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!


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.


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!


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.


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!


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