Saturday, December 31, 2011

An EC comics New Year:

 And so 2011 draws to a close. Hey, it wasn’t that bad a year: Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong Il kicked the bucket, Lady Gaga proved she actually has talent, the DC reboot turned out to not be half-bad, our boys finally came home (though to what, is a whole ‘nother story), the most heartbreaking moment on TV came from South Park (of all things), the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake was actually pretty awesome, Christianity had its most embarrassing moment since the days of the Spanish Inquisition, and Martin Scorsese made a good movie for the first time since the 90s.
 So get ready to list your resolutions, prepare for the inevitable hangover tomorrow morning, and let’s usher in the New Year!
 This little gem of New Year’s evil was written and drawn by Johnny Craig and originally published in Tales from the Crypt #22 (actually #6). The people at Heritage Comics Auctions apparently think it’s a Halloween story:
 Ha Ha. Oh, auctioneers, you so crazy. Anyway, enjoy. All © EC.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Will Eisner Christmas

 When it comes to comic book stories about Christmas, there is quite a large selection of stories I could have posted, most notably EC’s legendary “And all through the House”. However, the stories which get my vote for “best” Christmas stories are Will Eisner’s annual “Christmas Spirit” stories. Yeah, some of them were too schmaltzy for their own good, but I love ‘em so. Enjoy! As this story shows, everyone deserves a nice Holiday, even cattle rustlers and Hitler analogues. All © Will Eisner.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cool Story Bro: The origin of Captain Cold

Brrrrr. It’s cold here in Cali. I have a fire going in my hearth and I can still see my breath. A few hours ago I began writing up a post about the many, many cold-themed villains in comics in order to kill my time before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which, by the way, was excellent) started. Turns out I’d screwed up the dates and the film started an hour earlier than expected, so I ditched the post (though I may complete it someday, maybe for Christmas) after an hour or so and went to see the film. That said, I did finish re-reading the debut of Captain Cold from Showcase #8 and I noticed some odd things about it, one of which was both surprisingly educational and kind of an eerie coincidence.
 Like Dr. Alchemy, one of the things I like about the icy Flash villain is how practical he is, well, mostly. This guy doesn’t waste his time trying to kill superheroes so he can commit crimes (which is always a method of guaranteeing both defeat and more serious charges like attempted murder), or run headfirst into committing crimes without preparing for superheroes, he plans ahead. Len Snart was a crook who, realizing that he himself was no match for the Scarlet Speedster, decided to scour any scientific magazines he could get his hands on to see if he had a chance of defeating the hero. He’s lucky; a newspaper mentions that a scientific magazine has prepared an essay on the Flash. Lenny then does what any sensible person would do: He breaks into the office of the magazine so he can read the article. Uhhh, he could just buy the magazine, but…..hey, I said he was mostly practical.
 The article theorizes that the energy from a cyclotron could slow the Flash down, so Len breaks into a power plant with what is apparently a toy ray-gun. What does this have to do with cyclotrons? Errr, nothing. Len presses a bunch of random buttons and ends up zapping the toy gun full of radiation.

 Yeah, I have no idea how even by comic-book logic zapping a toy ray gun with radiation makes it shoot out ice. That said, I like how they make a point that Len didn’t intend to shoot the guard, instead accidentally pressing the trigger. Many years later, Captain Cold’s establishing trait became that he had a sense of honor and nobility and tried to avoid bloodshed whenever possible. Nice to see that the concept had its roots in his first appearance. Anyway, he’s all set for the super villain business.
 In another strangely humanizing moment, he then struggles to come up with an appropriate alias. Now I want to see a story where he and Flash are forced to team up to fight a new group of villains who use those names. Lenny then tries to see what would happen if he filled the gun with liquid helium, and this happens:
 His explanation?
  I first read this in a reprint when I was a kid, and even then I called bullshit. Len practices with creating illusions, until finally he forces Flash to confront these Seuss meets Harryhausen-style monstrosities:
 Flash quickly deduces what they are and apprehends Len.
 But Flash doesn’t want to see such a simple-minded, likeable man go to jail, and he knows the police hunting for him won’t be so merciful. Flash then tells him to look yonder while he secretly pulls out a gun, and then tells Len to think about the farm they’ll someday own together. They’ll have cows, some chickens, and some rabbits. And Len will get to tend the rabbits!
 Okay, not really. Still, it was a very fun story with an oddly likeable villain. However, I was curious if intense cold actually could create mirages. Apparently, it can, according to Wikipedia. A search on Google Books also turned up this information from a book called Snow by Ruth Kirk. Fascinating. Without cold mirages, America might not have been discovered.

 Cold mirages are also responsible for the phenomenon known as Fata Morgana. Eerily enough, one of Wikipedia’s go-to images for Fata Morgana is of Moss Landing, a place I’ve visited many times (one of my best friends lives there, and they have an awesome annual flea-market). It’s always covered in fog, but next time I go there I’ll be sure to keep an eye out!
 Leave it to the comics to teach me something like that. I know that John Broome often put educational facts into some of his comics, especially Flash, but I had no idea cold mirages would be one of them. Even funnier, I did an image search for the term “Cold mirages” and guess what the first result was?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Remembering Joe Simon; and his first superhero.

 What a sad month December is turning out to be. Today, yet another comic book legend has been lost: Joe Simon; one of the true giants of the Golden Age, has passed away. While his own artwork was rough and frequently unfinished looking, his storytelling abilities and sense of design helped to anchor a young Jack Kirby’s work, and the two became one of the most successful teams during the 40s (when they weren’t being screwed over by publishers, that is!).
Most famously of course, he created Captain America.
 Simon was also the first editor Marvel Comics (then known as Timely) ever had. It was there that he created his first superhero; The Fiery Mask. Let’s take a look at the character, shall we?
 Here’s his first appearance from Daring Mystery Comics #1, as reprinted in The Golden Age of Marvel Comics Vol. 2. Sorry about the blurry scans and not being able to post the whole thing, but I spent a long time tracking this volume down and I didn’t want to damage it any more than necessary. All © Marvel.
 We begin with Dr. Jack Castle, a forensic investigator (15 years before Barry Allen) who is called on by the police to investigate mysterious deaths of people who had previously been reported missing, where the victims inexplicably come back to life with homicidal impulses, ranting about “the master” (no, not that one).
 Jack decides to investigate the bowery since a large number of the victims were homeless. Note how much effort Simon put into this panel. Clearly he was drawing on memories of his own youth in such areas. Both Simon & Kirby would create series about the lives of kids in the slums, notably the Newsboy Legion.
 Jack gets a hunch that whoever is responsible for the zombies has been using a great deal of electricity. He asks the PG&E people for records, and decides to investigate one house which has racked up a huge electrical bill. His hunch is right; the person who greets him is a walking corpse! The zombie then pulls a gun on him and leads him through the secret passageways beneath the deceptively small house.
 Several people are being kept prisoners, including a beautiful girl who has been able to resist the experiments, and who is kept in a glass case (a visual borrowed from the 1934 film The Black Cat, perhaps?). She briefly makes eye contact with Jack.
But women in cases aren’t the only wonders within the caverns. There are also giant buzzards!
 Jack then meets the Master; an 8 foot tall bearded man with yellowish-green skin. His motivation for making people into zombies?
Oh, it was society’s fault!
Jack tries to reason with the Master, but is instead strapped to a table and bathed in the light of the zombie ray, where he then makes the funniest wisecrack in superhero history:
 Get it? “Roses are red, violets are blue, I think you’re screwy, sho’nuff?” Ha Ha Ha Ha. ;_;
Because Jack is skilled in hypnotism, he is able to resist the ray’s power. The Master continues to apply power until the machine overloads and explodes. Jack escapes with only his clothes in rags, suffused with a strange energy.
 He then finds he has super-strength and gives the Master what-for.
He also super-breath, which he uses to, well, see for yourself:
 Jack and the girl escape the burning house and he returns her to her home.
 After a talk with his police captain friend, he decides to go into the superhero business as---The Fiery Mask!
 Yeah, it’s a silly story, more reminiscent of a Hugh B. Cave pulp horror story or a Republic serial than anything else, but Simon’s artwork shows hints of greatness. The Fiery Mask also deserves props for being the first Marvel superhero to gain his powers from radiation; something which would become rather common for most Marvel heroes.
 The Fiery Mask had only a few more adventures after that (including J. Michael Stracynszki’s The Twelve), most infamously one where he battled a demonic baby:
Still, he was the first superhero created by Joe Simon, and that’s enough to make him a character worthy of revival in my book.

RIP Joe Simon. Whether you were drawing radioactive forensic investigators blowing buzzards around or revolutionizing comic art with Jack Kirby, you were a legend.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

All I want for Christmas: Comics collections I would buy if they existed:

Ho Ho Ho. I’m an atheist, but I loves me some Christmas presents. Every year for Christmas, people give me the materials necessary to make diamonds with; a lump of coal and a loaded .38 with a note saying: “For the love of all humanity, please use this!” I appreciate the thought, but I doubt the force from a .38 would exert enough pressure to turn the coal into diamond. So yeah, I’m pretty much content with what I have. Still, here are some non-existent comic collections that would make me a very happy man this December as I while away the hours drinking rum-laced eggnog, yelling at my neighbors and watching Christmas classics like Jingle all the Way and Curse of the Werewolf.

 Also, before you think I’ve reached a new low in nerdiness, keep in mind that there are like, several different sites devoted to “What if” comics collections that don’t exist yet.
Complete collections of Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko’s Atlas monster comics:
Back in 1990-something, Marvel released a TPB called Monster Masterworks that was mostly Kirby stories. I love the story selections, but the book itself is one of the shoddiest affairs I’ve ever seen; the spine is brittle, the art credits are wrong, there’s an introduction by Jack Kirby that reads like it was cut out from some larger interview, the reproduction quality is awful, and there’s a cover gallery which only shows the covers of the reprint titles and not the actual original comics. The reprints themselves are also the “altered” versions from the 70s, usually to make the Russian villains into people from generic countries (like that “Murania story” I posted for Thanksgiving) or to alter the names of monsters that were identical to Marvel heroes and villains (like Hulk and Glob). Back in 2005, Marvel released several tongue-in-cheek “tribute” issues devoted to their old monster comics, along with reprints. These were collected in a handsome hardcover. The original unaltered comics are also collected in “Masterwork” editions.
 That’s all well and good, but there should be complete collections of the monster stories from each artist. Hell, release them as a series with “themed” versions (like one collection for aliens, one for sea monsters, etc.) if you want.
A collection featuring the complete appearances of golden age DC villains:
 Now this sounds next to impossible, but that’s only the case if we focus on extremely “major” villains like the Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman rogues, each of whom had shitloads of appearances. If we instead focus on the villains of lesser known characters like the Flash, Green Lantern, Dr. Fate, Wildcat, Hawkman etc., we’d have a decent-sized collection or two that would be quite economical.
 I’ve mentioned this before, but you would be surprised how little-used recurring villains were in the golden age; Solomon Grundy only had four appearances, Gentleman Ghost had four as well, the Mist had two, the Thinker had seven, Huntress had seven, Wotan had three, Fiddler had four, Icicle had three, The Shade had one, Vandal Savage had two. See? Not that much page-space to worry about. Also, a lot of these characters popped up in the JSA “Injustice Society” stories, so you’d be able to cram those stories in there as well to push the book and feature half the appearances of some of these characters.
 Minor heroes like Johnny Quick, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara and Vigilante also had archenemies like Dr. Clever, Blue Llama, Tigress, and the Dummy. Stories focused on these characters could easily fill out a volume two. I don’t care how it’s done; just get this stuff out before the 70’s reprint titles like Wanted become just as expensive as the original issues.
A Collection of Mike Barr & Alan Davis’s Detective Comics run:
 This run lasted only six issues (Detective Comics #’s 569-574) but it remains one of my favorite (hell, on some days my absolute favorite) Batman runs. There’s so much great stuff; the Catwoman & Joker (when he was drawn to resemble David Bowie) story with that absolutely heartbreaking ending, the Scarecrow’s most famous caper, Jason Todd actually being a likeable character, the anniversary issue where Batman teams up with all stars past and present of Detective Comics, a fun Mad Hatter story, and of course the excellent “My Beginning and my Probable End”. That would actually be a good title for the collection; “Probable Ends”. With an all-star villain line-up, and only six issues to reprint, what’s to lose?
More ‘Greatest stories ever told” TPBs:
DC has crapped out Superman, Batman (two volumes), Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Joker, Flash, Captain Marvel and Green Lantern volumes, not to mention two “decades” volumes devoted to the Golden Age and the 1950s. Why stop there? Green Arrow, Aquaman, Hawkman, Swamp Thing, Plastic Man and The Spectre deserve a chance in the spotlight. Hell, for the last three I can rattle off what I’d put in there if I was the editor. These volumes also need to showcase more Golden Age material, and if they focus on legacy heroes, to give each character an equal story allotment. I remember the “Greatest Green Lantern stories” solicits that mentioned it would include Alan Scott & Guy Gardner material, and the volume itself was nearly all Hal Jordan stories! Fuckers.
 Also, there needs to be a “worst” collection for each hero as well. I’m curious to see what material DC would intentionally market as bad.
A Chronological reprinting of every one of Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner stories:
You know who writes better than Bill Everett? Lots of people.
You know who draws better than Bill Everett? A slight handful of people.
You know who writes and draws Sub-Mariner better than Bill Everett? NO ONE!
 More DC Archives:
I’d love to see archives of Captain Comet, Wildcat, Green Arrow, various Quality heroes, second volumes of Golden Age Hawkman, as well as collections of non-hero stuff. DC has reprinted big Showcase editions of their horror comics after the code, but I’m curious to see their pre-code horror comics like House of Mystery and the post-Wonder Woman issues of Sensation Comics. I know the stuff was tamer than other pre-code horror comics, but I’m curious to read it anyway. Alex Toth’s Johnny Thunder stories also look cool.
 Ostrander & Mandrake’s Spectre series:
If that TV show gets made, I can’t think of a better excuse to release these stories. There was a TPB collecting the first four issues, but that barely scratches the surface. Seriously, these stories are some of the best material published in the 1990s, not to mention the freakiest comics I have ever read.
 Is this all too much to ask? Yeah, but that’s why it’s called day-dreaming.