Happy Birthday to the woman who saved comics! Ok, ok, that may be Stan Lee-level hyperbole, but there's certainly a kernel of truth to it. Think for a moment how much Karen Berger did to steer comics through the 1980s and into the 1990s. The bar was raised substantially during her tenure at DC, to the point where she was given the keys to the Vertigo kingdom. It's impossible to overstate the role she played in shaping comics into the sophisticated medium they have become. How many titles that are now regarded as classics may have never existed had she not been in the editor's chair? It's impossible to say, but I would not want to live in a world without Sandman Mystery Theatre.
Back when I was actively collecting Golden and Silver Age books, this one became somewhat of a holy grail. For a long time, I had owned a beautiful copy of World's Finest #123, featuring the second team-up of Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk and I became obsessed with getting my hands on this particular issue. This was long before everything was available via reprint and it actually took me quite a while to find a nice, yet affordable copy. Was it worth the effort? I certainly think so. To see the two imps interact for the first time is a real treat. The come across as a bickering old couple, nad it's a hoot. That said, if you don't think the Silver Age can be charming, it may not be for you. The Swan penciled cover is pretty great, and Dick Sprang penciled the story itself. The real bonus here are the two back-up stories. The Green Arrow tale features the introduction of Miss Arrowette. She was always just an interesting footnote in Silver Age history but has become more important in recent years. I'm not much of a Tommy Tomorrow fan, but this particular tale is fun as he encounters his younger self. I think that all of these stories have been reprinted elsewhere, but it is still nice to have them all in one spot.
As a concept, the Sea Devils made a lot of sense circa 1960. Other scuba-related books were on spinner racks such as Dell's The Frogmen and the tie-in to the Sea Hunt series. As the decade progressed, the comic book landscape shifted. Superheroes were back in a big way and universe-building was underway at both DC and Marvel. Dane Dorrance and his team never really fit into the DCU all that well. They still managed to chug along, with Bob Haney telling self-contained underwater (pun intended) tales in typical loopy yet entertaining Bob Haney fashion. This issue was par for the course, with alien creatures arriving via an inter-dimensional portal in the ocean. In this case, however, after winning the battle, the good guys simply swam off into the sunset, not to be seen again until Showcase #100.
Here's a pretty cool Ditko cover that is absolutely ruined by the coloring job. I understand that Charlton wanted its books to stand out of the racks, but this garish green was a bad decision. Ditko has never been one for highly detailed artwork but we still want to be able to see what he has drawn. I'm not sure whether or not this is a paste job based on interior images, but I actually really like the layout. There is a lot to absorb, much of it quite sinister. I've written about my love for Ditko Water before, but now I feel as though I should focus on Ditko Flowers. They are so simple and yet so effective. Overall, this is a subpar Charlton cover due to the color work. Too bad.
I have likely mentioned the 10 cent rack at my local comic book store when I was a kid. Circa 1979 or 1980, my LCS had a rack at its front door that featured comics that had obviously not been great sellers. This included titles such as Devil Dinosaur and Yang. The rack was also packed with Atlas-Seaboard books. I was far too young to understand the differences between various publishers and certainly did not know the sordid history of Atlas Seaboard. I let covers inform my purchases, and what a cover this was! I still think it looks great to this day and I understand why my 7 year old self slapped down a dime for it. As far as Atlas-Seaboard books go, this one is very solid. There's nothing terribly original considering it was a common genre at the time, but the origin story is engaging and the art by the team of Larry Hama and Klaus Janson is often spectacular. Over the years, I've picked up nearly every Atlas-Seaboard book published and this remains in the top tier.
Here's a body horror cover that the likes of David Cronenberg would love. Gardner Fox had a background in science-fiction and it showed in so many of the stories he wrote for DC. Sometimes the concept was better than the final product and the cover is a great way of conveying the concept. This one is fantastic as we get all sorts of texture - from the leaves to the colours above and below the water level. Murphy Anderson was the right inker for this jump as Kane's inking was a bit too fine for a job like this and Sid Greene might have made it look a bit flat. All in all, it's a good as it got for Kane on this title. Shear genius!
Today would have been Curt Swan's 95th Birthday. Like anyone of my generation or the generation before me, Curt Swan was THE Superman artist. Long before I looked at creator credits, I knew that this was precisely how Superman was supposed to look. He was square jawed and impossibly handsome and yet still somewhat human and approachable. Coincidentally, Swan was shared all of those attributes with his Man of Steel. His artwork was never flashy as his strengths were as a storyteller, helping to sell some unbelievable yarns through the decades. Swan made Superman likable and, as a result, most people liked Swan. His ability to convey emotion, through both facial expression and posture, was without peer. There is a reason so many people see Swan as THE Superman artist. He took what Shuster and Boring had done, refined it and created a brand new template. He is missed.
I can already imagine the boos and hisses as I type. I know that this is likely a much beloved project, but hear me out. Like everyone else on the planet, I dig Rocket Raccoon. I also happen to love the work of Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola. As such, it seemed as though this would be a good fit for me. What went wrong? It is difficult for me to put a finger on it, but I think that there was simply too much going on. Too many visual gags, too many characters, too convoluted a plot and too many literary and cinematic references. As such, it comes across as more of an experiment than a comic book story. I get what Mantlo was trying to do here and I picked up on most, if not all, of what he was referencing but the strange brew of Lewis Carroll, Walt Kelly and Steve Gerber playing in a sandbox filled with toys from Dune, Star Wars and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest left me with a bitter aftertaste. Abstract satirical humour can work great but, for me, it is better in smaller doses. I love most of Steve Gerber's work, but I feel as though he helped create a shift in funnybook writing that could really go off the rails. Full accolades to Mr. Mignola, though - this stuff looks great. Overall, not for me.
I've been re-reading my stack of Suicide Squad comics in recent days. I'm loving it, of course as Ostrander and company fused a great concept with a superb cast of characters. Many of those early issues reference both Legends and Secret Origins #14. Legends, I've read. Secret Origins #14? Nope. Now, I feel as though there's a gaping hole in my funnybook collection. I thought I had the Suicide Squad covered, but I'm missing a vital link in the chain. Now, it's a matter of haunting various comic shops until I get my hands on a copy. There are certainly worse ways to spend my time!
I have written about this era of The Phantom on here before and have declared myself to be a fan. I re-read this particular issue and found myself transformed back to the dangerous jungles where ivory smugglers and diamond thieves lurk around every corner. This particular issue features two strong Phantom stories. I would have initially assumed these were scripted by Steve Skeates, who often collaborated with Jim Aparo, but the GCD states that Skeates has informed them that he was not involved with this one. I really love Aparo's artwork on this series, in particular the way he manages to give Devil such a strong personality. I wish he'd had the chance to work on Dell's Lassie series. As an added bonus, there's a 4-page non-Phantom Ditko story in here. Not amazing Ditko, but Ditko all the same.
Back in 2008, I wrote a 'Reprint This!' feature suggesting to the brain trust at DC that the I... Vampire story arc from House of Mystery would make for a fine TPB. A few years later, my prayers were answered and this handsome volume popped up in comic book shops. It's terrific to have all of these stories in one place, as it helps the reader get a better sense of the common thread linking the chapters. That said, some tales within the larger structure are stronger than others and they can come across as a bit repetitive when read altogether. I am a huge fan of Tom Sutton's artwork and it is very nicely reproduced here. I was very happy to see that they chose to included the story from The Brave and Bold #195. It may not fit perfectly with the other Andrew Bennett tales, but I am not going to complain about some nice Aparo artwork. I do wish that some additional materials were included, perhaps some sketches, rejected covers or even a Who's Who entry. Overall, it is a solid collection but falls short of upper tier material. Trade Mark: B+