Monday, April 9, 2018


Pre-Code Classics: Beware Volume One [PS Artbooks; $59.99] is one of the better collections of 1950s horror comics the U.K. publisher has released. It collects the first seven issues [January 1953 to January 1954] of the title from Trojan Magazines. During its brief existence, Trojan only published six genre titles: horror, crime, romance, war and western. Given the quality of this collection, I’d likely buy collections of the other titles as well.

Beware ran fourteen issues. The covers of these first issues were striking without being especially gory. Harry Harrison did most of them with the legendary Roy G. Krenkel penciling one cover inked by Harrison. Myron Fass did a couple as well.

Beware’s stories, whose writers include Richard Kahn, Jack Miller and Paul S. Newman, are a cut above the usual 1950s horror comics stuff. There are the usual ghosts and ghouls, monsters of various origins, extraterrestrial aliens and a couple shape shifters. One of my favorite tales has a hunter punished for killing a sacred tiger by being changed into a succession of animals and killed by fellow hunters over and over again. Another favorite features a vengeful spirit who manifests in a variety of paper products.

Notable interior artists include Harrison, Fass, Sid Check, Henry Kiefer, John Forte and A. C. Hollingsworth. As with the writing in this title, the art is a cut above the usual.

In these times of economic concern, I’m taking a close look at my comics buying. But I’m looking forward to the concluding volume of Beware. Since it’s doubtful PS Artbooks will reprint Trojan’s crime and other titles, and since the Trojan Magazines stuff seems to be in the public domain, I’ll try to find time to read those online at Comic Book Plus.

Pre-Code Classics: Beware Volume One is recommended. Search a bit and you might be able to find it at a good discount.

ISBN 978-1-78636-134

Final Straw by Kathleen M. Fraze [Xlibris; $21.99] is the first in a series of novels featuring small-town police detective Jo Ferris. Fraze is an Ohio writer and reporter for the Akron-Beacon Journal. Much of my prose fiction reading falls into the category of police procedurals and I tend to gravitate towards novels set in Ohio or with some connection to Ohio. In Final Straw, the small town’s police chief is murdered. Ferris, one of the detectives working the case, is a widowed mother whose child has also passed. She’s in a relationship with a man who does not much like cops. Her mother, who has gone back to college, lives with her and also doesn’t much approve of her daughter’s job. Her new acting police chief is a married man with whom she had a torrid affair. Even with so many choices in her life - she should kick her snotty boyfriend and her mother to the curb, though the latter can be useful sometimes - Ferris is a character a reader can root for. I’ve already ordered the next book in this series.

What fascinates me most about this novel is how incredibly bad the local cops - and the F.B.I. agents who’ve tracked a fugitive who’d sworn to kill the chief to the small town - are at their jobs. At every turn, they make the wrong call or violate procedure or fail to investigate glaringly obvious avenues. These cops are so awful at their jobs that they constitute an ongoing threat to themselves and the community they serve. If this is what subsequent novels in the series are like, Fraze is brilliantly mining a new vein in cop and detective stories.

The bottom line? I enjoyed this book and I suspect those of you who also enjoy cop books will enjoy it as well.

ISBN 1-4134-4131-9

Batman/Shadow #1-6 by Scott Synder and Steve Orlando with art by Riley Rossmo [DC/Dynamite; $3.99 per issue] was intriguing. There was a key element I wasn’t completely on board with - I’ll discuss that in a bit - but this teaming of these two damaged individuals was darkly entertaining.


In this series, the Shadow is over a hundred years old, kept alive and vital through some mystic Shamba-la stuff, wants release from his endless existence of battling evil and wants Batman to assume his immortal mantle. Batman doesn’t care if he lives or dies, but doesn’t want to live forever. I don’t know if the whole “immortal Shadow” is canon to the Dynamite canon, but it upends the Shadow’s story as I knew it. That’s not unusual for the Shadow. We’ve seen such seismic shifts since the 1960s when Archie Comics put Cranston into garish super-hero tights. But it seemed like such an odd thing to me that it regularly took me out of what was otherwise a pretty good pulp adventure yarn.


An opening scene introduces us to a man named Lamont Cranston, who, while not *the* Lamont Cranston, is a damn good man. His subsequent brutal murder is all the more horrifying for that. This character got me hooked on this series.

The villains of the piece were the Stag, a force of mystical evil with a limited vocabulary, the Joker (of course) and a handful of other Bat-villains. It seems like too many Batman crossovers call on an entire mob of Bat-villains. I understand the creative desire there; Batman not only has the best toys, but he also has some of the best foes. We’re just seeing this bit too much.

Interesting subplot. The Shadow has been far more involved in the Batman’s life than the Batman ever realized.

Nice notion. Neither hero is done evolving.

The art? I love what Rossmo brings to this series. He reminds me of a modern Frank Robbins, masterfully combining frantic action with moody moments of darkness. I think he’s the sort of artist that a writer should write for, making sure the story has plenty of room for Rossmo to do his thing.

My mildly negative comments aside, I enjoyed these six issues. I’m thinking I need to read the other Shadow comic books published by Dynamite in recent years.

Batman/The Shadow: The Murder Geniuses [DC; $24.99] was published in hardcover in November. The book collects this six-issue series as well as stories from a recent Batman Annual. Recommended.

ISBN 978-1401275273


One more for the road and, fittingly, it’s the conclusion of a 21-volume road. Yusei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom Volume 21 [Viz Media; $9.99] is the epilogue to the brilliant manga series about a powerful monster who chose to become a middle-school teacher and help the despised Class 3-E reach their potential. Koro Sensei, the octopus-like creature, said he would destroy the world in a year’s time. His students were offered billions of dollars if they could assassinate their teacher before then. Koro Sensei was all in favor of this and even helped honed their assassination skills. Yeah, it was that kind of action-packed, hilarious, emotional and downright poignant series. It quickly became my favorite manga of all time. It still holds that position.

This final volume has the final three chapters of the manga itself. They show what happens to the main characters after the major event of the previous volume. In addition to those thee chapters, we get a wonderful side story of Koro Sensei on his winter break and the insane non-related story Matsui created and pitched unsuccessfully before he created Assassination Classroom.

The ending of the main manga was satisfying, but still left me sad at the thought of its conclusion. I really loved this series. I’ll probably be recommending it for decades to come. However, I’ll get some consolation from the knowledge that, even as I write this, the anime version of Assassination Classroom and a live-action version are on their way to me. I’ll let you know what I think of them once I’ve watched them.

ISBN 978-1-4215-9339-5

That concludes today’s bloggy thing. Coming up tomorrow is a new installment of our "July 1963" featured, followed by the first installment of our new “Western Wednesday” ongoing feature.

That’s for stopping by. See you tomorrow.  

© 2018 Tony Isabella

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