Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Inaugural Post - Would You Rather...?

Doug: As we do around here from time to time, we'll throw something up against the wall and see if it sticks. The conversation prompt we're going to test drive is a play on that wonderful teenage game "Would you rather...?" For example, as I was searching for some images to use in the logo to the right, I came across one meme that queried, "Would you rather lick the pole on the subway or would you rather let five people on the subway kiss you?" Man... talk about a choiceless choice!

Doug: We'll take it just a bit easier on you here on the BAB. Today I'm going to ask you about two of the most famous, most valuable, and most significant comics of the Bronze Age. Now some of you may have had (or have) both of them, so you'll have to find your way into the conversation through your own experiences and perceptions. But considering the hobby of collecting, of monetary value, and of cultural significance, today we want to know --








Would you rather own Incredible Hulk #181 or Giant-Size X-Men #1?




Monday, July 27, 2015

Guest Review: Getting In the Spirit








Doug: Hey, welcome back, friends and fiends! Today we've got a Golden Age goodie for you, courtesy of Redartz. As we've said time and again, Karen and I are so grateful to our guest writers for bringing some content to our happy little blog that might not otherwise get the notice it deserves. While I think it's safe to say we all know of Will Eisner and of his significance in comics history, many of us may not ever have partaken of his talents. Today Redartz follows on the heels of Edo Bosnar in exposing all of us to Eisner's work -- and this time it's his most famous creation, the Spirit!







The Spirit (Warren Magazine) #3 (August 1974)(cover by Eisner with colors by Rich Corben)
Art and story by Will Eisner

Redartz: Greetings everyone! Recently, during several different conversations, several folks have recalled Warren's Spirit magazine . It seems like a fine time to give this deserving title some attention, so: today we will look at a book that absolutely knocked me out when I first bought it lo, those many years ago. Upon re-reading it for this review, for the first time in years, I found it even better than I remembered. So, with no further delay, let's have a look.

To begin with, this magazine was loaded with goodies. It featured 8 individual stories, with the dates of original publication included in some cases (don't know why this wasn't the case with all; some stories simply noted “Copyright 1974 Will Eisner”). The stories included: “Black Alley”, “Fox at Bay”, “Surgery”, “Foul Play”, “Paraffin”, “The Embezzler”, “The Last Hand” and “Lonesome Cool”. All the stories are presented in beautiful black-and-white with gray wash, except for “Paraffin”; which was reprinted in full color. This was the standard for this magazine: mostly b/w with a color story each issue . Additionally, there was a two-page letter column and a one-page feature: “Will Eisner Interviews the Spirit” (more about which will follow shortly). All the stories in this magazine are enjoyable; but in the interests of brevity we will look at one: “Fox at Bay” (by the way, my apologies for the scans; the gray tone seemed to create patterns upon scanning which were frustratingly resistant to correction).


At this point, I would note that much and more has been written about Will Eisner; and by folks far better qualified than I. However, I must note a few observations about Eisner's work in general:

First, his artwork is peerless. Eisner's drawings read like stills from a classic film. His use of shadows, his dramatic composition and unusual perspectives literally pull you from panel to panel. His pen linework is stunning, and he virtually defines expressive characterization. Each face, each figure just bleeds emotion. Then there is his lettering, and his famous penchant for incorporating the logo in so many different ways into the splash pages of his stories. It is with good reason that Will Eisner is considered a giant in the history of  comic art.

Second, his writing cannot be underestimated. As noted above, each story here was powerful, Eisner blends  high drama, comedy, and an almost EC-ish (does that sound right?) bit of horror. Some stories are  light hearted and gentle; some quite humorous, some stories can be quite violent; Denny Colt ( our hero, the Spirit) seems to be constantly getting his head bashed in. Our chosen story falls into the latter category.


“Fox at Bay” opens with one of those  logo plays for which Eisner is known. We follow the Spirit past watchful police, past a trail of sprawled bodies on the ground, The text tells us that the Fox, Reynard, has already left numerous victims and awaits in his lofty hideaway. The Spirit enters a phone booth and proceeds to dial (yes, this certainly sets our timeframe) Reynard's number. We see Reynard himself busy ignoring the ringing phone as he types away at his typewriter (another remnant of yesteryear). It seems Reynard, portrayed through his dialogue as a man of some intelligence, is performing an experiment of sorts: having established himself as a multiple killer, he wants to gauge his reactions (as a perfectly sane man- his words, not mine) to being pursued and cornered by the law. Upon reading this, I found him eerily relevant today, considering the heartbreaking deeds committed by some elements in the news recently. 


At this point, Commissioner Dolan (the Spirit's friend and foil on the Central City Police ) calls up to Reynard to surrender. Reynard answers with a burst from his machine gun, then answers the phone. He requests the Spirit stop calling, as he is becoming a distraction from the experiment. Reynard then inventories his supplies, while below Commissioner Dolan is ready to fire the tear gas. The Spirit convinces Dolan to give him a count of 200 to stop the Fox on his own, and so the countdown begins.


Eisner builds the suspense as he switches the viewpoint back and forth between the Spirit (working his way to the skylight above the Fox) and Dolan; both keeping up the count. We get a peek into Reynard's head as we see his typed page, describing slight regret for the families of his victims (but not much, they were all part of the experiment, after all). Reynard notes that the police have been quiet, and decides to draw their fire by shooting off a few rounds. This results an officer being hit, and said officer's distraught comrade shoots back. Unfortunately, his shots hit the Spirit (still lurking above the skylight) . The panel showing the Spirit's pain as the bullets hit his legs is almost excruciating in itself. He then falls through the skylight and ends up on the floor, right in front of the Fox!


Below, Dolan and his officers see no option as yet other than to keep up the count. Upstairs, the Fox considers the Spirit to be helpless with his leg wounds, and offers to let the Spirit 'sit back and watch'. The Spirit is having none of that, however. He tries to convince Reynard of the futility of his situation, while struggling to gain his feet. Reynard's reply is a swift whack to the head with the butt of his rifle. Two panels later the Spirit has gotten hold of Reynard's typewriter and hurls it at his captor, all the while keeping the count in his head ( can this guy take a beating, or what!?).
            
Having lost his typewriter, Reynard decides to make his final journal entries by hand, and then to kill both the Spirit and himself. However, our relentless hero has dragged himself across the floor and secreted himself behind Reynard's chair, which he then upends; spilling the Fox to the floor (just as the count reaches 200, of course). Thinking he has the situation settled, the Spirit tries in vain to reach Dolan by phone to prevent a rush of police fire. As he begs for an answer to his call, the still-treacherous Fox has regained his feet, and his weapon. Just as Reynard raises his rifle to bludgeon the oblivious Spirit,  a rain of bullets from the broken skylight ends the Fox's threat once and for all. Dolan has arrived, and helps the wounded Spirit from the Fox's lair. The final panel shows them passing beside the same “Spirit” logo that was used in the initial page, as the phone in the booth keeps ringing, ringing...


After finishing this story, I was struck by the level of intensity , and by the Spirit's ability to take a licking (and a few bullets, a head clubbing, etc). Denny Colt reminds me of Batman in this regard, as he lacks superpowers or invulnerability. Actually, the Spirit doesn't even have Batman's level of training or weaponry. Denny Colt is just a guy, a very resilient, tough guy who keeps on smiling despite his current circumstance. Incidentally, there was a wonderful one-shot several years ago published by DC, featuring these two : Batman/the Spirit. Presented by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke, this book offers loads of good reading, and a fun tour through both heroes' rogues galleries.
             
All through this story, Eisner's artistic skills are evidenced. For example, the second story page; note the dramatic lighting on the wall both highlighting the bullet holes and obscuring the police officer's face. Note any of the faces in the story, where with even but a few lines Eisner captures the character's emotions effectively. Then there is the beautiful composition displayed in the 6th. Panes of page 18: the Spirit is framed visually by the shards of the broken skylight through which he just fell. Almost lost the edge is the thin face of the Fox, also framed but obscured by the intact glass. If one is inclined to choose a comic to leaf through just to admire the drawing, an Eisner book is a perfect choice.

Finally, there is the Eisner/Spirit interview. The author questions his creation about crimefighting, his relevance to contemporary society, and his attitudes about women (even going so far as to bait the Spirit about the possibility of having him married). The entire interview is handled with cleverness and humor, and is accompanied by small face shots of the two speakers. Eisner casts his keen eye upon himself here, and the results are both thought-and smile-provoking.


These Warren editions of the Spirit were a great introduction to Will Eisner's work. The larger size allowed the artwork to be more easily admired, and the color sections with their higher quality stock were a big plus. Collecting this series led me to explore some of Eisner's other work; including his graphic novel “A Contract With God”. I even found one of his issues of P.M.; a maintenance periodical he did for the army (featuring a lot of his Eisner wit, among the drawings). I also was led to hold a great respect for a man who remains, always, a comics legend.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ranking the Marvel Movies





Doug: In our discussion of the Ant-Man film a few days ago, the conversation turned to our rankings of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This weekend, let's go ahead and do that as a formal activity. Feel free to rank your favorites across the MCU, and tell us some favorite scenes or lines from those movies. And, if you're so inclined, why not repeat the drill but while adding in the non-MCU flicks such as the Spider-Man and X-Men films. Should be fun to see everyone's perceptions!



Doug: So in the post last Thursday, I commented as such --
My ranking of MCU films would be similar to William's, although I'm not certain but that I would have Winter Soldier at the top or at least tied with the first Avengers film. So, for controversy's sake:

1. Avengers
2. Winter Soldier
3. Iron Man
4. Avengers: Age of Ultron
5. Captain America
6. Ant-Man (?)

And then darned if Martinex1 didn't remind me of the Guardians of the Galaxy! Duh to me... So, in the spirit of commenting revisionism, here's how I'd probably revise my list (but ask me again in two hours and you might get something different) --

1. Avengers
2. Captain America: Winter Soldier
3. Iron Man
4. Avengers: Age of Ultron
5. Captain America: The First Avenger

6. Guardians of the Galaxy
7. Ant-Man
8. Iron Man 2
9. Thor
10. Thor: The Dark World


Now, if I wrap in my thoughts on the non-MCU films, the two Thor movies are going to get the heave ho. Here's how I'd see it now (again, could turn in a minute):

1. Avengers
2. Captain America: Winter Soldier
3. Iron Man
4. Avengers: Age of Ultron
5. Captain America: The First Avenger

6. Spider-Man 2
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
8. Ant-Man
9. X2: X-Men United
10. Iron Man 2

So where do you stand. Right now, that is...




Friday, July 24, 2015

Who's the Best... Asgardian?


Doug: I actually want to expand this beyond the Realm Eternal and offer you the chance to expound on all of Thor's supporting cast (like the Recorder, for example). The denizens of the Nine Realms await!

 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Discuss: Ant-Man! And, Spoil It All You Want!



Karen: OK, the movie has been out for nearly a week -go ahead and discuss it freely (that includes SPOILERS)!

Doug: We'll start, as we have in the past with some banter lifted over to this site from some email exchanges we've shared in the past few days. Obviously then you follow (for those of you who have seen the flick) with agreements and disagreements of your own. Again, if you've not seen the film and don't want to know about it, then get the heck out of here now!


Doug: Going to see Ant-Man at 1:30 on Monday (7/20/15). My oldest son saw it today (7/18/15). He liked it; says it has a good sense of humor. Said the two end of credits scenes were big.

Karen: We saw Ant-Man yesterday (7/18/15) and I enjoyed it. I wasn’t expecting much nor was I that excited about it but it was a fun film. I’d probably give it a solid B. They managed to make shrinking look cool. I agree with your boy, the two credit scenes were really good!

Doug: I just saw it and loved it! It's not better than either of the Avengers or either of the Cap films, but I think I enjoyed it more than Iron Man 3. Shoot -- if you melded the two Thor films together you'd get one great Thor film. So I'd rank this right in the thick of the Marvel Studios pictures.

Doug: Loved the humor in the film. I think Marvel is onto something with Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man. Not that I'm saying all of their films should be borderline comedies, but it's a refreshing sort of humor -- not fall-flat humor like they attempt with the annoying lab asst. in the Thor movies.
Karen: I really enjoyed it as well. I liked that it was light and fun, that it didn't take itself seriously yet didn't spoof the material. It walked a fine line, knowing how to work the humor of the premise and yet not turn the whole thing into a joke. One of the trailers we got with it was for "Batman v. Superman" and I kept returning to the contrast between the two. Frankly, I like some humor in my super-hero films. They're people in costumes with super-powers running around doing fantastic things -there should be some light moments!

Doug: The Special effects were good, and I just loved the final battle in the play room. It really evoked some of the Dick Sprang Batman comics. I thought the effects folks did a nice job of giving off the idea that Scott Lang was really shrinking and growing, rather than disappearing and reappearing.
Karen: One thing they did very well was convince me how neat shrinking powers are. I never thought I would say that. The rapid-fire shrinking and growing were brilliantly executed, and the scenes from the ant-sized perspective were fantastic. I nearly came out of my seat during the trip to "sub-atomica" or however you want to call it. That was extremely well done, just like something out of the comics. In fact, I wonder if they didn't look at some Kirby or Ditko books to get that right!

Doug: I loved the scene with the Wasp, and am already looking forward to the new Wasp. Easily Stan Lee's best cameo. Hilarious. And hey -- did I spy Garrett Morris? I sure think I did! Did you have the one cop as Julius from "Remember the Titans"?
 Karen: The flashback to the scene with the original Ant-Man and Wasp was just wonderful, even if we only got to see them briefly. I love the idea of these heroes existing prior to Iron Man and the others. And we do have the promise of a Wasp in the future...
Garrett Morris' cameo was inspired! I started laughing loudly, and I guess I was the only person in the theater who remembered that SNL sketch! "Hey Hulk, this guy's got the strength of a human!" 

Doug: I would have sworn at some point either Pym or Rudd would have used the blue ring to become Giant-Man. Not totally disappointed, but definitely see it coming in the future.

And do you suppose Sebastian Stan's 10 seconds on screen counts for his 9-picture contract?
Karen: The throwdown with the Falcon was a real thrill. I felt so bad for Sam...but it was great to see the two go at it. And the whole set up -"You idiots, that's not a warehouse!" -classic. I really like how this film integrated other elements of the Marvel universe in a way that didn't seem forced, but natural. It also didn't feel like it had to shape itself to support future films, which is something I think has hurt some of the other movies.

That last clip in the credits was a nice glimpse at Civil War -I heard it was an actual scene from the movie.  I was glad to see the Winter Soldier though; we were hearing so much about it being Cap vs Iron Man that it seemed like they'd forgotten about him, and I felt like Cap 3 needed to carry over his arc from the second Cap film.



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Comic Events When They Actually Meant Something!

Karen: I have to 'fess up -originally this post was going to be a piece of shameless self-promotion. It was going to be a 'Bronze Age Babies Bulletin' that plugged the new (and super-cool) Back Issue! # 82 featuring Bronze Age Events, on sale soon from Twomorrows Publications in print and digital format (you can get it here). In this issue, I get to discuss the glory of the Avengers-Defenders War (or Clash, if you prefer) with such greats as Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, and most of all, Stainless Steve Englehart! It is always a blast to have the chance to interview folks who had such a tremendous impact on my youth. As the theme of the issue is events, there are also articles on the great JLA/JSA  team-ups, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Secret Wars, the Infinity Gauntlet, and more.

Karen: But thinking about all those great old Bronze Age comic events made me want to do more than just a plug for the issue. It made me want to discuss what made events so much more special and exciting back in those days. It seems like now, all we have are events. Certainly the Big Two shape their entire comics line around a major event (or two) that typically lasts the entire year, and this happens every year, and has for some time now. The Event unfolds in its own book, touches most of the other titles in the line, and also gives birth to ancillary titles. Look at  Civil War - according to an article on IGN, it encompassed 93 individual comics. 93! This wasn't an event, it was a major financial commitment.
Avengerin' and Defenderin' cover by John Byrne

Karen: It seems to me there are a couple of things that really distinguish the events of old from today's "mega-events." One is that events used to actually feel significant. It's like that saying -"when everyone's special, no one's special." The same could be said for comic events. They used to be something that happened occasionally, and in a more organic way. 

Karen: I know when I worked on my article on the Avengers-Defenders War, I recalled that at the time the books came out, it felt really important -a cross-over like that, between two team titles, was a real first. Also, like the JLA/JSA extravaganzas, it  was a summer event, unfolding over the school vacation months of 1973, which lent it even more of a special air. In fact, writer Steve Englehart wanted to do something special for that summer, since Marvel wasn't producing any annuals that year. So as a young reader, it was a great treat while you were on school break -assuming you could find all the issues on the newstand!

Karen: The other thing that makes the earliest events stand out is that they were put together with a sense of sincerity -there was a desire to do something extra-special, something that would thrill the fans, something that would be fun. Certainly that was the case with the JLA/JSA meet-ups each year. Those annual events were eagerly awaited by comics fans each year, initially featuring just the two teams, later expanding to sometimes include other groups like the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Freedom Fighters, the Seven Soldiers of Victory - hey, the more the merrier! These issues really gave fans some bang for their buck -or 15 cents, whatever the case might be. Likewise, the Avengers-Defenders War took Marvel's two biggest teams at the time and pitted them against each other in one-on-one (or two-on-one) match ups, just because it would be a hoot. There really wasn't an ulterior motive at work. Similarly, the Marvel annuals, while hit or miss, sometimes fell into this category as well, providing fun and sometimes important events, like Fantastic Four Annual #6, with a battle against Annihilus and the birth of Franklin Richards; or the one-two combo of Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2, with the huge smack-down of the Avengers, Captain Marvel, Warlock, The Thing, and Spider-Man versus Thanos. Now those were events -and they only lasted an issue or two!

 Karen: We can see the seeds of today's bloated mega-events in the later Bronze Age events. Crisis on Infinite Earths was not only a 12 issue series but it crossed-over to numerous titles (don't forget the red skies!), and of course, had a massive (some might even say devastating) impact on the entire DC line. Secret Wars had less of an impact on titles and characters -the black Spider-Man costume which later became Venom was probably the most lasting effect -but of course, the mini-series genesis was in a toy tie-in, not exactly the most noble of purposes. At this point, the events became bigger and also began to serve purposes other than just being a cool thing to do for the fans. The companies soon realized that the fans would dutifully buy up all the issues connected to the event, and before long, we were plagued with things like The Mutant Massacre and Invasion! With few exceptions, the event became more about money and less about someone coming up with a neat story idea.

Karen: And that's how we got where we are today, with the perma-event situation. Since I'm no longer a regular comics reader, I don't feel the pain like I once did, but I still sympathize with those who try to keep up with it all. I can't help but think that the impact of these events is far less when something huge and universe-shattering occurs every single year. Me, I still get a thrill when I see the Avengers and Defenders go at it, or Spider-Man working up his nerve to face Thanos. And I didn't have to buy 32 issues to understand the whole story.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Live! In Person!



Karen: How many of us experienced the childhood thrill of meeting a super-hero, cartoon character, or other such icon live and in-person? These characters were brought in to promote some product or the opening of a new business. I can recall two such experiences: the first occurring when I was about six years old. The occasion was the opening of the first McDonald's restaurant in town. To celebrate such a momentous event, McDonald's brought in Ronald McDonald and -the Frankenstein Monster. Because obviously that makes sense, right? I didn't give two hoots about McDonald's but I loved the Frankenstein Monster, and my mom helped scoot me up to the front of the crowd so I could see him. Some kids were crying -they were scared of the Monster. Honestly I found Ronald McDonald far more frightening than Frankenstein. 

The second big live appearance was the arrival of Batman to our local JC Penney's store around 1976. I've posted some pictures below. The caped crusader was set up in the men's shoe department. I can't recall what the occasion was -I don't think it had anything to do with the Mego figures, or the original TV show. There must have been some reason, but honestly, my brain cells can't conjure it up now. But I do remember pestering my folks to take me to see him, even though it was on a school night. He might not have been Adam West, but I was still giddy.



Karen: Any childhood meetings you'd like to share?



Monday, July 20, 2015

They Came In Peace For All Mankind

Karen: I know we've covered it before, but it deserves to be repeated: it's July 20th, which means it's the anniversary of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, the first time humans ever walked upon the moon. It's a momentous occasion and one that I think has a special resonance for us Bronze Age kids. After 46 years, it still shines as a tremendous example of our potential for greatness as a species. While I marvel at the pictures coming back from Pluto (it's a planet, dammit!), it doesn't come near the excitement of those manned space missions.

I came across the video below featuring Walter Cronkite covering the mission. He seems so inextricably linked to those early missions it's hard to imagine the space age without him. I hope you enjoy it. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Spinner Rack: November 1979


Doug: So cover dates of November, 1979 would have come to our hot little hands as school was beginning, hmm? That would have put me in the 8th grade, only several months before I'd leave the hobby for a five year hiatus. As we do with these posts, I'd encourage you to jump to Mike's Amazing World of Comics to see the month's offerings. You can also click on the date below to go to the Comic Book Database and see more details on any of the books.


 





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