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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Monday, January 26, 2009

Showcase Legion Volume 2

I went on a Silver Age reading binge with Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Volume Two, Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Volume Two, and Showcase Presents Green Lantern Volume Three [DC; $16.99 each]. That's 1500 pages of vintage comics from my youth.

The Legion volume reprinted stories from 1964-1966. Some of them were silly, some clever, and some remarkably dramatic for the era. Edmond Hamilton wrote a light story about Proty II trying to join the Legion of Super-Pets, but also gave us the outcast heroes of Lallor, the first Timber Wolf tale, a 30th-century take on Moby Dick, Starfinger, the tragic Beast Boy, the trial of Star Boy, the Luck Lords, and an intergalactic prison for super-heroes.

Superman creator Jerry Siegel was also all over the map. Editor Mort Weisinger seemed to assign him the silliest stories - such as Proty II holding a contest to pick the next leader of the Legion of Super-Heroes - but there's also some darker fare in his scripts of this period. "Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires" has some sexy stuff as the brainwashed heroines turn on the boys. Violent deaths and fates worse than death are found in other stories, including a most shocking moment in an otherwise humorous story about several heroes de-aged into babies. The grim Computo the Conqueror two-issue tale is undone by several silly bits. Still, the quality of the scripts overall makes me wonder how Siegel would have fared with a more supportive editor than Weisinger.

The volume concludes with Jim Shooter's first three Legion of Super-Heroes stories. His inexperience is obvious, but the energy he brings to his debut tales overcomes that.

Showcase Presents Legion of Super-Heroes Volume Two earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Showcase Challengers Vol 2

The Challengers of the Unknown volume reprints adventures from 1961-1964. These are from a time when my comics-buying money went to Marvel's super-heroes first. Challengers of the Unknown was one of the five DC titles I bought regularly, along with Green Lantern, Doom Patrol, Justice League of America, and Adventure Comics with the Legion. It was a guy's book and I was drawn to the friendship between Ace, Rocky, Red, and Prof, as well as to Bob Brown's rugged art. Heck, even the gorgeous June Robbins and the giant Multi-Woman looked tough as nails.

In retrospect, I have to admit the Challengers were frequently conned by aliens, criminals, and mad scientists. But they always figured things out in time to beat the bad guys and save the world. There are some great stories in this volume: battles with Multi-Man and the Volcano Man; adventures with Cosmo, their super-powered pet from outer space; and even a flashback to their lives just prior to their cheating death and becoming the Challengers. Courtesy of the great Arnold Drake, the Challengers even developed more individual personalities. Save for an off issue here and there, the title was consistently entertaining.

Showcase Presents Challengers of the Unknown Volume Two also earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Showcase Green Lantern Vol 3

The Green Lantern volume was the biggest surprise for me. I'd forgotten how many terrific stories appeared in the title from 1965 to 1968. A return match with Black Hand. The epic "Secret Origin of the Guardians." GL's teaming with Zatanna in search of her lost father. The utterly charming "Prince Peril's Power Play" with the Golden Age Green Lantern and Doiby Dickles. Time-traveling to the 58th Century and the secret life not even GL knew he was living. The thrilling two-issue war with intergalactic criminals determined to wipe out the Green Lantern Corps. The first appearance of Guy Gardner. Great stories by John Broome and Gardner Fox. Incredible art by Gil Kane and even a fill-in by Carmine Infantino. This is why Green Lantern stayed on my shopping list when I couldn't afford most other DC titles.

Showcase Presents Green Lantern Volume Three earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony

Growing Up With Comics

One more for the road. Growing Up With Comics by R.G. Taylor and friends [Desperado; $16.99] is a magical memory book of, well, what the title says. Taylor illustrates 15 vignettes written by friends and colleagues describing their early experiences with the comics that shaped their love and perception of the comics art form. In many ways, these are shared experiences with the fans of my generation. I had the same reactions to many of the comic books discussed here: Amazing Spider-Man #31-33, Avengers #4, the Spirit reprints from Harvey Comics, Tintin, the works of Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko, and so on. There are shared memories that go beyond the comics themselves: the collecting, meeting fans who shared our passion, and, for those writers younger than myself, the great comics shops.

Taylor's illustrations bring a wonderfully wistful realism to the stories, including an enchanting abstract reconstruction of art and scenes from the cherished comics of our youth. I don't know if younger fans will react to these pieces as I did, but reading them felt good to me, like sinking into my favorite comics-reading chair at my boyhood home on Cleveland's West Side.

Growing Up With Comics is a fine book. It earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 01/23/2009 | 01/26/2009 | 01/27/2009 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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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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