neat facts about life in the wild west to help pad the page count to 'Dell Giant' levels. In addition, they all feature artwork by the master of deceptively simple storytelling, Tom Gill. What sets this one apart is the cover (and back cover). While I love the traditional painted covers used on the Lone Ranger series, I really, really dig the character design here. It recalls one of those great Little Golden Books like Seven Little Postmen or The Little Red Caboose. There's just a great, post-WW2 charm to that kind of artwork. The back cover shows the same map, but with lines indicating the "Famous Cattle Trails". Seriously, I am not making this up. You need a copy for your collection.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Superman #291

This may have been the first comic book I ever owned. At the very least, it is the first one I remember owning. It was published just prior to my 3rd birthday, and I must have owned it for a while and then it vanished. For years, I only had the fuzziest memory of Superman and a brick wall. I only had only local shop for back issues, and I spend years in the early 80s searching through their bin looking for this cover, hoping that my memory had not betrayed me. It was not until several years later that I saw it again and had a 'eureka' moment. I can understand why my memory was fuzzy, as it is a typically loopy and forgettable Supes story about some hood temporarily gaining Kryptonian strength thanks to a watch. Still, it is nice to keep this in the collection as part of my personal comic book history as it helped make Curt Swan's Superman my Superman.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Roller Coaster Covers

When I thought of Roller Coaster covers, the first book that sprang to mind was Spidey Super Stories #38 (January, 1979). Why? Well, for starters, I owned this one as a kid. Why would I have bought it, as I was certainly reading 'regular' comics at this time? My guess is there is no way to withstand the pure charm of this Sal Buscema pencilled gem. I love how Spidey happily takes a back seat to a fearful Ben and Reed's giant hand. Who could possibly resist this cover?

Here's one that you may not have seen before. The Informer #4 (October, 1954) is the penultimate issue of this series from short-lived publisher Sterling. The GCD suggests that Art Saaf might have drawn this cover, but I am not so sure as his stuff usually seems a little bit more cartoony to me. In any event, it is a dynamic cover featuring a bag of cash, a mean left hook and a green suit that would make Gil Kane envious. I love this one.

I have owned a few of the Archie comics published by Spire Christian over the years, but have never laid my hands on a copy of Archie's Roller Coaster (1981). To be honest, I was surprised that these were still being published into the 80s. I do dig this cover though, as I think Al Hartley had a good eye for cover design, and I'd snatch this up if I ever saw it in a bargain bin as they are fascinating curios.

Batman has been featured on a number of Roller Coaster covers, in fact we'd seen a the Scarecrow on a a roller coaster just a couple of years prior, but this double Joker cover from Batman #286 (April, 1977). Why? Two words: Jim Aparo. Aparo is my all-time favourite Batman artist. In my opinion, no one draws the Joker as well as Aparo, he's part psycho, part showman - and this one deliver two of them.

Let's leave off with this little lovely from the team of Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. Tales of Suspense #30 (June, 1962) hit spinner racks at the dawn of the Marvel Age, but it still has a very Atlas-era feel to it. I love that dark, rich grey that only Atlas seemed capable of producing. It created a very haunting (pun intended) atmosphere. I'm not one for being anal about perspective, but this would certainly seem to be the world's tallest roller coaster, if not structure.

I Loves Me Some Powerpuff Girls Digests

When the Powerpuff Girls hit the mainstream back in 1998, I did not pay much attention to their exploits. About a year ago, my household got hooked on the three little girls made of sugar, spice, everything nice and a dash of Chemical X. The thing is, while the PPG were everywhere 10 years ago, their stuff is not so easy to find these days. Luckily, DC released two volumes of PPG stories in the slim, undersized format. I believe these are still in print and, in not, at least fairly easy to find. These are the gems of my daughter's bookshelf, and I love reading with her as the stories are absolutely hilarious. In fact, my son can even be found giggling while reading these tiny masterpieces. Let's get more of these in print DC!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

You've Been Warned: Brave and the Bold #156

It is not often that I can find a flaw in my all-time favourite series, never mind an issue drawn by Don Newton, but this one stands out like a sore thumb. As a general rule, I am not a huge fan of sorcerer/magician heroes, but sometimes they can be a good fit with Batman (see Phantom Stranger in B&B #145). This particular issue has an overly convoluted plot involved a demonic possession centering on a wrongly accused man. At least, that's what I think was going on - the exposition came fast and furious. It all wraps up way too quickly and one wonders whether Doctor Fate could have handled it all alone. If you're like me and need a complete run of the Batman team-ups, you'll want this one, otherwise you can forget it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Trade Marks: Enemy Ace - War Idyll

This is one that I have meant to read for quite some time. I have always loved Enemy Ace - as Kanigher and Kubert created one of the most interesting characters of the Silver. This slim volume introduces us to an elderly Hans Von Hammer, who sits down for a series of  interviews. This device allows the story to be told via flashback as the Hammer of Hell Reminisces on some notable episodes of the Great War. This is all filtered through and compared to his interviewer's experiences in Vietnam. I know that all of this was done with the intention of making a grand statement about the price of war through the 20th Century. Unfortunately, it actually comes across as another late 80s statement on the hopelessness of the Vietnam War, ultimately undermining the impact of the WW1 episodes in this tale. While it looks gorgeous, in the story end it trips on its own ambition. Trade Mark: B- 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Exit Stage Left: Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #137

The other day, I was laughing with my daughter about  the great "You've got me, who's got you?" From the first Superman movie. I told her that Lois was actually the star of her own comic book for many, many years. This had me digging out a few samples, and holding the particular book in my hands. It is a pretty typical issue featuring two kooky stories (including one that suggests that dinosaurs were actually colonists from a dying planet, I kid you not). The John Rosenberger artwork won't blow your mind, but he's a decent storyteller. The letter column reflects a largely female readership, which is kind of cool. The fact that this is the final issue is only referenced in a small note after the first story, informing readers that Lois is move to the 100 Page Superman Family series. She did, and lived there with her pals for many more years, but this is really the end of an era and another nail in the Silver Age coffin. Kind of makes me sad.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

You've Been Warned: Eclipso #3

Wow, was this ever a bleak period at DC! To think that in the late 80s and very early 90s, so many great projects were able to introduce darker, more mature while still fully engaging the reader (Watchmen, Green Arrow and Suicide Squad come to mind immediately). This series evolves (or should I say devolves?) from that initial trend, but ends being just plain ugly. The Eclipso-based crossover event was not groundbreaking, but it was at least readable. The ongoing series brings the concept to new lows and managed to drag plenty of characters down with it. This particular issue brings in a bland interpretation of Cave Carson with very little fanfare. A talented creative team would have been able to infuse the character with some Silver Age charm, perhaps noting his rather anachronistic skill set. Instead, his is simply dropped in and seems immediately disposable. It's a shame, so is the book. I bought it as a 5 for $1 bundle and I still feel ripped off.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Tales of Asgard #1

I remember my initial disappointment when I first purchased my copy of this book more than two decades ago only to discover that it was filled with reprints. I was an idiot back then. I should have been thrilled to have so many terrific back-up stories from 1963 and 1964 all in one place. In addition, this was (and likely still is) one of the most affordable Marvel Silver Age superhero books on the market. To begin with, the cover is pretty darned impressed, assembling as many Asgardians as possible in one place. Inside, you'll find no fewer than 10 five page stories featuring some of Thor's supporting cast including Odin, Balder and Heimdall. There's something particularly cool about the Marvel one-shots of this era (see Iron Man & Sub-Mariner) and this is also a great opportunity to compare the work of different inkers on Kirby's pencils. Good stuff all around and it won't do too much damage to your wallet. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Reprint This! Jungle War Stories

We live in a Golden Age of comic book reprints. I am delighted to see collections of many Dell and Gold Key titles on the shelves of comic book stores. I do, however, still believe that there is still a lot of potential material out there that should be collected. Dell published a number of good quality war books, but I thought the best place to start is Jungle War Stories. If you include Guerrilla War, the continuation of this series, you have 14 issues worth of material, making for a nice sized introduction to Dell's war books. Jungle War Stories was the first war title to focus on the Vietnam War and, while the stories may not be 100% factually correct, it does give insight into how the various players were perceived at the time. While the bulk of the art chores are handled by the steady, but uninspiring, Maurice Whitman, keen eyed readers will spot work by the likes of George Evans, George Tuska and Reed Crandall scattered throughout the series. It's not at the level of a DC or Atlas war book, but still a good series deserving a the reprint treatment, if only for the gorgeous painted covers.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Mad Monsters #1

Here's one that you may not have seen before. In the early 60s, Charlton got in on the monster mag trend with Mad Monsters. The very first issue of this short-lived series featured this great, drooling werewolf by Mr. Ditko obviously based on the Lon Chaney Jr. design.  Unfortunately, the image is crowded out by a ton of cover text but that's often the case with these mags. This one makes me wish that I had a blacklight poster with Steve's take on all of the Universal monsters.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

ArMAYgeddon Month at Married With Clickers

Hey folks, I don't know how many of you listen to podcasts on a regular basis, but you should. I find they are a great way to pass time on my commute or at the gym. As I have mentioned, my wife and I started a podcast in late 2011 and we try to get out an episode a week. They are not terribly long (usually running 40-60 minutes) and I think they are getting better as we get a better handle on it. For May, we've decided to do a month of disaster movies. So far, we covered films such as The Concorde... Airport '79, Earthquake and Dante's Peak. If that type of film is your cup of tea, I highly encourage you to check get our show onto your iPod or computer. You can download episodes directly from our website or subscribe through iTunes (links below)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Trade Marks: Omega the Uknown (2008)

I am getting to the stage in life where I am not really enjoying things that make me feel stupid. Not many funnybooks have that effect on me (Jimmy Corrigan comes to mind), but let's throw this one into that group. I have read two of Jonathan Lethem's novels (Fortress of Solitude and Motherless Brooklyn), neither of which lived up to the hype in my opinion. There's a lot of potential at the outset, but the stories cannot seem to escape the built-in weirdness. The same goes for this update of the Omega story. The original run was odd, but this cranks it up to 11. Thematically, there is a lot going on here, but much of it is lost due to awkward storytelling and cryptic dialogue. I wanted to like this book. In fact, I wanted to love it but the sheer 'weird for weird's sake' kept me at arm's length and left me feeling cold. Note that I read this over a 3 week period; a sure sign that it did not engage me. On the plus side, I enjoyed Farel Dalrymple's pencils as they reminded me of Guy Davis. Trade Mark: C-

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hidden Gems: Secret Origins Annual #2

How many times will this series appear in my 'Hidden Gems' feature. I must admit to all but ignoring the series when it was first released, thinking it merely contained rehashings of origins stories with which I was already all too familiar. Little did I know the modus operandi of the title was to expand and ameliorate the origins, adding all sorts of new details and characterizations. The lead story in this issue, involving Wally West and his psychiatrist, is average at best. Sure, it is good to infuse some literature into a funnybook tale (Kipling's If... in this case), but it seems to be trying too hard. What makes this issue special is the reunion and possible (by my count, at least) final appearance by the art team of Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson. I'm not a big fan of post-1975 Infantino has his style got too loose for my tastes, but Anderson helps tighten that like and make the reader feel as though they'd stepped on the Cosmic Treadmill. Their stories focus on a few key events in Barry Allen's life and culminate in a rather touching coda to the Crisis saga. I'm not sure if it is all part of today's canon, but it works for me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

You've Been Warned: Swamp Thing #43

I know, I know, I know - this is pretty much heresy, but hear me out. I have been making my way through Alan Moore's run on this series via the hardcover TPDs that have been hitting the bargain bins at a local bookstore. All in all, it is a wonderfully engaging and entertaining journey - with Moore creating a unique environment within the DCU. All that said, I feel that, despite the iconic cover, this particular issue highlights all that can go wrong when Moore takes a detour from his main highway. We get a story that hinges on the psychedelic elements of a tuber that fell of Swamp Thing's back and was distributed throughout the greater Baton Rouge area. These little 'trips' are filled with bad dialogue and over the top imagery which kills what little narrative momentum had been established. Moore may be trying to say something profound here, but it was more akin to listening to a stoner discuss Bob Weir's solo work. Peace.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Captain America #215

Ok, so it has been way more than a month but I'm trying to get back on track. Gil Kane did a ton of covers for Marvel in the 70s, but this one easily cracks my top 10. I absolutely adore the design and colour scheme. The decision to leave the background figures in grey was pure genius. I also really love the choice of characters (the inclusion of some Invaders certain time stamps it. I find it amusing that there are two versions of Nick Fury and even Cap appears in his own background (or it is that crazy 50s Cap?). I do wish, however, that Kane had been able to work Batroc and a Sleeper robot into the picture. This is great stuff, nearing iconic levels. It would have made an amazing poster. Still would.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Grimm's Ghost Stories #50

I would have been about 6 and a half years old when this comic book hit spinner racks. Coincidentally, that's also exactly the same age as my own son now. Of course, he's Harry Potter 24 hours a day and has only a fraction of the interest in funnybooks that I did as a kid. That's fine, as I don't want to push it. I assume that once he sees that mountain of boxes in our basement, he'll find a way to spend rainy afternoons. I'm not sure this type of ghost story book would be up his alley, but my 4-year old daughter would love it, as she's much more into witches and ghosts. I'm 99% sure I got this book in a 3-pack bag, and I still have two of the three books (I believe the other two were a Turok and a Mighty Mouse) from back then. I always enjoyed these books, and still do to this day. In fact, I think I have a soft spot for artists like Frank Bolle because they played such a subtle, yet important role in my childhood. I hope my kids have a similar experience.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Exit Stage Left: Sweethearts #137

Like many Charlton series, Sweethearts has a long and strange history. This was one of many Fawcett titles taken over by Charlton in early 1954. Did you know that Sweethearts can trace its roots all the way back to Captain Midnight #1 (September, 1942)? The series came to Charlton with issue #122. Of course, since we're dealing with Charlton it makes perfect sense that they renumbered the series with the second Charlton issue as issue #22. Yup, there really was something in the water in Derby. Anyhow, this series kept chugging along for another two decades before signing off with this issue. The series actually maintained a decent level of quality throughout the years and this one is another, slightly better than average romance book. I love how they managed to incorporate another of Charlton's go-to subgenres (Hot Rods) into this book. Anyone know who drew the cover? The inking is really quite nice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Add It to My Want List: Upcoming Phantom Collections

Ok, I will be the first to admit that I do not stay on top of what 'new' releases are on the way, so this may be very stale news. I was on Amazon's website, and it mentioned that I may be interested in some keen looking Phantom collections. Might I? It looks as the stories from the Gold Key years, the King years and the Charlton years are all being reprinted and released next month. I own over half of the Charlton books, but it would be sooo nice to have them all in one place so I can see the crazy variations in artists from Aparo to Sherwood to Newton. Kudos for Hermes Press for putting these together - I just hope it's not some sort of hoax. On a related topic, I am still trying to figure out the ID of Norm di Pluhm as Steve Skeates apparently said it wasn't him.