Friday, February 7, 2014

Teen Titans #25

Teen Titans #25 (On Sale: November 1969) has a powerful cover by the late, great Nick Cardy.

The Teen Titans take a dramatic turn in "The Titans Kill a Saint" by Robert Kanigher and Nick Cardy. You might say that this is the issue where the Titans go from being a book about kid sidekicks to a book about a group of young adults. I'm actually pretty surprised that Kanigher is the one to pull this off, though most likely the change was initiated by Dick Giordano.

In an absolute classic art job by Cardy we begin with the Titans and the Hawk and the Dove watching a surgery take place and blaming themselves. Later in the recovery room they attempt to talk to the patient, Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Arthur Swenson, but as they do so, he dies. In shock and tears the Titans are called to the morgue for a meeting of some sort. When the dejected Titans leave a short time later they run into Lilith, onto whom they try to foist some of the blame for Swenson's death, but she will have none of their nonsense and splits.

The Titans think back to how it all began a few hours earlier at the Canary Cottage Discotheque, where they met a dancer named Lilith, who knew who the Titans were even in their civilian identities and asked to join the team. She said her power is that she just knows things, like she knows the Titans will open the door to death tonight. They blow Lilith off and leave running into a peace rally, where Dr. Swenson is speaking. As the crowd begins to get heated, the Titans head for a back alley to change only to run into the Hawk and the Dove doing the same thing.

Back inside they all do what they can to control the crowd but when a man pulls a gun, Speedy, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash and the Hawk and the Dove all jump him and try to wrest the gun from his hands. It goes off and the single bullet strikes Dr. Swenson in the head. Speedy rushes them all to the hospital, where our story began. We also learn that when they went to the morgue, they were confronted by the Justice League who told them that they had violated their most sacred duty and that something must be done about it. Superman tells them that they must act as their own judge and jury and Batman warns that if they do not reach a decision by the day's end that the JLA will execute punishment on their own.

The great Nick Cardy
The Titans wander the streets, finding themselves eventually at the docks, where they are met by a small boat containing Lilith and Mr. Jupiter, the richest man in the world. Jupiter says he has an urgent government mission that he wants the Titans to undertake, but that the mission may change them forever and may even cost them their lives. Lilith leaves them, saying she knows she is a reminder to them of what has happened. The Titans go with Jupiter back to his estate to hear more.

Jupiter explains that he is in charge of a secret training project to prepare teens for the task of handling the world's problems and asks them if they will join. Robin bows out, saying that he has already committed to college. Though he leaves, the rest of the Titans and the Hawk and the Dove accept and are taken to Jupiter's secret headquarters on the 13th floor of his skyscraper complex, a floor run completely by computers.

There the Titans once again meet Lilith and give up their uniforms and fore go their powers to join Jupiter's secret project. This classic story was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Teen Titans Vol. 2 TPB.

Edited by Dick Giordano.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Grim Wit #2

Grim Wit #2 (On Sale: 1973) has a nice cover by Richard Corben featuring Den and this book's host, Horrilor. The book was published by Last Gasp Eco Funnies and carries the "Adults Only" disclaimer on the cover.

A small digression if you please: In this blog I want to cover all the great comic books that I have enjoyed over the years. That will mostly limit us to DC and Marvels and a few from other mainstream companies, like Charlton, Tower, EC, Pacific, First, Comico and such. But that will also include some undergrounds from Last Gasp, Rip Off Press and Kitchen Sink. These are not the standard comic books you are used to, but so what? A great comic book is a great comic book no matter who published it or what the subject matter. End of digression.

The inside front cover features our host, Horrilor, enticing you with Excitement and adventure (tattooed around her nipples), and other goodies (she turns around and shows you her ass and vagina). She also lets us know that this is a special dragon issue. The page is by Richard Corben in his wonderful black and white air brushiest.

Jack (Jaxon) Jackson
Unlike most underground comics, the insides of Grim Wit are in glorious color. I say glorious because it looks like most the color work was done by Richard Corben.

Our first story is not by Corben but by Jack Jackson, otherwise known as Jaxon. You may not know of this man, you may not know his work, but Jackson was a pioneer in the world of underground comics (or comix). In 1964, Jaxon self-published God Nose, which is considered by many to be the first underground comic. In 1969, he co-founded Rip Off Press, one of the first independent publishers of underground comix.

Jaxon's work combined humor, graphic violence, sexual titillation and a bit of historical truth. His was a unique voice in comics, one that we are better off for there having been.  According to Wikipedia, Jackson died in Stockdale, Texas on June 8, 2006, in an apparent suicide after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Like I said, Jaxon was known for the historical aspects of his work and that shows up here in our first story "Death Rattle," which tells the tale of a Chichimec tribe taken captive by the Toltecs. The Chichimeca  are to be used a human sacrifices to the Toltec god, the sun. The injured captives are slaughtered on site by the priest Xibalba, who cuts out their beating hearts in sacred offering. When they find a beautiful, large-breasted woman, Citla, among the Chichimeca, Xibalba claims her as a bridal offering to Tezcatlipoca, much to the consternation of the horny Toltec warriors.

The captives are taken to the Toltec city and there Xibalba offers any warrior among them the chance of a warrior's death, rather than a knife in the heart. Only Zipacna takes the challenge. While his fellow Chichimeca are sacrificed throughout the day, Zipacna is adorned for battle, his face and body painted to please the sun god.

The crowd gathers around the circular alter of ritual combat as Zipacna is lead in. The first champion is no match for Zipacna who splatters the alter with his brains. The second fairs no better, his head cleaved in two by Zipacna's war club. When the city's true champion enter the ring ("Lay--dees and gentlemen...Presenting in the final bout, the greatest living practitioner of the ancient school of Olmec fisticuffs, the invincible, the unconquerable, Baby-Faced Zapote!") he sees that Zipacna's war club is broken and moves in for the kill. Zipacna however trips Zapote and runs him through with the handle of his club. By tradition, Zipacna is taken to the outskirts of town and released, his freedom won.

Later that night in Xibalba's temple, they are preparing the beautiful Citla in Tezcatlipoca's bridal suite. Xibalba leaves but before he does he opens a gate to let in the bridegroom, Tezcatlipoca, a giant snake. Just then Zipacna  shows up to rescue Citla. Xibalba tries to stop them and as Zipacna attacks him Zipacna falls back into the "bridal suite" and is bitten by Tezcatlipoca and Xibalba realizes that the snake god goes both ways and perhaps he has been cranky because Xibalba  has only brought him "dames."

A lot of story for only eight pages.

Richard Corben
Next is the 15-page "Den" by Richard Corben. Now maybe you remember Den from Heavy Metal or from the book Neverwhere; this is the same Den. However, this is Den's first foray into comics. Corben created the character in the short film Neverwhere in 1968 while working at Calvin Studios, an animation company in Kansas City. Actually the Den in the movie, is the Uncle of the Den in the comic books.

As with most of Richard Corben's work, the story is secondary to the artwork, particularly Corben's amazing enhanced color work and his introduction of the air brush to comics. On top of that, Corben's style is uniquely his own and so his work is immediately recognizable as that of a true original.

Den awakens, completely naked, in a strange desert landscape. He doesn't know where he is or who he is. Even his body seems strange to him. He sees a structure in the distance and decides to make that his destination. As he walks he begins to hunger and finds, kills and eats a snake finding that his body seem to work on instincts he does not recall ever learning. At dusk he finds an oasis with a fountain.

He sates his hunger on the abundant fruit and his thirst with the cool water. He hides in some rock near the oasis to sleep. He dreads of a boy in a room with a book and sheet of paper and then as the scene shifts the boy is building something,something incomprehensible to Den. He awakes to see a lizard-man drinking at the fountain. After the lizard-man leaves Den is about to go down for a morning drink when he hears something, a "Cha ching, cha ching, cha ching." Den watches as a beautiful Indian woman walks across the desert and drinks at the fountain. She is naked save for a headdress and anklets that jingle as she walks.

Once she leave, Den decides to follow her. He is fascinated and aroused by her and he cannot understand why a sane person would travel in this hostile land wearing noisy ornaments. Den notices that the lizard-man is following her as well and Den gets behind him and follows them both to some strange complex of buildings. Once inside the lizard-man draws his sword and advances toward the woman. Den leaps out at him and slams a large rock into his head. As they fight each other, the woman looks on impassively. Once again Den's body seems to respond on its own with skill he did not know he possessed, but even that skill is not enough to overcome the huge lizard-man,and Den is knocked unconscious and thrown into a pit.

There he dreams once more, of how he, David Ellis Norman found a note in a book of his recently deceased Uncle that explained how his uncle had been dying, but found in a new world a new body and was going to go there permanently. Included was a schematic for a strange little machine. David built one and when he turned it on and electric field had been generated and how, like his uncle before him, he stepped into the filed and awoke in an unfamiliar desert, in an unfamiliar body.

When he awoke this time he crawled out of the pit to the sounds of screaming and rendering of flesh. From out of a building came a huge dragon, chewing on the remains of the lizard-man. Sitting atop the dragon was the girl and Den realized that they had a symbiotic relationship. The girl lured victims to the dragon. As they walk away, Den begins to ponder. Did he create the machine correctly? Would he find his uncle? Will he ever get back home?

Next is the six-page "Damsel in Dragon Dress" by Doug Moench and Richard Corben in one of his more cartoony styles, signing the work as Gore (besides Corben and Gore, Richard occasionally signed his work Darvc, which I always took to stand for Da Artist Richard Vance Corben).

Doug Moench
Moench had been working for Warren and Skywald on their black and white horror books for a few years. This might be his only underground work. 1973 was also the year that Doug started at Marvel, working first on their black and white titles before moving into color comics. While at marvel Doug would co-create Moon Knight, Werewolf by Night, Weirdworld and Deathlok, but is probably best remembered for his loong stint of Master of Kung Fu. In the 1980s Moench moved on to DC where he wrote for a number of years  He and artist Don Newton produced the story in which Jason Todd replaces Dick Grayson as Robin in Batman #368.

A vile villain has chained up a beautiful damsel and is pondering the ways in which he will violate her when a dragon appears and fries him to a crisp. Thought thankful for being saved, the damsel explains that she was hoping to be saved by a virile young knight. The dragon explains that he just happens to be such a knight and was only turned into a dragon by an ill-tempered wizard. Thinking that a kiss will revert the spell, the damsel is shocked to learn that it instead turned her into a dragon as well. They take off in search of a wizard who might released them from the spell, but the first guy they find is part dragon himself.

The wizard says he knows a spell that can send them to another world where they will be with their own kind and sends them to a land filled with dragons. There they find a half-naked hippie girl wearing orange-tinted glasses and blue beads, who says she is a witch ("most Scorpios are you know!") and says she can break the spell by kissing them both.

A hippie guy wakes up from a drug-induced sleep and looks for his girl friend. He can't find her anywhere and wonders about her stuffed animals. He is sure she had two teddy bears but now there are three stuffed dragons on her blanket, one of which is wearing orange-tinted glasses and blue beads.

The book ends with two pages of cartoons about dragons by Dave Holman, who worked on the Neverwhere movie with Corben, a one-page illustration by Corben and Jaxon featuring Horrilor and Horrilor's closing of the book by Corben.. The back cover is an illustration by Jaxon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Secret Agent #10

Secret Agent #10 (On Sale:August 1967) has an excellent cover featuring Sarge Steel by Dick Giordano.

I was a late comer to the Sarge Steel character, only discovering him in recent years, but what is not to like? We have Steve Skeates (my favorite Aquaman scribe)  writing and Dick Giordano (my favorite Aquaman Editor) drawing the feature. We have an American secret agent, a la Secret Agent Corrigan with a super hero twist of a metal hand. On top of that Steel is a private investigator and a CIA agent, so we get stories from both worlds.

The 18-page "The Case of the Third Hand" opens with Steel returning from a date with the lovely Linda Velvet, a girl Sarge has "fallen hard" for, when suddenly they become the target of a sniper. Steel worries that a guy in his line of work offers nothing but danger to any girl who dates him. Sarge keeps pushing Linda out of the line of fire and finally gets off a good shot at the sniper. He realizes too late that he only winged him as another shot rings out and this one hits Linda.

As the sniper runs away Sarge realized that Linda, not he, was the actual target. After checking Linda into a hospital, Steel heads back to the crime scene, but finds nothing but a bit of blood.  Steel checks with the police, but Linda had no criminal record. He checks his stoolies and roughs up a few gunsels, but gets nowhere. However, when he returns to his office there is a message form Lowell Cade of the CIA to call him about "some trouble" he got into last night. Wondering how the CIA fits into this all, Steel pays Cade a visit.

Lowell informs Sarge that Linda Velvet is a contact for The Third hand,l the biggest independent spy ring in the world. Steel argues that Linda is a highly-paid jazz singer and has no reason to take Third Hand money. Lowell says they don't know why Linda does it, but that they were hoping she would lead them to "the big boys." Lowell thinks someone from the Third Hand saw the two of them together and decided Linda could no longer be trusted. Steel isn't buying it, but just then they get word of trouble at the hospital.

They see gas pouring out of a broken window, the window to Linda's room and then learn the worst. Linda is dead, the victim of a gas grenade. Sarge is stunned by Linda's death, but knows someone wanted to be certain she didn't talk. In search of clues he heads to Linda's apartment, where the landlord informs him that he is the third "police" to show up today, that some of them are still up in her room. Steel confront the "cops" tearing Linda's apartment to pieces looking for something. A fight ensues and Sarge is knocked unconscious by a big thug. When he awakens he finds Sarah Tempest, Linda's neighbor who upon finding Linda's door opened came in to see if everything was alright.

Sarah says she knew Linda pretty well and Steel is about to ask her more when Hobart Jefferies, Sarah's tennis date arrives. As they are about to leave Sarge notices a fallen picture and asks Sarah if she knows the man in it. She says that yes, that is John, Linda's love fiance. Steel recognizes the picture as being  John Vance, a two-bit gunsel and figures it was John that got Linda mixed up with the Third Hand. Steel rushes back to his won apartment only to find it over turned as well. and is too distracted to notice that whoever did it, is still there. The thugs take Steel to a plush home in the suburbs where he meets Johnny Vance who tells Sarge, "You have something of mine and I want it back."

Johnny then sics some of his men on Sarge to make him talk. In the ensuing ruckus, Johnny accidentally shoots the big thug who then attacks Johnny. Johnny finishes the big guy off and Steel knocks out Johnny who Sarge discovers is the they sniper who shot at them the night before when he uncovers Vance's bandaged shoulder. Steel calls the CIA and to pick up Vance and his men then heads off to his apartment. he figures that Vance wasn't smart enough to head up the operation, but he thinks he know who is. Sarge see a light on in his apartment and  finds Sarah Tempest rifling through his desk.

She pulls his his gun out of his desk and they have a stand off. Steel explains everything. Johnny was trying to horn in of Sarah's job, but she had evidence of his criminal dealing, enough to put him away. She gave the evidence to Linda, told her to hide it and if anything happened to Sarah to give it to the CIA. She told Vance of the evidence and that if anything happened to her, he would go down. But Johnny found out that it was Linda who had it and when he saw her and Steel together he panicked and killed her.

But he couldn't find the papers and now wasn't sure it was Linda who had them. Both She and Johnny were searching for the papers, only she had to do it quietly so Johnny wouldn't catch on. When Sarah saw that Steel had been beaten up, she planted the picture of Johnny in the room, hoping Steel and Johnny would finish each other off. But when Sarge met Johnny he realized the Linda could never love a slob like him and then he figured out the picture was a plant, since it was the only think in Linda's apartment that had not been torn up. That's when Steel figured out that Sarah was the leader he had been looking for.

Steel makes a move and gets his gun away from Sarah, but Hobart Jefferies has snuck up behind Steel and knocks him to the floor. Sarah refers to Hobart as her "right-hand man" and Steel says, "..and I though I had been played for a sap!" Sarge then accuses Hobart of selling out Linda;s identity to Vance. Hobart denies it, but Sarah stares him down and when Hobart goes for his gun Sarah shoots him. This gives Steel the chance to disarm Sarah.

Back at the CIA Steel gives Lowell Cade a stuffed bunny that he had won for Linda at Coney Island that she had recently given back to him. Steel surmises that Linda had gotten scared and gave it to Steel for safe keeping. Inside they find the papers that will make Vance talk. As the story ends, Steel is lost in thought of the beautiful jazz singer and the romance that might have been.

Damn good story. A little heavy on the exposition on page 16 but other than that great work by Skeates and some nice Giordano artwork. But wait! There is more.

The back-up story is the nine-page "Espionage: Muscle Beach Style!" featuring Tiffany Sinn, the CIA Sweetheart by David A. Kaler and Jim Aparo (my favorite Aquaman artist). Dave Kaler also wrote the Steve Ditko-illustrated Captain Atom series. This was the last of only three stories about private eye turned secret agent Tiffany Sinn.

Interestingly, her first two appearances were in Career Girl Romances #38 and #39Tiffany was created by writer Gary Friedrich and artists Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia, who did both of her previous stories. She was quite a genre change for the romance book and a much better fit here in Secret Agent. where Aparo gave her the nifty logo.

The story starts with a recap of Tiffany's first two cases and then moves on from there when Tiffany is told to take an evening flight to San Francisco and that she will be given additional information from a contact on the plane. The contact ends up being a flight attendant who passes her a dossier. That in turn, sends her to a specific taxi cab where she and we find out even more. Apparently secret fuel formulas and parts information are somehow being leaked from a government defense plant. The last agent assigned to the case was found floating in the bay.

Tiffany is assigned to work undercover as a lab technician to Aldo Bateman, a hunky blonde lab scientist whom the CIA suspect of being the leak. Tiffany falls into her new undercover role and come the weekend Aldo invites her to the beach with him and to dancing later that night. Their day starts at Muscle Beach where Aldo lifts weights while Tiffany watches and wonders how he passes on the information. That night it is dinner with Aldo at Fisherman's Wharf, but Tiffany learns nothing new.

Week after week she learns nothing new though she spends all of her weekends with Aldo. Finally it is decided to bait the trap and Aldo is shown a new rocket formula. That weekend Aldo wears a set of blue trunks that Tiffany has never seen before to Muscle Beach. Tiffany notices that Aldo radically changes his workout, doing new exercises for the first time, changing the order of his routines, doing different numbers of reps. She sees a glint coming from an apartment window and sees that men with binoculars are also watching Aldo's every move.

She calls HQ using a phone in her lipstick, but Aldo has noticed her extra scrutiny of him and catches her in the act. He drags her into the water and tries to drown her, but Tiffany uses Judo to overcome him and push Aldo under the water. After they take Aldo away Tiffany reports that Aldo passed on information using a system of code involving weights and reps. When they ask her to report to HQ to fill them in, Tiffany decides to work on her tan instead.

OK, not the greatest of stories, but Jim Aparo's artwork is top notch and left me wanting more of Tiffany Sinn. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

So Skeates's writing and the artwork of Dick Giordano and Jim Aparo make this book well worth owning. You get to see the Aquaman SAG team (Skeates/Aparo/Giordano) in top form before they even worked at DC.

Edited by Dick Giordano.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shazam! #34

Shazam! #34 (On Sale: December 1977) has a cover by Alan Weiss that made it very clear that things had changed regarding DC's Captain Marvel revival. The book, called Shazam! instead of Captain Marvel because Marvel Comics had glommed onto the trademark, seemed pretty close to cancellation when DC did a 180 degree U-Turn.

By issue #11 DC had removed CC Beck from the title and replaced him with Bob Oksner, Kurt Schaffenberger and Tenny Henson, who took turns doing there best at aping the Beck style, while giving the book a slightly more traditional comic book feel. For some reason, DC felt the need to keep Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family in a style that was very different from every other book they published. Even recent humorist DC books like Plastic Man and The Maniaks strip in Showcase were still drawn in a fairly traditional manner. Given this, Shazam! #34 was a bit of a surprise.

Alan Weiss was the anti-CC Beck. His art was dynamic and powerful, featuring beautifully sculpted muscled men and sexy women. In the 17-page "The Fuhrer of Chicago" he gave us a completely different Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. There are three other things that make this issue such a dramatic turnaround for the title. First, the book is inked by, well, next to Neal Adams, the best inked Weiss ever had, Joe Rubinstein.  Though powerful, Alan's pencils can sometimes go out of whack a bit, his figures' proportions can get a bit wonky. A great inker will correct this and Joe Rubinstein is a great inker. Second, the coloring on this book is at times spectacular, being the work of Cornelia Adams, Neal Adams' first wife. Third, E. Nelson Bridwell turns in a hell of a good story, featuring the return of Captain Nazi, not seen in comics since Captain Marvel, Jr. #19, April 1944.

The story opens with Billy Batson and Uncle Dudley on their way to a meeting in Chicago in Uncle Dudley's motorhome when they run across a mined highway. Billy shouts Shazam! and turns into Capitan Marvel, who saves the motorhome, explodes a number of other mines and then flies the damage vehicle to the closest repair shop.

Billy has an appointment to keep, so he leaves Uncle Dudley with the motorhome and flies off to his meeting in Chicago. Uncle Dudley checks in with Sterling Morris back at WHIZ in Manhattan and is given a message that causes him to wander off alone.

Meanwhile Billy meets with Weldon Stone at the Chicago affiliate of Amalgamated Broadcasting System. Billy has been assigned to do a report on the wave of terrorism that has hit Chicago lately and mentions their run in with the land mines on the way into the city. Stone tells Billy that it is believed to be the work of a small but determined neo-Nazi group led by someone known as the New Fuhrer.

Across town we see that in the Sears Tower is none other than the old Marvel Family foe, Captain Nazi. We then learn the untold origin of Captain Nazi, how his father developed a secret miracle food that he fed his son from infancy, which made him strong, agile and intelligent. We learn how his father presented his son to Adolf Hitler as the ultimate example of the Aryan race and how Hitler sent Captain Nazi to America to battle Captain Marvel, Spy Smasher, Minute Man and Bulletman, and how eventually it was Captain Marvel Jr. who disrupted his plans time after time.

When the Fuhrer lost the war Captain Nazi went into hiding and planned how to resume the Nazi movement. But when he learned that Sivana had trapped the Marvel Family in a strange substance, he put himself into hibernation to await their return. When he awoke, the Marvels were back and he put his plan into action by taking over the Sears Tower.

Back at the TV station Billy and Weldon Stone learn that the Nazi group has taken over the Sears Tower and that their leader is on the roof. They head to the roof of there building to see what they can learn. Billy recognizes Captain Nazi but when he calls out Shazam! no lightning bolt come to transform him. back inside they learn that all satellite signals are down. Billy calls WHIZ in New York and talks to Freddie Freeman, AKA Captain Marvel Jr. and gets Freddie to amplify his phone call.  Billy then yells Shazam! which is amplified in New York where the magic lightning appears and travels through the phone line to Chicago, transforming Billy into Captain Marvel.

Back in New York, a frustrated Freddie remembers the day Captain Nazi fell from the sky and killed his grandfather before crippling young Freddie. Then he recalls how Captain Marvel took the dying Freddie to the abandoned subway station where Billy first met the wizard Shazam. Billy summons Shazam who says that Freddie can be saved if Captain Marvel will give up some of his powers to Freddie, who is transformed into Captain Marvel Jr.

Back in Chicago, Captain Marvel and Captain Nazi fight it out in the skies over the city. Nazi uses a lightning gun on Marvel which transforms him back into Billy Batson. As Billy falls from the sky he is rescued by Captain Marvel Jr., who dodges Nazi's lightning and punches him from the sky. On the ground a raging Jr. starts to beat Captain Nazi and threatens to drown him in a fountain, the way that Nazi drowned Freddie's grandfather.

But Billy reminds Jr. that he does not want to be like Captain Nazi and Jr. comes to his senses, deciding to take Nazi to jail instead. Once Captain Nazi's force field over Chicago is turned off, Captain Marvel and Jr. round up the rest of Nazi's group and then as Billy and Freddie head back to the garage to pick up Uncle Dudley. That is when they find out that he is gone, but that he left them a message. That is where we also find out that when the magic lightning bounced off the force field over Chicago, it returned to the Rock of Eternity where it broke the chains holding for years a captive King Kull, the Beast Man.

So we get terrific Alan Weiss/Joe Rubinstein artwork featuring a stylistic redesign of the series, the reintroduction of a character after a 33-year hiatus, one new origin, the recapping of another, a tight little current story and two hooks for next month's book. Never reprinted and worth owning for sure.

Edited by Jack C. Harris.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Strange Adventures #205

Strange Adventures #205 (On Sale: August 1967) is a classic masterpiece, the introduction of Arnold Drake's Deadman in a chilling and brilliant cover by Carmine Infantino and George Roussos, featuring what Drake called, "the best bit of writing I ever did," the caption:

"This man who was just murdered is our hero! His story begins one minute later -- Introducing... Deadman"

Inside we have the wonderful "Who Has Been Lying in My Grave?" by Arnold Drake, Carmine Infantino and George Roussos. Boston Brand, a trapeze artist and minority owner of a circus, walks the circus grounds before his nightly performance as the aerialist Deadman. He discovers a local constable poking around the grounds and chases him away. He then discovers that Leary the barker is stealing from the box office. He also catches Heldrich the animal trainer getting drunk. He fires Heldrich, then heads to the big top.

After reaching the top of the trapeze, Boston is shot by a sniper with a hook for a right hand. He falls to his death. Then his astral form is met by Rama Kushna, a Hindu spirit goddess. Rama allows Boston to walk the Earth as a spirit until his killer is caught.

Boston, now truly a Deadman, begins the search for his killer by checking up on the circus performers. He discovers that he is invisible, but can temporarily take control of human bodies. While inhabiting the body of Tiny the strongman, Deadman discovers Heldrich and Ramsey, the constable, making a drug deal. Deadman stops the crooks, then resumes the search for the killer, the Hook. Reprinted in Brave and the Bold #97, DC Special Blue Ribbon Digest #5 and Deadman #1.

I came late to Deadman, as I hadn't really started collecting comics till next month. but once I found him I quickly found all the old issues and was simply blown away by the concept and the execution. As far as I'm concerned, this book marks the beginning of the Infantino reign at DC and the beginning of my golden age of comics. New ideas, new characters, new concepts were all coming to DC and this book was the first shot across the bow of the stodgy old DC.

Sure, Deadman is now more associated with Neal Adams than his creators, Drake and Infantino, but it was these men, not Adams, who had the stroke of brilliance that Neal would take off and run with. When I met Arnold Drake years later at the San Diego Comic-Con, he didn't wear a shirt proclaiming he created the Doom Patrol or Stanley and His Monster or even It Rhymes with Lust, the first graphic novel,. No, his t-shirt proudly declared, "I'm Deadman's Daddy!"

My copy of Strange Adventures #205 was in very good shape when I bought it, but is now tattered and ragged after a multitude of readings. This was simply one of the best comics I ever read.

Jack Miller takes over as Editor.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Captain America #127

Captain American #127 (On Sale: April 1970) has a cover by Marie Severin and Joe Sinnott, which is nice, but the real artistic fireworks are inside.

"Who Calls Me Traitor?" is by the standard Captain American team of Stan Lee and Gene Colan, but this issue is inked by the amazing Wally Wood. The story begins with one of those patented Stan Lee scenes of false action/confrontation. Ends up it is just Nick Fury wanting Cap to throw his shield at him to test a new "Protecto-Suit" and Lee's over-dialoging makes a one-second scene last for 10 seconds at least, drawing out all of the tension and suspense. Lets not forget that the idea of asking a man to heave a metal disk at your stomach to "test" out a new suit of armor is pretty stupid. Cap then hits Fury with a "force bolt blast" designed to take out a tank. The new protecto-suit designed by SHIELD's new resident genius, Doc Ryder, works perfectly.

Marie Severin's original layout for Cap #127.
At Ryder's suggestion, Fury orders the suits put into production for all field agents, but when Fury and some men test the suits outdoors, they are ambushed by AIM agents, who have a device that nullifies the protecto-suits. They defeat the AIM agents but realize there is a traitor in their midst. Fury gathers everyone who knew about the protecto-suits together at SHIELD HQ to try and flush out the traitor. Ryder mentions that one person is missing, Captain America, "Even though it could't be him..."

Or could it? Fury says, "Cap's the only one who ain't had a SHIELD Security Check!," and "How can we be sure--he's the real Captain America? Anyone can make 'imself a mask 'n costume!" Cap's on-again-off-again girlfriend, Sharon Carter, adds, "Even the way he's been avoiding me! What if he's not the real Cap?" Of course Cap is avoiding Sharon because he is still traumatized by the death of his sidekick, Bucky Barnes back in WWII.

Cap gets a call from SHIELD saying his security clearance has been revoked. Looking for answers, Cap heads for Fury's apartment, where Fury and Sharon are currently talking with Joe Robertson of the Daily Bugle who wants answers to the rumors that Cap's SHIELD security clearance has been pulled. Fury won't say yes or no, which Joe takes to be a yes. On his way out he runs into Cap and asks him what he had done to deserve this. Cap gets pissed and leaves without seeing Fury.

A short time late Fury meets Tony Stark at his lab where Stark provides him with a prototype Android X-4. Later Cap gets a call from Fury to head over to SHIELD. Once there, Fury explains about the traitor and how they can't be sure he is the real Cap, so he and Android X-4 will be put through a series of tests that only the android or the real Captain America could pass. In quick order, Cap proves he is the real McCoy, but just then Android X-4 goes crazy ans starts attacking Cap.While Cap tried to stave off the metal man's blows Sharon Carter uses a geiger counter to track who is controlling the android. It is Dr. Ryder.

Sharon gasses him and returns to the scene of the fight to let Fury know that the traitor was Dr. Ryder as he suspected. Cap realizes that he was just a decoy to flush out the real traitor. When Sharon tried to comfort Cap he turns and leaves saying, "I've--always been able to be on guard--against my enemies---but, how does a man protect himself from--his friends?"

OK, pretty silly story if you ask me, but the art is so worth the trouble. I started reading Cap just as Colan took it over, so for me, he was the Captain America artist. Like he was doing with Daredevil, he imbued Captain American with this graceful, flowing, acrobatic style, yet grounded him in a photo-referenced real world that took the mad int he silly costume and made you care about him as flesh and blood.

Except for the issues inked by Tom Palmer and Bill Everett, this is my favorite Colan Cap story. Wally Wood leaves enough of the Colan magic to make the penciler unmistakable, yet adds enough of the Wood slick cleanness to make the panels pop! His Sharon Carter is sleek and sexy as all get out. His Nick Fury is tough and gruff, lean and mean. When he gets into the bodies, particularly Fury in the protecto-suit, it rivals his best work at Tower.

According to the Wally Wood Estate on Facebook, this is the only time Wood ever inked Gene Colan and "Colan never knew Wood had inked him. We would assume the original art to that one issue of Captain America was among so much that was stolen... from the Marvel offices as, Colan told us that not a single page was returned to him. When we showed the work to Gene years later (at a Dallas Fantasy Fair), Gene and Adrianne were amazed and fascinated with how Wood had tightened and polished the work and called it 'beautiful.' The Nick Fury in that story may be the best rendition by anyone other than Steranko."

As a side note on the artwork. I am reading Sean Howe's Marvel Comics The Untold Story right now and in discussing Gene Colan's artwork Steve mentions how Gene would sometimes get so carried away with big panels of flowing action that he would run out of pages and have to cram way too much into the final page or two. This story definitely has that feel. At the beginning we have an entire page of Cap throwing his shield at Nick Fury, while in the last page of the story, Sharon searches for the real traitor, finds him, subdues him, reports back to Fury, tried to comfort Cap and Cap gets pissed off and leaves. That page is more than a bit rushed.

Reprinted in Essential Captain America Vol. 3 TPB.

Edited by Stan Lee.

Friday, January 3, 2014

House of Mystery #185

House of Mystery #185 (On Sale: January 1970) has a cover by Neal Adams. For some reason this cover just doesn't work for me. I love the foreground figures, but something about the gaping-mouthed swamp in the background just doesn't register right with me.

Regardless of my misgiving with this issue's cover, this is a wonderful issue of House of Mystery with good stories all around and more importantly, Joe Orlando brings a legend to DC for the first time and he performs like the legend he is. But that is later on.

We begin with "Boom!" written and drawn by Jerry Grandenetti. I liked this story and the way it utilized Cain. It begins with Cain running back to the House of Mystery being chased by something in the air following him. He makes it back inside when "Boom!," whatever it is lands on the roof of the house.

Deciding to meet his fate head on, Cain runs upstairs and sees something through the open window. It ends up being a man, wearing a parachute. He is an exhibition sky diver named Tony Saunders, who can't figure out how he landed at Cain's house in Kentucky when he jumped out a plane in California. Unable to catch a ride anywhere, Saunders settles down for the night in the house as Cain's guest, when a strange car pulls up to the house and two gentlemen in top hats and suits get out and ask for Tony Saunders.

Saunders goes freely with the two men, saying he "knew you'd come for me." The next morning, listening to the news on his radio Cain hears of the the death of sky diver Tony Saunders when his chute failed to open somewhere in California. Cain rushes to his front door and sees that Tony left him a gift: his parachute.

Next is a Cain's Game Room by Sergio Aragones and a Page 13 written by Joe Orlando and drawn by Sergio Aragones.

These are followed by a short three-pager, "Voice of the Dead" drawn by Wayne Howard and reminiscent to the "true" short stories around this time that were written by Marv Wolfman. A North Carolina farmer dies in 1921 and when his will is read he leaves everything to his third son, Marshall. This leaves his widow and her other children penniless. Four years later his second son begins having a reoccurring dream where the ghost of his father tells him to look inside his old coat for a sewn-up pocket. A note of the art here is that some attribute the inking of this story to Wally Wood, though DC does not. Wayne Howard was such a Wood devotee that it would be hard to say for sure, but I would tend to agree with those who say this is Wood's inks. It really, really looks like Wally Wood.

After nights of having the same dream the son goes to his mother's house finds the coat and a note inside saying to look in the family bible. There they find a later dated will which split his estate evenly.

This is followed by another Cain's Game Room, this one written and drawn by Joe Orlando, but none of these are the reason you should own this book. No, that is the final story in the issue, "The Beautiful Beast" by Joe Gil and the legendary Al Williamson. This is the only story that Al will both pencil and ink for DC and folks, it is just out and out, drop dead gorgeous! This is Williamson in his Secret Agent Corrigan prime. This is the story of Joe Carver, escaped killer who hides out in the swamp and the inescapable justice that lurks there. But the story is superfluous, the artwork is the real story. Handsome men, a beautiful woman, hulking dinosaur-like creatures, a fetid swamp, serpents, lost cities, gnarled moss-laden trees, cavemen-like warriors, exotic birds and flying reptiles; this is a story custom-made for the talents of Al Williamson and he delivers completely.

But there is more to the art in this story than meets the eye. In an interview in Comic Book Artist Michael Kaluta said this:

I never even thought about being an illustrator or comic book artist. I’d just finished my second year of college...I didn’t know what I was going to do, stay in school or join the army. After the next SCARP convention, Phil Seuling contacted me and said that Al Williamson had seen stuff that I did and was interested in talking to me about maybe helping with a story. That flipped me out. At the next New York Convention I went up to Al and he gave me a script that he was having trouble getting in to. He asked me to stretch it out. “Give me plenty of boots, girls, dinosaurs and stuff” he said. I made 7 pages into 12. Al still has my fumbling pencil originals and unless he gets mad at me we won’t tell anyone. They’re really awful, awful stuff. I was so uptight about doing the job that I just rendered and detailed it to death. Later Al did a fine job with the story and let me doodle a bit on a page or two. DC Comics published it under the title The Beautiful Beast.
Regardless of the pedigree of the artwork, it is some stunning stuff and certainly makes you wish Al Williamson could have done more work for DC. Al Williamson was born in New York City but spent his childhood in Bogotá, Colombia. Upon his return to New York, he took art courses from Burne Hogarth, whom he assisted on some 'Tarzan' Sunday pages.

He made his professional debut at the age of 17 with western and adventure series like 'Buster Crabbe' for Eastern Color, 'Billy the Kid' and 'John Wayne' for Toby and 'Outlaw Kid' for Marvel. He was the youngest member of the "EC family," joining when he was only 21 years old in 1952, He was considered "the kid brother," for most of his colleagues were family men. Williamson contributed to EC's Weird Fantasy, Weird Science and Tales of Valor, often in collaboration with the so-called "Fleagle Gang": Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel and Angelo Torres. Al especially loved doing pencil work, but was "deathly afraid" of inking, so often Frazetta undertook that task for him.

Al also did comics work for ACG, Charlton, Prize and Dell. In the 1960s, he assisted John Prentice on 'Rip Kirby' and did a 'Flash Gordon' comic book, which was a natural for Al as his fluid style is highly influenced by Alex Raymond's original Flash Gordon work. For King Features Syndicate, he took over the 'Secret Agent X-9' daily, which was retitled to 'Secret Agent Corrigan' which was written by the wonderful Archie Goodwin.

In the 1980s Al drew the Marvel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and eventually the syndicated Star Wars newspaper strip. When this strip folded, Al went back to comic books, working for Pacific Comics in Alien Worlds and Summerset Holmes. For Marvel he did the Blade Runner and Return of the Jedi adaptations and a couple of stories for Epic Illustrated. He then transitioned to becoming a full-time inker, working first at DC on Superman and then for Marvel where he inked a ton of stuff off and on through 2003.

Al has worked for Dark Horse and has done occasional inking for DC. His last work for DC was on Green Lantern #146 in 2002. Al died on June 12, 2010, in upstate New York.

This entire book was reprinted in Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery Vol. 1 TPB.
Edited by Joe Orlando.