There are dozens of interesting and intriguing stories in DC'S SHOWCASE PRESENTS SUPERMAN [$9.99]. The one I keep thinking about of late is "The Super-Duel in Space" from ACTION COMICS #242 [July, 1958]. Written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Plastino, the tale strikes some odd notes.
Let's start with the Curt Swan/Stan Kaye cover. The Brainiac depicted there is so much more imposing than the skinny geek inside the comic book. Though DC covers were frequently drawn before the stories they represented, I can't imagine that was the case here. I can imagine that, on seeing how puny Brainiac looked as drawn by Plastino, editor Mort Weisinger instructed and worked with Swan to create a more menacing look for the villain, if only for the all-important cover.
Remember, in 1958, there was no direct market for comic books and almost no advance promotion. A publisher's titles were sold on newsstands filled with magazines and other comics. The covers were vital in catching the eye of a prospective customer.
"Super-Duel" was the first appearance of Brainiac, who would become Superman's number two foe after Luthor. He's introduced as the ruler of a world whose people have been wiped out by a plague. He's shrinking and stealing cities from other worlds to repopulate his planet.
What fascinates me is how thoroughly Brainiac whips Superman. Superman can't lay a hand in the villain. He can't stop Brainiac from shrinking Metropolis with him in it. When the tiny Superman traps himself in the city of Kandor, he can't escape without help. It isn't until Brainiac settles down for a 100-year nap that Supes is able to enlarge and restore the stolen cities...and he's only able to do it because a Kandorian scientist gives him instructions. It's not exactly Superman's finest hour.
Several years later, Brainiac's origin would be retconned to make him a computer in human form. A toy outfit had prior claim to the Brainiac name and had been selling a "Brainiac Computer Kit." After lawyerly discussions, or so the story goes, the toy company allowed DC to continue using its Brainiac if it would turn him into a computer and plug their kit in the issue in which this occurred. That was SUPERMAN #167 [February, 1964].
Brainiac made several appearances between his debut and this retcon, but it was the change in his origin that made him a truly memorable foe. As goofy as Brainiac's little skull lights and pink clothing made him appear, I preferred that over the "scary robot" makeover he got in the 1980s. You know the scary robot is out to get you. It's the computer killer in human form that can catch you by surprise. That's the card I would have played.
There were two other stories in ACTION #242:
Tommy Tomorrow in "The Traffic Cop of 2058 A.D." (six pages, written by Binder, drawn by Jim Mooney); and,
Congo Bill in "Safari From Space" (six pages, written by Jack Miller, drawn by Howard Sherman).
Vintage SUPERMAN comics like this one are part of our regular TOT cover rotation. Look for another in two weeks.
MICKEY AND THE GANG
WALT DISNEY'S MICKEY AND THE GANG: CLASSIC STORIES IN VERSE [Gemstone; $29.95] is such a great "coffee table book" that I feel I should go and buy a new coffee table for it. David Gerstein, its editor and annotator, has gathered together all of the Walt Disney pages that appeared in GOOD HOUSEKEEPING from 1934-1944 in a big, beautiful book. The tome's 10-1/2" by 12-1/2" dimensions allow the pages to be presented in glorious fashion.
MICKEY AND THE GANG would be a must-have for Disney fans if it just reprinted those magazine pages. Gerstein has taken this book to the next level and beyond by offering commentary on the cartoons which inspired the pages. He discusses the differences between the pages and the cartoons as they were shown in theaters. He reprints and discusses other incredibly rare materials related to the pages, the cartoons, and the classic characters featured in them. It's a veritable treasure trove of Disney animation and comics arcana, the kind of book you can return to again and again.
The production on this volume is almost as impressive as its scholarship. It's flat-out gorgeous!
THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #44 [TwoMorrows; $9.95] is a special "Myths and Legends" issue. Then again, when you're talking about a comics legend like Kirby, any issue of this mag could justifiably carry that designation. Not an issue goes by without increasing my already considerable respect for Kirby and his work.
Etrigan the Demon gets this issue's cover spot with the Kirby pencils inked by Matt Wagner. Every feature inside the magazine is well worth reading. My personal favorites include:
Mark Evanier's "Jack F.A.Q.s" with Mark's insightful comments on Marvel's sometimes rocky expansion plans of the late 1960s and the return of classic Golden Age artist Syd Shores to the company in that era;
"Jack Kirby's Midnight Masterpiece," an article on the Demon by Brian Cremins;
a gallery of Kirby's uninked Demon pencils, which look great on TJKC's 10" by 14" pages;
two classic, chilling, and complete Kirby-drawn stories from the 1950s BLACK MAGIC;
"Kirby Obscura" by Barry Forshaw; and,
the nothing-short-of-fantastic 12-page Thor retrospective by noted comics historian Will Murray.
THE JACK KIRBY COLLECTOR #44 delivers 84 pages of goodness for your ten bucks. It earns five out of five Tonys.
FUTURAMA is published four times a year by Bongo Comics. With the recent announcement of new episodes being made of the animated series, I hope that frequency increases. Comics writer Ian Boothby never fails to deliver an entertaining story for the title...and we can never have too many of those.
In FUTURAMA #22 [$2.99], "A Fit Worse Than Death" starts out by poking fun at the evolution of medicine before getting into the main plot: the robot Bender builds a manufacturing empire on his special "diet food" and other products which are unquestionably bad for their purchasers. The issue is drawn by Mike Kazaleh (pencils) and Phyllis Novin (inks) with bright inviting colors by Joey Mason. It earns four out of five Tonys.
FUTURAMA #23 [$2.99] is even better. Bender creates a vortex by doing doughnuts with the Planet Express spaceship. This allows an earlier Planet Express ship, manned by a crew much superior to Bender, Fry, and Leila, to escape from a barren parallel dimension. Our heroes lose their jobs to "The A-Team" and become non-persons. Their fight to regain their identities is big fun. Drawn by John Delaney (pencils) and Andrew Pepoy (inks), this issue tickled me so much I'm giving it the full five Tonys.
COMICS IN THE COMICS
What with this being a Superman day, I couldn't resist running yesterday's MOTHER GOOSE AND GRIMM strip by Mike Peters:
Quick question. Do you like this TOT department better when I present random examples of "comics in the comics" or when I build it around a theme, such as strips by the same cartoonist or super-heroes? I have no strong preference either way and have been going with whatever moves me at the moment.
CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
Time is no barrier to my correcting errors which creep into my columns. On August 27, 2004, I wrote about an issue of Denmark's ANDERS AND. That's Danish for "Donald Duck." However, I got other names of Disney characters wrong and DAVID GERSTEIN e-mailed me to set me straight:
Great to see your analysis of a Danish ANDERS AND & CO. issue. You seemed to be curious, though, about some of the meanings behind the characters' Danish names, so let me enlighten you!
In Horace Horsecollar's Danish name, Klavs is the proper name and Krikke, essentially meaning "plug-horse", is the surname.
Fætter Vims is really Fethry Duck (or, to translate directly, "Cousin Fethry"), because it's Fethry, not Gyro, who's the nominal star of that story with the two of them. In Danish, Gyro's name is Georg Gearløs, which basically means "George Gearless."
And, while we're at it, the Don Rosa story, "Den Sorte Ridder Glorper Igen" translates directly to "The Black Knight Glorps Again".
GET MORE TONY
Every week, I post a brand-new and exclusive edition of TONY'S OTHER ONLINE TIPS on the Comics Buyer's Guide forums. This week's review is PRELUDE TO PLANET HULK and you can read it at:
I post to my MySpace blog on a fairly regular basis. If you visit me there, you'll be able to...get more Tony!
I READ THE NEWS TODAY
The WORST PRESIDENT EVER came to Cleveland yesterday to try to rally support for his Iraq war, which must be a tough sell as he's been trying to avoid calling it a war of late. Maybe he thinks we all have attention deficit disorder. Just like him and his ever-fewer supporters.
Amusingly, almost every major Republican office-holder in Ohio was doing something else yesterday. As reported in THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER:
When a president's popularity plummets as Bush's has, other politicians often avoid public appearances with them. Prominent Ohio Republicans including Sen. Mike DeWine, Sen. George Voinovich and Rep. Steve LaTourette say they're skipping Bush's speech because of prior commitments. DeWine is visiting his convalescing father in Florida and accompanying him to spring training baseball games. LaTourette previously scheduled a staff retreat in Washington. Voinovich has meetings in Washington that he couldn't reschedule. Gov. Bob Taft, whose popularity is even lower than Bush's, isn't expected to attend, either. Taft noted that he attended Bush's speech last month outside Columbus, as did Voinovich. Today's event isn't on the schedules of either Jim Petro or Ken Blackwell, the GOP candidates to replace Taft, their spokesmen said.
Those remaining Bush supporters are a sad lot. On the Grand Comics Database's chat list this weekend, a list created so members could discuss anything and everything, a criticism of Bush produced quite a stir. It was all "oh, please, let's not talk about that," or "I'm a conservative Christian and proud of it" (as if Bush was either), or "Clinton was scum." I pictured unruly children placing hands over ears and chanting "nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, hyah" to block unpleasant truths from penetrating their brains.
I continue to pray our national nightmare will soon be over, that the 2006 election will allow us to finally make the WPE answer for his crimes. In the meantime, soldiers and civilians continue to die and suffer horrible injuries in these Iraq wars. Call them what you like - civil war, war of conquest, war of liberation - the carnage and chaos continue long after a posturing fraud wearing his soldier costume declared the mission accomplished.
That's all for today. Thanks for stopping by and spending a bit of time with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more comics stuff. See you then.
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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