Archive for the ‘General’ Category
Monday, July 7, 2014
I am not much one for Westerns; life in the Wild West always seemed like the worst possible combination of camping and gym, which seemed like a nightmarish hellscape to a fat kid like me. Oh, I’m not made of stone. Some of my favorite movies (Cat Balou, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, etc.) and TV shows (Maverick, Wild, Wild West, etc.) are westerns. But when it comes to comics, I’m pretty much ‘meh’ on the genre. But in years past while idly leaving through the Overstreet Price Guide I would find myself staring wistfully at the beautifully painted covers of Kid Cowboy, a Ziff-Davis series that ran for ten issues between 1950 and 1952. But it wasn’t just the covers; I have to admit I was intrigued by both the kid’s snazzy cowboy outfit and the comic’s title; Kid Cowboy is without question a strong contender for “Most On The Nose” title for a comic. And it’s sub-title, “Boy Marvel of the Wild West!” was no slouch either. It was one of those comics I dreamily dreamed about one day reading, never really believing I’d ever get the chance.
The Kid dresses like Gene Autrey and shoots like The Lone Ranger (better, actually, well faster anyway; he specializes in speed as well as unerring accuracy) but has one of those “raised by Indians” origins that were fairly common back in the day, and the stories do a fairly good job of depicting Indian life (being a white guy I can not say for certain, but at the very least the stories go out of their way to show Indians weren’t backward savages). Along with his childhood chum Red Feather without benefit of either agency or visible means of support The Kid just went around helping people, the way cowboys did only in the pages of fiction. Standard stuff, yes, but once get past the John Buscema (!) cover of #1 you really can’t complain about the contents by Ogden Whitney and Bob Brown.
Monday, May 26, 2014
On my short list of comic strips I wish King Features should start running in the Vintaage section of their website is Barney Baxter in the Air by (Not That) Frank Miller. It was a pretty prosaic airplane strip about a not particularly attractive plane crazy kid who was always having standard issue aviation adventures until like everybody else of the era he got swept up into WWII. It started in 1935 and lasted (surprisingly) until 1950, a fairly healthy lifespan for a strip. It’s perfectly understandable if you’ve never head of it because though fairly popular in its day it’s only appearances in other media consisted of a couple of comic books reprints and a Big Little Book.
The plots were basic, the “characters” nearly non-existent, but the art…oh, gosh, could this Frank Miller draw pretty. Airplanes, girls, animals, the guy was just gold.
About the most interesting thing about the strip was its comic grotesque sidekick Gopher Gus, who looked more than a little like Popeye crossed with chinless wonder Andy Gump. Gus was your standard colorful old prospector type who made an unlikely career switch by becoming a surprising competent pilot after meeting Barney. Though it’s clear from the second panel things after the end of the war science fiction elements creeped into the strip as Barney and Gus somehow made it to the moon.
And here’s the final Sunday from 1950, the art still looking darn good.
Monday, May 19, 2014
Starting in the late 50′s science fiction and fantasy elements started popping on the covers of various Archie comics but that’s usually where the fantastic elements stopped; inside the comics it was pretty much business as usual in Riverdale. But that started to change in the 60′s when the publisher, never afraid to latch onto a passing trend, started to introduce some of the outre genres that were all over the zeitgeist into their output; monsters, space, super spies and superheroes.
Everybody (and by “everybody” I of course mean certain old fanboys) remembers the Super Teens…
…and The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.
…but not The Kreeps.
In 1965, the year this comic was published, The Addams Family and The Munsters were on TV so naturally Archie had to meet a family of monsters. This is a comic I’ve wanted to read ever since I saw the cover somewhere online, partially because it’s freaking cool, but also because it also always struck me that Archie missed out on an obvious opportunity when they didn’t have a teenage monster enroll in Riverdale High during the monster boom. I realize I’m standing on unsteady ground when I complain that a story (by person or persons unknown, according to the Grand Comic Book Database) about a family of monsters “doesn’t make sense”. But “Archie Meets The Kreeps”, as the GCBD have dubbed it, really doesn’t.
First I have to question the creation of the teen witch Wendy; magical girls were of all over the place in ’65 (Bewitched, I Dream of Jeanie) but Archie didn’t have to go even that far afield for “inspiration”. Their very own teenage with Sabrina had been making regular appearance in Archie’s Madhouse since #22 in October 1962, Plus there’s a “twist” on the final page that flat out doesn’t make sense; I like to delude myself that I’m an expert on 60′s pop culture but the “Jerry Tuna” gag flew directly over my head. The closest I can come up with is its some kind of play on the singer Jerry Vale — it took a helpful poster, Ed O’Toole. to explain to me it was a reference to the Starkist ”Charlie the Tuna” ads. And I’m old enough to remember them too.
And, finally, it doesn’t do a very good job of introducing the other members of the family; they don’t even bother giving Mr. and Mrs. Kreep given names. But it still seems kind of odd that the publisher just gave up on the concept after just one go, but this appears to be The Kreeps one and only appearance in Archie Comics; though of course five years later an entirely different “family” of monsters was spun-off of the animated Sabrina the Teenage Witch; Groovie Goolies,
Monday, May 12, 2014
As previously noted I don’t know a lot about British publisher DC Thomson, their comics or their characters. For instance, I barely even knew there had been one crimefighter named Red Star let alone two. The “Golden Age” version of the character was Red Star Roberts. He started life in prose stories in the weekly Wizard as a suited, mask wearing vigilante who fought crime in Paragon City USA who earned his name by leaving a red star on criminals foreheads (and not because he was a Communist). He eventually graduated to comics:
The 70′s version, Red Star Robinson was Tommy Robinson, a regular seventeen year who fought crime under the guidance of the mysterious Watcher who provided him with an android gentleman’s gentlemen named Syrius Thrice and a vintage flying car. Unlike The Iron Teacher, who starred in a sprawling serial that seemed to go on forever, this Red Star’s adventures were generally limited to two-parters that were to the point as they were silly and strangely appealing.
For the record I wouldn’t have known about the original Red Star if not for an article on the always excellent British comics website Down The Tubes titled “A Different Type of Star — Rejuvenating DC Thomson’s Red Star for a New Era”(http://downthetubes.net/?p=14809). It goes on to say that The Glasgow League of Writers has partnered with the publisher to create new versions of some of their classic characters for the digital magazine Comic Review. This version of Red Star has been re-named the Scarlet Star (so as to avoid confusion with DC’s Russian sometimes Teen Titan, though frankly, I can’t imagine even one out of three people currently reading DC Comics would have any idea who that is). From what I’ve read online the new version, which will be written by Sam Read and drawn by Leonie Moore, pretty much splits the difference between the two version (though one assumes they’ll be no flying car in this one). Naturally, I am keen to see it.
Monday, May 5, 2014
In many ways I’m a standard issue comic book guy of a certain age; when it came to comics I grew up with a laser like focus on superheroes, but I was also obsessed with all of the other stuff on Steve’s List of Always Super Cool Things*. Like robots. British comics have since their beginnings been hip deep in mechanical men, take for instance Tin-Can Tommy, a humorous ‘bot from a 1947 issue of The Beano.
But robots could also be taken seriously, like one of my all-time favorite British comics character Robot Archie.
As well as a robot who predated him by decades, one who (if I was going to be absolutely honest) may very well have inspired the creation of Robot Archie. A character I’ve been semi-obsessed with for years in spite of the fact that up until now I’ve only been able to read about him, all on the strength of a name, which seemed so wonderfully strange and exotic to my ears, and a genuinely inspired idea; A robot teacher — what a concept.
The Iron Teacher began life as a text story character in 1941 in the weekly Hotspur in back when British “comics” weren’t exactly, comics, altogether anyway. They were known as “story papers” for good reason; the stories told came in both text and sequential storytelling form, and not infrequently both in Prince Valiant style strips that mixed the two. As previously noted in America the transition between pulp magazine and comic book happened within a number of years,but in Britain publishers hedged their bets by creating a hybrid faux penny dreadful with comics format until at least the 60′s. And publisher DC Thomson clung to it up until the early 1970′s.
In his original incarnation he looked as he did above, that being quite a bit like the American comic book robots Electro, Bozo the Original Iron Man, Flexo the Rubber Man and Mekano (who appeared only once in Wonder Comics #1) who most likely inspired his creation.
Information about this prose version of the character on the web is pretty scarce, but we do know he was invented by a hunchback inventor named Jack Sim (who, since hunchbacked characters in popular culture who don’t ring bells are so freaking rare I’ll just go ahead and assume was “inspired” by the original boy robot inventor Johnny Brainard, the teenaged hunchback dwarf hero of Edward S. Ellis’ “The Steam Man of the Prairies” published in 1868). The Iron Teacher was super strong, nearly indestructible and could temporarily blind opponents with a flash of a purple light from his eyes, though due diligence compels me to reveal he wasn’t actuallyj a robot, but rather just a remote control operated appliance like Bozo (and Japan’s Gigantor). He fought the usual assortment of Nazi’s, crooks and monsters, but what made the character so special was he also lived up to his name by protecting and educating children.
In spite of the fact that the superhero and science fiction boom had been over for years for some reason DC Thomson decided to promote some of their more fantastic characters starting on the cover of The Hotspur, though the interiors remained exclusively the province of WWII soldiers, (proper) footballers and plucky young boys in various perilous situations. This included a slightly revamped version of The Iron Teacher who, for some reason in this incarnation looked quite a bit like a water heater, and was controlled by “secret agent Jake Todd” – which is all we’re ever told about him. We never even learn what country or organization he works for. Todd also provided a voice for The Iron Teacher, for some reason. I honestly have no idea why they needed to pretend The Teacher was an autonomous other than to, you know, mess with people. Unless the organization Todd was working for was ashamed they didn’t have a proper working robot.
As previously established I’m not the biggest fan of the output of DC Thomson. Along with the fact they seemed to be intended for a slightly younger readership their comics always struck me as being rather dull, painfully old-fashioned and the art sketchy to the point of looking almost unfinished. That having been said I rather liked the following Iron Teacher story by person or persons unknowns (it’s certainly several steps up in quality from the rest of the contents of this comic) even if in this outing he doesn’t get the opportunity to do a whole lot of educating. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact The Teacher gets to smack sense into a bunch of theoretically extinct giant critters.
But for some reason these more fantastic characters were only allowed to appear one at a time — as this adventure of The Iron Teacher ends it sets up the coming of Red Star Robinson which is about a teenage crime fighter with an android companion and a flying vintage car making it…Crimebuster meets Kid Eternity by way of Chitty Chitty Bang?! I mean, seriously, what the hell?
I’ve posted Steve’s List of Always Super Cool Things before but it recently dawned me that I had foolish left one; space. So here’s the revised list:
5) Super Spies
Monday, April 14, 2014
In one of my earliest Comic Book Compulsives I confessed that in spite of their reputation among comic book guys and their admittedly high quality output I was never all that big a fan of the output of the publisher Fiction House. Most likely because of their reliance on non-powered adventurers, usually with some kind of military affiliation. But I also admitted to a strange and abiding fondness for one of their rare attempts at doing superheroes, even if he was, admittedly, a desperately cynical collision between Superman and Captain America. I speak of course of Super-American who appeared in Fight Comics #15-18, who was an unnamed average solider from a future where everyone has superpowers brought back to a WWII era America by scientist Allan Bruce to fight the Axis powers. He had no “stuff”, no headquarters, equipment, vehicles, supporting players, etc., he was just a standard issue Golden Age superhero with a standard, although admittedly kind of cool, super suit. But for some reason he’s still on my short-list of favorite obscure Golden Age characters.
This issue also featured another short-lived Fiction House, Captain Fight who appeared in Fight Comics #16-19 before he got replaced by another non-supehero character of the same name. He’s a pretty generic, DIY street level slugger without a lot to distinguish him. Surprisingly, a number of Golden Age supeheroes were high school coaches in their private lives and lots of them in shorts, a.k.a. “dressed for track”. But as far as I can he was the only one to do it wearing cleats.
Monday, April 7, 2014
In 1968 DC Comics published five issues of Captain Action, based of course on the classic action figure who thanks to masks and outfits (sold separately) could become any number of other licensed characters including, inexplicably, Steve Canyon (I can see Buck Rogers and maybe even Sgt. Fury but,seriously, Steve Canyon?). I had of course had one so I also had to have the comics, which of course due to copyright issues had absolutely nothing to do with that Captain Action. This one was archeologist Clive Arno who discovered a trove of “coins of power” which contained (or at least emulated) the powers of the Greek, Roman and Norse gods. Being the 1960′s Clive automatically decides to use his powers to fight evil and in the first two issues the guy was basically all powerful but the story limitations of that obviously occurred to those involved and most of the coins were destroyed in a fire. The surviving few provided Clive with standard issue super powers and made his son Carl, a.k.a. Action Boy, a standard speedster.
The first two issues were kind of ‘eh’ but the series got stranger and stranger as it went along. l could just have easily posted #4 which features the secret origin of Dr. Evil (who is in this iteration is his father-in-law, which is frankly kind of a genius way to add a little extra added soap opera to the superhero/villain conflict) and is even decades later both exceedingly odd and trippy. But upon reflection I had to go with #5. As far as I can tell this is the first time Gil Kane deals with the menace of American fascism but it won’t, be the last, and as far as I’m concerned, this is where he did it best. For whatever reason this is a story that has stuck with me over the decades; let’s see if you like it.
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