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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Action Comics Annual #1 (1987) - From 2003

Another trip down memory lane approaches. Why? Because one becomes so involved in new comics, that it's just too easy to overlook the gems of the past. Gems like D.C. Comics' 1987 Action Comics Annual, starring the company's flagship characters, Superman and Batman.

In the story, the small town of Fayerville has a problem; people are afraid to go out at night. Afraid to sleep. Most of all, however, they distrust "outsiders." Why? It seems the townspeople are being prayed upon by a supernatural entity of the "toothy" variety.

The two heroes meet in Fayerville to confront the problem, and to take part in what is, in my opinion, one of the best super hero stories ever done.

What's particularly entertaining about this tale?

Primarily, it's Batman and Superman in their most appealing forms.

Published shortly after Superman was revamped in the late '80's, the Kryptonian is no longer a god-like being, seemingly invulnerable to any villain or attack. In fact, in his "refined" form, he is vulnerable to magic, and faces mortal danger at the hands of the blood-sucking villain. This is an intriguing view of the Man of Steel, at odds with something unusual to him, and practically dependent upon the Dark Knight.

Batman is also exactly what he should be; a dark vigilante, a creature of the night, who, appropriately enough, seems not the least bit out of place hunting vampires.

The two characters contrast each other perfectly, thus complimenting one another. Kudos to writer John Byrne, the man also responsible for Supes' re-envisioning.

The icing on the cake is the work of long-time comic book artist Arthur Adams. His highly-detailed, and dramatic style fit the book perfectly, and his grasp of character expression helps put the "horror" in this horror story.

Action Comics Annual, 1987, published by D.C. Comics, 48 pages, original price $1.25. Recommended for those who enjoy super hero action, and/or a good, old-fashioned chill to the bones.

Call 1-888-comicbook for a comic shop near you.

Review by Mark Allen

Comics Legend Crockett Johnson

Born in 1906, Crockett Johnson meekly tiptoed into the cartoonist Hall of Fame.

He began a career he never anticipated drawing editorial cartoons for The New Masses magazine (1934-'40), a weekly panel for Collier's magazine, The Little Man with the Eyes (1940-'43), and his comic strip masterpiece, Barnaby (1942-1946).

It is the simplicity of his art in Barnaby and its gentle whimsy that places his comic strip squarely in the pantheon of masterpieces. No line or detail was added to the little boy, Barnaby Baxter, or his inept Fairy Godfather, unless absolutely needed, and few panels failed to illicit the smile of familiarity and quiet joy that is whimsy.

In addition, how could one but smile as Baxter's Godfather, Mr. O'Malley, innocently negotiates the value of hot furs while flummoxing the thieves who stole them, the police, and little four or five year old Baxter at the same time? Johnson's comic strip left only one question unanswered. Was Barnaby's Godfather the invisible, imaginary companion shared in common by some many young children, or was he real? The answer may have been "both".

Johnson produced the comic strip Barkis & Family in 1955. Jack Morley and Ted Ferro ghosted Barnaby from 1947-'52 with Johnson as consultant (1946-'52). It was revived (1960-'62), and republished in the magazine Comics Revue (starting with issue #165). Johnson died in 1975.

Included in Johnson's work are: the Barnaby Quarterly (3 issues-1945-'46); Barnaby (Holt & Co. '43); Barnaby & Mr. O'Malley (Holt & Co, '44); Barkis (Simon & Shuster, '56); Barnaby #s1-6 (Ballantine paperbacks, '85-86).

Crockett also wrote and/or drew reviews, plays, films, TV, filmstrips, paintings, a pamphlet, and over 20 children's books including Harold and the Purple Crayon ('55). He also illustrated books by other authors.

The work of Crockett Johnson is highly recommended.

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 vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Harry Herschfield - From 2002

Comics legend Harry Herschfield began his career as a cartoonist at 14, doing comics for the sports page of the Chicago Daily newspaper. His first published comic strip (about a mutt) was titled Homeless Hector. In 1910, he began his first major strip, Desperate Desmond, a burlesque inspired melodrama about a top-hatted villain.

In 1914, he created his most successful strip, Abie the Agent, which entertained millions until 1940. Begun as a character in Desperate Desmond, Abie was the first syndicated Jewish comic strip character. According to Hoyle was a Herschfield Sunday half-page that ran from 1933-1935.

Abie was an endlessly anxious, extremely active, lower middle-class Jew in New York City.

Abie the Agent is characterized by ethnic dialect in stories that treated the Irish, Jewish and German nationalities with sympathy. At the time, immigrants were ridiculed and held in disdain on stage, in print and in movies. Herschfield's use of the Yiddish dialect--"Oi, Gewalt-I'm trepped!"-- was eliminated from the strip by the 1930s as Abie's stories focused on the character's integration into America.

Herschfield's art was direct and simple, more striking for its character design than for his finesse as an artist. It featured impeccable comic timing, a bold line, an unerring sense of staging, and an eye for detail in the clothing, furnishings, and affectations of his day.

Hershfield's work includes Abie the Agent, reprinting the strip from 1914 and 1915 (Hyperion Press, 1977).

Several of his comic strips are reprinted in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. In 1917, Abie appeared in Abie Kabibble Outwitted His Rival, an animated cartoon. In addition, Herschfield wrote books including Laugh Louder, Live Longer, and worked as a radio comedian and raconteur. He died in 1974 when he was 89 years old.

The work of Harry Herschfield is highly recommended.

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 vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Comics Legend Steve Ditko - From 2002

The world is full of imagination, of wonderful glimpses into other worlds and times that lift our spirits out of boredom or even trouble.

Born in 1927, comics legend Steve Ditko has added much to that wealth of imagination. Artist and occasional writer, Ditko rose through smaller publishers to the height of popularity in the early 1960s with his co-creation of Spider-Man and his work on characters like Doctor Strange and The Hulk for Marvel Comics.

Best known as an innovative artist with a well-defined and firm life philosophy, Ditko did much to liberate static comic book page layouts through his innovative style of visual storytelling.

It is impossible to know if his fresh style was the natural result of Spider-Man's attributes or sprang completely from Ditko's mind. After all, Spider-Man "does whatever a spider can" which includes hanging upside down from ceilings or from the sides of walls at wild, inhuman angles. Whichever is true, Ditko helped change comics pages of panels stacked like orderly building blocks into dynamic and ever changing visual dances as Spider-Man swung head-down and butt-up through the canyons of New York City.

That Ditko's distinctive style is seldom plagiarized is tribute to the power and singleness of his vision and art.

Ditko's work includes: Fantastic Fears (1953, Farrell), Black Magic (1953, Prize), Capt. Atom, Blue Beetle, Question, Gorgo, Konga, Black Fury, SF, war, weird stories (1953—'68, Charlton), weird tales (1955-'57, St. John), Spiderman, Hulk, Dr. Strange and weird tales (1956-'66, Marvel), Noman, Dynamo (1966-'68, Tower), Nukla, Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes (1966, Dell), Creeper, Hawk and Dove (1968, National), and fantasy (1966, ACG).

Ditko also drew for various Warren magazines including Creepy (1966-'68), Witzend (1969-'70), and created the philosophical character "Mr. A" for several magazines.

The work of Steve Ditko is highly recommended.

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 vary; shop around.

Review by Michael Vance

Betty & Veronica Spectacular

Betty & Veronica Spectacular #s78-83/26 pgs. & $2.25 each/Dan Parent, principal artist and writer/sold in lots of places and at

Who reads about Archie's girlfriends, Betty and Veronica, in B & V Spectacular? Here are a few clues. "How to Have Your Own Beach Bash!", "Home EC. Or Shop?", "Eco Friendly Tips, Fashions & Fun!", and "Cool Summer Fashions!" are all cover blurbs for this Archie Comics title.

What, you couldn't guess? Young girls read this title, you ninny! Girls, girls, girls!!! Therefore, who is not qualified to review these themed issues for young girls? Why, it's ye old reviewer, me, the ninny!

I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies, or how to apply make-up, or how to look pretty and attract a guy (although I am kind of cute). I do know art, however, and B & V is no slouch in this department, maintaining the high standard of minimalistic or 'cartoonish' art in all Archie titles.

About half of each issue features an actual story; visual and prose essays about the social and cultural aspects of being a girl round out each edition.

In the latest reviewed issue, the girls find a new swimming hole that is claimed by those mangy boys as their exclusive secret. The rest is talk, talk, talk about clothes, summer vacation ideas, and clothes, beach tips about sun-block and sun glasses, and, well, clothes.

Dialog is believable, and Betty and Veronica and their supporting characters all ring true to long established personalities. But don't ask me about the nuances of wearing a bikini to the beach, or doing my nails, or flirting appropriately with the new hunk in town.

I don't even know how to flirt with the old hunk in town.

Betty & Veronica Spectacular comics are recommended for young girls.

Michael Vance

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