Category Archives: comic books

Here’s A Few Things About Comic Books

This is going to be one of those round-up blogs, in which I comment on a number of comic book related topics. I have a few things to comment on, but not enough on each topic for a full write up, so…

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It’s real. It’s an actual comic book cover. The February 1966 issue of Lois Lane would finally address the issue of Clark Kent’s flimsy disguise. A nice suit and Buddy Holly glasses? Really? If I removed my glasses and donned a Superman costume, people would still know it was me. So, how did this disguise work in the comic books, TV shows, and movies?

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That’s me, holding the comic book in question. Geez! My toupee needs adjusting.

I read this issue (which you can buy at NostalgiaZone.com – $10 cheap!) and I’m going to spoil it for you. DC Comics doesn’t really explain how Superman keeps fooling the world.

The story in a nutshell: Editor Perry White has to leave the Daily Planet while he serves, temporarily, in the US Senate. His replacement is awfully handsome, a “dreamboat” according to Lois, but he also acts suspiciously. Lois goes on a date with him that first day after work and thinks there’s something up with the guy.

She learns he is the leader of S.K.U.L. (Superman Killers’ Underground League) and she gets roped into a plot to kill Supes. She gets Lana Lang to help her decode the instructions she had been given by this secret underground league. When the message is decoded, Superman bursts in on Lois and Lana and makes that declaration we see on the cover. Lana does admit they’ve had their suspicions.

Superman then removes his mask and he turns out to be the leader of the kill Superman club. But, he’s really an FBI agent trying to smoke out that League and he enlists Lois and Lana to help him. Continued next issue.

They don’t exactly explain how Superman/Clark Kent can fool the world with a suit and glasses.

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The sexism just oozes from the narration paragraph at the top. “The Daily Planet’s pretty reporter,” “cute nose.” Yuck!

While reading this comic book from 52 years ago, I was struck by how blatantly sexist it is in its treatment of women and Lois Lane in particular. Lane is an investigative reporter, yet she’s described as stumbling onto stories. Her immediate reaction upon meeting the new editor is to think of him as a dreamboat. And neither Lane nor Lang bring up the topic of marriage, yet that’s what “Superman” deems the best way to berate these women for their stupidity. Marriage must have been a major theme in the Lois Lane series, after all it was a “girl’s” comic.

Switching gears, a couple months back, on a Facebook comic book fan group page, there was a discussion of whether the cover of Marvel’s Fantastic Four #1 was an homage to or a rip-off of the cover illustration of DC’s The Brave and The Bold #28 (the first appearance of the Justice League Of America). Look below for a comparison.

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Compostionally the two cover are very much alike. I prefer the Fantastic Four cover, because I prefer Jack Kirby’s drawing to Mike Sekowsky’s. Although, Sekowsky’s anatomy drawing is better and FF #1 isn’t Kirby’s best cover. It’s good, just not his best.

(OK, I’m a Marvel kid. I’m required by the MMMS to always prefer Marvel covers. Even if drawn by Rob Liefe… NO! There’s no way I can do that! I must draw the line somewhere!)

At first, I thought it was coincidence. Then I learned that the Fantastic Four was the result of a mandate from Atlas Comics publisher, Martin Goodman, to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with the Justice League of America, DC’s super team that debuted just about a year earlier. Learning that bit of history has me leaning toward rip-off.

What do you think?

Finally, as part of that JLA/FF discussion, someone brought up the practice of artists copying other artists in the creation of comic books. They provided an image (see below) that certainly is evidence of copying.

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Top frame: Jack Kirby • Middle frame: Gil Kane • Bottom frame: Rich Buckler

There’s no denying the second two frames were copied from work done by Kirby in the first frame, assuming that image is the original use of that punch. You will note that Gil Kane (second frame) made a couple changes to the pose: Captain America’s left arm is held differently and his hips are turned to the right. Kane’s variation, in my opinion, makes the pose a little on the awkward side, especially the lower part of his left leg.

Gil! If you’re going to copy the master, copy the master.

Someone in the group discussion claimed that Stan Lee, himself, would hand artists frames of comic art, usually drawn by Kirby, and instruct them to copy that frame. This revelation was offered without any source citation, so it may be untrue. And it may be a case of artists just copying other artists, in this case Kirby, because the other artists may have solved a difficult problem. When you consider how quickly artists had to get the work done with looming deadlines and the need to do as many pages as possible in a day to get decent pay, copying is understandable.

Artists were paid lousy. If you could only manage one page a day, you’d starve.

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A Great Cover To Get Excited About

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Working for a comic book store has its moments. Sometimes you’re able to find that one issue for which a customer had been looking far and wide and for so long. There are the occasions when a little kid comes looking for advice on what to collect. (I always tell them to find something they like and collect that. Don’t worry about value, but keep it in good shape. Comic book collecting should be fun.) And sometimes we get a customer who is just damn excited to find a comic book drawn by their favorite artist. An original, not a reprint. From the early days. And it’s affordable!

That last scenario happened on Saturday. A fellow came in and found himself a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #33 (February 1966) drawn and inked by the incomparable Steve Ditko. It would be his first original Amazing Spider-Man purchase. Until that Saturday, he had been collecting reprints. The customer placed his find up by the register for safe keeping as he searched around for any other gems. That’s when I noticed the cover.

Ditko, along with Jack Kirby, was instrumental in creating the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee in the early 1960s. His style is unmistakable and, to be honest, doesn’t always work for me. But this cover caught my eye.

It was Ditko who designed Spider-Man’s look. He is responsible for what must be the second most iconic costume in all of comic books. First would have to be Superman, but Spider-Man is right up there. That’s a hell of an achievement.

The cover says it is “The Final Chapter” and we see our hero, apparently trapped, as the water rises. The cover is done simply and effectively with tension and drama. But is Spider-Man really trapped? Is he contemplating his escape? Or is he giving up and letting the flood waters take him?

Surely, our hero isn’t giving up.

The composition is straight forward and elegant. Spidey is right at the center trapped with the water is rising. What will he do? The text helps set the tension. Can this possibly be the final chapter? Is it the end of our hero?!

The reader just has to find out!

That’s an effective cover. And it is very gratifying to know the copy we had in the shop has found a loving home.

(Hmmm. It’s curious. The other Amazing Spider-Man cover I declared great also had Spidey threatened by rising water. It seems I have a thing for wet Spider-Men. I might have to call my therapist.)

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January’s Great Comic Book Cover Is By The King

29715I’ve said this before: When I was younger and first collecting comic books, I didn’t really care for Jack Kirby’s artwork. I did come to appreciate when I got older and had studied comic book art very closely and for a long time. Lately, I’ve been hearing other comic book collectors saying the same thing. Although they haven’t said how much they’ve studied the art, they have come to an appreciation and love for Kirby’s genius.

With this month’s great cover, I think I might have been a fan of Kirby in my younger years, if one thing would have been true. If Bill Everett would have inked more of the King’s work. In those days, Mike Royer, Vince Colletta, or Joe Sinnott were teamed with Kirby most often. They were all fine inkers, but Bill Everett, a excellent artist in his own right, seemed to really gel with his fellow comic book pioneer.

Look at that cover (The Mighty Thor #171, December 1969). Penciled by Kirby, it has many of his telltale features. There’s the round biceps, the odd-looking yet expressive hands, and those great skyscrapers. And, of course, that dynamic struggle pose between to super-powered foes. Kirby was so good at dynamic.

On this cover, there’s also a more defined anatomy. More restrained somehow. More disciplined. And I love the expression on The Wrecker’s (he’s the guy in the green jumpsuit) face. There’s something about those eyes. I attribute these elements of greatness to Everett’s inking. Everett should have been Kirby’s inker far more often. If this cover is any indication, they would have made a hell of a team.

It’s a great cover.

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It’s The Man’s 95th Birthday!

Stan-Lee.jpgThere is a podcast that my friend Douglas hosts, it’s called the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules. It’s a pop culture podcast examining music, television, movies, and all sorts of things from a Baby Boomer and a whatever that generation after the Baby Boomers is called perspective. From time to time, Douglas will gather a few contributing opinion-holders to have round table discussions on a given topic. He calls this group the “Gang Of Occasional Guest Hosts” or the GOOCH Squad. I count myself honored to be a member.

Earlier today, the GOOCH Squad, which for the purposes of this blog will include Douglas even though he’s the host and not a guest host, was chatting through Facebook, when I discovered today is the 95th birthday of a giant.

The Man.

Stan Lee.

I asked the fellows if they had any thoughts about the man who had such an influence on all of us. Each member of the squad is a life-long fan of comic books. And all of us were Marvel kids. I asked for their help in capturing just how important Stan Lee was to each of us and to several generations of comic book creators and fans.

Superhero comic books weren’t much of a thing in 1961. DC Comics pretty well had the market cornered. Their characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and others) were selling well, but other comic book publishers just weren’t making much headway. Until, as he tells it, Stan Lee, a frustrated writer working for Atlas (formerly Timely) Comics, decided to quit. But, as a last hurrah and at the suggestion of his wife, he decided to take a chance and write something he wanted to write. Not some romance, jungle, western, crime, monster, etc. story, but a superhero story.

Atlas hadn’t done superheroes since the cancellations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Marvel Boy, and Human Torch in the early 1950s, closely coinciding Timely’s transformation to Atlas.

Stan’s last hurrah produced The Fantastic Four, created with more than a little assistance from artist Jack Kirby. With that publication came the birth of Marvel Comics. And the world was changed forever.

Now, that’s Stan’s version. But we’ve heard that Atlas publisher Martin Goodman had assigned Lee and Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with DC’s Justice League of America, which debuted a year before the FF. Curious how that detail doesn’t make it into Stan’s version of history.

We should also note that The Man is a man and that there are some less seemly aspects to the history of Marvel Comics. Lee gets the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, and, or course, Spider-Man. But the talents of Don Heck, Steve Ditko, and the aforementioned Kirby in the visual creation of those and so many other characters cannot be understated. Especially, Kirby and Ditko. At times, it feels as though Stan wants the world to just remember him as the creator.

Maybe that’s not very fair. Stan would say that much of the mistreatment of artists, rampant in the industry, was out of his control. But, as Douglas points out, he needed the talents of Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Bill Everett, John Buscema, and many others to reach the creative heights together that couldn’t be achieved each on their own. Lee needed their drawing skills and they needed his words. (Although, as some comic historians have pointed out, it seems that Jack Kirby had a much, much greater hand in the development of storylines than Stan would like to admit.)

And to give Stan a little more credit, it was Marvel Comics that made certain readers saw the names of the writers, artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers in each issue. The other publishers would follow his lead and the creators would at least get some credit.

I think Stan Lee’s genius breaks in three directions: Creation, relate-ability, and promotion.

Of course there was his prolific ability to come up with so many fascinating and exciting characters, both heroes and villains. Seriously! Is there a better comic book bad guy than Doctor Doom? And he created a fantastic universe for his characters to inhabit. Yes, he used real locations, such as New York City, but he also gave us his version of Asgard and Hades. And completely new worlds such as the Negative Zone and the Dark Dimension, where lived the dread Dormammu. (Or, maybe not. It’s also been suggested that that universe creation was more the work of Kirby and Ditko.)

Stan also knew how to turn a phrase. “It’s clobberin’ time!” “Avengers Assemble!” “The Hoary Host of Hoggoth!” Whatever that was. And there was his sign off for his Stan’s Soapbox columns: “Excelsior!” (Which had a direct influence on how I sign off my blog. Look up the meaning of excelsior and Packing Peanuts will make sense.) It was also Stan’s practice to use words that might have been just a bit over the heads of us kids, so out would come the dictionaries. In fact, Douglas credits Stan’s use of such words as “ersatz” and “quixotic” with helping him pass his SATs.

The second branch of his genius was his desire to make his characters relate-able. DC’s readers might have enjoyed Superman and Batman, but they just weren’t quite like us when not out supering. Stan’s characters were human, even when being super. The FF was essentially a family with a special dynamic due to that relationship. Spider-Man had troubles at home, girlfriend problems, and homework. As GOOCH Squad member Michael so eloquently put it, “[Stan Lee’s] signature brand of realism and foibles infused into the lives of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and others set precedents and added a heretofore untapped dimension of reader identification that raised the industry bar.” Indeed!

The third bit of his genius is something obvious, but still overlooked or underestimated by most folks. Stan Lee was the greatest promoter and cheerleader the comic books industry ever had. Fellow GOOCHer, Brian, called Stan the “comic book ambassador for the masses.”

This cheer-leading is something all of us noted, but I will take it just a little bit further. Think of DC, Dell, Harvey, Charlton. What creative genius comes to mind? Comic book folks might come up with the name of an artist or writer, but not that one name. Think Marvel. You think of Stan Lee.

I will go still further. It may be different today, but not long ago if you were to ask someone who wasn’t a fan of baseball to name a player the answer you were likely to get is Babe Ruth. He was such a giant of the game that his name became synonymous with it. Inseparable. Babe Ruth is baseball.

In the world of comic books, Stan Lee occupies that same exalted ground. Ask a non-fan to name a comic book creator. The answer is Stan Lee.

Happy 95th to the Man.

Packing Peanuts!

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And a special thanks to the GOOCH Squad for their assistance.

Update 1-19-18: I recently watched the excellent documentary series Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, the first episode of which examines the beginning of Marvel Comics. After watching that episode, I feel I may have been a little unfair toward Stan by suggesting he wanted all the credit. He lauds praise on Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and he’s more nuanced about the creation of the Marvel Universe. He also acknowledges his editor assigning him to create a super-hero group to compete with the Justice League of America.

It’s a very good series. I highly recommend it.

 

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Here’s This Month’s Great Comic Book Cover

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This month’s great comic book cover comes from the religious Treasure Chest series (volume 1, number 5 – August 18, 1966). I haven’t read this comic, but I thinking it’s a safe bet that, since in was published in 1966, it’s not going to have a very sympathetic view toward the Native peoples who were fighting for their land and way of life. The title – The March To Glory: The Story of Custer’s Last Stand – pretty much confirms my suspicion.

But, I’ll put America’s troubled and sometimes shameful past aside to look at what I think is a great cover by artist Reed Crandall.

Although, what exactly happened during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or the Battle of the Greasy Grass as it is called by Native Americans, will never be known, the image depicts Custer separating his forces as a Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, or Arapaho warrior observes. Since most of us know the results of the battle (Custer’s forces were soundly defeated), we can assume the splitting up of his men was probably not a good idea. Also, knowing the history, there’s a sense of foreboding to a lone warrior witnessing Custer’s error.

Crandall does an excellent job rendering the warrior. I don’t know if the garments worn are accurate, but the drawing is wonderfully done. It’s not a comic book superhero we see, but a realistically drawn man. The anatomy is right and looks real. There’s no exaggeration, no over-muscled physique. The coloring is muted with the exception of the bright orange markings of the Native’s battle gear.

Sometimes an illustration of a scene anticipating a great battle can be every bit as great as the battle scene itself. And that’s the case with this month’s great cover.

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The Korvac Saga

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When I was a kid in the early 70s, I started collecting comic books in a hit and miss fashion. I’d buy issues with covers I liked. There were a few characters I was interested in, but I didn’t buy their titles on a regular basis until my best friend Todd introduced me to the idea of keeping up with storylines.

“Storylines? What are those?”

He patiently explained that Marvel Comics (DC was probably doing the same thing then, but we were Marvel kids) had running stories that would go through several issues of a title. He was collecting The Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers at the time and his collection was so much more fascinating than mine. He had long runs of the titles he collected. I had a couple Hulks here, a Werewolf By Night there, but no collections of series.

Todd’s comics were also in really nice shape. I don’t think they were bagged and backed, but they had been gently handled and carefully stored away. I wasn’t quite as careful with my collection. I had cut images out and even drawn on a few of mine.

Todd’s example turned me into a serious collector and I’m grateful to him for that.

The Avengers and The X-Men were among the first of the Marvel titles that became my passion. Especially, The Avengers. In fact, over the years I have collected nearly every issue of the first 200 of that series. I have less than five missing and, of course, those remaining are mighty spendy.

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The first Avengers I picked up was #171. It was part of a multi-issue battle with Ultron, but it was also the early stages of what came to be known as The Korvac Saga. Korvac was a villain from the 31st Century who betrayed the human race. Somehow he got sent back to the 20th Century and became a frequent foe of The Defenders. Eventually, he found his way onto Galactus’ space station and became imbued with the Power Cosmic, transforming him into the god-like man known only as Michael.

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Korvac before gaining the Power Cosmic.

If you’re not familiar with the preceding stories and characters, then that paragraph will be a tad confusing. Just go with me here. And you should know there are spoilers ahead.

In the saga, Michael has a plan for earth and humanity, but it will take time to implement. He and his girlfriend Carina, the daughter of The Collector and quite powerful herself, adopt a low profile and take up residence in a suburban neighborhood in Queens, New York.

Something I really liked about Marvel Comics is that they would take their time setting up big stories. They would sometimes have a frame or two in a comic book months ahead of the big story just giving a little hint, setting up something to pay off much later. Marvel did that with The Korvac Saga. In issue #165, Iron Man gets a dressing down by The Scarlet Witch due to his frequent absences. He was the leader of The Avengers at the time but he was barely around, just showing up acting like nothing was wrong. She accused him of trying to act as though he’s saving the day. Iron Man was dumbfounded by this accusation, but there did seem to be gaps in his own timeline. Thor seemed to be doing the same thing. Curious.

Later, in issue #174, we learned what was behind Iron Man’s and Thor’s frequent absences and reappearances. Other Avengers began to disappear before the very eyes of their teammates! Why? What or who was behind it?

It was The Collector. An archenemy of The Avengers had been up to his old tricks of collecting earth’s mightiest heroes. Except this time, he claimed to be doing so to save humanity from The Enemy! That’s how The Collector referred to Michael – The Enemy.

The Collector was collecting The Avengers to protect them. However, our heroes were able to foil his plan and remain uncollected. The Collector implored The Avengers to rid the universe of this awesome threat and, when The Enemy used his powers to rid the universe of The Collector right in front of them, they took notice. The hunt for The Enemy began.

They trace this awesome threat to that Pleasant Valley Sunday neighborhood and commandeer a city bus to get them there. That led to a funny moment when all those superheroes pile off the bus as the neighbors were out cutting their grass. Why take a bus? Long story. Don’t worry about it.

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Issue #177 was the epic battle. The Avengers along with the Guardians of the Galaxy gave their all to defeat this most terrible threat to humanity, but one by one Michael defeated them. And this was a battle to the death. Although there was a moment or two when Captain America and Wonder Man seemed to be getting to him, Michael also easily dispatched of them.

It took The Collector’s daughter Carina, in an act of betrayal, to finally defeat The Enemy. To kill Michael. Thor then killed Carina. Not intentionally! Carina had used her powers to kill herself with lightning from the Norse god’s hammer.

One superhero present had not joined in on the battle. Moondragon believed there was deception at work. She believed The Avengers had been duped. For she had looked into Michael/The Enemy’s heart and learned his intentions were benevolent. He wished to create a utopia for humanity, not destroy it. He had become angry when The Avengers attacked and allowed his anger to put an end to the heroes and his plans, but as he lay dying next to his beloved Carina, he reached out with his last bit of strength and restored to life all whom he had killed that day.

Thor reverted to his alter-ego Dr. Donald Blake and attended to his alive but in need of medical attention comrades. As he did so, the memories of The Korvac Saga began to fade from his and the rest of the heroes’ minds. Moondragon would be the only one who would remember the terrible mistake The Avengers had made.

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Thanks a lot, Collector!

The Korvac Saga is still one of my favorite storylines ever produced by Marvel Comics.

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This Month’s Great Cover Is By The King!

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I love a good battle cover. The kind of cover that shows the hero or heroes in pitched battle against some unbeatable foe. Unbeatable by anyone other than our hero, I mean. This admiration of a good battle cover is something a great deal of comic book collectors share. A good battle is the essence of an exciting super-powered comic story, so give the readers a battle cover to let us know what we’re in for.

This month’s installment (Captain America #106 – October 1968) is a terrific battle cover. Drawn by the King himself, Jack Kirby, it shows Captain America going toe-to-toe with an android version of Steve Rogers, Cap’s secret identity. Why would there have been an android version of Steve Rogers? I don’t know. I haven’t read the comic book. That’s not important.

What is important is how really great this cover is. The action just jumps off the page. Kirby was the master at that. There’s Cap’s fist sticking right out at us as our hero prepares a dynamic punch. And that pole thing – is it the boom of a boom mic? – wielded by the android is also right there in our faces.

I think it might be a boom mic because it looks as though the two combatants are fighting in a TV studio or maybe on a movie set. See the spotlights in the background? Is it a studio of some kind, in which they fight? I don’t know. I haven’t read the comic book. That’s not important.

What is important is the cover is well composed and very dramatic. It captures the eye with action and promises more exciting action on the pages inside. And it says so right there, “Cap Goes Wild!”

Bravo, Mr Kirby! Bravo!

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