From Comics Buyer’s Guide #1696:
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
- Jorge Luis Borges
Editor Brent Frankenhoff has declared this an “all reviews” issue,
which I think is a terrific idea and which I recommend to all of my
fellow CBG contributors. You see what I did there? I reviewed the
theme of the issue. I’ve got this concept nailed.
Dark Horse’s Crime Does Not Pay Archives Volume 2 [$49.99] is even
better than the first book. Reprinting issues #26-29 of the comic
that set the pace for all the crime comics to follow, this volume
has the same great reproduction as the first. However, this time
around, the stories and art are even better.
The writers, mostly Charles Biro and Bob Wood, have a much better
handle on the docudrama feel of these stories. There’s a greater
sense of reality to these “all true crime stories” that sometimes
echos the newspapers of the day. A tale of “The Terrible Touhys”
of Chicago infamy ends with a breaking news caption that one of the
brothers has been captured. The following issue presents the story
of that capture.
Artists Jack Alderman and Alan Mandel deliver several outstanding
efforts. Norman Maurer gets better with every story. The wild and
often wacky style of Dick Briefer worked surprisingly well when he
drew a story and added a demented energy to the proceedings. Grim
as the subject matter is, these are still entertaining comic books.
I look forward to future volumes.
My further recent Dark Horse reading included two science-fiction
series, which I guess I could call limited series or mini-series if
I haven’t developed something of a loathing for such designations.
Limited? Mini? Neither sounds like a positive adjective to me, but
they’re all we have until some clever person figures out a better
appellation for their like. But I digress.
In Peter Bagge’s four-issue Reset [$3.50 per issue], a down-on-his-
luck-and-career actor signs on as guinea pig for a virtual reality
experiment which allows him to relive and, if only in the virtual
world created by the experiment, try to avoid the mistakes of his
past. Guy Krause is a jerk, but, despite that, he’s a sympathetic
character, especially compared to the folks running the experiment.
He wants to be a better person and have a better life than that he
has known. I won’t tell you if he achieves either goal, but I will
say Bagge delivers a satisfying conclusion to the tale.
A hardcover collection of Reset [$15.99] is scheduled for January,
2013. You can get the hardcover through Amazon at the discounted
price of $10.87.
Not scheduled for a hardcover or trade collection is Resident Alien
by Peter Hogan with art by Steve Parkhouse. The title protagonist
is a shipwrecked extraterrestrial masquerading as a retired doctor
in a small town. When the town doctor is murdered, “Doctor Harry”
is asked to fill in for him and finds himself in the middle of the
ongoing investigation. Hogan and Parkhouse combine low-key science
fiction with the mystery genre in masterful fashion.
Resident Alien #0 [$3.50] reprints the chapters that first appeared
in Dark Horse Presents with issues #1-3 continuing and concluding
the initial story arc. There are clearly more stories to be told
with “Doctor Harry” and the townspeople and I hope we get to read
them in the near future.
It’s 1963 and there’s a conspiracy to assassinate President John F.
Max Allan Collins’ Target Lancer [Forge; $25.99] is the latest in
his Nate Heller series. Heller’s cases often involve him in some
of the past century’s more intriguing crimes. Thanks to the crazy
obsessive research that goes into these novels, the fiction often
seems more plausible than the recorded history.
Heller is one of the great detectives of fiction (or maybe he’s as
real as the world in which he operates). Even though most of the
books in this series take place earlier in Heller’s life, this one
portrays the character in crystal clarity. The reader gets to know
Heller and his often-grey sense of morality, how loyal he is to his
friends and how dangerous he is to his enemies. You can’t go wrong
with any Heller novel, but this new one is as good a starting place
Target Lancer has gutsy action, political intrigue, and a mystery
that echoes the questions that still exist in the assassination of
Kennedy. Buy it, clear your schedule and settle down for a punchy
Al Capone. Eliot Ness. Vampires. And Lovecraft’s Old Ones trying
to make a comeback. Those are some of the elements found in Cosa
Nosferatu [CreateSpace; $12.99], an ambitious first novel by E.J.
Priz. It’s a good start.
With Capone’s release from prison, he and Ness are at a war again.
But they aren’t the only players on the field, what with Capone’s
earthly rivals and undead creatures in the thrall of the Old Ones.
The early chapters are somewhat choppy and the cast of characters
grows very large very quickly, though well-read genre readers will
get a kick out of some members of the cast.
What I like is that Ness and Capone aren’t at all two-dimensional
in this book, that a mysterious woman turns out to be dangerous and
fascinating and that the novel roars to an exciting climax. It’s
a flawed book, but it’s also great fun. I look forward to another
book from Priz, hopefully one in which he plays less with classic
genre characters and creates new ones.
Dirt Candy: A Cookbook [Clarkson Potter; $19.99] is a cookbook and
a non-fiction graphic novel. Written by Amanda Cohen, the chef and
owner of the Dirt Candy restaurant, with journalist Grady Hendrix
and artist Ryan Dunlavey, this delightful tome is a good example of
how the comics art form can tell any story and transmit any kind of
Dirt Candy is an all-vegetable restaurant in New York City’s East
Village. Cohen and her collaborators tell the history of how this
place came to be, portray the chaos and hard work necessary for the
restaurant to serve its clientele and breaks up the narrative with
recipes for mouth-watering dishes. I confess I skimmed most of the
actual recipes - I plan to spend more time with them when Sainted
Wife Barb and I can consider them together - but those I did read
struck me as both wonderfully exotic and down-to-earth. I wonder
if Dirt Candy offers discount coupons for comics reviewers.
The writing is breezy and Dunlavey’s art is amusing and animated.
This would make a terrific gift for the cooks in your life, even if
they aren’t comics readers. Not only will they enjoy it, but it’s
a way of leading them through our comics door.
As a youngster growing up in Cleveland, the oceans never held much
interest for me. So most of the issues collected in DC’s Showcase
Presents Sea Devils Volume 1 [19.99] were new to me. I’m actually
glad I didn’t read the title as a kid because I don’t think I could
have appreciated the wacky inventiveness with which writer/editor
Robert Kanigher infused those watery adventures.
The characterizations of the four Sea Devils are standard Kanigher,
which put them way above most of DC’s heroes. Each member of the
team has something to prove and finds something in the oceans that
they lack in their land-bound lives. Muscleman Biff is clumsy on
land, but moves freely in the water. Teenager Nicky and his sister
Judy can ignore age and gender issues underwater. Nominal leader
Dane wants to honor the legacy of his frogman father and earn his
dad’s prized flippers. Maybe Kanigher hits these notes too often,
but at least there are notes to be hit.
Nothing is too wild for Sea Devils stories. A giant octopus man.
Transformations into half-fish/half-human creatures. A sea-going
battle between Hercules and Neptune. A mad scientist who shrinks
them and imprisons them in a bottle with a ship. Sure, teams like
the Challengers of the Unknown and Time Master Rip Hunter’s group
had adventures like this all the time, but the Sea Devils had them
on a budget. In other almost unique touch for that time, the Sea
Devils were always running light in the checkbook. When their own
ship is destroyed, they must enter a contest to win a new ship and
stay in business. Like Stan Lee over at Marvel, Kanigher was way
ahead of the 1960s curve.
The great Russ Heath was at the artistic helm for the three issues
of Showcase that introduced the Sea Devils and the first ten issues
of their own title. Irv Novick did the next two and was followed
by issues in which several artists drew and even took part in Sea
Devils adventures. Besides Novick, the artists were Jack Abel, Joe
Kubert, Gene Colan and Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. On board for
issue #16, the last issue reprinted in this volume, were pencilers
Bruno Premiani and Howard Purcell and inker Sheldon Moldoff. It’s
a Silver Age smorgasbord!
Other writers also contributed to the stories in this volume. Bob
Haney was the first, followed by Hank Chapman and France E. Herron.
All took their cues from Kanigher’s work on the title.
Showcase Presents Sea Devils Volume 1 is enormous quirky fun. I’d
rank it as one of my favorite Showcase Presents volumes to date and
recommend it to you most heartily.
For more contemporary weirdness, you need to look no further than
Swamp Thing vs. the Zombie Pets by John Sazaklis with illustrations
by Art Baltazar [Picture Window Books; $4.95]. It’s one of about
two dozen “DC Super Pets” books for younger readers and for older
readers who, having read about this one online, had to have a copy
of it. This must be my third childhood. And counting.
Aided by his Undead Pets Club, Solomon Grundy plans to revive all
the dead pets in the world and then conquer the world. His zombie
menagerie is a Manx cat, a Persian cat, a hound dog, and a possum.
Opposing him: Swamp Thing, Batman, Ace the Bat-Hound and Swampy’s
Down Home Critter Gang: a raccoon, a skunk, a possum and a basset
hound. It’s a clash of titans. Or not.
Swamp Thing vs. the Zombie Pets is good goofy fun. While I’m sure
some adults will object to the zombie characters, the horrors are
presented with such child-like glee that the chances of any child
being frightened by them is slim. I think kids will dig this book
and others in the “DC Super Pets” series. I know I’m tempted to go
on a shopping spree.
You definitely need this book for the “odd” section of your comics
library. I’ll let you know about the others in the series when I
finally give in to the afore-mentioned temptation.
When it comes to the classic American Comics Group title Adventures
into the Unknown, there are dueling archives editions. Dark Horse
has published one volume, British publisher PS has published two.
Dark Horse has the better reproduction, though I thought the second
PS volume showed quite a bit of improvement. Each PS book reprints
five issues to Dark Horse’s four. Though I prefer the additional
material, I’d have to call this a draw for most comics fans.
Adventures into the Unknown Volume 2 [$47.99] reprints issues #6-10
from 1949 and 1950. There are no writer credits, but the stories
are an enjoyable mix of vampires, ghosts, deals with the devil,
witches and other genre fare. An ongoing series - The Spirit of
Frankenstein - appears in four of the five issues.
My favorite story in this collection is “The Civic Spirit,” wherein
ghosts get active in local politics. I’ll leave the Chicago jokes
to those who like the low-hanging fruit.
Peter Crowther provides a nice introduction to the volume. I was
especially pleased to see then-reader E. Nelson Bridwell get some
well-earned props. Bridwell was a runner-up in one of the comic’s
contests and his story appears in this collection.
With solid art for the era, Adventures into the Unknown Volume 2 is
an enjoyable visit to the dawn of the horror comic. It has earned
a place in my own comics library.
Also from PS, Out of the Night Volume One [$47.99] reprints issues
#1-6 of that 1952-1953 title with a foreword by Roy Thomas. These
stories are better crafted and generally stronger than those in the
Adventures into the Unknown volume. Editor Richard E. Hughes and
his writers were quick studies.
The art is better as well. Artists include Al Williamson, Charles
Sultan, Harold LeDoux, George Wilhelms, Frank Frazetta, Pete Riss,
George Klein, Lou Cameron, Harry Lazurus and others.
In addition to the ACG material, PS also offers collections of the
Harvey horror comics of the 1950s and will soon release a volume of
the earliest Heap stories. It’s good stuff and, though they come
out with books with a rapidity that leaves my wallet in the dust,
I’m glad the company is publishing these books.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella