Review: Fighting American

Fighting American
Fighting American by Joe Simon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those memorable reprint volumes that I bring out to read every decade or so.

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby had no real probably adapting to changing times, and more importantly, to changing marketplaces. When super-heroes took a nose dive in the comic book game, they single-handedly created the romance comic genre, and revitalized and popularized war and western comics to boot.

When the threat of Communism raised it’s head during the McCarthy Era, Joe and Jack responded with the short-lived but well-remembered Fighting American. He was basically a shieldless Captain America, right down to the Bucky-like sidekick, Speedboy.

What took this comic from jingoism to surreal masterpiece was the bizarre villainy that the guys had F.A. face off against, such as Double-Header (a gangster with two heads), Super Khakalovich (a super-hero whose powers came from being unwashed and stinky), the rotund Round Robin and, of course, the secret of Yafata’s Mustache.

Joe and Jack loved their country, but this book makes me wonder if they, like many of the artistic and intellectuals targeted by McCarthy’s career-ending tirades, knew a lot of it was just a smokescreen to get a senator from Wisconsin popularity points.

This hardcover, long out-of-print, reprints the original six issues of Fighting American, as well as the one issue that Harvey Comics published amidst their failed attempt to create a super-hero/adventure line in the mid-sixties. That final issue isn’t all Joe & Jack; I haven’t checked, but at least one story seems to feature art by George Tuska. So it’s all good.

This is a fun read for any comic fan, and especially for the Joe Simon and Jack Kirby aficionados.

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Review: The Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1

The Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1
The Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Stan Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was rather intrigued by Marvel’s Omnibus format, but most of the volumes were priced through the rough, so getting one was a daunting task. But there are a few decent ones that are relatively cheap on the Amazon marketplace and eBay: The Avengers Omnibus #1 was one (at the time of this writing, the John Carter and X-Statix tomes are also relatively cheap).

This particular book is bascially three Marvel Masterworks editions enlarged and sewn together. It even includes Stan Lee’s moronic introductions from those original books. What is interesting is that the publisher added the original letter’s pages for each issue in the book, which I thought was a very nice touch. The final pages feature some reproductions of uncolored/uninked artwork, as well as the first twenty or so covers to Marvel Triple Action, which had originally reprinted a lot of the stories in this book, and Avengers Classics.

The reproduction is excellent and the book is predominated by the artwork of Jack Kirby and Don Heck, both at the near-apex of their careers and creative abilities. I’d have to recommend this one just for that fact. This features the original Avengers, and the adventures of the second team, known as “Cap’s Kookie Quartet,” so don’t expect the movie version of the team (for that, go find the Ultimates trade paperbacks).

This book can be expensive; it retailed for $99.99. But you can usually find it in the $25-50 range. Often, it will be more economically sound to buy this than the original three Masterworks, especially factoring in shipping.

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Review: Marvel Masterworks: Rawhide Kid, Vol. 2

Marvel Masterworks: Rawhide Kid, Vol. 2
Marvel Masterworks: Rawhide Kid, Vol. 2 by Stan Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great escapade into Marvel Comics’ Old West corner, with stories that may be a tad dated, but are a lot more fun and readable than most of the complete crap that Marvel and DC has been publishing for the past fifteen years.

This reprints Rawhide Kid #26-35, and features some great artwork by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, and Jack Davis. The book reprints all the text features and the back-up strips that weren’t about Rawhide – usually just a quick 5-8 page generic western with a twist.

Definitely recommended!

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Review: Doctor Who: The Indestructible Man

Doctor Who: The Indestructible Man
Doctor Who: The Indestructible Man by Simon Messingham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit that this was one of the slower starting Doctor Who novels I’ve read, but it was worth it for the final payoff. Jaime and Zoe are separated on a near-future Earth that has been attacked by aliens for no apparent reason. The Second Doctor was killed in front of them, but the Earth forces believed he was one of the aliens and they did some experimental treatments that prevented his regeneration, making them believe the Doctor is one of the aliens’ Indestructible Men of the title.

What’s really cool about this novel is that it’s a glowing homage to the Gerry Anderson shows of yesteryear. Elements of Fireball XL-5, UFO, Thunderbirds, Space 1999, and especially Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons are woven together, with what seemed to me to be a dash of The Quatermass Conclusion. And yet, like most of the Past Doctor adventures, the story wasn’t aimed at kids, which was a pleasant surprise.

Very well-written, this was a very enjoyable read and I think any fan of British science fiction, or weird puppet sci-fi, will enjoy it.

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Review: Up From Earth’s Center

Up From Earth's Center
Up From Earth’s Center by Kenneth Robeson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally, the last of the Doc Savage pulps, as they were published by Street and Smith, anyway. After forty years, I finally finished all 181 original adventures!

This story was much better than it’s reputation, since it was dealing with something completely out of Doc’s normal depth: The actual (or supposed) supernatural. Doc and Monk manage to actually get into Hell itself, and get out again. Though naturally Doc has a much more plausible explanation for what happened to them. The build up to the climax is interesting, though Mr. Wail doesn’t make much of an antagonist – he’s much more annoying than anything else.

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Review: If mistakes could fly, You’d be a Superhero

If mistakes could fly, You'd be a Superhero
If mistakes could fly, You’d be a Superhero by Kenyon Ledford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fairly good super-hero/private detective pastiche, but the formatting on the book made it very dreary to read; everything was formatted in a single, six to eight word column that was slightly off center. It was like reading a book on a Palm Pilot back in the early 2000’s – the short lines gave me a headache. The story itself was mildly humorous, and a bit over the top, which was fine for this sort of thing.

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Review: Slan

Slan by A.E. van Vogt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the classic science fiction/space opera novels that pretty much everyone read back in the day. It was a tad dated then and now, but it’s an enjoyable read.

The story is set in the future, with Jommy Cross being one of the last of the super race known as Slans. Slans are persecuted and killed on sight by humans, who are threatened by the Slans, who they believe to be manufactured by machines and which have telepathic abilities. Also in the mix are a subrace of the Slans, that don’t have the vast telepathic abilities, but have developed spacefaring technology that they plan to use to take over the planet (they already control Mars). Jommy’s crusade is to use the technology bequeathed him by his murdered father to united Slans and humans.

The main reason this is a four-star novel instead of a five is that the ending is very weak and sudden, and doesn’t necessarily resolve much in the story (at least for me). I enjoy van Vogt’s writing, but his characters are a bit cardboard in this one. But other than that, it’s a good tale, and definitely worth reading for any fan of proper science fiction and golden age sci-fi.

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Review: Superman: Last Son of Krypton

Superman: Last Son of Krypton
Superman: Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S. Maggin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m pretty sure this was the very first super-hero novel I ever read. I’m not counting the first Phantom or Flash Gordon books that were out a few years earlier, since they were comic strip characters. Soon after this, I started reading the more plentiful Marvel Comics novels that were out for a few years and then dried up as interest waned. But this was the first for me. And a good novel by any point of view.

Elliot S. Maggin was a perfect choice as author, being the prolific comic book writer that he is; All the characters are captured perfectly from their comic book incarnations. Even the retroactive addition that Maggin makes to the Superman mythos is handled smoothly, and makes you wish that writers of his caliber were still handling the Man of Steel’s comic books today. And that this particular Man of Tomorrow was still actually being written about.

Last Son of Krypton is an interesting look at Superman’s origins, as well as being a very readable mystery/science fiction tale. Definitely worth an afternoon of your time!

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