Ragman #4

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The Dream Killers

It was the late seventies and the Comics Code Authority had been relaxed quite a bit. Wolfmen and Vampires were back and so were more adult themes. Spider-Man and Green Arrow had significant anti-drug messages several years previous to this comic. While The Amazing Spider-man #96 – 98 and Green Lantern #85-86 are more famous comics than Ragman #4 the message is no less significant. Comics carrying an anti-drug message could reach a lot of young readers and while Ragman is not Spider-man I’m sure plenty of kids must have read it.

Creators
Writer – Bob Kanigher
Artist  – The Redondo Studio (I assume this is Nestor Redondo and Joe Kubert)
Ragman created by Joe Kubert and Bob Kanigher

Let’s start with the amazing Joe Kubert cover. Ragman is walking towards the reader carrying the body of a young blond woman. There are four pistols aimed at him The green hooded figure really pops on the orange background. The whole thing is a very dramatic image that just makes the reader want to open the comic.  

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The story begins with young Jeanne Wilson getting high and then overdosing. The imagery here is very realistic with Jeanne being offered a small white envelope and then she is back in a room alone getting high. Finally her lifeless corpse is shown being surrounded by three men. I have no idea where these guys came from and the story doesn’t really explain it.  It is all pretty intense.

The men talking among themselves decide they have to get rid of the body. As they are trying to dump the body in the river Ragman shows up. The men fire on him but after a couple of punches they run off. Ragman recovers Jeanne’s body and gives the reader a dire warning that “unless the dealers of death can be burned out of their nests anyone can be next!”. He brings the body to the morgue where the mortician tells Ragman and the police officers with him that they have to stop this plague. It’s all pretty ominous.

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Back home Ragman removes his costume revealing his true identity, Rory Regan, junk shop owner. The following morning Rory is woken up by a young child named, Teddy and blond woman, Bette. They are from the local orphanage, because of of course they are, and they are going to Funland.

Rory, Bette, and a big group of orphans take the ferry to Funland, an amusement park that is on an island. When the kids arrive in Funland they are greeted by a heavy bald man who gives all the kids some coins, I assume for arcade games, and tells them to enjoy themselves, everything is free for them today. Why does he give the kids coins if everything is free, I think it is just this guy’s thing because it’s going to show again later. The whole thing has a very Pinocchio vibe to it. If this were not a story about drugs, I would assume that Ragman would be rescuing a bunch of kids who had been turned into donkeys later in the story.

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The kids all have a great day riding roller coasters and the mini submarine ride. There is actually a lot of focus on the submarine ride, foreshadowing that it is going to show up again in the story. On the Ferry ride home the kids are all worn out and sleepy. Not all the kids are resting though. One young man is on the back of the ferry and he thinks he can fly. He starts yelling while standing on the guard rail and slurring his speech. He then takes a nosedive into the water thinking that nothing can hurt him. Rory sees this, thinks the kid is stoned out of his mind, and dives in after him.

Rory tries to save the kid but the young boy ends up getting swept away by the current. Back on the boat Rory is upset that he was not able to save the boy but everyone else says that it was not his fault, that the kid was “gone before he fell into the water”. It feels like a pretty cold judgement of a kid who who just drowned when he was stoned. Well Rory is not having that so Ragman heads back to Funland that night to investigate.

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While exploring the park, Ragman comes across the bald man, who runs the place, and a group of shady characters. He showers Ragman with the same silver coins he gave to the kids earlier that day, except these coins are electrified. Ragman is then subdued, bound to one of the roller coaster cars, and then launched into the water as the car speeds around the coaster. This is why I never ride rollers.

After Ragman frees himself he sees one of the subs that he rode with the kids earlier that day. He then figures that is how they are bringing the drugs in. The mini subs must be meeting the supplier out at sea and then bring the dope back to Funland. As the drugs are being unloaded from the submarine Ragman calls out to the men from the roller coaster. He then attacks and makes short work of the thugs. In the final panel the bald man sits in a jail cell muttering to himself that Ragman is the devil and that he cannot be killed. That wraps up the first story but there is more Ragman action to come.

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There is a back up story in the comic with no dialog. The story has a brief introduction and then a couple newspaper headlines at the end. It takes place in a cemetery. Ragman is just hanging out when he sees three grave robbers enter the graveyard with sledge hammers and shovels. The men start destroying tombstones and then dig up a coffin.

In the coffin they examine the corpse and the tattoo on the arm. The tattoo is of a hooded figure with wings. One of the men points to a large grave marker of a hooded figure with a scythe and wings. They start digging up that grave. When they open the coffin the corpse is covered in jeweled necklaces which the men steal. It turns out the first corpse was a bit of a treasure map. It is then that Ragman attacks. He takes out one guy when the leader smashes him in the head with a shovel.

Ragman is knocked into the winged grave marker and it falls forward on to the remaining grave robbers. He gets to his feet and simply walks away with the bodies under the stone wings. The newspaper headlines explain that the grave robbers tried to use vandalism to hide the fact that they were digging up graves to steal belongings.

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Final Thoughts

I picked this comic up because whenever I hear anyone talk about Ragman they always sound excited. I do not recall ever reading a comic with the character before so I had to see what he was all about.  I am very glad I did because I really enjoyed this.

I’ve already mentioned how great the cover is but one more thing that makes it so good is that the scene depicted actually happens in the comic. This is awesome. The stark reality of a drug overdose is portrayed right at the start of the book and it doesn’t pull any punches. This is serious message and the story gives it the weight it deserves. It doesn’t pander and it does not portray drugs in an unrealistic manner. A young white girl overdoses alone in her room. It does not use goofy slang terms or make it seem like you have to do a lot of drugs to have something awful happen.

Through the rest of the story the characters and action do not overshadow or minimize the message that is being conveyed. On the flip side there is enough of a comic story here that it does not feel like a free PSA comic to be handed out in a special assembly in the school auditorium. As someone who grew up in the “stranger danger” and “just say no” era, this book feels more honest than the Teen Titan PSA comics or that episode of Diff’rent Strokes that Nancy Reagan showed up on.

Ragman himself was really interesting. I like the idea of a vigilante being a small business owner. He can avoid all the inconveniences of having to get away from his job to do something heroic and then struggle to have an explanation for the boss. If he wants he just puts the closed sign up and goes after the bad guys. It is too bad this volume only lasted for one more issue. The art is fantastic and does a great job invoking the grittiness and dirtiness of the urban environment from that era. All in all I thought this was a good comic and worth the dollar I paid for it.

I’ll close this out with what is probably my favorite toy soldier advertisement of all time, the 100 toy soldiers for $1.50, footlocker storage box included.

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Hey Kids! Comics!

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No, this is not going to be a review of the new series by Howard Chaykin being published by Image comics with the same name. Rather I would like to share my experiences at the Baltimore Comic Con this year. This convention is more than just a place to meet creators, buy comics, and get to see some great cosplay. For me it is an opportunity to get out of the house with my brother and a couple of friends and spend the entire weekend eating, sleeping, and breathing comics.

For the last couple of years I have joined my brother and his friends on a pilgrimage to the Baltimore Convention center where for almost 72 hours we let our geek flag fly with other like minded individuals. We get a couple of hotel rooms and spend the weekend sharing stories, breaking bread, and making each other laugh. It is the high point of the convention season for me and this year was no different. On that note let’s get on the with the highlights of the convention.

Forty Years of pointy ears

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This year Wendy and Richard Pini are celebrating forty years of publishing the Elfquest comic and they were in Baltimore to share that with hundreds of Elfquest fans. When it was announced that they would be attending the convention they instantly became my number one objective for the con. I was going to ask them to sign some Elfquest comics no matter how much it cost me.

Elfquest has been a very important comic to me for most of my life. My brother and I were introduced to the comic with the trade paperbacks that collected the story of the original quest and was sold at Waldenbooks across the country. It was a special deal for the Pini’s because it was one of the first comics ever sold in bookstores that was not on the magazine rack and was not published by Marvel or DC. I’ve read the original quest more times than almost another other comic. As with many comics and books when I re-read them at different points in my life I read it with different perspectives and find different things to take away from the story.

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When the convention opened on Friday I went to their table first. I was the third person in line and they were just finishing setting up. They had original art for sale along with the new collected editions that Dark Horse comics is publishing. I pulled the items I wanted to get signed and waited patiently in line. Now i have never known what to really say when I get to meet someone famous and this gets worse when it is someone famous that I really admire. I start to feel like a eight year old dork who turns shy and loses all control of their mastery of the English language. Once I actually get to speak to whomever I am looking for an autograph from I feel like I just stammer out some nonsense about how much their work, what it has meant to me and ask them to sign whatever I have brought with me.

In the case of meeting the Pini’s it wasn’t much different. When it was my turn I politely asked them to sign several comics, bought the convention card they were selling and made a donation to the Heroes Initiative. I then blabbered on for thirty seconds or so about how much I enjoyed Elfquest and how much it had meant to me over the years. They were both super nice and very friendly. Later that day my brother and I attended their panel where they gave an excellent presentation on the last forty years of Elfquest. Meeting them was everything I had hoped it would be and was a lot of fun.   

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Valiant Comics

In the last couple of months I have started reading some Valiant comics. Up until recently the only Valiant comics I had read were a few issues from the original series back in the nineties that were Wizard magazine hot picks and the less than stellar Deathmate mini series. Now though I am reading XO Manowar, NinjaK, and Bloodshot Salvation and looking for more. Stopping by the Valiant booth at that convention I was hoping they would be able to provide some recommendations for what to read next and they did not disappoint.

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They were offering a deal aimed squarely at new readers like me. They had piles of Volume 1 trade paperbacks for many of their different series and the deal was too good to pass up. Buy three volumes and get two free. Each trade was ten dollars so for thirty dollars I could get five trade paperbacks. The guy running the booth recommended two volumes of Bloodshot and the guy standing next to me recommended Rai, Welcome to New Japan. I rounded out the purchase with Shadowman: Fear of the Dark and NinjaK: Weaponeer.

While I was there, there was only one other customer and the one Valiant staff member. He asked if we wanted to see something cool. Of course we said yes and he showed us Valiant new dealer incentive cover, in this case for the new Bloodshot series starting in a couple months. It was an all glass cover etched with the Bloodshot logo and character below. It was made of the same super strong glass that car windshields are made of and was really cool looking. Valiant is well known for their dealer incentive covers and it was fun to see this new one before most of the general public.

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Long lines are an opportunity

Any convention goer has waited in a long line for any number of reasons. Whether it be to get into the convention, to get an autograph, or just get access to a dealer’s bins. I usually try to make the best of the situation when I am waiting in line to have a creator sign something for me and talk to the people near me. I usually ask what they are getting signed, if they are having a good time at the convention or if they have met the person we are waiting for before. Most of the time people are happy to chat instead of just staring blankly ahead. (Don’t care me wrong, I’ve got nothing against staring blankly, but in this case conversation at least makes the time go by faster).

This year Baltimore had more creators than ever before and I brought more things to get signed that I ever have. After meeting the Pini’s I headed over to the Simonson’s table because they always have a long line. I was getting a couple things signed including my BattleStar Galactica Artist’s edition and Action Comics #1000. While in line I meet this really nice guy who was getting a Batman comic and Archangel Funko Pop signed. We had a really great conversation sharing stories about different artists we had meet over the years in Baltimore.

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The next day the first line I got in was for Denny O’Neil. For several years now I have been trying to have Mr. O’Neil sign my copy of the Question #1. Either he has cancelled or I was not there on the day he was going to be and have missed him several times. This year he was my white whale. On Friday I had tried twice to get to him but each time the line was capped. Saturday I vowed to wait all day if I had to. I waited an hour and thirty minutes but he did not show. Finally someone told us that he would be later in the afternoon and they would give out tickets for us to come back and get to the front on the line to have him sign our stuff.

I eventually got my ticket and his signature. Because of how busy he was I did not get the opportunity to meet him and thank him but that’s part of how this all works out sometimes. During that very long wait I did talk to a dealer I was in line with who was from the west coast and was attending Baltimore and New York Comic Con in order to get six suitcases of comics signed and graded for himself and his customers. It was really interesting to get to talk to someone in the business and hear what their experiences are like.   

question1Also signed by the artist Denis Cowyans.

Collecting Comics

Baltimore and, so I hear, Heroes Con in North Carolina are two of the biggest “comic book” shows on the east coast and are therefore two of the best. Now what I mean by that is that they are focused on comics while also having some media guests and great cosplay. They are not like the Boston or New York shows that are so big they try to be everything to everyone. Baltimore is a show for comic lovers. The majority of the guests that are invited are comic artists and writers and most of the dealers are selling comics. For a comic collector like myself this is a wonderful thing.

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At every convention I carry around my bag of holding and notebook with my series lists and go from dealer to dealer like a man on a mission. I am looking for two things most of the time, great or interesting finds in the cheapo bins or to fill holes in my collection with comics at the right price. One series I have been working on for the last year is Tomb of Dracula. For more on why that series is significant for me check out my post on Tomb of Dracula #30.

I am not looking for pristine issues to get graded but am instead searching for issues that are in decent shape at a reasonable price. Good copies of this series usually sell for anywhere from ten to thirty dollars with the key issues #1 and #10 (the first appearance of Blade) commanding high dollar amounts. I’m looking for reading copies in the five to ten dollar range and boy did I luck out this year. I came across a dealer trying to really move some inventory who had cut almost all his prices in half. I was able to pick up a bunch of issues I needed all at five dollars each.

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Some other highlights that I was able to find this year were Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, the issue where the Flash dies and the last issue I needed to complete the run. I also found a dealer that had almost all the issues of Plop! that I needed, all at three dollars an issue. I picked up an issue of DC Comics Presents that I needed, #27, the first appearance of Mongul, and Groo #120, the last issue in the Marvel run.

The Yearbook

One of the coolest things about Baltimore is the yearbook they sell. Every year there is a different theme and creator being honored. This year was dedicated to Terry Moore and his comics Strangers in Paradise, Rachel Rising, and Motor Girl. Artists that are attending the con are asked to contribute pieces and the original art is then auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the Hero Initiative I believe. Con attendees who buy the yearbook can then participate in a scavenger hunt where they collect signatures on the pages and if they get enough they can obtain several loose prints of additional pieces that were not included in the yearbook. Each year there are usually several pages I really love and a few duds but it is always interesting to see different artists interpretations of the characters. These are some of my favorites from this year’s book.

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Pug Grumble is an self published creator. His comic is Farlaine the Goblin. Farlaine is on a quest through various lands seeking to plant a unique forest like all good goblins do. I first met Pug at Baltimore a couple years ago and have followed his work ever since. This was the first time he contributed to the yearbook and his piece turned out great.

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I am not familiar with Mr. Hunt’s work but I absolutely love his Rachel Rising homage to Bernie Wrightson.

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Jose Luis Garcia Lopez’s work is some of the neatest and tightest in all of comics. It is consistently excellent and this piece was no exception. The pic above is the color version of his work that was obtained by completing the scavenger hunt. The black and white version was featured in the yearbook and that was the page I had signed.

Final Thoughts

I really could go on and on about how dynamite the con was. I could write about the great conversations I had with Jerry Ordway and Howard Chaykin. I could write about the great deal I got on Thanos Quest #1 but despite all that the real highlight of the convention is getting to spend time with my brother and his friends. We spend the night talking about our day, the comics we found, the people we meet, and sharing funny stories. In the morning we eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant and typically many of the creators do as well. Iit is always fun to admire these people while eating eggs and bacon right next to them. All in all it is a wonderful time that we get to share together.

This year I got more autographs than I ever have and purchased more comics than I ever have making it one of the best cons I have ever attended.

I’m going to close with the Action Comics #1000 that I have been getting signed at all the cons I went to this year. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. It has been signed by Peter Tomasi, Tom King, Walt and Louis Simonson, Jerry Ordway, Clay Mann, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, and John Workman.

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Beware #8

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The Monsters are Coming!

‘Tis the Halloween season. It is time for stories of ghosts, ghouls, and things that go bump in the night. I picked up this issue of Beware over the weekend at the Baltimore Comic Con (hopefully more on that in another post). Beware is an anthology comic and, at least in this issue, contains all reprints from older Atlas and Marvel comics. I’ve read a fair amount of horror anthologies and I have to say this one was really good. Very often the stories are pretty predictable with twist endings that the reader can see coming a mile away. That was not the case with this comic.

The Helping Hand

Pencils – Vernon Henkel
Reprinted from Marvel Tales #129 (1949 Atlas Comics)

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The story begins with a couple standing in front of a creepy old house with a for sale sign in front of it. The man is telling the woman that the house is perfect because it is far from the neighbors and the police will never find them there. The woman is not so convinced and does not like the house. The couple are quickly identified to the reader as George and Jean, and that they are on the run from the law. Time passes and George fixes up the place enough to make it livable.

Meanwhile Jean is still unhappy and explains to George that she feels as if she is being watched. She is so disturbed that she forgets to do the shopping and they run out of sugar. Just as George is berating her for doing nothing while he breaks his back to fix the house up there is a knock at the door. George starts to freak out thinking it’s the police but when he answers the door it is just a friendly neighbor with some sugar to give them. George and Jean are both worried about how that happened so quickly, the neighbor showing up just when they needed something.

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After more and more occurrences of people showing up with items that they needed almost as soon as they need them George and Jean are getting pretty distraught. Jean wants to leave but George has to know what’s going on. He decides that they will throw a party and invite the neighbors. On the night of the party, after dinner, George mentions that he wants his pipe but cannot find it. One of the older guests tells him that it is behind the desk where it had fallen. When George confronts the old man on how he knew that the old man simply states that he knows everything that goes on.

After all the guests have left George is all the way freaked out and thinks their neighbors are aliens in human disguise and says he’s calling the cops. At this point the reader must know this will go poorly for George but let’s see what he does.

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The police show up and surround the house. They call for George to come out and he does so, happily, and proceeds to tell the officers about the aliens in the town. The head of the squad does not believe George and asks for one of his men’s binoculars. He’s able to easily confirm his suspicions about George and decides to show him what he’s found. When George looks through the glass he sees one of the neighbors spying on them with their own binoculars.  

It seems George and Jean had come across a very small town where the residents have nothing to do but spy on each other and newcomers. George, like many small time hoods, starts to recant and complain about being framed and tricked as he is lead away in handcuffs.

Black Dungeon

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Artist – MIke Sekowsky
Reprinted from Mystic #2 (Atlas comics 1951).

The Black Dungeon is the longest story in the issue and is also the most reminiscent of the “golden age” of horror comics with large narration dialog boxes at the top of each panel above the word balloons and illustrations. It is the most engaging story in this issue largely because of Sekowsky’s beautiful and dynamic art. The opening splash is a eerie picture of a dungeon door surrounded by hooded and masked figures. There is a dragon and woman in a pink dress who appears to be curious about the dungeon door. There are grim warnings about secrets and death, all of which have no actual bearing on the following strip.

The story begins in some Eastern European village where a small disfigured man with a hunchback is being tormented by the local youth. The heroine of the story, Helga, chases the young men off and asks the picked on man, Otto, if he is okay. She then offers to care for Otto and let’s him live with her father and her. Otto feeling indebted goes everywhere with Helga and helps her with whatever she needs.

Helga informs us the reader that she loves everyone in her village with the exception of one man who happens to be the richest man in town and the local tailor, Herr Gruber. Of course Herr Gruber becomes interested in Helga and asks her father for permission to marry her. Helga does not want to marry Gruber and Otto does not want him to marry her either. Otto decides he’s going to take matters into his own hands.

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Otto takes Gruber out to the cemetery, to Gruber’s family mausoleum, and tells him that he’s found gold and jewels inside and since it is his family Gruber should have them. Greed, a common failing in golden age villains, is too much for Herr Gruber. Inside the crypt he’s digging when Otto attacks him with a shovel. Gruber turns the attack around on Otto, repeatedly strikes him with the shovel and locks him in the crypt. Helga, who followed her companion, has witnessed the whole thing and is quickly discovered by Gruber. As Gruber drags Helga from the cemetery they are followed by the screams of Otto cursing Gruber that he will always protect Helga.

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Soon after Gruber and Helga are married and he takes her away to America. They move into a large creepy house where Gruber keeps Helga isolated from the outside world telling neighbors that his wife is an invalid and by doctors orders she is not to have visitors. In Helga’s boredom she eventually comes across a storage room and finds one of Gruber’s old tailoring dummies. The dummy has a face that reminds her of Otto. She decides to dress the dummy up and treats it a little bit like a doll. She spends time with it and talks to it. This makes her happy which makes Gruber suspicious. When he interrogates her, thinking there is another man, she says that she never leaves the house. He hits her.

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She does not return to her “companion” until the next day when she thinks her husband has left the house. She tells the dummy everything that has happened. Gruber has tricked Helga though and bursts into the store room. When he sees the dummy dressed like Otto he attacks Helga. Helga cries out Otto’s name and the dummy comes to life. It attacks and kills Gruber. Helga says that just before collapsing to the floor she could swear that she saw the dummy smile. In the final panel Helga tells us that the police attributed Gruber’s death to a prowler. This is happening as she is talking to the Otto dummy and showing him the new sweater she has made him.

The Things that Stalks Skull Valley

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Artist – Mort Lawrence
Reprinted from Mystic #37 (Atlas 1955)

This story is the weakest of the bunch. The premise is that a bunch of obnoxious New Yorkers are being lead on a tour of a Grand Canyon type location called Skull Valley by a Native American. The guide tells the tourists about the gods and spirits that were worshiped in the valley and they scoff and make fun until they are proven wrong at the end. The whole story is very insensitive to Native Americans to say the least.

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The best part of the story is the end, when after making fun of Native American culture for three pages, the tourists actually see one of the ancient gods. In fact they only see the foot and it’s never really said as to what they see, it is left to the reader’s imagination.

They Walk Thru Walls!

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Artist – Paul Reinman
Reprinted from Astonishing #56

This was another gem and is the only story in this comic where the creator is credited.  The story begins right away with two men in overcoats and hats walking through a wall behind a megalomaniac character going on and on about their organization ruling the United States. The men warn the guards to not draw their guns, that they only want their leader, Clayton. The men who walked through the walls indeed take Clayton and bring him to an airfield where they board a plane headed toward a mountain top compound.

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While on the plane the men explain to Clayton that they are guardians of mankind dedicated to the “cause of peace and contentment”.  They explain that Clayton will be kept at the compound for the world’s safety, that he’ll be treated well, but he’ll never leave. As they are bring him in Clayton suddenly rebels, attacks his captors, and runs off. They warn him that they are miles from civilization but they don’t pursue him. After some time passes Clayton finally gets to a road and is picked up and is brought to a hospital.

As Clayton is recovering he is recounting the story to his doctors including about how the men walked through walls. His doctor thinks he is crazy and refuses to release him until he agrees to be examined. The new doctor hears Clayton’s story and tells him he believes that he is sane and will have him released. Instead he meets with Clayton’s doctors and tells them the exact opposite and that he is to confined indefinitely. As the good doctor is leaving he leaving he thinks to himself that he feels bad for Clayton but that mankind must be protected and he proceeds to walk through the wall.

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Final thoughts

Despite the caption on the cover about monsters coming there are almost no monsters in the book. Instead Beware collects reprints of some really excellent golden age thrillers. All the stories with the exception of the Skull Valley story feature well written and well drawn tales of suspense.

I particularly enjoyed that the Black Dungeon story featured a female character as the narrator and focus of the story. As I said Mike Sekowsky’s art was fantastic and went a long way to keeping the reader engaged.

The final story, They Walk Thru Walls, felt like something right out of the Twilight Zone. It was short but really packed a lot in. I really felt like the Clayton character was a real threat, similar to the way Johnny Smith feels when he meets Greg Stillson in the the “Dead Zone”

My copy of this comic is beat to heck and the cover came off but I still had a great time reading it. If I were to find other issues in this series in the wild I would pick them up.

I’ll close with a couple of great ads.

The first is for Bronze Marvel coins featuring Spiderman, The Hulk, and Conan the Barbarian. Please note that one of the holders that can be purchased is a belt buckle and another is a bolo tie. Imagine being a 12 year old in 1974 wearing a bolo tie to school with the a Conan Bronze medallion on it.

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The second ad is a pretty standard ad for toy soldiers. What makes this one exceptional is that one of the sets you can buy is for exploding tanks. I have no idea how they accomplished that with heavy card stock flat soldiers.

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The Age of Apocalypse and the Power of Comics

A couple of weeks ago Chris and Reggie released their 100th episode of the Cosmic Treadmill podcast. The topic was the Marvel event – Age of Apocalypse. After listening to the first episode I hardly remembered the story in the comic. I talked to my brother about it and he had a completely different experience with that series. This a special guest post that he wrote and I hope he’s inspired to write more. Enjoy.

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A few weeks ago my brother and I talked briefly about Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse X-books. This was the five or so months back in the mid 90’s where all the X-books ran a story-line where Legion, Professor Xavier’s son, went back in time to kill Magneto and accidentally kills Professor X. His death leads to a change in the timeline where Magneto turns good and Apocalypse takes over the world. My brother had very little memory of the event. He remembered it happening but couldn’t recall many of the details. I, on the other hand, have very vivid memories of the story-line because I read the first few issues in the hospital.

In early 1995 I had managed to flunk out of Boston University, was living in an apartment in Boston (technically Allston), and working in a liquor store. It was not the happiest time in my life. In early February I began losing vision in my right eye and the doctors eventually diagnosed the cause as a brain tumor. I had had extremely bad headaches for a long time and had problems concentrating and focusing at times and that all turned out to be related.

At the time I had not been reading comics for about five years. I stopped reading them around my freshman year of high school. I had a buddy who worked in a comic shop, and my brother started reading them again around the launch of Image, so I wasn’t completely unaware of the comic world, but was pretty separated from it.

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The day after the surgery my friend Bernie came by the hospital to visit me and he brought a familiar brown bag. In it was Robin V4 #15, and two of the first issues of Age of Apocalypse. I’m not 100% clear on which two, I think it was X-Calibre #1 and Astonishing X-Men #1. I read the whole series so many times over the next few months that it’s a little fuzzy. I remember being confused as to what was going on with the whole thing, but falling in love with it immediately. Bernie came every day I was in the hospital, which is something I’m eternally grateful for, and single handed got me back into comics.

It’s hard to overstate how profound an effect reading comics again had on me over the next couple of months. It was winter in Boston, I was out of school, depressed about the surgery and the effects the tumor had had on me, feeling like a failure, broke most of the time, and just generally in a very dark place. I didn’t even get along with the twerp I shared an apartment with. Bad as things were, each week I got to look forward to a couple of new issues of Age of Apocalypse books.

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Every Wednesday during my lunch break at work or after I would go down to the New England Comics that used to be on Harvard Ave and pick up the new issues and maybe one or two other things depending on what I could afford. When I think back on that store and those weekly trips it fills me with a happy feeling that’s more than nostalgia. I remember after one trip back home during those months my mom had given me a few bucks. It wasn’t a ton and was meant to buy food, but I ended up using it to buy the trade paperback of X-Cutioners song at Comicopia in Kenmore Square. My logic at the time was food wouldn’t last, but I could read the trade over and over. It probably wasn’t my best ever decision, but I stand by it.

I mentioned that I worked in a liquor store at the time. It was a place called Marty’s. I was 19 at the time and not old enough to drink, but working in a package store it wasn’t hard to get guys to buy for me. I did that once in a while, mostly because I wanted to save my money for comics. Given my depression at the time, I often wonder if Bernie bringing me those comics that day keep me from a much darker path. Given my addictive personality I’m pretty sure he did. Bernie and the Age of Apocalypse.

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Comics have always had a healing and comforting quality in my life. My parents got divorced when I was very young and it was not too long after that comics became a part of my life. I don’t remember exactly how I started reading but I remember moments like reading a stack of 70’s Hulk and Thor comics at a family friend’s house, or picking up issues of All Star Squadron at ‘The Stationary’ in Springdale Connecticut where I grew up. I remember getting our first issue of G.I. Joe with my dad from a drugstore we stopped at on the way to visit a friend of his on one of our weekend visits.

More than all that though I remember my father bringing my brother and I stacks of comics whenever we were home sick from school. To this day when I get sick, all I want to do is lay on the couch and read comics.

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For my ninth birthday, my father gave me the Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, which may be the most prized thing in my collection. It’s full of old comics from Carl Bark’s ‘Letter to Santa’, Superman, Little LuLu, and Captain Marvel. They’re printed on regular paper and not glossy, but it FEELS like a big comic book, and smells like old comics. It is directly responsible for my love of so many older characters and probably the reason I have eight Don Rosa Uncle Scrooge prints hanging in my bedroom.

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I used to be really afraid of deep water, specifically being out on boats in the ocean. I’d seen Jaws 2 and 3 a lot and was terrified of sharks. A family friend had a sailboat and took us out on it once. I spent the trip with my head buried in DC’s Who’s Who #9, the one with John Stewart in the prominent spot on the cover. I could probably have recited the entry for Global Guardians by the end of that boat ride.

That still works for me today. Just the other night I watched a few episodes of the tv show ‘Channel Zero’ which completely creeped me out. Before I went to bed I read The Highest House #6 to take the edge off and it worked.

It’s not a stretch to say that comics are directly responsible for most of my very close friendships in a roundabout way. Outside of my wife (who I think the universe would have pointed me to even without comics), Bernie, and my brother, nearly every person I spend time with I met as a result of taking a job at First State Comics (may it Rest in Peace). It’s weird to trace things back and see why they worked out like they did, but it’s true. I moved to Delaware not too long after my surgery and started getting back into comics. After being here a while I needed a job that would allow me to go to school full-time and applied at the comic shop.

I got a call a few days later to come in for an interview and was soon hired. While working there I met one of my best friends, Steve, and also helped hire a woman named Liz. When the shop closed due to rent issues Liz went on to work for Borders Books. I eventually applied and, based on her recommendation, got a job there. At Borders I met a huge swath of people that I’m still very close with. One of them, Nick, moved on to my current company and talked me into applying. Based on his and another friend’s recommendation I was hired there. Everyone else I spend time with now I met through this job. When I got married in 2011 my brother was my best man, Bernie was in my wedding party, and everyone else I met either at the comic shop, Borders, or my current job. If Bernie hadn’t brought that bag of comics to me while I was in the hospital, and the Age of Apocalypse books never came out, my life would be completely and utterly different than it is.

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Comics are like that. It’s a hobby that becomes a passion and maybe even a lifestyle choice. In a few weeks I’ll be going down to the Baltimore Comic Con for three days to immerse myself in comic culture with people who feel the same.

Every comic fan probably has similar stories, moments where comics were a much larger force in their lives than people might imagine. I’m not sure I’m writer enough to really understand why, but I think it’s probably similar to baseball in Field of Dreams. They’re something that connect us back to our past selves, but also something we know our future selves can look forward to. They give us something to collect and enjoy. We can endlessly debate characters and story-lines. In superhero comics, there’s often a pure form of morality that will always appeal to the good in us, and in the enormous variety of comics there’s something that we can all connect with, be it horror comics or good natured Archie comics, or sometimes both!

Comics make me feel better. They make me feel less sad. They make me feel less lonely. There’s a lot of problems in the industry, and with fandom, and with the world in general, but I think comics are a pretty positive thing. Stories have a power in our lives, and comics have a unique way of delivering stories that people may often write off as the realm of nerds, or kids stuff, but are so much more.

I know I’m grateful.

 

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Boston Fan Expo 2018

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I went to the Boston Fan Expo over the weekend, Sunday August 12th, and had a really great time. Over the previous couple of years I thought this convention had really gone down hill, with last year being the least enjoyable of the now six or seven times that I’ve been able to go. Last year the convention seemed to focus too much on the television and movie celebrities and not enough on the comic book talent and dealers. This year was a vast improvement. More floor space was devoted to the artist alley so the writers and artists could spread out more and have better line management. There was also more room for dealers and other booths selling various wares. Finally there was still plenty of space to have the long lines for the TV and movie personalities. Overall it was a much more enjoyable year and I think the families, cos-players, celebrity hounds and comic nerds would all agree.

The Greg Capullo Fan Experience

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This year I was finally able to meet Greg Capullo and get his autograph on a couple of comics and I really had fun doing it. A couple of years ago when he was signing in Baltimore, when the New 52 Batman run was at its peak of popularity, and his lines were way too long. Last year he had to cancel in Boston for a health reason. This year was the year though. This was also the case for several people in the line that I talked to, many of whom had purchased the fan experience last year. Mr. Capullo turned out to be a very nice guy. When he arrived he walked the line greeting all the fans. Once we were all seated in the room he started with a good thirty minute Q&A session.

He was asked some interesting questions and gave some interesting and funny answers. One person asked him how he got the job working on Spawn. He told a great story about starting out at Marvel and Todd McFarlane calling him offering him work on Spawn. At first he turned it down but when he did not get promoted at Marvel after becoming successful on Quasar he ended up leaving and going to work for McFarlane. He did a pretty funny impression of him as well. He talked about working with Scott Snyder and more than once called him crazy. After reading the first four issues of the new Justice League I can certainly believe that. When the Q&A finished the Fan Expo staff did a very good job of organizing us eager fans to make sure that everyone had a chance get their stuff signed and move along in a timely manner.

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When it was my turn I had the chance to ask if the issue of What If? that I had brought was indeed his work. He said that it was one of the first things that he did at Marvel and that the cover wasn’t his, the new guy didn’t get to do the cover. I was okay with this, I like the idea of getting a writer or artists early work signed. I asked him if he was enjoying the convention and he said something that a lot of the creators I’ve met say. He told me that works in a very solitary job and that he really enjoyed getting out to meet the fans that enjoy his work. I think it is really great to have the opportunity to interact with these artists who appreciate the fans as much as we appreciate having the chance to meet them. It certainly makes me feel like I am not wasting their time. Overall I was very glad to have finally meet one of DC’s biggest artists in recent years and get a couple of comics signed while I was at it.

Wednesday comics

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Over the years I heard a lot of great things about Wednesday Comics from DC and how wonderful they were. I’ve seen the over-sized collection but never really looked into it. Digging through a dealers cheapo bin I can across seven issues of the series. All were neatly bagged and were only a dollar each. I bought the lot of them and am excited to see what was so great about them.

Mark Texeira

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I’ve never been a big fan of Texeira’s work but I did enjoy the first few issues of Black Panther that he worked on for the Marvel Knights line. It turns out he was a super nice and glad to chat with the fans seeking his autograph. He was pretty funny and really seemed to enjoy talking to the fans. What was especially nice is that he took the time to do a small sketch on the covers of the comics that people were giving him. It seemed like since he was asking for five dollars for a signature that the fans ought to get a little something for it. In the pic above you can see the Black Panther profile that he did in black and silver sharpie.

He also wanted to take pictures with the fans and the comics and post them to his Instagram account. So far I’ve been unable to find him on the app otherwise I’d link it here. I’m planning on bringing this comic to Terrific Con next weekend hoping to have it signed by Christopher Priest.   

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Dragon Magazine and Ecto Cooler

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Dragon Magazine and ecto cooler sounds like a perfect combination for a Friday night with friends. They also happen to probably the oddest things I picked up today. While strolling through artist alley I came across a large statue of a green outfitted superhero with four cases of Ecto Cooler in front of him. In case you were wondering Ecto Cooler is a delicious citrus juice made by HiC and re-released in the last couple of years to coincide with the release of the new Ghostbusters movie. In this particular case the makers of the comic Vortex Man were giving away cans of the fantastic fruit juice with the purchase of a comic. After talking to the gentleman promoting Vortex Man it was an easy decision to try the comic and obtain a can o’ juice.

The Dragon Magazines was a little more straight forward. Again while in artist alley I walked by a table that was covered in old issues of Dragon Magazines. With no one right behind the table I asked the closest person and it turns out they were indeed his. Whomever I was speaking to was previously professor at MIT. When he was younger he and his friends were apparently into Dungeons and Dragons and Dragon magazine was something they all read. This former MIT faculty however never actually played and was now interested in cleaning out his basement. I was able to pick up six issues of the magazine for twenty bucks including one issue with a dynamite cover by Tim Hildebrandt.

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Peter Tomasi

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It is no secret that I enjoy Peter Tomasi’s writing on Superman. The Superman Rebirth title was easily my favorite. I had the chance to meet Mr. Tomasi for a second time and ask him to sign my Action Comics #1000. Since there was not one waiting while he was signing my comic I was able to talk to him for a couple of minutes. I told him how much I enjoyed his work on Superman, Super Sons, and the Super Sons / Blue Falcon one shot. I also asked him about how he was able to get DC to let him write the way he did, the one and two issue story arcs, the issues where there is almost no fighting, and the not writing for trade paperbacks in general.

I told him how much I liked the county fair, Gettysburg / Washington D.C., Manchester Black, and Dinosaur Island stories. He told me that he really had to fight to get those stories in. He said his editors complained that there was not enough action or that Superman was not in costume enough. I told him that I did not think every comic has to have a fight in it, there are other stories that can be told occasionally and he agreed. We also lamented the cancelation of Super Sons and I told him I was glad it was coming back for a bit. He said that was a fight too. He said that he was able to get it back with the argument that it is one of their only entry levels books for younger readers. He’s not wrong about that. Not wanting to take up anymore of his time I moved on but it was a nice conversation, even if I did gush a little.

In search of…

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I was able to find a couple of comics that I was actually looking for, as opposed to pulling out fun things from the dollar bins. The first item is something I’ve actually been looking for for a couple of years, Thanos Quest #2. I was able to get this one off a fifty percent off wall and was more than happy to pay ten dollars for it. I found issues #2 & 3 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is Jack Kirby’s trippy interpretation of the Stanley Kubrick movie. It’s truly a weird comic. Finally I found a great copy of Plop #1 and then later pulled Plop #9, 17, and 19. It’s always great to cross a few off the list when searching through boxes and boxes of comics.

Frank Quietly

I’ve saved the best for last. There were lots of great writers and artists I was looking forward to having something signed, Peter Tomasi, Michael Cho, and Sam Humphries to name a few. Frank Quietly was the guy I most wanted to get though. He rarely does conventions so this could have a been a once in a lifetime opportunity. I happened to catch him with a short line and was able to chat with him, the fans in front of me, and his handler.

I had All-Star Superman #1 for him to sign but I was also able to buy a wonderful print of Daredevil and Elektra that he did. When it was my turn in line he signed my comic and then started to sign the print. He suddenly stopped after writing “Vin”. He looked at his handler and then at me. He said he started to sign his real name. It turns out Frank Quietly is a pen name he adopted early in his career when he was doing an underground comic and wanted a name to, in his words, “hide behind”. I told him go ahead and finish signing his real name. The poster was for me and going up on my wall, not for sale or anything. I told him I knew who had signed it so what did it matter. I ended up with a great comic signed by a great artist and a cool poster signed by Vincent Deigham.

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All in all I had great time this year at the Boston Fan Expo. I was able to meet some very friendly artists, put a couple more signed collectibles into my bins, and walk away with some real treasures. Next weekend I’m headed to Connecticut’s best comic convention, Terrific Con, and I hope to have another great report after that.

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