Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Favorite Covers - His Name Is Savage!


Here's a kickass comic book cover by the late great Gil Kane. This is a cover for the 80's Fantagraphics reprint of Kane's pioneering independent magazine His Name Is Savage


The Lee Marvin version by painter Bob Foster above is certainly of its time, but this Kane illustration at the top of this post really captures the unbridled violence of the character. Sadly, this was the one and only issue of this attempt to bring a more adult comic tale to the newsstands of the day. Kane had also experimented with paperback formats with his Blackmark. Known and loved in among the fanboys for his definitive work on DC projects such as Green Lantern, The Atom, and Johnny Thunder, Kane was one of those talents who saw what comic might become, not unlike Jack Kirby. 

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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Monday, March 4, 2024

Atlas- Seaboard Comics - March 1975!


March was a lean month for Atlas-Seaboard (don't worry they make up for it next month). There are only four books wearing a March date, and only one of those is a #1 issue debut. I'll go over the the #2 books then take a look at Targitt.

IRONJAW #2 gives us a new artist, a grand Neal Adams cover image, and the second half of his "origin" story. Pablo Marcos takes over the book on both pencils and inks and his work is typically lush. He is a perfect choice for a barbarian book, and he shows his skills here to great effect. Ironjaw it turns out is a lost prince named Roland, who was taken away to die in the wild when his Kingly father was slain by his Queenly mother's lover, who soon becomes king himself. Seen as a threat to the throne the baby is exposed, but his sister remains, and she figures out who he is by a distinctive birthmark. Ironjaw takes the requisite steps to guarantee his revenge, and briefly becomes King Ironjaw. But his barbarian passions are ill-suited to being a civilized leader and he "escapes" from his role and rides off in the final panel astride his unicorn to seek new barbarian adventures. Fleisher seems to want to turn the usual "fairy tale" elements on their heads a bit, and he does so neatly.


PHOENIX #2 continues the saga of Ed Tyler, astronaut and budding "messiah". Empowered with alien technology he mourns the hundreds killed in Rekjavek by the Deiei, and he soon finds out he has been blamed for the destruction. He's even been given a new name..."Phoenix", as he rose out of the ashes of the city. After a personal encounter with an Icelandic family that ends tragically and the death of his alien mentor, Tyler heads to NYC which is under attack by the aliens. A battle rages during which Phoenix is forced to divide the waters between the city and the Statue of Liberty allowing people to escape. The aliens are not so lucky. By the end of the story, the astronaut Ed Tyler has been buried but his mourning wife has a visit from the Phoenix and she takes courage as he flies off to fulfill his new role to bring "salvation" to mankind. Gabriel Levy takes on the scripting while Sal Amendola continues on the artwork. Phoenix remains the book I'd most like to have seen continued somewhere after the fall of Atlas-Seaboard.


GRIM GHOST #2 offers more spiritual mayhem courtesy of Ernie Colon and Mike Fleisher from the ghostly servant of Satan. The story begins aboard a cruise ship where a large-scale robbery of an apparently wildly expensive Buddha is foiled by Grim Ghost. He quickly heads home where he hosts a party as Matthew Dunsinane in his home, the same home he owned when a rogue in the 18th century as it turns out. The party is a big success and introduces the local police chief and more importantly his daughter Jackie who seems to be something of a potential love interest. The story turns as Grim Ghost has to save some folks on a building and his magical vengeance is seen by the Chief much to his dismay. The backstory of the Ghost is well developed by this time.


TARGITT #1 is the sole debut of the month, and it's something of a mixed bag really. The book is advertised in the text page as having Dan Adkins artwork, and I wish it had had it. Howard Nostrand gets the nod over a Ric Meyers script and despite Nostrand's clear skills (from the Eisner school for sure), his light tone seems out of order for this grim saga of mayhem and revenge. John Targitt is an FBI agent who witnessess the murders of his wife and child when their airplane is blown up. The bombing was a mob hit and Targitt then begins to tackle the mob to gain vengeance. Of course, his superiors in the FBI are reluctant and he goes somewhat rogue to accomplish his goals. By the story's end he's gained a measure of revenge, but clearly there is a lot more to do before he can ever be even. There is no costume evident in this crime-saga debut, but the next issue will change that.

April is next...and it's a big month for Atlas-Seaboard.

Much more to come.

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Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Phantom - The Golden Circle!


The Golden Circle the fifth novel in the Avon series featuring Lee Falk's famous jungle hero, is a snappy tale in which the Phantom must confront a gang of jewel thieves who just happen to be all women. The tale is by Ron Goulart and has the Phantom operating in civilization this time, beginning as it does on a train in which the Ghost Who Walks is himself accused of a crime. The wilds of New York City are the territory that he prowls along with his loyal sidekick the wolf Devil. 


The Phantom goes undercover in an effort to infiltrate the gang and he's rather more successful than I'd have expected. The outfit, located on Long Island seems rather easy penetrate, or maybe it's just the Phantom's mystique which makes it's easy for him to impress these chicks.  He helps them with a theft to ingratiate himself, but of course his ruse doesn't last forever. 


The structure of the story reminded me of vintage Edgar Rice Burroughs with alternating chapters dealing with first the Phantom and then one Lt. Colma of the NYC police department who was pursuing both the gang and the Phantom, a man he knew only as "Walker". This one would have made a fair to middling serial as well with several nifty places that might've served as cliffhangers. 


We get to see the difference between the Phantom's methods and those of a policeman when as an agent of justice and not necessarily the law, he feels the freedom to pick and choose a bit when it comes to rounding up the scoundrels. As he puts it, there was a murder committed and the perpetrators needed catching, and that was that. 


Next time it's The Mysterious Ambassador, the sixth novel in the series and one written by Lee Falk himself. 

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Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Phantom - The Charlton Years Volume Two!


The Phantom - The Charlton Years Volume Two introduces us to the artist who actually drew more stories for Charlton's Phantom run than anyone else, Pat Boyette. Boyette had already done one story during Aparo's run, but now he takes over the reins and steadily produces three short tales for each issue of the series. The introduction by Don Mangus takes time to fill readers in Boyette's elaborate career not only as a comic artist, but as a movie maker, radio personality and more. This tome has special meaning to me and the Dojo in that it contains a quote from yours truly concerning the sales of the Phantom in these years and how it was Charlton's top performing comic. "I found some numbers for Phantom, and it said it was far and away the best-selling book for Charlton in 1969 with over 190,000 in sales. The next closest books were the war books, and they were in the 150.000 range, so Phantom had to be seen as a bonafide bonanza when it hit."  It was quite a thrill to be reading this when it arrived and suddenly see my own name in print. I remember startling my beloved wife when I gasped seeing the quote. 


"A Small War" sees the Phantom ambushed and then hypnotized by a villain named Pruitt who then uses his skills to gain a measure of control over a local tribe and turn them into his private army. "Canyon of Death" has the Phantom help two chaps who rush to assist downed pilots of a plane shot down in a remote canyon in Bangalla. Their quest is made all the more deadly by the men who shot down the plane to get its treasure of gold. "The Silent Thieves" are a deadly gang of pirates who use a submarine to slip away after their lethal land raids. The Phantom is able to find out their secret base and stop them. 


"The Ritual" brings back memories of Robin Hood and Little John as the Phantom must confront the large representative of the Mobika tribe battling to earn the right to cross a log bridge. "The False Mark" pits the Bandar against the Phantom when it looks like the Ghost Who Walks is killing members of the tribe. His distinctive mark is on all the victims. But the secret is even stranger as the Phantom barely escapes death. "The Second Phantom" is the ghost of a young woman's father who disappeared into the jungle when she was very young and now an adult, she travels to the Deep Woods to try to find him with the Phantom's help. 


"Slave of Beauty" is a strange one as an ancient queen rises from her tomb and compels the Phantom to help her gather workers to help uncover more tombs and temples so that she can once again rule the lands. There is a lot of story packed into a few pages. In "The Idol" the Phantom heads to London to retrieve a stolen icon, an idol which might have taken its own revenge on the man who stole it. "Deadly Foe" has the Phantom confront a plague which seems to be the result of the experiments of a man named Niffo. We are reminded of another Phantom who years before died saving folks from a deadly plague. This is a strange one with a plot twist I'm not sure I understand. 


"The Keeper of the Herd" has the Phantom doing his best to protect a herd of magnificent elephants from the clutches of Ramajahn who tries to use the herd to crush the Phantom at one point. "...Who Needs Enemies?" tells our the fabulously rich E.R.Randall is saved from certain death after a snake bite and wishes to use his wealth to express his appreciation. But his gifts interrupt the normal lifestyles of the natives much to the chagrin of the Phantom. "Prey of the Hunter" gives us a version of "The Most Dangerous Game" when the Phantom finds himself being hunted by Hugo Lusk and his henchmen. The Phantom is dropped into a strange bowl of a canyon with no outlet for the chase. Strangely, the Phantom's horse is named "Flash" in these stories. 


"Test of an Idol" has the Phantom confronted with a new menace, the romantic advances of the actress Iris Benton when a film crew comes to the jungle to make a movie. The Phantom seems a bit out of character in this one as he responds to her, or at least seems to want to. No mention is made of Diana Palmer. "Paid in Full" has the Phantom confronted with an Englishman named Edward Cowper Smythe who claims the Phantom owes him one million pounds. It relates to events concerning both men's ancestors. The Phantom takes Smythe on a tour of the deadly jungle and all is forgiven when he's helped by a hospital apparently paid for by the money. "The Rain Stopper" is a medicine man named Medguli who brings a drought to the Bengali jungle and who works in cahoots with a man named Professor Harrch to gain control of the weather. The Phantom's horse gets his name back in at least one of these stories which are presumed to have been written by Joe Gill, but it's uncertain. 


"To Right a Wrong" sees the Phantom pursue a daring thief and would-be murderer Acmid Raz after the latter steals some jewels from a temple. This one has a good build-up, but the finale is compressed because of a lack of pages. "Danger in Bengali" features Diana Palmer who is kidnapped by a man impersonating the Phantom. It's full-tilt derring-do as our purple hero rides an airplane to get the woman he loves. "Death from Far Away!" pits the Phantom against a witch doctor named Zulanga who gets his revenge by poisoning the Skull Cave and seemingly killing the Phantom. But they don't call him the Ghost Who Walks for nothing. These are pretty good, but a number of stories in this issue and before really demystify the Deep Woods and the Skull Cave. It seems all sorts of people are finding it with relative ease. 


"Return of the Ruby" has the Phantom attempting to retrieve yet another stolen gem, this one taken a century before from his ancestor. The only rub is the woman who now owns it, assumes she has a legal claim to the stone. "The Phantom and John Paul Jones" delivers what you'd expect. The Phantom from the 18th Century is fighting pirates in Tripoli when he's taken as a slave aboard a ship which is then attacked by the famous Captain John Paul Jones. "The Cave of Kings" is a deadly misadventure as a tribe attempts to get hold of another tribe's treasures hidden among their esteemed dead. When a friend of the Phantom and king dies, it's an opportunity to find the hidden location and steal. This one is a little confusing to be honest. 


The forty-sixth issue of The Phantom has a cover that's a bit different in that its image represents two different adventures in the issue. The first is titled "The Last of the Cat" and has the Phantom battle a man named Felix Cattmann who is aided by the strangely-garbed Leopardmen. Cattmann imitates the Phantom to get hold of Diana, but his scheme is not without flaws when his volcanic hideout proves unstable. "The Vanishing Thieves!" is the second and pits the Phantom against a creature called Piranna, who enters the Skull Cave through an unknown watery passage. The Phantom gives chase through the aquatic pathway to the Piranna's lair. "Nest of the Man-Eaters!" sees the Phantom working hard to save the young girl who has been taken hostage by raiders and taken to a high mountain lair. The Phantom employs an airplane to reach the area. 


"The False Skull Cave" kicks off the last issue in this collection. A treacherous man named Busas using air surveillance and a small tank to get access to the Skull Cave and the treasures he imagines to be there, but the Phantom is unconcerned since he suggests that Busas cannot find his way out of the Deep Woods. "Soundless Voices!" has yet another guy attempt to imitate the Phantom, this time after seemingly killing him off by dumping him in a lake. The Phantom of course rises and weirdly uses whale songs to stop his enemy. "The Vapors of Vulcan" wraps up this issue and in yet another volcano (there are lots of volcanos in Benaglla it seems) strange men kidnap the Phantom and take him to their queen named Brilla. The odd green creatures are not explained and are soon killed by Brilla. She wants the Phantom to stay with her and rule by her side, but he chooses to escape before a diamond door closes off the kingdom for another century. This one has echoes of She by H. Ridger Haggard as well as The Mole People. 


There are some dandy and highly imaginative stories in these comics. Some are ideal at the average seven-page length, but more than few scream out for more pages to develop stories that end abruptly. Clearly the three-story-an-issue thing was an editorial mandate, but I don't know if it was because of Charlton's editor, or a condition laid down by King Features. Whatever the case, it does seem to make all the stories feel a little like back-ups. Nevertheless, the artwork by Boyette appeals to me, even when he gets some things off model by a good margin. His Diana Palmer is suspect and changes. 


But she improves with future issues. More Boyette next time as the Charlton run continues. 

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Friday, March 1, 2024

Martii!


This is going to be a full and varied month at the Dojo. As you can tell the Silver Surfer will be making his presence known, but you'll have to wait until the end of the month for my full review of Norrin Radd's earliest misadventures. I haven't read a new Surfer story in ages, but back in the heyday he was one of Marvel's richest characters. 


The ongoing look at the adventures of the Ghost Who Walks will also continue. I am reviewing his Charlton comics appearances as well as the Avon novel series. Both were reprinted by Hermes Press some years ago and have been languishing waiting for me to get to them. I am enjoying it mightily. 


Likewise, my ongoing reading of the OZ novels by Frank L. Baum. I will assert here and now that the books are not what I was expecting. I've read raves about these American classics all my life and I'm beginning to get a sense of what everyone is on about. 


I'm going to squeeze in at least one trip to Astro City this month as well. These books have been fantastic to read again, making so much more sense than reading them periodically. There is a richness in the world imagined by Busiek and Anderson and Ross which is greater than the sum of its many well-crafted parts. 


Crime will rear its ugly head as well here as we take a spin down the Road to Perdition, the amazing graphic novel by Max Allan Collins. There are more than a few twists and turns in that odyssey for the characters and the readers as well. 


Neal Adams was arguably the most influential artist of his generation or for that matter a few generations since his influence as a mentor and the studio Continuity Associates was a breeding ground for many younger pros. He created some of the most iconic comics in my reading experience and I'd like to take a look at some of those over the course of this year. This month the focus is on Deadman. 


And I want to spend a little time with the Abominable Snowman. Admittedly I want to do that from the comfort and relative safety of my easy chair in my warm and comfy home, but nonetheless the legend of the ABSM as he's designated is as alluring as any in the modern world. 




All this and perhaps even more this month at the Dojo. Take a moment or two and drop by amigos. 

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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Amazing World Of Superman!


It's Superman's birthday. And the Dojo wraps up a week-long celebration of the Man of Steel with a look a real bit of offbeat memorabilia, a tome titled Amazing World of Superman. Originally published in 1973 to celebrate Superman Day in the little city of Metropolis, Illinois, this oversized tabloid-size tome is a wonderful collection of all sorts of Superman stories, images, and whatnots. 



The volume opens with "Superman in Superman Land", a story by writer Bill Finger and artists Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye. Originally appearing in Action Comics #210 from 1955 this yarn imagines a theme park dedicated to the "Man of the Tomorrow". We get lots of offbeat glimpses of this imaginary park before we are introduced to a mysterious character who turns out to be Lex Luthor (no surprise). He's concocted a scheme to incapacitate the "Man of Steel" with the ubiquitous Kryptonite and trap him inside a mock-up of Krypton, one meant to be exploded. It will surprise no one that the scheme fails. 

This if followed by a "How to Draw Superman" page by Curt Swan as well as page introducing us to the extended Superman family. Then there is a wonderful ten-page article detailing how comic books are conceived and manufactured. It's a nifty item because it's loaded with photos of the staff of DC at the time. 


Then we are treated to a brand new (then) "The Origin of Superman" written by E. Nelson Bridwell, and drawn by Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. This is a delightful fifteen-page black and white presentation which hits all the highlights right through Clark leaving his foster parents in Smallville and taking up his career in Metropolis. There is a particularly touching scene with Clark and his dying foster father. 


Then a special detached fold-out poster showcases a "Map of Krypton" in amazing colorful detail. This map was rendered by E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Sal Amendola. Then we get a page showing how Superman made it big in syndicated comic strips. 


"Metropolis, Illinois - Story of an American City" presents copious features and images from the celebration for the inaugural "Superman Day". We get a lot of backstory about how this event came to be with photos of a guy named Charles Chandler dressed as Superman making appearances in sundry places like the TV show To Tell the Truth. 


"The Superman Legend - Rogues' Gallery" has more art by Murphy Anderson and writing by Bridwell as we meet some of the best villains such as the aforementioned Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Parasite, Toyman, and others such as the Phantom Zone villains. "The Secrets of Superman's Fortress" takes us inside the Fortress of Solitude as drawn by "Swanderson". 

(Al Hirschfield)

"It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman" is all about the Broadway show which debuted in 1966. We get some nifty photos from that singular show. "Superman Salutes Nasa" is about Superman's connection to the OAO -2 (Orbital Astronomical Observatory). "Important Dates in Superman's Life" is a one-page item which hits the highlights from Superman's publishing history in comics, novels and appearances in other media. Sadly, and frankly strangely, I found no references to either the utterly wonderful Fleischer cartoons of the 40's nor to the pretty darn good Filmation cartoons of the 60's here or any other place it the book. 


We get two pages from "Superman's Mission for President Kennedy" which was marred when it first appeared by the tragic assassination of the thirty-fifth president of the United States. The story was published at the request of both President Johnson and the Kennedy clan. 


"The Superman Legend" returns with a look at Superboy's hideout beneath the Kent home and info on his costume written by Bridwell with art by Bob Brown, Wally Wood and Mike Exposito. (This was presented in black and white.)


The book closes with a photo album of sorts which features George Reeves, Kirk Allyn, and others from Superman's film and TV adventures. The final image is a full-page poster shot of Superman by Curt Swan and George Klein (in black and white).


This wonderful time capsule was reprinted by DC in a hand hardcover format in 2021. At a mere twenty bucks it was a bargain then and now. Happy Birthday to the Man of Steel. Now it's time to enjoy some of that vintage George Reeves taking on those little creepy Mole Men on my TV. 

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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Superman - The 1942 Novel!


Superman was a success right from the start, at least it was when creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster could get someone to publish the adventures. The character created a whole new genre, one pioneered by costumed heroes like Lee Falk's The Phantom among others. But Superman was something else again, at once familiar and esoteric, an alien from the heartland of America. 


Superman soon dominated the comic book world, getting his own title and appearing in other places like World's Finest alongside Batman. But he was not done. 


It was not long until Superman's fame spread to other besides comics. Radio took an interest and began a daily fifteen-minute program with the Man of Steel. 


Beyond the wild pages of his own comic book, he found safe haven in the more esteemed panels of the comic strip where his adventures dropped onto the stoops of Americans all over. 


And he went to the big screen when the Fleischer Studios (the folks responsible for the immensely popular Popeye features) lavished on the hero from Krypton possibly the best superhero cartoons ever made. 


So, I guess it was just a matter of time before Superman got a prose novel dedicated to him. And that's just what happened when George Lowther wrote The Adventures of Superman a novel destined for the libraries of the nation. Superman now occupied space among other classic heroes of literature such as Natty Bumppo, Sydney Carton, and Sam Spade. 


The novel is a quick-paced affair divided into two distinct parts. The first deals with Superman's origin and tells yet again how the planet Krypton explodes but not before a prescient scientist sends his son in a rocket to the planet Earth where he is found by a kindly farming couple who raise him as his own. There is special emphasis on relationship between Clark and his adopted father Eben in this retelling, and I was much reminded of how the story is told in the first Christopher Reeve movie. 


Then the scene shifts as Clark Kent tries to make a name for himself and earn a job on The Daily Planet. This version of the story has him head out West and investigate a strange ghost ship which is haunting the harbors of an important defense contractor. It's up to both Clark Kent and the mighty Superman to get to the bottom of these ghostly doings as well as uncover the threat to the nation's security. This story does an excellent job of building the menace and of offering the reader a number of suspects. Before it's done, Superman has been taxed and takes the fight to enemies of American and world security. 


Lois Lane is in this one but there's not much room to give her that much attention. Superman is front and center in this rather thrilling yarn that takes more than one twist along the way. The prose is decorated with wonderful sketches by Joe Shuster as well as some handsome black and white plates. There are several painted images too to add color to the finished product. To see the artwork check out this link


I enjoyed the 1977 Kassel reprint of the 1942 novel. It is highly recommended if you can dig up a copy.

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