Thursday, February 15, 2018

Drawn from the Cosmic Log

Secrets of Haunted House #31 (DC, December 1980, 50 cents)
Mr. E serves on the faculty of Mystik U, and I had never read about the character before, so I pulled out some back issues of this horror anthology title. It's an interesting read. For one, 1980 is pretty late for a horror comic published by one of the majors. And two, Mr. E might—or might not—be an interesting character. (I'm not sure yet whether he was worth reviving.)

The comic opens with a one-page bookend featuring a host of sorts, Destiny, who suggests that the stories within are drawn from the Cosmic Log, which documents the fates and destinies of mankind.

"The Short-Road to Damnation" Story: Arnold Drake, Art: Tenny Henson.

In this seven-page story—opened and closed by the cloaked Destiny—a diminutive French businessman makes off with boots worn by Napoleon from a museum. Wearing the boots gives him new bravery and daring, allowing him to succeed more in work and life. They also drive him to madness and violence, resulting in a couple of deaths. A police inspector suspects him.

Henson's art is stylish, reminding me of fashion advertising clip art, which lends an interesting formality to the story.

"The Wish"

A one-page gag by Dave Manak, this suggests that you should be careful what you wish for, especially if you're a fisherman.

"The Morbidity Factor!" Story: George Kashdan, Pencils: J.J. Brozowski, Inks: Kim DeMulder, Letters: Shel Leferman, Editor: Jack C. Harris.

Sam Harker is in flight from the law, when he comes upon a hiding place, an occupied house—and perhaps a hostage. Dr. Walter Trent, professor of biochemistry, has developed an antidote to the Death Factor, a unique chemical catalyst that can prolong a living being's life. Despite a warning from Destiny itself, Harker downs the doctor and drinks the antidote... before being arrested.

Now immortal, Harker doesn't fall to gunshots. He doesn't die, electrocuted. In fact, he lives into "the far-distant future," suggesting that immortality might not be all it's cracked up to be.

"The Twice-Cursed Man!" Writer/Creator: Bon Rozakis, Artist: Dan Spiegle, Letterer: Ben Oda, Colorist: Bob LeRose, Editor/Co-Creator: Jack C. Harris.

Irish immigrant Kelly O'Toole bumps into Destiny upon arriving in Boston before meeting an injured or ill man, Judge Kobold, who soon hires her as a housekeeper. Mr. E—in his first appearance—is investigating a series of bizarre murders, taking him to Kobold's home. Though blind, Mr. E is about to drive a wooden stake into Kobold's chest when O'Toole hits him in the head with a gavel.

Turns out Kobold is a vampire. She succeeds in stopping Kobold from killing Mr. E, but despite the vampire's injuries, he escapes. O'Toole tends to Mr. E.

Unfortunately, we don't learn a lot about Mr. E in this first appearance. Why is he blind? How does he know so much? How did he track Kobold to his home? Perhaps future issues will tell. For now, he remains a mystery.

The issue closes with a one-page letter column, "The Haunted Mailbox."

Availability: This issue has not been reprinted. We recommend Haunted Horror: The Screaming Skulls! and Much More and The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Thick of the Action

John Carter, Warlord of Mars #1 (Marvel, June 1977, 30 cents)
"The Air-Pirates of Mars Chapter 1" Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman, Artists: Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum, Letterer: Joe Rosen, Colorist: Glynis Wein.

This is not a mere adaptation of a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, also creator of Tarzan. Instead, according to the two-page text piece "Welcome Back, Carter," the creators found an empty spot in the existing narrative—a nine-year gap between paragraphs three and four in chapter 27 of A Princess of Mars (!!!)—and proceeded to fill it with their own stories. That is so very cool. Wolfman also writes about how he first became a fan of the character, how the licensed series came to be, and how he connected with Kane during his "halcyon days as a far-out fanzine editor."

While I haven't read A Princess of Mars, I look forward to seeing how this 28-issue series fits in. This issue, the first, starts in the thick of the action, as Carter hunts for Dejah Thoris, kidnaped from her castle in Helium. While fighting several Warhoon desperately using radium bullets, Carter recalls his origin—and how he came to Barsoom. He also remembers how he first met—and fell in love with Thoris—before defeating the Warhoon and reaching the heart of Zodanga, where she is held prisoner.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars #2 (Marvel, July 1977, 30 cents)
"From the Shadows... Stara-Kan!" Writer/Editor: Marv Wolfman, Pencils: Gil Kane, Inks: Rudy Nebres, Letters: John Costanza, Colors: Janice Cohen.

After rescuing Dejah Thoris and his friend Tars Tarkas, Carter sets out to investigate the city of Zodanga. He soon encounters a red man equipped with an equilibri-motor and brings him to ground, then taking him to Helium. The prisoner remains silent on the Pedestal of Truth in the Temple of Reward and soon handily escapes from his cell. "The replacement of my arm with this mechanical one was well worth it." Carter and Tars Tharkas go in search of the escapee but are accosted by the White Apes, who snag Thoris and down our heroes.

This is an excellent adventure series, well written and drawn, and drawn on some of the best source material possible. Well worth exploring!

Availability: These issues were collected in John Carter, Warlord of Mars Omnibus. We also recommend John Carter: Barsoom Series, which compiles all seven John Carter novels.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Nostalgic Journey

Fantasy Masterpieces #1 (Marvel, February 1966, 12 cents)
"Beware!! The Ghosts Surround Me!!" Plot: Stan Lee, Script: Larry Lieber, Pencils and inks: Don Heck, Letters: Artie Simek.

Originally published in Strange Tales #76, this six-page story tells the tale of an escaping thief in Transylvania who runs into aliens. They meet "at certain points along the dimensional barrier, [where] our would and yours meet!" The criminal takes cover in an old house and is captured by the police—or is he?

"I Found the Things from Nowhere" Plot: Stan Lee, Script Larry Lieber, Pencils and inks: Jack Kirby, Letters: Artie Simek.

This five-page piece originally appeared in Journey Into Mystery #60. A man watching baseball on TV experiences a technical glitch that accidentally tunes into not a science-fiction program but "something that's really happening!": some kind of alien battle. However, the scene he sees unfolding is not on another planet, but much closer to home than he realizes. Kirby's artwork is excellent, especially the first page and the first panel on p. 4.

"I Became a Human Robot!" Pencils and inks: Joe Sinnott.

A five pager that originally ran in Suspense #5, this story details the risks of implanting your alien brain in a robot's metallic frame. Sure, you'd enjoy the ability to "think and move and use its mechanical abilities" at first. But once you'd avoided "impending disaster," "saved the Earthling," and been deactivated for installation in a museum, what then?

"I Saw the Other World!" Script: Stan Lee, Pencils and inks: Dick Ayers, Letters: Dick Ayers.

Originally from Tales to Astonish #7, this four-page story—the shortest in the issue—focuses on a camera that seems to take pictures of "another dimension that exists side by side with ours!!" The photographer tries to make his case to passersby outside his home, but nobody believes him. Ayers artwork, while not depicting superheroes or action per se is still quite lively and dynamic. P. 3 is particularly strong.

"Those Who Change" Script: Stan Lee, Pencils and inks: Steve Ditko, Letters: Artie Simek.

This five-page story from Amazing Fantasy #10 is a compelling cautionary tale about the danger of time travel. To whit: Don't mess. Ditko's art is stellar, with too many highlights to list, and the punchline at the end is a laugh. A fun piece.

This is a beauty of a reprint book, "taking you on a nostalgic journey to yesterday's fantasy wonderland." The text-heavy introduction featuring Stan Lee on the inside front cover, while "cornball," draws straight lines between the older fantasy stories and then-current Marvel titles such as the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange.

Availability: "I Found the Things from Nowhere" was reprinted in Monsters Vol. 1: The Marvel Monsterbus. "I Became a Human Robot" appeared in Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Tales of Suspense Volume 1. "I Saw the Other World!" was collected in Atlas Era Tales To Astonish Masterworks Vol. 1. "Those Who Change" ended up in Amazing Fantasy Omnibus.

Friday, February 09, 2018

EC-Like Dynamism

Chamber of Darkness #2 (Marvel, December 1969, 15 cents)
"Forewarned Is Four-Armed!" Editor: Stan Lee, Script: Neal Adams and Roy Thomas, Art: Marie Severin, Inks: Herb Trimpe and Tom Sutton.

Hosted by Headstone P. Gravely, this horror anthology comic has never been collected. The opening seven-page story features the classic "insane man tells his story to the authorities" structure, with an expected—though still fun—twist. There are several art highlights, including the second panel on p. 1, the EC-like dynamism of p. 2's final panel, pp. 4-5 in their entirety, and the hands on the last panel of p. 6.

"The Face of Fear" Story by: Stan Lee, Script by: Archie Goodwin, Art by: Syd Shores, and Lettering by: Jean Izzo.

Long-haired Freddy Garricks sees a creepy face in the mirror while shaving and flees his parents' apartment, only to avoid a disastrous elevator mishap. Will he see the face again? Will he ever shave? Did the vision almost cause the accident, or avert it? Who dares speculate?

"The Day of the Red Death" Editor: Stan Lee, Scripter: Roy Thomas, Artist: Don Heck, Lettered by: Sam Rosen.

Hosted by none other than Smilin' Stan, who name drops Saki, Lovecraft, and Ambrose Bierce, this story updates an Edgar Allen Poe classic. Weaponized poison gas has "devastated the globe," and eight wealthy people—including the arms manufacturer responsible—play cards to determine who will be "king of a newborn planet." Six men vie for the affection of two surviving women until one of the men is overcome by guilt. The ending is fine comeuppance.

The stories are decent enough, and the art is fine—but this anthology comic falls a little flat. Regardless, I'm glad it existed. I wish there were more like it today.

Availability: This series has not been collected. Though dealing primarily with pre-Code horror comics, we recommend the books The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read! and Four Color Fear: Forgotten Horror Comics of the 1950s.

In Search of a Phantom Submarine

Capt. Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #2 (Marvel, March 1968, 12 cents)
"The Return of Baron Strucker!" Edited by: Stan Lee, Written by: Gary Friedrich, Drawn by: Dick Ayers, Inked by: Syd Shores, Lettered by: L.P. Gregory, Was here: Forbush.

This title, a Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos spinoff, lasted 19 issues—and might be one of my favorite comic series discovered in the last year. Friedrich and Ayers also helmed an even-shorter later spinoff, Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen, which lasted only nine issues. (I've yet to read that title.)

The issue opens with Capt. Savage watching his fellow marines during a training exercise: grizzled veteran Yaketty Yates, the French-accented and mustachioed Jacques La Rocque, former teacher Lee Baker, Native American wrestler Chief Jay Little Bear, and second in command Blarney Stone. Once done, they go in search of a phantom submarine sinking ships.

A Japanese team of soldiers, the Samurai Squadron, also searches for that mysterious sub, which turns out to be controlled by one Baron Strucker, the Supreme Hydra. As the marines and Japanese encounter a series of traps landing on the beach of a small island—"This place's got more dangers than Dracula's castle!"—Strucker remembers what brought him here. (This issue contains the origin of Hydra.)

Strucker's traps eventually bring the two landing forces face to face, each thinking the other country controls the threatening submarine. They fight for the rest of the issue, punctuated by relatively racist dialogue, before realizing that they share a common enemy in Strucker on the last page of the comic.

Friedrich's writing—though no longer appropriate in terms of racial sensitivity—is natural and smooth. And Ayers art is excellent. He might even be my favorite artist in recent months. I found the pacing and page balance even more impressive, with only two pages featuring more than six panels.

Read Also: Sgt. Fury and His Leatherneck Raiders #29.

Availability: Capt. Savage has not been collected. We recommend Essential Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Age-Appropriate Adventures

Spidey Super Stories #2 (Marvel, November 1974, 35 cents)
"In the Hands of the Hunter" Writer: Jean Thomas; Artists: Winslow Mortimer, Don Heck, and Mike Esposito; Editor: Roy Thomas; Art Director: John Romita. (13 pages)

Presented by Marvel Comics and The Electric Company, a production of the Children's Television Workshop, this ad-free (!!!) comic book aimed at readers age 6-10 was based on the recurring live-action skit featured on the TV show. It ran 57 issues between 1974 and 1982, living beyond the skit on TV—which ended in 1976-1977.

Written by Jean Thomas, who also wrote Night Nurse, the comic book was thoroughly vetted by the CTW to be sure it was true to the TV show, was age appropriate in terms of content and reading level, and featured female characters. In early issues, a story adapted one of the TV segments, and in many issues, Spider-Man was paired with a well-known Marvel hero or villain to introduce that character to younger readers and viewers. (Similar to the Marvel Heroes and Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man magazines published by Redan today.)

In this issue, Spidey and Jennifer of the Jungle encounter Kraven the Hunter after a film shoot. Kraven takes the web slinger prisoner, and Jennifer—with her friend Paul the Gorilla—go to rescue him. The writing is very simple, and the artwork larger-paneled (most pages with fewer than six panels)—but not quite coloring-book basic.

In the five-page "very short comic book ... as seen on The Electric Company" story "Spidey Vs. Mr. Measles," Spider-Man "meets the meanest menace of all," a man plans to throw spots at people so they get the measles. "Then everybody will have to stay in bed... in the dark, where they can't read!"

"The Long Arms of the Law-Breaker" (12 pages) pits Spidey against Doctor Octopus. The issue also features several one-page items: "The Secrets of Spider-Man's Costume," "Let's Pay a Visit to Peter Parker's Place," "Let's See Some More of Peter Parker's Place," and "Reader Vs. Speeder," which features Electric Company character Easy Reader.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Slowly Unfolding

Yeet Presents #17 (Cost of Paper, February 2018, free)
This issue is even better than #16, which introduced me to this free, self-published comic series. This time featuring two pieces, the edition includes a 23-page Unbreakable Blastwave story by Eli Jansen and Eric Baumgard, and a three-page story by Greta Fantini titled "Acromegaly."

The Blastwave piece, written by Jansen and Baumgard and drawn by Jansen, is an excellent, excellent read—even if the art is a little rough stylistically. It's clear that care and attention went into the production; Jansen uses computer-manipulated photographs as backgrounds sometimes, and the computer lettering helps make it a clean read despite the lack of spaces after punctuation. I am curious how the writing duties were shared, because the writing is quite solid—admittedly surprising for an amateur comic.

It's a mystery. Despite the name of the assumed title character, it's not explicitly a superhero story. There is crime, family drama, adventure, parkour, a crashing spaceship, a demonic figure, and some sort of giant robot or super suit at the end. But for the most part, this is a very human, dialog- and writing-driven story. I appreciate that the creators are slowly unfolding their world, its characters, and narrative.

Following a one-page letter column, "C.O.P. Comments," Fantini contributes a humorous short piece addressing children's response to different body types and self-confidence.

This issue feels more solid and consistent than the previous issue, even if its contributors are similar. A project well worth checking out—and supporting.

Availability: Write Cost of Paper Comics care of Mike Jones, 3257 Kneeland Circle, Howell, MI 48843. Jansen also contributed to Theodore Raymond Riddle's Compu-M.E.C.H. #1. Fantini's Lo Zombi is also available.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Back Issue Boxes

Collectors #1-3 (Collectors Comics, June 2013 to October 2015, $4.99 and $6.99)
Collectors is a weekly Web comic written and drawn by Eddie deAngelini, co-owner of Santa Monica's Hi De Ho Comics with Geoffrey Patterson of Geoffrey's Comics in Gardena. It's the "love story of a husband, a wife, and a comic book collection," loosely based on deAngelini's partnership with his wife Kristen.

These three annual collections, ranging between 44 and 68 pages, and seemingly funded by Kickstarter campaigns, collect material published online, as well as new material to frame and punctuate the reprints, candid photographs of cosplay and comics from deAngelini's collection, and letters of comment from readers.

Strips address thematic constants and concerns of comic book readers and collectors: trivial knowledge about first appearances, anxiety over how much comics cost, holy grail issues of desire, the frustrations of online auctions, the joy of flipping through back issue boxes, and a rich fantasy life. deAngelini also addresses common marriage challenges: family budgets, travel to conventions, spousal compromises, and shared interests such as zombies and cosplay.

The writing is brisk and to the point, gently loving, and clever—and deAngelini clearly loves comic books, reading and collecting. deAngelini's artwork is simple and basic but does the trick—and has matured a little over time. His drawings of Marvel heroes remind me slightly of Fred Hembeck and Chris Giarrusso.

Availability: You can buy Collectors online.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Star Trek: Discovery—The Light of Kahless #2 (IDW, November 2017, $3.99)
Having recently caught up on Star Trek: Discovery episodes I have been in a state of Trek-citement. Reading the media tie-in novel Star Trek: Discovery: Desperate Hours has helped satisfy that yen, as did the second issue of this tie-in comic.

Written by Kirsten Beyer and Mike Johnson, and drawn by Tony Shasteen, it's an excellent read—and one that will help fill in some back story for those watching the show. At the same time, it's a good standalone story, featuring interesting characterization and wonderful science-fiction artwork.

This issue tells the story of the Klingon T'Kuvma's spiritual awakening and allegiance to Kahless, as told to Voq. Studying in the harsh environs of the Cauldron of Tak'la Pokh in the Caves of Nomat on Boreth, T'Kuvma sees a vision. The vision returns during "the worst storm in years," the Rage of Pakath.

T'Kuvma returns home to House Girjah against his wishes, to assist his sister J'Ula, expected to wed into House Mokai. There, she shows him the flagship the "common people" have restored, as well as its invisibility shield. Then, T'Kuvma meets J'Ula's betrothed, D'Lor of House Mokai.

If you enjoy Star Trek or the Klingons generally—and if you enjoy the new show specifically—check out this comic. The writing is true to the mythos, and Shasteen's artwork is wonderful. I was particularly impressed by the spread on pp. 2-3 of the Cauldron and the flagship interiors on pp. 14-15.

Availability: A collection of the series will be published in July. We also recommend the tie-in novel Star Trek: Discovery: Desperate Hours.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Merely Doom's Puppet

Super-Villain Team-Up #3 (Marvel, December 1975, 25 cents)
"If Vengeance Fails!" Writer: Jim Shooter, Artist: George Evans, Inker: Jack Abel, Letterer: Ray Holloway, Colorist: Ellen Vartanoff, Editor: Marv Wolfman.

While I understand that Prince Namor, the Savage Sub-Mariner, is an antihero and occasional foil for other Marvel heroes, I can't quite buy that he is a super-villain, per se. So a book featuring super villains—and starring Namor—seems a bit strange to me. As does a team-up book pairing him with Dr. Doom, who is definitely a super-villain. So I'm curious about the business reasons inspiring this book—because the creative inspiration isn't entirely clear. The series lasted 17 issues.

After killing Billy Dean, Namor's lover, Dr. Dorca becomes the object of the Sub-Mariner's ire. Tiger Shark and Attuma attack Namor in turn before Dr. Doom arrives. Doom downs the trio of foes ("I... had forgotten! You seek to ally yourself to the Prince of Atlantis!") and the two retreat to Doom's amphibious skycraft—and then Castle Latveria—to regroup. Healed and refreshed by a chemical brine-bath, Namor discusses an attack on Hydrobase with Doom.

They attack, and the Sub-Mariner frees the hostage amphibians before tracking down Tamara, who was being questioned. The battle is hard fought, and p. 26 is quite impressive. Evans's artwork is decent enough, but it is Abel's inks that make the issue worthwhile visually. The issue also includes a one-page letter column, "Bad Tidings."

Read Also: Super-Villain Team-Up #2.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Cataloging Comics Ephemera

Minis, Digests, Etc. #1-8 (Tanreth Press, April 2016 to December 2017, $4)
This infrequently but consistently published "iterative reference guide" edited and published by Scott Davis picks up where The Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide and Fogel's Underground Price & Grading Guide leave off, bringing those two resources closer to review zines such as D. Blake Werts's Copy This! to catalog and document mini-comics and other comics ephemera. Each 32-page edition, limited to a first print run of 25, indexes mini-comics, digest-sized comics, and comics of other shapes and sizes—including material from the United Fanzine Organization and Small Press Syndicate. The first eight issues go up through D, to Brad Foster's The Dirty Old Lady Digest, which ran five issues between 1986 and 1993.

This zine might not be of interest to everybody—but it is an amazing and impressive project. If you've read mini-comics over the years, it'll be a fun read. And it's a crucial tool for zine and comics librarians, archivists, collectors, and scholars. Davis indexes titles, issue numbers, dates, contributors, price, and additional information for each item. The neatest part of the index zine, however, might be the reduced cover art at the foot of many pages. Just flipping through a few issues, some of the cover art highlights include Adventures of A-Girl, Amazing Cynicalman, Andy Nukes's BLDGS., Jeff Zenick's Destined, Max Traffic's Diary of Neo-Psychedelic Man, and others.

This zine is a labor of love that is much appreciated. I look forward to future issues!

Availability: Write Scott Davis at 114 Lesnyk Road, Goffstown, NH 03045, or email him. You can also order it from the Poopsheet Foundation.

Monday, January 22, 2018

1,000 Superheroes and Other-Dimensional Pets

House of Mystery #157 (DC, March 1966, 12 cents)
"The Marauders of Thunderbolt Island" Script: Dave Wood, Pencils and Inks: Jim Mooney, Letters: Stan Starkman.

In Dial H for Hero stories teenager Robby Reed ("Sockamagee!") turns the mysterious H-Dial to spell out H-E-R-O, becoming any one of 1,000 superheroes. In this issue, he becomes Super-Charge, the Human Bullet, and Radar-Sonar Man to combat a criminal syndicate led by Mr. Thunder.

After being defeated by Cometeer, Giantboy, and the Mole in the previous issue, the gang steals the experimental Cosmic Computer from a naval freighter. Luckily, attentive teen Reed collected articles on the computer in his scrapbook and is able to guess the syndicate's next target: the New Gibraltar underground repository.

As the Human Bullet, Reed flies to the repository and digs deep into the ground to stop the theft. Cracking a code found at the scene of the attempted crime, he turns into Super-Charge, "a fantastic mass of some kind, radiating a strange energy" strong enough to melt the iron support beams of a bridge. Before he can stop another crime, Super-Charge is imprisoned by a magneto ray, so he reverts to the form of Reed.

The teenage boy escapes from the submersible island fortress by crawling through the HVAC system, then turns into Radar-Sonar Man, who's finally able to scuttle Thunderbolt's operations. I'm not sure I understand the appeal of Dial H for Hero. It seems to have the never-ending variety of the Legion of Super-Heroes, only limited by the teenage alter ego of Reed. Could the 1,000 heroes survive or be active independently? The idea doesn't really work as a tryout book, because if a sub-hero proved popular, it still needs Reed and the dial. What a strange concept!

"Manhunter, World's Greatest Clown" Script: Jack Miller, Pencils and Inks: Joe Certa.

J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars, stars in a backup story in which he goes up against Professor Hugo, who uses a thought-control machine to manipulate the Manhunter in an attempt to make him a laughing stock. Hugo—disguised as a circus clown—makes Manhunter "execute an intricate dance step," flip giant balls into the air, get stuck in a brick wall, and smash an underground high-pressure water pipe.

But the plan backfires, and audiences are soon laughing with J'onzz, not laughing at him. So Hugo sends Manhunter to rob the Centerville Bank to "destroy his reputation for good." The hero's "other-dimensional pet," Zook destroys the thought-control machine, and Hugo's humiliating crime spree is soon ended.

As much as Dial H for Hero threw me, this Manhunter story also threw me. Why does he have the pet Zook? What is Zook's story? The alien creature played a narrative role and might have appealed to younger readers, but he is a silly, strange sidekick for what could otherwise be a relatively serious hero—who doesn't seem to require such a sidekick.

The issue also included a one-page text piece "Mysteries of the Ages," and a Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation that included no circulation data.

Read Also: House of Mystery #156.