From Comics Buyer’s Guide #1695:
“For most, Comic-Con is the one point in the year where we don’t
care what people think of us, because we are amongst family - the
more than 100,000 people who are “one of us.” That’s empowering.”
- Harry Knowles, founder, Ain’t It Cool News
There’s something about Comic-Con and it’s somewhat akin to magic.
My opening quote comes from a foreword to Comic-Con Episode IV: A
Fan’s Hope [DK Publishing; $24.99] by filmmaker Morgan Spurlock and
featuring photography by Alba Tull. There are also forewords by
Stan Lee, Joss Whedon and Thomas Tull, but they are but supporting
players to the book’s real stars: the hundreds of images of people
clearly having a wonderful time at Comic-Con.
I have not been to Comic-Con in years, the cost of attending being
incompatible with the expense of putting two kids through college
at the same time. The last time I was there, I thought it was the
biggest event of any kind I had ever attended and my friends tell
me it’s gotten bigger every year. Part of me fears that and part
of me wants to see it. I’m not at all surprised that, less than a
month after the 2012 Comic-Com, four-day passes for the 2013 event
are already sold out. For Americans and for many fans and creators
from around the world, Comic-Con is still the Holy Grail of comics
in specific and popular culture in general. I don’t think they are
wrong in thinking this.
Watching from outside, as I have done for several years now, Comic-
Con is a whirling blur of Hollywood celebrity, cosplaying, comics
news and, of course, the complaints. Given the size of Comic-Com,
it would be a miracle if someone couldn’t find something to bitch
The Hollywood stuff isn’t my main interest, but I understand the
desire to express to, say, the cast and crew of The Big Bang Theory
or Castle, how much pleasure their work has brought one. Even at
age 60, I can see the excitement of being able to do so in person.
I love cosplayers. Even the weirdest are wonderful to me. If you
can’t pretend you are rocking that Wonder Woman or Captain America
costume at Comic-Con, where else can you indulge in such a harmless
moment of fantasy?
Surprisingly, the comics news doesn’t interest me as much. Yeah,
yeah, Marvel and DC, tell me how wonderful your next big event is
going to be. That’s nice, children, but don’t expect me to get all
excited about it until I’ve read it and it’s proven to be even half
as good as you claimed it would be.
The comics news I found most interesting this year? That would be
how many creators who had made their bones at big publishers were
now exploring creator-owned projects elsewhere. Maybe the lessons,
the tragic lessons, of Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bill Finger, Jack
Kirby and so many others are finally sinking in to the professional
The complaints? Some are surely justified and others not so much.
It’s the nature of Comic-Con.
From comics fans, there are complaints that our sacred ceremony has
been invaded by outsiders, by fans of Twilight or whatever the big
teen angst fantasy is this year. There was a time when that would
have bothered me as well. But, really, are those fans so different
from you or I? In a world where so many groups and individuals do
everything they can to divide people, shouldn’t we embrace an event
that brings people together?
Looking through Spurlock’s addictive book, I see people very much
like me. Maybe they’ve never read a comic book, just as I’ve never
seen a Twilight film. But they love what they love as passionately
as I love what I love...and I think there’s plenty of room for all
of us at Comic-Con. Or, at least, a percentage of all of us until
Comic-Con can get a bigger boat.
Mark Evanier, my friend of four decades, has said many wise things
throughout our history. One of the wisest was his observation that
everyone can find their own personal Comic-Con within the vastness
that is the Comic-Con. You who will be fortunate to attend Comic-
Con 2013 should embrace that most excellent advice.
So when do the 2014 tickets go on sale?
DC’s Archive Editions are getting thinner and more expensive, so I
don’t buy many of them these days. However, since I had only read
five of the 16 adventures reprinted in Batman Archives Volume Eight
[$59.99], I went for that one.
This volume collects the Batman stories from Detective Comics #155-
170, dated from January 1950 to April 1951, all published before I
was born. It’s an interesting era in Batman history, an time when
criminals could still pay the ultimate price for their wrongdoing,
though never at Batman’s hand. They were crime stories, but never
as garish and violent as those found in actual crime comic books.
The writers of half these stories have yet to be identified, adding
to the mysteries in those stories.
The legend of Batman grows in a number of these tales. We see the
unveiling of the Batmobile of 1950, see a thousand and one trophies
of Batman and Robin’s crime-fighting career, learn untold tales of
the Bat-Signal and the previously unknown origin of one of Batman’s
most persistent enemies. One of these legend-building tales - “The
Strange Costumes of Batman” - is the source of one of my greatest
fan-fantasies. I dream of owning action figures of those costumes
and displaying them in a room-size model of the Batcave. Wonder if
I could get a Wayne Foundation grant for that?
The art in this volume is excellent. Cool covers by Win Mortimer.
Interior art by Lew Sayre Schwartz, Dick Sprang, Charles Paris and
Jim Mooney. Not as boisterous or dark as today’s Batman art, but
solid storytelling through and through.
These are fine stories from before Batman and Robin were burdened
with amateur psychoanalysis from writers who too often downplay the
simple goodness of heroes who have suffered great personal loss and
risen above it to become champions of justice and the protectors of
their fellow citizens. There is excellent writing in many modern
Batman comic books, but I miss those older incarnations of Gotham’s
guardians. There’s room for both in today’s world.
Batman Archives Volume Eight is pricey but still worth reading and
owning. Sign me up for volume nine.
Adam Beechen has released a new edition of Hench [Sonnova; $14.99].
Drawn by Manny Bello, Hench earned a place in 1000 Comic Books You
Must Read. Here’s what I wrote about it there:
“Misfortunes lead a basically decent man into hiring himself out as
a henchman to villains. It’s one of those obvious ideas that
aren’t obvious until someone else comes up with them. Treasures
like Hench bring new life to the super-hero genre.”
For this new edition, Beechen has added a 64-page sequel drawn by
Ethan Beavers. In this new chapter, Mike Fulton’s life takes him
through some surprising changes, some dark, some hopeful. It’s a
thrilling exploration of the world of heroes, villains and henchmen
with a most satisfying conclusion and many nods to classic super-
hero comics. If you like super-hero comics that walk a different
route than their Marvel and DC counterparts without disrespecting
those counterparts, you’ll love the new and improved Hench. It’s
a terrific book.
Edited by Blake Bell, Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives
Vol. 3 [Fantagraphics; $39.99] reprints 41 Ditko-drawn stories from
1957. Originally published by Charlton, these fantasy, horror and
science fiction tales showcase the mind-stagging inventiveness of
the artist even when he was called upon to illustrate scripts that
didn’t make sense. Ditko’s eye-catching storytelling combined with
his expressive faces and figures elevated the least of these tales
and, when he got a good script, his work was even more powerful and
striking. This is great stuff, my friends.
A brief caveat. There are pages missing from two of the stories in
this volume. The publisher will be including complete versions of
those stories in the next volume.
Mysterious Traveler is a must for Ditko fans and pretty much anyone
who loves excellence and individuality in comics art. I love this
volume and this series.
Dark Horse has been publishing an impressive number of impressive
archive editions of vintage comics. Silver Streak Archives Volume
One [$59.99] with the original Daredevil, the Claw, and the speedy
super-hero the title was named for is the latest to cross my path
and it’s nearly 300 pages of wacky delight.
The volume reprints Silver Streak Comics #6-9, originally published
in 1940 and 1941. The Claw gets the cover of the first issue and
he’s a clawed and fanged caricature of an Asian. Dark Horse notes
the insensitivity of the character’s appearance while stating the
comics are being presented as they were in the name of historical
accuracy. I’m on board with that. Oddly enough, though the Claw
is called the Green Claw in his story’s logo, his coloring is John
Boehner orange throughout the episode.
Silver Streak featured a variety of characters and genre. Besides
super-heroes like Daredevil and Silver Streak, there are cowboys,
secret agents, pilots, adventurers, jungle heroes, detectives and
a wonderful boy inventor by the name of Dickie Dean. The kids of
the 1940s got a lot for their dimes.
The Daredevil/Claw battles are the highlight of this volume. The
action is frantic and often brutal. Daredevil rockets around like
he was in a pinball game. The Claw is a bloodthirsty giant whose
plans seldom get any smaller than world domination. I can see why
readers came back issue after issue.
Whenever something like this Silver Streak Archives falls into my
hands, I wonder what my youthful self would have made of it back in
the 1960s. I’d never have imagined that such comics, comics I had
heard of it but dimly, would ever find their way into my hands in
such a stylish format. Keep them coming, Dark Horse!
I finally watched The Three Stooges: The Movie [20th Century Fox;
$29.98] starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes and Will Sasso as
Moe, Larry and Curly. Set in the present, the boys have spent all
their lives in an orphanage run by nuns Jane Lynch and Larry David.
Unadoptable, their antics and the painful consequences thereof have
left the orphanage sans insurance. To prevent the closing of the
only home they’ve ever known, the boys venture into the world with
the aim of raising the money the orphanage needs. Knuckle-headed
innocents that they are, the odds are against them.
This isn’t a great movie. I never expected it to be a great movie.
What I expected and what I got was a hour-and-a-half of wackiness
that transported me back to my childhood and to the Three Stooges
theatrical shorts I watched on TV. I had fun with this movie and
its many nods to those shorts.
Hayes, Sasso and Diamantopoulos are great as the boys. Lynch is,
as ever, a treasure. David’s Sister Mary-Mengele is a foil in the
mold of the classic Stooges shorts. Adding to my delight were fine
comedic performances by Brian Doyle-Murray, Sofía Vergara, Jennifer
Hudson, Isaiah Mustafa, Stephen Collins, Craig Bierko and, God help
me, the real-life cast of Jersey Shore.
Back in the day, the Stooges were often criticized as being bad for
kids. But, then and now, as much as I loved the slapstick, I liked
the characters for their fierce determination to succeed and their
loyalty to one another. Those qualities come through in this new
movie. Which isn’t great, but which is great fun.
This makes three columns in a row in which I’ve reviewed something
involving the Stooges. It’s mortifying. I wonder how far I can get
into my newly-received The Three Stooges: The Ultimate Collection
before next month’s column.
Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck!
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella