Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sutton Whodunnit?

The cover above for Charlton's Doomsday +1 debut issue is one of the all-time greats. It's a bit rough in the details, but the scope of the image is magnificent and it establishes the basics of the story we're about to experience instantly. You know exactly what this comic book is about.

This cover is by John Byrne, the young artist who cuts his teeth on this series before galloping off to Marvel to make his reputation as one of the Bronze Age's mightiest talents. But apparently there's a strain of thought out there that this cover is not by Byrne, but by another Charlton stalwart, Tom Sutton.

I don't understand why anyone would think this. Tom Sutton is called upon many years later to craft another chapter to this six-issue saga of astronauts returned to a world demolished by atomic war, but he did not have anything to do with its early genesis that I'm aware of. You can almost see Byrne's signature underneath the fallen U.S. flag in the corner, obscured by some publisher numbers.

This is Byrne through and through.

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Joe Kubert's Tex!

I know the greatness of Kubert, and it's amazing to me that this wonderful talent just seems to improve year after year after year. His Fax From Sarajevo and Yossel are properly seen as masterworks in the form by one of the great talents the field has produced. No doubt.

But as wonderful as his Tarzan and Tor and Rock are, my favorite Kubert work is Tex The Lonesome Rider. I picked this up a few years ago and I was immediately swept away by the scope and emotional power of this deceptively simple western tale. It's got the tropes you expect, a stranger of strong moral convictions finds evil in the vast landscape of the west and seeks to right wrongs or at a minimum avenge them. The narrative is driven by the images, much like Sergio Leone's movies. We know Tex by his posture and his behavior, not so much by what he says. Actions speak louder than words in the situation and they do likewise in the presentation of this story. There is mighty evil in this story and likewise mighty good. The very stuff of magnificent narratives.

If you haven't read Tex The Lonesome Rider you are in for a treat. I give it my highest recommendation. Here's a link with more information about this wonderful book.

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I See You!

You can keep your Sea Monkeys and your Charles Atlas programs, this is the coolest ad ever in comics. It promises both sex and power, and all with the anonymity of a man in black. X-Ray Specs,or "Spex" as they are called today offers up a fantastic image of a leering jackanapes getting a peek at a ladies unmentionables. We are men, watch us leer.

This product at this point blends all that other stuff with nostalgia and relative harmless fun. In a world where crass freaks video women in restrooms and where Hustler is sold over the counter, the glim you might sneak with the X-Ray Specs is downright quaint. That is if these things even work, which we all know immediately they don't. It's a funky old scam, like cotton candy, promising more than it delivers, but still fun all the same.

Don Simpson many years ago now, created X-Ray Boy, a wonderful spin on this vintage ad and all it stood for.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Phantom Eagle!

What a neat character. Phantom Eagle was one of the earliest comics I've ever chanced across when a mere tot. The story in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 by Gary Friedrich featuring the scrumptious artwork by Herb Trimpe really appealed to me. The story's absolute merits have diminished somewhat through the decades as adult critical judgment comes into play, but I still think the Trimpe art, especially those planes holds up magnificently. His attention to detail in this story is exceptionally keen. Airplane stories are hard to tell and keep the storytelling effective in a comic, but Trimpe does it very well in the Phantom Eagle's single outing.

The character popped up a few more times over the decades. Trimpe brought him back in the Hulk for a one-off adventure and later the Eagle appears in Ghost Rider. But that was about all she wrote (literally) for the hero who does get a nod in the Invaders as a member of the Freedom's Five, a WWI precursor to the Invaders themselves.

Then Phantom Eagle got dusted off a few years ago by Howie Chaykin and given a limited series. This isn't the charming Phantom Eagle I loved as a kid, this is a pretty wretched young man in a world far more brutal than the kid-friendly war pictured in the old Marvel comics. Men die horribly and for no good damn reason in this series, and Phantom Eagle is far from a hero. He's a self-centered buffoon for most of the story, but he does grow as tragedy strikes again and again. It's a decent WWI story, but it's not really a Phantom Eagle story. I'm afraid only Herb Trimpe and Gary Friedrich can tell those, and together they only told one.

I got to meet Trimpe and Friedrich a few years ago at Mid-Ohio Con, and they were both nice fellows. I went wanting specifically to thank Trimpe for decades of great work and I took my copy of Marvel Super-Heroes #16 to get it signed. Trimpe and Friedrich had adjoining booths and when he saw the comic, Trimpe shouted to Friedrich to take a gander a book I suspect they don't see a lot. I now have a precious copy with both signatures. I also took advantage to commission Trimpe to draw a portrait of Phantom Eagle for me. It's a great treasure and occupies a place of honor in the non-virtual dojo.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Shots Fired!

This is rather grisly, but I cannot help what crossed my mind when I looked at the cover of the comic book above.

It features a smiling and upbeat image of John F. Kennedy, the then new President of the United States and I'll be darned if that doesn't look like a bullet hole in the middle of the capitol building.

I was reminded of one of the more bizarre cover gimmicks of the 90's when those things were all the rage just before the utter collapse of the collector's market. It's the cover of Malibu's The Protectors #5 with a die-cut hole right through the comic positioned in such a way as to appear to be a bullet hole in the chest of the Nightmask, one of the revived (albeit briefly) Centaur heroes who populated this group comic.

It's a grim comparison and I apologize, but it's what I thought of.

If you're interested, you can read the complete JFK comic at this location:


The Protectors comic can be likely found in any discount comics bin in the local solar system. There are a lot of those buggers out there.

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The Mercury Man!

One of Charlton's forgotten heroes is Mercury Man. He made two appearances. One in Space Adventures #44 and again in issue #45. He looks pretty different in his second appearance than his first. The story below is his second, and as far as I know, his final appearance.

Sorry for their tiny natures, but alas it is the best I can offer on these. Take a gander at the JFK appearance.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Charlton Package!


I've been wanting Steve Ditko's 160-Page Package featuring some of his choice work with Joe Gill for Charlton, forever! I finally got off my behind and ordered it along with The Lonely One a collection of Konga stories by Gill and Ditko from Robin Snyder.

The package showed up yesterday, overflowing in my meager mailbox. I ripped it open and found two pristine books, both rich with Ditko B&W goodness. I'm eager to read through them.

Snyder was a real peach and sent along a couple of neat extras, specifically a vintage Hulk comic with some typically outstanding Herb Trimpe artwork and the Archie TV movie adaptation To Riverdale and Back Again with some great work by Dan DeCarlo and Gene Colan.

But it's the Ditko that gleams so very brightly, and it's the Ditko-Gill stuff I yearn to tear into. Ditko's work is so very excellent in B&W, that despite the fact I might own a few of these stories already in the original, it's a great treat to see them anew sans color. Ditko's designs really show up when the color goes away.

He had a great way of blending the Charlton Ghost Hosts into the story. There are stories here narrated by Mr.Dedd, Dr.Graves, Mr.Bones, and Winnie the Witch. All of the stories seem to have the hosts appear throughout, making for some very clever panel layouts.The packag feature some glowing tributes from Joe Gill to Steve Ditko and vice versa.

The Konga stories are older Ditko, less muscular design, but no less intriguing. There are five Konga stories from various issues along with some smaller bits of buisness from cartoonist Henry Boltinoff. Pat Boyette does a tasteful introduction to the collection praising his colleagues Ditko and Gill.

All I can say is yummy.

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Sincerely Timely!

These poster shots of the Timely Big Three from the Golden Age are ripe with charm. I love those old posters signed by the characters. It's a crazy but often witty conceit. The faux frames really give these a snap a lot of posters don't achieve.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hercules Gets Brazilian!

Found these on the Grand Comic Book Database. I adore finding foreign editions of my favorite comics. These Brazilian versions of Charlton's Hercules series by Sam Glanzman and company look exceedingly tasty. They feature Glanzman art on the last four, but the first two are from some other artist, though the debut cover does reference some Glanzman artwork within its design.

Seeing material you've looked at for decades in a new context, really makes it fresh and exciting all over again.

Great stuff.

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Prey For Predator!

Man what a robust movie this is. I have vivid memories of going to see Predator in the theater, and loving his wild romp from the get-go. I like the sequel too, but there's no overcoming the exquisite storytelling that makes this first one go.

Arnold as the leader of this ultra-macho strike force is in perfect form. Sonny Landham, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Shane Black, Richard Chaves, Carl Weathers, and the rest are vividly portrayed, distinctive and all worthy of the ends the meet at the hands of the ultimate hunter. That's the key to a movie like this, making you give a darn about the prey, and this movie does that magnificently.

These men aren't victims, drawn in and helpless. These are soliders, men trained to wage war and more than capable of defending themselves. They are worthy prey in the mind of the Predator come from the stars to fulfill his desires for sport, and they are men we can root for and have some expectation they will overcome. No mewling teenagers in this romp, just full-blooded men confronting a most dangerous game and coming to terms with it in different ways at different times. These are men who expect to die in the field and unfortunately, but not tragically, do so.

That gives Predator a snap that other such flicks lack. It's a war movie, through and through, but then with click turns into a science ficion action movie. There's just enough sci-fi to keep it spicy, but it doesn't bog down in techno-babble, and the isolation of the setting only makes this more and more dramatic until the final sequence achieves nigh mythic scale. The ultimate soldier battling the ultimate hunter for ultimate survival. It doesn't get more basic than that. This might be the only movie in which I really think Arnold's character is the underdog. But he's an underdog with a ferocious bite, and the Predator comes to understand.

Much is made of Arnold's character "Dutch" being an on-screen version of DC's Sgt.Rock. There's even a cameo of the comic book in the movie, so if you didn't find the comparison yourself, they make it for you. I like that, as it grounds the war-movie aspect of the film even tighter. Clearly this movie is a genre-blender of the first order, and like all movies that aspire to do that must fully commit to all its genres. This one does, succeeding as an all-out action war flick and later as a compelling sci-fi show.

Predator has mustered several sequels. And as I've indicated I like them, but you cannot ever unlock the door twice, and this movie was the first visit and will always be special for that.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Hellboys!

One of the few comics from the 90's that I find appealing is Mike Mignola's Hellboy. Mignola found a the perfect brew of superheroics and horror in this fun and compelling character. I got to watch both again this past weekend.

When Hellboy was made into a movie I was pretty interested to see what they did, and how the character could be realized on screen. There's pretty much nothing they can't do in movies today, but would it be interesting beyond the mere curiosity of seeing the characters walking around in an apparently real world.

The first Hellboy movie is pretty dang good, with a wonderful mash-up of the first several Mignola storylines featuring Nazis, immortal Russian sorcerers, the talking dead, and Lovecraftian threats from beyond the imagination. The movie is a wonderfully paced bit of adventure with enough humor to keep it spiced and some great action that stays just within the range of interest.

The sequel I never felt was necessary, but nonetheless I did see Hellboy and the Golden Army. This time high-fantasy of a Tolkien or Dunsany sort replaces the grittier mileau of Lovecraft and we find Hellboy fighting an Elven prince who wants to transform the modern world and bring back the good old days of magic and nature. The effects are more fantastic and sadly so much so that Hellboy himself and his colleagues lose some of their own weirdness, the oddity that makes them compelling. There's so much strange going on, that none of it seems all that special alas.

But despite its weaknesses, both Hellboy and its sequel are movies with great heart and the themes of being and becoming faithful parents and children is a nice way to bind the thread of the narrative. But it's much more successful and poignant in the original than the sequel.

Hellboy is highly recommended and the sequel less so.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Charlton Action-Hero Poll!

The Pick your Favorite Charlton Action-Hero Poll running here for the past week is now closed. Here are the results.

Blue Beetle = 57%

Judomaster = 28%

Captain Atom = 14%

Thunderbolt = 0%

Peacemaker = 0%

Blue Beetle is the clear winner. There's no doubt that Steve Ditko's revision of that character really turned the corner for him. He's a sleek and modern hero, even today. I was happy that my own choice Judomaster eeked out a second place finish against these other worthies. I feel a bit badly for Captain Atom with his meager showing, though not as badly as I feel for T-Bolt and Peacemaker who got no votes at all.

I won't pretend this poll was anything other than a conversation starter, with its tiny sampling. But I really do think in a larger canvas that BB would likely win again, though I suspect Atom might well come in second. Otherwise, I think the poll would be pretty much as it is.

The Charlton Action-Heroes are no doubt best known these days as the templates for Alan Mooore's Watchmen. That's Captain Atom as Doc Manhattan, Blue Beetle as Nite Owl, Comedian as Peacemaker, Thunderbolt as Ozymandias, and poor Judomaster left out entirely. The success of the Watchmen shows what tough materials the Action-Heroes are made of, if properly handled. It's a pity it has so rarely been done since their migration to DC.

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