Monday, August 31, 2009

When Crystal Married Quicksilver. Wait! Say WHAT??

Doug here, back with another short preview of an essay that I hope will make the cut for the upcoming book of Avengers analysis and opinions, Assembled! 3. This time I'm showing great disgust at the plight of the relationship between Crystal of the Inhumans and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four. Throughout the Silver Age, these two teens seemed destined for each other. But as the Bronze Age dawned it became apparent that this was not to be. I'll be honest -- at times I've been as preoccupied with this turn of events as I have been that Peter Parker never married Gwen Stacy! And I don't even know what to make of Archie Andrews about to wed Veronica Lodge!

Much of the essay is written as a timeline:

Take a look now at a summary of some key events that “led” (does anything truly “lead” to an event that pops up out of the blue?) to the Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver:

FF 45: Dec. 1965. Art by Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott, story by Stan Lee (unless otherwise noted). First appearance of Crystal; the Inhumans (notably Gorgon) appeared in the previous issue. Happening upon Crystal in a deserted, desolate alleyway, Johnny remarks, “Wow! I must be seeing things! What’s a vision like that doing in a deserted neighborhood? She almost doesn’t even look real – sort-of like something out of a fairy tale! I hate to be disloyal, but she makes Dorrie Evans seem like a boy (page 8)!” Ah, love at first sight, as Crystal then proceeds to kick his butt for startling her. Johnny then daydreams about her, and steals away to the same alley later the next night to hopefully encounter her again. He does. Apparently the love at first sight is hers as well, and Crystal takes Johnny home to meet her family.

FF 46: Jan. 1966. Crystal professes that she doesn’t want to be separated from Johnny, “no matter what (page 14)”. Earlier in the issue, the FF come face-to-face with the Inhumans – it’s like meeting “the Addams Family”, more or less. When the Inhumans seek to flee in order to rehabilitate the fallen Black Bolt, Karnak remarks to Crystal that the Torch is their enemy. She cries, “No! You’re wrong! He meant us no harm! I know it in my heart (page 13).”

FF 47, 48: Feb.-Mar. 1966. Crystal and Johnny become near inseparable as the FF have to leave the Great Refuge – Stan Lee teen angst in the Spidey tradition!! Reed remarks, “She’s oblivious to everything else! She only has eyes for Johnny (#47, page 18)!” Incidentally, Johnny twice refers to her as “Chris” in #47.

FF 81: Dec. 1968. Crystal debuts in an FF costume, declaring that with Sue in post-partum recovery due to the birth of Franklin (in the previous month in Fantastic Four Annual #6), “someone has to take her place on your team (page 1)”. Of course, since it’s her “debut” issue, she saves the team from the Wizard by demonstrating her command of Earth, Wind, and Fire (the elements, not the band).

FF 95: Feb. 1970. Medusa comes to take Crystal back among her people. Johnny protests loudly – “You can’t do it, Crys! You can’t leave me – to go back to them (page 11)!” Crystal replies, “Oh, Johnny – Johnny! Do you think I want to go?” As Medusa takes Crystal away (by force), Crys calls back to the Torch, “Wait for me, Johnny – I’ll come back to you – (page 12).”

And there you have a bit of an introduction to my problem. You see how I feel? All of this angst, the emotional attachment, and then BLAM-MO!! Up in smoke. Pick up a copy of Assembled 3 when it hits the shelves to see where I take this!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Doug says: "Check out some of my Stuff!" Part 4

Hi, kiddies! In this installment we're going to take a gander at some original art! For the ignorant among you (merely on the subject, not in general to be sure!!), original art is just that -- the paper (or "board", as it is sometimes known) on which the penciller and then the inker and the letterer did their craft. This now-work-of-art would then have been used to create a plate that would have color separations assigned and that would eventually become a press plate from which a given comic book would be printed. For more information on this topic, you can check out Grailpages: Original Comic Book Art and the Collectors from the fine folks at TwoMorrows. Now out-of-print, Jerry Weist had written a book back in 1992 titled Original Comic Art: Identification and Price Guide. You can learn more about it here, and perhaps even pick up a used copy for yourself.

Aside from original comic art pages, many collectors like sketches and/or pencil and ink drawings. These are readily available on such online auction sites as eBay; in fact, most of the artifacts I am showing in this post were purchased from sellers in that community.

NOTE: My scanner is not large enough to accommodate an 11x17 sheet of paper -- the standard size of a comic art board. Hence, a few of the pages will be only partially displayed. Also, a couple of my nicer (IE: more valuable) pages have been framed and matted -- I will only show the published pages, as there was no way to adequately show off those pieces.

So -- here ya go -- some "stuff" from my collection!

First up is page 3 from Avengers #76 (1970) with pencils by John Buscema and inks by Tom Palmer. As I mentioned above, the scan only shows you a portion of the page. What is not visible is a heavy black marker line on the upper left side, outside margin -- it does not interfere with the art at all. At this point I'll say that many art collectors like a nice, clean page. While the black line isn't all that attractive, it doesn't take away from the actual page. I also don't mind white-out or visible blue-line pencils. To me, this shows the creative process and lets me use my imagination as to what the creators may have been thinking whilst creating the page. Anyway, this is a nice action page, albeit just among the Avengers in the mansion.

Next up are the two pages that are actually framed in my comic room. Fantastic Four #139, page 25 is by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott -- this one was purchased from Mitch Itkowitz at Graphic Collectibles, who I have dealt with on a few occasions, although not recently; I always felt like Mitch did me right! By the way, Bashful Benjy looks good in black and white! The second page was an eBay purchase and is page 10 from Avengers #34 with pencils and inks by Don Heck. I just love the large panel with Goliath, and although the page is chock full of word balloons (imagine that!), it's still a nice presentation. And there's a little blue line and some white-out!

On several occasions I had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Jeffrey Moy and WC Carani at the Chicago Comicon (as it was then known). They were the artistic team on Legionnaires and drew those cute little figures -- they were kind enough to give me an 11x17 lithograph of the Legion characters each time we visited. I have two pages from them (I had a third, but sold it to make some money so that I could buy other things), and have included one of my favorite panels -- this is from Legionnaires #61, page 5 and was from a storyline that featured Superboy -- post-Crisis, so it was a treat as there was no Superboy at that time! If you put your face right on the monitor, you might see on the left margin that both guys signed the page to me.

I have a nice collection of pencil roughs for comic pages, mostly by John Buscema. If you haven't figured it out yet, he's my main man! I just love his work, whether on super-heroes or Conan. To your left is a sketch that is a rough for the cover of a European convention program. Even on my copy the top is cut off -- if you've ever seen the finished product, Conan is holding an umbrella and is sitting on a rock while rain pours on him. I had always assumed he had some type of Asian sword over his head, until I saw the entire artwork.

I really like the next exhibit, which I bought from an eBay dealer. Scott Shaw! is a comics artist, and I thought it was cool when I learned that he is also the advertising artist for Post Cereals Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles -- featuring the Flintstones. This is a really fun piece, showcasing Fred and Barney as Batman and Robin. I haven't framed this, but intend to at some point.

The last piece is pretty special, as it's a caricature of me drawn by a former student of mine. Mike Babinski is finally, after years and years of trying, published. He's been inking over Don Kramer's pencils on the DC 6-issue mini-series JSA vs. Kobra. This is a sketch Mike did for a school project back in 1992, my third year of teaching and his freshman year of high school!!

Tune back in next time for more Stuff!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Doesn't Kill Us....

Welcome to a new semi-regular feature: What Doesn't Kill Us...focuses on those toys and games we had as kids which were often somewhat dangerous, but yielded memorable experiences. These toys today, they're so safe that they kind of take all the fun out of things. Back before anyone had ever heard of the phrase "child safety" we had toys that taught us valuable lessons about life. We scraped our knees, had cuts and bruises, and we thrived! I'm grateful to those toy manufacturers who didn't sugar-coat life for us!

First up: one of the most wicked, fear-inspiring water toys of all time: the Water Wiggle from Wham-O!

Wham-O has made many classic toys (Frisbee, anyone?) but the Water Wiggle is certainly one of the most dangerous toys ever developed. Water Wiggle was an innocent-looking length of hose, with a bell-shaped top with a goofy smiling face painted on the outside. You hook it up to your garden hose, and it mischievously dances around the yard, spraying water over happy little children. Or so Wham-O would have you believe.

In reality, this device was a punishing, whip-lash serpent that served as a test of courage in many a neighborhood. As it jerked unpredictably around the yard, there was little hope of evading that hard plastic bell, the one that would slam into your face or chest and knock you flat, leaving you crawling on your belly, trying to escape its hydro-fury!

As soon as a kid (or often, a parent) set up the Water Wiggle in the front yard, neighborhood kids would start daring each other to jump in its path. One contest we liked to hold in my neighborhood was to see who could actually get in the whirlwind of destruction and grab hold of the bell - and no, you couldn't grab the hose and pull the head to you. You had to run in and try to get ahold of that wicked writhing head before you got smacked in the face too many times. Believe me, it wasn't easy, but if you could do it, you could hold your head a little higher that day - that is, if you weren't too concussed from getting your braincase whacked a few dozen times.

Sadly, Water Wiggle is no more. But for those of us who faced its rage, it remains unforgettable.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Me and Hank -- a preview!

It's not easy sharing the spotlight with a noted author like my partner, Karen. Seems she's everywhere these days, what with a Thor essay in Assembled 2, and articles in Back Issue 34 and 38. Well, just to show that I'm not some sort of wallflower, I thought I'd give you a brief preview of my own musings on the subject of Dr. Henry Pym -- hopefully soon to be seen in the pages of Assembled 3 (and by the way, Karen will also be featured in that book, telling us the inside scoop on the Vision!! -- it's tough to keep up with her!). So, here ya go!

We pick up the essay near the beginning. I've so far detailed how I was given a copy of Marvel Triple Action #13, which reprinted Avengers #19 -- that began my love affair with the Avengers. Later, I obtained Marvel Triple Action #22, which reprinted Avengers #28. Thus begins our sneak peek --

Right from the get-go, Hank seemed like such a tortured soul. As I said, at this point I’d had no exposure to Marvel and all its angst – this seemed like a guy genuinely down on his luck and desperate. Early in Avengers #28 (henceforth, I’m moving away from the Marvel Triple Action numbering), in regard to a call to the team for help in finding the missing Jan, Hank said,
“I had to reveal my true identity. Secrecy means nothing now! Not when Jan may be in danger! …If only I hadn’t let her transform herself into the Wasp once more! I should have insisted we stay in retirement! But I had no choice! The need was there – and at heart, we’ll both always be – Avengers (page 2)!”
Hawkeye reluctantly went to fetch Dr. Pym, and upon their return greetings with the rest of the Kooky Quartet were exchanged. Of course, nothing is easy and Hawkeye asked for proof that Pym was truly Giant-Man. Cap agreed and asked Pym to prove himself before they embarked on their search for the Wasp. Hank told Cap, “One of the reasons I resigned from the Avengers was – I realized that changing size so often was dangerous to my body! The unimaginable strain might some day be fatal (page 5)!” Nevertheless, protocol is protocol. Despite a warning that 25 feet was now the only height he dared attain, a brief step into the alley (after donning some new duds sewn by Wanda “in case you ever did return (ibid)!”) proved Hank the real deal.

What struck me about Hank in the first half of this story was his self-doubt, almost whining about his problems. I thought, hey, here’s a guy who should be on top of the world – top-notch scientist with his own very large research ship, Avengers founder, and with one of the coolest super powers around! Look at the Avengers of that era: Hawkeye wasn’t in my mind much different from what I’d seen of Green Arrow, Captain America was no doubt in charge but leadership seemed to be his finest attribute, Quicksilver was a poor man’s Flash, and I’d yet to truly figure out what the Scarlet Witch could do. At that point in my readership I didn’t fully grasp the nature or intensity of Wanda’s prowess (nor for that matter did her writers, it seemed). Throw in now a guy who was 25 feet tall and strong as a tank… yeah, that’s who my seven-year old mind gravitated to, identified with in an envious way. Incidentally, giants would go on to dominate on my cool-o-meter as a youngster: Goliath, Galactus, Black Goliath, Colossal Boy… shoot – even Stilt-Man was a treat. I should also say that years later, I had to wonder if the different drugs Hank had used to create his ability to change sizes had not caused unknown side effects that may have affected him mentally. Could that have been a cause of his self-doubt?

The second half of the story is what has caused me to admire the character and appreciate him as complex, heroic, and never-say-die. Once the Avengers arrived at the Collector’s castle, Hank (although taken aback at Hawkeye’s disrespect for Cap’s lead, and amazed at how Cap had taken ownership of the team) came to the fore, freeing his teammates from bondage and on the attack – aggressive, leading, angry, and when it looked to be over in a gas attack, lashing out with the last effort he could muster. This Hank Pym would not be denied. Of course the kicker was on the last page when, attempting to shrink back to normal size to greet the newly freed Wasp, Hank stopped at ten feet.

So there ya have it -- hope that whets the appetite for Assembled 3. In that upcoming tome, you'll find a lot of love for all Avengers outside of the Big Three, which were dutifully covered from many different angles in the now-available Assembled 2 (see the link on the left side of this page).

Friday, August 21, 2009

5 Records to Love

Doug: I'd like to trot out some records (huh?) I really liked when I was a kid -- played 'em to death! Scratched them, had to try to press down on the needle to re-groove the vinyl, the jackets were worn and even dog-eared. Great stuff! In no particular order:

Foreigner: 4

Here's the track list for the original version of this album (there have been a couple of REALLY good unplugged versions of Jukebox Hero and Waiting For a Girl Like You added to the remastered compact disc):

"Night Life"
"Juke Box Hero"
"Break It Up"
"Waiting for a Girl Like You"
"I'm Gonna Win"
"Woman in Black"
"Girl on the Moon"
"Don't Let Go"

I was a sophomore in high school in 1981 when this album was big. I had a couple of friends who saw Foreigner in Chicago on the tour that supported this record -- they just raved at how cool the show was. I vividly remember one guy telling me that during the sax solo on Urgent that the sax player's pants changed colors while he walked down a set of stairs! That would have been a pretty cool special effect for those days!

Of course the three hits on the album are what everyone remembers, and they have earned a spot in the annals of classic rock, no doubt. But upon researching for this post, I was surprised at how much I still liked some of the other tracks -- notably the opening Night Life and the next-to-last track Girl on the Moon. Lou Gramm's vocals are solid throughout the album, and he weaves a consistency across the platter.

I wanted to note the placement of Urgent seemingly right in the middle of the record. Younger readers might wonder how something buried in between a bunch of other songs could find its way out to become the major hit of the record. That's just it, o' wet-behind-the-ears: it was a two-sided disc, and Urgent led off the B side -- a common marketing strategy back in the day.

Loverboy: Get Lucky

These Canadians were fun! Of course Working for the Weekend was an anthem back in those days, but so was the band's look -- MTV really helped to make bandanas (worn on any part of the body) fashionable in the early 1980's. Lead singer Mike Reno was definitely an 80's icon for a few years. Have you seen the "I Love the '80's" series on VH-1 Classic? Reno has a great line in the intro, commenting on an archival clip of the band -- he says, "I still wear the same size pants -- 32x36; except now it's 36x32." Don't I relate to that...

Here's the song order for this 1981 release:

"Working for the Weekend"
"When It's Over"
"Gangs in the Street"
"Lucky Ones"
"It's Your Life"
"Watch Out"
"Take Me to the Top"

I have a BUNCH of these on my iPod (in fact, I'm listening to them right now)!! Of course Working for the Weekend, but also When It's Over, Emotional, Lucky Ones, and Take Me to the Top. For my money, this could have been the band's greatest hits album. Listening to the entire album again after some time I found (as I did with the Foreigner album) that I really liked all of the songs. And I'd add the same comment here about Reno -- his vocals really tie the album together. It is unmistakenly Loverboy through and through.

Loverboy would have more hits, and of course Reno would go on to dwell in sappy lovesong heaven (he and Peter Cetera were the monarchs of that kingdom in the mid-80's). They eventually faded away, but man, were they cool while they lasted!

REO Speedwagon: Live -- You Get What You Play For

I don't recall why I bought this album, originally released in 1977. I had a few other live albums, but for the most part I've preferred studio albums to live recordings. I am thinking now, as I delve through the memory banks, I wonder if it was a way to get the song 157 Riverside Avenue? At the time I got this, REO's greatest hits album, A Decade of Rock 'n' Roll had just come out (1980) and there was a live recording of 157 on that disc. As I had the material on Decade that had been on the You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish and Nine Lives albums, I figure that's why I chose this.

Here's the track list:

"Like You Do"
"Lay Me Down"
"Any Kind of Love"
"Being Kind (Can Hurt Someone Sometimes)"
"Keep Pushin'"
"(Only A) Summer Love"
"Son of a Poor Man"
"(I Believe) Our Time Is Gonna Come"
"Flying Turkey Trot"
"Gary's Guitar Solo"
"157 Riverside Avenue"
"Ridin' the Storm Out"
"Music Man"
"Little Queenie"
"Golden Country"

My favorite songs on the album include the aforementioned 157 Riverside Avenue (I laughed the first time I listened to it and Kevin Cronin swore), Keep Pushin', (Only A) Summer Love, and Golden Country. I have to tell you, too, that it was not until Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was on television that I got the joke during 157's bass solo. Bassist Greg Philbin is referred to as "Regis" -- I had no clue -- missed the whole Joey Bishop/Regis Philbin deal completely!

The funny thing about live albums, when that is the version of a song that you've heard first, is that the studio version sometimes doesn't measure up. How many of you have heard the original studio version of KISS's Rock 'n' Roll All Night? I'm sure most people identify with the live recording from the KISS Alive! album. At any rate, this REO album is a fine recording of a series of concerts from back in 1976. Check it out if you're a fan!

KISS: Rock and Roll Over
Hmmm... What could possess a mom to let a 10-year old kid listen to this record? Take the opening lines to the second track, Take Me:

Put your hand in my pocketGrab onto my rocket
Yep -- not really any innuendo there. I can recall playing this album on our big honkin' console stereo and lying beside it with my ear next to the speaker. I know my mom heard this as she moved about the house!
Here's the playlist:

"I Want You"
"Take Me"
"Calling Dr. Love"
"Ladies Room"
"Baby Driver"
"Love 'Em and Leave 'Em"
"Mr. Speed"
"See You in Your Dreams"
"Hard Luck Woman"
"Makin' Love"

If you recall 1976, then you remember that the hits off the album were Hard Luck Woman, sung by Peter Criss (ironically, it was Criss, who rarely sang lead vocals, who sang on the band's two highest charting hits [Beth was the other]), and Calling Dr. Love, which has one of the greatest cowbell intros of all time. There's not a bad track on the album; each tune is catchy and the lyrics are for the most part pretty baudy, which is a naughty sort of fun.
I don't so much care for Calling Dr. Love, but Gene Simmons' other songs on the album tend to be more to my liking. See You in Your Dreams, Love 'em and Leave 'em, and Ladies Room are good. But the best rocker on the record is the disc's final cut -- Makin' Love. Great, fast-paced song!

Rush: Permanent Waves
This is thinking-man's rock music, plain and simple. When I got this album in 1980, I bought it for The Spirit of Radio, and on the recommendation of a friend who was into Rush. I had no idea at that age that rock music was so cerebral. Neal Peart's lyrics were very heady, from the vocabulary he used to the topics the songs discussed.
The album has only six songs, so it's almost like an EP rather than an LP. Here's the track list:

"The Spirit of Radio"
"Jacob's Ladder"
"Entre Nous"
"Different Strings"
"Natural Science" ["Tide Pools", "Hyperspace", "Permanent Waves"]
The first two songs have of course garnered the most radio airplay through the years, but I'd argue that Entre Nous is every bit as strong a track as its two more popular brothers. Natural Science is a tour de force, with the three parts coming together to weave one near-10 minute epic story.
I am continually impressed, even to this day when I catch the Rush in Rio concert on VH-1 Classic, that three guys can make so much music. And to see Geddy Lee play a synthesizer and his bass at the same time is awesome. Neal Peart's drum kit is mammoth -- I cannot imagine how strong he has to be to endure an entire concert with the speed with which he plays.
And by the way, the album cover was another attraction for this hormonally-active then-13-year old...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Weird Wednesdays: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

It’s the same kind of story
That seems to come down from long ago
Two friends having coffee together
When something flies by their window
It might be on that lawn
Which is wide, at least half of a playing field
Because there’s no explaining what your imagination
Can make you see and feel”

“Hypnotized” by Fleetwood Mac

Although the term “flying saucer” was coined back in 1947, the 1970s were a booming time of UFO activity –at least, a lot of people were seeing strange things in the sky. Maybe because so many social mores were easing, people may have felt more inclined to report such unusual experiences. A person wasn’t automatically assumed to be a drunk or crazy because they claimed to have seen a flying saucer. Certainly, the subject of UFOs, ancient astronauts, and even encounters with alien beings had become part of the popular culture. It was not unusual to see aliens depicted in comic books, television shows, and movies.

Of all the 1970s media depictions of UFOs and alien beings, certainly the most prominent would have been the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind by film-maker Steven Spielberg. This big-budget movie, released in 1977 – the same year as Star Wars – was accurate in many details regarding supposed sightings of UFOs. It approached the subject with two storylines that eventually intertwined, one about investigators seeking out clues to the UFO mystery, and the other about ordinary people whose sightings have dramatically altered their lives. Spielberg was nominated for Best Director by the Academy Awards for the film, and it did win the award for Best Cinematography.

The early encounters with the UFOs are almost directly pulled from the news reports of the day. When lineman Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss) encounters a multi-colored craft at a dark, deserted railroad crossing, his truck’s engine dies, and nearby metal mailboxes begin to shudder. Suddenly, his entire cab seems to experience a moment of zero gravity, as objects go flying about! He looks out of his window right into the brilliant light flooding the area, and later develops a sunburn. But as soon as the UFO departs, all returns to normal, and his engine re-starts.

This sort of scene was described by many people who claimed to have encounters with UFOs, so Spielberg (who also wrote the film) obviously did his homework. His attention to detail is also evident in the way the UFOs are presented: they are of varying shapes and sizes, all with multiple colored lights, and capable of performing amazing aerial acrobatics. Again, this is all consistent with eyewitness accounts of the time.

But the film falters at the end, when the aliens make contact with a group of government scientists. As is typical with so many Spielberg films, we get a very saccharine happy ending slapped on. The aliens come down, return people they’d kidnapped (in some cases, decades prior), and then take on board their ship a group of willing volunteers. The head alien smiles at everyone and all is sweetness and light.

This is dramatically different than most reports of alien encounters up to that time. Possibly the most famous early 70s encounter was that of Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker in Pascagoula, Mississippi in 1973. The two men were fishing one evening when they claimed that a UFO set down near the river and three creatures emerged. The beings seemed to glide rather than walk, and they had a distinctly inhuman appearance. Hickson claimed that they were given some sort of medical exam on the ship and then released (for more info on the case, see the wiki article:

The real take home point of this is that whatever these men think happened to them, it terrified them. It was not a happy experience! The same can be said for most people who claimed to meet aliens. But Spielberg can’t help himself – he has to give us that happy ending, no matter what. This is, after all, the man who gave us the drippy E.T. the Extraterrestrial. Decades later, he would make a very different film about aliens: a remake of the classic War of the Worlds. But even with this film, with its invading aliens and massive destruction, our hero at the end returns home to find that his missing son is alive and well, despite disappearing in the middle of a warzone!

Close Encounters is an interesting film, well worth seeing if you have an interest in the UFO phenomenon. Just ignore the sweet little aliens at the end!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Doug says: "Check out some of my Stuff!" Part 3

Hey, I'm back with more goodies from Fort Knox (don't I wish!!). Speaking of investing in this hobby we love, I guess I turned that corner after two events. The first was the marketing travesty that was the 1990's, what with all of the multiple covers, foil covers, bagged comics, events, crossovers, blah, blah, blah. After initially being sucked into that mania, I figured it out pretty quickly that nothing from that era would a) stand up, and b) be worth much to the next couple of generations. The second event that made me more of a "possessor" than a "collector" was the completion of my complete run of Avengers (a future topic for this column). At the same time I was zeroing in on the last couple of dozen issues that I needed, a good friend of mine -- you may know of him: Don Kramer, noted DC Comics artist -- was attempting to complete a run of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Fantastic Four. Don was very picky about the books he'd buy -- he was not only wanting the run, but also to have it in pretty good condition. I'll discuss my strategy at a later date... Let's just say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

On to this post's "stuff":

Slurpee Cups/Glasses

A couple of weeks ago I gave you a peek at some of the Slurpee cups in my collection. This time 'round I want to show off a few more (I have others that you haven't seen yet, including the very-much desired X-Men cup with Dave Cockrum -- the first licensed Wolverine image! Unfortunately, I used it for beverage consumption, washing it regularly. Consequently most of the silkscreen has worn off. Doh!!).

I was a very hit-and-miss collector of these cups when they were available at retail. While we didn't have a 7-Eleven in my hometown, my sister and I spent a week each summer at my aunt's and uncle's in St. Charles, IL (I mentioned this in an earlier post). They had a 7-Eleven right down the block. What I most remember is cutting a deal with the manager at the store to sell me these wonderful cups, but without the Slurpee - hey, a 10-year old can only take so much brain freeze in a week's time! I should add that I didn't get any break on the price, even sans the icy concoction. I ended up with maybe a dozen of the cups for the first series, and another 12-15 the next summer. Just great fun! It used to irritate me, though, when on the way to the store I'd see a cup, inevitably showcasing a character I'd not yet collected, smashed on the sidewalk by some obviously less-sophisticated miscreant. Years later, as an adult, I came across glasses that contained the same artwork as the '77 cups - I believe there were five in the set, although I can't verify that. I have three of those glasses in my collection, as you can see from the photos.

For some great details on the cups, their artwork, the backstory to how the artwork was chosen for the cups (and sometimes even modified), and a checklist (including the issue/page number for the cups' artwork), please see Back Issue #34, available from TwoMorrows Publishing. You can get a hard copy or a digital edition here:

Here's an interesting nugget from the article (finely written by Lex Carson): The characters on the cups had to be good representatives of Marvel (and this speaks to some of the artists' work that was chosen/not chosen), and could not be fearsome -- in fact, some of the art that was altered involved changing grim expressions to smiles! reports that there are four major sets: a 1973 DC comics set (which includes a very sexy Lois Lane and some killer Dave Cockrum art on the Legion cups!), two 1975 Marvel comics sets, and a 1977 Marvel comics set. The 1973 and 1975 sets have a still picture of each character on the front, often with the logo from their comic book. On the back of each cup is a summary of the character’s origin, powers, and supporting characters -- the Black Bolt cup shows him thinking, not speaking (a fine touch slanted toward the true Marvel aficionado). One of the 1975 sets is taller than the other. As far as the glasses go, I can never seem to find too much information about them. However, when researching for this post, I did come across the FF and Cap/Falc glasses for sale (although noted as "backordered") -- you can check it out here:

Leave a comment -- do you have these? How about the tall glasses that were available (locally for me, at least) at Hardee's -- they showcased DC characters. I have a Wonder Woman glass, but bought it years later at a flea market. I'm sure many of our readers have more recent collectibles like these -- cups from the Batman franchise of the late 80's-early 90's, the X-Men cups that were available at Pizza Hut about the time Jim Lee was drawing the series, etc. Let us know!!

Karen here. Doug has asked me to share some of my Slurpee cup memories as well. I don't actually have my cups any more, but at one time I had a pretty fair amount. When the DC cups came out, we didn't have a 7-Eleven near us, but my grandparents did. So we got Slurpees when we went to see them, and I think that was my introduction to the Legion! I recall having the Cosmic Boy cup, and wondering why he wore pink! By the time the Marvel cups were out, we had a 7-Eleven about 3/4 of a mile from our house, and we went there frequently ( it was also right next to Taco Bell!). So I had a lot of the Marvel cups. My big mistake was putting them in my windowsill; they faded quickly that summer! They're all gone now, except for the Warlock one I got at the San Diego Con last year. They wanted $15 for it but I managed to talk them down to $10. That cup is in beautiful shape. I do still have 3 DC glasses that were from a promotion at Taco Bell - Batman, Robin, and Aquaman. A friend broke Superman a few years ago and I think I broke Wonder Woman. Of course they are all terribly faded - we put them in the dishwasher! What did we know back then?

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Comics Code Authority: Revised to Relax, part 5


Amazing Spider-Man #102 (November 1971)
“Vampire At Large!”
Roy Thomas/Gil Kane-Frank Giacoia

Doug: We’re back to wrap up our Monster Mash, as we’ve looked at Marvel’s handling of the revisions to the Comics Code Authority. For a look back at our previous discussions of the Man-Wolf, Wonder Man as a zuvembie, and the first installment of this latest feature concerning Morbius, the Living Vampire, just click on this link:

Doug: But wait, there’s more! Karen and I will discuss a few other issues that relate, perhaps directly, to the Code’s revision. We’d like to actually kick off our last story-dissection on this topic with a look at the letters page from Amazing Spider-Man #100, in which readers reflected on the opening installment of the so-called “drug issues” that ran in ASM #’s 96-98. Then we’ll close it out with an actual discussion of those same issues. This has been a long series, but it’s been a fun one for us to kick off the new blog.

Doug: On to Spidey and his amazing fiends… Issue #102 starts off right where #101 left off – with Spidey caught in between Morbius and the newly-arrived Dr. Curt Connors, transformed into the Lizard. A knock down/drag out ensues, with some nice battle scenes. A panel that was a particular fave of mine showed Morbius swinging the Lizard around by his tail. I’d also like to comment that in regard to the Lizard’s face, and I have been a regular maligner of Gil Kane in the face dept., Kane does a swell job here. Dr. Connors really looks reptilian – it looks like Kane consulted some photo stock of iguanas, perhaps. At any rate, I like his depiction.

Karen: Kane has always been very hit or miss for me. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate his style at all – I liked the simpler, cleaner look of Romita. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to enjoy his work more. I would agree, his lizard looks pretty good. The fight scene also has a very fluid quality to it – you can feel the motion. Nicely done.

Doug: In the midst of battle, the Lizard is knocked backwards into some equipment and takes an electric charge. It’s enough to knock him out, and Morbius is quick to leap upon him and sink his teeth into the Lizard’s neck – this is not shown, so in spite of vampires now being A-OK, apparently fangs-meeting-neck was not OK (?). This development provides an interesting plot twist, as Spidey manages to chase Morbius away and discovers that the Lizard has regained consciousness with Dr. Connors’ mind!

Karen: The bite not being shown I would again chalk up to Stan’s policies. He’s said in a number of interviews that his goal was action but not real violence. Of course, he was still thinking about the kids back then! Sometimes I feel a little sad that today’s comics are so obviously not aimed at kids – I don’t even know if the average 10 year old of today would find a typical comic accessible, or even interesting! But I digress…

Doug: I just finished reading Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon (and I would highly recommend it!), and the authors relate that Stan has indeed said on many occasions that he prefers comics that he could hand to a mom and tell her that her kids would be safe reading it. I found that interesting given some of the failed attempts Stan has made to branch out, including a proposal to Playboy for a VERY racy pornographic comic strip that Stan would have written, with art by John Romita!! But now I digress…

Doug: After much discussion, Spidey and Doc Connors come to the realization that Morbius must have transfused some type of enzyme to the Lizard, allowing him to become a composite of Connors’ mind and the Lizard’s body – giving Connors two arms, which he’d long sought.

Doug: What follows is a very long origin story for Morbius. It’s very vampire-y, which is fitting as Roy Thomas would be the editor-in-chief over Marv Wolfman and the other authors of Tomb of Dracula – this tale was the test market for that later series. All the familiar elements of vampire tales are present, and Kane does a nice job posturing Morbius. His origin is tragic, and he becomes a pitiable character, not unlike Dracula. As mentioned above, Morbius is shown attacking several victims, but most of the violence and blood-sucking occurs off-panel.

Karen: I hate to say this, but when I saw Morbius in the flashback, with his pale, pointed face and almost non-existent nose, I couldn’t help but think of Michael Jackson.

Doug: Yet another subject for potential digression…

Doug: The push-pull between Connors’ mind and the Lizard’s mind is interesting, and adds suspense to move the tale forward. Thomas does a nice job keeping the reader on the edge of his/her seat as this subplot runs. There’s also a nice chase scene involving our three combatants and the New York cityscape that is well done. You know, they sure could cram a lot of action into a mag in the days before decompressed storytelling!

Karen: No kidding, Doug, it always takes me a good 20-30 minutes to read these old books, but since this was a giant-size, it took even longer! You really got your money’s worth in those days.

Karen: The fight and chase was well-done, and we even get some Spidey-angst over his not saving Morbius.

Doug: But all’s well that ends well. Spidey and Dr. Connors are both able to get a dose of Morbius’ blood, replete with the enzyme they were after that they hoped would give Connors an additional arm and subtract four arms from Peter (huh? – smart enzyme!). Let’s just say that only one of the desired effects came to pass – hey, if Connors grew another arm, we wouldn’t have any more Lizard stories, you know?

Doug: So, what was the big deal with the Marvel monsters that popped up in the early 1970’s? Not much if you ask me. I think, though, that it’s important to understand that Marvel tested these waters in their mainstream comics – but really went for the gusto in their black and white magazines which were always aimed at an older audience and never had to obey the same conventions that the four-color comics did. We mentioned earlier that Simon Garth, the Zombie, didn’t see mainstream comics until Daredevil Annual #9, and although Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and others did appear with comics like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, it was pretty tame fare as compared to the magazines in which many of them concurrently appeared.

Karen: Agreed, the monsters are not scary or disturbing at all. Honestly, they were typical Marvel characters: they had problems, and most did not want to be monsters. Look at characters like Werewolf by Night, or Ghost Rider -- many of their stories revolved around them trying to free themselves of their curse. So we had very sympathetic monsters!

Karen: I think where Marvel took more of a chance was their depiction of Satan and Hell in some of their books. Having a character running around calling himself the Son of Satan seems likely to offend somebody! We also had Satan himself showing up to hassle his son, as well as the Ghost Rider, until Marvel chickened out and ret-conned it into being Mephisto. Making Satan into a recurring character just seems risky. But things were a lot looser back in the early 70s.

Doug: I always thought Mephisto was Satan anyway – Silver Surfer #3, as well as the Surfer graphic novel that Buscema illustrated around 1980 basically take the stories from the Bible when Satan tempted Christ. It was never a stretch for me to see them as one and the same. And if Marvel was always telling stories about gods anyway, why couldn’t Satan have been in their funny books?

Karen: In Marvel’s attempt to avoid the gore and shock tactics of the old EC Comics, did they go too far in “softening” their monsters? I’m talking about just the comics, not the B&W mags. Did the monsters really differ that much from the super-heroes? I tend to think not.

Doug: I agree with your posit – was this truly a stretching of the revised Code? There really wasn’t much that was different from before. There certainly is no more violence, no blood, etc. We never saw decapitation panels, or overt sexuality (other than what had progressed organically from the sexual revolution of the 1960’s) suddenly leap back onto the four-color page. But sometimes when you think you’re getting away with something – that’s when the real fun begins!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weird Wednesdays: Ancient Astronauts?

If you were alive in the 1970s, it would have been hard for you to avoid hearing about Erich Von Daniken and his book, Chariots of the Gods. The book was first published in English in 1969, and quickly became something of a sensation. Von Daniken, a Swiss author, proposed that our planet was visited in ancient times by alien astronauts, and these visitors were worshipped as gods by our primitive ancestors. Von Daniken even theorized that the aliens engaged in interspecies mating, which helped advance mankind! He pointed to many ancient drawings and artifacts, declaring that they showed the influence of an advanced culture on human development. Although Von Daniken was not the first to promote such an idea (nor was he the last), he is undoubtedly the most well-known proponent of the ancient astronaut theory.

This theory, no matter how outlandish, struck a chord with people, as the book became a best-seller and even led to a TV special, In Search of Ancient Astronauts, hosted by Rod Serling. I recall that my father had a paperback copy of the book, and as a child I enjoyed looking through it, as it had pictures of a variety of archeological wonders. Although scientists in general found little evidence to support Von Daniken’s theories, the idea of star-spanning voyagers coming to our backward little planet and driving our evolution has proved to be irresistible to many.

The ancient astronaut concept crops up again and again in popular culture. References to ancient astronauts are often found in works of science fiction. In the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, an ancient alien monolith is found on the moon, and we are shown in flashback that a similar alien monolith on Earth influenced the evolution of early primates.

The original Battlestar Galactica TV series (1978) had opening narration that went, “There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe, with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans. That they may have been the architects of the great pyramids, or the lost civilizations of Lemuria or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive somewhere beyond the heavens…” The show’s design featured a vaguely Egyptian motif.

In 1976, comic book legend Jack Kirby created the Marvel Comics series The Eternals, which related the story of a hidden race of super-powered beings who had been created millennia before by mysterious alien beings known as the Celestials. The Celestials interfered with the natural evolution of humanity. The Eternals were superficially human but possessed of long life spans and great powers, and had been worshipped by human beings as gods in the past. Their names were bastardized versions of gods and heroes (“Makkari” =”Mercury”, “Zuras” = “Zeus”, etc).

The list could go on and on, as the ancient astronaut theory remains popular to this day. As a matter of fact, Von Daniken is still on the lecture circuit at age 74! I did finally get around to reading Chariots of the Gods years ago, and while I found it somewhat entertaining, I really couldn't buy into any of Von Daniken's theories. For one thing, I tend to think our ancestors were a much smarter and more talented bunch of folks than Von Daniken does. For another, it seems like Von Daniken is mostly concerned with stating how dangerous his ideas are, and how "courageous" he is for expressing them. He's almost like a religious fanatic in the sense that he's so convinced he's right, he doesn't even consider other possibilities. But he's not alone -there are many other people who have written books on the subject, and both TV and film continue to keep the idea alive with the public. Although there seems to be little reason to believe in ancient astronauts, the idea still fascinates many.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Comics Code Authority: Revised to Relax, Part 4

Amazing Spider-Man #100-101 (September-October 1971)
“The Spider or the
Stan Lee/G
il Kane-Frank Giacoia
“A Monster Called… Morbius!”
Roy Thomas/Gil Kane
-Frank Giacoia
Doug: Man-Wolf, zuvembie… must be time for vampires in our survey of the revised Comics Code Authority! This time ‘round we take a look at Morbius, the Living Vampire, debuting back in 1971 in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. We begin our story in the anniversary issue, #100, as a bridge to Morbius’ debut in #101.
Karen: Before we jump into the story, I want to say that I love the cover of issue 100! It’s just a very cool design.
Doug: To start things off, I have a complaint to register. I had never read ASM #100 prior to sitting down for this post. However, I had read #150 (November 1975) way back when it first arrived on the stands, and I will retroactively state my unhappiness that those two anniversary issues have basically the same plot! That is, a delirious Peter Parker seeking to establish his true or desired identity, runs into a series of faux villains (the Vulture and the Kingpin are duplicated in the two stories). Each story also involves Dr. Curt Connors, albeit not until #101 in the case of the former story. Couldn’t Archie Goodwin, the author of #150, come up with something different? Of course, if it was done in the Marvel Method, then we have to blame Gil Kane, the penciller of both tales!
Doug: The basic plot of #100 is that Peter has decided that he wants Gwen Stacy – for marriage, we assume. A lifetime commitment… But, in order for that to happen, there can’t be a Spider-Man involved. So, Pete puts the finishing touches on a serum he’s been working on since he became Spidey – fears that his radioactive blood would later pose a problem, etc. concerned him. He drinks the potion and then enters a dream-state where he is forced to fight several phantom versions of his rogues gallery – the Vulture, Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and the Kingpin. While he’s battling those characters, Spider-Man begins to complain about a tremendous pain in his side. In the last panel, the source of that pain is revealed: Peter has grown four additional arms to become a human spider!
Karen: I know I keep going back to that interview with Stan Lee and Roy Thomas in Comic Book Artist #2, but there’s a quote from Stan there where they are discussing Gwen Stacy’s death, and he says that “I always wanted her to marry Peter Parker”. I think you can clearly see that this was true when you read ASM 100.
Doug: Yeah, that would really fly in the face of Jazzy Johnny Romita’s report that Milton Caniff always said that a female character should be killed off every two years! Hence, the decision (which Romita was in on) to kill Gwen less than two years from this story!
Karen: You can also clearly see many Gil Kane up-the-nose shots! Those just drive me nuts!
Doug: I thought Kane’s art really suffered from Giacoias inks; he is so much stronger on Spider-Man when inked by Romita. One of the things I noticed is so simple – take a look at the shape of Spidey’s head. It’s often not even a nice oval. And, much as Curt Swan did for the Superman universe over at the Distinguished Competition, Romita helped to unify the Spider-verse look even when not the penciller.

Doug: ASM #101 opens with a more-neurotic-than-usual Peter Parker lamenting his new condition. To compound his problems, he gets two phone calls – one from Gwen and the other from the Daily Bugle. He is basically rude to both Gwen and Robbie to get them off the phone. He next places a call to Dr. Curt Connors in Florida and asks to stay at his Long Island mansion; Connors complies with the request and tells Spidey that there is a fully-functional laboratory in the basement.
Karen: Poor Roy Thomas! His first issue of Spidey, and he’s stuck with a Peter Parker with six arms! Thanks Stan!
Doug: I thought the scripting transition from Stan in #100 to Roy in #101 was pretty noticeable. It’s probably a good thing that the storyline was of a pretty serious nature, as Roy is not as adept at the witty banter as Stan was.
Karen: I remember this issue really well, because it was the second issue of Spider-Man I read (98 was the first). All of these ‘monsters’ were quite appealing to a six year old.
Doug: In the next scene we meet a mysterious stranger, on the high seas with a very tense crew. Apparently crew members have turned up missing or dead, and the new guy seems to be the common thread. It’s not long until we learn that he is a vampire. He wreaks havoc one more time on the crew, and then leaps into the ocean – he is obviously conflicted about his lot in life. As fate would have it, the vampire surfaces just off Long Island and moves into the bell tower of Dr. Connor’s mansion.
Karen: It’s no coincidence that Morbius’ first appearance evokes the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as Roy said he and Gil Kane originally wanted to use Dracula himself in the story. But Stan insisted on having a super-villain vampire, so we got Morbius.
Doug: As Spidey works away at a possible antidote to rid himself of his four extra arms, Morbius wakes and begins to move about the house. Spying Spider-Man from the top of a stairwell, Morbius swoops down upon him. Of course a battle ensues, and it is during the fisticuffs that the vampire shouts his name to Spider-Man. Then, in a plot twist, who but Dr. Connors shows up to help Spider-Man. And as you might have guessed, the Lizard isn’t far behind!

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