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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Saturday, April 16, 2005

Secrets of the Unknown 185

My fascination with the Alan Class comics published in the UK from the early 1960s through the very early 1990s continues. These black-and-white books - measuring 9-1/8 by 7-1/4 inches - reprinted stories from several American publishers (Marvel, Charlton, ACG, Tower, etc.) and a variety of genres. The main focus seems to have been on fantasy, science fiction, and super-heroes, but they also did crime, war, and western comics. Among their most entertaining peculiarities was that stories from different American publishers would appear together in some issues.

The good news is that I've managed to amass a healthy stack of these Alan Class comics and will be sharing them with you from time to time. The bad news is that, even if I had the money to indulge my fascination further, the issues are becoming more expensive as others discover them.

Here's a concise explanation for that, boldly lifted from the website of 30TH CENTURY COMICS, one of the UK's leading retailers. They write:

From the early 1960's until about the early 1990's, a British publisher called Alan Class published thousands of black and white reprint comics which featured material from Atlas, Marvel, ACG, Charlton, Archie and occasionally other American publishers, including a relatively high proportion of work by Kirby & Ditko. Although on low quality paper, they provide an opportunity to obtain stories that can be difficult and expensive to get as originals and often haven't been reprinted elsewhere. They are becoming more uncommon and although traditionally they have not been expensive, they are now attracting more collector interest. Prices in general are rising, especially for earlier pre-decimal issues which are scarcer.

Seen above, SECRETS OF THE UNKNOWN #185 [date unknown to me] reprints the Joe Maneely cover from JOURNEY INTO UNKNOWN WORLDS #52 [December, 1956] and every story, including the text story, which appeared in that issue. The rest of the issue's 48 interior pages are filled with five tales from ADVENTURES INTO MYSTERY [November, 1956] and one from MARVEL TALES #124 [June, 1954].

Four pages was the usual length for Atlas/Marvel stories back in the day with some being as short as three pages. Their writers squeezed a lot into these tales, but they didn't always make a lot of sense and the shock endings were sometimes the exclusive domain of the writer's copy (captions and dialogue) to the exclusion of the artist's visuals. Despite that, they manage to be entertaining yarns and, even when they aren't, they still remain worthwhile from a historical perspective.

Here are the contents of this issue with the art credits and page counts...


"The Ice-Creatures Cometh!" (Dick Ayers; 4 pages)

"Dinosaur-At-Large!" (Paul Reinman; 4 pages)

"The Pig That Prowled!" (Vic Carrabotta; 4 pages)

"A World to Conquer" (Larry Lieber; 3 pages)

"When the Moon Vanished!" (Robert Q. Sale; 4 pages)

"They Met at Midnight!" (Werner Roth; 4 pages)

"Grains of Sand" (text; 2 pages)

Marvel Tales 124


"The Man With Wings!" (George Roussos; 4 pages)

Adventures Into Mystery 4


"Those in a Trance" (Bob Powell; 4 pages)

"The Invaders" (Ed Winiarski; 4 pages)

"The Menace of the Little Men!" (Chuck Miller; 3 pages)

"None Are So Blind!" (Al Williamson; 4 pages)

"The Voice in the Shell!" (George Roussos; 4 pages)

It's an interesting mix of stories and styles. Reinman draws a darn fierce dinosaur. The Carrabotta tale is actually a spritely crime story with the Powell offering being a more somber example of the genre. Roth's "They Met At Midnight" is a beautifully-drawn romance with fantasy elements.

"The Man With Wings" is perhaps cruel to its hapless inventor protagonist, but its ending got a chuckle out of me. The poor guy, on the brink of success, is saved from death by a giant eagle who mistakes him for his missing mate and brings him back to the nest to hatch their eggs.

Even with poor reproduction, the Williamson-drawn story looks good, but its surprise ending is hard to swallow and a key element is revealed only in dialogue. You couldn't get much out of these Atlas comics if you only looked at the pictures.

Thanks for allowing me to indulge my fascination with the Alan Class comics. I'll try not to abuse your good will by returning to the subject *too* often.

If I've piqued your own interest in these comics, you'll want to head to eBay and see what is currently being auctioned. Expect spirited bidding and also keep in mind that shipping costs from the UK will significantly increase the cost of the books.

The afore-mentioned 30TH CENTURY COMICS can also be counted on for a good selection of Alan Class comics. If eBay auctions aren't your thing, visit their website at:

Let's see what else I have for you today.



Mother Goose and Grimm

I admit the above strip is a stretch.

However, since we were recently discussing the "Easter Island" motif [], I just couldn't resist running Mike Peters' MOTHER GOOSE AND GRIMM comic strip from March 27.

Not even Jack Kirby ever thought of this twist!




I'm running Guy and Brad Gilchrist's NANCY strip from April 2 because I got a big kick out of its edgy humor. After all, this is NANCY we're talking about, a strip not generally known for topical commentary...and yet there it is.

Every newspaper in the country should carry NANCY. It's one of the best-drawn strips being syndicated today. It's funny *and* appropriate for all ages. It may project a sanitized view of our country, but it is not so removed from reality that it can't invoke current events and problems on occasion. There was even a series of strips on school bullying in recent memory.

Nancy rocks!



Among the things I like least about online comics fandom are the fan pirates who post complete comic books online without regard to either the creators or the holder of the copyrights for these comics. Also among the related things I like least are those fans who can't understand the difference between "copyrighted material" and "public domain" in castigating me for my opposition to online piracy. To complete the trifecta, among the related things I like least are those fans who then try to get my goat as their arguments fall apart like the shoddy constructs they are.

Recently, on a mailing list, one of these bright boys asked if he could buy my copies of a fanzine called CAPTAIN GEORGE'S WHIZ-BANG. It took me a while to figure out what he was talking about. I don't always or even usually respond to posts clearly written for no other purpose than to needle me, but I wanted to make some use of the time I spent searching my mind and the Web for information on the zine in question.

Here's how I responded:

I'm not sure what your intentions are in asking this question, but you certainly gave my memory a challenge. I had to do a Google search before I remembered what you were talking about.

George Henderson - Is that the right last name? - published a fanzine which reprinted various comics and comics-related things. This was in 1968 to 1972 or so. Some of the stuff might have been public domain, much of it probably wasn't.

I was still in high school at the time - over three decades ago - and wasn't cognizant of copyright laws and publishing ethics and the like. Obviously, no one of our age has that excuse today. I almost certainly had some issues of this zine. When I had money, I bought all the comics and comics-related stuff I could afford. However, I don't have any of those issues today and, try as I might, I can only conjure up one of them in my mind...and it was one Roy Thomas showed me when we were both working in the Marvel offices in the 1970s. It reprinted a Captain America story and Roy planned to shoot photostats of the pirated reprint - if, indeed, that's what it was - for use in a Marvel comic. I can't recall if he ever did.

If you are trying to needle me with this question, I'm afraid you will have to do much better than bringing up fanzines I bought over thirty years ago...before I knew any better.

Fairness demands I mention that I know of at least one comics writer who actually applauds fans posting complete issues he wrote decades ago. He doesn't own the copyrights on those stories, but he has no love for the publisher who does and is simply thrilled to see any interest in them.

Obviously, I don't share that attitude. I'd love to see some of my old stories made available again, especially the ones dearest to me. But until such time as I own them again, only their current copyright holder has the right to republish them online or anywhere else. If I say it's okay to steal from that publisher, how could I then say it's not okay to steal from me?

I think this one's a pretty clear-cut issue; wanting something doesn't automatically entitle one to it. That's my position, but I suspect this online debate will go on.

And on and on and on and...



According to just about every report, Tobias Whale, the arch-enemy of Black Lightning and, like Black Lightning, a character who was created by yours truly, is appearing on an episode of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED called "Double Date." Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, those reports are wrong.

They weren't *always* wrong. As I understand it, Tobias Whale was to appear in the episode as it was originally conceived. Much later in the process of actually putting the episode on the air, DC Comics either requested the character not appear in the episode or outright refused to allow him to appear. However, this was so late in the process that apparently some other big nasty crime-boss will appear in the episode who may or may not bear some resemblance to my creation. Shades of Black Vulcan!

Since this "appearance" of Tobias Whale was announced, I keep getting asked questions about it. So, in the hope of sharing what information I have with you, I requested an interview with myself. I was hesitant to talk with myself. I knew I wasn't afraid to ask myself the tough questions, but I felt I had an obligation to the Tobias Whale fans out there.

Here is that interview...

EVIL TONY: You've said that Tobias Whale is not appearing on the cartoon show.

GOOD TONY: That's a statement, not a question. But, yes, that is the best information I have at this time.

EVIL TONY: How do you feel about how Tobias Whale is going to be treated on the show?

GOOD TONY: I don't think he's on the show.

EVIL TONY: How do you feel about other writers handling your creation on the show?

GOOD TONY: He's not on the show and they would need real long arms to handle him. Have you seen that guy? He's big. You'd need a bus ticket and two transfers just to get in walking distance of his good side. If he had one.

EVIL TONY: Are you making light of this?

GOOD TONY: Yes. But, because you remind me of a young Tony Isabella, if I were, like, evil, I'll answer your question in more general terms. About the only way anyone could get Tobias Whale wrong would be to reform him. He's a really nasty guy with no capacity for love. There were limits to how much I could show of his evil in Code-approved comics or even non-Code-approved DCU comics, but there were no limits to his evil in my mind.

EVIL TONY: Why are you so unreasonable?

GOOD TONY: Ah, the quick switch. You *are* an evil bastard, aren't you? There are those at DC who portray me as unreasonable, but that's just a convenient lie. I've always made myself available to anyone who wanted to portray my creations consistent with their core characters.

EVIL TONY: Do you profit from Tobias Whale appearing on the Justice League cartoon?

GOOD TONY: He's not appearing on the show. The last word I had was that DC had refused permission for JLU to use him, much as they had earlier refused to allow either JLU or Static Shock to use Black Lightning. If Tobias *does* appear on the show, I'm supposed to get a percentage of whatever DC makes from licensing the guy's appearance. I can always use a few extra bucks.

By the way, I've long been on record as saying Dwayne McDuffie - one of JLU's producers and writers - is one of the few people I would trust to do right by Black Lightning. So my creation's non-appearances on any show Dwayne has been associated with is not even remotely my doing.

EVIL TONY: Assuming for a moment that Tobias Whale isn't going to appear on this episode, what reason could DC possible have for refusing to allow him to appear?

GOOD TONY: Why don't you interview them?

EVIL TONY: If Tobias Whale proves popular when he appears in the cartoon show, do you think there's a chance you'll be writing him or Black Lightning again?

GOOD TONY: He'! Did they jam that receiver too deep into your ear?

EVIL TONY: You're saying there's no hope?

GOOD TONY: No, I'm pretty sure you're the one saying that; I can see your lips moving.

There's always hope, but there also seems to be a company mind set against simply picking up a phone and saying "Hey, can't we all just get along?" It wouldn't take much and there are several folks at DC who could, if they so desired, make it happen. You'd have to ask them why they don't make that effort.

EVIL TONY: Will you ever write Black Lightning again?

GOOD TONY: Tobias Whale is *not* appearing on the...oh, wait, you've finally gotten off that. In that case...

No one can predict the future with certainty. However, I do strongly believe I will write Black Lightning again. It just might be years away from happening.

EVIL TONY: Why do you hate America?

GOOD TONY: Right at this moment, I only hate the small portion of it you're standing on. Thank God it's quicksand.

EVIL TONY: Stop evading the burble...

GOOD TONY: While I'm standing here making sure he doesn't claw his way to the surface, I want to thank all of you for spending a part of your day with me.

I'll be back soon with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 04/15/2005 | 04/16/2005 | 04/17/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined.

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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