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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Omega alert

Check Gerber's Weblog for more.

EC - Spawn of Mars (Wood)

Spawn of Mars
art by Wallace Wood, story by Al Feldstein
Weird Fantasy #9 (1951)

Some early Wood this time, in a science-fiction story about the first expedition to Mars. The crew, one woman and three men, of course find a breathable if light atmosphere and abundant vegetation in the canals. You know, exactly what conventional science expects to find there. They don't find any animal life until one of the men is attacked, only just managing to return before the ship takes off.

On the way home the woman falls in love with the injured man, and they quickly get married when they return to Earth. However, she soon finds out that he's not quite what he seems. It all ends poorly for her, with a final surprise indicating her problems are far from over.

Cute story, a bit overwritten, but workable. Wood's still kind of feeling his way around at this point, not quite the style he would settle in with for his best stuff, with a little less detail and not quite as effective storytelling, but of course already having the "sexy woman" part of the style down pat (priorities, people).

Previous EC posts are now listed here, along with a projected completion date for this particular series of posts.

My Collection - DC COMICS PRESENTS [1978 Series]

DC Comics Presents [1978 series]
60 issues [1978 - 1986]
2 - 3, 8, 10, 12 - 14, 17, 19, 22, 25 - 52, 54, 56 - 61, 63 - 64, 66 - 71, 81, 84 - 87, 96 - 97

DCCP was the long-running team-up comic featuring Siegel & Shuster's creation Superman and a good percentage of the DC universe. It was a book I enjoyed quite a bit, as I like the more obscure characters in the DC universe, and this was the first place I saw a lot of them, especially during the period that they ran "Whatever Happened to..." as a back-up, catching up on characters who hadn't been seen in years.

I picked up the book for a couple of years in the early 1980s, and subsequently picked up a few back-issues from earlier and later than the run I had, based on what looked interesting. I could probably stand to get rid of about half of what I have, but at the same time I really should go over the issues I don't have and decide which I want based on the creators or characters, which would probably bring it back up to as many issues.

Noteworthy in the 97 issue run:

#26 - the preview of New Teen Titans, much more about that series later, and a good Green Lantern team-up

#43 - Curt Swan, Paul Levitz, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Darkseid Mongul, that's some fun. Did Levitz ever write Superman solo? That would have been interesting to read, he seems to have an interesting take on the character based on his crossover stories

#59 - Superman and the Substitute Heroes against Ambush Bug, probably my favourite of the Ambush Bug stories. I espcially liked Giffen's pseudo-Shuster Superman.

#84 - Kirby and Toth bring you Superman and the Challengers of the Unknown.

#85 - A sidenote to Alan Moore's SWAMP THING run, with art by Rick Veitch and Al Williamson.

My Collection - G. I. COMBAT [1957 Series]

G. I. Combat [1957 series]
78 issues [1957 - 1987]
50, 83, 133, 137 - 138, 143, 145, 150 - 153, 155 - 157, 161 - 162, 167, 170, 177 - 178, 180 - 187, 189 - 191, 194, 196 - 197, 199 - 201, 206, 209 - 211, 213, 216 - 218, 220, 224 - 226, 230 - 232, 234 - 235, 237 - 239, 241 - 251, 256, 263, 275, 278, 281 - 283, 285 - 286, 288

Wow, that's some list. For those into trivial data, that's the longest of any list to describe a series in my collection.

This DC war book took over its numbering from the Quality Comics series with #44. At first a non-character anthology, the Haunted Tank (a WWII feature with an American tank crew in Africa and Europe being guided by the ghost of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart) was introduced by Kanigher and Heath in #87 in 1961 and became the regular main feature for most of the next 26 years. Heath remained the main artist until 1972 (with quite a few fill-ins), then Sam Glanzman took over. Kanigher wrote most of the Tank stories, with a few exceptions, mostly during one year when Archie Goodwin was the writer/editor.

For backups, initially it remained non-continuity shorts. It saw a few of the same regular features as the other war books in the 1970s. From 1977 to 1986 the book was oversized with a lot of back-up series, mostly written by Kanigher or George Kashdan and drawn by Dick Ayers and various Filipino artists. In the last year of the series, the Haunted Tank even lost their slot to one of the back-ups, the Mercenaries, although the Tank did get the last few issues back and got a bit of a send-off in the final issue.

Covers of course are mostly by Joe Kubert, although you'd see other artists sneak through a bit more often than you would on OAAW/ROCK. Grandenetti did a lot of early ones, Russ Heath did quite a few when he was the regular Tank artist, Luis Dominguez did a few in the mid-1970s.

My history of buying GIC is similar to other DC war books. Not at all as a kid, only back-issues starting in the 1990s. They're a bit harder to find than the Rock related books, although I've managed to get about half of them from the era I consider affordable (the pre-1970s stuff has gotten way out of my price range, outside of really beat-up copies). Still looking to fill in those holes, especially the issues from #150 - #200.

A few issues to spotlight:

#145 - great late-period Russ Heath art on the lead, several reprints, including one by Kubert and a Sam Glanzman USS Stevens story. All for a quarter. Must have been a good time to be reading comics.

#161 - #162 - part of Archie Goodwin's run as writer, with Sam Glanzman on the art, this is an enjoyable continued story with some major changes for the Tank, and featuring the General in a more active role.

#246 - A full issue 64-page story integrating the lead story with the back-ups of the time and several guest stars from the other books, including a black&white sequence. Lots of fun.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My Collection - MARVEL FANFARE [1982 Series]

Marvel Fanfare [1982 series]
60 issues [1982 - 1991]
1 - 60

This is the Al Milgrom edited book that was one of Marvel's intial forays into the direct market exclusive books, printed on much fancier paper than their regular books and with no ads. Lots of different characters and creators herein, as it often ran random portfolio pages of artists or inventory stories which no longer fit in anywhere else.

This is one of those books where I became a sort of compulsive collector by accident. I never picked up any issues new, but shortly after the book was cancelled I came across an of issue that Charles Vess drew, featuring the Warriors Three from Thor. Liked that a lot, and went looking for the other three chapters of the story. While looking for those I picked up a few others that looked good, including one with a Craig Russell cover (which as it happened also had a Vess back-up) and one of the Ken Steacy issues with Iron Man.

Then one day I came across a bunch in a quarter bin, including most of the first year of the book. Most of them looked like they had something of interest, if only a few pin-ups or a back-up story, certainly 25 cents worth, so I picked them up, and suddenly I had almost half the run of the book. Enough of what I had only had one chapter of a continued story, or a reference to another issue of interest, that more issues went on my list of books to look for, and in looking for them I found a few more issues that looked cool ("Hey, is that Dave Cockrum doing a blatant rip-off of the Blackhawks? I'm there!"). At some point I crossed over from wanting issues of high interest to wanting issues of any interest to deciding I might as well have a full run. It took a while, especially for some of the later issues, but eventually I had it and could stop looking at the MARVEL FANFARE section of any back-issue bin I saw.

After all that of course I'm keeping them for now. I suppose if ever pressed for space I could get rid of about half of them, but quite a few have at least a few pages I want to keep.

A few notables:

#34 - #37 - the Charles Vess story that started it all, a great mix of Kirby designs with Vess's other artistic influences and the mythological roots of the Asgardian stuff.
#16 - #17 - Cockrum and Wolfman doing Blackwolf... I mean, Skyhawk... wait, make that Sky-Wolf. Yeah, that's the ticket...
#51 - a full double-sized Englehart/Buscema version of a new Silver Surfer first issue that was scrapped in favour of the Englehart/Rogers version.
#59 - Richard Howell and Al Milgrom doing a spot-on pastiche of Simon&Kirby romance comics in a Hellcat story.

EC - Lower Berth (Davis)

Lower Berth
art by Jack Davis, story by Al Feldstein
Tales From the Crypt #33[#17] (1953)

I just now got the pun in the title. Won't explain it since it reveals the snap ending of this issue, one of the snappiest of them all.

Anyway, this is one of the gory masterpieces of Jack Davis, set in an 19th century travelling carnival side-show. The main attraction is a genuine Egyptian mummy, until the owner of the carnival is presented with the preserved corpse of a two-headed man, which first serves as a co-headliner and then takes over top billing. Of course, the mummy and the two-headed corpse fall in love (is it necrophilia if both sides are dead?) and when their displays are moved away from each other they run off. A year later the carnival returns to the region and, well, that's the surprise.

Davis really goes to town on this one, with all sorts of crazy details on the gory aspects in his lush inking style (including the cover image of the mummy and two-headed corpse). This story also has one of the best opening page portraits of the Crypt-Keeper.

The kind of inspired insanity that makes you love the EC classics.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

My Collection - WONDER WOMAN [1987 Series]

Wonder Woman [1987 series]
62 issues [1987 - 1992]
1 - 62

Another concise list. Mostly thanks to the fact that I got rid of all the later issues that I didn't like as much.

This is the current series of WONDER WOMAN, relaunched after DC's Crisis storyline with art and story by George Perez, starting the character from scratch. Perez wrote up to #62 (initially with co-writer Greg Potter, then Len Wein, then solo, with a stretch co-written with Mindy Newell later) and pencilled the first two years before handing that off to others.

I began reading this with the last few Perez pencilled issues around 1989 shortly after I started reading comics again, just because I was a big fan of Perez's artwork as a kid and curious what he was up to. And yes, my first reaction was "oh no, not Wonder Woman...", not being a big fan of the character, and didn't expect to get more than one sample issue, but I quite enjoyed it, quickly picking up a bunch of back-issues and continuing with the new stuff. I was a bit disappointed that he stopped drawing it a few months later, but I liked the new art well enough and liked the writing a lot. Chris Marrinan was the next regular artist, and later Jill Thompson was on until the end of Perez's run (and slightly beyond). Both were good, but I kind of get the feeling sometimes both were trying a bit hard to look like Perez, for obvious reasons.

After Perez left as writer I lost interest pretty fast, and dropped the book. Picked it up every now and then since, never really that impressed, especially when some of the writers seemed to actively contradict elements of Perez's work, and the only ones I kept were those first 62 issues.

The Perez run is kind of an interesting take on super-hero comics, approaching them from a different direction than most, with an emphasis on the mythological roots and the human interactions, at least when it was at its best. Unfortunately a few times in the run it drifted to more conventional super-heroics, in particular when it was involved in crossovers with the rest of the DC line, which weakens the run a bit.

Keeping this entire run, although now that they're finally reprinting the run at least up to when Perez stopped drawing I might pick those up sometime to have that stuff on better paper. Don't think there are any back-issues I want to get.

A few especially good issues:

#1 is a great re-imagining of the origin of the character, milking the mythological roots as much as possible and with some great art.
#22 was the first issue I picked up, and is a really good endcap to the first part of Perez's run, with a lot of the main themes explored.
#50 is a good double sized issue, again an effective endcap issue to another era of the book (the year after that has some good points, but it more of a super-hero book than what came before). Plus a few good pin-ups including Sergio Aragones, which is always fun.

Monday, June 27, 2005

My Collection - THE FLASH [1959 Series]

The Flash [1959 series]
65 issues [1966 - 1985]
163, 172, 187, 196, 232, 258, 267 - 268, 283, 295 - 350

THE FLASH picked up its numbering from the 1940s series, following a few try-out issues of the new Barry Allen version of the character in SHOWCASE. I was a big fan of the Flash as a kid. Unfortunately I seem to have lost a fair bit of my collection of issues from the late 1970s at some point, but I do still have that long run of the last five years of the book at the end. By the time it finished it was almost the only comic I was still buying (and I actually missed a few towards the end and only filled those holes later). Also of particular note on a personal level, #163 was the first original Silver Age comic I ever bought. I love that cover more than I do a good percentage of my relatives.

A lot of the other back issues I picked up later, concentrating on giant size issues with lots of reprints. I adore that old Infantino Flash, I can't wait until they do a volume of it in the new DC Essential line.

As for the later Cary Bates / Carmine Infantino run that makes up the majority of my collection... well, objectively it saddens me to say that a lot of it isn't very good. But I loved it when I was 12, so that has to count for something. I still like some of the use of the old villains and the history of the book, and there are a few good issues, but many of the new villains were kind of lame, and obviously the "Trial of the Flash" storyline went on too long and drove the book into the ground. Infantino's art was still fun at points, but in many ways was just a shadow of his best work.

That's still not enough to get me to get rid of any of those issues. Too many memories tied up in there, it wouldn't be worth whatever small financial gain I'd get. Sometimes I think of getting some back-issues from when I was a kid, especially more of the Irv Novick run, but not too seriously.

A few highlights:

#163 - Just a brilliant cover, the story couldn't hope to live up to it, but it comes pretty close. Vintage Broome/Infantino.
#268 - Barry Allen as a comic book fan, Flash at a comic convention with criminals dressed up as the Earth-2 Wildcat and Green Lantern? What's not to love?
#296 - Infantino's return, with an Elongated Man story, that's some good stuff when you're 11. Plus this issue earned me brownie points at school a few months after it came out, since it taught me the name of the disease the Elephant Man had.
#300 - A great anniversary issue, full of history and villains and supporting characters. I read this thing over and over. All this and Hembeck, too.
#305 - A crossover with the original Flash, I liked that a lot. I honestly don't know why anyone had a problem with the Earth-1/Earth-2 thing
#312 - A very interesting story with Heat Wave

Sunday, June 26, 2005

THE QUESTION by O'Neil/Cowan #12 - #15

Back to THE QUESTION. Since there are going to be a lot of these I now have a summary post linking to all QUESTION related posts I have on the weblog.

Finished off the Santa Prisca trilogy last time. Now back in Hub City.

#12 - "Poisoned Ground", a story about pollution, both of the ground and of politics. In this issue Myra decides to run for Mayor, setting up one of the major sub-plots for the second year of the book. The main plot involved a suburban development in Hub City that turned out to be on dioxin contaminated ground, and the attempts to cover it up. A good story, although I found the "Baby Gun" assassin character a bit annoying and out of place.

#13 - "Be All That You Can Be..." begins a powerful two part story where Vic encounters a rogue group of former military types with mistaken ideas of honour. A very good set-up issue, moving forward some of the sub-plots, showing Vic's behaviour in various extreme circumstances, especially how he's perfectly willing to leap into action as Vic Sage, the Question alter ego being one of convenience rather than identity (although more on that in a later issue). And a killer cliffhanger, leading to...

#14 - "Saving Face" had my favourite cover of the run. Just a wonderful image just by itself, completely absent of its relationship with the contents. With the interior story it's even stronger.

Vic spends the issue buried up to his neck, and there are discussions of honour and discipline. A great sequence where he tries to deal with his situation first as he would have as a rebel child, and then as he would with Richard's teachings behind him. Incredible issue, close to my favourite of the run.

#15 - "Epitath for a Hero" is a bit of a controversial issue, as it has a blatantly racist character showing up, as Vic investigates a series of lynchings with unrelated except for skin colour victims. Private investigator Loomis McCarthy also investigates for his own reasons, and becomes a suspect while dropping racist comments and trying to befriend Vic, oblivious to Vic's feelings towards him. It's a tricky issue to pull off, and I'm not sure that O'Neil entirely succeeds, but most of it works.

This was one of the issues of the series with a major production error, as two pages are reversed right at the climax, making it a very odd read.

Misremembered the issue order last time around, next time features the trip to the northwest and a familiar hero, as well as an even odder crossover.

My Collection - MARVEL TALES [1966 Series]

Marvel Tales [1966 series]
76 issues [1967 - 1989]
7 - 8, 10, 23, 25, 31, 83, 98, 100, 117 - 118, 120, 123 - 126, 134 - 177, 193, 195, 197 - 201, 215, 221 - 228

This is of course Marvel's extremely long running reprint title which brought vintage stories, mostly Spider-Man, to the newsstands for 289 issues (#3 - #291, the first two issues were MARVEL TALES ANNUAL) from 1966 to 1994. No surprise why I have so many of these, as it was the primary cheap source in the 1980s for the original Ditko run on the character, reprinting every Ditko issue (with covers) from AMAZING FANTASY #15 to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38 in the issues from #137 to #177 (in fact, a few issues had never been reprinted until this run. And #134 - #137 reprinted the first few Doctor Strange stories). I had a few of those when they first came out, and that's where I first gained my appreciation for Ditko. Later I would buy as many of those as I could as back-issues, obviously never getting a few, resorting to other reprints until the ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN series came along. Of course, they did sometimes make some changes in the reprints, including updating references to TV shows, which was a minor annoyance.

Along the way I also picked up a number of the early issues, from back when the book was double-sized and had reprints from other corners of the Marvel universe.

For the other back issues, it's mostly stuff I picked up cheap to get a feel for some of the later Spider-Man stuff. Everything I have after #177 was from a run I got out of a quarter bin, half of which never made it to my collection proper but were given away. Some of the stuff is okay, and a few have original content like Fred Hembeck backups as they reprinted comics from the dark days of the 1970s when stories were down to 17 pages.

Despite some better reprints of the material I have now, I'm too sentimentally attached to the reprint of the Ditko run to get rid of any of those. Most of the rest I could stand to get rid of, maybe do that Halloween comic giveaway I always wanted to do. Nothing on the back issue hunt for this one.

A few highlights, other than the Ditko stuff which I'll have to post on in depth some other time:

Kirby's Inhumans back-ups from THOR are reprinted in #122 - #128, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got a few issues in that run.
#200 reprints a great Doctor Strange crossover by Denny O'Neil, Frank Miller and Tom Palmer.
#197 has a short Hercules back-up by Bob Layton. I enjoyed that series.
#159 is from "Assistant Editors' Month" and has a great gag about the regular editor's updating of topical references in the reprints, which thankfully they stopped.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

My Collection - DAREDEVIL [1964 Series]

Daredevil [1964 series]
77 issues [1980 - 1997]
162, 183, 186, 188 - 189, 192 - 222, 224 - 226, 230 - 235, 264, 297 - 300, 307, 316, 319 - 326, 344, 347 - 349, 353 - 364, -1

I was kind of surprised DAREDEVIL ranked so high on the list of books I have, since I never really thought of him as a favourite character. Even moreso since I got rid of quite a few issues a while back, so I used to have a lot more, probably close to 100 issues at one time or another. I guess there's just something about the character I like, even if I don't always like the execution.

Read DD for a while in the early 1980s, most of the Frank Miller / Klaus Janson stuff, but don't have many of those original issues anymore. Lost a few, sold or traded a few others. Almost everything before 264 is something I picked up as back issues, while the later stuff I bought new.

Of the earlier issues, a few of them I got specifically for the Steve Ditko art (4 issues). A bunch of the others for the Denny O'Neil writing and David Mazzucchelli artwork, which was a great combination (especially when Mazzucchelli inked himself). Picked up some of the Miller/Janson and Miller/Mazzucchelli stuff that surrounds the O'Neil run, and those are okay for the most part. Most of the fill-ins during that run aren't as good.

Used to try the book every now and then during the Nocenti / Romita Jr. era, mostly because I liked the art a bit, but the stories never did much for me, and I don't have those anymore. I liked the Chichester/Weeks story that ended in #300, but not so much the later Chichester stuff (might have liked it better with a different artist and without that silly costume change). J.M. DeMatteis was the next writer, and at the time I had just been enjoying some of his other work so I gave it a try, but I don't think he quite worked out and was gone soon enough anyway. Karl Kesel was the regular writer for a year, and I really enjoyed his run, although it was a bit unfocused, it was a good combination of old DD (which I'd just started getting some reprints of) and modern storytelling. Dropped it after he left and the book was cancelled and restarted soon after.

For non-standard numbering, that "#-1" was from a month in 1997 where Marvel devoted their line to flashbacks set before the first issue of each book. I picked up the DD one because it had Gene Colan doing the artwork, which was okay, but the story was mediocre at best. Colan did a few other issues for the regular book around the same time which were a bit better.

Keeping at least half of these, anything with Ditko, O'Neil, Mazzucchelli, Janson or Kesel in the credits (though the first Ditko I have a reprint of and I might pick up the reprint of the O'Neil/Mazzucchelli stuff and lose those originals). The rest I might get rid of. Pretty much clear of back-issues I want, as I'm getting the earliest issues in Marvel's ESSENTIAL DD series, though I've heard some of the Gerber and Wolfman issues from the 1970s are decent and are unlikely to be reprinted for a while.

Some especially nice issues:

#215 - A semi-crossover with the old Marvel western star the Two-Gun Kid, featuring half the issue drawn in a great tinted duo-tone style by Mazzucchelli
#220 - Probably the peak of O'Neil's writing stint, a really depressing story
#354 - One of Kesel's best featuring DD and Spider-Man (and why hasn't Kesel ever been the regular writer on a Spider-Man book?)

Friday, June 24, 2005

My Collection - DETECTIVE COMICS [1937 Series]

Detective Comics [1937 series]
98 issues [1969 - 2000]
391, 414, 435, 444 - 445, 468, 476, 483 - 487, 491, 494 - 506, 508 - 516, 518, 524, 526, 549 - 550, 569, 571 - 575, 579, 583 - 588, 590 - 596, 598 - 628, 634, 641, 655, 657 - 658, 678, 750

Back to the hodge-podge collection. That stretch from #494 - #526 are the ones I bought as a kid. There's some good stuff there, but I have to say for the most part I liked the character of Batman more than a lot of the actual stories. Mostly Don Newton art, which is okay, but Gerry Conway stories which don't seem to have aged too well. Picked up a handful of back-issues later, especially a few with reprint back-ups and some of the Dollar Comics issues (from back when "Dollar Comic" meant "3 books for the price of 2 1/2" instead of "bargain priced") that I was lucky to find fairly inexpensive.

Started buying it in the late 1980s, when Norm Breyfogle was the main artist, and I really liked his work. Still do, and consider him one of my favourite Batman artists. Alan Grant wrote most of those, and I found that a bit uneven, a few interesting stories, nothing really great but only a few really bad stories. Only picked it up a few times since then.

Might still winnow this down a bit, keep some of the best from each era, maybe cut the total I have in half. Not really looking at too many back issues.

A few highlights of issues I'm sure to keep:

#414 - O'Neil/Novick lead, Robbins/Heck Batgirl back-up, reprints by Vern/Toth and Fox/Infantino, all wrapped up in one of the better Neal Adams covers. Good eating.
#445 - A chapter of the excellent Wein/Aparo Bat-Murderer storyline, plus a whole bunch of reprints of various characters in a 100-page giant.
#487 - O'Neil/Newton on the lead, a Ditko Odd-Man story, several other good stories all under a Garcia-Lopez cover.
#500 - As good as a 500th issue could be, with Brennert/Giordano's "To Kill a Legend" taking the lead and then six other good stories, including creators like Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, Walter Simonson and others.
#512 - Just an okay story, but for the 45th Anniversary they got long letters from Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel, Creig Flessel and Sheldon Mayer. One of the few books I'm keeping almost solely for the letter column.
#590 - My favourite of the Breyfogle issues I have, with a good single issue story set in London.
#604 - #607 - One of the better storylines in the Breyfogle run, with all the various Clayface characters in one story, which made good use of Breyfogle's skills.

Doctor Who - "Day of the Daleks"

Latest video of the original DOCTOR WHO series that I've gotten from my library is "Day of the Daleks", a four part 1972 serial starring Jon Pertwee. Unfortunately, this is the first of the videos I've gotten where they edit out the opening title sequence to all but the first episode, which means they also dump the cliffhangers. One of the best bits of a good DOCTOR WHO serial is the cliffhanger (often poorly resolved in the next episode), where the heroes face death and the theme music wells up (that's one of the things the new series misses by doing so many single episode stories).

Still a very nice story, where the Doctor working with UNIT gets involved in assassins from the future who are trying to prevent years of war that left the human race open to easy conquest from the Daleks. A few times it felt like the Dalek stuff was an afterthought, that this could just as easily have been about any other conquerers, but there was some good stuff with the characters. I especially liked the Daleks recognizing the name of the Doctor, which has been echoed in the treatment of the Daleks in the new series.

Next pair I should be getting are "Keeper of Traken" and "The Twin Dilemma".

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My Collection - USAGI YOJIMBO [1996 Series]

Usagi Yojimbo [1996 series]
144 issues [1996 - 2012]
1 - 144

How weird to see such a concise list. First time we've seen that in this series of posts. 144 issues, starting with #1, ending with #144 (for now, this is on-going, up to #157 now, I switched to digital for it after a long hiatus, but might still get the print issues eventually). That makes this the longest running book I had a complete set of.

This is the black and white Dark Horse published version of Stan Sakai's now two-decade old rabbit samurai comic book. Sakai's kept the book fresh through the years with a great variety of stories, lots of research on Japan informing the story and a large and varied supporting cast with interesting inter-relationships (I in particular like any interaction of Usagi with Gen, the bounty hunter and with his "nephew" Jotaro).

Not too much to say on my buying history for this. I was reading the previous series from Mirage (and the one from Fantagraphics before that in its final year), I continued on to this one (which was originally announced as a three-issue series and just continued from there). Been coming out at about 9-10 issues a year. Sometimes I think that I should just start picking up the tradepaperbacks instead of the on-going book, but I don't really want to wait two years for a new story and it's kind of nice to have one almost monthly book that I know will be there for me to buy (most other books I get in that format are lucky to have two issues a year). Sakai also does a great job of pacing the book so it reads well as single issues, even when he'd doing long epic stories. Plus he does great covers which don't make it into the collections.

Lot's of great stuff, of course, including several long sagas including the two "Grasscutter" serials. A few shorter bits that I liked:

#23 - My Father's Sword (an epic of honour and redemption in 24 pages)
#46-47 - Showdown (a great 2-part Usagi/Gen story and two wraparound covers showing just about the whole cast in one scene)
#73 - The Pride of the Samurai (more tales of honour, plus a lot on the Usagi/Jotaro relationship)

If you want to know more about UY, go get some schooling at the dojo.

My Collection - SUPERMAN [1939 Series]

Superman [1939 series]
94 issues [1966 - 1986]
183, 196, 200, 202, 212, 216, 221, 233, 238 - 239, 241 - 244, 246, 251, 253, 260, 267, 284, 287, 289, 299, 302, 304, 308, 327 - 329, 333, 339, 342, 344 - 345, 350 - 397, 399 - 402, 405, 410 - 413, 415 - 416, 422

The classic Superman title, it was renamed to ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN with #424 so they could launch a new SUPERMAN #1, both continuing to this day.

I used to have the final issue, #423, the Swan/Moore wrap-up, but got rid of that (with its ACTION counterpart) when they were reprinted in one edition. Anyway, this set of books is pretty similar to my ACTION collection. #350 - #400 is mostly the run I bought off the newsstand as a kid, at various times I picked up the earlier stuff as back-issues (a lot of them are 80/100 page giants full of earlier reprints), and picked up some of that later stuff in the early 1990s.

Most of the artwork in these is by Curt Swan, of course. Some really nice Murphy Anderson inking in the early 1970s stuff, and I really like the ones I have inked by Al Williamson from the last year of the book.

On the writing side there's lots of good Cary Bates stuff in the 1980s, plus some Elliot S. Maggin . I enjoyed what I have of Denny O'Neil's run from the early 1970s too.

Like ACTION I've got quite a bit of nostalgia that'll have me keeping most of these. In particular I really like a lot of the back-up stories with series like "Private Life of Clark Kent", "The In-Between Years" and others. For back issues, most of the stuff, I wouldn't mind picking up a few more of the later issues that have Swan/Williamson art.

A few that stood out leafing through them:

#202 - 80-Page Giant of Bizarro stories, including Bizarro-Krypto
#212 - 80 pages of Superbaby stories (both characters as babies and turned into babies)
#379 - The Bizarro Justice League
#400 - Maggin's big anniversary issue, with lots of guest artists, and even a nod to MIRACLE MONDAY, plus some great pin-ups including a great Ditko piece and one by Jack Kirby.

Hm, I still wonder why they changed the logo slightly after #385. Just some minor changes, but definitely inferior (more rounded). Being a comic fan, I don't take to change well, and I remember not liking the logo change back then.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

EC - The Time Machine and the Shmoe (Kurtzman)

The Time Machine and the Shmoe
by Harvey Kurtzman
Weird Fantasy #17[#5] (1951)

This is a really fun Kurtzman effort from the early New Trend, giving some hints of the type of story he would start concentrating on the next year with MAD, with the quirky ideas and silly humour.

The story opens with some bad physics as a scientist explains how going faster than light will enable you to catch up with light and go back in time. Janitor Donald Yubyatch overhears this and expresses interest, but is mocked by the scientists. He decides to steal the machine, go back to the day of King Arthur with modern technology so he can rule them. Lacking funds and foresight, he takes along a toy gun and model plane kit and a radio, figuring that he can use them to extrapolate the full technology.

The machine works, surprisingly enough, but Donald's lack of foresight comes back to haunt him, and he winds up just as much a schmoe in the past as he was in the present.

Kurtzman's art is always fascinating to see in these early stories. Very bold and with a lot of small storytelling experiments throughout. And of course writing and drawing himself these are the EC stories where the writing and art are the most fully integrated and never seem to be working at cross-purposes.

Monday, June 20, 2005

SPARKS by Lawrence Marvit


Noticed a copy of this book in the library. It's a thick 428 page book published in 2002, which according to the backcover collects the five issues of the comic series SPARKS plus 160 new pages finishing the story. I don't recall ever seeing the series or the book, but that's not too surprising for Slave Labor published work, unfortunately.

It's the story of a young girl, Jo, who works as a mechanic and has trouble fitting in to society and her family, and how her life is affected when a mechanical man she builds out of car parts comes to life. He gets the name Galahad from a young boy playing King Arthur, and begins to explore life with Jo's help, leading to her learning a thing or two herself.

It's quite an odd book. With over 400 pages it has a lot of room, and tells a lot of different types of stories within the larger framework. Parts of it are about the wonder of discovery and curiosity, starting with Galahad's education in language and then life, leading to the re-awakening of Jo's own dormant curiosity about things. Other parts are about Jo's life in the real world and trying to fit in, so there are huge parts of the book that are completely divorced from the fantasy elements. Other parts of the book are more about visual inventiveness in the storytelling, leading to a few segments devoted to depicting small actions in interesting ways. And then the ending turns into the climax of a giant action movie, so that's a whole other thing right there.

According to his bio, writer/artist Marvit has a background in animation, which makes sense when you look at the book. Simple but bold character designs, meant to convey the maximum amount of emotion and movement in few lines, well thought out backgrounds and frequent silent scenes where the body language and actions are able to carry the story.

It's not perfect, of course, but that's to be expected from someone doing a 400+ page story as his first comic book work. I thought some of the transitions from one storyline to another were awkward (especially the final shift to the big action movie climax), and some of the more "adult" elements didn't fit in with the rest of the book. Sometimes the dialogue was a bit weak (this may also have been amplified by the lettering, which is very mechanical. I think a looser more organic hand lettering style would have fit the story better). But nothing major that distracts much from the stronger elements.

Overall a book well worth seeking out, and I hope we see more from the creator (all I can find is that he did some artwork for a few projects by Mike Allred and Paul Dini).

The publisher, Slave Labor, has a preview from the original first issue here, although it doesn't really get into the heart of the story and the more visually inventive stuff.

My Collection - AMAZING HEROES [1981 Series]

Amazing Heroes [1981 series]
103 issues [1982 - 1992]
10 - 11, 17 - 18, 24, 39, 47, 61 - 63, 65 - 66, 68 - 74, 77 - 78, 82 - 83, 89, 92 - 93, 95 - 101, 104 - 110, 112, 115, 119, 125, 128 - 131, 133 - 135, 138 - 139, 141 - 142, 144 - 145, 147 - 148, 150, 153 - 154, 156 - 158, 162 - 164, 167, 170 - 203

Another fanzine up next, Fantagraphics' AMAZING HEROES. I had a few of these from the early run, but lost them at some point. I began reading it again when I got back into comics in the late 1980s, at first just picking it up every few months when the cover feature interested me, then picking it up for its own sake, continuing until it was cancelled in 1992 (note that the final issue listed above, #203, was actually a double issue with a flip cover for #204). Along the way and subsequently I also picked up a lot of back-issues, which stores would often sell cheap (and a few of which have pages removed, usually the upcoming releases list pages). Mostly those with interesting cover features at first, of course, but as I generally enjoyed the other features in the magazine as well I'd be happy to buy any issue if it was cheap enough (I also have a number of the spin-off publications, the PREVIEW SPECIALS and SWIMSUIT SPECIALS, but those are a ways off on this list).

AH started off in 8x10 size, not sure when exactly they changed except that it was after #11 and before #17, but they went down to standard American comic size for the rest of the run. It also went from monthly to bi-weekly at some point, where it stayed for most of the run until around the time I started buying it, when it went back to monthly until the end. As I recall it was cancelled shortly after the speculator boom began and WIZARD launched, when the main focus of the market turned to price guides, print runs and variant covers, leaving little room for a magazine about actual comics and creators. Fortunately the market for quality mainstream fanzines intelligently covering older comics did pick up later in the 1990s when TwoMorrows launched their various mags, and on-line resources do a good job of covering modern comics now.

Just flipping through there are a lot of great covers on the book. There's obviously a bit of a mainstream focus, which for the 1980s means they covered a lot of mediocre comics, but they did also manage to shine the spotlight on most of the high points of their era, even covered the mediocre stuff in an interesting way sometimes, and frequently had articles looking at the best of past comics as well. A lot of good regular contributors, including Don Rosa (bringing his Info Center from TCR and later some themed cover galleries, including lots of gorillas. He was blogging before there was a word for blogs!), Dwight Decker, Adam-Troy Castro, Teri Wood and others.

A few issues I just pulled out as especially noteworthy:

#100 - Jack Kirby special
#47 - Kirby's return to the New Gods
#71 - Long Alan Moore interview and checklist with a great Bissette cover of Moore.
#77 - A Mr. Monster / Swamp Thing cover for the never-realized crossover
#158 - A special on 3-D comics, with a Kubert pseudo-3-D cover and a few Kirby pieces among the 3-D pages inside
#61 - Groo issue with a great Aragonés cover
#177 - Spectacular Gil Kane cover spotlighting a fascinating interview
#187 - Great Stan Sakai interview, plus an 8-page comic about how he draws USAGI YOJIMBO
#109 - Scott McCloud interview, with a ZOT!/DESTROY!!! cover
#200 - Comics about comics, with a preview of UNDERSTANDING COMICS, an illustrated interview with Larry Marder and comics by Fred Hembeck, Ty Templeton, Matt Feazell and others.

Another one where I'm pretty much keeping what I have. Might still pick up some more back-issues at some point, although I have most that are of major interest.

My Collection - SWAMP THING [1985 Series]

Swamp Thing [1985 series]
101 issues [1985 - 1996]
39 - 109, 116, 126, 144 - 171

This one carried on the numbering from the SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING series. I used to have more of these, but the Nancy Collins written issues didn't make the cut of what to keep a while back.

I started buying this in the middle of Rick Veitch's run, after I had started reading the early Bissette/Moore/Totleben run from the SAGA series. Somewhere around #79, while at the same time starting to pick up back-issues. Didn't take too long to get just about all the back-issues (a few SAGA ones took a bit longer). I kept reading after the unpleasantness of Veitch's departure. If I knew more about it at the time I probably wouldn't have. Continued reading through the whole Doug Wheeler run, which was hit and miss, definitely below the standards of the previous run but sometimes entertaining enough. I was about to drop it close to the end of that run when a new writer was announced, so I stuck around for that. Big mistake, very unimpressed, took a while for me to overcome the inertia and drop it. I did like Dick Foreman's two fill-ins, so I kept those when I got rid of the rest of that run, hence those two stray issues.

Heard good things about Mark Millar's run a few years later, and John Totleben did some nice covers, so I started to pick it up with #154. Liked it well enough, both the writing and the Hester/DeMulder artwork, kept buying it and there was some really good stuff in there, eventually I picked up back to Millar's first solo issue (I did read the first four issues Millar wrote with Grant Morrison when they were reprinted, but didn't like them enough to want copies). The series was cancelled with #171, so this is one I stuck with to the bitter end.

Beautiful covers on many runs of this book, especially when Steve Bissette and John Totleben were involved together or separately. Totleben's fully painted ones on the early Wheeler issues had a lot to do with me sticking with the book after the controversy, and as I said his covers at the tail end of the series had a lot to do with bringing me back.

It's a run full of highlights, of course, but a few favourites:

#44 - Bogeymen (one of the best of the Bissette/Totleben/Moore team, and one of the best serial killer stories I've encountered)
#48 - A Murder of Crows (John Totleben soloing on the art as the American Gothic story kicks into high gear)
#59 - Reunion (Bissette writing an interlude in the middle of Moore's space saga perfectly captures the feel of the best of the series from both the Wein days to the Moore days with the return of the Patchworkman)
#72 - Gargles in the Rat Race Choir (I'm a sucker for an obscure Dylan reference, this is my favourite of the Veitch scripted issues)
#78 - To Sow One's Seed in the Wind (Bissette writing another interlude issue, very poetic)

Most of this series is a keeper, except that I should probably go through Wheeler's run (#88 - #109) and just pick a few better ones to keep at some point. Of course all the Moore run and the first bit of Veitch's are in tradepaperbacks, some of which I've already picked up, so if pressed I could get rid of those, too, but, um, y'know, the trades reprint the covers in those tiny "cover gallery" things instead of full size. And I just like having the issues. I'm so fucking weak, I'm going to end up buried in duplicate versions of comics I can't bring myself to get rid of...

Not really planning on questering for any back-issues to fill the gap.

Doctor Who season wrap-up quick thoughts

Saw the finale of the first season of the new DOCTOR WHO series. No spoilers here since I'm mindful that some people will be watching it next week (and some won't get any of the episodes for a while), but I'll probably write up a more spoiler full overview of the whole season soon.

I did like the final two-parter quite a bit, though as has been typical there have been a few things that didn't feel right. In particular this time around were the parodies of some British game/reality shows, which weren't that funny. I was also kind of hoping for a more interesting reveal of the mysteries. The ending was kind of odd, made me wonder if the writer was a big fan of cosmic 1970s Marvel comics, all glowing eyes and cosmic powers like.

Anyway, it's good stuff overall, something I can recommend both to people who loved the original series and didn't equally, as it used many of the best parts and added enough modern sensibilities. It's a long wait for the next new one (a Christmas special followed by a new season I guess around the same time next year that this started). Fortunately it'll probably take around that long for the original series episodes I'm getting from the library to all get around to me ("Day of the Daleks" is listed as "In Transit" now. Pertwee and UNIT up against the Daleks? Dude!).

Sunday, June 19, 2005

My Collection - OUR ARMY AT WAR [1952 Series]

Our Army At War [1952 series]
99 issues [1962 - 1977]
120, 126, 133 - 135, 137, 139, 141, 144 - 146, 148, 155, 158, 164, 171 - 172, 190 - 192, 195 - 198, 203, 213 - 225, 227 - 228, 230 - 241, 243 - 301

Wow, didn't realize that between this and SGT. ROCK I have 220 issues of the longest running American war comic, over half the total.

This book was an anthology of mostly unconnected short war stories for the first few years, edited and often written by Robert Kanigher and with several great artists, chief among them Joe Kubert. "Easy Company" appeared in several stories, but no recurring characters, although there were some Rock-like characters. Eventually things coalesced with Sgt Rock appearing as the topkick of Easy in Kanigher/Kubert's "The Rock and the Wall" in #83 (look, don't freaking argue, #81 doesn't count). ROCK became the regular lead feature, and through the years the OAAW logo became smaller and the Rock logo became bigger until they finally just changed the name.

Anyway, the previous post gave my background on reading war comics. As you can see from the list above I've got a decent scattering of issues starting in 1962, gradually getting more complete until the last 50 issues where there are just a few gaps.

Most of the covers I have are Kubert, of course, although my earliest, #120, is one of Jerry Grandenetti's last (he'd done a lot of them in the first 100 issues, after that Kubert did almost all). Russ Heath did some later, but not on issues I have. All three great cover artists, of course.

Kanigher wrote most of the lead stories, with some exceptions including a stretch around #200 - #230 where Kubert (now the editor) tried his hand at a few. The results weren't pretty. Well, they were, since either Kubert or Russ Heath drew them, but they aren't great Rock stories. When Kanigher was writing it was much better, as I mentioned with regards to the later ROCK series, with a few gems every year, several above average story and very rare clunkers. Kubert was the main artist of the lead feature early on, with Heath doing the occasional fill-in, then Heath being the regular for a four year stretch (plus a later "every other issue" stretch for a year). Doug Wildey, John Severin, George Evans and others did a few issues in there as well, before Frank Redondo started in the last year of the title, going on to be the main ROCK artist when the name changed.

Back-ups were of course a major feature of the book. In the sixties it was mostly standalone short stories, although a few issues introduced Enemy Ace. In the seventies there were three main series, Sam Glanzman's "USS Stevens", Kanigher's "Gallery of War" (various artists, many by Ric Estrada) and Norman Maurer's "Medal of Honor". Any issue with one of those is a good one. Also lots of extra features like two-page "Battle Album" spreads, some humour pages by Aragonés and other stuff.

There were also several giant-size issues with reprint content which would often showcase the other DC war characters and some nice vintage artwork.

Just a few issues that jump out as especially memorable lead stories.

#133 - Yesterday's Hero
#158 - Iron Major--Rock Sergeant
#231 - My Brother's Keeper
#258 - The Survivor
#272 - The Bloody Flag

This is another one of the books where there will be no winnowing going on, and hopefully several issues will be added to fill the gaps before they pry them from my cold, dead hands.

My Collection - ACTION COMICS [1938 Series]

Action Comics [1938 series]
(Action Comics Weekly [1988 series] from 601 - 642)
101 issues [1960 - 1994]
263, 333, 341, 402 - 403, 406, 449, 459, 464, 476, 484 - 491, 500 - 502, 504, 509 - 545, 547 - 561, 563, 565, 579, 581, 600, 608, 610, 638 - 639, 642 - 645, 650, 655, 658 - 668, 700

Wow, that's a scattered bunch of issues. The series apparently continues to this day. I used to have a few dozen more issues of this, but got rid of them when I winnowed down my collection a few years ago. I kept all the pre-1987-revamp stuff I had (except that last issue with the Curt Swan / Alan Moore story, which I got rid of after it was reprinted. Slightly, but illogically, regret that sometimes), most of it with some Swan art, and later Gil Kane, some nice writing by Cary Bates and Marv Wolfman among others. For the post-revamp stuff, I got rid of everything except a few that had Swan guest art and a run by Roger Stern and Bob McLeod that I rather enjoyed, even though at the time the Superman books were doing intertwined storytelling that makes it hard to follow a single title, Stern did a better job than most of making his issues read almost complete, and he kept me reading the line of books a lot longer than was justified by their overall quality.

From about #500 - #560 on are the ones I bought off the newsstand when I was a kid, anything earlier than that as a back-issue, as well as a few after that run.

I could probably stand to winnow it down a bit further, keeping only the handful with high affection or nostalgia values, especially now that various current and upcoming tradepaperbacks give a decent sampling of these stories. Maybe get this down to about 50 issues I want to keep. I'd have to do some re-reading to decide what, though. I'd almost certainly keep the earlier ones (most are too beat-up to be worth selling) and a few like #510 - #512 (a nice Luthor story by Bates/Swan), #544 (an anniversary issue with a few nice stories and contributions from Siegel and Shuster). Also a few of them have Ambush Bug stories which amuse me. And the ACTION WEEKLY run had a few things I'd want to keep that likely won't see reprinting. In fact, that's the only run of the book where I'm likely to pick up a few more back-issues. Well, except that I'd pick up #1 if I could find a nice copy for under $5....


Sergio Aragones Groo the Wanderer [1985 series]
106 issues [1985 - 1995]
2, 11, 13, 15 - 17, 19 - 21, 24 - 120

This is of course the long running Aragonés (with Evanier, Sakai and (usually) Luth) Marvel/Epic series of the book, which was previously published by Pacific and Eclipse, later published by Image and Dark Horse. I think I began reading it in the mid-50s, and started picking up back-issues as well as each new monthly release. Fortunately before I started buying too many of the earliest issues they began doing the tradepaperbacks of the earlier stuff, so I got those instead (the newsprint on the earlier issues didn't age too well). I also missed a few new issues in the 80s and 90s off the stands, and it's only a few years ago that I finally found those. I'm still tempted to someday get the 14 issues I'm missing, for the letter columns if nothing else, but that feels like such a Groo thing to do (two of my handful of letter column appearances are in GROO, oddly with only one letter).

I shouldn't have to tell anyone that this is brilliant stuff. For those few who don't know, it's basically a parody of sword&sorcery comics, starring the dumbest and deadliest warrior in the world. Lots of great characters (especially Rufferto, Groo's dog), running gags, creative plots and of course that sweet Aragonés artwork.

Just about any issue is worth checking out, but I'd especially recommend the issues from #87 on. At that point they switched to a format with better paper and fewer ads (and a higher price, but a bargain by today's standards). So you'd get longer lead stories, introductions hosted by the "creative" team, back-up stories with the supporting cast or Groo as a boy, various puzzles and Rufferto back-covers.

A few favourites

#47 - The 300% Solution (great use of the supporting cast and Groo logic)
#63 - Real Estate (a Pal and Drumm classic scam, using Groo to affect property values)
#78 - The Book Burners (a nice story with a moral, plus with the familiar looking Weaver and Scribe)
#84 - The Puppeteers (hint, it's about TV)
#94 - Water (wonderfully constructed story)
#100 - A Little Knowledge (Groo learns how to read)
#116 - Early Uno Morning (a wordless Aragonés solo story)

A list of books reprinting some of this stuff is available on Aragonés' web site.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

My Collection - SGT. ROCK [1977 Series]

Sgt. Rock [1977 series]
121 issues [1977 - 1988]
302 - 422

Continued the numbering from OUR ARMY AT WAR, of course, and if you counted those together it would be the series I had the most issues of by far, and this is the longest series I have a full set of.

Oddly, unlike most books from that era, my entire collection of ROCK comes from back-issue purchases. I honestly don't know why I have no DC war comics from when I was a kid. I can only remember reading the occasional Rock story in places like DC's "Year's Best" digests, and I enjoyed those well enough, but don't recall ever reading an issue of his own book, and I would generally at least sample almost any DC/Marvel series on the newsstand (and still have a few CONAN and WARLORD issues to prove it). I'd suspect they weren't carried as much on local newsstands up in Canada except I've met other people who did buy them, but I have no memory of ever seeing them. Anyway, when I got back into comics in the late 1980s, ROCK had just been cancelled and replaced with a reprint series, and after reading a few of those I was hooked and have been picking up DC war comics back-issues ever since.

Of course the first thing you notice on ROCK are the Joe Kubert covers, which are almost consistently excellent. Pick a random one from the GCD and take a look. Of course by this point Kubert drew very few of the interiors. Just a few reprints and special issues. However his style definitely cast a long shadow and informed every later artist (especially one of the later ones who, by coincidence, was also named Kubert). Plus he was editor until the last few years of this run.

Most of the lead stories are written by Robert Kanigher, who defined the writing side of DC's war books as much as Kubert defined the art. Though he's not without controversy, I tend to come down on the RK side more often then not, especially when it comes to Rock. I've read well over half of the 300+ Rock stories he told, and only a few of them ring a wrong note (some aren't as good as others, but they still ring true), whereas almost every non-RK attempt at writing Rock seems to have at least one (often several) things wrong. What always impresses me is how consistent he was. Any given year of the series will have at least one (usually more) absolute killer stories, several above average, and only rarely a real clunker.

On the interior art, Frank Redondo was the main artist for most of this run, generally solid but not too spectacular work. Like a lot of the Filipino artists that worked on DC books of the era, I don't think he was served too well by the sometimes alarmingly shoddy reproduction that was standard back then. A few notable fill-ins were a few issues by Doug Wildey (including #313), a great one by Dan Spiegle (#382, he also did a few Annuals and would have been a great regular artist), some nice Dick Ayers issues (#323). Towards the end Andy Kubert had a stint as the regular artist, which was nice, and Sam Glanzman did a few issues before Joe Kubert returned for the finale.

Most issues have back-up stories, often with art from Kubert School students, quite a few who moved on to bigger things. The quality varies, the Kanigher written ones tend to be the best, and there are a few good ones with art by the likes of Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Tim Truman and others. A few are also by old pros, so any one with a Ric Estrada or Sam Glanzman back-up is a bonus.

I'd suggest picking up any five random issues to get an idea if you'll like this stuff. A few that stand out for me:

#320 - Never Salute A Sergeant
#337 - A Bridge Called Charlie
#349 - The Dummy
#419 - 2 Sergeants Called Rock
#421 - Live Once -- Die Twice

Obviously this is one I'm keeping.

Marvel Visionaries - Steve Ditko

I'm a big fan of the Ditko, and 340+ oversized pages of his worst work at Marvel would still be worth having, so MARVEL VISIONARIES - STEVE DITKO is definitely my kind of book. So while I'll complain about some things, that all pales next to how good it is to have.

The book opens up with a selection of 10 short stories from the fantasy books that dominated Ditko's first few years at Marvel.

TALES TO ASTONISH #26 - "Dream World"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #7 - "Why Won't They Believe Me?"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #7 - "Journey's End"
STRANGE TALES #94 - "Help!"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #10 - "Those Who Change"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #12 - "Something Fantastic"
STRANGE TALES #97 - "Goodbye to Linda Brown"
AMAZING ADULT FANTASY #13 - "The Unsuspecting"
TALES TO ASTONISH #42 - "I Am Not Human!"

While a good set of stories that show off a few different facets of Ditko's style and his storytelling strengths, it's really a limited selection. Nine of the ten stories were published in a seven month period beginning December 1961, and one even later. That means Ditko's entire brief first stint at Marvel and the first three years of his second stint are absent, the first 800 pages he drew for Marvel. That's a shame, as there's even more variety and skill in his work of that era than these stories show (the one reprint of his first stint I've seen has some really detailed backgrounds that you rarely see outside of a few of his 1960s stories for Warren).

That said, the stories that are here are well worth having, and a few of them were new to me. It's especially interesting how Ditko's visual imagination shines in stories like "Dream World", which is just about a guy waking up over and over, or "Help!", which is mostly about a guy talking on the phone (and which also has my favourite of the splash pages on these stories).

Hopefully at some point we'll see more of these stories collected, with a wider range of material (apparently he did a few westerns as well). I'd also have included a few random covers.

The rest of the book is all super-heroes, of course, with a big section of the 1960s work.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1 - "Spider-Man Vs. The Chameleon"
INCREDIBLE HULK #6 - "The Metal Master"
STRANGE TALES #110 - "Dr. Strange"
STRANGE TALES #115 - "Origin of Dr. Strange"
TALES OF SUSPENSE #48 - "The Mysterious Mister Doll"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 - "How Stan and Steve Create Spider-Man"
STRANGE TALES #126 - "The Domain of the Dread Dormammu"
STRANGE TALES #127 - "Duel with the Dread Dormammu"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #31 - "If This Be My Destiny"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #32 - "Man on a Rampage!"
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #33 - "The Final Chapter"
STRANGE TALES #146 - "The End - At Last"

Can't really fault the choice, although a few personal favourites are missing (SPIDEY #18 is my pick for the peak of the series, and the Doc Strange story from ST #121, "Witchcraft in the Wax Museum" is a thing of beauty), I can't really see losing something like the Sinister Six or the Master Planner story, and they're all available in a few other formats now, anyway.

The book finishes with four selections of Ditko's later Marvel work.

DAREDEVIL #162 - "Requiem for a Pug"
HULK #249 - "Jack Frost Nipping at Your Soul"
SPEEDBALL #1 - "Origin of a Masked Marvel"
MARVEL SUPER-HEROES SPECIAL #8 - "The Coming of Squirrel Girl"

"Squirrel Girl" (an Iron Man story) was actually one of the few stories in here that was new to me. For the most part I kind of wish it had continued to elude me. Other than that it's not a bad selection, especially since about half of Ditko's work for Marvel in that era was licensed stuff that they probably couldn't include (a shame, as some of the ROM and MICRONAUTS stories were fun), but it's still the weakest section of the book by far. The DD story was just dumb, and Hulk story had sub-plots from that era so it doesn't stand alone well. For the Speedball story, I'd have preferred one not (over)-inked by Jackson Guice. While there's an occasional nice Ditko flourish in the art, I would definitely not have complained if any of these stories were dumped in favour of 3 or 4 1950s stories.

Always interesting to see some samples of Ditko's pencils. Especially how the villain in his final issue of Spider-Man (issue mislabelled on the caption. I think I've caught at least one typo or production error in the last dozen Marvel books I've bought. Seriously people, take a few minutes to proofread) was re-designed when inked, which I don't recall hearing mentioned before in any discussion of Ditko leaving Marvel.

Good book well worth picking up, although it could easily have been better. I also have to say, if you're going to make a book oversized, would it kill you to add a bit of margin down in the spine so readers can see an entire page flat?

My Collection - THE COMIC READER

Like I'm sure many people who feel the need to have comics-oriented weblogs, I have a lot of comics and related publications (11,530 of them according to my database, but some of those seem to be missing and others I have aren't included for one reason or another. Also that's with a kind of loose definition of "related publication" (Maggin's Superman novels count)). As I think I mentioned recently, thanks to some renovations, for the first time in a long time I also have ready access to all of them, and realized I should get rid of a lot of them. I should also update my database to something more functional than a flat spreadsheet.

Anyway, new feature of the weblog, I'm going to start going through each series I have, writing a bit about each and deciding what I want to keep (and for some which issues I need to add to my wantlist). As for the order, I'm counting down in terms of quantity, which currently gives me about 200 entries before I get down to books I have fewer than a dozen issues of (there are a lot of series with only one or two issues in my collection, between bookshelf-type formats, books I tried and didn't like and just short-lived things).

In general I use GCD methods for naming books and identifying series, so new publisher or new official title or long publication gap mean new series even if the numbering continues. There are some exceptions.

And the series I have the most issues of? A fanzine, actually.

The Comic Reader [1964 series]
121 issues [1973 - 1984]
99 - 219

This is one of those exceptions, since #100 was the last issue published by Paul Levitz under the TCR Publications name, with Street Enterprises taking over from 101 to the end of the run (I'm almost certain 219 is the last issue). But I use different rules for fanzines. #100 gives a history of the publication until then (it started off as the "On the Drawing Board" section in Jerry Bails' ALTER-EGO #1, at some point became a separate publication, went through several editor/publishers, switching titles back and forth a few times). I'm still not sure what year to designate the series as starting.

Anyway, I had a few late issues of this from early in my collecting days, and a while back got most of this run all at once. There's a lot of weird fun stuff in here, especially on the covers, a mix of fan and pro work (a few highlights include the Kirby covers on #100, Simonson's Manhunter, Dan Spiegle's Blackhawk, Ditko's Machine Man some good Aragones, Hembeck, Rosa etc.). It was digest sized (5.5x8) with mostly black and white covers (except #99 and #100) up to #137, started adding colour on the covers with #138 (at first just one or two colours, but soon full colour). With #139 they also started to have artwork on the backcover as well as the front. #164 saw the magazine change to regular comic size (7x10) and adding lot of pages as they merged with Street Enterprises' comic strip reprint newspapers, so each issue after that included some comic strip reprints (including Modesty Blaise, Star Hawks, Superman and Captain Kentucky). Some other nice regular features included Fandom Confidential (Jim Engel and Chuck Fiala's fumetti humour page) and Don Rosa's Information Center.

Overall, it's an interesting news fanzine for getting a snapshot of points in that decade of American comics, with monthly lists of releases for each publisher (usually with credits and some covers), some announcements (a few of things that never came to pass) and stuff. I'll definitely be keeping these, and in fact would probably pick up some earlier issues if I see them, though I won't actively seek them out.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Question AH Cover

Next installment of my review of THE QUESTION will be ready soon, I hope, until then here's a 1989 fanzine cover for the series done by Denys Cowan. Some interesting interviews and articles in that issue as well.

Also, since it came up on the Denny O'Neil board that the old Question fansite was defunct, I decided to adopt one of its old features, the complete list of O'Neil's recommended reading from each issues.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

WALT & SKEEZIX by Frank King

WALT & SKEEZIX collects the compete GASOLINE ALLEY daily strips by Frank King from 1921 and 1922(*). Shortly into this run, of course, lead character Walt Wallet discovered a newborn baby on his porch, named him Skeezix, and what had been a strip largely about car-related jokes (although those also continued for a while) became one of the few long-running strips to move forward in real-time (continuing to this day, though several cartoonists later).

I was only mildly familiar with the strip, largely through reading some of the Dick Moores era stories in Rick Norwood's COMICS REVUE, a few Frank King Sunday pages from various books and, oddly, the parody "Gasoline Valley" by Kurtzman/Elder in MAD #15 (one of my favourite MAD stories).

Having now read the first two-thirds of this book, I'm glad Drawn & Quarterly have decided to make the effort to reprint them. It's a fascinating read, King was obviously a very skilled illustrator and writer from the start, but very much feeling out an entirely new form with this strip (there are some odd examples of that like when he feels the need to point out that a gap between panels represented several hours, when obviously all that would be used later is a caption saying "Hours later"). A few months into the book he does an extended sequence of some of the cast taking a trip to Yellowstone, which has some interesting storytelling and gags, and in the second year a very good storyline about the cast investing in an oil-well scam.

Of course there are a few things that don't work, mostly those that seem to involve topical references that are now obscure. And the very odd almost monthly strips showing how hen-pecked all the married men are, ending with Walt bragging about how good he has it as a bachelor. And of course the regrettable appearance of the black maid Rachel, although as is pointed out in the introduction, she's at least for the most part represented as a real character unlike many cartoons of the day with black characters of similar appearance.

There's some very impressive reproduction on the work, given the age and the newsprint source material. As a bonus, the inside of the dust-jacket (it's one of those Chris Ware designed books, so you never know where stuff will be printed) has an example of King's original art at close to full size for one strip, and while it does make you regret that the whole book couldn't be printed from similar source material, it does show that what we get is pretty faithful.

In addition to two full years of daily strips, the book also has some extensive biographical information on King, supplemented by some stunningly well preserved items from his family archives, photos going back to the 1800s and early cartooning work, a "drawing lesson" feature he did and an autobiographical piece done in the 1950s for the centennial of his hometown (and inspiration for Gasoline Alley) Tomah, Wisconsin.

A very impressive package, and future volumes should be equally interesting.

(*)the strip actually beginning in late 1918, the first two years probably to be collected down the line a bit.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

EC - Machine From Nowhere (Harrison)

Machine From Nowhere
by Harry Harrison
Weird Science #14[#3] (1950)

Harrison did a handful of stories for the early New Trend, mostly in collaboration with Wallace Wood, but a few solo. Of course before long he moved on, and became much better known for his prose science-fiction than for his comics.

This is the only one of his solo jobs I've seen, and it's really little more than average. It's about a scientist who finds himself building a strange machine that came to him in his dreams. A small ship then emerges from the machine and flies out to get uranium, which vanishes into the device. In the end he finds out it's a time machine from a post-nuclear war future, sent to get enough fuel to enable the remnants of humanity to move to another world.

The art's a bit bland compared to the heavy styles of most of the regular EC artists, but it does tell the story. The story itself doesn't have many surprises, but was probably more fresh a half-century ago.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Various things

Michael Ryan interviews Stephen R. Bissette on the subject of TYRANT and other things over at the Palaeoblog.

Dark Horse plans reprints of Joe Kubert's TARZAN (originally published by DC from 1972). Expensive hardcover editions, unfortunately, but still good stuff. Hopefully the reproduction source will be good, unlike their recent hardcovers of Gold Key material.

Interview with Charles Vess, well worth reading, about his BOOK OF BALLADS. Good to hear it seems to have been doing well.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

WHO Triple Play

Took out three more (sort of) DOCTOR WHO tapes from my library.

"The Androids of Tara" I mostly liked. It's a Tom Baker episode in the middle of the season where he and the original Romana (who I like better than the replacement Romana) were sent to find the pieces of the Key of Time, or some such. Kind of a goofy story that involves a medievel world which for some reason has some high tech like life-like androids, and a princess who is convieniently a dead-ringer for Romana. Some fun stuff. K-9 has a big role in this one, and I still haven't decided what I think of him. On one hand, funny sometimes, and played off Tom Baker well. On the other hand, a freaking robot dog?

"Mawdryn Undead", a Peter Davison episode, was a bit of wasted potential, with the return of the Brigadier, which should have led to a much more entertaining story, but didn't. Massively disjointed storyline, several scenes seemed missing, so I wonder if it was originally written for more than four episodes. And this episode featured the introduction of the one thing DOCTOR WHO needs less than a robot dog, a sullen teenage boy as a new companion, Turlough (one that the other companions didn't seem to care much about, as part of the disjointed nature of the story is that they're constantly forgetting Turlough was supposed to be around). And set up as a traitor by the horribly overacting Black Guardian as well. I didn't watch too much of the Davison DW originally, but I remember seeing the beginnings of a few when they were showing complete serials on weekend afternoons on the local PBS station and finding the companions kind of lame. I do think Davison seems good, but didn't have the material to work with.

The third one I got kind of confused me for a minute. It's called "The Curse of Fatal Death", which I almost didn't reserve because the title sounded so dumb. Then I picked it up and the cover lists Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor, and I wondered if I somehow missed that in my knowledge of DW chronology. Of course checking the back revealed that it was a parody special done for charity. Anyway, best thing I can say is that the money went to a good cause. There were a few amusing jokes, a lot more misses. The "making of" documentary was more entertaining, especially the fans who lent their expertise in making the TARDIS sets and the Daleks (which they'd made for a fan film project). Also on the tape are three parodies from various UK sketch comedy shows, none of which are brilliant but are generally better than "Fatal Death". Shorter, at least.

THE QUESTION by O'Neil/Cowan #7 - #11

Got delayed on my QUESTION re-reading during the hiatus. Last time I got up to #6.

#7 brings us "Survivor", the story of long-time Hub City gambling kingpin Volk and his attempts to come clean. Oh, and he's also a wolf of some sort. This is a nice example of how the occasional fantasy elements were handled in the series, in a sort of sideways "did it happen, what does it mean" kind of way instead of the more explicit uses of fantasy in most super-hero comics. A lot of really nice scenes for Cowan/Magyar to shine.

#8 is another one of my favourites, "Mikado", about Vic's search for a connection in a string of "fitting vengeance" related attacks in the city accompanied by a figure dressed in a Mikado costume quoting Gilbert and Sullivan's opera. This is a really well constructed story, does a great job of bringing up a few questions, keeping up the suspense and moving along the overall plot of the series.

#9 - #11 form the three part Santa Prisca story, where Vic's scientist pal (and inventor of his faceless mask) Aristotle Rodor gets kidnapped and taken down to the tropical crime haven and Vic has to follow. A lot of nice scenes on the way down there, I especially liked the bit where Vic has a flashback to his college days and then goes for information to a guy from those days, now in the DEA.

Down in Santa Prisca, the story takes a turn for the weird as we find out that the kidnapper is a drug lord who simultaneously revels in and is repulsed by his own sadistic behaviour, and who hopes to use Rodor's scientific knowledge to transform mud to gold and cleanse his soul. It's an interesting echo of some of the major conflicts that Vic faces in himself in the course of the series, and ends with a similar use of magic as we saw in #7.

Next time around, a few more favourite stories, including a trip to the northwest and a meeting with the local hero, who O'Neil had some experience with.
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