Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sinister Tales # 62: I'm too Class-y for Al Williamson!

A few months ago I was given a heads-up on this issue by one of the junkyard’s international operatives (“Who knows what comics lurk…?”) and I’m glad I heeded his advice.

The Steve Ditko cover feature is one attraction of course. This is from Ditko’s second stint on the character and it’s a great little black and white companion to the Australian Captain Atom issue which covers the bulk of Ditko’s first stint as discussed previously.

But the other attraction is the number of Marvel Atlas era reprints as detailed below.

I mentioned some minor qualms I have with the Alan Class reprints in my previous post on Sinister Tales #20, but conceded on balance they provide good value as cheap sources of Ditko and Kirby reprints – indeed, of any of the Atlas-era material.

But I’ll make an exception when it comes to Al Williamson’s art. At least based on the evidence of this copy. The reduced scale doesn’t do it any justice to begin with, but one is prepared for that.

The major problem is the generally coarse reproduction. For most of the stories it’s an acceptable compromise. After all, this stuff was intended for pulp paper. Bleaching into the paper grain, fading with time and exposure to light contributes to the authentic vintage feel.

But Williamson's art really demands the upmarket book treatment. It needs to sit slickly on heavier smoother stock, to reflect light with just the right degree of gloss. But when faced with fadeouts and ink dropouts... well, one can hardly be said to be reading so much as ‘spotting’ a Williamson facsimile.

The contents:

Captain Atom: Captain Atom vs The Ghost
David A. Kaler/Steve Ditko/Rocke Mastroserio
(Captain Atom #82, September 1966)

The Iron Giant!
Paul Reinman
(Journey Into Mystery #69, June 1961)

Lost in the Labyrinth
George Roussos
(Mystery Tales #44, August 1956)

The Stranger's Suitcase!
Bill Walton
(Marvel Tales #154, January 1957)

Menace From The Stars!
Al Williamson
(Mystery Tales #44, August 1956)

Something in the Sea!
Paul Reinman
(Marvel Tales #154, January 1957)

The Hidden Man!
Dave Berg
(Marvel Tales #154, January 1957)

Dynamo: S.P.I.D.E.R. Strikes at Sea!
Dan Adkins/Wally Wood
(Dynamo #2, October 1966)

Syd Shores
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #57, May 1957)

I Dare You To Move!
Ross Andru/Mike Esposito
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #58, June 1957)

When Vernon Vanished
Ed Winiarski
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #57, May 1957)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fetish Crisis! Tracking Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups

I’ve been enjoying reading the Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups Vol. 2 over the last week or so. These are familiar stories to longtime DC readers of course, but I’m reading many of these for the first time.

Well, sort of... Much of it is familiar even if I don’t recall reading it before. Many of the storylines have been referred to in other comics, and many key images or panels have also been reprinted as excerpts in books and magazines and the internet which I’ve seen over a period of time.

The first volume is a different matter as it’s mostly material which is quite familiar to me. Truth is some of it I’ve only read for the first time in the last 5 years or so, but regardless, it’s an altogether different reading experience. Seeing the stories laid out in chronological order is particularly welcome. And it’s really a case of part reading, part browsing, part ‘refresher’, and all utterly and luxuriously indulgent – frankly, it’s a fanboy fetish!

One thing that occurred to me as I was browsing through them is that most of these stories also happen to be featured on the K.G. Murray covers.

There’s something appealing to me in seeing well-known images in a new setting or context. For example, the two Dr. Fate and Hourman Showcase covers by Murphy Anderson are quite famous and beloved by fans, and there’s something which appeals to me in seeing the Tip Top banner above those images, the pre-decimal pricing, the Superman Presents mascot. Even with the Showcases in my hands a mental overlay of the Tip Top banner imposes itself without conscious effort.

Oops! Another fetish!

Anyway, thought it might be a bit of fun to list the K.G. Murray reprints of the contents of Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups Vol. 1 TPB:

Flash and Golden Age Flash: Flash of Two Worlds!
The Flash #123, September 1961
The Hundred Comic #65, March 1962
Giant Flash Album #3, January 1966

Flash and Golden Age Flash: Double Danger on Earth!
The Flash #129, June 1962
The Hundred Comic #75, January 1963
Giant Flash Album #6, January 1969

Flash and Golden Age Flash: Vengeance of the Immortal Villain!
The Flash #137, June 1963
The Hundred Comic #86, November 1963
World's Finest Comic Monthly #92, December 1972

Flash and Golden Age Flash: Invader from the Dark Dimension!
The Flash #151, March 1964
World's Finest Comic Monthly #5, September 1965

Dr. Fate and Hourman: Soloman Grundy Goes on a Rampage!
Showcase #55, March 1965
Tip Top Comic Monthly #2, June 1965
Super Adventure Comic #71, November 1975

Dr. Fate and Hourman: Perils of the Psycho-Pirate!
Showcase #56, May 1965
Tip Top Comic Monthly #5, September 1965

Green Lantern and Golden Age Green Lantern: Secret Origin of the Guardians!
Green Lantern #40, October 1965
Wonder Comic Monthly #97, May 1973

Starman and Black Canary: Mastermind of Menaces!
The Brave and the Bold #61, September-October 1965
All Favourites Comic #52, January 1966

Super Adventure #72, January 1976

Hourman: The Hour Hourman Died!
The Spectre #7, November December 1968
Tip Top Comic Monthly #52, August 1969
World's Finest Comic Monthly #79, November 1971

I have not listed all the US reprints but of course some of the Australian reprints are sourced from US reprints. The relative dates are a guide as to whether they are sourced from original or subsequent printings.

Secret Origin of the Guardians! is the anomalous one in this regard. I am unaware of a 1960’s Australian reprint. Green Lantern was one of the DC titles not regularly published in the K.G. Murray reprints in the 1960’s. There were reprints of Green Lantern appearances in Showcase reprinted in All Favourites Comic, but the material from the Green Lantern title would not be reprinted in any substantial form until the 1970’s series Green Lantern Album and The Original Green Lantern – but this is a story for a future blog.

I was talking to a recent acquaintance on the weekend who has all of the original issues. I mentioned in passing that I could see him devouring the TPB – I just assumed the regular rationalisations: reading copy, spare, always wanted one… He told me he didn’t bother to buy it as he already has the all the issues. Quite sensible of course. Admirable restraint. But I’m betting this might just prompt him to sneak a few stray K.G. Murray’s into his collection if he comes across them. Especially if no one’s watching. Or, maybe moreso if there’s a risk in being caught out.

It’s the fetish factor.
Update: Secret Origin of the Guardians! was indeed reprinted, in Wonder Comic Monthly #97.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

True Confessions of a Chauvinist Romance Reader

True Confession: I don’t know much about romance comics.

Like many comics readers I know the broad history of the genre – kickstarted by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in the late 1940’s, peaked in sales by the mid-1950s, outsold superhero comics for a while, aimed at a female readership, declined in popularity until exhausted by the early 1980’s.

But for all that I confess I don’t really have a handle on the genre. My impression is of a conservative genre: “Cautionary morality tales told from the perspective of a female protagonist…illustrated the perils of female independence and celebrated the virtues of domesticity”, as Bradford W. Wright puts it in Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, p. 128.

But even that assessment begs many questions, such as Were they always aimed at a female readership? And if so, was it young girls as well as adults? How did they change over the decades? Were the 1970’s issues as substantially different from the 1950s issues as the psychedelic-inspired covers suggest they may have been? Were there pre-Code romance books to match the zest and outrageousness of the horror comics?

And, is it possible to read them now without the word “kitsch” forming in the mind’s eye?

I read them occasionally when I was young, and I’ve only read a few recently, but I must admit that based on the samples I’ve read I’m left with the impression they are dated curios largely of interest to cultural historians, or of nostalgic value. But I stress that’s based on a sample of what is probably just DC and Charlton material, and will be pleased to revise my opinion with further reading.

I guess I also have a chauvinistic approach to vintage romance comics – I’m more interested in seeing the rarely reprinted work of artists I like who worked in the genre rather than expecting to read them for general enjoyment. That’s not so odd for me. I feel the same way about westerns and war comics.

Having said that, they can nevertheless be appealing comics for their covers, even from a pop art perspective. Sometimes they’re just nice comics “to have and to hold” (sic).

Magic Moment Romances #3 is one such comic. Based on the identified contents and the date on one of the advertisements, it was published late 1957. K.G. Murray also published two digest-sized romance comics series, Twin Hearts and Heart to Heart Romance Library which began circa 1957-58. Magic Moment Romances was a long-running title, well into the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

The contents of this issue appear to be wholly DC material – at least the ones I’ve identified via the GCD. I assume some of this material is by Arthur Peddy and Bernard Sachs, artists recognized for their romance comics in DC Comics: Sixty Years of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes. This volume also informs me that the DC romance titles had a female editor, Zena Brody, whose stable also included Ruth Brandt, Phyllis Reed and Dororthy Woolfolk.

Is it possible the K.G. Murray romance comics were also handled by a different editorial team to the regular comics? The advertisements in this issue range from Flair magazine to Your Complete Wedding Guide magazine to pearls and slippons – not what one would find in a Superman comic! Maybe they were handled by a general magazine editor? More questions than answers…

To the contents:

Heartbreak Junction!
(Girls' Love Stories #45, January-February 1957)

Portrait of Love!
(Girls' Love Stories #45, January-February 1957)

Wondering Heart!
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Oddities in Romance
(Original unidentified, 1 page)

Stand-In for Love
(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Beyond Love
(Falling In Love #12, August 1957)

Lost in Loneliness
(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Lonely Lovesong
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Hello, Heartbreak!
(Secret Hearts #40, June-July 1957)

The Girl With the Lonely Heart!
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Linda and Larry
(Original unidentified, 1 page)

Love is Only a Dream
(Girls' Romances #46, September 1957)

I'll Care For You!
(Falling In Love #11, May-June 1957)

Two Loves Have I!
(Girls' Love Stories #48, August 1957)

Clash of Hearts!
(Girls' Love Stories #45, January-February 1957)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Detritus by any other name...

Just a few bits and pieces to add today… tidying up dribs and drabs from previous posts… misc. junkyard detritus... loitering flotsam, lost jewels, misremembered promises, scruffy little wishlists...

First up:
I have another early Curt Swan piece to add to the list of early reprints:

The Bravest Man Alive!
House of Mystery #18, September 1953
Wonder Comic Monthly #119, March 1975

Next, a bit more from my offline conversations:

Michael Feldman informs me that he has spoken to Jack Adams (General Manager of Independent News 1939-52) on the phone, and he says that Carroll Rheinstrom was Advertising Director of MacFadden Publications International and was made President at one point.
Thanks Michael!

And, on the topic of behind-the-scenes personnel… I recently scored a copy of K.G. Murray’s Man Junior, cover date April 1963, and found the following information on the back page:

Publisher: Ken G. Murray
Executive Editor: Fred C. Folkard
General Manager and Editor-in Chief: Fred T. Smith
Cartoon Editor: Albert A. Murray
Production Manager: John Hoy
Promotion Manager: John Minnett
Circulation Manager: Doug Spicer
General Advertising Manager: Laurie S. Cottier, Sydney
John P. Blake, Melbourne
Arthur L. Searcy, Adelaide
John N. Penglis, Brisbane

Are these the names we’ve been seeking to answer our comics queries?

Trawling further and farther afield:
An additional title to the Gredown Horror comics List:

Claws of Horror

And a few more issue numbers:

Maze of Monsters 1-2
Planet Doom 1-2

And finally, an update from my UK correspondent, who has confirmed that the Mammoth Annual advertisement did appear in the UK in the November 1957 issues – Superman #92, Super Adventure Comic #90, Superboy #106 (date TBC) and Batman #90 (all UK issue numbers). He adds that these comics were printed in Australia by Sungravure, but with a UK distributor, and that apart from the 6d cover price and the renumbering of Superman, they appear identical in both countries. Therefore, it appears all the ads are for Australian companies, and one could have ordered, for example, a 'Phantom ring' or a variety of magic tricks all by post from Australia. He adds this is all gleaned from personal experience, that is, from looking at the comics he personally purchased in the UK in 1957. Which also means that the advertisement is not in itself proof that the Mammoth Annual was distributed in the UK, as it could just be advertising the issue sold in Australia.

That's all folks!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Marshall Rogers

Like many comics fans – and especially longtime readers of Batman comics – I’m thinking of Marshall Rogers today.

There were a few notable Batman artists in the 1970’s – Wrightson, Simonson, Cardy and Kaluta are some of the prominent ones to come to mind - but I expect many will agree with me that three stood apart from the pack: Adams, Aparo and Rogers.

I should qualify that – Rogers and Austin.

Rogers was involved in quite a few Batman stories over the years, including a Secret Origins instalment, a recent mini series, and a few other one-shots and bits and pieces. But his reputation as one of the best Batman artists rests on his superb run in Detective Comics in the mid-1970’s with Steve Englehart and Terry Austin.

It’s one of those runs which, like favourite albums, I feel compelled to revisit in all its various reissued formats. When I rediscovered comics some 20 years ago this sequence of issues was one of the first to compel me to pay inflated back-issue prices for the ‘real thing’. Then of course I 'had' to chase down the Baxter reprints with the gorgeous new Rogers covers. Since then there’s been many reprints such as the Strange Apparitions trade paperback and the various chapters included in the Greatest Stories Ever Told series of books, and probably others. Is this the most oft-reprinted series of Batman comics? Must come close.

When I think of this run it’s as if a dormant file of images and sequences is activated for my immediate recall: Batman’s billowing cape and long ears; the banter between Batman and Robin as they walk past the giant penny, the dinosaur and the Joker playing card in the batcave and engage in a good-natured wrestle; the close-up of Silver St. Cloud as she recognises Bruce Wayne under the mask; the splash page with Hugo Strange removing the Batman mask, then the Bruce Wayne mask; or the one with Rupert Thorne behind the desk tossing the photo of Batman with an X across it; the architecture in every other panel; Bruce Wayne ranting at his parent’s portrait; Batman entering Silver St. Cloud’s bedroom (I can still picture the wallpaper!); their break-up; the Joker’s entrance and the trail of HAHAHA snaking around him; Batman waiting, looking out the window.

If you're familiar with these stories I'm betting your experience is similar.

And of course I recall many of these images in their black and white incarnations courtesy of the K.G. Murray reprints.

The core Rogers work from the Detective Comics run is reprinted in Batman Album #’s 43-45, which also include the Englehart-scripted Simonson stories, the Wein-scripted Rogers stories, and the framing sequence for the Adams reprint. Also worth noting is Batman Album #46 which reprints the O’Neil scripted “Ticket to Tragedy”. There are other Rogers reprints scattered about in the Australian reprints, but these 3 or 4 issues cover the best of the Englehart, Rogers and Austin team on Batman.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Color Giant # 2

I have discussed K.G. Murray’s format experimentation in 1956 a few times - the 100-page black and white anthologies, the special 148 page Annuals, the colour pamphlets.

There were also two special colour comics issued by K.G. Murray in this period – Color Giant #’s 1 and 2. These were 100-page comics priced midway between the 100-page periodicals and the 148-page Annuals.

I’d seen these now and again in my travels but didn’t manage to pick one up until a few months ago. They intrigued me as much for their covers and novelty value as they did for their elusiveness - they always seemed to be snapped up for megabucks so I figured there must be something special about them that only collectors who’d seen them up close were privy to. So of course when I saw this one at a reasonable price I jumped at the chance.

There’s something about these covers I find utterly charming and quaint. This one appears at first glance like any other Hart Amos cover of this period, but it is in fact by another Australian artist, Peter Chapman (thanks to Kevin Patrick for the id).

Onto the contents:

Color Giant #2, circa 1957

Vigilante: Two Dead Men!
Gardner Fox/Dan Barry
(Action Comics #144, May 1950)

Superboy The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy: The Crazy Costumes!
William Woolfolk/Curt Swan
(Superboy #33, June 1954)

The Secret of Hill 141
Bill Ely
(House of Mystery #44, November 1955)

Blabber Mouse: Up in Smoke!
(Original unidentified, 4 pages)

Roy Raymond TV Detective: Hercules Lives Again
Ruben Moreira
(Detective Comics #223, September 1955)

Aquaman: The Boy Who Refused to Swim
Ramona Fradon
(Adventure Comics #221, February 1956)

John Jones Manhunter from Mars: The World's Greatest Magician
Joe Certa
(Detective Comics #235, September 1956)

Congo Bill with Janu The Jungle Boy: Jungle King For A Day
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

Wonder Woman: Three Secret Wishes!
Robert Kanigher/Harry G. Peter
(Wonder Woman #81, April 1956)

Captain Compass: The Ocean Pest!
Otto Binder/Joe Certa
(Detective Comics #222, August 1955)

Secret of the Scientific Doodads!
Joe Samachson/Carmine Infantino
(Mystery In Space #31, April-May 1956)

The Adventures of Rex The Wonder Dog: Four-Footed Circus Daredevil!
Bob Haney/Gil Kane/Bernard Sachs
(The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #28, July-August 1956)

The House Where Dreams Came True
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

The Green Arrow: The Scarlet Bowmen
Ramona Fradon/Charles Paris
(Adventure Comics #226, July 1956)

And a couple of black and white 1-page fillers on the inner front and rear covers - Spy Catcher - Joe Palma and Casey the Cop.

This issue was printed by The Argus and Australasian Ltd. in Melbourne (the Argus of course being The Age newspaper) as were the colour pamphlets in this period (the regular K.G. Murray comics were printed in Sydney).

Every era has its fashionable colour tones and palettes. One of the pleasures of looking through old comics – especially from the 1940’s and 1950s - is being reacquainted with tones not commonly seen any more. For example, even though I don’t read Captain Marvel/Marvel Family comics, I do enjoy browsing through a friend’s copies now and then precisely for this reason – the yellows and greys and reds in those comics are so deep and rich they remind me of the light contrasts encountered on overcast days.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of K.G. Murray’s colours. I have always found the colour reproduction in the pamphlets to be too crude and garish, an eyesore. And so it is with this volume. I would go so far as to say it falls in the unintentionally “so bad it’s good” category. It’s like looking at a colour 3-D comic without the glasses! OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea – it’s just that it looks so cheap and nasty I wish it had been reserved for some suitably schlocky SF or horror comics. As it is, it’s just regrettable.

Fortunately the colour on K.G. Murray’s covers was substantially better – even the colour pamphlets which were printed on non-gloss paper appear to have fared better than the interior pages, but that may be due to the different scale too ie: a single large image.

The contents are also a bit odd insofar as they appear to be basically contemporary material with an additional one or two earlier pieces. Also they avoid reprints of Superman and Batman and feature instead a range of third-tier characters with an occasional top-up of Superboy or Wonder Woman. Most of these features could have been reprinted in either Century or The Hundred, but as they are they mostly resemble a collection of unused backup features which might have originally been slated for the colour pamphlets.

I guess to sum up I’d say these Color Giants are curious and interesting items which have their own little place in the history of K.G. Murray’s DC reprints, and as such earn their niche in collections of Australian Silver Age reprints.

But I cannot say why these issues in particular are fetching hefty prices in collector’s circles, apart from the obvious potent ingredients: nostalgia and scarcity.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Maze of Monsters: In Through The Out Door

I’ve said a number of times that one never knows what will turn up in a K.G. Murray reprint. But just try and guess the contents of a Gredown horror comic!

Sure, if the title refers to werewolves or vampires you’ve narrowed the sub-genre somewhat. And if the title alludes to a US comic, for example, This Comic is Haunted, you have some basis for raising your expectations of pre-Code horror contents.

But other than that, the main clue is in the story titles which are often included in text boxes on the covers. Of course this is no good if the title is too generic for identification, but in the case of this issue I had a pretty good idea there’d be some Steve Ditko content – how many stories titled “Mr. Ober’s Nightmare” can there be?

And sure enough this issue is something of a Ditko bonanza, featuring no less than 4 Ditko stories, which alone makes it worth the $3 it cost me.

But it’s also one of those Gredown’s with the sort of 'filler' which makes me wish there was another outlet for the material. I haven’t identified the source of the opening story but it’s the sort of reptile/dinosaur junk I’d expect to find in Epic Illustrated.

And similarly I could do without the Walt Simonson story here (which is a sequel to the previous story). Not that there is no merit in Simonson’s art – it has enough Manhunter-esque riffs in it to make it formally interesting at least – but it’s just not what I look for in a Gredown horror comic.

Add the Mike Zeck story, the Charlton-esque “Hoppy” and the closer which would also not be out of place in Epic or similar magazines, and that’s a whole lot of filler surrounding the core Ditko material. In fact the mix is so jarring it looks like something Charlton might have contrived at short notice to enter the adult comic magazine market in the mid-1970’s.

I’m not partial to the Spanish comics reprinted in the Gredowns, but at least I’m accustomed to their presence, and I concede that were it not for them much of the rest of the booty would likely have languished unreprinted, at least in Australia. That is, it may be the pre-Code and Ditko material which attracts me most, but the cover illustrations are mostly representative of the Adult-oriented illustration-centric Spanish material. I guess the market was squarely the Heavy Metal / Epic Illustrated / Creepy / Eerie reader!

Which means, of course, that the filler was on the other foot (just to mangle a perfectly good metaphor).

Or, put another way, I’m banging my head trying to get in through the out door, wondering why the invited guests are being greeted at the front door, and why this back door keeps repeating like a film loop!

Hmmm – a cross between Bunuel and Led Zeppelin - - yep, sounds like a recipe for a Gredown horror comic after all!

I should just file this issue along with other K.G. Murray reprints of Ditko's 1970's Charlton work like (ahem) Scary Tales, The Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves...

Maze of Monsters #2, cover price $0.50, 1977

The Monster Trilogy: Part One Monster X
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Capital Punishment
Gabriel Levy/Walt Simonson

Mr. Ober's Nightmare
Nick Cuti/Steve Ditko
(Scary Tales #8, November 1976)

A Grizzly End
Nick Cuti/Mike Zeck
(Scary Tales #8, November 1976)

The Shaman
Steve Ditko
(Haunted #30, November 1976)

Halloween Scene
Steve Ditko
Scary Tales #7, September 1976

Steve Ditko
(The Many Ghosts of Doctor Graves #60, December 1976)

Hoppy Ending
(Ghostly Haunts #52, October 1976)

(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Musing on Gil Kane

I’ve been thinking about Gil Kane over the last couple of evenings, reading some of his Green Lantern and Atom stories in the second Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Up’s TPB.

I say “thinking” rather than “reading” because that’s what happens with Kane’s comics. I'm usually pausing to consider some aspect of it – an arrangement, a figure, an expression.

Kane is a superhero comics artist to be studied and appreciated. I don’t know if he has a lot of fans, but I reckon he has his share of students.

I’m referring to his Silver Age DC work, in particular the superhero material as I’ve read it in the K.G. Murray reprints and other DC reprints, which means mainly his Atom and Green Lantern. He produced a large body of work over a long period, and superhero comics were only a part of it, but it’s the Kane I’m mainly familiar with, along with an occasional horror/mystery or western story.

One of Kane’s substantial contributions to the superhero comic was his flying figure. He contributed to our visual vocabulary, our understanding and imagination of how a superhero flies. His figures floated and glided in the air. Their backs arched. Their limbs had articulated joints. He drew bodies as they might operate in space with weight, balance, momentum. You sensed there was a point of propulsion before the shot in the frame.

Maybe it’s because his superhero bodies were athletic, rather than musclebound bulks like, say, Wayne Boring’s Superman. Boring’s Superman didn’t fly in space, he strolled upright, one foot in front of the other. He charged head-first through windows because he only knew one way. That was his goofy charm. Kane’s bodies look as if they were modelled on dancers. Did any other artist produce as graceful a superhero body in the Silver Age? Maybe Infantino and Anderson.

He was also an excellent arranger or designer of space. The so-bad-it’s-good school of superhero comics isn’t concerned with matters of depth of field, and doesn’t need to be. That’s a different aesthetic. For Kane, foreground and background weren’t enough - he needed a background, a middle ground and a foreground. The background might be sketched in, the middle ground square in the frame, and the foreground figure leaving or entering the frame. Action is barely encompassed within a Kane frame – it is often exceeding the border. This is evident in many of his covers and also his panels.

For all these qualities, he does not excite me as a fan. I’m not sure why not. Maybe it’s because he tends to draw eyes which look like they’re stunned. Maybe it’s because he’s an acquired taste. Maybe his art needs colour to be fully realised – a drawback of black and white reprints in considering certain artists who aren’t disposed towards spotting blacks.

His later DC work in the 1980’s is thoroughly refined and transformed. It’s recognizable Kane, but without any concession to smoothness or slickness or sheen. As unlikely as it sounds, there are even less blacks in this later work. I find it dizzying and distracting with an unexpected clutter and distortion, yet it is quite fascinating to see the progress of his line from the 1960’s.

There are artists who love their own work, and there are artists who are never satisfied. Kane was an articulate and considered thinker of comics, and I think of him as a restless artist who did the best he could in a genre he was probably not really interested in. I remember he described himself as a problem-solver, not an artist, possibly in his Comics Journal interview many years ago. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he was pleased to be described as an artist who made his readers think rather than just be fans.

PS Cover image above from GCD

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds Planet Series 1 No. 12

I promised a few days ago to detail the other Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds issue I have, and I looked forward to identifying a few more gems from bygone years. But I have to concede this is not a particularly exciting issue.

On the plus side it does include a Jim Aparo cover story, and Pat Boyette is usually good value. There’s even some Rocke Mastroserio to top things off, and a few more Space Adventures reprints to add to the tally.

But to tell the truth, this issue has too much art by the likes of Bill Molno and Charles Nicholas and Vincent Alascia to get really excited about it. It’s like reheated low-fat vegetable lasagne. It’s not the worst comics you’ll find, but it is just about the last resort.

So, in this case, anything without a hit on the GCD, I’m not really motivated to chase up any further.

I recommend just enjoying the cover for a few moments, spare a thought for how Aparo blossomed as an adventure comics artist in the following few years (and don’t resist the urge to pick up that special issue of Brave and the Bold by Haney and Aparo for a quick browse – you know you want to!), update your Planet Series index if you’re so inclined, and tune in again for more interesting Australian reprint comics later.

Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds, Planet Series 1 No. 12, cover price $0.75

The Imitation People
Jim Aparo
(Space Adventures #4, November 1968)

The Roman Gods on Mount Olympus
Charles Nicholas
(Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #46, May 1965)

The Miniatures
Rocke Mastroserio
(Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #46, May 1965)

The Fugitives
(Original unidentified, 9 pages)

The Exterminators
(Space Adventures #5, January 1969)

Surrender Earth!
Joe Gill/Pat Boyette
(Space Adventures #4, November 1968)

The Captive
(Space Adventures #5, January 1969)

The Ambassador From Earth
Rocke Mastroserio
(Space Adventures #48, November 1962)

lsland Earth
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

When The Air Froze
(Original unidentified, 6 pages)

The Space Dreamer
Charles Nicholas/Vincent Alascia
(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Watchdogs of the Deep
Bill Molno
(Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #46, May 1965)

Strange Galaxy
Rocke Mastroserio
(Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #47, July 1965)

Specimen Earth
Charles Nicholas/Vincent Alascia
(Space Adventures #3, September 1968)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fantastic Adventure #2: Dell rebound comics

I picked up this Australian comic on the weekend more out of curiosity than anything else.

It’s a ‘new’ cover with rebound coverless US Dell comics from 1965 and 1966. The rear cover carries a full-page advertisement (111 Stamps for 10c).

Apart from this advertisement and the 20c cover price, there is nothing else to even identify this edition as an Australian publication. Indeed there is no information regarding publisher or distributor on the comic at all – the inner front and back covers are completely blank! I think the only other time I’ve seen such blank pages is on Yaffa reprints, or on the card covers of squarebound Federal comics!

I’m familiar of course with the rebound K.G. Murray comics which I’ve referred to often on this blog. I’m also generally familiar with the UK series of coverless rebound US comics titled Double Double (I have a Detective Comics copy somewhere in the junkyard which I might pull out at some point, and an Action Comics copy was mentioned to me in recent correspondence).

It’s possible this edition (and other similar ones eg. Amazing Adventure, Daring Adventure to name just two) was collated by the distributor for resale and distributed via the original point of sale, hence the lack of publisher details – that is, it was not strictly speaking legal.

Then I wonder where the cover illustrations come from – original Dell comics?

More questions and guesswork than answers today. There’s a broader publishing/distribution story to be told here. Maybe someone else can fill in the blanks.

Oh, and for the record, the rebound Dell comics are:

Kona #18, June 1966

Tomb of Ligeia, April-June 1965
Two on a Guillotine, April-June 1965

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Musing on Curt Swan

I was out last night with some local comics fiends for a regular fix of beer, pizza and comics chat, and amongst the many and varied topics we covered was Curt Swan, so I thought I’d jot down a few of my own musings on Swan. I find him an interesting and attractive albeit subdued and understated artist. Maybe these qualities and attributes have contributed to my belated appreciation of his art in the last 5 years or so, even though I’ve been familiar with his work ever since I was a kid.

In the 1960’s Swan and Infantino exemplified mainstream DC just as Kirby and Ditko were the spirit of Marvel. Swan’s clean, uncluttered, and generally mild aesthetic was a contrast in style – even ideology – to the vibrant, energetic, barely harnessed, idiosyncratic stylisations of Kirby’s power fantasies and Ditko’s neurotica. Swan was the straight man – think of his mild-mannered Clark Kent in a suit – to Kirby’s cosmic Galactus, to Ditko’s tormented Peter Parker.

When I think of Superman as measured, in control, temperate and proper, I am also thinking of Swan’s art style. It’s a realist, conservative aesthetic, and his Superman is a similarly conservative figure (and for once I do not invoke the term pejoratively!)

This is not to suggest that Swan’s Superman is not an exciting action figure. Nor should it be taken to suggest he exhibits a limited emotional range. Far from it. Rather it is to contrast his portrayal with the other popular contemporaneous Silver Age versions, especially those of Kurt Schaffenberger and Wayne Boring, each of which are quite distinctive, heavily stylized and idiosyncratic renditions.

To my mind there’s a few standout inkers on Swan, especially in the early pre-Murphy Anderson days, such as George Klein, Ray Burnley and Stan Kaye. I'm not fond of his post-Anderson inkers, although I concede Al Williamson and Bob Oksner shouldn’t be lumped in with the likes of Frank Chiaramonte and Tex Blaisdell, just to name a couple of the bland culprits in the 1970’s – and I must mention Jack Abel is a particularly unsuitable embellisher for Swan in the late 1960’s.

I’m not the only one to name Anderson as my favourite Swan inker. For a few years the Swanderson Superman looked like the fully realized adult Superman. He was an older, paternal figure with humour, wisdom, decency, goodwill and, well, humanity for want of a better word. He may have been a slightly old-fashioned figure – he was not hip - but he was no sap. He was not quite as dashing or swift as the Shuster version. He was still a power fantasy, but he was not an advertisement for steroids. The musculature was evident, but it looked to be bulging under a costume made of cotton rather than spandex. Neal Adams may have been prone to visualising him as a particularly anguished figure in this period but the team of Swan and Anderson was able to balance that portrayal with a broad emotional range and a maturity. He even developed more prominent forehead creases than he had under Klein’s watch!

Having said all that about his inkers, I find it interesting that on the basis of the few illustrations I have seen in which Swan completed the art himself, it would appear that the ‘real’ Swan was barely represented in the decades his fans came to recognize him. His own touch is less dominant or bold or clear. There is a certain lightness and featheriness of line and shading which prevails in his solo work. It does not appear to be ideally suited to the crude colouring techniques of regular comics books of the time with their dependence on clearly demarcated ink lines and white spaces to be ‘filled in’. Maybe this is why he nominated the fineline work of Al Williamson as one of his favoured inkers of his own pencils.

What I have found most revelatory about Swan in recent times is discovering his early non-Superman work for DC. It’s easy to forget that he produced art for non-superhero titles such as the early issues of House of Mystery and Gang Busters. It is customary to think of Swan in the context of other Silver Age DC/Superman artists, but I think it’s very interesting to see Swan brush shoulders with the likes of Ruben Moreira, John Prentice and Mort Meskin.

I now think Swan’s forte may have been the small panel, and it is evident in this material. The six- to nine-panel page would seem to be his preferred scale (and commensurate with his temperament.) The small figure is where he seems at home in this early period. They are always well-proportioned and deftly detailed, whereas some of his larger figures can lose some of their classical proportions. I think of the contrast between his Superman in the 1950’s Jimmy Olsen series as inked by Burnley, which is in a similarly small scale, compared to some of the larger figures inked by Klein, with their occasionally oddly foreshortened arms and legs, and heavy outlines as if the art was blown up from a smaller original scale.

Maybe this is why he was such a dab hand at the heavily populated Legion of Super-Heroes series, although I seem to remember reading that he found this a difficult assignment for precisely this reason.

In the sample scanned above even the two-thirds page splash panel is broken up into smaller components simulating 4 panels.

This is another reason why I appreciate Anderson on Swan. Anderson had a way of accommodating the larger panels and scale, smoothing out here, topping up there, balancing all over the panel and page. Subsequent inkers flattened Swan, spreading him out evenly over the page, but losing too much of the depth of field.

And of course, he was the ideal choice for the two-page newspaper strip style instalments in Action Comics Weekly.

The non-superhero 1950’s Swan work is rarely reprinted, so I’ve listed just a few reprints in the K.G. Murray comics featuring Swan’s Gang Busters and House of Mystery stories. In some cases, the reprints may be as difficult to find as the DC issues!

Oh, and a clue to help identify early Swan art – he regularly drew the middle fingers closed together, and the other two fingers apart.

The Secret of the Matador's Sword!
House of Mystery #12, March 1953
All Favourites Comic #11, March 1959

The Wishes of Doom!
House of Mystery #10, January 1953
All Favourites Comic #26, August 1961

Friday the 13th Club
House of Mystery #4, June-July 1952
All Favourites The 100-Page Comic #3, November 1957

Twenty Floors of Felony!
Gang Busters #27, April-May 1952
All Star Adventure Comic #31, February 1965

The Jack of all Crimes
Gang Busters #38, February-March 1954
All Star Adventure Comic #38, April 1966

The Man Who Could Change People
House of Mystery #15, June 1953
All Star Adventure Comic #25, January 1964

The House Where Evil Lived!
House of Mystery #3, April-May 1952
All Star Adventure Comic #25, January 1964

Heroes of the Highway
Gang Busters #26, February-March 1952
All Star Adventure Comic #31, February 1965

The Phantom's Return!
House of Mystery #22, January 1954
All Star Adventure Comic #32, April 1965

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Planet Series 3 No. 9: Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds

Here’s another nifty Planet Series issue with plenty more Space Adventures reprints.

Note Steve Ditko’s “His Own Little World” makes a repeat appearance to the one in the Captain Atom issue – it really should have been bumped for more Captain Atom reprints in that issue. (Now, where’s the rest of my spilt milk…?)

Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds, Planet Series 3 No. 9, $0.90 cover price, September 1980.

Cover artist Prieto Muriana

What Is This Space?Charles Nicholas/Vince Colletta
(Space Adventures #7, May 1969)

Silent World(Space Adventures #48, November 1962)

Planet XSteve Ditko
(Space Adventures #6, March 1969)

Unknown Friends
(Space Adventures #46, July 1962)

The Space Officers: The Smugglers of CallistoFrank Frollo/John Belfi
(Space Adventures #2, September 1952)

Revolt of the RobotsJohn Belfi
(Space Adventures #2, September 1952)

The Third PlanetPat Boyette
(Outer Space #1, November 1968)

The Girl Out There!(Outer Space #25, December 1959)

Black Omen
(Original unidentified, 4 pages)

Prison Break on ArcturusCharles Nicholas/Vincent Alascia
(Space Adventures #8, July 1969)

The Planet Which Had Everything--Almost!Charles Nicholas/Vincent Alascia
(Outer Space #1, November 1968)

Lunar RendezvousJoe Gill/Sam Glanzman
(Space Adventures #6, March 1969)

His Own Little WorldSteve Ditko
(Outer Space #1, November 1968)

We Are Among You(Original unidentified, Job Number A-3402, 4 pages)

Forbes ForceCharles Nicholas/Vincent Alascia
(Space Adventures #59, November 1964)

The Isotope Man(Original unidentified, Job Number A-3057, 4 pages)

The Prisoner(Original unidentified, Job Number A-2892, 4 pages)

There is at least one more Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds issue in the Planet Series, which I'll detail soon. There is also a one-shot titled Unexplored Worlds which may be the "Planet Series 4" instalment.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Space Adventures Planet Series 3 No. 1

The more I examine the various Planet Series of one-shots the more they seem like related issues. That is, there is quite a bit of crossover, or repetition in the contents between issues.

I mentioned yesterday that Weirdworld Planet Series 3 No. 3 contained a number of Space Adventures stories, in particular from Space Adventures #1, July 1952, and added that the balance of the major features of the Charlton issue, “Mad-Man of Mars” and “Mummers from Mercury”, could be found in Australian editions Captain Atom Planet Series 1 No. 7 and Mysterious Suspense Planet Series 2 No. 1 respectively.

So maybe it’s no surprise to find that the Planet Series 3 No. 3 issue titled Space Adventures is dedicated to reprinting comics from the Charlton title of the same name (with one story yet to be identified).

And no surprise that "Mad-Man", "City of Brass" and "Invasion from the Moon" turn up in the one issue!

Space Adventures, Planet Series 3 No. 11, $0.90 cover price, November 1980
Space Report
Stan Campbell
(Space Adventures #5, March 1953)

The Monsters of Kalypso
Frank Frollo
(Space Adventures #4, January 1953)

The Space Rangers: The Mad-Man of Mars
Lou Morales
(Space Adventures 1, July 1952)

Time Skipper: Time Skipper Visits the City of Brass
(Space Adventures 1, July 1952)

The Hollow World
Art Capello
(Space Adventures #3, November 1952)

Vincent Alascia
(Original unidentified, Job Number A-934, 13 pages)

Stella Dawn: The Space Bandits
Lou Morales
(Space Adventures #4, January 1953)

Terror Dynasty
Rocke Mastroserio
(Original unidentified, Job Number A-2379, 6 pages)

Rex Clive: The War Between the Worlds
Dick Giordano
(Space Adventures #5, March 1953)

The Sleep Rain
Bill Molno
(Space Adventures #55, January 1964)

The Eye in Space
(Space Adventures #58, August 1964)

Victory of the Ditros
(Space Adventures #57, June 1964)

The Space Rangers: Invasion from the Moon
(Space Adventures #1, July 1952)

There are not many creator credits listed for the Space Adventures series, however Alfred Fago is credited as Editor in the GCD. A google search tells me that Fago was a freelance editor/packager supplying material to Charlton until being brought in fulltime in 1951, and eventually succeeded by Pat Masulli in the mid-1950’s.

Walter Gibson, creator of the Shadow, is a more well-known name, and is also credited as an Assistant Editor on some of the Space Adventures issues.

It’s interesting to note that the last story, “Invasion from the Moon”, includes a large two-page spread of a single image. I think this is the first time I’ve encountered such a large panel in a 1950’s comic. It’s expected in modern comics, of course, but is quite a shock to the eyes when accustomed to expect variations of the 6- or 9-grid page!

At first I thought it may have been blown up by the K.G Murray editors to fill up the pages. This is possible, I guess, as I have not yet confirmed whether it is a double-page spread in Space Adventures #1. However, my best guess is that it is a genuine two-page spread, partly because the lettering in the accompanying text box has not been enlarged, and partly because it has been reproduced in the same size in the Weirdworld issue.

It prompted me to wonder just when the first double-page spread occurred in a regular newsstand comic, apart from feature pages and pinups, so I asked the question on the GCD list, and received a few replies with possible candidates. Based on the replies to my query the earliest confirmed double-page spread is in Captain America Comics #6, September 1941 in the story titled “The Hangman” - but note there may be earlier ones yet to be confirmed.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Planet Series Weirdworld

I’m not sure how the K.G. Murray editors came up with this title – I’m only vaguely aware of a fantasy series of the same name by Doug Moench and Mike Ploog running in various Marvel Comics titles - but no doubt it appealed to them as asuitable banner for a variety of miscellaneous stories and genres. Consider that between this issue and the subsequent unnumbered one-off issue there are space and science fiction stories, superheroes, war stories, horror stories – even pre-code horror!

Weirdworld Planet Series 3 No. 3, $0.90 cover price, c.March 1980

Time Skipper: Time Skipper Visits the City of Brass(Space Adventures #1, July 1952)

The Dead Man's Hand(Original unidentified, 8 pages)

Geronimo's GhostJoe Gill/Don Perlin
(War #1, July 1975)

The Space Rangers: Invasion from the Moon(Space Adventures #1, July 1952)

The Boxer Rebellion(Original unidentified, Job Number D-7119, 6 pages)

The Devil Cat(Original unidentified, 7 pages)

Pillar of Stone(Strange Stories from Another World #4, 10 pages)

The ThrowbacksCharles Nicholas/Vincent Alascia
(Space Adventures #59, November 1964)

The Phantom Gloves(Worlds of Fear #8, 1953)

Michael Mauser Private Eye: The HitNicola Cuti/Joe Staton
(Vengeance Squad #2, September 1975)

Vengeance Will Be MineDick Giordano
(The Thing! #6, January 1953)

The Voyage
(Original unidentified, 1 page)

The President(Original unidentified, 1 page)

The Brave Die Young
(War #6, May 1976)

The cover is by Vicente Segrelles, a sword and sorcery specialist who may have been responsible for other similar covers published by K.G. Murray.

There are two stories reprinted in this issue originally appearing in Space Adventures #1, July 1952. The other two major features in Space Adventures #1, “Mad-Man of Mars” and “Mummers from Mercury” are reprinted in Captain Atom Planet Series 1 No. 7 and Mysterious Suspense Planet Series 2 No. 1 respectively.

“The Phantom Gloves” is a surprising inclusion. Pre-Code Fawcett horror material is certainly expected in early K.G. Murray issues of Doomsday and Haunted Tales, but not in a regular adventure/science fiction comic. Even more surprisingly it also appears in Unusual Tales Planet Series 2 No. 4, published a year or so earlier. My guess is the story was reprinted in a similarly unexpected context in some other US comic in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s and hence its K.G. Murray cameos. I believe it was also reprinted in Voodoo, a UK reprint comic from L. Miller and Co. in the 1960’s, but I haven’t tracked any subsequent reprint yet.

"Pillar of Stone" is also reprinted in Climax Adventure Comic #12, April 1973.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Avenging Spirit's Fear of Fingers...? Steak Knives?

Maybe I’m just suffering from Repetitive Reverse Image Syndrome after the Saga of of the Daredevil Splash Page, but if this isn’t a sign of diminishing returns…and speaking of striking while the irony is hot (with apologies to Steve Kilbey…) Fingers of Fear comes not with one, but two covers stapled together… a variant by any other name… no? Steak knives anyone? Didn’t think so.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Weirdworld of Captain Atom and Peter Cannon... Thunderbolt!

This one-shot issue is one of many such unnumbered specials published by K.G. Murray between 1981 and 1983. There is one other Weirdworld issue, Planet Series 3 No. 3, from 1980.

Many of the one-shots published after 1980 have titles and contents similar to other Planet Series issues, such as War Heroes, Shadows From Beyond and Unexplored Worlds, enough to warrant grouping them as an unofficial Planet Series 4.

It’s quite an interesting variety of contents. To the best of my knowledge there is no K.G. Murray series (or one-shot) dedicated to Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt as there is for other Charlton characters such as Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker and Judo Master. There are still a few gaps in my collection of the three volumes of Planet Series, so anything could transpire. So until some of these gaps are filled in I’ll refer to this issue as the only K.G. Murray reprint source of Pete Morisi’s Thunderbolt, with a caveat.

This issue also contains a couple of instalments of Steve Ditko’s second stint on Captain Atom, a nice companion piece to the Captain Atom issue discussed earlier. I expect (and hope!) to find even more of this second volume of Captain Atom lurking in other K.G. Murray one-shots from this period.

Weirdworld NN, $0.99 cover price, circa late 1982-early 1983
Captain Atom: Death Knell of the World! Joe Gill/Steve Ditko/Rocke Mastroserio
(Captain Atom #80, April-May 1966)

Ordeal (Original unidentified, Job Number A-2550, 4 pages)

Peter Cannon... Thunderbolt: Encore: The Hooded One Pete Morisi
(Thunderbolt #58, July 1967)

The Confrontation Joe Gill/Mo Marcus/Sal Trapani
(Space Adventures #6, March 1969)

The Sensational Sentinels!: Night of Doom Denny O'Neil/Sam Grainger
(Thunderbolt #59, September 1967)

The Space Warriors Bill Molno/Pat Masulli
(Fightin' Five #29, October 1964 TBC)

Captain Atom: Ravage of Ronthor David Kaler/Steve Ditko/Frank McLaughlin
(Captain Atom #88, October 1967)

Men on Mars Tony Tallarico
(Outer Space #1, November 1968)

The Lively Forest Rocke Mastroserio
(Space Adventures #48, November 1962)

Space Officers: Trouble on Phobos Dick Giordano
(Space Adventures #2, July 1968)

Peter Cannon... Thunderbolt: Face of the Dragon Pat Boyette
(Thunderbolt #57, May 1967)

The Race Bill Molno
(Blue Beetle #52, October 1965)

Update 5/8/2019: Based on data to hand I now think this issue was published November 1982. And courtesy AusReprints the cover to this issue previously appeared on a pulp novel published in Spain

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Superboy #10: Another Ratty Beauty...

I was being just a bit coy when I mentioned last week that Batman #3 was just about my oldest my comic. The truth is that on the same day that I purchased Batman #3 I couldn’t resist also picking up a copy of Superboy #10, which dates from around November 1949, which makes it a good six months older than the Batman issue.

I did not check the contents when I purchased it, I was simply attracted by the cover, 'warts and all'. There’s something about Golden Age and Silver Age covers featuring multiple figures of the same characters which appeal to me on some unconscious level. One of my fondest comics-related memories is picking up a copy of Gigantic Annual #12, which features multiple figures of Superman (as does the preceding issue Gigantic Annual #11), so maybe I associate the motif with fun childhood comics. (I guess the Gigantic Annual/Hart Amos pop culture marker for this motif is the 1959 Elvis album cover 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, although I expect there are antecedents to that image too. Or maybe it's just Warhol. File under Must Investigate Further). I also tend to like such space/moonscape scenes, so it was an easy sell.

To the comic:

Superboy #10, November 1949

Superboy The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy: Journey To the Moon!
William Woolfolk/John Sikela
(Adventure Comics #140, May 1949)

Aquaman: Undersea Big-Game Hunt!
Otto Binder/John Daly
(Adventure Comics #142, July 1949)

Superboy The Adventures of Superman When He Was a Boy: The Superboy Savings Bank
Bill Finger/Ed Dobrotka
(Adventure Comics #143, August 1949)

Aquaman: Marooned in the Deep!
Otto Binder/John Daly
Adventure Comics #138, March 1949

Plus a Jerry the Jitterbug 1 page filler.

All of the features in this issue are printed in the greyscale format, including the Jerry the Jitterbug filler on the back cover (which is actually blue rather than black ink, but Ill resist the urge to coin the phrase “bluescale”!)

I noted in the Batman #3 discussion that the main features were reprinted in All Favourites Comic Annual NN/#1, 1956 and later again in Colossal Comic #39, 1966 in the same greyscale format.

All the features in Superboy #10 have also been similarly reprinted, in The All Favourites Comic Annual #2 and Colossal Comic #41, May 1967. Indeed “Marooned in the Deep!” earns the distinction of appearing in consecutive issues of Colossal Comic, having also been reprinted in Colossal Comic #40, February 1967!

I do not have a copy of The All Favourites Comic Annual #2, but I believe it is also printed in the greyscale format, or at least some of it is, so I expect to find the features it reprints from Superboy #10 are also reprinted in the greyscale. However, it’s curious that the reprints in Colossal Comic #’s 40 and #41 are just in black and white, not in greyscale.

I first mentioned the greyscale reprints in relation to the first Mammoth Comic Annual. I related how when I first saw the greyscale format in the 1950’s anthologies I assumed it was due to the source prints, but had not been able to compare them to the previous prints side-by-side. I also said I no longer expected this was the case. This was based in part on my review of the 1956 period in which K.G. Murray was consciously experimenting with formats and presentation (see blog entry on Century The 100 Page Comic Monthly). That is, I though it was yet another experiment.

I also based my revised opinion on the Batman story “Ride, Bat-Hombre, Ride!” which I believed was originally published in Australia in Batman Comics #2, July 1950 as "Ride, Batman, Ride" based on the cover image, in which “Bat-Hombre” was replaced by “Batman”.

I have been corresponding with a UK collector of the pamphlet era K.G. Murrays. He informs me that the splash page of Batman Comics #2 does in fact reflect the “Bat-Hombre” title, and was also reprinted in greyscale.

So once again I find myself flip-flopping into believing the greyscale reprints appearing in the 1956 Colossal-style annuals were indeed sourced directly from the earlier greyscale editions, and further that they were likely done wholesale, that is, that whole issues were plundered for their contents. I also add the rider that this was probably done quite consciously to help the new formats compete in the market. At least that’s my working theory for the moment. I hope to be able to compare more of the greyscale reprints in the near future to their earlier counterparts and settle the issue to my satisfaction. I wonder when the initial greyscale format ceased?

But it doesn’t quite explain why the reprints in Colossal Comic #’s 40 and 41 from Superboy #10 are not in greyscale. As I often say, any neatlypressed and ironed theory regarding the K.G. Murray comics is almost certain to draw a wrinkle.

I’m also pleased to advise that my correspondent is able to confirm that the NZ/UK Mammoth Annual #2 was advertised in the UK, so I guess that answers that question too.

And if anyone has a spare copy of The All Favourites Comic Annual #2 lying around... you know the drill.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mysterious Suspense and The Question: The Planet Series Edition

As I understand it Steve Ditko illustrated (and at least plotted, if not scripted in the strictest sense of the word) six stories featuring The Question.

Five of these stories were short back-up features in his Blue Beetle series 1967-68. The only full-length feature appeared in a new title, Mysterious Suspense #1, October 1968.

This was to be the only issue in the series. I don’t know why this issue was not called The Question rather than Mysterious Suspense. Maybe it was intended as an anthology title.

However, 10 years later, The Question once again appeared in an issue titled Mysterious Suspense, this time published by K.G. Murray as the first issue in its Planet Series of loosely connected one-off issues.

This first issue - numbered Series 1 No. 1 – reprints the complete contents of Charlton’s issue, including the opening pinup splash page by Rocke Mastroserio which introduces The Question fresh from back-up duties (hence the “Return of the Question” banner on the cover), but of course omitting the text-only feature “Martians Masters” (which is included in the facsimile Millennium Editions reprint from DC in 2000).

The Question also appeared in a few other comics over the next 15 years or so before being picked up by DC. Most noteworthy is an episode illustrated by Alex Toth which can be read – complete with annotations – on the Tothfans site.

I have seen two of Ditko’s Question back-ups from Blue Beetle reprinted in K.G. Murray’s Blue Beetle series. I expect the other three are also reprinted, but have yet to spot them. They may be in another Planet Series issues.

The complete contents of Mysterious Suspense Series 1 No. 1:

The Question: (untitled introductory splash page)
Rocke Mastroserio
(Mysterious Suspense #1, October 1968)

The Question: Part 1 The Question (and) Part 2 What Makes A Hero?D.C. Glanzman/Steve Ditko
(Mysterious Suspense #1, October 1968)

Doctor Colby's BirdsBill Molno/Rocke Mastroserio
(Unusual Tales #49, April-May 1965)

The Power and the GloryPete Morisi
(Haunted #3, January 1972)

Reprieve!Pat Boyette/Mo Marcus
(Shadows from Beyond #50, October 1966)

Witness for the DefenseFred Himes
(Haunted 3, January 1972)

Abandoned ShipPat Boyette
(Ghostly Tales 61, June 1967)

The Heart of the DibijuFred Himes
(Haunted #2, November 1971)

They Got Away!Enrique Nieto
(Beyond the Grave #6, June 1976)

Who's Fired?(Haunted #4, February 1972)

He'll Go A Long WayMo Marcus
(Shadows from Beyond #50, October 1966)

The Ghost MoverSteve Ditko/Rocke Mastroserio
(Ghostly Tales #60, March 1967)

There were at least another two issues of Mysterious Suspense published by K.G. Murray – Planet Series 2 No. 1 and Planet Series 3 No. 1. Neither of these issues contain Ditko’s other three Question features, but they do reprint a variety of Charlton comics, and I will detail them in due course.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Steve Ditko's Captain Atom: The Planet Series Edition

In 1978-79 Charlton published 5 issues of Space Adventures, #’s 9-13. Each of these issues reprinted Charlton material from the 1960’s, mainly Steve Ditko material. Indeed the first four of these issues reprinted Ditko material exclusively, in particular his 1960-61 run on Captain Atom. And I believe these Captain Atom reprints form the basis of K.G. Murray’s only Captain Atom title.

These are the Captain Atom stories contained in this issue:

Introducing Captain Atom
The Second Man in Space
The Little Wanderer
The Wreck of X-44
Captain Atom on Planet X
The Space Prowlers
A Victory For Venus
Test-Pilot's Nightmare
An Ageless Weapon
The Boy and the Stars
The Silver Lady From Venus

The above list is not the order in which they appear in this volume, but rather the order in which they were originally published in Space Adventures #33-42 in 1960-61.

Note that it is not a complete reprinting of Ditko’s Captain Atom. Ditko had two stints on Captain Atom, in 1960-61 and 1965-67. This issue reprints the material from the first stint only, and omits the following from this period:

The Crisis
One Second of War
The Force Beyond

It is possible these have been reprinted in another K.G. Murray title as “Crisis” was reprinted in Space Adventures #9, and the other three were reprinted in Space Adventures #10.

Also note that there were Captain Atom stories not illustrated by Ditko, but illustrated by his occasional inker Rocke Mastroserio. Three of these - "Peace Envoy", "The Saucer Scare", and "The Man in Saturn’s Moon" – were published during Ditko’s first tenure, so presumably they form part of the continuity of these stories. I haven’t read them, but chronologically they are the 12th , 16th and 17th stories respectively. (I believe the DC Action Heroes Archives volume includes these stories.)

I daresay the Captain Atom of the 1960’s is of interest mainly as a Ditko strip. It’s very interesting to compare his early adventure/superhero style to the material in the second stint after his celebrated run on Spider-Man as it reveals just how much his work had changed. The early Captain Atom material tends to be compressed and constricted compared to the latter material. This can be partly attributed to the shorter page count of the early material. The latter material is more fluid and open and bolder. It's sleeker and smoother too, possibly due to Mastroserio's inking.

To my mind the early Captain Atom belongs to the 1950’s, and the latter to the mid-1960’s. The earlier rendition is set in space, but the latter is more cosmically inclined. The imaginative fantastical elements associated with Ditko are much more in evidence in the 2nd volume. In a sense, it’s less a case of pre- and post-Spider-Man than it is pre- and post-Beatles! Well, maybe not quite, but you see my point. The second stint is a more representative introduction to the classic Ditko style and motifs, and it's certainly post-Marvel Age in its tone.

The first series is of genuine interest to the Ditko aficionado, and I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment – it’s certainly fine, interesting work in its own right, even if the scripts are a tad, well, dull. I guess I’m just more fond of his mystery/suspense/monster work in this pre-Spider-Man period, so to me his initial Captain Atom phase effectively takes a back seat to most of his 1950’s-1960’s work.

There are a few non-Captain Atom stories in this issue, including Ditko’s “His Own Little World” from Space Adventures #13. It’s a shame that 25 pages were given over to non-Captain Atom stories given the four missing Ditko Captain Atom’s from this period mentioned above would have fit into a mere 22 pages.

(As the 1968 story “His Own Little World” appears two thirds of the way through the 1960/61 Captain Atom stories in this volume it provides a convenient point of comparison between Ditko’s pre- and post-Spider-Man styles - “His Own Little World” is very much like the second-stint Captain Atom material).

The issue number for this Captain Atom volume is Series 1 No. 7, yet it is a one-off issue. There were many such one-offs published by K.G. Murray in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and I remember the Eureka! moment when James Zanotto pieced together the strange elusive numbering of these issues a couple of years ago. As James explains it on his site:

"This series is composed of a number of mostly unrelated titles of various genres, but numbered as part of a series. The series title is taken from a number of later issues in Series 3, after the reprints become Murray Comics, that are titled "Planet Series 3""

I’ll be looking at a few more of these issues in the next few days, but I recommend checking out James’ gallery and index of these issues.

One thing that has me a bit confused is the publication date of this issue. It appears to be from mid-1978 based on the cover price, logo and page count. Yet I have assumed the contents have been sourced from 1978-79 issues of Space Adventures, and of course some of the contents reprinted are from issues coverdated January and March 1979. Even allowing for the customary advanced cover dating, these two issues would have been on the stands no earlier than October and December 1978 respectively. To confuse things further, the cover is a reprint of the reprint version in Strange Suspense Stories #75, June 1965. With some modifications, the main figure image of Captain Atom used on this cover was used on the early 1960’s and 1960 and 1978 prints (as well as the DC Archive edition), and it is possible this 1965 version was chosen as Australia is featured prominently on the planet behind the main figure. I hope to have more clarity on the dates of the various Planet Series issues and their US counterparts after I go over more of them.

PS I don’t mind admitting that tracking the individual Captain Atom stories and reprints via various online sources has been time-consuming and confusing, even bewildering – not an uncommon experience with Charltons! - so if I’ve  as made any errors, please let me know.

PPS I wouldn't rate this issue as particularly scarce, I've seen quite a few over the years, but I'll note that all have been about as ratty as my copy in the scan above. I choose to believe it's because they have all been well-read and beloved in their day.

Update: A published source dated March 1978 advises this issue was published "recently", which dates it early-1978.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Federal Daredevil #3: Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Splash Page!

Following on from recent discussions regarding the Federal Daredevil series I have been digging around in the junkyard and have turned up another Federal edition of Daredevil. This is issue #3 which reprints Daredevil #’s159-162.

It’s an interesting issue insofar as it reprints early Frank Miller stories scripted by Roger McKenzie before Miller took over the writing chores, and also includes a fill-in issue illustrated by Steve Ditko, who also provides the cover for the Federal edition. I guess the Miller issues are in demand and are afforded the reprint treatment but this Ditko issue easily slips under the radar, as does the Brennert issue following Miller’s last issue in this tenure.

I mentioned previously that it was a habit of Federal to drop the splash pages. I assume they did this for two reasons - to accommodate their page count, and to pass off consecutive installments as a single uninterrupted story or arc. Danny also said Federal were prone to more substantial tampering, so I thought it might be interesting to sample and compare one of these Federal pages to the US original.

The first panel in the Federal edit is actually the splash page of the US original, with the credits and title erased and the image flipped. The rest of the panels on the Federal page are from the following page of the US original. The panels have been cropped and rearranged, and the art has even been extended.

So I would readily concede these editions are hardly going to satisfy a purist, especially as the material is generally otherwise available in colour US reprint editions.

There was a time when cutting up the page and reformatting the panels to fit a new page size did not present a dilemma, or violate the original work to any substantial degree. I think of the Signet paperbacks of Batman comics - books I treasured as a child – or K.G. Murray’s Superman Super Library series in the mid-1960’s.

I understand even the first Superman comic was a cutup and rearrangement of newspaper strips! It’s interesting that at some point this practise became untenable for regular superhero comics.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Alex Toth Reprint Stocktake Part 3

Another addition to the Alex Toth Reprint Stocktake.

I picked up this unnumbered Federal Comics issue of Unexpected a couple of weeks ago on reflex action, without even checking the contents - - if I did not have a spare $1 coin in my pocket I may not have even bothered - - so it’s a pleasant (ahem “unexpected”) surprise to find an Alex Toth gem reprinted within:

A Connecticut Ice Cream Man in King Arthur's Court
Michael Fleisher/Alex Toth
(House of Secrets #123, September 1974)

I just love this stuff - in the first panel the abstract floating windows in the background and the silhouettes in the foreground make for such an ominous, expressionistic yet elegant and balanced, weighted image.

In the last panel, the shift in perspective and solid black silhouettes of the cage bars and the dead rat enable a depth of dimension between foreground and background as well as an appealing design. It's almost an optical illusion in that the silhouette alternates between being a foreground figure with details (cage, rat), and a receding abstract shape as the eyes focus on the 'background' details and the speaking figure. It simulates the focus required to see through the bars of a cage at close range.

And in-between these panels, whether it's with solid blacks or thin lines, every object and expression appears considered, staged, purposeful and nuanced. Even emotive. And that's without even reading the text. And all utterly indifferent to the colourist's contributions (which, of course, I now must see). But hey, that's Toth.

There’s a newsagent’s stamp on the back cover dated September 1983.

And at $0.99 cover price, reckon it’s just about the best value for $1 I’ve had for a while!

PS These ad hoc lists can become unwieldy, so at some point I’ll review and consolidate the live lists such as this and the Gredown Horror Comics list - maybe when I’ve added more than half a dozen entries to the initial entry, or maybe once a month.


Just spotted another Toth:

Weird Western Tales #14, October-November 1972
Terror Tales Album #14, circa 1980

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Gredown Horror Comics List additions

I have a few more titles to add to the list of comfirmed Gredown Horror comics:

Avenging Spirit
Endless Torment
Devil's Inferno
Grim Ghostly Stories
Malignant Forces
Monsters From Hell 1
Monsters Incorporated
Reign of Terror
Tortured Mind
Zombies From Below

This makes a total of 234 confirmed titles.
I was also able to confirm a few more issue numbers.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Alan Class UK reprints: Sinister Tales #20

Alan Class comics are to K.G. Murray comics as the K.G. Murray comics are to the US editions - - strange, unpredictable, distorted parallel/mirror universe bizarro variations. In other words, they’re exactly the same, except that they’re completely different. Or something like that.

I like the Alan Class comics. They’re a great way to pick up cheap reprints of 1950’s and early 1960’s Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, whether it’s Atlas/Marvel or Charlton material.

For example, check out the contents of
Sinister Tales #20
Cover reprinted from Strange Tales #97, June 1962

When A Planet Dies!
Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers
(Strange Tales #97, June 1962)

Stan Lee/Steve Ditko
(Tales to Astonish #44, June 1963)

Inside the Fallout Shelter
Stan Lee/Steve Ditko
(Tales of Suspense #30, June 1962)

The Crackpot
Don Heck
(Tales of Suspense #31, July 1962)

The Missing Link!
Stan Lee/Steve Ditko
(Tales of Suspense #31, July 1962)

The Man Who Couldn't Grow Old!
Don Heck
(Tales of Suspense #30, June 1962)

The Comic
(2 pages, text only)
(Journey Into Unknown Worlds #45, May 1956)

The One Who Isn't Human
Don Heck
(Tales of Suspense #32, August 1962)

The Thing in the Sky!
Stan Lee/Steve Ditko
(Tales of Suspense #32, August 1962)

The Man Who Wouldn't Die!
Stan Lee/Larry Lieber/Matt Fox
(Journey Into Mystery #93, June 1963)

The Secret of the Mirage
Don Heck
(Tales of Suspense #33, September 1962)

The Creature from Krangro
Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers
(Tales of Suspense #30, June 1962)

Where is the Wommelly?
Stan Lee/Steve Ditko
(Tales of Suspense #33, September 1962)

Try getting these issues for under $6!

Based on the contents I’d say this issue was published 1963/1964.

I don’t think the quality of the average Alan Class edition matches that of the average K.G. Murray edition. The inks can often appear spottier, and the pages are smaller, and the glue in the spine has naturally dried and cracked over the years so they are prone to splitting.

For these reasons I avoid the Alan Class issues superhero reprints – they’re all available in other formats, whether it’s the Essential series of reprints, or Masterworks, or any other format in between.

But if I want a fix of Marvel Kirby monsters or creepy suspenseful Ditko stories, the Alan Class comics provide a pretty good fix, and are good companions to the K.G. Murrays.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Batman Comic #3: You're Ratty, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine!

This comic may appear a little bit ratty, stained and dirty, and it may be defaced with some pencil tracing, but given it’s from 1950 - making it just about the oldest comic I own – and that I bought it just last week for around $20, and it features Sprang on Batman, well, you might forgive me if I sing its praises with a bit more gusto than the average CGC grader would muster on its behalf!

The first four issues of K.G. Murray’s Batman series in the 1950’s were titled Batman Comics, and personally, I wish this full title had been maintained for the duration of the 115 issues. For one thing, it would distinguish it from the US series. For another, just including the word “comics” in the title somehow suggests it’s from another age, when the word “comics” implied a lightness and playfulness and humour, without apology or irony. A time when comics – even superhero comics - were for kids!

And so it is with this issue, beginning with a cover image cropped from an issue of the US series World’s Finest Comics. This particular issue has the Superman figure erased and the elements slightly rearranged and redrawn to fashion a Batman and Robin cover image.

Such cropping and editing was a common practice with K.G. Murray DC reprints at the time. If it wasn’t Superman being removed for a Batman cover, it was Robin being erased and Superboy drawn in his place for a Super Adventure Comic issue (see James’ site for numerous examples).

The contents of this issue:

Batman with Robin The Boy Wonder: The Trial of Bruce Wayne!
Bill Finger/Dick Sprang/Charles Paris
(Batman #57, February-March 1950)

Johnny Quick and his Magic Formula: The Duel of Speed!
Otto Binder/Charles Sultan
(Adventure Comics #142, July 1949)

Batman with Robin The Boy Wonder: The 1,000 Secrets of the Batcave!
Bill Finger/Jim Mooney/Ray Burnley
(Batman #48, August-September 1948)

Plus the following fillers: "Happy" Herman by Phil Berube (0.66 pages); Monthly Invention: Automatic Record Changer (0.33 pages); Casey the Cop by Henry Boltinoff (0.5 pages); and Daffy & Doodle (0.5 pages).

The three main features in this issue have been reprinted at least twice in later K.G. Murray titles. What is interesting is that they were reprinted, in All Favourites Comic Annual NN/#1, 1956 and later again in Colossal Comic #39, 1966, precisely as they appear in this issue, that is, in the same greyscale format.

I’ve mentioned previously that Colossal Comic #39 reprints a slab of material from the first All Favourites Comic Annual, but it is only now that I could confirm the greyscale printing was in the source material and not especially prepared for All Favourites Comic Annual, as I originally thought may be the case (I'll discuss these two issues in greater detail in a forthcoming blog).

Even with the grey tones, it is easy to see why Sprang is regarded as the best Batman artist of his era. He may have ghosted for the Bob Kane ‘house style’, but his art was quite idiosyncratic – crisp, sharp and angular lines; radical perspectives - bold close-ups alternating with extreme vanishing points; round panels breaking up the nine-panel grid; inky skylines and shadows and silhouettes; and a keen sense of movement, of kinetic energy – in other words, of cartooning rather than mere illustration. His villains were almost Chester Gould-ish – you get the feeling he relished drawing gangsters and super villains even more than the superheroes - and of all the Batman artists of the 1940s-1950s, Sprang was best at invoking a slick and cartoon-based ‘film noir’-lite tone and style. And of course, the black and white reproduction in these Australian reprints serves Sprang - and inker Charles Paris - well on Batman.

I happen to also like Jim Mooney on Batman. He’s no Sprang or Lew Schwartz or Jerry Robinson, of course. He’s a rather ‘proper’ artist, not prone to caricature or impressionism. He’s mostly identified with stints on Supergirl and Tommy Tomorrow, but in some ways he’s the perfect interior-art companion to a Win Mortimer cover. Indeed I consider him to be a good compromise artist on World’s Finest between a 'Superman artist" and a "Batman artist".

I don’t buy every Australian pre-1956 Batman (or Superman or Super Adventure Comic) issue I come across. I might pick one up if it’s a Hart Amos cover, or if the contents aren’t reprinted in a later Colossal Comic, or if the cover is especially appealing and represents a feasible alternative to an expensive US copy. Or maybe if it’s so well preserved that it’s just a beautiful book in and of itself.

But sometimes it’s hard to pass up early vintage issues regardless of the condition, especially if you’ve not seen one before, and may not see one on offer again any time soon. Sometimes the ratty ones are beautiful in and of themselves for no good reason at all.