art by Bernard Krigstein, story by Otto Binder
Valor #3 (1955)
Rather odd little twist ending on this story about a Pharaoh in ancient Egypt who is pushing his slaves to complete a task on the pyramid, certain that death will come by sundown. As the day goes on, he begins to show compassion for his slaves, offering them food and water and gold, getting them to work faster, and then almost dies himself trying to avoid a slave child.
The twist, which ended up requiring some pretty strained language in the early bits of the story, is that the task he's set the slaves to isn't building the pyramid, it's demolishing the pyramid to free his son, who fell in the pyramid and would have run out of air by sundown. Well, at least you couldn't have seen it coming. A lesser bit from the New Direction era, though some of the details Krigstein brings to the setting are well done.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
art by Jack Davis, story by Harvey Kurtzman
Frontline Combat #9 (1952)
This story opens up the first of what Kurtzman had planned as seven issues chronicling the US Civil War, only three of which were actually published before Kurtzman left the war books to concentrate on MAD. To launch, he has an old man telling some anecdotes about Lincoln, starting with how his father Tom Lincoln was almost killed in an Indian attack, then some tales of Lincoln's childhood. Most visually entertaining is the story of Lincoln doing some wrassling...
The story ends with Lincoln's inauguration and then the attack on Fort Sumter, with the old man pleading to the lord for peace and for the life of Lincoln.
Great Davis artwork in this story, which captures the larger-than-life image of Lincoln that the script is trying to project. Some of the actual anecdotes chosen are kind of goofy (ruining his clean suit by pulling a pig out of the mud), but overall it's a good start to the unfinished series that tried to tell some entertaining and human stories about the war rather than just a dry history of battles and dates.
Enemies of the Colony
by Wallace Wood
Weird Fantasy #8 (1951)
Aw, look at that cute little alien with the big eyes and bent antenna. Just precious. It couldn't possibly to a threat to the colonists, could it?
If you said no, you haven't read many EC stories, have you?
Anyway, this is one of the handful of stories that Wallace Wood wrote as well as drew in his EC days. Some new arrivals finish their years long voyage to a colony on an alien planet, and find it well settled. There are these cute little native critters, the mokos, that were almost wiped out when the original colonists arrived, being hunted by the large monstrous hydra-files. The human children start to keep the mokos as pets and breed them, which only seems to make the hydra-files more upset, as they attack any large number of mokos. The humans react as you'd expect, and wipe out the hydra-files in any area they've colonized. The mokos population grows, and the humans then discover that when they're in large numbers the mokos are godless killing machines who wipe out anything in their path, hence the hydra-files agitation at humans breeding them.
So let that be a lesson to all future space colonists. Wipe out ever indigenous life form you find, no matter how cute. Wait, that can't be right...
Gorgeous Wallace Wood artwork and some good, if morally questionable, writing.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Not that I'm updating my existing weblogs enough to justify starting another, but some itches needs scratching.
About a million years ago, give or take, I put together a few issues of the second volume of an online newsletter called Gunk'l'dunk, devoted to all things related to Larry Marder's excellent comic book experience TALES OF THE BEANWORLD. It fell by the wayside some time ago, not the least because there was exceedingly little to report on with Beanworld publishing being mostly absent then, and unfortunately that continues now. However, for various reasons I decided now was a good time to revive it as Gunk'l'dunk v03, now in weblog form. I've got slightly spiffed up versions of my own issues of v02, a link to where you can read v01 (edited by founder Jeremy York) and other stuff and a few posts on the two major themes I plan to explore to start, Marder artwork in various obscure places and Beanworld characters appearing in artwork by other artists. More will probably follow. Since Marder isn't the most prolific of artists I won't be updating too frequently, so as to keep it going for a while, but I'll try to get up something every week.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
It's been announced that Walt Kelly's Pogo strip (daily and sundays) will be reprinted starting this October by Fantagraphics, two years per book, twelve books total. Long overdue, I'm definitely looking forward to it. Wonder if they'll look into reprinting the comic book stories as well.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Random Comics Theatre
Classics Illustrated #3 
First Comics CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED revival lasted less than two years and only 27 issues, and probably hastened the demise of the company with the resources they spent on trying to break into the elusive "bookstore market", but there were quite a few gems along the way. Any line of books which gives you well produced books with art by the likes of Rick Geary, Gahan Wilson, Pat Boyette, Dan Spiegle, Michael Ploog, Gary Gianni and others has something going for it.
Kyle Baker was among the artists in the line-up, doing two books. The second was CYRANO DE BERGERAC (CI#21), and the first was the one under consideration here, Lewis Carroll's THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Baker's adaptation was similar to the style he's used in a number of his original books, with the dialogue appearing below or beside the panels, which are mostly small and dense, which makes the occasional half or full page illustration (often accompanying the poems and songs) look all the bigger. The original book is short enough that he's able to preserve almost all of the dialogue, which is a big part of Carroll's appeal.
Meanwhile he uses the art to bring the scenes to life, highlighting some of the little bits of humour from the original that would get lost with only the dialogue and not Carroll's descriptions. Overall it works surprisingly well, not a substitution for the original of course, but a nice addition to it. The characters are all well designed (though I have to say I thought the choice to present Alice with those creepy blank eyes in most panels was sometimes distracting), and it captures the odd dream-like transitions that mark the original work. I thought the Red Queen's race section was really well done, as well as the whole Humpty Dumpty chapter.
Eddie Campbell continues to spotlight pages of the script to FROM HELL, this time with one of my favourite exchanges:
GULL: Netley, do you know what your foremost distinguishing feature is?
NETLEY: Why, I… I can’t think, sir.
TwoMorrows has some interesting new stuff announced in their new catalog, like a book on John Romita and one on silver age sci-fi comics (with great Alan Davis / Paul Neary cover). Add those to such previously announced things as the upcoming Joe Sinnott book and it looks like a good year for them. Oh, and log on to their site on Wednesday to get a free issue of ALTER EGO.
Steve Thompson features what he accurately calls the strangest Sub-Mariner tale of them all. Imperius Rex! No wonder Sue chose Reed.
Some nice pages from the S&K war title FOXHOLE over at Harry's S&K blog.
Steve Bissette on Rick Veitch's upcoming reprint of his EPIC ILLUSTRATED short stories, plus a new zombie drawing for an upcoming anthology and more.
Fred Hembeck posts about an old DC/Marvel crossover story, "The Massacre of the Innocents" by Brad Caslor, that appeared in RBCC back in the 1970s, posted in full on Hembeck's site now.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
As I mentioned a few days ago, I was looking at the complete run of AMAZING HEROES PREVIEW SPECIAL issues that I managed to amass, and figured it would be useful for me to have a place where I can keep track of some of the more interesting contents, either books that didn't come out as planned (or at all), or interesting background information or artwork. Anyway, I posted a start to that here, mostly just comments on the covers and one or two bits that jumped out from each issue, I'll add to it as I notice other interesting things, or people point them out to me.
art by Jack Kamen, story by Al Feldstein
Shock SuspenStories #5 (1952)
Kind of an excessively creepy story this time around, as Jack moves into his new home and meets his new neighbour Horace. Seems Horace has a bit of a problem. He's got a great model train set-up built down in his basement, but no model trains to run on it since any time he saves up enough money to buy some his wife takes it and goes travelling.
Horace gets increasingly agitated, and Jack tries to help him, but that doesn't work. Finally, just after Jack decides to buy the trains for Horace, he and his son go over to find that Horace has bought his dream model train collection, now filled with the body parts of his chopped up wife, who Horace is happy to say will now always be doing what she loved, travelling.
I think in this one they kind of let the "ironic twist" get ahead of them, since as shrewish as she's portrayed, the wife didn't really come close to deserving what she got. Also, dragging the kid into the story, so he has to see the train filled with bloody body parts, seems a bit cruel to him.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Y'know, this piece (by Stephen DeStefano and Karl Kesel) has to be on the shortlist of greatest comic fan mag covers of all time.
I recently got the last issue I needed to have all 13 of the AMAZING HEROES Preview issues (six part of the regular numbering and seven separate specials). I've been thinking of doing a post here about them, looking at some of the interesting extras and previews of books that never did come out.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Random Comics Theatre
Fraggle Rock #3 
Among the many books of Marvel's Star Comics line of the 1980s was FRAGGLE ROCK, eight issues based on the Jim Henson created TV show (with some of the issues being reprinted a few years later in a second series). The issues that I've seen are all loosely adapted by writer Stan Kay from episodes of the show (this one from the episode "Believe It or Not"), but the real reason to pick them up is for the excellent artwork (and colouring) by Marie Severin. She was perfect for this book, capturing the look and feel of the Muppet characters and the sets of the show while still using a lot more open storytelling than was possible with the puppet constraints of the show. Not that easy to to, and I've seen some awful Fraggle Rock and other Muppet merchandise to prove it. In particular she does a great job of capturing the the body language which was always a big part of the charm of the show.
The 22-page story in this issue is re-titled to "The Monster That Could Be Anything", and as I said it's based on one of the episodes of the show, but very loosely. For one thing, it completely drops the Doc and Sprocket framing sequences, which aren't much of a loss in this case, and makes a few other modifications, a few of which are actually improvements. The story has Red and Wembley deciding to go off on an adventure (which, of course, means Red deciding and Wembley going along) and meeting a creature in the Gorg garden who has the power to become whatever other people believe he is. They name him Skenfrith and plan to take him back to Fraggle Rock, but before they can he winds up in the water-filled Gorg cellar, where his noises cause the Gorgs to think he's a monster, which means that's exactly what he becomes.
The second half of the story deviates more from the TV version, with Skenfrith actually leaving the cellar in his monster form and briefly even flying and breathing fire, instead of Ma Gorg getting trapped in the cellar with Skenfrith and the Fraggles. The comic version is definitely an improvement, especially with the more open layouts available. The ending is roughly the same, with Wembley managing to convince Ma Gorg that Skenfrith isn't a monster, but makes a bit more sense in the comic. Eventually Skenfrith ends up back to his old self, and a pet of Junior Gorg.
Pretty good adaptation overall, and especially great to have some quality Marie Severin artwork in her best comedy style. I like her super-hero and fantasy work well enough, but she really didn't get enough chances to work the funny after NOT BRAND ECHH (and where's my ESSENTIAL NOT BRAND ECHH?).
Friday, February 02, 2007
Rob Walton recently revised and completed his 1990s comic book series RAGMOP for a massive 450+ page volume from his own Planet Lucy Press. You can read more about it on Walton's blog, with a lot of sample pages from the entries last summer, and read an interview with Walton and order a copy with a signed illustrated bookplate here.
The book is a delightfully wacky sci-fi comedy caper, featuring aspiring super-villain Alice Hawkings getting involved in the search for the mysterious all-powerful cosmic device the O-Ring. Walton then proceeds to toss in anything else he can think of into the mix, including time-travelling dinosaurs, fallen angels, aliens, conspiracy theories, government plots, religious intrigue, economic theory, gender roles, theoretical physics and much more. All with a healthy mix of slapstick comedy which pays homage to classic movies, animations and comics in more ways than I can count.
It's a delightful book in this new form, even better than the original (which ended prematurely a decade ago with a two-page text summary of the planned ending in the 13th issue, which take up about 70 pages in this new book). Instead of a straight reprint of the original issues, the whole thing is revised, with a few sub-plots being dropped (most notably most of the story involving the Seuss-inspired Baron von Rudd pursuing the dinosaurs), other things being added or tweaked (one segment is completely revised to become a Tarantino parody) and a few other changes bringing the politics up-to-date (although the idiot-President character needed surprisingly little change to fit the present). Walton does sometimes get a little long-winded in some of the political or economic asides, but he at least acknowledges that and does keep them visually interesting.
Mostly, though, it's just a fun romp through some fantastic situations with a lot of bold comedy that we don't see enough of in comics. Walton isn't afraid to try just about anything for a laugh, low-brow or high-brow, so the book is filled with asides to the audience, ridiculous prop gags and allusions to anything in pop culture that might be applicable.
The book is also jammed with extras in addition to the main story, with intros by Steve Darnall and Stephen Bissette, the "Adam Smith vs. Capitalism" back-ups by Walton's brother Brad from the original series, an extensive bibliography and various other short stories.
Definitely one of the best new books I've picked up recently, highly recommended.