Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Blackhawk #190 - What I Saved


   From my earliest days as a comic reader, I was a big fan of the Blackhawks.

   It's difficult to say why, because on paper, the whole idea sounds silly. 

   Seven pilots form a team named after their leader, Blackhawk. They all dress in identical black leather flight gear (except for Chop Chop, who thankfully by the '60s was no longer portrayed in the original, '40s racist version of a fighter from China). Each is from a different country, and each brings a different skill - and a distinct dialect - to the adventures.

    Of course, that would make it problematic today, when each member's catch phrases - Olaf's "Py Yiminy!" or Hendrickson's "Ach Himmel!" or Andre's "Sacre!" - would probably be seen as making fun of the people of their homeland. In reality, of course, it was just a shorthand way to make each character stand out.
 
  Blackhawk's origins are vague - he first appears fighting the Nazis in Poland, but he seems to be American. The rest of the team includes Chuck and Stanislaus.

   After the end of World War II, they continued fighting against criminals, aliens, monsters and other dangers with the occasional help of Lady Blackhawk

   Through teamwork and strategy they overcome every menace. For most of the book's original run, each issue featured three stories. I always thought that worked against the team, limiting them to these brief, 8-page adventures. (It certainly must have been a challenge for the writers, with few returning villains to use.) 

   I picked issue #190 (published in 1963) for this review because I have such fond memories of reading this one over and over again. And what a terrific cover!

   It includes these stories:

   "The Baron of Plunder" - The team investigates reports of a group of criminals dressing up as evil knights and laying waste to the countryside. It's up to the team to overcome the odds and stop the evildoers!

   "The Blackhawk Mascots vs. The Bogus Blackhawks" - Some criminals who manage to trap the team plan to take their place - but haven't reckoned with the team's mascots - a hawk and a chimp!

   "The Fantastic Human Starfish" - A powerful human starfish embarks on a crime spree and seems unstoppable, until Blackhawk takes drastic action!

   Though uncredited, the art is apparently by Dick Dillin as penciler and Charles Cuidera as inker - the two had a long run on this series and did an amazing job, creating easy-to-identify characters and telling the story cleverly and clearly. They were classic DC artists (working in the "house style"), and always at the peak of their profession. There are few artists today who could turn out such high quality work, in a comic featuring so many characters, on time, month after month. (There were giants in those days.)

   Back in the days when I attended comic book conventions (thankfully those events are coming back), I almost always picked up a Silver Age issue or two of Blackhawk (or at least I give it a good try). 

   The series wasn't cutting edge, but each comic was fun to read, filled with the manly adventures of a band of brothers - characters I loved as a kid. Heck, I'm still crazy about them. 

   It's a title that never fails to give me that warm nostalgic buzz - that's why I held onto all the Blackhawks I've bought over the years. Great memories! 

   (Continuing the series of posts that offer a look at the comics I kept when I sold most of my collection recently. This post includes segments from an essay written in 2012.)

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Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Eternals - Movie Review

 

   I finally got the chance to catch The Eternals at the local movie theatre.

   And.... I liked it!

   I'll admit that it's not my all-time favorite Marvel movie, but it also is really is not a typical, by-the-numbers sturm und drang superhero movie. 

   It leans on the original Jack Kirby concept (with some changes along the way - some I understand, some I'm not sure about) and draws heavily (and wisely) on the Neil Gaiman-written Eternals limited series.

   It works on an epic time scale, with locations all over the globe, and it takes its time unfolding the story, introducing the characters, setting up the conflict, etc. 

   Those who are looking for something to gig the movie on comment on the slow pace, but that's needed to give us time to get the lay of the land and sort out the large cast. 

   There are quite a few plot twists along the way, and a healthy dose of humor keeps it from becoming too grim and depressing.

    Best of all, it has heart (often in surprising places), and yes, some stunning action sequences.

   I think it helped going into this one not expecting the usual string of battles. There are loads of special effects on display, and a surprisingly thoughtful science fiction story being told.

   The Celestials are the big question mark in the story (boy, are they big), as cosmic gods overseeing the creation of the universe. Or are they? They bring up some big questions and we'll have to see how the Celestials - and the Eternals - change the Marvel Universe.

    Can't wait!

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Grade: A-

Monday, November 15, 2021

Daredevil #7 - What I Saved

 

   Here we have one of my all-time favorite comic books. Ever.

   I got this issue of Daredevil in trade from my neighborhood friend Bruce when I was very young. (I can tell, because he had the habit of writing his name on the cover - and it's right there by the newspaper headline.)

    I've held onto this issue tightly ever since, and it shows - the poor comic is terribly threadbare and barely holding together, but it's just a good a "read" as ever.

   Cover dated April 1965, this issue features the first appearance of Daredevil's red-and-black costume, courtesy of Hall of Fame artist Wally Wood. He's at the top of his game here (and boy, is that saying something), as he takes us from the undersea splendor of Atlantis to the middle of Manhattan, throwing in one of the greatest fight sequences ever just for fun. When it came to detailed art, dramatic poses, powerful characters and amazing battles, Wood couldn't be beat.

   Written by Stan Lee, the story begins with Namor the Sub-Mariner being coaxed into finding a way to allow Atlantis to find its rightful place in the surface world. Rather than declare war, Namor decides to try to find a peaceful solution - so he goes to New York to hire a lawyer so he can sue the human race!

   By an amazing coincidence, he arrives at the law firm of Nelson and Murdock, but doesn't appreciate their advice (good luck suing the entire Surface World). 

   Namor decides to force the surface men to take him to court by going on a rampage in the town (obviously Namor is a bit impulsive), which brings him into conflict with Daredevil.

   The contrast between the characters is entertaining all by itself - Daredevil is light-hearted, joking, but intent on protecting the city, while Namor is a noble but destructive force of nature - and Lee and Wood get the maximum out of the humorous potential of Namor being a "fish out of water," as he struggles to cope with revolving doors and elevators, ultimately dealing with them in a straightforward (if destructive) manner.  

   When DD and Namor first fight, it's a relatively short battle, and as expected, Namor has little trouble dealing with the Man Without Fear. Namor surrenders to the authorities and awaits his day in court, when urgent news forces him to leave (as he proves the adage, "Iron bars do not a prison make"). 

   Fearing Namor will hurt innocent bystanders, Daredevil again tries to stop him, and stages a battle that's amazing for its ingenuity and for the incredible courage and determination exhibited by DD.

   It's easy to be a hero when you have the advantage, but as Daredevil shows here, it takes something extra to stand up against an opponent who much more powerful.

   I won't spoil the ending, but up to this issue Daredevil had always been just another comic book character. After reading this adventure, I thought of him as a true hero.

   (This post is part of a series about the comic books I kept when I recently sold most of my collection. This post includes part of an essay written in January 2010.)

Grade: A+

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Detective Comics #301 - What I Saved

 

   (Continuing the series about the comics I saved when I recently sold most of my collection.)

   For modern comics fans, it's not cool to talk favorably about the Batman stories from the late '50s / early '60s.

   Those were "my" Batman stories, the ones I read when I first got interested in comic books, and I held onto a few of those often silly and off kilter - but darned entertaining - comics.

   At the time, Batman wasn't the campy figure from the '66 TV show, or a Dark Detective embittered by the deaths of his parents.

   Instead, he was simply a hero wearing a striking costume, fighting against crime and assorted menaces - including lots of aliens, monsters and strange scientific foes.

   Detective Comics #301 is a good example. In pursuing some crooks at a synthetic gem factory, Batman is exposed to a strange treatment that leaves him glowing red with intense heat and unable to breathe normal air.

   Can't let a little thing like that slow down a crimefighter! He devises a special airship that allows him to keep fighting the bad guys. But when the city is in danger, he puts his life on the line to protect Gotham. 

   You know, like a hero.

   The backup story is truly silly. John Jones, the Manhunter from Mars (better know today as J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter), is shocked when a group of Martian criminals turn up on Earth and start wreaking havoc. J'onn returns to Mars and immediately... runs home and visits his (white-haired) mother and (bald and wrinkled) father! He then discovers an Earthman who's traveled to the red planet and is using fire to take over. 

   None of these stories will ever make "best of" lists, but they're solid little adventures from a simpler time. 

   They may not be cool, but I love 'em!

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Grade: B


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Brave and the Bold #31: Cave Carson - What I Saved


   (Continuing my series about the comics I saved when I sold most of my collection recently. This post includes elements written in 2010.)

   I think... I mean, I can't be absolutely sure, because I was, like, 4 years old at the time... but if memory can be trusted, this is the comic that first got me hooked on reading comic books.

   I learned to read at a very young age, thanks to my Mom and my two older brothers helping me along (I was reading comic books before I started Kindergarten).

   Comics were always around the house, but I don't remember any issues. I have vague memories of Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny comics, but that's all.

   Then one summer my cousin Jonathan (and his family) visited my Grandparents, and he had brought along some comic books. He let me read one of his adventure comics - and I was hooked. 

   I remember that it starred Cave Carson, and that there was a giant lava creature. Cave didn't have the most enduring career in comics - he appeared in a grand total of eight comics in the '60s - five times in The Brave and the Bold, and three times in Showcase. (He's had quite a few guest appearances since then, and recently he finally got his own mini-series - though it was an odd bit of work)

   Quite a few years ago I tracked down this issue at a comics convention, and it does seem to match my memory of that pivotal comic. It carries a cover date of August-September 1960, which matches the time frame about right.

    What I didn't realize is that (according to Wikipedia) this issue was the first appearance of my old pal Cave, and this issue was reportedly created by writer France Herron and artist Bruno Premiani (there are no credits listed). 

   What really amazes me is how well this issue holds up after (gulp) 60 years. 

   Oh sure, the story is over the top - it follows the underground adventures of Cave and his friends Christie Madison (a geologist) and Bulldozer Smith (a former sandhog, which is a construction worker who works underground on a variety of excavation projects). 

   Using their vehicle, the Mighty Mole, they explore the subterranean world, encountering strange monsters, including dinosaurs, menacing plants, lava creatures and a magnetic monster!

   The story is a fun ride as the team races from one danger (and narrow escape) to the next, all beautifully illustrated by the masterful (and woefully under-appreciated) Premiani.

   There are no superheroics on display, but there was plenty of action and the promise of more amazing worlds to discover. After reading this again, I can see why I was hooked!  

   So thanks, Cave, for getting me off on the right foot!

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Grade: A


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Astro City #1/2 - What I Saved

   (Continuing the series about the comics I saved when I sold most of my collection recently. This post includes sections from an essay in 2015.)

   As much as I hate admitting having, well, human emotions, last night I was eating dinner at a restaurant, reading a book on Kindle, and I reached a surprising, sweet and touching moment, and my eyes started to fill with tears. 

   Fortunately, no one noticed, and I kept it together - but it made me think about the rare times that a comic book has caused such an emotional reaction.

   For example...

    The seamy underbelly of comics collecting - especially in the 1990s - was the exclusive comic, available only through special orders, extra expense or some such subterfuge.

   I usually ignored that sort of thing, but yes, I admit, I occasionally broke down and put in an order. And sometimes, it was worth it.

   Case in point: Kurt Busiek's Astro City #1/2, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorite comics.

   It tells the story of Michael Tenicek, a regular guy in a regular job who has an unusual problem - he keeps dreaming about a beautiful woman. He feels a connection to her - but he can't figure out who she is, or where he's seen her before.

   It's a mystery that consumes his life, until the answer arrives in the form of the mysterious Hanged Man, a mystic guardian in Astro City.

   He tells Michael the story behind the dream - and forces him to make a painful choice.

   It's a heart-breaking story that's sweet and touching and unforgettable - and yes, it brought genuine tears to the eyes of this grizzled comic book veteran.

   It was just another day at the office for the team of writer Kurt Busiek and artists Brent E. Anderson (here with inker Will Blyberg). They've teamed up on an incredible number of wonderful stories in the wide-ranging Astro City series, and this may be the best of the run - and that's really saying something.

   This story has been reprinted elsewhere, but I treasure this issue - as much as I hate to admit it, it was well worth the hassle and expense of the original order.

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Grade: A+

Friday, October 15, 2021

Amazing Spider-Man #15 - What I Saved

 

   (Continuing the series about the comics I saved when I sold most of my collection - this is adapted from a post for 2010.)

   It's easy to understand why I held onto this issue - it's worn down to within an inch of its life (and thus has minimal resale value) - and also, this is the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man I bought.

   Back when I was in Elementary School (when dinosaurs walked the Earth) my friends and I often talked about comics, and one of them - no idea who (John? Ben? Don? Doug, maybe?) - mentioned that he had tried Spider-Man's comic and really liked it.

   I had seen it in newsstands before - I distinctly remember seeing issue #9, for instance - but while I had been picking up Marvel comics like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, I had resisted Spider-Man .

   The character just seemed strange, with an odd costume - and the art was out of the ordinary. 

   Then I saw this issue on the shelf at the Nitro Newsstand and decided to give it a try. (Thank goodness!) I was immediately hooked.

   The issue starts with a quick introduction to The Chameleon, who narrowly avoids being captured by Spider-Man. To deal with Spidey, that villain contacts his old friend Kraven, a big game hunter who is wily, loaded with weapons and eager to tackle the ultimate challenge - to track and capture Spider-Man.

   It sounds like a standard storyline, but Kraven proves to be far more resourceful than you might expect. He fights Spidey to a standstill in their first meeting, and manages to use a potion that leaves our hero shaken and woozy. 

   When they meet again, Kraven has a series of clever traps, including a pair of metal cuffs he clamps on Spider-Man's wrist and ankle - the cuffs are magnetized, and it takes all of Spidey's strength to keep them apart. 

   But the issue isn't just about action - it includes Peter Parker dealing with problems at school, at the Daily Bugle (where his girlfriend Betty is jealous of Liz Allen), and at home (where Aunt May is pushing him to go on a blind date).

   I was just amazed, reading that issue. The story was like no super-hero comic I'd ever read, loaded with lots of plot twists, action, drama and humor, as Spidey reeled off a series of genuinely funny comments while fighting for his life. 

   The art took some getting used to, because Ditko's style was so different from anyone working in comics in the early '60s. His figures were rubbery, every character had a unique look. I wasn't sure when I first started reading that issue, but by the time I got to the last page, I was sold on Ditko.

   Reading that comic was like having someone turn the lights on - I could see that comics could be so much more, and I was an instant fan of Spider-Man. 

   So to whichever one of my friends who made the suggestion to try Spider-Man in 1964, a long-overdue thanks!

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Grade: A+