Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 5

Day 5: Mad

I was too young to have seen any EC comics on the newsstands. By the time I came along, they were all gone: Mad was a magazine... and a series of paperback reprints you had to read sideways.

You kids don't know what we had to go through to be entertained.

If the "Plastic Man" parody had made the cover, I would have used that one. Because it didn't, here's the "Hah! Noon!" cover from Mad #9, Feb-Mar 1954, by the great Harvey Kurtzman. Mad's comic era was somewhat uneven, but when it was good, it was genius.

Fast-forward twelve years to #105, September 1966, and cover artist Norman Mingo. Al Feldstein managed to make lightning strike twice, creating a brand-new "usual gang of idiots" and setting a standard that would sustain Mad through almost 500 regular issues and countless specials.

Previously: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 4

Day 4: The Avengers

Like Spider-Man, the Avengers suffered from an embarrassment of so-so covers. There are only so many ways to depict a crowd scene, and I personally am sick of floating heads reacting in horror to a central scene, a recurring motif that haunts Avengers covers like a disease.

When I saw the cover of Avengers Annual #1 on the stands in 1967, I had no idea who the Avengers were. Well, I knew who John Steed and Emma Peel were, but this lot clearly wasn't them.

No, really. Throughout the early sixties, Marvel comics were handled by a distributor owned by DC. DC used this advantage to severely limit the number of comics Marvel could publish. Some of you kiddies may know this, intellectually, but in practice the newsstand advantage was even greater. Many outlets, including the ones in my hometown, didn't carry Marvel comics at all. This was the very first Avengers comic I'd ever seen.

It may be why I never really warmed to the monthly series: It set unrealistic expectations.

The experts at GCDB are divided over whether this cover was by Don Heck or John Buscema, though they agree John Romita touched it up.

For late-period, I'll go with The Mighty Avengers #2 by Frank Cho.

If there are any comics fans remaining who haven't experienced puberty, this cover (like yesterday's Neal Adams Superman cover) should push them through it.

Hard to believe that's Tony Stark, isn't it?

Previously: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 3

Day Three: Superman

This is clearly a Curt Swan cover for Action #232, September 1957. Try not to be too disappointed when you see the story itself and discover it is by Wayne Boring. Sadly, it is about a year too early to be included in the first Showcase Presents Superman collection, which I guess makes this "officially" a Golden Age story. I was so disappointed to see that charming image of Superman cooling lemonade with his super-breath on Superman in the Fifties yet not see this story contained therein.

This was, as they sometimes said, not a hoax, not a dream, not an imaginary story. But I don't suppose I'm spoiling anything to tell you that the boy is not, in fact, Superman's biological son, but an Earth boy who has accidentally acquired a full set of super-powers. Things like that happened in the Silver Age: That which does not kill us makes us stronger, or something like that.

This may have been the first time they played with the classic Super-color scheme, but not the last. You should have seen the yellow-and-green dog's breakfast Superman himself tried a couple of issues later, complete with communications helmet and wings on his boots.

Skip forward a decade and change to 1971 and Superman #243, cover by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. I think this cover may actually have triggered puberty in a generation of boys. I was seventeen, and this may be my favorite Superman cover ever ever.

It's hard to be disappointed by an art job by Swan and Anderson, but the woman inside this comic suffered in comparison.

This story (by Cary Bates) immediately followed the "Sand Creature" arc that destroyed all kryptonite on earth and supposedly depowered Superman by about half. You couldn't tell it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 2

Day Two: Spider-Man

I think H is right: There aren't a lot of really distinctive, iconic Spider-Man covers. Which is surprising: Given how flippin' many Spider-man covers there are, you'd think the odds would be on their side.

The first fifty issues have far more than their share of gotcha covers, even though some of them are cut-and-pasted from Ditko's interior pages. On this cover to Amazing Spider-Man #22, Ditko attempts Batman's menacing shadow, which shouldn't work and probably wouldn't have worked if not for the Spider-signal belt buckle. (does he still have that?) It turns an off-center pose where the hero of the book isn't even present into a striking, moody piece. There have been dozens of attempts to use the signal motif since, none as effectively as this.

Oh, and the interiors aren't bad either.

The requirement to select covers from distinctly different eras of the book forced me to choose only one Ditko cover -- and also eliminated the best of John Romita Sr's covers as well. I probably could have considered the Andru run a different era, but despite countless classic images for Wonder Woman, I have to say I never liked his Spider-Man.

And Todd McFarlane's work always looked too busy to me. Lookit me, I drew all these extraneous web lines, aren't you impressed by all the work I did here?

As long as I'm flashing forward, I'll go all the way to Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #4, the end of "The Other" arc. Not having approved of the trials and reboot inflicted on the character throughout "Sins Past", "Civil War", "Back in Black" and "One More Day", I consider this gorgeous Weiringo portrait the end of Spider-Man's run. I prefer to remember Pete and MJ looking forward to the days they should have had, and it doesn't get any better than this.

The Treadmill Days of Christmas

Over at the Comic Treadmill, Mag and H are celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas by each selecting their two favorite covers featuring a particular character. The series is such fun reading that I decided to play along over here. Well, that and not having anything else to talk about.

Day One: The Atom

I've never been a big fan of the Atom (get it? get it?), but he is a big (I kill me) part of the cover for one of my favorite silver-age Justice League of America stories, from #18. Our mite-sized heroes are attempting to get the Atom's attention before they shrink completely out of existence. This cover is by the masterful Murphy Anderson.

Of course, they do manage to do this, and he follows them under his own power to a microscopic world whose Protectors emit a radiation that is slowly killing their planet. But these android Protectors were created too well, and cannot surrender to their makers. They have summoned the Justice League so that they might defeat them and end the threat they pose.

Boy, that'd be a year's worth of story arc now. You young whippersnappers don't realize how good we had it way back then.

By the 80s, the Atom had been canceled a couple of times, and generally written off as an unworkable concept. Jan Strnad and Gil Kane got Jean (the bitch) engaged to another man, dumped Ray in an Amazonian forest, broke his size-controls, stuck him at six inches high, and let him stumble onto a lost six-inch-high civilization.

Sort of like if the Atom had been created by Edgar Rice Burroughs -- and I mean that as a compliment.

I never did get the logic of having him wear a loincloth over his tights, though.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shirtless Saturday - Kendra Saunders and...

In this fantasy scene she's making the Bird with Two Backs with Carter Hall, looking surprisingly young for his age--but when she says his name out loud, we discover she's really in bed with Roy Harper (aka Red Arrow, previously Arsenal and Speedy).

So that even happens to superheroes.

[From JLA #27.]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Andy, Kate, Chuck and Zeke?

According to /film, M. Night Shyamalan has cast two of the four lead roles in his upcoming film The Last Airbender (previously titled "Avatar", changed to avoid confusion with James Cameron's upcoming film "Avatar" which has nothing to do with the popular animated series on Nickelodeon), and has chosen the actors he wants for the other two. (Release date July 2nd 2010.) Pictured: Nicola Peltz (Katara). Hey, this is my blog. You'd rather look at the kids in talks to play Sokka or the dark and brooding Zuko, go right ahead.

A whiter group of young, attractive people you will never see.

Not that this is necessarily wrong, but... I mean, even though the show is American-produced, it has a distinctly Asian flavor. And I understood the Four Kingdoms to be rough analogs of Chinese, Japanese, Manchurian and Inuit culture. The animated show is hip-deep in Asian voice talent.

This is not yet a bad omen; just a thing to make me go "Hmmm."

Batman and Wonder Pig

I used to think that toy companies went over the top when they created "special edition" toys for characters that only appeared once, or character variants that never appeared in the comics (I thought of that as an interesting cover story for "we got the costume wrong").

But this... this is adorable!

(Saw it at Great White Snark, available at Amazon.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Emperor Morrison

I'd like to have something meaningful to say about Batman #681, but then I'd also like to have something meaningful about which to say it.

And, as the cliche goes, I'd also like a pony.

Of course, I don't really want a pony. I never understood the attraction of ponies or horses. But I want lots of things that in a real, normal world I'm not going to get. Apparently, a comic book story that actually ends is now one of those things.

"Batman R.I.P." doesn't have a conclusion. Serialized life goes on.

I challenge anyone who liked this story to reread Batman #156, "Robin Dies at Dawn", and explain to me in what way this story improves upon it.

Everybody wants to have an artistically-worded review, but nobody wants to be the first to state the obvious fact. Okay. I'll throw myself on the grenade.

The emperor is naked.

This is a better Batman story:

LATER: Ah, I see. Didio says "Batman R.I.P." was always intended to conclude in Final Crisis #6. Well, that makes perfect sense.