Monday, January 26, 2015

BAB Firsts - Face-Off: The Thomas/Adams X-Men vs. the Claremont/Cockrum X-Men


 This post was originally published on November 18 2010

Doug: New feature today, kiddies. Lately we've been discussing great arcs, the X-Men done-in-ones of the Claremont-Cockrum era, and tomorrow ol' Neal Adams will be part of our topic. So we thought -- what the heck -- why not give you another opportunity to sound off on the pros and cons of two of the most renowned runs of the late-Silver and Bronze Ages?

Doug: Today we're asking for feedback on the run that failed to save the X-franchise: issues 56-63 and 65 (May 1969-February 1970). Thomas' formula for character development, along with Adams' engergizing of the book with his dynamic panel lay-outs, realistic styling, and the creation of Havok all combined for a winning prescription in one of the most highly regarded runs of all time; alas all of that didn't save our Merry Mutants from reprint-purgatory.

Doug: However, Mssrs. Claremont and Cockrum also set the comics world on its collective ear with their interpretation of the All-New, All-Different X-Men in a run that covered
X-Men #'s 94-107 (August 1975-October 1977). Talk about characterization! Chris Claremont further cemented Cyclops' role as the brooding, sometimes self-deprecating leader and under his pen Wolverine would become a superstar. Dave Cockrum was able to transfer the energy he'd brought to DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, and introduced beloved characters of his own creation in Storm and Nightcrawler. One of the real blasts of this series was watching the new team confront the old enemies: Count Nefaria, the Sentinels, Juggernaut, and Magneto.

Doug: So, you're heading to the longbox for a little X-fix. For which run would you reach?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

BAB Firsts - It's a Fine Line: The Thing in the Bronze Age



Doug: Karen and I would like to start a new series where we look at some of our favorite characters as depicted by some of our favorite artists. Of course Karen has expressed her love recently for the Bashful One, so we thought we'd kick this off with a look at Benjamin J. Grimm, as seen throughout the Bronze Age of Comics.

Doug: To commence, we have to discuss the King himself, Jack Kirby.


Karen: I like how the Thing's look became more refined over time. He went from looking lumpy and almost soft to the more solid, rocky hero we all know and love. How much of this, I wonder, was also due to the inkers involved?

Doug: The image at left is indeed inked by the stalwart of the Fantastic Four strip, Joe Sinnott. I think it goes without saying that Sinnott's inks added polish and depth to Kirby, really texturing Jack's pencils. I mean, look at that picture -- it looks like Ben's skin is made of rocks!

Doug: Next up was the Jazzy One, John Romita.

Karen: He was on the strip for such a short time period, it's almost easy to forget he was there! Just 4 issues -103 to 106. Although Romita seems able to draw any character well, I don't think his style was especially suited to the Thing, although his take on Ben was certainly acceptable.

Doug: I think the fact that John Verpoorten inked Romita for most of his short tenure might lead to the less-than-memorable memories! I believe Sinnott only inked him on his last issue. I've read before that Romita was not satisfied with his work, and part of that was his insecurity from following Kirby's run.

Karen: I've read the same thing, and it certainly makes sense! That's a very tough act to follow.

Doug: After Romita's brief tenure on the Fantastic Four, Big John Buscema took the reins of the World's Greatest Comic Magazine.

Karen: Now we're talking! In my mind, John Buscema is the Thing King! It probably has to do with the fact that he was the artist on the FF when I started reading it.

Doug: I actually have the original art to the sample at left, and it's just beautiful. Buscema's facial expressions on this page really convey first Ben's irritation, then his determination during this battle against the Miracle Man. I also like that Buscema really gives Ben some bulk, but as I'd remarked during our Marvel Two-In-One posts, kept Ben within that six-feet tall range of height.

Karen: That's definitely how I think of Ben -as bulky, heavy, but not particularly tall. I agree with you, he is frequently drawn too tall nowadays -but then so is the Hulk. As always, Buscema is a master of facial expressions and body language, able to easily convey Ben's emotions, despite his monstrous appearance.


Doug: Following Buscema was the sometimes dubious run of Rich Buckler.

Karen: I feel badly for Buckler. I believe he was told to emulate Kirby early on in his career. It's unfortunate because I really like his own style. I'm not even going to get into the swipes issue here. But he did a good job on the Thing.

Doug: I've included parts of two pages from FF #159 that really show off Buckler's finer effort. You know, the larger panel on the far right brings up a point -- how do you like Ben's exterior to be drawn? Large rocks (like here), or small (as in the Buscema image above)?

Karen: Hmm, I haven't really considered it, but I can tell you this: I notice when I feel that the rocks are not drawn properly
. I think it's actually a fairly difficult drawing challenge -how do you get across the idea that he's composed of those crazy, interlocking rocks? How do you shadow them? Are they flat or do they project slightly? I think some artists and inkers can pull it off, and some just can't.

Doug: After Buckler, the FF were penciled by George Perez.


Karen: Can Perez draw anything bad? I don't think so! His runs on FF were beautiful, and he brings a lot of character to his version of Ben.

Doug: The sample I chose for George Perez comes from his earliest stint, and from a period I just loved -- the exoskeleton era that followed the Thing/Hulk two-parter. Perez seemed to have a way of making the Thing somewhat bulbous, which is not a bad thing. Funny -- if you've ever seen the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, I really think Perez actually draws Ben the very way Big John Buscema instructs! I'd also argue that, again early on, Perez echoed Buckler's later work (after he got away from his Kirby-ish phase).

Karen: Perez' Thing was maybe a little more streamlined than some of the others, but still had the expressiveness and mass that I like.

Doug: Keith Pollard was the successor to Perez. I'll say here that when I read these issues off the newsstand/spinner racks, I thought Pollard's art was quite good. Looking at these issues again after 30 years, he's certainly not bad -- quite serviceable in fact. But being sandwiched between George Perez and John Byrne? That would be tough for anyone! I did like the story that Pollard illustrated, when the FF were on the outs -- there were four solo issues followed by a good Doc Doom story that culminated with issue #200. Pollard really drew some dynamic scenes in the series.

Karen: Pollard is probably the most overlooked Thing artist. He had a very solid style, not especially flashy, but very good nonetheless.

Doug: John Byrne's first stint on the title extended from issue #209 to #221 and was initially dominated by Joe Sinnott's inks. However,
Byrne later changed the way he interpreted the Thing, bringing him back to his lumpy origins. We've provided two samples here -- the panels to the left were inked by Joe Sinnott, and the panels below to the right were inked by Byrne himself. In fact, our latter example is from the story when the Thing did indeed return to his original Kirby-style form.

Karen: Byrne 's run is of course highly regarded and I think his Thing always looked great, although I was not fond of the return to the lumpy version. However, I've always felt that Byrne was his own worst inker, and I prefer Sinnott's inks to Byrne's. But either way, his Thing is a big brute, which I like. Sometimes though, Byrne's Ben seems to be extremely round -have you ever noticed that?

Karen: Speaking of Sinnott, shouldn't we remark on the man who was with Ben the longest? His inking brought a certain continuity to Ben and the FF regardless of who the penciller was at the time. His version of t
he FF is indelibly marked in my brain, the same way Terry Austin's contribution to the X-Men has shaped how I see those characters forever.
Doug: There is no mistaking that, in spite of the heavy hitters who've put pencil to paper on the FF, Joe Sinnott is the magazine's most valuable player. He really provided a pretty seamless reading experience. I'd argue that the only time the art on the book seemed to lack were the issues when Sinnott was not present. I'd say that even for Byrne's highly-regarded second stint on the book. No doubt it's classic -- but could it have been even moreso with Sinnott on board?
Karen: How about
Ron Wilson? He drew Ben over in Marvel Two In One for many years. Perhaps his most memorable work was in Marvel Two In One Annual #7, when the Thing battled the Champion. He seemed to really 'get' the Thing, and did some very good work on the title.

Doug: Wilson's a solid guy, and perfect for the team-up style books. I
always felt like he gave a great effort on those books.
Karen: There's been a lot of other artists who have drawn the Thing as a guest star in other titles. A couple that come to mind are Neal Adams and Jim Starlin. It's hard to get a real impression of Adams' Thing, as I only recall seeing it in The Avengers during the Kree-Skrull War. I would say his version is OK, but there are a number of other artists that I feel do a better job. Surprising, as Adams is right up there in my personal favorites of comic book artists.

Doug: I wonder what a Neal Adams commissioned sketch of Ben would look like? I know Adams would give it his all...

Karen: I think regular readers know that Jim Starlin is a comics god to me, but...his Thing looks a little, I don't know, off to me. It's not bad, but for some reason it just doesn't quite look like the Thing to me.
The two panels here are taken from Marvel Two In One Annual # 2. The bulk is right...maybe it's the legs. I can't put my finger on it.

Doug:
I'm with you, though on the image at left -- the arms and legs seem just a bit off.

Karen: OK Doug, I know this isn't Bronze Age, but what do you think of Al
ex Ross' Thing, shown here from Marvels? I have to say I like it. He looks thick and bulky, and his rocks/scales are all so defined. And look at those big ol' hands!

Doug: I'm sure by now our readers know that we collaborate on these posts by coming to Blogger at different times to make our posts/edits. So they might be surprised at the level of same-mind that we sometimes have -- I literally had thought of the very image you posted at right, and when I next logged in here to see what your last work had been about here it was! Ah, yes -- great minds... And no, Alex Ross doesn't draw anything poorly!

Friday, January 23, 2015

BAB Firsts (the 1st Open Forum): Inkers -- Just What Should Be Their Role?

  This post was originally published on July 10 2010

Doug: I have inking on my mind today. Part of my preoccupation concerns the current series Karen and I are running on Mondays in July, what we're calling "George Perez July" and featuring four annuals with his pencil work. Last week's peek into Avengers Annual #6 showed the inks of Mike Esposito, et al. However, tomorrow and a week later we're going to see Perez under the influence of one Pablo Marcos. In the opinions of the Bronze Age Babies, the results are less than stellar. Fortunately, when we delve into X-Men Annual #3 to close out the feature, we'll be inspecting the embellishment of super-inker Terry Austin. Austin's run with John Byrne in the regular X-Men title is among the finest series of issues ever published.

Doug: The other reason I'm spending the better part of a Saturday fretting over these issues is the recent e-mail I received from TwoMorrows promoting their upcoming retrospective on the career of Vince Colletta. Now when any discussion of inkers comes up, Colletta's name is sure to be at the forefront of the "disdain" side. For further information on not only the book but on what Vinnie did to Jack Kirby, check out the preview of the book. By the way, the tome will hit shelves on July 30, and can be ordered at this link.

Doug: If you scroll down our sidebar, I've added a little retrospective of the pencilwork (some with inks) of John Buscema. After the Silver Age, Buscema was known mainly for providing breakdowns over which the inkers had some liberty in bringing the finished page to you. Of course one of Buscema's longest-running collaborators was Tom Palmer in the pages of The Avengers. Palmer seemed to stay pretty faithful to Buscema's "look". John was known to say that the only two inkers he preferred over his pencils were himself and his brother Sal. Recently I reviewed the TwoMorrows biography of Sal -- you can see his comments on inkers here.

Doug: What we'd like to do is begin a new feature on the blog that we'll call The Open Forum. Please feel free to use this like a message board. What I want to know today is your opinion on inkers you love, hate, what their role is, are pencillers too picky, etc. How do you feel about Colletta erasing parts of Kirby's panels? Do you think it was good or bad that Joe Sinnott somewhat "unified" the look of the Fantastic Four while inking over Kirby, Romita, Buscema, Perez, and Byrne? Are there some pencillers who make good inkers (I always thought Gil Kane was best on the Amazing Spider-Man when Romita inked the book), and others who never mastered the craft? Have at it...

Doug: Below is another gallery of John Buscema's work, featuring his layouts, tight pencils, inks on his own work, inks by Dave Cockrum (from Avengers #125) and by Dan Adkins (the Captain Mar-Vell frame). Submitted for your appreciation and inspection.





Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BAB Firsts - BAB Book Review: Sal Buscema, Comics' Fast and Furious Artist

 

This post was originally published on April 2 2010

Doug: Last December Karen and I showed some things on our Christmas wish lists. On March 19 I finally got one of my wants -- TwoMorrows' Sal Buscema: Comics' Fast and Furious Artist, by Jim Amash with Eric Nolen-Weathington. I received the standard trade paperback edition, which retails for $26.95. You can order it here (at a slightly discounted price). It was worth all of the publishing delays...

As I usually do with TwoMorrows' books and magazines, I took a quick thumb-through upon unpacking it. I'm not sure they could have crammed any more art into this volume! If you wanted samples of Sal's work, then you'll get it here (Disclaimer -- the illustrations I've included with this post are examples of original artwork that was for sale on eBay when I wrote this post; these art pages are not in the TwoMorrows book). In fact, the last 64 pages are a B&W and color art gallery featuring sketches, commissions, and tons of published covers and art pages. All of that is in addition to literally hundreds of exhibits from Sal's career shown throughout the book. The format of the text is one long interview between Jim Amash (best known as one of the major contributors to Roy Thomas' Alter Ego magazine) and Sal. To say it's an exhaustive interview might be an understatement. Amash covers all of the points of not only Sal's career, but his life. I had the one-time pleasure of visiting all-too-briefly with Sal at the Chicago Comicon (in the late 1990's), and his gentlemanly manner certainly shines through in Amash's interview.

Fans of Sal's big brother John (eight years Sal's senior) will be extremely excited to read all of the anecdotes about John's career, as well as the interaction between the two. I at first wondered at the directness of interviewer Amash's questions in regard to John -- in a book about Sal, it seemed as if Amash jumped right in about the impact of John's career on the family, on Sal, about the two being compared, etc. Sal's love for his brother just shone through, and any discomfort I had was quickly laid to rest. In a market that is all too thin on the life and work of John Buscema, this biography of Sal dovetails nicely with Vanguard's The John Buscema Sketchbook, Pearl Press's John Buscema: A Life in Sketches, and the out-of-print SQ Productions The Art of John Buscema. Whereas the first and last books feature interviews with John, this latest Buscema book features comments from Sal himself on John's career. Of particular note is Sal's clearing up once and for all the matter of John hating comics. Sal affirms that John didn't hate comics; John hated drawing buildings! John wanted to draw people, and particularly loved drawing Conan and Tarzan because there were no rules -- the fantasy settings allowed John's imagination to run wild and he could draw whatever he wanted!


One of the most interesting series of quotes in this book concerns Sal's remarks about inkers who have embellished his work over the course of his career. While he admits that he holds no one in disdain and would never deny a man his livlihood, he does have negative words for Mike Esposito, Joe Staton, and Ernie Chan.
He says that although he liked Joe Sinnott inking over his pencils, John strongly disliked Sinnott's inks -- not Sinnott the man, but the impact Sinnott had on John's pencils. Sal remarks that while Sinnott is certainly considered one of the best inkers in the business, when Joe inks a penciller, it's Joe you see. I'd argue that Sinnott is what gave the Fantastic Four its visual identity over 2+ decades, but I understand what is being said. Oh, one other nugget -- Sal reveals that John loved Dan Adkins inks on the Silver Surfer. What the...?! I have many a'time commented that I think Adkins was even heavier than Sinnott over Big John. I was shocked to read this!

Sal also discusses his collaborators through the years. Of all of the writers he has worked with, he praises Len Wein and Steve Englehart above all others. Wein was his longtime scribe on The Incredible Hulk (I did not realize that Sal handled the art chores on that title longer than Herb Trimpe), and Sal raves how they just clicked -- Sal knew exactly what Len wanted him to draw, and Len often couldn't believe how Sal returned pages with ideas drawn just as he'd envisioned them. Sal gives the reader further insight to the oft-discussed "Marvel method", and takes a shot at current writers and their too-constricting plot synopses. In Sal's opinion, artists of today are confined. As for Englehart, Sal places him just below Wein, yet raves about their tenure on Captain America. Sal does hold some reservation, though, for the climax of the Secret Empire storyline, and further questions Steve Rogers becoming Nomad. To Sal, Rogers and Captain America cannot exist apart. Sal also discusses his relationship with Jim Shooter. At first amicable, they parted under less-than-friendly circumstances due to Shooter's alleged micro-managing of Sal's art on Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21: the wedding issue. This was detailed in Back Issue #23
. It's those little stories that make this book a really fun, nostalgiac, insightful, and so much more-kind of read.

The table of contents is --

Introduction by Walter Simonson

1. Inspiration All Around
2. A Heroic Departure
3. How to Break In the Marvel Way
4. The Workhorse Hits His Stride
5. A New Start With a Different Company
6. The Craft of Creating Comic Book Art


Art Gallery
(pssst... an Index would have been a nice addition!)


You can find a chronological listing of Sal's work by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Readers' Rumblings: True or False - The New Marvel Universe is Better Constructed Than the Original



Karen: Hello folks. We haven't done a "True or False" in a while.  Here's how it works: the first commenter can pose a statement.  Of course, it should be somewhat controversial, and you of course do not have to believe the statement yourself.  The goal here is to stimulate some lively conversation.  In the past we've had conversations such as - "Rock is dead" and "Fantastic Four is the World's Greatest Comic Magazine." We can have multiple themes going on, as long as it stays manageable. Have at it!

Monday, January 19, 2015

BAB Firsts (the 1st Versus): Who ya Got? Kang the Conqueror or Ultron?


This post was originally published on February 17 2010

Doug: The New Year brings with it some new features here on the BAB blog. Today we'll begin a semi-regular series called "versus", where we'll pit two opposing yet similar entities against each other -- not in some faux battle, but more along the lines of who we've liked better, why one is better than the other at "X", and so on. Today it's the two greatest nemeses of the Avengers, but who knows? Next time it could be Elton John versus Billy Joel! Maybe later it'll be Karen's favorite baseball player versus my nominee. So let's get on with the debate.

Doug: I guess any discussion like this can't help but start with one's personal preferences -- hey, throw objectivity out the window! So I'll begin by saying that I like the "Celestial Madonna" storyline better than I like the "Bride of Ultron" (but close -- how does one choose between two masterpieces?) -- those would be my favorite Avengers stories involving these two do-badders.

Karen: Well, you already know I'm biased! I mean I did write a whole article on Ultron for Back Issue! (on the shelves now! -Doug). Both Ultron and Kang are great adversaries for the Avengers, but I give the edge to the mad robot because of the emotional response he always evokes from the team. He's definitely the black sheep that no one wants to talk about. The son of Hank Pym, father of the Vision, and he's tried to make wives out of both the Wasp and Mockingbird. There's a lot of twisted history there! On top of that, throw in indestructible adamantium skin, and you've got a heck of a threat.

Doug: Yeah, I wouldn't discount any of that, and I would never say that I don't like Ultron. I don't know... there's just something about Kang, time travel, and the possibilities. I will admit that I've read some bad Kang stories -- the "Council of Cross-Time Kangs" that ran in the Avengers #290's didn't do much for me. I think the intent was good, and there were some good elements, but overall I didn't like it.

Doug: I really like "Celestial Madonna" 1) for the scope of it and 2) for the little extras: the Legion of the Unliving (good Kang add-on), the origin of the Vision, as well as the origin of Mantis. Kang's certifiably maniacal, he has an interesting goal, and scribe Steve Englehart executes a grand tale. I'll admit that the story ends on a clunker in GS Avengers #4 when Kang is ridiculously shoe-horned back into the story, but there's redemption in the pages of the "Serpent Crown Affair" that ran shortly thereafter. Kang's the star of the substory involving the Wild West heroes and Hawkeye, Thor and Moondragon, and meets a memorable end in combat against Thor. Really good stuff, with art by a young George Perez.

Doug: I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to two fine Kurt Busiek stories -- the "Kang Dynasty" and Avengers Forever. Although Perez was not along for either ride, the art in both stories was ably handled by Ivan Reis, Brent Anderson and Keiron Dwyer and Carlos Pacheco (respectively). While "Kang Dynasty" is a bit long (I believe 16 issues total), either would be recommended as two latter-day Kang classics.

Karen: Kang has given Earth's Mightiest a huge heaping of trouble time and again (no pun intended). Doug, you know I am also a fan of the "Celestial Madonna" saga, and it was fascinating how Englehart explored the different identities of Kang -how he connected Kang, Rama Tut, and Immortus. That's one of the cool things about time travel stories: you have endless possibilities to play with.

Karen: That being, said, I think I can toss out some of Ultron's greatest moments here and find that they measure up nicely. I think his rebirth as an adamantium-coated nightmare in Avengers 66-68 is a great early example of just how devastating he could be. The "Bride of Ultron" storyline upped the ante quite a bit; now, instead of just wanting to kill Pym, we saw Ultron also wants to supplant him and take what is his - his wife! Disturbing on a lot of levels, and it certainly left the Avengers shaken.

Karen: But Kurt Busiek -funny how that name has popped up again, isn't it? - came up with the most dangerous and devastating Ultron story yet, "Ultron Unlimited", in the third volume of Avengers. Not only does the maniac take over an entire nation, slaughter its people and turn them into cyber-zombies, he kidnaps five Avengers with plans to use their brain patterns to create an entire android race under his dominion! The remaining Avengers have to battle their way through hundreds of Ultrons to get to the true villain, giving Thor a chance to utter the famous line, "Ultron, we would have words with thee." Besides the thrilling battles, we also learn a startling fact, one that makes absolute sense, of the kind where you slap yourself in the head and say, "Of course! Why didn't I see that before?" It is revealed that Pym used his own brain patterns when he created Ultron - in effect, Ultron really is Pym's son, he has a piece of him inside him. No wonder these encounters always weighed so heavily on Pym - Ultron's actions were reflecting something inside of Pym!



Doug: That Thor line you cited is one of the all-time greats! You're making a great argument here -- were you a lawyer in a former life?? But seriously, let's evaluate: both characters have evolved through different incarnations involving technology as well as personality, both have taken on Avengers teams showcasing line-ups that could truly be called Earth's Mightiest Heroes, both have raised some serious Cain on the Earth in terms of destruction, human casualties, etc., and both seem to keep popping up every few years. You could argue, too, that Kang's constant pining after Ravonna creates a love interest somewhat akin to Ultron's quest to make himself a complete man/robot by fulfilling that need with Jocasta, etc. Kang and Ultron are head and shoulders above any other nemesis the Avengers have faced, based on longevity alone!


Doug: So if our faithful followers determine that your argument was stronger, should I feel badly? Negative -- because in this "versus", could one really go wrong on a rainy day with a stack of comics featuring either super-baddie?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

BAB Firsts - Karen says: Welcome to the Sanctum, Part 1

This post was originally published on November 30 2009

Since Doug has shared many of his treasures with all of us here at the blog, I thought I might welcome all of you into my comics sanctum, a place where I can meditate on all things geek. The sanctum is in a constant state of flux, with new arrivals coming in, and old favorites being pulled out of a closet or box to take their place on a shelf or wall for a little while.

I will ask you to pardon the dust, as living in the desert makes it nearly impossible to keep things dust-free for very long. Hopefully the overall cool factor will make up for that!

First off - come on in.

You see here the view from the doorway. Dead center is one of the most essential elements of any sanctum - the comfy chair. In fact, this chair is so comfy, it is often a struggle to stay awake in it. Many a comics review has started here, only to be delayed by a nap.

Behind the chair is the one item I almost regret buying, Captain America's shield. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful replica (and hefty too), but I still can't believe I spent so much money on it. Easily the most expensive 'toy' I've ever bought.

To the left of the shield is an autographed picture of the Man himself, Stan Lee. Also included in that photo frame is a small piece of paper, on which I got both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's autographs back in 1975 at the San Diego Comic Con. It's a long story but let's just say that Kirby signed first and when Stan saw his signature, I wasn't sure I would get his autograph! However, Stan was a great guy and did sign - although he turned the paper upside down - so Kirby's name was not above his?

To the right of the shield is one of my favorite posters, Alex Ross' interpretation of Marvel in the 1970s. It has an amazing number of 70s characters on it, all in the beautiful Ross style. You'll notice as we look around the sanctum that a lot of my art is from Ross. What can I say? He's the best.
Also in the first pic you can see some comic boxes. Those are primarily either some of my favorite books, or new books. Besides the boxes there I have another 12 in the closet of the room, and the vast bulk, 24 more, downstairs in the vault (aka the utility closet). I really need to sell some books.

Proclaiming their prowess from the top of the comic boxes are Thor and Doctor Doom. I'm not an action figure collector but my fiance thought these were great and he knows they are two of my favorite characters, so he got them for me. They do look really outstanding. In the window are the Avengers mini-mates figures, going all out against Ultron.

In the corner atop the bookcase is my tribute to Ray Harryhausen, the incredibly skilled artist behind Jason and the Argonauts, Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and so many other classic fantasy films that were my bread and butter as a kid. Harryhausen made these creatures come alive, with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. I can never get enough of his work.


The bookcase below the Harryhausen figures holds primarily my film reference books, my comics DVD-ROMs, and my Lord of the Rings books. The Creature from the Black Lagoon holds a business card for the now defunct Parkway Theater in Oakland, California. The Parkway was an amazing place with the feel of an old glamorous theater that had aged somewhat. They would serve pizza and sandwiches (and beer), and they were home to Thrillville, a wonderful venue for all films strange and wonderful. Thrillville was a once-a-month show hosted by Will the Thrill and his wife, Monica the Tiki Goddess. It had to be experienced to believed. Let's just say I had a lot of great nights at Thrillville -and I saw the Creature in 3-D there too.

And before you ask, yes, that metallic Godzilla does look pretty weird. It opens up to reveal a secret base inside, with a tank, jet plane, launching missiles, and some sort of odd, telescoping pole. I have no idea why this exists but I bought it about 25 years ago and it still makes me shake my head whenever I see it.

Next time: The Corner of the Jedi!

UPDATE: Karen here, speaking to you from the future -well, from Jan 2, 2015. I was stunned to see this post from five years ago. The room has changed so much, especially over this past Christmas. I'd like to add a couple of pictures, just for comparison's sake -and for posterity:






Friday, January 16, 2015

BAB Firsts - BAB Two-In-One: Two Bad Cats and One Good Move



This post was originally published on November 11 2009

Doug: Today you can tell all of your friends (and perhaps even a foe or three) that you were in on the ground floor of our next greatest sometimes-we'll-post-this theme: the Bronze Age Babies Two-In-One! Here's the premise -- while Karen and I will keep doing the tag-team comics reviews that have become one of the star features of this blog (as well as the Two Girls... blog), we are now going to occasionally branch out into comics that we uniquely own. In other words, Karen has a book that I don't, and vice versa.

Doug: I'm actually going to begin with two books I purchased on eBay about a year ago, The Cat #'s 3 and 4 from 1973. I'll confess that I had no prior experience with this character prior to Avengers #144 when Patsy Walker finds the Cat suit and upon donning it rechristens herself the Hellcat.

Doug: One thing I did know of this short-lived series is that it didn't seem to get off the ground creatively, and I say that strictly from the standpoint that all of the villains in the title were borrowed from other heroes' rogues galleries, including the Owl, Commander Kraken, and the Man-Bull. Another issue facing this series was scattershot artistic teams. Marie Severin, Wally Wood, Jim Mooney, Paty Greer, Bill Everett (who is really solid, unlike the criticisms we had of him in the Defenders books we reviewed a few weeks ago), Jim Starlin, and Alan Weiss all had a hand in the look of this series. Inconsistent artwork and a bi-monthly publishing schedule spells cancellation? I'd add bad publicity as well -- the teaser box at the end of #3 implies a storyline that is not close to what is between the covers of #4; #4 just sort of ends, and then there's a filler story of the Linda Fite-authored Marvel Girl origin (say what??).


Doug: Issue #3 begins with a boat chase on Lake Michigan. As a native Illinoisan, I was offended by author Linda Fite's claim that after crashing, the Cat's lungs filled with "salty" water (all of the Great Lakes are fresh water -- duh!). Anyway, the Cat is involved with some mystery-men and is captured by them. The reader is treated to a recap of events of the past couple of days that brought Greer Nelson to this point. The "bad guys" are sort of weird, referring to her as a "creature". They also can't seem to figure out the purpose of her costume.


Doug: To make a long story short, Greer is taken below the waters of the lake to a base. At this point she believes these dudes to be Navy. In the midst of her investigation of the base (after regaining consciousness, natch), she stumbles upon an intruder -- the Sub-Mariner's villain Commander Kraken. Should I be scared? After all, the guy looks just like Captain Hook, for crying out loud! A big fight ensues, the Cat and her "Navy" boys win, the Cat's sent back up to shore, and then the base blasts through the surface of the lake, revealing that it is an alien space ship. Yeah, I know -- I couldn't have made that up.


Doug: And if that wasn't dorky enough, I then start reading #4. The art this time around is by Jim Starlin and Alan Weiss -- this certainly ain't the Starlin we'd come to know in Captain Marvel! Also, I don't know much about Linda Fite other than she was married to Herb Trimpe at one time and is now a newspaper reporter. I would argue that she certainly didn't know much about Chicago back in the day, as she not only made the gaffe about the lake, but also sets this story in the Union Stockyards. Problem -- this issue is cover-dated June 1973; the Stockyards closed in 1971.





Doug: Because I can't hardly stand to belabor the point, Greer and a female pal encounter a heavy who turns out to be the Man-Bull. He's a big dope whether Man or Bull, and what's even more ridiculous is the fact that he's shown controlling a herd of cattle. Sort of like an orchestrated running of the bulls. Oh, lord, I could stick a fork in my eye... If you can avoid these books, do.


Karen: Well, I think I had better luck with my selection for our inaugural post. The issue I chose was Justice League of America #141, from 1976. I've always been a Marvel reader first and foremost, but I did (and still do) read DC as well. But back in the 70s, most of my DC interest was confined to the Legion of Super-Heroes, although I really wanted to like the Justice League. Like many kids, I knew who all the members of the League were, primarily from watching cartoons rather than reading comics. I had read some JLAs that my uncle had, which were from the mid-60s, but they just didn't grab me. The major problem for me was that the JLA seemed so bland. I was used to reading teams like the Fantastic Four or the Avengers. These were folks who worked together, and yet, they were all as different as could be. You could hide the pictures and just read the dialogue out of an issue of the FF, for example, and it would be pretty easy to tell who was who based solely on their speech patterns. But the JLA books I read featured characters that were practically interchangeable, at least personality-wise.

Karen: I would pick up an issue of JLA every once in awhile, just to check out the team, but was usually much more interested in The Avengers, FF, even the Defenders. But in 1976, the JLA experienced a change that brought me on board as a regular reader. It wasn't the addition of new members that did it - it was the addition of a new writer; a writer who was, in fact, one of my Marvel favorites: Steve Englehart.

Karen: As the story goes, when Gerry Conway ever so briefly took over the editor in chief reins at Marvel, he announced that he would be writing Avengers from now on. Englehart had been on the book for four years and was doing a great job. With Conway resolute, Englehart felt wronged, and offered his services to DC. New publisher Jenette Kahn asked him to take Justice League and make it more, well, Marvel-like. And that's just what Steve did. Under his brief guidance, the JLA developed realistic personalities and voices. They didn't all get along, and they didn't all sound the same!

Karen: His first story actually appeared as the second story in issue 139. But today I'm going to review issue 141, which is the second part of a fantastic Green Lantern-Manhunter story. Actually, if you're a fan of the animated Justice League, you'll recall the plot, since they used it in one of their episodes! The Green Lantern (Hal Jordan here) is being hunted by the Manhunters, intergalactic bounty hunters. It is believed -even by GL at first - that he accidentally destroyed an inhabited planet. The League tries to figure out what's going on and prove GL's innocence.

Karen: This is a long story - DC was doing JLA in 'giant' format - but it moves really well. The art by Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin is very pleasant, although not spectacular. However, I would have loved to have seen artists of their ability on Englehart's Avengers run. The JLA face battles on Earth and in space, and it is all crisply portrayed.

Karen: Englehart's trademark skill with developing relationships is in evidence here. We have a Wonder Woman who has only recently regained her powers, and who feels somewhat insecure, hence her picking on Flash, who seems somewhat uneasy with the Amazon princess. The Atom begins to voice self-doubt. As Englehart's run would go on we would get more insight into some of the other Leaguers (as well as the sort-of cross-over of his Avengers' creation, Mantis...but that's a subject for a later review).

Karen: This issue added to the Green Lantern Corps mythology and also did a good job showcasing the various members and their powers. Batman once again proves that his deductive reasoning is practically a super-power in itself. This was a fun read and I'd especially recommend it to any fans who always found the 70s and earlier JLA boring.

Karen: I can't help but wonder, though, what the regular DC readers thought of Englehart bringing in his 'Marvel style'. Were they offended? By 1976, with so many writers and artists starting to move between companies, did it matter?



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