Phantom Stranger 41

Phantom Stranger #41

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This piece is dedicated to Chris from Chris and Reggie’s Cosmic Treadmill podcast. Their recent episodes discussing Action comics weekly have inspired me to write about this issue, which I picked up at the Baltimore Comic-con in September. I’ve never read an issue of this particular volume of the Stranger, so why not start with the final issue. Interesting fact, according to the indicia it is volume 8 but if you count the number of Phantom Stranger series, it is volume 2.

Creators

Writer –  Paul Levitz
Artist –  Fred Carrillo
Editor –  Joe Orlando

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This issue is the third part of a story co-staring the greatest ghost in DC Comics, Boston Brand, the one and only Deadman. The story starts with the Stranger telling Deadman who he is and where he comes from. The Stranger is being cryptic and Deadman is pissed because he wants some straight answers. Having not read the previous parts of the story I am as lost as Boston Brand is.

The story shifts to an old man, Dr. Nathan Seine sitting and thinking while cradling a skull in his lap. He is joined by Cassandra Craft and a male companion. While the captions tell the reader that this is taking place at the Sander’s school for the blind, Ms. Craft looks a little out of place. She’s wearing a sexy pink one piece, a belt riding low at her hips, and a matching pink cape. It seems like a bit of a crazy get up for someone who is apparently a teacher for the blind. She questions why Dr. Seine requested to see them and he responds by aiming the skull at them and zapping them with lighting bolts telling them they can die.

It is safe to say at this point I have no idea what is going on. Thankfully that is rectified pretty quickly.

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Over the next few pages Seine provides plenty of exposition to catch the reader up. It seems that the good doctor blames the Phantom Stranger for the death of his wife and his blindness and he wants revenge. He intends to use Ms. Craft as a sacrifice to some Nether Gods in exchange for them destroying the Phantom Stranger. The demons that have appeared tell Seine that they accept his offer but they are not going to stop the Stranger. Instead they are going to provide Seine with the power to do it himself. Seine accepts the offer while Cassandra thinks to herself that she has nothing to fear as long as her friend the Phantom Stranger lives. She uses her physic abilities to send the Stranger a message that she needs help. Seine imbued with the power of the Nether gods grows in size and declares himself a Nether god on earth.

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We shift back to the Stranger and Deadman still arguing when the Stranger receives Cassandra’s physic message. In a disappearing act worthy of Batman, The Stranger teleports away just as Deadman was going to try and inhabit his body. The Phantom Stranger reappears in the room with the giant Dr. Seine, Cassandra still tied to her altar, and the Nether demon.  Stranger blasts the Nether god making short work of him and then defends himself against two golden dragons that Seine has conjured.

As the dragons start to get the best of the Stranger he summons Boston Brand to aid him. Deadman has no idea what is going on and tries to possess Cassandra’s companion whose been lying motionless on the floor since Seine first blasted him. Boston does not realize that the man in blind and he cannot look into his eyes, which he needs to do in order to complete the possession. When Seine see the lifeless corpse of the man moving, Boston is trying to get the unconscious form in front of a mirror so he can do his thing, Seine simply blasts the guy, killing him, before Boston can figure out what to do.

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By now the Stranger has recovered enough from Steine’s first attack that he can retaliate. In what amounts to quite a power play from the Stranger, Steine begins to shrink and lose the power the Nether gods granted him. Steine, having not defeated the Stranger, is dragged off the the portal he communicated with the Nether gods through for his punishment. Deadman, still angry but about how the guy he tried to possess was killed, blames the Stranger for what happened. Stranger is pretty nonplussed about the situation and, blowing off Deadman, goes to revive Cassandra. After she comes to, the Stranger wisps her away in cloud of pink smoke leaving Deadman to rant in an empty room.

Bonus Story – “Will the Real Black Orchid Please Stand Up”

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Creators

Writer –  Michael Fleisher
Artist –  Fred Carrillo
Script Continuity – Russell Carley

An attractive blond woman is tied to a safe door with a lit fuse headed toward her. Four other women dressed as the Black Orchid wait around the corner for the explosion. The captions explain what came before. Apparently the woman tied to the safe door is a young heiress, Ronnie Kuhn, who was duped by a group of women calling themselves the Black Orchid Legionnaires into trying to rob the world bank by telling her they were going to fight crime.

The real Black Orchid shows up and frees Ronnie and then throws the rigged safe door through the bank ceiling high into the sky where it explodes safely. She jokes to Ronnie that she could have just blown out the fuse but there might be a talent scout for the Justice League around so she decided to show off what she can do. The Black Orchid then leaves Ronnie to go after the impostor Black Orchids.

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Black Orchid traps several of the impostors on an elevator by breaking the cables and then carrying the elevator car away. In an amazing bit of early fourth wall breaking, the narration panel describes the effortlessness of Black Orchid carrying the elevator car as if it were as light as a pot of lobsters to which she thinks to herself, that they are disgusting lobsters. Take that Deadpool. Ronnie takes out the last impostor as the Black Orchid is just getting back to her. Black Orchid flies off leaving Ronnie to deal with the Police. As they take away the Legionaries one officer comments to Ronnie that she ought to wear her mask if she doesn’t want people to know she’s the Black Orchid. She tries to deny it but the good-natured cop doesn’t believe her.

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Final Thoughts

Personally I have always liked the Phantom Stranger. I enjoy when he shows up here and there to cast judgement or help out. I like the design of the character with the modern fedora, dark suit and Gothic cape. When he is drawn well he is an imposing figure. I might be one of a very few but I had a good time reading the New 52 Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin, and Justice League Dark series. I liked the idea that he was the biblical Judas Iscariot wandering the earth trying to atone for his sin. Those stories treated the Phantom Stranger as a mystic character and mixed a little modern religion in without being preachy.

I also really like Deadman. Usually I like the character more when he provides some comic relief or is just a regular guy who happens to be a ghost trapped in our world. The angry Boston Brand in this comic works okay, I just happen to prefer a more light-hearted dead guy.

As I was reading this issue I did not realize it was the last of the series until I got to the letters pages in the middle of the comic and read the announcement that the book was cancelled due to poor sales. I cannot say that it surprises me though. I think that the Phantom Stranger suffers from the same problem that other characters of his ilk do. It is challenging to have an ongoing series where the main character has to bridge the line between superhero comics and horror comics. Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp Thing and the Hellblazer Vertigo comic were probably the exceptions to the rule.

Honestly this story was just okay. I was able to pick up what was going on well enough once the villain started his monologue but I really don’t know why Deadman was even there. Other than yelling at the Phantom Stranger all he does is mistakenly get a blind guy killed, through no fault of his own. The story is a little rushed and does feel like Paul Levitz was told to wrap everything up quickly as he was not getting another issue to write. There were several highlights though.

The first is the Black Orchid back up. The story was funny and odd. There were a bunch of pretty women running around in pink, skin tight costumes, with sexy black underwear on the outside and what’s not to love about that? I find it hard to believe that this character with super strength, could fly, and was funny was not more popular, but I guess if she was only showing up in the back of Phantom Stranger comics with poor sales she was not getting a lot of exposure.

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The other highlight was Fred Carillo’s art in both stories. The Phantom Stranger story evokes the creepiness of the horror comics from this era while the Black Orchid story features a strong female character with some good action. I’m not familiar with Fred Carillo’s work but I’ll keep an eye for it in the future.

Normally I would close with a neat ad from the book, and there were plenty in this issue, like the the one for Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. action figures. Instead I am going to finish up with the letters pages that carries the announcement of the cancellation.

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Loveless #1

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A Kin of Homecoming

Creators
Writer – Brian Azzaello
Artist – Marcealo Frusin
Colorist –  Patrica Mulvihill
Letters – Clem Robins
Assistant Editor – Casey Seijas
Editor – Will Dennis
Loveless created by Azzarello and Frusion

This falls under the category of comics series I bought because I thought they looked cool and then never read. This afternoon I was working on the collection and came across my run of this and American Vampire (another Vertigo title in that same category). I decided to pull out the first issue and give it a go.

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The story opens right away with a big ol’ swear, I assume for the effect of letting the reader know that this is an adult story. I would have thought the Vertigo imprint would have been enough for that but here we are. Several men are on a hill checking out a group of men on horseback in the distance. They are trying to decide if they are going attack, rob, or maybe join up with, we don’t really know. These men are approached by another rider who seems to know them.

The mystery rider dismounts and addresses the group. There is some back and forth about how the men thought the new guy identified as Wes, was dead in prison. The story apparently takes place at the end of the Civil War and these men were Confederate Soldiers, who now on the losing end of the war, have lost their land to Union Soldiers and carpetbaggers, but that term is not used. There is some very derogatory language, probably meant to be period appropriate, but definitely unnecessary.

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One guy asks Wes who the rider is that accompanied him. Wes, pointing to a circling buzzard, says that he’s been with him since he got out of prison. Now things start to get a little tense. Wes makes a smart remark asking the group if they know why a buzzard might follow him and at the same time moves the poncho away from his shooting arm, as his right hand grips his pistol. We get a nice series of panels of close ups on the men’s faces and hands as they go to their pistols, a la “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. The group suggests that Wes should move on to which he disagrees vehemently and then proceeds to shoot the entire group.

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In the next scene a group of Union soldiers, a white officer and several black infantry men, break into a home while a woman and two children appear to be having dinner. The three of them are subdued while the officer tells the other soldiers to look for “that murdering scoundrel”. Another officer joins the soldiers asking if the premises are secure. The two officers rather crudely and violently question the woman and children stating they are looking for her son Boyd Johnson.

One of the soldiers interrupts the questioning and directs their attention to a young man trying to get away from the home on crutches. As the two officers realize that the kid trying to get away could not be the shooter they are looking for one of the infantry men fires and the mother screams outs the boys name, Tyler.

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We join Wes and his still unseen companion as they ride into town. Wes questions the undertaker, currently working on a coffin, if the nearby body is Tyler Johnson, to which he replies with the affirmative. Wes greets the people around town, including the locals in the saloon. They seem to know him and are surprised he is alive. They also apparently know that he’s killed his former riding companions.

Wes has a drink and then gets into a bit of an argument with one of the saloon patrons named Frank. Frank is pissed about the way Wes is invoking the Lord’s name to which Wes replies with a comment about how they took up arms for what they believed to be right and righteous. He goes on to say how wrong they were and swears some more, again, to remind us that we are reading an adult story. Wes has apparently abandoned his religious beliefs after having been through whatever he’s been through. When Wes goes to leave the men ask where he’s headed.

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Wes replies that he’s headed back to his land to be with his woman. One young man tries to warn him but Frank tells him to shut up. As he approaches his home he is actually talking to his companion about the mule carrying the bulk of their cargo, that is apparently on its last legs, literally. Wes eventually goes off on a curse landen rant about how everyone; blacks, whites, Native Americans, North or South can go **** themselves. The vulgarity of the dialog in the comics continues in the rant.

When the two riders finally get to the house several Union soldiers greet them and Wes ever so politely tells them to get off his land. A brief brawl ensues and Wes proceeds to drive the men away. Wes then points points his revolver at his companion and tells them to get off the horse, lose the pistol and the pants.

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It turns out, surprise, that Wes’s traveling companion is his lover / wife Ruth. The comic closes with the couple making the beast with two backs under the moon. In the final panels the poor mule collapses, revealing that it was carrying a large crate of dynamite. I expect that this mean something in a future issue.  

Final Thoughts

The story appears to be a pretty standard tale of the long lost hero returning to reclaim his old life taking place at the end of the civil war. For a Vertigo comic the sex, swearing, and violence do not feel out of place, they just feel predictable. This first issue feels like any run of the mill spaghetti western with the exception that the heroes love interest is not dead. It is still set up as a tale of revenge, just not the standard avenge my dead wife story.

As I think about it, that is actually a pretty progressive idea, that the female character is not dead / hurt / raped or otherwise degraded in order to give the male character a reason for doing what he is doing.

The art is pretty fantastic. I am not familiar with Marcelo Frusin’s work but since he is listed as one of the creators I assume that he goes on to draw the rest of the series. Both Azzarello and Frusin are obviously fans of the Western genre as the comic does have a very cinematic quality to it. The story is well paced and as I read it I could hear Ennio Morricone’s haunting score from “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. With the exception of Wes’s long hair and lack of ever present cigar he is clearly modeled after Clint Eastwood’s Man with no name.

All in all it was an decent story with art that was better than the dialogue, but good enough to make me want to dig out the rest of the series to see what happens.

dynamite

 

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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.

puggrumble

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.

kenhunt

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.

signedaction1000

 

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Beware #8

bewarecover

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)

helpinghand

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.

helpers

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.

freakout

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

dungeonsplash

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.

ottoshovel

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.

graveyard

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.

ottochocking

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

skullvalley

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.

skullvalleyfoot

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!

menwalls

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.

menonplane

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.

doctorwall

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.

marvelmedals

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.

as2armytoy

 

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