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Monday, December 17, 2007

More S.A. "Classics"


The Two Faces of Tomorrow #1, $2.95 and 32 pages, Dark Horse Comics/original novel: James P. Hogan/available at comics shops and by mail.

Originality is a first. Innovation is looking at a first in a new way.

Originality is as rare as, well, braces on hen's teeth, and innovation is as rare as hen's teeth.

Stories about thinking computers have been a bit long-in-the-tooth for several decades now, possibly even for centuries. So, is it possible for a Japanese adaptation of an sf novel about super computers to still have some bite?

Yes.

In The Two Faces of Tomorrow the super-computers that run Earth are causing accidents. So a team builds a super-machine that can think, and test it in a confrontation between man and computer. Why worry? If things go wrong, the computer can always be turned off or destroyed, right?

Riiiiight!

Oddly enough, neither the art nor adaptation by Japanese cartoonist Yukinobu Hoshino is startlingly innovative. And yet, the whole seems greater than its parts. A cliche?! How innovative.

Hoshino's whole strength lies in his tight scripting and pacing, and in believable characters. His plotting is precise and intriguing, and Hoshino's dialog is crisp and realistic.

Crisp? That's real original.

His greatest weakness may be that Hoshimo's simple animation influenced art lacks the realism needed to heighten the suspension of disbelief and create the suspense necessary for this type of reality based science fiction

Do his strength's outweigh his weakness (or mine)?

At $39 for the series, The Two Faces of Tomorrow needs to be exceptional to win wholehearted recommendation But its first issue shows so much promise that it at least deserves a sampling.

Michael Vance


Best of The West (Nov. 1997)

"From Fort Worth to Deadwood they threw hot lead! Killers and robbers, who....loot and steal! And on their trail came a lone rider…"

Despite this exciting introduction to "Tim Colt, U.S. Marshal", riders in the Old West weren't really alone. "The Durango Kid", "The Ghost Rider", "The Presto Kid", "The Black Phantom", "The B-Bar-B Riders". "The Lemonade Kid", "The Calico Kid" and "White Indian" were just some of the cowboys from one comics publisher in the '40s and '50s, Magazine Enterprises. These western heroes ride again in Best of the West, a new compilation of these old comic book hombres, available from Paragon Publishing.

I reckon you coyotes wont get much shut-eye readin' these rip- roarin' adventures. Tarnation, these stories are full of the language, trappings and settings that make the Western a genre. Buckaroos wantin' straight forward adventure, simple morality tales of prairie justice and little time wasted on characterization or plot twists will find it here.

Back when men were men, women were women and men preferred horses, artists also knew how to draw stories without a lot of fancy frills. These range artists range from outstanding to average.

As an added value, there is an extensive and excellent history of several of the radio shows and movie stars that were featured in Magazine Enterprise titles.

Best of the West is recommended for western fans, readers interested in comics history and for anyone who enjoys adventure.

Best of the West/$9.95, 101 pgs./various writers and artists/sold in comics shops and by mail.


The Comic Book Heroes (Feb. 1998)

Anyone interested in the history of comic books will want the revised edition of The Comic Book Heroes by Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs (Rocklin, Calif.: Prima publishing, 1997, $19.95)

Robert C. Harvey's volumes on the history of comic strips and comic books are still excellent overviews, but Jones and Jacobs provide more detail on the Silver Age of comic books. Their coverage begins with editor Julius Schwartz's revival of the superhero "Flash" for DC Comics (1956), and ends with a description of the events of 1995 and 1996. Although there is an emphasis on DC and Marvel, there is important information about Gold Key, Image, Valiant and many other publishers who have helped mold the modern comic book.

The authors interviewed many artists, writers, editors, and others involved in the creation of comics, and have also gone into the administrative and financial aspects of publishing. Some of the corporate intrigue makes the infamous J.R. Ewing of television's Dallas seem a paragon of virtue.

A recurring theme is the alienation of many creators from publishers. The rise and decline of the late artist Jack Kirby has a near tragic grandeur. Even though the authors' sympathies are clearly with Kirby and other artists, the book is remarkably objective. Readers can determine for themselves the heroes and villains of this complex narrative.

All of the illustrations are black and white. This helps keep the price reasonable, but some artists' work does not reproduce well; e.g., George Perez's Teen Titans.

There are some minor typographical glitches, but this book deserves an A+ and a wide audience.

If the next decade is as turbulent for the comic industry as the 1985-96 era has been, a third edition will be called for. The question of whether comic books will survive at all has no guaranteed answer.

In the meantime, one hopes these authors will continue to amass biographical and historical information. Biographies of Jack Kirby. Julius Schwartz, and other giants would be well within the range of their talents.

Dr. Jon Suter


The Golden Age of Marvel Comics (Feb. 1997)

Marvel Comics has published The Golden Age of Marvel Comics, a large paperback anthology of representative stories from the time the firm was better known as Timely. The stories range from 1939-1957 and are a good sample of Timely's major and minor characters.

Roy Thomas' introduction is a good thumbnail sketch of Timely's history, a topic on which Thomas is an undisputed expert. His efforts in such titles as Invaders in the 1970s were based on his extensive knowledge of these early stories.

The 17 stories vary in quality, but editor Tom Brevoort has chosen wisely.

The first story is the first appearance (1939) of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, in the obscure Motion Picture Funnies Weekly. Examples are included of artist Bill Everett's renditions of Namor in the 1940s and 1950s; they prove how great a master of the comics medium he was from his earliest days.

Many of the stories which appeared during World War II reflect the spirit of the times. Roy Thomas states, and I agree, that it would be wrong to try to remove those elements which seem offensive a half-century later.

There are some surprises. I would never have recognized the art of Mike Sekowsky. His work in 1944 was very different from that of the 1960s when he drew Justice League of America as well as numerous science fiction short stories for DC Comics.

Joe McNeely's Black Knight character from the 1950s is represented by a six-page story.

The Black Knight story is important since the medieval version of the character has been made an important part of the modern Black Knight's origin. (Even without that, McNeely's work is worth perusing.)

I am impressed with the careful attention the publisher has given to the colors. Too often, reprints appear far more garish than the original comics.

Roy Lago's cover illustration is remarkable. For $19.99, this is a bargain. I have seen the book in several comic book stores, but not in book stores. It is worth the search.

Dr. Jon Suter