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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hogan's Alley, Comic Book Marketplace, The Golden Age of Marvel Comics - From 1999

A very pleasant discovery is the semi-annual publication, Hogan's Alley. Each massive issue (144 pages) is filled with information on the history of comic strips and books.

The sixth issue (Winter, 1998) ranges from animated Popeye cartoons to Jack Cole (creator of Plastic Man) to Tom Batuik's Funky Winkerbean strip and Mark Schultz's Xenozoic Tales comic book.

Other articles are on Disney animation, sports in cartoons, and the recent television commercials with Superman and Jerry Seinfeld. For $5.95, that is a bargain. The articles and interviews are well illustrated.

I first found Hogan's Alley in the hobbies section of a large newsstand. Days later, I found it shelved in the arts section at another newsstand. Let's hope it finds a wide audience.

A glossier publication is the monthly Comic Book Marketplace that I have found only at comic bookshops. The title is a bit misleading in that there are many good articles on the history of comic books as well as on their value.

Comic Book Marketplace is published by Robert Overstreet, a name recognizable to any collector because of the annual Overstreet guide which is the basis for any discussion of the value of comics. It also costs $5.95 per issue.

Each magazine is different. I think serious fans will want both. (And how many immediately recognized Hogan 's Alley as the first title of Richard Outcault's comic strip, Yellow Kid?)

Those interested in older comics will also want the second volume of The Golden Age of Marvel Comics. I spoke rather highly of the first volume, which must have been successful enough to justify a second compilation of material from the 1940s.

$19.95 seems high, but much of this material has never been reprinted. Its last story may be of most interest. It deals with Citizen V, an obscure name until Marvel recycled it as the alias for the villainous leader of the Thunderbolts. Other characters include the Fin, Black Marvel, and Flaming Mask.

Get this while you can.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter

Warrior Nun Frenzy #2 - From 1999

24 pages, priced $2.95, story and art by Miljenco Horvatic, translated by Vida Lapaine, sold in comic shops and by mail.

A story told is a story understood.

A story muddled is Warrior Nun Frenzy from Antarctic Press.

Granted, its art is exceptional in style and execution, but art is capable of expressing little more than location, action, mood and the skeleton of plot and characterization.

After the first reading, I knew little more than that two vaguely defined groups were battling to the death over something. I knew too little about the characters to care whether they lived, suffered or died.

I have no idea why the character Frenzy is a nun, if she really is a "bride of Christ" or why a nun would butcher people.

True, I may have learned more on a second perusal, but no one should have to read twice; they should want to read again.

I do not.

Reviewed by Michael Vance

Spider-Man - From 1999

Marvel Comics has put considerable time and effort into reviving and redefining one of its most important superheroes, Spider-Man. In most cases, the effort has succeeded.

John Byrne's successful revisions of Superman and Wonder Woman for DC Comics made him a leading candidate for salvaging Spider-Man. The keystone to his efforts is Spider-Man: Chapter One a twelve issue series that has reached its halfway point.

Byrne has adhered closely to the original version of the character, but has also streamlined some elements. Those of us "in at the start" will probably wince at moving Spider-Man's origin from 1962 to1990, but such is the price of longevity. Henceforth, Spider-Man's origin will always be eight years ago.

I have to agree with Byrne's decision to combine some of the early plots. I am impressed with his linking of the origins of Spider-Man and villain Doctor Octopus, one of his most dangerous opponents.

Byrne's art reminds us of Steve Ditko's work in the 1960s, but remains identifiable as Byrne's.

There is a "zero" issue that provides the origins of three early and major villains: the Vulture, the Lizard, and Sandman.

Byrne is also involved in the Amazing Spider-Man title whose stories are set in the present. Howard Mackie co-writes the scripts and they are quiet good.

Mackie is also responsible for the scripts for Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Byrne's absence is painfully obvious. John Romita Jr's art is much more jagged. Since the plotlines are closely linked, the differences in art jar.

More troublesome is Webspinners. The first issue was impressive, but the art in the second and third issues deteriorated. Some characters are almost unrecognizable, Gwen Stacey in particular. I am surprised Marvel published this.

The fourth issue improves with a different artist and writer, but more improvement is needed. The storyline begins to answer some questions leftover from issues of the first run of Silver Surfer.

If Byrne and Mackie can keep up the good work, Spider-Man could regain his stature.

Reviewed by Dr Jon Suter

Carvers - From 1999

The purpose of Suspended Animation has always been to introduce adults to comic books they may enjoy and to the best work in the graphics medium. Occasionally, that has meant reviewing books intended for youngsters that can also be guilty pleasures for adults. Carvers is a guilty pleasure.

"Grats, dude! We were, like. total failures until you carved in and boaged those hairy wanks!"

"Oh don't speak English, huh?"

Well, duuuh!?!

In fact, if you think that "duuuh" is very descriptive of snowboarding & skiing in general, skateboarding, bungy jumping and any other activity that is clearly life threatening, you are definitely not alone.

Then why, pray tell, is Carvers such a fun comic book?

Could it be the teenage snowboarders who plummet into a crevice and through a dimensional rift into another world of Yeti? Within the limitations of the first two issues, each has a well-defined character.

The crusty old dude living in the wreckage of his airplane also adds spice to the title. Indisputably, he has the most unique tailor in history.

If that doesn't tweak your interest, you must need Yeti another reason to read. The abominable snowmen are a hoot.

Could it be the art? Simple and well served by its colors, it jumps off the page, also defines the characters, and is crystal clear in its visual story telling.

Could it be the plot and dialog? Whether it's Dorothy or Tarzan or Rod Serling who, on finding himself in another world struggles to return to Kansas, or Africa or next week's TV schedule, the idea of other realities is always intriguing. And thankfully, the writer hasn't seasoned the dialog with so much snowboarding lingo that it becomes unintelligible.

Could it be that Carvers is simply bigger than the sum of its parts? That sums it up for me, dude.

Reviewed by Michael Vance

Carvers is 22 pages, priced at $2.95 each. Published by Flypaper Press. Written by Robert Loren Fleming. Pencil work by Arnold and Jacob Pander. Sold in comics shops and by mail.

Golden Age Mystery Men - From 1999

There was a time in America when the color of morality was not gray and colorful heroes wore red, yellow and blue spandex and capes. Among these heroes were "The Black Terror," "Phantom Lady," "Mr. Scarlet," "The Avenger," "The Ghost Rider" and "The Heap". They met crime and violence with law and defensive violence. Their adventures were straight-forward, uncomplicated and, more often than not, fun. These fictional elements, more often than not, are missing in today's gray comic books.

You need miss them no more. These superheroes once called "Mystery Men" are back in a grand collection of reprinted stories from the '40s and '50s, Golden Age Mystery Men.

Undeniably, these heroes are too two-dimensional; without distinctive uniforms and powers, they are interchangeable. Subplots are impossible in brief seven and eight page exploits, and dialog is minimal. Stories are almost plot outlines. But their beliefs were widely shared by readers who added their imagination between the panels. These readers had practice "adding" with radio shows.

The art here is both mediocre and brilliant. The best artists of this collection are Jerry Robinson, Mort Meskin and Dick Ayers. Their art differs from today's crop in simpler page designs, a closer wedding of art and story, and less useless detail.

Buy this collection for nostalgia, because you're curious about early comics history, or because you want to add color to a gray world.

Highly recommended.

Golden Age Mystery Men #1/$6.95, 45 pgs. from AC Comics/various artists & writers/sold in comics shops or by mail.

Michael Vance

Tank McNamara - From 1999

Many newspapers place Doonesbury on or adjacent to their editorial page, not on their comics section, but one major metropolitan paper hides Tank McNamara in its sports. This is a shame, because this strip is a consistently fine commentary on modern athletics, professional or amateur. Cartoonists Jeff Millar and Bill Hinds lampoon every aspect of modern sports, and deserve much wider recognition.

Tank, the central character, is a former football player working as a sports newscaster. His audience is attracted by his genius for garbled pronunciations: "sports news" becomes "norts spews." Tank is an innocent, like Voltaire's Candide, mildly bewildered by the pompous egos of athletes, owners and coaches; he's genuinely shocked at the violence glorified by some toys and games. Unlike Ted Baxter, the nitwit of The Mary Tyler Moore (TV) Show, Tank has a brain and a conscience.

In a recent sequence, Tank learned that a university's football program was incredibly corrupt. When he prepared his report, his station's owner ordered him to kill the story. After considerable soul-searching, Tank broadcast the story and was immediately fired. Tank was saved from the unemployment line when the network's new owner forced a change in the station's management rather than allow the company image to be tarnished. (The probable analogy was the Disney Corporation's purchase of the ABC television network).

A supporting character, Sweatsox, is a caricature of the enthusiast who schedules his entire life around televised sports. Sweatsox resembles artist Jack Davis' famous Superfan paperback, but the characterization is more sustained.

Reprints of Tank are badly needed. Four volumes were published (1976-1983); unfortunately the editing appears rather haphazard in the largest anthology, The Tank McNamara Chronicles (Sheed, Andrews, and McMeel, 1978). Plot lines were destroyed because of poor assembly; Tanks romance ended before it ever began. The other anthologies did not have this problem.

Reviewed by Dr. Jon Suter