Thursday, November 28, 2013

Al Plastino and JFK, 50 Years Later

I wrote many years ago about the famed Action #309 issue, where Superman divulges his secret identity to President Kennedy so the later can impersonate him (as Clark Kent) at an event where both Supes and Clark are both expected to appear.  Horrifically for DC, the issue appeared on the newsstands a full month after JFK was assassinated, although (obviously) it had been scripted, drawn and sent to the printers before the events in Dallas.

I also noted that DC had another story featuring JFK in the works at the time, which they had pulled from publication, but after urging from his successor Lyndon Johnson, they published in Superman #170, with this note at the end:

Well, turns out that Al Plastino died on Monday, and there was an additional story:

Controversy arose when the original artwork was found up for auction 50 years later -- not in the library as originally planned. Plastino asked a New York state court to release the name of the person who sent the artwork to auction in an attempt to retrieve the piece and ensure its public display. "I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me. I just want the right thing done here and to be treated fairly," he wrote in a Facebook post to fans. The auction has been removed from the schedule, but the fate of the famous Kennedy comic remains up in the air.
 Further details here:

Plastino believed the artwork was supposed to have been donated to the planned Kennedy Library in Boston 50 years ago, the same year Kennedy was assassinated, according to court documents.

Plastino was surprised to learn recently that it was scheduled for auction on Friday in Beverly Hills, California. Heritage Auctions has since pulled the artwork from this week's sale, said Heritage spokesman Noah Fleisher.
Given that original art comic pages commonly go for hundreds of dollars, and that this particular issue would be regarded as particularly historic (especially with the auction coming near the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination), it would certainly appear that Plastino had a legitimate issue (as might the JFK Memorial Library).  However, the current owner has a defense:

"Heritage policy is not to publicly discuss pending litigation," Fleisher said in a prepared statement. "I can tell you, though, that our consignor bought the artwork at a Sotheby's auction and we withdrew the artwork weeks ago as soon as we learned of the dispute and have returned the item to the consignor." (bolding added for emphasis)
 Kudos to longtime commenter and emailer M Hamilton for finding this.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Say Hello to:

Unforgettable Sights of a Paper World, a blog about comics from Antonio Gatti, an Italian comics blogger (don't worry, it's written in English).  It's interesting to get a foreigner's perspective on the Man of Steel.

Here's a review of the terrific story from Superman #137, featuring Superman's evil duplicate, Super-Menace. I reviewed the same issue many moons ago.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Another Superpower that Time Forgot?

Mark Engblom had a lot of fun with these a few years back but here's one he missed.  Apparently Superman can shrink or expand his muscles at will:

In the story, Superman is supposedly out of town and so Lois hits on the bright idea of having Clark dress up in a suit to foil some gangsters.   Incidentally, it is often mentioned that DC took Siegel & Shuster off the comics when they filed their copyright claim in 1947; this (April 1948) issue appears to be the first without their credits on the title page, and the artwork is definitely sub-standard.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? Review

What do you do when someone offers to let you review their novel, as Andrez Bergen did, with Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

1. Just say yes, in the hopes it will just go away.
2. Just say yes, and sweat it out thinking it won't go away.
3. Just say yes and hope that it won't be as awful as you think and maybe you can get away with talking about some good points.
4. Just say yes and be completely blown away by how terrific the novel is and only worry if you can come up with enough words to praise it.

Um, I'm going to go with #4.  Seriously, this is a terrific novel for anybody who loves comic books. And probably anybody in general, although it is harder for me to judge that because I was so wrapped up in the comic book goodness,

This is a great, entertaining book. I described it (based on the first two chapters)  for a blurb as Sam Spade meets the Justice League.  My bad.  It's Sam Spade meets the Justice League meets the Holodeck meets the Watchmen meets... well, I don't know.

It's just so cool a plot that I don't want to spoil it, but this only gives away about a third of the story:

The main character, Jack, is a 15-year-old lad from a post-apocalyptic Melbourne, Australia.  He joins a virtual reality universe where he can become a superhero, a member of a team called the Equalizers, who do constant battle with the Unmitigated Rotters.  While there he finds love, and must unravel a mystery.  The virtual reality universe is breaking down, and the rules (Comics Code Authority rules, no less) are being broken.  Heroes and villains are being killed, and worse, a death in the virtual world has similar consequences in the real world of Melbourne.

That is the plot, basically, but oh, man, the writing blows that out of the water.  There are Easter Eggs galore, to the point where the Easter Bunny union is probably writing up a grievance that they cannot carry all of them.  Some are obvious, but others definitely will take some Googling; in a way that is a huge advantage today compared to yesteryear.

I won't go into more detail about the plot.  It moves forward briskly, with frequent surprises, to a very satisfactory conclusion.

I do have two criticisms, one major and one minor.  The major problem with the book is that it was too short; couldn't Andrez have squeezed another thousand pages out? ;)

The minor criticism is that Jack seems just a little too savvy and sophisticated for a 15-year-old.  Perhaps this is because his virtual reality character is an adult?

However, that's a quibble in the bigger picture. This is a terrific novel, and I look forward to reading more by Andrez.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Wheaties Wishes They Had This One Back

Okay, Golden Age, here but still quite funny:

Take a tip from me, Wheaties, and don't fall in love with 30-year-old ballplayers who have a big season in AAA.  I'm a big baseball fan, have been ever since I was 8 years old, and I never heard of Jerry Witte.  Probably because he had only 172 at-bats in the majors (in 1946 and 1947) and batted .163.  While playing first base.  Even on the old Browns, that was not enough to cut it, and one hopes he went into insurance or real estate in Toledo on the basis of his admittedly great season there.

Every now and then some guy will come up and the announcers will be yammering about what a terrific prospect he is, and I look him up and he's like 27 or 28.  No real prospect, just a guy who plugged and plugged and finally made it to the top, but don't expect him to be a star or to stick around long.  If you want to know how long a major-league career to expect, just subtract the guy's age as a rookie from 30 and multiply by two.  Somebody like Witte should have almost no major league career (as he did); guys like Mike Trout and Manny Machado should have very long careers in the majors, as should Bryce Harper (if he stops running into fences).  About the only exceptions to this rule are the former Negro League players like Minnie Minoso, who were banned from the game until they were in their mid-twenties, and pitchers, who can flame out young or suddenly develop a pitch (like Phil Niekro).

Monday, August 12, 2013

One of My Favorite Covers

I may have pointed this one out before but I came across it again, and just was awed:

There's a lot there.  From the tropical plants, we can tell it's in the South Pacific, so he's facing the Japanese.  He's hot and he's very nervous, but check out the lips--grimly determined as well.  Jerry Grandinetti, an artist who doesn't get mentioned a lot, put this gem together.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

You Can Learn A Lot From Comics!

Gotta love this, from Gold Key's "Peoples of Africa" #17, the East Indians:

"Some" of the "young" girls are very beautiful?  Yeesh!  One supposes that the older gals are quite homely.

And from the People of Australia #4, the Trail Drivers:
Blackfellow is apparently an obsolete and offensive slang term for an Australian aborigine.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Silver Age Aspects of the Man of Steel

I went to see the Man of Steel movie yesterday.  I enjoyed it a lot, although I will confess that I started out a little suspicious, especially given the build-up during the scenes on Krypton.  I did like the high-tech stuff there, but what the heck was that flying butterfly that Jor-El was dashing around on?  Struck me as a bit of a rip-off from Avatar.

But the rest of the movie was much better; about the only complaints I had with the Earth scenes were that they did a bit too many back and forth in time cuts and the fight sequences lasted way too long, especially that last one, where Metropolis made New York look like it had a picnic on 9-11.

But there were a lot of nods to the comic geeks like me.  For example, Pete Ross.  Now granted, in the books Pete is blond-haired and a popular kid who blows Clark away by liking him, while in the movie he has red hair and is dumpy and dorky and initially a bully.  But still... it's so cool that Pete Ross turns up in a Superman movie that I'll cut them a little slack.

My take on General Zod was pretty much the same; different from the comics but close enough that I'm not going to gripe.  He did try to take over Krypton, albeit with an army of Bizarro Zods:
By the way, in these movies, it always seems that there is one person of hench who almost always has some visible physical flaw--some deformity intended to cue us in that they are really, really evil.  And yet while Zod's main underling was pretty obvious, I didn't catch any flaws in her other than that she was a mean-ass beeyatch.

One cute bit was where Superman learns to fly; I really liked that, because they started him out jumping (in the earliest stories he could jump but not fly), then showed him flying, but having a bit of a problem keeping himself under control.  Remember this story?

It's one of the tales in the series where Mort Weisinger and his writers started to fill in the legend of Superboy.  BTW, since that cover shows Pa Kent, I will mention that I thought the characterization of Jonathan and Martha Kent was terrific in the movie.  Commander Benson has often mentioned that they were the unsung heroes of DC comics, taking the most powerful being on Earth and molding him into a responsible, heroic young man.  We got some of that in the movie, but more about what a challenge it was to help Clark deal with the way he was different from everybody else, and the urgency of him keeping it a secret.

And yes, I loved the scene at the very end where Lois meets Clark the reporter; that's clearly something of a nod to this:
Yes, they pulled pretty much the same gag with Green Lantern and Carol Ferris.

Some other points:

Loved the bits with Jor-El later in the film, after Krypton exploded.  Again, something of a nod and a wink to the Silver Age, where Jor-El appeared almost constantly despite being, well, you know, dead.  I do have to assume it was just some sort of AI computer saying the things its program tells it Jor would be likely to say in those situations.

Steve Lombard gets a bit at the very end; although he did not appear in the Silver Age, I do remember him coming on the scene shortly thereafter.

Did you catch the Lexcorp gas trucks in the final battle?  The story in this Superman movie does an excellent job of setting us up for a Luthor sequel based on the modern interpretation of Luthor as obsessed with Superman precisely because he is an alien.

Yes, I did get a little disappointed at the resolution of the battle with Zod; it doesn't fit the character circa the Silver Age.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Superman

On one tidy page.  Couple of errors there that I have alerted them to in the artists' names.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The JLA Villains

With the Justice League of America, Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox had something of a problem.  During the JSA's run in All-Star during the Golden Age, comics were larger and thus could accommodate what were essentially separate adventures for the various heroes with a plotline that somewhat loosely tied them together.  With the smaller comics of the Silver Age (essentially 25-page stories) and five heroes and the need for intros and outros, it didn't make much sense to have individual storylines.  As a result the general setup was for 1-2 heroes in separate chapters.  However, this created another problem; given that no DC villains had ever defeated even one hero in a story, how could Schwartz and Fox create drama with a villain facing two heroes?

In Brave & Bold #28 (the first JLA story), the answer was to have an alien villain, Starro the Conqueror.  Starro looked like a giant starfish, and so he deputized three Earth starfish.  They battled Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman, and the Flash, respectively.  In the finale, all the members ganged up to defeat Starro.

In B&B #29, the JLA faced the Weapons Master, a villain from the future who was trying to figure out which of four amazing weapons he had would defeat the police of his era.  So he came back in time and battled the JLA.  First he took on the Flash, then Martian Manhunter and Aquaman, then Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.  In the final chapter, all the JLA members (including Batman and Superman) defeated the Weapons Master.

In the final tryout in B&B #30, the villain was Amazo, the android who could absorb the powers of the JLA.  In the first segment, he defeated Wonder Woman.  The second chapter had him beating Green Lantern and Aquaman, while in part three he managed to top Flash and the Martian Manhunter.  In the finale, Green Lantern manages to defeat him.

Rather than continue on discussing the individual segments, I'll just talk about the villains and why they were able to handle the JLA:

In JLA #1, Despero (an alien) puts all the JLA members except the Flash into a trance.  Then he plays a bizarre game of chess, which results in each of the members being transported to face a menace on an alien world.  Thus he really doesn't have to battle the JLA as a team or even individually.

In JLA #2, there are three villains, all of whom use magic to battle the superheroes.

JLA #3 features the first appearance of Kanjar Ro (an alien), who immobilizes everybody on Earth and blackmails the JLA into helping him in his battles with the rulers of three other planets.

In JLA #4, the team faces an alien with amazing weapons.

Doctor Destiny uses robots that are constructed to look like foes of the JLA members and stays in the background until he can use a will-deadening ray on them in JLA #5.

In JLA #6, Professor Amos Fortune invents the Stimoluck, a machine that can cause people to have a run of bad luck.

In JLA #7, aliens use an energy-sapping device.

A small-time crook discovers a flashlight which can force others to obey his commands in JLA #8.

In JLA #9 aliens with weird powers battle the Justice League.

Felix Faust uses magic against the JLA in #10.

Overall, in the thirteen issues, there are six battles against aliens.  But even more common than the aliens are the bizarre weapons, which appear in almost every issue when you think about it. B&B #29 and #30 (Amazo the android is a weapon),  JLA #4, 5, 6, 7.  You can talk about the aliens, but they are mainly there because they bring credibility to the oddball weapons.

This post was suggested in an email by longtime commenter Warren. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

1000 Comics You Must Read by Tony Isabella

I've lusted after this book for quite awhile, but when it first came out in 2009 I was too broke, and the local comic store had it shrink-wrapped so I couldn't browse it for free to see how I liked it.  In retrospect that was a huge mistake, as if I had opened it up there would have been no way I could leave the store without it.  But I stumbled across it used last week for half price and have been devouring it ever since.

I'll start out with the negatives first.  The biggest flaw I see in the book is that (like the collector's market) it's a bit over-concerned with #1 issues.  In the index, I counted 19 #1 issues under "A" alone.  Second, the size of the book (about 270 pages) along with the fact that each comic has its cover included means that there's really only room for a sentence or two about each comic. Third, Isabella limits the 1930s issues to Superman, which means he misses Detective #1.  That is far from the only significant omission.

On the positive side is just about everything else.  The colors are fabulous, the summaries are generally excellent (if short), and the picks are, for the most part, spectacularly on the money.  Some are hidden gems that I have discussed in this blog, like Hansi, the Girl Who Loved the Swastika, or Mysterious Suspense #1 or Blue Beetle #5 or Mystery in Space #90.  There's also Justice League of America #16, and Four Color #1309 (87th Precinct) and a few ACG comics like Herbie #14 and Adventures into the Unknown #147. Oh, and Brother Power the Geek #1, and Amazing Spiderman #18 and....

You get the picture.  Yes, there are some puzzling omissions, like the phenomenal Mystery in Space #75 (Planet That Came to a Standstill) and (among more recent comics) I can't imagine leaving Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier off the list.  But that's the nature of any list; there are going to be idiosyncratic hits and misses.  The purpose of the book is not to end the discussion but to start it.

Highly recommended!

Friday, April 05, 2013

RIP, Carmine Infantino

One of the major talents of the Silver Age has passed.  Some of my favorite covers of his:

Here's a guide that Infantino created for Flash Annual #1:
Infantino called a famous meeting of DC's top brass together in 1968, where he presented them with his versions of several recent DC covers.  The bosses had to admit his takes were better than the originals, and as a result he was given the newly created position of Editorial Director.  A few years later he was promoted to Publisher.

But obviously it was his art that is his legacy.  I don't know where he ranks in terms of total number of comics pages created; I would guess he has to be in the top five, certainly in the top ten. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Modern Silver: Ultimate Spiderman #1-2

Marvel came out with the Ultimates series around 2000.  The idea was to create new series about their most popular characters, without requiring the reader to know all the continuity jazz that clutters up the regular comics.  Kind of like what DC did last year with the reboot of the entire universe.

Obviously in one sense these are startlingly modern comics.  People call each other on cellphones and the slang appears (granted, I am not up on teen trends even 13 years ago) more relevant.  Uncle Ben is an aging dude with a ponytail who reminisces at one point about his experiences in a commune.  It's kind of odd, but it makes sense; if the guy is roughly 55 in 2000, then he could easily have been a hippie in the late 1960s. 

And the comics are largely interested in establishing the current continuity.  Peter always knew Mary Jane, she was his boyhood crush, Norman Osborne is a billionaire biochemist at whose plant Peter is bit by the spider, etc.  Indeed, if we look at these comics and the first Spiderman movie featuring Tobey Maguire a couple of years later, it looks like Sam Raimi borrowed more from USM than from ASM.

But at the same time, these are basically Silver Age comics in that they re-imagine those early stories in an updated fashion.  The opening sequence (as in Lee & Ditko's intro years ago) shows us that Peter Parker is a much put-upon young lad:

But despite much more hazing, we also see that Peter isn't a tattletale.  He suffers the slings and arrows and french fries of outrageous fortune stoically.

As is typical of modern comics, the story takes much longer to develop.  In Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter gets bitten, discovers his new powers, becomes a wrestler, fails to stop the crook, discovers Uncle Ben's death and catches the Burglar all in a startlingly compact 11 pages.  This first issue has 42 pages of story and art and we only get to the point where Peter is starting to understand the transformation that has hit him.

And yet, it does not seem padded.  Part of that is because there is a fair amount of groundwork being laid for future stories. We see that Norman Osborne is aware that Peter was bitten by the spider.  Initially, it appears that Peter will eventually die from the bite, and so Norman orders him killed. (Not terribly likely, by the way; what billionaire would care if a teen's guardians sued him for a million or so?)  But when Peter displays his extraordinary talents in avoiding getting run down by a car, Osborne calls off the hitman.  It is obvious that he is going to pay close attention to Mr Parker.  We also learn that Otto Octavius (aka Doc Ock) is one of Osborne's employees.

And some events are shifted around in time.  For example, Peter's big fight with Flash Thompson, which didn't come until ASM #8, is a highlight of the second issue:
One oddball note: In this series, Mary Jane is not the airhead party girl that we knew and loved in the 1960s.  Instead, she's Brainy Janey.  Initially this bothered me, but it does make more sense. Would Peter really settle down with a gal who was so obviously his intellectual inferior?  Granted, she was gorgeous, but at some point you have to talk to each other, and Peter would not find her vapid responses terribly satisfying.

Overall, I very much enjoyed these first two issues and intend on reading more, although I doubt I will continue to post on them.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Julius Schwartz Builds an Empire

In early 1959, Whitney Ellsworth's name finally disappeared as editor from the indicia of every DC comic. It is well-established that he had actually ceased working in New York by the early 1950s, instead pitching DC's properties to Hollywood and the TV studios.

When the real editors were revealed, Julius Schwartz had a rather modest portfolio.  He was responsible for DC's two science-fiction series, Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space, giving him responsibility for 20 comic books a year, as SA was a monthly and MiS appeared eight times a year.

But when the Flash was added to his titles early that year, he boosted his production to 26 books (Flash started out as a bi-monthly).  Green Lantern started appearing every other month in mid-1960, and the Flash was promoted to eight times a year, so now Schwartz was editing 34 books per annum.  Briefly, because in late 1960 the Justice League of America began appearing, giving him the reins over 40 issues annually.

By the beginning of 1962, Green Lantern and JLA had been bumped up to eight issues a year, giving Schwartz responsibility for 44 comics per year.  But that didn't last long, as the Atom got his own title midway through that year, putting Schwartz at 50 issues per solar orbit.  The Flash got an annual in 1963 putting the number of Schwartz comics at 51. 

Hawkman took awhile to win his wings as I have discussed in the past, but that gave Schwartz briefly 57 comics per annum. In May of 1964, Schwartz was handed responsibility for Detective and Batman, although in return he was relieved of Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space, the two titles he had at the beginning of his empire-building.  Although the swap seemed even up with Detective having as many issues as SA, and Batman an equal amount as MiS, Batman did have the Summer and Winter Annuals, ticking Schwartz up to 59 books annually.  Correction: As noted in the comments by Christoph Melchert, Jack Schiff continued editing the Batman Annuals for awhile; he is credited in those issues up until Batman #198 when Nelson Bridwell took over.  Schwartz did get credit for editing Batman #176; I am not sure if that is just a mistake or what.

That's a pretty hefty workload, especially when you consider that in addition to editing, Schwartz also wrote the filler for his books (unlike many of the other editors, who used Henry Boltinoff's gag strips).  Flash had Flash Facts and Amazing Speeds, while for Green Lantern Schwartz gave vocabulary lessons with "What's the Difference" and imitated Ripley with "It's Hard to Believe, But..."

After that Schwartz's workload stayed relatively stable.

Update: Martin O'Hearn points out in the comments that Schwartz did have a few other titles in his stable as of 1959.  Western Comics and All-Star Western were both published until 1961, and the last few issues of Rex the Wonder Dog and Hopalong Cassidy (both cancelled in mid-1959) bear his name on the indicia.  Good catch, Martin!

This also brings up another interesting point.  Who worked on those last couple of issues of Rex?  John Broome did the writing chores; guess who became the main writer on the Flash?  And Carmine Infantino did the Detective Chimp backup series in those comics; he became the penciller on the Flash.  Gil Kane did the pencils on Rex and Hopalong; he did the same for Green Lantern and (eventually) the Atom.  I haven't taken a hard look at it, but I suspect that when Rex and Hoppy were cancelled, Kane suddenly started doing a lot more stories in Strange Adventures and Mystery In Space until GL and the Atom filled up his schedule.

In other words, what in isolation may appear like x comic was cancelled and (completely unrelated) y comic was started may simply have been a reallocation of existing resources.  Remember, all these creative talents were making a living working for the individual editors at DC, and there was no particular reason to furlough them just because a genre (like westerns) happened to go out of vogue.  As well, recall that DC was remarkably consistent in terms of the number of comics it put out during the Silver Age.  They basically put out 360 comics a year, every year.  That number might vary widely by genre, as I have discussed in the past, but it stayed right around 360.  Therefore, they still needed the same amount of script and artwork done every year.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fun With Sexism

You gotta love these two panels from a particularly wacky story appearing in Lois Lane #28:

The first one doesn't really make much sense. See, the super-powered Lois Lane of the future (the gal flying alongside Superman) had been racing him, but she began going faster than he was and because she didn't know how to stop she threatened to circle the universe forever. Fortunately, Superman quickly created a small planet from some nearby asteroids and its gravity slowed her down. So what does that have to do with keeping a husband? Of course, in some societies it is considered traditional for the woman to walk a few paces behind her man, but obviously that was not the case in the USA in 1961, when this story was published.

The second one comes after they land on Planetoid One, which had hit the Earth years earlier, destroying Metropolis and carrying much of the city off with it. Perhaps the oddest thing about Superman's unkind observation is that only moments before, he had been lamenting the fact that he couldn't talk in space to tell future Lois how to slow down. GCD tentatively credits this story to Jerry Siegel.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Suspect the Drawing Was Not Random

I was looking through Action #42 (November 1941) and came across this announcement:

That third prize winner's name sure sounds familiar, and it's not as if it's a common one.  George Kashdan was a long-time editor at DC.  According to his bio at Wikipedia, he was born in 1928, so he would have been 13 at the time.  So maybe this was just an early example of a fan who went on to work in the biz?  Uh, no, I don't think so:

In 1947, after having written two comic-book scripts for DC Comics, he was hired as an editor at that Manhattan-based publishing company, where his brother, Bernard Kashdan, was a business executive who'd joined the company in 1940.
(Italics added for emphasis)
Of course nowadays it is common for such contests to exclude employees of the company involved and their families.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Marvel Covers

The Marvel covers did not start out all that different from the DC covers, although that soon changed.  The early Fantastic Four covers featured the characters demonstrating their various powers:

The characters are so iconic to us these days that it can be hard to remember that back in 1961, kids had no idea who the FF were, or what they could do, so it was important to give them an idea quickly.  As I have mentioned in the past, this may be the real reason the early FF issues started out with them squabbling; so that they could demonstrate their powers early in the comic.  It's also why the early X-Men stories opened with them in the Danger Room.

Spiderman's powers were a little less interesting visually, and so the early covers often featured the villain's unique abilities:
This is very much like the situation with the Flash, where the rogue's gallery became the focus of the covers.  And, of course, Daredevil:

At first, the Iron Man covers in Tales of Suspense featured his powers:
But that pretty quickly changed and the covers became another "villain of the month" gallery.
A similar thing happened with the early Thor issues; at first there seemed almost an "isn't he gorgeous" aspect to them:
There are two very big differences between the Marvel covers and those of DC.  First, the Marvel covers were much less likely to have speech or thought balloons on them; even as early as FF #2, Stan was content to let the picture tell the story.  In fact, there is not a single speech balloon on a Daredevil cover until #34; the next one appears on DD #57.

However, they had oodles of the Lee hyperbole.   The other difference is that the Marvel covers often featured the hero beaten:
Although the DC covers often featured the hero in a death-trap, implying they had been previously beaten, they seldom featured him prone and apparently lifeless.  One of the few exceptions I can think of is this cover:

Actually there are a couple other Flash covers like that, but they came towards the end of the 1960s.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cover Comparisons

This is something I've been mulling over for awhile.  Obviously every character is different, and presents different challenges for the editor and cover artist(s).

The Atom, for example, is tiny.  So Julius Schwartz had Gil Kane create covers which presented the Atom in a difficult situation, often precisely because he was so small:

Obviously, no other character could find themselves in those particular situations--menaced by a Venus flytrap, about to be sucked down the drain, or sealed inside a wristwatch.  There were many other similar covers, with the Atom stuck to the tire of a speeding vehicle, or strapped to a grenade, or menaced by a cat.

With the Flash, at first the covers emphasized his incredible speed, as in the famed cover to Showcase #4:
He's running so fast that he's actually popping right off the film.

But there are limits to that approach, and so Schwartz and Carmine Infantino began emphasizing his colorful villains:
Indeed, of all of DC's superheroes in the Silver Age, the Flash had by far the most interesting rogues' gallery, while the Atom had hardly any costumed villains.  Again, some of this may be due to the nature of the superpowers.  The Flash's ability is so strong that it almost requires a lot of trickery, while the Atom's power is much more limited and thus he was more likely to encounter common criminals.

With Green Lantern, Schwartz and Kane went more with puzzle covers.  How can this be happening, and how can GL get out of this situation?
With Hawkman, Schwartz and Murphy Anderson tended to emphasize fighting scenes, particularly with the Winged Wonder using some of the medieval weapons and armor he favored:
I'll try to take a look at some of the Marvel covers next.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Carl Barks and the Nautical Theme

I have been reading a bunch of Carl Barks' magnificent Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories lately and one thing that caught my attention was how many of his tales either took place on ships, or featured a long voyage.  There are a number of possible reasons for this. For one thing, ships offer plenty of danger, from shipwrecks to storms to pirates.  Plus, his stories frequently featured worldwide travel and it is easy to forget in the jet age, but ships represented the most common transport across the world's oceans well into the 1950s.  For example, when my parents returned from Germany in 1955 with baby Pat in tow, it was on an ocean liner.

I first noticed this theme while reading a couple of Uncle Scrooge stories, which take place almost entirely onboard.  The Flying Dutchman, from Uncle Scrooge #25 (shown here as reprinted in US #87):

And All At Sea, from US #31:

In the former story, Uncle Scrooge has purchased the assets of a former shipping line, in the hopes of uncovering information that will lead him to the title ship, which vanished with a cargo of gold bullion.  In the latter, he has made a fortune selling rubber to the island nation of Bantu, but they insist on paying him in gold, and he reasons that the safest and cheapest way of getting it back to his vault in Duckburg is via a windjammer.

But the coincidence of reading those stories aside, once I started looking into it, I was surprised I hadn't noticed it earlier, because Barks went with nautical stories from the word go.  Indeed, the very first Barks' Donald Duck adventure was Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold from Four Color #9 (2nd series), and the first glimpse we get of the title character is here:
That story, which follows roughly Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, has the boys battling it out with Black Pete for Captain Henry Morgan's treasure.