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Friday, April 04, 2008

Iris West Allen's "Life Story of the Flash"

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

A book whose "existence" has been known for years to fans of the superhero Flash has finally been published. For $19.95, collectors can acquire a hardback copy of Iris West Alien's "Life Story of the Flash" (DC Comics, 1997).

Of course, it's a hoax. In 1993, in flash #79, we learned that the book had been/would be published in 1997. The existence of the book has figured prominently in Flash stories; it also serves as a terse summary of the careers of Barry Allen, Wally West and others.

Several prominent figures helped create the alleged biography: Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn share the script while Gil Kane, Joe Staton and Tom Palmer provide the art. Anything by Kane is worth examining, and Palmer is one of our best inkers, but this is not their best work.

The balance of prose and illustration is about right.

Of interest is the revising of the classic "Flash of Two Worlds" story. Since the Crisis on Infinite Earths series destroyed established continuity, we have known the first meeting of Jay Garrick and Barry Allen needed revision. The first version was more credible.

Much of the book deals with the career of Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. How Iris West explains her memories of the day Zoom killed her is a problem rarely faced by biographers.

The Zoom section disagrees somewhat with the 1993 story line, "The Return of Barry Allen" in Flash #s 74-79. How much did Zoom really learn about himself from reading the biography? I have a suspicion that Zoom might be Barry Allen in yet another time paradox.

Flash #79 ended with Wally West destroying Zoom's copy of the biography four years before it would be published. He did so to avoid knowledge of his own future. The book ends with ambiguous references to crises facing Wally and Impulse.

This is probably worth the price for the revisions of continuity.

Dr. John Suter

Comics Legend C. C. Beck

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

For C. C. Beck, "less is more" was the core belief of his artistic philosophy. In the early history of comic books, his Captain Marvel was briefly the most popular character in comics, even outselling Superman.

C.C. Beck's style was comparable to animation art. He believed that telling an entertaining story clearly was the principal task of comics. That belief lead to the only successful title ever published bimonthly for a time in America, Captain Marvel Adventures.

Beck accomplished this by crafting visually exciting, larger-than-life characters that were accessible to his audience. It is rare, even today, to find someone unacquainted with "Shazam!", the magic word that turned young Billy Batson into "The Big Red Cheese", Captain Marvel. The lightning bolt on his big red chest remains equally recognizable.

Born in 1910, Charles Beck drew cartoons for Fawcett magazines from 1932 to 1939 before becoming the principal force behind Captain Marvel. With artist Pete Costanza, Beck co-directed a company that supplied the bulk of Captain Marvel material for Fawcett publications. He also created the advertising icon, "Captain Tootsie" for chocolate Tootsie-Rolls.

His career centered on this character although he also worked on Spy Smasher and Ibis (Fawcett), and Fatman ('65, Milson). The titles that may include his work include: All Hero, All New Collector's Edition, America's Greatest, Fawcett Min., Legends, Limited Collector's Edition, Marvel Family, Master #21, Mighty Midget Comics, Special Edition Comics, Whiz, Wisco and Xmas Comics, and several "give-a-way" premiums (1939-'53 Fawcett; 1973-78 & '87 National as Shazam). Beck wrote, edited and drew. Because many Fawcett creators went uncredited, a comic book price guide is essential in pinpointing which issues contain Beck's work.

The work of C.C. Beck is highly recommended.

Some older titles are expensive and difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are best sources. Prices vary; shop around for the best values.

Michael Vance

Go HERE for an interview with C.C. Beck.


(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Kilroy is here...

and here...

and here.

Kilroy is supernaturally avenging wrong, with the ability to be three here's. It's no surprise, therefore, that Kilroy is in three comic books simultaneously, all written by Joe Pruett.

Kilroy: Revelations #1 ($2.95, 22 pgs.; art:Guy Burwell) is the pick of the litter because of its exceptional art.

Inside, Kilroy explores the sordid world of drugs and violence and (finally!) a sympathetic priest and his church, an attitude too rare in comic books.

This title is your best entry into this trio of magazines.

Kilroy #1 ($2.95, 48 pgs) is a collection of previously published short morality tales. Although featuring some of the best art of the three titles, they are too short, lack the depth needed for complex subjects, and preaches tolerance for underdeveloped characters to an already well-schooled choir.

In Kilroy Is Here #1 ($2.95, 23 pgs.; art: Ken Meyer, Jr.) readers begin to unravel the mystery of Kilroy, obscure or mysterious in his other appearances. You'll learn he can heal as well as avenge as a child molester meets his fate.

Its art is above mundane, but rushed, in this ongoing series.

Although the quality varies with each artist, Kilroy is recommended for thoughtful readers.

All titles ware published by Caliber Comics, and available by mail or through comics shops.

Meanwhile (Milton Caniff/a biography/951 pgs. & $34.95 from Fantagraphics Books

Written by Robert C. Harvey and available at book and comics shops, and at

It is made clear by the author of Meanwhile and many other creative folk that Milton Caniff was “one of the greatest creators of popular fiction of the twentieth century…” But not one person who gasped at the massive biography of Caniff’s life that I carried with me to myriad places had heard of him, and none of them remembered his comic strip Terry and the Pirates; a few said “oh” at the mention of his comic strip Steve Canyon.

The sad thing is that the praise lavished on Caniff by his admirers in this tome about his professional and personal life is completely justified. Caniff was and remains one of the greatest cartoonists who ever lived. Indeed, in his day, his reality-based art and storytelling were a huge influence on the newspaper comics page and in comic books.

You’ll find lavish examples of this work in this book including Sunday pages, daily strips, promotional art, sketches and character designs.

Advice: today’s comics artists could do themselves a world of good if they studied and emulated Caniff’s pen and brush work and his visual storytelling, particularly staging. But they don’t. And today’s comics writers could do themselves a world of good if they would study and immolate Caniff’s pacing, dialog and characterization, especially in Terry. But they won’t.

Finally, readers would do themselves a world of good if they would buy and read this definitive biography of a master cartoonist, and one heck of a nice guy. That means you, bucko.

Buy. Enjoy. Learn about one of the greatest art-forms in the world and one of its greatest practitioners, Milton Caniff.

Meanwhile receives the highest re-commendation.

Michael Vance

Check out Dark Corridor #1 for two Michael Vance short stories here.