Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Here! Halloween!

Karen: That's right kids, it's time to celebrate our illogical love of being scared. What is it about having your heart pounding and the hairs raising up on the back of your neck that somehow fulfills some twisted need?

Karen: Well, who cares! Let's start our Halloween off right with some clips from some great scary films.

Karen: If you have the time, here's part one of an excellent documentary on the Universal horror films:

Karen: Finally, a little silliness:

Happy Halloween everyone!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ain't Nothin' Like Halloween in Rutland, Vermont! Part 2011

Batman #237 (December 1971) "Night of the Reaper!" Denny O'Neil-Neal Adams/Dick Giordano Doug: Welcome back to our third annual trip to those Halloween days of yore, as celebrated in Rutland, Vermont. The early 1970's were filled with stories about the legendary Halloween parties and parades hosted by Tom Fagan. So far we've visited this town with the Defenders, and twice with the Avengers. Today we drop in on the Dark Knight Detective and his young ward, Robin. As you see from the creator credits, this was produced by the Hall of Fame crew that revitalized the Batman in the post-TV show days. A note to our readers -- while at one time I had this book, I'll be reading and scanning from Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, volume 3. You'll notice that the images have been recolored, an act that Adams insisted on when these hardcovers were pitched to him. Doug: We open with a quite-ominous splash page -- the Batman, staked through the heart to a tree! In the background, a darkened manse on a hill, and a sense of a windy chill in the air. Cue the next page, and elsewhere on this night the Halloween parade through Rutland, Vermont is taking place, and Dick Grayson and some college friends are there to see it. One of the fellows seems to be tripping on the lights and sounds. As the boys make their way along, eventually deciding to head to a party, they come upon a mugging in progress. As they approach, they see a group of thugs beating a youth in a Robin costume. Dick takes over, but the trippin' fool stumbles into him, leaving him wide open for a blow from a blackjack. The thugs run off as the boys lick their wounds. Doug: Robin loses the guys, and we next see him in his fighting togs. Looking for clues as to why a professional hit squad would be working a small town like Rutland, Robin begins to explore the surroundings. He sees a familiar figure in the distance leaning next to a tree; upon moving closer, he sees the same Batman we'd seen on the title page -- a man in costume with a stake through his heart! As Robin squats to inspect for footprints, a shadow sweeps over him and a grim reaper appears, scythe swinging! Robin ducks, but rising to maneuver out of the way, he loses his balance and plunges over a cliff. He lands face down on the rocky shore of a brook. Suddenly the Batman swoops down from a nearby tree, turning the youth over to free his lungs from the rippling water. Scooping up his young ward, the Dark Knight carries him to the home of Tom Fagan, where a doctor friend is staying.

Doug: Batman's friend is a Doctor Gruener, who is a Nazi concentration camp survivor. Batman explains that he has come to Rutland not by chance, but to assist the doctor in finding and bringing to justice Colonel Kurt Schloss, known during the War as the Butcher! Schloss was accused of atrocities in the camps, notably the deaths of Dr. Gruener's family. The Colonel has allegedy been sighted in the Rutland area -- he has a fetish for masquerade parties and was known to have purchased a pirate costume. Batman and the doctor tell Robin that the goons the boys had tangled with might be the former henchmen of Schloss -- tracking him for his stolen Nazi gold. Batman decides to move among Fagan's party-goers (the shot of a Thor with a colander for a helmet is priceless), to see if he can pick up any clues. Doug: We cut to the outside where Dick's "stoned" friend continues to stumble about. He comes across a dead body while being drawn toward a large house with a red beacon. The reaper appears again and our guy runs off. He's quickly intercepted by the Batman, who decides to head toward the light -- having eyeballed it for a few seconds, he ascertained that the beacon was sending Morse code! Arriving, Batman takes out one hood and then moves to the belltower. But unseen, Col. Schloss (replete with pirate doo-rag) sneaks out. In the tower, Batman accosts the light operator, tossing him onto the roof. Grabbing him and doing his best Michael Keaton impression, Batman gets some information -- the goons are indeed after Schloss, but not as allies. They feel that he's held out on them with the stolen gold, and want their cut. As a means of revenge, a car bomb has been set; and it's at that point that Batman hears an auto start and shift into gear. Doug: After the explosion, Batman is despondent over the loss of life -- and of legal justice. Robin attempts to encourage his mentor, but Batman brushes him off. He chastises Robin not seeing the bigger picture -- why would the Nazis off the man dressed as Batman, and rough up the kid dressed as Robin, if they were looking for Schloss? Batman is convinced that the reaper is still at large and sets off to find him. It doesn't take long, and Batman confronts the man in the flowing purple robes -- a man he knows as Dr. Gruener! Batman tells him that he deduced that the thugs had no way of knowing that Batman or Robin would be in the area unless they'd been tipped -- which Gruener arranged. Gruener then admitted that he had done that, because he'd decided that his revenge would be personal, and not through the Batman or through the courts. The reaper would make Schloss pay for the loss of Gruener's family. Batman begins to close on Gruener, they scuffle, and Gruener is able to get away. We see Dick's wayward friend one more time, talking with other kids on top of the local dam, and as fate would have it he is directly in the path of the fleeing reaper. There is contact, and as the youth falls his necklace becomes wrapped around the reaper's scythe. Dangling before his eyes is a Star of David, and Gruener questions what he has become. Next we see him fall/leap from the dam, apparently landing on his own weapon. Doug: This was a well-done done-in-one. Denny O'Neil's words are straightforward and solid -- the mystery is good, and not obvious. Of course Neal Adams is incredible, and moody. Recently some of our commenters have questioned whether Adams was good on heroes like Thor, or the FF; I could enter that argument, but for the sake of staying on topic here, I'll offer that he is perhaps the best Batman artist -- ever. His long, lithe figurework perfectly suits the Dark Knight, and his Joker several stories later in "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" is a classic. Toss in the fact that Adams had his finger on the pulse of fashion during the times he was at his peak, and you really have a complete artist. The recoloring is nice, and adds to the feel of the story. Adams is of course a perfectionist and I see care in his move to recoloring; others have likened it to interference, akin to George Lucas' meddling with the Star Wars films. Overall, a great example of the O'Neil/Adams/Giordano collaboration that is truly one of the highlights of the early '70's.
Doug: Incidentally, this isn't Neal Adams' only foray into material dealing with the Holocaust. Adams, along with Joe Kubert and hundreds of other comic book/strip artists, went to the defense of Dina Babbitt against the museum at Auschwitz. Babbitt, while a prisoner, was commissioned by Dr. Joseph Mengele (the "Angel of Death") to paint portraits of Sinti and Roma (Gypsy) prisoners. She did, and it saved her life as well as the life of her mother. In her later years, Babbitt worked tirelessly to get the artwork returned to her; the museum has steadfastly refused. Adams and others, attempting to drum up support, created a graphic novel telling of Babbitt's plight. You can see one version of it below:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What is Your Favorite Done-In-One...EVER?

Doug: We love 'em! That single-issue tale that is just perfect -- no sub-plots, little background knowledge required, and no baggage to move forward. So let's hear a shout-out today for those stories of yore that have left a lasting impression on you. Toss out the title and issue name, some "here's why you just have to read this" thoughts, and maybe a "this is my 1A", too. As always, thanks in advance for your participation!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Discuss: The Evolution of Personality

Discuss characters who began with one personality, but morphed over the years to something far astray.

Doug: Hey, 2-for-1 today, kiddies! I was just catching up on Marvel's tpb/hardcover solicitations and spied this beauty. And I just knew everyone out there in BAB Land would be all over it! From what I can tell, this will be in color. You can read the full specs, as well as take note of some other Bronze Age goodness by clicking here. But don't forget to leave us a comment on the main post above!

UPDATE: I didn't realize there had been a 1960's version of this book (of course, most of us have those stories reprinted in a gazillion forms). There are details for that book, as well as a cover image and details for the second volume of the 1970's book -- all available at Amazon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Discuss: Monstrous Heroes

Karen: In honor of Halloween, let's talk about monstrous heroes! I'll throw out my favorite: The Thing! What other ugly weirdo good-guys do you dig?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Important Are Backgrounds?

Doug: Interesting question today, and one that's the subject of criticisms of certain artists from time to time -- does your mind's eye require backgrounds in a panel, or are you generally OK with just plain colors?

Doug: Certainly when the boys from Image were getting rolling, one of the knocks on Mr. Liefeld was his lack of not only feet on his characters, but often the lack of the insertion of background pencils behind those same characters -- speed lines, cross-hatching, and general smokiness don't count in my book. Now I know that those sorts of details can be a bit tedious in a major-deadline sort of way, but we also know that in the past some artists have gotten up-and-comers to cut their teeth doing solely detail work. With the sort of cash those Marvel-leavers were generating, they certainly could have afforded to find a way to make it right. If you're unsure of what I'm speaking, run your eye down the main page of our blog and check out some of Sal Buscema's panel work. In fact, other than the Gil Kane Tales of Suspense sample near the bottom, just about all of our examples contain backgrounds.

Doug: So you can tell I'm a guy that would like "the whole picture". I'd also like it to be accurate when necessary -- quite a while ago we reviewed Fantastic Four #167, where the Hulk and Thing battle atop St. Louis' Gateway Arch. The art team of George Perez and Joe Sinnott inaccurately depicted the Arch, which is metal, as being made of concrete. Uh uh -- definite no-no. Do some research.

Doug: So sound off, and thanks in advance as always!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

But, Would You Pay $180 For These?

Doug: Doc Owen over at Action Figure Times has been reviewing the Legion of Super-Heroes box set from Mattel -- these went on sale yesterday at 11:00 am CT. After only 45 minutes I noticed that the web page had a note reading "Almost gone". When I checked after school at 3:45, they were "Sold Out!" Karen had previewed these babies back in July.

Doug: The figures are 6" scale and run in the DC Universe Classics line. They are exceptionally well done from the images I've seen, and I'd dearly love to have them. Yes, the MSRP on them is $180, and I understand that does not include shipping and handling. You can already find the box set, as well as figures listed individually, hitting eBay. However, I was also told by a reliable source that the extra money I made this fall running the clock/doing the PA at my son's varsity soccer games is going toward a new dishwasher. A pity... Anyway, drool, and enjoy!

Doug: And, for conversational purposes, who do you wish they would have made, and who would you have replaced? For me, Mon-el!!! While I like the sculpt on Matter-Eater Lad, there's no way he should have been included over Mon. And what about some more ladies?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Time Machine Question -- Who Would Have Been Indispensible?

Doug: Here's a weekend poser for you: given the Silver Age, and predating the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin in 1973, which single character's death would have totally reshaped the Bronze Age as it actually played out? So in other words, as Silver gave way to Bronze, which character's death (from any company), would have forever altered the landscape as we've come to know it? This is sort of a combined Open Forum and What If? post all in one -- but I want everyone to feel free to chime in with their own suggestions. Also feel free to play off of what others say; it's certainly fine to have multiple conversations flying around within the comments on this post!

Doug: I'll start by offering that the death of Reed Richards would have changed not only the lives and future of the Fantastic Four, but of the Inhumans, Avengers, potentially the X-Men, and indeed the entire Marvel Universe. Does Dr. Doom win in the end? Or, without his lifelong nemesis, does he lose all motivation and become a benevolent middle-European monarch concerned on whether or not his tiny fiefdom should join the EU? Does Sue take off with Namor? What if Doom, in his newfound niceness, cured Ben? What of the FF? Do they even exist at all? If Reed isn't there to cure Crystal from whatever was ailing her just before she took off to shack up with Pietro, does she die, pushing Johnny over the edge? One thing's for certain -- we wouldn't have to deal with that modern Civil War or Illuminati crap!

Doug: So who's your game-changer? Lois Lane? Doom himself? Peter Parker? Maybe Professor X was never "revived"? Let's hear it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Duel of Iron: Iron Fist 1

Iron Fist #1 (Nov. 1975)
"A Duel of Iron!"
Chris Claremont -writer
John Byrne - artist
Al McWilliams -inker

Karen:We've had a lot of discussions about how much an inker can affect an artist's work, for better or worse. I think this issue provides an interesting example of that. Although drawn by John Byrne, Al McWilliams' inks are so over-powering that folks used to seeing Byrne inked by Terry Austin or himself might have a hard time recognizing his work here.

Karen: Iron Fist had been appearing in Marvel Premiere for some time prior to getting his own title. During the 70s it seemed like Marvel loved to feature another, already established character in first issues and this one is no exception. The 'other' Iron hero, Iron Man, makes a major appearance in this book.
Karen: Claremont follows the same narrative pattern here that he began in Marvel Premiere, with captions that read, "You are Iron Fist -and tonight you are breaking the law" or "Iron Man's attack is blindingly fast -but you are a fraction faster." It's an interesting idea, although I found it a bit tiresome at times. It does have the effect of removing any need for thought balloons for Iron Fist, since we are being told the story from his perspective any way.

n: Iron Fist's friend, Colleen Wing, has been kidnapped, and the evidence points to a plot coming from - Stark Industries? Grade B villain Angar the Screamer gives up this info before he escapes. Iron Fist breaks into Stark's corporate HQ and runs straight into Misty Knight, who is sporting a really goofy pseudo-super-hero look here (complete with an 'MK' belt buckle!). Misty has a contact inside Stark and has come to meet with him, but they find the man, Don Cauley, dead.

Karen: While they are having their fun running around and breaking into the computer room, the security systems alert the big man, Tony Stark. Stark gets out of bed and sees the image of the dead man and then Iron Fist and concludes that IF has killed him. He then goes for his handy-dandy briefcase and pops it open, revealing the Iron Man armor. Just as an aside: the idea of Stark lugging around his armor in a standard size briefcase just seems so ridiculous now, doesn't it? At least they made it work in the Iron Man 2 movies, although that case was considerably larger, and the suit was not his standard suit.

Karen: Next up, an interlude, where we see Colleen Wing trying to escape her kidnappers at an airport. She manages to get away from them but runs into a h
uge man who stops her. She claws at him and tears his shirt, and sees something that startles her. He knocks her out and hands her over to her captors, who decide not to mess with him. Moments later we see our mystery man on the phone to Ward Meachum, who was the partner of Iron Fist's father. The final panel reveals that our mystery man has a serpent tattoo on his chest, one very similar to our hero's. And he wants to find Iron Fist.
Karen: As Misty continues to hack the Stark computer, Iron Fist searches the premises for the Cauley's killer. Of course, he runs into a very pissed off Iron Man. In the fine tradition of Marvel comics, the two have at each other. Now you might think that Fist should have no chance against IM (I would), but it is his book, so of course he puts on a good show. Iron Man lands a solid punch to the face and tells Fist "You're playing in the big leagues now, mister!" He then uses his image inducer (?) to make multiple images of himself to confuse fist. OK, did Iron Man ever do this before? It's certainly not a standard part of his repertoire. Claremont would have Nightcrawler over in the X-Men use Stark's image inducer too, at least initially, to hide his demonic appearance. Being the trained fighter he is, Fist has no problem locating the real IM and giving him a whack.

Karen: But it looks like Fist really isn't being able to take down IM. IM tries to get him to give himself up but of course he won't. As they get ready to go after each other again, there is a huge explosion from the computer center, where Misty was working. Presuming her dead, Fist grows furious and basically takes a cheap
shot on IM, kicking him in the back! Not very honorable. He follows up with blow after blow, finally unleashing the power of his iron fist, in a nicely drawn full page shot.
Karen: Iron Man rises from the debris of the lab and tells IF he's had enough, cutting loose with his repulsor beams. Just as Fist is about to get a REAL iron fist to the face, who should show up but Misty Knight and -Don Cauley? Yup, looks like Misty's friend was not only not dead, but working for the bad guys. The whole meeting was a set-up, to try to get Misty and possibly Iron Fist as well.

Karen: With this revealed, IF and IM
shake and bury the hatchet. Oddly enough, IM says he'd like to help find Colleen but he has more urgent matters to deal with! I guess you have to explain why he wouldn't help some way, other than just 'we can't have Iron Man running around in the book'.

Karen: This was such a typical Marvel "two heroes meet -two heroes fight" story. Because it is so centered on battles, there's little of the trademark Clare
mont character development here. Byrne's art seemed to be still evolving here, based on his layouts. Honestly, the McWilliams' inks make it very difficult to really see Byrne's style. All in all, an enjoyable little story, although certainly not the best from the original Iron Fist series. That was yet to come.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Classic vs. Modern Monsters

Karen: When it comes to horror and monsters
, I am decidedly old school. Growing up, the Universal Monsters -Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy, Creature - were always on TV, usually on Saturdays, and I sat in front of the screen mesmerized by their tales. Each one had such a distinct back story and personality. Three of them, the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolfman, and the Mummy, also had tragic elements that made you feel for the characters. For me Dracula was just flat-out evil, and the Creature was more like a wild animal. But all of them had something that made them exciting and scary, but in a fun way.

Then in the 70s and especially 80s, a new type of monster came along: The slasher. This monster was far closer to our reality than the old monsters had been. He was essentially a serial killer with supernatural abilities or origins. There's Freddy from the Nightmare on Elm Street series, Jason from Friday the 13th, Michael Myers from Halloween, Chucky from Child's Play, and many others. Most of their victims are teenagers. While some of these characters were somehow wronged in their past, most of them are just plain evil psycho killers that deserve little sympathy, if any. Certainly the child murderer Freddy can hardly be considered worthy of our concern. And yet, these monsters are immensely popular with some fans.

So I'm curious: I know some of you also enjoy monster stuff. Where do you fall in this discussion? Classic or Modern? And if it's modern, I'd really be interested in hearing why.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Your turn -- What If?

Doug: If you are the first one to comment, then it is your responsibility, nay privilege, to set the fantasy topic (Marvel or DC) of the day. If you weren't around the first time we did this, you can see how it worked by clicking here. And by the way, being a hit-and-miss collector of the actual What If? book back in the day, I really offered the Cap/Bucky topic with no knowledge that it had already been done (sort of -- we were just a bit different here) in What If? #5! Have fun with this!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Does It Get Better With Age?

Doug: Some of the comments this past Wednesday, in regard to the work of Bill Mantlo, Frank Robbins, and Bob Haney got me to wondering if our standards toward creative art change over time. Commenter Ric stated that it might have been better to have read the "Legion of Monsters" story as a kid; I remarked that in my reading history I could take Mantlo and Haney in small doses if I changed the standards by which I usually judge a comic -- continuity and general straight-forwardness.

But I want to ask you this today: do our standards of what is good change as we age? Are there stories and/or examples of artwork that you loved as a child, but when re-reading as an adult wonder what the heck you must have been thinking? Or, was there material you detested as a kid, but have grown fond of through the years? You can count me among those who have only warmed to Gil Kane's 1970's Marvel art in my adult years. And perhaps to follow up (and I'm sure we've addressed this numerous times here), what is it about the Bronze Age writers and artists that makes some of us turn up our noses (Gil Kane humor intended!) at current comic books?

P.S. -- You may have noticed that we've already gone away from our pledge of posts 3x per week. Well, I am the culprit. I can't resist rattling off a quick post when inspiration strikes, as is the case with this one, and with the note about the CNN blog last Thursday. But those are easy to write -- I can bang one of those out in minutes. We are still wanting to enhance the quality of our comic book reviews, as those take the most time. So, while you probably won't see us on a daily basis for quite some time, we will try to feed that BAB habit of yours as best as we can! As always, we appreciate your time and participation! -- Doug.

Friday, October 7, 2011

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