Friday, July 31, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- Detective Comics #391

Detective Comics #391 (On Sale: July 31, 1969) has a cover by Neal Adams.

We begin with Batman in "The Gal Most Likely to Be -- Batman's Widow" by Frank Robbins, Bob Brown and Joe Giella. Tim Clark a masseuse and physical therapist at Bruce Wayne's club is having problems with his girlfriend, Ginny Jenkins (from Detective Comics #380). She has started working for Mr. Arnold at Dining Out Magazine. Through an accidentally turned on intercom Tim and Bruce learn that Mr. Arnold is using the magazine to extort advertising money out of restaurants. While Bruce leaves to change into Batman, Tim learns of Ginny's inadvertent involvement in the plan, as she is the magazine's reviewer.

That night at a restaurant being visited by Mr. Arnold and Ginny, two good threaten to ruin the food if the owner does not buy an expensive ad. the plot is broken up by Batman, but the owner refuses to finger Arnold as the instigator. that night Tim tries to warn Ginny that Arnold is a crook, but Ginny just thinks he is jealous and won't listen to him. Tim thinks she would listen if Batman was the one telling her and then hatches a plan.

Arnold meets his henchmen in the sauna at the club once again and gives them the orders for tonight's restaurant attack. When they leave Batman is seen leaving the building and an unseen person removes a bar of soap from the sauna. At tonight's restaurant, the owner is prepared to pay the extortion money when Batman comes to him with a plan. Shortly the waiter brings Arnold and Ginny a souvenir of the restaurant, only Batman shows up and reveals that the small models actually contain the pay-off money. Arnold pulls a gun, but Batman knocks him out and then comforts Ginny.

Arnold comes to and calls for his men who sneak up on Batman and knock him out. Before they throw him off the balcony to his death they unmask Batman and find that he is Tim Clark. Only the real Batman shows up at that time and mops up the gang, reveals that the money they were given was marked by the owner and also reveals a small tape recorder hidden in a bar of soap that Batman used to gather evidence against Arnold and his men.

The back-up Robin story is "Strike" by Mike Friedrich, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson and continues from last issue. Personally, I thought last issue was a pretty much jumbled mess and this issue doesn't really do much to rectify that feeling.I never liked the Friedrich Robin stories, they never rang true for me, though he sure wrote a lot of them in his five years at DC.

The head negotiator for the college has abruptly ended negotiations with the Teachers' Union. Dick Grayson and Gotham Owl editor Rocky follow the negotiator and see him talking to two kids wearing Skyline jackets, one of whom Dick recognizes as the one that got away from the skirmish Friday night.

Rocky leaves and Dick is free to change into Robin and after a relatively quick fight the head negotiator tells how he was blackmailed into ending negotiations and that someone had tried to run over his son. One of the Skyline kids tells Robin who their boss is, where to find him and what type of protection he has.

Robin quickly foots it to the bosses HQ, and knock out the two guards he was warned about outside the building. He then races into the big man's office only to find two more gunsels that he knew nothing about. Robin realizes he has been set up , but as the thugs prepare to blast him, the police call out over a loudspeaker for the thugs to surrender with their hands up. Robin uses the momentary distraction to take out the two thugs and the big boss. When he calls for the police to come in and take them all away he finds that it was only Rocky, who had followed Robin to the thugs hideout.

It ends up the big boss owned land adjacent to the college and wanted to make sure that his land was used for the campus expansion. Later the negotiations are begun again and a new contract is quickly signed. This story was reprinted in Batman in the Sixties TPB and Showcase Presents: Robin the Boy Wonder Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Julius Schwartz.

The Pie Man

Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, died this week. I haven't thought about Reverend Ike in years, but he is hard to forget. I was surprised that the Los Angeles Times obit did not contain my favorite Reverend Ike quote:

"Why have you pie, by and by, in the sky, when you die? Have your pie now, with ice cream on top!"

Friday, July 24, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- Showcase #85

Showcase #85 (On Sale: July 24, 1969) has a very nice Firehair cover by Joe Kubert.

We have a feature-length Firehair origin story, "I Don't Belong Here -- I Don't Belong There" which is obviously a labor of love for writer/artist/editor Joe Kubert. the story opens sometime in the early 1800's with our hero riding bareback across the desert being chased by a gaggle of towns-people shooting in his direction. Firehair is a teen-aged boy in Native American garb, with white skin and glowing red hair in two long tails trailing down his back. he has been shot but continues to ride.

When he reaches a rock face he leaps for it and begins to climb its face. The towns-folk dismount and take aim just as a hand reaches out of a cave in the rock and pulls Firehair to relative safety. The enraged towns-people fire off so many shots that they cause a landslide which covers the mouth of the cave, trapping Firehair and his unknown benefactor. Inside we find a Shaman and Evening Star, a young woman of the Blackfoot nation.

Firehair has been shot multiple times and they cannot move him from the cave, As the Shaman dresses his wounds, Firehair is enveloped by delirious dreams of his past. He sees a tribal fire he never witnessed where the Shaman tells the tribal elders of the terrible destruction of the Blackfoot and their brother nations at the hand of the paleface that he has foreseen. He also speaks of a great warrior who will arise, who will not look like any warrior in the Indian Nations, who will be despised by his own people and those he will seek to help. A great warrior who is the Blackfoot's only hope for salvation.

As Firehair's vision continues he sees the same tribe gathered on a mesa and attacking the wagon train below. Attacking relentlessly until all the pale ones are dead, all save one child with flaming red hair, whom Chief Grey Cloud takes to raise as his own. The resentment and hostility towards the white child runs deep in the village, but to some extent hidden. As young Firehair grows he learns that in order to survive and to prove himself worthy of being the Chief's son, he must be better than all the other children in the village, and so he is. But he is also alone and friendless. The years pass and Firehair reaches the age of manhood and goes off on a vision quest; the only one in the village offering him good luck is Evening Star. He fasts for five days seeing visions of his past, present and future and arises a man.

Back at his village he tells his father he dreamed of others with skin like his and wants to find them, to see if he belongs in their world. And so, Firehair heads off for the town, where he is attacked by a bully in the general store and when he fights back the whole town wants his hide. The town Sheriff steps in to break things up, but Firehair has had enough and breaks away, riding out of town, the towns-people shooting at his back.

His feverish vision ends and he finds himself in the cave with Evening Star, who says that now that he is better they can return home. But Firehair says he does not have a home, not with the Blackfoot and not with the palefaces. And so he sets off to travel the Earth looking for a place where he can belong.

I can not say enough about Joe Kubert's artwork on this book. He obviously spent a lot of time doing research on the Blackfoot nation and culture and you see it in every panel. He littered the book with wonderful detail and employed a grease pencil on every page, some times just a little, some times a lot, to give the pages a look different from any of the other books being published at that time.

Firehair would appear in two more issues of Showcase before finding a spot as a back-up strip in Tomahawk for another three issues. He didn't show up again till the character-packed Showcase #100 and then again in Crisis on Infinite Earths. In 1989 he was in one issue of Swamp Thing and then completely forgotten until the publication of War That Time Forgot in 2008 and where he can still be seen today.

Edited by Joe Kubert.

Friday, July 17, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- Teen Titans #23

Teen Titans #23 (On Sale: July 17, 1969) has one of the most popular Nick Cardy covers of all time. I know the 13-year-old me drooled over this one for hours, eh weeks... OK, months... alright, years! This cover always reminds me of Kurt Busiek's afterword in The Art of Nick Cardy where he recalls, "...I'm at a Marvel Christmas party and Cardy's name comes up, and Miss Jo Duffy, sitting on a desk, bursts out with, "Oh, man! He was the best--he did the best jailbait ever!" Indeed, and Nick Cardy's Wonder Girl was the queen of my Silver Age jailbait.

"The Rock 'n' Roll Rogue" is by Bob Haney, Gil Kane and Nick Cardy and is another example of Cardy's wonderful inking style. The Teen Titans are enjoying a Sammy Soul concert from the front row when Sammy suddenly runs from the stage causing the kids to start a major riot in the theater. Robin and Wonder Girl, showing off her new and improved costume distract the kids with a show of acrobatics while Kid Flash gives everyone on hand an instant refund. the immediate crisis averted the Titans take the Titan whirlybird to Sammy Soul's estate, where below Sammy's cousin Irmgard and her husband Luther are arguing with Sammy's manager over who owns him till he reaches legal age.

The Titans land and listen to Sammy's tale of woe, an orphan who grew up in a foster family who never loved him but now fight over custody since he has become famous and rich, how the only person who ever loved him was his Uncle Matt who was lost in South America years ago whole looking for treasure. Wonder Girl tries to come on to Sammy, to console him and Robin tells her to "Cool it." Looking back on these stories I guess, for a while there, they played up Wonder Girl as a little slut, something I never minded as a kid.

Anyway, the Titans leave but the next day they return to find Sammy is missing, but they find a clue in a guitar given to Sammy by his Uncle Matt and decide that Sammy has headed off to South America to find his Uncle. Sammy has landed in Los Santos Venezuela and is mobbed by fans even there, but is rescued by Juan Sastre, who tells Sammy he remembers Sammy's uncle, Matt Murdock (strange how that name gets around comics), who vanished in the great plateau of the interior of the country. Juan signs on as Sammy's guide and off they go.

Meanwhile, the Titans have tracked Sammy and locate his helicopter on the plateau. When they land to inspect the site, they are attacked by native headhunters, who are beaten back by an onslaught of arrows from Speedy. Sammy and Juan have been taken by the natives to their village where they find Uncle Matt unharmed in one of the huts, However, he has lost his memory, which Juan says is the only thing keeping him alive as the natives will not shrink the head of an amnesiac.

The Titans discover the village and using all of their powers they manage to rescue Sammy, Juan and Uncle Matt and thanks once again to Speedy and his amazing array of arrows they manage to keep the natives from following them. But, a short time later Matt's memory returns and he leads them through a tunnel to a hidden indoor pool,, which he says is El Dorado, where the old Indian civilization tossed their fortune in gold and emeralds to keep them from the Spanish conquistadors. It was while diving deep for the treasure that Uncle Matt lost his memory and was captured by the headhunters.

Wonder Girl says that she can swim very deep and will dive for the treasure but all she finds are the bones of those who tried to find El Dorado in the past. Convinced that he has not found El Dorado Uncle Matt agrees to return home, but on the way back to the choppers the natives capture Juan. Using Sammy's amps and mics from his helicopter, Uncle Matt booms his voice out into the jungle pretending to be the thunder god, Pichu Pichu and using Wonder Girl to drop Sammy Soul dolls from the sky as thunder god tributes the natives are convinced to let Juan go free. This story was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Teen Titans Vol. 2 TPB.

Edited by Dick Giordano.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- Phantom Stranger #3

Phantom Stranger #3 (On Sale: July 15, 1969) has its first cover by Neal Adams, and the new Neal Adams logo. What is interesting is that while the logo depicts the revamped Phantom Stranger, using his hat's shadow as a mask, the cover shows an entirely different guy, closer to the Bill Draut covers of the first two issues.

We begin with the Phantom Stranger in "How Do You Know My Name?" a reprint from Phantom Stranger #5 (1953) by John Broome, Frank Giacoa and Joe Giella. A carnival mystic, Vasti, predicts supernatural behavior will increase at an amusement park. Suddenly ghosts and spectres are seen and cause trouble for the park. The Phantom Stranger investigates in order to debunk the supernatural explanation. He exposes Vasti as a fraud, trying to force the park owner to sell cheaply.

Next we have Doctor 13 in "No Such Thing as Ghosts" a reprint from Star-Spangled Comics #126 by France Herron and Leonard Starr. We end with the only new material in the book, the Phantom Stranger in "Some Day in Some Dark Alley..." by Mike Friedrich and Bill Draut. This was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Phantom Stranger Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Joe Orlando.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Paper Chase

They changed the paper towels in the men’s room where I work. The old ones were nothing to write home about, but I would compose odes to them if they would return.

The new ones have this insubstantial, tissue paper, magic-trick flash paper, communion wafer quality to them. You get the feeling that as they crinkle in your hands that they will simply disappear without ever having to be thrown away. These are a really sorry excuse for paper towels.

Friday, July 10, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- House of Mystery #182

House of Mystery #182 (On Sale: July 10, 1969) has another cool cover by Neal Adams.

We begin with "The Devil's Doorway" by Jack Oleck and Alex Toth. Wealthy student of the occult, Phillip Warren, buys a strange mirror from a New England auction. Phillip mentions his wife's misgivings about owning the piece and the auctioneer says that it is perfectly safe as the contents of the house were exorcised over a century ago and that the records of the exorcism are in the family records in City Hall.

Satisfied, the mirror is shipped home, but almost immediately strange things begin to happen. Phil's daughter Beth begins to disappear for hours at a time and when she does show up she says she has been in the mirror playing with Mr. Belial. Beth is told to stay away from the mirror, but just a few nights later she brings her father a gift, an ancient cult demon statuette used in black magic.

Beth once again claims that she has been in the mirror and the the gift is from Mr. Belial. Knowing the mirror has been exorcised, Phil tells his daughter to stop making up stories and sends he off to bed. But Phil can't sleep and that night while sitting in front of the mirror he sees inside it a strange world. He walks into the mirror and meets Mr. Belial, AKA Satan, who says that he has been expecting him to arrive. Satan explains that he finds students of the occult a challenge and since he could not leave the mirror he had to find a way to lure Phil into his world. He threatens to soon have Phil's wife as well.

Phil hurls the demon statuette at Satan and fights his way past demons to finally reach the mirror portal. Once outside he takes an axe to the mirror and then burns what remains. However, once the mirror is completely consumed Phil falls into a coma, yet a fitful coma of nightmare dreams. Days later the dreams end and Phil tells his wife that he was just sick and hallucinating. Now that Phil is better his wife tells him that their daughter Beth has vanished, that she has not been seen since the night Phil destroyed the mirror. But the mirror is harmless, the mirror had been exorcised. Phil heads to City Hall to look up the records of the house and finds that yes, everything in the house was exorcised, except a mirror that has been sent out to be gilded.

This story is a real winner and Alex Toth's artwork is an amazing workshop in minimalist line-work in the support of a story. This is wonderful work from Toth.

This is Jack Oleck's first credited work at DC, though he is known to have written both issues of Bother Power: The Geek. This only makes sense as Oleck was Joe Simon's brother-in-law and as Simon has said, "the number one scriptwriter for Simon and Kirby since the early days of Young Romance," though, it would seem, largely uncredited. According to the Jack Kirby Museum, Oleck also worked at Atlas in the 1950s when the company was publishing 85 titles a month, but exactly what work he did is not known as there are few records from this era. Jack also wrote for EC Comics doing war stories for Aces High and science-fiction for Incredible Science Fiction.

As a credited writer Jack Oleck would write more than 200 stories for DC, mostly in the horror/mystery books, but a few wars stories and humor stories for Plop! and the first three issues of Kong, the Untamed. Jack also wrote both of the paperback anthologies of adaptations of The House of Mystery stories and EC Comics The Vault of Horror paperback as well.

Oleck also wrote novels, including Messalina. As reviewer Joe Kenney says on Amazon, "Published in 1959 and continuously in print for the next several years, Jack Oleck's Messalina is now long out of print and barely remembered. Yet it is historical fiction of the best sort: trashy, exploitative, packed with violence and graphic sex. No "detectives in togas," no poorly-written military fiction, no thinly-veiled Christian glurge - this is a full-on romp in the salacious world of Imperial Rome, more Technicolor than Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra."

Messalina recounts the tale of the real-life woman who married Claudius, the fourth emperor of Rome. She's known to history as a backstabbing schemer with an insatiable lust for sex, so don't go into this novel expecting a G-rated story of ancient Rome. Oleck takes us from her youth to her end, barring no details of her cold-blooded and predator-like ways: for Messalina, sex was a means to power, and boy did she know how to use it. "

Next is "Grave Results!" a "Cain's True Case File" by Marv Wolfman and Wayne Howard.
It tells the story of the Chase family of Barbados and how each time they go to bury a family member in the family crypt they find the caskets thrown about the crypt and overturned, even though the crypt is sealed each time with molten lead to keep anyone out. The two caskets belonging to the original owner of the crypt and her grand-daughter are never disturbed. Eventually the family has to leave the island to escape the cursed crypt. Reprinted in House of Mystery #229 and Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery Vol. 1 TPB.

This little piece of fluff was Wayne Howard's first work for DC and his first credited work anywhere. He contributed to comics fanzines in the mid-1960s before becoming an art assistant at the Long Island, New York studio of Wally Wood in 1969 and the Wood influence is evident in every panel Howard ever did. Wayne would only draw four stories for DC, though he would ink another 8 over the next 13 years. Howard also did work for the short-lived Web of Horror black and white book that also appeared in 1969.

Howard did work for a number of publishers. He penciled a story in Gold Key's TV-series tie-in The Twilight Zone and inked stories for Warren's Creepy and Eerie. At marvel he did inks for Worlds Unknown, Marvel Team-Up, Thongor! Warrior of Lost Lemuria in Creatures on the Loose and the Marvel black and white Haunt of Horror.

But none of this is what Wayne Howard is known for. Wayne Howard was the first American comics' cover-credited series creator, with the Charlton horror anthology book Midnight Tales which carried the blurb: "Created by Wayne Howard" on each issue. Howard did other work for Charlton, but it is with this book that he made his mark. Charlton writer/editor Nicola Cuti says that Howard's credit was granted since "it was his idea, his concept, his everything." Howard created the main characters, host Professor Coffin, The Midnight Philosopher, and his niece, Arachne, who in a twist on the horror-host convention would themselves star in a story each issue. Howard also developed the notion of having each issue be themed. He penciled and inked every cover, most of the stories and he even wrote a few of them.

In Comic Book Artist #12, Charlton editor George Wildman, described Howard as, "sort of shy. Easy come, easy go",and said Howard had married the sister of one of Wildman's early secretaries. In the same issue, Nicola Cuti said the heavy-smoker artist "always wore the same outfit: a white shirt, a kind of tan bush jacket, black hat, black pants and black tie. ...I was over at his apartment, and he opened up his closet, and there were 20 white shirts, 20 bush jackets, 20 black pants...."

Wayne Howard's last known comic work was for Warlord #64. Always a bit of a recluse, when Comic Book Artist attempted to contact him in 2001 they were told that "the artist/writer had no interest in delving into the past." Wayne Howard, one of the first African-American comic book artists of the Silver Age, died December 9, 2007 at the age of 58.

Next we have a one-page ad for the House of Secrets featuring Cain and written and drawn by Joe Orlando. That is followed by a Cain's Game Room by Sergio Aragones.

The last story in the book is "The Hound of the Night" by Robert Kanigher and Jerry Grandenetti. It was reprinted in Showcase Presents: The House of Mystery Vol. 1 TPB.

Edited by Joe Orlando.

Friday, July 03, 2009

40 Years Ago Today From DC Comics -- Tomahawk #124

Tomahawk #124 (On Sale: July 3, 1969) has another beautiful cover by Neal Adams. It is hard to believe this book was not selling well.

We begin with "The Valley of No Return" by Robert Kanigher, Frank Thorne and Joe Kubert. As Tomahawk and his Rangers march through the thick snow back into Echo Valley, they are faced with three lines of warriors under the guidance of Buffalo Horn, waiting for the Rangers to get into range of their riffles and bows. Behind Tomahawk stands the wagons of the Smith family, steadfastly refusing to go back into the valley. As Tomahawk and his men move forward they are attacked from all sides and Tomahawk thinks back to the first time he entered Echo Valley.

It was warmer days and Tomahawk and his men found the beautiful valley and thought it would be the perfect spot for the Smith family to settle. But Buffalo Horn and his warriors had other ideas and attacked the Rangers. The fight was heavy and brutal, but in the end only Buffalo Horn remained, awaiting Tomahawk's knife. But Hawk surprised him by showing mercy and letting him go, Buffalo Horn remarking that it was a weakness he would not have shown if the roles were reversed.

Tomahawk and his men get to the business of felling trees and getting the place ready for a settlement. Frenchie comment that Big Anvil smells like a bear and that pretty ladies are coming, but Anvil replies that he took a bath last spring and besides, "No gal ever looked at me!" However, when the Smith wagons arrive, Big Anvil meets Liza Smith and his life is changed forever. When the house and barn are completed a party is in order and Liza says she will save her first dance for Big Anvil. Smitten with each other it is only a matter of time before they profess their mutual love and Big Anvil tells Tomahawk that he plans on coming back to the valley and marrying Liza. The Rangers stayed till fall and then headed back to the fort, Big Anvil promising to return to be with Liza.

They find the fort under attack and it only survives due to the extra fire-power of the Rangers. Tomahawk tells Big Anvil that maybe he should slip back to Liza, but the big man says he will stay, that as long as "the Injuns are attackin' this fort -- Liza an' her kin must be safe!" One night while on patrol the Rangers see the warriors sneaking up on the fort with torches and in silence they attack them, fighting them till morning when the "Indians fade away like shadows."

The Rangers head back to Echo Valley only to find the cabin on fire and the Smiths leaving, saying they don't want to stay in the place where Liza was murdered. A shaken Big Anvil charges into the valley with the rest of the Rangers facing off the warriors gunfire. All of a sudden it becomes quiet as the gunfire stops and the whistle of arrows begins. Tomahawk thinks he understands why and has his men fire their guns off in rapid succession, firing everything they have. The gunfire starts an avalanche which buries Buffalo Horn and his men. In the end only Buffalo Horn emerges from the mountain of snow, saying he has had enough of fighting a white man who fights like an Indian.

The Smiths decide to stay on in the valley and as the Rangers leave a weeping Big Anvil kneels down in front of Liza's grave and places a flower. I can't let this one go without mentioning the wonderful art. Frank Thorne and Joe Kubert made a great team and the styles of both men survive the team-up. It's too bad that Kubert could not ink Thorne more as the results were a great treat.

The back-up story is "The Man Who Posed as Tomahawk" a reprint from Tomahawk #31 drawn by Bruno Premiani and Ray Burnley.

Edited by Murray Boltinoff.

The Bare Essentials of Safety

Last year I took approximately 20 airline flights. Actually, when you count the connecting flights, I took a lot more than that, and each one began with the safety spiel by the crew or a safety video by the airline, none of which I gave much attention. That is the problem airlines face, nobody pays attention to the safety instructions. Air New Zealand thinks they have that problem licked: