Friday, June 23, 2017

E-Man Strikes Again!

Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy!

I love E-Man. The Bronze Age creation of Nick Cuti and Joe Staton for Charlton has had a very interesting publishing life and I've tried my best to be there for each and every one of them. The character originated at Charlton, moved to First, then to Comico, then to Apple, and then Alpha and Digital Webbing. He's also made cameos in a host of publications from Mad Magazine to several Indie comics. Most recently the character has moved in to The Charlton Arrow, Mort Todd's attempt to revitalize many of the classic Charlton characters alongside new ones which evoke the same spirit.

(Joe Staton art featuring E-Man, Nova Kane, Yang and Liberty Belle)
It has been announced now that The Charlton Arrow is itself moving to AC Comics, the outfit started by Bill Black and which itself once harbored many of the Charlton characters before they shuttled off to DC and elsewhere. The chance to get my mitts on a new E-Man comic is too juicy. I can hardly wait!

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 33

The Sub-Mariner created by Bill Everett is in many ways Marvel's most fascinating character. A half-human, half-Atlantean monarch mutant who is impossibly strong, durable and can fly to boot thanks to his handy dandy ankle wings. He's always been a complex personality, filled with rage at the weird and complicated circumstances of his birth which isolated him within his community. His rage as resulted in him attacking the surface world many times, oftentimes alone, but sometimes with a literal army in tow.

When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the Sea King in the pages of Fantastic Four, it not only gave us back one of Marvel's finest characters but gave the Fab 4 one of their best and most complicated opponents. Jack Kirby seemed to love to draw Namor as these images attest. Kirby's Subby is less lithe and kinetic than Everett's magnificent template, but I think somehow a bit more noble.

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The Super Wizard Stardust!

How does one explain the work of Fletcher Hanks. One of the earliest of the comic book artists, by all accounts (and few of those there are) Fletcher Hanks was one miserable son of a bitch. He abandoned his family which he had abused and disappeared from their lives. His comic book work is infamous and has been revived to some extent in volumes from Fantagraphics. He created several characters in many genres in a career which seemed to span just two years, but hectic years they were.

The Super Wizard Stardust is the character (along with Fantomah perhaps) that Hanks is most famous for. Reading the Stardust stories really is an experience. Throw out what you expect from a superhero narrative. While couched in a naive science fiction framework, the closest approximate to Stardust which occurs to me is DC's The Spectre. 

Stardust is all-powerful for all intents and purposes. He appears when danger threatens and disappears when the threat is removed. He has no inkling of a personal life, though a few stories do suggest barely the notion of a love interest which is never pursued. 

Stardust is not human, rather he is an alien who lives on a planet or star (called both) and comes to the rescue on cue. His powers are whatever is required to remove a threat. There is no tension in a story because the outcomes are never in question. Villains will rise, misbehave and will suffer for their crimes. 

In the final analysis, Stardust is just weird, so weird and offbeat that it becomes compelling in its own bizarre way. Rules of narrative construction are not so much violated as ignored and what we are left with in yarn after yarn is a morality play of cosmic proportions which march forward with an unrelenting rigor.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 32

This is just a beautiful image. Love it. It is apparently one of several that the "King" produced for the NFL attempting to visualize football of the future. To see more go here.

Football in the United States has gotten totally out of hand. Now that basketball season has finally ended and it should be the summer of baseball (the best game) we instead see the advent of a deluge of speculation about the upcoming football season. That never really stops anymore, but it does seem to have ticked up a bit. People clearly love this game despite his morbid aspects, but then folks love boxing too.

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Fourth World Recycling!

I've been reading some vintage Star Spangled Comics with the great Newsboy Legion by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. And while I've seen the classic debut cover for Star Spangled Comics #7 for the team, I'd not grokked that it might well have been an insipiraton for the cover of Forever People #1. See what you think. Clearly the FP are the Fourth World variation on the "Kid Gangs" that Kirby was so successfully associated with and having a visual shout out to a DC class makes all the sense in the world.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 31

Here is another one of those infamous Marvelmania posters which Jack "King" Kirby produced, something that rankled him because of the lack of extra remuneration he felt he was owed for this work. And then literally there is insult to the injury when Marvel decided to not use this poster.

Instead they had John Romita do another one, but as you can clearly see Romita was following his instructions to use the original Kirby poster as a guide for his own work. Romita had worked over Kirby's layouts many times since he returned to Marvel and has always given Kirby maximum credit for this work there. I do notice that Romita added longtime Spidey villains Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin while Kirby had had him assaulted by Sentries from the pages of the X-Men. Weird.

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The Secret Saga Of Suicide Slum!

When Jack "King" Kirby took the reins of the Jimmy Olsen book he introduced a slew of new characters as well as reviving many from the Golden Age. One character who shows up in these stories who I always was brand new was a beautiful woman named Terry Dean.

She shows up at the Daily Planet and meets with Perry White who makes a quick reference to a "slum" story. At the time I gave it little if any thought but thanks to the mighty powers of the internet I learned much much more. Terry Dean first appeared in the page of Jimmy Olsen in issue #127 in a story title properly "The Secret Slumlord of Metropolis" by Leo Dorfman and Curt Swan with George Roussos on inks.

In this story Jimmy goes undercover in a tenement building to uncover the appalling conditions the people there live with. That it's "Suicide Slum" where the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian held sway back during World War II is not referenced until Kirby puts his mark on the story later by incorporating this yarn into his storyline.

There's the usual Jimmy Olsen hijinks in this story, the usual level of seriousness about an issue which was truly serious. The cliched problems of slum living are pointed out and as far as they go do a service of sorts for readers who might not have realized such was the case. But in the end the story is just a yarn.

Then Terry Dean shows up again and she ends up in later Jimmy Olsen issues escorting Superman and the DNAlien Dubbliex into a nightclub she is trying to run in the midst of Suicide Slum. This story quickly leads Superman through a Boom Tube to the resplendent "Supertown" of New Genesis, and I don't know if Kirby was intending a contrast, but there certainly is one.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 30

I'm not sure exactly when Matt Hawk, The Two-Gun Kid became my favorite comic book western character, but I'm positive it was after the delightful time travel stories in The Avengers when Two-Gun, Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, and a few other owlhoots got entangled in Kang's machinations. When Two-Gun decided he wanted to visit the 20th Century and then palled around with Hawkeye on a busman's tour of the United States was inspired. That's precisely what I'd have wanted to do if I'd been in his situation. Later when he got homesick and wanted to go home, it felt exactly right too. It's exactly how I'd have felt.

The pin-up above by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta is taken from this dramatic image of our hero from Two-Gun Kid #75 above.

And while I'm taking a look at Two-Gun Kid, here's an absolutely delightful bit of business, an intricate description of how Matt Hawk transforms into the the Kid. This points up just how much of a superhero template they were following when they revamped the character.

This appeared in the second issue of the revised Two-Gun Kid #61. Fantastic!

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Amazing Transformations Of Jimmy Olsen!

Jimmy Olsen is one of the all-time great comic book characters. Created as a supporting member of the sprawling Superman cast he gained his first notoriety in the offshoot productions of the comic in radio and later in television. He was such a hit that he got his own comic which lasted for several decades. During that time he had scuds of screwball misadventures, usually always needing the timely intervention of Superman to save him at the crucial moment. Sometimes his own smarts saved the day, though most often his own dimwitted or naive notions triggered the trouble to begin with. Like many characters of the Weisinger edited Superman family he changed form a lot. These oddball changes are the focus of this light-hearted fun read The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen.

Jimmy's stories usually begin with him meeting up with Professor Potter (or some similar looking mad scientist) and getting his mitts on a potion, device or ray which would change him into something weird and sometimes unsettling. Often the potion would be found in a cask or case brought forth by Superman himself and left in Jimmy's care despite his long record of irresponsibility in such matters. Whatever the gimmick, the story quickly gets the change started and then Jimmy spends the rest of the story trying to change back or come to terms with his new status. The stories are invariably hair-brained and small-minded. Jimmy often is just trying to impress his fickle love interest Lucy Lane. In these stories we see Jimmy become a Legionnaire, journey to Kandor, and even a planet full of just himself. Zany and wild and often entertaining.

Here are the covers of most of the stories in this collection. My personal faves are the the Jimmy from Jupiter, Octopus Jimmy, Bizzaro-Jimmy and my all time fave -- Giant Turtle Man Jimmy.

Check this one out if you have the time. The cover by Brian Bolland is a great one.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

100 Days Of The King - Day 29

"Suicide Slum Comics" is a delightful sham comic produced by the Newsboy Legion themselves within the the Star Spangled Comics classic "Cabbages and Comics" by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

The story has Big Words, Tommy, Gabby and Scrapper get the big idea to create and distribute their own comics since they see such success for funny books all around them.

They do just that, with each member contributing a panel or two (a process in keeping with the studio approach used in comics at that time). But it turns out the fantasy story they concoct bears too close a resemblance to a real crime and the boys find themselves in a tough spot only The Guardian can rescue them from.

A great glimpse behind the scenes, sort of, by Simon and Kirby. This one is a raucous and entertaining yarn, one among many.

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Calling All Newsboys!

Reading Simon and Kirby's Newsboy Legion stories from the pages of 1942's Star Spangled Comics is a refreshing break from the more modern comics reading. No cosmic spectacle, no flourishes of the ultra rich as they use their leisure time to battle crime, but merely low octane fables from the grimy streets of Suicide Slum. Will Eisner gets proper credit and praise for the noir atmosphere of Central City which was filled with denizens of many kinds, but I want to give a shout out here to Simon and Kirby as they give us a rich tapestry of street level life lived by some of the poorest. Kids who dispense justice on the edge of their bony knuckles and adults who seem to be either mired in or overlooking the poverty which defines the territory of these adventures.

The Newsboy Legion seems clearly inspired by the Dead End Kids from many many movies from the 30's and 40's and beyond. The four Newsboys are Gabby - the short dark haired youngster who has a stunning similarity to Richard Nixon, the good looking Tommy - who is sometimes referred to as the leader of the team though I don't seem to get that sense in any of the stories, Big Words - the tallest and oldest member who to my eye is probably at least in part based on Joe Simon himself, and Scrapper - who seems clearly to a combative version of the diminutive Jack Kirby. I got the sense that Big Words and Scrapper were who the Simon and Kirby team were and perhaps the handsome Tommy is what they ideally aspired to be in this imperfect wprld we live in. The four orphans of Suicide Slum get into legal trouble and need the help of beat cop Jim Harper to become their guardian, though his responsibility to the boys seems a little meager on a day to day basis. It's in his secret role as "The Guardian" a rockem' sockem' mystery man who ignites the boy's imaginations as they seem convinced Harper is the hero but aren't ever able to prove it.

The Newsboys have a pretty good reputation in the streets of Suicide Slum and often stand up for the adults who suffer there, distant from the politicians and swells who sometimes rumble down those same streets. Most of the time there are small time gangsters (straight out of the world of Damon Runyon) who sweep up the boys in some scheme and it's up to the Guardian to help them out. The Newsboys are brave and loyal and it's this final trait which helps explain the popularity of the series I think. The gang is true blue to one another and their absolute devotion to one another (sometimes strained by circumstances) seems always to win out. It's a comaraderie that most if not all the boys who read the series would have loved to have been part of.

Joe Simon says in the introduction to the first volume of the Newsboy Legion stories that they grew from an abundance of Boy Commandos material. In anticipation of the duo joining the war effort there was a push to create stories in advance and according to Simon, so much material that it was determined that it was prudent to create another gang of boys for some of it, and so was born the Newsboy Legion. Obviously there was a formula for these kid gang comics, one which Simon and Kirby first implemented with Young Allies at Timely before they contracted with DC. Later they'd apply the formula to Boys' Ranch and Boy Explorers and even aspects of it seep into later individual works like Challengers of the Unknown, Fantastic Four, as well as later material such as The Dingbats and The Green Team

It's worth noting that the last few issues in this volume feature art by Gil Kane and not Kirby, though Kane is attempting to evoke the free wheeling style the strip has begun with. Likewise as the series continued the artist Arturo Cazeneuve takes the helm with assists on cover art by Fred Ray, Curt Swan, and others. There is a second volume of these stories coming out later this summer and I do plan to get hold of it to check out what becomes of the original Newsboys, despite the tiny amount of Simon and Kirby content.

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