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.

Packing Peanuts!

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You never forget your first James Bond

Writer’s note: I realize the world lost Roger Moore back in May, so I’m a little late in writing this, but I had to write about something this week.

Roger Moore is my James Bond. When I was a kid his Bond was the first I saw in the theater. Because of that, I’ve always considered him to be my James Bond. I think a lot of folks my age (I’m 52) feel the same way.

I’m not saying he was the best. Just that when I think of James Bond, I see Moore in my mind’s eye. Of course, I have seen the other Bonds and they all brought something of interest to the character. But still Moore is my Bond.

It can be said that all the worst Bond films featured Roger Moore. Moonraker, Octopussy, and A View To A Kill were all dreadful. That’s probably due, in part, to the fact the actor had gotten so old that the notion that old fart could do all that super-spy stuff was too hard to accept. Moore was about 46 years old when he assumed the legendary role. Sean Connery was 41 when he gave it up! So, it’s hardly surprising that the spy really got to be so damn old, so damn fast. He had quite a head start, after all.

Be that as it may, Moore is my Bond.

Let me discuss my two favorite James Bond films, both from the Moore era: Live And Let Die (1973) and The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

First off, both films are terribly tone deaf when it comes to their treatment of women. It’s more understandable that the Bond films of the 1960s would have a more limited view of women. However, the Moore era wasn’t much better. Even with Women’s Lib taking a prominent role, in the 1970s, in the movement toward equal human and civil rights for all, the Bond films were slow to change.

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In The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond walked, unannounced, into a strange woman’s (played by Maud Adams) bathroom while she showered. When she realized he was there, she confronted him with the gun she had with her in the shower. Bond asked if she always showers with a gun. She should have replied, “Do you always just walk into strangers’ hotel rooms and watch them shower?”

Later, when he was ready to bed a young, inexperienced agent (Britt Ekland), they were interrupted by the appearance of the shower woman. Bond decided to hide his younger conquest in the closet, telling her not to worry, she’ll get her chance to break off a bit the Bond soon, and then proceeded to have sex with the other woman.

In Live And Let Die, he convinces a Tarot card reader (Jane Seymour) to sleep with him because it was foretold she would in the cards. “You do believe in the cards, don’t you?” Well, she did and they did. The audience is let in on the “joke” when we see the deck was “slightly stacked” in Bond’s favor. It was played for a sly laugh in 1973, but as I watched it just recently with two males friend who are close to my age, one noted that “seduction” was pretty much rape. We all agreed. We also agreed that Bond was probably riddled with STDs.

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When I watch these movies with my son I always pause them at those moments to explain that is not how to treat women. Some of you are probably saying I shouldn’t tout these two as my favorites. It’s a fair cop. I still like them and I find much to be entertained by, but I remind myself each time I watch either of them, to heed the same lesson I give my son.

The movie does make one advancement in race relations. It is the first Bond film to feature the super spy having sexual relations with an African-American woman played by Gloria Hendry. He still treats her as worthy of his penis, but not his respect. One step forward, several steps back.

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Live And Let Die has James Bond looking rather trim, fit, yet slender as opposed to Connery’s more muscular version (Connery was a former body builder before he started his acting career). Moore looks good. He wears clothes well and he appears younger than 46. And it was a pretty good idea to make certain to get Golden Gun produced and released the next year to take advantage of Moore still looking fairly youthful.

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The villain played by Yaphet Kotto isn’t bad. He plays a dual role. One as a Harlem gangster, Mr. Big, complete with the ’70’s blaxloitation patter and look so popular in cinema in those days. The other as a small time dictator of a fictional Caribbean island. This character was more refined and educated. But, like all Bond villains, he doesn’t just kill Bond when he has the chance.

Just shoot him! Don’t tell him your plan. Don’t have your henchmen do it. Don’t come up with some elaborate method to off the man. Just shoot him! Oh, they’ll never learn.

Live And Let Die also has a really good secondary villain. Not Tee Hee (Julius Harris), the villain with the mechanical arm, although he is good. I mean Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). You might remember him from the 7-Up ads in which he touted the “uncola… hahahahaaaa.” He was great, if underused, in the movie. He was good and creepy and made quite an impression on me when I was a kid. However, Bond dispatched with him a little too easily though. Or did he?

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Possibly the best part of this movie is its theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings. Say what you want about any of the other theme songs, none comes close to as great a theme song as this one. There are a few that aren’t bad, but this one is the best.

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The Man With The Golden Gun is probably my favorite of all the Bond films. This is mainly due to its villain, Francisco Scaramanga. The best Bond films all have one vital thing in common: A good villain. This villain is wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Lee and you can tell he was really enjoying the part. Scaramanga is a high-priced hitman who gets a million dollars a hit. And in 1974, a million dollars wasn’t chump change.

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Golden Gun also has its excellent, if creepy, henchman. The polar opposite of Live And Let Die’s Baron Samedi, Nick Nack, played by Herve Villechaize, delights when his boss dispatches of his target during the cold open. He also delights when he thinks he’s stymied his boss in the funhouse maze Scaramanga uses for his special hits. In fact, there is a likeness of Bond on display in the funhouse, because Scaramanga knows it’s inevitable he and Bond will face off against each other. He keeps the likeness as a reminder and as inspiration.

That sets up why I really like this one. As I stated earlier, the problem with Bond villains is they never just kill Bond. However, in Scaramanga’s case it makes sense. He believes himself to be the finest marksman and hitman in all the world, but he wants to test himself against the one man in the world who could give him a true challenge – James Bond. So, the one on one ending works, even with the talking about his evil plans and not just killing Bond when he had the chance. Where’s the sport in that?

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Both films feature the comic relief character Sheriff JW Pepper played by Clifton James. That character gets so dangerously close to being straight up racist. Oh, hell. What am I saying? He’s probably the Grand Poobah of his local KKK chapter. I cringe every time he calls a black man “boy” in Live And Let Die. It is softened slightly by the fact he calls every adult male in the film “boy.”

These films are flawed. No doubt about it. They are of their time and are good examples of how far we’ve come as a society. No Bond film made in the last twenty years would come close to the chauvinism and racial insensitivity as seen in these two films. And that’s progress.

My social justice side urges me to shun and hate these films. The kid in me still wants to like them. Warts and all.

I guess I choose to follow the kid in me.

Packing Peanuts!

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More Alt Album Greats, This Time From 1978

I have done top ten lists of great alternative albums from 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and the combined years of 1986 – 1989. The years for me to draw from are nearly used up, because these years are from my personal era of paying close attention to the alternative music scene (or any music scene for that matter). I guess for most of us there is that time when music is close to an all-consuming obsession, but as we age we just don’t have that need to keep up with what’s going on.

Besides, most of the more recent stuff sucks! Whoops. I slipped into grandpa mode there.

I do have a couple of years left that I can feature, so let’s get on with 1978. By the way, this list clearly disputes the notion of the sophomore slump, the phenomenon that postulates that an artist has their whole life to write their first album, but only a year or so to write their second, so the second album suffers. Half of this list is second releases.

This is also the first great alternative albums list I’ve done that features a band with two entries.

This is my list, your results may vary.

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10) Outlandos d’Amour – The Police It’s true this band would be worldwide rock superstars in less than five years from this album’s release, but in 1978 they were as alternative as a band could get. Far better musicians than many of their punk contemporaries, The Police combined reggae and punk to create their signature sound. Roxanne was a bit of a hit at the time (which they would ruin in concert by drawing it out to the point of shear tedium) and it’s a good song, but it’s not my favorite track. Other stand out tracks include: Next To You, Truth Hits Everybody, and Can’t Stand Losing You.

Favorite track: So Lonely

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9) Give ‘Em Enough Rope – The Clash Overlooked in favor of their debut album or their third album the classic London Calling, Give ‘Em Enough Rope is a very good sophomore effort. The band branches out in their sound a bit more on this album. There’s still the aggressive punk and the reggae influence, but there’s also a touch of Disco (!) to be found in the song Stay Free.

Favorite track: Safe European Home

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8) Chairs Missing – Wire This is another sophomore effort by another pioneering punk band. Wire took their music in a more artful, avant garde direction than most of their punk compatriots. Chairs Missing has the punk aggression (Sand In My Joints, Too Late) alongside the artfully weird (I Am The Fly, I Feel Mysterious Today). And they even deliver as catchy a pop song as any pop band, as my favorite track demonstrates. All with lyrics that are completely inscrutable.

Favorite track: Outdoor Miner

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7) Road To Ruin – Ramones When Modern Rock radio became a commercial success in the Twin Cities market, after Nirvana broke punk rock into the American mainstream consciousness, you might have thought the Ramones had only one song. That is if you were going by what the Modern Rock station was playing. They only played I Wanna Be Sedated. It was infuriating to any Ramones fan. Road To Ruin gave us that song, but it also gave us I Just Want To Have Something To Do, I’m Against It, and She’s The One. For shame, Modern Rock radio, for shame.

Favorite track: Needles And Pins

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6) Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo – Devo This debut album by those unusual boys from Ohio set the music world on its head. What is this? What kind of Rolling Stones cover is that? The excellent kind is what! Much more guitar based than later releases, Are We Not Men is full of catchy quirkiness. There’s Jocko Homo, Praying Hands, Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy), and that Stones cover (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. All great!

Favorite track: Uncontrollable Urge

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5) Love Bites – Buzzcocks Sophomore efforts continue with this release by another of punk rock’s pioneers. Almost from the beginning, Buzzcocks delivered a more pop version of punk. Sure there was the angst and frustration, but all of it was delivered with such great melodies and hooks. And I love hooks! Stand out tracks include Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve), Just Lust, Love Is Lies, and the terrific instrumental Walking Distance.

Favorite Track: Nothing Left

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4) More Songs About Buildings And Food – Talking Heads Again we have ourselves a second effort by a punk pioneer. Like Wire, Talking Heads had a more artsy approach to their sound, however they tended not to be as aggressive. As was the case with most of their albums, Brian Eno was co-producer along with the band. This is the one with the excellent cover of Al Green’s Take Me To The River, which was the first song I’d ever heard by this legendary band.

Favorite track: I’m Not In Love

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3) Go 2 – XTC Yep. Sophomore slump be damned! If anything XTC improved upon their songwriting from their debut album White Music (1977). Still in their quirky, edgy, pop/punk phase, this collection of songs is more focused. Bass player Colin Moulding’s songwriting had improved significantly since that first album and keyboardist Barry Andrews contributed two decent songs. But Andy Partridge was still in control.

Favorite track: Are You Receiving Me?

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2) All Mod Cons – The Jam It can be said that the sophomore slump did affect UK Mod band, The Jam. Their second album This Is The Modern World (1977) was not nearly as well received as their debut (In The City also from 1977), but they righted the ship with this their third studio release. The album moves by at a brisk 37 minutes, but it is packed with outstanding tunes and sophisticated songwriting as heard on Mr. Clean, ‘A’ Bomb On Wardour Street, and Down In The Tube Station At Midnight.

Favorite track: It’s Too Bad

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1) Another Music In A Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks I said there would be an artist with two entries on this list and it’s the Buzzcocks. It should be obvious that the band was really good in those early years. Crashing by at a faster clip than All Mod Cons, at just under 36 minutes, don’t think you won’t get your money’s worth. The band comes blasting out of the gate with Fast Cars and they don’t let up. I Need, You Tear Me Up, Love Battery, Get On Our Own, and Fiction Romance will have your inner punk wanting get slam dancing to exhaustion, which is what I did whenever I saw these guys in concert. This album is relentless.

Favorite track: Autonomy

Packing Peanuts!

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Full Moon: A Crazy, Tedious & Sad Book

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William Morris and Company, Inc. (1981)

Not long ago, I was going through a box containing two of my youthful obsessions. The box was filled with books, magazines, posters, and other paraphernalia related to Farrah Fawcett and The Who. My obsession with Farrah may have waned over the years, I did feel some of those warm stirrings for that stunning blonde from Texas rising again as I looked at her posters, but it’s not about her I’m going to write. Nor am I going to write about The Who (still a strong obsession). This blog is about the greatest drummer in rock history. More specifically, this blog is about a book detailing the drug and drink fueled antics of Keith “The Loon” Moon.

As I paged through the book, I was trying to recall why I had started but didn’t finish reading it when I bought it in the mid 80s. All I could recall was that I had some problem with the writing. My son encouraged me to give it another shot. Well, far be it from me to not do everything my son encourages me to do. I cracked on in to Full Moon: The Amazing Rock & Roll Life of Keith Moon by Dougal Butler with Chris Trengove and Peter Lawrence.

One paragraph!

That was was all it took for me to remember why I put the book down, leaving it to be packed away in that box all those years ago. The book is a collection of stories demonstrating the madcap, maniacal mayhem for which Moon was so famous (or infamous) as told by Dougal Butler, the drummer’s Man Friday from 1967 to 1977. The problem was that, with three people working on this book, no one thought that telling the old stories virtually entirely in present tense might be confusing and frustrating to the reader.

Here is that first paragraph: “At the time I first meet up with The Who they are not quite the most famous rock and roll band in the world. It is roughly 1966/67 … a time when I am working as a Customs & Excise clerk at Heathrow Airport, London, England. This is by no means the most exciting job in the world and it is especially unappealing to an immaculately suited, short-haired Mod, which is what I am at this time.”

See what I mean? What time period is he talking about? Is he saying he was an “immaculately suited, short-haired Mod” working at Heathrow back in 1966/67, or at the time he wrote this book?

The entire book is written in this fashion. So, in order to read it (and I was determined to read it) I took a red pen to it and made every verb tense correction that should have been made before the book was published in 1981. 260 pages! You should see all the markings!

I know, I’m weird.

I made it through and I have a few things to say.

Butler has a very poor attitude toward everyday people. He also seems to think that; unless the place he is in at any given time is London (but not the East End), New York, or Malibu; most places of the world are backward, nothing worth noting cities and towns. Why would anyone live there? Oh, yeah, they’re rubes. However, judging by his use of lower class British and Cockney rhyming slang he doesn’t quite come off as the sharpest knife on the tree.

He attempts to draw back from his negative statements now and then by admitting that he might be wrong in his assessment of some of the people he and Moon encountered. For instance, the time he and Moon and two of their friends, a gay couple, all stopped in for drinks (oh, so much drinking) at a pub in Wales patronized by coal miners, all men and presumably straight. Butler was shocked that those low fore-headed rubes had no problem with the couple, even with one wearing a dress.

Butler certainly doesn’t come off as what anyone would consider a feminist. His attitude is that women are good for one thing. And only the good looking “bints” at that. Unless, that is, he imbibed in enough drugs and alcohol (which he calls “medicine” throughout the book) to make those “slags” look good enough to shag. In a moment of self-blindness, Butler essentially accuses Moon of the same poor attitude toward women. Pot. Kettle. Black.

Then there’s all the medicine-induced mayhem. Destroying hotel rooms, crashing cars, crazy stunts were what cemented Moon’s reputation as a loon. It was done in his all-consuming pursuit of thrills, laughs, and Hedonistic pleasure. This was the main point of the book. Butler wasn’t going to dive deeply into Moon’s psyche to discover why the Loon acted as he did. No, this was supposed to be a riotous collection of all that craziness. And that, aside from not understanding verb tenses, is the main problem with this book. Story after story of predictable, and not always believable, mayhem becomes incredibly tedious. Tee-deee-us!

Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. On and on and on…

It is amusing at first, but after the 40th tale of drunkenness it’s just… Well, you know.

The book isn’t all bad. It does have a few moments when Butler comes close to humanizing Moon. There were times when the drummer would show some generosity to a down-and-outer when he thought no one was watching. There was the moment when Moon deeply regretted alienating and driving his wife, Kim, away. He treated her so very poorly, it’s a wonder she stayed with him as long as she did. And finally, at the end, Butler realized he couldn’t keep that kind of life going. It was time for him to escape the madness. Moon was terrified of losing his constant companion to the point of lashing out both verbally and physically at Butler, and ultimately ended up in a heap of tears. But, these moments are not enough to redeem this book.

I’m going to mention something Butler did not. In 1970, Moon was invited to a new pub. He attended with his entourage, which didn’t include Butler, and the brandies flowed. As the night progressed, members of his hangers-on noticed a group of skinheads who seemed displeased with the rich rock star. Repeated urges to leave early were ignored by Moon while the skinheads got drunker and angrier. Time was called and the group of angry skinheads decided to harass the rock star and his entourage as they tried to drive away in Moon’s fancy car. Moon’s driver and close friend Neil Boland got out of the vehicle to attempt to clear away the mob and a scuffle ensued. In the confusion, Moon ended up behind the wheel and drove the car away. He didn’t realize Boland was trapped underneath and dragged him to his death.

It was declared an accident.

Hey! We can’t include that story in the book. That would spoil the fun. It’s bad enough Moon dies in the end. Let’s not pile on, eh?

I know those who knew Keith Moon and worked with him loved him very much. They undoubtedly knew him to be more than he is depicted in this book. No one is that one dimensional. In the end, all that mindless attention-seeking and drunken madness was not hilarious to me. It was just sad.

Packing peanuts!

Update 7/14/17: It has been brought to my attention that although Dougal Butler was associated with The Who, specifically John Entwistle, he was not working for Keith Moon at the time of the accidental death of Neil Boland. This would explain why Butler did not include the tragic event.

Also, I’ve been told Butler is a nice man. That may well be, but he doesn’t exactly come across that way in the book.

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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!

Packing Peanuts!

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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!

Packing Peanuts!

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1981: Nine Great Alt Albums And One Album By The Who

Preceded by lists for 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 – 1989, my semi-regular series examining ten of my favorite alternative albums of a given year continues with 1981. 1981 wasn’t as abundant of a year for alternative music for me as the previous years I’ve written about have been. It took a bit of scraping to get a list of ten. In fact, I could only find nine that I knew and liked well enough, so I’m including an album by The Who to bring the list to ten.

One artist on this list would move into the mainstream soon enough and another was about to achieve super-stardom. However, I consider them both alternative enough to be included. There are two debuts and four second efforts on this list.

As always, this is my list, your results may vary.

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10) Talk Talk Talk – The Psychedelic Furs A friend and I bought tickets to see these guys in concert just because we liked their name. Right after buying the tickets, that friend picked up one of their albums and listening to it we knew we made the right decision. This isn’t that album, but it’s also really good. It is their second release and it features Pretty In Pink in its first incarnation. It became the band’s signature song when it was re-recorded and slightly altered for the movie it inspired.

Favorite track: Into You Like A Train

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9) Ghost In The Machine – The Police Yes, I know these guys were pretty popular by the time this album came out. It went to number 2 in America. Yes, I know that really does take them out of the alternative category, but I still think they had that alt vibe. Certainly with their next album, Synchronicity, they would become rock superstars. This album is a little on the dark and moody side with stand out tracks including Invisible Sun and Spirits in the Material World.

Favorite track: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

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8) Pleasant Dreams – Ramones The opening track had the Ramones declaring We Want The Airwaves in order to keep rock alive. Well, they never did get those airwaves. The music industry just never gave the Ramones their due. The album includes the song The KKK Took My Baby Away, which has been long rumored to have been Joey writing about fellow bandmate Johnny stealing his girlfriend. However, this rumor has been disputed.

Favorite track: Sitting In My Room

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7) Face Dances – The Who Hey, the way I look at it, if I can only find nine alternative albums for a year and there’s a Who album available, put it on the list. This was the legendary rock band’s first studio release after the death of Keith Moon. There were those who thought the band should have folded and, in my opinion, that thinking led to the unfavorable reaction to this record. Sure, the steady beat of Kenney Jones couldn’t hope to capture Moon’s mania, but there are still some pretty solid tracks on this one. And it has the best opening track since Who Next’s Baba O’Riley.

Favorite track: You Better You Bet

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6) Solid Gold – Gang Of Four I love the guitar work of Andy Gill. He is one of my favorite guitarist of all time and Solid Gold, the band’s second album, gives listeners plenty of his edgy, staccato, feedback-laden rhythm and lead guitar. Cheeseburger, If I Could Keep It For Myself, Paralysed, and Outside The Trains Don’t Run On Time are all cool songs. Lots of social commentary on this album.

Favorite track: He’d Send in the Army

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5) Magnets – The Vapors More than one-hit wonders to me, The Vapors only managed to produce two albums. This is their second effort and it’s pretty dark. It explores themes ranging from cult leaders to oppressive governments to police brutality to the assassinations of the Kennedys. There ain’t no Turning Japanese on this one. The album cover was illustrated by Where’s Waldo? artist Martin Handford.

Favorite track: Magnets

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4) Of Skins and Heart – The Church This was the debut album by this band out of Australia, which was more on the rocking and New Wave side than subsequent releases. It’s a very good first album with some great tracks including For A Moment We’re Strangers, Too Fast For You, and the epic Is This Where You Live. These guys would quickly become one of my favorite bands of the 80s.

Favorite track: The Unguarded Moment

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3) Pretenders II – The Pretenders It makes absolute sense to call this one Pretenders II, because it is the prefect follow up and companion to their self-titled debut album. It’s a continuation of the band’s tough (The Adultress, Bad Boys Get Spanked) and tender (I Go To Sleep, Birds Of Paradise) songs. There are also some straight up excellent rocking pop songs (Talk Of The Town, Day After Day). It wouldn’t be long after this release that the Pretenders would come to the attention of a wider audience.

Favorite track: Message Of Love

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2) Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash – The Replacements This is the second debut album on this list and it’s one of the best debuts ever. These Minneapolis rockers were in their raw, sloppy, hardcore phase. But there was still some excellent song writing going on, most notably of the track Johnny’s Gonna Die, songwriter Paul Westerberg’s lament about his rock hero, Johnny Thunders, was living too recklessly to live long. He didn’t.

Favorite track: I’m In Trouble

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1) My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – Brian Eno/David Bryne This is an endlessly fascinating album. Eno and Byrne who had worked together producing excellent albums by Talking Heads, took a break between Talking Heads albums to work on this project. It is a brilliant combination of found sounds, ambient and World music with electronics and voice sampling used as vocals. It is mesmerizing. Several musicians included Chris Frantz, Prairie Prince, and Robert Fripp lend a hand in the production of this landmark album.

Favorite track: The Jezebel Spirit

Packing Peanuts!

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