From Comics Buyer’s Guide #1680:
“But that’s only one grim chapter! The Reds have written many more
with their guns and their bayonets to make up the shameful atrocity
- Hank Chapman, “Atrocity Story” (Battlefield #2)
Summer is almost upon us. Even now I can see myself sitting on the
balcony of my Italian villa, can feel the cool breeze from the
mountains, can almost reach out and touch the majestic stack of
reading material awaiting my pleasure. Then I realize I’ve again
fallen asleep watching House Hunters International.
Whether in Calabria or my back patio in Medina, summer reading
conjures up warm and fuzzy memories. As a kid, summer was when I’d
read those Dennis the Menace vacation specials, giant Superman and
Batman annuals, and every science fiction book I could find at my
Will I be taking a vacation this summer? Will I be going on a
vacation that allows me to kick back with great books and comics?
At this writing, I don’t know. However, in the spirit of my bygone
summers, here are my suggestions for your own majestic stack of
Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Battlefield Vol. 1 [$64.99] is the
most interesting 1950s collection to come from the publisher. The
title’s 11-issue run featured outstanding art and writing, not to
mention an intriguing hint of the political and social pressures
faced by the company in 1952 and 1953.
The volume begins with a lengthy introduction by noted comics
historian Dr. Michael J. Vassallo. There’s some good coverage of
the general history of Atlas war comics, but the intro gets bogged
down with issue-by-issue recitation of artists credits, information
available in the contents pages. In doing so, Vassallo omits the
most significant element of this collection: the dramatic change in
story tone between the fourth and fifth issues.
The first four issues of Battlefield are some of the very best war
comics of their time. The stories are gritty little gems that do
not assume the superiority of every American fighting man; there
are some major foul-ups in these tales and their actions cost them
or their fellow soldiers dearly. There are stories with lessons to
deliver, sometimes in tragic manner. There are stories deserving
of being dubbed propaganda, but, some of those are among the most
powerful in the collection.
There are three unforgettable stories in those first issues. Hank
Chapman’s “Atrocity Story” hammers the reader with reports of
Communist and historical brutality. Artist Paul Reinman responded
to the script with equally notable visuals. It’s propaganda, but
it’s also a classic.
Two other tales from these first issues haunt me as well. In “A
Waste of Time,” a soldier lies dying in desperate need of blood.
Stateside, his wife can’t be bothered to donate blood because she
would rather write a letter to him. In “Code!,” a slacker soldier
fails to memorize the radio code that could alert his fellows to an
enemy advance. Two stories, two bad choices.
With issue #5, Battlefield takes a turn. The writing and art
remain excellent - I’m constantly amazed at how much these creators
were able to put into their limited page counts - but the tone of
the title is more typical of the era. Heroic American soldiers who
defy all odds to defeat the enemy. Non-combatants who discover what
a friend they have in the U.S.A. The occasional enemy combatant who
ends up condemning Communism. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong
with stories like these, but the earlier issues had more of an edge
to them and a more realistic atmosphere.
The America of the early 1950s was no stranger to paranoia and
politically-motivated witch-hunts, even if the witches wore Commie
red. With comic books on the defensive, I wonder if Atlas simply
took what its publisher and editors considered the safe path with
Battlefield. I wish this question had been raised and addressed in
Whichever kind of story you prefer, Battlefield is worth its hefty
price tag. Chapman, Paul S. Newman, Carl Wessler, and other sadly
uncredited writers are represented by dozens of fine scripts. The
title’s roster of artists is legendary: Gene Colan, Russ Heath, Joe
Maneely, Bill Everett, Joe Sinnott, Dave Berg, and many others. I
recommend it highly and I applaud Marvel for stepping outside its
usual fantasy and super-hero comfort zones to present these great
blasts from the pasts.
My buddy Anthony Tollin has been publishing the classic pulp
adventures of The Shadow, The Avenger, The Whisperer, and The Doc
Savage for several years now. Each Sanctum Books publication has
two unabridged full-length novels with the original illustrations
and an assortment of other spiffy material. Now, in commemoration
of The Shadow’s 80th anniversary, Tollin has brought us The Shadow
#47: “The Living Shadow” & “The Black Hush” ($14.95) with the first
reprinting of The Shadow’s debut adventure in decades and a second
The opening chapter of “The Living Shadow” is one of the best hero
introductions of all time. The mysterious man in black saves a
suicidal Harry Vincent and gives the despondent man a new purpose
in life. We learn just enough about the Shadow in those pages to
hook us but good and author Walter B. Gibson keeps us guessing and
reading throughout the adventure. I see why The Shadow so quickly
became a pivotal figure in pulp fiction and how he inspired so many
of the comic-book super-heroes to come.
From just two years later, Gibson’s “The Black Hush” continues the
mystery and combines it with an incredible invention turned to
sinister use. We might know more about The Shadow in this novel,
but the surprises never stop coming.
Along with the novels, The Shadow #47 also has engaging historical
essays by Tollin and Will Murray. The two of them are living
titans of pulp magazine and old-time radio knowledge with a knack
for presenting that information in concise and entertaining manner.
You can’t go wrong with any of the nearly 100 books that Tollin and
Sanctum Books have published to date.
There are some Eisner Awards nominees on this month’s review pile.
The most notable of them is Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba
[Vertigo/DC; $19.99], which got your Tipster’s vote in the category
of “Best Limited Series.”
Daytripper is the story of the lives and deaths of Bras de Olivia
Domingos, son of a famous Brazilian writer and, in some of these
poignant tales, himself a writer. It’s a story about life in all
its wonder and uncertainty. I read it as an inspirational tale of
life’s possibilities, others may react to it differently. That the
series can hold various meanings for its readers is the reason I
voted for this splendidly-written, magnificently-drawn series. I
recommend to anyone who loves great comics and especially to any
public or school libraries whose patrons include anyone who loves
Since it’s always summer somewhere in the world, I’ll be back on
the morrow with more vacation reading recommendations.
See you then.
© 2011 Tony Isabella