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Monday, April 25, 2005

EC - Fire Mission (Berg)

Fire Mission
art by Dave Berg, story by Harvey Kurtzman
Two-Fisted Tales #29[#12] (1952)


Dave Berg of course eventually became one of the artist most associated with MAD MAGAZINE for this humour work on the "Lighter Side of..." feature, being a regular there for over 40 years. Before that he was quite an accomplished writer/artist on dramatic stories, doing a lot of work for Timely/Atlas. He also drew two war stories for Kurtzman's TWO-FISTED.

"Fire Mission" looks at a mortar crew in Korea and has a lot of interesting storytelling aspects about how they're waiting to attack, in and out of communication and likely to be targets from afar at any moment. The actual story isn't anything special, but the small touches are, and I really liked Berg's art in here. It seemed to work well with Kurtzman's layout in a sort of style between Davis and Wood. Makes you wonder what could have been if he was around for Kurtzman's MAD instead of coming around later.

Dino Quest

Over on the Palaeoblog, Steve Bissette continues his exploration of Dinosaur comics. In the most recent chapter he mentions an issue of the Catholic Guild comic TREASURE CHEST he had and cut up in his dinofeverish youth. I've been able to track down this scan which appears to be the one he's talking about.



That's v16#9, whole number 288 (or possibly 295), January 5, 1961. Anyway, figure I'd post it here as well, since it's a neat looking cover, and I'm curious how the creationist/evolution angle was handled in it. If anyone reading this has a copy or comes across one, let me or Steve know.

[update, he now has a copy]

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Doctor Who - "World War Three"

It was an interesting conclusion to the alien invasion storylilne. There was some really lame stuff, like about half the attempts at humour, especially those by the actors playing the disguised aliens, but there was some stuff that worked, and it was a very bold and outrageous plot with some nice pseudo-science.

The aliens were also kind of neat. A good updated version of what you'd expect from WHO, kind of goofy looking, but nicely designed. Kind of looked like what I would imagine an Alan Davis drawn WHO alien would be.

I also kind of like that they put up some real websites for the ones that are part of the plot.

http://www.whoisdoctorwho.co.uk/
http://www.unit.org.uk/

(the UNIT press release on the file sharing virus is cute)

Next episode is a familiar "face", really good preview.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Doctor Who - "Aliens of London"

Now that's more like it. "Aliens of London" is the first part of a two-part story returning the Doctor and Rose to the present (or thereabouts) in time to witness a spaceship crashing into London. This is easily the best episode of the new DOCTOR WHO series, and I can't wait for the second part. I'm still not completely sold on the current Doctor, but he's at least adequete. And there was some stupid "humour" in this one that I could have done without and didn't belong in WHO as all. But overall I liked it.

Especially good was seeing UNIT used again. Don't suppose that the Brigadier will show up, I guess.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Doctor Who - "The Unquiet Dead"

Boy, there really should be a rule against DOCTOR WHO having episodes sent in the recent past of Earth, especially 19th century England. And having any real historical guest stars. The third episode of the new series was easily the weakest to date, with the Doctor and Rose getting involved in a ghost story / alien invasion story with Charles Dickens. Just boring, and I'm really not sure I like them seemingly adding a possible romance between the Doctor and Rose. And the more I see it the less I like the new interior of the TARDIS.

Next few episodes look better, with alien invasions in the modern day and Daleks after that, but I'm not sure I'll stick around.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

PALOMAR by Gilbert Hernandez

I picked up a copy of Gilbert Hernandez's PALOMAR from my local library and read it over the last few days. This is a big 500 page hardcover book of Hernandez's stories about the fictional Central American small town published in the first volume of LOVE AND ROCKETS. I'd read various bits of the book before, but quite a while ago, and most of it was completely new to me.

I liked it a lot more this time around, especially the first half of the book (which, oddly, is actually the stuff I had read before).

...and I just lost a longish post I wrote about it. Damn. Anyway, short form, first third of the book is a strong start, it gets really good in the middle, and I start to lose interest in the story (although the art is at its peak) with "Human Diastrophism". In general I liked the stories when they didn't focus on Luba and her family, and wasn't that interested when the characters started moving to America. But I did like it enough to reserve POISON RIVER and LOVE AND ROCKETS X, which focus on Luba and the characters in America respectively, from my library.

Monday, April 18, 2005

July 2005 Stuff of interest

Comics related stuff from various publishers that will appear in the May Previews from Diamond, mostly for release in July. You can see the full text from Previews here and get listings from many of the publishers with covers on various sites including Comic Book Resources.

I might have a few more to spotlight a bit later, but this should be most of it.

Jack Kirby material is covered in the appropriate weblog.

DC
SGT. ROCK ARCHIVES VOL. 3 HC
Written by Robert Kanigher
Art by Joe Kubert, Russ Heath and Jerry Grandenetti
Cover by Kubert
An intense portrait of combat and conflict, this volume collects OUR ARMY AT WAR #111-125, featuring the World War II adventures of Sgt. Rock and his colorful band of fighting soldiers originally published in the early 1960s. Featuring an introduction by DCU editor Mark Chiarello.
On sale July 27 o 228 pg, FC, $49.99 US


This is some good stuff, most of it never reprinted before. The two Russ Heath stories I've heard are especially good examples of his work of the era.

What's the Price of a Dogtag
Battle Shadow
Eyes of a Blind Gunner
Killer Sergeant
Rock's Battle Family
SOS Sgt. Rock
Snafu Squad
The Tank vs. the Tin Soldier
A Bazooka For A Babyface
Battle Tags For Easy
New Boy On Easy
Battle of the Pajama Commandos
Battle Brass Ring
Target--Sgt. Rock
Hold--At All Costs


Now that's some comics. And hey, Kanigher got the word "snafu" into a code-approved book.

FANTAGRAPHICS
SQUA TRONT #11
edited by John Benson, cover by John Severin
The John Severin issue!
More pages! More color!
Featured is a long John Severin interview by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., and a complete checklist of Severin's work. Plus lots of rare and unpublished art, including a good selection of humorous illustrations from Severin's correspondence which Harvey Kurtzman has described as Severin at his best. Published for the first time are the amazingly etailed pencilled pages that Roy Krenkel drew for an American Eagle story. There's an interview with EC writer and longtime Severin friend Colin Dawkins, and a remembrance of Severin pal and EC staffer Jerry De Fuccio by Hames Ware (with unpublished Severin caricatures). The EC fanzine series continues with coverage of the original 1959 dittoed SQUATRONT (one word), which had a cover by Severin. SQUA TRONT's editor, Mike Britt writes about his publishing days with Robert Crumb and his contacts with Severin, Steve Ditko and Jules Feiffer. With original Crumb illustrations and a rare, brief Wood interview. "The EC French Connection," by Jacques Dutrey, gives more info on how famous French cartoonists Rene Goscinny and "Morris" hung out with the EC artists, including Severin, in its heyday; illustrated with rare photos and Kurtzman art.
Magazine, B&W SRP: $10.95


This is actually already out, so hopefully I'll find a copy long before July, but for some reason wasn't listed in Diamond's PREVIEWS before this. Anyway, obviously I'm a fan of Severin in particular and EC in general, so this should have a lot of interesting reading.

IMAGE
SEA OF RED, VOL. 1: NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA TP
July 27 • 104 pg • 2C • $8.95
written by RICK REMENDER & KIERON DWYER
art by SALGOOD SAM & KIERON DWYER
cover by KIERON DWYER & TONY MOORE
Since being turned undead by the crew of the cursed Pirate ship, The Black Galleon, Marco Esperanza has spent the past 400 years tied to the bow of a sunken vessel, linging to life in the dark, briny, deep. His confinement at the bottom of the sea ends when he is discovered by film director Joel Cameron's submarine on a scouting expedition for his next film. Hungry to film a live vampire battle, Cameron urges Marco to seek out the man responsible and have his revenge. Includes the first four gruesome issues and many extras from this acclaimed new series by rising star RICK REMENDER and popular veterans KIERON DWYER and SALGOOD SAM.
COLLECTS SEA OF RED #1-4

SEA OF RED #5
July 27 • 32 pg • 2C • $2.95
written by RICK REMENDER & KIERON DWYER
art by PAUL HARMON
cover by KIERON DWYER & TONY MOORE
This special origin issue features the lush art of rising star, PAUL HARMON (MORA).
The year is 521 A.D. and Lesser Blackthroat, assassin for a secret sect of the atholic Church, attempts to obtain the blood of a messiah in hopes of washing clean his cursed spirit. His journey leads him to an underground cathedral in Mesopotamia where the ancient undead guard Blackthroat’s prize and the secret to pure immortality.


As I've mentioned, I enjoyed the recently released first issue of this, so I'm glad to see they're coming out with an inexpensive collection quickly, although I now have to decide if I should skip the monthly book. And I'll be interested in seeing how well the guest artist does since my main attraction for the first issue was the visuals.

MARVEL
MARVEL VISIONARIES: JOHN ROMITA SR. HC
Written by STAN LEE, TOM DEFALCO, ROY THOMAS & ROGER STERN
Pencils & Cover by JOHN ROMITA SR.
Jazzy John and Marvel's Mightiest together in stories that made them both famous! The coming of the communist-hunting Captain America! Peter Parker's parents in perilous predicaments! The first of the final face-offs between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin! The debut of the Devil's Daughter! Also featuring the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Nick Fury, Wolverine, the Kingpin and more! Includes rarely seen horror tales from the pre-Marvel era! Collects STRANGE TALES #4; MENACE #11; YOUNG MEN #24, 26; TALES TO ASTONISH #77; TALES OF SUSPENSE #77; DAREDEVIL #16 and 17; AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #39, #40, #42, #50, #108, #109 and #365; FANTASTIC FOUR #105 and 106; CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON #138; VAMPIRE TALES #2; and UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN MINUS 1.
336 PGS./$29.99


Looks like some good stuff, although a bit heavy on the Spider-Man and light on the non-super-hero Atlas work. I've heard his romance work from that era had some nice stuff.

A trio of books from TwoMorrows

HEROES AND VILLAINS: THE WILLIAM MESSNER-LOEB BENEFIT
SKETCHBOOK
by Various
Inkpot Award-winning artist/writer Wm. Messner-Loebs (Journey, The Flash, Wonder Woman) has fallen into financial ruin, landing the beloved comics creator in a Salvation Army shelter. To make matters worse, his wife is chronically ill and there’s no medical insurance and no work or funds coming in. In response, leading comics creators have joined forces with TwoMorrows Publishing to produce Heroes And Villains (96 pages, $24.95), a gorgeous sketchbook and tribute, the proceeds of which will directly benefit Messner-Loebs. Edited by Clifford Meth, the book will include art from Mike Allred, Brent Anderson, Chris Bachalo, Mark Bagley, John Cassaday, Travis Charest, Dave & Paty Cockrum, Gene Colan, Alan Davis, Mike Deodato, Cully Hamner, Dean Haspiel, Greg Horn, Rafael Kayanan, Andy Kubert, Steve Lieber, Steve McNiven, Tom Palmer, Joe Quesada, Darick Robertson, Walter Simonson, Herb Trimpe, Billy Tucci, Sal Velluto and a host of other top pros! PLUS: Written contributions from Neil Gaiman, Peter David, and Beau Smith, and a new cover by Neal Adams! Don’t miss your chance to help a worthy comics veteran; with more names being added daily, this powerhouse collection of talent will be unparalleled!
SC, 8x11, B&W SRP: $24.95

SWAMPMEN: MUCK-MONSTERS OF THE COMICS
Rising from the ooze and mire comes the definitive tome detailing the macabre history of those weird and wondrous swamp creatures of American comics, Swampmen: Muck-Monsters of the Comics! Through interviews with authors Jon B. Cooke and George Khoury (editors of the Eisner Award-winning Comic Book Artist magazine), the writers and artists who worked on this peculiar sub-genre of horror comics recall the creation (or re-animation!) and “lives” of such unforgettable characters as Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, It, the Bog Beast, Marvin the Dead Thing, the Swamp Lurker, and others, including the shambling thing who started it all back in the 1940s, The Heap! Included are essays on their real-life and mythical precursors; their presence in pop culture via movies, television and toys; and a look at why readers of the ’70s seemed to have an insatiable appetite for the muck monsters. Profusely illustrated with rarely-seen and never-before-published artwork (including pages from the unfinished ‘80s graphic novel by Swamp Thing creators Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein, on the character’s “roots”, and much more), we spotlight the exploits of the DC and Marvel monsters — the aforementioned Swampy and Man-Thing — with exhaustive discussions with those beasts’ most renowned artists and writers, including Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Steve Gerber, Mike Ploog, Rick Veitch, John Totleben, Val Mayerik, and many more. If you’re a fan of horror or an aficionado of comics, this is the book for you!
SC, 8x11, 200pgs, PC SRP: $24.95

JUSTICE LEAGUE COMPANION VOLUME 1 SC
by Michael Eury
Commemorating the Justice League of America’s 45th anniversary, The Justice League Companion is a comprehensive examination of the Silver Age JLA. Written by Michael Eury (author of the critically acclaimed Captain Action and co-author of The Superhero Book), The Justice League Companion traces the JLA’s development, history, imitators, and early fandom through vintage and all-new interviews with the series’ creators, an issue-by-issue index of the JLA’s 1960–1972 adventures, classic and never-before-published artwork, and other fun and fascinating features! Contributors include Denny O’Neil, Murphy Anderson, Joe Giella, Mike Friedrich, Neal Adams, Alex Ross, Carmine Infantino, Nick Cardy, and many, many others. Plus: An exclusive interview with Stan Lee, who answers the question, Did the JLA really inspire the creation of Marvel’s Fantastic Four? With an all-new cover by Bruce Timm (TV’s Justice League Unlimited), The Justice League Companion is a must-read for JLA fans new and old!
SC, 8x11, 224pgs, B&W SRP: $24.95


Wow, Timm by way of Sekowsky. Weird. This all looks cool, but a little bit pricey. I'm most likely to pick up the SWAMPMEN book first, maybe I'll look at the others and pick them up eventually.


A FINE LINE
PERMANENT PARTY SC
by Donna Barr
Permanent Party is a fictionalized memoir of part of Donna Barr's time in Uncle Sam's Green Machine. In 1971, women in the US Army were still WACS and wore high heels to duty. A white girl has a miscarriage; the black girls get the blame and all hell breaks loose.
Novel, SC, 5x8, 230pgs, B&W SRP: $13.99


This is a prose novel, not a grahic novel. Might be interesting.

ABIOGENESIS PRESS
STRANGEHAVEN VOLUME 3: CONSPIRACIES TP
by Gary Spencer Millidge
The quirky village of Strangehaven, hidden in the depths of the English countryside, has a clandestine society, the Knights of the Golden Light. Newcomer Alex is drawn into a web of intrigue with both the Knights and the secret witches’ coven vying for his allegiance. Collects Strangehaven # 13 - 18. Introduction by Dave Gibbons.
SC, 7x10, 176pgs, B&W SRP: $14.95


I picked up a couple of back issues of this recently, and it looks pretty interesting, so I might try to pick up the first book sometime soon.

ACTIVE IMAGES
THE ALCHEMIST'S EASEL GRAPHIC NOVEL
by Al Davison
Acclaimed artist and writer, Al Davison, author of The Spiral Cage, presents a new collection of short stories inspired by the dreams on which they are based. introduction by Neil Gaiman.
SC, 7x10, 176pgs, B&W SRP: $17.99


SPIRAL CAGE is an old favourite, so this might be worth checking out. Although "inspired by the dreams on which they are based"? Shouldn't that be "based on the dreams which inspired them" or something...

MARVEL
DEFENDERS #1 (of 5)
Written by KEITH GIFFEN and J.M. DeMATTEIS
Pencils & Cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE
Wong possessed by Nightmare! Dormammu and Umar in unholy alliance! The Hulk and the Sub-Mariner at each other's throats! The Silver Surfer...uh...surfing. Can Doctor Strange reunite the Defenders and save "Reality As We Know It?" Come to think of it, can editor Andy Schmidt save the Marvel Universe from Eisner-award-winning creators Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire? Only the Ancient One knows for sure!
32 PGS./$2.99


I like the original run of this team on JUSTICE LEAGUE, and their recent return on that book looked interesting, though I haven't picked it up yet. This should be worth a gander either here or when it's collected.

IMAGE
THE STARDUST KID #2
July 27 • 32 pg • FC • $3.50
written by J.M. DeMATTEIS
art & cover by MIKE PLOOG
“THE WOMAN”—The entire neighborhood has transformed into a savage, primeval land populated by trolls, elves and other fantastical creatures. Protected by the magics of Paul’s book, these four children are the only ones who remember the world as it was. But how can they survive in this dangerous new world? And how can they possibly change things back?


I liked DeMatteis/Ploog over on the briefly lived ABADAZAD, which is apparently continuing as a series of illustrated novels at some point, so I'll probably be giving this book a shot.

ARCHIE COMICS
JUGHEAD #167
by Craig Boldman and Rex Lindsey
"The Mark of Jughead!": Lock up the kitchens! Somebody is swiping frosting samples from cakes all over Riverdale... and the swipes are in the shape of the letter "J". Who could the culprit possibly be?
32pgs, FC SRP: $2.25


Ohhh, I bet it's that Reggie!!! I never did trust him!

CHECKER BOOK PUBLISHING GROUP
WINSOR MCCAY: EARLY WORKS VOLUME 6 TP
by Windsor McCay
Featuring McCay’s first continuous comic strip, Mr. Goodenough, which ran from January 1904 to March 1905 in the Evening Telegram. The strips features Mr. Goodenough, who continuously tries to improve his life by becoming more active. The result of which inevitably leads to injury or discomfort for the hapless gentleman.
SC, 7x10, 200pgs, B&W SRP: $19.95


I'm impressed they're managing to get so many of these out. I've picked up a couple, and enjoyed them a lot. Some weird stuff, and the reproduction is pretty good considering the age of the material. I'll probably pick up some more of them eventually.

DARK HORSE
LITTLE LULU: LULU IN THE DOGHOUSE TPB

Written by John Stanley, art by Stanley and Irving Tripp.

Little Lulu has been taking shots at the funnybones of comics fans for nearly fifty years‹ but you've got another think coming if you dare assume this means today's readers won't love her, too. As tough as she is tender-hearted, as smart as she is sassy, and as fair and generous as she is cantankerous, Lulu Moppet is a real one-of-a-kind. Now, for the first time ever, comics fans can read and relish every Little Lulu comic book story from the original, long-running Dell Comics series in Dark Horse Books' handy paperback library series! Handy, affordable, and hilarious, these thick, fun-filled volumes are bursting with stories from every angle of Lulu's world‹from the far-flung fairy tales she dreams up to calm the quarrelsome tot, Alvin, to the silly slice-of-life adventures that end with impossible complexities and belly laughs for readers.

208 pages, black and white, $9.95, in stores on Aug. 10.


This is some good stuff. I'm not sure with Dark Horse's weird release schedule and vague solicitations, but I think this volume includes the earliest issues of the on-going series, following the various Four Color one-shots.

DARK HORSE
CONAN #18
Writer: Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza
Cover Artist: Cary Nord
Penciller: Bruce Timm, John Severin
Colorist: Dave Stewart

Bruce Timm, the innovator whose work has changed the face of American animation as well as American comics, and John Severin, the legendary artist of EC's Two-Fisted Tales, Image's Desperados, and Vertigo's Caper, team up to give fan-favorite Cary Nord a month off. Busiek and Timm join forces on a brief, sadistic little adventure involving a girl, a wizard, a monster, and Conan's very morbid sense of humor. Busiek teams with sometimes writing partner Fabian Nicieza (Avengers/Thunderbolts) and the great John Severin to pick up a loose end from Conan #3, as Conan's destiny is misinterpreted by a series of luckless warriors and shameless opportunists, leading to nothing but misery.

Pub. Date: July 20, 2005
Format: Full color, 32 pages
Price: $2.99


I haven't been picking up the current CONAN series, but I've heard some good stuff about it. I'll probably pick this up for the Severin art (I love his art but haven't been interested in the last few books he's been featured in), and the Bruce Timm art might be interesting as well.

DC
KINETIC TP
Written by Kelley Puckett
Art by Warren Pleece
Cover by Tomer Hanuka
Collecting the complete 8-issue DC FOCUS series! Sickly high-school student Tom Morrell's only escape is the exploits of comic-book hero Kinetic. But Tom's got powers of his own that will change his life - assuming they manifest before Tom decides his life isn't worth living!
On sale July 27 o 192 pg, FC, $9.99 US


Didn't pay any attention to it when the series was being published, but I've liked some of Puckett's writing in the past (primarily his BATMAN ADVENTURES related stuff), and this is a pretty good price. I'm assuming this will be digest sized.

PURE IMAGINATION
WALLY WOOD'S WAYOUT SC
by Wally Wood
This volume celebrates Wally Wood's greatest science fiction and fantasy art with 160 pages of black-and-white wash paintings of robots, aliens, spaceships, and babes. Roughly 90% of this material has never been reprinted since its original publication.
SC, 8x11, 160pgs, B&W SRP: $25.00


Wish this was more specific about exactly where and when the original publication of this material was. Still, it sounds more interesting than the LUNAR TUNES book that Vanguard has coming out, so I'll probably take a look for it when it's published.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Link - Palaeoblog

Just a reminder that over on Michael Ryan's Palaeoblog you can read Steve Bissette's on-going history of dinosaur comics, this week finishing up a look at Dell / Gold Key's TUROK, SON OF STONE, in particular the great "Young Earth" feature.

http://palaeoblog.blogspot.com/

Thursday, April 14, 2005

EC - Plastic Sam (Heath)

Plastic Sam!
art by Russ Heath, story by Harvey Kurtzman
Mad #14 (1954)

Russ Heath only drew two stories for EC, one war story for FRONTLINE COMBAT and this parody story for MAD. It looks like on this story Heath pretty much stuck close to Kurtzman's layouts for the artwork, so there's not as much Heath evident as most of his work. It's still an interesting version of Kurtzman's work, and it might have been interesting to see what it would have looked like if they'd continued to collaborate and had more of Heath's own personality come out in the work, like with the other MAD artists.

This story is obviously one of the many parodies of other comic, in this case Quality Comics PLASTIC MAN, still being published at the time but far off its heyday when creator Jack Cole was working on it. The opening caption is kind of interesting, as it mentions the fading of super-heroes like Flash, the Sub-Mariner and Captain Marvel, referring to them as "that fast-dying race of freaks".

That pretty much sets the tone for the story, which is kind of mean-spirited but pretty funny, with some nice sight gags.


Mark Evanier mentions that the previously posted about FOUL PLAY collection of stories from and bios of the major EC artists by Grant Geissman is out and very good looking. I'm looking forward to getting my copy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

And a word from Charlie Brown

An old favourite, dedicated to all the comic retailers on the comicweblogiversetopiasphere.


(Charles Schulz, 1979-06-11) I think on Free Comic Book Day you should all greet your customers with a "Going to do some heavy reading tonight, eh?" at the cash register, just to see what happens.

Third COMPLETE PEANUTS should be out soon, pick it up, some great stuff in there.

Doctor Who - "The End of the World"

The second episode of the new DOCTOR WHO series was on last night. Still a mixed reaction, but I just checked an episode guide and saw that there are Daleks coming up so I'll probably stick around.

I have to say, something about having commercials in the middle of my DOCTOR WHO watching just feels wrong.

And tossing in pop music feels even more wrong. I didn't mind "Tainted Love", since it's not a bad song, but Britney Spears? I was really ready to give up on the show right there. They seem to fluctuate between showing that they really understand the premise of the show and just missing it completely.

On a better note, I did think that the effects were more even this time around. It still felt like classic WHO, but updated with better effects that can now be done cheaply, all better intergrated than in the first episode. There was some fun goofy stuff, and a surprisingly dense and well-structured plot for a one hour show.

I'm still not sold on this new Doctor, not at all. A few flashes of interesting behaviour, but maybe a bit too goofy. It'll also be interesting to see where they go with this "fate of the Time Lords" thing that they set up in this episode (I'm not sure if that refers to events from the decade of the show I skipped). That might make for an interesting storyline down the road, unless the intent was just to write the rest of the Time Lords out of the story.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

THE QUESTION by O'Neil/Cowan #2 - #6

Been continuing my paced re-reading of the O'Neil/Cowan run on THE QUESTION. #2 through #5 wrap up the first storyline, which would have been the announced-but-unreleased THUNDER OVER THE ABYSS tradepaperback, plus setting up a few future bits.

#2 - "Butterfly" - Vic wakes up, injured but alive, finding out that Shiva rescued him from drowning. He gets (or imagine he gets) a visit from Batman, and is then sent to train with the enigmatic Richard, a wheelchair bound recluse (and unmentioned here but star of his own O'Neil written series RICHARD DRAGON in the 1970s). Most importantly this introduces the eastern philosophical content that would inform the rest of the series.

#3 - "Suffer the Children" - Back in Hub City, we meet the Musto family of low-rent terrorists (which a later letter column mentions hail from some 1970s GREEN LANTERN issues) as the Question foils a plan to blow up a school bus.

#4 - "The Sacrifice" - The big confrontation with the Reverend Hatch, this is a really intense issue, lots of stuff going on, and sets up...

#5 - "Cityscape" - One of my favourite issues, the one where everything really comes together creatively on the book. As Hub City decends into chaos following the events of the previous issue, we see how it affected a few of the residents. Most notably this issue introduces Izzy O'Toole, a corrupt cop who starts his own redemption here.

The next few issues are single issue stories, building from some of the minor points of the opening. #6 is "...That Small Rain Down Can Rain...", bringing back the Musto family. I'm especially fond of this issue because it sets up #21, my first and favourite issue, but each issue is complete in itself. Both issues are about some of the main themes of the book, family and identity, and in particular how those issues play out in Vic's mind as an orphan, with no idea of his family, and Junior Musto, an embarrassment to his father in the terrorism game. All this wrapped up in a plot about gun-smuggling, business corruption, pollution and acid-rain.

O'Neil also gives Cowan and Magyar some room to play with the action sequences in this issue, with two almost wordless sequences, one featuring some close-quarters hand-to-hand combat and the other featuring a shoot-out. Those are a lot of fun, especially since they don't resort to splash pages but have decent paneled storytelling, and are always an interesting part of the series. Fortunately at the time DC wasn't that stingy with the page count, so the early issues of the book have 27 or more pages of story, allowing for a few visual flourishes like that while still having a lot of story content. Welcome stuff in an era when 22 pages and many of them splash pages seem to be the standard.

Next week or thereabouts, wolfmen, Gilbert and Sullivan, and a three-part visit to sunny Santa Prisca.

Monday, April 11, 2005

SEA OF RED #1


SEA OF RED is a new on-going horror series by Salgood Sam, Rick Remender and Kieron Dwyer, published by Image Comics. The basic concept of the first issue is pirate vampires, although the cover of the second issue (and a subsequent viewing of an on-line preview) shows that there's a twist on that coming up with #2. But for the first issue it's the story of Marco Esperanza, a 16th century spaniard who survives the sinking of his ship only to be taken aboard a pirate ship manned by vampires under the command of Captain Blackthroat. Bloodshed ensues and the stage is set for further bloodshed, vengence and other lovely things.

The plot is imaginative enough, and the scripting is passable, but the real reason to get this is the artwork. First off, the design on the cover really stands out. Even those few comics with decent cover art these days don't really do much with cover design, so something like this really stands out, with the two sharply contrasting images (which it looks like every issue will have) and the colour balance.

Inside, the artwork is an interesting black&white with a brownish-red inkwash (the online preview I found seems to have it as more straight red than it printed in the book, I think the printed version works better). For lack of a better way to describe it, it seems like a cross between Will Eisner (who knew a thing or two about pirates) and Gene Colan (who knew a thing or two about vampires). Two very good artists to evoke for this kind of series, this artwork also seems to share a sense of layout with those two artists, very loose and dynamic. One of the freshest feeling new books I've seen in a while.

It'll be interesting to see where this is going. Fortunately horror comics seem to be having a bit of resurgence lately, with IDW and Image among others seemingly finding some considerable success with various books, and with several more on the way, so this should do well enough to stick around for a bit.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Forgotten Classics - SUPER JRS.

Mike Sterling of Progressive Ruin fame recently turned up an odd bit of comic-book merchandise, with infant versions of the DC superheroes (also seen on a Green Arrow fansite) known as the Super Jrs. I figured it was past time for a critical re-appraisal of their one comic book appearance (in english, at least), from BEST OF DC #58, March 1985. From what I can gather, the characters were designed for merchandise sold mostly outside the US. This issue had their origin, a long 68-page story (plus front and back covers). Yes, I know the cover says 65-page. The covers are signed by Vince Squeglia, not sure if he did the interior art as well (there definitely seems to be some sort of time-gap between the cover and interiors, as "Wonder Tot" has an eagle emblem inside and a wings/WW emblem on the cover, a change DC had made in the regular Wonder Woman book a while before this).

This has proven to be a difficult story to read for two reasons. First, the printing on these mid-1980s digests is clearly was not meant to last for 20 years. Either that or my eyes weren't, as I'm sure this looked better before. The second reason is that the narration is all told in verse, which is really forced at times.

Anyway, the story revolves around an "Isle of Forgotten Toys", where toys replaced by new Christmas gifts gather and are bitter about Christmas. So, y'know, not the most original concept in the world. They enlist the meanest kid in the world, Wallace Van Wealthy III, who is left in Miss Piffle's Nursery School over the holidays along with a group of five orphans. Wally gets transformed into a junior version of the Weather Wizard and makes it warm so people won't get into the Christmas spirit.

The Spirit of Christmas then transforms the orphan kids into junior versions of their heroes, Superman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin. Their first battle is against a giant snowman, after which the boys are scattered to various dimensions for solo missions in places like Candyland, Shadowland and a world of Living Calendars, finally regrouping for the final battle, in the spirit of the classic JSA and early JLA stories before Santa sweeps in to save the day and the villains learn the error of their ways.

Not exactly a classic, but some goofball fun, and some of the artwork is amusing. If you get past the verse narration there's some funny dialogue.

Fortunately the book finishes up with 28 pages of SUGAR & SPIKE reprints by Sheldon Mayer which are much better. The first one in particular, "Spike's Big Problem", is one of my favourite S&S stories, with lots of slapstick and verbal wit as the kids try to figure out snowball fights and the nature of humour.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

BOONDOCKS by Aaron McGruder

I never really got into BOONDOCKS the times I checked it out on-line, but recently when checking to see if my library had the recent BIRTH OF A NATION graphic novel McGruder did with Reginald Hudlin and Kyle Baker I saw they had A RIGHT TO BE HOSTILE, a collection of most of the first few years of the strip.

Like most strips, it reads a lot better in this format. I find I'm more forgiving of the weak strips and more appreciative of the minor chuckles when I can read a month worth at a sitting, and the really good ones work better with the context. The weak ones are there, of course, I won't deny that, but there are more good ones and overall it's a fun experience.

The introduction explains the change (following the Bush election and the terrorist attacks) in tone for the strip from a suburban family comedy with with occasional political overtones, but mostly character and story based with a supporting cast, to a political strip without real storylines and with just the few main characters. I'd caught edges of some discussions about that change on various on-line venues, so I know that a lot of people aren't too happy with it, but I think it comes out a lot stronger following the change. While it had a few mildly amusing storylines, that was never the strength of the first half of the book, and the political stuff is a lot funnier (although I suppose it might not age as well a few years from now when the Bush administration is history. Already I didn't even get a few of the references in the earlier strips).

I see a second collection is coming out soon, PUBLIC ENEMY #2. I'll have to check that out, it'll be interesting to see the last few years through McGruder's filter.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Doctor Who - "Rose"

I figured I'd try a few non-comics posts. No big spoilers in here, since I know this hasn't shown everywhere yet.

I was a DOCTOR WHO fan for about five years, from age 8 to 13, watching and enjoying most of the Pertwee and Tom Baker stuff I saw (and reading a bunch of the novelizations) before losing interest soon enough when the Davison stuff started. Never got too interested in anything since, and didn't even re-watch the earlier stuff whenever it was available (although I did for a long time have a cardboard TARDIS I built from a kit I got in a cheap remaindered book). So I was only mildly interested when I heard about the new series, but after hearing about it all over the comic weblogiverseospheretopia over the past month I figured I'd try out the first episode, "Rose". It helped that getting CBC feeds from every time-zone it was available for five hours straight last night.

It wasn't bad, certainly brought out a lot of nostalgia, especially the sound effects, and was more watchable than the later stuff I remembered. I probably would have liked it a lot if I was still between 8 and 13. I thought the mix of throwback cheesy special effects and computer generated effects (well done but nothing really special, mostly just stock-issue explosions) was a bit odd, and didn't always work. The whole thing was actually an odd mix of scenes that seemed to try hard not to be anything like WHO and those that revelled in the WHO-ness. I also found the new Doctor a bit grating, but I'm sure he could grow on me. I did kind of like the new assistant, Rose, more than some I remembered (towards the end of my watching it was as much the annoying assistants as it was Davison that turned me off). I also didn't like the new interior of the TARDIS (and it felt weird to be able to see the interior from an exterior view when the door was open. It was never like that, was it?).

But the episode itself was passable, especially given that it had to re-establish a lot of stuff. There were a number of bits of dialogue that really fell flat when they were obviously trying for "important", always a mistake in DOCTOR WHO, and of course the Autons are a weak choice for villains (hopefully we'll see Daleks or Cyber-Men or the Master soon enough). But there are some fun parts, enough of a feeling that they get the heart of the concept, and enough of a nostalgia pull that I'll probably watch a few more episodes.

EC - Pearl Divers (Kubert)

Pearl Divers
art by Joe Kubert, story by Jerry De Fuccio
Two-Fisted Tales #33[#16] (1953)

Joe Kubert only drew three stories for EC during a brief period in 1953, around the same time he was doing 3-D books like TOR and THREE STOOGES for St. John. It's gorgeous work, like most of his work from the period, and has the added benefit of much sharper reproduction than most examples of early Kubert reprints (although I haven't seen the hardcover TOR reprints).

This is an entertaining enough short story about pearl divers off the coast of Australia. Following their abrupt introduction, Rex Kingdom takes Mike Holford aboard his schooner and they find a giant pearl. On his second trip down, Rex is attacked by a shark and barely makes it out. Back on shore, he reveals his suspicions about why the shark attacked him. Kubert's art has a lot of detail and character, with some fun animals and sets which seem well-researched, or at least well faked.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

EC - F-86 Sabre Jet! (Toth)

F-86 Sabre Jet!
art by Alex Toth, story by Harvey Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #12 (1953)

Alex Toth only did three stories for EC, for the Kurtzman war titles. Apparently he didn't quite fit in with the EC way of doing things.

The results of the collaboration are interesting in this story (the better of the two I have. I have to pick up the one where Kurtzman inks Toth's pencils sometime, just to see what it looks like). It's an aviation based story, which is always a popular theme with Toth ("The Tally", "Burma Sky", "Lone Hawk", BRAVE FOR ADVENTURE), with a very tight focus on the planes and the sky. We never see more than the heads of the pilots. The story follows a mission of one of the planes of the title in Korea, facing an enemy squad of MIGs and an intense two page sequence where the pilot is lost in a cloud bank, struggling between believing his instincts and the equipment readouts.

It's a very strong story, and Toth's particular style fits it nicely. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done if he'd worked more with EC. The reprints of the stuff he was doing with Standard at the time are pretty, but this shows a lot more of his later style.

I'm curious what the black and white version of this story looks like, as a lot of the colouring of the clouds are just areas of colour with no ink line. This is definitely a story where Toth took his economy of line style to an extreme, and is an interesting contrast with the usual EC standard, where most of the artists were into lush rendering, highly illustrative artwork (this is an all Air Force issue, and you can compare the simple but effective rendering of Toth with the extreme detail that Evans, Davis and Wood give to the planes and copters in their stories).

Saturday, April 02, 2005

THE QUESTION by O'Neil/Cowan #1

A stray comment recently reminded me of something in one of my favourite comics, THE QUESTION #21, so I pulled that out and re-read it, and that got me nostalgic for the whole run of the book, so I went back to the beginning and re-read #1 as well. The times I've re-read it before I've always done it in bulk, a dozen or more issues in each sitting, so this time I'll take it more gradually, an issue or two at a time a few times a week. And maybe write about them some on here as I read them and as I finish up. Or maybe not. I still haven't decided yet exactly what I want to do on this weblog (the Kirby weblog is so much more monomaniacally simple. Hundreds of titles to choose from and just try to keep each Kirby era represented on the "last ten posts" list).

For those not familiar, the Question is a character created by Steve Ditko at Charlton Comics back in the late 1960s. He's reporter Vic Sage, who when he needs to do things under the radar wears a featureless mask as the Question. The original stint was brief, only a handflip of back-up stories and one full issue, but memorable, most notable for Ditko injecting some of his philisophical views (objectivism and moral absolutism) which would, in increasing blatant ways, dominate his more personal work to this day.

Eventually DC bought the rights to some of the Charlton characters, and after a few minor appearances they launched the Question in his own book in 1986. The initial creative team was writer Dennis O'Neil, penciller Denys Cowan and inker Rick Magyar, with Bill Sienkiewicz painting the first cover and staying involved as cover inker (over Cowan) for a while after that. The series ran for 36 issues and 2 annuals and was followed by a "quarterly" (in title, not schedule) series that ran several issues. The character has been seen in various other mostly Batman related books since.

I came in the middle of all that, starting around the time that the aforementioned #21 came out and quickly picking up back-issues (including, eventually, the 1960s Ditko stuff) as well as each new one. The book was, in fact, the first on-going book I read when I got back into reading comics in 1988.

With that reading order, it obviously wasn't until I'd read quite a bit that I was familiar with the controversy about the changes made to the character. O'Neil didn't try to duplicate Ditko's philisophical view, one he obviously disagrees with, and instead developed his own, moving the character towards that (not quite using Ditko's version as a starting point). I might have felt differently if I'd read the Ditko stuff first, but I think that was absolutely the right thing to do, and produced what, as I said, was one of my favourite books. It might have been even better if they'd started with a new character from scratch, but the whole "faceless" thing and the "Question" name were so instrumental to a lot of book and are such powerful hooks that it would have been quite a different book.

Anyway, this first issue starts Vic Sage on his long transformation. He starts off as Ditko's hero as seen through O'Neil's lens, so he comes across as pretty angry and narcissistic type as he uses his fists to expose political corruption in Hub City.

His reckless style quickly earns the ire of the political establishment, personified by the Reverend Hatch, who has the drunken mayor of the city under his control. This leads to violence, when Sage is ultimately taken down by Lady Shiva (a character ostensibly from O'Neil RICHARD DRAGON series of the 1970s, but actually quite different here). Sage ends up at the bottom of the river, ready for his story to begin.

It's a real corker of a first issue, introducing several of the characters and themes that would carry the book for the next few years. That's always good, and moreso now in an era when a "first issue" often barely gets around to introducing the characters. It revels in the genre trappings of melodramatic crime and heroic fiction and at the same time manages to transcend them.

The Cowan/Magyar art is manages to match the story well. From what I've seen of his earlier work (mostly various fill-ins, and a year of POWER MAN / IRON FIST), this was a big leap up for Cowan, and he'd quickly get even better on this series. It's a book which required quite a bit of martial arts and other acts of violence to be portrayed convincingly, and usually had people in street clothing rather than costumes, and a hero without a face, making body language especially important. This has all that and more.

Anyway, short story long, a great little series, well worth tracking down, and hopefully at some point we'll see a collection of it.
Weblog by BobH [bobh1970 at gmail dot com]