Monday, September 17, 2012
SUMMER READING...HAD ME A BLAST!
“It's a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.”
- Walter Winchell (1897-1972)
How’s your summer going? I’m writing this in early July and my own
summer has been a whirlwind of family events, including my son Ed’s
graduation from The Ohio State University and his landing a job as
an engineer two days later. There have been household projects as
well. Among them, setting up my garage for my summer-long Garage
Con. That will involve public garage sales every other weekend and
private shopping for comics fans and retailers by appointment. My
enthusiasm for this is tempered only by my realization that these
sales represent the merest tip of the iceberg that is my legendary
Vast Accumulation of Stuff.
My friends who are more active in the comics industry are zipping
around the country from convention to convention. I get exhausted
merely thinking about their schedules while simultaneously envying
their adventures and stamina. Perhaps 2013 will find me on the con
trail with them. Perhaps not.
My summer vacation plans are modest. I’d like to spend a few days
in a secluded cabin somewhere with just enough modern amenities to
keep me from starving to death while I kick back with a large stack
of novels, graphic and otherwise. Of course, being alone in some
secluded cabin flies in the face of everything I’ve learned from a
lifetime of watching monster movies. Did you hear that?
Even while juggling personal and professional responsibilities, I
have still managed to read a whole bunch of comics collections and
graphic novels. Cue the reviews.
When Dark Horse announced its Adventures Into the Unknown Archives
Volume One [$49.99], I reacted to the news with puzzlement. A UK
publisher had already released such a volume and their first volume
had the first five issues of the 1950s pre-Code horror comic to the
Dark Horse version’s four. Given that the two competing books were
priced about the same, I figured Dark Horse had already lost this
battle of the archive editions. I figured wrong.
Dark Horse’s version offers vastly superior reproduction. Each and
every page is easy-to-read and vibrant. Details I’d missed in the
UK book were clearly visible in the Dark Horse edition. That more
than made up for including one less issue.
The stories themselves, originally published in the late 1940s, are
sometimes pretty good and sometimes not. At the very least, each is
interesting and offers a window to the comics world of that decade.
There are werewolves, ghosts, vampires and other classic creatures
of folklore. Though the editorial voice often declares there is no
such thing as the supernatural, the sincerity of the storytelling
begs to differ.
On the downside, save for a credit roll on the volume’s title page,
this edition doesn’t credit the writers and artists of these tales,
even though some of those credits can be found at the Grand Comics
Database. Noted fantasy author Frank Belknap Long wrote all of the
stories in the first issue and, artists whose work appeared in the
issues reprinted herein include Fred Guardineer, Paul Reinman, Al
Feldstein, Leonard Starr, Edvard Moritz, Jon Blummer, Pete Riss and
Max Elkan. To the best of our current knowledge, archives editions
like this one must strive to identify those who created the stories
they contain. It’s the right thing to do.
I’m not ready to call a winner in this Archives competition until
I see a second volume from each publisher. But, if you only have
access to the Dark Horse version, don’t hesitate to give it a shot.
It’s a darn fine book.
Showcase Presents Young Love Volume 1 [DC; $19.99] reprints issues
#39-56 of the title from 1963-1966. It’s a welcome addition to my
personal comics library, but I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly.
With the exception of those stories written by Robert Kanigher, the
writing is uniformly bland. Kanigher, teamed with John Romita in
his post-Atlas, pre-Marvel days, delivers actual drama and passion
in the ongoing “Private Diary of Mary Robin, R.N.” series. These
are tales of tears and triumphs, duty and denial. Mary is a great
character, dedicated to nursing but longing for true love as well.
Romita did a sensational job illustrating these stories; his art is
much more exciting than anything else in this 541-page collection.
There is some repetition over the course of the 14 episodes of the
series, but its quality is consistently high.
Romita is the star of this volume’s artistic line-up. None of the
other artists even comes close to his work. But don’t rely on the
book’s credits to identify those artists for you. The errors are
numerous and, in several cases, ridiculous. For accurate credits,
visit the Grand Comics Database, whose members have been discussing
and correcting these credits, sometimes using the actual editorial
records of the era, as fast as they can.
I do recommend Showcase Presents Young Love Volume 1 to devotees of
comics and comics history, but it’s a guarded recommendation. I’d
also recommend that DC show more care in producing these volumes,
especially when it comes to identifying the DC writers and artists
who created the stories therein.
Lovingly, brilliantly crafted by P. Craig Russell, The Fairy Tales
of Oscar Wilde Volume 5: The Happy Prince [NBM; $16.99] is arguably
the most beautiful graphic album of 2012. It is a simultaneously
heartbreaking and heart-lifting story of the friendship between the
statue/spirit of a beloved prince who died too soon and the humble
barn swallow who tries to help the lad alleviate the sufferings of
his most destitute subjects. It’s a glorious parable for our own
troubled world with its vast divide between the rich and the poor.
My regard for this wonderful book comes from deep within my soul
and I recommend it without hesitation or restraint.
Comics blogger Brian Cronin returns to better bookstores and comics
shops everywhere to ask the burning question Why Does Batman Carry
Shark Repellent? [Plume; $15]. If you read and enjoyed his first
book - Was Superman a Spy? - you’ll love this kind of sequel just
as much. It’s filled with commentary, lists and just plain goofy
facts on such topics as weird members of the Green Lantern Corps,
superhero pets, commie villains, superheroes who have been stabbed
by Wolverine, death threats to comic-book creators, Professor X’s
most significant lies, strange comic-book ads, inventions crossing
from comic books into real life and much more, including the answer
to the book’s titular question. It’s a great book to keep at hand
for when you have five or ten minutes to spare and need to get your
smile on for whatever you have to do next. Buy a copy for yourself
and a few more to use as birthday/holiday gifts for your comics-
reading friends. Share the mirth.
If you’re feeling like some old-time comedy fun, check out The Best
of the Three Stooges Comicbooks Volume 1 [Papercutz; $19.99], even
if whoever titled the book doesn’t realize “comic books” isn’t one
word. This handsome hardcover presents nearly 200 pages of classic
Stooges comics from the 1950s in full color.
From the early part of that decade, we get ten stories written and
drawn by Norman Maurer. These are witty misadventures wherein the
Stooges (Moe, Larry, and Shemp) commit wonderful Stooge mayhem. In
several of these tales, their nemesis is Benjamin Bogus, a con man
who always thinks the boys will be an easy mark because, well, they
are, but who still manages to come out on the losing side. It’s as
if the trio were a force of good...or maybe that should be a farce
of good. Either way, I got a kick out of Maurer’s story and art.
I’d recommend the book just for that.
The volume also presents several stories from the later 1950s when
Dell was publishing the Three Stooges comic books. Shemp is out,
Curly Joe’s in and the great Pete Alvarado is drawing a somewhat
more animated version of the trio. Though these stories aren’t as
sharp as those by Maurer, they’re still entertaining. This volume
would make a great gift for fans of the Stooges or humorous comic
books in general.
A portly werewolf, a demon trapped in a little girl’s body and a
pizza delivery boy walk into a bar...and that’s just one of several
scenes in The Incredible Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy
[Dark Horse; $12.99] that made me smile and, occasional, laugh our
loud. Written by Flippe Melo and drawn by Juan Cavia, this full-
color graphic novel is an occult adventure comedy with gargoyles,
vampires, Nazis and other monsters. It’s not an award-winner, but
it is great fun and, as such, perfect for summer reading.
School may be out for summer, but Jinx: Little Jinx Grows Up by J.
Torres, Rick Burchett and Terry Austin [Archie; $16.99] also makes
for fun summer reading. Cute “Li’l Jinx” from all those charming
Joe Edwards stories and gag pages is starting high school. It’s a
new world for the now-teen and her friends, a world where nothing
is as simple as when they were younger.
Torres and company temper the teen angst with humor. Their cast of
characters ring true, though these youngsters aren’t as dramatic as
the kids I watched grow into adults in my Medina Ohio neighborhood.
That makes for comfortable “all ages” entertainment, though part of
me wishes Torres has explored some of the concerns and problems I
saw my kids and their friends face in high school. That’s just me,
I guess, always wanting to see comics envelopes pushed, especially
when such stories include comedy and character growth.
Still, that’s a book I want to see and not the book I’m reviewing.
The book I’m reviewing is a fine effort on all counts and I think
my CBG readers will enjoy it.
I’m not a fan of post-Apocalyptic science-fiction. I’m all about
hope for the future and personal jet packs and sassy robot maids.
That said, Marksmen Volume 1 [Image; $15.99] with too many names in
the credits was more entertaining than I had anticipated. In this
particular post-catastrophe America, the warring factions are true
believers, one side putting its faith in science and the other in
its charismatic leader. It’s blind science versus blind faith and
while I’m on the side of the scientists - that hypocritical leader
of the other side is more than willing to use science to get what
he wants - there is no shortage of flawed humans on either side of
this conflict. There are heroes, villains, and individuals sort of
caught between those choices. I liked the graphic novel enough to
look forward to what comes next.
As for those ponderous credits - I hate the Hollywood mentality of
too many modern comics - Marksmen was “created by Michael Benarova,
David Baxter, and Dave Elliott. The story’s by Baxter and Elliott.
The script is by Baxter. The pencil art is by Javier Aranda with
finishes by Garry Leach. While all those cooks doesn’t hurt this
story too much, it’s been death on too many occasions to change my
preference for one writer and one artist in the comic books I read.
Or one talented creator who does both well.
Marksmen color is by Jessica Kholinne and Benny Maulana. Lettering
is by Bebe Giraffe. Catering services were provided by...okay, now
I’m just being ornery. Marksmen is worth a look.
Okay, now that you’ve run to your friendly neighborhood comics shop
and purchased all these fine items I’ve reviewed this month, you’re
ready to kick back in your comfy chair with your favorite beverage
and lose yourself in some great reading. But, hold on, how are you
going to open that beverage?
If you’re me, you reach for The Mighty Thor Bottle Opener [Diamond
Select; $19.99], which I bought for myself as a Christmas gift last
year. It’s five inches of beverage-opening power made in China,
which must be a suburb of Asgard.
It is not a bottle opener for ordinary human beings. Indeed, cut
into its metal head, are the words Whosoever holds this hammer, if
he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.
Well, as I’m both worthy and thirsty, so I’m gonna open a cold root
beer and start reading the comics goodies I’ll be reviewing in next
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2012 Tony Isabella