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for Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sinister Tales 5

From the 1960s through the 1980s, British publisher Alan Class collected American comic-book stories in black-and-white editions. It's not unusual to find material from different American companies in the same issue; Class bought stories from ACG, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, and Tower. I started collecting Alan Class comics a couple years back, though many of the books I have came to me through the generosity of my good friend Paul Fearn.

This time out, we're looking at SINISTER TALES #5 and also its diminished doppelganger, SINISTER TALES #206. The latter issue is a reprint of the former, sans the last four stories of the former. The cover (shown above) is by Bill Everett and originally appeared as the cover of Marvel's JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #48 [August, 1957]. Since the Alan Class books aren't dated, I usually have to guess at when they were published, but I'm fairly confident SINISTER TALES #5 was published in late 1964. The reprint likely came out in the second half of the 1980s.

All of the stories reprinted in these issues come from Atlas, also known as Timely and Marvel Comics. Most of them are familiar tales featuring familiar gimmicks. However, they are still lots of fun to read with some terrific art and the occasional neat little twists. I'm impressed by how much story and characterization the unknown writers of these yarns were able to get into just three or four pages. These days, we're lucky if a comics writer can finish a story in less than six issues.

Here are the contents of these issues with the occasionally snarky-but-affectionate summation:

"The Woman Who Played With Dolls" (4 pages, from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #48, drawn/signed by Richard Doxsee). "The old gal's dolls are incredibly lifelike. I bet I can steal them and sell them for big bucks."

"Behind the Mask" (4 pages, from JIM #48, drawn/signed by Jay Scott Pike). "This mystic mask makes me handsome so the beautiful woman at work will love me. Hey, what's that other mask hanging on the wizard's wall?"

"Behind the Iron Gate" (3 pages, MARVEL TALES #159, August, 1957, art attributed to Matt Fox). A released convict ends up back in jail because, in his future time, just thinking about committing a crime gets you caught by the telepathic police.

"I Follow Him" (4 pages, UNCANNY TALES #49, November, 1956, art attributed to Ed Winiarski). A mind-reader reads the minds of aliens hiding among us, but they can read his mind, too.

"The Lifeless One" (4 pages, UT #49, drawn/signed by Howard O'Donnell). A less-than-handsome man finds love on an alien world whose native males are even less attractive than he is; the alien women are, of course, gorgeous.

"Trapped in the Burning Sands" (4 pages, STRANGE TALES #59, July, 1957, art attributed to Doug Wildey). Bad man betrays other bad man. That trick never works.

"The Man in the Satellite" (3 pages, UT #49, drawn/signed by Joe Orlando). "I was in there how long?"

"What Waits in the Dungeon?" (4 pages, ST #59, drawn/signed by George Woodbridge). The master thief loots a Roman villa and makes his escape through the wrong door.

Strange Tales 5 page

"Magic Mist Form" (2-page text story, ST #59). This stuff is great. It makes diapers and anything else you clean with it look like new. It makes your hubby *want* to shop, just hoping to find another bottle. Where's Ron Popeil when you need him?

Oddly enough, "Magic Mist Form" isn't re-reprinted in SINISTER TALES #206. It's replaced by "The New Pupil," the 2-page text tale from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #48. The title character never appears in this short story, but a mousy teacher mistakes a Martian for his new pupil and takes away the alien's deadly ray gun before the Army arrives to take said alien into custody.

Getting back to the comics stories...

"Footprints to Nowhere" (4 pages, UT #49, signed/drawn by Vic Carrabotta). An explorer finds the Missing Link, the Missing Link finds him, he ends up missing.

"The Disappearing Man" (4 pages, STRANGE TALES #61, February, 1958, art attributed to Ed Winiarski). Scientist disappears, then returns telling of a world he turned into a paradise. One of his not-so-nice pals wants a piece of that action.

"The Eyes That Never Close" (4 pages, ST #61, drawn/signed by Bernard Krigstein). Not classic Krigstein, but interesting all the same as a convict uses an ancient idol to transport himself out of his cell and to other times and places. But evil man can only make evil trips. The con ends up on the Titanic, on the Hindenburg, and then goes to...wait for it...Hiroshima!

"He Never Came Out" (4 pages, STRANGE TALES #63, June, 1958, drawn/signed by Alfonso Greene). A crook tries to rob the new wax museum with its 36 lifelike figures. Do I really have to tell you what happens?

These next four stories are the ones which don't appear in the later SINISTER TALES #206.

"The Spectre" (4 pages, STRANGE TALES #61, art attributed to Dick Giordano). A race-car driver thinks he sees an "apparition" just before car crashes. Instead of pulling him from competition, his handlers try to trick him into thinking the "spectre" has been trapped in a crystal ball. The trick doesn't work and this story doesn't really end.

"Uncork It...If You Dare!" (4 pages, STRANGE TALES #63, drawn and signed by Howard O'Donnell). The world is on the brink of war until a mysterious gas sets United Nations delegates into beating on each other. Getting this first-hand taste of fighting, they all work harder to keep the peace. Except for John Bolton, of course. John Bolton the scary neo-con, that is. Not the John Bolton, the talented British artist.

Strange Tales 5 page

"What Lurks in the Mountain?" (5 pages, TALES OF SUSPENSE #17, May, 1961, drawn/signed by Steve Ditko). Gotta love those Cold War stories. The mountain is a spaceship and it takes off with a mess of Commies climbing all over it.

"The Man Who Couldn't Breathe" (4 pages, JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #30, January, 1956, drawn/signed by Tony DiPreta). The healthiest man in the world is transformed by unseen Martians to see if human beings can be adapted to live on Mars. Then they change him back. Those wacky Martians.

That was SINISTER TALES #5 and its full 68 pages of goodness from the past. Look for more coverage of Alan Class comic books in future TOTS. I have dozens of them.



For our third session of ICC, I read the DCU books which went on sale the week of October 26. I skipped BATMAN: UNDER THE HOOD, which collected BATMAN #636-641, because I read too many Bat-comics last week. I probably could have skipped LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #11 (set in the future) and SOLO #7 (probably not set in the DCU), but they were by Mark Waid and Mike Allred and I figured I'd enjoy them. So I included them in my session preparation. After all, it is my couch you're lying on.

Adventures of Superman 645

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #645 [$2.50] is about as unsatisfying an issue as you can imagine. Sub-plots are noted, maybe taking a half-step forward, with the remaining scenes being little more than IC cling-ons. There's a meaningless fight scene between Superman and Ruin, followed by Big Blue's discovery that the JLA Watchtower was blasted to pieces in some other comic book. The issue's main allegiance is to the "Big Event" and that's why it gets but one out of five Tonys.


Catwoman 48

Despite CATWOMAN #48 [$2.50] being part five of a story arc, I didn't have any trouble getting into writer Will Pfeifer's tale. Selina has formed a faux-alliance with various villains to protect her part of town. One of the villains is an undercover cop, which is an incredibly clever notion. Batman and Selina chat and, to my amazed delight, the former doesn't appear to be the insane Batman of most other DCU titles. The art by Pete Woods is first-rate and the issue ends on one heck of a cliff-hanger. What's not to love about this comic book?

CATWOMAN #48 earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Doom Patrol 17

The current incarnation of DOOM PATROL has been moving towards cancellation for some time now, so there's less logical impetus for issue #17 [$2.50] to be new reader friendly and, sure enough, it's not. Though I might not be sure what's happening with the heroes or the story, the John Byrne/Doug Hazlewood art was excellent and made me wish I did know what was going on. Two flashback sequences interrupt the issue's flow to give character background that may or may not have any bearing on the main story. A seemingly defeated Metamorpho shows up for the cliffhanger ending.

My random thoughts on this issue:

I would probably have gotten more out of it and maybe liked it better if I'd read the previous 16 issues, but I'm not interested enough to read them at this late date.

The only versions of the Doom Patrol which fans seem to think kindly of are the original Silver Age comics and those written by Grant Morrison in the 1980s.

Judging from the online chatter, this version of the team was pretty much doomed from the get-go.

Byrne clearly has plenty of good moves left. I remain hopeful that he'll have another big hit.

DOOM PATROL #17 gets one Tony.


Flash 227

FLASH #227 [$2.50] commences with a gratuitously brutal dream sequence meant to drive home the "new father" fears of Wally West. Given Wally's life as the Flash, the fears are legitimate enough, but these opening pages still strike me as little more than violent pandering. Writer Joey Cavalieri's story gets more interesting as the in-laws express their concerns for the spiritual well-being of their grandchildren and gets a Tony for Wally's willingness to hear them out. However, just when I think faith/religion is gonna get a fair shake, smiling evil rears toothy grins in the final panel of the issue. Sigh.

Digression. Veteran TOT readers know I have grave concerns as to the power of the religious right in my native land. But I have always recognized the legitimate role faith can have in one's life and those folks who actually practice their faith in loving manner. In the DCU, where life itself often appears to be at the "mercy" of all-powerful capricious and malicious forces, good people of faith must be truly extraordinary individuals. I created one such person in Jeff "Black Lightning" Pierce - not that you'd know if from how he's been written of late - and think there should be more heroes and supporting characters with similar sensibilities. This FLASH arc could still provide that. End of digression.

FLASH #227 is a "mostly pretty decent" comic book with decent writing and good art. It gets three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

JLA 121

Let me save you the two-and-a-half bucks DC thinks you should pay for the crap-fest that is JLA #121. Green Arrow will have sex with any cute young woman that crosses his path; incredibly, there are not only DCU women who continue to speak to him, but DCU women who will, indeed, have sex with him. Most of the League members are afraid of Batman, the only logical element to be found in this script. Some members are still in grade school, as evidenced by their attempt to become Nightwing's best friend to use him against Batman. Something bad is coming. I think it might be the Psycho Pirate, but as he's not named or drawn to look like the Psycho Pirate of other DC comics, I'm not sure if it's him or some other villain who manipulates emotions. If you take a drink every time you see a crotch shot in this issue, you might not notice how bad it is. However, I did like the Tom Derenick/Dan Green art and that's what earns JLA #121 its solitary Tony.


JLA Classifieds 4

JLA CLASSIFIED #13 [$2.50] presents the fourth chapter of "New Maps of Hell" by Warren Ellis and Butch Guice. The upside is that it seems like an intriguing tale. The downside is that you need to have read the previous chapters to know if that's really the case. This comic could be the poster child for "writing for the trade." I'm looking forward to reading that trade, but, for now, this issue of JLA CLASSIFIED gets an "incomplete" grade.

JSA Classifieds 4

I wanted to like JSA CLASSIFIED #4 [$2.50] a lot more than I did. I generally enjoy the writing of Geoff Johns and admire his willingness to tackle the mess that is Power Girl's origins. I'm also a big fan of artists Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti whether they're working solo or together. I even like Power Girl, though I shudder when I recall how her editors, writers, and artists would talk about her during my mercifully brief time as a DC staffer in the 1970s. You guys really were pigs, you know?

But...this issue, fun and even moving as it is in places, does not stands alone, especially since its last page is yet another IC lead-in. On the other hand, I do realize there are readers, maybe even many readers, for whom the link to IC is this comic's selling point. Not every one's boat floats the same way.

JSA CLASSIFIED gets three Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony

Legion of Super-Heroes 11

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #11 [$2.99] doesn't seem to have much of a connection to IC, but, as in times past, whatever happens in the present-day DCU will likely have repercussions for these 30th-century heroes. In the meantime, writer Mark Waid is doing solid work here and, if a new reader doesn't understand everything going on, he or she will still learn enough to enjoy this issue and want to pick up those convenient collections of back issues.

The current tale is too big to summerize easily, but a threat to the future universe has the teen heroes split into three teams and facing peril on each of those fronts. Penciller Barry Kitson with inker Mick Grey do outstanding work on the lead/main story of the issue while Dale Eaglesham (pencils) and Art Thibert (inker) do an equally fine job on the visual challenges poised by the issue's terrific back-up tale.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #11 gets four out of four Tonys...and my fervent wish that the series survives IC without getting screwed over. Maybe Brainiac 5 can create a device that shields the Legion from anal-retentive continuity.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Solo 7

SOLO #7 [$4.99] was my favorite comic book of the week, though it's only a DCU book in that Michael Allred uses DCU characters for nostalgic, sometimes risque comedy and costumed hero introspection. "An Hour With Hourman" had me smiling while "Doom Patrol Vs. Teen Titans" had me laughing out loud. "Batman A-Go-Go" is a powerful-albeit-weird look at the character and deserves a second reading. "Comic Book Clubhouse" was a delightful salute to all us kids who grew up in the Silver Age of Comics. With contributions by Laura (wife, co-writer, colorist) and Lee (brother, co-writer), SOLO #7 made my week. It earns the full five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Teen Titans 28

In TEEN TITANS #28 [$2.50], writer Gail Simone can't entirely overcome the oft-grotesque Rob Liefeld drawing in this conclusion to the Titans' battle with Kestrel. This issue is heavy on action, very light on plot, and relatively strong on character bits. In fact, the character bits are what elevates the issue from complete mediocrity as Simone does nice stuff with Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Raven, and others. Liefeld's art is so distracting - it's as if he was doing a cruel parody of his own garish and anatomically-amusing style - it drags the entire issue down. I think I'm being generous in giving TEEN TITANS #28 two Tonys.

Tony Tony

Wonder Woman 222

WONDER WOMAN #222 [$2.50] is tedious brutality and melodrama. Though she was being arrested by the police in this week's issue of CATWOMAN, the Cheetah is back to slaughter innocents on account of she wasn't a virgin when she "married" a beast-god. Wonder Woman has turned herself over to the Hague for her killing of Max Lord; she is pleading not guilty by way of extenuating circumstances and, to be honest, liberal poster-child that I am, I still believe what she did is a slam-dunk for self-defense.

(Noted attorney Bob Ingersoll disagrees with my position, but I think courts and laws in the filled-with-metahumans DCU wouldn't necessarily limit the parameters of self-defense as much as we do in our sadly-lacking-in-metahumans world.)

Back on Themyscira, which sound so much more inviting when it was called Paradise Island, the Amazons are apparently expecting an invasion and building a weapon of mass destruction. An American strike group is sailing around the island to keep an eye on things. Which seems like a massive overreaction to the killing of Max Lord, but, hey, I never liked Lord when he was supposed to be one of the good guys.

Back at the Hague, the Cheetah slaughters some guards, mostly to provide an excuse for a fight scene wherein Wonder Woman slices off part of her foe's tail. Oh, yeah, and the issue ends with what looks like hundreds of OMACs flying towards Themyscira. Where's a big sucking black hole when you need one?

WONDER WOMAN #222? Not good. It gets one Tony because Green Arrow wasn't in it and so didn't have sex with anyone.


That wraps up the DCU week of October 26. I'll be back soon, maybe even as soon as the morrow, with another session of INFINITE CRISIS COUNSELING. Don't forget to take your meds.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/23/2006 | 01/24/2006 | 01/25/2006 >>

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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.

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