Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Karen: I'll get the ball rolling and list a few of my favorites: it's no surprise to any regular reader of BAB that Steve Englehart makes my list. His work on Captain America and The Avengers in particular have a special place in my heart. Roy Thomas, who spans the Silver and Bronze Ages, is another writer who always seemed to turn out good material. As well as being a favorite artist of mine, Jim Starlin also ranks high on my list of writers. And I can't forget Chris Claremont or Steve Gerber, or Gerry Conway...well, what can I say, I love the Bronze Age!
Karen: OK, let's hear from the rest of you: which writers were the best of the Bronze Age?
Monday, August 30, 2010
Batman #242 (July 1972)
"Bruce Wayne -Rest in Peace!"
Denny O'Neill -writer
Irv Novick -pencils
Dick Giordano -inks
Karen: Finally - we're doing our Batman/Neal Adams reviews! But as you might have noticed, this issue wasn't drawn by Adams. We've included it because it's the first part of our story, the next two parts of which are by Adams. We really felt this issue was needed to set the other two up. Make sense?
Karen: I want to say first that I am doing my reviews based on the stories as they were printed in the trade paperback, Batman: Tales of the Demon. Unfortunately, like many TPBs, this format excludes the covers, and the coloring has been redone in a very unnatural looking way. This may affect how I review the art in this series of reviews.
Doug: I am living in reprint land as well -- I'm reading this story out of one of the treasures of my youth: Limited Collector's Edition C-51 from August 1977. The LCEs, for those of you not in the know, were DC's version of the Marvel Treasury Edition. I'll be looking at the other two stories in our review from my copies of Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams.
Karen: Our story is only 14 pages long -I assume there was a second story in the original comic. Essentially, Batman fakes the death of Bruce Wayne so he can prepare to go after Ra's Al Ghul (who knows he and Wayne are one and the same). Then he decides that to face Ra's, he'll need help. This is where it got a little weird for me. He apparently goes to recruit a criminal named Matches Malone, but Malone winds up getting killed. So Batman then disguises himself as Malone and then tries to get a scientist to join his cause against Ra's. Only we don't know that Malone is really Batman 'til later in the story. I don't know, the whole thing was pretty convoluted to me. I don't see why he needed Malone at all. He could have just as easily disguised himself as anyone and approached the scientist.
Doug: Yeah, I agree with you. It's not like we'd never seen Batman using disguises to get information, etc. By the end of the book, there really was no reason for the whole Matches Malone stuff -- the biophysicist "Malone" kidnapped had no knowledge of Malone anyway. So the identity was pretty useless.
Karen: So Ra's sent a kung fu warrior to kidnap the scientist. He fails and nearly dies from a fall off a roof, but Batman saves him. Based on his culture, this now obligates the warrior to serve Batman -hokey as a 1940s serial!
Doug: You mentioned that this story was only a 14-pager. I'd say that it all could have been done in 3 or 4 pages! I've read plenty of stories from both of the major publishers where the first few pages of a story were set-up or background information; this could have been done in that manner. But, if we assume that this was hype for next month's pay-off, then I understand the marketing aspect of it.
Karen: This story is pure set-up, but even so, it comes across as very weak to me. The art is acceptable, but no where near as good as the Adams stuff that we will get to next time around.
Doug: Irv Novick seemed to fall into what I think of as the DC "house-style" of the 1970's -- Novick, Dick Dillin, Dick Giordano, Bob Brown, and others. All very similar in the elongation of their figures, all very good storytellers -- shoot, this tale really didn't need words, other than for the explanation of the Matches Malone fiasco (which Batman tells us will still be an element of the next issue). One of the things that I've always enjoyed about Batman is the way his cape is so organic. It's totally impractical -- that was addressed in a scene in the 1989 Batman movie when Michael Keaton got all tangled up in it. But it just looks so cool in motion, and Novick/Giordano make that work a few times here. Hey, and another element that pervaded Bat-history was the outright dumbness of one James Gordon, Gotham City police commissioner. Newshound Lois Lane was always closer to Superman's secret ID than was this leader of detectives! But at any rate, I'm looking forward to seeing that gorgeous Neal Adams art -- in just a couple of days!
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
These are two tools of the comics trade which have gone out of fashion. Today's writers seem to prefer using only dialog to get their stories across. But why? Thought balloons and captions were perfectly legitimate methods of advancing a story. The most obvious reason for their abandonment is that comics are trying to move closer to films in format, and films only have dialog (typically). But that's ridiculous. A comic is not a movie. Each does certain things well, but there's no reason a comic should emulate the methods of film. Most books have both dialog and narrative -does anyone ever complain about that?
Karen: What are your thoughts regarding this change in comics? Do you miss thought balloons?
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Doug: Hey, another licensed product! We've commented on the proliferation of these titles at this time in Marvel's history. And while I stated last time that I wasn't really into the Micronauts toys, I did have a Shogun Warrior. He was pretty cool, about 28 inches tall if I recall. He made a great villain for my Megos! But I can't comment on this comic, as to the best of my memory I've never seen the inside of one. I do like the logo, and the corner box gives off somewhat of a totem pole motif, doesn't it?
Doug: This was a title that I was in on from the first issue. I really enjoyed it early on, with the outstanding Sal Buscema art. It seemed, though, that the longer the title went on the art and stories began to tail off a bit (Hypno Hustler, anyone?). The logo here is certainly un-spectacular (and takes up quite a bit of cover space), but I always thought the corner box was one of Marvel's best -- really on par with the second Vision logo that populated the corner of the Avengers in this era.
Doug: Meh... Another WordArt logo. And I don't care for the EXTREME close-up of the corner box. I'm just not a Spider-Woman fan. Hear that, Bendis??
Doug: I was just old enough when Spidey hit the Electric Company that I thought it was stupid. It was only mildly cool that he was on that show. That I was into middle school made the comics passe, as well. But, for what it was the logo was perfect, and the corner box was neat also. Lots of publicity on that cover, though! Overall a mixed bag on the design with equal parts "well done!" and "make it stop!".
Doug: I had the two Treasury Editions of the adaptation of A New Hope (of course, we didn't call it that back then), but never warmed to the series. Ummm -- Carmine Infantino, perhaps? Yep -- a whole lot of perhaps. I am well aware that Star Wars has become a phenomenon in literature way past the stories told in the six films. But when they started with the "untold tales" right after the first adaptation, I just found that weird. Just not a fan, then or now. I'm closed-minded, I guess.
Doug: I think we addressed this one back in our look at DC's publication of Tarzan. I really like the logo, although it admittedly has nothing to do with Tarzan. It sort of strikes me as classic, although the font is pretty modern-looking. I don't know... maybe because it was used so much I almost view it as a "brand"? Great corner box art. John Buscema?
Doug: No changes from the 1976 version. None needed, baby!
Doug: Again, same old same old... and that's a good thing!
Doug: Meh, again. I always liked the What If? books -- I often found the twists they put on status quo entertaining. Sometimes the ideas were a stretch, though. This cover logo doesn't do anything for me -- it's obviously hand-lettered, and not so well at that. The corner logo is way too small. I think they'd have been better served with John Buscema's awesome Nova figure from the first issue of the regular mag.
Doug: Leave us a comment -- is this something you like, or has it grown tired? I'm all for heading back to DC to see what they were doing in '79. Obviously Karen and I like this sort of thing. But we're willing to listen to what you want to see, too.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
"Improbable as it may seem -the Impossible Man is back in town!"
Roy Thomas-George Perez/Joe Sinnott
Karen: Howdy folks. We're wrapping up our Roy Thomas Wednesdays with this issue, a follow-up to the Galactus -High Evolutionary saga. George Perez is back on the art chores (as well as Joe Sinnott), and the art in this issue is just brilliant! Perez draws one of the best Things around -I'd say it's neck and neck with Buscema's in my book.
Karen: Ben has just transformed back into the Thing, due to the effects of Galactus zapping him. While at first he gets upset and angry, he soon calms down, accepting the situation. I thought this was a nice bit of writing by Roy. After all these years, Ben is used to being the Thing, and despite some frustrations, it makes sense that he wouldn't go into a deep depression over it.
Doug: Yeah, but I think the line about he and Alicia being close to discussing wedding plans was touching and perhaps could have been dealt with more. That may be one of the few good things about comics today -- writing has matured to the point that an issue like that, or perhaps even to the extent of whether Ben and Alicia could have had a physical relationship, could be dealt with and done well. Thirty-five years ago that just wasn't possible. Too, and I know space was limited, I thought Johnny's handling of this scene was really immature and inappropriate for the relationship that the team shared as a family. I know that he was trying to get Ben to look on the bright side, but hey -- give the guy some space to mourn what he'd just lost.
Karen: But Ben, and the whole FF, have a bigger problem: the spaceship the Evolutionary gave them is heading for Earth at high speed -and they don't know how to stop it! OK, here's where Roy loses a few points. I know he's trying to inject some excitement here, but are we really expected to believe that a godlike being wouldn't have devised some automated landing program?! Well, it does give Johnny a chance to use his flame powers in a non-destructive way: by creating a thermal updraft to slow the ship. Add in Sue putting a force shield around the craft and you have a nice little rescue.
Doug: Yeah, I didn't understand the physics of that thermal updraft idea when I was a kid, and I don't really get it now either.
Karen: Unfortunately the FF are still stuck with the Impossible Man, who manages to freak out a cab driver and cause a crash within minutes of arriving on Earth. As the FF try to sort things out, the Impossible Man wanders off and, by an amazing twist of fate, finds the offices of Marvel Comics, who produce the authorized adventures of the Fantastic Four!
Karen: This gives Perez the chance to draw himself, Roy Thomas, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and a whole bunch of other Marvel folks. Impy demands that they create a comic book about him, and when Stan says no, that he's too silly looking to get his own book, Impy goes on a rampage. He mimics the powers or weapons of various Marvel heroes, like Iron Man's repulsors, Cyclops' eye beams, Thor's hammer, and so on. It's all fairly amusing, especially picking out the cameos by different Marvel staffers. But honestly, I've never been a fan of the Impossible Man. He's more irritating than funny to me.
Doug: This may be the first time a reader could have used a checklist in order to know all that Perez had included in the story. For example, Len Wein is pictured running for his life, but he's not identified by name at all. I knew who he was because I had several of the Marvel calendars from this time, and the stock photo they used of him showed him wearing the same colonial-looking hat that Perez drew him wearing. I also think Marv Wolfman was unidentified, but uttered the single word, "Michelle?", which was his wife's name. I always wondered, as a kid, if this was really what the Marvel offices looked like. From photos of this era, I know Perez nailed the looks/personalities of many of the staffers -- guys like Kirby, Romita, and the Rascally one himself. Of course, what I found out later was that the Bullpen didn't really exist, at least not as the idea was sold by Stan the Man. It would have been highly unlikely to have found this many creators in the offices at one time.
Karen: The FF finally arrive to try to stop Impy, and this is no easy task. Reed discovers what the real problem is, and coerces Stan into promising Impy a special issue of Fantastic Four. As things settle down, Roger (Slifer? Stern?) brings a classified ad to Reed's attention: the Frightful Four is holding try-outs at the Baxter Building! Impy improvises surfboards and flys the team over to their HQ, where they come face-to-face with their old adversaries! And with that, we are left with a "to be continued"!
Doug: Great last-page panel of the Frightful Four. I always love the Sandman in his super-villain suit!
Karen: I have to say that although I appreciate a good humorous issue once in awhile, I just don't care for the Impossible Man. It's an enjoyable issue for many other reasons, not the least of which is the gorgeous art, but any Impossible Man is a little too much for me.
Doug: Yep, it's like I said last time -- I don't like the Impossible Man, nor Bat-Mite, nor Mr. Mxypytlk. Annoying with a capital "A".
Karen: At some point we may have to look at the issues which followed; there are some pretty good stories here, particularly with the inclusion of the Counter Earth version of Reed Richards (aka the Brute). Roy's run on the FF was a lot of fun and certainly doesn't get the attention it deserves.
Doug: You just say "when" and I'm there. I really like the story that follows. It was an awesome 6-parter (even if there was a "dreaded deadline doom" in the midst of it) with tons of guest-stars. If I'm not mistaken, the Texas Twister was introduced, and he's still around today -- you'd probably be a better candidate to answer that than me. And yes, Roy did a fine job on the FF -- he had everyone's voice down and the family ties were strong. And hey -- you can't beat the artists he worked with over the course of his run, either! Happy memories!
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
So, whether you voted or not, what's your opinion? Did you have a second choice that you would have loved to have shown some love (I set it up so you could only vote for one artist)? Were there specific titles or characters that really moved you when drawn by your artist of choice?
I gave my vote to John Buscema, which should surprise no one. When looking at the list I really had a tough time choosing between Perez on the Avengers and Fantastic Four (and New Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths, if we want to stretch the timeline that far) and Neal Adams on the Batman books. I decided to go away from Adams due mostly to the bulk of the stuff I love from him landing in the late Silver Age.
Buscema, on the other hand, was quite active in the Bronze Age. While I'll admit that I don't care for him on everything, I'd have to cite his work on the FF (both runs), the Avengers, and of course Conan and Savage Sword of Conan as wonderful examples of all the goodness he brings. From heroes to barbarians to cars, gangsters, and monsters, there's nothing he can't make a masterpiece out of.
In conclusion, I might have included Frank Miller on the list -- if you feel so inclined, share a comment or memory of Mr. Miller.
NOTE: I've added a second poll below the first, which includes artists nominated by our readers in the comments section. Have at it! -- Doug
Monday, August 23, 2010
Doug: I have always liked this Thing logo, and the Perez headshot in the corner is strong as well. The Moon Knight font is OK, and I think this is one that looks hand-lettered; we'd commented on this when we did the DC covers several weeks ago. Nice color scheme, too, by the way.
Doug: Here's another licensed title, and even though I never really got into the toys or the comic, I've heard good things about it (especially Michael Golden's art). I think the font here is really good -- somewhat futuristic, and the line that runs through the center of all the letters really makes it. Nice, powerful pose on the figure in the corner, too, and the smoking hands just add to that atmosphere.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Karen: On the other hand, I can appreciate a good solo book. My number one example would be Amazing Spider-Man during the Stan Lee era (and the Gerry Conway years which followed). The book was one of those titles that was hard to put down; some have derided it as soap opera-ish, but I found the trials and triumphs of Peter Parker's everyday life very interesting, and very relevant. Of course, much of this was helped by the substantial supporting cast Lee had developed, including J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Robbie Robertson, etc. In some sense, this is like a team book in that you still have interactions between on-going characters; however, the focus is squarely on one character.
Karen: So what's your preference?
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
"When Giants Walk the Sky!"
Roy Thomas-John Buscema
Karen: Welcome to part three of our Roy Thomas fest! You'll note that Joltin' Joe Sinnott is not listed as inker this go round -it appears that Big John himself did the inking chores on this ish. I think I've mentioned before that I don't think Buscema was the best inker for his art. His ink lines tend to be thin, scratchy even, and lack the weight that a Sinnott or George Klein provide.
Doug: If I had to point to one single issue that made me not like Big John when I was a kid, it would be this particular book. Looking at it now, I'm reminded that it was the faces of the FF that really put me off. After a steady diet of Joe Sinnott over Buckler, Perez, and Buscema, seeing Buscema absent Sinnott was a drastic change. I don't think the figure work or backgrounds suffered so much as did the faces. Which is really ironic, because if you've seen John's sketches (see the sidebar and then below), he really is a master at expression. But I totally agree that there is a plain-ness to this book -- it just doesn't pop like when Joltin' Joe is on board!
Karen: This issue has the big face-off between Galactus and the High Evolutionary. HE has mutated himself to be as gigantic as Galactus, and warns him that he will protect Counter-Earth, the planet he made with "these hands, and this mind." Galactus says that he gave HE and the FF a chance to save this world, but HE gives us a recap of last issue, which shows that the FF have failed in their attempts.
Doug: Hey, if everything's better with monkeys, then it's almost that good with giants! I loved this scene!!
Karen: Galactus welcomes a fight with the Evolutionary, as most planets are too easy for him to take. "Our battle shall but make my eventual repast all the more pleasant to me," the Big G says, while blasting away at the Evolutionary. The fight between the two is pretty spectacular, as both are standing on air hundreds of feet above the New-New York below. As always, Buscema does a great job in portraying an epic battle. I enjoyed how Galactus actually ducked the Evolutionary's ray blast -you'd think he'd just put up a force shield -but instead he took a much more simple approach. That was different and interesting.
Doug: I thought some of the dialogue in this scene brought back the old poser: Is Galactus evil? I've always tended to side more on the "tragic" side of the argument -- that he is cursed to lead the existence that he leads, and in order to maintain any sanity at all must by necessity approach his lot with an arbitrariness, and distance himself from any emotional attachment to any lifeforms. Yet to see him almost relish the fight with the High Evolutionary, to embrace the chance to hone his physical fighting prowess was disconcerting. It gave Galactus a darker edge. He maintained his godlike nobility, particularly later in the story, but early here he leaned much more toward "bad guy".
Karen: Both of them are pretty terrible in this story line. I mean, Galactus is always self-absorbed, focused on his survival, but the Evolutionary comes across as extremely callous when he leaves Sue to die on that planet. I suppose it's all done to illustrate how far above human concerns they both are -and it does. But you're right, to some degree they do seem not just amoral but actually a bit evil.
Karen: Try as he might, the Evolutionary can't defeat the world devourer, who hits HE with a ray that transports him to the Negative Zone! With HE out of his way, the coast seems clear for Galactus to commence absorbing Counter-Earth's energy -but then, the stars of our book show up!
Doug: One might think that with the technology at Galactus' hands, he could have figured out a way to convert negative energy to positive, and just moved his operations to the Neg. Zone. I don't think Reed would have minded if Annihilus and Blastaar inherited the Big G as their problem...
Karen: Of course, the FF have never really been successful at taking on Galactus, not physically anyway. The same is true here: at one point Ben topples Galactus and is jubilant -for about two seconds. Then he realizes that Galactus can defy gravity, and knocking him over means nothing. Annoyed, Galactus zaps Ben, saying, "You must be punished for your defiance, even as the Silver Surfer was punished!" Ben thinks the ray has had no effect on him, although he notes that his suit feels like it might have shrunk a little. Hmmm....
Doug: Any scene with Galactus defying gravity, whether levitating, walking on air, or seemingly suspended in a position that would seem so common to us (as Alex Ross drew in Marvels #3, when Ben and Reed had toppled Galactus off the Baxter Building and Big G gathered himself to stand in mid-air) is a great visual. And as to Ben's punishment -- well, more on that in a minute.
Karen: Just when it appears that the FF's efforts have been fruitless, Sue shows up, and tells Galactus that the third planet is willing to sacrifice itself to him. He reaches out mentally and is able to verify that the inhabitants of that world are indeed willing to give their lives to him. Big G rushes off to his dinner date, while the Evolutionary arrives on the scene, free of the Negative Zone. Back on the Evolutionary's satellite home, he and the FF watch as Galactus begins to devour the planet. The Evolutionary notes, "People of Earth, you have doubtless wondered how Galactus truly feeds! Well in another moment -" "We're going to find out!" Reed interjects (so rude).
Karen: I have to say I was disappointed by this 'revelation'. Essentially we just see Galactus surrounded by crackling energy. I don't know exactly what I would have liked to have seen, but it should have been more exciting than this.
Doug: I felt, and feel the same way as you. I don't have a better idea (no, I never assumed a cosmic knife and fork), but this was a bit of a letdown. Shoot, the cosmic vacuums we saw last month in those Thor stories were more interesting than this!
Karen: But something is wrong -Galactus is in pain! More than that, he is dying. "Maybe he ate somethin' that didn't agree with 'im," Ben says, and it turns out he's right. The Evolutionary acts to save Galactus' life -by doing what he does best, evolving him. Galactus' head expands, his body shrivels; soon he is just a gigantic brain, and then, simply a sphere of pure energy! As Reed notes, at least he will no longer have to consume worlds to survive. Of course, we all know this was a short-lived change. How could Marvel survive without their big purple planet eater?
Doug: You know, confession time: This was probably the third or fourth time I'd read this story and it's the first time I've ever really grasped what happened with Galactus. My mind always had him devolving, because as his body changed proportion, I always thought he looked like a baby, and then I assumed that the brain was more basic than the body, and then energy, or a soul, was more basic than a brain. So in my understanding, I saw it heading the other way. Yeah, Roy was clear with his intent... I just misinterpreted it (totally), I guess!
Karen: Back in the Evolutionary's HQ, Sue is behaving strangely -but that's because she's not Sue at all! The real Sue shows up, and we discover that the one who spoke to Galactus was none other than the Impossible Man! This shape-changing weirdo first appeared in FF #11, and caused no end of troubles for the team. It turns out that his people evolved to have a group mind -"So why did we need millions of us when they're all the same person -me?" - and they were more than willing to sacrifice all those individual bodies. However -and this is where I think Roy took his joke a little too far - all those empty heads were like eating hot air -it gave Galactus "terminal indigestion"! Aw, come on....
Doug: When I originally bought this, it was the first time I'd seen the Impossible Man; even though it was noted that FF #11 had been reprinted twice I'd not seen it. I had a bad impression of the character then, and I do now as well. He is in the category of Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk, both of whom I disdain greatly. But that would be one heck of a gas pain, wouldn't it??
Karen: As the FF and the Impossible Man speed back to Earth, Ben complains of feeling ill. He removes his "Thing" helmet, and we see that he is transforming back into his orange, rocky self! This is what Galactus meant by punishing him. We end our tale with Ben pleading with Reed to change him back...and Reed having nothing to say.
Doug: Back to Galactus' punishment of Ben, which Big G likened to that meted out to the Silver Surfer. Even though each man was affected differently, the punishment was in effect the same: As Norrin Radd wanted nothing more than to soar through space and return to his love, and Ben Grimm wanted nothing more than to be a normal man and return to his love, the punishment ended up being the same.
Karen: While this was an enjoyable issue, it suffers from the same problem every story dealing with Galactus does: the FF have too little to do. They are mostly spectators in this cosmic contest. I did enjoy the battle between HE and Galactus, and as usual Roy provides some nice character moments, but all in all it wrapped up a bit too easily for my tastes.
Doug: You nailed it -- that's the problem with Galactus, and why perhaps he'd be better suited to tangling with the Avengers, or just Thor perhaps. Stories could get truly cosmic in that context. But, part of the allure of Big G turning up in FF is the helplessness and hopelessness of their humanity against this larger-than-life god. It's finding that twist that gives the ending credibility that is tough. Was this ending any better or worse than the deus ex machina that was the Ultimate Nullifier?