Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trent Phloog On Patrol!

You really have to be a Megaton Man fan to get that heading.

I love Megaton Man. Don Simpson's wacked-out parody hero is on my all-time fave list. His run at Kitchen Sink in the early 80's is among the finest spoofs of the superhero genre ever, and possibly the last moment to do one since in these post-Crisis days a parody of superheroes seems redundant and unnecessary.

I have pretty much the whole Megaton Man canon, and some of them were very hard to find. I've even had the pleasure of meeting Don Simpson many years ago and getting his autograph on an issue or two. He's a friendly fellow who was inspired by Marvel Comics and his artistic hero John Romita to try his hand at comics and he's been very successful. Along with Megaton Man, he's done a wonderful (at least I think so) King Kong adaptation, a rich science fiction series called Border Worlds, some erotic comics under the name of "Anton Drek" (most of this stuff I don't have and it's pretty expensive) some work for DC'sWasteland series, and more recently various illustration jobs and advertising gigs. Sadly he seems to have given up comics for the most part after his self-publishing gig dwindled away in the middle 90's.

I didn't know it, but he illustrated Al Franken's books (now I've got to get those too) and that burst of notoriety apparently got I Books to issue a reprint of the original Megaton Man stories from Kitchen Sink a few years back. It's a lovely cover, features a few new pages by Simpson starring Al Franken and a few extras, but the core of the book is the first five issues of Megaton Man. Those early issues evoke the late 60's Marvel experience as vividly as any pastiche I've ever come across. The page design, the lettering, the whole thing just screams old Marvel. Simpson's style was really different then, much more about linework and detail and less the more-Romita style he uses now. It's a wonderful send-up, tart but still with charm.

If you're a Marvel fan and you've never sampled Megaton Man, the early stuff in particular, you might like it.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

They Saved Hitler's Brain!

They saved his head actually.

I watched a stupid, but fun flick yesterday afternoon -- The Madmen of Mandoras. This 1963 drive-in movie puts forth the speculation of what might happen if somehow Hitler's head had survived WWII and was in the keeping of Nazis who still planned to take over the world. This cheapjack movie ain't the definitive answer I'm sure, but it offers up some diverting moments, along with some of the most effective use of stock footage I've ever seen.

There's another version of the movie released to TV called They Saved Hitler's Brain with some ludicrous additional footage shot in the 70's to make it longer. So if you have the chance see the original, it's a tad more coherent, but the other one is fun too in a stupid stupid way.

I've seen a few movies recently about decapitated heads. There's this one, and a wacked German import named simply The Head. That one proved to actually have some atmosphere. More later perhaps.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Ern's News Stand!

My sister gave me this greeting card manufactured as part of a celebration in my old hometown. They apparently did a few of these featuring old places that were warm in the nostalgic memories of the folks who live and lived there. Sadly it's a town that is mostly about the past now, but that's another story. Ern's News Stand was where I went to get my comics. I know it's hard to see it in this pastel image, but it was a classic news stand on a sidewalk. It was small (though gigantic in my memory) and crammed top to bottom with magazines and the comic treasures I craved. 

I actually started getting my comics at a local drugstore, a more "civilized" place, more amenable to kids. But Ern's had the real booty, the mildly salacious stuff that you really wanted alongside the comics I knew I could get. The trouble was that Ern was blind and had only one arm. That's not something he seemed to struggle with though, but it made him unusual, and he held fort in a somewhat ferocious way to guard his tiny business from those who might think a blind man an easy mark. He wasn't, but his gruffness spooked me when I was young. 

Later the drugstore went out of business, and I had to use Ern's but by then he'd gotten a regular storefront and was working with his son. They blended the magazine business with medical supplies and scratched out a living. One thing they did was put in lavish wooden racks for the comics which were displayed in beautiful rows. It was the best layout I ever saw for comics for many many years even in places officially dubbed "comics shops". 

 And another thing, I became a valued customer. I was the regular kid who came in every week for his comics and I became a trusted aide from time to time. I'd tell Ern who had just rung the bell when they came through the door, and I'd move stuff around a bit here and there when he wanted. His gruffness never went away, but I came to regard it as merely his way. Ern has long ago passed away. When that happened my Mom made a point to call me, because she knew how much that store meant to me, how much that man had meant. I don't want to overstate it, but in some ways Ern was the first guy not a member of my family to trust me, even if I was a kid. That's not small stuff. 

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Space Adventures #2 - The Further Adventures Of Paul Mann!

And it's about time I got around to finally presenting this second issue of Charlton's vintage space age series. The first review of Space Adventures Presents UFO can be found here.

What I didn't know was that Paul Mann's adventures with the aliens continues in this second issue. Officially this is "Space Adventures Vol.1 No.2 July 1968". The cover is by both Pat Boyette and Jim Aparo as it blends two images from inside the comic. The falling figure of Paul Mann is by Boyette and the spaceship battle is by Aparo.

The complete story titled I think "A Tale About Time" was written by Sergius O'Shaugnessy the pseudonym of Denny O'Neil. All three artists for this comic are credited on the splash page. The artists are Boyette, Aparo, and Steve Ditko. The comic was edited by Sal Gentile though that fact is only indicated in the indicia. This is during the transition from Dick Giordano to Gentile and so it's likely this issue was actually put together under Giordano's regime.

Chapter One titled "The Quest Begins" was drawn by Jim Aparo and picks up where the last comic ended with a summary of those events. Paul Mann speaks directly to the reader, breaking the fourth wall, and reflects on his first encounter with Esrom Nation from the future and their enemies the Honjnos Nation. They have traveled back in time to wage their war. Paul Mann a reporter looking into the UFO sightings was tapped by the Esromians to become their emissary. Eight months have passed since those events and once again Mann finds himself seeing a UFO while out hunting deer. In fact he sees a battle and is soon drawn into it when the Esromians and Honjnosians come to ground. We get our first look at a Honjnosian and they are predictably evil looking when contrasted to the lighter skinned big-skulled Esromians. The Honjnosians are downright BEMish looking and all orange. The Esromian tells Mann that they must find a scientist named Boris Bronsky because he develops a weapon that will defend against the Honjnosians, a force field. History says Bronsky will disappear the Esromians want to get to him first. They enlist Mann and soon are zinging to Venice where Mann meets Bronsky who is suspicious. Before Mann can actually do anything though Honjnosians appear and vaporize Bronsky. Mann escapes and finds refuge in an apartment in Venice.

Chapter Two was drawn by Steve Ditko and is titled "Race To the End of Time". We pick up with Mann in Venice who quickly hooks up with the Esromians again in their spaceship and is transported back in time following the Honjnosians to 1195 AD in England. Why is a mystery but quickly Mann and the alien are attacked by locals who turn out to be the men of the Sheriff of Nottingham and quick as wink they are saved from hanging by a band of Merry Men led by of course Robin Hood. After a chat among themselves Mann and Esromians continue their quest to follow the Honjnosians back in time, assuming the latter are trying to return to the future by looping all the way through the past. This ends up throwing the Esromian ship into a Negative Universe but they survive for the third and final chapter.

Chapter Three is titled "There Shall Be an Ending!" and it was drawn by Pat Boyette. The Esromians survive the Negative detour and keep after their enemies finally finding them and then dramtically crashing thier ship into them locking the two vehicles together. Together the two ships head back and find the 20th century. They land but the crash has destroyed their capacity to travel in time. Luckily they are on a deserted island. They search the Honjnosian ship for Bronsky's plans but instead find a living Honjnosian and a fight ensues killing the last Esromian. Paul Mann retaliates and knocks the last Honjnosian into a volcano as Bronsky's papers fly out to sea. Mann then has a final conversation with the dying Esromian who thanks him for his help in stopping the threat and then Mann carries the alien down off the volcano and buries him. Mann is then rescued a few days later by a fisherman and finds himself confined to the state hospital. It is from there that he has been telling his story to the reader. He closes by imploring the readers to keep looking for Bronsky's papers and if they find them bring them to him or to Charlton Publications in Derby, Connecticut. After that pleas Paul Mann lies down and goes to sleep. The story concludes with the cryptic words "Perhaps this is...The End".

The comic also includes a text story titled "A Living Death" about a convicted murderer who is seemingly revived after his execution by a mysterious scientist who then is himself killed by the brain-damaged prisoner, who is then transferred to the state mental hospital.

This story of Paul Man isn't as strong as the first one. But it does have the virtue of not being encumbered with the retro-fitted vintage story that apparently sparked the whole storyline. This story does have a coherence missing from the first UFO saga. But that doesn't mean the plot works all that well. There's a lot of random stuff here and frankly I got the sense that there was a lot of scripting after the fact to make the elements hang together as well as they did. I do like stories that break the Fourth Wall, and this one does it with gusto. A character who is aware of themselves as part of a cast in a story adds a layer of irony to the proceedings and helps to leaven the plot holes a bit. The artwork is dandy throughout.

This is Paul Mann's second and final appearance as far as I know. Since there is no more Charlton Publications, if anyone does find the Bronsky papers I guess the secret of the defense against the Honjnosians will disappear as much as Bronsky himself. It can be argued I guess that since the broader readership of comics didn't support Charlton way back when, they have potentially brought about the end of civilization as we know it. I'm just saying.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009


I've been aware of Moonchild, Nick Cuti's peculiarly nubile creation for many years, running across the character in a history of Underground Comics. I've never read any full-blown story until I got this collection.

I ordered up Walt Wentz's collection of Moonchild stories. He's collected the Moonchild stories from the early fanzines and underground comics and put them together in a slim but intriguing magazine-sized B&W comics package. At $8 bucks counting shipping this curiosity is worth the price of admission. If you're a Nick Cuti fan like me, it falls into the must-have category.

You see a very young Cuti at work here, with much of the work raw and at times amateurish. But there's an undercurrent which makes it hang together someway. Moonchild is a Starbaby, a space-based fairy, and like Little Annie Fanny or Barbarella is naive and innocent while possessed of a healthy female body. There is actually little sexual content here, but there is lots of suggestion and nudity. Mostly this is light-hearted and weird cartooning. There are also some Pussywillow strips, a more purely underground version of Moonchild.

This collection ain't for everyone. I'm not sure I get it all, but it's a very good look at a solid comics talent's early formative work. And Nick's a heck of a nice guy to boot.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

The Saga Of Solomon Kane!

I wrapped up the Dark Horse B&W reprint of Solomon Kane's adventures from Savage Sword of Conan and elsewhere. Aside from a few of these very early stories, I'd read none of this so it was all new-old Marvel for me.

The earliest Kane stories with artwork by Alan Weiss are superb. Weiss gave Kane a distinctive flavor, similar but not at all aping what Smith did with Conan. Kane's stories under Weiss's hand were lush and had a crisp modern feel to them, even today. There's another great story by Howie Chaykin. The storytelling is by Roy Thomas and Don Glut. In fact much to my surprise I learned here that Glut was the primary scribe for Kane's adventures, writing the majority of these stories.

The artwork in the later stuff is by journeymen. David Wenzel still many years from his Hobbit stuff is on board for several stories, but in nearly every case the storytelling seemed to suffer by insufficient page count. I'm not one who usually bickers about this kind of thing, but there was a distinct cramped quality to many of the middle stories, even those which got serialized. Following the action was hard at times, but perhaps that has to do with the reduction of the page for this format.

The latter part of the book reprints stuff from the 90's. At one point there's a jump from the mid-80's to the the 90's and the change in styles is remarkable. Many of the later stories are well told with some artwork that grew on me as I read the stories. There's even a crossover with Conan to close out the volume.

All in all I'd give this volume a B. It's a decent read, it adapts most of the key Kane stories, but the artwork is suspect at times. The high romance that should permeate a Kane story is often missing in these. The first few stories with Kane encountering Dracula are fantastic, and there's a sequel to this classic clash that I'd never read. All in all not that bad, it opens and closes very strongly.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Full Eclipso!

I finished up reading DC's Eclipso Showcase volume this week. It reprints in glorious B&W stories from House of Secrets #61-80. I'll have to say right away that I was a bit surpised by this collection. It wasn't as awesome as I'd always thought it might be.

That said, I did like the artwork for the most part throughout the volume, including the Jack Sparling stuff on the later Eclipso stories. Sparling is a hit-or-miss artist and seeing it in B&W probably helps here. The artistic highlight is of course the Alex Toth stories, which are typically elegant and taughtly drawn. Lee Elias does a great job kicking off the series and the two Prince Ra-Man stories by Bernard Bailey were neatly done.

Now about the writing. I'm usually a fan of Bob Haney, the writer of all the stories here. His plots are wacky, but usually pay off. Here the wackiness is in evidence but the very nature of the Eclipso-Gordon duality works against the dramatic tension of the stories. There are too many details to work out when Eclipso emerges. First we have to have some elaborate reason for Bruce Gordon to come under the effects of an eclipse, something a bright guy like he's supposed to be should be able to avoid pretty easily. That he keeps falling under the spell of some eclipse effect makes him seem rather dim after a time, pun intended. Next in the early stages Eclipso takes over Gordon's body so they have to waste a panel explaining how he gets his costume. Later Eclipso actually splits off from Gordon and just has it on so that detail is dealt with. It's illogical but it helps the stories move briskly.

And that is the strength of the stories. As convoluted as they get, the changing nature of the Eclipso and how he emerges and expresses his powers alters throughout the series. That gives the story a nice variety in the face of a rather stagnant general plot structure. Once they split Gordon and Eclipso the stories get rather more interesting dramatically. The original concept made for one or two good stories but seemed cramped for a full ongoing series.

Also much is made of Eclipso's gangland involvement and his crimeboss persona, but we don't really see him out and away form Gordon enough to justify this. Clearly this must happen between stories, because there's no way he could become such a connected criminal in the few moments we get to see him plying his evil trade. He's got hidden bases and labs everywhere and I don't know how he does it.

One thing I did like was the ongoing relationship between Gordon and Mona Bennett and her dad Professor Bennett. This reminded me of a mildly more mature triad than existed in the Hulk with Bruce Banner, Rick Jones and Betty Ross. Gordon and Mona have a romance and she is actually helpful and understanding of his plight, though I'd argue both she and her dad are tolerant of some pretty hairbrained schemes that Bruce develops to eiliminate or modify Eclipso.

I liked this collection after it is all said and done. It wasn't as stellar as I'd expected given the talent involved, but it was sturdy and typical for DC at the time done with a real professional polish.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Quest!

I recently read again the debut Sub-Mariner story "The Quest" in the new Essential Sub-Mariner. The story begins in Subby's first solo story in Tales to Astonish #71 with his return to Atlantis after his clash with Daredevil.

He finds Krang has usurped the throne and that his people have seemingly turned against him. Even Lady Dorma seems miffed and helps to capture the deposed Namor. But things get complicated and she helps Namor escape to begin his quest for the trident of King Neptune. Namor battles an octopus to gain a clue hidden in a shell, then follows that clue to another location where he battles a Seaweed giant which guards another clue which leads Namor to yet another clue in an undersea valley of diamonds guarded by a demon. While Subby is following his quest he is aided by an old Atlantean named Vashti and Lady Dorma has been caught by Krang and sent to hideous creatures called the Faceless Ones as punishment for spurning the tyrant. Namor is informed of this by his loyal fish and he abandons the quest to save her, only to find that his selfless act has in fact won the prize of the mystical trident for him and he uses that to defeat Krang and win back his throne.

Reading all of the issues in one sitting it's easy to dismiss the sense of scope this story had in the original. It does seem that Namor is only swimming around the local Atlantean area as he's under surveilance by Krang most of the time. Vashti seems to find Subby very easily and the distance to the Faceless Ones seems very short indeed. Also the fickleness of the Atlanteans is hard to keep in focus as the story unfolds. They seem fed up with Namor in the beginning but very quickly they find Krang's taxes unwieldy, leading to a revolt that is largely unsuccessful.

The romance of this storyline is neat though. There's a break from the then steady drumbeat of superheroics here, with the setting giving the story an almost sword and sorcery feel at times. The magic is real and apparent in contrast to the technology used by Krang. In this story in fact we seem almost to see Namor using the ancient ways to unseat the modern master of war, and maybe that was what Stan wanted to say afterall.

"Adam Austin" is the artist here. That's of course Gene Colan's pseudonym in his early Marvel efforts, and his work here is typically fine. Though I will admit he seems to have some difficulty with storytelling here and there and the use of larger than necessary panels. The series limited to half a comic moves a tad slowly sometimes due to Colan's trademark big panels. The Atlanteans too seem a bit generic in their look. Vinnie Colletta inked all the chapters of this series to date, and possibly his influence is involved here. The covers for the series are pretty nifty though, the debut by Kirby and the subsequent ones by Colan. The cover for issue #71 is one of my fave images of Subby.

All in all this is still a dandy read. The story holds up nicely. Subby wouldn't have an epic this sprawling for quite some time, not until he heads for Lemuria. But that's after he gets his own comic and sadly isn't included in this volume.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Hercules Reports #13 & Final

Hercules #13 is the last original issue of the run from Charlton. The comic is dated September 1969. The cover is by Sam Glanzman, the guy who has done all the covers for the series. The comic is edited by Sal Gentile.

The lead story of Hercules is untitled this time out unless you use the title on the cover "Hercules Wears the Armor of the Gods". It was written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Sam Glanzman. It begins with a symbolic splash page showing Hercules and Mars fighting with Zeus and Hera looking on. The story begins in Greece with Hercules being hassled by some soldiers who clearly don't seem to know who he is. The battle is one whe Mars hurls his war hammer to Earth literally zapping Hercules. The soldiers run off and Mars materializes and faces off against Hercules. They wrestle and fight for a time after Zeus gives the okay and then Mars offers Hercules a free punch at his jaw. Hercules takes advantage and knocks the War God out. Hera is unhappy but Zeus tells her to be quiet about it, though she doesn't comply. Diana the goddess of the hunt agrees with Zeus and tells Hera so. Later she appears at the camp of Hercules where he's eating some captured game and takes him by means of riding a moonbeam to Olympus for another feast among the gods. But quickly a fight between Hercules and Mars erupts ending with Mars throwing Hercules out of Olympus down through some clouds. Zeus intervenes though and brings the Man God back to Olympus. He then arranges for Hercules to get some of the armor of the gods manufactured by Vulcan. With his new gear Hercules is able to withstand the attacks of Mars and in fact Mars breaks his sword against the body of Hecules, specifically his face. This stops the fight and Hercules gives back his godly armor and returns to Earth await the day he will be among the gods of Olympus permanently. The story ends with Hercules sitting contented around his humble campfire.

"Mountain Man Morgan in New War Dance" is yet another tall tale of the giant who helped build the railroads. This one is pretty imaginative, and has Morgan get his friends the Indians to literally war dance on the stones that form the rockbed for the railroad. Their dancing breaks up the stones so the rails will seat properly. Morgan meanwhile shattes boulders to help supply stone. The Indians seem quite happy about this solution and indicate at the end of the story they want some payment for their work for new wigwams.

Thane of Bagarth is titled "Chapter Thirteen: Revenge" and is written by Steve Skeates and illustrated by Sanho Kim. The story begins with the Time Traveler who is lost in a dark cave. He finds himself in the dream of Hrothelac, the banished Thane of Bagarth and the two meet. Then another green four-armed monster attacks and Hrothelac kills it. Then just as quickly as he arrived the Time Traveler disappears. Hrothelac is then told by a voice that he must battle more monsters and such before he can have his revenge. The scene shifts to the Celts battling against invading Vikings and losing. The final shift in scene for the series features the Time Traveler again and this time he finds himself trillion of miles away from Earth opn another planet in another galaxy, and he is most confused. The next chapter is supposed to feature Eowanda, but it will never be.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" features three letters this time, one by Tony Isabella. One compliments the series to date, while Isabella runs down several series he's following from Charlton. The editors even note that they cut his letter down quite a bit. Their response to him indicates the future of Charlton as they say that superheroes have seen their day for the time being but that war, romance, and westerns are the consistent sellers for the company.

This final Hercules issue is a very different experience from the debut issue two years earlier. Most dramatically is the shift in the classical myth approach taken early on. The stories have gotten more and more modern in their feel and character as the series has developed, and that seems to be the result of clear editorial mandate. The artwork of Sam Glanzman has really undergone a transformation with this final issue really opening up in terms of layout design. Much is done with words indicating mood and emotion and the layouts seem to thematically inform the work itself such as the use of a peace symbol to frame the moments when Hercules gets his armor.

This series is one of my childhood delights. I've not read these issues through probably since I first got them, though I've taken them out many times and read an issue here and there. The confused saga of Bagarth is sad really given the immense promise of the scenario initiated by Steve Skeates early on. A sequel to Beowulf is a clever notion, but it becomes a bit of mush as the series introduces odd elements of sci-fi and seems to become bogged down in its own plot.

It's clear that once they finished the Twelve Labors the staff of Charlton really didn't know what to do with Hercules. The last several issues have been mostly stories about dinner parties and sibling strife. Surely if the series had continued they would've shifted the storyline forward, but we'll never know.

As I've noted the series has been reprinted many times by ACG/Avalon. I even found a "new" reprint version of the series a few weeks ago from them that I didn't know about. These stories have a real modern feel to them that stands out from much of the material Charlton produced at the time. They are at once timeless and of their time.

I've enjoyed this review series, and I hope it has given at least some insight into this most peculiar series.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Hercules Reports #12

Hercules #12 is dated July 1969. The cover is another excellent one by Sam Glanzman, and the issue is again edited by Sal Gentile.

The Hercules story this time is titled "The Wrath of the Gods" and it was written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Sam Glanzman. As this story opens, Hercules has completed his Twelve Labors (though we've only seen eleven in the series to date) and he is demanding that he be elevated to Olympus. Mars takes objection but is chastened by Zeus with a burst of fire. Hera shows up and suggests a banquet in the honor of Hercules and she goes to Earth and personally invites the Man God who is of course suspicious but accepts anyway when Zeus speaks up. Hercules then dashes off to cleanse himself in a bath for the feast then awaits his ride, the Chariot of Apollo shows up and takes him to Olympus. At the feast Hercules is invited to tell the tale of his Twelve Labors which he does though he gets the order of their accomplishment different than what we've seen in the series so far. His story though proves somewhat dull to the guests who nod off, then Mars in a rage calls Hercules a liar for claiming to have done such great things. Hercules in respect for his host ignores this challenge, but finally Mars splashes him with wine and even Zeus wonders why his son won't retaliate, then he gives them express permission to battle and the fight is on. The battle through the castle of the gods and then Mars uses his godly powers to hit Hercules with a lightning bolt. Hercules is stunned and despairs since he doesn't have such powers. Then Zeus gives him such power and he throws a bolt back at Mars stunning him. The two lock up in a show of strength that causes havoc on Earth until finally Mars lands a blow to Hercules that sends him flying down through the clouds out of Olympus itself. Hercules lands on Earth and remarks about what a grand party it was and how he'll have to stay longer next time.

"Man Mountain Morgan in Tough Tommy Turner" offers up another prose tall tale of the giant who assisted the railroads. This time there's a ruffian named Tommy Turner and his gang who are stealing supplies. Morgan goes to find them, and using a special sound sends their horses running. He then bundles the wagons together and drags the stolen supplies back to the railroad camp, and then turns the thieves over to the law.

Thane of Bagarth is titled "Chapter Twelve: Melting in the Dark" and it was written by Steve Skeates and illustrated by Sanho Kim. It begins with the "dead" body of Hrothelac, the banished Thane of Bagarth in the Celtic village. But in another world, a dream world Hrothelac is awake and full armored. He is told by a voice that he must seek out strange creatures and battle to gain his revenge. A giant green four-armed monster stalks from the shadows and Hrothelac battles it finally slaying it with a thrown sword. Meanwhile the Celts are amazed that the dead body of Hrothelac is moving in the real world. At this moment a warning comes that Vikings are invading the village and the Celts rise to the defense. The scene changes to a misty nowhere in which the Time Traveler is once again flying to a new location in time and space, finding himself in front of a cave and a sorceress, but before the sorceress can strike him with a spell he disappears again. The last scene show Eowanda, the current Thane of Bagarth plotting in his castle.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" offers up two letters this time. One talks extensively about the defunct Action Hero line and how they should be broght back. The editors agree but say that's the way of publishing. They repeat a claim made in many letters pages that Hercules is selling very well and in fact seems to do better each month. The second letter speculate on why Hera hates Hercules so. Also included on this page is a neat design by Steve Ditko featuring both the new Blue Beetle and the redesined Captain Atom.

The series reaches its climax of sorts with this issue. The Labors are done, and though the Augean Stables is not shown in the series it is mentioned here when Hercules relates his experiences. The new pattern in the series seems to be to pit Hercules against Mars each issue. Their enmity has been growing steadily and this issue seems to be all about that struggle between these two sons of Zeus. Glanzman's artwork continues to loosen with more experimentation in layout each issue. The Thane of Bagarth storyline is becoming more and more fantastical as the Time Traveler jets all over and the dream battles of Hrothelac at least get our hero up and moving. He's been remarkably passive during the series.

This issue has been reprinted a few times I think by ACG/Avalon. For sure it was reprinted in Hercules #1 and I think it also was reprinted in Tales of the Man-God Hercules #1. The Hercules versus Mars stories are good for this since they are self-contained for the most part unlike the Twelve Labors. The Thane of Bagarth story has not been reprinted to my knowledge.

One more to come.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Hercules Reports #11

Hercules #11 is dated May 1969. It features one of Sam Glanzman's best covers for the series. The comic was edited by Sal Gentile.

The lead Hercules story is titled "The Trophy Hunter" and it's divided into two parts. The story was written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Sam Glanzman. The first part opens with Hercules knocking out some nameless opponent and deals with a ploy of Hera's to lure Hercules to Olympus to embarass him. She invites him and he's so overcome with pride he beats his chest creating an avalanche. His response to this is "Aww, I done it again!". Hera and all the gods of Olympus look forward to the feast celebrating Hercules and even Zeus seems fooled by Hera's plot. Zeus sends Apollo on his chariot to fetch the Man-God who suffers as they pass the sun. In Olympus he bows to Zeus and gets into a contest of grips with Mars that creates a thunderstorm on Earth. During the meal Hera uses her magic to make Hercules clumsy and then pretends to be a serving girl to make him look boorish and rude. Mars and Hercules face off and Hercules lands a solid punch on the War God who responds by sending Hercules back to Earth to face his cousin King Eurystheus for his next labor.

Part II is titled "The Prey" and it begins with view of the mountains between Arcadia and Achaia where stands a robust and magnificent Hind. Hercules comes from the shadows to leap on the giant deer but it escapes and the chase continues out of the mountains into the desert where the stifling heat causes Hercules to collapse. The Hind though returns to the Man God and uses it hooves to dig up water for the man chasing it. Hercules then uses his rope to snare the Hind and eventually subdues it. He carries it to the court of King Eurystheus but then unleashes it allowing it escape. He has done what was asked and no more. If Hera wants the beast, then it will have to captured again.

"Mountain Man Morgan -- Tame The Tracks" offers up another text story, a tall tale about the railroad and the giant Morgan's efforts to help it succeed. In this story he has to tear up some tracks and replace them so that the two ends will meet. He does so, once again saving the railroad from ruin.

Thane of Bagarth undergoes a big change this time. The story is again written by Steve Skeates but the art this time is taken on by Sanho Kim. The tale is titled "Chapter Eleven: Beowulf's Decision" and opens in the year 2174 where the Time Traveler's daughter and her boyfriend find his notes and debate how best to rebuild his machine and hopefully save him. There is a brief glimpse of the Time Traveler before the scene shifts to the still unconscious Hrothelac, the banished Thane of Bagarth who is being tended in a Celtic village. The scene shifts again to the Land of the Geats where the current Thane of Bagarth the treacherous Eowanda plots to take over the warriors of Beowulf and perhaps takes Beowulf's place entirely. Beowulf fearing Eowanda's ambition leads his troops into battle despite his age and illness. As they head to battle, Beowulf's man Eadstan with the serf girl Freahulf ride back to the Land of the Geats but encounter a Swede who is dispatched by Eadstan. Back in the Celtic village Hrothelac has a dream in which he battles Eowanda, Beowulf, and Eadstan. As he battles in his dreams he gets out of bed and collapses. The Celts tending him annnounce that he is dead.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" features three letters this time, and all of them talk not only about Herc but about other cancelled Charlton comics. There seems to be a great demand to bring back the Action Heroes. One letter writer complains again about Herc's "oriental" look but the editors say it's what Sam Glanzman wants and that's it. On a sad note, the death of Rocke Mastroserio in February 1968 is noted.

This issue of Hercules continues the changes in the series. The artwork by Glanzman on the lead feature gets more and more experimental as he plays with panel design and even changes up his style within the story. It's really quite attractive. One new trick is using words like "Anger" and such to surround characters as they argue, an attempt to heighten I suppose the emotional impact of the stories. This apparently will be the last of the Hercules stories to deal with his Twelve Labors despite the fact he's only done eleven of them. The cleaning of the Augean Stables I guess wasn't considered dramatic enough for a comic presentation. The storyline will shift a bit next time.

This comic was mostly reprinted in Modern Comics Hercules #11.

More to come.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Hercules Reports #10

Hercules #10 is dated April 1969. It features a dynamic cover by Sam Glanzman and the comic is edited by Sal Gentile.

The lead story featuring Hercules is titled "The Ninth Head The Couldn't Die" and it was written by Joe Gill and illstrated by Sam Glanzman. The story opens with Hercules pleading to the gods but when Mars and Hera rain a storm on him he girds up and seeks out King Eurystheus for his next labor. Eurystheus sends him to kill a monster near the well of Amymone in the Argosian Swamp. Hercules is surprised he will be allowed to use weapons and so goes to the Oracle of Plaeceum to find out more about his mysterious task. When he tries to enter the cave of the Oracle he's confronted with horrific fire-breathing monster but he doesn't back down and the creature transforms into a beautiful black-tressed woman but then her hair begins to strangle Hercules and he attacks her with is sword saying "Touche'". She transforms again into a hag and then tells him of the Lernaen Hydra the monster with nine heads, one of them immortal. The scene cuts to Olympus where Zeus enjoys a repast and he learns of the task set before his son. Hercules goes to the swamp and almost immediately confronts the Hydra and begins to cut off its heads only to see each one he severs replaced by two more. Finally he tries to sever the main head and his sword clangs off in futiltiy. Hercules responds with a "Oh, Golly!". Meanwhile an ally of Hercules, a boy named Iolaus shows up with a torch and Hercules borrows it to burn off the heads he severs and this seems to work. Then a giant crab attacks but Hercules dispatches this beast sent by Hera. Turning his attention back to the Hydra he cuts off more heads then climbs a giant boulder and finally is able to cut the main head. He then takes the boulder and crashes it down on the monster defeating it. The story closes with Hercules leaving the swamp triumphant and Mars saying to Hera "Gee, Ma I hate that Kid."

"Mountain Man Morgan in Tornado Trouble" relates a tall tale about the giant Mountain Man Morgan and how he shows up to help the railroad lay tracks by various means using his great strength. Ultimately she stops a tornado by using his lungs to create a counterforce wind. This tale is very similar to the previous text story about Morgan.

Thane of Bagarth is titled "Chapter Ten: From The Future!" and was written by Steve Skeates and illustrated by Jim Aparo. The story begins with fallen form of Hrothelac, the banished Thane of Bagarth, as he is found by Celts and taken to their village and tended to. The scene cuts to the Time Traveler as he lands in England and eludes some warriors. Anther scene shift takes us back to the land of the Swedes where King Beowfulf's man Eadstan discovers his men have left the area, so he finds a horse and takes the beautiful Freahulf and they ride back to the land of the Geats. In that land the traitor Eowand, the current Thane of Bagarth plots to use the absence of Eadstan to further his ambitions.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" features three letters this time. One is from Sam Glanzman himself and he addresses the question of the slanted eyes of Hercules, pointing out that the slanted eyes he gives to Hercules originate from the designs on Greek vases and have nothing to do with Asians and "Asian villains", who by the way don't have "slanted" eyes anyway. He offers up a chart to prove his point. The other letters compliment the book but complain that it's difficult to find back issues of the comic. The editors say they'll pass this on to the distribution guys.

This is a really offbeat issue. Sam Glanzman is clearly exerting himself trying to make the book more exotic in its design. Many of the pages use very baroque and detailed elements to break up the panel structure. The word "Mod" is used by the editors in the letters page at one point and I assume that's what they are trying to do with the comic, make it more hip somehow. The changes are also seen in the dialogue. As noted some of the lines in the lead Hercules story have a very different tone, very modern. It's a bit jarring, but clearly they are trying to pitch this comic to a more sophisticated crowd. The changes in the Thane of Bagarth storyline presumably come from the same motivation. There's not doubt that the comic is changing.

This comic was largely reprinted under the Modern Comics label in the 1970's.

More to come.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Hercules Reports #9

Hercules #9 is dated February 1969. It's edited by Sal Gentile and the cover as always is by Sam Glanzman.

The lead story is titled "Diomedes' Curse" and it was written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Sam Glanzman. The story begins with a splash page with Mars the God of War threatening Hercules as he battles the carnivorous horses of Diomedes. After a summary of the feats of the Man-God from the last few issues, the scene shifts to the forge of Vulcan who is fashioning a new sword for Mars who says he's going to use it to frustrate the godly aspirations of Hercules and Vulcan reminds him he cannot take direct action by rule of Zeus himself. The scene shifts to the court of King Eurystheus who is giving an angry Hercules his next task, to retrieve the ferocious horse of King Diomedes of Thrace. Diomedes is tipped off by Mars that Hercules is coming. A storm is assaulting the ship Hercules is using to get to Thrace as Mars encourages Poseidon to sink it. He refuses but does let free a fire-breathing sea-dragon which does attack the ship only to be repelled by Hercules, much impressing the God of the Sea. After reaching Thrace Hercules is arrested and seeks a sign from Zeus as to what he should do. Zeus lets slip a thunderbolt which Hercules interprets as a sign and he breaks his chains and battles face to face Diomedes the King of Thrace. He defeats Diomedes then proceeds to find the savage horses. These he does find and defeats in quick order by binding their fanged snouts, and taking them to King Eurystheus much to the latter's great regret.

Next up is "The Hero Huang Gho" which is a text story telling of how the great Genghis Khan ultimately failed to defeat the city of Cheng-Tse because it was defended by a forty-foot giant named Haugn Gho who was quite strong and could emit flames from his fingers. Khan sees the giant and decides to move his army around the city. There is speculation that the giant was mechanical.

Thane of Bagarth is again written by Steve Skeates and illustrated by Jim Aparo. The story picks up on a battlefield where King Beowulf's man Eadstan is recoving from being knocked out only to find a beautiful girl standing over him. It turns out to be Freahulf, the daughter of Daeghred the Scholar who had been taken captive by the Swedes but had escaped. Eadstan orders her to follow him and they seek escape from the land of the Swedes. Meanwile the Geats fear Eadstan is dead and retreat. Then the story takes a most unexpected turn as we shift forward in time (and genre) to the year 2147 and meet a Time Traveler and his daughter and her boyfriend John. Despite rules against it, the old man wants to travel to the past using his newly created equipment. Despite warnings he does travel into the past, but his machine explodes leaving it to John and his daughter to repair it. Meanwhile (or earlier in time actually) the Traveller finds himself adrift but headed towards what appears to the Medieval past.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" closes out the comic this time. There are three letters, most complimentary of the comic especially Thane of Bagarth. One writer does wonder what happened to the old Action Heroes, and is told they are cancelled but may return some day. Another wishes Herucles would fight fewer animals in the countryside and spent some more time in cities. The editors say they'll pass the request to Gill and Glanman.

This is a weird issue. The Hercules story is becoming very formulaic. Hercules gets task, completes task after some interference from either Hera or Mars or both, then agrivates Eurystheus by bringing his prize back to court. This is at least the third time this formula has been used. Glanzman's artwork is still exquisite and his panel arrangement is getting more experimental. Thane of Bagarth on the other hand spins completely away from its presumed heading and introduces a science-fiction concept completely alien to what has gone on before. Despite comments that the Hercules book is selling well, changes like that in Thane of Bagarth suggest otherwise. The artwork is superb still though.

One fun thing about this comic is the inclusion of a Joe Weider ad featuring muscle man Dave Draper. Seeing this in a Hercules comic is fun.

The lead story was reprinted in Charlton Classics #9, the last issue of that 1980's run. To my knowledge the Thane of Bagarth story has not been reprinted.

More to come.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Hercules Reports #8

Hercules #8 is in many ways the most peculiar of the run. The issue is dated December 1968 and the cover is by Sam Glanzman. The comic is edited by Sal Gentile.

The lead story is titled "The Boar" and was written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Sam Glanzman. Hercules goes to Hera's agent on Earth King Eurystheus for his next task and is instructed that he must bring back the giant Boar of Mount Erymanthus and return the beast to the court of Eurytheus, and further Hercules is only allowed to use the strength of his own hands to subdue the the monster. Hercules heads off on this task and climbs into the mountains. There he is attacked by giant monster birds with poisonous talons, creations of Hera, but these disappear when Zeus orders her to cease her attack. High in the snowy mountains Hercules comes across an encampment of warriors, one of whom calls him a fool for taking on the Boar. Hercules cuffs the mocker and then heads higher still to seek the Boar, which he is told will be easy since the monster will be hunting him. He finds the tracks but after following them for a while he gets concerned when it appears the beast is circling around behind. Almost immediately the giant Boar attacks and Hercules wrestles it, finally getting atop its back. Sliding up and down the mountainside Hercules rides the Boar bareback for a week until he at last tames the monster. This newly trained creature he rides back to Eurytheus in triumph.

This lead story is shorter than usual coming in at twelve pages.

Next is the letters page "Letters to the Editor -- Hercules". It features two letters, one asking for original artwork. The response indicates either it's policy not to release the originals or there's a legal liability for doing it, the editors seem confused on that point. One letter writer makes note that Dick Giordano is gone on the DC.

"The Legend of Hercules" is a one-shot feature this issue. It's presumably written by Joe Gill and is certainly illustrated by Sam Glanzman. It relates the classic origin of Herucles, telling the story of how he killed serpents in his crib and how he was trained by the centaurs in warcraft. There's a spectacular full-page shot of Herucles in battle alongside Zeus and Hera against the Titans. Also it says that Hercules was on the voyage with Jason and his Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. It is after this that Hercules seeks atonement, but it's unclear why, save that he seems ashamed he's human at all and not a full god. He goes to the Oracle of Delphi who sends him to Eurytheus. The six-page feature concludes with a summary of the previous seven tasks Hercules had performed (Lion of Nemea, Gerion the Giant, Cerebus the Hound of Hades, Apples of Hesperides alongside Atlas, Amazons, Stymphalian Birds, and the Bull of Minos).

Thane of Bagarth is written by Steve Skeates and illustrated by Jim Aparo. This installment is titled "Chapter Eight: Escape". It begins with the alchemist Mordwain administering a drug to Hrothelac to give him strength, which promptly knocks him out. The scene cuts to Beowulf's man Eadstan who leads the Geats agains the Swedes in battle. The battle is brutal and at last Eadstan is struck down, but is found by a Swedish servant girl. Back in England in the dungeon Hrothelac is awake and full of furious energy as he attacks the door to his jail. The guards enter and Hrothelac attacks them escaping. Mordwain escapes too. Hrothelac heads to the shore where another Viking ship approaches. But he collapses and is found by a band of Celtic villagers.

The lead story was reprinted in Charlton Classics #8.

Now Hercules #8 is unique. In addition to the four-color version I've detailed above, there was issued presumably at the same time a magazine-size black and white version of the comic. It's similar but not identical to the color version. It's also dated December 1968. The cover is developed from a panel by Sam Glanzman inside the story, and added is a figure of Hrothelac Thane of Bagarth by Jim Aparo. (This is the only cover appearance by Thane of Bagarth in its orignal run.) The lead story is titled "The Fantastic Giant Boar" and is largely the same story written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Sam Glanzman from the color comic. The story though is reformatted and the twelve page story is expanded to twenty. This is done by blowing up certain panels and suchlike.

The rest of the contents is comprised of reprinted material from early issues of Hercules. Next is the first Thane of Bagarth chapter followed by the first Hercules story from Hercules #1. Then two additional chapters of Thane of Bagarth (Chapters Two and Three) close out the magazine.

I don't really know what Charlton was trying to do here. I presume they were exploring to see if Hercules would sell in other venues using the material they'd developed. 1968 saw Marvel experiment with magazines, specifically the Spectacular Spider-Man books. And of course there was the relatively ongoing success of Warren's line of books. There is not editorial in the magazine to explain it. One small note though is that Sal Gentile is listed as the editor, despite the fact that most of the material in the magazine was produced when Dick Giordano was editor of the line.

I didn't get a copy of this magazine until many years after the fact, though I have a vague recollection of seeing it on stands at the time. It's a curiosity for sure, a real oddball relic from Charlton's oddball history.

More to come.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Hercules Reports #7

Hercules #7 is dated November 1968. The cover is by Sam Glanzman. The comic was edited by Sal Gentile. The lead story is titled "The Bull of Minos" and was written by Joe Gill and illustrated by Sam Glanzman.

The first story begins with King Eurystheus being confronted by Hera who demands he find a task that will frustrate Hercules in his attempt to ascend to Olympus as a full-fledged god. She suggest he be sent to get the Bull of Minos. Eurystheus commands it so and Hercules heads off, but not before Hera afflicts him with a magic spell that robs him of his strength. Hercules is smacked to the ground by a girl and robbed as he was helpless on the ground. Hercules at last through sheer will overcomes the spell and gets aboard a ship and heads to Minos with the blessing of Poseidon. Before they get to Minos the ship has to make land for repairs and Hercules goes for a stroll. He meets up with Anteus, a giant warrior who challenges the Man-God. Hercules battles the giant only to discover that Anteus only grows stronger and larger when he makes contact with the ground. Finally Hercules knocks him out with a giant column to the noggin and then throws him into the sea. He joins up again with his mates and heads to Minos. King Minos hears of Hercules and sends the Minotaur to intercept him. After making landfall Hercules encounters the Minotaur but defeats him and makes the monster take him to the Bull of Minos. The Minotaur complies and Hercules then confronts the giant bull. He finds he cannot defeat the beast by hand but digs a pit, fills it with water and then gets the Bull into it where he at last can bind it and drag it back to the ship. He takes the Bull to Eurytheus and unleashes the brute to rampage through his court. The story ends with Hercules and Zeus exchanging warm thoughts.

There are three letters in "Letters to the Editor -- Hercules", and ironcially one of them comments on the text stories that have been running in the series. The editors say they are necessary to meet postal regulations, but ironically there is no such story in this issue. One strange comment though is elicited from the editors in response to a criticism that Charlton had cancelled many of their hero books. The comment suggests that matters other than sales had to do with the cancellations. I can only assume the departure of Dick Giordano is the reason, but that's speculation. Another letter objects to the design of Herc's eyes by Glanzman, and after a very politically correct response about Asians, they editors seem to agree that Hercules should not have "slanted" eyes, though based on the comic Glanzman does what he wants in that regard.

Thane of Bagarth is titled "Chapter Seven: The Captive" and it is written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo. The story begins with Freahulf being captured by raiding Swedes as they kill the royal envoy from Beowulf sent to fetch her. We then cut to Hrothelac in a dungeon in England for a moment before cutting back to the Swedes who ride past Garmscio, Thane of Rothfor who hides from the raiders. The scene changes to the castle of King Beowulf who orders an attack on the Swedes to revenge their raids, but before he can make the order specific he collapses in agony. He's not dead, but sorely ill. Meanwhile the scholar Daeghred, father of Freahulf, finds the dead envoy and discovers his daughter is missing. He goes to the Thane of Bagarth, Eowanda but is summarily rebuffed. Eowanda then gets news of Beowulf's illness and begins to plot. The scent shifts again to Beowulf's castle where the sickened King has recovered but cannot lead his soldiers and so orders his First Councilman Eadstan to do so and to also be wary of Eowanda. We are reminded of Beowulf's vision that Eowanda would lead his troops in battle. Eadstan heads off with warriors to complete his mission.

This is a solid issue. The Hercules story has plenty of action in it and some neat humor involving the gods as they look down on Hercules.
The stories do have a certain predictability to them at this point, though the addition of the battle with Anteus was unexpected. Hera's spell was a neat touch and offered up some surprises. The Thane of Bagarth story is rich with plot, but Hrothelac is barely seen. The complexity of the story only grows.

The lead story was reprinted in Charlton Classics #7.

More to come.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Hercules Reports #6

Hercules #6 is dated September 1968, and is something of a turning point for the series. In the previous issue Sal Gentile had taken over as editor and in this issue Sergius O'Shaugnessy (Denny O'Neil) gives way as writer to Charlton stalwart Joe Gill. Sam Glanzman remains on the the art chores.

The title of the lead story is "Hercules' Choice" and it begins quite literally with Hercules having to choose a path, one leading to pleasure and joy and the other to hardship and duty. These paths are marked on a sign and each has a lovely woman marking its beginning. Zeus and Hera look on while Hercules ponders his choice. But Hera is interrupted by Mars, the God of War who is mad at Hercules because he stopped a war that Mars was sure would last a good long time. Mars hurls a spear at Hercules which brings down a hillside on him. Thinking this the work of Zeus, Hercules chooses the path of duty and hardship. That road takes him to King Eurystheus, who was mentioned in the first adventure but is seen now for the first time. He gives Hercules the task of slaying the Birds of Stymphalus, birds which are the pets of Mars no less. Hercules takes on the task and Mars is most upset looking down from Olympus. Going to Stymphalus, Hercules finds it deserted save for a woman who seeks to warn Hercules of the danger of the Birds. It seems they are giants, and very dangerous. Hercules escapes the talons and falls into a cellar where he finds the villagers cowering from the monsters. Taking his weapons he goes up to fight the Birds but finds them proof agains his spear and his sword. He does manage to break the neck of one of them swinging a giant timber. Then the Birds show another power and fire some of their nigh-metallic feathers like arrows at Hercules who protects himself with a giant rock slab. He then strings his bow, a gift from Vulcan, but the Birds fly out of range. Hercules is at a loss. But in Olympus Aphrodite goes to Minerva who sens a magic rattle to Hercules, which draws in the Birds which he then uses his bow and arrows to dispatch. Triumphant he travels on the road of hardship looking for his next task. Meanwhile in Olympus Zeus invites Hera and Mars to dine with him on a scrumptious meal of Bird gotten he says from the Stymphalus region. They are both nauseated by the invitation.

The text story this issue is titled "Mountain Man Morgan in Sandstorm". It is a tall tale of a railroad crew besieged by Indians who seek help. The get that help from a giant named Mountain Man Morgan who is empowered by Indian magic. He is reluctant to kill the Indians despite the evil nature of their leader, and uses his massive lungs to blow up a sandstorm which drives the Indians away far into Mexico making it possible for the railroad to finish.

There are two letters in "Letters to the Editor -- Hercules". Both are by writers who would make impact in the field. The first from David Singer praises the comic and the second from Duffy Vohland is a broad letter commenting not only on Hercules but three other Charlton books as well.

Thane of Bagarth this time is presumably written by Steve Skeates though for the first time there are no credits. The artwork is by the all-purpose Charlton team of Nicholas and Alascia. The story is titled "Chapter Six: The Queen" and finds Hrothelac captured after escaping his Viking captors in England. He is taken to the dungeon and there is tended by another prisoner named Mordwain who is in jail for speaking out against his Queen. We meet the Queen and the King as they hear news of a possible pact with the Mercians which the Queen rejects. She is clearly the one in charge. Another scene change takes us back to the Land of the Geats and King Beowulf's castle as he gets word the Swedes are raiding the territory. Thane of Bagarth Eowanda, Hrothelac's disloyal brother sends an envoy to get the lovely Freahulf for him. While on their way back to Eowanda's castle, the pair meet a party of Swedes. Back in England Mordwain treats Hrothelac's wounds but the two cannot converse yet. The story closes with the threat of war in England.

This issue as I say is a transitional one. Mars is introduced in the main Hercules story and he will have an increasing role in the trials of Herucles. As drawn by Sam Glanzman, Mars is a vivid character with his exotic armor. Also in this story Hercules seems more a frail man with desires and weaknesses of spirit. It's been hinted at in other stories, but is a focus here. In the Thane of Bagarth the story is pretty static really, as Hrothelac is pretty passive in most of it. In fact that's been something of a flaw in the story all along.

The main story here was reprinted in Charlton Classics #6 and the backup story was reprinted in Thane of Bagarth #25.

More to come.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

The Hercules Reports #5

Hercules #5 is dated July 1968. The issue is edited by Sal Gentile who took over from Dick Giordano who was beginning his tenure at DC. There seems little evidence of his hand in this issue though.

The first story starring Hercules is written by Sergius O'Shaugnessy (Denny O'Neil) and drawn by Sam Glanzman whose name appears in full for the first time in the credits. The story is titled "The Land of the Amazons". Hercules is fighting two bulls in the arena for the entertainment of some locals. He then is interrupted by Zeus and Hera the latter giving him his next task, to bring to her the Golden Girdle of Hippolyta the Queen of the Amazons. Hercules takes up the task readily and heads off. He soon chances across a beautiful young blonde maiden chained to a stake being threatened by a giant lizard. He battles the lizard and saves the girl only to learn that this was seen by Queen Hippolyta who had staked the girl out to begin with for her amusement. Hippolyta is impressed by Hercules and invites him to her palace where she attempts to woo him. When he balks she shows him the young maiden trapped on a platform over a firey trap. Hercules is himself then imprisoned. He asks Zeus for aid who is ready to give it until Hera intercedes. Hercules then takes matters into his own hands and breaks out of his jail, climbs to a connecting rope and swings out to the trapped girl and rescues her from her danger. The two of them battle through Hippolyta's forces, Hercules even toppling some columns but it is to little avail when they find themselves confronted by her whole army. Hercules prepares to fight the Queen but is stopped by a command from Hera ordering him not to battle a woman. His dilemma is solved when the blonde maiden chucks a rock at Hippolyta knocking her out. Hercules takes her Golden belt and the army is freed from her influence. They thanks Hercules who takes the Girdle to Hera who doesn't seem that happy that he's succeeded. The maiden wants to thank Hercules but he says he must continue with his quest and he leaves.

The "Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" page features two letters this time out. Both praise the book for its staying to true to the mythological details of Hercules and both single out Glanzman for praise.

The text story "Mogo the Mighty" tells a tale of a village threatened by a evil warrior chief named Gogo. The villagers go to a wizened old man on the mountain who takes from each man in the village some hair, some nails, and some drops of blood to fashion a super warrior named Mogo the Mighty. Mogo defeats Gogo and vanishes telling the villagers that next time they should battle evil themselves.

Thane of Bagarth is again written by Steve Skeates and once again drawn by Jim Aparo. The title of this installment is "Chapter Five: The Battle Lost". Hrothelac the banished Thane of Bagarth finds himself a slave aboard a Viking ship. He's beginning to adapt to his role when the ship runs aground and he finds his chains freed by the melee. He tries to get clear of the ship, fights a Viking and both are thrown into the sea, the Viking sinking because of his armor. Hrothelac swims to shore only to see the ship itself finding purchase on the shore. But the land is England and Celts long under attack by Vikings immediately assault the weary Vikings and soon kill them, including the chief Figlaf. Meanwhile Hrothelac wanders this new land thinking of those he left behind when he chances upon a castle. Unknown to Hrothelac a warrior approaches him from behind.

This is really solid issue. Hippolyta is a beautiful and well-defined villain for Hercules. In fact the characterization in the series is really becoming sharp. Visually Herucles is really becoming more fully realized. Glanzman gives him a more exotic look this issue by angling his eyes not unlike those you find on Greek pottery. Some of the pages featuring the Amazons are very neatly designed and Hippolyta is actually a ravishing creature as presented in this story. The Thane of Bagarth story reverts to its Prince Valiant roots eschewing any use of word balloons in this installment. All in all a very solid and enjoyable issue.

The lead story was reprinted in Charlton Classics #5 and the Thane of Bagarth story reprinted in Thane of Bagarth #25.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Hercules Reports #4

The fourth issue of Hercules from Charlton is dated June 1968, several months after the previous issue. It is the last issue edited by Dick Giordano and probably this shake-up is the reason for the delay.

The Hercules story is titled "Land of Menace" and is attributed to Serius O'Shaugnessy (Denny O'Neil) and is drawn by Sam Glanzman (who signs his work here and in previous issues as "S.J.G"). The issue begins with a splash of Hercules battling what appear to be green flying monkeys.

The story itself starts with Hercules walking through a storm and seeking shelter in a cave. In the cave in the smoke of his fire Zeus and Hera appear. Hera reviews the successes Hercules has had battling the Nemean Lion, Gerion the Three-bodied Giant, and Cerberus of the Underworld. She then offers up a fourth task, to get her something to eat. She wants Golden Apples only found in the other-dimensional world of Nul. She opens a portal for Hercules and tells him he has three days. He leaps into the portal and moves through a psychedelic zone to come out in a desert landscape. He starts to eat some of what looks like a giant cactus but the plant attacks him and he has to uproot it. Then his attention is taken by young boy crying for help, but this turns out to be a Harpy in disguise. The Harpies look like green flying monkeys with spikes for hair. Hercules battles many of these Harpies before being overcome by a magic net that puts him to sleep. He's taken before King Poov, leader of the Harpies and is told he will be a slave. Hercules takes Poov's staff and shatters the light escapting into the desert. There he meets a giant named Atlas who is chained and holding up a giant stone slab to give shade and protection to the Harpy village. Meanwhile the Harpies uncork a magic urn filled with weapons and attack Hercules again with exploding rocks. Hercules throws the chain of Atlas into one of these rocks and frees the giant. Then Atlas takes the slab and covers the mouth of the cave in which the Harpies dwell. A fire leaks out of the magic urn and destroys the Harpies. Atlas then takes Hercules to the Golden Apples and then tells him that time is different in Nul and he's almost out of time and throws him through the portal before it closes. Hercules returns with the prize much to Hera's displeasure but Zeus is very happy.

The text story this issue is titled "The Goddess of Mercy" and tells of a wicked warrior named Nicherin who steals a jewel from the Goddess of Mercy and summarily punished for his impudence transforming him into a tiny stone statue.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" features four letters, two by Canadians. There is the usual praise for the Hercules and Thane of Bagarth and recommendations. One letter writer would like to see Son of Vulcan replace Thane of Bagarth but the editors reject this idea and point out that reading nothing but superheroes would be dull. There is a great little thumbnail portrait of Hercules by Glanzman done in a more realistic style.

Thane of Bargarth is titled "Chapter Four: The Galley" and is written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo. The story starts with Hrothelac captured by Vikings and chained aboard a Viking galley as a slave. After several lashes of the whip he begins to row. The leader of the Vikings is Figlaf and he imagines where they are headed, a new world beyond the great ocean and he wishes to explore it for his king. Hrothelac dispairs. Meanwhile King Beowulf seeks out a Hag who can tell the future who reveals to him in magic mists that Eowanda the new Thane of Bagarth will lead Beowulf's forces in battle and get great fame. Beowulf is at once confused and threatened by this prediction. He rides back to his castles as Hrothelac suffers under the lash. A storm is building as the chapter closes.

There is also a house ad for Charlton's war books.

This issue is a real milestone for me personally. This is one of my very first comic books. I knew Hercules from myth and loved this grand tale blending the story of the Golden Apples. O'Neil and Glanzman do a wonderful job telling this story and giving it some new twists. Atlas is magnificent and the full page panel revealing him is very dramatic. Today these panels are commonplace but then not so much, especially in a Charlton book. The Harpies evoke the flying monkeys of the Wizard of Oz and are very creepy. The story has a wonderfully brisk pace. This is a great comic book, and arguably the best installment of the series. I didn't know when I was reading this way back when, that it was the end of a great era at Charlton with the departure of Dick Giordano, a name I would see again over at DC.

This story was reprinted in Charlton Classics #4.

More to come.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Hercules Reports #3

I continue with my review of Charlton's Hercules series from the late 60's.

Hercules #3 dated February 1968, offers up a striking change in the series after only two issues. Hercules is given a more vivid and distinctive visual appearance by the addition of the skin of the Nemean Lion and a beard. This issue's cover was drawn by Sam Glanzman as have been all of them. He also is the artist on the lead story written by Sergius O'Shaugnessy (Denny O'Neil). The editor is Dick Giordano.

The Hercules adventure this time is titled "Netherworld" and opens with a wonderful splash page of Hercules battling Cerberus. The story begins with Hercules seeking human companionship and being rebuffed first by a mother who fears for her child and later by soldiers who consider him a wandering oaf. He quickly proves his strength with the latter but his anger is quelled when his friend King Admetus shows up. The procession is a funeral but Admetus tells Hercules it is only for a favored servant girl. Later while enjoying the hospitality of Admetus Herucles finds out the funeral was for Queen Alcestis and he pledges to go to Hades and rescue her. He calls to Zeus who arranges with Hercules that if he defeats Cerberus the three-headed hound which guards Hades he will have completed the third of his twelve required tasks to become a full-fledged god. Hera still wants to defeat the Man-God so she arranges with Hefestus to make a million spear points to rain down on Hercules. But Aphrodite sees this and goes to Zeus who is polishing up his thunderbolts (which are dingy) and he arranges for Aeoulus to blow the spear points away from Hercules and they become a defacto ladder for him to use to climb up to the cave which is the door to Hades. There he encounters Pluto who sends him into Hades unarmed. Then quickly Hercules finds Death and Alcestis. He battles death and makes off with the grateful Queen, but sadly has to leave others behind in the land of the dead. Then Cerberus shows up and he and Hercules battle. Hercules defeats the beast and drags him up out of Hades as he and Alcestis escape. Pluto indicates he's impressed with Hercules. Alcesits and Admetus are reunited and Hercules goes off to face for challenges.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" returns with three letters, another one from Klaus Janson. The letters seem to recognize the similarity between Glanzman and Joe Kubert, and all are complimentary. One letter writer asks if Charlton might adapt Conan, but the answer is that it's too expensive. I'd have loved to see that adaptation personally.

The text story this time is "The Story of Momotaro" and it appears to be the retelling of a Japanese myth about Momotaro who is born out of the center of a peach and goes to battle evil spirts on Devil's Island aided by three helpers-- a monkey, a dog, and a pheasant. Momotaro also has magic dumplings.

The Thane of Bagarth story this time is titled "Chaper Three: Banishment". In this story written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo, the Thane of Bagarth Hrothelac has been betrayed by his brother Eowanda and the Thane of Rothfor who deliver forged documents to King Beowulf indicating that Hrothelac has conspired with the hated Swedes. Beowulf demands the traitor be brought before him and dispatches men to accomplish that. Meanwhile Hrothelac wakes up in the cabin of Daeghred the Scholar where he'd been brought by the Scholar's daughter Freahulf after she found Hrothelac unconscious. He finds wax on his signet ring and wrongly suspects Daeghred of having betrayed him. He leaves only to be immediately captured by Beowulf's men and brought to the King. The King banishes Hrothelac who assumes Daeghred is the culprit. He leaves but is waylaid by Vikings and taken aboard their ship as a slave. Beowulf plans to give the title of Bagarth to the Thane of Rothfor frustrating Eowanda's plans.

There's another entertaining House Ad in which they ask for money. This features the cover for Hercules #3.

And that's it. It's a really good issue, the first in which you feel the elements of the comic book have come together. Hercules looks exactly right, echoing not only the classic film versions but also the classic look of old Greece. The stories feature the Gods of Olympus who offer a range of distinctive and very human personalities. There's humor in the Hercules story, nicely meshed with the adventure. The Thane of Bagarth story is picking up steam nicely, though it looks at this point more like a standard comic than a Prince Valiant clone. All in all this is now a solid comic book package. The lead Hercules story was reprinted in Charlton Classics #3. The Thane of Bagarth story has been reprinted several times. See this link for more details.

More to come.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Hercules Reports #2

I continue today with Hercules #2 from Charlton.

This issue is dated December 1967. The lead story starring Hercules is drawn by Sam Glanzman and written by Sergius O'Shaughnessy (Denny O'Neil) or at least that's what the letters page suggests about the writer. The comic is edited by Dick Giordano. The title of the lead story is "When Man Meets Monster!" and it pits Hercules against the multiple-bodied giant Gerion.

In this issue we see Zeus for the first time and we meet several other gods especially Hera the jealous stepmother of Hercules who begins immediately in this story to make his life and quest to become fully immortal very difficult indeed. Hercules begins the tale by asking Zeus what the second of his twelve labors will be (yes it was nine in the debut issue, a mistake mentioned and corrected again in the letters page) and discovers he must sail to the giant Gerion's palace to confront him. While on the sea Hera raises a strange wave that swamps the ship but Zeus employs Aeolus the wind god to counteract this plot. Hercules ends up swimming 335 miles to his destination. There he confronts Gerion for the first time and defeats the club-wielding giant and defeats him. Then the second Gerion tells his third incarnation to hide and he tries to trick Hercules and drops him into a pit of snakes. Hercules defeats them and uses the snakes as ropes to get out of the pit. All the while Zeus and Hera watch and comment on his efforts. Hercules defeats the second Gerion when the third Gerion arrives on a winged lizard and Hercules and he fight atop the monster. Eventually Hercules defeats this third Gerion, completing his labor and he swims home. There he meets his dad Zeus and the two share a friendly moment as the story closes.

"Letters to the Editor -- Hercules" offers up three letters from fans on the debut issue. Of special note are letters from Klaus Janson and Bill Mantlo. In a response to Janson the editors reveal that Hercules is intended as a sword and sorcery book, but do indicate that Herc will get a beard and begin wearing the Nemean Lion skin as something akin to a costume beginning with the very next issue.

"The Molecules and the Cook Book" is a text story that reveals a scientist who is ingenious enough to develop a recipe that will allow him to travel through solid objects, making him ostensibly the most powerful man in the world. Others seem to take this claim to heart and he is given great authority over world affairs and as master he plans to give his power to all people in the free world.

"Thane of Bagarth" returns with a story entitled "Chapter Two: The Plot". Written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo this installment continues the saga of Hrothelac, the Thane of Bagarth who has gone to his younger brother Eowanda to find affirmative proof that he did not lie to King Beowulf about being a collaborator with the hated Swedes. Eowanda goes to a witch who concocts a potion that puts Hrothelac to sleep, giving the treacherous Eowanda a chance to use Horthelac's signet ring to forge papers. Eowando then goes to Garmscio the Thane of Rothfor who is also enemy of the current Thane of Bagarth and after a swordfight they realize they must work together to bring down Hrothelac. Garmscio agrees to take the forged documents to King Beowulf. The groggy Hrothelac is found by the beautiful Freahulf while at that moment Beowulf gets the forged evidence and calls for a scholar to read them.

The comic book ends with a great Charlton house ad with the funny blurb "Buy Charlton Comics! (We need the money!)".

This issue's Hercules story was reprinted in 1980 in Charlton Classics #2. The Thane of Bagarth story was reprinted in Thane of Bagarth #1 in 1985. More detailed reprint information can be found here.

More next time.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Hercules Reports #1

I begin today a series of reviews of Charlton's late 60's series Hercules.

Hercules #1 is dated October 1967. The title on the cover and on the splash page reads "Adventures of the Man-God Hercules" but the official title of the book is just "Hercules". There are no credits for the opening story, though the script is attributed to Joe Gill and the artwork is undoubtedly by Sam Glanzman. The whole comic was edited by Dick Giordano. The story has no title other than "Adventures of the Man-God Hercules". The splash shows an unbearded Hercules facing off against the Nemean Lion.

The story though begins in the mountains as Hercules has sought the Gods. After the death of his mother Alcmene, he calls out to his father Zeus who responds to him by unbodied voice that he must complete nine tasks or labors and submit to the judgment of Eyrystheus before he can be allowed among the immortals. Hercules agrees to this and heads off to Nemea to confront the Lion, the first of his assigned labors. But a guard takes issue with Hercules leaving as King Phillip has ordered him to stay for the games. Hercules refuses and a fight ensues. Hercules is chased by the guards at the command of Phillip but he knocks over a bridge defeating his pursuers. He then saves a beautiful redhead from three thugs, only discover she is Princess Helen betrothed of Prince Alexander. This doesn't stop them from striking up a friendly relationship though so when Alexander sees Hercules later with Helen he's jealous but has to give Hercules his appreciation when he learns Hercules saved his intended. Hercules then joins Alexander and his troops in a battle agains Phillip and Hercules is instrumental in defeating the other army. Then Hercules at last turns his attention to the Nemean lion. Helen goes with him to the challenge, but he sends her away as he battles the beast. Using his massive strength, he subdues the lion and kills it. Taking the lion's skin as his mantle, he leaves after rejecting a sword from Alexander, saying he doesn't need weapons. As Hercules leaves, they speculate that he doesn't seem completely human.

The text feature in this issue is "Meeko the Microbe". It's the story of a classroom science experiment gone wild as a microscopic microbe grows to vast proportions but becomes the pet of a fifteen year old girl. She goes on to vast fame as scientists all across the globe come to see her remarkable pet, and they agree that she and she alone can make money from the creature. As the story closes her fortune is assured as many flock to see Meeko.

The second feature in the comic is "Thane of Bagarth", a fascinating series done roughly in the style of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant. The story is set between the two halves of the epic Anglo-Saxon saga Beowulf. It's after Beowulf became killed Grendel and became King but before he confronted the Dragon and was killed. After the battle with Grendel, Beowulf gave "vast tracts of land" to his thanes. Wigmenric was made the Thane of Bagarth, and on his passing his eldest son Hrothelac became Thane. This is the story of Hrothelac. In this story titled "Chapter One: The Feud" written by Steve Skeates and drawn by Jim Aparo, we find a feud has been going on between Bagarth and Rothor. Some peasants are attacked and in retalation a Guardsman of Bagarth kills a Guardsman of Rothor. This comes to the attention of King Beowulf who demands the truth from his Thanes. Hrothelac comes and tells his side, the truth, but it differs from the story told by Garmscio Thane of Rothor. Beowulf demands evidence and the liar will be banished. Hrothelac goes to his younger brother Eowanda for help, but he doesn't suspect Eowanda wants himself to be Thane of Bagarth. On his way to see Eowanda, Hrothelac sees Freahulf the daughter of a local scholar. As the chapter closes both Garmscio and Eowanda plot to bring down the current Thane of Bagarth.

I'm fascinated by this comic. The idea to create an ongoing comic book featuring the labors of Hercules is a natural one, though I admit it doesn't seem all that marketable. Getting Sam Glanzman to do this was inspired. Backing it up with a series that echoes Prince Valiant is inspired and gives the complete package a real upscale adventure quality. Two great myths are adapted in one dazzling package by some really rock-solid professionals. Hercules #1 points to a fantastic series of stories which begin straightforwardly enough, but will becomes quite bizarre indeed. The comic was reprinted in Charlton Classics #1 in 1980, though Thane of Bagarth was not. Both got reprinted in 1968 in the one-shot B&W Hercules magazine from Charlton. Thane of Bagarth was reprinted as seperate comic in 1985. ACG (Avalon) has reprinted the stories several times.

More next time.

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