Friday, March 6, 2015

All the Young Dudes

Doug: Today I'm going to ask you to think like a 12-year old. For many of us, that's not all too difficult. What I'm looking for is a mental trip back to your formative years, about the time you started "collecting" comics -- that era when you became not only aware of what books and characters you liked, but why you liked them.

Doug: It's long been know around here that I was (and am, I guess) a team book guy. So it's pretty logical that Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes would be one of my monthly go-to's. And while I thought it was really cool that it was a club of super-powered teenagers, by the time I was reading it Mike Grell and James Sherman were doing the art chores. I hate to say it (boy, do I hate to say it!), but I wasn't going to junior high school with any young ladies that looked like Saturn Girl or Princess Projectra! Nor did I have any friends whose older sisters looked like that! So my point is, although the characters were supposed to be "my age" or slightly older, I didn't identify with them as such. I can say the same thing about Johnny Storm, Peter Parker, and the X-Men (granted, the All-New, All-Different team was supposed to be in their early 20s).

Doug: Now what about you? When you were a kid did you gravitate to the youngsters? Were Bucky and Toro favorites of yours in the Invaders? How about Robin (probably close to 19 or 20 by the time most of us were reading Batman Family)? Did you buy Nova because he was a teen, or because he had a cool costume? Was the inclusion of characters specifically designed to appeal to youngsters a spot-on marketing strategy from the Big Two?




Thursday, March 5, 2015

Guest Review - Chandler: Red Tide





Welcome to our second guest post! This past Monday Mike W. walked us through one of his favorite story arcs of the early 1980s, a tussle featuring the Justice League and Justice Society against a revamped Secret Society of Super-Villains. Today we have a Bronze Age reading of a different stripe -- an illustrated novel. Your host for this literary excursion is Edo Bosnar.







 

Chandler: Red Tide (Byron Preiss Visual Publications and published by Pyramid Books, 1976)

Edo Bosnar: A big part of what we call the Bronze Age in comics was the experimental stuff. Not just the often trippy or off-the-wall stories in mainstream superhero comics by guys like Jim Starlin or Steve Gerber, but also the various innovative projects being published by someone other than Marvel or DC. An example of this is the Fiction Illustrated series launched by Byron Preiss in the mid-1970s. These were supposed to herald a new age in graphic storytelling. You can see the entirety of one of these offerings, Starfawn, over at Diversions of the Groovy Kind. Another, and perhaps the best remembered, is Chandler: Red Tide by the legendary Jim Steranko.


It’s a hard-boiled/noir detective story set in New York the early 1930s, featuring a P.I. named Chandler (an obvious homage to Raymond Chandler). Steranko did pretty much everything but the coloring in this, i.e., he wrote the story, drew all of the illustrations and very meticulously designed the whole package.


I’m not going to do a full review of the story, since it is a novel, or rather, a novella. Whatever the matter, a full rundown would be too time-consuming. Needless to say, it’s got all of the elements of a classic hard-boiled crime novel in the style of Chandler or Hammett: a tough private detective drawn into a bizarre murder case (a guy comes into his office saying he’s got 72 hours to live because he was poisoned, and wants the detective to find his murderer), and on the way there are intrigues involving organized crime and uncooperative police officers, a few plot-twists, including a bit of shocker at the end, and, of course, a femme fatale.

 

What I really want to do here is just highlight the book itself. Steranko wanted to make this look like something that’s halfway between a comic book and a standard prose novel. As you can see, there are pictures all the way through, and under each there are always exactly 13 lines of text, so it has a very uniform and well-ordered look throughout. Some of my favorite pages are those in which each of the panels forms an entire “splash” image. Like this flashback sequence:


And this scene in which Chandler rekindles a relationship with an old flame:

 

It’s notable that Steranko really made an effort for this to be a genuine juxtaposition of words and pictures, rather than the sequential images with narration and/or dialogue inside the pictures that you get with comics. This actually sets it apart from the only other Fiction Illustrated title I’m familiar with, the above-mentioned Star Fawn, which does have occasional dialogue bubbles as in standard comic books.

 

I think Steranko mostly succeeded in his aim, as this is a really cool-looking book. The story, while nothing spectacular, is solid. It’s too bad he didn’t do a few more of these, just as it’s unfortunate that these didn’t catch on and become more popular. Preiss and a few others did make some later, similar attempts (most notably with Howard Chaykin), and while well-liked by fans and cult favorites now, they ultimately didn’t set the world on fire. All in all, this is an interesting relic of a time when a number of creators were trying to stretch the limits of what comics and graphic storytelling could be.

 

By the way, my copy is the original pocketbook format printed on newsprint-type paper, which I purchased online pretty cheaply about 6-7 years ago. Apparently there was also a deluxe edition, which was 8” x 10” in format and printed on higher-quality paper – the few times I’ve checked (e.g. on eBay), copies of that, when offered at all, are never listed for less than a $100. Ouch. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get some nice, new deluxe reprint, either: a few years ago, several comics-related websites posted announcements that Chandler would be reprinted by Titan Books, but so far nothing has come of this.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Spinner Rack - March 1979


Doug: Many moons have passed since last we visited the spinner rack! Today we're heading back to early 1979. If you're new here, you'll want to visit Mike's Amazing World of Comics, where you'll find covers of all of the comics that were cover-dated right smack on today's parameter. You can also click on the date below, which will take you to the Comic Book Database where you can get more specific information on each issue from that month/year. Have fun reminiscing!



Monday, March 2, 2015

Guest Review - Justice League of America 195-197



Doug: Today the Bronze Age Babies are most pleased to bring our readers an Arc of Triumph...? guest review, featuring the events of Justice League of America #s 195-197, by M.S. Wilson.

M.S. Wilson: Welcome to my review of Justice League of America #195-197, which features a new version of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. This is one of the annual JLA/JSA team-ups that ran in Justice League in the Silver and Bronze ages, and it’s one of my favorites. I read this when I was nine and I loved how the bad guys seemed to be winning through the first two issues, but the heroes turned things around (with a little help) in the third. These comics were also my first introduction to some of the Earth-2 villains; I was familiar with the JSA members from previous team-ups and the All-Star Comics revival, but some of these villains (Monocle, Mist, Rag Doll) were new to me.



Justice League of America #195 (October 1981)
"Targets on Two Worlds!"
Gerry Conway-George Perez/John Beatty (cover by Perez

M.S. Wilson: The story begins in JLA #195, with over half of this issue dealing with the “recruitment” process, showing the gathering of two sets of villains, one on each Earth. We start on Earth-2 with the Monocle, now retired from villainy. This scene actually addresses the old question about why super-villains don’t turn their talents toward legitimate ends instead of crime; apparently the Monocle has used his knowledge of laser optics to build a successful company and make a lot of money. But I guess being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as we see him complaining (aloud, even though he’s alone) that he’s bored and feeling nostalgic for his life of crime. Conveniently, a mysterious figure has a great way to relieve his boredom ... get back into crime!

The recruitment drive continues on Earth-1, with Signalman escaping from a hospital. The coincidences really pile up here, as Signalman escapes by climbing down the big neon sign outside, shorting out letters as he goes; luckily for him, the name of the hospital is St. Ignatius Loyola, so he’s able to spell SIGNAL. Anyway, he’s picked up by Killer Frost, who seems to be in charge of recruiting on Earth-1, and invited to join the Secret Society. The scene shifts back and forth between the two Earths as we see more bad guys join the team. On Earth-2, Psycho Pirate breaks out of jail (why is he kept in a regular cell, where anyone can see him? Shouldn’t he be kept behind some kind of opaque barrier?). On Earth-1, Cheetah almost gets assaulted by three guys (they said they only wanted a kiss, but the art makes their intentions pretty clear), but she slices them up before joining Killer Frost. Back on Earth-2, Rag Doll robs a bank (after mailing himself to the manager in a box!), and gets help with his escape from Psycho Pirate and Monocle, as well as the mysterious figure who’s been assembling the Earth-2 villains. He’s shown to have a hairy paw... now who could that be?

On Earth-1, Killer Frost and friends talk Floronic Man into joining them (and he gets an angst-ridden speech about how he’s no longer human but not fully vegetable-matter either, so he feels like a freak). On Earth-2, the Mist kills a couple of his old gang members in revenge for letting him go to jail alone. He is asked to join the Secret Society immediately afterward, by a large, furry, apelike... actually, I’m not sure why they’re drawing out the mystery of the new Society’s leader; it’s revealed in this same issue. I guess Gerry just wanted it to seem more dramatic. Anyway, back on Earth-1, the four villains go to a secret base and meet Brainwave, who’s using his illusion powers to look young and buff instead of his usual short, bald, wrinkly self. They travel through a dimensional transporter to Earth-2 (remember when it used to be difficult to transport between the Earths?) and meet the leader of this little conspiracy, who turns out to be ... the Ultra-Humanite! Since Signalman doesn’t know who that is, Mist helpfully recounts to him (and us) Ultra’s history: his longstanding enmity with the Earth-2 Superman, his ability to switch his consciousness into other bodies, and the fact that his latest mind-switch was into the body of a gigantic albino ape; Irwin Donenfeld would be proud! The newly furry Ultra-Humanite explains that each of the super-villains he’s chosen has a counterpart, a favorite enemy, and if these ten particular superheroes are sent to Limbo, it’ll cause a cosmic imbalance, eliminating ALL superheroes from either Earth-1 or Earth-2. The villains, figuring they have a 50/50 chance of ridding their world of all its superheroes, agree to Ultra’s plan.

Finally, we see the stars of the book, the JLA and JSA, at one of their annual reunions. There are a few character bits, and some of the heroes express surprise that nothing has happened to disrupt this year’s meeting. After everyone has left (I find it fascinating that the JLA Satellite exists only on Earth-1, but can beam the JSA back to Earth-2; was this ever explained? Maybe Dr. Fate had something to do with it), Black Canary is left alone on monitor duty. The Mist exploits a security bug in the transporter and sneaks aboard the Satellite to attack BC. He beats her by turning himself intangible, which is a new power for him (he could previously turn transparent, but was still solid.) On Earth-2, Monocle takes out Hawkman with a remote-controlled monocle. And back on Earth-1, Cheetah attacks Wonder Woman near the Washington Monument and really pounds her. Apparently Cheetah blames Wonder Woman for (supposedly) leaving her to drown in WW #275, and she’s a little miffed about it... or maybe a little psychotic. So the bad guys have successfully taken down three of the ten superheroes that they’re gunning for. At the end of this issue we see Ultra-Humanite gloating to himself, and we find out that it isn’t a toss up as to which Earth will lose it’s superheroes ... it’s definitely Earth-2, and Ulty knew that all along. The leader of a group of super-criminals has his own agenda? I’m shocked!



Justice League of America #196 (November 1981)
"Countdown to Crisis!"
Gerry Conway-George Perez/Romeo Tanghal (cover by Perez and Dick Giordano)

In JLA #196, the villains continue taking down the superheroes of two Earths one by one. Psycho Pirate beats Hourman; of course, Hourman is smart enough not to look directly at Psycho Pirate, so PP needs a little help from one of Ultra-Humanite’s devices, a psycho prism. It reflects PP’s sleepy-face all over the room, so Hourman can’t avoid seeing it, and promptly goes night-night. Signalman uses flashing lights to turn a crowd against Batman (although the post-Crisis Batman might have just pounded them all into submission.) Rag Doll gets Flash (Jay Garrick) with an explosive, while Floronic Man takes out Atom (Ray Palmer) with some soporific pollen. Brainwave takes down Johnny Thunder (and his T-Bolt) by luring him to a clothing store (where Johnny almost updates his look!) Firestorm is beaten by his own overconfidence when Killer Frost brings the ceiling down on his head. Finally, Ultra-Humanite lures Superman (of Earth-2) to a zoo, where he surprises Supes by shooting Green Kryptonite spray from a device on his chest. At the end of this issue, the beaten heroes are put in a centrifuge and sent to Limbo. The first time I read this, I was surprised that the villains’ plan actually worked; I couldn’t wait to see how the heroes got out of this mess. 



Justice League of America #197 (December 1981)
"Crisis in Limbo"
Gerry Conway-George Perez/Keith Pollard/Romeo Tanghal (cover by Perez and Mike DeCarlo)

And get out of that mess they did, of course, in JLA #197. As this issue begins, the superheroes are sent to Limbo and the plan actually works; Earth-2 starts to twist and deform around them before “snapping back” to normal. The Earth-1 villains realize immediately that Ultra-Humanite knew banishing the heroes would eliminate all the remaining superheroes from Earth-2 only; he’d let them think there was an equal chance to affect Earth-1 because he’d needed their cooperation. But before they can do anything, they’re transported back to Earth-1, and when they try to return, the transporter device blows up. Killer Frost shows some leadership by slapping down Signalman and Floronic Man, and coming up with a plan to get back to Earth-2 to get revenge against Ultra-Humanite for using them (her strength here is undercut somewhat when she reveals her main motive for villainy is “I want power! Power to punish men for spurning me!” Yes, she’s a super-villain because she can’t get a boyfriend. One step forward, two steps back.). Anyway, they go to Coast City and capture Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)... rather easily, I have to say. They also seem to know a lot about the Satellite transporters, including their locations in various cities. You’d think the JLA might change the locations regularly to avoid something like that. Anyway, they use the unconscious Green Lantern to beam to the Satellite, where they take down Elongated Man (also rather easily, it must be said.)

Back on Earth-2, the villains are enjoying a world with no superheroes (I’m wondering if eliminating the superheroes from Earth-2 also got rid of other super-villains? We don’t see any others here... and what about non-powered heroes like Robin or Huntress? Apparently they were eliminated too? I guess it doesn’t pay to examine these things too closely.). Monocle and Rag Doll are having fun messing with the cops, Psycho Pirate and Mist rob a “collector’s convention”. There’s no mention of comics, but there is a shout-out to Star Trek fanzines; the villains steal jewels, which apparently are exhibited at conventions on Earth-2. Brainwave uses his powers to... basically rape an actress? That’s the implication, anyway. And Ultra-Humanite decides to take over the United Nations... no thinking small for him!

Meanwhile, the Earth-1 baddies have used the JLA transporter to go to Limbo (which it can do, apparently) and rescue the heroes. That’s right, the heroes only survive this because they’re rescued by the bad guys; let that sink in for a minute... the only reason these heroes win is because of the villains’ sour grapes. Killer Frost even says: “If we can’t have a world without heroes, neither can anyone else!” Who’d have thought pettiness could come in handy? Of course, the heroes immediately pound their rescuers (there’s gratitude for ya!) and head for Earth-2 to set things right. They somehow take the whirling centrifuge with them (or maybe it stays in Limbo and just creates a vortex, I’m not sure) and toss all the bad guys into the dimensional vortex, banishing them to Limbo. Earth-2 reality goes back to normal (without all the weird visual effects, which Superman mentions in passing) and the villains are all banished to Limbo, where they have a few things to discuss with Ultra-Humanite. Apparently banishing these ten villains has no effect on the cosmos, nor do the superheroes seem to care overly much.

I liked this arc when I was a kid and still do, although some of the plot holes are more obvious to me now. The villains seem much more competent here than in the usual comics story; in fact, they technically win here. If not for the Earth-1 villains rescuing the heroes from Limbo, Earth-2 would’ve been hero-less and taken over by bad guys. That sort of role-reversal blew me away as a kid. One thing that always bothered me was how the villains defeated the heroes so handily in the first two issues, but were soundly trounced in only a few pages at the conclusion. The way the villains paired off against their “usual” foes was a little strange too (although in Limbo they mixed things up a bit more.) In hindsight, this arc would’ve been perfect for an “Acts of Vengeance” type story, with the villains taking on heroes they weren’t normally used to fighting. But overall, I love this story; it introduced me to some new villains, the story is different from the usual fare, and the art is great. There’s even a cool centerfold in #195 featuring the JLA on one side and the JSA on the other ... what’s not to love?


Saturday, February 28, 2015

This Cover Made Me Buy This Book!

Doug: How about this blast from your past, circa the beginning of the school year in 1975? I'd have just turned 9 and entering the 4th grade. We lived in Milwaukee at that time (South 78th St. School), but would move back to home base in April of 1976. I don't remember where I bought this, but know that I had it. I thought the Griffin was one bad dude, and very cool-looking. I'd been enjoying the Beast in the Avengers mag, and of course everything Spidey was "must-read". So who had this, and what do you think of this cover as a selling point?

This is from the Comic Book Database, not a personal copy. But I love that it looks like it is!
 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Breaking News - Leonard Nimoy has Passed


Doug: Multiple news outlets are saying that famed Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy has passed away at the age of 83. Karen will be along later to shepherd the conversation.


Karen: It probably sounds trite to say a TV character taught me a lot about life, but it’s true. Mr. Spock, so brilliantly portrayed by Leonard Nimoy, doubtless appealed to many adolescents. The half-human, half-Vulcan Science Officer reflected the turmoil boiling just below the surface  that so many of us felt growing up. His calm exterior and tremendous self-control were to be envied, just like his incredible intellect. But it was the moments when we saw deeper into the character that we really remember –and Nimoy managed to get across such nuance in his performance that it hit on so many levels. Years later, after Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Spock had finally made peace with the two halves of his heritage –and again Nimoy gave us a wonderful depiction of a more mature, changed Spock.



There are many great quotes from the character, but the one that really stands out right now, at the time of Mr. Nimoy’s passing, is this: “I have been –and always shall be –your friend.”

Thank you, Mr. Nimoy. Your many friends shall miss you.


2/28 -
Karen: I sat this evening looking through an old album of photos I took at various conventions I have attended over the years and came across a couple I'd like to share. 

In 2003 I saw Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner at the Star Trek Grand Slam Convention in Pasadena. The two came out on stage together and were terrific, sharing stories and trading barbs. But the highlight was when Carrie Fisher (in a rare con appearance) came out and went right past Shatner to give Nimoy a big kiss! The Shat was distraught, and Nimoy loved it. One of my fondest convention memories.










Childhood is Fleeting

Doug: This post began as an ode to spring, and when I got to thinking about what I like most about spring, my idea morphed into a bit more expansive topic.

Doug: I was going to begin by saying the advent of baseball season was one of the things I always looked forward to the most, coming out of the (usually) long winters that Chicagoland is known for. But as my mind came to rest on that, it occurred to me that not only do I look forward to baseball at the Major League level, I really miss my sons not playing any more. Around this time of year -- probably for 10-12 years -- I'd begin shopping for whatever baseball equipment they would need for the coming season. It may have been some equipment for around the house, such as a hitting stick or a screen to use with a tee. I loved searching for bats -- never the new, expensive models of "this year", but always on eBay for last year's models. Big-time savings there. And gloves. Nothing better than getting a new glove and breaking it in. We used this shaving cream-type of product that absorbed into the leather while baking in the oven. No kidding -- three rounds of application and a few hours of catch and it was amazing how pliable the leather would become. Man, I'm getting a little misty just thinking of this.

Doug: So today let's turn it to you. What do you recall of your own childhood as winter began to loosen its grip? Were there certain rites of spring that you treasured? It may not have been athletics -- was it the freedom of bike riding, or of playing cops and robbers through your neighborhood? How about the planning of and anticipation for a family vacation once school got out? And for those of you with grown or almost-grown children, what do you miss about their youth at home? As always, thanks in advance for your memories!

Doug's youngest, 2007 Little League. Nine homers in the regular season.

The boys at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bronze Age Babies Bulletins: Free Starlog and Graffiti is Back


Karen: Just passing this on: Starlog magazine, that wonderful source of so much sci-fi/fantasy info for many of us back when the internet was just a gleam in a DARPA scientist's eye, has made all of their issues available for download. You heard me right. Any issue you want to get your hands on, you can! Just go to this site: https://archive.org/details/starlogmagazine and check out all the great articles from over the years.



Karen: This week the latest Led Zeppelin remaster came out: Physical Graffiti, almost 40 years since the original release. These have been uneven releases -some of the bonus material has included out-takes that sound barely different from the songs we know so well. In this case, the bonus disc has a few surprises; still not the live performances one might have craved (only the Led Zeppelin first album remaster has had that so far), but these rough versions of familiar songs are worth a listen. "Sick Again" is only instrumental, with no vocal track, and the opening sounds a bit different. The version of "Houses of the Holy" proves the old adage of less is more, as it is burdened with both a clunky cowbell part and weird backing vocals. An early version of "Into the Light," titled "Everybody Makes it Through," sounds almost like a different song, with what might be a harpsichord playing a prominent role. But beyond the bonus material, this is a great album, one of their best, and it sounds wonderful. With songs like "Kashmir," "Ten Years Gone," and "Boogie with Stu," it's an example of Zep's versatility and talent.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Comic Book Guest Stars - Cover Version

Doug: Last Friday Karen hosted a lively discussion on our favorite guest stars appearing across our comic book collections. She opened with Triton's appearances in the 1968 Sub-Mariner series, as well as Hercules frequent guest appearances in Thor's mag. You took it and ran with it, and we discussed everyone from Black Widow to the Man-Thing to Dracula! Today I'd solicit your favorite covers, and here are a few to whet your appetite. Time allowing, I will do a follow-up post with your suggestions (yes, I know I said that the last time we did this drill and then bagged it...).





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