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Friday, April 18, 2008

American Presidents In Comics

American presidents frequently appear in comic books, sometimes for satire and sometimes for drama.

In 1970, the two hundredth issue of DC's Flash featured a story in which the Flash was blackmailed into assassinating Richard Nixon. By use of speed, Barry Allen, the then-Flash, tricked his manipulators and rescued Nixon without his being aware of the attempt. That story made readers who remembered the death of Kennedy in 1963 somewhat uncomfortable.

The Flash still finds himself involved in presidential races. Wally West, Allen's successor, was recently involved in a plot (Flash #s 120-121) where a third party candidate had a strong chance of winning the presidency and was also the target of an assassination plot.

That will remind readers of the novel "The Manchurian Candidate" or the major film based on the novel.

A major part of the plot is the possible involvement of the Human Top, a supposedly dead villain from the days of Allen. The reaction of the now reformed villain, Pied Piper to that possibility may foreshadow changes in his role as a supporting character.

The story by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn contains elements which would had been too fantastic for the 1970's; e.g., suicide bombers, but which are all too plausible today.

Paul Ryan's artistic interpretation of the Flash is different from that of earlier artists Irv Novick ('70s) and Carmine Infantino ('6(Ys). Each artist has enjoyed a loyal following, but I wonder if Infantino's style would be effective for this story.

Comic books have usually had a shallow view of history and politics. The worst treatment of American politics was DC's short-lived Prez title. Waid and Augustyn are obviously better informed, but their story lost some impact for readers by reaching newsstands after the 1996 election. As in politics, timing is everything.

Review by Dr. Jon Suter

The Golden Age of Marvel Comics

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

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 The 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.

Ray 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

DC's Genesis

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Ever since Marvel Comics' Secret Wars and DCs Crisis on Infinite Earths, we have been besieged by comics mini-series which are guaranteed to reshape the comic cosmos. Most of these have turned out to be considerably less consequential than promised.

One of the most interesting ones is DC's 1997 four-issue series, Genesis. It was to clarify the various mythologies of such DC series as Wonder Woman, New Gods, Power of Shazam, etc.

John Byrne deserves considerable praise for his script. Joe Rubinstein's art is also commendable.

The problem is with several of the related stories which appeared in other DC publications. In the worst examples, the relationship of those titles to the primary mini-series often seems stretched beyond credulity. This is not surprising considering the number of editors and writers.

I cannot advocate that any collector try to acquire every Genesis crossover but some are essential. Among the best are Aquaman 37, Jack Kirby's Fourth World 8, Spectre 58, Wonder Woman 126, and Green Lantern 91.

Since John Byrne is responsible for Fourth World and Wonder Woman, the close relationship to Genesis is no surprise. His version of Wonder Woman has to be one of the best in recent memory. In the 1950s and 1960's, the character was little more than a joke to many readers.

After Crisis of Infinite Earths, George Perez made excellent revisions of the basic concept and Byrne has revived her yet again. The paradox is that he revived her by killing her as part of the Genesis storyline.

Yes, Superman was "killed" a few years ago, but he never suffered the indignity of an autopsy.

The "trick" by which Diana survives is feasible, but Byrne also takes advantage of the situation by allowing others to be Wonder Woman.

At this time, Diana's mother is Wonder Woman and Donna Troy, the one-time Wonder Girl, is on the scene. In fact, Byrne seems to be rewriting some of her past as established in the first series of the title Teen Titans.

Dr. Jon Suter

Go here for a complete Genesis index.

The Hammer #s 1-3/22 pgs., $2.95 ea. from Dark Horse Comics

The Hammer #s 1-3/22 pgs., $2.95 ea. from Dark Horse Comics. Written and drawn by Kelley Jones. Sold at comics shops and by mail.

"I can cast my magic under the guise of medicine helpful to millions." sneered the half-naked witch. Isobel Grierson. "And through the evil thoughts of those unsuspecting multitudes, construct a bridge between this base world and the plane of the Great Ones

"...then bring Hell to Earth."

Well, maybe, although you'd think a female hellion just reconstituted from a mass of quivering, bloody guts would know.

Isobel has been brought back from the dead to open a doorway that was shut by a hero with a sort of octopus on his head. He closed that doorway centuries earlier so that the monstrous horrors that exist in the black abysses of space and time cannot vacation on earth.

The hero with an octopus on his head has also been brought back from the dead to keep that doorway shut.

Talk about yer eternal dilemmas!

Okay. I will.

My dilemma is that I can't decide whether to recommend The Hammerer or not. There are elements that I really like and really detest in this new comics series. So, what should one do when stymied by indecision?

Let's make a list.

For: Interesting monsters. Intriguing mood and setting. Lots of plot twists and attention to detail. Realistic dialog. A well-rounded knowledge of traditional horror icons. Overall good visual storytelling. Restraint in graphic sexual and violent images. Nice letters pages.

Against: Poor human anatomy. Too much gore. The plot is derivative and detail is unoriginal. Awkward attempts at humor. Too many abrupt scene changes. Shock instead of suspense. Not enough restraint in graphic sexual and violent images. Stereotyped characters.

So, is this comic worth buying?

Well, maybe, although you'd think a qualified reviewer well versed in the mass of published horror comics would know.

Michael Vance

The 8th Wonder/24 pgs., $2.95, Dark Horse/Story: Peter Janes, Art: Killian Plunkett

The 8th Wonder/24 pgs., $2.95. Dark Horse/Story: Peter Janes, Art: Killian Plunkett; collecting the stories that first appeared in Dark Horse Presents #s 85-87/sold in comics shops and by mail.

Michael Vance's Review (1998)

Something old is new again. Or vice versa.

The architecture and clothing of The 8th Wonder suggests nineteenth century setting. But the technology mixed in with the nuts and wrenches and giant mechanical windup toy that looks like a modem Japanese robot is definitely advanced beyond our science. That's just part of the fun of this comic.

Its Jules Verne plot is another part of the fun as a vast power struggle messes with an inventor's life. That's only another part of the fun that is highly augmented by marvelous art.

The best part is the whole. The worst part is that three serialized segments that make up this one issue wonder often segue poorly into one another.

The whole is so wholly fun, however, that you won't mind. That's why I don't actually mind recommending this tongue-in-cheek romp into the future past or the past future.

Mark Allen's Review (2004)

In an age when all mechanical wonders are powered by coal, the Trans-European Empire attempts the incredible, perhaps impossible, task of building a massive, city-sized bridge across the Atlantic. What better time for a mousy, yet brilliant little scientist to come along with an astounding new invention, which provides clean, abundant power, in an almost magical way. When Dr. Viln Agrine does so, however, he draws the attention, and greedy machinations of Lord Parsons, "the Fourth Earl of Dogsbottom," and is thrown into the lower levels of the bridge, to be used as slave labor. What, now, for the doctor, his invention, and the amazing bridge?

Having originally appeared serialized, in Dark Horse Presents, issues 85 through 87, The 8th Wonder was collected in 1997. To date, it is one of the most unusual stories I've ever read.

Unusual is good, in a medium that continues to need fresh material to balance out a steady...and of super heroes. Writer Peter Janes pens a tale which is unusual in it's ability to grasp and hold a reader. Agrine elicits sympathy as a protagonist, just as Parsons proves an entertaining, properly-villainous antagonist.

Kilian Plunkett's art work is, to be blunt, amazing. It's unusual, in that such detail is rarely seen in comics. One of the most talented artists in the comics industry, his work possesses an amazing sense of depth and complexity, and does not become "muddled," when working in black and white, as the work of many artists does. His characters are visually entertaining, as he seems to have mastered the art of character expression. The 8th Wonder is definitely one of those works in which the art helps an already-ample story tremendously.

The 8th Wonder is recommended for those who enjoy good science fiction, and superior characterization.

The 8th Wonder, published by Dark Horse Comics, 24 pages (no ads), $2.95 original cover price. Find it in comic shops, online auctions, or comic conventions. (Don't ignore the bargain box!)

Comics Legend Chic Young

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

"Both Chic and I figured that the depression was merely one more reason, among many, that people needed to laugh." - Bob Hope

His brother, Lyman, created the omic strip Tim Tyler's Luck. His own early strips included The Affairs of Jane, Beautiful Bab, and Dumb Dora. No one would have guessed that what he started on September 8th, 1930 would still be published today in more than 1,800 newspapers, becoming the most successful comic strip in the history of the world.

It's about an American family. It's about Baby Dumpiing, J.C. Dithers, Herb Woodley (the next door neighbor), Daisey, and the daily collision with Mailman Beasley. It's about sleeping, eating, almost missed buses, surly chefs at greasy spoon lunch counters, interrupted baths and huge sandwiches.

Then there are the endless array of door-to-door salesmen hawking worthless junk... the weird kid next door with the nose, the guy with the cowlick yelling, "Blooondieeeee!"

Yep, it's Dagwood and Blondie, a reflection of American society read by more than 150,000,000 people everyday. It's one of the reasons that strips are the most popular art forms in the world.

But you knew that already, didn't you?

Blondie appeared in: Ace Comics ('37-'49, McKay), Comics Reading Libraries ('73-selected issues), Dagwood ('50-'65, Harvey), Daisy & Her Pups ('52-'55, Harvey), King Comics ('36-'52, #82-on, McKay), Magic Comics ('39, #25- on, McKay), Blondie & Dagwood Family ('63-'65, Harvey), and Blondie Comics ('47-'76, McKay/Harvey/King/Charlton).

There were also many giveaway comics, including Eat Right To Work ('42) and Dagwood Splits the Atom ('49, King).

Many paperbacks and collections were published. Among these, Blondie & Dagwood's America (Harper & Row, 1981) is excellent. Dagwood and cast also appeared in movies, on radio and television, and merchandising.

Chic Young's work is highly recommended for readers of all ages.

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 the official Blondie web site.

Comics Legend Chester Gould

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

"Okay, copper, brace yourself! THIS IS CURTAINS!"

Flattop was dead wrong then and now. Dick Tracy is sixty five years old and still the most famous cop in history as well as one of the world's best known detectives. That was no small accomplishment for a man who could only draw Tracy in profile. That man was cartoonist and comics legend, Chester Gould.

The myth about Tracy's profile was born of Gould's limited talent as an artist. That Dick Tracy was one of the most popular comic strips in the world only illustrated what Chester couldn't with his art; Gould was a brilliant and highly creative writer.

He drew Fillum Fables before Dick Tracy began syndication on Sunday, October 4, 1931. Gould's wonderful eye for characterization was quickly recognized in memorable villains like Mumbles, Pruneface, Mole, The Brow, Breathless Mahoney, and Flattop. B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie started as outlaws but reformed. When Tracy rocketed to the moon, thousands of young boys fell in love with the Moon Maid.

I was one.

And there were marvelous, prophetic gadgets like Tracy's wristband radio that became a wrist television as the strip evolved.

But the real secret of Gould's success was his storytelling. Dick Tracy was packed with thrills and action, intriguing plot twists and romance. In addition, Dick stood for something that his readers understood and wanted, truth and justice.

I still want it.

Tracy has appeared in virtually every medium. Dick appeared in comic books including Famous Feature Stories, Harvey Comics Library, Limited Collector's Editions, Mammoth Comics, Merry Christmas, The Original.., Popular Comics, and several Super Book numbers. There were many giveaway comics.

Dick Tracy comic books were published by David McKay ('37- '38), Dell ('39-'49), Harvey ('50- '61), Blackthorne ('86-'89), Disney, Gladstone, and Cupples and Leon ('33).

The work of Chester Gould is highly recommended.

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

Michael Vance

(Check out the Chester Gould - Dick Tracy Museum in Woodstock, IL.)

Comics Legend Charles Schulz

(A Suspended Animation "classic" from 1998.)

Good Grief. Aaargh! You're a good man, (fill in the blank).

It’s unimaginable that you can't fill in the blank.

Of course, he isn't a good man, but Charlie Brown is one of the most popular and beloved comic strip characters in the world.

Charles Schulz had only sold several gag cartoons before Peanuts began in a handful of newspapers on October 2, 1950. He had wanted to title it "L'il Folks". It would renew the popularity of humor in strips, change their size, and make thousands of readers believe they could 'doodle' just as well as he.

A football jerked away just before it's kicked, Snoopy's wild daydreams, Charlie's kite 'eating' tree, Pigpen's perpetual dust cloud and many more events in the lives of these little folks have become American icons. But they, alone, aren't what make Schulz's world-without-adults so compelling.

Peanuts' gentle humor springs naturally from children with fully developed personalities, histories and faults. Since we were all children, we see ourselves in Linus, Lucy, Sally and even Snoopy. In particular, Charlie Brown is us at our most vulnerable, seeking a niche in society that we know we don't deserve and can't earn.

Although one of the most marketed characters in comics, Charlie Brown's appearances in comic books have been few. They Include Fritzi Ritz (Dell, '53--), Nancy & Sluggo (Dell,'57), Tip Top (Dell,'50s), Tip Topper (UFS, #26), United Comics (UFS,'50s) and Peanuts (Dell, 4-Color, various issues,'58-64).

Peanuts has probably appeared in over a thousand forms, including toys, animation, clothing and soft and hardbound reprint volumes. Holt, Rinehart & Winston alone has released many such editions, including, Peanuts, More Peanuts, Good Grief-More Peanuts, Good 0l' Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and The Peanuts Treasury.

Charles Schulz’ work is genius, and highly recommended. Published over many years, these seminal works may be difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers will help. Comic shops, mail order companies, trade journals and comics conventions are your best sources.

Prices vary; shop around.

Michael Vance

(Check out the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA., and the Official Peanuts Web Site.)

Novelization of Superheroes - From April 17, 1998

One of the latest wrinkles in the exploitation of popular comic book heroes is the appearance of adult novels based on such heroes as Superman and the X-Men. There are now enough titles in print to demonstrate the existence of a "niche market" ripe for cultivation.

Prose tales about popular comic characters are nothing new. Companies such as Whitman churned out numerous titles for the juvenile market. Most of these cheaply produced works were sold in department store chains like Woolworth. Regular bookstores would rarely handle these poorly bound, rapidly yellowing cousins of comic books. Very few copies of these have survived in good condition; a few have been reprinted as curiosities.

In terms of writing, such books were milder than most pulp magazines or dime novels.

The new prose versions are, in many cases, as ephemeral as those of the 1940s, but a clear attempt is being made to woo adult readers who have outgrown first passions for superheroes.

There are few illustrations.

In some cases, such as Roger Stern's Death and Life of Superman, we have prose recapitulations of a major comic book story. Sterns' prose is competent, but how many readers who have never seen the Doomsday comic books of Superman could begin to visualize the characters, let alone understand their relationships? Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen probably are recognizable, but how many casual readers would ever understand references to characters Booster Gold or Maxima?

Collect them if you want, but their most intriguing aspect is that they are marketed as adult books.

Another sign that novels about comic book heroes sell well is the tendency of the Science Fiction Book Club to issue anthology volumes which contain three or more works which originally appeared in paperback format only. The Club has handled several Star Wars titles in that way, and has recently issued a single-volume version of writer Christopher Golden's X-Men trilogy, “Mutant Empire."

Now collectors can bag their paperbacks and keep the Club's hardbacks on their book shelves.

Dr. Jon Suter

Sonic X #s 20-26 & 28, 29/21 pgs. & $2.25 each from Archie Comics

Sonic X #s 20-26 & 28, 29/21 pgs. & $2.25 each from Archie Comics - various writers and artists (#28 & 29 written and drawn by Tracy Yardley)/available at lots of locations and at Archie Comics.

Since 1989, the mission of Suspended Animation has been to find and review comic books,
comic strips, and graphic novels that adults will enjoy. Sonic X is not one of those titles; its target audience is young readers. Consider the supporting evidence.

The simple plot is the same in every issue: Sonic the Hedgehog or one of his supporting cast stops Eggman (aided by his robots) from becoming the Emperor of the World. There isn’t much dialog in each panel. The simple art, anime-influenced, relies on color and choreography instead of artistic detail to catch a reader’s eye. The stories are almost always visually linear. The principal characters are talking animals; ever-present robots aren’t frightening in appearance. Even Eggman looks more silly (like an aging Hippie) than threatening. There is no blood and guts shown. No living character is graphically hurt; only robots are destroyed.

However, in the 28th and 29th issues, there is a hint at more complexity, both in plot and art, than in previous issues. In fact, the “green-eyed monster” introduced as the latest threat to Earth is almost frightening.


So, why is Sonic X being reviewed in a column intended to find comics for adults? Ocassionally, we recommended titles that wont interest older readers to save them wasting their hard-earned bucks.

Let it be clear that none of the above implies that Sonic X is poorly written or drawn. It is indeed well written and drawn, and Sonic X is recommended for pre-teen and teenaged readers.

But not for you, grandpa. You’ll have to read future Suspended Animation reviews to find your cup of tea.

Michael Vance

Go here to check out Dark Corridor #1 for two Michael Vance short stories.