Universal Variant Code.

§ May 31st, 2023 § Filed under variant covers § 1 Comment

It’s the stunning return of Variant Cover-age, only because I found one this oddball thing that threw me off for a bit. Now, from the front this copy of the the first issue for 1996’s Kingdom Come looks like your typical first printing of this item:

But when you flip it over to enjoy Alex Ross’s wraparound cover, you notice a strange ommission…no UPC code!

For comparison, here’s what supposed to be in that little white box at the bottom there:

Kingdom Come #1 had a second printing, which this book in question isn’t, as there’s no indication of being as such in the indicia, plus it doesn’t have one of these Roman numeral doodads on the front:

And the second print does have the UPC code, too.

Soooooo…I didn’t know what the deal with this comic was. But I wasn’t the first to be puzzled by this variant, as seen in this message board thread. The thread starts with some business about UPC stickers being plastered on some copies of Kingdom Come, but eventually gets into the blank UPC box thing. One person there says he has the Kingdom Come Collector’s Set in which there was a #3 with no UPC.

I found an eBay auction for the Collector’s Set, from which I liberated this image:

The auction was very thorough in its scanning, giving backs and fronts of all the covers of the included books. No UPC-codeless copies, but it did have two second prints like the message boarder reported with his set.

Thus, if we take the person on the message board at his word, then the collector set was perhaps at least one source for this particular variant. However, seemingly not a consistent one, based on that one eBay listing. (No other open copies seemed to be on eBay, either current or recently ended.) Were the blank UPC copies whipped up to help fill these collector’s sets, which also dipped into the 2nd printing stock? I don’t recall this variation being made available otherwise.

If you’ve seen this version of the Kingdom Come comics, or if you have one of the Collector’s Sets your own self, please report in and let me know. I’d like more data points to nail down the origin of this book.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Ten.

§ May 29th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 7 Comments

Well, still going through the one-voters from that “fave ’80s comics” survey I ran a while back. It’s been fun going through those and finding what, if anything, I have to say about these “golden oldies.” And I apologize to anyone I just aged into dust by calling these comics from the 1980s “golden oldies.”

This time ’round there’s gonna be a series of which I haven’t read one panel, and even as I’m typing this I have no idea what I’m going to say. Let’s find out together, shall we?

The Rocketeer (Pacific/Eclipse/Comico/Dark Horse 1982-1995)

So here’s another exception to the “list just the initial series” in the header. The Rocketeer was serialized over several years, through several publications and publishers, in what was essentially one ongoing narrative, so I just lumped ’em all together here.

The story, written by Dave Stevens and drawn by him with the occasional assistance on layouts ‘n’ such from folks like Jaime Hernandez, began as a back-up story in Starslayer #2 and #3 from Pacific Comics. From there it continued with two more chapters in consecutive issues of the Pacific Presents anthology (1982-3), then on to a longer installment in The Rocketeer Special Edition #1 from Eclipse in 1984. Comico then released two issues of what would be technically the first Rocketeer “ongoing” series, The Rocketeer Adventure Magazine in 1988-9. And then finally, in 1995, the last part of Stevens’ story would be released as Rocketeer Adventure Magazine #3 by Dark Horse. Phew!

The early chapters, pre-Adventure Magazine, are reprinted in a full-color graphic novel from Eclipse in 1985 (which includes a couple of extra new story pages). In the 2000s, IDW would release collected editions of the whole shebang.

It is a fun story, pulpy 1930s adventure featuring a guy and his rocket-pack, and his pals, including his girlfriend Betty, very obviously patterned after real-life model Bettie Page. Stevens’ art was beautiful and meticulous and there was nothing quite like it on the stands. Sometimes the art felt a little stiff to me, without any real sense of action, but that’s a minor quibble. Despite all the delays, including a car accident, a lawsuit (Marvel suing because they said there’d be market confusion between this character some minor villains called “the Rocketeers” from the ’70s, really about as bullshit a suit as they come), a movie (perhaps you’ve heard of it), Stevens persevered and completed his story on his own terms.

Stevens would never do any more Rocketeer stories, and passed away in 2008. However, there are plenty of other Rocketeer comics out there, including the 1991 adaptation of the film published by Disney’s comics division. Probably of note due to artwork by the legendary Russ Heath, over a Peter David script. Also in 1991 was Rocketeer 3D, which was oddly another adaptation of the film drawn by Neal Adams/Continuity Studios and in, as you may have guessed, 3D.

After Stevens passed, IDW acquired the rights to do new comics, starting with the Rocketeer Adventuresanthology in 2011. Now, the IDW comics can be of…varying quality, but by and large they’re entertaining even as everyone involved is surely aware they’re trying very hard to fill some big shoes. Keep an eye out for the Rocketeer/Spirit crossover from 2013, by Mark Waid and Paul Smith. That’s a good’un.
Savage Henry (Vortex/Rip Off 1987-1993)

The temptation to go to ChatGPT and ask it to write this particular section for me is overwhelming. But, learning the lesson from these lawyers getting caught out doing the same thing, I will opt to tell you what I can, considering I’ve not read a single panel of any of these comics.

I remember selling Savage Henry on the rack, but mostly I remember the other series by Matt Howarth from about the same time, Those Annoying Post Bros.. Howarth did some other comics here and there, and at the previous place of employment we just had a “Matt Howarth” section in the back issue bins where we kept them all together. On the somewhat infrequent occasion we had someone looking for his books, that customer was generally looking for issues of all of them, and just keeping them in the same place seemed to make sense.

This comic is in fact a spin-off of Those Annoying Post Bros., a sci-fi/fantasy adventure featuring the band The Bulldaggers and its lead guitarist, the titular Savage Henry. Yes, I had to go to the Wikipedia entry amongst my research (“Siri, tell me about Savage Henry”) and apparently there was a whole pile of real-life musicians who popped up in here. I mean, I knew the Residents popped up in Howarth’s books…I definitely remember that…but, like, Steve Roach? Hawkwind? Andrew Weiss? (No, not that Andrew Weiss.)

I always thought the covers stood out, and Howarth’s art is, I think, pretty neat. I’m sorry I never got around to reading these, I’m sure they’re enjoyable.

Oh, and Savage Henry ran 13 issues from Vortex, before switching over to Rip Off Press for another 17. From that point it had a few new minis from MU Press and Caliber. No collected editions as far as I can tell, but if I’m wrong, let me know.
Scout (Eclipse 1985-1987)

Scout was one of those titles I decided at one point, early in my career of funnybook retailin’, to collect and complete. I only ended up getting the first few issues, and can’t remember why I didn’t get more. It certainly wasn’t the quality, as the series was All Tim Truman, All the Time (except for some back-ups and a couple of guest-artist stints, by fellow Joe Kubert School alumni Rick Veitch, Steve Bissette, and Tom Yeates).

The comics feature the adventures of Native American Emanuel Santana in the near-future of a fallen America, seeking out the Great Monsters of the Apache. Inexplicably I do not own #17, which a tie-in to Tales of the Beanworld.

The initial run of Scout was 24 issues, and a couple of related mini-series not by Truman (New America and Swords of Texas. Truman would return with Scout: War Shaman, which would end after 16 issues in 1989. There’s also a Scout Handbook in there somewhere. More comics were planned, but as of yet had not been released. A hardcover for the third part of the planned saga, Scout: Warauders, was recently just funded on Kickstarter, so it looks like there’s more to come.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t brag mention my copy of the “Marauders” vinyl record by Timothy Truman and the Dixie Pistols. Becauyse, you know, it contains an 8-page Scout mini-comic. No collection is complete without it!

Reprints: Eclipse published a couple of trades back in the day, running up through issue #14 of the original series. Dynamite published a couple of reprint volumes in the early 2000s, which get up to issue #15, so…a full comprehensive printing has not yet been unleashed.

Anyway, it’s Truman, therefore it’s good. Look for those issues in the bargain boxes. There’s only a few dozen to track down, it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do.

• • •

And there’s your three for the day! Yes, I know this is taking forever but honestly it takes a lot to even do just three comics for these entries. A new entry in the Final ’80s Countdown is coming soon…thanks for reading, pals!

Just in time for me to have bought all those ROM back issues for the store, too.

§ May 26th, 2023 § Filed under marvel, publishing § 20 Comments

Well, this was as real week for “that’s the last thing I expected to hear”-type news, starting with the stunning return of failed-toy-but-reasonably-successful-comic-character ROM Spaceknight to Marvel Comics!

Now as far as anyone can tell, this “return” seems to be limited to reprinting the original material, in this case in those large Omnibus editions and at least one facsimile edition in the form of a reprint of issue #1. Also included will be those crossover issues that, previously, had been on the reprint-banned list and skipped over in trade collections for other characters. For example, an issue of Power Man and Iron Fist will be in Omnibus #1. (Which has me wondering…Peter David put an unarmored, totally human ROM in an issue of Incredible Hulk…will this Not Approved by the License Holder appearance get into an omnibus?)

At any rate, this is exciting news, with the license holder apparently discovering with the attempted ROM comics revival at another publisher a few years back that the ROM people want is the Marvel version. And my recommendation…if you want these, get your preorders in as soon as possible and buy them right away. No idea how long Marvel has the license, or under what restrictions (like how often can they reprint these books). I don’t know if waiting for cheaper “Epic” paperback collections would be wise.

And I don’t know if Marvel would be allowed to reissue some of their other trade collections that previously omitted any ROM appearances. Most notably, there’s an issue of Incredible Hulk that prominently featured the Spaceknight, #296 from 1984, that when reprinted had all of ROM’s appearances in the story replaced with text pieces explaining what happened without mentioning the character by his at that point unlicensed name. Be nice to have that fixed.

After the ROM announcement, people responded with “wow, now do the Micronauts,” and lo, Marvel done did the Micronauts. Like ROM, these comics will also be issued in the large Omnibus hardcover format, preceded by a facsimile edition of the initial Micronauts comic book. Most of the comments I made about the ROM reprints above can be applied to the Micronauts as well. Order early, order often!

I don’t think the Micronauts popped up in other Marvel comics as much as ROM did, but there’s at least the X-Men/Micronauts mini-series so hopefully that’ll make it in. Also, it’s actually pretty good.

The third, slightly less surprising news, is Image Comics announcing they’re shifting their distribution to Lunar. I mean, “less surprising” in that I figured another biggish publisher would split from Diamond and move elsewhere eventually, and that Image was one of the likely suspects.

Like with Marvel, Image will still be available through Diamond, but likely at a worse wholesale discount. This is a pretty significant hit to Diamond, I would think, and one I thought would be a fatal blow. But, given that apparently a number of retailers have stuck with Diamond for their Marvel business, despite it costing more, I imagine the same will occur with Image. So, you know, Diamond’s not done yet. But I can picture a day, maybe years from now, when the company will be “Your #1 Source for Sexy Anime Bikini Girl PVC Statues, and Only That!”

It will be nice to have a couple different sources for reorders, in case one of the other is out of stock on something. And the distributor competition has been good for Diamond, in that my shipments are relatively error free compared to, well, the last couple of decades. I know that’s not the case for everyone, as when I mentioned this on the Twitters I heard from another retailer that the missing/damaged books in his shipments have been just as bad, if not worse. As such, I’ll just consider myself lucky, and hope they’re not building up to a shipment where all my boxes are delivered on fire or something.

image from Incredible Hulk #418 (1994) by Peter David, Gary Frank and Cam Smith

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Nine.

§ May 24th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 11 Comments

Continuing the look at your picks for favorite ’80s titles:

normalman (Aardvark-Vanaheim/Renegade Press 1984-1985)

If I can let you in on a little blogging secret here…I wrote the middle bit about Pirate Corp$ first, and spent a lot of time doing so, which doesn’t leave me much time for the other two entries here. As such, I’m going to cheat a little and quote from a post I wrote nearly ten years ago on the topic of the great normalman comic:

“I bought the first issue of normalman back in the early days of my ‘hey, I just found a comic shop and I really want to try comics by people other than Marvel and DC’ phase, mostly because, well, it looked like it would be funny.

“And it was! This probably remains my favorite work by Jim Valentino (then, only ‘Valentino’)…fun, goofy comics about the one guy without powers on a planet filled with superheroes and villains. I recognized the subjects of the parodies on each cover, even if I didn’t specifically know a whole lot about all of them at the time. A couple of friends of mine were also reading the series, and we had a good time talking about some of the gags in the book (such as the ongoing, issue-after-issue roll-call of the Legion of Super-Heroes parody, and the highly-entertaining-to-a-bunch-of-teenagers Man-Man, with his Ganja-Breath.”

I stand by all that. It’s a wonderful series, best experienced in its original individual-issue format with its great parody covers and original coloring, with the caveat that the final issue wrapping up the initial run is in 3D in case you have trouble reading such things. There have been a couple of reprint books (one from Slave Labor that reprints the first series, one from Image that seems to reprint nearly everything) that feature the story in 2-D.

There were follow-ups over the years, like Image’s normalman/Megaton Man special (that brings together lots of indie folks, especially Flaming Carrot), and the 20th Anniversary special in 2004. Hey, we’re due for a 40th anniversary special next year! Hear that, Valentino?

normalman started as a back-up in a couple of issues of Cerebus (#56-7) before popping up in his own series. He also made appearances in the Aardvark-Vanaheim AV in 3D book (1984), Marvel’s humor one-shot Epic Lite #1 (1991), a wild appearance in Journey, plus several other little bits and pieces that are reprinted in that big ol’ Image book. Not reprinted is the Max the Magnificent one-shot from Slave Labor in 1987, featuring the supporting character from normalman as well as normalman’s best pal Captain Everything.

Good stuff all around, with the initial mini being the best. Worth seeking out if you’ve not read it.
Pirate Corp$ (Eternity/Malibu 1987-1988)

Okay, usually what I try to do here is list the first ongoing series for each property I discuss here, post a representative issue from that intial run, then in the body of the text I mention the other related series, if any. In this particular case, after the Eternity/Malibu four issue run, there was a transitional issue, the Pirate Corp$ Special released by Slave Labor in 1989 before starting their own ongoing series. That’s what I’ve got pictured here, because that was the first issue I ever bought of this title, for the primary reason that the Fishbone band t-shirt the fella’s wearin’ on the cover caught my eye. Being quite the Fishbone fan at the time, I had to pick it up and check it out, and I’m glad I did.

It’s a sci-fi “dramedy” following a gang of misfits and outcasts that is more sci-fi adventure when it starts out, and progressively focuses less on that and more on character-based stories during its Slave Labor run. Evan Dorkin writes and draws the book, mostly in crisp black and white, detail-filled panels (though the first two Eternity issues are in color). In addition to the four issue Eternity series and the Special one-shot, there were five issues of Pirate Corp$ from Slave Labor from ’89 to ’92, which changed its name to Hectic Planet with #6 in 1993 to reflect the de-emphasizing of the whole “this is a corp$ of space pirates” thing. Apparently there’s a second print of #5 with the new Hectic Planet, which I was only reminded of when researching online.

Now I was looking for something else in my collection when I came across all my Pirate Corp$/Hectic Planet comics, so I pulled them out in case I needed to reference them for this now overly-wordy blog post. And it’s a good thing I did because I 100% forgot about Hectic PLanet: The Bummer Trilogy from 2001, which I think is the final “new” bit of this series to see print. “New” is in quotes because it’s reprinting three stories from the anthology series Dark Horse Presents. Oh, and almost forgot the Vroom Socko one-shot tie-in, published in 1993, collecting material from the British comics/music mag Deadline.

The original Eternity run was republished in two black and white issues from Slave Labor under the name Pirate Corp$: The Blunder Years, and there were three trade paperbacks under the name Hectic Planet reprinting the PC/HP series with additional material.

It’s a fun series, well worth seeking out, and those three trades are likely the definitive version so look for those. (“The Bummer Trilogy” may not be included, as it was coming out around the same time as these trades. I can’t tell from the solicits on Diamond’s website and the Comics Database doesn’t have them indexed.)

One more thing, because at this point why not type more: at my previous place of employment, when these comics were being released, all of us at the shop were huge fans and recommended the comic to whomever we thought would be likely suspects. At one point our orders on the title were so high we’d get phone calls from the distributor asking if we’d meant to order that many, or if, like, a finger slipping filling out the numbers or something. “Nope, we want ’em all!” we said, and eventually we figured out we were selling about 5% of the comic’s print run. My former boss Ralph ran into Mr. Dorkin at the San Diego Con about that time and related our sales on the book to him, and according to Ralph he jumped right up and shook his hand. I certainly hope that moment made Mr. Dorkin happy, as much as his comics were, and still are, making us happy.

BONUS: this post from a couple of years ago where I show off an original Pirate Corp$ sketch in my possession, along with a much more pithy appreciation of the comic.
Puma Blues (Aardvark-One International/Mirage Studios 1986-1989)

Again, see my intro for normalman above, as I’m not leaving myself much time to write about this lushly-illustrated series. You owe it to yourself to find the originals for the covers alone, as they don’t make it into this otherwise exceptional hardcover collection.

I said back in that linked post that this was a dense, challenging, and rewarding read, set in the near future of the year 2000. It takes place years after a nuclear event set off by terrorists wipes out a good chunk of America’s wilderness, and nature’s recovery and the resultant mutated animals are the object of study. Again, it’s been a while since I’ve read this, despite having that big ol’ brick of the book in my possession, but it’s one I’ve been meaning to get back to someday. It’s simply just beautiful to look at.

And as I like to remind people whenever this comes up, Puma Blues unfortunately ended up in a dispute between Dave Sim and Diamond Comics Distributors. Dave decided to sell the Cerebus book High Society trade outside of Diamond, and Diamond retaliated by not carrying Puma Blues. Wild times.

• • •

Good gravy, that’s enough for tonight. Back to it next week! Thanks for reading, pals.

They should redo this book in, like, Minecraft graphics.

§ May 22nd, 2023 § Filed under batman § 14 Comments

Just a very quick follow-up on last week’s postings about naughty words in comics…I of course found this panel almost too late to use, which I think you’re agree is perfect:

Found this while flipping through Pepe Moreno’s Batman: Digital Justice graphic novel. I’d posted it on the Twitters, and I felt like it’d been long enough since it was released that I had to explain, no, this was an actual thing that was officially released by DC and not an A.I.-generated abomination. It was a human-made abomination, thank you very much!

But I tease Batman: Digital Justice, which was hailed as a ground-breaking concept, and it was, in a way, in that computers are used in pretty much every level of comic book production. Only things don’t look quite so…computer-y nowadays. Unless they do so on purpose, natch. But Digital Justice was a leap beyond something like the computer-crafted comics Shatter, the look of which I think still holds up in its pixelated retro fashion.

It’s honestly been a while since I’ve read this, but I did read it…it came out in 1990, when you just had to slap a Bat-logo on something and people bought it. And people did buy this graphic novel by the truckload, at least at my former shop. In the decades since copies have popped up in collections now and again and the book is…not the easiest sell now. It’s not primitive-looking enough to be kitsch like Shatter, but just polished enough to look odd to the modern eye. I don’t know if the story itself holds up…Joker gets computerized something something and I’m sure every inch of this book is very much Of Its Time, but then you can say that about pretty much any Batman comic.

So share a kind thought for Batman: Digital Justice, one of the very few Bat-books that will probably not get reprinted anytime soon. But if you ever need a copy, thankfully they’re not hard to find.

Also, when I posted the above panel on Twitter, I thought for certain someone would respond with a certain other panel, but nobody did. Thus, it is up to me:

The circle is complete.

Purge Code Authority – All Words Are Legal.

§ May 19th, 2023 § Filed under publishing § 23 Comments

So in talking about nudity in the Planet of the Apes film and comic I somehow neglected to awkwardly squeeze in my old joke about the French sex farce installment of the franchise Do the Carpets Match the Apes? Ah well, maybe next time.

Anyhow, last time I was talking about how the comic book softened the language just a tad for the last lines of the original POTA, and that the particular phrase would not make its first Comics Code-approved appearance ’til an issue of Justice League in the 1980s. There was a question in the comments from “S” wondering if I meant the word “damn,” leading to this coming clarification.

“Damn,” as we know, has a long history in the funnybooks, though I feel like Marvel kinda avoided using that and “hell” throughout the ’80s, despite leaning hard on them in the ’70s. I do wonder what the first appearance of both would be in comics?

What I was referring to was a slightly stronger epithet, as Taylor says here in the clip from the film. He says “damn” first, then the term I was specifically referencing. NOTE: this spoils the end of the 1968 Planet of the Apes, so if you somehow haven’t seen it yet, please don’t let me be the one who ruins the surprise. BEHOLD THE CLIP.

And as presented in issue #6 of Adventures on the Planet of the Apes (again, reprinted from the black and white magazine), a somewhat bowlderized, certainly less scene-chewing, version of the same event:

That’s the difference of which I was speaking. One invokes God, the other does not.

And here, from Justice League International #12 (1988), is what I believe to be its first use in a Code-approved book:

I presume separating it out in different word balloons helped lighten the impact to let it slip through.

As long as we’re on the topic, the first Code-approved use of “shit” (almost certainly by accident…someone in the Comics Code offices probably just assumed everything was good and rubber-stamped this approval, if anyone bothered to submit it at all) was DC’s adaptation of Star Trek: Generations (the newsstand/”standard” format edition).

First Code-approved version of “pissed off” was, I think, 1989’s Justice League International #23 (Justice League, always pushing that edge!), which I pointed out just a few months ago.

“Asshole” didn’t make it into a Code-approved book, I’m pretty sure, but it did pop up in the first issue of Final Crisis, which was a big DC event book and a weird place for it to appear. (I can’t spot it in the digital version, and my print versions are currently in reorganization limbo, so I’ll have to follow up later.)

I’m sure “ass” all on its lonesome appeared in a Code book at some point, because it sure turns up all the time in superhero comics now. I don’t think “dick” (as in “that guy’s a…” not “whoa, look at the size of that…”) got the CCA stamp at any point, but I think it’s been in the mainstream superhero books of late on rare occasions.

With the Code dead, we’re not going to get to watch more naughtiness still slip through its net (like a “hey, fuck you, Wolverine!” in Uncanny X-Men #Reboot+), but maybe more past examples will show up. I would be curious as to what the earliest examples were of each word appearing in a Code-approved (or at least otherwise standard mainstream superhero comic, either Pre or Post-Code).

I hope I don’t come across as some pearl-clutcher, aghast at such salty language appearing in Little Billy’s comics. Honestly, I’m just amused by how standards change over time, or (in the likely case of the Trek comic) just get bypassed entirely on occasion. It does make it harder for me to just tell a parent “oh sure that comic’s fine for your kid!” only to have that parent march up to me a few minutes later and point out someone in the story shouting “oh hell, my damn balls!” or whatever.

Not that it was easy before, like that one mom who objected to reprints of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man comics because the women were “too sexy.” …Um, are we talking about the same Steve Ditko here…?”

And now, some Comics Code-approved nudity.

§ May 17th, 2023 § Filed under marvel § 17 Comments

So I was reading the Adventures on the Planet of the Apes series, the first few issues of which being a reasonably faithful adaptation of the classic 1968 movie, as presented by Doug Moench, George Tuska, Mike Esposito, and John Romita (who redrew Taylor’s face throughout the book).

And I was a little surprised by the number of pages devoted in the first issue to our lead characters just runnin’ around in the altogther:

That’s a few samples, provided entirely for educational purposes. I mean, yes, it’s fairly tame, naughty bits dutifully covered, but there were more butts than I expected. I honestly would’ve thought the Comics Code Authority (R.I.P.) would have compelled Marvel to draw little Speedos on everyone.

But then again…the source material, the movie, was G-rated despite the presence of brief nudity, so maybe the Code was all “eh.” Plus, it was the ’70s, we were likely less uptight about butts then, not like now with all those anti-butt laws on the books. Everyone was letting their freak butts fly, friends.

The material in this color series was reprinted from Marvel’s black and white Planet of the Apes magazines, which was not bound to any of the Code’s rules, but as far as I know not much, if anything, was changed in the translation to color. Not just talking about the nudity, but some of the more mature themes discussed (talk of gelding Taylor, Taylor speaking about making love) made it through.

Interestingly, Taylor being stripped naked during his trial didn’t make it into the comic. Also, the last lines of the film, the ones Taylor speaks after seeing, well, you know, are softened a bit. (I think it’s not until an issue of the 1980s Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League that the particular epithet in question makes it into a Code-approved book).

So yes, this was a semi-deep dive into butts for no real good reason other than “oh, say, that’s a higher butt quotient than in most comics I read, save Nightwing” and thought it was worth noting. I like seeing what did and did not get by the Code in those days, when they didn’t like you using the word “zombie” or showing folks gettin’ stabbed in the eye.

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Eight.

§ May 15th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 13 Comments

Doc Stearn…Mr. Monster (Eclipse 1985-1987)

…Whoops, entered it on my master list of ’80s vote-getters under “Mr. Monster” instead of the full real name, as shown above, which is why I didn’t get to it ’til the Ms. Sorry, person who voted for this comic and was probably wondering why I skipped it!

Anyway, Michael T. Gilbert based this wacky monster-non-approving hero on a relatively straight-laced and public domain Golden Age comics character by the same name, and he and William Messner-Loebs and, of course, the amazing lettering of Ken Bruzenak, Other creators would hop on board, such as Alan Moore scripting an adventure in #3 (pictured), but it was mostly Gilbert who was the master of ceremonies here.

There were a number of spin-offs, including Mr. Monster’s Super Duper Specials reprinting Golden Age material with new wraparound comics by Gilbert. All good, but the two “Hi-Shock Schlock!” issues are indispensable.

I’m not going to try to list every Mr. Monster spin-off here, as there were plenty, running well into the 2010s, from its original home at Eclipse, to Image Comics, to Tundra, to Dark Horse and more. There was even a Penthouse Comix publication that had a Mr. Monster story…which, despite being called “Penthouse Max,” I think it was…if not general audiences, at least non-porn. Wasn’t like I was going to sell anything called “Penthouse” to kids, regardless.

While most of the spin-offs post that initial Eclipse series were more in the wild comedic over-the-top mode, the most notable follow-up may have been the eight part mini-series from Dark Horse. It was in black and white, a sharp contrast to Doc’s usual colorful adventures, and it was a more-or-less serious retelling of the character’s origins. Quite good, beautifully done, but at the time I felt like the character’s humorous momentum was curtailed by this somber aside and it never really got back on course.

I mean, clearly there was still plenty of funny Mr. Monster to be had, and I bought and enjoyed pretty much all of it, but I never really got that same…entertaining, “anything goes” anarchic feeling that I had in that original 10-issue run. Don’t get me wrong, that origin mini is great, but if you read the funny Mr. Monster first and decide you like it, maybe read the rest of the output before tacking that backstory.
Ms. Tree (Eclipse/Aardvark-Vanaheim/Renegade Press 1983-1989)

Okay, how many times have I told this story? I was buying the Ms. Tree comics, an ongoing saga about a lady detective and the tangled web her violent tactics can weave, for quite some time before getting my job working at a comic book store. Early at that job, someone asked for the Ms. Tree back issues. I replied, “sure, let me get the Ms. Trees for you…wait, hold on. ‘Ms. Tree.’ ‘Mystery!’ I get it!”

Because, you know, I never had occasion to say the name aloud before. I only ever just saw it as a name. “Ms. Michael Tree.” Also, I was a dumb teenager. Even by “dumb teenager” standards.

But anyway, Ms. Tree started out in Eclipse Magazine #1 in 1981, with the first chapter of a serialized story by Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty. It ran there for a few issues before graduating into its own 50-issue-long ongoing series…Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Stories for hte first three issues, before shorting to Ms. Tree for the rest of its run through three publishers (noted above). Early issues of the run (including the Eclipse Magazine stories) were reprinted in the ’80s in a three-issue book series called Files of Ms. Tree, but currently the UK publisher Titan is releasing new reprint volumes (the newest one, Heroine Withdrawal, coming this October).

During that initial run, there were a couple of fun spin-offs, including a 3-D issue that features the cleverly named new story “Death, Danger and Diamonds” (because…3 Ds, you see) and a reprint of a story from AV in 3D (the Aardvark-Vanaheim 3D special). The new story here is reprinted in Files of Ms. Tree volume 3 in 2-D black and white, if you’d rather read it that way. In addition, there’s a crossover mini-series with E-Man‘s Michael Mauser called The P.I.s which is worth a look.

After that main run wraps up, the saga continues over at DC Comics as Ms. Tree Quarterly and Ms. Tree Special. Those end in the early-mid 1990s and I think that’s more or less been it since then for new Tree stories. At least in comics, as the character did appear in a prose novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved, released in 2007. Which I’m pretty sure I have around here but haven’t got around to reading yet. (There are a handful of other prose short stories with Ms. Tree, two in the Files collections, and then a couple that appeared in mystery anthologies in the early ’90s.

Speaking of reading…like I said above, I did read all of the comics. It’s a fun, occasionally violent, occasionally brutal, occasionally…Shakespearean? (Romeo and Juliet specifically, when Tree’s son and the daughter of a mob boss fall in love). Plenty of melodrama to be had, and Tree’s tactics have serious consequences for her (turns out you if you solve all your problems with violence, folks are gonna look a bit askance at you). Also, the cover pictured here is maybe the best cover of the series…really lets you know what you’re in for.

Of special note is #50 from Renegade, which includes a flexidisc with “The Theme from Ms. Tree” as performed by Cruisin’ (Collins on keyboards, if memory serves). There’s a CD (long out of print, I’m assuming) that has the track on there, too.
Neat Stuff (Fantagraphics 1985-1989)

For whatever reason, though I was on the lookout for new alternative material around the mid-1980s, and I was buying Fantagraphics label-mates like Love and Rockets and Lloyd Llewellyn, among others, I didn’t really catch onto Peter Bagge’s Neat Stuff until, well, way into its run. Like, “the last couple of issues” late.

I’ve no excuse. I mean, I saw them on the shelves. I knew it existed. I just never got around to picking it up, and now that I’m in my strange “let’s fill holes in my comic collection” phase of acquiring original publications of material I mostly have otherwise, maybe this is a run I can eventually acquire.

I must have liked those two issues of Neat Stuff enough to pick up his new comic-book-sized series, Hate, when it started in 1990. The new series focused on the l life of Buddy Bradley, the approaching-adulthood slacker son of the Bradley family that had been a prominent component of the preceding Neat Stuff. At any rate, I was totally in the Bagge (hold for applause) for these comics, so when Fantagraphics collected the older Bradleys material, as well as other work from those magazines, into four trade paperbacks, I bought them all.

I’m not 100% certain how to best describe Neat Stuff. Wild, occasionally vulgar, humor with unpleasant characters in upsetting situations that will shame you into laughing, and it’s terrific. There is a slipcased hardcover set The Complete Neat Stuff currently available if you don’t want to be a weirdo like me who wants to get the all the originals to see this material in its initial context.

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That’s enough of that…will be on to part nine of this overview of the one-voters from this survey soon. Thanks for reading as always, pals, and I’ll see you back here soon.

The “Injury to Eye” toys kids have been demanding!

§ May 12th, 2023 § Filed under golden age, misfit toys § 10 Comments

Just a quick post to let you know that some swell new toys are coming from Super7/Reaction in a couple of months, based on classic pre-code horror comic covers, like Baffling Mysteries #7 (1952), art by Frank Giusto:

and Chilling Tales #13 (1952), art by Matt Fox:

and Ghostly Weird Stories #122 (1954), art by L.B. Cole…an L.B. Cole action figure, can you believe it?

and best of all, Black Cat Comics #50, art by Lee Elias:

Comes with its own stick of radium, it does!

These are some wild figures with beautiful packaging, and I hope they do more. I wonder if there’s some way to do the “Colorama” story in figure form?

The Final ’80s Countdown, Part Seven.

§ May 10th, 2023 § Filed under final countdown § 6 Comments

Still going through those one-vote wonders from your feedback on the best ’80s indie titles. Like I said before, nothing wrong with only getting one vote in my pseudo-poll…it’s an indication of just how much good stuff there is to choose from for there to be an easy consensus.

Journey (Aardvark-Vanaheim/Fantagraphics 1983-1986)

William Messner-Loeb’s magnum opus, this series featuring the adventures of frontiersman Wolverine McAlistaire in the 1800s had a not-long-enough run of 27 issues. There were a couple of back-ups in Cerebus that precede the series, and there was an aborted follow-up mini Journey: Wardrums that only had two of its proposed six issues released. The Fantagraphics benefit series Anything Goes (#5 in 1987) includes a Journey short, and in 2008, pal Nat published Many Happy Returns, which contains the latest, and last, new story for the property.

It’s a great series, beautifully illustrated in black and white, and Loebs’ style is perfect for the wilderness settings. There are some funny anachronistic bits — anachronistic on purpose — and a mix of actual historical figures appearing alongside with the supporting cast. …It’s been a while since I’ve read through these, to be honest, but I do recall it was a wonderful comic and I would highly recommend it.

There are a number of reprints out there, the most comprehensive being two volumes from IDW in 2008-9 which reprint the 27 issues of the original series. They’re out of print, but you might be able to find them on the aftermarket. The Cerebus back-ups are in the first volume. Fantagraphics published two reprint volumes, Tall Tales and Bad Weather, which include issues #1-8 and the back-ups.

Of particular note is #13, which crosses over with Jim Valentino’s superhero parody book normalman. Yes, you read that right. That would be the first issue of the series I’d ever picked up, and I liked it so much I hunted down the rest of the comics and have them here today, for me to someday reread because boy they were good. See, that’s how crossovers are supposed to work.
Lloyd Llewellyn (Fantagraphics 1986-1987)

I saw the first issue of this magazine-sized publication on the shelf at the comic shop, and as a teenager who still liked superhero comics but was always on the lookout for something new and weird, I immediately picked it up, and all the follow-up issues as they came out besides. Strange, funny adventures by a nascent Dan Clowes, with more than a touch of influence from the Silver Age. You can see the beginnings of what would later blossom in Eightball, only barely constrained to the conceit of the title character’s detective-y endeavors.

Lloyd first popped up in a preview story in Love and Rockets #13 in 1985, and he would also appear as a back-up in the aforementioned Doomsday Squad (in his first color story appearance, I believe).

There would be some later appearances, including a Lloyd Llewellyn Special that was comic-sized, unlike the previous ongoing. Then in Eightball Lloyd turned up a couple of times, but was pretty much discarded in favor of other fare.

For reprints, there’s the late ’80s paperback release of #$@&!: The Official Lloyd Llewellyn Collection, which includes a number of stories from the magazine and the special (but not all), as well as a new story. The ultimate reprinting would be the Manly World of Lloyd Llewellyn, which seems to include everything. This was a limited hardcover with a 2,000 copy print run, so it may be a little harder to find, and likely more dear in cost.
Mighty Mites (Eternity 1986-1987)

Well, here’s one of those series where I don’t have a lot to say about it, aside from what I already wrote about one specific issue, oh, about 13 years ago. That issue was chock full of parodies and mostly (presumably) unofficial cameos of other characters, both mainstream and small press, and I presume the rest of the series was likely the same. I thought it was amusing, and it was no less a personage than Rusty Shackles who noted the spot-on Chris Claremont parody in another issue. With only these two data points in hand, I’m going to say this series might have been one of the better results of the black and white boom.

There was an initial three-issue series from Eternity starting in 1986, followed by a new two-issue series in 1987. Then in 1991 another new three issue series came out from Continüm, followed by yet another three issue mini from the same publisher in 1993. What is this, Aspen Comics? As far as I can tell, this was never reprinted in trades or anything, so you’re dependent on finding the single issues in bargain bins or in old stores that have been around a while and still have copies floating about. But if you do seem ’em…heck, try one out. I liked the one I bought.

• • •

Once more, lots of typing…thanks for plowing through all that, pals. There’s no short way of doing this that I’d be happy with, so, well, here we are! Back Friday with more goodies!

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