Thursday, November 30, 2017

Off the Bookshelf: Learning About Comics History...

Comix- A History of Comic Books in America, by Les Daniels; graphics by Mad Peck Studios

Redartz:  Good day, everyone! Anyone for a history lesson? I always am, especially when it's comics history. Which brings us to today's topic: learning about comics and the creators behind them. 

Shortly after I first got hooked by the comic bug, early in 1974, I found this book on sale in the 'cutout's section of a Walden Books (remember them?). I'd never heard of the author, and was at the time unaware of the alternative comics referred to by the title's term 'comix'.  Nonetheless, a quick browse through the book convinced me to buy it. Imagine, a book ABOUT comics, illustrated with the actual comics! Yes, there had been  other histories; Steranko had his "History of Comics". There was Jules Feiffer's "The Great Comic Book Heroes". But overall, there weren't that many books yet about the medium of comics, or the wide variety of subjects found therein. So, long story short, "Comix" became  my first comics history lesson. 

And it was a rich lesson indeed. Published in 1971, early in our illustrious Bronze Age, "Comix" reached waaaay back to Richard Outcault and his "Yellow Kid", and followed up with a fascinating tour of comics throughout the 20th. Century. Writer Daniels gives the prose a bit of a countercultural feel (certainly to be expected, given the pop cultural background of the late 60's/early 70's). Yet it also reads as an engaging , entertaining overview of comics history; filled with fascinating anecdotes. Consider some of the chapter headings: "The Birth of the Comic Book". "Dumb Animals". "The E.C. Revolution". "The Comics Code Controversy". "Mighty Marvel". "Underground Comics". Yes, Daniels touched all the bases here. And it was pure manna for this comics-starved kid. 

An example of a 40's "Crime" comic
Jack Cole. Amazing composition...

This book was my first exposure to EC Comics, to Golden age comics, to crime comics, to underground comics. So many genres I'd never dreamed of. Here, for the first time, I was introduced to some of the towering figures behind some of the stories I'd enjoyed: Will Eisner, Carl Barks, Harvey Kurtzman, Basil Wolverton. Further on, Daniels revealed to me the work of later creators such as Trina Robbins, Robert Crumb, and Gilbert Shelton. The story of the Comics Code Authority, and Fredrick Wertham? All that was in there as well. Oh, so much to absorb...

And it was easy to swallow this informative medicine: Daniels sweetened it with a generous dose of actual comics. Not only individual panels and pages, but many entire stories; color and black/white! He included some excellent examples, well chosen to give the reader a dose of the very best comics have to offer. We find Jim Steranko's entire story "At the Stroke of Midnight"from Tower of Shadows #1 (only complaint; wish this had been a color selection).


"A Visit With the Fantastic Four" by Lee and Kirby. From EC- "A Little Stranger" by Graham Ingles. A complete Barks Uncle Scrooge story. An early Two-Face story from Batman. Several great horror tales from Warren publishing. A "Mad" story by Wally Wood. An EC war story by Kurtzman. A Jack Cole Plastic Man story. And much, much more. Truly, it was an embarassment of comic riches. I devoured every page.

Les Daniels, through this book, lit the spark of interest for the vast wonders of comics past and present. He showed me how much more there was besides superheros and funny animals. Daniels put the works of the masters before me, identified them, and through them fired a fascination that continues to this very day. For this, I owe him immensely. Les Daniels, years later, produced a fine book about Marvel Comics; if memory serves Doug and Karen once discussed that tome over at the BAB. As much as his first book affected me, his later one is something I also need to add to my library.

Two  DC 'funny animals'; Fox and Crow
A cool EC house ad


A last word from Robert Crumb...

Before reading this book, I loved Spider-man and the Fantastic Four; Batman and Superman. After reading it, I loved Comics. So now I ask you; was there any book about comics that roused your interest? Where did you first learn of the early names and faces of the medium? How did you discover the early tales of our heroes, and their predecessors?  Tell us all about your 'history texts'...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Follow the Leader #49: Dallas and Dynasty!

Martinex1: We have talked about everything from Hammer Films to JLA rosters to vampire actors. Give us something new today.   We will Follow the Leader if you get us started on a good Bronze Age topic.

Every Tuesday we will jump on board.  Cheers!

Redartz:  Sorry to interrupt this regularly scheduled "Follow the Leader", but I wanted to give everyone a heads-up: The CW is offering "Crisis on Earth-X" this week. A mammoth crossover with Supergirl, Flash, Arrow and Legends. First two hours were last night, climactic two hours tonight. More heroes and villains than you can shake a remote at! Great fun; a word to the wise. And now, back to your topic...

Monday, November 27, 2017

Panel Discussion: Things I Never Knew; Things We Never Saw!

Martinex1: Good day all!  Sometimes when I am researching the details of a topic or searching for tidbits or art samples for this blog, I stumble across some comic book history, graphics, and stories that I previously knew nothing about.  Even after more than 40 years of collecting comics (and just about as many reading about the inner workings of the industry, the artists, the publishers and all the rest), I still learn new things about the field all the time.

Today I'd like to share three examples from the history of Marvel Comics that until recently I knew nothing about.  I suspect some of our regular commentators and lurkers may contend that this is old hat and some may think we are out of touch.  That is okay, because I found these particular points fascinating.  So I hope some of you do also.

HISTORICAL MYSTERY #1:  Did you know that Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith pitched a new team to Marvel in the late 60s that would have consisted of Quicksilver, Red Raven, and Rick Jones?

I had no idea.  I happened to see an internet inquiry about Quicksilver being considered for a team other than the Avengers, and I found my way to Comic Book Artist, Collection Volume 1 (which includes a CBA issue from the Summer of 1998).  In that periodical, as part of an in-depth interview with Barry Windsor-Smith they reference the proposed book and even include the first few BWS' drawn pages.   Take a look below.

Alter Ego #18 (July 2013) also references the book that never materialized.  Check out this drawing of the Grim Reaper, who was destined to be the team's nemesis, as drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith.  The drawing and caption below are from that Alter Ego issue.

Not much else seems to be recorded about the proposal, but if any of our faithful readers have any insight please share it with us.  What I have been able to glean is that around 1969, Thomas and Windsor-Smith proposed the odd team that would possibly be named either the Outcasts or the Invaders (a name which Roy Thomas eventually used in 1975).

It is interesting to note that on newsstands in March of 1968 was X-Men #44 starring none-other than Red Raven battling the Angel; the story was written by Roy Thomas.  That very same month another Thomas penned tale, Avengers #52, was published and that story introduced the Grim Reaper.   The following month, Thomas' X-Men #45 featured Quicksilver.  And a few months later, the full story of Bucky's life and death and Rick Jones' desire to be like the WWII hero was detailed in Avengers #56.  

So to say that these characters were on Roy Thomas' mind around the key time would be an understatement.  There seemed to be a juxtaposition of key elements to creatively form such a gathering.  Was Thomas looking at a WWII angle for the book?  Hard to say, but he had a golden age hero in Red Raven and a modern version of Bucky with Rick Jones.  There was also supposition that he would bring the Whizzer into the story, but I have no hard data to support that. Though it may fit, as later Thomas would present the Whizzer as Pietro's father (prior to the Magneto revelation).   It is fun to speculate about a book that wasn't; I sure would have liked to have seen what was intended.


CULTURAL COMIC MYSTERY #2: Did you know that John Byrne drew extra pages for a memorable Marvel Team-Up so that it would fit the UK page plan?

John Byrne is one of my favorite Bronze Age artists and I pay close attention to his work from his heyday in the late 70s.  So it caught my attention when I saw art that I had never seen before pinned to one of my favorite stories.

I recently acquired two Captain Britain hardcover collections, Birth of a Legend and Siege of Camelot. The books collect the early UK Captain Britain stories, prior to Alan Moore's work and the change from his original costume.  A side note:  I am enjoying these UK stories immensely and will have to comment on them in a future Panel Discussion, as there is enough top-notch Bronze Age-iness from Claremont and Trimpe to fill a whole column.

However, in the latter volume, there is also reprinted material of the classic Spider-Man and Captain Britain Marvel Team-Up #65 and #66.  I originally bought these chapters back in 1977; they were among the first 10 comics I ever purchased so I read them cover-to-cover numerous times.  Aside from becoming a Captain Britain fan, I nearly memorized the books.

And that is why I was so stunned and thrilled to see the following pages notated as additions to the originals in the UK version.  Comics, because they were published weekly in the UK, would split our U.S. adventures into chapters to fit the smaller page count of the weekly offerings.  However, sometimes the cuts didn't fall in a perfect position, so on occasion new splash pages were added to enhance the rerun tale.  Sometimes those pages went un-credited and were handled by UK artists; but in this case John Byrne himself added the splash pages.  Check them out below.  From Captain B chasing Spidey from their apartment window in the first, to the British hero recounting his origin in the second.  Pretty cool!  Whoever has the originals is one lucky cat.

MARVEL HERO'S MYTHIC MISS #3:  I can understand a book that was pitched and never launched, but how about a hero that was advertised as appearing in the very next issue, but instead disappeared into the ether?

Starhawk is known far and wide as a member of the original Guardians of the Galaxy.  Sylvester Stallone even portrayed Stakar in the recent GotG second movie. But did you know there was another Starhawk advertised long before the space faring hero made his debut in The Defenders #26.

No, this other Starhawk appeared in a Marvel House ad promising for the character to appear in the very next issue of Marvel Super-Heroes.  Alas, he never does appear.  And despite some fantastic art from Dan Adkins, the story never saw print in a "normal" format.

Our friend and fellow blogger, Rip Jagger, wrote eloquently about this character back in 2009.  And Rip definitely fills in the gaps and brings the story full circle.  So check out this link to Rip's post and then come back to sum up the day.   I appreciate the art of  Dan Adkins so much that I do share a few of his pages here for your perusal. Rip has even more at his site.


I like the look of this book.  It seems to touch on the cosmic element blending a bit of the feel of the Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel. I like Adkins' layouts and inks.  It is astounding to me that this book was written, pencilled, inked, lettered and advertised but it would not see print until much later in a less than standard format.

The modern Starhawk is a character" that fascinates me, and I wonder if there is any remnant of his namesake concept within. I guess only Roy Thomas knows if the "one who knows" comes at all from the "one who wasn't."

Well, I hope you enjoyed our brief foray into the unknown and forgotten.   Please share your thoughts and musings.  If you can expand on any of the these three subjects today, please pipe in.  Or if you know of any other created but shelved characters - clue us in.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Chew the Fat: TV in Comics!

Redartz:  Every now and then, you may see comics appear on television. Not adaptations, but actual comics themselves. Conversely, sometimes you'll see television shows appear in comics.This is the root of our discussion today. 

I have assembled four examples for you today; four instances in which an actual  'real world' television program was an integral part of a comic story. All, incidentally, are very fun, lighthearted stories, and serve as a bit of a departure from the title's regular fare. So, let's turn on our four color screen and see what's on.

Action Comics 345- "The Day Candid Camera Unmasked Clark Kent's Identity"
This is an amusing story, a bit far-fetched (it is, after all, a Weisinger era Superman story). In brief, the popular 60's CBS show "Candid Camera" is doing prank stunts on the Daily Planet staff. Host Allen Funt inadvertently catches Clark Kent in mid-switch to his Superman costume, and fears he's exposed the Big Secret. But never fear, Supes had overheard the plans with his super hearing, and at superspeed went to a costume shop and added a pair of Batman pants to his costume. He then gave a rather lame explanation of how he was turning the tables on Funt and the show. Silly, yes, but a charming bit of 60's pop.


Josie and the Pussycats 50: "  Quiet on the Set"
You all know Josie and her band from the classic 70's Saturday morning cartoon. Well, they first appeared in comics. In this issue, the group travels to California to visit Hanna Barbera studios, to see how they're about to become tv stars. In the course of their visit, they tour the studio, Alexandra causes her usual mischief, and the band actually meet Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. And of course the girls make a point of concluding the tale with a plug for the show...

Marvel Team-Up 74:  "Live From New York...It's Saturday Night"
In which Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson  score tickets to NBC's "Saturday Night Live". The truly brilliant original cast of the show make appearances, as do Stan Lee (invited) and the Silver Samurai (uninvited). And, you get Garrett Morris as Thor. Run, do not walk, to your nearest back issue dealer.


Avengers 239:  "Late Night of the Super Stars"
Former Avenger Simon (Wonder Man) Williams calls upon the Avengers to help his acting career with an appearance on "Light Night With David Letterman". Most of the team are unavailable, though, so Hawkeye, Beast, Black Panther and Black Widow join Simon on the show. Unfortunately, Avengers nuisance Fabian Stankowitz crashes the show. Oh, and David Letterman helps save
 the day. 

Four comics, four shows, four fun crossovers. Can you think of some others? These were all comedies, as well- have there been any dramatic tv/comic mixups? Perhaps you have a great idea for one of these stories. What character or characters would make an interesting appearance on what program? Pull out all the stops and give us your wildest concepts...


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Short Cuts: Thanksgiving Thoughts...

Redartz:  Hello, folks; and a Happy Thanksgiving to all! And for our friends for whom this is simply a Thursday, well, sincere best wishes to you as well!

Many of us will be busy today: travelling, visiting , eating too much. With this in mind, we'll keep it simple. What are you thankful for? It may be a cliche, but it is wise, in challenging times, to remember the things we have that are good. Big things,little things, humorous, sentimental, or
whatever- let's raise a glass to all that helps us keep on keeping on. 

As for me, I'm thankful for: 
My family and friends. For my health, physical and mental (some might debate the latter). For optimism that tomorrow may be a better day. For playing 'chase the stick' in the backyard with the dog. For Kirby, Ditko, Lee, Englehart, Buscema, Romita, Byrne, and all the countless others who give me half hours of escape and enjoyment. For an understanding wife who doesn't pitch out those comics. For my pal and partner Marti, and finally, for each and every one of you fine folks. Cheers to all of you!

Happy Thanksgiving, be well and safe, and save me a piece of pumpkin pie.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Follow the Leader #48: Dislikes We Like!

Martinex1: It is Tuesday, so it is time for our weekly Follow the Leader!  Get us started and we will follow along with smart comments (and sometimes smart-alec comments)!

New topics from the wondrous Bronze Age please!  Cheers!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Panel Discussion: Marvelous Bill Mantlo!

Martinex1: Earlier this month was the birthday of one of the Bronze Age's most creative, productive, and prolific writers - Bill Mantlo.  Born November 9th 1951, Mantlo joined with Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s and by the end of that decade was involved with some of their most popular books.

His first Marvel work was as a colorist for Werewolf By Night #22 in October of 1974.  He colored a number of books in his early months with the company, including Avengers #129.

Bill Mantlo would ultimately be known for his writing and that started with The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu # 7 (December 1974), in which he wrote "Tigers in a Mind Cage."  He continued writing for the black and white mag Deadly Hands of Kung Fu for many issues while continuing his coloring duties for the comic book lines.  Along with George Perez, Mantlo created the White Tiger in December of 1975 for the magazine.
Mantlo's first writing work for the mainstream comic line, was in Adventure into Fear with The Man Called Morbius The Living Vampire #29 (Phew... that is quite a title). The story Mantlo wrote was "Through a Helleyes Darkly." It was cover dated August of 1975.

In the early going, Mantlo was assigned stories with a horror theme like the Morbius tale.  He wrote The Frankenstein Monster #18, and when he got his first shot with a Marvel hero - it was the Thing teamed up with the Golem in Marvel Two-In-One #11.

Mantlo was already showing his proficiency, having only been with Marvel for about a year. He quickly took on a lot of work.  By the latter half of 1975, he was writing multiple books per month and was involved with Iron Man, Marvel Chillers, Power Man, Marvel Two-In-One, Marvel Premiere (with Hercules), and Astonishing Tales (starring Deathlok).  He also wrote issues of Thor and The Defenders.

At only 23 or 24 years old, Mantlo had made a name for himself as a quick study and also capable of quick turnaround for single issues and fill-in issues.  In an era when the "Dreaded Deadline Doom" seemed to encroach on the monthly distribution for numerous titles, Bill Mantlo was cranking out story after story.  He even plotted Uncanny X-Men #96 to be scripted by Chris Claremont.

Some of my favorite Mantlo penned stories include his work in Marvel Premiere with the story of Woodgod, as well as his work on the Champions, and for the "real life" heroics of The Human Fly.
Mantlo was not afraid to take on new challenges while also being extremely creative within the sandbox that Marvel supplied.   He frequently created brand new characters and was not intimidated by licensed properties (which would ultimately bring him his greatest recognition and success).

His imagination and creativity knew no bounds during his prolific tenure.  As I noted in a previous panel discussion, Bill Mantlo created the Jack of Hearts.  Also along the way he created characters like the Soviet Super-Soldiers, the U-Foes, and even Rocket Raccoon.  If you did not know, Rocket made his debut during Mantlo's run on the Hulk. His hand was also in the development of Cloak and Dagger.

In 1979, Mantlo took two licensed properties and developed comic runs that are among my favorites of the Bronze Age.  The Micronauts and ROM Spaceknight arrived, confronted with my typical skepticism that would accompany any toy generated characters of the time.  My Marvel super-hero elitism was showing, but when I was exposed to the complex "toy" stories which included ties to Marvel mainstream characters, I liked the books immensely  From Inner Space to the southeastern U.S., the Micronauts were revolutionaries fighting against the tyrannical Baron Karza and avoiding the deadly Body Banks while searching for some sort of galactic meaning.   Meanwhile, ROM of Galador fought the shape shifting scientific sorcerers, the Dire Wraiths.  Both had campy B-movie serial elements, but both also had some significant depth of characterization and layered plots.  Mantlo wrote the entire series of both ROM and Micronauts uninterrupted; he was truly the auteur of those runs.

As mentioned, Mantlo worked on The Hulk for a while.  He also took over the writing chores on Alpha Flight when John Byrne left the book.  In my opinion, those are lesser efforts as I felt that Mantlo was a more in depth writer who employed layered character development more frequently when the characters were of his making.
Here are some samples of of pages using his scripts and dialogues.   I think that he bridged the hammy explanatory wordiness of the Silver Age with the eloquence and complexity of the Bronze Age nicely.  

Shown below are just a handful of the hundreds of comic book stories that Bill Mantlo penned.  From Tarzan to Howard the Duck, from Ghost Rider to Red Sonja, from Man From Atlantis to the Yancy Street Gang, Mantlo was there.
Among my favorites are the Iron Man issues depicted; they are from the conclusion of the Midas arc.  I feel it set a mood for the book that was carried on during the Michelinie-Layton days.  One criticism that I have heard about Mantlo is that he had so many ideas that it disrupted his execution; the ideas were flowing so fast that they did not have time to mature to be explored in full.   I tend to disagree; I think he used language and the pace of the story to keep the reader enraptured.  And I think he did it well.  He didn't linger too long on the minutia.  It may not have been "high art" but it was entertaining comic reading.  Some of his stories are definitely better than others; sometimes it is very apparent he was under a deadline and cranking out the issue.   But in other cases, I find the comics very compelling.

In the 1980s, Bill Mantlo attended law school and began work as a public defender.  Unfortunately, he was the victim of a hit-and-run while he was rollerblading.  He remains in assisted care to this day.   Bill Mantlo definitely brought me hours and hours of enjoyable fantastic tales through Marvel Comics.  I miss his input on the medium tremendously; and I wonder what he would have given us if he had continued writing.  If you are curious about his comic impact, check out Mantlo, A Life in Comics.  It was authored by his brother Michael and David Yurkovich (I believe some of the proceeds go toward Bill's care).

So what do you think about Bill Mantlo's influence on the Bronze Age of comics?  Are any of his books in a stack of your favorites?  How did his writing stack up against the greats - in your opinion?  What would you have liked to have seen more of (or less of) from Mantlo?    Share your thoughts on the man, his writing art, the comics he created, and his influence today at BitBA!  Cheers!

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