Friday, May 31, 2013

Hidden Gems: Wanted, The World's Most Dangerous Villains #5

Today, we live in a world of glossy reprint volumes and online comic databases. Once upon a time, tracking down Golden Age stories was much more difficult. DC did Golden Age fans a huge favour back in the 70s when they started digging through their vaults and putting history into their readers' hands. It was great to see all the Golden Age Flash and Hawkman stories in those 100-Pager Super Spectaculars but I think the real treat was to see Quality Comics characters return to the spotlight. Even today, we've see a ton of reprints from DC, but they tend to avoid the folks from Earth-X. I've owned a number of Doll Man and Feature Comics issues over the years and feel that Doll Man was a one of the most consistently great strips of the 40s and 50s. This particular issue contains one of only four Doll Man stories reprinted by DC in the 70s (I think my math is correct on this one). Until the time comes when we see a Doll Man Archives (my fingers are crossed), issues such as this one will have to do the trick. Oh yeah, it's also got a pretty great Green Lantern story.

Monday, May 27, 2013

An Evening at the Improv Covers

Take a brick wall, throw a spotlight against an you're left with either mullet-based comedy (I'm looking at both of you, Jeff Foxworthy and Rosie O'Donnell) or a dramatic comic book cover. Let's take a look at a few examples of the latter.

Crime Must Pay the Penalty #5 (December, 1948) is a perfect example of this type of cover. It looks straight out of a film noir, and I can envisions someone like Robert Ryan or Robert Mitchum striking this pose. I am not sure who drew this particular cover. I know that Rudy Palais did many of the early covers for this series, but if this is his work, someone else came in to do the inking. Good stuff.

The fantastic team of John Buscema and Ernie Chan visit the pages of Marvel's non-canon sandbox with the cover to What If? #13 (February, 1979). I love this one as it has a good pre-Giuliani NYC vibe to it and is date stamped by the Star Wars poster on the wall. I was a big What If? fan as a kid, but I don't think I have ever read this particular issue. I will keep an eye out for a copy.

I have discussed Marvel Treasury Edition #18 (1978) on here before, but I would be remiss if I did not include it in this group of covers. It is an exceptionally awesome image by Bob Budiansky, inked by Mr. Chan. I think that Budiansky is unheralded, or at least under heralded, in terms of cover designs. This one is simply fantastic. The back cover is just as cool, with the issues bad guys caught in a Spidey spotlight.

Metal Men covers have always been a little 'out there', but everything was kicked up a notch during their 'disguised as humans' era. Mike Sekowsky handled the pencilling chores for the final year or two of Metal Men covers, and this is among his best.  Metal Men #39 (August-September, 1969) has a whole lot going on, but the reader still get the Phantom/Hunchback vibe that is at the heart of the story inside.

I will leave off with this brilliant cover to Blackhawk #272 (September, 1984) by the always underappreciated Dan Spiegle. The use of colour,  or lack thereof, is key to this one as it almost comes across like a Jack Adler grey tone cover. I have sung the praises of this run by Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle before, but if you have not given this series a chance I encourage you to head to your nearest back issue bin as soon as possible. Looking at this cover, I see its beauty but I can understand how it got lost on the spinner racks back in '84.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Add It To My Want List: Classics Illustrated Junior #529

I do not know a single thing about The Magic Servants by the Brothers Grimm, but I spotted this cover and I am very intrigued. Sharp-eyed fans of the Legion of Super Heroes might do a double take when they see this one. Is that Bouncing Boy? Elastic Lad? Colossal Boy? That one guy has ears just like Chameleon Boy. Even the one in the back with the bowl cut looks as though he's wearing Mon-El's costume. Can all of this possibly be a coincidence? Probably, but I'm a sucker for a good conspiracy, so I want to track down a copy to see if there are any other similarities between these servants those super powered teens from the future. The hunt begins.

You've Been Warned: Marvel Preview #16

Boy, did I ever get bait and switched on this one! A quick scan of the cover led me to believe this was a Sherlock Holmes tale. Considering that a couple of earlier issues in this try-out series were actual Sherlock Holmes stories, who could blame me? What I got, however, was a dull modern day Holmes-clone named Hodiah Twist. I get it. This was supposed to be a clever nod to Arthur Conan Doyle, but it completely misses its target. The main problem is the author: Don McGregor. The older I get, the less patience I have for his overly verbose prose. He pushes word balloons to their absolute limit. In terms of the artwork, Colan's storytelling is a bit of a mess, especially as the action ramps up over the last few pages. Overall, this was should have stayed in the unused inventory heap. The second story 'Death By Disco' seems to be fondly remembered by fans of the Gerber/Colan team. It is not terrible, but I have never been a fan of Lilith and Gerber seems to have been taking advice from McGregor in terms of his prose. This is essentially a 5-page story stretched out over 20+ pages. Colan's artwork is quite nice here, but this is definitely a sub par effort by this particular team. Required reading for completists only.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kids' Corner: Bigfoot Boy - Into the Woods

Now that I'm a Dad of two young children (7 year old boy and 5 year old girl), I am constantly trying to find good quality comics for them. One thing I have learned is that not all comics aimed at young readers are made equal. I thought it would be fun to start a new series here discussing comics aimed at actual children. Let's start with a relatively recent graphic novel written by J. Torres with artwork by Faith Erin Hicks. This is the story of a city boy reluctantly staying at his grandmother's house on the edge of a spectacular forest. He befriends his adventurous neighbour and discovers an amulet that transforms him into a Sasquatch with the ability to communicate with wildlife. It's a pretty simple concept that appeals to boys and girls alike. The character designs are simple but stylish, our heroes are likeable and the dialogue is witty without being snarky. A personal pet peeve of mine is too much sarcasm in children's books. There are some menacing wolves that help add a bit of threat to the proceedings. The humour is pretty broad but even the potentially awkward stuff (Rufus is naked when he switches back to human form) are handled tastefully. Torres and Hicks make a very good team and I'll keep my eye out for future volumes. This is a good fit for kids in the 5 to 9 range and is a nice alternative to superhero books.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Reprint This! Zane Grey's Stories of the West

There were a lot of western comics published in the 1950s, but one series that was of a consistently high quality was this 13 issue Dell series. Mix in the ZGSotW installments found in Four Color and you've got quite a volume. The covers are gorgeous and it wouldn't surprise me at all if they were reprinted from Dell paperbacks. Inside, the artwork by Albert Micale is very handsome. He was perhaps best know for his work on Dell's Roy Rogers series, but was always a talented painter. Google him to see some of his western images. I am not sure who wrote the bulk of these well paced and entertaining stories - Gaylord DuBois, perhaps? They are ripe for rediscovery and I'd love to see a hardcover collection on the shelves.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Creature From The Black Lagoon

In 1993, Dark Horse published a small handful of Universal Horror adaptations. I completely missed these the first time around, but lucked out during some bargain bin diving a few years back. While they are all quite good, the Creature From the Black Lagoon issue is the real standout. I love the movie, but I was concerned that it would not translate very well to the Four Color format. This is mainly because part of what makes the movie so great is the phenomenal underwater camerawork and just the overall sense of being below the water's surface with the Creature clawing at your heels. I tip my hat to Mr. Art Adams who not only does a superb job conveying that eerie feeling, but absolutely nails the whole vibe of the movie - from the characterizations to the pacing. If you're a big fan of the film, I urge you to hunt down this book. It is a joy to read. My runner-up selection from the series is the Mummy adaptation, as it features some very moody artwork by Tony Harris.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Exit Stage Left: DC Comics Presents #97

I'm back. I got a gentle nudge from Tennessee and have decided to try to find the time to write on here more often. My job changed dramatically during the summer of 2011 and the dust is just starting to settle. Let's gets started with a rather odd finale to a rather inconsistent series. I always viewed DC Comics Presents as the poor relation of The Brave & the Bold. For starters, I far prefer Batman to Superman and I always felt that DCCP needed a consistent creative team. All of that said, there are some really fun stories over the course of 97 series. This particular issue, however, is not one of them. The story is one of those awkward Pre-Crisis tales jammed into a Post-Crisis world. The whole things feels as though DC is trying to burn off inventory before handing the car keys over to John Byrne. I think it would work better as a Elseworlds type tale, but I think that it technically fits into Pre-Crisis continuity. Steve Gerber is a writer who is amazing when he is focused and avoids allowing his big ideas to run away from him. This story starts strong, with a look at how the Phantom Zone came into being but they goes off into a variety of directions, touching on everything from the Bizarro World to Mr. Mxyzptlk. It is as if Gerber is trying to create his own Crisis to bring Superman continuity to an end. It simply doesn't work, and the endeavour is not helped in any way by Rick Veitch's pencils. Veitch is a good fit for certain titles, such as Swamp Thing, but I just do not think his loose, organic style works for a mainstream superhero book. Overall, this series deserved a much better send-off.