Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Captain Costello!


One of the great regrets of my comic book collecting life is that I have not to this point put together a set of Charlton's Abbott and Costello comics. These delightful comics, based on the animated version of the classic comedy team, showcase some stellar art by veteran Henry Scarpelli and later Tony Tallarico, and scripts by Steve Skeates. The book is a clever parody with all kinds of barbs directed right back to the industry which spawned it.

I found the third issue the other day for nice money and snagged it. It features Costello in his debut as "Captain Costello", a dream-sequence superhero inspired by reading a comic dubbed "The Zen Men". In addition there are several one-page gags and other stories, the most memorable a yarn co-starring a very familiar Jungle Lord who must go unnamed for fear of a lawsuit. This inside-baseball reference to Charlton's own Tarzan licensing woes with the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate is precious.

Here's a look at the back cover.


 I need to get more of these Charlton gems.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Echoes Of Thunder!


It was not part of my master plan to pick up this trade collection of the recent THUNDER Agents revival from DC Comics. I remember the comic book looked attractive enough, but connections to the original Tower Comics seemed minimal from a distance, so I steered clear. But finding all of the ten-issue first volume between two covers was just the right bite.

The story by Nick Spencer is a complex and robust tale of espionage. There is a distinct flavor of quasi-realism as these Agents battle "terrorism". The modern spin on secret organizations flourishes here as "The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves" are not presented as an especially noble outfit. There is definitely a crusty chess game approach to the struggle between T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and Spider, a gang of college-aged terrorists/anarchists.

The story essentially takes place in the modern day and the Agents we follow here are the latest incarnations after years of recruits have come and died in the line of duty. We have a new Dynamo, a new Lightning, and the original NoMan who fight to free the original Raven from the clutches of Spider. Also on hand is a new Menthor, and the second story in the trade reintroduces The Iron Maiden. This second storyline is a powerful character piece with considerable artwork by veteran Mike Grell. There are also some very handsome pages spread here and there by Howard Chaykin and George Perez.

There is a second volume of six issues which tells the tale of how the Agents battle the Warlord from the Underworld, but those stories are only available in the original comic book format. The lack of sales potential and the shift of the license to IDW probably scotched plans to collect those stories. It's a pity.  These are worthy stories, told with fidelity to the original material if within the limits of modern comic book storytelling.

The first six issues of the run feature covers which were homages to classic Tower Comics. I've included the original inspirations in the gallery below.

Frank Quitely after Wally Wood

Gary Frank after Wally Wood

Chris Sprouse after Wally Wood & Dan Adkins

Ethan Van Scriver after Wally Wood & Dan Adkins

Francis Manapaul after Wally Wood, Steve Ditko & Dan Adkins

John Cassaday after Wally Wood

Fiona Staples
Fiona Staples
Fiona  Staples
Fiona Staples
Here's a beautiful alternate cover for the debut issue which shows up inside the story and is presumably a comic which presents the idealized adventures of the original team. 

Darwyn Cooke
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Drax The Destroyer!


Here we see Jim Starlin's Drax the Destroyer in full on destroyin' mode as he attacks the Mad God Thanos with Death looking on. Since Drax is risen from the dead and Thanos worships death, it's a most appropriate image. This is the classic Drax, the original design which I have to believe was based in part on Dr.Weird, a fanzine hero Starlin had worked on previously.




Here's that double page spread from Captain Marvel #32 in all its original black and white glory. Beautiful!


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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Strange Dreams!


The Strange World of Your Dreams from YOe Books and IDW Publishing collects the four issues of the Simon-Kirby short-lived, but nonetheless classic series. Weird is a good word to describe these offbeat surreal nightmare tales produced int he early 50's for the Crestwood/Prize brand. These are peculiar but very well crafted, from a time when comics reflected a broad range of interests. In addition to artwork by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, there are stories by Mort Meskin, Bill Draut, and Bob McCarty.  I was undecided on this book until I actually saw it and the mattress ticking cover treatment (which is plush by the way) won me over. YOe Books always comes up with clever gimmicks which make a volume sing.

In addition to the stories there is a nice essay on the use of dreams in comic strips over the decades, especially Windsor McCay's Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. Also included are some unpublished art pieces including two covers by Simon and Kirby which didn't get to the newsstands.

Here are the covers that did. 





There is included a story from this issue of Black Magic which served as an intro to the Simon and Kirby's new comic.


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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Creepy Old Ditko!


It was with glee that I collected up Creepy Presents Steve Ditko , the latest reprint from Dark Horse of their Warren Magazines material. I've yearned to get a glimpse of this Steve Ditko collection since it was announced months ago. It lives up to expectations. Steve Ditko famously left Marvel and his most famous creation Spider-Man after a creative dispute with Stan Lee. He then needed new work and found it at Charlton, Tower, and at Warren.


For a year, from 1966 through most of 1967 Ditko produced a monthly story for Warren which found its way into Creepy and Eerie. He delivered a range of compelling work, experimenting with his techniques, especially washes, and created some of the most memorable artwork of his career. This is Ditko at the height of his powers in glorious black and white.


The stories are nearly all written by the late Archie Goodwin, a revered editor and a masterful writer. So you can be certain the words live up to the art. This is an utterly fantastic package, and at a mere twenty dollars for one hundred and thirty pages of great material is a bargain. Here's a link which gives further details on the individual stories.

I had not realized until I assembled these covers that Ditko's contribution to Warren had been so rock steady. In a further demonstration of his complete professionalism, he did not miss a month alternating stories between the bi-monthly Eerie and Creepy magazines for well over a year.

Get this collection. You won't regret it. Here is a gallery of the issues in which Ditko had a story featured.

Frank Frazetta
Frank Frazetta
Gray Morrow
Frank Frazetta
Frank Frazetta
Frank Frazetta
Gray Morrow
Gray Morrow
Frank Frazetta
Gray Morrow
Frank Frazetta
Gray Morrow
Dan Adkins
Frank Frazetta
Gray Morrow

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Kong!


This is an often overlooked, at least rarely mentioned rendition of the mighty King Kong. In Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #2, the one-eyed spy tackles the genetic machinations of Centurius, a crazed mad scientist in the Dr.Moreau vein who plans to ravage Earth's flora and fauna and replace them with his own freshly-minted creations.

As it turns out a movie crew is on the same island and Nick is forced to recruit their help to save the Earth. In that effort, the giant robotic replica of Kong is used to battle some of the local dinos created by Centurius.  It's a bit lame admittedly, but it did allow Steranko to create the full-page spectacle above, so as far as I'm concerned, all is forgiven.


The cover of the comic echoes the giant nature of the threat in this symbolic image of Fury battling a huge Centurius. Here's a glimpse of the world of Centurius. It's one of Jim Steranko's best double-page spreads and works magnificently inside the storytelling of the comic itself.


Ironically this issue of SHIELD appeared just a few months before Gold Key issued their classic adaptation of the novelized version of the classic King Kong.


It was a zesty summer of Kong indeed.

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