Thursday, August 22, 2013

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Amazing Spider-Man #30

It is incredible to think about how many iconic covers Ditko created during his time on Amazing Spider-Man. It is also incredible to think that he was capable of creating something so bland. I don't know what was going on and how this one got the stamp of approval. I have seen far better covers by Ditko that were rejected. I don't actually mind the use of Atlas-era grey, but there is simply too much of it. The layout is also problematic:  the main figures are so small and the spotlights seem a bit awkward for some reason I can quite put my finger on. I feel as though this is a so-so splash page they rushed to turn into
a cover. Honestly, I feel that it is among the worst covers Ditko ever drew. I am certain that there must be a story behind this one, does anyone know it?

My Reading Pile: February, 1993

I was 20 years old, trying to survive a frigid Montreal winter in my second year as an undergrad. I did not have a ton of money, but I still managed to get mys hands on a few funnybooks every month. Here's a scattering of what I bought that month.

Justice Society of America #8 - Ever since I was a little kid, I have been a big fan of the JSA. One of my main concerns coming out of Crisis was that DC would put the Earth-Two characters out to pasture. At times, it seems like that might actually happen but the early 90s revival gave me hope that there was a place in the DCU for Rex Tyler, Charles McNider and the rest of the gang. This is not a particularly notable issue but for the fact that, like all of them, it features amazing artwork by Mike Parobeck. It still makes me feel unbelievably sad that Parobeck passed away at such a young age.

Green Arrow: The Wonder Year #3 - As I may have mentioned a hundred times or so, I am a big Green Arrow fan. I could not get enough of the regular series, so it was a real treat to have some extra Ollie stories to read for a few months. This was Mike Grell's attempt at a Year One. While this was not at Miller's level, it is still a pretty solid read and Gray Morrow inking Grell's pencils is a sight to behold.

Flash #75 - I will fully admit that the whole Return of Barry Allen storyline had me hook, line and sinker. Like Wally, my jaw dropped when he showed up. It might have something to do with the fact that I grew up admiring Barry much in the same way Wally did. This was one of the first times I remember noting Mark Waid's name. Barry's erratic behaviour had me a bit worried but, like Wally, I was in deep denial. A fun, charming cover by Ty Templeton.

The Spectre #5 - I was a fan of this series from the get-go. Sure, the glow in the dark covers were cool, but what really got me was the characterization of The Spectre. John Ostrander took much of what was good about the Doug Moench series and added a whole new layer to it. The characters were more fully fleshed out and the storyline were much more memorable. All in all, it just resonated with me. This issue is a good example of the mixture of occult and crime fighting offered by the series.

The only thing I regret missing that month was the initial issue of Sandman Mystery Theatre. It would take me a few months to get caught up on that series, which was my favourite of the decade.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hidden Gems: Shazam & Shazam Family Annual #1 (2002)

Wow, just typing 'Shazam Family' makes my skin crawl. It's the Marvel Family, dammit! Ok, deep breaths. Deep breaths. No one wants to read a rant about semantics. In the last decade, DC did a pretty good job producing these nice, albeit slim reprint volumes as a sort of retro 80-Page Giants. The problem I had with them is that I had read many of the Silver Age DC stories before and they carried a premium price tag ($9.99 in Canada). As we all know, deflation has a habit of kicking in after a few years and I'm seeing this at much more reasonable prices ($2.99) in back issue bins. This particular issue is pure Golden Age gold. It includes some pivotal tales from the heyday of the Marvels and provides a good sampling of the artists working for Fawcett at the time, including Mac Raboy, Marc Swayze and Bud Thompson. What I love the most is that DC saw fit to include the full Sivana Family story from Marvel Family #10. If you have already wanted to get a taste of the Big Red Cheese but did not want to shell out for originals or an Archives volume, this is a great option.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Add It To My Want List: DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #17

I own a whole bunch of these digests from DC, but I have never have this one in my collection. It was never high on my list because I have always felt that Ghosts was the weakest of DC's horror titles. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that this particular issue mostly collects stories from House of Secrets & House of Mystery from 1969 through 1975, arguably the strongest era for those titles. Many of these are written by Jack Oleck, a very underrated horror writer. The 13 stories include artwork from the likes of Neal Adams, Wally Wood and Berni Wrightson. Of course, none of those gents can truly be appreciated in digest size, but there's a lot of greatness jammed into this tiny package. I haven't even mentioned the all-new Joe Kubert cover. It is gorgeous. I must have this. The hunt begins!

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Loves Me Some: Double Page Spread Podcast

I listen to a lot of podcasts. A lot of them. One of my biggest problems with comic book podcasts is that so many follow the same format: a bunch of guys talking about the latest 'flavour of the month' creator and making fun of Devil Dinosaur. Yes, I agree that the artist in question has some talent (although, his or her storytelling could be improved) and that Devil Dinosaur is a bit silly, but what else can you offer? Where is the insight? So many of these seem to be simply preaching to the fanboy choir. Us older, crustier funnybook fans demand a little more analysis and a broader range of topics. Let me tell you about Double Page Spread hosted by Wendi Freeman. Ms. Freeman's show is both fun and insightful. She has a great love for comics and their creators, and is able to critique in a snark-free manner. How refreshing. She gets some intriguing guests on her show and is terrific at moderating a round table discussion (I point you towards a lively chat about Lois Lane books on a recent Superman-themed episode). If you are looking for a comic book podcast that stands out from the crowd, I urge you to give this one a try.

Reprint This! Ziff-Davis Science-Fiction

Ziff-Davis comics featured some of the greatest covers of the Golden and Atom Ages. To be perfectly frank, the interior stories and artwork rarely lived up to the gloss promise of the painted covers. From what I have seen, the science fiction line was probably Ziff-Davis' strongest funnybook product. These titles, which include Space Patrol and Crusader From Mars, among others, rarely lasted more than a couple of issues. I know that some were been reprinted by Malibu in the 90s, but I think this is a great opportunity to gather them all together in a beautiful hardcover volume. These stories are drawn by the likes of Berni Krigstein, Murphy Anderson and Gene Colan. This is a treasure trove and it should not remain hidden any longer.

Trade Marks: Superman For All Seasons

As a fan of just about everything touched by Messrs. Loeb and Sale, I went into this with very high expectations. Generally speaking, many of my favourite Superman stories are Smallville focused. That is the strongest stuff here as the Kents are wonderfully fleshed out and Lana Lang and Pete Ross both have fine moments. When the action moves to Metropolis, however, things begin to take a turn for the worse. Luthor's motivations for empire buildings and his hatred for Supes are insufficiently explained and this undermines the impact of the moments in which they interact. The story is both small and large scale, which might have been biting off more than the creators could chew. It is still a solid book, with a wonderful atmosphere created by the artwork but it is a step down from the team's strongest work.
Trade Mark: B-