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for Friday, April 10, 2009

Magicman Archives

When Dark Horse announced a hardcover Magicman Archives [$59.95], my immediate reaction was "Wha?" I bet I wasn't the only one who responded with puzzlement. After all, the character was hardly the stuff of legend. He'd originally been published by a small outfit - albeit one of the very few Golden Age comics outfits to survive into the 1960s - as part of the wave of strange costumed cutups that came to the market in the wake of DC's and Marvel's successful revival of the genre. He only lasted two years and never seemed to make much of a mark with the comics fans of the day. On the other hand, well, you know me...this was a book I had to have and, thanks to an Amazon gift card, it finally found its way into my eager little hands.

Magicman was the seemingly immortal son of the alchemist and wizard Cagliostro. In his modern-day identity of Tom Cargill, he served in the Army. Created and written by American Comics Group editor Richard Hughes under his "Zev Zimmer" pseudonym, he made his debut in Forbidden Worlds #125 [January-February, 1965] and his exit in issue #141 [January-February, 1967]. The title itself only lasted four more issues after his departure, disappearing from the stands with the rest of ACG's small output.

Reading these stories for the first time in four decades gave me a much greater appreciation for Hughes. His writing here is infectiously enthusiastic. His opening captions describe the tales as "action-jammed," "breathless," and a host of similar adjectives. His plots are clever, outlandish, and sometimes silly. But they are always great fun as well.

Cargill is a stand-up guy. When we first meet him, he's a private serving in Viet Nam who dons a garish costume and uses his magical powers to avenge the death of a friend. By his second adventure, he's become the bane and favorite whipping boy of the overbearing Sergeant Kilkenny. In civilian life, the sarge become Cargill's roommate and Magicman's loyal sidekick. Hughes plays Kilkenny for laughs, but he shows us his heroic side as well. Hughes makes the friendship of Magicman/Cargill and Kilkenny believable.

Hughes never shied from using real people in his stories, both here and in his other ACG scripts. The "Wizard of Science" worked his evil for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Red Chinese dictator Mao Tse Tung appeared in another Magicman adventure, commanding the sultry sorceress Dragonia. Magicman also crossed paths with the legendary Merlin and with fellow ACG super-hero Nemesis.

Magicman fought Communist agents and armies, mad scientists, alien invaders, fellow wizards, monsters, and gangsters. His adventures are entertaining and well-written. Hughes might have been working for a younger audience than today's writers, but I enjoyed reading these stories more than I enjoy most of the super-hero comic books currently published. Maybe it's a nostalgia thing. Maybe it's the joy I get from reading super-hero comics without having to wallow in the depressing company-wide melodramas of DC and Marvel. I like smiling at the end of a story.

All these Magicman adventures were drawn by Pete Costanza with some inking by Bob Hickey. Costanza's resume includes the original Captain Marvel, Classics Illustrated adaptations, countless ACG fantasy tales, and various Superman Family stories for DC until his retirement in 1970. Costanza's people always looked a bit dwarfish to me, but he was an energetic storyteller who imbued his comic-book worlds with a consistent look and quality. I wasn't a fan of his work when these stories were originally published, but I'd take him over many of the artists working today.

Magicman Archives also features an introduction and creator biographies by the wondrous Scott Shaw!, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sergeant Kilkenny. The production values on the volume are state of the art. Add high quality of presentation to the sheer fun of these stories and this book earns the full five out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony Tony



Just a quick reminder that our current Tony Polls will remain active until sometime after midnight on the night of Monday, April 13. You can vote on them here:

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. Have a happy and safe weekend.

I'll be back on Monday with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

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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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