Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Highlighting House Ads: Charlton's Action Heroes 1967

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you are fully aware that I am a pretty big fan of Charlton's Action Hero line. Readers were bombarded with new heroes in the 1960s, but this small collection must have stood out as quite unique. When I see them all together on one page, the thing that really strikes me are the cool costume designs. Perhaps none of these became as iconic as Superman or Spider-Man but each of them, from the minimalist Peter Cannon (with a tip of the hat to Lev Gleason's Daredevil) to the Eastern influenced Judo Master, really stand out from what we were seeing at the Big Two. I'd love to get a poster of this one and put it up on my wall. I only wish they'd found room to include Sarge Steel. While I am generally not a fan of Stan Lee's constant hype about the greatness of Marvel during the 60s, I do find the 'And They're Not Half Bad' line to be a bit too far down the other end of hyperbole spectrum. A truly odd choice of words.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Exit Stage Left: Twilight Zone #92

Here's a terrific final issue, cover dated May, 1982, a full 18  years after the final episode of the TV series aired and a nearly 3 year hiatus since the previous issue. I devoured this series as well as other Gold Key/Whitman mystery titles as a child. A number of years ago, I stumbled upon a bargain bin containing a ton of final Gold Key/Whitman issues. Sure, it may be a bit on the esoteric side, but that's the stuff dreams are made of. This one is a true gem as it reprints the very first issue of the Twilight Zone series from 1962. These stories had all been reprinted in digest size, but I am very happy to own them in the standard format. Why I am so happy? Well, the artwork herein is provided by comic book legends Reed Crandall and George Evans, both working at the height of their powers. My favourite stuff involves a thief seeking refuge in a museum only to be transported back to Custer's Last Stand. It's great stuff and completely in keeping with the TV series. This is great stuff as the series comes full circle and signs off with a classic.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Mr. Goon-Child

Here's a terrific little robot that made a single appearance in Weird Fantasy #15 [3] in 1950. The Goon-Child is the creation of Henry, who constructs this rather simply robot to do menial chores around this house. It turns out that the Goon-Child isn't all that keen on being a slave and upgrades his design to the point where he can revolt against his slob of a master. There's a terrific 'They call me Mr. Tibbs' moment and I find it quite comical that Henry is overpowered by a robot who looks like an ancestor of Johnny Five. All of this is handled beautifully by Harvey Kurtzman who balances humour with a sense of threat. A true classic.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

You've Been Warned: Shazam - A New Beginning

Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan of the Big Red Cheese. I think he's a wonderful character and that Fawcett City and its denizens represent an important little corner of my comic book universe. That said, this mini-series is pure dreck. Roy Thomas fell into some bad habits at DC in the 1980s. The worst one was his need to cram an incredible amount of backstory and historical context into each story. These four issues contain twelve issues worth of material and it just kills any sense of pacing. On the art side, I'm actually a pretty big fan of Tom Mandrake, but he's a bad fit here. His loose, organic style is much better suited to something like Swamp Thing or The Spectre. Don't get me wrong. I don't think that every Marvel Family artist needs to ape C.C. Beck and Bud Thompson. In fact, I liked Don Newton's take on these characters. The combination of Thomas and Mandrake results in a product that runs counter to what makes a good Shazam! story work. Your money is much better spent Captain Marvel stories engineered by the likes of Jerry Ordway or Jeff Smith. Avoid this one.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reprint This! Mr. & Mrs. Superman

Never heard of this series? You're likely not alone. Unless you were a reader of Superman Family in the late 70s and early 80s, you were probably not aware that there was a series featuring Earth-Two Lois and Clark in a state of marital bliss. It was a charming little series, with fun scripts by Cary Bates and E. Nelson Bridwell with clean, almost retro artwork by the always underappreciated Kurt Schaffenberger. In these stories, trouble always seems to find its way into the Superhome, and we get plenty of guest appearances including Alan Scott, Bruce Wayne and both Mr. Mxyztplk and Mr. Mxyzptlk. I understand that these stories had zero value to the powers that be at post-Crisis DC, but I honest believe that a collection of these 8 page gems would find an audience in today's market.

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Battlefield #2

It could be argued that the pre-implosion bullpen at Atlas was as good as it gets. The talent pool was so deep that terrific artists such as Mac Pakula rarely warrant a mention. Some of the best work produced by these artists can be tough to track down, as they are scattered among the myriad of Atlas war books. If you're looking for a great example of the high calibre of work coming out of said bullpen; look no further than Battlefield #2. We start with a great cover by Russ Heath, showcasing the horrors of the Korean War. Check out that hand coming out of the ground! What I find most interesting about this era of war comics are the propaganda-soaked stories. The first story here is a great example of that, showing the North Korean soldiers as savages. Another intriguing aspects of this genre is the attempt to educate the reader. This issue has a rather haunting look at the atrocities of war, including a look at WW2 concentration camps. If you don't think Paul Reinmann is much of an artist, I urge you to check out this story. Also on the educational front is a look at various defensive walls through the ages, beautifully rendered by the aforementioned Mr. Heath. Yup, all of this and some Joe Maneely art to boot. If you happen upon an affordable copy of this book, I urge you to snap it up or check it out via the Marvel Masterworks volume. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hidden Gems: The 'Nam #41

I know quite a few people who rave about this series, but this is the only issue I've ever owned. I am pretty darned happy with it, too. Why is it a hidden gem? Well, let's start with the lovely John Romita cover. It's may be odd to see three key Avengers bursting through a map of Southeast Asia, but it sure is cool. This issue comes across as a quasi-What If? as the soldiers imagine what the war would be like if superheroes had been involved. It is all quite light hearted, or as light hearted as a book about Vietnam can get. What I really like however, is how the same soldiers absolutely skewer the John Wayne-starring Green Berets. They take that film to task and some of the panels are recreations of scenes from the movie. All in all, this is a bit of an oddity and one I think you'd be happy to have in your collection.

Memoirs of a Bronze Age Baby: Micronauts #15

I think that this was the first Micronauts comic I ever owned. I had a bunch of the toys as a child and thought they were pretty cool. I especially loved my Antron figure with the glow in the dark brain. I re-read this particular issue for the first time in years and I have to say that it made about as much sense to me now as it did when I was a 7 year old. I can imagine I would have understood a word of it back then, as Bill Mantlo had built up a pretty complex back story and the featured a remarkable number of characters and subplots. This little issue has all of the Micronauts, a S.H.I.E.L.D. courier, the Fantastic Four, Psycho-Man and even a panel with Captain Universe. I must have simply admired the visuals, and there is some decent emotion here as Princess is truly upset to see Microtron viciously attacked. I also must have liked it for the ads, which included ROM, Star Trek: the Motion Picture and many other cools toys and gadgets I wish I could get my hands on. Typically, I really like Bill Mantlo, but something just does not work for me here. It is all a bit too convoluted. I also think that the Chaykin/Milgrom team is a step down from Michael Golden, but they do a solid job.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Trade Marks: Doc Savage - The Silver Pyramid

While I would not consider myself to be a Doc Savage expert or super-fan, I have read enough of the Man of Bronze's exploits to be fairly well versed in the character and I am always keen to revisit his world. I also know that pulp flows through Denny O'Neil's veins, so I had pretty high expectations when I got my hands on this collection of stories from the late 80s. What I wasn't expecting, however, was a focus on a supporting cast that truly works better in small doses. I was also underwhelmed by the new characters introduced and the attempt to build an almost Phantom-esque feel to the Savage lineage. There were two key missed opportunities. The first was the underdeveloped Nazi villain, who never got beyond a cartoony sketch. The second was a chance for a terrific whodunit surrounding a traitor in Savage's midst. We get the answer in the end, but there was no dramatic tension. I'm generally not a huge fan of the Kubert boys' artwork, but it is very, very paternally inspired here so, at times, you feel as though you're reading an old Joe Kubert war book (those parachutes!). All in all, this one is a yard sale candidate. Trade Mark: C-

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Marvel Tales #143

I was reading my tattered copy of Marvel Tales #3 (1966) with my two kids last week. We had a good conversation about just how amazing Steve Ditko's character design was on the Lizard and how his work on Spidey villains overall is what led to the long-term success of the Spider-Man empire. Well, maybe I was rambling, but I think they were listening. On revisiting this story, I was struck by just how much I love the look of the Lizard. He's a great tragic, sci-fi monster. You all know that I love Ditko covers, but the cover to Amazing Spider-Man #6 never did much for me. It was only after seeing the cover to Marvel Tales #143 that I realized the problem. The colour was all wrong. He lab coat was purple! It ruins the overall effect as the Lizard's Green/White/Purple colour scheme is very appealing. I'm not sure who fixed it for this reprint cover, but I commend them as they've actually improved a Ditko cover - a rare feat.