Monday, December 26, 2016

Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years

All of the DC Comics “Celebration of 75 Years” hardcovers are beautifully designed, high quality editions. This Superman edition is what I expected. While there are no surprises here, there are some stories worth mentioning. Naturally, the collection reprints the first Superman story from Action Comics # 1. That is obviously the quintessential pulp fiction story. This is followed by the rare “How Superman Would End the War” from Look magazine in 1940. We’re treated to Superman’s origin story, and “The Mightiest Team in the World” co-starring Batman from Superman # 76 in 1952. These and other Golden Age tales are a delight, even though they’ve been reprinted many times before. The real jewel here is “Superman’s Return to Krypton” from Superman # 141 in 1960. This under-appreciated masterpiece was written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel with artwork by Wayne Boring. A three-part feature story, author Siegel takes Superman back to his birthplace in a poignant time-travel tale where he meets his parents and falls in love with the beautiful blonde, Lyla Lerrol. It’s not a dream, and Superman interacts with his family and friends without them knowing who he is. But Krypton is doomed, and at the heart of this tale is the idea that Superman is a hero who has lost everything. That key piece of characterization is often overshadowed by this idea that superman is invincible. Wayne Boring is the least appreciated Superman artist today, but “Superman’s Return to Krypton” highlights his fantastic imagination. Boring’s approach to science fiction should be the envy of today’s artists. The background buildings, flying machines, and mechanical apparatus all have that classic feel, and each panel is vivid and alive with motion. The splash page alone is awe-inspiring. The remainder of this collection is also what I expected, and long-time readers won’t be surprised by the inclusion of “Must There be a Superman?” by Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, and “For The Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Other creators like Gil Kane, John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, and others are represented. Another highlight is the inclusion of both “Death of Superman” stories; the “imaginary” classic from 1961 by Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan, and the 1993 Doomsday story by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding. The concluding tales are recent vintage, and their inclusion is a study in contrasts. The color palette is darker, less optimistic, and less satisfying. Comic books are meant to be bright, and they work best when you don’t have to squint through the murkiness. I believe that trend resulted in flagging sales, and DC Comics is currently attempting to turn that around with their “Rebirth” series. Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years is highly recommended.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Golden Age Superman, Vol. 1 & 2

Originally reprinted as “Omnibus” volumes, this historic reprint initiative by DC Comics deserves a better marketing campaign. This is the first time many of these stories have been reprinted. The intention, as I understand it, is to reprint all of the Golden Age and Silver Age titles. That ambitious undertaking starts here with the first two volumes of The Golden Age Superman. These are full color reproductions including the cover for each issue. This constitutes the first comprehensive collection of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s iconic creation. For the first time since their original appearance, readers can follow the Metropolis Marvel’s exploits as they developed. Volume One reprints the stories and covers from Action Comics # 1 through 19, Superman # 1 through 3, and New York World’s Fair Comics # 1. Volume 2 reprints Action Comics # 20 through 31, Superman # 4 through 7, and New York World’s Fair Comics # 2. The reproduction quality is high, and the full color palette is intact from the original pages. Having the covers included is a bonus. Superman was not always featured on the cover, although that would change swiftly. These anthologies don’t include those peripheral characters, just the Superman stories. Covering the years 1938 to 1940, the contents page identifies the cover artist, with the Superman covers mostly all done by Joe Shuster. However, even by 1940 we begin to see the inclusion of artists Jack Burnley and Wayne Boring who would have a strong influence on the series before the decade ended. These stories represent a bygone era. These tales are from an America that vanished in the wake of World War II, and one might argue that the Superman depicted here vanished as well. Patriotic, idealistic and espousing the virtues of hard work and fair play, Superman was a champion of the oppressed. The anthology cover artist is Michael Cho. These two books are what long-time Superman fans have been waiting for. Kudos to DC Comics for doing it right.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Batman: The War Years, 1939-1945

This full color anthology reprints most of the key Batman stories and covers involving World War II, most of which are nearly impossible to find in their original editions. If you do find them, they’re expensive. I once entered into a bidding with a dealer for a high grade copy of Batman # 15, with its iconic Jack Burnley cover featuring Batman with a machinegun. I lost. With an illuminating text by famous comic book scribe Roy Thomas, Batman: The War Years is a fantastic addition to your Bat-library. Roy Thomas puts the selections into perspective, and readers are treated to some of the best and wildest Golden Age Batman tales. In fact, this volume makes a nice bookshelf companion to Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years. The attraction here are the seldom reprinted war stories and war-themed covers from the pages of Batman and Detective Comics. Connoisseurs of sequential comic art will undoubtedly notice the strong influence that artists Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Jack Burnley, Fred Ray and Dick Sprang had on the series. They not only refined the look of the series, they improved upon creator Bob Kane’s simplistic style. Of course you’ll encounter classic villains such as the Joker and the Scarecrow, and forgotten villains like professor Radium from Batman # 8. Jack Kirby gets a nod with a reproduction of his cover for Detective Comics # 65 (July, 1942) which introduced his team, The Boy Commandos, to the DC universe. Batman: The War Years is my current favorite of the anthologies that are suddenly becoming hot properties with DC Comics. Full-color reproductions are long overdue, and later on I’ll cover some of the other full-color anthologies DC is currently releasing. Other “War Years” volumes include Superman and Wonder Woman.  Meanwhile, Batman: The War Years, 1939-1945 should be on your Christmas list.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years

DC Comics has published several additional hardcover “celebrations” marking the 75th anniversary of several characters, and this Batman volume is essential for any collection. From the first Batman story by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, through each wild decade, readers are treated to the diverse interpretations of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. Many of these early stories have been reprinted before, but it’s nice having them in a deluxe hardcover full-color presentation. This anthology series also reproduces most of the covers. Notable here is “The Jungle Cat-Queen” from Detective Comics # 211 in 1954, Catwoman’s last Golden Age appearance by writer Edmond Hamilton and artists Dick Sprang and Charles Paris. “The Batman of Tomorrow” from Detective # 216 from 1955 by the same team is a delight. Naturally, we are treated to “The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team” from World’s Finest # 94. The entries from the swinging 1960s showcase stories by writers John Broome, Robert Kanigher and Gardner Fox with artwork by Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Giella. The key story here is “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl” from Detective Comics # 359 from 1967. Then we get a classic Neal Adams tale, “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” written by Denny O’Neil. Here is where I nitpick the collection; I could a have used a few more of the Denny O’Neil stories from the early 1970s. The long-lasting influence of writer Denny O’Neil with artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano is underappreciated. Writers Steve Englehart and Mike W. Barr and Doug Moench are well represented with artwork by Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, Michael Golden, Alan Davis, Paul Neary and more. My problem with the later entries being that the stories are often incomplete. The era of stand-alone stories is gone, which is an ongoing mistake by comic book publisher’s today. Today’s comics are created like soap operas with cliffhanger endings and story arcs that don’t conclude for months and months (or years). On the plus side, the writing and artwork is strong. Still, there’s great material here and Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years is recommended for Batfans of all ages.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Aquaman: A Celebration of 75 Years

This hardcover anthology is a must-have for comic book collectors.  Collecting 22 stories that range from 1941 to 2015, with the first seven from the 40s and 50s, this is the best Aquaman collection yet published. The book is beautiful, from its endpaper images through each reprinted story (including covers), the scope of Aquaman’s history is covered. The dust jacket reprints a recent image by Jim Lee, while the embossed case-cover sports a vintage Aquaman image. The choices are generally good, although I could easily name multiple stories from the 60s and 70s that should have been included here. Aquaman’s first appearance from More Fun Comics # 73 from 1941 leads off the collection. Created by Paul Norris with writer Mort Weisinger, Aquaman endures all of these decades later. The seven vintage tales are a treat because vintage Aquaman stories rarely find themselves reprinted. These are, by the way, full color reprints. The book’s retail price is $39.99, but it’s worth it. ‘The Invasion of the Fire Trolls” from Aquaman # 1 (1962) leads off a short stint of Silver Age tales, and the remainder are of recent history. I won’t say which stories shouldn’t have been included, because in general terms the collection works. The best writers and artists are featured: Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Peter David, Geoff Johns, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, and Chuck Patton, to name a few. This a great collection for not only comic book fans, but for any young reader. Parents looking for something unique for a Christmas present might do well to pick this up. Getting comic books in the hands of young readers is all the more challenging since the days we plucked them off the spinner rack. Put this book in the hands of kids and let them discover the amazing world of sequential comic art combined with some wildly imaginative stories. This is the way comics books were meant to be. Kudos!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Dan Abnett’s Aquaman

Aquaman has always been underrated. Although he has persisted as an ongoing comic book series since his first appearance in 1941, Aquaman was generally a third-string player. That changed somewhat in the 1960s when DC revamped their titles, added the Justice League and ushered in the new standard of super-hero team-ups. But Aquaman was still a third stringer. None of that really mattered for fans like me. We fans saw the potential in the character. Tales of the sea are hard to resist, and Aquaman’s life is the ultimate sea story. At times, the series has been great, at other times poor editorial choices resulted in mundane story arcs. When DC Comics rebooted their line-up (yet again) it was author Dan Abnett’s Aquaman that stood out as exceptional. This series is distinguished not only by Abnett’s solid storytelling, but by a rotating production crew that includes artists Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessey, Scot Eaton, Philippe Briones, Oscar Jimenez, Mark Morales, and Wayne Faucher. Utilizing multiple artists for an ongoing series often hurts the series because the stylistic differences lend a disjointed feel to the narrative, but that’s not the case here. 
Remarkably, even with the obvious differences, the narrative flows almost seamlessly. Aquaman also benefits from Gabe Eltaeb, the colorist, whose pages are lush and infused with brightness. This combination of artwork suitable for framing and a bright palette have served Aquaman and Abnett well. Aquaman is the best of the DC Comics “Rebirth” titles. The action is hard-core slugfest style, and the characterizations are consistent. Long-time fans of Aquaman comics and new readers alike will find themselves captivated by Aquaman’s new adventures. Abnett keeps the core history generally intact without lingering on the “Rebirth” subplot running through all of the DC titles. Abnett is telling an adventure story, and that’s all we really want. Revisionist continuity is overdone and frankly unwanted in the comic book industry, and Dan Abnett has wisely skated around that by offering up some traditional action. At the onset, Aquaman is up against an Atlantean terror group known as The Deluge, and his primary goal is preventing an Atlantean war with the surface world. Meanwhile, Aquaman has Black Manta to deal with, and his fiancé, Mera, has been asked to prove she is worthy of becoming Queen by undergoing a series of “tests” at The Tower of Widowhood. 
The first eleven issues have set the stage for perhaps the best Aquaman series yet. Let’s not forget that comic books are a predominately visual medium, and the artistic crew have done a fantastic job. The series letterer is Pat Brosseau and the series editors are Brian Cunningham and Amedeo Turturro. For those of you unfamiliar with DCs “Rebirth” all titles are published with two number # 1 issues, and some issues are published with “variant” covers. Yeah, that’s how Warner Brothers (the parent company) executives nickel and dime the public. Aquaman is worth checking out.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Obsidian Chamber by Preston & Child

Readers of the famed Pendergast series by Preston & Child won’t be surprised by the events depicted in The Obsidian Chamber, especially if they read the previous volume, Crimson Shore. There are still plenty of plot twists and heavy action to keep fans of this series turning the pages, although The Obsidian Chamber clearly marks a shift in the series. As usual, we readers are left with unanswered questions. No spoilers here, but “what happens next?” has become the ongoing motif in this exciting and original series of suspense novels. How will FBI agent A.X.L. Pendergast cope with the events described on the final pages? Frankly, I’m wondering if authors Preston & Child haven’t painted themselves into a corner with this one. On the other hand, I admire their willingness to take this series in a wholly unique direction. They have never been shy about their willingness to allow their characters to change, often dramatically, and a great deal of Constance’s actions in this book were unexpected. Again, no spoilers from me, but fans of this series are going to be tested here. Do you agree with the manner in which Preston & Child handled these events? In my discussion with other fans, I learned that many of them enjoyed the book, but with reservations, and they’re on the fence about actually stating that they “liked” it. I believe this is because Preston & Child did such a good job of setting up a profound change in the series direction, and only time will tell how it all plays out. The Obsidian Chamber is not the best book in the Pendergast series, but it’s potentially a key book that will help define future narratives. I’m a fan and so I’m on board all the way. Preston & Child have never let their readers down. Paint me as a clichéd blogger, but I can’t wait for the next one!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever by Dan Abnett and Nik Vincent

I’m not much of a gamer, but I have played all of the Tomb Raider games. I’m a Tomb Raider fan. Loved the films starring Angelina Jolie, bought the comics, and so on. I bought this novel because Dan Abnett wrote it with his wife, Nik Vincent. I’m also a Dan Abnett fan. He is currently writing DC’s Aquaman series, which is among the best of the “DC Rebirth” titles. Abnett has also published numerous outstanding novels in the acclaimed Warhammer gaming series, and even if you’re not a gamer, his novels are great entertainment. His first Tomb Raider novel was titled The Ten Thousand Immortals. Anyway, check out his books. Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever manages to capture the adventuresome spirit of the games while telling a unique story. It gets a little talky in the middle section, but Abnett and Vincent keep the pacing even. Croft delves into a mystery involving an archeological dig in England that amazingly links the UK to ancient Egypt. There are double-crosses, exotic locales and some hefty action to drive the narrative. The basic elements of the Tomb Raider mythos are present, and Abnett and Vincent add the right flourishes in the right places. Lara Croft is brainy and tough as nails, a core element in the gaming experience, and realized fully in this story. Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever is a solid adventure and highly recommended for Tomb Raider fans.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween and Welcome to My Graveyard

Thank you for visiting my digital home. I hope you don’t mind a little blood on your hands. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled addictions after Halloween. Yes, this is where I live. Rather quaint don’t you agree? But you don’t have to worry that much because everything here is dead. Sorry about the smell. I guarantee that over time you’ll come to love the smell of pulp paper, dying willow trees, autumn mist and the cool unyielding surface of a marble headstone. Would you like to begin with the books? Naturally Lovecraft is pre-eminent amongst the authors whose shadows pace back and forth so restlessly in a room lit only by candles. That little fellow in the corner is Poe. He casts a long, withering shadow that often strangles other shadows. It’s one of his many unpleasant habits, but I can’t fault him for it. I rather enjoy the sound of bickering spirits. Clark Ashton Smith, Joseph Payne Brennan, August Derleth and Robert E. Howard have come to stay. If you don’t enjoy their company, then you’re not welcome here. What’s that you say? Yes, that’s blood on the floor. Why should I bother mopping up the blood when it adds such intricate Rorschach speculation to your consideration of the tiled floor? I knew a fellow once who insisted that I mop up the blood. That’s his shrunken head nestled between Norman Partridge and Joe R. Lansdale. I stitched his lips together using fishing tackle. I think Hemingway would have approved. All of the world’s dark places are collected here along with a few dark places of my own creation. I don’t expect you to approve. After all, bloody popcorn is the diet of vampires and ghouls. The dead feed on dreams of the living. You can count on that. When you entered this room you forfeited your right to sunny days and grandmother’s delicious apple pie. I serve platters of blazing six-shooters, galloping horses, strange winged creatures and memories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. Forry Ackerman and Chaney and Karloff and Lugosi all visit every year at this time. They’re quite a pleasant bunch. But I’m not sure who or what that is living in the corner. Its eyes change color every hour and it smells like offal thrown into the brine. Sometimes when I’m sleeping I can sense that it’s watching me. Meanwhile I have some experiments to conduct. Ygor has just brought me a fresh corpse. It’s a young and tender thing who died of apoplexy. I have plans for its spleen and liver. Its retinas will read stanzas from the Book of the Dead; its fingers will seek a fresh throat to crush. Something inhabits the darkness. It’s ancient and cold and thrives on fear. It knows what you’re thinking. It whispers arcane secrets using the books as a conduit. It’s funny, you see, because you thought Halloween was all about the candy and the plastic masks. How very naive of you. Now you’re about to click off this webpage when a shadow falls across your shoulder. You smell the fathomless sea and images swirl in your mind like bloody milk. You’re about to laugh self-righteously, smugly, when a paralysis grips your body. Then you see what it is that pursues you and you can’t move. Membranous wings beat slowly against your flesh and tendrils wrap themselves about you. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!