Ace, Rocky, Red, Prof. Four adventures living on borrowed time and favorite comics characters of mine from the moment I laid eyes on them. I have bought a great many old comic books during my life, but I couldn't tell you when or where I bought most of them. But that's not remotely the case with Jack Kirby's Challengers of the Unknown #1-8.
If I'd bought them new in 1958-1959, I would have paid a dime apiece for them. DC reprinted them in the early 1970s in issues priced at 15 cents or a quarter. In recent times, along with the Showcase issues that introduced the team and some non-Kirby issues, they were reprinted in DC Archives hardcovers ($40 each) and a Showcase Presents volume ($17). But that's not what I paid in the summer of 1964.
It was five miles by bicycle from my house in Cleveland, Ohio to Frank's Model Shop on Clark Avenue. It was only my fourth visit to the crowded, somewhat seedy establishment that sold model kits and old comics, but the owner already considered me a regular. On this visit, I was delighted to find Challengers #1-8 in one of his many dusty boxes of comics. Of course, these boxes of which I speak were made of coarse cardboard. We didn't have newfangled acid-free comics boxes back then, though dinosaurs did still walk the earth.
The owner offered me all eight issues for fifty cents each. It was more money than I'd intended to spend that day - I still had to buy my lunch - so he offered to hold them for me. A fresh-faced young man of my age peered over my shoulder and admired the comic books. "Those look pretty neat," he said.
This kid was clearly planning to poach my books as soon as I left the store, so, not for the first time, I decided I could skip lunch for comics. I bought all eight issues then and there. But, after making my purchase, the kid and I started talking about our mutual love of comics. We became good friends.
His name was Terry Fairbanks. We remained such good friends that I was a groomsman in his wedding. Which is where I met his future niece and fell in love with her at first sight.
Her name was Barbara. I married her nearly 25 years ago.
Who says comics aren't a way of life?
The Batman Chronicles Volume 5 [DC; $14.99] is one of a series of inexpensive trade paperbacks reprinting "all the Batman stories in the exact order they were published." This volume's tales are from 1941-42: Batman #8-9, Detective Comics #57-61, and World's Finest Comics #4. All but two of them were written by Batman co-creator Bill Finger, with the art on all credited to Bob Kane (pencils) and Jerry Robinson (inks).
The stand-out stories:
"Twenty-Four Hours to Live" [Detective Comics #57].
Poisoned by a drug that will kill him in a day, an evil man decides to kill his relatives before he dies. It's an impressively grim tale.
"The Strange Case of Professor Radium [Batman #8].
A scientist who sought to benefit mankind goes murderously mad as a result of his own experiments. One of the first of the truly tragic Batman villains.
"The Four Fates" [Batman #9].
Four killers cursed by their victim attempt to avoid ultimate justice in this spooky thriller.
"Christmas" [Batman #9].
One of those feel-good holiday tales that used to be standard for comic books.
"The Three Racketeers" [Detective #61].
A neat character study of three criminals with a clever and satisfying ending.
Other stories include both the Penguin's first and second appearances, three Joker stories of varying quality, and a bout with Moby Dick. There are fourteen stories in all and buying even poor condition copies of their original publications would set you back thousands of dollars. That you can get all these full-color reprints for fifteen bucks makes this series one of the best buys in comics and why The Batman Chronicles Volume Five earns the full five out of five Tonys.
Several months ago, my buddy Paul Storrie, writer of Gotham Girls and other fine comics, sent me the kind of e-mail I love to receive:
I was in a comics shop yesterday (Detroit Comics in Ferndale, Michigan) and one of the patrons was telling the owner he tried a comic because you had recommended it in your online column.
My "mission statement" for my reviews comes from the title of the magazine that has been the home of "Tony's Tips": Comics Buyer's Guide. I review comic books and other items for the benefit of the fans, readers, and retailer who actually buy them. I'm always thrilled to hear of readers who allow me to guide them to the occasional purchase. I'll do my best to keep on doing that, both here and in the pages of CBG.
Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
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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