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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Greatest Elephant Show Ever

Baby Snoots #1 (Gold Key, August 1970, 15 cents)
This uncredited comic book is one of Gold Key's non-licensed, original titles. It features Baby Snoots, a young elephant in a diaper and bonnet reminiscent of Harvey's Baby Huey and perhaps inspired by Fanny Brice's old-time radio character Baby Snooks.

"The Super Trooper" (five pages) On the eve of their "last act before we retire from the big top," Mama and Papa Dear, Snoots's parents, are dismayed when the little pachyderm takes to the trapeze, putting on "the greatest elephant show ever." After a discordant trumpet performance, the ringmaster fires him. In parallel, Uptite Mouse attempts to frighten Snoots and seemingly attaches himself to the family.

"Lest We Forget" (six pages) Now friends, Snoots and Uptite try to remember the elephant's "very important errand." Inspired by a goat named Butter, Snoots remembers, but the requested dairy product melts on the way home. Their blueberry pancakes now cold, his father sends him out for pizza, which also reaches home unfit for eating. A pie is also ruined.

"Facing the Music" (eight pages) Disappointed in Snoots's trumpet playing, the Professor, Snoots's music teacher, ends his lessons. Snoots is approached by two swarthy, bearded crooks in trench coats who plan to use him to trick the Rajah into opening his safe, revealing the combination. The Rajah gives Snoots a bag "filled with peanuts," and Uptite foils the crooks' plan. Regardless, Snoots takes the stage at Carnegie Hall. His parents are so proud.

"The Rainmakers" (six pages) Papa Dear thinks Snoots has learned all the steps to "an honest Indian rain dance." He is wrong!

Additional editorial material includes Gold Key club news, reader doodles and jokes, career profiles, and a one-page Snoots gag about roller skating.

Availability: Even though the title ran 22 issues, Baby Snoots has not been collected, not even by Gwandanaland Comics. (I traded messages with Lance Jones; the series is not in the public domain.) An almost 500-page collection of Baby Huey material, Harvey Comics Classics Volume 4: Baby Huey, is available.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Man Who Rules the Wheel

Secret Empire #0-6, #8-10 (Marvel, June-October 2017, $3.99-$4.99)
I'm not always intrigued or impressed by the big publisher tentpole events (case in point, DC's Convergence), but the very idea behind this miniseries—and resulting tie-ins—written by Nick Spencer is genius. The buildup in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers also piqued my interest successfully.

That idea? Kobik, a Cosmic Cube, rewrites reality so Steve Rogers has always been a Hydra sympathizer and, as Captain America, is its supreme leader, "the man who rules the wheel." I've long loved the machinations of Hydra, and the scale and scope of such a betrayal would reverberate widely.

And it does. These 10 issues—I somehow missed #7—range widely and include several wonderful events and ideas. The Chitauri invasion, the emptying of Pleasant Hill into the streets of New York, and the Sokovian coup (it's like a game of Legendary!) conspiring to divide and conquer the heroes open up the opportunity for Cap to be given control of all law enforcement and military forces.

Add to that a planetary defense shield; Blackout (Cloak and Dagger are put to amazing use here); the resulting police state; the Las Vegas underground; Arnim Zola, Doctor Faustus, and Baron Zemo (!!!); Rick Jones; a Tony Stark AI; the Kingpin; seeking help from the Kree and Skrull; a modified Henry Pym; a reborn Bruce Banner; Doctor Strange's real estate negotiations; and a nigh-unbeatable Cap—so much stuff happens over the course of the series. Characters even make Civil War jokes.

On the whole, the story is your standard smash-and-grab collection plot—the heroes and villains race to collect as many pieces of the Cosmic Cube as they can. Each month, the story tied into nine to 15 additional titles, so there was plenty of side story following the main plot, as well as events Beyond the Shield and in Darkforce New York.

In the end, the heroes are re-established as heroes, the villains as villains, and the world returns to more or less the way it was. Skipping #7 left at least one unresolved plot thread—who was the old man rescued in #5, the original Nick Fury again? An illing Bruce Banner? My favorite issues included #3-4's Henry Pym appearance and #2's Darkforce New York and Kingpin focus, both of which resonate well with the most recent Secret Wars, and the latter setting up recent developments in Daredevil quite nicely.

Availability: Secret Empire #0-9 have been collected.

Monday, November 27, 2017

When the Gods Appear

Hercules Unbound #11 (DC, June-July 1977, 35 cents)
"The Dark Side of the Gods" Words: Cary Bates, Pictures: Walter Simonson, Colors: Jerry Serpe.

Jazzed about the too-soon-ended return of Hercules in the recent run of Wonder Woman, I was hopeful we might be treated to a return of the DC Hercules. I still am, and I turned to Hercules Unbound to satisfy that yen.

Drawn by Walt Simonson—cover and interiors!—before his characteristic style had fully gelled (his dinosaur-shaped signature still graces the cover), the comic is visually intriguing, particularly when the gods appear on p. 10.

Garbed in new armor, Hercules rescues his friends—including the Atomic Knights—from a collapsing foundry in Detroit. Kevin endangers the Knights, as well as their headquarters, before Hercules short-circuits Kevin's power. A fire-breathing dragon appears, and Kevin runs off, revealing his true identity. The action is a bit linear and meaningless, and there's not much to recommend in the issue other than Simonson's art and the late Atomic Knights appearance.

The series itself lasted only 12 issues, five of which featured Simonson. Interestingly, before Simonson took on the art, this series featured late-career work by Wallace Wood.

Read Also: Hercules Unbound #1.

Availability: Hercules Unbound #11-12 were collected in The Art of Walter Simonson.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Art of a Master

Deadman #1 (DC, January 2018, $3.99)
After the recent miniseries Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love, I was excited to see this new six-issue Deadman series, especially because it was written and drawn (and colored!) by Neal Adams, who drew some of Deadman's earliest stories in Strange Adventures and other titles in the '60s. But be warned: This first issue is messy in several ways.

First of all, the comic isn't much of a reintroduction of Deadman as it is jumping right back into an ongoing Deadman storyline, if there was one. So if you're new to the character, don't let yourself be overly put off. There are a couple of pages of back-story exposition to explain the connection between Deadman and Hook, but other than that, new readers are largely on their own.

Secondly, Adams is inking his own pencils, which means that—while readers get to revel in the art of a master—the resulting art is relatively sketchy and scribbly, rather than featuring a cleaner line had the art been inked by, say, Dick Giordano. That effect is compounded by the full-page nature of the art. There are no outer margin panel borders (i.e. there are full-bleed panels), and many pages are free of in-page gutters, as well. That can make for some awesome panel and page design. It can also make for some confusing visuals. Adams doesn't pull readers through a page like Gene Day might have.

Boston Brand remembers searching for Hook, his killer, while watching Commissioner Gordon on a tour of Japanese nuclear sites. After encountering a mysterious stranger, Gordon faces Hook, who tries to kill him. He and Brand team up to fight Hook. Brand then turns his search to the Sensei, Hook's employer. Possessing Alfred and Gordon, Deadman learns that Batman didn't kill the Sensei, so his search continues.

The story is a little difficult to follow, as are the visuals, but it's a fun read all the same. Deadman is an underutilized character, and I'm glad that DC continues to showcase him occasionally. Adams's art that makes this comic notable, even if the pencils might benefit from another inker.

Availability: The three issues of Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love have been collected. Adams's earlier Deadman work in Strange Adventures, Brave and the Bold, and other series has been collected in two volumes (1, 2).

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Halloween ComicFest 2017

Casper the Friendly Ghost: Halloween ComicFest #1 (American Mythology, 2017, free)
I bought a package of 25 of these to give out along with fun-size candy bars for Halloween late last month. We don't get many trick or treaters, but they were received well—turned down only by one girl dressed as Sporty Spice. It's a great idea for trick or treating, even better than the Halloween ComicFest generally.

This 16-page digest features two longer stories, as well as two one-page comics. In the five-page "Helpful Uncle Fuzzy," written and drawn by Marty Taras and originally published in the 1973 Casper & Wendy #5, Casper the Friendly Ghost is visited by his Uncle Fuzzy, who is more helpful than harmful despite first appearances. And in "The Scary Night," written and drawn by Howard Post, Spooky humors monsters, goblins, dragons, and witches—even aliens—because it's Halloween, until Pearl reminds him that the holiday hasn't occurred yet. The two one pagers both address how trying to frighten other people can get out of hand.

It's a fun, slender reprint collection, perhaps intended to help promote the new American Mythology Casper series.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Comic You Can Fall Into

Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die #1-6 (IDW, February-July 2017, $4.99)
Written by Elaine Lee and drawn by Michael Kaluta, this is a "new" series of a comic that reaches back more than 30 years. Originally staged as an off-Broadway play, intended as a comic as early as 1980, serialized in Heavy Metal, published by Marvel's Epic line, and later the subject of brief legal action involving Marvel and Disney, this series is "remastered," whatever that means. Reportedly including 50% new artwork, the comic goes beyond the original material. Regardless, is this a new comic, or a reprint?

Given that history, it's no surprise that Lee's world is richly designed and populated—few comic books include an encyclopedic glossary in the back matter. The story and characters are very well developed. This is a fantastic dystopian future—shades of Blade Runner, AI, and Max Headroom. And even though the first page seems to have been drawn in 1984, the comic is fresh and new, occasionally more surprising and groundbreaking than something made of whole cloth today.

Harry Palmer, veteran of the Droid Wars, is looking for Annie, who was left behind by Galatia 9. Several Girl Guides offer to help him, as does an Aquatunisian empath. He encounters cryptic mentions of pleasure-giving androids and "running in place." After a fire in a wax museum, Palmer finally finds an android much like Annie, as well as Mary, before solving the mystery of running in place.

Kaluta's art is mind boggling. Beautifully dense and lush, the pages and panels have so much going on in them. Think Matt Wagner's Grendel as drawn by Geoff Darrow by way of Liberatore and Henry Darger. Cinematic in scope, this comic is one you can fall into. Glorious.

Availability: Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die will be available in hard cover in December 2017. IDW's previous 13-issue remastered Starstruck series has also been collected.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Plentiful Insects

The Beautiful Death #2 (Titan, November 2017, $3.99)
Published under Titan Comics's new Statix Press imprint, this is a European comic translated into English. Mathieu Bablet's story was originally published by Ankama in 2011 in French as La Belle Mort. It would find a comfortable home in Heavy Metal, perhaps, or as a bande dessinee—and it also reads well as a comic book.

Not having read #1, I missed the end of the world, but there are a few survivors: three, and then they find a fourth. Food and resources are scarce, but insects—insectoids, to be specific—are plentiful. And they seem to be attracted to strong human emotion. Bablet has an idiosyncratic drawing style that reminded me a little of a more complicated Scott Morse (Ancient Joe or Volcanic Revolver, perhaps): densely detailed without being overly realistic or sketchy-cartoony.

The detailed cityscapes and urban environs (a la Jeff Zenick) resonate, but it is the color palettes that really sing here. There are two muted palettes at play, changing with the changing light in the day—even keeping pace through Wayne's flashback and violence.

I look forward to more insects, such as the giant insectoid on the cover. But for now, they are small, or a just-off-panel threat, as muted as Bablet's coloring.

Watch Also: Quatermass and the Pit (e.g., Five Million Years to Earth)

Availability: The full story is available in French as La Belle Mort. You can order this issue directly from Titan.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Fighting Crime and Washing Away

Bugs Bunny #68 (Dell, August-September 1959, 10 cents)
The main story in this issue is a 15-page Bugs Bunny story entitled "Bamboozling the Bool Bandits." In the uncredited piece, perhaps written by Don R. Christensen and drawn by Fred Abranz, Bugs and Elmer Fudd encounter some giant rabbits while on an expedition. A "stwange little plant" is "full of super vitamins or something" and affects the local fauna. A group of bandits uses the plant to enlarge bulls, which they then let loose in villages such as Rancho Gorez and Chilivania City to provide cover for their thievery. The two friends help put an end to the bandits' crime spree.

There are also two mid-length pieces, a four-page Tweety and Sylvester story titled "The Schemer and the Dreamer," and a 10-page Bugs piece called "The Rockin' Rabbit." In the former, Abranz-drawn piece, Sylvester conspires to spend the night inside the house, only to be spooked by Tweety's ghost. And in the latter, longer story, perhaps drawn by Phil de Lara, Bugs becomes a singing sensation, only to suffer a vocal ailment, which causes him to fall even more quickly than he rose. He then uses his new singing style to fight crime!

In several short one-page pieces (also perhaps drawn by Abranz)—which all seem to be water themed—Bugs uses a saxophone to get revenge on Elmer, improvises some impromptu water skis, and fixes a drip in Elmer's roof. There's also a one-page text piece featuring Foghorn Leghorn, "The Perfect Trap."

Availability: The stories in this issue were later reprinted in various issues of the Western Bug Bunny series (#113, #116, and #242). Several popular stories published in the more recent DC series Looney Tunes were collected in Looney Tunes: Greatest Hits Vol. 1: What's up Doc?.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Where Your Actions Bring You

Daredevil #28 (Marvel, December 2017, $3.99)
Having recently read a batch of older Daredevil back issues, let's see where the current series is—and how it compares to 40-plus years ago. This issue, written by Charles Soule, opens with Daredevil in China, where his soul has just been given to the Beast, which now owns Daredevil and finds him a "great enemy" of the Hand.

Ron Garney's artwork reminds me of John Romita, Jr., and Frank Miller's runs on the titles, and some of the panels and pages—including the borderless p. 4—are quite delightful. Despite his mother's philosophy ("Whatever you do does not matter, because the moment you do it, it is the past. All that matters is where your actions bring you.") the potential traitor Sam Chung—Blindspot—returns to rescue Daredevil, as does his mother Lu Wei. The end scene's commentary on immigration to the United States and political developments in New York City are timely and will lead to some interesting future story arcs.

The comic is worth reading! The Beast and Tongue of the Beast remind me of Daredevil going up against Blackheart and Mephisto, as well as the Dire Wraiths—which, incidentally, inspired the creation of the battle suit worn by the Daredevil villain the Torpedo. The martial arts and philosophizing remind me of Master of Kung Fu—not a bad thing.

Availability: You can buy this issue online. The start of Soule's run on the book is collected in Daredevil: Back in Black Vol. 1: Chinatown.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Where the Gold Came From

Classic Popeye #63 (IDW, October 2017, $4.99)
Published in conjunction with Yoe Books and King Features Syndicate, this issue reprints Popeye #63, originally published in January-February 1962. Written and drawn by Bud Sagendorf, the reprint includes the main, longer story, as well as shorter pieces, including a one-page text piece, "Plowman," but no other editorial or advertising.

Originally published by Dell, Sagendorf's take on Popeye was a wonderful outgrowth of E.C. Segar's original work, and helped cement the character's popularity in the '60s and '70s. In the shorts, Popeye endangers Swee'Pea by moving a mattress, helps Swee'Pea go fishing on a rainy day, goes hitchhiking, and inspects a hole dug by Swee'Pea.

The two longer stories are also fun and enjoyable, though more based on adventure and less on simple gags. In "Haunted Island," Popeye, Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea, and Wimpy wash up on an island, where they encounter a mysterious ghost. They build a multi-level treehouse and receive a rent bill before meeting the island's inhabitant.

In "Yellow Rock!" Popeye helps Swee'Pea find gold in the desert, only to raise his—and Wimpy's—expectations unrealistically. When they realize where the gold came from, they are disappointed.

Even though the Sagendorf Popeye material is a sight for sore eyes, the Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle backup story is priceless. In order to avoid traffic on their way to enjoy a picnic lunch with Sappo, the professor shows off several new inventions—only to end up in a police van. I cannot believe that Wotasnozzle never had his own series!

Availability: You can buy this issue online. Previous issues of this reprint series have been collected in Popeye Classics Volume 1Popeye Classics: Moon Goon and more!Popeye Classics: Witch Whistle and more!, and other volumes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dark Streets and Mysterious Science

Daredevil #70 (Marvel, November 1970, 15 cents)
"The Tribune" Presenter: Stan Lee, Story: Gary Friedrich, Illustrators: Gene Colan and Syd Shores, Letterer: Sam Rosen.

On Hollywood Boulevard, movie star Buck Ralston gives a political speech that takes patriotism to an extreme before suggesting that now actress Karen is a communist—and that he and his friends need to "get rid" of "pinko crumbs." Back in New York, Daredevil goes to a protest at the Hilton, where the vice president becomes the target of a bombing.

Ralston reveals himself as the Tribune, a "new kind of judge... to decide who's a good American... and who's a rotten red." He sentences a draft dodger to "the living death" just before Daredevil—back in New York—almost stops another bombing, which leads to a young passerby being falsely accused. The Tribune's comments to his gang suggest that the coast-hopping will end next issue when the two plot lines are expected to intersect.

All in all, a solid issue. In the letter column, Martin Pasko writes in to say that Marvel's dialogue is more natural than DC's, and that he supports multi-issue story arcs. Neat to see his letter of comment!

Daredevil #78 (Marvel, July 1971, 15 cents)
"The Horns of the Bull!" Editor: Stan Lee, Writer: Gerry Conway, Artist: Gene Colan, Inker: Tom Palmer, Letterer: Sam Rosen.

Matt Murdock continues to pine over actress Karen Page, now in her first movie, A Tender Affair. He answers a cry for help and saves a young couple from being abducted for "an experiment of some sort," "for guinea pigs." At least he does the first time!

This is quite an issue. Dark streets, mysterious science, the introduction of a new villain, relationship challenges with Foggy and Karen, and innocents in danger. Where will it go?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ancient Walls and Cross-Corridors

Brothers of the Spear #10 (Gold Key, September 1974, 25 cents)
"The Deadly Maze" Pencils: Jesse Santos, Inks: Jesse Santos.

Mysterious magicians entertain King Dan-El and his queen Tavane, then try to kill her with a flower of mystery. Sihamba, the queen's maid and herb-doctoress grabs the flower and runs. It is poison!

While hunting for medicinal herbs, Sihamba is kidnaped by Nyanga Imopo, leader of the magicians. Dan-El and Natongo track him and his baboon-like creatures to ancient walls and cross-corridors, a deadly maze. They evade capture to rescue Sihamba.

Santos's artwork isn't that remarkable—a little scribbly and sketchy for my tastes—but the concept of the hunters maze trap is excellent. The leopard-skin disguises are also interesting, if underutilized in the issue (one panel?).

Not as good as Russ Manning's work, but a fun read nonetheless.

Availability: This issue was reprinted in Portuguese. Russ Manning's work on the title was collected in Brothers of the Spear Archives Volume 1.

Mash Notes and Making Out

Archie's Jokebook Magazine #74 (Archie, October 1963, 12 cents)
Almost like Short Attention Span Theater for Archie fans, this comic series focused on half-page and page-long gag comics featuring the entire gang of characters: Betty and Veronica, Archie, Jughead, Moose, and Mr. Lodge. Topics and themes included surfing, relationships, food, household chores, going out on dates, clothing, the cost of living, fidelity, slang, and golf.

The work is uncredited, so it's difficult for me to know who wrote and drew what. I particularly liked the art of "Champ Chump," "Utter Madness," "Decisions," "Car-Azy" (Harry Lucey?), "Weighty Problems," "Hip Shooters," and "Teen Talk"

Given the brief length of the gags, this is a frenetic, light read, over almost before you start.

Archie's Jokebook Magazine #97 (Archie, February 1966, 12 cents)
This issue's gag fodder includes bowling, telephone use, a student's workload (Rat Race Hal has potential as an ongoing character!), mash notes, alarm clocks, ice skating, golf, fashion, shopping, dating, making out, homework, toothpaste, mistletoe, and kissing.

There are fewer half-page gag strips in this issue, and even a two-page strip, but the overall sense is one of brevity and punchline humor. Uncredited art highlights include "Dress Mess," "The Grid Kid," "Date Wait," and "Girl Talk."

Availability: Older Jokebook gag material was collected in Archie's Joke Book Volume 1: A Celebration of Bob Montana Gags.

Betty's Misbehavior

Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #147 (Archie, March 1968, 12 cents)
"Fair Play" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Bob White and Dan DeCarlo, Inks: Rudy Lapick, Colors: Barry Grossman.
Veronica gets Betty in trouble at school several times, for ruining a fresh coat of plaster and for shrieking in the halls. After Miss Grundy informs Mr. Weatherbee that Betty's misbehavior is caused by her interest in Archie, rather than separate them, they team them up to help out at a children's fair. Veronica tricks Betty—and Archie, too, this time—so Veronica and Reggie can work at the fair instead. The assignment isn't what Veronica expected.

"Li'l Jinx: A Toast Boast!" Script: Joe Edwards, Pencils: Joe Edwards, Inks: Joe Edwards, Colors: Barry Grossman, Letters: Joe Edwards.
Li'l Jinx makes a heck of a lot of toast.

"Plain Folks" Script: Dick Malmgren, Pencils: Dan DeCarlo, Inks: Rudy Lapick, Colors: Barry Grossman, Letters: Bill Yoshida,
Mr. Lodge is running for city council. He arranges for some television people to produce a show about him and his family's home "to show the people how we really are in everyday life." Betty and Veronica decide to dress up, overly formal for "taking out the garbage" and coming over "to borrow a cup of sugar." (Incomplete story due to missing pages.)

"The Healers" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Dan DeCarlo, Inks: Rudy Lapick, Colors: Barry Grossman, Letters: Bill Yoshida.
(Incomplete story due to missing pages.) Betty and Veronica are working in the Lodge Enterprises Infirmary, but not very well. They gas a doctor, dump a patient down a laundry chute, and wreak havoc in the halls with a wheelchair. In the end, the doctor agrees with Mr. Lodge that most of the patients were goldbricks and phonies who are better off on the job than in the clinic.

"The Knack" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Dan DeCarlo, Colors: Barry Grossman, Letters: Bill Yoshida.
Veronica tricks Archie into chasing after Betty, who's afraid of someone mysterious chasing her. Moose punches Reggie.

This issue also featured a pin-up, an advice column, and several great ads, including promotions for the Davy Jones Fan Club, hair extensions, a Man from Uncle spy pen, and big-eye go-go dancer wall decals.

Availability: "Fair Play" was reprinted in Laugh Comics Digest #17 (July 1978). More than 400 pages of Betty and Veronica stories over 70 years have been collected in The Best of Betty and Veronica Book Two.

Archie, Pay Attention to Me

Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #125 (Archie, May 1966, 12 cents)
"Snow Fun" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Dan DeCarlo, Inks: Rudy Lapick, Letters: Bill Yoshida.
Veronica Lodge gets irritated when Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Moose, Reggie Mantle, Jughead Jones, Midge, her father and butler, even Dilton Doily engage in wintertime snowball fights. "What a childishly immature thing to do! ... I love maturity!" In the end, her anger gets the better of her.

"Redskin Revenge" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Dan DeCarlo, Inks: Rudy Lapick, Letters: Bill Yoshida.
Veronica accidentally spills lemonade on Betty's dress before a date with Archie. She lends her another dress, but it tears on a small tree. Six children playing as Native Americans enlist Betty as their squaw. (Incomplete story due to missing pages.)

"Just My Size" Script: Jim Ruth, Pencils: Dan DeCarlo, Inks: Rudy Lapick, Letters: Bill Yoshida.
(Incomplete story due to missing pages.) Hunting with Archie and Jughead, Betty ventures into a bush to shoot a bear. It frightens them, and they run away. Betty's ears are cold in the car.

"Li'l Jinx: Spell 'n' Tell" Script: Joe Edwards, Pencils: Joe Edwards, Inks: Joe Edwards, Letters: Joe Edwards.
Lil' Jinx isn't able to read yet but spells words to her father as she—he—reads.

"Pony Tail Tale" Pencils: Dan DeCarlo, Inks: Rudy Lapick, Letters: Bill Yoshida.
Why does Betty wear a pony tail? "I remember that one day I saw Archie fooling with a girl that had a pony tail! So naturally I thought that if I had a pony tail Archie would pay some attention to me." As it gets longer, her pony tail becomes more unmanageable, hitting Archie in the face, tripping pedestrians, even lassoing Archie (similar to "Muffled Madness" in Archie #164).

This comic, while ostensibly focusing on Betty and Veronica specifically, isn't that different than an issue of Archie from the same time period. Case in point, Archie #164; every story in that issue features Betty and Veronica. This issue of Betty and Veronica also includes two pin-ups and a Statement of Ownership, which claims a print run for the September 1965 issue of ~650,000 copies, ~441,000 paid circulation.

Availability: More than 400 pages of Betty and Veronica stories over 70 years have been collected in The Best of Archie Comics Starring Betty & Veronica.

Good Girl Art and Square-Jawed Competence

Archie #164 (Archie, June 1966, 12 cents)
"Bells Are Ringing" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Harry Lucey, Inks: Mario Acquaviva, Letters: Mario Acquaviva.
Archie offers to fix a short in the Lodge family doorbell for Veronica, who is not pleased that he is distracted from "our date fun and games." Mr. Lodge returns home and gets his finger stuck. Soon, everything is ringing.

"What Price Archie?" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Harry Lucey, Inks: Mario Acquaviva, Letters: Mario Acquaviva.
Employees of the Acme Protective Service pick Archie up to have tea with Veronica. Upset that she would would act like she owns him, Archie storms off. Veronica then tries to show that everyone—even Archie—has a price. She succeeds, and he goes fishing on her yacht at sunset while Betty stews on shore.

"Muffled Madness" Script: Frank Doyle, Pencils: Harry Lucey, Inks: Mario Acquaviva, Letters: Mario Acquaviva.
Veronica makes Archie a scarf, and it is very large. Archie accidentally chokes and trips the principal, Mr. Weatherbee, with it, as well as Miss Grundy. Archie and Betty use it to escape out a window.

"Li'l Jinx: Speed Up" Script: Joe Edwards, Pencils: Joe Edwards, Inks: Joe Edwards, Letters: Joe Edwards.
Li'l Jinx helps her father paint a banister more quickly, surprising him.

"The Bouncer" Pencils: Harry Lucey, Inks: Marty Epp.
Reggie tricks Archie with two rubber balls.

Early Archie artwork borders on good girl art! When I was younger, I didn't realize how prominent Betty and Veronica's breasts, hips, and rumps were, or the dominant role that clothing and fashion played in what I considered simple, silly humor comics. In this issue, Veronica is absolutely beautiful—like a cartoony Barbara Steele—and of the two artist pairings, I prefer Marty Epps's inking of Harry Lucey's pencils. His Reggie is wonderful!

I was also struck by the square-jawed competence of Lucey's men: Veronica's father, the clerk at the sporting goods store. The humor—despite the occasional ill intent of Veronica and Reggie—is gentle and loving, and the periodic canoodling between Archie and one of his girls is affectionate and innocent (p. 2 of "Muffler Madness").

This issue's Statement of Ownership indicates that the September 1965 issue had a press run of almost 1 million, with 585,000-plus of that in paid circulation. A subscription offer ad featured a free, all-weather raincoat as an incentive for new subscribers. Wonder how many children that pushed over the edge to subscribing!

Availability: Stories from this issue have been reprinted in digest comics several times. Some of the best Archie stories of this decade were collected in Archie Americana Series Best of the Sixties Vol. 1.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

A Solidly Serious Hero

Daredevil #28 (Marvel, May 1967, 12 cents)
"Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Planet!" Writer: Stan Lee, Artist: Gene Colan, Inker: Dick Ayers, Letterer: Sam Rosen.

When Matt Murdock's identity as Daredevil is compromised in the previous issue, the best he could come up with at the time was that he's not really Matt, but Matt's brother Mike, a bit of a goofball who is, in fact and all actuality, Daredevil. But not Matt. Um... OK.

Murdock maintains the ruse to throw off Karen Page and Foggy Nelson, who is strongly crushing on Karen. Then he continues to Carter College, where the attorney is scheduled to lecture on the possible legal rights of aliens, should there turn out to be UFOs. Professor Tom Brewster, who contends he's previously encountered aliens, does so again—attracting the attention of Daredevil.

As goofy as the Matt/Mike aspect is, the alien threat is very real, and they plan to steal the sight of everyone on the planet. Luckily, Daredevil's already blind. Kind of a strange, "monster of the week" issue, but enjoyable all the same.

Read Also: Daredevil #27

Daredevil #29 (Marvel, June 1967, 12 cents)
"Unmasked!" Writer: Stan Lee, Artist: Gene Colan, Inker: J. Tartaglione, Letterer: Sam Rosen.

Murdock intends to propose to Karen—but can't decide whether to do so as Matt or the erstwhile Mike. (Just how long does this dual identity play out?) The Boss assumes leadership of the mob formerly led by the Marauder—which then kidnaps Karen.

I am confused why Daredevil arrives pretending to be Murdock pretending to be Daredevil, before escaping only to return and fight both gangs as Daredevil proper. The whole forced dual identity thing is just too goofy. There's a sketchbook-like page that comments on consciously deciding not to include sound effects and thought balloons, a Stan Lee cameo, and a crazy Not Brand Ecch-like panel: "Snap! Snap! Va-Voom! I feel as giddy as a guppy in a goblet!"

Daredevil as comedian? Hmm...

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Comics Culture Clash!

U.S.Avengers #11 (Marvel, December 2017, $3.99)
I don't usually read this comic book, but I was intrigued by the cover, which portrays former New Mutant Cannonball in an Archie Comics-like setting. Talk about comics culture clash!

Apparently taken prisoner by someone somehow, Cannonball finds himself in Glenbrook with a new career in eduction, teaching residents as a "100% real Earth-grown American human." Ritchie Redwood, also known as "your majesty," is Glenbrook's Archie Andrews. Paco Diaz's Redwood is more inspired by the recent Archie TV show than older comics, but the idea is still fun. That said, I kind of wish the interior art had been more inspired by Dan DeCarlo, like the cover.

The U.S.Avengers locate Cannonball and mount a rescue mission but are attacked by... Little Rico and his mob goons driving antique automobiles that can fly through space? Now it all makes sense. If these are the Skrulls of Kral IV, first seen in Fantastic Four #91, then perhaps Glenbrook is a Skrull enclave, too?

What a fun idea. However, as cool as the concept is—kudos, Al Ewing—I have been trying (and not that hard!) to not read comics featuring Squirrel Girl. Chtt chut! As part of the Legacy event, this comic also includes a Marvel Value Stamp, as well as a three-page backup story by Robbie Thompson and Daniel Acunas, whose artwork is awesome.

Availability: You can buy this issue online from Marvel. U.S.Avengers Vol. 1: American Intelligence Mechanics collects U.S.Avengers #1-6. U.S.Avengers Vol. 2: Cannonball Run, expected in February 2018, will collect #7-12—including this issue. Fantastic Four #91 was reprinted in The Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 3.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Concerned Citizens

The Shadow Vol. 3 #3 (Dynamite, 2017, $3.99)
While searching for Myra Reldon, Mary Jerez finds herself in a bad neighborhood where she is hassled by a group of racist hoodlums dressed in the garb of the Shadow. "Stick on a hat and a cloak—get out there and tidy up the neighborhood." Then a group of older residents intervenes, concerned citizens.

Mary then returns to the hospital, where she injects the mysterious burn victim with epinephrine. A flashback to 1944 suggests that the concerned citizens might be supporters of the Shadow, "older than we look."

Si Spurrier and Dan Watters's writing does justice to the long-running pulp character as a franchise, and I'm curious where this burn victim in the modern day plot line will go. Daniel HDR's artwork is adequate, if not overly representational. I picked up on some style in the flashback sequence, but not much otherwise.

If you are a fan of the Shadow, chances are you'll enjoy this comic.

Availability: You can order this issue directly from Dynamite. Previous volumes have been collected, such as The Shadow, Vol. 1: The Fires Of Creation.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Whack and Wallop

Grrl Scouts: Magic Socks #5 (Image, September 2017, $3.99)
Jim Mahfood's frenetic adventure series is absolutely fascinating visually. His artwork is a combination of Jamie Hewlett, Evan Dorkin, David Choe, Ralph Steadman (look for the Hunter S. Thompson appearance in this issue), graffiti, and anime stylings. The writing, at times, is funny, but more often than not, the comic's plot-driven dialogue, jokes, and commentary don't do much on their own beyond explaining what's happening in the artwork (which can be necessary) or advancing the plot. Mahfood's writing isn't literature, but his artwork is: pop culture-infused fine art to the extreme. A lot of fun, and sometimes substance.

In this issue, the Grrl Scouts are being accosted by followers of Josie Sanchez, who desires the titular magic socks, which seem to be locked up somewhere. The gathered masses use their mobile phones to whack and wallop the Scouts. Daphne Sanchez finds herself elsewhere, revisiting bad actions of her past, experiencing rare remorse, and seeking the aid of Mictlantecuhtli. The story arc should be resolved in the next issue.

While Mahfood's page design can be jagged occasionally, the lack of a general page borders and full color bleed works really well visually. The storyline with Daphne is adequately set off from that of Josie with a different palette entirely, and it is clear that Mahfood appreciates the female form.

The letter column is mostly composed of correspondence from people who met Mahfood at a convention, and who smoke pot. Folks also send in their fan art, which is fun to see. Mahfood's soundtrack for this issue included the Dead Kennedys, Danzig, Madlib, the Minutemen, and Van Halen. Man, I love back matter like that!

Availability: Mahfood's previous Grrl Scouts comics have been collected in Grrl Scouts Volume 1 and Grrl Scouts Volume 2: Work Sucks.

Friday, November 03, 2017

A Love of the Fun of Comics

The Charlton Arrow Vol. 2 #1 (Charlton Neo, 2017, $7.99)
When I was younger, before I really became interested in Marvel superheroes and the wave of independent comics of the '80s, the province of younger comics readers was Harvey, Whitman/Gold Key, Archie, or Charlton—as well as the Modern reprints. Harvey and Archie trafficked in cartoony child and teen fare like Richie Rich and, well, Archie. Whitman and Gold Key published a hodgepodge of licensed comic strip and TV comics. And Charlton was weird! Haunted, Doctor Graves, E-Man, and a wide array of other genre comics of all kinds. E-Man became one of my favorite '80s indies at First Comics and later Comico, both much, much missed.

So a new Charlton anthology book helmed by Mort Todd, former editor in chief of Cracked magazine; featuring new E-Man material by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton; and co-published by AC Comics, publisher of public domain reprint editions such as Crypt of Horror and Men of Mystery? Worthy of a read, for sure.

While not necessarily entirely the Charlton I knew given the titles I read and limited exposure to previous Charlton anthology books such as Charlton Bullseye, the Arrow is a fun and playful comic offering much promise. The new E-Man material, which drew me in, is very well done, written by Cuti and drawn by Staton. Michael Mauser—once featured in his own comic, as well as a joint with Ms. Tree—gets married, and E-Man and Nova Kane travel to Hawleyville, where Nova makes amends with her sister, who works for Samuel Boar. Nothing good will come of that!

Other stories feature Paul Kupperberg's Colonel Whiteshroud, Monster Hunter; Roger McKenzie and Steven Butler's Ditko-esque Mr. Mixit; Kupperberg's Edison Corliss's Industrual Steam and Ironworks; and McKenzie's Frank Miller-hued Dead Reckoning. The comics remind me of Chris Ecker and the Big Bang Comics a little—more the self-publishing aspect (Megaton, Ramm, etc.) than the retro superhero homage. There's a solid group of friends and like-minded creators involved in this project. The love—and fun—shows.

My one criticism of the comic might be that the heavier stock glossy paper and bright color palette makes for an occasionally glaring read. Matte paper and a softer, more nuanced palette might be easier on the eyes—at least mine—and perhaps still hew true to the title's precursors.

Availability: For this issue, check your local comic shop. Nurses, Monsters and Hotrodders #1: Charlton Comics Silver Age Classic Cover Gallery is also available, as are issues from the first volume: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #6Charlton Arrow Vol. 1 is also available online via Comixology.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

A Beauty to Behold

The Dirty Duck Book #1 (Cocoanut Comix, 1971, 50 cents)
Bobby London did the whole thing, and this black-and-white beauty is a doozy. London, whose Dirty Duck comic strips later appeared in National Lampoon and Playboy magazines, has a very fine ink line, and his early comics—though underground and countercultural in nature—are highly influenced by George Herriman's Krazy Kat, and perhaps E.C. Segar's Popeye. (Interestingly, London actually did the Popeye comic strip in the '80s.) The original art must be a beauty to behold.

Incorporating impressionistic backgrounds and settings a la Herriman, Dirty Duck makes his way through London's world—going to see the Grateful Dead, accidentally injuring a police officer, recognizing famine, hiding from the law (a glorious page perhaps inspired by the Keystone Cops), wrecking a car, seeking privacy, wooing a dowager, and playing croquet.

The comic is somewhat text heavy—though not text dense—and you can read it at multiple levels. I'll have to return to reread the comic to further explore the text as text, As wonderfully and artistically drawn as the comic is—downright elegant for the undergrounds—there's more going on than can be seen on the surface.

Given that this was drawn in the early '70s, I'm wondering what comic strip reprints were available at the time. London was clearly well versed in the the visual language of the early art form, as well as on contemporary undergrounds.

Availability: An IDW/Top Shelf Dirty Duck collection is scheduled for July 2018. London's Popeye work has been collected in Popeye: The Classic Newspaper Comics by Bobby London Volume 1 (1986-1989) and Popeye: The Classic Newspaper Comics by Bobby London Volume 2 (1989-1992).

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Far from a Romance

Night Nurse #1 (Marvel, July 2015, $7.99)
Writers: Jean Thomas, Linda Fite, and Brian Michael Bendis; Artists: Winslow Mortimer and Alex Maleev; Colorists: George Roussos, Andrea Hunt, and Dave Stewart; Letterers: John Costanza, Charlotte Jetter, and VC's Randy Gentile; Assistant Editor: Cory Sedlmeier; Editors: Roy Thomas and Axel Alonso; Cover Artist: Siya Oum.

I can almost hardly believe that this series was originally published. By the time Marvel published the original Night Nurse series in 1972-1973, most publishers no longer published romance or "women's" comics. (I qualify that term because women can make and read any kind of comic, even if publishers have long tried to market specific kinds of comics to women.) Even in the early '70s, Night Nurse was an anomaly and far from a romance or teen drama comic. This wonderful budget reprint volume collects #1-4 of the original series, as well as a 2006 appearance in Daredevil Vol. 2, #80 (whole number #460) that contains a Night Nurse cameo and establishes her in the Marvel Knights neighborhood of the Marvel Universe.

The original four-issue series brings together three young student nurses: a wealthy redhead estranged from her father, an inner-city African-American woman, and a comparatively unremarkable blonde. As roommates, their backgrounds couldn't be much more different, but their shared experiences in nursing classes end up bringing them together as friends.

Each issue focuses on a challenge the new friends need to overcome, alone or together. Political radicals plan to bomb the hospital to protest rolling brown outs in poor sections of the city. An addict surgeon tries to cover up a death caused by his negligence—while romancing one of the students. An injured mafia kingpin becomes a target while under care at the hospital. And at a remote mansion, an invalid poses a threat to a visiting nurse.

Night Nurse is more similar to the horror and mystery comics of the '70s than earlier "women-oriented" comics such as the romance comics, teen comics like Archie, or even Marvel's Patsy Walker and related comics. Winslow Mortimer's artwork is realistic and dramatic—suitable for a dark action comic. The comic could have even inspired a TV show at the time; think Emergency! meets The Incredible Hulk.

The 2006 cameo in Daredevil recontextualizes Night Nurse from its student nurse origins to a character in the mainstream Marvel Universe treating injured superheroes in the deep, desperate dark of night. In that issue, she tends to Daredevil's wounds while Elektra, the Black Widow, Iron Fist, and Power Man take on the Hand. The recontextualization works, and she could easily find a new place in comics today. This volume is an excellent book ending of the old and the new.

Availability: Night Nurse #1 is available as a back issue.