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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
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for Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Robin Hood Tales 13

One of the earliest proud moments of my comics career was when Roy Thomas gave me my official Marvel nickname of Tony "The Tiger" Isabella. Spurred by the start of the Chinese "Year of the Tiger" and its motto - "I WIN!" - I have reclaimed that nickname and plan to use it in my future comics writing. To celebrate this epiphany, I'm running tiger-themed covers all month long.

Today's cover is Robin Hood Tales #13 [DC; January February 1958). It's drawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, two of my favorite Silver Age artists. The actual hands-on editor of the issue was Robert Kanigher.

France Herron wrote "Robin Hood and the Tiger," the eight-page story from which hails the cover scene. He also wrote "Stand-in For Trouble" with Bill Finger provided the script for "The Bantam Bowman." All three stories were drawn by the Andru/Esposito team. I don't expect a Showcase Presents Robin Hood Tales book is on DC's publishing schedule, but, if it were, I'd buy it.

Let's see what else I feel like writing about today.

Secrets of Sinister House

Horror anthologies seem to be again doing well for DC Comics, as witness the arrival of Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House [$17.99]. The 500-page black-and-white volume reprints the entire 18-issue run of the title that began life as the gothic romance-oriented Sinister House of Secret Love and it's the title's double-sized early issues that made this collection such a must-have for me.

1972. Gothic romance paperback novels were doing well; shows like Dark Shadows suggested that there might be a crossover market for comics. The first issue struck me as tentative. The cover-featured "The Curse of the Macintyres" ran 25 pages and dealt with a grieving woman finding love and insanity in the mansion of a family friend. The uncredited writer delivered a decent story, but it was the Don Heck art, pencils and inks, that really captured my interest. And, by the way, boo on DC for using a reprint of the story rather than the original for this volume, something made all too obvious by the floating Cain head and speech balloon at the top of the first page.

"Curse" was backed up by the 12-page "A Night to Remember - A Day to Forget," a rather slight story of a ghost putting the moves on a bell-bottomed modern woman. The uncredited tale was pencilled by John Calnan with inks by Vince Colletta, and is as nondescript as the story itself.

Editor Joe Orlando started figuring out the genre by issue #2. He plotted the 39-page "To Wed the Devil," then handed the actual scripting over to young wordsmith Len Wein. Thanks to Wein and the atmospheric art of Tony DeZuniga, this book-length story was a fine spooky romance, albeit one mildly marred by its three-page epilogue of prose with illustrations that couldn't maintain the intensity of the rest of the story.

If you could only have one issue of this title in your comics collection, it should be issue #3's "Bride of the Falcon" by Frank Robbins, Alex Toth, and Frank Giacoia. Set in Sicily, this one is an intrigue-filled thriller showcasing three great comics talents. It looks good in black-and-white, but it looked even better in its original color.

Digression. DC should consider publishing a full-color trade of the first five issues of this title. With an appropriate gothic cover, I think they could sell a lot of copies of such a collection outside their traditional comics readership.

Though not as good as the previous two issues, the remaining two issues of the gothic romance experiment are well worth reading. Issue #4's "Kiss of the Serpent" - from a plot by Mary DeZuniga and a script by Michael Fleisher - gave Tony DeZuniga another chance to shine. Issue #5's "Death at Castle Dunbar" - plot by Lynn Marion, script by Fleisher - is noteworthy for frenzied art by the terrific Mike Sekowsky. Inks were by Dick Giordano.

The title changed to Secrets of Sinister House with issue #5, but it was with issue #6 that the series switched over to the standard 32-page format and the standard, usually mediocre stories found in DC's other mystery anthologies. We got some stories from Sheldon Mayer that weren't nearly as accomplished as his brilliant Sugar and Spike or his intriguing "Black Orchid." We got a lot of minutely rendered but not particularly exciting art from the Philippines. We got the occasional job from veteran artists like Sekowsky, Bill Draut, Sam Glanzman, and Jack Sparling. We even got early work from younger artists like Larry Hama, Rich Buckler, and Howard Chaykin that I always figured were pulled from the inventory to fill issues. By the last few issues, DC was including reprints to fill the page counts. It was a long and sad fall from the grace and wonder of the title's original concept.

Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House is worth picking up just for its first 200 pages. On that basis, it earns four out of five Tonys.

Tony Tony Tony Tony

That's all for now. Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 03/22/2010 | 03/23/2010 | 03/24/2010 >>

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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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