Thursday, April 30, 2020

Detective Comics #469 and #470 (1977)

   We take requests here at Chuck's Comic of the Day, and after a review of one of Steve Englehart's issues of Justice League, I was asked to review more of his DC work - so let's run down his iconic issues of Batman in Detective Comics.

   His first issue was issue #469, teaming him up with artist Walt Simonson, already established as one of the bright stars in comics. Here he's inked by Al Milgrom, which struck me as an odd pairing - but Milgrom actually blunts some of Simonson's excesses and brings his art more in line with mainstream DC at the time.

   (One can debate whether or not this is a good thing. I'd prefer pure Simonson, myself, but I was happy to get his work here.)

   The team worked on two issues together, which made up a single story (which is why I've lumped them together in this review). It featured Batman facing down a new character, Dr. Phosphorous - a horrific, glowing skeleton whose touch burns and poisons whatever it touches.

   I thought this was a great addition to Batman's gallery of villains - after all, he's powerful, intelligent and mentally unbalanced (the Arkham trifecta) - but the character never really caught on, and only made a few more appearances.

   But the fun in these issues is watching Englehart start moving supporting characters and events into place that will play out over the rest of his run on the title.

   We meet Boss Rupert Thorn, the corrupt politician trying to take over Gotham City - and Bruce Wayne meets Silver St. Cloud, the stunning and intelligent woman who would become his love interest.

   The key pieces were in place, the stage was set - and with the next issue, Batman would reach new heights!

Grade: B+


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

World's Finest Comics Archives Vol. 2 (2001)

   I've been whittling away at the towering stack of books I picked up a year or so back when the local chain Ollie's had a huge discount on (mostly) DC Comics collections.

   How good were the deals? This Archive Edition of DC's World's Finest Comics is cover priced at $49.95 (and that was in 2001). Ollie's sold it to me for $6.99.

   What a treasure at such a small price!

   This book includes over 200 pages of classic stories from January 1957 to May 1959, and they're all these 13-page gems drawn by the amazing Dick Sprang and written by Edmond Hamilton (the beloved science fiction writer) and Bill Finger (all he did was create Batman - with some help from Bob Kane, maybe).

   The stories all center around the team of Superman, Batman and Robin, and they showcase the difficulty of teaming the world's most powerful character with an extraordinary (if human) guy with some great hardware. It takes some clever writing to get over that hurdle!

   Many of the stories involve powers being switched, or someone gaining powers unexpectedly, but they're all clever and solid little tales - oh, and Batman never takes a back seat to his much-more-powerful friend, Superman.

   The art by Sprang is a delight that holds up well today, filled with amazing energy, dynamic angles and super-feats. Sprang has always been one of my all-time favorite DC artists, and these stories demonstrate why he was ahead of his time.

   I don't know if Ollie's will ever have another sale like that one (it's a source of anger for some fans, especially the ones that don't have a branch nearby - and the comic shop owners who feel that DC undercut their business by dumping the back stock on a discount store) - but I'm grateful I was able to score this book (which I missed when it was first released) - it's loaded with pure gold!

Grade: A


Friday, April 24, 2020

Blue Baron #3.3

   It's typical for comic books to imitate the newest and latest trends, but thankfully there are still titles out there that take a classic approach, focusing on storytelling, great art and likable characters.

   That's what you'll find in the Blue Baron, a title from the Sitcomics company.

   It provides a great twist on the "kid becomes a grownup superhero" concept. In this case, the kid and the Baron have inadvertently switched minds - so the 300-year-old Baron is trying to cope with being trapped in the body of a 13-year-old boy.

   Neither one is taking it well. 

   Young Ernie (in the Baron's form) finds himself fighting for his life against demons and supervillains, while the Baron (in teen form) must fend off the affections of a classmate.

   The script by Darin Henry is fast, action-packed and very funny. 

   The art is by veteran Ron Frenz, and as always he does an amazing job crafting everything from demon-filled action sequences, some surprisingly tender moments and terrific designs for a small army of characters. It's great to see him where he belongs - creating great comics!

   The comic feels like a terrific Bronze Age book and any long-time fan is sure to enjoy it. 


Grade: A-


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Operation: Silver Moon

  Physical copies of comics may be difficult to land right now, but luckily we can still order graphic novels or tap into digital comics (and there are signs that the comics shop shutdown may be ending soon. Maybe.)

   Here's a recent graphic novel that has a lot of fun with some classic horror movie tropes - it's called Operation: Silver Moon.

   Set during World War II, it follows a special American agent named Lupus who has a distinct advantage over the Nazis he faces: he's also a werewolf!

    This has the wonderful advantage of allowing him to cut loose violently against some truly terrible opponents! And when the bad guys track down a powerful mystical weapon in the Carpathian Mountains, Lupus finds himself squaring off against both Nazis - and a powerful vampire!

   The story by Bobby Nash provides lots of action and just enough humor (and yes, humanity) to keep the main character likable and relatable.

   The art is by Rick Johnson, and there are flashes of brilliance in there as he draws in a style that seems to be influenced by Paul Gulacy. He keeps the action fast and furious and always in motion!

   The graphic novel is a fun mix of genres with enough plot twists to keep you on your toes, and all the action you'd expect if you caught this story at a movie theater!


Grade: A


Friday, April 17, 2020

Blackhawk #219 (1966)

    Here you see the last comic in my house.

   Well, to be specific, it was the last comic in my house that I haven't read yet.

   When comic shipments were shut down, I had about a dozen comics I'd picked up in a recent visits to a local comics shop. 

   I wanted the last one I read to be somewhat meaningful, and one of my "early favorite" series when I was young was Blackhawk, which followed the then-modern adventures of the World War II-era team.

   The leader was a man known only as Blackhawk, and with his six team members, each representing a different country, they fought bad guys, giant robots, aliens and assorted other menaces using their fleet of jets, helicopters, submarines and assorted other gadgets.

   It was one of the titles I was drawn to when I first got into comics in the early '60s, and it's always been a favorite - so to this day I look for a back issue whenever I visit a convention or comics shop. 

   I probably shouldn't admit it - these days the team is something of a pariah in comics. (And when did we last see them, now that I mention it?)

    That's because the focus was on each hero's nationality, and each had an exaggerated speech pattern that reflected that background - so Andre (from France) said "Mais Oui" a lot. Stanislaus (from Sweden) said things like "It ban a hot time at the old town tonight, eh?" You get the idea.

   It was great shorthand to help each character stand out, and certainly there was no malice indicated (they were all heroes, after all). But today's audience, ever sensitive to any perceived insult, might not be so accepting.

   As for this issue - well, it sticks to the team's formula. It introduces Andre's cousin from South America, Cisco, who looks and sounds like the '60s image of a man from South America - dark skin, exaggerated features, and he doesn't speak English at all, so Andre must translate.

   Cisco wants to be a member of the team, but seems to be cursed, as his mistakes have dire consequences for the team.

   But the bad guy is an evil scientist (named King Zoom - I swear I am not making this up) who doesn't pose much of a threat, as he creates animal-based costumes for his henchmen. 

   There's also a backup story that's loaded with nonsense about amnesia drugs and a member of the team trying to kill Blackhawk - pretty shallow stuff.

   To be fair, this issue falls at a time when the series was faltering badly. Superheroes were getting all the attention, and nine issues after this one, the ill-fated "Junk-Heap Heroes" storyline would very nearly kill the team off (in a misguided attempt to save it).

   Perhaps the idea had run its course, and perhaps they were just out of good stories to tell.

   It's a shame, because an international team made up of highly-skilled fighters tacking international menaces should have lots of potential. The team was all about friendship and fighting for justice - and that's why, despite its faults, this is a series I love and will continue to seek out, as long as outlets for comics exist.

   But this issue is not a great place to begin. But for me, for now, it's the end.

  (Time to hit the archives  - and digital comics.)

Grade: C


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Fantastic Four Annual #4 - Classic Comics

   During the 1960s, Marvel gave fans a wonderful treat every summer, as it published Annuals for its biggest titles - and filled them with amazing stories!

   The first Fantastic Four annual featured Atlantis attacking New York City! The second annual gave us the origin of Doctor Doom! The third annual took us to Reed and Sue's wedding (and guest starred everyone)!

   For the fourth annual (published in 1966), Lee, Kirby and Sinnott answered a question longtime fans had been asking since the team's first appearance: whatever happened to the Golden Age Human Torch?

   Being an android, that character didn't age and couldn't really die, so he (it?) was revived by the Mad Thinker and forced to attack the modern, teenage hero carrying his name.

   This isn't quite the classic readers might have expected - it ends abruptly and it's mostly given over to a knock-down, drag-out fight between the fiery heroes - but as always, no one choreographed a fight scene better than Kirby.

   There's plenty of humor and pathos along the way, too - and this issue set the stage for several future adventures, including the birth of a certain android Avenger.

   These annuals were such a treat! A new mind-blowing story and a couple of classic reprints (the Hulk vs the FF and the Avengers)!

  And all for a quarter - what a bargain!

Grade: B+


Monday, April 13, 2020

Fantastic Four #53 - Classic Comics

   Ten years ago I write this review of Fantastic Four #52, which featured the first appearance of the Black Panther.

   It's a great issue, but another comic that is a long-time favorite of mine is the very next issue, which provided an origin (mostly) for Marvel's first black hero.

   It's also loaded with over-the-top action sequences and a new villain who's still bouncing around the Marvel Universe.

   T'Challa, having mended fences with Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny (after duking it out with them last issue), reveals that he is the king of the hidden land known as Wakanda. 

    Using the secret resource known as Vibranium, he has crafted a kingdom with advanced technology, educated himself at the finest universities, and uses his Panther powers to defend his kingdom.

   He's been preparing for the return of the man known as Klaw - who 10 years before killed T'Challa's father. Klaw's return includes attacks by strange, giant, artificial animals - all red in color and destructive in nature - so the FF fights the creatures while the Panther confronts Klaw.

   It's amazing to realize how rich in ideas these stories are. Lee and Kirby throw out ideas on practically every page: secret kingdoms, mysterious metals, strange creatures, high-tech gizmos, and all in service to a story loaded with tragedy, nobility, a desperate fight, a story of revenge, and lots of humor and heart.

   In other words, a typical Fantastic Four story!

Grade: A



Thursday, April 9, 2020

Fantastic Four #55 - Classic Comics

   Did I ever tell you about the time I gave a story idea to Stan and Jack?

   I was a huge fan of the Fantastic Four in the 1960s (which is only natural, since it was "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!"), and by the time the first Inhumans story wrapped up, I was moved to do something I had never done before: I wrote a letter.

   I have no memory of what deathless prose it included, but I do remember making a suggestion: since Johnny (the Human Torch) Storm was so desperate to find a way to pass through the impenetrable Negative Barrier that covered the land of the Inhumans, wouldn't Lockjaw (Crystal's pet dog) be able to teleport past the barrier?

   Imagine my shock, several months later (to be specific, in this issue), when Johnny and his friend Wyatt Wingfoot, while traveling to the Great Refuge (home of the Inhumans), run into Lockjaw! When I read that page at the ripe old age of 10, my jaw fell open! They had used my idea!

   Of course, once I calmed down a bit, I realized the whole idea was improbable. Surely they worked on these issues months ahead of time, and using Lockjaw was an obvious solution - so they probably didn't need any help from me. (Talk about an understatement!)

   The issue is, of course, a classic. By 1966 Lee and Kirby (and Sinnott) were turning out classic stories like a machine, and this is another classic, as the Thing and the Silver Surfer (in his first appearance since the Galactus story) have a misunderstanding and get into a knock-down, drag-out, abandoned-building-destroying, sound-effects-and Kirby-Krackle-infused donnybrook that's a visual treat, loaded with humor and pathos and power.

    Of course, it was missing something important - my letter should have been printed on the letters page! Alas, it never appeared, so I gave up on letter writing.

   Stan and Jack managed to struggle along without me!

Grade: A+



Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Justice League of America #144 - Classic Comics

     The team's first appearance in The Brave and the Bold in 1960 neglected to include an origin, something issue #9 of the Justice League of America (in 1962) finally resolved - or did it? 

   Jump all the way to 1977 for the team's real origin, in one of my all-time favorite issues of the JLA.

   Writer Steve Englehart's stay at DC Comics was short but stunning as he crafted some of the all-time best stories for both the JLA and Batman (in Detective Comics)

   This issue was a love letter to fans of DC's Silver Age, because it managed to guest star almost every hero in DC's comics at the time. 

   One must assume that artist Dick Dillin (a vastly-underrated work horse who turned in an amazing 12 years drawing the JLA) must've fainted when he read the script, loaded with every hero under the sun circa 1959!

   The story has the Martian Manhunter revealing the true origin of the team - and the reason why it was kept a secret. It follows an alien attack on the Earth that draws the attention of - well, everyone. 

   To be specific: Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter, the Blackhawks, the Challengers of the Unknown, Congorilla, Robotman, Plastic Man, the Vigilante, Rex the Wonder Dog, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen!

   They split into teams to search for the menace - and the story that unfolds is both surprising and touching (and we'll not spoil it here). 

   Doing a retcon like this is a tricky bit of business, but Englehart was a master of such tales - and the whole issue is just a delight for long-time fans.

   And here we'll stop with the origins of the JLA. There would be more updates in the future, spinning out of the Crisis on Infinite Earths series and later reality-changing events, until the "New 52" tossed it all out for yet another fresh start.

   But this is "my" origin for the JLA - a story with heart and humor and heroes aplenty!

Grade: A+


Monday, April 6, 2020

Justice League of America #9 - Classic Comics

   In our last post we talked about the first appearance of the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28 - but though it was the team's first adventure, it did not explain their origin.

   Of course, in the early '60s there wasn't much concern about continuity - they were focused on delivering a monthly adventure to fill each issue.

    But two years after that first appearance, the powers that be must have tired of those pesky fan letters and finally delivered the origin of the team. 

   The team gathers at their secret headquarters (in a cozy cave somewhere) where, at Snapper Carr's request, they recount their first meeting exactly three years ago.

   Each member encounters a strange alien creature, who are fighting a war - with Earth as their battleground - in hopes of winning the throne on a distant planet. Each alien plans to transform Earth creatures into forms that mimic their biology - so the heroes must battle creatures made of stone, fire, wood, glass, diamond, mercury, and a giant yellow bird (?). 

   It's all pretty strange, and the heroes must face the creatures first singly, and then as a team. It's surprising how brutal the heroes are - after all, these are apparently alien forms, not robots - and more than one creature is destroyed by a League member.

   But let's not get caught up in the details - it's mostly a fun and imaginative series of challenges and puzzles for the League to face - oh, and Superman gets to deliver a classically bad joke. 

   Something I hadn't noticed before is: who actually names the League? I'll spoil this one point, as Batman suggests they form "a club or society" (a nice nod to their Golden Age predecessors), but it's the Flash who suggests, "A League against evil! Our purpose will be to uphold justice..."

   So there you go, the origin of the team is explained. They even sing "Happy Birthday" to the team at the end (like ya do). 

   But... that's still not the real origin of the team. We'll explain that... tomorrow.

Grade: A-


Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Brave and the Bold #28 - Classic Comics

   Although I've been reading comics for a long time, this issue predates my comics reading days (I was just 4 years old in 1960), but it's still one of my all-time favorites (I have it in more than one reprint version).

   The Brave and the Bold #28 marked the first appearance ever of the Justice League of America, and some 30 years later I had the chance to interview editor Julius Schwartz and I asked him why they changed the name of the team from the Golden Age version, the Justice Society of America.

   He said that they thought "Society" was too old-fashioned, but all kids knew what a "League" was, thanks to sports like the National Football League - so they went with that.

   Superman and Batman manage just the briefest of cameos in this first outing as they're off on other adventures, so the job of dealing with the powerful Starro (an alien starfish) falls to Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter (with help from Snapper Carr). 

   It's a fun issue that would serve as the template for JLA adventures for years (and decades) to come - the heroes face danger as individuals or small groups, then join together at the end for their ultimate victory.

   Snapper Carr is the obligatory kid sidekick, but despite his annoying speech pattern (to be fair, it was annoying in the '60s, too), he actually plays an important part in this story (if by accident). 

   Writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky are not always treated kindly by reviewers - but they managed to create fanciful, entertaining adventures with a small army of characters, stories always told with great skill and (this is much more important than most realize) they were on schedule - and there's an ability some modern creators could stand to learn.

   They brought a lot of joy my way as I grew up reading these adventures, and was I glad to finally read this issue in reprint a few years after it was originally published - even though it's not actually the first adventure of the JLA.

   How can that be? We'll talk about that in the next post.

Grade: A


Friday, April 3, 2020

The Road Ahead

   So it's tough to keep the ol' blog going when there are no new comics being published.

   But hey, if I was a quitter I'd never have written in this space for more than 10 years (ok, 11 and a half).

   It was tempting to just fold up the tents and steal away into the night. I asked a friend his advice, and he said, "Go back to reviewing classic comics."

   For quite a few years I regularly mixed in reviews of comics from days gone by, and I'm not sure why I stopped doing those - but it's good advice. 

   So give me a day or two to get organized, and I'll start up some classic reviews, looking at fondly-remembered comics from the good old days - you know, when they actually published comic books.

   Hopefully those days will be back soon - but in the meantime, we'll do our best to keep thing moving forward.

   As always, thanks for your patience - and thanks for reading!