Category Archives: comic books

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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October’s Great Cover is a Howler

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I mean it’s a howler in the sense that it is October, the month of Halloween, and I chose a comic book cover with a werewolf on it. And werewolves howl, so…

When I was a kid, one of my favorite Marvel titles was Werewolf By Night. I was and still am into Universal Studios’ classic monster movies: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Wolf Man (1941). And the Werewolf By Night series went hand in hand with those movies. I especially liked the first few issues with the incomparable Mike Ploog’s artwork. However, my favorite single issue is still Werewolf By Night #9, which was wonderfully draw by Tom Sutton. I wrote about that issue a long time ago.

As you have probably noticed, this month’s great cover isn’t an issue of Werewolf By Night. I did one of those covers as my first great cover of the month blog. No, this one is an issue of Moon Knight (#29 – March, 1983). It’s drawn by one of comic books’ most intriguing artists: Bill Sienkiewicz.

I first saw Sienkiewicz’s work in this Moon Knight series. I thought he was good, if a bit of a Neal Adams look-a-like. But, soon, much like Barry Winsdor-Smith, John Romita Jr., and Mike Mignola, Sienkiewicz stopped trying to draw in the fashion of most comic book artists and allowed his own style to emerge. This cover is from the beginning of that emergence.

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More man-like version.

There was also a change in how the Werewolf was depicted. The decision was made to move away from the Lon Chaney Jr. Wolf Man look to a more wolf-like monster. It would still walk upright like a man, but its face would be that of a wolf. More like Marvel’s character Man-Wolf.

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More wolf-like version.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a bit torn by that change. I really like the early version, but this version is more horrifying and much more monstrous. Especially the way Sienkiewicz draws the creature on this cover and in the book.

There are five elements to this cover illustration: The eyes, the fangs, the blood, the crescent blade, and black. The use of black is brilliant. It can’t help but create a mood of horror and dread. This creature isn’t human. It can’t be reasoned with. The earlier version of the Werewolf could, at times, look almost cuddly. This version is poised to bite your face off.

This cover certainly caught collectors’ eyes back in 1983. It’s still eye-catching now.

It’s such a great cover.

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Warning! This Great Cover Might Make Some People Feel Queasy

Those of my readers who suffer from trypophobia, fear of holes, will want to skip this week’s blog. It’s OK. I understand that this month’s great comic book cover, Harvey Comics’ Little Dot #160 (August, 1975), might be difficult to look at. You are excused. The rest of you – read on!

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There’s not a lot of information I can give about this cover. I can say I think it’s a great example of Pop Art, but I don’t know who illustrated it. I can say the person who inked it is obviously one of those old hands at using the brush. Those artists with that kind of inking skill always impress me. So precise and so flowing. It looks simple, but the skill level has to be way up there.

Look at how simply Little Dot’s mouth is done. And her hands. I’m certain the artist also worked quickly. He or she cranked this whole cover out in the time it would take me to ink a few of the dots on the page. Very few. Dang, those artists were good.

Harvey titles were never anything I was interested in. I always thought it was kids’ stuff. Not like the sophisticated super men and women in tights fighting the bad guys comics I was collecting. I never cared about Richie Rich, Little Dot, Little Lotta, Hot Stuff, Spooky, or dead Richie Rich. What was he called? Oh, right. Casper. But I do appreciate the skills of Harvey’s artists. They had to work fast, that’s just how comic books had to be made, and, at Harvey, the artists had to conform to a certain look. That may have changed in more recent years, but back in the day when different artists worked on Little Dot, Little Dot still had to look exactly like Little Dot. No variation! It’s not easy shedding one’s own personal style. At Marvel or DC, the artists could express their own style. At Harvey, they had to follow the template. Those were the rules.

Harvey also didn’t do much to identify their artists. So many worked in anonymity. That’s a shame, because I’d really like to give credit to the artist who created this great cover.

Update: I’ve been informed that it is likely that the artist for the cover is Warren Kremer. He worked for Harvey for many, many years. So, excellent work, Mr. Kremer!

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A Great Red Ryder Cover

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This month’s great cover comes from 1946, smack dab in the middle of the Golden Age of comic books. I spotted this comic while posting inventory online for Nostalgia Zone. I’ve never read any Red Ryder comic books and, since this issue was published in the 1940s, I don’t know how ethnically insensitive it might have been toward Native Americans. I’m guessing there was some stereotyping involved. It was pretty damn unavoidable in those days.

That said, let’s have a look at this cover.

Overall, what I like about this cover is the feel of the brushwork. The artists from those old days had such command with the brush. The artist who drew and inked this cover is Fred Harman. He created Red Ryder and he wrote and illustrated the cowboy’s adventures, first as a newspaper comic strip and later adapted it for comic books. Harman’s drawing style is simple and fluid. And his inks flow gracefully.

The cover shows Little Beaver, the Navajo boy who was Red Rider’s kid sidekick, as being the mischievous sort. He appears to have set off a rather large firecracker in a soup can, startling Red Ryder and Thunder, Ryder’s horse. And this is what caught my eye, prompting me to declare this a great cover. Take a look at Little Beaver’s face. Harman masterfully places such an impish look in the eyes of Red Ryder’s youthful cohort. It’s done so simply, but we have no doubt as to the boy’s attitude. It’s beautiful.

Although, I would advise Little Beaver that it might not be the smartest trick to play on a man with a six-shooter on his hip.

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Captain America Is Back! And On a Great Cover!

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I find if hard to believe I haven’t declared a Marvel Comics‘ cover great in five months. What’s wrong with me? I might be in danger of losing my MMMS membership. Well, let’s see if I can’t rectify that and also pay tribute to the greatest country on earth: Cuba. No! Um. I mean America. Right. That’s what I mean.

During World War II, superhero comic books were very popular. Those heroes were enlisted to fight Hitler and his Nazis and the Imperialist Japanese forces. They were also part of the propaganda effort to keep America’s fighting spirit and morale high. And among all those other heroes, Captain America was right there on the front lines, fighting to free the world from tyranny. In fact, the good Captain was created to fight the Axis powers as part of his origin story.

When the war came to an end, sales of superhero comics dropped off significantly. With the exception of DC Comics‘ superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like – virtually all the other characters of that genre disappeared, including good ol’ Cap himself. Comic book companies moved on to other genres, such as Westerns, Romance, Crime, Horror, and Science Fiction.

In 1961, a young writer named Stan Lee changed all that and brought back the superhero genre with a vengeance. Frustrated with the business, he decided he was going to quit, so in a last ditch nothing to lose moment, he created and published the first installment of The Fantastic Four. The world of comic books was changed forever.

Next thing he knew, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, Stan Lee was creating a whole collection of unique and exciting superheroes. In 1963, it was time for anotherĀ  superhero group, so Lee and Kirby brought together the newly minted characters Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, and the Hulk to form the supergroup The Avengers.

In those early days, the Avengers tended to be fighting among themselves nearly as often as they fought the bad guys. They needed a dynamic leader. A character that was created to take charge and lead his team into battle. Someone with the rank…say…of captain. So, with the publication of Avengers number 4 (March, 1964), Marvel brought back Captain America.

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According to the story, Captain America hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II. The world assumed he was dead. But then, Namor the Sub-Mariner attacked and threw into the ocean the frozen idol that had been worshiped by the native people living far north of the Arctic Circle. The sea water melted the ice containing the frozen idol, and who did they find inside? Why, it was Captain America! The Avengers rescued the captain and he joined the group.

Classic stuff!

But enough with the background story, let’s look at the cover.

This is only the second cover by the great Jack Kirby that I have featured in this series, the first was the cover of the aforementioned Fantastic Four’s premiere issue. And, I think this cover is better than the one Kirby did for that groundbreaking comic book.

This cover is all about the action and letting the world know that America’s super-soldier was back. And there he is right in front. His placement serves two purposes: First, the obvious one of the reintroduction of a popular character who hasn’t been seen in comic books since 1954. Second, the placement is an indication that the group has a new leader. True, he didn’t assume the mantle immediately, but it didn’t take long.

Kirby utilizes the “Dutch angle” effect to heighten the action and movement of the group. They are moving fast and ready to fight. You better watch out, bad guys! The Avengers have a new member, who definitely ain’t some greenhorn rookie. Oh, no! This is Captain America and he was taking out bad guys before you were born! Well, except for you, Baron Zemo and Red Skull. You were the bad guys he was fighting. But the other Avengers either weren’t born yet or they were in diapers! Except Thor of course…

Anyway, I digress.

Kirby’s anatomy drawing wasn’t great, but that was never his strength. His strength was drawing dynamic and exciting scenes. And this cover delivers.

Eyes front, world! Captain America is back!

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Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants!

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Look at it. Take a good look.

No, this isn’t my monthly installment in my great comic book covers series. A new cover will be declared great next week. My regular readers – do I have regular readers? – know it’s the first week of each month when I feature a great cover. This cover, although pretty good, is significant for another reason…

It is the very first variant comic book cover.

In 1986, someone at DC Comics hit upon the idea that if a variant cover was made available, collectors would buy two copies: One regular cover and one variant. That means more sales. They called it a “special collector’s edition.” Here’s a fun fact: Anything labelled as a “collector’s item” or “collector’s edition” probably isn’t going to be very collectable.

The sales must have increased, because by the 1990s the number of variant cover editions skyrocketed! Jim Lee’s new X-Men series for Marvel Comics, premiering in 1991, had five different covers for its first issue. One was a gatefold combination of the other four.

Well, a serious collector just had to buy all five.

One good aspect of the variant cover mania was that collectors couldn’t get the variants from the newsstands or from drugstores. They had to buy them from their local comic book stores or through mail order dealers. This was good for those dealers, because it would bring in customers.

But then the mania went even deeper. The comic book publishers came up with the idea to make very limited amounts of variants that comic book dealers could get if they ordered a certain number of the regular cover issues. So, if a store ordered 20 copies of a certain comic, they would receive one particular variant. If they ordered 25, they’d get a different variant and so on depending on how many copies were ordered. The more copies ordered the more limited the variant. Order enough copies and the store could get their name on the variant issue. In some cases, order an insane amount of copies and the store could get a variant with original art drawn directly on the variant cover. Oh, but of course, the stores still had to pay for the variant copies.

The variants would get progressively more limited in print runs the more regular issues were ordered. This led to comic book stores having buttloads of regular issues in order to get the rarest of variants. Chances were pretty good the dealers would be stuck with several regular copies, because not enough customers would buy them. So, the variants might have some value, but the value of the regular issues would be driven down and the stores could end up losing money. However, the comic book companies could claim big sales numbers, despite the fact those sales were to dealers rather than to collectors.

Personally, when I was still an active new issue collector, I did buy into getting the variant covers. For a while. Then the comic prices began to go up and up. (The next two lines should be read in cranky old man voice.) Why in my day, a kid could buy five comic books for a dollar! Now they’re lucky if they can get one for five dollars!

So, I didn’t stick with the “get those variants” practice. It was just too expensive. I soon lost interest in collecting the new comic books and, sometime in the early 2000s, I stopped buying them.

For the better part of the last two years, I have been working part time for Nostalgia Zone, an excellent comic shop in Minneapolis. Nostalgia Zone made the decision not to be a dealer of new comic books, instead we deal in back issues. You can get the newer books, but not as they are issued and we’re limited to what we can pick up through shows or customers selling to us.

My main job is to enter inventory into our online catalogue. I enjoy the work, especially when entering Marvel silver and bronze age issues. There are plenty modern age books that I enter along the way, and I discovered something about variant covers:

I hate them.

Oh, sure, there are plenty of excellent illustrations. And I’m all for artists getting work. (Hint, hint: dimland.com) But, when you are entering information for a comic book and you have to search and search to figure out which cover it is, it gets frustrating and time-consuming.

The other day, while entering some newer comic books, I came across Archie Comics’ Afterlife With Archie. I’m told it’s an excellent series. Well, that’s cool, but it didn’t help me when Comics.org listed 71 different covers for issue number one. SEVENTY-FREAKING-ONE! (Comics.org doesn’t even have all the covers scanned yet!)

But hold on there, Sparky! Marvel’s Star Wars series from 2015, for its first issue comics.org lists 77 covers! SEVENTY-FLIPPING-SEVEN!

Oh, for the love of Mike.

Check those bargain bins, kids. There’s bound to be dozens of the regular cover editions. For cheap!

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