Friday, November 17, 2017

Out In A Blaze Of Glory!

To be honest I almost forgot about this revisionist history of the Marvel wild west from the turn of the century. John Ostrander and Leonardo Manco came to the western heroes of Marvel and they found a story with some unusual depth. Blaze of Glory tells a tale of a tiny town named Wonderment which was the home for former slaves seeking to find some sort of life on the frontier.

The town is put upon by night riders, a gang of white racists who are not satisfied with the outcome of the Civil War.  To protect against these gangs, the people of Wonderment, one Reno Jones (of Gunhawks fame) in particular seek out gunslingers to help protect the people.

What they find are not the shining heroes we're familiar with from scores of Marvel Comics. Those adventures were apparently the stuff of dime novels. The real men known as Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, and Kid Colt are less heroic and more gritty and bit more murderous than the legends relate.

This stark presentation makes the story sting with a realistic violence that often the vintage Marvel westerns, limited by the rigors of the Comics Code could not indulge in.

These are not "good guys", only better guys than the villains who seek to pillage the homes of innocent folks and murder them to boot.

There are twists and turns and all kinds of doing, including the appearances of lots more vintage Marvel heroes as well as some real world variations of famous western names. It's a rousing tale of revisionist history, by the slippery standards of the 90's not bad at all.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Western Marvel Firsts - Gunhawks!

Talk about a comic not for our times, this one might just be the one. The Gunhawks is a memorable comic for me because it was part of a memorable ad which touted not only this new western but also Man-Thing, Doc Savage and a revived Journey into Mystery.

Of those four only Man-Thing proved to have much lasting power, though truth be told Doc Savage did linger in black and white after the color comic went bust. But The Gunhawks was part of that push and the comic itself is pretty well crafted, featuring some sturdy artwork by Syd Shore and a script by Gary Friedrich. What stands out about that debut issue is the unusual relationship between Reno Jones and Kid Cassidy.

Both men fought in the Civil War, on the side of the Confederacy surprisingly enough. It seems Cassidy was the son of a plantation owner and was raised alongside Jones and the two bonded. After the war with the plantation gone they leave the South to head West. The naivete about the brutal reality of slavery is stunning and would be the cause of much consternation in the modern political environment where such apologies for the grim practice is rebuffed with just energy.

Here are the covers for the remainder of the run.

Only the debut issue has been reprinted in a volume of Marvel Firsts and frankly I doubt we'll ever see the others. Eventually Reno Jones loses Cassidy and goes it alone in an attempt to keep the title running and frankly that might've been a better idea from the beginning.

When these characters have resurfaced over the years, these bizarre notions about the nature of slavery and the South have been more directly addressed, thank goodness.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Uncollected - Call To Action!

Captain Action was the niftiest dang toy I ever saw. A hero who could travel the breadth of the multiverse and assume the roles of heroes from DC Comics, Marvel Comics, King Features, and beyond.

He could be any hero, whether that hero operated in outer space, the deep jungle, skyscraper-laden cities, or old west.

Just look at the ad! What self-respecting kid wouldn't want that figure. I for one sure did. But I never had one, so Captain Action remained a dazzling figment of my imagination. One way to tap into the Captain Action glory was in the world of comics and DC did the deed.

The debut issue, featuring a muscular cover by the painfully neglected Irv Novick, sports interior art by Wally Wood.

Wood was an artist, coming off his successes with the THUNDER Agents ideally suited to the genres that Captain Action straddled -- superheroes meet super-spies. But Wood was a master of finishes and while lovely to look at often, lacked from time to time the dynamics to move a story with gusto.

That gusto came in spades with the arrival of Gil Kane. Kane at this point in his career was seemingly free of the editorial involvement which limited his dynamics on vintage Atom and Green Lantern tales and this time brought a roiling energy to his pages that tumbled across the panels and seemingly leaped into the reader's lap.

For his part Wally Wood stayed on to apply his lush finishes to three of the next four issues of the limited run.

With the third issue Gil Kane took over the writing chores from Jim Shooter and his Captain Action became even more enigmatic and certainly lived up to his name.

The covers boil with drama and the figures strain with emotion.  These are some of the very finest of Kane's covers in a career which included many hundreds of cover images. These books demand to be read, and they ought to be read by a modern audience.

Several years ago now Moonstone picked up the Captain Action brand and made a few comics out of it which can with the greatest charity be called tepid. They didn't for whatever reason find the means or method to reprint these DC classics and more is the pity. We need these Captain Action yarns back in print and we need them now.

To read a sample check out this Groovy Link.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Hawk And The Dove!

A comic for a our times, ripped from the headlines of the day. The Hawk and The Dove was a curious piece by Charlton alumni Steve Skeates and Steve Ditko, a tale of two brothers caught in a struggle which was at that time both private and public. The United States warred with itself about the war, the Vietnam War (we just called it "the War" back then) about the validity of it and even more about the sacrifice of life for a cause which seemed abstract and remote. We fight today across the globe, but because we don't demand the that the youth of our time commit to that struggle, we are able to glide along calm cool and collected that others will do the fighting we deem necessary. It's an eternal debate, not that war is a necessary evil, but that we need advocate evil here and at this time.

That was the battle between the brothers Hall. Hank was a "Hawk", an advocate for violent intervention and his brother Don was a "Dove", one who argued for peace in our time. They were split ideologically and when they were offered the chance to acquire the power to pursue their beliefs by the supernatural powers of Order and Chaos they do so, becoming two sides of a coin dedicated to justice.

According to reports, Steve Skeates wanted to show that both methods could reap justice and that Dove's peaceful approach was often as effective as Hawk's more aggressive approaches. But he claimed that editorial often switched it up so that Dove came across as not just regretful for violence but downright weak in the face of a threat. Instead of showing a balance between two attitudes, each with some measure of merit, it became in the eyes of Skeates a rejection of peace and a advocacy for violence.

Skeates worked with Gil Kane when Ditko left DC and after Skeates left the book, Kane wrote as well as drew it. After the book's cancellation Hawk and Dove became a sometimes part of the Teen Titans lore and many years later things changed even more, but that' s for another day.

For all their flaws these stories deserve a place on the modern bookshelf. It seems they have been collected in an enormous Teen Titans volume, but I'd love to see them available for a less impressive price in a more easily read tome. With work by giants of yore like Ditko and Kane and Cardy, it seems an easy bet to me.

Here are the covers.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Eternally Strange!

This striking cover for Doctor Strange #180 was one of those singular images that lingers in the memory -- the imposing figure of the enigmatic Eternity looming over a small Doc Strange and both of them suspended over a photographic New York City. What I didn't know then was that this cover was a true hodge-podge. The Doctor Strange figure was rendered by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, but the Eternity figure has a history.

Eternity here is a Steve Ditko image of the grand cosmic being lifted nearly complete (minus little Dormammu) from the pages of Strange Tales #146 in which the bizarre entity figured prominently.

Ironically that issue was Steve Ditko's last and the cover seems to be what Colan and the staffers were trying to evoke when the cobbled together the distinct elements to make a cover which made such an impression so many years ago.

I was reminded of all of this because Dave Sim seems likewise to have an affection for the vintage Doc Strange issue. Here he creates a clever homage with a difference for a recent Cerebus the Aardvark installment. Absurdity indeed!

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Savage Kane!

It's possible that Gil Kane is underrated. That seems impossible given the adulation he's gotten for his important work on Silver Age classics like Green Lantern and The Atom and lesser known Atomic Age efforts like Rex the Wonder Dog, but it's still likely that Kane  is still seen pretty much as an artist. Not unlike Jack Kirby, Kane was an artist who was bristling to break out of the confines of the ghetto of comic book production and takes his skills to new markets and larger audiences. To that end he produced two important contributions to comics lore -- His Name Is...Savage and Blackmark. Today we look at the former.

His Name Is...Savage was a magazine, not a comic. In the style of Warren Publications, this was an attempt to tap into a more adult audience, one not drawn to the spinner rack, but the newsstand proper. To that end the single issue has a very odd appearance with a painted rendering of the title character looking exactly like actor Lee Marvin.

That's largely because the pitch for His Name Is...Savage involved Lee Marvin to no small degree.  According to what I've read Gil Kane was much impressed by Marvin's movie Point Blank, a rugged and rather bizarre adaptation of the hard-nosed crime novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake). This movie tells of a rugged robber named Walker who is betrayed and left for dead by his wife and partner and spends pretty much the rest of the movie trying to get back what he's lost, which as we all already know is not possible. Walker as presented by Marvin is dangerous and cruel. It's no-holds-barred violence that Kane wanted to portray on the page. To read fuller review and a look at the later remakes of this classic go here.

In a story entitled "Return of the Half-Man" Kane tells the story of an agent who is activated to foil the plot of a deranged former general named Mace, who is the half-man of the story's title. Mace was in an explosion and much of him is now machinery. It's against this quasi-science fiction background that the noir-inspired Savage operates. He has a history with Mace and the government feels only he can penetrate the organization and forestall its plan to assassinate the President of the United States. We see Savage kick in teeth and kill with brutal intensity as he follows the menace to its dangerous core. Archie Goodwin was tapped by Kane to write the script to accompany his art and the words as well as the pictures move in concert to a fatal finale which is worthy of the set-up. To read this classic go here.

But His Name Is...Savage was by reports a sales failure and no further installments were forthcoming. Fantagraphics reprinted the magazine with a more polished type in 1982. In 1986 in an issue of Anything Goes from Fantagraphics Kane returns to give us a silent vignette featuring Savage. It's a mere glimmer of an adventure and while well crafted is only a coda to the one and only Savage story published for the first time so many years before.

Gil Kane was an artist, with a style and panache unlike any other, but he aspired to be more. It's a shame for the industry that he could not achieve his goal in any lasting way.

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