Friday, November 30, 2012

Erosion

Doug:  Back on the 12th of November, Inkstained Wretch commented on the Eternals #1 post that Jack Kirby's art had declined noticeably over a rather short period of time.  He said:

It is amazing to think this was only six years after Kirby was doing his classic work on Fantastic Four, Thor and Captain America. His art on those around 1969-70 was some of his best ever. What happened during his tenure at DC that caused it to change as it did?

Doug:  I think we can all for the most part agree with this assessment, and that brings us to today's question -- can you name other writers and artists smitten with a similar fate?  For my money, "Exhibit A" has to be Don Heck.  Just earlier this month he was in many a'commenter's list of favorite Captain America artists due in large part to his run on the Avengers in the early Kooky Quartet era.  Yet, by the dawn of the Bronze Age all fluidity had left his figures and had been replaced by stiff characters that resembled cardboard cut-outs.  His mid-70's work at DC on titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, and Batman Family is the stuff of anti-legend!  I offer a couple of original art samples below.  The first is from Avengers #17 (June 1965) and the latter is from Avengers #112 (June 1973).


Doug:  So, who can we (regretfully) add to the list?  The point is not necessarily to denigrate the professional, but merely to observe the change in the quality and/or aesthetics of their output.  Thanks as always for your thoughts.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Discuss: Tripods

Karen: John Christopher's Tripods series just popped into my mind the other day and I thought I'd see if there's any love for it out there in BAB-land. It may be more familiar to our British contingent than our other pals. The three books in the trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire) were favorites of mine as a youngster, right there with Andre Norton. Cracking good adventure with some very solid commentary on freedom, individuality, friendship, loyalty, etc. Just great stuff to read while growing up. A few years ago I discovered that the books (the first two anyway) had been made into a TV show by the BBC, but other than a few clips on the internet, I've never seen it. I'd be interested in anything you might have to say on the subject!



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

1K Worth of Bronze Age Babies Posts -- Today!

Karen: 1000 posts -it's hard to believe! I guess we've had a lot to say about comics, movies, music, TV, all the stuff that we love. Our reviews of comics, particularly ones we read when we were kids, have been especially enlightening to me. Sometimes my opinion has stayed the same, some 30-plus years later. At other times, it's been a surprise to discover that my youthful enthusiasm for a book let me overlook obvious flaws. But regardless, revisiting those old comics has been fun.  Reading a comic from the 70s always takes me back to those days. I recall Saturdays spent on my bike, first collecting empty bottles to supplement my allowance, then riding around to a variety of markets and liquor stores to hunt down my favorite titles. This was before comic shops, back in the days when there was no centralized location to get all your books. One store might have the latest Avengers, but not the new Spider-Man. It was truly a labor of love to get a hold of all the books I wanted.  Once I'd made all my rounds, I might head to the new Taco Bell that had opened near our home and grab a taco for lunch. Then, depending on the weather, I'd either go to the local park or home to read my books. Those days were so care-free, and the books were so entertaining. It was a great time in my life, a great time to be a kid. I can't help but experience a bit of that feeling when I read these comics again. Based on your comments, many of you have a similar reaction reading the reviews. That's the really rewarding part of putting the blog together -knowing that we're not just cranking out a review, but giving everyone a chance to experience that pleasant nostalgia.

Doug:  It certainly is hard to believe -- no way did I ever even imagine those (now) several years ago when we first started blogging that we'd reach a milestone in the four-figures.  But, since we're here, why stop now?  Like Karen, I've really, really enjoyed the discovery and re-discovery of comics from my childhood.  Born in 1966, the Bronze Age was fully blossoming as I came to comics reading near the end of my 6th year.  And, like I've said many times around here, the other treasures of my kidhood were Megos, Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies, the Planet of the Apes franchise airing on network television, AM radio, and Slurpees at the 7-11 store.

Doug:  It's not only a comic mag, but a song that can immediately take me back to those wonderful times.  Elton John's Rocket Man instantly places me in the basement of my buddy Jeff K., using all of the boxes and an old full-size hairdryer chair as landscapes for our seemingly-endless Mego adventures.  Reading the destruction/salvation of Reed and Sue's marriage in the Fantastic Four #140's, the clone saga in Amazing Spider-Man #'s 130's-140's, and the "Celestial Madonna" wrapping up in Avengers and all of those Giant-Size issues was a blast.  Sometimes I even think I get smells as part of those memories.  Give me Paper Lace's The Night Chicago Died or McCartney's Live and Let Die and I'm back in the early/mid-'70's.

Doug:  However, Karen and I wanted to take today to not only say we're still pumped about the Bronze Age, but that in an effort to sustain our quality and even recharge a bit, we're going to take what we feel is a well-deserved vacation.  So here's the deal -- once 2012 turns to 2013, you folks -- our ever-faithful readers -- will be in charge around these spaces.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we're going to run a sort of "BAB Classic" where you'll find reruns of some of our earliest or favorite comic book reviews.  For many of you, you'll be seeing them for the first time; for those of you who've been with us during most of the past three years, we're going to copy-paste the comments that ran back in the day to the bottom of the post.  This way those whose voices were heard on the original publication will receive their due as conversation starters for what we hope will be continued discourse on those stories.  Do not hesitate to jump right in and carry forward any issues raised, or praises or pans as well.

Karen: I'm really curious what you'll have to say -and what conversations might get started, now that we have a more robust community!

Doug:  On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and on the weekends in January, we're going to take some of our famous discussion starters and turn you loose on them.  We'll rotate the following five departments:  The Open Forum, Discuss, Face-Off, Spotlight On... and Who's the Best...?  If you've never noticed, we set our posts to go live each day at 6:00 am Central Time here in the States.  If you're an early riser, or happen to be the first one in on any given day, then you'll have the opportunity to set the topic of conversation for that day's post.  We'll be sure to have instructions at the top of the post, so even if you're new you'll know what sort of topic is fair game for a particular department.  It's easy, really.

Doug:  So we're not going anywhere -- I'm sure on most days we'll jump right in with you and join the fun.  But we wanted to get some time to recover from the holidays and get ahead on some of our comics reviews.  All is golden in BAB land -- you can count on that!  And come February 1st we'll be right back at it with the regular content you've come to expect -- we'll lead off the month with a series of reviews of the "Under Siege" storyline from the Avengers!  Personally, I can't wait to revisit that tale.

Karen: What he said! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Return of the King: Machine Man 1


Machine Man #1 (April 1978)
"Machine Man"
Jack Kirby-Kirby/Mike Royer

Doug:  Welcome back to the end of our Jack Kirby retrospective.  In case you're happening by for the first time (welcome! if you are), we've spent the past three Mondays looking in on the King's return to Marvel and his first issues in control of Captain America, the Eternals, and Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy.  Aside from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the other "major" character/title Kirby created is today's fare:  Machine Man.  Thus far Karen and I (and most of our commenters) have been in agreement that Cap's adventures would have been best served with a writer other than Kirby, but the Eternals and Devil Dinosaur seemed to land more in Jack's mid-'70's wheelhouse.  Let's see what's between the covers today.

Doug: Kirby wastes no time in plunging us into the action.  The first four pages are dedicated to the rescue of a wayward hiker -- or, to our education concerning Machine Man's powers.  We find that he has an arm that extends, with pegs that protrude as a ladder, he is fearless, he can fly, his arm retracts in such a fashion that it appears as if nothing could have happened in the first place, and he can walk down the face of a mountain with his magnetized boots.  We're in the dark about his origins, but he intimates that his personality isn't the greatest.  Oh, he's not rude -- but certainly seems to be a man of mystery!

Karen: I just chalked up Machine Man's behavior to Kirby's writing - once again we have some really awkward phrasings. And Machine Man's  use of words like "chum," "fella," and "gang" seem out of place. But then, I don't really know what this character is about yet. I'll also admit that my exposure to Machine Man has been fairly limited, so at this stage, I'm not sure what to make of him. Just a side comment: notice one of the female hikers has those funny hairbands like Crystal of the Inhumans? 

Doug:  I'm thinking Jack wasn't always one to be up on contemporary fashion.  Our next scene is in a "top-secret division of governmental research" -- whatever that means.  And Jack pulls no stops in giving us a man in the ugliest suit in comicdom, in conversation with a scientist sporting the ugliest eyeglasses in all of comicdom.  Sheesh -- Kirby could have at least consulted a clothing catalog or something for a reference.  Anyway, the scientist is Dr. Broadhurst and he's been in charge of the X-Model program.  The project was funded to create robot with sentient minds; each ended up going mad and had to be destroyed.  Broadhurst had succeeded to the point that the machines actually believed themselves to be men.  In effect, they died from not knowing if they were man or machine.  I thought this was a shaky premise, given the Vision had been floating around the Marvel Universe for around 10 years by this time -- he was surely conflicted about his humanity, but for the most part seemed rather well-adjusted.  Anyway, the final X-Model was the 51st version, and in a twist of fate he'd been "adopted" by a psychologist and raised as a son.  He'd even been given a name -- Aaron Stack.  But the government agent informs Broadhurst that X-51 is active and needs to be brought down.  And Broadhurst is no longer in charge of the X-Model project.

Karen: I don't know about you, but those two pages felt extremely disjointed to me. It didn't seem like Broadhurst or the bureaucrat were actually listening to each other. It was just strange. So we're to believe that they went through 50 of these robots running wild and causing "what amounted to a small war!"? That was the impression I got. What was the ultimate point of the project, anyway? Just confusing. Maybe it would be revealed in future issues. That pin-striped suit does take the award for most hideous outfit in a comic though.

Doug:  We head back to the woods and we find X-51 (as we now know him) walking toward a road where he hopes he'll be able to hitchhike to the nearest town.  Suddenly he finds a driver stymied by a large tree across the pavement.  Machine Man approaches the guy and gives him a bit of a start once our new friend lays eyes on our hero.  X-51 ends up lifting the tree almost effortlessly and depositing it off the side of the road.  As payment, the driver,Peter Spalding, offers to give him a lift.  I'd have to say that, whether intentional or not, Kirby writes X-51 as if he were a robot trying to be human.  Now I'd say that's great -- it should be what he's going for -- if I hadn't seen Jack write Captain America and Henry Kissinger as if they were robots trying to be human!  But I'll add that this Machine Man has a rather abrasive, socially-awkward personality.  Anyway, the two men hop into what looks like a VW van and get cruising.  Jack's a little inconsistent with the art on the next page, though, as the van seems to morph into one of those tiny smart cars.  While driving, X-51 is asked to make some small talk.  He does, and proclaims himself a "Johnny Average" just wanting to live the American dream.  Spalding presses him on that, and on his fantastic abilities, which ticks off his now quite-defensive passenger.  In the course of the conversation Spalding reveals that he is a psychiatrist -- further upsetting the robot.  Machine Man exits the vehicle right in the middle of a traffic jam.


Karen: The conversation between Spalding and Machine Man is just flat-out weird. I understand what Kirby is going for here, but again, it just comes out badly. "Johnny Average" and the reference to the Constitution were bizarre. And Machine Man does seem oddly aggressive - no surprise I guess, when his 50 predecessors all went nuts! Also, the morphing VW van bothered me as well. 

Doug:  X-51 bends down to his boots and flips a few switches -- and instantly a skateboard forms on his feet.  He sidewalk surfs through traffic, occasionally using his anti-grav abilities to get through some tight spots.  But, in doing so, he is spied by some policemen who decide to give chase.  This is unwanted attention, and Machine Man hits the supersonic speed button and vanishes.  However, we next look in on Dr. Broadhurst, apparently now in the custody of the United States Army.  He's at the "quarters" (what, like in his bunk?) of Colonel Kragg, a fellow who looks and sounds like the a mash-up of Nick Fury and "Thunderbolt" Ross.  Broadhurst begs Kragg not to destroy X-51, but we find that Kragg is a man bent on revenge -- vengeance for men lost trying to contain the previous X-Models, and for his own left eye.  As Kragg and his men leave, using a homing device built in to X-51, Broadhurst prays to God for forgiveness for creating X-51... Aaron Stack.

Karen: "Colonel Kragg"?? Really? And yup, I thought of ol' Nick Fury too. Broadhurst's silent prayer was another oddity. Asking forgiveness for creating X-51, yet previously he stated his pride and almost admiration for him. I just don't know...


Doug:  X-51 has emerged near a well-to-do subdivision in an unknown town.  He muses that perhaps he will find people who will tolerate and not fear him.  As he begins to traverse the expanse between the woods and the nicely manicured lawns, he is startled by a military helicopter.  Attacked with sonic rifles, Machine Man does all he can to evade them and seek refuge.  Disabled by the first round of blasts, X-51 resorts to his finger weapons.  It appears that he has a smorgasbord within his digits akin to anything the Mandarin would come up with.  Using fire to keep his enemies at bay, the soldiers do break through and Machine Man is dropped.  In one last effort to remain free, he fires on a man's rifle, exploding it in his hands.  As the remaining troops encirlce their target, they note that he's disappeared!  In one of Kirby's strangest images, we see X-51 rumbling out of the brush, tank treads having emerged from his triceps!  Attempting to pick himself up, he sees a roadside sign -- Central City, 2 mi.  Thinking back to earlier in his day, he recalls that this is the home of Peter Spalding; perhaps the only man who can now help him!

Karen: Not even Iron Man had arm treads! That was certainly one of Kirby's 'wildest ideas'. Machine Man is  not the first Marvel hero to be chased by the military, but his method of escape is definitely the most unique. The finger weapons also reminded me of the Mandarin - it seems like there are a number of things in this story that remind me of other stories or characters.

Doug:  Well, I have to say that somewhere between the Eternals and Devil Dinosaur Kirby peaked.  This story is just clunky.  The dialog is awful, and although he attempts to build up the suspense of X-51 on a sort of "The Fugitive" journey, I'm not sure the character is likeable enough at first blush to make me care about him any further.  I'll admit -- I've not read any of the later issues, nor have I read the mini-series that came later from Barry Windsor-Smith.  So I'm left with this as my first and only impression.  If I had my druthers, I don't think I'd seek out any more of these stories.  I'll leave it to our commenters to convince me otherwise.

Karen: I'm with you, partner. I didn't enjoy this one and I'm not compelled to read more. But I was thinking while I read it, what might it have been like if perhaps Steve Gerber had scripted it (for example). The basic premise of the sentient android seeking an identity is not bad, but too much of the story is hampered with terrible dialog and cliched characters. So for me, Kirby batted 2 for 4 - I enjoyed Eternals and Devil Dinosaur (surprisingly), loathed Captain America, and didn't care for Machine Man. At some point I want to get ahold of his Black Panther - although I fear it will lower his batting average even more in my eyes!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from the Bronze Age Babies

Doug:  We're swiping this image today, because it's awesome!  For those of you in the States and all those who are grateful for blessings received, enjoy the day and the weekend.  We'll be back with regular programming on Monday!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Farewell, City of Heroes

Karen: It's with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to an amazing game, City of Heroes. Come November 30th, Paragon City will turn out the lights forever. But in the over eight years of its existence, it provided the closest experience to being a super-hero that most of us will ever have. And, of course, hours of fun.


City of Heroes was a  massively multi-player online game, so tons of people could experience the same game world together. It had hands-down the best, most customizable character creation system I have ever seen, allowing players to make virtually any type of hero they could think of -and believe me, I came up with some pretty strange ones, like the Cosmic Ape! Heroes would fight bad guys and grow in power, facing ever greater threats. Villains included robots, zombies, sorcerers, monsters -anything that you could think of from a comic book. Sometimes large scale events would be staged, like alien invasions or giant monster attacks. Then huge groups of heroes would have to team up to save the city.

Although I had stopped playing the game for a few years, I did come back recently and found that it had grown, with fun new powers like water blasting being added to the choices. But for whatever reason, the company behind the game, NCSoft, has decided to pull the plug, and the servers will go down on the 30th.

It's a shame, as no other MMO I've played has really been any where near as fun. I've tried Champions Online and DC Online but in my opinion neither could touch City of Heroes.

The hardest thing of all is realizing I'll never see all my characters again. Even though I hadn't played them for a few years, it was good knowing they were out there. So good-bye, Crimson Thunder, Blue Vengeance, True Son of Liberty, and all the rest -you'll live on in my memory.

I still have one thing that I got from City of Heroes though -my husband! We actually met while playing the game back in 2004. Yes, now you know just how big a nerd I really am -and why I feel more than a little sad to see this game disappear.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Discuss: Jack Kirby's Wildest Ideas


Doug:  Well, yesterday we talked about a red dinosaur.  What could be crazier than that?


Monday, November 19, 2012

Return of the King: Devil Dinosaur 1


Devil Dinosaur #1 (April 1978)
"Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy!"
Written, edited, and drawn by: Jack Kirby
Inker/letterer: Mike Royer

Karen: Here we are with numero tres of our Kirby comics cavalcade. And as much as Kirby's Captain America rankled me, his Devil Dinosaur gave me a chuckle. It's remarkably silly stuff, but goofy fun, at least if one is in the right mood for it.  I completely by-passed this book as a teenager, so this was my first time reading it, as a part of the Marvel Firsts collection. I got the impression reading this that Kirby was really enjoying himself on the book. It seems to me after Kirby left Marvel, he moved away from the super-hero genre and was drawn to science fiction concepts. Both the New Gods and the Eternals allowed him to explore ideas that were in vogue at the time (such as the 'ancient astronauts' idea that was popularized by Erich von Daniken). Kamandi let him run wild with a post-apocalyptic world (supposedly inspired by Planet of the Apes). Kirby also crafted Marvel's adaptation of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which clearly was in synch with his own ideas.So this tale of a prehistoric proto-human and his companion dinosaur seemed right up his alley.

Doug:  Like you I recall seeing this title on the stands and spinner racks back in the late '70's; also like you I took a pass.  I am positive that I never even opened an issue to peek inside.  As I've said in the past, I really had a bad attitude toward Jack Kirby in my pre-teen years.  But you know what?  I'm glad I've matured and broadened my tastes, because as you stated, this is sort of a fun issue.  There's not really a lot of commitment of brain power necessary to enjoy this -- no hidden agendas, major plot twists, etc.  It's straightforward all-ages fun.  You're right -- Jack must have been enjoying himself.

Karen: I think my closest comparison would be watching a 50s or 60s dinosaur movie, like Gorgo or even early Godzilla, or One Million Years BC (minus the 'talents' of Raquel Welch, of course).

Doug:  Karen mentions the Marvel Firsts trade.  The editors at times included letters pages when said pages contained essays from the creatorsI noticed that such a page follows the Devil Dinosaur story, written by Jack Kirby and inviting readers to tag along.  Did you happen to notice that any correspondence about the book was to go to Kirby at home in California?  So he did, indeed, have complete control over this book.  

Karen: That page was so striking I decided to drop it in at the end of our post. You're right, Kirby certainly wanted control over it all. Although I have read that at least on some of the titles -- Cap, maybe -- the letters pages were handled by Marvel. Our story opens with a splash page of a huge red dinosaur, probably a Tyrannosaurus Rex  rushing toward the reader. Sitting on his shoulders is a hairy human-like creature encouraging him forward. In a double-page spread, we see the red dinosaur, "Devil," rush forward at the urging of "Moon Boy," the ape man, to attack a triceratops. This spread is like looking at one of those dinosaur books you had as a kid: just about every dinosaur you can think of is pictured here -triceratops, ankylosaurus, stegosaurus, pterodactyl, etc. I apologize for the quality of the scan -the middle has come out blurred no matter how many times I try to flatten it out and scan it, but I still wanted to get it in here. Moon Boy says that Devil  must beat "Thunder-horn" to prove his superiority. The two gigantic dinosaurs clash and shake the entire valley. Ultimately, Devil winds up knocking Thunder-horn over the edge of a canyon where he disappears far below. The enormous red beast bellows his victory and Moon Boy swings around in the trees in celebration, happy knowing that his 'brother' has won again, ensuring food and safety for another day.


Doug:  The first three pages of the story were indeed bombastic!  I thought it was interesting in this battle scene that Kirby seemed to foreshadow later paleontological research that shows some dinosaurs formerly thought to be short-legged actually may have had longer limbs and would have been able to rear up on their hind quarters.  However, I think Jack grossly overestimates the usefulness of the "arms" of a tyrannosaurus rex...  When I read these pages, I thought of the old Little Orphan Annie exclamation "Leapin' Lizards!"

Doug:  You know, I'd have thought when I started to read this that the film Quest for Fire might have been an influence on Kirby.  But, in running a quick search I found that it didn't hit theaters until 1981.

Karen: As the two buddies stroll off into the moonlit night (in a nice little panel by Kirby), Moon Boy looks at the sky and recalls how the two met. It seems that Moon Boy, a member of the Small Folk, has always been unusually inquisitive. One night he wandered away from his camp to go look at the fire mountain. He watched it spew balls of molten fire as he cautiously moved closer. Suddenly, he came upon a group of brutish ape men, the Killer Folk. He hid and watched them. They had killed a large female devil beast (aka tyrannosaurus), and were now killing her young. I thought it was interesting that as Moon Boy watches them, he thinks, "It is told that all living creatures are food for the bellies of this folk!" I wondered if that might not be a hint that the Killer Folk were cannibals too?

Doug: I guess, by the way Kirby wrote that, it wouldn't be out of the question.  Those were savage times.  But -- they were times certainly not devoid of more modern concerns, such as male pattern baldness!  I cracked up when I saw that guy!

Karen: A group of the Killer Folk surround the last surviving young devil dinosaur. They decide that rather than clubbing him to death, they will burn him, as thanks to the mountain god. But suddenly, there is an explosion and a burst of fire from the ground. The savages flee, believing that the 'Night Spirits' have turned the mountain against them. Moon Boy runs out to the little dinosaur and sees that he is hurt; in fact, the fires have turned his green hide a bright red. Moon Boy tells the injured creature he will help him when suddenly he is attacked from behind by a 'leaper' - a man-sized, long- necked dinosaur who lunges at Moon Boy. The injured Devil manages to clamp down on the leaper's neck and hurl him across the plain. Moon Boy pledges to take the weakened Devil to the forest where he will help him to heal. The two companions find water and food and Devil soon heals and grows strong. The odd twosome become fast friends.But when they return to Moon Boy's village, his people run in fright from Devil. So Devil becomes Moon Boy's only friend, and vice versa. Devil has become the top dog in the forest and the two are pretty much at the top of the food chain. Again, a nice illustration here by Kirby.

Doug:  "Odd" would have been the understatement of 1978.  Has there ever been an odder couple?  OK, maybe Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett.  Did I miss it somewhere why the fire turned Devil's hide red?  For a carnivore, he was pretty accepting of young Moon Boy, and conversely.  Ol' Moonie could have been lunch once Devil healed up.

Karen: I am assuming his skin was burned red, but yes, you'd think the poor bugger would be in so much pain that he'd die, or at the very least, be incapable of moving. But I guess Devil is a tough cookie. But yeah, why not eat the hairy kid? It'd be a much shorter series, I suppose. But the Killer Folk have not been idle. They are busy fighting amongst themselves for leadership of their murderous little group. They want to find a leader who can take down Devil. Once he's out of the way, they can control the valley. The old leader of the tribe is beaten by a challenger, Seven Scars, who claims he has a plan to trap Devil. He stirs the tribesmen up and they head out to build their trap. First up: set fire to the forest! These guys don't seem like the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Doug:  Mindless brutes would be a good description.  Did you notice that there are no females in the story at all?  Given the looks of the men-types, I'd hate to see the dames that contributed half of that DNA...  whoo-boy!  Question -- what exactly would be the goal in controlling the valley?  I'd think these fools already had enough to eat, and although territorial, they didn't seem to lack for space.  I'm thinking that by having Devil around, the situation in the valley was at least controlled.  Careful what you ask for...

Karen: Pure vengeance? Hate? Who knows. Again, not the brightest guys...Moon Boy awakens to the smell of smoke. He realizes the forest is on fire and gets Devil. The two of them see the woods ablaze and Moon Boy quickly figures out that it is not a natural disaster. Hundreds of dinosaurs go running from the flames as Devil instinctively heads for the mountain home of the Killer Folk. As they climb up the winding mountain path, Seven Scars and his ape men wait, with a pit filled with sharpened stakes ready to greet Devil and Moon Boy.

Doug:  I thought Moon Boy showed a pretty evolved mind to go through a litany of potential causes of the fires.  Kirby did a nice job of leaving us with a cliff-hanger ending.   

Karen: So what would happen next? I guess we'd have to get issue number two, or the Devil Dinosaur Omnibus (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing) to find out. Granted, this wasn't anything Earth-shattering, but it was a fun little story that I didn't mind reading.

Doug:  I don't know that I feel as strongly about seeking out future issues as I did with last week's look at the Eternals, but I suppose if someone stuck issue #2 under my nose I wouldn't be upset.

Karen: Kind of funny isn't it? I know I'm thinking about digging out some of my Eternals, and yeah, if I could find Devil Dinosaur on the cheap, well....

Doug:  Dare I say, too, that our look at Jack's return is getting stronger reviews by the week? 

Karen: I am very curious to see how our final subject, Machine Man, will fare next week! Can he keep things going?





Saturday, November 17, 2012

I Never Had...

Doug:  Today's query plays right off of Karen's question yesterday, when she asked you about the wonders of your youth that somehow went missing -- sold, mom threw it out, flat-out disappeared...  We'd like you to address things you never did own, but wish you had. 

Was it a particular comic book or longer comic story?  Was it one of the "big books", like a treasury edition or something in the Origins of Marvel Comics series?  Did you have a childhood friend who you envied to no end, because he/she always had cooler stuff than you?  As always, give us some details -- tell us why you wished you'd have had this item.  And if you're serious, are you considering purchasing it somehow now?

We're looking forward to hearing your "wish lists".  One of my "wants" is below (I only had -- and still have -- Kid Flash):


Here's another one that somehow didn't make it into the grocery cart.  I'm pretty sure my mom had to come find me before she checked out the day I discovered this, because I recall standing at the magazine rack just drooling all over the enlarged John Buscema interiors:


Friday, November 16, 2012

I Never Should Have Gotten Rid of.....

Karen: Seeing Doug's Marvel calendar posts recently made me wish I had not gotten rid of my own Marvel calendars so many years ago. There were a lot of really nice illustrations in those calendars, one of a kind artworks that I'd love to have hanging up in my inner sanctum now. I've been getting the Asgard Press Marvel calendars the last couple of years, that have recreations of famous (and admittedly, not so famous) Marvel covers, and been using those to decorate my room, but there are some great pages I'd love to get my hands on, like the Starlin shot of the Surfer, Warlock, and Captain Marvel together. Or how about the 1975 page with the Avengers, Vision front and center? 


But today's Open Forum isn't about calendars. No, it's about those things you really wish you hadn't gotten rid of. I'm sure we all have dumped a lot of stuff from our childhoods  I used to have a ton of Star Trek toys, models, etc. But I don't miss them so much. Same with my Planet of the Apes memorabilia. Occasionally, I'll think wistfully about them, but for the most part, I don't regret parting with them. The one thing I did hold on to, across all all the genres I  love, is the books. But the one thing I find myself feeling a real regret over getting rid of is all those Marvel calendars. They didn't take up that much space, and they'd look great on the walls.

So let's hear it - what's the one thing you wish you'd held on to?



Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Song of Red Sonja: Conan the Barbarian 24


As a public service, today's post might be considered as falling somewhere around (if not just past) a rating of PG-13.  -- The Management

Conan the Barbarian #24 (March 1973)
"The Song of Red Sonja"
Roy Thomas-Barry Smith

Doug:  Hot pants and chain mail is what all the Hyborean babes are wearing this time of year, isn't it?  Well, at least between these covers it is.  And speaking of the front cover...  Wow.  That's not bad, huh?  I really like the sepia tone of the mob as it offsets the protagonists.  Genius.  And hey, filed under "great minds think alike", our colleague Andrew Wahl had lusty rogues on the brain just like I did, apparently.  Please jump to his site to not only catch his thoughts on Conan the Barbarian #'s 23 and this one, but also on the lead story of Marvel Feature #1 (you'll recall that I reviewed the other tale last month). But enough hyperlinking -- let's get to some sword-slinging!

Doug:  We open in Makkalet in a tavern, where Conan and the other denizens cheer on the beautiful yet deadly Red Sonja as she dances atop a table.  As the tempest rises among the drinkers, a hulking figure makes his way toward Sonja.  Called "Big Jax" and sporting a nasty wound on the side of his skull, he takes Sonja by the arm.  Defensive at first, she relaxes when she sees it is him.  But Conan of Cimmeria is not so understanding.  On a sidenote, it's been awhile since we looked in on Barry Smith's version of the barbarian.  You know, fans have frequently commented that Smith's Conan was leaner, even lithe, compared to the depiction of the warrior by John Buscema.  I'd argue that in the previous issue and this one, that Conan is perfectly suited to segue into Buscema's epic run -- which commenced in the very next issue.  It's unclear whether Conan protests to Big Jax out of chivalry or his own sexual desires (unclear -- yeah, right) for the warrior-maiden; but regardless, it's soon three pages of "game on!"  Best line in the scene, from our hero = "You!  Bald-pate!  Let the wench finish her dance!"

 

Doug:  Conan and Sonja steal away from the brawl, and make their way to a pond to cool off.  Sonja tells that chain mail is not the best thing for bathing, and emerges from the depths sans her top.  It's been well-documented that Barry Smith originally drew Sonja topless; >

From the Comic Book DatabaseNotes: Artwork here was censored by unknown Marvel artists, uncensored Windsor-Smith original version was subsequently printed in Marvel Treasury Edition #15 and Savage Sword of Conan #82, but recent Dark Horse TPBs used the censored version. Cover here is also colored by Windsor-Smith. Some sources credit John Buscema with the censoring work.

< the Comics Code Authority would have none of it, however, and several panels had to be redrawn showing a) Sonja's breasts covered and b) Conan's hands above the water, rather than cupping her bottom. In addition to the doctored up sex scene, some commentators say that there are apparently hints of masturbation abounding in this tale (see the last art sample for one instance I've seen referenced).  As I was finalizing this post to run yesterday, I received my digital copy of Back Issue! #61, which celebrates the treasury-sized books of the Bronze Age (and is, incidentally, published in tabloid form!).  Perusing it quickly, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the very panels I've referenced above, and including the uncensored version that ran in MTE #15.  I've included it, below the version that was on the newsstands.  The author of the BI! article containing these panels is comics scholar John Wells, and in the text he reports that the artist who did the re-do was none other than art director John Romita.  Look closely -- you decide:  Romita or Buscema?  In the same paragraph, Roy Thomas is quoted in regard to the uncensored version running in the Treasury (treasury-sized books were considered magazines, and were not subject to the Comics Code Authority), saying "I'm pretty sure that running the uncensored version was an accident." 

Doug:  At any rate, the romance-that-doesn't-happen is interrupted by the sound of horses.  It's the night watchmen come to find out what all the ruckus is about.  While interviewing the innkeeper, Conan and Sonja steal one of their horses.  And Sonja now tells Conan what she'll have him do this evening (which is not at all what Conan wants to do) -- ride to the royal palace, on business.

 


Doug:  On the grounds of the palace, Conan and Sonja stop at a phallic-like obelisk (I guess since Barry Smith had decided he was done on the book, he was going to go out all guns a'blazing).  Sonja tells that inside are enough riches to allow these two to retire from their mercenary ways.  Conan, eyeing the sleek black finish of the tower, figures that Sonja needs him to scale it.  He kids here, though, in asking what he should need her for.  Putting another ill-fated move on her, Conan is told at first that it's business now and play for later; then he's pummeled!  "By Crom, girl -- I've killed men for less than that!"  "For what?  For not letting you kiss them?"  Priceless.

Doug:  Conan scales the tower without incident, and soon drops a rope to Red Sonja; she in turn scampers up to the top.  As they enter the treasure chamber, Conan is astounded at the sheer wealth at his feet.  But something seems amiss, as Sonja asks him to leave the room -- to inspect the corridors for guards.  Conan buys it, and vanishes.  With corruption in her eyes, Sonja recalls the commission she had received from the king of Pah-Dishah -- to go to Makkalet, pretend to be their allies, and then steal back the serpent tiara that had been given previously as a dowry.  She finds the object of her quest -- and is transfixed by it's lifelike appearance.  And suddenly, it explodes into a living, breathing, writhing, thing of mystical terror!


Doug:  Barry Smith finishes this story, and his tenure on the regular title, in a flourish of awesomeness.  Conan fans would be treated to the Thomas/Smith team only one more time, in the magnum opus "Red Nails" (printed in color in the Chronicles of Conan, volume 4, which I am using for this review).  Conan re-enters the treasure chamber to find Sonja backed against the wall by the menace of the serpent.  Apparently the thing is real enough, as it bleeds at Conan's blade.  Our heroes soon find that along with its dagger-like fangs it is also a constrictor.  As Smith shines here, so does Roy Thomas -- Sonja: "No!  I'll help you-- whether you want my help or not!"  Conan: "Then bat your sea-green eyes at that thing -- or maybe wiggle your hips!  That worked with me, at any rate!"  As the barbarians battle, Conan is finally able to deliver a death blow, which breaks the spell and returns the beast to a tiara.


Doug:  Sonja explains that the wizard of Pah-Dishah had given her an incantation to keep the serpent tiara an actual crown.  However, she forgot what to say as she first held the precious bauble.  Sonja offers Conan to take as many jewels as he can carry -- he declines, saying he has to live yet in the city.  Then he tells her that he fought tonight, after all, for other rewards.  Leaving the tower, Sonja rappels quickly downward, far faster than the Cimmerian.  He calls to her to slow down, but as she hits the ground she quickly lights the rope afire.  It literally burns through Conan's hands, and he falls hard to the ground.  Stunned, with legs that won't work quite right, Conan nonetheless reaches Sonja -- who is not atop her mount.  He tells her that she'll pay him now with kisses aplenty.  She explains that no man shall have her, lest he first best her in battle.  And that is something (as she rides away, knocking Conan down yet again) he shall not do this night.  Beyond angry, Conan smoulders as he limps back into town -- vowing to have that woman, even if she least expects it.


Doug:  This story has been lauded by many critics and commentators, and I'll happily stand in that line.  This is full of action, it's sexy, it has brawling and sorcery aplenty, and as said above it's a tour de force sort of send-off for the team that had evolved this strip over the previous two years.  When you think back to the style Smith was using on the earliest issues, and look again to the top of this post at the cover to this issue...  Again, we know that Roy Thomas and Barry Smith collaborated on Conan the Barbarian one more time; but if they'd not, then I think we'd all feel OK that this story was their legacy.

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