Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Greatest Penciler of the Bronze Age of Comics -- the Championship

Doug:  Here's the latest bracket, below.  Polls are on the sidebar, live since last night.  I've included a 3rd place match-up, as well as consolation polls for the other members of the final eight, just for fun.  Thanks to all for their comments throughout our little "tournament" -- it's been fun.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Time Trippin' -- Things You Found Out Later

Doug:  Several weeks ago, many of us commented that we'd become aware of the Guardians of the Galaxy before we were actually fully aware of the Guardians of the Galaxy.  That is, they had that one late-Silver Age appearance that many of us were ignorant of until much later.  Similarly, I've remarked a couple of times that I heard and loved Elton John's version of Pinball Wizard years before I ever heard the Who's original recording.

Doug:  Today's a day for telling us those times, and some of these could be funny stories, that you thought life was "as we know it", and then had a little bubble burst later on.  One quite-humorous aspect of this conversation could be song lyrics.  My younger son, as a waif, was notoriously famous for singing what he thought he heard.  We used to tease him, saying "sounds like/really is" about his lyrical revisionism.  I think his best one was mistakenly hearing "Livin' in the swamp" for "Eminence front"...  I have no answer.  This entire idea of hard-to-decipher song lyrics was handled quite smartly in the recent ads for Volkswagon, using Elton John's Rocket Man lyrics as the centerpiece.

Friday, June 28, 2013

What's So Golden About... Archie Comics 64?

Archie Comics #64 (September/October 1953)
"Winner Lose"
"Safe at Home"
Uncredited:  Likely by Vic Bloom and Bob Montana

Doug:  Many of our readers seemed to like our examination of a WWII-era Captain America story, and although today's fare probably lies outside the Golden Age, we're going to bend the rules just a bit.  So, what have we here?  The two short tales I'll show you today are contained in the trade paperback, Archie Americana Series: Best of the Fifties.  As I remarked in the Phoenix review from Bizarre Adventures, I also cannot recall exactly how I came to own this tpb; I know I did not pay for it.  The mystery remains, which benevolent vendor threw it into an order I'd made?  Let's see what was happening with Riverdale High's famous kids in the era of Leave It to Beaver.


Winner Lose

Doug:  Ah, rivals for a young beauty's affections.  Here we find Veronica telling Archie "no dice" to a weekend date.  No can do, says she, because she's going boating with Reggie.  So Archie, totally defeated, heads to the soda jerk to drown his sorrows.  In walks faithful Jughead, always willing to lend a hand.  Archie feels that there's no way he can compete with Reggie's new boat; the only choice is to get a boat of his own!  So he and Jughead set out on a mission, and actually find a candidate -- for $20.  Jughead's skeptical, but Archie is, after all, desperate.  So the boys buy the boat and set about fixing it up.

Doug:  A couple of days later, Archie and Jughead go looking for Veronica and find her with Reggie.  Archie insults him, as any would-be suitor would.  Reggie fires back that he wishes Archie had a boat so he could show him who is boss.  Reggie mentions the local boat races, and Archie now has to put his money where his mouth is -- especially since Veronica says she'll give all of her boat dates to the winner.  So the next day the whole gang is at the river, except Jughead.  He's gone to borrow his uncle's outboard motor.  Archie doesn't even have a motor for his boat!  Reggie can hardly contain himself.  At the last minute Jughead comes staggering up... with a motor that's about as big as Archie's boat!  The boys get it installed just in time -- well, in fact a few moment late, as the race starts!  They finally get the motor started, and the recoil throws Archie out of the boat!  Jughead's on his own now.  He finds the course, and wouldn't you know it?  He starts picking off the competition one by one.  With only Reggie to pass, Jughead zooms right on by and through the tape!  However, he's got so much power, he keeps right on going.  And wouldn't you know it -- the only way to stop the boat was to beach it... hard.  When Archie arrives, it's to find his winning boat smashed on the shoreline.  So Veronica's boating dates?  They go to Reggie anyway, because Archie doesn't have a boat!

Safe At Home

Doug:  I think the charm of these stories is their predictability.  In both of the samples I've presented we can see the gag coming, but the true measure of a storyteller is that they keep it fun for the reader along the way.  There really aren't any twists or turns in the plots, but just watching the tale unfold is a joy.  For the second story, which was only five pages in length, I chose to present pages 2-5 in their entirety so that you can see what I mean.  Here they are:


Doug:  So what's so golden about these stories?  Well for starters, everyone's clothed -- the boys don't have their pants hanging off their rear ends and the girls don't exhibit (as one of my colleagues likes to say) "cleavage in two places" -- although I was a bit surprised that Bob Montana draws just a peek of it on Veronica in the first story.  I don't know that there's a lot here for Frederic Wertham to complain about, but what I do notice is the seminal nature of these stories to such television programs as the above-mentioned Leave It To Beaver, as well as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and even on up to Happy Days.  Do you want to know the first cast of characters that I related to Archie's crew?  See if you can link the cast of The Amazing Spider-Man to each of the characters in these stories.  I've not heard Stan Lee or Steve Ditko ever discuss Archie's stable of comics as influences on their own creativity, but in my eyes it's pretty plain to make the connections.

Doug:  So would I read the rest of the trade paperback's stories?  I just might!  After all, knowing that tales of Archie and Jughead as beatniks, or the Elvis look-alike contest lurk just a few pages forth makes me smilingly curious.  After all, sometimes it's nice to get away from one's usual preferences and explore just a bit.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Not Leading Man Material

Karen: Not too long ago, in our discussion of the Silver Surfer, some mention was made in the comments about whether or not the Surfer really worked all that well as a lead character as opposed to being a team member or guest star.  There are a number of characters that have had their own titles that we could also throw into this category and discuss the merits of whether they truly deserved or could carry their own book. I would actually say that two of the Surfer's fellow early Defenders -- Sub-Mariner and Dr. Strange -- also may work better as supporting characters. (Regular poster William also had the same idea in our comments over at the Surfer post!). Neither have been able to maintain their own titles for long periods of time. With Sub-Mariner, I think there are certain factors that go against him: his anti-hero, mercurial nature, and the whole 'ocean kingdom' motif, which seems to be a hard sell. Dr. Strange is a bit harder to explain; in the hands of certain writers and artists, he's been an interesting character, but all too often he's been in less than inspiring stories. Being a magical character, he also has the problem of poorly defined powers, which enables him to overcome situations a little too easily at times. However this same attribute often works well for pulling other characters' fat out of the fire.

Doug:  I'll confess to never having read more than a handful of Silver- or Bronze Age books with Namor or Dr. Strange as the headliner.  I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I have read the Surfer's 18-issue run, and enjoyed his revival as a solo star under Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers (later Ron Lim).  It benefited, though, from numerous cosmic guest stars and the breaking of the Galactus-installed barrier.  But as you allude to above, I enjoyed all three of them in those early issues of the Defenders.

Karen: In fact, at times I have even questioned whether or not the Hulk is a good lead character! I think  that title has often depended on the quality of the supporting characters in it to carry it. The Hulk himself, particularly in his childlike version, has just not had enough depth to carry a title by himself most of the time. You have to have an interesting group of characters around him, or guest stars at least, to keep things going in that case.

Doug:  Well, I'll also confess to only having read a handful of Hulk comics!  You hit the nail on the head as far as I was concerned -- I just didn't find the character interesting solo, but again was wonderful with the Defenders.  Naturally, it was a gas whenever he showed up in an Fantastic Four story, too.  Your comment about solo books needing significant supporting cast members is spot on -- Spider-Man, anyone?  I'll even go so far as to suggest that my interest in Captain America waxed and waned over time.

Karen:  I'm not as familiar with DC but I would wager that Aquaman, in his many incarnations, might fall into this category. What about Wonder Woman? She's had trouble supporting her own title. I thought she was interesting when George Perez came in and built up the mythological angle but it was still the infrastructure around her that became interesting, not the character herself so much.

Doug:  I can't comment on Aquaman, other than to wonder why he'd fare any differently than Namor (who I find to be a lot more interesting).  What about J'onn J'onzz?  I think he's a great JLAer -- very cool (and cool-looking) character.  But I don't know that he could really swing a solo book.  Perhaps in that regard he's like the Vision.  As you said, I did like Wonder Woman under Perez's handling, but couldn't get into any stories written prior to the Crisis.  Is that just a WW thing, or is that my greater prejudice (with some exceptions, certainly) to Silver-and Bronze Age DCs?

Karen: Time to add your candidates to the list: who are the heroes who really should be staying off center stage?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Discuss: The Police

Doug:  Below is the updated bracket for the Best Penciler of the Bronze Age voting.  While some heavy-hitters have gone by the wayside, I don't think anyone can argue with the talent left on the board.  This should be interesting!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Titanic Troubles, Part 4: Captain Marvel 33

Captain Marvel #33 (July 1974)
"The God Himself!"
Steve Englehart/Jim Starlin-Starlin/Klaus Janson

Doug:  Words?  You say the words are more important in a funnybook than the pictures?  Well then, you've come to the right place today, as Silver-Tongued Steve Englehart takes over the wordsmithing chores.  Hokey smokes, Bullwinkle -- but this is a lot of words!

Karen: You ain't kidding. I think I remarked to Doug in one of our emails a few weeks ago that this issue felt like a giant-size book written by Roy Thomas! It's just chock full of words. Even the previous issue was pretty heavy in this area, but Englehart manages to blow it out of the water.

Doug:  Karen and I have said on numerous occasions that we're not going to just scan comic pages for the sake of scanning them; however, in this case we'll make an exception because a) it's so danged long, it'd take me two long paragraphs to summarize anyway, and b) Englehart really does do a nice job of encapsulating about a year's worth of plotlines in just two pages.  And Jim Starlin's pictures aren't bad, either!  So, gaze if you will below on pages 2 and 3 of today's issue.  I think you'll agree that it's really a neat bow on what has gone before, leading us up to the material we've been covering this month on the BAB.

Karen: Basically, if you'd never read an issue of Captain Marvel before, those two pages would tell you all you needed to know to follow the story! Starlin makes some unusual coloring choices on the second page of the recap -the top series of panels are all in reds and oranges, the middle series is pastels, and the bottom is green hues. It all works but it's noticeably different from your standard coloring of the day. In fact, the coloring of the entire book looks pretty gorgeous.

Doug:  Now, after that, what a way to follow it up but with a beautiful 1/2 splash page that serves as the final bridge to "current" events.  Rick Jones, faced by a raging mad Thanos at the conclusion of Captain Marvel #32, bangs the nega-bands together and brings forth the Captain himself to do physical battle with the mad Titan.  Mar-Vell engages his enemy, who as Karen remarked two weeks ago is about 12-feet tall!  The Captain's blow barely moves the giant, who returns a ferocious assault of punches, rays, and more punches.  But just as he's about to finish Mar-Vell, Thanos is distracted by one of the ships from his space fleet crashing to Earth (see last week's review of Avengers #125).  He smugly remarks to himself that the Avengers have taken his bait.  His attention now drawn away, Thanos extinguishes the blaze within which he and Mar-Vell had done combat, and leaves.  Captain Marvel lies prone, until he hears a voice -- the holographic image of ISAAC.  The manifestation of Titan's computer system records that Mar-Vell was easily defeated, which the Captain begins to contest.  As they talk, ISAAC chastises the Kree warrior somewhat, asking him if he does not know that the only way to counteract the power of the cosmic cube is with cosmic awareness -- which Mar-Vell possesses.

Karen: Thanos batters Mar-Vell mercilessly. It's just no contest. Seeing that, you can't help but wonder how Thanos will be beaten. But it becomes clear that his space assault was not what it seemed. I also like seeing Mar-Vell's frustration here. He really doesn't know what he's going to do to beat Thanos, but he knows he has to try.

Doug:  I'll admit to being a bit stumped by the next part of the story.  We've remarked throughout this series of reviews that omnipotent villains do everyone a service by not just blotting out reality.  I suppose even gods need their leisure, and delaying the seeming-inevitable must be a part of that.  We flash back to the end of the aforementioned Avengers #125, where Thanos lurks on the roof of Avengers Mansion, watching Earth's Mightiest Heroes disembark their crafts.  And then he says to himself that of which I'm unsure (motive and manifestation, I guess) -- he says that he has shifted the entire planet Earth into a space/time continuum one heartbeat ahead of normal, and that the Avengers are now out-of-sync with the planet, effectively living between the seconds.  Say what?

Karen: I'll admit, I have no good answer for you regarding why Thanos would go to so much trouble to take the Avengers out of the picture. Surely he could have just put them all in a stasis field (as he had before) or sent them a billion light years from Earth, or simply destroyed them with a thought. Why he would bother to go to such an extravagant plan makes no sense, other than the idea that he wanted to toy with them. Actually, it would make more sense if the Avengers could see what was transpiring but were helpless to do anything about it. But other than Mantis, who we'll get to, I'm not sure they really knew what was happening.

Doug:  On Titan, Mentor has nursed Moondragon back to health, and takes her to see what is in a prison -- 17 survivors of Thanos' assault on Titan.  Mentor's anger towards his mad son boils, and he voices that he wishes Thanos be crushed!  Back on Earth, Captain Marvel picks up the cosmic cube and begins to try to formulate his next move.  Suddenly he is aware of another presence in the room, when Mantis appears to him in the form of a wraith!  She tells that while she possesses complete control of mind and body, she and her teammates will be of no use to Mar-Vell.  This isn't going to be easy...

Karen: Seventeen Titans left from the 114 who had survived Thanos' first attack on Titan years prior. You have to wonder how Mentor could allow Thanos to go free after the first attack on Titan, but then, he was his son. I know we've both expressed some annoyance with Mantis in the past, but she was obviously Englehart's darling and he manages to work her into the story here. Although she does little more than provide a sounding board for a Mar-Vell that's about at the end of his wits. I thought it was interesting that rather than have Mar-Vell and Rick discuss what to do via the link they share, Rick was out of the picture for this final issue and Mantis took on that role. The Captain is really in the depths of despair once he hears that the Avengers will not be able to help him; "One by one, my hopes are being stripped from me - soon I'll stand naked and alone- and soon I must meet Thanos -for the final time!"

Doug:  Death appears, and Thanos continues to court her.  She looks to the sky, however, and Drax the Destroyer returns, pledging once more to exterminate the mad god.  He attacks, and Captain Marvel soon joins the fray.  I felt that there was a compliment paid to both warriors when Thanos gave up his humanoid form and reverted to his "spirit in the sky" mode.  The three combatants fight tooth-and-nail, with Thanos pulling a stunt somewhat akin to the unbelievability of ol' Hercules towing Manhattan island back into place (Marvel Team-Up #28, which we some day must review!) -- he uproots a skyscraper and hurtles it after the fleeing Drax and Mar-Vell!  And nothing falls apart!  Wow!  Drax turns on the projectile, however, and shatters it with one punch -- now that's power.  Mar-Vell tells his ally to cover him -- he has an idea.  Landing back on the roof where he'd seen Mantis, Mar-Vell finds that she and ISAAC are there.  The three of them talk, and come to the conclusion that Thanos, fancying himself a god, can only be a god if he is worshiped.  Since all who know him fear him and wish him dead, his power must then not be natural but only from the cosmic cube.

Karen: Every time we see the Destroyer in this saga it is pure excitement! Drax has one goal, one purpose in life: to destroy Thanos! He goes at this with relentless fury. Starlin seems to really throw everything he has in to these scenes -the art bursts from the pages. And of course, when Thanos throws a building at them, it holds together -he's a god! He wouldn't be much of a deity if he couldn't pull that off. The theory developed by Mar-Vell, Mantis, and ISAAC doesn't really hold up for me -what about Thor or Odin? Where are their worshipers? But perhaps since they once had worshipers, they were already empowered. I like the idea though -it has sort of a Twilight Zone feel to it.

Doug:  But, Thanos (being omniscient, you now), suddenly turns his attention to the rooftop and attacks.  The assault forces Mar-Vell to drop the cube; as he dives for it, Thanos warps reality in an effort to disorient his foe.  He then does what he most likely should have done all along -- murder Captain Marvel.  Mar-Vell begins to age rapidly, but as he does he takes his last lifeforce and hurls his body toward the cube.  With one big karate chop, Captain Marvel crushes the cube.  Instantly, Thanos blinks out of existence, and we see Death... celebrate?

Karen: Thanos' attack on Mar-Vell seems genuinely threatening. The panels that show the Captain aging are very effective; there's a feeling of suspense as he brings his withered hand up to strike the cube. The sequence of panels on the next page, showing Death going from beautiful woman to cackling skull are also smart story-telling.

Doug:  Back on the rooftop, things slowly begin to return to normal.  Steve Englehart, for all the kidding I was giving him at the top, really seals the deal with his script on the last page.  I won't put a stain on it with my own words -- as you can see, it's presented in its entirety below.  It's really a fantastic page.

Karen: There have been times where we (or other folks around here) have questioned some of Englehart's work, such as West Coast Avengers.But this page is an example of why Englehart might very well have been the best writer of the Bronze Age. The man had a way with words, and was one of the best at conveying emotion.

Doug:  To my partner, I say "thanks!" for scheduling this four-pack of cosmic comics.  I had only previously read Avengers #125, and it's somewhat out-of-context without the two bookend CM issues.  And as a middler-not-a-hater on cosmic stories, I had a blast.  This was really well done and top-notch talent-wise.  I enjoyed Jim Starlin's art throughout, and we got a very nice treat in seeing his pencils embellished by Joe Sinnott, Dan Green, and Klaus Janson.  I'll put that threesome up against just about any other threesome, at least as this played out in June.  To say that the entire plot (of course going back several issues before we picked up the trail) was grandiose would be an understatement.  Just a really well-executed, fun, slice of Bronze Age comics reading glory.

Karen: I had a blast revisiting these books and doing the reviews with my partner. I'm very happy that he enjoyed them and glad that they got such positive response from all of you. And I can't wait to jump on to the two 'biggies' -Avengers Annual 7 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual 2!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Discuss: X-Spinoffs

Doug:  Below is the updated bracket.  As we've moved to the "Elite 8", which artists left behind certainly would have been worthy of being in this round of honor?  From my perspective, Jim Aparo stands out, as does Rich Buckler.  I wouldn't place Buckler in the category of "technical master" as I would, say, the Buscemas, Adams, or Byrne, but for sheer output and his oft-mentioned morphing style (which I actually like -- on the one hand it sort of dates the art for the viewer, and I do think aping Kirby and then Adams, and then developing a style all his own, is no small feat), he truly is a Bronze Age treasure.  So we'll have two discussions today -- the one at hand, and a continuing conversation on artists.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ever Read a List That Didn't Make You Say, "Wait... What?!"

Doug:  Just a word to the wise -- you will be sent on numerous field trips today.

Doug:  A week ago Friday I saw a list on (it actually links to a part of the Entertainment Weekly website) touting "25 Greatest (and 5 Worst) Super-Heroes".  I especially love the various authors' claims of who brought the character "to life".  Heresy, in some cases.  Just behind that list was a list of 15 comics that simply must be made into movies!  Hopefully these links still work -- first one in who encounters trouble, let me know and I'll see what I can do!

Doug:  Also, did you happen to catch the interview with Stan Lee last week, when some young writer (obviously no fanboy) wrote that Stan lamented his writing of A Kid Called Outlaw had he not created the Fantastic Four?  Obviously the writer's ears must have been 90 years old, as we all know Stan was talking about KID COLT OUTLAW!!

Doug:  Today is sort of a potpourri day around here.  Check out the links, and then bring your thoughts back over here for some discussion.  And thanks in advance for doing a little legwork today.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Discuss: Facially Hirsute Heroes and Villains

Yes, even Doug was a facially hirsute hero, back on his wedding day in 1988! 
All comments and insults are certainly welcome, and deserved!
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