Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Coming Of the Man-God!

This is one of my comic book dreams come true. One of the earliest comics I ever stumbled across in my youth was the singular Hercules from Charlton Comics by Sam Glanzman, Joe Gill, and Denny O'Neil. I fell in love with the book immediately and despite having the issues in the original and some in proper reprints, I have yearned for a proper collection to make the reading of this true saga a real event. And now it's arrived at last, dropping on my porch  a few days ago. It's handsome and light, ready to read. I know I'm being greedy, but I want Thane of Bagarth now -- it never ends.

Rip Off

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Fall Of Asgard!

And then the King left the building. To this day I don't think any one artist has so impacted the industry as did Jack "King" Kirby when he took his talents to DC, abruptly and with the promise of great things to come. His days at Marvel had been filled with creation and  he was adored by fans who perhaps didn't realize how much he contributed to the comics they bought and loved. So he left the Marvel Universe he helped build and entered a "Fourth World" at the "Distinguished Competition". Marvel though had a plan to fill the void left by Kirby's departure, the plan was to utilize Neal Adams, a new talent who had made an enormous splash at DC, and let Adams get to work on some high-profile opportunities. One such opportunity was Thor and truth told it is one of the rare failures by Adams. Admittedly he was encumbered by the sleek inking of Joe Sinnott, a master but one ill-suited to the stylings of Adams which to my eye demands a crunchier line. So Adams left after a few issues and John Buscema stepped in as he had done on the Fantastic Four after John Romita's brief tenure there following Kirby. Buscema became the new main man of Marvel and continued in that role for many years to come.

(Rejected Jack Kirby cover for Thor)

All that and some more is in this fourth epic tome from Marvel. The last days of Kirby, the brief interlude of Adams, and the ascension of Buscema. Truly a book worth having. And all under an engaging Marie Severin cover replacing a somewhat more sedate one by Kirby himself.

Here are the covers of the issues in this mighty volume.

Rip Off

Friday, September 28, 2018

In One Pulse-Pounding Mag!!

If I were forced to pick just one Marvel comic book as my all-time favorite, this might the one. Fantasy Masterpieces began as a sumptuous reprint book filled with monster and mystery tales from Marvel's Atlas days. It eventually became Marvel Super-Heroes and functioned as a defacto showcase for Marvel with characters like Captain Marvel, Medusa, Ka-Zar, and even Doctor Doom getting try outs. But then that changed and Marvel kicked off a program of reprints which allowed this budding fan to enjoy the earliest days of Marvel, to read the stories which were the foundation of the universe I adored at the time.

The debut issues of both The Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men were reprinted in the vaunted Marvel Tales Annual #2 several years before, so fans who had found that delightful issue had waited a while for the follow ups.

The Avengers #2 had come the next year in the debut issue of a book called Marvel Super-Heroes, also an annual.

The second issue of The X-Men features one of their weirdest villains, The Vanisher who has a snake-like motif to his costume but none in his name or any other aspect of his powers or demeanor. He is a baddie, confronted by the stalwart mutant teens and their wheel-chair bound mentor on the very lawn of the White House itself.

The third issue of The Avengers is in my opinion the single greatest comic book Marvel has ever published. The characters are utterly compelling, the plot moves at mach speed, and the battle between the Sub-Mariner, the former Avenger the Hulk and the Assemblers on a deserted island fortress is epic. Lee and Kirby were at their best with action popping faster than the  eye (or Jack's nimble hands) could capture.

Take all this this and put it under a striking Marie Severin and John Romita cover and you have a package which at the time was rare and downright exciting. In these days of massive reprints readily available, it's perhaps hard to remember how thrilling getting hold of these old tales could be, but for a Marvel fan wanting to see it all (when it was actually quite possible) this one is a milestone. Truly for once the hype was right -- "one pulse-pounding mag" indeed!

Rip Off

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Valiant Transitions!

For many years now I have been dutifully collecting up the visually impressive reprints of the great Hal Foster's Prince Valiant from Fantagraphics. The tomes are handsome, filled with the Foster's brilliant images. As the books have continued to come out, we have come through the years to the point when I as a young reader was first taking note of series in my local Sunday color section (one of the best and last ones in the country for years and years). What I couldn't realize in the years of 1969 and 1970 was that Hal Foster was looking to retire, to ease his way out of the artistic chair and in the grand tradition of vintage comic strips, turn over the reins to a successor.

In the pages of this seventeenth volume we get those try-out pages from artists Wally Wood, Gray Morrow, and the man who ultimately took over the strip John  Cullen Murphy. Above you can see one of Wood's contributions to the run. It's an amazing little trip back into time to when I was a boy to see these yarns and this art by talents I know and respect from the pages of the comic books. Now as a man on the edge of retirement myself, I guess I feel some measure of the blend of anticipation and regret which goes with anyone leaving what they've done for many many years, what has become their life. I see these pages from another perspective.

Rip Off

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Huckleberry Hound Show!

I've owned this Huckleberry Hound Show  collection for many years, buying and setting it aside to enjoy at some undetermined later date. That date has come and at long last I was able to once again enjoy the simple pleasures of some of the earliest and most effective Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Since I am a product of the TV generation, Hanna-Barbera cartoons are more important to me than Disney by a large margin. Disney cartoons you heard about and sometimes saw at appointed hours on a Sunday evening. Hanna-Barbera cartoons were ubiquitous, dominating the afternoons on the weekdays and the golden hours of Saturday mornings. One of my favorites was the original blue dog from the South, Huckleberry Hound. But he was not alone.

Yogi Bear, who became even more famous than Huckleberry began on the Huckleberry show and his earliest antics are incredibly entertaining -- combining the allure of well-designed UPA cartoons with the light witty touch of classic H-B. Yogi is each one of us seeking to go beyond the confines of the world we find ourselves born into, he's a generous spirit who helps as often as he sneaks and is the absolute essence of affable.

Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks takes the tried and true formula of a cat chasing mice and gives it a tumble. The game is just that, a game between the "meese" duo and the hapless cat. They seek to outwit one another but never is it suggested that real danger is afoot and sometimes they become allies when others threaten the peculiar world in which they live. There are no humans in this universe, but all the trappings of humans are present for the characters to make fun with.

And ultimately there is the coolest character ever, the absolutely resolute Huckleberry Hound. Whatever the circumstances, which can change wildly from cartoon to cartoon, the rock steady personality of Huckleberry is there to firmly root the viewer into a world in which only fun can happen and not any real violence. There's plenty of damage, but none of it is lasting in classic cartoon fashion. Whether he's a cowboy, a farmer, or a mailman, Huckleberry is steadfast and loyal and dare I say...true blue. There's a lesson there somewhere.

I was struck just how pretty these earliest Hanna-Barbera cartoons were. They had the feel of the lovely UPA theater cartoons, with strong designs and potent backgrounds. The animation itself was limited, but the strength of the voice work and the power of the designs overcame these weaknesses, and even took advantage of them. Give these lovely cartoons another look, they live up to expectations.

Rip Off