Today's opening act is MAN COMICS #6 [February, 1951], a comic book published nearly a year before I was born. When the title was launched by Marvel in 1949, it featured adventure and crime tales. However, with its ninth issue, it began a war comic and that's what it remained until it ended with issue #28 in 1953.
Creative credits are sparse on this issue. Only three artists have been identified and the cover artist isn't one of them. But, by virtue of his credit appearing on the splash page of "The Black Hate," we know Hank Chapman wrote the cover story.
"The Black Hate" is a chilling psychological profile of a man who resents his wealthy and generous best friend to the point where that dark enmity dominates his own life, contributes to the death of his wife, and leads him to plot his friend's murder on a movie set. The story is already unforgettable before a revelation in the opening panels of its last page twists it and leads to an even more unforgettable final panel. If Marvel ever did a "Best of the '50s" anthology series, I'd pick this tale for early inclusion.
Chapman was one of the great writers of the 1940s and 1950s. You can learn more about him here:
"Murder While Thousands Cheer" is a fairly typical boxing tale of crooked promoters setting up a honest but past-his-prime fighter to throw a big match. Noted comics historian Dr. Michael Vassallo has identified Sol Brodsky as the primary artist on this one with a probable assist by Al Bellman.
Halfway through this issue we get a two-page text adventure of Blaze the Wonder Collie. The peerless pooch was a Lassie imitation who appeared in two issues of his comic book in 1949 and 1950, and in at least one issue of REX HART.
Pencilled by Mike Sekowsky, "Terror in the Tenements" focuses on two brothers: one, a selfless doctor who left his wealthy family to care for the poor; the other, a ruthless businessman who cares nothing for those less fortunate than he. It's melodramatic soap opera, but no less riveting for that.
The issue ends with "Cry, Criminal," a cautionary story of a man who thought he deserved more out of life than he could gain by working for it. There were dozens of tales like this in the crime comics of the era, but, despite its familiarity, this one is well-written and, in places, well-drawn.
Watch for more Timely/Atlas comics from the fabulous fifties in future editions of this column.
Two more issues of DC's 52 have crossed my desk since last I wrote about the weekly series.
Let's activate the SPOILER WARNINGS
52 WEEK SIXTEEN [$2.50] was the better of the two. It starred the Question and Renee Montoya, my two favorite "52" characters to date, and Black Adam and Isis, two characters who intrigue me more with each issue.
Renee and the Question prevent an Intergang-sponsored suicide bomber from slaughtering innocents at Black Adam and Isis' wedding. What this plot had to do with the gang's planned invasion of Gotham City isn't clear to me, but it gave the writers a chance to show us just how good a cop and a detective Renee is.
Black Adam is a vicious killer who should pay for his crimes, but I'm hoping Isis is truly turning him around. Yet there's still something in his manner that makes me fear for her and anyone else around him when his dark side resurfaces. That's tension and the kind of thing that keeps me interested.
52 WEEK SIXTEEN earns four out of five Tonys.
Then I read 52 WEEK SEVENTEEN [$2.50] which reintroduces Lobo into the post-IC world. He hooks up with Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire. As Lobo is among my least favorite comics characters ever, and I haven't been interested in Adam since DC savaged him in that awful mini-series, and Starfire has never captured my fancy, that leaves Buddy "Animal Man" Baker as the only character in this story to whom I can relate.
All that happens in the issue is that the "Lost in Space" trio meet Lobo and get a little bit closer to home. Yawn.
52 WEEK SEVENTEEN gets one Tony and it only gets that because Buddy Baker is in the issue.
Tom DeFalco's SPIDER-GIRL and its spin-off titles might have struggled in their original traditional monthly comic-book formats, but they have become super-stars among Marvel's full-color, manga-sized reprint paperbacks. I suspect the success of these volumes had a lot to do with SPIDER-GIRL getting a new lease on life in the traditional format.
The Spider-Girl stories are set in an alternate universe where Peter Parker retired as Spider-Man after a climactic, life-changing battle with the Green Goblin. His daughter, May, inherited both his spider-powers and his well-tuned sense of responsibility. But she isn't the only second generation super-hero in this universe.
The founding members of the team are Thunderstrike (son of the original), the Stinger (Cassie Lang, daughter of Ant-Man), J2 (son of the Juggernaut), and the mysterious Mainframe, who is never seen outside of his Iron Man-like armor in this book. The first issue has guest shots by the adult Jubilee (now leader of the X-People), Speedball, and Jolt of the Thunderbolts. In these five issues, we also meet Earth Sentry (son of Bill Foster), Doctor Strange and the original Defenders, the cryptic Doc Magus, a new Doctor Doom, Argo (son of Hercules), Coal Tiger (son of the Black Panther), and four newer members of the team: American Dream, Freebooter, the Crimson Curse, and Blue Streak.
DeFalco always gives the readers a complete story, but he also gives us tantalizing hints as to what happened to the heroes of the previous generation. Co-plotter and penciller Ron Frenz tells the stories in a clear and dynamic manner, assisted by finishers/inkers Brett Breeding, Paul Ryan, and Al Milgrom. I never read this book the first time around, but I can't wait to see what comes next for these new Avengers.
AVENGERS NEXT delivered exciting, fun, suitable-for-all ages super-hero adventure. It's a shame the original series only ran 12 issues, but perhaps the success of these manga-sized reprints will convince Marvel to give us more. This first book earns four out of five Tonys.
DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #343 [Gemstone; $2.95] is another fun, suitable-for-all-ages comic book. Behind the cover by William Van Horn, we get three entertaining tales:
Donald Duck in "Ten Cents Worth of Trouble" by Carl Barks has our hero on the trail of a valuable dime accidentally given to his nephews. The gags come fast and furious in this story from 1944, and the punch line (punch panel) is perfect.
Mickey Mouse wants a break from adventuring in Sarah Kinney's "Quest For Rest," drawn by Cesar Ferioli.
Then it's back to Donald for "The Duke of Dipp" by writers Pat and Carol McGreal with art by Vicar. Don has apparently inherited the throne of distant Dippland, complete with a gorgeous fiancee. Will he succumb to a life of spoiled royalty among subjects who are not overly fond of him? Has he lost Daisy forever? Hey, cough up the three bucks and find out for yourselves!
DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS #343 picks up a perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys.
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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, I'm looking at SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #16-21. You can read the column at:
ABSOLUTE DARK KNIGHT. Holy coffee-table book, Batman! Both of Frank Miller's genre-busting graphic novels have been collected in a single deluxe slipcased volume.
Show of hands here. Besides myself, who thinks Miller's DARK KNIGHT hasn't aged well? And who thinks it probably wasn't worth the decades of DC's ham-fisted attempts to duplicate its success? And who else has been resisting reading ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN because of the above?
I watched a lot more TV than was good for me this summer and, in August, I asked the TONY POLLS voters to rate some of the shows I was watching. Here are the results...
THE 4400 has been weak this summer. Too many evil acts went unpunished for my tastes and I also felt the storylines were being dragged out. I voted GOOD on this one, but, with other demands on my time, GOOD won't be good enough to bring me back for more than an initial episode or two next series.
The done-in-one episodes of THE DEAD ZONE are my favorites and this summer's have earned the show a VERY GOOD from me. But it's a show whose overall plot is running out of steam and needs to be wrapped up next summer.
How would you rate SAVED (TNT)?
I liked this show about EMS medics, and I was watching it with my wife and daughter. But I fell several episodes behind them and, as a result, found my interest waning to the point where I didn't watch the episodes I missed. I did watch the season finale and it didn't do anything for me. I voted GOOD and, as noted above, that won't be good enough to get me back for more than an episode or two if the show doesn't grab me anew.
How would you rate LIFE ON MARS (BBC America)?
A modern-day police detective gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. Has he really traveled back in time or is he is a coma or both? I don't know and not knowing doesn't really bother me much. I love this quirky cop show. I rate it NEAR-MINT!
How would you rate EUREKA (Sci-Fi)?
Another sort of cop show, this one set in a secret community of scientists. The stories have been okay, but the characters are what keeps me coming back. I rate this one VERY GOOD.
This show about troubled New York City firefighters and their loved ones is often painful to watch, but the acting and writing is as good as anything on TV. It gets a NEAR-MINT from me.
How would you rate BLADE (Spike)?
Based on Marv Wolfman's half-vampire vampire hunter from TOMB OF DRACULA, this show is much better than I expected. It pains me that Marv isn't credited and that he doesn't get a fat check every episode, but, just in terms of the entertainment I derive from the show, I give it a VERY GOOD.
Created and hosted by documentary film maker Morgan Spurlock, the show takes someone and puts them into another life for a month. In this second season, we saw an atheist move in with evangelical Christians, a minuteman with a family of illegal immigrants, and a man who lost his job to outsourcing go to Bangalore to get a job. This is NEAR-MINT television!
How would you rate HEX (BBC America)?
A young woman at a high-end British school discovers that she is a witch and gets involved with a fallen angel who's as nasty as they come. No character is safe on this series and, as a result, it may be the scariest show on TV. I rate it FINE.
As good as this show has been, I always thought it had a very limited premise. But I'm continually amazed at how good it remains episode after episode. Great writing, clever mysteries, and a fun cast of careers. It still earns a FINE from me.
How would you rate PSYCH (USA)?
Another limited premise, but, again, the stories, mysteries, and characters are wonderful. The episode set at a comic-con was annoying - as most such shows are - but that doesn't stop me from awarding this show a VERY GOOD.
NOTE TO HOLLYWOOD: Given how the comics industry has become a cheap source of R&D for you, how about treating comic-book fans and pros with a little more respect? I can help there.
Hire me as a consultant next time. All I want is my expenses and a modest (but not *too* modest) fee for my services.
This week's TONY POLLS questions ask you to vote on SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (1001 years later), the ANNIHILATION event over at Marvel, genre shows of the 2006 TV season, and coming shows for the 2007 season. The questions will remain active until sometime after midnight on Monday, September 18.
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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