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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Son of Superman - From 2000

Published by D.C. Comics in bookshelf format at 96 pages, priced at $14.95.

I love “Elseworlds” tales. Just like Marvel Comics' What If…? and the “imaginary tales” of D.C. Comics, they give creators a free hand with some of the most interesting and entertaining fictional characters around today. The latest "Elseworlds" tale is, in my opinion, one of the finest yet.

Jon Kent is the son of Clark Kent, aka Superman. His powers brought to the surface by an incredibly powerful solar flare, he decides to take up the mantle as the new Superman. Joining the terrorist organization known as "The Supermen", led by Pete and Lana Ross, he takes up their cause of stopping a war of "economic segregation" being waged by the U.S. government.

Raiding a secret instillation owned by Lex Luthor, Jon and the Supermen discover the original Superman in suspended animation. Jon's discovery of his father, assumed dead, coupled with his association with terrorists, puts him at odds with the government-funded and military garbed team, the Justice League of America.

This is a rapidly paced, highly entertaining story, even for an "Elseworlds” edition. Characterization, however, is where it rides the highest. Very high marks go to writers Howard Chaykin and David Tischman. They have created a son of Superman who is as believable as a teenage kid looking to score a date, and as a fledgling superhero seeking to fill his father's boots. Equally as entertaining is this story’s "dysfunctional family" of JLA members. whose attitudes range from idealistic to indifferent, to downright treasonous.

I found the actions and reactions of the JLA members to the events around them fascinating. This was a very fresh take on the characters.

The artwork is by J.H. Williams III, one of the most talented young artists in comics today. He has a style that is a bit dark and moody, and was perfect for this story. His work is inked by Mick Gray. Keep an eye on them.

Mark Allen

Forbidden Adventures: The History of The American Comics Group - From 2000

The premiere and most extensive history of one comic book publisher ever written, reflecting the reading habits of millions of people of all ages during the seminal Golden and Silver Ages of Comics, 1938 to 1970. This textbook answers several long-standing questions among historians about the relationship of ACG and the largest publisher of comic books at that time, DC. Forbidden Adventures also dispels some long lived myths about EC Comics and their (in)famous terror titles, while shedding light on the early history of the most popular art form in the world.

As an independent agent, the Sangor Shop began producing comic book material for publishers in 1941 and had grown into ACG by 1946. Never the largest publisher, ACG was nevertheless a microcosm of the industry, publishing titles in every major comics genre.

During the Sangor period, many famous characters were created including “The Black Terror,” “Pyroman,” “The Fighting Yank,” and “Supermouse.” Herbie, Forbidden Worlds, and Adventures Into The Unknown (the first horror comic) are the best remembered ACG titles.

Many major talents germinated at Sangor and ACG. Kin Platt wrote mystery novels, Norman Fruman wrote a book on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Harry Lazarus holds many patents and illustrates children's books. Everett Raymond Kinstler’s portraits of American presidents hang in the White House. Hy Eisman writes and draws The Katzenjammer Kids and Popeye.

This history surveys the Sangor Shop and ACG, using many sources, exclusive interviews, and a wealth of information available in the comics themselves. It includes many capsule story summaries from selected titles. Much of editor Hughes' philosophy of writing and producing comics is explored as well as the entire process involved in creating a comic book.

The book is published by Greenwood Publishing Group and should be available in your local library. If they don’t have it ask them to order a copy.

How do I know so much about Forbidden Adventures? I wrote it.

Michael Vance

(Forbidden Adventures has also been reprinted in Alter Ego #61! Find it at Two Morrows!"

Star Wars: Chewbacca #1 (of 4) - From 2000

Published by Dark Horse and Lucas Books. Written by Darko Macan with art by Brent Anderson and Igor Kordey. Sold in comics shops and by mail.

Thankfully, it was translated from the "Shyriiwook", the native tongue of that Star Wars movie alien that looks like a dog-faced Abominable Snowman, Chewbacca. Otherwise you would be reading "yarrggggwall" for twenty pages. The "it" is a new comic book mini-series, and if Shyriiwook sounds too cute for words, you have captured the ambiance of Star Wars: Chewbacca.

Readers must remember that cute is not necessarily bad. Cindy Crawford is cute. The Backstreet Boys are cute. Your reviewer is cute (in a Chewbacca sorta way). But cute is not often adult.

Chewbacca is not often adult.

The first clue is that the first issue is a recounting of Chewbacca's first flirtation by his girlfriend or wife. As evidence: "It's [courting] hard with the boys, though, before they are one hundred, all they seem to be interested in are mechanics, astronavigation and spaceflight."

The second clue is that quotation is spoken by a dog-faced Abominable Snowwoman. That alone sends a mild shudder through me, and it is not from pleasure.

The third clue is that half the book was drawn by one team of artists, and the remaining half by another team. The first team must have overdosed on cute, which is not addictive.

However, if it is beginning to sound as if your charming reviewer was less than charmed by Chewbacca, you are mistaken. This issue is well written and adequately drawn, and will be enjoyed by young teens, pre-teens, girls and hardcore Star Wars fans.

It will not be enjoyed by many adults.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Gil Kane - From 2000

A comics king is dead; long live his memory.

Artist, writer and publisher, Gil Kane has passed away. Under his own and many pen names, (Eli Katz, Gil Stack. Scott Edward, Al Stak, Al Kame, Staktil, and Pen Star). Kane was among the most talented and prolific artists in comics history.

Born in Latvia in 1926, he immigrated to America at 3 and began his comics career at the Binder(1942) and Bailey shops. His art is loved for its dynamic composition, lanky characters, and flawless visual storytelling.

Major comics credits include: Scarlet Avenger,('41-3, MLJ); Blackstone ('42, St. Smith); Green Lama ('42,Prize); Vision, Young Allies, war, horror, Hulk, Gulliver Jones, Spider-Man, Thing team-ups, Black Panther, Warlock, Capt. Marvel, Conan, Kazar, mystery, Morbius, Capt. America, covers, Torch & Iceman ('43--, Marvel). Candy ('44, Quality); Golden Eagle ('45, Aviation); Commandos of the Devil Dogs (Holyoke,'44-5); Sandman, Wildcat, Johnny Thunder, Capt. Comet, SF, Matt Savage, Rip Hunter, Don Caballero, Nighthawk, Dan Foley, Trigger Twins, Hopalong Cassidy, Big Town, covers, mystery, Capt. Action, Green Lantern, Plastic Man, Atom, Batman, mystery, Flash, western (44--,DC); Nightmare ('44, Hillman); Heroic('40s,Eastern Color); western ('late '40s, Fawcett); Flash Gordon ('67, King); Laramie, Tales of Wells Fargo, Hennesey, Brain Boy, Frogmen, covers (Dell, ‘61-5); Mentor, Noman, Undersea Agent, Raven, ('65-7, Tower); also Fox (late '40s), Avon (early '50s), Harvey (c'65).

Gil Kane was awarded the NCS Best Comic Book Artist (1971), and the Reuben Goldberg Award for Outstanding Achievement in a Story Comic Book (1973). He created, drew and published a groundbreaking title in 1968: His Name Is Savage. His B&W comics include: Warren (‘67), Marvel (Ironfist, Conan,'74), and he also drew paperback covers.

Gil Kane's work is highly recommended.

Michael Vance

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.

Flash Gordon - From 2000

Better late than never.

Actually, this Flash Gordon is better now than ever. Millions of miles across the black void of space spins Mongo, a planet of weird peoples, fantastic creatures, Dale Arden, Dr. Zarkov and Flash Gordon, the greatest hero of two worlds.

Created as a comic strip, Flash and Mongo live again (after too long an absence) in an astonishing two issue comic book miniseries. At the onset of "Olympic” games introduced by Flash, he is kidnapped by the Witch Queen, Azura, and carried to her stronghold. But Flash is freed by the Queen’s trusted advisor and discovers Azura's motives during a series of wild adventures on the lush, exotic world of Mongo.

As always, Flash is adventure unadulterated with layers of subplot or even characterization. And as always, the style of this famous icon either loses or wins the day.

Herein, the day is won.

Victory isn't in the writing alone, which is better than competent, completely appropriate for its subject, and helped substantially from its familiarity by most people alive today with its cast. Once original and now widely imitated, Flash's writers are victims of its success in a sense. To stray from its trademark touches would destroy it.

Victory is also in its art. Heavily influenced by Flash’s creator, Alex Raymond, it's fresh, dynamic, creative, exciting visual storytelling at its absolute best. Its exotic, ancient cities, aliens, spacecraft and human anatomy are unsurpassed in comics.

Better late than never said, Al Williamson is one of the greatest artists in the history of comics.

Highest recommendation.

Flash Gordon #'s 1 & 2 are price at $2.95 & are 32 pages. Published by Marvel Comics. Al Williamson art, written by Mark Schultz.

Doonesbury - From 2000

Is it a humor comic strip or a multiple-paneled editorial cartoon? Nope. It's two, two, two comic strips in one!

The "it" described is the popular and controversial strip, Doonesbury, by Gary Trudeau.

Trudeau was born 1948, and while still an undergraduate, began drawing Bull Tale, a comic strip that appeared in the Yale [University] Daily News. Impressed by Trudeau’s work, both John McMeel and Jim Andrews recruited and renamed the strip for their fledgling Universal Press Syndicate. That organization propelled Doonesbury into syndication on October 26. 1970. By 1975, Trudeau had won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.

Not satisfied with stirring the pot in Doonesbury, Trudeau shocked his readers in 1983 by suspending the strip for 20 months. Most editors thought this the death-knell for Trudeau and his cast of politicians, aging hippies and obnoxious preppies. But return it did in October of 1984.

Stirring the pot is the trademark of Doonesbury. The strip has tackled subjects seldom mentioned in earlier comic strips, and continues to do so today. Trudeau offers dollops of his unique and liberal point of view in a style more open and blunt than Walt Kelly's Pogo. It also dealt with political and social issues. In its turn, Doonesbury has spawned its own imitators in several strips that offer conservative political commentary.

Doonesbury focuses on characterization rather than plot. Drawn in a clean, minimalistic style with little crosshatching or feathering, it shuns a heightened sense of reality in its art, effectively drawing reader's attention to the real meat of Doonesbury, Trudeau’s philosophy.

Trudeau's anthologies include: Flashbacks, I'd Go With The Helmet Ray, In Search of Cigarette Holder Man, Planet Doonesbury, The Portable Doonesbury, Welcome to Club Scud!, The Bundled Doonesbury and Virtual Doonesbury 1.0. All were published by Andrews McMeel.

Michael Vance

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.

Dennis the Menace: His First 40 Years - From 2000

"SOLD!, shouts the auctioneer, "to the man holding his hand over his little boy's mouth!"

Yep, it's him again in Dennis The Menace: His First 40 Years [Abbeville Press, 220 pgs.]. Hank Ketcham's forever-five year old has brought a chuckle or a tear to millions of readers world-wide since 1951. It's no surprise that this delightful collection represents comic strips at their best. Nor is their much surprise in why Dennis the Menace is so incredibly popular, outside of the fact that Ketcham is one of the greatest cartoonists in the world.

Dennis is Everyboy, full of cockiness born of ignorance and inexperience, of endless curiosity and energy. This essential "boyness" is so well understood that readers easily fill in the unwritten and undrawn situations preceding a punch line.

As example:

A room full of adults hide their laughter behind a hand, or turn away from the embarrassed faces of mom and pop. Hands firmly on hips, Dennis exclaims, "If what I said wasn't funny, why is everybody tryin’ not to laugh?"

Dennis the magician holds out a fan of playing cards as his pop begins to pick one. "Take a card!" Dennis prompts. "Any card!”


As pop shows a new wrist watch to mom, Dennis observes, "It don't look unbreakable to ME!"

This is the stuff of real life seen through the eyes of a man who loves life and people, the stuff that makes gritty, violent superheroes seem silly. And this treasure was discovered in the remainders bin of a major, chain book store for $2.99, about the price of many comic books! It was probably originally priced at $15 to $20.

Highly recommended...

at just about any price.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Milt Gross - From 2000

Many consider Milt Gross one of the most "original and inimitably individual talents" in the history of American comic strips.

Born in 1885, Gross began drawing when he was twelve years old. By his death in 1953, the cartoonist had created an impressive body of work.

Nize Baby, Gross’s first full page comic strip, was puhlished in the New York World newspaper syndicated 1927-1929). However, the off beat antics of this oddball baby and Looy Dot Dope was discontinued by Gross for Count Screwloose of Toolose.

In 1929. Count Screwloose began syndication and continued at the bottom or top of his main Sunday strip until 1934 when the Count and cad joined the company of Dave's Delicatessen.

These three and That 's My Pop! ('30s) are his best remembered comic strips. One would often flow into another of his comic strips and repeat some of his same cast members. It seemed at times, that his strips used names only for convenience.

Gross’s creations were always daffy and wildly creative, and included two dozen books of funny doggerel verse, often in Yiddish dialect, and films that sprang from his crazy imagination.

His scant comic book appearances included: Milt Gross Funnies (two issues, '47, distributed through ACG) and the features "Pete the Pooch" and 'The Kiddy Katty Korner" (various ACG titles).

Gross was a staff artist in 1913 for the American Press Association. Beginning in 1915, he created Henry Peck, A Happy Married Man (NY Evening Journal), Banana Oil ('30s), and books: Hiawatha, Nize Baby ('26), Dunt Esk (’27), De Night In De Front from Chreesmas (’27), He Done Her Wrong, Famous Fimmales Witt Odder Ewents from Heestory (’28). He was also a Hollywood scenario writer.

The work of Milt Gross is highly recommended for all ages.

Michael Vance

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.

Comics Legend Jack Davis - From 2000

Jack Davis is the most successful and among the most prolific comic book artists in history.

Born in 1926, his art first won recognition from fans and the admiration or two of the most important editors at the now legendary EC Comics in the 1950s. His limber, gawky characters, all exaggerated arms and legs, were equally at home in a American Civil War story or a Gothic nightmare of vampires, werewolves and homicidal maniacs. His ability to accurately caricature anyone added to his popularity. But it was Harvey Kurtzman, editor of EC's war titles and the creator of Mad magazine, who would discover Davis' real forte.

Davis is best known for his extensive work in Mad (EC, 1952- present; Ballantine paperback reprints). The artist's humor work also appeared in Trump (Playboy, 1957), Humbug (Humbug Pub., 1957-'58), Help (Warren, 1961-'62; also two Fawcett paperback collections), and Sick (various publishers, 1960-'80).

Davis's comic book work includes stories in most of the EC comic books of the 1950s: Shock Suspenstories (issues 1-5), Vault of Horror (issues 17-38), Tales from the Crypt (issues 24-46; covers 29-46), Two-Fisted Tales (issues 20-36, 40; covers 29-46), Crime Suspenstories (issues 4, 5, 7, 9-12, 20), Frontline Combat (all), Haunt of Fear (issues 4-26, 28), and Picto-fiction titles (1955). His work also appeared in Rawhide Kid and western and war stories (Marvel, 1960s), Yak Yak (Western, 1962-'63), Creepy, and Eerie (Warren, 1964-'65).

Davis also produced movie advertisements and posters, book illustrations, RCA record jackets and magazine cartoons; inks on The Saint comic strip (c 1950s); art on Little Annie Fanny (Playboy, 1965-'66); Beauregard comic strip (early 1960s); Topps gum cards; art for Sesame Street tv show; ads for Life, TV Guide; Superfan for Quarterback and Pro-Quarterback.

Jack Davis is a master cartoonist and illustrator whose art deserves the highest praise.

- Michael Vance

Comics Legend Wayne Boring - From 2000

Comics legend Wayne Boring played a major role in visually defining the most well known superhero in the world during the peak of Superman's popularity.

Born in 1916, Boring attended the Chicago Art Institute and the Minnesota School of Art before joining Superman's creators in their first office in Cleveland, Ohio in 1938. He was 22. With artist Paul Cassidy, Boring was the first to ghost Superman when the demand for the character outstripped the supply from creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. His thirty year stint as Superman's artist on both the comic books and newspaper strip remains unequaled.

Stiff is the first word that leaps to mind when most critics describe Boring's style. Melodramatic is often the second adjective. While it is true that Superman and his cast were often drawn with exaggerated and dramatic gestures and stances, two words cannot adequately describe Boring's unique style.

Boring's art was BIG.

It added a heroic quality to his characters beyond their actions, and almost a mythological stature to his already larger-than-life protagonist. Reporters Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, villain Lex Luthor and cast were all players in a paper opera who represented human types as well as individuals. Boring's art added an epic quality to their paper lives.

He made readers feel they were a part of a much larger human drama, a struggle not only of individuals but of a species that could reach for and attain the stars.

Boring's comic book work included: Superman, Action Comics (1938--68, DC), Slam Bradley (1937-'39, DC), Spy (1937-'38, DC), Superboy (c1950, DC), Toni Gayle and Blue Bolt (1945-'48, Novelty), Gullivar of Mars, and Captain Marvel (1972, Marvel).

Boring also worked on the Prince Valiant and Davy Jones comic strips (1968-'71). He died in the late 1980s.

Boring's work is highly recommended.

Review by Michael Vance

Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices may vary, be sure you shop around.

Go Here for the only Wayne Boring site on the 'net.

Digital Digimon Monsters - From 2000

Seven children with huge eyes and shoes ace teleported from camp to a "digital world". Neither they nor readers know what a digital world is (although I suspect it is television), but it is populated by cute, small digital monsters (available at a toy store near you) known as Pokemon, Digimon.

"We're Digimon!" they say for clarity. "Digital Monsters!"

"We're kinda cute," adds a pink one like a rabbit without limbs. "And very loyal," adds another.

"With beautiful hair." "Or maybe no hair at all." "We can be funny! Ha!" "And adorable!"

When attacked by giant monsters, Digimon "dig-ivolve" (i.e., change) into larger but still adorable digi-creatures to defend their defenseless human guests. Motimon becomes Tentomon. Yokomon becomes Biyomon. Tsunomon changes to Gagmon.

And this reviewer becomes Gagmon. Gagmon's secret power is the ability to gag.

In defense of Digital Digimon Monsters, that is probably because this comic book was created for young children. There is nothing wrong with that. But I am not a young child, or even an old child.

But I do not gag because this comic book based on a card game is poorly written. It is not poorly written, although it is certainly light on characterization, metaphysics, or political analysis. When I was a young child, I did not care about any of that stuff.

Nor do I gag because this new title is poorly drawn, It is not poorly drawn, although I can't understand why all Japanese humans have huge eyes, all their monsters look like a poorly crossbred shellfish and insect, and all of their cute little characters look like round little balls of marshmallow.

I gag because my power is to do so when confronted by too too much cute.

Review by Michael Vance

Digital Digimon Monsters #s1, 2 & 4 are priced at $2.95 and are 20 pages each. From Dark Horse Comics. The comic is drawn by various artists and no writer credited.

Dark Matter - From 2000

Of what use is a comic book without an artist?

Dark Matter (Dark Star Comics) is illustrated by Steve Kirkland "who cannot draw to save his life". He creates or manipulates computer art to visually tell his story much like some people cut and paste images from magazines to produce a montage.

Regrettably, this approach has a internal logic that is interesting and works on many levels, but will leave some people unsatisfied.

Yes, gentle reader, Dark Matters' packaging is somewhat unappealing. But its content shines. This Kirkland guy can write.

Kirkland chronicles seemingly unconnected human dramas tied to a vast, supernatural force that is symbolized by the illuminated face of a clock tower and the moon. He does so with an intricate, wholly believable plot and intriguing characterizations that captivate.

Dark Matter is a page turner and a rough-edged gem that will entertain readers who don't obsess over polished art.

Review by Michael Vance

DC Comics One Shots - From 2000

Some recent "one-shot" titles from DC Comics are worth consideration.

One is emerging as a collectible: Batman: Harley Quinn. The $5.95 paperback brings the mad psychiatrist, who is obsessively in love with the Joker, into the Batman continuity (as opposed to the television cartoons where she first appeared). Paul Dini created the charming psychopath for the cartoons and repeats his efforts here

quite successfully. I don't usually care for cartoonish versions of superheroes, but this one works. The humor and horror are nicely balanced. This Hariey Quinn should not be confused with either the Harlequin who plagued (and married) the Golden Age Green Lantern or the younger version in Teen Titans.

More expensive is the $14.95 title Green Lantern: Fear Itself. Ron Marz's script spans five decades and tells of one creature's battles with three different Lanterns. (The World War II sequence has strong overtones of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark). The price is probably related to the unusual art which often resembles

photographs rather than drawings. Brad Parker's work reminds me somewhat of Rich Corben's work. My only quibble is the Golden Age Flash's helmet and that appears briefly. The main theme is the different methods used by the Lanterns in their encounters with the creature. Marz gets to throw in some retrospective foreshadowing when Hall Jordan muses on how he would react to an attack on his home city.

The other two titles cost $5.95 each The first, JLA: Foreign Bodies, reworks an old theme: moving the minds of the heroes from one body to another. Ken Kaminski's script is the best version of that theme I remember. His reflections on the effect on the psyches of the heroes ring true. He makes good use of Kobra, a once laughable villain.

The second title is JLA: Superpower. John Arcudi's script probes the motivation of Antaeus, a hero who forgets the political and moral limits on heroes. As with Kaminski the characterization is on target.

Review by Dr. Jon Suter