Thursday, April 23, 2015

Trade Marks: Black Beetle - No Way Out

This was a blind buy for me last year. It caught my eye, I did a quick flip through and the sheer pulpiness of it had me pulling out my wallet. I have now read it twice and I put the book down feeling very satisfied both time. Of course, this stuff is right up my alley as the character is some sort of Batman/Sandman hybrid. I know that there have been a ton of book in recent years trying to tap into the vein of pulp, but many fail. This one gets it right, and full credit goes to creator Francesco Francavilla. He finds the right balance between atmosphere, plot and action. His artwork and storytelling is also sublime. I do not read too many new comics, but I will be picking up the next volume and devouring it. This is a strong recommend for those of you looking to see something recent and decent. Trade Mark: A

You've Been Warned: DC Special Series #6

When will I learn? I've have been burned by issues from the main Secret Society of Super-Villains series, so why did I think this would be any different? This stuff should be right up my ally. A handful of my favourite heroes going up against some of my favourite villains (sorry, Angle Man). Perhaps it's a matter of too many cooks spoiling the broth. This issue is an absolute mess, with a very convoluted plot involving far too many moving parts. Gerry Conway's script feels like something salvage from Roy Thomas' wastepaper basket. The villains take the heroes down one by one, but rather than through brute force or intelligence, it is done using some sort of inter-dimensional mind control or something along those lines (honestly, I wasn't following). I am not generally a fan of Arvell Jones' artwork as I find his storytelling lacks fluidity and this is compounded by 8 or 9 splash pages throughout. I know that people love big splashes, but I find that they can kill momentum. As it comes from 1977, there are some cool ads but that's about it has going for it. Avoid.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Reading Pile: December 1978

I haven't done these in a while, but I've been reading and re-reading from this era a lot in the past couple of weeks so I thought I would see what I actually read back then as a 6 year old.

I don't recall how this Scooby-Doo issue came into my life, but I did end up reading quite a few of the Marvel/Hanna-Barbera books back then. I know that I had some Laff-A-Lympics, for sure. Scooby-Doo #8 is the only issue of the Marvel version of this series that I remember owning. I think that the Gold Key creative team of Evanier and Spiegle was still in place as Chase Craig remained as editor. I'm not sure what happened to these titles. Maybe the licensing got too pricey?

Godzilla #17 is what inspired meto revisit this month as someone posted the cover on an internet group and I dug out my old copy. How could I not have picked this up as a 6 year old. I was absolutely nuts for dinosaurs and Godzilla (I would soon be a proud owner of a Godzilla Shogun Warrior). This remains a very fun book as S.H.I.E.L.D. uses Pym particles to turn Godzilla into the cutest little thing that you ever did seen. Gabe learns that those teeth as still sharp, though.

Back in the olden days, kids like me learn about major events in Peter Parker's life through reprints such as Marvel Tales #98. I surely couldn't afford an original back then and there were no Essentials or Masterworks so I did a lot of Spidey reading via Marvel Tales. It was just fine to learn about Gwen's death a few years late as I was not exactly plugged into the fanboy network as a 6 year old.

If you know me at all, you'll know that Brave and the Bold is my all-time favourite series so you will usually see an issue during these entries. Brave and the Bold #145 remains near and dear to my heart as it introduced me to The Phantom Stranger and contained some of Jim Aparo's finest B&B artwork, in my humble opinion. It was also one of my first experience with a voodoo-based story. That kind of thing leaves an impression on a boy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Our Army At War #3

Close your eyes and think of all of those great war covers Kane did for DC in the 50s and 60s. Having a hard time picturing any, aren't you? Although I've read a biography of Kane, I cannot remember if it delved into which genre he preferred over others. For one reason or another, he did not get many assignments on war covers (although he'd contribute a number of Sgt. Fury covers for Marvel years later). While this particular cover, inked by Joe Giella, is absolutely fine, it does not pack the same impact as the covers done by war comic mainstays Irv Novick and Jerry Grandenetti back then. While there is a lot going on here, it somehow lacks excitement and seems like something you'd see on an generic comic of that era. If you look at the cover gallery for the first 50 or so issues of Our Army At War, you'll agree with me that Kane's entry was one of the weakest.

Reprint This! The Adventures of Alan Ladd

Remember the good old days when comics were often about real people? Or at least about the type of people that we, the public, thought they were? Neither do I. I'm too young that that stuff, but I have always been intrigued by them ever since I spotted them in the Cover Gallery section of the first Overstreet Guide I ever owned. I've also always been fascinated by Alan Ladd as he had an interesting life, both professionally and personally. This series featured Ladd in a variety of adventures, many of them drawn by the great Ruben Moreira. The likes of Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino and Nick Cardy also chipped in so it must be a treasure trove of fine art. Some sites that I have seen claim that these stories are in the public domain, and are likely available in downloadable format but I want a nice hardcover, with glossy pictures of Mr. Ladd throughout. Someone get on this, please!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hidden Gems: Marvel Super Action #4

Here's a bit of an oddball comic from Marvel in the late 70s. Right in the middle of a run of Captain America and Avengers reprints, Marvel decided to reach into the Timely/Atlas archives and pull out a couple of old Marvel Boy stories. The character had made a couple of appearances in Fantastic Four and also in What If...? but I don't believe there was any indication that he was being groomed for a series, or else they likely would have featured him in a try-out book such as Marvel Spotlight. Marvel Boy is an interesting character because, much like DC's Captain Comet, he was introduced during that awkward stage between the heyday of the Golden Age superhero and the Silver Age revitalization. The stories themselves are a bit hokey and the dialogue strains the limits of the word balloons, but it is very interesting as a historical artifact, especially the blend of sci-fi, super-heroics and espionage. As a bonus, the book features art by Bill Everett and Russ Heath, so that's not a bad problem to have. If you see this in a bargain bin, snag it as it will give you a taste of that era for a very small investment.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

R.I.P. Herb Trimpe

I learned this afternoon that Mr. Trimpe has passed away. From all accounts, he was a great human being. I was an admirer of his artwork and I've reworked a piece I wrote on him 7 or 8 years ago.

Herb Trimpe was a real Marvel mainstay for those of us who devoured comics in the Bronze Age. Although mostly associated with the Incredible Hulk, he could draw everything from westerns to monster books.  I’ve always admire his clean look which almost seemed to be the Marvel ‘house’ look because he worked on so many titles.

The strange thing is; I still think his best work was his first full length story – the “Phantom Eagle” from Marvel Super-Heroes #16. How many artists hit the ball completely out of the park on their first at-bat in the big leagues? Here are a couple of pages from that issue.

Trimpe also has a real knack for cover design – so many of his Hulk covers played with perspective to make them even more dynamic. Sometimes even just a slight tilting could bring a static image to life. Here’s my favorite of his Hulk covers (also used for a Power Records cover, IIRC) and one of his best western covers. It’s just dazzling – it’s really too bad that westerns went out of fashion because I truly believe that many artists excelled in that genre.

Trimpe definitely became the go-to guy at Marvel when they began licensing everything under the sun (see. Shogun Warriors, Godzilla and G.I. Joe to name but a few). Obviously Jim Shooter had faith in Trimpe, and put him on one high profile assignment after another. His versatility is indeed one of his real strengths as he really could do nice job on just about anything. You want a re-cap of Star Wars in a single page? Herb’s your man.

Like so many skilled Bronze Age artists, Trimpe seemed to fall off the radar screen at Marvel. Tastes change and it’s too bad that so many artists seem to be put out to pasture long before their time. He’s still doing work from time to time (I believe his did a recent BPRD issue for Dark Horse) For those looking to get a taste of Herb Trimpe at this best – I highly recommend tracking down that Phantom Eagle story, his work of the latter issues of Nick Fury and his take on Ant-Man in Marvel Feature. Frugal Hulk fans know that there’s a goldmine of fun Trimpe art in the Essentials volumes.

Rest in Peace, Herb. You will be missed. Thanks for the countless hours of entertainment.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kids' Corner: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Squirrel Girl. Who doesn't love her? With her powerful tail, 'can-do' spirit and overcaffeinated Steve Ditko eyes, she was a breath of fresh air when she first showed up in an Iron Man story. My kids both loved that book, especially the visual of Victor Von Doom being felled by an army of squirrels. Can a character with the potential to be a comical comic book footnote carry a series? Well, from the evidence that I have gathered from the first two issues, the answer is a resounding 'yes'. There is a lot of room in the field for a book that favours charm over grim and gritty, and this one got off to a solid start with some strong characterization, humour and some fun guest appearances (I'm looking at you Mr. The Hunter). The down side, however, is that the artwork is serviceable at best. The facial expresses are uniform throughout and the storytelling in the action sequences muddled (Exhibit A - the Iron Man armour bit). There's good potential here, though but I am not sure that my children are as keen on it as I am. The jokes seemed to be geared towards long-time funnybook fans and no young readers. A good comic can strike the right balance (see. Powerpuff Girls) and this one is not there (yet).

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Highlighting House Ads: Atom 2

I've said it before and I'll said it again: I love the Atom! He's one of my all-time favourite heroes but he has never had what could be described as a top tier Rogues Gallery. To be honest, it's not even second tier. Chronos is his Joker. That's a bit sad. Chronos actually isn't a terrible villain, but his costume has always left a lot to be desired. Those pants!!! This is a fun ad, though as it introduces Chronos and his time-based powers. As much as I love the cover to Atom #2, it actually does not let the reader know anything about the villain. I'm always happy whenever I see bags with dollar signs on them! This is classic early 60s DC house advertising: super busy, a variety of fonts and tons of charm.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Crystal Ball Covers

If you read enough comics, you'll realize that crystal balls were used as a cover gimmick in many genres, over many decades. Let's take a look at a handful of them.

Let's start with Warlord #20 (April, 1979). Of all of the long-running DC series of the 70s and 80s, Warlord may be the one with which I am the least familiar. I have read a bunch, but it never really clicked with me. I should probably give it another chance. I like this Mike Grell cover a lot. He's crammed a lot onto the page, but it doesn't seem too busy. Great design. This was a favourite gimmick for the series as crystal balls were also featured on the covers of issue 16 and 63.

I am sure that somewhere along the way, I have declared myself to be a fan of John Force, Magic Agent. If I haven't, let me do it. now. The cover to Magic Agent #2 (March-April, 1962) is a great example of ACG charm. It's so clean, simple and innocent that it's hard to imagine that they were trying to compete with Marvel and DC. I love Kurt Schaffenberger, and he was a great fit on this type of series. It's too bad he didn't do the interior artwork but Paul Reinman is also underrated.

I cannot discuss crystal ball covers without including Mike Kaluta's awesome cover to House of Secrets #99 (August, 1972). It's obviously an homage to M.C. Escher's Hand With Reflective Sphere, a lithograph first printed in 1935. My guess is that this was on dorm rooms across America back in '72 and that Kaluta's cover resulted in a collective "Whoa - far out, man!". Great stuff and one of the most iconic covers from that series.

Let's visit the superhero genre, as countless heroes have appeared in crystal balls over the years, including the JLA (Justice League of America #21 and #29) and the Legion (LOSH #303). I'll go with Invaders #30 (March, 1979), though, as I actually had it as a kid. I'm not a huge fan of Alan Kupperberg but this cover is decent. I'm not sure that I'd want to be stuck in a confined space with someone called The Whizzer.

For my final selection, I am returning to the horror genre with the cover to The Witching Hour #77 (July, 1977). I am sure that we can all agree that the story title "Coffee, Tea... or Kill!" is awesome, but so is Luis Dominguez' cover. I've seen skeleton Doctors, Santas, Cabbies and Pilots but this is the first Skeleton Stewardess (sorry, Flight Attendant) that I've ever seen. Very patriotic witch, too.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of great Crystal Ball Covers out there, so keep your eyes peeled.


Exit Stage Left: Creatures on the Loose #37

Who doesn't love Man-Wolf? Well, apparently not enough people back in 1975 as this series was put out to pasture. Over a 4 year period, COTL had played host not only to John Jameson but also to Gullivar Jones, Thongor and an assortment of Atlas-era reprints. Like many series, this one died mid-storyline. Can I be honest? In my opinion, the move towards inter-dimensional adventures and assorted gemstones didn't mesh too well with the Man-Wolf character and I think David Kraft was heading in the wrong direction. What we do get in this issue, which was relatively rare, is a one page editorial by Kraft explaining the reasons for the cancellation and a summary of where the story was heading. That's pretty cool. Ultimately, it was picked up 4 years later in the pages of Marvel Premiere. George Perez fans may want to check this one out, but I will say that the prior issues inked by Frank McLaughlin looked better than this one, which was by Fred Kida.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Detective Comics #485

Let me change gears in terms of Batman books. I think we can all agree that Dollar Comics are awesome. There is usually a lot of great material to be found between the covers. This one, however, sits at the upper echelon, mainly due to the amazing list of creators involved. For Don Newton fans, there are no fewer than 31 pages of his artwork. The first 20 are in a great Batman tale which sets up Bronze Tiger as a very intriguing characters. He also pencils the Man-Bat story, a character he was born to draw. I have never been a huge Demon fan, but I love it when Steve Ditko is on board and Len Wein's story is entertaining. The final two stories are worth mentioning because I think they would be unfairly dismissed by many readers and critics. The Robin story is a fairly quaint tale written by Paul Kupperberg infused with a ton of charm by Kurt Schaffenberger in his quasi-retro style. As you may know, I am a huge fan of Don Heck - an artist I think is criminally underrated. He draws women so that they have a very feminine strength and is, therefore, a wonderful fit for Batgirl. This is a solid story. Finally, we get a terrific Dick Giordano pin-up you've probably seen before with Batgirl and Robin. It is just a slice of perfection circa 1979.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

You've Been Warned: Shadow of the Bat #19 and #20

I have been making my way through some of the Knightfall trades in recent weeks and this little arc is the absolute bottom of the barrel. A villain named the Tally Man is introduced - he's part Joker, part accountant. He's got a pretty strange modus operandi, and it never really made sense to me in terms of how it is executed (pun intended). His background is actually fairly intriguing but Vince Giarrano sloppy storytelling makes it very difficult to follow. Let's not even get into the action sequences. The scratchy, pseudo-abstract artwork gets in the way of the flow of things. All in all, it seems as though Alan Grant was trying to create a new villain by simply putting some grim and gritty ingredients in a blender. It did not work. The Jean-Paul Valley era Batman stories are an acquired taste at the best of times, but this one leaves a bitter aftertaste.