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Star Wars #50.

§ May 28th, 2004 § Filed under happy anniversary happy anniversary Comments Off on Star Wars #50.

Star Wars #50 (August 1981) demonstrates the problem with media tie-in comics…since Han Solo was frozen in carbonite and whisked away by Boba Fett at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, all the comics published between that movie and the then-forthcoming third film Return of the Jedi had to make do without everyone’s favorite space-smuggler.

Either that, or you do lots of flashbacks. This issue (by Archie Goodwin, Al Williamson, Tom Palmer, and Walt Simonson) is no exception…Luke Skywalker is stuck down by a fatal disease known as “The Crimson Forever” – and the only clue to a possible cure is in a past adventure with Solo and Chewbacca. This is a solid Star Wars story, with good adventure writing by the always dependable Goodwin, and if you’re familiar with the names in the illustration credits, you know the art is quite lovely. Unfortunately, the muddy reproduction and the crummy paper undermine the linework. The only real misstep (if you can call it that) in the whole issue is the interjection of an ongoing antagonist created for the comics…it just seemed a little out of place in a special issue that, for 90% of the story, was self-contained and focused primarily on the characters from the movies.

However, if you can overlook that character just showing up out of nowhere (there’s enough clunky exposition thrown in there to catch you up), this is a fun Star Wars adventure, and worth seeking out.

Flash #300.

§ May 27th, 2004 § Filed under happy anniversary happy anniversary Comments Off on Flash #300.

Flash #300 (August ’81) was a 48-page no-ads issue by Cary Bates, classic Flash artist Carmine Infantino, and Bob Smith. Underneath the wraparound cover (showing the Flash feeding knuckle sandwiches to his many villains) we find Barry Allen, heavily bandaged, stuck in a hospital bed. Apparently the accident that gave Allen his super-speed powers instead burned him severely, and his entire Flash career was nothing more than a delusion to cope with his injuries. Allen’s not convinced, of course, and as the story progresses he flashes (har har) back on his own origin, his career, and his friends and allies (like the Elongated Man and Green Lantern). He also goes over the origins of all the villains in his rogues gallery trying to determine which one is most likely responsible for his predicament. It’s a nice overview of the character’s history, as drawn by the one artist most associated with the Flash.

A nice touch is one of Fred Hembeck‘s patented illustrated essays on the inside front and back covers, where he looks at some of the Flash’s more bizarre adventures, accompanied by his fun cover recreations: “I’ve got the strangest feeling I’m being turned into a puppet!” says the Flash; “Just how does one get the feeling he’s being ‘puppetized’?” is Fred’s reasonable response.

By the way, the Wally West Flash series only needs another 35 issues or so, and there will be as many issues of the current version of the Flash as of the Barry Allen Flash. How weird is that? It seems like just yesterday I was buying the first issue of the new Flash series off the shelf.

Detective Comics #500.

§ May 26th, 2004 § Filed under happy anniversary happy anniversary § 1 Comment

Detective Comics #500 is cover-dated March 1981, and was blurbed as the “500th Anniversary Celebration,” which means, of course, that Detective Comics began publishing in 1481. Actually, this is issue #500 of the long-running series, and this would have been its 43rd or 44th anniversary issue, which isn’t as terribly impressive as a 500th anniversary, but still, it’s nothing to sneeze at.

This is yet another anniversary issue I bought off the stands as a child (11, this time), and apparently I was impressed enough with this issue that I plunked down $1.50 of my hardly-earned money to take it home with me. And I’m glad I did, as it remains a favorite of mine to this day.

This advertising-free 80-pager features the following stories:

  • “To Kill A Legend” by Alan Brennert and Dick Giordano – the Phantom Stranger whisks Batman and Robin away to a parallel Earth, where they must prevent the deaths of the parents of the young Bruce Wayne of that world. Or must they?

  • “The ‘Too Many Cooks’ Caper” by Len Wein and Jim Aparo – starring Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s other creation, Slam Bradley, as well as such other DC detective characters as Roy Raymond, Pow-Wow Smith, the Human Target, and more. A nice reminder that the comic is called Detective Comics for a reason.

  • “Once Upon A Time” by Len Wein and Walt Simonson – a two-page Batman adventure based on, of all things, the story written by that long-suffering author, Snoopy. Yes, even the line “suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon” makes it into the story.

  • “The Final Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe!” by Mike W. Barr and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez – in a nice touch, this story (starring that strechable sleuth, the Elongated Man) centers around a lost magazine edited by the creator of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe.

  • “The Batman Encounters Gray Face” by Walter Gibson, with illustrations by Tom Yeates – this is an 8-page prose story by Gibson, the creator of the pulp hero the Shadow.

  • “The Strange Death of Doctor Erdel” by Paul Levitz and Joe Kubert – the title of this story, which stars Hawkman and Hawkgirl, doesn’t appear in the story itself, just in the table of contents…which is just as well, since for longtime DC fans, the doctor’s name gives away the surprise ending of the story, involving a character that shared the pages of Detective for several years.

  • “What Happens When A Batman Dies?” by Cary Bates, Carmine Infantino, and Bob Smith – the final story involves Batman, being struck down by a mysterious poison, journeying into the afterlife (accompanied by Deadman) and being confronted by not only all the people he has helped over the years (but apparently died anyway), but by the two people Batman — that is, Bruce Wayne — misses the most. The odd thing about this story…if it were still in continuity, the result would be that Batman would no longer have the emotional baggage from the tragedy of his youth…the very tragedy that feeds the need for vengeance that fuels his vigilante career. But, really, I don’t care, because I love this story anyway.

Inside the back cover is a brief text piece detailing the creators and characters that appear in this issue. A nice bit is the sequence bordering the text piece showing the progression of the jam cover on this issue…a six panel “strip” showing as each piece of the cover is added, along with the signature of the artist responsible. It’s a lot nicer than your standard “key to the cover” that you usually get with this sort of thing.

For a brief period of time, shortly after I had bought this issue, it turned up missing, which made me fairly unhappy as you might imagine. However, as it turns out, it just ended up somehow getting mixed in with a pile of my dad’s gun magazines…and you can maybe see a small measure of irony there, what with losing a Batman comic among gun mags, if you kinda squint a little.

Well, if you were going to get a copy of this today, it’ll cost you a little more than the $1.50 I had to fork over, but it’s a solid and enjoyable package that still holds up all these years later.

Justice League of America #200.

§ May 25th, 2004 § Filed under happy anniversary happy anniversary Comments Off on Justice League of America #200.

Justice League of America #200 is one of my favorite superhero comics, bought off the stands by a 12-year-old me back in ’82. The plot (involving the return of the alien warriors from the team’s origin story in issue #9 from ’62) basically pits the original members of the JLA (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, etc.) against the team members that joined later. The battles between the heroes are separated out into chapters, each by a different and appropriate illustrator: Atom vs. Green Lantern by Gil Kane, Flash vs. Elongated Man by Carmine Infantino, Green Arrow & Black Canary vs. Batman by Brian Bolland, Aquaman vs. Red Tornado by Jim Aparo, and more — there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Each chapter features at least one full page drawing of the heroes confronting each other…a nice showcase for each artist to strut his stuff. The framing chapters and wraparound cover are by George Perez. It’s 72 pages, no ads, and well worth your time should you happen upon a copy.

This is the quintessential superhero comic anniversary issue, the one by which all others should be judged: it features 1) plenty of artists*, 2) all the characters regularly associated with the book, 3) a more or less stand-alone story (if you haven’t read the original origin story, it’s recapped), and 4) a nice reflection on the history of the book and what makes it unique (both within the story itself and in the essay by writer Gerry Conway, printed on the inner covers). Too many anniversary or “special” issues seem to be the culmination of the previous year’s plotlines…which I suppose is fine for that title’s regular readers. But, there are some people, like me, who like to pick up the larger special issues to sample other titles or characters and would rather get a self-contained story instead of “the senses-shattering final chapter!”

And yes, before you ask, the Gil Kane chapter does feature one of his patented “haymaker punch/receiver of punch flung backwards, head over heels” shots. It wouldn’t be Gil Kane without it!

* Okay, you don’t have to have “plenty of artists” for a good anniversary book, necessarily, but it certainly adds to the appeal of this particular comic!

Uncanny X-Men #175.

§ May 24th, 2004 § Filed under happy anniversary happy anniversary Comments Off on Uncanny X-Men #175.

1. I don’t know if I could have picked a worse issue of Uncanny X-Men to have been my first than issue #175, which I bought off the stands over 20 years ago. I don’t mean “worse” in terms of quality (it was fine, certainly better than the dire X-Men comics we’d see in the 90s), but worse in terms of “easily accessible to someone who has never read X-Men before, ever.”

Yeah, I know that seems to be a little late for a comics fan to be getting into the X-Men (I’d just entered my teenage years), but for superhero comics I was (and sorta still am) a diehard, incorrigible DC fan, so experimenting with those Marvel Comics was still fairly new to me back then.

But, you know, even for being the last part of an ongoing story (well, as much as a “last part” as any X-Men story seems to get), I didn’t have much problem getting into the narrative, understanding the basics of the characters and their relationships, and so on. Of course, that was almost certainly because of Chris Claremont’s writing style, which has the characters declaring their abilities and attitudes to each other, ad nauseam. Plus, X-Men as a whole was a heck of a lot less complicated back then, though I recall that people were complaining in ‘zines of the time about how convoluted the whole X-saga was. If they only knew what was coming….

Anyway, during the course of my workday on Saturday, I ended up glancing through a copy of #175 and started feeling nostalgic for the time when I was a young bright-eyed comics fan, and not the jaded and bitter old fart I’ve since become.