Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ANOTHER COMIC BOOK CAVALCAGA!

Last post I mentioned that because of the lack of fresh bedside reading material that helps ooze me into slumberland I've had to dig into some of my long-ignored boxes of old fanzines and whatnot in order to gather up some interesting reading for my pre-beddy-bye time relaxation. Well, this post I must admit that yeah, I'm still on the prowl for some of my old issues of BAM BALAAM not to mention the very old NEXT BIG THING xeroxes I haven't seen in many a year, but in the meanwhile I've fortunately discovered a few well-concealed boxes of old comic books which are also helping me to wind down after some pretty hectic days at the gulag. Which is mighty fine by me...given how I am wont to spice up this blog with occasional non-musical musings I felt that it sure would be a great idea to actually review some of these comic book goodies that are helping to resensify me just like they had back in my very early double-digit days when I was supposed to know better (about comic books and their mind-rotting capabilities) but thankfully didn't! And besides being a nice change o' pace here at the blog, it also frees me from my usual "look what I got, don't you wish you had it?" record reviews which are getting to be so commonplace it even makes me sick!

Besides, can you think of a better mid-week space-waster than a post on a whole buncha comics that most sophisticated BLOG TO COMM readers would undoubtedly up their toffee noses at? What a better way to offend some innerlectual who tuned in by mistake wanting to osmose some of the finer things in life, like perhaps a guide to fine wine and brie or whatever the proper etiquette as we head into the next decade should be (always apologize to the person murdering you for whatever reason he doth be offended)? If you can tell a snob from a slob, then read on, Buster!

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POLICE COMICS #1 (Quality Comics, August 1940)

If you actually think that I have enough of the filthy long green to afford an original copy of this seminal Golden Age of Comics masterpiece then may I deem you screwier than the same imbecile who once said that the only reason I like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER is because the liberals hate it!?!?! Anyone who knows me knows that I would never be able to scrape together the finances to obtain an original copy of the first issue of POLICE COMICS, mainly because I've plunked down my hard-begged on a whole lotta other also necessary to a complete BLOG TO COMM lifestyle goodies like old fanzine collections and megabuck orders to Volcanic Tongue to be able to latch onto some of the finer things like first editions of certain classic comic books. Oh well, I'm sure that after a few reads they'd all crumble unto dust and I could think of a better way to spend ten-thou than on a comic I coulda picked up for a dime almost seventy years back, during the days when I was a li'l kid only I spent all of my hard-earned on Shirley Temple and Freddie Bartholomew glossies!

Naw, the copy of POLICE #1 that I possess actually came out in 1999 as part of the big DC end-of-the-century blowout reprint series where the venerable (or at least I thought so at one time) company reprinted the 100 or so most important issues (as deemed by fans) of their wares, as well as the wares of various companies which DC has gobbled up over the years. This issue of POLICE naturally made the grade along with such other winners as DETECTIVE #27 and ACTION #1 if only because it features the debut of all-time fave Plastic Man, a guy whose appearance obviously didn't phase the minds at the old Quality Comics line (bought out by DC in the mid-fifties) or else they would have featured him on the cover instead of Firebrand, a hero I'm sure a little engine-searching will dig some info up on though not as much as it will Plas. Plastic Man, along with the Spirit and Blackhawk, shares the distinction of being one of the highlights of Quality's fifteen-year history, they being a company that certainly lived up to their name as their unique characters and overall high-grade art and stories have proven. (See my poll in the left-hand column for just a tad expression of my current Quality Comics obsession which not-so surprisingly some of you fans seem to revel in as well!)

This ish of POLICE certainly did "set the stage" for Quality's role in the mythos of the Golden Age, not only with the oft-reprinted origin of Plastic Man but with the appearance of such Quality heroes as the Human Bomb (who has one of the most ghastly powers of the Golden Age heroes as he could merely destroy people by touching them!) and Phantom Lady whose rights, like the Spirit, were not owned by Quality which is why she later jumped ship for a competitor as the forties withered on. One interesting Quality tidbit that I noted while reading POLICE #1 was the appearance of two heroes who, like the Spirit, were merely men dressed in typical forties suits whose mode of disguise was a flimsy mask (and not false face or any total covering thereof!). These heroes, 711 (a lawyer taking the rap for a dead man who escapes and returns to his prison cell at will to fight crime) and the Mouthpiece (secretly a lawyer) owe quite a bit to the Spirit in style and looks as was Plastic Man creator Jack Cole's Midnight, created expressly at the request of Quality head "Busy" Arnold in case Will Eisner decided to go elsewhere at take the Spirit with him! I wonder if the concept of the business-suited crimefighter/costumed hero was some sort of particular trait being cultivated by Quality or just an idea being tossed around there, but in the age of flying costumed characters with special powers the non-powered crimefighter with a swanky forties-styled suit and mask was a nice diversion. (Naturally I should also mention DC's own Sandman who was pretty much a man in a suit whose method of disguise was a gas mask, but since he wasn't that much of a success DC ultimately had Jack Kirby re-fashion him into an actual comic book superhero with the standard long john outfit to equally disastrous effect!)

Naturally you get some of the usual comic filler that could have been put to better use (stupid detectives and LI'L ABNER swipes may be typical of the era, but aren't the things people remember the Golden Age by), but as far as overall style, verve and talent go with regards to putting a comic book line together POLICE #1 was a more than adequate good idea of things that were to come at Quality during the early forties. Too bad that when DC bought them out in the fifties only Plastic Man and Blackhawk managed to survive with the fine folks at National letting the other characters wallow around in limbo until utilizing them in the relatively recent DC Universe brouhaha by which time you pretty much couldn't get me to put on a red-flannel suit let alone read one of their boring titles!
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NANCY AND SLUGGO #174 (Dell Comics, January-February 1960)

I never tried, but I'm pretty sure that if I did ask some hardcore NANCY fans what they thought of the various late-fifties/early-sixties NANCY comic titles that Dell put out they'd regale me with a long list of curse words I probably haven't heard since I prematurely tightened the vice on my uncle's knuckles as a confused youth. And frankly I probably would have held the same feelings as these staunch Bushmillerites after having read a few of these comics which were going for not-exactly low prices on the flea market circuit while I was a kid, but a more recent look at the non-reprint NANCY titles of the day proved that these not-quite-forgotten comics did stay faithful to the Bushmiller original artistically and thematically while developing a unique personality which certainly fitted the comic book format almost in a LITTLE LULU fashion. The perennial NANCY/LULU comparisons would come in especially with regards to this writeup considering how both Lulu and the comic book Nancy were drawn by quintessential LULU artist John Stanley and since Lulu was nothing but Nancy redux what more would you expect?

Dell always had their finger on the pulse of the comic strips unto book character market, and naturally their take of Nancy is about as good as the original even with the perhaps not-so-slight variations that would upset the NANCY purists amongst us. The inclusion of such non-Bushmillerian characters as Mr. McOnion (Sluggo's bald 'n chubby next door neighbor who seems to have a mean streak personal vendetta against his youthful adversary) not to mention the Tuesday Addams-esque classmate Oona Goosepimple and her strange family which predates the whole ADDAMS/MUNSTERS tee-vee craze by a few years in a surprising case of reverse deja vu certainly did lend a special, er, air to the various NANCY titles. And, unlike the reams of men who took over the strip in the wake of Bushmiller's 1982 death, Stanley did a good enough job aping the early-sixties Bushmiller aura and if you think the stories have a slight tinge of the LITTLE LULU style of kiddie comic anarchy you would be more'n on target.

As an added bonus, a PEANUTS story shows up...funny, but I remember wondering why there wasn't a PEANUTS comic book on the stands back during the heyday of PEANUTS-mania thinking that such a concept would have been a hit considering how popular that strip had become with PEANUTS products being pushed on just about every level of consumerist culture. Years later when I discovered there was a PEANUTS title albeit dating back to my pre-comics consciousness days, I thought it was strange that this would have been discontinued right when that aforementioned PEANUTS-mania went into overdrive. Well, stupider things have happened in the comic biz so who am I to complain, but I'm sure that any of you reagular BTC readers would have also thought it totally bizarre that Dell, or Gold Key by this time, would have discontinued such a title right when it was becoming one of the big gulcheral hallmarks of the sixties especially when you just couldn't escape the dad-blamed thing!

I always liked the various PEANUTS comic book stories that I've seen ever since my rabid comic collecting days in the early-seventies or so, probably because they were faithful enough to the original strip and the art (by Schulz assistant Jim Sasseville) was close enough for comfort. The saga appearing in this issue of NANCY AND SLUGGO (basically a riff on the stories where Snoopy retrieves soap bubbles, complete with some panels obviously swiped directly from the Schulz originals) does capture the early-sixties feeling of PEANUTS that pretty much appealed to me, if not a few thousand other cartoon buffs who perhaps were also turned off when the strip settled into utter sap somewhere in the eighties, and it is a shame that the series couldn't have been continued if the stories would have been as good as this one. Maybe after they're finished reprinting the entire strip as planned someone'll have the good sense to make these readily available to the public because they sure do make for better reading than the latest issue of GARFIELD (and I don't mean goose!)
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SKULL #5 (Last Gasp, 1972)

Here's one an adoring fan of mine sent my way back in the early-nineties, undoubtedly in an attempt to pay off a debt of some sort. Curious-enough me took the bait...not being familiar with the SKULL title other than from what I read in Les Daniels' ex-cello COMIX I didn't know what to expect, but this 'un (ish #5) was the second part of a Lovecraft special and frankly what better subject matter could you think of for a buncha underground cartoonists doing a horror title to utilize, eh? The artwork by u-ground regs Jaxon, Spain, Irons etc. is of course macabre enough to illio the already gore-entrenched original even though a bitta early-seventies hippie does tend to surface in the artwork when they're not careful. Even if you're one of those people who runs as fast as you can from such comix yet like Lovecraft and horror in general you'll like the way this one electrifies your brain synapses to the point of mama! As far as these u-grounds go, SKULL #5 should be easy enough to latch onto via the usual outlets. I wonder if the first of this Lovecraft series is worth the search?
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MR. A. #2 (published by Bruce Hershenson, 1975)

Can't seem to locate the two volumes of THE DITKO COLLECTION that are stored in some box somewhere here at the hovel, but I did happen to find the second issue of the short-lived MR. A. series which should hold me over until I do find those elusive collections of some of the best work Ditko did for not only the fanzine medium but his own self, which I guess is the point of it all given his personalist philosophy.

Unlike the more fanzine-ish first issue of MR. A. from a good year or so earlier, MR. A. #2 has a look and feel more akin to your standard underground comic of the day with its 75-cent cover price and black and white (what else given Ditko's philosophy?) interior. And unlike the various MR.A. stories that had been showing up in a number of self-published reads for the prior seven or so year, both of the sagas here are fleshed out, plot-filled tales that actually are not that dissimilar to the Question sagas that Ditko had done for Charlton during the late-sixties after he more or less walked out on SPIDER-MAN at the height of its power. Rather than starting out with what looks like a typical comic book saga albeit riddled with his philosophical bent only to end up as a moralistic (and some would say preachy) screed, the stories in MR. A. #2 have interesting plot devices and twists/turns added to the obligatory objectivist commentary that I'm sure "turned off" a good portion of the post-adolescent comic book readership of the day. But no matter what your own take on Ayn Rand may be (frankly, I do not consider myself one of her followers) I find that the actual stories are not too overbearing with worn out philosophical rants and raves like they could be, and personally I find it refreshing to read stories where the powerful forces at work who have created the sickness that is in society today get skewered like I wish they would in real life!

The same folk from the fanzine era stories are here, the primary amongst 'em being Mr. A. and his crusading reported alter ego Rex Grainge with his 40s/50s leading actor masculine look and appeal which I'm sure looked way outta place with him being stuck smack dab in the middle of seventies New York. Also returning are Grainge's typically New York liberal boss who is sorta like a J. Jonah Jameson for THE NEW YORK TIMES, while new to this issue are the likes of Senator Kud, the epitome of the New York pandering politician whose entire philosophy seems to be a 180-degree turn from Mr. A./Grainge with his brotherly attitude towards dictators at the United Nations not to mention pleas to his constituents for them all to sacrifice to the "common good", whatever that may be this week. These stories also feature the premier (and perhaps only) appearance of Forge, the new owner/power that be who seems to be a more level-headed character, perhaps a tad wary of Grainge (and the concept of Objectivism) but who can see through the sham that is left wing demagoguery and is willing to give Grainge free reign in his empire much to the dismay of his underlings. (In one telling scene he greets Senator Kud at his offices and confronts him about the perhaps soon-to-be reinstated Fairness Doctrine, pressing the senator despite Kud's calls for "compromise" leading Kud to privately consider sicking the hounds of the IRS and other troublemaking government bodies on Forge as revenge!)

The stories herein include one where a gentlemanly "Count Rogue" robs society parties while charming his victims thus becoming the darling of the New York radical chic set with rich patrons hoping they will be the next victims in line, while the other (entitled "Brotherhood of the Collective") features two underworld figures who team up with a local respectable citizen's group to help stamp out Mr. A. while ruining their reputations in the process. Throughout these stories, such concepts as the United Nations, collectivism, anti-capitalist/"establishment" values and trendy social concerns come in for a serious ribbing, something you rarely if ever see even in the hands of today's conservative media outside a few worthy sites you can easily enough "dial up" in the left-hand column.

And even with the occasional sledgehammer messages that do come up as well as the lectures Grainge/Mr. A. spouts off either via an editorial or television commentary, the stories are enveloping, just like that issue-long Question classic done around the time Ditko was fumbling around in his post-SPIDER-MAN DC and Charlton period. It sure made for great Saturday late-night reading and suited me fine, at least until I'm able to re-dig up that particular Question story which still seems to affect me in a positive, life-reaffirming way even a good ten or so years after I originally read the thing!
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WONDER WOMAN #60 (a 1977 PIZZA HUT reissue of a 1953 DC comic, probably issued to cash in on any SUPERMAN movie/superhero mania there might have been at the time!)

I should feel indignant that this early-fifties period WW comic was reissued a few years after I vamoosed the comic book scene for more musical pastures, but given that this particular title was long-waning by the time of its original appearance I really wasn't missing that much. The superhero idiom wasn't actually doing gangbusters during those early-fifties days and only a few of the Golden Age survivors were still around in an industry that found more lucre in horror, sci fi, westerns and teenage anarchist titles like ARCHIE. And the stories in this particular WW sure prove that unless your name was Superman or Batman maybe it was time scrambootch for the Old Superheroes Home which is something that I guess never crossed the minds of the folks at DC.

Not that the artwork is particularly bad (standard pre-Silver Age stiff figures stuff but better'n some of the competition) nor the stories pedestrian, but I'm sure even the typical ten-year-old peruser woulda seen this series as being kinda "icky". Maybe even "for guuurrrrls given the two-page "filler" devoted to bridal superstitions...I woulda thought that DC woulda been pitching WW to horny adolescent boys but I guess they felt there was a female market for this kinda adventure title featuring a member of the fairer s-x who could bop any bully on the noggin and make it hurt! And even though this particular WW plays down any lesbian references the likes of Dr. Wertham would have undoubtedly spotted, the fact that Our Heroine actually mutters "suffering Sappho" twice is more or less giving Wertham all of the ammunition he really needs. Obviously, a career man-hater like Gloria Steinem, who wrote the forward to a wimmen's lib (wimmen's lip being more like it!) early-seventies collection of Golden Age stories wasn't too thrilled by what happened to her toned down heroine either. Of course the Wonder Woman saga went through a lot more dirt-dragging in the years since (such as with her "make-over" into a non-costumed swinging spy type in the late-sixties, billed as "the NEW Wonder Woman"!), but these '53 stories were non-there enough even compared to the rest of the surviving hero pack of the just-pre code days. Maybe if she just stuck around serving coffee at the Hall of Justice...
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ARCHIE ANNUAL #13 (Archie Publications, 1960-1961 edition)

And finally for today's trip into adolescent mindless self-abuse (you know what I mean!) comes this moldie from the depths of my rotting box of wares, the thirteenth issue of the long-revered ARCHIE ANNUAL which was an oft-eyed yet elusive treat for comic hunds like myself back during the days when twenty-five cents used to go a lot further than it does today. Really, a lotta you kids wouldn't even stoop to pick up a quarter lying on the sidewalk these days, right? Well, back when I was a young sprout twenny-five penneroos could take you a pretty long way, like to the nearest garage sale where you could score at least three year-plus-old comic books with enough change left over to treat yourself to a gumball! They weren't exactly happier times, but just try buying silver/bronze age comics with a quarter these days!

Being a big fan of the ARCHIE comic strip (which I used to get confused with the FRECKLES comic strip as a mere three-year-old!) the discovery of the Archie Comics Group when I was about twelve was a thrill beyond compare. Unfortunately I discovered that none of the artwork in these books was done by ARCHIE strip creator Bob Montana (nor his ghost) but looked comparatively inferior. I did manage to cultivate an appreciation for the work of Dan DeCarlo (the ARCHIE standard-bearer for many a year) and as far as humor comics went I certainly bought more of 'em from the Archie line even though I was more'n eager to occasionally snatch up some of the blatant ARCHIE swipes of the day, most notably DC's BINKY where ARCHIE contributor Stan Goldberg did a little moonlighting (from what I've heard, the Archie Comics Group weren't exactly top-notch payers!).

Enuff histoire...anyway this 80-page giant is typical ARCHIE tossout fodder that the line had been known to push out onto an unsuspecting clientele back in the day. Not exactly the best that the former MLJ had to offer, with mostly feh artwork (and yeah, I know that one-time regular Harry Lucey does have his fans, but count me not one of them!) coupled with stories that really seem to be skimming the bottom of the barrel. Talk about scrapings...if you compare the material appearing here with some from the mid/late-sixties when DeCarlo was hitting his stride these early-sixties stories come off pretty tepid in comparison. I know that most comic lines have their ups and downs, but by this time the Archie Comics Group probably figured out that they had the nutzo teenage comic market sewn up so well it just didn't matter what sausages they cranked out!

Fortunately that nerk Li'l Archie doesn't pop up, but we do get a nice enough Li'l Jinx one-pager as well as a PEANUTS steal I never knew about called SHRIMPY. From the same Schulz-styled layouts to kiddie jokes dealing with television and baseball nostalgia during the wintertime (with a gag sublimely lifted from an actual PEANUTS strip from a few years earlier), SHRIMPY is to PEANUTS what Stan Lee's LITTLE LIZZIE was to NANCY. If you thought that FREDDIE and TIGER were bad enough PEANUTS photostats just read SHRIMPY and those two strips seem just about as original and fresh air as anyone would imagine!

2 comments:

Jeff said...

Mr. "a" indeed

http://www.ditko.comics.org/ditko/crea/crerstan.html

Christopher said...

That's old newz even though Ditko denies to this day that he had anything to do with Stanton's art!