SUPERMAN. The Man of Steel joins and completes our ten-theme cover rotation, and I'd be hard-pressed to come with a better choice for the honor. He's the world's greatest super-hero. Many readers of my generation were introduced to Superman and to comic books in general by George Reeves' portrayal of the hero on TV. We watched the show, then begged Mom or Dad to buy us that Superman comic at our neighborhood grocery store or newsstand.
SUPERMAN #125 [November, 1958] kicks off the Superman covers I'll be bringing you every other week or so. Like all the covers I'll be showcasing, it's a comic book I owned as a kid growing up on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. This cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. The editor-of-record was Whitney Ellsworth, but the actual editor was the legendary Mort Weisinger. Like most issues, this one featured three complete stories starring the Man of Steel.
"Lois Lane's Super-Dream" (8 pages) was the first story in the issue, probably because it had the most exciting title splash. In the opening panel, we see Lois (as Power Girl) smashing a meteor to pebbles while Clark Kent (Power Man) cowers in fear, this despite his having the same powers as her.
Written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, the story is, indeed, a dream. Lois falls off a ledge, suffers a head injury, and receives a blood transfusion. However, fading in and out of consciousness, she believes she is getting a transfusion of super-blood from Superman. In her dream, she imagines teaming up with Superman, saving an injured Kent with a transfusion of her own blood, and trying to teach the man she sees as a bumbling weakling how to overcome his fear and uses his powers wisely. This is Lois in full bitch mode and sometimes painful to watch. But it's a fun story with an extra joke that I didn't get until I reread the tale. To protect his secret identity as Power Man, Clark puts on a dapper false mustache when in costume. This makes him look like...artist Kurt Schaffenberger!
Weisinger was big on "untold tales" of Superman, and one of the first such stories was Jerry Coleman's "Clark Kent's College Days." Drawn by Al Plastino, the ten-page story starts with Clark getting an invitation to a college reunion and flashing back to his duel of wits with a professor who suspected Kent was Superboy. I remember being impressed with how Clark won the duel when I read the story at the age of six-and-a-half. I'm not as impressed today, but the tale still tickles me.
"Superman's New Power" was the odd tale of the issue. A tiny alien spaceship blows up when Superman uncovers it and the blast changes his powers. He can still fly and he's still invulnerable, but all of his other powers have been transferred to a miniature doppelganger who emerges from Superman's glowing hands.
The GRAND COMICS DATABASE [www.comics.org] tentatively credits the eight-page story to Coleman, but that doesn't seem quite right to me. Superman is more emotional than in the other two stories, feeling jealous and even resentful that "mini-Superman" is getting all the headlines. The tale is pencilled by Wayne Boring with inks by Stan Kaye.
My recommendation? Buy SHOWCASE PRESENTS SUPERMAN VOLUME ONE for a mere $9.99. Not only will you get these three tales, albeit in black-and-white, you'll get over 500 pages of Superman stories from 1958 and 1959. Is that a deal or what?
One last Superman thought before we move on to other matters. Back in the day, kids had a decent chance of convincing Mom or Dad to buy them a Superman comic book. Because Mom and Dad knew those comic books would be suitable for readers of all ages. That's how it still should be today.
Yes, I understand that today's super-hero comic books are most likely to be read by older readers. For the most part, I can live with that. But not with Superman.
Superman is the world's greatest super-hero. He stands for, or at least he used to stand for, what's best in man and super-man alike. Good writers can write entertaining Superman stories sans the excessive sexuality and violence prevalent in too many super-hero comics...and they should.
Because Superman belongs to the ages.
Britain's long-running 2000 AD weekly concluded the old year with PROG #1468 and the 100-page PROG 2006.
PROG #1468 [December 7; $4.10] was the usual 32-page format, but backed up the Judge Dredd lead with double-length installments of "The Red Seas" and "Sinister Dexter." The Dredd story - "Global Psycho" - was a sweet little chiller introducing a private online information network for thrill killers. Written by Gordon Rennie and drawn by Ian Gibson, it's likely this tale foreshadows a future story. The woman who runs the network does escapes from Mega-City-One, but she seems intrigued by an online post from Dredd inviting her back and letting her know he'll be waiting.
"The Red Seas," in which pirates battle strange and oft-times otherworldly foes, has gotten wilder as Captain Jack Dancer and his crew sail the fabled eighth sea that lies within the earth itself. This ongoing feature is written by Ian Edginton and drawn by Steve Yeowell.
"Sinister Dexter" - the adventures of the two best hitmen in the future Europe city of Downlode - has taken some very surprising twists in its current serial. I can't wait to see where writer Dan Abnett and artist Simon Davis are taking it.
2000 AD #1468 is an exceptional issue of the weekly. It gets four out of five Tonys.
There's lots of good stuff in 2000 AD PROG 2006 [December 14-January 3; $10.99]. Judge Dredd stars in two stories: the moving "Class of '79" by co-creator John Wagner and artist Greg Staples, and the amusing "Straight Eye For the Crooked Guy" by writer Robbie Morrison and artist Mike Avon Oeming.
Gordon Rennie has a done-in-one tale of "Caballistics, Inc." - they investigate paranormal phenomena, even though some of them are paranormal phenomena - in this special issue. I've never been fond of the series, but I thought this story, drawn by Dom Reardon, was well-done.
Undercover judge Aimee Nixon stars in a "Low Life" done-in-one story - "He's Making A List..." - by writer Rob Williams and artist Simon Coleby. For a Christmas tale set in the most rundown part of Mega-City-One, I thought it was downright heartwarming.
Several other series launch new stories in this special issue. They are: "Nikolai Dante" (future Russian intrigue and adventure), "Slaine" (Irish sword-and-sorcery), "Sinister Dexter" (as mentioned above), and "Strontium Dog" (mutant bounty-hunters in outer space). Though I recognize its obvious quality, "Slaine" is the only one of these four strips that I don't enjoy.
Making its debut here is "The Ten-Seconders" by Rob Williams and Mark Harrison. Here's the contents page pitch:
London, the near future. Human society has all but been destroyed, with ragtag bands of survivors existing among the ruins and trying to escape the attention of the Gods and their followers. The Gods came to Earth several years ago, offering to help mankind with their incredible powers, and for a time it seemed the planet had its own protectors - but the Gods wanted humanity to bow down before them and accept them as their rulers. Those that refused now fight a guerilla war against the superbeings - but a person's life expectancy in such a battle is just ten seconds...
This isn't an innately bad premise, but the execution of this initial chapter didn't do anything for me. I'll let you know if it gets better as it progresses.
I'm not going to hold these ten pages against the rest of 2000 AD PROG 2006. It also gets four out of five Tonys.
BOOK OF LOST SOULS
Might as well deal with the elephant in the room right off the bat. BOOK OF LOST SOULS [Marvel/Icon; $2.99 per issue] isn't near as good as Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, the book to which it is compared frequently. SANDMAN had the odd corners of the DC Universe to play with on occasion, not to mention multiple mythologies, and Gaiman's lyrical writing. BOOK OF LOST SOULS is entirely its own creature, hasn't dipped into any myths in its initial four issues, and, while well-written, doesn't have the sheer emotional and sensual demeanor of SANDMAN.
BOOK OF LOST SOULS stars Jonathan, who jumped off a bridge a century ago and landed in our time. In a cave which cannot be seen by others, the would-be suicide meets his cat-companion Mystery and is given his mission of nudging the lost ones - people whose fates are not predetermined - towards the light or towards the darkness. He doesn't know if he's working for "God" or "the Devil," nor does he get to choose his assignments.
Creator/writer J. Michael Straczynski has a good premise here, though it feels uncomfortably like a treatment for a darker version of HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN or TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. Maybe it's the cynic in me, but Jonathan seems designed to be the stereotypical handsome tortured soul. Other elements of the issues give me the impression of items on a checklist. Here's a talking cat for the cat people. Here's the messianic tragic hero spreading the love and compassion he was denied in his life. Here's the battered wife. Here's the suffering artist. Fiction is manipulative, but these issues seem more so than usual.
Getting away from the stories for a bit, artist Colleen Doran is doing beautiful work on the series. Unfortunately, the coloring is overpowering her art. This is a common complaint of mine, that too many colorists upstage the story and the artist with all their computer tricks. Coloring isn't the main event, kids. Its purpose is to support the story, not overwhelm it.
BOOK OF LOST SOULS #1 did a good job introducing the concept and protagonists. Despite my lack of appreciation for Jonathan and his cat, I liked the issue enough to come back for more.
Issue #2 was less effective. So many cliches: the abused wife with her fairy-tale fantasies, her thoroughly and irredeemably evil husband, and, eventually, the handsome therapist who helps her see the possibilities of her life. I was further appalled by the hint the therapist would soon be romantically involved with his patient. That's wrong on so many levels.
Issue #3 was the best issue to date. Straczynski did a spiffy job with the homeless artist mourning the loss of a man she loved and poised to make her own fatal mistake. There was tension to the story and no obvious guarantee of a happy ending.
Issue #4 is the most intriguing issue. In this first part of a continued tale, Jonathan meets a vicious hitman who seems to have already and enthusiastically embraced darkness. I'm not sure where the story is going - one of the reasons I like it so much - but I do recall Straczynski has explored redemption in several excellent episodes of BABYLON 5. Reminding me of a TV series I consider the best fantasy, horror, or science-fiction show of all time is a sure way to keep me coming back for more.
If I seem hard on BOOK OF LOST SOULS, it's because I tend to hold my favorite writers to a higher standard than the rest of the bunch. It was a close call, but BOOK OF LOST SOULS earns three out of five Tonys.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
PEANUTS is arguably the most beloved and popular comic strip to grace our daily papers. Even a minor character like Pigpen is instantly recognizable, which is doubtless why editorial cartoonist JERRY HOLBERT used him in this editorial cartoon from November 1 of last year:
JETLAG [Toby; $12.95] by Etgar Keret, "a hipster hero in his native Israel," earned a B-.
Do the loyal legions of TOT readers have a hankering for me to review any or all of the above?
This is where I recommend fun and/or informative/interesting online destination to my readers. Today's recommendation is a bit different; it's for a feature within a site.
Tim Grieve is a senior writer for the SALON website. Several times each day, he updates his WAR ROOM column. What I like about Grieve is that he cuts right through the political claptrap to get to what's really important about what our leaders do or fail to do. Bush and the GOP come in for the most exposure, but that's because, for the time being, they have the most power and they are the ones doing the most damage to our country. Grieve's updates are always brief and on target. In the kingdom of the blind that is American government, Grieve has 20-20 vision in both eyes.
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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