Friday, December 15, 2017

Make the World Better

Detective Comics #968 (DC, January 2018, $2.99)
While I've been enjoying reading Batman (see "The Bat's New Paramour"), I've also been enjoying Detective Comics as it builds toward #1000. This issue opens with a brief vignette featuring Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong registering a formal complaint until Brother Eye comes online and he decides to "finally see what all my toys can do."

Then we return to the Batcave, where a Tim from the future (who we'll call Batman Tim) is fighting Batman, Jason, the current Tim (Red Robin), Dick, and Damian. Batman Tim makes the case that Batwoman will betray everyone and that Batman's mission—their mission—is a curse that "systematically destroys each of our lives."

The battle shifts to the Belfry, where Batwoman, Clayface, and others await Batman Tim's arrival—and as Batman Tim fights against the time stream, which "doesn't want to be changed." Red Robin suggests that "you can stand up and make the world better. ... You can bring the people in who lift you up and make you stronger. You can be a full person."

As the conclusion to the "A Lonely Place of Living" storyline, the writing by James Tynion IV was very well done, and Alvaro Martinez's artwork ably balanced the fight scene and action sequences, as well as the more dialogue-oriented progress. The issue offers a solid commentary on the cost of heroism—and the call to do the good one can rather than take an easier, less involved but more "normal" life path.

Availability: This issue will be collected in the forthcoming Detective Comics Vol. 5: A Lonely Place of Living, expected in April 2018. The most recent available collection is Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 4: Deus Ex Machina.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Bat's New Paramour

Batman #33-35 (DC, December 2017 to January 2018, $2.99)
I've been enjoying Tom King's writing in Batman, and these issues start the storyline "The Rules of Engagement," which opens up a new direction for Batman and Catwoman.

Drawn by Joelle Jones, #33 opens with the two traveling across a desert on horseback. The first five pages are very slowly paced and quietly presented, giving the new couple a brief moment of comfortable togetherness. The counterpoint scene in Wayne Manor is also quiet and homey—affectionate and joking before Alfred informs Damian, Jay, Thomas, and the others ("The mansion, like this family... is as large as it needs to be.") about Bruce Wayne's illegal mission to Khadym.

With the help of the tiger king of Kandahar and "a little girl," Batman gets past the guard in the desert appointed by the Justice League of America. Soon, he'll meet again the "daughter of the demon."

Following #33's slow pace and gentle unfolding, #34 offers an alternative approach. Batman and Catwoman face "a lot" of enemies, the silent soldiers of the pit, as well as a very angry ex-girlfriend. The three-page fight scene is clever and brisk. "The bounce of their jaws on my knuckles. It's off. They don't have tongues." After telling Talia al Ghul why they're there, Batman falls to her sword. She then faces the Bat's new paramour, the Cat.

While Damian waits outside for his parents with Richard, Talia meets Selina. Their conversation is more important than their combat, although that's cleverly presented, too. "As much as I want him to love me, I'll always be second to a child's idiotic fantasy." All in all, their journey to Khadym ends well.

I'm quite impressed by how lovingly and tenderly these three issues unfolded. King has a real affection for the characters, and they have a real affection for each other, as complicated as the world of Supermen and Misters Terrific might be.

Availability: These issues of Batman have yet to be collected. The most recent Tom King collection is Batman Vol. 4: The War of Jokes and Riddles. And Catwoman: A Celebration of 75 Years collects some of the better Catwoman stories over the years.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Modern History of the Fist

The Spirit #10 (Quality, Fall 1947, 10 cents)
My coverless copy is missing a wrap, as well, so I'm missing the first couple of pages of the first story, as well as the last two pages of the last.

"Diamonds and Rats" Script: Manly Wade Wellman, Pencils and inks: Lou Fine, Letters: Martin DeMuth (Originally published April 22, 1945)
The Spirit and Ebony are tracking smugglers to the old Grimm house, a country inn. While giving "a lesson in the modern history of the fist," the Spirit is conked on the noggin by one Juanito, but our heroes escape from the basement and turn the smugglers in to Commissioner Dolan.

"Jonesy" Script and art: Bernard Dibble.
In this one-page gag, Jonesy attempts to be made of sterner stuff when he spies "another nut-sundae siren" but proves quite adept at picking up dropped handkerchiefs.

"Mr. Sorrel" Script and art: Jack Cole, Letters: Martin DeMuth. (Originally published Jan. 9, 1944)
Ebony challenges Commissioner Dolan to catch the killer of Mr. Dolan. Ebony and the Spirit go to interview Mrs. Sorrel. After thoroughly searching the dead man's papers, they learn the identity of the killer.

"Hungry for Romance" Script: Manly Wade Wellman, Art: Robin King, Letters: Martin DeMuth. (Originally published Sept. 2, 1945)
Ellen's cousin Cookie is visiting, and Ellen is worried about an admirer named Sparling. He proves to be no good, romancing Cookie to "learn a lot about the police department's activities." Planning to dissolve the Spirit's body in acid (!!!), he is thwarted by Ellen and a seltzer bottle.

"Commissioner Dolan Under Arrest" Script and art: Jack Cole, Letters: Martin DeMuth. (Originally published March 19, 1944)
Dolan is invited to the offices of Skelter and Crabb, private detectives, who plan to demonstrate their expertise. The lights go out, and Skelter is dead, Dolan's fingerprints on the knife. The Spirit and Ebony investigate Crabb's past with Ellen's help. He turns out to have been a knife thrower of some skill.

"Jonesy" Script and art: Bernard Dibble. (Originally published Jan. 14, 1945)
A one-page gag featured Jonesy practicing the trombone, causing his father to ruin a cathedral of collar buttons.

"From the Army Air Forces Experimental Department" Script and art: Al Stahl. (Originally published Oct. 21, 1945)
Flatfoot Burns, star detective, strives to be the speediest crime-solving detective in the world. His new jet bike allows him to travel faster than sound and light. He introduces the chief of police to the mayor of Iglooville.

"Jonesy" Script and art: Bernard Dibble.
After reading a self-help book, Jonesy works up the nerve to "ask that new super-snooty witch" to go to a dance. Instead, he asks her a more interesting question, which goes unanswered.

In this two-page text story, Nock Strube plans to move in on Central City big. After recruiting for the Protective Association, three fires break out in three stores on the main streets of the city. The Spirit solves the mystery before going to a clambake with Ellen.

"Killer Ketch" Script: Bill Woolfolk, Art: Robin King. (Originally published Jan. 2, 1944)
Safe cracker Ketch gets out of jail after 10 years and hunts down Lulu Mae Cronin. Ketch is being hidden by private detective Jennifer Jordan, but the Spirit finds him with Ebony and Ellen's help.

These quarterly comics were reprints of material that originally appeared in the seven-page Spirit newspaper sections. Will Eisner was serving in the military between 1942-1945, so the work in that time period was largely uncredited. The Jack Cole material is particularly excellent, and Dibble's "Jonesy" gag pages are notable, even if Jonesy doesn't seem to actually like women very much.

Availability: The above Spirit pieces have been collected in The Spirit Archives, Vol. 8: January 2 to June 25, 1944The Spirit Archives, Vol. 10: January 7 to June 24, 1945, and The Spirit Archives, Vol. 11: July 1 to December 30, 1945.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

That Coyote's Mean

Beep Beep the Road Runner #20 (Gold Key, October 1970, 15 cents)
"Knights and Daze" This uncredited eight-page story drawn by Phil de Lara and lettered by Bill Spicer entails a time machine used by Wile E. Coyote. Accidentally sending the road runners—the Road Runner we know and love, and his three sons—800 years in the past, the coyote follows them, unintentionally insulting Sir Loin (ha!), who demands "revenge to save my honor as a knight!" Before the queen, the Road Runner jousts Sir Loin (hee!) while wearing a lantern case as a helmet. They leave with Wile E. hanging onto the doorknob.

Rather than try to adapt the cartoon as a wordless comic—or with only the coyote and other characters speaking—Gold Key gave the Road Runner three sons and decided that they should all speak in rhyme. "Please, ma'am... no! That coyote's mean... but we can't drive his time machine!" The overall effect is quite irritating.

"Feather or Not!" In this six-page story written by Don R. Christensen and drawn by Phil de Lara, the Native American Sleepy Wolf is sent to get some nice, new feathers for his tribe. He encounters the road runners, who are beeping as they walk rather than speaking—but Wile E. trips him before he can catch them.

The whole group happens upon the "injun village," where the Native Americans try to catch the birds as well as the coyote, leading them to hide in an eagle's nest. The road runners distract Sleepy Wolf by dowsing Wile E. with "some cactus goo... to stick like glue" before showering him with loose feathers.

Even though AIM didn't occupy Wounded Knee until 1973, 1970 is awfully late for such a dim-witted and insensitive portrayal of Native Americans. The rhyming dialogue continues to irritate and distract from what could be a promising comic.

"Leave It to Beavers" Featuring more uncredited work by Christensen, de Lara, and Spicer, this six-page piece opens with the coyote "too tired to chase those road runners anymore" and planning to rest in the "quiet river country." There, he nevertheless captures two of the road runner youth. Enlisting the aid of the industrious beavers, their father lures the coyote to an obstacle course of sorts.

"The Big Bus Fuss" Drawn by Pete Alvarado and lettered by Spicer, this four-page story stars Cool Cat. The hunter tries to shoot Cool Cat, "that fugitive from my trophy room." Interrupted by a monkey and a hippopotamus, the hunter decides to trick Cool Cat by picking him up in a bus. Unfortunately, other animals want to ride the bus, too.

The issue also included Gold Key Comics Club News, the Stamp and Coin Collector's Corner by George Allard, a Reader's Page featuring Doodles, a one-page Bugs Bunny text piece ("The Carrot Crisis," a 1956 story reprinted from the Dell Looney Tunes #173), and a one-page Road Runner gag, "Slicker Tricker Trap," in which the coyote fails again.

Availability: The Gold Key Road Runner material has not been collected, but the more recent DC Looney Tunes series has. There are three volumes: Looney Tunes: Greatest Hits Vol. 1: What's up Doc?Looney Tunes: Greatest Hits Vol. 2: You're Despicable!, and Looney Tunes: Greatest Hits Vol. 3: Beep Beep.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Seeking Help from Dr. Faustus

Marvel Super Action #9 (Marvel, August 1978, 35 cents)
"If the Past Be Not Dead" Script: Stan Lee, Pencils: Jack Kirby, Inks: Syd Shores, Letters: Artie Simek.

My coverless copy of this reprint book offering again the November 1968 Captain America #107 is also missing several pages. This review is based on only 13 of the 18-page story, already two pages shorter than the original publication.

Without Captain America's awareness, Dr. Faustus has prescribed him a nightmare tablet every evening in order to drive him mad. Already coping with the many changes that occurred while he "was in suspended animation for two decades," Steve Rogers is seeing people he knows on the street: a Sharon Carter lookalike and a police officer who looks like the Red Skull.

Seeking help from Dr. Faustus, Rogers is taken prisoner by Nazis—only to be revived by Faustus. "Snap out of it!" Prescribing more pills, Faustus plans to end his "little game" that night. Rogers wakes to find himself aged, now elderly. "I've grown old—overnight!" Bucky arrives to enlist the elderly Cap to stop enemy agents "try to steal our new missile plane!" To Faustus and his lackeys' surprise, Rogers mind is not yet broken and shattered.

What an awesome story. This is why you should read coverless comics when you come across them. Who knows what you'll find. Kirby's artwork is wonderful: four-panel pages (p. 7 and p. 14), p. 11's Red Skull, the Nazis on p. 13, the elderly Rogers on pp. 21-23 (astounding with a page turn!), and pp. 27-28—and that's not even the complete comic! This is a great issue.

Marvel Super Action was an odd little reprint book that lasted 38 issues. After a 1976 non-reprint black-and-white one-shot magazine, the 1977 series reprinted Captain America starting with #100 before changing to Avengers reprints to pick up where Marvel Triple Action left off. Unfortunately, the reprints often shortened the original stories—so even if reprint book back issues are less expensive, you sometimes won't get the full experience, coverless or otherwise.

Availability: Captain America #107 has also been reprinted in Essential Captain America, Vol. 2Marvel Masterworks: Captain America - Volume 3, and Captain America Omnibus, Vol. 1.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Scale Not Always Seen

Thor #343 (Marvel, May 1984, 60 cents)
"If I Should Die Before I Wake..." Art and story: Walter Simonson, Lettering: John Workman, Jr., Colors: Christie Scheele, Editing: Mark Gruenwald, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

The dragon Fafnir rampages in the South Bronx calling for Thor while the sorceress Lorelei watches on TV, but Thor is far away, in Antarctica with Eilif the Lost, "last survivor of a Viking community that has been hidden here for centuries." Thor calls on Cloudrider, Valkyrie's proud steed, and his own chariot, drawn by Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, so they can ride into battle. Eilif, questioning his age and strength, wounds the dragon.

Simonson's artwork is grand, representative of his run on the title. There are several highlights: The slightly Kirby-esque splash of Fafnir on page 1, page 5's summoning of the steeds, the dragon's stance on p. 11, the sequence of panels showing Eilif's rising on p. 18, and the ascent to Valhalla on p. 23. There are a couple of narrative touches that will come into play in future issues: Lorelei's interest in Thor, Karnilla's tending to the Loki-ruined Balder, and the forging of the sword called Twilight.

Read Also: Thor #342.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Tour of the Supernatural

The Tomb of Dracula #1 (Marvel, October 1979, $1.25)
This 68-page black-and-white newsstand magazine was published after the 70-issue full-color comic book run and freed the creators and publisher from the constraints of the Comics Code Authority. The first issue featured four pieces: a 43-page uninterrupted comics story and three journalistic articles about various aspects of Dracula film fandom.

The comics piece is the highlight, written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by Gene Colan, and inked by Bob McLeod. "Black Genesis" is a story about Sandy Sommers's self-esteem and relationships with men, the wife of a wizard and her mysterious ring, and a "tour of the supernatural" that takes a group of Americans to Dracula's castle in Transylvania.

The group of tourists goes to the site of his castle, recently destroyed, and the woman with the mysterious ring finds "the final remains of—Dracula!" Somehow, Dracula soon lives again. That is bad news for Betty, for the reporter with the crucifix, for most everyone. But it's good news for the reader because the story is adequately dark and looming—black and white is particularly well suited to this book. There are some appropriately horrific moments—the rats and David Lorning in the old London hotel—and being non-Code even allows some showing of breasts, tastefully done and suitable for the erotic nature of the vampire myth.

The story behind Florence Ebers's ring is promising. While the effect on the bearer is unclear—panel six on p. 32 suggests that touching the original meteorite killed Gholen Yazdi, its finder, but he didn't actually die—its powers to "make reality out of thought" are ample. Ebers and Dracula team up to find the rest of the jewel—so she can revive her husband Augustus. But he has other plans. A good read.

Jason Thomas contributes "The Newest Dracula," a five-page article about the 1979 Dracula starring Frank Langella. (Laurence Olivier as Van Helsing!) It is mostly a walk through earlier film versions of Dracula from Nosferatu to Love at First Bite. The 1979 film followed a Broadway play that also starred Langella—and featured Edward Gorey set designs! The rest of the piece describes the plot of the then-new movie.

Tom Rogers's three-page "Love at First Bite" recounts the American International spoof starring George Hamilton. It mostly retells the plot with some light review elements. Finally, Rogers's six-page "Legend: According to the Movies" draws on the rich history of vampire cinema to address how to find and destroy a vampire. You know, just in case.

That article includes a surprisingly wide range of movies, including Scream, Blacula, Scream; Does Dracula Really Suck?; The Vampire's Coffin; Curse of the Blood-Ghouls; and Dracula in Istanbul. Rogers really did his research, and the piece provides an awesome list of vampire movies. Comic aside, that last article is enough reason to track down this magazine, which sits squarely between horror comics and monster movie fanzines. More of these, please!

Availability: The Tomb of Dracula #1 was reprinted in Tomb of Dracula - Volume 3 (Tomb of Dracula Omnibus).

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Wonderful Return

Love and Rockets Vol. 4 #1-3 (Fantagraphics, October 2016-July 2017, $4.99)
There have been three previous volumes of Love and Rockets. The original series began in 1982 and ran for 50 issues. The second volume included 20 issues over six years, and for the last eight years, there's been an annual graphic novel. This new series returns to the original magazine format and feels like reading a long-lost friend.

Jaime Hernandez's "I Come from Above to Avoid a Double Chin" (six pages) jumps right back in with Maggie and Hopey at a 40 Thieves/Ape Sex show. His two-page "Zine Fest" is a wonderful, brief look at tabling at a small zine show.

Gilbert contributes a 16-page Fritz story focusing on Rosalba "Fritz" Martinez, an actress who's inspired no fewer than five lookalikes who work in pornography. The story shimmies between the past and the present, which gets a little confusing. ("What does it mean when we're surrounded by thicker lines?" "Indicates flashback.")

Jaime also offers an eight-page science-fiction superhero story in which Anima and Lumina meet Katak. The issue ends with a letter column. What a wonderful return for the comic. It's nice to see some old friends again, and there's enough new—and new potential—here that Love and Rockets is sure to be a welcome ongoing read.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Simple Stories About Bee Stings

King-Cat Comix and Stories #76 (Spit and a Half, June 2016, $5)
This minicomic by John Porcellino is one of my favorite self-published comics of all time. His work is simple, earthy, loving, and gently important. He reminds me to slow down, live life, and to pay attention to the details and little things that can often go unnoticed. Things like animals, bodies of water, and the wind.

Porcellino now lives in northern Illinois not far from where I grew up in southern Wisconsin. This issue made me miss my former home: its geology, geography, flora, and fauna; and my family still there. The opening text piece "Sinnissippi Days" tells about a spring walk to where the Rock River meets the Pecatonica and the birds seen along the way, including an egret and a cormorant.

Comics, simply drawn, address a project started while waiting for car repairs, living in an unheated apartment, and signs of fall and winter. Porcellino also includes a top 40 (45!) featuring books, records, and experiences; and a nine-page letter column that includes missives from minicomic long-timers Jeff Zenick, Ariel Bordeaux, Jenny Zervakis, and Buzz Buzzizyk.

If you've never read King-Cat, give it a chance. This is a comic series for the ages.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Web Comics Gone Print

To Catch a Tooth (self-published, 2013, $2.99)
This 16-page minicomic was written, drawn, and published by Dylan Campbell, whom I met at Pulp Fiction in early December. He started making comics after taking a class several years ago and now publishes a Web comic, Scared by the Bell. This is his first mini.

Drawn in a slightly cartoony style that reminds me a little of Ariel Schrag by way of Mark Crilley, this brief comic tells the tale of a boy who conspires to rob the tooth fairy. it is a gently clever family comic that reads at the pace of a cartoon or TV sitcom. At the end, it's a story about love and looking out for the ones you love.

Campbell's artwork is friendly and his writing conversational, which works well for the story. The lettering is uneven, using a computer typeface and inexplicably switching from uppercase to lowercase on page 4. Lastly, Campbell's panel and page design offer room for improvement. The structure of the pages don't always serve the narrative, and the panel arrangement and composition occasionally feel arbitrary. A stronger sense of unity and direction will serve his work well. That said, this is a great first effort. All first minis should be this good, and the formal issues are small in light of the art and ideas.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Lush and Lovely

Rima the Jungle Girl #2-5 (Marvel, June-July 1974 to December-January 1974/1975, 20 cents)
Writer: Robert Kanigher, Artist: Nestor Redondo, Cover and layouts: Joe Kubert.

This has got to be one of the most perfect, under-appreciated comic books in the history of DC. Published in the mid-'70s and based on W.H. Hudson's 1904 novel Green Mansions, which was made into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn in 1959, the comic features jungle heroine Rima, who even later appeared in the cartoon The All-New Super Friends Hour. Green Mansions was also adapted by Classics Illustrated in 1951 (#90).

The heroine and storyline have more in common with weird fiction and writing by authors such as H. Rider Haggard, at least in the initial issues, than with other jungle adventure regulars such as Tarzan.

#2: "Flight from Eden" In Venezuela, John Abel, injured by a snake bite, muses over the "beautiful apparition" of Rima. Brought into the forest by her grandfather Nuflo after her mother died, Rima is able to communicate with animals. Clothed in spiderweb, she is angered by her grandfather's eating of meat, After Abel returns to an Indian village, she welcomes him back to her grandfather's hut, indicating she wants to return to her mother's home.

Redondo's art is lithe and nimble, and some pages—4, 8, and 12-13 in particular—are breathtaking. The issue also includes a one-page Li'l Brontosaurus gag by Henry Boltinoff, as well as a five-page Space Voyagers backup story. Written by Kanigher and drawn by Alex Nino, "The Delta Brain" is science fiction comics at their finest: sense shattering, inventive, and threatening. Editorial Assistant Allan Asherman contributes a one-page text piece, "The Riddle of the Didi," which contextualizes Rima.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cute and Brutish

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #30 (Marvel, May 1966, 12 cents)
"Incident in Italy!" Editing: Stan Lee, Writing: Roy Thomas, Art: Dick Ayers, Delineation: John Tartaglione, Lettering: Sam Rosen.

The character Nick Fury has had a long and prosperous history in the Marvel universe, and this early pre-SHIELD incarnation is a strong bridge between the war comics of the past and the superhero comics—as well as movies and TV—of today. Largely a team book similar to DC's Blackhawk, Fury is accompanied by a group of soldiers as diverse as America itself, including Italian-American Dino Manelli.

This issue finds the Commandos parachuting into Italy to help fight Mussolini and the fascists. They surrender and are taken to a prisoner of war camp, where they meet their contact Major Carlo, a partisan and, as chance would have it, Mussolini's cousin. With the help of the beautiful Sophia, the Commandos plot to appropriate some stolen treasure buried on a farm.

A few Commandos get the spotlight: British Pinkerton gets handy with his umbrella; the southerner Ralston shoots down a dive bomber; and Manelli translates some documents and gets the girl, pledging to cast her in a movie—perhaps Boy on a Dolphin? The issue also features a two-page letter column.