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+

Monday, October 11, 2021

Justice League of America #21 - What I Saved

 

   (Continuing the series about the comics I kept when I recently sold a large part of my collection.)

   I've been reading DC Comics since I first started reading comics (in the early '60s), and I've had different "favorites" over the years, including The Flash, Green Lantern, Adam Strange and Hawkman - but the book I've probably enjoyed the most for the longest time is the Justice League of America.

   The team was based on the original Justice Society group from the 1940s, during an interview I asked Julius Schwartz why they changed "Society" to "League." He told me that the old term was outdated, but that kids were familiar with the term "League" from sports - there were football leagues, baseball leagues, etc.

   Whatever the name, the idea of gathering all the biggest superheroes into a "knights of the round table" gathering was a hit - and a great bargain for kids, since you got so many heroes in one comic.

   This issue was the one that really knocked it out of the park for me. (The picture here is of my actual copy, which was obviously read and re-read into tatters.)

   The story brings together the JSA and the JLA - heroes of two versions of the world (Earth-1 and Earth-2) for the first time, although the Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick) had crossed over with the Earth-1 Flash (Barry Allen) before this.

   To young readers, here was a treasure trove of "new" heroes to meet - and yes, as a kid I had no trouble understanding the idea of a parallel Earth (it was an old science fiction trope, after all), and it just added more depth to DC's arsenal.

   Eventually I would become more of a fan of Marvel's comics, and my old DC favorites would fall by the wayside - but the JLA never faltered, and I kept buying it until... well, actually, I'm still buying it. 

   This issue was a pivotal event in DC's history - and for this young reader. 

   I'll keep reading this one until it returns to the dust.

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Grade: A


   

   

   

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Guy Gardner: Warrior #29: What I Saved

 


   Hey, it's a sideways cover!

   I'm a big fan of the underdog (hey, that's why I cheered on the Mets for years) - and that's probably why I was drawn to Guy Gardner, the guy who was runner-up for the "Green Lantern from Earth" job (Hal Jordan got the gig), and even though he eventually got his own ring, he was always treated as a second-tier character in GL and Justice League International.

   When he finally got his own comic, his adventures were written by Chuck Dixon, who excels at that kind of real-world, bare knuckles kind of hero.

   When Dixon stepped away, the editors wisely handed the reins to Beau Smith, a writer from the same rough-and-tumble, take-no-prisoners school of action.

   But almost immediately, Guy ran into what I call "crossover problems." The storyline in the GL book that had Hal go crazy and destroy the Green Lantern Corps (the less said about that storyline the better) also meant that Guy could no longer carry a Power Ring.

   Thankfully, Beau and a series of gifted artists didn't back down from the challenge - instead, they turned the volume up to "11" and started a series of wild adventures that gave Guy new, alien-based powers that allowed him to transform his body into any kind of weapon he could imagine.

   So that made for lots of issues filled with over the top action - but the creative team also knew when to throw a change-up at the readers.

   That's what makes this issue so much fun. Oh, there's some fighting in there, but most of the issue is turned over to a party featuring almost every hero in the DC Universe (and quite a few you would never have expected). It's all to celebrate the opening of Guy's new bar, and what a guest list! 

   Where else would you find Supergirl talking to Congo Bill, or Judo Master and Thunderbolt sharing stories over a beer?

   Drawn by Phil Jimenez, it's loaded with an insane number of characters (as he channels George Perez in the best possible sense).

   The comic manages something that's mighty rare these days - a funny story that has you smiling all the way along.

   The Warrior series was like that from start to finish - a wildly unpredictable and entertaining series that kept you guessing throughout. 

   We need more like it!

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Grade: A

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Bat Lash #2 - What I Saved

 

   While I was never a huge fan of western comics (I like them a lot, but I was more of a superhero fan). 

   But I was certainly a fan of some of the writers and artists who worked on them, and I'd count artist Nick Cardy as one of the best.

   Whenever I attended a comic con, I was always looking for issues of the short-lived Bat Lash series, and at one Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC, about 10 years ago I found this issue - and happily, Nick Cardy was in attendance.

   The con I was attending was going to be closing soon for the day, so I stopped by Artist's Alley in hopes of finding him - and like any pro, there he was, working on a sketch or commission.

   I was always amazed to find a giant of the industry not surrounded by adoring fans, but I saw my chance and took it, and walked up to him.

   I said, "Excuse me, Mr. Cardy - I was wondering..." He cut me off, obviously thinking I was about to ask about a sketch. "Sorry," he said a bit gruffly, "they're getting ready to shut down, so I can't take anymore jobs today."

   I was worried that I had stepped on his toes here, but I pressed on. "Oh no, I just wanted to see if you had time to autograph this comic."

   I set the comic in front of him and his eyes immediately lit up, and a big smile broke out on his face. "Oh! I love this issue of Bat Lash!"

   He immediately launched into the funny story of how they had called him, needing an issue to keep on schedule - but they didn't have a script ready yet. He laughed - "I told them, no problem - I'll just write it myself! So I put it together in record time and took it into the office - I was really proud of that job and it was so much fun!"

   With that he signed the cover and handed it over. He said, "Thanks!"

   I walked away with a smile on my face - I'm always amazed at how nice so many comics creators are. They sit above us like deities, handing down dazzling displays of their talent for mere mortals to enjoy - how great is it, to meet someone with so much talent and humor and heart? 

    It made my day - so yeah, I'll be hanging on to that memory - and this issue - for a long, long time.

Grade: A

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Monday, September 27, 2021

Mystery in Space - What I Saved

 

   When I was just a tad my Aunt Janet would sometimes look after me. It was always a treat because her son Jamie, who was a few years older than me, had some cool toys and some comic books I could read.

   When I discovered this issue, it was burned into my memory - a giant cloud was punching a hero flying with a rocket pack? No wonder I became an instant fan after reading issue 81 of Mystery in Space, which starred Adam Strange.

   (I always wondered why the character didn't appear in Strange Adventures - something DC would correct when it reprinted his adventures in the late '70s.)

   The idea of a normal human becoming a hero on a distant planet, and defeating all kinds of bizarre menaces with his intelligence and quick thinking had me hooked - and when you add the stunning art by Carmine Infantino, I was a fan for life!

   The comic's emphasis on science even helped out in school. In issue #84 Adam faces the Dust Devil, a living sandstorm (the weather just didn't like him at all), and he realized that the creature's weakness was static electricity, so he rigged a trap using a Wimshurst Machine - a real-world device that uses a spinning wheel to generate electricity.

   In Junior High (these days they call it Middle School) a friend built one for a science project, and I said, "Cool, a Wimshurst Machine." He was stunned. "How did you know that?"

   I don't think I ever admitted that I learned it while reading a comic book.

   I only have about 30 issues of prime Adam Strange adventures in my collection, but I'm hanging onto them. 

    I wonder if Jamie still has his issue? Nah.

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Grade: A



Friday, September 24, 2021

Fantastic Four #35 (60th Anniversary Issue)

 

   While I don't buy most new comics (for lots of reasons), I couldn't let this milestone pass by unnoticed, and the (once) World's Greatest Comic hit a major milestone this month, celebrating 60 years since the first issue appeared in 1961.

   The Fantastic Four comic has been through lots of ups and downs over the years, having been launched mightily for the first 100 issues (or so) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

   They set a towering standard that the series continues to draw on, and many tremendous creators did their part along the way to keep the series going.

   This issue offers a nice nod to some of those high spots, as the team faces a time-spanning menace from Kang the Conqueror and his many alternate identities.

   Written by Dan Slott, the story is a nice nod to the past and future of the team, wonderfully drawn by John Romita Jr. 

   I have a few quibbles with the story, but they're not worth mentioning (and would take us into spoiler territory anyway), but it's an entertaining look back at the past and a strong modern-day adventure, too, with some nice nods to a certain recent TV mini-series.

   The FF has been hit-and-miss with me in recent years, but it's been good enough to keep me picking up the new issues, and not many series can say that. 

    They're the first family of comics and, when handled properly, can provide the kind of high adventure and heart that any fan should love. 

   Long may they reign!

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Grade: A


   


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Groo - What I Saved

 

(Continuing the series about the comics I kept when I recently sold most of my collection - and why.)

    Mom always called my comic books "funny books."

     "Mom," I would groan, "They're not funny. They're adventure stories."

   Of course, that was before the first appearance of Groo!

    Created by Sergio Aragon├ęs along with Mark Evanier (who co-writes and scripts, I guess - it's never quite clear), here was a book that combined adventure with actual, laugh-out-loud humor.

   The stupidest barbarian of all time has had a long career, parading through many comic book companies and outlasting a couple of them - he's been published by Pacific Comics, Eclipse, Marvel, Image and finally seems to have a permanent home at Dark Horse.

   It's an amazing achievement, for a (more or less) independent comic to continue after hundreds of issues - but Groo and his creative team are indefatigable. The stories are an amazing mix of humor, satire, action and unbelievable attention to detail.

   And can we all just agree that, given the passing of Jack Kirby, Sergio is now the King of Comics? Is there anyone who has created more top quality comics, an incredible volume of work, has spread more joy and earned so much love from fans around the world? Just give him the crown already!

   And I should admit an ulterior motive here - just to prove how crazy this creative team is, pick up your copy of the Groo vs Conan collection and flip over to the back page - there you'll find a pull quote from this humble blog! How can you help but love a comic with such a deliciously lowbrow taste in reviews?



   So yes, when I pared back my collection, I kept a tight grip on my complete collection of Groo, a timeless series with endless potential. They'll have to pry that series from my cold dead hand! (Ahem, hopefully not anytime soon.)

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Grade: A