Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Cool Comic Book Moment

Brian Cronin at Comics Should Be Good! has been examining the two part Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? all week. As a result, he has come up with four bona fide tearjerker moments courtesy of Alan Moore and Curt Swan.

I finally realized that he was never going to get to one of my own favorite moments from this story because it is not really a tearjerker moment (for all that Pete Ross has just been killed). It is, instead, as succinct a statement as one could ask of just how awesome Superman can be -- in fact, how awesome comics storytelling can be.

As he stands in the wreckage of the WGBS television studio, his secret identity revealed, his boyhood best friend dead in his arms, Superman finally speaks. "Toyman...Prankster...Let me ask you one question: Do you know what radio waves look like?"

The reply comes back through the toy Superman: "Huh? No! Why?" But the red-and-blue blur has already disappeared, headed toward the source of the criminals' transmission.

Before the pair can take another breath, Superman is there, bursting through the wall, announcing, "Because I do!"

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 12

Whew. Whose idea was this again?

Day 12: The Fantastic Four

Early period: Fantastic Four #70, Jan 1968, by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott. This issue (spoiler!) actually ends with this scene, and isn't resolved until the following issue. The big green guy is an android, an "ultimate weapon" prepared by the Mad Thinker (defeated an issue or two back) and accidentally activated.

Boy, I hate when that happens.

This issue also contains a full-page panel of Reed and Sue musing on the love they share and the child that will soon be theirs. You can see Sue's new miniskirted uniform on the cover: We never find out if those unstable molecules can stretch into a maternity uniform.

Later period: Fantastic Four #369, Oct 1992, by Paul Ryan. Everybody, but everybody, is in this issue, as Sue battles her evil side Malice on the astral plane. Those of you who thought the corruption of Mary Marvel was unprecedented should probably look this story up.

Well, this was actually a lot of fun. Maybe I should continue looking at random character's covers at odd intervals. After all, we didn't do Captain America, or Batman, or Daredevil, or Wonder Woman, or the X-men, or Green Lantern, or the Hulk, or Captain Marvel, or Doctor Strange, or Plastic Man, or Thor, or Elongated Man...

Oh, crap, that's twelve more days...

Previously: Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 11

Day 11: The Flash

The story in Flash #90, Dec 1947, is really just an excuse for the Flash to play all nine positions in a baseball game. I keep meaning to dig this story up (it's reprinted in 80 Page Giant #4) to see what the other team had to say about it. Not to mention the league position.

I wanted to choose the first Elongated Man, of course, or "Land of the Golden Giants" (another sentimental favorite), but was there ever a more provocative cover than this one, from Flash #128, May 1962?

I don't remember if I was disappointed or relieved when we caught up with Barry and he was wearing street clothes. I mean, you've seen how tightly his uniform fits. No way does he wear a shirt and slacks under it.

Oh, well. If I'm prepared to accept the expanding-costume-in-the-ring thing, business-casual space travel is nothing.

Both of these covers, by the way, were pencilled by Carmine Infantino. Frank Giacoia inked "Nine Empty Uniforms", Joe Giella inked "Real-Gone Flash".

Previously: Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 10

Day Ten: Iron Man

An out-and-out sentimental pick: I mentioned back on day 4 that Marvel comics didn't come to my little town until 1967. My only previous exposure to these characters was those awful television cartoons. This, Tales of Suspense #93, Sep 1967, was my first Marvel comic ever.

I could have done worse. 12 pages of Colan-Giacoia greatness, 10 pages of Kirby-Sinnott energy on Captain America, and this awesome Colan cover emphasizing the sheer bulk and power of the massive Titanium Man.

I felt kind-of cheated that both stories were continued from the previous issue, and both were continued into the next as well... But I bought the next issue.

Forward over four years to Iron Man #46. By now, Marvel's distribution arrangements allowed it to publish more monthlies, and they responded by immediately splitting Tales of Suspense (and its companions, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales) in two. Gene Colan was busy with Daredevil, so this cover was by Gil Kane and Ralph Reese.

(I guess, since we're not now reading The Guardian #400, you know who won this battle.)

Previously: Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 9

I've fallen behind!

Day 9: The Spirit

The Spirit?!? Way to rattle my cage! I've never seen most of these! Which is, of course, my loss. There are no bad Spirit stories, only good and better. And there are no bad Eisner covers, for all of them show characters and situations that the page can barely contain.

My first choice is my (and reportedly Will Eisner's own) favorite, "The Story of Gerhard Shnobble", from Sept 5, 1948.

Mr. Shnobble has just been fired from his job, and has decided that today is the day to become famous. He intends to do this by throwing himself off the roof of a building... and flying.

And he does!

From another era, is the cover to the Warren Spirit magazine #7, April 1975, pencils by Will Eisner, inks and colors by Ken Kelley. I like it because of the devotion and determination of Ebony White, proving he is not just another comic sidekick.

Also clearly shown is that, like Popeye, the Spirit has no superpowers other than being simply indomitable. Like the Timex watch he predated and outlived, he takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.

Previously: Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 8

Day Eight: Justice League

Early period: JLA #31, Nov 1964, by Mike Sekowsky and Murphy Anderson. I realize that many fans don't care for Sekowsky's pencils, but as far as I'm concerned JLA is the only comic of its time in which Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash look "right". Sekowsky defines the "house style" everyone else should be trying to copy.

This scene should look silly, but it doesn't. It's dynamic and provocative. What kind of disaster can tear loose a chunk of the cavern floor, complete with table, chairs and occupants, and catapult it into space? I had to buy this issue and find out. (Unlike many comics, this scene actually occurred in this one.)

Later period: Justice League Task Force #8, Jan 1994, Sal Velluto and Jeff Albrecht. I can't say I like the execution here, but the concept... Well, I shouldn't like that either. This is a tentacle rape scene, isn't it? (On the cover of a DC comic, in 1994?)

It may be that what appeals to me is the question that the scene implies: Just how "male" is J'onn J'onzz? He's an alien. Our concepts of maleness and femaleness should be pretty much irrelevant to him.

Maybe I'm just tickled that when he is a woman (I mean... oh, never mind, I'm not going to try to rephrase it), his costume actually covers more skin.

Previously: Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 7

Day 7: The Defenders. This time for sure.

Well. there are no good Defenders covers. See you tomorrow: Thanks for coming.

Everything that is wrong with Avengers covers is wrong with Defenders covers, squared. Especially "horrified floating heads" disease. It's a wonder the book sold at all. On the other hand, they had a remarkably stable roster for a team that "isn't a team".

Here's the image that introduced the concept, Neal Adams' cover for Marvel Feature #1, December 1971. Our heroes are charging directly at the reader, with something unspecified but obviously destructive going on behind them.

It was a pretty big jolt when I opened the book and saw the art on this lead feature by Ross Andru and Bill Everett -- but it grew on me.

Jump forward to Defenders #11, January 2002 (I didn't know until looking through covers for this that there even was a 2001 restart of the Defenders). This image features an iconic, if uncharacteristically restful, pose of the "classic" team by Erik Larsen. Valkrie's anatomy is a little odd (what, did Rob Liefield ghost-draw this?), but I have to congratulate Larsen for including all seven lead characters without feeling crowded.

And has the Hulk's attention been momentarily diverted by a butterfly? Nice touch.

Previously: Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 7

Day 7: The Defenders

This is an odd choice for Mag and H, but sure, I'll go along with it.

The Defenders starred E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed, and was one of several legal dramas hoping to ride the coattails of Perry Mason...


Oh. Never mind.

The Treadmill Days of Christmas, day 6

Day Six: Aquaman

To be honest, the first issue of Aquaman-in-his-own-book I ever read was the first "Sword of Atlantis" issue. (Sorry, H.) He just never grabbed me as a lead feature. For me, the golden era of Aquaman was 8-12 page stories in the back of Adventure. Mmm, all that Ramona Fradon goodness.

Which means that this was the perfect issue of Aquaman, notwithstanding that it was actually Super DC Giant #s-26, Jul-Aug 1971, cover by Dick Giordano. It contained five Fradon gems, including a rare book-length story (reprinted from Showcase #30), the first Aquagirl (a real cutie, too, in those orange-and-greens), and the astounding origin of the Human Flying Fish!

And ooh, looky here, A dramatic Infantino/Anderson cover from Superboy #171, Jan 1971. (Okay, it was Aquaboy, but it's the same guy. Another in a series of newly revealed "first meetings" that neither character remembers later.) This issue was heavily environmental (the "dark strangler" was an oil spill). About the only thing that would have improved that image would have been to make it wordless.

What's that? I broke the rule? Both covers are from 1971? Oh, OK, here's your Nick Cardy cover, from April '62.

Boy, I betcha if Ramona Fradon were doing covers, they'd still be publishing Aquaman today.

Previously: Days 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.