Review: The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told

The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told
The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told by Bill Finger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Naturally, this book is a bit out of date, considering it was created for the 50th anniversary of the Caped Crusader. That means great stories like the Killing Joke aren’t in here, and thankfully none of the New 52 dreck either.

Pretty much any collection of Batman stories is a good read, no matter from what era they come from. This has a lot of interesting ones, from Wein & Simonson’s excellent take on the Calendar Man, Alan Brennert allowing the Dark Knight to save his parents on an alternate world, Carmine Infantino drawing the Blockbuster for the first time, the Joker and the Penguin teaming up in the golden age, O’Neil and Adams providing a great Two-Face tale and Englehart and Rogers reviving Deadshot.

Strangely, yet thankfully, the over-reprinted “Case of the Chemical Syndicate”, the very first Batman story is NOT included.

Good, solid comic book reading for an afternoon or two.

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Review: Her Name was Half Calf

Her Name was Half Calf
Her Name was Half Calf by S.A. Molteni
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is basically an essay…no, really it’s more a loving reminiscence of a farm animal that, like many, ascend to the level of a favorite pet. Exceedingly well-written for a short tale like this, I found it to be very poignant; you can really feel the author’s emotions. Definitely worth a read.

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 2

Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 2
Marvel Masterworks: The Mighty Thor, Vol. 2 by Stan Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not a book I had intended to buy or review, but I got a copy by accident from an Amazon seller. Still, hard to go wrong with old school Jack Kirby artwork. I remember buying this one when it first came out, but ended up selling it about a decade ago, so it was a nice li’l gift to myself.

This volume reprints Journey into Mystery #101-110 and features the first appearance of the Grey Gargoyle, and features Mr. Hyde and the Cobra, Magneto, Dr. Strange, and numerous scuffles between the Thunder God and his half-brother Loki, as well as a bunch of Tales of Asgard stories.

The only downer of the book is that #110 is a story continued into the next issue, which, of course, is in the next volume. Other than that, this is a generally fun read – something Marvel Comics doesn’t quite know how to do anymore.

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Review: The Mothman Prophecies

The Mothman Prophecies
The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say that this book was a surprise. It wasn’t at all like the movie, though you can see all the parts that the movie used for creepy effect. In fact, the majority of the book isn’t really about the Mothman per se, or even the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant.

The gist of the book falls upon John Keel’s theory of ultraterrestrials: Beings that inhabit our world and may be from another world, another time, or who knows where. It details his attempts to chronicle the events in the year before the bridge collapse when there was a major UFO flap in West Virginia (and, indeed, all over the country). He ends up finding his efforts flummoxed at times by the strange Men-in-Black ultraterrestrial agents and even the government.

I thought this was an excellent look at how a legitimate investigator works when dealing with a subject that usually rates hoots of derision from the general public. There’s an earnestness to Keel’s recollections and his way of trying to get the answers that’s missing from the blog-heavy sensationalism we have nowadays.

If you are into UFOlogy or cryptozoology, this book is an excellent read and will give you a lot to think about.

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes, Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes, Vol. 1
Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Heroes, Vol. 1 by Bill Everett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know a lot of folks have reviewed this and not exactly been kind with most of the stories in it, but I found this Marvel Masterworks a fun read. It’s hard to go wrong with so much Bill Everett artwork and story. He plays up his “goofy” art style to the hilt here, as sort of a modern Basil Wolverton.

True, the whole book is violently jingoistic; there are now Communists behind every problem, even a lot of the simple crimes. But you’ve got to read these while considering the era they were written in. Five years earlier, you would’ve followed the adventures of “Jap-busters” and the various inhuman depictions of Asians in the name of war propaganda.

The Marvel Boy/Astonishing stories are all over the place. It is kind of hard to believe Bob Grayson could take the mundane job of insurance investigator when he’s probably the smartest person on the planet at the time. His adventures either have him helping stop major invasions by aliens or exposing insurance fraud. I do like how the entire comics were reprinted, including the non-Marvel Boy and text features. That was definitely a breath of fresh air.

The reprints of Young Men are pretty indicative of why super-heroes were fading as a genre: No proper attention to continuity and not much care given to the stories themselves. Everett’s Sub-Mariner tales are excellent, But Carl Burgo’s Human Torch stories (even with the assist by Russ Heath on the first one), and John Romita’s Captain America tales are sorely lacking. Far too much “Red menace” and far too little trying to keep things straight. Cap apparently rejoins the Army between issues, I guess to help with the “spy-busting” storylines. The problem with both is that most of the stories start in the middle of a fight and we’re left to pick up the story threads as we go; usually easy but sometimes you don’t even care. I will give Burgos and co. props for having a villain (the Vulture) who carries over between two stories. I can’t think of many actual Torch villains, other than Hitler (who we do see getting canonically ‘torched’) and the Asbestos Lady, of course.

I’m seriously thinking about getting the other two volumes in the Atlas Era Heroes series of Marvel Masterworks. I’d like to see if these stories improved or not, and I’m sure just the Bill Everett artwork on Sub-Mariner will make them worth whatever discount price I can find them at on Amazon or eBay.

I don’t think this book is a good fit for the average, modern comic book fan. You’ll get yourself too up in arms over the Commie-baiting, the artwork and the weird storylines. This is one of those books for the old school fan. If you like comic books as a medium and enjoy golden age super-heroes, then you should give this book a read. Just remember this is spawned from the age of McCarthyism, and has similar attitudes.

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Now available for ordering: The Charlton Arrow Trading Cards Set 1

For the classic comic fan, the folks at the Charlton Arrow (where I’m one of the doofus fanboys) are offering a set of trading cards honoring some of the legends of that old, decrepit and well-loved printing press in Derby, Connecticut.

Charlton Comics hold a lot of memories for both fans and pros alike, and fans and pros have come together to create this set of cards. Please click the picture below to enlarge it to see all the fine artists who have contributed to this project:

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Each card includes artwork and character bios and all sorts of trivia. Each set is $9.99 postpaid, with additional sets available at $7.99 each.  Uncut sheets will also be available.

For more information, head on over to:

http://www.morttodd.com/card.html

Also check out:

Spotlight on Jack Cole

Jack Cole’s work has always been some of my favorite comic book art and stories, ever since I read my first Plastic Man adventure in a Detective Comics 100-Page Super-Spectacular in the seventies. There was a vibrance to his artwork that even my feeble li’l ten-year-old aesthetic found immensely pleasing and fun. To paraphrase the tagline of the Plas mini-series from the early nineties, you really would believe a man could ply reading Jack Cole’s stories.

Jack Cole did a lot of different series and work, starting out doing humor strips, moving up to adventure/super-heroes and finishing with a lot of horror comics. He created Plastic Man and the man known as Midnight (a fairly blatant rip-off of the Spirit) and even ghosted for Will Eisner on the Spirit newspaper strip.  His comic strip panels appeared in Playboy Magazine, and he had realized his dream of selling his first syndicated comic strip, Betsy and Me to a 1958. Unfortunately, after preparing a little over two months worth of strips, Jack Cole bought a .22 caliber gun and committed suicide.

I’m obviously not going to go into the various sordid theories for this act. Comic book creators weren’t really known outside the business back then, but Cole was one of the few exceptions. Perhaps if folks had looked at comics as an art form and not throwaways for kids, maybe more people would have realized the loss that the media incurred with the passing of Jack Cole.

Comic books are a strange business.

Today’s story is Jack Cole’s very first adventure strip, from Keen Detective Funnies Vol. 2, #11.

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By the way, I keep forgetting to mention that all of the stories I’ve posted so far are available for free on-line in their original issues. Just head over to Comic Book Plus or the Digital Comic Museum to find some great reading!