Friday, June 28, 2013

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #19

Steve Ditko drew a lot of very 'busy', multi-panel covers for Charlton's Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds but this one may be my favourite. If you can mange to look beyond the giant logo and the intrusive sweepstakes advertising along the bottom, you will note some very atmospheric underwater artwork. Ditko and water have always worked for me. While Charlton was often guilty of choosing rather garish colour palettes, this one is not too bad at all. I particularly like the green and yellow hues at bottom left, and the shadowy figures in the panel above. I have owned some books from this series, but never this one. The more I look at this issue, the more I want to get my hands on it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Add It To My Want List: Western Kid #4

I am a real sucker for Atlas-era westerns and have owned a ton of them over the years. Sadly, most of those were sold on eBay years ago to help pay to keep my house standing (I kept my Outlaw Kids!). I am actually not a huge fan of the Western Kid character. He always came across as the blandest of the 1950s group of 'Kids'. I like John Romita a lot, but he certainly became a more dynamic artist through the 60s adn 70s. Bill Everett, on the other hand, was a master from Day One and this particular issue includes an Everett-drawn tale from Quick-Trigger Western #14 (September, 1956). From what I have seen, Quick-Trigger might have been the strongest of the Atlas western anthologies and can be quite pricey these days. By tracking down this one, I can enjoy some of that 50s western magic for a fraction of the price.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kids' Corner: Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius - Not So Secret Invasion

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of Franklin Richards. When I say that, I am referencing the 'Connecticut Years' during John Byrne's run when Franklin was just an accessory and was always playing with Secret Wars toys wearing that annoying 4½ shirt. This Franklin Richards, however, is an entirely different story. In this series, Franklin is a mischievous little guy, getting into all sorts of trouble despite the best efforts of his robo-nanny, H.E.R.B.I.E. Yes, that H.E.R.B.I.E! I read somewhere that there's a real Calvin & Hobbes vibe here, and I certainly won't disagree. The adventures are fun, and the two leads have great chemistry. Kids will love the silliness, but their parents will be rewarded with references to the larger Marvel Universe. How could you possibly pass up the chance too see a mini-Doom or even a time displaced, 8-year old Reed Richards develop a crush on his eventual wife. Great stuff!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hidden Gems: Marvel Classic Comics #8

Marvel's attempts at a Classics Illustrated knock-off was pretty hit and miss. The first batch of these were mostly, if not all, reprints of adaptations produced by Vincent Fago for Pendulum Press. While the covers are generally quite strong, the interior artwork and the awkward word balloons made for a bait and switch experience. This adaptation of Moby Dick, however, is an exception. I read the novel for the first time earlier this year and am happy to report that this telling manages to capture all of Melville's exciting atmosphere. Much of the credit goes to Alex Nino's pencils, which are perfectly suited to this kind of tale. The integration of the words are also done in a unique and seamless manner. Compare this to the Dracula issue and you'll see what I mean. This is certainly one of the best issues of this series that I've read, and fans of the book will find it to be a nice companion piece. Oh yeah, the Gil Kane cover is all kinds of awesome, isn't it?

Trade Marks: Wimbledon Green

I waited years and years to read this book. Upon its initial release, I recall it receiving nearly universal praise, even in Canadian newspapers that don't tend to pay much attention to the funnybook world. Seth's stuff is seen as hip, fun and intellectual. That said, it came with a pretty hefty price tag and I passed. I recently picked up a remaindered copy for $9.99 and was happy to finally dive into it. While I would not say that I was hugely disappointed, I can honestly say that I do not understand the hype. It's a fine collection of vignettes interwoven to tell the story of the greatest comic book collector in the world. There is a plenty of alluding to fanatical fans of Golden Age books and the lengths they will go to add to and defend their collections. The problem is that none of the characters are very well fleshed out and the story seems to go in circles most of the time. I understand that it is not a straight narrative, and is merely trying to shine a light of certain characters but it essentially trips over its own cleverness. It is also written about such a small segment of a very isolated and insular community that I fear it will only appeal to those very same people. I certainly didn't hate it, but I felt as though I was at an arm's length from the book and its characters. I just couldn't shake that sense of detachment. If someone lends you a copy, check it out but I truly think your money can be spent on other books. Trade Mark: C+

Friday, June 14, 2013

Exit Stage Left: Daredevil Comics #134

This little gem from 1956 is the final issue to a title with a long, strange history. To think that it all began with Daredevil battling Hitler, and somehow continued through the years, surviving the premature exits of the chief villain and even the title character. Hitler was gone in 1945, the Claw was killed that same year and Daredevil vacated the premises in 1950. Still, this title kept rolling along. The main story in this issue has the Little Wise Guys mistakenly thinking that some police trainees are up to no good. Ultimately, they help a rather bumbling candidate pass the test. It’s typical post-Code fun – but not exactly a battle against Hitler. Much has been said about the impact of the Comics Code Authority on EC, but it could be argued that Gleason was hit even harder. They relied heavily on their crime comics but their one-time ‘superhero’ books such as this title and Boy Comics, stayed on the racks much longer than most would realize. In the end, they departed with far less fanfare than that which announced their arrival. This is a tough book to track down but a nice piece for your historical oddity shortbox.

You've Been Warned: Fantastic Four Annual #18

Hey folks, do you remember the star spanning Kree/Skrull War? Remember how generations of Krees and Skrulls fought each other in a never ending battle for galactic supremacy. Well, did you ever wish that the whole thing could be wrapped up in a lame, 3-page pseudo fight? Did you always hope that The Watcher would essentially declare the war to be a tie and simply state that it was now over. If so, this is the book for you! Seriously, I know that Annuals were typically a place to stuff as many ideas as possible, but this is ridiculous. We've already got another typical Marvel Universe wedding disrupted by party crashers. In this one, it is Black Bolt and Medusa tying the knot. I get the feeling someone at Marvel realized that they had never been married. That oversight was explained with the 'Inhumans just take a long time to wed' argument. We've seen the whole wedding chaos thing a million times and there's nothing new here, and the fact that a whole Kree/Skrull subplot was dropped in reeks of desperation. I have no idea how long the war remained 'over', but I am not sure I really care. I am certain that it is considered blasphemous to diss anything from the John Byrne era on Fanastic Four, but this one stinks. Decline this wedding invitation.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Reading Pile: August, 1979

I'm returning to these posts about what I read during any given month at various junctures in my life. This time around, I am looking at comics that would have been on spinner racks in August, 1979. I would have been two months shy of my 7th birthday. Again, I must give kudos to the Amazing Mike and his Newsstand:

I have always loved Mysterio and I have to think it has to do with the fact that I read so many great Mysterio comics as a kid. He was also featured in the 60s cartoon, which was in heavy rerun rotation in Toronto at the time. Amazing Spider-Man #198 still holds up today, with a ton of good background on the 2nd Mysterio and very solid work by the Buscema/Mooney team. Great cover, great book.

As I have likely mentioned a million times on here, Justice League of America was one of my 'go to' books for years. From the house ads I'd seen, this storyline seemed to be so earth shattering. In reality, the outcome in Justice League of America #172 did not blow my mind. The question I was asking wasn't really 'Who Killed Mr. Terrific?' but rather 'Who the heck is Mr. Terrific?'. In the end, the story didn't have much punch, but I'm still a sucker for JLA/JSA crossovers.

UFO & Outer Space #23 would have been at the top of my reading pile that month, as I absolutely loved that series. The covers were usually fantastic and the stories was all very intriguing and sent a shiver up my spine. The Reader's Reports were such an innocent and charming way of presenting these stories. I'd like to find out where the stories came from. Actual letters? Tabloid mags? Or just made up by the writers? I still feel very nostalgic about the old Gold Key gems.

Must like the JLA, I could not live without the Avengers as a kid. Avengers #189 features one of those super dramatic covers that I loved so much, the cover to #181 being an all-time favourite. Who is in? Who is out? I loved that stuff. I also loved the Hawkeye being mad at the Falcon angle that played out over the entire year. This one is almost a Haweye solo book, and that's just fine by me.

Cool books I totally missed the boat on that month include Daredevil #161 and Iron Man #128. Oops.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Power of Shazam #8

The 90s are not fondly remembered by many comic book fans. It was a time of garish artwork and headache inducing 'events'. That said,  I was hooked on many titles during the decade. The Power of Shazam was a great series, with a nostalgic, but fresh atmosphere. The 8th issue is a treasure trove for fans of the Golden Age as it is almost a Fawcett City All-Star Game. We meet Bullet Man, Minute Man and Spy Smasher and get to see Freddie Freeman first cry 'Captain Marvel!'. On the bad guy side of the ledger, we see Theo Adam, Captain Nazi and even Hitler's skeleton. There's a cool call back to the old Unknown Soldier series (a favourite of mine) and even some Curt Swan pencils. What else could fans of classic comics ask for? How about a great Jerry Ordway cover that seems to straddles the eras? This is a good one, and a nice addition to the 90s wing of the Hall of Fame.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Creatures of the Loose #31

Kane did a lot of great covers for Marvel in the 1970s, but you need to look to some second tier titles to find some of the very best. Let me start off by saying that I'm not in love with the inking here. The GCD credits both Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito, so that might explain why it seems to be a bit of a mess. What I am in love with, however, is the perspective chosen for this cover. What a great design! It gives it such a wonderful horror movie vibe. Was that 'Beast' font ever used for the X-Men's Beast? I know it is not the one from his run in Amazing Adventures, but it seems familiar.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Trade Marks: The Original Clone Saga

This is one big book, coming in at nearly 500 pages. It also has a hefty price tag and I likely would have passed had I not found it for $20. I was not reading Spidey books during the whole Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider era, but I was intrigued to revisit some of these older stories to see how the origins of the whole saga. As a child, I had read many of the individual stories through a combination of Amazing Spider-Man and reprints in Marvel Tales. For some reason, the Jackal always freaked me out when I was young. He came across as wild and insane and reminded me a bit of Gollum from the Bashki animated movie. Some of my earliest comic book memories involve the Jackal. Getting back to this volume - the storyline goes on and on and includes just about every story with a tenuous link to the Clone story. Some are more engaging than others, and I began to lose interest as we moved into the 80s and early 90s and became more focused on Carrion and Hobgoblin. I'm a pretty big Sal Buscema apologist, but some of those later issues looked quite terrible. Let's blame the inkers, shall we? All in all, the artwork is beautifully reproduced and the stories are mostly enjoyable. Most importantly, it reminded me of a few things. First, nobody draws NYC streetscapes like Ross Andru. Spider-Man and Andru-drawn buildings go together like webbing and a flagpole. Secondly, the Tarantula was an awesome villain. There's a reason many of my favourite Spidey stories featured this sharp-toed foe. It is worth adding to your bookshelf if you can find it at a reduced price, but far from essential. Trade Mark: B-

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Konga's Revenge #2

Ok, it has been more than a week but it I don't see myself changing the category label at this point. Steve Ditko drew a number of amazing covers in the 1960s. This was not one of them. I love the Konga stories but, for some reason, the covers were often lacklustre. The problem with this one is not the rat. Sadly, it's not a giant rat, because Konga becomes Doll Man sized in this story. The rat looks gross, but in a cool kind of way. Konga, on the other hand, is posed very awkwardly. It just doesn't work for me at all. The biggest problem for me, however, is the background. It's just a terrible, garish yellow. Why not go with something that would cause less eye strain? Overall, although I dig the rat, this one is a dud.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Spider-Woman #4

I can't quite recall why I read so many Spider-Woman comics as a kid. I think my parents were trying to be fair and would often grab comics featuring females heroes featuring the likes of Wonder Woman and Spider-Woman. I don't think that I ever fully understood Jessica Drew's origin story (still not sure that I do today), but her little corner of the Marvel Universe turned out to be quite interesting, if a bit confusing. I've always liked her character design and also thought that Brother Grimm's costume was pretty cool in its simplicity. The Hangman character who shows up here is nothing new from a design perspective, but his deeds do seem a bit gruesome for a mainstream comic. I have to commend the Infantino/Dezuniga team here, as the artwork is quite compelling - especially their use of shadows in one noose-based panel. Marv Wolfman's script, on the other hand, continues to hurt my brain 30+ years later. It was not until recent years when I began to realize how large a role Infantino played in my young reading from Star Wars to Nova to Spider-Woman. Flash books were also some of the first Silver Age books I ever bought. I'm generally not a fan of his late 70s and early 80s work, as everything became less sleek and too wide as if faces and bodies were being stretched horizontally. That does not happen here, though, as his pencils are much tighter, perhaps added by DeZuniga. It's a good looking book, with a confusing, overly soapy storyline. Still, I get the rush of nostalgia as I flip through it and that's not a bad thing.