The Sandman by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby [DC; $39.99] is a spiffy collection of two dozen stories starring the original super-hero-suited master of dreams and his teenage sidekick, Sandy the Golden Boy. Not every tale in this volume is actually by Simon and Kirby, but why quibble about so much Golden Age goodness in such a handsome hardcover package?
The Sandman started out as a pulp hero knock-off and changed into a Batman clone when reader interest in him waned. Simon and Kirby added a mystical tone and a street sense to his adventures, giving the feature an unique identity.
Dreams and nightmares weave in and out of these stories. The message of the series is set from the first non-splash panel of the first Simon and Kirby effort as a quilled pen lifts off parchment to reveal these words:
There is no land beyond the law Where tyrants rule with unshakeable power, It's a dream from which the Evil wake To face their fate - their terrifying hour - The Sandman
These Sandman stories mix the grimness of the pulp magazines, the flamboyance of the super-hero, and the social awareness found in the best Simon and Kirby collaborations. Criminals who traffic in human beings. Murder most foul. Haunted innocents. Crafty con men, good Samaritans, even a few costumed super-villains. Just for good measure, the volume also includes the one-more-time Simon and Kirby reunion from 1975. Three hundred pages of stories, covers, introduction, and afterword.
Special mention must be made of the war-time asides Simon and Kirby worked into their stories. 1942's "Footprints in the Sands of Time" ends with the Sandman and Sandy asking their readers to buy war stamps and bonds. Half the last page of "The Lady and the Champ" is a hilarious ad showing Hitler and his Axis allies reading and subscribing to Detective Comics so they can follow the adventures of the Boy Commandoes. Great stuff.
Though the Simon and Kirby byline appears on 1944's "Courage a la Carte," the story was pencilled by Gil Kane and most likely written by Joe Samachson. Kane pencilled 1945's "Sweets For Swag" with inks by Marvin Stein and also drew "The Dream of Peter Green," the last Golden Age Sandman adventures. The writer(s) of "Sweets" and "Dream" have not been identified at this time.
The stories in The Sandman by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby have been reproduced from the actual comics in which they appeared. It's not the slickest look, but I love the sense of authenticity it gives the work. As a fit tribute to the genius of Simon and Kirby, and as a collection of fun adventures, this volume earns the full five out of five Tonys.
Spy Vs. Spy: Danger! Intrigue! Stupidity! by Antonio Prohias [Watson-Guptill; $11.95] reprints dozens of episodes of the long-running MAD feature in a convenient mass paperback edition. This is amusing dark humor, but best enjoyed in small chunks to ease the repetitive nature of the gags. Not all of these cartoons have aged well and the package itself strikes me as pricey, but it still gets a perfectly respectable three Tonys.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Intern at Your Risk [ToykoPop; $12.99] is a somewhat hard-to-swallow murder mystery featuring teen sleuths studying under Gil Grissom and the rest of the Vegas Crime Lab crew. It's the lack of supervision of these young detectives that upends my willing sense of disbelief as they investigate the killing of another student who had applied for an internship. The script by Sekou Hamilton has its interesting moments, most involving the trials and tribulations of spunky 15-year-old Kiyomi Hudson, and I like the Steven Cummings art, but, sadly, the story never quite works.
This manga-style interpretation of the TV show earns a disappointing two Tonys.
I haven't had the time to read all Marvel's "Dark Reign" comic books, but I remain fascinated by the concept of Norman Osborn as America's top cop and forming various societies of super-villains. Trying to make time for these stories, I did manage to read and mostly enjoy Punisher: Dark Reign [$16.99] by Rick Remender and artist Jerome Opena.
Frank Castle is the natural enemy of Osborn and I delighted in his attempts to judge, jury, and execute Norman. If Castle weren't a psychotic killer, I would even be cool with his being the guy who finally brings Osborn down. Since he is a psychotic killer, I'll hold out for an actual hero to do that job.
While I don't quite buy Castle being able to avoid capture by the Sentry, that didn't significantly diminish my enjoyment of this trade paperback collection. The perfectly respectable three out of five Tonys seems right for this one.
Adapted from the novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub, The Talisman: The Road of Trials [$3.99 per issue] is being published monthly by Del Rey Comics. The sometimes dark tale of a courageous young teen on an epic quest through a strange parallel world is a compelling one, and it's being served well by scripter Robin Furth and artist Tony Shasteen. Having never read the novel, this is a new story for me and I'm liking it a lot. It earns the impressive four out of five Tonys.
Rough Justice: The DC Comics Sketches of Alex Ross [Pantheon; $30] is over 200 pages of way cool black-and-white drawings by the incredible Ross. There are also a selection of full-color illustrations, but, since there wasn't any color in the advance reader's copy I received, I can only imagine how wondrous they are. Which isn't hard to do given how many great paintings we've seen from Ross over the years.
Edited by Chip Kidd, this hardcover book will delight budding artists and also us can't-draw-a-straight-line types. The contents include deleted scenes, unused alternate covers sketches for Batman and Superman, and some intriguing proposals for new or revamping DC heroes. The book is a quick read, but it's the kind of book that you can return to time and time again. I give it four out of five Tonys and especially recommend it to schools and libraries.
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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