Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Spider & The Sorcerer!

What's up with Marvel Super-Heroes #14?

It's a Spider-Man story smack dab in the middle of that comic's "showcase" period. It features an oddball story by Stan "The Man" with artwork by then not-yet-even-a-Marvel-newbie Ross Andru (he was still ensconced with Mike Esposito on The Flash for DC) and inks by Wild Bill Everett. It's a fun and easy-breezy hoot of a story, but it doesn't fit into the mood or tone of the Spider-Man series much at all.

Here's a link with the story details.

At about this time, Marvel was trying to exploit the new success of Spider-Man, and they launched the magazine-sized Spectacular Spider-Man only a few months later. Was this story a try-out for that magazine?

Anyone know the story?

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The Shadow Laughs!

This 1933 breezy crime mystery might be trying to fool folks into thinking it had something to do with Street & Smith's famous pulp feature The Shadow, but the truth it hasn't a thing to do with any of that.

The Shadow Laughs is a whodunnit with a smarmy reporter (Hal Skelly) dividing his time between making wisecracks, hitting on a small time criminal's sister, and solving a bank heist which is turning up dead bodies with thousand dollar bills in hand. The police are a bunch of bozos in this one and let the reporter lead the way messing up crime scenes and constantly interfering with their investigation.

It's passable entertainment, not as bad as some reviews make it out to be, but it's nothing more. And contrary to some reviews of this flick, there is a shadow to be seen and it does laugh at least once, so the title is fair enough I suppose.

On an acting note, this movie does feature Cesar Romero in his very first outing, and he's recognizable as a henchman for a gang boss. Rose Hobart plays the romantic lead and she had already played Muriel Carew in the 1931 Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde a picture of considerable reputation. She later shows up Tower of London with Karloff.

This ain't a movie to seek out, but it's not terrible to watch if you stumble across it.

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The End Of 1963!

Image Comics during the 90's produced some pretty interesting comic books. They also produced quite a lot of really terrible comic books. Among the pretty good stuff was the offbeat retro series 1963 which harkened back to the heyday of the Marvel Bullpen and by means of old-fashioned but self-aware stories spoke to the reader through the code of fandom. There were not only great little stories, but also ads and text pieces which attempted to further the illusion of time-displaced comics. Here's a link to see some of the great bogus ads they dreamed up.

Now it seems after nearly twenty years that the frustrating 1963 project is finally and utterly at an end. Apparently Alan Moore disavowed the project after it fell on hard times before its completion. Through some missteps with production and internecine politics at Image, the project was stopped one 80-page giant before its final conclusion. It never got that ending and seeing that completion became one of the curiosities of the Image age.

The characters have only turned up one other time, in a crossover with Big Bang comics characters. Other than that effort by Jim Valentino, the Tomorrow Syndicate has been all but silent for nearly twenty years. Attempts to get the 1963 characters back in print were called off finally a few days ago at Stephen Bissette's blog. Here's what he says:

"For what it’s worth and not worth, 1963 will never be legally reprinted in any language in our lifetimes."

Bissette is pretty mum on the specifics, but it's clear that the idiosyncratic nature of Alan Moore is to blame. Moore has for many years now been just a cantankerous crank, and given what we've seen from the likes of Frank Miller and John Byrne in recent times, this turn of personality seems to be all too common in creators of the 80's. Maybe there was some chemical in Mando paper.

Because of the complicated nature of the ownership of the characters, no one creator seems able to work with all of them at a time. This makes any single creator able to trump any combination of the others. Creator control is a great thing in comics, but it does seem it has its ironies. The fate of the 1963 project is certainly one of them, an irony at least as rich as those within the series itself.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Getting Ahead!

This ad made me laugh when I stumbled across it the other day. What a crass and cruel joke and what a totally appropriate gag for roughhouse comic characters like Conan and Red Sonja.

The artwork here is signed "Javinal" and I assume that is Frederico Javinal, an artist from the Phillipines. I can find very little about Javinal aside from this brief biography and this slightly larger one.

I did find this lovely montage shot featuring Captain America and Kid Colt (?) among others. Off-model renderings of classic heroes really makes you look at them in fresh ways, like this illustration by Franc Reyes.

Javinal appears to have been an exceedingly competent comics artist, perhaps deserving of more attention.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Calling All Bargain Hunters!

I had some time to dither away yesterday while my wife was busy with her hobby of pottery painting. It takes a few hours, so I spent my time at the local shop checking out the Wednesday delivery.

I found a trade paper titled Golden Age Marvel Comics, part of Marvel's Masterworks collection which put into print the first issue of Marvel Comics and the subsequent three issues of Marvel Mystery Comics. While I've bought reprints of Marvel Comics a few times over (1990 and 2009)I've never had the others and it was a treat for which I was eager to pay full price.

Then I scuttled over to my new favorite story Half-Price Books and found a bunch of gems.

First I found the Dick Tracy Show, the cartoon from the 60's. This is a collection I've wanted and let slide a few times, but at the meager price of six bucks I couldn't resist. A wacky bunch of socially suspect cartoons, this huge collection has them all and threw in a tiny little reprint of the earliest Dick Tracy comic strips to boot.

I also found a copy of King of the Wild, the 1931 serial from Mascot which features Boris Karloff in one of his pre-Frankenstein roles. This vintage stuff can be a pain to watch, but fun too.

I was already quite pleased.

Then I found the real treasures.

The first is titled Art In Time and is a collection of obscure comics properties from across several decades. The clincher for me was the inclusion of Charlton Premiere #2 by Sergius O'Shaughnessy (Denny O'Neil) and Pat Boyette. That along with some choice artwork by Tony Tallarico, Pete Morisi, Sam Glanzman, Bill Everett, and more sold me on this discounted trove. I'll have more on this volume later.

The other gem was The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics, a masterpiece of vintage material (mostly Golden Age) from a wide swathe of sources. There's offbeat stuff from Pogo to Scrooge McDuck, from Gerald McBoing Boing to Captain Marvel, from Dennis the Menace to Scribbly, and much much more.

I need more comics laden volumes in my house like the flu but I cannot resist these handsome packages, so full of classic goodness. As it turned out the store was having a twenty percent off sale to boot and I got all of this stuff for the full price of one of the comics volumes, a real true bargain. So if you're a bargain hunter, you might want to check out the local Half-Price Books, if you're lucky enough to have one.

So when I picked up my beloved spouse a few hours later, she was happy and she could tell by my smile that I was a happy camper too. A dandy winter day indeed!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The End Of Captain Scarlet!

Ron Embleton

One of the most beautiful parts of the Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons television show were the lush paintings which set off the end titles. These were done by Ron Embleton, who was at the time also supplying the artwork for the Stingray comic strip. Embleton went on to also do some Captain Scarlet comics.

Embleton apparently preferred to work on expansive historical pieces like Wulf the Briton. Here's a link to an outstanding gallery of his work.

Eventually Embleton became the artist for Penthouse magazine on the exceedingly well crafted but exceedingly raunchy Oh,Wicked Wanda!. That's where I first discovered his name, and knew nothing of his connection to my boyhood favorite show Captain Scarlet.

Here are those lovely and exciting pieces of artwork which graced the end of every Captain Scarlet episode. All are by Embleton.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

British Invasions!

Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons is one of those boyhood favorites I've always wanted to get hold of on VHS or DVD or something. When I've looked for it in the past it always was unavailable or prohibitively expensive. But when I checked just a few months ago, I discovered that it was now out and at a nice price. So when my daughters asked what I wanted for the Christmas holiday, I told them Captain Scarlet (and sent a link to the Amazon location for good measure).

I'm doing some research now on Captain Scarlet and I find there's much more to this vintage entertainment than I knew or could know as a kid. The Mysterons are more complex than I recollect, and Scarlet's reincarnation is very intriguing. More on this later.

Just to be greedy, I also threw out the name of UFO (pronounced "U-foe" by some on the show), another Gerry Anderson project which I've been seeing available for years and always was curious about. I saw a few episodes here and there about the mysterious UFOs and their quiet inhabitants, and always wanted to see the rest. My affection for Space:1999 and the solid production values there, sold me on UFO unseen for the most part. I've been sampling episodes and they are very entertaining. (I've since learned that UFO might well be seen as a live action rendition of Scarlet, so it's neat to have both for comparison.)

So it's been a great holiday for me, as I'm loaded to the hilt with vintage British television to watch. My wife says she's happy to be free of me for many hours to come. So we're all winners!

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Echoes Of Valor!

Ken Kelly

Here's a late 80's and early 90's series which I only recently learned about. While we have an avalanche of Robert E. Howard material today, once it was much harder to get, especially raw Howard untouched by his later editors and modifiers.

Karl Edward Wagner was an editor dedicated to getting that material out. He did it first in the trio of volumes for Berkley books back in the later 70's and here he attempted it again by offering up in this debut volume the first publication of "The Black Stranger", at least as originally written by REH.

The full contents can be found here.

Sam Rakeland

Later volumes in the series focus on other great fantasy authors, especially C.L.Moore and Wade Manly Wellman.

Sam Rakeland

Doubtless if I did see these, I passed them by because of the cover art which seems a bit "punkish" for classic fantasy. There might've been a miscue here for the target audience.

The contents for volume two can be found and here and for volume three here.

Solid volumes, ones I might need to search for.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

The Secret Origin Of Iron Jaw!

Michael Fleisher wrote a truckload of comics for DC and Marvel in the 70's and 80's. He also was a key writer in the brief burst of activity which erupted under the name of "Atlas-Seaboard Comics" in the middle of the 70's. How he came to be a mainstay of that momentary company is a curious tale.

I found some of the story here in an interview from The Amazing World of DC Comics with Joe Orlando. Orlando confirms what I already knew, that Iron Jaw began as a pitch to then editor Orlando from Fleisher.

What I didn't quite realize, was that Fleisher got the chance to pitch the idea of a sword and sorcery Jonah Hex/Conan the Barbarian to DC because of his tenure on Sandman. This version of Sandman was the final pairing of the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. After the first issue, Simon and Kirby went their separate ways, but sales reports suggested there might be life in the Sandman concept.

But the classic team was no longer available and so Michael Fleisher and Ernie Chan were pressed into duty. I took a close look at this series here. And a fuller story of these events can be found here.

Anyway, after the relative success of this effort, Fleisher was given a chance to pitch, but was told first to check out the Ironwolf comic in Weird Worlds. What that contributed to the final product aside possibly part of the name is speculative at best.

But for whatever reasons, Orlando rejected the Iron Jaw concept and gave Fleisher the freedom to shop it around. He did, sold it to Atlas-Seaboard where it became a bit of a flagship book for that company.

Meanwhile at DC, Orlando green lighted another sword and sorcery project, Claw the Unconquered by David Michelinie and the aforementioned Ernie Chan. By the time though that book hit the stands, the Iron Jaw run was nearly over at Atlas-Seaboard. What took so long I wonder?

So in the elaborate tapestry of history, we find that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby indirectly gave rise to a project at the heart of yet another publishing effort (however brief) by former Timely and Marvel comics publisher Martin Goodman. How utterly strange.

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All-American Holiday!

I got many a dandy present this year. One of them was a copy of Captain America - The First Avenger on DVD. I'm eager to screen this outstanding superhero flick later today.

It's the best superhero movie I've seen in ages, and I'm very happy that thanks to my daughters, I'm able to add it to my library.

Hope Santa was good to each and every one of you all.

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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Have A Marvelous Christmas!

Marie Severin

Here's hoping everyone has a great Christmas and a happy holiday season!

Marie Severin

It's that time to reflect and take stock of the blessings we have.

Marie Severin

And share that bounty with others, especially those we love.

John Romita

So let me offer up this found gem of a Spidey story from the long ago Bronze Age, a done-in-one Christmas tale by Stan "The Man" and "Jazzy" Johnny.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scarry Holiday Traffic!

Richard Scarry

These vintage Ford Rotunda comics are adorable. The covers are filled with old-fashioned holiday charm with a modern twist, especially those by Richard Scarry, a children's book artist of significant note. His work has a real lightness and ease that makes it at once attractive and deceptively simple.

So be safe in the hectic holiday traffic today as you make those finishing Christmas Eve trips. Stay off those cellphones amigos! That is unless you spot a giraffe driving an Edsel, then I guess it might be acceptable to place a call to the proper authorities.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Coming Of The Defenders!

I adore big overstuffed comic books like this one. This package out this week, offers up all three Defender stories from Marvel Feature. We have the debut tale where Doc Strange, Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk team up to master the threat of Yandroth and his doomsday machine. That's followed by a Halloween clash with Dormammu, and finally a meeting between the Hulk and the team with Xemnu the Titan (once called "Hulk" himself). Also up is one of my favorite Doc Strange stories, "The Return" which was part of the debut.

All the stories were written by Roy "The Boy" Thomas and drawn by Ross Andru, with the exception of "The Return" which features scrumptious Don Heck and Frank Giacoia artwork. The inking is remarkable in these with Bill Everett doing an especially offbeat job on the debut story, Sal Buscema gilding the Dormammu tale, and Everett returning for a more traditional job on the Xemnu story.

These are some great stories, and big old reprint packages like this I find irresistible. There are even some old ads for the series included as a mini-bonus.

Highly recommended.

Neal Adams

John Buscema & Frank Giacoia

Gil Kane & Ralph Reese

And for good measure here's the new Neal Adams cover which swipes his classic Defenders debut original. It's not nearly as good, but interesting nonetheless. I can't say I'm crazy about this new logo either, seems a bit wimpy for this team.

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