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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Invincible Iron Man - From 1999

"The breeze begets the wind, frosted flake. The wind provokes the storm. And the storm has just begun."

Well, duh--uh, Iron Man!

That kind of melodramatic sophism directed at villain Jack Frost should come from "the adversary of all order and organization... the teenager named Tony Stark." Tony Stark the adult playboy, industrialist and superhero would never blather... oh, wait a second. This teenager is the adult.

That's because the adult Iron Man was killed. Sales were slipping. Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, was replaced through time travel by the teenage version of Tony Stark. That's an educated guess, at best, because the editors, writers and artists of The Invincible Iron Man have done little to make an entry into the series by new readers easy. A summary of events in recent issues would've been nice.

The writing is nice. Granted, the plot of Iron Man is standard superhero fare. Jack Frost, a scientist made of ice who likes his entire world "on the rocks" is spreading mayhem and giving Iron Man the cold shoulder. Iron Man, who has his own set of teenage problems, stops him. But usual melodramatic superhero dialog is elevated by the writer's sense of humor, timing is flawless, the characters are interesting, and Jack Frost is dramatic.

The art is very nice. An emphasis on design over realistic art is entertaining, uncluttered backgrounds, and all of the elements of visual storytelling are fun and clear. The art isn't standard superhero fare.

What isn't clear is why so much effort was made to revitalize this comic by major plot and character changes just to cloud the new premise. Oh, well, I'm sure they'll iron out the problems.


The Invincible Iron Man #s 327 & 328 are 22 pages at $1.50 each. Published by Marvel, the writer is Terry Kavanagh. Jimmy Cheung and Dave Hoover provide the art. Iron Man is sold in comic shops, on newsstands and by mail.

Michael Vance

Comics Legend Jack Cole - From 1999

Jack Cole wore every hat in comics, and some large, floppy shoes as well. It was flexibility, both figuratively and literally, that made Cole successful as a writer, editor and artist during the early days of comics.

Born in 1914, he broke into magazine cartoons in 1935, then into comic books at the Chesler Shop (1937-1939). As was true with all 'shops', Chesler produced features for many different publishers who lacked their own artists and writers.

He found early recognition with his work on the superheroes Daredevil and Quicksilver, and with the villain The Claw. But it wasn't until his creation of Plastic Man that Cole entered the roll of a Master.

No one has ever duplicated Cole's 'big-foot' art and viewpoint on Plastic Man. His subtle, visual humor and the distinct personalities of his characters is evidence of Cole's unique talent.

Plastic Man began as a crook who fell into a vat of chemicals. It gave him the ability to stretch his body into any shape imaginable, and Cole had a vast imagination. Shaken by near death and his mutation, this crook converted and became one of the most imitated superheroes.

Cole's comics work included: "Peewee Throttle" (Globe, '38); "Officer Clancy", "King Kole's Kourt" (Centaur '38); "Comet", "Manhunter" (MLJ '39); "Dickie Dean", Silver Streak, Daredevil, "Claw" (New Friday,'3941); "Hi Grass Twins" (Novelty, '40); "Quicksilver" ('40), Plastic Man ('41-50), Midnight ('41-2, '45-'49), Death Patrol ('41-'44), The Barker ('44)--all Quality Comics; and crime comics for Gleason (late '40s).

Cole also sold cartoons to many magazines including Boy's Life and Playboy, worked on The Spirit daily comic strip ('42-3) and his own strip, Betsy & Me ('58). Tragically, Cole took his own life in 1958.

Jack Cole was an early master of comics, and his work is highly recommended.

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

Michael Vance

Starman - From 1999

A Golden Age Comics writer quipped that comic books aren't so much written as typed. But times change. Today, most comics aren't so much written as computed...except for Starman.

"But isn't this just another reworking of an old 1940s superhero?" moan adult readers. No. This one is actually written. Yes, all of the comics touchstones disdained by adults-- silly, alliterative names and spandex costumes, bloody noses and clinched fists in the battle of Good against Evil--are here, but not as the focus of Starman.

Characterization is the star of this title, and that means real, complicated people talking about real situations in real language. Superhero trappings are barely a backdrop.

As example, Starman's clumsy attempts at impressing the babes with his superhero status are met with disdain. Imagine yourself being introduced to a woman at a party as Dr. Surgery or Captain Accountant. The reactions you'd get are gotten by Starman.

Fantasy is a major element in this series, but solid, realistic dialog and characterization suspends much disbelief and breathes new life into the exhausted superhero genre. Writer James Robinson deserves four stars, man.

It's a shame the art needs a breath freshener.

Raves over its writing crumble into rumblings of discontent over its art. Although the pseudo-realistic style is right for the series, Starman is artistically weak in this issue. Anatomy and foreshortening are inconsistent (its not nice to fool Mother Nature), and Starman looks too much like forty other titles.

Because of average art, you'll give Starman two instead of three stars,man. And two out of four isn't bad.

Starman #17~22 pages & $2.25 from DC Comics. Artist Tony Harris, sold in comics shops, on newsstands and by mail.

Michael Vance

DC Universe Holiday Bash #1 - From 1999

A good story can be destroyed by a minor factual error. Comics writers should hold themselves to the highest standard of accuracy. We know that there are critics waiting to pounce on the slightest excuse for condemning comics.

An unfortunate example of inaccuracy is in DC Universe Holiday Bash #1 featuring various DC characters. Not all the stories deal with Christmas. The Green Lantern story, written by Michael Jan Friedman, honors the Jewish festival of Hanukkah; however, it has a serious historical error. It is stated that "Judah Maccabee recovered the holy Temple from the Roman overlord of Palestine."

No. The revolt of the Maccabees began in 167 BCE against the Greek rulers known as the Seleucids. The Romans arrived in Palestine in 63 BCE. It took several readings before I could see around that error and recognize the merits in Friedman's story. I should note that I have found equally serious errors about that era in the writings of major historians; Friedman may have used an unreliable source.

As a balance to this complaint, I should mention a major gaffe in Herman Wouk's novel The Winds of War. A young man, Byron Henry, age 25, is visiting his father in Berlin in September, 1939, and is described as reading and enjoying a stack of Superman stories borrowed from a servant.

Since the first issue of "Action Comics" appeared in late 1938, it is impossible for Byron to have been a Superman fan for nearly a decade. (We are told that Byron and his father had quarreled about comics while he was a teenager). If Wouk had said "pulps" the scene would be plausible.

Wouk's place in the literary pantheon is assured, but this minor error adds to the vast misinformation about comics.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

The Deception - From 1999

"My Lords, my Ladies - welcome to a new age of wonders! Welcome to Mythos! Here, demons stalk even the mightiest of warriors. Here, lives are lived in the shadows of dark forces…"

"Here" is Las Vegas, of course, and it seems appropriate that The Deception comic book be set in the city of lies. If, as a skeptic and experienced fan of comics, you now anticipate a poor imitation of that most famous and oft-imitated of comic book magicians, Mandrake, don't bet on it.

Jordan Risk, stage magician, doesn't gesture hypnotically like Mandrake, and doesn't read like a typical comic book sorcerer. Risk reads like a television detective show.

Luckily, The Deception reads like a good television detective show. Unluckily, it doesn't read like a great television detective show. The fault lies partially in its art which is distinctive, reality-based, anatomically correct, well-staged and paced yet uneven in its inking. The artist can't seem to decide on a thin, smooth line or a thick, blunt one. The effect is only slightly jarring but does much to destroy the visual suspension of disbelief needed in a reality-based story.

Bill Spangler's writing, however, restores much of that suspension. His pacing is flawless, his dialog natural and believable, and his plot is intriguing, although none too original.

"Mythos" is a stage show headlined by Risk. A "select preview audience" has been invited to witness Risk's prestidigitation as a beautiful, half-naked girl is prepared for an unexpectedly real sacrifice. Murder is the game, and that's none too original.

Will the plot of The Deception twist with it's second issue? It's a toss of the dice. If you're willing to gamble, The Deception still comes recommended by.... Michael Vance

The Deception #1/22 pgs., $2.95 from Flypaper Press/art: Jeff Parker/ sold in comics shops or by mail.

Comics Legend, Carl Barks - From 1999

Carl Barks was the best duck man in history. His often uncredited work in comic books made him a true legend of the medium.

Although Carl Barks did not create Donald Duck, it is undeniable that no other man did more to define the character for his animated shorts, movies, comic strips and books, and television shows than this master cartoonist. His impact on the characterizations of Donald's three nephews and Uncle Scrooge was even more substantial.

In addition, Barks' adventures single-handedly elevated the ducks from gag-centered characters, and created a history and a world for his beloved 'funny animals'.

Carl Barks was born in 1901, and worked at, the Calgary Eye-Opener newspaper from 1930 to 1935. But it was not until the artist became an 'in-betweener' - the man who actually makes characters move - and as a writer for Walt Disney (1935 to 1942) that Barks carved a permanent niche for himself in history.

Barks' comic book credits include: Donald Duck (1942-'66), Uncle Scrooge (1952-'62), Mickey Mouse (1945), Andy Panda (1943), Gyro Gearloose (1959-'61), Benny Burro (1943-47), and Barney Bear (1944-'47). These were all published by Western. His work has been reprinted worldwide in dozens of comic books and special collections including hardback collections of the 'duck' books reprinted by Gladstone. Barks' original duck paintings are highly prized.

Barks also wrote and drew Donald Duck in Firestone and Cheerios give-away comics, March of Comics, Big Little Books and Little Golden Books. He was chosen to receive the first Shazam award (Best Humor Writer Of Comic Books) in 1971 after he became semi-retired in 1966.

The work of Carl Barks is highly recommended for all ages.

Some older comics 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

Variant DC Universes - From 1999

Readers of Suspended Animation are aware of how important I consider the series Crisis on Infinite Earths. DC Comics used that 1985 miniseries to clean up its complicated continuity by destroying all its variant earths.

Those who relished the stories of Earth Two, Earth Three, Earths A, S. X, etc., felt that much was lost. After fourteen years, DC has given us a "missing chapter" from the Crisis and a visit to the previously unknown Earth D. This missing chapter appears in an issue of Legends of the DC Universe. Marv Wolfman, author of the original series, provides a seamless script which blends into issue 4 of the original.

DC used numbers and letters to distinguish their alternate earths. Those with letters usually represented worlds populated with heroes published by companies DC had purchased over the years. e.g., C for Charlton, S for Fawcett, X for Quality, etc.

Earth D is more like Earths Two and Three; its heroes are variants of those of Earth One. The D probably stands for Diversity. Earth D's Flash is a Japanese-American; Green Lantern is a Brazilian; Green Arrow is an Indian, Hawkman and his sister are also Asian; Superman and his wife Superwoman are Black while Aquaman looks like a gilled Vulcan.

The art is by Paul Ryan who has done an amazing imitation of George Perez's art. Another nice touch: the Earth D Flash was inspired by reading about the exploits of Barry Allen even as Barry was inspired by comics about Jay Garrick, the original Flash of Earth Two.

The meeting of Earth One's Justice League with the Earth D Justice Alliance reminds us of the 1963 meeting of the Justice League with the original team, Justice Society, in the first story.

I wish Glenn Orbik's cover had been similar to those of the original twelve, but that's nit-picking. Give everybody an A+.

Should there be more "lost chapters"? Wolfman's original script was almost water-tight and more additions might weaken it.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter